Saturday, July 29, 2017

Sla´n Ireland

The drive from Clifden to Doolin takes you out of the Connemara and into the Burren, a strange, barren landscape of rocks and more rocks.
Lifesavers on a beach in the Burren. Slow day for swimmers!
The biggest city in this area is Galway, famous for girls with black hair and blue eyes (so Soph looked like a local) lying between the banks of Galway Bay and the River Corrib. We wandered through the Latin Quarter, a vibrant tourist Mecca packed with traditional and not so traditional buskers and boutique shops.

We saw the Google man!
Our next destination was Doolin as a base from which to explore the Cliffs of Moher. We had great plans of hiking the 7km to the cliffs and taking the bus back or vice versa, but when we got to Doolin the wind was blowing a gale and even my gung ho travel companions were a bit wary of walking along the cliff face so we drove to the information centre and used the safety of the observation barriers to view this amazing piece of nature’s handiwork. I’ve seen lots of pictures of the Cliffs of Moher but nothing beats seeing them in person. Like Niagara, the majesty and magnitude of the sheer, 200 metre drop, needs 4D (3D plus the wind!) to be appreciated. Once again, our timing was great because we didn’t get there till after 6 so all the tour buses had departed and there were just a few other hardy souls to share the experience with. We spent about 20 minutes watching the ferocity of the sea and took a lot of fairly disappointing photos (due to the lack of aforementioned 4D on the camera).
Cliffs of Moher

Get away from the edge!

Back in Doolin, we sought sustenance at O’Connor’s pub, where we had a wee wait but not too long to get a table. Geoff had the roast lamb, Taine had a burger (for a change- he’s averaging 2 a day) Sophie and I both had the guiness Irish stew, washed down with a bottle of red, followed by cheesecake and Irish coffee. It was all excellent. At 9.30 a traditional music session started so we hung around for an hour to tap our toes. We stayed at the Doolin Inn, an up market backpackers and they had the best continental breakfast we’ve come across, including berry smoothies and fruit platters.

If we’d had longer in Doolin we definitely would have taken the ferry to the Aran islands. From the harbour it looked like it would be a hair raising ride on a very angry looking sea. We spent a bit of time ogling the beautiful knitwear in the craft shops. No doubt if there was any room in our luggage we would have bought some.

Our lunch stop was in Limerick and we used the time to visit King John’s Castle. A.A Milne’s poem, ‘King John’s Christmas’ was a favourite of mine as a kid so the idea of seeing his castle was appealing. Turns out King John never actually visited, let along lived in this castle in Ireland but nonetheless it was an interesting history lesson and we learnt quite a bit about sieges and under mining. Now, whenever I feel under mined, I will think of the poor inhabitants of King John’s Castle.

From Limerick we drove to our overnight stop at Dromineer, just outside Nenagh. I’m actually not sure what my thought process was when I booked this. I think I’d planned on Ennis and then went further afield when I couldn’t find anywhere suitable. Don’t bother googling ‘things to do in Dromineer’, because there aren’t any! There’s a great big lake called Lough Durgh but it’s a mighty way around, certainly too far for us weary travellers on a dinghy grey day. We checked into our B and B, a very intimate little house. With no space to bring our cases in and walls thin enough to hear a mouse squeak, we high tailed it into Nenagh to look at some ruins and find dinner. It was too wet to get out to look at the ruins but the meal at the Thatched Cottage made up for the lack of entertainment. Full as googs we opted for an early night.
Family bonding in Dromineer
After a fantastic cooked breakfast, we accidentally drove off without paying the bill. Most of our accommodation has been pre paid so when we couldn’t find our host when we were leaving, and given that he hadn't mentioned payment at check in, we just assumed he’d use the credit card details lodged with, however an email from them saying we hadn’t respected the conditions of the agreement (i.e, we’d done a runner) ensued. Awkward. We’ve spent some time trying to contact the owner to rectify the mistake this afternoon but so far to no avail. I hope we don’t get black listed by B and Bs. Geoff will be thrilled ;-)

Today was our last full day in Ireland and with an early flight tomorrow we elected to drive all the way back to the airport. We took a bit of a deviation to visit Kilkenny for lunch and I’m glad we did. It’s a beautiful old city with a lovely castle and the most extensive grounds ( open free to the public) that I’ve ever seen. We had a bit of a wander and then continued the drive back through County Carlow, with scenery similar to home.
Only in Ireland

Kilkenny Castle

Tonight we’re staying at a guesthouse near the airport. We ate at an old coach house, run by a Bulgarian couple, offering an English carvery with a lot of cabbage. You couldn’t get anything more Irish!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017


After a brilliant stay in NI we had a couple of travel transition days, moving down the island from North to West.

