The Euro doesn’t go very far in Europe. Pegged at about $1.30 for every Euro, things can cost as much as one third more than they do in the U.S. That includes hotels, food, admission to museums and shopping, especially in the big cities. Shopping today is expensive in Europe.
Ireland adds something called Value Added Tax (VAT) or about 21% to most store bought items. In some cases tourists can get a refund of VAT upon departure but it is an inconvenience that most opt to forgo. Independent travel, with gasoline selling for about $7 a gallon, is an expensive proposition. Most every museum and attraction has admission fees. Some as much as 15 Euros and more. That is a hefty $20. If a family is traveling it adds up. Gone are the days of Ireland being relatively inexpensive compared to the Continent and England.
There is a way to go first class, to see the sights in the comfort of an ultra-modern high coach all within the framework of a realistic budget. CIE Tours, the largest tour operator to Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England, has a headquarters in Morristown, New Jersey. Being U.S. based, for an American traveler, is reassuring. The company has been in business 80 years and is used by the largest and most reliable travel agencies including AAA.
CIE has packages and tours of Ireland to suit every taste and budget. What a pleasure and relief to be met upon arrival at the airport, greeted, put on a coach and from that point on not to have to worry about luggage, hotels or meals. Excursions and admission fees are paid. The only food guests are responsible for lunch, an ambiguous meal since huge Irish breakfasts are included. morning meals turn out to be sumptuous buffets including hot cooked full Irish breakfasts with bacon, sausages, eggs and black pudding. First class hotel dinners are included.
One of the most popular tour itineraries is CIE’s Irish Adventure. It is an 8 or 9 day tour. Optional is the last night in Dublin. All overnight stays are at superior or first class hotels. The tour makes a great circle around the whole of Ireland starting and ending in the capital of the Irish Republic, Dublin.
Once the luggage is on the bus it appears perfectly at your hotel room door to be collected outside the room next morning. Hotel check-ins are a breeze with keys distributed without waiting in lines. Since there is a five-hour time difference in Ireland, an early morning arrival at Dublin’s airport, after an overnight flight, leaves time to explore. A morning guided bus tour gives a perfect launch to Ireland’s history and culture.
Trinity College Library is where the Book of Kells is on display. The ancient manuscript, copied by monks a thousand years ago, is a Latin transcription of the four gospels. The insular majuscule script and artistic rendering makes the book unique in the world.
If you have time on your own, take a Viking Splash tour of Dublin. You see the World War II surplus amphibious trucks with visitors in Viking hats roaring around the city. The city portion of the tour is fun. Then make sure to see the former D-day landing craft as it hits the water and runs around former docks in the old canal system.
Go to the Dublinia exhibit. Artifacts rescued from excavation of the first Viking fortification in the city are presented as is a reproduction of the village of Dunhlinn. Medieval artifacts are also on display. Time permitting visit the Guinness beer storehouse and learn how the world famous Irish beer is made. Take a tour of the Jameson Distillery as well. Both stops give free tasting with admission. There is a wonderful 365-degree panorama of the city from Guinness’ Gravity Bar, circled in glass on the top floor.
Take time to walk around Dublin. Summer sunsets are late and there is always a carnival on the main shopping esplanade Grafton Street. Check out what’s playing at Gaiety Theatre. Riverdance has a long summer performance schedule. This is Celtic dance and folklore performed by the most talented dancers in Ireland.
Dublin is a city of writers and many pubs proclaim to be the haunts of some of the most famous writers of the day. Check out the Writer’s Museum. It houses memorabilia of Ireland’s noted authors. Molly Maloy draws many to touch her bronze sculpture as they pass by. It is likely the most photographed statue in the city. Dubs call her the ‘Tart with a cart,’ fabled in song for ‘cryin’ seashells and mussels, alive, alive all.’
The tour heads south through the Wicklow Mountains to Glendalough to visit St. Kevin’s 6th century monastery. Then to New Ross where a reconstructed famine ship visit details the perilous voyage of thousands of immigrants to America. Visitors learn that 30 ships left New Ross carrying Irish escaping the potato famine in the 1840s. The next stop is Waterford with a hotel stay and guided tour of the historic city.
The crystal works was begun in Waterford by the Penrose family in 1783. The factory closed in 1851 despite its renown for leaded crystal. Revived in 1947, the tradition is carried out today. The Waterford crystal stop is a highlight of the day. Many crystal trophies made for major competitions in sailing, soccer, golf, tennis and other sports are on display. On to Cork, home of Blarney Castle.
There is ample time to visit Blarney Castle on your own. Try not to miss kissing the stone that promises the gift of eloquence. It is great fun climbing to the top of the castle. Visitors are helped to lean back to kiss the fabled stone of legend. The owner of Blarney Castle kept promising the Queen of England to swear allegiance but always found an eloquent excuse. The Queen remarked that his continual excuses were Blarney and the meaning stuck.
