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, May 30, 2024

Ireland 2024: The Great Southern Tour Part 1

The first day of our Great Southern Tour through Vagabond Tours of Ireland began right around 8:00 a.m. We started our day with a wonderful Irish Breakfast buffet at the hotel. 1 of my sisters was anxious to try the blood pudding, which I never had the courage to try on previous trips. But she was trying it so I decided to take her lead. I wish I tried it before; it was very good! My preference for breakfast is porridge with yogurt and fruit but I stepped out of my comfort zone and went for it. 

We met our "vagaguide" Denise and were pleasantly surprised that there were only 6 people on this tour, and we were all women. The other 2 ladies on the tour with us were both traveling solo; 1 was Australian and the other lives in NC (although she is originally from England).  We bonded almost instantly with these women and I made it clear to them that if we're ever too much, to let us know they need "alone" time. 

Once on the van, Denise started with an ice-breaker. We were to answer several questions such as: Have we ever been to Ireland? What are we most looking forward to? Since 4 of us were sisters, we pretty much knew the answers but it was interesting to hear what the other 2 had to say. We also had another vagaguide on the tour. Angela had only been with the company for a few years and was tagging along since she hadn't led this tour before. 

One of the first business orders was regarding the restroom situation. At 62, I was the youngest on the tour (not counting the vagaguides) and I knew there would be times I had to use the restroom. Denise said we wouldn't drive more than 1 1/2 hours before stopping but if we needed a restroom before then, just speak up. Very accommodating!

Our first stop was the Rock of Cashel. Denise did a fantastic job relaying the history and the significance of what we were going to see as we headed to Cashel. And then, just as we turned the corner:
This was my second time visiting; I enjoyed strolling through the grounds at a more leisurely pace than I was able to previously. My goal this time was to see St. Patrick's Cross; unfortunately, it isn't accessible to the public at this writing. I thought this was some kind of cross:
Replica of the 12th Centurey St. Patrick's Cross on the site where the original once stood.
The Rock of Cashel is well worth a visit. On the previous visit I wasn't able to go into the Hall of the Vicar's Choral. We stepped in to have a look around at the building which was restored in 1982.
Tapestry in the Hall of the Vicar's Choral
Lovely wood in the Hall of the Vicar's Choral
Cormac's Chapel was closed off, which was a shame because I knew my sisters would have been fascinated with the frescos. I ended up not taking very many pictures; I was "in the moment" and was just enjoying being there. The fact that it was cold and very windy may have also been a factor.
View from an open door
The group (minus 1 & Angela-who was the photographer)
Our first sheep sighting
1 of the best signs I saw on the trip
We had more than enough time to see what we wanted to see. We hopped back onto the van and made our way to Blarney Castle. On the way Denise gave us a lot of interesting facts and myths about the Blarney Stone. 
I said over and over that I was not going to kiss the Blarney Stone but when I got to it I thought, "What the heck". 
I ended up not doing it after was a very long way down
This will give you somewhat of an idea of how far down you have to go, or at the very least, how far up you are:
The grate at the top is where you hang down.
A zoomed in shot of how far down you have to drop
The grounds were stunning. Even though the gardens weren't in full bloom, the tulips and some other flowers were blooming. We walked around the Poison Garden and a little bit of the park before getting back on the van just before it started to rain.

Blarney Castle through blooming tuilips
The Bell Tower from the top of Blarney Castle
An idea of getting to the castle
The dungeons were closed due to the nesting of the Lesser Horseshoe Bats
Blarney Castle
The Castle as we approached it
Our stop for the night was in Kinsale, a beautiful village right on the coast. Our hotel was incredible, with great views:
1 thing I liked about our hotels: each one had free water, instant coffee, tea, and tea biscuits. A very nice touch!
Kinsale was just beautiful. We managed to find the oldest pub in town, founded in 1690. Chris the barman was extremely nice and helped us to warm up by lighting a fire.
Danish beer in an Irish pub
The picture didn't capture how slanted the bar was
Thanks, Chris the barman!
We took Denise's advice on where to eat and walked into Fishy Fishy. The hostess didn't look very happy that we didn't have reservations, but the server was extremely nice. We didn't have to wait for a table, even without a reservation. Kinsale was such a sweet town. It is definitely someplace I would like to go back to and spend more time wandering in the shops. Here's just a taste:

Can you believe that was all Day 1 of the tour? I had no trouble falling asleep in the nice, comfortable bed. It was a jam-packed day with a lot of history and folklore as we drove to each of our stops. Counties traveled through and visited: Dublin, Kildare, Laois, Tipperary, Cork. This was just the beginning...

Monday, May 27, 2024

Travel Tips from an Inexperienced Traveler

Disclaimer: The following post includes Amazon links. I am not affiliated with Amazon and receive no compensation for sharing the products.

