Travel

Tips for Touring Ireland from the Accidental Tourist

 

When I was planning my trip, I looked over lots of travel info.  I fell in love with blogs like The Lost Girls, I collected Ireland travel books and brochures, and I pinned countless planning and packing guides.  And during my three month journey, I definitely learned a couple things that I thought I could pass on to anyone else planning a long jaunt to Ireland... or to anywhere else for that matter!  Most of the following tips apply to traveling in general.  I hope they help you on your next journey!

- Write it down. Always write down where you went, places you stumbled onto, great meals you had… Write down bulleted things even if you don’t take the time to journal. THIS IS MY BIGGEST REGRET FROM MY TRIP, and it’s why I listed this as my first tip.  I started out wanting to journal everything, and I did fairly well for about 5 weeks, up until I left Cork.  After that I was on the go all the time and I let all writing fall to the wayside, and I regret it big time.  There are so many things that happen in the course of travel... WRITE THEM DOWN!!  Again, even bulleted points that you can fill in later.  It really sucks to be giving advice on an area you visited later and say "I had the best dinner in Ireland there!" and then have no idea the name of the restaurant you went to.

- Throw it out. If, when packing, it’s something you don’t absolutely NEED, don’t pack it.  The day before I left, my sister went through my suitcase (the huge, brand new, $110 suitcase I had just purchased from TJ Maxx) and basically starting ripping things out of it, ignoring my protests of "I really need that!" or "What if they don't have wrinkle release spray in Ireland???"  In the end, it made my bag a little lighter, but I could have done a lot better.  Trust me, if you think you might not need it, take it out.  There's nothing worse than literally having to rent a car to get your bag from one place to another because its too heavy to hoist into the bus.

- Plan ahead. Don’t rely completely on Bus Eireann.  There were some times that I prebooked a rental car because I knew I wanted to stop at a bunch of places between Point A and Point B, but there were a few times where I thought Bus Eireann would do the trick and I relied on that.  That is, until I tried to take it from Dingle to Doolin and realized what would be a 3 hour car journey would be a 9 hour bus trip.  When you’re traveling, even for an extended period of time like 3 months, time is precious and you don’t want to waste an entire day on the bus.  Make sure to check the schedules ahead of time and see when it makes the most sense to take a rental car rather than the bus.

- Cover yourself. Always, ALWAYS get the full insurance on your rental car.  Seriously, I cannot stress this enough.  I don’t care if you’re a great driver, I don’t care if you’ve been driving stick shift since you were 15 years old.  GET THE INSURANCE.  With it, you are able to walk up to the rental counter drop-off, hand them a rearview mirror that you managed to rip completely off the car, and walk away without saying a word or paying an extra dime (not that I know from experience or anything).

- Take advantage. There are tourist offices everywhere in Ireland, something I hadn't realized or hadn't really thought of before I was there.  Take advantage of this gold mine of information!  Try to stop in when you arrive in a new area, talk to one of the reps there, grab some brochures, grab some coupons.  You can find great deals in the tourist offices and you can also find out about local tourist attractions that your guidebook might have missed.

Don’t overtip. So in most cases in Ireland, tipping is not expected because service people are paid a normal wage, unlike in America where they rely on tips.  I still tipped every night at dinner, but I cut back on tipping for most other things after the first time I had an Irish bartender chase me down the street to give me back the 5 euro I tipped him for a couple of afternoon beers.  Ironically, this bartender ended up being the first person I kissed in Ireland… so maybe the moral of the story is really that you should definitely overtip ;)

Don’t let your guard down when it comes to your stuff. By my last weekend in Dublin, I had been in Ireland for 3 months and I felt pretty comfortable in my surroundings.  A little too comfortable, as it turned out.  On my second to last day there, I was sitting with Kevin and friends of his in a pub in Dublin, and I had my bag down by my feet because the bar didn’t have any hooks.  Quite suddenly, I felt something bump against the leg of my chair, and I glanced to the right of me.  Down the bar sat my bag.  I was very disoriented, confused, trying to figure out how my bag that had been on the floor had ended up on the bar.  A very disheveled woman standing in front of my bag turned around, looked at me and said "Oh, is this your bag?  It was out on the middle of the dance floor and so I grabbed it for you and was going to give it back to you."  I took it from her and Kevin and his friends made me check it completely before the woman scurried out of the bar.  She hadn't taken anything, I think simply because she didn't have time.  My good camera, which is pretty heavy, was in my bag, so I think she had hooked her foot around the straps and tried to slide it down to where she was sitting.  She wasn't expecting the bag to be so heavy and so it bumped my chair on the way and caused me to notice when I normally wouldn't have.  I couldn't believe that I had lasted three months without any incident and I almost had my wallet and camera stolen my last weekend there.  My point is, as comfortable and safe as you feel, don't ever let your guard completely down.  There are bad people everywhere, even in beautiful countries like Ireland.

- Join Meetup groups if you’re anywhere for an extended period of time. By the end of my second week in Cork, I felt like I had seen everything I wanted to see on my own, and I went on Meetup.com to see what sort of meetup groups Cork had to offer.  I found one for expat women in their 20s and 30s that was having a brunch the following day, so I quickly joined it and attended the event.  I was so glad I did, because I ended up hanging out with two girls from the group quite a bit before I left Ireland, and I feel lucky to stay in close contact with one of them.  I felt like I walked away from Cork with one really close friend, and I think that's the point of meetup groups to begin with.

- Always be completely honest at customs. This might seem like a fairly obvious one, but really.  My welcome into Ireland was less than warm thanks to a seemingly harmless lie I told.  On my way to Ireland, I sat next to a chatty Irishman (imagine that :) going home to visit his family.  He asked me why I was heading to Ireland and I told him that I would be traveling for the next few months.  We talked about it a fair amount and he asked me what I was going to tell customs.  I said that I was going to tell them I was traveling for fun.  Now, I don't know if this man was just mean-spirited and pulling my leg, but he spent about a half hour convincing me that if customs heard I was just hanging out in Ireland for 3 months they might be suspicious of my intentions.  So what did I decide to say instead, as I strode up to an already-scary looking customs agent at 5 a.m. in the morning?  "I'm here for work."  Yup, that's what I said.  The stupidest possible thing you could ever say to a customs agent in a country in a catastrophic recession is that you're coming into the country to work.  I mean, if that's actually why you're going and you have the proper work visas, then more power to you and that's what you should say.  But when you're going for leisure and planning on taking photos for recreational purposes and to MAYBE sell later, never call that work.  Unless you are ready for the three hour interrogation, the threats, and the tears.  Just be honest, and save yourself the hassle.

- Take pictures, but also put the camera down. I took over 22,000 photos in Ireland.  22,000.  And that actually does not include the photos I took on my crappy point and shoot camera, which probably brings that number to about 24,000.  In my defense, I was working as a photographer full time before I went to Ireland and this was a major reason why I went to Ireland, to see pretty scenes and take pretty pictures.  But looking back, and thinking of my level of interaction with other people at certain points in my trip, I wish I had put the camera down more often and just enjoyed what was around me with my own eyes and not through my lens.

- Ask your B&B host for recommendations. Here's the wonderful thing about B&Bs:  very often, you will be staying with a family who has lived in that area for decades, if not generations.  They know the best pubs, the best restaurants, and the best off-the-beaten path spots that will never be in any guidebook.  Use these people, talk to them, listen to their wonderful stories, and take advantage of their knowledge of the area.  They're in the hospitality business for a reason, and that reason is that they want you to have a wonderful time in their home and in their town.

- Leave some wiggle room in your itinerary, and don’t prepay for hotels and B&B’s if you can help it. I planned and booked a B&B for every night of my trip, but things change.  I skipped my Waterford overnight stay because I loved Kilkenny so much.  I left Wexford early for the same reason.  I ended up on the Aran Islands twice, in Cork twice, in Killarney twice.  I got to stay in Lehinch, Inisheer, Kenmare... and none of these places were on my original itinerary.  Keep your options open, figure out where you like best, and do what you want to do.  Travel is your time to be selfish, so don't feel guilty if you decide to cancel a stay in a certain place.  Obviously, you want to be courteous and give as much notice as you can, but try not to prepay for any B&B or hotel stay if you can help it.  This way you won't lose money and go over budget if you decide to change your plans as you're traveling.

- Do your research on TripAdvisor. I planned my entire trip on TripAdvisor.  Seriously.  I found it to be completely invaluable when it came to booking quality B&B’s and hotels in the right locations.  I would search B&B's in the towns I wanted to stay in and go through TripAdvisor's first 10 or 20 recommendations.  If there were as many negative reviews as positive on a place (or if there was one particularly bad review on a place that mentioned something awful like bed bugs or some other repulsion), I crossed it off my list and moved on to the next.  I usually came up with a list of about 15 places to stay in each town.  From there, I would visit the B&B's website, check out the photo gallery, check the map to see how close it was to where I wanted to be, get in touch, ask if they had availability, see how low I could get the rate down for a solo visitor... and when I was sure I had the best choice for me, I booked.  It may sound like a tedious process, but it was actually fun, and it's the reason I'm not sitting here telling you housing horror stories.  I honestly stayed in some of the best B&B's in the country of Ireland, and I could not be more happy that TripAdvisor was there to help guide me to them.

- Leave reviews on TripAdvisor when you can. After relying on TripAdvisor to plan my trip, I felt sort of a sense of responsibility to leave my own TripAdvisor reviews for places I visited, especially places I liked!  I always made sure to leave reviews for great B&B's and restaurants I visited and tours I took.  Honestly, that's how some of these businesses survive, and as a small business owner I know how important it is to get great feedback from your customers.  Word of mouth is huge in the hospitality business, and who better to hear reviews from than fellow travelers?  Take the time to write reviews, even if its weeks or months after you've arrived home.

