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Exploring England and Ireland
by Kerry Frey

Big Ben
Big Ben in London.

March 9th, 2002: London

My flight from Washington Dulles leaves at 9PM Friday and arrives at 9:30AM Saturday. I take the tube to Oxford Circus, and find the hostel on Noel St. My friend Seth (traveling the world with one week in London) is already there and asleep. I wander east on Oxford St. to find the location of the nearest internet cafe and some bookstores on Charing Cross Rd. I stop in Soho square to read for a while. When I get back, Seth's up and we head over to a cafe on Poland Street and get sandwiches, then go to easyEverything, the cheapest internet cafe. Email (for him) taken care of and Paul McCartney tickets purchased (for me), we hit Sainsbury's next door for some food, then wander down Charing Cross Rd. We hit Trafalgar Square and keep on going, taking a right at Westminster Abbey and Big Ben. At Buckingham Palace, the guards aren't doing much, so we take another right and head back to the hostel through Green Park. Once there, we lie down to rest briefly, falling asleep for a couple hours. Hungry, we head out to Moon and Sixpence, a J.D. Wetherspoon's chain pub two blocks east of the hostel. After a couple of burgers (and a couple of pints), we go to the theatre district, which has street musicians and lots of people. After one more pint at a pub near Chinatown, we go crash.

March 10th: London

Failing miserably to get out before the changing of the guard, we head out west a block and Seth asks a fellow where we can get some breakfast. "My pub" is the reply, so I found myself enjoying eggs, sausage, and black pudding (not anywhere as bad as I feared) at O'Neill's Pub. Afterwards, we trek back to Big Ben, now taking a left and crossing the Thames. We walk along the South Bank to the Tower Bridge, stopping at a book market under the Waterloo Bridge. We double back in order to cross the Millennium Bridge, to arrive at St. Paul's Cathedral. We look around inside, then go through Chinatown, where I had some dim sum and amazing roast duck. We end the day at Shakespeare's Head Pub, sampling more pints.

March 11th: London

We grab some sandwiches at the Somerfield on Berwick Street and eat them on the way to Charing Cross Road. Today is bookstores day, as we take in as many as we can. Unfortunately for me, they mostly deal in expensive firsts, and when they have the books I'm looking for, they're way more than list price. We go to Sainsbury's for some frozen dinners and back to the hostel to heat them up. I'm shocked that the chicken vindaloo I got is actually spicy. Two American girls are in the kitchen - they hadn't seen any sights, just there to party. We leave them behind and head off towards the British Museum. If you desire to see the history of Western civilization in two or three hours, that's the place to do it. I found the Rosetta stone and the Elgin marbles from the Parthenon particularly memorable. Later, we returned to Moon and Sixpence for some fish and chips before we went to The Avalon to see Heather Nova. She's never played the D.C. area, so I was happy to finally catch her. She was amazing, although Seth was more impressed with Howie Day, who recorded loops while playing guitar and accompanied himself with up to five layers of vocals, percussion, and guitar.

March 12th: London

After finding out the reason people in the hostel go to Marks & Spencer is that the grocery store is in the basement, we get some sandwiches (sausage roll for me) and head back to Buckingham Palace for the changing of the guards. Interesting, but certainly the most crowded tourist attraction. Next we head northwest through Hyde Park, along the Serpentine. Striking west at the bridge, we come to Kensington Palace, then head north to Notting Hill. Portobello Market's big day is Saturday, and there isn't much to see on a Tuesday. There is a nice little bookstore there, Book and Comics Exchange on Pembridge Road (part of a great chain), where we both stock up. Hopping on the tube, we get off at Waterloo, near the London Eye. It's an overcast day and there's no line, so we purchase tickets and go up. A great view, even when cloudy. The Dali Universe show is next door, so we go in. Very surreal. We eat at Mr. Au's, an Asian chain with a buffet. Next we take a train to Croydon to meet a friend of Seth's who was working there for a year. We wandered down to a nearby pub and chatted over a few pints.

