Sunday, June 1, 2008

We're home!!!

After 9 months of travel, we're finally back home again. What an adventure it has been! So many memories, so many experiences, so much we have learned. And despite not making it for the entire year, we still passed the Final Test and have come home engaged.

We spent two days in East Grinstead with Nicole's aunt and our last day in London. Unfortunately Catrina and Ryan were on vacation in France, but we made a point of seeing Nicola and her kids again and we had a nice last night out with James, Nana and Chris, and James' friend Peter (who we went out with in Brighton). Ben (ex-Dexit coworker of Jason's) came up from Winchester and Mike (ex-GRSP friend of Jason's) came in from Kingston which was quite nice too. Chris graciously bought a couple of bottles of champagne in celebration of the engagement and we all had a great time. We visited a second pub when the first closed, we stayed out till 1:30 and then continued to chat at home and have fun until 2:30 or so.
Four hours of sleep later, we got up, finished packing, and made our way to the airport. Our flight to New York was pretty much on time but unfortunately, there were several thunder storms in the northeastern US and our American Eagle flight was first delayed for 2 hours. After boarding we then sat on the tarmac for a further 2 hours before taking off. The storms finally passed and we got into Toronto by 10:30. Jason's parents, Lauren and her friend Jason were there to meet us and we got some Burger King on the way home.
We're happy to be home and we're going to enjoy a good 2 weeks with family before venturing out to see the rest of our friends. Thank you to everyone that has been with us along our journey via this web site. Your comments and emails were always appreciated, keeping our hearts in Canada. Looking forward to seeing you all soon. Ciao!

Pics: London | Toronto

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Venice & Slovenia: Big news!

We were able to board our 11:59pm Venice-bound ferry from Patras, Greece, shortly after 9 and explored the boat a little. We only had airline seats reserved since rooms were quite expensive. We found that many people were putting down sleeping mats in the vicinity of their seats, so we followed suit and put out ours. We laid down for sleep around 11 only to find that the floor REALLY vibrated when the boat powered up. We managed to sleep okay eventually though.

Our day on the boat consisted of meals, lying in the sun, reading, and browsing internet. It was mostly sunny all day, starting in northern Greece, up the coast of Albania, then straight up through the center of the Adriatic Sea to Venice. We arrived in Venice after 9am the following morning, sailing past San Marco square with a commanding view over most of Venice. The walk from the port to the train station was a little difficult to navigate but we managed and checked our bags into left luggage.

Venice is almost entirely made up of pedestrian streets, making it a fun challenge to navigate the maze. We spent the day walking around through the many tiny streets from square to square and church to church. San Marco was especially full of cruise boat tourists, standing in their groups making it hard for individual travellers like us to get by... We visited inside the San Marco Basilica which was quite amazing and surprisingly free. The entire ceiling was covered in beautiful mosaic art. Very impressive.
With more than enough time to walk around the island, we had a nice long sit with a beer and then pizza. We eventually made it back to the train station around 8pm and caught the 9:30pm train to Ljubljana, Slovenia. Our train car had something wrong with it and it was very hot. The train even had to stop for 45 minutes at the Slovenia border to try to fix our car. There were many other tourists going to Ljubljana as well so we had some people to talk to. The grandparents of the lead singer of a hard rock band called Saosin were on the train which was cool for Jason. He saw Saosin open for Linkin Park last summer. We arrived in Ljubljana at 2:30am and we took a taxi to the Ljubljana Resort camp ground. Luckily they have 24 reception and we were able to check in and set up camp without problems.

