Our agents travel to some pretty awesome destinations. When they return, our excitement to hear about their adventures is almost as great as their excitement is to share them. In ON LOCATION, they talk about the little nuances that make each place special. From Peru to South Africa, Switzerland, and Croatia, experience a fantastic second-hand journey and maybe take away some travel inspiration while you’re at it.
In this edition, Tristin Zinke from our Events team and Courtney Nealis from our Marketing team traveled to Ireland to visit where Tristin’s husband’s dad was born. It was not hard to convince them to tag along for his journey to visit the land of his ancestors!
Nate: Now Tristin, you were already in Ireland when Courtney arrived, what did you most want her to see?
Tristin: I really wanted her to see the Cliffs of Moher. When I saw them, they were just amazing and it was on a crystal clear day, too. I could see everything, so I was really excited to show them off. But, when Courtney saw them, well-
Courtney: It had COMPLETELY fogged over. Sigh. But hey, I got a picture of me and where the cliffs should have been, so that’s something.
N: Does it get foggy in Ireland a lot then?
T: Foggy and overcast yeah, but bad enough to not see the cliffs at all? That seemed like the worst luck. But I come to find out that the clear day I saw them was the odd day. Apparently, that never happens. Usually there is some fog or it’s darker and harder to see in some way, but nothing as bad as when Courtney saw them. Lucky me, though!
N: Did you go back to see them later?
C: No, that was my one chance. We did have other cliffs in our vacation future. Cliffs that aren’t as touristy, so I wasn’t too bummed out by Moher.
T: The cliffs at Slieve League were a lot bigger.
N: So why are the Cliffs of Moher so popular then?
T: They are only a two hour drive from Galway. They are a lot easier to get to than others.
N: Ireland is a popular vacation spot. Did you have any specific reason why you chose to visit?
T: It has been on my husband’s bucket list for a long time. His father was adopted from Ireland by an American family. We had planned to come sooner, but since my job involves travel, we just waited for the right opportunity.
C: I wanted to go because when I was a kid I always assumed I was Irish. I mean I’m pale; I have freckles, make sense right? Turns out I wasn’t Irish at all! But Ireland was still a place I have always wanted to visit.
T: You also went because your best friends were going.
C: And Tristin just happened to be there…I’m kidding!
T: Uh huh.
N: How long did you stay in Galway?
T: Two nights. One of the coolest places we saw was Eyre Square and around the corner from that was the Latin Quarter. There are tons of local artists preforming in the streets hoping to be discovered. They are all so good too, so as a musician you really have to be on your game. They will stand outside a bar or restaurant and hope that the business will hire them for a gig. The area also had the best food out of all Ireland, hands down.
N: Did you like the food Courtney?
C: I got in so late that Galway feels like a blur. We had to be at the Cliffs of Moher early the next morning, so that first day there wasn’t much time to explore the city. I’m sure I ate something though! On the way back from the cliffs was some of the best scenery I had ever seen. There were tons of old structures! So many abbeys and castles.
N: Doesn’t Ireland have a lot of old castles?
C: Lots of castles!
T: Nonstop castles, you could easily spend all your time looking at them.
C: We couldn’t be stopping for all of them. Luckily, we had a Rick Steves travel guide to help us prioritize. He truly was the fourth member of our travel group.
T: Totally. Speaking of, for that night he suggested that we eat at Dunguaire Castle, which hosted a medieval dinner. That dining hall was huge; it could fit 40-50 people in it. A harpist played and servers tried to make it as authentic as possible by telling old stories and serving wine, mead, and this delicious potato soup. It was amazing!
N: Were you done with castles after that?
C & T: No
N: Bring on the castles then!
T: Yes, next we were headed to Sligo and stayed in Markree Castle.
N: Oh, like a castle hotel!
C: Yes, but before we go into that, we have to tell you about this really cool portal tomb we
saw. Its basically three standing portal stones supporting a heavy horizontal capstone, and dates to the Neolithic period, probably between 4200 BC and 2900 BC. Pretty fascinating!
