Belfast/The Giant’s Causeway

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.

img_2714

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

img_2710

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.

img_2736

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.

img_2767img_2755

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.

img_2745

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…

img_2814

Somewhere in County Sligo

 

To be continued…

Advertisements

Ireland or Bust

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

 

 

 

Missouri State Penitentiary

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.

IMG_2316

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.”

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.

1389494_1677347515810606_1026227947_n

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?