Sunday, January 17, 2021

Aran Islands Day Trip

Trip date: September 2019

I had emailed my hotel the Park House before arriving in Galway, to arrange a ticket on the ferry to the Inishmore. They had kindly let me know that it is best to book the day before as to know better what the weather will be like. The ferry goes daily but being out on the islands in a rainstorm would not be a pleasant way to spend a day.

Luckily the torrential rain I encountered on my first night in Galway lifted and I woke up to partly cloudy but dry skies. After breakfast I had a short walk to pick up my ticket at the Aran Island Ferries office and then on to the bus stop. My €50 ticket included the 1-hour each way bus ride out to the ferry in Rossaveel and the 40-minute each way ferry crossing.

The main town on the island of Inis Mór, Cill Rónáin, has just about 300 residents. It's here that you decide how you want to get around the island and see the sights. You've got three choices; rent a bike, hire a horse and cart (which is how residents use to get around the island), or pay for a seat in a minivan (which are used as taxis after the tourists leave). 

I chose the minivan for €15. There were 3 other passengers and our driver Tommy took us around while sharing information about the island with us. He is a local who is a retired fisherman and had a lot of great stories and information. All the van drivers charge the same price so you can just go with whichever color car you like best!

Our first stop was Dún Eochla, the stone ringfort that sits on the 300+ foot high cliffs of the island. It's a pretty hike up to the fort and once there you have some awesome views! 

The fort is thought to have been built around 600 AD, but no one knows for sure. There's a series of stone walls, the interior walls are about 16 feet tall and 9 feet thick! 

The fort is also protected on one side by a fence of ragged stones. It's all pretty incredible! We spent about an hour here which was plenty of time to explore and take in the views.

We had a quick lunch at the cafe near the base of the fort in the village of Cill Mhuirbhigh. The cafe had a really nice selection of sandwiches, quiche, etc. and the sun was out making it perfect to sit outside and enjoy.

Back in the van we drove farther along the island. The scenery is so pretty, I had a front row seat again, and it was interesting to listen to Tommy tell us a bit about the three Aran Islands. There are about 1200 people total that live on the islands; Inishmore is the largest and about 7 ½ miles long. 

The islands are limestone and most areas have no natural topsoil; seaweed and sand were used to replicate when needed. The single story cottages with thatched roofs are typical, though many now prefer more modern roofs, and people work harvesting seaweed, fishing, and knitting. Aran wool sweaters are famous and very expensive. And of course all residents speak Irish (and most also English).

At the Seven Churches, Tommy pointed out the various ruins of this, one of the earliest, monastic sites. Pilgrimages here have been going on since the 7th or 8th century. The graveyard is the burial ground of both saints and locals.

Our last stop was to one of the beaches where a seal colony usually resides, unfortunately there was only one hanging out when we were there. There are quite a few sites we didn't make it to in our 3-hour tour, but it was nice not to rush around. We also passed a couple of bicycle riders and I have to say I would not want to do that! The roads are very narrow and most are quite rough. Even Tommy said he thinks it is dangerous.

As it was warm and sunny, I had Tommy drop me off at Joe Wattys bar, which is just a short walk from the main town, and had a pint of Guinness outside on their patio.

It was such a gorgeous day and I was so happy to have been able to see some of these incredible medieval sites. I wandered back to the pier where I caught the 4pm ferry and sat upstairs in the open air.


All photos from Aran Islands here.

Other posts from this trip:

Country Count #50: Ireland

Out and About in Dublin Town

Michelin Stars and Cocktail Bars in Dublin

24 Hours in Belfast

Ireland Road Trip: County Kilkenny

Ireland Road Trip: County Cork

Ireland Road Trip: Kenmare and the Ring of Kerry

Ireland Road Trip: Dingle Town

Dingle Peninsula Archeology Tour

Ireland Road Trip: Cliffs of Moher and Galway

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Ireland Road Trip: Cliffs of Moher and Galway

 Trip date: September 2019

After 3 nights in Dingle it was time to get back out on the road. I had a great mini full-Irish breakfast in the Dingle Benners Hotel before checking out and getting back on the Wild Atlantic Way. It had been nice to have a few days without driving especially as this day was going to be a big one. 

