Ireland Girls Trip

2015-03-08 11.03.12
Ireland Countryside

When I think lasting memories and trips that I still recall and smile about, visiting Ireland for an all-girls trip ranks at the top of the list!  Our itinerary was aggressive and includes just the southern loop of Ireland, adding an extra 1-3 days to this trip would be well worth the extra time to see some other towns, but for us it was a the perfect balance of fun, driving, and time away to just bond.

Day 1 – Arriving in Dublin – We arrived early morning and we were very tired, although we had gotten a once in a lifetime upgrade to FIRST CLASS!  We were so excited we stayed awake the whole trip!  So first thing we did was pick up ther rental car and check in to our hotel for a 3 hour nap.

Rental Car Recommendation: Dooley Car Rental (http://www.dan-dooley.ie/)

In Ireland the roads are tight and in remote areas not well maintained, plus you are driving on the opposite side of the car and the road, for most Americans this is a challenge and you can expect a few scrapes, dings, and dents along the way.  Most of the standard rental car companies charge very high CDW fees along with high deductibles for damages and do not cover damages for tires, windows, hubcaps, and mirrors which can add up.  With Dooley you can get Super CDW coverage with no hidden fees.  My advice is pay the extra for Super CDW, it’s worth the peace of mind.

Navigation: Ireland can be tricky to navigate, the interstate system is very good, but I highly recommend an alternate to just a printed maps or directions since many road are not marked in more rural areas and after the sun goes down it’s very dark as well.  A couple options to consider are, purchase a data card for your Garmin (if you have one) or a Garmin loaded with UK and Ireland maps.  I purchased mine from Amazon for about $40 (Detailed Maps of the United Kingdom and Ireland), it was an easy insert into my Garmin and was fairly reliable (95%).  The other option is to “rent” the Wifi with the rental car so you can connect using iPad or navigation system from your smart phone or if you have an unlocked phone using maps from your phone.

On our first day in Dublin we just walked around!  Highlights included Trinity College (College Green, www.tcd.ie), to visit the “Book of Kells” and the Guinness Storehouse Tour (www.guinness-storehouse.com) was a really cool experience.  The view from the rooftop Gravity Bar with your complimentary pint in hand is worth the price of admission.

Croke Park Double Room
Croke Park Hotel Room

Hotel Recommendation: We stayed at the Croke Park Hotel (www.doylecollection.com) located across from the large Aviva Stadium in Dublin.  This is a larger and more modern hotel, with spacious rooms, free car park, and our rate even included an excellent breakfast each morning.  The hotel is a quick cab ride to the Guinness Storehouse or Temple Bar area as well or about a 20 minute walk into the city center.  The service was excellent and I was really surprised at the size of the rooms and the bathroom by European standards.  It is not in the “heart” of Dublin so if that is what you are looking for this isn’t the place, but for us it was perfect!

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Galway Cathedral

 

Day 2  –  We headed West from Dublin towards the Galway – this is opposite of most guidebooks and itineraries that I found, but I wanted to get to the countryside.  We stopped in Galway and parked at the Cathedral.  We toured the Cathedral and then walked around enjoying the colorful streets between the River Corrib and Eyre Square.  I wish we had more time to stay over in Galway, it was a charming town and everyone was incredibly nice.  I am Catholic so I enjoyed reading about the history of the Galway Cathedral.

Our original plan had been to see Kylemore Abbey in Connemara, but we were excited and ready to visit the Cliffs of Moher so loaded in the car and headed towards County Clare.

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Cliffs of Moher

 

This is a treacherous drive with many winding and very narrow roads and switchback roads, I  have never screamed and laughed so much in my life.  Definitely the highlight of our trip, but the drive up and the spectacular views.
This was the Ireland we had all dreamed of and it did not disappoint!

 

The car park is across from the actual entrance and then short walk across to the visitor center with bathrooms, snack shop, and gift shop.

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Dromoland Castle Hotel

We decided a trip to Ireland would not be complete unless we spent the night in a castle, we chose  Dromoland Castle (www.dromoland.ie) and booked a room rate the included both dinner and breakfast.  We were upgraded to connecting suites which were very large and beautiful.  The service was impeccable, the grounds are just beautiful, and the food was excellent.  The castle is located in Newmarket-On-Fergus, Clare, Ireland.

