Sarah and I did a big trip of the UK and Ireland in October 2017. I’ve made a series of blog posts about these, intended to be informative to the person planning a similar trip. The posts are listed in order, below.
Sarah and I are in line to get on our Norwegian Air flight home. I guess it’s time to wrap these posts up.
Some things to mention.
There’s lots of free WiFi. Still, having data access over the air is amazing. Google Project Fi gave me data access everywhere for the same price I pay at home. Phone calls are a bit expensive, but who makes those? WiFi calling is normal and texts are free.
Ireland is on the Euro and the UK is on the pound.
Currently it’s very easy to travel between the UK and Ireland. We didn’t try to go to Belfast, but apparently there’s no border, even. That may change as Brexit progresses.
Google Maps is a great way to find food to eat. The reviews system is as popular here as it is in the US and as it was in Italy. I didn’t try Yelp or anything.
Google Maps is also a great way to navigate public transit. It knows the bus schedule and changes, getting live updates everywhere we went except Cork. In Cork it still knew the intended schedule, though busses were always late. Google Maps knows your walk time and the transfers you need. With trains too. It’s great.
The upper deck on the bus is a great way to get a cheap tour.
Beans are good for breakfast. They’re just baked beans. British sausages are amazing. Blah blah blah lots of filler blah blah blah not all meat blah blah SHADDAP! They’re delicious. That is all.
You can carry and drink beer on most streets. Why can’t we do this in America? WTF mate?
I’m sure there are things I want to recommend that I’m missing. But that’s what I’ve got for now! We had a blast here and are looking forward to coming back sometime.
We took some side trips from Dublin – one to Cork/Blarney castle/Midleton, and one to the Cliffs of Moher with a few extra stops in there…
It’s easy to take the train from Dublin to Cork, be and from there you take the Cork bus to Blarney castle and Midleton (Jameson’s major distillery). The train leaves from Dublin Heuston station (pronounced like the Houston in Texas), and takes a couple hours. Buy tickets online, print them on the machine at the station, and hop on! Electric outlets and wifi are provided.
It’s a short walk from the train station to the main bus station, in Cork, and the Cork buses take Leap card!
Blarney castle is beautiful. We sat next to some nice Swiss folks, and toured most of the castle and grounds with them. There are some beautiful gardens you can walk around in for quite a while, and of course the castle.
Kiss the Blarney Stone. Just do it. It’s fine. It’s at the top of the castle on the outer wall hanging about 150 feet in the air. They carefully lay you down and help you out to kiss it. Nobody is peeing on it in the middle of the night. Get your mates to take a picture of you.
There is poor footing all the way to the top, so be careful. You climb up the castle staircases to get to the Blarney Stone. Stop in all the rooms and crevasses you can, you’re in a castle! How cool is that! There are several unmarked rooms, but if they’re not blocked off go ahead and check them out. Again, be careful with your footing.
The bus only comes out to Blarney a couple times an hour. While you’re waiting for the bus back, maybe stop by the pub there. The food and drink are great. It’s a great little pub.
We changed busses in Blarney and went out to Midleton, getting off right next to Jameson. Unfortunately, the busses took a long time – longer than expected, and our return train was at 720. Based on the bus return trip, we did not have time for a tour. We got to Jameson at 4 pm. If you want to cram all this stuff into your Cork visit, plan for a later train ride or leave Blarney early enough. Watch out for the Midleton-Cork return bus times – they don’t do as often as you might hope and that might put you at risk of missing your bus.
Anyway, we had a drink at Jamie’s, took some photos, then looked around at all the awesome shops in Midleton while waiting for the right return bus. This gave us about 1 hour out there.
Because we didn’t plan enough time, we wished we’d skipped Midleton and hung out at the Blarney gardens longer. However, if we had made the Jamie tour we would have preferred the tour.
Anyway, we made it back to Cork on time, and had enough time to stop and grab some dinner. There isn’t much right next to the train station, but there’s a nice wine and food place right up the hill (check Google). I had a fish pie, and was surprised that it was good. I learned something that day ☺️ We got back to Dublin around 1030.
The Cliffs of Moher is another all day trip… We used Paddywagon tours – their rep is a little sketch, but we found it to be excellent. Other than the boarding setup, that was unorganized. Still, we got moving with no trouble.
The tour guide was excellent. He had all this info about the history of everything we were traveling through. He had color commentary too. Great old dude.
The bus made a few stops – a couple at service stations which were nice and let us refuel and de-fuel. You know what I mean. A couple stops at historical points. One was this little town called Galway. Famous for it’s hookers. Ask your guide. But, they also have toilets and a take-away Irish coffee place. So, they’re awesome.
