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Trip Report Live From Ireland: 17 Day Trip Report (Self Drive)

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I wanted to thank everyone in advance for all of their help planning our trip. It was a bit last minute for us (i.e., only 3 months planning as opposed to the usual 12 months) so we'll see how it goes.

I am planning on doing live reporting each evening, since we have internet in each accommodation.

So a little background on us:

Me - 34 yr old female. Psychology professor and avid traveler. I LOVE castles, architecture, impressionist/post-impressionist art, and history. I am 50% Irish with great grandparents coming over to Canada from Ireland. Also an avid runner who is looking forward to running in Ireland!

Husband - 45 yr old male. Disabled and not able to walk long distances. Is a homebody and not really interested in history. Likes scenery and nature though. He is maybe 25% Irish, but his family has been in the US since the 1700s.

What we are not: Nature lovers. We don't hike, bike, camp, etc. We don't really drink.

Background on our trip:

Not knowing if we'll return to Ireland (so many other places in the world to visit) we wanted to maximize our time, so we booked 17 days (including travel). We are planning on a full counterclockwise tour of the island.

My plan for this report: I'll tell you what we planned on doing that day and what we actually did. Will try to give information on spending (meals, etc.), gas mileage, etc. Things that I found very helpful.

So let's get started:

10:04 AM Friday July 6th

I am sitting at home watching a last episode of Rick Steves Ireland. How fortuitous that my DVR recorded all his Irish episodes this week. I know many people are anti-Rick Steves, but I do love the show. It gets me all excited about where I am going :-)

We'll be departing for the airport in 30 minutes. We are flying DFW-ORD (3 hour layover)- DUB (arrive 8 AM Saturday).

We are flying American since that is our hub and we have lots of miles. But we did pay for this trip...so we're back in coach :( Next trip will be first class using miles!

We pack light. We each have a carryon rollerboard and a backpack. We packed 8 days worth of clothing and we'll do laundry halfway through. Based on recent threads I packed long pants, short sleeve shirts, a rain jacket, and a fleece jacket. One extra pair of shoes. I also packed running clothes....I can't wait to run in 50 degree weather!

Hmmmm, what else can I tell you? Well, our overall plan is 1 day in Dublin, then pick up our car and head out. We'll return to the US on July 23. We booked a car through Easy Tour Ireland, so I will make sure to post on that too.

Please let me know if you have questions as we go, or any suggestions!

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    Oh, I'm anxious to hear how your car rental turns out! I have booked with Easy Tour Ireland also and was pleased--so far--but know that the REAL THING is the REAL TEST! Have a great trip!

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    Quick update from last night:

    Uneventful flight to Chicago and clear weather! Looks like we'll be getting out on time tonight.

    I am one of those worriers who starts checking weather reports 10 days out!

    We were moved up from row 22 to row 17. Too bad it wasn't up to row 1 :)

    The plan for arrival is to grab a taxi to the hotel and drop off bags and then in to a HOHO bus.

    I'll update more tomorrow after arrival

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    Just checking quickly with a brief update and the more later tonight:

    When we got on the plane we realized we hit the lotto (and should play the Powerball) because row 17 is the crew rest! This means that we had seats that full reclined and were just like a business seat....but at coach prices! We did pay $49 each for preferred seats, so maybe that is why we got chosen. I was actually able to get about 2-3 hours of sleep. DH didn't get any (as usual - even in first class he can't sleep, but put him on a train and he'll pass right out).

    We landed about 20 minutes late and then the long immigration line. It took about 15-20 minutes to make it through that. Goodness, that Ireland passport stamp is huge, and green (of course!).

    We planned on taking a taxi into Dublin. No point renting a car for an extra day and dealing with Dublin traffic and parking. Our taxi driver was a hoot! He told us a few really good jokes that had us laughing. It just felt so quintessentially Irish (or at least based on what I've read). We were at our hotel by 9:30 AM and the cost was 31.90 euro (we didn't hit traffic either). This was all the way to the Merrion Hotel, which is near Merrion Square.

    Hotel wasn't ready yet (of course). DH camped out in their lobby and I ran out while I still had some energy.

    Oh, weather note: It is amazing!!!! Sunny day and really warm. My jeans were too much. Hopefully this continues....although others have said it has been really rainy lately. So who knows!

    My Dublin To-Do List:

    Trinity/Book of Kells

    Christ Church

    St. Patrick's

    National Museum

    Merrion Square

    St. Stephen's

    Grafton Street

    Temple Bar

    I started out by heading to Trinity since it was close by and it was outdoors. I walked over, about 10 minutes, and was there by 9:50 and the first tour was 10:15. So I just wandered a bit in the college square and snapped pics. Paid for the tour (10 euro). The tour lasted 30 minutes and was led by a student. It was a nice overview of the college. As a college professor I absolutely LOVE visiting college campuses (my favorite is my alma mater - Notre Dame, followed by Oxford....if ND wasn't my alma mater then it would be Oxford LOL).

    They leave you right at the Book of Kells entrance. There was a bit of a line, about 10 minutes (it was twice as long when I left). Went through the exhibition, which was quite interesting and then to the Books. They were pretty neat to look at (yes, I just used the word neat to describe 1200 year old books - I am a nerd). Hard to believe someone was capable of creating such a beautiful piece of history so long ago. Even more amazing that they have survived.

    Then walked to the Long Room. OMG. As a bibliophile, professor, and self-proclaimed nerd I was in heaven. Yes, I am the person that literally sniffs new textbooks. I wish they had a air freshener that was book scented. This room was amazing! The smell! And the books on display! Wowsa! I think I liked this more than the Book of Kells.

    Back out of Trinity and I decided t head back to the hotel to see if we could check in. I decided to walked down Grafton. It was only 11 AM, but it was starting to pick up with street performers. Popped into a few stores, but I'm not in Ireland to shop so I quickly lost interest. To be honest, I wasn't super impressed....just seemed like most other pedestrian shopping streets in Europe.

    Back to the hotel...and yes! They let DH check in early. Snuck into the room and he was past out, so I joined him for a 2 hour nap.

    Alarm set.....will check into tonight with more.

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    Picking up where I left off...

    Woke up at 2 PM and had a shower. Gosh, that little nap was exactly what I needed!

    A quick note about the hotel: We are staying at the Merrion. I snagged a really good deal on Expedia. This hotel is really highly rated here on Tripadvisor and I can see why. The staff is amazingly helpful and our room is fantastic. We originally booked a queen room, but we ended up with a king room with a garden view. The room is big even by American standards! The bathroom has a nice shower and a separate bathtub. The bed is really comfortable too. I would HIGHLY recommend the hotel as it is close to everything.

    ----

    OK, back to the touring. After the shower I decided I would head over to the National Museum. OK, I have to say that I am not really into visiting natural history museums, at least in the US. I find them incredibly boring, but that is likely because the US history is well....not really that much history (relatively young country).

    This museum? Well, I am now a natural history convert. I will give it a try in other countries now. This museum was VERY well organized and a lot of details. It basically starts from the mesolithic area all the way to medieval Ireland. Lots of good information about the way humans lived across history. The treasure room was really cool. But the really cool room was the one that had the different remains of buried men. Amazing!! The medieval area upstairs was also really interesting....and things that I was a little more familiar with.

    I ended up spending just over an hour here and I visited every room except for ancient Egypt. I felt that was more than enough time for me. I was starting to get a little bored toward the end. Nonetheless, I feel like I have a much better appreciation for the history of Ireland. I think that it will come in handy over the next two weeks.

    After this I decided to head over to St. Patrick's. It was about a 15 minute walk from the museum. Everyone was out in St. Patrick's park enjoying the warm weather! It was nice to see. St. Patrick's was impressive from the outside. I mean, I've seen some great looking churches in Europe, but this was still nice to look at. I am a sucker for Romanesque/Gothic churches. Paid to get in and it was OK. Grabbed a few souvenirs at the shop.

    Decided to then walk over to Christ Church. About a 5 minute walk (if that). Outside wasn't really that impressive, but I decided to go in. Well, turns out it was time for Evensong. So let me back up....I am not religious. But I LOVE churches. All the money in the community gets funneled into churches, so they are often the most beautiful structures and have great art inside. I have only been to one other service and it was in Rome and I didn't understand it (I ran in to escape the heat and rest my weary feet).

    I wanted to see the interior of Christ Church, so I went in to Evensong. No clue what to expect LOL I was able to snap some pictures and wander around a bit before the service started. The service lasted about an hour. It was sort of awe inspiring the first 5 minutes....to think that others attended similar services 1000 years ago! After that I was a little bored....and it ended after 45 minutes.

    I thought about catching a cab back, but I walked. It is such a beautiful day! Took about 20-25 minutes to get back to the hotel. Went down Grafton, which was really hopping now (5:30ish).

    Back to the hotel. Picked up hubby and we cabbed it over to Temple Bar (7.10). Wandered for a little bit and just plopped into a restaurant for a quick bite (burger, fries, soda, bottled water, fried mushrooms - 15.99). Cabbed it back (9.50).

    Now we're just vegging out. A little tired, but it is still so bright outside! Our cab driver from this morning is picking us up at 9 AM to take us to the airport to get our car and then we head to Belfast.

    I am enjoying Dublin, but I am excited (and a little nervous) to get out on the roads tomorrow!

    So, did I get to see everything I wanted? Almost. I am just missing the two parks. I am hoping to run tomorrow morning (depending on how hard I sleep), so I will do a loop through St. Stephens and then over to Merrion Square. But, if I sleep in I won't be crushed.

    Some people said my Dublin day was too packed. I disagree....it was the right pace for me. I didn't feel rushed at all!

    Oh, and I skipped the HOHO bus because I would rather walk around a city. I only had the bus down because of DH, but he ended up sleeping the day away.

    More tomorrow!

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    Thanks Aussie!

    Sandy: We paid $200 USD for the Merrion, which seemed really inexpensive for a 5* in the city centre. Every other hotel I looked at was mid-200s or $300+. Peak travel times are so hard on the wallet!

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    Day 2: Dublin to Belfast

    Woke up this morning around 7 AM after a fitful night of sleep (DH was having some diabetes problems and woke me up at 2 AM to help him). Decided to go for a run! It was very overcast, but no rain.

    I wanted to run St. Stephen's and Merrion Square, but sadly, both of them were closed. Kind of silly for a park to be closed :( Especially for morning joggers. I did run around the outside though....stopped and took tons of pictures of the colorful doors everywhere! It was fun trying to find new colors :) The smell of some type of flower around St. Stephen's was just divine.

    Back to hotel to shower and pack up. We had scheduled our taxi driver from yesterday to pick us up at 9 AM and get us to the airport. He was right on time and had a great conversation about the economy (depressing conversation, but interesting insights from another country who is struggling). Fare this time was 30 euro with zero traffic. He dropped us right off at the lot so we didn't have to mess with the shuttle buses.

    Our car rental was Hertz. Very efficient. No line up at approximately 9:30 AM. We booked our car through Easy Tour Ireland. He confirmed our rate of 342 euro all inclusive of Super CDW for 15 days. We added on the extra driver for 9 euro per day. I also confirmed on the contract where it said "Nll" for the charge for super CDW. I asked if we needed to look over the car and he said "No, you have full coverage."

    We were given a brand spanking new Suzuki Alto. We were hoping for a 2 door car due to DH's height/weight. But we have a clown car now LOL It's so tiny! It is so tiny that our luggage will NOT fit in the back and we only have 2 rollerboards (carry-on size). We put our duffle bag and backpack in the trunk (Boot) and the rollerboards in the backseat. The car only has 200 km on it to start (let's remember that number for when I do our grand total of mileage at the end).

    We plugged in our GPS and off we went. DH drove first, got us right on the M1 with no problems. Came up to a toll booth and I knew our car had etoll, but I wasn't 100% sure. So we went to the cash lane. The car in front goes through and then DH sees green and starts to drive. The toll booth lady is chasing him, and I'm yelling because the arm is coming down. Thankfully he braked in time, but was flustered and couldn't throw it into reverse. So I jumped out and gave her the 1.80 euro.

    Getting a little hungry....we keep seeing towns, but no idea if they are 5 minutes off the road or 1 hour. We finally see a service plaza and pull in there. Just grabbed a diet sprite (my drink of choice) for 1.80 euro (ouch!) and lunch at Burger King for 11.35 euro (2 burgers, fries, 1 drink).

    DH then says it is my turn. I hit the M1 and am doing fine. A little weird having the stick shift on the left, but I'm managing. Until we hit Belfast. Trouble #1: Our GPS isn't working. For some reason the car charge isn't working. DH is now getting flustered. I see the Titanic cranes and know we have gone too far. I turn around and head back to the city center and try to pull over so I can get my phone turned on and use the GPS (I did pay for international data).

    Trouble 2: I am driving way too far to the left and am getting a little flustered because DH is right angry at the GPS. Apparently I almost hit the curb and he's cursing. He's so worried about mucking up the tires and having to pay (since super CDW doesn't cover tires). I'm more than frazzled now and DH demands to drive.

    I will say - I have poor vision in one eye and have pretty bad depth perception. So this, coupled with his frustration over the GPS, and me getting used to being on the left of the road/right of the car, and Belfast traffic/roads was enough.

    I managed to get the phone GPS working and navigated us to our hotel/B&B, Tara Lodge. Parking is free on the street and behind the hotel. We managed to snag one spot behind the hotel and I don't think we're leaving it!!! And I'll have DH get us out of the city tomorrow AM.

    We've got to figure out this GPS issue though. I paid $60 for the UK/Ireland maps and I don't want to waste it. It seems that it is the actual car charge, looks like the little pin at the end is missing and I think it's been missing since day 1, or it's sitting in the box back home. We may try to look for an electronics store and buy a new one, and possibly buy the Ordnance Map (which we should have done anyway).

    OK, back to the day. We arrived at Tara Lodge around 12:15 PM. So it took maybe 2.5 hours to drive from Dublin to Belfast, including getting lost and stopping for food. Not too shabby, but then it's all M roads. 120 kpm until we hit N. Ireland and then it was 60 mph.

    OK, why is it MPH? But yet everything else is on the metric system?

    Our room wasn't ready, but the receptionist at the desk was great. We just chatted and chatted! I love her accent....she's from Newcastle. We walked down to Titanic Ave. and found an ATM to get some pounds. Withdrew 200, which should be enough.

    Another oddity - I collect money from the countries I visit. Preferably bills (although I need Euro coins from each country, since those are different). The ATM spit out Bank of Ireland, Bank of England, and Ulster pounds. But only 20's. I need 5s (or fivers as the store clerk called them). I did get a Bank of Ireland fiver, but still need to hunt down an Ulster fiver (I have a 20 saved just in case, but that's worth a lot of money!).

    Our room was ready around 1 PM and we were upgraded to a deluxe room because that was all that was ready. Here's a funny - this couple comes in to check in and says "Where's the bar?" Well, there is no bar because it is a lodge. Oh boy, was he ticked off! He cancelled the rest of his stay, but paid for tonight because it was too late to cancel. Yet there are a ton of bars right on Titanic.

    Room is pretty standard. It's a good size with a queen bed (cozy for DH and I since we are used to a king). Flat screen TV and free wifi. Bathroom is clean with a tub/shower combo. The free parking and top rating on Tripadvisor is what drew us in. I think we paid 78 pounds.

    Now we're just hanging out. I booked a tour with Paddy Campbell for a 4 PM pickup. I can't wait to go around and see Belfast. I am really interested in the neighborhoods and learning more about them. Not much is open today, but that is enough for me. The cost is 30 pounds for 90 minutes, but maybe we'll extend it. We'll see how DH is doing.

