Travelling without frontiers…
Ahh…nop, actually there is one in Ireland

I shall start with Ireland as my first post about travel in my blog. Why?…well, it was here where the idea for his website started, it was here where I decided to land to work and study (all the way from Portugal) 2 years ago and it is here where I still am…for how long? Who knows? But let me tell you a little bit what I have learned here, as per my experience as worker, tourist packed with a camera and simple observer…

In the land of rolling green hills (I actually thought they would be higher, don’t know why…), of countless sheep, of cheerful music to forget the famine and other misfortunes they once endured, of the ever-changing sky of tones from blue to grey, of the windy coasts and of the famous fermented and spirituous drinks, the one thing is certain, you will always find someone nice, just smile and give back that amiability no matter where you are in the country!

Dublin City, where I am based and working, is a vibrant city (especially from Thursday into the weekend), where there is a multitude of cultures emerging but not smothering the very own characteristic of the city – you feel the people, the heritage, the traditions are thriving and they are proud of it! It is a city that offers opportunities currently to whom wants to their skills and dedication to be appreciated (for some areas at least…); I empathise with those who felt the need to travel to work, for back in heir home countries opportunities were scarce and the ones left either were poorly paid or strategically set to fit others. As you are reading this and having Irish nationality you may feel the same…it all depends were you started and what your goals are.

Continuing about travelling…Dublin offers a variety of places to visit:

  • Parks: great for a walk, run, meeting friends to get a few rays of sunlight (St Annes Park, Malahide Castle Gardens, Phoenix Park, etc);
  • Smalls towns near the coast; Howth – my little haven ?, where I go for a swim when is not too cold, for a hike or a run along the cliff path and check the harbours and the visiting seals (looking for the fish left behind by the fishing nets), buy fresh fish (I just wish they could make better use of their fish, generally speaking as for a country with so much sea and fish available they tend to eat it fry or mixed in cream…) or just wonder around with my camera; Greystones is very unique as well, worth the visit and the walk/hike to Bray.
  • Museums (personally love the Chester Beatty Library, Cathedrals, Churches
  • Hidden gems that you only get to know talking to locals or the usual city tour (or an unusual as I did a few months ago advised by a friend of mine);
  • Dublin Zoo, National Botanic Gardens (my top favs), etc.

It has a big cultural asset undeniably – music everywhere, theatres running shows from dance to dramatic pieces, libraries established in every corner, artists exposing their masterpieces in shops, out in the streets, performing…the city is alive!

But at times you need to wind down from all the “noise” and there are plenty of places to do so in Ireland; either by public transport, car or hitchhiking you will get there, guaranteed.

The public transports inside the city are ok (not great), but you have trains from Dublin to the majority of places of interest around Ireland – Galway, Cork, Waterford, Belfast (Nort. Ireland), Westport, Limerick, etc.

By car (renting is not expensive at all) is the most convenient way as by train you need to get transfer bus if you want to visit the outskirts of the main cities. Issue? If you drive on your left side (as I do, so boyfriend drove all times ?).

Or, nothing spells adventure like strapping on your backpack and setting out to explore a new country. You’ll find an excellent hostel/b&b network (local businesses), with common rooms packed with travelers from all over the world; in one of the car trips we gave a lift to two friends from Germany (as I can remember, at least one was!! apologies to the other…) who decided to backpack through the west coast despite having the means to stay in hotels…they found this was a safe ground and with plenty of camping sites to stay – true!

Briefly, from all the miles that I have explored in Ireland I have to emphasize a few places (it is not easy to narrow it down, I tell you…) and experiences:

    • Galway: the city is very welcoming, very alive too. It welcomes you with good food, good street performers (check out their festivals), city museum and a surprising show of salmon fishery by traditional methods.
      Of course, if you want to explore the country side you need to go further north and northwest – cross the Lough Corrib up towards Connemara National Park (image below) and give yourself time to stop every now and then along the journey – it is absolutely beautiful and peaceful!! Ah, and have lunch in Clifden (one of the best seafood chowder); Connemara N. Park and Kylemore Abbey share the same land and are very closer (we did not had time to visit Kylemore but I would strongly advise to go, just leave a bit earlier if you plan to hike the trail from the visitor’s center). The rest of the time we decided to not have any plan and just roll the Wild Atlantic Way through Galway – stunning views, a bit windy that´s for sure, and time for a boat tour near Cleggan (kindly conceded by a group of divers that we met the day before).

