Ireland

It Started with Whiskey and Ended McNasty (Our European Adventure: Day 4&5)

Sunday June 16th, 2019

On an average day I don’t usually have whiskey with my breakfast, but when you’re in Southern Ireland and there is a Jameson Distillery twenty minutes from your hotel, sometimes you find yourself having whiskey for breakfast. Which is why at around 11:30 a.m. our group found ourselves feeling pretty good on our walk down the street in Cork in search of food.

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We’d learned all about the whiskey making process, history, and future, and had been given three samplers of the most popular Scotch whiskey, American whiskey, and Irish whiskey (which won by a landslide) during our tour, and a free full size drink at the end of our tour (which motivated a healthy and thorough perusal of the gift shop) so were feeling lighter as we made our way down the street to find some lunch.

Once we finished lunch, we stepped out into some heavy rain, which, unbeknownst to us, was actually the equivalent of a drippy faucet when compared with what was to come.

We walked, hoods on, talking about where we might stop en route to Belfast, our final Ireland destination. And like any touristy millennial would do, once I was back in our car listening to the Irish rain fall, I googled “castles near me”—which, unfathomably, garnered results.

An hour north, we found Rock of Cashel. It was another incredible feat of architecture and history that simply left us speechless.

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In what might be considered the castle’s “backyard” was a cemetery with headstones both modest and extravagant. Perhaps our least favorite was this grave where it appeared the deceased was inching a little too close to risen.

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Maybe he heard about Chick-Fil-A and asked for once more chance.

The rest of our drive to Belfast, while long and tiring, will forever be defined by the absolutely torrential rain that (sinisterly) welcomed us into Northern Ireland. We all handled it differently: my dad white knuckling the steering wheel, me wide eyeing the road, my mom and sister rotating between nervous laughing and nervous NOT laughing, and my brother sleeping as soundly as he would on a cloud.

When we finally made our way inside Darcy’s—a restaurant my sister found mid-death storm—we undoubtedly looked like we’d been through, well a death storm. We were wet and cold and all nervously laughing in that way that said hey that was crazy, huh? I really and truly thought we were going to die. LOL am I right? Am I crying? Because I feel like I should be crying.

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Yes, hello, we’d like a round of Xanax, please. 

After dinner, we went back to our Airbnb, showered and then fell (bel)fast asleep shortly after.

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Monday June 17th, 2019:

One of my favorite sites in Ireland that is almost impossible to capture in pictures is Giant’s Causeway. (Check out this post to hear about the legend associated with this formation, it’s one of my favorites!) I think the same goes for a lot of natural formations around the world. They are those things you have to see, touch, exist in the same air with to truly appreciate, understand, and ultimately believe that they live in the same world as you.

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We were once again blessed with a beautiful day with the sun shining and some wind that almost (I dare say) felt good as we hiked our way to the top of the red trail to take in another spectacular view.

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As we walked, my mom and I decided that if this whole human thing didn’t work out, we’d gladly come back and live out our lives as Irish cows—the kind who are so cute the owners let them moo around and eat until they die peacefully at pasture, and who somehow communicate that they want their last meal to be Belgian waffles and popcorn…but it’s not weird because we’re just quirky Irish cows.

I mean, come on.

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Once we were successfully awed (and slightly wind blown) we made our way back inside, had a light lunch at the café, and then got on the road back to Belfast.

A great thing about our group of nine is that we are almost always on the same page about our desired touring mode. We all know when to separate and let each other soak in what needed to be soaked in, we have similar touring speeds, and we all agree that we don’t have to take a guided tour just because it is available.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a curious person who loves to learn and especially loves a fun fact to drop in the middle of random conversations, but oftentimes when it comes to museums, exhibits and points of interest, I like to take them at my own speed, ask my own questions and do my own research.

That being said, if there was one tour I wish we could have taken while in Northern Ireland, it would be the Londonderry walking tour that my sister and I took on our trip with Contiki. (I looked it up and you can find that tour here!) To be able to hear from a local about the dark history of the city, and see the optimism in his eyes about its future was absolutely moving.

Having that memory in the back of our minds, we made sure to stop at the Peace Wall that commemorates the struggles of the past (and sadly, still present) and the hopes for the future.

May peace find you, and may you spread it outward from there.

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Here’s a fun fact for you: the Titanic was built in Belfast.

Walking through the Titanic Museum, we learned all about the infamous “ship of dreams”, from it’s humble beginnings in the Harland & Wolff shipyard—which you can see from the museum—in 1909, to the expedition that led to the discovery of its wreck in 1985. It’s amazing how the story never seems to leave you. Even if you’ve seen the movies, read the articles and walked through exhibits like this one, the heartbreak just sticks with you, I think it always will.

