Ireland: Drinking the Water of Life

Updated: Oct 9, 2018

I never thought that I could wake up at 4 AM and feel well-rested and excited for the day ahead, but hey, we were on our way to the land of Leprechauns, Whiskey and Carveries who wouldn’t be excited for that?

Thankfully, we didn’t have any people thinking they were contestants from The Voice on this plane ride, so it was fairly pleasant (see Iceland post for context). Once we arrived in the Dublin airport, we had a long experience getting through the security lines, answering what felt like 14,281 questions for the immigration officer and politely disagreeing with him that yes, in fact: WE ARE TRAVELLING FOR A YEAR.

After getting through the security there and out into the real world, it only took us two attempts to find our bus, thanks to the very friendly bus attendant who answered the same questions twice (reminder we were up at 4 AM, if you’ve ever seen Krystal in the morning you’d understand that information typically needs to be repeated a few times before it’s processed).

The drive into Dublin from the airport was a blur, since we didn’t have a car this time I was feeling anxious about not being in control of where we were going, so I was paying more attention to the GPS bus reminders than I was to the streets.

Once we got off the bus and hiked a few city blocks we made it to the hostel. Our time in Dublin was brief but fantastic, so I’ll quickly tell you the following things about our experience.

The sights:
  • The hostel we were in (my very first hostel!), Kinlay House was not as social as we’d hoped. It was clean, well priced, and in an excellent location, but we found other travellers kept to themselves

  • The Sandeman Tours give the best free tours (even in inclement weather). The guides work off the tips they get at the end of the tours so you pay what you think is fair

  • The history in Ireland is filled with bloodshed, bibles and booze

  • Trinity College has an amazing campus and if you have time (and can book ahead), you can check out the Book of Kells (includes their gorgeous library and other displays)

  • The Museums are free and plentiful!

Sculpture on the Trinity College Campus
Food and drink:
  • The Guinness on draft does taste different here (and, in my opinion, much better than at home in Canada)

  • Traditional carveries are friggin’ amazing (it’s basically like going to a cafeteria that’s filled with traditional Sunday Dinner meals, and of course mounds of gravy)

  • The Temple Bar area is fun to visit for the atmosphere (but not if you want a cheap pint!)

  • Irish Whiskey pre-dates Scotch Whiskey by 50-90 years (depends on the tour guide you ask) and HOLY GUACAMOLE they are delicious, and even Krystal, a non-whiskey drinker, found a couple that she enjoyed

Eating at a carvery

After a few nights in Dublin, we packed up and went to our friend Alina’s apartment in Belfast. The first thought I had after we bussed into Belfast was: “How can a place only two hours North be so different?”

Some differences we noticed, include:

  • Currency- Ireland uses the Euro whereas Northern Ireland (because it’s a part of the United Kingdom) uses Pounds

  • Accents- The Northern Ireland accent is much smoother (think Liam Neeson). As our tour bus driver told us, it was recently voted the sexiest male accent on the planet... no one on our tour disagreed with him

  • Walk-ability- Dublin had a very Toronto-esque feel in it’s downtown core- very busy and constantly on the move and if you wanted to get anywhere off of the main strip you needed a bus. Belfast felt like it was a slower pace, and you could pretty much walk wherever you needed to go

While in Belfast, Alina was kind enough to take us to the downtown core and show us the St.George market which has some amazing treats, then we explored some of the bars (The Perch, the Dirty Onion, and Babel to name a few). If Canadians thought they “toughed it out” in Canada on cold bar nights, I’ll gladly point out that all three of those venues are outdoor/rooftop based and NONE of the locals were wearing coats.

Out with Alina (and the only ones wearing coats)

There were two other activities we did while in Belfast, I mean other than playing with Luna (Alina’s puppy):

Queen’s has a beautiful campus, particularly their botanical gardens, which caused Krystal to squeal when she saw them. We were also mystified to see that my university internet connection (Eduroam) is the same at so many universities! (Which is great news for any travelling Canadian university students) Thanks for the map home, Eduroam!

