Our Emerald Isle Vacation: Galway & Dublin Part 2

Day 7 (continued)

We had just wrapped our visit to the Cliffs of Moher and our short stop in Doolin for a bowl of Irish stew before heading north to the Salthill Hotel, located just outside of Galway City.

By the time we arrived at the Salthill Hotel, it was almost nightfall. But there was still a good amount of sunlight peeking through the clouds that gave us a glimpse of Galway Bay, located directly across from our hotel.

Salthill is a small seaside resort town with a number of hotels, restaurants, some casinos and even an indoor water park for those looking for a kid-friendly attraction. In the warmer months, Galway Bay’s sandy beaches are a perfect place to play, but since we were there in October, we didn’t do much with sinking our toes in the sand.

After resting up at our hotel, we decided to walk to the stretch of restaurants and other businesses on Salthill Road Upper to find a place to eat for dinner. This area of town was a 10-minute walk away, and we were able to walk along the Salthill Promenade in order to get there.

The Salthill Promenade is a paved walkway that hugs the edge of Galway Bay and stretches from Salthill into Galway City. I read that it’s about a 40-minute walk from one end to the other, but as much as I would’ve loved to walk the entire thing, it was way too cold.

In fact, Day 7 was definitely the coldest day we’d spent in Ireland. We experienced frigid winds at the Cliffs of Moher and transitioned to a still cold in Galway. The scarf I wore practically up to my nose caught the attention of one of the locals at the restaurant we ate at that night. I may have overdone it on the bundling up.

That night, we ended up stopping into a pub called, O’Connor’s for a drink before heading to a casual diner called The Galleon a few doors down. I had the corned beef and cabbage with mash (mashed potatoes). He had a burger. And from there, we were once again so exhausted, that we decided to head back to the hotel and plan our activities for Day 8. Another low-key night for us, but with the action-packed days we were experiencing, nothing felt better than curling up into a warm bed.

Day 8

Believe it or not, we had gone seven full days in Ireland, and only one was spent doing some serious shopping. That’s like a record for me or something. We spent some time in Kinsale, searching for souvenirs in the little shops in town, but I was ready to step up my shopping game in Galway that day.

So we checked out of the Salthill Hotel and drove into Galway City to do some shopping at a department store called Penney’s near Galway’s Eyre Square.

We first stopped into a pub called, The Skeff, to fuel up on full Irish breakfasts. We were pretty impressed with the size of the place. Parts of it felt like a castle, as if you were dining in some sort of upscale pub from medieval times. And like so many of the places we visited in Ireland, we were two of only a handful of people in the whole pub. It felt like we were the only ones there.

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After breakfast, we were bound for Penney’s, where I scored five scarves (three for me, two for family souvenirs), a leopard print skirt and a black tunic for only 33 euro! That’s about $42! If you’re in Ireland and are looking for department store clothing on the cheap, this is the place to go. Although we went to the Galway location, there is also one you can visit in Dublin off of Henry and Mary Streets.

We spent a short time after that walking through Eyre Square, which is officially named John F. Kennedy Memorial Park. It was given this name in the 60s after Kennedy’s assassination. He had visited Galway City shortly before his assassination in 1963.

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A sculpture of the iconic Galway Hooker (a boat, not a prostitute) stands tall in Eyre Square.

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A cold, wet day on the streets of Galway.

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Flowers still flourishing in the cold

We also stopped into a shop called Blarney Woolen Mills, where they sell everything from clothing to home decor.

But eventually, we decided to hit the road again and return to Dublin — for more shopping.

Unlike our first drive into Dublin City Centre, this second one was much more smooth-sailing. Of course, the day before you’re scheduled to leave a foreign country is the day you finally get the hang of the city streets.

We dropped our bags off at Kelly’s Hotel, where we were staying for one more night, and then walked to St. George’s Market Street Arcade.

This market was literally a block away from our hotel. It was bustling with people and vendors who sold everything from postcards to cupcakes. As is my tradition during every trip we take, I bought a couple postcards — hand-drawn illustrations of Dublin’s Ha’ Penny Bridge and the Guinness Brewery. Mikey bought two 8×12 aluminum signs for his some-day man cave. One sign depicts an overhead view of Jameson’s Bow Street Distillery in Dublin. The other sign is a portrait of Arthur Guinness.

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Books lined the shelves of one vendor’s space at St. George’s Market Street Arcade.

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Pastel-colored cupcakes in the window at the market

We walked a few blocks from St. George’s Market Street Arcade to Grafton Street, a pedestrian-only pathway lined with shops, boutiques and department stores — what I like to call the shopping mecca of Dublin. We stopped into a few shops — 1) Molton Brown, where I bought a duo of hand soap and lotion, 2) Topshop, where I bought a new dress for an upcoming wedding, and 3)  Decent Cigar Emporium, where Mikey bought a Irish-reserve Cuban cigar.

