Dublin, Round 2 (and Northern Ireland)

Since B was out of town for work when I visited Dublin with my sister and her hubby, we planned another visit in August (2015).  Dublin is super easy and cheap to fly to from London; I think we paid around £20 round-trip for each of us!

Benjamin joined us on this trip- he was around 9 months old.  He again did amazing on the plane, and is such a happy, content traveler!  This trip, we brought the Ergo, our lightweight stroller, and the carseat.  The only reason we brought the carseat on this trip is because we had booked a day trip up to Northern Ireland, and the company required us to have a carseat for him for the bus.  We checked the car seat (for free), and gate checked the stroller, which was nice as we could use it in the airport until we boarded.  We bought our stroller secondhand and it has been perfect for us.  There is just enough storage underneath for a few things here and there (a blanket, water bottle, etc.), it has a visor/hood, and is incredibly lightweight and small when folded up.  It has been all over the place!

Anyway, we arrived in Dublin on August 12 around 8:30am.  Luckily, our AirBnB owner was okay with us checking in early, so we took a cab directly to the apartment.  The apartment was amazing!  We actually took a little bit of a chance on this listing, as there were no reviews yet when we brooked it.  Usually I am a bit of a review nut, I search and read reviews incredibly carefully because I have heard horror stories of apartment and house rentals.  The owner, Brian, did have other listings in other cities with great reviews, so we decided to go ahead and chance it.  I am so glad we did!  The apartment was across the street from the beautiful St. Patrick’s Cathedral and was cozy, but just perfect for our little family of 3.  Brian was kind enough to arrange a cot (pack and play) for us for little man.  He even stocked some milk, a water jug, and some snacks for us in the kitchen!

*Sidenote: we have yet to encounter a situation during our travels that a cot/pack and play has not been provided for us upon request.  We most often stay at AirBnBs, and every place has been able to secure one, and often places even provide a high chair.  We own, but do not travel with our own pack and play.  Most hotels provide cots as well.

After getting our items settled, we decided to head out toward Trinity College, meandering through St. Stephen’s Green along the way.  Dublin is a fairly stroller-friendly city, so we carted Benjamin around in that for the day.  We were hoping to go see The Book of Kells, but the line was outrageous, so we just wandered a bit, checking out the architecture and other sights.  For most of the morning, we did one of our most favorite things when traveling: letting ourselves get lost in the city.  I think we ended up walking something like 13 miles that day total!

We ended up back in the city centre for lunch, and had some delicious sandwiches {and a Guinness!} at Temple Bar.  [If you haven’t checked out my other post about Dublin, I raved about their food, especially considering my reservations regarding touristy hot spots.]  B suggested we try Trinity College again after lunch to see if the line for the Book of Kells was any shorter.  It was actually pretty short, so we decided to go for it.

Photography was not allowed in the area housing the Book of Kells, but it was pretty amazing to see!  It is an illuminated manuscript, so of course I was really fascinated by the intricate illustrations and lettering.  The history of its creation was also pretty interesting.  We then were able to go to The Old Library which is…well…an old library!  I think I found it even more fascinating than the Book of Kells.  It was gorgeous and reminded me of Beauty and the Beast!  It houses the oldest books in the Trinity College Library, as well as busts of authors and philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, and Newton.

On our way back to the apartment, we found some street performers–Benjamin loved watching them!

The next day we got a bit of a later start, as Benjamin didn’t sleep super well.  We had decided to get the Dublin Pass for the day, so we headed to pick it up.  We were hoping to see quite a bit that day: Kilmainham Gaol, The Dublin Zoo, Guinness Storehouse, Old Jameson Distillery, and possibly St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  Well, between getting a late start and just overall travel logistics, we highly overestimated what we could do.  While I think the Dublin Pass ended up saving us a few Euro, it wasn’t as cost-effective as we had hoped.