Ljubljana is a beautiful city. It seems quite small considering its 600,000 population. The city centre has a pretty river running through it and a castle on a hilltop. The main square has a beautiful salmon coloured church and a triple bridge across the river. We were there on a Sunday so all of the outdoor patios of the many bars and patios were full of people enjoying the beautiful day.
One thing that Slovenia is known for are their horse burgers. Jason had to try one. It was good but nothing special. We then climbed the hill up to the castle and enjoyed the views over the city. There was a little festival going on in the courtyard as well so we enjoyed some Slovenian music.
We spent the next day in Bled. It was a one and a half hour bus ride up into the beginnings of the Slovenian Alps. Bled is situated on a fairly small lake. There's a church on an island at one end of the lake and a castle is perched on the top of a cliff one side of the lake. It was quite picturesque. The perfect location for a special occasion. On the banks of Lake Bled, Jason asked Nicole to marry him and she said yes. She passed the Final Test. :) We walked around the entire lake in a state of bliss and awe. The views of the lake, church, castle and surrounding mountains from the opposite side of the lake were absolutely beautiful. Bled is also a good base of operations for adventure activities in the area, so this is certainly a place that we would like to come back to.
We had a nice dinner at a Slovenian style restaurant. We were the first ones there and the place was pretty full by the time we left. Mostly tourists. One group originally from Ohio come to Bled every year and always chose the same restaurant. On our way out, we noticed the two Australian girls that were on our train from Venice were there as well. We obviously picked the right restaurant. We returned to Ljubljana by bus and were back at our campsite by 9:30. A quite enjoyable day.
We packed up our campsite in the morning, had lunch at the resort, and waited until 2 for the free airport shuttle to take us to the airport. We were 3 hours early for our flight and then our flight proceeded to be delayed for 2 hours. The plane was late to arrive and then there were scheduling problems in getting a new time slot to land in London. Quite frustrating how many of our flights have been delayed. We landed at Stansted Airport in north London at 8 and we made it down to East Grinstead via train and subway shortly after 11. Felix was nice enough pick us up.

Through our last month of travel, we have found that we have gotten quite tired of the constant travelling. The long hours between destinations on trains and buses is really quite tiring and is wearing us down. We are finding that we are getting less and less enthusiastic about seeing the sights and we are not appreciating everything as much. We are also looking forward to buying a house when we get home and starting our own business. Therefore we're finding that we're more excited about going home than carrying on to our next destination.

So we have come to the conclusion that we'll end the trip early at 9 months and visit the rest of our destinations when we've regained the need to travel more. We'll stay in the London area for the next few days and fly home on Saturday! :)

Pics: Venice | Ljubljana | Bled

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Greece and Greek Hospitality

We've spent a wonderful and frustrating two weeks in Greece. We entered into Thessaloniki via train from Bulgaria. Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece, is a college town that the locals call hip and trendy. There are tonnes of clothing shops and bars that students venture to by 2pm. It's nicely located on the Aegean Sea but there are no beaches and not much to do except drink ice-coffees and beer.

Tim and Daneille (Nicole's friends from University of Waterloo) met up with us at our moldy hotel and we were immediately thrilled to have travel companions. We walked and talked and discussed where we wanted to go for our 10 days of travelling together.

We took no delay in leaving Thessaloniki the following morning to head to Mt Olympos. We usually book accommodation ahead of time, but with our daring and thrill seeking friends...

...we risked it and just decided to arrive in Litohoro with no plans. As it turns out, our plan to not plan both back fired and became very successful. We found out on arrival that the new Litohoro train station is approximately 7km from town, nothing surrounds it and there are no buses or taxis awaiting arrivals. Tim called the hotel we were hoping to stay at and rescue us from the train station, but it was full. We knew of a campsite on the water that we assumed would be much closer to the train station than the town, so we chanced it by walking. We walked and walked until we finally got through on the phone to the owner of the campsite. He picked us up off the side of the road and greeted us with a great big smile. 1 point for Greek hospitality.
The campsite was awesome. We got a small A-frame cottage for the 4 of us for a measly 40 Euros a night. We settled in, freshened-up and got a taxi into Litohoro at the base of Mt Olympos. Daneille was in desperate need of some sunglasses so we browsed the shops. Unfortunetely, just Daneille's luck, a pair of glasses broke and hit the floor leaving the glasses arm still in her hand (not at all Daneille's fault). The shop owner emerged and ordered that she pay for the glasses she broke. We tried to explain that they must have already been broken and that we did nothing but the shop owner insisted that we were lying. In the end Tim announced we were not paying for the glasses but we would be happy to buy a different pair. The shop owner refused and we left. -1 point for Greek hospitality.

We tried to shake off our shopping experience by enjoying greek salads and souvlaki for lunch and then hiking a short distance up the valley towards Mt Olympos. The main trail was on top of an aqueduct coming down from the mountain. The path followed a beautiful valley with cliffs and rock outcropping making for some nice photos.After, we enjoyed a nice sunset over the Aegean Sea from the pebble beach beside our camp ground.

