"To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield"
- Alfred Lord Tennyson, 1833

"live deep and suck out all the marrow of life"
- Henry David Thoreau, 1845

"Some guys, they just give up living
And start dying little by little, piece by piece
Some guys come home from work and wash up,
And go racin' in the streets."
- Bruce Springsteen, 1977

"...to the heart, there's no time for you to waste.
You won't find your precious answers now
by staying in one place."
- Frank Turner, 2009

"The best things in life aren't things.
They're living and breathing."
- Michael Franti , 2011

"I owned every second that this world could give,
I saw so many places, the things that I did"
- Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic, 2014

All written content and photos by Rob Fulfer unless otherwise indicated.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A Wee Little Trip to Ireland - Day 6 - Doolin to Dublin

Our last full day in Ireland. Sad, but true. We slept away most of the morning as we heard the rain coming down again outside our hotel window. We would have loved to explore more of this quaint little town of Doolin (artist rendering right) if the weather had been better, or even stay a couple more days. We did get up in time to grab some complimentary breakfast from Hotel Doolin and awaited our ride back to Dublin which would arrive sometime around noon. We were informed by the folks at Extreme Ireland that we would be taking a Paddywagon tour bus (remember, the folks with the bright green buses we used on our visit to Blarney Castle) back instead of one of theirs. Seemed a little odd since we figured they were in direct competition with each other. but again the Irish are very cordial - even in the business world. The Paddywagon bus arrived earlier than we expected and that was because their tour had not visited the Cliffs of Moher before

lunch like ours did. So, we got a second visit to the Cliffs of Moher (photo above) for no extra cost! Might sound redundant, but with the weather changing so often in Ireland, a second visit was vastly different from the day before. The wind was howling on the clifftops and while the rain had let up during our visit it was very damp in spots including a natural wind tunnel that was blowing surf up 400' or so from below. Totally amazing! (video below) More luck of the Irish was with us by riding back with this particular Paddywagon Tour because the driver, Tom, was the best guide we had the whole trip. He had great stories, jokes and tidbits of info he shared along the ride back in fairly dismal weather. This certainly made the time pass quicker. We stopped again at Bunratty Castle as we did a few days before, but instead of going back to Durty Nelly's, we wondered into another nearby pub called The Creamery Bar - guess what? large, clean and friendly. We we got back to Dublin around 7 PM, we had a decision to make. We could head on out to the Dublin Airport Hilton where we were staying tonight a good distance from downtown Dublin, or we could hang around in Dublin a few more hours for a last farewell. Since the place where we had our best meal, The Bull & Castle, was just up the street, we decided that dinner and a few drinks before heading out toward the airport would be worth dragging our luggage a few blocks to it. We felt a little goofy with our luggage in tow, but the folks at The B & C thought nothing of it and gave us a table with room to store the bags while we enjoyed dinner...did we mention the Irish are very friendly? More Irish microbrews and whiskey were had as well another great dinner. We are definitely gonna miss this place.

A cabstand was just outside and we made good time to the Airport Hilton which looked like it was fairly new and actually in a nice neighborhood area near the airport, but not right up on it (i.e. no jets buzzing the rooftops all night). We organized and packed for our trip home tomorrow thinking back on what a great time we had. We would love to return to Dublin again and perhaps travel north to Belfast and visit The Giant's Causeway on the northern shores of the island, as well as the southern area of Kilkenny that gets high praise as well.
Thank you, Ireland, for a wonderful trip that we will never forget.

Monday, September 7, 2009

A Wee Little Trip to Ireland - Day 5 - Headin' West

We got up early again this morning, lugged our suitcases down to the lobby of the Conrad Hotel, bid it farewell, and grabbed a cab to the other side of Trinity College to the Dublin Tourist Office to meet our second day-tour company, Extreme Ireland. These folks also got good reviews online and offered a day trip out to the west coast to visit the stunning natural wonder called the Cliffs of Moher, a half mile or so of 400 ft. cliffs plunging straight down into the Atlantic Ocean. We settled in for another long ride that included some of the same landscape we saw a few days earlier (the weather was nicer today and the views much more stunning). We once again stopped in downtown Limerick - a little longer this time allowing a few minutes to stretch our legs and walk the Thomond Bridge (photo above) over the River Shannon toward King John's Castle.

