Budget trip to Ireland
"Budget trip to Ireland March 2000"
This is a travelogue about my trip. We are two women who left our husbands and kids behind to explore Ireland with a goal of traveling for 2 weeks for under $900 each (not including gifts and shopping - but including all travel expenses, food, lodging, entertainment, pubs) We did it! and had a terrific visit.
THE ADVENTURE BEGINS:
We flew out on March 1st, and that really was the start of an adventure. First, my friend Marta couldn't get the same flight as I did on our bargain airfares - she flew from BWI to London to Dublin, I flew BWI to New York to Dublin, but we left an hour apart, and got to Dublin within 2 hours of each other...but getting into New York, I was told that my flight was cancelled, they'd see what they could do but I might have to stay in New York overnight! About 60 people were standing in line to "see what could be done" - I was next to last! Each person was told there was a flight due to leave momentarily and they could have the last seats available! l was panicing thinking about Marta stuck in Dublin looking for me as all the people in front got the very last ticket available. My turn finally came, and I got on board to find that I had been reassigned to a seat behind the bulkhead - MUCH more leg room, great seat! As the plane took off I realized they had cancelled one half booked flight by consolidating, and in my opinion told each panicy travelor they could get on the last available seat so that they could assign seats without having people complain about losing their prearranged seating - instead feeling grateful to be lucky enough to get the last seat!
DAY 2 - ARRIVAL IN DUBLIN
Anyway, I got to Dublin almost at the same time as Marta and we were off and running (both of us slept peacefully most of the night flight!) We got a bus to town, letting us off a block from our economy hostel. We signed in but it was too early to go to our room, so we headed off to explore Dublin on foot, and found the tourist info center at St. Andrew's church, stocked up on tourist info, and stepped out to catch a tour of Dublin in a double decker bus. There was a light mist of soft weather (Irish for it was steadily drizzling rain) and we settled into lower deck seats, but we soon found that we couldn't identify the sights being descibed to us through the foggy windows, so we donned our foul weather gear, and got great seats on the top deck (no competition for seats- we had it to ourselves)! We stayed up there for the rest of the tour, with our guide checking up on us crazy Yanks sitting in the rain in the cold! After we saw the sites of the downtown area we disembarked and went to get into our room, dried off a bit, and went exploring for a place for a bite to eat. As luck would have it, on the opposite corner of the street was a nice pub with restaurant (?O'Shea's?) where we found excellent food at reasonable prices, a soccer game in progress to delight the locals, and totally enjoyed the delicious meal and our first Guinness - (Marta's first ever, which she liked as much as I do, so I knew right then we were excellent travel companions!) Afterward we headed for an early night to our accommodations.
Globetrotters hostel was just what we expected - warm, friendly small rooms with bunk beds. We shared with 4 young girls, who were great roommates - quiet at night, sharing space including the bathroom equitably. Other than the one time the girl in the bunk over mine hopped out of bed by stepping on me, it was a uneventful stay. The breakfast was the best of any hostel we stayed at - a full Irish belly-buster breakfast!
DAY 3 -OFF TO LIMERICK
Next day we left to get our rental car. The folks at Thrifty-Windsor tried to add 14 punts to our negotiated price of 20 punts per day, but fortunately I had copies of all our email communications, so they honored our agreement and we were off!.
First stop was the National stud farm at Kildare, which includes 2 gardens -the Japanese garden which was beautiful and relaxing, and St Fiacre's (patron saint of gardening) garden is a reconstructed beehive hermit's stone hut and garden. Tons of daffodils greeted you as you walked the paths. About 2/3s of the way thru this garden we saw a mare with a beautiful foal up an embankment. Finding a place to cross over, we went up to the path to the horse equivalent of a maternity ward - several gorgeous mares with their babies - one so young he still had that akward, legs spread newborn gait, all jumping and romping about. We walked around some more, saw the horse museum and the stud barn - all the stalls were empty that we looked into, but as we passed we heard one whinnying at the far end, so at least one stallion was there.
Next we went to Limerick. We signed in to our hostel - an obviously predominantly youth-oriented old building attached to Barrington's hospital - looks like an old nursing dorm. We signed in and I was told the 2 bed room I asked for did not include a private bath but one could be available with bath for a 2 pounds more, which we took. Our room was a 4 bed room we had to ourselves with a tiny but functional toilet and shower. The room came with cross ventilation - a loose fitting window on one side, and a cracked pane of glass on the other, but also had a great heating system up to the challenge. I loved the old fashioned toilet with the overhead pull chain to flush! (No Kidding!) The bedroom was done in three shades of purple, with a green throw rug over a blue-grey carpet. The place was very old, but clean so it met our needs well. On the corner was another great pub with a very lovely dining room upstairs, with more great seafood selections. After dinner, we could not fail to notice the large group of young people, predominantly male, weaving up the road in front of us, singing Christmas carols! They were all trying to sign into our hostel creating a traffic jam at the door, but we managed to get thru the mob and up to our room. Several of the young men (I'd guess about age 18-20) had rooms on our floor, with the shower/loo, right outside our door. It was a busy site for a while, but they were not too loud once inside, and they provided comic relief. And this was at 9pm!!!! We feel asleep early once again - easy to do when you're walking outdoors/travelling all day.
