Slán go fóill, Ireland!

November 17- Our Last Day in Ireland

After almost two amazing weeks in Ireland, it was finally our last day…and I’ve got to be honest, there wasn’t anything over the top exciting or special about it. We were completely fine with that after the whirlwind of so many super amazing, magical moments. For breakfast, we walked a short distance from SkyBackpackers to The Bakehouse. It was a lovely little cafe with lots of fresh baked goods, coffee and hot chocolate. I ordered a hot chocolate and the bacon butty which was Irish back bacon served with two fried eggs and Bakehouse tomato relish on Bakehouse bloomer bread. The hot chocolate was super chocolatey and creamy and the bread was sooo fresh and soft. Delish!

Josh had a cappuccino (with the cutest snowflake design) and the salmon potato hash, a chunky wedge of potato hash with Wrights smoked salmon, spinach, poached eggs, and Bakehouse breakfast sauce. The Bakehouse sauce with the salmon and poached eggs was so yummy!

We still had a day left on our hop-on-hop-off bus pass, so we rode the bus over to St. Stephen’s Green. St. Stephen’s Green is a really pretty public park in the city. It was quite a chilly and cloudy day, so we didn’t enjoy the park as much as we would have had it been better weather. The park wasn’t far from Grafton Street, so we wandered over to peruse all the great shopping available. Grafton Street has everything you could ever think of- little shops and department stores full of clothes, shoes, food, home goods, toys, restaurants and cafes, everything! We spent quite a bit of time walking in and out of stores until lunch. We were definitely getting a little cold and ready for a break. I still had it in my mind that I wanted to eat at Stag’s Head since the beginning of our trip, so that’s where we headed.

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We ordered the breaded Brie cheese for an appetizer. The golden brown breaded Irish Brie cheese was served with a house salad, red onion marmalade, and balsamic dressing. The red onion marmalade was so delicious, I could have eaten that alone. The gooey, creamy Brie with it took it to a whole other level of yum.

 

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I was craving a big, hot bowl of soup and was not disappointed at all with the seafood chowder and brown bread. They used fresh, smoked seafood and it was made to order. So good!    

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Josh had the fish and chips- fresh Atlantic cod in a light crispy O’Haras beer batter served with chunky chips and homemade tartar sauce.

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After warming up and filling our bellies, we headed back out for more window shopping on Grafton Street. Eventually we ran out of stores that we were interested in, so we came up with a great idea to go see Justice League at a movie theater on O’Connell Street. The theater we watched the movie in was so huge that there were restrooms inside. And assigned seating. I don’t know why I thought that was all so cool, but it was! We both enjoyed the movie and it helped us fill up some more time before heading to the airport.

For dinner, we decided to go back to Murray’s Bar and Grill. I’m really glad we did. We had to have our last meal in a pub and I just couldn’t leave Ireland without one last meal of fish and chips. The Irish cod was fried in a light beer batter and served with a homemade tartar sauce and crispy fries. Josh had the baby back ribs and chips…so random, I know! We really enjoyed our food and having our last meal in a pub filled with cold drinks and music and laughter and fun.

After dinner, we walked back to SkyBackpackers to pick up our luggage. We loaded up our car and drove to the rental car drop-off. We got to Dublin Airport around 9 or 10 pm, but our flight wasn’t until 6 am the next morning. We were really hoping we would be able to print off our boarding passes and get through security, but no counters were open to check us in, so we had to go upstairs to the food court to spend the night. I mean, who doesn’t want to sleep on the booths at McDonald’s? (We totally debated back and forth about staying at a hotel for our last night, but decided against it to save money and not have to worry about transportation to the airport at 4 am).

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It was not glamorous by any means and we didn’t get much sleep, but it worked. If we had to do it over again, I think we would book a later morning flight so we could stay in a hotel instead of the airport food court. You live and learn, right?

The rest of our journey home was majorly uneventful- a short flight to Amsterdam, a 3.5 hour layover with naps and reading, an 8.5 hour flight to Chicago full of watching movies, a 5 hour train ride to Indianapolis with more sleeping and movies, and an hour car ride home. After all that time traveling, we were soooo happy to be home, words can’t even describe. And the best part was coming home to our cute pup!

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Tip of the day: Don’t book such an early flight that you have to spend the night in the airport food court! But, please please please, take a trip to Ireland as soon as you possibly can!!!

dublin or bust

November 16- Kilmainham Gaol & Dublin Zoo

Thursday morning we woke up to sunny, but quite chilly weather. We walked just down the block to Cinnamon Cafe for breakfast. I had hot chocolate and the breakfast bagel stuffed with bacon, sausage, and scrambled egg. Josh had a cappuccino and scrambled eggs, bacon, and toast. One part of the cafe I really liked was that they had a whole selection of fresh jams to try out. The cafe was nothing super fancy, but it was good, simple food and there were tons of options available to choose from.  