Back on the bus for another hour and a half and we arrived on the west coast at the stunning Cliffs of Moher (photo below). Wow, what a site! Definitely in the Top Ten of places we have visited that simply take your breath away. We were given a full two hours here to wander around atop the cliffs and around O"Brien's Castle, a small stone lookout tower and tribute to the former owner of the land who deeded it to the people of Ireland upon his death (photo below). The weather was pleasant with a good breeze blowing and the sun trying to poke out from the clouds allowing for good photo opportunities.

Weather moves in and out of these cliffs rather fast and we were told the last two days of visitation were basically washed out by rain and the views obscured by fog, so we felt very fortunate. Entry to the cliffs is free - this was an important part of O-Brien's will that it be free to all visitors forever - but they have some interactive things that you can pay to see in the visitor's center. We opted to buy tickets since we had a little spare time and checked out a nice historical display about the area plus a cool short 3-D film called "Atlantic Edge" showing the cliffs from literally a bird's-eye view.

After our visit to the Cliffs of Moher, we were scheduled for lunch in the charming little town nearby known as Doolin. One reason we chose Extreme Ireland as our tour guides was the fact that they would allow us to stay overnight in Doolin as an option and pick us up on the same tour the next day for delivery back to Dublin. We made reservations at Hotel Doolin, a new small modern hotel in town with very reasonable rates. Since there were no Hilton properties out this way (and Ashlee was out of points anyway), Hotel Doolin gave us a small-town experience in Ireland as well. Plus, it split up the long bus ride to and from Dublin into two days instead of one very long one. We will have to remember this idea for future travels.

We gobbled our lunch down because we wanted to make a 2 PM ferry ride from the Doolin Pier to see the Cliffs of Moher from the ocean. The hotel was about 2 miles from the pier and we did not think we could make it in time to catch the boat if we walked, so we asked the girl at the desk about a cab. Evidently in Doolin there is only one cab that she called and we were lucky that the driver was nearby. He got us down to the pier and only charged us 5 Euro (no meter in the cab). Money well spent. The pier was busy as two other ferry lines offered tours as well as normal ferry service to folks living on the nearby Aran Islands. The weather was holding steady somewhat but the breeze was picking up a little and storms were forecasted for the evening. The ocean was in good shape as we headed out on a decent-sized boat that was full of sightseers. The cliffs were just as amazing from this vantage point and the stunning 200' Branaunmore sea stack (photo below) rising from the water at the base of the cliffs was even more visible than from above, as well as a cascading waterfall down the face of the cliffs. The sea stack was covered with nesting seabirds and the boat was able to get very close to it. What an amazing site! There is also a sea arch on a far end of the cliffs, but we didn't get close enough to see it real well since it was only an hour cruise. The sea was a bit choppier as we headed back and the weather was definitely turning. Ashlee got a little green around the gills, but held it together until we got back to shore. What a trooper!

We made the walk back to the hotel from the pier as the rain began to fall. We got a little gripey about the situation and then quickly came to the realization that we were walking on the west coast of Ireland in the rain seeing landscapes like the photo below, and that overall it was pretty damn cool. We stopped in a few shops as we made our way back including a wonderful chocolate shop where the owner was very friendly and very generous with her samples! We rested and unpacked somewhat (we were only there for one night) and planned our evening. Our tour driver told us that the best place for food and live music afterwards in Doolin was O'Connor's Pub - a long-standing establishment (since 1832 to be exact). It was about a mile walk back the way we came from the pier, but the rain had not increased in volume and we decided to give it a go. Another great walk worth a little inconvenient rain. The pub was again...large, clean and very friendly. We found a table fairly easily despite the place being very busy. Ashlee continued her tour of Irish whiskeys and we started the night with a classic staple: fish and chips. Delicious. The fish was light and not greasy at all. Hey, it's an ocean town and they know how to do fish. We drank and nibbled away the time awaiting the music to start around 9:30 PM. We were expecting a band to set up but instead three older fellas just commandeered a booth and started plugging away with two fiddles and a flute. We listened a while until our eyes got heavy from the Guinness and the whiskey and we were in need of some sleep after such a great, but long, day on the west coast of Ireland. The rain had let up as we walked back in the pitch-dark street on a cool, quiet Irish eve. This is living, my friends.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A Wee Little Trip to Ireland - Day 4 - Dublin City Pub Crawl

