Last year I had gotten pretty depressed about life in general, and one of the things that was a sticking point for me was that I hadn’t been overseas since London in 2011. I needed to go overseas again. J has no interest in Europe, he thinks it’s going to be dirty, and he says there are plenty of things still to see in our own country. True, but I have a need. So I said I was going overseas this year, no matter what, alone or together, I was going. And I wanted to go to Ireland. Since he won’t “let me” go on my own, he said he’d go. He ended up inviting his sister Jessica, her boyfriend Pat, and their mom Gail as well. I wasn’t sure how things were going to go, only because I don’t feel that I do well traveling in a group. Though I am of the philosophy that groups can break up, and can do whatever they want, if there is something they want to do that others don’t. So I was prepared to do several things on my own, but again J does not share that philosophy and insisted that we do things together. Ok fine, but that just means everyone is probably going to do a lot of things they don’t want to please the group. In the months leading up to the trip we discussed all the different things we wanted to do, and made a tentative itinerary that would take us from Dublin, north, then down the west side toward Shannon.
Flight + Day 1: Our flights were uneventful, though a little delayed leaving JFK, so we landed in Dublin a little later than scheduled, and Jess and Pat were waiting for us at the airport. We couldn’t check into our Air BnB until 8am, so we stayed at the airport, had some breakfast, and grabbed a cab to our place. First stop after getting our stuff together – the Guinness Store House. Nothing like a Guinness at 9am! The Storehouse was really cool, though maybe a bit pricey. They have a multi story museum about the history and creation of Guinness, including how it’s brewed, their historic advertising, and other info. Included with the ticket is a tasting in tiny little Guinness glasses, and a free pint which you can either use in their special bar where you learn how to pull a pint properly, or at their top floor Gravity bar, which has a great 360 view of Dublin. We chose our pint at the Gravity bar, and it really did taste better than a Guinness at home!
By the time we finished our pints, and checking out the view, it was lunch time, so we grabbed our first real meal at a pub called Arthur’s. It was near by our place, which was in the Liberties neighborhood. I had a corned beef sandwich, which was tasty, though I thought I had read that you really wouldn’t find corned beef in Ireland. With the early morning flights, and the time change which was especially hard on me and J because of our work schedules, we took naps in the afternoon. Jess and Pat had reservations at a fancy 2 Michelin star restaurant, but before that, we all went to meet up with an old friend of Pat’s at The Brazen Head pub, supposedly the oldest pub in Ireland at 1198. That makes it older than the pub we went to in England in 1996, which was 1400 something, pre-Columbian. His friend was someone from college, not an Irish woman, but she lived in Dublin for several years and had a lot of good info to share about places to go. They went off to their dinner, and J, Gail and I wandered over to the Temple Bar area, and to the Temple Bar itself. It was paaacked. Too packed for me, plus I didn’t really want to drink because I was still jet lagged, so I kept leaving them there and going to wander the neighborhood. I never got down to The Clarence, Bono and The Edge’s hotel, but I saw a good deal of the area, and crossed over the Ha’Penny Bridge to the North side of the river, where I ended up getting some amazing falafel because I was starving. Back and forth from the Temple Bar and the street, J was finally convinced to go to one of the many other pubs in the area, the Norseman, with the 2 young Belgians they had met at the bar. This one was more comfortable for me, because it wasn’t so crowded, and we managed to get a table where we could relax. Had a drink there before walking back to our place.
