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Author: bigredfrog

Joined: 1/4/2012
Posts: 15
GCT Trips Taken: 3
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Traveler Since: 2012

March 19, 2013

We have booked this tour, including the pre-trip to Belfast and the post-trip to Dublin.  We would like to hear from anyone else planning to be on these tours or to get advice from others who have taken the trip before.  We are fairly experienced travelers but this will be our first visit to Ireland. Thanks!

Author: pauline

Joined: 3/9/2010
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Traveler Since: 1999

March 20, 2013

I took this trip in July of 2011, without the pre-trip in Belfast.  In fact, I don't think anyone took the pre-trip, and only eight of us took the post-trip in Dublin. 

I'd say that this was one of the nicest GCT trips I've taken.  Nice in that we had a wonderful PD and a great bus driver.  Nice in that the group got along so well without any of the little problems that sometimes come up when you get a bunch of strangers in close quarters for days.

Ireland is a beautiful country, very green as we all know.  The people are very friendly and make you welcome.  The food is wonderful!  For lunches on your own, try the great soups with Irish brown bread.  We all know about Eastern European soups.  Irish soups came as a great surprise to me, and were just as good.  Fish!  They never used to eat fish for enjoyment, just on Fridays.  But now they cook fish in all kinds of wonderful ways.

The only place that wasn't really interesting, at least to me, was Waterford.  And I do like glass.  It was added at almost the last minute, replacing Wexford, because the center had just re-opened.  Originally, we would have arrived in Dublin in time to see the Book of Kells, check into the hotel, have our farewell dinner, and leave the next day.  So I booked the post-trip in Dublin.  Those who didn't had one additional day before leaving the next.

Dublin has a lot of museums, and I found the archaeology one particularly interesting.  When you go to Trinity College to see the Book of Kells, you do have to stand in line.  But once you're in, you can stay as long as you want (depending on your bus, of course).

I had a great time.

Author: luisa

Joined: 3/13/2010
Posts: 558
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Traveler Since: 2006

March 20, 2013

It's a good trip, you'll have a good time. I didn't go to Belfast but those who did enjoyed it.

Advice: Bring a raincoat with a hood -- or a throwaway poncho.

Don't miss Dingle, it's an optional. Also, the optional to Connemara and Kylemore Abbey is worthwhile.

If you like fish, the salmon is great and many in my group loved the fish and chips. I don't eat fried, so ate only fish without the batter on the Dingle excursion, but others sought out good fish and chips restaurants when eating on our own. If you're in the market, there are lots of Irish sweaters and Irish hats in the shops in Killarney.

Go to the English Market in Cork. An abundance of food stalls and at least one wine shop.

I took the Dublin post extension, but did almost everything that I wanted on my own. You'll have plenty of time on your own there so get a good guide book and decide what you want to do. The itinerary has a few walks and an optional dinner, so know before you go what you want to do there.

The hop on/off bus is a good opportunity to see other parts of the city. My favorite was Kilmainham Gaol, built in the 1790s and the execution site of some the 1923 rebels.  Don't miss the National Museum on Kildare St. It's one of the best archeological museums in Europe. It has a cafe if you want soup/salad/sandwich. There is a great Viking display on the second floor and the Treasury with the gold artifacts on the ground floor. It also has a wonderful gift shop with silver jewelry and a huge assortment of books, including some small, concise historires or Ireland.

A highlight of the entire trip for me was a day excursion (Mary Gibbons Tours) from Dublin to Newgrange and the ancient passage tomb and the Hill of Tara. Although we got rained out on the hill, the excursion was great.

I think the hotels have changed so I won't comment on those, but all the ones we had were clean and comfortable.

Author: luisa

Joined: 3/13/2010
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Traveler Since: 2006

March 20, 2013

I guess I was posting the same time that Pauline was, but I want to say that I agree about Waterford. It was basically a shopping stop and many of us wished that we could have moved on, but that was the only disappointment. Who knows, maybe you'll enjoy it.

One very pleasant surprise for me was discovering at the airport that you go through security in Dublin, not in the states. It was nice walking off the plane in Atlanta and going to my connecting flight without going through security. I'm mentionig that now because you will have to build in some extra time when leaving Dublin.

Another good stop in Dublin: Chester Beatty Library, Contains a wide selection of early books and manuscripts, including sacred texts and manuscripts. European Museum of the Year 2002. Free entry. The Silk Road Cafe has a wonderful assortment of pastries and a choice of hot lunches.

