Ho-lee cow. We’re back from our 20 day tour of Ireland, and boy, do we have stories to tell. I’m jetlagged as all get-out, but it’s the “good” kind that you get when you go east-to-west. Going to Ireland was hard since we basically stayed awake for almost 40 hours straight on only 3 hours of sleep. Turns out you can’t sleep much in coach with crying babies sitting around you. Why are there always crying babies? Once we got there it was 11 a.m. and we forced ourselves to stay up until nightfall to make the adjustment. The first few days we were pretty tired but eventually got used to it.
So how was the trip? How can I possibly compress 20 days, 1000 miles driven, and 2000+ pictures into a few paragraphs? Honestly, I sort of balk at the challenge since doing a really thorough write-up would be impossible, and doing anything less would be a shame, so I probably won’t post much more about it here except to say these few words:
1. CASTLES ROCK. We saw many, many, MANY ruins and castles and we just went nuts about them.
2. Ireland = rain. The island normally gets 50mm of rain during an average August. This has been the wettest August on record, with some single days averaging 50mm. It rained almost every day we were there, and we spent more time wet than dry. But there is nothing like exploring an old castle or ruin alone in the Irish rain. We loved it. I just wish the pictures could communicate everything we saw. The light, the feel, the smells (peat fires will bring a tear to my eye for the rest of my life). If we could have stopped the rain we wouldn’t have. The real kicker is after dreading coming back to hot and dry Texas, we got off the plane and got rained on. It’s pouring outside as I write this. Perfect.
3. The ROADS!. Imagine a narrow 2 lane road with no center line. Now take away the shoulder. Now install 10 foot high hedges that go right up to the edge of the road. Make it twisty so you can’t see around the next bend. Now put a 100km/h (60mph) speed limit on it. Add in a tour bus barreling along in the other direction and you get an idea of what it’s like to drive in Ireland. Oh yeah- you’re on the right-hand side of the car on the left side of the road. And your credit card company refuses to insure any cars rented in Ireland. Have fun! We sprung the $200 for the covers-everything extra insurance and even though it was expensive, it was good peace of mind. We ended up not needing it, and if we were to go back probably wouldn’t get it next time, but it’s something that I would recommend to the first-time Ireland driver.
4. T.I.’s are great. Little privately run for-profit Tourist Information centers pop up in just about every decently sized small town (greater than, say, 5000 people). These well informed joints can help you out with everything from finding directions to making reservations at a B&B for a small charge. We didn’t use them much after we got our Ireland legs, but when we really needed them they were priceless.
5. No-plan is the best plan. We were going to plan the trip to a fare-thee-well, but decided to chuck caution to the curb and just wing it. Best decision ever. We ended up flying into Shannon airport due to getting bumped on the flight over. Used the TI to find a hotel, then braved the well-run bus system and spent 20 Euro to get both of our keesters across the island. This was doubly good since I was able to spend the 3 1/2 hour trip watching the bus driver negotiate backward traffic and also try to puzzle out the new road markings (you’d never believe how much you take your subliminal knowledge of road markings for granted until suddenly they all change). Once in Dublin we rented the car and got the heck OUT (way too crowded and crazy). We drove to the first stop a couple of hours away (Kilkenny) and spent the night there. While we were exploring the sites there we talked to the locals and planned a few cities in advance, estimating the # of days at each, then called local Bed and Breakfasts to make reservations. There are so many B&B’s in the country that even though we went to some of the most popular locations during the most crowded time of the year, we never lacked for options that were reasonably priced. Our route (and nights spent) eventually looked like this: Shannon (1), Dublin (1), then drove to Kilkenny (2), Kinsale on the south coast via Cashel (3), Killarney (2), Dingle (2), Doolin up north of Kilkee (3), Galway (2), back across to Trim NW of Dublin (1), Dublin (1). We basically made a big loop of southern Ireland, stopping at all of the major and many of the minor and out-of-the-way sites, and staying enough time in each place to get a very good feel for the land. In 18 nights on the island we got a great sense of the place without being rushed, and didn’t miss a single “must see” location except maybe the Waterford crystal factory in Waterford, which wasn’t a huge loss considering what we DID get to see. Our Rick Steves Ireland tour book is thoroughly dog-eared, rain-soaked, and trashed, and there are only a few sections that we didn’t use (mainly Northern Ireland) Speaking of which:
6. Sites seen:
Bunratty castle and heritage park (really old castle redone to look like 1400’s w/500 yr old tapestries)
Kilkenny castle (1200’s castle redecorated in 1800’s splendor)
Rock of Cashel (ho-lee cow amazing castle from the 1100’s)
Kinsale town (amazing little fishing town that’s stunningly beautiful with fun shopping and a great pub/music scene)
Cobh (Titanic/Lusitania’s last port of call and where Erin’s ancestors left for America. She got to stand on the very dock they left from!)
