Tag Archives: Travel

Dublin: A Travel Blog

So here is Part 2 of Ireland. So much of this country to see, and I have only just tipped the iceberg. My daughter and I had just 13 days. I operate under a certain rule when I travel. I never try to bite off more than I can chew so to speak. If I do, I fear that I lose the allure and the discoveries that are waiting for me every place I go. There were plenty of travel itineraries available on the internet suggesting tours that circle the entire country in 13 days time. The entire country in 13 days!  How would you possibly see one solitary place in its entire measure when traveling 32000 square miles in only 13 days? I believe you have to be wise about your time, not allocating so many of your precious few hours to the transportation alone that is surely required to get from one city to another. This alone robs you of the joy of just being in one place long enough to really get a feel for its history, the stories, and the people who call it home. So we did not venture North at all. We chose to explore the southern route of Ireland on our first visit for the better part of 8 days, culminating in only 4 1/2 days in Dublin, the capital city of the Republic of Ireland. 

In Dublin, we stayed at The Inn on the Liffey, (The Liffey is the river that flows through the centre of Dublin). I would highly recommend this wonderful place in the winter. The summer made it quite a difficult location because it was very noisy on the sidewalks below and the busy street. Our room was situated directly above that street. Moreover, since there is no air conditioning, and no fans were provided, (I asked), one has to keep the windows open in the summer or one will overheat very quickly. This means the noise can seriously hamper one’s sleep.  I suspect this could be entirely different in the winter, since you will ostensibly have the window closed without the concern of overheating. Otherwise, the breakfast is terrific, and the desk is 24/7. Security was great and everyone super friendly. And the location was truly fabulous.

We took an inexpensive uber taxi from the airport to our inn after turning in that vexing rental car.  Normal Uber service is not available in Dublin. They have traditional taxis or the “Uber Taxi.” We did the latter on two occasions, using the Uber app, one arriving at our hotel, and the other leaving our hotel, and was quite satisfied with the service. The inn staff also offered to telephone a taxi on our behalf, and I thought that was quite nice. 

Our first evening we walked over to Temple Street for a quick look around and a  bite to eat. It is the home of the famed Temple Bar and the area itself is teaming with tourists and locals alike. There is plenty of cobblestone streets in the area to satisfy your inner romantic wayfarer. It is a colorful and eclectic area packed with good food, live music, and interestingly (at least in the summer) beautiful flowers which adorn the roof edges of the buildings. 

 

The Temple Bar Area 

Day 2: We fell asleep (finally) anxious for our first full day in Dublin. After a lovely breakfast in a fully sun lit breakfast room, Katie and I set out for our first spot on our self-made itinerary.  The Book of Kells is located inside the insanely beautiful library at Trinity College.  We purchased our tour for the Book of Kells online when planning our trip months ahead, which I highly recommend doing. But the campus tour must be purchased just across the courtyard from the Book of Kells Library on the day you would like to tour. This was easy even in July. We did so as soon as we finished our tour of the library. And the campus tour is a nice accompaniment to the library tour.  The Book of Kells is a famed exhibit, a copy of the four gospels in Latin which was written around 800 AD. It is also accompanied by two pocket gospels. The library itself is very “Harry Potterish,” (sorry for the trite description but so true), and is simply gorgeous inside.

After refueling ourselves with nourishment and coffee (always), we decided to take on Dublin Christ Church Cathedral and the adjoining Dublinia Museum in the afternoon. Christ Church Cathedral is Dublin’s oldest building and also a place of pilgrimage for nearly 1000 years. It is home to a 12th century crypt one of the oldest and largest in Britain and Ireland. The cathedral was founded in 1030 by a Norse King of Dublin by name of Sitriuc. It became part of the Irish Church in 1152 and was later led by the patron saint of Dublin, Laurence O’Toole. We took the tour, including the bell tower and were so pleased to have done so! It’s a very informative tour that takes you through the cathedral which is very beautiful,  and then you go up 84 very tiny curved steps in a narrow passage to the bell tower, inside a room where all the bell ropes are located. We were allowed to ring one of three bells.