- Try to meet a new person every day, but forgive yourself if you need some alone time too. Here's the funny thing about me:  people that know me and know my personality would probably call me outgoing.  My own sister called me outgoing before I left for Ireland.  But here's the truth:  I am outgoing once the initial part is over.  The MEETING part.  That part terrifies me.  I'm sorry to tell the hard truth, but without a little liquid encouragement, I find it very hard to strike up a conversation with a stranger.  It's much easier to make friends and be outgoing when you're introduced by other friends, but when you're in a place where you don't know anyone, that isn't an option and you have to fend for yourself.  And it definitely took me awhile to get into the groove, but I started opening up more and becoming less worried with how people perceived me, and it made all the difference.  There were nights, however, that I didn't want to meet anyone new, that I didn't want to go through the awkwardness of saying hi to a stranger, and so I would stay in.  And then a few hours into my night in, I would start beating myself up that I wasn't out making the most of every moment.  It was a vicious cycle.  But then I would remind myself that if I was home I wouldn’t be going out every single night.  I was on the road for 3 months.  That gets tiring, and some nights I just didn’t have it in me to go out and try to meet new people.  After a couple weeks, I forgave myself for those nights and really concentrated on making the most of my alone time, whether it was catching up on emails, blogging, journaling, or writing home.  One night, I decided to stay in, and what would come on RTE but one of my favorite Irish movies, Circle of Friends.  I managed to write 42 postcards that night :)

- Load your phone up with helpful apps. I was lucky enough to be due for an iPhone upgrade a few months before my trip, so once I had my iPhone 5 and my old iPhone 3 was out of use, I had it "unlocked" so I could take it with me to Ireland and just purchase a new SIM card when I arrived there.  I did my research and downloaded some helpful travel apps.  Honestly, I went a little crazy with the app buying, because I had a few Apple gift cards I wanted to use, but I can say that my most useful apps when traveling were Whatsapp, Viber,  Oanda Currency Converter,  and TripAdvisor (of course).

- Have an emergency credit card just in case. I used a debit account to pay for everything in Ireland, and if this is the route you're going, be sure to talk to your bank about your travel plans, including exactly where you're going and how much you would like your daily limit to be.  If I had been paying just a tiny bit more attention to those daily limits, I would probably not have run out of money in England like I did :).  Within a week of being in Liverpool, I found out that I had overdrawn my checking account and I was officially out of funds.  This was especially distressing since I had an entire week in London ahead of me.  Spoiler alert: London is one of the most expensive cities in the world, and I was officially freaking out.  Luckily, I had applied for an emergency credit card before leaving the states, and I was able to use this for my week of London adventures.  Obviously, it's never ideal to have to put purchases on a credit card, but it can help you out of a jam like it did with me, and if you're diligent about paying it off when you get home then you have nothing to worry about.

- Buy an Irish GPS card.  I have a Garmin GPS that I use in the states, and before I left I decided to look up and see if there was an Ireland SD card for the Garmin I already had, so that I could bring it with me for when I had a rental car.  Lo and behold, there was, right there hanging out on BestBuy.com!  I read the review and was a bit nervous about it, as the reviewer said that it only worked on major roads and not in smaller towns and villages, but I decided to give it a go anyways.  It was honestly the best investment I made in preparation for this trip.  It worked EVERYWHERE, and I didn't have to pick up my map once.  I would highly, highly recommend getting an SD chip for your GPS if you are planning a trip abroad and will be doing an significant amount of driving.  To take away the headache of trying to find your way (especially when you're driving on the opposite side you're used to on narrow, winding roads) is priceless.

- Make copies and backups of your itinerary and all important documents. I made 3 copies of EVERYTHING; my passport, my travel health insurance card,  my credit card, my itinerary, etc.  I gave one folder full of this stuff to my mom, one to my best friend, and I kept one with me, but in a separate bag than the originals were stored.  My itinerary was on an Excel spreadsheet that listed the dates I would be places, the address and phone number of each B&B I was staying at, and the names of the proprietors of the B&B’s.  I also took down the address and phone number of the Embassy in both countries I was visiting.  Overcautious, yes, but when you’re a single female traveling alone, you try to have all your bases covered.  If anything had been stolen at any time, I know that I would have not had much of a problem at all, and that was all the reassurance I needed.

- Bring at least one converter to charge electronic devices. I brought one charger with me (that I purchased from Apple, in the World Traveler Adapter Kit) and bought two more there.  They’re not always provided at B&B’s and so it’s good to have them on hand.  I was charging quite a bit; my iPhone 3 would lose battery quickly, I needed my iPod for all those long walks around cities and countryside, and I would always have my iPad with me for writing purposes.  I also needed to charge my camera equipment pretty much every night, so it was a lot.  Make sure to be prepared!

- Try new things you wouldn’t normally try. Maybe this should be number one… this is SO IMPORTANT.  Travel, in itself, forces you out of your comfort zone, and my advice is to let it.  Do things you wouldn’t normally do.  Kayaking on the ocean?  Never in my life would I do that at home.  I have a deep-seeded fear of sharks after being allowed to watch Jaws at a very young age lol.  But in Ireland?  Yup, sign me up.  Dangle over the edge of a castle to kiss a stone?  Sure, why not.  Hell, I even ate black and white pudding, because when in Rome, right?  Live it up, do things you never thought you would, and enjoy the ride.  No good travel story ever started with the words “So there was this one night when I stayed in the hotel room and watched TV…”

Next up on the blog:  my final summary of the most incredible trip of my life :)  I wrap up my Ireland trip in a neat little bow and give you the real deal on the next blog post... I hope you enjoy it!

 

Liverpool and London

I can honestly say that leaving Ireland was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life.  After 3 months, I had completely fallen in love… with the country and with one particular person living in it.  Despite knowing I would see Kevin a week later in London, it was still impossibly hard to leave Dublin, and there were more than a few tears shed at the airport knowing that from that moment on, everything would be different.  We were no longer living in the present tense and avoiding the date on the calendar.  It had arrived.  And although I had two more weeks of vacation ahead of me, my Irish adventure was done.  The trip I had spent two years planning and dreaming about had come to an end.  There was no knowing when I would be coming back.  I don’t know if sadness is the word I would use to describe how I felt leaving.  Hopeless is a good descriptive.  Devastated might cover it as well.  

By the time I got to Liverpool, I was an exhausted hot mess, and I have never been so relieved to hug an old friend.  Jack and I have known each other since 2003, when we lived on the same floor at Bridgewater State University (BSC back then).  Jack was on the exchange program from London, and we hit it off right away.  When he came back to Bridgewater 2 years later, he lived on our couch for a month (how our RA didn’t notice, I will never know)… and when he came back a few years after that, he brought his girlfriend Amy for her first trip to the states.  They started in Boston and so we had a mini- college reunion to welcome them to the states.  As many times as Jack came to the states to visit?  Multiply that by about 6 and that’s how many times I told Jack I would be coming over to visit him.  After Ireland, England was my second most coveted destination, and there were so many times I wanted to go there that life kept getting in the way.  I was so happy to be able to visit after Ireland and spend time with Jack and his now fiancé Amy.  And I was absolutely thrilled to be ending such a sad day with them, because if anyone can cheer you up, it’s these two and their ridiculous stories told in their scouser accents.

 

The night I arrived, Amy’s family took us all out to dinner and we went over my itinerary for the week.  Unbeknownst to me, Amy had taken a few days off for my visit, and recruited her parents for the other days I was around, and just like that I had a full schedule of Liverpool fun on my plate.  Her parents were sweet as can be and after dinner we headed to their neighborhood pub, where everyone knew their name and I got my first taste of English pub life.

 

It was great to stay with friends in Liverpool because it meant some chill nights on the couch, which is what I needed after 3 months of go, go, go in Ireland.  It also lead to my introduction to the biggest train wreck of a show I have ever seen, The Valleys.  Think Jersey Shore with Welsh accents and lots more nudity.  I am ashamed to say, but I literally spent one whole day of my time in Liverpool with Amy and Jack on the couch, binge watching The Valleys and an almost-as-bad show called Made in Chelsea (think less Jersey Shore and more Laguna Beach or The Hills).  It was gloriously relaxing, even when Amy told me she couldn't wait until I was gone so she could stop eating junk food ;)

 

My first full day in town,  Amy and I visited both cathedrals in the city and went to lunch at The 23 Club.  The cathedrals in Liverpool are so vastly different and it was really cool to see the different styles of both.  The Liverpool Cathedral is spectacular and is the world's largest Anglican cathedral, and the fifth largest cathedral in the world.  The other cathedral in Liverpool is the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral and is much newer, the Liverpool Cathedral being built in 1904 and this one being built in the 60's.  I have to say that architecturally, and pretty much every other way lol, I preferred the Liverpool Cathedral.  There's just nothing like it.  And the view from the top isn't too shabby either.  It's a much different feeling standing in the metropolitan cathedral, which reminded me of a much more modern church.

 

Amy also took me to the Tate Museum, and after that waited patiently for me while I spent an afternoon doing the Beatles Story.  Now, here's a fun fact about Amy, my first ever born and bred scouser friend... she HATES the Beatles.  Hates them, wants nothing to do with them, wouldn't mind if they didn't exist at all.  I can't explain it, because I don't think I have ever heard her give me a reason that I would consider valid, but there it is.  The girl from Liverpool despises the Beatles.  I, on the other hand, LOVE THEM, and fully embraced all that Liverpool had to offer in terms of Beatles activities.  So much so that I even had to cancel a private Beatles tour I booked for myself, because at this point in my trip my checking account was calmly reminding me to calm the eff down.  But I did still get my fair share of Beatlemania, thank God...

 

The Beatles Story is an awesome museum in the Albert Dock that I would HIGHLY recommend to anyone visiting Liverpool.  Seriously, this was one of my favorite museums of all time, because it was set up exactly the way I love:  videocassettes let you do the self-guided tour at your own pace, it's interactive, and there is a ton to see and listen to.  I could have spent the whole day there (and just might when I return to Liverpool this summer for Jack and Amy's wedding) and the gift shop was deadly for a Beatles fan.  Luckily, as I said, my checking account wasn't going to let me get too crazy, and so I managed to escape with just a set of 4 small mugs (ya know, for all the coffee I drink HAHA) and a magnet.

