To choose a location that is my slice of heaven is really difficult task. Depending on my intent, I have several;
- Siena, Italy
- St. Lucia – Caribbean Islands
- Lanai, Hawaii
- London, England
- Acapulco, Mexico
What I realized is the thing that makes all of these places special to me is that I have made some really good memories at all of these places. It would be too easy to pick a place I have never been that was very photogenic and looks like a slice of heaven – I am limiting myself to consider places I actually been. Thanks to time spent studying architecture in Europe during college, and a job that my wife had where we collected frequent flyer miles by the truckload, I have been to many, many places in my life. The place that I decided I have made some of my best memories and where I picked up the best souvenir a person could hope for was in Ireland – the greatest place nobody has ever been.
Ireland is separated from Great Britain by the Irish Sea. The island is broken into two main portions, the Republic of Ireland takes up 85% of the island with a total population of approximately 3.5 million. Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom, has a population of 1.5 million people (6.5 million per 2013). The entire island of Ireland covers an area of 32,500 square miles and is situated in the Atlantic Ocean to the Northwest of mainland Europe.
My wife lived in Ireland for a little over a year when she was in 6th grade and back in 2003, when we were trying to determine where we were going to vacation, she suggested going to Ireland. I didn’t know anything about Ireland but I’m pretty much down for whatever. Since she had spent some of her life living here, I thought it would be fun to go check it out – and it turned out to be one of the greatest decisions in my life. Our trip focused on the southern portion of the Republic of Ireland – we flew into Dublin and spent our time zig-zagging our way west to where the Cliffs of Moher are located, and eventually flying out of the city of Shannon.
The people in Ireland have to be one of the friendliest groups walking the planet. Easy going, quick with a smile and a helping hand, the Irish have rightfully earned the reputation for being a spirited and lively group. Pubs in Ireland are an important part of everyday life and most people can correctly assume that Dublin, the capital city of Ireland is famous for the vast number of drinking establishments. One trait that they all share is that they provide an interesting peek into the life and culture of the neighborhood where they are located. I should point out that pubs in Ireland are not like bars in America – they are a hub of community life and people don’t go there simply to get a drink. My wife and I stopped into several pubs a day, ate almost every meal in a pub, and got our nightly entertainment from the singing and musical groups that seemed to just materialize in the pubs every evening. It was really, really fun to listen to live traditional music while enjoying a pint of whatever and meeting new people. They really do all sing along to the songs…
Ireland is a beautiful scenic country with environments that range from green and lush, to harsh, rocky and desolate. I have to admit that before I went, I assumed everything was going to be green fields surrounded by rock walls that contained happy and content fluffy white sheep lazily munching their days away on sweet and tender clover. While there is that, there is much more. Since Ireland is not a typical tourist destination, there aren’t crowds to contend with – a traveling pet peeve of mine. If I am anywhere and busloads of tourists wearing cruise-wear get dropped off for 2 hours of culture and local flavor, I am put out. They are like locust descending upon the field, and just like that *poof* they are gone – the only evidence that they ever really existed is the path of destruction they have left in their wake. If you have ever been to an island town you know what I am talking about.
Ireland also has its fair share of castles to go see and explore. Michelle and I made it to the Castletown House and we had ourselves a bit of an adventure while we were there. We showed up and there was maybe 5 other people visiting the castle. After we had explored, I wandered off to take some “architectural” photos and Michelle headed back to the car. After a few minutes, I see Michelle looking out at me and she yelled:
Bob: (puzzled but recognizing the look on Michelle’s face) “Did you lock the keys in the car?”
Michelle: “Yes and no. I think I locked the keys in the trunk.”
So here we were, literally in the middle of nowhere, and the car keys were locked in the trunk. That’s right, I said trunk. Any schlub can get into a locked car, but the trunk? That’s a little tougher – and to increase the challenge, I had used the valet key to lock the trunk so there wasn’t the option to get inside the car and pop the trunk latch. To cut to the end of the story, one of the docents that was working in the castle called a friend of hers that was “handy”. He ran a breakdown service called “Conor’s Recovery” and their tag line is “And everybody was happy”. This super-nice guy showed up and proceeded to dismantle our rental car – piece by piece including trying to take out the rear bucket seat. Eventually we got there but I don’t know how to explain it, we had a good time while all this was going on. We sat there talking with this guy about the Dallas Cowboys (he was a fan) and HBO’s ‘The Sopranos’.
Towards the end of our trip, Michelle and I stayed at a great hotel that she and her parents had stayed at when she had lived here as a child – The Gregans Castle Hotel. This hotel is The Georgina Campbell Country House of The Year for 2010 and was the 2009 Winner of The Hotel & Catering Review Gold Medal Award for Fine Dining. Food & Wine Magazine has also rated The Gregans Castle Hotel restaurant the 6th Best in Ireland. So what I am saying is beautiful hotel, amazing food, friendly people and the best souvenirs in the world … this just happened to be when we “picked” up our daughter.
So if going somewhere special is about creating lasting memories and enjoying yourself, how could I not pick Ireland? I would recommend to anyone to go visit this enchanting and memorable country that has rightly earned its due.