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We dedicated Day 128 to checking out Dublin.  The 3-day bus pass we used was good for the Dublin Bus Tour, a fleet of green hop on, hop off buses that stopped at nearly 30 tourist traps throughout the city.  We were lucky enough to be staying in a hotel located directly across the street from one of the 30 stops – the Kilmainham Gaol, a former prison turned museum.

We “hopped on” at the Kilmainham Gaol and got off at the first stop – Heuston Rail Station – to grab a quick breakfast on the go.  We lucked out because the next bus had a live tour guide, whereas the first bus had a recorded tour available in 12 different languages to cater to the non-English speaking tourists.  The tour guide on the second bus was great – interweaving the history of Dublin with fun facts, humor and the occasional pun.

We took this bus nearly the full route before getting off at our first stop of the day – the Guinness Storehouse, which is located at St. James’s Gate Brewery in Dublin.  Courtney and I had been previously (during a drunken weekend in our college days), but we took the tour at a much slower pace this time around.  The interactive museum brings visitors through both the history of Guinness and the stout’s brewing process.  We really enjoyed the tour, which included the opportunity to sample a half pint midway through the journey.  At the end, visitors have a choice to enjoy a pint of Guinness one of two ways – (1) you can learn how to and then pour the perfect pint of the stout or (2) you can enjoy a pint at the Gravity Bar, a location at the top of the storehouse that offers 360 views of the city of Dublin.  Since we didn’t have the first option back in 2002, I opted to pour the perfect pint this time and it was delicious.  We did stop up at the Gravity Bar for the view, but the huge crowd of people took away from the atmosphere.  Overall, the Guinness Storehouse is a must if you spend any time in Dublin.

We then grabbed a quick lunch before hopping back on the bus.  We initially discussed taking the Jameson Distillery tour – another stop on the route – but didn’t want to spend anymore of the day inside.  The next and final stop for us on the route was the historic Trinity College.  Founded in 1592, Trinity College is Ireland’s oldest university.  We entered the grounds and were greeted by a completely different vibe that was found outside the gates of the institution of higher learning.  The organized chaos of the Dublin city streets was replaced with a serenity that almost can’t be described in words.  We walked around Parliament Square and then toured the rest of the grounds at a leisurely pace.  This is also a must-see if you visit the city.

We eschewed pub fare once again for dinner.  Instead, we opted for a very cliché, yet familiar dinner at the Hard Rock Café.  After eight or so days of the unknown, the expected was appreciated.  We grabbed a final pint after dinner at the Ha’ Penny Bridge Pub, which was fittingly at the foot of the Ha’ Penny Bridge.  It was a very laid back pub that was worried more about pouring a good pint than creating a phony atmosphere.  It was a nice place to enjoy our last drinks.

Guinness Storehouse exterior

A view of the exterior of the Guinness Storehouse

Guinness Storehouse Interior

The view of the interior of the Guinness Storehouse

Perfect Pint

The "Perfect Pint" I poured at the Guinness Storehouse

Trinity College Statue

A view of a statue near the entrance to Trinity College

Parliament Square

Parliament Square on the campus of Trinity College

The Ha'penny Bridge

The Ha'penny Bridge, a pedestrian bridge over the River Liffey

Last Pints

We drank our last pints at the The Ha'penny Bridge Inn

Day 127 was, for all intents and purposes, a travel day.  We enjoyed a complimentary breakfast at the hotel before heading back on the road.  I did some research on the the League of Ireland – the primary national soccer league of Ireland – before we left for our trip and discovered that the Bray Wanderers played a home match on the Friday of our trip.  The eight-club league pales in comparison to the English Premier League, but I looked at it as an opportunity to take in some football in Europe.  So, we travelled from Cork to the coastal city of Bray to visit the grounds and investigate purchasing tickets.  There was little to no security and we actually walked through the “stadium” to find a ticket office.  The ticket office was out to lunch, so we never did connect with them.  Plus, the weather was especially cold and windy, so we opted to grab lunch and skip town.

Our detour to Bray and stop for lunch put us in a great position to drive through Dublin at the height of rush hour on a Friday.  The previous week of driving prepared me for true city driving as we navigated the streets to make our way to the airport to return the car.  It was quite the experience, but I saw the finish line and was ecstatic to get rid of the car.  It was well worth it to rent the car, but finally returning it to Budget was a very freeing experience.

