Things that surprised an ignorant American


After spending nearly a week out of the United States, on my first ever extended trip outside of the country, I wanted to share some random thoughts on things that have surprised me about Ireland, being in Europe, and basically being outside of the comforts of home.  To my better-traveled friends, some of these may be amusing, some may be self-evident, but perhaps a few these thoughts may be enlightening. These may be things that are true with all of Europe or may simply be localized to Ireland or the UK.  I’d definitely love some comments to help me confirm and clarify some of these things.

  • Given how narrow these roads are, and how there doesn’t seem to be a method to dictate who has the right of way on these one lane roads, it’s a wonder that there are now more accidents here. On the contrary, in all of our driving we have yet to see cars on the side of the road from accidents or breakdowns.
  • Just because the architecture and infrastructure is old in Ireland, don’t mistake that for being dirty or run down – it’s quite the opposite. Many of these hole-in-the-wall local pubs are quite clean and well-kept
  • In Ireland “Bacon” is what Americans refer to as “Ham”
  • The water here is relatively decent. It’s nowhere near Colorado-level taste, but I would say it’s on par with Texas water
  • Most power outlets have their own switches on them, very convenient if you’re too lazy to unplug your device.
  • The bathrooms in our cottage and hotels have the light-switches on in the outside. I’m not sure if the designers of these houses have ever had kids or mean siblings.
  • The term for “bathroom” here is “Toilets” more direct, but perhaps a more graphic image, especially when you’re in a restaurant?
  • For men: The public urinals don’t flush. Many of them are tied to the same flushing system that seemingly goes off on its own schedule. Thus the men’s rooms typically smell worse
  • Many of the sinks here have different faucets for hot and cold water, I’m not quite sure how to create warm water unless you create a basin of warm water, or run both faucets at the same time and alternate your hands between them.
  • Nearly all public toilets/bathrooms don’t have paper towels, but rather have air dryers that only work for a few seconds at a time.
  • Police here are called “Garda”.
  • When we eat out and have finished our meal, every single time we’ve had to ask the waiter to bring our check. We thought this may be simply that things move slowly and didn’t want to be rude, but there have been instances where nearly 20 minutes have passed between when we finished our meal and when we saw our waiter again.

I’ll add more to this list as I notice more things, but I wanted to shoot a few of these surprises out there. What aspects of international travel has surprised you?

Ireland Day 6 – (Attempting) Dublin In A Day


After a full night’s rest and a hearty breakfast, we set out to take in as much as we could of Dublin before 4pm (when we tried to beat traffic out).  We did this by going on one of those hop-on/hop-off tour busses that narrates each of the sights, then when you see something you’d like you can jump off and catch another bus later.  We did a lap around Dublin and got the lay of the land and determined what we’d like to see.  We had already seen some of the big things in the previous day: O’Connell Street (and the Spire of Dublin), The Guinness Brewery, and Temple Bar.  There were a few things we wanted to see that would be too big to tackle, and I really wanted to do the Jameson Distillery (but didn’t want to drink Whiskey at 10:30am) so we picked our battles: Trinity College and St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

We started off at Trinity College, Dublin’s only university, which was founded in 1592.  We mainly walked around the inner part of the campus and admired some of the architecture. There were definitely some newer buildings there, making it difficult to determine what has been there for what period of time. We actually didn’t get a chance to go into the Library as there was a charge for it. Bethany’s parents took the gamble and paid off, as they were in line when they were about to close and got in for free.  We still got some nice pictures outside the buildings.

Outside the College- west Entrance from the street



After our visiting the College we embarked on a personal mission of mine since before we set foot in Dublin – finding Cuban cigars! Since Ireland does not have the same trade embargo, the cigars are readily available here, so I was eager to see if they are worth the hype.  We found a cigar shop along Grafton Street, a cobblestone shopping center.  We then met up for lunch at Temple Bar, and then set out to go see St. Patrick’s Cathedral.


I have to be honest: we were a bit let down by the Cathedral.  While the architecture was beautiful, I was expecting the inside to be a little more tranquil – similar to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.  Unfortunately, the Cathedral was more of a museum, that housed various memories and statues and busts of prominent figures in the Cathedral’s history.  While this was very interesting, I was disappointed it wasn’t a more prayerful experience.  We still got some great pictures of inside the Cathedral.





