Ireland – Day 6

Today we are heading back toward Dublin!

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Day 6 Itinerary for Thursday, February 25, 2016:

  • 6:45 AM: Leave Hotel
  • Traveling To:
    • Leap Castle
    • Glendalough
    • Phoenix Park
    • Newgrange
  • Hotel: Dunboyne Castle Hotel

This is how the day ACTUALLY unfolded:

We left the hotel very early (thankfully the valet agreed to leave our car out front so we could simply leave in the morning rather than getting someone to fetch it from the illusive valet parking lot) and there was frost and fog covering everything. Because Leap Castle is privately owned, we decided to forgo it and head straight to Glendalough. It turned out to be a great decision! On our way, we stopped at a petrol station to fuel up and get some coffee at Costa Coffee. The coffee was pretty good and the chocolate fingers were very good too. We also had a very low tire so we filled it up with air while we were there!

Glendalough was breathtaking. The lake was like glass reflecting the huge mountains and we didn’t even really encounter people until we reached the monastic site.

After exploring Glendalough, we headed into the mountains on our way to Newgrange (we decided against going to Phoenix Park because we had already visited it twice on our bus tour the first day). We stopped at the Glencree Center for lunch. The food wasn’t great but the coffee was good.

From there we went to Newgrange and did the tour. Our bus diver was an absolute crack up telling us about all the funny things tourists ask such as, “Where are the other undiscovered ruins?” or, “Why did they build this so far from the airport?” HA! Newgrange was surprisingly (for me) awesome. I didn’t have high hopes for it and didn’t even think we’d make it to the site with everything else we had planned, but I’m sure glad we did. Our tour guide was so interesting and even did a bit of the tour in Irish.

On our way to our hotel, we got stuck in serious rush hour traffic, so by the time we got to our hotel we were famished. Some of the locals at the pharmacy told us about a restaurant called La Bucca and it was absolutely lovely!

Our final stop was to a local grocery store where we spent around $100 on chocolate and candy for the kids (and us). Have I mentioned how delicious the chocolate from Ireland is? It’s DELICIOUS!

This hotel was much different from the others as it didn’t have the castle feel to it. It was nice, though, and comfortable.

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Tomorrow we leave on a jet plane, saying goodbye to Ireland.

~Thankfully Exhausted

Ireland – Day 3

On our third day in Ireland we headed north to Belfast and Northern Ireland!

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Day 3 Itinerary for Monday, February 22, 2016:

  • 7:00 AM:  Leave Hotel
  • 9:00 AM: Explore Belfast
    • Belfast Castle
    • Crown Bar
    • Titanic Museum
  • 10:00 AM: Crumlin Road Gaol Tour
  • 11:30 AM: Coastal Route to Giant’s Causeway
  • 2:30 PM: Giant’s Causeway
  • 3:30 PM: Bushmills Distillery
  • 4:30 PM: Dunluce Castle/Mermaid Cave
  • Hotel: Kilronan Castle Hotel

This is how the day ACTUALLY unfolded:

We woke up early again and headed north toward Belfast. We were super excited that we would be going into a different country and to see how Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland differed. We took a toll tunnel out of Dublin that was pretty neat to go through though it was relatively pricey. There are tolls in various places throughout Ireland. Make sure to have some cash handy to pay these tolls. Also there’s a license plate toll on the M50 but only parts of it. You have to make sure you keep track of them and pay them online, otherwise the rental car company will take the payment and any late fees off your credit card.

The trip to Belfast took much longer than we anticipated because we were hungry and got off the highway in search of food. So by the time we reached the city, we didn’t have time to go sightseeing. We did, however, make sure to take the Crumlin Road Gaol (Jail) tour and it was MAGNIFICENT. We had a tour guide named Gavin and he was incredibly knowledgeable, though slightly hard to understand. He also had a hard time understanding us, which we found to be the norm for most people in Northern Ireland. Our tour lasted about an hour and a half and was very intriguing. Though we couldn’t take video, we were allowed to take still photos!

Once we were finished here, we took the windy coastal route up to the Giant’s Causeway. It took a bit longer to take the coastal route but it was absolutely stunning. The weather changed several times on our way but once we reached the causeway, we were greeted with sunshine!

