trip pics and writeup

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I finally got the trip pics sorted and uploaded. From 3267 I whittled them down to just over 2000 in 10 sets:
holland belgium: lily | almere, naarden, oostvaardersplassen, amsterdam | antwerp, brussels, mechelen
italy: florence | siena | assisi | rome
ireland, uk: dublin, cork, ring of kerry | london | cotswolds

 

If I had to pick just one image from each set. First in our friend’s house I’ll pick one of kaocao, her cat, who was instrumental in bringing us close together and a great little cat to boot:
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Holland will be Oostvaardersplassen nature reserve, it made me want to move to Holland to enjoy the wildlife and running paths:
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Belgium will be the strangely cosy café at Het Steen, especially after hearing the story of the tyrannical prince who lived there:
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Florence is difficult, we were there the longest of all stops. So many great memories. I’m going to pick two, the first is hanging out at the retreat house. It was so peaceful and calm that some days, we didn’t want to venture outside: flr061garden

The second is us walking all the way to oltrarno and up the hundreds of steps to piazza michangelo to take in the view of the city:
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In Siena it’s this strange, rather creepy statue of a semi-naked woman peeping out of a first floor window:

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In Assisi it’s watching the sunset from our room. There was so much to see and experience in Assisi, it was a blessing to return to our room every night and relax:
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Rome, hands down, seeing the Pope: rom126papa

After the spirituality that was Italy, my memory of Ireland is the breath-taking views in Kerry:
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In London it’s cooking at home:

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And not forgetting the picturesque Bibury:
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We were lucky that we had internet almost every day, so I was able to upload a few pics and post daily reports. Made the writeup so much easier, it was just a matter of grouping by location and fixing some typos. I also added a few more pics. Still came to 6 travel posts: holland belgium | florence siena | assisi | rome | ireland | uk

Quite an epic trip, and memorable too.

#72 new restaurant dublin: bear

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Tasks #69-73 of 101.1001 are to try 5 new restaurants in 5 different cities. This is #4 of 5.

We were in Dublin for my birthday and based on previous experience, I picked butcher grill in ranelagh and made a reservation a few weeks in advance. Don’t get me wrong, we enjoyed the oysters and côte de boeuf, even though the service was quite arms-length. We didn’t have a lot of time in Dublin and when I read about a new-ish restaurant specialising in less popular cuts of meat, I was afraid we wouldn’t have time to try it out.

As it happened, we made time to go to bear in south william street just west of grafton street. Having read that they didn’t take reservations for two, we went early and got a nice windowside table. There was a bar parallel to the front of the restaurant with the rest of the tables on a mezzanine behind. The wait staff, who were the poster boys & girls of hipserhood, were a little distracted preparing for guests but we’d just come from Italy so were in slow food mode.

Aside from the usual ribeye, sirloin, chicken and ribs they also had, as expected, some unusual steak like rosary cut, feather, bavette, flank and onglet. Well, actually I thought bavette and flank are the same, obviously not. I’ve cooked bavette before and liked the flavour. It was what the waiter suggested so we ordered that, to share. For sides we had cauliflower cheese and crispy kale.

Yes, the bavette was tougher than sirloin. I’d say it was even tougher than rump. It was quite lean and the grain more pronounced than on other steaks. With lesser chefs and lesser quality meat, it’d be more a stir-frying or stewing beef. For us, it was perfect. Bags of flavour and didn’t need any sauce. Slightly underseasoned, solved by a little s&p.

I was very good (or mm was an effective controller), didn’t have any wine or beer. That said, we’d been at tullamore dew earlier so I’d had a couple of whiskies already.

The steak was €40, with sides the bill came to €50, good value for steak dinner in a city centre. We’ve been talking about it since, and will be one of the first places to stop if we visit Dublin again.

europe day 25: dublin to london

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We had half a day in Dublin, so we took a stroll north of the Liffey, crossing the Ha’penny Bridge to the O’Connell and Henry Streets area. Another pedestrianised area with familiar shops. Bought a few more last minute souvenirs. Lunch at Brick Alley café at Temple Bar, back to the €8.95 special—shepherd’s pie, lentil soup and ice cream. Good value, homemade and tasty. This is the other good thing about Ireland—familiar shops, familiar foods, cheaper prices.

