United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Ireland

Posts and related media in this series (note that links will be added when the associated posts are published):

  1. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Background and Overview

  2. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - England

  3. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Scotland

  4. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Ireland

  5. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Wrap-Up and Miscellaneous Thoughts

  6. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Photo Gallery

  7. Aviator Jeans Travel Story (External Link)

Saturday, August 31st

Picking up where we left off on the Scotland post, we made our way to the Edinburgh Airport, through dealing with RyanAir’s bag check and security, and boarded our plane to Dublin. There were a couple of minor hiccups during that process, most notable of them being the complete lack of information on how the folks at Edinburgh wanted your bags/items separated into the bins for security screening, and therefore causing us a bit of a delay. This did make us cut it close getting to the gate in time, but since there was not an issue it isn’t really worth going into detail. Upon arrival we made our way to the Avis counter to pick up the keys to our rental, and with a little confusion about where to go we finally made our way to the correct car park and started our journey out of the city. Saturday was, in essence, a “drive around and see stuff” day, with a very loose itinerary: Wicklow Mountains, Rock of Cashel, and make it to our Airbnb (Connoles Gatehouse). In preparation for our trip I had at least plotted out some points as a rough guide for the road trip, just to have some idea of how long we could spend with random side trips and at a couple of points along the way.

Rough Outline from Road Trip Planner

Our first point of interest was to enter the Wicklow Mountains. From the very first area we stopped I fell in love with the Irish landscape, and the awe and excitement only continued to grow with each passing moment. Never before have I visited a place that I found so breathtakingly stunning, so diverse and intriguing, and so strongly calling to me as the place I should stay, and yet every portion of Ireland we visited reaffirmed those feelings time and again.

We spent a lot of time just driving down rural roads, making random stops to enjoy the views, and wandering around. It took a little bit to get used to driving on the narrow roads, not so much because of the roads being narrow but because my point of perception (the right side of the vehicle while driving on the left side of the road) was simply different. Factor in needing to shift with my left hand instead of my right, and it probably took the better part of a couple of hours to really feel comfortable driving around. By the end of the trip, however, I will say that I felt like I was driving more like a local than a visitor. Embedded below is a video clip from one stretch of road that was particularly enjoyable to drive.

During the course of our travels, we stopped at the Tullamore D.E.W. Visitor Centre for lunch (and, of course, a tasting flight of their whiskeys). The food was excellent, and I found the 15 Year Trilogy expression to be extremely enjoyable. It still does not top my preferred Irish Whiskey, but it is one I would definitely purchase if I saw it in one of the local stores.

Continuing our journey we spotted many castles and gorgeous vistas, taking it all in as we made our way to the Rock of Cashel. Part of the reason this was our choice for stopping and exploring on our journey related to its proximity to the route we would need to take to reach our accommodations for the evening, though its historical significance made it extremely appealing as well. From Discover Ireland:

The Rock of Cashel is an ancient royal site of the kings of Munster and first attained importance as a fortress. Its origins as a centre of power go back to the 4th or 5th centuries. Two of the most famous people of Irish legend and history are associated with the Rock of Cashel. They are St. Patrick whom according to legend, arrived in Cashel in AD 432 and baptized King Aengus who became Ireland’s first Christian ruler. The second was Brian Boru, he was crowned High King here in 990. He is the only king who was able to unite all of Ireland under one ruler for any significant period of time.

As we left Cashel dusk was fast approaching, and so we made our way to our accommodations in Fanore. Although we could not see the landscape well by the time we arrived, the sound of the ocean and the perfect weather reassured us that the view in the morning would be as advertised, though we were not prepared for it to be so absolutely gorgeous once the sun crested the horizon in the morning. I cannot recommend Connoles Gatehouse highly enough, and I will look for no other place to stay in the event we make our way back to the Wild Atlantic Way.

Sunday, September 1st

After enjoying the sunrise at Connoles Gatehouse, we made our way to the Cliffs of Moher. I have no words to adequately express how majestic, awe-inspiring, resplendent… let’s just say spectacular… the Cliffs of Moher are in person. Though this is a running theme for much of our trip, it seems that (of what we were able to see and visit) I have the most difficulty describing how profoundly gorgeous I found Ireland compared to the rest of our journey.

After leaving the cliffs, we ate lunch at StoneCutter’s Kitchen and then made our way to Moher Cottage for coffee and fudge. I highly recommend both locations.

We continued to explore Liscannor before heading back toward Doolin, spending the rest of our day exploring The Burren Region and the Wild Atlantic Way. Two videos will be linked below, a clip of the waves crashing against the coastline at one of our many stops (because I enjoyed the peacefulness of just watching and listening), and a timelapse of the view from our cabin as the sun set over the Atlantic.

Monday, September 2nd

Monday was, perhaps, the dreariest day we encountered during the entire trip. Not only did we have to leave a place that was absolutely perfect to travel back to Dublin, but almost the entire time we were in Dublin there was a light rain. We went to the Guinness Storehouse first and enjoyed learning more about the history of the famous stout, as well as enjoying an absolutely spectacular meal in one of the on-site restaurants for lunch. I have had many variations of Guinness stew, and I can unequivocally sat that the best I’ve had yet was at the Guinness Storehouse.

