So my family came to Ireland to pick me up and while they were at it, we decided to tour the country. Poor Steve Dad ended up driving 1200 miles on some crazy roads/footpaths…we owe him, a lot. He adjusted well to the whole driving on the left side of the road, having to stop/reverse to let cars through (on roads only wide enough for one!), and of course shifting with his left hand. I had mapped out our road trip a couple of months in advance and Amy Mom booked all of our accommodation: bed and breakfasts and hotels…a nice upgrade from hostels if I might add (not that hostels are bad, they’re usually great, but you can’t beat a B&B!).
Day 0: Tuesday, May 21
The trip actually began for the rest of my family on Tuesday. They flew out of Green Bay at 2:20 [to Chicago, to London] and arrived in Cork at 10:50 am on Wednesday!
Day 1: Wednesday, May 22
My family arrived!! I took the bus to the airport and waited patiently for their arrival. Honestly, if you ever want a happy day, just sit in the arrival lobby of an airport. Reunitations-as I like to phrase them-are just great. So stinkin’ cute. So after watching a bunch of those, it was my turn. HI FAMILY! IT’S BEEN 5 MONTHS. So that was fun. I didn’t even cry when I left the states, but when they got to Cork, my eyes may have peed a little. SO HAPPY.
After our hellos, we went and got our rental car. Which was a nice 7-seater Seat van-ish vehicle. It had somewhere like 4,000 miles on it…so like brand new. Steve was a bit worried and mentioned something about scratching it up…all the rental guy had to say was, it doesn’t matter, you have full coverage. So that was that. Off with a bang! We headed to the B&B, which was right across from campus. We were able to park the van there and then went and got some lunch at the Woolshed Baa & Grill in Cork. After that, they took a little nap (while I studied for my last exam) and when they woke up, we drove to a little nearby city, Cobh. Not only to see the city, but to give my dad some driving practice. We had dinner there and then returned to Cork for a traditional music session at An Spailpin Fanac.
Day 2: Thursday, May 23
The next day we spent touring around Cork a bit more. We had a nice lunch in Cork City Centre at Uncle Pete’s and picked up food at the grocery store for dinner. We headed to Kinsale in late afternoon to check out James and Charles Forts. I had never been to Kinsale before, but I had hear good things. It was really cute and the weather cooperated for us (as it did for most of the trip!!), so that was great! The forts were free to go in and we made it in time before they locked the gates, so that was lucky. I took a graceful fall at the forts, due to my shoes being worn down smooth and a grassy little knoll. Sarah enjoyed them thoroughly. We also went to castle that was set up like a museum, not what we expected but interesting history and a bathroom to use. After Kinsale, we headed back to Cork, made some tacos, WE SAW SEALS IN THE RIVER LEE! (the river my apartment is on), Sarah and I went out with my friends (as our farewell/last shebang/crying fest), and my parents found some quaint pub to spend the night at.
Day 3: Friday, May 24
Friday was my final day in Cork and my final exam. I gave my family a tour of UCC in the morning and studied for my exam in the early afternoon while they did a self-guided walking tour of Cork. My final exam was for my favorite class, Food Choice Analysis and began at 4. I had an hour and a half to write 2 essays and I think it went well! The essay took place in a humongous gymnasium that was temporarily carpeted and filled with probably upwards of 500-600 chair/desks. Multiple classes took their exam at the same time, seeing as it was full and only about 50 of the students were in my class. After my final, I headed back to my apartment, said my goodbyes, and then we were off to Kerry/Waterford (which is on the west coast of Ireland). The timing worked out poorly that Steve had to drive in the dark through the curviest, winding roads you can possibly think of. It took somewhere around 3 hours to get there, but we made it, and the owner of the B&B let us in and showed us to our room.