When you try to gauge distances using Google Maps, it’s easy to fall into the trap of equating distance with time. It doesn’t work that way in Ireland! Unless you travel on the main highways (predictably boring as they bypass all the towns), travel is slow. The roads, even in towns were designed for horse and cart width and are bordered by hedges – high, thick ones that you don’t want to wrangle with in your rental car. It’s virtually impossible to see what’s coming around the corner or over the rise and I’ve taken to closing my eyes and holding my breath in each instance so that I don’t make involuntary shrieks that might distract the driver. Generally, all drivers are very considerate and one person or the other will pull in tight to the hedgerow to let the other pass but, as in every country, there are a fair share of hoons who overtake or just whiz around the bends with no thought for anyone’s safety. As a result of all of the above, travel is slow. This doesn’t worry us as we are in no rush to get from place to place, the journey, not the destination being the priority for us on this trip.
Overtaking lane!
As you cross the border there’s nothing to tell you you’re changing countries, from Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland except that the bunting – a regular feature in most towns and outside many houses, changes from the Ulster flag accompanied by the Union Jack to the green, white and orange of the Irish flag, the speed limits are in kms instead of miles and you suddenly have to pay in Euro rather than Stirling.

From Ballycastle we drove down through Derry and Donegal to our overnight stop at Dromahair. It was here we struck our first issue with accommodation because, a) the place was hard to find, b) there was no sign of life when we got there except an elderly man who mistook Geoff for a ‘Jimmy’ (policeman) and got quite agitated believing that he had come to complain about some kids who were ‘no any of his responsibility’. Thankfully we have Sophie’s UK phone for such events but when she rang the owners they told her the apartment wouldn’t be ready for check in till 5pm because the laundry was late!
Old Mill Apartments - don't stay here
To fill the time we drove back into the closest big town, Sligo and checked out the Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery. I usually find standing stones quite fascinating but at the end of a long day, and at 13 Euro, we were struggling to find our zen and this field looked pretty much like any paddock around Dundonnell at home. The information provided was interesting though and it is certainly fascinating to know you are looking at evidence of a civilisation that existed 6000 years ago.
Back at Dromahair, still no sign of a check in person meant another phone call to be advised that someone would come and let us in immediately. Immediately in this case turned out to be 20 minutes, so it was nearly 7 by the time we were settled. Given that the check out next morning was 9, the price seemed a little excessive for a 14 hr stay! To add insult to injury, there was no wifi (even though it was advertised) and no toaster. One of our travel issues is avoiding Taine’s ‘hangriness’ (getting angry because you’re hungry) and morning hangriness is the worst.

Given the lack of toaster it wasn’t hard to make an early start the next morning to the Connemara. This drive took us down through Westport where we stopped for lunch at a lovely cafĂ© in the main street. From Westport you enter a whole new landscape, one that’s difficult to describe. It’s a bit like the Scottish Highlands meets the Otway Forest by the sea!
The paddocks were dotted with black faced sheep (who cross the road whenever they feel like it), there were fishing boats of every description out on the fjord and crofters in the fields harvesting peat. I didn’t even know that was still done.
Why did the sheep cross the road?


Clifden is the hub of the Connemara and like all other coastal towns in Summer, full of people. We’re staying in the penthouse of the Tom Barry House apartments. It’s a penthouse because it’s at the top of the building, up 66 stairs from the ground, above a bookmaker’s shop! We even have a little decking outside the lounge window. Unfortunately this is a shared decking and has public access so anyone who wants to sit up there looks straight in our windows but so far no one has so it’s a lovely little kingdom at the top of the town. And it has a toaster. And wifi!
View from the Penthouse
We used the 2 night layover opportunity to have a bit of a sleep in and then took a drive around the Sky Road with a view to hiring bikes and going back around it later in the day. The Sky Road is beautiful with expansive views out over the coastline. Despite its close proximity to the town, this is a quiet and laid back countryside, punctuated by little farms, lots of Connemarra ponies, tiny harbours and the odd B and B. I’m not sure the photos will do justice to the kaleidoscope of colours.

We’d packed a picnic lunch so we drove out to the National Park looking for a nice walk to get our steps up for the day. Geoff spotted a mountain (it was called a Diamond Hill, but I know a mountain when I see one) and discovered on his that it was only a 3km walk away. I hate climbing things but holidays are all about family bonding and the sun was shining so I agreed to walk the base track and maybe wait for them to do the climb. Of course, one base track led to another and there were small children gallivanting on in front of me so on I tramped until suddenly we were committed to the one way track to the summit. With Geoff physically dragging me up the steep bits and the kids making encouraging noises I managed to make it to the top, only truly losing the plot when the uneven stone steps became an actual rock climb and the wind threatened to pick me up and throw me over the edge.
All smiles and sunshine at the start

Should have stopped here

Panic attack. But at least Taine looks good in the pic!


The fun really began as we started our descent and the weather turned from sunny to wild and windy to sleet followed by rain so heavy that no one could see, especially not the old lady wearing glasses. Sophie got the giggles as I crawled sideways, blind and Gollum like, down the steepest bits, clinging to Geoff’s hand in the hope he might be able to drag me back up if I fell. Keeping in mind that I managed to fall flat on my face walking down the street in Montreal, falling off the mountain was a definite possibility!

