10 Reasons You Should Visit Vilnius

Named as the Culture Capital of Europe in 2009, Vilnius is a great place to visit. This walkable city is a the right balance of quirky and traditional. The mix of historic sites, great shopping opportunities and fun bars and pubs appeal to lots of visitors.  You can spend a few days visiting just to enjoy the sights and shopping to your heart’s content.

Below is a list of the 10 best things to see and do in Vilnius, Lithuania

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The Cathedral of St. Stanislav and St. Vladislav

Vilnius Cathedral

The Cathedral’s formal name is Cathedral of St. Stanislav and St. Vladislav and was built in 1251, and is the most important Catholic building in Lithuania. The Neo-Classical Cathedral is home to eleven chapels, among them the High Baroque Chapel of St. Casimir , Lithuania’s patron saint. Built in 1636 to house his remains, the chapel is one of the country’s national treasures.

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Gates of Dawn 

 

Gates of Dawn

The Gates of Dawn is the only remaining gate from the city’s original defensive walls which was completed in 1522. Of the original nine city gates, only the Gate of Dawn remains, while the others were destroyed. The Chapel in the Gate of Dawn contains an icon of The Blessed Virgin Mary Mother of Mercy, said to have miraculous powers. Many pilgrims come to pray in front of the icon for healing powers.

 

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Gediminas Hill 

 

Gediminas Castle & Museum

You can climb up or take the funicular up Gediminas Hill for spectacular views of Vilnius. The castle dates from the 13th century and over the years it was also a prison. The tower houses a museum that has exhibits on the history of the castle and some archeology exhibits from the surrounding area.

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St. Anne’s Church 

St. Anne’s Church

St Anne’s Church is one of the most famous landmarks in Vilnius. This pretty Gothic church was built between 1495 and 1500 by Benedikt Rejt , who is most famous for designing parts of Prague Castle.There is a legend that when during his conquests Napoleon came to Vilnius and saw this church he said he would like to take it on his palm and bring to France

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Old Town 

Old town 

Vilnius’ Old Town, which is  a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is Europe’s largest baroque capital. Many of the old buildings have been converted into restaurants, bars or shops, and you can spend a day wandering and exploring the area.

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Angel of Uzupis

Uzupis District

The Uzupis District is part of old town and in 1998 the residents unofficially declared the area to be an independent republic, with its own president, anthem, flag, and constitution. The district has been popular with artists for some time, and has been compared to Montmartre in Paris due to its bohemia atmosphere.

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Sign in front of the Museum of Genocide Victims 

Museum of Genocide Victims

The Museum is set  in a former KGB building that was used in the Nazi and Russian occupations from the 1930’s until 1991. The basement was used as a prison from the KGB and still has the original execution chamber and still has bullet holes in the walls.

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Presidential Palace 

Presidential Palace

The Presidential Palace is the official residence of the President of Lithuania.  It dates back to the 14th century and is located in Old Town.

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National Museum

National Museum of Lithuania

The National Museum of Lithuania houses a large collection of Lithuania’s historical and archeological artifacts. It dates back to 1855 and is the oldest museum in Lithuania.

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Pilies Street 

Shopping

Vilnius is known for its amber, woolen & flaxware. Pilies street is full of little shops with Lithuanian souvenirs, ornaments, clothing, also cafes and restaurants. Head on over to Stikliu street for boutiques owned by local designers.

10 Reasons You Should Visit Vilnius

If you’ve been to Vilnius, what did you enjoy most in this lovely city?

Thanks for reading & Happy Travels, Tava

 

 

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10 Things Not to Miss in Bucharest

When I traveled to Bucharest, I wasn’t sure of what to expect. The only things that I knew was that Bucharest,  used to be part of the old Soviet bloc and is home to the second largest building in the world.

I later found out that before World War II, the city was known as the “Little Paris“, because of its Art Nouveau architecture. When the war was over, the Soviet Union gained control of Romania. The old world architecture is now mixed with soviet style buildings left behind from decades of communist rule. Now Bucharest is experiencing a rebirth once again. The city is becoming known as the “New Berlin.”  The past and present coexist in this unique European capital.  There are interesting historical museums mingling with new trendy bars and cafes.

Here are a few of the places not to miss:

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The Worlds’s Second Largest Building

The Palace of Parliament

This is the second largest building in the whole world. It is located in the center of Bucharest, and was built in 1984 by Nicolae Ceausescu. It spans 12 stories with over 3100 rooms. We took a 45 minute tour of the building which included some extravagant rooms with lots of marble, massive chandeliers and handmade carpets.

