Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life-and travel-leaves marks on you.
----Anthony Bourdain

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Camping Vacation 2021: DeSoto Falls National Park, GA

We had big plans for our summer of 2021 vacation...and then life happened. We decided to stay closer to home instead of leaving the country, but we knew with it being summer in the South, we needed to head north or higher in elevation.

We found DeSoto Falls National Park near Dahlonega, GA. The location is more in-between Dahlonega and Helen; the Appalachian Trail crosses the highway just up the road from the park. This was a smaller campground than most of the National Park Campgrounds we've been to. We were there at the beginning of the week; there were a lot of empty sites. 

As you drive on US Hwy 129, you may almost miss the turn. Coming from Blairsville, it's a sharp right to turn into the park.


The campground is divided into 2 separate parts: one section has outdoor shower facilities available with flushable toilets and the other section only has "chemical flush" facilities. We had potable water just across the road from our site.
Potable Water Spigot

Shower Facility

Outdoor Shower

Chemical Flush Facility

The sites are large and the ones in the loop where we stayed were wooded, with Frogtown Creek to the back of them. Picnic tables, fire pits, and a lantern stand are provided. There is no electricity or water at the sites.
Our site


The site beside us

One of the sites in the middle of the loop

Road view of our site
We stayed 2 nights. The first night was the best night's sleep either of us had in a long time. Unfortunately, the second night a family with 3 young children stayed. I say "unfortunately" because I don't think the parents knew (or cared) about camp etiquette. The youngest daughter (who we estimate was around 3 or 4 years old) screamed and cried until around at least 11:00 pm with the parents sitting around the campfire. We aren't sure what they put in their fire, but whatever it was blew into our tent and caused Robert to start coughing. Let me just say that if we had planned to be there another night we would have said something to the ranger. The people who were there our first night also had small(ish) children who were well-behaved and calmed right down when it was time to go to sleep. 

Enough of that; camping etiquette with children will have to be another post. There is a very nice, well-kept trail on the other side of Frogtown Creek that leads to the waterfalls. It was an easy hike. We had nowhere to be so we just took our time and enjoyed the flora along the way. The rhododendron wasn't blooming yet but I would say when it does it's absolutely beautiful. 
An easy hike with a well-kept trail

It had been a little dry, but after a rain I'm sure the fall are spectacular!

The rhododendron were just about to bloom

Our campsite from the trail
We met Laurene and Shirley. They've been visiting the campground for well over 20 years. Their sons bring their campers up and set them up for them and they spend the summer there. 

If you're looking for something to do during the day, Dahlonega is close by. We drove in to reminisce about a couple of July 4ths we spent there. We didn't stay long, though. We found Frogtown Winery in between Dahlonega and the campground. It's well worth a stop!


Now the big question: Would we camp there again? Absolutely, without a doubt. The only downside we saw was the unruly neighbors we had that one night. We would definitely try to get our same campsite. There's just something about having the sound of the creek lull you to sleep at night!

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Ireland Adventure Re-Cap

This is exactly how we felt about Ireland
This was one of the best, if not THE best, vacations we've ever had. It was, quite honestly, planned at what some might say was the last moment. As in, 3 or 4 weeks before we left we began seriously planning. We tossed the idea back and forth for a few months but then we decided to just go ahead and do it, and I'm glad we did.

Renting the campervan from Bunk Campers was a brilliant idea, so thanks, John! I've said this before: the van we rented was just the right size. Having a toilet at our disposal was exactly what we needed. The bed was so very comfortable that I had no trouble going to sleep from the beginning and I didn't wake up with my back hurting. 

Robert did a great job driving with the gear shift on his left side and driving on the left side of the road. He was already used to driving on the right side of the van, but it had been some years since he had driven a manual for any length of time. He only ground the gears twice and never stalled the engine. The round-abouts were no problem at all; I think we only had to stop at a couple during the whole trip. In fact, he found that driving on the left side of the road and all of the round-abouts were easier than driving in the US, partly due to the courteousness of the Irish drivers.

