Great Britain trip September 2009

After many years of trying to persuade me to go, Teresa finally talked me into taking a trip to Great Britain. Teresa organized the whole adventure, from what to see, where to go, and where to stay every day. We went from the south of England to Wales. Crossed the channel to Ireland. Spent 5 days touring Ireland. Crossed the channel to Scotland. Zipped through Scotland, and drove through northern England, back to London where we took the plane back to the U.S. It was a fascinating trip through history, seeing many palaces, castles, and cathedrals.

The trip from day to day.

August 27, 2009.

Coming home from work it was time to pack and get ready for a very early departure to the airport. Around 08:30pm we started to smell smoke outside, and the news on TV told us that there was a brush fire at the Portuguese Bend area. Shortly after that, the power went out! Fortunately we had some candles and our flashlights, so we could finish our packing. We were lucky that the fire did not come our way, and after a few hours we noticed that it was diminishing dramatically. By the time we had to leave for the airport, the power was still out, but felt that the worst was over and there was no reason for us to stay. At the airport, we watched the news, who told us the fire was contained. Our flight left on time, and we arrived in Charlotte, NC without any problems. After a long lay-over we boarded the plane for England. The seats in this plane were a lot narrower, so needless to say, the flight was not super comfortable.

August 29, 2009.

The plane did arrive on time in Gatwick, and after a long wait at customs, we got our luggage and went to the get our rental car. I decided to do most of the driving, which was fairly easy to get used to, as long as you paid attention to follow the cars in front of you. Our first destination was Lewes, which is about an hour south of Gatwick, where we quickly found our hotel, and requested our room. The lady at the desk was not very friendly and told us that our room was not ready yet, but when she saw our exhausted faces, she got pity, and gave us our room, where we promptly dropped on the bed and fell asleep. Late that afternoon we took a shower, got dressed, and decided to drive to nearby Brighton, where we had a lovely dinner at an Italian restaurant. After dinner we walked to the Brighton Pier for some fresh air and pictures.

August 30, 2009.

Our first full day in England! First item on the agenda was the Royal Pavilion in Brighton. This is a spectacular palace, with incredibly decorated rooms. Unfortunately I was not allowed to take any pictures inside, which would be standard procedure in most of the buildings we were to visit. Quite disappointing! After touring the palace, we drove to Arundel Castle where we had lunch. This is an imposing castle, with wonderful rooms, and a spectacular library! The grounds around the castle have some beautiful gardens as well. Back on the road, we moved on to see Jan Austen's home. The home is in a small village, Chawton, and was decorated in the period that Jan Austen lived there. There was a small gift shop where you could buy all her books and other paraphernalia. Across the street from the home, was a Tea Room, where we had some "hot chocolate". From there, we drove to Winchester, where we would stay for the night. The hotel was in the center of the city, where a wedding party was being held, and some of the ladies in the party were interestingly dressed!

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August 31, 2009.

After breakfast, we first went to the Great Hall, where the Round Table is displayed. The Hall is completely empty, except for a few statues. The Round Table hangs high up on one of the walls. From there, we walked to Winchester Cathedral, which is quite beautiful. Jan Austen is berried here. The Winchester Bible, an exquisite work of 12th-century illumination, is on display here. On we went to Salisbury, where we visited the Wilton House. Before we did the tour, we hade a nice lunch in the restaurant. The House has several rooms that are quite amazing, especially the main hall, with it's painted ceiling. (I was able to get a picture of it!) The grounds are also beautiful, with a streams running thought it and a covered bridge. After so much walking, it was time for a break with some ice cream. Back in the car, we drove through Bradford-on-Avon, with its Cotswold Stone architecture, and found our way to Bath, where we stayed in a beautiful hotel on a hill just outside the city. The receptionist was a lovely young lady who got ecstatic when Teresa told her that we would go to Sally Lunn's for lunch the next day. She told us, that her Mom took her there all the time when she was little, and has fond memories of it. We promised to buy her one of the buns!

September 1, 2009.

This morning, we visited the Roman Baths Museum, an amazing place where the Romans used to spend time relaxing in the water from the hot springs. After the tour of the complex, we visited the Abbey. When it was time for lunch, we went to that famous little restaurant here, called Sally Lunn's, known for it's buns, and of course we had to try them. We also bought a bun for the receptionist at the hotel. After lunch, I decided climb the tower of the Abbey, where I saw the humongous bells, and got an explanation of how the carillon is played. At the top of the tower, we had some incredible views of the city. In the afternoon, we drove through some of the surrounding villages with it's typical Cotswold stone for this area. We had dinner at a local pub that night.

