Istanbul – Not Constantinople

The first thing I must say. I think this was one of THE BEST vacations I’ve ever been on, and there are a few reasons why.

  1. Turkish Airlines is like, THE BEST airline I’ve ever flown… we’ll get to why that was in a bit.
  2. Turkish people are probably some of the NICEST people I’ve ever met in my life. I cannot get over how welcoming and nice everyone we met was.
  3. Turkish food is SOOO tasty!

Anyway, on to the important bits…

Flight with Turkish Airlines

So, there’s a reason Turkish Airlines has won awards for being one of the best airlines. I should also add, no they are not paying me to write this (though I would totally accept that.. ha ha). Of course we are dum dums and didn’t take any pictures; however, we flew non-stop from Dublin to Istanbul in economy. They provided actual menus to select your drinks and dinner from, and your meal was served with actual plates and actual cutlery. The plane was BRAND new with some awesome entertain systems – each person had their own video screen. They served this amazing mint lemonade during take off and landing as well. YUM!! I need to find more places this airline flies to so I can fly them again.

Notes about Istanbul

Religion

When we first got there, we decided to take a day walking around and getting oriented. Now, we were there pre-coup, so I don’t know if this has changed since we were there. One thing to keep in mind is that this a predominately Muslim country, so many women do walk around wearing burkas and hijabs, that being said we never, EVER felt like we were being judged for not dressing that way. It was the middle of summer and HOTTTT!!! So I was walking around in short shorts and a tank top and never felt out of place. There was definitely a sense of openness and understanding from everyone.

Additionally, they often play the call to prayer several times throughout the day… including at 6am. This is something to keep in mind if you’re thinking about staying somewhere located near a mosque… ha ha.

Alcohol

Because this is a Muslim country, there are certain places it is illegal to drink alcohol, and this is mainly places within a certain radius of a mosque. That being said, there are plenty of places to go grab dinner and drinks.

Getting Around

This city is HUUUUGE. Like their population is 15 million people JUST in Istanbul. We mostly walked everywhere, except we did do the hop on/hop off bus tour tickets for 48 hours. Normally we don’t do this in a city, but it just seemed like the easiest way to get around. There is a light-rail in the city, but we just didn’t happen to go where the light-rail went. Plus it was nice learning about the city as we went around.

Sights to see/Things to do in Istanbul

Hagia Sophia

The Hagia Sophia was a Greek Orthodox Church, turned mosque, turned museum. The church was first built by the Romans in 537 AD, and was converted into a mosque in 1453. It remained a mosque until 1931, before opening up as a museum in 1935. It also remained the worlds largest cathedral for nearly 1,000 years until the Seville Cathedral was built in 1520. It was a pretty impressive building. It’s also where the first council of Constantinople met (which is where the Nicene Creed was confirmed) WAAAAAY back in the day. Overall, it was a very impressive building architecturally, and it was really cool to see both Christian and Muslim artefacts peacefully together in the same place.

 

Grand Bazaar

My friend Erica in front of the Grand Bazaar

Where do I start with the Grand Bazaar… it’s one of those places that you have to go see, but it has become VERY touristy. Also a warning, the shopkeepers are AGGRESSIVE. If you so much as look at something in their shop, they will legit follow you down the aisle trying to convince you to come in and buy something. And haggling isn’t just okay here, it’s expected. A lot of the stuff looked like touristy junk; however, there were a few neat shops mixed in if you took the time to look. We bought a lamp while we were there and our friends we were travelling with bought a Turkish rug, which is an experience in itself. What is really cool about being here, though, is realising that this market started in 1455… that is a seriously old market, and there are 4,000 shops there.

If you want to buy a Turkish rug, you go into one of the shops where they have a small sampling of the rugs they have. Then if you express interest, they take you out of the market to their warehouse a few blocks away. I’m not going to lie for the first 5 minutes all 4 of us looked at each other with that “um, are we safe?” kind of look, but it ended up being an AWESOME experience. They show you all the different types of rugs and educate you on the different regions and Turkish rug types while giving you treats and this GORGEOUS herbal tea. It’s customary there that they treat you like a guest and try to impress you while you pick your rug. And remember, SERIOUS bargaining/negotiating is expected even though they will “act” offended. For example, we were trying to bargain with a guy pretending to offended when we purchased a lamp. He felt so bad for how bad we were at bargaining that when we left he threw in two table coverings for free. Also, if you get a chance to go, BUY A TURKISH RUG. Now that a lot of rugs are made by machines in factories, handmade Turkish rugs aren’t made anymore, so they’re just going to continue to become more and rarer. I’m kicking myself every day for not buying one while we were there.

Me playing with the stray kitten while our friends shopped for rugs

Being shown the different types of rugs

The rug I’ve been kicking myself for not buying.

Basilica Cistern

This is the largest ancient cistern that exists beneath the ground in Istanbul. It was basically a cool old place to walk around while it was hot outside while we were there.

Süleymaniye Mosque

 

So, this was the first time I’d ever been inside a mosque. Just a heads up, when you enter a mosque, as a female you cannot expose your head, shoulders or knees. And for guys, you cannot wear shorts. If you are not dressed appropriately, they provide clothes for you to wear to cover up. It was really gorgeous on the inside. The thing I noticed most though, is that women had to go pray in a separate room that was blocked off from view while men and boys prayed in the main area. This mosque was originally built in 1557.

