A Travellerspoint blog

I'll Follow the Sun

(or so I thought ...)

rain 18 °C

Day 1

Traveling very early in the morning, for example around 3am – is a very interesting experience. The short version of my story is that I met some strange people while making my way by bus and by train to the airport … people I probably wouldn’t have talked to if it had been a more decent hour of the day. Hopefully my travels will not require me to be out and about that early anymore, but at least now I know that it is indeed possible to use the bus system effectively when the tube is not yet running.

I boarded the flight for Sevilla and was very excited to get a window seat near the front of the plane. (I usually ended up on the wing, so being up front was a nice change.) While we were in the air I saw an absolutely gorgeous sunrise! I’ve never really seen one from such a high altitude before, so I’m sure you can imagine how happy I was that I had my camera handy.

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Waiting for me right outside customs was the entire reason for my trip to Spain in the first place – Elizabeth!!! I was on the receiving end of a giant, running-toward-me bear hug and it’s one of the best I’ve ever gotten.

We walked around the city, just taking in the sights, and I got to see where Elizabeth goes to class, her route home, and of course where she lives! Unfortunately I was unable to stay with her because guests aren’t allowed in home stays, but my hostel was very cute and even though it was a long walk between the two we managed just fine.

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I was introduced to my first lemon fanta in Spain. Apparently, the lemon flavor isn’t available in the U.S., so we stopped by a supermarket when we got thirsty and I discovered how amazing it is! It’s more like limeade than lemonade, but there’s some sort of special twist to it and now I’m on the lookout for it wherever I go!

We stopped for lunch at a little restaurant Elizabeth had been to once before, and we filled up on tapas and sangría. Tapas, rather than being a large plate of something, are like the mini versions. So your order comes on a small plate and only has one or two of whatever it is that you ordered, and you have to get a couple of them so that you have enough to fill up on! We had something with the name tortilla in it – but contrary to what you might expect, no bread-like items were involved. It was more like an egg pie with potatoes – sort of like a quiche but not really. We also had spinach empanadas which were delicious! And we were entertained by ordering sangría – wine mixed with juice – just because we could.

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We sat outside which was so nice. The weather was perfect – warm and sunny but not hot, and it was so pleasant and calming to just be outdoors. I love how when you have a meal in Europe it’s expected that you’ll just be there for a while. There’s no rush to get the customers in and out so that more can come through. It’s much more slow-paced and therefore relaxing. And in Sevilla, all of the restaurants had their tables outside, just on the sidewalk or in the middle of the square – and I loved it! It was so much fun to just choose a table, sit down, and enjoy the nice weather, the people strolling by, and the little kids running around …

Back at Elizabeth’s apartment we rested for a bit, (siesta is a beautiful thing,) and I met her host sister and the host sister’s friend. Fortunately, Elizabeth warned me about “beso beso” beforehand, so I was prepared to kiss and be kissed on both cheeks rather than shaking hands. It was still funny though.

In Spain, the two big tourist items are bull fighter memorabilia and flamenco dresses. My favorites, as we walked by the shops, were the aprons that looked like Flamenco dresses because they had fun patterns and lots of ruffles along the bottom. I was tempted to get one, but I wouldn’t have wanted to use it for actual cooking for fear of getting it dirty, which I do realize is the whole purpose of the apron in the first place. And I don’t have a mannequin to display it on properly, and I just have a feeling that it would not look quite as cool squished in my closet between jackets and skirts.

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One thing I noticed overall was a very different feel in Sevilla from that of London. Obviously there’s a language difference, but even ignoring that I distinctly felt like I was somewhere else, whereas in Cork I didn’t really feel like I’d left England – there were just more Irish accents around.

