Rathfarnham Castle is located in south county Dublin. It was built in 1585 by Adam Loftus, Archbishop of Armagh. This is one of the finest examples of what is described as a ‘fortified manor house’ in Ireland. It’s 4 flanker towers, instead of being square are angular (angle bastions). This site is steeped in history […]
The Gregory Bed and Breakfast, Belfast Northern Ireland
30 Eglantine Avenue, Belfast, BT9 6DX, United Kingdom ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ £ £ £ Moderate
One of the best, most comfortable accommodations I had on this last trip was The Gregory in Belfast. I had a quick 48 hour stay and needed a safe place to stay and be able to walk or bus from where I was. I found a place in a great neighborhood by the university, and plenty of local entertainment, including The Cuckoo club around the corner, owned by a GOT alum (Nairn).
I was going on a great tour for one of my days on the trip, a Game of Thrones Tour that would encompass one whole day. I needed a safe, quiet space to rest from travel and get plenty of sleep the night before. This was just the place. Large, spacious room, good flooring and carpet. The decor was not too loud, fairly neutral. The bathroom was very good, plenty of room to turn around in. The heaters were great, yeah summer in Northern Ireland. The bed was very comfortable, one of the few I didn’t have to use the duvet as padding for. The meals in the restaurant were okay for breakfast, accommodating for early departures if you order the breakfast.
The shower was well kept and the at the source heater worked well with a good flow. My room faced the back, with a side window that looked on a nice red brick next to the hotel with a good garden space. The restaurant was very accommodating in the am for early departure on tour.
Local food was very good, being by Queen’s University there were plenty of restaurants to choose from and since school was out for the summer, seating was quick. Remember student restaurants equals great foodie fun and portions. Not all are equal so check the local apps and Yelp.com for reviews. I ate at Molly’s Yard with a huge curry chips I could never finish.
Great price for the comfort, private and crashable after a day long tour. Would definitely stay again.
If you have more time, take the Art Walk Tours of the political murals and community murals in Belfast. Great insight to the wonderful city and it’s history.
When traveling in another country, you may not have the luxury of taking a car and just going. Cars can be rented, but can be more costly in the UK and Europe to rent and run. Of course you can have fun driving on the left side of the road, or maybe find a place in Germany that rents American Muscle Cars and drive the Autobahn (always a bucket list item). Trouble is that renting a motorcar in the UK or Europe is very expensive and you may return from your trip with additional costs for a slight car ding ranging in the £€ 1,000.00 2,000.00 range. Yes, even if you buy insurance, there will be some additional costs, and petrol is very high in Europe. So often a train ride is a better option. And trains can be fun, especially if you can get on a historic one. Many of the train options are for diesel or electric and some are well cared for, and some are not. But you need to get where you are going, and travel bus is not for everyone.
Hogwarts Express – Scotland The Jacobite Express First Class £ 59.00 £ 35.00 standard return.
This iconic train is booked well in advance as you can imagine. I couldn’t get it for my dates. If you are a train lover, start planning your vacation around the trains and trips months in advance. This train encompasses the Glenfinnan viaduct, Arisaig, Mallaig, Fort William areas and is a great trip across the Highlands and on a clear day you can see many of the islands from the shores. Their’s full tea service as well, and you know how fun it is to take tea on a classic train.
If you want to see Hogwart’s locations, head to University of Glasgow, and Edinburgh’s streets.
The Flying Scotsman
http://www.flyingscotsman.org.uk/ Site is very image intensive
To book, go to this site http://www.railwaytouring.net/
This train recently started touring again and has been quite a hit. However there was a performance safety issue this last season and you need to check if it is running again on the http://www.railwaytouring.net/ site. It’s a classic good run on a restored train, so keep an eye out while you make your tour plans this season to see if you can catch a ride.
Luckily, Scotrail was not on strike action this season, like it had been the summer before. The trains had showed it and I had been rerouted by bus at least once on that trip. This trip, 2017, was smooth sailing, except when I was stranded in Kyle of Lochalsh due to rocks falling on the tracks for 2 hours with a cancelled train. The rest of the trip, the trains ran on time for the most part and were cleaner than the previous year. Of course going through the Highlands is always breathtaking so it was worth the trip. Great conversations with fellow travelers.
Virgin Trains The Highland Chieftain
On my final rail around the Highlands for the 2017 tour, I got a real sweet deal on Virgin Trains for a first class in the quiet car at just a few pounds more than 2nd class. A bump of £ 4.00 per seat got me on a single side seat facing the Eastern Coast of Scotland down to Edinburgh. Very smooth ride and great scenery of Stirling and all places in between. It was a bittersweet farewell to the Highlands, but a really fabulous experience. If you time your ticket right, in the middle of the week and mid to late morning, the price is fair. The only problem was one car had no WiFi working or any of the charging ports for phones and people kept coming into our car. It wasn’t really a problem as it was half full and you get to meet more people that way. Wait, it was supposed to be a quiet car, right? But most were pretty good about it. A very good trip all round on that one.
