Ciao! I’m finally back with another post after 2 weeks away, and 1 week of re-organizing my life. After weeks of blog silence, I feel like there’s much to recap, products to review, vanity toppers to announce, and more. If you’re just joining me on this blog journey, I recently came back from 16 days abroad – the first half of those days were spent in Ireland and the second half of them in Italy. This was my first trip ever to Europe. The only other time I’ve had to use my passport was on a trip to Jamaica in 2013, so you can deduce just how limited my traveling outside the U.S. is. This trip was incredible in every facet possible. It changed my life completely, and gave me new perspective – you know, all the stereotypical things people tell you about traveling. Everyone always mentions the word, “perspective,” and I completely get it. Experiencing other countries and cultures has the ability to make us feel more well-rounded. I’ve only been back for a little over a week, but I’ve noticed a difference in my approach to life’s everyday tasks. I’ll elaborate on that in another post, but first let me dive into a bit of a recap.
This recap will take place over two posts since there is just too much to cover between the two countries. It’s impossible to include every meticulous detail of a 16-day trip, but what I’ll lay out for you below is the cities we visited, the sites we saw, and any other nuances that stood out to us or made our trip extra special. One thing I have to say that surprised me was just how some of the stereotypes we associate with Ireland and Italy were kind of true! Ireland really is all about their Guinness, whiskey, and potatoes. They would often serve you a dish with potatoes two ways – chips (fries) and another potato side. Italy’s menus were truly entirely made up of cheese/meat plates, paninis, pasta, pizza, and wine—things I’ll never complain about.
Disclaimer: We only had a few nights actually booked for our Ireland trip. We opted to book on the fly, often times choosing the next city we’d visit over a pint in one of the pubs. Before we flew out, we booked an Airbnb in Dublin for Night 1, a lodge in Connemare for Night 2, and we knew we’d be booking a hotel in Dublin for our last night before we flew to Italy. The rest was booked on the fly – and I recommend doing this if you can get past the anxiety of it!
Day 1: Philadelphia to Dublin
We traveled to Ireland with Johnny and Mary Kate, Steve’s brother and his wife. We flew out of Philadelphia Thursday night around 9pm and arrived in Dublin at about 8am. First thing first, we had to rent a car. Yup – that’s right—we rented a car so we could drive on the left side of the car, on the left side of the road, in a place we’ve never driven before. Luckily, the boys took on the job of driving everywhere, but it was quite an experience. We all likened it to a video game in which each day was a level with new challenges. Can you survive an Irish parking garage? What about rocky, mountainous terrain? How about tiny roads that are supposed to fit two cars going opposite directions, but barely fit one? Oh, and every once in a while look out for a sheep on the road because that’s just how it is.
We stayed in an Airbnb in a quiet part of the city and after much-needed naps, showered up and explored the town. After walking the streets, we opted to do a whiskey tasting at the Jameson distillery. This was a really cool experience that I recommend to anyone stopping in Dublin. Sure, it’s one of the more touristy things, but the upside to “touristy” things in Europe is it’s not only Americans you’re being touristy with, it’s people from all over Europe. I loved being surrounded by different languages and cultures – people from Slovenia, Germany, UK, etc.
After the tasting, we headed to Temple Bar, a famous region for all its bars so close to each other. It is VERY crowded and touristy, but definitely worth a visit for a meal, or drink or two. If you live in the Philly area I’d liken it to the Manayunk scene. We had dinner there, but I had inside scoop from a coworker of mine who’s from Ireland on where to go for a much more authentic Irish night out. It was a Friday night in Dublin, so we wanted to be out with the locals. We headed to a place called O’Donoghue’s Pub. Upon first walking in, it looks like a very small, traditional pub filled with the local Irish people just out of work and ready for happy hour. However, that was a quite deceiving first glance because this place is HUGE. They have added a lot onto it in the last few years and it has an outside area, plus another very large inside area just behind the small bar you first walk into. Mary Kate and I noticed all the signed American dollar bills on hanging on the wall and so naturally, we had to sign one and hang it up. We blessed it with a nod to our dear Philadelphia Eagle’s (go birds!).
We spent the evening surrounded by the people who live and work in Dublin, and spent some time enjoying authentic Irish music across the street. Everyone was incredibly friendly, and it was an absolutely perfect day and night in Dublin.
Day 2: Dublin to Connemare
Without much time to waste, we checked out of our Airbnb and grabbed breakfast before hopping into the car to make the longest drive of our stay there – 3 ½ hours to Connemare. Surrounded by mountains, lakes, and countryside, Connemare was one of my favorite cities from beauty alone. We stayed at the Lough Inagh Lodge, which offered 360-degree views of the mountains and quaint, countryside aesthetics.
After checking in, we decided to spend the day visiting the Kylemore Abbey and Estate nearby. Once we returned to the hotel, we relaxed with some tea before dinner in the main dining room. We retired pretty early that night, ready to get up and hit the road again the next morning.
Steve and I agreed that the lodge featured some of the best views of the entire trip. There’s nothing like waking up to the mountains. I would recommend to anyone looking for unique lodging in Connemare!
Day 3: Connemare to Galway
Galway is a beautiful little city filled with tons of colors and tons of pubs. Upon arriving, we grabbed lunch and walked the town. The streets were filled with street performers, and lots of adorable little shops. After lunch, we ended up heading towards the ocean and stumbled upon a walking bridge that took us out in the middle of the sea. We began the trek right as a storm was rolling in, but that didn’t deter us. We snapped a few photos before heading back inland to nap and get ready for dinner.
