All of the Great Britain and Southern Ireland trip reports and photo albums are now online.  The main index page is:

Given the length of the trip and number of photos, everything is broken up by day (with the exception of the pre-tour time in London which is all together).  

The trip was a lot of fun, the people were great, and Contiki put on a well organized adventure.

I arrived back in San Jose last night.  I lucked out with the airport shuttle only making one stop before dropping me off.  I had dinner, unpacked, and loaded up the photos.  I had a brief scare in that I was unable to get the photos off of my small camera.  I bought a new card reader today (Sat.) and was able to salvage them. 

I know my fan club members want me to put just the best photos online along with titles and background info.  With a total of nearly 1000 photos, it will take some time to get all of this done (that whole working thing which I've avoided for three weeks will slow down my progress).   Below are four highlights to tide you over until all of them are online.  I'm also planning on putting up my full daily trip notes now that I have internet access again (without an hourly cost). 

At the England/Scotland border:

England/Scotland Border

Driving through the Scottish Highlands, we made a photo-op in Glencoe:


One of my best photos of the trip was of Ross Castle in Ireland:

Ross Castle in Ireland

On the final night of the trip, my gang gathered at the pub:

 the travel gang

It's the last day of the tour and we have a travel day back to London.  I'm well rested with out later start today.  As we say goodbye to those leaving us in Dublin, I begin to realize that yet another travel adventure is coming to an end.  We're leaving 20 people in Dublin (they only did the Ireland part of the tour).  With the extra room, we can spread out on the short bus ride to the ferry.  The ferry is running late, but I relax outside in the rare Irish sun.

The ride on the ferry is smooth and I hit Burger King for a $12 lunch.  The ferry docks and we head to Wales to pick up 22 people hitching a ride with us back to London.  We get to London after 8pm.

I was originally not looking forward to a full day bus ride.  It seemed a bad use of time to take a full day to get to London only to to go to the airport the following morning.  I still would have preferred the last night to be in Dublin (as we could have used an extra day there), but I enjoyed the ride.  This was the last day of the tour and I could relax and talk with my new friends from the last couple weeks.  The ride went by quickly

When we got to London, I said goodbye to our tour manager, driver, and a few tour mates who were busy that night.  The rest of us checked in to our hotels and then met up at the Royal National pub for our final night together.  As it got late in the evening, we had to unfortunately say goodbye.  It's amazing how close you can get with a group of people over a shared few weeks together. 

View the photos of our return to London .  

Today is the final real day of the trip and we head to Dublin.  We tour the Guinness factory which is interesting, even for someone like me who is not a Guinness fan.  During the self guided tour I learn that the record book is from here.  There's a great view and a pint of the black stuff waiting for you at the top level's "gravity bar".  Is gravity really different here?  Maybe only when you're drunk.

We have a few hours to explore Dublin (not nearly enough) and we head to the castle.  While waiting for our tour, we explore the outside of the nearby Christchurch.  The castle is 1000 years old and in stark contrast to Kilkenny, you can take photos in nearly every room.  Only a few parts of the original castle remain.  I see another Powder Tower and think of last year's trip to Prague.  After the tour, we have just a little time left and explore Grafton Street and its shops.

After a fantastic nap at the hotel, we depart for our Irish evening- dinner and Irish music and dancing.  Dinner was good and the music was fantastic.  The dancing was also fun to see (finally I get to see Riverdance), but I enjoyed the music the most.  The show followed dinner and started with music, then brought out the dancers, and then returned to the band.   This was definitely a trip highlight for me.

As this is the final night of the tour with everyone, a bunch of us relax in the hotel bar, play cards, and say a few goodbyes.  Tomorrow is a travel day back to London and the folks on only the Ireland part of the tour will not be with us.   As expected, on vacation time passes quickly.

View the Dublin photos

This morning we stop at Cove/Cobh/Queenstown, which is known as the last port of call of the Titanic (and where survivors of the Lusitania were taken).  The heritage center museum explains about the Titanic and also the Irish emigration.  I learn a bit more about Irish history.  There's a statue out front which is a copy of one on Ellis Island of the first immigrants to pass through Ellis Island.  

Later in the day is a bit of a disappointment.  I thought we were going to see the Rock of Cashel.  As one of Rick's 3Δ  sites, it sounded like a highlight.  Unfortunately all we do is "see" it- from the bus and pretty far away.  I wanted to tour it, not just make a pointless drive by of it.  I'll have to come back.

After "seeing" the Rock of Cashel, we get to Kilkenny.  We check in to the hotel and I run to the hotel pub for a quick lunch.  The bartender said I'd have my food in ten minutes so I would be done in time for the 2pm group walk into town.  After thirty minutes, I get my food, missing the short group walk into town.  Not a big deal and I enjoy lunch with the Italians who joined us for the Ireland half of the tour.