We awoke from our 12-hour slumber fully rested and completely rid of the jet lag that had been hounding us the last couple of days. It now actually felt like the actual time it was in Dublin (six hours ahead of back home). We had a "rural pub tour" scheduled for today that looked like it was going to be a lot of fun, but we were informed a few days before that it had to be cancelled due to lack of participants and the fact that a few of the pubs they usually visited on Sundays would not be playing live music because of a big game of "hurling" on TV that day. Hurling is similar to lacrosse and there was a big championship game being held in Dublin between two neighboring areas. The 80,000-seat stadium was sold out and everyone was excited about it.
We were disappointed not to visit some small pubs outside the Dublin city limits, but we can't say we were really disappointed to not have to climb back on another tour bus after the long day yesterday and another long tour pending tomorrow. So, we decided to conduct our own "Dublin Pub Crawl" beginning in the late afternoon and continuing late into the night. Before wading into our evening of debauchery, we stopped by Trinity College again to take a look at their famous "long hall" library (photo above - not our picture, no cameras allowed) and the even more famous Book of Kells, a beautifully illustrated version of the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John dating back to the 9th century (photo above - again, not our picture). The library was amazing and the Book of Kells was fairly interesting. But enough of this refinement and dignity...on to the pubs!!!
Our first stop was for an early dinner and drinks at The Bull & Castle. The B&C is a pub, German-style beer hall and restaurant all rolled into one. It has an extensive beer menu (researched by Rob - see more on the brews he had in his beer blog) including several Irish microbrews. Ashlee opted for their Irish whiskey sampler instead (photo below). The food was delicious with a Guinness Pie for Ashlee (shepherd's pie cooked with Guinness) and Irish wild salmon for Rob (photo below).
We next ventured over to The Brazen Head Pub which claims to be Dublin's oldest. What's great about Irish pubs (or at least all the ones we visited) is that they are much bigger than we anticipated. The Brazen Head, for example, is comprised of 3 separate bars in 3 separate adjoined areas allowing for a lot of people to grab a pint fairly quickly, find a seat and enjoy the atmosphere. The spaces are cozy and divided enough to allow for quiet conversation in one area and boisterous singing and such in another. Other traits we noticed was that all the pubs we visited in Ireland were: (1.) very clean - no filthy "beer joints" here where you are afraid to touch anything; (2.) that the local patrons and staff are extremely friendly - no dirty looks at the tourists invading their favorite watering hole and asking "dumb" questions of the staff; and finally, (3) bright, cheery places that are even family friendly since most serve food as well, and not dark, sullen drinking pits. We encountered no problems in any of the pubs with people who had drunk too much and were unruly in any way. The Irish have long been the butt of many jokes about over-indulgence in terms of alcohol, but to us they seem to have the act of social drinking down to an art form.
Our next stop was at The Porterhouse. This is actually a fairly new establishment and also a chain with three other locations throughout Ireland. Despite no real history, the place was packed and it's a very cool microbrewery serving there own quality beer in many different varieties. The Porterhouse is located in the heart of the Temple Bar area of Dublin. Temple Bar is a festive area down near the River Liffey with tons of pubs, shops and and restaurants. From what we gathered on our walking tour the day before yesterday, the area was. at least up until a few years ago, in a sad state of neglect, but a successful campaign to revive the area has turned it into the real hotspot in downtown Dublin. While strolling through Temple Bar after leaving The Porterhouse we stopped in the Oliver St. John Gogarty (photo below). This pub is seen in many pictures of Dublin and the Temple Bar area thanks to its bright colors and numerous flags adorning the building. It is definitely a "tourist trap" type of pub with piped-in music and a TGI Friday's kind of feel inside, but it made for a nice brief stop for tired feet and we had a great board of Irish cheeses to snack on.
The final major stop on our Dublin Pub Crawl was Messrs. Maguire. This great 3-story pub faces the River Liffey and has tons of nooks and crannies to get lost in while sipping your favorite adult beverage. It is also a microbrewery (do you see a pattern here? Rob says man cannot live by Guinness alone). We arrived here after the big hurling game mentioned earlier and it was full of Kilkenny fans adorned in blue and gold attire. They were in great spirits so we assume that Kilkenny won the game. Things were starting to get a little blurry after our stop here and we did drop briefly into a place called Cassidy's Bar that was supposed to have a piano bar, but the place was dead and there was no sound of the tinkling of the ivories, so we called it a night and took a cab (very reasonable rates in Dublin, by the way) back to the hotel to prepare to pack up our stuff to take a day tour to the west coast and spend our next night in the tiny town out there called Doolin.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