Because we had done our pub night in Dublin, none of us were feeling particularly moved to stay out late in Galway, though we did make some lodging and travel plans over a couple of post-dinner pints. An early-ish night afforded us plenty of sleep which was needed since we had a big trip planned to the Cliffs of Moher the next day.
Day 4: Galway to Adare
After breakfast at a local café, we hit the road to the Cliffs of Moher. The views were beautiful. Cliffs of Moher is one of those attractions that everyone seems to visit in Ireland. I feel like several times a year I’ll come across pictures of someone else’s visit there in my Instagram feed. However, seeing the site in person is unreal – it’s just sheer, natural beauty. I had a bit of hard time on some of the walking paths because somewhere along my 30 years of life I developed a phobia of heights. For some reason, I really struggle with any type of hiking trail that’s not super secure. The Cliffs offered a roped off section a few steps back from the edge, as well as a very narrow trail that was closer to the drop-off. I tried to walk on the narrow trail, squeezing Steve’s hand with every inch of strength I had, but I couldn’t last the whole time. In those situations, I become gripped with fear and usually end up teary-eyed. It’s not my finest moment, but I own that. I tried not to let it get the best of me, and just enjoyed the view and the moment as best I could.
After the Cliffs, we headed to the tiny little town of Adare, known for its thatched-roof cottages. This was one of my favorite towns we stayed in. We lucked out in finding an AirBnB in which we could rent out an entire 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom cottage with 2 pups running around and a horse named Stanley. I think with the “go-go-go” mentality of staying in each city for only one night at a time and getting up to drive somewhere new every morning, we were all craving a place that felt like home. I didn’t even realize I was craving that until we checked in to this beautiful cottage. The owners weren’t planning on letting their dogs run loose, but once we convinced them that we were dog people, we had two Boxer friends running around at all times. I absolutely loved our furry visitors, and it made the stay feel even more like home.
After a long day of driving and sightseeing, we decided to take advantage of having an entire house to ourselves. We picked up some wine and cheese and headed out for a low-key dinner. We came back to hangout by the fire and played Scrabble. We actually decided shortly after arriving to stay another night.
Day 5: Adare
Our first morning in Adare started with scones and coffee in our little cottage kitchen. It was a rainy day, and probably the only bad weather we had in Ireland, surprisingly. We set off to see the Dingle peninsula, even though we knew the rain would prove difficult to get the full view. The drive was a bit harrowing, and the views were blinded by fog, but we made the best of it and grabbed a warm lunch near the beach before heading back to Adare for the day.
We walked around the town, explored a nearby church, shopped, and picked up Chinese takeout for dinner. We had plans that night to head out to a local pub known for its live music on Tuesdays.The band consisted of two gentleman playing guitar and singing, and they were pushing for members of the audience to come up and sing with them. I absolutely love to sing, and I think I have a good voice, but I shut down when singing in front of people. My husband, however, loves to poke and prod when I’m in situations that give me an opportunity to sing and he started telling the band that they should get me up there with them. After enough pushing (and okay, whiskey), I gave in and sang one of the only American songs they knew…Brown Eyed Girl. It was actually a really fun experience, and I was proud of myself for doing it. All in all, it was a great way to spend our last night in Adare.
Day 6: Adare to Kilkenny
Saying goodbye to the cottage, the dogs, and the horse was a bummer, but around 11am Wednesday morning we were on the road to Kilkenny. We stopped on the way to visit the Rock of Cashel, a historical site that boasts Medieval buildings from the 12th and 13th centuries. For some reason, tours were free that day so we opted to join one and it was well-worth it. The Rock of Cashel was a type of religious castle that stood high on a hill overlooking the town. From a historical standpoint, the famous landmark was mind-blowing for me. To be standing on ground that was once so holy, and so important to so many people and to learn of the attacks and massacre that had occurred there years ago, taking those peoples’ lives, was a humbling feeling.
After grabbing lunch at a local restaurant nearby, we were off to Kilkenny. Kilkenny became another favorite town of mine. The town is overlooked by Kilkenny Castle, a large structure that sits above the little restaurants, shops, and homes. We checked into our hotel and rushed off to get a tour of the castle before it closed at 6pm.
Our evening in Kilkenny was low key. We grabbed pizza and local brews for dinner and stopped into a soccer bar for a bit to watch one of the big games. I retired early when I could barely keep my eyes open, and the crew lasted a couple more hours before we were all asleep and ready for the trip back to where we started.
Day 7: Kilkenny to Dublin
Our last day in Ireland meant heading back to Dublin so we could all catch our flights the next morning. We drove about an hour and change to Dublin from Kilkenny, and spent the day being extra touristy and visiting St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the Guinness Factory. After dinner, we all headed back to the hotel room and finished up the audio book we’d been listening to through all the driving of our trip. We felt like we couldn’t part ways without finishing it! The book is called I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara and is all about a writer’s obsession with catching the Golden State Killer. This man was actually arrested shortly before we left for Ireland, so reading the book and watching the news develop simultaneously was a very interesting experience. Terrifying story, but extremely well written.
Day 8: Depart for Venice, Italy
This is where I say farewell for now, and I’ll be back with our Italy recap next week!