We meet our walking tour guide at 3pm for a tour of town.  The town has lots of buildings from the middle ages, but I learn that most of these are restored with little of the original structure.  I also learn that Guinness is now owned by a multinational corporation and not the family.  I guess selling out is an international phenomenon and not just confined to us greedy Americans.

After the walking tour in the rain, we go back to the castle for the tour of the inside.  I'm annoyed that not only do I have to check my backpack, you can't even take cameras on the tour.  I ask if I can just leave it in my pocket and am told "no".  I'm wondering how they're going to enforce this without a metal detector or personal search.  I also wonder what fantastic items are on display to warrant such strict rules (do they really have items more valuable than London's National Gallery or British Museum?).  Of course, as expected,, they don't check us and I could have just left the camera in my pocket.

Inside the castle is beautifully restored.  Normally, insides of castles and palaces have old tattered furniture and worn out wall coverings.  Here it's "new" and looks as it would when it was used awhile back.  Despite the strict bag and camera rules, this was a fun tour.

Following the tour we stop for dinner and take a quick break at the hotel.  The tour group meets up later in the hotel bar which is no ordinary bar- it's a church inside the hotel.  Someone moved a church (or part of it) here and now it's a bar.  Talk about switching teams.  I have some of my new favorite beer (Carlsberg)  before we go down the road to a bar/nightclub.  I'm disappointed in the lack of promised Irish music, but have fun even with the crappy club music.  I stay out later than I should have.

View the photos of Cobh and Kilkenny

Our day started early.  The group was split between two hotels so I had to meet the bus at 7:15 for a 7:30 breakfast.  At 8, we had our "jaunting car" ride through the nearby national park.  A jaunting car is just a horse drawn carriage that seats about eight people.  The scenery is beautiful and it's not raining.  We stop to see a castle and I take some photos (including one that I think is my best thus far).  We resume the ride, return to the hotel and depart after 9 for the Ring of Kerry.

The Ring of Kerry is another highly rated attraction and the scenery is great.  I would have preferred more stops on the road, but the stops we do make are spectacular.

We head to Blarney for a few hours of exploration of the town and castle.  The tacky and touristy Blarney Stone is at the castle.  The legend is if you kiss it, you have the gift of eloquence.  I'm more interested in the views from the top of the castle and have no interest in kissing a saliva and lipstick covered rock that hundreds kissed during the day.  The view at the top is okay and I skip kissing the stone (do I really need more eloquence anyway?).  We explore the gardens and return to the bus at 3pm.

A short ride gets us to the Jameson Whiskey Distillery.  The introductory movie is silly, but the tour was interesting (much better than the Scotch tour we had in Scotland).  I learn how Irish whiskey differs from Scotland's (Scotch).  In Ireland, the barley is dried without smoke and the whiskey is distilled three times.  Scotch is distilled twice and U.S. whiskey is distilled only once.  I need to check wikipedia for some further clarifications.  Our guide is a strangely peppy girl from North Carolina.  I wonder what she's drinking to be so peppy.   We taste one whiskey and, like the Scotch I tried last week, after a few sips I'm done.  Way too strong for me.  I don't know how people drink this stuff.

We have a slow dinner in our hotel and I crash from my lack of sleep the night before.  There's not much going on in Cork and it's begun to rain anyway.  Most of us take a much needed night off.  

View the photos of the Ring of Kerry and Cork

After sleeping well in our four star hotel, I woke up to discover there was no hot water.  A major bummer.  I guess the hotel is still working the kinks out.

We're off to two top natural sites in Ireland.  The first stop is "The Burren" ("rocky plane").  It's an interesting natural preserve and I take lots of photos.  

Next up is the spectacular Cliffs of Moher (while not a big Lord of the Rings fan, I keep calling this the Cliffs of Mordor).  After reading about the Cliffs before the trip, I was looking forward to this stop.  The views were spectacular of the 700 foot cliffs that overlook the ocean.  Again, I take lots of photos.

We stop for lunch at a little seaside town that reminds of Capitola.  The restaurant has internet access so I fire off a quick summary of the last week of adventures.  We depart for Killarney and arrive mid-afternoon.  I take a much wanted hot shower and wander the town before dinner.

Following a mediocre hotel dinner, we meet in the pub, stop for drinks nearby, and hit another pub for promised Irish music.  The number of pubs in even the smallest of towns is remarkable (then again, if I lived with this kind of weather I'd probably take up drinking also).   Unfortunately, the live music was just a guy covering songs with only an occasional Irish song.  It was still fun and I don't get to sleep until after 1:30.

View photos of the Burren, Cliffs of Moher, and Killarney

We had a full day in Galway after leaving the hotel at 9am (arriving in town around 10).  Over the day, there was cloudy to rainy weather which had a minor impact on what we could see.

