Ireland is a fantastic place. Outside of a few large cities this country lives up to its name - the Emerald Isle. The green fields and meadows go on for miles, usually dotted with numerous sheep or cows.
In no particular order here are things that worked out really well for us:
- Great Weather - It barely rained on us at all. It did get a bit hazy, which put a damper on some of our sightseeing on the western coast.
- Croagh Patrick - My wife and son climbed the same 2000 ft mountain that St. Patrick climbed. They were rewarded with fantastic panoramic vistas. I was not up for such a climb, since I was a bit hobbled with a knee injury. But I may try it if we return.
- The car - We rented a stick-shift and of course drove on the left side of the road. This was no problem for me, even though I had some apprehension about it. We got great mileage in our diesel powered Toyota, so that took the sting off of the high European fuel prices.
- The roundabouts - I love them. Why put a traffic light at an intersection when you can put a roundabout which leaves it up to the drivers to control the traffic flow themselves rather than forcing everyone to stop at fixed intervals.
- Road Layout - All roads leads to town centers. This simplifies things - you usually don't have to think too hard to the main business district of a town (except for the bigger cities).
- The seal on Achill Island - We found a lone seal at desolate Keem beach on the western end of Achill Island. He didn't care too much for us getting too close to him, but we managed to take a lot of pictures before he worked his way through the waves back into the sea.
Now for some things that could have been better:
- Falling and Breaking a Camera - Yes, I did that. Three days into the trip I was (stupidly) climbing on a rock wall along a country road. I lost my footing and fell 2 feet onto the road surface. I had little chance to break my fall or shield my DSLR, so both my right knee and the camera hit the road hard. The lens on the camera took the full force of the impact and broke in half. The camera case cracked but survived in fairly good shape thankfully. My knee was seriously bruised, but I could walk. Fortunately there were no cars on the road at the time, or else I might not be here to tell the story.
- The back-roads - No shoulders, lined with rock walls, curving this way and that. Driving any distance on the 3- or 4-digit numbered back-roads can be very frustrating. If you get behind a cyclist, tractor, or truck this can really slow you down for miles. Avoid these roads if at all possible
- The Dublin Airport - Not user friendly. First of all no signage to the rental car return area. Then, we checked in on the ground floor, up two floors to the (slow) security area, then onto the US customs pre-check, which was back down to the ground floor, a long wait, then another security area. What a pain in the butt.
- Driving expenses - Expensive gas, and the extra rental insurance (just to be safe).
- Poor drive planning - A few days we planned for WAY too much driving. For example we attacked the Dingle peninsula AND the Ring of Kerry on same day. The Ring of Kerry is definitely a full-day trip, so we ended up back at the cottage near midnight, driving through the super-curvy roads of the national forest in the dead of night.
- No GPS - In retrospect we should have bought the Europe maps for our Tom Tom for $70 or so. It would have been worth it.
Lodging - We stayed 6 days in a beautiful cottage west of Limerick, and cooked many of our own meals to save a good bit of money. The cottage itself was VERY affordable. But being so centrally located meant we had to drive a good distance each day, because we weren't really near anything. That reduced our sightseeing time and increased our fuel costs. But I still liked it.