March 13th: London, Salisbury, Stonehenge and environs

Seth's decided the bus tour to Stonehenge is a little too pricey at about $75 a head (although the price of renting a car and filling up the tank is higher), so I go and meet up with the tour and my friend Monica, who's traveling with her friend Dawn. We get in a van that seats about 15, and head out of London. There's a lot of traffic going both directions that clears up about 30 minutes out. Our first stop is Sarum where ruins stand from an ancient castle (first occupied over 5000 years ago). It's interesting, but there are strong winds in addition to it being cold, and we don't stay long. Next is Salisbury Cathedral, some spectacular windows inside and one of four existing copies of the Magna Carta. I also wander into Salisbury to look at St Thomas.s Church (first built in 1219, featuring the Doom Painting). Next up is lunch at a pub in the Woodford Valley, where I had egg, ham, and chips and Toadfeet bitters. Stonehenge is next, and it's too bad it's windy and cold, because it would have been nice to stay out there longer. The final stop is Avebury, the largest stone circle in Britain, but kinda disappointing after Stonehenge. We go back into London, where we had reservations at the extremely hard to find Gaucho Grill (so difficult that Seth who was supposed to meet us there, gave up after an hour of searching). They served Argentinean beef, and I had an incredibly tasty ribeye (for future reference, it's under the J.D. Wetherspoon's - Knights Templar on Gracechurch Street).

March 14th: London

Seth is feeling poorly, so I wander off shopping. It's a rainy day, and I hit a couple bookstores near Marylebone, but the best one was way down on King's Road from the tube stop at Sloane Square. I stop at a Pizza Express for some lunch, have their Sicilia (artichoke, ham, olives) - quite good. When I return to the hostel, Seth's still in bed, feeling better but not up to going out. I windowshop at HMV and Borders, then pick up food for him and me at Marks & Spencer. Bread and soup for him, a roast beef and yorkshire pudding for me - tasty but not anything like Mom's. I resolve to have the real thing before I leave. We end up watching tv for a couple hours with some others staying there.

March 15th: London

A rainy morning gets more depressing as I try to check in again by myself. It turns out when I tried to rebook the Oxford Circus hostel, I actually booked the hostel in Oxford. The helpful girl at reception helped me cancel that and find new accommodations at the City of London hostel near St. Paul's. I head out with Seth to the cafe on Poland Street again for breakfast, then back to the hostel where we grab our stuff. Once we get to the tube, we head our separate ways - him to Heathrow, me to the new hostel. I check in, store my stuff, and go shopping again. I go to Camden Market where there's a branch of Music and Video Exchange and some bookstores, Ripping Yarns in Highgate, and my new favorite bookstore, Fantasy Centre in Holloway. I arrive several minutes after closing, but the proprietor is kind enough to let me in for a few minutes. I pick up a few books and vow to return. I head to Tottenham Court Road to check email, then wander down Charing Cross Road, stopping at Deep Pan Pizza for dinner. I walk back to the hostel and go to the lounge to read and chat with the people there.

March 16th: Calais, France

I had wanted to take a day trip to Paris (there was a weekend day trip train rate of $100), but I waited too long and that fare was sold out. I decided I'd still go to France - I'd go to Calais on a ferry. There were multiple trains to Dover; I took a 10:30 one. I arrived in Dover around noon and rode the ferry (P&O Stena) shuttle to the port. Once there, the ticket agent checked my ticket and passport, then issued me a boarding pass. I boarded another bus to take me to the ship, where I just made the 1:00 sailing. It was an uneventful hour and a half trip. Once there, there was again a bus to the entrance, and a different one into town. It was almost 4 by the time I arrived in Place d'Armes, the town square. I wandered around the town and visited the church of Notre Dame before heading out towards the shore. I was getting hungry, and I went into Le Sybilien, one of a handful of restaurants that face the water north of town. It was my first experience trying to communicate where English wasn't dominant (I bought a phrase book the day before), and I wasn't perfect, but I got what I wanted. I ordered from the fixed price menu, and had snails, lamb chops and a tart. The snails were served in a herb/oil mix that was still boiling when it arrived. Of course I burned my tongue on it, but the entire meal was excellent. Dinner took nearly two hours, and I was running out of time. I stopped at a cheese shop, La Maison du Fromage et des Vins, and picked a yellow one at random. I took the two buses back and got on the ship. When I arrived in Dover, they had a customs station, and that was the only stamp my passport got that day. I got to the train station about 20 minutes before the last train. It was after midnight by the time I got to London. I checked my email, then tried to take a bus to the hostel. I say tried, because I was so tired I got on the wrong one. I realized my mistake, took one going the other way, and then caught the right one.