By the time I got to Galway I'd have driven 145 windy North Atlantic Ocean hugging miles. Not really that far but with my planned stops it would take over 7 hours. You can drive directly from Dingle to Galway in about 3 hours, but what fun is that? Also I would be stopping at the Cliffs of Moher and was very excited!

I left Dingle and headed to Tarbet where I queued up for the car ferry across to Quilty. As I got out of my car to take some pictures of the approaching ferry a man told me about the old lighthouse that can only be seen if you head out to the very end of the dock; he assured me I had time before boarding and I did.

It's a quick ferry crossing and the weather was dry but it still took about 3 hours to get to Quilty. I stopped for lunch at Cooney's Pub and had an excellent seafood chowder and small beer. 

In 30 minutes I was at the famous Cliffs of Moher. It was strange driving up and into the large parking lot, you can't see the ocean or any part of the cliffs. But then you follow the walkway and bam! 

Even in the cloudy weather the cliffs are dramatic and beautiful! I spent some time walking both sides of the semicircle, taking in the views. As with any tourist site I also saw people being totally crazy, like this wedding couple who let their photographer perch them on the edge for a dramatic shot! 

The people you can see in the above photo, far in the distance, are hiking a "forbidden" trail that is crumbling down the cliffs. I even saw people scoot themselves down the cliffs a bit for a better picture! I stuck to the paved trail!

On the way out I stopped into the visitor's center and had a quick look at the exhibitions on the way out. It had started to rain so my timing was good! There's no charge to visit the cliffs or the center but you do pay a couple of Euro to park your car.

I had another 45 minute drive until I arrived in Burren. Multiple friends had recommended the Burren Smokehouse for delicious smoked salmon and cheese, and they were spot on! I was lucky that I got there right before closing. 

It was getting late now and I still had almost an hour before arriving in Galway. But when I passed gorgeous ruins like the Muckinish Tower House I just had to stop for a few photos.

It was dusk and raining when I finally arrived in Galway. After being in such quaint small towns I was a little shocked by the traffic! The city only has a population of 80k, but compared to the 2k in Dingle... I'm sure you can imagine!

I had used Alaska Airlines miles for my stay at the 4 star Park House Hotel, which is very central and also has parking. It took some time to actually find their connected lot, hidden down an ally, but much better than having to try to find parking in the city. 

My room was big but was in desperate need of a renovation! There was a "safety" light that remained illuminated all night right by the door to the hall. I figured out how to cover it with a trash can or I wouldn't have slept at all. The hotel is large and old and seemed to cater to a lot of tour groups. Not necessarily a bad thing, just an observation.

They did have a big, busy bar and after a full day of driving I was ready for a martini!

That evening I had reservations at 1 Michelin starred Aniar Restaurant which had been recommended by a few of my friends. I was excited, and hungry! I walked over in the pouring rain and was very happy to give up my wet jacket and settle into to the cozy restaurant.

Aniar offers a tasting menu of dishes primarily from local producers, farmers, or the wild. The multi-coursed menu was €75 and I also had the wine pairings for €35. 

Dinner started with small bites, served together on a tray with stones, hay, and a warm towel (not to be eaten). Crab with lovage, beetroot with rose, potato with parsley, kelp with sea radish. All were delicious and perfect for settling in with a glass of Txakoli. 

The potato bread arrived along with some glorious butter and a poem. Now that is a first! They also sent me home with a recipe for the bread. Next came three more small courses paired with a lovely Loire muscadet. 
My main of monk fish and turnip was so beautiful (and perfectly cooked) and was served with a gorgeous Roussanne from the very talented winemaker Eric Texier. Stunning pairing.

