After the hustle and bustle of a city as big and well-visited as Paris, flying into Cork felt like a breath of fresh air. We really enjoy navigating big city subway systems like the Metro and wandering through markets shoulder to shoulder with the masses, but our ability to do this for long periods of time, especially post-Alaska living, is kind of limited. We tire out in much the same way attending a party can tire out my introvert brain. We chose the Dingle Peninsula as the opposite destination of Paris with this in mind, but I don’t know that either of us was prepared for just how acute the difference would feel. We flew in over Cork and it was just green farmland everywhere that I could see. For some reason, our one previous experience with driving in the UK had me imagining a fairly harrowing experience trying to get out of a city, but the airport sits right in the middle of one of those grassy areas and the rental car lot plops you right out on the highway you need, so our stress level plummeted to nearly zero from the air and stayed that way the rest of the week (with just a few exceptions).
So the next question would be did we take our rental car and go into Cork and check out the Blarney Stone? Nope. Despite having a much better hang of driving this time around, it’s still nice to just get where you are going. I’m torn on whether to recommend that you drive in Ireland (or Wales) because I NEVER would, but I think you SHOULD totally see the parts you can see mostly by driving yourself around. So…I don’t know. Sergio does all the driving. The scariest part this time was just how tiny the roads are, and the very frequent blind corners on those tiny roads. But again, such beautiful stuff to see by car and the freedom to enjoy it at your own pace.
We drove straight on to Dingle, passing by Killarney. This is notable only because I kept singing “Christmas in Killarney” the whole time. Our GPS took us directly through Killarney on the way home, so now I can say I’ve been there when I hear that song at Christmas time. Life goals.
Let’s go ahead and talk about Dingle. It’s one of the most picturesque villages you can find. The colorful buildings crowd each other gradually up a moderate hill and it all sits on the edge of the water. Boats line the harbor and green hills rise up around the town. Rock walls line the roads out of town and sheep dot the remainder of the landscape. You can literally look in any direction in this town, or on the drive around the Dingle peninsula, and see some of the best views of your life. It got to the point where I would just hold my phone up and click a picture without framing it or even being able to see the screen, and when I would check it later, I would have something beautiful with perfect light.
We did not stay in Dingle Town. We stayed a few miles out right along one of the gorgeous cliffs in a village called Baile na hAbha. If you drive in Ireland, be aware that your GPS will fail you once you reach beyond a bigger village. Most of the town names are used in every county and even if you pick the right county from the GPS, it will often putter out at some point. We overhead someone say they had only recently adopted a postal code, and I can’t speak to the truth of that statement, but it would explain a lot. If your landlord gives you directions, keep them, you’ll need them and they’ll be right even if they feel very convoluted at first. The absolute only negative to staying outside of Dingle Town was that we neither one felt comfortable driving into town at night to hear the Irish music that happens regularly at all the pubs. So we did miss that part. Just gives us a reason to go back one day though!
We created a habit of going into town each day at some point. Often we would go in the morning before the tour bus crowds took over and we would have coffee at The Bean in Dingle. Good coffee, funny name, very popular. It also had free wifi which became important eventually. We would then wander around Dingle and look at the numerous stores. I wanted to buy lots of stuff like scratchy wool sweaters. Our other two favorite haunts in Dingle were the fish and chip food truck that has a sign out front saying “Voted Best Fish and Chips in Dingle” and the sign does not lie. We ate from here twice. We ate here sitting in the rain twice. It was excellent. Sorry I didn’t catch the actual name. Bad travel writing. Bad! And Murphy’s Ice Cream store which has also been voted among the best ice creams, but like, in the world? It offers flavors such as Irish Brown Bread and Salted Butter. Yes, we did usually get those two together, and while I wouldn’t say it tasted like eating brown bread with salted butter, it did taste uniquely excellent. They had other flavors as well, toffee and Bailey’s Irish Cream off the top of my head, but we just kept returning to our favorites. We ate here pretty much every time we came to town. Vacation is for ice cream! We would then end off our time in Dingle by going to the grocery store. We cooked at home most nights, often using the prepared foods from the store to make it easy. We took home steak and kidney pies, curries, pasta bakes, and sausages on different occasions. We made breakfast at home a time or two as well, but we did have a Full Irish out at least once.
