DH and I traveled to Rome to attend a conference in July. We had the option to extend our stay and after lots of reading and asking questions on this forum we finally decided to spend 9 days in Ireland and then return to Italy and visit Cinque Terre. We booked flights to and from Ireland and all of our accommodation ahead of time and arranged for a car rental in Ireland. Because our international flights were booked for us we were required to fly in and out of Rome, one of the reasons we added Cinque Terre to our itinerary.
We travel with carryon luggage only, small roll aboard suitcases and backpacks which hold camera equipment, 2 Ipads and our liquids etc. I also pack a small purse that fits inside my backpack. Prior to leaving, I rechecked baggage information for all the airlines we were using and realized that we were limited to just one carryon each with Ryanair, and that meant the contents and the backpacks would have to fit inside the suitcases for that leg of our journey. Afraid that we would be overweight and facing a huge charge at the gate for checked luggage I paid for one checked bag ahead of time.
I was concerned about what clothes and shoes to pack for the trip, expecting high temperatures and humidity in Rome and Florence, possible rain and cooler temperatures in Ireland as well as beach time in Cinque Terre. I finally packed a sundress, 2 pairs of capris, 2 skorts and 2 pairs of long pants along with 6 tops (some were sleeveless), 2 sweaters and a rain jacket. I also packed a bathing suit, scarves and a sun hat, umbrella and 1 pair of sandals and 1 pair of close-toed shoes. I wore long pants and a heavier pair of sandals on the flights but would have rather had another pair of capris and no long pants, and could have eliminated the close-toed shoes and one of the sweaters. DH packed jeans and shorts, t-shirts and button shirts, a rain jacket and golf cap and wore Merrill hiking shoes and packed sandals. I am prepared to do hand laundry while we travel so I pack laundry soap and 2 microfibre towels. I usually take a couple plastic hangers in case there are no hangers in the room (or the kind that must remain in the closet) but forgot to this trip.
We arrived in Rome with lots of enthusiasm, even if we were a bit jet lagged, and joined the rest of our travel group. We were staying outside of Rome near the Ciampino Airport. Not my choice of accommodation, although the hotel was clean and the breakfast was excellent. It was just too far away from the center of the city. We had an hour bus transfer each way, and public transportation is not very convenient from this location. However, we were with a group and so we made the best of the situation. Our five days with the group took us to some of the most visited locations in Rome and although we had visited all of them before it was interesting to see them again. We had an excellent tour guide at Vatican City and enjoyed the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica, but by the time our group arrived at the Collosseum we were all hot and getting very weary!! Thank God for the water fountains throughout the city, and for the water bottles I packed in our daypack. We just couldn’t stay hydrated and there was no time to stop at a café! The “no shorts, bare shoulders etc” was well enforced throughout the city and so I was glad I had a scarf in my bag.
This is my third visit to this amazing city and for the first time we visited Campo De Fiori. We found the sidewalk cafes a great place to relax and enjoy a cool beverage and do some people watching at the end of the day. There was also some great entertainment!
We took a tour to Montecassino on our last day in Rome. The bus ride was about 2 hours from our hotel and we stopped for a coffee break at one of the Autogrill (rest stop) just before arriving. The drive to the Abbey was uphill on a narrow road with lots of switchbacks. The view from the top was spectacular. Our tour guide gave a brief history of the monastery. Most recently it was the site of the Battle of Montecassino in 1944, when the building was destroyed by Allied bombing and has since been rebuilt according to the original plan. Our tour included the only part of the Abbey not destroyed in 1944, as well as the crypt and the basilica. The grounds include beautiful orchards and gardens that are tended by the monks. They sell "natural products" ranging from olive oil, jams, teas, and creams and lotions.
We also visited the Cassino War Cemetery, the second largest Second World War cemetery in Italy. There are more than 4000 graves, 855 are Canadian. We walked through the long rows of white crosses and reflected on the many lives that ended much too soon.
The conference part of our trip had come to an end and we had met many wonderful people, all interested in sharing their love of travel with their students. I am looking forward to sharing Rome with my students in the future.
