Sunday, June 11, 2017

Ireland and Scotland Trip 2017

Long post ahead, but for those of you who want all the details of our trip!

Matt turned 40 and our 13th wedding anniversary was last week.  We celebrated with a huge 2 week long vacation to Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Scotland with no kids!  I've had so many questions about it that I decided I will share all the details here.

We've never used travel agencies before.  We do, however, use private tour guides for our big trips out of the country.  For us, it is worth every single penny.  We don't lose time getting lost, figuring out how to drive on the wrong side of the road with different driving laws, directions, still getting lost despite using international GPS, getting lost in the accents/speech/language, or not getting to do something because they won't allow coach/large groups access to certain roads.  No long lines anywhere.  Plus we don't lose time waiting on the precious 90 year olds who are in wheelchairs... determined to make it up steep stairs of a medieval castle that aren't wheelchair accessible.  :)

So we researched the many tour groups, compared pricing, compared details, and decided on Ireland and Scotland Luxury Tour Group with Maurice Dowle.  Austen was our actual tour guide and driver.

We flew to Dublin.  Stayed at the Trinity City Hotel for 2 nights and toured Guiness Storehouse, Jameson Distillery, Dublin Castle, St. Patrick's Cathedral, Christ Church Cathedral, and Trinity College and Library (Book of Kells).  We ate at the Brazen Head, Arthur's Pub, O'Neill's, and a few other good ones!  I wish we had time to tour the Cemetery and Prison but we had to prioritize,  Trying not to kill ourselves and enjoy the leisure time as well.   We didn't use a guide for Dublin, and managed to walk to most places.  Got lost a few times.  Tried my first real Irish Stew = delicious!  Drank so many craft beers I had to take pics to remember them all.  Had my first official tea and scone.  Learned that the people there don't really eat lunch the way we do.  They eat a huge breakfast, have a snack and a drink around 3:00pm, and then eat a bigger dinner.  The sun rises a little before 5:00am and doesn't set until almost 11:00 pm.  Their days don't get started until 9 or 10am.  Most places don't open till 10am and then close.  Then reopen around 6pm for dinner.  We had a hard time finding lunches, so I was extremely glad I packed protein snack bars and meal replacement shakes for the car.  By the way, their "scone" is a fancy word for a b.i.s.c.u.i.t.  Except they put a ton of butter, cream/or clotted cream, and jam/jelly on it.  No matter which way you spin it... it was still a big biscuit for this southern girl.  I wanted the "real deal"  so went with the plain, but apparently you can get them cream filled or with fruit and raisins.  They also put milk in their HOT tea.  No such thing as cold tea or sweet tea.  It was all good though!  No complaints at all!

On Day 3, we met our driver/guide, Austen!  We felt very comfortable with him and he's hilarious!  Easy to understand and told us alot of the history everywhere we went!  He drove us through Kilkenny and then to the Rock of Cashel.  You can Google the details of these places, but its a medieval church.  This was our first day of "light rain".  The meteorologists aren't lying when they tell you to be prepared for all 4 seasons in 1 day there.  Yes, we experienced all 4 seasons and then some every single day.  So even though I felt ridiculous wearing my rain boots with certain outfits, it never failed I was thankful for them later in the day.

Sheen Falls Lodge was absolutely our favorite place to stay.  It is amazing.  I loved the small area of Kenmare and then we toured the Ring of Beara (which is basically a very long and winding road that makes a circle around the peninsula).  Perhaps if we had another day, we could have toured the Dingle Peninsula as well.  I really fell in love with this area.

On Day 5, we traveled to the Cliffs of Moher!  Wow.  Just breathtaking views.  Its as terrifying as it is beautiful!  You will definitely be standing on the edge of earth!  Just amazing.  I found it cool, yet strange, there aren't many walls there!  You walk at your own risk!!! And being someone afraid of heights, that's scary! It had also rained that morning (big surprise) so it was wet, slippery, and muddy along the walking paths!  I really found it odd that SO many people allowed their young children to go with them.  I would have had mine strapped to my back or handcuffed to my wrist!  This was one day I was so thankful we did NOT have our kids with us.   The Cliffs were on my bucket list, however, and it was thrilling!

the paths on the edge. I found it odd there was a fence to keep us from walking into the cow pasture, but oh well if you fall off the other side!  I slipped going down this part and my legs were shaking the rest of the time!  I also found it funny that there are stone "stairs" on the left side of this picture... but you see how many people choose the muddy side. #itookthestairs

We then traveled through the Burren Region, around Galway, to Ballynahinch Castle (the na is silent, so pronounced "bally-hinch").  We walked the grounds there which are beautiful fishing areas and paths.  I couldn't get far enough away to take a picture of Ballynahinch but if you go to their website you can see it.  Its really cool place near Roundstone (my favorite craft beer that isn't actually made there, but in Dublin of all places).  We visited the stunning Kylemore Abbey and Aughnanure Castle.  I'll have to let the pictures do the talking.  Those are definitely worth the long car rides.  Kylemore Abbey reminded me a bit of Biltmore Estate in North Carolina -- but even more so.  There is good story that goes with Kylemore also, but I will not spoil it for you.

