Tuesday, January 24
Tony did a lot of planning for this trip, so when it started to look like there would only be 5 seats available for the 6 of us from Jacksonville to New York for our flight to Dublin, We decided that he should go and BJ should try to find a seat on another flight and make her way to New York through Atlanta or Boston. The agent gave the 5 of them seat assignments and told BJ to wait and see if there was a no-show. At the last minute, BJ was assigned a seat in First Class, no less!
We had a VERY LONG layover (7 hours to be exact) in JFK which we spent in the Delta Sky Club. This trip would be our last opportunity to enjoy the Sky Club, at least for awhile. Delta imposed an embargo on visiting the Sky Club while traveling as a non-rev passenger. We enjoyed playing cards, eating, drinking and napping while we waited for our departure time.
We made friends with some of the Sky Club Staff, including Irma, the very friendly hostess, and the guy with the dollar sign on his tooth.
We were delighted to get "good seats" (Delta One) on the flight! We had a nice meal and a brief nap on the 6.5 hour flight.
Wednesday, January 25
It took a rather long time at the SIXT counter to get our rental. Two tired travelers, BJ and Tony, did not study the rental agreement and did not notice that we had been charged for insurance even though we had declined because our credit card covered us. Lesson learned (again) - Pay attention to the details!
It was a tight fit, for the six of us in a 7 passenger VW van. We would not have wanted a larger vehicle, due to the narrow roads in Ireland. Thankfully everyone traveled light as trunk space was very limited as well.
Our rooms at the Radisson Blu Hotel were not ready yet, so we set out to explore the town. We passed the 13th Century Athlone Castle on our way to Sean's Bar, the oldest pub in the world.
Most of us enjoyed a Harp. Chick & Rebecca sampled the local whiskey while we listened to Timmy tell stories about the history of the town and the pub.
Timmy explained that the floor is sloped to combat flood damage when the River Shannon overflowed its banks. The water would rush through the front door and flow out the back, right back into the river. The floor was covered in saw dust to soak up excess water. Flooding doesn't happen as much now, since the river bank has been shored up. We were happy to be there in off-season and get some personal attention from Timmy. He explained that in season, the place would be full of people and he would be speaking through a microphone. We didn't realize how big the place is until we toured the remaining spaces.
The first evening stop was going to be the Snug Bar, but it was also not open (one of the negatives about traveling off-season). The Castle Inn was just across the street, so we settled for a drink there. At first it was just Tony, BJ and Nancy as the others claimed to be too tired to come out and planned to stay in for the evening. Chick and Rebecca soon rallied and joined us!
We went back across the river to the Bacchus Restaurant for dinner where Rebecca claimed to have had the most delicious lasagna she had ever had. We all had to taste it. The pasta was soft and fluffy and it was swimming in vodka sauce. It was truly delicious. Nancy & Tony also had pasta dishes. Chick had a seafood dish and BJ had soup.
Gertie Browne's Pub was our next stop on the Athlone tour. It was a fun little pub just off of the main street. We got a cozy table near the door where we had a good view of the bar.
Our last stop of the night was Peddler Mac's Pub. It was a fun little place with lots of young people and live music.
We had agreed to meet at 8:00AM in the lobby, not realizing that Athlone does not wake up until around 10AM. Google finally found us Caffe Nero a quarter of a mile from the hotel that was open and serving coffee.
We checked out of the hotel, loaded up the van and started out for Ennis. Our GPS said it was a 2 hour drive. We wanted to make a stop at a pub halfway there, but it seems none of the pubs open before noon and we would be in Ennis by then. Our route took us through Loughrea and we saw Maggie May's. Even though we were sure it was closed, we stopped the van on the street in front and saw someone peek out the door so we took a chance. The proprietress said the kitchen wasn't open but we could warm ourselves by the fire and she would serve us a drink.
We arrived in Ennis and parked in a pay parking lot near the Queens Hotel. We knew the hotel had free parking but were unable to find it. We were pleased that our rooms were ready. Chick, Rebecca, Nancy and Eva Marie asked for and were given the last 3 rooms on the 3rd floor, hoping that this would put them further away from street noise. BJ and Tony took a room on the first floor in a newer section of the hotel. BJ was disappointed in the room because the view was of the wall of the building next door and the lighting in the room was very dim.
BJ and Tony asked the desk clerk about parking and were told to park in the free lot next to the Garda station, but to be sure to get the car out before the lot closes at 6:30PM on Saturday night and does not open again until 8:30AM Monday morning. They set out to find the lot while the others went in search of a lunch spot.
