Last year while celebrating St. Paddy's day in Austin, I made a promise to my wife that in twenty-fifteen we'd be celebrating St. Patrick's Day in the motherland. So after the holidays we started planning our trip to Scotland and Ireland. The plan was to spend 10 days over there, three in Scotland and seven driving around the southern part of The Emerald Isle. We started with our usual research, creating an itinerary and price hunting for the best possible flights. Our flight over left March 11th flying IcelandAir, and returning on Ireland's own, Aer Lingus on March 21. The original plan was to have an hour layover in Keflavík, Iceland but one thing I've learned about traveling abroad, is that sometimes things don't always go the way you've planned them. Flight crews are required 24 hours of rest after flying and our crew arrived the night before late, due to a bad storm. Because of this, our 7pm flight out of Orlando Sanford International Airport was delayed until 1am Thursday morning.
We landed in Keflavík around 9 am and since we missed our connecting flight to Glasgow, we had to stay in Iceland for 24 hours. Normally, this would have been a downer, but seeing how Iceland holds special meaning to Kelly and I, we didn't let it ruin the beginning of our trip. Our plan for the next 24 hours in Iceland was to rent a car, check in to the hotel, visit the Blue Lagoon again and have dinner at our favorite restaurant in Reykjavik. The weather in Iceland was overcast, snowy and a chilly 1º Celsius /34º Fahrenheit with about 2 feet of snow on the ground. We quickly loaded up the car and headed to the lagoon, for some much needed relaxation. The lagoon was refreshing as ever, we had some adult beverages, exfoliated our skin and enjoyed the geothermal warm waters that the lagoon offered.
After the lagoon we headed to the hotel to check in and get ready for our dinner. We had reservations for a restaurant called Snaps Bistro, in Reykjavik. Snaps is the restaurant that Kelly and I went to for dinner the night before I proposed to her, so having dinner there a second time and reminiscing about our previous trip to Iceland (See my "Ice from Iceland" post) was really special. After drinks, dinner and dessert we drove back to the hotel to get a good nights rest and prepare for the early morning departure.
The next morning we headed back to the airport and boarded our 7am plane for Glasgow, Scotland. Even though we enjoyed our unscheduled quick layover in Iceland, we were both excited to see what Scotland had in store for us.
The flight from Keflavík to Glasgow was a little over three hours and we landed around 10:15 in the morning. After going through customs and grabbing our luggage we hopped in a cab headed for downtown Glasgow. Glasgow is the largest city in Scotland and the third largest in the United Kingdom with almost 1.2 million Glaswegians calling it home. Glasgow rose to importance during the Industrial Revolution and during this time became know as one of the "Second Cities of the Empire," but after the World Wars Glasgow fell into an economic decline until the mid 80's when affluent people began moving back into the centre of Glasgow, sparking a revitalization of architecture, design and fine arts. Citizen M was the place we would call home for the next two days and was a great place for us to explore the city. Everything we did in Glasgow was within walking distance of the hotel, or a short metro ride. After checking into our room and grabbing lunch, we quickly made our way over to George Square — named after King George III. It's regarded as the de facto city center and boasts not only important government buildings, but also important statues dedicated to Robert Burns, James Watt, Sir Robert Peel and Sir Walter Scott. Kelly and I checked out the statues, admired the buildings and then began our walk towards the Glasgow Cathedral and the Necropolis.
The original stone building was started in 1136 AD and was later rebuilt (larger) after a fire in 1197 AD. This cathedral is a perfect example of Scottish Gothic architecture and served as the seat for the Archbishop of Glasgow until the 17th century. The Glasgow Cathedral is massive and even includes a lower church occupying the area under the choir. I highly recommend seeing this church and visiting the tomb of St Mungo —the founder and patron saint of the city of Glasgow in 590 AD. During The Reformation period the people of Glasgow took up arms to protect Glasgow Cathedral from being destroyed, like so many other churches and monasteries. If this cathedral had been destroyed, Glasgow would have lost over 1,400 years of history and beauty. We finished our tour of the cathedral and headed over to Glasgow's Necropolis, or for the ancient Greek translation: "The City of Dead."