The museum focuses on the Viking and Medieval history of the city.  It is located in a part of the Christ Church Cathedral known as the Synod hall.  The two are connected by a really cool Medieval corridor. We thoroughly enjoyed the Dublinia because it covered the Viking origins of the city, their culture and character; then the Medieval era of the city which included the era of the Black Plague, a disease that ravished all of Europe killing 30% of the entire population in less than two years. In Dublin alone, from July 1348 to Christmas of that same year, 14000 people died from this plague. Before leaving Dublinia, don’t forget to climb St. Michael’s Tower, an original medieval tower. It is a 96 step climb to the top, where you can see spectacular views of the city.

Laugh if you will; it was a blast. 

Day 3: Kilmainham Gaol (prison) opened in 1796 as the new County Gaol for Dublin. It closed its doors for good in 1924. Our tour of this place was off the chart. The youngest prisoner held here was a boy of 5 years old, held for 48 hours for begging. Another of my favorite, but very sad stories: (There are hundreds) James Connolly and Patrick Pearse were the leaders of the Easter Uprising of April 24, 1916, the Monday after Easter, The Irish patriots held out for about a week. This as WWI raged on about them as well. Seven leaders of the rising proclaimed an Irish Republic. All seven of the signers were executed along with eight others, including Connolly and Pearse. Another one was Joseph Plunkett who married his wife, Grace Gifford Plunkett, in the prison and had 10 minutes with her under guard prior to his execution. They simply sat silently together the entire 10 minutes. Though the rebels surrendered and 14 (according to our tour guide) of their leaders were executed, the 1916 Rising had a huge effect. It became the first stage in a war of independence from Great Britain that resulted in the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922 and, ultimately, the formal declaration of an Irish Republic in 1949. Tip: We definitely needed a lot more time here. We  arranged our time adequately for touring the prison itself, but allowed no extra time for the extensive museum floors attached to the prison or the nearby Royal Hospital Kilmainham. I would most assuredly devote a whole day to this area of Dublin which is just a short bus ride from Dublin Center.

Nonetheless, upon returning to Dublin Centre, we made our way a lovely little restaurant called “Bite of Life,” a delicious and quaint cafe a mere 2 minute walk from our next destination: St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  I had the  Brie, Ham, and Cranberry Sauce Sandwich with a cucumber and carrot salad, both which left my taste buds fully satisfied. We were ready for St. Patrick’s Cathedral. 

This cathedral dates from 1220 to the present. It has taken many hits over the years by various kings, but sustained its elegance nevertheless. On the day we were there a choir from Minneapolis was performing and their voices and the acoustics in the cathedral were splendid. Also Jonathon Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels) was the Dean of the church from 1713 until his death in 1745.  His is a grand exhibit in this cathedral. There is also an excellent park adjacent to the cathedral for catching some Z’s or just some downtime on a clear, warm day.

Dublin Castle.  This is really Dublin Palace. But its origins are a castle fortification from the Viking Ages, with a castle being built here by King John of England in 1204. Most of the medieval castle is gone except for the one remaining tower and foundation ruins. In the 18th century, a palace was built in its place.  “From 1204 until 1922 it was the seat of English, and later British rule in Ireland. During that time, it served principally as a residence for the British monarch’s Irish representative, the Viceroy of Ireland, and as a ceremonial and administrative centre. The Castle was originally developed as a medieval fortress under the orders of King John of England. It had four corner towers linked by high curtain walls and was built around a large central enclosure. Constructed on elevated ground once occupied by an earlier Viking settlement, the old Castle stood approximately on the site of the present Upper Castle Yard. It remained largely intact until April 1684, when a major fire caused severe damage to much of the building. Despite the extent of the fire, parts of the medieval and Viking structures survived and can still be explored by visitors today.” Source: Dublin Castle.ie  You  know, some people wonder “Judy don’t you ever tire of cathedrals and castles and cobblestone?”  Nope!  Do the guided tour because otherwise you will not see the Viking settlement ruins under the castle.  And furthermore, literally we stood over the Poddle River (that indeed flows into the River Liffey) which used to run all above ground, but diverted years ago for fortification purposes.

