Ireland Part II: Glendalough, Kinsale, and Blarney

Well, when I last left you, we had just finished our epic tour of Dublin, Ireland, made complete with whiskey drinking, Guinness pouring, and lots and lots of potatoes. But I did admit that Dublin as a city wasn’t really my favorite. Luckily, all of that changed literally the minute we piled into our rent-a-car and headed south.

Welcome to IRELAND.

As mentioned, the catalyst for our trip to Ireland was the fact that Sean’s fraternity brother (ZBTs for life, yo!) was getting married in Cork, so we had to make our merry way down the island to get there. Which, as it turns out, is really THE way to see Ireland. It was such a beautiful drive! Well, partly due to the fact that I wasn’t the one driving (wrong side of the car AND wrong side of the road? No thanks.) but seriously. I mean, you can see for yourself:


Our plan was to make our way leisurely down to Cork, which is located on the southern tip of Ireland, so we stopped in beautiful Glendalough en route.


I’m still not 100% sure of the historical significance of Glendalough, but I do know that it was pretty stinkin’ beautiful.


And made for some picturesque photo ops, hehe.

Plus, on our way back down from the lake, it felt like I found Rapunzel’s tower! 😉

We drove through a few adorable towns on our way down to Cork, and eventually made it there late that evening. Unfortunately, I didn’t take many photos in Cork, but I definitely remedied that over the next couple of days, haha. The next day, we were off to visit Kinsale, a tiny coastal town about half an hour from Cork.



The entire town was so exceptionally CUTE. And with tons of adorable shops, a handful of old stone churches, a marina, an old prison tower, and a couple of ruined forts, it was a full day!






The next day, we packed up the cars once again and headed out to Blarney, which is only about 15-20 minutes from Cork and happened to super close to where the wedding was taking place! You may have heard of it, if only due to the much-famed legend of kissing the Blarney Stone, hehe.

Which is, of course, exactly what we set out to do!



In order to get up to the Blarney Stone, which is located on the very top of the castle, you have to climb up these ridonkulously narrow and steep stairs — up, up, up! One thing is pretty clear: people back then were not the same size as people today, hahaha. Once we got to the top, though, all the squeezing was definitely worth it. Check out the view!

The actual Blarney stone is a specific “brick”, for lack of a better word, that’s located on the interior of the castle wall, down a bit. In order to kiss it, you have to lay on your back and hang onto these handlebars, then leeeeeeeean back and give it a smooch. There’s an friendly Irish man there to help you, too. Unfortunately, I didn’t get my own picture of me kissing the stone, but I DID get a photo OF the photo of me kissing the stone, hahaha. Fair warning, it is incredibly unflattering, hahaha.

So there you have it! Supposedly I am now blessed with the gift of eloquence, and I can say I’ve kissed the same piece of rock that hundreds of thousands of people have kissed before.

Anyway.

The grounds around Blarney Castle are well worth a walkthrough themselves, even after you’ve finished swapping spit with the stone. It’s just such a beautiful place!

So for those of you who might consider skipping Blarney since it’s so touristy, I still recommend going. There weren’t a ton of people there when we went, and there’s just so much to see! Caves, absolutely GORGEOUS flowers, and even a poison garden!




And, yep, that last photo is of EXACTLY what you think it is, hahahahaha. It was in his huge metal cage so people couldn’t reach through and snag some for themselves.

And thus wraps up our trip through scenic Ireland. Next stop, a true blue Irish Wedding! Which included a tradition that I just might have to adopt for my own future nuptials. But I’ll get to that. For now, you’re off the hook, hehe.

Ta-ta!

Ireland Part 1: Dublin

Well, I went all the way to Ireland and all I got was… drunk. Yep, pretty much, just drunk, hahahahaha. No, no, no, I jest. In all seriousness, this is what I did: I drank a lot of beer, and ate a lot of potatoes, and walked the entire city of Dublin like 3 times over (it’s not really that big of a city, haha), and came away with a lot of great memories (and photos, obvi!).

I know that me recapping my adventures abroad is probably fairly boring to some of you, so I’ll try to keep the monologue short and just get straight into the good stuff — pretty, pretty pictures.

And away we go!

