Thursday, December 19, 2013

German Christmas Markets!

This past weekend, we traveled to Frankfurt to visit a German Christmas Market! We got there at lunch and enjoyed walking around and grabbing random food to eat. Potato pancakes with apple sauce, pretzels, bratwurst, and gluhwein. It wasn't too crowded on Friday afternoon, which was nice. We also visited the large St. Bartholomew church. We checked out lots of little shops and a few stores. We had dinner at Schwarzer Stern and it was quite yummy! We talked about Saturday and decided to train to Cologne for their Christmas Market.

Saturday morning we woke to a very light snow, quite nice. The breakfast buffet at the Ambassador hotel was decent. The bad news was train tickets were twice the price of renting 2 cars, so we rented cars and headed toward Cologne. We mapped to a car park that looked close, but alas, the entire area was completely packed and crowded with people. It was quite a nightmare finding parking. After maybe 90 wasted minutes, we headed toward the Christmas Market. We checked out the huge mosaic discovered from the ancient Romans. Then we toured the HUGE cathedral. It really towers over the city.

It was hard to get around the market, it was quite crazy. We got a little food, some warm drinks, and watched a brass band play some Christmas music. We decided to walk to another market in town. It was not as crowded, but still hard to get through some areas. We bought a few gifts along the way, and found random snacks for dessert. The drive back to Frankfurt was quick on the Autobahn!

Sunday the Frankfurt market was a little more tame and enjoyable. We ate at a place with a big meat swing, it smelled so good! Had some beer and warm drink and some more yummy snacks. We had a good time, and I had fun practicing old german phrases I remembered from high school.

Pictures from Germany can be found here.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Big Week

This week, Nolan started reading books! Kim the Kid, Meg the Hen, and Rex the Dog!

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And, Liana turned 14 months. She loves to say hi to everyone, and is starting to like reading books more. She is very silly, too.
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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Kinsale and Jameson Distillery

We finally made it to Kinsale last weekend! I visited here 6.5 years ago for work for 2.4 days and luckily my boss was able to show me around the area a little bit while we were there. It is a beautiful area with good seafood. It took us so long to visit, because we wanted to meet up with an old coworker who live there, and we have all had pretty busy summers! The three hour drive turned in to four due to traffic leaving Dublin, UGH!

We got in barely in time for dinner, and we walked down to The White House for dinner. They did a pretty good job, as do most places in this town. The food culture is very strong here, and bad restaurants just don't make it long. The White House had a random 9/11 Memorial wall inside, quite nice.

The next day we were going to walk around town in the morning. It really is a nice little town to walk around, with a lot of little shops. This place gets crazy busy in the summer. The museum was unfortunately closed for the winter, which I didn't know. After some lunch at the Lemon Leaf Cafe, we drove out to Charles Fort.

Charles Fort is pretty in tact for its age. There are a couple exhibits and nice views of Kinsale Harbour. After walking around for almost an hour, we decided to drive toward James Fort next. I knew it was small and in ruins, but I didn't know you had to hike to it and since it had started raining, we just drove down to Old Head. I remember visiting the area years back, and it all came back to me while visiting. The cliffs are pretty impressive, with absolutely no barriers at all, so we left the kids in the car.

Next we drove to Garrylucas Beach and since the rain had stopped, we let the kids play in the sand for a while. After some play, we drove to the 9/11 Garden of Remembrance we learned about at the White House. I knew the general, and if driving slow enough, you will spot the red gates along side the road. I went in and a man was collecting the American flags from the trees, all 343 of them. Yes, 343 trees are planted there, each with a tag of a firefighter who lost his life that day. Very, very nice site. An Irish nurse who lived in NYC for 30 years had always regretted not helping out that day, and she made this garden outside a family farm. This woman died in 2011 to cancer, and the gentleman I met is this woman's nephew, who helps take care of it. Several unofficial websites talk about this site, here is one, here is one, and here is another. This is a really incredible site and any American in the area should check it out!


Pictures from Kinsale can be found here.
The next day on our way home, we decided to stop in Cobh. There is a Titanic Experience there, but we had already done the one in Belfast, so we skipped it. Cobh does have a grand cathedral! Built on top of the hill overlooking the town, and it is huge. We happened to show up at noon right as mass started, so we didn't go in. But, we did drive to the other hill across town for great views of the cathedral.

Pictures from Cobh can be found here.

Next, we decided to stop by the Jameson Distillery in Midleton for a tour. We had read that this was the better option, as opposed to their Dublin tour. When we got there, we learned that on Sundays now if you buy lunch, you get a free tour! We actually saved money as our lunches cost less than the cost of entry, so a great deal! The tour covers their old, original distillery, which hasn't been used since the 1970s. But, they keep a lot of stuff in working order, like the grist mill, and steam generator, and the stills. The tours are interesting and you get a sample at the end. If you are a really big whiskey fan, stand toward the front of the group at the end of tour for when they ask about the special tasting at the end. Eight people get a special tasting, but you have to get chosen! It was definitely a neat stop, even with kids. And, their lunch was pretty good!


Pictures from Jameson can be found here.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Galway, Connemara, and Cliffs of Moher

We were able to visit the west coast as Galway is only 2 hours drive from home. We arrived in Galway Friday night and got checked in to the Victoria Hotel. This is a nice enough place, and very close to everything. The plan was to get up Saturday morning and do a driving tour around Connemara. We didn't have everything exactly planned out and would change course as we went.

We started off driving north to Cong. This is a quiet little village with a nice abbey to walk around. We then decided to skip Castlebar and Westport and drive through the country to Leenaun. We had some great views of the countryside and some large lakes. It started raining while driving, so we found a place open for lunch, the Leenane Hotel. They did a pretty good job. After lunch the rain had stopped, so we drove up to see Aasleagh falls. The rain was trying to spit again, but these falls, while not high, were flowing impressively. Next we drove south to Kylemore Abbey. It was raining some still, but we went in to the gift shop. Our travel guides said walking to and paying for the abbey is not necessary as it is expensive, and the view from the parking lot suffices. We drove a bit further and saw the sign for Connemara National Park visitor centre. My research indicated that it had closed the weekend prior, but the sign said open. So we stopped and learned that the sign was for the park, not the visitors centre. Oh well, still a neat area. We drove next through a little area called Letterfrack and then saw a sign for Avoca! We didn't think Avoca was that far away, so of course we stopped. It was small, and had no food, but was having a huge sale. We continued our drive with many great views and pull-offs, including Gurteen Bay beach. We didn't get to drive all of the Sky Road, but a pretty good amount of it, before heading back to Galway for dinner.

Pictures from Connemara

Sunday morning we woke up and walked around a bit before heading south. We walked through the Spanish Arch and up toward St. Nicholas church. We stopped in a few shops before starting our drive south to Cliffs of Moher.

Pictures from Galway

The drive through the burren was nice, with a good view of Galway Bay on our way up. There are other sites in the area, but we were only out there for one thing at this time. We got there and it wasn't really raining, but it was not clear. So, since it rains a lot out there, we were happy with it. The views are pretty impressive. One could spend quite a bit of time walking around the trails. They keep the edges pretty well protected, so you don't get real close to the edge to take pictures.

