Irish Everyday Was This Good…
Every year, I’m counting down the days to spring break. And every year, I find myself disappointed when our class-free week doesn’t somehow magically double in length. My last spring break has officially come and gone, though this time, my travel updates seem to have lost the same punctuality. oops.
I think it’s only appropriate to preface this series of posts with the sexiest budget-travel confession- me and my roommate, Madison, bought our roundtrip tickets to Brussels for $475.
Yep, I know. I don’t know how we found them either. As per my guide on finding cheap flights, we stumbled upon this mistake fare in October and booked the tickets within 5 minutes of finding them. I’m the first to admit I’m not much of a Europe girl, but for $475!!? I'll be whatever you want me to be, Delta Airlines.
Our itinerary didn’t come together until much later, which is how Ireland and Malta (more on this soon) came into the picture.
We landed in Brussels only to pick up our checked bags and re-check them for another flight. From our Delta flight’s arrival to our Iberia flight’s takeoff, we allocated about 5 hours of cushion so there was no chance of missing our flight. Needless to say, the two of us were utterly exhausted when we finally landed 24 hours later in Dublin.
After unpacking our stuff in the hostel and meeting our two roommates (a german girl visiting her brother and one of the hostel employees, which by the way, is the handiest thing ever), we headed out in search of dinner. We walked around for a bit, the city surprisingly crowded. Turns out, all of Europe had gathered in Dublin for the Rugby playoff matches. Who knew. The crowds, although noticeable, were hardly an inconvenience- the only exception being trying to find a place for dinner on Saturday night. We wound up making a full circle and finally found a table at the closest restaurant to our hostel, Neon. Madison ordered Singapore street noodles, and I worked diligently at my vegan pad thai, half of which I took back to the hostel with me.
That night, I FaceTimed my mom and did a lot of research on day-trips from Dublin. After much TripAdvisor abuse, we settled on an excursion to the Cliffs of Moher and I fell asleep only half-way moping about the 6:50 am call time. We hailed an Uber from the Hostel to the Molly Malone statue with ten minutes to spare, and only after trying to board the wrong bus once. Ha, success! We found our place in line behind another American and, upon noticing her accent, Madison struck up a conversation.
"Where are you from?"
"The USA, but I'm studying abroad at Westminster"
“Oh my gosh, Westminster! No way. I studied abroad there.” (everyone was freaking out, thinking this was the extent of their commonalities)
“That's so cool!!! I actually go to the University of Alabama, you?,”
“Wait- you’re joking- we go to the University of Alabama”
From that point, I think we collectively just slurred together a big long strand of curse words. We connected the dots, and turns out we have mutual close friends. On top of that, Kate- our new friend’s name- is a tri-delt, aka the sorority houses two down from ours. How insane is it that?? The world never ceases to remind me how small it really is.
Needless to say, the three of us latched on to each other, and to the rest of the bus’s dismay, we chatted for the entirety of the 3 hour bus ride. When we arrived at the Cliffs of Moher, it was overcast and spitting rain. The cliffs were stunning- I expected them to be tall and the scenery to be nice, but boy, was the experience a sensory overload. We walked up and down the cliffs, which consist of an information center, an endless string of vantage points and a stone tower to the right. On either side of the park, you can squeeze through a wire fence opening and go beyond the official park limits. These openings are marked with signs advising visitors to exercise caution. If you’re rational, it’s not any more dangerous than the official cliffs themselves. I would guess about 80% of the visitors in the park roamed out to either side.
There’s a really nice vantage point past the park limits to the cliffs on the right, so Madison, Kate and I whipped out my camera and struck a few poses. I climbed down to the ledge and took my picture first, Madison climbing down next. The ground was slick and muddy, and sweet Madison- in her platform tennis shoes- wiped out to the chorus of Lady Gaga. I can’t make this stuff up. As though choreographed, as soon as Madison belted out “I’M ON THE EDGE” (to which she would have followed with the lyrics “of glory”), homegirl’s feet flew out from under her and her body became one with the Cliffs of Moher. To all the onlookers, Madison was probably gone to the sea, and so obviously there was an audible gasp. I was down on the ledge and had just witnessed the scene, so I'm wheezing laughing along with Madison. Upon realizing she’s alive, the other visitors joined in, and we all just relived the glorious moment of Madison eating shit cliffside.
