Why You Should Consider Day Trips; Ireland, Pt. 2

When I got to Ireland a little over two weeks ago, I was confronted with two options to consider: Spend all of my time in Dublin, or drop $50+ on a day trip to several locations across the country. For a college student, $50 is quite a bit of money to drop on something that you’re not even sure you’re going to enjoy; in this case, I was glad I took the risk.

The trip I chose was through Wild Rover Tours (10/10 would recommend!) and was a tour featuring the Cliffs of Moher and Galway, on the west side of the country.

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The bottom half is my journey out; the top half was my journey back.

Although, of course, I knew I was getting a tour of the two, I didn’t expect a full tour of the countryside on the way there, along with four hours worth of culture, history, and Irish music. This was my journey.

Our morning started out with a breakfast stop at the Barack Obama Visitor’s Centre a little outside of Limerick. In Ireland, when a president of another country visits, they name a gas station or a visitor’s centre after them as tradition in one of the towns they visited.

Our drive was accompanied by sights of many ruins of castles, the one below of Bunratty Castle, left over from the Norman Invasion into Ireland.

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Our drive took us through “Rocky Road Roundabout”, where the Statue of Ennis stands tall in the center. The story goes that the people around the time the statue was sculpted were jealous of how big Ennis’, shall I say, man parts were, so they ended up leaving them off of his statue.

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After a little drive through the town of Ennis (where the creator of RyanAir lived!), we ended up in the town next door of Ennistimon, with it’s Irish-standard rectangular buildings and colors that match the landscape.

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Just outside of Ennistimon is the An Gorta Mór, or Famine Memorial. Although the Great Potato Famine was several hundred years ago, it is still a topic that weighs heavily on the hearts of Irish folk.

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A (not so) fun fact I learned from this trip was the story behind the stone walls that exist everywhere in Ireland, and can be seen behind this memorial. Because the terrain in Ireland is so rocky, it was impossible to do any kind of farming  until the rocks were moved away from the crops. Most of the walls that are still around to this day are the same walls that were put together by victims of the famine. The rock walls served no real purpose in farming, but were an efficient and savvy way to get rid of the rocks. The victims would spend their entire days moving these rocks, hoping to earn enough money or be able to bring home a little bit of food to ease the famine’s effects on their families. They stand as a solemn reminder through Ireland today of the repercussions of having an economy based solely on a few exported products.

About 15 minutes later, a rainbow appeared to my right, and stayed with us for much of the journey.

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After a few more turns, we finally made it to the Cliffs of Moher! This is a sight best seen in person and not by pictures, and is truly breathtaking to see. If you are visiting in the winter or early spring months, I would HIGHLY suggest bringing a heavy coat, scarf, and gloves. It wasn’t so cold in Dublin, or in Galway, but the wind came off the coast so strongly and frigid while I was here! We were able to hike up the side of the cliffs, but I do caution you to be careful as you quite literally hike up the side, and there are no walls or railings to block you from falling over the cliff. The wind is actually strong enough to blow you over too, so it adds more risk to climbing. Since it was a little rainy outside at the time, I didn’t hike far for fear of falling.

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The castle at the top of the hill is O’Brien’s Castle, which is fashioned more into an observatory you can climb up for an extra fee, to get a better view of the Cliffs. Instead, I just got a (very cold) touristy picture in front of it.

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After some time in the Cliffs’ Learning Centre, and some time filing up on gifts, food, and coffee, we were back on the road to Galway!

We made a short stop along the way at The Burren, a rock formation created by lava long before the area was settled. We stopped in a more densely-formed area, but The Burren stretches along the coast for several miles on both sides.

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A little while further into the drive, and we stopped to view a life-sized leprechaun’s castle that was built alongside the road. Irish people do not let anything come between their superstitious ways.

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There was some rain on the window, so the picture didn’t turn out QUITE like it should have.

About a half an hour later, we finally made it into Galway!

