Oscar's Seafood Bistro - Galway, Ireland
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Friday - August 8, 2014: Our major trip of 2014 began on Friday the 8th, when we departed for Ireland on US Airways. Our large roller bags had as much stuff as I have ever taken on a trip and Linda's bag was a little over the 50lb limit, though we weren't charged for the extra weight.

The change of planes in Charlotte went smoothly. With just six seats across, the airplane for the long leg was a little longer, but no wider than the one we flew in the first leg. It was not very comfortable for such a long flight. We didn't even try watching the movie, as the nearest small TV screen was about 7 rows ahead of our seats.

I did mange to drowse in semi-sleep for a couple of hours, but minor medical problems for someone a few rows behind us made things made things too noisy for real sleep.

 

Brookwood Farms Carolina Pit BBQ Brookwood Farms Carolina Pit BBQ in Charlotte Airport
 
Saturday - August 9, 2014: Our flight arrived in Dublin a bit after 7AM and we were soon through immigration, had our luggage, and had hit an ATM for a few hundred euros. We could have taken a bus to about a block from our hotel, but it was only about 50% more expensive to take a taxi right to the hotel. On our way into town, the taxi drove through Phoenix Park, a huge (1752 acres) walled park which was established in 1662.

I had selected the Ashling Hotel because it is right across the street from Heuston Station, where we would have to be early on Monday morning. As expected, our room was not ready this early in the morning, but we checked our bags, got directions, and walked to the nearby trolley stop to ride toward the central part of the city. It was about 9AM and we were ready to start the only full day we would spend in Dublin.

Our first stop was Trinity College, the 422 year old college which is also the University of Dublin. The Old Library at Trinity College is one Ireland's biggest attractions. It was built in the early 18th Century and contains many treasures, the most famous of which are the Book of Kells, Brian Boru's Harp, and the marble busts which line the Long Room.

The Book of Kells is a very ornate manuscript containing the four Gospels, written on vellum (prepared calfskin) about 1200 years ago. It has about a half million visitors a year. The harp is the oldest of its kind in Ireland (probably over 500 years old) and is the model for the emblem of Ireland.

The Long Room is over 200' feet long and is filled with 200,000 of the Library's oldest books. It feels like a set for a Harry Potter movie. It is lined with 48 marble busts of philosophers, writers and men connected with Trinity College. The earliest ones were commissioned in 1743 and the identity of some of them is no longer known.

We stopped for lunch at the Larder Restaurant & Brewhouse. When Linda sat down, the lack of sleep from the previous night caught up to her and our server joked with her about how tired she was. 

Linda had fish & chips, while I had a lamb burger with chips. I had chips (thick cut fries) several times during our time in Ireland and was never very impressed with them. Even though these were "triple cooked home cut," they were under cooked for my taste.

The Larder had a nice selection of craft Irish ciders and I was very tempted to try some, but as tired as I was, I decided that Diet Coke made more sense.

We followed lunch with a walk around Dublin Castle, but did not take a tour. We did visit the attached Chapel Royal, which was the official Church of Ireland chapel of the Household of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland from 1814 until the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922. Then we went on to tour the 13th Century Saint Patrick's Cathedral and go past the Christ Church Cathedral. Both are part of the Church of Ireland.

By now it was raining fairly steadily and we knew that our room would be ready, so we returned to the Ashling Hotel.

After I originally booked our room, I contacted the hotel to find out if our room had air conditioning. It did not, but I could upgrade for 15 euros a night. That was the best decision I made. They actually upgraded us to the largest room on our floor, a comfortable, roomy King with a view of a pond and some architecture. The bathroom was huge, the width of our room and had two sinks, bath tub and a large shower. 

The room was quite comfortable and we liked other things about the hotel, such as the ice machine on our floor of the hotel. It is the first time we had seen that in Europe. Though they did discourage getting too much ice. Only 16 ounce cups were provided, rather than ice buckets. There were signs telling us that an ice cube takes two ounces of water.

