Well, I’m back! Got in early evening on Thursday. Finished downloading my over 3000 photos and am now in the process of making multiple copies of everything: my desktop, my laptop and a portable hard drive. It’s going to take me a long time to process them. I figure I will do the best of the highlights of each place and get them into galleries on my Innitou Photo website. Then I will go back and take a closer look to see what else should be added. There are multiple shots of at least 60% taken at different exposures. Plus a good deal of shots of relatives! So I am not actually going to be processing all 3000 + photos! Thank goodness!
If anyone is interested, I have compiled a few tips for traveling to Ireland and traveling in general!!! It is long, so just skip this part if you want. If you want to read it, just scroll down after the photos.
The view from the top of Blarney Castle!
- If you are going to Ireland, don’t fly into Dublin Airport if at all possible! It is one of the most disorganized airports I have ever been in. It is huge; you have to walk very long distances to get from the plane to baggage, then from baggage to customs, then from customs to the actual exit! And sometimes the lines pile up! We got to customs and the was over an hour! Coming back into the airport to leave it is also extremely confusing. Things are not well labeled.
- If you are staying in Dublin, for even a night, don’t hire a car until you are ready to leave! Very few of the hotels in the city proper have any kind of parking. And driving is horrible (think very big city with very heavy traffic, in narrow lanes, where everyone J-walks all the time) and there is major road construction going on which will be at least till 2018. Even my cousin, who lives in the outskirts of the city proper, parked her car and we walked a lot of places. The major city attractions are very walkable!
- If you stay in a hotel near the airport, they all have shuttles to and from the airport. BUT, they all park in a carpark for shuttles that you have to walk to (again, a long walk) dragging your luggage. We drove up to Dublin the day before we were leaving to return the car and stay in a hotel I thought was very near the airport. Easy, right? Wrong!!!!!!!! We had a terrible time trying to find the car rental place (again, terrible signage). We lucked out after our third run around the airport and stopped at a red light beside a rental company truck and asked where to go. He just said follow me. Good thing as we never would have found it otherwise! Turning in the car was easy (as was picking it up) then we had to schlep all our luggage onto the Hertz shuttle bus, go to the airport, then schlep our luggage into the airport and out the other side to the hotel shuttles car park. Then onto that shuttle and over to our hotel. In the morning we schlepped everything back to the airport.
- Ireland has this thing called VAT (Value Added Tax) which if you are not a citizen, you can get back. If you are lucky enough to shop at a place that gives out the little FeXco Tax Free Shopping card you are in luck. They probably won’t tell you, but you can put all your “tax free” purchases on the same card (meaning no one told us) and when you get to the airport you just go to the kiosk, scan the card, fill out a form, scan your charge card and all the VAT gets credited back onto your charge card. If you don’t have the card, sometimes you get a sales slip with a form to fill out as part of the slip, and sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you will just get a plain sales slip with the VAT printed on it. In which case you have to fill out a separate form (usually an envelope some kind vendor has given you to hold all your sales slips). If (and that is a big IF) you have this all done when you get to the airport, you can go to the FeXco desk and get everything back then and there. If not, you ask for an envelope to send it all in when you get home. Needless to say, I took the envelope as it is very confusing. Oh, and by the way, not everything has a refundable tax. Think mainly souvenirs!
- The food portions are enormous! A “full” Irish breakfast includes eggs (usually whatever way you want them), bacon (Irish bacon is more like thick-cut ham with a large strip of fat around the edges and they don’t do ‘crisp’), beans (kind of like baked beans but a little different), grilled tomato halves, black & white pudding (look it up), mushrooms (usually grilled or fried), Irish brown bread and/or toast. Juice, water (usually with lemon and/or lime in it), juice and all the coffee and tea you want! After a couple of those (minus the black & white pudding) I opted for the ‘mini’ Irish breakfast. Just eggs (two instead of three), tomato, mushrooms & Irish brown bread. Eventually I went to eggs & brown bread!