The next stop on the tour was Burren National Park. I know a lot of people aren’t huge fans, but I actually really enjoyed my time here. Our guide parked the bus and gave us about 15 minutes to explore, which was honestly about all you need. The landscape is hard to describe- for lack of better words, it's an endless slab of cracked rock. I hopped around on rocks like a 6 year old, even conquering a few taller ones. Kate ventured down to the sea and Madison hung back with me to get some pictures. I still can’t get over that wild masterpiece of nature.
After Burren, we stopped at Dulin for lunch. There’s not much to talk about with this town, and honestly, I think the tour buses are the only reason any businesses or restaurants stay in business there. We wound up eating a snack in Dulin, and waiting until Galway to eat our big meal. Because a group was late getting on the bus earlier in the tour, we had to cut our time in Galway in half by an hour. Sadly, the three of us only had time to eat in Galway, so I didn't get to any of the town past the few streets we took in our quest for food. We did, however, stream the Ed Sheeran song Galway Girl in the line to get back on the bus, so honestly we won either way.
When we arrived back in Dublin at 8pm that night, us girls headed to the Brazen Head in search of a pint of beer. The Brazen Head is supposedly the oldest pub in Dublin, and while I can’t verify this, I can assure you it breathed life back into our tired bodies. We wound up ordering pint after pint and feasted on dinner, too. Surprisingly, the restaurant had menu options that catered to my vegetarian diet and Kate’s gluten free one. After dinner (and ok, another round of pints), we moseyed over to the band room and danced with the locals. I learned how to step dance, we drank like Irishmen, and the band dedicated a Lynyrd Skynyrd song to us. I don’t know what more you could ask for. Later that night, drunk Sydney thanked sober Sydney for the leftover pad thai, and needless to say, the three of us girls slept in late the next morning.
On Monday, Madison and I navigated to Grafton Street from our hostel without WiFi or GPS or anything- just old school maps. What a feat. To celebrate, we ordered a coffee and donuts from Rolling Donut Co (ok let’s be honest, we were going to order the donuts anyway; the excuse to celebrate sounded nice in retrospect). The donuts were divine and the company catered to a wide range of dietary needs (vegan and gf included!). We walked to the end of Grafton to the jewelry store where we had planned to meet up with Kate. Both Madison and Kate bought traditional celtic jewelry, and I ate my heart out taking in the beautiful craftsmanship.
We explored Trinity College which was a treat, though we didn’t see the Book of Kells until the next day. After, we walked to Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, which was about halfway from Grafton street to our next destination, the Guinness Storehouse. The St. Patrick’s Cathedral Gardens were free (and quite beautiful), though there was a fee of 8 euros or so to see the inside of the cathedral. Usually, I’m a skeptic of paying to enter popular tourist attractions, but the cathedral was well worth my money. If you’re a photographer, it’s worth it in itself for the way the light filters through the glass panes and projects onto the interior stone. I spent a whopping 2 euro for a celtic pin- my one and only high baller souvenir from Dublin.
Because we broke it up in half, the remainder of the walk to the Guinness Storehouse was a breeze. Kate passed a pub with her last name plastered across the front, and we knew it to be a sign for a photo-opp. Once to the entrance of Guinness, we maneuvered our way to the pre-purchased ticket kiosk and printed out the tickets we had bought online a few weeks earlier. For anyone considering touring the storehouse, I would highly recommend purchasing your tickets online in advance. Not only do you get to skip the line of people waiting to buy theirs at the entrance, you also can secure a specific time slot rather than show up and hope that there’s still tickets available. Another note about the storehouse tour- they offer luggage hold services at no extra cost. Kate was headed to the airport directly after our tour, so we were all three delighted that she was able to explore the storehouse sans a backpack.
The best way I can describe the Guinness Storehouse experience is to relate it to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. And yes, you should take that as literally as possible- there’s beverage samples, sensory areas, educational parts, water falls, elevators, escalators, and a glass room at the very top. I read a lot of negative things online about the ticket not being worth it, but I couldn’t disagree more. I loved that the tour was self-guided, as it let you explore things at your own pace. I spent a little extra time waving my freak flag on the advertising floor (the 4th floor, if you’re curious). I learned how to properly taste a Guinness to appreciate its flavors (it does make a difference) and finally learned what the heck a “hop” is that gives all my favorite beers their flavor. The best part of the tour was the free Guinness you’re served atop the Gravity Bar. Although packed with people, the 360 views of Dublin from this bar are unrivaled. Another cool note about the storehouse- if you’re traveling with someone who is gluten free, just inform one of the workers, and they’ll arrange to have a cider waiting for you at the 5th floor bar for you to carry to the Gravity Bar with you. There’s also a few options of beers- I chose a lighter lager, while Madison went with the traditional Guinness.