DH and I flew from Rome to Dublin and picked up the rental car at the airport. We were given a 4-door Nissan hatchback with quite a few dents and dings. The agent suggested if we were going to add any dents to make sure they are in the same pace as the existing ones! I programmed our trusty GPS called "Greta the Garmin” and off we headed. Poor Greta was not very helpful and we finally gave up on her and figured out the signage until we could get on the right toll highway. It was a bit of challenge getting used to driving on the “wrong” side of the road but DH got us to Galway. The drive took about 2 1/2 hours and we saw glimpses of the countryside between watching other drivers and road signs. Greta had a few more problems due to construction as we hit the city limits. You can't imagine how excited we were to finally recognize The Swallows, a small B&B run by Jimmy and Patricia and our home for the next 2 nights. We had an upstairs room overlooking the street and car park. Although the room wasn't very big, it was clean and we were so happy to relax and breathe a sigh of relief......we had made it! The Swallows is about a 10-minute walk from the city centre. As we crossed the bridge over the River Corrib, we saw our first Irish rainbow. The Spanish Arch was nearby and we stopped for some photos. We stopped at King's Head Pub and ate our first meal of fish and chips, washed down with a pint of Smithwicks. We checked out a few pubs that offered traditional music and decided to stop at Tig Coili Pub. We found a couple of bar stools in the tiny and crowded pub, ordered another pint and listened to a group of four musicians.
The next day we drove along the Connemara peninsula. The drive took us through small towns and villages, each unique and filled with shops, pubs and churches. Between the villages were hilly fields, some with sheep or cows grazing. Connemara has been noted as being one of the most beautiful places in the world and we could see why. The mountain areas are covered with grey rock amongst the green grass, and the fields are divided by hand made stonewalls. This area is well known for the hiking and biking trails and we met many hikers and bikers along the way. We drove through the village of Leenane, on the edge of the Killary fjord and then wound our way through the Maam Valley.
The clouds opened up and it started to rain quite heavy as we drove north and then along the west coast. The roads were narrow and curvy. We stopped at Kylemore Abbey for lunch and some photos. The setting was spectacular. There were many opportunities to stop for photos as we saw old stone buildings and ruins and miles and miles of stonewalls. We drove through Salthill, a very touristy seaside area of Galway. There is a 2 km long promenade, overlooking Galway Bay with bars, restaurants and hotels. We eventually made it back to The Swallows and parked the car for the night. We walked down to the city centre just as it started to rain again so we ducked in and out of shops and finally settled on a small restaurant for dinner. After dinner we strolled the streets, popping into a few pubs to listen to music as well as stopping on the street to listen to the buskers.
CLIFFS OF MOHER
The next morning we checked out of The Swallows and headed to the Cliffs of Moher, about 2 hours from Galway. Again the drive through the burren was spectacular, and we stopped to take photos and admire the countryside. We stopped at Dunguaire Castle to take some photos along the way.
We arrived at The Cliffs of Moher and parked across the road in the car park. We were pleased to note that the tour buses and crowds had not arrived yet. We grabbed our cameras, water bottles and rain coats (just in case) and walked to the Information Centre across the road. This area is well developed for tourists with some paved pathways. After checking out the tourist centre we headed up the path to view the Cliffs of Moher. There are no words to describe the view! We were fortunate that it was a clear, sunny day. Many arrive to find the area fogged in and not able to see anything. We walked to O'Brien's Tower. We followed a pathway along a stonewall and a neighboring field of cows. Oh, and just in case you are ever doing that walk....yes, the fence is electric and turned on!!!! We didn't get as far as the cairn that marks the highest point at the Cliffs, but enjoyed the view from the wall instead. We walked back to the tourist centre and checked out the educational displays and then visited with one of the employees before heading back to the car.
From the Cliffs of Moher we headed to Killarney, our next overnight stop. We traveled along more windy roads and had to stop to let a farmer move his cows across the road. It was also exciting and nerve racking to watch tour buses meet on the road ahead of us.
In Killarney, we stayed at the Ardree House, which is a short walk from the city center. The accommodations were excellent, our favorite while in Ireland. We had a large room, nicely decorated with a large bathroom and a view of the city. The place was furnished with antiques and they had a lovely breakfast room. We walked to the city center and did some shopping for souvenirs and then found a restaurant for dinner. After dinner we explored more of the city and then found a pub that advertised Irish music. The Danny Mann was a great place to spend the evening. We listened to the music of a duo called Natural Gas. The owner's daughter also entertained us with some dancing. It was a very enjoyable evening…or great craic as they say in Ireland!!
