After saying bye to the castles, Stonehenge, and our wonderful hosts in England, we took a 50 minute Ryanair flight to Dublin to visit my friends that I met on the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu, Pat and Emer. The flight was 13 euro per person, however luggage would quickly add another 50 euro per person to that. We are writing a post to flying budget airlines in Europe as there are many catches and things to be aware of.
After dropping our stuff off, we headed out with Patrick and Emer to a nearby pub to enjoy a few beers and catch up. I was surprised at how popular Guinness was, having thought it might be considered a stereotypical beer and shunned by the locals. As it turned out, there was loads of Guinness being drank throughout the place. I had to reign in my excitement and thirst as it was explained that you need to wait for your Guinness to settle and for the color to turn black before drinking. There’s a big difference between drinking “the black stuff” from a bottle as I had back home, and getting it on tap as I was now. Part of that difference may have also been the environment, as drinking in an Irish pub in Ireland is a great way to enjoy a beer. The place was full and the people were friendly, and on the way out I learned about the small room which is in some Irish pubs, called the snug. They were common in Ireland and England quite a while back; it’s a small, windowless room meant for drinking in private. Women used to drink there before it was acceptable for them to drink with the men, business deals might be made there, or if anyone wanted a private moment, they’d use the snug.
The next morning we caught the bus with Patrick and Emer and headed downtown. Our first stop was the Spire of Dublin, or The Monument of Light as it’s also called. The 121 meter tall metal spire looks like a giant dropped his pin and it stuck there. It’s really tall and apparently somewhat controversial with the locals as it was incredibly expensive to build. Next we headed to the Guinness Storehouse, which we booked tickets for online to save a little money. We got there before the 11:30 cutoff to do the early bird tour, which saved us a bit more, so it ended up being 14 euro each instead of the normal 18. The old brewery was leased by Arthur Guinness in 1759 for the next 9,000 years at the cost of 45 euro per year. The current building was erected in 1902 and added on to and modernized in 2006. The site was converted from the main fermentation plant for Guinness to the beer maker’s visitor center in 2000. Walking through, we learned about how beer is made, where ingredients are sourced from, and how the company has played a role in the life of Irish cities and citizens over the centuries.
The advertising area had life sized recreations of their ads which were interesting to see, and an open theater where you could view the ads in their entirety. I don’t recall seeing many of the ads that played on TV at home, however some were very well done. The theater wraps in a U shape and surrounds you with it’s screen and thumping audio. Moving up the building you can head into the Guinness Academy where you’ll learn to pour the perfect pint, or go to the 7th floor to enjoy a complimentary Guinness in the Gravity Bar. My first thought was that seven stories up isn’t very high, however there are very few really tall buildings in the city, so you end up with a great view from the top. Sissy isn’t a big fan of beer (or cars, or eating lots of meat, odd for a German), so the bartender added a shot of blackcurrant, which is a sweet syrup made from the blackcurrant berry.
After enjoying our pints and the view, we took a couple of pictures at the iconic gate outside of the storehouse and headed to the Temple Bar area, which is known for it’s food, music, and pubs. The area gets packed at night as almost every pub offers free live music, however we enjoyed a great lunch without the crowds being too crazy. After finishing lunch we moved on to Trinity College. The college was established in 1592 and interestingly Catholics weren’t allowed to attend without special permission from their bishop until 1970, 66 years after women were permitted to attend. We passed by the old library and saw a massive line stretching from the door. The Book of Kells was on display inside, which is a 9th century illuminated manuscript gospel book. The books were written in Latin and contain some of the finest calligraphy from their time. We unfortunately picked a very busy day and decided to move on to the Street Performance World Championship which is held for three days every year at no cost to attendees.
We watched a less than impressive strong woman perform some feats of strength, and then heard Queen blasting from a short ways away. We came to a huge crowd of people surrounding the source of the music, and as we looked toward the middle of the group we saw a very strange man. He was wearing a large fake mustache, a leather jacket about two sizes too small, a leather hat, and leather pants. His name was Mario, Queen of the Circus, and he was juggling while lip syncing along to just about every Queen song over the long period of time he performed. In between songs he would profess his admiration for Queen, and specifically Freddie Mercury in his thick French accent. His act had me near tears it was so weird and funny, while Sissy may have been less amused. Mario’s grand finale had him professing his love to an audience member, her on his shoulders as he rode a unicycle around, and her boyfriend and Mario spitting pieces of banana at each other in a duel for her love. Her boyfriend won the duel by hitting Mario with the piece of banana, and concluded with him singing Bohemian Rhapsody over Mario’s dead body.