Glasgow's Necropolis is located on a hill east of Glasgow's Cathedral and dates back to the Victorian era of Scotland. There are almost 3,500 monuments that are placed on this hill, and over 50,000 people have been buried there. Like most early Victorian cemeteries the hill is more like a park with a leisurely strolling walkway that meanders up to the top of the hill. From the hill you can get a great view of the city and you could spend hours admiring all of the tombs and monuments that consume this hill. Kelly and I spent a good hour walking up to the top of the hill and discussing some of the more elaborate monuments. As it got later into the day, we both decided that this wasn't a place we'd like to hangout after sunset, so we started our trek back to the hotel and discussed dinner options.
We took our hotel concierge's suggestion and jumped on the metro and checked out the West End. He suggested that we spend some time on Ashton Lane and have dinner at one of the many restaurant options there. After a short train ride we walked over to Ashton Lane and decided to pop in to the Brasserie at the Chip and have a few pints. The Brasserie was a quaint little bar with a great atmosphere and nice selection of European beers and Scottish whiskeys. We decided after a couple of pints to head up to the rooftop terrace of the Ubiquitous Chip for dinner. The lower part of UC is an upscale restaurant that required reservations, but the terrace had room for walk-ins. Kelly and I were seated and began looking over the menu. What we didn't know at the time was that the UC is one of the best places to eat in Glasgow and after our dining experience, we concurred. I ordered a local pilsner called Furstenberg that they've been serving for over 30 years while Kelly ordered a glass of wine from their extensive wine list. The service was excellent and both Kelly and I tried local, authentic Scottish dishes. We even tried their famous venison haggis, with champit tatties, carrot crisps & neep cream. For our first time trying haggis, we both walked away with a new appreciation for sheep's heart, liver and lungs. Knowing that our plan was to head to Edinburgh the next day, we headed back to the hotel to get a good nights sleep.
We got up early Saturday morning to catch a train to Edinburgh. Scotland's railway system, called Scotrail, has trains leaving every 15 minutes, making it a very convenient way to get to Edinburgh. The ride was a little over an hour and we arrived in Edinburgh around 10 AM. Edinburgh has been the capital city of Scotland since the 15th century and is home to the Scottish Parliament and the seat of the monarchy in Scotland. We spent most of our day exploring the Royal Mile, which is the oldest road in the city and runs from Edinburgh Castle the Palace of Holyrood House. There's plenty of shopping, eating and drinking to do as well as sightseeing. Our first stop was the Edinburgh Castle, which dates back to the 12th century. It is a huge part of the history and a symbol of pride for Edinburgh. It's campus is huge, with towers, military buildings, chapels and great halls. It even contains the Scottish National War Memorial —a memorial to all of the Scottish men and women whom have lost their lives fighting for Scotland. If you plan correctly you can even join a castle tour where they explain the history and honor of the 93rd Highlanders, or better know as "The Thin Red Line." Outside of the castle to the left and right of the entrance stands bronze statues of two important people in the history of Scotland: Sir William Wallace & Robert the Bruce. Wallace was the first leader of the Scots to rebel against the rule of the English King Edward I who had overrun Scotland in 1296. Robert the Bruce declared himself King of Scotland and freed Scotland from England's rule in 1314.
After visiting the castle we started walking down the Royal Mile headed towards the Palace of Holyrood House. The Royal Mile runs west to east and is the busiest tourist street in Old Town and is littered with shops, restaurants and pubs. After doing some shopping we stopped off at The Canon's Gait for lunch, which has a collection of Scottish crafts and brews. We enjoyed some local beers and burgers before continuing our walk down the Royal Mile. The Palace was closed when we arrived, so we spent some time admiring the building through the gates before heading back towards the train station. As the evening approached we made our way towards George St, where we hit a few bars for dinner and some drinks. Most of the pubs were packed because Scotland had a rugby match against England. After the match we spent some more time strolling the streets of Edinburgh before catching the last train back to Glasgow.
