Castles and Palaces

We stumbled across an article from a travel website naming the top 10 castles in the world. We’d only been to two on the list  – Neuschwanstein in Germany and Chateau de Chillon in Switzerland. But it got us thinking – what would our top-ten list be? And how many castles have we been to?

Coming from the United States, we tend to share in the idea pushed on us by Disney at an early age that castles are magical, beautiful, complete with Prince Charming and a beautiful Princess. In reality many of these castles have dark and bloody histories full of murder and mayhem. Both Heath and I are history buffs, though, and really love seeing castles and learning about the people who lived in them and the life they led.

In case you were curious, here are all the castles that we’ve been to, sorted by country and vaguely in the order we visited them. Continue reading

Day 8: Waterford to Dublin and First Impressions of Scotland

Glendine Country House continued to exceed our expectations with a devine homemade breakfast. Unlike most of the other B&B’s, Glendine had a pretty full menu, which made it hard to decide; I opted for poached eggs on a potato waffle. They also had a sidebar with homemade yogurt, homemade jams, rhubarb compote, scones/biscuits, and homemade butter. I hope we’ll get to go back again someday to that B&B, because I loved the whole experience.

I’m sure everyone will be shocked to learn that we decided not go to Waterford Crystal, even though we were right there in Waterford. We probably should have gone the day before, but considering how far we would have had to back-track, it turned out to be a wise decision.

We packed up, checked out, and sadly left the Glendine Country House, and started the very long drive (about four hours) to County Meath (just north of Dublin) to see Newgrange, Knowth, and Dowth – three ancient burial sites within a few miles of each other. We stopped for a plain cafeteria-style lunch at a pub, and I had my last Bulmer’s cider.

The street signs are NOT correct for Newgrange, and it was not easy to find like we’d been led to believe. We got lost and ended up going to the some historic battlefield that I can’t remember the name of to get directions at the tour office. Continue reading

Day 7: Limerick to Waterford and In-between

I sleep best when the air in the room is very cold, and I’m buried under the weight of several blankets. Which was what I got to do last night, because we’d accidentally left a window open, and the temperature had dropped significantly.

Like my vacation to Switzerland, the travel gods have seemed to have taken a token. In Switzerland it was my beautiful hand-made scarf made by one of my dearest friends. I was disappointed to discover last night that a silver heart bracelet that one of our friends got me from India went missing at some point over the last few days.

Breakfast at Castle View House (actually, we never saw a castle while there) was far less greasy than in previous locations, and pretty delicious. The rain and muck had cleared, and it was bright and cold at the mid-50’s. Heath’s Aran sweater that he bought yesterday came in handy.

After saying good-bye to our host and the old doggie, our first stop was Cahir Castle. And this was a real, honest-to-goodness castle – our first one that either of us had ever visited. We saw several other castles throughout our trip, but this one was the most picturesque, and seemed to fit what you’d imagine a castle would look like if you’d never seen one before. And the history of it is fascinating – there’s even a cannonball still embedded in one wall!

Cannonball in wall

Cannonball in wall

Continue reading

Day 6: Galway to Limerick and Inbetween

The day dawned cloudy again, but breakfast was fun and tasty. Without realizing it, we both nibbled on blood sausages, one kind of which I actually enjoyed. There was a nice girl managing the breakfast that we had a long chat with. She was only 24, and originally from Germany. We somehow got on the topic of healthcare, and she was of the opinion that German health care was excellent, but Irish healthcare is terrible. If you have private insurance, you might wait a month or two for non-urgent care, but if you have government insurance, it could be up to two years.

We drove out of Galway, through unbelievably indescribably beautiful landscapes against the sea, and mountains. None of the pictures I took did justice to the absolute beauty all around us, and we were both constantly (well, me more than Heath) gasping and pointing.

We made several quick stops for pictures, and on a whim, stopped at a castle that was not in our guide book: Dunguaire Castle. We were really excited! Our first castle! Only, once we got inside, and started to read the wall plackards, we found out that Dunguaire Castle wasn’t technically a castle at all. It is a traditional Irish Tower House. Tower Houses were fortified residences built as a “fashionable Irish house” for a gentleman or rich farmer, between 1450 and 1650 AD.

We were a little disappointed to not actually be wandering through our first true castle (especially once we finally saw how huge the real ones were!). But the house had a lot of charm. This particular house is the best preserved in Ireland, and was built in 1520. It was passed down from family member to family member until 1966, and it is in remarkably good condition. Lots of tiny stairwells and low doorways, and an excellent view from the top floors. Continue reading

Day 5: Dublin to Galway and Inbetween

Today we headed towards Galway from Dublin, and the real driving adventure began. It actually wasn’t too bad, and the NeverLost navigator mostly stayed on course with us.