After breakfast, we had the whole day free to do absolutely anything. We had a few things left on our list of sight-seeing wants, so we purchased a 48 hour DoDublin hop-On-hop-off bus pass. Our first stop of the day was the Kilmainham Gaol. We found out on the bus ride over that the Gaol usually sells out pretty early, so if we hadn’t purchased tickets already there was a chance there wouldn’t be any tours left available. Thankfully, we arrived fairly early in the day and were able to snag tickets for a tour within the next half hour. If the Gaol is one of the top things on your list, I would recommend purchasing tickets online ahead of time just to be safe. The hour long tour was chock full of information. I was amazed at how many dates and stories about different rebellions (such as the Easter Rising) the tour guide was able to spout off from memory!

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Seeing the small cells and feeling the chill of the air in the West Wing, I was super happy that I would never be a prisoner there.

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My favorite part of the Gaol was the East or Victorian wing. It was the complete opposite of the West Wing- there was a huge skylight that let in the sun and every cell opened up into large airy room.

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Our tour ended at the Stonebreaker’s Yard. This is one of the most famous yards at the Gaol and where several leaders of the Easter Rising were executed.

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We waited for what seemed like forever to catch the next bus on the hop-on-hop-off tour, but finally it arrived and we were on our way to Dublin Zoo . I was super happy walking around the zoo, as it seemed almost every single animal was out and about, walking and moving around. We were super lucky to visit during November because they had just begun their Wild Lights exhibit which featured so many giant, beautiful, colorful lanterns shaped like the animals. We saw lions (we even got video of a male lion roaring!), leopards, orangutans, and penguins as we ventured through the Asian forests, orangutan forest, and the cove.

 

I thoroughly enjoyed the African savanna where several giraffes, rhinoceros, oryx, and zebra roamed free together.

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Walking through the gorilla rainforest and the Kaziranga Forest trail, we unfortunately didn’t see any gorillas or elephants. I tried not to be disappointed because up until that point literally every other animal had been out and active.

Seriously, how amazing were these Chinese lanterns?! The elephant lantern stood about 52 feet high and the Chinese dragon was almost 100 feet long!

And there was a giant sloth!

We were getting really hungry after touring the gaol and the zoo, so we hopped back on the bus and made our way closer to the city centre. We couldn’t decide where to eat, so after a little research, Josh suggested Beshoff. It was the cutest little restaurant with cafe seating and black and white checkered floors. Unfortunately, the food was so disgusting. We both had the fresh cod and chips and were very disappointed. I was only a few bites into my fish when i bit into a bundle of bones. No thank you! And it was overly greasy, even for fried fish. The chips weren’t good either, they tasted like they had been fried earlier and reheated to serve. I would not ever recommend going there to eat.

To make up for our gross lunch, we popped over to Gelato Di Natura Dublin to drown our sorrows in something sweet. I had the Fabbri Choccomint which was a very creamy, yummy mint chocolate chip. Josh had the cookies flavor which tasted like Biscoff cookie butter. Yum!

For our last night, we stayed at SkyBackpackers Hostel. Our friend, Alex, recommended it to us from when he had stayed there a few months before while in Dublin. The hostel was really fun and hip with lots of bright colors and fun decorations. They had free luggage storage, a kitchen, laundry room, and lounge areas with couches, books, and a tv with a variety of DVDs to watch. The hostel was also really close walking distance to Temple Bar and all the shopping areas. I would definitely recommend staying there.   

After getting our luggage settled into our room (we stayed in a 6-person mixed dorm to save money), we headed south across the River Liffey for dinner at The Bank on College Green. The Bank was such a gorgeous restaurant housed in a previous bank building. While waiting for our table, we ordered some drinks at the bar and took in our surroundings. There were large marble columns, chandeliers, and mirrored walls. The ceiling was beautiful, made up of stained glass and floral plasterwork. It was the perfect date night atmosphere with live piano music and the glow of candlelight with the lights down low. I can’t recommend this restaurant enough.

We thoroughly enjoyed the goats cheese and red pepper croquettes served with apple and celeriac remoulade and a horseradish crème fraiche for our starter.

For dinner, Josh had the fish of the day which was pan fried halibut with turnip purée, gratin potatoes, asparagus, baby carrots, and a lime and dill Hollandaise. I had the slow roasted pork belly served with an apple and cumin purée, champ mash, crackling, spiced white cabbage with chorizo and red wine jus. The pork belly was melt in your mouth and so good.   

Dessert was just as delicious! I had a warm chocolate brownie with fresh berries and Tickety Moo vanilla ice cream and honeycomb. Josh had the orangecrème brûlée with a raspberry coulis and shortbread cookie.

We went back to our hostel after dinner for their free beer/cider night hosted in the lounge. We ended up playing a game called Quiplash with a few other guys staying there. It was a pretty fun game, but a little hard to play with strangers. It would definitely be a good game to play with friends though. Once we finished our drinks, Josh and I walked a few blocks up to Murray’s Bar and Grill for drinks and live music. We sat at the bar (it was packed) which worked out really well to see the stage. The music was really good and the whole place had a great pub feel.

