Ireland – Part 6 – All Adventures Come to an End

Leaving Killarney, it felt like our adventures were truly about to end – though we still had three more nights in the country.  Goose’s appetite at dinner the night before had definitely been off – maybe that was our first signal that we were winding down.  If that signal was not enough, Chicken made her thoughts known on the way to Dublin.

Blarney Castle

“You have to kiss the Blarney Stone.”  I think I heard this a dozen times before we went.  I debated long and hard about going to Blarney Castle

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Kissing the Blarney Stone

.  We actually almost skipped it entirely.  However, ultimately, it felt like one of those things that we needed to do.  Chicken, on the other hand, did not like the grounds of Blarney, the castle, and she certainly did not like climbing the stairs (while being carried) to the top of the castle where the stone was located.  I should add that the grounds are beautiful – possibly more worth seeing than the stone. Low Key calmly managed her the entire time.  I stuck close to Goose.  Low Key and I successfully made it to the top of the castle with one child slowly fading and the other screaming – the stone knew we were coming.  After kissing the stone, we got out of the castle as quickly as possible.

The Road to Dublin

After Blarney (and a quick stop in Cork for Starbucks), we headed towards Dublin intent on making a stop in Cashel to see the Rock of Cashel.  IMG_2053I am glad we stopped to see the ruins of the ancient church.  While exploring the site, we were beaten with strong, cold winds from the west.  Looking out into the distance, you could see dark clouds coming our way.  We hopped back in the car – much to the protest of two kids who were pretty much over being in the car.

When we arrived on the outskirts of Dublin, we were pacing a little early for checking into the apartment we rented through airbnb.  To pass some time (and get the kids some food), we stopped at a mall in the Dublin suburbs.

Even as an adult it amazes me that sometimes we do not realize we do not feel well until presented with food.  For Goose, that moment came in the food court when I handed him a small hamburger.  He was done.

Laying Low in Dublin

After checking into the apartment, it was abundantly clear that Goose was seriously sick – and it was not from being in the car.  He was running a pretty decent temperature and food was now the enemy.

Note:  we stayed in airbnbs in both Belfast and Dublin.  Our Dublin hosts were absolutely tremendous.  Such a lovely couple.  I was infinitely grateful that we had a nice two-bedroom apartment to stretch out in during our last few days of the trip – and right next to a grocery store – perfect!

We had to re-prioritize what we were going to see – or if we were going to see anything in Dublin.

The next day we drove across town to Guinness Storehouse.  If you are going to really experience one part of Dublin, it might as well come with a free sample, right?  Low Key had samples for all of us.

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One of the many samples at Guinness Storehouse

To the credit of the Guinness, it is a really well done  and engaging museum/exhibit.  Even though Goose did not feel well, he did manage to get up and see some of the displays and enjoyed the stop.  In case you are wondering, the storehouse is very kid friendly.

That night we went to a bit of a cliche Irish dancing and singing dinner show.  It was kid-friendly and was definitely a different sort of activity.  Would I recommend it?  Um, no.

Easter Rising

Inadvertently, I somehow landed us in Dublin on Easter weekend – the year of the 100 year celebration of the uprising (when Ireland started its rebellion against Great Britain that led to its independence – great miniseries on Netflix called “Rebellion” that explains the history of this).  This would have been great if Goose had been in a state that would have allowed for us to get out and see the parade and other celebrations.

Unfortunately, we spent Easter in the car looking for an open pharmacy to buy more medicine for Goose.  We then spent several hours in traffic – as many of the central roads to Dublin were closed for the festivities.

The funny thing about that day is what the kids remember.  When I talk about how sick Goose was and how we missed most of the Dublin sites, you would think the kids would not have good memories of Easter in Dublin.  The thing they remember the most about that particular day of the trip was that the Easter Bunny found them in Ireland!

The Adventure Ends…

On Easter Monday, we made our way back home.  It was a long day of travel – 23 hours from the time we got up that morning till we arrived at our home.  Goose slept during the long flight, while Chicken spent the quality time with Low Key talking his ear off about every topic – real and imaginary.

