Ireland is a-calling…

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Ireland gets into your bones. It seeps into your pores. You feel warm and fuzzy inside when you think back on your time there and all that you saw. You immerse yourself in all things Ireland. You download an app to your phone so you can watch Ireland TV. You download a music app on your phone so you can listen to live Irish radio stations.

Wait, am I the only one that does that?

My wife and I went to Ireland for 2 weeks last September. It was our ‘delayed honeymoon’. We flew into Dublin, drove to Belfast, then Bushmills, then Sligo, then Killarney then Kilkenny then to Dublin. Basically, we overdid it but it was our first trip and we learned from that.

So what is on our agenda for 2018? After a lot of thinking and planning and entertaining the idea of maybe Iceland or Croatia or France or Belgium-we chose Ireland-AGAIN!

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Listen, I was excited for Ireland as we planned our first trip. But I had no idea that I would be SO enchanted with this beautiful country. We ran out of ways to describe the beauty of it. We started comparing it to famous supermodels. Was this area a Gisele or was it a Cindy? We would be driving in the countryside, turn a corner, and have the most magnificent views. There really should be signs on the side of the road to be careful when you come across these views. I was worried we would drive off of the road.

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The plan this next trip (September 2018) is to slow down. We want to spend a few days in Northern Ireland and drive the Causeway Coastal Route. Then head to County Sligo and stay in Strandhill for a few days. My wife really wants to surf so that will be on the agenda for those days. We didn’t realize that surfing was a ‘thing’ in Ireland and Strandhill seems to be a good spot for that. From there we are going to Dingle and will stay in town and see the area from there. Let me just say-in all of the places we visited last year Dingle was my number 1 favorite area. Driving on Slea Head was a highlight. I’ve never seen a more gorgeous area in all of my life.

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It was cold and windy and a bit rainy but that didn’t spoil our time there by any means. I wish we had more time there. I wish I could have explored Dingle town a bit more and photograph the colorful houses and spend some time in the pubs and the bookshops and explore. We took a boat tour and we were able to spot Fungie the dolphin and I was able to get some beautiful shots from the boat.

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I really just can’t wait to slow down and see Ireland. Really see it. Talk to more locals. Sit in a pub or restaurant or bookshop/cafe and chill. We found an apartment we’d like to stay at while in Dingle. It is right in the centre of town. We can park the car and then just walk the town, walk down to the harbour, see Fungie, have beer in a pub and not worry about driving after. I want to be on Slea Head as the sun rises and as the sun sets.

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If I can recommend anything when it comes to Ireland I’ll recommend this-really truly slow down. Don’t try to do it all. Pick a few areas and focus there. Talk to people, drink some beers (or in my case-some soda as I don’t drink), and do a lot of slow strolling around the cities you pick.

Most importantly-ENJOY EVERY MINUTE OF IT. Ireland truly is majestic. I always use that term to describe it but it truly is. You won’t regret a trip to Ireland-EVER.

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Belgium is more than just chocolate.

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When you say Belgium the first thing that comes to mind for many people is chocolate. But Belgium is more than just chocolate (and waffles and frites). Belgium is beauty. Belgium is history. Belgium has been a love affair that I haven’t been able to get over and I probably never will.img_4206.jpg

When my brother backpacked through Europe and ended up in a little city called Bruges I couldn’t even find the city on the map. I knew very little about Belgium and I knew nothing about Bruges. But since he decided to fall in love with a Belgium-born woman and move there I knew I’d have to visit. Little did I know that this would begin my love affair with not just Bruges but travel in general. I will always be grateful to Bruges for opening up my eyes to a world many don’t see. I grew up (and still reside) in the Midwest. I wasn’t used to diversity. I wasn’t used to walking through a city and hearing dozens of different languages. I didn’t fully understand that as open-minded as I thought I was, I was actually very narrow-minded. I credit Bruges and travel for my eventual coming out. Bruges is where I came out to my sister-in-law. Bruges is where I eventually came out to my brother. Bruges is where my now wife proposed to me. Bruges will always have a piece of my heart.

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There is something to see around every corner and some little known museum, shop, restaurant, bar. I’ve been to Bruges 7 or 8 times and every time I am there I see something I haven’t seen before. There are nooks and crannies that only the locals are aware of but luckily I have some pretty amazing guides to show me the unknowns.

