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Ireland trip: From Dublin to Galway, Part One

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Jul 14th, 2018, 05:43 PM
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Ireland trip: From Dublin to Galway, Part One

Day One: I flew from Boston to Dublin on Aer Lingus. The flight is only about 5 1/2 hours, so you get even less sleep than usual for an overnight flight. It was fine, but if I had to do it again, I might look to see if there were flights earlier in the day.

Day Two: Arrived in Dublin around 8:30 a.m. I had purchased an Aircoach ticket online before my trip. I think it was about a half-hour trip to the center of the city. I stayed at the Shelbourne, on St. Stephen's Green. It's a very old, historic and expensive hotel, but the location is great and I accumulated some Marriott points.

I just managed to make the 10 a.m. tour of The Little Museum, which is a block away from the hotel. You have take a guided tour but you can walk around inside afterward. It's just a few rooms with memorabilia from Dublin life. There's a small exhibit on U2. It covered some of the same topics that I heard about elsewhere on my trip, the Easter Rising, James Joyce. Still, worth a visit.

After the museum I grabbed a sandwich at Starbucks and rode the hop on/hop off bus for a complete loop, which took a couple hours. Unfortunately, even in the top "open" part, there's a plastic barrier, so picture-taking isn't as easy as on other hop on/hop off bus tours I've taken. But it is a nice way to get oriented to the city.

I got off the bus where I started, at St. Stephen's Green. By this time, my room was ready, so I checked in.

Then walked over to Trinity College, where I had a 3:30 appointment to see the Book of Kells. (I bought my ticket online in advance. I got a little bit of a discount because 3:30 is considered off-peak.) I got to go in right away. It was crowded, and you go through a lengthy exhibit that tells you all about the Book of Kells before you actually get to see it. I was a little underwhelmed. The two pages on display weren't as colorful as I thought they'd be. Much more exciting and interesting to me was seeing the Long Room at the Trinity College Library. I spent quite a while in there. It's a beautiful room.

From Trinity, I walked down the Grafton Street pedestrian mall, Dublin's main shopping street. I ate at Bewley's Cafe, one of the places I'd read about in my guidebooks. It's considered a Dublin institution. I had smoked salmon on thick brown bread, two of my favorite things!

By this time I was pretty tired. I went back to the hotel and figured I'd stay in for the night.

But after a nap, I felt revived and decided to go out to O'Donoghue's Pub to hear some music. It was just down the street from the hotel, and unlike a lot of pubs, the music started relatively early. There were musicians playing when I got there at 8:30. Traditional instruments, too. This is the pub where a famous group called The Dubliners got their start. I had a pint of Guinness, struck up a conversation with a few people, and had a nice time. I stayed for about an hour. It seemed like a mix of locals and tourists. Nice atmosphere. Highly recommended.

Day Three: I slept much later than I'd planned, until 11 a.m. I quickly got up, ate a granola bar and headed out. I walked up Grafton Street to the Molly Malone statue, then headed to Dublin Castle. I would like to have taken the guided tour, where you get to see more, but I had a lot of ground to cover and couldn't wait. I did get to see the lavishly furnished State Apartments, which includes the room where the president of Ireland is inaugurated.

From Dublin Castle I walked over to Temple Bar, got someone to take my picture in front of the iconic red pub. I had lunch at Gallagher's Boxty House. A boxty is a potato pancake that's usually stuffed with chicken or beef. I had delicious lamb stew and brown bread. Really nice lunch place.

After lunch, I walked across the Hapenny Bridge on the River Liffey. My plan was to go to the Emigration Museum, then double back to the General Post Office for the Witness to History exhibit on the 1916 Easter Rising. But I was afraid I wouldn't have time for both, so I decided to just do the GPO exhibit, which was excellent. After that, I took a few pictures around O'Connell Street. I was going to see a play at the Abbey Theatre that night, so I made sure I knew where it was. I had dinner at Le Bon Crubeen, which was recommended in a guidebook as a good pre-theatre spot. It was fine, although I wouldn't go out of my way for it. I had trout.