September 2, 2009.

After breakfast, we packed our suitcases, and drove to Oxford. Getting to Oxford was not hard, but parking in the city is brutal. What we should have done is park at one of the "car parks" outside the city, and take the bus into the center, but what did we know...). Our main focus that to visit the Bodleian Library and Christ Church College. The Bodleian library is a fascinating building, which was founded in 1320, and receives a copy of EVERY book published in Britain. Needless to say, it is HUGH! The decorations in the building are spectacular! Nearby is the Radcliffe Camera, the reading room of the Bodleian, which unfortunately was closed to visitors that day. From there we found our way to Christ Church College, made famous by the Harry Potter movies. It was here where they filmed the large dining room scenes. With some time left, we decided to go to Blenheim Palace, just outside of Oxford. This Palace was the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill in 1874. By the time we arrived, the last tour for the day was just underway, and we rushed to join them. The Palace is a Baroque masterpiece, with an incredible Library, Great Hall, and Saloon. Well worth a visit! Around 5:30pm we drove back to Oxford, to find our Guesthouse for the night, an expensive place with a very small bedroom just outside the center of town. We had dinner at a pub which had a great atmosphere of local life.

September 3, 2009.

This morning, we drove through the Cotswolds, which has idyllic villages built out of the famous Cotswold limestone. The highlight was the village of Bilbury, with it's Arlington Row Cottages which were built in the 17th century for weavers, and still look the same today. From there, we drove through the country side to Warwick, where we visited Warwick Castle, a magnificent medieval fortress, with beautiful Great Hall, and impressive State rooms. Outside on the grounds we were entertained by a bird trainer, who had several eagles he works with, among them an American bold eagle, and a South American eagle. These birds are magnificent in flight, but hard to catch with this camera! After lunch at the castle, we drove back through some more of the Cotswolds villages, to Cardiff, where we would visit Cardiff Castle. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived there, the castle was closed for the day. So we drove to our hotel, which was much nicer than the house we stayed in the night before, and had a nice dinner at the restaurant before retiring into our room.

September 4, 2009.

Cardiff Castle is an ornate mansion, rich in medieval images and romantic details. The castle, as it is in it's current state, was designed by William Burges in the late 1800's. Every room here is amazing, especially the Banqueting Hall, the fabulous Library, and the Arab Room. On the grounds was a young lady, who was walking around with a falcon of which I was able to take a close-up picture. From there, we drove through Wales, enjoying the beautiful landscape until we reached Powis Castle near the town of Welshpool. The castle's lavish interiors of wood paneling, tapestries, and antique furniture are all quite amazing. The gardens around the castle are among the best-known in Britain, with their series of Italianate terraces, balustrades, and hanging gardens. Next, was a long drive through spectacular Snowdonia National Park to Caernarfon, which has one of the most famous castles in Wales. It is here where the Investiture of Prince Charles took place in 1969. Unfortunately we arrived too late to visit the castle, and after taking some pictures, we drove on to Holyhead where we would take the ferry to Ireland that night. In Holyhead, we had dinner at a small Indian restaurant before boarding the ferry. At 1:00am, the ferry arrived in Dublin, and after debarkation, it took about 15 minutes to find our hotel, where Teresa's sister also stayed. We quickly unloaded our luggage from the car, and promptly fell asleep.

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September 5, 2009.

We met Teresa's sister, Caroline, in the hotel restaurant, where we talked about our first week in England, and Caroline's flight to Ireland. After breakfast it was time to explore Dublin. Our first destination was Trinity College, where we took a guided tour of the grounds and saw the Book of Kells, the most richly decorated medieval illuminated manuscript in Ireland. From there, it was a short walk to Dublin Castle, which was originally built as a symbol of English rule, and rebuilt after a fire in 1684 to it's present state. Of particular interest are the Throne Room, containing a throne presented by William of Orange after his victory at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, and St. Patrick's Hall with its banners of the Knights of St. Patrick. The Hall has beautiful ceiling paintings, symbolizing the relationship between Britain and Ireland. We had lunch at a restaurant that used to be a Bank. All the original decorations were preserved when the bank was converted to a restaurant, including the Vault in the basement. In the afternoon, we visited Christ Church Cathedral, where we stayed to enjoy the church's choir perform during the mass. That night, we went to one of the oldest pubs in Dublin, The Brazen Head, where we had a nice dinner with a performer talking and singing about old Irish folklore.

