But before we welcome the new year, let me recap memories gone by (so quick, right?) with a photo list of my faves. Like my previous year-ender post, I wanted to wrap up my travels these past 12 months with these precious photos. They have all been wonderful and amazing experiences! From the mind and body oriented yoga retreat and yet adventure filled short trip to Costa Rica to the jaw dropping views and sceneries of Ireland, there were so many things we learned about others and about ourselves as well. What is a trip without a lesson learned or two!
Here they are in no particular order. I hope these inspire you to dream and travel some more!
Some 50 to 60 million years ago, volcanoes did their magic, like they always do, on the Northern coast of Ireland creating what we see now as the Giant’s Causeway. These are the 40,000 or so interlocking basalt columns scattered along the coast of Antrim. They were declared as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1986 due to its unique geological formation.
However, most Irish folks would like to believe in the alternative story of how they were formed. Legend says that an Irish giant, Finn McCool built this causeway so he can fight with the Scottish giant across the seas named Benandonner. When he realized that the other giant was much bigger than him, he asked his wife to help him. So his wife disguised him as a baby and put him in a cradle and dressed him in baby clothes. When Benandonner came over and saw this massive “baby”, he realized that its father could be even bigger, he ran back to Scotland and destroyed the causeway so that McCool couldn’t come get him. On the other side of the ocean, on Scottish shores, there lies the same basalt formations that stretches out to sea thereby backing up the story of the two giants.
The whole area is stunning with raw natural beauty. There was a visitor center which we skipped and went straight down to the coastline. It was about a 15 minute hike or you can take a free shuttle ride from the visitor center and back. We took our lunch with us and had a small picnic along the stones in a not so overcrowded spot. There are restaurants near the visitor center too but we were advised that they were on the expensive side. It was way better eating lunch out there as you soak in the breathtaking views.
There were LOTS of people and it can be a challenge getting your shots right but, this is a popular place so expect a huge crowd. Don’t worry, there was plenty of room for everyone! I also liked the fact that there were staff from the National Trust manning the site. As it was a windy day, it could be dangerous climbing up those rock formations.
Here they are up close and personal!
Most of these stones are hexagons, though some have five sides, maybe even more!
Some are slabs and some are columns.
Some are almost irregularly roundish and some are perfectly angular.
Some have white spots and some are volcanic black.
Some appear to be like pavers while some are in mounds.
Some are stuck on the mountainside and some stretches out to sea.
This whole day tour was made possible by Finn McCools tours of which we spent an hour and a half on the causeway. Of course, there were so many other companies to chose from. It really is up to you. I just happened to chose this one because aside from the good reviews, they have the best value for your money. There were other stops along the way too, each beautiful by their own right. You can also drive up there yourself and enjoy the scenic ride at your own pace.
So, which one are you most inclined to believe in?
Ireland, also called the Emerald Isle, is a country known for it’s wild natural beauty and friendly people, leprechauns and Guinness and of course, St Patrick’s Day. This widely popular holiday is a religious and cultural celebration of St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. It is celebrated every 17th of March the day he was believed to have died in 461 AD by not just the Irish but in other parts of the world with a large Irish population as well.
When I was in the 6th grade, I represented Ireland in my elementary school’s annual United Nation’s pageant. I do not remember why I was “Miss Ireland”. I do not look Irish and I certainly do not have Irish blood. Maybe, it was just meant to be. But I was 5th runner-up in that pageant and memories of my younger self in that light pink lacy gown walking up the stage pretending not to be nervous I can still vividly recall.
Fast forward present time, I come to visit my adopted U.N. country at last! My mom laughed as I told her that my elementary pageant days was the reason why we were traveling to Ireland. Of course, the main reason was Guinness but that is another story for another day.
So what did we do in 7 days? We visited 5 cities and saw lots of interesting places in between. It helped that we mostly drove ourselves around. Here is a summary of the highlights of our trip. I will be eventually blogging about all the little details in separate posts. So, stay tuned!
To visit Dublin and not pay homage to the Guinness storehouse is a mortal sin. This is the number one tourist attraction in Ireland most sources claim. Even if you are not a beer lover, the experience itself is like no other as you make your way up seven floors learning all about the history of Arthur Guinness and his family and what goes into the making of every pint of this world famous beer. At the very top of this building, is the Gravity Bar where you will get a 360 degree view of the city while enjoying your free pint (included with admission). Hubby swears the Guinness tastes better here!
If you are a history buff, you will surely geek out over this one. I have never heard of the Book of Kells until I did my trip planning. The Book of Kells is an ancient manuscript containing the four gospels of the New Testament written in colorful intricately designed calligraphy. Today, it is on display at the old library of the Trinity College in Dublin. It seemed like a pretty popular attraction so this got added to my check list. Unfortunately, photos are not allowed inside the exhibits.
Coming out from the Book of Kells, you walk into the Long Room which is the main chamber of the old library. This is also Ireland’s biggest library housing over 200,000 books. I could feel my jaw drop the moment I walked into this great room and its’ hallowed halls.
We ended up our day in the Temple Bar area, a perfect place to people watch as we replenish our stomachs with food and drink. It can be touristy but sometimes, touristy can be fun. There’s lots of restaurants and pubs, some with live Irish music. You can also find all sorts of shops here.
