Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Full Irish

I decided to call my summary post on our 3-week tour of Ireland "The Full Irish" partly in reference to driving 2,305 km around the entire island but also because it refers to the hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage, black and white pudding, tomato, toast, homemade bread and coffee or tea that was included at most of the 16 different places we overnighted (almost all of which were B&B's). After 22 days of eating some variation of that breakfast, you can imagine that our bellies were bulging, to say nothing of our clogged arteries!
One advantage of eating such a large breakfast every morning is that we were almost never hungry again until the early evening, thus allowing us to save money by skipping lunch. Even at dinner, we discovered that main courses were really way too much food for one person (although we usually still ordered two entrees out of habit). Irish food, at least the lower-cost version we consumed mostly at pubs to stick to our budget, is still heavy on the meat & potatoes. But it washes down easier with a cool pint of beer!
As I mentioned in several of my previous posts, one of the best cost-saving things we did was purchase Heritage Cards, which cost 21 euros per person and are good for one year from the date of first use. We visited a total of 17 sites that were covered under the pass (but there are more than 100), which would have cost us 79.50 euros each if entrance was paid separately at each site.
first site where we used our Heritage Cards - the Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin
Some people may find driving in Ireland a bit difficult or stressful. First, you have to adjust to everything being the opposite of what it is back home (i.e., if you live in the U.S., Canada or most of Europe you sit on the left-hand side of the car and drive on the right). And, despite purchasing the recommended Ordnance Survey: The Complete Road Atlas of Ireland for 9.99 euros, we quickly discovered that it doesn't designate one way streets and is not very detailed for city centers. Considering that most of the 2,300 km we covered were not on major motorways but on the more scenic regional roads, there were many times we completely missed a turn due to lack of signage (and sometimes never found the road we thought we would take). There were as many tractors (and sheep) on the roads as there were cars and an abundance of sharp curves with little advance warning or room for error. We also observed that in many places where the speed limit is posted as 80 or even 100 kph, it should really be 50 because of the narrow, windy roads. But we still chose to rent a car because there is not a well-connected network of trains or buses in Ireland and we wanted the freedom & flexibility to explore more remote areas.
I know some of you who are reading this may be considering a similar trip to Ireland and are trying to decide whether to travel independently or as part of a group tour. As always, you must compare the overall effort & planning required if you are doing everything yourself versus the much less stressful but more costly organized tour. While I will always highly recommend Rick Steves' tours, the reality is they are not cheap; a 14 day tour starts at $3,895 per person, not including airfare. By comparison, our 22 nights in Ireland cost a total of $4,000 for two people (not including airfare but including every other dime we spent) or an average of $91 per person, per day. If anyone would like more detailed information or suggestions for places to visit in Ireland tailored to your specific interests, please don't hesitate to contact me via email or Facebook.
That wraps up our exploration of this beautiful country. Needless to say, we didn't see everything although we did get a taste of all the different regions and their correspondingly different landscapes and the people that inhabit them. While tourism has touched almost every corner of Ireland, it is still not too hard to get off the beaten path and better experience some of the mystical qualities of this magical land.

The link to some of my favorite Ireland photos is embedded in this post's title.

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