We freshened up and took a couple of hours of down time before supper, which we had at the hotel. Linda had lamb shank, while I had a mixed grill of pork belly & gammon, beef & Guinness sausage, free range egg, lamb cutlet, tomatoes, mushroom and relish. Really nothing special.

We went to the Temple Bar region where we intended to participate in a Traditional Irish Musical Pub Crawl, but it was sold out, so we just visited other pubs in the neighborhood on our own. Many of them had live music and there were more musicians busking on the streets. We first settled in to the 160 year old Temple Bar Pub where a four piece band was playing. The large bar was packed, but we shared a table with a man from Australia. Our second bar of the night was the Bad Ass Cafe where a woman was playing fiddle & singing, along with an accompanist on guitar.

That was enough for the first day and having had only 2 hours sleep on the plane.

 


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Trinity College Library The Long Room in the Trinity College Library
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Chapel Royal - Dublin, Ireland Chapel Royal at Dublin Castle
 

Ashling Hotel - Dublin, Ireland King Room at Ashling Hotel
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Temple Bar Pub - Dublin, Ireland Temple Bar Pub

Sunday - August 10, 2014: We were up fairly early to join a tour with Mary Gibbons. We traveled by bus to Newgrange, a large 5,200 year old passage tomb. It was our first glimpse of the Irish countryside. Mary gave a constant commentary. Maybe a little too constant. She tended to repeat herself. 

As we approached Newgrange, the road was flooded from heavy rains overnight. The bus got through, but went very slowly through the water. We warned the driver of a small car on the other side of the flooded stretch not to try it.

This is a good time to touch on the weather. The highs in Ireland were in the mid to upper 60s every day and it rained part of every day. Not hard rain, but the longest stretch I recall without some rain was about 6 hours. We mostly ignored the rain and just continued what we were doing. This was normal weather for Ireland. It is a temperate island and the temperatures only break into the upper 80s once or twice a decade.

The winters are also temperate with coastal areas only getting frost only a few times a year.

Getting back to the trip, this day was spent in the Boyne Valley, which is about an hour north of Dublin. It was settled about 4,000 BC and there are many prehistoric structures. Much of the region was part of the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

There are historic and prehistoric ruins though much of the valley, but the biggest stop of our tour was Newgrange, a stone passage tomb built in 5,200 BC. The stone walled earth mound is over an acre in size and our tour included entering the 62' long passage where light only reaches at sunrise near the winter solstice. After we had a chance to see the prehistoric art and the 19th century graffiti, the lights were turned off and the dawn solstice light was simulated.

The second stop was the Hill of Tara, the seat of well over 100 kings in historic and prehistoric times. The hill has hundreds of ruins, markers and other structures including another megalithic tomb called the Mound of the Hostages. The hill is more broad than tall, but we could see part of about half the counties of Ireland at the summit near the 1822 deconsecrated Saint Patrick's Church which now serves as the visitor's center.

Returning to Dublin in the late afternoon, we explored some of the shops along and near O'Connell Street, Dublin's main thoroughfare. The rain was still coming and going, but heavier and after visiting a few shops we took a taxi back to our hotel for a brief break before the evening.

Tonight's supper was at the Winding Stair Restaurant, which had been recommended by a taxi driver. Located above a bookstore, the small restaurant was not fancy, but the "old fashioned home cooking" was very good. After a starter of potted Dingle Bay crab and toasted soda bread, Linda had line caught crispy mackerel, piccalilli, fried potato, turnip greens and roast almonds, while I had steamed cockles & mussels with crab, brown shrimp mayo, toast and chips.

Our server was fun and worked to let us get out in an hour for tonight's pub crawl (we had a reservation this time). He is also a musician and had a low opinion of the crawl and the pubs in the Temple Bar region. He did manage to talk us into spitting a dessert Jubilee strawberries, passion fruit custard and homemade shortbread. Linda enjoyed it more than I did, the passion fruit custard didn't work for me.

