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Suddreth Vacation – Belfast/Northern Ireland

Perhaps my favorite part of the entire vacation was our spontaneous trip to Belfast and Northern Ireland. I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I’m Catholic; there’s a lot of tensions between Catholics and Protestants in Belfast. But, we decided to go anyway to meet my Mom’s friend for dinner. We had dinner at a place in St. Anne’s Square and really had a great time laughing and joking with them.

Before dinner, we met the lady we would be staying with, a charming, quintessentially Irish woman named Mary McNaulty. She was lovely. We got to her place mid-morning and decided that we’d go up to County Antrim to see the Giant’s Causeway.

As we were headed out of Belfast we had a choice of taking the regular highway up there or we could take a more scenic route and use the Coastal Highway. Naturally, we chose the coastal highway and man, am i glad we did. Northern Ireland is freaking beautiful. It is green and lush and full of heather and flowers. There are also sheep EVERYWHERE!

  
 We stopped in a little borough to stretch our legs and take in the beautiful view of the ocean and came across an old church and cemetary.  

 There were also some binoculars you could use to look across the ocean and a sign explaining what you would see: Scotland! On a clear day, which we had, you can actually see clear across the ocean and see Scotland. If we would have had more time, we would have jumped on a ferry and gone!

 
We continued up the coastal highway and just came across breathtaking view after breathtaking view all the way to Giant’s Causeway. Let me tell you something, the pictures that you Google of it don’t even come close to doing it justice. It is remarkable. It’s a pretty good hike, about a mile downhill, but there are buses that will take you down and back up if you can’t make the hike. Once down there you can climb all over the hexagonal rocks and, if you’re really brave, can walk pretty much into the North Atlantic ocean.  

 
After exploring as much as we could, we hiked back up the hill and headed for Bushmills, which is only a few miles from there. When you’re that close to the source, you can’t really not go.

 
We headed back to Belfast for dinner and took the main highway, but before that we made one final stop in a cute little town that had a marina with a beach. We had been nominated for the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge while we were gone and, not wanting to be left out of the reindeer games, decided that the best way to complete the challenge would be to get in the North Atlantic ocean. Pro-tip: Don’t. It’s freezing!!!!!

The next morning we decided to explore a little bit of Belfast before heading back to Dublin. We drove past the Peace Walls on Shankill and Falls and I couldn’t help but think and realize that on either side of the wall one of us wasn’t truly welcome. It was a surreal moment. We sat at the end of a Catholic neighborhood inside the wall and just stared. It’s a monstorous wall. And it is literally in someone’s backyard. The other thing that struck me was the stark contrast in artwork on either side of the wall. On the Protestant side are the murals and where everyone signs their name; on the Catholic side there are murals, but they are of Bobby Sands and say things like “Never Forget.”

  
   While there has been a lot of progress made toward peace, there seems to still be some work to do.

Once we left Belfast, we decided that we wanted to see some more places where Game of Thrones filmed. We saw several as we drove up to Giant’s Causeway and since we really weren’t in a hurry to get back to Dublin, we took our time to explore. We went to Downpatrick and visited Inch Abbey which is where the Battle of the Trident took place. The Abbey is really just ruins now, but they have renderings of what it would have looked like in the 1100s and it’s gorgeous. Across the river you can see St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Downpatrick.

   

 
We also went to Castle Ward, which served as Winterfell. We walked around the loch and climed up to Audley’s Tower and hiked through the grounds.   

After exploring Game of Thrones sites, we started our drive back to Dublin so we could pack and get ready for our flight home. Before we went to Dublin though, we made one last stop in Carlingford at the recommendation of the gentleman at the car rental place. It is a darling village right by the ocean. We ate at a place called the Kingfisher and had some wonderful seafood and a great time overall. 

We continued back to Dublin and spent the rest of our time at the hotel packing and talking about what an amazing adventure we had been on over the last two weeks.