When we researched the Giant’s Causeway I had it in my head that it was a huge area of these hexagonal stones. While it was a wonderful site and something you definitely shouldn’t miss, I think you’ll be surprised, as we were, to see that it’s not as huge as was anticipated. We loved it nonetheless!

Next up, we went to the Bushmills Distillery which was very close to the causeway. Though the tour was fun and interesting, I was rather bummed that I couldn’t take any pictures during. I did find it interesting how they have various types of whiskey that are aged different lengths of time in various barrels in order to give each a distinct flavor. Though we were given a sample of the 10 and 12 year flavors, we only had a sip of each before we were on our way to go see the Dunluce Castle and Mermaid’s Cave. The bartender must have thought we were crazy returning our nearly full glasses but we didn’t want to have alcohol in our systems when we were driving plus we didn’t have much time before the castle would close!

I am so happy that we decided to go to the Dunluce Castle and Mermaid’s Cave. It is a beautiful castle but beyond that, the views off the side of the cliff that the castle is perched on are stunning. The Mermaid’s Cave is below the castle and if you are willing to walk down and back up approximately 120 stairs, you’ll find yourself in for a treat!

From here we had a LONG drive back to our hotel, so we found a nice little place to eat called Granny Annies and WOW the food was AMAZING especially the chocolate cake and ice cream. My mouth is watering just thinking about it right now! Yum!

The trip home was curvy and dark and rainy and the posted speed limits are for crazy people, like my husband, who like to race tiny cars around crazy mountain passes when there’s only enough room for maybe a car and a half to fit between the hedges or rock walls that line the roads. Needless to say, I was happy to be at our hotel! (Don’t get me wrong, my husband is a phenomenal driver. I’m just a worrier.)

The Kilronan Castle Hotel was another beautiful place to stay. It had the real castle feel complete with suits of armor and thrones, while still being very posh and cozy. This was probably my favorite place we stayed while on this trip.

Don’t wait to see what we do on Day 4, our “free” day!

~Thankfully Exhausted

Ireland – Day 1

IRELAND!

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When my husband and I found a 7 day/6 night Castles of Ireland Groupon, we jumped right on it! Though we had never been to Ireland and Ireland probably wouldn’t have been top of mind if asked where we’d like to vacation, we had an absolutely wonderful time! This series will detail our trip in hopes that anyone who might like to visit Ireland in the future will have our experience as a reference. I know when I was planning our trip, I read innumerable blogs about packing, international travel, what to see, what to buy, etc.

I’ll start off by letting you in on a not-so-secret insight into my marriage. We LOVE to travel. In addition to travel, we LOVE to drive, especially my husband. So when we realized this trip came with a car rental, we were over the moon! Our plan was to circle the entire Island and see just about everything we possibly could!

Day 1 Itinerary for Saturday, February 20, 2016:

  • 5:00 AM: Arrive in Dublin via Dublin Airport (Aer Lingus)
  • 5:30 AM: Pick up rental car from Dan Dooley
  • 6:00 AM: Drive into Dublin & Park at Q-Park Four Courts (only €4.00 for the day on Saturdays)
  • 6:30 AM: Explore Dublin on foot & via Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus
    • Hodges Figgis Bookstore
    • Jeanie Johnston Tall Ship
    • Merrion Square/St. Stephen’s Green Park
    • National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology – Bog Bodies!
    • Trinity College/Old Library/Book of Kells
    • Kilkenny Shop
    • Grafton Street
    • St. Patrick’s Park/Cathedral
    • Dublin Castle
    • George’s Street Arcade
    • Guinness Storehouse
    • Jameson Distillery
    • Dublin Writer’s Museum
    • Temple Bar
    • Ha’Penny Bridge
    • Kilmainham Gaol
  • Hotel: Fitzpatrick Castle Hotel

Little did I know when I planned this itinerary that we would be completely exhausted from not sleeping on the airplane and it being midnight our (Iowa) time when we started the day! Oops. Oh well, you live and learn!

So here’s how the day REALLY went:

We started off by landing in the Dublin Airport which is absolutely beautiful. We had no problems retrieving our luggage (hooray for free checked bags on international flights!) and because we were a bit early landing we were even early to pick up our car at Dan Dooley. The first car we picked up wouldn’t go into third gear (my husband, Nolan, is a fabulous driver, even when everything is backwards, so I knew it was the car when he was having troubles and sure enough the rental guy tried it out and realized third gear was busted) so we got another car, a Ford Fiesta, and off we went to chase down the Dublin sunrise.

