Wednesday, January 12, 2011

    Trip Report: Ireland 2010

    Nine Days and 900 km through 
    Dublin, Dingle, and Galway

    May 29, 2010 to June 6, 2010
    Here's a quick view of what we did:
    Day 1: Fly into Dublin, tour around the city. Stay in Dublin (ABC Guesthouse)
    Day 2: Tour around Dublin. Stay in Dublin (ABC Guesthouse)
    Day 3: Drive from Dublin to Dingle. Stay in Dingle (Greenmount House)
    Day 4: Slea Head Drive in Dingle. Stay in Dingle (Greenmount House)
    Day 5: Conor Pass in Dingle. Stay in Dingle (Greenmount House)
    Day 6: Back to Conor Pass and exploring the Dingle Peninsula. Stay in Dingle (Greenmount House)
    Day 7: West Coast Drive to Galway, Cliffs of Moher and The Burren on the way. Stay in Galway (Almara House)
    Day 8: Connemara National Park, Kylemore Abbey, and Ashford Castle. Stay in Galway (Almara House)
    Day 9: Drive from Galway to Shannon Airport, and home to Chicago

    Now, for the details:

    Dublin Sights
    Our first day in Dublin we walked into city centre and wandered around for a bit taking everything in and doing some quality people watching. We finally made our way to Trinity College and had a fabulous tour with a current student. She was wonderful, and I really enjoyed the tour. The Book of Kells was stunning, and the pages on display had some of the most intricate and beautiful calligraphy that I've ever seen. The library's Long Room was really wonderful, as well. Howie even enjoyed it, and I'm definitely the reader in the family.
    In front of Trinity College. A must-see, of course.
    We bought tickets for the hop on hop off bus our second day in Dublin and took the Kilmainham Gaol tour. It was fabulous. The building itself is really interesting, and the video and tour guide provided an excellent picture of the jail's history. I highly recommend both of this and the Trinity College tour.

    Of course, we also made a stop at Merrion Square to visit the Oscar Wilde statue. It was fun and I'm happy we didn't skip it. The streets outside of the square were filled with street vendors and artists, so we had a lot of fun chatting it up with many artists there, which was great.
    Loved the Oscar Wilde statue
    The hop on hop off bus was great, although we were given some bad advice when we first purchased our tickets. The seller told us to take the first bus straight to Kilmainhaim Gaol so we wouldn't have to wait long for a tour (it was around 10 AM at the time). We shouldn't have done that, we should have stopped at the Guinness Factory first, because we ended up missing that stop because we didn't have enough time to make it all the way back around to Guinness after going straight to the jail. I wasn't too upset, although it would have been a nice experience.
    There was no breaking out of this jail.
    Dublin Eating
    We ate a quick lunch at Millstone our first day there. We were both so exhausted from a full day of travel, and the beef pie really brought us back to life. The restaurant had lovely décor, and the waitstaff was very nice. We ate dinner at Alamo in Temple Bar that night. It was a cozy little place, and the meal was fine. Nothing fabulous, but definitely nothing bad.

    We started our second day in Dublin with a lovely breakfast at our B&B. I quickly learned that the Irish like their coffee strong, and their bacon floppy. I thoroughly enjoyed both, and the breakfast was filling enough to hold me over until dinner. Howie ate a sandwich and some cake in the Tea Room at Kilmainham Gaol and it was all very tasty. We ate dinner at Bull and Castle that night because we stumbled upon it and I remembered that someone on the Fodor's forums had recommended it. Fabulous meal. Really, really good. It had a great atmosphere, and we had a lot of fun there. The fish and chips were delicious, and we ordered fries that came with a great garlic dipping sauce. They had deep fried Mars Bars on their dessert menu, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say my husband was tempted to order one. We were so full, though, that we couldn’t follow through with it.
    Oh man, do I love fish and chips.
    The food in Ireland was fabulous overall. We loved it. It was all pretty heavy, so we ended up splitting a lot of dinners, but they were delicious for the most part.

