Day 12: Dublin

With many sights to see and only two full days to see them, it quickly became apparent that we were going to have to prioritize our wishlist in Dublin. We quickly decided that making a plan for the day would be best with our bellies full, so we decided to start with breakfast.

img_5610Our hotel suggested a spot called Oscar’s, and it did not disappoint. What appeared to be a bustling nightspot was now a welcoming breakfast oasis.

We decided the best way to get out and cover the most ground would be to use the Hop On/Hop Off bus, which we affectionately called the “Hoho.”

img_6437In the blink of an eye, we hopped on and hopped off at our first stop for the day, the Teeling Whiskey Distillery.

img_5622I quickly learned the history of whiskey distilleries in Dublin, including the fact that back in the day, Dublin distillers lobbied to have the “e” added to “whisky” to differentiate Dublin whiskey from “inferior Irish and Scottish whisky producers.”

40ef8842-e540-4818-9869-529b22e15659-6019-000005b8cbfff7d4At their peak in the late 19th century, Irish distilleries had a 70% global share of the whiskey market.  Today, Irish whiskey has a 4% market share with percentages expected to continue to grow over the next few decades.

Due to many historical circumstances, what was at its height hundreds of distilleries and the livelihood of many had by the 1970s dwindled to only a handful of surviving whiskey makers. To stay alive, they banded together to form Irish Distillers Limited and moved production out of Dublin.Irish Whiskey 101

Opened in 2015, Teeling is the first “new” distillery to open in Dublin in over 125 years. And technically, because in order to legally be named Irish Whiskey 🥃 it must be aged three years and one day (to outdo the Scotch), they still haven’t produced their first independent bottle.

We toured the distillery. It was very interesting tour, punctuated by the helpful guide and appearances by the master distiller as he scuttled around the stills checking gauges and such. To round out our visit, we sampled from the “family stores” in the tasting room.

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Next it was back to Hoho for a short ride to the Guinness Storehouse.  If you drink beer, you probably know that Guinness is the “national beer of Ireland,” and is often the first beverage we consider when thinking of having a nice Irish beer.

At one time this chocolaty dark stout was the most popular beer in Ireland and the United Kingdom, however with the popularity of lagers and ales growing, it has declined in popularity.  Regardless, we had to find out what it was all about.  The Guinness Storehouse is not really a brewery tour, but more of a glitzy tourist attraction dedicated to the beer that Arthur Guinness started brewing in Dublin in 1759.

img_5662The storehouse is set on the site of the original brewery and is full-on glitz from the moment you walk through the door.  The center atrium is shaped like a giant Guinness glass that extends six floors to the roof.  Each floor had a different theme.  The first floor focused on the history of Guinness brewing including, barrel making, the brewing process, and distribution. Moving upward, there is also a floor featuring print and video advertising through the years and another with tasting rooms.  As we reached the top two floors, we attending the “Guinness Academy” which taught us how to properly “pull” a draught Guinness.  Finally, we had a lovely lunch in the restaurant before visiting the uppermost floor featuring the “Gravity Bar” with 360 degree views of Dublin.  It was entertaining for all of us.  I even drank a whole pint of Guinness (mostly).

img_6453Jeff wanted to keep going on the “alcohol tour” of Dublin, but the girls and I were itching for some shopping time. So, we rode the Hoho to the Jameson Distillery to ditch Jeff for a nearby shopping district. It turns out that there wasn’t much in the area, so the girls and I walked back to the hotel, while Jeff went in for the whiskey tour.

After Jeff returned to the hotel, Jeff, Kiki and I returned to the hoho to complete the revolution of the city. Coincidentally, the last stop was another shopping area so Kiki and I got off to look around. Jeff stopped for a drink in a pub and went back to the hotel.

Kiki and I weren’t able to accomplish much beyond window shopping, because most shops were closing up by 7pm. However, we were able to find the Marks & Spencer (department store) Food Hall and picked up some beverages and snacks. You can never have too many snacks!
On our way home we stumbled upon the famous Molly Malone statue. Molly is a fictional Irish character and subject of the popular Irish pub song by the same name. In reference to the legend described by the lyrics, Molly Malone’s statue is also known as “the tart with a cart.”

To close our our on-the-go day, Kiki and I met up with Jeff in the Temple Bar district for a delicious Italian dinner.

Oíche mhaith!

Day 11: Dublin Bound

Our day started early, at the boulangerie down the street. We have finally learned to NOT order lattes (unless we want the French shop girl to pop an artery) and instead ask for “cafe au lait” (coffee with milk). I’ve gotten more comfortable attempting reading the titles of things, rather than just pointing like a dumb tourist.

