Ireland

Day 1:
Our overnight flight was delayed in departing by about two hours but we managed to only arrive one hour late. I got maybe three hours of horrible sleep; those chairs are so uncomfortable. Getting someone at the car rental counter took forever, and then he told me that they don’t work with Mastercard for insurance coverage, despite the fact that I called them (MC) three times to check and they faxed me a letter saying they cover both Ireland and Northern Ireland. Apparently Mastercard never pays any one though so the rental companies hate them. We were given a new rate, like €7 more a day, with their insurance. Not too much more but now I think I got swindled. We got lost leaving the airport looking for a Tesco but we did find a shopping center and picked up a mobile, atlas and food. We got lost several times more on the way out to Glendalough and never found the one road we were looking for. It was a bit stressful getting used to driving on the left and street signs seemed to be nonexistent. We finally made it to Glendalough and made inappropriate jokes among the ruins. We picked up our Heritage Cards there, which would allow us to see the rest of the heritage sites for free. (It’s good for a year – €21 for me, but only €8 for Nichelle at the student price so she got her money’s worth within two days.) We drove on to Kilkenny, no problems this time. We stayed at MacGabhainn’s Backpackers Hostel. It was hard to find parking so they let us park in their tiny back area and I had to go through all these tight medieval alleys to get there. We had dinner and drinks at Kyteller’s Inn then wandered around a bit looking for the next bar. We settled on Andrew Ryan’s because they had live music but it turned out to be American covers. The first song was The Breeze. They have a lot of pictures up on the ceiling there and one bartender took ours to add. We saw a poster for the band Friary Street behind the bar and since that was the name of the street the bar was on, we asked if anyone who worked there was in it. No, but they are a trad band that plays at the bar every Thursday and another bartender gave us a free CD. The bar closed at 11:30 so we headed back to get some much needed sleep.

Day 2:
We woke up only 10 minutes before checkout but it was the best sleep ever. On second thought, an overnight flight and then running around all day and evening was a bad idea. We got our stuff loaded into the car and went for a walk around town again. We had missed breakfast at the hostel so we stopped for it at the Nostalgia Cafe. On to Kilkenny Castle (Heritage Card), and shopping across the street. Back to the car and on to Cork. We listened to our new CD on the way and it was a great drive. We arrived at Bru Hostel and had to get into separate rooms. I was with a bunch of Aussies. We went out to eat at Greene’s, which was at the end of an alley next to a surprising waterfall. Good seafood there. Then on to a trad session at the LV Bar. All the musicians were pretty young. We were entertained by a very drunk woman with a dog, who kept pointing at the dog, saying “That’s my dog,” and shrugging in a very spastic manner. Over and over again. She also kept insisting to anyone who would listen that “That’s not Irish music!” I don’t know what she thinks is necessary for something to be classified as Irish music but it sounded like it to me. We missed the reggae and free barbecue (hot dogs) at the hostel but still had a fun night.

Day 3:
We woke up relatively early, ate breakfast at the hostel, then were off to find a post office to send off some postcards. We got lost again but asking for directions has become frequent and we made it. It’s Niki’s birthday and she wanted to kiss the Blarney Stone so we went on to Blarney Castle (€10, not on the Heritage Card). The stairs getting up to the roof where the stone is were extremely narrow and got tighter as we got higher. To kiss the stone, you have to lay on your back and lean upside down. After kissing it, there was a sign saying that’s not the actual stone. We made our way to Kinsale for lunch where I had my first fish and chips experience at Ned Kelly’s. We then walked around a bit, lovely town, and went on to Charles Fort (Heritage Card). It’s an old British star shaped fort that was only ever in one battle and it surrendered at that. We wanted to take a road west past a stone circle but never found the road. We’d planned on staying in Skibbereen but couldn’t find the hostel so went on to Bantry. There was a private room left at the Harbor View Hostel so we grabbed it. We were recommended Ireland’s best seafood restaurant, O’Connor’s, for dinner but it was full up for that night and the next several nights. Lots of other places were closed as it was a Monday night but we finally found food at the Snug. Great vegetarian lasagna there. A guy from the hostel joined us and we moved on to drinks at Ma Murphy’s and JJ Crowley’s. Ended the night early again (all pubs close at 11:30).