From the Winding Stair, it was an easy walk to Oliver St. John Gogartyís where we met the traditional Irish Musical Pub Crawl. Conducted by two musicians (one playing button accordion & tin whistle and the other on guitar & the Bodhran drum) They explained the Irish music and pub traditions and played several songs, encouraging the crowd to sing along on the choruses. After a few pieces at this location, we moved along to a private room at the Ha'Penny Bridge Inn for another set and drinks. They ended up running a little long at this location and when the group moved on for the final stop, we slipped away to return to our hotel and prepare for checking out early the next morning.

Since we were leaving early the next morning, we packed up, moving everything we would need for the next three day into one roller bag. The room was paid for and the other large roller was checked before we went to bed this night.

 


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Newgrange - Ireland
 Newgrange
 

Saint Patrick's Church - Hill of Tara Saint Patrick's Church
 
 
 

Winding Stair Restaurant - Dublin, Ireland Winding Stair Restaurant
 
 
 
 
 

Traditional Irish Musical Pub Crawl - Dublin, Ireland Luke & Anthony with the Traditional Irish Musical Pub Crawl

Monday - August 11, 2014: Monday morning we were up before 6AM and left the hotel at 6:30. It was just a block walk, across the River Liffey to Heuston Rail Station. We checked in with Railtours Ireland, received our documents and itinerary for the next three days and departed on the train to Mallow County Cork at 7AM. Our rail car was filled were people taking a variety of tours and the Railtours Ireland "yellow jackets" checked in with each of us to make sure we knew what to do.

We changed trains at Limerick Junction and continued on to Limerick where we filled a bus and met Jonathan, who was our guide for the day. Most of the people were just doing a day tour.

The first stop was Bunratty Castle & Folk Park. The package included our admission and we had a brief tour of the 15th century tower house, then about an hour to see the rest of the castle and a rushed look at the folk park. The park was a village created from buildings which had been moved to this location from around County Clare. Some crafts, such as baking or black smithing were being performed.

Back on the bus, we continued to the northwest as Jonathan told us more of the history of region. Ruins were almost constantly in view. Some were many centuries old, but the vast majority were 19th Century homes which were abandoned during the Great Hunger & Diaspora. During the first 10 years, aproximately 1 million people died and a million more emigrated from Ireland. The diaspora continued for many years and over three generations, the population of Ireland fell by more than half. The population has grown during my life time, but there are still only 4.5 million today, versus the 6.5 million population of 1841.

The tour stopped for lunch at Gus O'Connors Pub in Doolin. I think that the 180 year old pub was mainly selected because they could feed a bus load of tourists quickly, but the food wasn't bad. Like many pubs, we selected a table, got the number off the table and ordered at the bar, with the food being brought out just a few minutes later. I had beef and Guinness stew and Linda had fish & chips. We got to know several other couples during the three day tour and at this meal we shared a table with a couple from Toronto.

There was a little extra time after the meal and Linda visited a couple of shops while I photographed some of the nearby countryside and ocean shore. There was a nice creek just over the road from the pub, but when I walked a short distance up the road, I discovered that I could see a stretch of the Atlantic and cliffs which lead south.

The next stop was the nearby Cliffs of Moher. It was raining harder than normal when we arrived, so we started with a short visit to the visitor's center. The rain had let up by the time we came out and we climbed a walkway to the cliffs which are up to 700 feet above the Atlantic. They are very impressive and provide stark images of shear rock walls, with huge waves striking their base. The 35' stone tower at the highest point looks distant and tiny.

The Cliffs have been in many movies, including The Princess Bride, where they are called the Cliffs of Insanity. We walked for some distance in each direction, enjoying the view of the Aran Islands in the distance and cows in the field to the other side. There were a great many people on the path and a large number ignored the rock walls which are intended to keep people from walking to edge. It was VERY windy with occasional extreme gusts and I wondered how often people fall.

