VACATION IN LIGHTS

Vacation in Lights: Six-Night Road Trip Through Ireland's Countryside

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009; 1:45 PM

Amy Greber of Alexandria is the latest contributor to Your Vacation in Lights, in which we invite Travel section readers to dish about their recent trips. It's a big, confusing travel world out there, and you can help your fellow travelers navigate it. To file your own trip report, see the fine print below.

WHAT: A six-night road trip through Ireland's countryside.

WHO: My boyfriend, David Lusk, and I, both licensed 30-somethings.

WHEN: April.

WHY: We'd both expressed a desire to explore our ancestral homeland, so we decided to plan a vacation for our one-year anniversary. (What better way to test the strength of a relationship than to take a trip overseas together?)

COST: The $2,000 package through Sceptre Tours included all flights, a rental car, bed-and-breakfast vouchers for four nights, a five-star hotel for two nights, breakfasts and taxes.

THE TRIP: We flew nonstop from Washington Dulles to Dublin, then caught a connecting flight to the west coast. Less than an hour after landing in Shannon, we were wedged inside a pumpkin-colored economy car with the open road ahead of us. I had secured B&B reservations beforehand, so we had a general idea of how far we needed to drive each day in order to make our evening destination. From Shannon, we crept our way up the west coast to Galway, then headed cross-country to Dublin for our return flight.

GETTING INTO GEAR: Both of us naively assumed that the other person would be driving. David relented, but in retrospect, we should have paid the extra fee to insure both of us as drivers. We did, however, upgrade to an automatic car with a GPS. To our surprise, our bilingual (English and Gaelic) map from the rental agency proved an invaluable fallback, given that the GPS had outdated software and many of the smaller towns didn't show up in search results.

GETTING AROUND WAS . . . harrowing. Navigating a foreign country -- especially one notorious for its accident record, narrow roads and ambiguous signage -- required a Herculean level of patience and circumspection. In spite of a few close calls and wrong turns, we relished the ability to roam freely and set our own schedule.

MOST INTERESTING ATTRACTION: The Cliffs of Moher took our breath away, but our most pleasurable moments were spent puttering around quiet, misty back roads. Stone walls stitched through the countryside in a patchwork of farms; animals grazed with their newborns in verdant pastures; tractor drivers waved when we pulled over to let them pass. There was a timelessness to it all.

A SPOT OF TEA: At Magnetic Music Cafe, set in a cozy stone cottage in the seaside town of Doolin, we settled in by the fireplace with a hot mug and sampled the local music.

BEST EATS: Though the local seafood and beef got rave reviews, we fell in love with the freshly baked Irish brown bread and butter served with many of our meals. We ate out occasionally, but the rich fried foods made us sleepy at the wheel, so we lightened it up by stopping at grocery stores and assembling picnics. Our favorites included local cheeses, ham, baguettes and apples.

UNEXPECTED TURN: Ireland's roads are rife with roundabouts. We quickly programmed ourselves to look right as we merged left, since cars in the traffic circle always have the right of way.

MR. LUSK, I PRESUME: While trying to avoid the confusing motorway tolls, we found ourselves on a local road near Trim that led us to Lusk's Garden Center. The proprietor ended up being a likely distant relative of David's. He invited us in for a cappuccino, where the two discussed family trees and horticulture.

WEATHER REPORT: April skies were moody, with drizzle the norm. We both ended up buying hand-knit wool sweaters from the Aran Islands, sound investments given the 50-something temperatures.

BIGGEST REWARD: Ireland's path less traveled proved more enchanting than we ever could have imagined. And our relationship weathered every bump in the road.

Want to see your own vacation in lights? We'll highlight one report each month. To submit, use the categories above as a guide (use as many as you wish, or add your own; for a list, go to http://www.washingtonpost.com/vacationinlights), and send your report to Your Vacation in Lights, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071; or e-mail vacationinlights@washpost.com.


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