Day 4:
We woke up at 10 and were ready for the 11:00 checkout. We wandered through town to get internet access for email and directions then stopped in at the market for more food for the car and a picnic brunch. The latter took place when we drove above town to the Knocknaveagh lookout point where we could see all oof Bantry, the harbor and the surrounding countryside. The ham-chicken we got for €1 for brunch was a mistake but the view was gorgeous. Leaving town, we headed into the Beara Peninsula. We cut across half way down to go over the Healy Pass and stopped many times for pictures, most of me trying to befriend the sheep. The blue ones were jerks and the pink ones were afraid. I will find sheep somewhere on this trip who like me and get a photo. Going back up the peninsula, we joined up with the Ring of Kerry in Kenmare. We stopped in Sneem for homemade ice cream, then checked out the Staigue Ring Fort, which was off down a one lane / two direction road. On roads like this, when encountering another car, one of you has to back up to a wide spot in the road or pull into some shrubbery so that the other person can pass. Continuing on the Ring of Kerry, there were more excellent views, then we stopped in Portmagee for the night. The Portmagee Hostel looked very nice and new inside and we got another cheap private room. After relaxing a bit, we walked down to town and had dinner at the Bridge Bar. After dinner we stayed for more drinks and live music. They were totally playing to the tourists but it was a lot of fun. One guy on a guitar and one guy on keyboard / accordion played mostly and invited anyone who could play, sing, dance or tell a story to come up as well. There were lots of young girls there to step dance and we learned one dance as well. The drink of the trip continues to be Bulmer’s.

Day 5:
We woke up in Portmagee and went right on down to the pier to hop on our Joe Roddy and Sons boat out to the Skelligs. The ride was a lot of fun, about 45 minutes and what I thought were big swells, but it was apparently a calm day. I don’t think I’ve ever been out on open water like that before. We landed on Skellig Michael and had to read a long warning sign and hear a long warning speech before venturing up the stone steps to the monastic ruins. We saw lots of puffins and they make an interesting noise instead of squawking, kind of like a lawnmower starting growl. The ruins were very cool and unbelievable how they were built up to level terraces off a very steep incline. After a picnic lunch outside the monastery, we heard a very interesting speech from a guide on the history of the Skelligs. We wandered around a bit then went back down to catch the boat back to the mainland. We detoured to go around the Little Skellig slowly to see all the birds in the sanctuary there (the mountain was completely white with them) and some seals as well. Another fun boat ride back to Portmagee, soup at the Bridge Bar, then on the road to Dingle. We hadn’t booked a hostel before getting into town so we asked for directions to some and walked around to find them. The Hideout Hostel was our goal since I’d have a discounted price with my Rick Steves guidebook. They looked very nice and clean but were full. The Grapevine Hostel down the street also looked very nice and clean but only had beds available in the mixed dorm, which my friend prefers not to stay in. The guy there was nice enough to call the Blackberry Lodge and Hostel for us and they had a cheap private room. We picked up some more phone credit and groceries and settled there, then headed out for the night. There happened to be a fun fair right on the pier so we went to check it out and ended up riding The Orbiter. So much fun! I haven’t been on carnival rides in forever and it was well worth my €3. From there we went on to eat at the Marina Inn, on recommendation of a guy at our hostel. After dinner, we went on to John Benny Moriarty’s, on recommendation of a guy at the other hostel, to hear some great trad music featuring the owner’s wife singing. Eilis Kennedy sounded great and we picked up a CD. After a bit we went back to the Marina Inn to see the musicians who were just starting to play as we had left earlier. There was a guy on guitar and a guy on banjo, both very good, but the guy on banjo was just using one regular pick and was so quick it was amazing. I’m used to 5 string banjos played with several picks. My camera battery needed to be charged but Nichelle got a video for me.

