Northern Ireland

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A rare photo together at the Giant’s Causeway

Our second day in Ireland, we took a day tour from Dublin to Northern Ireland. We booked the trip through Paddy Wagon Tours, and our tour guide was really funny, explaining Irish customs, history, the Irish obsession with the weather, and his experiences crossing the border into Northern Ireland in his youth (big guns and security check points in the old days).

Northern Ireland is incredibly scenic, and one of my favorite spots was the Dark Hedges, a spooky line of trees planted in the 18 century.

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You might also recognize this narrow road of trees as the King’s Road on Game of Thrones.

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From there, we headed on to the Causeway Coast, where we could see views of Scotland (13 miles away) and a small island called Rathlin. We also walked across the famous Carrick-A-rede Rope Bridge, which is just a little bit scary on a windy day.

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Just don’t look down

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Sean, contemplating the ocean…

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Our next stop was the Giant’s Causeway, a natural phenomenon of 40,000 interlocking perfectly shaped hexagonal stone pillars, formed by earthquake and lava flows about 50 million years ago.

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We took about a hundred photos here, but you know what? All the pictures pretty much feature the same hexagonal pillars.

There is also museum on the spot with some interesting information, but the real star of course is the site. If you go here, make sure you wear comfortable and sturdy shoes with non-slip soles as those stones get pretty slick!

Overall, this was a fantastic tour. It was affordable and interesting, and at the end of the day, it conveniently leaves you back in the center of Dublin, right across from a fun cozy old pub called O-Neill’s Bar.

We decided to eat dinner here and chose from a buffet line of traditional Irish food. Sean had the lamb stew with mashed potatoes and I got the roast chicken. The best thing about this pub is that some of the tables have personal beer dispensers at the table!

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If you find yourself strapped for time in Ireland, please make space in your schedule to visit Northern Ireland. There are several tour companies that will drive you to all the best spots. I usually don’t like organized tours, but was worth it. It was beautiful and I’m really glad we did it.

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Dublin!

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Delicious Fried Haddock at Bank on College Green in Dublin, Ireland

“Ireland is where strange tales begin and happy endings are possible” ~ Charles Haughey

I don’t know about the strange ones, but we certainly have many happy tales to report!

We just returned from a 10 day summer trip to Ireland. Sean and I agreed this was one of the best trips we’ve ever taken.

Everything just clicked. The weather was nice. The exchange rate was good. It was easy to get around. Everyone spoke English (Just kidding… I love foreign languages)

But I’m not kidding that some local Irish people couldn’t understand Sean. I had to translate from English to English a few times.

We arrived in Dublin early in the morning and in typical fashion, hit the ground running. We quickly checked into our guesthouse, Donnybrook Hall and dropped off our stuff. I highly recommend this B&B… they let us park our rental car for free and Terry, the proprietor, was the friendliest guy, constantly trying to give us fruit and scones.

After chatting with Terry for a while, we headed to downtown Dublin to the Trinity University district and Temple Bar area. The streets were so colorful with flags, brightly painted doors, and flower boxes.

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Our first order of business this day was visiting the Trinity University Library Long Room. This was a beautiful space filled floor to ceiling with old dusty books, spiral staircases, and rickety wooden ladders. I had seen pictures of this on Pinterest, and let me tell you, it’s breathtaking in person.

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You really needed to see not one but three photographs of books, didn’t you?

After spending some time there, we were dehydrated and exhausted so we headed to the nearby Bank on College Green. This historic restaurant was – you guessed it – a bank at one time. It was even a Viking hangout before that (many many years before). Now it’s a beautiful space with tile floors, stained glass, marble, and antique fixtures. This is where we were initiated to fish and chips and Irish beer. Sean went for a Smithwicks and I sampled my first of many Irish ciders.

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Feeling revived, we walked around the city center some more.

We found the General Post Office, pictured below.

Here I am pointing to the bullet holes in the columns, made by British Police when Irish nationalists took control of the building during the 1916 Easter Uprising. Apparently there is some controversy over whether these are really bullet holes, with at least one side very emotional about it.

I even found a quote online from an Irish tour guide saying they would “leave Ireland!” if those weren’t real bullet holes!

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We also visited St Patricks Cathedral, established in 1192. This immense cathedral also features gorgeous tile floors inside and a wonderful surprise to us (we didn’t know!) – the tomb of Johnathon Swift, famous author of Gulliver’s Travels.

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We continued to walk around the city for a few more hours in a jet-lagged daze, but we did make a few observations.

1. In Ireland, it’s perfectly okay to drink big cans of beer in the park and display all your empty cans around you.

2. In Ireland, you should never ever insult a small boy’s sister. We witnessed the prelude to a street fight … small pale freckly boy to larger boy… “What’d you say about me sistah?”

3. In Ireland, it’s pretty cool for teen boys to drive down the street windows rolled down blasting Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”

That night when we got back to our guesthouse, there was a BIG party going on next door. But it didn’t matter one bit.

