Monday, January 11, 2016

Ireland Road Trip: An Introduction

Actual date of this event: 6-13 June

A bucket list destination for so many people, Ireland was not on my list. I think I was still holding on to Scotland and how underrated it is. And how so many people want to visit Ireland and don't even consider Scotland. Luke wanted to make a whole week of Ireland, driving all over the whole island (including Northern Ireland), so of course, we made the trip a priority for the year 2015.
I sorta wasted my time, but it taught me something. I dedicated an entire week on research where to go, where to stay, what paths to drive, what important sites to see - if we were doing this, we were going to do it right! And then I bought an Ireland travel book. I must have gotten overwhelmed and confused and wanted to make sure I wasn't missing anything. One of the first things in the book is itineraries for several trip lengths. Sure enough, the 7-Day Itinerary was almost identical to what I had planned. It gave me a huge boost of confidence that this whole travel planning job I have taken on is actually something I am good at. But if I had just looked at the book first, it would have saved me a bunch of time. Oh well. Anyway, I quickly learned that we would not be able to drive the entire Irish Isle, and we would also not be able to drive the entire country of Ireland. We would only be able to cover a few parts of the western half of the country. There was just way too much to see and way too little time. It wasn't about ticking a bunch of boxes as fast as we could,. We wanted to actually enjoy Ireland in a relaxing way, and we did.
This was probably the luckiest week we will ever come across in our entire lives. We decided to do Ireland in June with hopes of good weather. It would still be cool outside, it would be just barely before high tourist season, hopefully the summer rain wouldn't have hit yet, hopefully we would have some sun, and for sure we wanted to take advantage of the long summer daylight hours. Our wishes came true and only two of our eight days did we have even close to bad weather (which only consisted of clouds and few drops of rain). Luke claims it was due to our awesome timing/planning, but this was ALL luck! We had sun galore and wonderful 60 degree temps - Luke's beautiful bald head got sunburned!
We enjoyed plenty of pints while listening to plenty of good music. We had some of the best food in Ireland that we have ever had. I never would have guessed that one! Seafood chowder - soooo sooo good! 
The driving part was so much better than everyone (aka the internet) made it seem. Compared to Scotland, I think Ireland was a breeze. But we do have hours of practice driving on the wrong side of the road and on the wrong side of the car, so I'm sure that helped. We loved passing by these little guys and asking them to move as they napped in the road.
So where did we actually go? As we had already visited Dublin, there was no need to do that again, and because we are lucky to live in London, we had many more airport options than just Dublin. We flew into Shannon Airport on Saturday, and headed straight to Galway City where we stayed for the first three nights. We spent the day on Saturday exploring the city. Saturday was one of our "bad weather" days with high winds and a 5 minute rain shower in the afternoon.
On Sunday, we decided to get the main event out of the way first since the sun was supposed to be bright and shining. We drove south along the coast until we reached the Cliffs of Moher. This was when we realized we should have brought sunscreen with us to Ireland!
On the way back to Galway City, we drove thru the Burren. Ireland is known for being green but the land was completely opposite, looked like the moon.
On Monday, we headed west/northwest to drive around Connemara. We found some of the most secluded spots we have ever been in - Luke wanted to stay forever.
On Tuesday, we packed our bags to drive to Kilkenny where we planned to stay for two nights. Along the way we stopped in Limerick to see what it had to offer.
We took a driving break halfway thru the week on Wednesday, and spent the entire day exploring Kilkenny. My favorite of this visit was witnessing a random Irish Jig dance at a pub!
On Thursday, we packed up again to head back west. We made a few stops along the way to see some castles and abbeys.
Just before reaching Dingle Town, where we planned to stay for the last two nights, we drove the Conor Pass across the peninsula which took us along the side of a mountain.
Dingle was small and quaint and our apartment was in a bright pink building!
Our biggest day of the entire week was Friday when we drove the entire loop of the Ring of Kerry. This was the other "bad weather" day, with clouds and maybe a short light rain shower. We spent about 9 hours in the car - we loved it but were so glad when we got back to Dingle.
On our very last day of the trip, we drove the small loop at the edge of the Dingle peninsula, better known as Slea Head Drive. And then we flew out of Kerry Airport that evening.
We didn't leave much room for error as far as our days went, but thankfully, our plans went fairly smoothly (obviously the gorgeous weather was the golden ticket). I spent A LOT of time on Google Maps, and A LOT of time of TripAdvisor forums making sure I wasn't over or under packing our days. We still got to sleep in every day (on average, we left around 10:30am each morning) as I knew this would be a necessity for Luke to stay afloat. We still didn't get in everything we wanted, but I am very happy with the final result. I am so glad we took on this adventure - it was worth it!

More from our Ireland Road trip: IntroductionGalway CityCliffs of Moher & the BurrenConnemaraLimerickKilkennyCashel & Cahir, Connor Pass & Dingle TownRing of Kerry, Slea Head Drive all to come...

The Republic of Ireland declared independence from Britain in 1919. The majority of the road rules are the same as the UK. The country is part of the Eurozone so its currency is the euro rather than the pound sterling.

