The Emerald Isle

As I mentioned on Friday, Katie and I just wrapped up an awesome 10 days with my younger brother, Ben. His trip included a lot of biking around Munich, plenty of delicious German beer, numerous games of Sheepshead, trips to Neuschwanstein castle, the town of Fussen, and even Salzburg, Austria. We also watched two Euro Cup games (including Germany’s semifinal loss to Italy) in packed beer gardens. The time went by way too fast, but it was nice to have such quality time with a family member, as it was with my sister’s Amy and Kim who visited earlier in the year. The ultimate highlight of Ben’s visit, though, was a weekend trip to Ireland.

I’m not sure if I’ve ever gone on a trip before and wished that the weather would be cool and overcast with hints of light rain. But that’s exactly what I was hoping for as we set out for Ireland. My vision of the country — formed by scenes in movies — is one where a mist or fog is always rolling through the landscape and where the cloudy skies make the green land pop even more. Well, my wish came true when we touched down in Dublin to beautiful 60-degrees and clouds.

We landed in the Republic of Ireland capital after flying over on Ryan Air, our first time using the low-cost carrier. I was very nervous heading to the airport because we had heard the company does whatever they can to charge you for extra things in order to make up for the fact that their tickets are so cheap (we each paid $65 for roundtrip, non-stop flights from Munich to Dublin). They have strict baggage weight limits, boarding pass rules and time requirements. But it turned out to be like any other airline for the most part. It’s definitely a no-frills carrier (including no free beverage service on the plane), but from a “get me from point A to point B” standpoint, it’s perfect. We had to take a two-hour train to the airport in Memmingen (just west of Munich) instead of the usual hour train to Munich’s main airport, but the extra hour of travel was well worth it to save about $200 per person.

When we touched down in Dublin we quickly found the Enterprise car rental desk and picked up our VW Golf hatchback. It was just minutes earlier, as the plane was touching down and we were looking out the window, that we realized cars in Ireland drive on the left side of the road. Ben and I thought this was awesome. Katie, as the driver of the group (Ben and I can’t drive stick), thought this was terrifying. She had never driven on the other side of the road before (we didn’t drive while in London in February) and didn’t want a car crash to become one of the memories of our trip. The people at Enterprise anticipate this kind of anxiety, though, and provide customers with cheat sheets for driving, mainly information on how to navigate the many roundabouts throughout the country (turn left!). From the minute she got in the car, she was a pro. Adding to the challenge was the fact that she had to drive stick with her opposite hand, but she made it look easy. We didn’t stall once and avoided any fender benders.

We cut across the country and made it to Galway for the night. We checked into the Rock Lodge, a bed and breakfast off of Salthill — a very quaint home run by an adorable old lady named Bridie. We grabbed dinner around the corner in the Salthill neighborhood before making the 10-minute hike into the heart of the city. It was pretty late by the time we got into the city center, which is a small set of streets, including one lined with pubs. We bounced around from place to place and had a few ciders and Guinnesses (as well as my first taste of Murphy’s Irish Stout – pretty good) before calling it a night.

Murphy’s was our favorite among the pubs we tried in Galway.

The next morning, after a traditional Irish breakfast of eggs, bacon (more like ham) and sausage, we made the 90-minute drive from Galway to Kilkee, a small town on the west coast of Ireland in County Clare. Unlike the day before which was mostly on the highway, this drive made all of us say, “Now this looks like Ireland!” We found ourselves stopping often for photos and turning the 90-minute drive into 2+ hours. It was another cool and overcast day, a perfect setting for that day’s activity: golf!

From the minute we started planning this trip, Ben and I knew we wanted to golf nine holes somewhere just to say we golfed in Ireland. Neither of us are too good at the game, but we play enough to appreciate beautiful courses. We found one in Kilkee that had very reasonable rates (15 Euros for nine holes and 5 Euros for club rentals — so Ben and I golfed in Ireland for about $25 each), a links style layout and views of the water. The first three holes of the course run along the water with the best view coming from the third hole. You climb a bit of a hill and just as you’re about to start complaining that the hill is too steep, you see this:

The most intimidating hole I’ve ever played.

The rest of the course was set inland, but it still offered a nice mix of challenge and beauty. Playing a links-style course is challenging in its own way. While there aren’t any trees to contend with and not as much water, the grass is much thicker and shots that leave the fairway can be almost impossible to find. And if you do find your ball, the lie can be so treacherous that it’s almost impossible to dig it out. As for the weather, it drizzled (misted, even) for most of the round, which is exactly the setting we wanted. We didn’t come to Ireland to golf in the sun. We wanted rain! The entire experience was a highlight of the trip.

Yes, that is the ocean behind us.

After our round, we met up with Katie (who only walked the first hole with us but still managed to get in a swing). She otherwise spent the past two hours exploring the not-so-exciting town of Kilkee (she says the most exciting thing there is the grocery store and her top take-away was learning that Ireland’s traditional black pudding is made from pig’s blood … gross), and hopped back in the car for a 60-minute drive to Doolin. Doolin is a very small town between Kilkee and Galway on the very northern edge of the Cliffs of Moher, also in County Clare. We had heard good things about the town’s music and food, as well as its charm. From the minute we pulled in we realized that this would be our favorite city of the trip. Their main street — Fisher Street — is lined with about five buildings, including one restaurant/pub (one of just a handful in the entire town) named O’Connor’s. The minute you step off this “main strip,” you’re surrounded by green hills, stone fences and lots of cows. (By the way, there are way more cows in Ireland than I would have thought. I was expecting more sheep, but it was the cows that dominated the landscape.)

Everything in Ireland is this green.

