Sorry about the strange formatting, but these posts were cut and pasted from my previous blogger website.  Enjoy!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Irish Invasion 2010 Launches Tomorrow!!!

Hi everyone!
I can’t believe it’s here already, but Natalie Ledden and I are heading to Ireland tomorrow!  We will be starting in Dublin, spending a night in Tullamore, and then off to Galway for a couple more nights.  During our trip we will be sharing a blog and posting pictures and stories of our search for true Irish craic!
For those of you that followed our blog when Abby, Tracy and I went to Scotland in September, you know the drill.  If you are new to this, it’s easy to find out what we are up to and if we need you to send bail money!  We will be posting here nightly.  You can either subscribe to receive updates via email directly on the blog or you can watch for update posts on Facebook.  We will try to give you a few laughs, share what we learn about Ireland and maybe even attempt a few beer reviews.
We hope that you will enjoy the trip with us and that you will have a fantastic Thanksgiving (for those of you that are in the US).  Talk to you when we get back!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Long day sitting on a plane, but we made it!!

Survived the 11 hour flight to Paris and then another 2 hour flight to Dublin.  Afterwards I grabbed a cab and headed for the hotel to meet up with Natalie.  As the cab turned the corner to the hotel Natalie was standing on the corner waiting for me!!After a big hug and dropping the bags, it only took us about 20 minutes to make it over to the bar for our first pint of Guinness at the pub on the corner.

All was well and good until I realized that I had not slept in about 24 hours of traveling.  We decided to make it our mission to try to stay awake until at least 10.  After a few sips of my first beer I realized I was fading fast (also dodging pictures – one doesn’t feel their most attractive after sitting on a plane for that long without any make up left).
So it’s our first night in Dublin and I know that if I have any more beer I will surely fall asleep somewhere on the street so we walked around looking for an adventure to come our way.  That’s when we looked across the street and saw….
 Aha!  What is this certain source of awesomery?  Is it a museum dedicated to little people?  Awesome, but no.  Is it a museum RUN by little people? Even more awesome, but still no.  It was exactly what it says, a museum dedicated to Irish folklore and legends.  It was dedicated to not only Darby O’Gill’s little friends, but also giants, banshees, and everything under the sun related to Irish folklore.
So off we went!  We started out looking at some of their collections of leprechauns throughout pop-culture.  Then we wandered through a variety of rooms including the newly constructed Giant’s house…
We had a nice mellow evening and are now back at the hotel ready to get rested up for a Newgrange tour tomorrow.
Lisa & Natalie

Sunday, November 21, 2010

History, and a lesson in last call…

So today started out late with an 11:45 AM pick up for the Newgrange tour.  What’s Newgrange you ask?  Well I’m sure glad you did!  Well let’s start out by saying that Newgrange was standing about 500 years before the first pyramids at Giza.  I think at this point I am better off letting the internet explain:Newgrange was constructed over 5,000 years ago (about 3,200 B.C.), making it older than Stonehenge in England and the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. Newgrange was built during the Neolithic or New Stone Age by a farming community that prospered on the rich lands of the Boyne Valley.

Archaeologists classified Newgrange as a passage tomb, however Newgrange is now recognised to be much more than a passage tomb. Ancient Temple is a more fitting classification, a place of astrological, spiritual, religious and ceremonial importance, much as present day cathedrals are places of prestige and worship where dignitaries may be laid to rest.
Newgrange is a large kidney shaped mound covering an area of over one acre, retained at the base by 97 kerbstones, some of which are richly decorated with megalithic art. The 19 metre long inner passage leads to a cruciform chamber with a corbelled roof. The amount of time and labour invested in construction of Newgrange suggests a well-organized society with specialised groups responsible for different aspects of construction.

We were thrilled to see such an incredible monument.  On the way we saw some incredible Irish countryside.

So much awe and inspiration that we were driven to drink as a testament to our insignificance in the world.  Our tour guide, a taxi driver, and hotel staff had all given us the advice that we should go to Arlington Hotel for a night of traditional Irish music and dancing, so we did!

But first we started off at a pub on our walk over to the Arlington.  It seems there is a pub every few feet in the Temple Bar area in Dublin, so we decided to just visit one.

It was here that I discovered a new love.  Besides the handsome men with adorable Irish accents, my new love was for a traditional Irish drink called Bulmers.  Bulmers is a traditional Irish Cider.  It is completely and utterly delicious!!!