From the museum we headed to Pug Ugly’s for dinner. It’s a wonderful establishment that provides you with everything you need on a menu: pizza, beer, macaroni and cheese, and a pug in a top hat. Some recommendations from our table include the Pesto Chicken Club Pizza, the Goat Cheese Fritters, the French Dip sandwich, and the Homemade Burger.

For our last stop of the evening, and our last evening in Ireland, we headed to the oh so intriguingly named pub Filthy McNasty’s. Being a Monday, it was open mic night, and even though our group spent most of our time singing questionable renditions of popular songs, we opted to stay seated and cheers the bravery of others. Then, after a couple rounds of drinks, we walked back to our Airbnb, all nine of us in tow and in harmony—because we were once again singing, probably too loudly for 12:00 a.m. on a Monday.

We were sad to be leaving Ireland. Heartbroken actually. But we were excited for the new cities and new adventures to come. So as we tucked ourselves in and said goodnight, we tried to memorize every detail of our trip thus far. Could the magic follow us across the sea? Here’s hoping.

Castles, Cliffs, and a Horse Named Peppy (Our European Adventure: Day 2&3)

Friday June 14th, 2019:

Upon meeting our Airbnb host Carmel the evening before, she gave us a rundown of the house she’d so graciously rented to us for the next two nights. She also gave us a guidebook of the area and pointed out some of her favorite things that we might want to add to our itinerary.

Waking the next morning, feeling only slightly disoriented by the fact that we were on vacation in Europe and not at home getting ready for work, our group made breakfast in the kitchen. Carmel provided us with a wide variety of snacks, including waffles (that weren’t frozen?), fresh fruit, and something called “breakfast pudding” that none of us were brave enough to take out of the refrigerator.

Our first stop of the morning was Belvedere House Gardens & Park—a Mullingar locale that none of us had heard of but came highly recommended by Carmel.

The morning offered slightly cloudy skies and a chill in the air none of us were quite ready for, but we bundled up and headed out, my dad and Uncle Bruce taking the wheel and bravely setting off the on “wrong” side of road once again.

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Being a Friday morning, Belvedere House was not overly crowded, and we were able to saunter and explore at our own pace, flipping the hoods of our raincoats off and on as the rain came in spurts.

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We took a tour of the house, marveling at its architecture and grandeur, walked the grounds, and strolled through the fairy garden.

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Overall it was a very charming and welcome start to our day, and the perfect pit stop en route to the day’s main attraction: the Cliffs of Moher.

You know, these old things.

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We spent a good two hours here, blessed with a sunny sky and only periodic gusts of high wind that made my dad close his eyes and ask us to please stand at least 4 miles from the edge.

Among the many (hundreds?) (thousands?) of pictures we took, my sister and I made sure to get another hair by the Cliffs shot, paying homage to those we took a few years ago.

And I got to recreate one my of my favorite shots from our trip—this time with my brother in tow.

Quick sidenote: Can we talk about how tiny my hands look compared to his?

From the Cliffs of Moher, we headed to Galway, my cousin Taryn’s favorite city from her stay in Ireland, and she took us to her favorite pizza place (Mizzoni’s) and her favorite bar (The Skeff).

As we hung out and listened to live music from Vicaria Band, my sister and I introduced the gang to our favorite Irish born drink: Jameson and ginger ale, which aided in our table’s karaoke performances of Britney Spears, Tina Turner and Darius Rucker (among others).

The drive back to Mullingar, while a little long and dark, again provided us a place to call home and the group of us sat around the living room, sipping on nightcaps and laughing our way through the memories of the day. This was our last night in Mullingar, but Carmel and Fintan promised to send us off with a bang, and at 9:00 a.m. the next morning, that bang arrived in style.

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Saturday June 15th, 2019:

BANG.

Okay, so it wasn’t really a bang. It was more of a knock. Two or three of them. And then a call into the house: “Peppy and I are ready for ya!”

As you might (never) have guessed, Peppy was a horse, and Fintan ushered us outside to meet him, and take us on ride in the Peppy-drawn carriage.

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Pro tip: if you are ever given the opportunity to go on a carriage ride through the Irish countryside, say yes. There is truly no better way to start your morning.

After each family got a ride, we loaded back into our cars, waved goodbye to Carmel and Fintan (and Peppy) and got on the road to Cork.

Just under three hours later, we pulled into the parking lot at Blarney Castle.

