Category Archives: Ireland

Failte to Farewell

We’ve little to report on Kinsale aside from that it’s beautiful and it makes you want to hang out and drink all day, which we basically did for two full days. The town felt more similar to non-Irish, ritzy-ish harbor towns/cities. In a way, it reminded us a bit of Cape Cod. And we certainly aren’t complaining. The downtown area has a bit more of an upscale vibe than other towns we visited, what with its nice restaurants, galleries, boutique shops and bookstores. Our B&B was a ways up the hill and a bit of a walk from town, but it gave us some pretty spectacular views of town (on the walk) and the bay.

Highlights of our visit included a delicious meal at Fishy Fishy, which was paired with a bottle of wine and a consequent lazy afternoon. This becomes a theme of our time in Kinsale…

We had big plans to walk over to the Charles Fort the next day and continue exploring the area. And we walked all the way over there (not a short walk, mind you!), stopping first for lunch at The Bulman. We decided to have a pint with said lunch. And when we found out they were having a reggae fest that day, it turned into many hours and even more pints.

It was at The Bulman that I discovered the amazingness that is Crabbie’s alcoholic ginger beer. It’s basically a Moscow mule in a bottle, served over ice and with a slice of lime. It’s pure heaven. And I’ll tell you, pairing your Crabbie’s with The Bulman’s crab sammy (or sarnie, as they say here) is on point.

Of course, Alan tried his Murphy’s Irish Stout in County Cork as Sean, our Cork born friend, advised. He gave it a rave review.

While the day spent drinking and lazily watching the tide go out was lovely, I have to mention the bees in Ireland. They are quite possibly the peskiest and most aggressive bees I’ve ever seen. And they have a particular fondness for Crabbie’s ginger beer. I think I drank, like, four dead bees. What is it with the bees here??

We also met a hilarious old chap who shared some of the best stories I’ve ever heard. He is a real live gypsy, and a former pro-boxing trainer to boot. We’re going to miss the Irish, for sure.

We stopped for a brief visit in the city of Cork before heading to the airport on our way out. It’s a bigger city than we expected, and quite nice (what we saw anyway). While we didn’t have much time to explore, we enjoyed perusing the Irish art at the Crawford Art Gallery, and a stroll and some gourmet samples at the English Market. This market had an impressive selection of meats, cheeses, fruits, veggies, sweets, pastries etc…all your market faves.

And one last random tidbit: there were heaps of “golden” retrievers in Kinsale (including an adorable one named Poppy at our B&B!), but they are so pale as to be almost white. We’re thinking we should look into adopting an Irish platinum retriever. Also, how did I not take any photos of these adorable dogs? Guess I was too busy playing with them.

Practical Info 

Kinsale is a beautiful seaside town in County Cork. Hailed by many as the culinary capital of Ireland, it has a fairly well-heeled feel to it. The landscape is gentler and it rains less than on the west coast.

Transportation: We drove from Kenmare and generally stayed near the coast, passing some lovely towns and inlets as are standard in these parts. You can walk around most of Kinsale (including to Charles Fort if you’re up for a couple miles); you may need a car to reach The Old Head of Kinsale. The drive from Kinsale to Cork City takes about half an hour. We found a car park right near the English Market for €2.50/hour, but you might check out the park and ride option on the way from Kinsale to Cork City. We departed from Cork Airport (less than half an hour from Kinsale and about 15 minutes from Cork City) headed to Liverpool. By the way, Ryanair kind of blows. It’s a discount airline so I get the high fee to check a bag and extra charge to select a seat or pay with a credit card. And I kind of get the insane €70 fee if you don’t check in online. But they charge €15 if you don’t print out your boarding pass, and if you’re on the road that is a bit of a pain. Moreover, our flight was delayed an hour and a half for no apparent reason (weather seemed fine), and it was probably the first developed country full-size jet I’ve been on where there is no place to put anything in the seat back in front of you and the seats do not recline.

Accommodation: We stayed at Rocklands House B&B. Our room was nice with a great view of the water. Breakfast is very good and John is a kind host (e.g. he offered a glass of wine our first night and printed boarding passes for us). The only downside is it’s a good 20-minute walk to town, with the return being uphill. Our friends recommended Actons of Kinsale, right in town.

Food and Drinks: The Bulman came highly recommended, and it did not disappoint. There was good food and craic. We stumbled upon the 3rd annual Reggae on the Rocks and never made it to Charles Fort. Note that The Bulman is a bit outside the main town, closer to Charles Fort and in the Summercove neighborhood. The Spaniard and Man Friday both come recommended and they’re outside the main town but closer, in the Scilly area.

