Archive | May, 2014

Our Final Nights: Galway

29 May


We left Ring of Kerry with the intention of getting dinner and heading to Galway that evening. We realized that Bunratty Castle (and more importantly, Durty Nellys) was on the way. For those of you who don’t know – Durtys is a bar in Boston, and Mike Barrett (guy who plays at the pig -where Nick and I met) plays there, too. We figured we’d head in to pay a homage to Boston, just in time to find out that they stop serving dinner at 10 (it was 10:15). We sojourned on to Galway, keeping a lookout for any open restaurant – nada. Nothing. Zip.

We basically tore each other’s heads off all the way to Galway (two MORE hours of driving????) and made it to a B&B that we had booked ahead of time (to avoid a night like Thurles from happening again). I eagerly tore into a bag of cookies in the room, and finally took a second to look around – this place was incredible. It was technically in Salthill, which is known to the locals (apparently, so we heard) as the “Gold Coast of Galway.” The room was gigantic, with a huge, plush California King sized bed… oh, and a second bed in the corner. The bathroom rivaled the one at Graceland, and the carpet was so plush I thought I was walking on marshmallows. Our windows looked out over the bay… and I’m sure I would have noticed more, if I hadn’t immediately sprawled out on top of the bed and fell asleep.


The next morning we woke up to the sweetest woman cooking food – we got in after she had already fallen asleep, and she wanted to know how our trip was. We wanted to say “please, we haven’t eaten in 12 hours, we are about to knock you over to get at some yogurt. Try me after breakfast,” but we were able to muster polite conversation – for about a minute. Toast came and I shoved a piece in my mouth as fast as I possibly could – no regrets.

We spent our time in Galway relaxing. We had such a crazy week that we wanted our last few days to just be simple and easy. We explored the city, including Eyre Square and Church Street. It finally rained for real, so we escaped the weather in a little bar with some beer (and my first Irish Coffee).


We did a lot of shopping while we were there – there was a pretty touristy open air market that I got some jewelry from, and Nick finally bought a sweater.


We explored the Latin Quarter, the Spanish Arch, and Nick FINALLY got his Shepherd’s Pie. FINALLY I DON’T HAVE TO HEAR ABOUT IT ANY MORE.


I think 1 week is a good limit of vacation. I think after that you tend to… get sick… of people.

Anyway, we spent the next evening in Galway, too. We went in search of good music, but we found out that it was the football finals (disclaimer: not a sports fan), so a lot of bars were showing that instead of live entertainment. Stupid.

We did find a wonderful place to drink and listen, and we did just that. ~15 Guinness and 5 whiskey gingers later, we had to leave and head back to our final night in Ireland. After probably the scariest cab ride of my life (I kept forgetting that they drive on the left side of the road…), we finally made it home.


We were leaving the next morning, but not after Nick got his last full Irish (and I fell in love with smoked salmon). We packed up, took some Excedrin, and dragged our hungover butts to the airport. It was a very, very, very bittersweet moment – especially once we realized that once you pass through security and customs, there were no bars in the airport! We grabbed a little bottom on wine and quickly chugged it before our flight – nothing like a little hair of the dog to set you straight. It was the perfect way to leave Ireland – sort of drunk, a little hungry, and ready to watch Dallas Buyer’s Club on the plane.




28 May

We spent one night in Connemara while we were in Ireland. Nick has some family up there, so we spent some time visiting and exploring the area. The house we stayed in was on an island in Carna, which is an absolute gorgeous area. It was so quiet and empty – it seemed absolutely barren and such a change from the cities we had been spending our time in.

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We went out for a nice seafood dinner, spent a ton of time catching up (and skyping with the rest of the family!), and drinking some beer. We went to sleep pretty early and slept in late – the rest of our trip had just exhausted us.

The next morning we got up, had some breakfast, and headed out. We noticed how much smaller the roads were in this area compared to others… the roads were perfectly sized for one car, and every quarter mile there was an area to pull off so cars could pass each other. The main roads were a little bigger, but still barely big enough for two cars.


As we admired the scenery, we realized something terrifying – we were in the middle of a bike race! It wasn’t so bad because they were in the other lane – the bikers were good about moving over so the car could pass. And then something terrifying happened: two cows walked out into the street. They started charging towards the bikers, got spooked, turned and charged towards us. We were absolutely convinced they were going to run straight into us when at the last second they turned and ran off the road.

