2019 Ireland/Scotland

The adventures to Ireland and Scotland - June 24 thru July 3, 2019

Monday June 24, 2019

Today we meet at the high school at 2:30 to load the bus and set off to Dulles International for our evening flight to Dublin.  

Tuesday June 25, 2019

Our overnight flight to Dublin went without incident.  Some travelers slept the whole trip, others watched movies.  We waited to get through immigration and collect our group to meet our guide -Sarah.  Sarah lead us from the terminal to our bus with Shamus, our driver.  We rode into Dublin, parked at Nassau Street next to Trinity College and were allowed free time to eat lunch along Grafton Street.   After a quick bite, everyone mingled on the pedestrian street to window shop.  After our lunch, we walked over to Trinity College to see the ancient Book of Kells, a very ornate Gospel book from around 800 AD.   The details in the manuscript were amazing.  We also walked up into the Trinity Old Books Library which was a two-story “Long Room” football sized library full of 200,000 books from the 1500-1900s.  The Book of Kells is considered the greatest treasure of Ireland. Once we were done with Trinity college, we walked through Dublin where we saw the statue of Mollie Malone, walked through the Temple bar district and crossed the river Liffey on the half-penny bridge.  We then walked along the river to Dublin needle (aka stiletto in the ghetto) and the GPO (General Post Office) which will be our meeting place tomorrow.  From there we walked to a tranquilly park area called the Garden of Remembrance. The garden had a large reflection pool, a statue and nice places to sit and contemplate.   We loaded the bus and then headed out of town to our dinner to have some traditional Irish stew and apple cake with butterscotch and ice cream.  Finally, we shopped for some snacks for tomorrow as we will have a late lunch due to our Guinness tour at noon.  We are now settling into our hotel in the town of Bray, a lovely seaside community.  The sun hasn’t set, so I think I might go out for walk.

Here is a QuikVideo of our Day in Dublin

Wednesday June 26, 2019

Today we ate a breakfast in the hotel and loaded the bus with Sarah and Shamus to head back to Dublin.   We arrived and our city guide, John, hopped onto the bus and took us about the city.  We say the famous doors of Dublin on the “brownstone” houses, saw bullet holes in various building from the 1916 Easter Rising when Ireland started its move to be independent of Great Britain.  We had a tour of St Patrick’s cathedral.  The cathedral is so beautiful due in part to the help of Guinness’s money which helped to restore the floor and other parts of the structure.  We then drove out to the Irish White House and park where we saw the fertile deer herds and took a picture at the cross where two Popes, Paul and Francis spoke to the crowds.  We then went the the Guinness storehouse and enjoyed the self-guided tour.  The highlight was the Gravity bar at the top where you could see the skyline of Dublin.  We then had a few hours in the city to spend the rest of our Euros.   For dinner we had shepherd’s pie and a lovely cheesecake with mango sauce and white chocolate.   We then rode back to our hotel where we took a sunset hike to an overlook at Bray.    Amazing!    All is great and everyone is doing fantastic!

Here is a QuikVideo of Day Two (Request access if it doesn’t open for you)   Cheers!

Thursday June 27, 2019

We had an early morning start where we moved from our lovely country hotel in Bray, Ireland to our city hotel in Belfast, Northern Ireland (which is part of the UK).  We rode highways through the lovely Irish country-side where we saw cows and sheep grazing on the 40 shades of green that make the colors of Ireland.  We also have a sunny day without rain - which we have been told is VERY rare.  So we have had lovely weather, but not too hot either.   Since the United Kingdom (UK) is still part of the European Union, there was a “soft” boarder crossing - meaning we just drove through like you would from Pennsylvania to Ohio. We had a stop-over at a road side rest where we had a chance to look at the different types of candies and snacks they have in the UK.  When we arrived in Belfast, our local guide, Micheal, jumped on the bus to tour us through the murals in Belfast.   To hear the story of the conflict between the Catholics and the Protestants is eye-opening.   Belfast actually has a wall that divided the city into the Catholic-side and the Protestant-side.  We heard the story of the hunger fasts by political prisoners and the eventual Good Friday Agreement of 1998.   To this day the wall still is shut at night between the two parts of the city.  From there we went to the Titanic museum.  The Titanic was build here in Belfast.  What an amazing story about the industrial town of Belfast, the workers who helped to build the ship and to hear the story of the tragedy and rediscovery.    After the tour we took a group picture in front of the museum and then came to the hotel.  We ate dinner at Granny Annies and fun restaurant with live music.  Everyone ate Bangers and Mash (sweet sausage and mashed potatoes).   The Irish eat a lot of potatoes.   For dessert we had a lovely apple crisp with ice cream.  The evening was spend exploring the shopping district and getting an early sleep.   Tomorrow we have a ferry to catch to Scotland.   We leave the hotel at 6:45AM.  Good night from the Belfast.                

