Exploring the Emerald Isle
This wasn't my first trip to Ireland; it was actually the fourth time I visited. However, all of the other trips had been very short and mostly centered around Dublin. The goal of this trip was to decide which city in Ireland I would most want to call home.
Due to my knack for flying on the cheapest and also least comfortable flights, I had two overnight flights in a row. This time, it included a regular Sunday work day, followed by a drive up to the Denver airport. My flight then arrived in Boston at 5 AM. Since I had until 5 PM before I left for Dublin, I wandered around the Harvard and MIT area. The most exciting part of Boston was meeting a blog reader! I was eating lunch at a vegetarian restaurant recommended by a friend and mentioned my twelve hour layover to the waiter. As I was leaving, he asked if I would like to store my bags in their office. I said yes and thanked him and he said, "I too have been a stranger in a strange land." I paused, mentioned that I had a blog by that name, and he replied that he thought so and was a regular reader! I had never been recognized from my blog before!
Then, it was another overnight flight to arrive in Dublin at 4 AM. I went to meet a friend for coffee and was greeted by this sign, "Insomnia, Love Being Awake!" All of the coffee shops were still closed, it was that early in the morning! We were literally the first customers to a nearby coffee shop when it (finally) opened at 7:30 AM. I'm not sure if I was making any sense at that point, but with her help, I managed to get to Heuston Station and on the train to Waterford.
When I arrived in Waterford, I told myself not to fall asleep until 8 PM at the earliest. So, I checked into my hostel at 2 PM and promptly fell asleep. I woke up around 5 PM, wandered around the city, discovered that all the museums I wanted to see were closing, changed the following day's bus ticket for a few hours later, and went back to the hostel. Without even getting ready for bed, I feel asleep around 7:30 PM and woke up feeling fully caught up on sleep and ready to explore. Then, I checked the time. 2:30 AM. So, I went into the kitchen, met a Frenchman, and talked about American and French politics until 6 AM. At that point, I returned to the hostel room, woke up at 9:30 AM and was finally ready to go explore the city.
At the recommendation of the Frenchman in the kitchen, I took a short bus ride to Tramore and started off my morning with coffee and a beach side view. Then, it was back to Waterford. Waterford is Ireland's oldest city and was founded by Vikings. Some sites, like Reginald's Tower, are over a thousand years old. I just so happened to be in Waterford on a day when entry to the tower was free of charge so I climbed up the winding spiral staircase and saw lots of Viking artifacts.
As someone obsessed with Medieval Literature, I also visited the Medieval Museum, which is a must-see for anyone interested in the Medieval world.
Waterford is also home to the famous Waterford Crystal, but I didn't take much time to look at that because it was time to catch the bus to Cork! I stayed with a friend in Cork and met all of her friends so I felt already like a local. The city was very welcoming with a similar vibe to Dublin but slightly less hectic. I also asked all of her friends for their vote for the best coffee shop in the city, since I knew I'd be up almost all night talking. They voted for Warren Allen coffee and that was where I began the next day.
I actually didn't realise how close Blarney and Cork were until recently, so I then went to visit the Blarney Castle. Unfortunately, after clearing the massive queue to get inside the castle grounds, there was another two hour queue just to get inside the castle. I like to think I already have the "gift of gab" and am too germophobic to actually kiss the Blarney Stone (I don't need any more diseases!) so I just wandered around the gardens and castle grounds.
The next stop of the trip was Killarney. There were A LOT of American flags in Killarney. When I first arrived in Ireland, it was July 4. When people heard me speak, they would ask, "Are you American?" and when I replied yes, they followed up with, "Oh, it's a big holiday in your country today! Happy Fourth of July!" It was adorable, and I suspect some of the country's interest in the Fourth of July comes from their own independence from England.
Killarney took the Fourth of July celebrations to a new level. A local told me that they have a parade every year featuring former American presidents (Abraham Lincoln is always a popular one) and people dressed up as cowboys. Okay, then.
The next day was a day tour of the Dingle Peninsula. I had considered renting a car, but due to my age and inability to drive a manual transmission, it was going to be too expensive. Once our bus was actually on Slea Head drive, I was really glad I wasn't the one driving! The road was narrow and overlooking treacherous cliffs. The tour stopped in the seaside town of Dingle, Tralee, and everything in between, including a stop to see baby lambs.