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Day 2

As I left my hostel in search of the spot where I was supposed to meet Elizabeth, I noticed the interesting color of the sky. There was a fairly solid cloud cover, but rather than being grey like in Seattle, it was almost brown! Very odd. As I continued walking, in my tank top and capris by the way, the rain began. It was a steady stream of large, fat, very wet rain drops, and although I don’t normally mind rain, I wanted it to be sunny while I was in Spain. I didn’t think it was too much to ask, especially since it hadn’t rained more than once since Elizabeth had been there. Apparently, however, the rain in Spain decided to stay mainly in Sevilla that day.

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We ended up taking shelter in a churrería, where as soon as you sit down you get a little glass of water and a small cup of what I thought was hot chocolate. I was thinking, “Oh that’s nice – I didn’t even have to order it, did Elizabeth already say something?” Good thing I didn’t try to drink it though because it turns out it was for dipping the churros in. We got a whole plate of them, and they were pretty much long, thick sticks of fried dough (with some air inside, somewhat like a doughnut). They were absolutely delicious, surprisingly filling, and I was happy to enjoy more authentic food from Spain.

Then we made our way, via bus, to a national park (Parque de Doñana) about two hours away. During the ride Elizabeth was chatting with an older woman about what there is to do there and where we should go, and it was the coolest thing watching her have a conversation in Spanish because there’s no way I’d be able to do that. I’m excited when I can just say hola and gracias without sounding too American [“hola” with a ring like “hello!” and a quick “grathia”].

By the time we got to the park I was happy to see that it wasn’t raining anymore. There were a few trails to follow, but the interesting thing was that you actually walk around on plank walkways, so you know specifically where you are and are not allowed to go. Occasionally there were little thatch-roof observation huts, and inside we had to be quiet but we could look out through the narrow windows to see the wilderness and hopefully animals. We didn’t see anything more exciting that some far-away birds, but it was still really pretty and it was a very cool experience just because it was so quiet. I’m used to hearing all the sounds of the city all the time, but there was just the wind blowing through the grass and the occasional bird call at the park.

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We had fun taking pictures there, both of nature and of ourselves. I caught Elizabeth in a truly heinous act of rebellion - STEPPING OFF THE PATH!!! I know – very scandalous. And we caught a number of glimpses of little lizard/gecko/salamander-type creatures and tried to get a good shot of them as they scurried off underneath the walkway. Elizabeth even went as far as taking a video of one of the little guys and naming him Marty. I’m not really sure where the name came from, but it suited him well.

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At the very furthest hut, it was even quieter than the others because no other visitors had made it out that far. And yes, it was far. I was amazed by how calm and quiet the area was. It was okay to not have any animals to watch; just observing nature (the trees, grass, etc.) was enough. There was a sense of peace; you didn’t have any worries, and you could just be. Until you had to catch the bus back of course.

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We ended up taking pictures back at the bus stop to entertain ourselves for the forty minutes or so that we had to wait, and we also made up new dances moves to discourage the record number of flies from landing on us. It didn’t work unfortunately, but we still gave it a good effort!

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On the bus back I saw the coolest thing! We were driving by a marshy area, so there was lots of shallow water. There were a few horses grazing, and because of where they were standing you couldn’t see any solid ground, so it looked like they were standing on – not in – the water! It was beautiful. Really. I wish I was able to paint because it looked like something that could have been a masterpiece.

Overall it was a fun, if short, trip to Spain, and I’m so glad I got to see Elizabeth. Now she just has to come visit me in London! I can hardly wait!

Posted by ecfong 04:01 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Day Tripper

(Adventures on 8 October 2008)

The great thing about London is its very useful transportation system which gets you out of the city and into the country. And it makes it very easy to invite yourself on other people’s excursions without inconveniencing them too much. For example, I went to Canterbury and Dover with Lauren and her grandma, and thanks to the train we had a great time!

Before going, I really had no idea what there was to see in either place; I just knew there were some famous tales about Canterbury written long before my time.

