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Blarney Castle, Republic of Ireland

Blarney Castle sits north of Cork in the southern part of Ireland, its most famous for the Blarney stone which if kissed give you the gift of the gab! The castle is situated on an impressive estate where the entrance fee was part of our tour costs with Busabout / Shamrocker Adventures and we arrived early in order to beat the crowds (mainly tours with older clientele).

Blarney Castle, the Jewel of Southern Ireland Castles

There is a queue to enter the castle and kiss the blarney stone, to give an idea when we arrived it took 35 minutes for us to make our way (causally) through the castle up to the stone. However once we left I noted the line to kiss the stone extended well past a 2 hour mark, so early is essential to avoid a morning in queue and there is plenty of other things to see.

The main attraction… no not the sign!

The castle itself is quite a fascinating structure, while the walk up is enjoyable (yes lots of stairs and tight spaces) they have off shoots into the various rooms used by staff when it was a functional castle. Its a good idea if you can spare a few minutes to check out a few nooks and crannies as they are unique but also give you a bit of breathing room from the line of eager rock smootchers.

The Famous Blarney Stone – and protective rails and attendant.

Now if you don’t want to actually kiss the rock (I for instance did not) its still worth the climb for the amazing views of the grounds.

The poison gardens on the grounds is worth a wander around, if you are into botany or want to notch up your survivalist belt on which plants not to eat this is the place to do it.

A had a good giggle over how some of the plants were in tiny protected. Mandrake, Wolsbane, Nightshade… all deadly and in little cages; however, Cannabis (Marijuana) is kept in a playground sized bubble! Priorities…

Those yellow flowers looked so tasty!

On last glance back at the castle… through a rock… oh Ireland is the Emerald Island, but also the land of unique rocks.

Everyone has to get this photo… including me.
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Epilogue – Leaving the Republic of Ireland

Well first I will say it was a whirl wind tour of the Emerald Isle, covering all the major hot-spots in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Again the tour I was on was the All Ireland Rocker with Shamrocker Adventure Tours booked through Busabout (I got a past customer discount). It was a 7 day trip (9 days if you tack on a travel day in and out of the country). Overall its a fast pace trip and generally appeals to people in their 20s-30s although we did have some older travelers along with us to balance out the group. The trip really isn’t ideal for people with mobility issues as many of the hostels (not hotels) require a certain amount of stairs or inclines , plus you can’t always get the bottom bunk… trust me I tried!

One last surprise stop – the Rock of Cashel

First I want to give a special thanks to my tour mates on this trip, I managed to get ten times as many photos of myself as normal given I’m not a huge “selfie” fan.

I’d normally never be able to get photos like this…

I also wanted to say a bit on Irish food on this trip. While the morning food was “meh” the island more than made up with it with great lunches and dinners! Although not 100% traditionally Irish, although potatoes did make it on the menu more than once… and yes I ate pizza three time on this trip.

Flying over to England was a breeze although getting to the gate was an adventure in on its own (the plan leaves from a sub gate away from the main terminal, so you need to show up to board a transport that takes you to another gate where you then walk out to get on the airplane).

So Long Ireland, its been green!

Weather was great in Ireland and I was fortunately flying out in front of some pretty mean looking clouds… looks like my England portion of the trip is about to get wet!

Morning Flight Out Look over the Wing… are those rain clouds I see?
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Inis Mor, Aran Islands, Republic of Ireland

Today we leave Galway to check out Inis Mor, the largest of the Aran Islands just off the coast. We had to walk 1.5 blocks from the hostel to catch the charter bus, everyone from Shamrocker Adventures and some other tour groups boarded the Aran Island buses. After a short trip along the coast we reached a marina where large sea ferries waited to take everyone over to the islands.

There are four different ways to explore the island, walking, cycling, horse drawn cart, micro bus. I choose a bicycle option for 10£ although there are now options for electrical bikes for a bit more. Out of the group about 80% took the bicycle option, and the remaining 20% when with the pony trap option.

The map we were given to navigate the island and estimated cycle times

I decided to check out Dun Aonghasa and the Seven Chruches, along the way there were a few other notable historic sites along the way but mainly it optimized views and I took the costal route to avoid to many hills (I have been sitting on a bus for the last 4 days).

First Stop at the Seal Colony – No Seals at the moment.
The beach on the island at the narrow point about 1/2 across the island. It is also the main split in the coastal road to the various sites found on the map.

Dun Aonghasa is my first stop, there is an additional fee to enter the site and its quite a hike up a hill. A fort on the highest point on the island, half of it fell into the ocean below when the cliff eroded.

Dun Aonghasa in half its glory!

Inside the fort was pretty barren, it is basically a large stone (semi) circle of stones that act as wall from the outside. There are a few holes in the walls to act as windows and a doorway.

The views from the fort are breath taking!

The View from the Fort back to the far side of the Island where the ferry dropped us off!
Fences? We don’t need no stinking fences..

Yes you can look over the edge, if you want too! The remnants of the fort can clearly be seen below in the ocean. Its quite a unique experience and hope everyone acts responsible so to allow people the opportunity to gaze over the edge!

Well.. gulp!

