Ireland Part 6: Some Mountains Are Too Big

When Mark told me he wanted to hike Croagh Patrick, the holiest mountain in Ireland said to be climbed by Saint Patrick himself, I said “You know it’s that’s a 2,500-foot hike, right?”

And then I said: “When was the last time you went on a hike?”

Mark brushed off my concerns, that is, until we drove up to the base of the famous pilgrimage site and his eyes traveled northwards.

Needless to say, we did not end up hiking Croagh Patrick, much to M’s dismay. Instead, we spent our last day in Ireland driving leisurely back to the Dublin airport, stopping to to sightsee along the way.

One of the amazing things about Ireland is that there is no shortage of historic sites. From abandoned castles, to ancient churches, every off-the-beaten road took us to another surprise.

So the moral of the story is, sometimes, laziness has its perks.

*IMG_8622Here we are arriving at the famous pilgrimage site.

*IMG_8623And then looking up at the mountain…

**IMG_8633…and then crossing the street to check out some ruins that didn’t require any exertion whatsoever.

**IMG_8674I don’t even know what these ruins are, but it was on the water and it was beautiful. And there were cows!

**IMG_8683**IMG_8689**IMG_8690**IMG_8706**IMG_8718**IMG_8727From there, we headed east, making our way slowly back to Dublin. Mark found the ruins of an old monastic site called Clonmacnoise that was stunning. I got to take pictures; Mark and M got their church and ancient history fix; everyone was happy.

**IMG_8763**IMG_8828**IMG_8845The monastery was founded in 545 A.D. with different buildings dates to different time periods. According to Wikipedia, it was one of the most famous monastic sits in Ireland during the 9th to 11th centuries. More information here.

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**IMG_8855**IMG_8807**IMG_8786**IMG_8769Temple Finghín & McCarthy’s Tower is dated to the 12th century.

**IMG_8840*IMG_8842And sheep! I love me some pictures of sheep.

IMG_7301After a couple of hours of driving and spontaneous rain showers, we caught sight of a double rainbow just as we were nearing the outskirts of Dublin. What a fitting end to a lovely trip.

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Ireland Part 5: The Only Fjord in Ireland

There is only one fjord in all of Ireland, and we got to cruise down on it on a lazy, rainy morning.

The Killary Fjord is located in western Ireland in Connemara, stretching 16 kilometers from the village of Leenaun out to the ocean. The 90 minute trip offers beautiful views, food to order, and indoor and outdoor seating.

@IMG_8547The boss and the husband, hard at play.

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Ireland Part 4: Aran Islands

I had no idea what to expect from the Aran Islands, and it turned out to be my favorite part of our Ireland trip. It felt like a mini-vacation within a vacation. Maybe because it’s remote, or because there isn’t much to do once you get there. Maybe because I was chauffeured around the island in a horse-drawn carriage.

Whatever it is, it was awesome. I highly recommend the trip.

The Aran Islands is comprised of three islands that can only be reached by boat. We took a ferry to the largest and most populated of the three, Inis Mor. The ferry leave from Ros a’ Mhíl, about an hour’s drive west of Galway.

**IMG_7964**IMG_7971**IMG_7987With a total population of 840 (many of whom still speak Gaelic), you can really feel Inis Mor’s unspoiled beauty.  Until not too long ago, cars were banned on the island – something we heard a lot about from our carriage driver.

*IMG_8003The island boasts several interesting, historical sites which you can see by private minibus, rented bicycles, or carriage. The below map is compliments of the Aran Islands website.

Since the weather was cold and windy (and some of us were lazy), we hired a horse-drawn carriage much to the delight of our driver, John, who regaled us with a never-ending stream of stories.

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I loved the tour. The island is stunning. Our driver was a comedian, who could not go five minutes without asking us how we were enjoying the tour. (“Is this a live Yelp review?” M asked.) And it was so nice to to sit back, snuggle under a fleece blanket, the Irish air nipping at our faces while we enjoyed the sites.

John took us across the entire length of the island, first along the southern most road, then circling around to the northern edge. As you can see from the above map, there aren’t that many roads, and it’s pretty hard to get lost.

***IMG_8039Self-portrait here, with Mark peaking out of the corner.

@IMG_8439@IMG_8081**IMG_8092**IMG_8154Our first stop was Dun Aoghasa World Heritage Site, perhaps the most famous site on the island. John dropped us off, and we hiked 20 minutes up a gravel path to the remains of an ancient fort, dated to 1100 BC.

*IMG_8180***IMG_8291This is how you take a picture of a 300-foot cliff without falling over the edge.

@IMG_8221This is what the view looks like from said cliff.

**IMG_8237***IMG_8349**IMG_8316John picked us up at the bottom and showed us the remains of a seventh century church.

***IMG_8383*IMG_8377*IMG_8382As we turned around and rode along the northern edge of the island, we were rewarded with beautiful coastal views, seals in the distance (!), and what counts for a traffic jam on Inis Mor.