 

I also took The Magical Mystery Tour, which was AWESOME and very good for a travel on a budget :)  Since you're riding around on a big tie-dye bus with 40 other Beatles fans, it's much cheaper than doing a private black taxi Beatles tour.  I think the Mystery Tour cost me 14 pounds and was worth every penny.  Our tour guide was hilarious, informative, and the bus stopped at all the major Beatles sites in the city, including the homes of Ringo, John and Paul, Strawberry Fields, and Penny Lane.

 

The other place I can't wait to visit again this summer in Liverpool is Mathew Street, home of the Cavern Club and many other pubs that the Beatles frequented as they made a name for themselves in the music scene around Liverpool.   The Cavern Club was where the Beatles got their start and where they were discovered by Brian Epstein, and although the original Cavern Club was closed and filled in, they built a replica right across the street.  The original Cavern Club is also back open and I ducked in there for a beer, but the real action is happening across the street in the "new" Cavern Club.  Once again, this was a place I could stay all day.  It's an underground club with signatures from all over the world covering every square inch of the walls and ceilings, and bands playing good English rock... yes, you guessed it... lots of Beatles covers, lots of Oasis tunes... I was in heaven.

 

We also took a wander down to The Grapes one day, and Jack brought us back to the booth in the bar where the Beatles signed their first contract.  There was a commemorative picture of this event over the booth, and we sat in it and toasted and took shots to celebrate.  I'm sure Amy thought I was insane for taking as many pictures as I did, but I have loved the Beatles since I was old enough to know who they were, and I loved doing all this Beatles-related stuff in Liverpool.

 

After our beers at the Cavern Club and shots at The Grapes, we boarded the Mersey ferry for a water tour of the city.  Already buzzing from our first two stops, I really didn't need any more alcohol, but Jack went to the ferry concession stand and came back with a few beers for us to enjoy on the upper deck as we listened to the audio system tell us all about Liverpool.  By this point in the day I had purchased a Union Jack flag, and proceeded to take it out and wave it around in the wind while singing "Ferry Cross The Mersey" at the top of my lungs.  Moral of the story:  I can no longer handle day drinking like I was able to in college.

 

(me being ridiculous with my Union Jack flag)

 

As we came back across the Mersey, we noticed a helicopter hovering over the Albert Dock area.  After the ferry we had reservations to be on the Little Yellow Duckmarine, and it does it's "splashdown landing" right off the Albert Dock.  Amy and Jack were trying to figure out what was going on, and Amy told me how one of the Duckmarines had sank recently.  "I hope another one didn't sink, I really wanted to take you on that!"

 

Spoiler alert:  Another one sank.

 

Now, it's not really funny.  It's not.  I'm sure it was very traumatizing for the people on there, especially the children, to be on a boat that started sinking as soon as it entered the water.  But since I know no one got hurt, I know that there were no deaths or injuries or anything of that nature, I can say this:

 

It was funny.  Because we were supposed to be on the boat that sank, and the only reason we weren't is because it was full and so we had to take the next time slot.  And immediately, because of this fact, Jack started talking about how "his whole life had flashed before his eyes" and he was "seeing things clearly".  He and Amy were already engaged at this point, and he started talking about how they should get married right then and there and not waste any more time.  Mind you, we were in the McDonald's by the Albert Dock when he said this, and he proposed that the cashier could be the officiant and the drive through guy could give Amy away.  All this was after we had walked into the Little Yellow Duckmarine office to get our money back, and Jack had said "So the 5:30, is that just running a little late then?"  The look of daggers the girl working shot him... well, lets just say not everyone finds Jack's humor as amusing as I do.

 

After the Duckboat fiasco, we headed to Camp and Furnace for the Liverpool Craft Beer Festival.  Jack and Amy had gotten us tickets prior to me arriving, and I will say that I am pretty much always up for a beer festival.  What is it about getting hundreds of random strangers together and throwing really good beer into the mix?  It's just fun... that said, I definitely learned I cannot party with English scousers.  At the end of the beer festival, so about midnight, Amy was ready to keep the party going and hit some parties.  I was ready to put my fat pants on and hit my pillow :)  It's amazing to think that just a few short years ago I was going out every single Wednesday- Saturday.  WHAT HAPPENED TO ME??!?!?!   Old age has definitely taken it's toll...

 

Okay, before I go on too long, let me summarize Liverpool:  do the Beatles Story museum, the Magical Mystery Tour, the Tate Modern museum, go shopping and eat around the Albert Dock, visit the Liverpool Cathedral, and take a ferry across the Mersey while singing "Ferry Cross the Mersey" at the top of your lungs.  Okay, you can leave that last one out.  But everything else is a must-do ;-)

 

Here are some shots from Liverpool!

 

 

 

The famous Liverpool lambananas...

 

 

Amy, her mate Jenny, and Jenny's daughter Evie, who is going to be a flower girl at the wedding.  This girl is precious!

 

 

The Liverpool Big Wheel...

 

 

 

Albert Dock area...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Beatles Story!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Magical Mystery Tour....

 

 

George Harrison's birthplace is the photo on the left, and Paul McCartney's childhood home is on the right....

 

 

There are Beatles touches everywhere in Liverpool...

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love this place...

 

 

 

 

Can't wait to visit the Cavern Club again this summer...

 

 

 

 

 

As important as the Beatles are to Liverpool history, the Titanic has a deep connection to the city as well.  Below, you'll see a photo of a group of windows.  The left window balcony is where it was announced to the world that the Titanic had sunk.  Below that, you'll see signs commemorating the homes of Thomas Ismay (founder of the White Star Line) and Captain Edward John Smith, who captained the Titanic on it's maiden and only voyage.

 

 

 

 

More scenes around Liverpool....

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Liverpool Cathedral...

 

 

 

View from the top of Liverpool Cathedral....

 

 

 

 

Around the cathedral...

 

 

The Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral....

 

 

 

Downtown Liverpool...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These were taken in Croxteth Country Park...

 

 

 

After putting in so much effort to hold a baby lamb in Ireland, this was shockingly easy... you can just go to a petting zoo!  :)

 

 

Jack being Jack...

 

 

Another Place is an art installation on Crosby Beach in Liverpool that basically consists of iron statues of the artist's own body, facing the ocean in different spots along the beach... sort of creepy, but I thought it was a pretty cool sight...

 

 

 

The happy couple :)

 

 

Amy's parents are members of the National Trust, and took me on a tour of this beautiful Victorian home called Rufford Hall, built in the 1500's...

 

 

Amy's parents Kate and Tim on the left... aren't they adorbs?

 

 

 

 

After our tour, Kate and Tim took me to Southport and we meandered about for a few hours...

 

 

 

After a week in Liverpool with Jack and Amy, I headed by bus up to London to meet Kevin.  I was supposed to stay the whole week and a half in London with Jack’s parents, but then Kevin had decided to come over so we could have a few more days together, and so I split the week between a few days in a London hotel with him and the rest of the week with Sue and Stu :)

 

Let me just say this:  I had not expected to stay in a hotel in London, so I never did any investigating as to how much hotel rooms there cost.  When Kevin made the plan to come over for a couple days, I started looking into booking us a room… and basically wanted to cry.  London is the most expensive city I have ever been to in my life.  Hotel prices were ridiculous and I was worried we would end up in a hostel in the worst part of town.  Fortunately, by chance, I ended up finding Hotel Xenia in South Kensington, which had just opened a couple of months prior and was therefore significantly cheaper than anything else I could find.  Not only that, but it was right in the middle of everything I wanted to see, so it was the perfect location.  From the reviews on TripAdvisor that had been posted in the couple months the hotel had been open, I was expecting a nice hotel but a tiny room.  And for the most part, that was accurate.  But while the room was tiny, it was absolutely perfect, and as soon as I walked into it I wanted to live there.  The bed took up most of the room, but the ceilings were high and the bed faced a floor-to-ceiling picture window with a leafy view of the tree-lined road the hotel was on.  There was a flat screen TV over the desk, which had a crocheted “God Save The Queen” pillow on its chair.  There was also an iPad on the nightstand that was programmed with all sorts of information about the area and things to do in London.  And every night when we got back to the hotel, the bed had been turned down and there were two fresh pastries on the nightstand table waiting for us.  It was perfection.

 

The same can be said for the rest of London, which I can honestly say is my favorite city in the world.  Now I am NOT a city person… in all my years around Boston I never lived directly in the city, I only like visiting NYC every few years, and the city I live in now, Burlington, only has about 40,000 people in it, so it feels more like a big town than a city.  But London?  London is EVERYTHING.  I cannot even begin to explain how much I loved it there, and if money (and proper visas) weren’t an issue, I would move there in a heartbeat.  The history of it, the architecture, the museums, the beautiful people, the amazing food, the fact that there’s always something to do and see.  And the tube system was simply the best subway system I have ever experienced.  Seriously, I lived around Boston for 5 years, and I still get lost getting around that city on the train.  In London, we bought Oyster cards, downloaded the tube app on my phone, and we were home free.  We never had a problem, and it was the easiest system to navigate.  I was so in love with the tube system there, I bought a mousepad and mug with the whole system shown on them, with the mug having the Mind the Gap emblem over the tube map.  I think NYC and Boston could take a few pointers from the London tube system,  Just sayin’.