Toby wearing the blue skirt they made him wear since he was wearing shorts.

Main area for prayer

 

Turkish Baths

If you get a chance, DEFINITELY do a Turkish bath (also called Hamam). We went to Suleymaniye Hamam because it was one of the few Turkish baths where men and women can go in together. This particular Hamam has been running since 1557.

Reception area of the Hamam

When you first arrive, this particular bath provides you special swimsuit like outfits to change into, although if you go to a Turkish bath that is not co-ed, it customary to go naked. You then go sit in a sauna for approximately 10-15 minutes. Now, ladies and gentlemen, this was the hottest “sauna” I’d ever been in. Now, I can handle heat okay, but I felt like I was going to DIE by those last couple minutes from heat stroke. The “sauna” that you’re in, is giant room with a hexagonal stone in the middle. You lay or sit on the stone. After about 15 minutes, they take you and your partner into one of the rooms that offshoots from the sauna (you can see in the photo below- one ot he left and one on the right).

Inside the “sauna” area

Once you’re inside, a masseuse uses this pillow like sponge filled with soapy water and uses it wash you down (and remember, at least at this location you are clothed for this in a swimsuit). Aftewards to do a full body scrub, and then wash you again while giving you a massage. Also, if you’re a female they wash your hair.

After this part, you sit down on a stone next to the bed you were laying on, and without warning they dump really cold water over your head. Needless to say, this was a shock to my system after sitting in the super hot room just before this. Once you’re done, the couples seperate to gender specific rooms to change out of their swimsuits and dry off with a towel and sit in a robe. They then provide you traditional turkish tea to drink to relax before you go change and go on your way.

Where you sit and have tea afterwards

 

Turkish Coffee

All I have to say is, this is an acquired taste but you MUST try turkish coffee if you ever get the chance. It’s a small serving (probably slightly larger than espresso), and is very strong. It’s an unfiltered coffee, so there are still grounds in it when you drink it… the liquid is pretty thick. Superstition says the grounds left after drinking Turkish coffee can be used for fortune-telling by looking at the marks left on the cup after it is finished.

Hookah

Lastly, I highly recommend trying hookah at least once. Hookah is a vaporized way of smoking flavored tobacco. You can get all sorts of fruity flavors, and they even provide an ice pack to put around the tube you smoke it through to cool the vapor. This is by NO MEANS healthy, but it was a fun thing to try while we were there. A lot of restaurants in Istanbul offer it if you’re sitting outside, and we treated it as a “dessert” after dinner.

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Weekend in Malaga + Ronda Spain

 

So for those of you who know us, know that Toby and I both have Birthdays in Winter. Toby’s is in January and mine is in February. So we usually like to do a joint trip for our birthdays. This particular trip we decided on Malaga in Spain; because… well… there’s sun. And let’s be honest, there’s not much of that in Ireland, especially in the winter. It’s a really neat town on the southern coast. People usually go there to sunbathe, but I have to say… I really enjoyed going there for the food.

La Alcazaba

The Alcazaba is a fortress up on a hill in the town which was built in the 11th Century. This building dates back to the Muslim period of Spanish history. Alcazaba actually means “Citadel” in arabic. It was restored several times in its day and my guess is that it looked a lot different than it does today. Nevertheless, it was a really pretty area to walk around.

 

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Roman Theatre

Right near the entrance to the Alcazaba is an old Roman theatre dating back to 1AD. It is also THE oldest monument in the city. It was still being excavated while we were there, so there wasn’t a whole lot to see, but a neat site nonetheless as you enter the Alcazaba.

Carnival

Because it was nearing Easter time, some sort of Carnival type festival seemed to be going on while we were there. The city was decorated really nicely…

But also there were large groups of people who got together and dressed up to sing songs. Now, I don’t speak Spanish, so I have no idea what they are saying but linked to a couple of the clips below. There was a group of these around every corner and the whole town came out to see each different group perform. It seemed to also be a competition for who was dressed best and had the best performance.

Day Trip to Ronda

One of the days we were there we decided to take a day trip out to Ronda. We decided to drive there from Malaga, which was about an hour and a half drive. We mainly went there to see a really famous bridge and have lunch.

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Other than look at the view and have some lunch, there wasn’t much to do while we were there. Part of that could’ve been because it was still February, and I’d say this spot is a lot more full of people over the summer. Still worth the neat photos though.

 

All in all it was a great trip, and a nice weekend to eat some yummy food… drink some wine… and catch some rays.

I’m Back!!

Hey everyone, I know. I’ve said it before and I’m going to admit this again. I SUCK at updating this. But I’ve decided that updating this is something I really want to continue doing. If nothing else because it’s fun for me go back and see where we’ve travelled. I don’t know if anyone is still reading this or not, but I’m going to update it anyway. For those of you close to us, you probably know that we recently had a baby a few months ago. So that, of course, has been keeping us busy, but we’re not letting that keep us from travelling!

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So, here are some of our trips that have happened since my last update that you can look forward to seeing here soon…

  1. Malaga, Spain
  2. Istanbul, Turkey
  3. Antalya, Turkey
  4. Sailing in Greece
  5. Colchagua Valley, Chile
  6. Patagonia Chile/Argentina
  7. Buenos Aires, Argentina
  8. Dragon Boat Racing in Venice, Italy
  9. Sailing in Belize
  10. Rovinj, Croatia
  11. Paris, France
  12. Vienna, Austria
  13. Budapest, Hungary
  14. Cian’s Inaugural Trip to America

If you want to see what we’ve been up to in the meantime, remember, you can always view our Instagram account at @halfpint4ku.

