Sunday, 28 May 2017

Ireland 2017

The three of us at Blarney Castle, Cork
Last month I met up with two of my friends, Sarah and Laura, and went on a five day road trip around Ireland. It was a much needed break and we all had an incredible time reconnecting and doing what we do so well together, exploring and having fun. I'd been to Ireland three times before this trip, twice to Dublin and once to Northern Ireland for a Geography field trip, but I'd been dreaming of a trip in which I really got to see the true extent of the so called Emerald Isle. Considering we had 5 days altogether, I think we did a pretty good job.

Carrick-a-Rede, Antrim
The trip began in true Candi style, and by that I mean stressfully. My train to Manchester was delayed, and then cancelled so I was late getting to the airport. My phone ran out of battery so I had no way to contact Sarah or show my boarding pass. I struggled to find somewhere to print my boarding pass at the airport. And then if all that wasn't stressful enough, my bags had to go through security three times, taking a total of 50 minutes, leaving me with 10 minutes to spare. I sprinted to my gate and couldn't find Sarah. Luckily she'd boarded already, and I managed to convince a rather sour faced individual to swap seats with me so Sarah and I could sit together and talk in person for the first time in 16 months. 16 whole months since I hugged her and Laura goodbye at Calgary airport. Damn. The previous few hours of stress was well worth being reunited with one of my best friends.

Ballinskelligs Beach, Kerry
A very short plane ride later we arrived in Belfast and made our way to Global Village hostel which was to be our accommodation for the next two nights. Just putting it out there, this hostel was one of the best hostels I've ever stayed in. It was great overall in terms of cleanliness, facilities and location but what made it an exceptional hostel was the atmosphere. I felt warm and cosy there. It had a beautiful environment very conducive to socialising and hanging out, had I been backpacking and on a longer trip, it would have been perfect. Definitely recommend. Anyway, Sarah and I unpacked our things, grabbed dinner and then Laura arrived from the Netherlands. We were all pretty wiped out by this point so after a brief chat, we rested our weary heads in preparation for the long day ahead.

Carrick-a-Rede, Antrim
Our first full day in Northern Ireland was jam packed, exhausting and by no means dull. We'd decided, for Northern Ireland, to do a bus tour, so we could efficiently see what we wanted to see without having to hire a car yet. Our tour was called the Game of Thrones tour and overall, considering how tired we were from the previous day, it was a good choice for our time in N.Ireland. However, in hindsight, I wouldn't do an organised bus tour again. But I'll get to that in a bit.

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Antrim
The coastline in Antrim was incredible and the drive was definitely a highlight. My favourite stops on the trip were Carrick-a-rede, the Giant's Causeway and the dark hedges, with Carrick a rede coming up top. Of the three, Carrick-a-Rede was first and it was just incredibly beautiful. We managed to get ahead of  most people on the trail so the view ahead was uninterrupted and pristine. We decided to pay to cross the rope bridge which was so worth it as it gave us such an incredible view of the rugged coastline and the incredibly blue water. The wind on my face, rain lashing down, I felt truly alive and happy to be with two of my greatest friends. I don't know what it is about hiking through beautiful surroundings that just brings me complete and utter peace, and combine that with a coastline, I am in heaven.
Giants Causeway, Antrim
The Giants Causeway was and is a fantastic display of geology and I maintain that basalt columns are some of the finest natural features. HOWEVER, I despised how touristy it was. I had a similar feeling to the one I experienced at the Niagara Falls, which I wrote about here. The sheer amount of people there and the fact that I got told to move away from the sea (I don't like being told where I can and can't walk in places that aren't cordoned off) dampened my experience somewhat. The same for the dark hedges. I know I'm hypocrital when I say these things though, as I am a tourist in these instances, but it's so much better to find places that are less touristy. The whole premise of getting out into nature and seeing natural environments seems inherently antagonistic with hoards of people and the abundance of people was a common theme on this tour. Which is the primary reason I wouldn't jump to do a guided tour again. Personally, I would recommend hiring a car and setting off early before encountering the masses because this part of Ireland is well worth the visit.