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While Belgium isn’t just chocolate I would remiss to say that I haven’t imbibed in the ritual of tasting some amazing chocolate. Go to The Chocolate Line where you can taste some of Dominique Persoone’s more…off the wall ideas. Or if you are feeling especially crazy you can snort a line of chocolate right up your nose. It’s like Studio 54 in the 70’s but with a much better high. FYI, I tried to google how many chocolate shops are in Bruges but I couldn’t find a definite answer. Good luck on your search for ‘the best’ but I would say in my opinion the best is The Chocolate Line. One thing I’ll say about any of the chocolate shops I’ve been in-everyone is extremely knowledgeable about the chocolate they are selling and they love to hand out samples. Happy eating!

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One of my favorite subjects in photography is architecture. I can’t get enough of it. Photographing a city like Bruges is a photographers dream. I can’t get enough of the brick Gothic. I’m amazed every time I walk the city. And I definitely cannot get enough of the churches! We have some impressive churches in the United States but the churches in Europe are incredible. I could spend hours photographing them because around every corner there is something new to see.

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While I could go on and on about just Bruges I can’t ignore a few other spots in Belgium. I have spent a few days in Gent and it is a wonderful city filled with (once again) amazing architecture, churches, even a castle! I’ve strolled along those streets and along the canal wishing I could pack up my life and move there because I really think I must be Dutch in a past life.

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The last time my wife and I went to Bruges we also took a day trip to Ostend with my brother. I had never been there before and I am glad my wife found the Atlantic Wall Museum because it was one of the coolest ‘museums’ I’ve been to. You go through trenches and bunkers with an idea of how the soldiers lived. It was pretty rainy the day we went which I think made for an even more authentic experience.

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We also spent an entire day Diksmuide where we saw a LOT of WWI memorials. We went to Dodengang (Trench of Death), Vladslo German War Cemetery and the Museum Aan De Ijzer. The Trench of Death is a small trench and bunker that you can walk through to try to experience what happened there so many years before. The cemetery is small but beautiful. It was a somber but moving experience.

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Then we went to the Museum Aan De Ijzer which was a really well done museum on WWI. It’s housed in this tower where you can go to the roof and you have a magnificent view of the area. From there you take the stairs down each level where there is different information on each floor. We were with 2 children and even they got a lot out of it. It was very informative.

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When visiting Belgium I really do recommend you see more than just Bruges or Brussels. Really try to explore other areas and get a feel of the entire country. I found the Dutch to be very lovely people and very patient with my very limited Dutch language skills.

But do not ignore Bruges! It may be small and I’m sure many websites and guide books only recommend a few nights but I’ve stayed for up to a week (multiple times) and I always find something to do.

And don’t listen to Colin Farrell in “In Bruges”. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

 

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The Cliffs of Moher and County Kerry

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I’m going completely out of order with these posts but just work with me here. I go with what I feel most inspired by.

We started our Ireland trip with a night in Belfast, then to Sligo, then to Galway. From Galway we headed to County Kerry to see the Cliffs of Moher and then head to our cottage outside of Kenmare. We rose early because the drive from our hotel in Galway to the Cliffs was a few hours. We wanted to try to arrive at the Cliffs before it got too busy. As we were checking out of the hotel the woman at the desk told us to expect rain. Rain in Ireland, shocking right? But she said the sky looked like it was on fire which meant we’d have rain all day long. I am not Irish and I don’t live in Ireland, I figured I’d just believe her and leave it at that.

Road trips in Ireland are something else. By the time we were on our way to the Cliffs we were used to driving. We knew to expect twists and turns and sheep and rain and sun and everything in between. We took a few wrong turns on our way but it wasn’t too awful getting lost in Ireland. The lady at the hotel was correct about the rain though. It rained and rained. As we drove up the mountains, weaving around the turns (in my mind going too fast but we survived) the rain just kept coming. I was kind of laughing to myself and I just knew it would be a wet trip to the Cliffs. We finally found our way to the parking lot. The wind was ridiculous. We got out of the car and I swear we could have been swept away. I was trying to put my jacket on and I could barely get my arms into the holes, I thought my jacket was going to fly away and I’d be without a raincoat for the duration of the trip.

But..

What. A. View.

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We were fighting against the elements up there. I’ve never felt wind like that before. I actually thought my contacts were going to fly right out of my eyes. The rain was stinging us as we were walking up the steps. I took some videos and posted to Instagram just so my friends could hear the wind (@tripwithbrit if you feel the need to check out my Instagram posts).

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My wife survived the Cliffs of Moher and lived to tell about it.

We walked around a bit, it was damn near impossible for me to hold my camera steady so unfortunately I didn’t get many pictures and the ones I did get weren’t great shots. But we still had a good time. Because of the early times plus the weather we didn’t really come across too many other tourists so it felt like we had the place to ourselves.

