“Idealism detached from action is just a dream. But idealism allied with pragmatism, with rolling up your sleeves and making the world bend a bit, is very exciting. It’s very real. It’s very strong.”
– Bono of U2 (Musician activist from Dublin)
My husband and I planned to have our Christmas holiday in 2017 in the UK for the first time since we got married. It will be a special trip not just because it’s Christmas but because it’s his mum’s 70th birthday and his nan’s 99th birthday! (It’s also his brother’s birthday, btw). I am equally excited because I’ve been celebrating my Christmases in the last 6 years here in Dubai and I want to feel the “real” Christmas vibe once again!
Unfortunately, my husband’s work schedule got in the way and he can only leave from work from 22nd of December only. So I decided to have a week holiday in Dublin first rather than waiting for him in the UK. I haven’t been to Ireland and it’s my long-time dream to go here since I got fascinated with ethereal music and anything Celtic (more on the Gothic side actually, lol!) when I was still in college. Above all, I’m a HUGE fan of Cranberries, Enya, and U2.
Every time I plan a trip in Europe, I try to visit more than one country. And I always skip Ireland because I want to spend more days to exploring it and just Ireland alone. And when this opportunity came, I said this is perhaps the time now that I’ve been longing for. The problem however is it was winter time and Ireland’s weather is fickle all the time and it can be worst in December! But I took my chance as it was the only place I could ever think of to go that is not that far away from the UK.
I’ve invited my sister-in-law to join me, and I was thrilled that she said yes! We haven’t travelled together that is just the two of us, it was always with the family. I feel that this is a great opportunity for us to bond as sisters.
BTW, IRELAND IS NOT SCHENGEN!
A lot of travellers who needs visa to enter Ireland may have not known that Ireland is NOT a Schengen country! They have a separate visa in which I did not know until I was already at their immigration!
My sister-in-law arrived the night before so my worry was more on not being able to join her when I was the one who invited her to this trip in the first place! This time I was lucky, the immigration officer saw that I have multiple entry Schengen and UK visas and I just told him that I wasn’t aware Ireland has a separate visa.
They all seem nice and never I felt intimidated by them, perhaps it’s the Christmas spirit around or perhaps Irish people are generally very nice! They gave me a temporary visa until my stay and just told me they will not let me in next time if I don’t have an Irish visa. Phew! :P
It was sunny when I arrived Dublin! So when I finally meet my sister-in-law we decided to go to Howth instead of the city walking tour, we can do this the next day anyway even in an ugly weather, but visiting Howth on a sunny weather is more advisable because Howth is a seaside suburb.
Howth is originally a fishing village, so there are a lot or seafood restaurants as soon as you get off the train station. We just took DART from Dublin and we reached Howth in around 20minutes only. If you have little time to go outside Dublin and want to see a countryside of Ireland (actually it’s more of a seaside!), then you must go here.
We were hoping to see the Weekend Market but it was close when we were there, so after strolling around this lovely small town, we went to one of the pubs there the Wrights Findlater Howth where we had our very first round of many pints of Guinnesses! I was hoping to bump Dolores O’Riordan (of Cranberries) at some point as she lives in this town, this was few months before she passed away only, and as a huge fan, I was really heartbroken with that news (no exagerration!)
Click this LINK for the best Howth Self-Guided Walking Tour that I’ve seen online.
GRAFTON & TEMPLE BAR
After our dinner and few pints in Howth, we head back to Dublin just in time to see Christmas lights along Grafton Street, the most famous pedestrianised shopping area in Dublin. This is my first Christmas outside Dubai in the last 5 years, so the festive atmosphere especially the street Christmas lights makes me feel nostalgic about my Christmasses in the past.
Not so far from Grafton Street, you’ll find yourself walking around Temple Bar area already, it is said to be very touristy area but for our first night, it’s a must for us to be in this area and we literally pub/bar hopped from one bar to another! Just like any Irish bars/pubs all over the world, their pubs are always full of good music and fun people!
I don’t remember anymore the name of the pubs we went into, but definitely one of those is the famous Temple Bar. I loved the traditional Irish music the musicians play whilst everybody is singing in unison, I am not familiar to most of them and I’ve only recognised the song Galway Girl (not Ed Sheeran’s!) as I’ve heard this in the movie, PS I Love You, which the setting is based in Ireland.
DUBLIN & RUGBY
The next day was another lovely weather in Dublin, we joined the FREE Walking Tour provided by Generator Hostel where we stay, and as the other walking tours I’ve joined in the past, it was very fun and informative. We didn’t finish the tour as we had to leave already for the Leinster’s rugby game!
Anyway, here are some of the places we only see during the walking tour:
We meet a friend of my friend, David, and his friend Emma, at Sweetman Pub along O’Connell Street. We all had a quick bite and pints of Guinness (again) before we head to Aviva Stadium to watch the rugby match between Leincester and Exeter.
My sister-in-law plays rugby, my husband and I loves watching rugby so he was really happy to know that we are watching a rugby game in Ireland, one of England’s team toughest opponent! Haha! It was cold in the stadium but quite worth it because Leincester won the game (well we have to root for Leinster right? Lol!)