We took a local train from the old and tiny train stop near the campsite to make our way over to Kalambaka. Again, we called a hotel from the Lonely Planet and a very friendly man was able to pick us up to Kastraski at the base of Meteora. He only had one room available but was able to provide another room in the hotel across the street. 1 more point for Greek hospitality.

On arrival we thought about exploring the surrounding hills but a storm appeared to be rolling in and after a short visit to a local market for some snacks it starting pouring. We found refuge at a cute covered patio bar and ordered tea and played some bridge. Our teas arrived with no saucers and our tea bags and spoons still in the mugs. We weren't sure where to put our tea bags and spoons but decided the best solution was to lick our spoons dry, squeeze out our tea bags and neatly place our tea bags in our spoons on the table. Later, the waiter came by and yelled at us in Greek for messing up his table cloth (which we didn't). We're sure he swore at us. Negative another point for Greek hospitality.

The morning was chilly and wet, but the rain had let up. It was perfect for hiking up between the beautiful cliffs and pinnacles to the monasteries of Meteora. The breathtaking area made for awesome views from the top of the cliffs.The trail that we took brought us right up to the main monastery where we spent most of our tour. Jason forgot to bring his zip-on legs to his shorts so we were worried about getting in. But as it turns out, Nicole was the one who had to put a wrap around her pants and Jason's shorts happened to be long enough (just below the knee) to get in. Nicole didn't feel that was very fair. :) The main monastery contained three museums containing artifacts including scripture books dating back to the 12th century! It's hard to grasp how old that really is considering the writings are on paper. We carried on to a second smaller monastery then enjoyed a picnic lunch on one of the large rock outcroppings. We followed the road back down along the cliffs. Spectacular. We really enjoyed our time in Meteora.
We wanted an early train to Athens but it being a Monday morning, we were only able to get standing room. Luckily, when we stopped to switch trains, we asked when our connecting train was to depart, the man at the booth gave us a few scattered reserved seats at no extra charge! Another point for Greek hospitality. We arrived in Athens, took the subway to the port at Piraeus and attempted to find a ferry that would take us to Mykonos. Unfortunately, being the low season, there were no evening ferries to Mykonos. We managed to get a ferry to Syros instead and booked the short hop to Mykonos for the following morning.

On arrival in Syros, we were greeted by several hotel owners and chose to follow the most trustworthy-looking to his hotel. It turns out that he had an awesome 2-bedroom apartment for us to use for a reasonable price. We enjoyed our one night and got up early to tour Syros before catching our ferry. The town rose out of the water so it was a tiring walk up and down stairs exploring the town. Most of the steps and streets were made of marble and Nicole enjoyed posing beside some of the more colourful walls.

We arrived in Mykonos in the early afternoon and again worked our magic with the many hotel hustlers at the ferry docks. The hotel that won our business was brilliant white with blue accents and a beautiful pool, very greek. A room with a kitchen was also a good selling point. We stayed for 2 nights and really experienced Mykonos. After settling in and enjoying some Coronas at the pool we walked the twisted, tiny pedestrian streets that make Mykonos so famous. The streets were made to confuse pirates now they only confuse drunken tourists. It's a good thing the buildings are so beautiful because the true feeling of the city is one of a huge outdoor shopping centre.

The next day the four of us rented scooters and formed our own two bike scooter gang. Our bike was on empty when we got it (-1 point for greek hospitality) and it took us a little time to locate a gas station. Once filled we started our excursion. We toured the beaches and ended up spending a few hours at Super Paradise Beach. Nicole and Daneille enjoyed the many nude gay men sunning themselves. That must be why the beach is called Super Paradise! Tim snorkeled and almost froze to death while Jason scootered to the nearest market to pick up beer and lunch. It was a good day. In the evening we hit the town again, seeing the picturesque Paraportiani Church and enjoying very expensive fruit cocktails in little Venice overlooking old windmills. Even better than the cocktails were the much less expensive but addicting Gyros for dinner.