The next morning we said our goodbyes to Scotland and headed for the Emerald Isle. Our Ryanair flight landed in Dublin around 10:30 in the morning and we hopped in our rental car headed for the west coast. We had over 335 kilometers to cover the first day and plenty of places to stop along the way. Our first stop was the western city of Galway for lunch. We arrived in Galway around lunch time, parked near the Galway Cathedral and headed to Shop Street —the oldest main thoroughfare in downtown Galway. After walking around the city center for a bit we decided to grab lunch at Riordans Cafe on Quay Street. Post lunch we walked along the River Corrib heading back to the car. Our next stop on the trip was the highlight of our first day of driving. An hour and a half south of Galway is the awe-inspiring Cliffs of Moher. These cliffs stand seven hundred feet above the Atlantic Ocean and span across eight miles. They were created by 300 million year-old river channels and are ranked among the top things to see in Ireland, with almost one million tourists visiting a year. When we arrived the weather was overcast, with a temperature of about 40° Fahrenheit. This was my second time visiting the cliffs and words cannot express the breathtaking views. If you ever get the chance to visit Ireland, this place should be at the top of your list of things to do. We spent almost three hours hiking the 8 mile span, visiting the O'Brien's Tower and watching surfers surf the big waves of Aileen. As the park started to close we decided it was best to head to our final destination for the day: the town on Ennis.
Forty minutes down the road is the town of Ennis. Ennis is a small town of about twenty-five thousand residence and comes from the Irish word "Inis," meaning "Island." The name is greatly associated with the O'Brien family and also relates to an island formed between two courses of the River Fergus on which the Franciscan Abbey was built. We arrived and checked into the Temple Gate Hotel around 7PM and quickly unloaded our gear. We both were starving from our hiking and decided to grab some dinner. One thing to note about traveling to some of the smaller towns in Ireland is that most of the stores and restaurants are seasonal and close around sunset. We walked around for a few minutes and ended up having dinner at the Poet's Corner Pub, which is a part of the Old Ground Hotel. The pub was packed, so we bellied up to the bar while we waited for a table. Kelly and I had a pint and we discussed our first day in Ireland and the amazing experience at the Cliffs of Moher. The wait for a table wasn’t long and we were shown to our seats about fifteen minutes later. Knowing that tomorrow was going to be another long day of driving, after dinner we decided to turn in for the night and get plenty of rest.
The next morning we got up, grabbed some coffee and walked around Ennis to see what we missed from the previous night, before hitting the road to Killarney. Our drive was mostly highway, it took about two hours to complete and we arrived in Killarney around noon. Killarney is located on the southwestern part of Ireland in county Kerry and has a population of about 22,000. It's known for being Ireland's most popular travel destination and is the starting point for the famous Ring of Kerry tourist route. Killarney also has the very first national park ever established in Ireland (Killarney National Park) which has the highest mountain range in the country. We parked close to downtown and went in search of lunch. Our first stop was the Danny Mann Inn, which seemed promising, but after almost ten minutes of waiting for someone to greet us we left in search of a better restaurant. That better restaurant was right down the street, called The Laurels Pub & Restaurant. The Laurels' has been run by the O'Leary family for almost a century and has a traditional Irish menu and great atmosphere. After eating a wonderful meal, Kelly and I wandered around town for a bit shopping, checking out the architecture and just soaking in the Killarney experience.
