Paris day 3. Great heights achieved

Day 3 in Paris, or how Mary temporarily overcame her fear of heights. Temporarily.

Paris was hot and we decided to sleep in this day. Lay around and lounge until noon. We searched out a picnic lunch at a local grocery store and headed out to complete our Paris bucket list: Have a picnic in a park, go to the Eiffel Tower and have a nice French dinner outside and people watch.

As Joey puts it, we had the most perfect picnic under the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. It was lovely if not a bit smelly again.
Then, as promised we headed over to the tower. We were not able to buy tickets online as they were sold out the 3 weeks before we left on the trip. We had to suck it up and get in line.
Now here’s where we learn about my fear of heights. Some people have it (me) and some don’t (Joey). Whilst waiting in line I’m starting to feel sick just looking up at the dang thing. The 1 hour wait did not help at all and the hordes of people in the heat made it worse. I’m trying like heck to negotiate with Joey to just do the second floor, or maybe just seeing the tower was enough. He’s not buying it. It was big on his list and I told him we would go, and a promise is a promise so I stuck it out. After 1 hour we went up to the second floor. Then we had to wait 1 more hour to go to the top. At this point we have to wait near the edge of a terrace that wraps around the tower for the que. This is not a drop all the way down but it is at the edge, it is very windy, and frankly scary as hell. Again the anticipation is killing me. I’m thinking I’m more scared at this point than I was going in for my cancer surgeries. Why some people have the scared if heights gene is beyond me but I am fascinated by it. Some people are running around up there and my knuckles are white on the railing. At this point I am seriously considering sending Joey up alone but my mama instincts wouldn’t let me
But we got in the tiny cramped elevator and I closed my eyes right and we went up up up. There are two levels at the top. One when you get off the elevator is a glassed in room. Then you can climb some steps and get to the outside circle. I popped up to the outside for the photo and quickly came back down. It was very very windy and the part I didn’t expect is that it moves up there in the wind! The tower moves! I couldn’t get down that elevator fast enough!

Safely at the bottom I was again a happy mama and we were off to celebrate with a nice Parisian dinner back in Bercy. About 15 minutes after we sat down it started to rain and it was actually quite lovely. We headed back to the hotel and packed up for our early flight to Venice the next morning.

Although we didn’t do all the Paris things, and I know we missed a lot, we did enjoy our time there. It was the middle point of our trip and I think we took the opportunity to take it easy. While we figured out what we needed to with transportation and shopping and laundry etc… It takes a toll to do that in a foreign language. That said, everyone we met was amazingly nice, friendly and helpful. We did not encounter the rude Paris at all. The smelly dirty Paris, yes. But the rude Paris? Non!

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Paris day 2

Paris day 2!
We meet the very hot day with a lukewarm amount of enthusiasm I’m afraid. We missed breakfast due to sleeping in, and then set out for our scheduled speedboat ride on the Seine. It was a blast and anyone who is going should consider it! Parisspeed.com or something like that. Anyways it was confusing as to where to go, and by 11:30 am it was already uncomfortably hot. Parlez vous anglais got really old really fast in the heat. We had an email in French to go by as to where to go, and when we got there there was nothing but it turns out our guide had the wrong time. All good, we found him and had time for lunch along the river. Now I don’t want to trash talk Paris or anything and the river was actually surprisingly clean and nice compared to the canals of Amsterdam and the muddy Thames. But the banks along the river, like a concrete slough, smelled awful. Like all of Paris had used the sidewalks as a urinal. Come to think of it, if I would have one complaint on the whole of our trip- it was the smells. The grocery stores smell of rotted produce. It is sometimes overwhelming.
So eating pizza there down by the boats was a mixed bag. But on the upside there was a whole rockabilly street market scene complete with music and booths with American rockabilly memorabelia. Who knew our stuff would command so much euro? (Note to self, collect rockabilly stuff and live off the proceeds in Paris. Buy nose plugs)
Anyways, our speed boat ride for 20 minutes was great. It wasn’t sightseeing because Paris has strict spew laws on the river but outside of city limits we could go as fast as we wanted. And we went fast! Probably the fastest I have ever been on a boat! Joey and Ioved it! Closer in we were able to get photos as the boat puttered along back to the docks. Our guide was an awesome SoCal type of dude but French. So laid back and fun! I think he enjoyed seeing how fast we wanted to go!

