Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Spring Break 2017 Day 2

I think I was running on excitement because when my alarm went off that morning at 6:30 I jumped out of bed and started getting ready. Today was Universal Studios! My youngest sister, Hayley, works for Disney AND Universal and offered to get us passes for the day.  I can't tell you what a huge savings that is! Once we got to the park and saw the prices at the gate I was mystified.  How do people afford to pay for these parks?!  And then add on food and all the extras? Just wow.

Our hotel offered "continental breakfast" with the room fee. We quickly found out that that meant waffles, fruit, and yogurt....not a completely filling breakfast and very low protein. Luckily I had brought along protein powder, precooked meat and turkey jerky from home. Our hotel room had a nice view of the Four Points Hotel (which my sister later told me she had stayed in and it's not as great as it looks).
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La Quinta offered a free shuttle to the theme parks so we waited outside for it to appear.
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The drive was short and soon we were entering the line of people heading towards City Walk.
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I spied the will call kiosks and quickly got our tickets printed. Hayley had reserved them online for us. 
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What did we choose as our first ride? Dr. Seuss of course....I wanted to get a view of the park
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We started making our way through Islands of Adventure and quickly found the castle in which Hayley works:
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Hayley ended up meeting us around 11:30 and spent a few hours with us until she had to be at work.  Some of our favorite rides were Jurassic Park, Kong, and Transformers.
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I think Jessica's favorite ride was the Mummy....she eventually talked me into going on it, insisting that there were no "drops" and no loops...Ha! Lesson learned...do not listen to 13 year olds...they are trying to trick you.

Around 4:15/30 we started heading to dinner...Hayley had suggested a place in City Walk, the Chocolate Emporium.  You don't have to mention chocolate to me twice! Sign me up!
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The chocolate bread with caramel butter had been recommended and lived up to its reputation:
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and lest we not forget the best dessert of my life, behold the Brookies Cookies & Cream:
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We were full and exhausted after that and made our way to the shuttle pick up.
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Sunset that night was beautiful.  I found a gym half a mile away and tried to work off as many of those dinner calories as possible but it was oh so worth it!
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Monday, April 3, 2017

Spring Break 2017 Day 1

Wow! It has been quite a while since I have posted here. The vacations I've been on since Ireland have all been cruises and I have documented them on Cruise Critic instead of this blog.  I just returned back from a week in Florida visiting family in both Orlando and Tampa and wanted to document my trip for my own memory's sake.  

The week after my Ireland trip in 2014 I moved to Colorado to live with my boyfriend.  We then immediately followed that with a cruise to the Caribbean. 2015 was another cruise to a different part of the Caribbean and 2016 was a cruise to Mexico. Later this fall we will cruise to yet another part of the Caribbean!

This spring break trip 2017 I was joined by my boyfriend's daughter and his mother. Our flight out of Colorado Springs departed at 5pm MST so we arrived at the airport, parked my car in long term parking, and headed inside to check the bags. I had pre-purchased everything on Frontier as it saves quite a few dollars.

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We got inside to the long bag check line and I started to panic...did I lock the car?  I left the gals behind and literally ran all the way through the lot to the back where I had packed the car....of course I had locked it...but if I hadn't checked I would have obsessed over it all day.

We got through security relatively quickly since it's a fairly small airport and made it to the gate with a 30 minute wait time before boarding.  A family sat across from us in the waiting area and I noticed the dad was wearing a sweatshirt with my work logo on it. Turned out that his wife works at my hospital and they were headed to Disney for their annual trip.  He said "see honey I told you someone would ask if I worked there". LOL.

Typical 13 year old activity:
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My seat on-board was separate since I had purchased my ticket independently.  I pulled out my kindle and luckily got a window seat.  That rarely happens for me!
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We landed in Orlando at 11pm and safe to say we were exhausted and starving.  I don't know what happened, but there was a huge delay with luggage in Orlando.  We waited for our bags for an hour.  People in the waiting area started singing the old classic "99 bottles of beer on the wall" to pass time and when the bags finally started coming out on the carousel everyone shouted Hoorah!
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With bags in hand we headed outside to the slot our car rental shuttle was to pick us up. The 13 year old's first MUST DO in Florida? Hug a palm tree. Soon we were on our way to Ace Rent A Car. The pick up process did not take long at all and guess what was right next door?  Good ole MickeyD's.  After getting food we made the 20 minute drive to our hotel, La Quinta on International Blvd, checked in, and passed out pretty quickly. It was 1am and we were set to wake up at 7am for a day at Universal Studios.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Ireland Day 8: Dublin

This European holiday is drawing to a close...Devastating.  The week here has been better than anything I ever imagined or planned. It's made for some amazing memories...memories that I will take with me forever. 
I decided for my own memory sake to list my top 5 highlights and then lowpoints.  I've considered this blog to be my travel journal and I gotta get it down while it's still fresh or it'll be gone tomorrow...seems to be the way my brain works these days.

