One of the big items on my mom’s bucket list was to go to Ireland. She always wanted to go with my dad and kept putting it off. Sadly my dad passed having never left the country. When my mom got sick in 2015 I promised when she was better I was going to finally take her. True to my word, I took my mom for her first trip out of North America at the end of April 2018.
Before our trip to Ireland we attended a wedding in Germany. Overall I would say the wedding was successful in that they had a very nice ceremony (I assume, most was in German), we ate, there were drinks, and at the end of the night the couple was married. Goals: accomplished.
I got to catch up with my friends, the two brothers, which is always great.
I had a bio written about me in the wedding program with a fantastic Halloween picture of me as a chef and my dog as a lobster. Since there were people from all over the world speaking multiple languages, the program was made to introduce everyone. Clever idea!
Bright and early the next morning we got on the road to catch our 10:30am flight to Dublin. It was a frustrating morning. I found 2 gas stations, both closed and the machines didn’t take cards. I didn’t see a single station or sign on the Autobahn so I showed up with only half a tank and was charged roughly $100. I then had a little trouble figuring out where the check-in point for our tickets was. There were two lines bleeding into one and there was a lack of signage. I was given advice at the Information desk and rather than taking one hour, I was in line two and a half hours. I get anxious if I’m not early to places, so in my opinion I cut it way too close getting to my gate.
One fun part of the morning was reaching 100 mph on the Autobahn (and still got passed). Surprisingly most people followed the 80 kph speed limit, I wasn’t prepared for that. I pushed the car to just over 160 kph so I can say I did 100 and then backed off. The German’s might like to go 120 but not this guy. The second fun part was being in line and on a plane with a German death metal band! They were smelly but seemed to have a great disposition in that they were still smiling after having waited in line just to be told they had to check all of their instruments in another part of the terminal. I wanted a picture of the band with University of Delaware toothbrushes but didn’t want to push my luck getting to the gate on time. I will consider not asking them for said photo as a great regret in my life.
This was my first (and possibly last) guided bus trip. I am not the target audience for this. Beyond a woman with her mom, I was the youngest person there by about 15 years. The trip was a lot of driving and very little actually doing things. This is fine if I’m driving but not sitting in the back. We didn’t see the type of sights I like and I didn’t feel like I got any taste of authentic Ireland. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t miserable and didn’t hate the trip, it just wasn’t for me. Fortunately it wasn’t about me, it was about my mom. She loved this trip and a month later is still in a good mood.
Day 1 – Dublin
I spent my first and final nights in Dublin but I honestly feel like I didn’t experience any of it. Starving after my flight and hours too early to meet our tour companions, we walked across the street from our hotel to The Patriot’s Inn where I got the best meal I would have the entire trip. I got “traditional” bangers and mash in a place completely packed with tourists. The only non-North Americans (there could have been a couple of canucks in the bar for all I know) were the employees. Still my food was awesome!
After we checked in and met with our tour guide we took a quick ride around the city where she pointed out various statues and buildings. Our guide, Hilary, was fantastic! She was funny, knowledgeable, and playful. Every time I asked a question or made a joke she called me a brat. I loved her. Along with telling us about the sights, she put them in both historic and contemporary perspective. Regardless a 45 minute bus tour of Dublin isn’t enough to take everything in.
That night we had dinner in the hotel before heading to bed. The dinner was roasted chicken and the dessert was a bread pudding. Nothing bad, nothing great. My hotel room was fantastic though. If you’re ever in Dublin, the Hilton Dublin Kilmainham is the way to go!
Day 2 – Dublin -> Kildare -> Cashel -> Limerick -> Ennis
Day 2 started at the Irish National Stud in Kildare. I realize how sexy the picture is above but this was actually a horse breeding farm. It was fantastic, beautiful and educational. I think I annoyed our guide because I had so many questions. The amount of money and research that goes into this place is insane. Some horses that have never won a race make millions of dollars breeding just because their kids do well. They monitor even the smallest races for multiple generations. I asked questions about inbreeding and he was kind of cagey about answering me. There are students from all over the world competing to study how to breed horses, do the bookkeeping for this type of business, the proper way to cut the fields, etc. Almost any college major you can think of could fit in here.
Also at the farm was a Japanese garden that people lost their minds over. Sure it was beautiful but I was in Ireland. I spent more time with the horses than the silly Japanese statues surrounded by streams.
The picture above is at the Rock of Cashel which I never actually got a chance to walk up to. Pity as I was told there was a coin smasher there. Supposedly that’s where St. Patrick preached and the first person urinated green beer…at least that’s what I tell myself. I also saw St. Mary’s Cathedral, King John’s Castle, and the stone where the Treaty of Limerick was signed in 1691. I have no pictures as they were simple drive by sights. I’m not a fan of bus tours.