Pictures from Cliffs of Moher

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Belfast and the Antrim Coast

A couple weekends ago, Mike and Maggie arrived for a visit and we went to Northern Ireland for a bank holiday weekend. We planned to pass through Belfast and visit a museum or two (depending on time) and then drive up to our B&B near Bushmills in County Antrim. We first visited the Ulster Museum, a really nice, free museum. Just give yourselves some time to find parking! This is a good museum with a wide variety of subject matter. We spent enough time here that we decided to put off the Titanic Experience until our return on Monday afternoon. We drove to Victoria Square for dinner, which is a indoor/outdoor mall area with plenty of parking. We walked around for a bit while we had the light and then picked dinner at St. George's Market Bar and Grill. The food was pretty good here, I would return for another meal. The market looked like a nice market, but only open a few mornings a week. We walked back toward the mall for a milkshake, but too bad everything was shut down by 7pm on a Saturday!

We started our hour drive to the Causeway Tavern B&B. This place is ok. Located very close to the Causeway, and the rooms are typical size. They have a full english breakfast, and he does an ok job with it. The owners are nice enough people and he ended up talking my ear off as we were leaving. We first drove a few minutes to the Giant's Causeway. As advised by a friend, we parked at the railway museum for £6 instead of £32 up the hill. The rain was holding off on our walk out to the causeway, just barely. It was quite a neat area, but as tourists are allowed to go anywhere, they kind of ruin it a little. As we were about ready to head back, the wind and rain started. We had all of our gear, but I hiked Liana up the hill quickly to get out of the wind and rain.

Next we drove to Dunluce Castle. Again, the rain stopped for our visit until we were almost done. This was a neat ruins castle and we enjoyed exploring. On our way out, we saw several rainbows over the water. We decided if we saw a place to eat, we might stop, but we ended up driving to Carrick-a-rede rope bridge. We took the scenic route along the way and stopped along a few docks down near the water.

Mike stayed behind with the kids for the rope bridge. It was raining when we started walking, but again stopped within a few minutes. It was quite windy by the bridge, but were still able to cross. Once on the island, it is mostly blocked off. So after only a few minutes, we headed back toward the car. The bridge is quite sturdy and secure, but pretty high in the air.

We stopped in Ballycastle for some lunch at Thyme and Co., and then drove back to Belfast to find a place for the night. The next day we would visit the Titanic Experience.

Pictures of the Antrim Coast can be found here.

The day we visited was a bank holiday in ROI, so we weren't sure if people may be up visiting, causing long queues. But, we were able to pretty much walk right in to the Titanic Experience, so we got an early start. It isn't cheap, but really covers quite a lot of information. There is just enough to keep kids occupied. Afterward we walked down to the Pumphouse and dry dock where Titanic was built.

Pictures of Belfast can be found here.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Liana is One Year Old!

Liana turned one last week! She is such a big girl, and her personality is really coming through. While things were a little unpredictable during her birthday, we got to see some family. She is around 20 pounds (we weighed her on the airport luggage scales). She runs around pretty quick. She can go up stairs pretty well, but is terrible about getting down. She can kiss and hug if you ask, and gives really good hugs! She is starting to like read a lot more and brings me books to read. She even helps me pet the furry things in the books.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Summer Holiday 2013 - Belgium, Luxembourg, and Paris

This past week we finally took a long holiday, but had a lot planned for the week. We first started out in Brussels for 2 days. The only non-stop was the 6:40am Aer Lingus flight. We were up pretty early on Saturday!

Brussels

It was a pretty easy train ride in to Centrale from the airport, but most machines at the station would not take US credit cards. It was causing quite a lot of confusion with passengers, but luckily we had our european chip card. We stayed at the Ibis hotel, a couple minutes from Centrale, and a couple minutes to Grand Place. We had a very nice view of a little square and our triple worked well for us.

After unloading, we walked out toward Grand Place. It was lightly sprinkling, but we came prepared for that. We walked around, gawking at all the chocolate shops, trying to learn the right way to order waffles. We walked in the very old St. Nicholas church for a few minutes. We headed toward Manneken Pis. It gets crowded in waves as tours come through. It is also much smaller than I expected.

After this we finally sat down for some waffles. They were decent, but we were still learning and ordered a different kind from what we wanted (there are many kinds). We headed back to Grand Place since the rain had stopped. We learned that tours in english are Sundays mornings and Wednesday mornings, so we learned about how to get tickets the next morning. We continued walking around shops and then walked through the St. Hubert Galleries. It was just more chocolate!

We decided to go back to the hotel for a little rest before dinner. It was good timing as a huge storm rolled in right as we got back. The kids played and we napped (I think). We went to a place from the Lonely Planet book (and learned throughout the trip that this book series is bad at that) called Chez Leon, or something like that. Not great, but had a good brown beer called Grimbergen. After dinner we walked around and found some more delicious treats. We stopped at Rose de Damas; this place was amazing and beautiful and tasty!

The next morning we had our tour of Hotel de Ville (town hall); it was pretty cool. Afterwards we walked up toward the Royal Palace. We first walked down toward the Sablon area to see Notre Dame and look for food. The church was having mass, so we walked around, looked at more chocolate, and came back a little later. After the church, we hung out in the gardens across the street for a few minutes. On our way to the palace, we walked in the Church of Saint Jacques-sur-Coudenberg. We grabbed some food at the Belvue Musem cafe and then walked to the Royal Palace. The palace is free, so it was pretty full, but there wasn't really a line to get in. It was a typical palace, lots of big chandeliers. There was also a kid exploration room toward the end, kind of neat.

Next we strolled toward the St. Michael's Cathedral. There was a nice crypt and it was a nice church. We walked around a bit for dinner and found Les Chapeliers. The rabbit stew was good, Mort Subite Gueuze beer was good; it was a good find! After a few treats that night, and taking a few pictures of Grand Place at night, we got to bed in preparation for the next city.

Pictures from Brussels can be found here.

Bruges

On Monday morning we took the hour long train ride from Brussels to Bruges (after some more waffles of course!). It was pretty full on the train, but we got there. We bought our bus tickets and headed in to the Markt. This is the big town square, and our hotel was just a block away. The Crowne Plaza on the Burg had a good rate on a family room. We dropped off our bags and started walking around Markt. Kacey got some pommes frites with andalouse, while I grabbed a bratwurst to snack on. The line was long for the belfort, so we figured we would come back later. We walked down the street toward St. Salvator's Cathedral. The door we tried to go in said closed, but the door on the other side was still open, but closing. So I took a few pictures from the back and we headed on.

We walked along the back streets toward the Church of Our Lady. We walked by the St. Jans Hospital Museum and determined if we had time, we would visit. The church was nice, and contains a marble statue of Madonna and child by Michaelangelo, quite rare outside of Italy. We strolled along the street over the canal, stopping in shops to see chocolate and other things (and bought Nolan's Bruges flag).

Next we walked back to the Markt to go up the Belfort. The line wasn't too bad (down the steps took about 20 min) and the climb wasn't too bad. It was tight, and they didn't really want me to backpack Liana up, but I told them I was experienced and they let it go. The bells sound quite often, and it is really cool. There are 47 bells, and on the way up they describe how the system works. It is hard to get good pictures from the top due to the fencing installed, but it was a nice view of the Markt and the whole city.

We bummed around the Markt for a little afterward and then walked over to the Burg to see the Basilica of the Holy Blood. Supposedly, this church contains a relic of blood from Christ, gathered by Joseph of Arimathea. Next we bummed around the Markt some more, stopping in to shops along the way as we kind of accidentally walked out to 't zand square. There is a big water feature here and we hung around for a few pictures here. We started walking back toward the Markt to find some dinner.