Top 5 High Points:
1) The people of Ireland in general, many offered directions without us having to ask, most have been gracious and welcoming, curious about us and always greeted with a kind attitude.
2) The proposal we witnessed at the Cliffs.  I just can't get past that. I'm such a romantic and that just made the already spectacular day even more incredible.
3) The Avis rental car agent.  Her attitude and excitement were so positive and she was just a really genuine person
4) The Marless House B&B in Galway...while not perfect, was the best B&B I've ever stayed in.
5) The sunsets

Top 5 Low Points:
1) Returning the rental car and GPS getting me off track multiple times
2) The smell in Cork.  it was really hard to walk around outside because we couldn't breathe without feeling like we were swallowing the smell.
3) The service at TGIF in Dublin.
4) The exchange rate my bank charged me for taking cash out of the ATM....for 200 euros it cost me $90 on top of that.  Not Ireland's issue, just a low point for the week.
5) The service at the Dublin airport Maldron hotel.  We had to change rooms twice and the housekeeping today didn't refresh the supplies or replace/wash the tea mugs.

Altogether, those low points are definitely overshadowed by the amazingness of the week.

To talk about today:
We slept in this morning. First time all week I've gotten a solid 8 hours of sleep. hooray!  We had breakfast in the restaurant at our hotel, the airport Maldron.  It was a continental buffet with all the usual Irish breakfast items...I went to grab the brown bread, and it was so hard I just left it in the basket.  After breakfast we took a cab to O'Connell Street, Dublin's normal shopping district.  I'm proud to say that even though we found several items we wanted, neither of us bought anything. 
From O'Connell we went to Temple Bar to see what we could find to eat.  Someone had suggested Elephant & Castle to us, so we went in and sat down, looking at the menu....but nothing appealed so we walked up the street to TGIF...we didn't really want that either, but we were starving at that point.  We stood by the counter for several minutes and no one came to greet us...so we decided to sit in the bar area....still no one came to greet us, so I got up and got us menus....finally! someone saw us and came to apologize...we thought "oh good, service will be great from here on out"....we were wrong....service remained the same for the rest of the meal. 
After lunch we walked to Trinity College, founded in 1592, to view the campus.  How beautiful!!!! 
Housed in the College Library is the Book of Kells, a gospel book in Latin believed to be circa 800 AD.  Honestly, I wasn't that interested in paying the euro to see it although I would have loved to have seen the inside of the library which holds over 4 million books and manuscripts.
My best friend and several others told me that we should stop in at Queen of Tarts, a cafe and patiserrie. When we stepped inside the crowded cafe we instantly fell in love.  It's decorated in the most beautiful red color (not an obnoxious cherry red) and was filled with people.  A good sign!  We sat down at the only empty table and stared at the pastries greeting us on the counter.
We ordered tea for two along with carrot cake for mom and the walnut brownie for myself, plus a scone!  I had to see how they compared to Marless House.  The brownie was absolutely delicious.  Indescribable actually.  The scone was ok...soft which is good, but not a lot of flavor/substance.  Mom said her carrot cake was delicious.  It was only about 4pm at this point so we said "let's go look at makeup again"!  We made our way back to Grafton street, the place we had originally shopped on Saturday.  I got my eyeshadow done at MAC and I was ready to go!  I am woman, hear me roar.  There's always something about having someone else do your makeup that just makes you feel fresh.  We stumbled upon St. Stephen's Shopping Center, a place we hadn't seen last weekend, and went in. SO GLAD WE DID!  So beautiful inside...reminded me of the final scenes in Meet Me In St. Louis
Walking back to the cab area later we got the tremendous highlight of seeing the sun set over the River Liffey.  It was absolutely stunning.  The most beautiful we've seen all week, and we've seen some beautiful ones.  It was the cherry on top of my scone.  What a way to leave.
I can't believe it's over and at the same time I can't believe we've been here this long.  Mom flies out in the morning and me in the afternoon so at least I'll get a little more time to say I'm still in Ireland. :)
What a blessing this has been.  My soul is refreshed.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Ireland Day 7: Cahir Castle & Rock of Cashel

One more day to go before this adventure ends...we are terribly saddened by this.
The day started with breakfast at the Belvedere Lodge, which I believe was prepared by Vince.  On the road we went after that, headed for Cahir Castle, built in 1142 (pronounced Care Castle).  I'd seen many pictures of it already and read several blog posts from other visitors.  We pulled into Cahir and there it was, downtown on the main road.  The town was built around it.
I paid the 2 hour pre-paid parking fee and we strolled across the street to get some shots of the town and the hatchery...We had arrived a few minutes before it opened so had some time to waste.  An amazing blue heron was waiting for his picture to be taken.  I don't think I've ever seen one before (or noticed anyway). 

