Our first vacation in 2 years – Tues 8/31/16 – Tues 9/6/2016.
So, Ireland! I want to go back. Now! I’ve already asked hubby if we can just go live there. For the week we were there, the weather was fantastic. It did rain a few times, but nothing unbearable. And gorgeous! Absolutely gorgeous and breath-taking!! Oh Ireland, with your outstanding natural beauty, your lovely people with their lovely accent, your wonderful old stone homes, idyllic scenery, and your awe-inspiring coasts, you have my travel/adventurous heart.
The initial reason for our trip to Ireland was to watch the GA Tech vs. Boston College football game over in Dublin. The couple we went with on this trip, along with hubby, all went to GA Tech; and our friends wanted to go see the game and invited us along for a vacation to go watch it. So after much discussion and attempts at planning, the dates were set for Tues. 9/1/16 to Tues. 9/6/16, and our friends found a 2 bed 2 bath apartment in a modern building to rent in Howth for those dates. Howth was a charming and delightful harbor town about a 25 minute train ride from Dublin. When hubby was searching for flights, it worked out the best for us to arrive on 8/31/16, so for that one night, we stayed in the city center of Dublin.
The hotel we stayed in that one night was really cool and quite modern, and let me tell you, after being in an airplane for so long, it felt great to get in the room to brush my teeth and shower. Whew, after both, I felt human again. Haha! ;-) So we get to the room early in the morning and nap because neither of us slept that well or that much on the overnight flight to Dublin. Then afterwards, we hit the streets for some lunch and to walk around the city. We found a nice bar, called Neary’s, to sit outside for a couple of drinks and then later after more walking, we found a really pretty, pleasant park in the middle of Dublin. It had a small pond with loads of ducks, several fountains and lots of beautiful flowers. Dublin has the River Liffey running through the middle of it and it was great to walk down it. We found Dublin quite easy to navigate and the people to be friendly. I absolutely loved the old buildings; I find them to be so fascinating. We had dinner at Bailey Bar and Café, which was a lovely restaurant and thankfully there was seating outside because it was just a wonderful and clear night to be outside. The temperature was quite agreeable. On the back of their menu was a quote from James Joyce – “The light music of whiskey falling into a glass – an agreeable interlude.”
The next morning after eating at the hotel restaurant, we had a chance to walk around the city some more before getting a taxi to take us to Howth. By the time we had arrived, our friends had started settling into the apartment. It was quite cute and modern and comfortable enough. The kitchen, while small, was stocked well enough for cooking. However none of us felt like cooking; we ate all of our meals out. All of our meals means just lunch and dinner; none of us really felt like getting up and ready early enough to find breakfast. And the whole time we were there, the food was always excellent. And hubby greatly enjoyed the Guinness!
So that Thursday night (9/1/16), the four of us walked a little around Howth and then had dinner at Crabby Joe’s. I had the seafood linguine and it was delicious. It took some effort to eat because it came with lots of shelled seafood - clams, prawns, and mussels, which I had to work out of their shells. Then after dinner, we went to a bar called The Abbey; it was built back in the 1500’s. It was a neat and quaint place. We made that night an early one because the next day, we had to be up at 5am to catch a 6:30 train into Dublin. In Dublin, we caught a tour bus at 7:30 for a day of wondrous exhilaration and adventure.
On Friday we took an all day tour to the Cliffs of Moher, drove up the Wild Atlantic Way and visited Galway – all on the west coast. On the way, we made a 20 minute stop at a gas station plaza, called the Barack Obama Plaza. Yes, you read that right. The Barack Obama Plaza in Moneygall, Ireland. Apparently the president has ancestors from Moneygall, IE and after visiting there during his first term, the town built a plaza – small gift shop, gas station and sandwich shop and honored it by naming after our president. After grabbing some snack food and drinks, we hit the road again – on to the Cliffs of Moher.