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Thursday, January 7, 2016

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Actual date of this event: 29-31 May

People have asked us, "Where do you come up with these places to visit?" Well, we took a look at a map and looked into all of the capitol cities and went from there. Ljubljana came up as a nice place, and it has become one of our favorite little cities to visit! Many people bypass Ljubljana and just head straight to Lake Bled, which I think is a mistake (as well as I am sure it was a mistake that we did not visit Lake Bled). We walked around like we were in heaven all weekend! The sunny, warm weather helped. The just-prior to tourist season helped. And the greenery of spring helped. It was such a beautiful place, and we did not want to leave.
One of the funniest things about this trip was how many old people boarded the plane with us. We were one of very few young couples, but we didn't notice an abundance of old folks while in the city, so perhaps they all went off to Bled? Anyway, we landed around 3:45pm, and I booked the MNJ shuttle service (which turned out to be only us in the vehicle, which turned out to have a driver who sang "Because I got high" pretty loudly on the way) as it was the best option, so we arrived to the pedestrianized city center around 4:30pm. After checking into the hotel (which was a restaurant-hotel right on the river), the first thing we did was get a beer to enjoy the atmosphere and sun.
We spent the rest of the day on Friday walking through many of the different squares of the city (France, Congress, Republic, Perenc, Old Town), passed by the old Roman wall, walked across some of the popular bridges (Triple, Cobblers, Dragon), and of course made several pub stops. The river walk was so beautiful! Although it is not depicted in the pictures, there was so much green everywhere. Trees lined the river with vines draping down the walls. And I loved how green spaces would pop up in hidden little courtyards. We were so relaxed, and didn't have an agenda at all - it was wonderful!

{Above: Triple Bridge - the bridge is split into three as the river curves.}

For dinner on Friday night, we went to Gostilna Sokol, which was probably one of the most touristy places in the city, but the reviews were good and it turned out good, so who cares. We went for a few nightcaps along the river and enjoyed the wonderful atmosphere around us before heading to bed around midnight. On Saturday morning, we had breakfast at the hotel along the river again, which was so quiet compared to the night before. One thing we noticed the entire weekend was how few tourists were in the city. The river front was hopping with locals, but many of the restaurants were empty. They looked like they were prepared for a mass amount of people to come dine, but there weren't many filling the tables - I guess it was the time of year.

Anyway, we decided to go check out the local market first. If we hadn't packed carry on bags and flew EasyJet, I probably would have bought some stuff at this market. Many of the stalls were selling local wines, cheeses, and treats, and I just wanted to spend all day tasting each and every one of them.

Around the corner from the market was the castle, so we took the pathway up the hill to see the castle. At the top was a plateau with a nice park with nice views of the city through the trees.

We went into the courtyard of the castle grounds (which was free), and decided to pay to go up the tower. It wasn't a very tall tower, so not many steps to climb, but we were able to get a 360 degree view of the city surrounding us. I loved the mountains in the distance. Our entry ticket gave us access to other parts of the castle, but we just did the tower and saw the chapel on the way out.

We walked a different path down the hill, and then continued walking through the beautiful city. But we get antsy sometimes and like to see different parts of the cities we visit. We heard about this place called "Metelkova City", so we wanted to check that out. Along the way, we stopped at Falafel for a falafel which was super tasty.

{Above: Two of the three bridges of Triple Bridge.}
Not too far from the train station, Metelkova City used to be military barracks, but is now a gathering place for the alternative culture. During our visit, it was very quiet, but inside the buildings were nightclubs that open their doors at night. Luke and I were soooooo out of place here with my pink shirt, his sperry shoes, our camera, and our age.

We stopped at a nearby cafe for a drink to take a break for a bit before continuing on. We made our way back to the city center and decided we better get another view of the city before the weather turned (the next day was supposed to be cloudy). We went up Neboticnik, a skyscraper with a rooftop bar. There was barely anyone up there, so we were able to enjoy the views and easily take pictures.

After a drink on the rooftop, we continued thru the city, wandering around and seeing some of the same stuff we saw the day before. We had pizza for dinner at Ljubljanski Dvor (pizza was supposed to be really good in Ljubljana due to a high number of Italians living there, but we thought it was meh), which happens to be one of the few times Luke has embarrassed me. We had no idea what sizes to order, so Luke told me to order a medium, and he would order the extra large. The waiter said "Are you sure? The pizza is very very big, family size. Are you sure??????" And Luke assumed this European was like the rest who only eat like a carrot a day. He was very much mistaken! The pizza was the size of... okay, pretend you are holding an exercise yoga ball thing and wrapping your arms around it, and your hands don't touch... that was the size of this pizza. It was clearly meant for a family, not one person. I was sooooo incredibly embarrassed as people looked on with shocked faces that he planned to eat this pizza by himself. It is one of the few times Luke has not finished his food. The nuns would NOT have been happy! (with both of us because I couldn't finish my pizza either)

{It's a really bad angle, but his pizza is the top. My pizza was plenty big enough - probably 14 inches.}

{Above: While we were eating dinner, some people were hanging these bride puppets across the river. We still don't know what it was for. They were still hanging there the next day.}

On Sunday, we had a few hours before our shuttle service took us back to the airport. We went into a few souvenir shops, had some coffees, walked by the Opera House and the US Embassy, and stopped for a beer to enjoy the weather again.

We had such a wonderful weekend! We really should have gone for three nights and used a day to visit Lake Bled, but we had a great time with what we did. I love how the Ljubljana WikiTravel website starts off by saying, "Ljubljana has no world famous attractions, which is just great; there's no need to hop from one place to another, taking photos and crossing the items off your checklist. You have all the time to stroll around and enjoy the city itself." That describes our visit perfectly, and I would not have wished it any other way.

About 60% of the country of Slovenia is forest with the number increasing since over 1.2 million trees are planted each year.

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