We started out the day at theThe Dublin Zoo, which was a winner for all of us!  We took the city bus there, as it was a bit outside of the city center.  There were lots of animals to see and the zoo was clean and nice!  We spent quite a while there and didn’t even get to see the whole thing!  I definitely would recommend it and go back if we were in Dublin again!

Our plan after the zoo was to check out a tour at the Old Jameson Distillery [which I spoke about in my other Dublin post].  Unfortunately, the next tour wasn’t for another hour, which would impede upon our later plans to check out the Guinness Storehouse.  Since I had already visited Jameson, B was okay with us skipping it and going to Guinness.  I kind of wish we would’ve gotten the Hop-On, Hop-Off bus pass–while most of the sights in Dublin are centrally located, there are a few that are a bit of a walk, especially if you are on a time crunch.

We made it to The Guinness Storehouse with plenty of time to explore.  The tour is self-guided through seven floors, covering everything from history to production to  advertising to tasting.  Although I had been told that the Jameson tour was better, I actually much preferred this one, especially with a nine-month-old.  Being able to move at our own pace and read as much or as little as we wanted was ideal.  Much of the tour was interactive and filled with colors, lights, and sounds, which also kept Benjamin entertained.  B and I even did the “Guinness Academy” [on the fourth floor], where we learned how to pour a proper Guinness.  The top floor had an observation deck bar with great views of the city.

Since we spent quite a bit of time at the storehouse, we didn’t end up making it back over the Jameson, which was okay with us because we enjoyed Guinness so much.  Instead, we had just enough time to stop at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  I had been during my last Dublin visit, so I hung out with little man to let B wander around and read all of the history and such.

We ended our day with some delicious Irish food (approved by all three of us!), Irish beer, Irish music, and traditional Irish dancing at Fitzsimons  in the temple bar area.

The following day was our looooong day trip to Northern Ireland, so we got some rest.  The day trip was exhausting but absolutely amazing!  We booked the Giant’s Causeway day trip through Viator.  The tour included the Carrick-A-Rede bridge, Giant’s Causeway, lunch, and a quick stop in Belfast.  After getting on a coach bus at 6:30am, we made our way through the Irish countryside and along the coastal highway to the Carrick-A-Rede bridge, a rope bridge that was once used by fishermen to get to an island that was good for fishing.  We had a little bit of a walk from the parking lot to the bridge, and the landscape was beautiful.  This was what I had always thought of when I thought of Ireland!

The bridge itself didn’t look especially scary or dangerous, but was much more frightening when actually crossing it!  There were super steep steps leading to it, then it was basically just some wood planks surrounded by rope netting and handles.  The wind made the bridge sway and rock, which was then made more intense by the fact that I was wearing Benjamin on my back in the Ergo.  B and I both made it across safely to the island, where we didn’t get much time to explore, as it promptly started to mist/rain.  We pretty much headed right back across the bridge and toward the parking lot.  Luckily, we thought ahead and brought our rain jackets!

The tour stopped for a quick lunch, then headed to Giant’s Causeway, an area along the coast where volcanic lava created interlocking basalt columns {most with five sides}.  It was pretty cool to see, but I don’t know that it was as magical as I had expected.  I did enjoy seeing the waves, the varying sizes of the “stepping stones”, and areas where old coins had been lodged in between the rocks.  Luckily, it wasn’t raining in this area, and B carried Benjamin in the Ergo, so I was free to roam and take a boatload of pictures (surprise, surprise, right?).

Our final stop of the day was Belfast.  We were only there for about an hour, so we just wandered about and ate a snack.  It was a nice little break from the bus.  Our bus made it back to Dublin city centre around 8:30pm.  Overall, it was a fantastic day–the sights were amazing, our bus driver was great–he told stories and made the ride much more enjoyable, and Benjamin was such a trooper- most of the people on the tour were shocked when we carried him off the bus, as they had no idea that there was a baby traveling!

After a long day of traveling, it was nice to get some food in our bellies and head to bed!