Hey there Hvar

After Split, we took a ferry over to Hvar to check out the city and spend some more time soaking up the sun. When we went to get on the Ferry, we saw a huge yacht which it turns out is owned by the guy who owns Kingfisher Airlines.

10356690_10102165886992069_7054448952100760318_n 10502482_10102165887012029_305474718786478071_nThe first day there, we went and just walked around the town to get our bearings.

That night we went out to dinner in the main square. The world cup was going on at the same time so there were TV’s set up outside so we could keep an eye on the scores while having dinner. A thunderstorm also rolled in, and it was the first time in AGES I had seen lightening…

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Outdoor seating area of the restaurant where everyone was watching the world cup matches

Outdoor seating area of the restaurant where everyone was watching the world cup matches

Renting a boat

While we were there, per the recommendation of the people we were renting the apartment from, we decided to spent the day renting a little boat. There’s an archipelago nearby, so you can see the islands. It was AMAZING, and I wish we could have done this everyday we were there.

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Hvar Fortress

This fortress as it stands now, was rebuilt in the 1500’s after the originally one burned down after a gunpowder explosion. It’s a great place to get a view of the city, but we ended up driving because it’s quite the hike up there.

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Overall, Hvar was a really cool place to visit. In fact, croatia as a whole was a really cool place to spend some time relaxing, and do outdoor activities. Would definitely go back again.

 

Splitting off to Split

So last summer, we headed off to Croatia for our summer vacation. We ended up flying into Pula, just because it was cheapest airport to fly into, and then rented a car and drove TWO HOURS down to Split. But, our flight arrived in late, so we stopped the night in Lovran before heading out the next morning.

Lovran, Croatia

We stopped into Lovran and satyed at Villa Nada. It was a great place to cheaply stay for the evening and even came with free breakfast the next morning. I’m not going to lie, we couldn’t discount the great view we had that morning for breakfast before driving onto Split.

View from Villa Nada in Lovran, Croatia

View from Villa Nada in Lovran, Croatia

Split, Croatia

Eventually, we wound up in Split. It’s’ the 2nd largest city in Croatia, and also one of the oldest. The palace (Diocletian’s Palace) was originally built in the 4th century. It was a super cool city to just walk around and get lost.

Diocletian’s Palace

Diocletian’s palace, as I said, was bulit in 4th century AD. Today, it forms the city centre of Split. Although it was called a palace, it was originally built to be place for the Diocletian. However, it kind of “walled in” the city and looked more like a fortress. It was originally built by the Romans, but then abandoned when they left Croatia. A few centuries later, all of the residents of the town fled and hid in the palace when the Slav’s tried to attack the city. At that point, people built their homes and businesses straight into the wall of the fortress. Eventually, parts of the palace fell into ruins, but parts of it still stand. And, for those who enjoy Game of Thrones, part of season 4 and 5 were filmed here.

Also, in the evening, we happened to go by part of the square where there is actually a restaurant. They had a guitarist playing music and people would take turns getting up and dancing in the square. It was a great place to sit and grab a drink

Also, in the basement of the palace, the arch ways have been used to create a marketplace for people selling art and other cool souvenirs.

TRg Brace Radic (Fruit’s Square)

Not far from Diocletian’s palace was the fruit square. It was a big fruit market, and now they sell everything from sunglasses, to food, to flower, to clothes, etc.

Bačvice

In Split, there wasn’t much in the way of beaches, especially sand beaches in Split; however, there was Bačvice. It was a serviced sand beach with a small restaurant. The waiters would come to your bed (which you did have to pay to use for the day), and would serve you just as if you were at a restaurant. The water was nice and clean, and it was a great place to sit and get a bit of a tan and some vitamin-D.

To be honest, we spent quite a bit of time on the beach. When you never see the sun in Ireland, you try to soak up the sun as much as possible. The rest of the time we spent getting lost in the city, eating and drinking. The seafront was a nice place to grab food, but the restaurants were pricier (given the view). But we didn’t have a bad meal the entire time we were there. Croatia is really cool because it’s a LOT like Italy. The only way you’d know you weren’t in Italy was based on the fact that they spend a different currency and the menu was in a different language.

So, to end the post, I leave you with a little slideshow of the rest of our photos from Split!

Amsterdam & Lindsay’s Birthday

 

So April of last year, my best bud here, LIndsay, and I decided to go to Amsterdam over her birthday. I was super excited, because this was my first girls weekend trip away!

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Day 1

We were only there from Friday – Monday, but it was SUCH a great trip. The first day/night we were there, we just walked around the city to get our bearings . We had a few hours before we could check into our apartment we were staying in,  so we roamed around to see what there was to see.

Toos & Roos

We stopped first to grab some lunch at this cute little place called Toos & Roos. It was quite packed, so we figured it must be good (but was a bit worried about getting a table); however, we were able to snatch up the last one!  We ordered the Thai Lentil Soup and the smoked chicken sandwich with guacamole, bacon and lettuce. We went to order tap water as well, but were told they do not have tap water. We weren’t thirsty, so we just didn’t order any drinks. Personally, I’m not sure how you don’t provide tap water to your patrons, but maybe that’s just me. But the food totally made up for that! The servings were massive and the food was FANTASTIC! Plus there was free WIFI, so that’s always a plus.

