tom911 goes to Ireland for St. Patrick's Day (AA/BA/rail)

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  1. tom911
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    tom911 Gold Member

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    This trip to Dublin from SFO was purchased on an AA sale fare of $550 back in October. Not the lowest I ever paid (we had $300 fares a few years ago that many of us traveled on), but certainly the lowest Europe fare for this winter. This is my second time over this year. We'll be in Dublin for the St. Patrick's Day parade on March 17.

    MONDAY

    Originally due to depart SFO for LAX at 4:23pm on a regional jet, but our aircraft was having mechanical issues at LAX and was running 90 mins behind. Received a text message from AA that we were due to arrive in the remote terminal at LAX at 7:26pm which really wasn’t going to work with a 7:40pm departure to London. Arranged backup flights on British Airways later in the evening from LAX.

    Well. the AA flight did make up some of the time and quickly turned around at SFO. We were in the air shortly after 6pm, after a slight ATC delay, and once at LAX took the grand tour of the facilities, landing on one side of the airport and taxiing to the remote AA Eagle terminal on the opposite side. We were met by an AA rep and a special shuttle bus to the main terminal for 19 passengers connecting to London or Sao Paolo. Boarded our AA flight to London at 7:35pm but we did not depart as scheduled at 7:40pm. They did take about a half hour delay loading baggage and cargo and balancing the weight.

    I’m with my friends Jim and Zennie and we all had empty seats next to us in the small 4-row economy section at the front of the cabin on a 777-300. These seats come with a few inches of extra legroom. I watched one movie (Fury with Brad Pitt as a WWII tank driver) and tried to sleep the rest of the 10 hour flight. Plenty of business class seats open and glad I didn’t use an upgrade (down to my last two for the year).

    TUESDAY

    Landed at London Heathrow at 1:30pm and worked our way from T3 to T5 via shuttle bus. Got in the line for passport control/security for Ireland/UK departures and bumped into 12-time Olympic medalist Natalie Coughlin (Jim and Zennie’s oldest daughter) and two other Cal swimmers in transit from Marseilles to Edinburgh for swimming this weekend. No idea they were coming through Heathrow the same time we were so we were all surprised. No time for a lounge visit and headed straight to the gate.

    Had a 3:30pm British Airways A320 departure to Dublin and landed about 5pm. Airport express shuttle into the city and we were checking into our hotel, Jury's Inn Parnell Square, at 6pm. Back out for dinner at La Pizza on O’Connell Street at 7pm (pizza with french fries for Jim and me, and fish and chips for Zennie- sort of mandatory in Ireland that every dish has to come with some potato product). The pizza with a soft drink was 10 euros ($10.70). Walked around O’Connell Street and were back at the hotel around 9.

    WEDNESDAY

    After hotel breakfast, out into cloud-covered Dublin. Walked over to Connolly Station to pick up our train tickets for Thursday’s trip to Belfast (you input a confirmation number into a kiosk and it prints the tickets-- these priced at $15 one way for each of us). As long as we were at the train station seemed like a good time for a trip out, so decided to go to Howth, a seaside town known for its fish markets that’s about 30 mins out. Started raining just as we arrived.

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    While exploring there, I talked with a local gentleman who asked if I was enjoying the “fresh air”. That was as I was holding the hood down on my jacket so it wouldn’t be blown off. Yes, I was enjoying the fresh air (and the rain).

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  2. tom911
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    tom911 Gold Member

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    Saw a gorgeous pair of golden retrievers and even an Irish wolfhound. Stopped for tea and coffee at a cafe facing out towards the harbour. The minute we left there it started pouring rain and we were staring at some very dark clouds. Took some city and harbour photos, then back to the train station and back into Dublin.

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    On arrival into Dublin we walked through Trinity College, visited a sweater shop, and then a quick lunch stop at a sandwich shop. Visited the Natural History Museum which has the skeletons of Irish red deer (they look about moose-sized). They also have a collection of birds, insects and some wildlife.