We made our way back to the terminal area to locate transportation to our hotel.  I noticed an offer for a 3-day bus pass when we initially arrived in Dublin, so we decided to investigate further.  As it turned out, the city of Dublin did offer a 3-day pass that included all city buses and the popular hop on, hop off buses.  This was a no-brainer for us to purchase for €25 because it represented a significant cost savings over purchasing transportation à la carte.  Plus, it afforded us the flexibility to take advantage of the entire bus system to get to the city centre and around the city once we were there.

After taking a bus to our hotel, we dropped our bags and headed back into the city centre.  We walked around for a while before grabbing some dinner and pints.  It had been a long day of driving, so we retired back to our hotel relatively early to prepare for the next day of Dublin sightseeing.

Cow

A cow we encountered on our drive from Kilkenny to Bray

soccer pitch

The soccer pitch at the home grounds of the Bray Wanderers

Bray Coast

A view of the east coast of Ireland in the city of Bray

Dublin at Night

The quiet streets of Dublin at night

The beauty of renting a car was that we could be very fluid with our travel plans.  We had an itinerary, but were able to pencil in a sight or city along the way if we had time.  We had some time on the morning of Day 126 as we left Cork, so we decided to head to a small coastal town called Kinsale (upon a recommendation).  A sister city of Newport, RI, Kinsale certainly looked the part.  The city, a popular vacation destination for Irish and foreign tourists, is known for its many gourmet restaurants and leisure activities – including yachting, sea angling, and golf.  It seemed like a nice place, but I wasn’t very impressed.

From Kinsale, we made our way north to Kilkenny city.  It was a bit of a drive, so we got there around 4:00pm.  We didn’t have a hotel reservation of any sort, so we toured a couple of B&Bs before finding a great hotel called the Kilkenny Hibernian Hotel right in the city centre.  The upscale, yet affordable accommodations allowed us to settle in for a very enjoyable evening.  After checking in, we made the short walk (less than 5 minutes) to the Kilkenny Castle.  It was too late at this point to enter for a tour, so we enjoyed the exterior and snapped some photos.

We had grown tired of pub fare by this point, so we opted for Italian food.  We found a great place and had a nice meal.  We didn’t order alcoholic drinks at the restaurant, opting for pints of Diet Coke.  You would think this would have resulted in some savings, but no such luck – we paid the equivalent of $8 USD for our 16 ounces of soda.  We finally made our way back to the hotel and had several drinks at the hotel pub to wrap up another great day in Ireland.

Kinsale

Kinsale, Ireland – sister city of Newport, Rhode Island

Harbor

The harbor in Kinsale

Kilkenny Castle

A view of the Kilkenny Castle

Kilkenny Castle Grounds

The green grounds of the Kilkenny Castle

Kilkenny

The city centre of Kilkenny, Ireland

We woke up to less than stellar weather on Day 125.  It was somewhat disappointing because we had plans to drive the Ring of Kerry, a ride that boasts some of the best views in all of Ireland.  It improved a bit once we hit the road, but the first half of the day was foggy with a drizzle here and there.  It burned off eventually and the rest of the day was the same amazing weather we experienced the previous 3-4 days.

We drove the Ring of Kerry and it certainly didn’t disappoint.  It is similar to the Ring of Dingle in that the ride offers views across the entire spectrum – farmland, mountains, streams, beaches and other breathtaking views of the ocean and countryside.  We began the drive in Killarney and went counter-clockwise.  This would have been a huge mistake in high tourist season because all tour buses go in a counter-clockwise direction because the roads are not wide enough to allow buses to pass each other.

We ended the Ring of Kerry just short of Killarney in a small town called Kenmare.  We decided to stop for a snack in the town and were very happy we did.  It was one of my favorite stops along the journey because it was a classic Irish town, with brightly painted shops and true Irish culture.  It’s certainly a place I would love to retire to if ever offered the opportunity.

Instead of making our way to our hotel in Cork from Kenmare, we again altered our day’s itinerary to squeeze in a quick visit to the Blarney Castle.  It’s admittedly cliché to visit the tourist trap to kiss the Blarney Stone, but we were in the area and didn’t want to regret skipping the experience.  We arrived at 6:00p and the castle closed for the day a mere half hour later.  The €10 entrance fee wasn’t fun to pay, but we were way too close to turn back at that point.  The beauty of arriving so late in the day (and during the offseason), however, was that we didn’t even wait in a line to kiss the stone – a line that grows to 60+ minutes during the high season.  I was ignorant to the fact that you had to lay on your back to kiss the stone, but I got over that pretty quickly.  It was an underwhelming experience, but an experience nonetheless.