Kenmare/Ring of Kerry drive with three ring forts from pre-Norman days. Ask us about the weather.
Dingle Peninsula drive with the moving Blasket Island museum
Doolin, site of the best Irish pub music in the world, and best views of the stormy Atlantic we got the whole trip
Galway– neat port town with a beautiful drive up to it.
Trim (back over by Dublin). Trim castle (site of the filming of much of Braveheart). One of my top 3 favorite castles of the whole trip. Pouring rain and all to ourselves after the wonderful tour.
Unexpected day! We got bumped on the flight back and had to spend the last night in Dublin, but we got to see the Book of Kells and the Long Room at Trinity college with our very own eyes.
Innumerable pubs. Wonderful B&B’s. Too many “Irish breakfasts” to count. 1000 miles driven on the wrong side of the road. Paying a hilarious $24 for a Burger King meal (the Euro/Dollar conversion rate is brutal!). Eating nuclear temperature Chinese food while watching the Atlantic rage. Seeing a prehistoric tomb from 4000 B.C. Evidence of Cromwell everywhere (he was a ransacking/seige-laying/church destroying machine). Rain, rain, rain. Dunne’s Grocery. Valencia Orange Irish Cream Yogurt. Figuring out that I don’t hate Guiness when it’s fresh from the tap, as long as it’s less than 300 miles from its birthplace. Discovering Bulmers cider and lamenting that you can’t get it over here. Damn the torpedoes… and the exchange rate! Flying first-class over the ocean (thank you buddy pass!) while being pampered with three course meals, wine and cheese, and even ice-cream sundaes. Creamy Toffee Rolo’s. Following the signs to the “Toy Soldier Factory” and being given a tour by the owner an hour after closing. Guarding our 10GB of photos with our lives (currently taking 3 hours just to import). Seeing thousands of miles of hand-stacked stone walls everywhere. Celtic jewelry. Handmade pottery. Spray painted sheep. Waiting patiently in the road while a farmer drives his cattle herd from one field to the next. Being scared speechless by oncoming tour buses. The “upside-down” ford (a cross-the-road river/waterfall with a cliff on one side and a perilous drop into the Atlantic on the other). Once-in-a-lifetime, make-you-tear-up-and-cry views of the sun breaking through the clouds and shining down the valley, completely trumping any postcard you’ve ever seen. The smell of peat fires that will stay with us forever.
And green. A hundred-thousand shades of green.
And those are just the highlights from looking at the map and quickly recounting everything. This long blog post, with no pictures or links, took me 90 minutes to write and is just a summary of a summary. There’s no way that I could give you a really thorough accounting of the entire trip without taking as long to write it up as it did to live it. We did keep a journal of each day and taped mementos, receipts, scraps, etc, after each day. We probably filled 50 pages. But there’s still no way that we could accurately communicate everything we saw. Ultimately, you just have to take a trip like this yourself. On the way out of the Austin airport last night we happened to pass the empty chairs that we sat in while waiting for our flight out on July 30th. I told Erin that it would be neat to go back in time and see those two people sitting in the airport watching the sun rise, knowing just what they were about to experience, and how they would be changed.