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Our Ireland Adventure: Galway and Dublin

December 13, 2017

The first half of our Ireland vacation was everything I’d hoped it to be and more, so the second half of the trip had quite a bit to live up to.  We woke up very early one morning and embarked on our greatest driving adventure through the Irish countryside.  Narrow winding (sometimes one lane) roads took us to the Cliffs of Moher, the spot I’d been looking forward to the most.

The Cliffs were included in our tour package, but is normally €6.00 per adult and oh my heavens, is it worth it! We really lucked out and had the most gorgeous weather: sunny and dry. The Cliffs are always a bit windy and you will likely get wet from ocean spray, but otherwise the day was perfect.

We hiked a good portion of the trail, battling the very slippery mud, taking in as much of the view as possible. I frequently found myself just standing still and staring, partially because of the beauty and partially because the wind gusts were no joke. I highly recommend wearing sturdy shoes and keeping little ones at home for this trip.

We spent a few hours at the Cliffs, adding a bit of time to hike out and visit some sheep! I don’t know why, but I had it in my head that a trip to Ireland wasn’t complete without interacting with some sheep. Blame the movies. A was a good sport and followed me out there so I could take a selfie with them.  That’s true love.

Our third stop of the trip was Galway, where we spent two nights. This is Ireland’s beach town and it’s also a college town so we were excited to see a different side of Ireland.

Where we stayed: Salthill Hotel. This was the most luxurious (and American-style) hotel we stayed in during our trip. After a few restless, hot nights with heat we couldn’t turn off, I’m not sure we’ve ever been so excited to have AC in our lives. We took full advantage of the nice bar downstairs, where I had the strongest gin and tonic I’ve ever ordered. But so good!

Where we ate: My favorite food of the whole trip was in Galway. The town is known for being a bit of a foodie paradise and we both found quite a few things we loved.

Dinner on the first night in Galway was amazing beef stew at Busker Brownes Bar. The portion was huge and it was so incredibly good. I walked away wishing I had a bigger stomach or the ability to take home the leftovers.

We ate lunch at Kylemore Abbey during our bus tour (details below) and were pleasantly surprised at the food! It’s cafeteria style, but serves the hearty, comfort food so popular in Ireland. A’s cauliflower soup was very good.

The absolute best food we had the entire trip was at King’s Head. I don’t normally share phone photos of my food on here, but these crab claws were so.stinking.good that I had to document them. I would have eaten these (and the chips that came with them) every night that week had I been given the chance. A had pheasant, which was also amazing.

What we did: You can’t visit Ireland’s beach town without walking along the beach. The mile-long walk was very pretty, especially since we were there right at sunset. We happened to be in Galway for the start of their Christmas market and walked through that in the evening. But the best thing we did in Galway wasn’t actually in Galway!

We took a bus tour through Connemara. It was the most expensive thing we did (minus the trip itself) at €30.00 per person, but it was so worth it! Our bus driver had so many funny stories and the group was very small (a product of it being the offseason) so we weren’t stuck behind people or in large crowds at our stops. The stops were amazing and definitely places we wouldn’t have been able to find (or enjoy as much) on our own.

Stop #1 was Ross Errilly Friary, a Franciscan friary founded in the mid-15th century. What I found most interesting was that it’s still an active burial site for area residents.  Plus it was beautiful, even against the dreary grey sky.

Stop #2 brought us to the town of Cong, the setting of the movie The Quiet Man, something the town still uses to bring in visitors. It was a very quiet, small town, but it had a beautiful abbey where Rory O’Connor, the last High King of Ireland, spent his last years.

Stop #3 was more of a mid-way point in the journey rather than a full stop, but I loved it anyway. Lough Nafooey is hidden in the valleys of Connemara, a very sparsely populated part of the country. In fact, I feel pretty confident in saying that there are more sheep here than people. I’m all for old buildings, but a stunning landscape is hard for me to pass up. These mountains were one of my favorite spots.

Another favorite spot was stop #4, Kylemore Abbey. One of the downsides to traveling in the off season is that many things are under renovation and Kylemore Abbey was not an exception. Of course, this renovation has been going on for well over a year and doesn’t seem to be any closer to completion. We did have to pay an additional fee to enter Kylemore, but once inside, there was so much to see that it was well worth the €8 each.

The Abbey was originally a private home for Mitchell and Margaret Henry in 1867 and became a home for the Benedictine nuns in 1920. The Abbey served as a private girls’ school until 2010 and now the interior of the home and the grounds are open to the public. The interior was decorated for Christmas and it was absolutely beautiful. Give me a dining room with a tree and window like that any day.