In the morning, a few of us wandered through the small St. Nicholas church and an adjacent open air market (like the farmers markets back home).  We continued walking, reaching the stone arch (which dates from the 16th century).  With okay weather (for Ireland, this is no rain), we walk around the beach.  As it turns rainy, we wandered around town and the shop lined streets. 

Stopping at the King's Head Pub for lunch was a nice respite from the rain.  Since there is a King's Head Pub in Campbell back home, I was intrigued by the coincidence.  The pub is so named because an Irishman who chopped off the head of King Charles I was given this building back in the 1600s.

After lunch, we wandered along the river, crossing the Salmon Weir Bridge towards St. Nicholas Cathedral.  Built only in the 1960s, it was still neat to see.  On our first stop here, a wedding was going on.  I enjoyed hearing the organ and a quick look at a Catholic wedding.  Amy figured that there was a while left in the ceremony (I had no idea) so we wandered around outside a bit to kill some time.  Returning later, the wedding was nearly over.  I was waiting for the happy couple to break the glass, but that didn't happen.  I resisted the urge to yell out "Mazel Tov!" at the end of the ceremony.  Exploring the cathedral, I found the JFK mosaic in one of the side chapels.  He's quite popular here.

We got a flyer earlier in the day about a free concert at the Galway museum this afternoon and we headed over there.  There was an exhibit of town photos from 1916 at the museum.  It was amusing that the journal entries that accompanied each photo mentioned one or more of: bad, rainy, windy, or miserable, weather.  I had no trouble relating.  The concert was very entertaining.  It was a crazy string quartet that joked, danced, and wandered around the room.  When the concert ended, we found an indoor mall to get out of the heavy rain.  Exploring it, we took a hot chocolate break.  The tour group was meeting at the King's Head at 6pm so we had a little time to sit down.

When we got the King's Head Pub, it was too crowded to eat, so a bunch of us found, shockingly, another pub.  After nearly twelve hours in town, we met the bus for our return to the hotel.

As mentioned in yesterday's trip notes, we were at a brand new hotel and were literally the first guests.  The hotel was having a party for investors and VIPs tonight and we were invited.  Plus, we would get a total of 400 euros in drinks.  Quickly changing clothes upon arriving at the hotel, I hit the party.  Since I didn't need to fix my hair and makeup, I was the first from the tour to arrive.  Che arrived shortly and I chatted with him about life as our tour manager.  Lots of others came shortly and I enjoyed the party and music until around 12:30.  

View the Galway photos

Today we have some time in Dublin and hit a couple of big sites in town.  We tour Trinity College.  I learn that, like in the U.S., more than half the students are women.  The biggest site at the school is the Book of Kells, a 1200 year old copy of the gospels.  Since I'm pretty far from a New Testament scholar, the book is not that meaningful to me; however, I admire it for how well preserved it is.  It's not everyday I look at a 1200 year old book.  

We had a tight schedule and move our trip to the Guinness factory until our return to Dublin in a week.  We do make our planned stop at Kilmainham Gaol (gaol = jail in the Irish language).  This is a jail that, while modern at its opening in the 1800s, is infamous for housing Irish political prisoners (and the site of many of their executions).  The guided tour is excellent and while not as creepy as Terezin last year, I'm still creeped out.  I learn about the Irish potato famine and how that Irish starvation was due to the English exporting food rather than feeding the Irish.   No wonder they're pissed.  

It's the early afternoon (and after our new day song) and we head to Galway, but there's an issue.  Our planned hotel has no record of our arrival.  Our new hotel is in "county" Galway and I'm worried that we'll be at a dump in the boonies.  I'm half right- we're in the middle of nowhere (an hour from the city of Galway), but at a literally brand new hotel.  The hotel officially opens later in the week and it's a 4 star place- flat screen tv, air conditioning, and the works.  There's construction equipment out front and workers inside.   Our included dinner in the hotel is the best meal of the tour.  We hit a local pub afterwards and tomorrow we go into the town of Galway.  

View the Dublin and Galway photos

I was expecting mostly a travel day to Ireland, but we had two wonderful stops.  In the morning, we visited Chester, a 2000 year old Roman town.  Most of the current town is only Victorian (late 1800s), but there are some neat ruins from the original city to explore. 

We continue our drive to northwest Britain and cross into Wales to stop in Conwy.  There's a beautiful castle overlooking the coast.  The weather is fantastic and it's really gorgeous.  Now that we are in Wales, I search for a "Free Willie" t-shirt, but am unable to find one.  I also find no one who can speak with Shamu.  I though the funny language here is Whale?

We say goodbye to those departing our tour for London (they are only doing the Great Britain half of the tour).  With a ahalf empty bus, we strecth out on our trip to the port where our ferry to Dublin awaits.  After a nearly two hour ferry, we get to our Dublin hotel around 6pm and have dinner with the new arrivals.  After an expensive round of drinks at the pub next to the hotel, we end the evening earlier than most. 

View the photos of Chester and Wales.

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