May 21-24: Belfast and home

On Saturday morning I got up, got some breakfast, packed up my things and headed for the O’Connelly train station in Dublin, which was conveniently located just down the street from my hotel! It took some doing to figure out when the train was from their website – it’s pretty terrible. But I eventually sussed out that it was at 11:00 (or 13:20), bought my ticket and hopped on the train with some sock yarn that I got at This Is Knit. I got pretty much to the heel. Ah, soothing stockinette.

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From Belfast Central station I hopped on another train to get to Botanic station, where my hotel was – I stayed at Tara Lodge, a B&B I’d highly recommend if you’re ever going to Belfast! The rooms were spacious and clean, the bed was comfy and they have free wifi too. Oh, and breakfast was delicious. I felt really comfortable there. It’s a bit outside the city centre, but it’s very close to the University and the Botanic Gardens, and it’s just a 10 or 15 minute walk to the city centre anyway.

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I was a little early to check in, so I left my bag and had some lunch, and checked out the Ulster Museum. It was really rainy and windy (my umbrella kept flipping) so lots of other people had the same idea of going to the museum! I also walked to the city centre and looked around, but by then it was getting late enough that many of the shops were closing. I ended up getting takeaway, going back to the hotel and catching up on Doctor Who.

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Belfast is really a lovely city. But by this point in the trip I was having a bit of sightseeing fatigue, and I have hardly any photos. Plus the rain and wind didn’t make for great conditions! Sunday is a very quiet day in the city, and if businesses are open at all, it’s limited hours like 1-6pm. It made for a pretty relaxing weekend, actually, since I didn’t feel a lot of pressure (self-inflicted, of course) to really go out and about and see a bunch of things. In the morning, though, St. George’s market is open so I went and had a look there. It’s a lot like St. Lawrence market here in Toronto. The Saturday market has the fruit + veg, which I’m sad that I missed, but the Sunday market is pretty interesting too. It’s mostly ready to eat foods, crafts, and vintage stuff. There was even a yarn booth!

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The only thing I bought was a bag of hand-fried crisps (potato chips) with sea salt and pink peppercorn – they were frying right there in the market. Yum!

Then I went and hung out in a coffee shop for awhile with my Kindle and my knitting, before heading to check out some of the shopping areas. I decided to do a bit of a spa day, so I bought some body scrub and stuff at the drugstore and also got a manicure and pedicure. Unfortunately the woman who was doing my nails really didn’t do a very good job – I ended up buying nail polish remover and a bottle of polish too, and redoing my nails in my hotel room.

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Victoria Square has a dome at the top with a viewing platform – it’s a really lovely view of Belfast. And that day was mostly sunny and clear, so you could actually see!

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There wasn’t much else to do that night – I went out for Japanese food (udon soup and some sushi), did my nice long hot shower body scrub thing, and repacked my things. It was a really short stay in Belfast, but I enjoyed it. It felt really restful and was perfect for recharging before my long journey home.

The first leg of my trip home was on Monday. I had breakfast in the hotel again, hung out and then left my luggage and had some tea at a cafe, and sat in the park reading for a little while. Though it was sunny, it was VERY windy! It was almost hard to walk at some points. I took the train and the bus out to Belfast International Airport, which is quite a ways outside of the city – I’m glad I didn’t try to take a taxi! It was a pretty straightforward trip out there, but then I ended up spending rather a long time in the airport. My plan had been to fly to Edinburgh, pick up some things I’ve left at Ysolda’s flat, then take the train to Glasgow and stay the night there. Then I’d fly home to Toronto from Glasgow on Tuesday morning.

Well. The flight to Edinburgh kept getting delayed, and finally they just cancelled it altogether! It was quite a large plane, so there were a lot of irate people. We had to go back through to the check in desks in order to talk to someone about our options. I gather that the wind and storms were worse in Edinburgh, and something happened at the airport that made them cancel a whole bunch of flights (a roof coming off a building? something like that). Luckily I was near the front of the queue, and was able to rebook onto a flight to Glasgow that evening. It actually worked out fine, though I had to leave a few purchases in Edinburgh (I’ll get them later sometime, mostly whisky!).