We finally made our way over to the Arlington and had a delicious meal there.  Afterwards there was a traditional Irish music show.  Having spent my share of time at an Irish Pub listening to traditional Irish music (the Piper Down for those who don’t know me that way – you can only hear Whisky in the Jar so many times!!!) I was a little bored although there was no denying the level of talent behind this three man band!

So we decided to move on.  Lo and behold, we stumbled across a pub about twenty feet from the Arlington.

Its big claim to fame was beer pong.  No really, beer pong.  Yes, apparently that age old drinking game from US fraternities has made it over the pond and we were not going to fight it!!

So we settled in for a serious game of beer pong and found ourselves in a very happy state.  It was about 10:45 and we were discussing the drinking nature of Dublin and Natalie came to conclusion that we could drink late into the evening.  I had started to notice that people were staring to clear out of the bar, so while Natalie was climbing keg mountain…

…I asked about last call.  Turns out that last call in Dublin is 11:00 PM.  Yes, you heard it correctly, 11:00 PM.  When I was obviously flabbergasted, I was told that this was put in place for all weeknights so that they might actually be able to get some work done in the work day.  Apparently the dublinites are not trusted with the same level of will power that we’re given in the US.  The good news was that there are certain clubs that are granted a late license to be open until 2 AM.

We made our way through the Temple Bar area until we found one:

Which we stayed at until about 1:30 AM.  We made a new friend who was living here, but was an Italian by birth.

We learned a good bit about the pay scales and economy in the Republic of Ireland and the UK.  My summation to the whole conversation was that I am proud to be an American, but that’s a discussion for another day.  We closed it down and successfully walked back to our hotel where we will be resting up for another big day tomorrow including the Guinness brewery…

Keep you posted!!

Lisa & Natalie!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Nothing like a long walk in the rain to start your day!

We woke up a little later than usual today to a rainstorm. Our only official plan for the day was to go to the Guinness brewery which is about 2 km from our hotel. We decided a long brisk walk in the rain was just what we needed. We grabbed our umbrellas, a map, and headed out into the soggy morning.

We stopped at a small cafe to grab a light breakfast and then finished our journey at the Guinness Storehouse. We were very excited to find it because it was getting progressively more rainy!

Relieved to find it warm and dry inside we stepped into the most extensive brwery tour I have ever seen. We started out by going through the different ingredients involved in beer making:

1. Barley: The barley used in Guinness is slow roasted until it is cooked thoroughly and is a nice chocolate brown color when done. We were given a sample to taste of the freshly roasted barley. It was really flavorful and you could really taste that distinctive Guinness essence! 10,000 tons of barley are roasted every year to produce the distinctive color and flavor of Guinness.

2. Hops: Hops are used to give bitterness, aroma and preservative value to beer. Hops is an expensive ingredient, more valuable than tea, and the St. James’s Gate Brewery uses over 600 tons each year mainly from the USA, Australia, England and Germany.

3. Yeast: Legend has it that the yeast used in Guinness beer is descended from the strain originally used by Arthur Guinness himself. Yeast is used to transform the sugars and nutrients in the barley into alcohol.

4. Water: The eight million litres of water that flow into the Guinness brewery every day come from the Wicklow Mountains near Dublin. The purity and softness of this water were important factors in the original decision to site the brewery at St. James’s Gate, and remain important factors in the creation of the unique flavor of Guinness beer. They had a waterfall set up where we were able to grab a couple of quick pictures.

We then went up a floor to learn about the beer making process. It is incredibly in depth and complicated. Not the typical beer making process I was used to seeing, but it was still neat to see.

 Another few floors up we saw the advertising section of the storehouse where we watched ads from the 1950s that brought the toucan, seal, and horse seen in guinness advertising to life. They were really entertaining!! They also had some great Guinness marketing materials from over the years.

The icing on the cake was when we got to the top floor where we were invited to have a free pint of beer at the Gravity bar. The Gravity bar is a glass room at the top of the storehouse that features 360 degree views of Dublin. After grabbing a few pics we headed back to the hotel to dry out and freshen up before dinner.

We took a walk down to the Spire in the middle of O’Connell street.  The festival of lights was the night before so they had the beautiful tree of lights and brightly lit wreaths up and down the streets.

