Here are some of our favorite photos from the trip (each photo is a thumbnail linked to a higher quality picture.):
1) Our delayed arrival in London meant we only had one day to see some of the city. Nonetheless, we woke up early and set out on foot to do some exploring. We found a cafe for breakfast and then walked around nearby Hyde Park.
2) Our next stop was the Tate Britain musuem where we enjoyed the artwork and then had lunch outside on their restaurant's patio. Naturally, Jonna had the very British fish 'n chips. We finished the day with a boat ride on the Thames, a visit to the Tate Modern museum, dinner with friends and then returning to the hotel to finally meet up with Alan's parents.
3) After our train and ferry ride to Ireland we had an afternoon and the next day on our own to explore Dublin before the tour started. Our hotel was near the center of town so right after arriving we did a walking loop of the area which brought us to the GPO - the General Post Office that was such an important location in the history of Irish Independence.
4) The next day we split into groups to see some more sights. Alan and Harvey got up early and walked to the Guinness Brewery to take their tour. We learned about how the famed stout is brewed and had a sample up in the Gravity Bar with a stunning 360 degree panorama looking out over Dublin.
5) Brenda, Jonna, Harvey and Alan met up in the afternoon to see the Book of Kells and to visit Trinity Library, both at Trinity College.
6) That evening the whole family gathered to join The Dublin Literary Pub Crawl . This turned out to be the highlight of our time in Dublin. The guides recited and some times enacted scenes from famous Irish literature by Joyce, Beckett, Yeats and more. Along the way we walked the streets of old Dublin to visit a variety of historic pubs and gin houses.
7) After our day in Dublin, we jumped in the Vagabond van and headed west. Our first stop was on the shore of Lough Ree where we hiked through the ruins of Rinn Dúin, a Norman castle and walled city from the early 13th century. The 3km loop winds through green fields where sheep and cattle graze. The shores of the lake were covered in wildflowers and the 800 year old walls of the castle and church were covered in ivy.
8) Our next stop was in the touristy seaside city of Galway. We walked the main street but it was so packed with people that it was overwhelming compared with the tranquil beauty of Rinn Dúin. It was enough to make Jonna scream!
9) Our destination for the night was incredible. After driving through the sparse landscape of Connemara we pulled into a lush river valley crowned by the stunning Ballynahinch Castle . After checking into our palatial room we went out to walk one of the many hiking trails that are on the estate. We walked through a forest alongside the Owenmore River expecting fairies and elves to appear at any moment. Near the end of the hike we stopped on the shore of a mist covered lake where it was so serene and peaceful we were ready to stop the tour after just one day and stay here!
10) After our hike we walked through the flower gardens in front of the main building. The blue and purple hydrangeas were all in bloom and seemed to magically materialize around us as the fog moved through the pathways.
11) The second day of the tour started our turn southward along the Atlantic coast. After a short drive we boarded a ferry so we could have a day trip out to Inishmore in the Aran islands. Our group split up between rented bicycles and a horse cart to do a circuit of Inishmore. The sun was shining, the seagulls were floating overhead, seals were lounging on the beaches and the wildflowers were blooming. A great day to be out cycling!
12) On the far side of Inishmore is the massive Bronze Age fortress of Dún Aonghasa. We parked the bikes and entered the imposing stone walls. The fort is built on the edge of a 300 foot high cliff. Inside you could look straight down onto the crashing surf below and from the walls you could look out across the rocky fields of Inishmore. In the afternoon we returned to the mainland and drove to our hotel in Ballyvaughn.
13) The first stop on the next day of our tour was at the neolithic tomb of Poulnabrone Dolmen. Tombs like this are scattered throughout Ireland and may be as much as 6,000 years old.
14) Our next stop was at the Cliffs of Moher where we walked along the top of the steep cliff walls enjoying the views of the verdant fields, the deep blue of the ocean and the blackness of the rocky crags.
15) After lunch at the historic South Pole Inn we ventured out into the countryside just outside Annascaul for a hike into the hills above Annascaul Lake. This was another quintessential Irish moment - walking through a timeless landscape with sheep grazing on the hillsides, a waterfall cascading down the valley and the sound of our guide Damien's musical Irish accent leading the way.
16) We ended the day in the waterside down of Dingle. That night we all walked into town to experience some live Irish music in the many pubs downtown.
17) Day four started with a drive around Slea Head, where the Dingle penisula sticks out into the Atlantic Ocean. We stopped along the way to see some ancient beehive huts and, while there, Jonna contemplated bringing a cute little Irish lamb home as a pet!
18) The view from Coumeeloole at Slea Head was stunning. It was so scenic, in fact, that the Star Wars movie "The Last Jedi" had just finished filming there. We walked out to an overlook and took in the breathtaking view.
19) Damien, our tour guide, was required to take a day off from driving (Irish safety laws) and so another Vagabond guide named Cormac stepped in for the day. A highlight of the day was when we discovered this was Cormac Begley , a professional musician and the son of famed Kerry accordian player Brendan Begley from the band Boys of the Lough. While we were taking in the amazing views Cormac broke out an accordian and performed a couple of songs for us! Based on his suggestion later in the evening we saw both his brother and his Aunt perform in one of the Dingle pubs.
20 Our last stop on the Slea Head drive loop was at the Gallarus Oratory. The age and purpose of the building are unclear but it has definitely been used as a church during its history. Regardless of its historical function it is an impressive example of mortarless stone architecture.
21) Once we were back in Dingle Erin, Jonna and Alan did a half-day sea-kayaking trip in Dingle Bay with Irish Adventures . A rain squall blew in just as we were starting so the first 20 minutes as we paddled across Dingle Bay was a bit sketchy with heavy rain pelting us in the face and wind driven waves threatening to flip us. But once we reached the far side of the Bay the wind died down and eventually the rain stopped. From then on we had a fantastic paddle out to the mouth of Dingle Bay, through some coastal sea caves and then back across the Bay to the harbor. After returning to the hotel to dry off and warm up we again walked into town for dinner and more live music!
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