Harry Potter Sights in Scotland

I wrote up our Scotland holiday recently (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3), but here’s a little bonus post for the HP fangirls out there like myself.

I started writing this post in the bar of Edinburgh’s famous Balmoral Hotel, where J.K. Rowling lived while she wrote the final Harry Potter book.


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Wham, Bam, Thank You, Amsterdam

Or “Hamsterdam,” as E calls it. I started this post nearly two months ago, but it got long, and I got busy. Better late than never, which was my approach to blogging about Christmas in London, too.

We had a great three and a half days in the beautiful city in the Netherlands in May. I’d been there before, when I was 20, with my parents and younger brother. Since I’d hit most of the big tourist must-dos in Amsterdam back then (Rijksmuseum, Anne Frank’s house, Heineken Experience Tour, a stroll through the Red Light District, and what felt like ALL the churches), and M had traveled there for business a couple times, we didn’t feel pressed to drag our kids to places that aren’t particularly interesting to a 3-year-old, or baby-buggy-friendly. So this trip we could just enjoy being in what is actually a very child-friendly city, despite its reputation for its Red Light District and “coffee” shops.

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Around Here Lately 

It’s hot in London. Legitimately hot, even by American standards. Sure, Baltimore gets hotter and definitely more humid, but pretty much everywhere I need to go is air-conditioned: house, car, office, stores, restaurants. I miss air-conditioning SO HARD right now. And what I would give for a ceiling fan!

I’m typing this with my feet swishing in the inflatable paddling pool I bought for the kids, which was maybe the best money I spent all year. I’m living off of sorbet and rosé. People are queuing outside stores to buy fans. The grocery stores are literally sold out of ice cream. These are dark times.

The ice cream freezer at my local grocery store: completely empty. M reported the store by his office was the same. EVERYBODY PANIC!

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Of Winnie-the-Pooh, Anne Boleyn, and Sodden Shoes: A Tale of a Weekend in the Countryside

Memorial Day Weekend in the States is also a bank holiday weekend here in England, so we had planned a getaway to the English countryside, from Friday to Monday. One of M’s business associates had recommended the Griffin Inn to him as a family- and dog-friendly place to stay. He told us to ask for the room over the pub, so the baby monitor reaches down there. Good tip!

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A Visit to the Emerald Isle

For the first May bank holiday weekend, we traveled to Ireland to visit our friends Ciaran and Emily. I met Ciaran 10 years ago when I worked for a company that had an office in Waterford, Ireland, and I used to travel there for work. (Otherwise we chatted over Skype daily.) Then a few years ago, he and his wife Emily moved to Baltimore for a couple years for his job. She couldn’t work at first, while her visa got sorted out, and I needed someone to nanny for E when I went back to work after maternity leave, so she was E’s nanny for a few months. They have since moved back to Ireland and had a baby, and all three came to visit us here in London last October, before R was born. So this was our turn to visit them. And this was M’s (and E’s and R’s) first trip to Ireland!

We flew from London Gatwick to Dublin on Thursday afternoon, checked into our hotel, and then went out for a walk and to find some dinner. We walked along the River Liffey, did a bit of window shopping, and settled on The Market Bar for dinner.

The Market Bar
Cool atmosphere, good food, and local craft beer (I ordered the Cute Hoor, seriously)… but our children had reached melt-down point. There was nothing on the short kids’ menu that E would eat, so all she ate was bread and was then devilishly hangry. And it was really just too late for R to still be up, so they were both pretty difficult dining companions. At one point I said to M, “Traveling abroad with kids… what made us think we could do this?” But I was and am determined to do it. What’s the point of living over here if we never take advantage of the proximity to so many foreign countries and cultures? Yes, traveling with little ones is way, way harder than traveling without them, and you don’t get to do everything you’d like to do, but I want to make the best of it.