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Galway is a much smaller, but very welcoming town on the western end of Ireland, and I’m glad I got to experience it myself. Along my short walking tour, I learned about the culture of the major families that essentially “ran” Galway in the Medieval times, the biggest being the Lynch family. If you have time, read up on their backstory! They’re quite a twisted-fairytale kind of family, and their son was (literally) saved from a burning building by their pet monkey.

Unfortunately, the same son committed crimes in early adulthood, and had to be executed by his own father, since nobody wanted to be the one to kill the son of the most powerful family; hence the term “being lynched” came into existence. This is a picture of the window his son was hung from.

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After some time walking around and exploring Galway, I stopped in a Butler’s Chocolate & Coffee Shop for none other than chocolate and coffee. I was told online that if I were to go to any shops in Ireland at all, this was the place to be, and they were not mistaken.

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The white chocolate was a latte flavor, and was delicious. If you want the full Irish experience, go for the Bailey’s cream-filled chocolate I have there as well. It might possibly have been one of the most delicious chocolates in my life.

My coffee was a white chocolate mocha, which WAS inarguably the best latte I’ve had in my entire life. It’s nothing like the super-bland espresso versions that Starbucks has. It was sweet, but not too sweet where it was undrinkable. When I was leaving Dublin, I picked up a final (*sniff*) cup of Butler’s and that’s when I found out why they were so good; instead of using coffee syrups like Starbucks, they LITERALLY take a scoopful of Nutella-consistency white chocolate and mix it into the espresso.

Yum.

After boarding the bus (and sleeping the whole way home), I made my way back to my hostel where I met up with one of my roommates for pizza and Guinness in the bar. The pizza wasn’t the greatest (I’m a spoiled Chicagoan) but I’m not a beer drinker, so I needed something to go with the Guinness. It would’ve been a sin to leave without trying it in the homeland, and the story goes “Guinness is better in Ireland!” so I did have some, but I do like my Irish Coffee much better. I have more of a sweet tooth, what can I say?

The point is, if you find yourself questioning if you should shell out that extra money for a guided trip, do it. It was one of the best decisions I made, and it opened my eyes to the possibility of doing many more of these in the future. Besides, $50 to go on a 12-hour journey across a country? You’re coming out on the other end with a bargain, really.

Ciao!

-C

 

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The (Un)luck of the Irish, and Everything in Between: Ireland, Pt.1

5 days post-Ireland, and I think it’s safe to say I’ve finally made a full recovery from the 19 hours of traveling, and all of the jetlag that added up after 4 nights of no sleep!

Since I was there for 2 full days (and then some) I’m splitting my Ireland trip into two parts; Day 1 is my time in Dublin, and Day 2 is my time across the country in Galway.

Unfortunately for this first post, only a few of the pictures will be my own. Of course, as any good tourist would, I had taken several pictures of everything I saw. Theft got the better of me though, and I found myself with my phone stolen out of my hand by a bicyclist within 5 hours of my landing in Dublin (Can I check “being scared in a foreign country” off my anti-bucket list now?). Nonetheless, Dublin was beautiful and had much to offer me, so at the very least I have the experience of being there to talk about!

I landed in Dublin at about 10am, and after some time in customs (where I’m always afraid I’ll say something wrong and get in trouble!) I made it to Usher’s Quay before 11am!

I used the Airlink 747 bus to get to Dublin. Now, whether you like public transport or prefer the solidarity of a taxi cab, the Airlink buses are the CHEAPEST and fairly efficient way to get there. I paid 10€ for a return ticket, but the bus fare one way is only 6€. Honestly, how could you go wrong, when taxi fares are at least 20€ for the same distance?

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The Airlink buses have several drop-off points throughout the city, but Usher’s Quay was closest to where I wanted to be. They drop you off along the River Liffey, as you can see above.

My hostel didn’t allow check-in until 2pm, so I took this opportunity to just walk around and explore the area. I ran into the famed Temple Bar, which I believe is probably hard to find if you were actually looking for it, as I took a side street (that looked more like an alley) and walked through a few streets like this to find it.