We ate at a place across from the Spire in the middle of Dublin. It was the strangest thing because we couldn’t figure out if we were in a nice restaurant or a crappy one. The food was delicious, but it didn’t have much atmosphere. That makes you think crappy, but as we looked around everyone was dressed up and there were several tables of “special occasion” type groups, which makes me think it was a nice one.  We never decided officially.  After dinner we dropped into a pub across the street for a pint and discussed the nights plans.

We have an early train to Tullamore so we decided aginst another night in Temple Bar and opted to catch a flick. We went and saw the new Harry Potter film in a beautiful velvet covered theater. Natalie said it was really good! I fell asleep, so I can’t provide you with a review other than I apparently found it a bit slow.Overall it was a great day and we are excited to check out Tullamore tomorrow!


Lisa & Natalie

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Train trip to Tullamore!

Good morning everyone!We woke up to a beautiful day in Dublin, got packed up and headed to the train station.  After a little bit of confusion we were able to buy our tickets and get to the correct platform for the train departing for Tullamore.

We took a picturesque trip through the Irish countryside filled with fields of sheep and cows.  We passed through several small towns along the way and I was reminded of how much there is to see here in Ireland.  Way too much for an 8 day holiday!  We made friends with the ladies in the seats next to us and found out that they were two sisters in a family of five girls and five boys.  She said that was pretty typical of an Irish Catholic family.  They were on holiday to meet up with their other three sisters in Wexford and were looking forward to some good Craic!

When we got off the train in Tullamore we walked over to our hotel, The Bridge House, and along the way we saw a whole slew of uniformed school children playing in the school yard and a beautiful little town all around us!  We walked into our hotel and found it to be pretty posh with a grand staircase greeting us at the door.  It looks like a pace where you would see people getting married.

We couldn’t wait to get out and see the rest of the town so we dropped our bags and headed out to the main street of the town.  It was lined with cute boutiques and pubs that were calling our names!  While we were trying to decide which way to go first, we saw this sign that was an obvious clue to which way we should start….

We visited several shops along the way and found a great little wine store that specialized in buying wines directly from the vineyards in Italy, France, and a few other select countries.  Most of the wines were organic and she said that one of their buying parameters is that they have to be bottled in small batches at the vineyard.  From barrel to bottle as she said.

We bought a nice Italian red and headed over to a recommended restaurant around the corner called Mezzo’s where we could enjoy our wine without any corkage fees.  We had an absolutely delectable three course meal and left there feeling happy and ready for a night on the town.

We decided that our adventurous goal would be to try to visit every pub on the main drag of town.  We started at one end and hopped to each of them after one or two beers or drinks.  They all had their own individual charm and were all filled with regulars and locals.  It is a Tuesday night so they were all fairly empty which made two Americans walking in a big event.  We must have been asked where we were from about a dozen times at least!!

So we started at a place called Kelly’s.  Seemed appropriate!

We had a couple of drinks and played a few games dealing with all of the naval related memorabilia up on the walls.

Next we went over to O’Connell’s where everybody was playing darts and teasing each other.  It was lined with awards from Guinness including a big Toucan plaque outside the door awarding them a “Bar of the Year” prize from Guinness brewing.

Next we played some dice in a place called Digan’s and taught the owner how to play 1-4-24.

On to the Brewery Tap where we were allowed to pick the music…

Then there was Annie Kelly’s, the Wolftrap, and one other place on a side street that we left pretty quickly.  We had finally made our way back to the hotel where we shut down the lobby bar.  No literally, they close the gates in front of us, but let us know that they would be happy to bring beers up to our room anytime before four am!  Yikes!  I’m glad we didn’t take them up on that offer!!

This all took place last night, I couldn’t blog because Natalie was chatting with her sweetie online, but we just finished breakfast and will be checking out of the hotel, heading up to the Tullamore Dew Heritage Center and then hopping on the train bound for Galway!


-Lisa & Natalie

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Good bye Tullamore…hello Galway!!

Today started out slowly with a quick breakfast at the hotel.  Natalie went shopping for a bit and I stayed back to catch up on the blog from yesterday.We met back up at the hotel and headed over to the Tullamore Dew Heritage Center.  I am not sure if the Guinness brewery tour spoiled us or not but this seemed…in a word…lame.  It was basically more of a town history than a history of the distillery.