After a quick breakfast, we were off to the airport. Initially, it seemed like a super good idea to leave plenty of time to get there and through all of the necessary hoops. Traffic was dreadful, but we had a good conversation with the cabbie and arrived unscathed and plenty early.

Aer Lingus is definitely working out some major kinks. So far, it hasn’t been the best experience and today was no exception. Our flight, which had not reported any problems prior to our arrival at the airport, sneakily started reporting “delayed” on the monitors in the terminal about the time we were to begin boarding. When all was said and done, our two hour flight was delayed three hours. Ugh.

We were one of the lucky families, however, because we did not have a connection to make. All of those people had to retrace their steps through the terminal to retrieve their luggage and seek out alternate flights.

There wasn’t much we could do, so we just waited it out and arrived in Dublin a few hours later than initially expected.

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Dublin, named for the “black pool” (dubh linn) at the convergence of the Poddle and Liffey rivers was in fully in the throes of a heat wave.Our hotel room was hot and sticky, so we escaped to a neighborhood pub for a good Irish dinner and beer! 🍻 Slainte!

 

 

 

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Irish Stew

The kids wanted some alone time with WiFi, so we returned them to the hotel and Jeff and I set out for more beer!

We ended up at Temple Bar. Despite being rowdy, and touristy it was reminiscent of my favorite college watering hole, Rico’s, and I loved every minute of it.

Jeff and I got some drinks between live music sets and found some stools to take in the upcoming act. If we weren’t so tired (and old) we would’ve stayed into the wee hours.

But for today, it was time to catch up on some sleep and plan a strategy for seeing as much of Dublin as we could in the two days that we had.

Good night!

Day 9: Versailles

Today we stumbled upon a street market near our hotel in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood. What was just a nondescript street yesterday, transformed into a bustling street market early this morning.

There were stalls selling everything from gourmet cheeses, meat, seafood, fruits & veg to jewelry, art, clothing and hand crafted wares.

We bought some fresh berries for our journey. Kai scored a lovely hand-tooled leather journal, while Kiki picked up a proper nautical striped top à la Pablo Picasso in his Parisian era. Oh la la!

Next up was an 17 km/11 mile Metro ride to the nearby town of Versailles. We hopped on at a nearby station and rode to the end of the line.

Our journey was flavored with a nice dose of public transport color; including deciphering the chit chat of nearby passengers from the Netherlands who were clearly talking about us AND an impromptu accordion concert from a traveling train performer. Upon arriving at the station, we followed our portion of the pack of 10 million annual visitors to the principal residence of the kings of France prior to the French Revolution.

The Palace at Versailles, was home to Louis XIV, followed by his successors: Louis XV, Louis XVI and the latter’s famous bride Marie Antoinette.
They all lived an exceptionally extravagant lifestyle, that eventually led to Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette’s imprisonment and eventual demise during the French Revolution.

What we didn’t entirely anticipate was the length of the line. Despite our “Paris Pass” cards, there was still a line that snaked back and forth a half a dozen times in the giant “royal” courtyard. We made friends with the family in front of us and enjoyed some epic people watching as we waited in the blazing sun for TWO HOURS for entry to the palace.

Once inside, we wove our way through the public rooms of the palace. Although the palace boasts about its 700 rooms, only maybe a dozen of them are available for public viewing. The most impressive to me was a long corridor used for entertaining known as the “Hall of Mirrors.” Mirrors were an extreme extravagance at the time and this hall was lined with 357 of them reflecting the 17 giant floor to ceiling arched windows that looked out onto 2,000 acres of gardens. In addition to the hand-painted walls and ceiling, there were 43 crystal chandeliers dotting the length of the 73 meter/240 foot long room. Pretty impressive.
I can appreciate the beauty, but it all seems very foolish, self-centered and Trump-ish to me. I suppose I would have been one of the uprising peasants and not the bourgeois, anyway. We didn’t take the time (or pay the extra €) to tour the gardens. Although I am sure they would have been lovely.  It was simply too hot to spend much time in the sun.

We had a nice lunch in Versailles and then metroed back into the city.

Upon returning back to Paris, Jeff hung out at the laverie, washing enough clothes to get us through our trip. I, on the other hand, took a wildly ambitious walk around a previously unexplored area of the city whereupon I found myself trapped in a shopping mall. (Srsly 😐) The only egress I could ascertain was via the Metro, upon which I climbed on the wrong train, rode one stop and was too stunned and frustrated to reattempt getting to the correct destination.