After having lunch and enjoying the views such a vantage point allowed it was time to head back down the hill and jump on the bike once more, my second location awaits for no one and the time on the island was running thin to fit it in!

View as I trek back down the hillside to the parking lot where my bike awaits!

Down the hill and past the beach again, this time turning left I cycled along some shallow rolling hills and farms, at least it will be downhill on the way back to the beach!

Now All I have to do bike 2/3 of the length of the island before the Ferry leaves… totally doable… erk!

Low Tide, guess the Ferry is stuck here (Just Kidding, its behind the derelict ship)
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Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland

So this is not the first time MegaPixelTravel adventures have visited the Giant’s Causeway, Ron visited the site in 2007 which you can read about here. Suffice it to say, Northern Ireland tourism has exploded since then and the site is far busier these days.

I took the Red Trail which is a bit of a hike but the views are worth it!

The site is now busy as ever and tourists are fortunately still able to explore the site, although there are more attendants around the site they seem to take a back stage approach to managing the site. Although they are best to ask about how close to the water’s edge is advisable.

As far as one can go!
Wandering around on the wetter rocks…
Das Boot!
Tourists Wandering over the top of the Giant’s Causeway
Rock Outcrop along the Path to Giant’s Causeway

Can you Spot Humphrey the Camel?

Guess its time to see about grabbing a tea… oh look another castle!

Dunluce Castle which you can only see from the highway (the bus did not stop) as you are leaving.
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All Ireland Rocker – Tour Start and Overview

I signed up for a 7 day Shamrocker Adventure’s “All Ireland Rocker” bus tour which encompasses the entire of island of Ireland including the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. I picked this tour company for a few reasons, the main one being that it hits ALL the major “Ireland Landmarks” you can think of without going in-depth thinking…

  • Giants Causeway
  • Inis Mor
  • Cliffs of Moher
  • Dublin & Belfast
  • Dingle Peninsula
  • Blarney Castle
The Tour from Busabout Website (URL Linked)

Now for this tour I am breaking one of my cardinal travel rules, always stay two nights in each location of interest. However Ireland tourism doesn’t really have though kinds of tours offered and still appeal to adventurous souls like me; rather the two night trips cater to a more silver haired crowd. The second thing I’ll mention is that the tour is offered by Shamrocker’s Tour which is a sister company to Busabout – so you can book the same tour on either company. There is a similar arrangement for Haggis Tours in Scotland so don’t spend too much time comparing the two sites… its the same offers with slightly different marketing package. So there you have it and away I go!

Our Diver and Tour Guide

Today we leave Dublin and head straight to Belfast with a few stops along the way. The tour pickup point is the Four Courts Hostel in downtown Dublin (which is partly why I ended up staying at the Hostel).

My “Excited” Face on Bus Tour when I accidentally snap a photo of myself when I’m trying Vlog…

One Final Note: For this trip I brought with me my iPhone 6s+ (with Osmo Mobile 3) as well as my Nikon Z6 and GoPro Hero7 for capturing the journey. Its been two long years since I’ve traveled while I was working on my master’s so I’m admittedly a bit out of practice… I’ll back fill vlog posts on the site as I edit and upload them at a later date.

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Four Courts Hostel – Dublin Ireland

For my first night in Dublin I stayed at the four courts hostel. I choose this hostel after as it was the starting point of my Shamrocker Adventure All Ireland Tour.

Continental Breakfast

The hostel has basic accommodations and walking on stairs is a requirement. Their are three common areas in the hostel, the kitchen galley, a quite reading room and another event room where they occasionally show movies.

Banksy Artwork

The hostel walls are covered with various recreations of Banksy artwork.

The hostel is located on a Main Street and there was quite a bit of traffic noise through the night. The beds were comfortable and using the provided duvets is required.

In the morning I jumped on my Shamrocker Adventure Tour – All Ireland Rocker with our Tour Guide Gemma and Driver Joe.

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Proof – Pizza Restaurant Dublin Ireland

On my way back from Open Gate Brewery I spotted a pizzeria with a wood stove and decided to drop in for a pizza.

Wood fire pizza stove

I was sat outside on the small terrace, I had quite a bit of time to look over the menu and selected the Meat Legend Personal Pizza.

The Drink and Pizza Menu

Once ordered the pizza and Strawberry Lemon-aid show up shortly fresh from the oven and kitchen. The drink was very favourable and I wish I had asked for the recipe as I suspect they used real strawberry exact vs. “Flavours” which we get back in Canada.

Now back to the Hostel to get a night sleep before my Shamrocker Tour starts in the morning.

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Open Gate Brewery – Dublin Ireland

The open gate brewery is about a 5 minute walk around to the back of the storehouse. Unlike the storehouse which is a tourist circus the storehouse is a quiet affair which opens later in the afternoon.

It does require you to buy a ticket online in advance and was mainly filled with Irish locals (accents) and clearly a “date night” destination or with friends. There is a gate with a door man who will ask you your name and check you off the list.

What makes this pub unique and worth the visit is that this is where Guinness has it’s experimental beers. With various IPA and other beers available with unique flavours and colourful names.

