Irish Charm

You didn’t think I was going to go straight to Austin did you? If you know me by now, you know that I’m a maximizer and if have the chance to squeeze multiple trips into the span of one, it’s called efficiency. (Also my brother was supposed to go to Ireland with my parents but last minute got married- WHOO-  so then my parents “didn’t know” who would take his place…WHOEVER WILL THEY TAKE? their one daughter says sarcastically while simultaneously researching best restaurant in Dublin).

I have been to Ireland once before in a vastly different context—cheap college students that took the country by public transit—and it was a magical trip. This time was with my two-generations-older-than-me parents and a car to get around the country. Both scenarios involved lots of beer, dairy, and good times.

Seattle has a direct flight to Dublin through AerLingus that takes about 9-10 hours and you can even fly overnight which makes the trip go by so much faster. Ireland by car is the best mode of transportation as Ireland is fairly small — the width of the country being similar to the width of Washington— so I definitely recommend renting a car if you can (just remember they drive on the other side of the road!). There are times we plan and times we don’t, and this was one of those “buy a ticket and nothing else trips”. Call me old school, but I still love turning to my favorite hardcopy travel guides such as Lonely Planet rather than searching for everything on the internet. This trip we took to a DK Ireland book and  sketched out a route clockwise driven by some of the main points and places we wanted to hit (and which photos looked the coolest in the travel guide).

Day 1:

About 12 miles south of Dublin is a coastal town called Bray, a seaside resort destination for Dubliners and planned as “Ireland’s Brighton” early on. Ravenous after our flight, we had a delicious late lunch at Platform Pizza Bar, which I know isn’t technically Irish food but I had the best Moroccan salad of my life that I am inspired to make at home and I’ll call it Irish, and walked down the Bray Promenade to breathe in the fresh ocean air and overlook the calming character of Bray.

The first pretty picture I found in our travel guide was in Glendalough and once I see a pretty photo, I can’t get it out of my mind so Glendalough was our first mark on the map. The name “Glendalough” means “the glen of two lakes” in Irish and is part of the Wicklow National Park, around 50,000 acres of beautiful mountains, rolling hills, and a nature reserve, though most of it is conserved from the public. There are few trails within the park, the eastern end starting at the Vistor Centre and Monastic City and the western end where the Upper Lake parking is located.

Seeing as the centrally located Glendalough Hotel was booked, we stayed at the Lynhams Hotel which fit the bill and was cost-friendly.  My jetlag hit hard that first evening so I retreated to bed early from our first Irish pub but as my parents like to remind me, this was one of their favorite nights dancing and drinking the night away in a dinky bar filled with Irish locals. I’ll never regret sleeping, except maybe this one time.

Day 2:

There are two lakes, the Lower Lake and Upper Lake, in Glendalough, the Lower Lake creating a loop for a pleasant stroll while the Upper Lake cannot be walked completely around, but is the perfect place for a small picnic or day out in nature with friends.

 

Onward to Kilkenny, a medieval town with deep roots and history that give way to architectural magnificence. Fun fact: Did you know that the first witch ever recorded was from Kilkenny? Not to scare you away from this small yet soulful town. We didn’t spend much time here, but we did spend enough time to grab a beer at Pegasus nightclub and Langton, where we learned that the national sport of Ireland is hurling and settled the national debate between which cider is better: Orchard Thieves or Bulmers (DEFINITELY Orchard Thieves). Had we stayed longer we would have checked out the Kilkenny Castle and beautiful gardens and cathedrals around the city. We ended the day’s driving in Waterford where we stayed at the charming Arlington Suites a few minutes outside of town and had an early dinner at McLeary’s before calling it a night.

Day 3:

You don’t go to Waterford without going to the House of Waterford Crystal, where you can take a factory tour involving every stage of the timeless glass-making process; from blowing the glass to washing it to stenciling, marking, cutting, engraving and so on, you’ll see masterpieces like national trophies, dazzling vases, and intricate figurines come out at only the highest quality and brilliance that Waterford is known for.