T: Yeah, that was really cool to see and then on the way out we ran into a guy making Ogham jewelry. We bought some to match our new Ogham tattoos!
N: What is Ogham?
C: The language of trees.
N: Excuse me?
T: It’s an ancient Irish written language that uses lines like branches to represent the letters they used.
C: So they used tree symbolism to write.
N: Gotcha, so no actual talking trees.
C: Right…so anyways we made it to Markree Castle, but we ended up getting in pretty late.
T: We did get one of the best rooms, though.
C: The grounds were really pretty. The castle is far away from the roads on a huge plot of land with horses and sheep. But because we were late, we didn’t get a chance to dress up for dinner. A lot of the older guests gave us looks like we didn’t belong. I mean, we tried to be classy, I put my hair in a bun!
T: And the castle has a huge Irish Wolf Hound that lives
on the grounds. My husband and I decided to walk the grounds after dinner. Most of the areas were locked up (and I think they were supposed to lock the part we were in as well, but just forgot) then, all of a sudden, this monster dog crosses our path. It just looks at us and we stop. We were like, “is this a nice puppy or a werewolf?” So, she starts bounding towards us and here I am thinking I’m going to die. But then she just starts licking and loving on us. She was just the nicest dog.
C: That dog has the best life too. She can roam the wide open grounds and pretty much go
where she wants.
N: And you said you had one of the nicest rooms?
T: So pretty! Lots of rooms are dedicated to the famous people that have stayed there over the years. Johnny Cash has a room dedicated to him, he even wrote a song while he was here. Our room was-
C: Some poet.
T: No, not just some poet! James Joyce!
N: I see we need to have a literature lesson soon.
T: There were rooms for Patsy Cline, Maureen O’Hara, Peter O’Toole, and Oscar Wilde. They all had their favorite rooms at Markree.
C: Wish we could have stayed longer, but it ended up around 400 euros a night. It was kind of a splurge day.
N: Done with castles now?
T: Nope. On our way to Belfast, we stopped by Donegal Castle.
N: Oh boy.
C: This one was different! It had a way more authentic feel than many of the castles we had seen so far. This one wasn’t refurbished and left as it was from way back then.
T: This was around the time we went to Slieve League.
N: Oh right, the “bigger than Moher” Cliffs.
T: As a tip for anyone going to see Slieve League, there are two ways up. We thought the one we took was only an hour to get to, but the direction led us up a dirt road, a gate that we had to open then close, and no real parking lot. Turns out it was the start of an intense trail.
C: We met some people walking down who told us the hike up was around 4 hours - definitely not what we had been told. I wasn’t even wearing hiking shoes!
T: Turns out there is another way that you can drive to. Much easier.
C: A lot of people we met made the same mistake. Take note, you can actually drive up to an overlook.
T: And the cliffs were massive, pictures don’t do it justice.
N: Now, I hear you did a Game of Thrones tour.
C: This was when we reached Belfast in Northern Ireland.
T: You should know first off there are lots of knock-off tours that we could have been the victim of. Luckily our guide was someone that was actually an extra in the series.
C: A higher tier extra, someone actually had sword wielding skills and knew his stuff.
N: What were some of the places you saw? Did they film it all in Ireland?
T: No but a lot of it was. It was interesting to see how so many different locations depicted on the show were actually really close together, like walking distance. Going back to watch the show and knowing that two places on either side of Westeros are actually a few minutes away is funny.
C: They would actually film at the same location for different places in the show but the weather would change up the landscape enough that it could look like somewhere else.
T: We saw where they shot the Iron Islands and it’s very close to where they filmed Renly Baratheon’s Camp and the cave where the Red Lady had the shadow creature.
C: And not too far from that is where they filmed parts of Arya in Braavos. We were told the area was pretty easy to turn medieval since all they had to do really was put candles in the street lanterns and cover the metal roofs with straw. Later we crossed the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. This bridge was not part of filming but it is a must see when visiting Ireland!
T: That rope bridge was actually kind of scary. Fisherman once used it to get across to this hut on the far side. They don’t use it now, but those views are beautiful.