Leaving the storehouse, we went to Dublin Castle before proceeding to Trinity College and the Book of Kells exhibit. While I certainly understand concerns about photographing important works, the one disappointment for this portion of our trip was that no photography was allowed in the Book of Kells exhibit. Regardless, it was still enjoyable, though overpriced.

We did not have time to explore further, as we had a flight to catch to return to London. If you missed the details about the remainder of our trip, the second post in the series (England) covers the first few days and the last two days.

I can easily say that, while I fell in love with Edinburgh and what little we were able to see of Scotland, my heart definitely belongs to Ireland. Emily made the right choice in having Jacob stay home with her parents, because if he had been with us there is a very, very good chance I would have found a way to stay.

United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Scotland

Posts and related media in this series (note that links will be added when the associated posts are published):

  1. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Background and Overview

  2. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - England

  3. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Scotland

  4. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Ireland

  5. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Wrap-Up and Miscellaneous Thoughts

  6. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Photo Gallery

  7. Aviator Jeans Travel Story (External Link)

Thursday, August 29th

Picking back up from the previous post in this series (England), after visiting Liverpool and taking a tour of Anfield we made our way back to Liverpool Lime Street Station to travel to Edinburgh Waverley Station. This particular leg of our journey would prove stressful, though knowing what we know now it is not nearly as big an issue as we thought it would be at the time. Our train from Liverpool Lime Street to a connecting station, where we were to change to another train to take us the rest of the way to Edinburgh, was cancelled due to lack of available personnel to staff the train (there was a major incident somewhere that impacted train operations across the board). Being accustomed to the way things operate in the United States, this created significant cause for concern: our tickets were non-refundable, all of the trains were operated by different companies (though all a part of the same system, which plays its part in our story shortly), and there was not another connector scheduled to the same station where we were to meet the train that would take us to Edinburgh. We started asking the staff at the station what we were supposed to do and how things worked in a situation like this, and I cannot help but heap as much praise as possible on all of the people who operate the railways in the United Kingdom (and support personnel, and anyone affiliated with making this type of situation a non-event). We were told to take the next train to another station, and from there take the next available train to Edinburgh. It did not matter who operated the train, just provide our original ticket and an explanation of the events that transpired, and we would be accommodated. I won’t lie, I was surprised this was the answer. I was even more surprised to learn this was exactly what the process is in the event there is a transit issue.

If you are from the United States, take a moment to appreciate that concept. Imagine your flight being canceled, and you were told to just go grab a seat on another flight, regardless of carrier, to your destination. I realize this is not exactly the same, but that’s the concept in a nutshell. I cannot think of any mass transit operation in the United States that would even begin to suggest something like that to a traveler. Instead, every incident I can think of would be met with re-ticketing (potentially at a fee) and a complete change in itinerary. Instead, we were actually able to still connect to our original train to Edinburgh, though at a different station.

There was one other hiccup that caused us some concern, which was the loss of power in our train as we were close to where we would need to disembark and hop onto our connector to Edinburgh. After a delay of fifteen minutes or so, we were back on our way and were still able to meet our connecting train (it had also been delayed, thankfully), and so our trip was not hindered.

After arriving in Edinburgh, we made our way to the flat we had elected to stay in for the two nights we would be in the city (link to the Airbnb listing), and we were greeted by an absolutely phenomenal view of Edinburgh Castle.

For those that know mw, it is no surprise that our first task, once we unpacked what we would need and did a quick walkthrough of the flat to know where things were and be prepared for a relatively early morning, was to find a local pub and order a scotch whisky. It should also come as no surprise that the first one I ordered was from one of my favorite distilleries, though not my favorite expression from that distillery: the Auchentoshan 12 Year. Once the sheer enjoyment of enjoying a dram of scotch, in Scotland, in a local pub (which was actually right outside our flat, the White Hart Inn is well worth the visit) had truly registered, the next important task had to be performed: asking for a recommendation and trying a scotch I either had never heard of or, at the very least, had never tasted. The first recommendation ticked both of those boxes, and I enjoyed a dram of the Glen Scotia Double Cask expression. I found this Campbeltown scotch to be exceptionally pleasing and smooth on the palate, and would place it in my list of go-to selections for general enjoyment.

Having fulfilled two major requirements for our short time in Scotland, we made our way back to the flat for some rest after a relatively long day.

Friday, August 30th

Friday seemed like a day we might not make it through everything we wanted to experience, yet at the same time was not planned very heavily. In the end we did make it to everything we had on our list to see or do, though.

We started the day with Edinburgh Castle, which was just as awe-inspiring and majestic as one might imagine a castle, situated in the middle of a city perched high on a rock, could possibly be. One piece of advice for those who want to get a few photographs of the castle without having a hundred people in your shots: as soon as you get through the admission gates, make your way as quick as possible to the courtyard area where the crown jewels are located. You will have a few minutes, at least, without the area being packed with visitors.

Beyond the spectacular views all around the castle and the simply amazing weather, we thoroughly enjoyed learning more about the history of the castle as a stronghold, residence, and prison. After taking some time to peruse the on-site whisky gift-shop, we began our journey down the Royal Mile (the individual streets that comprise the Royal Mile, from west to east, are Castlehill, Lawnmarket, High Street, the Canongate and Abbey Strand; sometimes referred to as Edinburgh's High Street, the Royal Mile is almost exactly one mile long and connects Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace).

