Every Shade of Green: Ireland

We flew into Dublin from Marrakech, where we would be starting our two weeks in Ireland. It was a nice change in pace having come from chaotic Marrakech. Also, my brother Brandon who is on summer break from college, flew in to Dublin to travel with us for a few weeks.

We spent one full day in Dublin before we embarked on a nine day Paddywagon tour that would take us all around Ireland and Northern Ireland. During our one day in Dublin before the tour, we went out exploring the city. We checked out the Temple Bar area where we had several pints, stopped by the Peterson's pipe store so Scott could buy a new pipe, and then had a full Irish breakfast at a restaurant on Grafton Street…and yes we even ate the black pudding.

The next day we met at the Paddywagon bus bright and early. Our first stop on the tour was the Guinness brewery. Not only was having beer for breakfast fabulous, it was also a great way to start to get to know the other people that we would be spending the next couple of weeks with. It turns out, we ended up with a great group of people on our tour who we became pretty good friends with over the next several days!

As we headed out into the countryside, the rolling green hills of Ireland were absolutely gorgeous sprinkled with random castles and farm animals. We stopped to hike around Dunmase Castle, where we had some amazing panoramic views.

We continued on towards the Dingle peninsula, making a quick stop in a small town called Adare. It was a cute village with thatched roof houses. We then made a short stop at a beach, and also stopped along the way to take pictures of the breathtaking cliffs on the coast.

We spent our first night of the tour in a hostel in a small village called Annascaul. It was pretty rainy and windy outside, so we hunkered down in the Randy Leprechaun pub with our new friends.

The next day we spent some time in the town of Dingle, followed by more hiking on the coast, a visit to the fertility rock, and then made our way down to Killarney which would be our home base for the next couple of nights.

On day three of the tour, we had an early start. We grabbed a quick breakfast at the hostel, and then headed to the local horse stables for a morning ride through the national park.

 

After our morning ride, we headed out for a scenic drive. We spent the afternoon doing more hiking along the Ring of Kerry, saw another castle, stopped at a delicious chocolate factory, and also did some hiking up to a really pretty waterfall.

The following day we headed to Cork, stopping at the Blarney Castle to kiss the Blarney Stone. Apparently kissing the stone will give you the gift of gab. Scott kissed the stone for the second time in his life…Lord help us! Those that know Scott, know that he needs no help in the gab area.

 

We stayed the night in Cork, where we enjoyed sampling more pubs. The next morning, day five, we headed to the Cliffs of Mohair, stopped off for a pub lunch, and then on to Gallway. The climb up to the cliffs was steep, and the drop off the cliffs was a little frightening, but once we got to the top I couldn't resist sitting on the edge.

When we arrived in Gallway, we settled into our rooms and then went out for a night on the town.

On day six of the tour we headed up to Northern Ireland, starting in the city of Derry. At this point, the tour kind of shifted from all castles and rolling hills, to an interesting history lesson about the less pleasant times in Ireland's past, including the potato famine and the troubles. We stopped at a museum where we learned about How Ireland was affected by the hardships brought on by the potato famine and how it affected the people of those times.

The first night in Derry, we walked decided to have a night in to recover from several nights out at the pub. So we walked down to a local grocery store with a group of friends from the tour and then we prepared a feast in the hostel kitchen. After dinner, we had a last playing several rounds of the card game UNO.

The next morning we did a walking tour of Derry which was guided by a local man who taught us about the history of the troubles, and about Bloody Sunday and the activities that followed. It was a little eerie to think of all of the violence that occurred not so long ago in a town that seems to be so peaceful now.

After lunch we went out to Glenveagh National Park, where we toured a historic castle and grounds. It was a nice mood lifter after such a heavy morning. The grounds and the castle were absolutely gorgeous, unfortunately, the weather was not so gorgeous…typical Irish rain.

The second night in Derry, we strolled around the town, we had dinner at a pub, and then made our way down to watch a local soccer match. On the way to the stadium we passed a group of soccer hooligans we had seen earlier at the pub. As we passed by they started chanting “Alan! Alan! Wolf Pack! Hangover!” Apparently, they thought Scott looked like the guy from the movie The Hangover. Scott played along by pumping his fist in the air and the guys would cheer. It was hysterical! We had a pretty good laugh.

The soccer game was a bunch of fun. We especially enjoyed the group of old timers sitting behind us cracking jokes at each other in their heavy Irish accents. The local team won the match, which made the game exciting.