After walking around some back streets for a while, we found an area behind the Burg with some restaurants. I had some yummy stew and a couple different beers, including Brugse Zot. We headed back toward the Markt to take a horse and carriage ride around town! This is big here, and was a nice treat. Afterward, we went out in search of ice cream. There isn't much super close to the Markt, which surprised me, but we found one a couple blocks away.

The next morning we changed our plans a little. Originally, we were going to pack up early and head to Ghent for a few hours to check it out. But, this was going to be stressful and hard with the kids. So we decided to skip Ghent and stay in Bruges a little longer, letting us relax and see a museum. We visited the St. Jans Hospital Museum and Pharmacy (Apotheek). It wasn't quite what we expected, but still neat. We found some sandwiches and pasta for lunch and got ready to head on the long trip to Luxembourg City, via Brussels.

Pictures from Bruges can be found here.

Luxembourg

We had train issues along the way to Luxembourg, requiring a few train changes. The instructions were only in french, but when you hear an announcement, and then everyone gets off the train and walks to another train, you follow. Also, I always kind of loudly ask in english what is going on in hopes a bi-lingual person will confirm our suspicions, and this usually works out well, especially when they see you struggling with kids and lots of luggage. We got in to Luxembourg about an hour late, and we were tired, so we hustled in to city centre to find some food.

We found an area with a couple options and actually stumbled in to an authentic Luxembourgish restaurant. Restaurant Kniddelkinnek served up yummy Kniddelen. It is like potato dumplings, and mine with served with bacon and cream. I had some Battin beer, but it was nothing special. We walked by Notre Dame on the way back to the hotel to see it lit at night.

The next morning we set out toward the city centre again. We randomly found the big market that was set up (which is next to the Town Hall and TI) at Place Guillaume II (William Square). We ate some fruit and pastries for breakfast and grabbed a walking tour guide. It is hard not to notice the large equestrian statue of William II. We started to notice these colorful elephants everywhere; it is part of the Elephant Parade. It was also at this time I was getting very curious about the languages being spoken in Luxembourg. I usually do a decent amount of research about the culture we visit, but this time, I just wasn't quite sure about something. I assumed they spoke french here, but I kept hearing german-sounding words. It turns out they speak Luxembourgish, a mix of german and french; but, most people understand english and french very well.

As the city centre is not very big, in a couple minutes we were outside the royal palace. This palace is not very big and tucked right in amongst other buildings. It was closed to the public on the day we were there, but we probably didn't miss too much. Next we strolled around Place d'Armes. This is the place with the Chi-Chi's restaurant; we had quite a laugh at this!

Next we walked out toward the Place de la Constitution. This is a war memorial with great views of the valley below. There were some friendly "Ask Me" folks here so we asked about the casemates. There are two in the Old Town; Petrusse Casemates has guided tours below the Place de la Constitution, and the other is the self-guided Bock Casemates on the other end of Chemin de la Corniche. We decided to do the self-guided Bock Casemates later in the day when we got there.

Next we checked out the Notre Dame church. Nothing big stood out here, but the downstairs had a blocked off chapel that looked interesting. Next we passed through Clairefontaine Square on our way to Chemin de la Corniche. Chemin de la Corniche, known as the most beautiful balcony in europe, is quite beautiful. I just couldn't stop taking it in and taking photos of the area; the little river passing by the church below in the Grund is quite picturesque.

We walked a few blocks in to find some food to eat. Along the way we briefly stepped in St. Michael's Church. We grabbed our take-away and walked out near the Bock Casemates to eat. We headed in to the Casemates next, and walking through the tunnels was fun for Nolan. There was a very deep well to look down, and lots of little nooks and crannies to check out. We got pretty far down a tunnel with no outlet, along with another family, and had to backtrack a ways out.

Kacey identified an area to visit called Fort Thüngen. She thought there was a carnival in the area, but we spotted it in the distance as we neared, realizing it was clearly in another part of town. There isn't much left of this fort, and it doesn't look like it is visited much, but we walked around for a few minutes, contemplated the museum, found some water, and started walking back toward the Grund.

We were going to finish our walking tour through the Grund, walking through the area that was so picturesque from above. By this time we were all getting tired, but we made it back to the area below the Place de la Constitution. We hiked up the steps for one last view of the valley below. We stopped in the TI to enquire about dinner, but they are not allowed to give recommendations. They could answer questions about possibilities of Luxembourgish food, and that led us to a brasserie on Place d'Armes. We had some decent food (pork neck with tasty beans), and they had pizza for Nolan. Also, the Ourdaller beer was pretty good. We were tired, but never too tired for some ice cream, so I got some yummy dark chocolate gelato on our walk back to the hotel.

On our way back, we decided to detour to the station to pre-purchase our train tickets. This way if there was a line or any issue in the morning, we would be set, as there are not a lot of trains to Paris from there. The next morning, we caught our 10am train to Paris!

Pictures from Luxembourg can be found here.

Paris

We arrived to Paris Est a little after noon. I already knew what route we would take to the hotel, we just had to buy metro tickets. After some frustration with the machine, we learned that you can not buy discounted childrens tickets one at a time, only in packs of ten. Still, a great deal! We made our way to Maubert - Mutualité square and walked a block up to California Hotel. We were able to secure a family room for less than €200/night, pretty close to the metro and in a nice area. The hotel wasn't that great, but it worked. We dumped our things and headed out. We had roughly planned our few days there, and Thursday was reserved for the Rodin Museum and Arc de Triomphe.

We took the metro to the Rodin Museum. The family rate was unreal; one euro more than a single adult! We walked in and first stopped in the gardens. Casts of his works are outside in the gardens, while his small originals are kept inside. The weather was great and there were some nice views of The Thinker with the Eiffel Tower in the background.

Next we walked by the Musee de l'Armee, as it has a large gold dome visible all around the area. The tomb of Napoleon I is here, but we didn't really have a desire to go in. We hit the metro out toward Arc de Triomphe. While about what I expected, it is nice to see how much they guard and protect this, and admire it is a real memorial. We just happened to show up right before the weekly lighting ceremony of the flame, so we stayed for that. Next we strolled down Avenue des Champs-Élysées and stopped for some snacks, and to check out a few stores. While the Sephora was crazy, I think Laduree was the favorite (the creator of the macaroon). It was dinner time, and while french food is supposed to be great, we were not looking forward to finding decent places here. You have to just walk the backstreets and hope you find something decent. Thursday night we found Le President not too far from where we were. The food was ok but forgettable. After dinner, we wanted to catch the Eiffel Tower at night, as well as the 5 minute light show at the top of every hour. Also, this would be a test to see how to get in and out of the area on transit. We got to the Trocadéro stop to change lines, but Kacey realized we may be in a better position at this point, and she was correct. We had the best seats in the city for the light show, right across the river. Although late, we stayed for a while to just enjoy being where we were.

The next morning we had reservations for the Eiffel Tower at 11am. We got there about 15 minutes early in hopes to find some quick food, but surprisingly there wasn't much there for breakfast. Even with tickets to cut the queue, it still took about 10 minutes to get to the first level, and then another 35 minutes to get to the top (you don't cut that line). The weather was great, but still the haze limits your view; it was hard to make out Notre Dame from the tower. We had a nice time walking around, then coming down to the second level to walk around some more, enjoy the view, and eat some snacks. It was a great visit.