Back in the bus, we retraced our route a few miles, then continued north into Burren National Park, which at places looked like a barren lunar landscape. That was until we got out of the bus and found the many small plants and wild flowers which occupied the cracks between rocks.

The ride continued on, along the south side of Galway Bay to the train station in Galway. This is where we left the day tour and the seven of us who would be doing two more days went to three different hotels. Linda and I stayed at the Hotel Meyrick, which was built next to the station by the Midland and Great Western Railway Company in 1852. Past guests at the hotel included Charles De Gaulle, the Clancy Brothers,  Rex Harrison, Bing Crosby, John Ford, Richard Harris, Fred Astaire, Jack Nicholson, Anjelica Huston, Paul Newman, John Wayne and Maureen OíHara.

Our tour included a standard room and I made the mistake of believing that air conditioning would be unnecessary in a town where the temperature rarely rises about the mid 60s. Our room wasn't very comfortable and it was too warm for me to get quality sleep. Our window opened out only a short distance at the bottom, we couldn't get air flow and there was no fan. At the same time, the noise from outside came in fine. Young people shouting outside nearby bars until late at night, a cacophony of birds as the eastern sky began to lighten, and trucks picking up trash or making deliveries in the early morning. I didn't get a good night's sleep either night.

The wifi was also terrible, coming and going for long periods of time, but I was able to connect long enough to find us a good place for supper.

We walked to the nearby Brasserie on the Corner. Nice choice! We started with the West Coast Seafood board, which included Connemara smoked salmon, crawfish cocktail, cod tempura, fresh salmon salad and caper mayo. It was all wonderful. The cod was the best I had during our trip, the smoked salmon was lovely and I would have loved having much more of the crawfish cocktail. For our main dishes, Linda had pan fried sea trout and I had a very good ribeye steak.

We finished the evening with a walk along nearby pedestrian only streets, circling around to see the 1584 Spanish Arch and the small portion of the old wall which still remains. The was filled with teens having a good time.

 


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Bunratty Castle - Ireland Bunratty Castle
 
 
 
 
 
 

Gus O'Connors Pub - Doolin, Ireland Gus O'Connors Pub
 
 
 

Cliffs of Moher - Ireland Cliffs of Moher
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Brasserie on the Corner - Galway, Ireland Ribeye at Brasserie on the Corner

Tuesday - August 12, 2014: Since our tour would not start until the train full of day trippers arrived at 10 AM, we had a lazy start to the day. Our tour package included a full Irish breakfast this day and this was the first morning when we had time to actually sit down to breakfast. It was served buffet style and I had eggs, hashbrowns, smoked salmon, white & black (blood) pudding, sausage and cold cuts.

It turned out that all of the day trippers were doing other tours, so it was just the seven of us from the previous day. Our party included a young American family who are living in Germany while the father serves in the army, and a couple from Singapore who are living in the Netherlands.

Today could have been the high point of the trip, but the way that Railtours Ireland handled this day was not very good. There was no guide and we never spent more than about 45 minutes with the same person anytime during the day. We would be picked up, dropped off, and left for someone else to pick us up. The next person would be late, then when they got there we would have to wait for other people to come or while the driver negotiated for other passengers. A lot of time was wasted and the time we did spend sightseeing was rushed.

But getting back to what we did... we were taken by van to the Connemara Regional Airport in Inverin. We traveled in an eight seat plane on Aer Arann. When we checked in, they weighed each of us and our luggage.

The eight minute flight took us to Inis Mór (meaning big island) which at 12 square miles is the largest of the three Aran Islands. We had about five hours on the Island and began with a very brief time in Kilronan, which has a population of just under 300 and is the largest of the 11 villages on the Island. A van then drove us to the smaller village of Kilmurvey, with the driver telling us about the many ruins and land along the way. The Aran Islands are an extension of the Burren which we saw the day before. The only soil on the island was made by the Islanders who cleared smaller rocks by piling them into walls, and then piled layers of sand and seaweed on the base rock to build up soil over the years.