The next day we packed up and headed along the Northern coast making two major stops at the Giant's Causeway and the Rope Bridge. It was rainy again, but we wouldn't let that stop our fun.

Our last night of the tour we spent in the city of Belfast. Although Belfast wasn't our favorite city, the history of the separation of the Catholics and Protestants was fascinating. In the morning we took a cab tour of both sides of the city that are still separated by a wall. We even got to leave a message on the wall.

On the way out of town, we stopped at the harbor where the Titanic was built and launched. There is now a museum and gift shop.

Our tour ended back in Dublin. There were several of us on the tour that didn't have flights out of Ireland until a couple days later, so we spent the next day in Dublin doing a walking tour and having dinner with our friends from the tour. At the end of our last night in Ireland, we had a big group hug and went our separate ways. Hopefully we will see our new friends again as we make our way across the world to some of the places they are from.

 

Madrid, You Were Good To Us

We arrived in Madrid in the late afternoon on a Friday. We took the train from the airport to the Sol station, which would put us at about a five minute walk from our hotel, hotel Miau. The walk should have been an easy walk, however in good Achen fashion, we followed our Google map about a mile in the completely wrong direction…uphill…in the sweltering heat…carrying all of our gear. Let's just say, some not so friendly words were said between each other. But don't fret! We quickly made up like we always do, the minute we got to our hotel and had a chance to cool off…literally with giant bottles of ice water.

After a short siesta, we spent the rest of our evening strolling the streets surrounding La Plaza De Santa Ana and meandered our way to a small tapas restaurant called Maceiras. The restaurant was small but crowded, with friendly but assertive wait staff. The menus were hand written in Spanish on round wooden boards (they also handed us an English menu, probably because Scott does not look like he speaks Spanish…which he doesn't). We ordered several delicious tapas, stuffed ourselves, headed back to our hotel, where we could hear crowds mingling and music playing from the plaza directly below our balcony. The Spanish have it figured out! This is the way to live life. Take your time. Take siestas. Share varieties of delicious food with each other. Drink sangria!

We spent the next couple days doing lots and lots of walking from plaza to plaza, stopping at tapas bars along the way. We also had the strangest experience on one of our walks, which could be one of the funniest. While walking past the Palace and Gardens, we were past by a large group of bicyclists that were all COMPLETELY naked, shouting things, with only words painted on their bodies! We were so caught of guard. It was both disgusting and hysterical. It is an image that We're sure will be forever engraved in our brains!

Laundry day

 

We took in a flamenco show at a place called Las Tablas, which was wonderful. It was Scott's first time seeing flamenco and we were thoroughly impressed.

 

We also opted to go to the bull fights. It was a once in a lifetime experience. The tradition involved and the decadence of the costumes and movement of the matadors is truly a beautiful art form, but not for the weak stomach. It was a ONCE in a lifetime experience…and we did feel a little bad for the animals, but appreciated the cultural aspect of it.

 

We left Madrid relaxed and definitely fuller figured than we arrived, but enjoyed every minute!

 

 

Mas Tapas! Por Favor!

Madrid is such a wonderful city that holds a very special place in our stomachs. We are so fortunate to have our great friends Amber and Fernando who live in Madrid that were able to give us excellent advise on all of their favorite places to get good grub.

The first evening we arrived in Madrid we followed Amber and Fernando's advise and walked down Calle Huertas, which was only about a five minute walk from our hotel, and had tapas for dinner at a small restaurant called Maceiras. This restaurant lived up to it's hype, and we even came back on our last night in Madrid for another sampling of the delectable offerings.

The first night we ate at Maceiras, we ended up ordering way too much food, which was all delicious and worth every Euro. We ordered the patatas bravas, the champinones (mushrooms sauteed with pork shoulder), chorizo, croquettas (cheese croquettes), and empanadas de pescado (fish empanadas). We paired our meal with an Estrella beer and sangria.

Patatas Bravas
Croquettas de Queso
Empanadas de Pescado
Chorizo
Champinones

 

Our second time at Maceiras, we ordered the patatas bravas again because we couldn't get enough the first time around. We also ordered pimientos (peppers), and Merluza rellena de gambas (fish stuffed with shrimp, covered in a tomato based sauce). Once again, we were not disappointed with any of our choices.