- Pub food is great! I had the best salmon I’ve ever eaten in a little pub call McGann’s In Doolin! And if you want traditional (Trad) Irish music you have to stay till 9:30 pm when the music starts! But in most restaurants during the day what you hear is the same music you would hear in any American restaurant. A little disappointing, actually!
- If you go to one of the Aran Islands, make sure it is a really nice calm day; unless you like lots of rocking and lots of wind!!! I sat up top to take photos and loved every minute of it. Even when it started raining about five minutes into the return trip! However, if you are in any way, shape or form prone to sea sickness, think twice! We went to the first island Inis Oirr (pronounced Inissheer) which takes about 30 minutes. It was cloudy but dry the whole time we were on the island. Not commercialized, but places to eat and stay over if you want (you will need reservations well in advance). Just check the weather real well!
- If you can afford it, hire a private tour guide. It was split between three of us so not so bad. It was worth every penny. But some are better than others so if you are thinking of it at all, contact me and I can give you recommendations. Mostly it is in new, high end Mercedes touring cars and your driver is also full of history and information. You will get to many more places than going on your own as they will drive faster than you and they know the best routes so they will cover more ground. (When I was driving I tended to go really slow on the small back roads, REALLY slow!!!) We did take one large bus tour out of Dublin to the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland. Basically it was driving on the motorway (translates as divided highway) really fast with some commentary now and then, getting from one stop to another. It was a long day. We left at 7:00 am and got back to Dublin at around 8:00 pm. If we had done it on our own, it definitely would have been a two day trip! But it was a great price and we saw a lot of other places as well. Again, if you are interested, email me for recommendations.
- There are things for everybody’s interests! Like Ancient History and/or Archeology, make sure to check out the Boyne Valley with the ancient passage tombs, older than the pyramids! Like the ocean and incredible waves? Make sure you do at least some of the Wild Atlantic Way. Lakes and mountains, rolling hills, horses, ancient ruins and castles, beautiful cathedrals; Ireland has all of these and more.
- Do not believe Google maps when it tells you it will take X amount of time to go from point A to point B. Maybe for a native driver, but definitely not an American tourist! Unless you are on a motorway, the roads are small and windy and sometimes extremely narrow. Think little hot toped road barely wide enough for one car, with grass growing down the middle and you meet a farm tractor! Yup!
- Packing is an adventure. We were there the first three weeks of June. We left Boston in cool rainy weather. We arrived in Dublin in cold, rainy weather. Take a REALLY good rain coat/jacket. One with a zip in/out lining would be perfect. I do not do umbrellas because it is hard to hold one when you are taking photos. But I did see plenty of them. Take both short sleeve and long sleeve shirts. Don’t overdo it. If you are the average tourist, you will be buying shirts there! Take a sweater or sweatshirt. If you plan on buying an Irish knit wool sweater, having something warm with you will give you the time to shop around for the best deal. If you need cotton (I am allergic to wool) don’t count on finding anything. Wear comfy slip on shoes for traveling (you have to remove them in airports). Make sure to bring a really good pair of walking shoes. Unless you plan on doing actual trail hiking, you won’t need hiking boots. Bring several pairs of socks. Dirty socks can irritate your feet. The second day I was there was beautiful; sunny with big puffy clouds. We didn’t see the sun again for about 10 days. Towards the end of the trip we had five days of unseasonably hot and sunny weather for Ireland. One of those days it actually got above 80 degrees F. The average is usually in the mid 60’s. (Ireland’s temps are measured in Celsius, by the way). When we left Dublin it was back down in the 60’s with heavy cloud cover. Most large towns have pharmacies and grocery stores (villages do not, usually) but the names are all different. So trying to find a cold remedy that you are used to can be a challenge. Leave plenty of room in your luggage for souvenirs, brochures and books or other information about the places you are visiting. Just remember, paper can get heavy. This holds true for anyplace that you visit, in country or across the ocean!
- Bring a book to write down your adventures in. You think you will remember, but you won’t! I wrote in my blog (probably not often enough) and my sister wrote in a little book I had brought. Even just a few lines at the end of the day, is always a good idea.
- Where ever you travel, relax, get to know the people. Do things that you wouldn’t normally do. But above all, have a good time!