Returning the rental car was weird. The person took our keys, checked the car, mileage and fuel. Normally at this point, they’d use a handheld machine to print my receipt, but here at Dublin airport it involved going into the office. Long queue. I never had to queue to return a car. Not very efficient.

Queues at check-in and security too, but we allowed plenty of time. We definitely needed the cushion in order to browse the irish whiskey selection at the airport. Initially my plan was to get the Tullamore DEW 10 year that we tried yesterday. We ended up getting this one, and in talking to the informative guy there, also bought the Tullamore DEW Phoenix special release as well as a Bushmills 16. We have to figure out how to pack all these bottles on the way home.

Early dinner at the airport, shared a beef and guinness pie. I couldn’t resist, I had to get a pint of guinness. It simply won’t do, to spend 4 days in Ireland without tasting a drop of the good stuff. The pie was decent for airport food.

Our flight was about 30mins late coming into heathrow, quite a significant delay considering flight time was just over 1 hour. It was the third time this trip that we landed at heathrow and today we finally made it out of the terminals. From Paddington we took a taxi to the airbnb flat we rented in Kilburn. The host’s cleaning lady was still there, so we had to sit around while she finished.

The flat is a one-bedroom that looks like it’s someone’s home instead of those professional rentals that have infiltrated airbnb. Homely furniture and charmingly decorated. Funny thing is, many things don’t work properly, just like in someone’s home. One of the blinds in the living room fell down, the dishwasher is broken, some of the storage doors don’t close properly, the shower handle comes out when touched. We weren’t looking for anything slick, so this homely place works for us. During this trip we stayed at different types of accommodation, from retreat houses to hotels to airbnb to staying at friends’ home. I think at the end of this trip I can write articles on different types of travel accommodation and how to manage 1 month’s travel on 20kg luggage.

europe day 24: cork to tullamore to dublin

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Checked out of hotel and were on our way at 10.30am. The destination was Tullamore D.E.W. distillery visitor centre. When we were at heathrow, we met a lady at the whisky tasting counter who had lots of whisky stories and suggested that we visited the visitor centre. She also gave us a note to give to their brand ambassador. Tullamore is 1hr west of Dublin and was a detour from our planned route, so we had high expectations.

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We know better now to skip the tour, especially since it was an exhibition rather than actual working distillery. Enquired about the expressions that would be part of the tasting afterwards, and as usual were not impressed by the selection. The very nice lady at the cash desk gave us 3 even better expressions to sample, free of charge. Generous tasting portions too—12 yr sherry cask, 10 yr four casks, special reserve. First time we tried this whiskey. We were most taken with the 10 year single malt that had been matured in 4 different casks: bourbon, oloroso sherry, port and madeira.

Had lunch at the restaurant, just sandwiches and shared a rhubarb crumble. Sandwiches were good, the crumble was more like crumble pie. Finished with more whiskey tastings—bonded warehouse (available at the visitor centre only) and Phoenix (retail bottles sold out). Still liking the 10yr four casks.

Even though we didn’t take the tour, we enjoyed our visit to the visitor centre. The shop had cool stuff, the tasting samples were generous and the food was fine. Great location next to a canal, so peaceful on a sunny day. I’d recommend this to anyone visiting Dublin, it’s only about 1hr’s drive.

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When we got back to Dublin we hit a bit of rush hour traffic. Luckily we were booked in the same hotel as before so we knew the way. Checked in and were back out quickly. Strolled to Trinity College for pictures, then made our way to an early dinner at Bear. I’d read that this restaurant offered less popular cuts of steak like onglet, bavette and flank so we were keen to try it out. We were not disappointed. A huge (900g-1kg) bavette, chargrilled rare, arrived at our table together with the 2 sides we ordered—crispy kale and cauliflower cheese. Delicious and definitely different from the usual sirloin and rib-eye. We would definitely come again.