 

Day 3  – Bunratty Castle

After our full breakfast and touring the grounds at Dromoland we made the short drive to Bunratty Castle and the Folk Park.  Bunratty is a fully restored castle and village which was very well done, really helped to “see” what Irish life in and around a castle around the turn of the century was like.  The current castle structure dates back to 1425 and was later restored in the 1954 by Lord Gort.  There is a timeline of the restoration located on the lower level of the castle, most bypass this and take the stairs (19 stairs) up to the castle entrance.  The castle contains many 15th and 16th century furnishings, tapestries, and works of art and you can even take a walk down to the dungeon off the main hall.

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Bunratty Castle

From Bunratty we took a very scenic drive through Adare and down to Killarney where we spent the night at the Killarney Royal Hotel in County Kerry.  The hotel is right in downtown Killarney and very close to the Killarney National Park.  This hotel was older and charming, but the rooms again were surprisingly large by European standards with double sinks and shower/tub combo in the bathroom.  The selling point of this hotel besides location is the service, everyone from the porter to front desk went above and beyond to accommodate our needs (including making me a hot ham and cheese sandwich at 1 in the morning!).  They had a bar area where we saw many of the locals drop in to eat as well.

We had dinner at The Porterhouse Restaurant and Bar, just a short walk from the hotel with a great pub atmosphere, excellent food, and live music.  We got lucky and were able to grab a table, but make a reservation for dinner as it get busy and this is a popular spot with the locals as well.

Day 4  –  Killarney National Park and Dingle Penisula

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Ross Castle, Killarney National Park

We hired a carriage tour to Killarney National Park through the hotel.  We had an excellent Jarvey (driver) who was 4th generation and provided and excellent commentary on Killarney, the Park, and local folklore.  We visited Ross Castle within the park, a 15th century tower and keep, the trip was about 2 hours and really lovely.

After a quick lunch at the hotel we headed to the Dingle Peninsula.  We only had the time for Dingle or Ring of Kerry and we decided it was Dingle.   The drive to Dingle was beautiful, full of green pastures, sheep, and beautiful beaches along the way.  We walked around the towns and did some shopping and by the time we headed back to Killarney it was dark.  I won’t say how we ended up driving through a field in the dark of night, but there was plenty of laughing and screaming along with the most gorgeous view of the night sky that I have ever experienced.  It was an exciting and fun driving time, that being said I highly recommend heading back before dark or staying the night in Dingle!

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Beach in Dingle

Day 5  – Blarney Castle

We had another beautiful and scenic drive south to visit the 15th-century Blarney Castle.  We did kiss the Blarney Stone, but this is not for the faint of heart (or anyone who is afraid of heights and winding claustrophobic staircases!).

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Blarney Castle

The grounds of this castle make it worth the trip in my opinion, the gardens are beautiful and we spent 3-4 hours just walking around and taking pictures.  I was glad that we are previously toured Bunratty Castle which was restored as it made walking through Blarney Castle easier to “visualize” how it must have looked in the 15th century.

We asked the gift shop cashier for her recommendation on lunch, she suggested The Lemon Tree Restaurant.  It was just a short walk from Blarney Castle with a cozy atmosphere, great food, and good service.

After lunch we headed back to Dublin, we were all pretty tired from our whirlwind trip but enjoyed the scenic drive into Dublin where we spent another a quiet night at the Croke Park Hotel before heading to the airport the next morning to fly home.  I can’t wait to see this beautiful island again, ideally like to include Northern Ireland on my next trip and more time in Dingle/Killarney area!

 



Glamping

Glamping at Cloudland Canyon

Cloudland Canyon
Cloudland Canyon

Some people live to be outdoors and think camping under the stars is heaven.  Others (like me) enjoy the outdoors and can appreciate a great hiking spot, spectacular mountain views, playing in a lake, but at the end of the day a nice soft bed and warm shower make it all that more enjoyable.  So in an effort to satisfy my children’s desire to camp and my desire for a few creature comforts we happened upon Yurt camping at Cloudland Canyon State Park.

Cloudland Canyon is made up of 3,485 acres of varying elevations with excellent hiking trails that can accommodate novices to expert (aka in really good shape!).  The park is located in NorthWest Georgia about 30 minutes from Chattanooga.  The park offers all types of campsites from backcountry to RV with full hook up.  They also offer cottages and a pioneer campsite, but it is the Yurts that I fell in love with!