We headed over to the river to find some food, but we found a merry-go-round. So Nolan took a ride, then we looked for food to enjoy in the grass beneath the Eiffel Tower. It took a while to find some food, but we found some on a side street to the south of the tower. We enjoyed playing in the grass and eating some food. Our second activity for the day was the Louvre, so we hit the metro and arrived around 3:45.

We had tickets already, but the lines were not bad at all. Also on Fridays (when we were there), the museum is open later in to the evening. We were going to use the free map, along with our Lonely Planet guide, to get through the museum by dinner. It was a little slow to start (tricky with a stroller, areas don't connect as you would expect), but we saw everything we wanted to see by dinner. Having a 3rd party guide book can really help you see everything you should see. Pictures are allowed almost everywhere (surprising), including at Mona Lisa (even more surprising).

We thought it would be a little more easy to find food in this area, but we still had to walk around for 20 minutes or so before finding a side street with some real options. We found Bistrot Richelieu and liked the menu. I was able to try escargots and we all enjoyed some delicious food. We decided to walk to the hotel and stop at Notre Dame along the way (and find some dessert). Notre Dame at night was busy! Lots of people, entertainers, and the church is open late.

The next day we started off at Notre Dame after eating breakfast at the market next to our hotel. Pretty typical church, just large, crowded, and displaying some very large, beautiful Rose windows. For our next stop, we took the RER to the Orsay museum. No photo here, but I was able to step outside for a few pictures of Sacre Coeur in the distance. A lot of the art here is really up Kacey's alley, so we enjoyed a long visit here. After grabbing some sandwiches, we took the metro up to Sacre Coeur.

We wondered why everyone was queued up to take the lift in this station; it was a long hike out! Along the way, the signs indicated which way to go to take the funicular up to the church. Well, despite our best efforts, we hiked all the way up; quite tiring! There was a concert going on outside the church that we later learned was Christian music. The young people of Sacre Coeur seem to be having some sort of revival to reach out to young people in the community; it was nice! No photo inside, but it had a more warm feeling inside, probably due to the young people walking around encouraging prayer and singing. Kacey stayed down with the kids while I went up the dome for views of the city. The views were nice, but with the haze, it was hard to see things by the river. We took the funicular down the hill and learned it really didn't help out much. Kacey did some shopping while I watched Nolan play at the bottom of the hill (playground!).

We took the metro down to Odeon to walk around looking for food. We didn't really find something we liked for about 30 minutes, but eventually found Les Gourmands de Notre Dame. This place was nice and close to Notre Dame. On our way to the hotel, I was looking for some dessert. We walked by Raimo, and I was treated to some of the best ice cream in my life. The two flavours I had were lemon-basil and strawberry-mint leaves. It was just outstanding!

Our final morning, we decided to visit the Pantheon (since we had been staring at it's dome from our hotel room) and the Luxembourg Gardens before heading to the airport. The Pantheon wasn't too crowded (or super interesting), but it did contain the tombs of Marie Curie and Louis Braille. After eating some crepes for early lunch, we only had 5 minutes to see the gardens, but oh well, it was still a very nice day.

I think we did Paris is a reasonable way. It is impossible to see everything, and you just have to take it slow sometimes (I forget this easily).

Pictures from Paris can be found here.

It was a great trip in all! We saw lots of things, had a lot of great food, and except for just the first day, had great weather. We had no real issues, except for train problems on the way to Luxembourg. If we had been kidless, we could have maybe fit in Ghent, Belgium, but we were pleased to have spent more time in Bruges.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Prague

We have been wanting to visit Prague for about 3 years, and we were glad that Aer Lingus has direct flights out of Dublin to visit. Prague lived up to the hype, and it was a great trip!

We caught our flight out of DUB around 11am and arrived in PRG around 3pm or so. We knew we wanted to take a taxi in because the public transport options looked slow. The taxi was a good way to the Old Town Square, where our hotel was located; it was about 600 Koruna with tip, and quick. We were staying at the Hotel Černý Slon; a reasonably priced triple, steps from the Old Town Square. We were generally pleased with the hotel and would stay again. After checking in, we just wanted to walk around a bit. We thought maybe this afternoon would be good for a sightseeing tour, something we don't normally do. (We are trying to adjust how we run our trips due to 2 kids).

We did the green train that takes about an hour and drives by the castle. I do not recommend this method. There is a recording in 4 languages that plays, and the ride is quite bumpy. Even Nolan was done by the end of it! It only kind of stops once by the castle, but you don't ever get out of the thing. And, views are partially obscured by the plexiglass on one side of the car. You might be better off splurging and taking one of the old time cars around (even though these looked like they might get hot in the sun). We were actually wanting to do a golf cart tour, but couldn't find any!

After our tour, we went up the tower in the Old Town Hall for some views of Prague. Going in the late afternoon meant that we couldn't get good pictures of the castle due to the sun, but there were still good views of the square and Old Town Prague. Nolan was a little too scared to walk around the outside part. That night for dinner we just booked at our hotel as it had a decent rating. The food was good, but the menu was limited. The crispy duck with red cabbage was yummy.

Sunday was our day for the castle. First we walked over to the Old New Synagogue. This is quite old, and is the oldest active synagogue in Europe. It was no photo, but a very simple, small interior. We considered going to the cemetery because we heard it was a good sight, but the ticket was a lot more just to do that, and we were ready to go to the castle. We decided to take a quick taxi up the hill to preserve tired legs, and it was already getting hot.

The Prague Castle does not look that big at first, but it took us about 6 hours to do almost all of it, including lunch. We bought the full ticket to the castle, but quickly learned that the full ticket did not cover everything... what a pain! But buying the photo pass was definitely worth it, as it is cheap. First we saw the permanent exhibition "The Story of Prague Castle" which showed the history and growth of the castle over the years. We then ate lunch at the Lobkowicz Palace Café, rated well with a good view. The food was good and the view was nice.

Next we went to the Rosenberg Palace. This wasn't too big, just a couple rooms, but started off with a large chapel. They also had on display there many gargoyles on display from the castle. Next we walked the Golden Lane. This narrow passageway shows many of the old "homes" of people who used to work and live in the castle. This place was pretty packed and not much room to enjoy things. Next we stepped in Daliborka Tower. Once we got in, we realized this was a torture tower. Don't think Nolan really knew, but still we didn't linger.

St. George's Basilica was next. From the outside entrance, there was a nice view of St. Vitus. Inside the basilica was pretty simple. It reminded me a little bit of St. Francis of Assisi church, just not as big. Next we visited the Old Royal Palace. This started off with a large room and while mostly roped off, it was still a good place for Liana to run around a little bit. She was attracting a bit of attention! There are a few nice views of the cities from the balconies. There are also several little rooms in which to explore and see exhibits, including a room full of family crests.

Next we went to St. Vitus Cathedral. There were loads of tourists at the back who were not going to purchase a ticket I suppose. Once in, I happened to be stuck between two tour groups while walking around the back; I couldn't escape them! This church had several little chapels/prayer areas around the back of the church. They also had many areas blocked off that you normally don't see blocked off, but you could still see most of the areas just fine. Then while Kacey rested with the kids, I quickly went up the tower. There was a massive bell just barely visible on the way up. The views were pretty nice, though! It was a little hard to take some pictures due to all the iron gates over the window openings, but I was able to manage.