Day 6:
The water temperature knob in the shower was broken so I tried to take a scalding hot shower, but ended up having Niki help me finish rinsing my hair in the sink in our room. We drove right out to Ventry to Long’s Horseriding Centre for an hour long trail ride. My horse’s name was Paddy and it was English riding style. He mostly walked pretty slowly but at one point I needed to catch up with the other horses and kicked him into a trot. I was told to, but I wasn’t told to stand up and sit down for it, so I pretty much just bounced up and down, which can’t have been any more comfortable for him than it was for me. Once we arrived back at the stable, the riding guide offered to let me trot again, prepared this time, and I did catch on a bit, although Paddy kept stopping whenever he felt like it. After the ride, we continued driving around a Dingle Peninsula loop and stopped at the Celtic & Prehistoric Museum (nothing in the museum seemed to be from Ireland) and some famine cottages. We continued on and saw some great scenery – mountains, patchwork fields, beaches. At one point in the road we had to ford a stream – the road was designed to do that instead of having a bridge – and it reminded us very much of the best computer game ever, The Oregon Trail (side note: possible future vacation is to trace the trail and keep an awesome log of it). We stopped for lunch at Tig Aine then went on to Kilmalkedar Church, an old Norman church. Niki and I renewed our friendship through the thumb hole of the ogham stone (people make deals there, or renew wedding vows, so that was all we could think to do – after all, we do have a friendship contract written on Lisa Frank stationary from a long time ago), then we both fit through the “eye of the needle” window in the church, which supposedly means that either we’ll get into heaven, be lucky, have our bad backs cured, or be married within a year and a day. We stopped there because we were told we’d find out whether we were going to heaven or hell by going through the window, but then I found all these other possible fates as well through google. We got back into Dingle town and napped for a bit which was much needed. I did some laundry in our in-room sink upon waking then we walked around town some more, mailed post cards, and settled on the Dingle Pub for dinner. The town seemed to be empty, a big change from the previous night. I asked our server about it and he seemed to be stumped as well and said Thursdays are generally hopping. We walked around some more, got some ice cream, did some shopping, and listened for music along the way. We stopped into Paudie’s Bar for some drinks. There was a man playing guitar and banjo with a young girl on fiddle, both very good. At about 11:00, we went up to An Droicead Beag to catch the last of some music there – three guys, one on uillean pipes.

Day 7:
I started the day with a slightly less hot shower since I waited until several people had already gone in. The weather was rainy, our first bad weather of the trip. We stopped for gas and cash then got on the road to Doolin. We ate breakfast in the car, then took the Shannon Ferry to avoid Limerick traffic and also ate lunch in the car on the ride. There wasn’t much scenery to see since everything was shrouded in fog. We got to the Cliffs of Moher just as it was clearing up. You can’t actually walk far along the cliffs officially, but if you climb over a short stone wall and walk past the private property sign, there is a walkway all along them. Everyone was doing it and there were rangers hanging out along the trail too so it seems as if it’s allowed but just not recommended. Apparently there have been six deaths there this year. I walked along the path for only about 15 minutes before turning back because Niki hadn’t come out and was waiting for me. There were great views farther out though, and it looked like there were ruins at the end. It was windy but I felt safe the whole time since the path was several feet in from the edge. After walking back in we did a bit of shopping and by the time we left, the fog had rolled back in and you couldn’t see the cliffs at all. We were lucky. We got back on the road to Doolin, just 10km up the road, and landed at Paddy’s Doolin Hostel. Out to dinner at Fitzpatrick’s Bar, then out for drinks at Gus O’Connor’s. We met our new adoptive parents, Karen and Bob, who tried to set us up with some inappropriately aged guys from Vermont. To be fair, Karen did try to find us some nice Irish boys, there were just none there. Fun night.

