I have been delaying this blog for a few months now. Probably due to the fact that I am struggling to come to terms with the fact that this could be the last post for this blog in Europe. It was an amazing ride though, and we visited more places than we could ever have imagined we would when we first moved to Europe almost four years ago. This trip ended up going out with a bang – but more on that later. Our final trip was to the beautiful West Coast of Ireland for Thanksgiving weekend in late November. I’d been drawn to visiting after finding out just how much of our family were from Ireland originally. We didn’t get to make it to any home towns, but got pretty close!
We flew to Dublin first as it was closer to our first destination. Flights were about $50 each. Ryanair fares are not booked on a return basis, so one way flights are no more expensive than return journeys – that is something that in my experience is really abnormal in air travel. We like to take advantage of that when we can. We arrived after an eventful flight where Nick saw a vapour trail that shouldn’t exist. I, of course, started freaking out, even though the flight is a short two hours mostly over land. Nick informed the crew, who passed it on to the captain. I’m not sure my feelings on this, but when we landed, oil was spilling out of the engine. I checked flightradar later that night and the plane continued flying for the next week after, non-stop and turned around immediately on landing and headed to Latvia. Oh well!
Our car rental was through Avis. We got a kind of shitty car, considering it wasn’t the cheapest option, but we also chose to upgrade to the highest level of insurance since I had heard that the roads were narrow and a little treacherous where we were heading to. We set out for the short drive to Galway and arrived just in time for peak traffic. We ended up completely stuck in traffic after the GPS lead us in the wrong direction (we should have got rid of it after our Croatian experience!). Our hotel ended up being in the other direction, out of the traffic, but we eventually made it after a couple of hours in the car.
We stayed at the Nox Hotel, which was a little out of the city but I had read taxis were cheap and easy to get. The hotel was beautiful and half empty – a bargain at $80 for the night, including breakfast. The hotel called us a taxi and a jolly Irishman picked us up. It cost around 7 euros to get into town and he dropped us off right outside of the Christmas market that had just opened up for the year. I wasn’t sure if he was drunk, but it made for a highly chatty taxi ride. Our first impressions of the West Coast were awesome.
The Christmas market was buzzing and full of local wares. We ended up buying some fudge from the Aran Islands, that we never ended up eating because it was so sweet. The man at the stand was just so cute! Again – the friendliness was off the charts. It felt like I was home. We ended up walking through the streets afterwards to try and find dinner. As usual, nothing sounded appealing as we were both beyond hungry, so we ended up going to a pub and sat down for a couple of beverages. Of course, the pub didn’t have food. It was a couple of hours later and our stomachs ended up calling us to Papa John’s pizza where we joined all of the locals for their after-drinking pizza binge. It was quite a laugh and a good time. The pizza was excellent – not sure if that was due to our condition of if it truly was good. A little of both, perhaps. We soon caught a cab back to the hotel and were feeling youthful at staying out to ALMOST MIDNIGHT. Haha!
It was a chilly jack frost when we set off from Galway to the Connemaras. Breakfast was absolutely amazing at the Nox – a mixture of continental and made to order options. We had to leave as we had a horse trek scheduled for a certain time, despite the icy conditions. The drive took around two hours through some beautiful scenery. We regret not stopping for photos. The day started with brilliant blue skies and no wind, so the lakes looked like mirrors as we passed by them.
Our horse trek was at Ballyconneely, a sleepy little vacation village facing towards the Atlantic Ocean. One of my bucket list items had been to ride a Connemara pony in the Connemara region of Ireland. I’m so glad that it was on there, as this was hands down, one of the best experiences of my life. We arrived at The Point Pony Trekking Centre and met the owner who was our guide. Nick and I ended up having our own personal trek. I was introduced to my beautiful Connemara pony, called Sam. Nick was put on a bigger hunter type.