Next we visited the Prague Castle Picture Gallery. The air conditioning felt great! The picture gallery wasn't super special, but it is part of the full ticket and was a nice break from the sites. We lastly visited the Powder Tower. We got here just before they closed, but this is just a small military museum. We only spent 5-10 minutes here before heading out. There was a neat view of St. Vitus against the sky from near the entrance to the Powder Tower.

As we left the castle, we decided to walk back to Old Town via the Old Castle Steps. We snapped a few more pictures of the city here, and turned to look back behind us to see a HUGE storm system moving in. As we prepped the best we could for the impending rain, we scurried down the steps and quickly moved toward the Old Town. By the time we got to the river, it seemed like it was making a break, so we hung out on the bank of the river and took some pictures of Charles Bridge while picking out dinner. We picked a place, and as we started walking, the storm clouds grew even more menacing. By the time we got across the bridge, huge straight line winds blew in from over the hill and it quite out of control for a few minutes! We started nearly running toward the hotel. The rain started slowly right as we entered the Old Town Square. As we were steps from the hotel entrance, it really started to rain. We really lucked out! But, now it was raining and we had no dinner options. I peered out the window and saw one of the golf cart tour guys just sitting down there. I asked him how much to take us to our restaurant, just down the street. He said since he was done for the night, and that was on his way home, no charge. Awesome! I did tip him nicely, though.

That night we ate at Kolkovna. Non-smoking section was downstairs and while a little warm, the food did not disappoint! I had the Traditional Bohemian Platter; a wide array of meat, dumplings, and cabbage. Once dinner was done, the rain had stopped. So we decided to walk around the Old Town Square a bit at night. We stopped in a bakery because Kacey was wanting something; she ended up with a piece of chocolate cake. The Old Town Square at night was nice. I also ran over to take some pictures of the Castle at night from the bridge. Our Lady Before Tyn Church is nicely lit at night.

The next day we were just planning on a few random sites not too far away. We first tried Our Lady Before Tyn Church, next door to our hotel. It is closed Mondays! So we decided to try St. James Church. This church does not allow photo, or even walking around. It was a nice example of baroque, and had me hoping to see more at another church. Finally, we visited the St. Nicholas church. This was a nice little church with a grand chandelier in the centre.

We then decided to try a tour of the Old Town Hall, and we just barely caught the english tour. It was pretty neat, and we got to see the inner workings of the 12 Apostles inside the Astronomical Clock.

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We searched around a while for lunch and finally found Klub Architektu. The flavours were good, but my meat was low quality. We headed toward the famous Charles Bridge after lunch. As expected, it was crowded, but interesting. Once we got across the bridge, we saw some gelato and it really hit the spot! We headed toward the other St. Nicholas church, this one in Lesser Town Square. Photo was allowed here and it was a grand example of baroque! We were even allowed upstairs for a picture gallery and nice views of the church.

We were now headed off to do a few things for Nolan. We were looking for the funicular up Petrin Hill to check out some things up there. Getting a ticket to go up is quite a pain, and confusing! You have to have exact change, there are no change booths, and a ton of people forming random lines to squeeze their way on the tram. Our plan was to take Nolan to the Mirror Maze. We weren't sure what to expect here. It was quite small, but we lingered in the crazy mirrors area and goofed off for a while. Nolan enjoyed it. It isn't quite a maze, it is just a path with mirrors. After about age 7 or so, it would stop being neat I suppose.

We were then going to just walk around before heading back down. On top of the hill is also the tower, but we already had lots of views of the city, and Nolan would not have liked climbing up. Kacey went in for the restroom and found a children's exhibit in the basement! So we went in and Nolan built for a while and Liana walked around and stretched her legs. Our next stop was supposed to be the big one for Nolan, where we would relax for a while. Detsky Ostrov, which translates to Children's Island. Yes, an island in the river with a big playground on it. We got there, and it was closed! We took a picture of Nolan in front of the mean, poorly spelled construction sign, with a frowny face.

We decided to cross the river and take the metro to Wenceslas square since we were getting tired. We strolled around a bit, did some shopping, and started the short walk back to Old Town Square. It was getting late by time we picked a restaurant, but we walked over to Lokal as it was rated well. It was hard to get a seat, but we managed after a few minutes and ordered a plethora of items off the menu. I recommend eating a meal here! Different beer pours, lots of meats, and yummy dessert.

The next day we flew home, but we had time to visit a museum in the morning. We picked the Museum of Communism. It looks a little small at first, and a little hard to find, but it was packed with info and exhibits. I recommend westerners to visit and spend some time reading the material.

Prague was great! Even in the heat, it was doable. AAA Taxis are readily available, there is lots to see, food is good, and people are generally nice.

Pictures from our trip can be seen here.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Nolan is 5 and Liana is 10 months

Our little guy turned 5 last week. He has adjusted pretty well to going to school here in Ireland; his teachers said if you didn't know who was new in class, you would never guess it was him. The little kids here use language not normal for 5 year olds in the states, but acceptable here. They are not good words. So we are already teaching him about other people making bad decisions and bad words. He seems to understand. He is still really in to creating his own Lego creations. He doesn't ever really follow any instructions, he just builds what he has been thinking about lately. He is a good big brother, and Liana loves him a lot. She laughs at him and watches him all the time. Nolan has also started eating hot sauce; I don't think many 5 year olds like Tabasco. We live next door to a little Irish girl named Rosa; she is such a doll! They have a lot of fun playing in the garden and we were very blessed to get to live next door to such nice people.

Since Liana learned to walk, she has just gotten faster and more determined. She is quite stubborn at times too. She can climb through tables to get where she wants, and climbs in boxes, pushing me right out of the way. Her balance is quite good and loves to hang on to the swings in Rosa's yard while they swing around. She seldom sits still, she really likes to be on the move. She likes to eat many different foods. She says cat, dad, and mom. And she tries to talk to the cats sometimes by doing a high-pitched squeal at them. And she still loves playing and wrestling with Nolan, even when it gets a little rough.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Liana is Nine Months!

Our little girl turned nine months and she is growing up so quickly! We has been walking along the couch for a while, and it getting quite quick at it. She goes quite fast across the room with her walker. On Friday, she kind of took a step toward me, and she can stand on her own. So she has the strength and enough balance, she just needs the encouragement and desire.

She is also waving hi and has been doing that for a couple weeks. She is getting good at "playing" with Nolan, which usually involves him picking her up and doing hugs. She loves her big brother. She can climb up on me too. Also, about two weeks ago, she took off quite quickly up our stairs like she had done it a million times before.

She started clapping last week. It is really cute!

She is eating a fair amount of food with her two teeth.


Liana at Gallarus Oratory
Liana at Gallarus Oratory

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Rock of Cashel, Blarney Castle, Dingle Peninsula, and Ring of Kerry

We tried to pack a lot in to a three day weekend and we did ok considering the weather. We headed out Friday morning to go to Rock of Cashel. If the weather was bad, we would bail and skip, but there was a clearing, so we headed up. While just one brief rain period, it was just a little windy. Still cloudy, but better than our first trip. We grabbed some food to go and headed to Blarney Castle. We figured we could do this even if it was raining (which it was). Even though the grounds are nice here, we really didn't have time to linger, especially in the rain. There was only a short line to get to the Blarney Stone. It was about what I expected, but one of those things you have to do once.

