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Falling in Love with Ireland - An Hilarious, Fun, Scary, Rewarding, Exciting, Breathtaking Journey

Falling in Love with Ireland - An Hilarious, Fun, Scary, Rewarding,...

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Posted Tue 5 Nov 2019 12:36 PM
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If you want to skip my lengthy story, this link will take you to a video of some of the photos I took along the way...

What happens when 2 recently single women travel across the ocean on their own, with no help from a travel agent or anyone else?  They have a fabulous trip of a lifetime that leaves them wanting to go back for more…more adventure, more beauty, more learning…just more.

This trip was born out of a desire for me to visit the land from where my ancestors came…Ireland.  My mother was a Noonan.  Her grandparents came over from CountyTipperary and settled in Prince Edward Island. They had a large brood who divided themselves among PEI, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. My niece and daughter both were fortunate enough to visit Ireland years before me.  Being a photographer at heart (my only true happiness is found behind the lens of a camera), I wanted to travel there to capture it in photos for my mother but sadly roadblock after roadblock were placed in my way and in a sad twist of fate, it was only my mother’s passing that afforded me the chance to make the journey.  I definitely carried her with me though.  There were so many times during the trip when I wanted to tell her about the things I had seen on a particular day. Something tells me she knew. But this isn’t about losing loved ones and sadness.  This is about the most amazing trip full of challenges, personal victories, breathtaking views, friendship, fun, education and the experience of a lifetime! 

The very first tip I will provide, above all else, is to have your cell phone ‘unlocked’ by your provider before you leave Canada, in order to switch out the SIM card for one from Ireland.  This is something you must do immediately upon landing. I can’t stress this point enough. The cost through the provider we found was only 20 which would have lasted us 28 days. My travel companion and best buddy and I learned the hard way that this shouldn’t have been put off.  The first few days of our trip would have been so much easier had we bitten the bullet and purchased the extremely useful yet inexpensive SIM card as soon as we landed. Although not having this valuable item caused us some major issues in the beginning, the struggles that ensued became part of our stories from the trip and they challenged us and made us grow so I don’t regret that part of it.  Having said that, things could have turned out much worse and it was a rookie mistake on our part, not switching out the SIM cards as soon as we got off the plane.

My friend and I had both had a few crappy years under our belts including the loss of our marriages, loss of homes, pets, loved ones, etc.  I also had suffered an unfortunate motor vehicle accident which made me realise that if I didn’t make concrete plans for this trip, other obstacles could pop up and it would never happen.  So, on a cold, gray winter day in Nova Scotia, we got our laptops out, found an amazing deal on a flight to Dublin for the following September and just booked it with a departure date of September 16th and a return flight on October 5th.  It was the most incredible and frightening click of a mouse ever.  Now what? 

We knew we didn’t want to spend buckets of money so hotels were out of the question. We decided to book Airbnbs for the entire trip (with the exception of the last night) and we knew we wanted to attempt to see the entire island so we started from there.  The next decision was where to stay and for how long.  This was a daunting task that took months to complete.  Chilly winter weekends were spent pouring over reviews of hosts and properties but neither of us had ever been to Ireland and we knew someone could take a photo of a shady place and make it look good.  We had to trust the rating system with our main priorities being wifi and cleanliness.  We wanted to stay connected and I needed to be able to edit and upload photos and we didn’t want to end up anywhere that felt unclean. 

The planning was up to me but I got my friend's input on every place we booked. With the necessary exception of Dublin, I wanted a nice mix of town and country.  We were booking a rental car so no option was off the table.  That’s the way we saw it, sitting on our chesterfields, an ocean away.

In my mind, I had an idea of some of the main sights I wanted to see and areas I wanted to visit.  I knew from living in Newfoundland some years before, that the true culture of a place can’t be found in the major cities but in the outlying places, small towns, rural spots, etc.  I find cities to be a melting pot with only small samplings of true islanders.  what I didn’t take into account was how difficult it would be to get to some of these places.  That was complete naivetéon my part.  I had no idea what the driving would be like in Ireland and wasn’t the one who would be doing it.  That was the deal we made…I would plan and navigate and my friend would do all the driving.  Neither of us wanted the others responsibility so it worked out well. 