Lunch at Fishy Fishy on the patio was great. Lunch at Lemon Leaf Cafe was good. Pizza at V-izza was not good. The Black Pig is closed Monday-Tuesday so we missed out but it’s a well-reviewed wine bar/restaurant. Other places that tempted us include Finn’s Table and Max’s Wine Bar. As elsewhere in Ireland, many nice restaurants offer early bird deals.

In Cork City, the English Market has lots of raw and some prepared food, including at the Farmgate Cafe.

Activities: We spent a fair amount of time “working” here and thus went light on the activities, pretty much just walking around town and spending a full day listening to reggae at The Bulman. Kinsale is noted for its rich history (largely due to its splendid natural harbor) and there are some guided walks from the Tourist Office. Charles Fort is a popular attraction. The Old Head of Kinsale comes recommended for a stroll or round of golf.

We got laundry done for €12 and it was ready in just a few hours. I don’t know the name but I think it’s on Market Street and it’s just by Lemon Leaf Cafe, and it’s not the one called Elite.

With less than two hours in Cork City on our way out, we visited the English Market (awesome selection of plain and marinated meats + sausages + cheese etc.) and the very good and free Crawford Art Gallery.

August 3-6, 2014 (Sunday-Wednesday)

Round the Ring of Kerry

We left Dingle to explore the Ring of Kerry with the Muxnaw Lodge bed and breakfast in Kenmare as our home base. We were greeted with true Irish hospitality by the proprietor who sat us down to a pot of tea and freshly baked scones. What more can you ask for? A bathtub with a view over the river and bridge, you ask? Why yes, there was one of those too! It’s one of the unspoken pain points for us homeless folk – lack of regular access to tubs ;). Well, we got our fill of bathing at this spot.

We stopped on our drive in to town at the Kissane sheep farm for a demonstration of the sheep herding. Those border collies are by far the most well trained animals I’ve ever seen. I’ll need to learn how to train our dogs (we don’t actually have any, but Alan knows the time draws nigh) like that one day. It’s quite impressive how organized the whole affair is.

We also got to see a demonstration of the sheep shearing. I hadn’t realized they get the whole fleece coat off in one large blanket. Also, it’s adorable how the sheep stop flailing and just resign to their shaving once placed on their backs.

But the highlight was of course getting to play with the pups!

We also paid a visit to the Muckross House and surrounding gardens. This estate on the lake is massively impressive. Made us want to make billions and create our own family estate. Working on it. Not really.

We spent the better part of a day driving around much of the rest of the ring, though our streak of luck with sunny days had ended by this point, and much of the views were shrouded in clouds and rain. We did, however, get some lovely sneak peaks at a few spots…

Ladies View was quite a nice spot overlooking these lakes and valleys.

And O’Carroll’s Cove had more of that beautiful turquoise water. There were even a few brave Irish souls swimming in there, but Alan could only manage to stick his feet in, and I nothing at all.

The view along Skellig Ring was nice, but better yet was the free chocolate tasting at the Skellig Chocolate Factory.

Perhaps the best views we had were up through the mountains off the main ring road. We adored this idyllic spot by the bridge in Lickeen Wood.

Then Ballagh Beama Gap blew us away with its gray stone studded green mountains and Scotch blackface sheep. It’s hard to comprehend the scale from these photos, but it really was a superb experience driving through here. Made all the more exciting by the insanely narrow and winding roads.

The sun came back on our last day in town and we set out for a walk to enjoy it. We’d considered hiking Carrauntoohil to see what the views are like from the top of Ireland, but having heard that it was still cloudy and drizzly up there we instead went out the Beara peninsula to Gleninchaquin Park. We did the Upper Valley “walk” which is a remote loop hike with beautiful landscape and views. You can really see why Ireland is called the Emerald Isle. We couldn’t believe how lucky we were to have the place all to ourselves. We shared the hike with only the company of a few other sheep.

After our long walk we headed back into town for more pints and a well-deserved Guinness and beef pie. The town centre of Kenmare is great, with lots of pubs and shops. And when the early evening light hits the church at the end of the main road it’s almost too idyllic to take.

Practical Info

The Ring of Kerry is a scenic drive circling the Iveragh Peninsula and is extremely popular with tourists. Killarney is the most popular base. We chose to stay in Kenmare. There are several charming towns along the ring, and also some places to stay up in the mountains. The ring road is narrow in parts and sees many tour buses. Investigate strategies for avoiding the brunt of these, i.e. different starting points and times and direction of travel.