Still enough time before sunset to walk to St Patrick’s and Christchurch cathedrals then to Tesco before returning to our room.

europe day 23: ring of kerry

Breakfast at hotel—full irish breakfast (like full english with black & white puddings). Left later than expected at 10.20am. Delay on N22 with a 15-20min wait for convoy construction meant we reached Killarney after 12pm. Stopped at tourist information to get maps and wasted further time at the outlet shopping centre. Thankfully there were only a few shops there.

Set off on the Ring of Kerry route at 1pm. The scenic route is a 179km (111 miles) loop through the rugged coastline of the Iveragh peninsula. It’s one of Ireland’s most popular destination and can be done clockwise or anti-clockwise. Guidebooks say buses go anti-clockwise so drivers may want to go the other way but we ended up anti-clockwise anyway. Still early in the season and didn’t see many coaches. I drove quite aggressively through the initial parts of the ring to try to gain some time. First stop was at Caherciveen, a quaint little town which we thought was on the coast but was actually inland. Nixed the idea of lunching at a seafood restaurant; went to a local café instead and had homemade soup with brown bread and apple strudel.

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The Ring of Kerry led to the Skellig Ring, another loop through the deep coastal part of the peninsula. The car ferry that led to Valentia island was closed so we drove on and crossed via a bridge. Climbed up a very steep gravel road to Shepherd’s View viewpoint on Geokaun Mountain which offered a 360º view of the island and the ocean. Very spectacular. Very windy.

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The bridge crossed back to the mainland at Portmagee, another quaint little coastal village. Wished we had more time to explore, but it was past 4pm and time to push on to finish the Skellig Ring and rejoin the Ring of Kerry.

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The route between Waterville and Catherdaniel was all rugged, dramatic coastline and secluded beaches. There were a few viewpoints and we stopped at a few. Again, feeling rushed so couldn’t stop for as often or as long as we liked. The sun was out, the sky and sea were blue and it was very windy. By then mm had taken over the driving and progress was slower. Headed back to Cork, reached hotel past 8pm, later than we wanted.

Not a lot of choices for dinner, so we opted for the hotel restaurant. The hotel was obviously recently renovated (some rooms on our corridor were still being stripped and we could see/hear contractors drilling and the like). The staff in the restaurant at both breakfast and dinner could do with more training—they were all very keen but service was not as efficient as an established restaurant crew. We had soup and mussels to start and lamb shank (mm) and pan-fried hake (me) as mains. Got a Bushmills 10 from the bar to take back to our room.

A full day at the Ring of Kerry. Felt rushed, even though what we saw was extremely beautiful. Definitely need a return trip.

europe day 22: dublin to midleton to cork

Didn’t sleep well (too warm, curtains didn’t close properly and pigeons cooing outside), woke up to lots of happy birthday greetings from family and friends. Trying not to get too unhappy about getting older.

Checked out, got car, loaded our luggage and were on our way at 10am. A short detour took us off course but we found the motorway to Cork eventually. The signposts were informative, it was a glorious sunny day, perfect for driving. Part of the motorway had tolls, in general the quality of the road was excellent and not too many cars and lorries.

First stop was for a loo break, then around 12.30pm we reached Cashel. Took pictures of the rock (a lot like rocca maggiore in Assisi), didn’t go inside the castle. Weren’t hungry so we pushed on. The destination was Midleton to the Jameson distillery experience.

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We weren’t interested in the tour, just browsed around the shop. Had a great lunch at the restaurant—lamb shank for me, irish stew for mm. Tasted a dram of green spot irish whiskey at the bar.

Drove the short distance to Cork, found parking and headed towards the English Market to catch them before they close. It’s a small indoor market with stalls selling fruit & veg, meat, fish and dried goods. Some of the stalls were closed and others were closing, we bought oysters from a fish stall. One of the fishmongers came to take a picture with me.