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After a little panic attack, we got back to driving. We passed the bike race – only to see them a mile later, this time going our direction! It was terrifying considering what would happen if one of them were to fall and get hurt.

They turned off to the left pretty quickly, thank goodness. But about a mile later, they crossed our paths again – this time, coming from the right and going to the left! We had absolutely NO IDEA where they were coming from or where they were going.

As soon as we were able to get away from them, we took off and headed to Galway.

Ring of Kerry

25 May

We left our terrible time in Thurles optimistically, knowing that no matter how bad our day became it would definitely be better than how the night went. We went to the Ring of Kerry, which is a scenic drive in the southwestern part of the country. It boasts that it is the “most famous” scenic drives, and now I completely understand why. The drive takes place on the Iveragh peninsula, which affords views of beautiful farm-land filled mointains bordering the coast.

We had planned on hiking large parts of the ring, but when we woke up in Thurles I felt as if I had a terrible head cold, complete with a miserable sore throat. Even after a long search for tea with honey (which is not something they drink here, apparently), I was pretty cranky for the entire day. Because I’m miserable when I’m sick, we didn’t spend an incredible amount of time outside. It took us about five hours to complete the whole ring, three of driving (it’s 134 miles) and two hours of exploring.

The drive takes you around Macgillycuddy’s Peaks. Our first stop was the Gap of Dunloe – we hiked to see a beautiful mountain pass with a lake. We found tons of mountain goats and other fun little creatures on our way.


Next, we grabbed lunch in a town called Killorglin – nothing special to note about it, but I think that’s what made the town so precious – it was just a very stereotypical Irish town, which was surprisingly not overrun with tourists.


We passed some peat bogs and tiny towns with old old houses – some with thatched roofs. We passed through tons of tiny villages, many of which survive off tourism. As we wound through mountains, we came up on Commakesta Pass which overlooks some of the small islands just off the coast. What we didn’t know, however, is that this particular pass has an absolutely insane sustained wind – we tried taking pictures but we were no match for nature.


The town we drove through after the pass was named Sneem – it’s apparently known for it’s bright, rainbow coloured houses, but to me it looked like a typical town.


You then enter the National Park, and there are some absolutely gorgeous sites. You can see the other side of the pass we saw before, and a pretty awesome waterfall. There’s a lot of hiking up here, but we didn’t have a chance to do a ton of it.

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All in all it was an absolutely gorgeous drive, and I wish we could have spent days hiking the area. Maybe next time!


25 May

We left Dublin with our eyes set on Ring of Kerry. We knew it would be a long drive to make all at once, so we figured we could stop in a little town along the way for the night. We were not prepared for what was ahead of us…

We pulled off the road at about 10:30 in this little town named Thurles (pronounced thur-LES, which is next to a town named Horse and Jockey, so that’s already strange). We saw a couple B&Bs… all were closed or had no vacancies. We desperately went to a bar looking for a place, and the bartender sweetly offered to stay late so that if we didn’t find a place to stay we would at least have a place to drink. He sent us down the road a bit, and through our sleepy eyes we saw the most glorious sight – “B&B – vacancies”.

We stepped in to the diviest bar I have ever seen (that’s saying a lot), and were met with stares from the patrons – all in their 5th or 6th decade of life, all too drunk to stand. We made a beeline for the bartender, and asked if she had an open room for the night. She replied with a hesitant “yeah… if you really want it…” we graciously accepted and she handed the key over. Nick offered to bring the luggage in, and I offered to stay out of his way and grab a couple beers.

I sat back and watched the crowd. None of the women were wearing shoes (although one was wearing sunglasses indoors), the men could barely string coherent sentences together, and the bartender was desperately running around trying to get the patrons to stop smoking indoors. There was a jukebox that apparently only played Meatloaf (well, that’s all that the woman in sunglasses would allow to play), and one man was standing in the middle of the floor dancing (well, more like graceful falling). We were exhausted and weary from traveling – we didn’t want to make friends, we didn’t want to talk to locals, we wanted to drink and sleep. One man was going to each woman, leaning on her heavily, and saying in a thick Irish brogue – “but what do you really think the meaning of life is?” Yikes.