Pictures from Blarney Castle

We headed toward Dingle. Along the way we stopped for the view at Inch Beach. We were just a short ride from Dingle at this time. The drive on the peninsula is quite nice. The little town is cute and quaint. We walked around for a few minutes before picking the Marina Inn for dinner. The food was pretty good. We then hit Murphy's for ice cream. Good stuff!

In the morning, we hit the SuperValu for some breakfast stuff, and Nolan and mom sat and ate while Kacey and I walked around town. We saw some houses built on a river, and an old cross commemorating the 1916 Uprising. Kacey stopped in a couple little shops and as we neared the SuperValu, the rain looked like it was coming, so we hurried to get started on our drive.

As we headed out on Rick Steves' guide of the Dingle Peninsula, it started to rain. We couldn't even get out of the car at Ventry Beach, but there were plenty of surfers out in wet suits. The first place we stopped was the Dunbeg Fort. With a very small break in the rain, I got to see it, but by time Kacey could go, it was a little wet. Next we stopped at the Beehive Huts. Rick Steves said to stop at the first one, so we did. There is only one there (that you can walk in), and they are working to reconstruct another. The next beehive hut looked to have more to see, but oh well. Both cost €2.

As we neared Slea Head, we drove over a bridge that isn't a bridge. You basically drive through a river on the side of the mountain. The cross at Slea Head has nice views, including the Dunmore Head, which is the western most part of Europe. We also stopped at the Dún Chaoin overlook for views of the beach, hillsides, and Dumore Head. We drove over to the pull-off for Dunmore Head and the beach. Kacey and I were going to run up to see what we could see. We ended up going around pretty far, about as far west as you can get. There was a pretty good view of the Big Blasket Island. There is also a little concrete building on top, probably for farmers to take refuge if the weather turns bad (the hill is an active cow and sheep pasture).

Next we headed toward the Great Blasket Centre for some history, toilets, and food. There was some neat info here, but you can probably get through here in 20 minutes if needed, skipping the video. The rain cleared out and the sun shone through, so we decided to get going and see some more sights while the weather was nice. We headed toward Gallarus Oratory next, with a beautiful stop at Waymont Head first. What a view!

The oratory is neat and worth a stop (and do skip the pay car park). We were mostly enjoying the nice weather at this point.  It was nice enough for a little photo shoot of Liana (see here). This was pretty much the end of the loop for us, so once back in Dingle, we circled back around to Ventry Beach to check it out. It is a nice, big beach, and Nolan had fun playing in the water (in his rain boots). We booked a hotel on the Kerry Ring for the night, so we headed out on the 90 minute drive there. On our way out of Dingle town, we stopped at Minard Castle (ruins). Off the beaten track, it provided a nice view and a neat drive through the hillsides. By the time we got to Waterville, we were hungry and it was getting late. So a quick check in to the Old Cable House B&B, and we went in to eat at the Butler Arms.

Pictures from Dingle Peninsula

On Sunday, we had a yummy breakfast at the B&B and started a drive around Kerry Ring to see what we could see before needing to head back to Dun Laoghaire. We doubled back to drive out on Valentia Island via the car ferry at Reenard to Knightstown. We drove up to the Cromwell Lighthouse, but the views were diminishing as the rain came in. We next drove out to the end of the road to take Nolan down to the Tetrapod fossil footprints. Due to the rain, I stayed in the car with Liana while Kacey and Nolan checked it out.

From here, we headed toward Skellig Ring. We stopped at a few lookout points which were nice, as this area seems to get much higher up than Dingle. We hit the Skelligs Chocolate Factory in hopes for treats and lunch. Well, the treats worked out but they don't really have food for lunch.

There are some brilliant views at Coomakesta Pass. It was so windy and rainy, it was hard to get pictures (and the bus tourists there were having problems walking due to the wind). On a nice day, this has got to be unreal. Next was Staigue Fort. This was kind of neat and Nolan liked running around some. We also explored a tunnel that went nowhere.  It was time to start our long drive home through Killarney National Park. It rained hard the whole way, but I am sure the area looks nice.

Pictures from Ring of Kerry

Friday, June 07, 2013

Scotland

This past weekend was an Irish bank holiday, so we turned it in to a long weekend in Scotland! The ferry service makes it easy to get to Great Britain. We drove to Larne, Northern Ireland Thursday night and stayed at the Harbour Inn B&B. It is next door to the port and included wifi and made to order breakfast. The manager was so nice! The fast ferry had us in Troon, Scotland by 9:15 or so, and we headed toward our first stop.

New Lanark is a World Heritage Site; an old mill town built next to a river. It was a nice drive to get toward Edinburgh, too, instead of just taking dual carriageways. We walked around some, ate some lunch, and Kacey took a tour of the weaving stuff while Nolan and I checked out a couple other things. Next we headed toward Edinburgh.

We decided to go out to the Royal Britannia Yacht first, since we would have to drive to see this. This is the yacht that the royal family used up until the late 90s or so, and now you can tour it. It was an interesting tour, and you can still see how the royal family had things set up in their rooms. We had cake and coffee with the queen (well, she wasn't technically there) and it was a good snack. Nolan really enjoyed the engine rooms.

We headed in toward our hotel (recommended by the Paschals). The Premier Inn is across the street from the castle, and we had a fantastic view of the castle! The room was a little pricey, but it was a good location. Dinner was a little hard as we didn't know that Scotland has weird rules about kids in bars/restaurants. We finally found the 1780 restaurant which stated they had a kids menu. They had a large beer selection and interesting foods. We tried vegetarian haggis (just lots of oatmeal) and I had yummy lamb with tasty Glencoe Wild Oat Stout. I recommend eating here if visiting with kids!

The next day was our castle day. We walked up the hill and took in the brilliant views of Edinburgh. We walked around a few museums and cathedrals. We walked past the crown jewels and the World War I memorial. Then we lined up for a view of the cannon firing at 1pm. Nolan had a great view! We decided to walk down the Royal Mile to look for food next. We walked around St. Giles Cathedral some to take it in.  We stumbled in an Italian restaurant that was ok, nothing exciting. We walked to the east end of the mile to visit Holyrood Palace, the home of the royal family when they visit. We went in for the tour as it started to rain a little. This was just an ok site; I suppose the English find it more interesting. Just a lot of nice stuff that doesn't get used very often. There is some history regarding Mary Queen of Scots here, but I think it is just their claim to fame here. As we left, the rain had stopped, so we headed back toward the New Town area for dinner. We walked back a different way, crossing over Waverly Station with views of Scott Monument. The weather wasn't quite nice enough to go up, so we walked toward Jamie's Italian, a place we had made reservations at the night prior. His restaurant was good, but they can't make a hot coffee! After dinner, I walked around a bit more for pictures while Kacey took the kids to the hotel.

The next morning, we went out to see St. John's and St. Cuthbert, next to the castle (but at street level). While services were getting ready to start, we kinda looked around anyway. St. Cuthbert has been transformed a little to be more modern, but still neat. Then I ran over to the Scott Monument to climb up since the weather was nice again. The view was nice, and it was a tight fit to get up some of the steps. The views of the city are better from the castle, but this was nice too. We got going to Stirling Castle next, hoping to find some food there in Stirling.