Sticking to the scenic route, we took the Copper Coast Drive that spans some 15 miles between Tramore and Dungarvan in County Waterford. It is named for the 19th century copper mines that lie at its core and is known for its rugged and scalloped clifftops, small coves, and panoramic seascapes. You might’ve heard of the Wild Atlantic Way coastal which is Ireland’s longest and breathtaking drive—in essence the Irish version of Big Sur—but the Copper Coast Drive is like the Wild Atlantic Way’s lesser known but equally beautiful cousin.

For all my whiskey lovers out there, we weren’t leaving Ireland without touring and tasting the classic Jameson which we got to do at one of two Jameson Distillerys in Ireland. The County Cork Distillery is where all the Jameson in the world is produced, and the best way to learn about the history and whole whiskey-making process is taking one of their tours. Hint: there is free whiskey involved.

Apart from the memorable potato pizza at the Franciscan Well Brewery my last time in Cork, this time we opted for dinner at Market Lane which ended up being one of my favorite meals, rightly so as I apparently still had it bookmarked from my last trip about 4.5 years ago. Market Lane takes a modern twist on European and Irish cuisine; they use local artisan producers that are highlighted in dishes like pan-fried seabass with a caper and tarragon salad and turmeric cauliflower puree or a salted caramel creme brûlée. Whatever you order, it will be delicious, but order the creme brûlée.

Day 4:

For breakfast, we hit the English Market which has been Cork’s most famous indoor market since 1788 and one of my favorite places to peruse the local goods and produce. One stop you won’t want to miss south of Cork is Kinsale, a historic port and fishing town sprinkled with rainbow-colored buildings and landmark taverns . It reminds me a bit of Dingle, though with its own unique characteristics. It’s smaller towns like these that you really get the feel for day-to-day Irish life and discover a bit of your own Irish charm.

I knew my dad wanted to do a cheese tasting and since it’s not my first rodeo (or cheese tasting), I knew the best way is at the source of origin- a dairy farm. Google “cheese farm” or  just “cheese”, and it’s not that hard to find dairy in some form, though I typically look at the reviews to make sure its a factory and not just a shop or a gift store. Off-roading and exploring, especially when it comes to food, is nothing new to us so we eventually ended up at a trailer in the middle of nowhere where we found Victor, the owner of Bluebell Falls Goats Cheese, who ended up giving us the creamiest, freshest goat cheese and told us about his artisan cheese. Being part of Good Food Ireland organization, he mentioned that if we are in the area, one of the best restaurants in Ireland was MacNean House by Irish celebrity chef Neven MacGuire. Taking our chances, we jumped on their website and lone behold, fate had it that we snagged one last reservation at a restaurant whose waiting list is up to two years in two days!

 

You know the saying “the world’s small”? Well, it is and it just so happens one of my previous colleague’s family owns a restaurant in Galway (really in Oranmore about a 10 minute drive outside of Galway) called Glynn’s Bar that is full of family history and loads of fun on a Friday night. Part of traveling without a plan includes not being able to go to some of our first choices, thus after wandering a bit we landed at Cava Bodega for dinner and it did not disappoint. You can never go wrong with Spanish tapas (truly NEVER).  The standout tapas of the night was the Catalan spinach of all things, which made me want to marry Popeye just so I can eat endless spinach Catalan style. Other amazing dishes included monkfish with serrano ham, baby fennel, piquillo sauce and pistachio, and their baby squid I’ll never forget.

Day 5:

We stayed at the newly renovated Hotel Victoria and woke up to have one of my favorite breakfasts at Ard Bia at Nimmos. Set on the River Corrib, Ard Bia is a quaint and quirky cafe focused on slow but good food, perfect for a romantic dinner or small brunch with your friends.

Due to the dinner reservations in the middle of the country and mom and myself wanting to see Belfast, we rerouted our trip to Northern Ireland for the next 48 hours. Note, Northern Ireland uses different currency so be prepared, or have handy-dandy mom like I do who already has the correct currency and you’re good to go!