We left a TON of Dingle Town unexplored, but like I said, we’ll just have to go back and stay in town next time which will be difficult because we found the most enchanting cottage to stay in, and it would be really difficult not to stay there again. I encourage EVERYONE to stay there. It still blows my mind that Ireland has all of this amazing coastline, and it is just minimally dotted with a few clustered homes and thousands of sheep. And they let us come stay there and see it? So crazy. American capitalists would have commercialized that coastline at the first chance.
Our cottage was built in the 50’s and it was just SO. CUTE. I think the pictures probably do it more justice than my descriptions can, but it was built with the views in mind. We would spend whole days sitting in the sunny window out back taking in the views or reading or both. It had a tiny fireplace that we used each night. It didn’t cast much warmth, but the atmosphere couldn’t be beat. Some days we wanted that warmth because Ireland was often rainy and cool, but there were days it was sunny and warmish as well. We had nearby neighbors that clearly have always lived there. Most people in this area spoke Irish first, so it felt a lot like Wales in that way. Our most frequent visitors were the myriad sheep that wandered freely. We had a large creek running right beside our house that Rosalind loved to play around in, but sometimes she had to wait for the sheep to have their time. We did try a hike to the top of the second highest mountain that rose up behind us, but it turns out that there is so much water saturating every square inch of Ireland that you REALLY need waterproof footwear to accomplish this. We had to turn back without finishing because our feet were DRENCHED. Another day we walked down along the country roads to the nearest pub for dinner. We visited with lots of sheep along the way and had some of the best buffalo wings we’ve ever had. So that was weird. If you want really good wings, go to An Bothar Pub in the middle of nowhere Ireland.
We thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of where we stayed and found it endlessly relaxing. EXCEPT. When we got there, we realized we had never been given the code to retrieve our keys. We sat for two stressful hours trying to contact the owner and having absolutely no luck. We had to pay international fees on our phones, we kept getting the wrong country, and for some reason, VRBO, when we finally made contact, had systems down so that we simply had to wait another hour before they were able to help us. That was stressful, but we finally got it figured out and the quaintness of the cottage did away with any lingering stress. Later in the trip, the wifi went out. When we attempted to get it fixed, the owner was apologetic, but basically his answer was, “Nobody works in Ireland on the weekends. Too bad for you.” So you can see why the wifi in town became important. Despite these two setbacks, I would totally stay there again one day. Just so lovely. No wifi also meant that we played board games and read books and napped and cooked meals for ourselves. Not the worst thing that could happen, ya know?
In Paris, you feel like you are racing to see all the important landmarks. Ireland does not have this problem. The peninsula is not covered in ruins or castles at every turn. We did see the Beehive houses, so we checked off that box. Otherwise, we just drove around and stopped wherever we wanted. Rosalind threw a pot at an artist’s studio, and we spent rainy and cold days and then warm and sunny days on the beaches. Sometimes we climbed rocks and sometimes we explored tidal pools and sea life. My absolute favorite time was going out to a long stretch of sandy beach on a day that proved bitterly windy and finding a great pub right there. We shared some pub food and a scrumptious sticky toffee pudding, and when I bailed on the windy beach, I went back in alone for a latte and watched Sergio and Rolo frolic. Great day!
So I guess my takeaway from Ireland is that it is made for relaxing. Peaceful agrarian landscape? Check. Dreary weather that makes you want to curl up by the fire? Check! Fireplace? Check! Warm and sunny weather to play on the beach? Check! Yummy comfort food? Check! Ease of travel and communication for English speakers? Check! Cozy cottages and country lanes? Check!
I would say long story short, but I didn’t keep this short, so long story long, head to Ireland at the first available opportunity!