Welcome to Dublin! Sean and I flew in on a redeye, leaving at 10:45 PM our time and getting to Ireland at around 10:00 AM their time. It was only a 6.5-ish hour flight, but that time difference — whew! We got seriously messed up because of it. Worst thing was that our hotel room wasn’t ready when we got there to check-in, so we had to go kill some hours in a zombie-like state before we could nap ourselves into the right timezone, hahaha.

We took it pretty easy that first day (since we were also one of the only couples who had arrived). We were actually in Ireland with a bunch of Sean’s friends — his ZBT fraternity brothers — as we were all attending a wedding at the end of our trip!

Bros at Trinity College in Dublin.


Trinity College is where the Book of Kells is kept — one of Ireland’s most famous artifacts. Unfortunately, by the time we made it over to the college on the first day we were out and about, the line was ridonkulously long. So we just snapped some pics and would be returning the next morning. In the meantime, we knew exactly what we could go do…

Oh yeah.

Dublin is the location of The Old Jameson Distillery, where the original stuff was manufactured. Since then, the actual factory has relocated to Cork, in Southern Ireland, where I hear there is a similar museum tour/walkthrough you can do. It was really cool, and very informative! I know now more about distilling whiskey than I ever thought possible.

It’s just too bad that the only way I can drink it is with lots of gingerale, hahaha. You got a free drink with your admission, and could opt for drinking it neat or as a cocktail. Clearly, I chose the latter because I am a wimp.

As mentioned, we went back to Trinity College the next day to see the Book of Kells.

I wasn’t able to take any pictures of the book itself, but believe me when I say that it is pretty freaking cool to see how well-preserved this 1,000-year-old book is.

Possibly even cooler than the book itself, however, was the Long Library, which is part of Trinity College (I think they have a program that specializes in book restoration or something?). Anyway, it was a VERY awesome (and legitimately long) space with tons and tons of ancient texts lining the walls.

As someone with a healthy respect for books (hmm, I wonder why? Hahaha) I found this to be a particularly impressive part. 🙂

Some of the other places we visited on that day were Christ Church, which is a beautiful Anglican/Episcopalian cathedral with really awesome catacombs underneath (and is still in use for church services today!).

And we also got to pay a visit to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which was even more impressive.


St. Patrick’s Cathedral is where Jonathan Swift (the author of Gulliver’s Travels, amongst other things) served as Dean. He actually wrote all of his works while living and working at the cathedral, and is buried there. More writer’s history!

The last big thing we did on our second “real” day in Dublin was… well, you know.


The Guinness Storehouse is a very impressive self-guided museum tour, that comes with free a free pint of beer at the end, of course! In comparison to the Jameson Experience, the Guinness Storehouse is definitely much grander, more modern, and I think targeted to the younger crowd. The museum itself reminded me a lot of DC’s Newseum, with lots of cool interactive displays and whatnot. It’s also HUGE — it was like 7 stories high!

My absolute favorite part of the entire Storehouse was the “Guinness Academy” experience, where you are taught to pour your own “perfect pint” of Guinness. It turns out the pouring process for Guinness is a little different than your average bear beer.

You are supposed to pour the beer in at an angle by pulling the handle towards you, but only ’til it’s about 3/4 of the way full. Then, you let it sit for a little bit…

…until the stuff (I don’t know what it’s called, haha) settles and you’ve got that classic dark brown/black Guinness color. Then you PUSH the tap handle forward to fill up the rest of the glass until the head is perfectly at the top. Ta-da!

I got a certificate for my sweeeet pouring skills, lol, and got to use up my free drink ticket on my own perfectly poured pint. Which I then proceeded to only be able to finish half of because DAMN, Guinness is a HEARTY beer!

We then headed up to the Gravity Bar on top of the Storehouse to enjoy the absolutely breathtaking views and finish off our pints.

If you hadn’t used your ticket in the Guinness Academy, you could also get your free pint up there. The bartenders up there were putting DESIGNS IN THE HEAD OF THE BEER. It was nuts.

Freakin’ beer artists, they are!