Our next stop on the trip was staying the night in Kenmare, via the Ring of Kerry scenic drive. The drive was a little over two hours and took us all the way around the beautiful Ring of Kerry. We stopped a few times to take some photos and even stopped in the small town of Cahersiveen for coffee & chocolate. We drove into the sleepy town of Kenmare around 6PM and found that most of the town had already turned in for the night. Kenmare is considered the Jewel of the Ring of Kerry and was founded in 1670 and is known for it's gourmet food, tranquility and breathtaking natural beauty. Our room and board for the night was called The Coachman, and was located right downtown within walking distance of plenty of great restaurants and shops. After checking in and unloading our luggage we decided to walk around and check out Kenmare. Although it does live up to it's nickname, one of the things we quickly noticed was that most of the restaurants were seasonal and there wasn't much to do after the shops were closed. We did get a bite to eat at The Wander Inn and Beer Garden, and then headed to the first place Kelly saw when we drove into town, The O'Connor's Bar. The O'Connor's Bar is noted as being one of the favorite watering holes for Kenmare locals and had a very cool, small town vibe. We had a few beers, watched some soccer and discussed whether or not the founders of this establishment were distant relatives of Kelly’s. We finished off a few more pints and visited a couple more pub's before calling it a night.
After waking up and packing the car we jumped on the road, heading north through the Killarney National Park back towards Killarney. The drive through the national park is about 45 minutes and takes you through some of the highest parks of Ireland. The park was first established in 1932 when the Muckross Estate was first donated to the Irish. The park spans over 25,000 acres and climbs almost 2,700 feet high through the mountain peaks. During the drive we saw plenty of goats, all three of the popular Lakes of Killarney and visited the famous Ross Castle. While walking back to the car Kelly and I were stopped by a guy who recognized Kelly from high school. Apparently his wife surprised him with a birthday trip to Ireland and just randomly happened to be in Killarney the same time we were. After chatting with Kelly's friends, we made a quick stop in Killarney for breakfast and then hit the road headed to Blarney. After an hour and a half of being on the road, we arrived at Blarney Castle around ten in the morning. The Blarney Castle was built in the mid-fifteenth century by Dermot McCarthy, King of Munster. The current name of the castle came from Queen Elizabeth I when she became agitated at the constant delays and excuses that McCarthy offered her in negotiations for the castle. She was reported as saying that his reports were just "Blarney," and hence the name. The castle is located on 60 acres of beautiful woodlands, with gardens, arboretums, druid circles and the Blarney House. The highlight of the visit is the Stone of Eloquence, aka The Blarney Stone. There are many legends about the stone, but the one that everyone can agree on is that it was given to McCarthy after he sent almost five thousand men to support Robert the Bruce in his defeat of the English in 1314. It was brought back, added to the battlements of the castle and for the last two hundred years people have traveled to Blarney to kiss the stone and receive the gift of gab. Kelly and I climbed up the castle steps, hung up-side-down and kissed the stone in hopes of gaining the gift of gab. We spent a couple hours touring the grounds, seeing the gardens, entering the dungeon and trying to find the secret's of Badger's Cave. After getting our fill of Blarney, we jumped back in the car and headed to Cork, to celebrate the biggest day in Irish history: St. Patrick's Day. We arrived in Cork twenty minutes later and quickly found our hotel. We stayed at The River Lee Hotel, located on River Lee, which runs through downtown Cork. The hotel was nice and had a great view of the river. We quickly unloaded our luggage and left to catch Cork's St. Patrick's Day Parade.
One of our biggest debates when planning this trip was deciding on spending St. Paddy's Day in Dublin, or some where else. Dublin had over five hundred thousand people visit during the celebration, while Cork boasted far less tourists. Reporting only seventy-five thousand visitors in the city, we had the best time celebrating in Cork. The first thing we did was walk down to the parade route and take in some of the sights and sounds of Cork. The parade wasn't as grand as we thought it would be, we expected something like the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and wound up seeing something that was more like a high-school homecoming. Although the parade didn't live up to our expectations, the crowd was really into it and once it ended we made our way over to St. Patrick's Street where we began celebrating like we do back in the States with tons of beer and alcohol. The rest of the night got pretty fuzzy, but I do remember meeting some Brits, having dinner at a Mexican restaurant and visiting about five more pubs with bands covering some of the greatest rock songs of all time. The next morning we awoke hungover and ready to get on the road to head to our next location, Kinsale, which was located half-an-hour south of Cork and is a small, sleepy fishing village.