 

Author: bigredfrog

Joined: 1/4/2012
Posts: 15
GCT Trips Taken: 3
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Traveler Since: 2012

March 20, 2013

Thank you Pauline and Luisa.  It sounds like we have many interests in common.  I had hoped there would be an opportunity to book a tour out of Dublin to Newgrange/Tara, so that will definitely be on the menu.  And the museums are right up our alley.  We do intend to do some shopping in Waterford so maybe it will be more enjoyable -- and it is on our itinerary, not a late addition.Any advice on Galway?  We've looked into taking the ferry to the Aran Islands on one of the days there and the Connemara tour on the other.

 

\And we've been well-warned about the weather!  I'm considering taking a snorkel tube!

Author: pauline

Joined: 3/9/2010
Posts: 977
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Traveler Since: 1999

March 21, 2013

One more thing.  When we stopped at Glendalough on the way to Dublin, it was raining.  And the midgies were out.  Like the no-see-ums you get in the Caribbean.  You might want to have some repellent with you, just in case.

Author: luisa

Joined: 3/13/2010
Posts: 558
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Bahamas, Cayman Islands, Canada, Mexico, Spain, France, Monoco, Croatia, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Morocco, Chile, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji. Ireland

Traveler Since: 2006

March 21, 2013

I'm so glad that you're interested in museums and especially in the Newgrange excursion. It was great fun for me despite some rain. A few of us got off the bus at Tara and climbed the hill, squeezed through a space in a rock wall and got pretty wet. A few days later when I was in the National Museum a woman approached me and said "Have you dried out yet?" and I recognized her from the excursion.

We were warned before entering the tomb that it might be claustrophobic and I worried about it but it was so fascinating I completley forgot about it, even when they turned the lights out. I was the only one in the GCT group who did it. I don't think anyone else knew about it and I made my reservations online before leaving home. I had a great soup for lunch in the cafeteria in the Newgrange center.

Galway is a nice town but I didn't do anything special there except wander around the center, go to the museum, had lunch in the cafeteria and explored some shops. I thought of the Aran Islands and don't remember why I didn't follow up, it's a great idea. If you do it, let us know when you return. Our PD had some photos of herself and her mother from a recent flight to the Aran Islands and then I wished that I had done it.

Kilmainham Gaol is now a museum and they give a very good tour. You may recognize it from some movies, which I can't remember now other than a Michael Caine in the original The Italian Job, Michael Collins and In the Name of the Father with Daniel Day Lewis.

I think you'll have a good time in Ireland.

Author: singsling

Joined: 6/23/2010
Posts: 242
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Traveler Since: 1995

March 21, 2013

We took this trip in May-June 2012.  It was wonderful. We started in Belfast, and in Galway, after getting to the hotel and not being able to check in, most of the group went across the street from the hotel to the Crown Pub for lunch on our own--squeezed hip to hip in the cneturies old booths, with stained glass extensions on the booths, each booth had a door.  We all took pictures.  Some people pre-booked a trip to the Aran Islands, and communicated with the PD ahead of time to get help getting transportation there on the day we arrived in Galway (when we went to the Pub).

We didn't like Waterford either.  Except I enjoye seeing how it was made and designed.  Our PD had told us to meet in an hour, which turned into a little longer.  After viewing a lot of crystal, and glass, it was tiring to wait;  who can afford even the tiniest piece?  And most of us said we were downsized enough we couldnt' fit anything else in our house.

My husband got bored on the long long bus rides where you only saw sheep, green pastures of different shades, and stone walls.  I used the time to just relax and enjoy the sunny day.

We had few days of rain, but the first one we had was in Galway, where it drizzled and rained, we all had hooded windbreakers which got soaked. 

But the trip was wonderful.  The pre-trip especially, our TD and the local guide explained the poilitics of the region and what it is like today.  Of course, history buffs know that stuff, but  I never did understand the problem.  Just that Catholics and Protestants in Great Britain, and especially in that area, have been fighting for so long, I think "get over it".  But more importantly, it is the separation of peoples in Northern Ireland some of whom want to belong to Ireland, and some do not, want to stay with England.  To see the progress and still un-progress, was interesting.  The whole trip is wonderful.  Enjoy 

Author: piercove

Joined: 6/11/2010
Posts: 25
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Traveler Since: 2003

March 22, 2013

 Just one comment on Luisa's posting above.  It's immigration and customs that you go through in Dublin, not just security.  So it's like flying from Canada--no delays on the ground when you arrive in the U.S.