As we meandered, we stopped in various places and ducked into various closes (the Scottish term for an alley) to see the city from many different angles. By the time we made it about halfway to Holyrood Palace we decided to stop and have lunch at the Tollbooth Tavern. I was slightly unsure of whether to try haggis or not prior to our trip, and ended up watching a video by The Broonfords entitled “Talking Haggis with The Haggis Box” (YouTube link) that made me decide I would absolutely try it. Unfortunately, due to the timing of our visit, the folks at The Haggis Box were on holiday, and we found the Tollbooth Tavern adjacent to where The Haggis Box has their shop set up. I wish I knew how the two compared, but I can definitely say the haggis from the Tollbooth Tavern was absolutely excellent, and I highly recommend it!

After lunch we continued our exploratory meandering toward Holyrood Park. The next item on our agenda was to hike Arthur’s Seat. I should pause for a moment and add a note here: while we were in Edinburgh the wind was blowing at a pretty constant 20ish miles per hour. While it felt absolutely wonderful to me, it did make some aspects of our excursion a little more challenging, such as being strong enough to knock Emily over once as we hiked to the top of Arthur’s Seat. As a result, we did take a little more of a roundabout route to the summit, just as a precaution.

The views from our hike were breathtaking. I easily fell in love with Edinburgh before we even made it to Holyrood Park and started toward Arthur’s Seat, but the hike and views from our trek made me love the city even more. Below I’ve included a short video clip recorded at the top. Just listen to the wind!

Just a quick video to hear the wind at the top of Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh (August 30, 2019)

As we made our way back down to the Royal Mile it started to sprinkle, and we elected to stop in The World’s End to have a pint to see how long it would last. By the time we finished our drinks it was no longer raining, and we made our way down another street for coffee at the Edinburgh Press Club (definitely recommend stopping by for coffee if you’re in the area!) before continuing our journey back toward Edinburgh Castle.

We had finished our hike earlier than expected, and the next item on our itinerary was to have a tour and tasting at the Scotch Whisky Experience. We decided to go ahead and make our way there and see if we could go through early or if we needed to meander longer and come back at our scheduled time. Luckily they were not very busy when we arrived, and were able to move our time slot to the next available tour.

The tour itself was somewhat gimmicky, though still interesting. It does provide a decent idea of what the traditional scotch producing regions are known for and the official classifications of those regions, as well as an opportunity to see the world’s largest collection of scotch. The guided tasting was enjoyable, and anyone who would like to understand some of the subtleties between scotch whiskys will definitely learn a thing or two. The real treat, however, was in being able to enjoy a number of assorted scotch whiskys in their lounge.

As I previously mentioned, Auchentoshan is one of my favorite scotch distilleries. My favorite expression, at least prior to this trip, is the Three Wood, and the 18 Year expression I also found enjoyable (though I felt it not worth the price given how fantastic the Three Wood is). I found a new favorite, however, in Scotland. The Auchentoshan 21 Year expression was phenomenal. It definitely will not become one I am able to enjoy often, but I highly encourage everyone who enjoys scotch to give it a shot the next time you see it at a bar/pub.

Auchentoshan, 21 Year

After making our way back to the flat, Emily went to bed and I elected to go back out and just walk around the nearby area. I definitely was not ready for our time in Edinburgh to come to a close, but the next morning was an early flight to Dublin, and I was quite excited for the next leg of our journey.

I meandered for a short while, just taking in the sights and sounds of the city, before finally heading back to the flat. Edinburgh, you definitely made me wish for more time, though I am quite glad I even had the opportunity to experience even a fraction of what you have to offer!

Saturday, August 31st

We elected to use Uber to catch a car to the airport in Edinburgh, which was definitely the right call to make (from a cost perspective) over utilizing a cab (it was raining lightly, and neither of us wanted to deal with hiking back to the train station and getting to the airport that way). We made it to the airport with enough time, or at least we thought we did, and ended up with delays in security and having to run the last little bit to our gate to catch our flight. While not ideal, we didn’t miss the flight, and made our way to Dublin.

Stay tuned for the next post in the series: Ireland!

United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - England

Posts and related media in this series (note that links will be added when the associated posts are published):

  1. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Background and Overview

  2. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - England

  3. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Scotland

  4. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Ireland

  5. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Wrap-Up and Miscellaneous Thoughts

  6. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Photo Gallery

  7. Aviator Jeans Travel Story (External Link)

Monday, August 26th and Tuesday, August 27th

Our journey began in the afternoon on Monday, August 26th with a flight from Birmingham to Atlanta and a scheduled connection to Heathrow that would depart Atlanta a little later than 7PM Eastern. Unfortunately, our flight from Birmingham to Atlanta was significantly delayed, resulting in not arriving in Atlanta early enough to reach our gate before it was closed (though the plane was still on the ground, which begs the question of why airlines do not offer better customer service when issues arise, especially when the flight and connection are operated and booked by the same airline, but that is an entirely separate topic). Luckily, there was another flight roughly two hours later, and we were moved to that flight with minimal friction. This meant we would arrive in London roughly two hours later than expected, but since we intentionally kept plans light for the first day it had no significant impact.