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Arcul de Triumf

The Arch of Triumph  (Arcul de Triumf)

There have been three arches on this site. The first arch (made of wood) was inaugurated in 1878 when Romania gained its independence. The second arch was rebuilt on the site in 1922 after World War 1.  Then in 1936 the current arch was erected.  Each year, military parades are held underneath the Arcul de Triumf on December 1, which marks Romania’s National Day.

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The cobbled lanes of Lipscani

Lipscani (Old Town)

The Art nouveau, Baroque and neoclassical buildings in Lipscani are filled with art  galleries and cafes.  Make sure when you are exploring to take some time to linger at some of the great cafes, browse the many shops and spend a night listening to music in the bars in old town.

Caru’ cu Bere

This restaurant opened in 1879 and is also one of the oldest breweries in Bucharest.  The Caru’ cu Bere is worth a visit just to  see the painted ceilings and ornate woodwork. But make sure you order a meal, the food is amazing and their beer is tasty. It is a popular place so be prepared to wait for a table.

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Front of the Museum

Museum of the Romanian Peasant

The Museum of the Romanian Peasant is dedicated to the traditional way of life. It houses exhibits of traditional clothing and artifacts. The gift shop is filled with handicrafts. Also there was a local market at the back of the Museum where we were able to purchase some tasty treats and souvenirs to take home.

The National Village Museum

The National Village is located on the shores of Lake Herastrau and has exhibits of architecture from all over Romania. There are over 300 different types of dwellings; including houses, barns, churches, and windmills. The Museum also has a large gift shop.

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Romania has been a member of the European Union since 2007

Revolution Square

Originally called Palace Square, its name was changed after the Romanian Revolution in 1989, which marked the end of a decades-long communist regime.  The Square houses: The National Museum of Art, Senate Palace, Memorial of Rebirth and Kretzulescu Church.  the Athenaeum, the University of Bucharest Library.

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National Museum of Art

The National Museum of Art

The museum is in the grounds of the old Royal Palace in Revolution Square. There is the National Gallery of Romanian art which includes medieval to modern Romanian paintings. There is also European Gallery with collections dating as early as the 14th century.

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Senate Palace

Senate Palace

The  building  was the headquarters of the former Central Committee of the Romanian Communist Party. This was where Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife fled by helicopter on December 22, 1989.  In 1990, the building became the seat of the Senate and since 2006 it houses the Ministry of Interior and Administrative Reform.

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Memorial of Rebirth

Memorial of Rebirth

The memorial complex was inaugurated in August 2005. memorial commemorates the struggles and victims of the Romanian Revolution of 1989, which overthrew Communism. Under the pillar there is a plaque with the names of the 1058 victims of the revolution are engraved.

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Pretty Kretzulescu Church

Kretzulescu Church

Kretzulescu Church is an Eastern Orthodox Church Built between 1720 – 1722. It is located on one of the corners of Revolution Square, next to the former Royal Palace.

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Taking a cafe break

This is just a few of the highlights of our stay in Bucharest.  We had a fun time walking around and seeing the city. Bucharest has plenty of places to explore, many wonderful places to eat and some great shopping opportunities.  If you are planning on visiting Romania, make sure you have a few days to see this vibrant city.

If you have visited Bucharest and have any places to add, please let me know! Happy Travels, Tava

 

10 Things Not to Miss in Bucharest

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Our Irish Road Trip

A Drive around Ireland in a Minivan

It all started in late 2013 after talking to Mike’s parents (Mary and Jerry) about Mary’s ancestors that first came to America. We decided plan a trip Ireland. This was Mary and Jerry’s first time oversees, and Mary was excited to find out about her Irish heritage. They made plans to get their passports that night.  After telling my parents (Bill & Jean) about our plans, they thought it sounded like a great vacation and decided to join us.  In order to be able to visit all of the places we wanted, we knew we would need to rent a car. But to be able transport everyone in one vehicle we were going to need a large car. Like a minivan.

A minivan. In Ireland. With narrow roads & hedgerows. And don’t forget about driving on the left hand side. 

Mike said he would be up for the driving challenge on one condition: there must be a pub by the hotel so he would be able to get at least a pint of Guinness each night.

Compromise accepted.