Next up was some shopping. We heard of a mustard shop calls Maille that has 3 kinds of mustard on tap! That was worth checking out and it did not disappoint!

We stumbled upon a lovely church called Madeleine, built like a Greek temple. It was amazing and the giant statue near the altar was unbelievable. I wished we had more information about it while we were there but it was nice to cool off for a bit. We wandered around some more and decided to head back to Bercy village for some early dinner.

We had laundry to do and we found a great little laundromat close to the hotel. The photo shows the instructions, of course in French. It took a bit of brain muscles but we figured it our and for some clean clothes! It’s the simple things really and we left with a nice feeling of accomplishment!
Them it was off to the light show at the Notre Dame cathedral where the website was a bit misleading. We sat on bleachers along with a hundred or so or other people waiting for it to begin. It turns out it was actually a movie shown in the cathedral but the outside entertainment was far better. Amazing street dancers put on quite a show and we enjoyed watching them. Hopefully we will be able to post videos soon.
We had crepes for a late snack under the watchful eyes of some amazing gargoyles and then toddled off to bed.

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Paris day 1!

Well after the day before, suffice it to say that this day was a bit of a slower day. We were up at the crack of dawn to catch the Eurostar to Paris. Because of security similar to airport security we had to get there very early. We got through the screening, and found the platform in plenty of time to sit and have some quick breakfast. The highlight? Sitting next to a guy in a purple crushed velvet Jimi Hendrix getup complete with wig and plastic inflatable guitar. Something tells us that these guys maybe didn’t spend their night at a hotel…. They were telling some very funny stories of their previous nights and most of it was funny and suitable for Joeys ears. We had some nice laughs with them!
Honestly I wish I could remember the Chunnel and all but I was asleep the second my ass sat down and I woke up when we hit Paris. I do remember my ears popping every time we went through any tunnels though, not just the big one. We were going very fast!

We got off the train early and got to our hotel before noon, and luckily they were able to give us a room. We rested until about 4 and were ready to hit Paris! We has our tickets to the Louvre already and they are open until 9:45 on Fridays so we had enough time to make a dent. Honestly I had no idea how huge that place is. Seriously huge! As Joey put it, this place is bigger than the whole town of Waterford!
It was amazing and if course we headed in a meandering way to the Mona Lisa. I mean who wouldn’t right? Behind many people and thick sheets of protective glass, sure enough there she was. But the other DaVincis were jut right there and being walked right by! Madonna of the rocks! Oh oh oh. Joey and I would walk into every room with our mouths hung open saying “what????” Next we headed down into the cooler parts of the museum, and I think we saw more Egyptian artifacts than on all of Egypt! It was amazing and the jewelry was inspiring! Truth be told we actually got a bit tired of Egyptian art and that is really saying something. I think your brain can only process so much amazing things before it becomes a blur of “wow”.
Next was back upstairs for Greek art. One of my Thesis papers in college was on Greek pot paintings and the Louvre had like 10 rooms of pots! They even had an Exekias- the focus of said paper. (Pictured). I was in heaven!
As we were wandering through we noticed the sunset out of the windows. It was absolutely incredible and worth leaving the museum for. We took a bunch of photos and headed back on the Metro to our hotel, stopping for a pizza dinner
Our hotel by the way was in Bercy (rhymes with merci) in the 12th. It was a great place to stay with a great little shopping village area with nice little pastry shops and restaurants and other store. Closed to cars it was a great place to relax and people watch but in a nice quiet neighborhood and non touristy.

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BBC day! The thrills and the spills of international travel!

BBC day finally!
This was a day that was much anticipated, where we were going to go to the locations of our favorite shows: Downton Abbey (Highclere castle) and the Doctor Who experience in Cardiff. I also had a big surprise for Joey in Cardiff as well.
This was a roller coaster day, with some big highs and some big lows. Definitely our most challenging day thus far. We had a car with Zipcar, which I have used in Seattle for a couple of years now. I was excited about the prospect of using Zipcar in London since the cars are more what I’m used to driving and the cost of gas is included in the price. We had to pay for mileage but it ended up being fairly comparable to a rental car and without all the deposits and fees and hassle. Plus, there was a car parked 3 blocks from our hotel and we could return it late, well after the hours of a rental car company. What I did not take into account was not having some type of Nav system. I foolishly thought that our detailed google maps and directions would suffice. Hahahahahahhaha! No.

