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More To Ireland Than Just Guinness & Jameson

When I look back at my time in Ireland, I look on it very fondly.  I always knew I would get to London, England.  I just knew at some point in my life, I would get there.  If you read my last piece, you know what I mean.,  Ireland though, never seemed to play out on the “mental travel map of life”.  But because of my wife and her Irish ancestry, I knew it would only be a matter of time before we paid visit to The Emerald Isle.

After spending a few days in England we head on off to Dublin, Ireland.  Back in Heathrow, but not to fly home, but to go to Dublin.  To be in one foreign country, then to see your next destination is another new country really made me feel like a traveler.  Another chuckle to myself for a great first time memory.  Later, Gina and I recalled our experiences together.  There is a feeling of adventure knowing you are not going home, not quite yet.

We waited for our flight on Aer Lingus to Dublin.  I usually like to gauge who the other passengers are around me.  Always cognizant of my surroundings.  It appeared there was an American travel group composed of seniors also on our flight.  They were easy to spot out thanks to one individual.  This woman did not only drone on long enough, but just loud enough for everyone to hear.  Not just in the terminal, but on the plane as well.  When they announced boarding, Gina and I were close to the counter.  There was a member of their group that tried to squeeze their way past Gina in a spot no one can get through.  Gina was not about to let that happen.

We find our seats and prepare for the hour flight into Dublin.  Then a few rows up what do I hear, but that woman going on again.  Talking about her previous visits to Dublin, going to Africa, and other destinations over her time.  Talking just loud enough for enough people to hear.  I have said this before, when one travels they are a representative of their country.  Others perceive Americans based on their encounters with them.  So why give people something bad to talk about?

About half way into the flight, she finally stopped talking.  By then I had tuned her out a bit, but glad the jack hammer stopped.  Just enough time for some so-so coffee before we landed.  On our approach, we had a fantastic view of the Ireland coast.  To see the patchwork of green, in so many lush shades was a sight to behold.  To see your approach into a country like that definitely makes you smile.  Even better to hear it announced to you from your Irish pilot.  One will hear that more than Gaelic, which is spoken only  by 7% of the population.

We made our way up to the customs agent and he had a pleasant demeanor. Asking the typical questions of why we are visiting.  Gina replying for vacation.  The agent responds by saying they might have a spot or two for us.  So Gina responds as there better be as her Grandfather is from Ireland so she can just have his spot.  A funny moment where we all laughed.  My wife’s grandfather is originally from Galway.  Galway, or the City of Galway, is in the West Region and the province of Connacht.  Once past customs we found our luggage pretty fast and met our taxi driver pretty fast to take us to our hotel.

In each country, we had a car service waiting to drive us to our hotel when we arrived and take us back to the airport for our next departure.  It saves a lot of time and guarantees you get right to your hotel without getting lost on your own.  The fare in Ireland is set by the Government.  It is $40 in Euros each way and is the standard charge no matter who you use as a car service.  In England and Scotland we had the pleasure of being picked up in some great vehicles.  Mercedes-Benz and BMW to name a few besides the taxi’s in Dublin.

IMG_5909As we left the airport I was like a dog who loves to ride in the car.  I was staring out the window at everything that passed us.  All of the green landscapes, trees, residential homes and developments to the stores and pubs that outlined the main roads on the way to our hotel.  It was great, as always, to see daily life elsewhere.  One issue they have is high unemployment and a lot of stores unused.  Some countries have it worse than the United States.  Ireland relies heavily on American tourism and its economy.  Many Irish file for work visa’s as finding work here is easier.

We arrive at our hotel, The Morrison Hotel.  The Morrison is located in the heart of Dublin city, on the banks of the River Liffey, and only steps across the Millennium Bridge from the lively quarter of Temple Bar. This superior hotel is renowned for its style, ambience and atmosphere, and their recent renovation has only strengthened their position as a hip and vibrant premier destination for both local and international visitors.

The Morrison has always kept its visitors feeling energized by keeping a hint of Rock n’ Roll in the air, and during the renovation, have taken care to preserve this distinctive, artistic aura, with nods to legendary Irish musicians, bands and artists throughout. From the artwork to the furniture, the style of rock seems to infiltrate The Morrison.  They are also a DoubleTree in the Hilton Hotel family.

MorrisonOur room was no exception.  The use of color and the  lighting worked.  Subtle light with purple neon overtones was vibrant next to the grey and white colors of the room.  Even matching certain pillow with the colored lighting.  Very spacious room and a better bed than London.  Pillows make all the difference.  The firmer the pillow, the better the room.  None of this feather down nonsense.  If I travel locally, I do bring my memory foam pillow.  Sleep is key when traveling anywhere.

Not the best view but still a very relaxing room.  Your room key also activates the room’s power once inserted into a certain card slot.  Wall outlets were still active, though.  Always make sure you carry enough power converters with you.  Different wall sockets and wattage.  220 watts in the UK, 110 here in the USA.  This hotel had excellent wi-fi no matter where you were in the hotel.  If you like to share your pictures fast, the wi-fi or internet speed is key.  There are many business travelers who depend on it.

After putting everything away we still had enough time to get some sightseeing in as well as some much-needed food.  We cross the river right into the Temple Bar area of Dublin.  More like a pub and restaurant district.  Every side had a pub or restaurant of some kind.  Mixed in with street performers, Temple Bar souvenir stores, tattoo shops, bakeries, and a plethora of other shops.  Unlike the areas surrounding it, Temple Bar has preserved its medieval street pattern, with many narrow cobbled streets. It is promoted as “Dublin’s cultural quarter” and has a lively nightlife that is popular with tourists.

The area is the location of many Irish cultural institutions, including the Irish Photography Center (incorporating the Dublin Institute of Photography, the National Photographic Archives and the Gallery of Photography), the Irish Film Institute, incorporating the Irish Film Archive, the Temple Bar Music Centre, the Arthouse Multimedia Centre, Temple Bar Gallery and Studio, the Project Arts Centre, the Gaiety School of Acting, as well as the Irish Stock Exchange and the Central Bank of Ireland.

After dark, the area is a major centre for nightlife, with many tourist-focused nightclubs, restaurants and bars. Pubs in the area include The Porterhouse, the Oliver St. John Gogarty, the Turk’s Head, the Temple Bar, Czech Inn, the Quays Bar, the Foggy Dew and the Purty Kitchen.

IMG_5898Oliver St. John Gogarty’s. The first stop for a bite in Dublin and my first Guinness ever. Gogarty’s has plenty of rave reviews in Yelp and TripAdvisor. Also my second. Never did I think an Irish Pub would draw out such emotion to make me tear up. An experience a lifetime in the making worth having with the best travel partner. The comfort there spoke volumes from the people around me. Sometimes the best comfort zone is the one we never expect. I may be the outsider, but that day I fit right in.

Oliver Joseph St John Gogarty (August 1878 – September 1957) was an Irish poet, author, otolaryngologist, athlete, politician, and well-known conversationalist, who served as the inspiration for Buck Mulligan in James Joyce’s novel Ulysses. An annual Oliver St. John Gogarty Literary Festival is held in the author’s family home, now the Renvyle House Hotel in Connemara. Not only is Gogarty’s a bar, but a restaurant, a venue for hire, apartments for rent to tourists, and a hostel. The hostel is the only one in Dublin with it’s own bar inside.

Import 1I never had Guinness before.  I always looked at it and based on that, never tried it.  But here I am in the “Land of Guinness”, I had to at least try it.  I was so glad I did.  Smooth, robust with flavor it went down too smooth.  It really made the experience at Gogarty’s a pleaser.  Sitting, tapping my leg in tune with the great music being played.  Yes, I can keep a beat.  I am not that white.  Our table was ringside to all the action that happened in the main room.  Bar set back, Guinness barrels used as bar tables, while other smaller tables lined the outside of the bar while the music played.

Two musicians just sat and played some great music.  One strummed a guitar while the other played on the banjo.  It made for a memorable experience.  It did not matter who you were, your background, or age, anyone could just come in and feel accepted.  Just sit back, have a drink, and enjoy.  Someone even got up and did a little jig.  The entertainment came from more than just the music.

Fish and chipsWe had the entertainment, we had our Guinness, now it was time to get our pub grub.  After having The Codfather at The Anchor Pub in England, I had to try the fish & chips here in Ireland.  There was no disappointment in that decision.  Their traditional fish & chips was the perfect first meal.  Fish was sweet & melted in your mouth with a nice hearty crunch from the beer batter.  The chips, prepared perfectly with that outside crisp and inside texture of mashed potatoes.  The salad felt like I emptied a grass clippings bag with a few branches in it.  Combine the meal with the Guinness and it was a meal to have again.