    Dublin Nightlife
    We passed a sign outside Palace Bar advertising “Traditional Music Tonight” so we headed back there after our meal at Alamo. Much to our surprise we went in to hear a young man playing Johnny Cash on his guitar. We decided to stay because, well, it was pretty hilarious so we bought some pints and settled in. After looking around we realized that everyone in the bar really seemed to know each other well, which puzzled us a bit. About another ten minutes went by and that was when we noticed there were printed photos of one particular girl taped up all over the walls. And . . . that was when we realized we had inadvertently crashed someone’s 30th birthday party. We suddenly noticed the balloons all around the ceiling, and the “Happy 30th Birthday” banners strung up on all the walls. The place was packed so tight that we couldn’t really get out quickly, and by this time we had been talking to a young man from Dublin for a while. When I asked him if we were party crashing he dashed off through the crowd and returned with the birthday girl herself, who welcomed us to our party and said “It’s about time you showed up!” We had a ton of fun staying there the rest of the night.

    We didn’t make it out to any pubs our second night in Dublin because the jet lag finally settled in, and we had a long drive ahead of us the next day so we needed to rest up.

    Lodging in Dublin
    We had a wonderful stay at ABC Guesthouse. It was a bit of a walk to city centre, about 20 minutes, and mind you we’re fast and frequent walkers. There’s a bus stop right outside the house, so it’s a quick and easy 1.60 euro ride into the city if you don’t want to walk.

    The house itself is very clean, and the accommodations sparse yet nice. Peter and Mary are wonderful hosts, and they did everything they could to help us get the most out of our short time in Dublin. The nicest thing they did was this: Howie, Allie, and I booked a trip for our first night, and then a quad for our second night because my Lane arrived the day after we did. Rather than having us move rooms after our first night they put us in the quad from the beginning, which was very thoughtful. They also had our room ready for us at 8 AM after I had told them we were arriving in Dublin at 6 AM. It was really nice to know that we could drop off our bag as soon as we arrived, and to have the room ready and waiting was a wonderful surprise. We’ll definitely stay there again when we go back to Dublin.
    Strawberries from a roadside stand on the way to Dingle.
    Driving from Dublin to Dingle
    We woke up early after our second night in Dublin and had another filling Irish breakfast at ABC Guesthouse. We then took the bus back to the airport and picked up our manual Ford Focus at Dan Dooley. After a couple rounds in the parking lot (driving, not drinks), Howie felt comfortable to head out onto the road and start our drive to Dingle.

    The navigating was so much easier than we had expected. The road signs in Ireland are so clear and easy to follow, that our concerns about getting around were assuaged almost immediately after we pulled onto the motorway. We brought the Michelin touring and motoring atlas with us, and that was a wonderful tool as well. I highly recommend that to anyone who will be doing a lot of driving in Ireland.

    We made a stop in Kilkenny for lunch. What a lovely little town! We ate a nice little lunch at Nostalgia Café and then headed back out onto the road. We made another stop in Tipperary for a quick tea and a bit of a rest.

    Overall, the trip from Dublin to Dingle took eight hours total, and we drove 370 km. We were on the road for six of those eight hours, and stopped for two of them. The driving was so wonderful. We saw many beautiful scenes from the road, and stopped here and there to take in some particularly inspiring views. Driving is definitely the way to go if you’re traveling through the country, I’d say.

    We finally arrived in Dingle, and oh, what a place! Dingle was definitely my favorite part of the trip.

    Dingle Sights
    First of all, Dingle is breathtakingly beautiful. You can’t really go wrong in Dingle, in my opinion.

    Our first full day in Dingle we did the Slea Head Drive and followed Rick Steves' route in his guidebook. It was really wonderful. Howie LOVED driving our car on the left side of the road, although I should admit that I was grabbing the dash and gently(ish) reminding him to slow down every now and then. We had a ton of fun that first day doing the drive, our stop at Kilmalkedar Church was my favorite. It was pretty awe inspiring being in such an old, holy place. I had read in Rick Steves' book that people touch thumbs through the hole in the Ogham stone in front of the church and swear to God to seal a deal, so Howie and I touched thumbs and renewed our vows there. Pretty cool.
    Renewing our vows. Awwwww.
    Our second full day in Dingle we drove the Conor Pass and continued straight on it to Brandon Point on a recommendation from someone we met the day before. Wow—Brandon Point was amazing. We were the only people there, and we spent a lot of time sitting on the edge of the point with our legs dangling over the side. As we were sitting there we spotted a school of dolphins in the water below, which was pretty amazing. At one point Allie was standing on the edge of point to our right and she suddenly screamed. We turned around to find a big, fluffy dog had bounded down to give us a quick lick hello before her young owner came down to call her back. He said “She’s too friendly for her own good, she is” as she ran back up to him. Brandon Point was really a sight worth seeing.

