Twelve days and 1800 kilometers around Ireland visiting ancient castles and scenic landscapes. Experiencing the music, the people, and the weather – a journey of a lifetime. Our itinerary was not exactly an easy one – even without factoring in the two little people we would have along for the ride. Covering sites from Giant’s Causeway along the northeastern coast of the island in Northern Ireland down to the southwest corner in Killarney and Cork, the trip would cover a lot, a whole lot.
Many people (so many people) asked, “are you taking the kids?” Yes, the kids came too. Was it different than the trip we would have taken to Ireland without kids? Of course it was different. And that is okay by me.
In this series I will highlight some of the must see stops and eats that we found along our journey – and how we did it all with young kids.
FLORIDA TO BELFAST
By shear timing of the school calendar, we set off on our journey on March 16th, which then had us land in Dublin on St Patrick’s Day. We traveled on an Aer Lingus flight, and the plane was named “St Patrick!” – the coincidence was not lost on me at all.
After touching down and quickly collecting
luggage at the Dublin airport, we loaded our small, grey Toyota Aura manual-transmission hatchback. Even with only taking two 26” tall duffels, we were packed in tight – at the last minute we decided to take the stroller, which was a very good call indeed.
Low Key (being low-key) was the designated driver for the journey for several reasons:
- Navigation – not to boast, but I am a really good navigator. This is in large part that despite my begging Low Key to suggest destinations, I typically end up charting the entire vacation. With this trip, I pretty much knew every route we were going to take before we even arrived.
- Manual Transmission – no way were we paying double for an automatic, nor was I going to drive a manual transmission. Low Key tried to teach me when we were in college and that was painful for us both.
- Left-Side Driving – Low Key finds it fun to drive on the “wrong” or left-side of the road. I find it to be terrifying, so easy decision.
A MONETARY SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT
If traveling to both Northern Ireland and Ireland, keep in mind that means dealing in two currencies. Pound Sterling in Northern Ireland and Euro in Ireland. Because we were headed to Northern Ireland first, I decided that I would hold off changing money until we got to Belfast – MISTAKE.
The road out of Dublin to Belfast has a toll on it just a few miles north of the city. We did not have Pounds Sterling or Euros… thankfully, we were able to pay extra in dollars to get through the booth (credit cards were not an option either).
To avoid this trouble, I would recommend going to the ATM in the airport and get Euros. Then convert a few Euros to Sterling at the currency booth (located on the way to the rental car counters). This would have saved some headaches and a bit of a panic.
TURN RIGHT, STAY LEFT
We found the signs to be very easy to follow all over the island. Maybe it was our prior experience driving in England (Low Key drove that time too), but the traffic circles were even easy to follow.
Every time – and I mean every time – we prepared to turn we would say out loud “Turn Right, Stay Left” or “Turn Left, Stay Left.” The first time I said it almost as a joke, but also because I was nervous. I continued to say it the first day given that Low Key and I were tired from the overnight flight, and it helped us to adjust. As the trip went on, it was just fun to say.
BELFAST – FOOD FOR EVERYONE
Back in 2007, Low Key and I had the chance to backpack across Europe. Our last stop was Berlin (one of my favorite places), where development was booming in East Berlin following years under Communist rule. For several reasons, Belfast reminded us of Berlin. After years of political strife, there is investment happening in various parts of the city. Old townhomes are being revitalized into updated residences all around the Queen’s University area. If development and peace continue, Belfast could very well be a beautiful city in years to come.
One thing that Belfast really has going for it is food! Totally unexpected, but we ran across many restaurants that were very appealing. We did make it to two of the really cool places:
The Barking Dog (www.barkingdogbelfast.com) : Located near Queen’s University, The Barking Dog is a gastropub featuring Irish ingredients served in a modern way. I had a roasted lamb with gnocchi, while Low Key had roasted chicken with sweet potato ravioli. Both were delicious, but best of all – the place was kid-friendly. The kids shared a children’s portion of pasta and diligently colored with the provided crayons. The Barking Dog also had cute little kid-friendly water cups that the kids enjoyed using. When dining with little ones, it really is the small details that make a difference.
Fratelli (www.fratellibelfast.com): We found this location while walking into the city. As Low Key said, “any place with a sign in the shape of a pig has to be good.” While I never quite got why their sign was in the shape of a pig, it was delicious. Because we liked it so much the first time, we ate there twice. The first night we both had pasta, the second night pizza. Based on the menu, you probably figured out – Italian food. The two-story restaurant was nice and definitely attracted those headed to the theater or working in downtown Belfast. However, the location also catered to children above and beyond anywhere we had ever been. For about $10, kids were dressed in a chef’s hat and apron and allowed to create their very own pizza using toppings that they each selected. The meal came with both an appetizer, a dessert, and a frothy hot chocolate type drink – a great experience for kids and parents. There were also good crayons and a coloring sheet (always important).
In my next post, I will highlight some of the must see locations in Belfast as well as our journey along the coast of Northern Ireland.