We finally pull into the quite full parking lot for the much visited, and rightfully so, Cliffs. Our guide for the day told of two paths we could walk. One was a safer walk; the other not quite so much. The not-so-safe path apparently is a place where, if the winds are strong and forceful enough, people can be blown off, mostly to their deaths, from the cliffs. There was even a small sign for about people being blown off the cliffs. One reason why it is so easy to do that is because there is not a wall the full length of the path to stop people from being blown off. Guess which path we chose with no hesitation?? The not-so-safe path! Go big or go home right?!?! Well, we are not about to leave that beautiful charming country so quickly. There was a wonderful stone wall down most of the single file path and then it stopped and things opened up to give more freedom of movement and exploring. So the park area for the Cliffs was a public space but right on the other side of that single file path was private land that is a cow pasture. That was definitely the first time I had smelled the natural odors of a cow pasture and see cows while simultaneously gazing out over an ocean and smelling the fresh salty air. The smells did not complement each other! J
The Cliffs were absolutely stunning! I could have sat there for hours just gazing at them and watching the Atlantic Ocean and listen to the seagulls. Everything about that area was just spectacular. The multiple green colors of the grasses, the delightful and colorful wild flowers, the blue/green/gray of the Atlantic, the fresh salty air blowing up off the ocean, the waves crashing up against the cliff walls and the tall, rocky cliffs somewhat covered in grass and moss – all so enchanting. And the weather was great. It was windy with a cloudy sky, but no rain. I was not kidding when I said I could have sat there for hours gazing out over the landscape and water. I was sad to leave there. I want to go back there NOW!!!
After a couple of hours there, we drove up Wild Atlantic Way – a road along the Atlantic coast. It was a fantastic drive. Out of the left windows of the bus, I could see the Atlantic and out the right windows, I could see the attractive landscape, various farm animals and adorable houses and barns.
One stop we made on the way to Galway was at a national park called The Burren. Here is a paraphrased summary about The Burren of its description from Wikipedia:
The Burren is rich with historical and archeological place with more than 90 megalithic tombs, single-chamber tombs, ring forts and rolling hills. It is composed of limestone pavements with a rocky surface that our guide said is the closest thing that we will see to surface of the moon. The Burren was really affected by the last glacial period, which happened about 10-12,000 years ago, causing massive erosion. The region supports many rare Irish species of plants and animals. It was a really cool place but one definitely needed to pay close attention to walking or you would quickly stumble, fall down and possibly twist an ankle.
After driving up the coast and through some charming villages, we came to Galway. We had about 1.5 hours to spend in Galway, and the 4 of us chose to spend that time eating a late lunch. Our gas station bought snack foods had worn off. The little bit of walking we did through the city showed us some lively, colorful streets with lots of streamers of flags hanging over them. We had a wonderful lunch and was lucky enough to find an outdoor table. And flowers – there were baskets of flowers everywhere. Most of them were hanging from second story windows. That was one of the things about Dublin, Howth and Galway that made them so delightful, cheerful and welcoming was all the flowers hanging from windows.
Anyway after lunch we head back to the bus and then make our way back to Dublin. We had a great and funny guide. He was a fantastic story teller and he kept us entertained and informed throughout the bus rides. He also gave us some history lessons of the country. To hear what those people have been through in their history was very saddening. But it seems today they have a great spirit and joy of life about them.
After arriving back at Dublin, we took an Uber back to Howth and since we had a large late lunch, we went to a restaurant and hung out in their bar area. That turned out to be quite a fun night and we kept the bartender fairly busy along with all of the other patrons. So after a couple of hours of sitting around talking, a couple of karaoke guys showed up with their equipment to really bring the party. I don’t know what possessed me but I sang karaoke. I can’t say it was the wine because even here in the States when there was an opportunity to do karaoke (which I have not had that many opportunities), I would become shy and nervous despite any drinks I might have had. If I do karaoke I usually make someone do it with me. Anyway, when one of the guys started singing Folsom Prison Blues by Johnny Cash, I went up there and sang with him. Then I asked to do a song on my own. I truly am not good at choosing singers or songs under pressure because all I can think of is George Strait songs and I don’t know how well I could do a man’s song live. So in honor of the Dixie Chicks concert I went to in Charlotte a couple of Saturdays prior, I sang Goodbye Early by them. I thought that since the Dixie Chicks recently toured in Europe that they might have been somewhat popular in Ireland. Nope – at least not with that group of people in that bar. So nobody sang along with me except my sweet husband and friends. The men running the karaoke made those who sang do a shot of Jagermeister. I swear Jagermeister tastes like it dripped out of the devils butthole. Later one of the ladies at the bar told me I was brave to have gotten up there and sang. Anyway we had a rocking and rollicking good time that night and afterwards, thankfully, there was a Chinese take away place so we could get our midnight drunken eating on.