In Canterbury we found the cathedral and went in for a look. Part of it is under construction, and underneath the scaffolding it didn’t look that big. However, when we got inside we found out it was actually quite roomy! You walk in and see the main area of the church where the congregation sits in front of the altar, but then you can go behind the altar and there’s another whole section!

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Back there you can see different shrines to random people that we’d never heard of, and there is also a candle where it's believed the Archbishop of Canterbury was murdered.

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We saw some children there on some sort of school field trip, and it was so funny because they were dressed up like knights and bishops! It was very cute. I couldn’t get a very good picture of them without acting really creepy, but I tried anyway.

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Then we hopped back on the train and made it to Dover. We didn’t really know where we were going when we got off the train; we just looked for the white cliffs. We made it down to the water, and I realized that I hadn’t seen the coast in a long time! It was a beautiful day, and with all the walking we got in I was rather toasty. I definitely wished I had worn shorts and a t-shirt rather than pants and long sleeves. But – what are you gonna do?

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Dover is the point where England is closest to France, and it’s where the chunnel connects the two. We could see the port from our high vantage point, and there were a lot of ships going in and out at surprisingly high speeds. One of the shipping companies was named Sea France, and I was entertained because I got to – see France! And actually, since it was a beautiful and clear day we could see across the water to the real France which was exciting too. And the air was wonderful to breathe. Having been in London so long, I'd forgotten what it's like to have clean air. Usually, other than the cigarette smoke, I don’t notice the air quality, but when you have actual fresh air again it’s amazing.

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The cliffs themselves were beautiful, and it was fun to walk along the top of them. Of course, when we were on top of them we couldn’t see the white part without falling over the edge, but occasionally there was a break and we had a good view.

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On our way back we ended up taking a different path down the cliffs in the hopes that we wouldn’t have to climb back up the hill we'd just come down. It worked for a while, but then we ended up at a dead end after pushing our way through bushes and crawling under tree branches ... ultimately we had to turn around and backtrack. It was a good try though. And a fun day.

Posted by ecfong 13:53 Archived in England Comments (0)

Flying

semi-overcast 15 °C

Time to check off another tourist attraction from my to-do list: the largest Ferris wheel in the world – the London Eye! It’s located on the Thames opposite of and slightly down from Parliament, and the wheel is constantly in motion, albeit slowly.

I was able to get a discounted ticket through my program which is why I ended up waiting this long to go. We went at 6pm on Wednesday night, which was actually a great time to go because there weren’t any lines and our carriage, or whatever the glass ball that we were in was called, wasn’t too full.

You have to jump into the carriage while it is moving by the platform, but it moves slowly enough that it isn’t difficult. (But you do have to mind the gap!) Once inside you go around once which takes just less than half an hour.

The view was wonderful because it was a pretty clear evening, and I was happy to be able to take lots of photos since I hadn’t on my flight in. One thing I thought was funny was that the ride is actually called a “flight,” probably to make it seem more chic or something and to make you feel better about spending at least £15, if not more, on your ticket.

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At the end of the ride there’s a camera outside that takes a picture of you within the carriage, but we couldn’t figure out when it was going to take the picture or even if it already had. We felt kind of silly just standing there grinning, but the camera finally flashed and we figured we were good.

When we got off we went to the gift shop to see our photo, and although it was alright, it definitely wasn’t worth £8. The rest of the gift shop wasn’t very impressive. There were a few magnets and postcards with pictures of the eye, and then some other random stuff that had nothing to do with it. For one of the biggest attractions here, I was stunned at how wimpy the gift shop was. Suffice it to say I did not buy anything there – I saved my money for the postcard stand down the street.

Cheers!

Posted by ecfong 09:24 Archived in England Comments (0)

She's Leaving Home

There and back again … my first adventure outside of the U.K. was a weekend trip to Cork, Ireland with Lauren and I declare it a success!

sunny 18 °C

Day 1

We took the tube very early in the morning all the way to Heathrow, got there at the appointed time of two hours before our departure, and got our boarding passes and made it through security in probably less than ten minutes! That was certainly unexpected, but welcome, because it just meant we had more time to browse through the gift shops, which we immediately proceeded to do.

