The Emerald Isle

The Emerald Isle

Knowing that this was to be our last summer living in Europe we had decided that there were a few things on our bucket list that we needed to tick off. The main one being to visit Ireland.

We had investigated a few different ways to do this but, in the end, decided to take advantage of an offer that had originally landed in our mailbox from a German tour company called Trend Tours. It was a seven day escorted coach tour flying from Frankfurt.

Personally, I never imagined myself as the sort of traveller that goes on an escorted coach tour. Sure, we had taken an escorted tour to Egypt in 2017 but that was different because it was just Iris & I travelling with the benefit of our own, personal, tour guide and there was a certain amount of flexibility with that in that we could decide how long we wanted to spend at the various spots on the itinerary – or even if we wanted to visit them at all.

This would be something entirely different as we would be on a large coach with 30-40 other people (all German speaking), so you can forget about flexibility – we would be on a very structured time frame.

Still, it was fantastic value &, after all, we knew very little about Ireland so this was a way to get introduced to the place & decide if we wanted to go back at some stage in the future.

So, on the first Sunday in August we once again headed out to Frankfurt Airport to catch our Lufthansa flight to Dublin. It was an early morning flight, so we were in Dublin by mid morning where we were greeted by a tour company representative. There were three other people joining us at this stage, a married couple (Klaus & Sabine) & a single lady (Ulrike). We had a short wait for our transport before being taken to our hotel.

Our hotel was located about 10km outside of the city centre &, as it was too early to be checked into our rooms, the four of us decided to take a stroll to explore the village cum suburb that the hotel was located in. Less than 10 minutes walk we away we came across a 12th century tower that even the locals don’t know it’s original purpose – but it had a museum & café attached so we spent some time exploring before hitting the town proper & finding a decent local pub – The Black Lion- where we had our first drinks – Iris opted for a wine & I had a pint of cider. Our new German friends had Guinness!

Then we made our way back to the hotel so that we could check into our rooms & rest up before dinner.

Monday &, after breakfast, it was time to board our coach for our first day of the tour. First up our tour guide introduces himself – his name is John Lennon, no kidding! He makes a bit of a joke of it & the whole bus is in stitches.

So, once John has given us the run down on what to expect over the next few days we are off to tour around Dublin – stop one is just outside the city at the Presidential residence, definitely modelled on the US Whitehouse (though John tries to convince us that the Americans copied them!). Then off to the coty for a short drive around and a one hour stop to have a walk around.

Iris & I are joined by Ulriche, we decide to head up towards the Cathedral to have a look around & to see if we can find somewhere to grab a coffee. Not before we take a few photos of the bronze statue of “Molly Malone” a famous “Lady of the night” who even has a song in her name. We end up walking farther than we thought we had & ended up being a few minutes late back to the bus – we were no more than four minutes later than requested, which John was fine about but some of our co-tour companions were not so forgiving! One lady even made a point of slowly looking at her watch, then at me & back to her watch to make sure her point was received! Well, these are Germans after all!

So, with only a slight delay (thanks to us!), we are off to view the Cliffs of Mohr. It’s a bit over three hours to get there so we have a stop on the way for lunch at an Irish style roadhouse. Nothing spectacular but the fish and chips were great! (not a dish that you can easily access in Germany).

The Cliffs were spectacular, but, like all things coastal in the UK & Ireland, windswept with a breeze that feels like it has just blown off the Arctic circle. Still, Iris & I were prepared for cooler weather here so with jackets donned we were quite comfortable – even took a walk to get a close up view of O’Brien’s Tower on one of the cliff’s headlands.

Next stop, Lisdoonvarna – famous for its annual “Matchmaking” festival held every September & which attracts a crowd of more than 40,000 single people of all ages searching for the “Partner”! We will be staying here for two nights, at the Hydro Hotel – a comfortable three & a half star hotel that, though past its prime, is kept in good condition. We get our luggage & head to our room – spacious & comfortable – for a bit of a rest before dinner.

Iris & I opted for the supplemental dinner package for the tour, which means we get all of our dinners included (breakfast was included as a part of the tour). Typically these involved a three course meal with two to three choices of appetiser, main & dessert. All of our meals were excellent & you couldn’t fault them for taste or quantity.

After dinner Iris, myself, Ulriche (Iris’ new bestest friend!) & Klaus & Sabine went for a short walk into town where we found a typical Irish pub for a few drinks & some traditional Irish folk music. It was fun without being outrageous – we have, after all, got another big day of touring tomorrow!

