- Urbino, Italy - Earlier this year, my boyfriend and I decided we would take a vacation at the end of summer. We are both travel lovers, and this time we really felt the need to just leave for a while after some pretty rough months. To this day, I still can't recall how Ireland became our destination.
Choosing one, in fact, is usually a combination of numerous factors: a dream go-to place, budget, days available for travelling, and, last but not least, special offers. Over the years, we had the chance to visit beautiful places, but this time we were really excited by the idea of a road trip, so this was our number one priority. We had different options for this, starting with the idea of travelling with our own car, which proved to be a bad one. One day, one of us just said: "why don't we go to Ireland?", so we did. That's it.
Some people tend to be obsessed with one or two specific countries - for me, the USA and Japan - and, researching information for organizing my days in the Emerald Isle, I discovered a whole universe of people held together by their love for this beautiful land. Useless to say, I started to develop emotions too, picturing country roads with brick walls to the side in my head, and the smell of the ocean, and the feeling of joining nature once again, as in my visits to the Alps. We decided to spend 12 days there, touring Dublin for the first two and then renting a car for the remaining 10. We wanted to see as much as possible, and had two or three must-go-to locations that had some distance between them.
We landed in Dublin on October 4th late in the afternoon, and went sightseeing the following day. I had high expectations with this city, but I would say I was rather disappointed. Dublin, despite being a European Capital, is a pretty small city that, in my opinion, has absorbed too much globalisation. I expected to find a cultural city, bookstores at every corner, an Irish vibe, but that was not what I found: basically, Dublin just wants you to spend, spend, spend. A crazy amount of shops, mostly international retailers and fast food, you feel like being in a tourist trap going around Dublin, a feeling I never got while in Paris, Los Angeles or San Francisco. Unfortunately, this is an impression we got from each big Irish city we saw passing by - in fact, we chose to absolutely avoid staying in or visiting one for the rest of the trip.
To be completely honest, I'd also say we were not very focused on Dublin, since we both knew the real trip was yet to come. And we were right. As soon as we jumped in our rented car, everything changed, and the following ten days were full of road maps, beautiful landscapes, and sudden decisions of where to go, where to sleep, what to do. Travelling on the road, as we discovered, is a crazy, amazing, but also tiring experience. It is making a different home in your hotel room every day, it is jumping in the car early in the morning and saying 'this looks nice, turn left!' while driving on a country road. Ireland can be gorgeous, but it can be merciless, awarding you with the most spectacular sunny day and then giving you the most terrible rain and fog for days and days. You're just supposed to love it the way it is, I guess, even though you decide to go to the renowned Cliffs of Moher, probably the most popular tourist attraction of all, and you just can't see a damn thing because of bad weather!
We started our journey going south, to Glendalough, a beautiful former monastic site, with picturesque ruins and a natural park among the mountains. As soon as you leave Dublin, you are in open country, you see just a few cars passing by, and you understand you'll see more sheep than people from now on. That's the beauty of Ireland, it's so relaxing, quiet, and basically untouched. The fact that you can get in touch with nature in a way that you'd forgotten, or never seen before. You turn a corner, and you see the ocean, you see a giant sand strand, you see the tallest cliffs you've ever seen, the way nature sculpted them through the ages. You feel small, but at the same time you feel huge, great, relevant, open to all possibilities, with all these things at your feet.
After Glendalough, we went to Killarney to experience the Ring of Kerry, a circular drive through County Kerry that we both regard as the best part of the journey, thanks to the beauty of it all, blessed by a clear sky and warm temperatures. You must devote a whole day to this specific drive, deviate from the main road each and every time you feel like doing, and I would say a good guide is essential for taking you through all the place. We would have missed so many things, were we not following a suggested path. From County Kerry, we started going up north, through Dingle, County Clare, Galway, Donegal. What you easily find out after a few days is that each county corresponds to a peculiar landscape: Burren, in County Clare, has tablelands of stone all around, making you feel like you are travelling in a prehistoric time. Connemara is a triumph of yellow tones, rustic country, coastal areas covered in musky rocks. When we finally went to Northern Ireland - which, as you may know, belongs to the UK - we felt like we were waking up from a dream: after all those gorgeous lands became the norm, we were transported back to the modern age, we saw industrial sites again and crazy drivers. People stopped saying hi to us from their car - a lovely Irish habit: you happen to encounter just a few cars during the day, but people, driving, always take up their hand from the steering wheel to say hello.
Our final days were mostly spent in the car: we absolutely wanted to visit the Giant's Causeway, a unique coastal area in Northern Ireland - a tale says it was shaped by a Giant, but it's really the result of vulcanic activity - and this deviation took a lot of time. Though Ireland is relatively small, and so are distances on the map, it takes time to go from place to place due to narrow roads and many, many turns. We were always tired in the evenings, and would go to dinner early, have a couple of beers and go to bed before 10 pm to be fully rested in the morning. It may look like you're not doing much, but travelling on the road soon gets exhausting! The evenings were my favorite part of the day: the thought of having to find accommodation had left my head, and pubs, where we would prefer to have dinner, were always so warm and comforting. That's one of the best parts about Ireland, in fact: even though many people will tell you they go there for the quality beer, it really is a beautiful experience to feel the pub atmosphere, do some people watching, and never have any pressure about getting well dressed, for example. We truly enjoyed that.
Still, Ireland is very, very expensive, at least for someone coming from Italy. You may spend 7-8 Euros just for two cups of coffee and some water, whereas in Italy you would spend 3 Euros. A single meal will cost you at least 20 Euros, and even accommodation tends to be a little more pricey, so prepare for that.
Overall, I definitely recommend taking a trip there, even though I don't think I'll ever go back. I think I've done and seen everything I wanted to do and see - something that doesn't happen very often to me when travelling. When you go to a place you usually see it as a collections of places, museums, buildings. To me, Ireland is a feeling.
*In the next weeks, I will cover more aspects of the journet, such as driving in Ireland and accommodation.