My friend Denise (whose currently teaching English in Saudi Arabia) had the chance to do a bit of traveling this summer. Her first adventure took her to Ireland.
1| What was your first stop after arriving in Ireland? The first stop I made after arriving in Dublin after checking in to the hotel was to a pub. If there is one thing you must do in Ireland it is to go to a pub. There are so many different pubs each with different vibes so generally there is a pub for everyone. But, what I like most about a pub is that it’s a restaurant, bar, entertainment (live music or televised popular sporting events) and social spot all rolled in to one. It was nice to be in that type of space especially coming from Saudi.
2| What was it like driving on the ‘other side of the road’? In short, it was terrible. I don’t recommend doing this at all. It’s added stress a traveler doesn’t need to take on, especially when, for relatively the same price, they can hire a local driver. The problem isn’t just driving on the wrong side of the road on the wrong side of the car, but it’s that most roads are very narrow. I found myself having to share these very narrow roads with tour buses, tractors, livestock, and local drivers whose speed and maneuvering skills rivaled Nascar. The worst of it was that there were often a stone wall hidden by foliage acting as a barrier on one side of the road. So, when there was a larger vehicle barreling towards me on a road that barely fit the compact rental I drove, many times pulling over to the side of the road (that most times did not have a shoulder) or putting more distance between my car and those coming toward me was just not possible. The best advice I got from a local there was to keep in mind that no one was going to hit me. I literally spoke those words out loud to myself while driving to keep from panicking. Though by the end of the trip I felt more comfortable on the roads, if I never drive in Ireland again it will be too soon. I have concluded that a prudent addition to the Irish souvenir market would be a t-shirt that says the wearer survived driving in Ireland!
3| How was the weather during your trip? Did it ever affect your plans for the day? The weather was great during the trip. As expected, it rained a great deal, but it was never an all day type of thing. There would be rain and then sunshine throughout the days. A waterproof rain jacket and boots are essential items needed for anyone going to Ireland.
4| Which tour service did you use and would you recommend it? My friend and I used AAA together with Brendan Vacations. I would not recommend the service for various reasons that I won’t get in to in this article. My recommendation for travelers is to do their own research and if they are not going to use a full guided tour to plan their own trip. There are no savings or added benefits with using a travel agent.
5| Tell me about hiking the causeway and ‘breaking the law’ to see the lighthouse. Ha!! We didn’t actually break the law to see the lighthouse, because we didn’t actually see the lighthouse. Here’s the story. Earlier that day my friend and I took a bus tour of Galway. During the tour the guide mentioned that one of the must-sees in Galway was the lighthouse at the end of the causeway. He said it was worth the walk and the lighthouse was beautiful. So, on the tour guide’s advice, we went. The walk was long and when we got to the actual road that led to the lighthouse the barriers were down. But there were already people on the road so we slid under the barrier and kept walking. It felt like we were breaking the law and maybe we were, but we weren’t alone. There were many locals hiking at the same time. The only part that was a little disappointing was that after a 45-minute hike to get to the lighthouse we found that the area that housed the lighthouse was closed. There were gates, locks, and surveillance cameras involved. We decided not to hop these barriers. I’m not sure why the tour guide recommended seeing a closed site, but the walk was nice. We got good pictures. Plus there was an Iron Man race going on so we got the chance to interact with the local community.
6| You stayed in an actual castle, what was it like? I have always had a thing for castles and Dromoland Castle was, in a word, spectacular! We took a tour of the grounds and learned the history of the castle, whose credits boast, among other things, a living clock built in to the landscape that tells the months and seasons using the sun! It was like being in a movie. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there.
7| How amazing was it seeing the famous Cliffs of Moher? The Cliffs were just stunning. We took a boat tour to see them instead of actually walking up the Cliffs. The boat tour was an adventure because the waters were very choppy that day. We were standing during the boat ride because there weren’t enough seats on deck and to get good pictures. We encountered waves that were super high. While most of us on the boat were on the edge of total fright the captain was on his mobile and the skipper was sitting behind him eating chips and drinking a coffee that I’m positive never even dripped during the tumultuous ride. I’m not one for motion sickness, but if you are, I would recommend walking up the Cliffs.
8| What did you enjoy the most about your tour of the Gap of Dunloe? The Gap of Dunloe is something I highly recommend seeing for anyone going to Ireland. We heard about it from a couple staying at our bed and breakfast in Galway. The couple, who were also from North Carolina, said it was not to be missed and they were so right. Some people choose to bike or walk through the Gap and that’s cool, but you should know that it is a proper mountain and looks are deceiving. It doesn’t look so big and threatening but when you get on the inclines you know it’s not a Sunday jaunt in the park. You can also take a horse and buggy tour, which is what we elected to do. The horse and buggy took us through the mountains and then the tour concludes with an hour-long boat tour through the rest of the Gap ending at Ross Castle. This place was so picturesque it was surreal. The whole time I felt like I was in a scene from The Hobbit. I enjoyed the horse and buggy ride through the mountains the best. Our driver was a character and though it was cold and rainy, it was easily one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.
9| What was your favorite castle out of all the ones you saw? My favorite castle was Bunratty Castle. Mostly because it was a working castle, not a ruin like most of the castles we saw. Near this castle there was also a folk village and both sites together gave tourists a real feel for what life was like during that time. The best part of traveling is experiencing other places- the people, the sights, the culture, the environment. Places like Bunratty Castle and Folk Village provide that full cultural experience for visitors.
10|Out of all the sites you saw during your trip to Ireland, what was your favorite? My favorite site was easily The Gap of Dunloe- for all the aforementioned reasons.
11| Do you plan on visiting Ireland again someday? I would definitely like to visit Ireland again and when I do I want to tour Northern Ireland as well.
Stay tuned to the post coming next week, where Denise shares about her adventures in Paris.
Note: All photos in this post are by Denise Winston