Ireland Day 4

Sunday, 21 July 2024

Northern Ireland has been strange. There’s no acknowledgement as you cross the border from Ireland but the road signs change to miles, currency is in pounds and there are English flags and Northern Ireland Ulster banners absolutely everywhere – some houses have 2 or 3 plus strands of red white and blue pennants. There are also heaps of banners and murals and town arches commemorating some English victory or bravery in the past.  Memories are still really fresh I guess.  

Today we went to the Belfast markets which were ok, then on to check out Jon’s mum’s university and her childhood homes. 

 

 

During the walks and drives around we got a good sense of the city and aside from a few areas in my view it’s mostly pretty bleak. It probably didn’t help that it rained most of the day but it definitely didn’t help that there was a lot of rubbish, abandoned buildings and graffiti.  People in the UK also haven't learnt how to clean up after their dogs yet, which is gross.

 

The botanical gardens were quite nice. 

Getting out of the city and up into the hills between Belfast and Dublin was much nicer and we found another little woods to stroll around along the way.

 

Crossing back into Ireland again went without fanfare but did see the end of the overt English nationalism and the return of much more flag based support for county sports teams contesting finals in the upcoming weeks.  We stopped in at Decathlon to buy a cheapo tent for our next week of camping in Sweden (paying the extra $ for a bag on the plane was going to be a lot cheaper and easier than trying to get one in Denmark or Sweden on the way), then once we made it to our little house (which backs onto a gaol) I just had to check us in for our Ryan Air flight tomorrow – which is where the day has gone downhill.  While filling in the passport details I accidentally got the month of Jon’s expiry date wrong which is not only unfixable, but also un-ignorable as part of the check in process is scanning the chip in the back of the passport which is rightly saying that the details I entered and the passport details don’t match.  I immediately joined the help queue (in spot 331) and was down to spot 78 when the office closed. Fingers crossed we can sort this out tomorrow or only 3 of us will make it to Copenhagen tomorrow night.

We are just back from a pizza place nearby which was nice and not too expensive (Ireland has been the cheapest for food and meals of anywhere so far).

 

     

Ireland Day 3

Sunday, 21 July 2024

Today was huge.  Our first stop was almost 3 hours north to Prehan Forest on the outskirts of Londonderry where the last little scrap of original Irish forest apparently remained.

 

We walked a very small loop of it then continued into Londonderry to visit the Tower Museum which had an amusing exhibition from the Derry Girls series, then a very unamusing, long and detailed history of all the atrocities and tragedies that had befallen the city since ancient times.  Good grief. The constant power shifts between Protestants and Catholics in this city was a story of much pain and destruction. 

No time to dwell too much though – as it was onwards to Dunluce Castle which also gave us the opportunity to admire the spectacular coastline in that area.

 

Further down the road was the famous Giants Causeway which was the reason we had had to keep to a pretty strict schedule all morning. It’s so popular you have to book a 30 minute arrival slot to make sure you can get it. Ours was 3.30 to 4pm. Luckily we arrived early as it was a fair trek down to the rocks themselves from the visitor centre so we quickly burned up our allotted 1 hour visiting time.  The rocks were ok – impressive but not absolutely amazing. I should mention that to visit them cost well over $100 dollars – to park and walk down the path to them and back. Imagine if Australia started charging for people to park and see the features on the Great Ocean Road – it seems pretty normal here though.

 

         

After that we did more coastal driving to a spot with a famous swing bridge that fishermen used in the olden times. This is what it would have looked like if we had paid the $30 each to go over it..

instead we stood at a great distance to check it out – which did afford us views a seal playing in the water far below which was cool.  After that we allowed ourselves 7 minutes to eat lunch (at 5pm) in the car.

 

Then we turned inland to check out something called ‘dark hedges’.  It was a bit lame really – just a lane where the trees grew over it a bit to make a canopy – Kangaroo Island does this a lot better and without charging 5 pounds for parking.