Pimientos
Merluza Rellena de Gambas
 

The second day in Madrid we opted to have lunch at a restaurant in La Latina area called Casa Lucas. We started with a refreshing tomato salad with goat cheese and fresh basil. We also ordered some croquettas de jamon, and one of the dishes that Amber had recommended, Alella (chicken with sauteed onions served on toast with a corn mousse on top). Once again, the tapas did not let us down.

We also walked down to the Mercado De San Miguel that has a huge selection of fresh produce and stands of different prepared food.

That night after watching a flamenco show, we opted to have dinner at another restaurant in La Latina area again, Juana La Loca. We ordered their famous tortilla dish, which is completely different than the type of tortilla that we are used to. It's an egg and potato type dish with a crust…delicious! We also ordered the lomo (a meat dish), and an artichoke dish. We only ordered three tappas to save room for churros y chocolate later that night.

Tortilla
Artichokes, Garlic, and Parmesan
Lomo
 

We opted to have churros at Chocolateria San Gines. It is a famous churro y chocolate shop that has been featured on several shows that we had seen, so we figured why not give it a shot! The verdict….delicious!!!

At this point, our waistlines were starting to show the results of our tapas gorging. So on day three we shared a small piece of tomato and mozzarella flat bread we picked up at a little place called Pappizza which can be found all over the city. We spent the rest of the morning walking around the city, hopefully burning off some of what we had eaten the past two days. We walked all the way to a little restaurant to meet up with Amber and Fernando and their new little addition Quique.

We all shared a delicious chilled tomato soup, a fresh salad with crisp apples and cheese, pulpo (an octopus dish), foie gras, and a beef dish. It was all very delicious, however we were so caught up chatting and catching up, that we didn't take any pictures of the food, only the adorable baby.

Our last morning in Madrid we opted for one more go at churros for breakfast. We went to a local chain called Valor. They not only serve churros y chocolate, but they also looked like they had lots of other sweet options. Our verdict was that both Chocolateria San Gines and Valor had delicious churros, they were different but equally good.

 

Paris on Strike, DLP, Rain, Rain, and More Rain!

The night before Scott's parents were scheduled to leave Paris to head back to the states, they went to check in to their flight online and realized that their return flight had been completely changed. Their flight that was originally scheduled to leave on a Thursday morning returning to Baltimore had now been changed to Friday landing in Washington DC. After receiving assistance from the concierge at the Renaissance, we were able to get ahold of the airline, only to find out that over a thousand flights had been canceled due to air traffic controllers going on strike. We finally were able to get them on a flight through London Heathrow for the next day.

The next morning Scott and I had planned on sharing a cab with his parents to the airport and then hopping on a train from there to Disneyland Paris (DLP). So, come to find out, all of the French trains were on strike as well. Due to all of the cancelled flights and trains, it took about thirty minutes to be able to catch a cab. So we ended up taking the cab all the way to DLP, which was not a cheap ride, but since there was no other options and we had already paid for one night in a hotel near the park and already bought our tickets, we ended up having to eat the cost. This was definitely another lesson we have learned on this trip, always prepare to spend more than what you had budgeted for because uncontrollable circumstances do arise.

We finally made it to DLP by about noon. It turns out “when it rains, it pours”…literally. As we walked into the park the rain started coming down. We tried to make the best of the situation. Lines were short, the park was less crowded, and at least it wasn't hot.

We really didn't plan on going to Disney in Paris to ride every single ride anyway. We are huge Disney nerds in the States, and just wanted to see how different it would be in another country.

Some of the attractions were in English, some were in French. The parks were much smaller than in California and the food was not nearly as good. Lots of the little carts that you would expect to be selling goodies all around the park were closed except for a couple popcorn stands (which actually sold kettle corn instead of regular popcorn). No churros, no corn dogs, and to our dismay, the ice cream shop on Main Street closed at 7:00pm.

Our overall assessment of DLP, was that the park is probably really nice when it's not raining, it's rather small compared to the parks in the U.S., the food could be better, and gosh darn-it why would you ever close the only ice cream parlor at 7:00pm! Either way, we still had a great time, because even if it's raining, it's always a good day for Disney…and like we've said before “you've got to just roll with the punches.”