 

I arrived in London on a Monday afternoon, and after checking into the hotel, I headed out to meet my old college friend Adam for beers.  Kevin’s flight didn’t arrive until 7:00 that night, so I hopped on the tube and met Adam for some drinks.  Adam was another friend who went to BSC on the exchange program and although he had been allowed to stay in the states for a couple years for school, it had been years since the last time I saw him.  Not much changes, though, and we fell right back in to the old routine of him rolling his eyes at me as I told him one ridiculous story after another.  At the end of our drink date, he shoved a pint glass in my purse as a memento.  Such a good friend :)

 

As I headed back uptown to meet Kevin at Victoria Station, where he was taking the train from Gatwick, I checked my phone and Facebook.  A week prior, while I was in Liverpool, I had learned that a photographer friend of mine had gone missing while trying to recover his mountain bike in a state park in Connecticut.  I felt helpless, being so far away and not being able to help in the search, and I had been following the story from other photographer friends all week.  That day, as I arrived at Victoria, I saw on Facebook that a body had been found, and they thought it was Eric’s.  And although I had only known Eric for a couple years, and I didn’t know him super well, I found myself bawling.  Hysterically.  By myself, walking around the train station, trying to find Kevin.  I got a text from him saying that he was outside, and by the time I got to him I was a hot mess, not being able to control my crying, thinking about Eric’s pregnant wife Amber and their two children.  Eric was only 33 when he passed away, with two young children and another on the way, and it just devastated me.  As soon as Kevin saw me, he grabbed me and yelled “Were you mugged?!?!”  He was completely flustered and it took a few minutes to calm down and tell him what had happened, and when he finally understood he hugged me and just let me cry.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but learning about what had happened to Eric ended up affecting me quite a bit while I was in London.  I was edgy, I couldn’t sleep well… and poor Kevin ended up having to deal with my frustration and sadness.  Of everything I regret from my trip, this is what I regret most, and I wish I had those couple of days in London with him back.  I would hug him more, tell him I loved him more, not pick small fights over stupid things and then withdraw.  This is probably the most personal thing I have written, admitting that this is the pattern I follow when I’m sad, but it was definitely what happened in London, and I regret it enormously.

 

Kevin had never been to London either, so we spent the next few days exploring the city.  The weather was on our side most of the time, and we took the tube and walked everywhere.  We visited Trafalgar Square, which I loved, and walked through the National Gallery.  The amazing thing about London is that so many of these incredible museums were free, including the National Gallery.  We attended the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, which was an incredible thing to see. The monarchy sort of fascinates me, and so I took a million pictures at the palace, even though most of the time it was too crowded to see what was going on.  My advice on the Changing of the Guard is to get there early in the morning to get the best standing spot that you can.

 

We visited Leicester Square, which I didn’t like as much as Trafalgar Square because it reminded me of a small-scale Times Square.  It was much more commercial, with a movie theater on one side and a Ben and Jerry’s on the other (not that I was complaining about that…).  Seeing theater in London was a huge deal to me, so the big draw to Leicester Square was the same day ticket counters.  I love the theater, having spent years going to plays with my mom and various friends, and the London stage is supposed to be the most renowned theater in the world, along with Broadway in NYC, so it was a must for me while visiting.  I was tempted to drag Kevin to see The Phantom of the Opera, since the original stage it showed on in London still plays it, but we decided instead to see something neither of had seen.  We chose Once since it is set in Ireland and it had just opened at the Phoenix Theater.

 

When we arrived at the Phoenix and found our seats, we were commenting to each other how cool it was that the stage was set up like an Irish pub, complete with bartenders and drink specials listed.  And then we noticed a couple people going up there, on stage.  It took a little bit of pondering, but we finally realized that we could go up on stage and order a drink.  WHATTTTTTT!!!!  There was no way we weren't doing this and we hurried up to the stage.  We ordered beers from the bartenders at "the pub" and they were served in commemorative Once tumblers.  We started chatting up the bartenders, who furthered this already amazing experience by telling us that we were going to be part of the show.  The actors would be coming out any minute and they would start playing, just like a normal Irish pub, and we would be "pub patrons" who could stay up on stage and listen to the music and dance until we were ushered off and Act 1 officially began.  I was in 7th heaven and I couldn't believe we were actually lucky enough to be standing on a London stage, as part of the show, no less.  It was crazy to look out at the theater filling up, while we sipped our beers on stage.  I suddenly wished I had dressed better for the occasion!  We stayed on stage for the first couple of songs and then made our way to our seats.  It was, by far, one of the coolest experiences of my entire trip.  I will never forget it.

 

The day after Kevin left, I went back to the theater alone to see Stomp.  I had less choices when I went alone because it was a Sunday matinee and there wasn’t too much to choose from, but I had always wanted to see Stomp and had heard it was incredible in London.  It didn’t disappoint and it was honestly one of the best things I have ever seen in my life.  For anyone who has the chance to see Stomp, DO IT.  The talent of the performers in that show is just mind-boggling.

 

While he was still with me, we did a few more touristy things, like the London Eye and Westminster Abbey.  The London Eye was another must-do for me and I thought the views were spectacular.  Of course we didn't have the best weather day, but you pretty much never do in London :)  I had never been in a sightseeing pod like that (I had skipped the Liverpool Eye) and so I was really glad I got to see London from that perspective with Kevin.  Westminster Abbey was really cool as well and I was glad that we paid for the whole tour and were able to do it at our pace.  Although it was sort of a rough start... those who are friends with me on Facebook already know this story :)

 

Kevin and I are walking around the outside and we walk up to a guard and this is basically the conversation that ensues:

 

Me:  "I'm sorry to bother you but I have a super nerdy and touristy question to ask you."

Guard:  "Go ahead..."

Me:  "What door did Kate come in?"

Guard:  "Who?"

Me:  "Kate Middleton."

Guard, confused:  "Well Kate wouldn't really come here..."

Me:  "Well I know she doesn't come here every Sunday for service or anything like that, but the day she got married, what door did she walk in?"

Guard:  "Um, Kate got married across the street, at Westminster Abbey..."

Me, TOTALLY CONFUSED:  "Wait, isn't this Westminster Abbey?"

Guard:  "This is the Houses of Parliament."

 

Hahaha yup.  That actually happened.  Am I embarrassed that I didn't recognize basically the most recognizable structure in Great Britain?  Yes I am.  But hell if it's not a funny story to remember.  I turned around and Kevin was basically dying.  Although in my defense, he didn't recognize it either :)  We sheepishly crossed the street and took the tour at the Abbey, where I did indeed find the door that Kate walked through on her wedding day :)

 

Jack and Amy came up from Liverpool for Kevin's last night and we made reservations at the Sydney Street Grill, which was a fancy sort of steakhouse.   We were really trying hard not to spend too much money in London, so this was our night to splurge.  It was so nice to get dressed up and go to dinner all four of us, and pretty much immediately Jack and Kevin developed a bromance and basically ignored Amy and I.  It was awesome though... we had such a wonderful meal at this place and such a great time with the 4 of us.

 

On Kevin's last day, we went to Portobello Road and did some shopping, Kevin's absolute least favorite thing but also the only day I could work in a Portobello Road trip :)  Portobello Road was so, so cool, and basically everything I was expecting.  It was also so, so long... I'm pretty sure we only covered about half of it and we were there for HOURS!  But it was awesome to walk among the vendors, looking at all the different antiques... it reminded me of going to the Brimfield Fair, only on one long street instead of several open fields. I didn't buy much because I didn't have much room left in my suitcase at that point, but I did buy a print of London and a couple other small things.  I also loved the area surrounding Portobello Road, which is the Notting Hill area.  True to the movie, this area is absolutely gorgeous.... big tall rose bushes everywhere, beautiful, colorful town homes... I actually have a ten hour London layover on my flight to Scotland this summer, and this is where I requested my friend Adam and I meet for the day.  Again, if money was no object... I would be living in Notting Hill, no question!  Or at least have a house there.  You know, a second home :)

 

There were also a couple things we thought about doing and then decided to skip.  We took the tube to the Madame Tussaud's museum as something fun and goofy to do... and then got there and saw the OBSCENE price of admission and decided against it.  I mean, really... talk about ridiculous.... I wish we had known that Sherlock Holmes' house was on that same tube stop, but we didn't and instead hopped back on the tube and headed to the London Eye.  On Kevin's last day, we also decided to skip the entrance fee and tour to St. Paul's Cathedral, and instead relax and have some drinks and tapas and just take in the view of St. Paul's Cathedral from an absolutely perfect adjacent roof deck spot at a restaurant and bar called Madison.  Seriously, I felt so indebted to Adam for telling me about this place, because it was perfection.  The open terrace has comfortable couches and chairs, and the view of St. Paul's Cathedral CANNOT BE BEAT from this spot.  Some of the pictures of it below were taken from there, including a couple I took from outside the elevator on the ground floor of the building Madison is in... the building itself provided nice reflections of the cathedral.  It was the perfect last afternoon together, if there could be such a thing... Kev and I relaxed, drank some wine, looked out over London, and talked about the previous two months and what our favorite parts were.  I felt lucky to get that last relaxing afternoon with him, without having to rush off to do an tour or something.

 

I won't talk about our time at the Gatwick Airport, saying goodbye for the last time.  Honestly it's emotionally taxing to even think about, and obviously some things should stay private.  But I can say this:  I love Kevin for loving me so well, and for the things he told me that day that I will hear in my head every single time I start to doubt myself or whether I am good enough.  Because of him, I know that I am.  I'll be eternally grateful for that.

 

The rest of my time in London felt fairly empty without him, but thank God for wonderful friends and their families.  Jack and Amy were amazing and had made all sorts of excellent plans for us.  Jack had gotten tickets to the Royal Ascot horse race, and so Amy, Jack, Stu and I got decked to the nines and headed to the race course.  I, being the typical non-better who knows nothing about horse racing, decided to bet once on whatever horse whose name I liked the most.  I saw there was a horse named Berkshire, which is a place near where I grew up in MA, so I laid my money down on good ol' Berkshire, who was NOT an extraordinary horse and not even expected to place.  THAT DAMN HORSE WON THE RACE!!!  First race of the day, I pocketed 100 pounds.  I was PSYCHED to say the least, jumping up and down and celebrating my accidental victory.  And yes, I did the smart but un-fun thing and pocketed the money without betting for the rest of the day :)

 

Ascot was also the place where I got to see the Queen of England.  Talk about a cool experience from the trip... Jack had told me that she would be there and while I held out hope that I would get to glimpse the entire Royal Family, it was just her riding in her royal carriage.  She rode in proceeding the races, and while everyone cheered and I basically lost my mind from the sheer awesomeness of the moment, I said to Jack "So what next?  Do we all break into God Save the Queen?"  Jack laughed and said "Nah that would be a little much..."  about 30 seconds later the entire place was singing God Save the Queen.   No joke.  It was one of those great moments and I closed my eyes and listened and laughed and it was the perfect English experience.

