FÁILTE! – Welcome to Ireland. Once again I have returned to one of my favorite counties, this time for a 6-day self-drive tour of The Republic of Ireland.
Travel buddy Joyce and I met up in Gatwick, had lunch at Jamie Oliver’s Diner and then boarded our Ryanair flight to Dublin. I had done quite a bit of research and chose a self-driving tour of the South with a company called Evaneos. We were assigned our very own tour specialist and we couldn’t have been happier to get Austin as the Q&A person for our trip. He was waiting for us outside customs with SCOTT on his iPad, a big smile on his face and that charming Irish lilt in his voice.
Because we were arriving late afternoon, with Joyce totally exhausted after her overnight flight from the US and then onto Ireland, we specifically requested to stay in Dublin the first night, picking up our car at the airport the next morning.
Austin arranged for us to stay at the Maples House Hotel located just 10 minutes from the airport. He drove us there, gave us time to check-in and wash our hands and faces before meeting him at The Bald Eagle, a local pub with a great atmosphere and tasting flights of Irish whiskeys! We got to know each other a bit and asked poor Austin lots of questions before heading back to the hotel for a very nice dinner of salmon and mash for Joyce and lamb’s liver and onions for me.
Austin arrived after we finished breakfast and drove us back to the Dublin Airport where we picked up our stick-shift Ford Focus SUV from Europcar. He had provided us with a written itinerary, a huge Ireland road map and Google Map links to each of our overnight guest houses.
Our first stop was the town of Cashel in County Tipperary, a one and a half-hour drive from Dublin Airport. This is what we learned on the way.
- I’m was fairly used to driving by now on the wrong side of the road after driving on the Isle of Man and in Oxfordshire, but I now have to use my hurt arm to shift – ouch! Kept telling myself it was physical therapy – it still hurt.
- Some of the roads in Ireland are toll roads but instead of having toll plazas, they just say ‘toll’ and you then have 24-hours to go to find the nearest ‘service station plaza’, give them your license plate # and pay your toll.
- They announce the exits at least a mile in advance and all are well-marked in English and in Gaelic – on the big roads, that is. On the little roads, not so much. Joyce earned her ‘navigation stripes’ this trip as we both became roundabout experts. You do know if you miss your exit the first time, you just keep driving around the roundabout again and again until to find the right exit! Personally we both prefer roundabouts to stop lights. You can go many more directions than just the typical 4 and it takes much less time for all the traffic to get through.
It was lunchtime when we arrived in Cashel, and, by now you know we love to lunch – and breakfast and dinner. Joyce had read that Cafe Hans was rated by Lonely Planet – Ireland as the best place in Cashel for breakfast and lunch so we drove around and stopped and ask for directions until we found it.
Before I continue with our tour of The Rock, let me tell you about Irish weather. Please note that in the above photo the sun is shining brightly, the sky is bright blue and the clouds are puffy and white. This sky was a momentary occurrence which we learned in minute detail while driving away from the airport. Within a span of 10-minutes time we drove through mist, fog, sprinkles, torrential rain, bright sunlight and, one day, even sleet and snow! Welcome to late winter/early spring Irish weather.
After a delicious and filling lunch we worked it off by climbing a huge hill in a really heavy, heavy wind which almost blew us both off our feet to get to the Rock of Cashel entrance. But it was worth it. There has been a fortress on this rock dating back to the 5th century. In 1101 it was donated to the church for use as a place of worship and a monastery by the the King of Munster. For the complete history, click on the link above the photo.
The views of the surrounding countryside were amazing, very green and filled with blooming jonquils. The arches that remain standing along with the grave stones and chapel give you an idea of how imposing a place this was when filled with worshipers and 100s of monks.
After the guided tour, it was time to find our guest house/B&B where we were booked to spend the night. Austin’s directions said it was no more than a 5-minute drive from Cashel. That was true after your found it the first time – but trying to find it in a driving rain storm, on tiny, weaving, barely 2-lane back roads with NO SIGNS! was not possible. After driving around for an hour we gave up and called the owner, Tom. After explaining where we were, he hoped in his car, found us and lead us back to his lovely guest home.
Irish guest houses or B&B’s are truly special. We found the rooms to be huge (we had requested rooms with 2 beds and each one we stayed in had 1 queen and 1 twin bed); each had an ensuite bath, an offering of hot tea and cookies in front of the fire in the afternoon and a selection of goodies or even a full Irish breakfast each morning. The beds were all so soft and comfy with lots of pillows and big duvets to snuggle under. We loved Austin’s choices for us to overnight.
But we had to go back out again for dinner and Seamus, the waiter with a twinkle in his eye, said we really must dine at Chez Hans. Yep, owned by the same folks as the Cafe, it was in an unconsecrated church the owner had turned into his personal art gallery and fantastic restaurant. Tom told us it was ‘the place’ for celebrating special occasions in Cashel so how could we not enjoy dinner there? And we most certainly did. We shared a massive bowl of fresh mussels in a rich tomato broth, a Ceasar salad and of course, wine.
The next morning after Tom had fixed us a complete Irish, we were off to Kerry County and the city of Killarney. Lonely Planet and Austin’s itinerary said there was a castle well worth stopping to see in Cahir, a village along our route. The castle was rather disappointing, but we stumbled upon the John Nash-designed St. Paul’s Church of Ireland sitting proudly on a hill overlooking the river with the castle at the far end. It made for a great photo-op, especially since the sun had chosen to make a rare appearance.
Driving along another of those weaving and winding roads that make up the majority of Ireland’s roadway systems, every now and again you just see something that makes you slam on the breaks, turn around and take a picture. This little green house sitting along with side of the road was one of those ‘brake-slamming moments.’
