A trip that starts with an empty seat in an exit row on a shiny new plane, with TVs that work and show free movies from this year – how could it be anything but amazing?And so after a crazy busy Thanksgiving market, we dumped things at the house and headed immediately to the airport… the usual boring flight to Montreal, some blah airport eats, another ice shortage at the Montreal airport (every frigging time I want an iced coffee at that airport!!!), and an overnight flight with little to no sleeping, and we arrived in Dublin early Sunday morning (our flight even got in 40 minutes early)… taxi to the hotel, dump the bags until the room is ready, and off to wander the city. Breakfast, a short walk, and a coffee… and the lovely people from the Gresham hotel call to say our room is ready – 5 hours before check in! Yay for showering!
To make sure we survive the time difference, we always just power through and stay up the first day… so we spent a bit of time exploring Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin Castle, and Dubh Linn Garden.
Then to make sure we stayed awake, I booked us a craft beer and food tour. Our guide Suzanne, from Irish Food Trail, was excellent. I have a lot of appreciation for Irish sarcasm – these are my people! The tour made three stops… Gallagher’s Boxty for assorted potato eats and beer, The Oak for a main (fish n chips, steak and Guinness pie, or mushroom risotto) and beer/cider, and finally Oscars for Irish cream cheesecake, an Irish coffee making lesson, and Irish moonshine. The tour lasted over 3 hours and was a great way to spend the afternoon, getting a feel for the area, and making sure we didn’t sleep. To Porterhouse after that for some amazing local craft beer, and one of the best IPAs I’ve had anywhere. Then we decided we were allowed to go back to the hotel and go to sleep. We crashed until about midnight, when we both ended up wide awake… and then went back to sleep and were dead to the world until just before 8:00, when Greg just happened to wake up in time for us to throw our shit back in bags, check out, and meet our tour. Oops.
See ya later Dublin… time to see some more of the country. And off we went to Galway… a quick service stop (handy, since we didn’t have time for food or drinks before we met the tour) and a lovely drive through the Irish country side with our excellent guide Alex and a pretty damn decent bus full of strangers. I didn’t feel the need to throat punch a single one of them 🙂
We stopped in Cong en route to Galway with time to roam around. I love the freedom of tours that pretty much just drive you place to place (because sometimes I just don’t want to drive… it means Greg gets to drink all the beer!!), give you some useful info, and just tell you when to meet the bus back. With very few exceptions, I don’t like being guided places, so this was perfect. We explored the remains of Cong Abbey, hiked a little through the woods, and walked down to see Ashford Castle (now a luxury hotel, so we viewed it from afar), and grabbed a sandwich. Cong is “famous” for a movie called The Quiet Man (which I have not seen and know nothing about).
Back en route to Galway after this, with a few quick stops along the way. We got into Galway mid afternoon, checked into our B&B (Aaron House, very basic but fine), and headed off to explore Galway. We decided to beat the rain by taste testing some local craft beer at the Salt House… I love pubs with character, and this one had plenty. We explored a bit, I may have bought a super cozy Irish sweater (or Greg bought for me), stopped for delicious eats at the Kings Head (an 800+ year old pub whose name has historic links to the beheading of Charles 1), listened to some street performers, and finished the night off at O’Connell’s (at the suggestion of our awesome guide Alex) in its awesome beer garden.
We started the next morning running a bit late because the bus wouldn’t start, but that wasn’t the end of the world. They got it fixed back up as soon as they could and we were off (and thankfully we had a nice group on our small bus… no one losing their damn minds or anything). First stop of the day, Dunguaire Castle (where if you walk around the outside edge of the castle in a counter-clockwise direction, you become a virgin again!).We worked our way through the Burren, stopping here and there to have a look at things (rocks, leprechaun churches, stunning landscapes), on our way to the main attraction for the day – the Cliffs of Moher. These were beautiful, despite overcast weather and crazy wind. We spent a few hours hiking around here, admiring the view, and trying not to get blown over the side – so fun! I’ll admit it, I was nervous in a few sections… I have no issues with heights, but heights with wind strong enough to move a person and a sharp and pointy drop to water many many feet below… not my fave. This of course, is perfect for Greg… and since we were exploring well outside their “trail”, there wasn’t many people. If heights and wind aren’t your thing, there is a walking trail a bit further back from the cliffs for for large parts of it (where there isn’t already a wall). It wasn’t completely clear, but we could see one of the Arran Islands.