The next morning we made one last stop for a traditional Irish breakfast and then returned the car and headed to the airport for our flight back to America.  

It was an incredible trip and I can’t wait to go back. As much as I missed my family and friends, I really didn’t want to leave. I tried to figure out a way to have Murphy shipped to Ireland but there wasn’t enough time to work out the logistics.  

If you are considering a trip, I hope these posts have been helpful and informative; if you’re not planning a trip, I hope you’ve enjoyed following our adventures!

Suddreth Vacation – Dublin

After a whirlwind final morning in London, which included a tour of Buckingham Palace, we made our way back to Heathrow to catch our flight to Dublin. We were seriously pushing it on our timing but we made it just in the nick of time and got there right before our flight began boarding.

After we got checked into our hotel, the first order of business was finding a SIM card for Brett’s phone so we could make calls and look up maps. We walked through St. Stephen’s Green, and made our way out to Grafton Street. We found a mobile kiosk and got squared away and then headed on our way to find some local grub.

We ended up at The Hairy Lemon which served up an AMAZING beef pie. Whoever said the Irish can’t cook must really hate food, because everything I ate in Ireland was incredible.

We went and explored the Dublin Castle which is really cool. You can just walk right into it and there is a really pretty green space in the center with gardens that you can explore.

The next day we walked around the city, saw St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Christ Church, and the River Liffey. We got caught in an Irish rain storm which went as quickly as it came and finally made our way to the Guinness Storehouse at St. James’ Gate. It’s an awesome experience. You get to walk around the storehouse, see the water that comes in from the Wicklow Mountains, see and smell the hops that are used, and you can even go through the Guinness Academy where they teach you how to pour a proper pint of “the black stuff” and become a certified pint puller. From there you can hang out in the Gravity Bar which offers a 360-degree view of Dublin. On the windows are silhouettes of what you’re looking at; like Phoenix Park where the Dublin Zoo is located.  

We walked through the Temple Bar area later that night, and while I’m glad I got to see what the fuss is all about I am REALLY glad we weren’t staying there. Too noisy, busy, and touristy.

The next day we spent more time walking around the city and just taking in the beauty Dublin offers. We walked to the Jameson Distillery where they explain their triple distilling process and walk you through each step of the process. Pro-tip: if you do the tour and they ask for volunteers, volunteer. They are going to let you do a whisky tasting comparing Jameson to two other whiskys; you’ll get a “diploma” afterward, too. In addition to the tour, your ticket gets you a drink of your choice between two options. I passed on my drink and got Brett an additional whisky.

We ate at some really awesome places while we were in Dublin; I had a great lamb stew at this farm to table place just off Grafton Street. We ate dinner at a place in Temple Bar called Boxty where I ate the best beef stew EVER. Finally, we ate at a place we had seen on Bourdain’s show The Layover called Crackbird where we had some really good chicken.

After three days in Dublin we decided to take a day trip to Belfast. My Mom’s friend just so happened to be in Belfast while we were in Dublin, and since she lives 1,800 miles away when we’re in the States and was only an hour and a half away in Ireland we decided to drive up and meet her and her boyfriend for dinner.

We used Airbnb to find a place to stay in Belfast and ended up staying at the quainest little house with the most Irish lady ever. It was awesome.

Stay tuned for the final portion of our vacation!

Suddreth Vacation – London

For the second part of our vacation we took a short flight over to London (if you missed the first part of our vacation, Paris, you can catch up here).

We arrived at Heathrow in the mid-afternoon and hopped on the Heathrow Express which took us straight into Paddington Station. We grabbed a cab from the taxi queue and headed off to our hotel in South Kensington – The Kensington.

Our hotel was beautiful and was just a quick five minute walk from the tube station. Always full of surprises, the husband really outdid himself in London. When we walked into our room, I was surprised to find out that it wasn’t a room at all, but a suite! And sitting on the windowsill were a bouquet of my favorite flowers, alstromeria. Shortly after our arrival there was a knock on our door and there was a waiter with a tray of chocolate and strawberries and an anniversary card from the hotel.