We got lost at least 5 times per destination and it was very stressful as we had to be to each place at a certain time. Even with the 45-60 minute buffer built in, we were late. At Highclere castle we stopped for directions many times, and although the English and Welsh are very friendly, they suck at giving directions. Finally in some random neighborhood we found a truck driver, asked him for directions looking very hopeless and he said “well I’m driving there next, you could follow me but I might be too slow for you”. Oh- another thing about the English and Welsh- they drive really really fast!
We made it to Highclere castle though late, and very much enjoyed our visit. The “slow” sign pictured would have come in handy for our dear cousin Matthew I am afraid…
We weren’t allowed to take photos inside but it was even better than the show. It was a grey and drizzly day but it was still awesome! We had a lovely tea in one if the side buildings and got to see all the bedrooms etc… Even poor Mr Pamuk’s room.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/downton-abbey/8820907/Who-is-the-historical-model-for-Downton-Abbeys-sex-scandal.html

The inside if the main room is actually glass ceilings which was so cool! I was tempted to take a photo but the ladies there looked like they meant business. Very Carson like if I may say so.
One thing that Joey and I both enjoyed were the Egyptian treasures. I knew that they had the exhibit there but I didn’t make the connection. Apparently Lord Carnavaron was a former owner of Highclere vastle and it was he and Carter that famously discovered King Tut’s tomb. There were treasures from Egypt and also a recreation of the tomb as they found it, along with tons I the history etc. it was Joey who recognized his name and put it all together for me!

http://www.mirror.co.uk/tv/tv-news/the-real-downton-abbey-sordid-affairs-153592

After lingering as long as we could, we left for Cardiff, the home of Dr. Who. Again, hopelessly lost a few times in Cardiff, we headed for the docks knowing that was near where the Dr. Who Experience was. On a side note- google maps will forever be banned in our house. There were some swear words used- just sayin. We were supposed to be there by 3 for the surprise, and finally at 3:30 we found some nice soul down by the docks to give us “directions”. It’s really easy he said. I implored him and offered him £10 to show us the way. Eventually he took pity and obliged, but for free. And there was no way in heck that we would have been able to find it in our own! He also led us to the wrong place but we knew we were close. We asked another lady on a bike with a BBC tshirt and she pointed it out but said “you are too late, the last tour went in.” Cue the tears. We parked and ran and threw ourselves in the mercy of the front desk and he let us join the last tour. We had run so fast from the car I left my regular glasses and had my sunglasses in, so I do the whole experience in the dark. It was still awesome. It was a 20 minute multi room simulation with a forest of weeping angels, a Dalek war, and flying the Tardis. We were thrilled! And after again throwing myself on the mercy of the amazing team at The Doctor Who Experience they fit us in for the surprise- a real set tour of the show! Joey was beside himself excited. I figured it would be a tour of just the regular set, maybe a Dalek ship or a village. But no- it was the actual TARDIS!!!! We got to go inside and touch handrails that Matt Smith would have touched! Aaaahhhhhhh! So cool! It was a great tour and we enjoyed but a lot.
Next we were supposed to go to Bristol to find Wallace and Gromit sculptures but we decided to cut our losses and get back to the hotel. It was 6pm and we were 170 miles from London.
I took the car to the gas station and it took me 10 minutes to find the prepaid gas card and another 10 to figure out how to open the gas hatch. Yeah yeah- I’m an Audi girl. What can I say. By that time and having to take the card inside to pay twice, I was too flustered to notice the diesel only sign on the gas hatch. Te car was empty and I filled it to the top with petrol, feeling very proud of myself. We got about 15 miles. Luckily I had pulled over because in my attempt to open the gas hatch I opened the trunk and stopped on a nice wide shoulder to close it. Well the car wouldn’t start and that’s when I figured out what I had done. No cell phone, 150 miles from London and a dead car. Awesome! I started to wave down cars, and finally a nice buff group of construction type guys (!) pulled over and talke me through what to do. Using the nearby emergency phone box the lovely Welsh man called Zipcar and got us a tow. Out tow guy took us to some garage where his guy showed up (it’s now 9pm) to drain the tank and flush the lines. We got back on the road at 11pm $400 lighter. The very nice mechanic them had us follow him to the petrol station and even pumped in the diesel for us, and them he led us back to the highway- about 10 miles. Serioulsy nice people all around. We rolled into London at 2 am. It took me another 45 minutes to find the hotel and we were back in bed. I was never ever so happy to park a car as I was that night/ morning. 6 am wake up call to get to the Eurostar was rough but we did it!
Moral of the story? Nav. Diesel. Keep left. Actually driving in the left was easy. Go figure.
And also, I firmly believe in karma. Always have and always will. I felt like every person I ever have directions to, especially working so close to the touristy market, came back to me this day. Everyone was so incredibly nice!!! The folks at the Dr Who Experience and all those who helped us get where we were going will forever have our gratitude. And to see Joeys face when he got to the Tardis was all worthwhile!