 

    • Wicklow: Glendalough Lake and Wicklow Mountains (image below), absolutely spectacular! I have no words to describe the delight and wander as I was hiking and exploring through the well-kept trail…it is that type of quietude you seek in meditation (for me at least, it is) despite the number of fellow hikers you meet along the way; this was the second mountain to hike in Ireland – first hike was in Howth, but is very modest so I never considered to be hiking, but don´t get fooled by me has the summit is at 171 mts height…and where I met Paul, a nice man who loved to hike and invited me to the Wicklow mountains and Sugar Loaf (mountain a bit closer to the cost with a stunning view) and off I went…Hold on! You just met this guy!! Look, call it sixth sense, call it intuition, name it what you like but in the end of the day if you wanna have adventures you need to take a risk; OBVIOUSLY reasonable risk…in ways you can make sense of the circumstances you are getting yourself in to…this has been quite a lesson for work life, personal and travelling skills; this is not a rule though, but it is method…And again, in Ireland you always find someone nice!

 

    • Northern Ireland: Belfast is the capital and has quite of a special vibe, let’s just say it is vibrant mixture of new and old – rich in culture, history and constantly inviting new ideas; the first time I went there was for a Vegan Festival but ended up spending more time around the city – walked everywhere, from St Georges Market (unquestionably worthwhile for the entertainment, the food, the learning experiences from the old stand owners and newly entrepreneurs…), to the Titanic Museum through the walking marked trails and city streets, led by google maps and by self orientation. This year I had a chance to visit the Belfast Zoo, as boyfriend was here and was driving, and see the amazing dedication of the zookeepers, despite the funding to keep it open seem to be scarce and leaving the workers with a unavoidable concern for their future and the animals they cherish so much; from here we went further up to visit the Giant´s Causeway and I have to say I got really impressed with the organisation, from the of museum itself, to the humorous explanation by the audio guide, walking path (despite the wind literally impeding us from walking in certain zones) and landscape (image below). We followed the route towards the Carrick-a-Rede (rope bridge) but did not cross it, for it was closed due to weather conditions. Stopped in Bushmills, no whisky but a damn good seafood chowder, local brew and cheeses. Ah, now we stay here warm and safe by the fireplace.
      For some it may not seem fair to talk about Nort. Ireland here as it is not part of Ireland, but they share the same land, miles apart from their nearest neighbours; for me, as a tourist, the green and the rocks are still look alike!

 

    • Westport: My 3 day-weekend, lone traveller experience in the west coast. I can not emphasize enough how much I loved this place…better, the experience I had in Westport (so good I am adding two photos below :D). I knew I wanted to travel as green as possible (took a train and rented a bike), hike the Croagh Patrick and do the Great Western Greenway (42K, part of the National Cycle Network); the mornings would be early, enough to see the mist falling from the trees and robins chanting and foraging for food; cycling is a safe way to travel even in the narrows lanes from Westport town to the Croagh Patrick Mountain; arrived there, parked bike and up the hill you go to meet the reek; packed camera of course and looked up – see that white coated hill (first picture below), “sure that is not the reek” (as I thought)…a few kms after the beginning of my hike I met a fellow hiker (who explained me the history behind the tradition of pilgrimage, some barefoot, to this holy mountain – significance dates back to the time of the pagans, when people would gather here to celebrate the beginning of a harvest season – and asked me if I had an extra layer, for it was a bit chilli in the top…”wait??!, are you telling me that white top??” – YEP! Ok, am ½ way, now is all the way. The last stage is hard, but let me tell you DO NOT THINK TWICE before you decide either to hike to the top or not…it is striking beautiful! And then you have that sense of accomplishment and peace…you absorb it and the descend now seems like a walk in the park. Back on the bike and to the city – time to rest now.
      To do the Greenway I advise book in advance with the rental company the pick up place, date and time, otherwise you will be doing another 42k back and it could be raining (weather changes quickly); I started in Westport, after a delightful breakfast in a cozy local cafe, and just followed the path (marked in green); the never-ending encounters with sheep, horses, small farms with free roaming chickens, ducks and pets, the landscape changes from stage to stage and every town has something different to offer – do stop and explore. The 3rd day I decided to dedicate to Westport town the rest of the hours before heading back to Dublin: on the bike and off you go to visit the Westport House (again, history perpetuated), enjoy local food and wonder in the streets meeting local people, small businesses that seemed to have find the right place to prosper – there is room for everyone.

