Besides taking Dom’s mom and aunt to Ireland, Cambridge, and Canterbury, we also showed them some of our favourite areas in London.
Less than 50 meters from our place is the Marylebone Farmers Market, which occurs every Sunday from 10:00 to 14:00. It’s fairly small, but we often go there for our weekly vegetable, bread, milk, and butter supplies. Charlotte and Celine bought some delicious quiches and chilli sauce.
Our favourite sunny-day stroll is through Regents Park and along the canal to Camden Market. Both of them absolutely loved the shopping at Camden Market. :)
We also stopped by Spitalfields Market and Brick Lane to show them some of London's street art scene.
Lastly, we did a quick tour of the National Gallery, introduced them to our favourite local foods (fruit ciders, scones with clotted-cream, fish&chips, Thai street food, etc.) and visited a few other miscellaneous places such the local Gunmakers pub right across from our flat.
For our last day-trip with Charlotte and Celine, we visited Canterbury, home of the archbishop of the Church of England. We assumed it would be just another town with a huge church but we were pleasantly surprised to discover that it's actually a really cute town several nice walking streets and parks.
Of course, we couldn't go to Canterbury without visiting the beautiful cathedral. We lucked out and happened to be there while a choir was practicing, making the experience even more magical!
After 6 days of intense driving (on the left side of the road) in Ireland, we decided to take the next 2 weekends easy doing day-trips from London by train. Our first trip was to the university town, Cambridge.
The only thing we knew about Cambridge was that it’s one of the 2 major university towns in the UK. Luckily, we found a really interesting free walking tour where they told us many interesting facts:
Cambridge is made up of 31 colleges.
Students in the UK are only allowed to apply to either Oxford or Cambridge. If your application is rejected from one, you aren't allowed to apply to the other.
Apparently Prince Charles got rejected from Oxford but Queen Elizabeth managed to get him admitted in Cambridge anyhow.
Henry VIII founded Trinity College, the now richest college in the UK, owning the O2 Arena in London as well as a large part of Tesco
Many students claim that Trinity College is the birthplace of the famous dessert that they call "Trinity Burnt Cream".. more commonly known as "Crème Brûlée"
Girton was the first female college to be established in Cambridge in 1867, but women students were not considered full members of the university and could not receive degrees. After several attempts, it wasn't until 1948 that the vote finally passed allowing women to become full members of the university.
Our guide told us that in the past, women could be arrested and thrown in jail if they were caught talking to male students (even if the man had approached her). The grounds for arrest was "distracting men from their studies", and they could be held indefinitely without any proof being required
Most of the colleges in Cambridge were men-only and refused to allow women admissions until around the 1970-1980s. Magdalene College was the last - in 1988 they were forced to admit women, resulting in their male students protesting in the streets. Apparently they wore black and carried a coffin labelled "the death of education".
Our guide was quite opinionated about the difficult history for women at Cambridge. We were pretty surprised to later find out that Cambridge actually still has 3 colleges that only admit women. Apparently they're now re-assessing their stance on admissions for transgender students who identify with the female gender.
At one point, we were wandering the streets and heard oddly muffled music and singing. We looked around to find the source and finally realized it was coming from one of the garbage cans! It was definitely one of the most unique street performances we've seen in our travels …best costume ever :)
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!!
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
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.
Along our drive to Kinsale, we stopped by Kenmare and Glengariff for a wander and a bit of shopping.
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.
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 ;)
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 :)
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!