After 5 weeks and 11 cities, it was time to come home. It felt kind of weird that we would be back at home that night, but we were mostly excited to see our sweet baby Huckleberry. We finished packing, ate breakfast and said goodbye to our AirBnB hosts. We took the bus to the airport where we checked in and then had to go through security twice, once for the airport and once to go back to the US. We got a sandwich once we were at our gate, and got one last Guinness and Bulmer’s Cider. Our flight left at 12:50pm and we landed in Chicago at 3:30pm, even though it was a 7 hour flight. We watched lots of movies on the way home, but it still felt like a long flight. Once in Chicago, we had to go through customs and security again. We had a 4 hour layover here, so we decided to eat our “dinner” in the airport. We already felt pretty exhausted, so we also had lots of coffee throughout the day.
We left Chicago at 7:25pm and landed in Memphis at 9:20pm. By now, it was 4:00am in the timezone that we were used to, so we were pretty groggy, but excited to be home. All of our luggage made it home, and Cole’s family was waiting at the airport to take us home. Once we got there, we crashed for the night in our familiar bed.
Overall, this trip was once in a lifetime. We knew that we would probably never have this opportunity again, definitely not for 5 weeks, so we did everything we could and made the most of it. This was both of our first time in Europe, and we learned and experienced so many different things that we are so thankful for. It wasn’t always easy navigating through all of this unfamiliar, non-English speaking territory, but it was so worth it. Between the food, the sights, and the people we met, we wouldn’t trade this time or experience for anything. One day we hope to go back to see some familiar things again, but also to take on new adventures together, and we can’t wait until then.
We started off today with cereal, toast, and jam at our AirBnB. We then went to a coffee shop called Beanhive to start the day. They are famous for their drawings that they make on top of the lattes and their traditional Irish breakfast. We just got coffee, and the drawings on our drinks were really great. We then walked across the street to a public park called Saint Stephen’s Green, which was really pretty and green even in the winter.
We took the bus to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and got there just in time for a free tour. This church is the tallest and largest in Ireland and has been designated as the national cathedral of Ireland. We learned about the history of the church and how the Guinness family has played a huge part in the restoration of the church, which is ongoing. There is a special place in the pews for any Guinness family member that visits the church. Jonathan swift and his lover are buried in the church in an interesting way, standing up, so all you can see is a small plaque on the floor. Flags from previous battles hang in the church, where they slowly decompose out of honor. We took in all of the history and artwork, and then walked next door to Marsh’s Library. Opened in 1707, it was the first public library in Ireland and holds over 25,000 books. We weren’t allowed to take pictures here, but it was still cool to walk around in.
We then went to the Dublin Castle, which has the only standing tower in Dublin. The walls of the tower are 15 feet thick and only one person has ever escaped the tower, and he went through the sewers. We walked through the Chester Beatty Library, which is more of a museum of books, and we looked at manuscripts, maps, and drawings from different countries.
We walked to lunch at Lotts Cafe, and this restaurant also resembled and Irish pub. Cole got a steak sandwich, and I got beer battered fish and chips. After lunch, we had a tour planned at Glasnevin Cemetery, which is a few minutes outside of the center of Dublin. This was another one of our favorite tours on the trip, especially because we had to best guide named Paddy. Many of the leaders of the Rebellion of 1798 are buried here, or they have memorial graves here, so it was really neat to see the connections between the cemetery and Kilmainham Gaol, the prison that we toured yesterday. We watched a reenactment of a famous speech of the rebellion, saw the grave of the man who invented plastic surgery, and touched O’Connell’s lucky grave. We learned a lot on this tour too, and it made us appreciate Irish history even more than we did yesterday.
We made our way back to the center of the city and stopped by a shopping center called Powerscourt Square, which we found was actually a huge house that was transformed into a mall. They had a small food court and three levels of shops to browse through. There were stores with wedding dresses, jewelry, antiques, and lots more. After walking through there for a while, we went back to the room to relax before dinner.
This was our last dinner in Europe. We decided to bring it full circle and eat at the same place we went our first night in Europe when we were stranded in Dublin. The restaurant is called Fagan’s and it was close to where we were staying. I got pasta with chorizo, chicken, and arugula and Cole got fish and chips. We also couldn’t help but get a Guinness and a strawberry lime cider. We went back to the room and packed for our flight back to the states the next day.
First full day in Dublin! We ate some cereal at our AirBnB and then took the bus to go to the Guinness storehouse at St. James’s Gate Brewery which is the top tourist attraction in Ireland. At the start of the tour, you are standing in the world’s largest pint glass, which is seven stories high. At the base of the pint, the original lease on the land is kept in the glass floor. Arthur Guinness signed a lease on this land for 9,000 years, so safe to say he was confident in his dream is an understatement. We walked through the levels and learned about the progression of the brewery and how Guinness beer is different from other beer in the way it is made, tastes, and is served. One room was dedicated to the sensory aspects of Guinness (they’re pretty serious about their beer). You would smell the four ingredients used in Guinness including water, barley, hops, and wheat, and then they would pour you a small tasting glass and teach you how to properly drink the Guinness to taste all of the specific flavors.