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Tip of the day: Don’t leave Dublin without eating at The Bank on College Green.

born to wander, born to roam

November 14- Slieve League & Old Bushmills Distillery

We started off Thursday morning with a great breakfast at Blas, the restaurant connected to The Gateway Lodge. It was a lovely little place with hardwood floors, chandeliers, and exposed brick walls- things that speak straight to my heart!

I had the Blas breakfast (full Irish breakfast with two fried eggs, sausage, bacon, black pudding, roasted tomatoes, mushroom, beans, and tomato relish) with orange juice and Josh got the eggs benedict with coffee. We also had toast with butter and jam. Great start to the day!

Seriously, how cute was The Gateway Lodge?

We packed up our luggage after breakfast and headed on an hour long drive to Slieve League. When we arrived, the area was gated off and there was no one in the parking area. I realized that we were about a half hour earlier than when they were supposed to open according to my Frommer’s guidebook. We checked out the signs and the gate. We didn’t see any hours posted, so we eventually just opened up the gate and walked through. Slieve League is a mountain on the northwest coast of Ireland. It isn’t as well known as the Cliffs of Moher, but the cliffs at Slieve League are almost three times higher!

We had the entire place to ourselves. There was a nice paved road that we were able to hike up to the top on. We saw tons of sheep everywhere, just sitting on the side of the road or grazing the mountainside. We veered off the paved road at one point to follow a trail through the grass. There were some great views and it made my day when a ram and sheep walked right in front of us across the trail (they were very nervous and trying to get as far away from us as possible, but it was still so cool).

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We walked back on the paved road and continued on to the end of the “trail”. I think it ended up being about a mile total. What a sight! I wish so much that my pictures conveyed how enormous and wild and amazing Slieve League was. As much as I enjoyed the Cliffs of Moher, I loved the scenery and having Slieve League all to ourselves even more.

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From Slieve League, we had a nice, long three hour drive to Northern Ireland. We stopped at a gas station/grocery store/coffee shop for candy bars and sandwiches to eat on the way. I opted for the safe option- ham and cheese (although the cheese was shredded which was different). Josh was a risk-taker and picked an egg and onion sandwich. It was surprisingly delicious, especially if you like the bite you get from red onion.

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I was really interested to see if crossing the border from Ireland into Northern Ireland would be noticeable. I thought that there was definitely a difference. There wasn’t a giant wall or border patrol or anywhere you had to stop (it was just like crossing from Indiana over to Ohio), but instantly the architecture and design of the buildings and the road signs changed. Everything became much more European which makes sense since Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. Our first stop in Northern Ireland was the Old Bushmills Distillery. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take any pictures on the tour, but it was a good one. We got to see the entire process of whiskey making, including the bottling portion. I thought this was especially neat as we hadn’t gotten to see that in any other distillery tour. Kind of random, but it also smelled amazing outside of the buildings…all those yummy alcohol vapors floating around!

At the end of the tour, we stopped at the Old Bushmills bar for a free drink. Josh tried the Bushmills 12 year. He said it was just ok, simple and smooth, but lacking any kind of spice. I tried a hot toddy (with the Bushmills Original) for the first time. I have to say, I didn’t really enjoy it. There was just too much whiskey flavor. So, Josh got my drink too!

After the distillery tour, we headed to Causeway Bed and Breakfast to check in. We were the only people staying that night, so it was nice and quiet. There was a living room with a tv, a sofa, and a loveseat and a dining area with tables and chairs. Our room was very clean and nicely decorated with an en suite bathroom.

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For dinner, we made our way into Portrush to check out the restaurants there. We ended up eating at Neptune and Prawn. I loved how the restaurant was decorated. It was very nautical and fun. We did not enjoy the food though. While the restaurant seemed to be a seafood place, the menu was actually quite Asian inspired. Which is fine, I totally love Asian food. It was more that the menu didn’t match the decor at all. It just threw us off. For an appetizer, we had the chilli chicken wings and duck spring rolls with hoisin sauce. The wings looked really good, but were nothing special. Just hot wings. The duck spring rolls were actually really good and we enjoyed those a lot.

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For the main course, I had the chilli chicken special fried rice with prawns and coconut sauce. Originally Josh wanted to order the salt & chilli fish and chips, but was told by the waiter that it was in fact shrimp and not fish at all, so he had the chicken chilli big bowl with udon noodles in a coconut broth instead. Both things sounded great on the menu and looked amazing when they came out. We were both so disappointed though because both of our dishes just tasted like hot sauce. There were no yummy flavors, just heat.

After dinner, we walked around the corner to Harbour Bar. It’s supposed to be one of the best pubs on the North Coast. It was really tiny, only about 10-15 people could sit inside. We were there pretty early, so we didn’t get to hear any live music. I imagine we would have enjoyed the bar a lot more if we had music to listen to. There really didn’t seem to be anything overly special about the bar. Josh tried the Bushmill’s Black Bush whiskey. I started on a Magner’s cider before realizing I actually had to drive back to the bed & breakfast (almost everywhere we had been staying was within walking distance to pubs and restaurants), so Josh had the rest of my drink as well.