 

Jack, Amy and I also decided to go to Wimebledon on one of my days in London.  Yup, I went to Wimbledon.  I have really really cool friends, because had it been up to me I probably wouldn't have even known that Wimbledon was happening while I was there.  Luckily, Jack was all about it.  Unluckily, queuing for tickets to Wimbledon is a 4 hour process that starts at, oh.... 4 AM IN THE MORNING!!!!  That is pretty much what time we woke up to get to the queuing field.  That's right, there is a field at Wimbledon for the lines.... and they are happy to hand you a 25 page brochure about how to queue correctly when you arrive.  Not to mention that this particular morning ending up being my harshest lesson in English weather:  despite being late JUNE, it was freezing.  Like, not a little bit chilly.... FREEZING.  I stupidly did NOT wear enough layers, or socks.... and I was so cold that I legit bought a tote bag from some English newspaper seller so I could get the blanket that came with it.  I then used the Wimbledon sweatband that was also in the bag to warm up one of my feet.  And nothing worked, because it was freezing, and the ground was all wet.  Needless to say, I was not so much a happy camper while queuing, but once we got in our moods improved greatly :)  We got to see Nadal warm up and Andy Murray play, and I was thrilled a week later when Andy Murray won Wimbledon!  It was very cool to get to see those people up close and personal.  Towards the later afternoon, I ended up so tired that I ended up falling asleep on the lawn while we watched a match.  At that point I decided to call it a day, and was very impressed with myself when I had to take two buses and a tube to get to Sue and Stu's house on my own and I managed to find my way without getting on the wrong bus or train.

 

Jack also took an afternoon off to go sightseeing with me.  We started the day by heading to Abbey Road, as I really wanted to see the Abbey Road studios and re-enact the famous Beatles photo taken on the crosswalk there, that graced the cover of the Abbey Road album.  Word of advice:  DOING THIS DURING THE DAY IS A COMPLETELY FRUITLESS VENTURE AND SHOULD BE AVOIDED AT ALL COSTS.  It's a very busy street and there are literally tourists lined up on each side waiting for their turn to rush out.  The problem with this, of course, is that when the cars die down enough for you to run out to take the photo, there are people running from both sides so you inevitably ruin each other's shot.  It was such a cluster!  I couldn't even believe it lol.  After awhile, we just gave up, but my advice would be to go at sunrise when no one is there yet and the streets are quieter.

 

We also visited the Tower of London and took the tourist ferry from there over to the Tate Museum.  We went under the Tower Bridge and doubled back to the Tate, where Jack is a member and so we had access to the "members only" café and terrace.  I had visited the Tate Liverpool with Amy, but the view from the Tate London was spectacular and another great place to sit with food and drinks and just soak it all in.  After we finished touring the museum, we walked to the Hummingbird Bakery, where I got a cupcake called "The American".  The American was basically a maple and bacon cupcake.  Sounds about right :)

 

On my last day in London, Jack and Amy brought me down to Brighton to meet Jack's Nana.  Brighton is by the ocean and we spent the day visiting with Nana, eating a great lunch on the Brighton Pier, and taking some engagement snaps of Jack and Amy.  Brighton was gorgeous and we got a great weather day, despite some pretty threatening rain clouds.  They made for a great backdrop for pictures of the beach though :)

 

Here are some of my favorites, from my favorite city in the world...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One year later, editing these... I noticed that the cab driver in the following photo is giving me the thumbs up haha!  It made me smile when I saw it... I never noticed it before :)

 

 

 

London tube, I love you!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our perfect little hotel in South Kensington...

 

 

Covent Garden...

 

 

Trafalgar Square was one of my favorite spots in London...

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buckingham Palace...

 

 

 

 

 

The Changing of the Guard...

 

 

 

 

 

 

This dog, with it's nose in the air... I can't... so freakin funny.

 

 

The Houses of Parliament... NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH...

 

 

 

 

 

 

Westminster Abbey ;-)

 

 

 

 

The London Eye...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Tower of London...

 

 

 

 

 

London from Tate Modern...

 

 

 

St. Paul's Cathedral...

 

 

 

 

 

Portobello Road, Portobello Road, the place where the riches of ages are sold... I need to watch Bedknobs and Broomsticks again!  Love that movie :)

 

 

 

Notting Hill is so charming...

 

 

Abbey Road, a must-stop for any Beatles fan...

 

 

Brighton to visit Nana... my last day in England!  There she is... love her!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have two more blog posts coming your way that sum up my trip and my experiences... it only took a year but I am finally finishing up this trip blogging!  I will explain the delay and more in my final Ireland blog post.  Stay tuned!  xo.

 

Northern Ireland: Portstewart, Derry and Belfast

I spent the last week of my Ireland trip in Northern Ireland, before returning to Dublin for my final days and then flying out to England.  Honestly, there’s so much to say and so many mixed emotions I have about this part of the continent.  In many ways, I am so, so glad I went to the North and I wish I had made it a priority to stay longer.  In a few ways, it lived up to a few scary and less-than-flattering images I had had in my mind about it before I went.  Either way, it’s an important part of Irish and English history, and I don’t think anyone going to Ireland for a long period of time like I was should skip it.  

Now, again, I’m going to say that I would understand people’s hesitation.  Much like I expected a warm scone and a cup of tea when I arrived in Ireland (not the cavity search that I actually got… thanks a lot, Dublin Airport customs agent), I expected an angry punch or a mugging when I arrived in Northern Ireland.  Their history is tumultuous, to say the least, and even though The Troubles have been over for years, you get the feeling in some areas that all the raw feelings that they brought are hiding right there under the surface.  I was nervous to travel there by myself, especially with a car with a southern plate on it.  I had rented a car in Sligo for my last week on the road, and drove from Sligo to Donegal, and up through Northern Ireland before returning the car to Dublin the following week.  Several people had told me to be careful with a southern car in the North; make sure to park it in a safe, well lit area, don’t leave anything in it overnight.  I’ll say the car part made me the most nervous, as several people had stories to tell about someone they knew whose car was vandalized while in the North, but there was really nothing I could do about it since I needed a car to do the traveling I wanted to do at my own pace.

 

One of the places I wanted to stop while I drove through the North was Derry, which is located between Donegal and Portstewart, where I was staying for a few nights.  Derry, like Belfast, was a place I was slightly concerned about visiting, and so I didn’t book an overnight there, and planned to just stop for the day.  This is another regret from my trip; if I had to do it all over again, I would stay in Derry for a couple of nights, probably instead of staying in Belfast at all.  To me, Derry was a much nicer and much more appealing city than Belfast.  I really thought Derry was beautiful, it was clean, it was modern but charming, and it did have pieces of old world Europe peppered around the downtown area.  Driving in, there was a huge and beautiful sculpture that I wish I had gotten a photo of called Hands Across the Divide.  I tried to get back to where it was by foot later, since there was nowhere to pull off when I was in my car, but I couldn't seem to relocate it.  Anyways, I explored the city via the city walls, elevated up from the streets and full of history themselves.  Derry is the only remaining intact walled city in Ireland, and the walls form a walkway around the inner city.  I got a beautiful weather day when I visited Derry, so I spent most of the day walking around and taking in the city.

 

As I said, my first few days in Northern Ireland were spent in a coastal town called Portstewart, and on my drive there from Derry, I fell in love.  With everything.  The fields, the flowers, the houses, the horses… we were having great weather that whole week and so Northern Ireland felt just as magical, if not more, than any other part of Ireland I had seen.   When I arrived in Portstewart, it was a little bit more condensed, with taller apartment buildings and condos, but still beautiful and right on the water.  There was a main strip that felt a little bit like being back in the states, and just past that was my B&B, Cul Erg.  It honestly ended up being the perfect choice for me, and again I was happy with myself for doing my homework on TripAdvisor.  Cul Erg was charming, right on the water, and run by a truly lovely couple who obviously took pride in their home.  It was big, but it felt homey and welcoming inside.  I was worried that in a 3 floor establishment, I wouldn’t sleep well with people above me, but they ended up putting me on the 3rd floor, which worked out perfectly.  In the mornings, I would eat in the dining room with the other guests, and I quickly learned that Northern Ireland is HUGE for golfing.  Most everyone else staying in the B&B was there for a golfing tournament or golfing trip.

 

Portstewart was a good base for exploring the Antrim coast, which had been my main draw to the North.  By following one road on the Antrim coast, you can see Dunluce Castle, the Giants Causeway, the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, and the Bushmills Distillery.  Now, I don’t know why, but I actually only ended up really doing 2 out of 4 of those I listed.  I saw all 4, for sure… but at this point in my trip, castles were a dime a dozen, and I didn’t have too many more dimes in the bank.  I knew I was running low on funds, with 2 more weeks of travel in England ahead of me, so I chose not to pay to walk the actual grounds of Dunluce Castle.  You could actually see plenty of it from different vantage points on the road and the parking lot, and since it was castle ruins, I didn’t feel like I was missing anything inside by not paying to go in.  I could see it all through my naked eye and my camera lens, and so I skipped the expense.

