Location: Cork to Dublin, Ireland
Second last day on the tour was in the County of Cork, where of course we had to visit the famous Blarney Castle! All trip most of s were saying I not kissing it, no way, but yes most of us ended up doing it, and no we didnt catch any diseases hat we know of yet, and yes we do know that the locals supposedly pee on it! But hey its something you have to do! The castle itself was pretty ruined, but pretty interesting to look around, and the grounds were nice. You have to climb up to the top tower of the castle to kiss the stone. You lay on your back, hold onto two bars and a guy holds onto you then you lean right back and kiss it upside down. Its pretty crazy, and its just a piece of wall youre kissing, it doesnt look like anything special, but hey we did it!
Our last day on the tour was spent mainly driving back to Dublin, but our very last stop was the most important
the Guinness Storehouse! Its been turned into a museum, and you get a free pint of Guinness in the roof top bar, definitely worth a stop!!
It was really sad to end the tour; I met some great people and made some really good friends. But I will definitely be back in Dublin before I go home, Eva made me promise I would come back and visit!
Location: Killarney, Ireland
One of the highlights for me were the cliffs of Moher. For any one who has seen the Princess Bride these are THE cliffs that the man in black climbs up! They were breathtakingly beautiful. 200m + sheer cliffs rising out of the sea. The views of the coast line and the islands were amazing. Had a few hours to walk around here and take in the views, could have stayed all day.
This was definitely a very scenic day. We were heading for Killarny but took the long way round via the Dingle Peninsula to get there. Its a beautiful round past mountains, valleys, cliffs and beaches, and all green green green!
Sorry dont want to bore you too much cos so much of this trip was scenery!
We also drove around the Ring of Kerry another famous scenic route, followed by a horse drawn carriage ride through Killarney National Park
Location: Galway, Ireland
Left Derry and headed south along the coast. Stopped at a few Celtic and Viking ruins including a fort and a monastery. Mainly a driving day where we got to see alt of beautiful coastal scenery. Stopped at a cute little surfing town for lunch
it almost felt like we could have been in Oz. Spent the night in Cong a nice little village in the county of Mayo. We were right near a castle that had beautiful grounds that we walked through at sunset. Supposedly Madonna got married here, but we are not sure if thats true or not.
WE stopped the next day at Croagh Patrick, the mountain where St Patrick went to fast and from where he banished all the snakes from Ireland! Its now a famous pilgrimage site and people are supposed to climb it barefoot to do it properly! This area of Ireland was also one of the areas most hit by the great potato famine. We saw a lot of moving monuments and huge amount of graveyards from this time.
Finally reached Galway, a big university town. This became our big night out of the trip. Had a big group meal and then hit the pubs. The Irish guy on our tour had studied here so he took as to a few good pubs and then a nightclub, turned into an awesome night.
Location: Derry, Ireland
Our morning in Belfast w spent doing an amazing Black cab tour of the city. This gave us a great insight into the troubles that have taken place here. We saw the peace wall, a huge wall that divides the catholic and protestant areas. All over it are messages of peace and tolerance written by people from all over the world. Our driver took us into both the catholic and protestant areas and gave us a very balanced view of the history of Northern Ireland. We saw the political murals that are painted on the walls of buildings on both sides.
We left Belfast and headed for the Giants Causeway, taking in a lot of beautiful coastal and highland scenery along the way. The Giants Causeway is and amazing natural feature of closely packed hexagonal stones and columns and is a world heritage site. The ancient people thought it was a causeway built by a giant so he could reach Scotland and the woman he loved. You can see why they thought this it looks almost man made and like it could have been the end of a long bridge. We spent a few hours walking around the site (at one point up a cliff which wasnt nice) and trying to find al the funny formations like the giants boot, his eye, organ pipes etc etc.
Last stop for the day was the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. Its a 20m long, 1 m wide bridge of wire rope that spans the chasm between the sea cliffs and a small island. Its about 30m up from the water. Its about a km walk from the car park to the bridge and of course half way there it started 1. Pouring 2. Hailing 3. Lightning and 4. Thundering. Liz said there was no way she was going to let me do it, but i was determined. Luckily by the time w got there it had pretty much stopped raining. I didnt find it a problem to cross at all and it was kinda fun how it swayed in the wind, Liz took the photos!
Spent the night in Ballycastle on the coast where we had a karaoke night in one of the local pubs.
The next day we made our way to Glenveagh National Park. It was a beautiful place and we had a nice day to look around. Its highlight is Glenveagh Castle which is situated right on a lake. Its a really cute little castle; we took a guided tour around the rooms. The symbol of the castle is the stag and it is seen everywhere, from the plates walls floors and antlers everywhere!