A Map of our journey:

Map: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1CqEEreHzjBX6f0Z9bivj2qLqFz4&usp=sharing

Travel Dates: October 15-25, 2014

 

Challenging Day(s) – DAY 1 & 2 , Departing and Arriving

The original plans were to have everyone meet up at the Philadelphia Airport for our layover flight to Dublin,  whereas Mary and Jerry were flying from Salt Lake City to Philadelphia; and the rest of us out of Kansas City. BUT Mother Nature had other plans for us.(problem #1)

 After being delayed in KC we knew we weren’t going to catch up with Mike’s folks in Philly. But we were able to get a hold of them during their layover and made plans to meet us in Terminal 2 at a fast food restaurant, when we landed. At this time we didn’t know what flights we were going to be on, nor what time we were going to land other than it would be in the afternoon. Mary & Jerry made it out of  Salt Lake City and into Philly and arrived at the Dublin Airport around 9:30am, on schedule. We ended flying from MCI to ORD to LHR to DUB, and arriving at 3:20PM . They had been waiting in the Dublin airport for 6 hours.

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Mom & Dad arriving in Dublin

We may have landed but our luggage did not. (problem #2)  Delayed luggage is a headache, but ours was going to be a migraine. There was some doubt if our luggage was going to catch up with us due to that we were driving from the airport to Waterford and then continuing around Ireland. We gave the baggage claim girl our itinerary and hotel list and crossed our fingers. But we mentally prepared for the fact we might be without luggage until we arrived back in Dublin a week later. Luckily, between the four of us we had packed the necessities in our carryons and we would need to just pick up a few things if it came to being without luggage for a week. Travel Tip: Checked luggage gets delayed occasionally, pack all your absolutely necessities  items in your carry on!

Not only was our baggage missing, but so were Mary & Jerry!  (problem #3)

In the mayhem of all the flight changes, they were told to go from Terminal 2 to Terminal 1 to wait from a desk clerk.  We searched for hours looking and enlisted the help of a very nice policeman.  They even paged for us a few times. Finally, Jerry finally found us at 6:45PM. We were searching in the wrong terminals. We were all pretty frazzled by this time.  I was concerned because we had no way to contact them (no sim card, and no WIFI access), and it was their first time out of the USA. Travel Tip: if you are split up traveling make sure that there is only one possible meeting point.

Once we were all reunited, we went to the Europcar to pick up our rental vehicle for the next 5 days. And there it was…THE VAN. It was a compact van but still a van. Mike quickly was relearning how to drive on the opposite side of the road.  We got on the road about 7:30pm. The drive was about 2 hours to Waterford. During this time we realized that we hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast (problem #4).

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The VAN

We arrived at Treacy’s Hotel in Waterford about 9:30PM and we were able to check in and clean up a bit. I remembered that I had to pay the M50 toll online for using the ring toll road around Dublin. Which normally would be ok but I had problems with my credit card and international charges – even though it was under $5.00 (problem #5) After a chat with card services the charge went though. We then went down to the restaurant in the hotel but by this time, the restaurant had quit serving dinner, but the really nice bartender threw together some sandwiches and crisps for us.  (things were looking up!) By the time I ate, and tried my first pint of Guinness (!) I was finally able to appreciate that we had landed in the emerald isle.

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My First Guinness

Travel Times from pillow to pillow:

Mary & Jerry:  49 hours

Bill, Jean, Mike and Tava: 43 hours

Our First Full Day – DAY 3, Waterford to Cobh to Blarney

After filling our bellies with a full Irish breakfast, we started exploring Waterford. We started with Reginald’s Tower across from our hotel. It was constructed around 1253. We had fun taking pictures inside and around the tower. The Medieval Museum was nearby and we checked out the exhibits on the history of Waterford.

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Medieval Waterford

Then we started our road journey for the day.  First was Midleton,  for a visit to the Jameson Irish Whiskey Experience. It was a fabulous tour! The grounds and buildings were neat to photograph, and Jerry was able to participate in a taste test. This was comparing Jameson Whiskey, Scotch whisky, and American whiskey, to become a “Qualified Irish Whiskey Taster”. The rest of us, except for Mike,  were able to sample a signature Jameson Drink. (I being the nice wife that i am, accepted his beverage)

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Jameson Whiskey Experience

After a small rainy drive we stopped in Cobh, a major historic port in Ireland. Our stop was at the Heritage Museum. The museum had exhibits about the emigrant vessels to America, the convict ships, the Titanic that stopped in Cobh and the story of the Lusitania which sank off Cork Harbour.