After we paid the €6 entry fee for the both of us and "listened" to the cashier excitedly tell us about the Early Ireland Women's exhibit inside the hall, we went in to the grounds. Don't get me wrong, I'm a lover of history, I love people who have the same enthusiasm for history, I love being in historical places and thinking about all of the people who have been there before me, whether visitors or the original inhabitants.  I think about what their lives were like or might have been like.  But after the minutes long introduction, we were ready to get inside and explore on our own.
The view of the town from the top of the castle was so vibrant!  The shops and pubs each stick out because of their colors.  (American friends, notice the direction of the cars on the street)
I was most excited about Rock of Cashel today.   I considered this to be the cherry on the castle cake for the week. This fortress began it's life as a castle and in 1101 was donated to the church.  That's 900 years ago!!!!  900 years of people coming and going from this earth and it still stands. Such a remarkable structure.  It is currently having some renovations done on one side of it, but even still it is breathtaking.

The entry fee here was a little bit more at €12 for the both of us, but it was well worth it.  There were several large tour groups at the Rock at the same time...all of them being led around by guides who spoke their respective languages.  It was interesting to hear all the different versions and reactions.  I'm such a people watcher.  It did make it a little hard to soak it all in because at times it could be quite loud, especially inside the structure, but that's what you get on a Friday at a major tourist attraction.  
For our lunch I had planned via Trip Advisor that we eat at O'Neill's Restaurant located just up the street.  We were able to walk there from the  Rock and discovered that lunch wasn't being served yet.  It was 11:45 and lunch begins at 12:30. in my head: "NOOOO this is where I'm supposed to eat! TA says so!"  We asked if we could drink tea (of course) until lunch time and the ladies were more than welcoming.  We chatted with the proprietor and her waitress for several minutes while we enjoyed our tea.
 As we were sipping away, Helen O'Neill, the proprietor, was writing the specials on the board.  One of which being ling in a chive cream sauce.  We had a few good laughs as mom and I asked her what "ding" was...we had misread the sign.  
The food was excellent and prepared by Helen herself I believe.  We both ordered the roast chicken which was served with carrots, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and cabbage.  I was a good girl and only ate the chicken, carrots, and cabbage....oh wait, did I mention the 3 slices of brown bread that I had?  I can say that of all the brown breads I have eaten while in Ireland, O'Neill's is the best, hands down.
It was then time to make the trip to Dublin.  It started pouring rain.  Buckets. The motorway was layered in water in some areas.  I sat up nice and straight with my hands gripping 10 and 2 and my eyes fixed on what I could see of the road.  Turns out the rainy motorway was the least of my worries. Getting to the gas station by the return terminal for the rental car was a night mare...the trusty GPS had been so on point all week and then today it decides it wants to take me the wrong way 3 different times.  I was getting pretty stressed to the point my eye was twitching from the strain.  Eventually we made our way to the gas station and got the car returned.  I should mention the AMAZING rep from Avis that gave us the rental car on Sunday, I don't know her name but I'm going to find out.  When we dropped the keys off today for the rental car, here she came popping around the corner and remembered us.  We had a good chat about the week and she gave us a map of Dublin we hadn't seen yet.  Great great great gal (with amazing eyelashes!)
Next up: Our last day in Ireland: Dublin

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Ireland Day 6: Blarney Castle and on to Cork

It took me around 6 months to plan my trip and a year's worth of hard work and saving, but I poured my heart into each and every moment of planning.  And now, there are only 2 days left. I can't believe it.  It has all been incredibly worth it.
We left the Randles Court this morning a little after 8 and decided to just hit the road for Blarney Castle.  I had previously planned on us eating lunch in Blarney at the Muskerry Arms.  We pulled into Blarney around 10am and decided to just eat brunch there instead.  We had the restaurant practically to ourselves which was nice. A continental breakfast of fruits and cereals and brown bread was provided and then we were able to order off the hot menu in addition.  Both of us ordered omelets...I didn't get a picture of the omelet because I was too hungry and wolfed it down.  The brown bread here was FAR superior to the brown bread of yesterday and the omelet was delicious. I would definitely recommend this restaurant to anyone traveling to Blarney.

