Eurotrip 2013: Part 12 – Belfast, the Ferry to Scotland and Train Travel.

This is the twelfth post in a series about my 2013 trip to Ireland, Scotland and Great Britain.  Part of the free plane tickets were funded by the 40,000 point sign up bonus of the Chase Sapphire Preferred card.

As I took the train to Belfast from Dublin, I reflected on how peaceful the route was with with no narrow, winding roads, no walkers and no bikers to almost run over.  Maybe just taking a train through Scotland is the way to go?

Belfast was a city that my Dad wasn’t too excited about, but I really wanted to check it out.  I remember when I first saw the movie “In the Name of the Father” that the detailed the whole IRA bombing and subsequent witch hunting that took place in Northern Ireland during the time they call “The Troubles.”  We would learn more about the history during our Black Taxi Tour, but I immediately enjoyed some of the architecture such as this beautiful church.

Belfast 1

Our hotel (the Holiday Inn Express Queen’s Quarter) was right across the corner from that  church and just a few minutes walk from Queen’s College.

Belfast 2

Since we only had one night in Belfast, we checked out the Crown Liquor Saloon, the oldest pub in Belfast.

Belfast 3

The woodwork on the 100+ year old booths was amazing!

Belfast 4

The next morning we decided to take a Black Taxi tour where a taxi driver takes you to both sides of the city (the Catholic and the Protestant) and gives you both a mural tour and the history behind the murals.  It was a great decision!  We started on the Protestant side.

Belfast 5

You could tell how strongly things were divided and how badly things were during that time period by the anger and pain in the murals.

Belfast 6

Belfast 7

We crossed through the wall that still divides the two halves of the city. Visitors had scrawled messages of peace and hope along it.

Belfast 8

We then entered the Catholic area which was the stronghold of the IRA.  This was one of their memorials.

Belfast 9

Bobby Sands was the first one to die during a hunger strike while he in jail.

Belfast 10

The violence is mainly over, but you can still tell that it is fresh on the minds of Belfast residents.

Belfast 11

After the tour it was unfortunately time to go and we headed to the port to get on the ferry to Scotland.  What a great decision that ended up being!


The ferry was a beautiful way to leave Ireland and was very luxurious with a theater, TVs everywhere, free wifi and several restaurants and bars.


Soooo much better than fighting your way through airport security and getting stuck with a middle seat!

We transferred to a bus once we arrived in Scotland which took us to the train station.  Again, the train is definitely the way to travel!  Plenty of room, no stress of driving and you can take in the beautiful countryside on the way.



As night fell, we finally arrived to St. Andrews, where my Dad would get to play one of the oldest golf courses in the world!

Eurotrip 2013: Part 11 – Galway and the Cliffs of Moher

This is the eleventh post in a series about my 2013 trip to Ireland, Scotland and Great Britain. Part of the free plane tickets were funded by the 40,000 point sign up bonus of the Chase Sapphire Preferred card.

We spent the next two nights in Galway and started out by driving back down to one of the most famous sights in Ireland, the Cliffs of Moher.  We actually ended up going in through the back entrance and took a short hike up a hill through a bull pasture (!) towards Hag’s Head.

hags head 1

Once we got up there, the view was simply spectacular!




Here is a great panorama shot of the whole Cliffs of Moher area.

hag panorama

I even stopped inside to get a pic from inside the tower.

inside hags

We popped into a delicious chocolate shop and bought more than we should have!

chocolate shop

On the way back to Galway we drove through the Burrens, an area of unique rock formations.


We went out in Galway and checked out the main street littered with bars.


Galway was a pretty city though and our room at the Radisson Galway had a nice view.

Radisson View

Time was flying by though and it was time to drive back to Dublin, turn in our car and take the train to Belfast!

Eurotrip 2013: Part 10 – Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula

This is the tenth post in a series about my 2013 trip to Ireland, Scotland and Great Britain.  Part of the free plane tickets were funded by the 40,000 point sign up bonus of the Chase Sapphire Preferred card.

I’m not sure I was mentally prepared for the drive we ended up taking.  The “Ring of Kerry” is an incredibly scenic set of roads that go along the coast of the areas near Killarney and Kenmare. The Dingle Peninsula is right above it.

ring of kerry

What they don’t advertise is that much of the ring is these tiny 1.5 lane roads with rock walls on either side.  And when a tour bus comes towards you and you suddenly have to fit your car and a bus beside each other, it is enough to give anyone some gray hairs.

However, if you survive it, the scenery is breathtaking!


Kerry Panaroma

Little islands off the coast dot the horizon.

Kerry Islands

Kerry Panaroma 2

You pass many castle ruins along the way.