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Now, Blarney Castle was a favorite from our last trip, mostly because of how beautiful both the castle and the grounds are, but also because of the undeniably funand for some, understandably terrifyingprospect of kissing the Blarney Stone to receive the “gift of the gab”. For a full recap of what that means, you can check out this post, but to keep it brief: you lie on the ground, have an Irish man help you more or less hang off a ledge at the top of the castle, and then kiss a thousand year old rock.

Legend says that after you kiss the rock you will be blessed with eloquent speaking abilities, though for anyone afraid of either heights or, more commonly I assume, being held over a ledge one hundred feet in the air, the sheer anticipation of kissing the rock can bring out profanity as eloquent as anything I’ve ever heard.

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To come down from the excitement/danger/fun/terror (depending on the person) we walked around the grounds, once again surprised by how beautiful everything is, though slowly getting used to the fact that Ireland is simply, consistently, even reliably beautiful. (Hear that, Irish tourism department? Reliably Beautiful. Call me.)

Our hotel for the night was the River Lee in Cork. While it was tough finding accommodations that fit a group of nine, or even a family of more than three, the River Lee was beautiful and we settled in nicely to three rooms, each with three single beds. (I found a great deal on Orbitz.com!)

We also enjoyed—once could argue too much—the hotel restaurant, where we spent a large chunk of time eating and eating and drinking and eating before heading out in search of one (or three) Irish pubs, where we spent the rest of the night drinking and drinking and laughing and dancing and singing our hearts out.

One request, Ireland pubs: play more Whitney Houston.

Other than that, you’re perfect.

Uh, Hey, We’re in Ireland! (Our European Adventure: Day 1)

June 13th, 2019:

So there we were. Overstuffed backpacks making our shoulders ache, wheeled suitcases constantly hitting bumps and threatening to topple over, and ankles far too bare for the unexpected wind that welcomed us into the Dublin morning. After 13 hours of travel, my family had landed in Ireland and were making our way to our European rental car, which promised a complete shattering of muscle memory.

Our plan was to make our way around Ireland in four days, and had decided to forego a bus and a designated schedule in favor of a terrifying adventure on the wrong side of the rode, a passionate new dedication and reliance on the design of Apple Maps, and the freedom to stop for pee breaks whenever we wanted. The pro and con list really could have been a novel in itself.

So there we were, in our just big enough car for a family of five with five suitcases, five backpacks and a lot of emotional baggage provoked by sleep deprivation. But alas, my dad started the car—from passenger seat, so it seemed—and we skittered into the streets of Dublin, each of us wondering if this was such a good idea.

Now, for any of you who have read my blog before, you might know that my sister and I went to Ireland a few years ago. And if pictures from that trip are any indication, we were disgusted to be back. I mean, imagine having to look at this for a SECOND time.

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Aside from simply wanting to visit this friendly, welcoming and beautiful country again, our main reason for making Ireland our first destination was to show my mom, dad, and brother the country that had stolen our hearts. We wanted them to see what our (pristinely executed) slideshow from three years ago couldn’t. And although we showed them ridiculously unmoving, definitely not borderline spiritual photos like this:

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…they still agreed to come along.

Our first stop after landing was the Guinness Storehouse, (pro tip: buy your tickets online in advanced to save money, skip the line and get a free pint!) where my sister, Natalee, and I had previously become “certified Guinness pourers.” We were excited for our family to achieve this status so we could finally stop looking down on them.

Our reservation was for 4:30 p.m., and although we landed late and took a few (or six) wrong turns trying to navigate our way through the city streets, we were still running a little early by the time we parked in a nearby parking structure and made our way to the front door. So to kill time we headed to Harkin’s, a pub in walking distance from the Storehouse, and dove headfirst into some burgers, beers, and Irish coffees.

As we ate, we met up with the other half of our adventure crew: the Stevens. My cousin Taryn had just finished up a three-week study abroad stint in Ireland and was the catalyst for our entire vacation/hijacking of her family’s vacation. What started as a “wouldn’t it be crazy to meet you in Ireland?” was suddenly a very real, “uh, hey, we’re in IRELAND!”

Once we finished our meal, we made our first walk as the newly imposing yet undeniably fabulous group of nine. We took our tour of the Storehouse, were all successfully certified (and recertified) and shared our first (and free!) pints of Guinness.

To my absolute unsurprise I still hated it.

Back at our car, we were met with our first dose of pure luck and (undoubtedly) heaven sent Irish hospitality. Being from Southern California, you’d think we’d be better equipped at reading street signs and might notice that our parking structure closed at 7:00 p.m. To our great fortune however, even though it was nearing 8:00 p.m., a security guard just so happened so be walking by and was able to unlock the gate, saving us a €100 retrieval fee, and a whole lot of over exhausted family angst. Slainte, you broad, Irish angel.

