Thursday, May 12, 2022

Back Home From Europe

Although it was nice to return home after almost a month of traveling, there was so much more we would have liked to have seen. On the other hand, our days had been packed with adventures and new sights. The trip, planned mostly by Elizabeth, had been a wonderful success!

Below is a screenshot of a map showing the places I took pictures during our April and May Europe adventure. Click on the picture or the link below it to see the map. Click on any of the pins in the linked map to see where we were and click that link to see the blog for that day.

Hope you enjoy the pictures!

Click this link or the picture above to see the 2024 Europe Trip map.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022


Our last day in Ireland before heading home. But we sure made the most of it, despite having to run around to get COVID tests in order to be readmitted to the US.

We started the day with a walk to Trinity College at the University of Dublin. It was here that we had priority tickets to enter the Trinity College Library to see the Book of Kells. It was nice to be the first to enter the library since by the time we left it was getting much more crowded, making pictures such as the one below of the library, impossible to take without a lot of other people being in the way.

If the picture above looks familiar, it may be because you've seen the Jedi library from a Star Wars movie. Although Lucasfilm denied that the Trinity College Long Room was the inspiration for the Jedi archives, they sure seem to bear a striking resemblance to me.

The Molly Malone statue is another bit of Irish controversy, with some decrying the sexist nature of the statue and others saying it is "regarded with great warmth and affection by the city of Dublin"[*]. As you might be able to tell from the picture below, around 2014 tourists began taking pictures of themselves rubbing Molly's breasts for good luck, further adding fuel to the fire.

Our next stop for the day was at the Dubh Linn Garden, a very scenic garden just outside Dublin Castle.

Right next door to the gardens, and in fact visible in the picture above, was Dublin Castle. The picture below shows the view of the Dublin Castle apartments. Unfortunately there weren't any tours that day for the inside of the Dublin Castle or the surrounding apartments.

Last, but definitely not least, was our visit to the Guinness Storehouse where one of Ireland's most famous exports, Guinness beer, has been brewed since 1759, almost 20 years before the USA was founded.

Be sure to book your tour ahead of time for both the Book of Kells and Guinness Storehouse. Each Guinness Storehouse tour comes with a pint of Guinness. If you sign up for an additional class on how to properly pour a pint of Guinness you get a second pint. Since Elizabeth doesn't really drink very much, I had to help her with her two pints as well as drink my own.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Dublin photo album.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Cliffs of Moher and Galway

We took an all day tour to the Cliffs of Moher, about a 4 hour drive from Dublin. It was worth the trip. It's one of the most popular attractions in Ireland, regularly attracting over a million tourists per year. The cliffs have appeared in numerous movies including "Princess Bride" and " Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" [*]

The cliffs reach their highest point of 702 feet above the sea, just north of O'Brien's Tower.

Being built near the highest point of the Cliffs of Moher, O'Brien's Tower offers the furthest views along the coast and of nearby islands. It was a bit hazy the day we were there, and a storm blew in shortly after we left the cliffs. But the view is almost always scenic despite the weather.

Although the well paved path from the visitor center to O'Brien's Tower is less than a half mile, it is a steady uphill walk. There's also a much longer, less improved trail you can hike along the cliffs. Of course being part of a fairly large tour group with a long drive back to Dublin, we didn't have that option. But if you're staying closer to the cliffs, such as Galway, and have an entire day you can walk more of the 18 km (11 mile) Cliffs of Moher Coastal Walk. Don't expect that hike to be on a well paved path though. Also, be sure to bring rain gear and be prepared for winds, the weather can and did change quickly from sunny to driving rain.

From a distance, the view of O'Brien's Tower and the Sea Stack (that pointy rock jutting from the water) is one of the most scenic.

Before heading back to Dublin our tour stopped at Galway for lunch. After lunch we walked around the town and visited some of the local stores. I, of course, had to buy a couple of the local beers for sampling later on.

Although Galway is a fairly small town with a population of less than 80,000 there are an amazing number of books which are set in Galway. As I'm writing this blog, Goodread lists 28 books that are set in Galway. My favorite is the Jack Taylor series, which I watched as a TV series before reading the books.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Cliffs of Moher and Galway photo album.

Monday, May 9, 2022

Glendalough and Wicklow Mountains

We booked an afternoon tour to Glendalough & Wicklow Mountains. The drive is almost 2 hours each way and the tour started in the early afternoon, returning around 7pm. Unfortunately the day was rather gloomy, overcast with off and on, sometimes heavy rain. But I managed to get a few pictures at Glendalough. I guess we'll have to return, maybe with a private tour or rental car, to get some better shots of the Wicklow Mountains.