Ireland € 16.00 -30.00
Irish Rail http://www.irishrail.ie/
Traveling in Ireland this summer I spent time on some very clean trains that kept good time. I was lucky on the two trips I had to make, plenty of room and easy storage for my cases, cars were clean and comfortable. I had booked a month in advance and got very good pricing. It was under € 20.00 to get to Galway and the return trip on to Belfast was under € 30.00. Considering the high cost of being in Dublin for 4 days, it was helpful on the budget to get the tickets in advance and pick up at the kiosks. Smooth rides on both trips.
The trip to Galway was filled with amazing green fields, passing through Athlone, the true countryside of Ireland. And there is a reason it’s called the Emerald Isle, it’s amazingly green even in the high summer. It was a record high temperature week when I was there, but the trains were comfortable and clean. Conversation was good, and trains always provide an opportunity to talk with local people about where they live and what is going on in their lives. And the Irish love to talk about their lives and where they live, and great deal about politics
But Can the Train Get Me to Where I Want to Go?
In some cases, you can take trains to some of the national parks in countries, or take a link ride with a bus. Sadly this will cut into some of your travel time and limit some places you can get to. If you have a car you can tour the Highlands for better access, get closer to a Munro for that great climb. However cars make you take on big responsibilities in other countries. Please take the time to familiarize yourself with the country’s driving laws and customs for driving country roads. Many tourists do not get the right of way on one lanes in Scotland and the rest of the UK much to the chagrin of locals. When in doubt, always err on the side of letting others pass. Then there are the smaller roads like coffin roads on some of the isles. You can get really lost on an island. In many cases, such as Isle of Skye, too many tourists are renting cars and not parking with care. Skye is boggy and loamy right off the road and if you get in the mire, the car will sink. Getting it pulled is very costly.
Walking and Hiking Tours
Really want to tour the countries and get to know them? Then walking tours and climbing in parks may be your best bet. Many of these can be accessed by public transport and many back packers go this route. It can take a bit longer to get somewhere, but is well worth it. Try joining some of the hiking and walking boards for the country you are visiting. You can check on the best climbs for a novice or find out about roadworks and diversions for trails. Most large cities like Dublin and Glasgow have rail to bus link services, it will take more time but it can be done.
Train Touring Companies
Irish Rail Strikes
It was sweltering in Dublin in July. I hadn’t planned for that. Global climate change was touching Ireland, and lucky me, I walked right into it. Ireland has the reputation for changeable weather in summer, mostly rain to clear. I’d planned for mostly that, but not the intense heat I encountered. Never thought I’d get sunburn in Dublin.
Dublin is one of the most complex and busy cities you will visit in Europe. It is also one of the most expensive to live in, eat in and tour. Unless you stick to a strictly free as much as possible day. The people of Dublin are cosmopolitan and eclectic in their tastes, and the food is fusion and experimental. The architecture is grand, with Regency Era buildings and a hodge podge of old and new. I have been in large cities, large tourist towns like San Francisco where I lived for many years, and London which is a huge tourist metropolis. I have not see anything quite like what I experienced in Dublin this July. The streets were teeming with people, you couldn’t walk down sidewalks, people poured into the streets, blocking everything. Massive groups of Italian students with their bright coordinating backpacks in swarmed like bees, turning much of Temple Bar into a piazza.
Bog Men to Vikings
Dublin is a great city for museums and each national museum is by subject. The museums can take up a day or two of your visit as the exhibits are very in depth and well curated. There are the large extensive museums and many smaller museums focusing on specific people such as my favorite, Oscar Wilde. The majority of museums are south of Temple Bar around the Trinity College area, a place filled with great buildings and architecture, buskers, and shops. This summer there was an exhibit on Vermeer paintings. All the other museums, Archeology, Decorative Arts and History, Country Life, and Natural History are free to the public.
What to do when there are so many museums and only a few days? I usually tour museums when the weather is inclement and save the rest of the days in a city for exploring. With the heat, they became a great refuges to escape the sunburn I was acquiring.
Archaeology Museum, Kildare Street
One of my main drives to get to the museums is the rich human history Dublin has. This museum had great exhibits on Viking and Mediaeval artifacts that showed the vast wealth of history Dublin had in shaping Ireland. I had not had a chance to see actual Viking objects before, so it was a great treat to see models, weapons, jewelry, and pieces of everyday life objects the Vikings would have used. The medieval history objects and stories of local chieftains and their battles over who would lead and rule Dublin are not to be missed. Then. There are the great Celtic objects on the main floor, filled with Torcs and other jewelry displayed. Truly some of the decorative pins in size and magnitude defy logic.
However the best part was the one I had been trying to get to Dublin for many years for. The bizarre Bog Men exhibit. I must admit that since I was very young and took my first Archeology classes, I had been intrigued by the story of the men and women ritually killed and left in bogs, with bodies being discovered and put on display. It was really a thrill to see the examples in this museum. I was excited to get to a city with Viking history again. When you live in the US, history starts at 1600 with the later colonizations. While Vikings may have landed in Canada and attempted settlements, we don’t get a lot of exposure on these ancient cultures in the US.