I was a little worried about our flight because the reviews I read about AerLingus were pretty much terrible with a few awfuls in there to mix it up. However, we boarded right on time, got in the air only about half an hour late, and made it to Ireland no problem. Getting off the plane I had to walk on the tarmac rather than in one of those gate things, and I happened to glance behind me and I saw my first glimpse of the Irish countryside. It was stereotypically green and rolling and beautiful.

One thing I noticed right away was that all the signs have both Gaelic and English on them, and I thought that was very cool. It was also interesting that the Gaelic words did not seem to have any similarity to the English words (unless they were names of towns).

We followed the signs to the bus stop and hopped on a shuttle that took us to the city center. On the way I saw a few of the places that were mentioned in our little pamphlet about Cork as well as some cows out standing in their field. We were dropped off right in front of the tourist information office, so we ran in there and found that it was as much a gift shop as a tourist office. I am proud to say that I didn’t buy anything right away there, even though they had lots of cool little mementos and chocolates and Guinness memorabilia.

We walked to our hostel across the city center and on the other side of the river, but fortunately we packed light and it wasn’t too much trouble. We stayed at Aaran House, which was my first hostel, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect. We ended up sharing a room with two other girls, and even though it wasn’t anything fancy it was clean and the bed was actually more comfortable than the one I have in London.

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After we dropped off our bags we went in search of food and a map. After going to the train station and the bus station and not finding a map anywhere, we eventually went back to the tourist office. The problem there, however, was that the only maps we saw were of Ireland as a whole (and pricey) and we wanted one of just Cork. Then we finally realized that if you go up to the information desk – you know, where there are people to help you - you can get a free one of just the city! That was exciting.

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We spent the rest of the day wandering around Cork, which included going to a supposedly really nice park but Lauren and I thought it was a little sketchy, and we went through the markets but didn’t really find anything we wanted. Then we decided to find St. Anne’s Church because you can climb up the bell tower, play your favorite song on the bells, and then get a great view of the city from the top. Unfortunately, the doors were closed and we couldn’t figure out how to get in. It was sad. We also found this crafts building where you can watch craftsman at work, but no one was there either. Right next to that building was the Butter Museum, which really entertained Lauren for some reason, and we struck out there too. Apparently nobody else goes sightseeing in Cork on Friday afternoon.

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We decided to check out some other “sights” since all the ones in that area were closed, so we crossed back over the river and through the city center to look for an old fort and another church. We found both, but there honestly wasn’t too much to see at either one. On our way to the Church we were approached by three teenage girls who asked if we would buy alcohol for them! No “hello,” just, “will you buy alcohol for us?” They wanted two double noggins and a noggin, or that’s what it sounded like anyway. It was entertaining trying to pronounce it with the right accent and confidence, but ultimately we didn’t buy anything for them. I was glad because they were probably undercover cops and I really didn’t need to be arrested and subsequently deported from Ireland while on holiday.

Then, as we were entering the campus of the local college, University College Cork, I was approached by a little boy on his bike, maybe twelve years old, who asked me if I had a fag (aka cigarette)! He was way too young to be smoking in my opinion, and as soon as he found out we didn’t have any he just rode off in search of someone who did.