Day 4: Saturday, May 25
In the morning we had a great breakfast at the B&B and headed out at a decent time to explore the Ring of Kerry (which is just the name of the route…like route 66). We checked out Waterford (the town we were staying in); McCarthy’s Castle which is on a beach; Sarah and I pet some random horses on the side of the road (who were fenced in); we went to a cliff of sorts; went to Valentia Island via a bridge and checked out the Tetrapod trackway which was a hike and my dad decided it was wise to race me up a gravel hill (regrets.); also while on the island, Sarah made her first attempt at touching a farmer’s lambs-unsuccessful; we then drove onto a car ferry and got back onto the mainland where we went to my favorite castle, Ballycarberry Castle-which my parents judged to be dangerous (and I declared they were lucky they hadn’t been with me over the past 5 months) it was a valid judgment, but the castle is awesome and free to explore!; and we finished the night back in Waterford at a pub.
Day 5: Sunday, May 26
Sunday arrived and it was a bit rainy. We had a great breakfast again. Best pancakes ever…with some sort of cream/custard filling and blueberries. We began the drive with a drive to Dingle. A favorite tourist spot. I had never been there before. We attempted to go to the highest point up on a mountain, but the view was non-existent due to the rain/fog. That was the scariest driving situation for me. The rain/fog hid the fact that we were literally on the side of the mountain, but I still knew we were. We had lunch and I had the best chicken caesar salad ever. My parents both had seafood chowder…Steve wasn’t too fond of the really natural situation going on in his bowl. Whole clam shells and such, but I still think he enjoyed it a little. 🙂 After lunch we headed down toward Dingle Bay and who’s wandering about other than little Mimi Randall and her friend Ellen! She’s like, “Rileys?!”. So that was a great surprise! After they hopped back on their tour bus, we enjoyed Murphy’s Ice Cream (handmade in Dingle). I had two flavors, brown bread and peanut butter and the parents had the Dingle Sea Salt. After ice cream we went on a boat to search out Fungie, the Dingle dolphin! There is a money-back guarantee if you don’t see him, but we did! Steve said it was better than he expected, so that’s always good! You can read about him if you want, he’s pretty awesome: http://www.dodingle.com/Activities/fungi_dingle_dolphin.html. That evening we left Dingle and spent the night in Limerick city. We had dinner at Texas Steakout, not to be confused with Texas Steakhouse. Afterwards, we headed back to the hotel, used the massage chair, and enjoyed some much needed sleep!
Day 6: Monday, May 27
The following day, we walked around Limerick for a bit and had lunch before venturing off to one of my favorite places, Galway. We checked into our B&B and walked into town. The B&B had both a dog and a cat…so that was wonderful. It was beautiful out once again, so we walked around by the harbor, went into a pub for a traditional session, and had dinner. We ate at a restaurant called The Dáil Bar, which turned out to be one of Amy’s favorites, she just loved the decoration . While at the B&B we were discussing our plans for the following day and our host offered to arrange our tour to the Cliffs of Moher. A shuttle coach even picked us up at our place!
Day 7: Tuesday, May 28
The next day was an early start with breakfast at the B&B and the coach pick up. The shuttle brought us to the bus station so we could hop on our real coach with the Dublin Tour Company. Amy and Steve got the front seat, so they had a nice big window for viewing. It was a little rainy when we left, but it cleared up in time! Our tour guide was an elderly man and his son was our bus driver. Nice little duo. The tour began with a stop at Corcomroe Abbey; followed by a visit to Ballybalban FAIRY FORT (which I have seen from the road, but never been able to get out and see)…it’s literally a circular mound of dirt that would have surrounded a house a one point as protection, but there are legends that these structures are now home to fairies-or people of the “other world”; next was Poulnabrone Dolmen-a portal tomb in the Burren made of ginormous rocks; after lunch, we were on to the cliffs! And it was the most beautiful day yet…absolutely perfect viewing of the cliffs and we even took off our jackets; after the cliffs we made a few briefs stops at the baby cliffs and another castle and were headed back to Galway around 6/7. When we got back to Galway we went out to eat an Italian restaurant and saw another seal in the harbor!