Transportation: We drove from Dingle via Route 561 towards Killarney and then down N71. I strongly recommend having a car in this area because it allows you to move at your own pace and get off the main ring road. For example, we left the ring at Glenbeigh and went through the mountains back to Kenmare. This was some of our favorite scenery, including the river by Lickeen Wood and then through the Ballagh Beama Gap.

If you don’t have a car, there are lots of tour options. Many cycle these parts (seems scary to us on these roads), and you can also walk the Kerry Way.

Accommodation: We stayed at Muxnaw Lodge, just across the bridge from Kenmare. It is a lovely place with solid breakfast included (no credit cards). Our room was spacious (we even had a bathtub!) and had a view of Kenmare Bay. Hannah is so friendly. She prepared tea and fresh scones on our arrival and offered good advice on local activities. It is a 10-15 minute walk into town, and if that is unappealing then you should look at one of the many options right in town.

There are some high-end properties in the vicinity, including Sheen Falls Lodge and Parknasilla. We dropped by the latter when we drove the Ring of Kerry. It looked quite nice, and we were most envious of the hot tubs overlooking the water. There are also places to stay up in the mountains. Blackstones House B&B had a rather idyllic location, if not the easiest to reach.

Food and Drinks: My beef and Guinness pie at Foley’s was very good. The Irish Cheese Board pizza at O’Donnabhain’s was pretty good. Our BLT at Jam Deli was OK, it is popular for breakfast and lunch, closed at dinner. Packie’s and Lime Tree are well reviewed. There are multiple supermarkets in town if you want picnic food.

Activities: Driving the Ring of Kerry is the most popular thing to do. There are viewpoints, historical places of interest (such as Derrynane House, the ancestral home of Daniel O’Connell), etc. It was rainy and foggy the day we drove so we couldn’t see everything. The area around Coomakesta Pass was very pretty and there is a nice beach at O’Carroll’s Cove. Skelligs Chocolate Factory (off the main ring) offers generous free tastings.

We visited Muckross House and Gardens. Parking and the gardens and grounds are free (and the onsite cafeteria more than passable), but you can only enter the house on the hour-long tour that costs €7.50. A visit to the Farms also costs €7.50, or a combo ticket is €12.50. There are walking paths around the lake and jaunting cars available. Torc Waterfall is nearby.

A visit to Kissane Sheep Farm was quite enjoyable. This includes a demonstration of the dogs herding the sheep, plus a farmer sheering them. It costs €7 each. Call to check the schedule as it is a working farm and you can only visit at certain times and the website may not be accurate.

Gleninchaquin Park is a private reserve on the Ring of Beara. We did the Upper Valley walk, which is about a 9km loop through beautiful, rugged green valleys filled with peat bogs, lakes and sheep. It took us just under three hours, and we saw not one other human. There is no trail on the upper part but the way is marked. The waterfall is visible from the parking area. Entry costs €6 each. We considered hiking Carrauntoohil in the McGillicuddy’s Reeks but passed upon hearing it was cloudy and drizzly up that high. If you want to do this, look up Cronin’s Yard as a potential car park and trailhead. And make sure you know what you’re doing as weather/visibility can be dangerous.

July 31 – August 3, 2014 (Thursday-Sunday)

Dingle

OK, let’s get it out of the way…Dingle is a funny name for a town. I can’t quite put my finger on why it feels so weird, but it does, doesn’t it? Just try saying it out loud. When people ask where we’ve come from and I have to say “Dingle” it’s like eating out at a restaurant with cheesy menu item names that make you order something embarrassing like macho nachos or the Tijuana tea tickler. There, now that we’ve addressed the elephant in the blog post title, we can get on to beautiful southern Ireland. Our stretch of good weather followed us through Dingle (mostly), and our drive there from Galway was the beginning of our introduction to truly lush, green Ireland. The road takes you through some of the quaintest towns amidst stretches of rolling hills and pastures full of sheep, cows and horses. And I know they are all nice little towns because every time we drive through one Alan says, “well this is a nice little town!”

And the flowers have been quite the pleasant surprise in this country. They seem to be everywhere, and they are stunning and colorful. Just driving along the roads feels like you’re taking a detour through the Secret Garden, with hydrangeas, fuchsia and yellow, red, orange and purple flowers everywhere.

On our drive into Dingle we stopped to visit the famed Cliffs of Moher. It’s pretty easy to see why they have the reputation they do. It’s a seemingly endless stretch of rugged, steep rock cliffs, and if you’re lucky you can even spot puffins.

After a quick ferry ride to skip some of the long way around the Shannon Estuary, we ended up in a town called Tralee. This spot is famous for its roses, and we made a brief pit stop to walk through a park full of loads of these beauties. Well worth the stroll.

