Over the Sea to Skye, by Rail and Bridge

skye1Over the Sea to Skye, by way of train, taxi, and a bridge. I had reached the halfway point of my travels this season, and was dead tired. The end of the Bonnie Prince Charlie Trail. Months of gym training and still you get wiped out by the travel. It doesn’t help that the two places I stayed in Glasgow had terrible bed accommodations. Mostly it is that pure exhaustion of trying to get so much out of your travels, that another train journey has occurred and this is a long one, and your brain just seems fried. I am traveling to Inverness, then to Kyle of Lochalsh, a journey of about  6 hours, winding through the Highlands. There’s nothing better than winding through the Highlands, though, whether it’s car, bike, or train. But eventually I will be on the Isle of Skye, a destination I could not get near on my last adventure. The destination is so popular that you have to book months in advance for a place to stay.

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I spent yesterday on a Rabbie’s Tour of Loch Ness and other Highland destinations, a round trip from Glasgow that encompassed a good 12 hours. It was an exhausting swing through of the area, but I had wanted to see some of the Highlands I could not see from the train ride. I was well rewarded. But the train rides are always fun, I found that this trip was just as rewarding with the views of rolling hills, then great Munros loom and you want to climb them. Realistically that will have to be the next trip, and another year of training at the gym and smaller mountains practice back home.

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It was truly a Scottish summer arrival, with rain, sun, wind and more rain. But luckily the day of the trip was a good clear sun filled day. I regretted not bringing the sunscreen. The tour was with Skye Tours, and was a small group tour in a van. We travelled the route but missed a few key spots I had hoped to see, namely the castle and the Fairy Pools. There was some event going on there, a rather big one as a local funeral was taking place for an island native, and we could not get near. The tour covered some places on the island and had a knowledgeable driver. We did cover The Storr, Neist Point, Quiraing, the Cuilins Black and Red and a few other areas. I was not happy that we could not get to some of the sites, and sadly part of that had to do with a great deal of tourists using hire cars and not being prepared for the terrain of Skye and it’s boggy wet. Many a car was sunk in the muck.

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All the bother aside, it was breathtaking to see some of the highest Munros in Scotland, walk around and just breath in the air of the magical island. I do recommend doing research and planning your visit well out, especially the accommodations. If I can make it back, I will be doing some training to do a hiking tour of the island instead, but must train and be with a group. I was told by locals that many people come and are not truly prepared and end up in great trouble with the bogs.

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Book for your stay a year ahead. Or stay in Inverness and take a day tour. It is not suggested to do hire car, and with good reason. Sadly the island gets too many people with cars who don’t understand the driving rules or where not to park. Accommodations can be good or really bad. Really read your reviews on accommodations, once you are booked you are stuck with your decision.

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https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/aug/09/skye-islanders-call-for-help-with-overcrowding-after-tourism-surge

http://www.bbc.com/news/av/uk-40872328/does-the-isle-of-skye-have-too-many-tourists

Inverness; Touristination Place

 

 

Belfast Blast: 48 Hours in Belfast, Northern Ireland

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Belfast is a historically diverse and eclectic city. It’s historically one of the biggest shipbuilding behemoths of Europe, home of the shipyards that built the Titanic, the most tragic and beautifully engineered ships of a bygone era. Belfast has had it’s political upheavals, but now is a blossoming, burgeoning city with a huge tourist industry. And food and entertainment to match. It’s hard to choose a place to eat or drink, there are so many choices.

My decision to visit this amazing gem on the north of the island of Ireland was influenced by history and great beauty, and a fangirl urge. I wanted to see where the Titanic was built and experience some of the natural wonders of Northern Ireland I had seen in books and in one of my favorite television productions, Game of Thrones®. So after my tempestuous visit to Galway, I headed to the northern country for a 48 hour period of history and a locations tour of the countryside where filming took place. What an adventure.

Titanic Museum and SS Nomadic

I got of the train and settled in quick. It was a clear, puffy clouded day with long daylight hours of summer. I had only 48 hours in this town and had to get in as much legwork and sites as I possibly could. I hopped a taxi to the Titanic Museum on the shipyard docks to check out this architectural wonder and museum exhibit center. The building alone is worth a tour and crowns the historical docs that have built many a sea faring vessel. Going through the exhibit halls in and interactive affair and when you get to the bottom level, you have a great treat with an exhibit that mimics the seafloor and you, standing on it. There are exhibits of rooms on the Titanic and narratives of passengers and people who worked on the monstrous ship that should never have  sunk. The engineering of the vessel was the most forward of it’s day, but it was not match for the iceberg it met. It’s a great museum for all ages and don’t forget to visit the SS Nomadic which is part of the tour. It’s a bit of a hike to the shipyards part of the exhibit, but worth it to see the drydocking works, the sheer size of the dock Titanic was housed in while building will amaze you and give you a sense of the size of the massive ship. Added bonus, you walk past the Titanic Studios where Game of Thrones is produced and filmed. If you are traveling this Fall, you may get lucky and see actors going in and out for final season.