 

Back to the the coast we made our way down towards Belfast, stopping to check out some caves and at all the nice views along the way.

 

 

We finally made it to our tiny apartment in Belfast at 8pm – not too bad given the day we’d had. 

 

Ireland Day 2

Friday, 19 July 2024

Unfortunately I woke up feeling worse rather than better, but this fast-tour of Ireland stops for no-one so it was out the door at 8:15 to avoid our car being clamped in the overnight carpark we left our delightfully spacious Hyundai Tuscon parked in.

We had many stops today - all of them were surprising or spectacular or both. I was amazed at the variety of landscapes we saw. Every town was quaint and pretty - particularly the ones that had decorated due to their hurling team being in the All Ireland grand final next Saturday.  And who knew Ireland had such nice beaches - with white sand! And fjords!! and more cliffs, and more sheep, and so so many one way roads which Jon had to negotiate again as I was in no shape to drive having only one eye due to conjunctivitis setting in overnight (sigh).

We started with a quick walk through Galway.. 

  

 

Then we made our way north via Killary Fjord, Doolough Valley, Westport, Minaun Heights, Achill Head and Slievemore Deserted Villiage 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We kept the hustle up all day so we made it to our accommodation in Ballina by 6pm.  I'm writing this while Jon and Jett are watching Derry Girls in preparation for our trip via Londonderry tomorrow which will be another big day as we will end up in Belfast.

Ireland has been amazing so far. 

Ireland Day 1

Friday, 19 July 2024

A 5am start to the day had us driving away from Dublin airport just before 10am. I recon we encountered our first sheep on the road less than 1/2 an hour later as we headed out to the countryside via Sally Gap and a national park.

 

 

 

 

We had a few stops on our way across to the Cliffs of Moher which were spectacular:

 

 

We probably dilly dallied a bit too much during the day as we didn't arrive at our hostel accommodation until 8pm - unfortunately Jon had to do all of the quite taxing driving as I was feeling too sick to contemplate it. 

Edinburgh Day 5

Friday, 19 July 2024

I woke up on our last full day of Edinburgh feeling pretty bad - I've been fighting a cold for days and my cough was not getting any better with long days and running races so I decided to stay in bed for the morning's event as it was a bit of a trek from our place on 2 busses. 

 

So while I lay in bed, Jon, Jett and Zali watched the very low key qualification races then J & J did a run themselves while Zali bussed back to our place and consequently suddenly appeared outside the loungeroom window just when I had finally decided to get up.  After getting over the shock we decided the only remaining chance we had to walk up Arthurs Seat was right then, so after a moment to psych ourselves into it we headed on up the hill.

 

 

 

 

Although I still felt pretty bad we made it up to the top pretty quickly which was good as when we got home it turned out we had to leave the house again very quickly to make it into town for the finals of the knock out sprint which were going to be pretty exciting - particularly with the rain making things slippery.

 

 

We parked ourselves on the final corner of the race before the finish sprint which meant we got a good view of a lot of pushing and shoving and desperation of the athletes wanting to make it through to the final - it was great fun. 

As soon as it was over we did our last Edinburgh walk home to pack and get ready for the next day's flight to Ireland. 

 

Edinburgh Day 4

Tuesday, 16 July 2024

I spent the night coughing so I got up feeling pretty tired and yuk this morning. I wasn't sure I'd be able to run our second last tour event today but after being vertical for a while I felt like I could at least start it and take it easy.

The long urban race started from near the Meadows - my course was over 6k, Zali and Jon's were 8 and Jett had 10k. Edinburgh isn't flat so there were lots of steps and zillions of tourists to negotiate on the way.  Despite feeling crappy it was good fun - particularly running through the Royal Mile and in and out of lots of tiny alleyways and streets.   

 

Afterwards we caught a bus back into town and strolled up the mile to the castle, where we had entry tickets for the afternoon.  Unfortunately it started raining as we got there and I was definitely feeling pretty bad by that time so it wasn't the greatest experience despite the good views.