RING OF KERRY
We booked a bus tour of the Ring of Kerry so that DH could enjoy the scenery without having to worry about driving the steep curvy roads. The driver was also the narrator and he kept us entertained with stories, historical facts and jokes. He also played traditional music as we traveled. We left Killarney and headed through Killorglin, home of the Puck Festival, the oldest traditional festival in Ireland. Our first stop was at the Bog Village near Glenbeigh. This tourist attraction gives insight into how people lived and worked in Ireland in the 18th and 19th century. There is also information about the great famine from 1845-1852. There was a bar and cafe serving Irish coffee. As we continued on the tour we saw mounds of turf in the fields being dried before being moved to sheds where it will be stored for fuel We stopped at the Kells Sheep Centre to see a demonstration of border collies herding sheep. There was also an opportunity for questions. A very worthwhile stop in my opinion!! We stopped at Waterville to see the beach along Ballinskellig's Bay and then had lunch a bit further along the way. After lunch we headed to Caherdaniel, which is located on the southern coast of the peninsula. This area is well known for it beaches and cultural history. The stone ring fort of Caher is along the walking trail called Kerry Way. The home of Daniel O'Connell is also in this area. We stopped at a rest stop near the Black Valley for a restroom break and time to browse through the gift shop and watch a weaving demonstration. There was a fabulous view of the Gap of Dunloe from this spot as well. We headed back to Killarney through Sneem, another pretty village on the Ring of Kerry. DH and I both felt that the bus tour was a great way to see the Ring of Kerry and takes the pressure off the driver. We had another enjoyable evening in Killarney and we found our way back to The Danny Mac for more music!
Our next stop on our tour of southwest Ireland was Cork, but we went to Glengarriff first so we could have a short visit with an old friend. The drive took us back on the Ring of Kerry road to Kenmare and then we headed toward Glengarriff and Bantry Bay. We stopped at Molly Gallivan's Cottage and Traditional Farm, a perfect spot to get a view of the valley to the high point on the Barra-Bui Mountain. There is a Druid, a large carved figure in the car park, which honors the first settlers in the area over 6000 years ago. We took lots of photos of the cottage and farm, which are representative of the simple country life in Ireland many years ago. There is a teahouse, craft shop and buildings for tourists to visit. The rest of the drive to Glengarriff was beautiful, but we marveled at the speed limit on the roads here as well as elsewhere in Ireland. Very few would be able to maintain the speed on the narrow and windy roads. From Glengarriff we headed to the Blarney Castle. We arrived in mid afternoon and the crowds seemed to be thinning out. We enjoyed getting out and walking for a bit. We climbed to the top of the castle but declined the opportunity to kiss the Blarney Stone. The grounds and gardens surrounding the castle are beautiful and on a warm sunny day, a perfect place to visit.
We had a short drive to Gabriel House B&B. The Gabriel House is on a hill overlooking the city center and our room was on the top floor overlooking the docks on the River Lee. There was one slight problem....no elevators! We had a long climb up 5 flights of stairs to reach our room, hurray for packing light. We walked down the hill to a pub for supper and then strolled around the city centre of Cork. The area has lots of pubs and restaurants and shopping. We stopped at a small pub for a drink and visited with some people who recommended a few places to go to listen to music. This area of Cork lacked the charm we found in Killarney and Galway. We enjoyed our stay but wish we had stayed in Kinsale instead.
We woke up to the sound of rain, our first since arriving in Ireland. After eating a huge breakfast of eggs, toast, black pudding, white pudding, sausage, bacon, tomatoes and mushrooms with plenty of juice and coffee we went back to the room to do some laundry and plan our day. The rain also gave us some time to edit photos and catch up on emails. When the rain stopped we drove to Kinsale, a fishing village 25 km south of Cork and a popular holiday resort for the Irish. It was Sunday afternoon and Kinsale was busy. We walked around the town, there were plenty of little shops, art galleries and pubs and restaurants. We decided to take a harbor cruise. The narrated cruise took us past Charles Fort, one of the best surviving examples of a 17th Century star-shaped fort. It was a very enjoyable way to spend the afternoon.
When we returned to Cork we walked down to Gallagher's Pub for supper and then stayed to listen to a young musician who played acoustic guitar. He did a few traditional songs but also played some great rock and roll.