 

The rope bridge was something I actually really wanted to do, but the timing never worked out.  My main objective was to photograph sunset from the Giants Causeway, and so I found myself on the coast road right before sunset two nights in a row, trying to do everything at once.  I would say that if you have the time, do 2 and 2… maybe Dunluce Castle and the Giants Causeway one afternoon/ evening, and the Bushmills Distillery and rope bridge the next.  By squeezing too much in, I found myself panicking that I would miss sunset at the Causeway… and there’s already too much stress in traveling without adding more yourself.  As it was, I got to the rope bridge too late.  It was closed, but you were still able to go in past the closed ticket counter and turnstile and walk down to the rope bridge.  Which is what I did.  With a camera bag on my back, in warm weather… I walked what seemed to be a mile down the winding path.  It was so long, and it was one of those mental conversations you have with yourself during which you say “Is this a joke?  If it’s not around this corner, I’m turning back” and then you get around the corner and still don’t see it, and you think “Okay, I’ve come this far, I can’t turn back now, it must just be around that next corner.”  After what seemed like forever, I got within view of the rope bridge, got excited, turned the final corner… and realized that there is another gate… a very locked, very insurmountable gate that there’s no way to get around after hours.  I have never been so annoyed in my life!  And here I am, huffing and puffing with my camera bag, and I’m now RUNNING the mile back to my car so that I don’t miss sunset at the Giants Causeway.  I tell you all this so that you can avoid my mistake: don’t try to do the rope bridge after hours.  It will be a fruitless expedition that will result in lots of under-the-breath swearing and unnecessary sweating.  Annoying… and gross.  Bad combination.

 

I did make it to the Giants Causeway on time that night, and since the weather was beautiful the whole week, I ended up there the next night as well.  I can honestly say that some of my most peaceful times on my trip were the nights that I ate dinner early and traded out the drinking for my camera and a good sunset spot.  The sunset from the Giants Causeway was breathtaking, and it’s so vast and expansive that there are plenty of places to sit and relax without being on top of other people.  My pictures really don’t even do this natural wonder justice; one thing I learned on my trip is that as much as I’d like to be, I am NOT a landscape photographer (yet, anyways)… but the Giant’s Causeway was perfection and my only regret was that I hadn’t made Kevin take those couple of days off of work… he had never seen the Giants Causeway and I know he would have loved it there.  I showed him my pictures a couple days later in Dublin and I can hear his reaction now:  “Wow, that’s class.”  :)

 

On my last morning in Portstewart I headed to the Bushmills Distillery.  This wasn’t originally on my itinerary and didn’t seem like something I absolutely needed to do, but since I had gone to the Jameson distillery in Midleton and visited the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, I figured one more alcohol-related tour couldn’t hurt, and I stopped on my way out of town.  Unlike Jameson, I wasn’t on a tour with 90 non-English speaking Germans (I’m sorry, but THANK GOD) and so I found Bushmills a little more enjoyable.  Our tour guide was great, and he couldn’t believe that most of us could actually understand everything he was saying.  His Northern accent was strong, but after 3 months of practice deciphering accents, I never really had any problem understanding people anymore.

 

This was also the morning of the fateful Van Morrison ticket.  As I said, it was a gorgeous, sunny morning, and on my way to Bushmills, I pulled over to get a picture of Dunluce Castle from down the road a bit.  But when I got to a good spot, I noticed they were setting up some sort of event there.  I walked down and saw a sign for a Van Morrison concert happening there in 2 days.  There was a setup crew, and I got to talking to one of the guys on it about the concert.  I was considering looking up tickets and I asked if he knew where I would get them.  He went and got the production manager, who came over to chat.  He asked me if I was traveling alone, and I said yes.  He asked how long I was in Ireland for, and I told him 3 months.  “Three months?!?!?!  By yourself???”  He was incredulous, to say the least.  He was also impressed… and by the end of that conversation I was on the guest list for the Van Morrison concert.  I didn’t tell the production manager that I was leaving Portstewart for Belfast that day, and in my head I was immediately conflicted because I wanted to continue on my way, spend time in Belfast, and not have to worry about driving the two hours back to Portstewart in 2 days.  But things like that don’t just happen every day, and so I knew I would be back in 2 days for the concert.

 

I continued on to Belfast that day and I will say that this is when my opinions of the North started to take a turn downwards.  I wanted to like Belfast, I really truly did.  Once I saw Derry and how lovely it was, I had high hopes for Belfast impressing me in the same way and exceeding my expectations.  But quite honestly, it just didn’t.  As soon as I arrived in Belfast, I felt like I had in Wexford and Sligo, but on a much larger scale, since Belfast was much bigger.  It felt dirty, it felt impersonal, it felt industrial, it felt hard and cold and it felt slightly dangerous… and I felt out of place.  And disappointed.  And relieved that I had a ticket to a play that night, and that the Van Morrison concert would give me an excuse to spend one less evening in Belfast.

 

I found my hotel without much problem and although the neighborhood felt safe, I was slightly put off when the person checking me in brought me to my room… which was in a building next door.  I wasn’t staying in the main hotel, with the security and the person at the front desk if I needed anything… I was staying next door, in a creepy-feeling apartment building with no signs of other people.  That said, I did have an absolutely gorgeous room, and I was completely excited about that.  But again, I had that sad feeling that I wished Kevin was there with me, and I couldn’t wait to get to Dublin in 2 days to see him.

 

That first night, I headed to the Belfast Grand Opera House to see Hairspray.  I purposely got there about an hour early so that I could go across the street to the Crown Liquor Saloon and have a drink before the show.  The Crown Liquor Saloon is definitely a must- see while visiting Belfast, as is the Opera House… both are gorgeously decorated.  I had never seen Hairspray (the play or the movie) before, so I was excited to see something new in such a beautiful location.  It was a great show and I met a lovely family sitting next to me in the theater.

 

The next day, I was picked up at my hotel for a private Black Taxi Tour that I had pre-booked a couple of days earlier.  There are other ways to see the Murals and the areas where the Troubles occurred, but as a solo female traveler, I honestly felt safest doing a guided tour with a Belfast native.  My driver was a great guy, and although I asked him while he was explaining Belfast history at the beginning of the tour whether he was Catholic or Protestant, he wouldn't tell me until the end.  He wanted me to have a completely unbiased, subjective view of the city, without knowing which side he fell on.  He picked me up at the hotel, and we started the tour seeing the murals in the Shankill neighborhood.  My taxi driver took me out of the car and walked me around the buildings in this neighborhood, showing me the murals and explaining their meanings and their history.  He gave me a few minutes to walk around on my own and take photos, but he stayed close enough so that I could ask any questions I had.  When I was ready to move on, we got in the car and headed to see the murals on the Falls Road.  The Shankill Road is considered unionist (Protestants who identify themselves as British) and the Falls Road is considered nationalist (Catholics who identify themselves as Irish), and they are separated by a peace wall that is still locked every night at 10:00 pm.  You can, of course, still get out if you need to, but it would require walking or driving a few miles out of your way.  After seeing the murals in both neighborhoods, we walked the peace wall for a few minutes, my tour guide talking about his childhood in Belfast and me reading the names and quotes on the wall while he talked.  After I signed my name to the wall, and after one or two more stops on the tour (including the absolutely gorgeous church you'll see below), my tour guide brought me to the Titanic Museum and dropped me off there.

 

From an architectural standpoint, the Titanic Museum is pretty amazing, and much like the Titanic itself, it is just colossal.  Standing at the base of it, it’s almost overwhelming.  But it’s gorgeous and it certainly must boost the tourism in Belfast immensely.  The inside is beautifully structured as well, and I was excited to do the tour.  That being said, I ended up completely confused by the layout of the museum.  Not the physical layout or how to get around; that was easy and it was self guided, so you could go at your own pace.  I was confused by the lack of continuity… there didn’t seem to be a start or a finish to the museum, and everything in between the beginning and the end seemed random.  I mean, I remember walking in to the start of the tour and learning about linens in Ireland in the early 1900’s.  What???   I just felt completely confused by the way the information was laid out.  There was no shortage of information though, and this museum would answer any question you could ever have about the Titanic.

 

After leaving the Titanic Museum, I headed back to the hotel to grab my car and head back up to Portstewart for the Van Morrison concert.  It was a beautiful night, but as usual I mistook the Irish sun for warmth that didn't last all too long :)  I wore a dress and ended up FREEZING and had to leave the concert a bit early, but what I did stay for was amazing.   Heard some of my favorite Van songs, like Brown-Eyed Girl (of course), Days Like This and Crazy Love.  The peak of the night was probably hearing Into The Mystic, while staring out onto the water and seeing that perfect sunset.  To see Van Morrison, live, and hear him play one of my all time favorite songs, while watching an Irish sunset over the water, with a castle to my right and miles of beach to my left... yup, it was a good night :)

 

Here are some photos from Northern Ireland!

 

Dunluce Castle...

 

 

 

 

 

Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge...

 

 

 

 

The Giants Causeway...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This might have been the second night at The Giants Causeway... I ended up there two nights in a row photographing sunset, and the second night when I was walking down, the sun was creating this perfect shape and shadow on the tunnel... I don't know why but I had to take a picture of it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Portstewart...

 

 

 

My B&B...

 

 

Van the Man!  :)

 

 

 

 

From the concert... Dunluce Castle is nestled over on the right...

 

 

 

Sunset and concert rigging silhouettes...

 

 

 

More from The North...

 

 

 

The cause of most Irish traffic jams :)

 

 

The Bushmills Distillery...

 

 

On my way down to Belfast I pulled off at a rest stop to take this photo...

 

 

And ended up meeting these hilarious guys who were taking in the sun and having a little picnic :)  I chatted with them for a bit and as I was saying goodbye they both took out 5 euro and told me "If we had met you in a bar, young American girl braving the world on her own, we would have bought you a drink because we both have daughters your age and would want her taken care of.  So take this money and have a drink or a snack on us."  It warmed my heard :)

 

 

The beautiful city of Derry...

 

 

Exploring the city from the walls...

 

 

Derry has murals as well... although not to the extent I saw in Belfast, which you will see below...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My last northern city visit, Belfast...

 

 

 

This mural is very famous, because no matter where you move in front of it, the gun is always pointed directly at you.  Very weird... very spooky... very cool.  I moved all around and the gunman was still staring me down...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the gates I was talking about, that gets locked every night at 10 pm...

 

 

 

 

My favorite Irish song of all time, memorialized on the wall...