After many weekends of researching Airbnbsand painstakingly selecting them one by one, we finally settled on and booked 8of them beginning in Dublin and ending up in County Down, before one final night to be spent in a hotel back where we started, the night before heading back to Canada.  We had a mixture of city, town, farm, mountain views, etc. So, the next step was to book a car. This was a bit more difficult.  I had heard warnings of rental agencies ripping you off with insurance costs,etc..  On my own continent, getting full coverage is easy but when you fly across the ocean, that doesn’t work so you're at the mercy of strangers, trying to make a buck, who don’t even really know anything about insurance but just know they have to push it as an upselling tactic. We ended up choosing a well-known International car rental agency because it seemed to be the most widely trusted name and they seemed fairly priced. 

This trip was becoming a reality on paper.  We had the time off work, had our flights booked, places to stay, a car and absolutely no idea what we were doing!  Still, nothing seemed real to me, even at this point because September felt like eons away.  As summer was coming to a close though, I started making lists.  I had been collecting photos of interest for several years, on Pinterest and had saved them on a board entitled “Future Trip to Ireland”.  I then dropped the word “future” as it was now in the works and not some arbitrary dream with no date attached to it.  Based on the photos I had amassed, I decided to break my choices down into categories. I knew I wanted to see various beaches, castles, towns and waterfalls soI would look up pictures for each of those and add their locations under the corresponding heading.  This list proved to be overly ambitious but at the time, I thought I was being ultra-organised.

By the end of August, there were only minor details to be sorted.  I had been reading far too many posts on social media about hiking in Ireland and thought I needed to purchase expensive boots for the trip until I realised I was not a mountain climber.  These people, making these posts were die hard, extreme hikers. Once I came to my senses over this, I did go out and buy some nice hiking shoes.  Not expensive at all but sturdy and sensible.  I then got a can of protectant spray and it worked like a charm. They weren’t anything I shouldn’t be using when I go off the beaten path around home.  My travel buddy and I often find ourselves on trails and end up slipping or getting soakers, etc. so these shoes were a worthwhile investment regardless of the trip and they feel like sneakers so they were a great choice. 

I hadn’t booked any place for us to stay on our last night yet. I ended up picking a random hotel that I was moderately priced.  Not ever having been there, I wasn't sure if the location was a good one or not but we decided by that point, we wouldn’t even care.

Another of the final details to look after was money.  I planned on just putting most of my expenses on my credit card and just paying it off every week.  I did do that but it is always good to have cash on hand as well.  My hope was that because of the time of year, we’d encounter open-air markets the whole way along and we’d support Irish farmers and live on fresh produce the whole way. I figured having cash on hand for this would be a good idea.  We didn’t encounter a single farm stand and ended up purchasing all our groceries at chain stores but it is always good to have local currency on hand and I would still do it again.  Because the island is separated into two countries within one, we had to get both Euros and Pounds.  I just made sure that on the last day spent in each place, I spent as much of the cash as possible and it was fine.  I would rather have it than be caught without.

So all that was left of planning was packing.  I had seen some really idiotic posts on social media, in Ireland travel groups, from completely ignorant travelers asking if it was mandatory to purchase real wool sweaters in order to travel there.  Some of the questions were just hilarious!  Ireland is not another planet.  You research the average temperature range and weather patterns for that time of year and dress appropriately.  It’s not rocket science. The climate there is fairly similar to that of Nova Scotia so it wasn’t hard to pick what to take.  I know it soundscliché but layering is the key.  That’s true anywhere you go though.  Pack clothes for all types of weather and then have various options with you.  Since we would be moving around a lot, I didn't want to bring a ton of clothing so I packed simple things and we chose to stay at several properties that had access to laundry facilities so we could just keep washing and re-wearing them. Comfort is key when you’re going to be doing as much walking as we were.  I brought a pair of regular sneakers, my hiking shoes, some ankle boots, and some comfy slip-ons.  I ended up only wearing the first two.  Covering as much ground as possible became our key focus so there was no need for footwear suitable for light shopping trips or dinners out.  The most dressed up we got was a pair of jeans or chinos and a t-shirt that didn’t have a sportswear logo on it and when eating out was tacked onto or sandwiched between long treks, we never felt the need to jazz up our footwear to look more presentable. For the most part, we wore leggings or jeans (capri-style or full length, depending on the weather) and then short or long sleeved tees, a soft jacket and then a top layer for rain and wind.  I ended up buying a toque over there but not because it was cold. I picked it up for rainy days, to keep my hair from getting too frizzy.  We both had umbrellas but quite often the rain also brought a lot of wind so they were useless. There were the odd occasions however when we got caught by surprise by rain that came straight down so having small, packable umbrellas was a worthwhile thing.  For pyjamas, a simple nightshirt or light cotton/jersey top and bottom would be sufficient.  We only had a few chilly nights but every place we stayed had ample heating and/or plenty of extra blankets.  I do wish I had brought a soft little cardigan as opposed to a jacket layer for evenings of indoor or patio photo editing though. 

