Saturday, April 23, 2016


IRELAND!  This was a different trip for us than any other trip we've ever taken for a couple of different reasons:  
First, Eric and I have a long list of places that we want to see that spans the globe, but the order in which we see them usually ends up happening to be wherever I find a good deal at that particular moment.  Eric is so laid back that he never really cares where we go as long as we go somewhere, but I tend to jump on opportunities that Eric probably wouldn't.  While planning for Spring Break I was set on going somewhere in eastern Europe when Eric pipped up saying that he'd really like to go to Ireland instead, and welp, you don't have to ask me twice!  So just like that, our Spring Break destination was decided!

We were going to IRELAND!

Secondly, we normally pick a central location and book day trips from there (i.e Edinburgh, London, Normandy, Reykjavik), mainly because driving in Europe is stressful with a large American vehicle and parking is almost always impossible to find, which are sure fire ways to put my husband in the worst. mood. ever.  Not even having a driving buddy who happens to have a super gleeful spirit can pull my husband out of his shitty mood when he's certain our car will not make it out of a parking garage that I directed him to park in without having to take out a few concrete walls.  So it's just always worked out so conveniently to book day trips and let the people that drive for a living deal with the impossibly tight parking spaces that don't always exist, and save us from a very grumpy guy for the first day or two of our trip.  (But I would just like to add that we've never had to take out any concrete walls in order to leave a parking garage that I directed him to park in with our large American vehicle, Eric.)

But not this time!  Not this trip!  Us crazy kids were feeling a little wild so we decided to rent a car and wing the whole driving on the wrong side of the road thing!  

We rented the smallest compact car that the rental company had available and it quickly became our trusty friend as we Eric took to the left side the road!  Even though our new shiny best friend was small, she had 4 doors, manual transmission, and a lot of leg room- Isabelle had plenty of room to stretch out across the back seat!  We came prepared with our beloved GPS (who has serious attitude when we don't take her at her word but we don't know where we'd be without her so we try to ignore her when she gets all sassy) and off we went!

We arrived safely in Dublin late afternoon and headed towards the B&B that we would be staying at for the first part of our trip.  I knew that asking Eric to drive in Dublin would be the best way to bring out his shitty mood, and the prices of hotels/B&B's in the city were significantly more expensive than in the surrounding villages anyway, so I opted to find a place to stay outside of Dublin with convenient access to the city center by way of public transportation and stumbled across the Evergreen Bed & Breakfast in Swords.  The owners, Jimmy and Mary, welcomed us with open arms and spoiled us rotten for the 3 nights we stayed with them.  Their B&B was one of the BEST parts of our trip and if I could shout how much I loved them from the mountain tops, I would.  

They don't know it.... but we adopted them as our mom and dad of Ireland for all of eternity. 

We spent our first evening in Ireland exploring the medieval town of Swords and eating at a really cool what we thought was an Irish pub but turned out to be this weird combination of Irish food and Mexican food restaurant, but they had beer so we happily ordered food anyway and actually really liked their weird-at-first barbecue pulled pork burritos and tacos.

Swords Castle

Since we had decided to drive ourselves to wherever we wanted to go, we had to first figure out where we wanted to go.  We had five days and a long list of things to see, so I struggled with planning our route because if we didn't want to see everything from our car window we weren't going to be able to see the entire island....and that made my heart hurt.  But we knew we couldn't spend our entire trip in a car, or we wouldn't make it out of Ireland still liking each other as much as we do. 

We knew that we wanted to see most of the major tourist attractions in the southern part of the country, but Eric really wanted to go to Belfast in Northern Ireland for a Harley Davidson t-shirt, so figuring out how to get to everything after I Google mapped it seemed overwhelming.  But wild and crazy was the name of the game, if we were going to figure out the whole driving thing, we might as well see it all! 

Other than the t-shirt in Belfast Eric didn't care what else we did, and I figured if we were going to drive all the way to Belfast for a t-shirt we might as well make the most of it!  So off we went, crossing the border into the United Kingdom, to see as much as we could of Northern Ireland!