The interior was spectacular, but the massive acreage surrounding the Abbey was just as beautiful. We walked through much of the forest via the walking trail and even took turns making wishes on the Giant’s Wishing Stone. I’m not sure what A wished for, but I hope it was a puppy!

My favorite part of Kylemore Abbey was the neo-Gothic church Mitchell Henry built in memory of his wife. Everything about the church was beautiful: the exterior detail, the single stained glass window, the Irish marble that made up the columns. But more than anything else, it’s the sentiment behind the church: Mitchell loved his wife so much, even after her passing, that he built this for her.

In a fitting end to our time in Connemara and Kylemore Abbey, we had a bit of a run-in with some Connemara blackface sheep! They were far more afraid of us than we were of them, but there was definitely a brief moment when I wasn’t sure if they would chase us.

The trip back to Galway was just as pretty as the ride out. Even though the bus tour was a bit expensive, I think it was so worth it! Both A and I got to enjoy the scenery, something we wouldn’t have been able to do if we’d driven ourselves.  Plus there’s nothing quite like hearing the history of a place from a local.

The next morning, we got up bright and early to Dublin, our last stop of the trip. We only had half a day and one night in town which is one of my regrets. We were so pressed for time that we didn’t see everything I had on my list, but we made the most of the little time we had there. Our last stop of the trip was Dublin.

Where we stayed: The Bonnington Hotel. We were only in the hotel for a few hours and most of them were spent sleeping, which is good because this was definitely the crummiest hotel we stayed in the entire trip. But it was clean, functional and very close to the airport.

Where we ate:

By far the best meal in Dublin was at the Guinness Storehouse. I know, I know. It seems a little touristy and it is, but multiple people recommended that we eat there and I get why. The beef stew was amazing! And the bread? Oh my word. I wish they had given me an entire loaf.  Luckily, they have recipe cards that you can take home in order to recreate some of their most famous recipes. We’ve already made the stew and bread (twice) and it’s still amazing.

We stopped for a sweet treat at Boston Donuts, which is essentially just Dunkin’ Donuts, but it still hit the spot! We had dinner at The Duke, which was just ok, but the atmosphere was really fun! A big rugby match was on TV and the place was packed with fans.

What we did:

The majority of our time in Dublin was spent at the Guinness Storehouse (included in our tour, but normally €17.50 per person), much to A’s excitement. We did the full tour (which takes a surprisingly long time) and it was so busy! It was a Saturday so we shouldn’t have been too surprised, but after basically having every location to ourselves, the crowds were a bit unexpected. But I know that A loved it and then we got two free pints at the end with our stew.

After eating our weight in stew, we needed to get some exercise so we set off on a self-guided walking tour. It took us through much of the historic part of Dublin, hitting quite a few commemorative statues, the post office and the Garden of Remembrance.  It wasn’t the best tour book walking tour we’ve ever been on, but it allowed us to see a bit more of the city and provided some interesting history.

The Garden of Remembrance is dedicated to those who lost their lives during the fight for Irish freedom. I can honestly say that I didn’t know too much about Ireland’s long and complicated history prior to our time there, but I was still moved by the peaceful garden.  It’s obviously still a very meaningful place. 

Dublin had a big city feel to it, but there was still the quaint scenes we’d gotten used to in earlier cities. I loved the pedestrian bridges and riverfront buildings.

Before we knew it, our time in Ireland was over and we were on our way back home. We had the best time, but were very happy to be back in our own bed and getting squished by B and Ruger.  We weren’t even home before we began talking about going back and seeing parts of the country we missed.  Ireland, you haven’t seen the last of us!

Travel

Our Ireland Adventure: Kilkenny and Limerick

December 11, 2017

A few months ago, I came across a fantastic Groupon for a week in Ireland with hotels, airfare and rental car included. It was almost too fantastic to say pass up, but when I learned that we’d be able to spend our wedding anniversary and my birthday there, I knew I had to go for it. So I did! As an added bonus, I was able to keep the destination a secret until A came home from deployment. What a welcome home surprise!

The trip had us move around to four different cities, driving ourselves in a manual transmission, on the wrong side of the road. But A handled it like a boss and I think not being able to drive ourselves would have been a disservice. We were able to see so much and on our own schedule. Plus some of our best stories came from trying to navigate the Irish country roads.

