"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.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

IRE-BEL-FRA ...9 more days in Europe

Frozen lakes in northern Quebec on the way to Dublin.
We celebrated our 13th wedding anniversary with another trip to Europe where we did some more country-hopping like we've done before.  This trip was as memorable as the others with one repeat destination and several new locales.

Saturday, May 17 - We got a good deal to get "across the pond" out of Knoxville of all places.  So, we drove up this morning and caught a short United Airlines flight to Chicago where we boarded an overnight direct flight to Dublin, Ireland, via their national airline, Aer Lingus.  It was an easy 7.5-hour flight in comfortable-enough economy-class seats, decent food and good entertainment on our individual TV sets.  We landed early the next morning and took cab into downtown.

Sunday, May 18 - DUBLIN, IRELAND - This is our first repeat visit to a European country (and city) and it's definitely one of our favorites.  Flying back to Dublin was an easy choice since we enjoyed it so much back in 2009.  And from here we could pick and choose cheap, short flights to almost anywhere in Europe as well.  We took a long nap in our Hilton hotel room and headed out around noon to take in some more of Dublin's fun and beauty.  We headed over to busy Grafton Street for some shopping, some good food at Bewley's Cafe and, of course, some pub time.

  The popular Irish band, Keywest, busking on Grafton Street to promote their new album, "The Message" and getting back to the thing that got them started in the first place, playing on the streets for the people.
Our favorite new Dublin pub, The Long Hall.  An incredible whiskey selection and some great beers on tap as well.
Monday, May 19 - Happy Anniversary!! - NORTHERN IRELAND/BELFAST
We boarded an early-departing tour due north from Dublin up to the Coastal Road in Northern Ireland.  There is no border check to enter NI and the only difference you can really tell is that they use British Sterling for their currency.
Emerald Isle indeed.
Picturesque Carnlough Harbor was our first real stop in Northern Ireland.  
Shaggy Highland Cattle aka "The Queen's Cattle" roadside in Northern Ireland.
Does a scene get any more "pastoral" than this?
The amazing windswept Northern Irish coast
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge.  Been there, done that!  And it was thrilling.
Just a small part of the amazing Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland.  These volcanic-formed hexagon pillars are not done justice by pictures.  A truly special and mystical place that must be witnessed in person.
Castle Greyjoy from "Game of Thrones" or Dunluce Castle, Northern Ireland?  One in the same actually.
Inside the amazing Crown Liquor Saloon, Belfast, Northern Ireland.  This famous pub sits across from the Eurpoa Hotel which holds the distinction of "the most bombed hotel in the world."  Glad that "the trouble" has ceased here now.

Tuesday, May 20 - Dublin to BRUSSELS, BELGIUM
We weren't able to do a tour due to an impending flight later in the day, but the Jameson Distillery visitor's center in Dublin is very cool and the samples are many.  It was a great last stop on our way out of Ireland and on to Belgium.
                         The Dublin Airport has become one of our favorite airports in the world.  Probably because we've been to it more than any other non-U.S. airport.  But despite that bias, it's also where we've now had the Best Airport Food Ever at the amazing Chocolate Lounge.  We opted for the fondue which was fabulous and made our wait to board another Aer Lingus flight over to Brussels, Belgium, worth the time.

Hello, Brussels!  Our quick hour and half flight to Belgium got us another new country marked off The Bucket List.  We took a cab downtown to the very nice Hilton Brussels City for two quick nights.

Beer, beer and more beer!  We must be in Belgium!!
It was a short walk from our hotel to the bustling Delirium Village, a set of bars centered on the famous, high gravity Belgium beer, Delirium Tremens.  It's located near the Grote Markt (Grand Market) a fun, pedestrian-only area of Brussells that is teeming with restaurants and bars.  Inside the Delirium Taphouse we hilariously ran into a large group of Vandy students who had taken the train in from Paris (the legal drinking age here is 16, by the way).  We sampled SEVERAL libations and my once-lukewarm feeling toward Belgium-style beer grew with each delicious sip.

Wednesday, May 21 - Brussels, Belgium
The Grand Market (Grote Markt) is even more spectacular in the daytime.  After sleeping in a bit, it was here that we met our guide for what else...an afternoon walking beer tour!
The beer tour was excellent.  Not only were the eight beers we tried superb (and rare in some cases), but we got to drink them in the coolest places including a tiny bar in a puppet theater, more tiny bars hidden down crowded little streets, and through secret passageways, and even in a private apartment.  Our tour group was small, but lively, including a couple from Australia, another couple from Salt Lake City and a retired history teacher from Virginia.  Our your guide, Stefan, was very knowledgeable about Belgian beer and gave a great tour of the heart of Brussels that included history, modern culture and the Belgian way of life.  We got to sample delicious Belgian cheeses and chocolate as well to pair with the beer.  We even hung out with Stefan for dinner afterwards along with some of our other tour-mates.  It was a great way to spend our only full day in Belgium and we came to realize quickly that we have to come back to this wonderful city and this friendly and interesting country.

Thursday, May 22 - Brussels to NICE, FRANCE

Our stay in Brussels went much too fast, but it was time to head over to nearby southern France for some beach time.  We took the European equivalent to Southwest Airlines called EasyJet which did deliver and a short, easy (and cheap) flight into the busy airport in Nice.
Goodbye, Belgium!  We hope to see you again with more time to devout to you and your beer, cheese and chocolate!!
Hey look, it's the South of France!
Nice blew us away immediately.  What a beautiful place!  Our hotel, the Splendid Nice, was a little dated, but the rooftop lounge gave an awesome 360-degree view of the city (see video below).