For Saturday, we were able to sleep in a little but not too much as we had to find some food and catch a train back into Dublin so we could get to the GA Tech vs Boston College football game. The kickoff was at 12:30p. Off the train and walking towards the stadium we were desperately looking for food and so were many many other people. Thankfully this restaurant had a tent and a couple of stations set up out front on their walkway and we stopped and their Irish version of hotdog. The Irish sausage was really good and so was the bun. Man did we feel better after that. So we make it to the stadium, which is primarily used for soccer; it was a mostly open top stadium but some of the seats were covered. Thankfully we had covered seats because it rained a good portion of the morning and for some of the game. At one point I went to the concession stands to get some fries; it was funny and weird to order them by calling them ‘chips.’ But they were so good. And in the concessions area, there were stands dedicated to selling only beer, most of which was Guinness. We had a good time watching the game. Around us seemed to be a good mix of people supporting both teams – some people, like us, flew to Ireland specifically for the game. Other people there were from Ireland or a couple of other European countries and had no real ties to either college, they just wanted to come watch the game. It was intense though towards the end because it wasn’t until the last couple of minutes of the game that GA Tech scored a touchdown that put them ahead of Boston College. So thankfully GT won – 17 to 14.
At the end of the game when we were walking out, there was a guy there who, apparently, is a massive GT fan, because due to his excess body hair, he was able to shave a GT in his chest/stomach hair. We took a picture with him. He definitely liked all the attention he was getting from everyone; there were others taking pictures with him as well.
So the game ended around 3:30 and we walked around and found a real local pub to have a couple of drinks and enjoy the atmosphere. This place was definitely one were a lot of people were true regulars. One old man seemed to have his own designated table in a cute little quiet corner. The place had the vibe about where if you wanted to come later in the day/evening, you either need to be a regular or know someone who is. They seemed like tight knit group who may have been ok not expanding it. But for the time we were there in mid afternoon, the people were welcoming and even talked a bit to us. The bartender, an older man, wasn’t overly friendly with us but he was courteous enough. Then afterwards we caught a train back to Howth for a kind of early dinner. We found a great place that served some excellent pizza. And again we were lucky enough to find a little spot to sit outside to enjoy the harbor views, the very pleasant weather and the sun shining through the clouds.
On Sunday, we had a pretty easy day. We needed to rest as we had been going mostly non-stop since arriving in Ireland. So late in the morning hubby and I walked around Howth and up the path that goes by the sailboats and fishing boats and up to the lighthouses. Then we found a wonderful restaurant called The Deep and luckily again found outdoor seating there. The food was excellent. Hubby had a seafood pot that had a great variety of seafood and I had the open fish pie. Both were excellent. After walking around town some more, we went back to the apartment to get ready to head into Dublin for a Traditional Irish Dinner and Show and met up with our friends. They had spent part of their day doing a tour through the Teeling Whiskey distillery.
The Traditional Irish Dinner and House Party was in a cool hotel. Cool in the way there were modern amenities but with some history and original character & features from earlier times that was just so inviting and charming. We had our three course meal upstairs, which was good, and then we (there were about 50 people in all doing this) were led downstairs for the show. Due to the train schedule, we had to miss the last 25 minutes of the show, but we saw about 30-35 minutes of it. It was a group of 4 people – 2 men and 2 women – singing, playing instruments, telling stories and dancing. Clarification – during the time we were there only one woman danced. She showed us some traditional Irish dancing and apparently she is so good and talented that she has been a part of award winning dance groups across Ireland. That was a fun night. The Irish really do have a wonderful gift of gab and storytelling.
On Monday, sadly our last real day there, we all left the apartment fairly early in the morning to do a hike around part of Howth’s coastline. We hiked for an over an hour and there were some steep hills to climb. My friend Emily and I could have used that hike for practice for our obstacle course mud run that we did earlier this year. Ha! You can read about that day here.