We had lunch at an attractive little cafe in a thatch roofed cottage. The only name I could find is Cafe. I ordered smoked mackerel salad and Linda ordered smoked salmon salad. They both turned out to be a serving of the fish, next to a salad. We hurried through the meal so we could head up to Dun Aengus, which was a fairly challenging 25 minute walk and climb. Dun Aengus is the largest of several stone forts on the island, sitting at the top of a 285' cliff overlooking the ocean. It is a very cool spot, but would have been more impressive if we had seen it prior to the Cliffs of Moher. The inner enclosure has been radiocarbon dated to around 1500BC and the "fort" was constructed around 1100BC. 

Returning to the village, we shopped for an Aran Island sweater for Linda's birthday (still two days away). I had been researching them online and we had looked at sweaters several times earlier in the trip. We found two small shops selling hand knit sweaters and a larger shop with both hand knit and machine knitted sweaters. Hurrying (because a van was due soon) we ended us selecting a hand knit sweater from a woman who I had read about on Tripadvisor, Sarah Flaherty, who knits her sweaters during the long rainy winter and was knitting when we entered the store. Sarah asked where we live, not wanting to sell one to someone who lives in a warm climate who would never wear it.

When the van finally came, we had time for a brief stop at Na Seacht Teampaill (The Seven Churches). It encompasses the ruins of two churches and 5 other buildings, plus a cemetery which is still used today. The largest church is Teampall Bhreacáin (St Brecanís Church), which was used in the 8th-13th centuries.

We rode back along the shore where we saw more interesting ruins and memorials, plus a couple of seals playing in the ocean. We were finally deposited back at Kilronan for a few minutes of shopping before another van took us to the airport.

Back in Galway, we had a wonderful supper at Oscar's Seafood Bistro. We started with a selection board of six local tapas style dishes including Clare Island salmon tartar, mussels, prawns, broiled mackerel, smoked salmon, Galway Bay oysters. For our main dishes, Linda had Cleggan lobster with garlic & lemon butter, while I had seared Clew Bay scallops & mussels. A fabulous meal which I would love to repeat some day.

This restaurant was farther from our hotel than we had walked the previous night and we took a taxi to get there. We were walking back, but I misread the map app on my phone and turned us the wrong way when we left the restaurant. I eventually figured out the error, but it turned into a much longer walk and blemished an otherwise wonderful evening.

 


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Aer Arann airplane Aer Arann
 
 
 
 
 

The Cafe - Kilmurvey, Aran Islands The Cafe

Dun Aengus- Inis Mor, Ireland Dun Aengus
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Dun Aengus- Inis Mor, Ireland Seafood selection board at Oscar's Seafood Bistro

 
Wednesday - August 13, 2014: Wednesday was the final day of our three day tour and at 10AM we and the other 5 people were waiting at the station for the train to arrive with the day trippers. There were quite a few of them today and the Yellow Jacket gathered us up and walked us to a nearby half full tour bus operated by Galway Bus Tours. Today guide was Frank and he doubled as the bus driver. Frank did a good job and the only slightly odd thing about the tour was occasional extra stops to pick up or drop people off.

We went in a rough figure eight through Connemara, a beautiful district of west Ireland which does not appear to have suffered as much from the Great Famine as other areas we had visited. The hills and lakes reminded me of Scotland.

Our first brief stop was in Cong, County Mayo, a community of about 200 people, which was the location where John Ford's 1952 Oscar-winning film, The Quiet Man (John Wayne, Maureen O'Hara), was filmed. It was a chance to shop, get some cool drinks and photograph Lough Corrib, the second largest lake in Ireland. 