Our first stop (after the airport and rental car office) was Kilkenny, a town in southeast Ireland. It was probably the quaintest town we stayed in and was A’s favorite for that reason.  Situated along the River Nore, this town dates back to the early 6th century. That level of history boggles my mind as we think something is “old” in the United States if it’s 200 years old.

We actually lucked out with weather the entire time we were in Ireland and didn’t get rained on at all. The sun was out for a few days and it was in the high 40s.  When you travel in the “off season”, you never know what you’re going to get weather-wise, but we couldn’t have had better weather.

Where we stayed: Aspect Hotel. We were only here one night and the hotel had everything we needed. It wasn’t in the city center, but was just a short drive away, which worked out perfectly for dinner the first evening.

Where we ate:

Nourish Cafe was a bit of an accidental find, but on our first night in Ireland, it was a very welcome surprise. They had fantastic hot chocolate and were so friendly. That was true of people everywhere we went; the hospitality lived up to their reputation.

We ate dinner at Kyteler’s Inn where we actually met up with a few individuals I know through my day job. They were a great welcoming committee to Ireland and I loved that we were able to connect, especially at one of the oldest inns in Ireland.

What we did: We spent much of our time in Kilkenny wandering around town; I loved the colorful buildings and cobblestone streets. We also came across their famous (to them) hurling statue, built in honor of their obsession with hurling.

Our second big stop was Kilkenny Castle, probably their largest tourist attraction. The cost was €8.00 per person, which included the guided tour. Our tour guide was really good and had so much information to share.  It took about an hour to view the public rooms.

If this trip taught me anything, it’s that I LOVE castles. Big, small, furnished, ruined, the condition doesn’t matter. Kilkenny Castle started that love affair and was definitely my favorite one of the trip. That’s why there are so many photos!

I know this may make me weird, but the exterior of the castle was probably my favorite part. I am always blown away by the intricate stonework that was all done by hand. Everything from the gate to the windows was intricate and beautiful. I’m pretty sure A loved the exterior as well, but because of the perfect grass. To say he had lawn envy would be an understatement.

That’s not to say that the interiors weren’t breathtaking as well. My favorite room was definitely the art gallery. The floors, walls and ceiling were all so intricate and gorgeous. The hand-painted ceiling had so much detail and I could have photographed every inch of it.

I have a very large number of pictures of the details of this castle, but the fireplace in the art gallery and the stained glass windows in the dining room were showstoppers. The marble fireplace mantle depicts the story of Kilkenny Castle and is original to the home. 

After a half day in Kilkenny, we hit the road to head to our next stop of the trip, but took a quick detour to Rock of Cashel. For €8.00 each, we had access to the entire site (minus the chapel which was under construction) and used our Rick Steves’ tour book and my wonderful reading voice to guide us through the buildings from the 12th and 13th centuries.

The buildings are in almost total ruins, but somehow that makes them even more appealing to me. I fully anticipate printing and framing some of my Rock of Cashel photos.

The Rock sits on a hill high above the surrounding small town so when you pull up, you’re greeted with a pretty breathtaking site. And then you climb up the hill and look out and see all of the countryside spread before you. Again, A couldn’t get over the grass and I was basking in the beauty of this country.

We spent roughly an hour or so at the Rock of Cashel and then we finished our trip to Limerick, our home for two nights.  Coming from the small town of Kilkenny, Limerick immediately felt very large and industrial, but the more we explored the city, the more we both enjoyed it.

Where we stayed: Limerick City Hotel. The hotel was right on the River Shannon and had a nice bar and restaurant that was PACKED at night, but made excellent chicken wings.  Yes, we flew all the way to Ireland and had delicious chicken wings.

Where we ate:

On our first night, we had our anniversary dinner at Bobby Byrnes Bar.  A had “amazing” fish and chips that he continued to rave about for the majority of our trip. The atmosphere was much like what we found in every pub in Ireland: warm, welcoming and full of life.

The following day (my 29th birthday!) saw us stop at The Locke for lunch, where I had a delicious roast turkey sandwich and A had shepherd’s pie. I won’t say we both licked our plates, but I won’t say that we didn’t.

A mid-afternoon snack from Hook & Ladder was just the afternoon pick-me-up we needed to keep exploring. I cannot recommend the blueberry muffin highly enough; it was more like cake than a muffin. I would have eaten 45 of them if I could have.