The view from breakfast at our Dingle B&B was a telling teaser of what was to come…

The main activity for visitors to Dingle is the Slea Head Drive. We stopped first for a very quick hike up to the Eask Tower, where the views were stunning, despite that there was a concentration of sheep poo so dense on all available ground as to make you wonder just how those sheep could ingest so much fiber. Strangely, we passed only one other couple during our visit. Maybe we were early? Regardless, the isolation and breathtaking views were much appreciated.

We continued along the long stretch of road that hugs this blustery coastline. The roads do not get any wider though, and a flat tire (or tyre, as they say) incident had us parked in a row of sightseers for a good half hour. It was no bother, as the view did not suck. Plus, we got to witness the Irish friendliness in action as several people rushed to help the guy with the flat.

And the long stretches of driving have been made much more fun by an unexpected pleasure: talk radio. I’m serious! We are thoroughly enjoying the talk radio here in Ireland. It’s partly learning all these slang phrases like “she thought she was a cut above butter milk” and “getting locked,” but also the interesting content and hilarious listener questions and comments. Never would have thought, but I’m a huge fan of Irish talk radio.

The view from this point was one of our favorites. The way the ocean looks here is unreal.

Isn’t this sandy cove the most perfect little beach spot? I never would have guessed that the oceans in Ireland would look so tropical (that color!). But trust me, these are no tropical waters. The Irish must have very thick skin to swim these cold cold seas.

After a full day of sightseeing we hit the pubs for some pints, and killed some time as we waited for a table at the best restaurant in town: Global Village. Worth the wait for the broccoli and blue cheese soup, duck and lamb three ways.

Also worth a shout is Inch Beach, a beautiful spot we paused at for a few photos before continuing onto the Ring of Kerry.

And in case you wanted further proof we are in Ireland, voila:

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Practical Info 

Dingle is the name of the peninsula and the main town, where we stayed. Slea Head Drive is a loop that covers just the western portion of the peninsula.

Transportation: We drove from Galway City and stopped at the Cliffs of Moher, which is on the way if you take the coastal route. We took the ferry across the Shannon Estuary from Killimer in County Clare to Tarbert in County Kerry. At €18 one way it’s no bargain and the scenery is nothing special, but it cuts more than 100km off the trip. Beyond Tralee we took the quicker N86 as it was getting late, and this route was plenty scenic. I think going over Conor Pass is even more scenic. We departed Dingle headed for Kenmare (on the Ring of Kerry) and took Route 561 past Inch Beach, a blustery spit with a surf school.

Accommodation: We stayed at the Lighthouse B&B just outside town (a 10 minute walk). The common lounge is cozy, there are lovely views of Dingle Harbour and the breakfast was very good. It is nice to stay near town as pubs and live music are plentiful. But if you just want peace and quiet and perhaps lower prices, there are many B&Bs on the peninsula.

Food and Drinks: Our first splurge meal of the trip was at Global Village. On the Zagat scale, I’d give it a 24. The scallop appetizer was our only selection not sourced from the peninsula, and I thought it was the worst of four dishes. The broccoli and blue cheese soup was yummy and a bargain at €5. The duck platter appetizer and lamb plate main were both very good. Demerit for being out of my first wine choice and then bringing me a younger vintage without acknowledging it.

We enjoyed pints at McCarthy’s Pub. The town is best known for seafood (despite our one seafood dish at Global Village being my least favorite). Other restaurants and pubs that came recommended include Doyle’s, Half Door, Chart House, Marina Inn, Paul Geaney’s (airier and brighter and seemingly more family oriented than some) and The Mighty Session.

While on the Slea Head Drive we had a fine lunch at Tigh Ui Mhurchu in Ballyferriter.

Activities: At the very start of Slea Head Drive we did the half hour hike up to Eask Tower. You are meant to pay €2/person. The views from the top are glorious. Boat trips, including visits to the Blasket Islands, are popular. There are several pre-historic sites (beehive huts and such) along the peninsula. I think the new Dingle Distillery accepts visitors, though its first batch of whiskey won’t be ready for some time.

We visited the Cliffs of Moher on the drive from Galway City. The Cliffs are perhaps Ireland’s most famous natural attraction, and they are impressive. We parked at the visitor center and walked across and then strolled a while in each direction up and down the coast. This meant we paid €12 (€6 each), but you could visit for free by parking elsewhere and walking in; i.e. the only part that charges is the parking lot (and it costs €2 to climb O’Brien’s Tower). The visitor center is fine and the design blending in with the landscape is smart, but don’t beat yourself up if you skip it. The Cliffs of Moher Coastal Walking Trail links the villages of Liscannor and Doolin, I think the whole way covers 20km. There are also scenic boat rides for a different perspective. I think some depart from Doolin and perhaps elsewhere.