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  3. tom911
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    tom911 Gold Member

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    Headed over to Grafton Street and a quick stop in the mall there, then a long walk back to our hotel arriving about 4:30. Popped into a shop to look at T-shirts for our return for the St. Patrick's Day parade:

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    Along the way we passed a child of about 2 coming out of a shop holding a glass jar in one hand and a plunger in the other hand. We knew this was a disaster about to happen, and, sure enough, as we were walking off, glass was heard breaking.

    Dinner tonight was at O’Neill’s Pub where I had lamb shanks (13 euros-less than $14), Zennie had roast beef and Jim had a ham and turkey pie, all with pints of beer. After dinner walked over to Temple Bar for music and Irish step dancers at Fitzsimons.

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    THURSDAY

    Checked out of the hotel just before 10am and walked over to Connolly train station. Had been raining just an hour before, but just had to contend with dark clouds for the 20 min walk over. Caught the 11am train to Belfast and had empty seats next to each of us for the 2 hour 15 min trip.

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  4. tom911
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    tom911 Gold Member

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    Good thing we traveled today as there is a bus and rail strike in Northern Ireland on Friday. At least we don’t have to worry about that with the trip up on Thursday. I keep dancing around these labor disputes in Europe among airlines and rail companies. One of them is eventually going to ground me.

    Due to pouring rain grabbed a cab to our hotel off University Street. On check-in received vouchers for free drinks and a snack. Headed out into the rain around 2:30 and walked into the city center, passing City Hall and touring the Victoria Square Shopping Center which has city and shipyard views from a platform at the top. Met an employee who told us the weather tomorrow would be spectacular and suggested a Giants Causeway tour. Stopped at the tourist office across from City Hall and checked out what was available and booked a tour for 18GBP ($27) each for Friday.

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    Dinner tonight was at Scalini’s Italian restaurant near our hotel. Jim and Tom had salads and split a pizza, while Zennie had spaghetti with seafood. Great desserts (Tom had the pecan pie). Early night and back at the hotel before 7. Early start planned tomorrow.

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    Photos for this section start here:
    http://tom911.smugmug.com/Travel-Ire...d-Dublin-Howth

    Final photo for this section from Grafton Street in Dublin:

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  5. ContinentalFan

    ContinentalFan Gold Member

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    That "Wolfhound" is a mix. The dog is too small; he got his tail from a spare parts bin. Tut, tut, tut.
     
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  6. ContinentalFan

    ContinentalFan Gold Member

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    Sounds like a great trip. I'm jealous.
     
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  7. About Again

    About Again Gold Member

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    we're there too next week for ST Patrick's Day:)
     
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  8. karung99
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    Tom, great trip report, we are arriving to Dublin on Sat and looking forward to meet up this Sunday.
     
  9. tom911
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    tom911 Gold Member

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    Well, at least I got the Golden Retrievers right. :D

    Just watching the BBC news and they're covering the transit strike here. Ambulance service said their paramedics are expected to report for duty even though buses and trains are not running today. Good day to head out of town.
     
  10. Live to Fly

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    Nice report, Tom! Looking forward tot the rest.
     
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  11. ContinentalFan

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    Wolfhounds are tough, as it's the go-to breed for any large dog that doesn't look like Scooby Doo.

    By the way, how's your liver holding up?
     
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  12. tom911
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    I am metering myself. Not a big drinker to begin with, so generally no more than a pint or two a day. Not a whiskey drinker at all.
     
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  13. tom911
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    tom911 Gold Member

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    FRIDAY

    Booked an 18GBP ($27) all-day tour today to the Giant’s Causeway and the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge with McComb Tours. Both locations are along the north coast in very scenic coastal area.

    We were picked up at our hotel at 8:55am and met the full-size tour bus across town for a 9:15am departure. Bus held 49 and was booked to 45, no doubt due to the bright sun that we enjoyed this day.

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    First stop was at Carrickfergus Castle, 11 miles north, with William of Orange stationed out front. No time for touring, but it allowed those on the bus time to hit an ATM or grab drinks in a nearby market, and restrooms were nearby.

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    Back on the bus where we continued 55 miles along the winding coast to the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. Although the rope bridge was impressive (and was 6GBP/$9 to walk across, something I did not do), I thought the coastal scenery was much more impressive. Had about an hour visit here. Nice downhill walk to the bridge and then uphill back to the bus.