The canals of Amsterdam

The canals of Amsterdam

Street performers from while we were walking around…

10445970_10102165878344399_3373344616787387966_nbut before going on our dinner cruise, we stopped at a restaurant called Joselito because we had about an hour to kill before boarding the boat. They had a cat LIVING in the restaurant. And I was so happy when he came up to say hi. I made friends with him pretty quickly 🙂 .

 

 

 Dinner Cruise

After our drink, we headed on over to board our boat for our pizza dinner cruise. We decided to do this first night so that we could get a good layout of the city, and see places we may want to come back to. The cruise was nice, and we got some cool views of the city. The only downside is that the pizza that they served on the boat was like a pizza hut personal pizza. But we got unlimited wine, so that made up for it! Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos worth posting (they were mostly through the windows on the boat. BUT I included a slideshow of some of the ones that turned out okay.

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Day 2

Bagels and Beans

We tried to go see the Van Gogh museum, but unfortunately all the tickets were sold out for  a couple days. So, we purchased our tickets for a few days later, and went and had breakfast/lunch at one of my FAV places in Amsterdam, Bagels and Beans. It’s a cafe chain in Holland that serves bagel sandwiches and coffee. And their food is SOOOO good.

Albert Cuypmarkt (De Pijp)

Because we were at the Bagels and Beans in De Pijp,  we decided to check out the Albert Cuypmarkt (and no, I cannot pronounce it). It’s  street market that goes for blocks and blocks. You can buy everything there from vegetables, beef, chicken, freshly caught fish, to clothing, electronics, nail polish, etc. Whatever you’re looking for, you can find here!

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So after roaming up and down, we decided that we needed a little break, so we got some freshly made stroopwafels, which is essentially heaven on earth. It’s two cinnamon flavoured wafers with caramel syrup melted in between. Then we took them to Sarphatipark and just relaxed!

Before going home and cooking dinner, we did just a little bit more roaming and stopped for a drink along the canal.

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Day 3

Renting Bicycles

If you go to Amsterdam, you HAVE to rent bicycles! We rented ours through MacBike because you could book online. Normally I’m really hesitant about cycling in large cities, but here EVERYONE cycles. This is how parents take their kids to school…

pr6s_amsterdam_bicycle_manyAnd this is the bike parking at the central station (I have no clue how anyone finds their bikes)…

Amsterdam 329Also, bicycles have the right of way over cars (and pedestrians) in this city. Which did make me feel more safe riding a bicycle. But, a note of warning…. do NOT stand in bicycle lane here. You WILL be run over!

Westerpark

After getting our bikes, we stopped a shop and got some food and drinks for a picnic, and cycled over to the park. While we were there, we also decided to get a little more exercise in and just cycle around the park itself.

It was a perfect way to spend the afternoon. Afterwards, we just cycled around the city some more, seeing a bit more of Amserdam

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De Italiaan

That evening, we decided to go out for one last dinner. We didn’t venture far from our apartment because we were STARVING. They brought out oil and bread (YAY!), and we ordered some wine and pasta with scallops and prawns. It was actually fantastic and the servings were massive. Although I could’ve done with eating like half of the dish, I totally ate the entire thing.

Day 4

Van Gogh Museum

Our flight didn’t leave till the afternoon that day, so we got up to enter the museum as soon as it opened. The line to enter was INSANE. Outside of the building, they have really nice shallow water pond feature.

2014-04-19 11.54.38The museum was interesting and informative. They did a good job of explaining how the paintings look different now than the way the did back then because the paint is aging and breaking down. It also did a good job of telling the life story of Van Gogh. At the museum, they had a little cafe you could sit in and eat, but we didn’t stay for that because we had to head back to the airport. The gift shop was really nice as well, and I’m still kicking myself for not getting something that had the cherry blossom painting on it. I really recommend checking this place out if you have the chance, although get your tickets early!

Reflections

I love this city, and it was my third time there so we didn’t do TOO much touristy stuff. It was a great girls weekend trip away for Lindsay’s birthday. There’s so many great restaurants and bars there. And if nothing else, it’s great just walking around the canals!

 

 

 

 

 

Paddy’s Day in Northern Ireland

So, I’ll admit, had I gotten off my butt sooner, I could’ve planned the timing of this post better, BUT in March of last year after our trip to Toledo, Toby’s sister Tiffany came to visit us on her way to see some friends in Germany. Although St. Patrick’s Day is widely celebrated in the states, to be honest, Irish people don’t really celebrate it here. Maybe parents go out with their kids, and people may go grab a pint, but it’s mostly just an extra day off work and a religious holiday here. Most of the people you’ll see celebrating out in the streets downtown on St. Patrick’s day are ALL foreigners. The only locals you’ll see down there are people working. So, we decided to do something a little different, and we drove up to Northern Ireland to see the Giant’s Causeway.

We stayed in an apartment up in Bushmill’s (yes the same small town where they make Bushmill’s Whiskey). It was a great spot for us to venture out from, although the town was small, it was very walkable, and it was only a 3 hour drive from Dublin, so not too bad for a weekend trip up there. Here’s what we saw along the way…

Dunluce Castle

Although now it’s just ruins, this was a castle built right out on the edge of basalt cliffs. Now you can access it from the mainland because they built a bridge, but it wasn’t always that way. It was first built in the 13th Century, and at one point, part of the kitchen next to the cliff face collapsed into the sea, after which the wife of the owner refused to live in the castle any longer. According to a legend, when the kitchen fell into the sea only a kitchen boy survived, as he was sitting in the corner of the kitchen which did not collapse.