Anyway … it was a very pretty school, and I felt more at home being on a college campus again. We sat on a little wall looking across a big lawn at an old building, and the sun was slowly setting making the area look absolutely gorgeous. Then this older man walked by with his dog and he paused for a moment and commented to us that “it doesn’t get any better than this.” We smiled and agreed, and then he asked us if he could tell us a secret. I said sure, and he said something (in his Irish accent) along the lines of “Guys get nice girls, and they ruin them.” Well that’s certainly not what I expected! He elaborated and ended up talking to us for about forty-five minutes, but he was actually entertaining rather than creepy and our conversation which consisted of him talking and Lauren and I nodding was my favorite part of the day. He told us he was a free spirit, and had kept his promise that he made to himself when he was fifteen that he would never let anybody have control over him and he would live out his life taking advantage of very moment, etc. He also recited some of his own poetry for us, which I didn’t really understand, but that was ok. Towards the end he kept saying he had to leave and get back home because he was going to clean while his wife was out (I know – awww), but then he kept talking and it made me laugh. At the real end of the conversation though, he asked us to do something for him. After just getting asked to buy alcohol for underage teenagers and for a cigarette from a twelve-year-old, I was not inclined to say yes to anything until I heard what it was. However, he just asked us to, after he left, hug a tree and take a picture while hugging it. Apparently his wife had him do the same thing once and it was to show how in tune with or connected to nature we are. And of course we had to do it! The pictures didn’t come out too well because it was getting dark, but the important thing was that we did it.

Just as he was leaving (I never did ask for his name, but I did get a picture of him), another man came over and talked to us. He was just visiting the school, but I think he must have lived in the area because it sounded like he knew all the touristy things to do. He told us about Blarney Castle which was our destination for the next day, and he wanted to know if we were going to kiss the Blarney Stone. Although we wanted to see Blarney castle, neither Lauren nor I were planning on kissing the stone because thousands of tourists kiss that thing every year in order to obtain the Irish gift of gab. And on top of that, to reach the stone itself you have to lie on your back over a gap that’s multiple stories above the ground just to kiss a rock covered in spit and lipstick and who knows what else. But this man was telling us that we had to do it because we probably wouldn’t go there again, and since we came all this way it seemed a shame not to. He was actually very persuasive, and although I wasn’t completely convinced, I was certainly considering it by the end of the conversation.

After he left we really had to get dinner, so we made our way back towards the city center in search of food. We ended up passing a cinema, and just for kicks we went in to see what was playing and how much tickets were. We ended up finding a movie we were interested in and the prices weren’t any more horrendous than we’d seen elsewhere (€7), so we decided that would be our evening entertainment since sitting sounded really nice after all the walking we’d done. We went to get take-out from the first tasty-looking restaurant we could find, and we ended up choosing Indian. While we were waiting for our order, three men came and sat down by us waiting for their order too. They talked to us briefly, but they were Liverpudlians (from Liverpool!) and had the thickest accents I’ve encountered so far. They were the first ones I really had trouble understanding (and I think they were slightly confused by us as well), so we didn’t end up talking for too long. Oh well.

Once we got our food we realized we didn’t have utensils, so we went in search of plastic forks and knives as well as something to drink. We made it to the theater just in time, but the only thing we could find to eat with were a couple of spoons. I was sad because the containers started to leak a little and got onto my jeans, and eventually when the lights went down I couldn’t see what I was eating. So. Let me tell you what I’ve learned: sneaking food into a theater is fine, but don’t get Indian food that had big chunks of meat and lots of sauce and try to eat it in a dark theater with plastic spoons and no napkins. Just a suggestion.

The movie we chose was “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.” I’d heard of it when I was back home, but I didn’t know too much about it. After watching it I think it’s really good that I didn’t know many details beforehand. But let me just say that it was about the Holocaust from a young boy’s point of view, and I think I can honestly say it was the saddest movie I have ever seen. The Holocaust is always sad, but this was a notch above that. Incredible, but heartbreaking.

Day 2

The next morning we hunted for breakfast and ended up finding a little café where we got hot chocolate and muffins. Yum! Then while we were waiting for the bus, we walked along the river and I got some beautiful shots of the buildings and their reflections. The water was like glass, and it was just so pretty. The bus took us into Blarney and we made a beeline for Blarney Castle. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I was hoping for more green than we’d found yesterday. I’m happy to say that Blarney delivered!

