During the middle of February, I took a trip back to the UK and brought my partner back to see Europe for the first time and to meet friends and family.
On arrival at Gatwick airport, it took him 45 minutes to get through passport control, where he was asked similar questions to what the USA asks me every time I enter.
We rented a car and got an upgrade from a Toyota Aygo to a Nissan Qashqai. As I was the one doing all the driving (my partner had never driven standard/manual or on the other side of the road), I was hesitant but with parking sensors, the knowledge of when I was entering variable speed limits on the motorways and a diesel engine I was more than happy with this as the two weeks went on.
Our first morning included a full English breakfast – something I had missed but chances are my body would not thank me.
The first weekend was spent seeing my mum in Northamptonshire and attending a wedding evening in Gloucestershire for some friends from University. The evening was good fun with a hog roast and me managing to stumble back to the hotel, a little tipsy in 6 inch heels (with some help).
The next day and (with large hangover), we all met up at a local pub for a carvery. Unfortunately my eyes were bigger then my belly and you could only go up once for all your veggies.
After visiting an old school friend at Cribbs Causeway, who now lives in Bristol, we travelled up to Birmingham Airport for a swanky night at the Hilton Metropole Airport.
The next day was our flight to Dublin. Both of us had never been before and we flew with Ryan Air of which there were no issues with THIS flight.
Arriving in Dublin and a relatively smooth passport control, we took the airport express to downtown (€6 each). Our hotel was on Parnell Street, just North of O’Connell Street and north of the Liffey River. We spent some time exploring O’Connell Street and seeing the General Post Office (GPO) – scene of the 1916 Easter Rising.
There is a lot of building work and construction going on along O’Connell Street due to the tram lines so it was quite hectic.
Of course our first evening would not be complete without a trip to Temple Bar and to ‘The Temple Bar’ pub. Just a shame a Guinness and Irish Larger came to €13 (C$18/£11) *shocking! The bridges across the river were great fun though (see bottom right photo). I really liked The Ha’Penny bridge.
The next day we decided to do the Dublin Bus Hop-on Hop-off tour, which took you around all the major attractions in the city. I also discovered that there was only one time slot available for Kilmainham Gaol (to feed my old prison obsession) so that got booked straight away via the Tourist Information Centre. The Gaol gets very booked up so it’s worth booking it beforehand in order to fit it in with holiday plans.
We boarded the bus at 10am that morning and went past Trinity College, St Patrick’s cathedral, Dublin Castle and the house of Oscar Wilde. We wanted to go to The Jameson Distillery but unfortunately that was closed due to refurbishment until St. Patrick’s Day weekend.
No trip to Dublin is complete without a visit to one of the most famous breweries in the world. I had previously heard mixed reviews about The Storehouse and for the €20 entrance fee, I have to admit I was skeptical but as Adam wanted to go I went along. I was to be pleasantly surprised…
The Storehouse is a glass atrium with seven floors dedicated to the black stuff: information on the brewery process and the story of Arthur Guinness. There was also a small tasting area with a small shot of Guinness given to everyone. I am not usually a fan of Guinness, I find it very overpowering and filling but for some reason in Dublin, the Guinness tastes much smoother and silkier and I loved it.
My favourite floor was completely dedicated to Guinness advertising. Some of their most famous advertising campaigns were showcased including John Gilroy’s zoo keeper and animals from the early to mid 20th century. There is also a 360 degree cinema with the TV campaigns including ‘The Surfer’ (the one with the waves that turned into horses).
The cinema made you feel like you were inside a pint of Guinness.
My other favourite part of the advertising section was ‘The Whistling Oyster’ – this was a very old advert from the 1920s and the museum decided the bring the oyster into 3D whistling the William Tell theme tune. So random and bizarre but I loved it!
The next floor was ‘The Guinness Academy’, where you could learn the art of pouring the perfect pint of Guinness. Included in the entrance fee is a pint of Guinness and you can pour your own or wait until the next end bar. We both got a certificate to prove we knew how to pour a Guinness 🙂
The last part of the Storehouse was the seventh floor and The Gravity Bar. It had windows all around with 360 degree views of the city.
