Northern Ireland

We had an absolute fantastic time in Northern Ireland this week. So much to see and do, Northern Ireland is definitely a hidden gem of the United Kingdom. Despite it’s checkered history we felt very safe and welcome, we’re definitely keen to return soon for further exploration. Below you’ll find brief summaries around some of the activities and attractions we enjoyed the most.

Colraine Area:

Bushmills Distillery Bushmills is the oldest licensed whiskey brewer in the world. At 7.5Pounds pp this made for a great indoor activity on a rainy day. We loved being taken through the active brewing plant (which is something we didn’t see in the Guinness Storehouse or the old Jameson’s distillery), the heat, the smells the bubbles, the barrels and the bottling all added to this visit. You end the tour by being able to claim a free drink from the bar which they didn’t go cheap on, offering you a rang beverages including the 12year old single malt only available for purchase at the plant.

Dunluce Castle

Dunluce Castle

Dunluce Castle This would have been one EPIC castle back in its day, on its own rocky outcrop [formerly] complete with drawbridge and an underground cave boat entrance, this castle is what little boys dreams are made of. The views are stunning and the history rich and its even featured in a few movies! 20150626_170325 20150626_171658 Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge Part of my job back home is working on a high ropes course but even I had a few goose bumps crossing this bridge. It’s about a kilometer walk each way to this bridge which provides some gorgeous views and a rare look at a local bird colony. The bride cost 5.70pound pp or free if you’re a National Trust Member (of which Jenny & I as of a few days ago are).

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Giants Causeway Its such a marvelous mystery, a freak of nature, made all the better by the local’s mythical stories that surround this place, a must do for any visitor to northern Ireland. We made the most of our new National Trust memberships (forgoing the 9pounds pp – which includes parking, entry into the exhibit hall and audio guides, with our membership we also forwent paying the optional additional 2.5pounds per person for the return bus fare down to the rocks). Now tips: 1) Don’t believe the signs saying that the giant’s car park is full, forcing you to park further away, we ignored these signs and found ample parking. 2) If you wanna do it on the cheap, technically the cliffs are free to do if you don’t partake in anything on the package deal (i.e. no audio guides, parking elsewhere, not going to the exhibition centre etc), totally legit. 20150626_175934 Dark Hedges I didn’t know anything about the Dark Hedges, still don’t really, other than seeing an awesome misty photo of them on Pinterest. They are however very cool, very eiry and perfect for your next facebook background picture. They are also pretty difficult to find, so if you do end up going to carrick-a-rede bridge ask the parking guys there for directions, they had a whole pile of handy pre-printed directions which saved us heaps of time.

Belfast:

I was so pleasantly surprised by Belfast, it’s a lovely place. I hear they have poured a lot of money back into the city in the last few years to reattract tourism (after the troubles) and it shows! Much like Galway however, if you’re visiting on a Saturday, know that they are a Saturday sleeper-in-er town, don’t expect anything (other than St. Georges Market) to be open before 11:30am.

City Sightseeing tour vs. Black Cab

Coming to Belfast we’d heard all about their famous black taxi tours. We however found ourselves having to decide between said tours or the City Sightseeing bus tours. It was actually quite a hard decision, we ended up opting for the bus tour and we’re glad we did for the following reasons: 1) In their fame, the black cab tours have become expensive – 10pounds pp, with a minimum 30pound cost. With a 3rd person we probably would have opted for the taxis but at 21pounds for the both of us, the bus tour saved us around 18NZD. 2) the bus tour commentary was awesome, providing great humor and insight into the city. 3) the bus was hop on/hop off for 48 hours meaning we could semi use it as a bus service to get around – with the taxis, after your hour and half tour is over, that’s all you get. 4) finally the height of the bus meant that we were able to see over the police barricade and catch a glimpse of one of the infamous orange marches in procession. IMG_6471 IMG_6477 IMG_6480St. Georges Market Voted the best indoor market in the United Kingdom, St Georges Market did not disappoint! Filled with food produce, meals, candies, painters and local craft that change from week to week. They also have quality live music every opening day. So if you’re in the neighborhood Friday-Sunday, avoid FOMO and go check it out you wont regret it. 20150627_180547 Hurling Such a fascinating game! We really got into the action which highlighted a Irish heritage or warriors who showed profound skill and bravery. If you managed to find a game (which its hard to do because the GAA website is vague), its well worth it 3pound pp, money well spent. IMG_6479 Victoria Square We don’t often promote shopping malls on here, but Victoria square caught us by surprise being all shiny and new, bubbling over with quality stores and restaurants. This place also provides a free panoramic view for visitors in their giant glass dome that towers above the centre.