 

    • Wild Atlantic Way and Killarney: Other on my hiking checklist – Carrauntoohill standing tall at 1,038m. But before we get there, let me explain how I got there…by car! as usual driven by my boyfriend! ? kidding…I definitely need to tell you where we were before and after Killarney, for this area of Ireland is a MUST-GO: Wild Atlantic Way (WAW), the Cliff Coast, Southern Peninsulas and Haven Coast. From North to South, you drive miles along scenic routes where you have no alternative but to stop and scout, for there is so much to see and discover – Traught Beach near Rosshill (1st photo below), Ennistimon (nice little town where we stayed) Cliffs of Moher (walking tour and by boat, advised both), Lahinch Beach (where we went for a swim, it was June but the waters were warmer than usual…), Ennis, Killarney (tell you a bit more about this stage), Ring of Kerry, Kenmare (such a nice little town), sleep in a cottage in Cloundereen, Cork (literally in the middle of nowhere, with sounds of birds and smells of…you can imagine! But I did love it!!), Cork City Market (because I love traditional markets) and Fota Wildlife Park. These are just a few I can highlight from this road trip, but sure there is a lot more to see, just dare!
      Now, about hat hike..i can resume with this: if you have any heart condition, don’t…or go the long way, which is less vertical. The “devils ladder” gained this name for something, as you may assume and correctly…it is hard! I consider my self being in good fitness condition and after completing this stage and looking up acknowledging there was still more vertical hike to complete, I thought twice…I did. I though I was being crucified by something wrong I did…(yeah, the decision of doing the hike!). Silent complaints occupied my mind while I was going up; as you reach the top all thoughts vanish and you just breath and mesmerize the picturesque landscape (2nd image below; the 3rd is a metaphor for my thoughts :D). What about the descend?? Not easier and as a conclusive point: I got sore for 2 days, couldn’t do stairs!! Common topic to laugh about for the rest of the trip.

 

  • Greenway from Waterford to Dungarvan: theis cycling route is a recovery of an old railway line; It´s an easy 46k. What I did was too a bus to Dungarvan, a bit of sightseeing in this pleasant market town and rented a bike for the route; you pass by so many different iconic places that eventually you have to stop to take pictures – viaduct, tunnels, old train transformed into a cafe, lake and a small train that still does a bit of the route (near do Waterford); all is organized and the clean air you breath along the way is priceless (no motor vehicles allowed). Waterford has a lot to offer as well, the cultural heritage is kept under a constant cycle of festivals (I was there for the Spraoi Festival, so good!!), permanent expositions either in the city walls (paintings, real works of art) or in museums/galleries

I actually realised that, as a food blogger as well, I never spoke about meat throughout the entire post…it is just something (if you are not vegan/vegetarian) you must consider to eat if you are travelling in Ireland; besides the recognisable quality, it is who to know that here the cattle, sheep and pigs are mainly created roaming free during day time hours, the farmers follow a sustainable system of standards for animal welfare, environment, traceability, food safety and safe use of chemicals and medicine in order to be credited by the Irish Food Board (check out the Board Bia website for more info on the Origin Green Initiative) and gain credits within the markets.

Let me just add in this ending note that I never found a 4-leaf shamrock nor I find the green to be like emeralds; I believe the green extends from the fields to their hearts, as you see from the respectful way of living of most residents to the conservation works sustained by Ireland´s best!

© Photos by Ana Santos

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