The bus tour we did was filled with beautiful sea-side views, some interesting folklore tales, and some delicious Bushmills whiskey. If you ever find yourself in Belfast, I strongly suggest you take one of the “Irish Tours” tours… that’s a weird sentence.

Anyways, we got to see:

  • Giant’s Causeway (a shore of curious hexagon-shaped rocks)

  • Bushmill’s distillery (oldest distillery in the world)

  • Carrick-A-Rede (an area with turquoise waters and a rope bridge)

  • An abundance of Game of Thrones filming sites (this wasn’t even the Game of Thrones tour, but they have one of those if you are interested)

Walking near Carrick-A-Rede (the bridge is near the top right hand corner of the photo between two rock masses)

All of these sites were fantastic, and I loved that fact that each tour stop had a scientific explanation of how it was formed and a much more entertaining, and in my opinion more accurate, folk-tale of why they exist. My favourite was the Giant’s Causeway, you can check out the story here under “Legend”.

Fascinating hexagon-shaped rocks at Giant's Causeway

Ireland had beauty of its own. To me, it differed from Iceland in that I felt like I connected more with the land and the history, and tapestry of land was as green as you could imagine.

Time to recap!

Lessons Learned:
  • The Guinness Storehouse tour, and other sponsored tours can be overpriced. The Irish Whiskey museum is privately owned. So it’s way cheaper and they give you tastes of Whiskeys that they like the most (strongly recommend this one)

  • Always download offline city maps while you have access to wifi. This saved us a few times as Belfast is a very walk-able city, but we didn’t always know where we were going… and, at the time, we didn’t have any data on our phone to search maps online

  • Leave time in your stays for error/exploring areas you didn’t know about. We did this in Belfast, but our time in Dublin felt a little rushed

  • The Sandeman tours are fantastic for showing you a new city (I’ve had two experiences so far and both were awesome). Our tour guide Adam was informative, helpful, and hilarious

  • The city is great but we'd encourage you to also leave to explore the landscapes! Most people enjoy taking bus tours/renting a car to visit the Cliffs of Moher, Giant’s Causeway and the Wicklow Mountains to name a few popular spots

  • Try as many Whiskeys as you can! The flavours can differ so greatly, and the Irish are very proud about their abilities to make “uisce beatha”- pronounced: Ishka Baha which translates to The Water of Life

  • Take the bus in Ireland for local transportation, it’s very affordable and convenient. We never had any issues getting where we needed to be

  • Be thankful for friends who welcome you into their home, and look for opportunities to return the favour to other travellers (typically all they’ll want is a warm bed, a hot shower, and a place to rest!). Shout out to Alina!

Cost Breakdown for seven days for 2 people in Ireland (in CDN$):
  • Flight for 2 via Iceland Air (no return, 4 day stay-over in Iceland, final destination Dublin): $954.56

  • City Buses: $24.50

  • Coach Bus Dublin-Belfast: $54.76

  • Taxi: $16.83

  • Accommodations for 2: $102 ($51/night for 2 people)

  • Food: $497.38 = 290.28 (restaurants) + 207.10 (groceries)

  • Attractions:$139.70 = 15 (tip for the Dublin Sandeman Walking Tour) + 39 (Whiskey Museum Tour) + 85.70 (Northern Ireland Bus tour Belfast Bus Tour)

TOTAL MONEY SPENT (not counting flight): $835.17

TOTAL MONEY SPENT (counting flight): $1789.73|

Country two complete! From here we were off to the land of my people: Hello Scotland!

Thanks for reading, let us know if you have any comments or questions about or travel so far.

Until next time, Sláinte! -Greg

P.S. a tip for how you’ll know you’re drinking a true Irish Whiskey: there’s an “e” before the “y” in the spelling (which we're told stands for excellent!)

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