“You can’t fall if you don’t climb, but there’s no joy in living your life on the ground”
A few months ago, I went on an amazing adventure with two of my best friends.
…And I totally forgot to blog about it.
An idea that seemed a little crazy and a lot expensive became a reality in May when my friend Emily and I boarded a plane to Ireland. Bridget, another lovely childhood friend of mine, was studying in Cork for spring semester. Getting on the plane, I thought “didn’t I just get off one of these things?”. As much as I love traveling, especially in Europe, the international flight hasn’t gotten more enjoyable, but after a few movies and some decent plane food, we were there.
We landed in Dublin and began a jet lagged day of exploring. After checking into our hostel, we explored Trinity College, Dublin Castle, Temple Bar area, and best of all, the Guinness factory. I had never been to a brewery before, or tasted a Guinness. I soon determined that Guinness isn’t for me, but drank it anyway. When we got our free pint of Guinness and realized we didn’t like it, we did realize we liked one thing: the glass. Maybe it was the exhaustion or the beer, but two innocent MN girls decided to keep our “complimentary” Guinness souvenir.
After leaving the factory and finding a moment of WiFi, we noticed a message from Bridget. “If you go to the Guinness Factory, be sure to take your pint glass. Everyone does it”.
We felt a little less rebellious but a little more relieved as we made our escape. Maybe not everyone does it, but hey… they have a lot of them and we paid to get in.
After the Guinness Factory, we went back to the hostel to rest and wash off the plane germs before heading out to our first Irish pub. We found a cute pub right along the Liffey River. I got fish and chips and we tried our first Bulmer’s, an Irish cider. As there is in most Irish pubs, there was a live band playing traditional music with some occasional American hits. I don’t think it was until listening to the traditional music that I realized I was in Ireland.
The next morning, we boarded a bus to meet Bridget in Cork. We arrived in the early afternoon to the beautiful and sunny Cork. After getting off the bus, we began to look for Bridget who was supposed to meet us at the bus stop. We got a little nervous when more than 15 minutes passed, fearing we may have to navigate Cork on our own for 4 full days. Eventually we found WiFi and were able to contact her, only to realize that she was waiting at a different bus stop. Oops.
In a typical BEA fashion, we dramatically ran towards each other and shared in a giddy embrace. A moment five months in the making. We got the grand tour of Bridget’s apartment where we would be staying for the next few days. It was a cute place right in the center of the city. The best part: it wasn’t a hostel. After the tour, Bridget showed us around the city and took us to a food market where we got sausages and ice cream. Yum. We also saw Bridget’ s school, University College Cork. Check out that green grass!!
That night, we went with Bridget and her study abroad friends to one of their favorite bars. It was an awesome hole in the wall place. A band called the Thirsty Scholars played and Bridget and her friends were their biggest fans. I also fell a little bit further in love with Irish music.
The next morning, we ventured to Blarney Castle, just a short bus ride from Cork. It was exciting to get the first little glimpse of the Irish countryside. Blarney is a cute little town with the castle being the obvious attraction. We climbed to the top of the castle and kissed the Blarney stone. In order to kiss it, you have to lay down on your back and lean until you can reach the rock… with your lips. A little grandpa who seemed only mildly engaged loosely held my legs as I leaned back just far enough to reach and not plummet to my death. I survived and hopefully have the “gift of gab”, skills at flattery.
We explored the castle property and gardens, and only got a little lost, almost wandering onto a cow filled farm and making for more of a country adventure than we bargained for. After the castle, we ate lunch at a cute cafe and returned to Cork.
Back in Cork, we decided to watch “PS I Love You”, a romantic movie that takes place partially in Ireland. I had never seen it before and Bridget and Emily assured me it has some pretty Irish sights and would be sure to leave me drowning in tears by the end. Sure enough, it’s really sad, but the accents are beautiful and it was pretty amazing to think “hey, that’s Dublin. I was there yesterday!” I recommend it if you’re considering visiting Ireland or just want a good cry.
Our next day trip from Cork took us to Cobh (pronounced “Cove”), a cute little port town. We mostly wandered the town, toured the cathedral, and admired the water. Sad fact: It was the last port for the Titanic.
Next on the itinerary: Midleton, a small town just a short train ride away from Cork.