I did buy a nice road map to take with us but that was a wasted expenditure.  When we were in the vehicle, it just would have been too difficult to pinpoint roads and navigate this way.  I may now however highlight as many of the roads we took as possible, take a photo of it and use it as part of the photos from our trip as a memoir.  There are so many things I want to do with the thousands of photos I took. I just need a newer laptop, miles of space and hours of extra time.

Another worthwhile item we brought was a small, soft-sided, zippered, foldable cooler bag.  Since all of the properties we booked had kitchens, we purchased groceries for breakfast and suppers and toted staples and leftovers in this cooler which then folded back away and didn’t take up much space on our trip back home.

Other items that came in handy were obvious…charge cords for phones and my laptop, earbuds for the plane, power adapters, etc…basic necessities.  As an aside, any mode of transportation we took not only had wifi but also provided charging stations at each seat.

As our departure date approached, all we needed to do was get to the airport and be dropped into the situation like baby birds from the nest.  And that’s what it sort-of felt like.  We flew overnight and landed on the opposite side of the Atlantic where we were herded like cattle into a corral for people who were “not European”.  Then we emerged into a busy airport where it seemed like everyone else knew exactly what they were doing and where they were going.  I will bring this up again…weshould have switched out our SIM cards then and there.  Instead, we grabbed a coffee and tried to get our bearings and received our first lesson in obtaining directions from locals.This is something I had again experienced from living in Newfoundland and should have realised would be as futile in Ireland. 

We had the addresses of all of our Airbnbson our phones and thought that would be enough to get us there but that very rarely was the case.  We asked several people how to get to our first location and which bus to take.  For every person we asked, we received a different answer.  We were faced with human and vehicle traffic from every direction and although they all seemed to know what they were doing, they had no real answers for us.  No one we asked even knew how to purchase a bus ticket, where to get it and how much it would cost.  The printed and online schedules were just as mixed up. 

We had been up all night following a weekend with not much sleep (we had attended and I was the photographer for my travel buddy’s niece’s wedding on the South Shore of Nova Scotia from Friday to Saturday and then left for Ireland on Monday) and were exhausted, disoriented and exhilarated.  We finally settled on a bus route, found a place to purchase a ticket and hopped on.  We were yelled at for keeping our suitcases at our seats though.  They have a designated area for those. 

A bonus of all forms of transportation in Ireland is that they all have wifi.  This however gave us the illusion of not needing that all-important SIM card (Iknow…I sound like a broken record but want to hammer the point home). We followed/monitored our route on Google Maps and actually figured out which stop was closest to our destination and quickly grabbed our suitcases and jumped off at the right spot.  Immediately after that, we found out one little annoying tidbit about city life in Ireland…utterlack of personal space boundaries. Seemingly, everyone within city limits, is in a massive hurry and if you're not keeping the same pace as they are, they invade your personal space continuously.  I’m convinced that people would smack into you if you even hesitated your next step.  So, from time to time, I found it necessary to just duck to the side to let people pass. I was in no rush.  I wanted to cover ground but I also wanted to soak in every new view that came with every step I took.  Eventually, I had to just adapt to and ignore the closeness and impatience of the locals.  Like I’ve had to do in my own city during tourist season, they need to just chill out and accept the fact that some people want to actually see where they are instead of just charging along, trying to get from point a to point b.