From the Cliffs we made our way to Kenmare which took over 3 hours. We planned on grocery shopping in Kenmare then we had to text the owner of the cabin that we were close. We found Kenmare with no problems, stopped for groceries and headed to the cabin.

We had no idea the trip would take a really kind of shitty turn that day and into the night. We found the cabin without any real issues. But google maps didn’t do a good job of showing us just how far up into the mountains the cabin actually was. Neither did the couple we rented from. At certain points the only thing between our car and certain death was a tiny rickety fence. If we had known how treacherous the drive was up there we would not have rented it. The owners were lovely people. So sweet and helpful. They had chocolates and a card for us. They showed us around the cabin and then left. They live across the street from the cabin so it was nice knowing if we had any issues they were close.

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The view from the cabin.

But, the cabin was not what we expected. The stove/oven was gas and the pilot light was out. And of course,  there were issues lighting it. As in, we couldn’t and had to get in our car and go across the street to have the owner help us. We finally got it to light so we could make dinner. But because we had so many issues with it we decided to make the pizza and the bread we bought from the store and just eat it as leftovers for the next few days. We settled in for the night, did some laundry, and relaxed. We had no phone service whatsoever. I couldn’t even connect to wifi calling. There was also no home phone. That made me feel a little nervous because if we had any issues we had no way to call out. Later in the evening I was walking around the cabin to just look around. They had framed photos all around. I picked one up, felt movement on my fingers and turned the frame over and what do you know. Spiders. A lot. Just hanging out on the frames, no big deal. My wife had the same issue near the router. Just so many bugs hanging out with us. Bugs caught in cobwebs throughout various areas of the house. Bugs stuck to the walls. Basically, bugs everywhere. We finally decided to go to bed. I hadn’t voiced my concerns to Angie and she didn’t say anything to me (yet). We went upstairs to go to bed. Bugs in the bedroom. The heat didn’t work in the bedroom. The temperatures that night were in the 40’s. Luckily there was a big thick comforter on the bed and we were able to go to sleep but neither one of us were very happy and I don’t know about her, but I didn’t sleep all that great that night.

We woke up the next morning and the plan was to leave the cottage early and spend all day in Kenmare. But I think we both woke up in pretty grumpy moods. She went to shower. There was basically no shower pressure (it was a trickle coming from the shower head) and either the water was scalding hot or ice cold. No in between. My wife has short hair, my hair is past the middle of my back. I was already annoyed at how long I’d have to spend in the shower trying to shampoo and condition my hair in a bathroom that wasn’t very clean with alternating hot and cold water. I asked my wife if it would be awful to leave the cabin and just get a hotel. I don’t rough it on vacation. I like a relatively bug-free place to sleep, with water pressure and a stove that worked properly and a place that is clean. She told me that was crazy, it would cost us too much money. I waited as long as I could to take a shower (in hopes there would miraculously be hot-but not scalding-water and water pressure). I went into the bathroom. Walked right back out to argue with my wife about a hotel and what do I see when I go back to the bedroom? My wife on her phone looking at hotels in the area. We found a cheap(ish) hotel in Killarney, booked it, and then I hightailed it to the shower. I don’t want to talk about that shower but we packed quickly, grabbed our gear and left that cabin and never looked back.

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Quick stop in Killarney National Park on our way to our hotel.

Belfast/The Giant’s Causeway

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When we started planning our Ireland vacation I told my wife that Giant’s Causeway was the number one tourist spot I wanted to see in Ireland. The majority of our trip was to be spent in Ireland but we knew we’d spend at least a day in Northern Ireland. We originally were going to fly into Belfast and then out of Dublin but we purchased plane tickets in and out of Dublin for around 500 dollars cheaper. My wife slept on the plane and we drove from Dublin to Belfast after an overnight flight. That wasn’t my first choice and I was nervous the entire flight over. I did not sleep. We got our luggage and went to the Dan Dooley counter. We booked with them because they have such a good reputation on travel sites and I was able to get a few personal recommendations from former high school classmates who had also traveled to Ireland. They aren’t expensive in comparison to other companies and I liked that it was an Irish company. We upgraded the car to a Diesel, it was a Volkswagen. A little bigger than we had planned on but it worked out well.