We learned about the advertising, logos and characters, and distribution of Guinness throughout the world. Around 1.2 million barrels are produced at St. James’s Gate Brewery every year, and the crazy fact is that only ⅔ of their barrels are exported. That means that ⅓ of those barrels are consumed in the tiny country of Ireland! They love their Guinness. Towards the end of the tour, we got to learn how to pour a glass of Guinness like a pro and even got our very own certificate when we mastered it. We took the beers that we poured up to the Gravity Bar on the top floor which has a 360° panoramic view of Dublin.
When we finished our beers, we then went to a tour at Kilmainham Gaol. This prison plays a huge part in Ireland’s history, and we learned so much on this tour. Our guide was fantastic and it didn’t hurt that he had a super thick Irish accent. He told us stories of people that were held and executed in the jail, love stories in the jail, and stories of political significance. Many, many people died here due to famine, overcrowding, and public hangings that took place at the front of the building. Children were arrested for petty theft and the youngest recorded prisoner here was a seven year old boy. During the Rebellion of 1798, the main leaders of the uprising against Great Britain were all imprisoned and eventually executed here. We walked through the connected museum and saw letters, clothes, books, and lots of different artifacts from the prison. By the end, we really appreciated Ireland’s interesting history.
Finally lunch time! We went to a restaurant called The Pieman Cafe in Temple Bar. I got a chicken, leek, and cheddar pie with mushy peas and Cole got a chicken and sausage stuffing pie with mashed potatoes. Everything was really tasty and I’m definitely a fan of mushy peas now. The bathroom was unavailable at the restaurant and we were still pretty cold, so we went to a closeby Starbucks and bought some coffee so we could use their bathroom. We also walked across the Ha’Penny Bridge, a famous white cast iron bridge, that crosses the River Liffey.
Next stop for the day was St. Michan’s church. This is not a very popular tourist site, and it’s not the church that the few people come here to see, it’s what lies underneath…mummies! We saw a 400, 600, and even 800 year old mummy in one of the crypts. The 800 year old mummy is estimated at being 6 and a half feet tall, which was a giant back then, and you can see where his feet were broken so that he could fit in the coffin. One was definitely a smaller woman and you could still see her toenails. The limestone in the walls is the biggest factor for the prime conditions for the mummification process. The Sheares brothers, who played a role in the Rebellion of 1798, are also buried here with a small memorial.
The last place to see today was the Book of Kells exhibit and the Long Room at Trinity College. The Book of Kells contains the first four gospels in Latin with hand drawn embellishments. The book was handwritten in a Columban monastery in Ireland around 800 AD and we read about the influence and the techniques used to write it. We didn’t get to take any pictures, but it was neat to see a piece of significant history sitting in front of us. Continuing through the rooms, we entered the Long Room, a part of the Trinity College library which is the largest library in Ireland. Over 200,000 of the oldest books are kept in this room, and as soon as you walk in the doors, the smell of old books is almost overwhelming, in a good way. Marble busts of famous philosophers and writers line the room, including Jonathan Swift. The Trinity College harp is also kept here, and fun fact, this harp was the inspiration for the Guinness logo.
We went back to our room for a little before heading out for dinner. We went to an Irish pub called Darkey Kelly’s, and we had never felt more Irish spirit than here. A local band played while we were also entertained by the four drunk, yelling Irishmen at the bar. I ordered beef and Guinness stew with a strawberry lime cider and Cole got the classic fish and chips with a beer. It was probably the best comfort food we had on the trip. With full bellies, we went back to our room and relaxed for a while before going to sleep.
Our last travel day of the trip heading to Dublin! We had already spent a little time in Dublin on the way over the Europe when we got stuck overnight without our luggage. We were hoping this stop in Dublin would go a little smoother, and it definitely did. We got up, finished packing, and took the tube to our bus stop. We waited on our bus for a while in the cold which wasn’t very fun, but it eventually showed up and we climbed on and warmed up during the ride to the airport. We came into London through Heathrow, but today we were flying out of Gatwick, so we had never been to this airport before. We checked in easily and went to grab some lunch.
We picked up some food at a chain restaurant called Pret a Manger that we had seen a lot in Europe. It’s kind of like a to-go Panera Bread with more options. I got kale cauliflower mac and cheese and tomato soup and Cole got some kind of pickle, cheese, and bacon sandwich and a grilled chicken salad. We hadn’t had coffee yet, so we got a hazelnut latte and cappuccino to sip on while we waited for our flight.
Our flight was actually on time and was less than an hour long. We landed at the Dublin airport, which we were very familiar with, bought our transit, found our bus, and headed to our AirBnB. Our host and his cute little kid met us at the bus stop and we walked together to their apartment. We got settled in our room and then left to get some dinner.