The Howth harbor coastline was, to me, equally magnificent and breathtaking as the Cliffs of Moher. These cliffs did not have the rocky faces like the Moher ones; these were mostly covered by grasses and flowers. The water was gorgeous as well. Again, this was a place I could have easily sat for hours just gazing at such stunning natural beauty. I will echo another sentiment from earlier here – I want to go back NOW!!! It was unbelievable that we had such terrific weather for that day. Once we finally made our way back into town, we went to lunch. I think after that kinda tough (for me) and long hike we earned some drinks and lots of good food. Hubby and I got two appetizers – both delicious – and a large seafood platter for two. The platter had 2 filets of fish, several prawns, oysters, half a lobster, smoked salmon, crab claws and a shredded tuna spread. All of it was so delicious, and we will pretend that it was mostly healthy. Getting in the Omega-3 vitamins right?? Haha!!
So after such a large, wonderful lunch we went to The Bloody Stream restaurant and bar for a few drinks. We were going to sit outside but it was just too hot. The Bloody Stream was near the small train station and was a really cool, welcoming place that definitely felt old-fashioned. It kind of had a charmingly old romantic feel to it as well. It has brick walls, exposed beams, a large and beautiful stone fireplace and the seats were covered in rich, red velvet. The tables definitely came from a by-gone era.
Here is the history of The Bloody Stream, taken from their website:
The Bloody Stream is named in honour of The Bloody Stream over which it is built. In August 1177, during the second Norman invasion, a heavy battle took place near here between the forces of Sir Almeric Tristram (said to have been a descendent of one of the knights of King Arthur’s Round Table and whom took over command from Sir John de Courcy on the expedition’s arrival at Howth, who was unable to leave his ship) and the Danes, who were occupying Evora Bridge at that time. Inevitably the fighting produced blood, some of which found its way into the little stream that has been known as “The Bloody Stream” ever since.
After a few drinks, lots of laughs, and interesting & unique topics of conversation, my girl friend and I went to do a little souvenir shopping. Then afterwards we went to a fast food place to get fish and chips to go. It was a take away place with no seating; however, it was very popular because we had to wait to order. After eating the fried fish and chips, I could understand why it is so sought out – the food was good! So after that, hubby and I went out on our own to The Findlater restaurant and bar for a couple of after dinner drinks and to enjoy the town and sights of the harbor for one last time. It was such a pleasant evening. I loved sitting at an outside table on the sidewalk watching the people and cars go by and relishing in the fabulous weather and just really appreciating the atmosphere that Europeans seem to know how to do right – sit outside, enjoy good drinks and tasty food, people watch and taking pleasure in the company with you, all while not being in a rush and just letting the glorious day and occasion soak into every bone in your body and fill your soul.
We finally convinced ourselves to go back to the apartment to start packing for the next day. Hubby and I had to get up at 4am to get ready for the 5am taxi ride to the airport. So apparently, the Dublin airport is one of the few places where they do customs there for people going back to the USA. We were advised to get to the airport 3 hours before our flight to ensure having enough time to get checked in, get through security, go through security again and then finally customs. We also had to find a little time to grab a quick bite of breakfast too. So we made it through all of that with about 30 or so minutes to spare before our flight was scheduled to leave.
We had a good flight back to Newark NJ; hubby slept a good deal of the time. Then we had a few hours to kill before catching our flight back to Charlotte. We got back to Charlotte around 5 or 5:30p
What a fabulous trip! It was so appreciated and needed by and for the both of us. Ireland was spectacular and I am ready to go back at the drop of a hat.
So here are a few things I noticed that didn’t get written about above:
1) Whoever built a lot of the buildings and in whatever time period they were built or added on to, the Irish designers liked having vestibule like areas leading to the bathrooms. Most places we went to, you have to walk through one door, and then entered another door to get into the bathroom. The first time I saw that I was taken aback.
2) I am not sure that the Irish believe in top sheets on a bed. The hotel bed and the ones at the apartment had bottom sheets and blankets and that was it. The apartment did not have air conditioning, so we had to sleep with the bedroom window open. So the blanket was too much and too hot most nights; but simultaneously, not using it would make me too cool to sleep well. This is where a top sheet would have been most welcome and appreciated.
3) The trains are very clean and they put small signs up at every seat to not put your feet on the seat or you would be fined 50 Euros
4) In the hotel room we stayed in the first night, you had to flip on switches in order for electrical outlets to work so you could turn on lamps. Luckily we did not have to deal with that at the apartment.