Natural History, or the Smelly Dead Zoo
National Museum of Natural History. Another fascination from childhood was with taxidermic animals. I have been to many exhibits of these over the years, and the one in Dublin is a find collection of animals collected mostly in the Victorian era. Sadly this means the specimens are very worn and tired. Now, there are some really amazing examples of extinct creatures that you should see, my favorite being the giant Irish deer from prehistoric times. The rack of antlers on these are the largest in the world.
Food and Drink, Temple Bar
This is one of the most heavily populated tourist areas in Dublin. The entertainment area is packed with restaurants and other venues. It is elbow to elbow crowding usually at night, but that week it was from late morning into the evenings. I often found that I had to circumnavigate the area and give it a wide birth, or sneak up an alleyway street. I tried to avoid this area, I knew it would be a serious tourist trap on this side of the Liffey river. The winding shop streets in the Grafton area seem to keep leading back to it and there is no escape, especially when tourist runs kept dragging you along. I steered clear of the American filled pubs and bars, packed past capacity. My one respite on day was to have sushi and sake at Banyi Japanese dining. Great restaurant with great food.
On the second part of my Irish journey this summer, I decided to take in Galway, a medieval town on the Western coast. After three days of intense heat in Dublin, a city I never thought I would see such heat in, I took a tranquil train rides through to the West of Ireland and reached Galway city mid- morning. The ride had been filled with views of great fields of green and an interesting political conversation with an Irishman. Warning, if you start up any politics with the Irish, it will be a long conversation. Actually, most conversations, especially with men in Ireland, will be long and take a while to end. It was a wam, bam, 48 hours well spent and I wished it had been longer.
The weather took a funny turn right after I arrived, I got off the train needing a good long walk, dropped cases at the bed and breakfast and took College down into the downtown area of Eyre Square, passing through the shopping mall that boasted one of the remaining walls of this great walled city of Ireland. I headed down into Quay and Spanish Arches area, chased the lanes around for a couple of hours. It looked and smelled of rain, so I tried to cram in the sights as much as I could. Then came in the storm. I had been napping at the B&B and the whole place shook. Within 10 minutes and amazing wind storm with hail, thunder and tree bits blew in and was gone. That’s Galway for you.
A Taste of Irish Feminism: Crestfall by Mark O’Rowe
One of the main reasons I was in Galway was to take in a play as the Arts Festival was in full swing. I had been trying to book plays from overseas and several had sold out but luckily I snagged a seat at the Druid for Crestfall, a play with three powerful women on a night and what their lives had culminated in for that one night. Deep and insightful to the psyche of womankind it gave a great snapshot of real life tragedy and life in a tiny compact stage. I was on the edge of my seat and drawn in, raging inside with the cast. The play ended up with few favorable reviews, but I think that is because the reviewers just could not handle the raw nature of the play. I was relieved to see a man could write about women, actually capture some of the guttural essence of single mothers and other women downtrodden by society. Directed by Annabelle Comyn, and starring Kate Stanley Brennan, Siobhán Cullen, and Amy McElhatton. Three very different women struggling in a dystopian Dublin.
Galway Arts Festival
If you get a chance to come in the month of July, this festival is a good kick off for festival travels. I managed three festivals this trip, and this was a great beginning. In the beautiful surroundings of the city and university, the big top is also filled with concerts and Trad musicians. If you are planning to go, book your accommodations early and try to get them near the river. Taxis can be rough during the festival and you will need to walk everywhere. But it’s a great little city for walking. Many big and small acts come to the festival, with some famous Irish musicians booking in because they like the festival. Keep an eye on the website as tickets sell out fast.
Dress in layers, you are by the sea. There is a great many shops to keep you busy. I usually don’t do the tourist shops things, mainly stick to galleries of which there are plenty in this town. Plenty of buskers and jewelry and clothing stalls to pass the time with. Galway is one of the arts hubs of Ireland with creativity on every corner. And then of course Galway is a tourist hub, filled with tour buses and bus barns that amazingly manage to fit in such a small downtown area.
The west of Ireland has many magical places to visit, all lush and green. I had planned for months on my day two being a fantastic trip to the Aran Islands. The weather the following day got even worse, the ocean filled with darkness and wind, so I opted for a coach tour of Connemara National Park instead. What a ride; fjords, endless sheep and landscapes, all seen in the mostly rain filled summer’s day. If you can manage it, stay in the park either camping or at a nearby inn. There is so much to see and experience hiking it will take at least a full day. The highlight of the tour was the Kylemore Abbey and Victorian Gardens estate tour. This massive estate was once home to a very wealthy family, but now has been converted to an Benedictine Abbey. The grounds are lush and rambling, you are in for a good walk with many photo opportunities.
Ireland’s west coast and the Atlantic Way is filled with a great many treats for the senses, wear layers and bring your imagination. Two days was not enough, so if you can manage it try for three to four days to explore this beautiful area fully. This is one of the few places where doing a hire car with a group may be your best advantage so you can get to all of the sights around Galway. Just be patient if you drive into Galway, for the streets pack fast and it may be better to park at the outskirts and walk in.