Dublin

Dublin was our last stop before heading back to London. We started our visit by walking through the shopping district toward St. Patrick’s church.  The church is considered important because St. Patrick is credited with bringing the Catholic religion to Ireland.

While we waited for Dom's mom and aunt to visit the church, a random nice gentlemen decided to strike up a conversation with us and recommend we visit the first public library in Ireland: Marsh's Library. We followed his advice and visited the really cool early-18th century library that was filled with super old original books and had an exposition showing various notes and doodles made by past (famous) visitors, in margins of the old books. One interesting feature of the library was the reading cages that were installed to prevent theft of the books. 

It was the perfect time of year to visit the parks as they were all filled with tulips everywhere.

We passed a good part of our day just walking around the town and shopping streets.

We also decided to do the Guinness Factory tour, despite the fact that none of us are really beer fanatics.  The tour was extremely “touristy”, but it was interesting to learn that it all began when Arthur Guinness signed a 9000 year lease for the factory.

Dom and I experienced our first taste of Guinness… sadly, for us, it pretty much tasted as expected - like beer :(

They taught us how to pour a perfect pint of Guinness, so now we're certified Guinness pourers.

We went to Dublin’s oldest pub, The Brazen Head, for drinks and dinner.  Jen had an unforgettable Beef & Guinness stew.  
The pub had a unique folklore “story-teller” performance happening upstairs, unfortunately we got there too late so it was too full for us to attend.  Guess we’ll just have to come back another time!!

Kilkenny

We spent a really relaxing day in Kilkenny, walking along the medieval route.  

At St. Canice's Cathedral, we climbed the tower while the seniors visited the church ;)

Then we slept in the park while they visited the castle.

We ended our wonderful day with a delicious dinner and drinks at a historic local Irish pub called Kyteler's Inn.

Blarney Castle & Rock of Cashel

Aunt Celine's only request for this trip was to visit a castle, so we decided to visit the medieval Blarney castle and its famous Blarney stone.  The castle is just a small part of the visiting area, so we passed several hours leisurely strolling through the grounds.

The beautiful gardens

Blarney castle

Legend says that whoever kisses the Blarney stone will get the gift of eloquence.  Jen and Dom both contorted their bodies to get below the battlements to kiss the stone.  Did it make a difference?  ...you'll just have to judge for yourselves, the next time we see each other :). 

Dom’s mom and aunt really enjoyed taking pictures of the various plants and flowers.

The Poison Garden

It was also a great place to take a few silly pictures :)

After leaving Blarney castle, we headed to another famous landmark, The Rock of Cashel, where we did a short guided tour that explain the history of the area and why the church was abandoned. 

Kenmare to Kinsale

Along our drive to Kinsale, we stopped by Kenmare and Glengariff for a wander and a bit of shopping.

Kenmare


Glengariff

We then did a 1 hour detour along the "Sheep's Head Peninsula”.  The scenery was pretty but it was another long, super narrow, winding road, so it was starting to feel exhausting.


We stopped for lunch at Hayes Bar in Glandore and had a really lovely seafood soup while enjoying the view. The weather was cold to us, but many local were wearing t-shirt and told us that this was typical "warm summer" weather for them!

As we where nearing Kindle, we spotted a huge abandoned church that we decided to visit.

We finally arrived at our destination (Kinsale), where we settled in and explored the cute costal town.

Dingle peninsula

We had an idea of what we wanted to see around Kenmare, however after talking to our amazing B&B hosts, we completely changed our minds and went with their recommendations. 

They gave us instructions to take the “lower road” toward Dingle.  On our first pass, we completely missed the turn-off, so we turned around and slowly approached the junction that Google was directing us toward.  When we arrived at the supposed turn-off, we all looked at each other thinking “uh.. that can’t be right..?!”.  We were staring down at a very narrow “2-way” road (barely 1-car wide), that descended steeply down into the valley with sharp blind and winding turns.  We took a deep breath and started down the road feeling nervous and skeptical.  

It turned out to all be worthwhile as this section of road ended up (by far!) being the highlight of our entire Ireland trip!  The views were so absolutely stunning that we had to stop every 200 meters to admire the incredible scenery and take pictures.  This 20 km stretch of road actually took us about 2 hours to complete!


Here’s a short video to give you an idea of how it felt driving along the narrow valley road: 

After exiting the lower road, we finally made our way to the Dingle peninsula.  We stopped at mile-beach, where Dom got to drive the car on the sand and dip his feet in the chilly water.


We had lunch in Dingle and strolled around the cute town,

then completed the Slea Head loop to soak in more scenery around the tip of the peninsula.

The peninsula roads are super narrow and there are people crazy enough to try to drive here with huge camper caravans!  At one windy cliff area, we got caught in a traffic jam for about 30 minutes because people kept having to get out of their cars to help each other squeeze past the big oncoming campers.

