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Saturday, April 29, 2017

Road Trip from Dublin to Glendalough: It Begins on the Wrong Side of the Road (God Help Us)

For our Honeymoon to Ireland we decided to bravely rent a car vs. taking the train. Even though this was our first experience as a couple driving on the "wrong" (left) side of the road, this was the best decision we made and we had so much flexibility.

Below is a run down of the first leg of our Ireland road trip from Dublin to Glendalough, about 70 km south or a little over an hour drive, and some things we learned along the way:  
  • After a porridge breakfast (I decided to switch it up and have a non-meat based start to my day), we got on the road and headed south from Dublin toward our first “planned” destination - Glendalough (pronounced glen-da-lock). To give you an idea of our thought process, we basically Googled out a general route for our trip and for the first few days went ahead and got hotels until we were a bit more comfortable. (Scott: This seems pretty simple, but it was anything but and actually gives an interesting insight into marriage. My inclination was to plan nothing and hers to plan everything. After some “discussion” we figured out that she was not as comfortable given this was her first trip to Europe. Thus, we developed a compromise where we planned out the beginning “until we were comfortable” and then had some “wing it” worked into the end. I strongly suggest this process for others with similar dynamics.) 
  • The drive to Glendalough was only an hour, but we took our time. (Scott: And by this she means drove VERY slowly through Dublin and freaked out with our first highway/120km/h experience!) We drove through the village of Roundwood and learned that the Monday after St. Patty’s Day is a holiday, so almost everything was closed. We were able, though, to discover the “highest pub in Ireland;” The Vartry House’s pub, Kavanaghs, at a staggering (sic) 800 ft. above sea level!  This is also where I discovered liquid crack and my drink of the trip - a Smithwick’s Shandy (or a “Smiddick’s” Shandy). This ambrosia consists of Smithwick’s beer and red lemonade - which is some red carbonated yummy-goodness - wow!  (Scott: She downplays the awesomeness that was this pub. Ok, maybe not awesome, but the bartender was tons of fun to talk to and they had a fire. That qualifies it for awesome right? She does not, however, downplay how much she enjoyed this new drink.) 
  • The drive into Glendalough (County Wicklow) (Scott: Irish Counties = American States) was absolutely beautiful and I became quite obsessed with the number of sheep that are in Ireland. Glendalough is a glacial valley and right in the heart of the Wicklow “mountains” (Scott does not think anything smaller than the Rockies should be considered mountains). (Scott: Amen.) In addition to being an area of hiking trails and scenic routes, Glendalough is home to a 6th century monastic site founded by Saint Kevin. The hotel we stayed at, appropriately named the Glendalough Hotel, was right at the edge of the site. Side note on the hotel; it was a little expensive for the off-season (over 120 Euros a night), but the rooms were clean, breakfast was included, and it was within walking distance of the monastic site and hiking trails.
  • The site itself was impressive, and no matter how many castles or ruins we visited, I continued to be amazed the whole trip at the history. I do not think Americans truly appreciate how much older the rest of the world is and how we have NOTHING like this. Being a bit of an art history nerd, I was in awe the whole trip. (Scott: She has gazillions of pictures to prove it.) Right off the hotel’s deck was the original arch and wall into the “monastic city,” which consisted of a completed and roofed stone cathedral, 30m (90ft) tall round tower, numerous other building ruins, and an extensive graveyard which is still in use by the local community. The ruins are right in the middle of the valley and you can see the lower and upper lake from the hotel. There was an easy trail from the site around both lakes which allowed you to just take in the solitude and beauty of the valley. The one thing we enjoyed the most was seeing all the different stone walls throughout the valley - they were everywhere! (Scott: and by “everywhere” she means that the Irish are basically obsessed with stacking rocks on top of each other, everywhere, through everything... seriously, we will cover this later but there were rock walls on barren rock hills... I guess to keep the rock from running away.) 
  • After our hike, we went into the town of Laragh (la-rock) for dinner (about a 10 minute walk down the road from the hotel). We were not in town during the “busy season,” so the shops and Bed and Breakfasts were not open, but we really did not mind (Scott: Seriously, of all the places we went this ranks in the top two, especially if you like outdoorsy stuff.)
If Glendalough is in your plans please let us know if you need any help planning your trip or if you have any other suggestions for readers please comment below!

