Thursday, 22 November 2018

FAMILY REVIEW: Northern Ireland & ROI

Welcome to Ireland, land of the DUNN'S!

NORTHERN IRELAND

BELFAST

We landed here via our ferry from Stranraer. About 1.5 hour ride but with one of the best ferries we've ever been on!! It felt like a cruise but for only 1 and a half hours. A few restaurants, a small cinema, gaming areas, a sectioned off area for recline seating (which we bought for ourselves because... why not). We wished it was longer but were also grateful that the day we traveled was a sunny, clear day - a kind of day we hadn't had in a while.

CAR RENTAL IN IRELAND

When arriving in Belfast, we caught a taxi to the closest airport to hire our car.

Hiring a car can be costly - we all know this. When making bookings online, the terms and conditions of any car rental tell you the possible charges you'll get and not necessarily the actual amount they'll charge for holding on your card or insurance. You hope for the "from" amount as opposed to the top charge they could possibly give you.

In England we hired a car for over a month and the deposit required was £500 - not bad considering we had the car for over a month. In Belfast, the minimum amount they would hold was £1300!!!!! (NZ$2600) We had just bought our tickets home to NZ and didn't have a spare $2600 sitting there to be held for over a month. So our only other option was to pay for insurance - even though we were already covered for insurance excess by travel insurance. Their insurance cost that is non-refundable?? £600 (NZ$1200) while still holding some money as well.

We didn't really want to stretch our budget that far but we had no other option. We could sit at the airport and research some other car rental places available only to have the same charges or the possibility of it being more expensive or take what we can as we didn't have all day to wait around. And we had a travel party member that wasn't feeling 100% so that pressure didn't help either.

Be aware people... Learn from our mistakes. Research in advance. Find a company that will not charge you ridiculous amounts as deposits just so you will have to pay for their insurance. Hindsight is both beautiful and horrible. (Don't rent a car from Hertz Belfast at the George Best Airport)

So we basically lost $1200. Money we didn't really have spare and money we had to make adjustments around for the remainder of our trip. We were gutted with this and it hung over us for a while and we still tried to find ways around it to make it cheaper... like perhaps to return the car and find our way around Ireland without a car. In the end, we had to take the loss. And vow to make the most of the car and see as much of Ireland as the rest of our budget could afford. Plus, we were living literally in the middle of nowhere - no close-by township that could make it easier to travel around so it was either take the loss or see Ireland from our windows for a month.

Another thing to note about driving in Ireland is... there are two different countries here. One that measures distance in miles (Northern Ireland as they are still a part of the UK) and Republic of Ireland (an EU country) that measures distance in kilometres.

The car we hired from Northern Ireland - even though still in the UK - had a speedometer in kmph because we would be returning the car in the Republic of Ireland. During the time we were in Northern Ireland, we had to manually convert the mph speed signs into kmph (in our heads) so we knew we were driving at the correct speed limit.

BELFAST CITY

Thankfully, the car hire cloud was slightly lifted enough for us to explore Belfast before we headed south into Republic of Ireland. Unfortunately, the weather was typically Irish weather... constant rain.

We forced our way around the city to see some things before making the trip out. Our first stop was trying to find a port that the Titanic left from. There is a huge Titanic museum building close to the water where you can learn more. We did not go in - we were still licking our $1200 loss wounds. We did wonder around the area though where they have a measurement of how large the Titanic was.


We also went into Belfast City to just see what the city had to offer. It was still raining and nothing opened until after 1pm as it was a Sunday.


What we did notice is that Irish people push through this common Irish weather. Nothing stops them from getting out there. They breed them tough here! 

We had a quick visit to Belfast before heading south to our accommodation in the Republic of Ireland. Our planned exploration of the top of Northern Ireland had to be pushed back for another time when the cloud of car rental charges were more settled.

GIANT'S CAUSEWAY

Once we started to head forward in our car rental money loss and make the most of what we had, we made our way back up towards Northern Ireland to visit the Giant's Causeway. An overnight trip to try and get an early start.


This hexagon-shaped stone natural wonder on the northern coast of Ireland is very popular to visit but worth the effort to see!

It is FREE to visit but be warned that it may seem like it isn't. There is a car park right next to the entrance to go down the road towards the Causeway. This carpark belongs to the adjoining visitor's centre. It charges you £11.50 per adult and £5.75 per child. For our family of 3, that is nearly NZ$60... for a FREE site!  It includes the price to park there, entry into the visitor's centre and an audio guide. It cannot be bought separately - you cannot pay for parking only or visitor's centre only. It's either all or nothing.