Another stop was at an awesome rock outcropping area. We walked out along this awesome flat plane in an area called the Barrens. Our guide explained the history of the area both geologically and socially. Excellent guide.
Take some photos stretch your legs get back on the bus!
Next stop, lunch. Paddywagon and a couple other companies stop in this town that send to have grown up and built restaurants to handle all the tourists passing through. A couple restaurants are recommended by the driver, but there are a couple others in walking distance. We had the fish and chips place – which was fine. By fine, I mean disappointing given the overall quality of the dish within these countries. I recommend some other place.
Cliffs of Moher! This is a crazy set of cliffs. There’s a short walk to a tower where you can get amazing views. There are dangerous paths you can walk on, but you can also just stick to the asphalt and there’s no danger.
I don’t think I can do the Cliffs justice here. These things are beautiful, and worth the trip, no doubt. The only question you need to ask yourself is: will the weather permit us to see the cliffs, and if not, will we be disappointed pissy bad tourists with hurt feelings. If the weather is definitely going to be foggy, skip this trip. If there’s a chance – I estimated a 50/50 chance of good-enough weather during our visit – then decide if you’ll risk it. We risked it, and were greatly rewarded. The weather report changed throughout the day, getting nicer and nicer outside. By the time we finished at the cliffs, the sun was shining and the clouds parting. We had mostly unobstructed views.
On the trip back we stopped briefly at a castle. No time to see it, but there was ice cream and a place to charge phones to use the WiFi on the bus. We took some photos of the castle, ate ice cream, and took the bus back to Dublin.
Land at Dublin airport, take a trip through passport control, buy a Leap card at the tourist desk inside, put €20 on it, step outside to the bus stop, hop on the Airlink 757 bus, get a tour of downtown from the top of a double decker bus, step off 30 minutes later in downtown Dublin.
The EU really has passport control figured out. There are these machines that you step up to and place your passport on photo page down. A screen with webcams raises up to see your face, I presume someone at a remote facility verifies you, then a gate opens and you collect your passport and move on. This system processes a whole bunch of people very quickly, and keeps those control officers busy in a location where they can work comfortably and flexibly – I presume.
That’s if you have an EU passport. Otherwise you have to go through the cattle lines like usual. Which is the same system as every US airport for regular citizens. Why do we do that? We should make re-entering the country quicker, easier, and more efficient on the manpower side.
Downtown Dublin is undergoing tons of construction. New high-rises are going up along the river, and they look primarily commercial. It’s going to be some beautiful office space a short distance from all the fun stuff.
Eileen met us at the door to our Airbnb accommodations, a small apartment on the second and top floor of a townhouse a little bit South of downtown. She was so proud to tell us about all the fun and interesting things there are to do in Dublin, she clearly loves her city. We mostly wanted to pee.
After equalizing bodily fluids, we went out for a spot of lunch. Over the next couple days we walked around a ton of the city, saw St Patrick’s cathedral (about a 5 minute walk), took a tour of Dublin castle, ate a bunch of good food, checked out the Book of Kells at Trinity college, toured Guinness, and visited the National Gallery.
I have to focus on a couple of those, but first, how do you get around? Walking is great and very feasible. I recommend the Leap card for the buses and a bunch of trains. There’s a tourist version with unlimited usage for a period of days, and if you’re going to ride a ton and do some travel to other towns nearby by Dart maybe that would be worth it, but honestly I can’t imagine a scenario where it’s worth it and you have fun.
Instead, the regular locals Leap card is great. Touch it at the front of a bus when you get on, and tell the driver what your final stop is, they deduct the right amount automatically. You need to use the bus stop request button still, near your stop, of course. Anyway, a thing that makes this the better deal is the rate capping per day and week. One you pass a specific amount of transport usage you can use it for the remainder of the period for free.
Here’s a site with a good explanation so you can make the right choice for yourself:
There’s a way to get your unused money back afterwards if you are on the regular Leap card and your bank has an IBAN (lots of American banks don’t). There’s supposedly a way to get them to send you a refund check in euros, but the better thing is to donate the remainder to a homeless charity (an option right on the Leap website).
The Guinness brewery! If you want to talk to a brewery, or anybody in the know at all, you will be disappointed. Want to know why they use fish parts in their current filtering process? Too bad. Want to know why they’ve been able to serve Guinness on carbonation recently? Nope.
If you want to experience a beautiful tour that explains the brewing process in a highly refined touristy way, and you want to visit a beautiful museum, and say you’ve been to the home of Guinness, and want to drink a Guinness straight from the factory, and get a beautiful view of Dublin, and joke around with some Diageo employees, and maybe get some good food, then this is the tour for you!