I saw "Ulysses" at the Abbey. It was fun, but just like the book, which I started but never finished, a little hard to follow. I took a taxi back to the hotel. It was so strange to come out of a show at 10 o'clock at night and still have it be light out!
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Jul 14th, 2018, 06:34 PM
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Planning an Ireland trip now, so will be following your trip report.
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Jul 14th, 2018, 07:27 PM
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Ireland Trip: From Dublin to Galway, Part Two

Day Four: I took a taxi from my hotel to Connolly Station to catch the 9:30 a.m. train to Belfast. I bought my ticket online beforehand, but I had plenty of time and could have just bought it at the station. Trains have reserved seats, and I ended up at a table for four, feeling a little squished.

I got to Belfast at 11:45 and took a taxi to the Titanic Museum. The ship was built by Belfast's Harland and Wolff Shipyard and the museum does a good job of taking you through the industrial history of Belfast, the shipbuilding process, the launch and the ill-fated voyage of the Titanic, the aftermath and how the story has been portrayed in movies. I'm not a big fan of all things Titanic, but this was very interesting. I'd gotten some British pounds at the ATM at the train station, but you can use Euros at the museum, as well as credit cards.

I'd made arrangements beforehand for a 90-minute black cab tour of Belfast. It cost 40 pounds. The driver met me at the museum and drove me around to see some of the political murals, through the Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods. He explained some of the background to The Troubles. I got to see the gigantic wall that separates the two neighborhoods, and the fence that locks the Catholic neighborhood at night. (You can get around it, but it takes longer.) The tour was very sobering and fascinating. I really recommend it, especially if you're interested in history.

I caught the 6 p.m. train back to Dublin.

Day Five: I took a coach tour from Dublin to Glendalough, the Wicklow Mountains and Kilkenny. I'd booked it beforehand through Paddywagon Tours. The meeting point was the Molly Malone statue. I had to be there by 9:30. The driver was also the guide, which was something I didn't expect. Most tours I've been on, there's been a separate guide and driver. There also weren't any electrical outlets on the bus.

The guide was pretty good, fairly talkative about what we were seeing. The first stop was the site of St. Kevin's monastery in Glendalough. There's a beautiful old stone church and cemetery. Really picturesque. I also got to see a sheepdog demonstration, which was really fun. That was an extra 5 euros. It was interesting to hear from the farmer how little demand there is for wool these days, and how most of the lamb is exported.

After that, we had a really long drive of over an hour to Kilkenny in which we didn't stop at all. It was nice to see the scenery from the bus, but I wish we'd stopped somewhere. We had a couple hours in Kilkenny to walk around, eat, shop for souvenirs. I just grabbed a sandwich at the cafe across from Kilkenny Castle, then I toured the castle. None of the furnishings are original but they've done a terrific job restoring the interior. There's also a very nice Irish design center across the street with lots of sweaters, scarves, etc.

We took a highway back to Dublin from Kilkenny, again without stopping. I wish some more breaks had been built in.

We got back to Dublin around 6. I made my way over to The Duke Pub, off of Grafton Street, which is the starting point for the Dublin Literary Pub Crawl. I had time to eat dinner (chicken Caesar salad) before the pub crawl at 7:30. I hadn't bought a ticket in advance and they weren't sure there'd be room, but there was, luckily.

The Literary Pub Crawl was terrific. Two actors take you to four pubs and Trinity College over about 2 1/2 hours. They talk about Irish writers, like James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Oscar Wilde, Brendan Behan, perform excerpts of their works, tell stories about them. Six actors rotate and the two I had, Frank and Finbar, were so friendly and engaging. They did a great job. You don't have to order anything at the pubs if you don't want to, but you certainly have the opportunity. It's a tremendous amount of fun!

Day Six: I'd bought tickets online beforehand for the Kilmainham Gaol and the Guinness Storehouse tour.

I took a taxi to the Gaol to start my day. You have to go through on a tour. There's an older and newer part to the jail, so you can see how ideas about prisons changed over the years. This is where the leaders of the Easter Rising were taken. You see their cells and the prison yard where they were executed, which is now marked by crosses. I was very moved by it.

I took another taxi from there to the Guinness Storehouse. My ticket was for 2 p.m. I got there a little early and went in without a problem. You don't get to see the actual brewery. It's more like Guinness World. You walk through a multimedia presentation where they show you how the beer is made. It's all very interesting and polished. And of course there's a huge gift shop. I had some very good Guinness Stew for lunch. Your admission ticket entitles you to a free pint. You can have it with lunch, on the sixth floor at the Gravity Bar, with it's panoramic views of Dublin, or you can go to the Guinness Academy, where they show you how to draw a pint and you get a certificate. So I'm now an officially certified Guinness pourer!