DAY 4 -LIMERCK & THE BURREN
Next morning we went to Bewley's for breakfast since one was not included with the price, and had another full breakfast for about 3 punt in town. We explored Limerick on foot, including the shops (Marta is a great shopper - she hits every towns shops with an avid desire to help the local economy!) The Hunt museum was very good, and we enjoyed St. John's castle. Then we got the car, and went to the Burren - one of my favorite areas in Ireland! We drove around and stopped at the Cliffs of Moher. while we were in the shop, the bright sunshine disappeared, and we exited a few minutes later after the sleet and hale ended!!! At this time there was just a light drizzle. This took all of about 10 minutes. Leaving the Cliffs we stopped at a thatched roofed pub to take a picture, and realized that it was beside St. Bridget's Well - a place I had looked for but couldn't find during last year's trip. We made a little pilgramage, said a few prayers, blessed with drips of the sparkling water. Holy wells in Ireland combine the mystical past of a long ago belief structure with Lourdes-like Christianity. But all together a quietly happy feeling eminates. I felt blest just being there. Next we set out for the Burren Perfumery, indulging my interest in flowers, scents, aromatherapy. They have a beautiful slide show that I really wish I could have gotten a copy of some of the pictures of the Burren - absolutely lovely! This little gem of a place is on an out of the way little drive - the kind of narrow roads Ireland is famous for - (by the way, the major roads sytem is continuing to develop, even better than last year. Major roads crossing the country to major cities are in great shape - plenty wide enough, with great capability of handling reasonable speed, so crossing the country does not take a long time. City to city trips go fast!) But in the Burren, the roads remain quaint, lovely, and slow paced. Leaving the perfumery we ran into an Irish traffic jam - cows on the road! We took their picture, and moved on. Returning to Limerick, we again hit a pub for dinner, then returned to our utilitarian room.
DAY 5 - CASHEL,CAHIR, BLARNEY, CORK
In the morning we headed out for the Rock of Cashel, Caher, Blarney then Cork - a full, happy day of sight seeing!
We saw the Rock of Cashel - beautiful ruins, including Cormac MacCarthaigh's chapel and tomb. Myself a former McCarthy, and Marta currently married into the clan, we paid homage to the ancestors while enjoying the wealth of stone carving and sense of powerful history that surrounds the area. Next we proceeded to Caher Castle - a very large castle mostly intact, on the River Suir. After touring there we drove on to the most famous McCarthy castle, Blarney! By this time it was cold and rainy again (quite soft, the weather there!) so we decided against climbing the famous steps (I'm still covered by my trip last year, hence my notable eliquence!, Marta's genetically Italian and didn't feel the need). We had a late lunch or early dinner? great food at a little restaurant attached to a hotel - ?Lemon tree? - I'm bad with names and didn't write down names as we went. But again were blessed in our choice of an excellent meal at good prices. After a bit of shopping we proceeded into downtown Cork to our next hostel, Isaacs on MacCurtain St. The traffic was terrible - I had not expected so much Sunday evening downtown traffic. The rooms were again clean and we were the only ones in the ensuite room.
DAY 6 - CORK, KINSALE
Next morning we found a restaurant across from the hostel for a great scone, jam, and more tea that filled us up! Looking briefly around Cork - an unimpressive sight - we headed to West Cork, to the town of Kinsale, which is just beautiful. We found Kinsale Crystal, a small private workshop and showroom. If you like crystal, this is a great stop! The wares are made in a more old-fashioned cutting pattern, more crisp lines to the cut rather than rounder edges. It makes for a more sparkling cut crystal. I had wanted to eat at the famous Blue Haven restaurant, but we were too late for lunch, too early for dinner, so we went to the White House pub. Once again we were rewarded with mouthwatering seafood, delicious soup, good tea, and we splurged on brown bread ice cream/pudding . We had discovered that if you want tea without milk you have to order it that way because it is usually served with milk otherwise! We walked around and enjoyed looking at swans swimming in the harbor. After a bit more walking around we took a meadering drive back to Cork. I really did not feel too secure walking in Cork after dark so we retired for the evening rather early, before 8pm.