Once we arrived in London and made our way through the airport, which was around 11:30AM or so local time if I remember correctly, we identified the correct train to head toward our hotel. We’ll revisit this topic later, but it is worth noting that I initially found everything about determining which train line I needed, where to stop to change trains, and how to determine where I even needed to go a bit overwhelming and confusing at first. Since this was not Emily’s first trip to London I had no need to try to figure it out and simply followed her directions. In retrospect, I highly recommend familiarizing yourself with the transit system faster than I did (I didn’t really take the time to learn anything about it until our return leg), because once you understand the transit system, everything else about the city makes more sense and is more enjoyable.

Our accommodations for the first night were at the Bankside Hotel (one of Marriott’s Autograph Collection of hotels). We chose the hotel for three primary reasons: proximity to what we wanted to explore and see on the first day, hotel accommodations mean there was a place to drop off luggage even if the room wasn’t ready for us upon our arrival, and we wanted to use points to stay in a really nice hotel for one of our nights anyway.

Entrance to the Bankside Hotel.

After getting settled and taking quick showers, we made our way out of the hotel, walking along the bank of the River Thames, on a meandering path toward Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. Our plan at this point was pretty simple: find coffee, make our way to Tower Bridge, and just explore the area until our allotted time to go to the top of The Shard that evening. After being in an airplane and dealing with travel in general for a fairly long stretch, it was nice just to roam around and not have any set agenda.

I am not entirely certain why Tower Bridge became my favorite landmark in London, or why it captivated me as much as it did as a whole, but as we explored the area I continued to move to glimpse the iconic bridge over and over. Before heading up to the top of The Shard to watch the sun set, we enjoyed a couple of drinks from a couple of different places during our meandering, and ended the day with dinner at The Anchor after we left The Shard (I definitely recommend their fish and chips!).

Looking out from The Shard toward Tower Bridge.

Wednesday, August 28th

We started the day with a trip to Borough Market to try Monmouth Coffee (definitely worth a visit!), and had breakfast at a little place in Southwark called The Table Cafe (also highly recommend!). I do not remember whether we had a specific time for our train to Bristol or if it was just whichever one we hopped on, but we were not rushed to pack and make it to the station. However, we knew we wanted to explore Thornbury Castle a bit once we arrived and we were going to be back in London toward the end of our trip, so it made sense that we did not spend a lot of excess time in London that morning and made our way to Thornbury with plenty of time to explore the castle.

First, a little backstory on Thornbury Castle. From their website:

Edward Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, built the castle during the reign of Henry VIII, though he wasn’t able to enjoy it for long. After being betrayed to the king by a disgruntled servant, Stafford was arrested for high treason and executed on Tower Hill. Henry claimed the castle for himself, spending ten days here while on his honeymoon tour with Anne Boleyn. It remained royal property until the death of his daughter Mary I, when it was returned to the Duke’s descendants.

For two centuries, the castle was unoccupied, falling into ruin. In the 1850s, it was saved and turned into a family home. Its more recent occupants have included the Howards, the Clifford family, Kenneth Bell MBE and the Baron and Baroness of Portlethen.

Nestled in the small town of Thornbury, arriving at the castle felt much like traversing a portal to another world. Although obviously updated in many areas, the look and feel of the estate was exactly what we had in mind when looking for accommodations that did not feel like a hotel within a shell of a historic location. The doors to each chamber still used skeleton keys, the stone walls were exposed everywhere, ivy grew along the exterior walls in many places, and an oddly satisfying touch involved the repurposing of the old bell cords used to summon servants or staff into light switches within the rooms. The only possible knock against the experience would be the rather lackluster supply of hot water, which was entirely expected when considering the feel of the rooms as classic bedchambers was retained while remodeling to include such a modern amenity as indoor plumbing.

We rounded out the evening with dinner and drinks at a local pub (Royal George), which was excellent. I highly recommend their crate of beer food, which included bacon-wrapped sausages and fried macaroni bites.

Thursday, August 29th

After breakfast at the castle Thursday morning, which was absolutely phenomenal, we made our way back to Bristol Temple Meads Station to head to Liverpool and our tour of Anfield before making our way by train to Edinburgh, Scotland. The one aspect of the trip I kind of feel like we missed out on was having more time to explore the city of Liverpool, as the little bit of time we spent roaming around yielded a very friendly and interesting city. Regardless, visiting Anfield was a phenomenal experience that could only be topped by being able to be there on a match day.

We’ll pick back up on Thursday’s events with the next post in the series, starting with our travel from Liverpool Lime Street Station to Edinburgh Waverley Station. For now, we’ll fast forward to landing at Gatwick Airport on Monday, September 2nd, for the return leg of our exploration of London and our return to the United States.

Monday, September 2nd

Our return flight from Dublin to Gatwick was uneventful, and upon arriving back in London (albeit rather late) we made our way to our accommodations for the next two nights: a nice, quiet flat we found on Airbnb (link to the listing). By the time we arrived and unpacked it was late enough to just go on to bed, leading us to our final day of exploration in London.