Kinsale has a population of about two thousand people and dates back to the early fourteenth century and has played major military roles in Ireland's history. Out of all of the towns and cities that we've been to during this trip, Kinsale has to be the most colorful one. Each building is painted it's own unique collection of colors. I spent some time here on my last trip and I knew that this would be a great little town to show Kelly. The weather was overcast and most of the stores were still closed due to the huge celebrations that took place the night before. When we arrived we decided to have breakfast first at the White House Bar & Bistro before exploring the rest of the town. After lunch we walked around to different shops, looked for some jewelry for Kelly's mom and even stopped off at Poet's Corner for some coffee and free wi-fi. We left Kinsale around noon, heading to our next place to visit, Kilkenny, which was about two hours away. We arrived in Kilkenny around 2:30 PM on Wednesday afternoon and headed straight The Pembroke Hotel. The Pembroke is a nice hotel located in downtown Kilkenny, the rooms are nice and they have onsite parking (which is a bonus). Once we checked into our room, we unloaded our luggage and went out to explore Kilkenny. Kilkenny is a really cool town, it's located in the southeastern part of Ireland and has a population of about 24,000 people. The first written record of Kilkenny dates back to the eleventh century but was believed to date even further back to the six century. Kilkenny is a well-preserved medieval town which can be seen throughout as we walked around visiting shops, grabbing lunch and checking out the tourist spots. I visited this place back in 2010 on my first Ireland trip and I didn't get the chance to see everything, so I was really happy to be back here again. The first place we visited was Kilkenny Castle, which was an awesome experience. The castle was built in 1195 AD by the first Earl of Pembroke, William Marshal. It was constructed on the River Nore and the last stones were completed in 1213. The castle was bought by James Butler, 3rd Earl of Ormonde in 1391 and stayed in the family until twentieth century when it was sold to the State. The state restored the castle to it's former glory and is now open to the public. You can walk along the ornamental gardens outside of the castle, or enter the castle and visit The Butler Gallery which holds rotating exhibitions put on by the Kilkenny Art Gallery Society. There's plenty of other things to visit while you're here, The Smithwick's Brewery, St. Francis Abbey, Bridges of Kilkenny and St. Canice's Cathedral. This town has tons of historical things to see and I would suggest spending a couple of days here to experience it all. That night we went to Zuni's Restaurant & Boutique Hotel for dinner —which was right down the street from our hotel. We had a great dinner and after filling up on amazing food, we headed out to a local pub, called The Field for some traditional Irish music. We had a great time listening to music, drinking some pints and chatting with some locals and tourists before calling it a night and heading back to the hotel.
The next morning we hit the road headed for our final stop: Dublin. The capital and largest city of Ireland, Dublin translates to “Black Pool” in Gaelic. It was established as a Viking settlement in the 10th century and currently has a population close to 528,000. Dublin is situated at the mouth of the River Liffey, which divides the city in two between the Northside and the Southside. We arrived in Dublin around noon and dropped our rental car off at the airport. We caught a taxi down to our hotel, The Morgan, on Fleet Street. Once we checked in and dropped off our belongings we headed out for lunch and to see the sites. Our first stop was Elephant & Castle for a delightful lunch. Post lunch, we walked over to visit Trinity College and see the famous ‘Book of Kells.’ The Book of Kells is one of the finest and most famous illuminated manuscripts produced in Ireland, Scotland and England, dating back to 800 AD. It is a collection of hand drawn gospel books in Latin containing the four Gospels of the New Testament together with various prefatory texts and tables. The name ‘Book of Kells’ is derived from the Abbey of Kells, in Kells, County Meath, which was its home for much of the medieval period. Kells Abbey was plundered and pillaged by Vikings many times in the 10th century and it is unknown how the book survived. After spending time admiring the craftsmanship of the book, we made our way to Trinity College's Old Library, which is another amazing sight to see. It was first built in 1712 and the main chamber of the Old Library is the Long Room. It's nearly 65 metres in length, it is filled with 200,000 of the Library’s oldest books. It looks like something right out of The Harrowing Tale of Harry Potter. It's a breathtaking view to behold and something we'll always remember.