The picture below was also taken at Glendalough. Note the Roundtower in the background, the same Roundtower as in the previous picture.

Back in Dublin we saw one of these Guinness tanker trucks. Each tanker truck holds 30,000 liters of beer. They're used to transport beer from the Guinness brewery at St. James's Gate in Dublin to packaging plants in East Belfast and the north of England.

Our best Guinness adventure was yet to come though. In two days we had reservations for the Guiness Factory at St. James's Gate where I'd be celebrating my birthday!

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Glendalough and Wicklow Mountains photo album.

Sunday, May 8, 2022


Early in the morning we caught a train from the station near our hotel in Brussels to the airport. At the Brussels airport we saw the sign below asking which food was your favorite Flemish food. I can't really answer that since I'm not sure we had any of the dishes shown in the picture. Embarrassing considering how long we were in Belgium.

Arriving in the Dublin airport I saw the sign in the picture below written in both Irish and English. Since my heritage is mostly Irish I've always wondered what it would be like to learn Irish. Unfortunately I'm terrible at learning new languages and there isn't much use of it outside of Ireland. And everyone I met in Ireland also spoke English. It looks and sounds like a lovely language.

To introduce us to Dublin we had booked a walking tour for the early afternoon. Our tour started at The Spire.

The Spire sits at the site of the former Nelson Pillar which was completed in 1809. Long a tourist attraction it was unpopular with the local residents since it honored an Englishman and many Irish saw England as an oppressor. Ireland gained independence from the UK in 1922 but it wasn't until 1966 that the Irish Republican Army (IRA) damaged the pillar with a bomb. The now unsafe Nelson Pillar was torn down six days later but remained an empty site until the spire was built between 2002 and 2003.

Our tour guide for the private walking tour took us around much of Dublin, but there was so much it was difficult to keep track of all of it. He actually did a very good job though, taking us around some of the highlights of the restaurants, entertainment and academic areas of Dublin, then along the Grand Canal so we could take some lovely pictures as shown in the picture below, and then through the quickly growing tech area where Google, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft among other tech companies are expanding their footprint in Europe. Ireland is a good place for tech companies since it's an English speaking country, still part of the EU, has a corporate tax rate less than the US and, probably most importantly, a well educated but less expensive labor force.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Dublin photo album,

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Brussels Day 3

Our last day in Brussels so we used the hop-on hop-off bus to get a larger overview of Brussels, seeing sights not easy to reach on foot. Unlike Ghent and Bruges, Brussels doesn't have a large canal or river network, therefore roads can be the best way to get around.

Before catching the hop-on hop-off bus we went through Grand Place city square which was already becoming busy with tours and other tourists. One of the attractions was the horse drawn carriage which if you look closely you can see how they keep horse waste from cluttering up the street. But of course someone has to empty that big horse diaper draped behind the horse. All in all it seems like a fairly simple way to deal with an unpleasant aspect of horse drawn carriages.

On the way to the Hop-on Hop-off bus stop we saw this statue of Don Quixote.

The only place where we got off the bus was at the Atomium exhibit, a giant stainless steel structure that resembles an atom. Inside are numerous stairways and escalators as well as some beautiful views from high up. You can see many more pictures of the Atomium and from the Atomium in the Brussels Day 3 photo album.

Once again we ate dinner at a restaurant near the Grand Place city square. It is surrounded by a number of very good restaurants.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Brussels Day 3 photo album.

Friday, May 6, 2022

Brussels Day 2

On our second day in Brussels we visited a number of places that were easy walking distance from our hotel. Though "easy" is a relative term, especially when most of the walking is on cobblestone streets. Needless to say by the end of the trip my legs were actually in great shape from all the exercise. Walking on cobblestones seems to be a great way to tone up a number of leg muscles, including some you never even knew you had. If you don't end up spraining an ankle or injuring your knees.

Our first stop was at the Poechenellekelder, a bar with multicolored bicycles riding up the side of the building. The bar wasn't open yet and we were in that area mainly to see the Manneken Pis - Little Man Peeing statue across the street. You can see that statue in the Brussels Day 2 photo album.

Our next stop was at the Jardin du Mont des Arts, a colorful and relaxing garden in the middle of Brussels.

Next we visited the Royal Palace of Brussels. Although you can visit inside the palace, we didn't take the time to do so that day.

Nearby the Royal Palace is the Parc de Bruxelles, a former royal hunting ground with numerous statues and fountains.

Next up was the St Michael and St Gudula Cathedral, Belgium's national cathedral and location of royal weddings and funerals.

We ended the day with a beer tasting tour which, of course, started back at the Grand Place city square. We visited four different places, with at least two beers at each location. And of course, they were the large branded glasses. You can see more pictures of the various beers in the Brussels Day 2 photo album.