We were both in the mood for dessert after Harbour Bar, but nothing at the restaurants nearby caught our attention, so we drove back to the Causeway B&B. There was a gas station right next door, so we popped in for “dessert” there- a Drifter chocolate bar, a Galaxy caramel ice cream bar, a Cadbury Crunchie Blast ice cream bar, and a Cadbury Dairy milk ice cream bar. We took our treats back to the house, sat out in the common area, and watched Big Bang Theory and Say Yes to the Dress while eating them. They were all super yummy. I think my favorite was the Crunchie Blast bar because it was honeycomb flavored ice cream (yes honeycomb!) with chocolate covering and popping candies.

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We got ready for bed pretty early (we were both pretty tired from all the driving) and ended up just laying in bed watching Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives for a couple hours. It actually turned out awesome because the episodes featured restaurants from Louisville, so I was able to add some fun new places to try to our list!

Tip of the day: Fish and chips on the menu doesn’t always mean actual fish…

finding joy in the journey

What a day. Ugh. This was definitely the “worst” day of our trip. Wednesday morning started out wonderful with an amazing breakfast served in the common area at Merrion Townhouse. There was a fresh cheese plate (bleu, Swiss, white and red cheddar), a meat tray (ham and salami), fresh fruit, toast, hard boiled eggs, tea and coffee, and basket full of fresh warm-from-the-oven scones and croissants with butter and jam. It was so delightful and very yummy! After breakfast, we set off on the hour drive to Connemara National Park. We had looked at their website online and picked out a trail to hike for the day. We saw some beautiful scenery along the way- wild, open spaces and much more uninhabited than other parts of Ireland.

I was hoping to stop at Kylemore Abbey for a quick picture (the abbey sits right on the edge of a lake and is gorgeous!), but when we arrived the whole facade of the building was covered in scaffolding. I was quite disappointed to say the least. We headed on to Connemara National Park…only to find that the park was closed due to a helicopter landing on Diamond Head to perform maintenance! Whhhhyyyy?!?! At this point, I was so frustrated because hiking around the park was half of our day’s plan, we had just driven an hour to get there, and the website hadn’t even mentioned anything about it being closed. And the weather was turning cloudy and rainy. I know that when traveling stuff doesn’t always go as planned, but we had been so lucky so far I was hoping to continue our streak!

With our morning plans foiled, we decided to drive to Croagh Patrick, the holiest mountain in Ireland. A friend of ours had recently lived abroad in Ireland and hiked to the top (she shared some amazing pics of the view on her Facebook), so we thought we should give it a go. Well, we only made it up about halfway up before calling it quits. The terrain was so rocky and quite hard to walk on- it went from shifty gravel to small boulders. It didn’t help that my boots were a tad big and my socks kept slipping and giving me blisters and Josh was having major foot pain and could walk only at the slowest pace. The weather at this time was also quite terrible with cold winds blowing right on us and rain pelting us. The view towards the beginning was beautiful, but as we kept on it got foggier and foggier until we couldn’t see anything but the path right in front of us. With all of this, I was miserable and we agreed to head back down.   

 

The best part of the whole mountain hike was on the way down when I turned around and saw a ram walking by. He walked slowly behind me, turned, and posed perfectly! I couldn’t have timed it better! He was so majestic!

Despite how yucky it was for us, I would like to go back again someday and hike to the top…as long as the weather is nicer!

We were tired, soaked, and almost numb from the cold, so we found the nearest restaurant we could, The Tavern. I had the special soup of the day (carrot and cumin soup) with a home baked ham and cheese sandwich. Josh had the traditional aged Irish beef steak and Guinness casserole (slow cooked beef with Guinness, root vegetables, and creamed potatoes). The food was very warm and tasty. It hit the spot just right after our cold, rainy mountain hike.  

From The Tavern, we had a two and a half hour drive to Donegal where we were staying for the night. It was a rather uneventful drive and one of our longest of the whole trip. We stayed at The Gateway Lodge in Donegal. When we pulled up, it reminded me of motels back home. The Gateway Lodge was way nicer though! We had a huge room, at least a king size bed, a little sitting area, and an en suite bathroom…with a towel warmer! If you’ve never used a towel warmer, you’re missing out for sure. I really wish we had one in our house!

The woman at the reception desk had given us coupons for Market House Restaurant, so after we got our luggage into the room, we walked the short distance to there. Market House Restaurant is located inside Abbey Hotel Donegal. I loved the lights down low atmosphere and the decor- it was traditional but with a modern twist. For an appetizer, we shared the warm goat’s cheese crostini (sourdough with roasted red pepper and a rich red onion compote). I ordered the house specialty, a Killybegs crab and prawn linguine with chilli and flat leaf parsley tossed in a white wine cream sauce. Decadent and delicious. I ate every bite. Josh had Steak on a Stone, a 100% Irish prime fillet steak (8 ounces) served on a hot stone with a trio of sauces (gravy, tomato relish, and compound butter), homemade chips, onion rings, and roasted vegetables. The steak came out on a piping hot stone which allowed him to choose how well done the steak was cooked. It was so fun and unlike anything we’ve ordered before.        