In the morning we had enough time for one more scooter ride around the northern point of the island before leaving on our ferry to Santorini. As our ferry approached Santorini our breaths were taken away. It is by far the most spectacular Greek island. Santorini and its surrounding islands were formed by an ancient volcano. The crater flooded 3600 years ago creating the natural harbour that is there today. The ferry docks are at the base of the crater's caldera while the main town of Fira sits at the highest point on the cliffs. You'll have to see our pictures to see what we mean. We enjoyed a nice walk along the cliffs and had dinner watching the sunset.

We ran some errands in the morning and spent the afternoon hiking along the caldera from Fira to Oia at the northern tip of the island. There were several sections of the path that were hard to walk on due to the volcanic rubble. There were great views all the way though. We waited much too long for a bus back to Fira but finished the day cooking up a stir fry with Tim and Daneille and watching Family Guy on the computer.

We decided to rent a scooter for two days and started our island tour by visiting the Red Sand Beach and the lighthouse at the southern tip of the island. After lunch we spent a while looking for the White Sand Beach and ended up on a long bumpy dirt road. It was certainly an experience on the scooters. Nicole wasn't very happy about it. We returned to the resort for the better part of the afternoon to relax by the pool. We walked into town again before sunset and enjoyed some gyros for dinner. Being Saturday night, we felt the need to have a beer at a bar so we visited an American/Irish pub, had a very expensive Corona and returned to our hotel for bed.

Up early to ride to Parissa, a black sand beach, the next day. We hiked up, out of the town, to the ancient ruins of Thira which were pretty unimpressive but the view over the rest of the island was nice. We then returned to the hotel and joined up with Tim and Daneille on an excursion to the dormant volcano at the center of the harbour. A nice sailboat took us to the docks to hike the many craters from past eruptions (the most recent being 1950). It then took us to hot springs that emptied into the Sea. We were able to jump off the boat into the Aegean Sea and swim into the hot springs. Quite cool, despite Nicole's blond hairs turning red! :) We had a pasta dinner back at the room and then went out again to walk around a rock outcropping off the coast from Fira. We visited a chapel on the far side as the sun was setting and raced to Oia to try and catch the sun set but we didn't make it in time. Oh well. We enjoyed a drink at a restaurant with a view in the twilight then scootered back to the hotel. A very long last day in Santorini.

Jason spent a couple of hours on the internet while Nicole went shopping in town with Daneille (don't worry, Nicole didn't buy anything) then we caught the afternoon ferry back to Athens, saying farewell to Tim and Daneille. It was a long 8 hour ferry that arrived just before midnight, too late to take the subway to our hostel. We happened to find an honest taxi that took us straight to our hostel for a reasonable rate.

We visited the Ancient Agora ruins and its beautifully restored Temple of Hephaestus in Athens. Then we walked to the Roman Agora and carried on up to the Acropolis. As we expected, everything was covered with scaffolding for ongoing restoration. The main gate and the Parthenon were still quite impressive and it was interesting to see parts of the restoration process. Walking down from the Acropolis, we went past the Theatre of Dionysus and on to the Temple of Olympian Zeus. The temple ruins were quite impressive with huge pillars, despite only having a corner remaining. We enjoyed a nice lunch on the pedestrian street below the Acropolis and strolled back to our hostel and then took a train to Corinth in the late afternoon.

On arrival in Corinth, we found that the train station was pretty new and in a completely different location from what we were expecting as per our guide book. After stubbornly walking around a bit, we asked at the train station and they told us a local bus would take us into town. We waited for an hour with no bus arriving so we decided to walk the half hour into town with our big heavy bags (negative one for Greek hospitality). After some searching we found a hotel for the rate we wanted.

The next day, Corinth continued to stay on our bad side. We had wanted to take a bus to Sparta so that we could visit the archeological site of Mystras. At one bus station, we were sent to the town's other bus station. For an hour, there was no one at that bus station. We decided to attempt renting a car, but the Hertz had a 3-day minimum and the local car rental place was sold out. When someone finally showed up at the other bus station, she didn't even know how to get to Sparta by bus and sent us back to the other bus station! Grrr! Negative a million for Greek hospitality! Instead, we walked around the town, enjoyed some lunch, surfed the internet, took a nap, and watched a movie on the computer. A wasted day :(

This morning we decided to at least take a bus to the local Ancient Corinth ruins. The Temple of Apollo was nice and the Acrocorinth mountain rising out of the town with a fortress on top was beautifully lit up in the morning light. After, we caught the train on to Patras. We arrived in the mid afternoon, put our bags in lockers and walked around the port city. We climbed the hill up to the castle to find that it was closed and then enjoyed a nice dinner by the port. We should be able to board our 11:59pm ferry to Venice soon and although we're not looking forward to the 30 hour ferry, we are looking forward to getting to Venice and Slovenia.