A Wee Little Trip to Ireland - Day 3 - BLARNEY Rubble

We popped up bright and early this morning and took a cab over to Paddy's Palace - a Dublin hostel and tour company for a day trip south to Blarney Castle for our chance to smooch on the famous Blarney Stone. Paddywagon Tours uses bright green buses with a huge animated leprechaun logo on the side of them. Sounds and looks offensive to the Irish we would think, and definitely a bit cheesy, but they get great reviews online and their tour prices were hard to beat since they cater mostly to the younger hostel-budget crowd touring Europe. For the price of a couple tanks of gas these days, we got professional transportation cross-country on Ireland's tiny little roads without the fuss of worrying about finding our way or remembering to stay on the left side of the road driving in a rental car.
It was our first venture into the countryside of Ireland away from the hustle and bustle of Dublin and the scenery was picturesque. Pristine pasture land, quaint humble farmhouses and rock-wall fences flashed by us on the road to the city of Limerick, our first brief stop. The landscape looked a lot like the rural Southeastern U.S. at times with only the occasional ruins of a castle in someone's back yard to give away where you actually were (photo above). In Limerick, half of our tour group boarded another bus bound for the west coast and the Cliffs of Moher. That would be our destination in a couple of days as well. From Limerick it was another hour and a half south until we pulled into the busy parking area for the Blarney Castle. Trees hid its view from us until we started up the manicured walking path and then all of sudden there it was looming above us (photo below). Our first real castle up close and personal. It looks to have been kept in great original condition or at least what's left of its stone walls and ramparts. Only a very few modern amenities like flood lights placed in discreet locations gave any indication what century you were in during your visit. To get to the Blarney Stone itself, which in fact is a part of the castle's battlement wall and not a separate natural stone as we always assumed, you have to climb to the top of the structure which is a treat as well. The views of the village of Blarney and the surrounding countryside are outstanding. Kissing the Blarney Stone is a fairly low-key affair (Rob taking his turn in the photo below). You have to lay on your back atop the castle's highest point, grab hold of two iron bars to steady yourself, lower your head a bit and kiss the cold stone wall basically hanging upside down. No one looks cool doing it and you can't help but giggle when it's your turn, but admittedly it's kind of a hoot. You have to put out of your mind the fact that the Blarney Stone was ranked as the # 1 germiest tourist attraction in the world by a recent survey. Yeck. It would have been great to stay longer at Blarney Castle. The surrounding grounds are beautiful (photo below) and there are several walking trails of some distance encompassing 60 acres of gardens, woods, the small River Martin and a lake. One of the only drawbacks of a touring company is the rigid schedule you are on. There was a bit of line to the top of the castle to get your smooch on, and by the time we were done with that we only had a little time left to take a leisurely walk back to the parking area and explore a couple of shops in the nearby woolen mills. This area of Ireland is known for it's great production of sweaters, scarves and lace-works. The trip back was long and our jet lag crept up again on us. As the old song says " it's a long way to Tipperary," which actually was another town we passed through on our way back to Dublin. We made a brief late afternoon stop at another castle in the area of Bunratty and to our great surprise the pub next to it was named none other than "Durty Nelly's." This was the name of one of our favorite places to eat for many years in Chattanooga where Ashlee and I met. It closed a few years ago to our great surprise and sadness. We ambled in to the place and the barman greeted us with a smile. We mentioned that we had a "Durty Nelly's" back in Tennessee and we figured we would get an eyeroll and a snort of some sort. Instead, the man smiled broadly and said "Yah, I missed going in there when I visited Chattanooga." We figured he was pulling our leg, but then he added, "but I did get to see The Wrecker Museum." Well, we knew he was a real visitor to Chattanooga then, because only someone who has actually been there would know about the rather infamous "Towing and Recovery Museum." Yes, it's a museum of wreckers. No, we don't know why. We ordered a couple of pints and sat outside in the mild weather to enjoy them before climbing back on the big green express back to Dublin. We got back to Dublin around 8 PM with rumbling tummies and headed out to find something Irish to eat. The first place was too fancy and we weren't dressed for it, the next place was way too busy and in our desperate hunger we settled for an Italian cafe. Not what we planned but it turned out to be delicious and housed in a very cool old building. We wanted to hit some pubs after dinner but our tired bodies just wouldn't hear of it. We headed back to the hotel instead knowing we had a day of Dublin pub crawling ahead of us tomorrow. We slept for twelve hours. Good, good day in Ireland.

Friday, September 4, 2009

A Wee Little Trip to Ireland - Day 2 - The Sunny, Cloudless Skies...of Ireland?