Onward to Killarney, arriving just in time for, you guessed it, late lunch! After two very nice Irish gentlemen who were standing on the sidewalk volunteered to assist me parallel park in a very tight spot, Joyce once again chose a highly rated restaurant from Lonely Planet. This time it was Kaho, known for its Asian ‘street food’. Joyce had a great piece of Hake and I have one of my favorites, Pho Bo. Perfect to warm us up on what had turned into a wet and chilly day.
We were scheduled to spend two nights in Killarney. Austin had booked us at The Ardree House, a truly welcoming family owned and run guest house. We loved our big room, and the menu every morning for breakfast was truly amazing, including their homemade mixed berry yogurt!
After a fisn ‘n chips dinner at Murphy’s Pub where we had hoped to find live music but learned nothing started until 9-9:30 when we were always in our jammies, we got a great night’s sleep and awoke to what we hoped would be a good weather day to drive the famous Ring of Kerry. By clicking on the link you can see lots of beautiful photos of what it looks like when it isn’t pouring rain and terribly foggy! Not a day to drive a road that they warn you is dangerous even on a good day.
Our lovely hostess Bridgie suggested if we were to visit just one of the small towns that are along the Ring, we take our umbrellas and go to Kenmare. This colorful little town, which would be the first or last town you would drive through if your did the complete ‘Ring’ is filled with shops, galleries and dozens of restaurants.
I’m going to stop now to tell you why traveling to Ireland, or Europe in general in the middle of winter and early Spring isn’t a bad thing.
Yes, it’s cold but I brought a knee-length puffer coat that was very warm and is now rolled up into a tiny little bag it came with. To that I added layers (a fleece jacket or sweater over a choice of long sleeve t-shirts. I only packed leggings and one pair of jeggings for bottoms. I brought one pair of ankle-high booties which I wished I hadn’t as they were much too heavy to tote around and they are what I was wearing when I slipped and fell in Amsterdam. Otherwise, I’ve worn my Sketchers tennis shoes every day. I packed a fleece housecoat and slippers and have gotten lots of wear out of both.
The weather hasn’t been the greatest. Lots of rain with temps averaging in the 40s to mid- 50s most days. Soggy and chilly, yes. But tourists – NO! No queuing and no crowds which compared to this summer has been a wonderful change. And this was all before “The Virus” (which I will address at the end of this post) made itself known throughout the world. So winter travel is not bad. If you have a choice, early Spring or late Fall is perfect for almost anywhere you might wander.
Now back to adorable Kenmare. We strolled in and out of the shops and galleries, had a marvelous lunch at Mik & Jimmy’s, stopped for a few photo ops on the way back to our guest house and ordered in pizza our last night in Killarney!
It was today that the ‘virus’ started to make itself known to our planned itinerary. We still had 3 days left to tour when Ireland shut down its schools, all its public buildings and monuments, the very places were had come to see.
As we drove to our next overnight destination, the tiny village of Doolin near the wondrous Cliffs of Moher, which was high on our list of ‘must sees’ we learned that their Visitor Center had closed and access to the walkway and overview of the Cliffs was not open to the public. Plus, it was raining hard and the view was totally fogged in – damn!
We drove onto tiny Doolin and found Gus O’Conner’s very well-known pub which was bustling with cold, wet and disappointed tourists from all around the world. We were invited to join a table of ladies from San Diego and Portland and shared our travel stories.
There is nothing better on a miserable day than a pint of Irish Red and a bowl of homemade seafood chowder overflowing with every kind of fish and mussel and scallop you could ever dream of tasting.
Glasha Meadows was our assigned B&B for the night. After napping, reading the news and looking at all our options, we realized that not only were the pubs closing but also, as mentioned, all national museums and monuments, including the one we most wanted to visit, the stone-age passage tomb, Newgrange.
We also started to hear talk of closing the borders and the Cheeto-in Chief giving Americans only 2 days to fly home. We decided to call Austin and cut our trip 2 days short. We were scheduled to fly to Faro, Portugal on Tuesday afternoon but made some calls and changed carriers and got a flight out of Dublin for the next day at noon.
If we were going to be stuck in Europe we wanted to be stuck in Portugal where we had rented a beautiful, large 2-bedroom house with a huge kitchen from friends in a tiny, little fishing village with warm weather and a beach to walk instead of cold, wet and expensive Ireland.
But, before we could fly to Portugal, we had to drive from the West side of Ireland back to Dublin Airport. We were blessed with sun and some wonderful vistas along the coast on the way the motorway. Driving into Dublin was stressful at best, but Joyce was masterful at giving me step-by-step directions and we made it without putting one scratch on the rental car!
Originally we were both scheduled to fly out of Portugal on March 30th, Joyce to Atlanta and me to San Miguel. All our flights and connections were canceled, then the EU shut the borders, and, though we might have been able to get from here to Mexico in a roundabout way, we decided we didn’t want to put our health at risk getting on a plane full of strangers.
We made the decision to wait out the virus in Ferragudo. A village of less than 500 residents, we feel safe here with access to a huge hospital only 20 minutes away if the need would arise.
I have friends here and there is quite a group of expats, mostly Brits, that call this village home, so we are not alone. We watch CNN and BBC World News and pay attention to what the scientists say – not what the politicians make up.
We wash our hands lots, have sanitizer and clorox wipes. We have plenty of books on our Kindles, good wifi and a computer. We’re always connected.
So here we will stay. I will keep you posted via this blog and on Facebook and Instagram. American Airlines told me they hoped to resume flights to Europe by mid-May but no one knows anything for sure about anything.
Please stay safe. Stay home. Be calm and follow the guidelines the very knowledgeable doctors and scientists tell you to do. And, if we are all lucky and blessed, we will fly away home once again in the not-so-distant future.
Until next time….