 The “highest pub in Ireland” where I was introduced to red lemonade, so good!
 The beautiful Glendalough Hotel situated right in the valley next to the monastic site. It was the perfect location for hiking as well.

The most well known landmark of the Glendalough Monastic City is the 33 meter tall Round Tower.
Me and my hubby taking one of many hikes around the site and through the valley.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Day #2: St. Paddy's Day in Dublin - to do or not to do?

When we found ourselves in Dublin during St. Patrick's Day there was no way we were leaving the city center, but after dealing with the tourists and crowds we think we'd prefer something a little more low-key next time. What's your opinion? 

Here are some of the main points (and lessons learned) from our experience:
  • Book your hotel early! We had to stay about 20 minutes outside of Dublin at the Marine Hotel in Sutton. It was a great hotel though and was right across the road from the train station, so we did not mind. 
  • Due to the crowds, the main station, Tara Station, was closed, and we had to get off at Pierce (and we did not figure this out until we were already on the train - oops). So, naturally, this meant we were turned around a little when we got off the train, but all we had to do was follow the crowd (Scott: like good little Irish sheep - we will cover that later) and we found ourselves right on the parade route south east of Temple Bar. 
  • I think there were more tourists/foreigners in the city than locals, and the people-watching was FANTASTIC! (Scott: and by "FANTASTIC" we mean ABSOLUTELY AMAZING AND HILARIOUS!)
  • Scott and I definitely felt a little "under-dressed" in just our green hat and scarf, but we were at least warm. The costumes were impressive, so if you're the type of person who likes to dress up like a green leprechaun - have at it! 
  • We set up on the parade route around 10am and the parade started around noon. The festivities started with just a lot of different groups walking past, then a few bands, and then finally some floats. Honestly, we were more entertained by the crowd than by the parade and at about 1:30pm we decided to make our way to Temple Bar for food and drinks. Did you note that we stood around waiting for the parade for more time than we actually watched the parade?
  • Sooooo, getting off the parade route was easier said than done, and we got really close (Scott: think WABAM, mi-bubble-es-su-bubble close) to a lot of people pushing and prodding our way through the masses. It took us a good hour to go about 1/4 mile (Scott: and 15 minutes of which was about 20 ft, thank you stupid/majestic City Hall) and when we got to Temple Bar the lines were out the doors just to get into places. 
  • We were surprised that there was not more to do out on the street. I guess part of me was expecting something like Mardi Gras in New Orleans where there are vendors everywhere and food/drink stations/trucks, so Scott and I just decided to go to the first restaurant or pub we found without a line - which happened to be the Hard Rock Cafe. There ended up being a 2+ hour wait for food, but we were able to get drinks at the bar, so it was not a complete waste! After drinks, we thought going off the main street would give us a better chance of finding food and not such a long wait and we ended up walking almost to the train station before we found something. For the life of me, I cannot remember the name of the pub, but we found two openings at the bar and had our second bowl of Irish Stew - yummy!
  • By this time, we needed to get away from the crowd and caught the 4:30pm train back to Sutton and the hotel. That night we went into the town of Howth (right down the road from the hotel) (Scott: pronounced like hoe-t, don't ask me where the w or h went) to enjoy a smaller, quieter atmosphere. 
    • Howth was the perfect contrast to the morning/afternoon we had downtown and it was exactly what we were in the mood for. We went to The House for dinner and highly recommend it to anyone in that part of town. Howth is a fishing village, so we had to try their local fish, hake. Our dish was over fettuccine and water cress with a light, cream sauce, and it was delicious. The restaurant had maybe 15 tables with 3 staff members and 2 cooks total, so we stayed there for hours just talking and relaxing. (Scott: It took us a bit to realize but we definitely were used to American in-and-out style eating. I strongly suggest soaking in a bit of the European "chill" mentality. It takes a bit to get used to but it is really good for the marriage (assuming you like your significant other!).)