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With such an amazing dinner, we definitely couldn’t pass up dessert. Josh had the sticky toffee pudding (so good) and I had the house specialty (layers of homemade honeycomb, toffee sauce, banana, meringue, and vanilla ice cream topped with whipped cream). Honeycomb is one of my new favorite things- it’s crunchy, but melts in your mouth instantly and has a great honey flavor. I just love it!  

After our lovely dinner, we very much needed to do laundry. We found an address for a launderette and drove around to find it. We couldn’t find it anywhere and ended up in the parking lot at the local high school football field. We had almost given up on our drive back to the lodge when Josh spotted a stand alone laundry station next to the gas station! It had two washers and one dryer. We threw our laundry in the washer and sat in our car to wait for it to finish. Unfortunately, someone had laundry in the dryer so we had to sit around for almost an hour for theirs to finish and be picked up. After a few trips back and forth between the launderette and the lodge, we finally got our laundry dry (well, as dry as it was going to get). Thankfully, we had that awesome towel warmer in the bathroom to hang our socks up on to fully dry.  

We ended the night watching some TV and writing down notes about our travels. And it was so quiet, we had the best night of sleep!

Almost forgot to post some more yummy candy bars we tried!

Tip of the day: Find joy in the journey, no matter how small- like majestic rams on the mountainside, towel warmers, and the yummiest food. Also, don’t trust the Connemara National Park website to give you park closure information.

ireland is a dream

November 12- Cliffs of Moher, The Burren, & Galway

Originally, we had planned to go to the Cliffs of Moher on Saturday, but with the crappy weather we decided to hold off. And OMG I’m so glad we did! We woke up to beautiful, blue, sunny sky dotted with just a few fluffy white clouds.

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We ate a quick breakfast at The Central Hostel of cornflakes and toast (exciting, I know lol) and hit the road for the thirty minute drive to the Cliffs. We ended up getting there around 10 am, just about an hour after it opened. It was great, there were hardly any people around. I would definitely recommend getting there earlier- by the time we left around 11:30, it was jam packed with way too many people (and it was off season!). Side note: despite reading everywhere that it is free to go to the Cliffs, it is not free to park, so just be prepared to pay for that. It’s totally worth it. The Cliffs of Moher are like nothing I’ve ever seen before. They’re huge, majestic, and breathtaking. You could hear the ocean hitting the cliffs (the best sound ever!) and the sheer size of the cliffs was indescribable. There’s a small section you could walk around that was included in the official park portion, but then you could climb over a fence (leaving the official park area) and wander around at your own leisure. Of course, we had to climb over the fence. Seriously, you could go right to the very edge if you wanted! We totally did not because it was terrifying, but there were a few crazy, adventurous (stupid) people who went and sat on the very edges. I loved walking around and seeing the cliffs from all different viewpoints.

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We stopped at O’Brien’s Tower and as recommended by the Frommer’s Guidebook, we paid the extra euros to go to the top. Don’t do it. Totally not worth it. The view wasn’t any better in my opinion. In fact, it might have been worse due to all the merlons at the top (I had to Google what those were called, you’ll totally know what I’m talking about when you look it up).

If we didn’t have so much more of Ireland to see, I would have happily spent many more hours wandering around and enjoying the Cliffs of Moher!

Best “wet floor” sign ever!

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Next, we headed to Burren National Park visitor center. Which, if I had properly read our guidebooks, I would have known was closed in the winter months. No worries, we just followed some very obscurely written instructions from our Dummies Guide to Ireland book to lead us to a hiking trail in Burren National Park. The park is very large and has seven marked trails offering some beautiful views of the landscape- from woodlands and lakes to mountains and limestone rock. We started out on the blue route (Mullaghmore Loop) which is a three hour hike through very uneven ground and lots of limestone rock. There is so much limestone rock, it’s literally everywhere. It was such a drastic change from all the lush green and ocean views everywhere else we had been.

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We didn’t actually walk the entire blue route because it ended up being more rocky and uneven than we wanted to walk around on. It’s very much worth a drive through- the Burren was so wild and otherworldly, like we were on a different planet almost.

After our short hike at Burren National Park, we drove about an hour to Galway where we stayed for the night. We stayed at the cutest place, Merrion Townhouse. It was very clean and adorable, especially the dining room area with the exposed brick wall, hardwood floors, and bright blue fireplace. There were fresh scones and croissants waiting in the kitchen, so we helped ourselves to a little snack after bringing our luggage in. Our room was quite tiny, but they provided towels and water bottles for us and there was a TV with Netflix. It’s the little things!