Author: jeswlloyd

Joined: 9/13/2011
Posts: 32
GCT Trips Taken: 8
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Traveler Since: 2009

March 27, 2013

We did the Ireland trip at the end of June last year.  I am sure you will have a wonderful time.  Along with all the great sites to see, we always enjoy the experiences we have while wandering around on our own.  In Killarney we visited Murphy’s Ice Cream shop (you will pass it on your city walk) where you are treated to unusual flavors of ice cream by the most delightful young men.  A serving is two scoops which can be two different flavors and they are happy to give you samples of their favorite combinations.  They were so much fun and so generous that we were almost full before we made our purchases.  We discovered this on our first day so, of course, we went back every day for a new combination and fun conversation and even visited with the owner on one occasion.  We also shopped at the Quills Market down the street from the ice cream shop.  They had beautiful merchandise, the prices for Aran sweaters were better than the shop across the street from the hotel, and the staff was so helpful and friendly.  We never felt rushed.

We took all the optional tours except the Celli.  We mistakenly thought that the Celli and the National Folk Theatre Performance would be too similar.  The NFTP is almost like an interpretative dance performance – not at all what we were expecting.  It is exceptional and I highly recommend it.  Others on the trip that went to Celli thought it was great fun.  We also enjoyed Kylemore Abbey and Dingle and would recommend them.

And just go ahead and take your raincoat and umbrella with you every day.  Even when the skies are bright and sunny when you depart, you will encounter some rain (Irish mist) at some point during the day.  Not to worry, the rain for us was usually light and didn’t last long.  It was just part of the experience.

Enjoy your trip.

Author: captainlarry

Joined: 4/24/2010
Posts: 441
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Traveler Since: 2002

March 27, 2013

Nice report, jeswlloyd. Sounds as if you were there last year at the same relative time we will be there this year. We arrive in Belfast on 19 June and depart Dublin on 08 July. We will make note of the sights you recommend. My First Mate loves ice cream, so that recommendation got my attention for sure.

Author: bigredfrog

Joined: 1/4/2012
Posts: 15
GCT Trips Taken: 3
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Traveler Since: 2012

March 29, 2013

Thanks for the great recommendations, jesswlloyd.  It's these kind of off-the-beaten-path experiences that make travel so much fun for us.  We'll be on the lookout for these shops!

Author: golda17

Joined: 1/30/2011
Posts: 4
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Traveler Since: 1999

March 30, 2013

 Luisa,

We will be in Ireland in May. How difficult is the Mary Gibbons tour?

 

Author: luisa

Joined: 3/13/2010
Posts: 558
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Traveler Since: 2006

March 31, 2013

Hello Golda,

I didn't think it was difficult at all. When we stopped to see the Hill of Tara it was raining and some people stayed on the bus, but I ventured out and walked up a hill that was not too strenuous. My knee was bad (surgery after the trip)  at the time and I was moving slowly, but I managed. We weren't rushed. I enjoyed the bus ride from Dublin to Newgrange; we went through some pretty towns.

There is some walking on flat ground at the center and then up a slight hill to the tomb. If you're tall, you have to scoot down a bit through a bit of the passage. I'm not very flexible but had no problem with that. I think there were about 16 people in the M.G. group. The number of people going into the tomb is limited, so there must be scheduled times. We had time for lunch and to walk around the center and view a film about the tomb.

I scheduled the tour online before I left. I hope this helps.

Author: golda17

Joined: 1/30/2011
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Traveler Since: 1999

March 31, 2013

 Thanks for all the details. It is very helpful!

Author: jl.anderson

Joined: 3/17/2010
Posts: 83
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Traveler Since: 2007

April 02, 2013

Hello bigredfrog:

I spent three weeks touring around Ireland on my own in 2006.  For your independent time, may I recommend you use the Rick Steves' Ireland guidebook.  He has wonderful ideas for side tours that you may book ahead of time online before you leave home.

I did go out to the Aran Islands from Galway.  It was fascinating but it was pouring buckets that day.  I recommend a very strong rain jacket.

Enjoy Ireland,

Judy

 

Author: lauraabraham

Joined: 2/14/2013
Posts: 1

April 04, 2013

Laura and I (Peter) just got home from the March 22nd (arriving in Ireland on March 23rd) to April 3rd trip.

Sean Curran, our program director, did a wonderful job where I would need a book to give him the stars and thanks he and Denis (our coach driver) deserve for the well done job.

We only did the main trip (not pre or post); though some of the group did one, the other, or both.

Packing recommendations:  While we did have 12 days of zero (0) rain (to the amazement of Sean and Denis), I would recommend packing rain gear as we are told that with 80 to 100 inches of yearly rain, you will get some every day.

Since we didn't get to experience it, I can only go by what was shared with us, that it is often not a constant down poor, but more of a mist with heavier spots here and there.