2. Northern Ireland
The following day, we took the only bus tour in this trip to the Giant’s Causeway. We started really early in the morning at 645 and made a quick stop at Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, for breakfast and to pick up a couple of people. We learned some about the bloody history and political turmoils of this city and for those who are not aware (like I was), the Titanic was built here. Belfast is also not a part of the Republic of Ireland but of the United Kingdom.
We then proceeded to our next two photo stops. The Dark Hedges and Dunluce Castle. If you are a Game of Thrones fan, you will recognize this pretty neat tree-lined road in one of its scenes. As I am not, then I can only appreciate its natural beauty. These beech trees have been planted by the owner who lives at the end of this road over 300 years ago. Beech trees live only to be about a hundred making this one of the most photographed natural phenomena in Northern Ireland.
Tip: try to come early if you are driving by car otherwise you will not really get a good picture as hundreds of tourists in tour buses flock here. I ended up frustrated and took photos of its surrounding scenery instead!
The Dark Hedges
field beside the beech trees
the field and the beech tree
Dunluce Castle, or rather what remains of it, sits on the edge of a rocky cliff. Stories tell of how part of its kitchen fell into the ocean after which, the owners left because they didn’t feel safe.
We spent the next hour and a half at the Giant’s Causeway, a UNESCO world heritage site, where millions of years ago a volcano erupted and caused the unique geological formation of these interlocking basalt columns. The locals would like to believe though in the legend that says the Irish giant, Finn McCool built this causeway so he can fight with the Scottish giant, Benandonner but when he realized that the Scottish giant was much bigger than him, he asked his wife to help him. So his wife disguised him as a baby and put him in a cradle and dressed him in baby clothes. When Benandonner saw this massive “baby”, he realized that its father could be even bigger so he ran back to Scotland and destroyed the causeway. Yay for having a smart wife eh?!
I like the giant’s theory better. 🙂
Our next stop was the Carrick-a-rede rope bridge. First built by Salmon fishermen in 1755, it is now managed by the National Trust. There is a fee to cross the swinging bridge. I was looking forward to doing that but unfortunately, the bridge was closed due to the strong winds that day. So we took a long walk around the area and just enjoyed the coastal views.
the bridge from a distance
We only stayed overnight here so there wasn’t much time to really do anything but head on out to downtown and eat. Cork is Ireland’s 3rd largest city known for its culinary flair and cultural scenes. We made a beeline first to the English Market, Ireland’s most popular covered food market. It opened in 1788 and continues to sell fresh produce, meat, cheese, seafood and even chocolates! The Queen herself made a visit here in 2011 on her Ireland tour.
I have this fascination with markets when visiting different countries and cities. If I find one by accident or learn of one that is in the area, I make it a point to stroll through its stalls and observe the local people going about their daily business. Sometimes even sampling the local fare. This also makes for great photo ops.
St Fin Barre’s Cathedral is by far one of the grandest churches I have ever seen. I haven’t been to Italy or Spain yet which I’m sure have more bigger and grander churches but for now, this tops my list. This church was consecrated in 1870 and is Ireland’s most complete example of French Neo Gothic architecture.
Killarney National Park located in the town of Killarney is Ireland’s first national park. It comprises more than 10,000 hectares of mountains, lakes and woodlands and Ireland’s only native herd of red deer. This was just a tiny sample of what our next day itinerary would be as the park is part of the Ring of Kerry, one of Ireland’s scenic drives.
The following day, we woke up earlier than normal to start our drive around the Ring of Kerry, a 179 km circular scenic drive around Southwest Ireland. This road takes you to some of the most stunning sceneries, quaint little towns and rugged landscapes. There are plenty of things to do here. You can drive around the ring in one day or go slow and stay for a night or two in one of the picturesque towns along the way.
Galway is a city located on the western part of Ireland and like every other Irish city, has lots of things to offer from shopping to hip places to eat and drink, local pubs and cute Bed and Breakfasts (Ireland is FULL of bed and breakfasts!). I would like to explore this city some more if only we had the time. Photo below was taken after we had a late lunch of rice and a couple of other Asian food as we were seriously having some rice withdrawals from eating Irish food for six days!
If visiting Guinness was my hubby’s reason for coming, this is mine –the Cliffs of Moher. “They’re just cliffs”, says the hotel bartender when we asked him if seeing the Cliffs of Moher was worth it. I think when you are a local you tend to downplay the awesomeness of a tourist attraction. It’s either you’ve been there and not impressed or you’ve never been there at all. I’m not saying don’t trust a local’s opinion because surely they are a plethora of information but when your time is limited, you go with what you really want to do.
Let’s just say after Guinness, the cliffs are Ireland’s number two most popular tourist attraction. Easily an hour and a half drive from Galway, the cliffs are made from shale and limestone and are over 300 million years old. They stretch for 8 km along the Atlantic coast and it’s highest point is 702 ft.
There. My Ireland in a week.
I could say it was a very ambitious itinerary as we basically hit all the major spots in the country from the North to South, East to West. You might want to go slower and explore more off the beaten path places but with the time that we had, we had to do what we had to do.