Two small desserts, both with fresh fruits, ended the meal. I was especially impressed with the singular slice of absolutely delicious melon and another solid pairing with a Zantho Beerenauslese, a dessert wine from Austria. 

Throughout dinner there was a son and his mom at the table next me; as they were obviously American and this sweet little restaurant isn't on everyone's radar, I asked how they came to choose it. The son responded that his friend Sconz had suggested it. I asked if his friend was Doc John Sconz and we both laughed when he said it was! John is a friend of mine who I did an amazing Spanish food & wine trip with a few years ago. Turns out he had met John on his Bourbon trip. Such a small world!

Breakfast the next day was included in my Park House Hotel rate, a pretty good spread of breads, pastries, yogurts, etc to go along with whatever you ordered from the hot menu. 

Thank goodness the weather cleared a bit so I could walk around Galway with being completely soaked. I had a day-trip to the Aran Islands planned for the day (more on that later) but was back in time to stroll around the area between Eyre Square and the Spanish Arch. This area is filled with pubs and restaurants. But it was also Sunday so my picks for a good dinner were scarce. I finally ended up at The Quays, a very well known and popular pub and restaurant. I had a very meh meal of some oysters and a chowder, and although I had planned to stay for the band, they were playing American rock which I can get at home. So I set off in search of something more traditional.

I walked past Tigh Chóilí and decided to stop in, it was packed! The music was good but it was just so packed I could hardly move! I had a nice chat with a local guy, listened to a few songs, had a couple of pints of Guinness, and after 2 hours decided to head back to the hotel to wash my hair. 

I found a great gourmet shop the next day while shopping around, McCambridges, and stocked up on some more smoked salmon (Barron Smokehouse is carried by them), cheese, some gin, etc. I had a 1 ½ hour drive to Westport where I would be meeting up with Forest and Nicky!

I'm not sure if it was the weather, or the college town vibe, but Galway was just ok for me. I much preferred the smaller towns of Dingle and Kinsale for music and pub culture. 

All photos of the Cliffs of Moher and Galway here.

                                **As I visited all of these places before the COVID-19 pandemic, please double check on opening hours. And fingers crossed these businesses all stay in business!**

Other posts from this trip:

Country Count #50: Ireland

Out and About in Dublin Town

Michelin Stars and Cocktail Bars in Dublin

24 Hours in Belfast

Ireland Road Trip: County Kilkenny

Ireland Road Trip: County Cork

Ireland Road Trip: Kenmare and the Ring of Kerry

Ireland Road Trip: Dingle Town

Dingle Peninsula Archeology Tour

Aran Islands Day Trip

Friday, January 1, 2021

Dingle Peninsula Archeology Tour

Trip date: Sept 2019

On my second morning in Dingle, I was picked up outside my hotel for a 2 ½ hour archaeology tour with Michael from Sciúird Archaeological Tours. As I was traveling solo, Michael invited me to sit up front which was so great! Best seat in the house for sure, and it was a nice change to be able to look around instead of keeping my eyes on the road!
The tour cost €30 and was incredibly informational; Michael and his father, who own the company, are both archeologists and locals.There are so many interesting and mysterious sights in Ireland, 2500 archaeological sites just in the Dingle area alone, it was great having an expert to explain things! 

Our first stop was to see and learn about various Ogham stones which had been collected from around the area by Lord Ventry and put on display at his estate. These stones, as I had learned and seen on my own explorations, were early message boards of a sort.
From here we drove along the Slea Head Route, past the town of Dún Chaoin Gaeltacht where Dolores O’Riordan's large mansion stands, to check out the 1000 year old beehive dwelling structures that are on the land of a local goat farm. The structures have been rebuilt making it safe to enter and explore.
There's no mortar, just intricately stacked stones. One even had a secret underground storage type area. These dwellings are so small, it's hard to image a family living inside them!

