Wowed by Waterford

When you look at a list of the top things to do in Ireland, Waterford doesn’t often get a mention. It appears nowhere on this list, nowhere on this one, and even on a list of hidden gems rates only a single mention. And while it’s true that if I were recommending essential spots to someone coming to Ireland for only a few days Waterford probably wouldn’t make the list, after visiting a couple of weeks ago I would say that if you have a bit more time to explore, it’s definitely worth a visit.

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Beautiful Beara: A quick trip out of Kerry

After one of the longest lockdowns in Europe, Ireland is finally opening up. Next week, hotels and bnbs reopen, followed by outdoor dining the following week, with indoor dining, pubs, etc. likely returning in July. Museums and cultural sites are beginning to reopen, and for domestic tourists at least, there’s a lot to look forward this summer.

Obviously, not being able to travel and enjoy tourism is minor compared to the other things that have happened during this pandemic (I feel like this is so obvious I shouldn’t even have to mention it, but just to be clear that I’m not trying to place it on a similar level), but as someone who has spent the preceding years (and even the first half of 2020) travelling as much as possible, it has definitely felt weird to have not even left the county since September of last year.

Luckily I’ve gotten to do plenty of fun things around Kerry like trying another route up Carrauntoohil and hiking Crohane mountain, but I’ll be looking forward to doing more as restrictions loosen. For now even the tiniest trips offer a nice chance to get out and explore.

This past weekend, we took advantage of a sunny day and took a small drive just across the border into Cork to see the Beara peninsula.

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Another trip to the top of Ireland: Carrauntoohil via Brother O’Shea’s Gully

The way the weather was this weekend, you’d be forgiven for thinking the southwest of Ireland was situated somewhere closer to Spain. Devastatingly, the dry, hot conditions have left a wildfire burning in Killarney National Park for the past three days and nights, but overall the warm weather has done wonders for everyone’s mental health and outdoor to-do lists. Now that the 5km travel restriction has finally been lifted and we’re free to roam around our county, a good-weather weekend was just what was needed to really take advantage of it.

While many folks in the area headed to the costa del Kerry to enjoy the sun in Ballybunion or Banna beach, Steve and I took to the mountains yet again for my third trip up Carrauntoohil.

Previous Carrauntoohil routes:

Our original plan for the day was a looped hike near Sneem that I’d read about online, but when we saw the clear, cloudless skies, we couldn’t resist Ireland’s tallest mountain. Even on good days, the mountains are often covered in fog and mist, so you have to jump on your opportunities for views across the county when you get them.

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Where I want to go in Kerry #whenwetravelagain

With more vaccines arriving and covid cases going down (by the numbers they’re plateauing, but an increased number of tests and tracking of asymptomatic spread means that the positivity rate continues to drop encouragingly), we are once more starting to feel more optimistic about summer here in Ireland.

Next week, the 5km travel limit will finally be lifted and we will be allowed to travel around our own county. Luckily for me, I live Kerry, in one of the best counties in Ireland when it comes to beautiful nature and outdoor activities. Although there are many favourite spots in Kerry I’m looking forward to visiting again once the restrictions (and the weather) allow—Carrauntoohil, the Dingle peninsula, and the Old Kenmare road, to name a few—there are so many amazing places in Kerry I have yet to see that I’m really excited to explore. Here are a few of them:

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Táim ag foghlaim Gaeilge le Duolingo

Last week I hit two milestones on Duolingo: I reached a 365-day streak, and I completed the Irish skill tree (finished all of the lessons for the language, for those who are not familiar with the app). I started doing a few Duolingo lessons a day at the start of lockdown when I first arrived back in the US from Southeast Asia and now, a year and change later and still in lockdown (although now in Ireland), I’ve managed to keep the streak going and also complete every lesson on the skill tree.

Despite being one of the official languages of Ireland, a history of oppression in which the use of Irish was forbidden by the English and Irish words and particularly place names were haphazardly Anglicised (in college I read Brian Friel’s Translations for a course and have been fascinated by this ever since) means that bilingual speakers are a minority. It is estimated that only 40-80k people in Ireland are fully fluent in the language, and in the 2016 census only 6.3% of respondents said they speak Irish weekly (with only 1.7% reporting speaking it daily).

While there are a few jobs that require a level of proficiency in Irish, for the most part you could go your whole life without ever needing a word, especially as an immigrant.

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Two days on the Mekong: taking the slow boat from Thailand to Laos

Taking the ‘slow boat to Laos’ is a Southeast Asia backpacker classic, and also a misnomer. The boat actually starts on the Laos side of Laos/Thailand border, so technically you’re not taking it to Laos.

However, it’s still a must-do when you’re in the area and heading to Luang Prabang.

You can book a trip from anywhere in the northern region of Thailand, with many starting off in Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai and booking a package that takes them all the way onto the boat. We decided to make our own way across the border and spend the night before the boat journey in the tiny Laos border town of Houayxay. We took a bus from Chiang Rai across the border, and then teamed up with some other travellers for a tuk-tuk to Houayxay.

A note: I know it’s been almost a year at this point since I was in Southeast Asia, but time has been mostly meaningless for the last 10 months and I still have stories to share. Hopefully this will be helpful to people who are planning their travels for when the world is open again, and entertaining to everyone else in the meantime.

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