I left off in Killarney, Ireland so lets continue on my journey...
I woke to find it raining in Killarney and not much could be done in the National Park when it is pouring. I booked the cheapest bus tour for the Ring of Kerry. I chatted with everyone on the bus since I was starting to feel lonely. I met two families from Brooklyn, two Australian medical students, and some very friendly people from various other places. My favorite stop was in the town of Sneem where I had delicious vanilla and cherry swirl ice cream. I looked around during my 15 minutes and came across these really cool rock-like teepee's. I enjoyed seeing Torc Waterfalls in the National park and hanging out with my new Australian friends, Luke & Toby. I convinced them to stay in the hostel that night so we could hire bikes and ride through the park the next day. I found some great Jane Austen books in the second hand bookstore and bought dinner from the grocery store. Met Joel & Natasja from New Zealand and Holland in the hostel that night. We had an absolute blast watching Borat & White Castle in the common room with a bunch of people. I caught up on my travel journal and showed Luke how I like to include ticket stubs and other fun things from my trip in my journal. He got so inspired he started stapling a bunch of stuff into his own journal.
The two Aussies and I convinced the bike rental guy to give us a deal since it was raining. We rode to Ross Castle, Muckross Abbey, and around Muckross Lake. It was fun riding in and out rain storms. I wore pants that dried quickly so I only had to worry about my shoes and socks that got wet. It was totally worth it to see lots of waterfalls and tons of greenery. I loved Killarney National Park so much that I extended my stay another night. Joel, Natasja & I talked a lot that night about photography. My favorite part of the night was when he said "there were heaps of sheep." For some reason that was just hilarious to me. I don't use the word "heaps" very often and my imagination is great. Of course I was picturing big heaps of sheep.
The next day I took a 3 hour train to Tipperary town. I was curious to see Tipperary because my mom's side of the family is from that area, and they have a great genealogy center there. I had a funny old cab driver that lectured me on traveling by myself. I loved that he said "it was a pleasure having you ride in my cab, Miss San Francisco." They are so polite and helpful in Ireland!
I arrived at the genealogy center to find that they had closed early because one person quit and the other was out sick. Also, I found that there isn't much to do in Tipperary without a car. Hmm. What to do? I arranged for a bus to take me to the Rock of Cashel the next morning and spent some time arranging my accommodations in London. When I arrived at my B&B, I was told that there were 3 places to eat dinner and not much else to do. Tipperary town is so small I was not worried about getting lost. I found St. Mary's church and took a bunch of photos in the cemetery. I could only find 2 of the 3 places to eat, one of which was closing, so I ate at the Italian restaurant. Needing some comfort food, I ordered a Hawaiian pizza and was surprised to find corn on it. I got back to my room just a little after 7ish. No problem, I'll journal and read some! Then my pen exploded on my white comforter. The B&B owner assured me that the accident wasn't a problem. Right as I was about to pass out, Bridget Jones Diary came on. I was so thrilled to see a familiar movie on the TV.
Thursday morning I walked to the genealogy center to find that there was a long waiting list and that it would be cheaper to conduct the search from home. I found this hilarious since my whole trip to Tipperary was to learn more about my family. I caught the bus, which was really a van, to Cashel, where I looked around the Rock of Cashel -- a totally cool place filled with history, a ton of wind, and heaps of rain. I think I waited about 2 hours in total for the rain to calm down and for a tour in English. They offered me a German tour since I had my "Hamburg Meine Stadt" backpack on... I remember that they really wanted to emphasize that its not a rock, but that the establishment is built on a big mountain or "rock," and that it's not a castle nor has it been one since before 1101. The architecture was amazing there. I saw St. Patrick's cross and some neat Celtic crosses. After, I grabbed a bowl of Potato & Leek soup to warm up before heading back to my B&B and then to the train station to Cork.
I was not impressed with the hostel that I stayed at, in Cork. I spent at least an hour watching a documentary on dolphins in the kitchen for lack of a better place to sit. This was the first place I stayed that didn't have a sitting room. The next morning, I decided to relax at a cheap Internet cafe to catch up with the world before my flight to London. I took the tube to my hostel, the Palmer's Lodge and settled in while waiting. Jenna took me to her house and introduced me to her sweet British family and then cooked me dinner. I was quite surprised to come back at 12am to find all but one of my 7 roommates asleep in bed on a Friday night!
Jenna and her roommate Michelle (the second) met me at the Tower of London on Saturday morning. There was work being done on the tube so I had some weird transfers and got a little disoriented but managed to figure it out quickly. We started off by taking a "Beefeater" Yeoman Warders tour. We laughed so much at the really corny jokes. After the tour, we went straight to see the Crown jewels. There was barely a line. We went on the moving walkway twice to get a look from both sides. Jenna said she wasn't impressed because the jewels looked cloudy. I cracked up! We stopped in a cafe for a quick bite and Jenna purchased the worst pea soup ever. She kept trying to get me to return her food but I wouldn't since she's a big girl. I really wanted to watch her do it, but she didn't. She just kept adding salt and pepper until it was bearable. We laughed so much it hurt. We spent the rest of the afternoon looking through the White Tower and walking along the East wall. We had to see the bloody tower and finally left over 4 hours later. Jenna & Her room mate Michelle in front of the Tower of London: We bought a sim card for my phone and checked out a huge store called Sainsbury's which reminded me of Target. I watched my first British TV show while snacking and hanging out at Jenna's. I was even more surprised to find most of the girls in my dorm asleep at 11pm on a Saturday night!