 

 

 

 

 

The Titanic Museum...

 

 

 

After Northern Ireland, I headed back to Dublin for a couple of days before flying out to England.  Being back in Dublin in good weather completely changed my opinion of the city... when I was there in the freezing cold rain of early March, I wasn't too keen on the decision I had made to stay there for a week... or come to Ireland at all!  Lol but being there in June was incredible and I fell in love.  However, since I already blogged a tiny bit from Dublin when I was actually in Ireland, I plan on going straight to Liverpool and London for my next blog post.  Stay tuned!  xoxo :)

 

 

 

 

 

Sligo and Donegal

After a few days in Westport, I headed up to Sligo for my next stop. Sligo is considered part of Yeats Country, and there were a few places I wanted to visit related to the famous author. Now, there are only two places in the Republic of Ireland I can think of that didn't live up to what I expected, and one of them was Sligo (the other being Wexford, which I blogged about when I was still in Ireland). I hate to write anything bad about any place in Ireland, I really do, but if I'm being honest about my personal preferences, I really didn't like Sligo town or Wexford very much. Both were very industrial, somewhat dirty, and really didn't give me any sense of Ireland, or "old world Europe" at all, as I had expected. If I had my trip to do again, I would skip over Sligo town and find a smaller village around it to stay in, or head straight to Donegal.  

I had 3 nights in Sligo, so I made the best out of it. One beautiful part of Sligo that I would recommend if you are passing through would be Sligo Abbey, located downtown. I enjoyed walking around the abbey ruins and I was glad that I had blocked out the morning to relax and take photos of the abbey.  It was a cloudy, rainy morning for it, but I took a bunch of pictures, which you will see below.

 

I also loved the Model Arts Center and National Gallery, and would highly recommend this if you are looking for a more modern, contemporary museum. I spent an afternoon relaxing in the museum and its cafe, and seeing some really incredible works of art. I would say this museum, while much smaller, rivaled some of the national galleries I saw in Dublin.

 

A museum that I would avoid like the plague would be the Yeats Memorial Building. I feel sort of bad saying that, but at the same time, I really don't. Seriously, I look back on my time there and still have no idea what happened.

 

Upon walking in, I felt like I was in an old classroom. The "museum" was basically one room, with photos and different letters and artifacts under glass. There was no one around, except for random students who would come in and out and grab things from behind the front desk and then go out the way they came in, through a back door. I think the building was actually connected to some sort of school. Finally, a random guy came out, seemed legitimately startled to see me, and asked what I was doing there. I asked if this was the Yeats Memorial Building and if it was still open to the public, as his surprise seemed so genuine I suddenly felt like I shouldn't be there and he was going to have me arrested for trespassing. He told me that it was, but he still seemed puzzled as to why anyone would WANT to be there. After a few minutes of eyeing me suspiciously and realizing that I wasn't actually there to steal anything, he offered to show me "the video".... I had no idea what this meant but I said sure, of course, if it was part of the tour. He proceeded to wheel out a TV and VCR that seemed to be from the early 60's, and proceeded to play a videocassette from the same era. I honestly wanted to cry from the boredom, and as soon as it was over I paid my donation and I left. Again, I hate to rag on anything in Ireland, but this place was just painful and should be avoided at all costs.

 

Moving on... :)...

 

My two favorite activities in Sligo actually weren't right in Sligo town at all. The first was one of the most relaxing things I did my whole trip: the Voya seaweed baths in Strandhill. My friend Karen had recommended them to me, and I took a bus to Strandhill one of my days in Sligo to head to Voya for an hour of pure bliss. Strandhill is a really cute oceanside town, and the Voya spa is right on the beach. I wasn't really sure what to expect, but my god. If you're passing through this part of Ireland, BOOK A SEAWEED BATH. I have never been so relaxed in my life. You start by stepping into a steam shower for ten minutes and then you sink into a porcelain claw foot tub full of seaweed. I was somewhat apprehensive about it at first, but that quickly slipped away, as did all my thoughts, worries, concerns, everything. The seaweed bath was pure bliss.

 

After it was over, I took a long walk along the beach on what was a very sunny but windy day. The Strandhill beach seems to go on forever and with good tunes playing on my iPod, I could have walked it for miles. I finally got hungry and turned around, heading for the Shells Cafe which is located conveniently right on the beach, next to Voya. Shells Cafe is another place I would completely recommend if you're visiting this area. Great food, great atmosphere, and an adorable (albeit overpriced) gift shop.

 

I was seated towards the back of the cafe, at one of those small two person tables that is right next to another small, two person table. My side was a long bench that was shared by the neighboring tables, and the other side were regular chairs. As I sat there and ate the biggest burger I have ever seen in my life (see photo), another woman by herself was seated at the table next to me. Before long, we had struck up a conversation, and honestly it hurts my heart that I didn't get a photo with this woman. She was just a couple years older than me, single, and one of the sweetest people I met on my trip. She was so nice, in fact, that I was almost scared... When she asked if I wanted to take a walk with her after leaving the cafe, I started worrying that her sincerity was a cover for being a serial killer. But of course, her sincerity was genuine, and we walked along the beach the opposite way of where I had walked earlier. She told me all about the area we were exploring and about her life there, working full time, caring for her elderly father, and pen pal-ing/ casually dating a man in America that she had met when he visited Ireland earlier that year. We walked and talked so long that I missed the bus, and she offered to bring me back to Sligo. When she dropped me off at my B&B, she gave me her name so that we could stay in touch on Facebook. I really wish I had looked at the slip of paper as she gave it to me, because unfortunately, I couldn't read her writing and I was never able to connect with her again. But I'll never forget spending the afternoon with her; a perfect stranger who became an instant friend and walking companion.

 

The other activity that I had a blast with outside of Sligo was horse back riding through Island View Stables in Grange. Growing up, I loved riding horses, so much so that my mom sent me to horse camp one summer.  Unfortunately, I came down with hay fever and had to leave early (true and pathetic story) and I've never really had an occasion to ride a horse since then.  I knew going to Ireland that I wanted to be sure to get back on the horse (hehe) and so I had found Island View through TripAdvisor and booked a 2 hour bog and beach ride with them on my way out of Sligo.  If I had it to do again, I would probably just cut down to a one hour trip, because let me tell you, my butt was KILLING me the next day, but the two hours was still nice :)  My poor tour guide was probably dying from boredom since every time he tried to step it up to a run I would clutch my horse for dear life and start screaming psychotically, but if he hated me he never let it show and we had a beautiful day for the ride.  After we returned the horses to the stables and the ride was over, I actually walked back down the beach path we took so that I could grab a few pictures.

 

On the way out of Grange, I hit some other Yeats related stops, including the churchyard where he is buried.  Despite the fact that there were tour buses pulling up to let people see the grave, this was a really tranquil place and I stayed about an hour, just walking around and looking at the different grave stones and writing prayers inside a book in the church.  The graveyard looks out over Ben Bulben and of course there were sheep grazing as far as the eye could see.  All in all, not a bad eternal resting spot.

 

When I left Yeats' gravesite I had some extra time before I needed to head to Donegal, and so when I saw a sign for a scenic drive off the main road, I thought, why not?  Now this is one of those moments that I deeply regret, as of course I didn't write down the name of this scenic drive, but when you're driving on Route 15 going north out of Drumcliff, like I was towards Donegal, you will see signs for it to your right.  It takes you right around Ben Bulben... in my mind, it was something like Glencarrig Drive... but I could be making that up :)  It could have Drumcliff in the name, who knows!  This is why you should always write down what you end up doing while you're traveling.  But I'll get to that in my final post about Ireland :)  Anyways, the drive was really spectacular and peaceful, and under-traveled... it seemed like sort of a hidden jewel because I didn't see one other car while I was on it, and when I stopped to take photos at different spots it was just me... it was pretty amazing and it definitely ended up being one of a my favorite spontaneous scenic drives.

 

Back on the main road, I also stumbled upon signs for another side drive, to the Glencar Waterfall.  Glencar was a favorite spot of William Butler Yeats (or so I learned at the Yeats Memorial Building, HAHA) and much like lighthouses, I have a weird obsession with waterfalls, so I was happy to make another detour.  Glencar was beautiful and like Torc Waterfall in Killarney, it had a footpath for easy access.  I spent about an hour there walking around and taking pictures and relaxing before heading on to Donegal.

 

Here are some scenes from Sligo town...

 

 

 

The place to AVOID AT ALL COSTS...

And the place to go instead :)

Sligo Abbey...

 

 

 

 

 

I haven't done many black and whites from Ireland but I just liked this better with no color...

 

 

 

My day trip down to Strandhill...

 

 

 

Shells Café... where I ate the biggest burger ever and made a new friend :)

These were taken on our walk after we left the cafe...

 

 

 

 

The stables in Grange and the path where we took the horses...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another horseback riding group came down as I was leaving and I shot these real quick...

 

 

The church where William Butler Yeats is buried...

 

 

Yeats' gravestone...

 

 

As I said, it was a very peaceful and pretty churchyard...

 

 

Looking out over Ben Bulben...

 

 

Inside the church...

 

 

This was that pretty drive I mentioned, that I happened onto right after leaving the church...

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another road, to the Glencar Waterfall...

 

 

Glencar...

 

 

One of my favorite shots around Sligo...

 

 

The next stop on my journey was another area of Ireland that completely captured my heart, Donegal.  Honestly, Donegal was just beautiful.  Disarmingly beautiful.  And it was definitely one of the places that I felt I was in "the real Ireland".  Of course, by this time in my trip, the weather was perfect, and that definitely plays a part in the way a person can see a place.  It also contributes to that feeling of "the real Ireland"... something else I'll talk about in my final post...

 

I stayed right in Donegal town for a few days and sort of wish I had stayed around in a few different spots, but Donegal town had a lot to offer and I stayed in a great B&B there.  Once again, the B&B was just a bit farther out from the center of town than I would have liked (I found that this was the one thing that B&B proprietors seemed to mislead most about on their sites) but I had a car that week so it didn't matter too much.