The farm also had some adorable baby goats which were just an added bonus!
I was so happy not to be driving! There were quite a few big tour buses on the narrow windy road, and after having had a big drive the day before it was super relaxing to just take in the scenery!
We stopped for views of the Blasket Islands and learned about the 175 people who lived on these now uninhabited rocks. The government evacuated the islanders in 1953 for their own safety as during extreme weather they were completely cut off from the mainland. 

At the Reask Monastic site we learned a bit about the stone slab and the small monastery built there in the 6th century. It was a little funny to also see the grounds care person riding his lawnmower around the medieval site!

Our last stop of the day was to the Gallarus Oratory, a 9th century chapel seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Again, no mortar, just stacks and stacks of rocks creating the wall and domed roof.

We were back in Dingle right about 2pm, plenty of time for a late lunch and to explore town. 

I highly recommend booking with this company as the tour was fantastic! Also I was able to get in because of a last minute cancellation but I would suggest booking a month or so in advance.  

All photos from the Dingle Peninsula and County Kerry here.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Ireland Road Trip: Dingle Town

Trip date: September 2019

After the long drive around the Ring of Kerry I was very happy to park my car and check into the Dingle Benners Hotel.  They put me into a very large room by European standards, with king bed and good sized bathroom. I was staying in Dingle for 3 nights so it was nice to have room to spread out. 

I also took advantage of their laundry services and left a bag for them to take that evening. It was going to be nice to have a suitcase full of clean clothes again as I was on day 9 of my trip.

The hotel is 100+ years old and not all rooms have lift access; the staff is very happy to help with luggage however. There's a comfy bar right off the lobby and as soon as I dropped my bags I was more than happy to relax with a Guinness! 

And not that Dingle is big, cuz it isn't, but the hotel is very central and easy to walk everywhere. I would not have to take my car out of the included parking spot until I left!

Dingle is such a cute and cheery town. It's laid out in a triangle shape, basically making it impossible to get lost! Armed with some recommendations from the front desk, I took myself to dinner at Fenton's for some delicious local mussels before grabbing a seat at the bar at John Benny's Pub for some excellent music. 

John's wife Eilís played and she was awesome! I just loved the vibe in this pub, great music, service, and super fun people! It was an excellent first night in Dingle!

The town is perfect for wandering around and getting some shopping in. There is beautiful cut crystal to be found in Dingle but I talked myself out of adding to the sizeable glassware collection I already have. I did not talk myself out of purchasing some lovely Irish cheeses from The Little Cheese Shop however. 
The woman behind the counter helped me pick out an assortment of cheeses; some I'd take to share with Nic and Forest, others I'd snack on in the car. It's a great shop and they have all sorts of delicious things!

More delicious things can be found at the uber popular Murphy's Ice Cream which has interesting flavors such as Dingle Sea Salt, Irish Brown Bread, and Dingle Gin. That's my kind of ice cream!

Dingle has its own resident dolphin who frequently hangs out in the harbor. I didn't see Fungie but my stroll around the waterfront was still very enjoyable. Absolutely beautiful scenery here.
I had heard there was a farmers market on Fridays so was very happy to stroll over in the sunshine. Unfortunately there were just a few bags of potatoes and a couple of craft tents. Peruse if you happen to be there but don't go out of your way.

What you should go out of your way for though are the Harry Clarke stained glass windows and other exhibits at the Diseart Cultural Center. 

One ticket price gets you free range to explore the former convent. My first stop was to the fresco of The Last Supper. In this rendition the artist, from Colorado in the States, painted locals in for the apostles and the surroundings are that of the Dingle Peninsula. I thought it was very clever!
Next I went into the chapel to view the stained glass windows. Harry Clarke was considered the top artist of his kind when he was commissioned in 1922 to create the 12 pieces of art. 
The colors are striking, especially with the sun streaming in. It's a beautiful chapel and the windows are intricate and very colorful.