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We got to Galway early enough we even had time to explore! It was one of my favorite places of the trip…if we ever moved to Ireland, Galway would be where we lived for sure. When I booked the townhouse, I didn’t realize we were in the middle of walking distance to “the Prom” and the city centre. The Prom (aka promenade) is in Salthill, a little seaside area in Galway with lots of hotels, bars, and restaurants along it. We stopped at Lana Restaurant for lunch, a yummy little Thai place that does eat in, takeaway, or delivery. I had the pad Thai (flat rice noodles with chicken, prawns, bean sprouts, lime wedge, and crushed peanuts) and Josh had Lana’s special noodles (udon noodles with fresh chili, coriander, crispy shallot, chicken, prawns, and vegetables). Our meals came out in little Asian take out boxes (I say little, but there was about a pound of food in each one) which we poured into bowls at the table to eat with chopsticks. So yummy.

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When we finished eating, we made our way down along the Promenade along the ocean. It was wonderful and relaxing. We saw so many people out walking with friends or their puppies or kids, just enjoying the ocean view and fresh air. There was a beach where we saw someone flying a kite and a couple playing fetch with their puppies. There was also a huge area with soccer fields and other activities.

My favorite part of the walk was when I just happened to catch a glimpse of a rainbow and snap a picture. Not ten seconds later and it was gone!

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I also loved seeing all the buildings along the River Corrib with boats lined along the docks.

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We finally made it down to Galway’s city centre. It was bustling with people. There were so many restaurants, pubs, and shops.

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We stopped in for a drink (Orchard Thieves and Guinness) at The Quays, as had been suggested by the sweet trio we met at Bunratty Castle the evening before. I never became less amazed at how huge every pub was once inside. From the outside, they always seem so small, but when you go in they go on and on and up and down.

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After our drinks, we walked back to the townhouse to relax in our room and plan out our next few days of adventures. We headed back up to the Prom for pre-dinner drinks at O’Connor’s Famous Pub. Yes, that’s the pub where Ed Sheeran filmed his music video for “Galway Girl”! Total fangirl moment for me lol. For dinner, we went across the street to Oslo Bar which is a microbrewery/gastropub. I had the Gannet fish and chips (fresh fish from Gannet Fishmongers in a Full Sail beer batter, chunky chips, crushed peas, and tartare sauce). Josh had the steak burger (100% Irish beef burger with onion, tomato, lettuce, and burger sauce on a Brioche bun and chunky chips). I enjoyed my fish and chips, but Josh thought the burger was too thin and overcooked. He did, however, enjoy his two pints of Full Sail IPA and the chips.  

We just had to go back to O’Connor’s after dinner for another drink. I’m super glad we did because we got a seat (two of the last available) just in time for some live music. I really loved O’Connor’s. It was such a great pub, really cozy, full of people with very eclectic decorations and stuff hanging everywhere on the ceilings and walls.     

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Tip of the day: Go to the Cliffs of Moher as soon as they open. And go to Burren National Park. And walk the Promenade in Galway. Basically, just recreate our day.

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merry feast

 

November 11- Minard Castle, Inch Beach, Slea Head Drive, & Bunratty Castle and Folk Park

Saturday morning, we had mine and Josh’s most favorite breakfast of the whole trip. After we got ready, we went downstairs to the dining room where we found juice, milk, and a few cereals laid out for us. Myra came in shortly after to take a coffee order and asked if we were ready for breakfast. Of course we were! It was so wonderful, you could hear the bacon and sausage sizzling in the pans and her putting breakfast together for us. When she brought our plates out, it was a lovely sight indeed! Our full Irish breakfast at Castlemaine included bacon, sausage, white and black pudding, roasted tomatoes, a fried egg, mushrooms, and soda bread or toast with marmalade and butter. Simply delicious!

Trying out the black pudding…it was actually quite tasty!

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With full bellies and well wishes from Myra, we set off on our adventures for the day. One of my best friends has a friend who lives in Ireland and it was suggested we stop to see Inch Strand and Minard Castle. As those happened to be on the way to Slea Head, we did both. Inch Strand (aka beach) was very pretty, but also so windy and cold, so we weren’t able to enjoy it for very long. I would definitely like to visit again when it’s warmer.

Minard Castle was neat because it was right on a beach, but we weren’t able to get a great look at it because it was on private property. It was still so fun to me to just happen upon a castle in the middle of the nowhere.

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On our way to Slea Head, we drove through Dingle which was a cute little fishing town. Dingle is also home to Fungie the dolphin and you can take boat tours to see him swimming nearby. We opted not to do this with it being November, but I think it would be great fun during warmer months.

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Leaving Dingle started us on the Slea Head Drive which is part of the Wild Atlantic Way. It was a gorgeous drive. With the more narrow roads, we opted to not drive all of the Slea Head Drive to save us some time. Instead of driving the entire circular route from Dingle and back, we stopped at Slea Head, drove up to Dunquin, then headed back to Dingle. Slea Head was wild and gorgeous. It was also pretty foggy, so we couldn’t see too much, but still amazing. I thoroughly enjoyed the amazing views and it was so neat to have green farmland dotted with sheep and cattle on one side of the road and cliffs and an ocean view on the other.