Dublin is a terrific city.  There are points of interest around every corner.  I’m not sure you can ever see every single thing but on our second and more awake day, we managed to cover18km on foot and took in so many sights, it’s hard to fathom now, as I sit at my laptop typing the words.  There are things for everyone there…amazing architecture, quaint pubs, beautiful scenery,rich historical sites and endless options for souvenirs.  You can see, do, taste, hear and feel so many different things it’s almost overwhelming. We managed to strike a pretty cool balance of all of the above but still could have experienced even more, had we had more time there.

On our third day, we rented the car.  Cue ominous music.  We lined up with a bunch of Americans to pick up our vehicle and home base for the next 16 days of our trip.  Our modest estimate of about $500 CAD quickly ballooned to closer to $2000 including full insurance coverage and a GPS.  Before leaving the counter we made sure we had their assurance that the GPS was completely up to date and they confirmed it.  As two single women, alone in a strange country, we needed this safety net especially since the directions provided by the Airbnb app appeared totally confusing. 

We nervously set off but I was confident in my friend’s driving ability.  She seemed to master city driving right off the bat. She stayed to the left and handled the constant roundabouts like a pro and once we got out on the M series highway (Motorway), it was a breeze.  The difference in these roads was that although there were some off and on-ramps, there were equally as many roundabouts where just take the 2nd exit to continue on the same highway.  For the most part, we found the drivers to be fairly courteous and law-abiding where other vehicles are concerned…not so much with pedestrians but that’s another story. Since my sense of direction is almost non-existent and she was nervous of driving in a completely strange place, on the wrong side of the road, we were both a bundle of nerves most of the time we were in our rental car.

The main roads and highways weren’t bad but our destination was Wicklow National Park so our GPS lead us onto some narrow,twisty roads, littered with sheep and bordered by large, sharp boulders.  When we had supposedly ‘reached our destination’,we found ourselves in the middle of nowhere, approaching the top of a mountain with no park entrance in sight.  There was a beautiful valley on the left but no civilization and definitely no national park.  It was then that a large transport truck came barreling down the road, seemingly straight for us.  Having only been driving on the wrong side of the road for less than an hour, my very dear but nervous friend overcorrected(rightfully so) and we hit one of those large, pointy rocks on the side of the road.  Lights and alarms went off and the car definitely didn’t feel right so we pulled over to the first spot where there were no rocks, only to find a hole larger than a Euro blown in the tire of our newly rented vehicle. 

So, our first reaction was pure panic.  We were alone in a strange country, on top of a deserted mountain with a blown out tire, no phone service and only sheep to talk to.  I grabbed my camera and at least took advantage of the scenery and then we took action.  We emptied the hatchback and found the donut spare and jack and took turns cranking it to get the car high enough to remove the damaged tire.  Then we got the lug nuts off and put the spare on, taking turns standing on the lug wrench to get the bolts tight enough for driving. I must admit, my companion did most of the work here.  I had to convince her to let me help out. 

Once we got the tire on and everything back in the car, we slowly started back up the mountain and came to a viewing spot at the top.  Here we found another tourist and asked if there was a town nearby. He had no idea but the driver with him directed us to a place calledHollywood, 20 minutes further along so we headed off, slowly and carefully.  What we found was a quaint, picturesque little place where the uniformed school children were actually running around, playing and a teacher was ringing a hand held bell, calling them back in to the classrooms.  Next to that was a beautiful little café with loads of natural light pouring in on large, decorative porcelain bowls filled with lavender as filmy curtains billowed in, welcoming the warm breeze of mountain air inside. It was a bustling little spot with lovely girls speaking in a thick brogue behind the counter.  Upon hearing our story, they immediately got to work, trying to get us in touch with our car rental agency back in Dublin.  Using the supervisor’s own phone, my slightly shaky friend finally spoke to a human and found out that we were totally covered and just had to replace the tire and then present them with the bill when we returned the car and they’d reimburse us. 

At this point, we were a little shaken but very grateful to the staff at the Hollywood Café so we decided to order coffee and scones and sit for a few minutes before head off to the place they directed us to in order to get our tire changed. The scones were so delicious and came with pots of jam and butter.  They tried to not charge us for the coffee but after all they had done, we insisted and added a 15 tip for their trouble.  They had been so kind in our time of need and we needed them to know how much we appreciated it.