It was hard for much to top such a ridiculous act, so we headed on to a nearby pub so Sissy and I could watch our first Hurling match. Hurling is a rough sport that stems from Gaelic origins and has two teams of fifteen guys wielding wooden sticks with a slightly curved end attempting to balance a small ball on the stick while running toward the opposing teams goal. The players get hit, ran into, and pretty badly beaten up as they attempt to hit the ball through either the upright goal posts, similar to goal posts in American football, or into the goal underneath. They score one point for hitting the ball through the uprights, three for getting it in the goal. Hurling has been played for over 3,000 years in some form, and watching my first match was great! These players don’t wear pads, just recently were required to start wearing helmets, and don’t get paid for playing, although they’re looked at as national sports heroes. The game was close the entire time and a few locals nearby were very vocal about their support for their favorite team. After the game wrapped up we headed back to the house to relax for a bit and then went out for dinner at a nice restaurant on the coast of Dublin.
Looking online at car rental prices, we decided it’d be silly not to rent a car and head to the west coast of Ireland since the rates were 13 euro per day. The next morning Emer dropped us off at the airport on her way to work and we headed to the car rental pickup desk. We were renting through Carhire.ie, which is just another online front for Europcar we would learn, and were ready to pay our 26 euro for two days with a small Hyundai car. During the pickup process we were informed that although we had the option to waive collision insurance on their website, that wasn’t an option in reality. Insurance would end up being 36 euro per day, plus a 28 euro airport fee which was mentioned in the small print on their site. 133 euro and a lot of frustration later, we had our “cheap” rental car and were heading off to see the Cliffs of Moher.
The cliffs are one of the most popular attractions in Ireland and only a three hour drive from Dublin. I was driving on the left side of the road for the first time, which also meant shifting with my left hand and sitting in the front right seat. We took the M50 motorway, which is a major freeway, most of the way. We saw signs for at least as many castles as we did fast food restaurants, with a few castles right next to the freeway. While finding a place for the night on AirBnB we came across a castle where you could rent the highest room in the tower for $150 per night. It was unfortunately significantly out of our backpackers budget, but it’s apparently not uncommon to be able to rent a room in a real castle for the night. I love castles, so we picked one off the M50 and navigated toward it using Here. I was already uncomfortable driving on the left and being in what should’ve been the passenger seat, but driving on small town roads in Ireland is something that’s tricky at best.
I maneuvered our little car down the very tight roads as best I could, stopping often to let traffic come the other way. The roads were slightly wider than a single lane in most US cities, and I came real close to hitting another vehicle multiple times. After driving for a short while on these roads I decided we’d have to see another castle another time as continuing on these tiny roads wasn’t going to work out on my first day driving in Ireland. We proceeded on to Liscannor for lunch, which is about 5 minutes driving from the cliffs’ visitor center. We saw people parked nearby, and it appeared they were hiking from Liscannor. As we got to the visitor center parking, we were greeted by hundreds of cars and dozens of tour buses. We paid our six euro each for entrance and parking and headed to the crowded visitor center.
The visitor center was mostly a shop and cafe, with restrooms and a small attraction that we skipped due to the masses of people. We walked up to O’Brien’s Tower to the north of the center, which is a small two story tower you can pay two euro to go up. The tower was surprisingly small, but a short ways away we could see puffins down the cliffs a ways! Seeing puffins this time wouldn’t be as great as back on Drangey Island in Iceland, as we couldn’t get very close, but it was a nice place to view the cliffs at their highest. The cliffs reach 214 meters at their highest, which is not as high as Drangey, but still impressive. Initially we were a bit disappointed in the cliffs as they were overrun with tourists and less spectacular than other sights we had seen recently. In our determination to see what all the hype was about we decided to walk as far as we could southwest, where there didn’t seem to be so many tourists.