So, all in all, while the experience of St. Paddy's Day downtown in Dublin was fun, Scott and I decided that if we were to do it again, we would like to go to one of the parades in the smaller towns. I think it depends on what kind of atmosphere you enjoy, and we definitely prefer the smaller village feel.

Have you visited Dublin during St. Paddy's Day? What did you think?

Bravin' the St. Paddy's Day crowds on the parade route.
A parade is not complete without bagpipes!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Looking for a Simple Hike Near Charlottesville, VA? Check out Preddy Creek!

Do you live in the Charlottesville, Virginia area and want to enjoy a hike but just can't make it to the AT? Preddy Creek Trail Park is only a short drive from Charlottesville up HWY 29 and is a great way to escape into the hills for a few hours. 

Note: This description is for hikers or trail runners, but there are also mountain biking and horse trails here.

My husband is a runner and I am not. I hate to run and the entire time I am running I am exhausting myself thinking how much I hate running. However, I love hiking. I can hike all day and I can kick my runner husband's butt with a pack on going up a mountain trail. The problem with this though is that I need to exercise, often, and I live in Gordonsville, about 20-minutes outside Charlottesville, Virginia. If you know the area, there are beautiful hills and forested areas, but you have to drive to get to the good mountain hiking, so my daily workout routines needed to involve something a little closer to home. This dilemma, ladies and gentlemen, is how my über-supportive hubby got me into trail running. He helped get me out of a gym and off the hard asphalt and into the woods and this is how we found Preddy Creek Trail Park.

Preddy Creek Trail Park is an area of over 570 acres and has 10 miles of loop trails. The park is well maintained with plenty of parking and there is even a bathroom (bonus!). The trails themselves are well marked and in my opinion are perfect for trail running because you can go the full 10 miles or just complete short loops. There are many loop options so you can switch up your route if your workout is getting too repetitive. The elevation gain is not significant, but you are in the hills, so your lungs and legs still get something out of the run. My husband and I like the Preddy Creek Loop which connects to the Creekside Trail (this is where you actually get to see Preddy Creek and yes, it has water). This loop is 4.4 miles with a nice flat section next to the creek part way through for a little breather.

Many people enjoy Preddy Creek Trail Park for easy to moderate hiking and there are also trails for mountain biking and horseback riding if that interests you. Because the park is used by hikers, runners, bikers, and horses you have to be a little more aware of who is on the trail with you (or behind you), but we have never had any issues. There are some trails that are specifically for mountain biking and they are well marked. The park opens at 7am and closes at dusk, so you have a lot of flexibility.

Enjoy this local spot and you can even find a place for a picnic! Another bonus is that is right down the road from some great wineries. I'm always up for a wine tasting after a work out - gotta reward yourself!

Click here for a complete trail map.


Pack List

  • Trail Running
    • trail running shoes (there is the potential for mud, so I have trail running shoes and gym shoes)
    • running clothes (dress for the weather)
    • CamelBak or hydration belt 
  • Hiking
    • hiking shoes or boots (personally, I do not think boots are necessary unless there is snow on the ground as the trails are marked easy - moderate)
    • hiking poles if you like/need them
    • hiking clothes
    • CamelBak or water bottle
    • picnic! 

    Hiking, Mountain Biking, Running, Horseback Riding

    Skill Level:
    Beginner (for hiking)

    Year Round

    Trail Type:

    10 Miles (full loop)

    Elev. Gain:
    550 Feet
You have a lot of route options!