    Our third day in Dingle Howie and I decided to go back on Conor Pass to the little waterfall that we visited the day before. The day before, Howie and Lane found a great lake after climbing up the rocks a bit, and we wanted to go back and relax there for a while just the two of us. We spent some time up there alone with a bunch of sheep, and it was the most relaxed I've been in a while. The magic was ultimately ruined by a family who climbed up and started screaming across the lake to each other, so we left. But it was a great couple of hours while it lasted.

    Dingle Eating
    We had our two best meals in Dingle at the Half Door Inn and Out of the Blue. My lobster at Out of the Blue was insanely delicious. The seafood chowder at Half Door Inn was amazing. We were impressed that they allowed us to split the early bird special at Half Door Inn, which made what would have otherwise been an expensive meal very affordable. I had my favorite fish and chips of the entire trip at John Benny Moriarty's our first night in Dingle. And I pretty much tried fish and chips *everywhere* we went, so I had a good basis for comparison. And all of the recommendations people make for Murphy’s Ice Cream are spot on—it’s delicious. We had an ice cream cone there every single day in Dingle. The Guinness ice cream is particularly yummy.

    We stopped at the Dingle Farmer’s Market on our last day in Dingle as we headed up the coast for Galway. We bought the most delicious hunk of feta cheese (it was better than the feta I had in Greece two summers ago, if you can believe it.) We also bought hot chili stuffed green olives, and sweet red pepper stuffed green olives, some carrots, and a fresh tomato for our ride. It was all so delicious that it was gone before we arrived at the Cliffs of Moher.

    Dingle Nightlife
    We met so many great people in Ireland, and most of the better nights we had were in Dingle. We stayed out very late listening to more Johnny Cash and American music on a guitar in The Dingle Pub with a couple of lawyers from Chicago one night and had a blast with them. Another night we listened to trad music at The Small Bridge Bar all night and hung out with a couple from Yorkshire who have been going to Dingle this holiday weekend every year for 23 years! Can you imagine? They were wonderful people.
    Trad musicians
    Dingle Lodging
    We stayed at Greenmount House all four of our nights in Dingle. It was by far the nicest B&B I have ever stayed in, and we will definitely stay there again on our next trip to Dingle.
    John and Mary Curran are fabulous hosts. The house itself is gorgeous, our room was huge and beautifully decorated. We had a wonderful little balcony with unbelievably views of the water and the land.
    Bruan the Newfie, a Dingle pup
    The breakfasts were delicious at Greenmount House. I ordered the savoury omelette every morning, and they had a huge array of fresh fruit and cheeses and toasts out on a buffet. Howie thoroughly enjoyed the salmon omellete special, and Lane and Allie had the full Irish breakfast each morning.

    I cannot say enough good things about Greenmount House. John spent so much time talking to us and giving us great tips for what to see and do in Dingle. He shared some great stories about how they got into the B&B business, and how the house has evolved over time. It was truly a lovely stay, and I can’t wait to return.
    One of the many animals we met in Dingle.
    Driving from Dingle to Galway
    I was sad to leave Dingle but we left after our fourth night for Galway via the Cliffs of Moher and The Burren. Wow. I don't really think there's much I can say about either, except that I now know why so much great literature has come out of such a small country—it must be hard not to be inspired living in such a phenomenally beautiful country. We explored The Burren along the coastline, and that was really incredible. Standing so close to the edge was scary at times, but worth it. John Curran at our B&B recommended we go along the coastline through The Burren and that was a phenomenal tip.
    The Burren was so amazing, and impossible to capture in a photograph.
    The Cliffs of Insanity!!!!
    Overall, the trip from Dingle to Galway took seven and a half hours total, and we drove 240 km. We were on the road for probably four and a half of those hours, and stopped for three of them. Again, the driving was wonderful and easy. (Easy for me to say since I was a passenger the entire time.) The scenery from the car was, again, breathtaking.

    When we arrived in Galway I was struck by how much it looked like a suburb, especially when compared to Dingle’s beauty.