After eating we wandered across the town square headed towards the castle, passing the Blarney Chocolate Factory.
Very small inside and the chocolate was fairly priced, but we did not buy any.  I don't know why I didn't take any pics inside, it was cute!
Blarney Castle dates back to the 1400s and sits on a cliff of rock, dominating the greenery around it.  There are 126 narrow and winding steps to get to the top and it was incredibly claustrophobic, but the view from the top was absolutely beautiful. I can not even begin to imagine living in that castle, being a servant, wearing a dress and having to make my way up and down those steps multiple times a day.
Neither one of us were interested in leaning over backwards hanging off the top of the castle and kissing the Blarney Stone but it sure was fun to watch others do it....I can happily say I will not regret not kissing the stone.  I climbed up on the edges and took pictures over the side and my fear of heights majorly set in.  It was super windy up there and of course mom was over watching the people with the stone, so I was forced to suck it up and get myself down or stand up there and have a panic attack.  As you can see, I made it :).  After climbing back down the castle, we wandered through the poison garden, over to the Blarney House (which was very hard to get a good shot of because there was a group of non English speaking tourists who were completely unaware that oh yes, other people may actually want to take their pictures of the building, too.  From there we moved to the Stable Yard cafe for tea.  Of course!
Leaving Blarney we headed to Barryscourt Castle.
When we pulled up to the parking lot, a man named Finian ( i LOVE that name) greeted us and let us know that the castle was closed due to hurricane damage but that we were free to walk the grounds.  Apparently during the hurricane this past spring, the roof collapsed and the inside of the castle is majorly damaged. There was a beautiful apple orchard behind the castle that mom and I wandered through...it seemed odd to us that it appeared no one had picked the apples in quite some time.  All of the trees were ready to be picked, many of them leaning under the weight of their supply.  Shh, I picked one.
After speaking with Finian (yes I just wanted to say his name one more time) a little bit more, we got back in the car and drove the 15 minutes to our hotel, the Belvedere Lodge.  I had read that it could be difficult to find, but I thought "we have GPS, we can get anywhere"...ummm no.  GPS did not find the Belvedere Lodge...it did find the street it was on though thank goodness, and I strained to see every sign on the street until finally, I spotted it.
I chose Belvedere Lodge based on multiple reviews I had read of it. We were greeted at the door by Vince, checked into the hotel, dropped off our bags, and headed to Cork City Centre.  What are my thoughts on Cork?  We greatly enjoyed walking through the English Market which has been around for 3 centuries...yes, 3 CENTURIES.

Cork did not, however, hold the Irish charm I had anticipated.  We drove to a local movie theatre, hoping to catch something good, but arrived at one of those in between times where you had to find something to do for the next hour and a half, so we ended up in Tesco (a supermarket) mostly to use the wifi, and decided we'd just rather go back to the hotel to rest since tomorrow will be a full day.
Up next: Rock of Cashel, Cahir Castle, and back to Dublin
~ps so glad we go the super insurance on the rental. I noticed today that the passenger side got scratched from the thickets on the Ring of Kerry...eek
~pps we saw multiple drive through McDonald's today...something we hadn't seen all week. But still, the number of them is far far less than in the states.
~ppss there are no public trash/waste bins anywhere to be seen!  We've put our trash in the back seat of the car and carried it into the hotels with us, to have them dispose of it....every gas (petrol) station we've come to hasn't even had trash(litter)bins at the pumps...something we Americans again take for granted

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Ireland Day 5: Ring of Kerry and Killarney

Woke up this morning in the Randles Court Hotel after a much needed deep sleep.  This hotel has long corridors with motion sensor lights, huge bathrooms, a sitting room at the entry and on the front patio overlooking a horse pasture and with a view of the mountains in the distance.  It does not however have a/c (which I've heard most of the hotels in this town don't) and it was a rather stuffy night. Mom and I got ready for the day and headed to breakfast in the hotel restaurant since it was included in the cost of our room.  Entry to the dining room was rather confusing as the buffet is right up front and there's no clear sign as to whether to help yourself or wait for a server.  So we stumbled to a table and waited for a server who eventually came and thought we were with a large tour group also staying here.  When we told him we weren't, he seemed flustered...anyway, moving on, he brought us menus and said we could order what we wanted.  So I ordered scrambled eggs and roasted tomatoes with the smoothie of the day and Mom ordered sausage and scrambled eggs...