I met some lovely solo female travellers on that day trip and we enjoyed dinner and some live Irish music once we'd returned to Killarney. The next morning, I went to the train station and given my regular challenges with technology, the ticket machine printed a ticket that read "Mallow to Mallow" rather than "Killarney to Mallow and Mallow to Dublin." The train station worker was so amused by this he asked if he could borrow my ticket, take a photo, and show all his co-workers. Then, he said it was fine, since they added a special train from Killarney to Dublin, without a stop in Mallow due to Coldplay. Yes, they were running special trains just for the Coldplay concert. One of my main goals this year was to somehow see Coldplay in concert since they're the only band I've listened to ever since I discovered there was music beyond "radio music" a decade ago and they've hinted that this might be their last year touring. When I found out they'd be in Ireland at the same time as me, plus that I had friends in Dublin on the same days, I added in a couple of days in Dublin to my itinerary.
I've done a lot of things alone while travelling, but this was the first time I went to a concert alone, nicely wedged between two Irish couples. I had the worst seat in the house due to an extreme side view of the stage, but it was the best 60 euros for a bad seat that I could have possibly spent!
Once we entered the stadium, we were given a wristband that lit up in time to the music. It automatically changed colour and sometimes there were several different colours. It was so cool, but I have no idea how they work! I think this might have been the best concert I've ever been to (although Bastille in Vancouver and George Ezra in DC come close...see the recurring theme of British musicians?)
I heard there were over 100,000 people at this concert and I believe it!
In addition to the wristbands, the show featured fireworks, all sorts of special effects, and Chris Martin running all around the stage with an Irish flag.
The rest of my time in Dublin was spent meeting up with friends, visiting bookstores, and seeing the Book of Kells again. They change which pages are open frequently so I saw two different pages.
I took an evening train to Galway (and spent most of the trip listening to Ed Sheeran's "Galway Girl" on repeat.) I had previously visited Galway in November but only long enough to visit a Christmas market. The town is small, but charming.
The city has a free museum about its history and a well-know university and cathedral. I learned that this is where the traditional claddagh Irish ring is produced. It is often used as an engagement ring and sometimes is passed down throughout generations. I know you're all wondering if I've found an Irish fiance yet and no, I have not, however at least I know where the engagement rings are located!
So which city in Ireland was my favourite? It's a tough call. Cork felt very welcoming, but I loved the charm of Killarney. I also loved Galway, but it might feel too small for long-term. Then, there is always the thriving city of Dublin. Or, if I was feeling brave, there is the gaelic-speaking region of Dingle. Then, there is still the whole northern region of Ireland left to explore. Ireland is definitely one of those countries I could spent ages exploring and still have so much left to see!
When my sister came to visit me in Iceland at the end of November, it was her first trip to Europe! I know! The concept is so foreign to me. Anyway, we had long dreamt of exploring Ireland together. I only had two days off of work that we could make the trip, but we booked our flights from Reykjavik to Dublin and went for it!
We left on an early Friday morning and spent the day exploring Dublin. I had visited Dublin twice before, so I showed my sister around. There was one major different from my earlier (St. Patrick's Day 2015 and August 2016) trips - the Christmas lights everywhere!
We also made a stop at St. Stephen's Green and the shopping centre (where I had actually never been before!) in order for my sister to stock up on gifts that said "Ireland" on them.
On our second day in Ireland, we took a day tour with RailTours Ireland. At this point in my travelling, I don't usually opt for group tours, instead preferring to adventure on my own. Due to the lack of time and our desire to see more of Ireland, we decided on this tour. And we saw so much of Ireland in one day! We met at 6:40 AM, hopped on a train, and went as far as Limerick. Our first stop was Bunratty Castle.
The castle tour was nice, but I was most excited about the Inis perfume in the gift shop! I've used this for years, not originally even knowing it was Irish. It is hard to find, even in Ireland. Carissa, however, was more excited to meet this pigmy goat!
We stopped in the small town of Doolin for lunch and then saw the Cliffs of Moher! I had dreamt of these cliffs for as long as I could remember! If was misty and rainy, but that only enhanced their appeal. We then started the trek by coach to Galway.
The last stop was Galway, which was all lit up for Christmas and also had a Christmas market of its own. I loved the town and wanted more time to explore, but after a couple of hours, we went on a train back to Dublin.
As always, it went by too fast and we wanted to stay in Ireland. I might be back sooner rather than later though! I'll keep you guessing for now, but my next post will about my trip to London and Manchester the week before Christmas.
Hi, I’m Crystal! I love to travel and am currently a graduate student in Scotland. You’ll get all the best tips and insights from my experiences as a former ice-skating coach in Iceland and former study abroad student. Of the 27 countries I have visited, a type 1 diabetes diagnosis has been the strangest land yet. Type 1 has not slowed down my travels and you'll learn how to take type 1 with you on the road! You can connect with me further on Instagram @CrystalChilcott, or send me ideas of where I should travel next via email: firstname.lastname@example.orgHappy Travels, Crystal
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