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March 2018

April 2018

Enjoying Ireland with less of me

I'm wearing an XL t-shirt! 😱

When last we were in Ireland I was a different person. Well, not really, but I was a heavier dude. Like, over 100 pounds heavier.

Above you’ll see the thinner me wearing an XL T-shirt I bought at the Giant’s Causeway. If Marisa hadn’t been with me I would have bought an XXL because in my mind I’m still that big… but the shirt fits so nicely! As do the 4 XL sweaters I’ve bought for myself while here (just in time for the Philadelphia summer, though with the way the weather has been behaving perhaps they will come in handy during a July snowstorm).

A few other things have changed on this trip as compared to last:

  • I bought a scale while here so I can continue weighing myself on Fridays (the scale has stones as the primary measure with kg much smaller. I can’t recommend the scale, but it was cheap).
  • I packed my running shoes and have actually gone on a few runs. I even went to the gym after going for a 5 mile hike.
  • I decided to walk 20,000 steps a day whilst here, to counteract my less stringent adherence to my daily Weight Watchers points allotment. And it seems to be working.
  • Flying for 6 hours in coach wasn’t that uncomfortable. Something that was never true when I was 100 pounds heavier.

Ireland 2018: Day 6

After our full day on Day 5 of driving and sightseeing, a laidback day 6 was on order. This was helped greatly by the previous night’s discovery that while in Ireland several seasons of The Great British Bake Off are available on Netflix (in fact, as I type this we’re watching the season 2 semi-final).

We decided to sleep in, go to a farmers’ market in Midleton and do a little shopping and walking around in Cork. I didn’t take a huge amount of pictures, because we really didn’t do all that much… and it was wonderful.

We started the day off petting Flicker, one of the Ballymaloe House resident dogs:

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We saw this memorial in Midleton:

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And this one in Cork:

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And I really liked this awesome Church. That’s a Jesus I can get behind:

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Oh, and I bought a book at the very cute Midleton Books:

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See all my Day 6 pics here (though there aren’t that many more to see!).


Ireland 2018: Day 5

The day began with the gentle rousing rays of the sun, filtered through an omnipresent pearlescent cloud cover, waking me in our little bubble in the woods:

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What a wonderful way to kick off our last few hours in Northern Ireland. Before too long we would hop into our little rental car and drive 5 hours south to our next accomodations, with a quick stop to see a 1500 year old monastery (as you do).

Day 5 Route

Shout out to Marisa for doing all the driving on this trip (and in our life!). She opted for a manual rental car, and I had my worries that it would stress her out.. but she’s been doing a fantastic job.

5 hours is a long time to say in the car, so we split the trip up with a stop at Clonmacnoise, one of the most important sites of learning in the early Christian world. Ireland has an interesting history with Christianity in that it is one of the very few areas of The World that gave up their “pagan” beliefs and accepted the Church without any wide scale bloodshed. This was mostly due to the fact that the Irish were a pragmatic people and just took their existing beliefs and added some Chrisitan flair.

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Monasteries were basically large towns in Ireland with Clonmacnoise covering something like 10 acres of land with churchs, houses, and the like. Most of the orginal buildings were timber, so they aren’t around any more but an impressive number of 1000 year old stone structures remain (thanks to the Vikings for encouraging the people to build round towers so as not to be slaughtered!).

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The Visitor Center at Clonmacnoise also comes from another time: the 70’s. However, it was seemingly set up so you could take some very nice pictures of the important stone carvings that they took out of the weather and sheltered here. Like this rather impressive Celtic cross:

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No one really knows why the ancient folks decided to put a circle hear the top of their crosses. Some time it might be an reference to a halo, or perhaps the circle of life. I think they thought it looked cool.

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This stone features ogham script:

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See what I was saying about the lighting:

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I was really impressed by the carving on this one. Good job, long dead carver!

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And then we made our way outside to view the ruins.

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Clonmacnoise is a ruin, an active cemetery, and a site where they still hold services from time to time. They built a glass enclosure for holding mass, and decorated it with… what else?

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That round tower would serve as a refuge from the people living here when the Vikings came along to try and take their stuff, their lives, and their bodies:

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Arches:

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Lots of detailed carvings to be seen:

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I was looking around to turn my head to see Marisa waiting for me to notice her fitting into this doorway exactly. A picture was called for, and a picture was taken.

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Something that I’ve been thinking about is the concept of “legacy.” More specifically how much we try and make sure that people remember us when after we die. This reminded me that, for most people, that is a futile effort no matter how much stone you work:

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On the other hand, I may not know who carved this but I am thinking about it, and writing about it, hundreds of years later:

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Jesus Christ! I thought this was the neatest stone in the yard:

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As we left Clonmacnoise we popped into the gift shop, as you do, and noticed this rather dramatic ruin across the car park:

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We still had a 2 hour drive ahead of us to get to our little cabin (below) at Ballymaloe House. When I made the reservation for the cabin the person told me, repeatedly, that the cabins are “rather rustic.” I was expecting something, well, rather rustic. But we got a lovely little cabin:

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More important than the cabin was the setting on which they are sat:

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I mean, come on!