Got to Derry the other main city in Nth Ireland. This is where the massacre of Bloody Sunday took place, and here more than even Belfast you could feel the tension of the troubles. We took a guided walking tour of the city. It was done by a young catholic man who was so passionate about his country and its history that it made it a wonderful tour, one of my highlights. He put into context the Bloody Sunday story and a lot of the political history of Northern Ireland.
Had a traditional Irish music night tonight in Derry. Found a pub with a traditional band playing, and it was great. John our Irish friend showed us his Irish dancing skills! And under the influence of alcohol we all had a bit of a go!
Location: Belfast, Ireland
For once we didnt have to take a ridiculously early flight
we were in heaven!
Got in to Dublin by midday so could wander around the city for the afternoon. Saw the sights of the old city, the old walls, cathedrals buildings etc from Viking Times. Found temple bar, the main drinking and eating area of the city and the place I had a feeling we would be frequenting a bit! Its really busy and touristy but had some cool shops and lots of nice pubs. At about this time we got absolutely soaked in a really heavy downpour
. Luckily it wasnt a sign of things to come (except for one other time which I will get to later); we had really really good weather and were so lucky. John an Irish guy on our tour kept saying this is not Ireland
it should be raining!
First night in Dublin and of course I had to have an Irish stew and a Guinness. This was also the night I was meeting up with Eva for the first time. She is my pen friend from when I was 8yrs old and I was really excited about meeting up with her. Unfortunately she had to work (shes a nurse to) but she met up with us after work one night and took us to a nice pub where we could catch up. It was great, it was like we already knew each other (which after writing for so man years shouldnt be so surprising), and we got along really well. We are already planning for me to come back and stay with her so she can show me around some more.
The next morning we saw Trinity College and the Book of Kells. There was a really good exhibition about the book and how it was made etc. This was good cos you only actually see 2 pages of it! But that was enough to see how beautiful it is and how much work went into illuminating and writing it.
Walked down busy Grafton St the main shopping street of Dublin on our way to Dublin Castle. We had to take a guided tour here, but it gave us a good overview of Irish history and the Irish/English relationship. There were some nice state rooms, and some underground areas where the original Viking castle has been excavated.
Monday was the first day of our Paddywagon tour. We had a really funny tour guide from Dublin, who half the time we couldnt understand, but we could laugh at him anyway! Had a bit of a driving tour around Dublin before heading out of the city and into the GREEN! It really is as green as everyone says it is, its a green I had never seen anywhere before. We were heading for Belfast for our first nights stop. On the way we stopped at Monasterboice where we saw our first Celtic crosses and the round tours the monks used to build to protect their treasures (until the Vikings discovered they acted like a chimney and would then smoke them out). Lunch was in Drogheda where the battle of the Boyne took place (one of Cromwells infamous slaughters). It is also where St Peters Roma catholic church is, its pretty unremarkable except for the fact it has the mummified head of the martyr St Oliver Plunkett (died 1681), which is a bit gory!
Made it to Belfast in time to have a wander around the town for a few hours and then ad a big group dinner for our first night. Had another Irish cuisine
Location: Istanbul, Turkey
Back in Istanbul! We have fallen in love wit the city and dont want to leave.
We had a whole day dedicated to the Grand Bazaar and went a bit crazy. Think we were there for about 6hrs! It is a crazy place, you are lost wihin five seconds, I think there is about 4kms of shops. We certainly practiced our bargaining skills and were finally able to buy all those things we had been admiring the whole trip but didnt want to carry.
Next day we saw Topkapi Palace, home of the Sultans of the Ottoman empire, and it was every bit as grand and exotic as you would expect it to be. It was covered wall to wall with the Turkish style white and blue tiles which were dazzling. The harem was the highlight, you got to see all the baths and secret rooms that were for the sultans eyes only, and the beautiful rooms that the women lived in. There was a treasury display which was a feast of diamonds and precious stones covering jewelery, swords thrones etc etc.
We also dropped in to see the Spice Bazaar, also known as the Egyptian bazaar. This was a lot more tarditoinal (not like the shopping mallof the garnd bazaar) and sold all your delicious Turkish Delights, spices and srange love potions.
Our last day in Istanbul was so hot it made us very glad we hadnt come any later in summer. We walked around the harbour where all the local men like to go, strip of their undies and lay on the rocks, it was a bit scary! It was a nice walk, it took s to places of the city that we hadnt been to before. We found our way to Galatta bridge which has cafes and restaurants underneath it. We found a cool bar with bean bags and sat here for hours watching the sunset and drinking cocktails (although to start with the waiter got our order wrong and bought us milkshakes instead of margaritas
he must have been crazy). Perfect way to end a perfect holiday!
Location: Mt Nemrut, Turkey
Our 3 day tour to Mt Nemrut and eastern Turkey was something we had really been looking forward to, andit didnt dissapoinnt, it was definitely one of our highlights on the trip.