We made it to Belfast without too much trouble. There were a few moments that I wanted to scream. The streets are very narrow in the city. Luckily there weren’t a lot of people out and about (it was a Sunday) so that was a relief. I’m sure had we flown in Monday-Friday it would have been worse. We checked into Tara Lodge on Cromwell Street and allow me to gush about this hotel. There is a small parking lot (and by small I do mean small) plus street parking. We were able to snag a spot in the lot. We arrived at the hotel around 2pm so we were able to check in. Our room was lovely. It overlooked the street but even with the windows open we didn’t hear much noise. It was small but not too small and very clean. We took showers and then went for a walk. We had a taxi tour booked to see the political murals. That was basically the entire reason for staying 1 night in Belfast. We stood outside in the rain for almost 40 minutes and the tour guide never showed up. We were incredibly disappointed. They have a great rating on Trip Advisor so it must have been a fluke. Disappointed we went and got some food, came back to the hotel and went to bed. We had stayed up all day to make sure we were awake for the tour so we were exhausted. We both woke around midnight and were wide awake. We decided to each take a melatonin because we could not deal with jet lag when we knew we would be doing a lot of driving in the morning. That helped and we both fell asleep again and slept until the alarm went off.

The next morning we woke up fairly early, took showers, got ready, and went down for breakfast. The Irish can throw down some breakfast! There was a small spread on the bar but also a menu. We both ordered pancakes and bacon and, well, let me just say that I wish I could have that bacon every day. It was so yummy. The hotel isn’t very big and it was so quiet so we were surprised at how busy the breakfast room was. Oh, and breakfast was included in the price of our room. So a double score!

We went back to the room, grabbed our luggage and checked out by 8am. Our first stop was the Dark Hedges (Game of Thrones fans know all about this). Boy, were we lucky when we got there. We made it before any tour buses were there to block the view. There were 3 women leaving as we pulled up and we the hedges all to ourselves.

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There is nothing quite like the Dark Hedges. They are mystifying. I only wished for some fog to really get the feel of them.

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We didn’t stay very long because we still had an hours drive to Giant’s Causeway  We made it in good time, paid for parking, paid the entrance fee and took the hike down. We arrived semi-early so not many tour buses were there yet and the parking lot wasn’t even half full. Giant’s Causeway is everything I hoped it would be.

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It really felt out of this world. Landscapes have never been a favorite subject for me to photograph but I think it is damn near impossible to take a bad picture in Ireland.

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I knew ahead of time to wear sensible shoes because I thought it went without saying but please, wear good sturdy shoes. I didn’t trip once (which is a surprise) but it would be easy to do. I get a little shaky when I get too high up with nothing to hold onto so I didn’t do anything crazy on the causeway. There are workers stationed throughout to help you if you trip and fall. They will also yell at you if you try to climb onto rocks that are off limits. I saw it happen, please listen to them when they tell you to stop.

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We stayed at the causeway for around an hour and a half to two hours. As we were hiking back up more and more people were walking down. We stopped in the gift shop and bought a few postcards, souvenirs, and a small piece of art that we are going to hang up somewhere in the house. As we were leaving we asked a street worker named Sammy where to eat nearby. He gave us a good recommendation right in Bushmills. A cute little cafe called Copper Kettle. We were not disappointed. It’s not a fancy restaurant by any means but it hit the spot. I had the vegetable soup with some wonderful soda bread. I liked the bread so much I wanted to ask for an entire loaf! My wife had (randomly) a baked potato with cole slaw and she said it was the best cole slaw she’s ever had. She liked it so much she found a recipe for it online and made it when we got home!

We left Bushmills to head to County Sligo. It was a long majestic drive. There were times I felt like we were on top of the world…

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Somewhere in County Sligo

 

To be continued…

Dingle Peninsula, Ireland

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My friends.

We survived Ireland.

For 2 years we planned, changed plans, revised plans, and we made it. We finally made it to Ireland. We spent a fabulous 2 weeks, driving around the Irish countryside. Ireland is as majestic as you would imagine it to be. Driving along the narrow roads, feeling like we were soaring through the mountains, waving to passerby, praying for fog just to capture a brilliant picture. You see Ireland in movies, in photographs but until you are there and breathing it all in you have no idea. Before our trip, I had so many people tell me that Ireland gets in your bones, that you’ll want to go back again and again and what do you know? They were right. I will be breaking our trip up into parts. None of which will be in order. I had to start with my favorite area, an area we only spent 1 day in, but an area I can see myself retiring in.

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On our way to Slea Head

The Dingle Peninsula.