Nevertheless we wandered around for as long as we could bear then walked back across Princes Park to the bus home.

Tomorrow is the last day - we'll be watching the knockout sprint qualifying in the morning then the finals in the late afternoon - it should be good fun. 

Edinburgh Day 3

Monday, 15 July 2024

We didn't do too much touristing today as we had a long trek out to the event centre to watch the sprint relay and then have our own runs.

We started the day with a 20 minute walk into town to a recommended bakery for some cinnamon scrolls. We ate these in one of Edinburgh's many (slightly dilapidated) parks before jumping on a bus for a 45 minute trip out to a big university campus way out of town.  

 

The event organisers had set up an amazing indoor arena for the relay with a grandstand looking over an artificial soccer pitch which had a temporary maze and the change over area for the athletes as well as a big screen for the spectators. 

 

 

we're in the top right above - photo credit IOF / Kristina Lindgren 

It was all really great except for one hitch - you had to have a ticket to get into the venue and they were all sold out well before the day so at least half the spectators were outside in the fanzone (which was also pretty good as there was another screen and the athletes ran past them on every leg).

 

(photo credit: IOF / Kristina Lindgren) 

The outside people didn't get to see them doing the maze or changing over which was a shame.  We were lucky enough to have tickets as Zali had insisted we buy them when we got an email from the organisers about a ticketed arena months ago - it was hard to know if it was going to be worth it but we bought them anyway and it turned out to be fantastic.  Watching athletes run into the soccer pitch and have to navigate the not-very-difficult maze section with an onlooking crowd and other athletes breathing down their neck was pretty cool. The race came down to the very last few controls when Switzerland got a little bit of a break - enough to avoid a sprint finish and get their first gold medal in 10 years apparently.

(photo credit: IOF / Kristina Lindgren) 

After the event we had our own longish courses to run throughout the campus which were fun then we had to hot-foot it back to the bus stop for our 1 hour bus ride home.

Walking back down our street on the way home I encountered some of the resident cats - it must have been the perfect time of day (pre-dinner) as they were all hanging around at the front of their houses.

 

     

At home we uber ordered some takeaway curry which was delicious and celebrated my birthday with some cake from the supermarket. My birthday wish was to wake up today without the cough and cold I've had for a few days but that wasn't to be unfortunately.

 


Edinburgh Day 2

Sunday, 14 July 2024

After a quick trip to Sainsburys for supplies we were all out the door by 9.30 so we could stroll through the royal mile and some city laneways before making our way out to our tour event (it was a rest day for the elite runners).  We had intended to catch a bus to town but decided just to walk instead as we could go via Carlton Hill and take in a few extra views.  

 

Down off the hill we strolled the city streets which were starting to get busy but no-where near as packed as we saw them later in the day.

 

 

We wove our way through the streets to one of the renown hot chocolate providers in Edinburgh (Zali has at least 4 she wants us to visit).  With them in hand we strolled through The Meadows in the light drizzle then we got a bus to one of the University of Edinburgh’s campuses.

   

 

We arrived in good time for our indoor orienteering event – which was super fun and really confusing.  You often had to go up a floor in order to go down, or climb a floors up a certain staircase so you could use a different set to go down again as the organisers used tricky barriers across the floors.  There were a lot of people (like me) spending a lot of time standing around trying to work out how to solve the next leg.

    

Afterwards it was back onto a bus as we headed back across town to an area called Deans Village which was really lovely.

 

 

We made our way back up to Princes Street via some more quaint streets:

 

That whole area was pretty quiet compared to the rest of the city - except for these tourists who kept ruining my photos:

 

We made it home in time for a quick rest before heading back across town for dinner with some other Tasmanians.  By the time we left the rain had really set in so the bus ride through historic Edinburgh looked like this:

   

The photo on the right was my entry into the daily family photographic competition in the 'nature' category. It didn't win but I feel I was robbed so I'm putting it here. 