The theme of my senior prom was 'The Titanic.'  The movie hit theaters my senior year of high school and was a really big deal at the time.  It's sort of a morbid theme for a prom if you really stop to think about it, but it made sense as a theme because it was such a big deal, and now it will always remind me of my senior year of high school!  Which is a good thing because my prom wasn't all that memorable.  If we were going to Belfast for a t-shirt then we had to go to the Titanic Museum!  

The museum was all interactive and recreated just about every aspect of the ship- it was so. cool!  I did take a bunch of pictures but I just can't get the whole indoor pictures thing down and my OCD says that I'm not allowed to post bad pictures today, so I'm not going to post them, but it was seriously a cool museum!  
They recreated the 1st, 2nd, & 3rd class cabins, played interviews from the survivors on the speakers, and went through the entire process of building the Titanic- from just the idea of it being built, to its actual being built, to its sinking.  They had an area where it looked like you were standing on the deck of a ship with ocean sounds in the background as if you were overlooking the water (just a neat mirror trick) and the railing even shook a little bit as if we were really out on the water!  There was a ride through the skeleton of the ship that showed how the men made it and how they pounded in the rivets- taking three men to pound in one rivet.  You could even feel the heat from the oven they had showing how they bent the steel.  Another part was finding the wreckage of the titanic, so when you were standing there it had a life-size video of the Titanic as it is in the ocean and the walls had a cool underwater effect so it was as if you were floating on top of the wreckage!  IT WAS SO COOL!

Our souvenir photo

If we were going to Belfast for a t-shirt, and going to the Titanic Museum for a little nostalgia, then we might as well head to to the tippy top of Northern Ireland to see the Giant's Causeway for the heck of it!
The Giant's Causeway is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is made up of some 40,000 interlocking basalt columns caused by a volcanic eruption in ancient times.  The columns made a sort of stairway along the waterline, perfect for climbing!  Folklore says that the causeway was created by two giants, one from Scotland and one from Ireland were challenged to a fight so they built the causeway so that they could reach each other, but then the Irish giant was tricked into thinking that the Scottish giant was much bigger than he really was so he ran away scared.  As he ran away he broke up the causeway so that the Scottish giant couldn't reach him anymore.  Irish mythology says that the Irish giant is a hero- I'm not sure he sounds all that heroic, but he does sound pretty adorable!

Our girlie was in climbing heaven wearing Eric's coat.

We hiked this mountain.  See that trail down there?  Yeah, that's about 1/4 up the mountain, we hiked from the water line to the top of the mountain.  My butt loved me for it.

We had a full day in Northern Ireland but we got to see everything that we hoped to with plenty of time at our favorite B&B to relax.  When we got back to the B&B Jimmy had a dram of whisky, an Irish coffee, and a hot chocolate for waiting for us!  

From the research I had done, and from all of the conversations we had with people who had been to Ireland, we knew that we only needed to spend one day in Dublin, the rest of our time should be spent seeing the really wonderful parts of the country that can't be found within city limits.  There are so many valuable tidbits of information on the travel Facebook pages that I follow that I combined with the mistakes we have made and lessons we have learned from our own adventures, and giving Dublin just one day was definitely the right thing to do.  We made our way from Swords to Dublin using the Swords Express bus that got us to the city center for about €10 in less than 30 minutes- so worth not having to worry about driving & parking in a big city and letting Eric drink a pint, or two, of beer if he wanted whenever he wanted.  I purchased The Dublin Pass that allowed us to get into all of the major attractions as well as the hop-on/hop-off bus free of charge, which saved us a lot of time and money.

The Guinness Brewery!

Dublinia- Viking & Medieval Dublin Museum

Oscar Wilde statue- on one side he looks happy, like he's enjoying the view, on the other he looks depressed; a very poetic statue for a poet.

Trinity College Dublin

Trinity College Dublin

The Famine Memorial Statues

Everyone was right, and I'm glad we listened this time, we really did only need one day in Dublin.  Dublin is a fun city and if I was about 10 years younger I could have spent all night there listening to the music over many pints of beer!  But the traffic was horrible so we ended up covering more ground walking everywhere than we did with the hop-on/hop-off bus, which really isn't worth complaining about when you stop to think about the fact that you're in Ireland!