We were so exhausted that we slugged back our drinks and went to the room. The air tasted like stale smoke and beer. The walls were paper thin. The bed was itchy. The breakfast the next morning was horrendous- it was a “full Irish buffet” that had been sitting on hot plates for at least two days – Nick’s favorite complaint is that he has “eaten cold beans out of a can that were better than that entire meal.” But honestly, we were so exhausted from the day that we were just grateful anyone took us in. It was the kindness of that sweet bartender that refueled our passion for traveling (and the patrons that made us want to drive far and fast away from that place the next morning). We woke up feeling absolutely horrendous, with sore throats and headaches, loaded the car up and took one last look at the place we called home for only a few hours – and we saw it. There, on the side of the building, was the name of the bar. “BARRETTS.” That’s right, even in the middle of nowhere in Ireland, Barrett is there to save our lives – for those who don’t know, that’s the name of a guy we regularly go to see play music at the bar where Nick and I met. Just like our Barrett, this place was borderline terrifying but made us keep going when we were down. Thanks Mike!


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23 May

Today was Dublin! Unfortunately our cameras were dead so I couldn’t take a ton of pictures…

We stayed in a B&B just North of the city last night. We rolled in about 11 pm, and were greeted by the sassiest elderly woman I have ever laid eyes on. She saw that we were weary travelers and offered us some tea – “that sounds wonderful!” “Well, you can figure out how to make it yourselves.” Her son(?) led us to the room – a queen bed, two twin beds, and a crib. Excessive.

We took off early in the morning and headed to Dublin. The woman at the B&B let us leave our car there and we braved public transportation for our trip.

We got into Dublin by about 10 (still too early to drink by my standards), and headed towards Trinity College. We took a fascinating tour of the college and library, and we were able to see the Book of Kells, which was pretty awesome.

From there we headed towards St. Patrick’s Cathedral, but we wandered into Dublin Castle first. Both boasted amazing architecture and were just absolutely stunning.

Next stop: Guinness. I already have a fairly good understanding of how beer is created, so we skipped the actual tour component. We wandered through the Storehouse, exploring the qualities that make Guinness so unique. We learned how to “pour a perfect pint, ” and I actually enjoyed drinking it. The top of the storehouse gives a panoramic view of the city, which was wonderful for planning our next trip.

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We figured that we had just spent three hours drinking (don’t worry, we ate too), we should head over to Jameson to keep the buzz going. Nick enjoyed a whiskey flight… I enjoyed not having one. The scenery (read: cute bartenders) was good enough for me.

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We headed to Brazen Head, which is the oldest licenced pub in Ireland. It was definitely interesting – it had the feel of an old bar but had recent decorations up. After a quick pint (surrounded by Americans), we trekked to Temple Bar for another – but not after stopping to check out Christchurch. They were having an event so we couldn’t actually go in, but we were able to admire the architecture and grounds from the outside. The area of Dublin that cathedral is in is known as the Medieval section, and the buildings definitely demonstrate why – they are all reminiscent of that era.


(Yes, I had most of a Guinness at Brazen Head!)

The Temple Bar district was super cool- it’s an area downtown Dublin that is sort of like the Fenway area in Boston – the road is 99% pedestrians, 1% cars, bars in every direction, and musicians on every corner doing awesome covers of terrible songs.


We puttered around the area, explored the Dublin bar scene, and grabbed some drinks. We headed back to the B&B on what was probably the most terrifying bus ride of our lives… we sat in the front row of a double decker. Every time we were behind a car it appeared as if we were mere inches behind them, and Nick and I did our best not to scream. After 45 minutes of terror, we were dropped off at the B&B and safely headed to our next destination.

Northern Ireland

22 May

Today has been an absolute whirlwind of a day – we woke up at the castle, had a quick breakfast (I had my first taste of smoked salmon – delicious), packed up, and headed towards Northern Ireland.

We set out for what was suposed to be a three hour drive, but it ended up taking much much longer. As we drove, the scenery around us changed… which means I had to get out of the car multiple times to take pictures. Here’s a valley between Killeter Forest and the Blue Stack Moutains that I just absolutely had to get out of the car to stare at.


We eventually made it to Northern Ireland and somehow managed to find ourselves just around the corner from Bushmills Distillery (so Nick says, I still think he planned the whole thing). The sky opened up and it started pouring as soon as we got to the distillery, so we took it as a sign from the Irish gods that we had to go in and at least have a look around.


Well, we got in just a few minutes before a tour began (and were able to get in with old student ids for a reduced price, awesome!) and went on to explore the distillery (and taste some whiskey). Big surprise, but I still don’t love straight whiskey. I let Nick finish my glass, and we moved on to our next Northern stop.