Glendalough Lake, Wicklow
That evening comprised pizza and chilling out, due to our 5am start the next day. Our second full day involved a lot of driving. We arrived in Dublin in the midmorning, stopped off on O'Connell Street for breakfast and I had to have some white pudding as is tradition in my family everytime we go to Ireland. We had brekkie at Kylemore which I would most definitely recommend. As for the white pudding, not the best I've had. We set off out of the city quite quickly, and spent the day driving through the quaint countryside of Wicklow. Decided to make a detour to Glendalough Lake which was a needed break from sitting, although having been spoilt by the mountains and lakes of the Rockies, slightly underwhelming for the three of us. But, so beautiful in their own right. Who knew Ireland had so many mountains? Afterwards we drove to Blarney, just outside of Cork where we were staying for the night. For such a quiet and seemingly small village, the pub (The Muskerry Arms) was absolutely heaving that night. I absolutely loved the atmosphere there and would wholeheartedly recommend.

Blarney Castle, Cork
The next day we hadn't much planned so we were all particularly chilled out and this day turned out to be my favourite day in Ireland. Everything was just perfect. I find that when you have no expectation for how a day is going to be, you're more likely to be pleasantly surprised. Spontaneity is the way forward. The only thing on the agenda was Blarney Castle and we got there as it opened, so we were able to enjoy the castle and grounds in peace. It was wonderful. I must say, I'm not really the biggest fan of walking around buildings, I'm much more of a nature gal, but Blarney Castle was well worth the trip. The grounds were beautiful and we were able to see every part of the castle. As for kissing the Blarney stone... well, that turned out to be a tad different to what we expected...

Expectation
Reality

After Blarney Castle we headed off in the direction of Killarney, and decided to do the Ring of Kerry route, which turned out the be the BEST DECISION EVER. Sorry, but it was my idea and I take full credit for it #modesty. So, we began the route in Kenmore, which was a frickin awesome town. The two main streets looked like they were taken straight out of the 1940's. We really enjoyed walking around town for a little while. Stopped at a pub and had a very Irish meal of steak and guinness pie and mash. YUM. After that very satisfying meal, we set off on the ring of Kerry. It was just full of beauty. I can't describe it. We were forever wanting to stop and enjoy the scenery. It also helped that there were hardly any people around so no ruining of the aesthetic by people. We stopped at Lambs head, Bolus head, Ballinskelligs beach and Kerry cliffs, all of which were stunning. Got to Killarney in the evening, exhausted and content. We ordered pizza and watched some Russell Peters.

Kerry Cliffs, Kerry
Our penultimate day was fairly relaxed. We decided to rent bikes in Killarney and cycle through the national park. We stopped at Torc Waterfall, Muckross House and Abbey and then returned to town. It was liberating to go cycling, getting the blood pumping, the wind whistling through our hair and being surrounded by trees and lakes. The price was so good too, highly recommend hiring bikes or taking bikes there. After that, we did a long stint of driving back to Dublin where we ended up relaxing for a bit, then going to a pub (what a surprise!) to try some guinness. I am ashamed to admit that I failed my Irish heritage and managed approximately 3 gulps before admitting defeat. We rolled back to our hotel after an exceptionally filling meal and crashed out.

Overestimated my ability to consume beer, Sarah managed marginally better
Last day in Ireland was fairly uneventful. We wandered around Dublin, went to Temple Bar and visited Trinity College and a couple of museums. As is typical of last days, we felt ready to leave and made our way to the airport content after such a successful trip. It was such a fantastic getaway, and I feel so lucky to have been able to share it with two people whose company I rarely get to enjoy, especially simultaneously. I hope us three continue to meet up throughout our lives, because I consider myself truly blessed to have made such wonderful friends on exchange. Although it's a shame that we live so far apart, it also makes it that much better when we reunite. And what better way to catch up than doing what we do best, exploring together?

Windy Selfie atop the Cliffs of Kerry
Thank you Sarah and Laura for such an incredible 5 days, and thanks particularly to sarah who organised most of it! I definitely recommend exploring Ireland, and I feel a lot more connected to my Irish ancestors as a result.

-x-

Ireland Playlist 2017:

Galway Girl - Ed Sheeran
Green Light - Lorde
Sign of the Times - Harry Styles
Every other song on Ed Sheeran's Divide

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