An October 2002 trip
to Ireland by Carmen
Quote: My travel friend and I took a trip to Ireland in October of 2002, and really enjoyed the Emerald Isle. We learned some tips that I thought would be helpful for other first-time travelers, as well as info on our tour company, rental car company, etc.
1. Kissing the Blarney Stone in County Cork. A must-do! Fun fun fun!
2. Lunch in Kinsale -- the gourmet capital of Ireland, for a good reason.
3. Staying in Drumoland Castle So what that it wasn't a "real," old castle. It was rebuilt from an old castle, and it was quite luxurious.
4. *****The Dingle Peninsula**** -- Quite possibly my favorite place in all of Ireland. Beautiful countryside, and exactly what you expect Ireland to look like.
5. Shopping in Galway -- and finding my Claddaugh ring.
6. St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin. Lighting a candle and saying a silent prayer.
7. Guinness Storehouse in Dublin. Free pint, need I say more?
1. Bring your own washcloths. Some B&Bs and hotels offer them, some don't.
2. Request an automatic rental car. One less thing to worry about on the narrow roads.
3. Roundabouts. LOOK TO YOUR RIGHT as you enter, yeild to traffic in the circle.
4. When driving, have a driver and a navigator, to help you know in advance what "exit" you get off on the roundabouts. And, to help you look for roadsigns.
5. There aren't many roadsigns. ;)
6. Plan LOTS of extra time at the airport when you leave to do some last-minute shopping and turn in your duty-free forms
7. Walk or take a cab or bus in Dublin. Don't drive.
8. Book your B&Bs in advance, if you can.
These are just a few of the most important tips I could think of, see the journals for more.
Make sure to plan time for that when heading to the airport. It took us about 20 minutes just to find the duty-free window, then we stood in the wrong line for 10, then we stood in the right line for about 10. You have to fill out lots of forms and such, so have a pen handy.
I had about $70 of purchases and received about $5 back on my credit card. Not the biggest refund in the world, but $5 is $5.
Day two of our trip, I came down with a sore throat. I blame the germs on the much-kissed Blarney Stone, but my friend says it had been harboring itself longer than that. Whatever. My story sounds better. :)
Anyway, we found the national sign for a pharmacy, a green cross in some little town whose name I can't remember on our trip to Galway. The chemist heard my 1-900 sexy voice and immediately felt sorry for me. I told him that in the States, I usually have a nose spray decongestant and some Nyquill. He knew exactly what I needed and soon I had my souvenir Irish over-the-counter drugs. Something called Night Nurse and an Afrin-like nose spray, as well as some throat lozenges. He was a beautiful man.
The kicker is that I got all this for around 11 euro, much cheaper than I could have gotten any medice if I would have bought it in the States. While it didn't cure the cold, it helped me continue to enjoy my vacation, where I would have otherwise been miserable. I highly recommend the Irish chemist!
They offered some pre-arranged tours, but nothing fit our needs. However, they were willing to work with us to customize our fly/drive tour. They set up everything. All we had to do was decide what we wanted to see and get ourselves there.
Here's what was included in our tour through Sceptre.
1. Connecting flights from National Airport to JFK
2. Round trip airfare on Aer Lingus. We flew into Shannon and out of Dublin.
3. Our first night hotel stay in Drumoland Castle, about 10 miles from Shannon Airport.
4. Our last night's stay in Jury's Custom House in Dublin. 3-star hotel.
5. B&B vouchers for the three nights in between. We could select our B&B from any of those listed in the B&B guide we were sent - a total of about 2000 in the book.
5 1/2. Irish breakfast was included with each night's stay.
6. Rental car with automatic transmission.
The total cost was about $800 per person, and that was on Oct. 16 - the day the fares dropped from the summer highs. From talking with others, it seemed a fair price for all-inclusive (except meals) but we could've possibly done better. However, it was nice to have everything taken care of.
The company was good enough to deal with, though they did send all the tickets and such to my travelling buddy, when it was I who had booked the tour, but other than that, everything was as we expected upon arrival.
I would recommend them as a start for either a self-drive tour, as we did, or a formal tour bus tour. They even offer golf tours.
I'd recommend Sceptre to my friends.
I found it nice to know at least where we were staying, and then we could be flexible in what we saw around that area that day. We did meet up with a couple that were just "winging it" and with all the B&Bs that we saw I'm sure they managed to find rooms each day. However, I would prefer to use that time seeing the sights rather than going from B&B to find a vacancy. That's just my two cents of advice. :) In addition, we had requested ensuite rooms, with private baths. I believe, for less money, you can find accommodations with a shared bathroom, though I found ensuite to be more convenient.
Another tip -- depending on the B&B, some of them provide towels and washcloths, some provide just towels. Of the 6 nights we were there, two of the accomodations didn't have washcloths. I was advised to go to Wal-Mart and buy a bunch of washcloths for $5 and roll them up in my shoes and such in the suitcase to take them with me. I'm glad I was told that, because as I mentioned I needed them twice. Then, when you're done, just throw them out or leave them in the bathroom, so you don't have to take wet washcloths with you. They only cost you about 50 cents a piece, so no problem.