We must have got on the wrong plane! When we touched down in Dublin early this morning the skies were sunny and cloudless? Not what we were expecting for sure, but you take what you can get. The cab ride was quick from the airport and our friendly cabbie informed us we were just missing the rush hour that was about to begin in and around the city. Maybe there is something to this "luck of the Irish" thing? We arrived at our new home for the next three days: The Conrad Dublin. Conrad is a member of the Hilton Hotel family and thanks to Ashlee's many trips drudging out to Memphis and Arkansas for work, we were able to stay here for free using her accumulated points. The hotel is rather new and located in a quiet business district just a short walk through the lovely St. Stephen's Green Park to the busy shopping and restaurants of Grafton Street, Trinity College, and the noisy pubs of the Temple Bar area.
Here comes that Irish luck again: we were able to check into our room well before 9 AM (photo above is a view out our window). Never had that happen before. This gave us plenty of time to unpack, freshen up and even take a quick snooze before our scheduled walking tour at 11 A.M. We booked the tour through Viator.com (great, great site by the way). It started on the beautiful downtown campus of Trinity College which is famous for it's huge historic library and the home of The Book of Kells. This tour did not include these but we would get to them later in the trip. The tour did include however a tour of the rest of Trinity College as well as the beautiful Dublin City Hall (inside view of its dome is the photo above), the amazing Dublin Castle (its clock tower is the photo to the left) and the huge Bank of Ireland building that was first built to hold Ireland's Parliment. The tour lasted two hours and in that time we not only learned a lot about Ireland and the city of Dublin, but we also began to experience what weather on the island is really like. Within that time span we saw and felt it all: sunny skies, big puffy white clouds moving in and out; dark, ominus clouds building; chilly winds; and even a smattering of rain. The Crowded House song, "Four Seasons in One Day" definitely came to mind. The weather would continue to follow this pattern our entire trip.
After the walking tour ended in the Temple Bar area along the River Liffey. We decided to grab a quick bite to eat before we started our trek to the famous Guinness St. James Gate Brewery and Store House. It was a longer walk than we anticipated and we got a little lost (jet-lag was definitely starting to kick in), but it would be really hard to actually miss the Guinness Brewery if you were looking for it because it takes up several city blocks and there is decent signage to point you in the right direction. The place was packed when we got there and we were glad we had prepaid for our entry tickets to avoid standing in line (thanks again, Viator.com). You get a free pint of Guinness with your tour that concludes on the 7th floor of the Storehouse in what is known as The Gravity Bar. We headed up there first because we were afraid of it closing before we reached it if we started at the bottom floor. The Gravity Bar was so crowded it was hard to enjoy the 360-degree views of Dublin that it offers, so we opted to go down two floors to the much-less-crowded cafe/bar which also afforded great veiws as well through beautiful arched windows (below) as we sipped our brews. The weather again cleared for some magnificent views of the sprawling brewery embedded in this quaint city. The long day and the jet lag were beginning to hit us hard and this limited the rest of our tour of the brewery. We looked around a bit more on the way down to the ground floor gift shop, grabbed some goodies and hailed a cab back to the hotel. We were exhausted and went to bed early to prepare for our early rise tomorrow for our first tour outside Dublin going south to the famous Blarney Castle.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

A Wee Trip to Ireland - Day 1 - Little ol' Jet Airliners

We started our rather quick trip to Ireland today with a noon flight on on a tiny 3-seat-per-row Continental Airlines jet from Nashville to Newark, New Jersey. We had a three-hour layover until we boarded another rather small Continental jet (at least for an overseas flight -three seats on each side of the row) bound for Dublin, Ireland. Continental was the main reason behind our choice to go to Ireland this year when we stumbled upon a round-trip airfare from Nashville to Dublin for $460 each. It would have been hard to pass up such a great price, so we pounced on it. The weather was clear and fair from Nashville to Newark and we had some great views of nearby New York City and The Statue of Liberty as we landed. The Newark Liberty Airport, as well as New Jersey itself, gets a bad rap, but overall it's a decent place to catch an international flight. The flight from Newark to Dublin was a rather short five and half hours (thanks jet stream tailwind). We boarded around 5 PM Eastern and we were flying all night plus gaining six hours, so by the time we touched down on the Emerald Isle Thursday was gone and it was Friday morning around 7 AM. We had planned to sleep most of the flight but that didn't go too well as our seats were near the back of the plane by the bathroom and there was constant traffic to and from it. Continental had a good in-flight entertainment system with a personal monitor for each seat with a good selection of first-run movies, TV shows, etc. which made the time just fly by (pun definitely intended).