March 17th: London

Got up, had some breakfast at the hostel, and headed to Tottenham Court Road to take 'The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour' from London Walks. Much to my surprise, the first stop is in Soho Square where Paul McCartney's offices are. We hit several landmarks, most notably the site of the rooftop concert on Savile Row and Abbey Road Studios. Later, I went shopping at some record stores in Soho (especially good was the Music and Video Exchange branch on Berwick Street), got some sandwiches at the Somerfield's there, and ended up at Trafalgar Square for the St. Patrick's Day celebration. It was a crowded, rowdy event; the crowds only started to thin when it started to rain. The Dubliners headlined the event and were quite good, hard to hear since the volume wasn't cranked like it is at festivals stateside.

March 18th: London

Last day in London and two things left to do. First, the British Library. It's just me, but of all the old books and manuscripts in there, the most meaningful were the original Beatles lyrics. Next stop - shopping. First, a return to Fantasy Centre, followed by a stop at Borders. Checked email and got a duck wrap at Sainsbury's for lunch. For dinner, I followed Monica's recommendation of Ye Ole Cheshire Cheese, near the hostel, off Fleet Street. I had the avocado and goat cheese to start and roast beef and yorkshire pudding - absolutely wonderful.

After I returned to the hostel, I played some games with an guy from Utah, a guy from Australia, two Tanzmanians, and a Danish girl. The first was a mean game of Twister, where the people on the board tried to block each other's possible move, and the person calling the moves didn't have a spinner, so they just called out moves designed to inflict the most damage. The other game was a card game (usually done with the benefit of alcohol) which had a new rule each time someone won a hand. The worst one was having to get up on the table and sing a Britney Spears song whenever you played an 8 (although I thought they sounded better with a Danish accent).

March 19th: Dublin

I checked out of my hostel and hopped the tube for Heathrow. I left one of my bags there, and went to wait for my flight, and found the most enthusiastic passengers ever. One gentleman pulled out a guitar and started singing, and many others joined in. The flight itself was short and uneventful. When I arrived in Dublin, I got my bag and took the 41 bus into town, then walked to the hostel. Later, I went to Connolly Station to buy train tickets for the next day, then to the National Library to try and trace my Irish ancestor. He was not listed in the records, and the lady there advised me to try the Office of the Registrar General for marriage records or failing that, Belfast. There was nothing in the marriage records, and I decided to hold off on searching further. I wandered over to Trinity College and saw the Book Of Kells (an illustrated version of the Gospels from the 8th century), then went to St. Patrick.s Cathedral. I didn't go inside, as I was getting tired. I headed back to the hostel, stopping at Leo Burdock's for some fish and chips. Excellent decision, as it was the best I've ever had, but they give you a lot. If I'd had anything else to eat besides a bagel on the flight over, it would have been too much.

March 20th: Killarney

I walked to Heuston Station for my train to Killarney in County Kerry (I was named for it, my mom took a trip there during college). I arrived with time to spare and had the breakfast meal in the cafe there (black and white pudding this time), pretty good. The train ride itself was an uneventful four hours, not very many people. When I arrived in Killarney, I was expecting to get a ride from the hostel I was staying at (because they said so on their website). When I called, I found out they paid a taxi to meet the bus, and I didn't feel like waiting with my bags for over 3 hours, so I paid about $8 to take a taxi to the hostel. Once I unpacked, I felt like exploring. My first priority was seeing Ross Castle, southeast of town, and I took off walking. I thought it would take about an hour, but it ended up taking nearly two to get there. It's a fantastic site, with great views of the Lower Lake there and on the path towards it. I went into Killarney having missed the ride back by minutes and decided to get some dinner, stopping at Murphy's Bar on College Street; I had the steak cooked in Guinness, which is served as a stew, and of course a couple pints of the black gold as accompaniment. It hit the spot, especially after a long walk. Of course, it was another long walk back to the hostel, and the main road was quite dark, except for headlights. I luckily remembered the light on my DV camera, which made a nice flashlight substitute.