Here is a QuikVideo of Day Three (Request access if it doesn’t open for you)   Cheers

Friday June 28, 2019

Today was an extra early day.  We woke up early for breakfast (5 AM) so we could leave at 5:45 to head to the ferry launch.  We said good bye to our faithful driver, Shamus and moved into the terminal.  Now this ferry is much bigger than the Statin Island ferry - this is more like a mini-cruise ship.  The ferry holds two levels of automobiles and semi-trucks on the bottom level and then has levels for drivers and foot-traffic.  There was a small duty free shop, a diner, two movie rooms, an arcade, and a spa, and plenty of comfortable seating everywhere.  We could also go outside to watch the land and sea pass by.  On top of that, the sky was clear and bright and the ocean was calm.   What a fantastic day to ride across the North Sea Channel from Belfast, Northern Ireland to Cairnryan, Scotland!   Once we arrived at Scotland, we then hopped onto our new bus with our new driver Jon.  Jon is a lovely Scotsman who told us that he was not in favor of watching Braveheart because the movie depicted so many false ideas about William Wallace.   Besides, the Scots did not approve of a 5’8” Australian playing the part of the 6’4” Wallace. At any rate, we had the most beautiful drive along the rugged coast of Scotland where we saw cattle, sheep and Shetland ponies grazing right to the edge of the waters (surf and turf), picturesque villages, an occasional church ruins and fields of potatoes and grasses.   We then turned to the east to the town of Murdoch’s Lone, Ayer.  We visited the birthplace and childhood home of Robert Burns (1759-1796) who is Scotland’s “favourite son, extraordinary poet, and international icon”.  His humble thatched roof cottage, the 14th century “Brig O’Doon” (bridge over the Doon river) and the local graveyard where inspirations for his great work, Tam o’Shanter - a tale about a man who drank too much one evening and didn’t want to go home to his nagging superstitious wife.  However, Tam eventually got on his mare and had to go through the spooky woods while being chased by witches and goblins.  Although Tam got home, his poor mare lost her tale to the goblins.  Burns also scribed the words to “Auld Lang Syne” which we sing every New Year’s Eve.  Our group also had a delightful visit in the gardens (biggest and prettiest roses I have ever seen) and the museum.  We then loaded back onto our bus and headed towards our hotel on the other side of Glasgow, Scotland's largest city.  Of course, all trips have stories and our had to do with our bus.  In the center of Glasgow our compressor stopped working and the bus quickly heated up with out the AC running.  We pulled off a city street and unloaded while the Jon took a look under the hood.   He determined that the bus was safe and since we only had a half hour drive, we would open the windows and muscle through.   So we continued on in the hot bus and then ran into traffic.  Through it all, everyone kept up their good spirits and we told stories about when we were the most hot.  We are in Sterling tonight in a new hotel.  We ate fish and chips downtown with a lovely creamy ice cream for dessert.  After dinner, we hiked along the Forth river where we could see the Sterling castle on the overlooking mountains and saw at least 16 white swans gathered together in the river.  Since we are farther north, the sun doesn’t set until 10:05 and will be rising at 4:40 AM.  Off to bed.   

Here is a QuikVideo of Day Four (Request access if you can’t open).  Cheers.  

Day 5 - Edinburgh, Scotland

We all had such an amazing day today!  First we heading into Edinburgh.   We passed by a large statue of the Kelpie (half horse/half snake) and the large petroleum plant.  We did a short drive around “new” Edinburgh (1700s) and parked at the base of the Royal Mile (High Street) in “old” Edinburgh (1000-1600).  At the base of the street was the Queen’s Palace and the other end at the top was Edinburgh Castle.  Parking was very tricky because, unbelievably, Queen Elisabeth was in residence at the Palace. So, we got to see some Royal English guards, a parade to bring the Crown Jewels down from the Castle, a band of bagpipes and snipers that were on top of the Scottish Parliament house.  We meet our tour guides and the group divided into to parts to walk up the Royal Mile.  Edinburgh is a city that continued to build up on top of itself.  The streets still feel very medieval.   Our guides pointed out stories and famous people who lived in the city, how the plague took hundreds of lives and how justice was served with hangings, beheadings, burning at the stake, drowning and other nasty punishments.  We got to the top of the miles and entered Edinburgh castle through the Scottish guards.   The castle had many buildings including a Great Hall, the Crown Jewels and the oldest building - a chapel build for Mary, Queen of Scots.  The view way spectacular.   Once we explored the castle we had free time until 5:30.  Everyone had a  different adventure - some petted owls, others explored the Grass market area, others hiked to different parts the city, others went to the museums or cathedrals, still others enjoyed an afternoon tea.  Everyone enjoyed the shopping.  After a so-so dinner of chicken and veggies, we walked to the statue and grave of Greyfriar’s Bobby, a Skye terrier that lived in the city and slept on his masters grave for 13 years after his master passed. In the same graveyard is the grave of Thomas Riddle, who J.K. Rollins’s used as the name for the evil Voltemort in her Harry Potter series, which she wrote in Edinburgh.  To end the delightful night, we had entertainment by a actor dressed in a vampire suit would entertained us with stories of murder, mystery and jokes.  He had a little sidekick that kept showing up unexpectantly and scaring the group too. We all laughed and screamed, especially when he scared the pigeon so much that he left his load there.  What a great great great day!