The Troubles We all know the troubled history between the Republic of Ireland and that of the Unionist Northern Ireland. From an outsiders perspective it seems such a shame that one people of one land can’t get along and be united. On our journey into Northern Ireland I found myself having to check my united Ireland fantasies at the door, we was taken aback by how proud the north were about being united with Britain. These guys had more [Brittish] flags per square inch than I’ve ever seen!

A shell, courthouse from the Troubles

A shell, courthouse from the Troubles

Driving across the border provided no signs or checkpoints letting you know you’d arrived but many of the signs were clear as day for us; Kilometers changing into Miles, Euros at petrol station signs converting into Pounds, republican flags changing to the brittish flag and probably the most poignant to me was the town that we’d come to know as Derry from the Rep. of Irelands road signs became Londonderry (the London part had also been spray-painted over).

Part of the police blocks surrounding the orange parade

Part of the police blocks surrounding the orange parade

We’ve had the pleasure of being able to chat through some of Ireland’s history with many of the locals we met on our trip. It became obvious to us how fresh many of the wounds were on both sides. Both sides had strikingly different though no less valid views to one another. While I think all can agree that peace is now what they wish to seek I believe it will take some time for the nation to process and forgive the violence. I also think it will take some time to process how to move forward as two distinctive cultures living together side by side.

Art, a historical reminder of the Troubles

Art, a historical reminder of the Troubles

Ireland: Galway

Although we weren’t initially blown away by Galway, a city that we’ve heard nothing but good things about , we have come to love Galway greatly. We hit the town reasonably early after breakfast & as it turns out Galway doesn’t work that way. Many of the shops open at 10am or later & restaurants/pubs even later than that. As the day progressed on with more shops opening, people filled the streets and we came to realise that Galways attractions number more in its people & culture than its array of old buildings (of which there are actually quite a few).

Some of the appeals of central Galway on a sunny day in our opinion include pedestrian only shopping area with a diverse array of shops that is very clean, mostly devoid of drunkeness (during the day at least) & filled with a whole host of quality unique buskers (which adds a great vibe).

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Also being a university town the average age of people walking around was younger than we’ve seen (say 20s-40years old). Furthermore as many of the university students are on university timetables they are around from midmorning onwards.

Galway is also famous for its festivals (of which they have over 90 of a year) from international comedy, music, art right through to knitting. With so many festivals on annually, its really quite amazing that we managed to miss all o them. On the plus side however we did catch a sunny day.

I mentioned earlier that there were a few notable older buildings to see in Galway, most common of those were the family homes (mini-castles really) of the 14 families who once ruled Galway. These buildings are so well weaved into the makeup of the city however that unless you looked up, you’d probably just assume that it was just another shop. A couple of interesting examples include: The Lynch Family Castle.

Lynch Castle

Lynch Castle

The Patriarchal figure of the Lynch family was famously forced under public pressure to hang his Son from the gallows set at the top of his castle for the crime of murder (such an abridged story, its actually quite interesting – google it). The very act in doing so created the synonym we have to day for hanging someone: Lynching. A second example is the old medieval city wall that is now incorporated into an indoor city mall!

Other than that, you have your classic Pubs, Grubs & Church to check out:

Pubs:

It really depends on what your looking for but the good news is that these next 3 pubs are practically next door to each other, so maybe check out all 3?