Day 8: Wednesday, May 29
On Wednesday, Sarah and I went into town to the Thomas Dillon claddagh ring store. They are the only store in Ireland and the world for that matter who can legally sell claddagh rings that are inscribed with the words “original” on the inside of the ring. The rings are given to others and they represent love, loyalty, and friendship. They are symbolic, with the hands representing friendship, the heart representing love, and the crown representing loyalty. I have been waiting to get one since I went to Galway in February, so needless to say, I haven’t taken it off since. After that purchase, we drove to Galway bay to catch the 1:00 ferry to my favorite place, the Aran Islands. It was super nice out on Wednesday…I don’t remember there being a cloud in the sky. We rode the ferry out there (which has a capacity of 200-300) and it’s a 45 minute ride. After arriving we at lunch and had less than 3 hours before we needed to be back on the ferry. My parents ended up taking a horse drawn carriage ride along the coast to see the seals and some of the land. They had a guide with them who explained some of the history and current situation of the island. Sarah and I ended up hitching a ride in a van (he was a professional tour guide), but we didn’t have time to take the whole tour, so he brought us as close as he could to the fort/cliff and we walked, or rather hiked the rest of the way up. Sarah said it was a mini Great Wall of China. The cliff is my favorite because you can go all the way to the edge and look down 100 meters (328 feet). It’s terrifying, but amazing. Sarah was a little squeemish, but she wiggled her way out to the edge just like I do. It’s the only way, because you can literally fall otherwise. We actually had a good 30 minutes to spend up there before walking back down. We had our fingers crossed that a van would be there, otherwise we would have missed the ferry and had to stay there until the morning. Lucky for us, the same guy who had brought us up, was down there. I think he was waiting, to be nice and to make an extra €10. He had his daughter in the van and they talked in Irish the whole ride back, so that was the first I had really heard Gaelic outside of the classroom, which was neat! We made it back to the ferry in time and headed back to Galway for the night. We went out for dinner and music. And Sarah and I ventured out to find a club for the night.
Day 9: Thursday, May 30
Thursday we left Galway early and had a long drive to Northern Ireland. We picked up Scott Nicol and his wife Marlene at the airport in Derry. Scott Nicol is the musician who has come to Wisconsin multiple times and my Dad put together his band here and has recorded him. So that’s that whole connection. And when I went to Scotland, I was lucky enough to be able to stay with him and his wife at their house! So after we picked them up at the airport, we headed to Portrush which is in northern, Northern Ireland. We checked out our B&B which was an actual house and it was super nice. We wished that we had more than one night there! We thought we’d be able to check out Giant’s Causeway, but when we got there, they said you had to pay 8.50 each in pounds each (so $80 for the 6 of us). I had read up on it and the books said it was free, so we called that plan off for the day. We ended up going to The Dark Hedges, which are a road of famous trees. They looked fake they were so mysterious and perfect. We took some pictures there and headed back to the little town. After walking into a few crazy busy restaurants, we put our name in at one realizing we would have to wait any where we went. Dinner was great, we had personal pizzas, but they were huge. After dinner, Sarah and I went down to the beach to watch the sunset. We romped around on the beach, wrote stuff in the sand, and enjoyed each other’s company. Aww. ❤ We even transformed a larger than life sand drawing of a male body part into a rocket ship. We are saving the world. The guys went out that night and found some live music and the rest of us stayed back. The internet was good enough, so we were able to Skype call Grandma Bucher, so that was nice!