We drove another 30 minutes to the city of Cork.  Outside of Dublin, Cork was certainly the most congested, ‘industrial’ place we visited.  We arrived fairly late in the day, so all of the shops were closed or closing and finding a hotel was more difficult than it had been the rest of the trip.  We finally found a great place to stay and dropped off our bags.  Since it was so late, the food offerings were fairly scarce as well since many of the restaurants were also closed for the day.  We stumbled upon a Turkish restaurant called ‘Istanbul: A Real Taste of the Orient.’  We both ordered chicken doner on a pita with salad and a side of rice.  We both really like Turkish food, a fare that we ate regularly during our semester abroad in London since the area we lived in was chock full of Turks.

I can’t claim that we enjoyed our stay in Cork, but it was the perfect place to stop on our journey.  Another long and productive day was in the books.

Ring of Kerry Creek

A view of a creek along the Ring of Kerry

Ring of Kerry Coast

A view of the coast along the Ring of Kerry

Kenmare

A view of the shops in Kenmare, Ireland

Main Street

Main Street in Kenmare

Colorful Shops

The colorful shops that line Main Street in Kenmare

Blarney Castle

A view of Blarney Castle

Blarney Castle View

A view from the top of the Blarney Castle

Blarney Stone

The world-famous Blarney Stone

Cork

The City Centre of Cork

We had a very busy and productive day 124.  We left our hotel in Galway and headed to the Cliffs of Moher via the Burren (pronounced ‘burn’).  The Burren is a collection of rolling hills that measures approximately 250 square kilometers and is composed of limestone pavements with crisscrossing cracks known as “grikes”, leaving isolated rocks called “clints” (thanks to Wikipedia for the description).  Located in northwest section of County Clare, the Burren is rich with historical and archaeological sites.

Our #1 destination of the day – the Cliffs of Moher – was located on the southwestern edge of the Burren area.  The cliffs, which rise 394 feet above the Atlantic Ocean and reach a maximum height of 702 feet, boast one of Ireland’s most spectacular views.  We were lucky enough to visit on a crystal clear day, which made our experience that much richer.  If you ever have the opportunity to visit Ireland, I implore you to make the trip to this west coast destination.  It was certainly one of the highlights of our trip.

After an hour or so at the Cliffs of Moher, we had some extra time and decided to drive the Ring of Dingle.  Although this was suggested to us (good work O’Leary), we didn’t include it in our initial itinerary.  We’re glad we had the opportunity to add it in because it was probably my favorite part of the trip.  The Ring of Dingle is a route that takes you along the coast of the Dingle Peninsula, a piece of land that stretches 30 miles into the Atlantic Ocean from Ireland’s southwest coast.  The trip on the coastal road is 100 miles (160kms) in length and takes 2-3 hours to complete, depending on how often you stop to view the views or capture a photo.  The drive ran the gamut of the coastal Ireland experience – small towns to rolling hills to sandy beaches.

We finally made our way to our hotel in Killarney and grabbed a late dinner and drinks.  Killarney seemed to be a nice little city, but we didn’t have enough time to explore very much of it.

Road Signs

An example of the road signs on our way through the Burren

narrow roads

The narrow roads made for an interesting drive through the country

The Burren

A view of the Burren

winding roads

An example of the narrow, winding roads of Ireland

Cliffs of Moher

A view of the Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher

An alternate view of the Cliffs of Moher

Ring of Dingle

A view along the Ring of Dingle

View of Ring of Dingle

Another view of the Ring of Dingle along the coast

In general, I’m not a huge fan of guided tours because I would rather explore on my own.  But some guided tours just make sense because the ease of travel makes for a much more enjoyable day.  We took our one (and only) guided tour of the vacation on day three – a day trip to the Aran Islands off of Ireland’s west coast.

The tour left from the city centre of Galway, which was just a short walk from our accommodations.  We stopped and grabbed some breakfast at an internet café – I had a banana and Nutella crêpe and Courtney had a cheese and bacon croissant.  The food was mediocre at best, but that is to be expected across Ireland.

Following a nearly hour bus ride to the ferry port in Rossaveal (County Galway), we boarded a ferry that would take us the rest of the way to Inishmore, the largest of the three Aran Islands. Once we exited the ferry, we quickly found a guided van tour that was as unofficial as you’ll see.  It was a simple white van that sat 12 and filled to capacity in about 15 minutes.  The fee for the 4 hour tour was €10 per person, so our tour guide made a killing during this shift.

The tour guide was awesome.  He took us around the island and explained the significance of the elements we passed, while pulling to the side of the road and allowing us to capture photos of the more significant areas.  The highlight of the tour was the stop at Dun Aengus – an Iron Age fort situated on the edge of a cliff at a height of 330 feet overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.  We climbed to the top of the fort and were treated to spectacular views of the island and the ocean below.