I spend from 3-9 in the airport, got my 25 minute (!) flight to Glasgow, then went straight to my hotel, which I’d booked right next to the airport. Got in around 10:45pm so it was convenient to just walk to the hotel from the airport! It’s pretty much on the airport grounds, I think. My flight home from Glasgow the next morning was slightly nerve-wracking, because many flights were canceled due the volcanic ash cloud! Sheesh, when it rains it pours. Lots of people were being bussed down to Manchester (which isn’t super close; about 4 hours’ drive) to catch flights out. Luckily, my flight seemed to be just fine. It was a little longer than usual, about 8 hours, because had to take a more southern route to avoid the ash. Due to the magic of time zones, I left Glasgow at 10:30am and got home to Toronto at 2:30pm.

Though I had to cut my trip short, I’m glad to be back home. I missed my bed, my shower, my laundry machine and my own cooking! I saw lots of great sights and had fun walking around cities that I hadn’t been to before. I don’t know if I’m cut out for really long-term travel, but after going around under my own steam for 3 weeks, I think I’ve got some good travel confidence built up. I was definitely lonely sometimes, and I think it would’ve been fun to have a companion to share experiences with, but all in all I’m glad I went on my own. Now I know that I can do it in the future if I want to!

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May 18-20: Dublin

Had a hard time getting out of bed to leave Cardiff – that was a damn good bed! I grabbed a sandwich in the morning and took a cab to the airport for my flight. I was really early, but I actually don’t really mind waiting around airports. I had my knitting and reading (just finished Candyfreak – excellent nonfiction about candy!). There was some kind of mixup with the flight, where we weren’t boarding, then they said the flight was delayed by an hour, but then they started boarding people after all! Confusing, but we got off the ground and were in Dublin at about 1pm.

I caught a taxi to the city centre and had a nice chat with the driver, who was a bit gruff but had lots of Dublin info to share. The hotel itself was really basic, with a single bed, but there was free internet and the proximity to things was good. The street itself (Talbot st) is a tiny bit sketchy but I had no problems. And it’s really easy to get places from there.

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I didn’t intentionally plan for my trip to be while the Queen was there visiting – how was I supposed to know that? Heh. Unfortunately it did kind of screw things up. As I went out for my first walk, headed into the city centre, I found that the quays were all closed by the Garda (police) and no one was allowed to cross because the Queen was driving around, or something. People in the crowd were pretty irritated, and lots of people were on their phones saying that they couldn’t get anywhere! I wasn’t held up for very long that time, and did manage to do some wandering around.

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Also unbeknownst to me, there was a really big rugby game on that night, so there were a lot of tourists around for that too, drinking and such. Temple Bar was a mess! I got stuck again later on by the barricades/traffic restrictions, but since I wasn’t really in a hurry to get anywhere, I just took lots of photos.

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(note: this was before 6pm)

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On Thursday I met up with a friend from home – we were best friends in middle school, but drifted apart later on with university and all that. Wendy just happened to be in Dublin on vacation at the same time, and we managed to arrange a meetup via Facebook! Oh, the magic of the internets. We went for breakfast (for me, snack for her) and then went on a bit of a random adventure that involved walking through the Liberties (not a great area). Oops. We went to the Chester Beatty Library, which was lovely, and had lunch in the cafe there.

Unfortunately we weren’t able to check out Dublin castle, because it was closed! The Queen really messed things up in the city while she was there – we certainly weren’t the only tourists sad that things were closed. We also went to the Bank of Ireland building, the old post office, and the Garden of Remembrance.

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In the evening I headed back to the yarn shop in the Powerscourt Towncentre, This is Knit. It’s a lovely shop, and we had a bit of a trunk show and knit night rolled up with tea and biscuits. It was great to hang out with the knitters and there were several projects from my patterns! Yay! Afterwards some of us headed to a hotel bar to continue the knitting festivities, which was super fun.

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(Classic yarn shop workers’ pose, no?)

Friday I suffered from a severe bout of camnesia and I have no photos! I met up with Diane, who is a displaced Torontonian knitter living in Dublin. She used to come to knitting at lettuce knit so it was great to see her! We met up in the morning and went to the Museum of Decorative Arts, which was really great. Lots of awesome textile-y exhibits too! I especially liked the NeillĂ­ Mulcahy exhibit.

Then we went to Cornucopia, a really lovely vegetarian restaurant that was really busy! Lunch was delicious, and a good dose of veggies for me. After lunch we went to Trinity College and checked out the Book of Kells and the Long Room, which was pretty great. I had to run back to my hotel for a bit, but we met up again afterwards for a knitters’ meetup with another knitter visiting from the UK (but she’s actually from Australia). Went for dinner to a Filipino restaurant where we had lots of laughs and great conversation.