So while it can take up space, do pack a rain coat.  LL Bean has good ones that can fold up tight, go down slightly past your knees, and most importantly are very light in terms of carrying them along in a messenger bag or purse.

My wife and I did our best to travel light as did most of our group (it was not coordinated that way; it just worked out that most of us tought the same).  Personally, I only took 3 pair of pants including the pair I wore on the flight; and should I travel again, it will be down to 2 pair.

DO plan to dress in layers.  I'm told even in August the temperatures can be mild.  In my case, I wore a plain t-shirt, then a light allseason (the type that maintains temperature) long sleve shirt, and a polo.  Some days I wore two coats over that set; other days just one coat.  Given layers, you can always take off if you get too hot... and the plus side is that unless you sweat, you can just interchange what's the outside layer and wear the same clothes every day.

DO bring comfortable walking shoes that can handle anything from paved streets to cobble stones to walking up narrow castle steps.

If you do plan to go up to kiss (or just look at) the Blarney stone (if in good health, go up even if just for the view), the steps up are narrow.  You want something slip resistant.

The food is very delicious; try different things.  Of note, salads are not too commonon; and when present, thend to be lighter than in the states.  If you have regularity issues, take advantage of the prunes all of the hotels serve (except for the Ballsbridge) at breakfast time.

Each hotel has free Wi-Fii.  Every hotel EXCEPT for Ballsbridge has SPAM free Wi-Fi that does not invade your privacy.  The Ballsbridge hotel requires you to register (i.e. privacy invasion), is a complex process to connect (some of our group members could not get Wi-Fi), and then sends out SPAM on a regular basis (the SPAM is not from the email sign up, but in your device notification area).

Money is in Euro's.  I do recommend you bring a sufficient amount with you.  While you can get Euro's from ATM's, there might be fees.  Banks are open on non holiday's Monday through Friday from 9 AM to 4 PM (if I remember correctly).

Most items are more expensive in Ireland than in some parts of the U.S. (my wife and I are in PA), but if you shop around you can get good bargains.  My wife got us two Avoca Mill made scarves for under $10 Euro each when they retail for $30 Euro.

I cannot speak for all tour directors, but Sean made it a point to encourage us to ask him questions.  We learned a lot of good places to eat ecomoically as well as speciality items (my wife and I wanted to try Boxty) from Sean as well as our coach driver, Denis.

In terms of financial planning, meals range from $4 Euro (on the cheap; though you mnight get lower) to $30 or more Euro per person.  A number of places have early bird specials (i.e. before 7 PM GMT) where you can get a 2 or 3 course meal from around $18 to $20 Euro.

We had no problems with crime; but do be careful in Dublin as there are gypies in the downtown area who are not above pick pocketing.

If you don't know already, Ireland's economy is based on socialism; there are no homeless, and everyone is taken care of.  So anyone stating they are homeless, begging, or stating they need food for children are most likely lying.

If your program director does vicinity walks (i.e. a 15 to 45 minute walk around the area you are staying), make every effort to go on them.  While you will often re-visit the area (either with the group or on your own), health reasons aside for walking, you will get a lot more out of the trip.

Everyone speaks English; and the Irish show great hospitality to their tourists especially Americans.

The country is beautiful.

Thank you.

Author: captainlarry

Joined: 4/24/2010
Posts: 441
GCT Trips Taken: 10
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Traveler Since: 2002

April 04, 2013

Thank you, Peter. We're going in June and July, when we expect it to be a little bit warmer and a whole lot wetter than was your trip. We will take note of all your suggestions.

Author: bigredfrog

Joined: 1/4/2012
Posts: 15
GCT Trips Taken: 3
OAT Trips Taken: 0
Traveler Since: 2012

April 05, 2013

We're really going to feel well-prepared for this trip thanks to all your great comments!

 

Can someone tell me more about the trip to Tara and Newgrange?  I assume it's a commercial tour out of Dublin.  Which company (-ies) do it well?  What are the costs?  How long does it take?

Author: luisa

Joined: 3/13/2010
Posts: 558
GCT Trips Taken: 6
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Countries Visited:

Bahamas, Cayman Islands, Canada, Mexico, Spain, France, Monoco, Croatia, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Morocco, Chile, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji. Ireland

Traveler Since: 2006

April 06, 2013

Big Red,

I gave some details on the tours in a post on 3/31 in response to a question from Golda.

Check the web site newgrangetours.com. That's Marry Gibbons, the tour that I used. I don't remember the price but it will be on the web site. I think we left Dublin around 10:00 am and got back around 4:00.

When I told out PD that I was taking a Newgrange tour she said "Mary Gibbons?" so, I guess she's well known there.

Happy travels, you'll have fun in Ireland.

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