We had grandiose plans about Italy and Mediterranean Cruises, but as the excitement settled into reality, it became plain that money was going to be an issue. At least for me.
At the same time, she was making future plans which were leading her toward Tennessee. So with much regret but some serious relief on my part, we decided to rent a cabin in the north-west corner of Georgia for two weeks. It would give me time to recuperate from the kids and be close enough for some serious sightseeing in GA, NC and SC and her checking out Tennessee before committing to it.
About a month before we were to leave, Shaundra called me up and said, "Look what I found! We are going to Ireland!"
Indeed, she had found an independent tour (the absolute best way to go) to Ireland for about the same price for her and only $200 more for me. The cabin was cancelled and I nervously made plans to leave the country.
Flights to NYC being as they are, instead of being gone the 2 weeks that Shaundra had off, I got to spend nearly 3 weeks, which meant that once we got back into the states after Ireland, we would also get to spend a couple of days in Washington DC and several days in NYC and upstate NY. (More about this in a later blog.)
So to keep this post manageable, I won't go into detail about Ireland itself, (I would probably have to devote an entire web-site for that) but I'll give you the 3 "Must-Sees" on my personal list should I ever go back. Don't get me wrong, if you are interested, I could spend hours and days boring you to tears with stories and pictures. Between us, Shaundra took a respectable 600+ pictures, and a millennia of video, and I took 1200+ pictures and contributed to the video.
That being said, skip the east coast of Ireland. I know that Dublin is on the east side, and if you are truly needing a Dublin experience, you can literally walk the entire city in a day. Granted a very tiring day, but it is situated to be a walking city. It's beautiful in a metropolitan way. The pedestrian streets are fun, the cathedrals (of which we were able to go to an exclusive concert in St. Patricks Cathedral that only happens once a year) are old and gorgeous but the highlight are the parks and people!
You can also skip Northern Ireland. Yes, the Giant's Causeway and Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge are there but the walks are long and strenuous, and the view is even better in a postcard. We loved the experience, but the need to go back is pretty slim.
Now, the west coast of Ireland is "da bomb"!!! All three of my "Must-Sees" are on the west coast. So to my list:
#1 - Stay in Westport (the cutest little tourist town) for a couple of days. You'll want to spend a day just touring the city and Westport House, which has it's own little theme park (pirate theme I believe). The entire next day, plan on spending it travelling to, touring around and returning from Kylemore Abbey. Not only is the Abbey amazing, but the traveling to and from it nearly as enjoyable!!!
"This is a deeply atmospheric place on the side of a wooded hill overlooking Kylemore Lake. The main building is a crenellated 19th century house, and a splendid example of neo-Gothic architecture. In 1920, its owner donated it to the Benedictine nuns. The sisters run a convent boarding school here, (although this past year was it's last) but have opened the grounds and part of the house to the public. The highlight is the recently restored Gothic chapel,
considered a miniature cathedral, and there's a Victorian walled garden. The complex includes a restaurant, which serves produce grown on the nuns' farm; a shop with a working pottery studio; and a visitor center. The abbey is most atmospheric when the bells are rung for midday office or for vespers at 6pm."
So above is the tour guide description, but it falls seriously short! Pay the money and do everything here!!! If you are a student, bring your id because you get discounts with it. I would love to spend a month just wandering around this peaceful bit of heaven! GLORIOUS!!!
Seriously, don't miss anything! Take the guided tour of the garden, (holy cow, it's awesome) and the tour of the main building. And certainly don't miss the walk to the Cathedral and the Mausoleum!!! You. Won't. Be. Disappointed!!!
#2 - If you have money to burn and want an experience of a lifetime, next stay at the amazing Ashford Castle. (If money is a little more precious to you, stop by as you leave Westport and plan on spending many, many hours exploring!) Those of you on the inside of the "In" crowd will be saying to yourself at this moment, "Say, I've heard of that place before!" And you would be right!!! Pierce Brosnan was married in Ashford Castle in 2001 and Ronald Reagan stayed there in 1984. It's part of the lifestyles of the Rich and Famous! (Insert British accent here.)