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Courtesy of http://www.irelandwhiskeytrail.com

I also did some shopping in the Ilac Shopping Centre, one of Dublin’s big shopping malls, to catch up on the European fashion. It might be overcast and rainy almost everyday there, but it doesn’t do anything to hurt how fashionable the people in Dublin are!

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Courtesy of http://www.dublinbus.ie

And of course, I had to get a little taste of home in a foreign country, and was pleasantly surprised with the spelling of my name on the cup:

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Traditionally, my name in Ireland is spelled as Cailín, but is still pronounced as Colleen, which is just the Americanized spelling. I’m still tempted to change it to the traditional spelling, but then think of how hard it is already for people to pronounce my name as it is; unless you live in Ireland, this is just a phonetical nightmare.

After a little more walking around…and my phone getting stolen…and putting in statements with the Irish Guard (which are lovely people!) I finally committed to staying in for the rest of the night, and meeting my hostel roommates, which were also very lovely. Two were from Brazil (one a mother, one a student, neither knew each other), one was from Hamburg, Germany, and on the second night we were joined by two girls from the States (Who didn’t talk to us once) and a girl who was an Irish Citizen, but out in Dublin for work.

Second post will be up soon!

-C

Arrived at O’Hare…

It’s 6am-most of you (in Chicago, at least) are still fast asleep, and I’ve already walked through security, picked up my standard cup of coffee, and have plopped myself in front of my gate, where I will sit for (at least) the next 3 hours.

Fun, right?

Okay, not fun, but still exciting as heck!

It’s the morning of Day 1 (which will turn into Day 2 as I fly over the Atlantic later this evening) and the nerves are kicking in, but the adrenaline rush of setting out on a new frontier alone is what makes me the travel junkie I am.

Of course, I’ll be sitting tight for quite awhile. Since I am a standby passenger on 99.9% of flights I take, my days at the airport often are full of anxiety of getting to the gate on time, sitting as close to the ticket counter as possible, and hopng that maybe, just maybe, there’s enough vacant seats that I’ll be able to finally take a deep breath as I’m handed a boarding pass with an actual seat number on it. 

Obviously, there are times when the deep breath is in frustration, because it’s the 3rd flight in a row to my destination I’m bumped off of, and I’ve already been at the airport for 9 hours (been there, done that!).

Of course, the benefits of having this status (Thanks mom!) are DEFINITELY more of a blessing than a curse.

For the (very) low price of $12, I fly virtually across the globe. My time is most definitely worth the money I save.

As I go along this trip, I will do my best to blog my days, but most likely I will be posting a lump of pictures and posts the day I come back.

I leave you now to go convert some cash into Euros!

Au revoir!

-C

How I Packed My 5 Day Trip…Into a Backpack?

(Picture courtesy of Go-Today)

With the looming deadline of my Dublin trip (T-minus 2 days!) I figured it was about time for me to quit procrastinating on packing, and start getting my life together (ha).

Normally I am the over-packer, the person who fits two extra outfits into the suitcase because there’s room (and who knows what could happen!) and ends up buying so many souvenirs on the trip I am forced to sit on the suitcase just to yank the zippers closed.

This trip will be the first of it’s kind for many reasons: Not only is it my first time in Europe, but it’s also my first time staying in a hostel. Due to my paranoia of things getting stolen since I have no idea who the 5 other people in my room will be, I was focused this time on bringing the bare minimum of goods necessary to both not wear the same things everyday, and make it easy to lock up my luggage under the bed while I’m out exploring.

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While I was packing, I divided my contents into things that I cannot lose, and things that can be replaced. All of my important items are packed into my Vera Bradley Hipster-style crossbody (Which is a godsend of a bag to bring on vacations, and has an outside pocket that fits my passport for easy access while I’m in the airport) and my replaceable items are in my Jansport backpack that I normally carry across campus at school.