The next morning we had to say goodbye to our Irish mom & dad as we headed to our next stop, Blarney Castle in Blarney village.  It wasn't easy leaving the Evergreen where we had been spoiled rotten and had truly felt like we were in our own home, but it was time to see the rest of Ireland and Mary & Jimmy wouldn't come with us no matter how pathetically we begged.  
Along the way to Blarney I wanted to drive through Wicklow Mountains National Park and then stop in Kilkenny before checking into our B& in Blarney.  It was an ambitious day of driving, to say the least, but I was certain it would all be worth it!

Wicklow Mountains National Park is along the east coast of Ireland covering the mountain range in Wicklow county.  The park contains mountains, valleys, streams, and waterfalls attracting more than one million people every year.  Eric and I were inspired to go there because of the movie P.S I Love You- one of our favorites.  Originally, the route that we had planned would have bypassed the park altogether and direct Eric to drive on the highways, avoiding Ireland's notoriously teeny tiny roads (imagine the smallest road you can think cut it in half, that is the size of Irish roads), but after a little convincing Eric agreed that we would be sad if we didn't get to see where part of P.S I Love You is filmed (Eric says that "sad" isn't actually the word that he used in this particular conversation and it was more of an agreeing to his wife asking sort of thing and her having to go into detail of just how sad she would be if she didn't see the mountains wasn't necessary.  I disagree.  It was absolutely necessary).

The mountains were stunning!  I promise you that they were majestic and incredible and tall, but I just couldn't capture that with my camera.  Our trusty shiny car wandered around the national park on the teeniest of roads you could ever imagine like she had done it a million times before, stopping every so often so that we could soak it all in.  There was hardly any traffic so the roads didn't seem so teeny because we didn't have to share them with anyone.

We wandered our way through the entire national park with a pit-stop in Glendalough before heading on to Kilkenny.  Glendalough is known for its medieval monastic settlement- founded in the 6th century.  All that's left now are the round tower, remains of a church, hiking trails, and a darling gift store.

Our next stop was Kilkenny (pronounced kill-kenny.... poor Kenny).  We spent our time in Kilkenny the same way we did everywhere else, just wandering and soaking it all up.  That was thing about this trip, we didn't really have a set itinerary with a long list of things that we had to hurry to get to.  That's what was so great about driving ourselves everywhere, we could do whatever we felt like, whenever we felt like it!  

We happened on the Smithwick's (pronounced Smit-icks, no 'th' or 'w' sound) Brewery and found out that we were just in time for a tour!  So you know... another day, another brewery...but it actually was a lot of fun!  
Then, we went to the castle where I met an extremely drunk Irishman whose face looked as though it had met the knuckles of a few fists very recently.   This man was pointing at a tree and absolutely overjoyed to see a beehive!  He could not contain his joy at seeing a beehive in a tree of a meticulously cared for garden on castle grounds, and he wanted me to see it too!  I didn't have the heart to tell him that it was just a bird feeder.  Instead, I accepted his invitation into his joy and pretended to take pictures of a beehive and tell him how great it is to see one so up close.  The man was drunk as a skunk but seemed to be completely harmless, and he was offering me his joy, who am I to ruin it for him?  I was just so grateful that he wanted to share his beehive with me.  I sure hope his face gets better!


After another fun brewery tour and marveling at a "beehive," we left Kilkenny and headed to Blarney.  We knew that by the time we arrived at the B&B in Blarney that we would not have time to see the famous Blarney Stone until the next morning, but after another really productive day we were ready for an early evening.

Kissing the Blarney Stone is supposed to give you the gift of eloquence; The gift of gab.  And for 200 years royalty, celebrities, and everyone in between have climbed to the top of the castle to kiss the stone.  Everyone, except me.

In order to reach the stone to kiss it you have lay on your back then lean backwards partially hanging over the ledge about 50ft off the ground (or like 500 gazillion feet off the ground by my measurements).  Way back when, people would have to be held upside down by the ankles in order to reach it.  Nowadays, they have iron railings to hold on to, there are bars under the stone to catch anyone in case they fall, and there is a man that holds on to you while you kiss it.  I am sure that it is very unlikely to fall or get hurt by kissing the stone in modern times.  But look, I don't like heights, and for all of you that know me know that I have very shaky hands naturally- put me in an uncomfortable situation and my hands are completely useless.  So I chickened out.  I just couldn't get myself close enough to the stone to kiss it and I panicked.  I tried, I hated it, and that's it.  But Isabelle and Eric did it!  And I'm happy for them!  But I wanted to get my feet back on the gosh damned ground underneath my head where they are supposed to be.