So, Tuesday is upon us & today we are going to be taking a look at Galway. The main attraction was the Cathedral – which was built on the site of the city’s old jail! After a good look around that we went off & found a spot for lunch before heading back to the coach. Next stop, Kylemore Abbey, which started life as a residential Castle built in the 19th century but which was eventually acquired by an order of Nuns hailing from Belgium who turned it into a girls’ school. It is now a museum & functioning Abbey & is quite a spectacle to look at – especially the partially restored Victorian Gardens.

We would have like to spend more time here but, like all coach tours, the itinerary comes first! Back to Lidoonvarna & the Hydro Hotel for another evening’s sustenance & entertainment! Along the way, plenty of history being retold (& partially reimagined) by our tour guide, John. The countryside is very picturesque, albeit not as green as it would normally have been as, apparently, this summer has been unusually dry for this part of the world.

Wednesday & the halfway point of our adventure takes us to Limerick – the heartland of that famous Irish music renowned the world over.

First, we stop at Kilfenora to visit a local natural history museum which takes us on a journey through the history of human settlement in the region – very interesting & certainly shows the harsh conditions under which the Irish people had to learn to live. From there we made our way to a mid morning “Fuel stop” where we feasted on cakes & hot drinks. I decided to spoil myself (& have a genuine Irish coffee in Ireland (as you do!) – it was delicious & I don’t care that it’s only eleven in the morning – I’m in Ireland!

Now we’re off to Limerick. Some nice cobbled streets here with great historic architecture. I’m particularly impressed by King John’s castle (yes THAT King John) – mainly because it has some cannons out front! After some much needed cannonsurfing Iris & I headed for our group meeting point – we don’t want to be late again!

Now we’re off to our next hotel, in a small town called Rathkeale, best known for its status as the “Capital” of the “Traveller” community (better known as Gypsies). John is very insistent that we book a side sightseeing trip for the “Ring of Kerry” as Rathkeale doesn’t boast much in the way of things to do or see & might not be that safe with all of the Traveller’s living there!

Iris & I aren’t buying it & we decide to have a leisurely day as opposed to getting up early for another long day on the coach.

Anyhow, we arrive in Rathkeale & check in to our hotel, Rathkeale House, where will be for the next two nights. It’s a lot more modern than the Hydro in Lisdoornvarna &, much to our surprise, is owned by an Australian family!

So, Thursday hits & we will have a lazy day today. Most of the group took the Ring of Kerry tour option but we will be cruising the streets of Rathkeale & living dangerously! Ulriche has also decided to stick with us. Iris has researched a few places for us to check out including a couple fo old churches, a museum & the ruins of an old castle.

Before heading out we check on a few directions with the Hotel owner who lets us know that the castle ruins are on land owned by an old woman who is more than a little eccentric. His advice is that if the gates are closed don’t go there!

So, armed with that inside information we head off towards the town centre. First stop a local café for a coffee, then we make our way to the old church ruins (circa 11th Century) which were interesting but nothing out of the ordinary. From there, the town’s newer church (17th Century) was to be our next stop. On the way we run into a coupe of the town’s local Traveller population who are quick to point out why Rathkeale is famous!

They ask if we need any assistance but we politely decline & head towards the church. Unfortunately we couldn’t go inside as there was a funeral happening, so we decide to head to the castle ruins but, after much walking & searching we cam to what we thought would be the gate to the property on which the ruins stand but it was closed! Remembering our host’s advice we decide against opening the closed gate &, instead, head for the museum.

It was only a twenty minute walk from the castle ruin site but, when we got there, it was closed for lunch – strike two!

So, we head back to the hotel. Still, we had a good look around the town &, despite being capital of the Traveller community (or perhaps because of it), we found it to be a really clean & tidy place!

On our return to the Hotel we said adieu to Ulriche & headed to our room. We would have a restful afternoon & then a quiet dinner before an early night in readiness for tomorrow’s continuing adventure.

Friday morning and, after breakfast, we pack up & load our luggage on the coach. We’re heading back to Dublin today – with stops at Cork & Kilkenny along the way.

In Cork we headed to the Cathedral which was really nice but what was nicer was the fact that only a few metres away was a funky little coffee shop where we stopped & had some coffee & cake!

Kilkenny was a great town. We had lunch there overlooking the Castle before heading to a pub where I could sample a pint of Kilkenny beer – it was very tasty! Then a quick look at the Castle before heading back to our meeting point to rejoin the group (no, we weren’t late!).

Dublin here we come! We’ll be staying at the hotel we first stayed at six days ago for our last night before heading back to Frankfurt.

After dinner we made our way to the bar where we had drinks with the couples that we had made friends with during the trip. We exchange contact information with Ulriche, who was insistent that we try to come visit her before we head back to Australia.

A good night’s sleep later we were up & heading for the airport – another trip done & dusted & what a great trip it was! I survived a week on a German coach tour & enjoyed every minute of it!

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