With that in mind, instead of going out to the Temple Bar District for a pint and some live music, we went to bed early in our hotel room we were sharing with the kids. Maybe next time.

Friday morning we had breakfast in our hotel, then went for after-breakfast treats at Off Beat Donut Co. They were so good I actually went back later in the day and bought more to take with us when we left Dublin.

We had booked a 10 a.m. tour at the Little Museum of Dublin, which we figured was a short enough tour in a small enough museum that we could take the kids. The museum promises “the story of the city in under 30 minutes.” A tour guide walks you through the middle floor and tells stories for half an hour. I wouldn’t say I got the full history of the city, but the stories he told were interesting and entertaining.

What struck me about Ireland is that for a country that has such an incredibly long history, modern Ireland’s history is very short. So much has changed for the small country in the last century, and really in just the last few decades. It went from being one of the poorest countries in Europe to one of the richest. It went from giving women very few rights in the early 1970s to electing a female prime minister less than 20 years later. It’s pretty fascinating how quickly a whole country can change in one lifetime.

The museum is in a Georgian townhouse and everything in it was actually donated by the public. They put out an ask for donations, and the people of Dublin really came through. There’s a whole room dedicated to U2, and let me tell you, you just haven’t had an experience quite like breastfeeding in a pod chair that’s being spun around and around by a 3-year-old, U2 songs blaring and coloured disco lights flashing. That was a new one.

Yes, that’s who I want watching me breastfeed

After the museum, we walked across the street to St. Stephen’s Green, which is a beautiful park. We found a great playground tucked away in there, so we gave E some play time.

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Then we went to lunch, where Emily met us. She’d driven up from Tramore to pick us up, bless her. We needed to get on the road before Friday-afternoon-of-a-bank-holiday-weekend traffic got bad, but we made time to go to a pub for a proper pint. When in Dublin…

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Tramore is about two and a half hours away from Dublin, and is right on the sea. Ciaran and Emily’s house has a view of the sea, of which I am incredibly jealous.

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Just the sea view from the baby’s changing table, no big deal

On Saturday, they took us driving along the Copper Coast (there’s copper in the rocks there, and used to be copper mining), stopping at viewpoints and, of course, a playground.

Then we went to the newly opened Greenway, which is a 45-km stretch of old railway line between Waterford and Dungarvan that has been converted into a nice flat path for cycling and walking. We walked a portion of it, through an old tunnel.

Children had decorated fairy doors and left them along the rock walls, which was fun for E to hunt for. (Fairies and fairy doors are a big thing in Ireland.)

On Sunday, we went into the city of Waterford, which I’ve stayed in several times—but it has been a decade since then!

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We went to Reginald’s Tower, to learn about the city’s viking past. The round stone tower building has been in continuous use for 800 years. I mean, they just don’t make things like they used to, right?

I explained to E that vikings were kind of like pirates… so then she ran through the tower yelling, “Arrgh! Shiver me timbers!” So yes, I’d say she got an excellent history lesson out of the experience.

That afternoon, we went to Waterford Castle for tea. It’s a beautiful little castle that’s now a hotel that also does a lot of weddings and events. We drove the car onto a small ferry to cross what is essentially a moat around the small island the castle is perched upon.

Not a bad way to spend a rainy afternoon

It was a rainy day, so we were happy to sit in front of the grand fireplace and enjoy tea and scones. Then the sun came out, so I walked around the castle gardens a bit, before we headed back to Tramore.

Back in Tramore, we went to a pizza restaurant right on the beach for dinner. It was absolutely gorgeous out, and we enjoyed walking along the beach for a while after dinner.

Monday we walked to a place for brunch, took E to another great playground down by the beach, actually ran into my former boss there, ha!, and then it was time to drive back up to Dublin to fly home.

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Thank you, Ciaran and Emily, for the kind fáilte, for being such wonderful hosts and friends, and especially for driving to and from Dublin twice for us. We look forward to our next visit with you, whichever country it’s in!