We went to Giant’s Causeway, which is a cool rock formation formed by volcanic activity/lava flows. It’s a series of octagonal shaped rocks that look like steps right out of the water. There’s a great story about an old giant who created the causeway, but frankly I don’t have the attention span for that. Google it if you’re interested. We hiked all around the causeway, until we found an area where the path abruptly ended because rock slides destroyed it from going further… that was enough adventure for me. The views on the hike back were absolutely stunning; I could have stared at the cliffs/causeway/ocean view for the rest of the week here – but we had to get moving on, so I couldn’t.

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Our next stop was the rope bridge on the causeway, but as we drove between the two sites Nick spotted something interesting (and adorable) in the road. He found a newborn lamb in the road! It was so tiny and helpless, bleating out to it’s parents who were safely inside of a pen. When we realized how young it was (the umbilical cord was still hanging there and everything,) Nick insisted on doing the nice thing and trying to save it. Well, he corralled it up, and it tried suckling on his knee… once he was able to redirect it, he was able to lift it back into it’s enclosure to be back with it’s family. They bleated like crazy, and we got out of there fast.


The rope bridge was closed when we got to it. It used to be used by fishermen who wanted to get off the mainland and to one of the islands to fish. We hiked down to it anyway, and got a chance to see more of Ireland’s impressive coast.

After the rope bridge, we explored around Northern Ireland and headed down towards Dublin. We had mentioned to each other that we were hungry at around 6 when we were on the causeway, and we started to look for a restaurant around 7 when we started our drive south – we probably passed about 50 places that were either closed, boarded up, or obvious fronts for strip clubs. At about 8:30 we finally found one open restaurant, a crappy hole in the wall Chinese place. While we debated the pros and cons of eating Irish Chinese food, our hunger pains forced us into the 5’x5’ store front. Several minutes later, we happily ate sweet and sour chicken served with french fries and discussed that we should never, ever go 12 hours without eating a meal again.

Markree Castle

21 May


We arrived at the castle Sunday evening, around 4. As we went to drop our things off, I saw a giant bouqet of flowers – “I didn’t want to get you graduation flowers that you’d have to carry around all day, so instead I got you flowers at a castle.” I’m so spoiled.


We started exploring around the castle during the last bit of rain – it’s exactly what you’d expect from a castle, complete with roaring fireplace, stained glass windows, turrets, etc.. The rooms are adorable and provide amazing views of the grounds – here’s the view from one of our windows.


After exploring the grounds a little bit (and coming startlingly close to a deer), we headed into a local town (Strandhill) for dinner. The chef at the castle recommonded it to us because “the wings there are savage.” We headed into this place expecting an absolute dive in a pretty neighborgood, and instead we found an upscale restaurant looking over a golf course and the ocean. Little did we know it, but we would be treated to a rare site – a sunset in Ireland! Nick said that the last time he was here he didn’t see one at all (it’s always so cloudy), so we soaked it in as much as we can… and then we realized how big of a mistake that was. The sun sets here at about 10 pm. We were wondering why we were literally one of the last tables in the restaurant – I guess normal people have jobs they have to get to on Monday.


The next morning we ate our full Irish breakfast (complete with black pudding – gross), and headed to Sligo to go hiking, based on one of our concierge’s recommendations. When we arrived to the location she sent us, it ended up just being a parking lot and a picnic table – not much of a hike. We figured instead we should just head into Sligo and explore what that town has to offer – we explored the old Abbey, and heard a ton of history on their burial grounds (which was awesome), saw the cathedral, river… and of course found a few pubs. Interestingly enough, one of the pubs offered Irish craft beer – We’re already looking in to where we can find it in America.

After Sligo, we came home and hiked on castle grounds. We found a ton of sheep, a fox, and a very very curious, very very large horse. We saw some old ruins and attempted to hike towards them – instead what we found was the old rock wall and moat that used to surround the castle. We didn’t dare cross it, so instead we just hiked the old grounds until dinner.


We ate like kings at the castle. I wont bore with the details, but the crab salad and smoked salmon, crispy duck breast and seared pork belly were absolutely incredile (and the portions were MASSIVE). I finished with dark chocolate ganache served with coffee foam and hazelnut praline – I could eat that forever. Something I found interesting is that all of the meat they serve in house is meat that they get from the grounds… meaning the lamb shanks being served were the ones being fattened in the fields.

Anyway, we split a bottle of wine, some hot whiskey by the fire, and then I was down for the count. Now today (Tuesday? I think) we are headed to Northern Ireland – wish us luck!