"Now, this is a castle. Complete with turrets, towers, drawbridge, and battlements, Ashford is a fairy-tale hotel. The structure dates to the 13th century, when it was built for the De Burgo (Burke) family. Later it became a country residence of the Guinness clan. A hotel since 1939, it has been enlarged and updated over the years. The renovated Victorian castle rents some of the finest rooms in all of Ireland. Reflected in the glassy waters of Lough Corrib, the castle sits regally amid vast forested, flowering grounds. The fairy tale continues inside with antiques, medieval armor, carved oak paneling, and museum-quality paintings."
(Unfortunately, I don't have any really good pictures of the front of the Castle so you'll have to settle for the back view. Most of this part of the trip was documented via video.) The above is again the tour guide description. What it fails to mention are the phenomenal grounds! The manicured grounds, the swan filled lough, the hidden jewels of stone architecture, and the hidden gardens. They are extensive and amazing and ... holy cow ... there just aren't words to capture it's beauty!!! The collective number of pictures we took (and believe me, there are plenty) are not enough to capture it! Being there only once is not enough to capture it! I've got to get back there!!!! : )
As you pry yourself away from the Castle, stop for a quick look at Cong Abbey, literally on the way out (the back way, that is). The monks set up a fishing pole with a bell attached to it in the little hut over the river so they wouldn't need to sit around waiting for the fish, but could come running once they heard the bell ring.
#3 - You know what, you need to go back to #1 and #2. I don't think you appreciated them to their fullest extent. Don't worry, I'll wait until you get back before I go on.
I'm serious ... go back and re-read. You're missing it!
Good grief ... you are stubborn!
#3 - On your way to Killarney, you may want to stop for the Cliffs of Moher, but like the Giant's Causeway, a postcard is just as good. The Burren is barren and not worth stopping for unless you like getting down on your knees to look at tiny flowers that aren't that pretty anyway. The bog's, however, are worth a pull-over-on-the-side-of-the-road stop for 10 minutes. The best part of the bogs is walking out on them a ways with another person. Have one person stand about 10 to 15 feet away from the other and then take turns jumping. Yes, I said jumping. The vibration of each jump can be felt by the other person through the ground. It was enough for the video camera we brought to automatically turn off because it thought it had been dropped. : ) They use the bogs as a source of peat (or fuel) which smells DIVINE!
The Rick Steves tour guide says to skip the Killarney Coast Drive for the more beautiful and less appreciated Dingle Loop Drive. He's WRONG! We got lost on the Dingle Loop and even the GPS unit had no maps to help us out. However, the Killarney Coast is worth the drive! But this is just leading to my #3.
Killarney National Park with Muckross House, Garden and Abbey is my third "Must-See". The Abbey is a medium walk from the House but we spent several very happy hours exploring and walking up and down exposed staircases, through giant sized fireplaces, among mossy graves and generally soaking up the tranquil and otherworldly atmosphere.
The House and Garden are worth the price for the tour!!! My favorite story from the tour was about one of the previous owners who lived until she was 142. The reason she died was because she was quite fond of the gentlemen and had climbed a tree to spy on one and then fell out to her death. Can you imagine!!! And it's true!
The group we were in for the tour of the house was fun. There were three people there that we had seen on our flight into Dublin and we sort of teamed up. The wine cellar, which they just kind of say, "If you'd like to take a moment to peak in, you can, but it's just a wine cellar." would put all of your Year-Supply dreams to shame! It must have been as big as my Master Bedroom! The whole place was fabulous.
And with that word (fabulous), my wholly inadequate brain is out of adjectives and so I will end. You have my top 3 stops in Ireland. One of these days I will set up some sort of slide show/site for Ireland pictures and I'll let you know where and when. Until that time, enjoy the few I did post.
You really ought to go yourself!!!! : )