Our first day was a big driving day to get to Mt Nemrut. It was great to see the landscapes and lifestyles changing the further east we got. It was a much more traditional, rural and Arabic lifestyle than in the west of turkey. The main tourists out this way are Turkish or Arabic tourists, so it almost felt like we were the only western people around. We had an awesome Turkish guide who went out of his way to make our trip special and here were only fou of us on the tour so it was like a private tour.
The highlight of the first day was going to Turkeys best icecream factory. Turkish ice cream is weird anyway, its like elasctic, doesnt melt and needs to be chewed. But this ice cream was defiitly the best we had tried in turkey. Its made out of goats milk (whit goats only, not black ones, not sure what the difference is!) but apart from that t is a secret recipe. It was really funny to eat ice cream with a nife and fork, but that is what we did!
We stayed in a really nice hotel up in the mountains, close to Mt Nemrut that had beautiful views (especially of a lightning storm!), and that had cherry trees that our guide made a girl climb to pick some for us!
The net morning we were up at 3:30am to make it to M Nemrut for sunrise, unfortunately there was a a lot of cloud around so the sunrise was not very spectacular (very dissapoointing after a climb up a mountain). Mt Nemrut is famous or its huge stone funerary statues on top of a mountain. Some of the bodies are still standing, but all of the heads are on the ground at their feet. WE had pictured these massive heads in the dessert but they werent anywhere near as big as we expected. The staues were of gods including Apollo, Zeus and Hercules and of King Antioch who appeared to havedelusions of grandeur and thought he was a god as well. It ws interesting that the last 50 mts of themountain was all man made, he created a perfect top for his statues to sit on.
Throughout the morning we saw some more ruins, a roman bridge (still standing and until recently open to traffic!), and Antiochs tomb. We also got to paddle (it was freezing so a swim wasnt happening) in the Euphrates River which was very cool
. we really were in the cradle of civilization! Had a look at the Attaturk dam, I think it is the third largest in the world. It was very impressive, but also sad to see the damage it has done to the landscape and to hear about the ancient sites that were submerged.
That afternoon we finally made it to Urfa and amazing ancient city that is a very holy site. It is the biblical Ur which was the birthplace of Abraham(Ibrahim) who eatures in Christianity and in Islam. It was amazing to visit, there was so much history there, it almost felt like you had stepped back in time. It is a holy city so it was very traiditional,we had to cover up quite a lot here, especially when we went into the mosques, they would give you these big dressing gown things that you had to wear. One of the mosques was built into the cave where Abraham was said to have lived in hiding for seven years. When you go inside its like a grotto as you actually go into the cave and the walls are all original. We were only allowed to go into the womens section and wegot scared at so much we didnt stay long, but you could feel the history in there. The whole city definitely had atmosphere. It was a beautiful city with lots of parks and running water, and bit moat with lots of sacred carp.
Our guide took us through the bazaar, which was really interesting because he could tell us what all the weird things on sale were (plus he could help us bargain which was nice!). We stopped for tea in a big open air café where men and boys sit and play backgammon, we were the only girls in the place so we got looked at quite a lot!
We vsited Harran a small town on the outskirts of Urfa. It is famous for its beehive houses, Strange conical shaped buildings that are stil being ived intoday. Its one of the oldest continuall inhabited places on earth. We visited one that was all set up to show how people lived in them. With all the cushions and carpets inside it was really cozy, and very cool despite the heat. We did the touristy thing of getting dressed up and posing for photos. Our guide was the sultan and we were his harem (including Brett a hilarious Californian). From Harran you could just see Syria which was about 12kms away.
We stayed the night in a luxuary hotel
. with a proper shower! We were in heaven after the dorms we had been in for weeks! Our guide took us back into the old city of Urfa once th sun had set to see all the mosques lit up. It was such an awesome city hat I didnt want to leave.
The next day was pretty muc a driving day o get us back to Cappadoccia, butwe did make aside tripto Gaziantep to see a mosaics museum. These were the most beautiful mosaics I have ever seen and spent the whol hour in awe with my chin on he floor. They were all from the important roman town of Belkis-Zeguma and were excavated in a rush just as the waters were rising after the creation of Attaturk dam. It is heartbreaking to know that there were other parts of this site that could not be salvaged in time. The mosaics theselves wee amazingly intact and of such a hig qualiy. They were of stories from mythology, animals, flowers, weddings, just about everything.
We also stopped in on the way home at Birreck a small town that has the only known surviing population of Eastern Bald Ibiss. These birds were wiped out by DDT spraying in the 50s and only about 40 remained. They have set up a breeding centre and now there are about 100. I found it really sad to see what may be the last of these birds. Liz hates birds so she wasnt touched at all!
After a very long day of driving back to Cappadoccia we ad to turn around and get on a night bus to get back to Istanbul, so that was almost 24hrs on a bus