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Cobh

When the rain let up a bit we then drove to the hotel in Blarney. The Blarney Woolen Mills Hotel is next door to the Blarney Woolen Mill, the largest Irish Store in Ireland. We ate a great dinner at the restaurant at the hotel. The best part of that night was our luggage was waiting on us after coming back into the hotel from dinner. Yay, British Airways baggage claim!

http://www.cobhheritage.com/

http://www.jamesonwhiskey.com/us

Kissing the Stone – DAY 4, Blarney to Limerick

We had breakfast in the cafe at the Blarney Woolen Mills and then shopped for awhile. My dad purchased a great woolen hat. Then we visited the famous 15th century Blarney Castle. Mike, myself, Mary and Jerry opted to climb the up to kiss the famous Blarney Stone. My parents explored the grounds and took photos. Mary and I were the two that were hanging upside down to kiss the stone.   We spent a little longer in Blarney than we expected, and Mike wasn’t feeling to hip on a long winding drive around the Ring of Kerry. So after some discussion we went ahead and drove to Limerick instead. Lunch was a stop at Supermac’s which is an Irish fast food restaurant chain. This is where we started our obsession with taco chips. (Thick, cut french fries loaded with taco meat and cheese) We made it to Limerick in the afternoon, checked into Limerick City Hotel then explored the neighborhood. We stopped by a small grocery store to pick up dinner.  Jerry was surprised when we had him come down to our room, where we had a small birthday celebration. We had packed a small cake in our suitcase  for his birthday, and got cards at the grocery store that day. It was a fun evening.

http://www.blarneycastle.ie/

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The Majestic Cliffs of Moher -DAY 5, En Route to Galway

First on the agenda was visiting King John’s Castle in Limerick. This 13th century castle has very informative exhibits on a castle during a siege. We all had a lot of fun climbing around and exploring. There were some great views of Limerick from the top of the castle walls.

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Views from the top of King John’s Castle

Later that afternoon we drove to visit the awe-inspiring Cliffs of Moher, an impressive wall of rock that towers some 700 feet above the Atlantic ocean. It was a bit windy, so if you go keep that in mind and don’t blow off the cliffs! I wish the weather would have cooperated with us a bit better, it was a bit misty, but the views were still gorgeous.

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From there, we drove through the burren, stopping at the Burren Smokehouse  to try the famous smoked salmon. My dad, of course, bought a variety for us to share in the van. We checked into the Galway City Hotel. That night we skipped going out for dinner  because we were a bit tired  we ended up ordering a tasty local pizza.

https://www.shannonheritage.com/KingJohnsCastle/

https://www.cliffsofmoher.ie/

The Charming City of Galway -DAY 6, Galway Exploring

On our way to downtown, we stopped for a quick bite at McDonald’s (please don’t judge) It was actually a nice fast food experience.  The McDonald’s in Ireland try to use as much Irish ingredients as possible. So it was pretty tasty. We then drove around trying to find a parking spot. Parking is a bit tight in the city center so we ended up walking a bit.

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Yum!

It was a bit chilly, but that gave us an excuse to try some authentic Irish Coffee. After we were warmed up, we enjoyed stopping in at many shops; including Sherdan’s Cheesemongers. Dad again stocked us up on some tasty cheese sampling

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More Cheese Please

After our snack we stopped at the Church of St. Nicholas. It is a large church that Christopher Columbus visited back in 1477. By this time we were getting a bit hungry so we stopped at the The Kings Head for a bite of lunch. This was a good choice. The pub itself is over 800 years old and has live music as well.  After lunch we shopped and picked up some items for dinner. 

 

Driving in Dublin – DAY 7, Early Morning Drive

We had a very early drive from Galway and drove to Dublin, the capital of Ireland.Our plan was to get everyone checked into the Jury’s Inn Dublin Christchurch then Mike and I were going to drop off the van at the downtown Europcar location.  Mary and Jerry were able to get into their room so the rest of us went on a 2 hour adventure of trying to find the rental car drop off. Things were getting a bit frustrating because we could see where we needed to go on the map (the GPS kept trying to take us to the airport) but we couldn’t get there due to road construction and one way streets. Finally we found it and we were able to park a block away, and with the help of an agent we drove the car to the proper drop off spot. We caught a taxi back to the hotel.

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Christ Church Cathedral

After we got back we ventured out to explore the medieval Christ Church Cathedral. Mike and I stopped at Leo Burdock’s for some Fish & Chips.Wow! The parents ate at the restaurant in the hotel. I am sure that they had great food, but we had Taco Fries. After lunch, Mom and Dad and myself decided to walk over and visit Dublinia.  It’s a Viking Historical Exhibit adjacent to Christ Church Cathedral.