    I'll update more later.

    Oh wait! So let me tell you about this couple I met yesterday. But first, I never understand travelers who want everything to be just like home. Guess what? It's not home and sometimes that is a really, really good thing. If I wanted home, I would just stay there. Anyhow, on the Trinity tour yesterday I got to talking to a bunch of Americans. This one couple from Oklahoma had been here for 2 weeks. Apparently they were on a tour and then were spending time in Dublin. First they complained about the weather (um, hello it's Ireland. Did you DO any research?), then they complained that the hotel didn't have AC (um, open a window) and wouldn't provide a fan (really?). Then they complained about the driving in Dublin (why on earth would you rent a car and drive it to Dublin?). It was nothing but complain, complain, complain. As someone living in America (I'm Canadian) I was embarrassed.

    More tonight!

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    Enjoying your "as you go" report! The sweet smell of flowers around the parks may have been linden trees. Their flower is sweet and probably blooming about now. I love that smell!

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    twiggers:

    I am so loving your style of reporting which includes the ups and downs. Hope you get the GPS sorted.

    You are providing so much helpful information. Carry on please.

    Sandy

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    Irish - It was a white flower. I snapped a pic and am planning on throwing it up on Facebook for friends to identify. It was such a fragrant scent.

    Sandy: Thank you! I am glad that you are enjoying the report. It is so nice to have free wifi every night so that I can update while things are still fresh in my head.

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    Picking up where we left off.

    My plan for Belfast was simply to visit the Falls/Shankhill neighborhoods. I didn't really have an interest in Titanic or anything. Plus it's Sunday, so I knew a lot would be closed (i.e., City Hall).

    We booked a tour with Paddy Campbell and I had reconfirmed yesterday. We just sort of vegged out at the hotel in the afternoon and we were picked up promptly at 4 PM by Steven.

    He explained that he had another pick-up at 5:30 PM, so we would have to stick with the 60-90 minute tour. He started by explaining some of the political history and then we were off. We arrived in Shankhill first after a short drive. The British flags were flying in front of every house and they were also preparing for the 12th. There was a massive stack of pallets. Apparently they will be lighting it on fire and burning an Irish flag on the 12th. The driver drove us past all of the murals and stopped and explained. I was hopping side to side in the car snapping pictures.

    We then drove to the Peace Wall. Once again, simply amazing for me. I don't know, I have always been particularly fascinated by political/religious history....I was actually a history minor in college. Anyhow, I learned a lot of new facts about the wall and it was really striking just to be standing there.

    We then drove into the Falls neighborhood. Strikingly different. Cleaner, the houses were more modern (apparently because they were burned down in the 60s). Less nationalism where we drove through (i.e., no Ireland flags). We stopped at one memorial.

    My husband asked if he was Protestant or Catholic and he told us to guess. Hubby guessed Protestant and I guessed Catholic. I had picked up on a few words he used when discussing the Protestants, he would say "those people" which is a bit of a derogatory term (in a sense) and he also spent more time talking about the "brainwashing" on the Protestant side. However, he also talked about how things are changing.

    My husband didn't want to go, but he said he really, really enjoyed it. That's a lot coming from him because he really doesn't like history, etc. He thinks it is really boring.

    The tour was 30 pounds, but we gave him 40 pounds.

    We then walked down to Botanic and had dinner at Carlitos. Oh wow...the pizza was so yummy!!! Pizza, appetizer, and a bottle of still water came to 15.50 pounds. Not too shabby.

    Now we're back at the hotel vegging out. We need to get to bed at a decent time so that we can fully get on Europe time.

    Oh, the hotel: Tara Lodge

    The receptionist was so nice and friendly! Got upgraded to a deluxe room which is spacious. Not as big as last night's, but still spacious for a European hotel. Haven't slept yet, so I can't say anything about the bed yet (or the shower). It does include breakfast, so I am looking forward to that! I want to try some black pudding :-)

    The plan for tomorrow is to drive up to Carrickfergus, then over to the causeway and dunluce. We are overnighting in Derry tomorrow.

    Today was a highlight for me....this was something I have wanted to see for a long, long time.

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    Wow! You must be enjoying the "luck of the Irish" with all your upgrades! Or is that Texas charm coming through??? Either way, that's wonderful for you! Glad to hear the car rental went well also. Anxious to hear more!

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    I love your report! The Long Room was better than the Book of Kells. I loved it. Did you see the Bog man? I enjoyed the National Museum also and loved Christ Church. Did you see the cat chasing the rat they found in the church organ pipes?
    I love your energy and love of history. Your guide in Belfast reminds me of the one Anthony Bourdain had during his visit. Sorry about the car! I would be stressed but you will like that little tiny car in those smaller villages.

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    Enjoying the report, Twiggers. Hopefully you'll get the GPS sorted out as that will help with the nerves. It's normal to clean the curbs on the left the first few times, particularly on the narrow (not M) roads.

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    Marilyn - Yes, we have been having some luck!

    flpab - The Bog man? You mean in the National Museum? Yes...that was totally creepy, but super fascinating as well. To think, we just turn to leather!!!

    indy - Thanks....glad I'm not the only one. And yes, cleaning them...that's what I am doing LOL

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    Sorry all...internet wasn't working on my laptop and I didn't want to type everything on my iPad. Here is yesterday's report:

    Alright, here we go with Day 3. The plan today was to drive from Belfast to Derry using the coastal route. Planned stops were Carrickfergus, cushendall, giants causeway and Dunluce. In Derry I planned on the Bogside murals, the walls, guildhall, and St. columb's cathedral.

    Just a quick note. I am using my iPad because my MacBook isn't picking up the signal :(

    Had a so-so sleep. I was tired by around 8-9 PM, so I went to sleep. I woke up at 2:30 AM and then tossed and turned until my alarm went off at 7:30. Shower in the hotel was great. Isn't it fun when traveling trying to figure out how showers work I different places?

    Our room rate included breakfast. I ordered a traditional breakfast with eggs, soda bread, tomato, ham, and sausage. Um, yea I forgot that US sausage is very different. It was so much food! I finished everything but the sausage and wasn't hungry until about 6 PM. These Irish breakfasts will be great money savers. Oh, and the soda bread? holy crap, I've never tasted such good bread!

    DH wasn't feeling well (diabetes meds complications) so I elected to drive. We had charged up the GPS the night before and used it to get us to the highway. I think we left around 9:30-9:45 and were at Carrickfergus by 10 AM.

    It was five pounds for entry and an extra pound for the walking tour guide. The guy at the desk was so nice! I asked if he had an Ulster fiver. He didn't and then he looked through his safe and still didn't. but then 10 minutes later he hunts me down in the castle because he found one. What a guy!

    The castle was pretty cool! It was nice because it was pretty much intact and you don't have to use your imagination very much, unlike the ruined castles. I spent about 30 minutes inside and saw the entire thing.

    We headed back on the highway. The initial plan was to stop at Cushendall, but I was just cruising and went rig through. Ok, this route was amazing! The views were incredible and the little towns along the route were so quaint. We ended up stopping at Ballycastle for a quick soda and bathroom break.

    The weather up to this point has been great. Sunny and no rain. The closer we got the causeway, the worse it got :( but no worries, it is all part of Ireland! We ended up at the Causeway by 1 PM, so 2.5 hours from Carrickfergus. But note, I am the worlds slowest driver. Me and third gear are great friends, but I was not the slowest one out there.

    The causeway was crazy busy by this point. Barely found a parking spot! Pulled in and walked to the visitor's center. very impressive. I understand it just opened and it shows. The lines were quite long to buy tickets and the entrance price is 8.50 and includes an audio tour. It was quite rainy by this point, but I elected to walk down.

    Note to the ladies - don't bring light colored pants, or a least don't wear them when it's rainy!

    I think it took about 15 minutes to walk down. I have to admit, I was a little underwhelmed. I mean, it was pretty cool but I think it was so hyped up. I was expecting it to be bigger or something. But I took all the pics and even walked up a bunch of stones. Took the bus back for 1 pound. I wanted to save the time, and my legs (it's all uphill on the way back).

    I think I spent a total of 1 hour there. Then we were off to Dunluce, which took about 5 minutes. Dunluce was 5 pounds and a free audio guide, which I recommend. I loved this castle! You have to use your imagination because it is in ruins, but there is just enough left to help you out. And the views were awesome. I think I liked this the most today. I spent about 30-40 minutes here and explored every inch and listened to all of the audio guides.

    Then we were off to Derry. I was following signs but got turned around somewhere, so we hooked up the gps. We made one bathroom break and arrived at our B&B by about 4:30.

    We're staying at Rose Park. So far we are enjoying it. The owner is amazingly kind and full of so many facts and history of the area. The room is very clean and comfortable. I would definitely recommend. It is a 10 minute walk from the walls.

    So I headed down to Bogside and did a walk of the murals using my guidebook. Very interesting! Definitely another highlight. Heni tried to get over to the walls and ended up lost in some residential neighborhoods. I was a little worried, but when the guys drinking on the street corner didn't accost me I was able to relax a bit.

    Finally found my way to the walls and did another walk using my guidebook. So cool to be walking on top of city walls! Amazing how well they fortified this city.

    Went to dinner at Quay West because it was 50% off night. We had 2 full meals, a Jameson, a Magners, still water and a dt. Coke, all for 19 £.

    How is the driving going? Much better today. Although DH claims that he breathes a sigh of relief whenever I stop. But I didn't hit anything. I did have one near miss when I forgot I s driving a manual and tried to pull from a stop sign in third gear and stalled with a car speeding toward me. Luckily he stopped....and he didn't even flip me off ( a ceainty in America). I have mastered the roundabout....must have hit 10-15 of them today!

    Overall I loved N. Ireland! The trip is everything I imagined. Tomorrow we head to Sligo. It is a full day, but we have lots of stops planned.

    Maybe we'll see sun tomorrow :)

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    And here is today:

    Here we go.... continuing day 4 - Derry to Sligo

    First, I want to say that I was incredibly worried that I would be packing too much into my days. Just the opposite.....we have actually had lots of extra time!

    The plan for today: Drive from Derry to Sligo with stops at -

    Grianan ring fort

    Glenveagh Castle (oh boy, there is a story there!)

    Donegal - stroll town and visit castle

    Sligo - abbey and Carrowmore (was never sure whether I would do that today or tomorrow morning)

    Hubby did the driving today.

    We started off around 9:30. GPS couldn't find the ring fort, but did find a hotel. We followed signs from the main road (N13). Started winding our way up this narrow R road. It was only about 2 kms up, but it took awhile. Passed a man out walking his dog and picking up the trash left by tourists. His dog looked just like our mini schnauzer so we stopped the car to chat. What a friendly man and his dog named Alfie! Then we continued up. The weather was not so good....very low clouds and "mizzly" to quote Ponaire. We were not going to be able to see anything from up there. But that's OK....I really just wanted to see the fort. I guess this would be considered a prehistoric (2000 yrs old) military base. Pretty cool. The ground was really wet and I deluded myself into thinking I could see something, so I walked all the way up (definitely not for the older crowd as the stairs are steep and very uneven). Yea, I couldn't see a thing....just a lot of mist shrouded hills. Oh well, I tried. I think we got up here around 10:10 AM, and I stayed maybe 10-15 minutes. As we drove down the hill we saw Alfie and his owner again and said hello!

    Now, stupid GPS....she has no clue what Glenveagh Castle is. My guidebook says to follow signs and stay on R250. OK....so we start off doing this. Drive through Letterkenny and all is going well. Until it isn't! Something just doesn't feel right. So we pull over and "Laurie" (our GPS) tells us she can now find Glenveagh National Park. Great! Just stay on R254. Well, I trust the silly woman....mistake #1! So we drive and drive....and drive and drive. Man, this doesn't feel right. The old man said the castle was only 38 km away. And we're in the middle of nowhere on a street that can only fit one car (and we're in a clown car as it is!). Then she says "You've arrived at your destination." Um, we're in the middle of a mountain. We pass a car and signal them to stop. Tourists. Lost like us (they probably have a "laurie" too). But they said they saw a trail that said "Castle, 7 km" and were going to walk it. Not me. I look at the crude map I have and yea, we're lost. Oh well...let's continue on this road.

    We keep on driving and hubby says "Look at those purple flowers. I think they are called Monks Hoods and smell like lavendar. Go check." So I walk out and lean over to grab it and fall in a ditch. Yup folks...even though that looks like innocent grass on the edge of the road....it hides a sinister ditch. Hubby thought I fell in a bog....I twisted my ankle (it's OK)....and never did smell the flowers. What are they? Does anyone know? They are purple and look like bells.

    We kept driving and saw so many sheep. This is what I came to Ireland for. Hubby kept going "BAAA" out the window and the sheep would bleat back at us. I would jump out of the car and take pics of them....they would just stare...until I went "BAAA" and they would "BAAA" back at me. I was having a hoot.

    Made an executive decision NOT to pursue Glenveagh. Clearly Laurie was never going to get us there, and it was never high on my list. I prefer ruined castles anyway. On we go...what a rocky landscape out here in the middle of nowhere. Passed some abandoned, small stone homes....maybe left during the Famine?

    Fortunately Laurie recognized Donegal, so we headed there. But uh oh, the gas gauge says we only have 1/4 tank. I sure we pass a gas station soon. About 10 miles outside Donegal the light comes on. Fortunately we found a station about 3 miles out. 48.00 euro for a full tank! My gas budget might be right on (I budgeted $550). Oh, nd now we'll always fill up at 1/2 tank. I'm used to the US where there are gas stations everywhere!

    We arrived in Donegal at 12:30ish. Um, yea....a normal person would never take 2 hours to get to Donegal from Grianan. But you know what? Getting lost is the best part of a vacation. Whether it's on the streets of Rome (where I stumbled upon the most amazing churches while lost) or the streets of Ireland.

    Donegal is super cute. Hubby got stuck in the main roundabout because he kept seeing "no entry" but that was meant for the traffic coming in. There is a car park, but he found a side street and stayed with the car. He's still pretty tired.

    I got out and wandered. Popped into a little gift shop and bought a piece of Belleek pottery for Dad and myself. Also got a piece of peat bog art. Totally dorky, but whatever. Picked up t-shirts for a few friends and found a bookstore and purchased the road atlas! Clearly Laurie cannot be trusted. I can see us breaking up in the future...no longer are we BFF (best friends forever).

    I went to Donegal Castle. It is a Heritage Site, so I bought my card for 21 euro. There was a guided tour at 2 PM, but I didn't want to wait so I used their pamphlet and wandered around myself. It was quite interesting....I covered every square inch (some parts twice) in just under 30 minutes.

    Back out to the main area where I wandered again for a bit....just looking in storefronts and such and then back to the car. All told, I spent just over an hour here. I wasn't hungry, so we didn't eat here. Those Irish breakfasts fill you up!!

    Next up was Sligo. We took the main N road down to Sligo. Didn't need Laurie as everything was well marked. Hubby was driving pretty good....consistently cruising at 100 km.

    Driving note - 100 km feels really fast in a clown car in Ireland. My husband is a bit of a speed devil and even he commented on this. Many times he kept to 10-20 km below the speed limit.

    People are very courteous on the very small R roads. We had one gentleman back up for us. But be careful....those ditches and stone walls are lurking! Don't pull over too far to the left or you'll be calling AA.

    We are also finding ourselves looking over our right shoulders A LOT, and forgetting which way to look when merging. It's getting better though.

    Also, hubby has big feet....so when he goes to brake he is often hitting both the brake and gas. Thankfully the clutch is in, so no disasters. And here I thought that clowns had big feet....you'd think they would adjust the clown car accordingly.