So that wrapped up that day in Dublin quite well. We grabbed some grub at a local pub, went out for a bit that night, but all the walking and being in the sun (Ireland was having a heatwave the entire time we were there — it was nuts! It didn’t rain once, and I actually got SUNBURNT. Like, pretty bad. Ridonk.) made me pretty exhausted so we ended up turning in relatively early.

The following day was spent drinking in more of Ireland’s history at the National Museum of Archeology, as well as spending some time in St. Stephen’s Green, which is a giant park that they said Central Park in NYC is actually modeled after!

Sean and I ended up splitting from the rest of the group that afternoon because I really wanted to check out the Dublin Writer’s Museum.

Ireland has such a rich history of Nobel Prize-winning writers — W.B. Yates, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett, and Seamus Heaney are all Irish!

All in all, I’m pretty sure we covered everything there really was to see in Dublin in our few days there. I will admit, as a whole I wasn’t incredibly impressed with Dublin as a city. I hope that doesn’t offend anybody, but for the most part it just seemed very much like an average city. It obviously has a much richer history than anywhere in the States, but it was hot, dirty, and there were a lot of depressing signs of the economic downturn all over the place (shuttered up shops, etc.)

Luckily, Dublin only marked the beginning of our trip to the Emerald Isle, and I can promise you that things are about to get very, very beautiful.

For now, though, I’ll let you go. I’m heading off to Houston tonight with my brother and sister-in-law to see my grandmother (so they can perform the traditional tea ceremony for us, since she couldn’t travel to attend their wedding). This short trip is to be followed with me heading to Oregon for a GIGANTIC Powell Family Reunion on the Oregon Coast!

Whew, the ride never stops… but I wouldn’t have it any other way. 🙂 See you on the flip!

The Wand Chooses the Wizard, Mr. Potter.

Oh, I’m sorry. Did you think that the totally age-inappropriate obsession that I have with Harry Potter was over and done with? Ha! Part 1 and Part 2 of my Harry Potter World recap may have come and gone, but we’ve still got Sunday to cover. In fact, Saturday’s recap wasn’t even 100% complete — I left out one extremely important piece! Well, fear not, friends. I’m about to rectify that. In fact, I should tell you right now that it’s about to get EVEN nerdier in here (you didn’t think that was possible, did you?). Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

O
I mentioned in yesterday’s post that Ollivander’s wand shop isn’t really a shop at all. In fact, it’s more like a show. You stand in a line (where the attendant is repeatedly telling people that this is not a line for a ride, so please don’t get in thinking you’re about to get on Dragon Challenge, haha), and eventually you’ll be ushered in with a group of 15 – 20 other people into the shop.

The Wand Chooses the Wizard
It’s cool and quiet inside, and just there, behind the counter, is the actor playing Mr. Ollivander himself. Thus, the show begins:

Mr. Ollivander
He motions to a girl dressed in school robes, standing in the front. She’s probably about 13-years-old. “You there, Gryffindor! Step forward,” he calls. She tentatively goes up to the counter, where he proceeds to inspect, measure, and generally observe her. He then offers her a wand to test out. He instructs her to use the Wingardium Leviosa spell on a box of wands resting on a shelf to the side. The shelves break and fall down. Not the wand for her! He casts a quick Reparo, then pulls a different wand for her to try.

Ollivander himself
The second wand causes a thunderstorm in the shop. Strike 2. As you might predict, it’s the third and final wand that’s juuuuust right: the music swells, the room glows, and finally a wand has chosen her. We are then dismissed into Dervish & Banges next door to purchase wands of our own (and I imagine that her parents now have to foot the bill for her wand as well, haha). Now, I knew going into things that I had about a 0.01% chance of being chosen by Ollivander for the show, especially if there were kids in my group. But somehow he must have sensed that I was a true fan (perhaps the squealing and clapping I did when we first walked in? Or maybe the incessant click-click-click of my camera throughout the entire presentation?) because before my parents and I had a chance to exit, he came up to me.

“You there,” he said. I responded with a look of shock and what must have been a truly dumbfounded grin plastered on my face. “What house are you?” he asked.

I struggled to use my words like an actual human being for a second, before stammering out, “I… haven’t been sorted yet.”

“Hmm,” he said, looking at me quizzically. “I sense a great wisdom in you. Surely one as wise as you must be Ravenclaw!”