We arrived in town and didn't see any food. We learned we were in the new town later, but we asked a local and were directed to the Torbrex Inn. It was nestled in amongst homes and it was brilliant food! I got the Steak and Ale pie. The meat was fabulous and the puff pastry tasted like it had to come from the town's best bakery, but it was made in house. I highly recommend eating here! We headed next to Stirling Castle. This castle, we learned, has been restored and they have actors that play different roles in the castle. It is pretty kid friendly with activities for them along the way. Nolan attended Knight School and did some archery. We next started the long drive up to Inverness.

It was a beautiful drive, with a wide array of landscapes. We arrived in Inverness and it was a bigger town than we expected. We checked in and went next door to Contrast to eat dinner. This was supposed to be good and it did not disappoint. The scotch egg starter was delish as well as the haggis bon bons. We stayed the night at the Glen Mhor Hotel. This was one of the cheaper options in town, had free wifi and full breakfast, and had a nice big room, and renovated bathroom. They also brought in a rollaway bed for Nolan. It is also close to parts of downtown, so most things are walkable.

The next morning we had to be at the Clansman Harbour for our 1 hour cruise on Loch Ness. We cut it a little close, but got on with about 30 seconds to spare. They talked about stories and wildlife of Loch Ness. The 1 hour cruise goes out to Urquhart Castle, drops people off, picks up some more, and comes back to the harbour. It was a little cloudy the morning of our cruise, but not too bad considering the whole trip had been so nice so far. Upon seeing the castle, we decided we may not go spend a lot of time there. It is mostly ruins, and not very large. And many say the best part about it is the view, which we had already seen. So while we drove past it, we headed back in to Inverness for lunch before our scenic drive to Glasgow.

We decided we would drive down the main road toward the lowlands and stop at an information center along the way (we saw a few signs for them on the way up). We stopped at a place called Ralia Cafe that said it was a TI. The first person I talked to didn't know much. But the second guy warned us that the road ahead was shutdown due to a large accident; and since it was in the dual carriageway part, people were stranded. He said drive toward Fort William via Newtonmore and that it is a brilliant drive. So we headed that way and it really was. We saw more lochs, an old dam, and the Ben Nevis range. We took the cable lift half way up the mountain and it was great views. We moved on to see the fort at Fort William. Well, this is a very, very small ruin. We missed it at first glance. We drove toward Glencoe to see that area too. We saw the Three Sisters mountains and then drove by Loch Lomond. This loch is huge and beautiful! We arrived in Glasgow and tried to have dinner at a place reviewed well, but they were busy and there was no parking in the area anyway. We just checked in and walked to Merchant Square, a place also full of restaurants and bars. While there weren't as many as we thought, we found a few that allowed kids and settled on Arisaig. I got chicken with haggis and mashed potatoes and mashed parsnips, very tasty. I stepped in to the Beer Cafe next door; the owner was super nice.

The next day we were going to walk around George Square and a few sites, then drive to the Cathedral, then get on the road by noon to catch our ferry out of Cairnryan. All the sites were very close to our hotel. We hung out at George Square for a few minutes, checking out all the statues. We stopped at the Pret for sandwiches for lunch later. We also let Nolan watch a big excavator tear down a building while Kacey took some pictures of a famous old casino. The cathedral was good, but the big attraction is the huge necropolis and view of the city and cathedral from the hill.

All in all, Scotland had some great sites, great food, and nice people.

Pictures can be found here.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Avoca and an Irish Food Festival

Two weekends ago, Kathleen was in town. On Sunday we visited Avoca and then drove up to an Irish Food Festival. As we arrived as Avoca, I saw men sitting in their cars and that was a sign for the inside. Fancy food things, clothes, and stuff like that. The take away salad bar stuff was pretty good. But from here we drove up near Kells for an Irish Food Festival, hosted by Sheridan Cheesemongers.

The field was packed with cars, and there was a line down the country road just trying to get in. The area was packed with people. There were vendors with samples selling things, and vendors with food to eat. There were cheeses and meat vendors. Fruit vendors. I got a "pork" sandwich, which was mostly gristle and fat. I also found some ice cream which is actually ice cream, not weird ingredients. We sampled some things, let Nolan play in the bounce house and bouncy slide, and headed home after 2 hours of taking it all in.

Pictures here.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Brú na Bóinne

A week ago we visited Brú na Bóinne while Christie was in town. While there are several sites in the area, we only visited the top two on this visit, Newgrange and Knowth. These are earthen tombs from about 1200 years ago. When you show up, you reserve a bus ride and a tour out to each site. To be honest, for all the hassle that might go in to getting a tour and what you actually see, it was just ok. Going in the Newgrange tomb and seeing how they built it to align with the solstice it neat, but that is the only thing there really.

Pictures can be found here.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Kilkenny, Waterford, and Rock of Cashel

This past weekend, we loaded up the car (4 adults, 2 kids) and headed south to Kilkenny. This is rated one of the top older, inland towns, and I would have to agree. Even with a little rain at first, it was pretty bustling on a Saturday afternoon. While we kinda struck out on lunch, it gave way to sunshine!

First we went to the Kilkenny Castle. We used our new Ireland Heritage card for entry. This is maintained in a usable state, so much different than we had seen anywhere else in the British Isles. We next walked to St. Canice's Cathedral. This was a nice little cathedral, and is famous for it's round tower. The weather was a little iffy at first, but once we got up, the rain stopped and the sun came out. It made for some great views of the town and the hills. It was now time to head to Waterford.

See pictures of Kilkenny here.

I didn't expect too much in Waterford, and I was right. The town was pretty much shut down by 6pm on Saturday. No one was out walking around except us. We found Koliba, a polish restaurant serving yummy pierogies. We had pierogies, potato pancakes, goulash, and kompot. It was all yummy. We also had some fruit pierogies, something we will try to make another time (and maybe fry them). After a quick walk around the old town triangle, we headed to the hotel for some rest.

In the morning, the town was empty again (but not too surprising). Mass ended as we walked by the Trinity Church and we asked a few people about breakfast, and they said "Maybe the hotel?". We found that the McDonalds was the only thing open, so we suffered through that and got to the House of Waterford Crystal for a tour. This was a pretty neat tour (and the factory is actually open on Sunday). Of course, this small factory is all that is left after the financial collapse in 2009, but they still make a few things.

See pictures of Waterford here.

Next we headed to Cashel to see the Rock of Cashel. We ate lunch at a little Italian place, hoping the rain would pass through. Well, it didn't, but we had free entrance to the Rock of Cashel with our Heritage cards. We walked with the tour for a few minutes, but we drifted off and did our own thing. Rock of Cashel isn't that big, and hard to do when rainy and windy (a lot of it is outside or in the cathedral with no roof). So, we will stop by another time when driving by.

See pictures of Rock of Cashel here.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Wales and Liverpool

Last weekend, May 4th, was a bank holiday in Ireland, so we decided to visit our friends in Liverpool, see Wales, and take the ferry over to Great Britain. The Irish Ferry was pretty easy to book and it traveled from Dublin Port to Holyhead Wales. We took the fast ferry, which does the trip in just under 2 hours. On board is pretty comfortable. They have free wifi, but don't expect to do too much with it.

Once we arrived in Holyhead, we started immediately to our first town, Beaumaris. We needed pounds immediately to pay for parking, and we didn't have any yet, but luckily a welsh woman paid for our parking. The castle here was decent, and you can walk on top, but it doesn't have many towers or hidden rooms. The town here is a very cute little town, and we were lucky to have picked this place for lunch (well, the guide book said it would work out well).