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We walked up to the castle and slowly made our way up to the top, checking out each floor to give ourselves a break from the scary staircase. The stairs we used were stone spiral staircases, but they were very narrow and the steps themselves weren’t wide enough for your whole foot – we basically had to tiptoe up them. The castle was really cool because it was just stone left – there weren’t any decorations or furniture or even flooring, and there were great views and it was fun to walk around and try to imagine how people moved through the tiny spaces in their huge outfits. I definitely don’t recommend it for people who are claustrophobic or afraid of heights though. The view from the top was wonderful, but there are gaps all over the floor where they must have dropped scalding water on intruders or something and you really have to watch your step.

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All the while climbing up through the castle, I hadn’t decided if I was going to kiss the stone. But when we got up to the battlements (I hadn’t realized until we arrived that the stone was at the very top), there wasn’t a line at all and so I decided to just do it before I could change my mind again.

When you get to the stone, there’s an old man sitting on a mat (I swear he was the same one from the postcards!), and he holds you as you lie upside down on another mat and grab two bars attached to the wall a foot or two away. You sort of have to bend over backwards and pull yourself to the stone. I didn’t really look, I just kissed whatever piece of rock was in front of me, and although it tasted like rock, I didn’t feel anyone else’s saliva or lipstick or whatever nastiness might have been there, and for that I was grateful. On the other side was a giant camera thing and a guy to operate it, and he took a couple shots that I could look at down in the gift shop and purchase for €10. I was hoping Lauren would get a picture of me because I didn’t plan on paying for one, but I think I moved too quickly and she missed it. I noticed when I stood up though that it was a terrible angle anyway, so I took some photos in front of the stone from a little farther away instead.

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I admit that I did end up buying a picture of myself kissing the Blarney Stone, but I figured that it was a once in a lifetime thing and according to Discovery Channel it’s one of the 99 things you should do before you die. I needed proof after all …

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After the castle we went to the Rock Close. I don’t really know what that means, but essentially it was a garden you could walk around in, and there were some cool ruin type things to look at. We found Wishing Steps – apparently the Blarney witch must grant the wishes of those who walk over them in return for taking wood from the hearths of Blarney. But – you have to do it right. You must be able to walk down and then back up the steps with your eyes closed and only think of your wish. If you do this successfully your wish will be granted within one year. I wasn’t going to do this one either because I didn’t want to fall and break my neck, but I decided to after all and now I’m just waiting to see if my wish will come true!

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We also went for a walk around the lake, and even though it was a pretty walk, we didn’t actually see the lake until the very end of the loop because there were too many trees in the way. We did see some more cows though, and that made me happy. I don’t know what it is about animals but I always seem to have to take a picture of them.

After leaving the Blarney Castle area we got lunch and then went for another walk. I saw a nice walking path from the bus on our way in, and we went back and found it because it had great views of the countryside. It was actually a very nice path even though it was near the road because it was very flat and in a nature preserve. I really liked it because it was something all the locals used, rather than tourists. People were going for runs or taking their kids on a stroll, and there were lots of people walking their dogs. I thought it was funny that there was a sign about being fined for leaving dog “litter” because there was something left from a dog every couple of feet it seemed. I also took many photos of the hillsides, but they all seemed to turn out the same. I wish I’d been able to get to a higher vantage point, but that would have required climbing and there weren’t really any hills close by anyway.

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Day 3

The next morning we went back to St. Anne’s to see if the Church was open, seeing as it was a Sunday and all. It was, but we couldn’t go up to the bell tower because they were having Mass. It was disappointing, but when we found out we’d of had to pay €5 to go up, we weren’t as sad and moved on.

Back at the airport we printed our boarding passes and went through security just as easily as last time, and I was entertained that in order to get to the gates we had to go through the gift shop. It reminded me of Disneyland.

Our flight went well; we got back to London just fine. And even though our wallets were lighter, our camera’s were full – a good trade I think.

Posted by ecfong 05:52 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

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