This is a tale about good fortune. And, at times, a lack thereof.
Seb and I got lucky and had a few extra days of leave to kill. Not so luckily, we had to take them immediately and the weather forecast across Europe looked relentlessly grim for the foreseeable future. What to do, what to do…
We almost gave up the idea of travelling altogether, but common sense kicked in and we reminded our ungrateful selves that living in Europe means every chance to travel should be seized. So we took the pragmatic approach. If the weather’s going to be shitty, we thought, we may as well go somewhere where the weather’s usually shitty. For a while, our thoughts hovered over Great Britain (Scotland could be cool?), before we remembered the smaller island to the west and decided that the people there were probably jollier. So off to Ireland we went.
Flying into Dublin, we couldn’t believe our luck. The sun was shining, it was a good 5 degrees warmer than Germany and – best of all – the people spoke English! We caught the bus into town, checked in to our hotel and basked in the awesomeness of Ireland’s capital for the rest of the day. Dublin’s streets are lined with countless cafes, restaurants, shops and bars – so we had no problem finding nice things to see and do.
The next morning marked the real beginning of our journey: an epic road trip down the Wild Atlantic Way on the island’s west coast. It’s one of the world’s longest and most famous stretches of coastal road and we couldn’t wait to drive it. We got to Europcar at noon, weighed down with luggage and ready to go. We still had a few hours of sunlight to get to the other end of the island, so luck was on our side.
Until it wasn’t.
Sorry, said the guy behind the counter. Our converted drivers licenses didn’t meet Europcar’s requirements, so unfortunately he couldn’t give us a car. But we’ve been driving around the whole of Europe with them, we pleaded. We’ve never had a problem! Guy didn’t budge. Ireland is different apparently. Hope you have a nice trip though, he added, before turning to the next customer.
Frantic phone calls and panic ensued. No luck. Every other place we tried was closed. Eventually we caught a bus back to the airport and ran to the first rental counter we saw. Sure, they could help us out, the guy said with a wink. Shouldn’t be a problem. Overjoyed, we signed on all the dotted lines and ran to our car. Bitterness at having paid almost double for a downgraded car didn’t take long to set in, but hey. We live and we learn.
From there, things began to look up again. We drove through what was left of a glorious afternoon, and arrived at Kylemore Lodge after nightfall. Quite a sight to behold in the daytime, the farmhouse is owned by a little old lady called Nora who has lived there for decades. A rather serious woman of few words and many religious ornaments, Nora was a sweet enough host. Her breakfast the next morning was the real highlight.
The next day, our fortunes dwindled once more. The weather was even worse than expected and our entire day was planned to be outdoors. Connemara National Park, it also turned out, was not accessible by car… a tiny snippet of information that I had somehow overlooked. The only way to explore it was on foot, and neither of us were geared up in any way for a proper hike. We decided to go ahead with it anyway, popping in to the local supermarket for a pack of disposable rain ponchos. That’ll do, we thought. How bad could it be? Well, after roughly fifteen minutes of ‘hiking’ in stinging wind and sideways rain, we admitted defeat and turned back.
The final stop in the area was Kylemore Abbey, a breathtaking lakeside castle turned abbey turned school and now museum. With the rain now coming down even harder, our experience there was sadly limited. The abbey museum provided a warm refuge from the rain, but it only took about half an hour to see all of it. Soaked and shivering, we opted to give the gardens, mausoleum and church a miss. Instead we made an earlier start for Galway – while our pants, jackets and socks dried off on the backseat.
And what beauty we found on the way there…
Our time in Galway was short and sweet. If anything, I’d go back just to have another meal at Ard Bia. The restaurant sits right on the harbour and offers a contemporary, seasonal twist on Irish and European cuisine. It was heaven. That meal cost more than our accommodation, but after an extraordinarily miserable day we frankly didn’t care. Treat yo self, as a wise man once said. Fed and content (though still a bit soggy), we headed back to our hotel for an early night. The longest drive of all still lay ahead.
Which brings me to our favourite bits of the drive by far: County Clare and County Kerry. From Galway, we drove all the way to our cottage near Kenmare in the south, stopping off at the Cliffs of Moher on the way. No more than five minutes ever passed without us squealing with delight at something beautiful. Hills, castles, meadows and charming villages – we saw it all.
The cliffs? Every bit as awesome as we’d imagined. The same, however, can’t be said for the torrential downpour that unleashed itself JUST as we arrived. It didn’t matter though. Having been caught in so much rain had somehow made us immune to the mood-dampening effects of being damp.
There’s only one thing I regret about our trip: that we didn’t spend more time in Kerry. It’s one of the most magical corners of the earth I’ve ever set foot on, and only one full day to explore it was nowhere near enough. Lakes. Valleys. Forests. Mountains. All painted with vivid autumn tones. Killarney National Park is a must, and we’ll definitely go back to do the full Ring of Kerry.
Before we could pause to take it all in though, our final day in Ireland had arrived. Even with the trip’s many hiccups, our hearts ached at the thought of leaving. It had been, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful trips of our lives. Which brings me back to that whole thing about fortune…
“The luck of the Irish!” You’ve probably heard the saying. If you know your history though, you’ll know that the Irish haven’t been a very lucky bunch at all. With perseverance and a sense of humour, however, they’ve been able to bounce back and thrive again and again. And again.
That pretty much sums up our time in Ireland. The rain was plentiful and the annoyances were many, but we always laughed it off and embraced it as part of the experience. We flew back home with funds and dry clothes totally depleted – but our heads, hearts (and SD cards) were full of happy memories.
And that, I suppose, makes us really lucky after all.