A mark was left on me at Gogarty’s and the Temple Bar section.  From there we walked the streets to see what else surrounded us.  We checked out so many side streets, boutique stores, clothing stores, and everything else that lined our way to Grafton Street.  Grafton Street is one of the two principal shopping streets in Dublin‘s city centre, the other being Henry Street.  It runs from Saint Stephen’s Green in the south (at the highest point of the street) to College Green in the north (to the lowest point).  In 2008, Grafton Street was the fifth most expensive main shopping street in the world.
IMG_5911There is so much shopping on Grafton Street.  Clothing stores, flowers, jewelry, the Disney Store, gelato, flower stands, coffee, and so much more.  Street performers are everywhere.  Not just musicians, but artists, sand sculptures, bubble creators, and anyone else looking to make an artistic Euro.  Some of the musicians even sold CD”s of their work.  True artistry being done by some of the guitar players.  The interpretations of U2 by some were radio quality.  It did make walking in certain areas more enjoyable.

Now since we had eaten a late lunch, neither of us wanted dinner.  So we just strolled on back to the hotel.  Every time we crossed the river on the way back, the sunset seemed to be so close to touch.  The sun just hung there and always left a great mark on the day.  Even at 10 PM, it was still light outside.  Besides making sure every device is charged fir the next day, there was still not much on TV.  There were more English speaking channels,  Dumb and Dumber was on one night.

One of the most important ways to start a day is with a good shower.  The one in our bathroom was invigorating.  I nice 16 inch wide shower head encapsulated you and the water pressure made for a great water stream.  A long tub just made the shower at The Morrison that much more enjoyable.  The next most important way to start the day is with coffee.  Or breakfast.  I guess it can be a close tie.  The hotel had a fantastic breakfast buffet.  Each morning was a no brainer.

It included scrambled eggs which were miles beyond better than the buffet in London.  English bacon, sausages, blood sausage, small potatoes, smoked salmon & other meats, a selection of cheeses, and a great array of artesian breads.  One could also order waffles, omelet, or pancakes amongst other specialty items.  The coffee was good.  Robust and a great way to help start the day.  I cut small pieces of the brown artesian bread  and placed my smoked salmon on that.  The salmon just melted.  Not too salty and a superb taste.  It could have used a little cream cheese, it’s what every Jewish kid grows up with.

SiIMG_5968nce we stoked our internal fire pretty well we knew we had a great day ahead of us.  The first destination was Trinity College and the Book of Kells.  Taking a walk through the cobbled stones of Trinity College brings visitors back to the 18th century, when the magnificent Old Library building was constructed. Inside is housed the Book of Kells.  The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript Gospel book in Latin, containing the four Gospels of the New Testament together with various prefatory texts and tables. It was created by Celtic monks ca. 800 or slightly earlier. It is a masterwork of Western calligraphy and it is also widely regarded asIreland’s finest national treasure.

By the time we arrived at Trinity College the line was about 45 minutes long.  The wait was worth it.  When would we have a second chance?  The chance to see any country’s deep history is exciting.  Taking a moment to view what is considered of great importance.   Visitors enter through the Library Shop and proceed to the Book of Kells “Turning Darkness into Light” exhibition; then to the Treasury where the Book of Kells and other related manuscripts are on view; then proceed upstairs to the magnificent Long Room which houses 200,000 of the Library’s oldest books in its oak bookcases.
Import 1The Long Room also showcased some busts of the world’s greatest philosophers, writers, theorists, and countless other contributors to the advancement of Western Civilization.  The relics showcased with some amazing journals and texts highlighted periods to provide a more in depth perspective of the period.  It is one thing to go to a museum and become immersed in the exhibits.  When you travel to a foreign country and view items that will never come stateside, that becomes more than a memory.  It becomes something real, to have that once-in-a-lifetime moment to view an important part of human history regardless of whose history it is.

Not too far from Trinity College is Dublin Castle.  Dublin Castle was until 1922 under the seat of British rule in Ireland, and is now a major Irish government complex.  Most of it dates from the 18th century, though a castle has stood on the site since the days of King John, the first Lord of Ireland in the early 1200’s.  The Record Tower is the sole surviving tower of the medieval castle dating from circa 1228.  It is amazing to see a true castle in person, not one by Disney.  This one was closed though.  It seemed the entire Castle and surrounding buildings were closed from February until July so they can maintain the buildings and structures.

After taking a few photos we walked around to the Castle Gardens.  Designed in the style of ancient Celtic jewelery the large grass area lies on the site of the Black Pool or in Irish, Dubh Linn. I n Celtic and Viking times the River Poddle, which supplied fresh drinking water and filled the moat of Dublin Castle, also formed a pool at this spot.  The Vikings used this pool as a sheltered harbour for their ships.  It is from the Dubh Linn pool that Dublin gets its English name.  The Poddle today is a memory and has long been confined to a sewer.  Only recently developed into formal gardens, the area is now a multi-purpose part of the castle grounds.

Import 1While similar to European gardens, Irish gardens usually have a slight twist, which makes them unique and especially attractive.  The garden at the Dublin Castle is a strong example of this trait.  As one can see, the flat lawn inside a low, circular, walled area is repeatedly bisected by narrow black swirls., much like a marbled cake. If you look closely, at the beginning of the swirl is a face much like a stylized snake.

I was taken in by the colorful and bold artwork scattered around the garden.  Colorful ceramic tiles at the bird bath, a giant glass snake, the memorial to the 2003 Special Olympics.  We took our time to walk around and explore. The central area of the gardens is surrounded by wooden benches sporting a low-key Ogham design (Ogham being the ancient Irish system of writing), while the grassy middle part is interrupted by a Celtic design formed by paving stones. This is only really visible from the air – and actually is used as a helicopter landing pad on occasion.  There is a walkway that is used to enter one of the adjacent buildings, but it’s ramp can be used to get a better aerial view.

From there we wandered for a bit to take note on the endless varying cuisines up and down Dame St and South Great Georges Street.  Restaurants for every palate and taste bud were around.  Your Irish Pub’s, French, Indian, Moroccan, Spanish, Mexican, Turkish, Chinese, American, and more just there for the sampling.  I think our minds were on overload as to who to try.  Many great menus and so little time.  We remembered a few to see which would be great for dinner.  We still had a great day ahead of us.

Majority of the attractions in Dublin were in walking distance of our hotel.  Gina centrally located us so we would not be far from majority of what we wanted to do.  The Zoo, Irish Museum of Modern Art, and other notable attractions were just a taxi ride away, if we wanted to visit.  Our next stop along the Levy Dublin Tour was Christ Church cathedral.  I believe that is the first time the names “Levy” and “Christ” have been used in the same sentence.  The Book of Kells was the main item on our to-do list for the day.  The other attractions we either stumbled upon or checked on the map to see what was close within walking distance.  It made for a great, educational day.

Import 1This magnificent cathedral was designed to be seen from the river, so walk to it from the riverside in order to truly appreciate its size. We walked to it from Dame Street instead.  It dates from 1038, when Sitric, Danish king of Dublin, built the first wooden Christ Church here.  In 1171, the original foundation was extended into a cruciform and rebuilt in stone by the Norman warrior Strongbow. The present structure dates mainly from the late 1800’s, when a huge restoration took place — the work done then remains controversial to this day, as much of the building’s old detail was destroyed in the process.

Still, magnificent stonework and graceful pointed arches survive.  There’s also a statue of Strongbow inside, and some believe his tomb is here as well, although historians are not convinced.  Look out for a heart-shaped iron box in the southeast chapel, which is believed to contain the heart of St. Laurence O’Toole.  The best way to get a glimpse of what the original building must have been like is to visit the crypt, which is original to the 12th-century structure.  The crypt houses many artifacts and items of religious significance to Ireland and the church.

The architecture in many of these cathedrals is astounding.  The craftsmanship & intricacies in the work is remarkable.  Amazing to see how well-preserved they are over such a period of time.  Many may have dilapidated over time, but some of these grander places of worship really do have outstanding longevity.  I did want to visit a few Jewish synagogues, but they would have been hard to visit on our limited time there.   Maybe next time.