Our last day was August 15, and we didn’t have much planned for the day since we had such a busy day the day before.  We started our morning at the yummy Queen of Tarts {also mentioned in my last Dublin post}, then found some local art to add to our growing travel art collection.  We spent some time relaxing in St. Stephen’s Green–Benjamin loved all the birds and ducks there.

Finally, we peeked inside Marsh’s Library, another old, fascinating library before heading back to pack up and head to the airport.

This trip renewed my faith in Ireland, as I was a little disappointed last go around.  I liked not being as rushed to see things for sure.  I also really, really enjoyed our day trip up to Northern Ireland–I feel like I was able to see some different types of landscapes and scenes.

Dublin, Round 2 Travel Journal

 

A Taste of Dublin, Brugge (again), and Amsterdam

I have been lucky enough to have a few visitors while living overseas, including my sister and her husband last summer.  My sister’s husband’s brother (did you follow that?) is also stationed overseas in Germany, so they made a trip to see us and then meet up with him and spend some time in Germany.  Unfortunately, B was out of town for work while they were here, so he missed out on spending time and traveling with us.

This was Shelby & Uriah’s first time meeting Benjamin as well, so they were super excited!  While in England the four of us made a day trip down to London, checking out the typical sights and doing a lot of walking.  We also rode the London Eye, a first for me.  Benjamin absolutely loved it, but I wasn’t overly impressed for the price.  It was a cool thing to experience and the views were pretty amazing, but the dang thing moves so. darn. slow.  

Anyway, I digress; this post is about Dublin, Brugge, and Amsterdam isn’t it?  After a couple of days in England, we set off.  Our plan was to fly to Dublin for two days, then fly to Brussels, where Aaron (my sister’s husband’s brother) would meet up with us driving and take us to Brugge.  We would spend a night there, then head to Amsterdam for about the same amount of time.  From there, I would head back to London, and the rest of them would make their way back to Germany and do some exploring along the way.

This was Benjamin’s first flight– he was about seven months old at the time.  For anyone interested in how I travel with my little guy, I am a babywearing mama and used a K’tan carrier when he was itty bitty (which I LOVED), then switched to an Ergo original when he had good head control and was a bit bigger.  So, for traveling, the Ergo is/was my savior–when he was little I typically didn’t even bring a stroller or carseat on trips when I didn’t have to.  This trip was a bit tricky though; I knew I would have help carrying stuff during most of the trip, but coming back to the UK was going to be difficult since I would be by myself with Benjamin.  Also, because Aaron was driving from Germany, I knew I would have to bring a carseat.  This was my packing strategy: I had Benjamin’s diaper bag (using a backpack is a thousand times easier than a traditional diaper bag for us), my carry-on (which is what I packed both Benjamin and my clothes in), Benjamin’s carseat (which was checked for free), and I carried him in the Ergo.  [On the return trip, I managed by wearing Benjamin in the Ergo on my front, wearing the backpack on my back, and carrying the carseat and my bag together.  It was a little bit of a pain, but definitely doable.]

Again, I digress.

Dublin, Ireland…. We left London the morning of June 23 and arrived in Dublin around 9:30.  Because I had the carseat, we decided it would be easiest to take a cab to our hotel.  We stayed in a triple room at the Clifden House, which was beautiful, clean, and comfortable.  It was a little bit of a walk from the centre of the city, but definitely doable!  After we dropped our bags and the carseat, we headed out to explore.  Ironically, one of my sister’s high school friends was in Dublin at the same time, so we met up with her for brunch.  She introduced us to the delicious Queen of Tarts.  {I think we ate here both mornings we were there *AND* I took B there when we went back to Dublin in August…so yummy!}

Our first tourist stop was St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  It was, like most cathedrals I’ve seen in Europe, beautiful.  I am always in awe of the architecture and stained glass windows.

After wandering the streets a bit, we rested at the apartment, then headed out again for the afternoon/evening.  We took the tram toward the Guinness Storehouse, but we had heard that the tour there wasn’t as good as the Old Jameson Distillery, so we just peeked in before moving along.