We were only in Belfast a short time so we did a bit of shopping at Victoria Square and ended the night with another incredible dinner at The Ginger Bistro , an airy bistro with incredible service and food (Don’t miss out on the scallops and the garlic and parmesan potatoes). I would have loved to stay longer and explore the city and it’s nightlife more, unfortunately we had other places to be and see so our time in Belfast was very fast! Please someone save me from my own puns…

Day 5:

If you are scared of heights, you probably should skip this part (sorry mom). If you like to live life on the edge (of a cliff) read on!

Near Ballintoy in the north of Northern Ireland is the nerve-wracking Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. Swaying about 100 ft. above sea level, the bridge was originally created by salmon fishermen 350 years ago but has now turned into an exciting tourist attraction. For those brave enough, when you make it across the bridge you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of the Causeway Coast and even Scotland’s Rathlin Island. There is a small entry fee and varying opening and closing times so be sure to check the schedule before you get all the way out there.

After you make it back alive, drive about 20 minutes down the road to Giant’s Causeway. It is Northern Ireland’s most popular attraction so expect many tourists, but it is still worth the trip to walk upon the near 40,000 hexagonal basalt columns laid out as a black carpet for you to jump from puzzle piece to puzzle piece. Legend has it that Irish giant Finn McCool was having issues with the Scottish giant Benandonner who was threatening Ireland, so Finn in his rage picks up a piece of the Antrim coast, throws it into the water and the rock forms a path for Finn to follow to reach Benandonner. The more scientific (and boring) story has something to do with volcanic crashing, burning, and lava solidifying into interlocked basalt columns, but the giant story is way better.

I bet the giant was thirsty in his rage so it makes sense that Old Bushmill’s Distillery is plopped right on the other side of Giant’s Causeway. We skipped the tour this time and went straight for the gift shop, but if you have the time, take in the historical landmark and whiskey as Old Bushmill’s is the oldest licensed distillery in the world. We had a late lunch at the cutest coffee shop Lost and Found in Coleraine that focuses on simple, yet high quality coffee and food including friendly baristas to round it out. Heading in a southwest direction from Coleraine, we found ourselves on a leisurely drive through the Central Sperrins Scenic Route (there are four routes– North, South, East and Central), and is a highly recommended way to take enjoy the natural beauty of Northern Ireland.

We stayed at the absolutely adorable Abocurragh Farmhouse Bed and Breakfast where Bernie and her sweet pup take you in as part of their own family amidst rolling hills and a delightful homemade breakfast. If you are in this area, I would definitely stay here and if you aren’t, you should stay here anyways.

Day 6:

I forgot how much I love Dublin and to be quite honest, apart from my heart being in Italy, I could definitely live in Dublin. The friendliness of the Irish, the down-to-earth city vibes, the feeling of being safe, welcome and everyone’s always in the mood to have a drink and a good time makes it a great city all around. Dublin is fantastic for many reasons, ours being that it’s where Mom finally got her Irish coffee in Ireland, Dad got to drink at the iconic Temple Bar, and I got to get lost exploring Grafton Street. Major tourist attractions like walking through the library at Trinity College, touring the Guinness Factory, and people watching at St. Stephen’s Greens were all things I passed this time around having done them before, but left my parents to explore on their own as I left a day before them. Some new finds I enjoyed were shopping at stores like the Powerscourt Center and Industry & Co., breakfast at Brother Hubbard, and watching the 2019 Rugby World Cup on Europe’s largest tv screen at The Camden: a multipurpose venue with a bar/cinema/hotel/speakeasy/brewery/EVERYTHING. We split our time evenly between this extravagant space and The Camden Hotel by Key Collection next door.

From crossing cliffs over the North Atlantic to yelling at my dad to stay on the left side of the road when he continually swerved right, I’m a big fan of the Roth clan, especially in Ireland. Ireland is a great place to travel with friends and family, such as my own,  just don’t forget to take a family photo like we did! Summing up the trip with Ed Sheeran’s Galway Girl , it just so happens the next song on the album was ‘Barcelona’…

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