We collapsed in bed and slept 10 hours.

Stay tuned for the next post in which I show pictures of our trip to Northern Ireland to see the Giant’s Causeway.

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June Look Back

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Where in the WORLD did June go? 

Last month whizzed by and I don’t even know what I did.

Well, that’s not exactly true… here’s a quick round up of the month.

The beginning of June was spent on a family trip in Panama City Beach, Florida.

The last time I visited here was during spring break in college days, and I totally remembered it differently.

I drove down there with a group of college friends and we crashed with some other people we knew and we all slept on the floor in a motel because we were trying to save money. There was a male dance show review in there (Dakota,the Indian dancer, are you still out there somewhere?) and I remember a very nauseous and chilly deep sea fishing trip.

This time, I was completely in awe of this…

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How did I not remember the warm Gulf of Mexico waters being so GORGEOUS?

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Of course, we also had to take advantage of all this fresh gulf shrimp caught that very morning…

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Soon after returning back to DC from the beach. Sean and I attended a fun food fundraiser event called Dine and Dash.

For a few hours, a whole slew of restaurants in the Penn Quarter district offered unlimited samples of drinks, appetizers, and snacks  to those participating in the event. So, we started our “meal” at one of our favorite DC restaurants, Zaytinya where we had some wine and snacks and then moved on to the next place for our next course.

All in all, we made it to 16 restaurants before it was over, spending exactly 14 minutes at each (Sean figured it all out. He’s obsessed with timers).

Needless to say, I could not eat anything at all by the end. However, this was a great opportunity to try some new places and there are a few that we will definitely be going back to!

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Our other fun trip of the month was a weekend at Beech Mountain, North Carolina, to visit Sean’s twin brother and family. We also wanted to introduce our doggies to each other. They have a white Samoyed named Katya. Isn’t she adorable?

We were hoping it would be Ebony and Ivory all weekend, but Quinny didn’t appreciate Katya’s enthusiasm. (Quinn is intimidated by spunky women) 

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One fun part of the weekend was spending a nice morning hiking at Linville Falls and we saw some great scenery.

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After our Dine and Dash night, we were a little tuckered out with food (if you know what I mean) so we went easy the rest of the month.

We did try a new restaurant with our friends Tom and Rachel though for their anniversary. We checked out Chasin Tails, a Cajun restaurant in Arlington.

I can’t say we were blown away by the food overall, but I did really love the crawfish macaroni and cheese.

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June is over now and we’re off to a new adventure in early July! Stay tuned!


May Look Back

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Steam coming off the sidewalk after a quick rain. The scent of honeysuckle. Fresh strawberries.

These are my impressions of May 2015, another month which FLEW by.

So much happened in the last 31 days. Here are the highlights.

We started the month at one of our favorite local events at the Torpedo Arts Factory, Art on the Rocks. Twice a year, local bartenders create libations inspired by the art work and they seem to get more creative every time. 

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That same weekend, we also attended the Bloody Mary Festival at the Blind Whino, another cool new arts venue. I can’t even tell you how many versions of this classic drink there were. I love this brunch drink, but I don’t think I can be enjoying one for a little while. 

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The local farmer’s markets opened up for summer season, and I got so excited by all the fresh produce, fruit, and herbs. It’s also fun because each year there are new cheese, dairy, and baked good vendors to try. 

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Like so many, I watched with eager anticipation the Mad Men finale, but I felt so disappointed. You too?

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I don’t need EVERYTHING explained to me, but please give me some closure about Don. I was annoyed by the vague ending with Don smiling while doing a meditation, then the quick cut to the famous COKE commercial. And what was up with Peggy’s storyline at the end? She goes season after season with man troubles and then right in the last episode she discovers the coworker who bothered her all those years was her true love the whole time?

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We visited Austin, Texas for Sean’s Birthday. He wanted to see Rush in concert, so we went all the way to Texas for that. Funnily enough, Rush played in DC about 2 weeks later. Overall, the trip was really fun, and we ate a lot of good food as always. The theme for the trip was “MEAT”

However, I got food poisoning on the way back, like on the airplane, and was out of commission for a few days after that.

Incidentally, I refuse to fly UNITED again. While I was clearly sick and shivering on the plane, I asked the flight attendant for a blanket.

I made this request literally seconds after they made their standard “If there’s anything we can do to make your trip more comfortable, please don’t hesitate to ask” announcement. 

So, I asked for a blanket and was told that they were only for first class passengers. I don’t want to be a major complainer, but crappy customer service, ya’ll!

Some friends from San Diego visited us for Memorial Day weekend and we had a great meal at Trummer’s on Main in Clifton, VA.

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I got interested in the female comedy show, Garfunkel and Oates. We watched the pilot a few months ago and didn’t go for it at first. But a few episodes in, I thought it was really clever actually.  