We were glad to be home.  Goose eventually made it back to school a couple of days later.  We also learned that many other kids had spent the prior week with similar symptoms.

When I reflected on his illness after we returned, well-meaning people said, “oh, that’s why kids should not travel.”  By that logic, no one should travel.  Adults do become sick as well.  

Sick or not, we had a great trip.  In time, memories of the trip will start to fade.  However, it is trips like this that bond a family.  It gives kids (and adults) a new perspective on the world.  My biggest hope is that the kids learn to appreciate and accept other cultures through their experiences in our travels.  It is through appreciation and acceptance of others that the world can be made better by the next generation.  And that is definitely worth many bumps along the journey.

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Ireland – Part 5 – Land of Fairies and Leprechauns

Killarney is a bit of tourist hub for Ireland – think Orlando without the theme parks.  Instead of roller coasters and water parks, Killarney boasts of castles, wooded trails, scenic roads, and a fantastic area of shops and restaurants.

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Ladies View along Ring of Kerry

When we arrived at the hotel, Killarney Royal, we were immediately overwhelmed with the hospitality of Ireland.  We received a warm greeting and the staff went out of their way to provide us with an entire list of ideas for our first evening – including an awesome nearby playground.  This level of hospitality continued throughout our stay.  www.killarneyroyal.ie

While many families spend a week in the area, our whirlwind trip only allowed us three nights in the area.  There were several sights that were on my cannot miss list.

KISSANE SHEEP FARM (www.kissanesheepfarm.com)

Along the Ring of Kerry between Killarney and Kenmore sits Kissane Sheep Farm.  The farm has been in the beautiful conservation area near Moll’s Gap for almost 200 years.  To help support the farm financially, the family began hosting sheep herding demonstrations in 2005.  The demonstrations are held several times a week from the spring through fall.  Check out their website to find a time when you are in the area.

kissaneIn the rocky terrain, it is critical for the farmers to find their sheep among the rocks and crevices in order to evaluate health and prevent their coat from getting unhealthily thick.  Kissane has a team of sheep herding dogs to support this effort.  The team of dogs is trained and cared for by John.

We had the opportunity to observe John demonstrate the skills of four of the dogs.  The team lead and drove a large group of about fifty or so sheep from one of the valleys up the rocky terrain to a pin just near the observation area.  This was done with minimal guide words to the dogs.  The amazing part was the speed at which the dogs responded.

To top off our visit, we got to meet a couple of the lambs that were less than a week old.  Goose (six-year-old) and Chicken (almost four-year-old) even got to hold a lamb.  “Lamb season” begins in early March and lasts through May.  The fields and valleys may not be green this time of year, but you are treated by meeting very cute lambs (and less crowded roads, but that is another topic).

TORC WATERFALL

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moss-covered trail to Torc Waterfall 

When the hotel concierge described Torc Waterfall, we were told it was home of the fairies and leprechauns.  She was correct!  Right along the Ring of Kerry is a small parking lot that is the start of trail to Torc Waterfall.  The waterfall itself really is not the most spectacular that I have ever seen – maybe not even the top five.  It is beautiful, but the truly special part of Torc Waterfall is the moss covered trees leading to the waterfall.  Goose loved skipping across the rocks – while nervously told him to be careful.

As beautiful as the area is, it is absolutely covered with tourists – us included.  When I say covered, there were even tourists in the waterfall.  Keep in mind, the air temperature was about 50 degrees, so the water temperature was much, much colder.

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Looking for fairies and leprechauns, but finding tourists in the cold water instead

ROSS CASTLE

Up to this point, all of our visits to castles in Ireland had been self-guided.  I generally like self-guided tours – mostly because I do not like being told what to do and when.  However, without the benefit of a guide at some of these locations, you end up wondering around and staring at a window going – why is there a window there?  or what is that hold for?  Worst of all, sometimes you do not even see the really significant elements of a sight.

Thankfully for Low Key and me, a guide is required at Ross Castle, one of the best-restored tower castles in Ireland.  We enjoyed learning about why banquets were held on the top floor of the tower – to protect guests from invaders.  And why there were so few bedrooms – everyone slept in the same room.  Learning about the direction that the spiral staircases turned was also cool – of course, you need to a hold a sword in your right hand and balance with your left when charging down the stairs.