After that, I did a little more shopping on Grafton Street, walked through St. Stephen's Green and went back to the hotel, since I was leaving Dublin early the next morning.
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Jul 14th, 2018, 07:28 PM
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Let me know if you have any questions!
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Jul 15th, 2018, 06:03 AM
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Ireland Trip: From Dublin to Galway, Part Three

Day Seven: I left Dublin this morning for my 4-day Railtours Ireland trip, which ended in Galway. I had to check in at Heuston Station by about 6:30 a.m. for a 7 a.m. departure. The Railtours representatives were easy to find and things were well-organized. We all went from the waiting area to the train together, and part of a train car was reserved for us. My tour included a hot breakfast in the dining car. I had scrambled eggs.

After arriving in Cork, we switched to a bus for the trip to Blarney Castle and Cobh. I did not go to the top of the castle to kiss the Blarney Stone. But there are trails you can walk around and a very interesting Poison Garden. The bus parked at the Blarney Woolen Mills, about a 10-minute walk from the castle. There's a cafeteria-style dining room where I had salmon for lunch. The store is huge and it's a good place to pick up some souvenirs, sweaters, etc. After that, we headed to Cobh. We visited The Queenstown Story, a small history museum that focuses on Irish emigration. When you enter, you're given a ticket with a person's name and you find out what happened to them as you go through the museum.

From Cobh, we took a train to Mallow, and from there switched to the train for Killarney, our final destination for the day.

The hotel in Killarney, The Great Southern, is over 150 years years old, beautiful, historic and centrally located. Unfortunately, it's not air conditioned and it was unseasonably hot in Ireland - upper 70s to low 80s. All they gave me was a small tabletop fan. And even though I kept the window open, the room was hot and stuffy in the evening. A couple of people on our tour stayed at a bed and breakfast, and there they didn't even have a fan. So beware! I was pretty tired by the time we got to the hotel, so I ate in the bar, where I had a delicious, creamy bowl of fish chowder, filled with chunks of cod and salmon.

Day Eight: This was the day for my Ring of Kerry tour.

The guide was good but the day was a little disappointing because we didn't make many stops along the way and had a very brief lunch stop.

The scenery was gorgeous, so many shades of green, lots of stone fences, sheep and cows.

Usually, the lunch stops are a little longer and give you time to walk around. For Kerry, we stopped at a restaurant by the side of the road, not near anything. And we had about a half hour. Granted, these places are used to tours, so they whisk you in and out, but it was pretty rushed. The only other substantial stop was in the village of Sneem, where we stopped for about 20 minutes. There was no extended stop during the tour to walk around and explore.

After we got back to Killarney, I walked to the center of town, browsed in the shops. It's a nice little town. I had very good grilled fish at Quinlan's Restaurant, where you can also get fried fish and chips.

Day Nine: The Dingle

For some reason, Railtours Ireland contracted out this tour to another company, Deros Coach Tours, which I didn't realize until the bus picked us up. Again, it was a driver/guide combination.

Like all the guides, he was very knowledgeable. We learned a lot about the Potato Famine and what drove people from the area to emigrate in the mid 19th century. We had a view of the Blasket Islands, remote island that are now uninhabited but where people lived until about the 1950s.

We also made more stops than we did on the Kerry tour, which was great. (Including one place where maybe the bus shouldn't have stopped!) I think this was also the only bus that had electrical outlets. The stops included Inch Beach, a popular spot for surfing, and a long lunch break in Dingle. I really enjoyed walking around Dingle. There's a pretty harbor, lots of shops and a nice visitor's center. I had fish and chips at Harrington's Restaurant, which I would recommend. I would definitely stop in Dingle if I were driving around the Dingle Peninsula. We had more water views from the Dingle Peninsula and at some points, the coach was really close to the stone wall at the edge of the road that separates you from the water. If you like that, I would sit on the left side of the bus. If not, sit on the right side!

Dingle and Kerry are both beautiful but because I enjoyed the town of Dingle, I would give that a slight edge.

Day Ten: Bunratty Castle, Cliffs of Moher and The Burren

We left at 7 a.m. this morning, so it was a long day.

