Part Three: Last Days and Final Thoughts
Here are links to Parts 1 & 2
Day 10: Dublin-Glendalough-Cashel
After another amazing Dublin breakfast at Two Rooms in Dublin (this time baked eggs with 4 cheeses and pine nuts, Irish Whiskey oatmeal and orange-raisin scones-still dreaming about it!); we said goodbye to Dublin and set off for Glendalough. It was a beautiful 45 (ish) minute drive. We were hoping to beat the crowds there but ended up leaving Dublin later than we had planned and arrived about 11-11:30. It wasn't terrible but a couple buses had already arrived. We used our Heritage Card again and enjoyed the presentation and film about the Monastic history in Ireland. It gave us great perspective and history about this incredible site. It is more beautiful than I can ever describe, set in the gorgeous Wicklow mountains. We got some great pictures. We hiked around the site and the lake for about 90 minutes.
We then set off for Cashel, intending to stop at Kilkenny. When we arrived in Kilkenny, the Arts Festival was underway and it was wall to wall people, the most crowds we saw in Ireland, even Dublin. We decided to skip it. It was a last minute addition to our itinerary so we weren't too disappointed. We headed to Cashel where we were going to stay one night and planned to see the Rock in the morning. We stayed at Peggy O'Neill's, a very nice and homey B&B close to Hore Abbey. It is a great location as we were able to explore Hore Abbey that evening and still close enough to walk to town and to the Rock of Cashel. After exploring the Abbey that night we had a decent meal at the Cellar and then explored Cashel. It is a beautiful town.
Day 11-Our Last Day Cashel to Shannon
I woke up realizing it was our last day in Ireland! It was a sad feeling. The beauty of Ireland is indescribable, as well as the hospitality of the people. We started the day with an good Irish breakfast, and then walked up to the Rock of Cashel. We got there when around opening, which I highly recommend. We were able to get wonderful pictures and explore without huge crowds. We took the first tour at 9:45 which was very interesting and informative. Even with the scaffolding, the Rock is amazing to behold. McCormack's chapel and the frescoes there (not complete but amazing to see) are truly beautiful. Even after all the ruins we saw in Ireland, the Rock of Cashel was impressive.
We then got a snack at Tesco and headed to Cahir. With our Heritage Card we were able to visit the Cahir Castle (very interesting and informative tour, a great site) and the Swiss Cottage (we wanted to live there!) We spend a couple hours in Cahir and then headed to Bunratty. We had debated whether to go to Bunnratty Castle, but we were "castled" out. Oh well, next time! We arrived in Shannon about 4 pm and that only left an hour for the tour anyway. We did final shopping and headed to our B&B, Bunratty Meadows. This B&B is spectacular. It is only 10-15 min from the airport but in an absolutely beautiful setting and one of the best rooms we had in Ireland, even though it was the least expensive. After packing all our new Ireland "loot" and getting ready for the next day's flight, we enjoyed our last meal at Gallagher's. We had been told they have great Irish music, but they didn't that night but our meal was one of our best on our trip. One last time for brown bread!
Last Day-Final Thoughts and Tips
We arrived three hours early to Shannon Airport, and that gave us more than enough time to return the car to Hertz (no problems at all except they charged us in USD instead of euros...be sure to check for this! It was a difference of almost $40). Checking in, security, last minute shopping, taking care of our VAT tax, and pre clearing US customs took about an hour. So we had about 90 minutes to wait for our flight, although I would rather be safe than sorry! When we were on our flight, it made me sad to see Ireland in the plane window. I could see the Cliffs, the Dingle peninsula, all that beautiful green in the window fading away. We had an amazing time and I was sad to leave! Someone on this forum called it "Ireland Withdrawal Syndrome" and I agree! We've been back about a week and I keep looking at our pictures to treat the symptoms! It is truly a spectacular country and we felt at home there.
So with that, here are final thoughts and tips:
we thought these were worth it. We visited many sites and there were others we would have visited (Kilmainham Gaol, Killarney Castle, etc, if we had not missed the tours or were turned off by crowds...) We got our money's worth and opened up some sites we may not have visited if we didn't have the card.
-Hertz Car Hire in Shannon
We had no problems and had an excellent experience. We saved money by using our United Miles Explorer Visa card (also no foreign transaction fees with this card)
-Charles Schwab Account
We opened this account before we left, there are no foreign transaction fees and no ATM fees. It saved us some money!
I gave this tip at the beginning but these were great for toilet stops and snacks. We rarely ate lunch due to our large B&B breakfasts, but we often stopped for a diet coke and small snack (ok, usually chocolate :-) We also got a cheap phone here.
-Early Bird specials
Many upscale restaurants have great deals on 2 and 3 course meals if you eat early. Because we rarely ate lunch, we were hungry by 5:30 or 6:00 pm and we had some wonderful meals this way.
-GPS vs map
We didn't bring or buy a GPS, but we had a mobile hotspot from Hertz so we could use our iPhones with wifi in the car. This worked, but in some places in didn't pick up the wifi. We had a great Collins Road atlas, and I had also preprinted some routes from AA.ie route planner. We usually got by with the map, but definitely recommend GPS for Dublin!
-Try to stay at least two nights in one place
We had an ambitious route (over 1000 miles in 11 days) but we stayed two nights in most places. This broke up the driving. The most we drove in a day was 3-4 hours, which was doable only because we had an itinerary of interesting stops which broke it up. We never drove more than two hours without a stop. I would try to limit to 2 hours a day if possible.
This was by far the best resource in planning our trip. I made all my B&B reservations based on the reviews and all met or exceeded my expectations. In addition, the forum was invaluable. I read many trip reports and posts, and when I didn't find my question I asked it and got great responses. Everyone is kind and gives wonderful advice-from locals to fellow travelers. I knew very little about Ireland before I went on this trip, and with trip advisor I planned the trip all on my own and it went off without a hitch! Thank you!
That's all I can remember right now. I hope this can help someone who is planning a trip or who is suffering from "Ireland Withdrawal Syndrome" :-)