Dublin Castle

Day 4: St Michans Church. St Michans Church was largely rebuilt in 1686 on the site of an 11th century Hiberno-Viking church, the façade of this church hides a more gloomy interior. Down in its vaults lie a slew bodies that have barely decomposed because of the dry atmosphere created by the church’s magnesian limestone walls. Their wooden caskets, however, have cracked open. Inside are the preserved bodies, complete with skin and strands of hair and fingernails. I’m not posting pics of the actual corpses because our guide asked us not to. This place was fascinating!!  Source: @ Dublin, Ireland  Our guide was wonderful. Just show up when they open. You do not need to buy your tickets ahead of time. This is one of those hidden gems.

After a perfectly creepy, but fascinating time in the St. Michan’s crypts, we moved onto The Dublin Writer’s museum. So being that Katie and I are both writers, when we started planning our trip to Dublin, it was with pleasant surprise we discovered what a historical literary giant this place is. What an added bonus. This museum occupies an original 18th-century house, with original ceilings and woodwork, the whole shebang. Swift and Sheridan, Shaw, Yeats, Joyce and Beckett, and Bram Stoker are among those presented through their books, letters, portraits and personal items. Original publications of classics like James Joyce’s Ulysses, Jonathon Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, Yeats poetry, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Oscar Wilde’s plays, and the list goes on. What a big check mark on our bucket list.  Afterwards, we took a trip to the National Library of Ireland and walked through a fascinating and insightful exhibit all about the life of William Butler Yeats.

Day 5:  On our final full day we headed straight for the Chester Beatty Library.  This place is a fantastic collection of ancient text and scripture and books; maps; chronicles; devotionals; and the list goes on. Make sure you have at least 2 or 3 hours to spend here. It is packed with some of the oldest known copies of parts of the bible, including letters of Paul the Apostle from the New Testament, not to mention ancient copies of the Torah, from the Old Testament. It is free to the public. They just ask for a 5 euro donation, but you’ll want to give more probably. Beatty was actually an American. He received his mining engineering degree from Columbia University and worked his way up to being a mining magnate, consultant and expert in CO. His wife died after only 11 years of marriage, and he moved to London where he started his own consulting business. He remarried and was an avid collector. He began to amass a huge amount of ancient literature, including some of the oldest known copies in existence of the Pauline epistles of the bible. So take your time going though this. Also he collected ancient texts, scrolls and literature from other religions besides Christianity and as well books from all genres spanning literally 1000s of years. Around 1950 he moved to Dublin. Upon Beatty’s death in 1968, the collection was bequeathed to a trust for the benefit of the public. His priceless collection lives on as a celebration of the spirit and generosity of Chester Beatty. I was very excited we were allowed to take pics, minus the flash. So rest assured, I didn’t break any rules.

You might be wondering with all of these touristy sites and historical venues we visit, do we ever shop or meander? The answer is, “Yes, a little bit and a lot.”  We certainly did find ourselves over at St. Stephen’s Green for shopping and all of that. But I guess it is true that shopping is never high on our itinerary.  We also had a delicious “fancy” dinner one night at FX Buckley’s. But as for the meandering, one of my favorite things to do when I travel is write letters and post cards to friends and family at breakfast. I love the whole sharing aspect of travel. I have no intention of keeping it all to myself. And all in all, we try to take time to drink coffee slowly, window shop and cafe sit while people watching, along with all the crazy incredible sites we want to see. And of course it is never enough time, but then again, that always keeps you coming back for more.

Ireland (The Southern Coast): A Travel Blog

So when my youngest daughter, Katie Ann, requested Ireland for her high school mom/daughter senior trip, I was pretty quick to say “Yes.”  Ireland had long been on my travel bucket list, and in the four years that our family had lived in Germany, somehow, we had not made it to Ireland, even though we were prolific travelers during that time.  So off Katie and I went to this new place we had only seen in pictures up to this point.  And the new place did not disappoint.