*Sidenote: After returning to Dublin with B, I wholeheartedly disagree with that opinion–I absolutely loved the Guinness Storehouse tour and would do it again in the heartbeat!  I will write about that in my next Dublin/Northern Ireland post*

Dublin is a really interesting mix of old and new, quaint and not-so-quaint, beautiful yet also kind of dirty and gross.  I liked it, but not as much as I expected to.

We ate at the famous Temple Bar for dinner, and it did not disappoint!  My sandwich was phenomenal, the Guinness was incredible (and I am not even much of a Guinness drinker), and the atmosphere was fantastic!  I am always a little bit hesitant to go to the “hot spot” touristy places, but I was really glad we went!

After a few beers a nearby pub, we called it a night.  Oh right, and some gelato.  For some reason, I just love eating gelato wherever we go 🙂

Dublin is kind of like Brugge in that you can pretty much see the main highlights in a day or two, so we decided to start the next day with a little morning trip out to Dún Laoghaire (pronounced “Dun Leery”), a nearby seaside town.  We hopped on the DART train and took a pretty 20 minute ride to the harbor area.  It was nice to get out of the city for a few hours; it was quiet and the water was beautiful.

Coming back from Dún Laoghaire, we decided to get off the train at Grand Canal Dock Station, which looked pretty trendy and cool in pictures, but was actually fairly disappointing.  We found an Irish pub for lunch {I had some traditional Irish stew; yummy but nothing to write home about} and then made our way back toward city centre.  We stopped for a beer and to listen to some live music, which was one of the things I loved most about Dublin.  I am all for a good pint and some good tunes!

Our final stop in Dublin was the The Old Jameson Distillery.  My sister and her husband are both whiskey fans, so they were especially excited about this!  While I do enjoy whiskey every now and then, I am definitely no connoisseur!  The tour was really informative and our guide was hilarious!  I felt incredibly odd bringing a 7-month-old into the distillery, but he slept in the carrier the entire time {baby carriers have magical sleepy dust, I swear!}!  The tour guided us through the different stages of Jameson production, and at the end there was a tasting that included a scotch, Jameson, and American whiskey.  Uriah was a champ and took them all; Shelby and I both took some sips but weren’t tough enough to finish them all!

Overall, I liked Dublin, but didn’t fall in love with it, like I had other places.  I think seeing places in such a short timeframe is also hard because I love to wander, explore, and get lost in cities.  Onto Brugge…

Brugge, Belgium….  Early Thursday morning (June 25), we hopped on a flight from Dublin to Brussels, Belgium.  As I said, Aaron drove from Germany to pick us up and take us to Brugge.  The drive was quite the adventure in itself.  There were lots of delays on the highway, so we ended up taking all kinds of random roads, including backroads *literally* through farms as well as crazy city streets through Ghent.  Ghent looked really cool- if I ever make it back to Belgium, I think I want to take some time to see it!

Anyway, we made it to our apartment mid-afternoon, much later than we had hoped.  The apartment was fantastic!  It was spacious, clean, and really reasonably priced.  It was located right outside of the city centre, about a 10-15 minute walk.  Our first stop, of course, was a waffle!  Then we wandered around, enjoying the beautiful summer day.  My sister, Benjamin, and I took a canal tour (the same one I had done with L on my girls day) while the boys found a pub.  Benjamin was definitely a crowd pleaser on the boat- he even got a picture with our driver!

Afterward, we joined the boys for a few beers, then headed to The Church of Our Lady (again, the same church I visited with L).  Aaron is an art history buff, so we all paid to go see the Michelangelo sculpture housed there, Madonna of Brugge.  It was pretty impressive to see something that old and well-known!  It was a long day of travel, so we made it an early night after dinner.

The next morning, we had an absolutely fabulous breakfast at Detavernier/ “Carpe Diem” tearoom.  Shelby, her hubby, and Aaron all were hoping to climb the Belfry before we headed to Amsterdam, but when we arrived, there was a huuuuuge group of kiddos on a field trip there ahead of them, which was taking foreverrrrrrr.  So they decided against the climb and we got on the road to Amsterdam around midday.