Jenna had been running around like a crazy person and requested a sleep-in-day. We met up and did laundry while I tried to make reservations for the following weekend in Brugge. My phone decided to use up all the minutes I'd bought the night before so Jenna and I went back to the phone company. We spent a lot of time waiting and did not get any help. I did not want to feel like I had lost a day, so we took the tube to the Millennium Bridge. One of the tube employees asked us if we needed directions, but we didn't since Jenna lives there. He asked where we were from and we responded with "San Francisco" in unison. Then he told us that he sang in a bar in San Francisco one time. We thought he was going to name the song, but he burst into the chorus of “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond. Jenna and I were happily surprised since we love Neil Diamond. He sang about 5 songs while having a line of people waiting for his assistance. What a character!
We continued on and walked across the bridge as the sun set. We took a few photos and explored around the London Bridge area. Don't get it mixed up with Tower Bridge or you'll get a look from the locals. We ate a quick dinner around Covent Garden before heading back to Jenna's hood. Her house mom, Maxine, had mentioned a cool pub with an incredible view earlier that day. We took a bus and couldn't find it anywhere in Alexandria Palace. We got so lost, but found an awesome shopping mall and two different movie theaters. Jenna was thrilled. I decided that I had to ask the liquor store owner what "off-license" meant, since he had a sign outside. It turns out that it means they don't serve alcohol; you can only purchase it there. I was hoping for a much better explanation. On my walk back home, I saw a wild fox crossing the street. Imagine that-in London!
I woke early on Monday morning to a text message, from my phone company announcing that I ran out of minutes, again! I decided to change companies and went straight to Oxford Street. What a cool place to shop! Then Jenna met me, during her school break at Trafalgar Square and we spent a few hours walking through the National Gallery. It was an incredible museum. I was most excited to see Botticelli's painting of Venus & Mars, which happens to be one of my MOST favorite paintings of all times. We also saw Da Vinci's Virgin of the Rocks, more of Raphael, Titian, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Turner, Ingres, Monet, Seurat, Cezanne, and Van Gogh.
Jenna headed back to school and I walked over Westminster Bridge, past Big Ben and the Parliament. I was super excited to see Westminster Abbey after having read the description of it in one of Dan Brown's books. I had imagined it to be several levels by his description. I was amazed that there was so many tombs in one place. The ceiling of the Henry VIII's Lady Chapel was beautifully ornate. Sadly, no photos are allowed inside. I tried to get into the Parliament since Jenna had just been on a field trip that morning, but it was a two-hour wait, so I passed. I took a hop on/off bus tour through the city and loved my bus commentator. I stayed on until his shift ended at 5pm. On a whim, I went to see if I could buy tickets to see Phantom of the Opera for that night. They were sold out of the cheapest tickets and I was sad. Then the guy at the booth sold me better tickets for the same price!!! I ran back to my hostel for a quick dinner of fish & chips before heading back for a night at the opera.It was fantastic, more than I ever could have imagined. I loved being able to see the opera since I've had the entire soundtrack memorized for over 10 years. My mom loved the soundtrack so much that she played it on repeat... I spent a bit of time trying to decide if the actor playing Raul was cute or not. I couldn't make up my mind since the rent-o-binoculars were cheaply made. I was so excited that I called Jenna to gush about it and she kept asking if we were going to hang out. I was confused since it was really late and she already knew that we would see each other the next day. It turned out that she had been sleeping and was sleep talking on her cell phone with me.
Tuesday morning I picked up Eurostar tickets for Friday and then decided that I had to go to Platform 9 & 3/4 since I was so close to King's Cross. Then I caught the tube to Green Park to race to the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace. I was not impressed with the exterior of the palace and spent the majority of my time watching all of the tourists in one location. I only stayed for 10 minutes before taking the tube to the British Museum. The bamboo gardens out in front reminded me of my mom's gardens back home. I was thoroughly tired and hungry so I stopped in their cafe for a quick bite. Then I spent 2 hours looking at a bunch of old stuff; including the Rosetta Stone, the Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon, a stone chopper from Tanzania (just a sharpened rock), and an Easter Island head. I was so inspired by the museum building that I spent most of my time taking pictures.I took the tube to St. Paul's Cathedral and waited outside for Jenna to meet me. I waited about 45 minutes. She arrived right as the clock struck 4pm, when no more people were admitted into St. Paul's. :( We searched for some food and walked around Fleet and Strand streets. We were fully convinced we walked through a time warp when we discovered a side alleyway with men dressed up in old fashioned clothes and wearing white wigs, while driving an old Rolls Royce. Apparently, we found, Middle Temple, the lawyer section of London. There were lots of pretty gardens and old buildings. We grabbed some take out Thai and chowed down in a park near the Thames before catching the tube. I am a huge Beatles fan, so Jenna & I had the brilliant idea to take pictures at Abbey Road. It was dark and raining by the time we arrived, but cars were very patient with us and the other gawking tourists. We headed back to the Palmer's Lodge for some inexpensive, but delicious hot chocolate in the sitting room. I packed and researched Paris before heading to bed.
Thanks for reading this far! Will continue on soon.