On the (mostly) coastal drive from Galway City one passes several charming towns. These include Kinvarra, Lahinch (yummy sandwiches at Quills gourmet deli; a big beach; well known links golf course; Moy House hotel just outside town looked nice), Kilkee and Kilrush. We spent a few minutes at the Tralee Town Park enjoying the magnificent rose gardens.

July 29-31, 2014 (Tuesday-Thursday)

Off to the Races

We picked up our rental car (we’re calling him Otis cause he’s an Opel, though it probably would have been more appropriate to go with something like Seamus) and hit the open roads en route to Galway City. We figured out (more or less) how to drive in Ireland on their teeny tiny roads. So narrow! Their two lanes are what would be one in the States. Upon arriving we discovered to our delight that our home for the next few days had an absolutely lovely location, up on the top floor of an apartment looking out over the river with a view down to the church. Fantastic. Not to mention it could not be any closer to the action in downtown Galway. Highly recommend the spot!

And the downtown area was bumping. Actually craic was everywhere. Did I use that right? I still don’t understand these Irish words. I’m trying. I’ve got slainte down, that’s about it. We wandered around Shop Street and the surrounding blocks, which are chock full of pubs, restaurants, shops and street performers (including this awesome Irish-Klezmer fusion type group with a solid tap dancer).

We discovered a delightful tea spot, Cupan Tae, which is pretty much the stuff of my childhood fantasies. Mismatched chairs and tablecloths and a different set of china at each table. The pots of tea come out in other mismatched pots, and the scones and crust-less cucumber sandwiches come out on the daintiest tiered plates. To top it off, the waitresses are all wearing the cutest frilly aprons over their dresses. And the tea menu is legit, several pages of teas for all your tea party fantasies. We went with the Creamy Dreamy Galway blend and it did not disappoint.

Also, Alan found an Irish friend who loves the Giants too. This photo made all of our days.

After a seafood dinner at McDonagh’s (can’t believe it took us this long already to order fish n’ chips… which by the way tasted like donuts in the way that the onion rings at Mastro’s in Los Angeles do. Anyone here know what I mean!?), we hit the pubs for pints and whiskey sampling (on Alan’s part). So it took me exactly four days in Ireland before I got buzzed enough to chat up an Irish person and trade impersonations of each other’s accents. Naturally, in my Irish accent I led with “’ave ya ever been to Yogurtland?” Anyway, in exchange for my embarrassment we got the tip to check out Taaffe’s for live music, and it was a solid scene, with a fiddle player who looks exactly like Cory Monteith. Also, I’m almost embarrassed to rave about this, and it was a late night fourth meal after many a pint so the judgment here may be a wee bit clouded, but the pizza at Napoli was sinfully delectable. Also worth a shout: Swing Sundays at Kelly’s pub. We walked in and had a quick meal and a Smithwick’s while listening to a fantastic bluesy band.

It took some dragging ourselves out of bed the next day, but we got up to drive out to the ferry and head to the Aran Islands. The best way to get out and explore Inishmore (the largest island) seems to be by bike and so that’s what we did. (I seriously think we’ve biked more in our first week in Ireland than we did in one year in Los Angeles, crazy. Must bust out the bikes more back home. Also, can we get city bikes in Santa Monica!?). The island is just big enough that to get around to all the sights would be too long on foot, and just right on bikes for the day.

This cute little spot we stopped at for lunch was adorable (look at that thatched roof!) and delicious (tomato soup and brown bread were spot on, as was Alan’s ham).

The highlight of this island is the cliffs and view near Dún Aonghasa. Pretty impressive if I do say so meself.

This little beach did not disappoint either. How tropical looking!

Less impressive was the worm hole we biked and walked in search of for quite a ways, only to discover it isn’t much of a show at low tide. Womp womp. Supposedly it’s like a four-sided waterfall when the water is high enough. Though, to be fair, I’m not quite sure how accessible it would be when the water is high!?

Our last day in town happened to coincide with the Galway Races. (I say happened to coincide, but really Alan plans this all meticulously, so we actually extended our stay a day to catch these famed horse races). It was grand. Though we learned the hard way that we are pretty much the opposite of good betters. We were too sober to bet our money on the first race, but of course when I learned there was a horse called Ridestan, it brought back memories from our trip to the ‘Stans and I rooted for him. He placed second. So we bet on the second race for one to place, and he got trampled. Then we sat out a race again because we are big fat loser gamblers. And we chose the horse that won on 17:1 odds! And then Alan picked another first place winner without betting the next round. We got all hot headed and bet three ways on the next race…and of course, our horses came in near the back, with Alan’s a dead last, way behind all the others.