All in all, we enjoyed our time in Greece, despite several trying incidents. Overall, the bad outweighed the good in terms of Greek hospitality, but if if you stick to the islands and train travel by mainland, it's a pretty nice country. Meteora and Santorini were easily our favourite locations.

Pics: Thessaloniki | Mt Olympos | Meteora | Syros | Mykonos | Santorini | Athens | Corinth | Patras

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Madrid - Turkey - Bulgaria

We're back on the road again! Or rather, in the air and riding the rails. Madrid, Spain is a bustling city full of life. No one eats dinner before the sun is set and everyone closes up shop between 1:30pm and 5:00pm for Siesta.Madrid was a nice city to walk around and enjoy the Spanish architecture. A cathedral and palace were the main attractions. We also visited the famous Prado Museum to see some notorious art pieces by Goya, El Greco, Rembrandt, and Rafael among others.

Our hostel was beautiful. It was a restored 18th century palace filled with amazing stained glass and decorative ceramic tiles. Regardless of how nice it looked, the noise in the dorm rooms from the central courtyard was unbearable. We got very little sleep the two nights we stayed there.

Only two days in Madrid then we caught a flight to Istanbul, Turkey. We were greeted by a modern subway and tram system which took us into the centre of the old city from the airport. We immediately walked between the beautiful Blue Mosque and Aya Sofya at sunset to reach our hostel. We met a couple of guys from Boston in our 30-bed dorm and joined them for a couple of beers and an apple flavoured hookah! A great fun introduction to Turkey.

We spent one full day in Istanbul to tour the sites and mosques. The Aya Sofya was absolutely gigantic inside. Quite impressive and old and therefore unfortunately had the largest interior apparatus of scaffolding that we had ever seen! We enjoyed fast-food kebabs for lunch and had a walk through the Grand Bazar. We also walked to the train station twice trying to work out our train ticket to Selçuk and were unsuccessful.To get to Selçuk (the closest town to the ruins of Ephesus), we wanted to take a ferry across the Sea of Marmara, carry on by train to Izmir, then finish on the bus to Selçuk. We went to the ferry docks at 6:45am without tickets in hand and were luckily able to get one for the 7am crossing. We were also able to carry on by train and bus without problems. It's a good job that it isn't high season.

Our hostel in Selçuk was one of our best yet! It was called the ANZ Guesthouse and it is owned by an Australian/Turkish family. Everyone was very friendly and they had a lot of great ideas to make yourself feel at home. They cooked a fish and chicken dinner on the BBQ for everyone and we had a nice chat with a couple from Victoria, BC.
We had a beautiful day for walking around Selçuk and Ephesus. Ephesus was fantastic. It is the largest Roman ruin site east of Italy. There were two amphitheatres (one that could hold up to 24000 people), a tonne of ruined columns, a large housing complex, and the famous library facade. It took a couple of hours to walk all the way through, fighting our way amongst the hordes of tourists. We stopped at the Artemis Temple (all of one tall column with a stork nest on top of it) on our way back into Selçuk and admired the views of the castle that overlooks the town.

Back in Selçuk, we visited the Ephesus museum which contained artifacts from the Ephesus area that could not be left at the site. We also took a stroll through the Saturday Market and wandered the streets a little. It is a very nice little town, fueled by tourism, but still manages to hold some charm.
We spent a full day travelling back to Istanbul in the reverse order that we came. We had 5 hours in Istanbul to sit on the internet and eat some dinner before catching the 10pm overnight train to Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria. We shared a 6-bed cabin with a Finnish couple and we all went to bed almost right away. We had to get off the train at 3am to get our exit stamps leaving Turkey in a sketchy looking train station and had to wait for a good 40 minutes before the passport office could check us through. Thankfully the entry stamps into Bulgaria were done on the train from the warmth of our beds.