Finally, the month ended with my potluck dinner club. As you can see below, the month’s theme was chocolate.

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 We started with kahlua spiked chocolate milkshake aperitifs with brie and chocolate panini. We then moved on to white chocolate and eggplant baba ghanoush and chicken mole. The meal ended with rich chocolate brownies and a chocolate bomb cake.

As a chocolate lover, in theory, this sounded like a heavenly meal. The reality: NOT SO MUCH. Let’s just say we all wanted a green salad after this one. 


Weekend in Austin

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A few weeks back, we visited Austin, Texas before all the unfortunate rain and flooding that’s been in the news. It was Sean’s Birthday weekend and he really wanted to see Rush in concert. 

While I can’t say I’m a fan of Rush, I was excited to visit Austin since I have loved Texas ever since I was a kid and we used to visit our cousins in Houston. (I also grew up in the era of the Urban Cowboy).

Here’s a quick glimpse of our trip. 

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Trip Highlights:

  • Breakfast Migas at Joe’s Restaurant
  • Early morning walk around the Capitol area
  • Browsing the eclectic shops in the funky South Congress neighborhood
  • A stop at the beautiful cowboy themed bar at the historic Driskill Hotel
  • The Bacon BLT at Bacon restaurant
  • Not waiting for 4 hours to eat Franklin’s BBQ! (My limit is 2 hours, folks)
  • This funny avenging unicorn toy spotted in a store window (pictured above)

 

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Flashback Friday: Temples at Angkor Wat


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*This post is a flashback to a trip we took to Cambodia several years ago. I loved this country, and I would very much like to visit again.

Ever have Indiana Jones fantasies?

Without a doubt, the main reason to come to Siem Reap is to view the breathtaking temples at Angkor Wat. Built during the Khmer Empire’s height of power between 842 and 1432 AD, the temples rise out of the jungle to demonstrate the force of this civilization in Southeast Asia. There’s nothing like that first sight of one in the distance as you approach!

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The 216 staring faces of Bayon Temple

Interestingly, when Angkor Wat was at its peak and held a population of over a million people, London only had a population of 50,000. (I’m embarrassed to admit I knew nothing about this ancient civilization of Angkor Wat until Angelina Jolie starred in Tomb Raider) On another interesting note, Angkor Wat was somewhat of a secret until the French “discovered” and revealed it to the world in 1860.

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Wall Reliefs at Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom

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Sawadee pose at Bayon Temple

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I especially love how the jungle is slowly swallowing up the temples…

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In ancient times, travel through the temple complex was done by none other than- elephants.

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Cambodia Travel Tip:  While these days you can actually visit the temples on the back of an elephant, I recommend hiring a tuk tuk driver for the day to tour you around the temples and city. We paid about $15 for ours, and he took us anywhere we wanted to go, including areas outside the temple complex. And while at one point, he seemed as though he too was going to take us home for a feast of chickens, we had a special bond with him and used his services for 3 days.

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Me, striking the Cambodian universal tuk tuk driver afternoon pose

Cambodia Travel Tip: If you plan on touring temples for several days, start with the lesser known places and gradually work your way up to the more resplendent. You’ll avoid temple fatigue that way… trust me, they start to look the same after a few hours in the blaring sun.


SPACEBAR

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Sean and I got into a fight over this place.

It happened last Friday night. Both starving, past our normal dinner time, we arrived at the Spacebar in Falls Church as the sun was setting and the place was getting rowdy.

We had seen this bar driving by a few weeks before and were attracted by the sign: GOOD BEER GRILLED CHEESE.

I guess on this particular Friday night, so many people had the same idea. It was packed. Nowhere to sit and a few layers of people standing around the bar.

There was no way we were getting in, even to lean against the bar.

So we snapped at each other and left disappointed and hungry.

It was not to be on Friday night, but on Saturday, it was!

This time, we were there right when it opened at 5:00 pm.

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This place has a lot of character. I can just imagine two high school guys hanging out years ago, having this conversation:

“Hey, you know what would be so cool?”

‘No, what?”

“Let’s open a space themed bar!”

“Awesome! We’ll serve all different kinds of beer…

“yeah, and we’ll serve grilled cheese!”

“And tator tots!”

Then a few years later, that’s what they did. Now there’s this bar.

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The menu is pretty varied. There are different kinds of bread, cheese, and fillings to choose from. I got the tomato basil with fresh mozzarella.I was going for the light summer-time feel grilled cheese.

Sean, who always orders more fun than me, got the pastrami, bacon, and cheddar. I had a few bites of his.

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The Spacebar is very laid-back. It’s the kind of place you can pop in while you’re in the neighborhood and get a drink.

You can even sit and read a paperback book there, which we saw one guy doing.

If you’re up for it, you can even play Ms. PacMan. There’s a vintage machine against the back wall.

SpaceBar is adults only. I recommend you get there early when it opens at 5:00 if you want to grab a table or seat at the bar.