Okay, as promised, I present my detailed account of the trip my wife and I took last week to Ireland. Because I am a merciful blogger, however, I will place this lengthy entry behind the cut to spare those who just don’t give a darn.
Kara and I left New York on Saturday, July 18, on a 9:40pm Aer Lingus flight out of JFK International. I had never flown on Aer Lingus before. It was probably one of the three best air-travel experiences of my life so far. Comfortable seats, an intelligently designed entertainment system, and surprisingly good food even in the main cabin. Aer Lingus coach-class meals are better than the first-class meals on some U.S. airlines.
For my in-flight entertainment, I chose the feature film The International, starring Clive Owen and Naomi Watts. I was disappointed by the film; despite some good performances, it never quite came together, and the ending felt disjointed and unsatisfying.
We arrived at roughly 9am local time in Dublin on Sunday, July 19. After the usual customs-and-immigration process, we caught an AirLink bus to Heuston Station in Dublin city center. We were very early for our train to Galway, so we had a tasty Irish breakfast in the Galway Hooker Bar. In retrospect, I wish I had taken a photo of the restaurant’s sign, but I was too tired to think of it at that point.
At quarter to noon we boarded our Iarnród Éireann train to Galway. It was spacious, modern, and clean. When we reached our reserved seats, our names were displayed on LCD readouts above them. Simple but impressive. This is a train service that has its act together.
In addition to the charms of the lovely Irish countryside (dotted with packs of grazing sheep), the train ride was made more pleasant by our company on the ride: a pair of young men, the O’Boyle brothers. The older brother, Adrian, regaled Kara and me with tales of haunted houses and faerie circles and enchanted trees. He was quick to add he didn’t believe these stories, of course — they were just what he’d heard…
We reached Galway at about 2:30pm. With time to kill before catching the bus to our ferry, we dropped off our bags at the Aran Island Ferries office on Merchant Street and roamed the Eyre Square area of Galway. Rainstorms came and went, so I fished my umbrella out of my seabag — only to find that some baggage handler had destroyed it. I bought a new one in the Eyre Square Mall, even though I knew I’d never be allowed to take it home. (And I was right; I ended up giving it to the hotel staff at the end of the week, to help the next poor soul who found himself or herself without an umbrella during a storm.)
Kara and I guzzled some coffee in a little café on Shops Street before heading back to catch our bus to Ros à Mhil (aka Rossaveal). The trip took about 45 minutes, and it traversed some of the most narrow roads I’ve ever been on. Because of the width and bulk of the bus, and the fact that oncoming traffic appeared at the most inconvenient moments, this was a nerve-wracking part of the trip for me.
Once we got to Ros à Mhil, however, things calmed down. We boarded our 6:30pm ferry to the Aran Islands and sat on the top deck as it cruised west. Ocean spray kissed my face, and I savored the salt air, the cool breeze, and the bright sun that broke through the rain. We arrived in Kilronan, the main port of Inis Mor, the largest of the Aran Islands, around 7:15pm. We were met by a minivan from our B&B, The Kilmurvey House, which is located about six miles from Kilronan, out near Dun Aonghasa.
We skipped dinner that first night because we’d been awake for nearly 30 hours and wanted to crash. It worked like a charm. Thanks to the blessed silence of Inis Mor, we slept deeply that night and awoke refreshed the next morning around 8:30am, adjusted to local time.
After a delicious breakfast at Kilmurvey House, we caught a ride into Kilronan and explored the town a bit before setting off on our first hike, up to Dun Duchathair, aka the Black Fort. It was a long walk up winding roads paved with gravel and flanked by fields crisscrossed with ancient rock walls. At the end of the road we found not the fort but a rock wall, beyond which lay open countryside of grass and fractured limestone.