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London!

Our first official day in London was a whirlwhind of activity. We got up bright and early, had a lackluster breakfast at our hotel and set out in the tube for the London eye. Not my favorite thing as I am afraid of heights but it was on Joeys list so we did it! We had tickets already so the line wasn’t too bad, maybe 20 minutes. It really was impressive and I even stood up for a while at the tippy top!
Then we were off to a quick look at Big Ben and then to a nice concert at Westminster Abbey… Part of their “brass in the grass” series where the Envicta concert band played. It was very nice and we had a little picnic. Them we went in the Abbey and were blown away by all the art inside. it really was amazing! The picture I the painting is from a wall of paintings from the 16th century, mostly worn away over time but still beautiful. The paintings encircled a round room and were the scenes from the apocalypse.

Next stop was the Tower of London, where we viewed the Crown Jewels. It was absolutely amazing, and I spent about 45 minutes in the room riding the moving walkway over and over again to get more glimpses. So cool!!! We had a great tour from a very funny Yoeman. If you ever go to The Tower of London you have to do the tour, it is gruesome and hilarious all at the same time!
Next we walked down to the millennium bridge- featured in a scene from Harry potter. It was cool even though it was a long walk.
Then we set off for Buckingham palace, which was closed but it was still cool to see in person. The plaza itself is huge and very impressive!
Next we were off to Harrods, riding in the tube. By this point we were feeling like we really had the tube down! Harrods was huge and overwhelming. They had just about everything including £1200.00 kittens and crazy cool jewelry and toys galore but no frisbee. Go figure! It was incredibly crowded and really interesting people watching. Joey got a Dr. Who toy and we got out of there!
Back to the hotel to rest because our exciting BBC day was up next!….

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Rosslare to Fishguard to London

Today is the day we leave Ireland, and we are sad about it. Ireland has been fantastic and we will miss it very much! We had to take a 75 minute taxi ride to Rosslare near Wexford to get our Stena ferry boat ride. The busses don’t run early enough so we had to catch a cab, but even the ride was great as our cab driver was fun to talk to and we learned that Waterford is home to 2 major companies that produce liver and kidney medication and also Bausch and Lomb has a factory there. Not just crystal!
The ferry ride was nice, it reminded me of the old Princess Marguerite that would go up to Victoria. And good thing we caught the taxi because the departure time was listed at 9am and we left at 8:45!!! There were two movies playing, wreck it Ralph and Madagascar 3. I slept like a rock.
Then it was onto the train to London, for another 4 hours. We rolled into London at 6:30 pm and dropped our stuff of at the hotel and tried to go to Harrods. Due to bad directions, we ended up getting pizza instead. It was good pizza though. Our hotel was tiny, it reminded me of trying in NYC in Times Square, you couldn’t have the bathroom door open while the front door was open. It was like a closet really. Even the hot water pot for tea had no outlet to plug into unless you set the pot on the bed. Not a top recommended hotel but there you go…
Sleep sleep sleep was good!
Oh- and the best part was that the only remaining police box in London (we found this out later) was a block from our hotel room just outside of the London. Underground. And someone had written in the dust “bad wolf”. Joey was beside himself!