Running out of time, we hiked quickly across town back to our hotel to depart before rush hour. It still took quite a while to get out of Dublin, but we luckily had a pleasant drive after leaving the city.

Overall I liked Dublin, but it definitely has the characteristics shared by most big cities: congestion, traffic, noise – a far cry from the countryside that we’ve been experiencing throughout the week.  If we were to do this trip over again, I would likely had added another day in Dublin.  There were a few things (like the Kilmainham Gaol Prison) that would have been fascinating to see, and I think we would have enjoyed another nights in the lively pubs.  Yesterday we ran into some Americans from Virginia that had stayed in the country side for five days and were now going to do Dublin for 5 days – I don’t think I could have imagined being in the city for that long. Nonetheless, our time in Dublin gave me a deep appreciation for the peace and quiet we’ve seen along the countryside.

We made it back to East Clare where we enjoyed our Cubans. The cigars are definitely worth the hype. They were much smoother than the Dominican ones I’ve tried on previous vacations, and didn’t have the nasty aftertaste.  Also they made canned Guinness taste better.


One thing I haven’t talked about is just how long the days in Ireland are. Given Ireland’s northern position on the globe, it gets light here early in the morning, but it doesn’t get dark until after 10pm. Here is the sky outside our cottage at 10:15pm:


After going full-steam for nearly a week, Friday is going to be a day of rest in East Clare.  I have some random thoughts to post tomorrow, and should hopefully have some pictures to share, but I’m definitely looking forward to a day of relaxation.

Ireland Day 5 – First Day in Dublin


We journeyed eastward to Dublin, finally arriving in the big city in the late morning.  After the 2.5 hour drive we successfully navigated our way to the hotel.  Driving into Dublin actually wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be, considering we drove through Galway rush hour a few days ago. If I were to compare Dublin to an American city I’ve been to, I would say that it seems like an older version of Boston.  There’s a lot of old architecture that’s still around a city defined by its history, but you see the modern elements that you find with many big cities.  The canal going down the middle of the city made for some pretty pictures along the Ha’penny Bridge.


In the middle of O’Connell Street there was a cool monument called The Spire of Dublin, which made for an awesome picture of the city.


The city was also a bit overwhelming, and it did take us a while to get acclimated with navigating the city, thus only got to do two big things on our first day: The Guinness Brewery and our music pub crawl.

The Guinness Brewery was basically “Beer Disneyland” and Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory rolled into one.  You end up touring the Storehouse, a multi-level museum of the brewery and the beer making process.  My Fort Collins micro-brewery tour experience had prepared me for understanding how beer is brewed, but it was fascinating seeing the way the elements were presented inside this big building. For the ingredient of water, they had an awesome fountain that made some for great pictures.



What we’ve heard was right: Guinness does taste differently here in Ireland, moreover it tastes differently in Dublin, and it tastes even better at the Guinness brewery right out of the tap of freshly brewed beer.  I have definitely developed a taste for Guinness and have had the chance to refine it over the last few days.  At the Storehouse, I used my included pint to participate in the “Perfect Pour” tutorial, where I got to stand behind the bar and pour the perfect pint.  It was a neat experience and not a bad way to taste your pint.



We then went up to the top level “Gravity Bar”, which in Willy Wonka form is basically the Great Glass Elevator of the Storehouse.  This top-floor bar has a 360 degree view of the Dublin Cityscape, giving some breathtaking scenery while you enjoyed your fresh beer.  Having drank my pint downstairs, Bethany was kind enough to share her beer with me.



By the time we finished at the Storehouse, our afternoon was pretty much over. We took the bus and walked back to our hotel so that we could get ready for the Musical Pub Crawl.

If you’re ever in Dublin, I definitely would suggest doing this experience.  While initially it seemed a little tourist-y (pretty much everyone attending was American), we were blown away by the talent of the two musicians that led the crawl.  The best part about this was that they explained some of the differences in Irish music and musicianship in terms that a musician would understand.  I learned why as a drummer,  I would make a lousy Celtic Bodhran Drum player.  They talked about what stylistically gave Irish music its traits, and what instrumentation made up this type of music.



Our crawl included stops at three bars, the last of which used to be an old convent (check out the curved stain glass window behind us in the picture below).  A few pints, songs and stories later we had realized that it was now after 10pm and we had yet to eat dinner.  We ended up walking back from O’Connell Street back to the Temple Bar, where we ate in the third story of this pub-restaurant and made our way back home.  By that time we were tired, out of beer and ready for bed.