Traversing the limestone was tricky but we soon got the hang of it. We stayed close to the cliffside, from which we snapped some wonderful pictures of the Atlantic-facing cliffs. After visiting the Black Fort, we hoofed our way back to Kilronan, had lunch, bought some bottles of water, and started the six-mile trek back to Kilmurvey House.
We were in luck, because one of the house’s owners who doubles as its cook, was making dinner that night. (She rarely cooks dinner these days, we were told.) We enjoyed a delicious meal with a bottle of white wine and savored our dessert and coffee. Fortified by our evening repast, we took an early-evening hike up the hill to Dun Aonghasa (aka Dun Aengus, or the Big Fort). It was fortuitous timing; all the day-trippers had already left, and the place was all but deserted. It was serene and quiet, and Kara and I lay on the grass and watched clouds on a sky the color of marble.
The next day we had breakfast and went into town to buy souvenirs. In the afternoon we hiked out to another large Celtic fort, Dun Eoghanachta, and on the way back snapped more pictures of adorable animals, which had proved to be one of our chief interests on Inis Mor.
On Wednesday, we reluctantly bade farewell to Inis Mor. After breakfast we took the ferry back to Galway and had lunch in a hotel near the train station. There was a bit of a mix-up with our reserved seats on the train, and fixing it ended up costing us roughly 24 euro, much to my annoyance. Obnoxious seat neighbors and a screaming baby threatened to undo all the relaxation of Inis Mor.
Our return to Dublin was met with a torrential downpour. We could barely see where our taxi driver was taking us as he navigated traffic. We hurried inside our hotel, the luxurious Radisson SAS Royal on Golden Lane, and checked in. When we got to our room, I opened the curtains — and saw that the rain had passed, leaving behind a glorious double rainbow.
We showered, and I shaved and donned one of my new sport jackets. Kara made dinner reservations for us at a terrific but casual sushi restaurant called Yamamori Noodles on South Great St. Georges Street. Fantastic meal.
Then we strolled the streets of Dublin’s city center, passing through Temple Bar, drifting between the shuttered shops of Grafton Street, wandering past Trinity College, and skirting the edge of St. Stephen’s Green before returning to the hotel.
On our first full day in Dublin, we slept in. Apparently, Inis Mor had tuckered us out more than we’d realized. We grabbed lunch at a coffee shop, scouted some potential dinner locations, and toured Temple Bar and the quayside boardwalk. To escape the rain we ducked inside the Palace Bar and enjoyed a few pints of Guinness. (I also tried a Carlsberg pilsner.) After the rain let up, we continued on to Trinity College.
That night we grabbed dinner at a terrific little restaurant on Dame Street called Gruel. Its appearance is unassuming, but don’t let that fool you — the food is amazing. While walking off the massive calorie infusion from dinner and dessert, Kara and I crossed the historic Ha’penny Bridge and planned our next day’s itinerary.
On our second full day in Dublin — and last full day in Ireland — we visited the Guinness Storehouse, Christchurch Cathedral, and St. Stephen’s Green. We had dinner at the Quays Restaurant in Temple Bar, I enjoyed a final pint of Guinness, and then we returned to our hotel and packed for the trip home.
Our return was tedious but uneventful. London’s Heathrow International Airport clings fiercely to second place in my most-hated airport category, and American Airlines did little to endear itself to me or Kara, as usual.
My in-flight entertainment on this leg of the journey was much more enjoyable. On a friend’s recommendation, I watched I Love You, Man starring Paul Rudd and Rashida Jones, and I laughed my ass off. I also enjoyed the DreamWorks animated film Monsters vs. Aliens (with voices by Reese Witherspoon, Hugh Laurie, Seth Rogen, and others). To kill time I also watched Race to Witch Mountain. Not the worst movie I’ve ever seen, but I won’t be rushing out to buy the DVD. (Unlike I Love You, Man, which I intend to purchase ASAP.)
In summary, Ireland was wonderful, and I am already dreaming of going back and seeing more of its locales … but it was also nice to come home and be reunited with our cats.