Here are some of the B&Bs we stayed in, with a mini review of each and a link to the full review.
1. Daly's House - Doolin, County Clare: This was our first B&B experience, and it was a cozy one. The house was a little hard to find - off the beaten path, but walking distance to the local pub with Irish music. Friendly family, good food, average size room ensuite with its own batheroom. On a scale of 1-10, Daly's was a 7. Read the full review entry.
2. St. Judes - Galway: This was our best B&B stay during our trip. The house was beautiful and very big, the room was large enough for two twin beds and one full, it had it's own bathroom with a towel warmer, a view out the window to a rose garden, and a heater (a lot of the B&Bs were on the chilly side.) St. Judes was a 9 out of 10. Read the full review entry.
3. Seefin - Dublin: It was really hard to find a B&B close to the City Centre in Dublin, so we stayed in the first one we found with availability. The rooms were small, and I believe there were only 3 rooms for guests in the whole house. If our beds were any closer together, we'd have been married. You couldn't even turn around to put your pants on. The hostess was nice enough, but not overly friendly. Seefin was a 4 out of 10. Read the full review entry.
It's better to have a driver and a navigator, so the navigator can look for the miniscule - and often absent - road signs, while yelling "Stay left, look right!" to the driver, in case she forgets.
We agreed that the most thrilling part of driving in Ireland was on the part of the passenger. You always think (being on the left side of the car while driving on the left side of the road) that you're going to hit something on the side of the rather narrow Irish roads. And the roads are very narrow, especially so in the countryside, less so in the big cities like Galway and Dublin. One road we ended up on could only fit one car, and had stone walls on both sides! The roads are also quite winding.
Also beware, that people in Ireland don't have parking garages, and we only saw one parking lot the entire time. They just stop on the road, either side, with their car pointed either way - doesn't matter. This makes your lane even more narrow.
For roundabouts, try to decide before you get there whether your road is the first, second or third exit, and get in the appropriate lane. For example, if your exit is first, stay in the left lane. If you're exit is second or third, get in the right lane (or middle and right lanes if a bigger road.) Make sure to yield to traffic in the circle, which means LOOK TO YOUR RIGHT. Once it's clear, enter carefully, watching that everyone isn't really in the appropriate lanes and going every which way, and exit when appropriate. We were told to stay in the circle if we missed our turn. I'm not sure that's possible, but we tried our darndest.
For road signs, don't expect much. We relied a lot on our intuition - getting lost only when we second guessed ourselves. Don't be afraid to ask for directions, many times, because Irish folks, while well-meaning, aren't the best at giving directions. We found that taxi drivers were the best folks to ask.
The maximum speed limit on the main roads is 60 miles per hour, 30-40 miles per hour on the smaller roads, and there are encouraging signs everywhere that tell you how many people have died on the roads in that county this year and to think about your driving. I'd go much slower on the twisty turns, least a big truck be coming the other way. That was the scariest part for me!
The best thing I did to prepare for my driving trip was visit this web site: AA Route Planner. The site lets you enter your destinations and gives pretty good directions (better than you'll get from an Irishman!) Even if the road doesn't have a name, it'll give you estimated time on that road, the towns you'll pass through, etc.
Note to rental car drivers -- GET THE FULL INSURANCE! With the narrow roads, the bad drivers, the twisty turns, the stone walls on both sides, and being an American driver, the $20 a day for the insurance will save you over the scratches and nicks you'll inevitably put on the car.
County Clare, Ireland This journal tells all about my exploits in Doolin, the home of Irish music -- which includes our first Irish pub experience in O'Connors pub. There is also a journal describing the majestic Cliffs of Moher, that plummet 700 feet into the Atlantic Ocean. I also talk about two accommodations, Daly's House in Doolin and the 5-star hotel/castle we stayed in, Drumoland, in Newmarket-on-Fergus near the Shannon Airport.
County Cork, Ireland County Cork is home of probably the most touristy of attractions, the Blarney Stone at the Blarney Castle. Climb to the top and pucker up to kiss the stone and receive your reward of eloquence. About 20 minutes south of the Blarney Castle, is the "Gourmet Capital" of Ireland, Kinsale.
County Kerry, Ireland My favorite place in the whole country, Dingle Peninsula, is on the western coast of Ireland in County Kerry. It's the most picturesque area I saw, mountains on the left, the Atlantic to the right and rolling hills with sheep grazing in the center.
Galway, Ireland Galway is the "Capital of the West" and is a shopping mecca. We shopped on Quay Street, a shopping area blocked of for pedestrians, and stayed at what we considered to be the best B&B we found in all of Ireland, St. Judes in Lower Salthill.
Dublin, Ireland There's lots of information in this journal on Ireland's capital city. My favorite spot in Dublin was St. Patrick's Cathedral . We also did a bit of pub hopping, and if you're looking for Irish music and even Irish danacing, I recommend Knights Bridge Inn . Other highlights include a visit to Trinity College to see the Book of Kells, and for stout lovers, jump on a bus and head over to Guiness Storehouse for a free pint of the stuff.
Cary, North Carolina