 

It was lucky that I had the car because once I settled in in Donegal and looked at my map and what I wanted to do, I realized that when we were in Westport I had missed a national park!  I really couldn't believe it, because we had driven right by a sign for it one day and it hadn't registered at all.  I blame Kevin for distracting me with his ridiculous driving antics.  But I didn't want to miss any Ireland's national parks, so my first order of business in Donegal was actually driving BACK to Ballycroy National Park in Westport :)  I got a chilly and windy day for that, but I still took a free foraging tour that the park offered and learned about the plantlife and landscape of Ballycroy.  Ballycroy also had a beautiful, state of the art visitors center that I really enjoyed.  Kevin thought I was nuts for going back and actually felt a bit bad that we had missed it, but once I had seen a few of them I was determined to see all 6 national parks, and I didn't want to leave knowing I had missed one.

 

The day after Ballycroy, I visited my 6th and final national park, Glenveagh National Park, in Letterkenny, co. Donegal.  I'll talk about the different national parks in my final Ireland post, but Glenveagh was beautiful and well worth the trip.  I spent the better part of a day there and could have spent a lot more.  It had a beautiful landscape; lakes and mountains and a gorgeous castle you could tour, as well as well-kept castle grounds.  You will see some Glenveagh photos below... it was definitely one of my favorite national park visits.

 

I also visited Donegal Castle, right in Donegal town, close to where I was staying.  This was another beautiful castle, although it was almost like it was cramped into the space it is in... you might see what I mean from the photos below, but the back of the castle backs right up to the river, and it is very narrow and tall from the front, with tall stone walls surrounding it.  I enjoyed it nonetheless, and right next to Donegal Castle was one of my favorite little pubs, The Olde Castle Bar.  Adorable space with beautiful stonework and old gas lamps out front... pictures below!

 

Another great bar in Donegal was the Reel Inn.  I'm sure if I had walked into this place when it was empty it would have seemed sort of lackluster and dive-y.  But this place is never empty.  They have live music and Irish step dancers every night, and it seems that it is always jam packed.  I was almost intimidated by the amount of people in there, mostly in groups or couples, no one really alone like I was.  But this was nothing new by this point in the trip, and I wanted to see the Irish dancers, so I stayed around and made friends with a few couples who were there on anniversary trips.  When the dancers asked for volunteers, one couple I had been talking to frantically pointed at me and shoved me towards the dance floor, and I was very grateful that I had had a few drinks while taking in the music.  I'm sure my step dancing partner wasn't as grateful, because I was TERRIBLE at remembering the steps... seriously, there were 80 year olds who did better than me on that dance floor.  But the craic was mighty, as they say, and I was laughing a few months ago when a woman I met that night tracked me down on Facebook and sent me some pictures she had taken of me dancing.  Hi Sharon!  :)  It was a lot of fun and I'm so glad I can say that I Irish step-danced in Ireland!

 

Donegal is home to another hidden gem that I'm going to give away now, because I love everyone who takes the time to actually read my blogs and so you guys deserve the inside scoop ;-)  I had an absolute perfect, serene, peaceful, serendipitous, relaxing, amazing evening at the Slieve League Cliffs in Donegal.  I honestly can't believe these cliffs were not listed in any of my tour books, because I honestly enjoyed visiting them more than the Cliffs of Moher.  My friend Nicole told me about them, and I decided to go up one night and photograph sunset there.  Unlike the Cliffs of Moher, these cliffs aren't overrun with tourists, and so I felt completely relaxed and happy making my way up and down the mountain to get different vantage points of the spectacular sunset that night had to offer.  Seriously, I apologize for the 400 sunset pictures below... the sky changed so much that night and I honestly couldn't pick just 2 or 3 favorites.  I went way overboard!  Sorry :)

 

Here are some photos from Donegal...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The back of Donegal Castle...

 

 

And from the front...

 

 

 

Loved this place!

 

 

 

 

 

I remember posting about this on Facebook when it happened... I was driving through Glencoumbkille, looking for the Doagh Famine Villages, when I saw this man on the side of the road cutting turf.  I had just been down at the Ballycroy National Park, where I learned a lot about turf cutting in their visitors center, and I couldn't help but find it completely fascinating.  I mean really... I am not joking... I am FASCINATED by the whole process.  So I pulled over and watched this guy for a few minutes, until he noticed me there and came over.  I asked him about how to get to Doagh, and he helpfully gave me directions.  Afterwards, I asked him if he would mind if I took a couple photos of him working on the turf.  He thought I was joking and I insisted that I was serious and that it would mean a lot to me.  He was honestly one of the friendliest people I met in all of Ireland, and so he said sure, he would let me take some photos.  He walked back towards where he had been working and he started cutting again.  He stopped and said "You know, my wife is never in 100 years going to believe me when I tell her that some American stopped and took photos of me cutting turf."  I replied "Just tell her it's for the Sexy Turf Cutters of Ireland 2014 calendar."  The photo on the right was taken right after I said that, when Francis just busted out laughing hysterically :)

 

 

 

 

Doagh Famine Village...

 

 

 

 

 

 

So about Donegal being gorgeous... um yeah... seriously... OBSESSED with it all...

 

 

 

 

 

 

This, my friends, is the most perfect beach in all of Ireland.  It is called Silver Strand Beach, and on my way to the Slieve League Cliffs, I knew I would be early for sunset and I had some time to kill.  I saw the signs for Silver Strand and decided to make a quick detour.  Thank God I did, because I am telling you... this was the most beautiful beach I saw in all of Ireland.

 

I'm going to go ahead and throw my friend's husband under the bus here, but I hope he'll understand that I'm just doing it for story purposes :)  When Mel and Marc came to visit me in Ireland, we were driving one day and ended up on a beach in Lahinch (a beach Kevin and I returned to a few days later and I blogged some sunset pictures from)... it was a windy day and we got out of the car to take a few pictures, and Marc (one of the smartest people I know, FYI) made a comment about seeing the beach in Ireland and how it was great to see a beach while they were there, since there wasn't a lot of them around.  I honestly remember stopping and being like "Wait, what?"  HAHA his comment caught me so off guard that I didn't know what to say... I think I responded, "Marc, you're on an island... there are beaches EVERYWHERE here!"  And he backtracked a bit and clarified what he said, and then the topic was dropped.  But it got me thinking about my friends Lauren and Chris, who had thought about going to Ireland for their honeymoon but were told by friends and family that they needed to go somewhere beachy... why don't people associate Ireland, a small ISLAND country, with beaches?  They are literally everywhere and I walked on so many of them, saw so many more through the window of the bus en route to a new destination, etc... why don't people consider Ireland a "beachy place"?  And then it hit me: the weather.  Yes, there are gorgeous beaches everywhere you turn in Ireland.  But you know what there's NOT?  Gorgeous weather lol.  It's not all that often there that the weather gets higher than 75 degrees, and it's not like weather in America... my other friend Melissa, from Galway, said it herself... it's very rare to be able to spend the day at the beach like you can in America, because most likely at some point in the day it's going to rain and ruin your beach fun.  And honestly, I wish I had taken a picture of it, but I remember being on a different beach in Clifden and seeing a grandfather sitting in a beach chair watching his grandkids... WEARING A SWEATER, JACKET, AND WOOL CAP lol... so my point is that yes, Ireland has beautiful beaches EVERYWHERE... but to utilize them you really have to make sure to plan your trip in the summer months, don't count on the weather completely, and probably best to always bring a cover-up... and an umbrella :)

 

Now, of course I didn't get to see all the beaches in Ireland, but out of all the pretty beaches I did get to see, Silver Strand definitely took the award for most beautiful and my favorite.  Let's start off by saying that there were sheep lining the walkway to go down to the beach.  SHEEP LINING THE BEACH WALKWAY!!!  I just can't... when you got to the end of the walkway, you are on top of a long set of stairs taking you down to the sand, and the view is just heaven.  This is really just perfect color water and perfect sand, placed in a perfect cove with waterfalls peppering the cliffs of the cove around you.  It literally took my breath away.  I walked down to the water, kicked my shoes off and waded in... and the water was actually really warm. Not surprising, cause like I said, this place was heaven :)  Someone else must have thought so too, since there was an Irish singer filming a music video while I was there!  The videographer actually saw me with my big camera and came over to chat during a break on his shoot.  Blue Moon Productions out of Belfast... such a nice guy and it was very surreal to be on a beach in Ireland with my feet in the water, listening to the strumming of a guitar and watching sheep eat around the stairs to the beach lol....

 

Here are some shots of my favorite beach in the world!

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was after I left the beach and headed over to the cliffs...

 

 

The next 100 pictures are the sunset that night at the Slieve League Cliffs :)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sheep silhouette :)

 

 

These are from when I drove back to Ballycroy National Park... so technically, they should be on the Westport blog post... but since I drove back from Donegal to go there, I'm putting them on here :)

 

This is Glenveagh National Park, my final national park visit, and definitely a favorite!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More from around Donegal...

 

 

 

 

 

 

The obligatory feet in the water photo...

 

 

Another unexpected side trip I ended up making was to Malin Head, the most northerly point in Ireland.  I had been to Mizen Head, the most southerly point, and so I figured it was only fitting that I visit the most northern point as well.  This was another spot that seemed to be a hidden secret... I mean, clearly it's not, but once again it was just me up there enjoying the gorgeous day on my own, not another tourist in sight... I loved places like that!

 

 

 

 

On the way out of Malin Head...

 

 

I sat for a few minutes on this rocky beach near Malin Head... I know it sounds like I was always sitting places by myself having a moment haha... and in some ways, I was!  Among the millions of things it offers you, I'd say the most special, the most abundant gift Ireland can give you is peace of mind, body and soul... and as cheesy as it sounds, I was happy to receive that gift.

 

 

 

 

 

Next up on the blog: my week in Northern Ireland:  Portstewart, Derry and Belfast!  :)