Instead, I found myself temporarily trapped in the Metro station (I couldn’t find the exit here either) and decided to walk the 2.5 km/1.5 miles back to the hotel. Did I mention it was 87 degrees and I was wearing flip flops? Luckily I had a stack of band-aids in my purse. I used six of them.

Once I made it safely back to my family, we found a bistro for dinner, watched a little World Cup fútbol (the excitement around this activity is palatable in Europe) and called it a night.

Even statues make bad footwear choices

I walked 20,348 steps/ 8.84 miles today (at least 3 miles of them in flip flops 😭).
France 🇫🇷 you’re killing me.

Bonsoir.🤴🏼

Day 8: Paris

Today we had tickets to take the elevator up the Eiffel Tower at 11:30. We got up, headed down to the corner boulangerie and had a pastry and coffee. It was now time for our introduction to the Paris metro system. Our neighborhood had a stop that connected with where we wanted to be and it all went off without a hitch. We arrived at the EiffelTower with plenty of time to get through security. Fortunately, we had the foresight to buy advance tickets for earlier in the day. Unfortunately, we couldn’t enter the lift (elevator) early and ended up having to kill over an hour fenced in beneath the legs of the tower. By the time we rode to the mid-level, took in the views and returned to the ground maybe an hour later, the lines were crazy. The tower was truly a marvel. I liked imagining what it must have been like to watch it grow over the Paris skyline at the dawning of the 19th century. It took two years to build, 1887-1889. Did you know that Gustave Eiffel designed the tower for the 1889 World Exhibition and it was intended to be taken down, but never was? At the time, people thought it was a ridiculous design, yet it remains standing, the tallest structure in Paris. After our Eiffel Tower visit, we walked to the Rue Cler Market area to find a sidewalk cafe for lunch. We had a nice meal and then followed a path along the river Seine to our starting point so that we could visit the Musée des Egouts. In English, that means “sewer tour,” and the kids could not wait!

Sewer Tour

The sewer tour is an underground introduction to the current, yet historical, Paris sewer system. The museum wound its way down tunnels below the streets of Paris in a tiny section of the 1,200 miles of the Parisian sewer tunnels. The highlight was the “chocolate river.” It smelled delicious (not so much)!

To round out the day, we walked a million miles to find to mysterious spot that we could get on one of the hop on-hop off busses. The plan was to take a spin through all 10 stops and then Metro back to the hotel for some rest, but two and a half hours later, we were only at stop 6, so we gave up at the closest spot to our hotel and packed it in for the night.After resting awhile, Kiki insisted that she was starving, so the two of us walked to a local variety store, Monoprix, to see what was available. We eneded up settling in at a creperie, where I had a lovely savory crepe with cheese, ham and mushrooms. Kiki decided that she was only hungry if she was eating icecream. So, to help her out, I choked down a raspberry & hazelnut chocolate ice cream cone topped with a sweet raspberry macaron. Oh la la!It was a lovely way to round our a busy day.Bonsoir!

Day 10: Paris Part Deux

One of the reasons I chose our hotel was it’s proximity to the Notre Dame Cathedral. It is France’s most popular attraction and I wanted to make sure that I was among the millions of visitors to experience its magnificence.

We are not a religious family and convincing my family to visit this landmark wasn’t going well. Finally, Kai agreed that “you do not have to be religious to appreciate a beautiful church.”

We walked over first thing in the morning to beat the lines. Fortunately, there was no line to enter the church other than a quick security check. Kai and I joined hundreds of curious tourists in touring the interior perimeter and chapels of the massive church. The interior corridor has constant church services or which we were able to hear a portion of one. It was all very spectacular.

I was really most interested in climbing the 400 steps to the belfry, so upon exiting the church, we set out to find the entryway to the stairs. We found out that we needed a timed ticket and that the next available slot wasn’t for several hours. We booked the slot and then walked uptown to reconnect with Kiki and Jeff.

They spent the morning to visiting the Centre National d’Art et de Culture George’s Pompidou, an iconic modern art museum named for a former president of France.

We even saw Uncle Herb!

Featuring works by Picasso, Van Gogh, Matisse, Dali, Edward Hopper and more, the Pompidou was a favorite stop for both Kiki and Jeff.

Kai and I had enough time to take the 10¢ tour before meeting up with Kiki and Jeff at the Stravinsky fountain, followed by another delicious lunch (beers!) at a sidewalk cafe.