DAY 7 - Heading to WATERFORD
Next day we headed off for Waterford. We could not find a restaurant or coffee shop open at 8 am, so we headed out. First we stopped in the town of Midleton. We found a shop, where we bought tea, 2 scones each for less than 2 punt. Then we went to visit the factory of Corabbey linens, and found the prices well worth the effort of finding it! Not the vastest of inventory but prices much less than any of the shops elswhere around the country. Next we drove on to Ballymaloe Cookery School in Shanagarry. It is technically not open for tour visits right now, but my interest in herbs is strong enough for me to have contacted the owner, Darina Allen to ask permission to visit out of season. She graciously let us explore her delightful gardens. Cows, sheep, ducks, and hens surround the place, and we were escorted through the gardens by a friendly little brown and white dog, who wanted us to kick a ball for him to retrieve. It was a fun morning!There are 12 garden sections,but my favorites were the practical herb garden, the still sleeping fruit garden, the recently planted but large celtic maze.After my trip last year I thought about writing an article for an herb magazine about the gardens of Ireland - I really have to do it, and include this one to my list of must-see gardens. It is beautiful, practical, functional, and lovely - and I saw it out of season with everything just starting to rise from winter hibernation!
We were heading for Waterford when we saw a sign for Ardmore and decided to explore. We had both read Nora Roberts novels, and the latest one was Jewels in the Sun set in Ardmore. It is a lovely seaside / cliffside town. We saw St. Declan's way, which we decided against walking to the St's Well due to lack of time. We did explore the round tower and abbey.We recognized scenes mentioned in the book, but felt this town would be a wonderful place to spend the summer.
Next we travelled on to Waterford Crystal. I spent every penny I had budgetted! Including a pair of candlesticks that I love, and I proved it by carrying them around every day afterwards. A craftsman named Nicky engraved each piece we bought. I did not care for the large crystal grandfather's clock, but I loved the hypnoticly gorgeous crystal chandeliers - they are awesome! We left for our accommodations at Viking house hostel. We had reserved in a room for 6, but when we got there we were told a room for 2 was available, so we took it. This is a really nice hostel. Waterford is a walkable, enjoyable small city.
DAY 8 - WATERFORD & WEXFORD
Next day we enjoyed exploring on foot. It is a small place, so we decided to spend the afternoon exploring Wexford. There was surprisingly a lot to do in county Wexford in the offseason, but we hadn't much time. We drove to the town of Wexford, talked to the helpful ladies in the tourist office, and taking their advice, drove to Johnstown Castle to explore the gardens. The castle itself is closed, but the gardens are a delightful place to walk. Again we had fun photographing swans swimming in the moat-like pond in back of the castle, and hopefully have some good pictures taken there! Returning to Waterford after dark we went to a local department store to get larger bags (We had originally packed carryon sized bags for the trip, knowing our car was very tiny with very small trunk space (boot). We had outgrown our luggage and needed larger bags to accommodate our purchases! After calculating expenses so far we found ourselves right on target for food and accommodation, but seriously close to exhausting our reserves for shopping! We went to bed exhausted but happy!
DAY 9 Jerpoint Abbey, KILKENNY & DUBLIN
In the morning we headed off for our last day exploring with the car. We stopped for a visit to Jerpoint Abbey,then proceeded to Kilkenny, explored the castle - a beautifully redone re-creation of Victorian opulence! We walked around The Kilkenny Design Center, and had a nice lunch of soup and bread and a bread pudding dessert that was yummy.We went to visit Kilkenny crystal (we seem to be hitting ever crystal shop in the southern half of the country!) Then we went looking for Browne's Hill Dolmen which we never did find, I think we missed a turn due to construction that involved a couple of roundabouts (traffic circles like they have in New Jersey). We did find Moone's High Cross. The weather was not the brightest for photography, but nice enough to continue to enjoy the lovely countryside like a patchwork quilt of greens and browns with freshly turned field readying to plant. Sheep and cows on the hillsides. Really enjoyable travelling every day of our trip so far - not excellent weather but not bad either.
Leaving our car in Dublin we proceeded to our home for the next 5 days.
DAYS 10 thru 13
I had high expectations for our stay at Avalon House. It seemed to receive excellent reviews from every source I looked before booking. Everyone from Pat Preston's traveling Ireland website to Rick Steve's Backpacker's website, and every travel guide book I read, had excellent reviews for this place. I wish it had lived up to its promise. This was the only bad hostel experience we had. And it was bad. We got there from the taxi sent by the car rental agency with all our accumulated luggage to find that the reservation I had made months in advance had been confirmed as a four bed room shared bath for 4 nights and 4 bed room ensuite one night. We made all reservations at the same time for 4 bed ensuite. But it was late on friday night and so we booked in. Now the one truly favorable thing about this place is that they have individual locked storage areas, so we took all are new baggage with new possessions and double locked them there for the next 5 days, and only had our original one small carryon bag each to deal with. We proceeded to our 4 bed room, and found we had the bottom bunks available so rumpled the sheets to claim them, and went out to find a bite to eat.We had the room to ourselves the first night, but the only shared shower/toilet room accommodated just one person. On the entire second floor (eight rooms but I don't know how many of them were ensuite - at least 3 rooms were sharing.) If you needed to use the facilities and someone was taking a shower you had to walk upstairs or downstairs where the restrooms were larger - joint male and female usage but several stalls available. I am furtunate to have grown up in a large family -7 kids one bathroom, so I could be philosophically ok with the situation.