We then went on to the town of Blessington (aptly named!) where we found the tire center exactly where we were told it would be and within a half an hour, we were on our way with a new tire.  Our adventure didn’t end there though.  Attempting to find our next BNB was challenging and our GPS kept leading us in circles. After getting nowhere for ages, we finally discovered that we were on a road that wasn’t listed in the GPS.  It was not up to date in the slightest.  According to the screen, we weren't even on a road.  So, we pulled into the nearest town and I approached a local to get directions.  He had a pretty thick accent so I had to have him repeat himself quite a bit.  I felt so bad.  He then looked at the directions for our destination and used his own phone to call our host and get specific directions.  He kept saying “it’s no bother”.  The key bit of information he gave us was that we would cross a bridge before getting to our host’s home.  We ended up driving around and around and just couldn’t find the bridge. 

The roads we were on that evening were narrow and twisting with thick hedges and stone walls and lovely trees that arched towards each other from either side, forming a beautiful tunnel of greenery but the speed limit on these roads was 80km/hour!  We were floored by this.  You could never see if someone was coming the other direction until they were almost upon you and the roads never seemed wide enough for 2 cars so we’d squeeze over to the left as much as we could and I'd lean as far to the right as I could…because that would definitely stop us from hitting the rock walls and hedges. We were again stuck going in circles and found a farmer who also called our host and didn’t get us any less lost. We ended up passing the area and heading into the adjoining town so we could just get out of the car, get some food for the night and some much needed wine.  The grocery stores we found all over Ireland were so great.  They had such reasonably priced fresh, yummy selections and a decent wine selection under the same roof! 

Deciding we’d better get back in the car and try yet again to find our destination we finally met a woman who got out of her car and asked if we needed help and she ended up leading us to our home for the next two days.  Note: following a local on twisty, narrow country roads as dusk descends is not for the faint of heart!  Keeping up with her was terrifying! As soon as we reached our destination though, all was forgotten and the harrowing day melted away.  We had arrived at the first of several enchanting lodgings.  This place was an apartment attached to a lovely farmhouse at the foothills of mountains.  There were apple and pear trees, a lovely view of the hills, horses, cows, chickens and an adorable kitten who followed us everywhere.  Our host and her daughter were absolutely lovely people who made us feel very welcome.  The place was covered in vines turning red from the approaching autumn and they had a nice bistro set that became a wonderful place for journaling.

Once inside, we fell in love even more.  The little details like fresh cut flowers in all types of cute little bottles and vases placed throughout was such a nice touch and we had been provided with basic cooking staples as well as farm fresh eggs, home baked multigrain bread and scones.  I could picture myself living here indefinitely. The surrounding area for this location was breathtaking at every turn and we spent the entire next day exploring it on foot.  It is one of my favourite memories from our trip.  We also finally found the bridge we had kept missing as the key part of our directions.  In general, the trees in Ireland are so much taller and larger than those at home.  We had driven past what we thought was a stone wall the night before but when we were walking on that part of the road the next morning, we realised we were only seeing the tops of the trees and that beyond these “walls” there was quite a drop and the trees were huge.  

We came to our senses after this first foray into the more rural areas of Ireland and each got a SIM card as soon as we found an area populated enough to have a store that would sell us some(Dungarvan).  Immediately, our trip became so much easier and less stressful. The drives were still scary but at least we knew where we were going most of the time and could contact the hosts ourselves if we didn’t. This gave us such a sense of security and freedom not to mention the fact that I could stand on a mountain and call my kids using Messenger, navigate using GoogleMaps in real time, be interviewed by a local radio station back at home,research new places to visit, etc. without incurring any expenses other than the initial 20 we had shelled out.

The rest of our trip still had its challenges.  I had to alter my expectations and plans to ease the stress of driving more than we had to but this was rewarding too.  We learned to navigate confusing local transit systems via buses and trains and found absolute gems of places to visit.  A completely foggy day was a bit of a damper on our day at the Cliffs of Moher but the comradery we experienced as all of us eager tourists slammed against the walls when the cliffs would temporarily come into view was terrific.  We were all there for the same reason and it made it fun, if not the ultimate experience I was looking for as a photographer.

