So….I have a lot of catching up to do… but I’ll start with our most recent trip – a week in Ireland.
We’ve been on an island kick lately, Iceland last fall, Caribbean in February, and Kauai this upcoming January (still more to come on all that), and now Ireland. It’s always tempting to cram as much as possible into the time we have but to do so requires a bit of planning and a little less spontaneity. Thankfully, a friend and her sister, who live in Ireland, graciously agreed to play hosts and were ready to undertake the whirlwind itinerary I planned – first we would go to the north to visit Belfast on our own and then with the group, we’d head west to Cork, the Ring of Kerry, and the Aran Islands, and last to Dublin.
It was our first time to Ireland and we arrived in Dublin a little jet legged but grateful for the direct flight from Seattle. Aer Lingus started direct flights from Seattle to Ireland, and with deteriorating flight service these days, direct flights are really the only way to go if you can find cheap deals. As with the UK, people in Ireland drive on the opposite side of the road, and if we were going to see as much as we had planned, it was necessity to rent a car.* See more on that saga below. After paying an absorbent cost for the car rental, we hopped on the road thinking…we can do this….gear shift on the left…no problem!
At first, it was slow going but before we knew it we were well on our way to Belfast. On the way, we took a slight detour and stopped off at Newgrange, a 5000 year old tomb and World Heritage Site, roughly dated to 3200 BC – older than Stone Hedge and the Pyramids. The tomb is famous for the light that streams through the passage during the winter solstice. Tickets are sold through a lottery and the event attracts people from all over to witness the display.
It poured that day but as we stood in the rain surrounded by lush green backdrops, there was no doubt we had made it to Ireland.
After taking a peek inside the tomb (no photography is permitted), we jumped back on the road and ended up in Belfast in time for dinner. Ten Square Inn was a perfect resting point for a quick stop in Belfast, located right downtown with comfortable rooms for three people and a car park nearby. We walked over to the oldest pub in town, the Crown, hoping to get in but with no luck; then through a few more pubs in town before ending up at The Rusty Saddle. While a local artist played covers and traditional Irish ballads, we enjoyed our first drink in Ireland and pub fish and chips. We were off to a good start.
Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve always had a fascination with Titanic. Now, working in the cruise industry, there are even more aspects of the incident rooted in history that are fascinating. Belfast is the birth place of SS Titanic and the city created a museum to honor those who were lost and also to walk visitors through the history of how Titanic came to be. The SS Nomadic is also parked in its final resting place near the museum. The mini version of Titanic served as the original tender for Titanic at Cherbourg, France and is now fully restored.
After spending the morning at the museum and stopping off at Belfast City Hall, we headed north to the Dark Hedges, a filming location for Game of Thrones and then made a quick stop off at Bushmills, one of the oldest whiskey distillery in the world.
Our last stop before heading down south was Giant’s Causeway which is definitely worth a visit. It’s an easy walk down but the key is to catch the bus back up if you’re short on time. It’s only 1 Euro a person to ride the shuttle to the top of the hill. The site is another World Heritage Site, made up of black basalt columns that look like they were intricately carved, but in fact are natural features at the base of basalt cliffs. Legends have long been born out of the geological features involving giants and Scotland, but that’s a whole other story…
After visiting Giant’s Causeway at what seemed like the perfect time, we sped back south towards Belindah’s house, west of Dublin. What we had expected to a be a 3 hour drive turned into a 4 plus hour drive due to winding roads in rural Ireland… in the dark. Lesson learned: Don’t always trust Google Map when in Ireland. We made it to the house by 10:30 and had a wonderful home cooked meal waiting for us. It was only day two and we had so much more to see.
*Note: Car insurance is a bit deceiving when it comes to coverage through international rental agencies. Most experienced travelers know that it’s a bad deal to purchase rental car insurance through the rental company if you have your own car insurance, but after researching coverage options in Ireland, Ireland is one of the few countries that doesn’t make the list for available car insurance coverage through our credit card companies. And what we learned the hard way is by purchasing coverage through the rental agency in a foreign country, the levels of coverage are not an either/or option. If you want complete coverage (which waives the $5,000 hold on your credit card) you have to pay basic PLUS the super coverage cost. In Euros, that’s essentially the cost for 6 months of car insurance in the states for only a week. Another lesson learned. 😀