However, as much as we enjoyed learning so much history, Goose was mostly annoyed about the guide (and Chicken was mostly passed out in Low Key’s arms).  The only part that Goose enjoyed – as any six-year-old boy would enjoy was learning where the people “went potty.”  He was fascinated by the communal bench with a wide hole many stories above the ground where the residents would sit when nature called.  If you asked him about the castle today, he would tell you that it was over six hundred years old and then explain how the people went potty.

THE STRAWBERRY FIELD PANCAKE COTTAGE strawberryfield-ireland.com

Not far fstrawberryfieldrom Kissane Sheep Farm and almost to Kenmare, The Strawberry Field Pancake Cottage is perched upon the top of a mountain overlooking the valley leading into Kenmare.  As the name implies, pancakes are their specialty.  These are not American-style pancakes (thankfully).  Their pancakes are more akin to crepes.  Savory, sweet – and some in between.  Every pancake imaginable was on the menu.  But for my kids, this was not what they had in mind – though Chicken was very impressed with the strawberry themed toilet!

By this point in the trip, two things became evident:

  1. Chicken had been sick for several days.  It is a part of life when traveling with kids.  They get sick.
  2. Goose was loosing his appetite – which to this point in the trip had been quiet healthy.  That should have been a sign to us.  Alas, we missed this indication.

Next (and final) Ireland post – what to do when your trip with kids falls apart?

Ireland – Part 4 – The Wild (and Winding) Atlantic Way

 

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View of Galway Bay from The Burren

Referred to as The Wild Atlantic Way, the west coast of Ireland provides postcard perfect photos around each of its very winding roads.  To see this beauty, we would have the opportunity to spend even more time in the car.  As you might expect, the kids could not contain their enthusiasm.  Well there was enthusiasm, just not the happy kind.  Even the best travelers have their weaknesses and parts of the experience that they would rather skip – and for our kids (as we learned) is time in the car.

 

Heritage and Insanity

Our first day along The Wild Atlantic Way had the primary objective of visiting the Cliffs of Mohr – also known as The Cliffs of Insanity, if you have watched “The Princess Bride,” but was also one of the backdrops in “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.”  Just over an hour drive from Limerick, the Cliffs of Mohr is a huge draw to County Clare, but there is more to see!

Just outside of Shannon (near Limerick) is Bunratty Castle and Folk Park.  I seriously debated this stop.  Ultimately, we visited to make the timing for the rest of the day work out well.  Bunratty is what could best be described as Colonial Williamsburg for Ireland.  The center-piece is a 600 year old castle.  From atop Bunratty Castle, you can look out onto the Shannon Estuary.  We did not spend much time in any one area of the Folk Park as it was freezing (or pretty close to freezing) that morning.  Goose had a blast skipping in and out of the various little houses depicting life in the 1800s, pretending to sweep, set up a fire, and teach school.  He even got to see a real goose.

 

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The Burren

Next we drove to and through The Burren.  I had limited expectations of the area.  I knew that the primary feature is a karst landscape, but really had no idea what that meant.  The 250 square kilometer area is covered with limestone rocks that have created illogical paths all over what would otherwise be a sheep field.  Occasionally, we would spot sheep hidden between crevices of the limestone. 

 

Several websites and guidebooks suggested hikes to take in this area.  However, both kids had fallen asleep on the way to The Burren, which meant the complaining of bellyaches and headaches had ceased – so we let them sleep and enjoyed the view from the car.

Just under an hour later, we reach the Cliffs of Mohr.  Though it was cold at Bunratty Castle, it was bone-chillingly cold at the Cliffs.  From the moment we exited the car in the car park, we were all shivering – well except for Chicken.  She had buried herself in the stroller underneath a fleece blanket.  Only once during this stop did we drag her out of the stroller to see the Cliffs, but I am pretty sure she did not look due to the cold. 