So, we totally suck at horse races. But that’s OK, because we really enjoyed it, and I took particular pleasure in watching the women who came dressed for the “Most Appropriately Dressed Lady” competition. Think big ole hats and proper dresses. I can only imagine what ladies’ night is like.

The next day we were off for Dingle with a pit stop at the Cliffs of Moher. Stay tuned!

Practical Info

Before I get started, huge thanks to Sean who wrote an incredibly detailed and helpful email as we were in the planning phase! Galway is the name of the county and also the main city, but if we don’t specify we are always referring to Galway City. Note that some of the street names change midway, so e.g. I think Quay Street and Shop Street are basically the same?

Transportation: We drove from Dublin, see that post for info. Galway City is not the easiest town to drive in with all its one way and pedestrian-only streets. You certainly do not need a car here. You might want one for day trips, but there are plenty of tour options.

Accommodation: We stayed at an Airbnb place with an amazing location (and parking spot) on the river, just by Kelly’s pub. There are tons of options, I think you’d do fine to stay anywhere within easy walking distance of Quay Street, Eyre Square, etc. Our friends recommended Hotel Meyrick. The seaside town of Salthill is nearby and you could in theory make the walk but it’s a couple miles away.

Food and Drinks: Jenni’s new favorite spot may be Cupan Tae. McDonagh’s is famous for seafood. My fried fish was tasty, but in general we were a touch disappointed. The chips were not cooked enough, but on the plus side they tasted remarkably like high quality steak (Jenni called the taste like Mastro’s onion rings). And I got to enjoy a Galway Hooker. Pizza Napoli has some terrific and large slices. Ard Bia has a good rep, and Aniar has a Michelin star.

Perhaps the most famous pub is Tigh Neactain; we had but one pint there. It is small and packed. Taaffe’s had good live music. The Dáil Bar is spacious and the bartenders were friendly. We loved the bluesy Sunday night band at Kelly’s, and the burger and pint special put me on to Smithwick’s Ale.

On Inishmore (Aran Islands), Teach Nan Phaidi right by Dún Aonghasa is cute and a great lunch option. Ti Joe Watty’s closer to town has a good rep and often live music.

Activities: The main activity in Galway City is strolling the pedestrian-only heart and drinking in pubs. There is ample live music. This is a popular base for day trips. We visited the Aran Islands one day. You have several options for this. We drove to Rossaveal (aka Ros a’ Mhíl) and then took the ferry to Inishmore. Parking cost €5 and the return ferry costs €25 each. We reserved our tickets at the office on Eyre Square. Once on the island, we rented bikes at the pier for €10 each (plus a €10 each deposit, cash only). It is a little too big to walk everywhere. Horse and carriage rides are available, and some choose a fully guided van tour but this did not seem appealing as biking the island was a big part of the draw for us.

Entrance to Dún Aonghasa (a cliff-top ancient fort) costs €3 and visiting entails walking up a long path with uneven stairs. We did not see any seals at the Seal Colony. The Worm Hole requires biking on a gravel road and then a substantial walk over deep grass and rocks along the coast. The scenery is lovely, though at low tide we did not see the ocean flowing in and out of the hole as depicted in the tourist brochures.

Our host recommended the Galway Tour Company’s day trip to Inishmaan, a smaller and less visited island. Staying a night in the Aran Islands is probably very peaceful. There are B&Bs all over Inishmore. Note that you can also fly to Inishmore.

Day trips to Connemara and The Burren are also popular. Many visit the Cliffs of Moher from Galway, but we stopped on the drive to Dingle and cover this in our next post.

Our visit to Galway coincided with the famous Galway Races. You may need to buy tickets in advance for ladies’ night, but we purchased them on arrival for the hefty sum of €20 each. Shuttle buses leave from Eyre Square and cost €9 return. There are plenty of food and beverage options at the races.