From what I can gather, the Tullamore Dew distillery made up the majority of the jobs and square footage of the town for many years.  Then, when they went from being a single malt distillery to a blended whiskey bottler, they left Tullamore behind with a bunch of people without jobs.  Most of the original grounds have been torn down.  All that remains is a small warehouse right on the canal where they would load the boats to send the whiskey on it’s way to Dublin.  This warehouse is what now houses the Heritage Center.

It seemed like they gathered up the leftovers from when it was an active distillery and threw it all in there with a hokey little tour.  But I will lay off them now, I know they are trying hard to make it a tourist destination, but I think they would be better off marketing the pub scene and shopping…

No worries though, we continued our little walking tour of Tullamore and found several other great areas and cute little streets.

Decided to step into a nearby pub for a late lunch and a pint before we hopped on the train to Galway.  We were back in love with Tullamore immediately!  We left there with many happy memories!

The train ride was pretty uneventful to Galway.  But as we were going west to Galway the weather started to get a bit stormy.  We got off the train and were greeted by a blast of cold air and we both quickly reached for our umbrellas.  We made a quick walk to our hotel and got checked in and dropped off the bags.  We were eager to check out our new stomping grounds, so we ventured out immediately.

Just like everywhere else in Ireland it seems, there is a pub about every ten feet, but when we got to the end of the block we saw a huge Christmas marketplace in the park!  There were vendors from all over Europe selling anything from wood carvings to scarves to jewelry.  There was even a booth from a convent in Russia with all of their handcrafted goods.  It was sooo cute!!

Some of the best sights we saw were the food vendors.  There were candy vendors, olives, cheese, everything you can imagine!!  There was even a beer tent set up that reminded me of Oktoberfest with the long tables and free flowing beer.  My view was from the outside as we got there close to closing time, but we made a note to check it out again tomorrow.

We didn’t eat anything while we were there, but ventured over to a pub adjacent to the park to talk to some locals about what to do in Galway.  We stopped first into a bar called Richardson’s where we had a quick beer and met a local named Sean.  He was a man of fairly short stature, somewhere around 5’2″ and had about 6 decades of drinking and hard work written on his face.  He was so incredibly sweet though!  He asked if we had been enjoying our holiday and if we intended to come back to Galway someday soon.  We said we might think about it and then he suggested, with a dead serious look on his face, that we buy a home here.  He had some notion that because we were able to travel that we could just buy homes where ever we wanted!  Ha – I wish!!

We moved over to the bar next door called Fibber McGee’s and asked the bartender what she felt was a “can’t miss” attraction for a wild and crazy Wednesday night.  She suggested a place around the block where they had traditional live Irish music and dancing every night.  We thanked her for the suggestion and headed on our way.

The bar she had suggested was called An Pucan and featured a great two man irish band sitting in the corner of a dimly lit pub.  In the back they had a larger restaurant with a small dance floor in front.  We listened to the band and grabbed some dinner.  After a while we were starting to wonder about the dancing we were promised, but then from the back room we heard a loud clickity-clack sound.  We ran back there and found a pair of young men gettin’ all Riverdanced out!!

I grabbed a couple of pictures, but you really need to watch the video to get the real effect of how fast these guys were.  They danced about every 15 minutes for the next couple of hours and they had a new dance each time.  A few times they busted into acrobatics and some impressive gymnastics moves.  These guys were incredible athletes and I could have watched them all night!!

You can watch the video by clicking here!  The video is a bit dark, but you can really hear them more than just see them!  I have only ever uploaded one other video to YouTube before and it was from a prank we played on my mom, so please ignore the YouTube user name.  Trust me, it’s a long story!

We decided to call it a night after that.  We grabbed another quick pint at our hotel and now here we are!!  I hope you have a great evening and an even better Thanksgiving full of friends and family!!

All our love from Ireland, slainte!!

-Lisa & Natalie

Friday, November 26, 2010

Great, but busy day in Galway!!

Hi everyone!We had a fabulous day cruising around the great city of Galway yesterday!  I have lots of pictures to post and a really funny story to share, but I don’t have time to get it written up right now.  We are on our way to go catch a coach for a day tour of Burren and the Cliffs of Moher!  I am hoping that we will be able to find time to post between now and our 6 am flights tomorrow (yawn!).

I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving and, Tracy, I hope you have an awesome birthday today!!



Friday, November 26, 2010

Finally found some time to catch up!!