March 21st: County Kerry

The Ring Of Kerry bus tour was today's activity. The bus picked me up at the hostel (extremely important after the nearly five hours of walking the day before) and started traversing the Ring (counter-clockwise is the one with the best views). There were a number of other buses taking the same route, stopping at the same places, so it didn't seem to matter which company you used. We stopped in a number of picturesque places, and I had fish and chips for lunch - a mistake as this was surely the worst meal of my trip. To make up for it, I had some Homemade Bailey's Ice Cream when we stopped in Sneem. There were so many great views along the trip, but one of the best was the 'Ladies View' of the Upper Lake near Killarney (a view much admired by Queen Victoria's ladies in waiting, when they visited here in 1861, hence the name). I wasn't up for walking into town and back, so I decided to visit the restaurant at the end of the street where the hostel was, The Golden Nugget. Well, it said it was a restaurant, anyway; when I got inside, I found out it was now only a bar. A couple of guys who worked at the hostel were there, and they said they could call the hostel and get some food heated up; I thanked them and sat down for a pint. and another and another. I got in a long conversation with one guy, Luke, about many things and forgot about food. Turned out he also was a big Dave Matthews Band fan (unusual on that side of the Atlantic), and had a good reason, as his parents, Keith and Julie Tippett were making music that was a mixture of jazz and rock in the late '60s.

March 22nd: Killarney

Resolving not to drink much more for the remainder of my trip, I got up and checked out. The morning trip to Killarney got me in town by 9:30 with time to kill until my 2:30 train. I spent the time shopping, buying gifts for family at Blackthorn House on Main Street and a claddagh ring for my girlfriend at Kavanaghs of Killarney on College Street. The train was fairly crowded and only got more so as we got closer to Dublin, I think it was mainly it being a Friday afternoon and people coming in for the weekend. I returned to the same hostel (only about a 10 minute walk from O'Connell Street) I stayed at earlier (and the 80 degree room that 9 other guys were in). I grabbed dinner at The Steps Of Rome near Grafton Street, then finished with a pint of Smithwick at Whelan's Pub.

March 23rd: Dublin

My last day, and a busy one. I had some breakfast at the Bewley's Cafe on Mary Street and headed over to the Old Jameson Distillery, then to the Guinness Storehouse. I much preferred the Jameson tour - making whiskey and beer doesn't need a multimedia presentation like they used on the Guinness tour, although finishing up at the Gravity Bar with the 'perfect pint' and looking out over the city was grand. I also thought the Jameson store had better swag, although the plastic bubble with Guiness encased inside that serves as your ticket is pretty cool. With all my 'cultural' experiences out of the way, it was time for shopping! Temple Bar has any number of record stores (best ones: Record Collector on Wicklaw Street had a large selection of bootlegs, while SpinDizzy in the Georges Street Arcade had a nice used selection) and bookstores (Dandelion Books on Aungier Street had a good selection) and I ended appropriately with a sandwich and coffee at The Winding Stair bookstore/cafe. Later, I wasn't in a drinking mood, so I had some fish and chips at Beshoff's (good, but not great), and wandered around Temple Bar and Grafton Street, where they had some fascinating street performers, particularly an opera singer accompanied by an accordionist who you could hear three blocks away.

March 24th: Transit

I get up at 5 to get ready and down to the Liffey to catch the first bus to the airport at 6:30 (they have an ok bus system, but the only decent map is on the windows of their main office). My flight got to Heathrow with just enough time for me to get my other bag, check in, and get my VAT refund before they announced final call for my flight. Another 7 hours or so, and I was home.

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