“I certainly wouldn’t mind that!” I said, even though I’m about 90% sure that if I were to actually be sorted, I would be a Hufflepuff. Womp womp.

“I just the wand for someone with your great mind. Ask my assistant inside the shop for the hazel wand. Yes… Hazel, 11 1/2 inches, with a core of dragon heartstring. Surprisingly powerful for its size, and well-suited for wisdom such as yours.” He gives me one last appraising look before walking away, and I stumble out of the shop in a stupor.

Ollivanders
After a few minutes of TOTALLY geeking out because holy crap, that was completely awesome, and was the next best thing to being chosen for the show itself, I go right up to one of the shop assistants and ask for the hazel wand.

Hazel. 11 1/2 inches. Dragon heartstring.
I purchase it (all wands are $29.95, for your reference) and proceed to make a fool of myself for the next twenty minutes, swishing and flicking it around like the fool I am while we had our butterbeers in the Three Broomsticks.

Swish and flick!
Well, I did give it over to my mom so that she could have a little mischief too.

I solemnly swear I am up to no good
I solemnly swear I am up to no good.
And that, my friends, is hands-down the most amazing part of my Saturday.

Mischief Managed.
Now, if you’re still able to hang on with me, we can flash forward to Sunday and get the rest of this beast done. Sunday, my mom stayed back at the hotel and my dad and I made good on our intention to actually see the non-Harry Potter parts of the park, haha. We started off in Marvel world, where I was exceedingly grateful that I hopped on the Hulk coaster right before leaving the night before, while the wait time was low. Still one of the best roller coasters I have EVER been on! We then worked our way through the Toon Lagoon (stopping to get thoroughly soaked on the Popeye water ride, hehe), although we didn’t go on any other water rides since there was a little bit of on-and-off rain and potential thunderstorms that threatened to shut them down. We did stop for a little while in the Jurassic Park Discovery Center (always so much fun for me, despite the PTSD that movie gave me, haha) and eventually made our way back around to Hogsmeade.

Hogsmeade
Here, we got in line for the Flight of the Hippogriff ride (the wait was about 45 minutes – I definitely noticed a significant drop in sheer volume of people at the park from Saturday to Sunday, even though it was a holiday weekend!) and is themed like a Care of Magical Creatures class taught by Hagrid.

Hagrid's Hut
Since this is more of a kid’s roller coaster (no loop-de-loops or anything fancy), my dad was happy to accompany me on this one (Hulk coaster — not so much, haha). The ride itself is only, what, 45-seconds long? But it was fun, of course, and you get to bow to a mechanical Buckbeak as it starts, which I loved.

Buckbeak
After the ride, we revisited the Three Broomsticks to fuel up with another butterbeer (this time in souvenir mugs, OF COURSE) before braving the various shops. They were just as delicious the second time around, and doubly as fun in plastic flagons, haha.

Butter me up! Take a sip... Butterbeer!
Riding on my frozen butterbeer-induced sugar rush, I then proceeded to spend all my money on ridiculous memorabilia. So. Frackin’. Worth it.

Cauldron Cake 2 Cauldron Cake
The most immediate thing I walked away with was a cauldron cake from Honeydukes that didn’t even make it out of the park. My dad and I devoured this little mousse-filled chocolate cupcake with relish — I can’t wait to try to recreate them! I also forced him to take pictures of me with my new pet Pygmy Puff.

Pygmy Puff
His name is Stanley.

Hey, Arnold!
And that pretty much marked the end of our theme park adventures! We made it back to the hotel in time to grab a late dinner with my mom (SUSHI!) and prepared ourselves for the trip back. I had to get a little bit creative with the packing since, in addition to my own souvenirs, I was also transporting wands back to Ben & Taylor. Aside from the wand, butterbeer mug, and Stanley, the rest of my own spoils included…

Spoils of Harry Potter World
Candy from Honeydukes, a Gryffindor t-shirt, a chocolate wand for Sean, U-No-Poo candies (bahahahaha), postcards…