Day 2: Wandered around our neighborhood a little bit while everyone got ready to start the day. Went through the nearby market, which was really like a flea market, with a lot of junk and shoes and knock off Chinese crap for sale. Not super exciting (definitely not a food market). For breakfast we got the traditional Irish Breakfast at a pub nearby – 2 sausages, an egg, 2 pieces of bacon (really, slices of ham), mushrooms, beans, toast and pudding – not dessert pudding, but another kind of sausage, and it was probably blood sausage. It was delicious. Next on the list was Trinity College, specifically the Library and Book of Kells. I was only interested in the library but it’s all one ticket, so we got to go through the Kells display anyway. The library is gorgeous. And the smell of old books, lovely. After that was one of the things I planned to do on my own, the Little Museum of Dublin, specifically for their U2 exhibit. But everyone went, and it was actually pretty neat. It’s in a small house, 3 floors, and you get a 40 minute “tour” with your ticket – a guide who talks about the history of Dublin. The first floor was an exhibit on the history of pubs, the 2nd floor was history of Dublin itself through the last 200 years, and the 3rd floor was U2. The guide’s talk was fun and informative, and the U2 stuff was great (even for the others). Lots of photos of the early days, plus a pictoral time line of the band’s history and achievements. There was a full size statue of MacPhisto (!) and half a ZooTV trabbie you could pose with. Finishing there, we went to the National Museum of Archaeology, specifically for Jess to see the bog bodies exhibit. Super cool, how these bodies were preserved, so preserved that scientists could tell what their last meal was. That’s CSI shit! There were all kinds of other exhibits but we didn’t spend that much time looking at the rest of the place. Checked out some Egyptian mummies, some info on the Passage tombs, and early feudal Ireland etc.
After all the museums we were pretty hungry. We tried to go to a few places, but it was a weird time where many of them weren’t selling food because it was before dinner. We ended up at a place called 37 Dawson street, and it was great that we did. It was a super funky place, with all kinds of colorful furniture, art, taxidermy, more art, and more awesomeness. The food was good, I had a decent bloody mary. Pat left us to go nap, and we checked out a whiskey store and a tea shop before heading back. On the walk back to the house after, we went by St Patrick’s cathedral, which wasn’t open, but the park was. Pretty church. It started to rain (really, we had good luck, it had really only sprinkled, and for short times) which provided a nice rainbow. Back at the house, J napped too, and us girls just hung out. I had a headache, and none of us felt like going out again so when the boys woke up, they went out for some drinks while we stayed home and went to bed.
Day 3: We picked up the rental car, packed it up and headed out of Dublin. Pat took the wheel for the beginning, I was a little scared of driving in the city, and yes, we almost got in an accident immediately upon leaving our rental. He forgot to look right first, and yep, there was a car. haha. We grabbed some lunch to go and headed out to Newgrange – the megalithic passage tombs. Jess was nervous that we wouldn’t get in, as they only allow 750 in per day (or on Saturdays, not sure), but we made it there in time to get into both Knowth and Newgrange. Knowth was up first, and they bus you over to the site where a guide waits to walk the group around and explain the site. Knowth is the bigger of the tombs in that area, but you are not allowed inside, as it’s basically a crawl space. Around the main mound were several smaller mounds, which was neat because the other site doesn’t have those. They also have stairs leading to the top of the main mound which give a great view of the complex and countryside. After Knowth they bus the group to Newgrange, where again a guide explains the site and this time you get to go inside. Newgrange was built perfectly aligned to the sunrise on the winter solstice, they do a lottery for a chance to experience it, but for those who never will, they reproduce the effect while you are inside the tomb, and it was super cool. These are the oldest structures you’ll ever see, as they pre-date the Pyramids and Stonehenge. It’s incredible to see what these early humans achieved without any modern equipment and knowledge. The Knowth tomb was excavated and recreated, but the interior of Newgrange was completely intact and needed no restoration. Awesome, in the true sense of the word. There was another passage tomb we were going to go to, about an hour away, that was not as touristy, and you have to get a key from a pub to let yourself in, but we weren’t going to have time to get there before said pub closed 🙁 So instead we headed the rest of the way to Belfast for the night. Another AirBnb, which was a quick walk to an area of shops and pubs. We went to check out the Crown Liquor Saloon, a pub I had seen online that looked amazing – super opulently decorated, with little snugs (walled in booths with a little door for privacy) which we managed to snag when a group of young girls were leaving and I was standing closest to the door haha. We had some drinks there before moving onto another pub I had mapped, Muriel’s. We were hungry but were too late for food, so after a few cocktails there, we ended up at a brick oven pizza place which was delicious.