The day was rocking along nicely, nothing but great weather since we landed.  Another few days where New Jersey was getting rained upon while our weather was great in Ireland.  That is Irony for you.  It made for such longer days to see more locations.  We stayed hydrated throughout the day.  There are a lot of convenience stores so grabbing a bottle and storing one in the backpack became protocol since London.  With walking & warm, sunny weather comes drinking like a camel.  You get thirsty, you get tired.  Staying hydrated will at least keep your energy level up until you have food.

It appeared we were not done where we were located.  As we walked out to the corner there was a sign for something called Dublinia.  Dublinia shows you firsthand what it was like to live in Dublin at the time of the Vikings and in the middle ages up to the beginning 16th century. It is a highly interactive museum full of atmospheric 3-d displays and with many hands on activities for visitors.  Dublinia is located in a part of Christ Church Cathedral, known as the Synod hall.

Dublinia features historical reenactment, with actors playing the roles of Vikings and Medieval Dubliners (in full costume) and encourages visitors to join in. It has recreations of Viking and Medieval era buildings (houses, etc) and street scenes.  The exhibition was opened in 1993, and was redeveloped in 2010 at a cost of €2 million. The museum attracts over 125,000 visitors per annum.

Import 1Stroll through a medieval market and visit a rich merchant’s house.  You can wear medieval clothes, throw rotten eggs and vegetables (well, soft plastic balls) at a criminal locked up in the pillories and try your luck at fun fair games.  Or why not try on some medieval armour and find out what weight the knights actually had to carry around with them?   After you survived the Middle Ages, delve deeper and experience life in the times of the Vikings.  See for yourself how much space you had as a crew member on a Viking long ship, learn to write in Viking Runes and listen to long sagas recited by an elder while you are sitting around the camp fire.

We spoke with one of the minters of money firsthand.  He educated us on who creates coins, how they were created, even a little example and souvenir for us.  A lot of forgeries were out there.  Easy to obtain the items in minting coins.  This gentleman also previously worked in finance & insurance.  Gina and I laughed as we did as well.  So we spoke candidly for a bit.  He told us he was English and his wife was American.  Half the year they spend over there, the other half in Arizona.  Made for an interesting conversation on modern finance and business.

The history contained really made Ireland a true place for groups to conquer.  Many tried and in the end they are their own country.  But the Vikings, Moors, and more left their mark over time.  Witnessing their daily life and struggles on just making it day-to-day.  The differences in the Viking period in Ireland compared to the Moors and others who fought for control over that country.  So much groundwork was being laid to help those native to Ireland they would not realize it for a very long time.  It also appeared they used moss as toilet paper thanks to their “outhouse exhibit”, complete with sounds effects.

Import 1Like any museum or attraction, they always end you off in the gift shop.  We had two choices, to either leave or climb St. Michael’s Tower.  This 17th century cut stone tower has great views over Dublin and the river from its top platform. There are signs pointing out the major landmarks you can see from here, weather permitting. The interior of the tower is quite impressive, with just a 96 step metal staircase snaking its way up and the lack of floors giving you full view of the majestic height of the structure. It’s a steep climb to get to the viewing platform. You don’t want to be suffering from vertigo here .  The views are breathtaking though.

Dublinia was a very welcome find.  It was a highlight of our time in Dublin.  We had walked most of the morning and early afternoon through all of these exhibits and attractions, we finally decided to grab something to eat.  As we walked closer to the Temple Bar area we decided to eat at, Temple Bar Pub.  Yes, in Temple Bar there is a Temple Bar Pub.  Makes perfect sense. Doesn’t it?  Temple Bar was a large establishment.  They had it all.  Craft beers, great whiskey, huge food menu, a beer garden, live music, and so much more.  There was rugby and Jai alai being watched on the TV’s.  Can not expect less from an establishment who has been in operation for 160 years.

We grab a seat ringside to the action close by the garden.  It was such a great day every part of the pub that was outside was busy.  Every place you visit in Temple Bar you will find a lively, friendly crowd.  As we get settled we order up two servings of Guinness.  It does taste better the thirstier you are.  It does go down smoother.  By this time too in the day a certain bathroom break was needed.  The Temple Bar Pub as well as The Anchor Pub in London are two restrooms that still have trough urinals in them.  That is very old school.  The last one’s I remember were at Fenway Park & the Sussex Country Fairgrounds.  Made me smile both times.

It did take me a little time to decide on what I wanted.  Once I opened the menu, I noticed they had over 100 sandwiches.  Let me repeat that.

Over 100 sandwiches!

Import 1Hot sandwiches, cold sandwiches, triple-decker, vegetarian, open sandwiches, and closed sandwiches all made fresh to order.  A choice of breads and condiments can be staggering.  A sandwich aficionado like myself jumped at the opportunity to have one of these tasty delights.  My eyes kept focusing on the roast beef, horseradish mayo, mixed greens, and cheddar cheese on brown bread.  It did not disappoint at all.  An ample sized sandwich, this freshly made beauty tasted perfectly.  You could taste each ingredient almost separately, but add the horseradish mayo and it all blends beautifully.  The brown bread held the sandwich just right so there was little mess.  A bad sandwich can wind up on the plate more than the bread.

Great atmosphere, great lunch.  The Temple bar had free wi-fi.  A lot of the casual pub’s and restaurants had free wi-fi.  Even outside certain locations one can find a wi-fi hotspot.  I found a few on Grafton Street.  Because of all the pictures and video I was taking with my phone my battery would get low early afternoon.  I came prepared, I like to travel with a back up charger.  The LowePro backpack I carry all of my camera equipment in has plenty of extra space for needed extras.  Battery back up, remote control for picture-taking, and even a microphone and wire.  Having a battery back up that is rechargeable and has ports for different devices & USB sizes is essential in traveling today.

Import 1We wandered back to Grafton Street.  Gina ventured into a jewelry store to buy a wedding band similar to mine.  We were in and out with a ring in less than ten minutes.  We have them their easiest sale of the day.  From there we went across the street to St. Stephens Green.  I wide open public park with great shaded areas, ponds, trails, walkways, and a nice quiet, serene setting that made it pleasurable to enjoy.  We stuck close to Grafton Street as we did enough walking.  Well, not quite.  Gino’s Gelato would be the last place we would walk to on Grafton Street.  The long line into the middle of Grafton was worth it.

By now it had been a long day, out early and gathering historical knowledge on foot can wear you out.  We headed back to the hotel to recharge ourselves, and our devices.  The wind had picked up and it can blow.  Made sense to put on a long sleeve for the evening.  Just as we were getting comfortable it was time to get going.  We attempted to retrace our footsteps to head back to Dame St. and the grand selection of restaurants.  Even as we are walking with no specific direction, we are trying to decide on where to go.  Remembering what there was left one place for me to try, Diwali Indian cuisine.

Diwali was rated “Best Indian Cuisine” the last two years in Ireland.  I have never really had a true Indian meal before.  Coworkers of my wife, my cousin RIsa, and a few others told us to have Indian while in England.  Everyone says the Indian food is better in England than it is in India.  Since we missed out in England, Ireland seemed to be the next best choice.  I answered “yes” to Diwali on instinct.  Time to step outside that proverbial box and taste some great Indian food.  My taste buds will thank me.

And thank me they did.  I wanted to have the cuisine the way one should.  I liked the different sauces and curry’s that I had.  The naan we started with made for a perfect starter.  Light, fresh, and came in well with everything one could eat there.  I usually like to go for a menu item that I notice fast and sticks with me the rest of the time I am viewing the menu.  I kept coming back to the Everest Special Seafood Sizzler.  A mix of Tandori King prawns, scallops, crab, mussels, and grilled fish served with vegetables in a sizzling hot plate.  Naan and boiled rice to accompany the dish as well. My curry of choice was Ledo Bedo, a known Nepali curry.

From the minute I took my first bite I was hooked.  Once again, the use of cilantro in the dish made me enjoy it even more.  a great blend of flavors mixed with fresh seafood, nann, and the rice had me eating more than speaking.  The ledo bedo curry was not too hot or spicy, it accentuated  the fresh seafood well.  Using the naan to move everything and gather every taste onto one torn piece of naan was the way to experience this dish.  Between London and Ireland, the seafood has been spectacular.  My first Indian cuisine experience will not be my last.  I was savoring every bite of this meal.  Some of my favorite memories are tied to “stepping outside the box” food moments.  Every time to you step outside your box, it expands with each step.

Not only was the food experience excellent, but their service and attention to the customer.  Those little extras from the staff goes a very long way.  It makes that experience and memory even greater.  Those little extras is what keeps us coming back.  Like a drug, you want to have that great all around experience again.  Not just for the taste, but for the interaction and service.  We both received 10% discount cards for our next visit.  From beginning to end, Diwali proved they are a stop for anyone wanting Indian cuisine in Dublin.