    OK, back to the day. We pulled into Sligo and I thought I would visit the abbey. We were early! I told the B&B owner we would be there by 6ish, and it was now only 3 PM. We saw signs for the town center and abbey. Were doing great and then the signs disappeared. Nothing with Laurie....not sure how the Abbey is not a point of interest *sigh*. So we gave up...drove through the town center (super quaint) and headed to the B&B. Fortunately I had the lat/long and input that in. Found it very easily.

    We are staying at the Iona and hubby is like a little kid. Something about Bob Newhart and some show....he said that we are now in a "true" B&B. See, in Derry we were in an apartment in the rear of the house and now we are staying in the house. Looks like we're the only ones tonight, but she only has 3 rooms. The room was ready and it's perfect. Hubby is a big guy, so we have a double + single. Maybe he'll get some sleep tonight (me too!).

    Rose offered tea and we accepted this time. I don't drink caffeine, so I have always resisted tea. Um, idiot! Tea is the bomb. Little bit of cream and a little sugar. And all those biscuits please. Maybe tea is just a good excuse to eat biscuits. I may have to take up tea, but find the non-caffeinated kind. I know nothing about tea though. Anyhow, we had a great chat with her about her family, her business, the area, etc. She gave us a dinner recommendation for down by the beach that we'll probably head out to later.

    Now I'm in the room....hubby is sleeping. I was going to head out to the Abbey & Carrowmore, but decided to save it for tomorrow. We have a light day tomorrow anyways.

    Overall, I did not feel like "we would be seeing our vacation from the windshield." Yes, we had some mileage to cover today, but it wasn't horrible and we ended up ahead of schedule. And....it's sort of the same thing over and over...sheep, hills, mist, and rain. It's not like I would stop and take a picture. I don't know....we saw a lot from the car today. It was a lot of fun! People on here discourage from taking on too much and it had me nervous, but it was just perfect!

    Tomorrow morning's breakfast has been ordered and it has brownbread and I'm trying black pudding for the first time! That excites me :-) And yes, I know what is in it but I don't care. You've got to try everything once.

    Tomorrow's plan is to head to Clifden where we are staying for 2 nights. We plan on stopping at Foxford Mills (if Laurie can find it), Westport, and then doing the scenic drive to Leenane and into Clifden. But we'll start by doing Sligo Abbey and Carrowmore in the morning.

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    Still folloowing along and enjoying. I like black pudding but seem to be in the minority of Americans. Enjoy! I also like the white pudding which is sometimes served with breakfast.

    The purple flowers were not MonksHood unless it is a different variety. The ones in my garden (here in coastal Mass) bloom at the end of August and into September. I'll check my Irish wildflower book tonight.

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    Turns out it was Foxgloves! Thanks Tony :)

    I am looking forward to trying the black pudding tomorrow. She also had white pudding, but I'll save that for another day.

    I still need to try Guinness too.

    Thanks sugar! I am glad you are enjoying.

    Went down to Strandhill tonight for dinner. Was quite good pub grub (~28 euro for the two of us, no alcohol). The views were great. It was quite windy, but there were people out there surfing!!!

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    twiggers....I'm going to share a bit of modern Irish history.On my first trip to Ireland in 1980, my wife commited to visiting the brother and sister of an Irish woman who worked for her family...and we did. We found them in the tiny village of Tullykyne, northwest of Galway, near Moycullen. Th cottage was typical of the time...thatched roof, no electricity, no running water. To make a long story short, the next three times we stopped by we wer amazed at how the iriah Government improved there lot, all the way to elelctricty, TV, fully-equipped kitvhen, running water, indoor toilets, etc. The picture will show it to you. They're both long gone..last visited in 1996 when only brother Michael was living at over 90.

    When you're in Clifden, stop by "Destry's" for lunch..a movie buff owns it and commemorates the flick "Destry Rides Again"..Jimmy Stewart and Marlene Dietrich...posters everythwre... excellent menu choices. Have fun in Ireland..looks like you are alerady!

    stu Tower (pics will be in the next post..covering 1980, 1987, and 1996)

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    You must try a Guinness and a Bulmers cider. Tower, I loved seeing those pictures. So looking forward to your Clifden report. We want to rent a cottage in that area some year. I would love to go to the Belleek factory. It is around Sligo. the brown bread and seafood chowder, yummmm!

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    twiggers:

    Hello. I am still reading and so glad that you accepted a lovely hot cup of tea when offered by Rose. So far you are doing really well with the places you are staying.

    Sorry your DH has not been well. Has the time change and the time you eat your meals contributed to his diabetes medication problems? I do hope he feels better very soon.

    Keep it coming. You are doing a nice job.

    Sandy

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    A question for you Twiggers, about the Belfast to Derry day.

    I'm assuming you did the Antrim coast and the glens? I'm wondering about time.

    I don't plan to go into Carrikfergus castle or the Giant's causeway, but would like to go to Bushmills (a good spot to get a few bottles as gifts for the men). We're mainly interested in soaking up the scenery, and stopping here and there to stretch our legs and mosey around a bit and have lunch somewhere.

    Can this be comfortably done in one day, Belfast - Derry? Or would you recommend stopping for the night along the way?

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    tower - very cool pics!!! Amazing how time and technology catches up to even the most remote areas.

    Sandy - We're not sure what it is...we thought we adjusted the meds correctly. I think part of it is that at home he just eats whenever and when you're traveling that isn't always the case. So we've adjusted his insulin a bit and are hoping today will be better!

    sugar - Yes, we followed the Coastal Causeway Route. It is VERY well marked. I think it can VERY much be done in one day, especially if you're not doing Giants or Carrickfergus. The drive is very scenic and there are a lot of small villages to pop into. If you get an early start from Belfast, I think you'll be fine. We left around 9:30 and pulled into Derry around 4:00.

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    twiggers, really really enjoying reading your live trip report. We'll be doing the same trip in about a month (celebrating our 15 year anniversary). I was concerned about driving from Belfast to Portrush post jet lag but reading your report I think we should be fine...we'll simply drive to our inn and wait to explore the following day.
    Tower - really cool pictures

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    Twiggers: Great report! You are having the "time of your life," it would seem, and that's the way it should be! I loved walking the Walls in Derry too! Amazing, isn't it, how protected you feel up there? I'm enjoying your travels vicariously and can't wait to return to Ireland myself!

    Tower: Lovely pictures and what a wonder for that family to finally receive the "luxuries" we take for granted!

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    Today was day 5 of our Ireland adventure. I am happy to say that hubby is starting to feel better! We've adjusted his insulin and that has been helping. Today's plans:

    Carrowmore
    Sligo Abbey
    Foxford Woollen Mills
    Stroll through Westport
    Scenic R335 drive straight into Clifden (with a note to visit Clifden Castle at some point).

    We are overnighting at the Dun Ri Guesthouse for two nights! Yay...we get to stay put for a few days :)

    So let's get down to business:

    After leaving our B&B this morning we headed to Carrowmore. Note: Don't trust the GPS coordinates on Wikipedia...Laurie didn't like Carrowmore's coordinates, so we just followed the brown signs and that worked fine. We arrived at Carrowmore right at 10 AM. Remember the sun? Well, it decided to hide and it was lightly raining. I went right in and used my Heritage card (now up to 7 euro used - need to get to 21 to make it worthwhile). Was given a laminated guided tour and helpful navigational info from the desk clerks.

    They have a VERY informative exhibit indoors that chronicles the history of the area. It was a great history lesson! However, I made the mistake of commenting "Wow, amazing how they did this" to an archaeologist. Normally I would be fascinated, but this man was the driest academic I've met in a long time (and I'm an academic). I was finally able to walk away after about 20 minutes LOL By the time I got outside the rain was coming down pretty good. I managed to make it through everything, but I was chilled to the bone. I think I spent about 15 minutes outside. I have to say....it's not that the stones were that amazing....the fact that they were 5000-7500 years old is what was amazing! And the main cairn? Oh, just breathtaking! I ended up skipping the few stones on the other side of the road because I was soaked.

    Left there around 11 AM and headed to Sligo Abbey. Hubby was driving today and found a spot right outside. I ran in, used my Heritage Card again (now up to 10 euro) and was given a laminated guided tour. It was VERY helpful. I covered every square inch (some areas twice) and was finished in about 20 minutes. I found it very fascinating and I'm hoping that I see more like this during our trip.

    Next up: Foxford Woollen Mills. We took the main N roads there. Laurie didn't fail us this time. Hubby was getting the hang of the driving. I think it was just before 1 PM when we pulled in. Unfortunately I just missed the start of a tour, so I strolled around. I grabbed a scarf (not sure when I'll wear it in Texas) and then found the seconds table in the back! Score! I grabbed a Heritage patterned blanket and couldn't see anything wrong with it and it was marked down to 40 euro. Turns out it was discontinued...so there were no flaws! I can't wait to use this on our chilly winter nights (or really, our one cold night LOL). Then the tour started....OK, I was disappointed. Somehow I was led to believe online that we would see the actual mill. Instead it was just 40 minutes of the history of the mill. The first 10 minutes was interesting, but then I started getting weary of it, and the last 5 minutes or so was just an advertisement. No actual mill tour :(

    We left there right around 2 PM and headed for Westport. Stopped in the main street and just wandered a little bit up and down the streets. It was a quaint town, but just seemed like a lot of shopping. We stopped in Maple Moose. It's this chain restaurant that sells ice cream, waffles, and crepes. They forgot my order and ended up refunding my money and giving me my crepes. They were just OK....I just wanted a snack. Left there around 3:30/4:00 PM.

    Next up was heading along the R335 coastal route. We stopped at the Famine memorial and then snaked along Clew Bay. Man, what beautiful views. We just putted along and stopped every now and then and snapped pictures. The mountains were so beautiful and Dough Lough was great....just a beautiful lake at the bottom of the mountains. And the sheep were everywhere! We did run across a few sheep in the middle of the road...we did some bleating and got a few bleats back. For some reason we are easily entertained by this.

    Hubby wants to know what people drive 100 km on these roads??? That would be insanity! On the R roads he is hovering around 50-60 km and on the N roads he goes between 60-100 km depending on the width of the road. Some N roads are much better than others.

    We finally pulled in Leenane around 5ish. Stopped at the sheep and wool center....it's just a tour bus stop, but it had clean toilets. Thankfully we arrived right before a tour group.

    Then hit the N59 to Clifden. We were cruising along and noticed signs for Kylemore Abbey. I mentioned to hubby that we were going to come back this way tomorrow and he insisted we stop. It was about 5:30 and they were still open. Oh wow, it was so picture perfect pretty! I paid my 12.50 (ouch!) and walked up to the Abbey. Again, so pretty outside and such a romantic story. However, I was disappointed by the interior. There just isn't much to see. I was in and out pretty quickly. Then I walked over to the Gothic Cathedral. This was worth the walk...it is a miniature cathedral. So cool. Again, very romantic story behind the cathedral. Walked back over to the main entrance and caught the shuttle bus to the Victorian Gardens. I'm not much of a garden/flora/fauna person, but the gardens were very pretty. Those who are interested could easily spend 30-45 minutes strolling around. I spent around 10!!

    Back to the car by 6:45 and off to Clifden. Laurie didn't disappoint and we pulled into Dun Ri just after 7 PM. Michael, the owner, showed us to our room on the second floor. We have a double + single overlooking the pony farm. It is a good sized room, but doesn't really have a B&B feel to it....they have 13 rooms, so it feels more like a hotel.

    Went into town and stopped in a pub for dinner and some trad music! Yay! Finally some music and a pub :-) It was a lot of fun. Hubby had fish & chips, but he thought the fish was a little greasy, but still ate it. I had guinness stew...oh yum! It was 12.95 each. DH had a Guinness and I had a Magners (4.50 each). Then we kicked back and listened to some trad for awhile. It was great!!! The fiddle....ah, the fiddle! I could listen to that for hours on end. But alas, we decided to call it a night early and get back to the room. We just want to veg a bit. We're not really night owls or partyers.

    Overall, today was a good day. Beautiful scenery around every corner and some great historical sights to keep me entertained.

    The plan for tomorrow is to do Sky Road and maybe head over to Roundhouse. Oh, and Clifden Castle. We're just planning on bumming around tomorrow and taking it easy.

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    Great report! Waiting for more ... We'll be coming for 3 weeks in September, meanwhile I plan clockwise. Was one day in Dublin enough or you'll be spending more time at the end?

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    Sounds great, Twiggers. Glad you are enjoying yourself.

    Curious . . . I notice a lot of "I's" in the report. Is DH joining you for many of the outings or does he stay back? (Or is that just your writing style?)

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    Tasta - We're only doing the one day in Dublin. I think maybe one more day would have been nice to explore a little more. We're staying at the airport on the last night. If we get done early enough then I might go into Dublin.

    indy - Hubby is driving, but he doesn't go to the sites. He has diabetic neuropathy, so he can't walk for more than a few minutes at a time. Plus most of the sites aren't really his thing. So he drives and enjoys the scenery and the sheep :)

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    A bit of an early report today....but I'll have more later. Today is now day 6 and we are in Clifden. The plan for today was just to kick back and relax. Originally planned to see Kylemore, but we did that yesterday. So today we were planning on Sky Road, Clifden Castle, and doing the R341 loop.

    We didn't set the alarm last night and woke up late at 8 AM. It was so nice to sleep in!! Showered and headed downstairs for breakfast. There was a couple from Germany that we chatted with for a second and another couple from the US. I ordered the full Irish and had brown bread (I asked for it toasted, but I don't think she understood), scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage (2 skinny links), and white pudding. The white pudding was OK....I think I like the taste better than black pudding.

    Went into the lounge and chatted with a couple from California. They were heading up to N. Ireland, so they shared some insight on some of the places we will be visiting.

    I guess we headed out around 10 AM. Plan was to do the Sky Road loop and stop at Clifden Castle. The B&B owner said there were two ways to get there: Walking down a road from the Sky Road or down a path from the boat club near the harbor. Well, we started down the Sky Road and I saw a sign that said private road, but nothing about a castle. So we kept on driving. The loop is about 10 miles, but took us about 45 minutes to an hour. We were just driving so slow, enjoying the scenery and stopping for the sheep in the road (and bleating at them). Stopped to enjoy the view a few times too, there is a nice pull out area up top.

    I would highly recommend this drive for anyone in the area....it is quite beautiful.

    We came back into town and headed for the harbor. I was determined to find this castle. Stopped in the boat club (it is at the end of the harbor road) and they pointed out the path. It was about a 10-15 minute walk...some steeper uphill parts, but nothing too bad. You walk along the water and there are some pretty views. Then you're right alongside a sheep farm. I tried to get them to talk, but they weren't having none of that. And then BOOM! There is the castle....sitting all by its lonesome. I've never been to an abandoned castle that isn't a tourist site. This was fun...I climbed down into the castle and tried to imagine what it would look like. The outside was VERY pretty! Chatted with another couple who I shared the trail with. I was at the castle for maybe 10 minutes and then headed back down the trail. All told, it was about 45 minutes and some good exercise. A really nice hike. I think taking the harbor path was best as the road going into the castle was very muddy! So keep that in mind if it has been raining.

    We headed back through town...put some gas in the car (30 euro - needed just about 1/2 tank). Then followed the signs for R341. What a lovely drive around to Roundstone. It started raining though....but no matter....it was still very pretty. We stopped in Roundstone to stretch our feet....not much here though. Just a little fishing village. If we were hungry, then it might be a great place to grab a quick bite.