Day 4: One of the things I wanted to do in Belfast was the Black Cab Tour, which takes you around the city, giving the history of The Troubles – the conflict between republicans and loyalists/protestants and catholics. While planning the trip I never realized that this was something you had to book in advance. Bus tours I was looking at for Giant’s Causeway all mentioned stopping in Belfast for a few hours, where you could get one of these tours, so I assumed there was a location to go to to catch one of these cabs, but nope. Several companies run the tours, but you have to book it in advance, and after a few calls we were able to book one…but not until 2pm. It was later than we had intended to take it, but there was a marathon that morning which impacted availability. So we went to brunch at a place called The National. Good food, but I was unable to have a bloody mary because it was before noon. Blah. We still had some time to kill after we ate, but J wanted to stay at the restaurant and keep drinking. I had no interest in wasting my time, not seeing the area we were in so Jess stayed with him at the restaurant, and Gail, Pat and I left to wander the neighborhood. We went by St Anne’s Cathedral (but it was mass), and 2 other churches (one abandoned!), went back toward the restaurant a different way, and found the cute, trendy “cathedral quarter” area, full of more pubs and street art. Found a neat bar called the Harp, retrieved the others and had a drink there before going back to the rental to catch the cab tour.
Only he was late…45 minutes late. J was annoyed and ready to give up right when he showed up. The tour was about 2 hours, and takes you to all the major memorials, street art and murals, the peace wall, etc. It’s really quite sad and supposedly, depending on who you have driving the cab, you’ll get a different perspective due to their own personal opinions. Our driver was former IRA, and you could tell where his loyalties lie, but it still seemed like a fair tour, not too one sided. It was interesting, as I don’t remember anything about it really, I was too young. Since the tour started late, we were still in town much later than anticipated and we needed food before leaving town. We happened to be near Crown again, so we went there for dinner. Bad idea, as they were short staffed, and it took forever. Jess was on edge because our car was still at the rental, which wasn’t ours anymore. Finally we were able to get served and eat, and headed out of town. The original plan was to try to get to Giant’s Causeway for sunset, but we also wanted to stop at the Dark Hedges along the way. We got to Dark Hedges right at golden hour which was great. So pretty! We thought we were the only ones there, as when we parked at the little lot, we were the only car. Turns out everyone else was parked at the other end, boo. And the street under the trees is still used, so cars went through fairly often. No matter, it was super cool. After, Pat raced (did I say he drives like a maniac? He does.) toward the causeway to get there in time, and it was a bit scary at times…racing too fast down these super narrow roads surrounded by stone walls on each side, with blind curves. J ended up yelling to slow down, just saying what we were all thinking. And we didn’t make it in the end, but that was ok. We checked into Carnside Guest House for the night, ran into Bushmills for dinner at the Bushmills Inn, then an early night.
Day 5: So I had suggested Carnside because of some blog I had found online that stated it was the closest hotel to the Causeway, a 5 min walk…welllll that wasn’t quite accurate. There was a hotel practically on top of the causeway, where all the trails begin. And our place MAYBE could have been a 5 minute walk to the Causeway visitor center and parking, but from there, the trails begin and it’s still a bit of a walk to the actual Causeway. Google said it was a 45 min walk from Carnside. BUT!! Turns out it’s a working farm with 200+ cows, and a “fun farm” petting zoo type place with goats!! Awesome. So I had the idea to get up and walk over for sunrise, and I figured I’d go alone or with Jess since she is also a photographer, but everyone wanted to go. When we realized it really wasn’t going to be walkable, we drove over to the visitor center and walked from there, around 7 am. And while the sunrise is not as nice as sunset, it was still going to be great to be the only people there. Until we weren’t. Arg! There was a film crew there working with a drone, for what turned out to ultimately be a video about an Irishman who had cancer who now runs marathons. For a while they were just doing test runs but told us when they were ready to film they’d need us to huddle out of the way, which was fine. Besides them, we were the only people there which was nice. The Causeway was gorgeous, unlike anything I’ve seen before. That said, it was also a bit of a let down because it was a far smaller area than I had thought it was going to be. Jess felt the same. We walked over the pillars for a while, lots of photos taken, before the film crew needed us to move. It wasn’t a long shoot, we just hid behind some very big pillars, and it was ok. Walked around the other side of those pillars, taking more photos. It was great.