July 26-29, 2014 (Saturday-Tuesday)

Among the Brethren Redheads

I have one benefit bestowed upon me in the “ability to travel” department, and that is the fact that I can blend in fairly easily in a lot of places. I could pass for Spanish, or Italian, Turkish, or even Uzbek. I’ve got that ambiguous (enough) look to blend in. Alan, my fair skinned, red-headed, green-eyed man has never been blessed with the ability to look like one of the locals. Until now. Alan got in touch with his non-existent Irish heritage by bonding with his red headed brethren from another ancest-thren. And boy, are we in the land of redheads. We hadn’t even so much as left the airport in Dublin before we started playing a modified version of punch buggy: “A redhead!” “Look there’s another one!” “And another one!” Sitting in a park one day, surrounded by many ginger haired men and women I asked Alan what the odds were of this many redheads being out at any given park in the US. His guess was zero. So, I guess that’s our first impression of Ireland. We love the redheads. Just look at this awesome redhead cheering me on as I get my Riverdance on:

So it’s true what they say. There are lots of redheads here. Also true? They are the nicest and friendliest people! The very first pub we popped into, we met the bartender who promptly chatted us up, discovered that we were headed to Galway in a few days and instructed us to look for his mate at the pub over there and tell him, “you’re nothing but a bollocks!” Of course, said mate would know who’d sent us and we were assured he’d take good care of us. Nonetheless, we confirmed that he would not sock us in the face for said introduction.

Ireland gets a bad rap weather-wise. Either the rumors are untrue or we’ve been incredibly lucky our first week here. The weather was spectacular throughout our time in Dublin. On our first full day in town we wandered over to Merrion Square for lunch at the Thursday food truck scene. It was just lovely. Everyone seemed to have taken a long lunch break to enjoy the sun, some good eats, and live music. There was even free wine tasting.

Given the perfect weather, the use of Dublin’s city bikes came in incredibly handy. It’s a pretty walkable (and generally overall very manageable) city, but using the bikes made it even easier to explore. That said, our first time on the bikes was at night, after a couple pints. And combine that with my irrational fear of city biking, in a city I’ve never been to, that drives on the left…it wasn’t very pretty. But we got the hang of it a bit more after that. Plus, it was good practice for Alan in advance of operating a manual shift driver’s-seat-on-the-right car, driving on the left, for the first time.

We parked the bikes to meander through the city. It’s a beautifully green city, full of quaint parks, like St. Stephen’s Green where locals picnic with unusually large birds.

We took the advice of locals and skipped Temple Bar (an actual bar but also the name of the area), save for a quick stroll through just to see what it’s all about. It’s a fine place to walk around, but rumor has it the bars and cafes are overpriced and touristy so we opted instead for the restaurants around Grafton Street and elsewhere.

We did, however, get our fill of a few touristy must-sees. Of course, we visited Trinity College and the Book of Kells. The exhibit on the Book of Kells was interesting, but we preferred the library portion, a long hall full of high barrel oak ceilings, loads of old books and busts of lots of great thinkers.

And aside from the many pints of Guinness already consumed at local pubs, we had to see the legendary Guinness Storehouse. It is quite well done, and you will most certainly kill some time in here. There are seven floors chock full of information on the Guinness making process and history, but the highlight is obviously the top floor where you can retrieve your complimentary pint and check out some seriously impressive views of the city and the surrounding area.

And here is the moment of truth. We’d heard about how Guinness tastes different in Ireland, or different at the Guinness factory. Well, we came, we tasted, we decided…that…it tastes the same. If anything, I might prefer the Guinness outside of the factory, or even (heresy I know) outside of Ireland! Hear us out, though…it’s more of a novelty once you leave Ireland. Here, your days are mostly a waiting game of when it’s time to stop for a pint. No? Ok, suffice it to say we like the Guinness everywhere, but to non-beer experts like ourselves, we can’t really say the local Guinness flavor prevails.

Regardless of the difference in the taste of the beer, the experience of drinking at pubs is far superior in Ireland (at least compared to a regular old bar in the states…I’ve yet to try an English, Scottish or Welsh pub so…). Our friend had recommended Kehoe’s, and on a Wednesday evening this was the scene when we arrived:

We absolutely love the pub and after-work drinks culture, with patrons spilling out onto the streets and catching up over a round. We sat down for dinner at a restaurant right next to Kehoe’s one night, and I had to remark that the soundtrack sounded almost stereotypical Irish: there was a street performer playing the flute, the near constant clinking of glasses, and even a jolly old man with a hearty laugh. I simply can’t get enough.

On our last night in town, we stopped at Fallon & Byrne, a terrific gourmet market near Grafton Street, and picked up the fixings for a picnic. We opted for Irish cheeses and meats, and the Cashel blue cheese was divine. Better equipped, we biked back over to our side of town and hung out on the docks with the youngins at Charlotte Quay (by Ocean Bar, which may still exist or may now be the Mourne Seafood Bar?) to enjoy our dinner and wine. This area is very nice, full of modern apartment buildings and offices (our AirBnB apartment was right next door to the new Google office), and the after-work scene at the Quay is superb.