We met such amazing people throughout our journey.  Our hosts (for the most part)were terrific. No one was terrible but we had one or two that were a bit “out there”.  We’ve definitely become pros at the whole Airbnb racket and now know more specific questions to ask when booking, etc.  We had a mixture of places that were great as a spot to lay our head after a busy day or gorgeous properties with amazing touches that made us more than comfortable and they were the hard ones to leave.  One common thread was spiders.  We encountered spiders inside each spot.  For the most part, they were small, harmless spiders but in 2 separate locations we met with gigantic, hair-legged monsters who wanted to shower with us!  We don’t often see spiders this size at home and definitely not indoors.  Although terrifying at the time, even these occasions provided us hilarious stories to share with our friends.  Picture 2 grown women running around screaming with “Poopourri” in one hand (to stun the them) and a broom in the other. 

As far as the driving was concerned, we went from stiff, white knuckled silent drives only interrupted but the worst swear words imaginable as we’d make hairpin turns with trucks coming at us to my more confident buddy looking completely relaxed, sipping on a coffee while I chatted on Messenger to my sister as the local radio station was playing in the background.  We also learned to lookahead on Google maps to see what kind of roads we’d be encountering and either figuring out how to avoid them or at least mentally prepare ourselves for them.

We visited pubs during rugby matches, which was interesting. The place would be packed but there would be no one behind the bar and patrons and servers were so fixated on the tvs that you could probably pour your own pint, down it and leave before anyone knew you were there.  We attempted to buy lunch at various spots but most places close down from noon to 1pm so we had to adjust our schedule.  They would leave their doors open but they would just take off for their own lunch.  Also, “lunch” was served until 5pm so we lucked out on getting some cheaper meals by having a bigger breakfast and then choosing our main meal from the cheaper menu late in the afternoon and just munching on snacks and wine at “home” in the evenings.  We also stopped at some point for our daily Guinness. This became a treasured ritual and we miss it now that we’re home.  Guinness just tastes better over there and it was our daily reward/celebration/consolation after whatever we may have conquered on any given day.

Our experience with Irish pubs was quite varied…from scary little country joints with leering locals to trendy bustling spots where everyone was engaging in deep philosophical discussions, to boys’ clubs, sport-viewing venues, tourist traps, etc.  I loved them all.  The beer was cold and delicious and the food was great, the patrons were colourful, the décor was unique and cool and the atmosphere was friendly. 

Another almost daily trek was to a local coffee shop.  These were always enchanting little spots with friendly servers, in great locations. I loved that with scones, they’d bring little pots of homemade jam, real butter and in some cases, fresh cream.  I never met a cappuccino I didn’t like over there.  The best locations for these were usually stuffed full of patrons but worth it.

I can’t say enough about the beaches in Ireland.  They are all absolutely gorgeous, expansive and have the most incredible views of waves, mountains,dunes, picturesque villages, cliffs, lighthouses (my favourite being Blackrock)fairy bridges made of stone, daring surfers and more.  The only caution I can add is that the weather at these spots can go from blue skies with white fluffy clouds, to misty, to gale-forced winds and driving rain to brilliant rainbows, etc. all within the span of an hour.  I took photos of one such beach in Sligo and figured that anyone seeing these would assume I had spent several days there. The scene was different every time I pressed the shutter.  I went from a long sleeved tee to a cosy polar fleece full zip jacket with pockets to both covered by a huge rain poncho and back again several times in one beach visit.  It was cool to experience the different types of scenery brought on by the many changes in weather in such a short time so the clothing adaptations were well worth it.

The wooded areas we visited were also amazing.  We saw fairy doors created by school children, large groups of Game of Thrones fans cloaked in long sweeping capes, waterfalls, bridges, folklore hermit homes, gigantic trees, birds,squirrels, leaves changing colour and so much more.  They were peaceful and beautiful and majestic.