***IMG_8167I asked John why they built so many stone walls and he told us that the walls served no specific purpose. It was merely a means of clearing the fields of the layers upon layers of rock.

**IMG_8092***IMG_8448Oh oh… traffic jam. We got an earful from John about the proliferation of motor vehicles on the island.

**IMG_8535**IMG_8478**IMG_8525Seals!

**IMG_8484**IMG_8534That night, we slept in one of the small inns on the island (there aren’t that many to choose from) while M and Mark did more than their share of drinking. The next morning, we packed our new Aran sweaters in our suitcases, and took the ferry back to the mainland.

Have you been to the Aran Islans? What are you waiting for?!?!

BONUS VIDEO!

A Ride Through Inis Mor from Nam Writes on Vimeo.

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Ireland Part 3: Go West Young Woman

After half a day in Dublin, we headed west. With an overnight in Limerick, the next morning brought us to Galway for a few hours before catching the ferry to the Aran Islands.

It was a casual morning, with no agenda. We wandered the streets of the old city, popped into a museum, checked out some ruins before piling back into the car.

In the Middle Ages, Galway served a port city and prospered off of its bountiful trade. Today, it’s a sleepy albeit charming city that offers a hint of its important history.

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In the Middle Ages century, Galway was a walled city. Today, the most famous remnant is the Spanish Arc near the River Corrib. We took some pictures before popping into the nearby Galway City Museum.

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If you want a further taste of the medieval city, you can check out an indoor archeological site called The Hall of the Red Earl. The site shows the remains of an old municipal building that was used to collect taxes, host banquets, and issue justice. The hall was abandoned in the 15th century when Galway’s famous 14 Tribes captured the city. Over the centuries, it was built over and disappeared from public sight until 1997.

*IMG_7959Perhaps the strangest ruin of all is the Shoemakers Tower, which can now be seen inside Eyre Square Center. Yes, that is a 17th century tower inside a mall.

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Ireland Part 2: Half a Day in Dublin

We only had half a day in Dublin before Mark took us on a whirlwind tour of Western Ireland. M decided to cram as many museums and religious sites into his morning as possible and Mark was happy to tag along (sucker!)

As for me, I relished the opportunity to wander mindlessly around Dublin, taking pictures, popping into shops, and seeing Dublin at my own pace.

My impression from one slightly rainy half day: Dublin is full of old European charm with a patina of grit. There are cobblestone roads, cute cafes, shops, bridges, curvy streets that lead to castles, churches, and other important historical sites.

****IMG_7794At the right time of day, the reflections on the Liffey River are a photographer’s dream.

***IMG_7801***IMG_7818***IMG_7830Dublin Castle is an imposing building in heart of town. Until 1922, it was the seat of U.K. government in Dublin.

***IMG_7640*IMG_7680***IMG_7723***IMG_7778I popped into the Chester Beatty Library to escape the rain and catch up on some work.

***IMG_7741**IMG_7767More pictures from around town.

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Ireland Part 1: Welcome to Ireland!

When we got to Ireland, we were in the trusted hands of Mark, my boss/friend/professional partner-in-crime. Mark loves Ireland, so we let him plan the entire trip. Plus, he offered to drive on the left-side of the road, and that’s an offer I can’t refuse.

First up, Mark took us to New Grange, a neolithic burial mound. We drove to the visitor center, where you have to sign up for a specific time slot to see New Grange (and other sites if you’re so inclined). You can’t actually got to New Grange on your own. At your allotted time, you climb into a shuttle bus which drops you off at the New Grange site.

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Once at New Grange, there isn’t a lot to see. The scenery is beautiful, but otherwise, you’ll come face to face with a massive stone-enclosed mound. The guide split the group into two due to space constraints and took us into the site a group at a time. NO PHOTOS ARE ALLOWED INSIDE… which made the whole thing a lot less fun for me (unless you’re my husband and you don’t believe in rules).

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Next up, Mark drove us south of Dublin to one of his favorite sites, Glendalough, a sixth century monastery site with lovely ruins, walking paths, and a small museum (which was closed when we got there).

The scenery is gorgeous and feels authentically Irish. It’s the kind of place you can spend a leisurely afternoon, walking through history and soaking up the lush backdrop.

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This is one of my favorite pictures of Mark from the trip.

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Of course, this being Ireland, it was way past time for some drinking. There is a hotel and bar on site, and Mark and M got right to it. As for me, I like to think of drinking as a spectator sport (unless it’s a diet coke).

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Review: I Flew Wow Airlines and Survived

There is only one direct flight from Reykjavik to Dublin, and it’s on Wow Airlines.

I expected the worst. I scoured the internet for reviews and advice about packing. My bags were on the heavy side, since I was traveling with quite a bit of camera equipment. I had nightmares of having to unpack my suitcase in the airport and wear five sweaters onto the plane.

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None of that happened. It was actually a relatively painless experience – except for the fact that our flight was at 6:30 a.m. in the morning.

I purchased one checked luggage ($40) and and two carry-on luggage pieces ($20/each) in advance. This is essential if you are carrying anything more than a normal size backpack. I also purchased extra leg room for us since the flight was three hours and we were exhausted. At $20 a pop, that was totally worth it.

