Friday, August 26, 2016

A Long Weekend in Dublin, Ireland

Before moving to Europe, I would never dream of flying to Dublin for 3 nights! But cheap tickets and a short flight made it a good possibility…of course we’d love to see the rest of Ireland, but this was a great opportunity.
We had a few ideas in mind but no firm plans, and things worked out great. The first night, we happened to walk past the theater 15 minutes before a show of “Riverdance” started! No budget tickets, but the performance was terrific. I’m glad that the high energy dances were interspersed with quieter music, singing, and videos of nature.
The first day, we looked at the line to get into the library to see the Book of Kells, and decided to not wait so long (if you can organize your days before the trip, get tickets online). But the second day we got there a bit earlier and there was no line at all. The Book was not as impressive as the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz (Germany), but the library upstairs took my breath away. It smelled so good, for those of you who love the fragrance of books!
We took a river “cruise”, just a short jaunt to the harbor and back. Across from the river boat docks was a phenomenal café with outstanding cakes and milkshakes- highly recommend The Sweetest Thing. Across from Trinity College was a salad bar take-out place called “Chopped”, for vegans, vegetarians, and health-conscious carnivores alike (you can add fish or meat to your salad or wrap). Finally, we liked “Cornucopia” so much that we returned the next day for more vegetarian casseroles, salads, and desserts.
There was a nifty organ concert on the 4th of July in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. A video camera was hung over the organ so the audience could watch the two organ players throughout. We met the US Ambassador to Ireland briefly after the concert!
The hop-on-hop-off bus was interesting and brought us a bit further out of town for a glimpse of the suburbs, including the zoo. We had a picnic dinner in Merrion Square park, which was so relaxing and peaceful. There is lots of construction going on all over Dublin, so it was a louder and busy-er vacation than I would have liked, but definitely worth the trip to see another country.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

4 Nights in Oslo, Norway

While most Europeans travel to the Mediterranean to bake in the sun during summer vacation, we really wanted to head north to cooler weather. No air conditioning at work or at home left us feeling clammy and grumpy (well, speaking for myself!), so we really enjoyed days in the 70’s in Norway.
Oslo is a walk-able city, with historic buildings, old and new ships, green spaces, and modern conveniences (shops, restaurants, speedy trains, etc.). We took a boat tour along the city coastline and down a fjord similar to the one outside of Stockholm. The Peace Museum highlighted the struggle for freedoms worldwide. We found a small vegetarian café behind City Hall, and I attended a super yoga class 1 metro stop outside of downtown.
We took a train ride to Lillehammer for one day, with amazing scenery during the 2 hours each way. It’s definitely worth a day trip during the summer… we heard that there is much more tourism during the winter months in Norway! Anyway, we went to a historic outdoor museum where we saw log cabins and talked with interpreters about life in the olden days. I am so grateful for my vacuum cleaner, microwave, and washing machine!
We rode the hop-on-hop-off bus through the suburbs to the polar ship (Fram) museum, which was very interesting. We had a nice lunch in the restaurant of the Opera House lobby, which looks like an iceberg (the Opera House, not the lobby or the restaurant).   
There is much more to see in Norway, and we recommend it highly. Here is a fish "sandwich"- you can see the full grain slice of bread on the bottom, with beets, herring, and potato. Insanely delicious!

Friday, August 12, 2016

Off the beaten path- Estonia

I am really glad that Tallinn was on the itinerary of our vacation last year. True confessions- I did not know much about Estonia---that said, I’d highly recommend it! After taking Segway tours in other cities over the years, we hoped to have a day of good weather at some point during this trip so we could see more of a place in a short time than we could on foot. Not only did we have sunshine, but we encountered 2 Segways for rent not 10 feet past the exit of the cruise ship terminal.
Our tour started by heading into the old town, and we zipped past other tourists panting up the steep hills for the spectacular views from the top. After the wheeled tour, we had lunch with a friend from Massachusetts who had moved there 2 weeks earlier! Like many European restaurants, there is plenty of meat to be had. Later on, we had stupendous hot chocolate at a courtyard café surrounded by cute shops.
We admired the hand-crafted items such as sweaters and linens. The architecture of many buildings, even the town walls, was neat, and there were several street musicians along the way. Estonia is allegedly the birthplace of “marzipan”, an almond paste candy that is used in Europe to decorate cakes and fill chocolates. We didn’t get any of the cutely designed candies, but passed many bakeries and street vendors selling roasted nuts.
We'd like to return for a longer visit!

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Um, there’s no bridge across this river, GPS! (aka Rhine River Ruedesheim)

We had heard good things about a town called Rüdesheim, on the Rhine river, and decided on a day trip there. It looked to be about an hour away, maybe a bit more from the K-town area. The website for the river tours of castles was slightly confusing, but it looked like there were a bunch of choices, and we’d figure it out when we got there.
Alas, the car’s GPS tried to send us across a river without a bridge. Literally! As in, “turn right here.” Good thing there were some cars lined up and a large car ferry was approaching the river bank! The 5 Euro and change fare was collected once aboard, based on the number of people and type of vehicle. It was a short journey across the river, and we were on the outskirts of Rüdesheim. Street parking is limited, but we found a gaited (paid) lot by following “P” signs.
As we walked towards the river, we saw signs for an aerial tram up the hill. One option was to walk across the top of the hill after the tram ride, and then take a boat back, so we opted for that plan, which is called the “Ring” tour. The weather was a bit grey (surprise!), so the photos feel fuzzy, but the views were nice. You can see the tram in the lower left of the first photo with vineyards above, but it looks very small.
The walk through the woods across the top of the hill was very nice. We didn’t realize that the ride down the hill was a chair lift, like at ski mountains! It was a bit nerve-wracking to ride the chair lift facing outwards down a really steep slope, but we were safe and fine. We had lunch in the village while we waited for our boat to bring us back to Rüdesheim. The restaurant we chose had nice outdoor seating, albeit with smokers, and we found out later that the inside of the restaurant was filled with Americans! They brought our beverages with ice cubes, which I haven’t seen in about a year! You can see the chair lift between the red lines in the photo.

The half-hour boat ride back was nice, though next time we’d like to try the longer boat tour with stops at castles. We ambled back through town and drove home, once we safely crossed the river again on the ferry.