Our first stop was Bunratty Castle and the adjacent Folk Park. At the castle, there's a young, costumed guide who gives you a little of the history and what it was like to live at the castle. He was very good and very informative. You can walk around inside the castle but there are lots of narrow, steep and slippery stairways. I thought the Folk Park was very interesting. They've reconstructed houses and buildings to show you how people lived 100 or 150 years ago. You get to see what a fisherman's cottage looked like, and how a more prosperous farmer lived. I didn't have time to explore all of it, but there's a little street with old-fashioned shops and a church.

From there, we stopped for lunch at a pub in the pretty little town of Doolin, and then we headed to the Cliffs of Moher. The cliffs are quite dramatic. It was a nice, clear day and I could see the Aran Island in the distance. I don't like heights but I didn't have any problem. I felt like I was far enough back from the edge. You're separated by chest-high cement barriers. After the Cliff of Moher, we stopped at The Burren, a very unusual formation of rocks with giant cracks between them. I'm a bit of a wimp, so I didn't walk out on them, but lots of people did.

We got to Galway around 6 p.m., where the rest of the group took a train back to Dublin. I stayed in Galway, where I ended my trip.
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Jul 15th, 2018, 06:44 AM
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Ireland Trip: From Dublin to Galway, Part Four

Day Eleven: I stayed at the Jurys Inn in Galway, which was perfect. Great location. I also recommend paying for the breakfast package.

I really enjoyed Galway and highly recommend spending a day walking around the city. It's about 80,000 people and the attractions are close enough together that you can see everything on foot.

If I took a right out of the hotel, I was on the River Corrib. If I took a left, I was at the beginning of the Latin Quarter, the pedestrian thoroughfare filled with shops, pubs and restaurants. It was about a 10 or 15 minute walk through the Latin Quarter to Eyre Square, the city center. In the other direction, it was about the same distance to Galway Cathedral, which you can reach by talking a path that runs along the river.

The first day, I spent the day walking through the Latin Quarter and around Eyre Square. I took a little 45-minute trolley tour around the city for 10 euros. I had an excellent grilled chicken salad for lunch at McCambridge's. It's a nice little market with a cafe upstairs. I spent a lot of time browsing at Charlie Byrne's Bookshop, one of Ireland's best independent bookstores.

Some of the pubs have early traditional music sessions at 5:30 or 6 p.m., then later at 9:30 or 10. I went to two of them - Taaffes Bar and Tig Coili. They're practically across the street from each other and definitely worth a visit. I had salmon for dinner at Gemelle's. There are so many great restaurants. You can walk up and down the Latin Quarter and look at the menus posted outside, or look at what people are eating on the at the sidewalk tables!

Day Twelve: This was my day trip to Connemara. I booked it with Lally Tours. The driver picked me up and dropped me off near my hotel, which was great. I've learned that every tour has its pluses and minuses. While the driver was very informative, he also had music playing when he wasn't talking, which I found a little annoying. It wasn't incredibly loud, but I still could have done without it as I watched the scenery.

We stopped a few times for pictures. Connemara seemed more rugged than the rolling hills of Kerry and Dingle but just as beautiful. The driver pointed out a stone bridge that was seen in the movie "The Quiet Man."

Our main stop was Kylemore Abbey, where we also had lunch. The abbey was built by a wealthy Englishman, later became a school run by the Benedictine nuns, and now I think it's a retreat center. There's a garden that I didn't have time to see but I did enjoy walking through the first floor of the house, which is open to the public, and learning a little about the history of the Benedictines.

Back in Galway, I had a beef and stout pie for dinner at The Pie Maker, a very good little restaurant. You can get it either with salad or mashed potatoes. (They seem to put mashed potatoes on everything!) Highly recommended.

Day Thirteen: My second day in Galway and last day in Ireland.

I walked to Galway Cathedral, a beautiful, imposing stone building that was completed in 1965 but looks like it's a few centuries older. On the walk, I could see people fishing for salmon in the River Corrib. After that, I visited the small Galway City Museum, right on the water. It's free and does a good job of exploring the city's history. There's a replica of a Galway hooker, the city's famous sailing boat. I also went to the Hall of the Red Earl, a small archaeological site from the middle ages on a side street in the Latin Quarter, and the Anglican St. Nicholas Church, built in 1320. Christopher Columbus is reported to have worshipped there. I'd recommend all of these sites.