Another beautiful day closed out to another great sunset over Ireland.  Tomorrow was going to be a busy day.  A drinking busy kind of day.  Now too far from the hotel is the  Old Jameson Distillery set on the grounds of John Jameson’s original distillery from 1780.  A little bit of a walk is the Guinness Storehouse where you can tour the brewing process, history, and even learn how to pour the perfect Guinness pint.  We had a nice long day ahead of us.  Well, every day has been long.  So this was no different actually.

Trying to fall asleep some nights was hard.  I wanted to experience every moment, even if it was watching bar TV programming in the evening.  There were some great comedy specials on after 10:30 PM a few nights.  One special to raise funds for a children;s hospital had Russell Brand and Rich Hall.  Yes, THAT Rich Hall from Saturday Night Live and Not Necessarily The News Sniglets fame.  Watching shows like this and Hell’s Kitchen in Europe is a new experience considering there are no bleeps over expletives.  So every F word & a few others that get bleeped in America come through there just clearly.  Hearing Gordon Ramsay insult the chef’s with no filter is all the entertainment I need.

Import 1As morning comes, anticipation of the day ahead reminded me of an 8 year old waiting for their first trip to Disney.  Adult themed recreational amusement parks is more like it.  Many different adult theme parks around the world, we decided on a few drinking versions.  Another great morning start with the hotel’s breakfast.  Coffee, orange juice, smoked salmon on artesian bread, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, and small potatoes should be enough to handle the first wave of alcohol consumed at the Old Jameson Distillery .

This distillery was the only attraction we visited on our side of the river in Dublin.  We had to walk past the Four Courts and rows and rows of defenders and litagators.  The Four Courts is Ireland’s main courts building, located on Inns Quay in Dublin. The Four Courts are the location of the Supreme Court, the High Court and the Dublin Circuit Court.  Until 2010 the building also housed the Central Criminal Court.

As you come down a cobble stone street, you walk through the old distillery main gate to a small courtyard and the entrance to the Jameson Whiskey Experience.  Bar, gift shop, and complete with a tour of how Jameson Irish whiskey started and perfected their craft of triple distilled whiskey.  At the end of the tour was a tasting of Jameson.  It was about 25 minutes until the next tour, so a little waiting ensued.

Import 1The bar and outer waiting area was set on top the foundation of where the old holding casks were set.  It looked like an archeological excavation underneath.  It reminds me of being able to look under the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C..  Some great photo opportunities while waiting.  Also waiting for the tour was a German tour group who also happened to be a barbershop singing group.  As a surprise to all, they broke out and sang “My Wild Irish Rose” while waiting.  Touching performance enjoyed by all.

The tour begins with a small film following an early 1800’s New York newspaper reporter as he is invied by John Jameson to tour the facility and learn first hand what makes Jameson Whiskey the premier whisky that it is.  He shows up a little late, starting his tour with another employee.  As they tour the facilities, you follow and gain the same knowledge.  By the time they get to the end of the whiskey making process, the tasting, he finally meets John Jameson.  The worker who gave him the tour, was John Jameson, Jr..  From there it was on to the walking tour portion of the experience.

Our tour guide Meghan  snaked us through a recreation of the distillery from the time period we just watched.  We were informed Mr. Jameson was a man of punctuality.  The employee who arrived late would be lowered into the distilling vats with a candle to check the carbon dioxide levels.  A job no one wanted to perform.  If the candle went out, you had to come up.  From the video and tour, we all got the feeling John Jameson expected the best , in the work from his employees and the whiskey he put out.

Jameson also set himself apart by using a triple distilling method.  By distilling his whiskey three times, it takes out most of the strong, alcohol taste to leave a smoother, robust flavor to produce a finer product.  Scotch whiskey uses a double distilling process while American distillers of whiskey like Jack Daniels use a single distilling method.  If you are a Scotch or whiskey drinker you understand the differences in texture, flavor, and taste.  One could compare it to comparing wines from different regions.

Import 1Mid way through the tour our guide was picking eight people to be involved with a taste test of three brands of whiskey.  Everyone else on the tour would only try Jameson.  When she was looking for four female, I pointed right to Gina even though she had her hand raised.  She nabbed an opportunity.  When it came time for the guys, I was right on board with my chance to have some free tasting.  We held onto these Jameson cardboard like batons until the end of the tour.

As we approached the tasting portion at the end, those chosen for the taste test sat at a table with three samples in front of them.  A triple distilled sample of Jameson, a double distilled sample of Johnnie Walker, and a single distilled sample of Jack Daniels. The Jameson was so smooth with a nice smoky taste it made a big impression with me.  I have been a Jack Daniels drinker since college, I had it instead of beer.  I was an expensive drinker right off the bat.  The Jameson won we over from Jack and provided me a finer whiskey experience.

Once again like any tour, ride, or park attraction they leave you in the gift shop.  This one was worth shopping in.  A few nice items had to be purchased.  A couple of shirts, a shot glass, and an 18-year-old bottle of Jameson distilled and bottled exclusively for that store.  Had to pack that bottle like a baby to get it home.  We are waiting for the right moment to open the bottle to enjoy this one of a kind taste.  From there we had to head back to The Morrison to put our new wares in the room before proceeding to the Guinness Storehouse.

IMG_6206We cross the river to Bridge St. which takes you right to Christ Church Cathedral and Dublinia.  Such an easier walk than the day prior if we had started from our hotel.  Which we did not.  A passing military amphibious vehicle that was now a tour bus had a young, raucous crowd.  They were learning about Dublinia and the tour guide had them all yell out like vikings while wearing viking helmets.  This tour group even had vehicles in London.  It appeared they really know how to make a tour entertaining and interactive.

As we were looking for the entrance to Guinness, we passed these immense storehouse structures.  The size of the gates compared to the structures made everyone look like ants.  Apparently, the entrance was not at the corner of Crate & Barrel.  No applause, please.  I spared you all from the bad jokes so far.

Import 1Gina and I set out on a  magical journey deep into the heart of the world famous Guinness brand and company. The building is central to Dublin’s and Ireland’s heritage, and has been continually updated to create a blend of fascinating industrial tradition with a contemporary edge. The seven floors bring to life the rich heritage of Guinness, telling the story from its origins there at St. James’s Gate in Dublin to its growth as a global brand.  From the company store at the bottom to The Gravity Bar at the top, Guinness provided free wi-fi.

The experience starts by standing at the bottom of the world’s largest pint glass, which rises up through the center of the building.  If full, the giant pint glass atrium would hold 14.3 million pints of Guinness.  We started off with the walking tour of the brewing process all the way to cooperage and carting of the product.  Exhibits on the history of Guinness advertising from print to TV was featured.  The way products are advertised has dramatically changed over the decades.  The early days of television and radio did not have restrictions on content and language as they do now.  Some great photo opportunities in every part of the facility.

Everyone wanted to learn how to pour the perfect pint of Guinness.  And why not?  You get to drink the fruits of your labor at the end of this one.  The small tasting they give you at the end of the walking tour is not enough to satisfy the thirsty Guinness drinker.  At least you get a full fresh pint of Guinness.  We and a few others stand around a bar to learn the art of “the pour”.  How to hold the glass, the angle of the glass, time of the first pour, hen let it sit after filling 80% of the way.  After the small rest, time to finish off the pint by filling it to the top.  Let sit one last time, then enjoy!

Import 1Enjoy we did.  From there we could take the elevator up to the Gravity Bar at the top.  When you reach Gravity Bar you have truly reached the top of the world.  They invite you to sit, relax and enjoy your perfect pint while taking in the breath-taking panoramic 360° views of Dublin city and beyond. While here you can truly immerse yourself in the fun that is Guinness.  If you would also like to feel what it is like to be amongst an international bat crowd, then stay a little longer.  Some who came to the Storehouse treated the Gravity Bar as the only stop in the entire facility.  It made wanting to be up there a quick experience.

I could spend more time talking about the Guinness experience, maybe for another time.  Many things to see, taste, and buy.  On our way back we passed by a few notable areas.  One was a stone marker right on Thomas Street that read “In the roadway opposite this tablet, Robert Emmet dies in the cause of Irish Freedom on the 20th of September, 1803”.  The stone was placed there in 1853 by the Thomas Moore Society.  This other notable area was a stone wall by a modern building on the sidewalk.  This wall portion looked like it was a part of a larger fortification due to its proximity to Christ Church.