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Waterford day 1

Day 1 in Waterford:

We woke up and had a lovely breakfast at the hotel. The Granville hotel is lovely, spacious and far out of our normal league I am afraid! After breakfast we headed over to the Waterford crystal factory. We sort of moved heaven and earth, along with adding expense to the journey to be able to come to the crystal factory. Part of this journey is retracing some steps that my grandparents took maybe 20 years ago. Of course the vast majority of the factory has been moved to cheaper countries but they do still have a nice cutting center there where they make the bigger pieces like trophies. The tour was great and we did get to see every stage of the process. It was definitely worth the trip. The highlight was picking out a small vase (less expensive there than at home!) and paying only €5 to have it engraved. Not by some machine but by a master engraver who did a very wonderful job!
Next we wandered over to Reginald’s tower. The history in Waterford runs deep as it is the oldest city in Ireland. The tower was built in 1100 AD and claimed to be Ireland’s first mortared stone tower. It saw battle and we got to see the cannonball still wedged firmly in its side.
Our next item was to find a frisbee which, as it turns out, was an impossible task. Aside from the crystal factory Waterford appears to be nothing but shops. They have 2 shopping malls in their downtown core, about the size of Poulsbo. Along with the shopping malls there are countless stores, even American brands. But nary a frisbee to be found. It was a fun treasure hunt nonetheless. Lunch was a treat and we took some time to write some postcards. Then it was off to wander some more. We saw original Viking and Miedeval walls. We wandered through the non touristy areas and finally decided it was time to head back to pack for the early morning cab ride to Rosslare. All in all Waterford was lovely and I wished we could have spent more time there.

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Dublin day 4

Day 4 in Dublin was a whirlwind day! We packed up our stuff, and dropped it off at the bus station in lockers, the only place in the city that had them. Then we rushed off to Trinity college to see the book of Kells. We had tried to see it the day before but the line was 3 hours long. We got there right as they opened and only had to wait about 45 minutes. We sure were glad we got there when we did though because shortly after the line was back to 3 hours. The photo of the long line is from there. The Book of Kells did not disappoint, and they had two of the pages open. One is of an illustrated text and one was a cover page, it was great to see both. No cameras allowed though. The guard knew the phrase “no photographs” in every language and we got to hear him chastise at least a dozen people!

Next it was off to a cool geology tour of Dublin put on by a science tour company. We got to learn all about the stones that make up the buildings of Dublin, and see the fossils all around us that we never would have noticed. The photo is of an ancient tropical coral reef that used to be near Ireland! It was fun and we learned a lot, like that most of our early knowledge and terms for measuring and describing earthquakes comes from a Dublin scientist who actually created earthquakes to study them! They were very interested in us and our earthquake stories since they don’t really have earthquakes there.
After a quick rest in St Stephens green, we were off to the real treat of the day- a hurling match at Croke park. Hurling is a Gaelic sport that dates back to 1000 BC. Yep, it has origins dating back 3000 years! It is a very fast paced game and the best we can describe it is a cross between football, field hockey, lacrosse and soccer. Before the game we went to the GAA (Gaelic athletic association) and got to try our hand at hurling. It is much harder than it looks! We also got to see the history of hurling through the years and learn more about the game. Joey picked out a hurley (the stick) as a souvenir. We had purchased our tickets a couple of months ago and somehow managed to get tickets for the all Ireland semi finals where it was Dublin “up the Dubs!” Vs. Cork “go Rebels!” Big all country playoffs basically. We also scored front row sets without knowing it, as we were in row D and they had nets over A-C. It was a fantastic game and by the second half we actually could figure out what was happening. It helped that there were some lovely people around us to explain the game and help us decide who to root for! Joey decided he was a Cork man, and I was up the Dubs. Joey won the bet that day, Cork won by 5.
After the match we joined the throngs of people out of the stadium and back into the city where we collected our luggage at the bus station and took a cab to the train station. It was a bit stressful as any city will have gridlock after a big match and we had only one hour to do all of the moving around, but we managed it with plenty of time.
Leaving Dublin was sad, but the train ride to Waterford was worth it! Before the big match there was a U-18 semi finals between Waterford and another team so the train was full of happy fans returning to Cork and Waterford. It was lively to say the least, and Joey learned some new swear words I’m sure. We made friends with a group of firefighters from Waterford who were, in their own words, “mad Irishmen”. As soon as they found out that Joey had chosen to support Cork, they were his new best friends! They were very kind and even walked us to our hotel once we arrived.
Drunk or sober, I have to say we never met a single rude person in Ireland and had some great conversations with many of them.
We arrived in Waterford late and pretty much headed right to bed, after doing some bathtub laundry.