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Everywhere I turned it looked like I was viewing a painted landscape:

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Unexpectedly, there was a table open for dinner at Ballymaloe House, so we availed ourselves. Little did I know I was about to have one of the best meals of my life. A 5 course meal that included a magical “hors d’oeuvre buffet,” which I would like to be included in each of my meals from now on.

This rich meal meant that I really needed to get 20,000 steps.

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I was tempted to stop there, but I took one more step and then fell into a deep slumber.

If you’d like to see all the pictures I took (so many crosses!) check them out here.


Ireland 2018: Day 4

Before leaving Belfast we had to have breakfast. I am not known as a tea drinker, but this trip may hav changed that. Can you believe I’ve never put milk in my tea? Here’s proof that I’ve changed my ways:

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I love a good municipal building, and when I found out that one can tour Belfast’s City Hall I was in:

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The building is as impressive as one would expect from a building built at the behest of Queen Victoria:

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Marisa decided to try her hand at Belfast politics:

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The Titanic had a large impact on this city, and so we visited the memorial garden on the grounds of City Hall:

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We had a two hour drive to our next evening’s stay, so we decided to break up the drive with a visit to Crom Estate.

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It features a ruined castle:

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And lots of grounds to walk around and enjoy:

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And some moss:

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After our constitutional on Crom Estate we headed to Finn Lough so we could check into our bubble in the woods:

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Staying in a bubble was an interesting experience, and better than I thought it would be. The bubble was very warm, the bed very comfortable, and the bathroom more than acceptable for a bubble.

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Finn Lough did a good job of positioning the bubbles so it feels like you’re all alone in the woods. Sadly, our neighboring bubble was occupied by some rather loud people so that ruined the illusion of solitude. They did quiet down around 9pm, so it wasn’t a big deal but it kept us grounded in the reality of the shared bubble space.

Still, I enjoyed being a boy in a bubble.

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Check out all my Day 4 pictures here.


Ireland 2018: Day 3

When I started writing this post I was sitting at the coffee table in our hotel room as Marisa attempted to go to sleep (she’d been having trouble sleeping on the trip but that has cleared up). I went to bed in hopes of helping Marisa sleep, and then a handful of days passed. We didn’t have internet access in our bubble (more on that in a little bit), so this post has been delayed.

While we were in Belfast we stayed at the Merchant Hotel. We saw so many beautiful things in Northern Ireland it would be easy to forget how nice our stay was. The Merchant Hotel is just wonderful, and all the staff were lovely and helpful (they let us keep our car parked a little while after checkout so we could do some sightseeing without charging us. So nice!).

I don’t think you can truly visit Northern Ireland and not go to the Antrim Coast. As you can probably guess, that’s how spent our day today. Also walking. So much walking.

If you want to see all the pictures I took check out this album. Read on for the highlights!

When I told my friend Sarah that we were headed to Belfast she recommended several things to do. One of them, the rope bridge at Carrick-a-Rede was on our list… but not very high up. Sarah’s enthusiatic recomendation bumped it up and I am very glad to have listened to her.

The entrance to the bridge:

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Here we are after having walked across the bridge:

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Somehow Marisa managed to lose her ticket on the 1 kilometer walk from the ticket booth to the bridge, but they let us cross anyway.

Fisherman orginally built this bridge, using only three ropes, so they could get to the island and fish using boats like this:

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I know I wouldn’t want to have to cross that bridge carrying anything. In fact, I didn’t particularly want to cross the modern bridge without anything in my hands…. especially when I saw some kid hopping across the bridge. I did it and you should too (if you get the opportunity).

Next, the very reason we came to Nothern Ireland in the first place: The Giant’s Causeway. I wanted to go to the Giant’s Causeway when last we visited Ireland, but it is all the way at the north of the island, and so it wasn’t meant to be. This time around I made sure we included it on the agenda, and it didn’t disappoint.

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Instead of just going to the Giant’s Causeway we decided to hire a guide and do a 5 mile hike ending up at the Giant’s Causeway. When we arrived at the visitor center (pictured above) and met our guide and found out we were the only people who had signed up for the hike. We also learned that our guide seemed rather dubious about whether we’d be able to do the hike. She kept saying things like, “You know there’s mud” and “This is a 5 mile hike!” And we were all like, “Let’s go!”

And off we went. Here we are at the start of the hike (thanks to our guide for taking the picture!):

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The views, as you might expect, were stunning:

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And despite her initial thinking that we were not the stuff of 5 mile hikes, our guide was very good. And the hike itself wasn’t all that tough. The path was well laid out, and the grade was pretty level, plus there were stairs for the steep bits.