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An old Irishman chats up a flower vendor on Grafton Street

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Lively entertainment along the Grafton Street pedestrian pathway

After all that, my vote was to keep shopping, but Mikey was quickly losing interest. So I caved, and we headed back to Kelly’s Hotel to rest up before dinner.

Speaking of dinner, before we left on our trip, I purchased a voucher through Living Social for a Porterhouse steak and champagne cocktails for two at a restaurant called The Library. When we first arrived in Dublin, we happened to pass The Library Bar in the Congress Hotel on our way to Temple Bar. So we stopped in to make reservations for dinner on Day 8. The server we spoke to that day told us it wouldn’t be a problem for us to show up without a reservation, so we figured all was settled. No need to make a reservation. We’ll just show up on Monday night for dinner.

Once Monday night rolled around, I pulled out the voucher to read the fine print. I realized that the address of The Library was different than the place we had visited earlier at the Congress Hotel. After making a few phone calls, I realized Dublin is home to both “The Library” and “The Library Bar”. The Living Social voucher I had purchased was for the former, which is located near St. Stephen’s Green in the Dandelion Hotel. Luckily, The Library was able to accommodate us — although they no longer had the Porterhouse Steak for two available. It ended up working out to our advantage anyway though. The two cuts they offered us happened to be our most favorite. His was the Ribeye, and mine was the Filet Mignon.

It turned out to be a great dinner. The champagne cocktails were so good that I ordered a second. Along with our steaks, we ordered the mushrooms and mashed potatoes as sides. Delicious. And the atmosphere of the place was very cool. As you can imagine, The Library had walls lined with books and mirrored panels with quotes from many of history’s literary geniuses. It goes down as Mikey’s favorite dinner of the entire trip.

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After stuffing ourselves silly, we made one last pub stop at a place called, The Hairy Lemon. We both had our final pints of Guinness before walking the cobblestone streets back to Kelly’s Hotel to strategically pack our belongings into our two carry-ons, plus a secretly-stashed duffel bag to transport all our new purchases.

All in all, it was a fantastic final night in Dublin. And in Ireland.

Day 9

We were early to rise the next morning even though our flight wasn’t until 11:15am. The guy at the front desk of Kelly’s Hotel asked us why on earth we were up so early, and we explained why. Since we were traveling internationally from a foreign country, we weren’t sure what to expect as far as check-in and customs go.

When we exited the hotel, not a single soul was in sight on the streets, but nevertheless, we trekked through the empty streets to the parking garage where our car had spent the night. To our surprise, the garage was locked up. And upon reading the sign, we discovered the garage didn’t open until 7:30am!!! We were beyond baffled. Do the Irish really sleep in that much? Not that I’m complaining. I’d sleep in until 9:00 every day if I could. But it’s such a huge difference from America, where we’re up at the crack of dawn only to race into work — a place where you really don’t even enjoy spending time.

We decided to wait it out for half an hour until the garage opened back up, but luckily, after only five minutes, an attendant pulled up to the garage and let us in.

We successfully made it out of Dublin, onto the highway and to the correct exit for the rental car return lot. But we spent a good 10 minutes driving around to find a gas station to fill up at. One thing that we learned in Ireland is that a lot of the convenience stores will only accept credit cards that have a pin number associated to them. Since we didn’t have one of those, we  ended up making a couple different stops at gas stations until we found one that would take a signature-only card.

Then, it was back to the rental car station, onto a shuttle bus that took us to the terminal, through the lines at the U.S. Airways check-in counter and through the lines at the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Center. That’s where our travels took an unexpected turn.

We realized that one of the souvenirs we purchased — a flower pot with seeds of Irish wildflowers — had to be confiscated. We were ushered into a waiting room, where we sat for 10 minutes or so. Then, we were led to a row of seats behind bullet-proof glass where they pulled the flower pot from our duffel bag and eliminated its contents. We were left with a small, terra cotta flower pot and a lesson learned. You cannot bring foreign soil or seeds into the U.S. Something we should’ve known but definitely didn’t think about when we made the flower pot purchase in Kinsale. (And see, it was a good thing we left the hotel so early that morning. It gave us enough time to have our bags searched and our souvenirs confiscated.)

From there, it was a few more rounds of security checkpoints before we finally made it onto the plane and into the air over the Atlantic and across the pond to Philadelphia, and finally, the good ole STL.

We were so disappointed that our super vacay was over, but the good thing about returning from a great trip is that there’s always a happy-go-lucky, tail-thumping Bear who makes home the very best place to be.

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As for Ireland, I can honestly say that we wouldn’t have done this trip any other way. We learned so many things (some the hard way), but we have nothing but cherished memories and good things to say about that gorgeous green isle. Maybe someday we’ll go back. But for now, I think we’re setting our sights on a different kind of isle — the tropical isles of Hawaii, which are quickly making their way into conversations about our 2013 travel plans. More to come.

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