We were so lucky with the weather. It was November and the sun was shining down on us as we rode along the beautiful white sandy beaches. I had no idea Ireland had beaches of this kind – what a hidden gem! We roamed all over the little village and beaches. We even got to canter on the beach – poor Nick wasn’t expecting it and almost rolled off. I was impressed though, it was his first time cantering on a horse and he did awesome. I felt like we had the luck of the Irish that day and it was some of the best hours of my life.
As we rolled back into the stables, we asked for suggestions on where to eat lunch. Given we were by the sea, it would make sense to try out some local seafood. He suggested we head around to one of the fishing villages, about 20 minutes from Ballyconneely, called Roundstone. The pub was called O’Dowds Seafood Bar & Restaurant. We ate on the restaurant side, which had a cosy little fireplace and tables that were close together to keep the warmth in. The view was out over the harbour and it was clear everything was fresh out of the sea. We had some delicious coconut steamed mussels to share, Nick had seafood chowder and I had some vegetable soup. It warmed our bellies and was the perfect lunch after the ride around the beaches.
It was a short 20 minute drive again back to our accommodation for the night. We were staying at the Clifden Station House for a steep $65! Honestly – travelling off season is incredible sometimes, especially when the weather cooperates. The room was absolutely huge and breakfast was included. We headed out to check out the small town of Clifden, with all of its Connemara charm. Nick stopped for a coffee and the coffee house was filled to the brim with locals getting excited about their Christmas tree lighting later that night – which we ended up missing but we at least got caught up in the buzz.
A familiar looking supermarket chain was nestled amongst the shops in Clifden – SuperValu! We ended up buying a few delicious treats for later that night – all kinds of slices, chocolates, lollies. And of course, we packed some for the road trip that was happening the next day.
By the time we got back to the hotel, it was freezing. The only answer to that was that we would have to head to the pub that was part of the hotel we were staying at. Across the road was a pub/restaurant that was the converted railway house for the town. It was quaint and full of some great history. My dinner was absolutely delicious – a beautiful local lamb shank. It didn’t take long before we ended up rolling back to the hotel for a glorious sleep after a long day!
We made our way back down through Galway (with a stop at the local supermarket to stock up on some goodies) and down to Doolin. It was an interesting drive with narrow streets, but since we weren’t driving peak season it wasn’t so stressful. Nick loved navigating his way through the narrow streets with pillars of stone walls on each side with little room for error. I’m so glad he enjoys driving!
After making our way to Doolin we tried checking in to our Air B&B. I guess we got there a little early, it was owned by a young couple with two toddlers and they weren’t there yet. By the time we were checked in, almost the whole place was full up and there was no vacancy! There were few options for accommodation in the village so we almost resorted to staying in Limerick. I’m glad we stayed in Doolin.
Our hosts told us that there wouldn’t be any point heading to the pub before 8pm or so as the music doesn’t start until 10pm. We watched some TV, had a nap, and then headed out for dinner. It was pitch black by the time we left and there wasn’t any street lighting from the farm we were staying at down to the pub. We were given a flashlight and told to use it – or we’d end up with a sprained ankle. The stars shone and gave us a little guidance and the flashlight made up for the potholes.
When we got to the pub, it was almost full up. Tourists packed it from beam to beam and we were able to catch the tail-end of the Wallabies play Ireland. Dinner was delicious, they did a fabulous fish’n’chips that rivalled home! Nick got into the whiskeys and we sat around waiting for the live music while enjoying the atmosphere. As it turns out, 10pm is a very soft guideline and the band ran on Irish time (it seemed to depend on how many drinks they’d had). I think they started playing around 11. By then we had been surrounded by a group of local folks who were very chatty and friendly. They shared that at the time of year that we were there, many of the local accommodations close down and head away on their own holidays – hence the few accommodation options available. I suspect that it gives the town a very different feel by limiting the amount of tourists able to be in town also.
As time went on, they got more and more friendly and mentioned that they are needing more young folk to move into the town and would we be keen! I thought it was quite hilarious. They asked if we had kids and of course, we said no, and one of the ladies pointed to the front door of the pub and said “well ye walked through the gates of fertility when ye walked into this pub”. Quite hilarious in hindsight.