This was turning out to be a marathon day. Kai and I had paced ourselves well, finishing lunch just in time to dash down to Notre Dame with minutes to spare for our entry time to the belfry stairs. I am so glad we made it!

My body was aching terribly from the uptick in activity that my old lady body had seen the last week. I thought the stairs were going to kill me and was resolved to die on the Notre Dame stairs, however I was pleasantly surprised. Both the of us took the stairs in stride with our dozen or so stair buddy compadres. The initial climb of 300 or so stairs took us to the roof level, complete with the iconic gargoyles and a sweeping view of the Paris skyline.

It was simply amazing. A must see sight. The route snakes you and all of the others along a narrow meshed in open-air corridor in which you can look down upon the roof of the church or outward toward the city and the river Seine. Around a bend, we came to one of the two belfry towers, with a tiny arched door to crawl through and two flights of rickety stairs leading to the two massive bells. I couldn’t help but imagine Quasimodo hiding Esmerelda right where we stood. I hope she wasn’t wearing heels.👠 Sheesh.

When we arrived at the opposite corner, I assumed it was to descend back to the square. But I was wrong. Another 100 or so spiral stairs took us to the exterior rim of the belfry for more gargoyles and more amazing views. I admit that imagining each wedge of a stair as a giant slice of cheesecake 🍰 gave me the mental fortitude to make it that last little bit. And, of course, it was all worth it. Up and down, round and round with no shin splints. (I’m talkin’ to you Saint Paul’s Cathedral 😕 circa 2015.)

As if all of the above were not enough, our time in Paris was running dry and we still hadn’t made it to the Louvre. So…. Jeff and I returned the kids to the safety of the hotel for a marathon visit. This time, I had much better luck with the Metro, riding just a few stops and emerging directly across the street from our destination. We entered through the secret squirrel entrance (thanks Chrissy for the tip) and immediately began searching for the Mona Lisa. It was a journey, winding through some of 35,000 pieces to the Italian paintings wing.

Painted by Leonardo Da Vinci between 1503-05, the Mona Lisa is arguably the most famous painting in the world. Therefore, it is also the most popular painting in the museum, with six million visitors yearly.

We waited our turn for a glimpse. I am so glad we did.

Jeff and I may not be serious art buffs, but I’d say that we have more than the average knowledge and appreciation for works of the masters. We also have quite the knack for renaming works in such a way that kept us both cracking up in a very Beavis and Butthead sort of way.

“#selfie”

Damn, Americans. 🇺🇸

You thought we were done for the day, didn’t you?

Oh no, my friend. We still had a boat ride on the Seine to accomplish. So, we collected the kids from the hotel and attempted to take the Metro to the Eiffel Tower area.

The good news is that we found the correct train. The bad news is that after two of the scheduled three stops, the train stopped and announced that service was terminated and that we were to disembark. Furthermore, from what we could tell, there would be no train to our planned destination for another 45 minutes. We had a boat to catch, so we found our way to the surface and hoofed it the rest of the way.

What we did not know at the time, and would discover later in the evening, is that the Metro workers had a planned “intermittent” strike. It was supposed to begin at midnight, but ‘eh, 20:00 is close enough, no?’

We found the tourist boat without incident. Unfortunately, we were not the only ones with the idea of crushing the river at sunset. The lines were massive and the boat was crowded. Initially, it was, quite frankly, a hellscape.

Once we settled in, it was a nice peek into an electric “run-of-the-mill” Wednesday night in Paris. Every bit of the river bank was alive with excitement. From the dinner parties occurring on the boats moored along the walls, to the never ending groups of picnicking couples and groups of friends with blankets, beers and baguettes. There was music galore. From school band style groups, to drum circles to swing band orchestras complete with swinging dance parties. And all along the way there were cheering, laughing and happy people. I was so mesmerized that I didn’t take any pictures.

By the time we returned the city was lit up with lights and the Metro was boarded up. 😯

Luckily, though we were unaware of the Metro situation, the taxis were fully aware and were queued up around the boarded closed Metro entrances.

We grabbed a taxi back to our neighborhood, had a fantastic late-night Italian dinner and were off to bed by 1 am (Paris-style).

When all was said and done, I had walked 24,000 steps (9.73 miles) and climbed 51 floors today.

Tomorrow, it is au revoir Paris, Hello Dublin.

Bonsoir.

