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Archive for May, 2010

In general, I’m not a huge fan of guided tours because I would rather explore on my own.  But some guided tours just make sense because the ease of travel makes for a much more enjoyable day.  We took our one (and only) guided tour of the vacation on day three – a day trip to the Aran Islands off of Ireland’s west coast.

The tour left from the city centre of Galway, which was just a short walk from our accommodations.  We stopped and grabbed some breakfast at an internet café – I had a banana and Nutella crêpe and Courtney had a cheese and bacon croissant.  The food was mediocre at best, but that is to be expected across Ireland.

Following a nearly hour bus ride to the ferry port in Rossaveal (County Galway), we boarded a ferry that would take us the rest of the way to Inishmore, the largest of the three Aran Islands. Once we exited the ferry, we quickly found a guided van tour that was as unofficial as you’ll see.  It was a simple white van that sat 12 and filled to capacity in about 15 minutes.  The fee for the 4 hour tour was €10 per person, so our tour guide made a killing during this shift.

The tour guide was awesome.  He took us around the island and explained the significance of the elements we passed, while pulling to the side of the road and allowing us to capture photos of the more significant areas.  The highlight of the tour was the stop at Dun Aengus – an Iron Age fort situated on the edge of a cliff at a height of 330 feet overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.  We climbed to the top of the fort and were treated to spectacular views of the island and the ocean below.

Here are some fun facts about the Aran Islands:

  • The population of Inishmore is close to 800 and 100% of the people are Catholic.
  • Legend has it that there are 7,000+ miles of stone wall on Inishmore.
  • Irish is the main spoken language on all three islands, and is the language used for naming the islands and their villages and townlands.
  • The islands are the home of the Aran sweater, which has gained worldwide appeal during the course of the 20th century.
  • Scenes from the 2010 romantic comedy ‘Leap Year’ were filmed on the islands.

We were exhausted after a long day on the Aran Islands, so we opted for a quiet night in.  The hotel we stayed at that night offered room service and we took advantage by having a couple of pints delivered to the room.  Those pints capped off another great day in Ireland.

The ferry port on Inishmore

The ferry port on Inishmore

Horse-drawn carriage

A horse-drawn carriage, one of the more popular modes of tourist transportation

Rock Walls

A view of the rock walls that populate Inishmore

Narrow Roads

An example of the narrow roads on Inishmore

Dun Aengus – an Iron Age fort on Inishmore

Dun Aengus – an Iron Age fort on Inishmore

View of the cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean

View of the cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean

View of the Atlantic Ocean from the top of Dún Aonghasa

View of the Atlantic Ocean from the top of Dún Aonghasa

I also captured some video that I feel is worthy of sharing.  Check out this young performer playing music at the foot of Dun Aengus…

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Our second day in Ireland wasn’t as laid back as our first.  We woke up early and headed to the airport to pick up our rental car.  Renting a car and deciding to drive around Ireland wasn’t a decision I arrived at easily.  But everyone we spoke with who had been to Ireland encouraged us (well, insisted in the case of Brian O’Leary) to rent a car if we really wanted to see the country.  With the freedom of having a car, came great responsibility.  I was admittedly apprehensive, but was also up for the challenge.

We arrived at the rental counter of Alamo and encountered our first bump in the road.  We reserved a car with automatic transmission, which is important to note because they are actually quite rare in the country because the majority of people drive stick.  Apparently Alamo didn’t remember our reservation (that’s a pun for those that weren’t aware).  They didn’t have any automatics in stock, so they (somewhat surprisingly) made arrangements to have our reservation transferred to Budget.  We were given the same rental rate and received a free upgrade on our car.  An upgrade is usually welcomed with open arms, but it just meant that they were out of the economy class we reserved – a reservation that was less about saving Euros and more about having the smallest car that would accommodate us and our luggage on the narrow Irish roads.

The first 30 minutes of driving ran the gamut of emotions and was a harrowing experience to say the least.  We attempted to use the GPS we rented, but the device was quickly nullified once we hit the first roundabout.  We, well I, missed the exit and put us on some hardcore narrow backroads.  We, well Courtney, used a combination of road maps and GPS to get us back on track after about 25 minutes.

I finally found my groove and the rest of the drive was much easier and even enjoyable.  It took us nearly three hours to cross the country from Dublin on the east coast to Galway on the west coast.  For some perspective, Galway is the third largest city in Ireland, with a population of 72,414 (according to the 2006 census).  We didn’t have any hotel reservations, so that was priority #1 when we arrived in town.  We drove around a while and saw a sign that read “Rooms from €49 Tonight” as soon as we entered the city centre.  The room was above a pub called Garvey’s and the barkeeper doubled as hotel reception.  This is actually a very common practice in Ireland because many of the pubs have rooms available above their bar and usually represents an opportunity to get a clean room for a very reasonable rate.