1. Traditional Gaelic speaking pub, Legit, not overly touristy: Tig Coili

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Good beverage selection, decent prices, trad music & free wifi (wifi password = wifipassword)

2. The Kings Head

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Second oldest pub in Ireland (perk), set up by the executioner of a british king from the reward money (ironic perk) & apparently has alright food & music.

3. Taaffes:

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We didn’t actually visit this one by apparently this pub has hands down the best trad music around. What however makes the trad music here unique is the fact that the band comprises of 5 women of oriental decent – I wish we’d had enough time to check this out!

Grub:

On the Quay we’d heard of a place with killer fish & chips, clad in awards like chainmail armour including what we’re told is the best fish & chips award in ireland for the last 3 years in a row. Now if you didn’t know, New Zealand where we’re from prides itself in Fish & Chips; its practically our national food!S coming from a nation so proud of ours we had to see if the best of Ireland had a fighting chance against a run of the mill Fish & Chip shop in NZ.

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Now please note that I am openly biased but I am happy to announce that while Mc Donagh’s put up a decent fight, with an array of fish options & hand cut chips that in my opinion NZ fish and chips are unbeatable. The Irish counterpart are just a little too oily & about twice the price of NZ Fish & Chips. Additionally we have: Kumara chips, Paua Fritters and Tomato Sauce that can’t be replicated.

Not bad though, good in fact if you’re in Ireland with a hankering for some seafood (& to be fair I haven’t tried their whole range of fish & seasonally they offer fish like Rays! Who knows, some of those options may have given up a stronger fight?

Churches:

Galway Cathedral:

We have seen a lot of different examples of churches over the last two months, from the fully decked out St. Pauls Basilica, to the Gothic St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague, to the Eastern influenced St. Mark’s Bacillica in Venice. Despite the vast array of churches that we’ve visited, there was something really cool about visiting Galway Cathedral. Built to look old but in reality only 50 years old, Galway Cathedral strikes a really nice balance between simplicity & moving sculptural + Mosaic art pieces. The stain glassed windows stream in colorant the otherwise gray clad walls. The dome was grant but not overstated & finally the alter was interestingly into the centre of the church surrounded by chairs on all sides which we found facinating. The church is free to enter (although they do suggest a 2Euro pp donation). So if you have time its well worth a look. An added bonus is heading along to the cathedral via the riverside walkways which on a sunny day are absolutely gorgeous as all the creeks one by one join the main river through a series of man made waterfalls.

Galway Cathedral

Galway Cathedral

The Dome of Galway Cathedral

The Dome of Galway Cathedral

Notable Shops: Yankee Candles

Just a quick note to say that Yankee Candles are one of Jenny’s all-time favourite things. Yankee Candles are a company that specialises in supplying jar filled realistic smelling flavoured candles in over 50 fantastic flavours. New Zealand only gets access to quite a limited range of flavours (which is through the store Spotlight), you can probably order them online but even then you can’t pre-smell them. So it was quite a pleasant surprise stumbling upon the Yankee Candle store in Galway. We must have spent nearly an hour in the store smelling our way through the collection, magical!

Yankee Candles Galway

Yankee Candles Galway

Ireland: Ring of Kerry

If you have a couple of extra days in your Irish itinerary that you’re looking to fill, consider getting out of the city and checking out some of the picturesque South-West of Ireland. In particular Killarney and & the Ring of Kerry.

Killarney is a delightful town that is just right, not too big, not too small. Perfect for a couple of days out. The town itself is a rabbit warren of funky back streets and shopping.

Killarney

Killarney

The town has grown in popularity for its proximity to the beautiful Killarney National Park; TripAdvisor’s Number 1 Irish attraction for 2015. The park itself is pristine. Some of the most popular activity options in the park include hiking, cycling, boat rides through the lakes or a pilgrimage to the Gap of Dunloe.