    Galway Sights
    We spent our last two nights in Galway. There was a festival going on, so it was really fun being out in the streets. There was great music, street dancers, the whole nine. I wasn't super enthralled with Galway itself, but I'm glad we visited.

    We drove to Connemara National Park, Kylemore Abbey, and Ashford Castle our last full day in Ireland. Connemara was gorgeous. We only did the 45 minute hike, but when we go back we plan on doing the full shebang because we'd love to spend more time there. The white horses there were really stunning, as well. (Howie kept saying "She's a haunting beauty, she is" in his best Irish accent.)
    White horses in the Connemara
    Kylemore Abbey was shockingly beautiful in real life. I'm really glad we stopped there. As we were walking in we saw a poster advertising a school choir that was performing there that very morning, and lo and behold--the choir was from Illinois! So funny. I chatted with one of the chaperones in the gift shop and gave her my condolences upon hearing that she was traveling internationally with 85 high school students. I thought taking 42 high schoolers to Greece two summers ago was crazy. I bought a gorgeous little ceramic creamer at Kylemore Abbey and can't wait to use it.
    Kylemore Abbey
    I could have done without our visit to Ashford Castle, but I wouldn’t say it was a waste of time. It was beautiful, to be sure, but I think I’m more of a nature lover so I’d rather have had more time in Connemara National Park.
    Ashford Castle
    Overall, the trip from Galway to the sights and back was 215 km including all of the stops.

    Galway Eating
    We had the two worst dinners in Galway, and I was bummed that my last fish and chips meal was bad, because man will I miss that meal now that I'm back in the states. We had our first meal at Quay’s Pub and I don’t think it’s that the restaurant was bad, but the fish and chips there are breaded more like traditional chicken fingers here in the states. Our second dinner at Garvey’s was truly disappointing. My fish and chips were undercooked and the breading was soggy. Garvey’s looked like it was more of a local hangout than anything, and it was filled with very drunk men. Allie and I were actually the only women in there. I think they care more about their drink than their food there, which isn’t a bad thing. Unless you’re eating the food.

    Galway Nightlife
    Despite a mediocre meal at Quay’s Pub we had an excellent time drinking there after dinner. There was a great live band playing a very interesting variety of music—from Bob Marley to Tom Petty, in fact. They were fun, and the bar was packed with great people.

    Galway Lodging
    We stayed at Almara House in Galway. It’s definitely a long walk to city centre from the B&B, so we drove in each night. The B&B was very clean, and Matthew and Marie are very accommodating hosts. The breakfast was nice, and they kindly served us early on our last morning there so we could head out for our drive to Shannon after having a hot breakfast.
    Our room was tiny, and the bathrooom so small that I definitely came home with some bruises after banging limbs into the walls while trying to get ready. Despite the room being very small we had a lovely stay there.

    Driving from Galway to Shannon
    We left the Almara House at 8 to drop Lane and Allie off at the bus station so they could get a ride to Dublin. Howie and I then headed to Shannon to drop off our car and wait for our flight.

    Overall, the trip from Galway to Shannon took a little less than an hour, although I’m sorry to say I forgot to note how many km we drove. We left from Shannon on the Sunday before a bank holiday, so the road was practically empty. I imagine the trip would take a bit longer on a weekday.
    Sights, sights, sights
    In total, we drove 940 km. As I said earlier, Howie loved driving in Ireland, and as a passenger I have to say that this is the only way we’ll travel around Ireland in the future. We made so many small stops along the way that I didn’t even describe here, and being able to slow down and take in the scenery was part of the charm of the whole trip.

    In summary, amazing trip. The driving was easy and the scenery beautiful. We all loved the food. The landscape was so wonderful that we found ourselves pulling over nearly three times an hour to take pictures or just to take it all in. I was in heaven with all of the Border Collies and cows and horses and sheep everywhere. The people we met were all wonderful, and I’ve been feeling a bit of Ireland withdrawal since being home, if I’m honest.

    I think we went at a great time of the year. The only rain we had was a bit of drizzle for about twenty minutes our first morning in Dublin, and then on and off again for about an hour while we were at Connemara National Park. Otherwise, it was sunny and beautiful, and since we were there right before the major tourist season, the roads and the sights were not overrun with people, and often, we were the only people there.

    I cannot wait to return to Ireland. Slainte!


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