C: Also, we saw a pod of dolphins off the coast!
T: Yeah, including a cute baby one! Oh, also on the tour, we got to dress up and fight each other with swords.
C: People passing by thought we were filming something and took our pictures.
N: Very cool. On another note, I guess I never thought to ask about the Irish animal life. Any other animal encounters besides the dolphins?
C: Later in our trip, an Airbnb I found outside of Kilkenny had two Shetland ponies, one alpaca, and three donkeys. Swoon!
T: The alpaca was named Podge! We thought he was a young buck, but he was actually around 14 years old.
C: All these animals are actually happy: happy cows, happy Podge; there is so much room to move and clear air to breathe unlike in the states.
N: So what was after the Game of Thrones tour?
T: We went to the Giants Causeway which, if you’ve ever seen it, is a place with crazy rock formations. It was formed by a volcano when the lava was pushed up, bubbled, then cooled.
C: After that was Belfast.
T: We wanted to see the Titanic museum, since that is where the ship was built.
C: It showed us the entire building process and different jobs that it took to build the ship, the how and why the ship failed, and the lives lost building it.
T: You could see what the various class rooms looked like. Apparently the nails and bolts on the ship were so big that it took 4 people to hammer them into place. Some people went permanently deaf from all the clanging. Add to it the fact it was a 12 plus hour day. Could you imagine how wrecked your body would be?
C: That night went to dinner across from the Europa hotel, the most bombed hotel in history.
N: Bombed? Like, kaboom?
T: Like 40 times.
C: The situation in Northern Ireland is complicated, but it used to be a lot worse.
T: So in Belfast, the conflict is between the Protestants and the Catholics. The Protestants who wanted Northern Ireland to remain within the UK and the Catholics who wanted to leave the UK and make a united Ireland.
N: I remember this. They called it The Troubles.
T: Technically it is still ongoing, but far less dramatic than it used to be after a ceasefire in 1998. You know, the Catholics would actually bomb elementary schools. They thought that if they could get rid of the kids as Protestants, there wouldn’t be any adult Protestants to deal with. They still have a wall between them that closes at night. It’s very segregated. Anyways, that treaty I mentioned was actually written by a protestant bishop, but they had to act like Bill Clinton wrote it or else the Catholics wouldn’t have signed it.
N: Pretty sneaky.
T: They still have issues though. Belfast has black cab tours run by both sides. Depending on whom you ride with, you will get a completely separate side of the story. I did a tour with a Protestant who told me some pretty scary stories, and I was like, “those Catholic jerks!” But I don’t have both sides of the story.
C: We spent a couple days in Dublin after that. Went to Temple Bar, which is a huge tourist attraction.
T: Pro tip: our driver told us to go a block away for cheaper beer and food since Temple Bar ups the price. It ended up being several euros cheaper.
N: What was in Dublin that you wanted to see?
T: We only stayed there two days since Dublin is pretty touristy. I really wanted to see Trinity College. It was so cool to see these ancient books and one of the first ever harps. We couldn’t take any pictures of the Book of Kells though, but at least I got to see it. It is one of the oldest books dating back to the 9th century.
C: Of course Jameson Distillery and the Guinness Brewery were on the list to visit. I wasn’t big into whiskey and Guinness was really big with heavy tourism. They say the Guinness you get in Ireland tastes different than what you get here because it doesn’t travel well. Guinness isn’t carbonated; it’s a nitro brew, so if it gets jostled it changes the taste. It’s quite delish there, and I’m not always a Guinness fan.
N: Geez, there really is a ton of things to do in Ireland huh?
C: The ring of Kerry, the Star Wars cliffs (Dingle Peninsula), and Ring Forts from 2000 BC, yeah there is a lot.
N: Well maybe we better leave some mystery. Any last thoughts or memories?
T: We were at a bar in Dingle and David Geaney from Britain’s Got Talent came in and started dancing for the crowd. He doesn’t do it too often, so we were really lucky.
C: This is going to be your longest interview ever isn’t it?
N: By far.