Tuesday, September 3rd

With one day left to roam, we chose to visit all of the highlights one might expect any tourist to have on their list: Westminster Abbey, the Palace of Westminster and Big Ben (Big Ben was, unfortunately, undergoing major renovations, therefore the clock face itself was the only portion truly visible), meandering along the river to see The London Eye and Whitehall Gardens, Trafalgar Square and Nelson’s Column, exploring the British Museum, Covent Garden, Buckingham Palace, and then returning to Tower Bridge and the Tower of London before making our way to the Victoria Palace Theatre for a showing of Hamilton. Interspersed throughout, of course, were random stops for food and drink, though I would like to specifically call out the Whittard of Chelsea Tea Bar and Pancs Cafe in Covent Garden as two phenomenal places to go that are well worth a visit, especially if you are looking for excellent tea or hot chocolate (Whittard) or something just different enough to eat (Pancs) to truly provide a rememberable experience.

Side note for my friends and former colleagues from Apple: yes, we stopped in the Apple Store at Covent Garden!

While it may seem that I am glossing over the aforementioned exploration as a checklist of sorts, I assure you each and every moment was enjoyable and well worth seeing. In general, there just is not a lot to really say about each location. The experience of being there, of seeing such wonderful architecture and being immersed in the history of the city, is something that provides a very personal and objective experience for each individual. I fully believe it would be an injustice to try to encapsulate those feelings into a post here.

Going back to the topic of the transit system briefly: this was the day I finally took the time to learn what the different train lines were, how to glance at the maps and figure out where I needed to fo, and how the lines related to the city. Once I understood the trains, everything about London suddenly became easier to understand, more enjoyable, and I actually started to get why the city could provide a draw for people to live there. It wasn’t until we were getting to the end of our trip that I actually appreciated what London had to offer. Don’t make my mistake. Understand the transit system and the different zones of the city on the first day of your visit.

Hamilton

Emily chose everything about seeing a show in London, but it really comes as no surprise that the show she very much wanted to see was Hamilton. The Victoria Palace Theatre was the venue for the show, and given my lack of experience with theatres other than the Springer Opera House in Columbus, Georgia, I’ll let others decide how it compares for themselves. I will say I found everything about the experience enjoyable, including the layout of the theatre and ease of getting in and out of the building, and I felt the seats were comfortable enough.

Where the experience truly shines, however, is in the performance itself. I cannot begin to say enough good things about the cast and their performances, or how truly magnificent I found everything about Hamilton to be from the perspective of just watching a show (never mind the excellent writing, choreography, stage design, and mesmerizing range of styles). I have a really hard time deciding whether I think the opening number (Alexander Hamilton)) or My Shot was more captivating, and Right Hand Man is very close on my list.

One thing that I imagine being significantly different between seeing Hamilton in London versus seeing it in a theatre in the United States, though this is merely an assumption, is the raucous, hysterical laughter of the British audience for each of the parts of King George III. To me, the audience involvement, simply by way of reaction, to those portions of the show made them drastically more enjoyable, and something I will definitely always remember.

Whether it is the nature of Hamilton itself, simply the difference between actors on stage versus the screen, or simply having a tie to the story via the shared history of our nation, many portions of the show were highly tempestuous. From a strong sense of motivation to become someone better to the longing of wanting to leave behind a better world for my son, the underlying story of Alexander Hamilton is as apt now as it was during his time.

Wednesday, September 4th

Finally, it was time for us to once again don the trappings of responsibility and begin our trek home. With an early enough flight and rather persistent threats of rain, we didn’t really have time to explore anything else and simply took our time packing and making our way to Heathrow. As soon as we made it to the airport I was ready to be home, though I would have definitely “forgotten” to get on the plane if Jacob had been with us instead of being at home with Emily’s parents.

I Am...

  • ... analytical.
  • ... brave.
  • ... complex.
  • ... determined.
  • ... enigmatic.
  • ... frank.
  • ... geeky.
  • ... honorable.
  • ... inquisitive.
  • ... jovial.
  • ... knightly.
  • ... loyal.
  • ... moderate.
  • ... nerdy.
  • ... observant.
  • ... psychoanalytical.
  • ... quiet.
  • ... respected.
  • ... stubborn.
  • ... tech-savvy.
  • ... unyielding.
  • ... vigilant.
  • ... whimsical.
  • ... X.
  • ... youthful.
  • ... z.

Perspectives

Introduction

Tragedy. Grief. Despair. These all seem to come in massive waves that threaten to cause a rift in the minds of many Americans, pushing us further toward a mindset that asks what has become of the world in which we live. Often we take it a step further, asking if there is any hope of a brighter, happier future any longer. It is easy to get caught up in the tales of horror, of sorrow, and of sheer frustration born of seeing long-winded, naive or uninformed diatribes concerning any conceivable topic and feel that these are the darkest of times. The world is not that simple, though, and in becoming so focused on darkness we lose sight of all the stars that threaten to break through the black veil of night.

We live in a society that is, without the slightest doubt, of our own design. We have allowed things to happen or not happen. We have chosen to speak out on matters of lesser import, and leave those massive concerns for other people. In essence, we continue to sow the seeds of discord, of blame, and of outright stupidity, and expect that what we reap is something different.