Kerry Castle

We took the serious scenic route looking for this famous chocolate place near Portmagee that ended up being closed :(, and passed some cliffs that we thought were impressive (until we saw even better ones the next day!)

kerry cliff

We went through Knight’s Town and took the ferry across which was fun.


We then took in part of the Dingle Peninsula and made it about halfway through before we decided to cut it short and head to Gallway.


The best scenery was yet to come!

Eurotrip 2013 Part 9: Waterford, Kilkenny, the Butler Castle and a bit of Blarney

This is the ninth post in a series about my 2013 trip to Ireland, Scotland and Great Britain. Part of the free plane tickets were funded by the 40,000 point sign up bonus of the Chase Sapphire Preferred card.

We decided to splurge on our car since we were doing a lot of driving and found a BMW 3 Series for 37 Euro per day through Hertz. My first time driving a manual right hand drive car was pretty fun!


We took a taxi back from Dublin city to the airport to pick up the car and then we were on our way!  The first stop was the Butler Castle in Kilkenny (a.k.a. Kilkenny Castle).


The castle was built in 1213 but was bought by James Butler, the 3rd Earl of Ormonde, in 1391 and the Butlers lived there for over 500 years!


I learned that the first person to take the Butler name was Theobald Walter.  The Butler’s were the cup bearers for the king so our family crest depicted 3 cups.


I also found out that one of my relatives, Lady Margaret Butler was married to Sir William Boleyn and was the grandmother of Anne Boleyn, second wife of King Henry VIII of England!

The castle was in a beautiful spot right on a river that ran though Kilkenny.


It was great seeing our ancestral home!


We ended up the night in Waterford and the next day checked out Reginald’s Tower, one of the oldest structures in the “Viking Triangle.”


We then moved along The Butler Trail a bit (who knew there was a Butler Trail!?)


We saw the Country Manor House of Ormonde Castle


And then saw Cahir Castle.


We ended up the day at the impressive Rock of Cashel

Cashel Panorama


After spending the night in Killarney, we headed to one of the most famous sites in Ireland, the Blarney Castle!


The legend is that anyone who kisses the Blarney stone at the top of the castle will be blessed with the gift of Blarney which gives you the “gift of gab”.

Blarney panorama

Blarney Castle had extensive grounds including a Poison Garden which I thought was pretty cool.


I actually think I have had the gift of Blarney for years, but maybe I did feel a bit different after kissing it.  We will see!

There was no slowing down for us though.  Too much to see!  But the Ring of Kerry will have to wait for the next article!

Eurotrip 2013: Part 8 – Two Days in Dublin

This is the eighth post in a series about my 2013 trip to Ireland, Scotland and Great Britain. Part of the free plane tickets were funded by the 40,000 point sign up bonus of the Chase Sapphire Preferred card.

After a long flight, a full day in Brussels, and another two flights we were happy to pay for a taxi from the airport to The Morrison, a Doubletree by Hilton Hotel. Dublin is a very expensive city to stay but since we only had two days scheduled I wanted to have something centrally located where we could walk if we wanted to.  As soon as we walked in, I knew we made the right choice.  It had a very chic and modern lobby.


Initially they had given us an upgraded room due to my Gold HHonors status, but it had an interior courtyard view which was pretty horrible.  So one of my rules, especially when you have status with a hotel chain is “Don’t be afraid to complain!” You have worked hard to get this status (although I work smarter not harder), so it is not unexpected for you to expect a high level of service and upgrades.  I went back and forth with the manager for a bit and he told me the only room he had with a view of the River Liffey was a suite with a King size bed but he would have to get an extra 50 Euro a night.  I did my best to drop the words “gold status” as many times as I could in a few sentences and eventually I think he just gave up and said I could have it for the same rate.  Score! (I forgot to take a pic, but this is a similar one I found)

King One Bedroom Suite


Here was our view!


We had a lot to see so we woke up early and took advantage of the complimentary breakfast (love my gold status!) which ended up being probably my favorite breakfast of the whole trip! Homemade fruit and yogurt in these old style jars.


Meats, salmon, cheeses.


They would also cook to order a whole list of hot dishes such as the eggs benedict I had.


It was sooooo good!  The whole breakfast room had this trippy Alice in Wonderland theme to it that I really liked too.



With the help of the front desk, we headed to a nearby pedestrian mall and got SIM cards for our phones.  10E each with enough data for the whole time we were in Ireland! Since we had limited time, I thought one of those hop on hop off buses would be a good way to see all the main sites and hop off when we found one that interested us.  We paid 29 Euro total and got a 15% discount by buying them online that morning.  It took a while for the bus to come around because they had a breakdown they told us, but we were soon tooling around Dublin with cheekily named sights such as Knobs and Knockers


We stopped for a bit and picked up some beers for the ride which may or may not have been a good idea.  Remind me to tell you the story how I the bus left with my Dad on it while I getting the beers (oh the memories!)