Import 1After a few shots of Jameson and some Guinness it was finally time to get some dinner.  We needed to drop off more plunder back at the hotel before heading out for the night.  Considering this was our last night in Ireland, we both had the same place in mind for dinner.  Gogarty’s.  We started our culinary experience there in Dublin, it was only fair we finish up there.  We had good reason to and not just because of the atmosphere.  Many of the pub menu’s and restaurants had a seafood chowder on the menu.  We were on a mission to try their’s.

By the time we arrive at Gogarty’s, the main room is packed.  We opted to sit in their bar/restaurant section in the back.  Very spacious.  They even had seating outside and upstairs.  We would rather be closer to the live music but we had a table, which was more important.  To start we both did have the seafood chowder.  A hearty chowder, this red tomato based soup has a little kick to it.  Combine that with mussels, clams, fresh fish, and every other item thrown in made this chowder worth waiting for.  Half the bowl was filled with seafood.  I wish I ordered ten bowls of the soup.

On the Specials menu I saw this lamb steak just staring at me, waiting to be ordered.  A well portioned, tender lamb steak came trimmed & skewered on two kabob sticks.  Along with fresh vegetables and homemade mashed potatoes this was a true foodie way to end the trip in Dublin.  Combine this meal with a few Guinness’ and it was a great Irish feast.  We just sat back at savored this meal.  The seafood chowder was a true highlight.  Lamb is great when it can be picked and eaten right off the bone.

Import 1The next day we were leaving Ireland and flying to Edinburgh, Scotland for the final leg of this journey.  We wish we could have stayed to listen to some more music and a few more pints, but we had packing to do.  I was happy in knowing that I left enough room in my second carry on for the swag we would be bringing home.  The Jameson bottle had to go into my checked bag though.  The factory store packed it for travel and I packed it amongst some sweatshirts and other clothing.

The anticipation of flying out to Scotland and not home provided a continued sense of excitement.  While waiting at the gate in Heathrow for our flight to Dublin I kept glancing up at the screen.  Knowing you are ready to board a flight that will take you to another new destination is a great sensation.  I was getting that same feeling again the night before leaving for Edinburgh.  Had to tell if it was the night before.  After 10 PM and it was still light outside.

As morning came, so did some rain.  A light drizzle was what waited for us outside.  We knew the beautiful weather could not last.  It lasted long enough for us to enjoy it.  Speaking of enjoyment, same could be said about one more stop at the hotel’s buffet.  Get fueled up as we would not be eating again until much later in the day.  My taste buds miss the food from Ireland.  We would stay at The Morrison again.  great location, food, and ambiance.

Not too long after breakfast our taxi to the airport arrived.  His route back to the airport went though a section of the city behind our hotel we did not explore.  Something to do when we decide to go back.  I still had Scotland to look forward to.  I will save the story about the plane we had to take over to Scotland.  A nice little moment that will go well with the food and excitement we had in Scotland.

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England Experience Kicks Off Memorable Vacation

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A few months ago my wife Gina had expressed interest in traveling overseas.  I looked at her with a little hesitation.  Why?  It was a trip I had thought about, but not recently.  It took me a few seconds to blurt out “OK”.  Not knowing what we were in for it was one o f the best decisions and vacations either of us had ever had.

After all the planning and decisions, we decided to visit three countries.  We would start off in London, England then make our way to Dublin, Ireland with our final stop being Edinburgh, Scotland.  The entire trip, from airfare to hotel accommodations was done through Booking.com.  A very seemless trip.  What a crazy 11-12 days it was.  But the fun and education never stopped.  It was very surreal.  One always wants to travel abroad and when that opportunity presents itself, it can still feel surreal.

IMG_5390We knew there would be so much to see.  Considering we spent about 3-4 days in each country, we limited ourselves to the main city we were in as there was so much to do without traveling outside city limits.  there could be a full immersion into being local without trying to look like a tourist, which one can pick out most easily.  Even though we had a map out and taking pictures, we carried ourselves in a manner than was unassuming.

We were not loud, being inconsiderate of others, or acting like we were the only ones in the area.  When you travel to another country, you are a representative of your country.  You want to be respectable of others and show that not all Americans are as bad as other countries think.  Why give people a reason to speak negatively about Americans unless you give them a reason to?  We were casual and civilized, blending into the local culture and enjoying each day as it comes.

To me, one of the best aspects of international travel is the food.  Being able to try certain foods in that cuisines origin, prepared by the locals who know how to prepare it right.  One has to leave their comfort zone to truly immerse the taste buds during  an international vacation to really enjoy it. It’s a great chance to take culinary chances with cuisine you would not normally try. If you find chain restaurants, you will never have a true experience. You can have great choices in a country where they prepare it the best with the proper ingredients

Once you indulge all your senses in a foreign country can one truly understand what an experience it is to be there.  Not sure from what you can see, hear, and touch.  But the smells and tastes of such great food that begs to be tried by foreigners.  It is OK to test the waters with a foot, but always best to dive right in and immerse yourself fully.  No regrets.

Keeping in mind that England and the rest of the UK is five hours ahead, we decided to leave at night and arrive early the next morning.  It gave us more time that first day rather than flying in later.  After being picked up at the airport and settling into our hotel, there was only one thing on our mind.

Food.

Technically, we had not eaten since the day before so a meal was something we needed.  After receiving directions from the  concierge we walked to The Strand across the Waterloo Bridge, several blocks of local businesses, pubs, and restaurants.  After walking up and down the street we settled on Garfunkel’s (http://www.garfunkels.co.uk), a chain that offers great breakfast, sandwiches, and other fare.

They have a great menu, lot of great choices.  I did not want anything too big so I ordered their chicken club sandwich.  I wanted more protein that carbs.  This sandwich was huge.  Packed with grilled chicken breast, bacon, egg, tomato, lettuce and mayonnaise on white toast.  Served with cole slaw and chips as well.  The chips are done right in the UK.  Thick cut and friend to a nice crisp without overkill.  The way chips should be done.

The sandwich was filling, but not quite enough as Gina ordered sticky toffee Pudding.  Delicious toffee sponge, drenched in sweet sticky toffee sauce topped with vanilla ice cream.  What decadence.  We had to share this delight.  As much as we shared, we did not finish it off.  We could have finished a few of them.

UKEdit1From there we walked along South Bank, a walking section along the River Thames showcasing a younger, artsy side of London.  A lot of restaurants, art exhibits, skateboarders, and tourists out to see the views from the river.  London Eye and the Aquarium is right at the beginning and just across the bridge from these locations is Big Ben, Parliament, Westminster Abbey, and other local attractions.  We managed to set ourselves up in a great central location.

We scouted out some of the restaurants along South Bank.  Aside from some club style outdoor bars and a few cafe style eateries/bars there were some trendy restaurants.  Strada offered Tuscan style Italian cooking while Giraffe was a fusion of different world cuisines.  In between these was Yo! Sushi which I will get into later, and a few other trendy spots.  It really set itself apart from the traditional pub scene.

South Bank seemed to be a hot spot for an evening crowd.  It doesn’t matter the crowd you travel with, all are welcome the same.  Even tourists.  It is easy to relax and just be casual with so many strangers.  Maybe small chit-chat once in a while for a good laugh can happen.  No stress to be had.

The second day we knew we needed a good breakfast to start the day off right.  We headed back to South Bank and remembered a small cafe style restaurant under the Waterloo Bridge.  They had a short menu for breakfast.  Some sandwiches, pastries, and breads.  We headed to the left side where a kitchen and menus were.  We were then told that breakfast was ordered at the bar.  Yes, the bar.  It seemed the bar handled breakfast.  They did have the coffee over there so I guess it makes sense.

Gina headed over to the bar and ordered our breakfast.  She had scrambled eggs on toast and I have English sausage on toast.  It had a nice deep, spicy flavor.  Not the kind of sausage we have for breakfast over here.  The second half Gina and I traded a little to have an egg and sausage sandwich.  Plus, one needs to order Coffee Americano if they want an American style coffee/  Otherwise it is all lattes, cappuccino, espresso, etc. Americao White to order with milk.

From there we walked back around South Bank to cross the Westminster Bridge to get to our first stop, Westminster Abbey.  One has to pass Big Ben and Parliament in order to get there.  “Kids, look!  Big Ben, Parliament!”.  We were walking so there was no need for us to keep left.  Even walking by it I was still in awe of being there.  But once we entered Westminster Abbey, my facial expressions spoke the majority of my awe.