We left the college and made our way back to Fleet Street and the Temple Bar area. We walked down Fleet Street and headed to make reservations for dinner that night at a very touristy place called The Arlington Hotel. This hotel was recommended to us on the way into town by our cab driver. He suggested that we go there tonight for dinner and check out the Celtic Nights Irish Dance Show & Dinner. This was one thing that Kelly was looking forward to seeing, so we made reservations for late that evening.
The rest of our afternoon walk took us past the famous Dublin General Post Office where the famous Easter Rising of 1916 was started, the Spire of Dublin, and down along Henry Street where we shopped, stopped for chocolates and enjoyed seeing more of what Dublin had to offer. The evening was quickly upon us and we headed back to our hotel to get ready for dinner. Before we left Fleet Street we popped our head in The Oliver St. John Gogarty for a few pints and some traditional Irish music. The band was just getting started so we listened to a few songs, sang along on a few more and finished off a couple of pints. We then headed across the Ha'penny Bridge and made our way to the Arlington Hotel for tonight's dinner and show. The show was fantastic, they had traditional Irish singers, River Dancers and performers, along with great Irish dishes. The show lasted for about three hours and we really enjoyed the whole evening. After dinner we headed back to the hotel for a good nights sleep.
The next morning we got up and headed out for some breakfast and see more of Dublin. Our first stop was a little cafe for pancakes and coffee. We sat outside as we ate and discussed what we wanted to do for the day. Kelly wanted to find her mom some jewelry and I wanted to make another trip to see the St. Patrick's Cathedral. After breakfast Kelly and I found a nice necklace for her mother in a local shopping center, then we weaved our way south through the city to see St. Patrick's Cathedral. The St. Patrick's Cathedral was founded in 1191, and is the largest church in Ireland. The cathedral and manicured grounds were an amazing site to see. The inside has a huge collection of historic relics and beautiful stain-glass windows that are a must see if you're visiting the city. While enjoying the cathedral, we were lucky enough to catch the female choir practicing, which was a magical experience. To hear their voices rise and echo throughout this massive building was something I’ll never forget. We finished our tour and decided to grab some lunch before exploring more parts of this amazing city. We stopped to have lunch at Boxty on Fleet Street and visited a few more pubs before heading back to the hotel to get ready for dinner. We made reservations at The Clarence for our last dinner of the trip. The Clarence is Dublin’s original rock’n’roll hotel, was built in 1852, and bought by U2 lead singer, Bono, and lead guitarist, The Edge. The hotel has a great red room bar for drinks before dinner and a great restaurant called The Cleaver East, which offers the finest Irish and European cuisine. After a wonderful dinner we headed over to the oldest pub in Dublin, The Brazen Head. The Brazen Head dates back to 1198 AD. This pub is over eight hundred and seventeen years old and has had some of Dublin's most famous patrons, James Joyce, Jonathan Swift, Daniel O'Connell and many more. After a few pints and a great last night on our trip we decided to head back to The Morgan.
On our last morning in Dublin we got up and headed to The Guinness Factory for a tour and one last celebratory pint. Guinness originated in the brewery of Arthur Guinness in 1725. Guinness is an Irish dry stout and one of the most successful beer brands worldwide. The factory has over 250 years of heritage and an in-depth educational tour on the history of Arthur and the beer he made famous. The tour starts on the first floor and makes it's way up through the Guinness history and ends up at the top at the Gravity Bar. The bar has a 360 degree view of Dublin skyline and is a great way to see the city while drinking Dublin’s most famous beverage. After finishing the tour, buying some souvenirs and having a pint at the top of the city, we grabbed a cab and headed to the airport. Our flight left Dublin around 3PM and arrived stateside on Saturday night. Though we were exhausted, we were happy to be home with two more "Lands" marked off the list with our sights already firmly set on New Zealand, next year.