It had been a while since we had Mexican food, so we went to a local chain called Boojum, which is kind of like a Moe’s here. I got a burrito bowl and Cole got a regular burrito, and it was really good. At the recommendation of our AirBnB host, we walked down the street to a pub called O’Donoghue’s. This pub was built in 1789 and used to be a grocery store but was converted into a pub in 1934. Cole got a Guinness, of course, because they are much cheaper in Dublin than the US and I got another beer while we sat and talked. The pub was pretty full even though it was a weeknight, and it seemed like a lot of people came straight there from work. We went back to the room afterwards and slept really well that night.
I had been looking forward to this day the entire trip. This morning, we left to travel to the Harry Potter Studio Tour in Leavesden, which is 20 miles outside of London. We took the tube to Euston Station and then had to buy separate tickets to Watford. We also learned there are actually two trains that go to Watford Junction, one is direct and one has multiple stops in between. We were on the wrong one at first, and would have missed our tour, but a fellow passenger asked someone near us, and we realized we were about to leave on the wrong train. We immediately got off and asked where the right one was and ran to it because it was leaving in less than 5 minutes. We made it on with a couple minutes to spare and considered ourselves very lucky.
At Watford Junction, they have a bus stop specifically for the studio tour, so we got on the next bus and got to watch a welcome video on the way. This is the point that we were getting really excited! After a ten minute drive, we arrived at the studio tour. We picked up our tickets and got in line.
The movies were filmed on the soundstages in this studio which you don’t get to go to, but many of the most famous sets were moved here to be on display. Since we were there in January, the studio had a special event called “Hogwarts in the Snow” where they had some of the Christmas and winter themed props included. The first thing we saw when we walked in was the huge Christmas tree from one of the movies. Next to the line to go in was Harry’s cupboard under the stairs set. Once we got in, we sat in a theater where they played a short film with some of the actors. The film ended with a shot of the great hall doors. All of the sudden, the screen lifts up, and there stand the real great hall doors! I was about to die of excitement at this point. They opened the doors, and we entered the great hall set.
From here, it was a self guided tour and we saw sets including Dumbledore’s office, the Gryffindor common room, potions classroom, Hagrid’s hut, the burrow, and many more. Wardrobes were on display for many of the characters, and one of the more interesting things we found was the progression of some of the identical outfits as they got dirtier and more ripped during battle scenes. Iconic items were on display such as all of the horcruxes, the triwizard cup, the main characters’ wands, the golden snitch, the time turner, and Harry’s invisibility cloak. We even got to ride a broom against a greenscreen! We wandered through this section for a while taking in every detail.
The next part led out to the Hogwart’s Express train! We got to climb on it and look at different train cars that they used to film a lot of scenes in. I also got a picture with the luggage cart at Platform 9 ¾. We had made it halfway through at this point, and we took a break to get a snack. We split a sandwich and chips and we couldn’t resist a butterbeer! We’ve been to Universal Studios in Orlando, so we had tried the butterbeer before, and it was just as good in London. We had never tried the butterbeer ice cream, so we got a cone and walked outside to the next part of the studio. Here, they had the Knight Bus, Privet Drive, Arthur’s flying car, Harry’s house in Godric’s Hollow, and the bridge to Hogwarts which Cole got to walk across.
We came in from outside into a new part of the studio, the animatronics and prosthetics section. We saw Buckbeak and the werewolf and learned out they combined real people and animatronics for different shots, mainly Hagrid. We then got to walk down the real Diagon Alley set and look at all the stores. The finale of the tour was the 1:24 model of the Hogwarts castle which was used in all 7 movies and it really was breathtaking. It was super intricate with windows, lights, and it was even set up to where it looked like people were walking past the windows. The set was on a cycle that switched from daylight to night so you could see both perspectives. We walked out through Olivander’s wand shop through thousands of handmade wand boxes, each labeled with the name of someone who had worked on the movies.
We aren’t necessarily super fans of Harry Potter, but the tour really was amazing. We learned so much about the processes and efforts that go into making a movie that are unnoticed by the audience because they are supposed to be! One video talked about how if you notice the background or atmosphere, they did not do their job correctly because the point is to be immersed in the scene. It really made me appreciate the filmmaking business more, and we highly recommend the tour to anyone.
We made our way 20 miles back to central London and went to Pieminister at Gabriel’s Warf to get a meat pie as a snack. We got a steak and ale pie and a veal and lentil pie, both with gravy and they were really good. We walked along the Thames for a while and across the bridge during sunset. We had reservations at the Strand Palace Hotel for afternoon tea next. I changed clothes into something a little fancier and we relaxed for a while before our reservation.
Afternoon tea was absolutely delightful! We got our own spot in the corner and settled in for a couple hours while we tried different types of teas and snacked on finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam, and a variety of sweet treats. The last event of the night was going to see The Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre!! Phantom is my absolute favorite show and I was so excited to have the opportunity to see it in a different country. It was amazing of course, with maybe the best Phantom I had ever seen live. Overall, this was a hard day to beat. Between the Harry Potter studio tour, afternoon tea, and Phantom, it was a pretty exciting and amazing day.