Wow! 10 days in Ireland! I was amazed at how much there is to see and do on this island. We attended the wedding celebration of Traci's former co-worker in Kinnitty Castle. We did five days of sightseeing in Dublin. We did an overnight excursion to Western Ireland. We did an excursion to Northern Ireland to see Belfast and the natural wonders of the wild Antrim Coast. Here is my attempt to capture my memories of 10 glorious days in Ireland.
I was not brave enough to rent a car because it would require me to drive on the opposite side of the road in a car whose steering wheel is in what we in the U.S. consider the passenger side. Therefore, during our Ireland visit, we relied on organized tours, trains, LUAS Tram, taxis, and walking to get around. We were able to see quite a bit of the island. Using tour books, internet searches, trip reports, and online reviews, I was able to put together the following travel itinerary for our ten days in Ireland...
I certainly did not see this trip coming. Although TV travel shows made Ireland look like an interesting place to visit, I had never thought of visiting the country until the day I was opening mail and saw a save-the-date wedding invitation addressed to Traci and me. I did not recognize the names of the couple getting married but I was intrigued when I saw the celebration would take place in Ireland - in a castle no less. I could hardly wait to show Traci the invitation. It turns out, Traci's former co-worker Roxanne had invited us to celebrate her marriage to Paul in Ireland where Paul grew up.
We were excited about the wedding but there was some uncertainty as to whether or not we would be able to attend. Traci had recently started a new job and would not accrue any leave for three months. Furthermore, she needed to determine if her work responsibilities would be conducive to taking time off in March. Fortunately, everything aligned just right for us to begin planning our trip to Ireland!
All the trip reports I've read about Ireland over the years tended to be longer than those of other destinations. After spending ten days there, I now know why. There are so many things to see and do on the island. The people are so friendly that you are bound to come home with a multitude of stories.
It was a direct flight from Washington Dulles Airport to Dublin Airport. We had originally planned to do this flight on Aer Lingus but they no longer offered direct flights to Dublin from Dulles by the time we were ready to book. Instead, we flew United which was about $100 more expensive per person but at least the flight was direct. This worked out in the end because we used the $100/person credit we received after our jacked-up experience with United/Continental the previous year when returning from our Quebec City vacation.
Our flight to Ireland got delayed for 5 hours while mechanics worked on fixing a problem with the airplane's brakes. Yikes! I was so glad we did not have connecting flights to catch as was the case with some of the other frustrated passengers. I was also glad we decided to arrive a day before the wedding. United offered everyone compensation options because of the inconvenience. Traci and I elected to take the air miles option.
dragging bags after a 5-hour flight delay and 6.5-hour flight
Our flight to Dublin finally took off at 3 AM instead of our scheduled 10 PM departure. We were served dinner and breakfast on this 6.5-hour flight. I slept most of the way. Shortly after breakfast, we made a smooth landing at Dublin Airport around 3:30 PM Friday. All the passengers seemed to say simultaneously, "The brakes worked."
It was a sunny day. This was in line with the weather pattern we would experience most of the week. We would have a sunny but chilly morning followed by a cloudy afternoon which gave way to a cold evening. The sunshine was deceptive because we would think it was going to be a warm day but after walking for a while, it seems the dampness in the air made us start to feel cold. The daily temperature ranged from the upper 30's to the lower 40's Fahrenheit. We wore our winter jackets, hat, and gloves the entire time. Towards the end of the week, we would experience periods of the notorious cold, rainy Irish weather. As we heard from several Irish people we met, "No one comes to Ireland for the weather."
Having collected our two suitcases and clearing customs, we needed to find our way downtown to our hotel - the Best Western Plus Academy Plaza Hotel (locally known as the Academy Plaza Hotel). I chose this hotel based on the online Trip Advisor reviews I read that spoke about the hotel's proximity to convenient transportation options; one of these being the Airlink 747 airport bus which stops pretty much at the front door of hotel.
We found the Airlink bus pick-up point at the airport. There was a friendly Airlink employee there answering questions and selling tickets. At €10/person round-trip (approximately $13/person), the Airlink was a less expensive option than paying the €20 or more for a one-way taxi ride. We bought tickets for the bus. We also bought discounted 2-day Hop-on Hop-off tour bus tickets that we'd use for sightseeing in Dublin later that week. Unbeknownst to me, one of the other tours I had booked online before the trip also included 2-day Hop-on Hop-off tickets but more about this mix-up later.
It was about a 20-minute ride on the Airlink double-decker bus before we reached downtown Dublin. The bus is very tourist-friendly. There is a route map inside that also lists the closest hotels to each stop. Additionally, the stops and nearby hotels are announced as the bus approaches.
Dublin looks old. Well, actually it is. It was established by the Vikings about a thousand years ago. The River Liffey runs through the city and is traversed by several block-long bridges. We did not see any skyscrapers. As with many major cities, there was no shortage of traffic and people. Before long, we had reached our stop which was indeed just across the street from the Academy Plaza Hotel.
We really liked the Academy Plaza Hotel. In fact, we did three stays there during our 10 days in Ireland. At less than $100 per night, the hotel was relatively inexpensive. The hotel is located just off O'Connell Street, one of the main tourist streets in Dublin. In addition to the Airlink airport bus that stops in front of the hotel every 15 minutes, the Hop-on Hop-off tour buses also stop in front of the hotel frequently as do public buses. The LUAS tram (a light rail system) has a stop 3 blocks from the hotel. We used the tram several times as an inexpensive option to get us to/from the train stations for the excursions we took outside the city.
The rooms at the Academy Plaza Hotel are clean and modern. They offer free in-room Wi-Fi. Although the rooms are generally smaller than those of say a Marriott or Hilton, they are not so small that you feel cramped. The hotel uses space efficiently. As is the case with several European hotels at which we have stayed, the Academy Plaza does not provide wash clothes - just bath towels and hand towels. They use gel soap dispensers instead of bar soap. One thing I missed in the rooms was an alarm clock. I guess in this day and age it is assumed people use their mobile devices for alarm clocks.
Traci used the hotel's fitness room several mornings. It has mainly cardio equipment. There are no dumbbells. Traci got in some miles on the treadmill during our stays. Maybe I should say she got in some kilometers. She had trouble determining her pace because the treadmill readings were in km/hr instead of m.p.h.. In any case, she needed to stay in shape because she would run a marathon the week after we returned from this trip.
My only caution about this hotel, as we learned from one of our stays there, is to avoid getting a room that faces the street if noise bothers you. You can definitely hear the street traffic. Furthermore, the hotel is next door to a nightclub. You might even hear club goers laughing and talking outside the club. The club did not attract a rowdy crowd but there were a few evenings during our walk back to the hotel that we saw the bouncer sending someone away who had a bit too much to drink. Street noise is non-existent from rooms that do not face the street. continue...