It was impossible for us to get a taxi back to the centre so we just walked, whilst David does his own version of “much more informative” walking tour, lol! We stopped by at O’Donahue’s Pub at Merrion Row, where David said had the best Guinness in town, I didn’t know that it will still taste different from one pub to another, but he said it will have to be something to do with the water they mix it with. Surely he knows his Guinnesses then haha!
CLIFFS OF MOHER, BURREN, & GALWAY
The next day is our excursion day to Cliffs of Moher, the most popular excursion from Dublin because it’s quite close to Dublin only. I’ve searched a lot of Cliffs of Moher tours and the best one I’ve encountered in terms of the other places you will see apart from the Cliffs of Moher, is Wild Rover Tours. For the price of €40 (2017), you will be able to see Cliffs of Moher, Kinvara, Galway Bay, Burren, Doolin, Bunratty.
However, it was a foggy and rainy day, so we weren’t able to see some of them. We went to the Cliffs of Moher but we didn’t actually see the ‘cliffs” along the Atlantic Ocean because of the thick fog! It was Machu Picchu all over again for me :(
We didn’t stopped by the Bunratty Castle anymore, but we stopped for awhile at the Burren National Park viewing the Wild Atlantic Way. And our last stop is at my favorite city, Galway! It was my favorite because it’s very Christmassy and exactly how I picture Christmas in Europe!
Galway is the cultural capital of Ireland, it’s the haven for musicians and artists, this is also where Ed Sheeran used to perform on the pedestrianised streets of Galway at Salthill or the city centre, perhaps outside the Lynch’s Castle at Shop Street (which is now a bank btw) also? Maybe!
After walking around in the drizzle, we had our traditional Irish dinner at Cooke’s Restaurant which was very good! The place is very quaint which I love and we sat just by the fireplace with very cute Christmas decors. When I came back the following day, I had my dinner at Finnegan’s which is just adjacent to Cooke’s, and it’s equally good as well and has a very charming interiors.
So yeah, going back the following day was not part of my plan actually. I love Galway but I was supposed to have my FREE excursion day trip to Kilkenny to see Kilkenny Castle, St.Francis Abbey Brewery, Wicklow Mountains, Glendalough, and all those I’ve seen in the movie PS I Love You, from Paddywagon Tours but unfortunately (again!) this FREE tour is not offered on that day for I don’t know reason, because when I checked it whilst I was planning my itinerary, it should be offered that day. But since it is free, I can’t complain right? So they offered me a day tour to the Northern Ireland’s Giant Causeway, but since I’ve already done this before, the only choice left for me is to do Cong & Galway (again) Tour.
It is free tour because if you stay at Paddy’s Palace for at least 2 nights, they give Kilkenny Tour. Since my sister-in-law had to go back to UK already, I moved from Generator Hostel and stay at Paddy’s Palace for 3 more nights just to get this free tour, but I was unlucky again, pfft! >.<
I like the location of Paddy’s Palace because it’s very central unlike Generator Hostel which is still quite a long walk, it’s quite close to a lot of attractions in Dublin. However PP is quite basic and a bit older unlike Generator which is very updated and hotel-like actually, plus they have their own pub that has live music each night. I stayed at a twin room (but bunk bed!) with shared bathroom, but it’s on the next building where the main building and reception is. It’s cheaper and with free Kilkenny tour, so it’s not too bad.
CONG & GALWAY (again!)
Anyway, the Cong is known for the streams surrounding this tiny town, I’ve had a relaxing walk around despite the drizzle and I’ve seen the Ashford Castle, film locations of the Quiet Man, beautiful abbeys, and the Augustinian Monastery Ruins. When the drizzle was not stopping, our driver guide decided to just go to Galway earlier.
But drizzles didn’t even stop when we reached Galway, so I am seeing Galway again in a similar weather, good thing I’m in love with it so I just enjoyed my time than be depressed about it haha! This time, I went to the Christmas Market at Eyre Square and enjoyed the Christmas atmosphere there until it was time already for us to head back to Dublin.
After my 2 consecutive rainy trips to the countryside I realised I had enough, perhaps I just need to come back when it’s summer. I was contemplating between staying in Dublin for 2 more days or just go back to London again and just wait for Laurie there.
I was supposed to do more walking tours like the Rock & Roll Walking Tour and/or Fables & Folklore Walking Tour then meet David and his friends again that night, but I just rebooked my flights to London instead. It’s a shame I have to cut my days shorter in Ireland, but unfortunately, the timing was not right, most day-tours to places like Cork and Kerry (like as far as Dingle and Inch) does not operate in winters because of the shorter daylight. It really is better to rent a car and drive so you will not depend on tour companies’ schedules, but then again, the weather itself is also not cooperating with me that time.
Nevertheless, my 5-day trip to Ireland was still a long-time dream come true for me despite the fickle winter weather, it gave me the Christmas vibe I was expecting to have on this Christmas holiday and rather than staying in UK alone waiting for my husband to arrive.
I am happy I was able to fulfill this dream already even if I have not seen enough yet. And I always say that I WILL or SHALL come back to a place because I enjoyed it, but with Ireland, it’s different, it is – I MUST come back!
I’m in love with this country even before I even went here, and I’ve fallen in love to it even more after I visited that it makes me want to go back again to see places and do things I failed to do on this trip. Idealism detached from action is just a dream. So I will make sure that it will not take 2 decades again for me to realise this long-time dream because I’ve already started so I can do it again!