I headed back to my hotel early to pack up to head to Belfast on Saturday. While I was in the hotel that night though, I received an email from my cousin saying that my maternal grandmother’s condition was worsening and that she would probably pass away soon. She did pass away that night, and though I have spent the weekend in Belfast as planned, I’m cutting my trip short by about 5 days to head home to Toronto on Tuesday morning.

I’ll catch you all up on my time in Belfast once I’m back home. It’s a really nice town. I should be able to get the website completely sorted with the malware stuff this week as well – sorry it’s taken me so long, I can’t figure out what’s wrong with it! Despite the circumstances I’m actually pretty ready to go home. I had a great 3 weeks in the UK and Ireland.

May 15-17: Cardiff

Sunday I caught the train to Cardiff from London – only due to “engineering works”, the train wasn’t going all the way to Cardiff. I had to get off the train at Bristol Parkway along with a LOT of other people, and catch a coach bus replacement. Only a bus doesn’t exactly replace the passenger load of a train, you know? I think there were about 6 buses needed. And then the driver we had, though very competent at driving and very nice, actually didn’t know where the Cardiff train station was located and people in the bus were trying to give him directions. Oy.

We finally got there and I wandered around trying to find my hotel – I didn’t have a map, which wasn’t very smart! There were lots of city centre maps around though, and I did find it eventually (it was just sort of tucked in behind some other buildings). I stayed at a Premier Inn in a brand new building, so everything was lovely and new and clean. I really enjoyed my stay there.

That afternoon and evening I walked around and went to Jamie’s Italian for dinner (that’d be Jamie Oliver) – I went quite early and only waited about 10 minutes, but by the time I left around 18:00 there was quite a queue at the door! The food was delicious – especially this bruschetta, which I really must try to replicate at home. It was topped with smashed beetroot and ricotta with basil and orange zest.

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Random Cardiff photos…

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That evening since things closed early, I ended up going to the cinema and watching a pretty crappy movie (“Take Me Home Tonight”). It occupied the evening. Had a late snack in the hotel restaurant because everything else was closed!

The next day I headed to the castle, which is really quite lovely. I had an audio guide, which I’ve actually grown to appreciate – I used to think they were unnecessary, but they do provide lots of interesting information when you need a little something. I climbed up to the viewing platform on the top of the keep, the highest building in the castle. It’s on a mound surrounded by a moat. It was 100 stairs to get to the top, but the view was great.

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Took a brief look around the Cardiff story (museum) and had lunch at the cafe in the Old Library. Then I walked to the National Museum only to find that it was closed on Mondays! It was a bit of a theme of the day, unfortunately.

I caught the bus down to Cardiff Bay and wandered around. Any Torchwood fans?

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Bought some yummy Welshcakes and went over to Techniquest, a science and technology museum…also closed on Mondays.

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I walked the mile back to the city centre, and then decided to go check out a restaurant I’d heard a lot about and guess what? Yup, closed on Mondays. Argh! I ended up eating dinner in a random Italian restaurant in the mall, which wasn’t amazing, but it was good and had vegetables.

When I went back to the hotel I made a decision to change my plans. What’s a trip on my own if I can’t change my mind, after all? I decided to cancel the next night in Swansea and just stay put in Cardiff. I was tired, and I really needed not to pack up, take a train, check into another hotel, and explore another city for 1 day only to have to come back to Cardiff the next morning (in a rush) to catch my flight out. I was really relieved after I went downstairs and got an extra night.

It gave me time to go back to the National Museum the next day at a leisurely pace. It’s a pretty nice museum, but by this time I was suffering from a bit of museum fatigue! Especially with Natural History museums and historical art galleries, they all tend to run together after awhile. The museum tried really hard to tie things into Wales and Welsh history, but it was only mildly successful.

I also did a little bit of shopping, picking up a new wallet to replace my ageing and falling apart one, and went to the oldest record shop in the world on a tip from Mary-Heather!

Spillers Records

Spillers Records

Spillers Records

That evening I went for Indian food, and to the movies again – this time, I saw Water for Elephants. It was actually better than I thought it would be, and I enjoyed it. I like going to the cinema in different places, I’ve been in Edinburgh and Delhi as well. It’s such a familiar experience, something I really appreciate when I’ve been going around doing and seeing things that are unfamiliar.

As I’m writing this, I’m coming to the end of my time in Dublin – so I’m still one destination behind my blogging! I’m leaving for Belfast in the morning, but due to some family circumstances I may be cutting the rest of my trip a bit short. I’m sort of in wait and see mode, which is a bit unsettling.