IMG_5478Only one day prior to us stepping foot in Westminster Abbey they were celebrating Queen Elizabeth II’s 60 years on the throne.  To see all the royalty from Kings, Queens, Lords, Dukes, and so much more that were a part of the British Crown was amazing.  Not just their final resting place or memorial, but the Latin inscriptions and craftsmanship of it all.  Even American’s like Ben Franklin and Franklin Delano Roosevelt  had memorials there.  Yes, as time passed they paid tribute and have memorials set up for certain Americans.

I was soaking in all the history, reading the ages & stories of those immortalized there, grasping the scale of how much England covered throughout history.  Even if it was a church, it was still a spectacle for this American Jew.  When I got back and talked about seeing history that was older than our country, I mainly got “You should visit Israel”.  Sorry, but there are other countries and history I would prefer to see first.  I have others I’d prefer to get to first.  A visit to Israel will come eventually.

The highlight for me at Westminster Abbey was seeing memorials and resting places for some of history’s greatest writers and poets.  Names like Charles Dickens, T.S. Elliott, Lewis Carroll, Lord Byron, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Edward Lear, Jane Austin, Rudyard Kipling, Robert Browning, and one of the greatest, Geoffrey Chaucer.  You could even see and touch Chaucer’s final resting place.  For an aspiring writer, it was a moment to remember for eternity.  I love Chaucer’s work.

England Vacation - Day 2Many critics, friends, and others gave a thumbs down to the movie “A Knight’s Tale” due to its use of current rock music, modern trendy sense, and countless other no-no’s.  I loved the film for Paul Bettany’s portrayal of Geoffrey Chaucer.  His part was written superbly.  His comedic timing and demeanour added to the great lines scripted for him.  Showing the pitfalls of a writer’s vices to his greatest moments giving introductions to the masses, Bettany gave the viewer a true perspective on how this writer may have lived.  Scenes of the movie were going through my head standing next to Chaucer’s tomb.

After taking in all the history Westminster Abbey had for us we ventured right over to Buckingham Castle.  There are maps on certain corners mapping out the nearest sights & tourists destinations.  We followed them for a bit and there stood before us the residence of the Queen.  One watches events on TV or sees it in film, but that is nothing compared to seeing it up close.  Well, at least from the gate like everyone.  Staring in, we gawkers are at least hoping to catch some glimpse of what goes on there.  Speculation says she Queens… and vacuums.

So I watched National Lampoons European Vacation a few hundred times.  Yes, I did think of the movie at certain spots in London.  Yes, I did bring a Walley World T-shirt with me over to London.  No, I could not find nor did we stay in the Royal Imperial Windsor Arms.  There is a little Clark Griswold in all of us.  Just have yet to see Christie Brinkley pull up next to me.  But I digress.

IMG_5545We hung out at the gates and statue across from the Castle for a bit, planning our next move.  We had great weather the entire time in London as New Jersey was being soaked on, imagine that.  Staying hydrated was a priority as in addition to heat, was all our walking.  So as we headed down The Mall with St. James Park to the right of us.  Was a nice brisk walk with some lush gardens and trees surrounding us.

By the end of the road we had gotten to Trafalgar Square and rested up at Pret A Manager.  A great little cafe serving fresh sandwiches, coffee, tea, and other pastries and cold beverages.  Plus, they have free wi-fi.  They are a chain with locations in the United States, definitely worth a visit.  Trust me, go in.  Hooking into these little chain’s wi-fi hotspots makes it a little easier to get around and still be “social media engaged”.

Right up a few roads was Piccadilly Circus.  A mecca for shopping in London.  Regent Street seemed to have everyone.  From Michael Koors and Burberry to Calvin Klein and Coach.  Tons of great shops lined the street and adjacent ones.  Even a Whole Foods is right off Regent Street.  Yes, one will find the typical tourist merchandise stores, but for those wanting a true piece of fashion in London might spend a little more.

IMG_5611All we did was window shop and walk into a few stores.  My wife’s sister asked her to go to Burberry for a small wallet, saying it should not be expensive.  Uh, we were not quite sure what she considered “inexpensive” as one of their most inexpensive ones was about $280 in American dollars.  Well, we just looked at each other, laughed, then walked out.  Very nice shop and some great merchandise, just not what we were looking to pay for anything at that point.

We even found London’s Chinatown.  A lot of great menus posted by many different Asian cushiness.  They were all represented in some fashion from one restaurant to the other.  It did not matter what you were in the mood for, someone was bound to have it.  Even the green tea cakes looks inviting.  As if to say “finish me now”.  We then looked at the time and thought we should head back and see where we wanted to have dinner.

We decided to head back to South Bank.  Some great places were less than half a mile from our hotel so they were in an optimal location.  We decided on Giraffe (www.giraffe.net).  Having linking issues.  Giraffe is about exploring the wonderful foods from around the globe and opening our ears to music from around the world.  The atmosphere is casual & relaxed.  Some great fusion concepts amongst steaks, great pastas, sandwiches, and burgers.  A lot of great choices.

IMG_5595Giraffe is operated by the original founders Juliette and Russel Joffe and Andrew Jacobs who all have an active role in the day to day management of the business.  Giraffe was acquired in March 2013 by Tesco as part of its strategy to utilize some of the space in their larger stores, creating retail destinations that offer customers, in particular families, a compelling experience outside of their weekly shopping trip.
So to start, I had the Orange BBQ Duck Tostada.  A crisp corn tortilla topped with sticky orange pepper bbq duck, shredded salad & fresh red chili.  The duck was so tender and just kind of melted as you ate it.  A great starter that is light and gives you a taste of duck if you never had it before.  I love duck and so many other types of game.  While over the length of the trip, I only had red meat 2-3 times.

As my main meal I ordered the Chili Beef Enchiladas.  Two small oven baked corn tortillas stuffed with chilli beef & herby rice, topped with adobe sauce, melting cheese, tomato salsa & toasted seeds. served with a chopped seasonal salad.  More like a forest.  Ingredients so fresh and not an overpowering spice.  Just enough to make sure one tastes the cilantro, one of my top favorite ingredients in any cuisine.  I could have eaten more, but then there would be no room for desert.

IMG_5445Chocolate Mousse Crunch made the perfect ending to a great meal.  Rich milk chocolate mousse topped with crushed cookies & cream.  Just enough in a martini glass.  Velvety smooth and rich.  I would have loved to have had a few dozen more, but then I would be walking out the door like John Candy in The Great Outdoors.  We had enough.  Another great day with tomorrow to look forward to.

On our third day we decided on Tower Bridge and the Tower of London as our focal point for the day.  So one of the best decisions we have to make comes up.  What should we have for breakfast.  A great choice was made, back to Garfunkel’s.  They had some great breakfast options on a fixed price menu.

English breakfast can be very heavy in meats and puddings, but not the traditional American style pudding.  The day before at Garfunkel’s we noticed they had great options for breakfast.  If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.  Plus Garfunkel’s has free wi-fi, which comes in handy so one does not incur a ton of roaming charges just to be able to post to Twitter, Foursquare, and Facebook.  In less than two days of roaming I incurred an extra $100 in data roaming alone.  I turned it off and acted on wi-fi hotspots.

I went with two friend eggs, thick cut bacon, and baked beans.  A couple nice thick slices of brown bread accompanied the meal.  I liked this option for the protein content in relation to carbs in the meal.  With the walking we knew we were going to do, energy was needed to fuel us for a good part of the day.  No need for a half plate of home fries, not running a marathon.  Give me the beans before home fries for any breakfast.

Their coffee was some of the best we had over there.  One has to order “coffee Americano” in order to get a traditional American style coffee.  Garfunkel’s delivered.  They present a traditional British style cuisine in a New York street side restaurant setting.  Great traditional fare served fresh and delicious, with some American twists.  From what I hear, their Tower Burger is the item of choice amongst many.  Maybe next time.

UKEdit2Back over the Waterloo Bridge and onto Tower Path.  A walkway along the River Thames marked to make ones journey easier.  It was a great morning for a long walk.  We came across some artists with easels capturing a building dome and surroundings as their item for art.  I snapped off a couple of shots and we went along our way.  Everything from apartments and Starbucks to businesses & restaurants.  We walked along so much on this path, even a prison.

Clink Prison.  A name given to all the prisons that have stood on a number of sites in that vicinity.  The first prison in 1127 was a cellar in the Palace of the Bishop of Winchester, and the last was in Deadman’s Place (Park Street).  The prison held Protestant and Catholic religious martyrs at various times.  It was closed in 1780, when it was burned by the anti-Catholic Gordon rioters.