After walking around a bit, our stomach’s told us it was time to head to O’Connor’s for some famous Irish stew. When they brought out three bowls of piping hot Guinness stew, my mouth started to water and my stomach’s growling intensified. I knew before tasting it that it would be one of the best meals I’ve ever had. The ambiance helped. It was cold outside, we were just golfing in the rain, we wanted something to warm us up, we were hungry, and here we were in this quaint, almost 200-year-old Irish pub in a town so small that there’s no ATM and every single house is a bed and breakfast (true story). It was the perfect setting. And it ended up being a pretty perfect meal.

I’d go back to Doolin just for more of this.

After dinner we visited another of Doolin’s pubs – McDermott’s – where we heard some fantastic Irish music by a local band. We eventually made our way back to O’Connor’s to hear some of their famous Irish music, but it turns out that the group that plays there isn’t amplified (or at least they weren’t on the night we were there) which made it hard to hear from where we were sitting. But it didn’t matter. We enjoyed some drinks while playing Sheepshead, which we taught Ben on one of his first nights in Munich. It was a perfect Irish evening in the perfect Irish town on the perfect Irish vacation.

The next morning, after another fantastic Irish breakfast at the Lane Lodge Bed and Breakfast (we passed on the black pudding), we set out for the Cliffs of Moher. The cliffs are an iconic part of Ireland and something most of us have seen before in movies or in pictures. The main entrance to the cliffs is about a 10-minute drive from Doolin. They charge for parking, so we skirted the system and parked on the side of the road before walking a brief five minutes to the base of the walking path. There were a good number of tourists, but it wasn’t an overwhelming crowd. There are enough areas to give people numerous views of the cliffs. We walked around for a solid hour taking photos and just taking in the beautiful scenery. Unlike the day before, this day was sunny with blue skies. As it turns out, blue skies make the perfect back drop when taking photos of the cliffs. Mother Nature had good timing on this trip. We were given our clouds and rain when we wanted them and our sun and blue skies when we needed them.

Breathtaking.

We found it interesting that there was no guard rail at this spot.

We headed back to the car (relieved to see no parking ticket) and set out for our return trip to Dublin. The first half of the trip took us through some steep hills and windy roads. It offered beautiful view after beautiful view, but it also made for a bit of white-knuckled driving as the roads narrowed (with tour buses still coming from the opposite direction). At some point we must have hit a rock or nail or whatever because a warning light suddenly came on in the car and I could see through my side mirror that our back tire was dying a very fast death. We pulled over immediately to assess the damage. The tire was shot. Parts of rubber could be seen for a good 200 meters. None of us had ever had to change a tire before, but I was pretty sure I knew how to do it. Thankfully, the rental car had all of the necessary tools (including the tire key) and, more importantly, a full tire – not a spare. This meant we could change the tire and continue on to Dublin (which was still 2+ hours away) instead of having to find an auto shop. We didn’t set any pit stop records for speed, but we managed to make ourselves proud by loosening the bolts, jacking the car, removing the tire and popping the new one on. Katie drove pretty slow for the first 15 minutes afterwards, waiting for the tire to just fall off, but eventually had confidence in my handy work and we were back in Dublin by the afternoon.

After dropping off the rental car (and paying for a new tire – boooo) we caught a bus to Dublin. The buses in Dublin are double-decker, just like the ones in London, and it only cost a few Euros to get into town from the airport. With only a few hours in the country’s capital, we knew we wanted to walk around for a bit and snap some photos before spending our time on Temple Bar — a street lined with restaurants, shops and pubs. Ben and I tried fish and chips and Katie had another version of Irish stew. We also watched the end of the England/Italy Euro Cup game while enjoying our last tastes of Irish cider and beer. It was a fun, relaxing end to a fun, relaxing trip.

Our visit to Ireland gives us 10 countries visited this year (including Germany). Remember, you can read about all of our travels and see photos by visiting our Milwaukee to Munich Travel Map. Or you can go directly to our Flickr page to see photos of our Ireland trip.

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11 thoughts on “The Emerald Isle

  1. Alexa Keuneke

    We’ve really been enjoying reading about all your trips around Europe. In fact, reading about your adventures has reminded us of some of our own adventures, one of them involving Doolin!
    Marco and I also spent a few days there a couple of years ago. Our favorite memory about the village is that there’s no ATM there and our hostel didn’t take credit cards. So we had to hitch hike back to the nearest town with an ATM (the last bus had already departed, it was late in the day and a hike would have taken too long) to get cash!!!

    • Matt Wessel

      Hitchhike?! I\’m sure at the time that was no fun, but what a cool story. We had no cash, either, but thankfully our bed and breakfast accepted PayPal payments. They\’d rather have cash, so they don\’t have to pay a CC fee, but at least it gives their guests some flexibility. So we just paid on PayPal.

  2. Pingback: The other Tour de France « Milwaukee to Munich

  3. Matt, loved reading about your trip to Ireland, as I grew up there, many, many years ago! it brought back very fond memories, it sounds as if some things have not changed at all. I’m a friend of Susan Hood, who was kind enough to pass your trip info along, but there is another connection both of my sons went to Warren High School, Gregory and Sean Cummings. Gregory would I believe have been 2 yrs ahead of you and Sean 2 yrs behind. They both ran track and cross country, I have also enjoyed your concerts for life which I have attended with Susan over the years. Hope you enjoy the remainder of your time in Europe, Joan Carlson.

    • milwaukeetomunich

      I do remember Greg and Sean! Thanks for the note, Joan. Ireland was a treat. Katie’s actually heading back there tomorrow just for the day. She’s excited to be going back so soon.

      ________________________________

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