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One of my favorite road signs.

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I think we saved about an hour and a half to two hours by not driving all of the Slea Head Drive, so we had time instead to drive the two and a half hours to visit Bunratty Castle and Folk Park. I had read about a medieval feast offered at Bunratty Castle, so as soon as we got there we had to ask if there were spaces still available for dinner that night. There were! We bought our tickets for the castle and folk park and for the medieval feast (the feast was really expensive, but really worth it). On our self-guided castle tour, we were able to see a dungeon (!), the captain’s quarters, the great hall, the earl’s kitchen and pantry, the robing room and priests room, as well as the private and guest quarters. Everything was furnished as if back in medieval times and it was really neat. We even got to go up on the roof of the castle!

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After the castle, we went to the folk park to look around until dinner. The folk park included rural farmhouses, Bunratty House and its formal gardens, as well as an entire village street set up with shops. Several of the shops as well as the Bunratty House were closed which was really disappointing. I’m not sure if it was because of the miserable weather (drizzle and wind the whole time) or if it was just because it was a slower time of the year for them. Despite several places being closed, the folk park was so large and there was still so much to see.

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When we finished walking around the folk park, we were cold and wet and getting hungry. We still had a while before dinner, so we stopped in at the cafe inside the gift shop for a chocolate chip cookie (as big as my face!), a warm hot chocolate, and a coffee.

The medieval feast was spectacular. It was such a fun experience and like nothing I’ve ever done before. Seriously, how could you not love an interactive dinner inside a castle?! When we entered the castle, we were sent to the great hall. We were greeted by period actors dressed in beautiful outfits and offered a glass of mead (honey wine). We sat on benches and waited for all the guests to arrive, enjoying our mead and chatting with others. Once everyone arrived, the actors performed a welcome song complete with a harpist and explained a bit of the castle’s history. They even chose a random man and woman to be the Earl and Lady for the evening.

Next, we headed down to the main guard where the banquet was held. Everyone was seated on benches along long wooden tables and the food was served family style. On every table, there was red and white wine, as well as water in pitchers for us to drink. We had the most wonderful dinner company- a woman,  her boyfriend, and her mother (I think). They were so sweet, asking us about our trip and giving us some great suggestions for things to see and do on the remainder of our trip. The elderly woman was fantastic- the whole time she took care of Josh, she kept putting bread or more potatoes on his plate the whole night, making sure he was well fed.  

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We had a delicious four course meal (spiced parsnip soup-very light and yummy, spare ribs with honey and whiskey sauce- yes please!, chicken breast with potatoes, parsnips, and carrots- very good, and “lover’s delight” or fruit mousse- light, fluffy, and the perfect dessert after such a filling meal) in which we had only a knife to use for our silverware. During the feast, one guest was “trifling with the ladies of the house” and had to be put in the dungeon! It was great fun! To get out of the dungeon, the Earl of the evening declared Greg (the naughty guest) must sing a song in front of everyone. I could not stop laughing, it was so fun.

After dinner, the performers put on a wonderful performance of madrigal singing and harp playing. My favorite song was performed in Gaelic, so I have no idea what the words actually were, but we were told it was all about seaweed.

After the performance, we headed downstairs for coffee and tea and were escorted out by a man playing bagpipes. It was perfect.

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The Central Hostel was were we ended up staying for the night, about an hour drive from Bunratty Castle. It had dark, creepy hallways. The rooms weren’t dirty, but they weren’t clean either and the bathroom was across the hall from our beds. There was loud techno music playing until very early morning and the people in the room next to us were obnoxious. While it was really cheap to stay there, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.

Tip of the day: Attend a medieval feast, no matter the cost! It’s an experience you won’t soon forget!

the ring of kerry

November 10- Ring of Kerry

We woke up Friday morning to a cloudy sky and lots of drizzle. We wanted to get an early start on the Ring of Kerry, so we skipped breakfast and hit the road. Everything I read online and in my handy travel guidebooks recommended driving in a counterclockwise direction for the best views. I’m not entirely sure if it really mattered, but driving clockwise would have meant having tour buses pass me, so I opted not to chance it! On our route, we drove through Killorglin, Kells, Portmagee, and a few other little towns. All small and quaint and very cute. Since we hadn’t eaten breakfast yet, we pulled off at a beautiful viewing spot to snack on our cheddar cheese, tomato relish, and fresh soda bread.