The sun sets super late in Ireland this time of year, and that means you get lots of time to head out and enjoy magic hour. The city is twice as pretty in this light. I highly recommend checking out the river views as the sun is dropping.

Other random observations: A small box of Cheerios costs €9.95. That’s $13.36 assuming you get a good conversion rate! I should’ve smuggled in some cereal boxes and sold them on the black market!! Also, Dublin is full of pregnant women. Seriously, they were everywhere. Lastly, everyone was eating ice cream here. Though we’re thinking it’s because we arrived during the most summery weather, so they can’t be blamed. That’s all for now, Galway’s coming up next!

Practical Info

Ireland is expensive. Having recently spent six months in Asia, sticker shock is in effect. A pint at the average bar seems to cost about €5, a burger about €10. Many attractions and transportation options offer a 10% discount if you book on their website. There are pamphlets in the tourist office that give you a small discount at certain sights, and if you plan to visit a lot of attractions in Ireland then definitely check out the Heritage Card. A website you may find helpful is http://www.discoverireland.ie.

We bought a Lycamobile SIM card that for €10.50 includes €10 credit. It costs only €0.01/min to call the US and there are various packages for data. I also paid $2.99 for the offline city maps app from Ulmon Pro.

Transportation: We arrived on an Aer Lingus flight from London after using United miles to get there. There are direct flights from some US cities to Dublin and other airports. Our taxi into the city cost €27 and took 20-30 minutes. There are many bus options, at least one of which costs €6.

As Jenni noted, Dublin is a fairly walkable place. The city bikes were great. We paid €5 each for a three-day subscription, and then the first half hour of each ride is free. There is a tram system but we never used it.

On our way out to Galway City we rented a car from Avis in Dublin. We get a discount through USAA and also the California Bar; you should check any professional associations etc. Also check whether your credit card offers collision damage waiver (CDW) in Ireland. Do not assume it does, many do not. Our USAA card does, but Avis still requires a €30 admin fee and a €3,000 hold on the card! Gas is ~$8/gallon, fortunately most cars are small and fuel-efficient. And you want the smallest car you can fit in, because the roads are very narrow. Make sure you put the right type of fuel (e.g. maybe diesel) in your car.

Our Airbnb host in Galway City recommended Gobus or Citylink to get there if we had not rented a car. Instead, we drove about two hours, mostly on the expressway (which has tolls). A smartphone is incredibly handy because even if you don’t buy a local SIM card, if you use Google Maps (and likely other apps) on a WiFi connection then you can generally follow the blue dot even without a signal.

Accommodation: We stayed in an Airbnb place by the docks/Grand Canal on Barrow Street. This area is not touristy and we rather enjoyed it. Many finance/accounting firms have offices nearby, and there are lots of modern apartment buildings. There are some eating and drinking options, and by staying here we got a more local feel plus saw more of the city than we otherwise would have. Most visitors would probably opt to stay closer to St. Stephen’s Green, Grafton Street, Temple Bar, etc. Our friends recommended The Westbury, which is in the heart of it all. We used http://www.bandbireland.com to book accommodation in some other towns. I’m also told you can just drive around and find a fairly inexpensive B&B outside the main towns. This is probably true even now, but we did not want to chance it during the peak summer season.

Food and Drinks: We loved the market at Fallon & Byrne, mentioned above. It also has a restaurant and wine cellar bar. If you happen to be here on a Thursday in the summer, check out the Merrion Square lunchtime market from 11:30 am – 2 pm. Ely Brasserie (one of a few Ely spots) was crackin with the after work crowd, and the scallops and buffalo wings (yup, found my buffalo already) were strong. The €16.95 three plate early bird at Salamanca tapas bar was fine. We also ate one of the quick service options at the CHQ Building. Spar are popular super markets and some have coffee shops inside. Our hosts recommended the Pig’s Ear for food and the Brazen Head as a good pub.

Our first pint was at Ginger Man, a nice pub. Nearby was a big crowd at Probus wine bar. If you just walk around, you will find plenty of pubs and places to eat.

Activities: The Guinness Storehouse was well done. It costs €18 each ex a 10% discount online. The Book of Kells and library at Trinity College were nice; entrance costs €10. We considered a traditional dance show but passed. There is a cheap one at the Arlington Hotel (on the north side of the River Liffey) for €8, but you’re only guaranteed a spot if you include dinner and pay €33.95.

We saw a great wildlife photography exhibit at the CHQ Building. Entry was €6.50. Check the website to see what exhibits they have when you’re here. Lastly, just walking around and soaking in the architecture and parks is a great activity.

July 23-26, 2014 (Wednesday-Saturday)