Day 8:
The first thing we did this morning was drive out to the pier and hop on a ferry to the Aran Islands. Only €10 each way. We were headed to Inishmore, the largest of the three, and the last stop. There was no room left to sit outside on the boat so we had to sit inside. I started to feel slightly seasick due to a combination of being very hungry (missed breakfast) and being in a hot, airless, rolling box of a room. Once we dropped some people at the first stop, I was able to sit outside and felt much better. I had been fine on the Skelligs boat so I was surprised when I started to feel sick since this boat was much bigger. We landed on Inishmore after a little over an hour, and found a tour bus with an interesting guide. He pointed out lots of interested tidbits and had a number for each of them – 14 villages, 3 Catholic churches, 7 pubs, 1 grocery, 3 police officers, 2 court days per year, etc. He was very funny but I’m not sure if it was intentional or not. He made some comments about tying up sheep and goats to keep them in the fields. “No one keeps sheep here because they tend to wander. To keep them in the field you have to tie their feet together, and then, you know, they don’t do too well.” “See those two goats tied together, that’s to keep them in the field. It takes them a while to figure out how to jump over the wall together so they can’t get far.” “There are 7,000 miles of stone walls here and it’s for two reasons – it’s to mark the boundaries and it’s to have something to do with the stone.” We stopped for a few minutes at the Seven Churches, then were dropped off for a while at Dun Aenghus, a stone fortress on the cliffs. It was a very cool site and we had time for soup and bread and shopping before being picked up to go back to Kilronan. A little bit more time for shopping there, then the ferry back to Doolin. I was fine on this ride, both outside and inside on the boat. Once back in the car, we headed to Ennis to stay at the Rowan Tree Hostel. Best hostel yet – very clean, good security, great facilities. We grabbed a quick dinner at Kearny’s then went to the local Cois na hAbhna Hall for a ceili. Several men were kind enough to teach me so I danced most of the sets. It was so much fun! Mostly middle aged to older people there but I wasn’t too surprised at that. The whole ceili was three hours longs, a great workout and very dizzying.

Day 9:
We did some laundry at the hostel this morning then got on the road through the Burren. Someone had told me it’d look like Mars and that was spot on. Niki was tired of rocks at that point but I still thought it was great. We stopped at the Poulnabrone Dolmen, an old portal tomb. It was a bit disappointing, not very large, and roped off so I couldn’t get my picture taken on it like I had planned. This was the first roped off ruin we’d seen though. All the other ones you can walk around, on, etc. From there we drove to Ballyvaughn and stopped for lunch at the Tea Junction, then went to the surprisingly small Burren Craft Fair. There were only six vendors, not at all like the fairs I’m used to. Leaving Ballyvaughn, we took the wrong road and ended up with a very scenic detour near the bay, and back to Lisdoonvorna. We then went through Ballyvaughn again and made it to the Sleepzone Hostel in Galway City. The most expensive hostel so far but it looked nice. We went out to McSwiggan’s for dinner and walked around a bit but all the shops were closed. It was too early to start drinking so we went back to the hostel to rest. After that we walked around some more, tons of street performers out. We stopped into Tig Coili for a drink but it was way too crowded to stay so we took our drinks outside (which is perfectly acceptable by the way, even bringing the drinks into other bars). A woman promoter for Coyote’s offered us stickers for free shots and also showed us the way there so we went and got more drinks. There was a good cover band playing (American covers) but we made it an early night.