The B&B that we stayed at was called Gaines Country House, and we loved it.  The family made us feel incredibly welcome, they were passionate about the area and hosting visitors, they helped us plan our trip and provided excellent recommendations, and lastly, they served us one of the best B&B breakfasts we’d had in our travels so far.  Jen really loved the home-made Irish soda bread, so they happily gave her their secret family recipe ;)






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Gmail

Limerick to Kenmare

Dom’s Mom and Aunt Celine decided to come to London to visit us for about 3 weeks.  Since we had a 4-day weekend over Easter break, we took a couple of extra days off and flew to Ireland.  We arrived in Dublin and drove straight to Limerick for the night. 

In the morning, we did a quick visit in Limerick to see St. Mary's Cathedral and King John's Castle.


We stopped briefly in Burrany for a glimpse of the castle.

When we arrived at the cliffs Moher, it was super windy and raining, so we took shelter at visitor’s centre and visited the small museum.  By the time we mentally prepared ourselves to go out into the cold, the rain had thankfully stopped!!  It was still cold, but we managed to climb up the hill without freezing to death and spent a couple of hours taking in the dramatic views of the cliffs. 

We then had a 3 hours drive to get to our B&B near Kenmare. We stopped in Adare to stretch our legs and buy a bottle wine for the evening, but it turns out that it’s actually not possible to buy alcohol in Ireland on Good Friday!  

As the sun sank, we reached our last stretch through Killarney Park where the speed limit is 100km/h, but the road is super narrow with sharp turns, so our average speed was more like 40km/hour.  Dom had fun playing rally-car driver and zigzagging his way through the park, while his mom and aunt got bounced around the back of the car :)

Biking Brighton

We lucked out with the weather and spent a beautiful sunny Saturday biking the coast of Britain.  

We took a train to Brighton and rode East, past Saltdean, along a coastal trail that runs below some beautiful white cliffs.  

On our way back, we stopped at the Art Cafe in Rottingdean for cream tea.  We learned that Rudyard Kipling lived in Rottingdean for many years and took a stroll through the Kipling Gardens.  

Since it was still early, we started cycling West along the colourful beach huts that line the Brighton & Cove boardwalks and stopped to check out Hove Lagoon and waterpark where we discovered a pretty cool wake park!  

It was such a beautiful day and a really lovely area to explore.. we'll definitely have to come back to Brighton again!

Weekend with the Kisses

We spent a long weekend in Balassagyarmat, Hungary, visiting our friends Peter, Krisztina, Bogi and Balasz.  Peter and Bogi picked us up from the Budapest airport in our favourite Kiss-mobile.

We helped Peter finalize the website for his new kitesurfing school in Sri Lanka (http://www.surfpoint-srilanka.com) and when the kids returned home from school, we went on a really cool semi-private tour at the local zoo.

The next day, we drove to Slovakia for a day of skiing.  It’s been well over 6 years since we’d been out to the mountains for skiing/boarding, but we took it easy and had lots of fun (despite a little rain and fog). 

On our way home, we stopped at a cozy restaurant near the Hungarian border for a really delicious meal, for less than 5 Euros.

On our last day, Peter’s dad invited us over to try some traditional Hungarian cuisine for lunch - bean soup and goulash made from stomach lining.  We really enjoyed it, especially the bean soup!

Krisztina and Bogi drove us back to Budapest where we visited a few sites in Buda and Pest before saying good bye.  We were sad, but hopefully we will see them in Sri Lanka this summer.  

Before heading to our hotel for a short nap (before our early morning flight), we stopped to check out an eclectic and funky bar called Simple Kert, for a pint of cider.

During our visit, Dom went on a sausage shopping spree after discovering all kinds of delicious Hungarian sausage.  We must have brought around 10 huge sausages back to London with us :)

Cycling the York Solar System

In February, we returned to London for another 6 months of work.  On one weekend, we decided to try something a little different - we took our folding bikes for a ride through the solar system! 

A few kilometres from York, they've repurposed an old rail line into a cycle path with a scale model of the solar system (https://www.york.ac.uk/solar/index.html).  What a neat idea! 

Every 100m of the trail corresponds to 57 million kilometres in space, so we started at the Sun and arrived at Mercury 101m later.  Doesn't sound like much of a bike ride, but at this scale, the distance between the Sun and Pluto is nearly 10.3km :).  Apparently if you were to walk the trail, your scaled speed would be equivalent to around 3 times the speed of light.. since we biked, we flew through the solar system at around 10 times the speed to light!

After our little jaunt through space, we returned to York to check into a really lovely B&B called the Dovecote House.  The rooms were super cozy and we were served really delicious, freshly baked (still warm!), croissants for breakfast!  

We spent the rest of the day wandering the walls and many pedestrian streets of York's fortified old town.  

And, of course, when in Yorkshire.. eat Yorkshire Pudding!  They were plentiful and super-sized!