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Mom made a friend

Mom and I had fun reading the exhibits and posing with the historical mannequins. Once we were done, my parents retired and Mike and I went out. We were about 4 blocks from Temple Bar so we decided to bar hop and listen to some great music (we got in a bit late that night.)

http://christchurchcathedral.ie/

http://www.dublinia.ie

Trinity College and National Museum – DAY 8, Dublin

That morning we  caught another taxi to Trinity College to visit the Library; the home to the Book of Kells. Trinity College is a pretty campus but the Library is out of this world gorgeous.

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Shhh!

Photos do not do it enough justice, it is amazing!

After viewing, we walked to Bewley’s Cafe on Grafton Street for a tasty brunch.After eating, we walked to the National Archaeology Museum of Ireland, which was just a few blocks away.  It is a great museum, our highlight was learning about the peat bog mummies. After leaving the museum we stopped back by Leo Burdock’s for some more chippies!

http://www.museum.ie/Archaeology

Pouring a Pint – DAY 9,  Dublin Drinking

Mike couldn’t wait for this day, we were touring the  Guinness Storehouse that morning. Yes, it’s a bit touristy but it was fun learning how to pour a proper pint. We thought the free samples were great too!

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Pouring the Perfect Pint
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Gravity Bar

Afterwards, we stopped at the Brazen Head Pub for lunch; it is Dublin’s oldest pub established  in 1198. In my opinion they serve the world’s best Beef and Guinness Stew!

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One Great Pub
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The World’s Best Beef & Guinness Stew

After lunch we took a tour of  the crypts of St Michan’s Church, even getting to shake a mummy’s hand.

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Exploring Crypts

We walked back to the hotel with a slight detour to pick up some to die for pastries  from the Queen of Tarts. After a bit of a rest we all ventured to Temple Bar to listen to some music, souvenir shop and grab a light dinner.

www.guinness-storehouse.com/

We go to a Football (Soccer) Game –  Day 10, Dublin

One of Mike’s and my goals for our trip was to try catch one of the Bohemian F.C.(soccer) games.  We knew that we could purchase tickets at a store by Temple Square once it opened in late morning. We all walked to Dublin Castle and did the self guided tour.  We still had time to kill until the store opened. To pass time until it did, we dropped the sets of parents off at the Spar Store for breakfast and we popped into the Foggy Dew pub for a pint. We had a really good conversation with the bartender. We then headed out with hopes the store would be open. And it was. We procured our coveted football tickets.

Game On!

We picked up the parents, and hailed 2 taxis to take us to The Jennie Johnson famine ship. Unfortunately, it was not in dock.  We then taxied to St George Arcade and wandered the arcade, shopping and snacking. On our way to the hotel we stopped at The Old Stand Pub for a late lunch. We spoke with the owner who proceeded to gift us all with free tee shirts. Once the parents were settled in, Mike and I grabbed a cab and headed to Dalymount Park, Home of the Bohemian F.C. 

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Entrance

We weren’t sure that the taxi driver was correct on our location, because it just looked like a strip mall. Once we asked a store clerk where to go; we were given directions to head down a suburban street to an alley. After walking down the alley, we found the stadium. The stadium was built in 1901.

Not exactly sure where we needed to enter, we spoke with a steward.  He was delighted that we came all the way from Kansas to watch the Boh’s so he took us to the Member’s Club Pub and got us some pints.

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Happy Fan

During the game we bought some souvenirs and some chips. The Bohemian’s won the game. We walked back though the alley and caught a cab, not wanting to go back to the hotel just yet, we stopped at the Brazen Head for a bit. Then we went back to the hotel to pack.

 

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Leaving on a Jet Plane – Day 11, Going back home

We had a pretty early start because we needed to leave the hotel by 7am to get to the airport and check in. Our flights were smooth and we parted ways with Mike’s parents upon arrival in Philly.  We got back to Kansas about 7Pm that night. 

Summary

Even though the trip started out a bit rough, we had a great time in Ireland.  I met some of the kindest, nicest people and reveled in the beauty of the green landscapes.  If Mike and I ever move out of the States; Ireland is now on that list of places.

We did have a chuckle, because after an inquiry at the Irish Heritage Display at the Cliffs of Moher Visitor Center, we started to question if Mike’s relatives came from Ireland. We decided to do a bit more research in Dublin.We stopped at a Irish Heritage Shop in Dublin and confirmed that the relatives were in fact from Scotland not Ireland. The Irish Heritage research was the whole reason that we chose to travel to Ireland at this time.  I wouldn’t have had the wonderful experiences and wonderful memories with both sets of parents had we not gone. I wouldn’t have changed a thing. And we have a Scottish Trip on the agenda now.

Thank you for reading about our adventures, and if you have any questions or comments, please let me know, Thanks, Tava

 

Our Irish Roadtrip

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