That night we did an “option excursion” for dinner. It was a medieval banquet in a tiny castle. It was the same menu and almost same decor as America’s Medieval Times. Rather than knights jousting and fighting, Bunratty Castle offers singing and a harp player. It was fun but the only authentic thing in the place were the giant antlers found in a bog nearby. Heh my mom had no idea how I lined up that photo.
For the next two nights we stayed in a small hotel in Ennis. It was fine, nothing special but I only used it to sleep and shower so what do I care?
Day 3 – Ennis -> West Coast -> Limerick -> Ennis
Day 3 was my favorite day of the trip. It was also the day I experienced the weather you associate with Ireland/UK. Our first stop was the 668-foot Cliffs of Moher which was amazing. Everyone was miserable. The rain was smacking down and the wind was insane. A few people climbed halfway up the ramp to see the cliffs and gave up. I found it hysterical and invigorating. I took pictures for the few people who made it to the top and one nice couple snapped the one below at the perfect time. I’m proud of my mom. She gave up half way but I walked back down and talked her into coming to the top.
They also had a plethora of machines to smash coins inside the gift area! By plethora, of course I mean 2 machines.
That afternoon we checked out Rathbaun Farm which I have mixed feelings about. It’s a sheep farm and I got to see lambs only hours old! I got to play with the smelliest herding dog ever and watch him work his magic on the flock. After all of that I was taught how to make scones! Mine turned out fantastically, of course. Note the hat I just bought because the wind and rain wrecked my hair and I’m very vain. But my vanity also gets annoyed that the hat pushes my ears out…
So what issues did I have with this lovely sheep farm? Well I bought an Irish wool sweater like every other tourist in Ireland. I thought that was one of their major industries. Boy was I wrong. Farmers have to pay other companies to efficiently sheer the sheep. After the wool is sold and the farmer gets his cut, he’s lost money. These are not wool sheet. These are eating sheep. And people don’t eat sheep, they eat lamb. That put a new perspective on the two hours-old babies I had just seen. So sad.
For dinner I ate at the Preachers Pub in my hotel, the Temple Gate. It’s designed and themed after a church because supposedly the original place and furniture were from a church. I’ve heard so many old legends and different meanings of Danny Boy that I’m not sure I trust the Irish.
Day 4 – Ennis -> Ring of Kerry -> Killarney
So much driving! So many peat bogs! I’m done with peat bogs. Just done. I had romantic notions of the bog people being found on our trip. Turns out it’s a lot of brown fields. Just field after field being called a bog. I’m done with bogs as evident by my face in the picture below.
We drove around the Bay of Dingle which I laughed at every single time our guide said it. And through the fog I got to see the island where Luke Skywalker lived (I saw no porgs). All of the driving and not actually doing anything was leaving me a bit cranky, so here is me cranky in front of the Bay of Dingle (hehe).
Once I got checked into my hotel, I got to take a horse-drawn jaunting car ride to Ross Castle. Our driver was flirting with my mom, so that happened. Our horse’s name was Elvis and I got to ride with my favorite couple from the trip (Larry and Barrie), so I had that going for me.
That night was another dinner in the hotel. It was a very modern looking bar and my mom got her first Guinness ever! She liked it so much she had a second. Good job, mom!
Day 5 – Killarney -> Blarney -> Waterford
I initially wasn’t going to kiss the Blarney Stone. Who knows what germs it has from thousands of tourists putting their nasty lips on it daily. And of course there are jokes about drunk Irishmen pissing on it at night. But as a traveler focused on the stupid and weird, I did it. I did it for you, dear reader. If I have Irish herpes it’s because of you.
Also my mom wanted to do it. She has mobility and balance issues (those 2 pints of Guinness the night before were funny!) so I wasn’t sure she could make it up the thin, windy staircase. Damned if she didn’t!
Our kisses were rewarded with a beautifully, smashed coin.
We were some of the first people in line and it took most of our hour to get up there. After the kiss we headed back to the bus because she was tuckered out. From there we headed for Waterford to see the epic Viking Museum to learn about the wars and raiders and plundering!
Wait, no we went just down the street to the House of Waterford Crystal for a 15 minute tour and 45 minute allowance of time to look around the gift shop. I was not the target audience for this place. I love hosting dinners and having specialty plate-ware but I didn’t find any of this attractive. The skill that goes into making this stuff is amazing, but it just doesn’t interest me.
The night was ended, as all nights should, with dinner at a hotel complimented by an Irish Coffee making demonstration. It’s complicated so you need a licensed instructor. Make instant coffee, dump a lot of whiskey in, and top it with cream. It’s even harder to drink, open mouth and pour.