highstreetThe Neighborhoods

All cities have neighborhoods, some great places and some not so good. Throw in some politics a traveler may not be aware of and you can get in some trouble. Belfast has come a ways from the Troubles, but remnants are still there. If you are touring around the city walking or in a cab, you will note neighborhoods and areas with flags of identity, with areas where religion and politics go hand in hand. You should always do some research about where you go, and not just the older history, for history is being made every day.

I had a great conversation with a Scotsman on the way back to Glasgow on the plane. He had just marched in one of the Summer Marches with this extended family and friends. Most of the convo was about spending time with family and friends and participating. Nothing to do with the politics. Belfast has changed  a lot in the last 30 years and will continue to do so. It’s filled with warm people and smiles, pride of place, and cultural growth. A place well worth visiting.

Everyone I met and everywhere I went I was met with kindness. But I didn’t ask questions and always waited for someone to bring up anything. However, since I am a big street art fan, and one of the things I was most keen on this tour was mural walks. I started on one in the city, then found I had better think about that a bit, as the murals are very extensive, politics and religion laden in this city. But what street art isn’t a commentary on the times? There are a huge amount of murals. There are political and community ones. If you plan on doing the while walk, plan for several hours. The neighborhoods where people are still very aligned with religion, staying with the UK, becoming independent, or unifying with Ireland are there. I toured the areas I could manage to get to in the short time I had and met with, briefly, a fiercely proud people going about their day or evening activities.

What I have to say is that I saw a lovely city with people living and thriving just like any other, and while the past will not be forgotten, I felt that people were truly just living in this great city. I would say that you just have to be mindful as in any city, that you are not living there, you are a visitor. Just love thy neighbor, even if they are yours for five minutes. The city has much beauty about it. I stayed near the Queen’s University, a great foodie area with a few guesthouses with easy access to transportation. A great walking area and that I did.

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Game of Thrones® Tour

I have to admit that this particular tour was the one big blast that I absolutely had to have for my time in Ireland. Having been a fan of the series since day one, when I found out tours to various sites used in filming were being included in a tour, I had to book.

Using Viator.com, I booked with the Irish Tour Tickets company for their Game of Thrones Tour with a guide, Adrian, who has been an extra on the series and knows in depth trivia and information about sites used. We went to several locations including Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede bridge, two places I have wanted to see for many years. The tour was packed with fun, behind the scenes information and a great understanding of what it takes to get some of these sites ready for filming. Oh, and you better bone up on your GOT facts, because Adrian has a mean bus quiz for points on the last leg of the trip, with prizes. If you are an enthusiast and fan of the series, don’t miss this fun tour. Adrian has a lot of fun tidbits from BTS and will give you insight on what it is like to be an extra on such a big show.

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Birthplace of a Shadow Assassin

Warning: as with all tours, you should dress for travel, but especially on this tour. Wear trainers or hiking boots, no dress shoes or sandals. This is a very physical, climbing around, adults only tour.

As part of this tour you will see the Dark Hedges, a long, spooky line of trees between fields. People have been coming to see the feature for years now, and the trees are sadly at the end of their life. Two trees came down in a storm recently and the wood was used to create a series of doors dedicated to the Game of Thrones series Westeros locations. You can download the maps to tour for Game of Thrones Doors and seek them out while you tour the north of Ireland.

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The Dark Hedges

Reality check: Yes, many of the Northern Ireland Game of Thrones® locations, with a few exceptions, are really car parking areas during summer months. Tourism is so invasive that they are having to build and reconsider tourist attraction areas in the north. The spaces are built up for the shoot then cleaned up. Exception, there is one secret place we went by where there are guards that deny access year round. Winterfell perhaps?

Bring cash for other tours. Each tour usually has an additional attraction that is part of their route, and you will need to pay other fees.

On this tour you will see where scenes were filmed and two additional sites:

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Giants Causeway

After the 10 hour tour, I was fatigued and dead hungry. I wandered downtown Belfast a bit and was concerned about getting to a kitchen that was still open, on Sundays sidewalks still roll up on the island, and pub and other kitchens will only be open so late. I found a great Japanese fusion restaurant called Zen, a huge cavernous place with great food. Filled up so much it was a hard walk back to the B&B.