Isabelle took this picture!

Way up there.... yes, all the way up there where there is a little space in the center is where the Blarney Stone is.

I am not embarrassed or disappointed that I chickened out of kissing the stone.  At least I tried, and at least I got to see it!  But looking at the pictures of Isabelle kissing the stone makes my palms sweat, and I have no clue what I was thinking in letting my child hang off of a ledge like that!  Good gosh!
Deep breaths....

The next leg of our trip took us to the Cliffs of Moher!  But just like our drive through Wicklow Mountains National Park, Eric & I wanted to drive our shiny best friend on the small back roads rather than the highways because we wanted to see more of the countryside.  And since Eric had managed the tiny Irish roads effortlessly in Wicklow I didn't have to go into any sort of detail about how not seeing the coast would make me feel because he was actually excited to give it another try!  
The highway would have gotten us to the Cliffs faster, but then we would have missed out on the best parts of Ireland.  So once my hands stopped shaking from the terror of hanging upside down at Blarney, we took off along the Wild Atlantic Way- the longest coastal touring route in the world- towards the Cliffs of Moher!  

Since we had decided to take a different route than the major highways, we had to take a ferry to get to the Cliffs, which was a pretty cool precursor to seeing the Cliffs!  The Cliffs of Moher stretch 5 miles along the western coast of Ireland with the most breathtaking views of the Atlantic ocean!  They are one of the top tourist attractions in Ireland and are a geologic wonder, carved by the ocean and time, and are the home to thousands of seabirds, different plants, and sea mammals. 
Kissing the Blarney Stone was nothin' compared to hiking along the Cliffs!

For our very last night in Ireland we drove just a little bit further to downtown Galway to spend the night at the worst B&B of our entire stay (anywhere compared to the Evergreen wasn't going to measure up, but this one's location was about the only good thing going for it).  
We were inspired to go to Galway mostly because of the movie P.S I Love You, but mostly because it was the perfect distance from the Cliffs so that we could spend all day hiking and not be rushed to leave, but also, Galway made for the perfect stop so that we could rest after a long day of hiking on the edge of Ireland.  We weren't necessarily all that excited about seeing another city, the 6th largest in Ireland, especially after filling our souls with the beauty of the Irish countryside, but Galway was voted the 'friendliest city in Ireland', and that is the kind of city for a gal like me!

By the time we arrived at the B&B in Galway we were completely exhausted, but we only had the evening to explore so we headed downtown to find a pub for our last Irish supper in Ireland, and on the way we ran into hoards of people going in the opposite direction to a cricket game!  We were too tired to go to the game, but their excited energy gave us the energy we needed to really enjoy Galway!  It was another cool city, just like Dublin, and it lived up to its "friendliest" title!

We had almost an entire day to kill before our flight back home to Germany, so we left Galway, after getting to sleep in and a disappointing breakfast, and drove to Malahide- a seaside village just outside of the Dublin airport.

Malahide Castle

Eric was so excited to see a real cricket game in real life.  He said it was the best way to end a trip to Ireland.

We managed to cover a whopping 1,350km (850 miles) in our 6 days in Ireland and accomplished all that we hoped to!  What seemed ambitious and a lot crazy, ended up being so much fun and not crazy at all!  
When we were in Scotland last year I had wished that we had rented a car and drove all over the country because I had an aching suspicion that there was so much that we didn't see.  So I combined that lesson learned with all of the tidbits of advice I've collected from friends' travels which led us to rent a car for this adventure, making for some really great memories.  We were even a little sorry to return our shiny best friend because she was so good to us, but it was time to get home, and we left Ireland knowing that we had truly made the most of our time there.

"Ireland, it's the one place on earth that heaven has kissed with melody, mirth, and meadow and mist." ~Irish proverb