These adorable and incredibly spacious tent like structures are elevated off the ground, rain proof (I can attest to this as our first night it poured rain with fierce winds and not one drop of water came in), they are HEATED (what a bonus for fall and those cold nights that pop up – also allows for comfortable camping in winter), have electricity (central light along with 4 outlets for charging phones or a power fan for hot summer nights), vented sky dome and ceiling fan (this is lovely for summer as well to allow heat to escape).  Inside the Yurts have wood floors and sturdy furniture made of pine which includes a futon (that fold into double bed) and a bunk bed/futon combo so that you can comfortable sleep six.  There is also a small bar area with stools for playing cards or indoor dining and a great shelf for storing camp goods.

Yurt Cloudland
Yurt at Cloudland Canyon Park

TIP: Yurt 7 is closest to the bathroom facility.  Yurts 3 & 6 are directly across from the playground.  Yurt 5 is closest to the West Rim trail, but it’s easily accessed from any of the Yurts (although Yurt 1 is at the very front and a little longer walk to the trail).

On the outside most have a space right out front for easy parking to load and unload, along with a fire ring, picnic table, outdoor water spigot, and lovely decks on front and back (some are on the side as pictured).  The bathrooms and showers are a short walk and include family bathrooms as well which is so nice for families with small children!  Another great plus for this campground is there is a playground/picnic area in the center of the yurt village, this is a great place for the kids to play while parents are  making dinner.

Playground Yurt Village
Playground in Yurt Village

If you are new to camping this is a great facility to try, I suggest a  weekend trip 2 nights/3 days.  This facility is well suited for an adults  only weekend, family weekend, or girlfriend getaway!

 Helpful Links:

http://gastateparks.org/cloudlandcanyon

Camp Menu Ideas:

Dinner Idea – After arriving and unpacking my favorite first night dinner is Tacos in a Bag and campfire cones.  I pre-cook the ground beef at home and add my taco seasoning so it’s just heat and eat when you arrive.  The below recipe is plenty for 4 people.

Recipe:  1lb precooked ground beef

1 packet taco seasoning

At home cook ground beef and drain, add taco seasoning packet and ½ cup water cook for 5 minutes.  Place seasoned meet in disposable foil pan and cover with foil and freeze.

1 bag lettuce shreds

1 snack pack of Dorito’s single serve bags (I normally buy the 12 pack and use any leftovers for snacks over the weekend).

1 bag shredded cheese

1 jar taco sauce

Any other topping can be purchased as well based on your preferences!

The Yurts have a fire ring/grill so bring charcoal or wood (can also purchase wood from camp office), start your fire, heat up your taco meat and dinner is served!  Bring along graham crackers, marshmallows, and Hershey bars and you can have s’mores for dessert!

Breakfast Idea-A really easy and very delicious breakfast that I like to serve is stuffed waffles.  This may sound complicated but it’s actually very easy and big hit with the kids and adults!

Recipe: 1-2 boxes of Eggo Waffles

1 jar Nutella

1 jar peanut butter

1 pint strawberries washed and sliced (again prep this at home before you arrive)

Mini Marshmallows

Chocolate Chips

Small tub soft butter

This is a fun and hands on breakfast for kids as well.  Take two waffles and spread/fill with desired toppings, then cook in hot frying pan either over fire of camp stove each half separate in butter, once brown smash together with spatula (like a grilled cheese) and remove from heat when warm, brown, and melting chocolate/marshmallow goodness is coming out!

Camp Activities:

There are so many things you can do but among my favorites are:

  • Cards – These are a must and lifesaver when it rains, I always bring a simple deck and some Uno cards
  • Glow Stick Balloons – Purchase a pack of balloons and one $1 pack of 10 glow sticks from any Walmart or Target, blow balloon up just a bit, activate glow stick, insert in balloon and finish blowing up. This great fun for tossing back and forth, playing keep away, etc at night in the dark.  Just have extra balloons as they pop easily when they land!
  • Walking Stick Art – As you hike the trails find a great stick that you can bring back to your campsite. From home bring 2-3 small rolls of duct tape (use to wrap top of stick 5-7 inches and prevent splinters) for handle at top along with 2-3 bottles of craft paint and cheap foam brushes.  Then paint stick using imagination and you have a great keepsake from your camping weekend!

Nearby Activities:

  • Chattanooga Aquarium is just a 30 minute drive and great day time activity away from the campground
  • Lookout Mountain, Ruby Falls, and Incline Railway are also about 20-40 minute ride and other great day time activities