When it started to rain, we found ourselves at Stonegate Yard Bar & Brasserie, a local pub with a really charming atmosphere.  We discovered our new favorite pub drink (for those of us who don't drink beer) - Rekorderlig Wild Berries Cider (and on tap to boot)!  Yum!  

Speaking of yummy things, we discovered that Rowntree, the company that brought us Kit Kat, Aero, Jelly Tots, and Smarties, originated in York.  They were bought out by Nestle in the 80's, but Kit-Kat factories continue to operate in York... evidenced by the rich, mouth-watering aroma of warm chocolate that blankets the entire town when the factories are running.

On Sunday afternoon we met up with Mark and Trish, our coworker and his girlfriend, for a couple of hours since they also happened to plan a trip in the area on the same weekend!  We explored the Rambles, walked along the river to Millennium bridge, and checked out the museum gardens. 

By Sunday evening it was pouring rain, so we checked out the Railway Museum and then watched Logan at the local theatre.  

Despite so much rain, it was a perfect weekend getaway.  We both really enjoyed and recommend York!

Biking the Mekong Delta

Thanks to a recommendation from our friends, Eddie and Jen, we finally decided to visit another part of Vietnam that we hadn't yet been to!  We always wanted to see the Can Tho floating market, so when they told us how much they loved the 3-day bike tour with Sinh Balo Tours, we decided to give it a try. 

Our 3 day journey in the Mekong area had us riding about 130km along quiet village roads and bike/motorbike trails that run amid various farms and fields.

Day 1 (Saigon–LongAn–MyTho–VinhLong ~43 km)

Our first day was pretty busy. Our guide, Loc, picked us up at our Ho Chi Minh hostel at 8am and we drove about an hour out of the city to begin our biking adventure with another couple from Denmark. 

The first 25 km were though rice fields. 

Along the way, we stopped at a factory to see how rice noodles are made.

Then the van then drove us 30 minutes to a local vegetarian restaurant where we ate an assortment of delicious local dishes. 

After lunch, we did another 18 km before taking a couple of boat rides to enjoy the beautiful sunset.  We crossed over to a smaller fruit-farm island where we tasted several types of local fruits and home-made "happy water".

At our homestay we ate some fresh seafood that our guide purchased from local fishermen during our boat ride along the river. 

Day 2 (VinhLong to CanTho ~50 km)

Another busy day packed with interesting sights and fun/unique experiences, starting with breakfast at 8am and then back onto the bikes!  

We stopped at:
a market where you can buy skinned frogs... that are still alive :(

several fruit plantations: Banana, Rambutan, LongAn, Pomelo, Papaya, Durian, etc.

a Khmer temple

another delicious lunch at a local restaurant in the middle of nowhere :)

Since it was nearing the end of the Chinese New Year (Tet) holiday, we saw (and heard) several small house parties blasting loud, distorted Karaoke through the normally serene farm fields.  

Our guide took an unexpected turn into one of the local homes along the way.  Apparently he decided to stop in to "say hi" to some locals he had met here while scouting routes for the bike tour.  The locals welcomed us all in as though we were good old friends, and offered us typical Tet celebration foods such as candy, biscuits, fruits with chili-salt, "happy water", and some dog-stew. 

One of the locals grabbed his guitar and they all started singing for us. The best part was that it felt so local, authentic, and unscripted - a very rare experience when you're on a tour! 

After our last ride, our butts hurting.  When we finally arrived at our guest house, we thought the days was over, but no… we had a 1 hour shower break and then it was time for a little cooking lesson!  The owner of the guest house taught us to make yummy Spring Rolls and Vietnamese pancakes. After dinner, we all crashed… exhausted, but happy.

Day 3 (Can Tho to Saigon ~35 km)

We woke up early and hopped onto a boat to visit the Can Tho floating market. We originally thought the market was where locals go to buy food, but it turns out that it's actually a wholesale market where farmers sell their fruits and vegetables to middle-men who then transport the food to other areas of Vietnam.  Our guide told us the minimum orders are somewhere between 50 and 100 KG. 
There were a handful of smaller boats selling food for the hard-working traders.
We returned to shore and biked 16km through the suburb of Can Tho.  This section was well paved, so our butts were happy :). 

Our last ride 20km ride was to a Pomelo farm where we stopped to pick our own Pomelo. 

After a quick drive back to Ho Chi Minh, our trip concluded.  

Overall we had an amazing time and we were extremely impressed with the organization of our tour.  Tthe bikes were in great condition, the group was small and felt very personalized and most of the activities didn't feel overly-touristy.  In particular, we felt especially lucky to get Loc as our guide, as it really felt like he put a lot of effort into showing us as many local and authentic experiences as possible.  

Thanks Eddie and Jen, for recommended the trip to us!  We also highly recommend it to anyone else thinking of visiting the area!!