Monday, November 18, 2019

Ireland - Day Trip To Cong, Westport, Galway And The Connemara Loop



My sister, Sandie, talked us into going to Ireland by explaining that it would be a very inexpensive trip.   We were very interested in going on a budget-friendly vacation.  She explained that the reason why it would be a cheap vacation is because she wanted to go off-season, in February, when the nursery school she works at was closed for President's Week.   So we checked at Aer Lingus to see what their non-stop from NY to Shannon Airport in Ireland would be for that week in February.   Just $523 per person.  That sounded good.  Then we went to the website Sandie found, authenticireland.com and worked with the very patient and wonderful, Jocoya Fox-Jones, who got us 7 nights in Atlantic View Cottages in Doolin, a rental car and two unique and fun excursions for another $544 each making the total cost per person only $1,067.   We could afford that and it sounded like a very good price for all that we were getting.

Atlantic View Cottages, Doolin

So our plan was to plan day trips to different areas around Ireland and always return back to the cottage at the end of the day.  It did mean that we would spend a lot of hours in our rental car.  Thank goodness we all really do enjoy each other's company!

For our first day trip, on our second day in Ireland, we wanted to do Rick Steve's walking tour of Westport.  Westport was almost 3 hours away from the cottages.  We found other places to see on our way to and from Westport to break up the trip.  Our first stop was Cong in County Mayo.  We drove 2 hours north to Cong where we read we would find the ruins of Cong Abbey.   The last high king of Ireland, Rory O'Connor died here in 1198.

CONG


We crossed the small bridge, on the grounds of the abbey, that led to the Cong Forest Recreation Area.


Halfway across the bridge was a ramp that led to the fisherman's house that the monks used long ago.  There was a hole in the floor where they dropped their fishing lines.


We took a short hike through the forest and then headed to the town.  It was here that the movie, The Quiet Man, starring John Wayne, Maureen O'Hara was filmed.

The Quiet Man Statue

Cong Market Cross - I read that this cross was seen five times in the movie.

The "Dying Man House" from the movie.

It was lunchtime after our visit to Cong.  We took advantage of having the fantastic full kitchen we had at the cottage and stocked up on groceries to prepare breakfasts and lunches to take on the road with us.  We had a busy day planned so we packed a lunch to eat on our hour drive to Westport.   The town of Westport was named The Best Place To Live In Ireland in 2012.  We were excited to find some of the sights Rick Steves' mentioned in his guidebook.  Two things we were not going to find here was chain stores and stop signs.

WESTPORT



Bronze Bust of  Westport-born Major John MacBride

St. Mary's Church

The Clock

CONNEMARA LOOP

From Westport, we headed 1 hour southwest to the scenic Connemara Loop.  Part of this loop cuts through the Connemara National Park in County Galway and past the iconic Kylemore Abbey.







GALWAY

We went halfway around the loop and got off when we got near the city of Galway.  It was dinner time and we Googled and found an interesting restaurant that made all their entrees into pies.   It was a plus for us that The Pie Maker was on the lively Quay Street.


Our pies came with mashed potatoes, mushy peas and red cabbage.  There were six pies to choose from.  I got the Chicken & Mushroom pie.  Delicious!

We took a walk down Quay Street before heading back to the cottage which was 1 1/2 hours away.  (Plenty of time for a nap!)



Our first road trip in Ireland was a success.  Thanks in part to JT's excellent driving skills and the gps.  We purchased the same sim card for internet service that we bought for our trip to Italy and bought a pop socket vent mount for easy viewing of the directions.  We wound up forgetting the pop socket vent mount in the rental car even though I was reminding myself, and everyone around me, that we needed to take it out of the car before we returned it to Hertz!  I am not surprised that we did forget it, I had a feeling that we would.  I think I would have been more surprised if we remembered it!

Join us for our next Ireland installment.  We'll let you know how we prepared for our off-season vacation.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Doolin, Ireland - Arriving In County Clare And Visiting The Cliffs Of Moher


Me, Soko, my sister Sandie and her husband JT were driving down to Florida together in August of last year.  Some time during our ten hour trip, out of the blue, Sandie asked us if we wanted to go to Ireland in February, when she had a week off from her job at a nursery school.  She had been looking at a website, http://www.authenticireland.com, and she said it would be very inexpensive to take a vacation there at that time of the year.  Of course we would love to take a vacation anywhere and everywhere any chance we can get but we have to be very conscious of our retirement budget so expensive is not a vacation we can even consider these days.  But, we were very interested in going when we heard the word "cheap".   On our ten hour return trip back from Florida, we were working with an wonderful agent, Jocoya Fox-Jones, and booking a 7 day vacation to Ireland.  She found us  accommodations in Doolin, County Clare, took care of reserving a rental car and booked a couple of excursions in the area for us.   We had 6 months to plan the rest of the vacation.