Now I had always thought that Butler’s had come from England, and it turns out that we are really Irish!


Phoenix park in Dublin was actually founded by James Butler the first Duke of Ormonde.  This ended up being a very important name in Irish history. We didn’t have time to go into the Jameson Distillery, but saw where it was.


We saw St. Patrick’s Cathedral where an important standoff in the Butler-Fitzgerald dispute played out.


Christchuch was very impressive as well


We actually caught a group of children singing while we were there.  The acoustics were amazing!


We saw Strongbow’s tomb.  He was kind of a big deal in Ireland 🙂


That night we went to Temple Bar, met some bartenders and I dragged my Dad to one of the local hot spots for more beverages.  The jet lag caught up with us and eventually we headed back to the hotel, walking beside the River Liffey at night.


We toured the Guiness Brewery and went to the Gravity Bar on the top floor for a pint of the black stuff!



And just like that our time in Dublin was done, and it was time to get our car rental and see the countryside! But that will have to wait for the next installment… 🙂

Eurotrip 2013: Part 2 – Planning for Hotels in Europe for Maximum Miles

Turnberry Resort by Starwood Preferred Guest

This is the second post in a series about my 2013 trip to Ireland, Scotland and Great Britain.  Part of the free plane tickets were funded by the 40,000 point sign up bonus of the Chase Sapphire Preferred card.

When I started planning the hotels for my Europe trip, I wanted to take advantage of many of the hotel promotions that were going on this quarter and strategically redeem points where necessary when I was getting good value.  I don’t consider myself a hotel expert and rely on the excellent Loyalty Lobby blog to get a lot of my hotel promotions information.  In particular for this trip I accessed the Top Hotel Promotions June 2013 Guide.  I had Platinum status with Starwood and Le Club Accorhotel and Gold Status with Hilton going into the process.  I did a status match with Priority Club and Club Carlson via my Starwood status to get Platinum status with Priority Club and Gold status with Club Carlson. This would insure that I got the best treatment for my bookings on my trip. I saw from the promotions guide that Priority Club, Marriott, Hilton, and Club Carlson had the best promotions currently.

I’m going to give a run down of which hotels I chose in which cities, the prices, and why I thought each was the best choice. I knew we were going to have some expensive stays in Dublin, St. Andrews, and London so purposefully picked some cheaper properties with a good location when I thought I could.

Fairfield Inn by Marriott JFK Airport – $152 on a senior rate (traveling with Dad pays off!)

The Morrison Dublin, a Doubletree by Hilton Hotel – 2 nights @ 246 Euro on a senior rate

  • Hilton’s Daily Grand promotion should give me 1,000 bonus points and 1000 Virgin Atlantic Miles and my Gold Status will get us free breakfast so we can hit the ground running each day without having to go to an outside restaurant.

Waterford Marina Hotel in Waterford, Ireland – 79 Euro

  • This was one that my Dad’s picks because of the golf course located here.

Holiday Inn in Killarney, Ireland – 129 Euro

  • By stacking multiple promotions I expect at least 10,000 Priority club points from this stay (which could be enough for two PointsBreak nights in the future.)

Radisson Blu Galway, Ireland – 2 nights @ 136 Euro on a AAA rate

Holiday Inn Express Queen’s Quarter in Belfast, Ireland – 85 GBP

  • Stacking Multiple Promotions and multi stay bonuses.

MacDonald Rusacks in St. Andrews, Scotland 2 nights @ 282 GBP

  • This was one of my Dad’s picks because of the golf course located here.  They did have “The Club” loyalty program that I signed up for but it doesn’t look like it gives much to start.

Holiday Inn Express in Inverness, Scotland – 93 GBP

  • Stacking Multiple Promotions and multi stay bonuses.

Turnberry Resort, Luxury Collection Starwood – $110+6000 Starpoints

  • This was one I added on because of the golf course and that I could get a Cash and Points rate of $110+6000 star points which gave me a value of 4.1 cents per point redeemed.

Hilton Paddington London – 129 GBP

Radisson Blu Edwardian Vanderbilt London – 2 nights @ 44,000 Club Carlson Points

  • Redeemed 88,000 Club Carlson points for 2 nights in a 328 GBP a night room, yielding a value of 1.1 cents per point

Renaissance by Marriott London Heathrow Airport – 135 GBP

Holiday Inn Express Frankfurt – 114 Euro

  • Stacking Multiple Promotions and multi stay bonuses.

Once all of the points post I will do a summary post to see how I did.  I hope this gives you a feel for some of the thought that goes into booking hotel stays on an extended trip for maximum value.