Visited a souvenir shop, then to M&S for dinner. Yep, for my birthday dinner I opted to get M&S chicken drumstick, noodle salad and rocket to have at our hotel. It was a good choice, we had some troubles finding the hotel and needed the directions of a friendly Korean chef at a pizzeria. The hotel, when we reached it, was a sight for sore eyes. Free parking, huge luxurious room, walk-in shower, air-conditioning and curtains that close. Had a drink (redbreast 15) at the bar brought to our room to have with our dinner.

europe day 21: dublin

I’m quite proud that we booked the yotel at T4, because it was so convenient to take the free train to T2 to catch our flight to Dublin. Only 1hr and then we got the car rental shuttle. Quite a lengthy process to get our rental car, a toyota corolla. Somehow we got off the motorway and ended up in the north suburbs. I’ve only been to Dublin once, 3 years ago, and didn’t have a car then so it was a while before I got my bearings. Plus the combination of one-way systems and bank holiday traffic, it took us many wrong turns to find our hotel. Not helped by its obscure location at the top of Temple Bar, with the entrance next to Tesco..

Once we parked, unloaded and checked in, we went in search of food. Found a nice little casual café (the sort with shared wooden tables and artwork on exposed walls) that was still serving lunch. Had the special of shepherd’s pie, salad and ice cream. I had a local cider too.

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Had some time for a little shopping. Traditional sweet shop (the sort that should be called a shoppe) and Tesco. Walked down Grafton Street, aiming at the Celtic Whiskey shop. Ahhhh. So many Irish whiskeys, so little time.

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Dinner was a special date, to celebrate both our birthdays. I booked Butcher Grill at Ranelagh. Last time in Dublin with RM, we made the trip especially to Ranelagh for this, and it was no different this time. Easy enough to get the tram from St Stephen’s Green. We started with half a dozen sweet Irish rock oysters (the sort with only needed a few drops of lemon juice). Then for mains we had their côte de boeuf for two, on Mondays and Tuesdays this is reduced to €45. Came with beans and onion rings which we substituted for fries. A delicious cut of steak: tender and succulent on the bone. Different from Hawksmoor steak, less intense, sweeter.

Tram then walk back to our hotel. Final celebration was birthday cake in the form of one-bite miniature red velvet cupcakes. Perfect.

dublin day 3

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This morning was supposed to be a church going morning, but it wasn’t to be, to my disappointment. We walked to St Patrick’s Cathedral on a glorious sunny day, and I was looking forward to visiting it. Then we discovered that they charge €5.50 to go in. Yes, I understand the need to upkeep the place, but there’s something very jarring about having to pay to go into a church. I didn’t want to visit the crypt or exhibits or whatever they have there, I was looking forward to lighting a candle and saying a prayer inside. We didn’t go in, as a matter of principle. Same story at Christ church, they charged €6. Sigh. To add insult to injury, at Christ church there was a craft fair which was advertised as free entry. I mean, it’s about 8-10 stalls selling sweets, hot dogs and trinkets, it should be free to go into church grounds. Argh.

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Our day drastically shortened, we headed to Temple Bar to soothe our sorrows, like generations before us. It’s interesting and confusing for first timers, Temple Bar is both a district and the name of a bar. It’s a large bar (600 capacity) and one of the most touristy on the strip. We sat at the bar and had a Smithwick’s. RM wanted Irish coffee but after watching the bartender make it with instant coffee, he decided against it.

We went to Grafton street again, the whole area on a bank holiday monday was full of people, and also runners taking part in the Women’s mini marathon 10k. Now it pains me a great deal to write marathon and 10k in one sentence, because a 10k is not a marathon. I hate how organisers include the word marathon in any old race. This wasn’t even a race from the looks of it, about 90% of people were in charity t-shirts and less than 10% look like they are runners. A fun walk, more like. Anyway, we got to Butler’s and got hot chocolate, that was very nice.

Whiskey shopping and back to the hotel to repack. Got the coach back to the airport, which was almost completely devoid of people. Uneventful flight back. The bus stop outside Paddington was closed because of roadworks so I had to walk all the way almost to Waitrose, it was late before I got home.

dublin day 2

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A quick visit to Trinity College and the Book of Kells in the morning. Informative and impressive story of how the 9th century manuscript was produced. Such care and dedication to a manual process in those days. No photography allowed, which is the only downside to the visit.