Before I say anything else, let me get this out of the way: I am not an "experienced" traveler, so you may want to take what I am saying with a grain of salt. As of May 2024, I have traveled to the following places (along with the number of trips made) outside of the USA:

Mainland Europe: 1
Scandinavia: 2 (one was paired with the European trip)
England: 1
Ireland: 3 
Canada: 1 (This was a car flying involved)

I learned more about what to take and what not to take during this last trip to Ireland when I went on 2 different tours that were back-to-back. I stayed in the country for 2 weeks and only took a carry-on suitcase and a small backpack.
The OPAGE backpack fit my needs for this trip. On the flight over, I had the essentials: liquids, prescriptions, portable charger/converter, earplugs (more on that later), an extra change of clothes (just in case my carry-on didn't make it on time since I checked it so I wouldn't have to keep up with it during a long layover), wallet,  and other stuff I can't think of now. During the tours, I kept a sweatshirt and some rain pants in there just in case I needed them. I haven't tested the straps but I believe they would be slash-proof but there are no RFID pockets. There is a back zipper to a separate pocket so it would be safer to put anything you don't want stolen in it. 

My carry-on was bought at Walmart for around $50. Yes, it's cheap but it held up well and I didn't have to expand it (although I thought I might have to on the flight back). After watching a YouTube video on what kind of carry-on not to buy, this fits into that category! Even with it being checked, it held up very nicely, wheels and all. 

So, how did I manage to fit clothes to wear for 2 weeks in my carry-on? The first thing I did was plan on clothes for 1 week, knowing I could wear the pants at least twice and the shirts more (as long as I didn't spill anything on them). Apparently, I created a faux pas by taking leggings. I watched another YouTuber who said not to wear leggings in Europe because you'll be pegged as a tourist. I took 6 pairs of leggings and 1 pair of jeans (I wore a pair of leggings on the plane) as well as 5 long-sleeved shirts that are made out of polyester/spandex, a long-john shirt, and a sweatshirt. (I wore 1 of the long-sleeved shirts and sweatshirt on the plane.) I took way too many pairs of panties & socks (let's just leave it at that!), and 3 bras. And a nightshirt. I washed clothes once just a few days after the 1st tour began since we were in the same hotel for 2 nights. I'll talk about how I did that in another post as well. 

When I flew to Kansas City a few months ago, I used compression bags that are like giant Ziploc bags. I was so very frustrated trying to use them...I never did get the hang of it. For this past trip, I bought this set.
All of my clothes in my carry-on bag at the end of a 2-week trip.
Oh. My. Word! They were so easy to compress: you place the clothes in the bag and zip it up. Then, you zip up the second set of zippers which compresses the clothes. I liked it so much that I bought another set of 2 large and 2 small bags. The zippers held up very nicely and the material didn't tear even though I probably overpacked the bags. I can't wait until my next trip so I can use them again! One thing to keep in mind, though: Apparently some of the European airlines weigh your carry-on so overstuffing may cause your bag to be overweight. 

Looking at the picture, the open space is where I put my 2 travel bags (liquids and toiletry bag) while on the tours. I didn't take a separate hang-up toiletry bag. I'm not very "girly" and don't take much in the way of primping. I have these 2 bags that are TSA-approved
I take a minimal amount of makeup so I was able to include that in the non-liquids bag. I took shampoo & hair gel in the bigger containers that you see in the top bag, but then put things that I use in smaller amounts in these little containers:
These containers come in a pack of 4. I used my label-maker to mark what was inside on the top of each of them. 
They held my face gel, facial cleanser, and facial moisturizer securely and didn't leak. It saved me a lot of space by putting them in these containers as opposed to taking the whole tube. The best part was that everything fit very nicely in 1 of the clear bags. 

That's how I packed for my 2-week trip using only a small backpack (as my personal item) and a carry-on. Again, I decided to check my bag since I had a several-hour layover for my connecting flight to Dublin. I just didn't want to keep up with it as I was waiting or wandering around the duty-free shops. 

1 last thing I found from yet another YouTuber: Earplanes. Depending on the flight, I may have excruciating ear pain as the plane begins its descent. Definitely, on any of the overseas flights, I've had problems. Nothing works: gum, holding my nose & blowing, and any other tricks. They have all been worthless. I saw these recommended and thought I'd try them. These are something I'll never be without as I hope to start traveling more. I didn't need them on the short flight from my home airport to my connecting flight (which was 30 minutes in the air) but on the flight to Dublin, I was amazed at how great they worked. I still had just a touch of "stuffiness" but there was absolutely no pain at all. I was able to hear people talking when I walked off the plane, and I didn't feel like I had to be careful of how loud I was talking. I probably didn't have them in exactly right because, on the flight home, I had no stuffiness at all. This is definitely an item for the "win" column!

Please let me know if you have discovered any tips/tricks for traveling. I'd love to know, especially since I'm just beginning to travel more.