It is the nothermost of the major peninsulas in County Kerry. Our way to Dingle was, of course, on Slea Head Drive. We woke early to drive from Killarney to Dingle. The first order of business though was to see Slea Head before the tour buses arrived. So we were on the road by 7am. We were staying in Killarney. It took us roughly 2 hours, mainly because we kept stopping to take pictures of the area. For future reference, when Google maps says it will take you 30 minutes to get anywhere in Ireland, I recommend you add another 30 minutes to that, you will stop for pictures-frequently.

I will admit to all of my readers that I did not drive in Ireland, my wife did. I can’t drive a manual, she can and it was cheaper than an automatic. So I had it good, I helped navigate (which wasn’t hard with a GPS) and oohed and aahed at the scenery while she tried to avoid driving off of a cliff while taking in the views.

While driving in Slea Head I was so amazed at the rough beauty of it. It was cold and windy the day we were there. Living there probably isn’t easy but it has its perks. There were times I felt like we were on the edge of the world. I was in awe.

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On the edge of the world-Slea Head

There were parts of the drive where we would stop to take it all in and we literally couldn’t get our doors open because of the wind. I’d roll down the window, hoping that I could keep my camera steady. I so badly wanted to take beautiful pictures of this awe-inspiring place. If you want to feel inspired, go to Slea Head. You won’t be disappointed.

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Photo from the car-Slea Head

After driving along Slea Head for what felt like hours, we made our way to the town of Dingle. What an adorable little town. Packed to the gills with tourists but we paid no mind. We had lunch at a little hole in the wall restaurant. I asked for vegetable soup, that is not what I got but I just ate some of my wife’s food and then we were on our way.

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Dingle Ireland

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Dingle, Ireland

We booked a boat tour to spot Fungie, the dolphin that meets the boats in the harbor. We went with the Dingle Dolphin Boat Tours, we booked them through the tourist office right near the pier. We were ‘guaranteed’ we’d see Fungie. We were not disappointed. Our boat only had about 8 people on it and I think that made it even more fun. Yes, we did see Fungie. A lot. He seemed to be teasing us. Other than Fungie, the views from the boat are outstanding. Incredible. Beautiful. Amazing. The boat ride lasted an hour, Fungie spottings throughout and incredible views. It was rainy and windy and cold but we had a blast. I think every single tourist on that boat was thrilled with the experience.

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Blurry picture of Fungie-Dingle

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The incredible view from the boat-Dingle

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The view from the boat-Dingle 

I was sad to leave Dingle. I was sad to drive on Slea Head again, knowing we were leaving and wouldn’t return during the trip. I know that the next time we go to Ireland, Dingle will be a spot we stay in for a few days. One day wasn’t enough. I don’t think I’ll ever get enough of that beautiful area of Ireland.

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Slea Head

 

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I made a friend on Slea Head

Ireland or Bust

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Well, our Ireland trip is officially official!

Everything but a plane ticket has been booked. Not to be one of ‘those’ people yes, I have a countdown already. 189 days until we land in the Emerald Isle!

Here is a rundown of the trip that awaits us.

September 18-Fly into Dublin and take bus to Belfast. We originally planned on flying to Belfast but the flights to Dublin are almost 500 bucks cheaper.

September 19-Pick up car and drive to the Dark Hedges and then to Giant’s Causeway (number 1 on my list of things to see!). From there we are heading to Strandhill and staying the night.

September 20-Galway and then staying at a beautiful accommodation outside of Galway. A bit out of price range but this is our delayed honeymoon so we decided it was worth it.

September 21-26-Staying at a cottage in the countryside in County Kerry. From there we will have a nice base for a few days, explore the area, eat good food, drink good beer, and I’m sure take wonderful pictures.

Here is the view near our cottage:

Cottage View

September 26-28-Kilkenny. Another base for 2 days to explore the area.

September 28-October 1-Dublin. We found a nice rental apartment that is near the Temple Bar area (but far enough away we won’t be kept up all night!). Number one tourist attraction for me to see in Dublin you ask? Trinity College Library. I am sure I’ll walk in and feel like I’ve died and gone to heaven.

I’m sorry I haven’t been able to update in awhile. My computer crashed and for now I am using my wifes until I can get mine fixed.

So, fellow Ireland travelers and local Irish peeps-what do you think about our plan? Can you give us any ‘must-sees’? I want your opinions!

Until next time…slán

 

 

 

My Travel Style

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As a reader of this site you may have noticed that I don’t take a multitude of trips. I sometimes wonder if “TripwithBrit” is an honest name for this blog. I don’t travel year round, traveling isn’t my job (yet). One of these days it might be, especially if I win the Powerball on Wednesday. I can take a lot of trips once I pocket 500 million dollars. I try to take one trip a year if that is feasible. I work full-time and I am lucky to get about 5 weeks of vacation, plus sick time and a lot of holidays. I can also work longer hours and use those extra hours for vacation. There are perks to working for the US government. My wife Angela also works full-time but her job isn’t as hip as mine in terms of vacation time. I’ve taken one trip without her and to be honest, I didn’t enjoy it. I’ve grown used to having her with me all the time.