    Headed on down the road. Initially I was thinking we would hit the N59 and stop at the Connemara Heritage Center. Saw a sign that said "Clifden" and hopped on it. Yea, this wasn't getting us to the N59! It was a super small road that wasn't even named on the Atlas. But super cool. Saw tons of sheep in the road and had fun bleating at them. It was a slow drive because the road was quite narrow. We're getting good at pulling over when we see a car ahead....you never know if the road will be wide enough later on, so might as well stop now! The scenery wasn't really great, just a bunch of rocky terrain...but the 12 Bens in the background were neat. Too bad it was so misty by this point.

    Pulled back into Clifden around 1:30ish and stopped at the Supervalu for some sandwich fixings. Back to the hotel at 2 PM. Hubby is catching a nap and I'll be heading into the town to wander into some shops in a bit.

    Tonight's plan is to hit up a different pub and check out some music. Maybe Guy's Bar.

    Budget wise: We're doing quite well. Since the car rental worked out with Easy Tour that easily saved me about $200-250. I budgeted $100/day for food and we're coming way under (although dinners are a little pricey - even pub grub). I'm also doing pretty good on souvenir/tourist site fees. I'm tracking my spending every day, so I'll try to post that toward the end. It's always my little challenge to come in under budget. Then I can just roll it over to the next vacation (which is Alaska in 2 weeks or maybe our Europe trip at Christmas).

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    Wandered through the town for about an hour doing a little economic stimulation. Didn't spend much, but my hubby likes to burn incense and I found peat/turf incense. He loves the smell of it burning, so it was perfect!

    Just a financial check in after day 6 (well, not including tonight's dinner):

    I calculated that my bank gave me a 1.26 exchange after their fees ($5.00 ATM fee + 1% forex fee) for euros and 1.60 for pounds. The credit card is a little better and I'm trying to maximize the use of that whenever I can.

    Right now I am slightly under budget on lodging (by $6.00) just due to the exchange rate.

    Here is my other spending thus far:

    Food & drink (budget $1500) - 237.36

    Souvenirs - 197.41 (I have almost bought for everyone now)

    Gas (budget $550) - 99.35

    Taxi - 117.04 (big expenses in Dublin)

    Tours/entry fees - 94.54 (includes Heritage Card)

    The other three categories have a combined budget of $850, so I need to slow down a bit LOL

    We have 10 days left before we leave.

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    I can't tell you how much I'm enjoying your reports:)

    I've got my Michelin 712 map all spread out, and since you've got the route/road numbers noted, it's fun to follow along as you go! I really appreciate that detail. Please keep that up!

    It's great to see a real budget too.

    BTW, we booked Tara Lodge in Belfast, so looking forward to that. Do you recommend the other accommodations so far?

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    Still following you 'round Ireland. I am laughing at bleating at sheep. Do you also moo at cows?

    My nephews thought this was hilarious when I did it (mooed and baaed) in Scotland, but my niece was greatly embarassed when I did it in Ireland. She said I was the only grownup she knew who acted like a grade schooler. (She was 16 at the time and I had already spent more than twice that time teaching elementary school. Maybe that explains things as some of my friends tell me that I never progressed beyond 11 years old.)

    (Sorry for the digression--just so glad to hear someone else gets a charge out of that sort of nonsense.)

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    You mentioned the great savings with EasyTourIreland. For August my booking thru Easy Tour is almost $400 less! So for those of you planning a trip, definitely check it out.(Keeping in mind that only Easytour and the Dan Dooley site enable you to find out the total cost including Super CDW. On EasyT it is automatically included, on DD you have to check a box labeled "excess waiver" or something like that-towards the bottom.)With DD my C class car was going to cost around $1100 for 13 days, only $746 with EasyTour. August rates are significantly higher than any other month.

    Thank you Twiggers for your most informative report! Including the actual expenditures is very helpful, please continue!

    Can you tell us how warm you have to dress for the days you are out walking about? Always long pants? any days suitable for capris or dresses?

    Its been in the 90's here, and all my other vacations have been tropical, so i am struggling with what to pack. Thanks!

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    Sugar - Awww, I am glad you are following along :) Tara Lodge was great! In Derry we booked the Rose Park B&B and LOVED it. Iona B&B in Sligo was a delight. In Clifden we had Dun Ri and it was OK...less personable as it was a large guesthouse. We just checked into Grey Gables and I am not too impressed yet.

    Irish - LOL yes...we do moo too! The bleating is so much fun, how can anyone NOT do it?? But then again, we're big kids!

    Maureen - It's my pleasure. Yes, Easy Tour saved us about 200 euro. I lived in Miami and now we're in Texas, so I can relate. I have been only wearing long pants, short sleeve shirts, and then a fleece jacket (also packed a windbreaker/rain jacket). It has been perfect. Even on the days it is a little warm, I just take off the jacket. There have been times that I wished I had a long sleeve shirt underneath. That wind can be biting. I would not do dresses...just too windy out at times and you're climbing over things. Capris might be OK, but I wouldn't bother with them taking up space. Go for long khakis, etc. Sneakers/sturdy walking shoes are a must....ones you don't mind mucking up.

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    We moo and bleat as well - and then we come across donkeys! I'm enjoying your trip, though it would be a little fast-paced for me. But that's probably because I take thousands of photos (literally - I took 7100 photos on my last 18 day trip to Ireland in May 2011!) So I stop lots, hang out in cemeteries everywhere, on cliff tops, and in churches like you. I love history as well!

    Make sure your shoes are waterproof, or get used to wet feet, as well, Maureen!

    Twiggers, I grew up in Miami - where did you live? I went to school at S. Miami Jr and Sr. high, and college at FIU...

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    How fortunate you are, Twiggers, to have a DH who is willing to make the trip with you, do most of the driving, and NOT feel pressured to see the sites and engage in all the walking, hiking, climbing, etc. He must be some kind of guy!!! That's great! Enjoying your Trip Report, by the way, very much.

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    Green - Oh wow! I'm averaging about 100-200 pics per day. Wowsa...7000!!! I lived in Miami for 2 years doing postdoctoral training at the U. We lived in the Gables for 1 year and then up in North Bay Village on the intracoastal for the second year. It was OK, but just not for us (we don't speak Spanish, so it was a bit tough).

    Marilyn - Yes, we figured this out quickly after our first trip to Europe a few years back. I would push him to do the museums, he would get grumpy, I would get grumpy back....you get the picture. I used to feel like "OMG how could you NOT see this?" but have realized that he is content to see things from the car or via pictures. I don't pretend to understand....but it works for us now.

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    Day 7 - Clifden to Ennis

    We started out quite slow this morning. I didn't set the alarm and we woke up at around 8 AM. Showered and headed down for breakfast. I elected to just have scrambled eggs, bacon, and toast. It was quite good. We paid up (able to use a credit card) and headed out. We were on the road by 10 AM.

    Things to do today:

    Augnanure Castle

    Connemara Marble visitor's centre (was going to do the Celtic Crystal for hubby, but he said he wasn't interested)

    Galway - stroll around for a bit, maybe eat (if hungry)

    Dunguaire Castle

    Kinmacduagh round tower & church

    We headed out on the N59 toward Galway. It was a nice scenic drive, but no sheep :( The N roads aren't great for seeing sheep, you really have to hit the R roads. Our first stop was about 45 minutes later. I knew that Augnanure was somewhere near the town, but "Laurie" couldn't find it. So we stopped at a gas station. Turns out you need to go through the town and right around the golf course you'll see it well sign marked. Followed that down the road for about 2 km. There is a good car park and it was pretty empty at this time of day (10:45 ish). Short stroll up the path and used my Heritage Card (now up to 13 euro used). Hubby came to this one and paid his 3 euro. This is a tower castle and it was pretty neat. Very well maintained and mostly original. We were able to climb up to the very top floor. Sadly, the inside isn't as interesting as the outside as they have whitewashed all the interior walls. But they did have the murder hole (always fun reading about that) and garderobe (hubby got a kick out of that). I think we spent about 20-30 minutes here.

    Headed back to the N59 and next stop was Moycullen. The Connemara Marble visitor's centre is right on the main road and well sign posted. A quick stop in...grabbed a few small souvenirs (14 euro). The clerk was VERY friendly...we complained at the speed limits a bit (they are too high on the bad roads and too low on the good parts of the road). You can apparently get tours and such, but I didn't feel like spending the time. I'm not that interested in marble.

    Next stop was Galway. We began to hit traffic pretty much from Moycullen all the way in. It was stop and go the entire time. We crawled into Galway and found some street parking (2 euro per hour) near Eyre Square. Walked down into the Latin Quarter a bit and found a jewelry store. Hubby wanted to buy a Claddagh ring for his granddaughter and I wanted one as well. We just bought sterling silver...my blood isn't rich enough for the gold rings. I believe we paid 25 euro for the child ring and 35 euro for the women's ring. Used my tax free card for a little savings (need to remember to redeem all that at the airport).

    I ended up wandering through the Latin Quarter. I enjoyed the medieval streets and the buskers, but it was all really just shop after shop. Quite honestly, I could find that anyway....and many of the shops are ones I have seen already in my travels. There were a lot of restaurants, but I was full from breakfast. I ended up walking over to the Claddagh area and then along the river. There was a nice river walk and some gentleman fishing.

    I was trying to find the Spanish Arch and got turned around the wrong way, but eventually found it. Also went into St. Nicholas church. Again, more interesting on the outside than the inside (a lot of churches are like that!). Strolled back up the Latin Quarter and back to Eyre Square.

    That was about it.....I don't know. Everyone seems to hype up Galway. Maybe because it's on all the big tours? Easy to get to? I don't know what all the fuss was about. Yes, it was a nice medieval area....but I've seen better in other cities. Maybe we needed to spend the night, I don't know. After being in the countryside and in all the small towns I was just eager to escape a bigger, busier city. I'm just glad that I decided to stay outside of Galway, closer to the Cliffs and the Burren.

    I think I was in Galway for about an hour walking around, so we headed out around 2 PMish. The plan now was to head for Kinvarra and the Dunguaire Castle. We used Laurie to get us out of Galway on the N67. It wasn't too far of a drive but we were stuck behind a big coach bus. Hubby says he was fine with that....the big bus could push everyone over for us! Dunguaire Castle is right on the main N road, you can't miss it. No car park though, so we pulled off the side of the road. Unfortunately, this was really just a tower house and not really worth the 6 euros for entry. It was still pretty neat looking on the outside though....and no whitewashed walls inside, so that was a plus. I think I spent maybe 10-15 minutes inside. If I did it again, I would skip going inside.

    Next stop was Tony's suggestion of Kilmacduagh. We used "Laurie" to get us there. She did pretty good, but when we would start she wouldn't know which way we were facing and tell us to u-turn, we would, and she would tell us to u-turn again. This happened twice today and hubby was more than frustrated.

    From Kinvarra it was only about a 20 minute drive and it was worth it. It was a really pretty site....unfortunately, you can't actually walk inside the buildings. The cemetery in front of the cathedral appears to be still accepting customers as there were many modern tombstones/high crosses alongside the older ones. The round tower was pretty cool. It was my first one of the trip and it was leaning a bit :) We had the place to ourselves, which was really nice!

    Used Laurie to get over to Ennis from here. With hubby being a little grumpy I decided we should pack it in....plus it was after 3 PM already. Laurie routed us over to the M18. DH was really happy to be able to drive at a faster speed on a nice highway.

    We dropped into Ennis just after 4. A bit of traffic through the main streets and then we quickly found our B&B: Grey Gables. This was recommended on here, but the reviews seem to be hit or miss. Mary was pleasant enough answering the door, but showed us to a room with only a double bed and up on the second floor. I had reserved a double + single, so she moved us downstairs. She seemed a little put out by it though. The bathroom had an unpleasant smell, but the air freshener seems to be helping.

    Sadly, today we really didn't see any sheep :( I think it's because we spent most of our time on the N and M and not enough R roads. Maybe tomorrow :)

    Not sure what the plan is tonight....maybe just a stroll over to Brogan's.

    Tomorrow the plan is Cliffs of Moher first thing and then maybe the R478/476 into the Burren area. I would like to hit up some megalithic tombs, but not sure which ones. Clearly I did not research this area enough because all I have written down is "Tour the Burren." Any suggestions?

    Keep in mind that we're saving Bunratty for our drive down to Dingle on Sunday.

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    Interesting advice about the waterproof shoes or boots.

    A friend goes to Ireland quite regularly, and she thought it was unnecessary and slightly ridiculous for me to bring them. I, however, thought it was more than ridiculous NOT to bring them!

    Maybe if we were Dublin the whole time, or didn't plan on getting out of the car to walk through a muddy field to see something wonderful....I just had to shake my head:)

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    twiggers wrote: "We stopped in Roundstone to stretch our feet....not much here though. Just a little fishing village. If we were hungry, then it might be a great place to grab a quick bite."

    I'm in shock.

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    Sugar - They would definitely be helpful...I've had wet feet a few times now.

    Padraig - In shock about what? Care to elaborate? Just my opinion. I'm not in Ireland to shop or fish.

    Indy - Thanks!! We ended up catching both of those today....more details in the next post.

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    Day 8 - Exploring the Burren + Cliffs of Moher

    The first thing that I do upon waking up is to peek out the window....will it be a sunny day or a rainy day? I am quickly learning that it doesn't matter. All of our days have started out grey and dreary and have ended up sunny. Today was fabulous! Started grey and dreary but the sun soon came out. We had one little rain shower for about 10 minutes and that was it. Must be the luck of the Irish LOL

    Woke up late....forgot to set the alarm. It was about 7:30 by the time we crawled out of bed. Showered and to the breakfast room. Mary was in a much better mood today. We sat down at the table and Mary introduced us to our table mates. This was what we had been looking for! We had a great chat with a couple from Sweden, a Canadian woman, and a man from NYC. Swapped stories and provided suggestions. It seems that most people go clockwise and we're doing the opposite...so we're getting some great suggestions for Dingle. I didn't feel like the full Irish, so I just had scrambled eggs, toast, and bacon. It was pretty good.

    Back to the room to gather up the laundry and write down Sarnia's Burren drive. I think we left just before 10 AM and dropped laundry off down the street. They close at 6 PM, so we were kind of watching the clock all day. But the laundry desperately needed to be done. We had only packed 8 days worth of clothes, so we planned on having one laundry day. For those who are curious (as I was) we did the drop off service and had a huge bag of laundry (2 people x 8 days - 1 women size M and one man size 4X) and it was only 18 euros! I thought this was a steal since we paid 16 euros in Rome for about 5 days of clothes.

    OK, off we went. Our plan was to follow Sarnia's Burren suggestion. It worked perfectly and I have to say...this was one of my favorite days. It seems that every day keeps topping the day before!

    From Ennis we went up the R476 to Killinaboy and stopped at the church. Good parking right along the street. Spent maybe 10 minutes up there. I'm still not sure what a shellagh-na-gig is (need to Google it later), but I snapped pics of some carving above the entrance :-) The graveyard had some nice high crosses.

    We followed Sarnia's instructions to turn right at the small lane....ahhhhh, these are slowly becoming our favorite roads. So long as no one is coming toward us! We just crept along and thankfully say the sign for Parknibbinia. It was quite a high sign and you can't miss it. There is a spot in the fence that you can climb over and get up close and personal. I thought this was really interesting....and slightly different from the Carrowmore tombs.

    On down the road we saw the sign for Cahercommaun. There is a little area to park cars and there is also a small lane. Don't go down the small lane! It probably leads to someone's house....we went down it a bit and then back out, and we saw another car do the same thing. Anyway, I walked down/up to the fort. It was 1 km and took me about 15 minutes. It's a bit slow going on some of the rocks and there is a good uphill climb toward the end. There is a boardwalk area around the ring fort....there isn't a ton left of the fort to see, but the views were great. Ran into a couple from Kent and we chatted on the way back down. They were spending 2 weeks just in Clare and thought I was crazy to tour so much of the country in 2.5 weeks. To each their own I suppose.