After another small distance was the dock and port for the final vessel of Sir Francis Duke.  A 16th century explorer, privateer, and English national hero has inspired countless generations across the world.  He was the first English Captain to circumnavigate the globe and played a vital role in the defense of England against the Spanish Armada in 1588.  He helped to lead England in becoming a Naval superpower of the time.

We could not go far without finding something historic.  Then came The Anchor Bankside.  I great old Pub first established in 1822.  We kept this place in the back of our minds for later.  The closer we walked to Tower Bridge the more mesmerized we were.  It is one thing to see places in books and on film, but in person in finally clicks.  That moment when you say “Holy Shit, I’m here”.  Every traveler has this moment when they are in the presence of something grand they never thought would be as close as their breath.

IMG_5660Tower Bridge is a sight.  One can not walk a few feet without someone taking a picture.  I snapped off my share and blended right in.  The craftsman ship and detail makes it appealing to the eye.  To see the history carved into different parts of the structure.  Very long walk to get to this point, but it was worth the distance.  There was a boat from the London Eye that could have taken us down there.  But we prefer to walk and see the eights along the way rather than just passing them on a boat.  Great day for cardio anyway.

As soon as you get over the bridge is the Tower of London.  Also there are the White Tower and other museums to spotlight the surrounding uses and military.  The uses of the Tower and structure were used to house royalty in periods of war.  Like a typical castle, there is a moat, dungeon, and jewels.  The museums are designed to showcase different periods and its history.  Showcasing different armors, weapons, clothing, and their background stories told great detail of what it would have been like in those times.

Every museum over there has their relics, World War I and II pieces along with their respective country’s history.  They are educational to go through.  Even detailing prison life on POW’s and even royals.  So to never be heard from again.  If it was not for England, the United States of America would not have happened.  In a way, if not for them, we would not be here.  Debate all you want, this is my opinion and I am sticking to it.  Pilgrims and others came here, but if not for the Colonies, no USA.  It does not take away from walking inside those castles and along the castle walls.

UKEdit3The Crown Jewels and other royal pieces were a highlight.  How often does one get to see ornate jewels, crowns, scepter’s, diamond encrusted swords, and more bling that would make P Diddy look like a chump.  Their bling has bling.  Even the dinner plates, silverware, goblets, and serving dishes were made out of gold.  No way to top that Jay-Z.

There was the rightly named Bloody Tower, one could walk along the East Wall facing the Thames River and Tower Bridge.  Great view and breeze on a perfect day there.  The history of reigns and regimes as well as their military strategies, weapons, and defenses was fascinating to learn.

I am just here to give you the highlights, folks!  I am not going to go into full on details as to what was at every castle location.  I am not a history professor.  I did learn a lesson or two every day though.  The best education can come right from a source.  Museums are great places for history and education.

After several hours we decide to head on back, but we had to make a stop first.  We stopped off at The Anchor for some fish & chips.  Every bar in The Anchor was made of old, dark wood.  Great in stature and attention to detail, every room appears frozen in time.  Many famous Englishmen have walked through their doors for close to 200 years.  We had to make this a stop for now just the fish & chips, but some beer.

Gina ordered a Guinness and after looking at their menu I ordered a Kronenbourg 1664.  Smooth, full-bodied Kronenbourg went down nice.  I was drinking, taking pride in knowing the alcohol content is higher over seas.  So this brew was a delight.  American beer is like having sex in a canoe, it’s f#%#*ing close to water.  After two beers I was feeling quite happy.  A great feeling came over me and just relaxed.  Why go anywhere?  Sit back and enjoy.

Camera Roll-164We ordered The Codfather off their menu.  The Codfather was their largest fish & chips dish.  A huge deep friend piece of cod and perfectly prepared chip.  The fish was crisp & crunchy outside, and tender & succulent inside.  The fish melted in your mouth.  The chips were perfect.  Thick cut, crisp outside, and fluffy interior.  I love their chips.  I have an Achilles heel for french fries/chips.  A great lunch with a great view from their outside portion.  Worth a stop on the way to the sights.

Enjoying a nice stroll back to the hotel for some rest, we talked about where we should have dinner.  Gina’s first choice was Strada.  Strada is a group of contemporary styled restaurants dedicated to providing authentic Italian dishes that offer a true taste of Italy.Strada is all about great quality, freshly prepared pizzas, pastas and risotto served in stylish, contemporary surroundings.  Another great menu we viewed earlier.

After some much-needed rest at the hotel we ventured right over to Strada.  We walk by a small section that seems to cater to street performers.  A fire-breathing tube player, acrobats, mimes, and more in our way everyday.  They can be very entertaining.  It’s not like New York City where they are really in your face.  These performers just sit back, do their thing, and engage the crowd intelligently.  Some can be fun to watch.

We had to wait on a small line at Strada as it appears it is a well liked place.  Ever restaurant along South Bank has tables outside as well as inside, and outside was jam-packed.  So we headed inside, no big deal.  Very young, trendy crowd.  Majority of the younger workforce carry backpacks, they are everywhere.  That made it easier for me to take mine everywhere and fit in at every restaurant we went to.  I did not feel like a tourist in that fashion.  When everyone has one, the more you can just fit right in.

Had to get a long look at the menu to find something different to try.  From what I saw on the menu, there would be a lot I would enjoy.  I am not a fan of big pasta dishes or a smothering or red sauce over a good protein dish.  Considering this is authentic Italian and not American inspired Italian, I figured I was safe from all that.  Judging by the dishes that passed us, I was.

My starter of choice was the Zuppa Vongole.  Their signature Sardinian soup with fresh clams, fregola pasta, white wine, red chili and parsley.  A great spice that you felt in the mouth, not the tongue.  The clams, still in their shell, gave the soup a sweet taste of the sea.  A fitting way to showcase the seafood without taking away from the soup’s flavor.

Time for the main course, Risotto Frutti Di Mare.  A terrific seafood risotto.  A rich seafood risotto of mussels, clams, king prawns and squid with tomatoes, chili, white wine, parsley and garlic.  The mark of any great restaurant is their risotto.  Once again, Strada delivered on a fantastic seafood dish.  Succulent king prawns, mussels and clams with their shells on so one can really taste the white wine and garlic in the dish.  One of those dishes where the less you say, the better the dish is.

So far we had not been disappointed in any place we have chosen to eat.  Everything we had decided to do in London, weather it be sightseeing or food, had been excellent to that point.  Even the weather was perfect since we arrived.  Can not plan that right, even if you try.  The hotel room though, not so much.  The pillows made it hard to sleep as they were too soft.  The bathroom was in the middle of the room and took up much of the room.  The wi-fi could not be access anywhere in the room but the small living  area with sofa by the front door.  Other than that, great hotel that is centrally located to a lot of attractions and restaurants.

Before we left on our trip, I purchased the Lowepro Photo Hatchback 16L AW.  A great everyday pack for photography.  Enough room for a camera, two lenses, and accessories.  The camera and lenses compartment is against ones back so no one can enter that compartment while walking.  A top section is big enough for an extras one needs to carry.  Two side pockets for water, a Joby, or any tall item.  I highly recommend this backpack for any photographer traveling.

Our fourth and final day we decided to have breakfast at the hotel.  They offer a breakfast buffet with includes eggs, breakfast meats, pastries, breads, and what any basic buffet would have.  It was OK at best.  The bacon was dry, the coffee tasted like it was filtered through a sock, and the whole breakfast was disappointing.  Neither of us really wanted more.  I can not really go into detail about a buffet I am not crazy about.  There are better ones I can discuss later.  Next stop, Harrod’s Department Store.

Harrod’s was a bit father than we thought, so walking would take too long.  So we opted for the taxi.  Driving in the UK takes learning.  The streets are narrow, they drive on the other side of the street, one can make U-turns anywhere, you can park on either side of the street regardless which way you are facing, and other items one would need sharp reflexes for.  It was fun getting there in the taxi.  The only thing our driver did not do was run red lights.

Camera Roll-175Harrod’s is a store unlike many shoppers have stepped foot into.  One could easily spend an entire day there and possibly not see everything.  They have everything and i mean EVERYTHING.  Jewelry, Men’s fashions, women’s fashions, kids fashion’s, exercise equipment, a toy store, electronics, an art gallery, a pen section, a fresh market, cafe’s, watches, a book store, kitchen appliances, bedding, full coffee and tea section, computers, cameras, and so many other areas Fifth Avenue is jealous.  If you think going to Garden State Plaza or Mall of America might be a shoppers paradise, head to Harrod’s.