So, while I may not have as many trips under my belt as other travel blogs, I still felt like maybe I would write about how I prefer to travel. There are so many different travel styles and I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea about my blog. One thing I will be up front about is that we don’t ‘do’ hostels. Not that we think there is anything wrong with them of course. But we are married, my wife is in her 40’s, I’m in my 30’s and we have certain ideas about when we travel. We like our own space. We like our own bathrooms and showers. I think that comes from just living on our own for so long. We don’t really drink so we prefer not to stay in any sort of place that has the reputation as a ‘party’ place.

There is one thing I prefer to do at least part of the time on my vacations. I like to rent apartments. One thing is that it saves money because you have a kitchen and you can cook for yourself. But do you want to know what I love about rental apartments? A kitchen means its an excuse to go to the grocery store in a foreign land. I love grocery stores! I mean, not so much here in the US, I know what I am getting into. But in another country I just think it’s so fun. I mean, have you seen their chips? They have the coolest flavors! We had steak and potato and turkey dinner chips while in Paris. The turkey dinner? It tasted like Thanksgiving. C’mon America! Lays has a contest every year but I find their flavors so boring. Cheese garlic bread? Please. Give me some steak and potato chips and I’ll buy out the whole aisle. I stayed in a rental in Krakow, Paris, and Amsterdam. When in Switzlerland my brother and sister-in-law rented a beautiful apartment in Lucens. That is what I prefer. I prefer a place that feels like home, a place where I can cook. I don’t have to get up, rush to get ready and find a restaurant to eat my meal at.

Our Paris apartment was a block from the Louvre. We went with the website Vacation in Paris There were a few things we were not happy about with the apartment but for the most part the apartment suited our needs perfectly. And it was in the ideal location. VIP comes pretty highly recommended on a lot of different travel sites I frequent. There was a Franprix just around the corner

 

When in Amsterdam we stayed in a gorgeous little apartment called the Korenbloemen. Unfortunately Hugo, the owner, no longer rents this apartment out. It was the idea location, close to the Dam Square, close to the Red Light District, a quick walk to the Anne Frank House and a bunch of different museums. It was small and a bit dark but we couldn’t have asked for a better apartment. There was a grocery store just a few blocks away.

In Switzerland my mother, brother, sister-in-law and niece stayed in a really great bed and breakfast type establishment. It really was just 2 levels and the first level was occupied by the owners and then we had the 2nd floor. Unfortunately this place is also not in operation anymore but it is probably one of my favorite places I’ve ever stayed in. I was incredibly ill on that trip and all I wanted was a comfortable place to lay my head and this was it. The temperature went down to around 5o°F (in July) and I slept like a rock. And the view? Well, that speaks for itself.

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The view from our house in Lucens, Switzerland ©TripwithBrit

One thing I like to do is stick to a budget when it comes to accommodations. I like some comfort but rarely do we stay in a luxury apartment or hotel. Our Ireland trip will be the exception. It is our delayed honeymoon and a few of the nights we are staying in a high end hotel in Kilkenny, Ireland and we are staying at the Glenlo Abbey Hotel (Glenlo Abbey) outside of Galway for one night. The rest of our trip we are staying in mid-range priced places. But luckily for us most of Ireland is fairly cheap (especially compared to Paris or Bruges).

When I travel I can be occupied for hours roaming around taking photos. I am so glad that Angie is a lot like me. Our first trip together was Paris and Bruges. We had never traveled that far together and I don’t think we knew what to expect of each other. I’m so glad she too likes to take it easy on vacation. We don’t over plan our days. We have an idea of what we want to do on a particular day but we don’t plan it by the hour. I prefer not to come home from vacation exhausted from overdoing it every single day then I need another vacation to recover!

A must for me on vacation though? A shower. Not a hand-held shower hose but I need an actual, legit shower that I can stand up in and have the water cascade down me. I think that is about the only ‘must’ for me when I book any accommodation. You want an amazing shower? Try out the shower at Hotel Pullman Brussels. Pullman

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We may have splurged a bit on this hotel… ©TripwithBrit

Missouri State Penitentiary

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Growing up I had an obsession with the macabre. I loved horror movies, true stories about hauntings, books about serial killers, I loved telling scary stories and going to all the places in my hometown (and surrounding areas) that were supposedly haunted. My interest in it started when I was 11 or 12 years old. My family and I moved into an old house, started updating it, and one early summer day I woke up to a little boy standing next to  my bed wearing a suit and a top hat. I could see right through him. I shook my head and he disappeared. I assumed it was a dream and didn’t give him much thought until months later my parents friend saw the same little boy in my brothers bedroom.