We landed in Dublin and immediately rented a car. Why? Because I have always wanted to drive a stick shift from the right seat while shifting with my left hand and driving on the left side of the road. (Just kidding!) No, really, we did it because for the first 8 days of our trip, we were heading south through the Wicklow mountains, into Kilkenny, onto Kinsale, and then along the southern coast to the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula before heading North to the Cliffs of Mohr, and finally ending up back in Dublin where we happily (ecstatically) turned in our rental car and spent the last 4 days in this beautiful city as pedestrians. That is a different Travel Blog entry. Part 2 you might say. 

Renting a car is a must if you are planning an extended trip and drive around the country side. Sure there are great bus tours you can do, and if you are staying in Dublin or Shanon or Belfast and just taking day trips, then I think this is an excellent option. But if you are leaving the city for a significant amount of time, then driving allows you an excellent vantage point for taking in this breathtaking scenery, for making impromptu stops, and to just be leisurely along the way. Yeah, we were often driving around with the old “deer in the headlights look,” but we did it. You can too. I would highly recommend, if it is your very first time to drive on the wrong side of the road, (oops I meant the left side of the road), that you do it with someone in the passenger seat. Katie Ann was indisputably the best navigator ever. And she was extremely helpful with her constant motto: “Left side mama, left side mama!”  Yeap, this was a crucial reminder. I rented online with Hertz from my kitchen table in Houston and paid about 257 US dollars for nearly 8 days of rental. But all the usual suspects in car rental agencies operate in Dublin. 

Driving in Ireland:

Glendalough, or the Glen of two Lakes, is one of the most important sites of monastic ruins in Ireland. St. Kevin, an Irish Saint, built a monastery here in this glen in the 6th century. It’s in the middle of the Wicklow Mountains. Once you leave Dublin Airport in your nifty little compact rental car, the mountains and Gleandalough are just a short drive away.  Be on guard. Glendalough is very touristy. It was definitely one of the most crowded places we visited. But even though, don’t miss it.

Wicklow Mountains and Glendalough

After Glendalough, we continued South to Kilkenney where we spent our first night at JB’s Bar and Guest House. And guess what? JB had a oscillating fan ALREADY in our room. You have to love that. Don’t expect AC in many places you stay. It is few and far between, and we visited in one of the hottest weeks of a summer on record in Ireland. JB’s is located on the main drag in Kilkenny and we parked for free just across the street. We visited Kilkenny castle while here. After breakfast at a nearby cafe, we set out for Kinsale with stops at Jerpoint Abbey and Cahir Castle, just because we could. The benefits of traveling in a rental car. Kilkenny Castle is a castle first built in 1195 to control a fording-point of the River Nore and the junction of several routeways. Jerpoint Abbey is a ruined Cistercian abbey, founded in the second half of the 12th century. The abbey is pleasantly quiet and free of crowds, but yet so mystic and enchanting.

Kilkenny Castle and Jerpoint Abbey: 

Cahir Castle is situated on an island in the River Suir. It was built from 1142 by Conor O’Brien, Prince of Thomond. The castle is well preserved and has a guided tour and audiovisual shows in multiple languages. We were satisfied  with the self guided tour.

After our short stopover at Cahir, we set out for our evening destination of Kinsale, Co Cork, Ireland, but actually stayed at a lovely BNB called The Blue Horizon in nearby Garrettstown. The two best things about the Blue Horizon were the views and the breakfast. And alas, one old but working oscillating fan.

Breakfast at The Blue Horizon BnB in Garrettstown near Kinsale

Things we loved about Kinsale and Garrettstown: 

History: On May 7, 1915 about 11 miles off the Old Head of Kinsale ( which is just down the road from our B&B in Garretstown) the Lusitania crossed paths with the German submarine U-20. The commanding officer Walther Schwieger gave the orders and a single torpedo was on its way. It struck on the starboard bow, alongside one of the cargo holds and moments later a second explosion erupted from within the hull. The ship began to list steeply and within 18 minutes the Lusitania was gone. Of the 1960 on board only 767 survived, and four of whom died over the following months. The survivors were mostly taken from the water by merchant mariners (fisherman) from the harbor of Queenstown (Now it is Cobh-pronounced Cove) The link between this harbor with the Titanic is also an irony. The Titanic also made its last port of call here at Queenstown (Cobh) in April 1912 just days before it hit an iceberg and sank in the Atlantic en route to NYC. But back to the Lusitania, here is a shout out and plug to Erik Larsen’s book “Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania:” There are lots of books out there on the Lusitania but this was a great one. It was such an honor for me and Katie Ann to be able to visit the very places that mark this tragedy in history. And it is good for us to honor the lost. We live in such times of peace, comparatively. In some ways, they died for our freedom in that war, in the same way that the soldiers did on the actual battlefield.