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In the planning of this trip, we had a lot of conversations as to how we wanted to get around Ireland, where we wanted to stay, etc. My sister and I had previously taken a clockwise route around the country, making pit stops in five main cities (Dublin, Cork, Gallway, Londonderry and Belfast) and so initially I assumed we’d do the same thing. However, in looking up lodging, I found that that route was going to be pricey. So, instead we opted to pick a city in the middle of the country to act as our home base—at least for the first couple days.

Which is how we wound up at the gate of this Airbnb in Mullingar.

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photo credit: Airbnb (check out the profile and rates for this place here. It’s way more affordable than it looks!)

Though it was a bit of a trek, the hosts, Carmel and Fintan, were incredibly charming and made us feel so at home that we were able to unload, unpack and crash—hard.

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As I lay there in the moments before falling asleep, with the Irish countryside sitting right outside my window, the trip became both real and completely unfathomable all at the same time. I knew we’d made it, to both this country, this house and this adventure, but I also wondered if I’d wake up the next morning and it would all be a dream.

Spoiler alert: it wasn’t.

The LegenDerry Ronan (Ireland Day #5)

With the extra sleep from the night before, a good number of us walked onto the coach the next morning looking a little more rejuvenated than usual. This however did little to help us stay awake for the 3-½ hour drive we had before our first stop. If I were to guess, I’d say about 10 minutes passed before 90% of the bus was asleep. What can we say, Rob is a good driver, the Scottish Stallion knows how to rock us to sleep.

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As we approached our first stop, Donegal, we heard “Wake Me Up” by Avicci start coming through the speakers, Tim’s signature “wake up” song, and a collective yawn and stretch began to take place across the coach.

We were told we’d have about an hour to walk around, so Natalee and I immediately headed for the castle, because even though they seemed to be as common as middle fingers on a California freeway, we couldn’t help but gawk. Afterwards we walked down the main street for a bit, oohing, aweing and scouring the restaurants before ultimately settling on O’Donnells, where we both had ddecf0ced88cca47ff9a9f32330c417bFrench friesddecf0ced88cca47ff9a9f32330c417b with our meals.

From Donegal we drove to Derry/Londonderry, the name of which consistently confused me when Tim mentioned it at the beginning of the week. But upon arriving we met Ronan, a Chinese, Irish, Buddhist (the only one we’ll ever meet, ever, he said) who gave us a walking tour around the city, sharing its history (and an explanation of its name) in eloquent detail.

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Essentially Ireland is divided into two parts: The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, and Derry/Londonderry is part of Northern Ireland. Within that city, there is a divide between the citizens on whether it should be part of the Republic (these citizens refer to it as Derry) and those who believe it should be part of Northern Ireland, thus part of the UK (these citizens call it Londonderry). This is obviously just the very shell of the story, the center of it relating to religion and civil rights. But unlike most historical cities whose conflicts you’d expect to see far in the past, Derry/Londonerry’s struggles, while they do have deep seeded roots, were very present in the 60’s and 70’s, and the repercussions are still easily seen today. Ronan himself discussed what it was like to grow up in the thick of it all and how prideful he is to see how far his city has come.

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As we came to the end of our walking tour, Ronan gathered us around him and gave a final speech on how thankful he was for tourists like us, because our presence gave him such hope for the future. For lasting peace. He then preceded to tell us a story about one evening when he was sitting in the living room watching TV with his 8 year old son. It was late, much later than his son would normally be allowed to stay up, but that night was special as his son’s idol, Rory McIlroy, was golfing in the Masters. At a commercial break, Ronan recalled his son looking up at him and saying, “I want to be Rory McIlroy,” to which he responded, “I want you to be Rory McIlroy, you’re my pension.” His son was confused by this, but Ronan told him not to worry and smiled as his son turned back to the TV. That night when he got in bed, Ronan said he pulled out his journal and wrote words that he would never forget, for they were as honest as anything he’d ever written.

I’m so glad our children and grandchildren can have dreams.

To him, seeing his son able to aspire to be someone like Rory McIlroy and to dream of doing great things, this suggested a true presence of peace, and with that he was given hope.

If you’re tearing up, please try to imagine what it was like looking into this man’s eyes as he told this story. Then try shaking this man’s hand and realizing that yes, he is a real person who also happens to be an angel. All I’m saying is, THAT GUY 100% kissed the Blarney Stone.