 

 

Paris In a Flash

We arrived in Paris the Sunday night after the wedding at the Grim's Dyke via Eurostar. We checked into the Renaissance Arc De Triomphe, which was one of the hotels we booked using our Marriott points. The hotel was sleek and ultra modern with a little Indonesian influence. The free breakfast buffet was wonderful in the mornings featuring pastries and jams, cooked to order omelettes, fresh fruits, sauteed mushrooms and tomatoes, an assortment of fromage, and fresh squeezed fruit juices. To say the least, it was definitely one of the better hotel breakfasts we've had, and we have stayed at many hotels.

We spent our first full day in France doing a tour of Normandy and the D-Day beaches. Check out our post on Normandy for details.

Since Scott's parents joined us for the week in Paris following the wedding in London, our week was packed with full days of a crash course of Paris. We had both been to Paris before during prior European vacations, however since it was Scott's dad's first time, we had to make sure we hit the major points in just a couple of days.

We hit up the main city attractions including the Le Tour Eiffel, Notre Dame Cathedral, an hour long cruise down the Seine, a stroll down the Champs Elysees, and the Catacombs.

We will be going back to Paris in July for Bastille weekend, so we plan to give lots more details about our Parisian experience then, so here are a few pictures to hold you over 'til then.

 
 
 
 

 

Normandy: Honoring Those Who Fought For Freedom

The day after we arrived in Paris, we hopped on a train first thing in the morning and headed to Normandy for a pre-arranged tour that Scott had booked online. Our tour guide was extremely knowledgeable about both the American and British WWII military history.

Spending a day in Normandy was something that was close to our hearts. My grandpa Arturo M. Garcia a.k.a. “Pie” (to close friends and family), served our great nation in the U.S. Army, Second Infantry Division, during the war. He survived the gruesome battles at Omaha Beach in 1944, continued on to fight in the Battle of the Bulge, fought his way through the rest of the war, and still lives today to share his stories.

We started our tour in the town of St. Mere Eglise where we learned about the American Airborne Landings, capture and defense. Our guide Eric gave us a very detailed explanation of the American plans and German defenses. We also made a quick stop in the Airborne Museum.

From there we drove to Utah Beach. During the ride to Utah beach Eric explained the importance that the hedgerows surrounding all of the farm fields had on the battle of Normandy. We made a brief stop at Utah Beach and the memorial that stands there.

Hedgerows surrounding the farm land

We then headed to Point Du Hoc where we were able to walk through some of the old German bunkers that are still standing and also see all of the craters that remain from bombings. We then headed to Omaha Beach.

Omaha Beach held the most significance to us. Standing on the same beach where Pie and so many others risked or gave their lives for the freedom of others was a very powerful and emotional moment. Pie had always talked about wanting to go back and see all of the places he had fought in the war during peacetime. He never was able to go back, and at his age now is no longer able to. He was with us in spirit and we tried our best to capture as much as we could in pictures for him to be able to see how beautiful it is when at peace.

Us holding an old Army picture of Pie taken before the war.

Our tour ended at the American WWII Cemetery where many brave heroes were laid to rest. At a quarter after five in the evening, they lowered the flags at the cemetery to the sound of taps. It was so overwhelming to see, but really puts things in perspective. It reminded us to be grateful for what those heroes fought for and continue to fight for, so we can lead the lives we live today and every day.

 

 

 

 

Not So Grim at the Grim’s Dyke

After spending several days in the city of London, we headed out to the outskirts of the city for a more relaxing weekend with lots of family, new friends, and the nuptials of Scott's cousin Brad and his beautiful English bride, Amy.

We spent the weekend at the manor where the wedding festivities were going to be…and it was beautiful. The Grim's Dyke is an old English manor with lots of history and exceptionally manicured grounds, surrounded by lots of little “bunny paths” (what our three year old nephew called them) for hiking.

 

The first night we checked in, we had a drink at the hotel's Library Bar, got settled into our room, and met up with lots of family to walk down to a pub for the rehearsal dinner. It was about a ten minute stroll from the manor to The Hare pub where we had drinks and a delicious dinner with both the bride and groom's family and friends.

Ryan and Carrie at the pub

At the end of the pub night we decided to walk back to the manor with Scott's sister Carrie and her husband Ryan, as well as Scott's parents. Once again, there is no such thing as a trip without some sort of adventure. So, the walk back to the manor was only supposed to be about a ten minute walk, however due to it being completely dark outside in a heavily wooded area, in combination with one too many drinks, we ended up walking completely in the wrong direction. With no cell signal for Google maps and after having walked over a mile, we decided to head back to the pub. As we approached the pub sure enough, there was a LARGE sign with an arrow pointing us directly to the trail that lead back to the manor. The funny part of this whole debacle, is that as we initially left the pub, Scott said “I think we are supposed to go that way” (pointing at the sign with the arrow). However, we all ignored his advice and insisted on going the other way. Turns out for once…Scotty was right. Anyhow, after an extremely long walk in the pitch black woods, we made it safely to our rooms…after about an hour.