Day 7: Travel to Paris

We got a bright and early start today. We had train tickets to travel from Brussels to Paris, but we had to get to Brussels first. That meant walking through Bruges 1.7 km (on cobblestone streets) to the train station. We left with plenty of time and ventured across town. This was not my favorite part of our trip and the kids and Jeff can attest to the fact that there was much swearing involved. Little did I know that it would get worse before it got better.The good news is that we made it with plenty of time to catch a train to get us to Brussels. The bad news (and what we did not know) was that one train line was down and our train would arrive 19 minutes late. We had a 20 minute transfer time and arrived just in time to see our Paris bound train pulling out of the station. Fortunately, the train line rebooked our tickets for the next train and upgraded os to a cushy first class cabin. We made it to Paris just after 1pm. Caught a taxi to the hotel and rested up for a bit. I had purchased some museum passes that required that I pick them up in person, so after a while we set out on foot to find the travel office. Google Maps said it was a 15 minute walk. Jeff, Kai and Kiki were not convinced that I had and idea where we were going me and found a bench to sit and wait about 3/4 of the way there. I found the office without a hitch, picked up the passes and reunited with my exhausted family. Along the way we were about to see many sights, including the Louvre courtyard and famous pyramid, Notre Dame Cathedral, Pont Neuf, Pont des Arts, Fontaine Saint-Michel and many Bouquinistes, riverside booksellers that also sell a variety of trinkets and souvenirs. We were all exhausted from a long day, so we returned to the hotel. Jeff wanted to get out and see Paris at night, so he took a stroll through the Saint-Germain area near our hotel. He was able to capture some breathtaking pictures of Notre Dame Cathedral and witness the excitement of a warm summer Paris night along the river Seine. He even brought us delightfully delicious pizza, which we devoured before drifting off to sleep.

Bonsoir!(and Goodness Nacho!)

Day 6 Summer 2018: Bruges, Belgium

If you have a spare week, spend in in Bruges, Belgium.

This well-preserved medieval town is fascinating. There is something new to find around every turn.

Upon first arriving, I took a lengthy walk around. Once I ventured beyond the central tourist core, I only encountered a handful of people during my two hour jaunt. Just when I thought there was nothing more to see, I’d turn a corner or find a hidden alley and a sidewalk cafe, a sculpture, a church or museum would suddenly make self known. I even encountered three windmills AND a public urinal (boys only).

Having had a nice introvert refresh just yesterday, I didn’t feel like I needed to spring up out of bed and marathon our way through town. Instead, we had a nice breakfast at a sidewalk cafe (Belgian waffles!) and then started walking. During our breakfast, we saw a wedding party arrive for their wedding at the nearby basilica. The bride and her beaming father pulled up in a vintage convertible Rolls Royce. The men loitering around the square were taken aback by the car, while the ladies were cheering for the bride.

I had read that Saturday was market day in Bruges, so I suggested we find the vistmarkt (fish market). Of course we were distracted by all of the chocolate shops, stopping to buy little bags of the pieces that looked most intriguing. Kiki especially loved looking (and eating) all of the chocolates. Her new favorite is a strawberry praline, sort of crunchy, filled with strawberry mousse and coated in white chocolate.

We finally found our way to the vistmarket only to find just a few flea market stalls set up. A few was enough for us to find a few treasures before heading back to the hotel to drop them off.

Since the World Cup was happening AND Belgium was playing Tunisia, Jeff wanted to experience fútbol with the locals. He found a pub, while the girls and I visited a couple of kid-friendly museums.

The Frietmuseum is a great place to go to learn all about potatoes and their history throughout civilization. It goes on to explain the introduction of Belgian frites as an innovation that fishermen came up with because they didn’t have fish to fry in the winter, but they always had plenty of potatoes. In fact, we saw field after field of the. On our way through Belgium.

The Choco-Story is a museum that traces the origins of chocolate from the Mayans until modern times. It included exhibits on the prominence of Belgium in the global chocolate scene, a room full of chocolate sculptures, a demonstration on how specialty chocolates are made and, of course, a gift shop.

To round out the day, the girls and I checked out some local clothing shops. Kiki got outfitted in a Belgian National Futbol Team jacket and jersey. Kai got some knick knacks.

I really wanted to climb the centuries old clock tower in the market square, so we left the kids to rest and went to climb the steps without them. Unfortunately, after waiting in the line a short time, the line keeper came out and cut off entry right behind the couple in front of us. Instead, we retrieved the kids and had an enjoyable dinner at an open-air cafe on the market square. There was a 1/4 triathlon culminating in the square so we were able to cheer on the finishers as we sat and stuffed our faces.

All in all, a successful and very enjoyable day in Brugge!

Goodness nacho!