For the traveller with time restrictions and a car its easiest to visit Killarney National Park as a part of a wider drive around the Ring of Kerry. The Ring itself offers a great snapshot of both rural irish living & natural unspoilt beauty. The drive incorporates parts of the Wild Atlantic Way scenic drive as well as a picturesque meander through Killarney National Park (which offer’s views that will satisfy even Kiwis (our homeland is gorgeous). Google maps would suggest about 3 hours for the loop but with the winding roads, traffic, picture breaks and lunch we would reccomend putting aside a whole day.

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As most coach tours of the Ring leave around 10:30AM so we’d also suggest heading off early to make the most of the early morning traffic. (If you would prefer a guided coach tour of the Ring, these go for around 20Euro pp & can be easily booked through the main Killarney information centre)

Below are some of the Highlights and Lowlights of our Ring of Kerry visit.

Highlights:

Wine and cheese (courtesy of the hostel's free to a good home bin)

Wine and cheese (courtesy of the hostel’s free to a good home bin)

Staigue Fort:

I love it when you get to climb all over old historical ruins & Staigue Fort (a 2500 year old fortification) is a great example of such a fort. It only costs 1 Euro donation and is well worth a visit.

Staigue Fort

Staigue Fort

Staigue Fort

Staigue Fort

Ladies View:

This stop off in Killarney National Park is gorgeous. Its said that when the name was garnered by Queen Victoria’s ladies in waiting on their visit to the area who exclaimed it to be the most beautiful sight that they’d ever seen. Big call, but it is pretty nice & they didn’t have google.

Ladies View

Ladies View

Ladies View

Ladies View

Torc Waterfall:

A delightful stroll through a wooded pathway brings you to a refreshing view of this waterfall, worth the stop.

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Lowlights:

Moll’s Gap

Having not been able to fit in The Gap of Dunloe, we thought Moll’s Gap could be a good alternative…we felt like it was a bit anticlimactic.

Kerry Cliffs

Some gorgeous cliffs, probably an ok alternative if you couldn’t fit in a visit to the Cliffs of Moher but definitely not worth 4Euro pp, worth more like 1 or 2. We also felt disappointed because we we were under the imprecision that the beehive huts were going to be authentic, not modern replicas.

Dave realising that the beehive huts are actually just replicas

Dave realising that the beehive huts are actually just replicas

Kerry Cliffs, pretty but expensive

Kerry Cliffs, pretty but expensive

So there you have it. Enjoy!

Car vs Bus Transportation in Ireland

This is a great question to ask when planning a trip to Ireland! Your best option will depend on a few main factors:

  • Your age/s (as this will impact your ability to hire a car)
  • The length of your time in Ireland
  • The size of your group (& the amount of baggage you have)
  • The locations/attractions you’re most interested to see (are they in main cities/on main transport routes that buses will stop by?)
  • Your style of travel

For a practical example, here’s a loop of cities we’re currently travelling to and the approximate online bus fares this would have involved had we used buses point to point (sourced from www.buseireann.ie, not taking in to account any multi-trip discounts):

DublinCork €14.72 > Killarney €19.67 (Ring of Kerry scenic loop €20) > Limerick €21.38 > Galway €14.72 > Sligo €15.20 > Londonderry €22 > Belfast €18* > Dublin €17

1 person = €162.69     2 people = €325.38     3 people = €488.07 etc.

In comparison, here’s a breakdown of our specific rental car example:

Our 11 day car rental (Seat Ibiza “Rosy”) through Budget = €147.79 (incl basic insurance*) = approx €13.44 per day + petrol @ approx €18/day (with significant non-direct travel) + parking @ approx €4/day

*Insurance = Damage Excess: 1350.00 EUR & Theft Protection Excess: 2300.00 EUR

= Approx €35.44/day = €389.84 total transportation expenses for 11 days

So a car quite possibly wouldn’t be the best option for a solo traveller unless your travel style is to prioritise your independence and flexibility over economy (though you could offset this by finding a paying travel buddy that’s going the same way as you e.g. by asking around at your hostel or you could advertise specific legs of your trip on ride-sharing sites like Bla Bla Car).