The tour stops next at the Ring of Kerry with two nights at Killarney. At Foynes there is a visit to the Flying Boat Museum. Outside the original terminal building, a recreated Boeing B314 flying boat, like the original built in 1936 for Pan American Airlines, recalls all the elegance of transatlantic travel. The ‘Yankee Clipper’ flight from New York to Foynes took from about 15 to 26 hours. Passengers dined in style with a 7-course meal cooked with the steam from the plane’s engines. Then were tucked into bunk beds. Passengers could stroll on an internal promenade deck. Ask to have a photo taken in the pilot’s compartment.
One cold and damp night in 1942, at Foynes, Chef Joe Sheridan added good Irish whiskey to the coffee he served. Thus was born Irish Coffee. Airfare aboard ‘Yankee Clipper’ cost $375, the equivalent of $5,000 today.
The tour passes through Limerick with time to visit Bunratty Castle if you are willing to forgo lunch. The castle is a complete Medieval village. On to one of the most majestic sights in the world at the Cliffs of Moher. Wild ocean waves can crash into these 700-foot high cliffs giving spectacular sights of the rocks below. O’Brien’s Tower is at the highest point above the Atlantic Ocean and offers wonderful views.
The tour continues on to Galway for an overnight stay. The old port on Galway Bay is home to many modern yachts. Galway Hookers are typical sailing vessels used in the last century as fishing smacks. Many have been lovingly restored. Their red sails can be seen catching offshore breezes. Galway hosts many art, music and culinary festivals. There is always something going on. A stroll through the old town and port, a walk through the Spanish Arch, adds insight to this important trading city from medieval times.
The trip continues the next morning to Knock where a vision in 1879 of the Virgin Mary, confirmed by 15 people, is marked with a shrine. There is a stop at Drumcliffe to visit W. B. Yeats’ grave. Yeats is Ireland’s poet laureate. There is an overnight in Derry. Ancient walls surround the city dating back to 1613. An escorted walk along the walls offers insight into the history of a siege by James II, pretender to the throne of England. Defenders kept the Jacobites at bay for 105-days.
Derry was also the place of great tragedy during Ireland’s troubles. A painted mural of a young school girl, killed by English troops, still provokes tears and sadness. Fourteen year old Annette McGavigan’s death brought home the horror of the conflict. Annette’s death turned many hearts to peaceful resolution which culminated most recently with a visit to Ireland by Queen Elizabeth.
After an overnight in Derry the tour goes on to see the dramatic ruins of Dunluce Castle. The ancient stone ruins are built right on cliffs over the Atlantic Ocean. Dramatic views and beautiful pictures can be had here before going on to Giant’s Causeway facing the northern tip of Ireland.
Six sided columns loom out of the water and landscape along the shore. While geologists consider this phenomenon to be 60 million years old, resulting from volcanic activity, more recent Irish folklore describes the fight of two giants. Rivals, one built a causeway over to fight his antagonist in Scotland. The Scottish giant came over and, legend has it, saw the Irish giant in his son’s bed. Smart thinking had the Irish giant set his wife to say, “Sonny go get daddy.” The rival, seeing the size of the youngster in bed decided ‘daddy’ would be an adversary of enormous proportions. He fled ripping up the causeway behind him. Thus the hexagonal rock formations.
It is all good fun and a grand sight to explore and enjoy before going on to Belfast.Belfast is a city of wonders. The Harland and Wolff shipyard built the Olympic and Titanic in their Belfast yards. The docks and quays remain and can be visited. A large Titanic Center has been created nearby, dedicated on the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic on her maiden voyage in the North Atlantic on April 14, 1912. The interactive sets include an Imax stage that makes you feel you are aboard.
Back to Dublin with an overnight then free transfers to the airport or an extra night to enjoy the magic of the city. For those that seek independent travel after the tour, there are ample opportunities to visit other areas of interest. Ireland’s National Bus Company, Bus Eireann, offers various combination tickets that allow unlimited travel over several days. Failte Ireland, the national tourist organization, has offices in every major city that provide traveler help and will book hotels and accommodations. Books, booklets, maps and brochures are available at these national tourist offices at no cost.
Ireland is a special place with changes in climate and atmosphere in every season. Locals say you can have four seasons in one day since the weather change is unpredictable. Many visitors come to seek their roots, some to savor wonderful organic foods, some for the music and dance. Most to enjoy a grand tour of the Irish countryside that has inspired poets and writers.
Ireland is a land where time seems to stand still. It is a place where rocky cliffs give down to crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean. Where still lakes and coursing rivers offer great fishing, where world class golf courses provide the sporting thrill of a lifetime. A taste, once savored, will remain in memory forever.
For more information visit www.cietours.com or call them toll-free at 1-800-243-8687.
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