The prices of everything seemed to be comparable to or less than what we would pay in the US, especially once we left Dublin. Diesel was, as you might imagine, expensive, but we only had to fill up 3 times and spent less than $400. The campervan seemed to be relatively fuel-efficient. 

Favorites of the Trip

My favorite part of the trip was steering away from most of the tourist traps, going "off the beaten path", meeting the Irish people, and taking our cues from them. I never thought I would enjoy not planning a trip! Yes, I know by doing this we missed some things but that just means I need to go back and do it again. I think my favorite place was the Beara Peninsula. It's hard to say for sure, but just the beauty of that area of the country stole my heart.

One of Robert's favorite parts of the trip was being able to see our British friends in Dublin before we picked up the van. Another favorite was visiting Ross Castle in Killarney and walking back through the park back into town. Seeing the Irish Red Deer and getting a view of St. Mary's as we walked into town was very special. Ladies View (in the Killarney National Forest) was his favorite scenery. The real surprising part to him was how genuinely friendly the Irish people are. He had heard about the friendliness but to experience in person was something!

The Big Question

Now for the big question: Would we do it again? Most definitely! We're already talking about renting from Bunk Campers again and traveling through Northern Ireland and the northern part of the Republic of Ireland, Scotland, or Southern England.

Next time, I will plan out our dinners and breakfasts to make sure we didn't waste so much time in the grocery store. I don't think I will even plan where to go next time; we should just go where the road takes us and where locals suggest we go.

Our biggest piece of advice is to just do it. Go while you can, before you get too old. Even if you have to put everything on a credit card and pay it off later, do it. The memories we have from this trip will last for the rest of our lives.

Sláinte!

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Our Last Planned Campsite

 
After we left Hungry Hill, we headed toward our last planned campsite: Roches Campervan and Campsite in County Wexford. We took a bit of a detour because when you're in that part of Ireland going to the Rock of Cashel is a must. We skipped Blarney Castle (too touristy & I've heard some nasty things about what happens on that rock at night!) knowing that the Rock was also touristy. As luck would have it, there was maintenance going on that day and we were able to park and get into the castle for free. As luck would have it, there were very few people there and no tour busses. (For more on our detour visit Life in a Small Town and click on County Tipperary.)
Rock of Cashel
We stayed long enough to eat lunch at O'Neill's and walk through the castle, then we were back on the road. Along the way we passed the place where the cider we enjoyed is made. We didn't stop to see if they gave tours. It didn't look like they had a place open to the public, but I wonder if we would have been able to get a tour if we had stopped.
Bulmer's Cider
Roches Campground is right on Bannow Bay and is a working dairy farm. We paid half of our night's stay as a deposit online and were told we could pay the rest before we left the next morning. (Make sure you have cash!) As we arrived we were greeted with views of Bannow Bay over the field.
Bannow Bay
We almost had the place to ourselves; there was one other person sharing the concrete. Just across the bay, you can see where the Normans landed in 1169.
Site of the Norman Invasion in the background
Since there were only 2 campers, the site was extremely quiet. The views were spectacular.
Roches Campvan and Campsite

View from the top of the hill of Roches Campervan and Campsite
The campground is very clean and well-kept. Electricity is available at the site, but there is no wi-fi. There is a common area with a camp kitchen (of course...it's Ireland!) and really nice bathrooms.
View from the campsite up the hill to the common areas
Camping kitchen
Common area
Unisex bathrooms
In the picture below you can see the coffee trailer that is used during the high season. They also have live music during that time, but the owner had traditional Irish music playing over the speakers for us since we were there during the off-season.
There are grassy pitches for tents. They offer pony rides on the beach and I'm sure the fishing is fantastic here. There is a shoreline path around the water but we didn't walk around too much the next morning because we had things to see that were recommended to us. Wellingtonbridge is a short drive away if you have the need for groceries or want to get a bite to eat. 