I did have some plain whiskey that all of the olds thought I would cough up. When I was given a glass and told to drink they got a camera ready to film. I disappointed them with my reaction. Not saying it’s my go-to drink, but it didn’t kill me. I believe it was the power of the whiskey that helped me find my Irish geocache that night!
Day 6 – Waterford -> Avoca -> Glendalough -> Dublin
Again today was a lot of driving although we stopped to take two short tours. One was a tiny hand-weaving mill in the middle of nowhere. It was more a gift shop and snack area than a museum. The whole tour was around 10 minutes and then we were scooted over to wear the expense blankets were being sold.
The second stop was at Glendalough, an early Christian monastic site founded by St. Kevin in the 6th century. Essentially it’s a giant graveyard, but a pretty one! I got to see St. Kevin’s house which was pretty cool and found a few coin smashers!
Back in Dublin we celebrated our last night with a cabaret dinner featuring dancers and comedian. This was another case of me not being the correct fit for the activity. The dancers terrified me. The stage appeared to be made for Chuck E Cheese and for no reason I could think of had a smoke machine. Not a strong enough one for effect, just big enough to be seen. The dancers had that scary Disney performer looks on their face. You know what I’m talking about. Faces that are so unbelievably happy but with eyes exuding fear that a sniper will take them out if their smile falters for a second.
Then there were the two main singers that came off as so self-indulgent. First they told me the meaning of Danny Boy, probably the 3rd different meaning I heard on this trip, and then proceeded to sing their own interpretation of the song. It was essentially an over dramatic Cat’s in the Cradle but boy goes off and dies at war. It’s Danny Boy. We’re tourists in Ireland. Just give us the classic. Then the gentleman singer talked about his role in Les Miserables and sang his solo from that. NOT IRISH, DUDE!
Breaking up the acts was an old man telling jokes. His first act was awesome. He was dressed like a homeless man who had no idea where he was and told all kinds of dirty jokes in a drunken manner. His second act was geared completely to the rest of the audience. “Kids these days, they have cell phones. They’re always looking at their phones. They don’t know what’s going on because they’re so busy with their phones.” Heh.
The saving graces of the night were the Marys. I learned more and more about them through the trip and we bonded over red wine at several of the dinners. I want to be the Marys when I grow up. They were on a multi-month vacation seeing 3 continents. They’re from Australia and travel non-stop. They once took a 42 day cruise from Beijing to London! Mary on the left rode a Harley around St. Petersburg, Russia watching the rising of the brides on the canals for her 70th birthday!!! Seventy and cruising around Russia on a motorcycle. I hope I see these ladies again. Anytime a performer or guide asked if there were Australians in the audience they would scream “Oi oi oi!” at the top of their blessed lungs. I love the Marys with every fiber of my being.
A few pictures to share of my last bedroom. It had lights under the bed which is fantastic and the best piece of art above the toilet. I spent way too long considering how I could steal it.
Day 7 was breakfast and off to the airport. I didn’t talk about breakfast at all as I was saving this discussion for the end. Each morning’s breakfast was included in the trip and each hotel served essentially the same thing. There were eggs, their version of bacon, oatmeal, cereal, toast, danish, etc. Basically what you would expect from anywhere. Two breakfast items of note: my last bowl of oatmeal and a weird serial brick. On my final morning the oatmeal was served next to a mini-bar. You could pick 1 of 4 alcohols (I chose Bailey’s) to poor into the oatmeal. What a fantastic idea! Try it, you’ll love it. Or don’t, whatevs.
The other item was a weird cereal brick. It was essentially what we call mini-wheats but in the form and size of a brick the size of a cell phone. They are bigger than they appear in my picture as it only took one brick to fill your cereal bowl. To eat said brick, you drop it in the milk and squish it around with your spoon until it breaks into manageable parts. It tasted fine, the presentation was just a bit off to me.
Lastly I have to give a shout out to my guide Hilary…
and especially our driver, Norman. I consider myself a good driver but this guy is a God behind wheels. Irish two lane roads are more 1.5 of ours, often with no shoulders. The cities are so old they weren’t build with long 45 person buses in mind. There was evidence of inferior drivers everywhere with big chunks and scrapes on the sides of buildings at major intersections. I couldn’t understand half of what he said, he sounded like an Irish Boomhauer, but man could he drive. Also I found out at one bar he’s an amazing pianist and travels Europe from time to time with a band. The below picture is how I saw him most of the trip.
This post is possibly my longest and over a month late. It probably sounds like I had a terrible time but I didn’t. This trip wasn’t about me, it was about giving my mom a special time she can always remember and remind her that her health issues can’t stop her from living. She is still happy and talks about the trip whenever an opportunity arrives. Mission: accomplished.