October 4, 2013

Leprechauns and lochs: Visiting Ireland and Scotland

Ireland, the land of myths and leprechauns, has been a place that William Cook, owner of Sure African Imprint Travel in Pretoria, has always wanted to visit. William’s dream was realised in September when he spent 2 weeks exploring Ireland and Scotland with his family. This is his story…

We landed at Kerry Airport, 7 km from Killarney - a small rural airport with customs being a little movable desk at the entrance. The only question asked by the two "casual" customs officials was “is this your first visit to Ireland” and the next was “enjoy yourselves”. I can't think of a more informal and pleasant way of entering a country.

Getting there on Ryanair, however, was a different story. A few pointers: When departing from Stansted airport don't buy a ticket from the tube station where you're staying, but from Liverpool Station. Bonnie and I paid £48 for a single ticket. On coming back we paid only £34 each for single tickets. Except for 10 lbs. cabin bags, everything else is extra when flying Ryanair. No seats can be reserved unless you pay €10 for priority seating. Try and be among the first to board.  Check-in is only 1 hour before departure and not the normal two hours for international flights. Coming back there was no customs at Stansted - one walks straight through as if on a domestic flight.

Ireland is really picturesque and the people friendly. The roads that we travelled on (we did 1200km in the week there) were all tarred; even the many small one lane roads. Speed limits, even on the small roads, were 80 km/h and the slightly bigger ones 100 km/h. Even for a hardened South African driver this is a bit scary. Drivers are polite and we did not see one single accident. From Cork to Dublin on a two-lane highway, tolls came to €3.90 for 300+ km. Nowhere else did we find tollgates - even in Scotland where we did 2800 km with no tolls. What a pleasure.

Dingle, Ring of Kerry and Ring of Berea are spectacular and definitely worth a visit. Although we experienced rain most of the time it did not deter us from enjoying Ireland. Everything is so beautifully green (like a Peppermint Crisp, says my wife Bonnie!) and very, very clean. We never saw any litter - not in the cities, towns, villages or even alongside the roads. We could not even find a litter bin.

We were surprised that Dublin turned out to be a tourist city with many things to see. As in Scotland, there are castles everywhere. Some are in ruins and others still have people living in them. One castle has even been home to generations of the same family since 1299! Hop on Hop off buses are worth it with the commentaries of all the noteworthy places. Our driver even sang for us! When making your way to the airport, you can catch the airport buses all over Dublin.  Ours took 35 minutes and cost €30 return for both of us. Depending on the bus line, fares are not that expensive.

Restaurants in Dublin close rather early, but many shops stay open till 9pm, whereas in Inverness they close at 5pm sharp. In Dublin we went to a lovely popular restaurant, previously a church, with live music from 7:30pm – very enjoyable.

Ireland is not the cheapest country to travel in as their currency is the Euro € - Pounds £s are not accepted. A litre of diesel was €1.42 and diesel prices fluctuate from filling station to station. Food is the same as elsewhere, but there were restaurants specialising in Irish food such as Irish stew and potatoes in various disguises. I had the best hamburger I have ever eaten in a pub in Killarney for €12 – I couldn't even finish it. There are all kinds of beer available, from drafts to lagers. It’s about €3 for a draft pint. Visiting the Guinness factory is rather expensive so we decided not to go.

Crime is unheard of, especially in the rural areas. We stayed at a B&B in the middle of nowhere on the Ring of Berea where the owners had not heard of burglar guards and doors are left unlocked.

English is spoken throughout, but the heavy Irish dialect did cause a problem every now and then. Most Irish folk also speak Irish.

I would gladly recommend Ireland as a tourist destination – there is absolutely everything from adventure to scenic.

Next up: William and his family continue exploring bonnie Scotland…
Photo credits: First photo, all other photos William Cook.

The travel bug first bit when William Cook road tripped through Zimbabwe & Zambia for a month before heading to university. A 22-year career working in Foreign Affairs allowed him to indulge his passion for travel and he once travelled almost 150 000 km by car throughout Europe with his wife and 2 sons. William Cook is the owner of Sure African Imprint Travel in Akasia, Pretoria.

Sure African Imprint Travel can be contacted on +27 12 542 1911 or at travelinfo@saitravel.co.za.

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