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I remembered about 1.5 miles into the walk that I could track the hike as a workout! So I did, and here’s the hike we took:

The Giant’s Causeway itself is a rock formation made up of these columns of volcanic basalt which were thrust up through fissions millions of years ago. They extend for miles underground, but you don’t usually see them becuase they’re covered with lots of dirt. Here you can see the cliff we’re walking along is made of the same stuff we’re walking to see:

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The Giant’s Cause itself is mostly covered with people these days. It is an amazing site, and I’m glad so many people visit… but once we got there we were doubly glad to have hiked. We encountered about 3 other people on our 5 mile hike. We found all the people at the end of the hike:

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This did make getting pictures without people in it difficult, but our guide managed to take a picture with these two jokers:

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I did get a bunch of pictures without other people in them:

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The pictures don’t do the place justice. Well worth a trip to Northern Ireland. Plus the visitor center makes a mean bowl of Irish stew (one of my favorite things).

Now, since I don’t want to gain 40 pounds on this trip I’ve decided to walk at least 20,000 steps a day. So far, so good but Day 3 was a banner day:

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Ireland 2018: Day 2

Day 2 started with me thinking I had lost my camera and freaking out a little bit. It could only get better from there, and it did (and, as previously noted, I hadn’t lost my camera at all).

Our Day 2 stop: Belfast!

You can check out all the pictures here, so see the highlights below.

We decided to take the scenic route which involved a ferry:

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It wasn’t super clear, but the view was still nice:

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The scenic route continued with a drive along the Mourne Coastal Route (very pretty). Along the way we had to stop to use the bathroom and ended up stumbling across the Bloody Bridge trail (which I recommend to you):

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Behind the public toilets is a nice trail featuring views like this:

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And this:

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And some lovely rocks:

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This was an unexpected delight of the day.

It was a bit after stopping here that we realized we were in Northern Ireland (duh), which means the speed limits are posted in Miles Per Hour (the Republic of Ireland posts them in Kilometers per Hour). This explained why so many cars were passing us.

Armed with this information we headed into Belfast where we were able to check into our hotel a few hours early, which meant we could rest up before having mid-day tea.

The tea was lovely, but all the sweets were too sweet for Marisa (I ate all of mine):

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Fortified with tea sandwiches and a pot of Earl Gray (did you know tea tastes much better with milk? It does!) we headed out into a moderately heavy rain shower to one of Belfast’s biggest tourist attractions, the Titanic Belfast:

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It would seem the very modern building gets mixed reviews, but I think it is great:

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And it is well marked:

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I wasn’t sure what to expect from the museum, but it covered way more than just the Titanic. It used the Titanic as a lens to cover the growth and development of Belfast as a city. Though I thought it glossed over the very real impact class distinctions had on whether you ended up a victim of the Titanic or a survivor.

Though they do have the gates of the shipyard in which the Titantic was built, so that’s cool:

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Also cool is this model showing the position of the shipworks when the Titanic was being built, along with a movel of the museum itself (and the gantry where the Titantic was built stood right outside of that window):

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You can also visit the Nomadic, though we ran out of time:

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I was more intrigued by this other object that was in the same berth as the Nomadic:

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I don’t know what it is, but it did allow me to take my favorite picture of the day:

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Ireland 2018: Day 1

When Marisa and I were discussing where to go on a vacation I couldn’t help but suggest we head to Ireland… again.

We had such a wonderful time the first time that Marisa was up for a return visit (in fact I’m typing these very words in Belfast, Northern Ireland right now!).

Our first day (see all my pictures in this album) in Ireland found us flying into Dublin and hopping into a rental car and getting out of Dublin as quickly as we could. Last visit we saw the highlights of Dublin, so we didn’t feel the need to stick around.

We pointed our car towards Carlingford, where we were spending the night, by way of Monasterboice: Untitled

Now a graveyard, it was a monastery several hundred years ago and sports some of the largest Celtic crosses on the island (Marisa here for scale):

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The graveyard had some very sturdy walls:

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Off we went to Carlingford to check into our hotel for the evening and look cute in front of it:

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Then we ventured into the village and took a bunch of pictures. Of things like this arch:

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We visited another grave yard, as you do:

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And went down to the lake to take some lovely pictures of the vista:

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Saw a ladder into the water (hey, nice shoes!):

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Later that evening I needed a few more steps (gotta please that Fitbit) and took some pictures of the castle at night:

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And the last moments of the sun:

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Carlingford is a charming little town, and we had a lovely time. I only wish that my time in the town hadn’t ended with me thinking I had lost my camera on my night time stroll. I spent the morning attempting to find my camera by retracing my steps, only to get a text message from Marisa - she found my camera in my laptop bag. Hurrah for not losing the camera, but boo for me being dumb.

Next up, Day 2 takes us to Belfast!