Lunch in Doolin and then we switched buses to head back to Dublin for the night. The bus we switched to was a day tour full of seemingly cranky people, with only terrible seats left. We stopped briefly at Bunratty Castle to take a quick look and have a “comfort stop”. Arlington Hotel for the night (picked purely based on ease of drop off from this tour and catching up with the next one), some Mexican fast food (an Irish version of Chipotle, but better), and called it a night.Next up, off to Belfast. Met the tour, joined our bus (ended up with some people that were on the last tour), and away we went. First stop, Monasterboice – remains of Christian settlement and famous for 10th century high crosses (including the tallest in Ireland).
And then on we went to Belfast with our guide Patrick. Once in Belfast, we had a few hours to do whatever we liked, and so we opted to do a Black Taxi tour. I wouldn’t call this a fun activity, but I think it’s a must do when you’re there. Being from away, you never really know what kind of issues a country has, and it’s always more interesting to learn about it from a local. I’ll admit, I had no real idea how things currently are and that the troubles are definitely not done and forgotten. We toured a lot of the murals, including one where what is essentially a terrorist flag is flying (which is illegal), and the authorities won’t take it down for fear of repercussions. There’s still a wall, most of the gates of which get locked every evening, separating the Catholic and Protestant sections of the city. Our driver insisted we vandalize the peace wall (I scribbled over an effing swastika and left a little message). Some of the murals are amazing, some of them are downright disgusting… some of them are openly recruiting terrorists. It was definitely a pretty eye-opening tour. Our driver was really charming though, and I have to agree with his assessment that some of the people who have done some of these things in this country are indeed effing monsters.
With some time to spare before meeting the bus back, we had some Marks & Spencer takeaway lunch, walked around their beautiful City Hall, and basked in the sun like lizards (because it possibly the first time we had seen the sun in Ireland and it was beautiful and 20 degrees out).
Next up – the Titanic Experience. I remember being fascinated by this ship as a child and I wrote my first long report in French about it. Belfast has done a great job with this museum, set on the grounds where Titanic was built. Sometimes it’s a bit hard to see the exhibits because of crowds, but there’s a little ride you can take and several floors of exhibits to look at. You can also go out to the area where they built and floated out the Titanic. And, if you’re a Game of Thrones fan, they shoot some of the show at Titanic Studios, right behind the museum (and a Kings Landing set is currently being built there).
After our visit to the Titanic Experience, we were dropped off at our B&B for the night (Botanic Rest – nicer than the one in Galway, but still fairly basic). We wasted no time heading out to explore, since we had the rest of the day to ourselves. Walked around city center, had some tasty eats at Kitchen Bar near Victoria Square (mmm curry and chips), had some beer at Bittles (a tiny little whiskey/beer joint with character), walked around some more, and had a lovely night in the great weather.
Met back up with the tour (or a new tour, with Paul) the next morning for more exploring in Northern Ireland. There was most definitely people I wanted to throat punch on this one… why oh why oh why can people not de-bus (and de-plane for that matter) in order… it’s NOT ROCKET SURGERY!!! Don’t be an asshole! (sorry, giant pet peeve)
The weather was hit or miss for most of the day… in that it mostly stopped raining when we were in the bus, and the second we got out of the bus, it started again. We didn’t melt, but we did get wet and cold a few times. First stop of the day, the Dark Hedges (really old, and pretty cool, trees – now famous from having been in Game of Thrones). They aren’t quite as neat with a few tour buses of people there in a downpour with a couple of tanker trucks spraying liquid shit on the surrounding fields… but whatcha gonna do?And then on to the highlights of the day… first, the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge… the bridge only takes a couple of minutes to cross, and thankfully we had a rain free period for that part, but the views all along the coast are outstanding. Bring on the nature stuff and wide open spaces! We were sort of in the start of off-season for tourist attractions for Ireland, which also helped a lot with crowds.