In the bathroom of the pub was a missing poster, something I didn’t expect in that kind of town. I had to ask the locals about it. As it turned out, the girl’s ex-boyfriend was in the pub and so was half of the search and rescue crew! We were able to find out all of the gossip. I find the Irish remind me very much of New Zealanders – open and willing to let anyone in. I guess that is explained by the ancestry of many of our people!
Just after midnight it was time to roll out of the pub and head back on our outdoor adventure home. In the end, the stars were out in full force and guided us home just as well as the flashlight did. We slept very well after the whiskey and cider!
The Cliffs of Moher
The reason we were actually in Doolin was to go to the Cliffs of Moher. When we visited Dublin a couple of years earlier, we didn’t manage to make it across the country to them so we decided to come back and make a trip out of the West Coast. As we arrived a little later than expected the day earlier, we decided to hold off and go the next morning on the way to Killarney. I’m so glad we did that as we missed the busses of tourists from Dublin doing day trips and got the place virtually to ourselves.
I would allow 1 ½ hours here if you are visiting during the cooler months. It was bitterly cold with the wind whipping off the Atlantic Ocean. There are guided pathways and also areas that are technically outside of the area where you “should be” but many people took caution to the wind and decided posing for photos was more important. Also, note that the guided pathways are surprisingly slippery and we saw a couple of falls and I would have been one of them had I not been holding Nick’s hand. They Cliffs are beautiful, unblemished and the visitor’s centre is actually pretty nice with some food and gift options.
As we left, there were two very inquisitive gorgeous ponies along the fence-line. We stopped and talked to them for a little bit and they neighed back and had a wee chat with us. I wish I could have taken one home! They were posing for the photographs we took of them. I’m sure they are some of the most photographed ponies in the world!
Last stop – Killarney! We were flying out of Kerry Airport the next afternoon so we decided to end our trip in the closest town nearby.
Killarney was an interesting little cobblestoned town. Granted, we were visiting in the winter and it was the quiet season, but it seemed a little depressed. We stayed in a pub hotel – it was quaint and cute and exactly what I’d imagine staying in in such a town. We found a little locally owned café to eat lunch at and I am pretty sure we were the only tourists wandering around the town that day. I felt like, along with Galway, we were experiencing the true heart of Ireland.
While we had great intentions to go downstairs that night to the pub we were staying above, I was feeling pretty awful so we decided just to stay in and grab some takeaways, so I can’t comment on the pub but we didn’t hear it at all that night so I think they had done some pretty great noise renovations. That, and it was a Monday night!
The next morning we went downstairs for breakfast. It was the cutest little room – there were two local older ladies who made our breakfast to order and we got to sit by the fire while we discussed our trip and what we were going to do that day. It was a little drizzly but the best part of Killarney is the National Park – so off we went!
The Killarney National Park was beautiful. I felt like every corner we turned had a lot of history, and a lot of mystery. If leprechauns are a real thing, then they’re in that forest. There’s no real way of explaining certain feelings sometimes, but I felt like there was magic all around us. We wandered down a path and came across a beautiful waterfall and then wandered down another path and ended up at the beautiful lake. Nick skipped some rocks across the lake and we reflected on what a great ‘last’ trip we were on.
Our flight back that afternoon was uneventful from the tiny Kerry Airport. Nick kept asking me why my face was bright red the whole time. I couldn’t explain it. We got a beautiful clear night to fly back over Continental Europe and see the lights of the cities below.
The next day, little did Nick know, I gave in and took a test and sure enough – I was pregnant! I told him an entire day later that my flushed face was a very early sign I was pregnant. Perhaps that was part of the magic all around us in the forest, I’ll never know, but Ireland will always hold a special place in our heart as the place we began suspecting that our lives were about to change forever.
And that, my friends, was our last trip outside of Germany! I don’t think it could have ended on any better note!