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  14. tom911
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    tom911 Gold Member

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    The last part of the trip to the rope bridge:

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  15. tom911
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    Returned to the bus for our lunch stop, 9 miles up the road, at Old Bushmill’s Distillery. No time for a tour (and if you did tour no photos allowed). I enjoyed steak and kidney pie for 6.5GBP ($9.75). Bus driver brought over some 12 year old whiskey for us to sample with our lunch which was nice. This is a working distillery as you’ll see from some of the exterior photos.

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  16. tom911
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    Stopped nearby along the coast for a castle viewing at Dunluce Castle (shooting my camera right into the sun) and the Skerries (small group of rocks off the shore).

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    Our final stop of the day, at 3pm for almost 90 mins, was at the Giant’s Causeway. Once again, a long hike downhill and then back up. We started with ice cream cones to be properly nourished for the trek ahead. You did have the option of taking a shuttle bus each way for 1GBP ($1.50), but that takes away the overall experience of viewing the coast on the way down and back (and I needed to burn off some calories, anyway). Some guests on the bus did not appear to have accurate watches as every stop we made 2-4 folks came back 5-10 minutes later than the requested time, holding up the bus.

    The Giant’s Causeway. legend has it, was built by a giant named Finn McCool, but the more likely story is volcanic activity.
    http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/gian...and-do/page-1/

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  17. tom911
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    tom911 Gold Member

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    [​IMG]

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    A warm greeting as we arrived back at the bus:

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  18. tom911
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    Once back in Belfast, coming in via a faster inland route and arriving just before 6pm, we got off the bus near City Hall. Noticed this sign at a bus shelter:

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    Had a pub dinner at The Bridge House which was along the walking route back to our hotel. I enjoyed fish and chips and a pint of ale for 7.25GBP (about $11). Back at the hotel around 8pm and called it a day.

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    I did take a lot of photos here. The fastest way through them is with the right-arrow key on your keyboard. You can also use the slideshow option. I think I got some of the best coastal views I’ve ever taken. It was a challenge picking out a few to feature here.

    Photos from this section start in a new gallery here:
    http://tom911.smugmug.com/Travel-Ire...Northern-Irel/
     
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  19. tom911
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    tom911 Gold Member

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    SATURDAY

    Headed out after breakfast at 10am in the direction of the Titanic Quarter across the River Lagan. Along the way, about a mile into the walk, we popped into St George’s weekend market which offered fresh meat, eggs, produce, seafood and pastries and cupcakes to satisfy any craving for sugar. They even featured entertainment with two musicians. Very busy weekend market.

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  20. tom911
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    Continued on another mile over to the Titanic Museum. Near the museum there is the tender Nomadic that has been restored. It was used to bring passengers out to the Titanic and is the only White Star Line ship still afloat.

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    Front of the museum:

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    Slip where Titanic departed from with the poles indicating an outline of the dock area:

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    Nearby Titanic Studios where Game of Thrones is filmed (several locations for this series were pointed out during our Friday tour to the north coast - apparently it’s very popular though I’ll admit I’ve not watched a single episode - our tour bus company shuttles extras to sites on the north coast):

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    I did not take photos of the museum interior. I do have those on-line from a previous visit here:
    http://tom911.smugmug.com/Travel-Eur...useum-Belfast/

    Walked back into the city center for snacks. Stopped at the Odyssey Center on the way in (events center) and saw this poster for an upcoming event:

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  21. tom911
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    tom911 Gold Member

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    Tom had some apple pie with cream for 2.5 GBP ($3.75). The waitress kept referring to each of us at “lovey”, “darling” or “honey”. Felt right at home.

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    Walked around a bit and went into the Castle Court Mall. Found a store offering American food products. A box of 10 twinkies worked out to $20. They even had Lucky Charms available.