CliffsofMohrWe did enjoy seeing the Cliffs.  They really are phenomenal and a must-see on a trip to Ireland.  However, the kids enjoyed the visitor center more.  There was a small interactive area for kids.  It really did not compare to the one at Giant’s Causeway, but they were really tired of being in the car, so it was a nice break to run around indoors – where it was not freezing.

After the frigid stop, we returned to Limerick for the evening.  Trying to recover from the “meal of joy” from the night before, we ate at The Locke Bar and Restaurant.  We were seated in a cozy room adjacent to the bar, which I decided must be the American family room (other families from the US were also seated in there).  Our server Lizzie was originally from Florida and had stopped in Limerick to earn some money along her multi-year backpacking trip.  She was a great server and the food was delicious.  Best of all, Low Key felt redeemed from the food debacle of the night before.  Highly recommend the restaurant if you find yourself in Limerick.

The Ring of Dingle

Before we went to Ireland, I was asked dozens of times – “are you going to drive the Ring of Kerry?”  And my very adult response was, “No, my husband really wants to drive the Ring of Dingle.  He hopes to find berries in Dingle and call them dingleberries.”  He thought this was hysterical.  By the time I had explained it over a dozen times, I no longer found the humor.

However, it was a good thing that we chose Dingle over the Ring of Kerry.  To drive the Ring of Kerry is a trek – like all day – and that is if you happen to be driving without stopping and without traveling with children that need restrooms in remote places or that express various aches related to being in the car.  No, no, Ring of Kerry was not for us (though we did drive a small section of it – more on that later).

From Limerick, the drive to Tralee is pretty easy.  This is the best starting point for the Ring of Dingle.  We decided to take the slackers way out and only drive through the Connor Pass and into Dingle and then cut back to Inch Beach – completely skipping the coastal ring at the tip of the peninsula – and on to Killarney, where we would spend the next three nights. 

DrivingConnorPassThe road up to the Connor Pass is curvy and steep.  The kids actually faired pretty well along this section of the road.  At one point, they were chatting away in the background completely unaware of the 600 foot drop off to our right.  I was very tensely watching the road and developing a plan of what I would do should we tip off the road.  Fortunately, we made it to the top, because I never came up with a good solution.  The view from Connor Pass is absolutely phenomenal and worth the battle of nerves to the top.

 

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Chicken and Goose at the Connor Pass

 

 

We continued the winding road from the top of the mountain down into Dingle.  The kids needed a break from the car, so we stopped in at the Dingle Aquarium.  While I am sure to many, it is a phenomenal aquarium.  Our family has visited some of the top aquariums in the US and tends to compare every experience to that of an Orlando theme park.  In other words, we were not the target audience for this aquarium.  On the upside, we did get to stretch our legs a bit before getting back in the car – though Low Key never found any dingleberries.

We continued along The Wild Atlantic Way passing Inch Beach on our way to Killarney.  Someone recently asked me if we walked along the beach.  The answer:  no.  Why?  1) It was freezing 2) the kids had fallen back asleep.

One thing I was reminded of on this trip was the saying “don’t wake a sleeping baby.”  On this trip it was more like “do not wake a child up if you intend to get back in the car a few minutes later.”  Goose and Chicken missed some sites along the way, but you know what – it will be ok.

Ireland – Part 3 – It’s My Island

Belfast to Limerick
Google Maps saved us this trip!  See maps.google.com – or download the app

Driving from Belfast to Limerick was not something I was looking forward to on the trip. 

  • I generally hate riding in the car, but in Ireland that is the best way to see as much as possible.
  • It was going to be a long drive on curvy roads. Google optimistically stated under 5 hours.  However, we had already learned that while Google was our hero for getting us around, it did not comprehend Irish driving times.
  • In case you forgot, our dear children (Goose and Chicken) were with us. Kids + Cars = Pain

Setting my expectations appropriately low for the day, we set off from our Airbnb apartment to caffeinate for the morning.  Sadly, Sunday mornings in Ireland pretty much cause the country to come to a halt and Starbucks would not open until 8:30am.  There was no way we could wait that long, so off we went to our first stop of Newgrange… Starbucksless.