The castles.  There is so much history, folklore and amazing architecture in Ireland.  From ruins to fully refurbished/preserved properties, they all contain their own special magic and tell their own stories. We visited one that we had never heard of but just found was close to where we were staying in County Down.  It was the day Hurricane Lorenzo hit the island and we were the only visitors.  The feeling I had when I found myself alone in the wind and rain, at the back of the main building still haunts me today.  A creepy chill came over me that I had never felt before and after some research I discovered it is listed as one of the top 10 most haunted castles in Northern Ireland.  I didn’t need to see it on a list to figure this out!

I could ramble on and on about every aspect of Ireland that I encountered…raving about culture, beauty, people, history,architecture, nature and so much more but I fear it would take longer than my actual trip!  So, for those of you who actually read to the end as well as others who couldn’t be bothered (I don’t blame you!) here is a list of points to help you when you make your trek to Ireland…and you should…book it and just go!

-         Switch out to a local SIM card as soon as you land and don’t look back – that is the most important and useful tip I can give.

-         Bite the bullet and pay for full insurance on your rental car but do NOT get a GPS – use your unlimited data from the plan you get for your SIM card and use Google Maps (we could have saved a ton of money and paid for the tire out of pocket but we were lucky…wecould have had a much worse accident…just be sure to have enough available funds for the pricy bill).  In their favour, our rental agency did reimburse us immediately for the tire as well as for the amount we were billed for use of the GPS (we asked for our money back on that and they didn’t argue).

-         Be prepared to switch currency from Euros to Pounds and to go from Kms to Miles when crossing into the UK.

-         Avoid un-named and smaller,country roads (stick to M and N series if possible and some of the R roads aren't too bad). If you have to use the smaller roads, just exercise caution and be prepared to have to pull over at any moment – better yet, take local transit and just breathe when you’re trying to decipher routes, schedules and fares – ask a ticket agent directly, in person for best results. Or walk.  We did that a lot and ended up covering172kms on foot, over the course of our trip!

-         Accept the fact that you may not get to see everything on your wish list and just enjoy the places you do visit…I promise you won’t be disappointed.

-         Interact with as many locals as possible…they’re terrific people.

-         Give yourself tons of extra time to get anywhere and be patient with herds of cattle that may block the road or sheep who stare at you as you try to drive by them without running over them.

-         Keep your head up and eyes open– there is beauty in every nook and cranny and you don’t want to miss any of it.

-         Dress for all types of weather but keep it light and comfortable.

-         Don’t rush anything.  Soak it all in and let yourself enjoy it.  It’s better to spend quality time in a location you like rather than checking items off a list and moving on.

-         Don’t assume that the busiest tourist sites are the best. There are hidden gems everywhere.

-         Accept the fact that you will have no personal space as you bustle along busy sidewalks in the larger cities and just roll with it.

-         Pay attention to the pavement markings telling you which way to look and never take a chance by darting out into traffic unless you are flanked by locals. Other vehicles are paid a courtesy but pedestrians are not.

-         Ask your Airbnb host lots of questions about things like the laundry facilities (if that’s important to you) before you book and get concrete answers.  One place we stayed listed laundry facilities on the property but once there, we found out you could wash in the apartment but then had to walk across a busy road and pay to put your wet clothes in a dryer at a laundromat. Another place had a meter on the wall that had to be fed Euros in order to retain electrical power and if we ran out of toilet paper or other supplies, we had to replace them.  We were supplied with less than a full roll of toilet paper to split between 2 women at this place so just be wary of properties like this and don’t book them…they are NOT the norm and expect more from you than 99% of the other places. Don’t give in to them and maybe they’ll learn to not be so stingy. Do respect your hosts though and always leave the place spotless.  This is common courtesy and will get you a good rating on the Airbnb website.

-         Be prepared to lose your heart to the Emerald Isle and expect endless days of daydreaming and figuring out how to get back there once you arrive home.

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Hi Pam!

What an adventure you and you friend had! As you said a rocky start but I know what you mean about those now being what made this trip even more so special. 

Ireland was the first country I flew to and was discovering by myself and well, it was 10yrs ago and I am still here. 🤣

What was you must see places? 

Nice video by the way! Some amazing composition on your pictures and I would never guess you had bad weather at all as you had almost a blue sky on all of them. 

Really loved reading about your story Pam.

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Thank you for your kind comments, Els! I'm so jeslous that you got to stay. I did come back and tell my boss I'd be interested in doing a work term with our company in one of our Ireland locations. I can only dream. 