The next day we headed to the Hook Peninsula. A lady I met in Clifden was from the area and told me to promise that we would see Tintern Abbey and the Hook Lighthouse. I told her the lighthouse was the reason we stopped here but I didn't know about the abbey. It turned out to be Robert's favorite castle/abbey of the trip.
Tintern Abbey was established in 1131.
It was used as a residence until 1959.
We had some time before it opened so we strolled around a battlemented bridge and a church. 
18th-century Battlemented Bridge

The Battlemented Bridge
The church was rebuilt in the late 16th/17th centuries and was probably used by the local laypeople.

The Hook Lighthouse was constructed in the 1100s
View from the top of the lighthouse
Both are things you won't want to miss. Seal and whale-watching are popular activities during certain times of the year. 

*Sidenote: A man in the lighthouse gift shop told me that Carnavan Beach was a good place to park the van and spend the night. We didn't drive by and check it out so I can't confirm this.

We only stayed one night at Roches, although we talked about staying another one. I would love to go back during the high-season. Our plan was to hopefully find someplace to stop for the night in Wexford similar to what we saw in Castletownbere. After Tintern Abbey & the lighthouse, we decided to go ahead and start heading to Wexford. As I said in the post Camping in Ireland Without Reservations, we were disappointed at first. Every time something didn't seem to go as we hoped, something better happened.

For more information about what we did and saw in Ireland, visit Life in a Small Town.



Saturday, April 30, 2022

Beara Peninsula

 
After a day in Killarney, we drove through Killarney National Park to get to Hungry Hill Lodge and Campsite. The views along the way were spectacular although some of the roads were a little nerve-racking for Robert.

Turners Tunnels on the County Cork line
Ladies' View
We planned to take this day to rest and do laundry. When we arrived, Jamie came out to greet us. She checked us in and showed us around. At that point, she said there would be one other couple in the campground but a young brother & sister from Germany ended up spending the night as well. 

The campground is set against a mountain so it was perfect and made us feel at home.

There is a store within walking distance. It had what we needed for the night but we had to go into Castletownbere for "real" groceries. 

The campground has laundry facilities, free electricity, free Wi-Fi, and free showers. When we were there Daniel was in the process of fixing one of the sets of showers so there wasn't a separate shower/bathroom for each gender. There was a shower and toilet marked for guys and one for the ladies. The showers were hot and had plenty of pressure. Also on site is a kitchen. Let me just say that I love how every campground we went to had camp kitchens! I don't understand why we don't have them in the US. It just doesn't make sense.

Camp Kitchen

Unisex (for now) bathroom

The showers were a little narrow. Robert said he felt too cramped but I had no problem.
Laundry facility

Jamie and Daniel did everything to make us feel welcome and at home. Daniel's dog came out to meet us after we told him that we were dog lovers. He makes sure the dog is in the fence when campers come. 

I had a little trouble with the dryer while doing laundry: my clothes weren't getting dry. It turns out that it was on the wrong setting and I didn't know I could change it. Jamie was kind enough to give me some of my money back. 

Jamie also gave us a couple of recommendations on what to do during our day in the Beara Peninsula. We looked into taking a ferry over to Bere Island but then decided to just stay in Castletownbere. It appeared to be a really small town with not much to do, but after talking to Adrienne in MacCarthy's Pub, we found plenty to see. We drove out to Kilcatherine's Church to see a medieval church built on the ruins of a 7th-century monastery. The church itself is from the 11th or 12th century. The views were incredible.
Beautiful final resting place

View looking from Kilcatherine Church

Kilcatherine Church
We also found the ruins of Dunboy Castle, although we didn't know it at the time. It wasn't well-marked and we thought it was something else!
Dunboy Castle was destroyed in 1602 during the Seige of Dunboy

Ruins of Dunboy Castle

You can see the shape of a star of the fortress

When we were in town we came across a parking lot that had signs allowing campervans to stay there overnight. That would have been a perfect place to stay if we were looking for someplace like that. We were hoping to find someplace like that in Wexford but didn't. 

What's the verdict on staying at Hungry Hill again? You betcha. I loved the property it's on. There's also a lodge, tent camping areas, and "glamping" opportunities. Just about perfect!
Hungry Hill Lodge and Campsite
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