Day 10:
My birthday and I woke up to a naked old lady. Actually we were in a six bed girls dorm with three German girls. The last bed was empty when we went to sleep. In the middle of the night, I woke up to an unfamiliar old lady voice yelling at one of the girls that she was “SELFISH, SO SELFISH!!” She had turned on her bedside light to change by. Not the overhead light, mind you, but her small bedside light, which was specifically for that purpose. She very politely said “a few more minutes please” but continued to get yelled at that she was selfish so she turned the light off and got a flashlight out. Then this morning, one of the girls’ cell phone alarms went off, again perfectly acceptable, and she was yelled at for being “SELFISH, SOOO SELFISH!!!” Now neither the light nor alarm had woken me up. What woke me up was this woman yelling over and over. After the alarm was turned off, she kept huffing and throwing herself around her bed for a bit, then decided to get up. I had no contacts on, but as she came closer (we were both on top bunks and she had to come towards me to get to her ladder), I found out she was buck naked. After using the bathroom she continued to stand in the middle of the room naked, rubbing lotion over her entire body, for 20 minutes. She finally dressed and left and the rest of us starting giggling and calling each other selfish. We’re so mature. I walked down to the post office, only to realize they were closed for the bank holiday. We left Galway for Connemara and stopped in a small town for some groceries before driving through some very scenic areas. I tried to befriend more sheep but they were having none of it. We saw a simple cross memorial, for the famine walk along that road (Doo Lough Valley). Then we saw the National Famine Monument in Murrisk, a bronze coffin ship with skeletons swirling around the masts. We arrived in Westport very early and got some beds at the Old Mill Holiday Hostel. I walked around town a bit to see what was going on that night then went back to the hostel to rest. We ended up at the Wyatt Hotel for dinner, then to McCarthy’s for a few drinks and a trad session. We ended the night at Matt Molloy’s, owned by the flautist in the Chieftains. Another trad session was going on there as well, this one very high level.

Day 11:
Nothing much to do when we got up today so we hopped on the road to Donegal town. We drove through Co. Mayo and Co. Sligo, no ruins or anything, just beautiful scenery. The weather was gloomy and cold all day. Got into town early and found some beds at the Donegal Town Independent Hostel, a ten minute walk from the city centre. We got settled then went into town to find soup and see what was up that evening. We ate at Mama’s Restaurant then went back to the hostel. I checked email and researched some stuff for the coming days. We went back out for dinner at the Olde Castle Bar, then to the Reel Inn for music and dancing. That was the only place that had been recommended to us for the evening, it being a Tuesday and not much going on, so we soon recognized about 20 people from the hostel there. Apparently it was the only thing being recommended to everybody else too. I recognized some Dutch guys that had been in the common area with me checking email earlier so we started hanging out with them and having competitions as to who was the worst at everything (best worst). When the music was winding down we went to the Abbey Bar for a few more drinks. Our latest night yet because we are apparently lame and don’t find the late bars. Great times.

Day 12:
We woke up very early, despite the late night, to sunshine! But it kept switching between sunshine/heat and rain/cold every 5 minutes all day. We got on the road and stopped in Derry because I wanted to see the Bogside murals. Got a bit lost looking for the right road so we stopped in at the tourist office and found out we were very close, and a walking tour was starting in 30 minutes. We ran across the street to a shopping center to grab lunch and cash (pounds now, not euro) then ran back in time to catch the tour leaving. The guide was Martin McCrossan from City Tours and he was super interesting. We got to walk up on the city walls a way. After he was done, we went out to find the Bogside murals. We found all of them then went in to the artists’ gallery, where I picked up a book. We got back on the road to Coleraine, to go to a hostel called Twenty Six that had been recommended to me. The door was open but no one was in and we were having trouble making calls so we drove down to the tourist office and they were super helpful and set us up at a hostel in Portrush – the Portrush Holiday Hostel, newly opened. It’s very nice and we had a private room again. We went out to dinner late at the Coast, some internet time, then bed.

Day 13:
We got on the road to the Giant’s Causeway early to beat the tour buses there. We walked out along the cliff path then down to the shore. One danger zone was blocked off. We got to the hexagonal rock area though and climbed around for a while. Climbed back up, ate lunch, then went along the road a bit more to the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. It was a 1km walk out to the bridge and then people had to take turns going across. It was pretty cool though, just out to a little empty island. We continued driving around the Causeway Coastal route all the way past the Glens of Antrim and through Carrickfergus to Belfast. We parked, used up our pounds at a grill across from City Hall, then met up with a driver from Ken Harper’s taxi company for the political tour. We went and saw murals in the Protestant Shankill area, then the “Peace Wall” dividing the city (which we got to write on), then the Catholic Falls area. We saw a memorial garden there and more murals. The Catholic houses just on the side of the peace wall all have steel grates over the backs of them and fireproof slate roofs. Unreal that they feel the need to still live like that. The tour was very interesting. After it was over we got on the road to Dublin. A few wrong turns, and we had to ask for directions several times, but we finally found the hostel, Jacob’s Inn – very nice, a lot going on, very secure. We were starving since it was late so we went to the Thai Spice restaurant right across the street for dinner, then right back to the hostel for sleep.