When we got to KEF in Iceland, we weighed our checked luggage ourself, printed out the tags, and brought it to an agent to check. The computer didn’t like the shape of our suitcase, so we brought it to the odd-sized luggage counter, and the agent there checked it without a problem.

Then, we headed to our gate. The doors to the gate area didn’t open for a while, so there is a lot of waiting around on the floor, or you can go downstairs and wait on couches. Once the doors opened, the line was long, but it moved quickly. There was no weighing or measuring of carry on luggage. In not more than 15 minutes, we were seated in our extra leg room seats.

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The flight itself was totally fine. We were so tired, we both dozed off and woke up to views of Dublin.

 

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Review: Hilton Reykjavik Nordica

There are not many points hotels in Reykjavik. You have two Club Carlson options and two Hilton options. Hilton offers the older, cheaper Nordica and the newer, more expensive, and more centrally located Canopy. Since we were low on points after our December Spain trip, I was able to make the Nordica work for $71 and 16,000 points a night.

Pros: Nice hotel; affordable price; large, upgraded room; club lounge access; pretty views.

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The Nordica lounge

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View from the lounge

Cons: A 30-minute walk from the center of town; lounge is on the small size.

Hotel map

All in all, we were happy with our choice. The walk into town forced us to do quite a bit of walking and see more of the city. Our first day in Reykjavik, we walked more than seven miles! While the lounge was on the small side, it was still lovely to have access to free food and drinks (mmmm, diet coke), and the views were nothing to sneeze at. Finally, the free parking was useful once we rented our car. If you’re planning a trip to Reykjavik on points, the Hilton Nordica is a great way to keep costs down.

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Impressions of Iceland

Iceland is hot these days – figuratively, of course. The weather is quite chilly, even in May. Here are some of my thoughts on the trendy destination.

  1. Iceland is beautiful. No question about it, Iceland is stunning, and we only got to see a small part of it. With more time (and money), I’d recommend renting a car and doing a loop around the entire country. The further in you go, the more stunning and unreal the scenery gets.
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  2. Iceland is an ethereal experience. From the ashy grey skies, to the insane winds, to the 11 p.m. sunsets, experiencing Iceland is unlike most other traveling experiences. Even walking down the street in Reykjavik, I felt the remoteness of the island. Of course, we experienced Iceland on the cusp of summer. I imagine the winter is a similar and altogether different experience at the same time.
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    Black sand beaches!

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    Geothermal activity

  3. Iceland is expensive. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. The cost of enjoying the country was definitely a downer, and would make me think twice about going again (unless I win the lottery). I’m all for splurging on vacation, but Iceland made me feel like I was emptying my bank account in one week. By the end of the trip, it would piss me off every time I had to pay $4.00 for a diet coke. And sure, I can forgo diet coke for five days, but why in the world would I want to???As I understand it, the cost is due to the inflated value of the Krona, the fact that Iceland is an isolated island, and extremely high taxes. While this is great for people working in the tourist industry, it’s not so great for the tourists (or the rather large percentage of Icelanders working in the export industry).
  4. Iceland is worth a trip – at least once. The relatively short flight and the proliferation of cheap airfare makes Iceland more accessible than ever before. Even with the high cost, it’s definitely worth experiencing at least once in a lifetime.
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Iceland Must Do: Hike a Glacier

If there’s one thing you do in Iceland, hike a glacier. It’s worth it.

We almost didn’t do it because it’s a costly venture for two and half hours of walking on ice, but M convinced me with some sound logic: How often do we have the opportunity to hike a glacier? Answer: Not often.

I used our Chase points to allay the costs – about $240 for the two of us with Arcanum Glacier Tours. Iceland is filled with amazing glaciers, but most of them are more than a day trip’s drive. Sólheimajökull glacier is a two hour drive from Reykjavik, giving us some time to stop along the way back for additional sightseeing.

Our group was just four people and our guide – us and another couple. It’s about a 20 minute walk from Arcanum headquarters to the base of the glacier. We stopped to put our ice clamps on our sneakers, and then we began to climb.

@IMG_6747@IMG_6783@IMG_6959***IMG_6765***IMG_6871***IMG_6965**IMG_6687**IMG_6694**IMG_6751I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve never even seen a glacier before. But I quickly discovered two things. One — glacier hiking is a workout! Not only was I climbing an ice mountain, I was doing it with clamps strapped to my shoes. Two — it is so damn beautiful, I quickly forgot about the effort. Once we got up onto the glacier, it’s just ice for as long as the eye can see. Ice and sky and waterfalls. Every couple of minutes, I’d look around and wonder: How in the world am I here? 

**IMG_6804**IMG_6849**IMG_6880**IMG_7034If you’re really adventurous (and trained) you can spelunk your way into an ice cave. We stood on the sidelines and gawked appropriately.

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Hiking a glacier is a singular experience, and one of the coolest things I’ve done. Put it on your to-do list asap.

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