We dreaded concluding our tour of Guinness because obviously, one, we would have to leave beer heaven, but two, and most importantly, we would have to say goodbye to Kate. We hugged her and gushed over our perfect weekend- and the wild fate that brought us together- and she was off. Not a fun goodbye at all.
That night, Madison and I had plans to see a certain One Direction band member in concert. Before the concert, we met up with Madison’s Scottish family friend, Sarah, at a super swanky cellar bar at the Merrion Hotel. We actually didn’t know how swanky the bar was until our cab driver spent 20 whole minutes gaping over our final destination. We were treated like royalty from the instant we arrived, and suddenly I was like “hostel who? budget vacation what?”. I was thrilled to meet Sarah- she was in Ireland for her son’s professional rugby match and was the most pleasant person to talk to. She insisted on buying our drinks and we chatted for an hour or so before having to part ways. If you make it to the cellar bar at the Merrion Hotel, I would 10/10 highly recommend the espresso martini.
I’ll spare you the concert details, but you should know that the universe rewarded me for some obscure deed or something because I saw a very Irish Niall Horan perform at a very Irish concert hall in Dublin, and he sang not one, but two One Direction songs in addition to his solo stuff. I’m not sure at what point my soul departed my body that night, but I can assure you it happened. Dinner wasn’t until after the concert, which was about midnight. Despite our rather slim pickings, we ended up at a Persian place eating possibly the best food I had in all of Ireland. If you’re in Dublin and looking for an incredible and cheap meal during any of the 24 hours in a day, hike your hungry ass up to Zaytoon. I highly recommend the veggie kabob meal, but I think it’s impossible to order something bad.
The next morning, Madison and I slept in a bit. The only thing left on our list was breakfast at Bewley’s, as per Sarah’s recommendation and a return visit to Trinity college to see the Book of Kells. Bewley’s was hands down the best breakfast of the entire trip. Madison and I indulged- we turned brunch into a feast. We ordered pastries with our tea and coffee, and concluded that course with actual entrees. I ordered the almond roll, and it was probably one of the best pastries I’ve ever eaten. No seriously. This pastry could put all of Paris out of business. Madison said her scone was on the same level of goodness- so the takeaway here: don’t bypass Bewley's on your trip to Dublin. Our food was good as well- I ordered avocado toast and Madison ordered a ham and cheese croissant.
We walked over from Bewley’s on Grafton to Trinity College- just a stone’s throw apart- and entered from the side entrance. Here, there’s kiosks where you can purchase Book of Kells tickets for a euro or so less and without having to wait in the monstrous ticket line at the library. Plus, during super busy times, you have you specially designated kiosk-ticket line to enter the Book of Kells, which is typically much shorter. Madison and I bought our tickets 15 minutes before our designated time slot and wound up being able to use them 10 minutes before our given time. That said, we visited on a Monday morning when things weren’t crowded, so I would recommend buying your tickets at the kiosk in advance to avoid disappointment. I found the actual Book of Kells to be slightly underwhelming- but the wooden library on the second floor was pure photography goodness. If you’re a bibliophile, you’ll appreciate the rows upon rows of of first edition books and the poignant smell of written word. Madison geeked out over the books; I went wild with my camera.
The remainder of our day was spent enjoying coffee at Granthams- a tiny coffeeshop that won us over with a sign boasting their title as Dublin's latte art champions. Because apparently they have those?? As any dignified city would?? Before reclaiming our bags at the hostel and heading off to the airport, we occupied the remainder of our day in an Irish pub, the Bleeding Horse, watching derbies. As per usual, the horses I chose to win came in dead last. If there’s newfound luck to be had in Ireland, it appears I’m not acquiring any of it. But looking back on my fabulous short stay in Ireland, I’ll take my so-called bad luck any day.
For those of you who keep up with my blog, you may have noticed a slight change in the content. Rest assured, nothing is going anywhere- if anything, I’m just trying to be more comprehensive. Rather than limit what I share about my travels to journal-like posts, I’ve been trying share a wider variety of things, from personally tried and true travel guides to flight booking advice. At the end of the day, I want to empower people to travel, regardless of their experience, budget, or familiarity with a country. My hope is that by broadening the content I share, I can make a bigger impact.
I say all of that to say this- for now, I’ll be posting two things. One will be a (shorter) journal-style post for those who want a personal log of my adventures- like this post . The second will be a travel guide highlighting my personal must-see’s and must-do’s for anyone planning a trip to the said location- the next post. I’d love feedback (the good, the bad, and the ugly) on this new format, so send all of it my way.