This beer tasting had way too much beer, even for me. And of course, since Elizabeth doesn't really drink, I had to make up for her lack of tasting so we'd get our money's worth. They were mostly very strong Belgian beers as well. Just to give you an idea of how much alcohol this ended up being, about half way through it a few of the other guests who were from Australia, which is not exactly a tea totalling country, left the tour saying it was already too much for them.

By the end of the tour Elizabeth was totally at a loss as to how to get back to the hotel. Luckily I had Google Fi which provides me with cell data almost anywhere in the world. So I, barely able to walk, was able to guide Elizabeth back to our hotel using Google maps while she tried to keep me upright. It was definitely an evening to remember.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Brussels Day 2 photo album.

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Brussels Day 1

May 5, 2022 - Brussels

Bruges has its Duvelorium. In Brussels, it's the Delirium Taphouse for beers of all kinds. So after checking into our hotel located just a block away from the main Brussels train station, we started walking and made our way to the Delirium Taphouse. I asked the bartender what he would recommend. He asked me what kind of beer I like. I replied "Belgian." He just sort of laughed and handed me a large list of the various kinds of Belgian beers they had. So once again, I tried to stick with the draft beer list, which you can see in the Brussels Day 1 photo album. There are two other pictures showing the complete list of beers and a picture of a blackboard with additional guest draft beers.

I really wish they had flights but none of the places we had been to offered those. I think there's at least two reasons they don't. First, they don't want to use the smaller glasses, preferring goblets, snifters and similar glasses. Those allow you to better appreciate and enjoy the aromas of rich Belgian beers. Secondly, each beer is served in its own glass, which has the brewery logo and beer name on it. This is also part of their effort to ensure that you have the best possible glass for their beer. Though, it sure makes it tough for bars, like Delirium Taphouse, which carry probably close to 100 different beers.

Our next stop was the Grand Place city square. The picture below shows it about as empty as you'll ever see it unless you come early morning before anything opens up.

This huge city square was our major landmark. In a city which has a confusing, twisting maze of cobblestone streets we would often become lost, though thankfully Google Maps did a pretty good job of helping us navigate the city. This square is also the main meeting point for many tours.

Come dinner time there were many restaurants to choose from. That first night we chose Le Marmiton, a Belgian restaurant known for its mussels and stews. As with most restaurants in Brussels, they also had a good selection of beers.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Brussels Day 1 photo album

Wednesday, May 4, 2022


The train system in Belgium is fantastic. This day trip to Antwerp from Ghent gave us a chance to experience it without having to drag luggage along. That's certainly my preference as it's always much easier stumbling blindly around an unknown train station without dragging heavy bags along.

We had booked a walking tour of Antwerp which started at Christmas Square, so our first destination after leaving the train station in Antwerp was the square. On the way there we ran into one of the scallop shells which mark the Camino de Santiago.

We knew the Camino de Santiago trail system was large, but we didn't realize it extended all the way to Antwerp or that pilgrims could, theoretically, pick up the trail in Antwerp and follow it all the way to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, roughly 1,770 km (1,100 miles) away. That would be a fun walk, though even if you walked 8 hours per day it would take roughly 50 days to reach your destination. Hmmm… might be fun!

We reached Christmas Square with plenty of time to spare. It was nice having some extra time to explore on our own and take some photos in the area. In the middle of the square is this statue of Silvius Brabo.

On our walking tour we were introduced to one of the "hidden secrets" of Antwerp, the Moeder Gods, or statues of the Virgin Mary, scattered throughout the city.

One of the stops on the walking tour was a view of the inside of the Saint Charles Borromeo Church. The church was built in the 1600's.

Our walking tour took us all the way back to where we had arrived in Antwerp, the Antwerp Central Train Station.

On the previous day in Ghent we had been on a walking tour. The tour guide had recommended a great restaurant which also happened to be vegetarian. As I'm sure some clueless Americans will be glad to know, there are vegetarian beers, such as the one below. Not only that, they're very good! They might though disapprove of the one below which is a tripel that was first created on the same day as Albert Hofmann, a Swiss physician, took the first LSD trip. Full of joy, Albert rode his bike home and the day became known as "Bicycle Day." The label below celebrates both Dr. Hofman and Bicycle Day.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Antwerp photo album.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022


Originally our trip hadn't included Ghent. But after the cruise line canceled the 10 night Baltic Sea cruise and turned it into a Western European cruise, we left the cruise three days early. Two of those extra three nights ashore we spent in Ghent, with one of the days being a day trip to Antwerp. Although not complete compensation for missing St. Petersburg and other stops in the Baltic, it was an enjoyable extra we hadn't originally planned. And it was much better than the last three days of our cruise which would have included two nights at sea.