Day 10: Friday, May 31
The next day we were headed for Belfast. Along the way we stopped at Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge. I had done some research about how to get around paying the 8.50 pounds for the attraction, because I knew it was free. We weren’t being illegal at all mind you, they just try to rope naive tourists into their money trap. You are technically paying to see the visitor’s center, but from the reviews it’s a rip off. All you have to do is park off site, or be dropped off. Parking off site is a challenge, they don’t make that easy. So Steve dropped us off and he paid the 8.50 to park for one person. SUCCESS! Sarah and I were refusing to pay out of principle, so we were happy! Giant’s Causeway was really intriguing! From a distance it looks boring, but when you get up to it, it’s crazy. It was declared a world heritage site in 1986. There are apparently around 40,000 interlocking basalt columns that resulted from an ancient volcanic eruption. Pretty awesome! After that, we headed to Carrick-a-rede which is a rope bridge. It turned out to be a hike to the bridge and actually walking across it was much less scary than we had anticipated, but it was beautiful! That evening we arrived in Belfast and checked into our hotel. Sarah and I had our own room. We got crazy! We laid on our beds and watched TV like kewl kids. The big kids went out and saw some live music while we stayed back. Eventually, we headed across the street for dinner which was great. That night there was a band in the restaurant part of our hotel. They were super good and Steve thoroughly enjoyed them. He said the bass player was the best bassist he has ever seen aside from professional musicians. He talked with him a bit and played a few notes on his bass. Best friends for life! That night this Irish man bought drinks for Steve/us. My dad was quite impressed with the friendliness of the Irish people. Which I miss already. But WI is pretty nice itself…even the DMV that I was at just a couple of days ago. But for real. 🙂
Day 11: Saturday, June 1
Saturday we woke up and checked out of our hotel. We walked around Belfast a bit and checked out a few of the local murals that Belfast is known for. They area all political or memorial murals. We shopped at a few vintage stores before having mexican food for lunch that was like Chipotle. After lunch, we headed to Dublin, arrived at our hotel and took a much needed little nap. Then we headed in Dublin city via a bus! To keep up with the oriental meals, we had Chinese for dinner and then headed over to the Temple Bar area. The family wasn’t that impressed with Temple Bar, probably because it was ridiculously crowded like usual and everyone else had already had their drink on for a while. We left there and checked out some additional live music. The parents split off to enjoy some people watching and we headed back to the hotel after meeting back up. It was our last night before heading back to Cork!
Day 12: Sunday, June 2
Sunday we woke up in Dublin and made the 3 hour drive to Cork. Sarah and I went shopping a bit before picking my belonging up from the apartment. That night we stayed at a hotel where we had dinner as well. We gifted our remaining alcohol and food to our bartender who was super nice and around our age. Good person to give a little gift to. And somehow our meal ended up being free. Sooo….that’s that! That night we rearranged suitcases, packed everything up, hoped they were all under 50 pounds each and prepared to leave after 12 days of traveling around. And after 153 days in Ireland for me!
Day 13: Monday, June 3
On Monday we woke up early. Luckily we had planned to be at the airport earlier than necessary because a ridiculously hard time getting there. About 99% of the roads that we needed were closed due to a marathon that would be taking place shortly. We weren’t aware of that to begin with, so when we got to the first detour sign, we thought we could easily re-route. We were quite wrong. After trying multiple different ways, getting a little panicky, we stopped at a gas station to get gas (we were close to running out because we were able to return it on empty!). Like a gift sent from the high heavens, this taxi was sitting as the gas station. After some kind talking from Amy, he agreed to meeting us at an intersection after dropping off his passenger. He literally served as our personal escort out of the city. Seriously without him we may have #1 missed our flight #2 injured each other with anger. We followed him through a crazy path and eventually were in the clear. We made it to the airport in time and returned our car. They didn’t even check the car for damages or anything, Steve was like, “Why was I so careful?!” We got through security just fine and flew out of Cork at 11:45 am. We watched some crazy interestingly weird movies on the airplane including: Stoker and Beautiful Creatures. I thought Beautiful Creatures was really strange, but I ended up watching it twice basically, because Sarah decided to watch it after my mom and I did. I like it now. Sarah cried her way through it. I didn’t really think about it being sad the first time because I was too distracted by how different it was. After that smooth flight, we arrived in Chicago at 6:00. Our flight was supposed to leave at 10:00, but it ended up being delayed twice and the gate changed 3 times. It was a long night. We got to Green Bay around 1 am and to Markesan around 3:00 am. We had traveled for about 23.5 hours. Quite a day! But we were home. ❤
It was a wonderful time with my wonderful family in a wonderful country that I miss already.
Here is the link to our photo album: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151717025686155.1073741837.773296154&type=3