We checked in, dropped our luggage and then went exploring.  It was a Sunday, so many of the businesses were closed or closed early.  Garvey’s overlooked Eyre Square (renamed John F. Kennedy Memorial Park in 1965) – a park at the centre of Galway and a major meeting point – so that was our starting point.  We checked out the tourist sites including Shop Street, the Galway Cathedral, the Collegiate Church of St. Nicholas, and the Spanish Arch.  We also made our way to the Claddagh, a fishing village located just outside the old walls of the Galway city that is associated with the Claddagh Ring.

I really enjoyed the day in Galway city and would encourage travelers to Ireland to pay a visit.  We also witnessed the hospitality of the Irish people during our day in the city on several occasions.  Everyone we crossed paths with was willing to point us in the right direction or share a story.  It made me very proud to be an Irish-American.

Eyre Square / John F. Kennedy Memorial Park

Eyre Square (John F. Kennedy Memorial Park)

Live Music

Live Music Near Shop Street

Spanish Arch

The Spanish Arch located on the banks of the River Corrib

The Long Walk

"The Long Walk"

Garvey's

Garvey's

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We landed on the morning of Saturday, May 1 after an uncomfortable red-eye flight on Continental Airlines.  Our flight arrived at around 9:30am and we were through customs and had our baggage rather quickly.  The next step was to find transportation to our Hilton hotel in Kilmainham, a suburb of Dublin south of the River Liffey and west of the city centre.  We decided not to stay in the city centre because I had some spare rewards points for a Hilton hotel and this location gave us the opportunity to stretch my points into three nights (the first and last two nights).  We located a travel information booth in the airport and the person suggested a public bus and taxi to get to our hotel (which we did).

Then we had the big decision of the day…to sleep or not to sleep.  Most people suggest riding the day out and staying up as late as you can because that allows your body to best adjust to the 5-hour time difference.  The other school of thought is to take a 1-2 hour power nap and then continue your day.  We opted for the power nap, which wound up being a very refreshing three hour nap.

We then made our way out of the hotel to explore Dublin and enjoy some Irish fare (and cold beverages).  Courtney and I are big fans of navigating public transportation because it allows us to experience the city and represents a cost savings.  So, we got a couple pointers from the front desk and decided to use the Luas (Irish for “speed”), a two-line tram system that was first launched in the summer of 2004.  The closest station was a short walk from our hotel and the tram ride was just about ten minutes into the city centre.

We walked around the city for a while, reminiscing about our last visit to Dublin in 2002.  After a couple hours, we made our way to Temple Bar, an area on the south bank of the River Liffey in central Dublin, for dinner.  This section of Dublin has preserved its medieval street pattern, with many narrow cobbled streets and is aptly promoted as “Dublin’s cultural quarter,” offering lively nightlife that is popular with tourists.  We chose a pub called Farrington’s – a location that is named after a character in James Joyce’s “The Dubliners.”  The exterior of the building displays an establishmed date of 1696.

Our food was average at best, but that is to be expected throughout Ireland.  One would think that the bar fare would be similar to that served in the Irish pubs we have here in America, but it is far inferior.  But the drinks we ordered – our first pints of the trip – were damn good.  Courtney opted for a pint of Bulmers, an Irish cider, and I went with Smithwick’s (pronounced ‘Smitiks’), an Irish red ale style beer from Kilkenny.  We didn’t stray very far from these choices for most of the vacation, which you’ll see through photos.  After dinner, we called it an early night and headed back to Kilmainham on the Luas to get some sleep.

Temple Bar

The Temple Bar Section of Dublin, Ireland

“]Farrington's

Farrington's Pub – est. 1696

First Pints

Our First Pints of the Vacation – Bulmers and Smithwick's

O'Connell Monument

O'Connell Monument – Memorial to Daniel O'Connell (aka 'The Liberator')

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Courtney and I share a passion for travelling.  There’s a good chance that the shared passion is a direct result of the circumstances under which we met back in 2002 – as college students during a semester abroad at Middlesex University in London, England.  We had the opportunity to travel extensively throughout Europe that semester, including 20 days of backpacking all over the continent during our extended spring break.

We returned to the scene of the crime in the spring of 2008 for our honeymoon.  Our trip included visits to six cities – London, Paris, Amsterdam, Prague, Venice and Milan – over a two-week period of time.  Half of the cities (London, Paris, Venice) were return trips and the other half (Amsterdam, Prague, Milan) were brand new to us.  Needless to say, it was an amazing trip and a honeymoon that best suited us.