Edinburgh Day 1

Saturday, 13 July 2024

We're actually in Edinburgh for almost a week as we watch the sprint world champs and do our own races while we also do all the touristy stuff.

Today we walked about 15 minutes to the arena for the first official day of the world championships - the sprint qualifying. We cheered the Australians and watched everyone else try to qualify for the afternoon final before we went out ourselves to do our own course.

 

If I had any misgivings about the economic state of Edinburgh before I started my race, they certainly weren't alleviated as we ran through housing estates and abandoned concrete blocks near Leith.  We did get a good glimpse of the water which was nice but it was hard to enjoy it properly while we raced over the broken glass and rubbish.

The afternoon event was a different story however. Right in the heart of Edinburgh - Princes Park - the arena was absolutely spectacular:

 

 

 

The elite finalists had a really tricky course and there were a few upsets. It had a great atmosphere and it was finally sunny as well.  We watched until the very end then took a bus back to our apartment and made pizzas for tea. Perfect. 

Scotland Day 3

Saturday, 13 July 2024

We all had a good sleep in our top floor room of the quirky little hostel we were staying in.  Hostels have changed a lot since our youth - you no longer bring your own bedding, they are more expensive (but you don't have to do chores), and they seem to be a lot quieter than they used to be - but perhaps that's just the two we've stayed at so far. We've got a few more ahead of us this trip so we'll know for sure by the end.

 

Our first stop  of the day was just across the bridge at the Eilean Donan Castle.  This looked spectacular but we chose not to get any closer than this photo due to the parking and castle entry fees ($60 each) - and we figured we should save our castle money for Urquhart Castle on Lock Ness a bit later in the day.


This turned out to be a bit of a mistake though, as when we pulled into the Urquhart Castle the parking attendants sent us away as we weren't booked for a time slot, and the next one wasn't until the afternoon. We barely got a glimpse of it from the road so it was a bit of a shame.  Loch Ness itself wasn't particularly spectacular - a long narrow lake that reminded me a lot of the Mjosa from my time in Norway.

We drowned our sorrows with some expensive pastries in Inverness before continuing onto a little town near the Cairngorm Mountains where there was a lovely little walk by the river with nice views of the range:



Afterwards we had lunch in a random little park by a car park where we observed lots of people leaving for more significant hikes than ours had been. Then it was onwards to Edinburgh.  We drove straight to the airport, returned our too-small car, then Ubered to our little Airbnb apartment which is really cute but unfortunately doesn't have a washing machine as we were all looking forward to washing Jett's clothes!

    

While I schlepped to the local laundromat, Jett and Jon ran up and around Arthurs Seat then went to the supermarket.  While I waited for the washing (13 pounds!!) I did a walk around the local area and I couldn't help noticing that Edinburgh seemed a lot more run down than it was the last time I was here - it could just be our area, but there were a lot of boarded up shops, downtrodden looking pedestrians and street sleepers.


By the time we all got home from our chores it was well after 8 and had been another big day so it was great to have dinner (stir fry by Jon) and get to bed. 

 

Scotland Day 2

Thursday, 11 July 2024

Another day, another zillion steps! Today Jon and I started the day with a little jog through a woodland park on the outskirts of the tiny town we are staying in. 

 

 

From there it was an early departure to get the 2nd ferry of the day from Malaig to the Isle of Skye - once again Zali was smart enough to make us book it months ago as it only fits 8 cars at a time and it was booked out for most of the day otherwise.   

 

 

Skye was of course spectacular - from the little villages to the waterfalls to the huge cliffs and fjords to the lochs and beaches and little islands.  Our day was too big to do a blow by blow account of our every stop but hopefully I can get enough internet to upload some pictures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The weather was pretty blustery and cold all day which made the hardest earnt and most spectacular (apparently) tourist attraction the Old Man of Storr almost completely invisible in the mist and fog. Still - we consider ourselves lucky that it wasn't raining all day as Skye has something like 220 days of rain a year.

