|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
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
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
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
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 -
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
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
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
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
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
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.