We parked at the Q Park Four Courts even though everyone told us not to drive into Dublin and park including the rental car people. They suggested we drop our car off with our bags at our hotel and take a shuttle in. I didn’t want to waste the time and I was willing to pay the €4.00 for the day of parking, so we went against their suggestions and I’m glad we did!

When we got to the parking garage it was still dark and it felt like we were the only people in the city! We realized as the sky began to turn colors that the fog was going to obliterate any chance of a sunrise we might be able to have, so instead of walking all the way down to Dublin Bay, we headed to Merrion Square to check out the beautiful Doors of Dublin!

Merrion Square Park was closed for construction purposes but we walked around it and saw the statue of Oscar Wilde through the fence which was great!

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At this point, we were already exhausted and ready to pass out so we went to O’Callaghan Mont Clare Hotel and had a delicious breakfast with wonderful coffee! Overall, Ireland has amazing coffee and food! The hotel staff was incredibly helpful and understanding of our exhaustion and kept the coffee coming. They even helped us purchase our tickets for the CityScape Luxury Sightseeing (Yellow) Hop-On Hop-Off bus.

A little bit about the Hop-On Hop-Off busses: I researched and planned on purchasing tickets for the Green bus, however, it was much pricier (almost double) than the Yellow bus was so we went with the Yellow bus and it was SO worth it. Our tour guides were amazing, there were busses all over and didn’t keep us waiting long, and the open air seating on top would have been so much fun had it not been raining.

Once we finished breakfast, we walked to Trinity College and took the Book of Kells tour. It was fabulous. The Old Library is breathtaking, I wish I could bottle the smell of the old books, and the Book of Kells is an amazing sight.

When our tour was finished, we did a bit of shopping on Nassau St. There were so many cool shops but we didn’t actually purchase anything at this point since we still had several hours left in our day and we didn’t want to tote everything around with us. Luckily, we were able to flag down one of our busses on this road (apparently they don’t normally stop where they did) and Nolan was able to get some shut eye while we drove around nearly the entire hour and a half route.

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When we got close to the parking garage where we had parked, we decided to go back to the car so I could sleep a bit. We probably slept about 15-20 minutes in the car, took some Tylenol for our feet, and then walked to the Guinness Storehouse in the rain. The weather was definitely getting rainier as the day went on, but we came prepared with proper shoes, jackets, hats, gloves, and an umbrella!

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The Guinness Storehouse was absolutely flooded with people and we had to stand outside in a line that wove its way around the building for about 30 minutes. I was actually surprised with how quickly the line moved! The tour was fabulous and well worth the money spent to take it. The only part that was a bit of a letdown was the Gravity Bar at the top of the building that boasts the best views of Dublin. I’m sure that’s true when they don’t have ten thousand people packed into the room and nowhere to take a picture from. We quickly exited back down the many flights of stairs.

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My attempt at taking a photo from the Gravity Bar windows.

Outside we waited for a Yellow bus to stop and it took us back close to where our car was parked. From there, we drove to our hotel, the Fitzpatrick Castle Hotel. I have nothing but positive to say about the Fitzpatrick Castle Hotel. We had a slight error in our booking, we had paid for breakfast but it didn’t come across, and the hotel staff took it upon themselves to contact our travel agent to confirm. Not only was the staff excellent, the food was wonderful both in the Dungeon Bar (where Nolan fell asleep sitting up at dinner) and the morning breakfast. Our room was elegantly decorated, had a beautiful bathroom, and a gorgeous view of Dublin Bay/the Irish Sea.

This ends our first day. It was a wonderful way to start our trip. We didn’t get to do everything we planned on doing but we wholeheartedly enjoyed Dublin. The only thing I wish we could have seen was the Archaeology Museum’s bog bodies. Before I travelled to Ireland, I was given the name of an author that writes mysteries that center around these bog bodies. Her name is Erin Hart and I would HIGHLY recommend reading Haunted Ground and Lake of Sorrows before you travel to Ireland. They are fantastic and I can’t wait to read the rest of the books in the series!

~Thankfully Exhausted