ROCK OF CASHEL
We decided to get an early start so we could stop at Cashel. We programmed Greta our Garmin and headed for the road to Dublin. Apparently Greta's maps had not been updated since the recent road construction and before we knew it we were driving down narrow streets in the residential area of Cork. We finally stopped and asked directions and then, with fingers crossed, attempted to find some signs that would help us on our way. We eventually got straightened around and we were heading in the right direction!! Note to all: make sure your GPS has the most recent maps!!!
Rock of Cashel is a historical site also known as the Cashel of the Kings. We arrived just in time for the guided tour. We had an excellent tour guide that was very knowledgeable and added interesting stories and historical anecdotes. We also drove around Cashel and would recommend staying here if you have the time.
The final leg of our tour took us back to the Dublin airport to drop off the rental car. We took an airport bus into Dublin and had a short walk to our hotel. Overall, DH and I found having a rental car great because it gave us the freedom to explore the countryside at our own speed and stop for photos and lunch whenever we chose. There were some difficulties adapting to driving on the wrong side of the road and driving instincts were put to a challenge when rearview mirrors and gear shifters are opposite what you are accustomed to, but DH is willing to try a driving tour of Scotland in the future. He did say that he would be sure to book an automatic transmission!
We were staying at the Hotel Belvedere, which is a short walk from O’Connell Street and the airport bus stop. We had two full days in Dublin and decided that the Hop On Hop Off Bus was the way to go for us. It was a great deal, 2 days for the price of one. We chose to ride the entire route and then decide where we wanted to get off, depending on the weather. The bus driver was the narrator and he gave historical information and told jokes. It was a great improvement over the taped commentaries on some tours. We did a tour of the Guinness Storehouse and Kilmainham Gaol, visited Christ Church, St. Patrick’s Cathedral Dublin Castle and Trinity College. We also spent some time shopping and listening to music at pubs in the Temple Bar District. Dublin was a great place to finish up our tour of Ireland!
We were sad to leave Ireland and wish we had booked a few more days so we could have visited Belfast and some of the area outside of Dublin. However, we were off to Pisa and Cinque Terre. Our flight arrived in Pisa and we were fortunate to catch the next train to LaSpezia and then Riomaggiore. We had not pre-booked our tickets for the train but didn’t encounter any problems; seats were assigned when we purchased the tickets.
We had booked a B&B in Riomaggiore for two nights, knowing that it would not be long enough to do hiking and the boat trip between villages, but we wanted to have a “taste” of the area in hopes of making a return visit. Our room was at the Il BoMa, located on the main street. We had arranged for a late check-in and the owner greeted us at the door. The room was overlooking the main street with a separate bath. Although there was no air conditioning the ceiling fan and open window kept the room comfortable. After unpacking, we went for a stroll to the dock and watched the sunset and then had a beer and pizza. There are plenty of places to eat, have a glass of wine or beer, eat gelato and people watch. There was a small grocery nearby so we could pick up some snacks for the next day.
Some of the hiking trails are still under repair from the mudslides and those that were open were more strenuous than what DH and I had planned for. We didn’t have the proper footwear so decided to take the ferry and stop at the villages along the way. This was a great way to see the other villages. We did a “hop on hop off” all day, stopping for lunch, sometimes just a stroll to see the village and finished off with a swim at Monterosso. I am sure the view from the hiking trails was amazing but maybe next time!!!
We took the train from Riomaggiore to Pisa and dropped our luggage off at the storage area. We took the city bus to the Piazza del Duomo to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Duomo. It was very crowded and I would recommend booking tickets ahead of time to climb the tower.
After a brief visit we hopped the train for Florence. We had booked a room at the Hotel Alba, which is a five-minute walk from the termini. We were very happy with this area, we found lovely little restaurants with delicious food that were not too busy, great little cafes to enjoy a glass of wine and gelato shops to keep us happy!! This was our second visit to Florence and our plans were to move at a much slower pace for our last few days of our vacation. We revisited some of our favorite places and spent an afternoon at the Boboli Gardens. In the evening, we enjoying listening to street musicians on the Ponte Vecchio and in some of the piazzas.
On our last day in Italy we took the train from Florence to Rome. We stayed at the Welcome Piram Hotel, which is a short walk from the Termini. The following morning we took the Leonardo Express to the airport and headed for home.
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Pizza and Potatoes: Our Trip to Italy and Ireland