    I originally wasn't going to visit the Perfumery, but I remembered that I actually need a new bottle so we popped in. It was very well sign marked and just a few km off the main road. I do recommend it....I ended up with a bottle of Summer Harvest and a few soaps for gifts.

    Then we headed our to Corcomroe Abbey. Once you get on the road to Bellharbour it was actually well sign posted and just a km off the main road. This was a beautiful abbey! The graveyard was haunting and the detail inside the abbey was great. Some wonderful carvings and I just loved all the gothic arches. Spent maybe 10 minutes here.

    We then headed through Ballyvaughan and popped onto the R480. Our first stop was Poulnabrone. Very well sign posted and a big car/coach park. It is a quick 3-5 minute walk with some interesting history of the site. So fun that you can walk up really close and had fun walking over the rocks! Look down though....some of those crevices are very deep between the rocks! Anyhow, I know Poulnabrone is super touristy but I really liked it and highly recommend it! Fortunately we pulled in and there were no tour buses, but 2 pulled in as we were leaving. It was along this road that we started running into the tour buses :(

    Just a few hundred metres down the road was Caherconnell ring fort. Good car park and well sign posted. 7 euro entry fee. I don't know....originally I was a little ticked at the high fee, but they do provide you with a nice booklet detailing the excavation and providing some good history about ring forts. These were all things I didn't know....so I enjoyed it. Plus this is one you can walk right into. A little overpriced, but oh well.

    It was now pushing on 3:30, so we headed over to the Cliffs. I missed a turn off somewhere for the R478 off of the R476, but it all worked out OK. We actually ended up going through Lahinch on the way up to the Cliffs. You can't miss these LOL It was VERY busy at around 4:10 when we pulled in. Hubby wasn't going to the cliffs, so we were only charged one fee of 6 euro. From the car park it seemed like a really long walk, but it wasn't bad. What we were seeing was all the "unofficial" paths. So I walked up and decided to head to the main viewing area, right in the middle. Snapped some pics and headed to the left.

    Let me just stop and say....WOW. I was sort of expecting to be disappointed after all of the hype surrounding these cliffs, but nope. They exceeded my expectations. I know...they're super touristy, but there is a reason for that. They are beautiful! I ended up walking over the "Do not enter" wall (like everyone else) and walking along the cliffs. I got as close as about a foot from the edge....not like some idiots who were sitting right on the edge. Haven't people heard of erosion? The edges of cliffs fall into the sea all the time! I walked until the path really started narrowing and making me nervous and then turned around.

    Then I started heading toward O'Brien's Tower. Paid the 2 euro to walk to the top. The weather was crystal clear and I could see the Twelve Bens/Pins and the Aran Islands in the distance. It was great! It was very windy on this side of the cliffs though. I ended up walking up to the "do not enter" area and stopping. I wasn't really interesting in walking further out, plus I was also cognizant of the time. The laundry closes at 6 PM and is not open tomorrow! I think I was at the Cliffs for about an hour. That was sufficient for me. Bought a postcard for Dad and mailed it right there (post box is right on the side of the main road and you can buy stamps in the main shop - .82 to mail international postcards).

    Then we did the express ride back to Ennis. It was pretty slow going...lots of tour buses and just slow drivers. We made it back to town by 5:20 PM and picked up laundry. Hubby decided we should just grab a pizza for dinner. Bleh, it wasn't very good. Pepperoni here tastes VERY different from pepperoni back home. But even the crust wasn't very tasty. OH well. Now we're just vegging out. It was a long day.

    Some thoughts:

    1. I wish we had an extra day in this region. I would have liked to spend more time in the Burren (a full day as opposed to just 4-5 hours). I would have liked to have done the Cliffs cruises out of Doolin. Seeing it from that perspective would have been nicer I think.

    2. I really liked the Burren. I wasn't expecting to, but it was pretty cool...so craggly and rocky...but also so many monuments.

    3. The Cliffs are worth it.

    4. Not enough sheep over here....lots of cows though.

    ----
    So what's up next? Tomorrow we head to Dingle for 2 nights. The plan was to stop at Bunratty, Knappogue (sp?) and Adare. But I really don't even know what route we are taking into Dingle. We're staying at the Pax House and he recommended Connor Pass if the weather is good.

    Is Connor Pass the R560?

    The plan for the next day is the Dingle Peninsula drive....so the goal for tomorrow is just to get into Dingle.

    Any suggestions? The reason for Adare is thatched cottages....hopefully it's worth a stop.

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    twiggers, I think you must have blinked when you were in Rounstone, and not seen what is there. From a piece I wrote here some time ago: "Westward, following the coast, stopping here and there at places we liked, until we got to Roundstone. The sun obliged by arriving at the same time we did. It is difficult to explain why we like Roundstone as much as we do: a picturesque harbour used by inshore fishing boats and a small number of pleasure craft, a prospect of islands and mountains; a village backed into rocky hills; a variety of buildings in divers colours, nothing discordant. But it is more than the sum of the parts: Roundstone grabs the eye and the imagination. We inspected the boats in the small harbour, had seafood chowder in Eldon's Hotel (happily re-opened after a closure last year), rambled about a bit, and just revelled in being in one of our favourite places."

    Did you not look at the sea, and the rocks? And take in the view of Inishnee out in front of you? And did you not venture down to the water's edge, and take the walk along the claddagh around to the old maonastery? And did you not find the second harbour or the boats' graveyard? And how about observing the Galway hooker in the main harbour, and the other traditional boats?

    I'd be happy to be in Roundstone right now, and almost certainly will get there before what we optimistically label as summer is over.

    Sheela-na-gigs are rude: http://amayodruid.blogspot.ie/2010/10/sheela-na-gig-or-is-it-sidhe-lena-gig.html

    Adare is picturesque, but is not authentic in that it is a designed village, and the thatched cottages are more in the style of the Cotswolds than Irish vernacular architecture. It's proto-Disney.

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    Ah Padraig....there lies the differences in travelers. Boats don't really interest me and the whole harbour scene just isn't my thing. I mean, they are pretty and all...but it is ruined castles, abbeys, and tombs that interest me.

    Thank goodness we are not all the same when traveling!

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    Day 9 (I think) Ennis to Dingle

    Ahhhh, where do I start! It was a day of ups and downs....hits and misses.

    Let me first start off by thoroughly reviewing our Ennis B&B. We stayed at Grey Gables. It seemed to be hit or miss on Tripadvisor. And our experience was just that. When we arrived Mary seemed very busy. She showed us a room we didn't book (a double - we had booked a double + single) and when I said that this room wouldn't do she seemed really put out and then showed us to another room. This room (room 4) stunk like sewage and so we asked for air freshener, which she provided. We told her breakfast between 8:30-9 AM and she assigned us 8:30 AM.

    The room itself was great...it was SO big and the shower was enormous (great for hubby). However, the stench of sewage kept coming and going the entire time we were there. In fact, the whole front of the house had this smell. It got so bad in the lounge that I had to leave. Internet was also poor. We couldn't get internet on our ipads in the room...just in the lounge, and even then it cut in and out.

    Mary was also hit or miss. She seemed very curt and put out at times, but then when we left for the day she provided a lot of helpful information. At breakfast this morning we were running a little late. She said several times "I have you for 8:30" and eventually she kicked us out of the dining room (we were just finished eating and having a conversation with table mates). Hubby was really put out by that.

    I would NOT recommend this B&B based on our experience. I will be reviewing it accordingly on Tripadvisor later tonight/tomorrow. I think she has the Rick Steves recommendation and doesn't really care.

    ---

    OK, on to the fun stuff now....our day. The plan was:

    Knappogue Castle

    Bunratty (although I had pretty much decided to cut this)

    Adare (wander through town, maybe do the castle)

    Arrive in Dingle

    We were out of the B&B by 10 AM and on the road. First stop was supposed to be the castle, but we saw the Abbey and pulled in. Quin Abbey was actually quite nice. It ranked right up there with Sligo Abbey for me. It was very complete and extensive....and zero tourists! Spent about 15-20 minutes here and then moved on down the road to Knappogue.

    And here are some low points now. Knappogue was a complete waste of 6 euros. My problem is that I like ruins/original castles/towers. This was a restoration, complete with the cheesy medieval banquet. I was horribly disappointed, especially at the cost of entry. I spent about 20 minutes climbing around and left.

    Down the road is the Crannogowen historical park. Ugh, an even worse waste of money. This was 9 euro and was horrible. It was recommended by Mary *sigh* I had already seen everything in this park....and it was all recreations. The castle tower was also a restoration and had some cheesy decorations. The only upside was running into a family from the US and walking and chatting with them the whole way (they were probably sick of me!). Unfortunately, once you get in here you are kind of committed because it goes in a big circle. It took me about 45 minutes. Ugh.

    So I figured it out...anything that has a medieval banquet attached or says "historical" in it...I just need to drive right on by. So Bunratty was definitely out. Can I have my 15 euro back please?

    Anyhow...I had Laurie direct us to Adare. Another disappointment. Both the abbey and the friary are currently operating churches....so no ruins to see and the churches weren't anything special. Adare itself....meh, why do all the buses stop? I thought there were going to be some quaint little thatched cottages...meh, just some tourist shops with thatched roofs. No big deal. I didn't feel like sticking around for the castle tour, so we hightailed it out of there.

    AND......hubby ran into a curb and totally trashed one of the hub cabs. So he was in quite a foul mood because he's thinking this is going to cost hundreds of dollars. Any suggestions? We're driving a Suzuki...so we were going to stop by a dealership in Killarney and see if we can replace the hub cab (we won't put it back on until we return to Dublin). Figure it'll be cheaper than what Hertz will charge us. Any idea what a hub cab would cost? It can't be too expensive....can it?

    I was sort of ready to just cross this day off....and then it happened....we hit the Dingle Peninsula. This was it...the green Ireland of the postcards. We found it....don't get me wrong, I absolutely loved the Burren and Connemara, but those areas were a little more rugged. This lush greenery is a little slice of heaven. We didn't do Connor Pass because there were really low clouds and very black. Hubby didn't feel comfortable, so we just stuck to the N86.

    Wow....great drive with beautiful views. We pulled over once for pictures and then slowly drove in. There is a bit of construction that slows things down. John from Pax House provided us with great directions and we found everything very easily.

    Hubby was still a bit grouchy from the hub cab incident, but quickly warmed up once we relaxed in the room and he realized the internet worked in the room. The views...oh my...the views. So amazing. The host, John, is just delightful and we had some tea and biscuits in the lounge...with the best views I have seen in Ireland. Just amazing. Can I say it again? Amazing. This is worth the extra dollars/euros.

    We sat in the lounge for a few hours chatting with a bunch of people. This is exactly what we expected from a B&B. We then drove into town and had dinner at An Canteen, which was delicious and reasonably priced for Dingle.

    Back to the room and just relaxing. Tomorrow we plan on driving the Dingle Peninsula loop and then relaxing. DH said he is a little tired and wants less driving tomorrow.

    I'm excited to continue to explore the south!

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    We often had mishaps with the mirrors driving in Ireland. One was literally hanging off the car when we returned the car and the agency said nothing. My husband believed we could have brought the car back in several buckets and it would have been OK! Hopefully, you'll have the same experience.

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    Don't do Sterling Castle in Scotland, that was like being at Disney. We were lucky enough to have some locals take us to a big castle near Cork back in 2000. They played in it as kids and we had to troop across a big cow field to get to it but was well worth it. They said it was last used during WWII as a lookout over the sea. Rumors were a golf course resort was going to be built around it. Very sad as it was wonderful. My husband and I have tried B&Bs and we seem to get Marys for hostess. Bossy old cows. I tried one in Normandy last month. It was nice but had the strangest odor. I thought it was something they were cooking but it never went away. Hoping the hub cap is not real expensive. Connors pass is nice but not if it was cloudy.

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    Hope you can sort the hubcap out without flattening the wallet!

    One of the times I rented a car in Ireland, I went over the car carefully and noted a ding in the door which was not marked on the sheet you sign. I pointed it out to the agent and she did note it as she said cheerfully, "Mind you, we're just glad to get the car back with a door on it and not worried about a little ding." I often wonder what I would have been charged if I had taken her at her word.

    On the other hand, on another trip I brought the car back and the man at the check in went over it with a fine tooth comb. One B&B hade been up a dirt road and there was mud, which was along the wheel wells. Unfortunately, I didn't run into any rain after that to waash the mud away. The man bent over and brushed at the mud as he muttered grumpily something about, Wonder what the undercarriage is like." But he did sign off.

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    If you have a chance to go up Conor Pass when it isn't misty, please do! It is definitely worth the view. It is nice to explore the north side (Brandon Point, etc.) but the real payoff is the top of Conor Pass. The rest of the best stuff is, IMHO, in the Loop Head Drive.

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    Thanks Irish! I will report back on the car turn in as well.

    Thanks Marilyn! I hope so too.

    Thanks Green....it's pretty overcast here. John, the B&B owner says this July has been horrible.

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    As my photos are uploading to Facebook I thought I would post about our day so far. We slept in again (LOL...something we never do at home) and wandered into the breakfast room at about 9 AM. It was quite busy in there! There was a nice spread of fruit, yogurt (I miss my greek yogurt, so this was delicious), and scones. Oh geez....my first scones in Ireland and I had 4. They were small ones though LOL Had a ham & mushroom omelet and had a great time chatting with 2 couples from California.

    After breakfast we all moved into the sitting room and spent about 45 minutes chatting. Again, this is what I was looking for with a B&B. There is mostly Americans here right now, but one couple from Canada (Quebec).

    I think we left the house around 11:15ish and broke out the Rick Steves book for the Dingle/Slea Head drive. I normally use Rick Steves for my big city travel, but I really found he was lacking for Ireland. But his guided walks and drives are really good. In fact, John here at Pax House has print outs of Rick's Slea Head drive.

    Off we went! The first few miles it was all about the views. It was like a postcard around every bend. We pulled over a few times to take pictures and enjoy the view.

    Our first actual stop was at Dunbeg Fort. Paid the 3 euro entry and walked down. The views from here were also great. You could see the waves crashing down and then turn around and see the hills dotted with sheep. The fort was interesting. You'd think I would be bored with this by now, but not at all!

    Right next door to the fort is the Famine Cottages. This was a 2 euro entry. There were some farm animals and you walk up up up to the cottages. There was some period furniture in the room....but it was fitting for this attraction and worked. Had fun trying to pet the different animals they had here.

    Also stopped at the beehive huts for 2 euros. They were really interesting.

    We then stopped at the second set of beehive huts. This is a little old lady's house and I paid 2 euro. I thought this set of huts was MUCH better than the first. Apparently Tom Cruise would come up here every day and have tea with her when filming Far and Away.

    We then continued on and stopped at some pullouts for the views and pictures. Even though it was an overcast day, it didn't detract from the views. We could see the outline of the Blasket Islands and the Ring of Kerry throughout.

    Stopped at Slea Head for some great pictures. Really, this drive is all about the scenery with some historic stops thrown in.

    Next stop was the Gallarus. Oops, we pulled in at the first parking area and paid the 3 euro. Don't make our mistake...continue down the little lane to the free parking (and shorter walk). The Gallarus was pretty interesting...really just mind boggling to think about how they built these things 1000+ years ago!