The items in my purse are as follows:

  • Essentials: Passport, wallet, phone charger, backup phone batteries
  • Airplane Necessities: Earbuds, snacks, pens
  • Necessities For Where I’m Headed: Umbrella, outlet converter plugs

Overall a fairly light list, but once I’m past security at the airport, I will be purchasing water, coffee, and a few additional snacks for breakfast/dinner.

Dublin can be compared to Seattle: always misty and rainy. The umbrella is self explanatory.

Since I’m only charging my phone where I’m headed, I don’t need an outlet voltage converter (since phones & their respective chargers operate on dual voltage), but if I was bringing a curling iron or such, I would need it. Remember, wall outlets are differently shaped across the world, so if you plan to travel outside of the U.S., you must buy the adapters. The set I own can be found here, a fairly cheap set manufactured by CONAIR, that I purchased at Target, but is also sold at Walmart.

The items in my backpack are as follows:

  • My RN Exam book (Since I will be taking the test in February and need to study!)
  • A pair of jeans
  • Underwear, socks, bra
  • 3 shirts, 2 camis
  • A small makeup bag with my bare-minimum of makeup and toiletries
  • A Ziploc bag with my liquids (for airport security)
  • A bag of snack food containing: 5 granola bars, 4 bags of fruit snacks, 2 snack-size bags of almonds, a snack-pack of shelf-stable salami, and some chocolate
  • An additional Ziploc bag
  • An additional drawstring backpack

This is where my packing and airplane outfit build off of each other; I’m gone for 5 days, but since I will also be wearing leggings, a cardigan, my jacket, and a scarf on the plane, I have enough items to make outfits without being seen re-wearing something a second time.

As you can see above, my clothing is packed into Ziploc bags, rolled up. This is both to keep my clothes from any rain or insects I might come in contact with, and to conserve space while keeping everything organized.

My “snack food” bag doubles as my midday meals and/or light breakfast while I’m gone, which is a big money saver. Although I do plan on experiencing as much of the culture as possible (I’m only 2 generations removed from Ireland!) spending at least $10 each meal starts to stack up over time- this comes out to at least $150, if not more!

My snacks will account for about 4 meals, saving about $40. This may seem small, but that’s $40 more I can spend on souvenirs and clothes!

Speaking of clothes, the extra Ziploc bag and drawstring bag are for my travel home. I anticipate myself bringing home a lot more than I came there with, so I want to be prepared with something to stash it all in! Dublin is one of the more fashionable cities in Europe, so I plan to bring some of the European fashion home with me!

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And there you have it! I’m finally one step closer to leaving! All that’s left is hammering out the itinerary, and boarding the planes. Maybe some Duolingo of Irish along the journey so I can remember more than just uisce, the word for water?

Buille faoi thuairim mé beidh orainn a fheiceáil!

-C

Locations, Locations: Picking the Best Hotel Lodging

As an avid traveler of the U.S. (and soon to be Europe!), where you stay can ALWAYS end up making or breaking your trip, whether from a chain-owned hotel in South Beach, or a family-owned business in NYC. Even though you ideally don’t spend much time in the confines of your room, staying somewhere where you feel like you have to sleep with one eye open at night can be a little unnerving!

On the flip side, I am known as the person who finds hotels for a bargain; usually ones that are high quality AND under $100/night!

SO in this post, I’ll be sharing a few of my tips and tricks to shaving off some extra $$ you can use for entertainment instead!

**Throughout this post, I will be using example pictures from Pod 51 Hotel in NYC, a recent stay of mine in August of 2016. I would recommend this place for anyone looking for a budget price in a safer neighborhood of NYC! I also will be using an example from the South Beach Hotels group, which I also booked through in August of 2016!**

1. Be Obsessive!

This may be the tip that comes more naturally to some people than others. When it comes to travel, I love to leave room for spontaneity, but I ALSO like to be extremely thorough and structured with my planning. Truthfully, I probably spend an upwards of at least 4-5+ hours looking at hotels before I find one that I feel will be the perfect fit. Psychotic? Probably! But it hasn’t failed me yet!