Some other fun random trivia… Dunluce Castle is thought to be the inspiration for Cair Paravel in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. In 1973 the castle appeared on the inner gatefold of the multi-million selling Led Zeppelin album Houses of the Holy. The castle also appeared as Snakehead’s hideout under the name ‘Ravens Keep’ in the 2003 movie, The Medallion, which starred Jackie Chan. But now for the fun part… the photos!

Toby then thought, oh hey… Nikki and I need a photo. It made me nervous being up in the window with the castle on the edge there, so Toby promised he’d help me down… he just didn’t say how…

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Anyway, remember that bridge I mentioned? You could also climb down and look underneath. So climbing we went.

The Dark Hedges

On our way back, I REALLY wanted to go see the road called “The Dark Hedges”. When you see the photos, you’ll see why. For anyone who watches Game of Thrones (and if you don’t watch it, you should!) This is the road from when Arya Stark rides away with the group of men joining the Knight’s Watch while posing as a boy.

Game of Thrones scene at the Dark Hedges

Game of Thrones scene at the Dark Hedges

Toby and I standing in the middle of the road

Toby and I standing in the middle of the road

Another view

Another view

Bushmills Distillery

We decided that of course, one of the days, we had to go to Bushmills Distillery. The tour was pretty cool, and it was neat getting tour an ACTUAL working distillery. You could smell the barley in the air, it was great! They also had Irish Dancing in the food hall the day we were there, so we stayed for some food and to watch them dance while we ate.

Carrick-A-Reede Rope Bridge

This bridge was originally built to connect the mainland with the island Carrickarede. It is thought salmon fishermen have been building bridges to the island for over 350 years. It has taken many forms over the years. In the 1970s it had only one handrail and large gaps between the slats. A new bridge, tested up to ten tonnes, was built with the help of local climbers and abseilers in 2000. Another was built in 2004 and offered visitors and fishermen alike a much safer passage to the island. However, fishermen no longer use this area for Salmon fishing.

I created a little slideshow of Tiffany and I crossing the bridge so you could see how narrow it was.

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Then once we crossed the bridge onto the island…

Giant’s Causeway

Last but not least… The Giant’s Causeway! This is an area of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, the result of an ancient volcanic eruption. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

According to legend, the columns are the remains of a causeway built by a giant. The story goes that the Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn MacCool), from the Fenian Cycle of Gaelic mythology, was challenged to a fight by the Scottish giant Benandonner. Fionn accepted the challenge and built the causeway across the North Channel so that the two giants could meet. In one version of the story, Fionn defeats Benandonner.In another, Fionn hides from Benandonner when he realises that his foe is much bigger than he. Fionn’s wife, Oonagh, disguises Fionn as a baby and tucks him in a cradle. When Benandonner sees the size of the ‘baby’, he reckons that its father, Fionn, must be a giant among giants. He flees back to Scotland in fright, destroying the causeway behind him so that Fionn could not follow. Across the sea, there are identical basalt columns (a part of the same ancient lava flow) at Fingal’s Cave on the Scottish isle of Staffa, and it is possible that the story was influenced by this.

Now, disclaimer for my photos here, it was SOOO cold, and rainy and windy by the time we made it there.

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It wouldn't be Toby if he wasn't climbing SOMETHING!

It wouldn’t be Toby if he wasn’t climbing SOMETHING!

Tiffany standing out near the waves

Tiffany standing out near the waves

Toby pretending to steal part of the Causeway

Toby pretending to steal part of the Causeway

When it’s not cold and rainy, this is what it looks like. Although, it was so hard to capture this place in photos, these two photos do a really great job of showing you what it looks like in person.

St. Patrick’s Day

We arrived back in Dublin on St. Paddy’s, which was a Monday that year and briefly went into town. I’ll leave you there with a few photos. Hope you all had a great St. Patrick’s Day!

Toledo, Spain

So, I know… I’m HORRIBLE at updating this thing. So, we’re going to play a bit of catch up again. After Kaitlyn came to visit us in autumn of 2013 (yes… I’m that far behind) we went for a short visit home, and actually spent Christmas in the Ring of Kerry again. However, since I already have a post about that, I’m not going to write about it again.

As many people who know us know that Toby is a tax accountant, so the beginning of the year is his busiest time. Unfortunately, his birthday is also at the beginning of the year. So, as a little quick birthday trip before he got too busy, we decided to go to Toledo, Spain.

Toledo

This city is a really small medieval city located about a 43 miles outside of Madrid. It’s also a UNESCO world heritage site. This city is known as the Imperial City, and is one of the few places were Christianity, Muslim and Jewish culture all co-existed at the same time, in the same city, and without conflict. You could see the influences of this everywhere.

The entry door from the train platform into the train station

The entry door from the train platform into the train station

There were also amazing tapas restaurants EVERYWHERE.

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CURED MEATS! My fav!

CURED MEATS! My fav!