The principle stop of the tour was Kylemore Abbey & Victorian Walled Garden where we had about 2 hours to have lunch and tour the Benedictine monastery which was founded in 1920 by nuns whose abbey in Ypres, Belgium was destroyed in World War I. We paid only a brief visit to the 6 acre Victorian walled garden. I was raining a little harder than usual and we wanted to be sure to have enough time for the buildings.

The Abbey occupies Kylemore Castle, which was built on the shore of a small lake in the mid 19th Century. It is beautiful, gothic castle and benefits from its reflection in the lake. An international girls boarding & day school was operated here until 2010, when there was only one nun who was still teaching. Several of the main floor rooms of the Abbey are restored to what they may have looked like in the 1860s.

There is a small, but very beautiful, Gothic church near the abbey.  It is a "cathedral-in-miniature" and was built as a memorial to Margaret Henry, the wife of Mitchell Henry who built the castle. She was a mother of nine, who died of dysentery at age 45 while they were on holiday in Egypt.

Back in the bus, we drove beside Killary Harbour (in Irish - An Caoláire Rua), Ireland's only fjord. It is about 10 miles long and about 45-150' deep, but often less than 500' wide. Along the way, we passed many buoys with suspended lines for mussel farming.

There were a couple of more stops for photography, with the most attractive being at a roadside falls on the Screeb River just above Lough Aughawoolia.

Along the way, Frank told us a lot about the Connemara pony, a show breed which the region is known for, but we only saw a few at a great distance. I was bored during the final stop of the tour at Standún, a very touristy family run store in Spiddal, County Galway and Linda & I went outside looking for photo opportunities. Only to find two Connemara ponies (a mare and a foal) in the lot next door. We got a number of photos which I really liked and were the only ones on the tour to see them.

Back in Galway, we had less than an hour to get supper before the train back to Dublin and just grabbed some hot food at a convenience store. On the way back to Dublin the train was delayed for about 45 minutes by a "bridge strike." Most of us assumed that it was a labor action, only to learn that it meant that a vehicle had hit a overpass used by the train. Usually it is a truck that is too tall to go under the bridge. The trains cannot use it until it is inspected by engineers.

That had us returning about 10:30PM and we were both grateful that we were staying again at the Hotel Meyrick.

 


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Kylemore Abbey - Ireland Kylemore Abbey
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Connemara ponies - Standun, Ireland Connemara ponies

Saturday - August 23, 2014: Mary & Sherryl joined us for lunch at the newly opened Grinders Stonewall. The interior of this interesting old building has largely been replaced. It seems funny seeing walls and floors which meet at 90 degree angles.

The menu is fairly large and includes some interesting salads, which can be ordered half size with a half sandwich. I went with the "Near Death" chicken wings, which are the second most hot of four offered. They really were very hot, near my limit, and I eat hot dishes regularly. But they didn't have much flavor. I wouldn't get them again.

 

Grinders Stonewall - Lenexa, Kansas Grinders Stonewall
Saturday - August 31, 2014: We had lunch at the new Rock and Brews in Overland Park. It is owned by Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley of KISS. It is their seventh location.

The beer battered Alaskan cod and chips were OK, with a little bit of unexpected kick in the batter. The blue cheese & apple wood smoked bacon burger was very good. It was cooked to the exact point which I had ordered. There was a lot of blue cheese flavor, plus melted swiss, tomato, mixed greens, caramelized onions, and garlic aioli. 

The room has a high ceiling and glass doors on two sides which can be opened to the large patio. There are only 4, 6 person booths. The low tables are 8 person picnic tables and the high bar style tables are 8 person. If you have a small party, expect to have other people at the far end of your table. That was no problem and the overall noise level was enough that we weren't hearing the other party's conversations. I suspect that this room gets very loud at night.

There were several other items which looked good on the menu and I expect to be back two or three times before doing a review of this bar & grill.

 

Rock and Brews - Overland Park restaurant Rock and Brews
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