Day 14:
We got up early to get the car out of a ridiculously price garage before the night rate was up, then drove a bit north of Dublin to see Newgrange (Heritage Card), part of the Bru na Boinne prehistoric monuments. It’s older than the pyramids. We had to take a bus from the visitor center out to Newgrange and got a tour there. Despite it being a huge mound, there is only one narrow hallway into a small room in the center. We all shoved in, then they turn the lights out and showed us what it looks like on the winter solstice when the dawn sunshine comes in through the roofbox (window over the door). It shines right down the hallway to where we were standing, very cool. On the way back to Dublin, we stopped in at the Hill of Tara (Heritage Card) for a walking tour there. Supposedly the seat of the high king of Ireland, it was chosen because you can see for miles in any direction from that point. There were some interesting monuments there, and let’s not forget the sheep. I finally made friends with some (although Nichelle disagrees). It was my last chance though since we were leaving soon and would be in the city the rest of the time. We headed back into Dublin and parked at a garage with a special rate for our hostel. I went out to the Temple Bar area to see what was going on and get dinner. I stopped in Gogarty’s to eat since they had live music going on. Back to the hostel to get Niki, then we went out again to several bars in the area. She went back to the hostel at about 11 but I stayed out at the Temple Bar and found some new friends from Ireland, Kansas, Manchester, Singapore and Wales to hang out with for a few more hours.

Day 15:
I had planned on doing a free walking tour from the hostel at 10am then meeting up with Niki again around 1:30 but it turned out the tour wasn’t starting until after 11 because we had to pick up more people at another hostel then meet even more people at City Hall. I saw a bunch of the hop-on/hop-off tour buses going by and saw on the schedule that they went to all the places Nichelle and I had planned on going to, so I went back to the hostel and she was thankfully still there. We grabbed some breakfast (great quiche!) then started our bus tour. We first got off at Guinness, which was actually a disappointment. You don’t see the brewery, you see the visitor’s center. And I still don’t like Guinness. Next we got back on the bus and got off at Kilmainham Gaol (Heritage Card), which was very interesting and very important in a lot of the political history as well. We got back on the bus but skipped Jameson since we had heard it was like Guinness, then hopped off the bus back near our hostel. We had a different driver each bus we were on but the last one was so funny. He was super enthusiastic. We went back to the hostel for a bit then I called my Aunt Theresa, who had just arrived in Dublin to start her vacation with her friend Judy. Niki and I walked over to the hotel they were staying at, we chatted for a bit, then we went out to find a pub to eat in. It took several tries to find something close to there but we ended up at this place in an alley with delicious food. I wish I could remember the name of it. After dinner, Niki and I went out in the Temple Bar area again for a bit, then back to pack up for our flight the next morning.

Day 16:
We were out the door early and stopped by my aunt’s hotel to drop off some things they might be able to use (atlas, bus tickets, city maps, stamps, etc) before heading to the airport. Dropped off the rental car, then had to wait a couple turns for the tiny shuttle bus to fit us in to get to the airport. Good thing we gave ourselves plenty of time because there were no self check in kiosks and we stood in line for forever even though we weren’t checking bags. We finally got through, did the paperwork for our VAT refunds, and made it to the gate in time to grab breakfast before boarding. The flight was incredibly uncomfortable but I got to watch a bunch of free movies and they did feed us. Michael and Blair met us at the airport to drive us home.

Many, many pictures.

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