Stationary
… a leather case containing cards and envelopes…

Honeyduke's Swag
… a chocolate frog, a package of Fizzing Whizbees (which I got to eat half of before Daxter dug them out of my suitcase and ate them… which led to an entirely new level of freakout given his health history… but I digress!), and a box of Bernie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans. And then there’s the piece de resistance of my new Harry Potter-inspired collection:

Timeturner
A Timeturner of my very own. Suck on that, Hermione. Yes, I know it’s a lot. I deposited quite a few Galleons into Universal’s pockets this weekend. I would like to point out, however, that when I made a joke about how much money I was spending on what is essentially just CANDY to the guy at the register in Honeydukes, he said that I shouldn’t feel bad because he has literally rung up thousands of dollars worth of merchandise for just one person before. So, really, I think you should all be impressed with my restraint. 😉

So. There you have it. How do I even sum up what really was the trip of a lifetime for me? Aw, to hell with it. I am just going to embrace the cheesy sap that I am, and say that it really was magical. I don’t expect all (heck, any!) of you to understand it, but it was just amazing for me. It was the culmination of my childhood (I was more or less the same age as the characters in the books as each one came out, so I literally grew up with Harry Potter) come to life. I loved every minute of it, and I simply cannot WAIT to go back.

Mischief managed.

Of course this is happening inside your head, Harry…

…But why on earth should that mean it is not real?

It probably doesn’t even need to be said, but I am postponing this week’s weigh-in to allow my butterbeer belly time to deflate. So, where did we leave off? Ah yes, it’s Saturday morning, my parents and I have just arrived at the parks, and I am rip-raring and ready to get my arse to Harry Potter World! For those of you who are unfamiliar with the layout, Universal Orlando is split in two: Universal Studios park and Islands of Adventure. The latter is the one that houses the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which is a section of the park along with others themed around things like Marvel superheroes, Jurassic Park, and Dr. Seuss.

Hop on Pop

We traipsed through Seussland and The Lost Continent, taking a few giddy moments at the Lorax statue and peering into a shop or two. No time to dilly-dally, though. I was a girl on a mission.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

It actually kind of sneaks up on you. Despite the fact that you’re actively looking for it. You just walk around a bend and suddenly, there it is.

Please Obey the Spell Limits

Hogsmeade. With its snow-crested rooftops and meticulously planned storefronts and Butterbeer barrels lining the streets. Eager children in robes roaming the streets, Hogwarts castle looming in the background. I would be lying if I didn’t get just the slightest bit emotional when I saw it. I’m only ridiculously obsessed with Harry Potter human, after all! And it was quite the magical moment for me.

Hogsmeade-ing

After going through the main gate into Hogsmeade, we were immediately greeted by the enthusiastic conductor of the Hogwarts Express. To the right is the steaming smoke stack of the engine car, set up perfectly for a photo op. As I mentally squeal with utter delight, I see that the lockers for this area are housed under a sign indicating they’re part of the Hogsmeade train station (clever!).

Hogsmeade Train Schedule
All Aboard!Hogwarts Express

Across the cobblestones from the train sits Zonko’s Joke Shop and Honeydukes. At this point, the squealing is no longer just in my head.

Zonko's
Extendable Ears
U-No-Poo

I demand that we go inside right away, and I immediately melt at the sight of extendable ears dangling from the ceiling, wizard chess pieces dueling it out in the store window. Zonko’s and Honeydukes are connected, so it’s a mere hop, skip, and a display of Every Flavour Beans before I’m in the next store.

Honeyduke's
Bernie Bott's Every Flavour Beans
Chocolate Frog

I practice extreme self-restraint and leave the stores empty-handed today. After all, we’re only about 30 minutes into our two-day park adventure at this point! No point in letting my chocolate frogs melt while we’re waiting in line. They’ve only got one good jump in them to begin with.

McHavelock's Wizarding HeadgearOwl Post
Brooms for allSpectrespecs

Everyone keeps asking me what my favorite part of the park was, but it’s hard to narrow it down to just one thing. It was the overall feel, you know? The window displays of stores that weren’t even functional, set up for no purpose other than for us fans. The Mimbulus Mimbletonia in the window of the botany store. The set of Gilderoy Lockhart’s books displayed in the bookstore. Moaning Myrtle echoing from inside the bathroom walls (don’t forget to go to the ‘public conveniences” while you’re there!). I just loved it all.