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    Just outside the mall:

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    Back to the hotel at 5:30 to watch Natalie Coughlin compete in the 50 free in Edinburgh which was broadcast “live” on the internet. Headed out for dinner at 7. Scalini’s, the Italian restaurant I like on Botanic was packed with a line, so back to last night’s pub (Bridge House) where we found seats after a short search and all had burgers and beer for about 6 GBP ($9). Back at the hotel about 9.

    SUNDAY

    Walked from our hotel, Holiday Inn Express, to Belfast Central station in 20 minutes. Caught the 11:05am train to Dublin. Train offers free wi-fi. Arrived in Dublin at 1:15pm and had just missed a tram, for a 15 min wait for the next one from the Busaras stop (bus station) which has more frequent service than the train station. Checked into our hotel in the Docklands area just after 2pm.

    My room with an interior courtyard view:

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    Back out at 3:45pm into the city center. Caught up with gvd-iad for drinks and some food at a pub on Harcourt Street, just south of St. Stephen’s Green. He’s homeward bound in the morning so glad we could fit that it.

    Shopped along Grafton Street and eventually made it over to the lobby at the Westin at 7:30pm to meet karung99 and his wife. Walked over to O’Neill’s Pub for dinner and were joined an hour later by puppysara and a guest who had arrived late from LAX. Were there until 9:30. There was some step dancing on the second floor that I took a quick look at before rejoining our group.

    I selected ham and turkey pie for dinner, the same entree Jim has had on our two visits here this week:

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    I did not finish it all this time. Way too much food.
     
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  22. tom911
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    Walked over to Temple Bar to see what the crowd was like. Don’t think I’ll be there the next two nights as it was wall to wall people and you had to squeeze your way through. Many were holding beverages. Many looked like they had already had many, many beverages. Green hats everywhere.

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    Caught the tram back to our hotel and arrived about 10:30pm.

    New photos from Belfast, and then continuing onto Dublin, start here:
    http://tom911.smugmug.com/Travel-Ire...owth/i-3M37zZT
     
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  23. tom911
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    MONDAY

    Enjoyed breakfast in our hotel restaurant this morning for a discounted rate of 12 euros ($12.60) instead of the normal 15 euros ($15.75) because we prebooked a few days out in response to an e-mail. Nice assortment of hot and cold food. I enjoyed muesli with strawberry yogurt and passed on the fried eggs.

    Leisurely morning and we didn’t head out until about 10:30am. Bought tram passes for the day at 6.80 euros ($7.15) to go to/from our hotel which is a good distance from O’Connell Street. Our first stop was in a single story mall at George’s Dock. In my last visit here almost the entire place was vacant and most shops had departed. Things look a lot better this time with some of the space converted to offices, a nice wine store, and the Parade of Pigs, a local fundraiser where different companies sponsor a pig that is eventually sold off to raise funds for charity. We saw a lot of pigs. There were still some shop vacancies but probably only 10% now.

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    The "Taking the Plunge" pig:

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    The "Happy as a Pig in Clover" pig:

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    Last edited: Mar 16, 2015
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  24. tom911
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    tom911 Gold Member

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    [​IMG]

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    There had to be well over 100 pigs. This reminded me of our visit to Hong Kong last year where they had painted elephants instead of pigs.

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    Walked over to Connolly Station and went up to Dun Laoghaire for an hour (6 euros RT- $6.30). It’s a 30 min train ride up. We walked along the waterfront but did not go out to the lighthouse at the end of the pier this time. Popped into a couple shops to look around.

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    Last edited: Mar 16, 2015
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  25. tom911
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    tom911 Gold Member

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    This time we had a sighting of a real Irish wolfhound (apparently the prior one I posted was a mixed wolfhound):

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    There were a lot of vacant shops in a small mall, as well as streetside shops, so pretty clear the economic recovery has not hit Dun Laoghaire yet.

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    Ad at the train station:

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    Back into Dublin and we went shopping along Henry Street and Mary Street, both off O’Connell Street which has the GPO (General Post Office) on it. First stop was for lunch at Anne’s Cafe which has relocated here from the opposite side of O’Connell Street and has been in business for 40 years. Jim and Zennie split some lasagna and chips as well as carrot cake. Tom went straight to chocolate cake (couldn't help myself).

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