It's too hard to pick a favourite spot but I really enjoyed Counties Tipperary,  Sligo and Down.  I also felt quite comfortable wandering around Dublin.  I really do hope to return. It just feels like home over there.  Canada is beautiful too but there's a magical quality about Ireland.
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Hi Pam, 

I've just loved reading all about your adventures here on the Emerald Isle. It's like I was there on the trip with you! :) 

I'm so happy that you made your dream trip happen, and it sounds like you've fully enjoyed every moment of it. It's great to see how well you prepared your itinerary and journey (even though it sometimes turns out differently once you're here), and how much you've learned from your travels. I am sure all of your tips will be super useful to future visitors and people planning their trip. 

I'm really curious to hear more about your route as well. Which parts of the island did you explore in what order? 

Thanks again for sharing your adventures here with us, and I love your Guinness tradition! :) 
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Our Itinerary/Route:

September 17 – Landed in/explored Dublin

September 18 – Walked 18km around Dublin

September 19 – Drove from Dublin to Kilcoltrim via Wicklow Mountains with stops in Hollywood and Blessington

September 20 – Explored the town of Borris (including viaduct and area) on foot – gorgeous scenery

September 21 – Left County Carlow and drove to County Tipperary with a stop in Kilsheelan to do the Terry Fox Run, ending up in Clonmel near Adfinnan to stay for next 3 nights

September 22 – Cahir Castle and Rock of Cashel (absolutely breathtaking views at both locations)

September 23 – Rainy day so just drove to Dungarvan for a bit of an explore

September 24 – Drove from Clonmel to Athenry with a stop in Limerick

September 25 – Hopped on a train to Galway where we spent the morning before taking a bus tour to Cliffs of Moher in the afternoon – so foggy we could barely see but enjoyed the trek nonetheless

September 26 – Drove from Athenry to Riverstown, Co. Sligo – climbed Knocknarea to Queen Maeve’s Grave

September 27 – Did extensive walk including Cullenamore and Strandhill beaches and the village there and then went on to Glencar Waterfall (one of my favourite days full of beautiful scenery beyond compare)

September 28 – Drove from Riverstown to Letterbarra in Donegal County – Spent the day in Donegal Town

September 29 – Visited Donegal Abbey on our way to Fairy Bridges, Bundoran and then over the border to Roogah Waterfall,Garrison

September 30 – Left Donegal and visited Londonderry (big fan of Derry Girls form Netflix) and Letterkenny on our way to Ballyclare

October 1 – Took a bus into Belfast and explored the whole city on foot, following the Game of Thrones stained glass windows

October 2 – Left Ballyclare to explore Castle Ward/”Winterfell” site (also a big fan of GOT) before heading to our last Airbnb in Newcastle

October 3 – Walked to and explored Tollymore Forest Park as Hurricane Lorenzo arrived and then drove to visit Dundrum Castle (totally haunted!)

October 4 – Drove back to Dublin, returned rental car and did another lengthy walk through the city before crashing at our hotel for our last night on Irish soil (sad day indeed)

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That is a fantastic itinerary, Pam. 

You really did squeeze as much as you possibly could into that trip. I love how you have mixed ancient culture with modern TV shows. I never thought I would see Queen Maeve's grave and Derry Girls on the same list. 

If you were to return for another trip, do you think you would return to the same spots, or do you have a list of places you have yet to visit?

Thanks for posting this, hopefully, it will serve as inspiration for others.

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I'm all about diversity in sightseeing, Gordon! Lol. I have varied interests!,  WHEN I come back, I would like to see some of the spots I had on my list but missed (like Glendalough) and I would like to see different castles, waterfalls, towns and mountains than I saw the first rime around. I'd love to stay in one spot for a longer time and just do proper day trips but maybe with a local driver or public transit next time. :) And I want to meet more people from there!
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An eclectic mix indeed!

Finding a base for a few days is a lovely idea, more of a slowcation exploring all that is available.

There are plenty of local guides all over the island of Ireland and some private tour companies that may give you what you are looking for.

Public transport is also a great option to get around, most locations are reachable with some local additions available too.

We look forward to your next trip! :)

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