For dinner, we opted to go a bit fancier at the Cornstore. I was in the mood for steak and when it’s your birthday, you tend to get what you want, even if you’re in Ireland! The food was delicious, especially dessert. I would highly recommend getting the fixed menu (3 courses for €37) so you get to try a little bit of everything.

What we did:

On our full day in Limerick, we walked all over the city, stopping at what else but a castle! King John’s Castle (€10.50 each) was night and day compared to the grandeur of Kilkenny Castle, but we both still enjoyed it. The 13th century castle’s history was very robust and they had a really great museum exhibit that took you through its ups and downs.

Anything the castle lacked in terms of opulence, it made up for in the views of Limerick from the top of its lookout tower. We spent maybe two hours touring the museum and then the castle grounds themselves. Like most of our stops, we had almost the entire place to ourselves, which made my photo-taking heart happy.

Our first two cities in Ireland set the bar pretty high for the rest our trip. Celebrating our wedding anniversary and my birthday were definite highlights, but the stand out for me was definitely the Rock of Cashel. I’ll share more about our time in Galway and Dublin on Wednesday!

Travel

Isle of Palms Getaway

June 20, 2017

Hello all! It’s been a bit quiet here on the blog lately because I’ve been on vacation (like real honest to goodness vacation) with A’s family. We ditched the real world for a few days just outside of Charleston on Isle of Palms and oh my word, was it pretty!

We had quite a few action packed days, but I will just hit the highlights for you and let the pictured do the talking.

Favorite tourist trap: horse-drawn carriage tours of Charleston. Our tour guides John and Dakota did a fantastic job showing us around Charleston in style. The route was beautiful and the commentary was both informative and entertaining. I know it’s totally cliche, but I so recommend doing one if you haven’t already! Honorable mention goes to the sunset dolphin tour from Barrier Island Eco Tours.

Favorite restaurant: High Thyme Cuisine on Sullivan’s Island. We stumbled upon this place after our first choice was closed, but oh my gosh am I glad we did! Everything was phenomenal, but the special appetizer of crab risotto was beyond good. If it had just been A and I, I likely would have licked the plate.

Favorite nature views: This is a tough one because we had such gorgeous views throughout our trip, but the beach on Caper’s Island was breathtaking, especially the boneyard of giant dead trees.  We were there at sunset and everything had the most beautiful glow to it. I could have stayed there for hours photographing everything.

Favorite activity: While we did the beach and other resort-living activities, my favorite was definitely our inshore fishing trip with Capt. Chuck of Charleston Sport Fishing. A and his brother purchased the trip as a Father’s Day present for their dad and I got to tag along! It was so much fun: I’d never been on a boat like this one and had never seen fish that big in person. Of course it didn’t hurt that I caught a giant fish! The winner of the day was definitely A who caught a 20-pound red drum as well as a huge black tip reef shark (although the shark got away before A got him to the boat).

And some more photos, because I just can’t resist! We had such a great time that none of us wanted to come home.  We’ll be back to our regularly scheduled blog posts tomorrow so make sure to come back then!

Travel

Vancouver

April 4, 2017

Here it is! Part two of our adventure in the Pacific Northwest. When we last spoke, A and I were loving life in Seattle and kind of dreading having to leave, even though we were both excited about exploring Vancouver.

I’m not necessarily one to believe in signs from the universe that you should or shouldn’t do something, but if I was, I think I would have called off the Vancouver leg of our trip before we even got there. Our plan was to take a 3-ish hour train ride from Seattle to Vancouver, but that changed rather quickly when we learned that a mudslide had made the tracks impassable. So our alternate transportation was a bus to Everett, WA and then a train onto Vancouver. A bit of a disappointment, but I was all hopped up on cold medicine and ready to go.

Long story (that involves some really annoying train companions) short, we made it to Vancouver and immediately set out to explore the city.  Remember when I mentioned that our first day in Seattle was a bit of a bust because poor A was sick? Remember how I followed that up with the promise that I got my revenge later in the trip? This is later in the trip.  After walking around the city for a few hours, I was really worn out so we headed back to the hotel for a quick nap before dinner.

I woke up 14 hours later, still in all my clothes and not actually in the bed, but just sort of human burrito-ed in the covers.  I missed A showering, changing, leaving to get food, returning, eating said food and watching a movie before he pried some blankets from my grasp and went to bed himself. 14 hours of sleep, y’all. But it’s apparently what I needed because we squeezed every last minute of fun out of our time in Vancouver.

