Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Traveling to Ireland

It's been about a month since my Ireland trip.  I've been kicking myself in the butt and trying to convince myself to sit down and write this post basically since we got back.  But can you blame me?  This post is LONG!  I know I missed a lot of things that I wanted to mention but this will be fine for now.   I basically touched upon the places we went and places I would recommend or skip due to our experience.  

The overall lesson I learned is to spread out the trip more.  We saw a lot of stuff, but we barely touched the surface of most of the places we went.  We were rushing, literally, the whole trip so it would have been nice to actually relax a few days before hopping on the train and going somewhere new.

Okay, so Ireland.

Dublin was pretty neat and since that's where the airport is, you might as well see it while you're there. It's more of a party city than a relax and kick-back city, but it really is fun there. There are a lot of good pubs there. One called The Old Storehouse, has some really great live music where we heard our first kick-ass Irish band. And Whelan's is another fun place where they actually filmed part of the movie, P.S. I Love You.

We stayed in the famed Isaacs Hostel and although it was nice and filled with plenty of youths, it reminded me a bit of a dorm room with the constant partying and the stall showers.  Bring your own towels, this hostel does not provide any.

Trinity College
For attractions we did the hop-on, hop-off tour which let us see pretty much everything in Dublin although we didn't have enough time to get up close and personal with many of the attractions.  We did, however, do the Jameson tour (I have found a new love of this whiskey), Guiness tour (we were pressed for time so didn't get to see much), Riverdance show (LOVE LOVE LOVE this show!), Trinity College (although we didn't see the library :-(  ). and the Dublin Castle (not much of a castle).  I wish we had more time to look at some of the cathedrals, but it is what it is.  Lots to do in this city!

We saw the Powerscourt Estate that is just West of Bray and although it was pretty it wasn't anything special. I almost felt that it was something that could have been seen in Germany. It's basically a palace that has gardens and a few ponds to look at. There is also a waterfall nearby that is supposed to be the tallest in Ireland or something. We didn't have time to see it but I've heard that it's pretty neat.

To get to the Powerscourt Estate, you have to take the train to Bray and then hop on a bus up to the estate.  A word of warning, the bus will drop you off at the first gate for the estate and then it is about a 15-20 minute walk to the actual estate.  To get back to Bray, the bus that picks you up, isn't at the gate where they dropped you off.  Confusing, I know.  You have to walk down the hill that they drove you up, and the stop is in the little tiny shopping center/town at the base of the hill.  You'll see it, there's a roundabout with a clock tower in the center.  So on the way back, plan to be walking for about 30 minutes.

We stayed in Wicklow that night and although we didn't really see any of Wicklow, the hostel we stayed at (Captain Halpin's Bunkhouse) was much more our style than the one in Dublin.  This hostel was super laid back and almost rustic.  It is actually a house that was converted into a hostel so it's really homey.  

Kilkenny castle didn't really seem like it was worth it to me. The castle has tours that go through it but the castle was small and the self-guided tour only took about 20 minutes. For the time that it took to get there, it wasn't that spectacular. In the city, Kilkenny, there is also a cathedral and a round tower. The cathedral was so-so as well and could probably be skipped. The round tower is a tower that you can climb to get the top, it's about 130 steps. But the steps aren't like your average stairs for towers, it's more like a ladder. It was pretty neat. But if you're not interested in the castle and the cathedral, then the tower probably wont be worth the trip on it's own.

Blarney Castle is a MUST see. Beside from the kissing stone where you lay on your back and hang upside down to kiss a stone, there is so much to see and the castle itself is pretty neat. It was the first place that we went to that I really enjoyed myself at. The castle opens at 9, so I would recommend getting there early because it starts to get busy at about 12. We spent 3 or 4 hours there, easily.

Cork is a fairly busy city and if you're not too exhausted from traveling yet and you're there on a weekend, it might be worth it to check out some of the pubs in the downtown district.  We were so tired, that we just picked up a pizza and a 2-liter of soda and headed back to our room.  The pizza was pretty delicious though!