Kylemore Abbey (under renovation)

just one part of Kylemore's magnificent gardens

Kyle more Abbey's cathedral/monument  in memory of Mrs. Henry
On Day 8, we went to Northern Ireland!  Yes, it is its own country with different currency than the Republic of Ireland!  We were technically in the U.K. now.  We visited Dunluce Castle and Giants Causeway - which is just one of God's many wonders in this world.  We really wanted to do the Rope Bridge but it was raining and very windy.  We were told it was closed, but did see a few people walking across it.  We also heard rumors of kids that recently cut it.... I'll go with the safer side and just look at it instead of walking across it.

We toured Belfast and stayed in the Fitzwilliam Hotel.  Belfast gets a bad rap because of their troubles, but we felt safe everywhere we went with Austen.  Luckily, Austen is from Belfast so he knew his way around very well.  Showed us where C.S.Lewis was born and the areas he grew up in.

Matt's birthday fell on that day.  We ate at the Dirty Duck in Holywood.   A local pub Irish singer sang Happy Birthday to him the night before -- that was pretty cool.  Toured Portrush and Holywood.  When you know someone that knows someone... you even get to see Rory McIlroy's personal trophy case at the Holywood Golf Club... and hold the heaviest and biggest trophies I've ever seen!  Very cool day.  Happy 40th Birthday, Matt!

On Day 9, we took a ferry to Scotland!  When I say ferry -- it was more like first class on an airplane and then some!  You drive your car onto the boat, walk to your assigned floor, eat, watch tv, stretch out on fur lined chairs.... it was the nicest boat I've ever been on! Then get back in your car and drive off!  Glad Austen knew what he was doing ;)

Spent most of that day driving and watching the scenery.  Beautiful area.  Drove through Glasgow. Finally made it to Stirling Castle further north.  Stayed at The Cameron House.  Found the Scottish accents a bit harder to understand.

Cameron House Hotel 

Drove through the Highlands and Glencoe.  Stopped in Fort William to walk around and eat.  Then on to Inverness.  Very long drive, but beautiful!  We stayed at the Culloden House in Inverness for 2 nights.  SO much history there!  Battle of Culloden, Jacobites, and Bonnie Prince Charlie! oh my!My favorite part was the "call for dinner" with the bag pipes around 6:00pm each evening.

Culloden House.  Culloden, Scotland
We took a boat ride on Loch Ness to visit Urquhart Castle!  This was one of my favorite days!  The lake is very interesting in itself and the castle was neat too!  I loved learning about everything there!
On the Jacobite Cruise Line
I thought this was neat.  The "darker water" you see in the middle, is actually the deepest part of Loch Ness that they think is deeper than the ocean in that particular area!  Perhaps that is where Nessie hides??  lol ;)

On Day 12, we drove through the Cairngorm Mountains to Edinburgh for 2 nights.  Austen left us at "The George" Hotel aka the Principal in Edinburgh.  We spent the last day and a half touring Edinburgh on our own.  AND. IT.  RAINED.  and by rain, I mean, it rains sideways.  from the ground up.  hard.  thunderstorms.  But when you only have 1 day to tour Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace, and the Royal Mile.... you do it anyway!  Austen told us everyday "if you let the rain stop you here, you'd never do anything!"  So I didn't get as many pictures as I would have liked but at least we were inside for parts of the day.  If the Queen of England is in her "summer home", it is not open to tourists.  Thank goodness she had not arrived yet, because we really enjoyed touring it!  It was worth walking in all that rain!

Then we flew home from Edinburgh via Amsterdam to Atlanta.  Missed our shuttle and had to wait an hour for the next shuttle bus to Chattanooga (2 hour drive).  Then my Dad drove us the 1 hour to Athens, Tennessee so we could pick up our 4 kids.  By that point we had been up over 24 hours.  Got up the next morning, and drove 8 hours home.  Came home to 2 out of our 3 air conditioners broken and a sink that flooded somehow.  And 4 kids who think everything is better at their Gigi's.   Welcome home!

There are about 1,000 more pictures I could post, and I probably forgot some here...but you get the idea.  We had a blast!  Learned a ton!  Enjoyed every minute and then missed our kids too!  Thank you to Maurice "Mo" and Austen for showing us the way!  We want to go back to some of our favorite places and the places we had to skip.  Nessie is just waiting to be found!  ;)

Together is the best place to be.  Happy 40th, Matt and Cheers to 13 years married to me!

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