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On our drive, we even almost saw a shepherd bring his sheep across the road, but he waited for us to pass instead. I was pretty bummed, how cool would it have been to have a herd of sheep cross the road in front of us?! When we saw a sign for the Cliffs of Kerry, we pulled over and parked in the little visitor center area. We were both kind of annoyed that we had to pay €4 each to park and walk up the hill to see the cliffs, but it was a view we didn’t want to miss out on. There was an area to the left and to the right- I asked the attendant which side was better, he said the left side. So, we decided to do both lol just to make sure. From the top, we could see Skellig Michael and Little Skellig. I had so very much wanted to take a ferry out to Skellig Michael because it’s famous for being home to lots of puffins during the summer months. As you can guess, we weren’t there in summer so there weren’t any puffins to see. And starting in November, there are no ferries that travel out to Skellig Michael because the water is usually too rough and choppy for it to be safe. Guess we’ll just have to make another trip during the summer months! The views were just incredible. I absolutely love the sight and sounds of ocean waves crashing up on the cliff side and this did not disappoint. Both the left and right side views were amazing, but the right side was a little better because you could see Skellig Michael a little better (not much, it was quite cloudy, remember). We spent several minutes just enjoying the view and snapping pictures. Definitely worth a stop if you’re driving the Ring of Kerry.

We hopped back in the car and headed on our way…on some crazy small roads. As we left the parking lot, I turned on to a road that was literally as wide as one car. I laughed to Josh that we must have turned onto a one way road. Almost immediately, to my great dismay, a van started coming down the hill towards us. Alright, so it was not a one way road. I kind of started to panic because I didn’t know how we were going to get past each other when I noticed little pull off areas on the sides of the road, just big enough for the passenger side wheels to fit over into. Those little pull off areas became my great friends over the trip! I slowed down, pulled off into the little area, and let the van pass- I’m sure he knew we were tourists as only other tourists seemed to slow down or stop when passing another vehicle while locals (who were obviously very comfortable with these tiny narrow roads) whizzed right on by.

As we continued on our way, we drove through a few more  little towns such as Waterville, Ballybrack, Derrynane, and Caherdaniel. We finally stopped in Sneem for lunch at The Blue Bull. Sneem had lots of fun, colorful buildings and a pretty view of the river running through it.

At The Blue Bull, we found a lovely seat next to the fireplace and ordered some food and drinks. I had a delicious chicken, cheddar, and pesto mayo on ciabatta sandwich, while Josh enjoyed the shepherd’s pie special of the day.

From Sneem, we continued on to Moll’s Gap where we happened upon a ram just standing in the middle of the road! Finally! As we passed him, he just stood there in a stately manner, taking it all in. I named him Dunloe (we were on our way to the Gap of Dunloe) and he’s my honorary pet now.

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By the way, I came to wonder quite often how the shepherds keep track of their sheep on the mountain and cliffsides…there are just so many sheep and so much land, it seems near impossible for someone to keep good track of them. I guess I’ll never know…

We drove a short distance into Killarney National Park for Ladies View which is supposed to be a scenic panoramic view of the Ring of Kerry. Unfortunately, it was very foggy and drizzling, so we didn’t get a great view at all. I took a picture of the road sign nearby, just to make sure I remembered what it was that I had even took a picture of! I really shouldn’t complain though, our drive around the Ring of Kerry was only one of maybe three days with bad weather on our entire twelve day trip!

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From Ladies View, we backtracked a little to go through the Gap of Dunloe. What a drive that was! And by that I mean terrifying. It was suggested in our guidebook that most people enjoy seeing the Gap by renting bicycles and riding through because the roads are so narrow. With the weather being yucky and it being November, we braved the drive. There wasn’t much traffic, thankfully, but there was enough to keep me on the edge of my seat. The view of the Gap was well worth the nerve wracking drive. Everything is just so beautiful in Ireland.

Plus, there were a ton of sheep outside the fences along the edge of the road which just tickled me to death. Judge me, I was definitely that person that stopped on the side of the road to take a selfie with the sheep.

We made it out of the Gap safe and sound, despite Josh telling me afterwards when I thanked him for believing in my ability to drive through it that he was in fact quite terrified we were going to lose a mirror the entire time!

We finished up our drive of the Ring with one last stop at Ross Castle for a few pictures.

Our final destination for the night was Castlemaine House Bed and Breakfast. It was actually almost as cheap as some of the hostels we had stayed at (and cheaper than the hotel in Kilkenny) and it ended up being one of our favorite places to stay over the trip. Myra was our hostess, very kind and welcoming. The B&B has been in her husband’s family for four generations and you could tell they were very proud of their place. I loved seeing family pictures from all the generations throughout the living room and dining area. We had a private room for the night with an en suite bathroom and everything was very clean and tidy.

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We were getting hungry, so Myra suggested we try Knightly’s Bar for dinner. We walked straight over there because they stopped serving food after 6 pm (I think because it’s a very quiet time for tourists and travelers during the winter months). Josh ordered a Guinness and I was super happy to find they had Orchard Thieves on draft. For dinner, I had the chicken and mushroom vol-au-vent with salad and chips. Josh had bangers and mash. Both were really very tasty and enjoyed in the cozy little pub with a fire in the corner.  

We settled in for the night pretty early to relax and catch up on some blogging/journaling- that long day of driving really wore me out!

Tip of the day: Even the most nerve wracking, narrow road is worth driving for the gorgeous views found all around Ireland.