We didn't need to go into the visitor's centre, nor do we need to pay for a guide - nor pay that much for parking. We are all for supporting these heritage sites but just not that much.

So we didn't. (But if you wish to, feel free too! If you want the audio guide and to go into the visitor's centre - go for it!)

About 100 metres down the road from the visitor's centre and the road entrance into the Causeway is a place called Bushmill Railway Station. You can park there all day for £6 per car and walk up to the Causeway. It is the cheapest parking close to the entrance. There were park and ride options from the town of Bushmill but we opted for this as it was quite close and fairly cheap for the 3 of us for the whole day. Just go inside the small railway station, pay for your parking and you'll receive a carpark ticket to put on your dashboard and you're set for the day.


Once you walk up to the Causeway and arrive at the visitor's centre and see their carpark, there is a bridge/tunnel thing between the carpark and the centre that looks like it is part of the centre and somewhere only those who have paid for the parking can go. It is not. You can go through it and it will lead you to the one road down towards the Causeway.

If you didn't pay for the parking and centre then you don't have use of their bathroom facilities either but there is a free toilet on the left of the centre apparently (we didn't use it but a local told us there was one there). There is no toilet once you're down on the shore so get all that business done first!

The walk to the Causeway is about 10-15 minutes on a gradual slope down towards the shore - and only that long because you're taking in scenery of the shore and taking photos. It is cold there and windy. There is one road that goes down and only a bus can go up and down that road.

You can catch the bus both down to the bottom and back up again which costs £1 per adult and 50c per child per ride. We walked down to the Causeway and caught it back up.  It cost £2.50 total for the 3 of us. 

Once down at the shore, it's such a beautiful sight to see - we were lucky to have a clear day - but know it is busy... very busy. Tourist buses have arrived early and even though you still have space to move around the stones, you will have to be quite strategic to take a photo of a portion of it that has no one else in it. When going up the main stones, foot traffic can build up where you'll have to let people through and manoeuvre around them but once you're up to the top of the main stones, it's not as crowded. Know though, that with tourists come rude tourists that do not wait or let others through and they can be quite ruthless and rude. Be aware and in some cases, be just as ruthless!


There are staff there that will let you know where it's not safe to go (and tell someone to stop taking a drone shot and that said person will of course listen but take his time in lowing the drone...........).

I highly recommend having well gripping shoes while there. I don't recommend climbing up in jandals - yes, I did go up in jandals and yes, it was difficult and yes, it was dumb... and yes, I did get strange looks and yes, I also had two comments about it... one being from an Aussie that said I was pretty brave doing the climb in my thongs!! Uhhh no, I did it in my jandals... 😉 She continued to say "Oh of course it had to be either a Kiwi or an Aussie but then I saw your All Black's jacket and of course, a Kiwi!"

The other comment I only caught as I happened to turn around and catch a woman pointing to my shoes and was about to say something to her husband about it. She then seemed to feel it was pointless trying to pretend she wasn't about to talk about me and just commented on it to me instead. Basically calling me crazy for doing it in jandals and wondering if I was cold.

I also highly recommend this for kids that are old enough to climb stones without too much supervision. Because guysssssss, Hadrian woke up tired and grumpy and cold and did not want a bar of what we had planned that day and he expected something GIANT because of its name only to be disappointed that they were not, in fact, hexagon steps that giant's could step on. But once he arrived at the stones and realised he could climb them, he loved it - like, a lot! It basically saved our lives that day in cheering him up. It wasn't just another old building but it was something for him to navigate himself and do (with us supervising from close-ish proximity because there are no rails or safety... anything).


If you are in Northern Ireland - take the time to visit the Causeway even though it is a busy tourist attraction and a little further out from Belfast. It was worth every cheap carpark Pound and cheap bus ride back up the road from the bottom!

Here you can read Hadrian's own personal review of the Giant's Causeway!

LONDONDERRY (or DERRY)

A city on the border of Northern Ireland just before you enter the Republic of Ireland. An Irish city with a lot of Irish history. Worth looking up and researching.


Worth the quick visit especially to the walls and the Peace Bridge.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND (ROI)

Whenever there's an impending border cross between countries, we never know what to expect.

But guys... just know right at this moment (PRE-BREXIT finalisations), expect literally nothing while crossing from Northern Ireland to ROI.

On one side of the border they will have traffic signs in miles then suddenly with a small sign saying you're entering ROI, it's changed to kilometres, prices are now in Euro instead of Pounds and Irish Gaelic is on every single sign in the ROI (which I also loved to see like we did in Wales and Scotland).

