Great Britain and Ireland – A Contiki Adventure Part 2
Above: The Cliffs of Moher, County Clare, Ireland
We arrived in Dublin, jittery and excited after a three hour ferry ride across the Irish Sea. At our hotel we met 20 newcomers to our tour. By this time, Chris and I had become friends with large group of Canadians and Australians and we were still excited to meet new people. We went on a short walking tour of Dublin but unfortunately One Direction was in town and the streets were filled with swarms of girls wearing Harry Styles t-shirts.
We traveled across Ireland counter-clockwise, starting with Northern Ireland. Although geographically part of the Republic of Ireland, it has been a part of Great Britain since 1921, therefore is governed by the Queen and uses pounds instead of euros. We visited Belfast, where the Titanic was built from 1909 to 1911. We then arrived in Londonderry (or simply known as Derry). We were given the best tour Chris and I have ever been on, by an Irish Buddhist who captivated 50 Guinness-drunk tourists and talked candidly about Bloody Sunday, the IRA and Derry being under siege.
By far the best part of Northern Ireland was Giant’s Causeway, a World Heritage Site that is the geographical landscape of a volcanic eruption dating back 50 to 60 million years. The fast cooling lava created pillar-like columns of rock protruding from the cliffs. The name Giant’s Causeway comes from the Irish legend that a giant built the rock columns, thus giving it its name. It was a ME time optional excursion but everyone on the trip attended, climbing up the steep cliffs and rock pillars, trying to get the perfect views of the coast. The giftshop also had a large selection of authentic Irish souvenirs and we stocked up on gifts for family and friends.
We traveled to Galway, on the western coast of Ireland. Here we got to visit the Aran Islands, where the air is fresh and the residents still believe in leprechauns. Chris and I rented bikes and we explored the island called Inishmaan, watching sea lions from the spectacular cliffs and feeding the many horses on the island. The residents of the islands live in quaint, small homes, with cows in their yard and breathtaking views of the North Atlantic.
On one of the last days of the trip we visited Blarney Castle, built in 1446 by MacCarthy of Muskerry and the Kings of Desmond. The massive building is famous for the Blarney Stone. Kissing the stone is said to endow the kisser with “the gift of the gab” or great eloquence or skill at flattery. So of course, Chris and I kissed it. The stone is located at the top of the castle and we had to climb to the top, crawl under the stone, while suspended over the side of the castles wall and kiss the bottom of the stone.
The second event was a visit to the Cliffs of Moher, in the region of County Clare. They rise 120 metres above the Atlantic Ocean at Hag’s Head, and reach 214 metres just north of O’Brien’s Tower. Any nature photographer’s dream, no words can describe the cliffs’ size, geographical beauty and Irish grandeur.
Another notable place we visited in Ireland was Cork, a small town in the south famous for being the Titanic’s last port of call in 1912 and the place where, if you are of Irish decent (like myself), your ancestors most likely boarded a boat to North America. We stayed in Kilkenny at the Kilford Arms Hotel and took a guided tour to visit Kytelers Inn, a witch’s house built in the 1324 and St. Canice’s Cathedral. We also stayed in Killarney where we dressed in as much green as we could and ate a fantastic Irish dinner.
We arrived back in Dublin for our last day. Our Contiki group explored the Guinness Brewery, which was very interesting even if you hate beer as much as I do. We visited the famous Irish pub The Temple Bar and Trinity College and to celebrate a fantastic trip, we went to an Irish dinner at the The Merry Ploughboy Pub, which had Irish dancers and traditional Celtic music. It was a night to remember.
The trip was officially over the next morning and we drove 12 hours back to London. We passed through Wales, a country on the United Kingdom’s western shore, and visited the entirely real town of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch or Llanfairpwllgwyngyll for short. It is Welsh for ‘St Mary’s Church in the Hollow of the White Hazel Near to the Fierce Whirlpool and the Church of St Tysilio of the Red Cave’. Try putting that into a GPS!
Arrived back in London and unwillingly said goodbye to all our new friends and thanked our tour manager and driver. Even though I was more tired than I’ve ever felt in my life, I was so sad it was over. Chris and I spent our last night in the UK emptying our suitcases and repacking them 10 times to fit all our souvenirs. We chatted about Contiki, going over our favourite moments and of course, planning our next trip.