I truly believe I experienced the “Luck of the Irish” when we were in the train station waiting to go to Midleton. I walked up to an ATM without anyone in close range to have it shoot out 100 euros. I looked around, a little shocked and confused, to see no one walking back or even paying attention to me or the ATM. I waited a little bit, but then waltzed off with 100 euros. Magic ATM?? Thanks Ireland!
In Midleton, we visited a farmers market before heading to the Jameson Factory. I have never really considered myself a whiskey person, but we had ginger whiskeys and they were great. If you’re in the Jameson Factory, in Ireland, drinking whiskey, how can it not be amazing? I will admit 99% of the facts shared on the tour about making whiskey went way over my head, but I learned that it is a really complicated process. More time sitting in barrels + Ireland = good! That’s about all I’ve got…
The next day, Bridget said a final goodbye to her 5 month home and we headed off to Galway. Galway is on the northwest coast of the country. It’s a beautiful ocean-side city with a very quiant, small town feel. Of the cities we visited, Galway was my favorite.
Our first stop was a boardwalk along the water known as the “Salthill Promenade”. It’s referenced in the song Galway Girl, which we heard frequently on the trip. We spent most of the evening walking and taking in the views before returning to our hostel to make dinner. We frequented the local grocery store and made most of our own meals in Galway. It was a much cheaper alternative to the slightly expensive pubs. Especially compared to Spain, everything in Ireland seemed to be priced a little on the high end. At least the beautiful sights and good food made it worth it most of the time.
When we decided to go to Ireland, Cliffs of Moher was at the top of my list. The rocky cliffs and the blue water made for a must-see in my book. We took a few hour bus ride that wove through the countryside. Even though it was just through a grungy bus window, the first glimpse of the dark blue water was incredible. I hope the mental image never goes away because the photos sure didn’t do it justice.
We were blessed with a sunny day, so we could clearly see the cliffs. Bridget warned us that sometimes it’s so foggy, you can’t even see the cliffs when you’re standing on top of them. It also wasn’t overly crowded and we were able to take our time and hike along the edge. The entire time there was a definite highlight of my life so far. What an amazing moment to be in such a beautiful place with my best friends!
One of the best thinks about the Cliffs of Moher is the risk and lack of restrictions. In the US, I’m sure there would be barriers right out to the edge. In Ireland, you can lean right over at your own risk.
I told Bridget and Emily that when I looked down from the top of the cliff and stared at the water and rocks below, I had a strange feeling like something was pulling me down. Since then, others have reassured me that they feel this way when look down from such high places, but it’s definitely a strange and rare feeling, and one I’ll never understand. I will never jump, I promise!
The next day we embarked on a guided bus tour to the area of Connemara. I had never heard of Connemara before, but Bridget said it would be pretty so we jumped on the bus. After the Cliffs of Moher, I didn’t know if anything could ever compare. Connemara did. We had a comical driver named Frank who took our little group all around the region. We made little stops to take photos and visit small town shops. The area is surrounded by green rolling hills and pretty purple flowers. And sheep. So many sheep.
The highlight of the Connemara tour was a stop at the Kylemore Abbey. It’s now a monastery, but it used to be the private home of a rich British couple. It is in the mountains and on the shores of a small lake. Also on the property is a beautiful and incredibly large walled garden. While at Kylemore, we ate homemade salami sandwiches outside of the mansion. It was probably wasn’t appreciated, but they were delicious, cheap, and well worth the stares.
On our last morning in Galway, we visited a local, old fashion tea shop. Everything was served with real China. After tea time, we boarded a bus back to Dublin. That night, we went out for dinner and made one last trip to an Irish pub. Cheers to the end of a great trip!
Advice for travel in Ireland: Knowing what I know now, I would spend less time in the bigger cities. Dublin, Cork, and Galway are all great, but the true beauty of Ireland is in the countryside. I am so thankful that we took day trips outside of the cities, but I would have loved to stay at a bed and breakfast (or B&B as the Irish say, love that!) and have really immersed myself in a smaller town.
Also, rent a car. They have a really nice train and bus system, but it only gets you so far and takes a lot of time.
If we would have had more time, I would have loved to go to Northern Ireland, Giants Causeway, the Aran Islands, and Dingle. There’s always next time, right?
Thanks for reading! Cheers.