We finished up exploring just as it started to rain, and so back to the bus and we made our way to the Giant’s Causeway. It was pouring when we arrived and we were wet and freezing… we had a couple of hours to explore there and we opted to use the first 30 minutes of it to head to a nearby pub and have a scalding hot bowl of chowder to warm up (well, I did… Greg had fish pie and beer). It’s a neat pub, a bit pricey (though expected given its proximity to a major tourist attraction), but the lovely fire was much appreciated. It’s in an old school house, and the old long desks are the tables.
Post warming up a bit, the rain had died down some, and off we went to explore the Giant’s Causeway. You could easily spend much more time here… but in our jam-packed adventure, we worked with what we had. Lots to climb, amazing landscapes, really fun to explore. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage site (Galway is a UNESCO City of Film and Dublin is a UNESCO City of Literature). So enough explaining rocks… look!!!!
A quick stop to see Dunluce Castle (I definitely would have liked time to explore this) and then the trek back to Dublin. Grabbed a taxi to our next hotel (a lovely hotel outside of the center of the city, but within walking distance of everything – Mespil Hotel). Checked in, admired how lovely it is compared to all our other “booked for convenience” or “not by me” accommodations, and opted for a quick bite at the hotel restaurant. We were all “bussed” out by this point, so it was nice to have a home base and less sitting for the rest of the adventure.
Back in Dublin for the rest of the trip, we did plenty of exploring. First up this morning, a tour of the Guinness Storehouse… when in Dublin, right? It was fine, but we went pretty early in the morning and it was already fairly busy – I wouldn’t want to be there when it’s packed. We did the self-guided tour and had some beer. Raining again by the time we finished, so we walked around Dublin a bit, popped into the Beer Market (for you guessed it), and then kept on keeping on. The rain stopped shortly thereafter and it was pretty lovely for the rest of the day.
Stopped in for a treat at the Queen of Tarts bakery (their vegan chocolate cake is pretty good, but mine is better), explored Trinity College, paid the ridiculously high price to go in and see the Book of Kells (unless you are really into that kind of thing, not worth it in my opinion… I’m calling this something I should know about as a travel agent, and not something I was interested in seeing)… it’s bonkers packed in there (and we went when it wasn’t busy), so you can’t really read the displays, the book is very small, and you can only ever see two pages. The library is pretty cool though – I enjoyed that a lot more. But still too overpriced.
More exploring, seeing the Molly Malone statue, walking along the River Liffy, the famine memorial, the Jeannie Johnston ship, a delicious Irish Coffee at Kennedy’s, and eventually through St. Stephen’s Green (lovely park) and back to our hotel. Supper at Searson’s Pub (packed to the rafters with Irish rugby fans), a few little stops, and back to our hotel after a pretty full day of exploring.
Saturday morning, we had a really expensive but bonkers delicious breakfast (I needed food with no potatoes in it) at Eathos, and waited for our awesome friends Wes and Liz to get into Dublin from Manchester to spend the weekend with us. The rain didn’t let up until evening on Saturday, so we hit the pub (The Hairy Lemon), walked through a lovely mall (the mall itself was lovely, not the stores), and had some lunch… and then split off for a bit so they could check into the hotel and we did some more walking around. We met back up in the evening to spend the night with them and their family at Murrays (for drinks, eats, live music, and great company).
Our last full day in Ireland was another beautiful and sunny one… off we went on the DART with Wes and Liz to Howth, a beautiful little seaside town. Had some eats, walked along the seawall, found a pub (of course), and enjoyed the beautiful weather and great company. Back to Dublin mid afternoon (they had a flight home to catch), and more exploring… including some more time exploring Trinity College (when it wasn’t raining), a very quick walk through Temple Bar, picking up a few treats to bring home, supper at the Waterloo, and an early night (we were tired).
Flights home were uneventful (watched movies), flights mostly went on time (only a 30 minute delay on the last flight), and that’s a wrap.
Ireland is beautiful, the people are so friendly and welcoming and love a good chat (well, I love chatting, so that works)… I gotta say, it’s up there with Iceland and I’ll definitely be back (so much more to see). I could tell you some of the many lovely stories people told us, but they do it better, so…
You should go to Ireland.
PS: Craic means fun and hookers is slang for beer… fitting for sure.