As soon as you have 2 or more people in the equation the positives of having your own transportation really start to add up. This not only includes being able to travel when and where you’d like but also having more choice in accommodation since not all cheap accommodation is centrally located (e.g. Airbnb‘s). Again, this can be significant for a larger group which may find it cheaper to rent out a whole private room/apartment rather than bunks in a hostel dorm paying per bed. It’s also probably worth mentioning that other travellers we spoke to said that the buses can be unreliable but this isn’t something we can back up ourselves since we didn’t use them on our trip.

If you do decide on a car like we did, here are some important additional considerations before you book:

  • Check if the company charges an extra fee for airport/city pickups (as a bus in to town could save you some $$)
  • Check if it’s possible/if there is an additional fee if you want to take your rental car in to Northern Ireland
  • (Extra important!) Make sure you have a credit card limit large enough to accommodate the excess which will be placed on hold during the rental period and possibly also for a specific stand-down period afterwards (i.e. you won’t have access to this money until the hold is lifted which is really important to realise before the time)

As always, feel free to let us know if you have any questions!

Ireland: Dublin

We’re trying to be thrifty, the thriftier we are the longer we can travel without needing to work. It’s a simple incentive but we’re still very much learning.

A great example of thrift gone slightly haywire was our transit from London to Dublin. We effectively had two options;

  • Flights would cost 33 pounds pp and would take around an hour (+ check in & dismount time). Not bad.
  • Megabus offers many cheap bus fares all around Europe, including London-Dublin. Bus ride would take 13 hours (including ferry ride), would leave at 4pm & arrive in Dublin 5:45am. Tickets cost 20Pounds per person.

With the promise of free Wifi, the saving of around 20 pounds ($40NZD) & a night’s accommodation on a bus we decided on the bus…

It was quite the experience really, unfortunately there was no sign of wifi on the bus, the seats didn’t recline & we arrived at the ferry terminal (on the welsh side) at 12:30am ready for a 2am check in for the 2:30am ferry that would last 3 hours and arrive at 5:30am. So long story short; couldn’t really sleep on the bus, couldn’t really sleep at the terminal, managed to get around 2.5 hours sleep on the ferry and that was about it, which made for a very fun day! So yes, we’re still learning to find the balance with our time and money.

We plan to post our budget plan up to give you a sneak peek as to how we working it all at the moment fingers crossed this will be in the next couple of weeks!

As for now however; Dublin!

St. Patrick’s Cathedral

Visiting St. Patrick’s Cathedral had some sentimental value for me. As a child I was apart of a boys choir (Southborough Choir, Norfolk) who made a guest appearance at St. Patrick’s Cathedral for a number of days. Like many churches in Europe, it costs to visit St. Patricks at a tourist but free if you are attending a service. As such, I’d highly recommend getting there around 4:50pm, stopping off for a coffee & ice cream @ Busy Feet & Coco Café in the park next door (absolutely lovely!) then heading along to the daily 5:30pm choral: a 30-minute service complete with choir (where its perfectly acceptable to just sit and observe). The choir is entrancing & the candles around the choir area, gives a nice warm glow…and I hate to say it…but it reminded me of the great hall in Hogwarts (for all you HP fans out there).

Busyfeet & Coco Cafe

Busyfeet & Coco Cafe

The view from Busyfeet & Coco Cafe

The view from Busyfeet & Coco Cafe

St Patricks Cathedral by candle light

St Patricks Cathedral by candle light

Jameson’s Old Whiskey Distillery

The Irish aren’t as well known for their whiskey as the scots but boy, sure are they proud of their triple distilled Jamesons. For €13.50 (which is the discounted rate that you receive by booking your tour online) you receive a 45min tour of the old factory complete with demonstrations on each step of the distilling process and finishes with a whiskey tasting (where they give you a Jamesons, a unnamed scotch whiskey and a bourbon from the states). I think you’re meant to come away saying the Jameson’s was the best…but I’d say top two of the three (better than the bourbon). Overall a fun little excursion.

