Sunday, June 7, 2015

Ireland: Southern Road Trip - Overview

After spending a few initial days in Dublin, we embarked on a twelve day road trip, making a loop around the southern part of Ireland.  We planned to travel west from Dublin towards Galway, staying for two nights in the little village of Kinvara.  From there, we would visit the Dunguaire Castle, Aillwell Caves and drive a figure-8 loop around the Galway Peninsula.  Continuing counter-clockwise, our next stops would be the Cliffs of Moher, Limerick and Foynes, before traversing the three scenic drives around the famous Ring of Kerry, and the lesser known Ring of Beara and Dingle Peninsula.  Visits to Killarney, Bantry, Blarney, Waterford and Kilkenny would round out our trip before heading back to Dublin.

In planning this lengthy excursion, we debated whether it would be wiser to drive clockwise or counter-clockwise, especially while traversing the various routes that involved steep, windy roads with sheer cliffs on one side.  It was difficult enough driving on the opposite side of the road from what we were used to, so we weren't sure we wanted to tempt fate by driving cliff-side on top of that.  Another consideration was whether we wanted to be following large tour buses, which traveled counter-clockwise, or encounter them as they approached from the opposite direction, often taking up both lanes of the narrow roads.  Considering these two factors, we decided it would be much wiser to drive counter-clockwise away from the cliffs as much as possible (in some cases, we had no choice in the matter).  To avoid getting stuck behind a slow bus, we would be simply pull over and take some photos of the gorgeous scenery while we allowed the vehicle to get some distance ahead of us.  Throughout our journey, as we watched cars precariously try to creep by the veering buses, we knew that we had made the right decision.  We did learn that once we left the main roads and started to explore the narrower paths leading to the tips of the peninsulas or up and over mountainous regions, we entered areas where the buses could not follow.  Luckily, these remote  locations turned out to have the most scenic views and often, we had the vistas all to ourselves.

To keep our costs down and avoid traffic and parking issues, we decided to avoid staying overnight in large city centres.  Instead, we chose bed and breakfast establishments in the outskirts or suburbs, or in smaller towns and villages close to our intended destination for the next day.  Moving to a different town and a new bed and breakfast for 10 out of the 12 days made for a tiring journey.  Through it all, I came to understand which features were and were not important to me when it came to rating a B&B, aside from the obvious ones like price and location.  For example, although every place we stayed at still had one, the presence of a television in the room is starting to be redundant and unnecessary.  More and more, people are relying on the internet and their electronic devices for entertainment, making the need for strong WIFI access throughout the building to be a top priority.  Just about all lodging establishments claim to have WIFI but on several occasions, we found that it either could not reach our room on the top floor or back of the house, or was so slow that it was unusable.  To me, that is equivalent to not having WIFI at all.  These B&Bs might be wise to eliminate the costs of the TV and cable and invest in better WIFI access instead.

These criteria are probably specific just to my personal preferences, but the following is my list of what makes for a great B&B stay.  Some of the items on this list stemmed from areas that we found inadequate or deficient in our various accommodations:

1.    WIFI
    a.    Sufficient strength and speed anywhere within our room and in all common areas.
    b.    Password prominently provided so that we don't have to chase down the proprietor for it
    c. Network can be accessed on Apple devices.  I was told at one establishment that they did have WIFI but it occasionally didn't work for Apple products!?!
2.    Power Outlets
    a.    Availability of unoccupied, easily accessible power outlets to plug in our various devices and chargers.  Often, all the outlets are used up by table lamps or are hidden behind beds and dressers.
    b.    Convenient location of these power outlets, preferably with a power bar to provide more outlets and extend their reach to where I wanted to be in the room
    c.    Bonus points for providing international adapter plugs and Apple device adapters/cables
3.    Bathroom
    a.    Sufficient water pressure and hot water from the shower
    b.    Bonus points if there is also a bathtub since I love baths
    c.    Size and plushness of towels–Bath towels should be at least large enough to wrap around my body, and face cloths should be provided
    d.    An area or ledge by the bathroom sink to put my toiletries and in the shower to place the soap and shampoo so that I don't have to reach for them on the floor
    e.    A shower large enough to turn around in (this one was more for Rich :)
    f.    Separate switches for the light versus the fan so that the fan doesn't automatically come on when you turn on the lights;  Alternately, provide a night light to ease trips to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
4.    Bed
    a.    Firmness of the bed & pillows
    b.    Size of the bed should be large enough to comfortably fit two people, or the availability of two separate beds
    c.    Get rid of all the annoying little decorative pillows that we just have to toss on the floor in order to sleep
5.    Room
    a.    Brightness of overhead lighting and lamps should be sufficient for reading at night
    b.    Availability of a kettle, tea/coffee/milk/sugar (and spoons!) right in the room, as opposed to having to go down to the dining room to ask for this
    c.    A desk and chair to sit at would be a nice to have, but not mandatory since we could just lie on the bed
6.    Breakfast
    a.    Quality and taste of the meal
    b.    Variety of the meal–After being offered the "Full Irish Breakfast" (eggs, various types of sausage, bacon, beans, tomato and occasionally mushrooms) day after day, we were delighted the one day when our host gave us the option of blueberry and raspberry crepes and homemade scones
    c.  Extras like fruit, cereal,  yogurt to complement the hot meal
7.    Free on-site parking

The various B&Bs that we stayed at varied in their success at fulfilling wish list.  None of them hit every point, but a couple came really close, while a few others were severely lacking.  I was particularly annoyed by the one place that inundated us with nagging notices such as "No hot foods in the room" and "Turn off the Lights when not in use", making the place feel really unwelcoming.  In the end, all the B&Bs served their purpose of providing us with a place to sleep and a meal in the morning to start off our day.  Being constantly on the road made me homesick for our temporary home in Dublin and even more so for our permanent one in Toronto, but it was a small price to pay for all the wonderful places that we visited on this trek.

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