Friday, September 25, 2015

Driving the Dingle Peninsula

Our third stop in Ireland was a tiny town on the west coast called Dingle. Our second stop in Ireland was a tiny town in the middle of the country called Kilkenny, but other than a castle, a church, and the most amazing outdoor pool I've ever been in (and one I couldn't get pictures of), there wasn't much to this town. A worthwhile stop, mind you, because it broke up the drive from Dublin to Dingle and allowed us to see the interior of the country, but not worth it's own post. 

Dingle, on the other hand, is worth it's own post, postcard, calendar, magazine, and full-size coffee table book. When you say "Ireland" and everyone else says "oh it's so pretty there!", they're talking about the Dingle Peninsula. Soaring vistas over ragged rocks. Rugged hilltops that lead to even more breathtaking views. Winding roads with more than glimpses of the sea. Bright blue skies above and crashing waves below. It was truly one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen.

We made the bold and correct decision to rent a car for our time outside of Dublin. It was not without it's hassles - insurance was not covered through any of our credit cards and therefore an extra expense, we opted to not get the 35€/day GPS but instead spent part of one morning getting a much cheaper SIM card to use in the iPad, and then there was the whole driving on the left thing - but with a deep and focused concentration (and one small fight), J and I managed to drive ourselves all over Ireland and back. He drove, I screamed instructions navigated from the iPad, and we did it all while suffering only a few minor heart attacks and one cow-induced, Irish traffic jam.

Driving in from the East, we followed the suggestion of someone at our previous hotel and rode the Conor Pass into Dingle. The roads were a bit steep and narrow (read: I thought we were going to fall into the ocean when we had to back up 20 yards to let a truck pass us), but it was worth the anxiety. We fortuitously had the clearest and brightest days during our entire time in Dingle, and the views on Connor's Pass provided a wonderful welcome to the city. 

There isn't a whole lot to do in Dingle itself, but that by no means should deter you from visiting this delightful little city. There are some excursions you can take (boat trips out to the Blasket Islands, speed boats around the harbor, and there was something about a dolphin that we never quite figured out), but we chose to slow ourselves way down and simply stroll the town and get to know Dingle via it's food and drink. That led to more chowders, my new favorite cider, and quiet nights outside our B&B simply staring at the sky and wondering how I could get New York to dim it's lights for just 10 minutes one clear night so that we could see what the heck is up there.

We stayed in Dingle for two nights, which was just the right amount of time for us, for it gave us one full day where we didn't have to make our way to a new city. Instead, got up relatively early (for us) in an attempt to beat the tour busses and Drove The Dingle Peninsula, an activity worthy of the hyperbolic capitalization I just assigned.

Since we followed the Rick Steves' Dingle Driving Tour (his caps) to a T, I won't bore you with the step-by-step. That being said, if you do ever find yourself in Dingle, I highly recommend getting a copy of Rick Steves Ireland (or just borrowing it from the library, as my unemployed self did). It's full of more interesting information than you could ever process, and shockingly detailed. His driving tours (which include Dingle, the Ring of Kerry, and a handful of others) are measured quite literally by the kilometer and allow you to have a much more informed day of sightseeing. Please note that I am in no way affiliated with Rick Steves, I'm just a giant fangirl and could talk for hours about his guide books ;)

Anyway, back to the Dingle Peninsula. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves, but the entire thing took about five hours (we stopped at nearly all the points of interest and grabbed a snack along the way as well), which left us ample time for a quick nap at the B&B before enjoying our last big, potato-filled dinner in Dingle. It's true what they say about the Irish and their love of potatoes - almost every dish I ordered came with a side of chips, and on that last night in Dingle I ordered a Seafood Pie which was basically seafood chowder over a bed of mashed potatoes that was topped with a puff pastry - and a basket of chips on the side. Not that I was mad about any of it. I just made it a priority to do a little carb-detox the second I got back to the states.

If you go: Renting a car will allow you the most freedom in following your own schedule and interests, rather than those of a tour group. Be aware that Ireland drives on the left side of the road and that the majority of available car rentals are manual - be prepared to pay a premium if you require an automatic. / We stayed at the delightful Tower View B&B, which is located an easy 10-minute walk from the center of Dingle. There is a working farm on the property and Mary, the owner of the B&B, allows kids and kids-at-heart to help feed the animals after breakfast. / You'd be hard pressed to find a bad meal in Dingle, but some of our favorites are Dick Mack's Pub and Waterside Bistro and Cafe. / I was neither sponsored nor compensated for any of my travels in Europe, all opinions are my own and given simply because I had a great time and think that you can too.

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