My obsession only grew. I lived in Illinois, right over the river from St Louis, Missouri. There were many places in the area that were haunted. There were the Seven Gates of Hell in Collinsville, Illinois. They are old train trestles and tunnels with an unverified history. Some of which is that the KKK used to hang African-Americans there. Teenagers drove their car into the 7th gate and died and now haunt the area. The tall tale on the 7th gate is that at midnight a portal to hell opens up. I’ve been to the Seven Gates. Driving out there at midnight, nobody around, and getting out of the car was enough to nearly cause an anxiety attack but there was nothing strange there. Well, except for the group of teenagers we saw walking down the road near one of the gates.

There is a witches house near my parents old house. They tore it down before I was old enough to drive. There is an old train track where children were killed by the train and now haunt the tracks. If you park your car where the old track was, they will move your car. I don’t recommend driving to that area anymore, there are homeowners there that don’t take kindly to trespassers. They are also armed. The Lemp Mansion is just over the river into St Louis which has its own mystery surrounding the mansion and the family that it deserves its own blog post.

So, having a ‘Haunted October’ planned for 2015 wasn’t anything out of the norm for me.

Back in summer of 2015 my wife, my friend Jenny and her new husband Jon had the bright idea to spend our October exploring some of the ‘haunted’ spots in our area. We quickly decided to book a midnight tour at the Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City, Missouri. I was expecting some creepiness and some cool pictures.

We experienced so much more than that.

We road-tripped to Jefferson City from St Charles county. It’s a quick jaunt to Jeff City. We checked into our hotel, grabbed dinner, and went back to our rooms to take naps. Our tour was started at midnight and would last for 3 hours. We roused ourselves up and made it to the prison around 11:30. The great thing about this tour is that it is a labeled a ‘ghost tour’. We had a few guides, they explain the history, but then they kind of let you roam around on your own. You can do EVP sessions. An EVP is electronic voice phenomena which is how a ghost can possibly communicate with us from beyond. You won’t hear it just sitting in a room but the recorder picks it up. My wife Angela and Jon had cameras (and most of the pictures here will be Angela’s). They have ghost hunting equipment that you can rent (with a valid ID) for the night.

The tour guides split us into two groups (there were about 30 people in each group), gave us a bit of history, and then we ‘hunted’. We began our night in the building that housed death row. You walk down the steps and can either go left or right. Our guide showed us the left side first. He talked about a shadow man that is seen in the building that is over 6 feet tall. He said the area we were in at the moment wasn’t really a ‘hot spot’ and not investigated much. We decided to check out that side first. In that wing there are 2 corridors. One corridor is directly next to the cells, then it’s split up with fencing and then there is another corridor (next to some windows). Jenny and I were walking down the hall next to the windows. Angie and Jon stayed at the end to take pictures.

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Death Row ©Angela Templer

I had my recorder going and we were talking that it was just a really creepy area. There was nothing happening to make us think that (there were no ominous voices or screaming or clanging). We just said we didn’t like it in that area. We walked all the way down to the end. We turned the corner and I think we both breathed a sigh of relief, I mean it when I said the air just felt heavy and ‘off’. We stood there and heard Jon and Angela yelling for us. I will be perfectly honest and say that I was annoyed that I had to turn back around and go back down that hall. I hated it in that area and I did not want to go back. Since everything echoed down there we couldn’t understand what Jon was saying. He was telling us to stand at the end with our flashlights and wave them around. We did that for a few seconds then met them halfway through. Jon and Angela were (plainly put) freaking out. While Jenny and I were in the corridor by the windows, Jon and Angela were taking pictures of the other corridor (directly by the cells). And Jon caught something up his camera.

A shadow about the size of a very tall man, just standing in the doorway. There was nobody down there with us, Jon caught it as were walking down the hall and I know we were alone. The reason he told us to mess with our flashlights is that he wondered if the shadow was us while we were talking. It wasn’t us. *

We all looked at each other and I think we were all thinking the same thing “This alone makes this trip worth it!”

We continued to tour the cells. We went down another flight of steps into another area, not sure what it was actually called but we hated it down there. My wife who is pretty level-headed was so creeped out I think we spent about 3 minutes down there and quickly went back upstairs.