Lunch was very good grilled haddock at the Quay Street Kitchen.

I also did some more shopping, wandered along some of the side streets off of the main Latin Quarter thoroughfare. One place I really recommend, in addition to Charlie Byrne's Bookshop, is My Shop ... Granny Likes It. It's a small store with lots of contemporary Irish crafts. I bought a canvas bag with a drawing of a sheep made by a Galway artist. You'll also find plenty of places for woolen sweaters, lace, crystal, etc. You could easily wait and do all your souvenir shopping in Galway if it's your last stop.

For dinner, I had an incredible meal at a tapas restaurant at Cava Bodega, across the street from Charlie Byrne's. It was absolutely wonderful Irish spin on Spanish small plates. I had three - wild mushrooms with cider and garlic; scallops on crusty bread with tarragon mayonnaise; and a skewer of grilled lamb and sweet potato chunks. I would go back to Galway just to eat there again. I'm sorry I didn't try it until my last night! I went early, around 5, and I think it does get really busy later on.

Day Fourteen: I took the 8 a.m. Bus Eireann to Shannon Airport. It was about an hour trip, nonstop. I bought my ticket a couple days earlier when I was in Eyre Square, but I could have waited and just bought it that morning. The bus wasn't crowded. I got to the airport in plenty of time for my noon flight to Boston. I went through U.S. Customs at Shannon. I would definitely recommend flying into Dublin and out of Shannon if you're traveling around Ireland.

This was my first trip to Ireland and I learned so much about the country's history and really had a wonderful time!
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Jul 15th, 2018, 07:18 AM
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Thanks for an interesting & informative trip report. Glad you had a wonderful time.

Currently, I am planning a trip that includes Dublin. So, I will reread that portion with pen in hand and make notes!
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Jul 15th, 2018, 11:57 AM
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Great report with lots of helpful details. Thank you!
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Jul 15th, 2018, 05:45 PM
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Great report~ love the details.
Your information is encouraging for someone thinking about touring by train.
Thank you for writing a report.
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Jul 15th, 2018, 06:07 PM
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I loved your trip report and nice to see you spent a few days in Dublin and Galway. I have found the day tours like Wild Rover have a driver and a guide and they stop often. I try for the smaller bus tours also. Irish salmon us so good. I am going to remember the tapas place in Galway. I would so love to see Ulysses in Dublin. I keep it on my kindle and have been reading off and on for years. I tried doing a lot of Leopold's stops one trip. You did cover a lot of ground in your time frame.
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Jul 16th, 2018, 06:17 PM
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Thanks for all the kind words! The people on these forums have been really helpful to me and I love reading about everyone's trips.

I knew I didn't want to drive and I also knew I didn't want to take a two-week tour. So this was a nice compromise - a little bit on my own and organized tours to places that were harder to reach on my own. I liked traveling part of the way by train although obviously at some point you have to switch to a bus or car.

I probably should have looked into smaller group tours. I think it's hard for big buses to make a lot of stops. It's not like there are a lot of scenic overlooks where they can pull over. Overall, the tours were fine. I just wish we'd had a longer lunch stop on the Ring of Kerry and that we'd stopped in a place where you could walk around a bit. I felt more rushed that day than on the other tours.

Ulysses was fun, although I can't say I understood it completely even trimmed down as a play. That's a good idea about putting it on a Kindle. Salmon is my favorite fish and I really enjoyed it, especially smoked and in the fish chowder!
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Jul 17th, 2018, 10:47 AM
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Thank you so much for your detailed information on the tours you took and your experiences as a solo traveler.
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Jul 17th, 2018, 11:26 AM
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Thanks

we are planning our first trip to Ireland in late september. because of medical issues within our group we've decided to do a self-planned driving tour. we're going to stay in each town 2-3 nights to see the surrounding attractions without a lot of hustle-bustle, and then enjoy the town itself. it's nice to read your blog to see that you too enjoyed what the locals have to offer, not just all the hyped attractions
thank you.
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Jul 22nd, 2018, 07:32 AM
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This is timely as we are planning our first trip to Ireland. Not sure how much driving we want to do so it's a plus to have your comments on the tours.
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