All of Ireland is similar in some way to somewhere in NZ. Grass so green it seems fluorescent; some very flat landscapes; some high mountains; cold and windy; cows and sheep everywhere as you drive through it - except their cow and sheep numbers are a lot less than what would be seen in NZ.


And if you are in Ireland in the colder months you will discover a certain Irish smell in the air... a smell that could also be found in some places in Scotland and England and also in some Scandinavian countries but is still very Irish. That smell being IRISH TURF or in other places, it's known as PEAT.

During our stay in County Roscommon in the middle of literally nowhere, we met some of our Irish neighbours and were introduced to Irish turf. Soil that has been compressed for many years, dried and hardened then used as fuel in fireplaces - an old tradition used during shortages of wood to burn. When you drive through Ireland, you can smell that distinctive smell that at first you wonder what it is... but I'm telling you now, that is Irish turf! Before knowing what the smell was, we did wonder why we smelt it everywhere but once we were educated and given some to try ourselves, we now love winding down our car windows and getting a whiff of that Irish turf smell! *weirdos*

We also were a part of two conveys driving through small Irish towns welcoming back their local sports teams. They would slowly go through the towns - one with a Police escort (or Garda, as they are known here) - and with the convey using their hazard lights as they slowly drive through the towns with locals waving their sports flags and some burning piles of turf on the side of the road as a town welcome. Loved it!

DONEGAL, SLIGO, MULLUGHMORE, STRANDHILL

Smaller Irish cities/towns we visited during our travels.

Donegal we went through fast through the rain. We didn't get to stop and investigate it. There is nearly always rain....

Mullughmore is a beautiful coastal town that if you lived there, you would have the best views! The town is high on a hill with views of beautiful coastal surf beaches plus views of beautiful mountains as well! It was quite nearly a literal breath taking view when at the top of the hill looking at a near 360° of ocean. If passing near this town, take a 20 minutes side trip and go to the top of the hill and see how beautiful it is up there!


Sligo is a bigger town south of Mullughmore and Donegal. This was our closest major town from where we stayed and it was still 40 minutes away from us! Not too big but not too small. A nice place with all amenities a city has but on a smaller scale and a coast line near by. 

Strandhill is that coast line near by. A little town not too far from Sligo on the west coast of Ireland. Another beautiful surf coast but not a coast line that is safe to swim in - there are signs everywhere telling everyone not to swim there. Worth the visit though if you want to see the beautiful west coast.

Swipe Right: Strandhill Surf Beach

GALWAY

We only had an afternoon in Galway but it was a very popular, busy, happening city! It was vibrant with street performers, comedy festivals and just a multicultural city. The main hub in Galway is a strip of colourful old buildings with various types of shops and pubs. After being in the middle of farming county where we were staying, Galway was a breath of fresh air! 

LIMERICK

Further south of Galway is Limerick and we went here to Church then to look around the city since it was 2 hours away from where we were staying.

Not as happening as Galway but it seemed very family friendly. We had a quick look through the city to visit King John's Castle and learn a little more about some pretty sad Irish history before we had to move on. 

CLIFFS OF MOHER

Still on the west coast of Ireland but between Limerick and Galway along the Wild Atlantic Way (a scenic route along the west coast of Ireland). We stopped here on our way back to our accommodation after Limerick. We actually had not heard of these cliffs before until a worker in the Lego store in Glasgow recommended it to us after finding out we were heading to Ireland next.

These cliffs are featured in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince when Dumbledore and Harry go to get the locket. They are also the Cliffs of Insanity on the Princess Bride.


We didn't do as much planning with this visit as we had for the Causeway but it would help to do some before going.

Like the Causeway, there is also a visitor's centre here - as well as a carpark that charges you entrance to the carpark and the visitor's centre per person in the car but again, it's all or nothing. It cannot be two separate costs even if you didn't want to go to the visitor's centre.

The site is still FREE though so if you found a cheaper or free way to park, you would still be able to go to the cliffs. Again, like the Causeway it's perceived that you cannot see the cliffs from that main area without paying. But you can.

It is not as expensive as the Causeway and if you book a day in advance, it's half the price of what you would pay on arrival.

Entrance cost for parking and visitor centre is €8 per adult if not booked online a day in advance with children under 16 free. €4 per adult if booked online a day in advance.

Some have gotten around the carpark charges per person by having the driver drop off the rest of the travel party outside of the carpark and the driver only paying the parking and centre cost for themselves and skipping the centre altogether. At least that would save some costs! It all adds up in the end...

Since we didn't do this research beforehand, we didn't want to pay the carpark charges for us when we had no intentions of going to the visitor's centre.