We tried to visit everything: the Vancouver Aquarium, Rogers Arena (where the Canucks play), Stanley Park twice (stumbling across a shoot for Once Upon A Time the second visit), Granville Island, Gastown and Capilano Suspension Bridge Park.


Favorite spot in Vancouver: This is another hard one. I loved Stanley Park and the Granville Island market, but if I had to pick just one, I would go with Capilano Suspension Bridge. We were there almost right after it opened and had the place practically to ourselves. That plus the misty weather made you feel like you were in another world entirely and not just 15 minutes from a busy city. I’d highly recommend it.

Favorite restaurant: Is it inappropriate to say that Tim Hortons was our favorite restaurant? Because it totally was. Other highlights included Jam Cafe and Hy’s Steakhouse, but we kept coming back to good ol’ Tim Hortons.

Best tourist trap: We (and approximately 200 foreign exchange students) all fell victim to the tourist trap that is FlyOver Canada, a virtual flight ride that takes you through all the most gorgeous spots in Canada. But y’all, it was so fun! It only made me want to come back to Canada a hundred more times to visit all the perfect spots. And eat more Tim Hortons.

Best tip we learned: If your hotel has a concierge, purchase your attraction tickets from them. It saves you money and often lets you skip ahead of most lines. We did this for the Capilano Suspension Bridge and the aquarium, getting in long before the regular ticket lines moved at all.

I don’t think I ever got over the gorgeous mountain views while in Vancouver. Every place we went, I would say something to the effect of “I can’t get over those dang mountains!” I loved Vancouver and my first visit to Canada. We’ll definitely be back.

Travel

Seattle

March 28, 2017

One of the cornerstones of our marriage is traveling together and truly enjoying the experience. A and I both say that the other person is our favorite travel buddy and our most recent trip to Seattle and Vancouver definitely proved that.

A little backstory: we’d been planning this trip since probably January as it was our post-deployment vacation and two locations we’d always dreamed of visiting.  So imagine how freaked out I was when I woke up a few days before our departure with a 103 degree fever! Long story short: I got marginally better before we left, A got way worse and by the end of our trip, we were both feeling ok-ish. But we didn’t let a little cold/flu bug stop us from enjoying as much of the two cities as humanly possible.

Our first night in Seattle was a bit of a dud because despite it being St. Patrick’s Day, A was feeling really crummy so we stayed in the hotel. (Don’t worry, I got my revenge later in the trip.) But the next day, we were up bright and early (like 6:30 a.m. early) and off to explore the city. In an added wrinkle to our visit, the forecast called for rain every.single.day and the first morning in Seattle lived up to that prediction.  But come lunchtime, the sun was out, the sky was perfect and we enjoyed super weather the rest of our time in the Emerald City.

We hit all the high points including Pike Place Market, the aquarium, the Space Needle and not one, but two boat rides. Most of all, we loved walking around the city, trying so much delicious food and just gaping at how beautiful the area was, especially when we caught a glimpse of the mountains.


Favorite spot in Seattle: A and I both commented on multiple occasions about how beautiful the city was (and how we could see ourselves living there) so it’s hard to pick just one favorite spot. I’d say it’s probably a tie between Olympic Sculpture Park and Pike Place Market. If we lived in Seattle, I feel pretty confident we’d spend quite a bit of time at both places.

Favorite restaurant: We had some delicious food in Seattle, including excellent clam chowder. But the best food we had was Italian! Assaggio Ristorante served up the best Italian food we’ve had since Rome. It was amazing and made us wish we had far bigger stomachs!

Best tourist trap: We are not a couple to shy away from touristy transportation. If there’s a bus or trolley tour, odds are we’re on it. For Seattle, we turned to a boat cruise (with drinks!) to get our fill of cliche transportation.  And it was so much fun! I loved being able to see the city at a distance and the tour guide had a lot of great information to share about Seattle. I definitely recommend Argosy Cruises. Take advantage of the option to pair other attractions with your cruise tickets for added savings.

Best tip we learned: Get to Pike Place Market early in the morning! Everything officially opens at 9 (with a few exceptions here or there), but we were there closer to 8:30 and had almost the entire place to ourselves. Many vendors were already open (including the famous fish throwing stand) and the smaller crowds allowed us to browse at our own pace.

I don’t think either of us really wanted to leave Seattle, but before we knew it, the time had come to head to Vancouver. I’ll have more on that next week, but I’ll leave you with this teaser: a train, a mudslide and an entire night lost to exhaustion.