The day finally arrived for us to board an Aer Lingus plane that would take us to Shannon Airport in Ireland.  Of course I had to Instagram to let everyone know that we were at JFK Airport in Queens, NY.  Two minutes after I clicked send, I get a text from our friend, Heidi, asking what gate we were at?  Two minutes after that we were taking pictures with her at the airport.  She was on her way to Washington to visit her daughter.   It was crazy that in an airport as huge as JFK, that she was only a couple of gates away from us.


In about 6 1/2 hours we arrived at Shannon Airport.  It was only 8 AM so we had the whole day ahead of us.  The first thing we had to do was find our rental car.  The next thing we had to do was figure out how to get out of the airport.  We found out, immediately, that there are lots of roundabouts in Ireland.  Maneuvering around roundabouts is very difficult when you (Soko) are trying to figure out how to drive when you are sitting in the passenger seat of a car and driving on the wrong side of the street,   We wound up going around and around in circles and got to a point when we thought that we would never get out of the airport and that it would be all we would ever see of Ireland.  




We did finally find our way to the highway and headed to Doolin where we would be staying for the week.  We called the host of the Atlantic View Cottages, TJ, and found out that he was expecting us to come in a little later that day.  It was going to take him a couple of hours to drive over to let us in but that was fine with us.  There was a full kitchen in the cottage and we wanted to buy some groceries and Guinness.  We went to the Super Valu in Ennistymon, which was 12 minutes from where we were staying.   We wound up shopping here almost every day.  We kept running out of Guinness!


After shopping, we still had plenty of time before we had to meet TJ at the cottage so we went into the little town of Doolin to get breakfast at one of their three pubs.  The breakfast we had a Gus O'Connor's Pub was so delicious, and the atmosphere was so cozy, that we decided that we would definitely be eating here again.  








Sausages, tomato, fried egg, fried potatoes, mushrooms, black and white pudding and bacon.  (We wondered why we didn't get bacon until we realized the ham was the bacon.  We learned, by the end of the trip, that if we wanted bacon we would have to order rashers.)  

After our delicious first meal in Ireland, it was time to meet our TJ.  He gave us keys and showed us around our adorable 2 story, 2 bedroom, 2 bath home for the week. 








The balcony was a perfect place for me and Sandie to enjoy the spectacular view.

We unpacked and put groceries away and we were now ready for a short 10 minute drive to see one of the most popular tourist spots in all of Ireland, the Cliffs of Moher. 








There's a plaque, at the bottom of the trail that you take to get up to the cliffs, that is dedicated to all the people who have lost their lives falling off of them.  But you still see people who will walk out behind the protective waist-high fence to get closer to the edge. 


One person, in our group of four, didn't pay any attention to the plaque, didn't listen to what TJ was telling us about a recent casualty involving someone trying to take a selfie of themselves on the edge of the cliffs and didn't care that I was yelling that she was giving me a heart attack!   Sandie was on the wrong side of the fence for a split second and she made it back fine, but I still think staying behind the fence is the best way to walk along the edge of these 700 foot cliffs.


Sandie and JT were a little ahead of us as we left the cliffs and were heading to the Visitor's Center.  When we caught up to them, we saw them outside the building talking and laughing with a young couple. The couple were friends and neighbors of Sandie and JT.  We were starting to wonder who else we would just happen to bump into on this trip.


One thing I researched before we set off for Ireland was where we could go to mass.  We are Catholic and go to church every Sunday, or Saturday evening.   If we are on vacation on the weekend, we can always find a church to go to, thanks to Google.  We really enjoyed the masses we went to in Barcelona and Venice last year.  We could not understand a word the priest was saying, but the order of the Catholic mass is the same in every country so we knew what was going on.  