Whew!  What a crazy couple of days!  It’s about 7:15 PM here and we are on a bus from Galway to Dublin and it is snowing like crazy!!  It’s ironic because Natalie and I were discussing whether they got much snow here and I am looking at about 2 inches that have fallen in the last hour.  I am now completely happy that we decided not to rent a car.  The pubic transportation here is amazing.  Just as an example, I am on a bus with free wifi access.  Sweet!!Okay, back to the task at hand.  Let’s talk about our Thanksgiving day in Galway.  We woke up fairly early without a single plan in mind.  We just knew that we wanted to walk around this great city all day and get to see most everything it has to offer.    There are many pedestrianized streets in Galway and shopping for Christmas was in full force.  While I think most Americans use Thanksgiving as the starting date for Christmas shopping, they are already in full swing over here.  Hundred of locals were pouring in and out of the boutiques lined up along Shop street (not the most creative name…).

Another really noticeable feature of Galway is the amount of street musicians.  There were guitar players, accordion players, banjo players, and these two cute young men standing on poles while they played.  Impressive because they actually had talent AND it was raining at the time.  Now thats worth some spare change for sure!!
The locals refer to Galway as Student town because there are a couple of large universities there and many kids from the rural areas of Ireland come to Galway to cut loose and play during their college years.  We saw a whole lot of wild and crazy young folks out and about…mostly at 11:00 when the regular pubs close and they all have to go over to the Dance Clubs.  Keep in mind the drinking age here is 18…
We got out of the shopping district and wandered over to the canal that runs out to the ocean.  There was a great boardwalk along the canal so we just wandered along thinking we were headed for the ocean.  Turns out the water was flowing the opposite way so we had to backtrack back out, but we grabbed a few good pictures along the way.
Made it out to the ocean and saw the beautiful views from Galway bay.  You could really sense the “port town” nature of Galway and saw the many ships in the harbor.
We found a few historical sights, but the real beauty of Galway lies in the atmosphere.  Everyone was friendly and welcoming.  They are very accustomed to American tourists and often asked us how we were finding Galway so far.  A recurring theme there was how tough it is to get a job though.  Typically there are only two job openings at one time in the paper and they are usually gone by the time the paper hits the stands.
We found a cute pub called The Kings Head and grabbed a late lunch.  The sun goes down in Galway around 4:30 each day, and this was just around the corner, so we decided to head back to the hotel to get ready for our evening plans.
Now, here’s that funny story I promised.  For those of you that don’t know Natalie, she is a hardcore Wizard of Oz fan and collector.  She has all the original books, many of them signed, and a full collection of WOO memorabilia.  So we were lookin through a local paper at things to do and I found an ad for a local theatre company that was putting on a performance of the Wizard of Oz for two nights.  Not knowing much about the theatre scene in Galway we decided that would be a great way to celebrate Thanksgiving.
 So we got back to the hotel, got a little dressed up and headed out for a light dinner.  After dinner we grabbed a cab over to the Town Hall Theatre and excitedly got to our seats after grabbing a pint.  Yes, in Ireland the theatres have a full bar.  Awesome!!  We were in the first row of the balcony of this cute theater.  The long maroon curtains raised and the production began.
It was at this moment that we realized what kind of performance this was going to be.  The entire cast was made up of children between the ages of 5 and 12.  I think we were the only people in the audience without a relative on the stage.
Not that a children’s performance should be reviewed, but lines were forgotten, prop mishaps were plenty, and much to Natalie’s dismay, they had taken some serious liberties with the script.  It took every bit of our will power to make it to the intermission without laughing hysterically.  Mostly we were laughing about the fact that we were so excited about the play and then ended up watching a bunch of Irish children bumbling about the stage.  In order to preserve their fragile little egos, we didn’t laugh until we got in the cab to take us back downtown.  At this point we REALLY needed a pint.
We went back to the hotel to change and then headed over to Richardson’s for some dice and a couple pints.  We went home at a decent hour because we wanted to be bright and fresh for our tour of the Burrens and Cliffs of Moher the next morning.
That tour was today, and it was absolutely amazing!!  However, the picture upload speeds on this wondrous free bus wifi is painfully slow and a lot of what we have to share from today’s tours are best shared in picture form.  I will have to save that update for when I have a better connection.
I hope you all had a fantastic Thanksgiving and please know how thankful we both are to have you in our lives!!
-Lisa & Natalie

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