We’ve had an itch to make it back to Europe ever since.  We want to see it all eventually, but had two locations that were on the top of our list: Ireland and Greece.  So, we finally built up enough vacation time at our new jobs and booked a trip to Ireland.  We decided to tour the southern half of the country, which meant flying in and out of the capital city of Dublin.  We found a decent deal on Continental Airlines for a red-eye and left after work on Friday, April 30 for a nine day vacation.

The next 9 days will take you through our vacation via photos and commentary.  Buckle up because this blogger has turned on the ‘fasten your seatbelt’ sign.

Flight to Dublin

Waiting at the airport for our red-eye flight to Dublin, Ireland

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Driving in New York City can be very intimidating and a task that very few people are willing to tackle.  I was 16 the first time I drove in the city and found it to be somewhat invigorating.  I saw it as a challenge and have never really had any hesitation about driving in this city (or any city for that matter).

My biggest complaint about NYC drivers is the incessant use of the car horn.  If your foot doesn’t hit the gas pedal as soon as the light turns from red to green, you’re bound to have a horn blown in your direction.  And I hear car horns all day long when the windows are open in my 4th floor office building.

I’ve recently noticed a number of signs posted at intersections that simply read: “Don’t Honk – $350 Penalty.”  It got me thinking about how often these citations are handed out by the NYPD.  So, I did some research and found an article that stated that the NYPD issued 580 tickets in 2006 for ‘unnecessary use of horn’; this means that just over 1.5 citations were issued per day in NYC that year.

The fine for violating Section 24-221(a) of the city code (which bans a “claxon” from being sounded “except as a sound signal of imminent danger”) started out at $50, grew to $125 when the first “Don’t Honk” signs went up in the mid-80s and is currently a wallet-emptying $350.  I’m not usually a proponent of over-policing, but I just don’t understand why you take the time to put up the signs if the violation isn’t going to be enforced more regularly.  And it’s of my opinion that the fine is a bit too large.  Wouldn’t it be more effective to revert back to the $125 and hand them out more regularly to reduce (or eliminate) this noise pollution?

“Don’t Honk – $350 Penalty”

Sign on Lexington Avenue: “Don’t Honk – $350 Penalty”

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People tend to be very critical of the state of New Jersey.  I’ve never had any real issues other than the foul smell that everyone describes as they drive through the greater-Newark area and the eyesore that is the city of Paterson.

The Garden State, despite the shenanigans portrayed in MTV’s hit show Jersey Shore, has a lot to be proud about.  The state offers plenty of recreational opportunities like the aforementioned Jersey Shore, Atlantic City, Six Flags Great Adventure and plays host to teams in the NFL, NBA, NHL, MLS.

With that said, my absolute favorite thing about New Jersey is fuel.  For one, NJ is one of just two states that do not allow self-service gas stations (with Oregon being the other); it’s actually illegal for you to pump your own gas.  The last time a bill was floated to overturn the full service law was in 2006 and it was withdrawn in just six days due to public opposition.  The state requires full service gas stations as a way of creating jobs, limiting accidents and assisting the elderly, and has no plans to repeal the full service requirement.

New Jersey also boasts some of the lowest (if not the lowest) gas prices in the nation.  The low price for fuel is directly attributed to having one of the smallest state gas taxes, which allowed them to be the last state to break the $3-a-gallon mark back in 2007. With the state’s transportation trust fund set to run out of money next year, this tax has garnered a great deal of attention as a means to replenish the fund.  For my selfish reasons, I hope that raising the gas tax is the absolute last resort.

Fuel in New Jersey

New Jersey has some of the lowest gas prices in the nation

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The off-season can be a great time to stock up on sports merchandise.  The New York Giants online pro shop had a fire sale recently and I took full advantage.  They reduced their entire store inventory by over 50%, with some items discounted in excessive of 85%.  The reason for this massive liquidation was that they were transitioning from using eSports Partners to NFLshop.com to manage their online store.

I monitored the sale on the site and absolutely had to pick up a couple items when the campaign reached its final days.  I’m fairly particular about the hats I wear and happen to be a huge fan of the Reebok unstructured flex fit team hat that was offered on the site.  They usually run $21.99, but were deeply discounted to $2.50 per hat.  I wasted no time and added six (three red and three blue) to my online shopping cart.  All said and done, I got 6 new hats shipped to me for $19.99.  Most people think it’s odd to stock up on hats like people do during canned food sales, but I know a deal when I see one.

New York Giants Hats

New York Giants merchandise purchase from the online closeout sale

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