After Cork and Blarney castle, we hopped over to the west coast and I LOVED it over there. The west coast is where you get all the scenic views and pretty landscapes that are iconic in Ireland.

We stayed in a town called Doolin. It's a little less known of but it is a great little town. The town is a little one street town but it has really famous pubs that are known for their live music (get there early if you want a table for the music portion). There are also caves about 3 km outside of the town which I really enjoyed. The cave has the largest stalactite in the northern hemisphere.
We got to wear hardhats!

The Great Stalactite
 And at the other end of the town you'll see the coast line and there are boat tours that take you to the base of the Cliffs of Moher. Which are also pretty amazing. If there's time, I would recommend going to the tops of the cliffs for really great views as well. We stopped by on our bus ride out of Doolin and there are some really spectacular views.

Speaking of bus rides out of Doolin, if you're planning on visiting, you'll either have to drive or take a bus from Ennis Station.  The roads are a bit curvy so take some precautions if you get car sick.

We also stopped by the Rock of Dunamase outside of Portlaoise train station on our way back to Dublin. It was really neat and pretty to see at sunset. You'll have to take a Taxi from the train stop if you don't have a car to get there though. It ended up costing us about 30 euro round trip but it was a cool ruin to see.

There was a lot that we didn't see that we wanted to. I've heard that the Ring of Kerry is pretty amazing but it's a full day trip to see it.

You'll probably spend the majority of your time traveling via train if you aren't planning on renting a car.   We purchased 4 day trekker tickets that got us unlimited train travel for 4 days (not including trams in cities).  The tickets cost 110 euro each which is a pretty penny but it was beyond worth it with the amount of jumping around we did.  For train travel, we probably saved about 200 euros each by purchasing the pass.  Just a heads up though, the pass says "unlimited travel on all Iarnród Éireann services in the Republic of Ireland" but does not include Iarnród Éireann bus services.  There is a combination train and bus ticket for 220 euro or something, but it isn't worth it.  BUT, if you are currently a student, bring your student ID card and you get a nice discount on the combination ticket that might make it worth your while.

Also, when it comes to planning your train travel between cities, take a look at the posted timetables.  You can find them online or in the major stations.  Beware that the weekend schedules differ from the weekday schedules and be prepared, you may find yourself hopping back up to Dublin a few times to change tracks.

You will be surprised at how friendly most Irish people are.  We certainly were!  All you have to do is look slightly lost and people will be jumping up to help you find your way.  When we arrived in Bray, on our way to see Powerscourt Estate, we were looking for a place to store our luggage.  We weren't staying in Bray that night and although we originally planned to take our bags down to Wicklow to store them and then hop back to Bray for the estate, there were mishaps and we ended up in Bray toting our bags behind us.  The station you arrive in is miniscule in size and instantly I had a feeling that there wasn't going to be luggage storage within the station.  We were correct and the lady at the front desk told us to try some bed and breakfasts along the shoreline (Bray is located on the beach). 

We went walking but wasn't it our luck that on that particular day, Bray was hosting an airshow and carnival so there were a ton of people that came in from out of town and booked up all the hotels so we weren't able to find anyone willing to store our bags due to lack of space.  As we're wandering around looking lost, and a tad frightened, a man pulled up with his two daughters and his dog in the backseat and asked if we needed help.

Long story short, he called his parents that lived up the road (a very nice elderly couple) and they agreed to let us store our bags in their house.  He didn't stop there, he took us over to the bus stops and helped us talk to the drivers and figure out which buses we had to take there and back, the times of departure, and how much it would cost.

We were constantly experiencing things like this as the locals (for the most part) went out of their way to help us during our stay.  It made it so much easier when we realized that if something went wrong, we didn't have to be completely on our own.  Of course, that doesn't mean we didn't keep an eye out for those that could see through our naivety! 

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful pictures!! Great tips for when our chance to travel there comes...and oh it will!!


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