Then a bit of a trek to the Old Jameson distillery. We didn’t go on the tour, having seen more than enough of whisky distillery processes, this one with animation and silent equipment just won’t hack it. We had lunch there, a quick one of smoked salmon sandwich and buffalo wings. Explored the shop and made our way to the ground floor bar. They have a tasting tray €22 for 4 expressions, but we were only interested in one. Instead, we did our own tasting tray of: Green Spot, Crested Ten, Jameson Limited Reserve 18yr and Redbreast cask strength. Yes, it came to more than the standard tray but we’d never tried any of these whiskies before.

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We were at Jameson longer than we thought, and walking back to the city centre it was time to go to dinner. I’d researched steakhouses beforehand and we made a reservation at the butcher grill at Ranelagh, 4 stops on the tram line. We had the 12oz 60-day dry aged sirloin that came with sides (greens and cauliflower were our choices). A fabulous house wine and very nice cheesecake later, we were extremely satisfied. It’s not exactly in the city centre but a few stops on the tram it’s completely worth it. Highly recommended.

It was still early when we got back to the hotel, so we went to the Palace Bar over at Temple Bar. Had something other than Guinness deliberately: half of Murphy’s and a bottle of O’Hara’s ale. Made friends with other patrons in the noisy bar and asked the bartender for whiskey recommendations. Got to try their own bottling, which we promptly purchased 2 bottles. When we got back to the hotel, we had additionally acquired a bottle of redbreast 12yr, there was about 3-4 drams left. We also had a small tasting from some of the miniatures we bought. There’s a lot of Irish whiskey I’d never heard of before, it’s a good learning experience.

dublin day 1

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Went to Dublin over the jubilee weekend with RM. Flight was at noon, so no need to get up early, although I did miss the #36 bus and had to get another one, meaning I got the later Heathrow express. First time on Aer Lingus, and it was okay, short 1 hour flight only. Bus transfer to trinity capital hotel, which is located just around the corner from Trinity College, very convenient. It’s converted from a part of a fire station (the station is still operational next door) with quirky, Alice-in-Wonderland colour scheme decoration. Fun.

Got our directions to the tram stop and took the tram to the guinness storehouse, one of the primary aims of this trip. This publie part of the distillery has no working equipment, just a series of exhibits about how guinness is made. A lot of reading of posted words. Included in our ticket is a pint of guinness at the gravity, but the other option of using the voucher is way more fun. About 5-10mins of queuing only, and we were inducted into the guinness academy, where we learned how to properly pull a pint. A bit gimmicky, but still fun. When we did go to the gravity bar, we were so glad we did the pint pulling — the bar was just like any other noisy and crowded bar.

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Weather was crap, we took the bus back to city centre and explored a little. Walked down the main shopping street Grafton Street to our dinner destination Thorntons, one of the few Michelin starred places in Dublin. We had the “surprise” tasting menu, 8 courses:

  • scallop with foam — quite nicely done
  • salmon three way — carpaccio, tartar, confit in broth — again quite nicely done although no surprise
  • foie gras in black truffle with white truffle powder — all about the decadence here, the white truffle powder was very strong
  • lobster claw and king prawn — very fresh
  • fillet of atlantic turbot with white asparagus — the best dish of the night, the turbot was perfectly cooked, fresh so fresh
  • loin of lamb — the main course was okay, the lamb pretty tasty
  • cashel blue cheese plate — from Tipperary where the chef hails from
  • strawberry parfait with strawberry and lemon verbena salad — good, cleansing dessert

With a bottle of gewurtz and a glass of red the meal came to over €300. The meal was marred by the attentive but rather snotty service, may be that’s because we didn’t dress up. And also for the first time in my life, I sent wine back. I was offered a glass of syrah that tasted so off, and as a substitute I opted for a chianti. The food was good and well prepared. Would we recommend it? Probably not.

When we got back to the hotel, we opened a bottle of the foreign extra guinness we bought at the storehouse, thinking it will be a nice drink to sip while watching tv. So wrong! It was so utterly strong and bitter that it took real effort to drink and finsh. Hahaha!