September 6, 2009.

After breakfast, we first drove to Bray Head, where you get a beautiful view of the cliffs overlooking the town of Bray. Onward to Powerscourt, a Palladian mansion which was built in the 1730's, built gutted in 1974 by a fire. The spectacular ornamental gardens are worth the trip to this magical place. After lunch at the restaurant of the mansion, we moved on to Glendalough, site of the remains of a Monastic Centre, which was built between the 8th and 12 century. The weather here was not cooperating; it rained pretty hard, which made for a somewhat unpleasant tour of the ruins. After a quick visit of the grounds, we drove on through the country side to Kilkenny, to see Kilkenny Castle. The castle was built in the 1190's, and has a spectacular "Long Gallery", which houses the Butler art collection. and 19th-century hammer beam and glass roof. Across the street from the castle was a nice shop where we bought some souvenirs. Back in the car, we drove to Cashel, where we stayed at the Ballyknock House for the night, a guesthouse with a boisterous hostess, who was in the habit of "slapping" me on the cheek several times. We had dinner at a local pub that night.

September 7, 2009.

At breakfast, we met a nice couple from Australia and chatted about the drought and the horrors of how the Irish children were abused by the priests and nuns in up until not to long ago. After a final "slap" on the face by the hostess, we went to see to the Rock of Cashel, which was built in the 4th Century. In 1101, Cashel was handed over to the Church at which time it became a religious centre until a siege by a Cromwellian army in 1647 culminated in the massacre of its 3000 occupants. Onward to Cahir, a small town with its own castle, which we did not visit. We did however go to the famous "Swiss Cottage", a beautiful cottage designed to blend in with the countryside. The cottage was built in such a way that nothing matched, the windows, slopes and eaves are all of different sizes and design. Here, Lord and Lady Cahir enjoyed their picnics and dressed up as peasants. From there, we drove to Cork, where we had lunch at a restaurant in the English Market, a covered fruit and vegetable market established in 1610. Nowadays you can buy all kinds of fresh food there, including breads, meats, and cheeses. After lunch, we went to Barryscourt Castle, an interesting castle from the 12th century, which gives you a good flavor of how life at a castle was in those days. The final stop for the day was a photo opportunity of Blackrock Castle, which stands on the banks of the River Lee. The castle has been converted into an Observatory, with an ugly Telescope Dome sticking out of the beautiful round tower of the castle.

September 8, 2009.

Today we are doing a long drive through the Southwest of Ireland, visiting the Lakes of Killarney and touring the Ring of Kerry around the Iveragh Peninsula. The drive through this area shows captivating mountain and coastal scenery, which was unfortunately somewhat obscured by the low hanging clouds and rain. We had lunch at a restaurant high above the spectacular Ballinskelligs Bay. Once we complete the Peninsula loop, we drove on to Adare, which is billed as Ireland's prettiest village, with it's thatched roof cottages. After strolling through the village we moved on to Limerick, where we stayed for the night. The hotel was in the center of town, and had a very long hallway to get to the room. Once we finally got our luggage in the rooms, we went to an Italian restaurant for dinner. I chose their Ravioli, which was pretty much inedible. I expressed my disappointment to the waitress, who then gave me a delicious bowl of ice cream instead.

September 9, 2009.

After breakfast, we drove by King John's castle for a quick photo stop. Our tourist guide stated that the castle is not very interesting on the inside, so we decided to move on to Bunratty castle instead. Bunratty castle is one of Ireland's major tourist attractions, both because of the castle itself and the Folk Park adjacent to it. The Castle was built in the 15th Century and has been completely restored to it's original state in the late 20th Century by Lord Gort. Of particular interest are the Great Hall, the Main Guard, and the North and South Solar (Upper chambers). The Bunratty Folk Park, consists of a meticulous recreation of the rural life in Ireland at the end of the 19th century. After buying some souvenirs here, we drove on to the Cliffs of Moher, which rise to a height of 650 feet out of the sea. We had lunch at the visitor's center there. After lunch we drove through "The Burren", a vast limestone plateau where few trees manage to grow, to Bishop's Quarter, which has glorious views toward Galway Bay. Now it was time to head east all the way back to Dublin, where we would stay for the night, and say goodbye to Carolyn, who would fly back home the next morning.