We've only just arrived at our hostel and Jon is whipping up dinner in the kitchen while we sit around in various states of exhaustion. 

 

Scotland Day 1

Wednesday, 10 July 2024

Today’s first challenge was to make it out to Stansted airport in time to catch our Ryan Air flight which departed at 8am – this meant being ready to walk out the door of our hotel at 5am. I’m not sorry to be leaving it – despite its great location the room was cramped to say the least,  unbelievably expensive (just under 500 per night),  had very hard mattresses and tiny beds, the ensuite was less than a metre wide, and it was easy to spot which hotel was ours in the street of similar hotels because ours was the only one which had piles of rubbish in pink garbage bags outside of it. Oh and the hotel sign was simply an a4 piece of paper sticky taped to a pole. Fancy.

 

 

We made it all the way to Edinburgh with no major hassles until we got to the hertz car rental desk – well, we got to the hertz car rental desk QUEUE , which was long and very very slow - it took us over an our to make it to the front of the queue and we joined with only 9 other people in front of us – we considered ourselves lucky though as people arriving later had to join the queue with almost 30 irritated customers ahead of them.   We finally got our instructions for the car and went outside to get it, only to find it wasn’t there, in fact it had been lent out an hour earlier.  Back inside the staff apologised and said they would upgrade us to an automatic car for our troubles.  I was happy with this until we went back outside to discover the ‘upgraded’ car was actually a Toyota Yaris which was a difficult fit for all of us and our bags (or original car was bigger). With nothing to be done but pay 50 pounds a day to upsize, we stuffed ourselves in and finally headed into the highlands of Scotland, stopping first at the supermarket to fill any tiny space left in the car.

The drive over to the coast via Glencoe was really spectacular and we stopped lots of times to take in  the amazing views, as well as another longer stop to wait for a train to go over a via duct where Harry Potter was filmed. 

 

 


We are now staying in a bunk house in a tiny town by the sea and we’ll be up early again to get the ferry across to the Isle of Skye.

London Day 3

Wednesday, 10 July 2024

Leaving the kids to sleep in, Jon and I were up early to run across Hyde Park to a suburb called Belgravia which was noted for having some of the prettiest streets in London.   It was a nice run and the very upmarket high street didn’t disappoint – it was short in length but there were lots of pretty shops and window displays – London does a nice streetscape.  I wonder how many cats visit the 'Dog and Cat outfitters' shop.

  

   

 

We left the hotel all together later in the morning to go back to Westminster to do a ferry trip all the way down to Greenwich – despite it being pretty cold and occasionally showery it was really good to see the tourist attractions from the water, and then to see a fair chunk of ‘normal’ London between tower bridge and Greenwich. Greenwich itself was surprisingly pretty but we didn’t really have time to enjoy it as we had to hotfoot it to the train station as we were meeting Zali’s friend Julia back in the city. 

 

 

With Julia collected we did a lap of the Tower of London (we didn’t go inside as it was 35 pounds each) then was wandered over to the ruins of the Church of St Dunstain in the East which was a quiet little place in the midst of the big buildings. 

 

Our next destination was Horizon 22 – a big (and free) viewing platform on floor 58 of the Horizon building.  Even though it was free it required booking in advance so luckily  Zali was all over it and had secured us tickets months ago.

 

 

 

After taking in London from a great height we went to find somewhere to have dinner  at ground level with Julia before we went our separate ways. We took the train back to Paddington (with a quick detour in Hyde Park for Jett) while Julia headed home to the fancy school she works at in the direction of Ascot.

We spent the rest of the evening trying to squish everything back in our bags in readiness for our 5am departure the next morning.  London has been nice (although cold and rainy) but I’m definitely ready to get out of the big city.

London Day 2

Monday, 8 July 2024

I woke up feeling surprisingly fresh (probably not that surprising given my 11 hour sleep) just before 7 so Jon and I went out for a cruisy run at Hyde Park which was nice. Neither of us were desperate to use them but I can’t believe London is still trying to charge people 20p to use public toilets everywhere – who even has cash anyway? It seems mean spirited and unnecessary and London I think less of you for it.