The following day was the wedding, and in English style they had arranged for a red, vintage double decker bus to pick up all of the guests to drive us to the chapel. After the ceremony, we all piled back on the bus where we toasted with champagne all the way back to the manor for the cocktail hour. After cocktail hour, we headed up to the gorgeous ballroom for dinner and dancing. We made lots of new friends with the people that sat at the same table as us. The food was delicious and then we danced the night away.

The next morning we woke up, had a full English breakfast at Gilbert's the manor's restaurant and with Scotty's parents in tow, we grabbed a cab to the train station where we headed to our next destination via the chunnel…Paris!

On the Eurostar to Paris

 

Lovely London

London is such a vibrant city full of life and full of wonderful people. We spent the first few days in the heart of the city exploring the different neighborhoods and interacting with the people.

Day two in London started in a frenzy, because it wouldn't be an Achen adventure if there wasn't some sort of drama. We had a scheduled half day tour around London on the vintage Harrod's double decker bus. We figured this would be a great way to start the week to sort of get our bearings and get some info on some other sights that we might want to see throughout the week.

We were scheduled to meet at the Victoria Coach Station at 8:00am. So naturally in Scotty fashion, the night before he got online and Google mapped the route to the station and figured it would probably be best to walk since it was only supposed to be less than two miles from the flat.

The next morning we got up and ready, grabbed a quick croissant for breakfast and hit the road. The stroll was beautiful…until we were lost. Google maps was telling us to go one direction, our pocket map was telling us to go another direction, and a man on the street told us we had gone about a mile too far and still had a very long walk to the station. So in a panic and less than ten minutes to find our way we were able to get directions from a cabbie and made it just in time.

Once we made it on the tour the rest of the day was really pleasant taking in the sights. After the bus tour we had a pub lunch at the Tea Clipper, wandered around the magnificent Harrod's, had some ice cream and an afternoon nap.

In the evening we strolled through Hyde park (where we also got lost), and made our way to a delicious Indian restaurant Roti Chai, which turned out to be one of our favorite meals in London.

The moral of day two in London was to just learn to “roll with the punches” and it will all work out.

 

While in London we also took in the gorgeous views from the London Eye, the Tower of London, Soho and also took a day trip that included Warwick Castle, Stratford Upon Avon, and Oxford.

The day trip we booked through a tour company, however if we were to do it again we would do it completely different. First off, Warwick castle was a hokey tourist trap (which was our fault for not doing the research). Stratford was a beautiful little town, however by the time we walked through Shakespeare's home we barely had time to grab a baguette for lunch. We could have spent an entire day in Stratford. We absolutely loved Oxford and would definitely recommend taking the time to do it.

Overall, London was absolutely lovely!

 

Cushy Landing!

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Upon arriving in London, we have experienced quite the cushy landing…and I don’t mean the plane landing (that was actually rough). We arrived at London Heathrow at about 11:00am, picked up our baggage, and thanks to Scott’s Dad, we were met by a driver waiting to take us to our accommodation. As we hastily followed the sharply dressed lad to the garage, we weren’t quite sure what to be expecting, and to our delight, he escorted us to a beautiful, sleek Jaguar XJ that would be our ride to the Beaufort House flat in Knightsbridge.

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We pulled up to a beautiful row of houses with exquisitely groomed shrubbery that we would be calling home for the next few days. The Beaufort House is in a prime location being about one block from the iconic Harrod’s, exquisite restaurants, and only a five minute walk from Hyde Park. The staff at the Beaufort House is extremely friendly and was so helpful showing us around our flat. The flat is very lush, yet comfortable and way more extravagant than we could have ever imagined. Some may think it is a little over the top for an RTW, but when a gift like this is offered, how could we possibly say no.

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The Lobby at the Beaufort House

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Our Bedroom

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The Living Room

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The Kitchen in the Flat

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The Balcony

We spent the first night in London wandering around the neighborhood exploring restaurant options and local shops, ordered some Chinese take away that was recommended by our driver, and called it an early night to adjust to our new time zone.

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