Side note:  this was a thing in general in Ireland.  Starbucks and other coffee places would not open till late morning.  What is the point?  Coffee is for early risers, though I do appreciate a mid-afternoon latte – I NEED my morning latte.

Brú na Bóinne Visitor Center

NewgrangeBefore we traveled to Ireland, I obsessively watched every Rick Steves’ episode filmed in Ireland as preparation.  The 6,000-year-old Neolithic tomb of Newgrange looked very cool.  Low Key and I had visited Stonehenge in England before kids and thought Newgrange would be a nice complement to that visit. 

I carefully mapped out the journey from Belfast to Newgrange.  When we arrived, I looked around surprised there were not more cars at the site.  Hadn’t people watched Rick Steves?  This place is cool – it is older than the Stonehenge and the pyramids!

We exited the car, convinced the kids how cool this would be, and approached the entrance.  “No tickets sold here.” WHAT!!!  Apparently, I missed the part that you had to go to a visitor center 25 minutes away to actually join a tour to see the site.  ARGH!!! 

I felt defeated.  Low Key and I debated what to do.  Drive on to Trim Castle and miss Newgrange (we could literally see it from the car), or drive to the visitor center and add another hour or more to the day of travel?

We went to the visitor center.

When we arrived, we were told the next tour that had availability was at 12:15.  It was almost 11am at that point.  We debated what to do.  Faced with adding yet another hour to the day, we gave in and decided if we had come this far – what was another hour?

IMG_1774Ultimately, Rick Steves was right – Newgrange was in fact really cool.  The tour guide was excellent and did a great job of holding Goose’s attention.  He was very impressed by the 6,000-year-old tomb – as was I.  The guide explained the complexities that were involved in building the structure and the internal roof, which was still in tact – and had very little reinforcement.  Unfortunately, no photography is allowed inside the tomb – so you will need to go discover that for yourself!  Just make sure you Google the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Center – and arrive early, the tours fill up quickly.  [Also, not open when we were visiting, but open in summer months is Knowth – similar site associated with the Visitor Center]

Freedom!

To continue the theme of movies along this trip, our next stop was the location of several scenes in “Braveheart.”  Both Low Key and I love “Braveheart.”  One of our favorite scenes is with the Irish character Stephen – “it’s my island.”  When I learned that scenes were filmed at Trim Castle, I appreciated the irony, but also had to visit.

We made the twisty drive to Trim and arrived at the castle.  Approaching the entrance, the money issue bit me again.  I had pound sterling – no euros – and we were back in euro land.  And no, the castle would not take a credit card for the 4 euro fee for a family to enter.  Dejected, we walked away and decided to explore the small town of Trim on foot.  A couple in a car driving by had overheard our currency issue and stopped us.  The lady gave us 4 euros so that we could return to the castle.  Thank you, kind lady. 

IMG_1789Returning to Trim Castle with euros in hand, we marched through the gates like an invading army (or at least a small brigade).  I really wanted to yell “Freedom!” – but refrained.  The kids expressed their own freedom from being out of the car for a bit to run and play all around the castle, its walls, and the former latrine.  That’s right, latrine.  Chicken’s favorite area of the castle was the former latrine – go figure.

Left, Right, Left, and Stay Left

To get to Limerick, we needed to make our way back to the motorway (aka interstate).  To do that, there were some seriously bendy roads we had to navigate.  Again, thank you, Google.  Apparently, road signs, directional signs, and any other navigational signs had not made it to this part of Ireland – for that matter Google did not even have road names listed in many cases.  The next hour or two was filled with me calling out directions to Low Key.

“Left, then right.”

“Turn right at the next place you can turn.”

“Turn left right after that tree.”

“Turn right, oh and don’t’ forget to stay left.”

And on it went.  It was about halfway through this stretch that we learned invaluable information.  Goose really does have motion sickness.  Thankfully, it did not manifest itself in ways that were possible, but he was pretty miserable the rest of that drive.  Unfortunately, I knew that this did not bode well for the next five days of the trip, which would be met with similar roads. 

Key takeaway for future trips:  always travel with Dramimine both the kid and adult versions.

What makes the best day ever?