I just enjoyed it for what it was, and had a good time. 8/10 would recommend. Just set your expectations before getting there.
St Patrick’s cathedral is a beautiful cathedral that is Ireland’s version of Westminster Abbey. The tour guides are these salty old Irish dudes. They’re great. Tour is included in the admission price. Definitely see this place for a good bit of Irish history. Jonathan Swift was in charge of this place for a while, and he was a hell of a dude. We got a lot more of the story while we were here.
There are many things the Irish are proud of. Becoming their own country, obviously. Jonathan Swift, also. They thought this guy was pretty cool, and for complex reasons I think. Which means that it’s a well-considered fondness. The Irish are very proud of their old revolutionaries – seven guys that started an unplanned revolution from Britain. The revolution was put down, but when they were sentenced to death and killed Ireland really took their side. They’re proud of those seven like we are of our founding fathers.
And they’re proud of their relationship with the US over the years. This comes up in a lot of unexpected places, but is very cool. It’s not reverence or anything, but show love and you’ll get a lot back in return. For instance, the US was instrumental in getting all the revolutionaries other than those 7 leaders released from prison after only a few months. The Brits owed us some favors before WW1 and for some reason this is one we called in. Some old Irish folks still appreciate that.
Dublin castle – don’t miss it. Take a tour, it’s great. You get to see more than just walking around by yourself. Queen of Tarts is across the street and you should get lunch there after buying your tickets and before your your time.
The Book of Kells is a quick little stop in Trinity College. This is an ancient translation of the Bible, and is just a work of art to check out. The museum has information about it and several other old books. The college library is also on this stop, and it is the most beautiful library I’ve been in. It’s ancient, and feels like being in a movie.
Lots of other stuff is available in Dublin. There are cool streets with chill nightlife, and shopping areas you find just by walking around. Have some drinks in Temple Bar.
Listen to Trad music at the Cobblestone. Maybe take a cab there. It’s a great bar with great music.
I pushed the accelerator of the Peugeot 3008 to the floor, as I slammed it from fifth into third to accelerate up the hill and around the corner while the rock wall on the passenger side caused the proximity sensor to light and the lorry passed within inches on the driver’s side. Lock one, lock two, Loch Lomond on the right and an ancient wall on the left.
Driving in Scotland was terrifying for the five hours it took to go those first 200 miles up to Portree. The roads are too narrow for an SUV, and 18-wheelers are cruising along at 60. Which is the speed limit. Roads twist every 50 feet, it’s raining, and the locals are having none of your hesitation. They’re very politely having none of your hesitation.
So don’t hesitate, and don’t screw up. Just go. Faster.
This was a stressful, demanding five hours. There are regular stops, even a few in the middle of nowhere, and everybody can make a good espresso (thank the gods for coffee in Europe). Sarah was accommodating though. And the vehicle had sensors which helped me stay in my lane and on the road. It also had this awesome thing which indicated the speed limit very accurately at every place. Once I figured out the cruise control, it also integrated automatically into that.
Portree was a beauty. We stayed at Grenitote B&B, booked through Airbnb, and had a wonderful time. The town is charming, and our host even more so. He gave us a choice of breakfast, and we got smoked salmon with scrambled eggs toast and coffee. He sprinkled beetroot powder and blueberries on top, which was unexpectedly amazing.
How to see Skye…
We followed their day two recommendations, fairly precisely. I really wanted to see Talisker, and we were not disappointed. Fairy Pools were beautiful too… I’ve got nothing, word wise, but you can check out my pictures. The short hike is very rewarding. Neist Point was a great short hike too, but not Fairy Pools.
The high point of our visit, though, was Dunvegan Castle. This is the seat of the Highlander.
There can be only one.
The chief of can McLeod was in while we were visiting his castle. We didn’t run into the guy, but still got to look around his beautiful place. Even more impressive than the castle were the gardens. There are at least six distinct gardens, each with a different focus, all gorgeous, all impressive.
Our itinerary up on Skye was awesome. Not difficult to stay on schedule, but we still got to see a ton. We had haggis twice up on Skye, and it was great both times.
On our return to Glasgow, we stayed at the Alamo Guest House. This place is luxurious. I was looking forward to spending some time here, if only for a soak in the tub, and we were not disappointed.
We departed Glasgow through their airport, headed to Dublin. Glasgow’s airport is setup similar to Stansted, with great security and terrible duty-free. I held back my vomit long enough to make it through the nightmare that was the airport mall, and fortunately it was shorter than Stansted’s. Ryanair had a delay that was very poorly communicated, but otherwise we flew to Dublin without incident.
Dublin! Next post.