Our first stop of the day was at Clonmacnoise, about half-way through Ireland. It isn’t listed in most tourist books, which pleased us, as we’d been purposely avoiding some of the larger tourist attractions, such as Blarney Castle.

Clonmacnoise, for those who don’t know, is a monastic site that has been around since about 80 AD. It’s been sacked numerous times, and rebuild numerous times. In some of the pictures, you can see where newer structures were tacked on to the old.

What’s interesting about Clonmacnoise is all the standing Celtic Crosses. Most of the ones outside are more recent additions from the last century, but inside the museum they have some truly ancient ones as well as some really old gravestones. Continue reading

Day 4: Exploring Dublin

Wow what a crazy day! I didn’t sleep well due to tummy troubles (I’m hoping its not the Cryptosporidium outbreak). We went downstairs and met three other guests at our B&B: two Americans from Kansas, and a German lady. We had a nice conversation, although one of the Americans started to talk more history about the places that we were planning to see than even we could handle. Heath’s eyes started to look glassy, but that may have been because of our supremely greasy “traditional” Irish breakfast of deep fried eggs, super fatty sausage, greasy hash-brown, and bacon (which is fried Canadian Bacon for US readers). This really didn’t help my tummy at all.

We packed up our guidebook, and walked just a few houses down to another B&B to get 24 hour tickets for the hop-on, hop-off bus. The owner of this B&B was an incredibly nice guy.

Our walk into the city to catch the bus was long, but fairly interesting. We stopped on the upper section of the Royal Canal (no longer used), and looked at the lochs (did I spell that correctly?). And I got my picture taken with a life-like statue.

We got a little lost getting to the bus (again with the street signs being missing or sometimes only on one side of one building). Once we were in the right place, we found the bus with little trouble. One round of the city in the bus takes an hour and fifteen minutes, but you can hop on and hop off at any of the 21 stops on the tour as often as you’d like for 24 hours. It was a really good idea, and I’d recommend it to anyone who is visiting Dublin. If you are spending a few days in Dublin, they have a discounted three-day pass for 25 Euros a person. The name of the company is called City Tour. Oh, and another bonus of using this company is that they give you a coupon book that is good for a Euro or two off certain attractions in Dublin. Continue reading

Day 3: Manchester, Driving, and Dublin

We meant to get up much earlier in the morning, planning to go back to Platt Fields to see the costume museum and then lunch at the Curry Mile and onward to the Museum of Science and Industry. Unfortunately we stayed up far too late watching TV the night before (still trying to get used to the time change), and ended up missing breakfast entirely. Luckily a manager was nearby, and got us some cereal and milk. The cereal box was translated into at least 5 different languages, one of them Arabic, which was kind of cool.

We packed up, checked out, stowed our bags in their storage room, and headed down the street past a sad-looking run-down park and over to the bus stop. The receptionist at the Luther House was extremely helpful, so we caught the right bus in the right direction. It was a short ride, and we successfully got out at the correct stop. We had to walk another few blocks, but it was a neat walk, with lots of things to look at.

Manchester (or “Manchesta,” if you’re a local) has recently made most of their museums free of charge, except for special exhibits, which was nice for us, as we’ve got a set budget. We decided against the “Dr. Who” exhibit, as it would have cost us about $13 each to get in, and opted for the free parts of the Museum of Science and Industry. We started with a section of the room entirely devoted to steam engines and turbines. Most of the displays were real working machines dating back anywhere from 50 to 150 years ago. Heath (an engineer, for those who don’t know) was in hog heaven. We got a few pictures in the museum of him, and of some of the trains for my dad. I was a little lost in the technical details of some of the machines, and the museum guides were all busy with school groups, but Heath answered all of my questions readily. Yay for having a S-M-R-T husband!

We also attempted to view the textiles section of the museum, but a large part of it was under renovation. The only notable section was a 1940’s film specifically tailored to the English housewife detailing the best way to do laundry using the “new” washing machine, steam press and iron, and drying closet. The feminist in me was screaming, so we got a picture of me next to the sign for the video giving it the bird. I will have to put it next to one of my favorite pictures of Heath standing half-dressed in the kitchen ironing his pants. I will not iron anything at all if I can help it. Blech. Continue reading