 

 

 

 

After showers we all headed back to Paddington Station at 9am and got the metro to Black Friers which gave us a nice stroll to the Tate Modern.  After our Europe trip in 2019 I was imagining huge queues but there was hardly anyone waiting to get in when we got there. I really enjoyed the gallery – if I lived in London it would be nice to be a member and really spend more time with the artworks but I’m pretty happy we got a glimpse of some of it anyway.

 

After the Tate we strolled ten minutes to Borough Markets which was pretty packed compared to the gallery. I’m surprised how many long queues there were for some of the stalls _oysters and donuts seemed to be the most popular. We bought some bread and pretzels and ate them as we walked back over London Bridge to St Pauls Cathedral.  From there we strolled through some more cool little streets back to the train station and headed back to Paddington so we could meet Jett who was arriving from Venice and was making his way to our hotel from Gatwick.

As we left the station we checked Jett’s location on google maps and saw that he was last tracked 2minutes earlier just a few streets away but with only 1% battery, so chances were his phone had gone flat in the meantime. We hurried back to the hotel to see if he’d made it but he hadn’t so we set out again to find him, likely wandering aimlessly through Paddington with a flat phone .  Our timing was perfect as we bumped into him just a block away – he’d done a good job of remembering the route before his phone died but he was almost at the point of asking strangers of the address.

We took him back to our room and quizzed him on his adventures – we’ve discovered that a) he’s a bit sick and b) he’s got a big bag of washing we’re not going to be able to do anything about for at least a week!

No-one was keen to rush out again (particularly Jett) so we watched the grand prix at Silverstone on tv and had some lunch with our market products.

Once recovered we took the metro back to Victoria station and did a walking loop back to Buckingham Palace, then 10 Downing Street, Whitehall, Westminster Abbey & Big Ben then we crossed the Thames on our way to Waterloo Station where we took the metro on the Bakerloo line which we resolved never to use again due to it’s dinginess and hot steamy trains despite it not really being that warm outside.

  

We bought fish and chips from a place a block from our hotel and took them home to eat which was probably a good thing as our shock and surprise at how terrible they were might have offended the chef had we eaten in the establishment.

Back to our hotel room we’re settling in -Jett is still not feeling great – hopefully a good night’s rest will help.

London Day 1

Monday, 8 July 2024

Arriving super early into London we had to somehow get through the day without falling asleep on the tube and ending up in Slough, or simply falling asleep in on a park bench and waking up when the sun went down– as it happened the constant rain varying in intensity from light drizzle to bucketing down certainly meant the sunning-ourselves-in-Hyde-park option was off the table.   After making our way from Heathrow to our accommodation in Paddington we stashed our luggage and headed out on an almost 5 hour walking tour of our precinct, starting in Hyde Park..

 

 

..passing Buckingham Palace which was unexpectedly exciting as we happened to catch King Charles leaving the palace after some official engagement.

 

 

From there we went through St James Park, Trafalgar Square, Nelsons Column, the West End, Neils Yard..

 

 


..then a long haul all the way back down Oxford Street back to our hotel where we could finally officially check in and have showers. It was about 3pm by that stage and although we had vague plans to go and find somewhere later to eat dinner, after 5 +hours of walking with 13kms covered, no-one could face another step so we spent the rest of the day relaxing and trying to keep our eyes open until it was conceivably bed time.  I lasted until about 7.30, everyone else lasted until the end of the penalty shootout between England and Switzerland in the Euros which resulted in the streets all around us coming alive with honking car horns.

The location of our dodgy hotel is fantastic – a few hundred metres from both Hyde Park and Paddington Station. The room is incredibly small despite being incredibly expensive.  Our first night only had 3 of us of in it, so Jon and I could each have a bed rather than share what is more like a king single bed than a double bed. With Jett returning to us tomorrow it will be a bit more crowded.

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