It had been a really long day.  We arrived in Limerick around 6:30pm and checked into the hotel.  By the time we were ready to head out for dinner, it was 7:30 – about a half hour before the kids typically go to bed (no matter what the time zone is).  It was also Sunday night.  Just as restaurants open late on Sundays – they also close early.  We drove to the center of Limerick hoping to find something quick and that’s when it happened. 

For years, I have avoided taking the kids to a very popular fast food chain that serves meals of “joy.”  However, on that night, there was no avoiding it.  Chicken and Goose had their very first meals of “joy.”  While Goose was unimpressed, Chicken declared it to be the “BEST DAY EVER!”  Not because of a 6,000-year-old Neolithic tomb or a historic 900-year-old Norman castle – a meal of “joy.”  Guess it is all in your priorities, and Chicken’s priorities that day were chicken nuggets and french fries – and that is ok.

At least that night, I was the first of many generations of my family to sleep by our namesake – the River Shannon – on “my island.”  And that, like Newgrange, was pretty cool.

 

 

Ireland – Part 2 – In the Path of Giants

A few days before we left for our adventure my mom asked what on earth we would do in Ireland for almost two weeks.  When I told her that my original itinerary was over three weeks, she was shocked.  And truth be told, Northern Ireland was not initially a high priority on my itinerary.  In fact, I almost overlooked it completely – like many unfortunately do.  However, it made the initial cut for two reasons:

  1. Titanic: During late high school to early college years, I had a mild obsession with the movie Titanic.  Kate and Leo were not the big draw for me.  I was more impressed with the historical aspects of the movie.  I had watched most of the made-for-TV movies about Titanic, so the 1997 was impressive (for me… at the time).  And – did you know?  Titanic was built in Belfast.
  2. Tom Clancy’s Patriot Games: I love the movie Patriot Games.  It has consistently been one of my favorites for at least the last fifteen years (stark comparison to Titanic).  If you have not seen the movie, Jack Ryan (played by Harrison Ford) thwarts an IRA-related terrorist attack in London and then becomes involved with the investigation into the incident and its perpetrators.  The IRA was born out of much the conflict between Northern Ireland and Ireland – and much of that has played out in Belfast.

To learn more about the complicated history of Ireland, I recommend A Brief History of Ireland Land, People History by Richard Killeen. The context that the book provided definitely enhance the trip for me.

So there you have it, my really far-out-there reasons for including Northern Ireland on the itinerary.  However, as I developed the itinerary further, there were so many other great reasons to visit the Northeast corner of the island.

Belfast City

Beyond the fantastic food in Belfast, there were a couple of museums that we visited that the kids absolutely loved:

  • W5: The mornings can be chilly and many days rainy, so the W5 is a great museum to allow kids to burn off some energy.  We visited on our second day in Belfast after having a proper night of sleep.  W5 is like many children’s museums with interactive play areas.  Though not quite to the level of the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, this one was great – and probably the best children’s museum we have visited.  The museum featured interactive areas for the kids as well as a very cool live science show that explained how energy is created, stored, and then used for power.
  • Titanic Belfast: Opened in 2012, the museum provides a comprehensive history of not only Titanic, but also of ship-building in Belfast.  There were full-scale cabin replicas of each of the class levels, detailed accounts of the rescue and recovery efforts following the sinking, and most stunning a theater that provided a bow to stern tour of the wreckage.  And though ships today are vastly larger, for its day, Titanic was a giant.

While there were several stops in Belfast, the one that I regret we missed was taking a Black Cab tour of the murals – remnants of The Troubles.  In my planning, I did not book in advance, which presented logistics challenges for the day we had time for this.  In case you make your way to Belfast, my research pointed me to Paddy Campbell’s Black Cab Tours:  www.belfastblackcabtours.co.uk

Beyond Belfast – The Causeway Coastal Route

If my initial thought of Northern Ireland centered on conflict and ships, my mind had a reset moment when I first saw pictures of Giant’s Causeway.  A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Giant’s Causeway and its over 40,000 hexagonal rocks changed that perspective.  Ultimately, the initial itinerary of a day-trip to Belfast turned into a three-night stay in Belfast to accommodate a day along the Causeway Coastal Route.