    Our last stop was Kilmalkedar Church. Very interesting and we did the obligatory vow renewal :)

    I had hubby drop me back off in the middle of town where I wandered a bit. The shops were essentially the same as I had seen in other towns. I did stop at Murphy's ice cream and had some brown bread ice cream. It doesn't sound too appetizing, but it was quite yummy!

    I walked back to the Pax House and was back by about 4 PM. Spent the next few hours in the sitting room, just relaxing with some tea and playing some games on my ipad :)

    Now we're heading out to dinner...maybe the Bull's Head and hopefully will catch some music tonight.

    Tomorrow we head to Kenmare with stops in Killarney, Muckross, and Ross Castle. Hopefully it won't be too overwhelming of a day.

    Oh, time wise....the Dingle drive was about 2.5-3 hours with all of the various stops. Quite long for just 30 miles LOL I hate to think how the RoK will be in a few days.

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    We have arrived safe and sound in Kenmare. Not a lot to write about today because the weather has been dreadful....very foggy, misty, and rainy. I feel bad for all the tour bus folks doing the Dingle peninsula or RoK today.

    A few things to talk about today. First is the Pax House. This place should be charging 2-3x the amount they do because it is absolutely amazing. By far the best experience we have had in all of Ireland. The views in the sitting room are amazing....you don't want to spend any time in your room. Because of that there are great opportunities for chatting wi oth travelers. The rooms were comfortable though. It was a true king size bed (why do B&B owners keep calling a queen size bed a king? This has happened twice now.) and a nice tub shower which makes it easier to shower. But really, what sets this place apart is John. The man was clearly made for this business. His hospitality is what really makes the visit special. I would recommend this place to everyone! And Rio is a delight :)

    Next up is another thing we have been talking about today. The length of our visit....maybe too long. I don't know, but it's starting to seem a wee bit repetitive....the beautiful views are blending in to one another and the churches and abbeys are very similar. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love this place, it is amazing and beautiful and the people are so friendly. But a change of scenery would have been nice. Maybe we should have done 10 days here and then hopped over to Scotland. We had to same thing happen last year in Rome...after 9 days I was churched out! The nice thing is that I feel we have really been immersed in Ireland....and staying in one area for 2 weeks would have driven us both mad. We need to be moving around and experiencing new things. When we say "we're here for 17 days" many people look at us like we are nuts. It seems that 10-14 days is the norm.

    Ok, more later. My iPad really sucks to type on!

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    I think today was day 11 and we were moving from Dingle to Kenmare. Breakfast was yummy and we were on the road just before 10 AM. John was a great host (as I said before), but apparently he had a bad review of Tripadvisor recently...someone accusing him of bed bugs. He had the place fully checked and nothing (and we had no problems), but he asked us to post on Tripadvisor, which we were going to do anyways (and have already done).

    The day started off quite dreary....lots of fog, we couldn't even see the water from John's house! It was quite misty. It was too bad, because we went through Inch, right along the coast. I'm guessing it was normally fabulous views. Anyhow, we rolled into Killarney about 90 minutes later and there was sun! Yay!!

    We drove through the town, but didn't stop. We weren't hungry and the stores all looked the same. We followed signs to Ross Castle where we parked. I snapped some pics, but didn't do the tour because it was a 90 minute wait. Instead, we pulled out and headed to Muckross.

    Got there around noon and just made it for a 12:10 tour. I used my Heritage Card (now up to 19 euros used). The tour lasted nearly an hour and I really enjoyed it. I haven't really been in a 19th century manor home before and it was really neat. Totally reminded me of Downton Abbey LOL Loved all the little bells in the servant's area. I just wish we could have taken pics.

    I was going to go to the traditional farms, but I decided to skip it. It was just some animals and I've driven by enough farms already. Plus I didn't want to pay for another potentially dud-worthy site. Instead, we drove on to Torc waterfall. It was only a short 3-4 minute walk. Snapped a few pics....it was pretty, but not awe inspiring, but still pretty.

    From there we headed straight to Kenmare. Totally bummed because all the fog/mist had rolled back in. We had to pass a few coaches, but it wasn't too bad. Most of them were parked up at Avoca and we just rolled through. It was quite nice on the windy roads with the trees overhead....more like driving through a forest. Different from other roads we have been on in Ireland.

    We dropped into Kenmare around 3:30 PM. By this time there was a good rain coming down, so we just checked in and hunkered down. We are staying in Abbey Court and the house is lovely. The hostess, Ger, quickly served tea in the upstairs sitting room and also came in with lots of suggestions for things to do tomorrow (if the weather clears up).

    She suggested doing the Ring in a clockwise manner from Kenmare and hanging out on the Skellig area (not the island but the little loop) for a bit and letting them all go past. She also suggested cutting out the north coast if the weather is good and going through the middle on the way back. Only if the weather is clear though.

    So, right now we are prepared to be sacrificing the Ring if the weather stays the way it is. I think it would need to clear by 11ish, in order for us to still go.

    We headed out to dinner at Coachmen's at around 7 PM because they had early music. It was pretty good! I had cottage pie for my first time, it was delicious. For two dinners, dessert, Irish coffee, and 2 pints it was 45 euro. Not too bad. We ended up buying one of the musician's CDs :) Can't wait to go home and listen to it in my office.

    Now we're in for the night and just chilling and relaxing.

    The budget is also doing well. Before dinner tonight we were at:

    Food 489.96 @ 7/17/12

    Souvenir 344.31 @ 7/17/12

    Gas 147.73 @ 7/17/12

    Taxi 117.04 @ 7/17/12

    Tour 151.00 @ 7/17/12

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    Hmmmmm.....too long in Ireland!!! That almost sounds like an oxymoron! However, I know I've been there myself on other trips away from home. I'm sure it is not a unique observation. You have done so much in the time you have been there and there's much to be said for that!

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    Thanks Green....we're hoping for better weather tomorrow to try Beara.

    Marilyn - I agree!!! It's only minor regrets, but I am continuing to love the country. It's more my husband than anything...he's wanting to get home and his grouchiness rubs off on me.

    "Smell the barn" I've never heard that term before!

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    Day 12 - Ring of Kerry with Kenmare as base

    Woke up this morning and peeked out the window and we saw sun!!! OUr optimism was short lived LOL Sleep wasn't too great...the bed was pretty hard (no box spring). So hubby is a bit grumpy today.

    Headed downstairs for breakfast and it was quite delicious. I just had scrambled eggs, bacon, and toast. The brown bread was good too.

    Brendan and Ger gave us a few suggestions for RoK. First, they said to do it clockwise and spend some time doing Skellig Ring to let the tour buses pass. Second, they said if it was nice out that we should cut through the mountains because the northern part of the ring is pretty boring.

    We started out around 9:45 AM. The drive is on pretty winding roads and started out in some forested area, which was a nice change (also got that between Killarney and Kenmare). But the weather turned to crap....raining and overcast. And then the sun would peek out for a few minutes. And then it would rain.

    Our first stop was Staigue Fort. On the way we got some nice views, but the clouds were hanging really low so it was hard to really see a lot. And it was just more ocean....and not really a lot of it. The Staigue Fort is incorrectly marked on the OSI, it's just after Castlecove (and Rick Steves' km markings are wildly incorrect). Anyhow, it's a bit of a narrow road all the way, so take it slow. Made it up there and it was really nice. Climbed up and had some nice views. Spent maybe 10 -15 minutes here.

    The next stop was supposed to be Derrynane, but we missed the turn off. Oh well....no biggie. And then we just drove.....found the turnoff eventually for Skellig Ring. Up to this point we had passed maybe 3-4 tour buses and the roads weren't narrow, so it was fine.

    Skellig Ring was really pretty....actually, this was probably the best part of the entire RoK. It was misty and damp, but we could see a bit. At one point we were on some pretty narrow roads. Honking the horn around blind corners! We dropped into Portmagee and I could sense how tense hubby was, so we skipped Valencia Island. There were tour buses in Portmagee though, which I thought odd since everyone had said the Skellig Ring has no tour buses.

    Anyhow, we got back on the main road and decided to turn back toward Kenmare. The mountains looked really bad....the clouds were hanging really low, so we just stuck to the main road. Now we were behind the coaches...ugh, that was tortuous at times. Some of the tourists weren't even keeping up to the buses!!!! And wouldn't pull over to let people pass. Some common courtesy is nice.

    Going back the sun peeked out and started drying up the roads. We were able to have a bit better views going back and we found Derrynane House. It was interesting to learn about Daniel O'Connell, but the house wasn't too impressive. I used my Heritage Card (used 22 euros now, so it has paid for itself).

    Crept through Sneem...there is some festival going on and there were 4-6 coaches in town....it was a mess. Finally got through and headed into Kenmare. Stopped in town and walked around a bit....found the stone circle, which was worth a quick visit (2 euros). Back to the B&B where I had a quick nap.

    We headed out to dinner at The Coachmans again. We enjoyed the music last night, so we figured we would return. Tonight it was a guitarist and accordian player. A drummer joined in for one song. It was a LOT of fun....loved watching the kids dancing, they were so cute.

    Now we're in for the night. Tomorrow's plan is to head to Kinsale along the coast. If the weather is good we'll do the Beara Peninsula, if not we'll skip it.

    Some thoughts on the RoK:

    We weren't impressed. Again, this is so hyped up, but after seeing Dingle Peninsula we were disappointed. Here's why: the Dingle drive really hugs the coast and you have fabulous coastal views for quite a long stretch. The RoK also hugs the coast, but there are trees blocking the views and you sort of move toward and away from the coast all the time. The amount of time seeing the coast is minimal compared to Dingle.

    Also, if you happen to drive anti-clockwise then you'll see even less and it may be difficult to pull over. If you do clockwise, then you can just pull over whenever you see a good view and not worry about traffic. And the passenger gets great views.

    If we had to do it again, we would skip RoK. We loved Skellig, because it was all country roads....more like Dingle. And the stretch from Killarney to Kenmare was also really nice.

    Time wise it took us 4-5 hours....and we really didn't stop all that much. I couldn't imagine doing the full thing and adding in Muckross, etc.!!!

    But I understand....everyone hypes it up and says it is a "must see" so you need to actually see for yourself.

    Also, hubby said RoK was "too touristy" whereas he felt Dingle was a little more "off the beaten track." Yes, there are tourists driving the road, but not near the amount of traffic as RoK.

    Here's hoping for some sun tomorrow!

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    I am SO enjoying your report. We were there less than a month ago - but once home and back to the job and routine - vacations seem a lot longer ago!! Enjoy your times left!!

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    I agree with your assessment of the ROK - I enjoyed Dingle much more, and the Skellig portion is lovely. Valentia Island is also lovely. I think you'll like ROB.

    When we took the ROK in 2006 (my second time), we made the mistake of driving it on the same day there was a huge charity bike race. Thousands (I am not exaggerating!) of bikers left in groups from one end of the Ring, and were strung out all along the road, going the same direction we were. Which meant we had to pass them with cars coming the other direction, which was a bit harrying, especially on turns. What made it worse was they wouldn't stay single file - they clumped, taking up the whole left side of the road. Grrr. We finally got to Valentia Island and went there and explored Skellig to let them all go by. it worked!

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    twiggers, We are staying a couple days in Dingle and a couple days in Killarney (a friend strongly recommened the europe hotel) towards the end of our trip. Should we skip ROK entirely and do Beara instead (although it would be a longer drive to do Beara from Killarney). How are the roads around Beara? Your thoughts appreciated...thanks

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    Twigger-
    Great report. I really enjoy the real-time feel. While in Kenmare a couple years ago we also thoroughly enjoyed the music at the Coachmen's. Is Michael O'Brian still performing there? Have you had a Guiness yet?
    David

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    mnag - I would do so, but then again, I've seen the ROK thrice, and can stand not to do so again. Of course, I will - eventually I want to get to Skellig Michael, and you sort of HAVE to drive ROK to get there! But Beara is magical and quiet.

    The roads are fine, but there are some scary one-lane areas here and there. No worse than anywhere else in rural Ireland, really. I saw worse in Donegal.

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    David - Yes, Michael was there the second night. Really great performer!!!! Yes, I have tried Guinness....it wasn't too bad, but I've never been a big beer person. Hubby has been enjoying them though.

    mnag - I second everything Green said. Yes, the roads are quite narrow, but there are ZERO coaches and everyone is driving quite slow. If you have the time, you can always do RoK one day and then do the shorter version of Beara (cutting across Healy Pass, which is simply stunning).

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    Day 13 - Kenmare to Kinsale

    What a difference a day can make! Woke up this morning to sunshine again, but we weren't holding out breathe that it would last. We had a delicious breakfast and then settled our bill.

    Review of Abbey Court: I did a full TA review already, but I will just say that the house was beautiful and there was a great view. The hosts were very personable and friendly and full of suggestions for things to do. Unfortunately, the bed was rock hard. I can sleep on just about anything and I even woke up with a back ache.

    OK, the sun stayed out and so we decided that we would do the Beara Peninsula. The plan was to cut across Healy Pass. Oh man....this was an AMAZING drive. Way better than RoK. There were very views vehicles on the road....and anyone we passed drove nice and slow. The drive along the coast was pretty, but the trees were so high that it blocked some. Since it was so nice and clear out we were able to see RoK nicely.

    Since I knew we would be pressed for time, we cut across via Healy Pass. This was very nicely sign posted and I used the atlas. Oh wow...again, can we say breathtaking views with the mountains and the lake. Punctuated with sheep dotting the landscape. Just amazing. I can't even count how many times we stopped and took pictures.....along with the handful of other tourists on the road. We even managed to see a few sheep in the road....ahhhhh, it was just like being back up on the northern roads without tourists and tour buses.

    I would say this little stretch of the Beara took us about 2 hours. This was the kind of drive that we were craving and we were in such a great mood. Then we left the peninsula, back on the N71 and the rain started! I'm just glad it stayed away while we were on Beara.

    Anyhow, we would through the N71 and then jumped on the R600 into Kinsale. Just following signs and using the atlas. It was a pretty drive, but the tide was really out and the coastal part of the R600 wasn't so great.

    Arrived in Kinsale early, about 2 PM. Found our way to Cloisters B&B and fortunately our hostess was there. We had some tea and cookies and relaxed downstairs with her for awhile. She directed me to a laundry place, where I dropped off a small load (12 euro was the minimum charge for 10 lbs). Turns out hubby miscalculated clothing, so we had to do this small load. Laundry was going to take 2 hours, so I wandered around the town. Just stopping in little shops....found a present for Mom and a friend having a baby.

    I found Desmond Castle and used my Heritage Card (now up to 25 euro used). One of the OPW workers gave us a great introductory lecture. THe lecture was more interesting than the actual building.

    Picked up laundry. We headed out to dinner at The Shack around 7 PM. Dinner for the two of us was 30 euros (including 2 sodas). Then we headed back to the room and vegged out. Music doesn't start until 9:30 here, and that is a bit too late.

    Anyhow, it was a pretty good day. A little too much driving without stops. The plan for tomorrow is to head to Blarney, Cahir, Cashel, and then overnighting in Kilkenny. Debating on whether to include Blarney.....seems overhyped, but then still a "OMG you didn't do Blarney!!" moment. It's going to be a long day tomorrow!

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    I personally would skip Blarney...although the grounds are lovely, the trip to the top of the Castle is on very narrow winding steps and there is no way I'm going to kiss that thing.

    If you were in Sneem on a Tuesday, it likely wasn't a festival, but weekly market day. I have a good friend who has a stall there.

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    Oh, and I second Kyteler's Inn for music! We saw a trad group called Caladh, and greatly enjoyed them. Bought their CD, too! We had dinner at the Marble City across the alleyway - fantastic pannini!