Back to the hotel I checked out the farm situation. The fun farm has a room of small animals, mostly rabbits and guinea pigs. Then you can keep going to a bar in the back. The door was locked, even though signs said it was open, so I snuck through a bigger barn door and GOATS! And chickens, and baby cows, and deer. They were all in pens, but not like, veal pens. I felt sorta bad though, there is so much land to let them out on. I’m going to tell myself that they let them out, and it was just early morning so they were still inside from the night before. No one was around to ask. Grabbed some breakfast we managed to acquire even though we were late, then we continued our day with the Carrick-a-rede rope bridge. We decided to do that first, before Bushmills Distillery, since whiskey and a rope bridge was probably not a good idea haha. Turns out we played it right as the weather was gorgeous while we were there, and got gloomy and sprinkled while at Bushmills. The rope bridge was fantastic! I was super impressed, partly because I had lower expectations for this than for the Causeway. I really just thought it was a rope bridge, you walked over it, you walked back, done. Turns out there is a whole hike leading up to the bridge, with fantastic scenery, clear blue water as if you were in the Caribbean instead of the North Atlantic. The bridge itself is safe, given that 1000s of people cross it each day, and it leads to an island where fisherman used to cast their nets (and then carry them back across the bridge, which used to really just be A rope). It was beautiful. The bridge didn’t bother me, it was fun! The others were a little bothered by it, but I’m far more bothered by standing near the edge of a cliff, which could fail at any time, or where a misstep will send you over, than this bridge. It was great. Highly recommend it.
We went back into Bushmills to go to the distillery since we hadn’t been able to go to Jameson in Dublin, and J was mad about it. We had perfect timing for the tour which takes you through the whole process from soaking the grains to distilling and bottling. The end of the tour gets you a small tasting, and then a free serving of whatever you like (except the 21 year old whiskey, which was 10#). You could also do just a whiskey tasting of 3 , or a fancier expert tasting which took 45 minutes or something (which J wanted to do, and the rest of us vetoed because we had a 5+ hour drive ahead of us, so he was mad, again). They did taste the 21 year old though, and though I don’t like whiskey I can say it was better than the younger ones.
Leaving there, the plan was to get to one of the passage tombs on the western side of the island, that is less touristy and is not part of any official park or whatever. We started our route there, but as it got later and later, and then when Jess realized it required a 20 minute hike to get there, we decided to skip it. I was driving at this point!! It really wasn’t that difficult to adjust, though I had to look both ways many more times since I was always unsure which way the traffic was coming from first, just to be safe. Anyway…J was highly annoyed and mad about everything at this point. He had been pretty miserable, claiming we didn’t do anything he wanted to do. And he’s not wrong, but the fact of the matter was he planned NONE of the trip. For months ahead of time we asked him to find things he wanted to do, and he didn’t. So we didn’t make special time to make sure he got to go to Jameson, and we didn’t spend every night getting drunk in a pub, and he was pissed about it. He was tired of being in the car with crazy driving Pat (amen) and we had a few more hours to get to Galway. So he sorta freaked out. It was upsetting, but we got to Galway and checked into our AirBnb. Our host was ridiculous! She was waiting for us with bottled water and cake, hugged everyone, super super friendly. We immediately headed out for dinner to the Latin Quarter on Quay street, which was very close by. Everyone was pretty tense and uncomfortable but we ended up at an Italian restaurant, which was nice, and J mellowed out. Afterwards everyone went back to the house, and I went with J to the Kings Head pub, since I knew how mad he was about everything, and I had told him over and over that Galway was where he was going to want to be, for pubs and traditional music etc. There was a band playing in back, and it was crowded in the room, but we found a place at the bar. It devolved into an upsetting discussion about how miserable he was, and blahblahblah. It sucks because this is the exact kind of vacation I want. Seeing as much as I can in a little amount of time, moving from place to place. And he hated it, he hated moving every day, hated all the driving (which I tried to break up so he wouldn’t be in the car so much, which is part of the reason why we ended up moving every day, to avoid 5 hour drives every time we moved). He wants to spend every night in a pub, sleep in, relax. I want to see the world. And this is why he should let me go places without him.
