Saturday, September 16, 2017

Summer 2017 {Ireland Part 1}

This past August, we took a special family vacation to celebrate my husband's 50th birthday. My husband has visited Ireland before, but it was a first for the girls and me. It was also the first time our family have rented a camper van.  I thought I would share a little about our trip and our camper van experience because I did not find many travel posts about renting a camper van in Ireland.

We flew from Toronto to Dublin via Aer Lingus, Ireland's flagship airline and we have no complaints.  Excellent service.  We did not check any bags, each of us had our clothes in a backpack.   When we landed in Dublin (at 6:00 am) we took a taxi directly  to our friends' home in Malahide to rest for a few hours. This Irish hospitality made such a difference to battle both a red-eye and jet lag as we could not check into our hotel (the Clayton Ballsbridge) until late afternoon.   That evening, we headed into Dublin to eat at the Farm Restaurant - near Trinity College - for local Irish-sourced cuisine and Murphy's ice cream for desert. 
Merrion Square Playground is a whimsical park inspired by Oscar Wilde's short story "The Selfish Giant"

Oscar Wilde Memorial Sculpture, Merrion Square, Dublin

The Berkeley Library, Trinity College, Dublin
Trinity College, Dublin
Salted caramel Murphy's ice cream - milk from the rare Kerry cow
The next day, we headed to Bunk Caravan's depot close to the Dublin Airport and picked up our camper van. We had selected the Vista 2.  It was big.   You may wonder why we rented a camper van.  Our vacation coincided with high tourist season and we did not want to be wedded down by bed and breakfast reservations which were difficult to book for a family of four.   The caravan's kitchen allowed us to eat on a budget (going out for supper only). My husband and I have camped in Europe in the past so we were somewhat familiar with the European caravan park culture, having camped (in tents) through Holland, Belgium, France, Italy, England and Scotland.  Caravan parks and camping holidays are very popular in Europe, including Ireland.  There are lots of options in most areas.   I recommend subscribing to the Camping Ireland and Total Motorhome Ireland  Facebook groups if you are researching a similar Irish adventure.  On average, the caravan parks were 30 Euro per night for our family of four which included electrical hookup.  Some parks charge a euro per shower and others include showers in the nightly price.  Most parks have a camper's kitchen and access to laundry facilities.  While many of the parks offer some sort of wifi, there was often connectivity problems and the internet service was unreliable. 

To navigate our journey, we used the camper van's GPS, the "Here WeGo" app on our phones (download the maps ahead of time and you will be able to navigate offline), and an old fashioned paper map. 

When hiring a camper van, I recommend carefully inspecting the van for damage and taking photos of any existing damage. I also recommend opening every window to ensure the work properly.   As for insurance, the camper van's daily rate includes insurance; however, the tires, windshield, and mirrors are not included.  We purchased excess to cover those items.  Also, any damage to the top of the caravan is not covered and considered gross negligence.  You must be very careful to monitor all bridges, etc. (our camper van was 3.5 metres high).  My impression - from everything that I have read - is that renting any sort of vehicle in Ireland is a bit of a racket and I recommend purchasing the insurance from the rental company.  The rental company allows you to purchase extras, such as bedding, an awning, outdoor tables and chairs.  The rental includes cutlery, plates, pots, etc.

Our first stop on our journey was Belfast. It is about 2 hours from Dublin.  We stayed at the Dundonald campground approximately 6 miles from Belfast city.  I recommend booking this campground in advance.  It is the only campground near the city center.  

Dundonald Caravan Park, Belfast
Heading north, we were able to visit my great grandfather's grave in Ballinderry (County Antrim).  We stayed two nights in Belfast allowing a full day to explore the city. We left the camper van at the park and took a taxi into the city. Our driver was amazing and took us to Van Morrison's childhood home and CS Lewis Square. We also had tickets for the famous Titanic exhibit.

S.S. Nomadic, a tender for the Titanic, Belfast
The Yellow Building is the Titanic Studios, where the Game of Thrones is produced

CS Lewis Square, Belfast

The next day, we drove to the Dark Hedges and the Giants Causeway. The hedges are a popular attraction due to the fame of the Game of Thrones.
Dark Hedges

The Causeway is a UN Heritage Site and was really incredible.

From the Causeway, we drove to County Donegal. We did not have a booking, but spoke to Marie at Boortree Caravan Park in Rossnowlagh and managed to get to the campground just before sunset. This campground was probably my favourite, just steps from the beach. We walked across the beach to the pub, Smugglers Creek Inn and watched the sun set over the Atlantic. Stunning.  
The next day (Day 5) our goal was to get to Ballina, County Mayo. It was Lily's birthday and we had dinner reservations at Belleek Castle. On route we explored Yeats Country in County Sligo and Leitrim - Benbulben mountain, Yeats' Grave at Drumcliff and the  Glencar waterfall. 
Benbulbin, County Sligo

Glencar Waterfall
W.B. Yeats Grave, Drumcliff 
Belleek Park Caravan and Camping Park
For Lily's 12th birthday dinner we had dinner in the castle which was in walking distance from the caravan park. 

Belleek Castle
Dining room of the castle

In my next post, I will share further highlights including our Wild Atlantic Way experience. 

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