Tapas and wine! This entire plate including the wine cost me 4.90 euros (roughly $5.20 as of the day I wrote this post)

Tapas and wine! This entire plate including the wine cost me 4.90 euros (roughly $5.20 as of the day I wrote this post)

The other nice thing about this city, is that it’s SO walkable! You can walk from side to side in 30 minutes. And to be honest, you can see the entire city in about 3 days.

Doors

They had some amazingly cool, old doors there. As I said, the whole city is medieval (this town has actually been around since at least 59 BC.

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But anyway, onto the sites!

Cathedral of Toledo

The cathedral of Toledo is one of 3 which were built in the 13th Century. It is MASSIVE! It was really neat to see how various parts of the history seem to have influenced the design of the Cathedral. Warning, lots of photos below, but you’ll get a really good idea of just how different all the various parts of the Cathedral were.

Entrance to the cathedral

Entrance to the cathedral

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As the light shone in from the stained glass, it left a neat design on the walls

As the light shone in from the stained glass, it left a neat design on the walls

Wood carvings on the choir stalls

Wood carvings on the choir stalls

Choir Stalls

Choir Stalls

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This was designed in the ceiling to represent the path up to heaven from the darkness

This was designed in the ceiling to represent the path up to heaven from the darkness

Amazing Ceiling in the chapter room

Amazing Ceiling in the chapter room

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part of an old alter - ALL MADE OF GOLD

part of an old alter – ALL MADE OF GOLD

Crowns of former royalty stored in the treasury of the cathedral

Crowns of former royalty stored in the treasury of the cathedral

More different ceilings

More different ceilings

Walking around the cloister

Walking around the cloister

Even more different ceilings

Even more different ceilings

Bridge of San Martin

One of the days that we were there, we went out to the bridge of San Martin around sunset time and captured some AMAZING photos.

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There’s not a whole lot of history with this bridge other than that it was built in the 14th century. Plus it looks really cool 🙂

Museo De Santa Cruz

This building, which is now a museum, was originally a hospital. It has now been turned into a gallery for old artifacts, art, and rotating exhibits.

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courtyard of the building

courtyard of the building

one of the artifacts - remains of a floor from ancient roman times

one of the artifacts – remains of a floor from ancient roman times

staircase was made entirely of marble

staircase was made entirely of marble

Overall, the museum was quite small but had some neat artifacts inside. Plus, it was across the street from a great tapas restaurant

El Transito Synagogue and Sephardic Museum

This synagogue was founded in 1356 by Samuel Halevi. After the expulsion of the city’s Jews under the Alhambra decree in 1492, it was converted into a church. It now forms part of the Sephardi Museum, exploring the Jewish culture of Mediaeval Toledo. This Synagogue was the private family synagogue of the King’s wealthy treasurer, Don Samuel HaLevi Abulafia. When he built it around year 1400, he defied all the laws about synagogues being smaller and lower than churches, and plain of decoration. The synagogue was also used as military headquarters during the Napoleonic Wars. In 1877 the building became a national monument. The transformation of the building into the Sephardi Museum, as it is now officially called, started around 1910.

Touring this museum, I really wish there had been more information in English. Like what happened to the building, or the jews, or after it was turned into a church, etc. They did have the information in Spanish, but unfortunately I do not speak Spanish. It was still a neat building to see nonetheless.

Intricate carvings above the door

Intricate carvings above the door

Main entry room

Main entry room

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remains of part of the original wall border carved into marble

remains of part of the original wall border carved into marble

Iglesia de San Ildfonso

So this is another one of the many many churches in Toledo, but this one has an AMAZING view at the top that makes it a must visit spot.

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I mean, the church DID have an inside too 🙂 – with relics (which I still don’t get the whole relics thing. Storing people’s bones for public display kind of freaks me out).

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Shopping Warning

One thing that Toledo is known for is leather. There are leather shops EVERYWHERE. Toby and I did buy a really cool leather bag which we use ALL the time now when we travel for like 70 euros. However, be sure to ask what type of leather the item you’re buying is. I bought a cute leather purse, but found out after I got home that it was camel leather. And as a heads up, camel leather STINKS and there is NOTHING you can do to get rid of the smell. At first I thought it just smelled bad because it was in a big bag of other freshly made leather items. Nope, that is NOT the case. So just keep a heads up.

 

However – overall this is a great little town for a weekend trip. There’s some great history and sights, and the food and wine is super cheap! Most of the sights are churches, there were few museums here. So we would go see a sight in the morning, then walk around town, watch the locals and get some food. It’s a great city for just roaming and immersing yourself with everyone else who’s there.

 

RIP Granny

Hey everyone – I know I haven’t posted in a while. If you know us personally, you’ll know that my Grandmother actually just passed away at the end of last month so I actually travelled home for the funeral. I just wanted to take a minute to pay tribute to my amazing grandmother, because I’ll miss her a lot. Since I was updating everyone our past visits, the next post will be about my visit back in both October and a few weeks ago. Then we’ll get back on track with our other travels! 🙂

Betty Marie
1930-2015

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My grandmother and I at my wedding in 2011

 

My grandmother was an amazing woman who was loved by many people. She always had a smile on her face, and always made others feel welcome. In fact, no matter what we did, even when she caught me staying up late watching TV in the middle room when we would spend the night, she would still have a smile on her face and was always kind. She never forgot to send me a card or call on my birthday. And even living far away in Ireland, she still always made it a point to video call me every so often while she was still able to do so.