We went outside for some air and told our guides about our experience. They asked us if we wanted to have an EVP session in one of the rooms. We said of course and went back in. We sat around and talked for about 25 minutes. The EVP sessions didn’t yield much to be honest but there was a lot of outside noise, it was a tour of about 30 people walking throughout the whole prison.

After Death Row we headed into A-Hall. We didn’t have an paranormal experiences in there. I walked up to the third floor and I felt very dizzy and weird but it was also very warm and humid in there so I can’t say that was paranormal, I think I was getting overheated at that point. It is all very open so you could literally hear every single person in the building so that took the edge off.

After you tour the main prison they have you load up into your own cars and drive to the gas chamber. It is a couple of blocks from the prison. As a forewarning-it is tiny in there. Our entire group couldn’t fit so I stayed outside and talked with a guide about some of their experiences.

All in all this was probably one of the best road trips I’ve had. It was an intense experience. If you are up to be spooked (or if you really want a very cool place to take photos) I really think you should consider heading to Jefferson City and taking a tour at the prison.

Basics:

They have a wide variety of tours. The prison isn’t just for ghost hunting. They offer history tours, photography tours, private tours, private ghost-hunting tours. The prices range from $14-$100. Contact them for more information at 573-632-2820 or Missouri Pen Tours

Accommodations:

There aren’t many options to choose from in Jefferson City. We like a nicer hotel so we stayed at the Doubletree by Hilton which was just a few minutes away from the prison. We were very happy with the hotel aside from the parking situation (limited parking outside and the lines for parking in the garage will only work if you have a tiny sports car).
DoubleTree by Hilton

 

*As of “press time” I do not have the photo of the shadow man that Jon captured. Once I receive it, I will edit this post.

 

“Ireland sober is Ireland stiff.”

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So.
It’s been awhile.
I would apologize but I have nothing to apologize for.
Life happens.
Plus…I really had nothing to write about.

Now I do.

I love to talk about my travels. I just wish I did more travel to really discuss them. At least we are planning a trip now. I think I should discuss my trips less on Facebook and more on this blog. I think I am starting to annoy my friends. I’m starting to annoy myself!

Ireland
September 18-October 1.

As somebody that absolutely loves to plan trips, let me just say, this one is a doozy but I am loving every single minute of it. I’ve never had to plan a trip for an entire country. I’ve mostly dealt with 1 or 2 cities. But this time we are flying into Belfast, driving up to see Giant’s Causeway, then down to Galway, then to Cork, then up to Dublin. Mind you, these are the areas we are staying in, we won’t just see these few cities. We’ve already book 3 accommodations, need to book 3 more, plus a rental car.

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This is how I plan trips…

Shall I discuss the driving that I am so nervous about even though I won’t even be the one driving? A manual, steering wheel on the opposite side, driving on the other side of the road? My wife says she can do it. I think she is doing her best to reassure me. We considered renting an automatic but that doubled the price on a rental car. We can do it, right? We shall overcome, we shall persevere. We shall…okay I’m done with cliches.

Ireland travelers and Irish readers-if there is one spot (just one!) that you would recommend for us novices, what would it be?

 

 

 

Love is too beautiful to be hidden in the closet.

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I’m gay.

I am so gay.

I love books about lesbians. I love movies with lesbian characters even though 90 percent of the time somebody ends up dead. I love rainbows. I love lesbian owned businesses. I Twitter stalk lesbian celebrities, pseudo-celebrities, lesbian writers, lesbian journalists. I frequent sites such as AfterEllen.com and Autostraddle. I am proud to be gay. I am proud to go against the ‘norm’ of the United States. I am proud to be in love with a woman. I am proud to be married to a woman.

10 years ago I was so far in the closet I was a part of the drywall. 10 years ago I was terrified somebody would find me out. 10 years ago I would rather drink myself into oblivion than really sit and think about who I was. 10 years ago I refused to admit what I am so proud of today.

I am gay.

And now that I am 31, nearing 32, I have to say this. I have to say it loud and proud. Fuck what people think. Fuck if you think I’m going to hell. Fuck you if you are worried about my salvation. Fuck you if you consider my gay marriage to be less than your straight marriage. Fuck you if you can’t even extend the courtesy to say congratulations to me in my new marriage. Fuck you if you think being gay is  choice.

I refuse to be ashamed anymore. And I refuse to let you get under my skin. I am proud of who I am. I am proud of the love I have with my wife.

I am a gay woman and I am proud.