We found a Saturday evening mass that would work for us and the church, Immaculate Conception, was in Lahinch which was not far from us.  The mass was wonderful and we could understand every word.  What we didn't notice, until after mass when we ran across the street to the small grocery store, was that there was a pub attached to the church.  This is not a sight we have ever seen and I'm sure we will never see again unless we visit Ireland again!


Going to church was the last item we had on our itinerary list for the day.  Now, after a long, hectic but really fun first day in Ireland, it was time to get back to the cottage to relax.

The balcony was a perfect place for Soko and JT to end every evening with cigars and beers!

Stay tuned!  We'll let you know how inexpensive this trip was in our next post.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Cruising On One Of The Largest Cruise Ships


Me and Soko love cruising. It's a vacation we can take without breaking the bank. We shared a post about how it can be very affordable. (You can read about it here.) We also like how easy it is to visit a few different places on one vacation. We like being able to unpack our things on the transportation that is going to bring us to our next destination. And while we are traveling to the next adventure, we are watching musicals, eating delicious meals or just relaxing by the pool. We chose the cruise we took last week, because we had never cruised on a huge cruise ship before. We wondered how if differed from the smaller ships we have been on. So we booked a cruise on one of Royal Caribbean Oasis Class ships, Allure Of The Seas, the third largest cruise ship in the world.

Three port stops, St. Maarten, San Juan and Labadee, Haiti, and four cruising days made up our 7 day Eastern Caribbean cruise. Our favorite pastime on a cruising day is relaxing with a book which is something that we don't have time for in real life even though we are retired. You can find us by the pool or in the solarium, an area for adults only, any chance we can get. You can find the pool and solarium on large and small ships but you can't find Central Park on the smaller ships. This area turned out to be one of our favorites for relaxing, reading, eating breakfast or lunch or for just enjoying a cup of coffee in the evening.




Another fun area you can find on the larger ships only is The Boardwalk.   Boardwalk Donuts had a variety of delicious donuts available every morning.  We did treat ourselves to donuts for breakfast one morning.  We also went to Boardwalk Dog House for lunch one afternoon.   There were hot dogs, sausages, brats and all the toppings.  We both got the Italian sausage and asked for it to be topped with onions and peppers.  You can't find as many options for eating on a smaller ship, like you can on a larger one.   The coolest thing we found on the boardwalk, though, was the carousel.  That is something you definitely won't find on a small ship.






On the far end of The Boardwalk was the Aqua Theater.  There are no Aqua Theaters on smaller ships.  The divers and gymnasts were all amazing and created a thrilling 30 minute show.  I have never seen divers perform except when I have watched them on television during the Olympics.  It was a little nerve wracking watching them dive off a platform that was 30' high and land in a very narrow pool below.


I asked one couple, who were wearing pins that told us they were frequent cruisers, which ship they preferred, larger or smaller.  They answered larger because there were more opportunities and more areas where they could enjoy exclusive get-togethers with others who are also frequent cruisers.  This couple cruise on Royal Caribbean 12 times a year.  We have cruised about 5 times with RC, the first time being 15 years ago, but we have managed to achieve a platinum status which got  us an invitation to join a party.  This was a first for us and could have been because we were on a larger ship.  When we heard we would be offered free drinks, we made sure we put this event on our calendar.


There are lots of extras to enjoy on this larger ship, for sure, but there were times we would have liked to have been on a smaller ship with less people. Especially when we had to use the elevator. There were times when we couldn't get into an elevator because it was packed and we would have to wait for the next one or the one after that. Other areas of the ship can also get very crowded.



An older couple we met on this cruise thought it might be their last cruise because they were having a hard time getting from place to place. The length of the Allure is 1,881'. That's more than 5 football fields long. The eating and entertainment venues are usually on either ends of the ship so I can see how it would not be an easy task for someone who has trouble walking to get to a show that starts soon after dinner. The length of the smallest ship we have been on, Vision of the Seas, was half the length of the Allure at 915'. We are not there yet but I'm guessing that we will have the same complaint as the older couple some day.

After comparing large and small ships, we decided that we can have a good time on either ship. We are glad that we got a chance to cruise on the larger ship so that we don't have the feeling that we are missing out on something when we are on a smaller ship. We would have missed out on seeing Venice if we decided that we only wanted to cruise on a large ship as only smaller ships can get into their port.

There will be times when we go cruising for the destinations the ships will bring us to, so either ship will do or other times that we will cruise just for the sake of cruising and that is when we will, most likely, choose one of the largest cruise ships.

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