We look at others and see differences and flaws and belittle them, instead of celebrating the differences that provide us with unique perspectives and ideas. We mock or laugh at those who do not see things from our point of view, instead of taking a moment to try to understand why our views differ. We look at others and judge them, instead of accepting them into our world and finding common ground. We shun those who do not meet our standards, instead of accepting them as fellow men and women of a world that shapes us all differently.

Regardless of one's faith, religious views, political ideas, standards, thoughts, or feelings, we are all human. We are all walking upon the Earth and trying to survive through the uncertainty that life brings. In the midst of it all, we are all also making horrible choices as often as we make decent ones.

Extrospective

This week alone has illustrated the above poignantly, but the focus should not be on any single incident or time frame. All throughout the history of the United States these concepts have been illustrated time and again, and yet we still stand complacently by while various members of our society become overly vocal. We watch as events unfold and express our concerns, our thoughts, our feelings... all the while turning inward to manage our own lives and neglecting to act on our concerns, thoughts, and desires for bettering our community, area, state, or nation.

It only takes a simple act of compassion, of reaching out, to profoundly impact a life, and yet we often just walk on by the socially awkward coworker without a word, or fail to muster up the courage to walk up to the gorgeous blonde and just say hello. All too often we get trapped in the stereotypes of the nation, and avert our eyes or path from that Muslim ahead instead of smiling and saying good day. Even worse, we fall prey to the vileness that permeates many of our societal peers, turning uncertainty and a lack of understanding into outward signs of bigotry, hate, fear, and misplaced anger.

Even in light of all that is wrong with our society, there are those who try to stand up and be heard. To be counted among the people who say they will not be silenced and will not stop trying to make a difference. We look at them with contempt, believing them to be fanatics of some sort or another because they choose to act. In short, we even do what we can to make those acts of kindness, the spreading of something good, out to be just another fad or to have an ulterior motive.

We take it even further at times, and resort to irrational arguments and name calling in an attempt to make someone appear to be unintelligent, all because they stood up for an ideal. On the flip side of that, though, all too often those people who stand up for an ideal are the ones who fall prey to the same issues already outlined above, just from the opposing perspective.

Introspective

I spent many years exploring the darkest depths of internal suffering and disillusionment with the world. I looked at things objectively and analytically, and when I felt that that perspective failed I turned to examining my life through the senses and emotions. Neither approach works independently of the other, yet both are necessary in order to effectively change. I examined religious beliefs, practices, and philosophies in an attempt to make sense of everything around me, and I explored the sciences when I felt that religion fell short.

In the end, none of the above are perfect explanations. We must believe in something, whether it is simply in the idea of hope or in the comfort of a deity, whether in the explanation of things through scientific discovery and observation or the objective analysis of the world much like one would examine a puzzle, it is faith in something that drives us forward. For some it is simply confidence and belief in their ability to touch the lives of others, for some it is a complete and unwavering faith in God, and for still others it is any of a massive range of other reasons. This is the beauty of our humanity, and the underlying difficulty with finding agreement among those with differing views. Regardless of what we believe in, or choose to place our faith in, we should all be able to agree on bringing change to the world in which we live.

I place my faith in God, yet that does not mean I feel I should blindly say that God will take care of everything. My life here is still my responsibility, and my actions and inaction, my thoughts and opinions, my feelings and desires, and the path I choose to walk in this world are all things for which I must accept accountability. I have been fortunate enough to understand that life is not only what we make of it, but what we allow others to make of it. My faith, in short, is not a crutch upon which I hope that things will work out, or upon which I can lean and say "please provide for me," but is instead the reason that I know that I have the strength to face this world and make a difference.

I mentioned, briefly, my struggles with trying to understand this world and my examinations of the darkest time of my life. Eventually I saw myself through the lens of an objective bystander, and realized that it was not who I wanted to be. I made the decision to change, and to crawl back from the depths of despair and become the person I am today. Knowing the power of choice, of belief in oneself, and of the strength inherent in us if we simply choose to believe in something, I want to challenge each of you: choose to make a difference in the life of another person.

Conclusion

I chose to write this piece without citing examples or sources for a reason. We tend to look only at the issues cited and debate the nuances around those examples, rather than focusing on the overarching issue. Further, we look into our perception of the facts presented instead of looking at the ideals examined, which only leads to further clouding the issues and creating semantic debates. It is with these ideas in mind that I challenge us all to do our part in bringing about change in our area, be it the community, the region, the state, the nation, or even the world. No focus is too small or too large unless we allow it to keep us from trying.

My goal with this post is to illuminate the things that we must focus on in order to change things, and to realize that change does not mean perfect agreement or harmony among so many varied social and cultural backgrounds.

Scam - The Wedding Paper

Scam: The Wedding Papers (a.k.a Exposures Photography, Nicole Price, Located in Arkansas)

My wife and I originally contacted Nicole Price, operating as The Wedding Papers / Exposures Photography, through Etsy in order to have our invitations done for our wedding. This is the full outline of that saga, including an archive of all of the emails sent and received, as well as pictures of the product that was received. At this point we are out a significant sum of money, and although we could go to small claims court (and with the evidence I am certain we would win), it is simply not worth it to us to invest more money and inordinate amounts of time and stress to take it any further. Instead, I’ve decided to put everything here, and hope that you all will help me spread the word and try to ensure that no one else falls prey to this scammer.