We arrived in Veliko Tarnovo shortly after 11am and found our way to our hostel in the middle of town. VT is nestled in amongst rolling hills with cliff outcroppings, making it a quite scenic location. It rained much of the afternoon so we watched Juno on the computer while enjoying a self-cooked pasta lunch. When the rain let up, we ventured out to get a beer, then enjoyed some yummy cheap pizza at one of VT's many pizza establishments. Jason was in heaven.

The next day was beautiful and we enjoyed a nice walk to the Tsarevets Fortress which towers over the town. The walled hill yields great views of the surrounding hills while hosting a castle that is being rebuilt and a small church on the hilltop. The artwork on the inside of the church was quite cool. It was modern religious art which looked almost haunting. They charged you for taking pictures though so we don't have any. We continued our walk down to the Yantra River for some scenic photos then carried on back up to the hostel again. We spent the evening relaxing, watching Charlie Wilson's War and Beowulf on the computer.
We caught the 3-hour 8:45am bus to Sofia today. There wasn't much to see here aside from the beautiful golden domed Aleksander Nevski Church. A short walk around was all that we needed. We spent a lot of time on the internet and planning our time in Greece. We head to Thessaloniki in northern Greece tomorrow to meet up with Tim and Daneille, who we'll travel with for a week and a half while they are on vacation. We're quite looking forward to having some company.

Pics: Madrid | Istanbul | Selçuk & Around | Veliko Tarnovo | Sofia

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Chillin' in England

Sorry that we have taken so long to write this entry. As you may have noticed from our latest changes in map and calendar, our trip has had a minor overhaul. We have been in England for the past 3 weeks instead of heading to Morocco, Portugal, and Spain. We spent a few days with Nicole's cousin, Susanna (Nana), in London, two weeks with Nicole's aunt Felix in East Grinstead, and the past couple of days with Nicole's cousin, Catrina.

The trip was slightly interrupted because of a minor medical matter that needed to be attended to. As it sits, everything should be fine and we're continuing on a slightly different journey tomorrow. We have plans to meet up with friends of Nicole's in Greece on May 8th, so what we've decided to do is travel for a month to Madrid, Turkey, Bulgaria and Greece and then come back to London hitting Venice and Slovenia on the way. While in London we'll get our Russian visa stuff sorted and then head to Russia earlier than originally planned.

Being in England for so long, it has given us time to do some thinking. We've blown our travel budget already, we're itching to get back and we're thinking about buying a home, plus the lack of routine is really starting to get to us. Jason has been looking forward to Russia and Scandinavia the most so we're going to keep that segment of the trip, however, we're planning on postponing most of central and eastern Europe for now. Our current estimates get us home for mid July instead of September. We'll keep you posted if our plan continues to change. See our map and calendar for details.

While in East Grinstead, Nicole did lots of crocheting while Jason read and we both enjoyed many more walks with Felix and the dogs. We tried to help out and earn our keep by cooking almost every other evening for Felix, Stuart, and Jim. Jim has been spending most of his days building a new summer house for his parents. Jim also took us to Brighton on the shore of the English Channel for a weekend which was nice. We toured the city, saw the movie "21" and spent the Saturday night boozin' with Jim's friends Peter and Tim. It was a great time and nice to have a night out.

We're looking forward to getting back to our travels. We leave for Madrid early tomorrow morning. HUGE thanks to Felix, Stuart, Jim, Nana, and Catrina for putting up with us for so long and being better hosts than we could have asked for. We're happy that we've been able to become very close with Nicole's English family!! Cheers!

Here's some pics of what we've been up to lately:

Pics: London continued | Sussex continued

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Driving Ireland

We've enjoyed a nice week driving around the land of sheep, castles and beautiful landscape. We flew into Dublin, rented a manual Nissan Micro, and drove into town to our pre-booked Brewery Hostel. Jason had to get used to driving on the left side of the road and driving left hand stick again (he had done it once before in Tasmania 4 years ago). Other than having to be reminded to position the car correctly in the lane, everything came back to him.