Who wouldn’t want to try an IPA which goes through a Pineapple serving stage?

The 9€ entrance fee covers one pint of beer of your choosing OR a flight of beers to test. I went with the latter as you can see below.

Right to Left: Pineapple Cintra, Here we Gose gain, Papa don’t Peach, Honey + Fig Ale

Now I should premise that I’m not a beer drinker but I did quite enjoy the smoother flavours and having just drank a pint and a half of Guinness at the storehouse I wasn’t going to push it. But with some small slider burgers I ordered in addition (food prices were quite high) here is the results.

Testing beer #1

Each one was a unique beer, the two on the right ended up being too bitter/punchy for me while two on the right were quite good and if I had more room I could see getting a pint of the Honey + Fig Ale; that was delicious.

The verdict – Less Beer means I liked it more

Finally part of this pub purpose is to gather feedback from clients and there was a large blackboard where you could indicate what you thought out their latest products.

Most current brews

Finally it should be noted that when I say “experimental” there could be just a keg or two of each beer brew and often each flavour is only available for a limited time so when you visit it could be completely different selection, but it definitely worth the walk over from the store house.

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Guinness Storehouse – Dublin Ireland

Despite leaving almost an hour late from Toronto Canada we landed only 20 minute late at 11am in Dublin. In typical Irish weather it was partly cloudy and the sun was peaking trough.

At the airport I jumped on the 747 Public Air transport for 7€ one way (12€ round trip), it dropped me off about a block away from my hostel for the the night. I’ll review the Four Court Hostel in the next post after a good night sleep but this afternoon I had planned to be a tourist and check out the Guinness Storehouse and the Open Gate Brewery.

Both these attractions you can purchase tickets in advance on the Internet, I highly recommend it as the Storehouse line was about 1 hour, while the open gate brewery was walk in but you had to be on the list as entrance is limited.

Guinness Store House

The Guinness store house is located about a 15 minute walk from the Four Courts Hostel and very easy to find as there are several banners and signs and tourists pointing the way.

Escalators between each level, there is also elevators to one side and stairs for going down.

The storehouse is so named because it was once the site where Guinness was stored in barrels. However the whole building has been revamped into a exotic tourist attraction with a “pint glass” centrepiece up the middle which apparently could hold 10 days worth of production of Guinness.

Various slogans donned almost every wall at the store house.

Each floor is dedicated to various stages of the Guinness mantra, starting with the ingredients and malting process with higher floors dedicated to advertising history, proper tasting techniques, and how to pour your own Guinness.

Tasting Room Sampler with various aromas being pumped in the room to help enhance the experience.

While I found the tasting room quite a cute experience the real fun was where we learned to “pour our own Guinness” out of real keg taps.

Apparently taking this “course” makes me a certified Guinness pourer…

After pouring your own perfect Guinness with the direction of their hands on instructor you get to enjoy your pint of Guinness in a traditional Irish pub setting specifically for drinking.

It was perfect before I took a sip… honestly… would I lie?

Now if pouring your Guinness isn’t of interest to you then you can take your 1 drink voucher all the way to the top floor where they have the “gravity bar” which has panoramic windows over looking the entire 44 acre Guinness estate which includes the modern brewery and various supporting buildings.

View from Gravity Bar

Finally I headed back to the ground floor which has an extensive Guinness merchandise from pint glasses, clothes to other nick knacks with Guinness label imprinted on it. Glassware could also be engraved if you do choose. There is also a separate section for women clothing. Given the location I found the overall prices to be reasonable and not entail a huge markup.

The Merch Store

Next I head to the Open Gate Brewery where Guinness has various experimental beers…

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Heading to the Emerald Isle (and England)

As a graduation gift to myself (who else is going to buy me cool travel presents) I decided that I should finally visit the Emerald Isle (Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland) as everyone else in my family as done so at least once… yay heritage!
For most of the Ireland Portion I’ll be on a Shamrocker Tour, afterwards I’m heading to Southern England to visit with my brother and some free-styling adventure travel.

A hint of what’s to come!

Given my down-sizing a few years ago in order to move to Toronto for school and a 1 bedroom apartment I had to divest of a few larger pieces of equipment and especially a large assortment of travel bags… So I did a bit of Pre-Trip Shopping 🙂

I also rarely (if ever) drink, for me its more a taste of the culture when I travel, although yes… for some reason I can’t seem to avoid checking out every brewery/winery/distillery I come across. Guinness is apparently the drink of Ireland so I managed to grab a can and give it a go… I’m told it tastes better in Ireland… one can only hope!

Guinness in a can – pre-trip dive into Irish Culture
Evening Flight out of Kingston Airport
Seat in the last row of the airplane #winning!
There are like 8 people on this plane…
Toronto… I was literally down there 3 days ago… (Irony)
Bombardier Dash 8-100 Airplane
Tiny Bombardier Dash 8-100 Airplane landed in Toronto

So of course this tiny little airplane was not going to fly me all the way to Ireland, but in Pearson International Airport fashion… its time for a walk-about in haste to board the next (and much larger) plane!

Long story short… I made it to Ireland, now to find some Guinness.

Spoiler: Guinness is not hard to find in Ireland