Monday, May 20, 2024

Ireland 2024 Introduction

New adventures await as "Lost Mary"! I'm not wasting any time making good on my promise to Robert to travel. My first big trip without Robert was to Ireland. Where else would I choose to go? I have such good memories of our trip in 2022

If my memory serves correctly (and events around that time are admittedly a little fuzzy), just before Robert's passing I was texting with a couple of my sisters when we concocted the idea of going somewhere. One of my sisters mentioned Hawaii and I said, "What about Ireland?" And there we were. My Cooper SIL had a tour reserved with Vagabond and Driftwood Tours of Ireland in 2023 but had to cancel so she had credit she needed to use before August 2024. I suggested Driftwood to my sisters, we picked a date and started planning. I decided to stay another week after our 6-day Great Southern Tour so my SIL made plans to meet me and go on another tour with me. 

We had decisions to make, the first one being which Driftwood Tour to take. The one we wanted was full for the date we wanted so we chose the Great Southern Tour. Robert & I visited some of the places but I was definitely okay with revisiting, and there were plenty of places we didn't see. 

The next big decision was the airline to use. A couple of my sisters were insistent on Delta, so that was our airline. I will say that it was a good decision, although I was a little skeptical at first. They were right on time and didn't change our flight at the last minute (like the airline my SIL used). We flew from our home airport to Atlanta, then to Dublin. We had a long layover in ATL but it turned out to be nice having that extra time. We walked the 2 concourses since we had plenty of time and weren't stressed at all. 

3 of us flew into ATL on the same plane; we met up with the other sister at the gate

When we got into Dublin, going through Border Control was a breeze. The past 2 times I've visited Ireland, the line was long although it moved quickly. It may have been the airline I used in the past; Delta seemed to arrive at a time when no other flights came in. I don't know if it was a fluke or if it's always like this...I'll find out next time! Once we were in the country, we easily found the baggage claim and the taxi queue without any trouble.

Since we arrived in the morning (before 9:00), 1 of my sisters arranged for early check-in at the hotel for 2 rooms. The hotel had 1 room ready which was fine; we just needed somewhere to rest for a bit before we went to City Centre. The room was handicap accessible which turned out to be pretty nice. We took a cab to The Long Hall pub, but they don't serve food. It was lunch time so we needed to find something to eat. We were directed to The Hairy Lemon (where I had the worst Irish Coffee last time). I don't know if it was the food I had on the plane or if it was just that I was so tired (I can't sleep on planes), I couldn't eat much and wasn't feeling well. We had lunch, then walked around to find Trinity College.

Waiting for our food (and trying to stay awake) at the Hairy Lemon

The Hairy Lemon is much larger than I thought it was. When we were there with friends last time, we only went into the room directly in the back as you come in, and upstairs to the toilet. This time, we were in a different area and found at least one other lounge area upstairs. 

We had a heck of a time figuring out how to get into the College. There was a lot of construction going on so my thought was that they were trying to keep people from cutting through the college. We got in and found the Book of Kells. One of my sisters wanted to go in and I wanted the other 2 to see the Library. But, there was no way to only go to the library so we opted to wait for our sister to go through. It was a good thing we did; she said that the library is about to close for 2 years due to extensive renovations. A lot of the books had already been taken out so we would have been very disappointed if we went through.

Shortly after that we decided to go back to the hotel. 2 of us gave up and crawled into bed, I'm not sure what the other 2 did; I think they went to the bar. After a couple of hours, I was ready to go. We went downstairs to the hotel restaurant only to find the bar and restaurant packed. A Rugby Tournament was going on and the hotel was down the street from the arena. Apparently, this was a great place for people to stop off for a bit to eat and drink before heading to the stadium. As we were sitting at a table, my sisters were able to witness firsthand "flirty Irishmen": A man was selling Leinster paraphernalia who came into the restaurant. 1 sister bought a scarf and 1 had her picture taken with him. It was just a sign of things to come!

A round of Guiness Beef Stew to go with our pints of Guiness

What I Learned So Far

1. Arrive at least 1-2 days ahead of time. This time, it would have been nice to have had a day to acclimate myself and not be so tired from the trip over. 
2. Don't use the FreeNow App for using an Uber. My sister used this on our trip to City Centre and there is a surcharge just for using the app. On the way back to the hotel we used an Uber but one stopped as we were looking for a place to hail a cab. We weren't charged a surcharge.
3. Don't forget to take pictures! I can't believe that this was the second time I went to the Long Hall Pub and didn't take a picture. 
4. Make sure you have a decent length layover for your connecting flight to Dublin. Even though Atlanta is a big airport and has a train to take you to other concourses, it wasn't that big of a deal to walk. I would do it if I was pressed for time, but knowing we had hours before we boarded, we were able to leisurely walk to the gate.

Check in often for more "Lost Mary" Adventures!
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