Old Signal Head Kinsale 

Also the town of Kinsale is adorable and colorful and the marina is lovely.  Parking was super easy and cheap on the outskirt of the center of town.

Kinsale, Ireland

Fort Charles is a must see if you are a history buff like us, and if you aren’t, that’s okay because the views alone are fantastic. This was just minutes away from our Blue Horizon BnB in Garrettstown. Had we more time, we would’ve laid a blanket down and taken a nap on the grounds. Seriously, beautiful views and so peaceful. And the history is incredible. “This star-shaped military fortress was constructed between 1677 and 1682, during the reign of King Charles II, to protect the town and harbour of Kinsale in County Cork. William Robinson, architect of the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham Dublin, and Superintendent of Fortifications, is credited with designing the fort. As one of the largest military forts in the country, Charles Fort has been associated with some of the most momentous events in Irish history. These include the Williamite War in 1690 and the Irish Civil War of 1922-23. Charles Fort remained garrisoned by the British army until 1922.” Source: Discoverireland.ie

So off we went after two beautiful days visiting Garrettstown and Kinsale and Cobh, we headed along the coast and a little North to the very touristy Blarney Castle in Cork.  We. just. had. to. We bought our tickets ahead of time online, but you don’t have to. And we were smack dab at the end of June, a busy travel season.  Blarney was built nearly 600 years ago by a famous Irish Chiefton, Cormac MacCarthy. Blarney is an odd castle in that, touring the castle and kissing the famous Blarney stone is all the same queue. You  do not have to kiss the stone, you can walk on by, but it is not two separate attractions. The line goes pretty fast. We were there in June. I can imagine it is even faster in the off season.  But you know what the true show stopper is at Blarney castle that makes the visit worth it, are the gardens. They are some of the most spectacular castle gardens I have ever seen. Truly engaging and beautiful.  Also the Blarney House, a Scottish baronial-style mansion, was built on the grounds in 1874, is also open to the public. We just missed its opening time. So check the hours of operation for that ahead of time. Plan on a full morning or afternoon at Blarney. But if you bring a picnic basket, maybe longer.

Next, destination Killarney, County Kerry, Ireland. Think Ring of Kerry. Here we opted for a good old fashioned Holiday Inn, but guess what? No AC as we had hoped for. But they did produce at my request, the tiniest oscillating fan I had ever seen in my life. Truly amazing that it had not been put in the Guinness Book of World Records. Truly.  Our first stop: Muckross House and Gardens.  We did the guided tour, this being the only way to see the mansion. Built in 1843. First lived in by Henry Herbert and his wife Mary Balfour Herbert. They entertained Queen Victoria here but ended up bankrupt and and sold the estate. The new owner was Arthur Guinness (of the Guinness brewery family) and he rented it out to wealthy groups as a hunting lodge. In August 1911, not long before WWI, the house was bought by a wealthy Californian mining magnate William Bourn. He and his wife gave it to their only child Maud as a wedding present since she married an Irishman. They had two children. Maud died an early death in 1929 and her parents subsequently presented the house and its 11000 acres estate to the Irish nation. The grounds are beautiful and the Lake you see is one of the three Lakes of Killarney, Muckross Lake. Beautiful. Something I would plan for here if I had to do it all over again, is to swim in the lakes. We did not plan for this and were neither parked or dressed accordingly. We did however, splurge on a horse and carriage ride to the lakes and the waterfall  just before we had to hustle back through the main gates by closing time.

