Europe Trip: Ireland

I’m finally back from my four-week holiday in Ireland, Scotland and Italy. Since I can’t go back in time, blogging is the next-best way to relive the trip.

Originally I wanted to go to Iceland, but in the end I swapped one letter and decided to book an organised trip with Intrepid Travel to Ireland instead. I always wanted to go anyway. My trip began with a couple of hiccups: I left a book at the Melbourne Airport, and because of flight schedule change my luggage got delayed in London. Then I somehow managed to lose one of my socks during the night at the hostel in Belfast; at least I had a spare pair in my carry-on backpack. Speaking of hostels, I’ve decided that I’m officially too old for this shit. Not necessarily hostels themselves, but sharing a room with a bunch of strangers and climbing up a bunk bed? No thank you!

You never know what your group will turn out to be like, but we had a really good one, just seven people including myself, a mix of Aussies and Americans. Also, it made a big difference to have an Irish group leader; I loved my time in Scotland and Italy, but it was great to explore a country through the eyes of someone who knows it well.

Favourite meal: rich Irish home-style stew I had on our farewell dinner in Dublin. Also, full Irish breakfast with sausage and black pudding is pretty awesome, if mighty filling.

Fridge magnet count: 4

Favourite pub: Crown Liquor Saloon in Belfast, fabulously ornate establishment decorated by Italian craftsmen.

Most valuable wardrobe item on the trip: down parka I borrowed from my Mum. I sorta knew that northern Europe wasn’t going to be warm in June, but the cold still came as a bit of a shock.

Did the trip make me like Guinness: No

Belfast

I really liked Belfast. It’s hard to explain its appeal; it’s not a pretty or showy city, but it has a very distinctive vibe and a sort of edginess, perhaps the stamp left by its very complicated past and present. Titanic Museum is a fairly recent attraction there and it’s a genuinely impressive exhibition, telling not just the story of the ill-fated ship, but also Belfast, where it was built. There was an unexpected theme park-style ride through the “shipyard”, and a giant auditorium dedicated to the haunting underwater footage of the shipwreck.

Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones has given a big boost to the tourism in Northern Ireland. We visited a couple of locations from the show: Ballintoy Harbour, which doubled for the Iron Islands, and Dark Hedges, an eerie avenue of beech trees seen in Season 2.

Giant’s Causeway and Cliffs of Moher

Irish coast boasts some truly spectacular spots, and these two were the big standouts for me. Though I realised that I had the Cliffs of Moher and the Cliffs of Dover in England all mixed up in my head; my first reaction was, um where are the white cliffs? On the way to the Giant’s Causeway, we stopped at Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, which is also very scenic (and a tad nerve-wracking to cross in windy conditions).

Aran Islands and Galway

I’ve never heard of Aran Islands before, but it turned out to be a great day trip out of Galway, made even better by fine weather and bright blue skies (funnily enough, our best weather in Ireland happened in a place where it almost never happens). On the Inis Mór island, there are 14 tiny villages, colonies of seals, and about 4,000 miles of endless rock fences. The main attraction is the prehistoric stone fort Dún Aonghasa, which offers great views and zero OHS measures, with a terrifying sheer drop that’s completely unfenced. I won’t lie, it was kinda nice being in a scenic place without the usual hand-holding. Aran Islands are also famous for their unique knitwear, which was a tad too expensive for me and did absolutely nothing for my figure either.

Unfortunately we didn’t get to spend much time in Galway, but I liked what I saw of its artsy, funky centre, with loads of street performers on every corner.

Ring of Kerry

County Kerry is considered to be the most “Irish” part of Ireland, less influenced by the English than the north and with one of the most impenetrable regional Irish accents. We weren’t as lucky with the weather on this day trip from Killarney, but it was still a memorable day that had a bit of everything: lush green countryside, sheepdog demonstration, ancient stone forts, and delicious Baileys hot chocolate. In the evening, we enjoyed Celtic Steps, a show of Irish music and dancing with a refreshingly casual vibe.

Dublin

Our train journey to Dublin was an experience; every carriage was full of loud chattering girls and women piling on make-up. As it turned out, they were on their way to Dublin to see Spice Girls reunion concert. I was offering thanks for my noise-cancelling earphones, that’s for sure.

I was glad to have an extra day in Dublin after our tour was officially over, because there’s a lot to see. I got talked into going to the Guinness Storehouse, which was a very well-organised attraction whether you have any interest in Guinness or not. I also spent quite a bit of time around the Trinity College, where you can see the Book of Kells, a beautifully illustrated 9th century manuscript, and the Long Room, the most amazing old library I’ve ever seen.

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