Amsterdam, Netherlands….     

The drive from Brugge to Amsterdam was about 3-3.5 hours (and much less eventful than our drive from Brussels to Brugge, thank goodness!).  The AirBnB apartment we stayed at was smack dab in the middle of the city, so we had to find a parking garage.  I would suggest to anyone visiting Amsterdam not to drive, or to find a park and ride outside of the city, as driving there is a little crazy and parking is pretty pricey.  Getting our bags to  the apartment was a bit of a hassle too; the narrow cobblestone streets and crowds did not mix well with Shelby & Uriah’s roller suitcase (they had a bigger bag since they were staying in Europe longer…).  The apartment was a bit tricky to find, as it was situated over a cute little jewelry/gifts shop.  It was adorable though–very small and cozy, but cute nonetheless.  The owners were great too!  We had a great view of the neighborhood.  **If you have big luggage and stay here, take caution, as the staircase was spiral and very narrow!  The price was a bit steep too, but from what I’ve seen and heard, Amsterdam is just a more expensive city to stay in.

Amsterdam is gorgeous.  It has a similar look to Brugge with the canals, cobblestone, architecture, and old-Europe feel, but you can tell its bigger, busier, and more culturally diverse.  It is known for its bikes- and even though I knew this before getting there, I was completely unprepared for the actual sheer volume of bikes I saw!  It seemed as if everyone was on a bike!  While we were there, we learned that there are approximately 700,000 people in Amsterdam, but over a million bikes!  and they have to fish 25,000+ out of the canals each year.  After dropping our bags off, we wandered around and just explored the sights and sounds of Amsterdam.  Dinner was okay, but nothing to write home about….HOWEVER….our dessert for the evening…OUT.OF.THIS.WORLD.  We had Poffertjes from a local little shop, and they were ah.ma.zing.  Seriously, getcha some.  We picked up some wine and beer to enjoy in the apartment and relaxed the rest of the evening.

For our second day in Amsterdam, we were planning on renting bikes and braving the crazy, narrow streets of the city.  However, I got a migraine early, so I knew I couldn’t go (so, so bummed 😦 ).  The rest of the group decided not to go either {which I still feel horrible about!}.  We ate some breakfast, then began to explore again.  The boys wanted to go to a sporting good store, so Shelby, Benjamin, and I explored a church, had a light lunch, and just relaxed by the canals for a bit.  I was finally starting to feel better, so once we reconvened, we took a canal boat tour.  It was incredibly informative {even though one of the guides was a bit of a blonde…} and, like Brugge, a great way to see the many different areas of the city.  We boated under lots and lots of bridges, alongside many houseboats, and through the famous Red Light District.  That area isn’t really my “thing”, but I think if I went back without Benjamin it would be interesting to explore.

After the tour, Benjamin snuck in a nap while we chilled out by the canals, and the other three climbed the bell tower in the church.  It was getting later in the afternoon, and I had to head to Eindhoven, where I would stay the night and fly out early the next morning, and the others had to begin their journey back toward Germany.  Aaron drove Benjamin and I to our hotel, and we all had an overpriced, unimpressive dinner at the hotel before they headed out.  It was really bittersweet saying goodbye to them, as I knew it would probably be quite awhile until I’d see them next.  It was so, so good to be able to spend time and travel with them though!

So, my overall thoughts on Amsterdam:  It’s kind of hard to say because I feel like I didn’t really get the “full experience” between the short stay, having a 7-month-old,  and my horrible migraine.  It was such a gorgeous, exciting city with so much to do, but I feel like I didn’t do a lot.  I did like the laid back vibe and thoroughly enjoyed the people watching there!  If I were to go back to the Netherlands/Amsterdam, I definitely would want to rent bikes, see the Anne Frank House (the line was outrageous when we went by; I’ve heard it’s  best to get tickets well in advance), explore the Red Light District a bit, and see the countryside some too!

Dublin/Brugge/Amsterdam Travel Journal