    We enjoyed Jerpoint Abbey, as well, south of Kilkenny in Thomastown. In Kilkenny, St. Canice's Cathedral and the Black Abbey are lovely. The castle itself is refurbished and modern - even though I agree with you that I prefer ruins, it is still quite an interesting tour. The gardens are great (and free), too.

    There is a medieval merchant's museum in Kilkenny, down High Street, called Rothe House - I found it fascinating. It used to be the merchant's shop.

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    Well, that explains a lot, Twiggers! You know they always say "If Mama isn't happy, nobody is happy." Well, If Papa is grumpy......" Fill in the rest! In spite of it all, you still seem to be having a good time--good for you! I'm sure that seeing you enjoy the trip pleases him as well, however. No matter what, it's always good to return home for a while after a long vacation and then you can enjoy it all over again with your pictures, your log, and your memories!

    I enjoyed the town of Kilkenny after visiting the castle. All I could think about at the castle was how much fun a group of boys could have playing touch football on the vast expanse of lawn! Possibly being the mother of four boys brought that thought to mind, however.

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    Day 14 - Kinsale to Kilkenny

    Oh boy...are we a wee bit tired today! Let me start by saying that we absolutely LOVED our stay at Cloisters in Kinsale. The owners were absolutely lovely and the sleep was great. Breakfast was a nice change of pace....with french toast on the menu! I have to say....I am so tired of eggs and bacon.

    Anyhow, we took our time eating and chatting with fellow travelers. Since we're always going the opposite way of everyone else we were able to give some great tips regarding Beara.

    I think we left around 10 AM and then pulled into Charles Fort. Meh, it was alright, but I'm not really a military person. At least castles have some mystic to them....a fort is really just a fort. I walked around for about 15 minutes and left. Used my heritage card though.

    Then we headed toward Caher. Was nice to hit the motorway for a bit! Pulled into Caher and followed the signs for the castle. It looked really impressive from the outside, but there really isn't much to it on the inside of the walls. Was kind of fun wandering into rooms that dead ended and stuff though. Spent maybe 30 minutes here. Used my Heritage Card.

    Then we were on to Cashel. Wow....I get why everyone raves about this. This was quite impressive. I missed the first part of a guided tour, but found them in the cathedral and spent abut 15 minutes tagging along with them. Then just wandered on my own. It was VERY impressive! We did get lost finding it though....didn't turn 'left' enough....so we drove down a road and I was looking for the darn thing. We u-turned and boom! There it was LOL I highly recommend this site...VERY impressive.

    By this point we were tiring...it was already well past 3 PM (maybe 3:30 by now). So I put Kilkenny into the GPS and oh lord, Laurie took us up and down a bunch of R and L roads! Finally pulled into Kilkenny around 4:30 PM.

    We went out to dinner tonight for music at Kytlers Inn. The music was just alright. Food was good, but the guy overcharged us. It was only by 2 euro and I just didn't have the energy to argue it. Sodas were 2.80 for the littlest tiny glass. Most expensive ones in the entire trip!

    It was quite a bit of driving today and we're quite tired. We are staying at the Rosquil and the internet is hit and miss :( I think towards the end of the trip this is where it's a mixed bag: You're tired and would like some more time, but you're also ready to head on home. Hubby is bit cranky lately....ever since we left Pax House none of the other places can do anything right. So he's wearing on my nerves a bit. 17 days driving is just too much for us. Would be better to mix things up with some non-driving days.....but Ireland doesn't really have the big cities that I can explore while he rests.

    Tomorrow's plan is to get to Ardee. I was originally going to weave down through to Wexford, but instead we're just going to hightail to Glendalough and maybe Wicklow and then into Ardee.

    Not ideal....but we'll make it work. I do want to see a few things here in Kilkenny though.

    Oh crap...I totally forgot...our first stop was Blarney! I actually enjoyed it...the grounds are quite beautiful and the castle is extensive. The entry fee is a bit steep though :( And I bought one of the pictures. I'm glad I ended up going. I think I spent about an hour inside.

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    Twiggers;
    We fell the same way about PAX House, John, and Rio. We stayed at PAX House in October 2010 for 2 days and loved the whole experience. Rio is such a sweet dog and a wonderful greeter. John and his staff could not have been more friendly or helpful. Glad you enjoyed your stay in Dingle and the beautiful views from PAX House and the entire country of Ireland. I can't wait to go back!

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    What do you mean by Wicklow? It's the name of both a county and a coastal town in that county. Wicklow Town is pleasant enough, but not special. The best of County Wicklow is the mountainous bit, including Glendalough. So you could head for Glendalough, passing through the fairly scenic Wicklow Gap to get there. After that, you can head for Ardee via M11, M50, and M1, with the last few miles being on local roads. Easy driving (tolls on M50 and M1).

    Total driving time about 3.5 hours, perhaps a little less (Saturday traffic is hard to predict).

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    Twiggers, such an excellent and informative report.

    We will be in Ireland in 6 weeks time, flying in to Shannon and touring, very similar to you in an anti clockwise direction. So your information is perfect!

    We have only booked our first and last nights and hope to wing it for the nights in between. But would love to stay at Pax House its on my list.

    Thank you. You are amazing to write your log every night even though you must be very tired at times.

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    Twiggers:

    I agree with aussie_10 - very nice to write your log every night. It must be a bit tiring after a long day.

    You mentioned early on that DH could only walk for a little at a time so I think he has done quite well under the circumstances and a very good sport to carry on like he does.

    Will you be posting photos or only on face book?

    Are you still enjoying a nice hot cup of tea?

    Looking forward to the remainder of your amazing holiday.

    Sandy

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    hi Twig...hope you will consider posting your pix here for the anti-Z's amongst us who do not support FB.

    TR is SO good...brings back so many great memories of Ireland, its people and the constant splash of "green scenes"(going back to 1980 for me). Happy travels in the future for you two.
    stu

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    Day 15 - Kilkenny to Ardee

    In Kilkenny we stayed at Rosquil House based on recommendations here. We arrived a little early (2 PM) and rang the buzzer several times before Rhoda came down. We were shown to our room on the first floor and was not offered tea or coffee. This place definitely had more of a hotel feel. The beds were quite comfortable though! Shower/bathtub combo was nice! Breakfast was only one hour and started a bit late because it was Saturday. It was good and nice that there was an omelet option! I'm really sick of eggs though :) Overall, this place was just OK....it seemed impersonal and a little far from town.

    So today our plan was to head up to Ardee for our next stay and we were going to head through the Wicklow mountains and stop in Glendalough.

    I knew it was a long drive, so I elected to skip Kilkenny Castle. I have seen so many castles and even some furnished manner homes. I don't really have any regrets.

    So we headed on to Glendalough through Wicklow Gap. It was a nice drive...Laurie had us on some back roads and then on to the main R road through the mountains. It was a nice, bright sunny day!

    The bad thing? It was a Saturday morning and we kept running into big tour buses coming toward us. LIkely leaving from Glendalough. We stopped at the Gap and took a few pics. To be honest? Totally disappointed. This was NOTHING compared to Beara and Healy Pass. Also, a little sad to see the mountain sides were stripped of trees for logging. You could clearly see which parts had been logged and which had not. It was still green, but just missing all the pretty pine trees.

    We pulled into Glendalough around noon. Oh geez...what a nightmare. There was not a single parking spot, but since hubby was staying in the car he just parked wherever. There were tour groups everywhere! I didn't even really encounter this at the Cliffs. It was horrible.

    Anyhow, I walked into the Glendalough area and did a self tour using the provided pamphlet. I thought it was a really nice collection of buildings and the round tower was impressive.

    But the tour groups ruined it for me. I think there were about 4-5 high school groups...ugh. I only stayed about 20 minutes and walked back to the car. I think it was because I had seen similar ruins already and the crowds sucked.

    We hopped back in the car and headed out to the main M1 to get up to Ardee. We got stuck behind a bus returning to Dublin and there were just endless lines of tour buses coming toward us.

    We finally arrived in Ardee around 2-3 PM. We were staying at Smarmore Castle, which had no address. We had to stop at a gas station and ask for directions. Found our way. This was a castle tower house that was built in 1324 and two additions to the house added in 1740 and 1760. We were booked in the tower, in the KNights Room. However, she offered us the Viscount Room for the same price, so we took it.

    I have to admit that the castle was pretty cool. It was more that it was cool to stay in a place that was 700 years old....all the history!

    The castle had limited internet access, but there was a restaurant downstairs. Italian. So we went....hubby said his food was good (cannelloni) and I had some pasta dish that wasn't good. Tasted like someone opened a jar of pasta sauce and dumped it on my pasta. But the garlic bread was delicious!

    More about our last day of touring in a bit!

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    Glendalough is definitely better without the tourists. We have managed to go early in the morning and late in the afternoon to avoid many of them. It could be somewhat meh after seeing, say, Clonmacnoise, but I saw Glendalough first so it has a special place in my heart :)

    Smarmore interests me much, as we are planning on staying there next August (2013). I know there is only the one restaurant on site, and none nearby, so I was concerned about quality. I've noticed that restaurants with no competition don't rise to much in terms of quality, because there is no real reason. Sounds like this is the case here.

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    Green - Hubby said his was good....and I think maybe the pizza would be OK (we had the garlic bread, which was a little mini pizza and the crust was delicious). The nice thing about Smarmore though is that Ardee is really only 10 minute away and there is a pub/restaurant about 2-3 minutes away too.

    Smarmore itself was also just OK. It is definitely not elegant, but the price reflects that. If you want to say that you slept in a castle, then it's the right choice. It was renovated 14 years ago and the lack of recent updates shows. It was like a place trying to be fancy on a budget.

    I don't regret staying because I wanted a castle stay and didn't want to pay the $300+ that other castles wanted.

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    Day 16 - Last bit of touring

    We were up early because the plan today was to do Newgrange and Monasterboice. I know that you need to get to Newgrange early to get on an early tour and not wait forever.

    Our night at Smarmore Castle was just fine. The beds were really hard, but otherwise it was fine. Breakfast was scrambled eggs and toast (again....I am so tired of eggs!!).

    We left the house around 9:10 and arrived at Newgrange by 9:35. The car park was relatively empty with only one tour bus. Phew!

    Walked in and was given a 10:15 Newgrange tour. I elected to skip Knowth because hubby was in the car (watching a movie). I walked through the exhibition while waiting for my bus time. It was quite interesting....much of it I had learned at Carrowmore, but this was more extensive.

    It was about a 5 minute walk to the bus where I waited for a bit. On the bus...chatted with a couple from Canada who was just starting their vacation. And an American who had just finished a Rick Steves tour (more thoughts later about tour vs. independent).

    Arrived at Newgrange and started our tour. Guide spent about 10 minutes giving us history and then we went inside. It was kind of cool...they shut the lights off and did the simulation of the rising sun. It was really quite amazing that this has stood for over 5000 years. The engineering feat....just amazing!

    I am SO glad that I elected to do this tour. Even though I've seen so much in the last 15 days, this was still awe inspiring. And I'm glad...I was feeling a bit jaded lately. Or worn out.

    I was finished in just over 2 hours. So allot yourself a lot of time for this and get there early! The parking lot was packed when we left.

    Following this we drove up to Monasterboice. Oh wow. Just wow. Not so much the structures, but those crosses. Simply amazing. This is a MUST SEE in my opinion. I mean these beautiful sculptures/crosses have been here for hundreds of years. And are still standing. The work that must have gone into them. Just amazing.

    I am so glad that I saved these for the end. Like I said...I was ruined out, abbeyed out, castled out....and these two sights saved the day :)

    We then took the M1 back into Dublin to our airport hotel, the Holiday Inn. We arrived around 1 PM and our room wasn't ready, so we left our bags and drove to the rental car dropoff.

    This was exceptionally easy. They walked around the car. We pointed out the hubcap and she said "No problem" and printed out what she said was our "final bill." I took pictures of the car though, just in case. I am still waiting for it to post to our credit card and then I'll be watching it closely.

    Took the shuttle bus back to the airport and caught a cab to our hotel (didn't feel like waiting for the shuttle bus). Room was ready. Just your average hotel airport with two singles (the beds were so soft you could bounce off them). We ordered pizza and vegged out watching Breaking Bad for a few hours.

    More in a bit about the trip home....and I would like to post a bunch of final thoughts. Things about highlights, lowlights, regrets, etc. Also some perspectives from tourists who tried to do "too much" in a little bit of time...a tourist who doesn't sit for hours in one place and didn't really "seek out" the locals (although we had a lot of conversations with them).

    I understand that our type of traveling isn't for everyone....but it works for me and passing judgment on how someone else travels (I see little comments in other threads alluding to how my travel style isn't ideal) isn't really my style.

    The way I see it....you only have about 85-100 years on this planet and I got a late start traveling. I want to see the world....if I love a place, I'll go back (like I am later this year to a few European countries). If not, then I know not to go back.

    I really enjoyed Ireland and will try to return with my Dad to do ancestry searching....I figure that kind of trip will be less "touristy" and more about connecting with locals to find family ties.

    More later!

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    Travel Home (Day 17)

    Our flight home was on American Airlines departing from Dublin at 10 AM. We woke up at 6 AM, showered, and headed downstairs for the free breakfast. I couldn't eat any more eggs, so I just had toast.

    Took the free shuttle to the airport. It was a huge bus, so no problems with it being full. The drive took about 5-10 minutes. Unfortunately, they drop you off at a coach park and you have to walk about 5-7 minutes to Terminal 2.

    Once at T2 we did our precheck with American (just asking questions about our bags). Went upstairs and went right through all the shops. NOTE: If you are doing the VAT refund it is BEFORE US Customs. I didn't see anything and I missed this. Fortunately, most of my stuff was on a card so I filed online, but now I have to pay for a stupid notary stamp, which is going to cost almost as much as I saved *sigh* Plus I have an additional receipt for about 6 euro and have no clue what to do with that.

    OK, then you go through a regular European airport security. Easy peasy and no lines. Then you walk and walk some more and head to US Customs. No lines for US citizens so we sailed through. Then another security.

    Then we headed to the gate. There was one restaurant there (we were upstairs at gate 426; there were some other souvenir shops downstairs).

    Our flight was delayed and we didn't start boarding until about 10:15. Once again we had another security check, asking about bags. I think the total number of security checks was 5!!! Oh well, it beats going through customs on the US end (O'Hare is a nightmare).

    We were in the air by 10:45 and landed in Chicago about 45 minutes late. We did pass Greenland on the way and had clear skies. WOW, what an amazing view. The last unspoiled place on earth??

    Had a long layover in Chicago and landed in DFW early. Home by 7:30 PM and in bed by 9:30 PM.

    Woke up this morning at 3ish, which is 9ish Ireland time. We'll see how long this lasts LOL We're actually flying to Seattle on Thursday to start our Alaskan cruise....that will be our vacation from our vacation.

    Final thoughts soon....

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    twiggers:

    Glad to hear your arrived home safely and off again so quickly.

    I couldn't eat any more eggs so I just had toast - no cereal or oatmeal offered?

    Looking forward to your final thoughts. Your trip report has been a delight to follow.

    Sandy

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    Sandy - There was usually cereal or porridge, but I'm not a fan of either. Normally my breakfast consists of plain greek yogurt with fruit and granola. There were a few places that had yogurt and fruit, but not many.

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    Love your trip report! I discovered long ago that it's more fun to travel with a friend than with my DH...sounds like you might want to consider that as well. :-) You sound very tolerant though.