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After we got settled in to our suite and freshened up, we went out to explore the city. We decided to head towards the Thames and walk around the neighborhoods down there. We admired Westminster Abbey, Parliament, The Queen’s Tower and Big Ben, and the Central Methodist Hall. We even got to see the London Eye, though it was from across the river.

Westminster Abbey.

Westminster Abbey.

As we were walking through the neighborhoods we came across a little pub called Prince Albert’s and popped in for a pint and some chips. It was right after working hours so the place was jumping with locals and it was so neat to watch everyone just enjoying their lives!

Later that night we met up with a friend at the White Stallion for some dinner and drinks and really just had a great time. It was so nice to talk with someone who lives there and could suggest fun touristy things to do that wouldn’t make us look like ultra-tourists.

The next day we went down to Buckingham Palace to watch the changing of the guard. I really didn’t know what to expect but when we arrived there were about ten thousand people there! No joke. The pomp and circumstance is truly remarkable. The guards taking over march down the street and in to the courtyard of the palace while the band plays. The mounted guard walks down the streets around the palace clearing the street of pedestrians. It is really an amazing show of force and tradition.

Two Royal Guards.

Two Royal Guards.

 

Just being near the palace was incredible. It is gorgeous and it just seems so crazy to me that you can just walk down the footpath and boom – there’s a palace. In the middle of the city!

After that we went up to King’s Cross to take a glimpse at Platform 9 and 3/4 (of course). They really have a pretty good setup there. You stand in a queue and two Potter people take your picture as you run into the wall. FOR FREE! There is a souvenir shop if you’re brave enough to enter – it was a mad house when we were there. I opted not to enter. The next time we go back to London though, I definitely want to take a Potter tour!

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We spent the rest of the afternoon on Downing Street and in the Churchill War Room Museum, which is incredible. The artifacts on display are impressive but what was so interesting to me is that you actually get to walk through the actual place where Churchill watched the war progress. The maps he and his team used to track progress are still on the wall and you can even see the pinholes from where they were showing troop movements. There is a section of the ceiling that has been removed so you can see the six inches of concrete that Churchill had poured above the rooms because he found out that they weren’t very secure. If the building had been directly hit the building would have collapsed on them. The concrete was a little bit of a cushion. This museum is one of the best I’ve been to and the interaction you get to participate in really immerses you into the story.

 

The War Room

The War Room

 

 

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That night we went to this wine bar called Gordon’s on the recommendation of our friend. The bar is below street level and is built inside of what looks like a cave. They only serve wine, but you can cheese boards, meats, and breads to go along with your wine. The place is really tiny and filled up quickly, but we were able to procure two spots to sit inside – they have outdoor seating as well. After our leisurely wine and cheese experience we walked to our restaurant, Simpson’s On-The-Strand, to enjoy our actual dinner. This place is incredible. We each order a beef wellington, because London. They had a piano player, and beautiful decor, and the service was outstanding.

We went back to our hotel and enjoyed some champagne and snacks by the fireplace in the lobby area and enjoyed some really fantastic people watching.

Cheers to year one!

Cheers to year one!

 

On the morning of our final day, I was a little frantic. We had packed the night before and everything was ready to go, but we had one more thing to do before we went to the airport. On our first night in London, in a moment of trying to be super helpful, I offered to buy our passes into Buckingham Palace. There are only six weeks out of the entire year that the palace is opened for tourists and we happened to be there during part of those six weeks! I want to go inside a palace! I’m a princess, afterall!!! So I bought the tickets and thought everything was good to go – until I received my email confirmation and realized that I bought tickets for the wrong day! I read the terms and conditions and it stated clearly, no refunds, no exchanges, sorry not sorry. I was crushed. I was trying to be so helpful and the one thing in London that I absolutely wanted to do, I messed up in a big way! After we watched the changing of the guard we actually walked over to ticketing area and explained the situation – I purchased tickets for the wrong day; we were leaving the day the tickets were for and was there anything at all they would be able to do for us. We tried to get in to see the palace that day during the last time slot, but it was full. They absolutely would not refund my money, but what they could do was put us in the very first time slot for the day we were leaving. We accepted their offer and went about the rest of our day, although I was still pretty bummed out because the first time slot of the day was 9:30 and our flight was at noon. I didn’t think there was any possible way we would be able to go through the palace and make our flight.

