So, with some pictures to help me out, let me give you a little rundown of the past six days....
Wednesday, 7.17 : We all enjoyed a delicious last buffet breakfast at the Holiday Inn before leaving Belfast around noon. From there, dad drove the rental for the entire 4-hour drive from Belfast (N. Ireland) to the village of Bunratty in the county of Clare (the Republic of Ireland). We arrived in a large parking lot, facing the gorgeous pale yellow facade of the Bunratty Castle Hotel, where we stayed that night.
A short walk down the road from the hotel put us face-to-face with the towering Bunratty Castle, which has been standing since the 15th century. We ate dinner that night in the castle...a medieval banquet complete with traditional Irish music, servers in medieval garb, and old Irish fare (only knives and hands could be used for our food, which included soup and ribs among other things). We also had some delicious mead, which dad and I quite enjoyed. :)
Thursday, 7.18 : We began the day quite early, taking a 90-minute drive to Blarney Castle. This was thanks to myself hassling my dad the night before, upon learning we might not have time for the trip on top of an already packed day. Ever the stubborn one, I promised to wake my butt up early so we'd have time to make the trip; I was not about to miss kissing the Blarney Stone in Ireland, ya know? So, of course, we did it. Each of us made the trek around the grounds and up to the top of the castle where you kiss the stone by leaning upside down over an open space between the floor and wall of the castle. Totally, totally worth it.
After the castle, I got some delicious ice cream that was basically pure cream, but geez, it was delicious. The grounds were beautiful, the sun was extra hot as the morning wore on, and that ice cream was perfect. It was a good morning.
Upon leaving Blarney behind us, we headed back the other way, first driving the 90 minutes toward Bunratty and then another 90 past it to reach the Cliffs of Moher. If you've ever seen Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, you've seen these badass cliffs onscreen. They're quite recognizable:
We spent approximately 3.5 hours there, walking around, sweating like crazy, scaring my mother by hiking a trail near the edge of the cliffs, etc. It was a breathtaking view and there was a great breeze coming off the ocean. As the sun sagged lower in the sky, we finally left the cliffs and headed to the nearby county of Doolin to have some dinner. We ate at a pub called O'Connor's...undeniably the most Irish place we'd eaten thus far. I kid you not, it smelled like beer and chips six feet from the doorway. After we were completely stuffed, we drove to Galway, landed at our B&B, and called it a night.
Friday, 7/19 : After an easier, more relaxing morning, we eased into breakfast in the central dining room of the B&B home, where other couples were already eating. The morning was cool, but it quickly heated up outside and we decided to take an open-air bus tour around Galway to start our day.
Let me tell you something...Galway is a beautiful, precious, cozy little place right on the beach. And I loved it. It reminded me of being in Charleston, SC, which is another beautiful beachy town.
After the breezy tour on top of the bus, we walked along Shop Street, a scrunched up little walking street enclosed by pubs, bake shops, storefronts, and street artists trying to make a buck with their neat crafts. A friend of ours from the states actually compared it to Harry Potter's Diagon Alley. I think that's a perfect description.
We enjoyed lunch at a pub called Taaffe's, where I got my official Guinness of the trip, free with our bus ticket. They had great food and we ate outside so we could listen to the street artists play music and people watch all the tourists and locals. We then found a little craft market squished between some rows of stores and perused the shelves of the vendors. I walked away with an adorable giraffe key chain.
We continued to check out the shops, enjoyed some ice cream in the park, and then headed to the little town of Roscommon, about an hour's drive away, to meet up with our neighbor Adrienne from back in the states. She, her parents and two brothers lived in the house behind us all the time they were growing up, and for the past two years, Adrienne (now 25) has been doing mission work with an organization called OM (Operation Mobilisation) Ireland: http://www.ie.om.org/
She took us to dinner and then we all went back to her house for coffee, cookies, and catching up. My parents stayed the night in Lacken House, while I stayed at the apartment with Adrienne and her roommates. I stayed up until probably 2:30am, just reading and taking in the absolute quiet of the countryside.
Saturday, 7/20 : The next morning, Adrienne and I picked up my family and toured her work before dining at a lovely little place called Gleeson's where I had a delicious fruit scone. Following breakfast, we parted ways with Roscommon and headed on for Dublin.
Dublin was such a fun, fun place. That's the only way I can really think to describe it. I felt like I was in a big city back in the states; that's how comfortable I was there. The first thing we did was settle in at our hotel, Trinity Lodge, which was right in the heart of the city and has also put up Martin Sheen, according to a framed picture of him and the manager in the lobby. After setting down our bags, we took the night easy, taking another open-air bus tour and spying on the city from up above, a city that was just waking up as the sun was setting.
One thing I learned quickly was how wild Dublin is at night. A big drinking town (well, country, for that matter), Dublin is full of drunk men and women nursing drinks in one hand and snuggling each other's bums with the other. We ate at a pub called the Auld Dubliner for dinner; we ate upstairs, but downstairs at the bar we could hear the laughter of drunk 20-somethings and a cover band playing American tunes. We also met two IU alum upstairs who chatted us up and who I'm pretty sure were slightly drunk, but it was a good time. The people you'll meet halfway around the world from your own backyard.
I should also mention that before mass, we had the most amazing pancakes at a place called Fixx Coffeehouse. Simultaneously thin and fluffy, drizzled in strawberries, blueberries, and berry sauce, they were simply divine. Top that with coffee, and it was the best breakfast Dublin could've offered.
We spent a good part of the afternoon shopping in places that looked interesting and visiting little shops suggested to us by Adrienne. One of those suggestions was Avoca, which is a European hybrid of Anthropologie and every cute vintage store you've ever been in. Oh and also they have a cafe, a bakery, and a children's section. They had everything. And I absolutely fell in love. *sigh*
Between shopping, we spent some time touring the campus of Trinity College--started in the 4th century by Queen Elizabeth I--where we saw the Book of Kells (a thousand-year old text written by monks). It was so neat to see the pages still intact...barely, mind you, but still intact and legible. We also saw a library upstairs in the same building with hundreds of thousands of old books from the 16-18th centuries, books currently being restored by the college. For someone who is in love with books, let me just say it was sooooo incredible.
We finished the day by getting dinner at a famous restaurant called Bewley's, which has hosted the likes of James Joyce and Bono, among others. From there, it was a short drive across town to our hotel by the airport....we had to be prepared for our 6am wake-up call and early flight. Our destination this morning? Scotland.