Day 6: Our host made us breakfast! It was not something I realized was going to be included with our stay, but it was really nice. (Crepes!) I had booked us a 5 mile hike from Doolin to the Cliffs of Moher with a local farmer who was well reviewed. Given the tense state of affairs, the fact we’d have to leave very early to get there in time, and the soreness of my legs, I suggested we cancel it. We could still go, but on our own time line. It was decided the best thing would be for J to stay in Galway and not go to Cliffs with us. More driving, more miserable, and it was the right play. The drive was almost 2 hours, narrow roads, hair pin turns, etc. It was rainy when we got there, and yeah, he’d have hated it. He got to stay in town, sit in pubs all day, and he ended up meeting this older Irish lady named Fiona and he had a great time. Good. Vacation redeemed. Back to the Cliffs. Along the way we passed Dunguaire Castle, and since we didn’t have a schedule we decided to stop and check it out. It was surrounded by bogs, very pretty. It wasn’t anything giant, but it was nice. Back on the road, over the Burren – weird bare mountains that look like spirals from space. When we got to the Cliffs it was raining..not pouring, but a whole lot of mist and fog, so our view was interesting, and then got worse, but the rain moved out and the view got clear again. Again, gorgeous. We mainly stayed on the trail around the visitor center, which is not all that far. The hike would have been interesting, but given the weather, I’m glad we canceled. We were having a good time until….well…basically Pat got into a fight with a group of trashy Americans. As in, a literal fists throwing fight. It was stupid and nuts, and Jess was rightfully super upset about it, so that led to a quick exit and a downer on the experience. I drove home, and we stopped at a jam shop and a sweater shop, got some jam and sweaters lol. By the time we got back to Galway, it was dinner time, so we found J at the pub he’d been at with Fiona and grabbed some really good Chinese take away. Hung out there for a while, Gail and I went wandering, and eventually we went to another pub for beer and music. J stayed out later, the rest of us went home for the night. J had a good time, and was happy finally.
Day 7: Our last real day in the country, we wanted to explore Galway, since we hadn’t yet, before heading to the Shannon area for our last night. Our host made us breakfast again (fruit and scones), and we headed out to check out the Latin Quarter in the day light, see the Spanish Arch, and check out the shops. J’s new friend Fiona had invited us to her house on our way to Shannon, so after lunch we took her up on that. She made us scones too haha. Made our way to Bunratty Manor, which was down the street from Bunratty Castle. The castle offered a midieval dinner, but we didn’t know about it until we got to the hotel, and it was sold out. Boo. It would have been a neat thing to do. We walked down to the castle anyway, and though we couldn’t go in, we walked around the park, and grabbed dinner at a pub across the street. Early night in, since we weren’t really near anything else, and we had to leave for the airport in the morning.
Flew home the next day, exhausted, but happy. Even if J hated it, I had a great time, I loved everything we got to see, and I would definitely go back.
Random observations as I remember things:
- Everything in Belfast was closed Sunday morning until after masses were finished. Aside from the few restaurants offering brunch, other restaurants and shops, all closed.
- The Irish are really the most friendly people of all the countries I’ve traveled to.
- I guess I cut the entire line waiting to get into the Trinity Library and Book of Kells. There was a security guard at the door to the gift shop/ticket counter/entrance, and a line of people going away from him. Well, I just walked past him and into the shop. He didn’t stop me, didn’t inquire where I was going, he just looked at me and I walked in. I had intended to just ask a question about the ticket, there were a few people inside in line, so I just got in line behind them, and when I got to the counter and asked my question, I just bought the tickets and went in. I didn’t realize that the library and the book were the same thing, and that the line outside was for the whole thing. I had only read about the book having long lines, and I didn’t care about the book, so I didn’t realize the line was for both. But I don’t feel bad, because the line outside was not long, and it was not going to take a long time for them to go in. Also, Pat had walked into the gift shop and up a set of stairs, which turns out go into the library, all without paying or being stopped. So if you feel like cheating the system, you don’t need to wait in line AND you don’t need to pay. Just go in the gift shop and up the stairs.
- We all got sick with colds by the end of the trip. Boo.