But, as I’ve said before, my husband is incredibly thoughtful. He is also a problem-solver. So, we took our luggage with us and headed to the palace – and you know what? THEY HAVE A BAG CHECK ON SITE! Which meant that we would be able to leave our bags, explore the palace and still make our flight! Unfortunately, there is a pretty strict no photography rule inside the palace so I can’t show you any pictures, but I promise however beautiful, magnificent, and incredible I say it is, it’s even more than that. I couldn’t stop smiling and was just so blown away by the fact that people live there. LIVE. THERE. It is amazing. If you are thinking about going to London, go when you can get inside the palace because it is sooooo worth it. Plus, you get to view the Queen’s gallery, the carriage and mews, and the gardens.

 

Just hanging outside Queen Elizabeth's house. NBD.

Just hanging outside Queen Elizabeth’s house. NBD.

After we exited the palace grounds we hailed a taxi cab and went back to Paddington Station to take the Heathrow Express back to the airport. Thanks to some very kind people who let us jump to the front of the queue we were able to make our flight on time. When we got to the gate they hadn’t even started boarding so all of the anxiety I had that morning was for nothing!

We boarded our Aer Lingus plane and got ready to continue our journey in Dublin!

 

Dia duit, Éire!

Dia duit, Éire!

Stay tuned for the next bit of our journey….

Viva Vallarta

Last month I was fortunate enough to take an amazing vacation.

Thanks to Brett’s uncle (and his aunt having her birthday to prompt the trip) the whole family was able to go! It was a surprise party for his aunt, and his uncle (and Brett, and his uncle’s assistant) have been planning it for a year! And even though there were several things that almost spoiled the surprise, the whole thing managed to go off without the surprise being ruined!!!!

Mary was very surprised to see her whole family in MEXICO!

That’s right, this surprise party took place in another country! There were 17 of us. And it was such a wonderful time.

I feel so thankful to be included as part of this family. Everyone is so genuinely kind and they truly get along and enjoy each other’s company.

Here are a few shots from the trip.

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                      Our view from the dining room terrace.

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Our day in Sayulita.  My favorite place on Earth.

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Brett and me after surfing.  I’m fierce!

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Brett as a living mannequin in a boutique in downtown Vallarta.

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At the Cheeky Monkey.  Best drinks in town (and SUPER CHEAP)!

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Brett’s sister, mom and cousin.  Three of the nicest women I know.

 

A huge!!! THANK YOU to Dave and Mary for such an amazing trip!

Tales of Travel

I don’t know what it is about airplanes and airports, but people just talk to each other. “where are you headed?” “what line of work are you in?” Etc etc. And what never ceases to amaze me is the ease at which people answer the questions. It seems that we as human beings are pretty open to answering questions (as long as we don’t know the person asking them and there is a good chance we may never meet again).

What also never ceases to amaze me is how weird people are. I mean, really, did you need to wear your weekend sweats with your grossest t-shirt? Oh, you need to wear that really smelly perfume/cologne. I mean did you look at a mirror on your way out? Hello, people! You’re in PUBLIC!

But you know what? It actually makes travel fun. You can pretty much play airport bingo, haha. Lady with crazy hair? check. Guy with annoying cough? check. Screaming kid? Check. You really can insert what you want and you’ll probably find it, if you know where to look.