Dervis & Banges

Besides Honeydukes and Zonko’s, the only other store that you can really go into is Dervish and Banges. This is where they sell all the wands, robes, and various paraphernalia you could dream of. We actually had to wait in a line just to get into the store itself on the first day we were there. Once inside, it’s mayhem, but amazing.

Replica Wands

Ollivander’s isn’t actually a store, so you can’t buy your wand there. We did go into Ollivander’s, of course, but I just wanted to point out the difference. It’s more like a show, after which you can purchase the actual wands in Dervish & Banges (or in one of the many other stores around the park, of course). You’ll find replicas of all the characters’ wands from the movies in addition to 12 wands that are exclusive to the park. The meanings behind these special wands are based on the Celtic rune calendar, so they can match you with one based on your birthday. As it turned out, I didn’t need to have them analyze any dates in order to know which wand to get, but that’s another (infinitely more awesome) story for later.

Pumpkin Patch

We stopped by a merchant so that I could try a pumpkin juice before we went any further at this point. Pumpkin juice, as crafted by the creatives behind the theme park, tastes a lot like spiced apple cider. A quick look at the ingredient list showed an apple juice base, with pumpkin puree, apricot puree, and various spices (and preservatives, of course, but that’s to be expected).

Pumpkin Juice Refreshing!

It was delicious but VERY sweet. We ended up watering it down quite a bit, and given the outrageous amount of sugar I remember reading on the nutrition label, so it’s probably just as well. Regardless, I certainly found it refreshing! And you better believe I kept the bottle. 😉

Courtyard and towers

The Harry Potter area of Islands of Adventure currently boasts three main rides. First, there’s Dragon Challenge, a dueling roller coaster that they converted from a previously existing ride. I remember going on this particular coaster when I came to the park many years ago, so I didn’t feel the need to wait in line for it again. Then there’s Flight of the Hippogriff, which is more of a kid roller coaster. Dad and I hit this ride up on Day 2, when the line wasn’t too bad. Then, finally, there’s Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. This spectacular simulator ride, which features a majority of the original actors, is the real star of the show. We waited in line for 90 minutes for this puppy, and it was so, so worth it (though my mom probably feels quite differently. Those who get easily motion-sick, be forewarned!). I won’t spoil things too much, but just know that I loved it. Once you weave your way through the outside part of the line, you dump your stuff at the free lockers inside and then get to take a tour of Hogwarts Castle!

Entering Hogwarts!

Starting with a few talking portraits (the way they cured the screens really does make them look like paintings! It’s fantastic!) and various decorative pieces that I recognized from the movies easily (the Mirror of Erised, the unicorn tapestry, etc.), you go through a few rooms before being greeted by Professor Dumbledore himself in his office (make sure to look for the Pensieve!). Then, you meet up with Harry, Ron, and Hermione in the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom and finally learn what the ride is actually going to be about. Spoilers stop here, so if you’re curious for more you’ll just have to go to Orlando and find out yourself! 😀

Three Broomsticks Hog's Head

After disembarking from the ride, retrieving our things, and edging our way back out of Filch’s Emporium for Confiscated Goods (a.k.a. the ride’s gift shop), we headed down to the Three Broomsticks to let my mom’s stomach settle and refresh ourselves. They serve traditional British pub food there, unshockingly, so we got a couple plates of fish & chips to share. It was also here that I had my first (but not last!) taste of frozen butterbeer. Otherwise known as God’s gift to sugar, the aftereffects of which must be a parent’s worst nightmare, hahaha.

Icey Frozen Butterbeer

It tasted like a vanilla and butterscotch milkshake, and was so, so, SO delicious. I cannot wait to try to recreate this at home… with alcohol, natch. I’m thinking something like cream soda, butterscotch liquor, and a blender. Can you blend carbonated soda with ice? Guess we’re going to find out! And on that ominous note, I think we’ve covered enough ground today. Are you still with me? Haven’t jumped ship quite yet? Still to come: Ollivander’s and choosing my wand, Hagrid’s hut and the Flight of the Hippogriff, and many, MANY galleons’ worth of swag!

To be continued…