Monday, April 04, 2011

Back Home from Ireland

I don't know that I will ever excel at writing a summary for a long trip post-trip. It's why I upload and tag photos on a daily basis (when possible) while traveling. If I don't do it immediately, I start to lose information and the little details that are most memorable.

(For the TL;DR crowd, here is a link to the photos and videos from the trip.)

Our trip to Ireland was about 8-9 days long once you chop off the days of travel. Flying Aer Lingus was a pleasant experience. The flight over was more turbulent than coming home, but nothing extreme. We flew in and out of Dublin which was pretty stress free as well. Returning, it seemed as though we went through eight thousand security screenings due to U.S. Customs and Immigration conducting preclearance at DUB, but overall it was probably less time than we've spent in the security line at MCO or LAX. Plus, it meant when we landed at ORD, we could head straight to pick up our luggage and get on the road. This is definitely a perk after a 7-hour flight. (We also landed early both directions. Bonus.)

Our first two days were spent in Northern Ireland. We couch-surfed with a family in Irvinestown who were beyond accommodating and lavished attention on the Boy since it was his birthday. We went to Belleek, the Ulster American Folk Park, and the Giant's Causeway. We also stopped at the Caldwell Castle ruins when we stumbled upon them. That was our general itinerary during our trip. We had general ideas of where we would be staying, but we didn't really have a list of places or sights to visit. This way, at least to me, we didn't feel like we were missing out or cramming our days full of activity. If we saw something interesting while driving, we stopped.

After Irvinestown, we drove down to Galway. Another couch-surfer lended us the use of their apartment while they were gone, so we had a base camp in Galway for four days. We ventured south to see the Burren and the Aran Islands, and we stayed in town one day as well.

By the fourth day in Galway, we were ready to move on to Dublin. We had our last two nights booked in a hotel, but we decided to fill the gap at a hotel somewhere between Galway and Dublin to make the rental car drop-off less stressful Friday morning. We ended up at the Bloomfield House Hotel in Mullingar, Ireland. It was very reasonably priced, perfectly located, and super accommodating. I think the funniest thing we experienced while in Ireland was electricity in hotel rooms. You have to place and leave a room key in a slot to activate the electricity to the room. This wasn't explained to us when we checked in, so it took a few phone calls to the front desk to figure it out. Fortunately, we were old pros at it by the time we checked in to the hotel in Dublin.

Speaking of Dublin, I think it is a city I could grow to love, but that is very hard to do in a day and a half when you have fellow travelers to take into consideration. At the end of a somewhat long trip, aches and pains and lack of routine can start to settle in. Everyone could probably use some solo time, too. We opted for the bus tour of Dublin, which was a great idea. It gives you a full review of the layout of the town and popular tourist destinations, so when you get a chance to explore on foot, you have a better idea of where to wander. I enjoyed the pedestrian-only area (Grafton Street) in Dublin as well as in Galway. I think it is a concept that could be used more in the U.S. (As well as roundabouts. We figured them out. No one in the U.S. knows how to deal with 4-way stops or actually comes to complete stops anyway, so why not make them roundabouts?)

All in all, it was a good trip. I would love to go back. Obviously we didn't explore even a third of the country. I don't know if I would opt for a rental car on the next trip or a combination of train and bus. (I definitely wouldn't use Europcar again. Way too pricey and shady.) Almost without exception the people were kind and interested in helping make your experience the best. The restaurants and stores focused on local and organic foods, and if you are out of the bigger cities, it is very peaceful. You should definitely add Ireland to your list of places to visit if it isn't already there.