The main attraction for me to see in Dublin was Kilmainham Gaol, a decommissioned prison that held the rebel leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising as well as Irish Republicans during the Irish War of Independence (1919-1921) and the Irish Civil War (1922-1923).
We were lucky to get the last remaining time slot at 3.15pm as every other day was sold out. I enjoyed learning about the history of the jail and seeing the East Wing of the prison, which has been featured in many famous TV series and films (The Italian Job, In The Name of The Father).
The East Wing was amazing architecturally speaking. The amount of light let into the jail as well as the panopticon design and iron staircase was fascinating to see.
We also got to see the courtyard, where the republican leaders of the 1916 uprising were executed by the British soldiers. It was chilly to see some gravestones there to remember the leaders, who became martyrs to Ireland.
The next day, we took a tour to Belfast in Northern Ireland. We stopped off at the remains of an old monastery called Monasterboice.
On arrival in Belfast, we were given the opportunity to take a black cab tour around West Belfast and the areas known for ‘The Troubles’ (1969-1998), a conflict between paramilitary groups: Irish Republicans/Catholics (including the Irish Republican Army – IRA), Loyalists/Protestants and the British Army. The tour took us around the famous murals along Falls Road (mainly catholic area) and Shankill (mainly protestant area).
Without going into a history lesson as there is plenty of information on the internet, I studied Northern Ireland in GCSE history around two years after the Good Friday Agreement was signed (1998). I have always wanted to see this area of Belfast.
Our cab driver never really disclosed which ‘side’ he grew up under but I suspected he was from the Loyalist area. He was knowledgable about the murals and showed us some photos from the time of the fighting and when the British Army were patrolling the streets. It was very poignant to see the ‘Peace Line’ – a 25 ft iron fence separating the catholic and protestant neighbourhoods. There are gates that are kept open during the day but locked up at night to prevent violence.
The tour took around 2 hours and on arrival back to Belfast city centre, there was just time to see the City Hall building and for a bite to eat at Greggs.
The main part of the tour was the relatively new Titanic Belfast. Built in 2012 to show the heritage of the ill-fated ship, which was built in the city.
The building is very impressive and is designed to look a bit like ship. There was a lot of information on why it was decided Titanic should be built in Belfast and the construction itself as well the maiden voyage and subsequent sinking after hitting the iceberg.
The tour took about 2 hours to get back to Dublin and by this point we were exhausted but we did go out to enjoy some drinks and live folk music at some of the local bars.
Flight back to the UK
Due to a storm called Doris, we noticed at the airport that many flights to the UK were getting cancelled. Ryan Air did not cancel but coming into Birmingham, the pilot could not land the plane due to the high winds. Instead, the plane got diverted to Bristol Airport (2.5 hours south). All passengers were informed that shuttle buses would be provided to take us to Birmingham but after waiting at arrivals for 45 minutes and with no representative from Ryan Air keeping us updated; we decided to take the offer of a lift from a passenger sitting next to me on the plane who had just hired a car. It still took another 4 hours to get to Birmingham due to trucks overturning on the motorway. We finally got back to Northampton at 10pm that evening and both decided to pay more money next time and never fly with Ryan Air again.
After spending some more time with my family and friends in Northamptonshire, we headed to London for a few days. I found the trip very stressful and many of the London Underground employees quite rude compared to what I am used to the Skytrain in Vancouver. I did show my partner all the major sites and introduced him to Wetherspoons pubs (lol).
We also went to the London Dungeon as we had a 2 for 1 voucher however, I was very unimpressed with new location and structure and prefer the old dungeon from 15-20 years ago.
We also managed to get to see the dinosaurs at The Natural History Museum – something I have never managed to do before and really pleased that I managed to see the exhibit.
The last few days were spent fitting in other friends that I had not seen in a while as well as trying to cram as much of my stuff that I left before emigrating in two extra suitcases. I was also anxious about the flight after the Ryan Air disaster but there were no issues at all.
Re-entering Canada by plane as a PR for the first time which so easy. The scanners at the YVR only wanted to see my PR card – it took 5 minutes!
I will remember the last night as it was a lovely meal with my mother, step father and partner. I felt sad that I would be leaving family and friends behind but pleased to be heading back home to Canada! 🙂