Our eight kilometer walk led us away from the crowds, right along the cliffs without any barrier, and toward some very beautiful nature. The farther we walked, the less crowded it became, and the more beautiful the views were. We ended our walk at Moher Tower, which is an old stone tower that was originally constructed in the 1700’s before being demolished and rebuilt in the very early 1800’s, likely as a lookout during the Napoleonic Wars. There isn’t anything left inside the tower as it was likely built of wood inside of the stone walls which would have rotten away years ago. It was a beautiful day outside and we ended up napping by the tower for a bit before heading back. We walked the Burren Way to get to the tower, and noticed before leaving that the trail continued on to Liscannor, where we had eaten lunch. It turns out the walk from Liscannor to Moher Tower is somewhere around eight kilometers long and doesn’t cost anything to park as you don’t start from the visitor center. It seems to avoid the crowds and allows you to see a lot of great sights. If you decide to hike from Liscannor instead of the visitor center, as we would if we went again, keep in mind you’ll likely end up walking around 22 kilometers or so since you’ll want to walk along the cliffs for a bit and will need to make it back to your starting point. The trail is relatively flat and easy, so don’t worry about what shoes to wear or if there’s a lot of elevation gain.
That night we headed from our AirBnB in Oranmore to Galway, a beautiful city north of the cliffs by about an hour drive. Galway is a 75,000 person city, but feels like a small town. It’s a harbor city on the west coast of Ireland which has a great area to visit in the Latin Quarter, which is full of restaurants and pubs built along portions of the city’s medieval walls. The pubs here almost all have live Irish music playing all evening and into the night, with all types of street performers in between. The city is known as the culture capital of Ireland and is called the “most Irish of Ireland’s cities.” Here people often speak Irish to each other, with English as a second language, and it has a very unique vibe. Possibly my favorite part of our short trip to Ireland was enjoying a band in Taaffes Pub while drinking a few pints of Guinness. I love listening to Irish folk bands, and listening to one covering the Dubliners, the Irish Rovers, and the Young Dubliners was phenomenal. Sissy may have met some Irish girls that drank a bit too much, spilling a little of their drink on her as they stumbled around in their high heels, but I think she enjoyed it despite that as well.
After a late night in Galway, we got up early and headed southeast for our two hour drive to the castle we had decided on, The Rock of Cashel. The site dates back to 1100AD, when it was donated by the King of Munster to the church, for mostly political reasons as it was explained to us. It was added onto and renovated in the 12th and 13th centuries, which is when most of it’s current structure is from. Parts of the castle are undergoing renovation and will be for the next two years, however it’s very impressive seeing something built so long ago and still standing in great shape. There’s a 90 minute tour included in your seven euro entry fee, which we attended about a half hour of. The tour adds a lot of value and information about the castle, and takes you into the cathedral, which is closed otherwise for renovation. Down the hill we noticed an impressive structure, so we left the castle and walked down to the mostly empty Hore Abbey.
The Abbey was not in as good of shape as the castle, however as there was no parking or paths to it, there may have been five other people in it at any given time while we were there. We came across an old graveyard, a large stone tower with arches still in great shape holding it up, and large stone walls surrounding the site. It was nice being able to climb around and explore the Abbey with no regulation or tours moving through. After spending a half hour or so in the Abbey we decided it was time to make the two hour drive back to Dublin. Our AirBnB host had informed us that the M50, along with it’s two toll booths that we stopped at to pay, has a third, somewhat hidden toll that you’re required to pay online. The car rental companies tend to not tell tourists about it, as ours hadn’t, because if you don’t pay they charge you 200 euro or more as a service fee for paying it for you. We went online and paid our 3.20 per trip and left a note in the car, as she had suggested, with our confirmation of payment numbers.
We enjoyed a last dinner with Patrick and Emer, read through a beautiful book they made about their travels through South America and Asia, and headed to bed. We had to get up at 4:30 the next morning to head to the airport, where we’d catch our Aer Lingus flight to Munich Germany, where we’d spend the next eight days. While there I’d meet Sissy’s family finally, see lots of Bavaria, jump off cliffs in the Alps in Austria, swim in more lakes than I could count, and drink more beer than my liver was prepared for.