The Game of Thrones® Doors story and self guided tour

http://www.ireland.com/en-us/what-is-available/ireland-on-screen/game-of-thrones/destinations/northern-ireland/county-antrim/articles/doors/

http://visitbelfast.com/things-to-do/theme/game-of-thrones

A Peaceful Walk in Belfast — Leya

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Scotland in a Day – Revelling in a Scottish Road Trip — Travels with a Kilt

The Best of Scotland in a Day Don’t let the title confuse you. This is not a post about an – absolutely impossible – attempt to experience this fabulous wee country in 24 hours. Rather, it’s about capturing Scotland’s broad appeal in one day. The assets that have made it one of the top destinations…

via Scotland in a Day – Revelling in a Scottish Road Trip — Travels with a Kilt

Dublin Heat

quaysIt was sweltering in Dublin in July. I hadn’t planned for that. Global climate change was touching Ireland, and lucky me, I walked right into it. Ireland has the reputation for changeable weather in summer, mostly rain to clear. I’d planned for mostly that, but not the intense heat I encountered. Never thought I’d get sunburn in Dublin.

 

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Oscar Wilde

Dublin is one of the most complex and busy cities you will visit in Europe. It is also one of the most expensive to live in, eat in and tour. Unless you stick to a strictly free as much as possible day. The people of Dublin are cosmopolitan and eclectic in their tastes, and the food is fusion and experimental. The architecture is grand, with Regency Era buildings and a hodge podge of old and new. I have been in large cities, large tourist towns like San Francisco where I lived for many years, and London which is a huge tourist metropolis. I have not see anything quite like what I experienced in Dublin this July. The streets were teeming with people, you couldn’t walk down sidewalks, people poured into the streets, blocking everything. Massive groups of Italian students with their bright coordinating backpacks in swarmed like bees, turning much of Temple Bar into a piazza.

Bog Men to Vikings

Dublin is a great city for museums and each national museum is by subject. The museums can take up a day or two of your visit as the exhibits are very in depth and well curated.  There are the large extensive museums and many smaller museums focusing on specific people such as my favorite, Oscar Wilde. The majority of museums are south of Temple Bar around the Trinity College area, a place filled with great buildings and architecture, buskers, and shops. This summer there was an exhibit on Vermeer paintings. All the other museums, Archeology, Decorative Arts and History, Country Life, and Natural History are free to the public.

What to do when there are so many museums and only a few days? I usually tour museums when the weather is inclement and save the rest of the days in a city for exploring. With the heat, they became a great refuges to escape the sunburn I was acquiring.antiquities

Archaeology Museum, Kildare Street

One of my main drives to get to the museums is the rich human history Dublin has. This museum had great exhibits on Viking and Mediaeval artifacts that showed the vast wealth of history Dublin had in shaping Ireland. I had not had a chance to see actual Viking objects before, so it was a great treat to see models, weapons, jewelry, and pieces of everyday life objects the Vikings would have used. The medieval history objects and stories of local chieftains and their battles over who would lead and rule Dublin are not to be missed. Then. There are the great Celtic objects on the main floor, filled with Torcs and other jewelry displayed. Truly some of the decorative pins in size and magnitude defy logic.

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Molly Malone

However the best part was the one I had been trying to get to Dublin for many years for. The bizarre Bog Men exhibit. I must admit that since I was very young and took my first Archeology classes, I had been intrigued by the story of the men and women ritually killed and left in bogs, with bodies being discovered and put on display. It was really a thrill to see the examples in this museum. I was excited to get to a city with Viking history again. When you live in the US, history starts at 1600 with the later colonizations. While Vikings may have landed in Canada and attempted settlements, we don’t get a lot of exposure on these ancient cultures in the US.

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Natural History, or the Smelly Dead Zoo

National Museum of Natural History. Another fascination from childhood was with taxidermic animals. I have been to many exhibits of these over the years, and the one in Dublin is a find collection of animals collected mostly in the Victorian era. Sadly this means the specimens are very worn and tired. Now, there are some really amazing examples of extinct creatures that you should see, my favorite being the giant Irish deer from prehistoric times. The rack of antlers on these are the largest in the world.

Food and Drink, Temple Bar

This is one of the most heavily populated tourist areas in Dublin. The entertainment area is packed with restaurants and other venues. It is elbow to elbow crowding usually at night, but that week it was from late morning into the evenings. I often found that I had to circumnavigate the area and give it a wide birth, or sneak up an alleyway street.  I tried to avoid this area, I knew it would be a serious tourist trap on this side of the Liffey river. The winding shop streets in the Grafton area seem to keep leading back to it and there is no escape, especially when tourist runs kept dragging you along. I steered clear of the American filled pubs and bars, packed past capacity. My one respite on day was to have sushi and sake at Banyi Japanese dining. Great restaurant with great food.