Wiskey Tasting at The Old Jameson Distillery

Wiskey Tasting at The Old Jameson Distillery

Demonstration from the tour

Demonstration from the tour

Sandeman’s New Dublin Walking Tour

Sandeman’s Free Walking Tours are a great way to orientate you in a new city, bringing the local history and many of the landmark buildings to life with rousing stories that will have you laughing! The tours work on a tips basis, so only pay what you think they’re worth at the end (& they’re good at not making things awkward should you abstain from donating).

Chester Beatty Library

If you have time, the Chester Beatty Library is well worth a visit. Its free, contains some really interesting religious texts as well as a 4000ish year old Egyptian love poem & has a lovely Japanese styled garden on the roof which is perfect for a nice break in the sun (if you’re lucky) and great view over the Dubh linn gardens/Dublin Castle.

Chester Beattie Library

Chester Beattie Library

Dublin Castle & Dubh Linn Gardens

Dublin Castle & Dubh Linn Gardens

Pubs

No proper visit to Dublin is complete without a trip to a local pub. Best way to find a pub is to head to the periphery of the Temple bar region, find a backstreet, listen out for some warm trad music, some good craic, enter and not accept anything more than €5 (give or take a few cents) for a pint of Guinness. O’Neils is a great pub to check out with awesome live trad music (and sometimes some Irish dancing too) from 9-10pm depending on the day of the week. It’s also just around the corner from the statue of Molly Malone which is an essential Dublin landmark to check out. I personally had my first pint of Guinness ever at The Workmans Bar, which is owned by none other than Bono from U2 (sadly he wasn’t there).

Our first ever Guiness @ The Workmans Club

Our first ever Guiness @ The Workmans Club

Speaking of bono, local Dubliners are sometimes a little sour about Mr. Bono as he owns a lot of buildings in central Dublin yet chooses to live abroad. Right or Wrong aside, the jokes they have about him as a result of this are a little funny, examples include:

“If Bono was an ice cream, he’d lick himself”

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“Bono fell in love with himself at a very young age, and has remained faithful ever since.”

Trinity College / Book of Kells

Trinity College is a pretty interesting place with a fascinating history. A protestant university situated in a predominantly catholic city, commissioned by British monarchy to arm the city against ‘pope-ery’.

Trinity College. On the right, the chapel, nicknamed heaven. On the left the Examination Hall, nicknamed hell.

Trinity College. On the right, the chapel, nicknamed heaven. On the left the Examination Hall, nicknamed hell.

Personally one of the most interesting facets to the University is the traditional perks of passing the infamous foundation scholarship, many of which are still in place.

Perks included:

– Free 3 course meal everyday with the professors.

– If the student owned sheep, the sheep would be allowed to graze on the University’s patches of grass.

– Free accommodation

– Free tuition (including post graduate)

– If the student owned a sword, they would be able to bring this sword into the examination with them.

– Mid exam, the student is allowed to request the examiners bring them a half pint of Guiness.

Brilliant! The only student to ever get 100% in this exam, was Oscar Wilde!

The Oscar Wilde memorial

The Oscar Wilde memorial

Another big draw card of Trinity College for tourists is the opportunity to visit the Book of Kells & the old library. Both are stunning and in really good condition. Also for those visiting the book, the university turns a page a day on both documents, so each day is unique (for a very very long time at least). Apparently the best way to see the book (‘cos €10 pp is quite a bit) is to make friends with a local student, offer to buy them coffee in exchange for taking you in (each student can take up to 3 friends in a day for free).

The library at Trinity College

The library at Trinity College

The Library is lined with busts of famous people

The Library is lined with busts of famous people

Ok, I think that’s plenty for now!

Keep a watch out in the next couple of days for our write up of all the castles we’ve visited so far (there are many).

As the irish say, Byebbbbbbbbbbbyebyebyebye.