The night before our day-trip to the coast I unfolded our large map of Ireland to mark the roads that we would take the next day.  Once I started to look for the stops that we wanted to make, I realized that our big map was missing roads!  Enter Google Maps.  The Google Maps app offers the ability to download sections of a map for offline use.  Even though you may not have a data plan abroad, GPS will still track where you are on the map.  By the end of the trip, I had downloaded most of Ireland to my phone and was able to provide Low Key with turn by turn directions using the built-in GPS.  Best hack of the trip!

Dark Hedges:  The first stop of the day was Dark Hedges.  Beech trees are woven together along a short stretch of road – pretty much in the middle

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Dark Hedges

of nowhere.  The stretch of trees has been the backdrop to many movies and television series, including Game of Thrones (which I have not seen, but Low Key has read).  A few months ago an overly eager road painter mistakenly painted lines on the very narrow road, but quickly painted over them.  Though slightly off the path to the Coastal Route, it is definitely worth the detour.

Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge:  Who doesn’t love a swinging bridge?  My children.  Or so they thought.  Many years ago we visited a Capliano Suspension Bridge and Goose does not have fond memories of that experience.  However, this ended up being a pretty cool 20 meter bridge across a rope bridge hung 25 meters above the sea.  Once very rickety and used by fisherman to cross to some islands, it is now (perfectly safe and) available for tourists to venture out to the islands for amazing views of Rathlin Island (where puffins live – wished we had time to visit) and Scotland. 

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Chicken & Goose at Carrick-a-rede Robe Bridge – both proud of themselves for crossing the high bridge

Kid PSA:  if you have a stroller with you, take it!  Chicken protested the entire kilometer or so walk out to the bridge and back from the parking lot (aka car park).  There are a few stairs near the end of the hike, but park your stroller at that point.

Giant’s Causeway:  To get the kids excited about the next stop, we may have lied and implied (or said) that they might see actual giants.  It was really too easy with a name like that.  Thankfully, Irish folklore helped to solidify our elaborate tale with the legend of Finn McCool.  The visitor’s center offers insights into both the legend of Giant’s Causeway as well as the more scientific explanation about “hot lava” as the kids now explain to people.  The kids enjoyed the center as much as the actual rocks.  At want point, I was browsing through the shop while they were in the exhibit area and heard them screaming with laughter, but you will have to go for yourself to find out why!  On the walk down to the rocks, Low Key and Goose found some extra spots to climb – where Goose was able to see “the whole world.”  Between Goose’s pride of his big climb and seeing the rocks, Giant’s Causeway was definitely one of our favorite stops during our time in Ireland.

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Giant’s Causeway – a UNESCO World Heritage site

Kid PSA:  After the mistake of leaving behind the stroller in the car at the rope bridge, we made sure to use the stroller at Giant’s Causeway.  Good thing to – it was a hike to see the stones!  However, we could have taken a shuttle bus that offered round-trip (or one-way, which we used for the hike back uphill) to the main rocks. 

Food PSA:  It is worth noting that Giant’s Causeway Visitor Center has an excellent café to grab a bite before continuing along your journey.

Dunloce Castle:  Sitting along the cliffs over-looking the North Atlantic, Dunloce Castle was beautiful.  It would be neat to see at sunset when approaching from Giant’s Causeway.  When we arrived, it was quite crowded and our kids were tired from the morning adventures, so we only viewed it from the outside before returning to Belfast.

There were plenty of other sites along the Northern Ireland coast that we could have stopped in to visit, but skipped – Rathlin Island, Jameson Distillery, and the rest of the Coastal Route.  From exploring the home to giant ships to where giant rock paths were built, we loved Northern Ireland and would highly recommend it being part of an itinerary to the island.

Next Time…

In the next post, I will tell you about our harrowing back roads adventures from Belfast to Limerick and how we got to experience a bit of Braveheart because of the kindness of others.

 

Ireland – Part 1 – Turn Right, Stay Left

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 

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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:

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Low Key is about to laugh at being photographed… that’s Low Key 🙂
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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

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Belfast Castle

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.