At least may phone still works

Completely soaked, we finally made it to the base track and so desperate was I to get back to cover (and the toilet) that I broke into a jog for the last bit. I sincerely hope I am able to walk well enough tomorrow to get down the 66 steps to the car. I may need to be removed with a crane.

Actual running- bloody mountain in the background
Tom Barry House let us down by not having any hot water when we got back, the only black mark in an otherwise perfect accommodation.
We’ve been trying to get to an Irish pub for dinner since we got here. We tried again tonight and finally got a spot at Guys. Unfortunately, they didn’t have any live music but the pub next door to us does so we’ll open the window and listen to that for free.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

In the steps of giants.

Northern Ireland turned on its prettiest face for us today. Blue skies, clear water, no wind.
We dined on a scrumptious Ulster breakfast (eggs, bacon, black pudding, sausage, potato bread and mushrooms) at the guesthouse and then tried to beat some of the crowds to the highlighted tourist spots of NI. We were almost successful at the Dark Hedges (as featured in Game of Thrones). We parked at the Dark Hedges hotel car park (very nice of them to allow this and a considerate tourist thing for everyone to do so you don’t mess up other people’s photos with your car) and walked the 500 metres or so to the road. I managed to take two clear shots of the hedges with no one else in them and then suddenly we were swamped by other people on the same mission. Unfortunately, most of them just parked their cars on the side of the Dark Hedge road, making it impossible for anyone to get a sense of the mysterious atmosphere.

The Dark Hedges
We weren’t quite early enough at Carrick-a-rede rope bridge. The ticket box had just opened but the car park was already full and the path to the bridge was reminiscent of the hordes at Niagara Falls. The bridge spans a little gorge between the mainland and a rocky outcrop. It’s a loooong way down but the bridge is steady and they only allow 8 people on it at a time so I managed it quite easily. On the other side, the views are spectacular, especially on a gorgeous day like this but the edges are unfenced and the drop is sheer. The terror of watching everyone get as close as possible for the perfect photo gave me a panic attack so I had to sit and do some mindfulness exercises!
Across the bridge

View from the top

Too close to the edge!

Time out for a panic

From there we went to the Giant’s Causeway and that’s when the desire to see the natural wonders of the world on a sunny Sunday in Summer got bat shit crazy. The carpark looked like the MCG on grand final day, as every tour bus and international school camp in NI and about ten thousand locals vied for a chance to pay 10 pound, (about $18 each), to step foot on the ancient, tessellated rocks. This was too much for us Aussies (not bad grammar, just an appropriate line from Spamalot) so we retreated to try again at a later, or earlier time.

Portrush is the epicentre of the beach towns along the northern coast. We’d planned to have lunch there but it too was wall to wall cars along the beach front, the harbour and the street. There were numerous amusement arcades and a giant mobile home park. In the public toilets there were several teenage girls changing into bikinis, applying 57 layers of makeup and creating cocktails with vodka in their drink bottles! We parked down the far end and did a bit of people watching, decided we were very glad we were staying in Ballycastle and took off again, back through Coleraine and the Dark Hedge road (bumper to bumper by this time). Ballycastle was busy too but in a pleasant, country village way, with a hurling tournament and a market by the beach. The runners (everyone but me) did their exercise thing and I strolled through the market and down the beach.
Break hour in Ballycastle

Ballycastle beach

For dinner we packed a picnic with ingredients from Tesco and headed back to the Giant’s Causeway. This time we avoided the Information Centre altogether and, quite legally, took the red trail (extreme cliff climb!), at no cost, to the causeway. Our picnic spot at Saguenay Fjord last week was a definite winner for lunch but this is a new contender for best dinner venue. I doubt there are many days in NI where you can comfortably walk across the causeway in your shorts and t shirt at 9.30pm, but this was one of them. It was absolutely stunning.
162 steps down

The Giant’s Causeway stretches out and up like a 3D version of Hexa. It’s pretty hard to believe that these stones aren’t man made; there are thousands of perfect hexagons in different sized stacks, reaching out into the sea. To make it even more perfect, the sun was beginning to set and we were sharing this amazing vision with only a handful of other people. Don’t get me wrong- I think it’s wonderful that so many people are travelling the world but like my fantasy of first class air travel, I just wish they weren’t all doing it at the same time as me so the decision to wait till the evening to visit will go down as one of the best decisions of this trip. Turns out the blue trail (moderate, no steps path) is also accessible without an official ticket, so we returned to the car that way.

On the way home we stopped at Ballintoy harbour to watch the last of the sunset.

It was a perfect day.

PS - for any of my Humanities class reading this today - we're in Clifden now on the West coast and then we're travelling through Galway to the Cliffs of Moher before we go back to Dublin. See if you can find out something for us to do in the Connemarra area tomorrow and maybe somewhere to stop off on the trip to the cliffs and then back to Dublin ;-)
Also, if the kids are reading - it is not usually OK to use swear words on a public blog. The term 'bat shit' is vernacular (look it up the word vernacular and add to your glossary) and just because I used it doesn't mean you should!