It’s important to know the area in which you are trying to stay. Is it a safe neighborhood? Is it known for being expensive? Is it very touristy? Depending on your level of comfort and experience traveling, you have to find parameters that meet what works for YOU.

Since I do a lot of solo traveling, I tend to opt for spending a few extra dollars a night in exchange for having a little more piece of mind in a safer neighborhood; it’s always good to be cautious.

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Location is also a big factor; in NYC, I chose a more centralized location so it would be easy to get to many different destinations easily & in the same amount of time!

2. DO Use Sites like TripAdvisor and Expedia-but Avoid Booking Through Them!

This tip I had to learn through my travel-savvy mother. TripAdvisor and Expedia are EXTREMELY handy for finding hotels and hostels that are within your price range, while getting to read REAL reviews and see pictures of the building taken by people who have stayed there in the past. I prefer TripAdvisor, as you can view more content and it is much easier to navigate and compare deals.

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On the contrary, it is usually better off to book through the actual hotel site than these travel sites, even though it tends to cost a few bucks more. Why? Because when you book through the hotel, you are guaranteeing a room will be reserved for you. When you book through one of these 3rd party booking sites (Especially during peak travel times such as Spring Break), they have the ability to double-book rooms, meaning you risk the possibility of showing up to your hotel and having them turn you away because their hotel is already full.

If you are comfortable with running the (albeit slim) risk of this happening, by all means book through them!

3. Play With the Hotel Site to Unlock Deals, But Not too Many Times!

This is an easy tip that could take anywhere from a few seconds, to a couple of minutes of browsing. Many hotels have specific “deals” pages on their websites, while some have a deal that toggles once you go to exit out of the hotel page itself.

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My one precaution would be to try not to exit and re-enter the hotel site if at all possible, and/or go on the site as few times as possible prior to booking. All of the sites use cookies on your computer to track how much you’ve been on their site, and if they notice you’ve gone into the site more than a few times, they may start to raise their prices because they know they have you at least a little bit interested in what they have to offer.

4. Find Hotels With All-Inclusive-Type Deals

The picture above is a good example of this. South Beach Hotels Group is extremely good at offering lots of reduced price/free deals if you stay at their hotel. I took advantage of the free shuttle that ran between Miami Int’l Airport and the hotel I stayed at, a drive that easily could’ve cost $20 one-way in a taxi. Half of the hotels in the chain also offered “Free Happy Hour” between 6-8pm in the lobby’s bar, among morning yoga sessions, etc.

Most, if not all hotels do have small incentives like such for their guests, but they usually are hidden in the hotel’s site and you have to find it yourself. For someone like me who is [usually] not of the age to legally rent a car, I always look for hotels that offer free/reduced price trips to and from the airport I fly out of.

5. Know Your Budget Before You Even Begin to Look

Of all the tips and tricks, this one will end up being the most applicable. Your budget may depend on how much money in your bank account, but remember the hotel price will be affected by the location as well; For example, a hotel in NYC is going to cost a LOT more than a hotel around your hometown, simply because more people are booking hotels and traveling to that destination.

For my budget, I usually stick to the formula of $90 +/- $20 for hotels (hostels differ), meaning I expect to pay about $90/night for a hotel, but I would be okay spending $110/night. Anything less than $70/night is a bargain, but investigate why it’s a bargain. Are they that cheap and have relatively good reviews, or are they in an unsafe area/do they have poor reviews?

Sometimes, you do just end up striking gold and finding a really, really good deal on a great hotel. Pod 51 is a great example of this, as most stays hover around $80/night, but the hotel was extremely well kept and the shared bathrooms (yes shared, by about 6 rooms) were ALWAYS clean.

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Overall, the best advice I can give is to have a budget, stick to it, and take a lot of time to find the hotel that works for you. In the long run, it’s much better to feel safe about the choice you have made, than it is to cut corners on cost and end up somewhere dangerous!

¡Buena suerte!

-C