In retrospect, we should have known better than to proceed. However, my wife was pleased with the look of the original samples, and we would be able to use a design she created for a relatively decent price. In the end, this was a hard lesson learned.

For those who want to read through all of the emails, in their entirety, please feel free to view the archive located here (note that there are a number of files there, and I would recommend viewing the PDF outline located here. For everyone else, here is the summary:

From January 15, 2012, until March 24, 2012 we exchanged conversations, both through the Etsy storefront that Nicole had set up (that suddenly vanished after we received the invitations) and through email, that discussed what we wanted and what the costs/fees/etc. would include. We requested a sample, which was supposedly sent on three different occasions, and finally received said sample on the 24th of March.

On March 24, 2012, we made the mistake of agreeing to a contract to have the invitations printed, and sent a check for the full amount to Nicole after being informed that there would be a 15% premium attached to take a credit card transaction (this is the point where we should have stopped and decided to have the invitations done elsewhere).

We were originally informed that it would take between five and seven days from the time the contract was received until the time the invitations were mailed. After not seeing the invitations or receiving any updates, we emailed Nicole asking about the status of the invitations and expressing our concern about them arriving in time. We then made our second mistake, which was agreeing to pay to expedite the order.

Finally, on April 21, 2012, the invitations arrived. What we received was not only incorrect based on what we ordered, but was also unusable. You can see the sample gallery of what we received here. At this point, we had to devise and implement a backup plan, as there was no way we could have the invitations reprinted and out to our guests in time, with the wedding barely a month away. We chose to go to OfficeMax, purchase a printer, and do the invitations on our own that weekend.

Through the month of May we did not pursue the issue further, other than my attempts to contact an attorney in the Arkansas area and see what recourse we might have. Finally, in June, I made contact with an attorney and had a demand letter drafted. That demand letter, and Nicole’s response, are copied here in their entirety (aside from redacting contact information for the attorney’s office):

July 2, 2012

Nicole Price
D/B/A The Wedding Paper
362 Shiloh Road
McRae, AR 72102

CERTIFIED MAIL: 7011 1570 0003 7386 2768
RETURN RECEIPT/RESTRICTED DELIVERY

Re: Jesse and Emily Hart

Dear Ms. Price:

Please know that our firm represents Jesse and Emily Hart. Our clients have informed us that in return for their full and timely payment for wedding invitations, the products you provided were unacceptable as some were damaged, some were not the specified size, and some were not delivered at all.

Difficulties with the Harts’ order include, but are not limited to:

  • The invitations were warped and completely unusable;
  • The invitations were not packaged with tissue paper between each invitation as promised which resulted in ink rubbing off on the back of the card above rendering them illegible;
  • The response cards were of random sizes with single sided-printing, not double-sided and postcard size as ordered;
  • The invitations were white instead of natural color as ordered;
  • They did not receive the custom stamp as ordered;
  • They did not receive envelopes they were charged for.

The product you provided to the Harts was completely unusable. Many of the cards were illegible. The improper sizes prevented my clients from sending them though the U.S. mail as postcards. Additionally, due to the inexcusable delays in delivery, the Harts were not even aware of the poor quality of your products until a late date. This resulted in their inability to order decent products from another company and, as a result, they were forced to create their own invitations.

A person’s wedding is one of the most important events in his or her life. It is a special time to share with friends and family. Because of its great personal significance, everything must be perfect. Shoddy goods and service are unacceptable under any circumstances. This is even truer when one’s nuptials are at issue. Your inability and unwillingness to follow the terms of your agreement with the Harts caused them a great deal of stress and anxiety.

Please know that my clients are demanding $1,200.00, a full refund of all monies paid to you. Unless this office is in receipt of a check in that amount or other satisfactory arrangements made for payment of that sum through this office by July 30, 2012, know that we will institute appropriate legal action against you and/or your business as appropriate. In the event that suit is instituted we will also seek attorney’s fees and costs. Know that upon entry of judgment we are prepared to put process of a writ of garnishment and/or a writ of execution in the hands of the sheriff’s department.

Neither the Harts nor this office desire to pursue this course of action, however, this will be our only notice before the institution of suit unless payment is forthcoming.

Yours truly,

<Redacted>

cc: Mr. and Mrs. Jesse Hart

The response received to the demand letter was as follows:

From: Nicole at Exposures [mailto:expdweddingpaper@gmail.com]
Sent: Tuesday, July 03, 2012 6:18 PM
To: <Redacted>
Subject: RE: Jesse and Emily Hart

Dear <Redacted>:

My name is Nicole Price. I am the owner and sole operator of The Wedding Paper. I am writing in regards to your notice about the Hart couple's wedding invitations.

Emily contacted me as a last minute plan to purchase wedding invitations. I mailed a paper sample with heat embossing done exactly the way we were discussing her wedding invitations to be. We discussed and outlined her contract to be as attached. It was weeks before Emily and Jesse's wedding before Emily submitted payment for her invitations. I will address each of your/her concerns individually:

1. Warped: When the invitations left my possession they were in perfect usable condition. I was never notified of any problems regarding the invitations. While I understand that uncountable damages can occur during transit, had I been notified of a problem, it could be have rectified immediately. Even though Emily was offered and declined damage insurance, I understand the nature of wedding invitations and would have been happy to work out a resolution with her. However, nothing was ever communicated to me regarding an issue.