Here is a QuikVideo of Day Five (Request access if you can’t open).  Cheers.  

Day 6 - Sterling and National Park 

Today we were able to sleep in a little and had a later departure at 9 AM.  The first place we went was Sterling Castle located very close to our hotel.  We arrived before the gates opened, so we were first in line.   At that time our driver, Jon, announced a photo contest he was running for the students to try to recreate the story of the guy who used wax to glue bird feathers to his arms and jump off the palace walls to fly. Of course he didn’t want the student to actually jump!  We explored the 14th and 15th century castle located on top of hill in a flat valley.  There were a variety of buildings at the castle including the great hall were you could sit in the King/Queen chair, the chapel, and the beautifully appointed palace complete with guilted ceilings and large tapestries depicting a unicorn hunt.  The royal garden was also beautiful, the royal kitchen was immense and the tapestry display was informative.  Scotland appears to get the correct amount of rain and cool weather to be able to grow beautiful flowers and gardens.   Anyway, after the country castle, we headed to a small town at the entrance of the National Park Trossachs and Loch Katrine.  At the stopover we enjoyed a light lunch and then watched and participated in a sheep dog herding demonstration.  So fun to hear about and watch the working dogs.  Those boarder collies are so smart and fun to watch.  We then drove into the National Park and enjoyed a few photo spots, Scottish wild blueberries and the quick hike a long the Loch Katrine.   We then headed back to Sterling where we climbed up another hill to a monument for William Wallace (the character in “Braveheart”).  The winds at the top were furious!  We drove by the location of the bridge of the River Forth where the great battle occurred between the British and Scottish forces.   Before dinner we stopped at another landmark on the battleground.  Dinner was a lovely meal of roast pork, potatoes and vegetables.  We are back at the hotel and enjoying our final night here in Sterling before we head to Lock Ness and the west coast.

Here is a QuikVideo of Day Six (Request access if you can’t open).  Cheers.  

Day 7 - Pitlochry and Loch Ness

We left our lovely hotel in Sterling today to head into the highlands.  We have a long day on the bus, but the scenery was spectacular and breathtaking.  We drove about 1.5 hours north to a lovely little town at the entrance of the highlands - Pitlochry.  The one street town had lovely little shops, bakeries and other gift shops along the Victorian streets.   We grabbed lunch to go as we had another two hours to drive to get to the boat for Loch Ness.   On the way we drove through some amazing countryside with few people.   The hills looked harsh and the wind was strong.  We drove through Inverness and to the north side of the Loch.  There is a loch/lock system that divides Scotland.  A smaller boat can move from the west to the east coast of Scotland through the locks.  This particular stretch of lochs were created by a fault line through Scotland.   We boarded our boat for a short cruise on Loch Ness were we heard a commentary about the legendary Lock Ness monster.  The waters of Loch Ness are murky and brown due to the peat soils around the lake.  Anything that wants to could easily hide in the dark waters.   Our driver Jon had a photo competition for the students to take a monster picture.  The winners made a human Lock Ness monster on the grass.  Very fun for everyone.   At the end of our cruise, we landed at a beautiful Urquhart castle ruins where we explored and took way too many photos.  Outstanding and picturesque.  We ended the day with a final ride past more lochs, a memorial for Scottish WWII veterans and finally ended in Oban, a seaside town of the west coast.  Dinner was a lovely three course meal.  Afterwards we took a short walk a long the harbor and retired.  

Here is a long QuikVideo that only begins to capture the natural beauty of the day.  As always, ask for permission if you can’t open.  

Day 8 - Glencoe and the Highlands 

Great day of driving through some amazing scenery.  Jon, our driver, has been more than wonderful with taking us places to take pictures and do fun things like sing-alongs and contests.  We sang the “Scotland the Brave” and “Walk 500 Miles” as well as other “busioke” (not karaoke) songs.  We stopped at Glencoe National Wildlife preserve where we heard about the past Clan wars and how the area is now preserved.  We then drove through the park seeing the three sisters, and the seven sisters mountain peaks, while watching hikers roam the mountains that are covered in peat.  The views were extraordinary!  We got one last amazing group picture.  For lunch we stopped at the Green Wellie, named for the Wellington Boats that are so popular.  We drove for another stretch and had brief stopovers at the Kelppies, gigantic statues of work horses along a canal system and the three bridge area where three bridges from the 1800s, 1900s and the 2000s are side-by-side crossing the Forth River close to Edinburgh.  We ate a pizza/spaghetti dinner in Edinburgh and arrived at our hotel in Duncurk for our last night in Scotland.  Works can not express how grateful we are for another fine trip by EFTours and our wonderful guide Sarah and driver Jon.  They made this trip so wonderful.   The days passed quickly.  While we look forward to coming home, we will all long to return to Ireland and Scotland.  

Here is a QuikVideo of our trip back to the Edinburgh area for our last day in Scotland.