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Dublin day 3

What a day! We started the day with the hoho tour (that’s the hop on hop off bus). It’s a nice way to get around quickly, and kids are free! We stopped in to Trinity college to see the book if Kelly’s but the line was about 3 hours long. Our plan is to hit it today first thing.. Still Trinity college is beautiful!
Our next stop was the national museum of Ireland archeology. We got to see some amazing Neolithic artifacts from the passage tombs we visited the day before. It was great to see them and having visited the tomb put it all into context. They also had the 4 “bog bodies” which were very gruesome and interesting. The highlight though was the treasury, with Neolithic to Viking age gold!!!! Gold bracelets from 2000 BC!!!! Truly inspiring! Joey loved all the swords and axes and rapiers from the early Bronze Age.
We then stopped at the Dublin castle which was a nice surprise because in the courtyard was a sand sculpture instillation. More photos are on the good camera but it was really cool artwork!
The next stop was Saint Patrick’s cathedral, with the most amazing floor and stained glass. Along the tour on the hoho bus we also got to learn about the Guinness family and how much they had done for Dublin with public works. They paid for the restoration of St. Patrick’s cathedral and even installed a new stained glass window with a reference to drink. It was neat to learn more of the history. So of course we had to go to the Guinness factory and see for ourselves the brewery! It was extremely crowded and the view from the Gravity bar up up top was worth it. We got our free pint of Guinness an a soda for Joey (he did try a sip of the real stuffhowever) and enjoyed the 360 degree view of Dublin. It was worth it just for the view.
Next stop was a haircut for Joey in Temple bar, the famed “cultural” district of Dublin. It was lively and fun as we crossed the ha’penny bridge and walked around and we found a nice pub called Flannigans where we had a great meal and listened to live music. It was on the bucket list and we are happy to say it was great! The graffiti photo is from the bathroom stall- I swear on my life I didn’t write it but of course I had to take a photo. The second graffiti was at the Luas station near our hotel. Joey and I are thinking “bad wolf”. Dr Who fans will get that…
Anyways, after Temple bar we loaded onto a storytelling bus painted like a house and set off to learn about pookahs, faeries, and leprechauns. They took us to Saint Anne’s park and to the sand dunes in the sea while telling us stories in a converted bus that looked like a little living room. It was a great time! Then back to the hotel and we wrote in our journals recounting the day and the adventures. Dublin is a great place!

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Dublin- day 2!

Here we are on our first full day in Dublin! After a lovely full Irish breakfast at our hotel, we headed out for our day! We are staying far out of the city center, and we have figured out the public transportation fairly well. The light rail is amazing and quick!
Today was a tour of Hill of Tara and Newgrange led by Mary Gibbons tour company and our tour guide was Michael Gibbons. He was amazing and had an unbelievable amount if knowledge that he shared with us about the history and archeology of Ireland!!! Hill of Tara was beautiful, windy and wet- just as it should be ! The site is really interesting and steeped in history.
Then we loaded back into the bus and headed off to Newgrange, a 5,200 year old passage tomb. We were able to go insides the tomb with 22 other people we just barely all fit inside. The guide turned out the lights and simulated the winter solstice event, for which 24 lucky people are chosen every year in a lottery to attend the real thing. It was a very tight narrow fit to enter and was just magical on the inside. The highlight was seeing the tri-spiral Neolithic art inside the tomb. I told the guide that I am a goldsmith and the tri-spiral is something I have recreated in jewelry. She said “go on then, you can touch it if you like”. I may never wash my hands again, I will admit it brought me to tears. We weren’t allowed to take photos inside the tomb but I have attached a photo of the postcard.
Before the visit to Newgrange we stopped off at the Newgrange farm for a lovely lunch. There were many farm animals to admire, and our favorite was the very pregnant cat.
Once we returned to Dublin we wandered around a but in some very odd shopping centers, saw (but did not go to) 2 Starbucks, and came back to the hotel to rest. it was a very long day but too cool for words!

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