Unfortunately, there is one quite narrow road that leads up to the cliffs and out... and nowhere is there free parking. You could park in one of the towns on either side of the cliffs and there are walks that can lead you to the cliffs if you're up for a hike or you can be frickin lucky like we were and find the best place to park for free and see the best view of the cliffs!

If heading north towards the cliffs from Limerick, drive past the carpark and visitor's centre for the cliffs until you go around a corner and down the hill and see a bit of a driveway space/area on the left side of the road that can only fit maybe 5 cars in it (and only enough space to tightly reverse out of there) and a side road on the right opposite the little driveway space/area.

This place doesn't have any signs saying you cannot park there and we were lucky enough to find a space for our little car to fit in (leaving space to reverse for all the other cars there).


From there is a path that will lead you to one of the best views of the cliffs! You have to climb over fences via provided steps and in typical Irish weather, it's muddy and slippery so I don't recommend jandals - from my own experience, of course - and it's cold and windy. On this pathway you will find a point where there are two options - going up towards the area people have paid to park and see the cliffs from that angle or going down towards a different open space to see the cliffs from a lower point.


We chose the lower (mainly because that walk up would have killed me) and headed to this open space area that had one of the best views of the cliffs.


AND we were lucky enough to be there and witness a planned, organised marriage proposal!! A photographer and a violinist with some flowers were set up on this open space area waiting for the couple. Yes, it was so romantic and yes, everyone around was cheering when he proposed!

Highly recommend seeing these cliffs and even a 10 year old was happy to navigate through these paths. Check out his personal review!

DUBLIN

We left visiting Dublin until we were flying out - mainly to save on travel costs (because of our previous car rental debacle) as it was nearly 3 hours away from our accommodation.

The thing you need to know about Ireland in Autumn is that... it rains, a lot (have I mentioned it enough already?!). And it's cold and windy. And when you do get a sunny day, it's very few and far between. We should have known from this rule that the day we were leaving our accommodation would be raining as it was sunny the day before.

Guys, it rained... and rained... and rained.

When we arrived in Dublin, it was still raining and we had time to kill before our final Ireland accommodation was ready for us to check in and we had tickets and other things to print out at an internet cafe in town and we just wanted to see Dublin.

But it was pouring... and not just one kind of rain, every type of rain: sideways, heavy, light, windy plus rain. It was pretty bad.


We sucked it up though, like the Irish, and still went into Dublin City. Half hoping there would be a break in the weather but being disappointed when there wasn't.

We went anyway, we covered ourselves well with our jackets and we accomplished what we needed to for our printing needs, we explored a much as we could on foot close to the city centre and then we cut our losses and left.

If it wasn't raining, we of course would have stayed and explored longer but the rain was now turning into flooded areas in the city and we thought we'd better head to our accommodation.

What would have usually taken half an hour to get from one side of Dublin to the other - where our accommodation was - took over an hour with the added rainy day traffic and slower driving. We ended up driving through Dublin City to reach our destination and probably saw more of the city from inside the safety of our car!

Luckily, our accommodation (a cosy little log cabin) was toasty warm when we finally arrived but it did pose a problem when we had to bring our luggage in when it was still pouring with rain.

We wish we could have explored Dublin a lot more than we did. If we're ever back in Ireland, it will be on our list again!

__________


Ireland was cold, yes, but the people made it warm. Everywhere we went and the people we came in contact with made us feel extremely welcome. We didn't get to see all of Ireland like we hoped but we feel like we experienced true Ireland life in our country-side accommodation.

After Scotland, I wasn't sure if Ireland would meet that high bar Scotland had set but it nearly matched it. I would definitely return to Ireland to explore just that little bit more and take in a breath of that famous Irish Turf!

__________


FINAL REVIEWS

H: Ireland was very nice. It was cold though, and the wind would sting sometimes. But it was a very nice country though, and it was very green! Just like New Zealand!

N: It was wonderful to be in the land of my Dunn ancestry.  The Irish have been around a long time and what a roller coaster ride of a history they have had. Just like the Scots (Scoti being the Latin word for the Irish tribes that settled northern Briton) they have had to fight for their independence and ultimately paid for it with their lives. I'd fully recommend getting a car so you can explore off the beaten track and get to the beautiful coasts and natural wonders. Also loved Irish butter - fatty and salty!

T: It rains, it's cold so it's basically NZ. It may have been cold outside but the people and their hospitality were warm. Loved that we experienced more natural sites than just looking at man-made things. I don't know when I'll be back to Ireland but I hope I return here in the next 10 years! Worth the trip out there to this little island with so much history!


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