So after checking in to our very American Holiday Inn in Killarney, we ate a slow dinner and caught our breaths. The next morning we set out for the “Ring.”  I would say that the beauty of rural Ireland never ceased to amaze us. We drove the whole approsimately 110 miles around the Ring of Kerry, making many stops and taking in incredibly wonderful, simply divine views.  Along the Ring of Kerry we meandered Skellig Island, driving around the Skellig Ring, and walked Kenmare City.  We had to cross over on the 10 minute car ferry from Cahersiveen to Skelllig Island where we took a somewhat treacherous drive to the Lighthouse in Valentia Island.

The Cliffs of Kerry 

Our last and final sleepover along the southern coast of Ireland, the Dingle Peninsula.  We opted for two nights at the Broigin Bed & Breakfast just a stone’s throw from Dingle Town proper, but far enough if you don’t have a rental car, you might want to consider staying right in town. On the other hand, I wouldn’t opt to travel all the way to the Dingle Peninsula without a rental car.  Broigin BnB was lovely and our host, Anne, did a custom breakfast with piping hot coffee every morning at exactly the time we requested. Anne was wonderful. Very hospitable. She was also great with advice for your itinerary and helpful with directions.

As soon as we checked in and digested all of Anne’s advice we shot out for the Slea Head Drive which makes a loop, starting and ending in Dingle. There are many places to stop along the way. One of them was an abandoned farm from the potato famine that occurred in Ireland in 1845–49 when the potato crop failed in successive years. There were also monastic beehive huts speckled around Dingle which have their origins dating from thousands of years ago; beaches beaches beaches and for us, everywhere sunshine! Bring on the Slea Head Drive.

In the afternoon, we decided to do the other loop in Dingle, which we now look back on as so memorable both in a wonderful and frightening way. Wonderful, because the views and the drive were fantastic. Frightening, becasue one time driving through the Conor Pass is enough to last me a lifetime.  

“The Conor Pass, which runs from Dingle on the southern end of the peninsula towards Brandon Bay and Castlegregory in the North, in County Kerry, is one of the highest mountain pass in Ireland, at an elevation of 410 m above the sea level. Conor Pass is situated in the Dingle Peninsula and offers to drivers the breathtaking, cliff hanging experience of navigating through Ireland’s highest mountain pass, in a road tight and precarious, weaving its way around the sharp cliff faces. The views from the road are breathtaking, as the glaciated landscape of mountains and corrie lakes comes into view. From Dingle Town the road runs some 4½ miles rising to 1500 ft as it winds its way to the pass.” Source: Roads.org

Along the way back to Dingle, we found the perfect beach for swimming, relaxing and enjoying the Atlantic on a warm day. Fermoyle Strand Beach: 

The next morning after our breakfast at Broigin, we arrived at he Dingle harbor for our Blasket Island tour. We were taken to these iconic islands by our boat captain, Billy from the Dingle Bay Speed Boat Tours & Great Blasket Island Experience. In the 1920s and 1930s the Blasket Island resident writers produced books which are deemed classics in the world of literature. They wrote of island people living on the very edge of Europe, and brought to life the topography, and life and times of their Island. They wrote all of their stories in the Irish language. Sadly, the Blasket Island community declined as a result of the persistent emigration of its young people, until eventually the Island was abandoned in 1953 when only 22 inhabitants remained Those who immigrated largely settled in Springfield MA and a few in Butte MO. We also saw seals, lots of different birds including Puffins. And one lone dolphin who is the resident dolphin in the Dingle Harbor.


After checking out of the lovely Broigin BnB, we left the beautiful Kerry Region of Ireland by way of the Shannon Ferry in Kilrush, which took us to the Shannon Region of Ireland and the Cliffs of Moher. We lingered there only a little while before heading to Dublin and turning in that rental car. As sad as I might have been to depart the Irish countryside, I was never so happy in my life to turn in a rental car! This wrapped up a glorious 8 days of travel, not soon to be forgotten by two little Texans. 

Shannon Ferry

Cliffs of Moher

All in all what a jaw dropping place to visit.  Entry costs at tourist sites were so inexpensive, and if you are traveling with a student, you can buy the OPW Heritage Card for 10$ for entry into all sites labeled “Heritage Sites.” Now feel free to ask me questions if you have them. That’s part of the package. And stay tuned for part 2, “Dublin: A Travel Blog.”