I wish I knew what Grandma would say to comfort us if she was here right now; or what she would think if she was watching. I know she would appreciate all of the beautiful music, the flower arrangements, and seeing everyone dressed in their best – because she loved those things all the time.

She did always love looking her best, and I was especially reminded of this when looking back at old photos the other day. Not only did she love looking her best, she always loved when everyone else looked their best. It started off as kids with matching clothes for my cousin Danielle and I – and I know this happened with all of us grandkids. Although we were about 2 weeks apart, in her eyes we were pretty much twins and always needed to be identically dressed. Like seriously, we got matching clothes until we were nearly 16 years old.

My Grandmother with her parents and my mother

My Grandmother with her parents and my mother

But it wasn’t just getting us things she thought we would enjoy or look good in it. She LOVED capturing how amazing we all looked in our latest fashions. No matter how often we came to visit, or how old we were, every single visit always ended in a prom style photo shoot. She would take every combination of photos she thought possible before we were allowed to leave. And she loved sharing those photos everyone. If you’ve ever been inside her house, all of the cupboards are covered in photos of her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. It was her favourite thing in the world to show us off.  But who could blame her, I mean come on… we’re a pretty good looking bunch of kids and grandkids, right?

All of us grandkids

But it’s not just us all dressed our best that she would’ve loved. She would have appreciated the music too. The way she adored music was enjoyed by and inspired many, especially myself. Because of her I learned the piano, I learned to sing, I learn to appreciate the beauty that was music. The way it could allow you express emotion when you were dealing with a tough time. Almost every memory I have of my grandmother involves music of some sort. Childhood? We were getting a bushel and a peck. Christmas? Get ready for the silver bells. Church time? How great thou art.

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I thought to myself over the past few days, I never saw grandma express an emotion other than excitement and happiness when I was around her. Although maybe I did and didn’t realise it. Maybe the music was how she expressed it. Whether or not that was the case, we can all agree that she expressed all music beautifully all the time. And because of her, I will always turn to music to cope with difficult times.

It’s hard to put into a few words how Grandma helped me – and so many other people – become who we are today. Watching her continue to raise her adult children, care for her grandkids, great-grandkids and even grandpa, taught me that you don’t have to be a movie star or fly to the moon to be a success.

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I also want to take a minute to say that if you’re ever looking for a charity to donate to, I really hope you donate to a charity supporting Alzheimer’s. My grandfather suffered from Alzheimer’s, and my grandmother from dementia as the result of a few strokes. Despite what some people think, dementia and Alzheimer’s is NOT part of the normal ageing process, and more research needs to be done to find causes and treatments for Alzheimer’s and dementia. I urge you to look into the following two groups if you get a chance.

 

 

New Years in Edinburgh

Happy 2015 everyone! Hope you’re all settling back into regular life again like we are. We spent new years in Edinburgh from December 30th – January 2nd.  In Scotland, they celebrate Hogmanay at New Years. It’s supposed to be one of the top five places in the world to spend New Years, so we thought …. why not?! Warning, this post is really picture heavy! Also, this post is just really long.

The first day we just kind of walked around the city. lies at the base of an extinct volcano. So there are lots of hills, and near the centre of the town is a steep valley where the Princes’ Street Gardens and the Ross Open Air Theatre are. Also, because this city is SO old, there are so many cool pedestrian alleyways (although they call them “closes”) throughout the city. It’s like edinburgh could be it’s own game of shoots and ladders the way they allow you to short cut through the city. However, at this time of the year, the gardens are turned into the Christmas Markets.

Prince’s Street Gardens in Spring

Christmas Markets

The christmas Markets here weren’t as good as they were in Prague, but still WAY better than the ones in Dublin.

Princes’ Street Gardens at Christmas – not our photo

One of the many rows of stalls

One of the many rows of stalls

View of the gardens from up above during the day

View of the gardens from up above during the day

Torch Light Procession

The night we arrived, they also had the torch light procession which we had purchased tickets to carry torches in. It’s sort of a kick off to the 3-day party that is Hogmanay. Anyone can walk in the parade, but you have to pay to carry a torch. It’s essentially a march of about 35,000 people carrying torches along with the Up Helly Aa’ Vikings, massed pipes & drums. It starts on George IV Bridge up to Calton Hill. At the end of the procession is a huge fireworks display. I couldn’t really find the history behind the torch light procession, other than the fact that Scottish villages have had fire festivals associated with new years since nearly the viking days.

Vikings leading the torchlight procession - Not our photo

Vikings leading the torchlight procession – Not our photo

Vikings leading the torchlight procession - Not our photo

Vikings leading the torchlight procession – Not our photo

Vikings leading the torchlight procession - Not our photo

Vikings leading the torchlight procession – Not our photo

Vikings leading the torchlight procession - Not our photo

Vikings leading the torchlight procession – Not our photo

Waiting with our wax torches for the fire to be passed back to everyone. Which took FOREVER

Waiting with our wax torches for the fire to be passed back to everyone. Which took FOREVER

Lighting our torches before passing the flame back ourselves

Lighting our torches before passing the flame back ourselves

The sea of people.... all... holding fire...

The sea of people…. all… holding fire…

A word of advice for anyone who goes in the future – get there way early if you want to get in the front. You’re guaranteed to see the viking guys, you can walk behind them, and you get a front row seat to the fireworks.