We spent the next morning walking around Dublin, visiting Christchurch Cathedral, Dublin Castle, Trinity College, and O'Connell Street. And no, we didn't go to the Guinness Brewery as neither of us are big on the dark stuff. :)Then we hit the road for a few hours, heading to Galway on the west coast. We avoided downtown and went straight to the Salthill Caravan Park to set up camp and eat dinner. We relaxed in the laundry/sitting room, which had electric kettles for us to make tea in the chilly evening.
We headed further west driving out to Gorumna Island only to find that all of the signs were in Irish and that our map wasn't very helpful (not very detailed and was in English). We think that we made it to Gorumna Island but it is hard to say. We drove over some cool narrow causeways as we drove from island to island but the scenery wasn't quite as spectacular as we were hoping. We drove back through Galway then headed southwest to The Burren area along the coast. It was a beautiful drive through coastal towns and hills to the fantastic Cliffs of Moher. The lighting could have been better, but the cliffs were stunning nonetheless. We finished off the day by driving to Killarney to find a place to camp. We caught a great view over the lakes of Killarney National Park for dinner and sunset then found a caravan park in Killarney which was closed, but they took us anyway.

We drove all the way through Killarney NP the next morning and had a nice little hike past a waterfall and a lake and enjoyed some great views. Then we took the scenic drive around the Ring of Kerry to the west of Killarney. We started on a small windy road over the Ballaghbeama Pass then continued along a nice coastal drive. The sheep in this area were often not contained and we had to slow down every time we passed them on the side of the road (or on the road in some cases). Jason had to deal with Nicole's constant "awww..." followed by a mimic "ba-ah-ah" every time we passed some adorable lambs. We camped at a beach-side caravan park on the southwest corner of the Ring then carried on to Cork the following day.

Cork is said to be the 'real' capital of Ireland, according to the locals. It seemed quite similar to Dublin, except that the people drink Murphy's rather than Guinness. It was a Saturday, so we decided to stay in a hostel and have a night on the town. We walked around town in the afternoon, watched a movie in the early evening (In Bruges -- quite funny), then had a few pints in the bar district. It was nice to have a night out. But at the same time, we realized that Ireland is really just a more expensive version of home, and it made us miss home a little.

We took a scenic drive out of Cork, visiting Cork Harbour and the town of Cobh (where the Titanic last set sail), then continued up country roads from Youghal (pronounced y'all) to Cashel and on to the medieval town of Kilkenny. After driving past a couple of cathedrals and posing in front of the castle, we found ourselves a hostel and had some dinner. We had planned on camping, but after driving through a couple of bouts of hail and seeing that the temperature was dropping to -4C overnight, we decided against it. We ended up at another hostel in a room with 4 Canadians and a couple from north California. We met up with the Canadians at the Pumphouse bar across the street where a live band was playing. The bar was closing at 11:30pm though, so we moved on to another pub that stayed open till almost 1am. The Canadians were from Guelph, so it was nice to talk about home and the differences here in the UK.

We slept in a little then went back south a bit to Kells Priory, the ruins of a priory dating back to the 1200s. We were able to walk around the whole area, getting some nice pictures of the ruins and even some nearby sheep. We carried on back to the north and stopped by the hostel we intended on staying at. There was no one there so we ate lunch and brought their cute cat, Ted, in out of the hail to play with us. :)

After lunch, we drove through Wicklow National Park to the small scenic town of Glendalough. We took a walk around the Lower Lake to see Upper Lake and Glendalough's stone tower. It was raining when we arrived, it cleared right off while we walked, and then it began to rain again by the time we got back to the car. Quite fortunate! The hostel we stayed at was a very nice little place off the beaten track with a fireplace, good kitchen, and wireless internet. We made ourselves some bangers and beans for dinner. :)

And that concludes our week. We drove back to the Dublin airport again and caught our Ryanair flight back to London. It turns out that we were lucky to have opted in on the full insurance on the car because they found a scrape on the car where someone must have hit us while parked. Otherwise, we had no problems with the car and Jason quite enjoyed driving again. We're back in London for a couple of days and then we carry on to Morocco!

Pics: Dublin | Galway & The Burren | Killarney & Ring of Kerry | Cork | Kilkenny, Glendalough & Around