Knox Pub was the location of choice for lunch. Fish and chips was the favorite meal choice. BJ had soup.
After lunch, Tony wanted to stop into Tierney's Cycle shop where we had rented bicycles before to inquire whether they rent ebikes. The don't. BJ and Tony caught up with the others coming out of the Clare Museum and we decided to go to Poet's Corner in the Temple Gate Hotel.
Chick and Rebecca went back to the hotel to rest while the rest of us explored the town a bit. We saw the Farmer Statue at Market Square and the beautiful Ennis Cathedral. We played on the Helping Hands statue.
Eva Marie asked an elderly gentleman for a recommendation. He either had a bright blue tattoo or a piece of shiny blue confetti on his face. He recommended we try Paddy Quin's. He said it was where the old men hang out. We decided to give it a try. It was pretty much as described, a quiet place with a few locals at the bar.
Chick and Rebecca showed up and we started a new game that Eva Marie suggested. This was the one where the first person says, "I'm going to the grocery store and I'm going to get something..." and says something that starts with an A. The next person has to repeat the A item and add a B item and so on until we reach Z. Our grocery list went like this. Avocados, Bananas, Cheezits, Dates, Edamame, Fried Pickles, Grapes, Hair Products, Ice Cream, Jalapenos, Ketchup, Lemons, Mayonaise, Nacho Cheese, Oregano, Pasta, Quince, Rhubarb, Salted Butter, Tomatoes, Utz Chips, Vegetables, Watermelon, X Rated Movies, Yellow Squash, Zucchini. There was lots of laughter as we tried to remember the list.
We sang a few songs and an elderly gentleman asked us to sing more as he was leaving the bar, so we sang, "She'll be coming around the mountain", and he sang along with us!
Before we left, we got behind the bar with the bartender for a picture to remember our fun night!
We struck out to find a place for dinner, hoping to find some good pub food, but we learned that the pubs stop serving at 8PM. We popped into Dan O'Connell's pub at 2 minutes until 8 and the bartender raced upstairs to stop the cook from leaving. We ordered quickly. Seems like BJ had soup.
On the way back to the hotel, we found a shop for Eva Marie.
We met for breakfast in the Hotel Restaurant Forty One at 9:30AM. As part of our B&B package, we were told we could order one hot beverage and one item from the breakfast menu. The menu was quite extensive! While we were deciding, we had the most beautiful cup of cappuccino!
Eva Marie and Chick decided to have the Full Irish Breakfast, BJ and Rebecca had Avocado Toast and Nancy and Tony just had toast. The food was beautifully prepared and tasted great!
After breakfast, everyone went back to their room to brush their teeth and get their coats. BJ decided to try to figure out why it was so dark in their room so she climbed on a stool and inspected the light fixture. When she pushed on it, she could see water sloshing around inside the fixture. She reported it to the front desk and they promised to have it fixed when we got back.
We took the 55 minute drive to the Cliffs of Moher. It was a beautiful day to see the cliffs. It was a bit chilly but not terribly windy.
We climbed up in the tower to see if there would be a better view, but it was the same view, just though a narrow slit in the top of the tower.
We started up the trail along the coast, but the boys soon turned back. We passed a sign saying it was a 10 km hike to Liscannor along the cliffs and the Burren Way. We texted the boys and told them we were going to walk and we would meet them in Liscannor.
It was a beautiful hike. We could look back and see the tower that we had climbed.
Rebecca used her great camera to get some model worthy shots of us.
The truth is it was pretty scary getting to the edge of the cliff! It involved some crawling and lying down!
Most of the hike seemed fairly safe and well marked. There were places though, where the path was too muddy and wet to walk on, so we were forced to get closer to the edge than we were comfortable to get by.
The view of the cliffs made it all worthwhile!
The rest of the hike was along a gravel road through pastures. At one point, the road was gated off but there were steps so we could get around the gate.
We decided we wouldn't make it all the way to Liscannor, so we texted the boys and told them to meet us at the Rock Shop about 20 minutes away. We took a restroom break and browsed around the shop and then headed for Doolin for lunch. Gus O'Connor's Pub had a nice warm fire and some good grub. BJ had soup.
Eva Marie had scoped out a tourist attraction that we wanted to see called Poulnabrone dolmen. The information she showed us made it look a little like Stonehenge. We took the beautiful coast road drive to Ballyvaughan and then turned south. When we got to the Poulnabrone dolmen, we laughed because it was so tiny! Most of the gang stayed in the van while Eva Marie and I climbed the fence to go and see it in person.