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Temple Bar

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Shane

Icon Factory Dublin Interview With Aga Szot

Galway Summer Tempest

On the second part of my Irish journey this summer, I decided to take in Galway, a medieval town on the Western coast. After three days of intense heat in Dublin, a city I never thought I would see such heat in, I took a tranquil train rides through to the West of Ireland and reached Galway city mid- morning. The ride had been filled with views of great fields of green and an interesting political conversation with an Irishman. Warning, if you start up any politics with the Irish, it will be a long conversation. Actually, most conversations, especially with men in Ireland, will be long and take a while to end. It was a wam, bam, 48 hours well spent and I wished it had been longer.

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The weather took a funny turn right after I arrived, I got off the train needing a good long walk, dropped cases at the bed and breakfast and took College down into the downtown area of Eyre Square, passing through the shopping mall that boasted one of the remaining walls of this great walled city of Ireland. I headed down into Quay and Spanish Arches area, chased the lanes around  for a couple of hours. It looked and smelled of rain, so I tried to cram in the sights as much as I could. Then came in the storm. I had been napping at the B&B and the whole place shook. Within 10 minutes and amazing wind storm with hail, thunder and tree bits blew in and was gone. That’s Galway for you.

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A Taste of Irish Feminism: Crestfall by Mark O’Rowe

One of the main reasons I was in Galway was to take in a play as the Arts Festival was in full swing. I had been trying to book plays from overseas and several had sold out but luckily I snagged a seat at the Druid for Crestfall, a play with three powerful women on a night and what their lives had culminated in for that one night. Deep and insightful to the psyche of womankind it gave a great snapshot of real life tragedy and life in a tiny compact stage. I was on the edge of my seat and drawn in, raging inside with the cast. The play ended up with few favorable reviews, but I think that is because the reviewers just could not handle the raw nature of the play. I was relieved to see a man could write about women, actually capture some of the guttural essence of single mothers and other women downtrodden by society. Directed by Annabelle Comyn, and starring Kate Stanley Brennan, Siobhán Cullen, and Amy McElhatton. Three very different women struggling in a dystopian Dublin.

Galway Arts Festival

If you get a chance to come in the month of July, this festival is a good kick off for festival travels. I managed three festivals this trip, and this was a great beginning. In the beautiful surroundings of the city and university, the big top is also filled with concerts and Trad musicians. If you are planning to go, book your accommodations early and try to get them near the river. Taxis can be rough during the festival and you will need to walk everywhere. But it’s a great little city for walking. Many big and small acts come to the festival, with some famous Irish musicians booking in because they like the festival. Keep an eye on the website as tickets sell out fast.

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Dress in layers, you are by the sea. There is a great many shops to keep you busy. I usually don’t do the tourist shops things, mainly stick to galleries of which there are plenty in this town. Plenty of buskers and jewelry and clothing stalls to pass the time with. Galway is one of the arts hubs of Ireland with creativity on every corner. And then of course Galway is a tourist hub, filled with tour buses and bus barns that amazingly manage to fit in such a small downtown area.

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Connemara

The west of Ireland has many magical places to visit, all lush and green. I had planned for months on my day two being a fantastic trip to the Aran Islands. The weather the following day got even worse, the ocean filled with darkness and wind, so I opted for a coach tour of Connemara National Park instead. What a ride; fjords, endless sheep and landscapes, all seen in the mostly rain filled summer’s day. If you can manage it, stay in the park either camping or at a nearby inn. There is so much to see and experience hiking it will take at least a full day. The highlight of the tour was the Kylemore Abbey and Victorian Gardens estate tour. This massive estate was once home to a very wealthy family, but now has been converted to an Benedictine Abbey. The grounds are lush and rambling, you are in for a good walk with many photo opportunities.

Ireland’s west coast and the Atlantic Way is filled with a great many treats for the senses, wear layers and bring your imagination. Two days was not enough, so if you can manage it try for three to four days to explore this beautiful area fully. This is one of the few places where doing a hire car with a group may be your best advantage so you can get to all of the sights around Galway. Just be patient if you drive into Galway, for the streets pack fast and it may be better to park at the outskirts and walk in.

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Spanish Arches

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Benedictine Abbey

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Connemara State Park

Victorian Walled Garden

Victorian Walled Gardens

Interview with Fin DAC — Best of Street Art and Graffiti – streetart360

Hi Fin DAC, great to meet you . I’m really pleased you’ve accepted this interview for StreetArt360. I’m a great fan of your art and I feel you’re probably at the origin of my growing passion for urban art. I fell in love a few years ago with your geisha stencil under Vitry-Sur-Seine Train Station […]

via Interview with Fin DAC — Best of Street Art and Graffiti – streetart360