Upon looking at the scrambled eggs I wasn't sure what to think...I wasn't freaked out that they were on bread, as I've done that before with my egg whites and Ezekiel toast, but what I was freaked out by was the consistency and color of them....so I peppered them and took a bite and promptly set my fork back down, not touching them again.....so then on to the smoothie...The waiter said it was an "asberry" smoothie...I'm guessing he meant raspberry?  Either way, it was nothing like a smoothie we have in the states.  While it may look delicious, it was incredibly sour.  Mom and I were both disappointed in our meals and will be eating elsewhere tomorrow morning on our way out of town.
Off we went to drive the Ring.  Today was my least planned day of the trip.  I figured we'd just stop at the sites that jumped out at us...I wanted it to be a calm, scenic day....Well turns out the weather wanted otherwise.  We headed counterclockwise on the Ring, and rain began to drizzle down and stayed that way until mid afternoon.  Our first stop was Ballycarberry Castle, built in the 1500s.  When mom and I pulled up we were the only ones there and were able to soak it in, but shortly thereafter several cars pulled in and it began to rain a little stronger. Mom, being the adventurous one, climbed up the tower.
Next we drove back the incredibly tiny one lane road to Staigue Fort, which is thought to have been built in 300 or 400 AD.  Over 40,000 sites in Ireland have been identified as stones forts.  40,000!!!! that is an incredible number....the history lover in me is now intrigued. 
After stopping at the fort we were pretty much ready to eat anything we could find since breakfast had been so lacking.  On we went to the tiny town of Sneem.  We ate at the Village Kitchen, both of us ordering vegetable soup as a side....Irish Vegetable Soup is nothing like we were thinking, being the assuming Americans that we are....It is cream based and really we couldn't see any vegetables in it.  It came with brown bread on the side, which I have to say, we've had better.  At this point I'm sure I'm sounding like a picky eater, but I'm really not...it was just a bad food day...because later on we ended up having amazing food...more on that in a few.
We hopped back in the car and I seemed to have forgotten the last 4 days of driving because I caught myself driving on the right side of the road as I would back home.  Quickly corrected it and drove on.  Silly foreigner!  We arrived at Torc Waterfall and I really wasn't sure what to expect since I have seen some great photos of it and some not so great.  We happened to get there at a good time when there weren't too many people yet, so we were able to take it all in.  Yes, it's a waterfall, but the difference is, it's an Irish waterfall!!!! 
We made the drive up to Muckross House to see if we wanted to stop there, but neither of us were feeling it, so we drove on to Ross Castle.  Absolutely beautiful view from there.  Of course I had to get the shot I've seen all over Pinterest of the canoes and boats in the water.  Turns out our hotel is only 1.5 miles from the Castle....more on this later.  After taking multiple shots of the castle we headed back to our hotel to freshen up and drop off the car.  Killarney Outlets here we come!  The Outlet mall isn't too far from the hotel so we walked up the couple of blocks...well, there was a Nike Factory store in it, so that was great for my fitness lovin heart, but beyond that, there was a whole lot of nothing....and I'm not exaggerating..the entire second floor of the outlet is empty.  So what do we do now? Do we go to a movie? Do we walk around town again?  We started walking through town and came to Killarney Royal Hotel...We had both said we were ready for some tea, so Mom saw on the menu outside that they had traditional afternoon tea for two.  Hooray!  I've never had this before so I was intrigued.  In we went.  Their afternoon tea is a carb lover's heaven, lemme tell ya!
It was absolutely delicious.  The funny thing is, the thing we liked the least was their choice of tea, even though it was still good!  After eating my fill of carbs *yep I gave in* we headed back to the streets of Killarney and decided to walk to St. Mary's Cathedral and get some photos since we had driven past it and thought it beautiful.  Mass was being held when we got there and something we noticed was that it was almost all elderly women in the congregation.  It was a very sweet moment to see them on their knees in prayer. While we are Christian and not Catholic, the churches here take us to a very peaceful place.
Near the church is an entrance to Killarney National Park so we headed into it to walk further.  Shortly inside the gate was a sign saying Ross Castle was 2.7 kilometers, so mom suggested we walk it.  I'm in!  By the time we got to Ross Castle, the sun was setting...let me say the pictures I got on my iphone (didn't take my Nikon with me) don't even do it justice. 
After admiring the view one more time we began the treck back to our hotel.  Another 1.5 miles.  It was a great walk altogether. According to my heart rate monitor (I wear it to work out and track my burn) I burnt 500 calories, so yay! Part of those carbs were put to use!
Tomorrow we venture the hour drive to Cork but will be stopping at Blarney and Barryscourt Castles.  Weather should hopefully be better than today!