We'd planned to take the train from Bruges to Ghent, but we were still new to the Belgian train system and a bit nervous about using it. So when the driver who was taking us from our hotel to the train station asked where we were going, then offered to take us directly to Ghent, we agreed. It did save us a bit of time and wasn't too expensive.

After dropping off our bags at the hotel, we once again took advantage of a boat tour, this time on the Leie River, to get an overview of the area near our hotel. Although it didn't cover as extensive an area of the city as in Bruges or Copenhagen, it did cover many of the highlights of Ghent.

The picture below shows buildings on a main Ghent thoroughfare, the Kraanlei. Much of the commerce that took place in Ghent was based on goods shipped via the river. It was here that large cranes were used to load and unload cargo. Many of the buildings are former warehouses.

The Gravensteen castle was built in 1180.

Just another scenic view along one of Ghent's city streets.

In many parts of Ghent there were squares surrounded by bars and restaurants. Below is a picture of one. We went to a bar/restaurant on the left in the picture. As with all such places in Ghent, and Belgium, they had an excellent selection of beers.

Graffiti Street is a "cobbled alleyway whose walls are covered in vibrant street art and graffiti by local artists."[*]

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Ghent photo album.

Monday, May 2, 2022

Bruges Day 3

Our last day in Bruges before heading to Ghent, we wrapped up our Bruges visit by visiting two of the churches, trying out some additional beers and visiting a former prison which now houses a torture museum.

First up was Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk (Church of Our Lady) built during the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries. It's tower is the tallest structure in Bruges and the third tallest brickwork tower in the world. [*]

Our next sight was at the Beer Wall.

Since The Beer Wall is not just an historical exhibition, but also a bar and restaurant, we took advantage of the patio seating we had seen during our canal tour to taste more of the local brews as well as have a small snack.

Oude Steen (Old Stone) is the former city prison that is now a museum. It features some of the torture and execution devices previously used in the prison. Not for the faint of heart, it has a really weird vibe, and even some of the other visitors are strange looking. After all, what type of person goes to a torture museum? Many of them seemed to have a guilty look about them.

We ended the day with a visit to the Basilica of the Holy Blood. Built between 1134 and 1157, this church claims to have a cloth with the blood of Jesus on it. If you look closely at the picture you can see a priest who ensures that people are properly respectful of the relic. No pictures of the cloth itself are allowed.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Bruges Day 3 photo album.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Bruges Day 2

Our first full day in Bruges and we were off to an even faster start than the first day. Our first stop was at the Historium Bruges, a museum that tells you the history of Bruges. The museum also has a VR exhibit that takes you back in time to medieval times when Bruges was a busy seaport. The VR was very realistic.

As regal as she looks, the picture above is not the actual Queen Elizabeth the first of Bruges, but my traveling partner who may indeed have been a queen in a previous life.

The Duvelorium offers six different beers on tap with tasters of three. So of course, I had to make another trip there to try the second round of three beers. One thing that I didn't realize at the time was that each beer has its own unique glass, which bartenders are required to use when serving that beer. This makes it easy to determine which beers you are drinking in a picture, IF you turn the front of the glass around to show it. It must also make it hell for bars to stock all the different glasses they need for the variety of beers they carry.

Speaking of having a variety of beers… This photo taken inside the Bottle Shop liquor store illustrates the wide variety of beers available in Belgium. More than I think anywhere else I've been. Notice also that each beer is sold next to their specific glass. Quite amazing.

Another amazing thing about beers in Belgium is the price and availability. I was able to buy top of the line Belgian brews for ⅓ or less of the price in the states. A wide variety and inexpensive selection of beers were available not just in liquor stores but also at quick stop type stores such as those near train stations.

In many cities in the world a good way to get a quick overview of a city is using the hop-on hop-off bus or a similar type of tour. In Bruges, as well as Copenhagen, two cities with an extensive canal network, the best way was via one of the boat tours. So that was our next adventure.

After the boat tour we visited the Groeninge Museum, an art museum which features pictures various Flemish by artists.

Click the picture above to see more artworks from the Groeninge Museum and more pictures taken during our canal boat tour.

We ended the day at De Halve Maan Brewery which has a restaurant as well as a brewery and has a tour which includes a visit to a beautiful roop top view of Bruges. Originally Die Maene brewery, which is mentioned as early as 1564, De Halve Maan Brewery was created at its current location in 1856. It remains the only brewery that produces beer within the city walls of Bruges. In 2016 the brewery overcame a ban on tankers used to transport beer from the brewery to the bottling plant, by building a 2 mile long beer pipeline.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Bruges Day 2 photo album