Here are some fun facts about the Aran Islands:

  • The population of Inishmore is close to 800 and 100% of the people are Catholic.
  • Legend has it that there are 7,000+ miles of stone wall on Inishmore.
  • Irish is the main spoken language on all three islands, and is the language used for naming the islands and their villages and townlands.
  • The islands are the home of the Aran sweater, which has gained worldwide appeal during the course of the 20th century.
  • Scenes from the 2010 romantic comedy ‘Leap Year’ were filmed on the islands.

We were exhausted after a long day on the Aran Islands, so we opted for a quiet night in.  The hotel we stayed at that night offered room service and we took advantage by having a couple of pints delivered to the room.  Those pints capped off another great day in Ireland.

The ferry port on Inishmore

The ferry port on Inishmore

Horse-drawn carriage

A horse-drawn carriage, one of the more popular modes of tourist transportation

Rock Walls

A view of the rock walls that populate Inishmore

Narrow Roads

An example of the narrow roads on Inishmore

Dun Aengus – an Iron Age fort on Inishmore

Dun Aengus – an Iron Age fort on Inishmore

View of the cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean

View of the cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean

View of the Atlantic Ocean from the top of Dún Aonghasa

View of the Atlantic Ocean from the top of Dún Aonghasa

I also captured some video that I feel is worthy of sharing.  Check out this young performer playing music at the foot of Dun Aengus…

Our second day in Ireland wasn’t as laid back as our first.  We woke up early and headed to the airport to pick up our rental car.  Renting a car and deciding to drive around Ireland wasn’t a decision I arrived at easily.  But everyone we spoke with who had been to Ireland encouraged us (well, insisted in the case of Brian O’Leary) to rent a car if we really wanted to see the country.  With the freedom of having a car, came great responsibility.  I was admittedly apprehensive, but was also up for the challenge.

We arrived at the rental counter of Alamo and encountered our first bump in the road.  We reserved a car with automatic transmission, which is important to note because they are actually quite rare in the country because the majority of people drive stick.  Apparently Alamo didn’t remember our reservation (that’s a pun for those that weren’t aware).  They didn’t have any automatics in stock, so they (somewhat surprisingly) made arrangements to have our reservation transferred to Budget.  We were given the same rental rate and received a free upgrade on our car.  An upgrade is usually welcomed with open arms, but it just meant that they were out of the economy class we reserved – a reservation that was less about saving Euros and more about having the smallest car that would accommodate us and our luggage on the narrow Irish roads.

The first 30 minutes of driving ran the gamut of emotions and was a harrowing experience to say the least.  We attempted to use the GPS we rented, but the device was quickly nullified once we hit the first roundabout.  We, well I, missed the exit and put us on some hardcore narrow backroads.  We, well Courtney, used a combination of road maps and GPS to get us back on track after about 25 minutes.

I finally found my groove and the rest of the drive was much easier and even enjoyable.  It took us nearly three hours to cross the country from Dublin on the east coast to Galway on the west coast.  For some perspective, Galway is the third largest city in Ireland, with a population of 72,414 (according to the 2006 census).  We didn’t have any hotel reservations, so that was priority #1 when we arrived in town.  We drove around a while and saw a sign that read “Rooms from €49 Tonight” as soon as we entered the city centre.  The room was above a pub called Garvey’s and the barkeeper doubled as hotel reception.  This is actually a very common practice in Ireland because many of the pubs have rooms available above their bar and usually represents an opportunity to get a clean room for a very reasonable rate.

We checked in, dropped our luggage and then went exploring.  It was a Sunday, so many of the businesses were closed or closed early.  Garvey’s overlooked Eyre Square (renamed John F. Kennedy Memorial Park in 1965) – a park at the centre of Galway and a major meeting point – so that was our starting point.  We checked out the tourist sites including Shop Street, the Galway Cathedral, the Collegiate Church of St. Nicholas, and the Spanish Arch.  We also made our way to the Claddagh, a fishing village located just outside the old walls of the Galway city that is associated with the Claddagh Ring.

I really enjoyed the day in Galway city and would encourage travelers to Ireland to pay a visit.  We also witnessed the hospitality of the Irish people during our day in the city on several occasions.  Everyone we crossed paths with was willing to point us in the right direction or share a story.  It made me very proud to be an Irish-American.

Eyre Square / John F. Kennedy Memorial Park

Eyre Square (John F. Kennedy Memorial Park)

Live Music

Live Music Near Shop Street

Spanish Arch

The Spanish Arch located on the banks of the River Corrib

The Long Walk

"The Long Walk"

Garvey's

Garvey's