In a small room which use to be the Sisters’ community room there are a series of portraits of Nano Nagle who founded the first convent in Ireland. 

The gardens are gorgeous and great for wandering around, I saw a few people enjoying picnics. I absolutely loved exploring through and around the Diseart Cultural Center; you can't miss it as it takes up most of Green Street.

At the far west side of town the Dingle Distillery is making whiskey and gin, is there any question about my visiting? There are only three tours a day at set times so it is important to make a reservation if you are interested. I walked the 1 mile which just took about 20 minutes from the Dingle Benner Hotel. 

The tour was interesting with stories of local support; they are still a pretty young distillery having only released their first whiskey in 2015. 

We started with a taste of the gin, then a tour around, and finished with a tasting of their current whiskey lineup. Pretty great for €15! The gin is available at Dublin airport duty free for a bit less, the whiskey is not at duty free.

There were a lot of choices and recommendations for eating in town but I was possibly most excited to try Reel Dingle Fish, a modern chippy right in the middle of town. An actual hole-in-the-wall! I got in before it was too busy and had some delicious cod and chips while sitting at the counter. It was a HUGE portion! 

One afternoon I had a late lunch of pot pie and a pint across from my hotel at the Dingle Pub. It was fine, but I wouldn't recommend with so many better options. The music line up they were promoting was also really geared towards tourists so if that is your thing you might want to check them out in the evening.

At Out of the Blue, which is right across from the waterfront, I treated myself to oysters and lobster, fresh from Dingle Bay. It was absolutely delicious and I'd absolutely recommend making a reservation for this popular and busy spot!

Another evening I had oysters again but this time with steak and scampi at Ash's Restaurant. The food was great at this local favorite with a great bar. And I was able to taste their special Founding Fathers bottling of one of the Dingle whiskeys that I had learned about at the distillery. An excellent dram!

Without a doubt Dingle had my absolute favorite bar/music scene. So. Much. Fun! I already mentioned John Benny's for good music and on another night I wandered into O'Flaherty's on Bridge Street. 
Here the owner Fergus Ó Flaithbheartaigh poured my pint and then sat with his musicians and played a session. Fergus plays a few different instruments and the sets were very tradition tunes, which was fine by me!
The night I stopped into the Courthouse Pub the music wasn't traditional, nothing wrong with that but I was in Ireland for Irish music! It was still fine for a pint before heading off.

Some of the pubs in town have historically also been hardware stores, mercantiles, haberdasheries, or the like. So seeing the front windows stocked with tools and such can be puzzling, but step inside the likes of Dick Macks and you'll be very pleased with the overflowing shelves of some incredible whiskeys from around the world!
Many of these old pubs also still have a snug up front. These semi-closed off areas were for ladies as it was not proper for them to be sitting at the bar (even if their husband was!). 
Another interesting thing is that pubs in Ireland close right about midnight! One evening after listening to some music in another bar and leaving as they were closing, I passed Foxy John's Hardware/Pub. There seemed to be people still inside even though it was late so I took a chance and walked in. 

The bartender hesitated for just a minute before pouring me a Jameson and the three local guys at the bar started chattering away like they had known me forever. They took turns buying rounds until 2am (I did try to get one as I had been told it is very bad form not to reciprocate!) I had such a blast with these locals and was very touched that I was let into their "lock in" as after hours drinking is called (the bar doors were literally locked).

With Dingle being so small, three nights may seem like a lot. But I found lots to do and really found it to be the most fun of all the towns I visited on the solo part of my trip so I was very happy to have stayed around a bit!
*Thank you to Dingle Benners Hotel for providing me a special rate for my accommodations including complimentary breakfast, however all opinions are my own.*

**As I visited all of these places before the COVID-19 pandemic, please double check on opening hours. And fingers crossed these businesses all stay in business!**

Aran Islands Day Trip

Trip date: September 2019 I had emailed my hotel the Park House before arriving in Galway, to arrange a ticket on the ferry to the Inishmor...

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