We immediately headed just a few blocks south from our hotel to the blue water that makes this area known as Cote d'Azur (Azure Coast).  Despite a bit of overcast it was still beautiful.  The color of the water changes dramatically here based on the weather as we would soon find out.  It was cheese and champagne for us as we took in the view.  The entire beach in Nice is open to the public with no buildings actually on it.  All structures are across the always busy Promenade des Anglais.  Preservation for all to enjoy seems to be the goal here despite all the obvious wealth around.
Here was the biggest shocker to us about the beaches in Nice...they are all pebbles.  Zero sand.  And these little devils hurt!!  They are much sharper than they appear.  We had to walk in shoes on them.  The locals will walk barefoot and lay on them without any concern at all.  I guess you build up a tolerance to them.
Our first night in Nice walking along the Promenade was special.  Again, it's one of those place you have to see in person.  Pictures and TV do it little justice at all.
 We took a day tour northward from Nice today that wasn't exactly what we wanted, but it was all that was available to get us at least a glimpse of nearby Monte Carlo and Monaco.  Unknowingly, we had scheduled our trip during the Grand Prix in Monaco and all the regular tours there were unavailable this weekend since most of the streets are closed off for the race.  Nor did we get to see any of the race.  This was my fault for not realizing what was going on, but we made due with what was available which was a "shopping" tour up into Italy with stops along the way including a Monaco overlook.
Ventimiglia, Italy, is a beautiful old town on the coast, but don't go there for their "famous flea market."  It sucks.  Just a bunch of crap made in China at every single booth.  What a waste of time.  Fortunately, we made the best of the longest stop on the tour by exploring some of the city and the seaside there.
Now their flea market might be a joke, but the fish market in Ventiniglia is the real deal.  Just look at those swordfish steaks!  You can't get much fresher than that!  It must be a real treat to get seafood this fresh on a daily basis.

Blue skies, bluer water.  This fish-eyed panoramic of our lunch spot in Menton, France shows the same concept as in Nice where all buildings are across the street and the beaches are open.  Watching the waiters from Maria Grazia Restaurant hustle our delicious lunches across the street to our beach-side table was pretty cool I have to admit.
The highlight of the goofy "shopping" tour was this promised overview of Monte Carlo.  Spectacular!  The weather couldn't have been nicer and it's great to say we've been in Monaco (no border check, nor in Italy), but we so want to come back and see this weird, rich little place up close and personal.  Bring the yacht around, Geeves!!
Back in Nice, we headed back up on the roof of our hotel and soaked in the view down Rue Meyerbeer to the beach.  The water had changed dramatically along with the sunny weather.  Stunning is not a strong enough word.
We wondered the beautiful streets of Nice where we did some shopping and had some great food as well.

Today, we headed out on a half-day tour northward from Nice to the famous towns of Cannes and Antibes. Now we are talking....this is EXACTLY the kind of tour we were looking for and this time our dumb luck paid off as we got to visit Cannes, France while the actual film festival was going on.  Yep, that was not planned, but you take what you can get.  The weather also cooperated again with a beautiful day.
Before our afternoon tour south, we took a long walk northward along the waterfront in Nice.  The sunny, warm weather had dramatically changed the color of the Mediterranean Sea.  Again, pictures do this exquisite place very little justice.  We walked all the way to the busy harbor thanks to a great pedestrian walkway all along the coast here.
Talk about exciting, visiting Cannes during the actual festival was unbelievable.  Now, granted, we were there during the day and most events go on at night .  And, no, we didn't see any stars (although we definitely saw British actor, Timothy Spall, at the Nice airport  the next day after he won Best Actor at the festival for his role in "Mr. Turner" and Ashlee is almost positive we passed Robert Redford and his wife earlier that day at the Nice harbor), but seeing the red carpet and the people already lining up for  that evening's events and walking down the row of huge yachts docked nearby and buying a couple official souvenirs sure wasn't too shabby a way to spend an afternoon in France.
The coastal drive from Cannes to Antibes was breathtaking on every curve of the winding road.

The ancient walled city of Antibes was our next stop today.  With the snow-topped French Alps in the background, you couldn't ask for much more of a picturesque scene.
We had an hour or so to wander to cool little streets of Antibes and we had some great ice cream at Gelatiria del Porto.
Sailboats, a lighthouse, snow-topped mountains...what else do you want?
Our last quick stop on this excellent tour was a stroll down Millionaires' Quay.  These boats are BIG, baby, and I think my favorite was the one here with the plunge-pool on the back deck.  A must-have, in my humble opinion.
 Our last morning in Nice was a beauty.  I found myself back up on the roof of our hotel just before sunrise looking east down tree-lined Victor Hugo Boulevard and wishing we had a couple more days here.  By the way, Elton John's house is over on that far ridge there.  We are still looking for that invitation in the mail there, Rocket Man.
Sunday, May 25  and Monday, May 26 were rather droll travel days for us.   First, we went back to Dublin where we stayed near the airport and the highlight was having Chinese food in our room for dinner. The next morning we had an uneventful flight back to Chicago with a bit of a layover so we rode the EL down to the Wicker Park area and had a great early dinner at The Southern (yeah, we were missing our home). When we got back to the airport, we found out the bad news that our long layover just got longer with a delayed flight back to Knoxville.  As the hours wore on and the delay kept extending we decided to see if we could catch a flight back to Nashville which were able to do at no cost, just so we could rent a car and get home and get in the bed at a decent hour before working the next day.  After work on Tuesday, we drove back to Knoxville and got our car.  Good luck, bad luck...it all balances out I guess.  But no matter what happened at the end, it was a spectacular trip and we don't regret a thing about it and can't wait to do it again!!

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