The other problem with the room was that there was NO HEAT in the room or bath. It was really cold at night. I woke up coughing from the cold air, and had complete laryngitis after the first day. In fact by the third day I had to go to a pharmacist/chemist, and get an emergency prescription for a bronchodilator inhaler. In combination with the fact that everywhere in Dublin people smoke - while they eat, while they drink. while they dance, while they shop - everywhere there is smoke. So Dublin did my lungs in. I was very thankful that I had gotten a prescription from one of the doctors at work for antibiotics before I left just in case I got sick. They sure came in handy! Each day we set out to explore Dublin - a very explorable, enjoyable city. We saw Trinity College and the book of Kells, the National museum with its awesome golden artifacts, the National Gallery of Art which has a beautiful collection, Dublin castle, Number 29 - a Georgian townhouse presenting both the lifestyle of the wealthy merchant class and the servant class who co-existed in such homes, St Patricks Cathedral, Dvblinia, Christ Church Cathedral, St Audeons. We decided against visiting the Guiness brewery in favor of visiting it locally in its natural habitat - the excellect pubs. We thoroughly enjoyed the pubs, the food there, the music, the dancing. Especially enjoyed Fitzsimons pub in Temple Bar where one bartender finishes off pouring your draft with a foam shamrock traced on top! and the music and craic were excellent! We also took a daytrip to Wicklow and Glendalough which was most enjoyable. Friday night we rode the #7bus to Monkstown. We got there early having been mistakenly told we could find a place to eat there. The music starts with dance lessons at 8:30. but we got in to the bar area at CCE headquarters at 7pm. Only food available was chips and peanuts, so we had that for dinner along with our pints.Childrens music lessons were in session so we were invited to listen in.This really was one of the most enjoyable evenings I can remember. From the music lessions we proceeded to the dance lessions at 8:30pm. Unfortunately I was pretty much under the weather with my respiratory infection so I couldn't dance but I enjoyed the music none the less, and Marta found a Polish speaking dancing partner who kept her on her toes! lastly we settled in for the music session, which was just really rolling when we had to leave at 11:15 to catch the last bus back to town. For 4 nights we suffered through the no heat/limited facilities of the hostel. After the first night we shared with 2 young Brits who were thoughtful and good roomates, other than the fact that the one sleeping on the top bunk of Marta's set seemed unable to sleep the third night bothered by our gentle snoring - niether Marta nor I felt we snored particularly loudly, and we both witnessed the other asleep and sonorous! but this one night at 3 am she proceeded to grumble loudly about the bleeding snoring going on...
Our last night we were moved up to the 4 bed room with ensuite facilities. This was more fun than we had antipated! The door unlocked and we walked in to find 2 roomates in residence - 2 young attractive men, who greeted us and even told us they had no objection to us staying...but I insisted on going back to the desk to change rooms, where I was told that I had not specified female only dorm on my request. Curious to see if she had my lost request that would have proved I had wanted ensuite all along not just this last night, I asked to see the request mentioned but it was lost again by then. Fortunately there was an available room for 4 ensuite open. We turned out to have sole possession for our last night. It was a very comfortable room.if this had been our accommodation all along I am sure I would have enjoyed this hostel as well.Our last day we spent walking and exporing things we had not yet seen including Ceol in Smithfield Place. It is a well presented musical museum featuring Irish traditional music. Especially enjoyable was listening to oral history tapes of old folks describing the music of their youth - real live recordings of people with memories of the first person in their town with a gramaphone, a radio, local street music traditions - God, it was wonderful to hear!
THE END - DAY 14
Last morning we headed off for the airport. My flight left 4 hours after Marta's. I had hoped to be able to check in my luggage and get a bus to explore a nearby area, but I could not check in until 2 hours before my flight and there was no secure facility to leave my luggage, which was too heavy to carry all day. So I read a book all day waiting to board my plane. I found another interesting thing about airports - you are required to keep in your sight all luggage - if you have a big bag, it doesn't fit in the toilet stall with you, so you are required to either use the facilities with the door open or hold on til you can check your bags! The dilemmas of modern travel !!!