Afterwards we decided to warm up with some hot mulled wine at the christmas market, and had some fun hat shopping… 😀

New Years in Edinburgh New Years in Edinburgh

Arthur’s Seat/Holyrood Park

The morning of New Years Eve we decided to go climb Arthur’s Seat. It’s at the top of Holyrood Park on top of the old volcano about a mile from Edinburgh Castle. There’s many different rumours and myths around Arthur’s Seat. Arthur’s Seat is often mentioned as one of the possible locations for Camelot, the legendary castle and court of the Romano-British warrior-chief, King Arthur.

Standing at the base of the climb. See all those little people.... yeah, that was us shortly later.

Standing at the base of the climb. See all those little people…. yeah, that was us shortly later.

The climb quickly became difficult... these rocks weren't super easy to climb

The climb quickly became difficult… these rocks weren’t super easy to climb

Made it to the top

Made it to the top

It was a little windy at the top

It was a little windy at the top

enough so that you could easily lean this far forward without falling over....

enough so that you could easily lean this far forward without falling over….

But the view was worth it

But the view was worth it

IMG_0773New Years Eve

After our insane hike, we decided to rest for a little bit at the apartment before heading out for New Years. We ate dinner at a restaurant that specialises in wild game and scotch. I took advantage of my fun photo opportunity before we left when no one was looking…

013e6526e6acfd21147cc09d41c23fc1ee628e17aeWe finished dinner at about 9:00, and for a moment we considered going home before heading to the New Years Eve street party. We decided against and went down, and I’m glad we did, because it was PACKED! There ended up being 75,000 people in total at the street party with 4 different stages.

They allow you to bring your own alcohol and food into the event, so long as you do not bring them in using glass containers (i.e. bottles). On one hand, that’s awesome because the crowds are so insane that you couldn’t even get to the bars set up at the street party and back if you wanted to. You pretty much just had to pick your spot and set up camp. But on the other hand, you sort of didn’t want to even consume alcohol because the moment you had to pee, you were pretty much out of luck. Getting to the bathrooms and back was a joke. Needless to say, Toby was less than pleased when I finally broke down at 11:15 pm and said I had to use the bathroom. We pushed our way like mad men through the crowds and got back with 10 minutes to spare before the midnight fireworks.

The size of the crowd when we arrived at around 9:30

The size of the crowd when we arrived at around 9:30

If you look really closely, you'll someone is CROWD SURFING their child in a stroller above the crowds. Who brings a kid to these things?!

If you look really closely, you’ll someone is CROWD SURFING their child in a stroller above the crowds. Who brings a kid to these things?!

Because the crowds were so packed, and you had to pretty much set up camp and not move, you sort of instantly became best friends with whoever was standing around next to you. We just happened to be standing next to a girl who was our age from Lafayette, Indiana who was there visiting some friends she had in Edinburgh. So we all became best friends. You can see us in the photo below. And yes, I’m sober in that picture (because I was too afraid to have to have to pee I wasn’t drinking anything). For anyone who knows my mom will recognise the dance move I’m in the middle of performing… ha ha.

Me with our group of new friends we made in the crowd

Me with our group of new friends we made in the crowd

The place we set up camp was right infront of a DJ named “Hot Dub Time Machine” who played the top hits from 1980 to 2014 until the fireworks went off. By the way… the fireworks… amazing! They did an hourly fireworks countdown to midnight at 9pm, 10pm, and 11pm. Then at midnight they did the big shabang! I’m not going to post the finale, because it’s over 5 minutes long, but here’s what the hourly countdown looked like…

 

New Years Day

We didn’t do a whole lot New Years Day since a lot of things were closed. But we did meet up with a friend of ours who used to study there and happened to be in town. We snapped some photos along the way for your viewing pleasure.

All of us out

All of us out

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Jan 2nd

The day after, January 2nd, was the day we left, but our flight wasn’t until 8pm. So exploring we went! We checked our bags into the luggage lockers at the bus station and went exploring around town for a bit. Although it was raining on and off, so we combined it with popping into pubs for some grub and drinks while it rained.

Calton Hill

This is one of the many other hills in the city that provides AWESOME views. It’s only an 8 minute walk from Princes’ street as well. It’s also where the headquarters of the Scottish Government are.

New Years in Edinburgh New Years in Edinburgh

 

Greyfriar’s Kirkyard

This is the graveyard surrounding Greyfriars Kirk Church. Why did we go to a graveyard you ask? Well, you all know I’m a HUGE Harry Potter fan, and Voldemort (Tom Riddle’s) grave is there! Apparently J.K. Rowling wrote the series while in Edinburgh and got inspiration for names from the graveyards.

Greyfriars takes its name from the Franciscan friary on the site, which was dissolved in 1559. The churchyard was founded in 1561/2, to replace the churchyard at St Giles, which was considered full.

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Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle is a historic fortress which dominates the skyline of the city of Edinburgh, Scotland from its position on the Castle Rock. Archaeologists have established human occupation of the rock since at least the Iron Age (2nd century AD), although the nature of the early settlement is unclear. There has been a royal castle on the rock since at least the reign of David I in the 12th century, and the site continued to be a royal residence until the Union of the Crowns in 1603. We didn’t pay to go inside, but we went to look around the grounds and to get a last great view of the city.

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All in all, Edinburgh is a truly amazing city. I honestly wish I didn’t have to leave. We will DEFINITELY be back!

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Our view of the city from the Whiski Room while whiskey tasting