425 contributing writer Julie Arnan traveled to Ireland late last year, and not even a nasty stomach bug could put a damper on this fantasy trip — she slept in a castle! “Plus, as my auburn hair and freckles imply, I have Irish roots and have always wanted to walk the hillsides of the Emerald Isle,” Arnan said. That she did, and so much more.
Where did you wander off to? I flew into Dublin but mostly traveled west through Carrick-on-Shannon, up near Donegal, through Sligo down to Clifden (west of Galway) and back to Dublin.
What sent you on this adventure? An Irish castle vacation package that was too good to pass up. I mean, what girl doesn’t want to sleep in a castle at least once in her life?
What was most surprising about your travels? This adventure was full of surprises. Surprise! I forgot my credit card at home. Surprise! Your tire is flat. Surprise! No tire shops are open on Sundays. Surprise! The food is actually really good. Surprise! Vacation doesn’t exempt you from the stomach flu. Surprise! It’s green in Ireland — like, greener than you could ever imagine and you will comment on it repeatedly because it’s just so mind-blowingly green.
But the biggest surprises all revolved around driving — a tiny manual in a country that drives on the left side of the road, shifting with my left hand, looking right, turning left, the incredibly narrow lanes with a rock wall or hedge directly next to the lane without a shoulder (scrape, scrape), oncoming traffic feels like it is coming directly at you, semi-trucks (lorries, if you will) coming toward you in a lane that barely fits your Ford Fiesta, that apparently the Irish never found a straight road they couldn’t turn into a curvy rollercoaster, the single-lane paved path between sheep fields really is the most direct route to your destination, everything you want to do takes two to three hours of driving in any direction, that corner is definitely sharper than you thought, and you should have slowed down far in advance.
If other Eastsiders go, what should they absolutely fit into their itinerary? The Cliffs of Moran (south of Galway) make all the headlines, but Slieve League (north of Donegal) are actually the highest sea cliffs in Europe and are gorgeous without the massive crowds at their counterpart to the south.
What airline did you fly, and where did you stay? Airfare was included in our vacation package, so we flew a variety of airlines. However, Aer Lingus offers direct flights from Seattle to Dublin (highly recommended over our version of the trip that included several stops and many extra hours of travel time).
What were the best things about your trip? Best meal: a dish of local mussels cooked with a good dose of cider, served with hearty local bread and a huge smear of the world’s best butter. Best pint of Guinness: It’s hard to beat a pint you poured yourself at the Guinness Storehouse, but my favorite pint of Guinness was the third pint of the night at Thomas Connolly Bar in Sligo (the oldest pub in Ireland’s northwest corner) — by then, the dark wood-paneled pub was bustling with Irish voices and our own laughter as we befriended some locals. Best castle hotel: The rooms at Locke Eske were gorgeous (a five-star hotel), but my favorite room was the suite at Abbeyglen with its mesmerizing creek that all but hypnotized us to sleep. Best views on a drive: The highway south from Donegal to Clifden gives way to magnificent views of looming hills and swaying meadows, and the Sky Road in Clifden is everything you want a “sky road” to be.
What did you learn on your travels about yourself or the people you met? The childlike joy of discovery — the windy, rainy morning that I set off on a walk by myself not really knowing where I was going but stumbling upon a hillside path next to the sea. It looked closed off because there were gates to keep the animals from wandering away. I climbed over the gates and traipsed up the greenest hillside only to find the ruins of an old castle at the top. A flock of blackbirds had roosted in one of the turrets. They all took off together and landed in a nearby tree, keeping watch while I tiptoed through the remains of a once-mighty dwelling.
Good Gear for Wandering
The Bigger Carry-On by Away Travel
Ultra-lightweight and intelligently designed to maximize usable space with an unbreakable exterior, 360-degree Hinomoto wheels, interior compression system with laundry bag included, and a removable charger for USB devices. Comes in 10 colors, weighs less than 8 pounds, and measures 22.7×14.7×9.6 inches (including wheels).
AeroPress Coffee Maker
Perfect lightweight coffee maker for traveling — brews smooth, rich coffee without bitterness or acidity. Easy to use, clean, and store. Includes 350 filters, scoop, and stirrer in addition to the press.
Perfect Travel Adapter
An all-in-one converter and adapter featuring four slide-out plugs (EU, UK, AU, USA) and two USB ports. The design prevents excessive current/overheating and fits in wall outlets in more than 170 countries.
Cross-Trek 2 Backpack by Granite Gear
Trail-tested with 360-degree water repellency and a lifetime warranty, the 36L backpack is also well-suited to lightweight urban travel designed with a pass-through slot to slide onto wheeled luggage. The main compartment unzips fully, opening like a suitcase for easy packing access. Comes with a lined laptop compartment (fits up to 17-inch laptops) and a tablet sleeve.
Skincare Products by Supernatural
Crafted with ultra-premium USDA-certified ingredients — try the Poshen Facial Serum, $85, and the Renew Eye Gel, $67.
Video by Justin Fox