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    I'm very glad Newgrange and Monasterboice renewed your flagging enthusiasm. They are definitely impressive! Thanks for the insight on Smarmore. That's about what I expected from my research - and that's about what we are doing. A cheap castle stay :)

    Your travel style is your own. You have done it, you know how to, and you enjoy it. Most people (me included) will try to keep people from doing that as that is not most people's style - and trying to fit too much in results in the 'green blur' tour of Ireland. However, for some folks it works - like you. I am very glad you enjoyed your trip!

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    Enjoyed your blow by blow trip report. I'm sorry that Glandalough was so crowded. When we were there we practically had the place to ourselves. We did it early on in our trip and maybe that is why I loved it so much. I, too, got castled and ruined out and full Irish breakfasted out! But I loved it. I am getting older though and so many places to still see so may never return to Ireland. I could live there though - the people are so nice and I love the rural living settings we stayed in. Peaceful. Unless I start thinking about all the wars and bloodshed that happened there!! (I agree that Germany has the best breakfasts.)

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    Thanks for sharing your wonderful trip! I loved hearing every bit. I am sorry that Glendalough was so crowded. The first time I went there 45 years ago the three of us (two other teachers and I who were teaching in County Wicklow) and it was October. There were donkeys roaming around and one of them ambled over to the car and tried to stick his/her head in the window and steal someone's sandwich. I have been back several times, but it has never been overwhelmingly crowded. It is one of my favorite places.

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    Big sigh, huh? But now you're headed for another trip, your cruise to Alaska! Well, that one will be totally different from your last several days in Ireland. I did enjoy your post on Ireland and am glad you had a good time, overall. You have lots of memories and pictures to enjoy for a long time to come. I hope you can post pictures later on for us to enjoy as well. Welcome back to the US!

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    Thanks Green! Things were definitely not a blur....we enjoyed what we did see, and I will have memories that will last a lifetime :)

    Thanks yellow! We're doing a Germany trip in summer 2014 (Mom's retirement trip), so I am looking forward to trying their breakfasts.

    Thanks Irish. I think it was a combination of being a Saturday and the time of day.

    Thanks Marilyn!

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    48. Re: Live Trip Report - 17 days in Ireland (Self Drive)
    Jul 26, 2012, 9:01 PM

    Well, it looks like Hertz got one small thing over on us. They charged our card in USD as opposed to Euro. Nowhere on the bill did it say this!!!! Cost us about an extra $20 USD because of this. Not sure what kind of recourse I have. I am currently away and don't have the bill in front of me (or the contract). I have a mind to dispute this.

    Oh, and the M50 toll charge works out to $3.65 USD.

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    OK, here are some final thoughts (while Ireland is still fresh in my mind).

    First, I thought I would discuss some of the highlights. The experiences that we would repeat again in a heartbeat. Then I'll talk about the things that I wish we had skipped. Finally, just some random thoughts about things I wish we had done differently.

    The highlights:

    1. Northern Ireland. This was a must-see for me and I have no regrets. The coastal drive was fun, a great introduction to Ireland driving. The Giant's Causeway was interesting (although a tad bit underwhelming) and Dunluce was a great castle introduction. Mostly, it was the history of the troubles that was fascinating. As Americans we just got news reports of "Ireland bombing this and that" and that it was all about religion. But it was deeper than that (religion often being used to fuel/escalate tensions) and the history lesson was fantastic. I also loved this because hubby got enthusiastic about it....and that hardly ever happens when it relates to history.

    2. Single lane country roads in the northern part of the Republic. We could stop and bleat at the sheep until our hearts were content. No tour buses to contend with and hardly another car in sight. This all changed the further south we got :( Less accessible/freely roaming sheep and more cars/people.

    3. Carrowmore - A great introduction to megalithic cemeteries. Different and more remote than Newgrange. I like the Dolmens, moreso than the passage tombs. Seeing them again in the Burren was nice, but there are many more in Carrowmore.

    4. I went to Ireland wanting to see castles. I was expecting more than tower houses. Well, scratch that. I had no clue what tower houses were...I have romanticized versions of castles in my head. So, to that end the castles in Ireland were hit and miss for me. I really enjoyed Dunluce. After that the tower houses really just ran together for me. Clifden Castle was pretty cool, as was Donegal Castle.

    5. I fell in love with 18-19th century manor houses!! I really need to get over to England and do some exploring there. This could all be fueled by my current love of Downton Abbey. So, I really enjoyed Muckross and was really glad we stopped there.

    6. I preferred the small towns. Clifden was a real highlight, and I think it was because we stayed right next to the main street so we could walk to the pubs. Also, the town had early music! Early music is a must!!! We are not night owls....staying up for 9:30 PM music sessions was too much for us. This means we also enjoyed Kenmare, but we did have to drive to town.

    7. The drives - Some highlights were Sky Road in Clifden. Slow and easy drive, lots of sheep, and some spectacular views. Plus it was a shorter drive! The Dingle peninsula was also a great drive. Short and had some interesting historical sights. Finally, our true highlight was the Beara Peninsula with Healy Pass. An absolute must in our mind. We will recommend it to all!

    8. The people - The people of Ireland that we ran into were exceptionally friendly and always had a kind word. I really didn't talk about this much, but we did stop on the road when we saw someone walking and would just say "hi" and they would be full of advice. But otherwise, our B&B stays were filled with talking to the owners (the highlight was John at Pax House) and store owners. Because we were in touristy areas, a lot of our conversations were with other travelers from around the world. I mean, you're staying at a B&B, who do you talk with in the morning? Other travelers. We talked to everyone around us at dinners and it was always either other Americans or Australians or Brits (lots of Germans too). At the pubs we went for early music and ate dinner, so not a lot of conversation, although we did talk with the musicians quite a bit. I find many of my vacations are filled with chatting with other travelers from around the world....I love that! So interesting to hear other perspectives on the places you are visiting.

    More in a separate post.

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    The regrets - the things I wish we had skipped.

    1. Let's just get this out of the way - Ring of Kerry. Complete disappointment sandwiched between the spectacular drives of Dingle and Beara. Too many tourist buses and not enough views. Skellig was great though....but I'm not sure it was worth the time just to get there, especially when Beara is so much better. And tour buses are now doing part of the Skellig Ring ;(

    2. Some of the tower houses - especially the renovated/restored ones that were being used as banquet halls. So disappointing ;( Not at all authentic...they just seemed cheesy,

    3. Galway - What is the hype? Congested and full of tourists.

    4. Some of our B&B choices stick out....notably Grey Gables in Ennis due to the sewage smell. I think we preferred the smaller houses and I wish we had picked more that were in the center of town so we didn't have to drive in. I also learned my lesson on bed sizes. I'll be emailing the hotels on my upcoming European trip to find out bed sizes!

    5. I've discussed this already, but I wish we had spent a little less time. I should have sacrificed some things and just said "we'll come back another time" but one of my personality flaws is that I have to "do everything." As a psychologist I know it is close to being disordered, but I feel distressed when I don't complete things (McDonald's toys as a kid? If I didn't have the entire set I would be really upset and then would just obsess over acquiring them). So I needed to do the full circle, but at the same time I would have been happier with about 10 days in Ireland.

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    Things I would have changed

    1. B&Bs - We ended up in a lot of large guesthouses. which were generally impersonal. The exception was PAX House. Also, we often ended up not in the center of town and having to drive in for dinner. Need to do more research next time.

    2. I wished I had half a day extra in Dublin to do a few more things.

    Well, that was shorter than I imagined :) Really, we had a great time in Ireland and I thank everyone here who was so very helpful with planning things.

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    Thanks so much for all the good reading and information you've provided over the last few weeks. I looked forward to all your updates, and really enjoyed vicariously travelling along with you. It sounds like you had a wonderful trip, really experiencing Ireland with an open heart.

    I'm another "do everything" kind of person, so it was a slow decision for us to eliminate the south and do the north and west only.

    In that respect I was interested that a number of your highlights were the north and Clifden in the west, where we're going to spend a couple of days. Bought a new raincoat and waterproof shoes, so I'm good to go!

    Have a safe voyage in Alaska - it's lovely to have a vacation from your vacation!

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    Loved your report, but now I'm troubled - we'll have 20 days, and I was sure it'll be slow and interesting with not too much driving, and I almost finished the plan, but now I even cannot decide if it must be clockwise or just like you made it. What to you think? Would you now do it the same way? And can you say how much did you drive daily? How did you choose your stops? All booked beforehand or did you book on-tour?

    Enjoy Alaska, it's on my must-see-list and I'd love one more report (LOL)

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    YOu will absolutely enjoy the north sugar! A real highlight for us :)

    Tasta - Well, I actually liked counterclockwise for a few reasons:

    1. You're not hugging the coastline. This can be a drawback for your passenger, but for feeling a little safer I liked that.

    2. Everyone else goes clockwise, so in B&Bs you can have some GREAT conversations...you recommend some places and others make recommendations to you. Gives you lots to talk about.

    I would absolutely have done it the same way!

    Our total mileage was nearly 1600 miles. So we average just over 100 miles per day; however, there were a few days where we drove very little. The last 2 days we were averaging about 150-160 per day.

    All of our stops were booked beforehand, but only because I am OCD like that. For me, the planning is half the fun! But we met MANY people who just drove aimlessly and booked the day they arrived. There are ALWAYS vacancies and you can use recommendations from other travelers you meet who are traveling clockwise.

    I think I'll be doing a live report over on cruisecritic for the Alaska trip :) Mind you it is a cruise and not an extensive land vacation.

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    but we did stop on the road when we saw someone walking and would just say "hi" and they would be full of advice.


    Ah, Twigg, you've hot a good one here. I've always done the same on my Ireland visits..I would ask directions even if I knew the way...just to hear the answer in full animated Oyrish talk:
    "Ye keep on this road, y'hear, and ye'll come to a bridge. Now, don't dare cross the bridge, but take a roight till ye run out of road. There it is, man!"

    What lovely memories you've stirred up, doc. How about some pics for us on this thread? I'll look at your Alaska stuff now. It was my 50th state when we visited two years ago.

    Stu

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    Twiggers, I've been to Ireland 4 times and am planning my 5th trip (I'm addicted!). Each time I am concentrating on a different area, and I've learned some tricks that work for MY traveling style (which will obviously not apply to everyone else).

    I like small and mid-sized towns. Ennis is the largest I like, I prefer Westport sized - down to Cushendall at the smallest. Must have a couple of pubs at the least. I prefer B&Bs near the center town (staggering distance to the pubs!). If I'm in a city, I prefer to be in a quieter neighborhood, as I'm a light sleeper.

    I try not to schedule more than 2-3 hours driving a day (calculated as straight driving) because I know that, with stops and detours, that often turns into 4-5 hours.

    I get up early, often before breakfast is near, and go out and walk in the quiet morning beforehand, or for a short drive. It is nice to see the places before others get there, like when we stayed on Inis Mor and had Dun Aengosa to ourselves early in the morning. It was exhilarating!

    Doing my B&B research, I look for: WiFi, rooms with the right number of beds for our group, charming decor, location, and Tripadvisor reviews.

    For driving, I also like going against the grain - we took a similar route to yours last trip, from Belfast, around counter-clockwise to Beara. I also like starting my trip in any big cities, and ending up in small towns, as there is less culture shock than going from relaxing town to bustling city, like Dublin.

    I love talking to locals! That's the best part of it. One reason I like staying in the same place for at least 2-3 nights is to get to know the folks in the area, probably at the local pub :)

    I'm also a do-everything person - the only saving grace I have is that I've finally convinced myself that I need to plan a trip as if I'm going back someday (since I have, several times!) :P

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    Your billing from Hertz might be merely what the current exchange rate (Euros to US dollars) was at the time your credit card converted it, Twiggers. My husband just returned from a golf trip to Ireland and that's what he found out. Also, some credit cards charge a foreign exchange rate. Maybe yours does. My husband found out that even when Hertz bills you in Euros, your credit card will do the converting when billing you and that is dependent on the exchange rate on the day the bill is received from Hertz. Hey, I wouldn't complain about $20 difference, I don't think! But that's just me, I'm sure. Our credit card, Capital One, doesn't have a foreign exchange rate.....something to think about, I guess, before traveling.

    Al in all, it sounds like you had a great trip! That's wonderful and thank you for posting the highlights, hints, and changes you would have made. It is most helpful to those of us going in the future! (You can see that my DH and I do NOT travel together all the time!) :-))

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    I get up early, often before breakfast is near, and go out and walk in the quiet morning beforehand, or for a short drive. It is nice to see the places before others get there, like when we stayed on Inis Mor and had Dun Aengosa to ourselves early in the morning. It was exhilarating!

    Green Dragon, where did you stay? I am in love with that place! We want to go back, my fifth time and stay there and rent a cottage north of Galway around Clifton.

    I am following your cruise now!! I live very close to a port city and don't cruise that much. We do hop on and do a rum run every now and then.

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    We stayed at the Man of Aran Cottage, the place built for the 1920s film Man of Aran. It's about a 10 minute walk from Dun Aengosa, and the hosts (Joe and Maura) are lovely. http://www.manofarancottage.com/

    The only downside is that there is no nearby pub. The gift shops and tea cafe is close by, but they close in the evenings. Joe Watty's is about 5 miles away in Kilronan. I walked it the first night (it was a lovely evening), but the weather deteriorated and I took a taxi back later. We rented bikes the next day for getting around and about.

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    Well, THE HUSBAND just informed me that he was asked at the Hertz counter at the end of the rental whether he wanted his credit card charged in euros or US dollars; he said euros and that's how he was billed. The bill to us from Capital One, however, showed the converted rate in US dollars. I hope this helps for your next trip, just in case you were either not asked or did not request billing in euros.

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    twiggers, thanks for summarizing your thoughts in the end. We are doing a very similar trip (counter clockwise covering N Ireland and the south west primarily in a few days...super exciting). I do have a night planned in Galway (now wondering if I should nix it...and instead spend a night in Clifton)...however the next day's itinerary is to check out the cliff of moher in the morning and drive to dingle by the end of the day (long day)...dont think its possible from Clifton but it anyone else feels otherwise your input will be appreciated.

    The plan was to cover dingle as well as ROK but I may replace the ROK with Beara based on feedback from you & green dragon...just a bit worried about the roads but by then we should be used to driving on narrow winding roads.

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    Marilyn - No, the exchange was horrid and my credit card does not charge a foreign conversion charge. We were never asked what we wanted to be charged in, so they just automatically did the auto-conversion at a horrid exchange rate. If you check out Tripadvisor this is a common practice (it happened to others at Budget).


    mnag - The roads on Beara are pretty narrow in spots, but there is very minimal traffic. It really needs a clear day though! Clifden to Dingle, stopping at the Cliffs, would be too rough (I think). Maybe better to push down to Ennis and then do the Cliffs + drive to Dingle.

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    Twiggers, I only just caught up with your trip report and had a blast reading it! We have covered a lot of these parts of Ireland in our trips and it is always nice to hear another opinion.

    That being said, I was one of the naysayers about Grey Gables. We stayed there based on good reviews, mostly on TA. It is not a place that I would ever go to again or recommend, so I felt some absurd vindication when you didn't like it. I am sorry about that and also sorry that you had a bad experience there.

    I feel the same about the ROK. We have driven it twice. We were not enthused the first time but gave it a second chance a few years later, sort of like giving it the benefit of the doubt, but it wasnt any better. I did, however, have some most delicious fresh sole on Port Magee, in a pub where the patrons spoke Gaelic. Those roads were some of the most narrow and winding roads ever!

    We usually go in spring or fall, when the tourist season has died down somewhat, and enjoy being there without the bus loads of people at the major sites!

    Many thanks for sharing your Ireland experience with us!

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