Where does one begin.  We started in the market and went anywhere we saw food.  Gina and I looked at each other wondering how much room we had in our carry on luggage.  But alas, we knew we needed to be selective on what to bring back.  The rest can be ordered on line.  We purchased their tea and coffee.  Their house blend is excellent.  So much to try and smell, but not enough time to try it all.  Even a couple small restaurants right off their market.  From there we started at the top and worked our way down.

They had a nice book area.  A Bond on Bond 007 book piqued my interest enough to purchase.  Off the book area was their art gallery.  Some very intriguing sculptures and still art.  My focus was on some of the Andy Warhol pieces that hung in the gallery.  The use of James Dean and Theodore Roosevelt with such vibrant color were captivating.  A piece not by Warhol of Courtney Love holding Kurt Cobain in her arms was a little disturbing.  A few of the sculptures did stand out to me and gave me questions to ponder over.  They left you questioning their intent or message.

England Vacation - Day 4From there the order of departments is kind of a blur.  You go from one concentrated section to the other and back again, you can wind up in the same section a few times.  One needs a Wonkavator to truly handle all the department’s at Harrod’s.  A great selection of cardio equipment, weights, and other various fitness machines were available to anyone looking to install a home gym.  Some pieces I wish NYSC had.  The toy store area had their Disney department, super heroes, Lego, Playmobil, Star wars, Spider Man, and everything else to occupy your child while you shop away everywhere else.  They had quite a selection.

The men’s and women’s fashion departments had all the top designers.  I am not about to ramble them off, visit Harrod’s website for that info.  The prices are what you expect, so we keep walking.  Not too much of a difference in some areas and higher in others.  The women’s accessories, handbags, and other female targeted sections had every single designer a fashion conscious woman could want.  Department areas that sold handbags had guards in them.  Not just the jewelry areas, handbags too.

Like a good husband I waited at the right times in those areas.  This way nothing could be said when I wanted to take a little more time in the electronics and camera set ions.  Needed to look at the items I want and can’t afford.  Window shopping, man style.  We walk about the electronics and entertainment section the same way an eight year old looks at ice cream.  My wife found a brand of stockings she loved so much, she went on-line to order more.  We were selective with purchases albeit could have been much worse.

So many items, so little baggage space.  We were very conservative in our shopping.  It was getting late enough to where we wanted lunch.  In one of the food halls was Galvin Demoiselle.  Galvin Demoiselle opened in March 2012, and is situated in Harrods striking fruit, vegetable and pantry food hall on the ground floor. This bijou bistro offers quality French cuisine combined with Galvin’s warm, friendly hospitality in a unique, elevated location, overlooking the bustle of the food hall.

Ideal for shoppers looking for light dishes and refreshments, Chris and Jeff Galvin have created a menu including Soupe du Jour, charcuterie, Cocottes, salads and light fish dishes, plus their popular signature dishes of apple tarte tatin and confit of duck, and vegetarian options. The menu also offers a selection of cakes and the Demoiselle afternoon tea.  They have two star Michelin rating chefs taking care of the food.

England Vacation - Day 4After a small wait we were seated in a tight seating area.  Matter of fact, the entire restaurant seating was just as packed.  The bistro was not designed for all day tea sipping.  Considering where our lunch was located we decided to see how far out of the box we can find something fantastic on this menu.  Gina decided on the Baked Lobster Fishake while I chose the Crisp Duck Leg Confit.  Neither of us made a bad decision.

My duck leg was cooked perfectly, trimmed delicately, and tasted heavenly.  Just the way duck should be.  The dish was a perfect example of how duck should be prepared.   Gina was loving the lobster.  I tried a piece and it was divine.

We had a little laugh enjoying it all.  Taking in the moment of realizing where we were.  Enjoying a meal in a restaurant, in a store, in a city I still find myself amazed to be in.  I was playing “Once in A Lifetime” by the Talking Heads over and over.  David Byrne singing “How did I get here”?  One of the best meals I had indulged in, in a very long time.  It capped off a perfect time at Harrod’s.  Well, not exactly perfect.  I would have preferred walking out like a Lotto winner.  Extra cars in tow.

Outside were a line of taxi’s, just waiting.  Very easy to get a cab.  The driver needed to do a U-turn, so right then and there, he did.  We were laughing to ourselves at a legal, brazen U-turn in the middle of a main street.  No accidents, no crashes, no fights, and no yelling.  He turned and off we went as did everyone else.  The roads are tight enough, last thing anyone wants is an accident.  Fast decisions and patience is needed to drive in England.  The driving attitude one has here can not be used in another country.  You have to see how it works first and decide if it is worth the hassle.

After drooping our plunder off at the hotel we decided to take a shorter route to Trafalgar Square.  A great open center for everyone to enjoy.  At the base of the main statue were four lions.  We decided to do as best as we can to get a picture with them.  I succeeded in the climb.  It was a good feeling being up there.  Besides to sit and look around, not much else was going on.  So we headed right back to Piccadilly Circus.  After a couple turns, we ended up at the M&M’s store, and more free wi-fi.

My PhotoWe have been to the M&M’s stores in Las Vegas and New York City.  They all have the same set up geared to the city they are in.  They had the M&M’s in a “Walk on Abbey Road” piece in the store.  plus each M&M character was depicted in a British style.  It was fun to see how they were positioned.  We still believe the Las Vegas location is the best as it also has a Coke store side.  Always the best part is the create your own blend of M&M’s.  Just put your mouth under and pull.

We just walked about to see more stores from there.  One was a huge tourist store in the heart of Piccadilly Circus, Cool Britannia .  To quote Queen “they have it all”.  From T-shirts, pens, and posters to luggage, beer glasses and iPhone cases.  A whirlwind of merchandise and chachkies surrounded us.  If you really needed Union Jack underwear, they had it.  Any “Keep Calm” item you could ever want.  Did someone say “Do they have any Beatles items”?  Why yes they do!  Not into a lot of it, but an item or two did find its way out of the store with us.

It was getting to be that time for dinner.  The first place I blurted out was Yo! Sushi.  What is Yo! Sushi you say?  Well then, let me explain.  Yo! Sushi brings the use of a conveyor belt into the equation to ge sushi to customers.  You have a seat either bar style or booth style by a part of the conveyor belt.  Your wasabi, chopsticks, soy sauce, and even water is right there.  Very convenient placement for these high use items.  The different dishes of sushi pass by on the conveyor belt.  Each item is color coded for price.  Just pick out the items you want and enjoy.  They total your plates up at the end.

My PhotoIt was a fun sushi experience.  Kick back and just watch the unending conveyor of sushi.  I loved it.  My plates were piling up too.  Some great tuna, shrimp, eel sushi amongst the usual sushi rolls, even lightly fried ones.  Even some fried beef was in the action.  Not a lot of meat at a sushi bar.  There were timestamps on each dish so you know when it was made.  They do remove ones past their time stamp.  It kept a fresh flow going.  In the end I had a pretty nice stack of plates.  Very easy to keep eating and pay more than you wanted.  Keep an eye on it.  There are a few locations here in the United States.  New Jersey and Washington D.C. to name a few.

The next day we were off to Dublin, Ireland for the second leg of our vacation.  We needed to relax and call it an early night.  Not sure what early is over there as it is still light out after 9 PM.  The pillows on the bed provided no support.  Hard to get a good nights sleep.  Driving your mate out of bed is also not a good feeling.  So you can imagine how the following day traveling night be.  That night felt long.  As if morning wanted a day off itself.  Even though little sleep be had, there was an excitement to head to Ireland.

I could not post every picture I took here.  To see more pictures, visit my Flickr album (www.flickr.com/;bprod) or my Facebook page.  Both links are on the home page of my website.  Having linking issues to put them here.

We did not want to leave London.  The time spent there was spent to the fullest.  A definite thought to go back and experience more in the future.  We packed so much into a short period of time, but still more awaits.  Abbey Road, Hyde Park, and so much more.  Ireland was an adventure waiting.  We looked back as we headed to the airport with a sense of “wow”.  Knowing there will be many more of those experiences in the coming week.

England Vacation - Day 2Out of Heathrow we flew Aer Lingus over to Dublin.  About an hour flight, easy ride.  Or at least we thought.  Nothing wrong with the plane right at all, that was great and smooth.  Just another passenger.  A loud American going on about previous vacations.  I think that is a story best left for when I go into Ireland.  More to come in detail later from different parts of our trip.  Until then, see you next time with Dublin, Ireland.

Better wait than never.

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