Next we headed to Conwy. By the time we got there, both kids were asleep, so I quickly went in by myself. This castle is larger and has more towers and some hidden rooms. Good views of the town from the towers.  But next we headed to Llandudno. We read that this town was actually having a large festival, evident by all the cars parked, but we drove the scenic road around the Great Orme Park. We were able to drive up to the summit as well, where the tram and cable car end up. There were some great views of the hills and towns from the drive. Llandudno looks like a real cute little town, but due to the congestion of the carnival, we decided to just skip it.

On our way to Liverpool, we decided to drive by one more castle. Rhuddlan Castle isn't far from the main road and located in a little town. By the time we got here, they would have been closing soon. So Kacey let Nolan run around a little while taking a few pictures. This castle looked to be a little more in ruins than the first ones we had seen, so by this time, we were ready to go see our friends!

We got to Wirral just in time for dinner. Nolan and Braeden became instant friends! They were running around and holding hands before we even got to dinner. On Sunday we visited their church in Hoylake and really enjoyed their service. I kinda needed some time in worship after the stress we had endured trying to find a place to live. After church we took the train in to Liverpool and walked around the Mersey. The weather was fantastic! We visited the free Museum of Liverpool and the kids had fun in the "Little Liverpool" kids area. After some ice cream and walking around Albert Docks, we headed back home for some dinner.

On Monday (bank holiday), we decided to go to Chester Zoo. Well, so did about 10,000 other people. The 5 mile line inched in and we gave up after about 30 minutes. Even if we had gotten in, it would have been extremely crowded. So we bailed and went to the Blue Planet Aquarium. It was pretty empty, and the kids had a great time running around. Afterward, we headed in to Chester to check out the cathedral and walk around. The Chester Cathedral was nice and we relaxed in the central gardens for a bit. We next walked down to the river and walked along a bit. It was a nice place for a lazy walk. But, it was dinner time and worried things might close, we started looking. We ended up at the Ristorante Sergio for dinner, and it was great. I always love good Italian eateries where you can speak Italian to the folks there.

The next day we drove back in to Liverpool to take in the Anglican Cathedral. This church is pretty massive and the view from the top is incredible. The bell tower on the way up and hard to put in to words its size. We were also able to grab a quick snack here before getting on the road back to Wales. We had scheduled enough time to visit the Caernarfon Castle. This was a pretty neat castle and some of the tall towers could be scaled by Nolan. There is also a nice vantage point of the town square from the castle. We grabbed some food before heading to catch the ferry.

We really lucked out. The weather the entire trip was really great, we saw a lot of fun castles, some grand cathedrals, and saw some great friends.

Pictures from this trip can be found here.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

County Wicklow Mountains

Saturday we drove the short trip to the Wicklow Mountains to visit Powerscourt Gardens and then take the Military Road to Glendalough (pronounced Glen-da-lock). Rick Steves recommended this day trip from Dublin, so we thought we would do an easy one for our first trip.

We drove in through the village of Enniskerry and followed the signs to Powerscourt. It is a very large area with a golf course, a Ritz-Carlton, the main house and the gardens. We walked the garden for about 90 minutes then headed in to get a bite at the cafe. The food was decent, but I bet the cafe gets very crowded in the summer! We walked anti-clockwise through the gardens, which unfortunately was not very stroller friendly. The Japanese Gardens is probably the nicest area there, but the Walled Garden is probably very lovely in the summer.

Next we drove the old Military Road through Sally Gap to head to Glendalough. The road was pretty rough and the scenery was mostly bogs. The little village of Glencree seemed like it might have been a good place to eat lunch at the pub.

We arrived at the visitor center in Glendalough and drove around the carpark looking for a spot. In the summer, it is probably near impossible to park there. We walked around the Monastic City for a bit, then walked the boardwalk to the Upper Lake. While the boardwalk route is stroller friendly, the Green road path is no worse than the monastic city, and the boardwalk is longer. The Upper Lake is beautify with a green space for play.

With recommendation from a local, we ate at the Wicklow Heather Restaurant. It was our first (finally!) pub and it was awesome. Corned beef, potatoes, and Guinness.

Pictures can be found here.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

How are Things? (Liana is 7 months)

What a week! We moved to Dublin, Ireland almost a week ago. The few days leading up to the flight were busy, but we had planned things out and didn't have any surprises we couldn't work through. Our almost 5 hour layover at JFK turned in to a non-running hurry-up and we basically walked straight on to our Aer Lingus flight due to flight delays and weather.

Our arrival in Dublin was quite good. We were offered a ride to immigration. We fit everything on 2 carts and the stroller (we didn't really know how we would get 10 bags, 6 carry-ons, and 2 car seats to a rental car and taxi). Then, a very nice woman insisted on helping us push our carts to the rental car desk. It was quite nice, we were overwhelmed by all the nice people trying to help us, just within the first couple hours!

Our plan was to fit as much luggage and kids in the rental as possible, then Kacey would take the rest in a taxi. Well, the nice folks at Enterprise helped us get it all in! (Except for the stroller that we forgot on the shuttle).

We arrived at our temporary apartment in Sandyford, which wasn't quite ready, but we just waited in the coffee shop for 30 minutes.  Once unloading the car, I immediately went to Lissen Hall Vet Hospital to pick up the cats. This was also uneventful. I was also able to swing by Enterprise and pick up the stroller.

We explored the Dunnes grocery store, which is next to our apartment. They have about anything we use to make meals, it just isn't always where you would expect in the store.

The kids have done ok. Nolan didn't really get any kid time for about a week. Liana popped a tooth through finally! Right in time for her 7 month birthday. She wants to be so active, but our apartment just doesn't have room for her to crawl. I swear the other day at the Children's Museum she wanted to take a step but didn't. Her balance is getting better by practicing in her playpen.

We are excited to be here! We are looking forward to finding a house (the rental market here is crazy) and settling in, which is hard to do in a little 2 bedroom apartment.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Next Chapter Coming!

This is our final week in California; next week we move to Dublin, Ireland! We have made some great friends here in SoCal and it is sad to leave them. Hopefully we get some visitors to Ireland!

This week is going to be hard on Nolan because I can't give him a lot of attention, and a lot of his stuff is packed up. He has still been pretty good, though.

We are almost done selling a few things. Still need to sell the Durango and the cordless drill. We have backup plans for each, so not too much stress.

We are excited for the next chapter of our lives!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Liana is 6 Months!

She is doing so great and growing really well. The bottle is getting a little easier, but we still struggle sometimes. She has been crawling for a month and getting good at it. While it is still an army crawl, it is effective and she can clear obstacles. She *almost* sat herself up the other day, so her strength and balance are improving. She really loves to bounce too. Tonight, she will try her first rice cereal!

27" long (90%)
16 lb 3.5 oz (51%)
16.5" head (48%)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Liana is 5 Months!

Liana is 5 months old today! And today she blessed us with a wonderful surprise. For a couple weeks, she has been pushing herself backward on the hardwood floors, but now she can crawl!



She laughs at Nolan all the time, he gets the biggest laughs.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Liana is 4 Months!

Liana is doing great! Big brother loves her lots, and she loves to watch big brother play.

25.75 in. 91% height
14 lb 6 oz 70% weight
16 in head

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