2. The invitations were packaged with hand-torn bright orange tissue paper, just as agreed between Emily and I. My assistant, Kim, hand placed every piece of tissue. I inspected her work and did not see any missing pieces. The only ink used was a heat binder, so there is no possible way that it was rubbing onto another page. However, as explained to emily prior to her purchase, with heat embossing done by hand, there would be minor transfer that could not be avoided, just as it was on the paper sample sent to her before she placed her order. If she felt that would be a problem, I encouraged her to think about an alternate print plan, or even looking for another printer who does computerized embossing.

3. All enclosure cards are 3.5 by 5. That is wedding industry standard. Nothing larger or smaller was requested, nor paid for. As they are cut by hand, not laser, sizes can vary only slightly. This was also explained to Emily prior to her purchase. I have designed and created wedding invitations for years and have had many happy brides. The size variation of enclosure cards has never been questioned as it is extremely minor. Double-sided printing was discussed and never purchased. Emily contacted me about this specifically. I informed her that double sided printing had not been purchased, but I would be happy to do it if she decided to purchase it. She never made question of it again.

4. Emily chose the paper and chose not to receive a paper sample of it. It is titled "soft white". She was explained that "natural" was not an option in the weight she purchased, but that "soft white" was simply a difference in title, not color. Due to her time restraints, she chose to go with the "soft white", not to be confused with "white", "bright white", "pearl white" or "white" (research can be done to determine the different variations of white and ivory. Emily received the exact paper she chose, in the exact color she chose.

5. The custom stamp was shipped shortly after the invitations. It was returned to me a week later undelivered. I don't claim to know what goes on behind the scenes of the post office, but I emailed Emily, explaining the situation asking to confirm her address. I still have not received a response.

I agree that the hand embossing was not appealing. However, it is EXACTLY what Emily requested, received in person as a sample (at no cost or obligation!) and was warned about. The post cards were completely standard for mailing. (Please research minimum mailing size. It is 3.5 by 5, the standard RSVP size). The Hart's delays were due to their own procrastination in completing their contract. They were explained the time frame for everything multiple times. It is not my responsibility to time manage clients' weddings. If they were aware of the time frame in comparison to their remaining time, I was happy to provide them with the service they wished to receive.

I understand the nature of weddings. I work with brides around the world. It is not my tastes or judgement that matters, simply what the bride chooses to purchase. Emily was full aware of what she was purchasing. She held it in her hands a short time before her purchase.

I am declining a request for refund due to the fact that it is now NINE MONTHS after the beginning of her contract. I would have been happy to assist Josh and Emily in resolving this issue had I been contacted about it. Being contacted nine months later, with nothing to back this claim, leaves me no choice but to decline. Please proceed your legal actions as you choose.

Nicole Price

The Wedding Paper

There are a number of things wrong with her response, which you can easily verify from the emails and pictures linked in the first part of this post. I’m going to break it down here, in summary, though, for ease of following:

  1. At no point in any of the conversation chain was damage insurance offered, recommended, or suggested.
  2. There was one piece of tissue paper, that was not orange in color, between two random invitations. You can see from the pictures how they were packaged and that ink did rub off, even though Nicole states that is impossible, and the transference of some of the ink to other invitations would have been avoided had they been packaged as indicated.
  3. You can see from the pictures that the enclosure cards are not the correct size, as indicated. In the email chain is was repeatedly expressed that double-sided printing was what we wanted, and the last communication we received about it was when Nicole stated she would check her records and get back to us.
  4. You can see from the email chain that there was never any indication that “natural” was not an option in the paper ordered.
  5. We never received notification that an attempt was made to deliver the stamp. While I could not attest to whether Nicole sent it or not, the fact that she has our correct address (otherwise the sample and invitations would not have made it to us) indicates that this is a complete fabrication.
  6. Other notes: Nicole indicated she shipped the invitations on the 16th of April, but the stamp from the postal service shows that they were not sent until the 19th of April. Nicole also indicated that the cost for expedited shipping was significantly high, but the postage was less than $20 through the USPS.

As you can see, we can easily verify that Nicole is not providing accurate information. Further, in her response to the demand letter, she indicates that we started this process nine months ago (the contract is here if you would like to look at it). I’m struggling to figure out how we could have even been discussing the invitations for nine months, much less having the contract begin nine months ago... Even if we go back to the initial conversations, instead of when the contract was sent and signed, we’re only talking about January 15th to July 5th (today). The accurate time frame would be March 24, 2012 to July 5, 2012 at most. I am forced to assume that even basic math eludes Nicole at this point.

Oh, and suddenly my name appears to be Josh by the time we reach the end of her response...

We've decided we do not want to deal with having this drag out any further, but we would like to try to get this out to as many people as possible and warn them about dealing with Nicole Price. We'd appreciate you guys spreading the word. The other names she operates under, based on our experience, are "The Wedding Paper(s)" and "Exposures Photography."