We headed back to the hotel to freshen up and discovered that the light fixture was missing from our room and there were wet towels and sheetrock dust everywhere.
We quickly packed our things and moved to the room next door which was much brighter, but still had the same wall view. No matter. We would not spend much time in the room anyway.
We went back to the Monks Society for a pre-dinner drink.
Once again, we found ourselves running late to get a pub meal before the kitchen closed, we decided to go to Knox Pub where we had to hurry and order. BJ had the Beef and Guinness Stew.
Breakfast was, once again, an elaborate affair with beautiful cappuccinos, avocado toast and the like.
It was a bit drizzly as we drove toward the Quin Friary. We walked around the grounds but could not go inside. There was a funeral going on in the church next door and the grave in the courtyard of the Friary had been prepared for the burial.
Our next stop was supposed to be Dromoland Castle where Tony and BJ had stayed on a previous trip but it was closed for renovations. The guard at the gate allowed us to drive around and take a look but we didn't get out. The windows were fogging up in the car so we didn't even get a good picture of it.
We drove on to Bunratty Castle and Folk Park. This was probably the most touristy thing we did on the trip. We were glad it was low season and not very crowded. We explored several rooms of the castle, the staircases are very narrow and would not accommodate a crowd very well.
We headed back to Ennis and had lunch at Brogan's, a very busy place. We were lucky to get a table in the back corner where we had a nice lunch. BJ had soup.
We stopped into Moroney's Bar before heading to the Old Ground Hotel for dinner. Tony had to go and move the car from the free lot before it closed at 6:30PM. Otherwise, it would be Monday morning before we could retrieve our car from the locked lot.
We sat in the hotel lobby while we waited for a table for dinner. BJ had soup.
After dinner, it was back to the Ciaran Pub across the street from the hotel to listen to some music.
BJ and Tony had a nice quiet night while the others were kept awake for much of the night by the Saturday night revelers stumbling down the street below their rooms.
Sunday, January 29
We met for breakfast and everyone savored their last beautiful cup of cappuccino but no one wanted a big hearty breakfast. Everyone had granola or porridge except Nancy & Tony who had toast.
We said goodbye to the Queen's Hotel and loaded up the van for our trip to Malahide where we would spend the last night of our trip. We made one stop on the 3 hour drive in Monasterevin at a huge Texaco station that had nice clean restrooms, making it to Malahide in time for lunch. We wandered around a bit, trying to decide where to eat. A couple of local girls recommended that we go to Gibneys.
As soon as we walked in the door, we heard traditional Irish music! It was a group of folks who enjoy getting together on Sunday afternoons to play.
Rebecca went to do some shopping while the rest of us went to Duffy's. Afterward, we took a stroll along the water on our way back to the hotel to check in.
Nancy and Eva Marie each had rather small rooms. Chick and Rebecca hit the room lottery with their 2 room suite, so we gathered there for a glass of wine before dinner.
We really wanted to have dinner at That's Amore Italian restaurant. We had poked our heads in earlier and it smelled heavenly. They were so nice, they tried to accommodate us, even calling folks on their reservation list to make sure they were still coming, but no luck. They sent us to Al Fresco a couple of streets over. The food was very good there as well.
One more glass of wine in Chick and Rebecca's suite and it was off to bed for everyone.
Monday, January 30
Travel day! Everyone met in the lobby on time and ready to take the 20 minute drive to the airport. We had paid extra to drop the car at departing flights rather than have to take a shuttle from the rental car lot. It was nearly impossible to find a spot in the SIXT area. We finally found the only remaining spot and wedged the van into it.
We checked in with Delta and were given stand-by boarding passes which allowed us to go through security and then through immigration. They even had Global Entry kiosks. We had to pass through another security checkpoint before being allowed into the gate area. Having arrived very early for our flight, we had lots of time to wait to be cleared. We were very happy to see that we got "good seats" again in Delta One!
We had another long layover in JFK which we spent in the Delta Sky Club. We were supposed to have to pay for one guest since we did not all have credentials to get in, but the agent who checked us in was sympathetic about the embargo and did not charge for the extra guest. We ran into our new friend Irma that we had met on the way out.
We all got Comfort Plus seats on the Jacksonville flight and were thrilled to get home to see our pets. We rolled into Fernandina Beach around 10:30PM. Lucy, Lily, Sunny and Lovey were all happy to have their parents home!
The following weekend, we had a Soup Party to celebrate BJ's love of soup!