We are going to spend one more day in Dublin before we head back home Thursday night, and are hoping now that we have our bearings that we should be able to do a little more sightseeing (and more pictures) as well.

Ireland Day 4 – Cliffs of Moher


Today we journeyed west once again, this time over to the Cliffs of Moher.  This had been one of the things that ranked high on our list of things we wanted to see.  Heading out from East Clare, we were worried that the weather would hamper us from seeing this great wonder.  It rained all morning and for our entire drive.  When we arrived, the rain had kicked into full gear, which combined with the winds from the ocean made things very cold.  We stepped inside the visitors center (which is built into the side of the hills leading up to the cliffs) for a few minutes, and when we stepped out, the rain had stopped and the sun was fighting its way out of the clouds.  It made for some really pleasant weather while we were there.



The cliffs themselves rise nearly 400 feet over the Atlantic Ocean, and we had the chance to walk all around the cliffs.  There were stone walls along the perimeter of the cliffs that kept people from getting too close and falling in.  However, many people found ways alongside the gaps to hike further in and get closer at their own risk.  With the drop like that, I was fine with taking the beautiful pictures from behind the walls.  In the second picture above, you can see the original fence that was previously there and has long since fallen apart.

At the top of the tallest hill along the cliffs sits O’Brien’s Tower, an observation tower that Sir Cornelius O’Brien built in 1835 apparently to impress women. We got some nice pictures around the tower, but opted to not spend the extra money to go in.


Upon leaving the cliffs we went down to Doolin, a tiny neighboring town that is home of Gus O’Connor’s pub. This pub is that epitome of an Irish pub, and what was exactly what I was I had in mind when I pictured Irish Pubs.  We had a great lunch of fish & chips and a pint.



We ended our afternoon by driving along the coast to Galway and then back to the cottage to cook dinner at home.  This was an early day, as we are leaving early Wednesday morning for Dublin.

Ireland Day 3–Westport & Galway

For our third day of travel we were westward bound – all the way to Westport.  Pam, Bethany’s Step-mom, had ancestors that were traced back to this area, so we wanted to explore the town.  This was quite a drive, and probably will be the most time we’ll spend in the car on this trip.  Many of our pictures were taken from the car, and in some cases where the road was one lane, we had to take some moving pictures.  Hopefully these pictures will give you an idea of some of the beautiful countryside we’re seeing.  I’m not quite sure how to explain the terrain in terms of American comparisons.  I would maybe say “Kansas, but much greener”, some parts are as beautiful as taking a drive in the Rocky Mountains, but not as mountain-y.



Westport itself seems like a typical small Irish town, with many shops along the town square and shops that line the busy streets. For friends that have been to Fort Collins, imagine Old Town, but with an older appearance and on streets that are a little more narrow and a little more busy.  It’s not a very good description, probably because the towns in Ireland are different than anything that I’ve seen.


In the center of Westport they had a big structure called “The Octagon” – almost like a town’s clock tower without the clock, instead they have a statue of St. Patrick at the top.


We stopped by the Westport house, which is basically a tourist attraction with activities for kids.  We walked around a bit, but opted not to pay the admission to see the house up close.  Instead on the way over there we saw these kids that were put into these big round balls and rolled down the hill. I couldn’t help but wonder how many times people have gotten sick inside of those balls.


We then stopped by Croagh Patrick, the mountain where St. Patrick went up and fasted during Lent in the 5th century and drove all the snakes out of Ireland.  In the last week of July over 15,000 people make a pilgrimage up the mountain.



Below the grounds of Croagh Patrick lies a moment for those who suffered while seeking refuge from the Potato Famine.  While they escaped Ireland to immigrate to the United States, the ships they sailed on had horrid conditions that resulted in many of them dying along the way.  If you look at the picture of the ship, you’ll see that the masts are made of skeletons to signify the life that was lost during those journeys.



We then drove through Doo Lough Pass, a beautiful but windy road across the hills on the way to Galway.  There we saw some beautiful sights around a large lake.  It was drizzling throughout the drive and made for a very pretty two hours.  We had to slow down a few times to avoid some sheep alongside the road. This reminded me of when we’re in Colorado and people stop to take pictures of the elk – now it was our turn to take pictures of the sheep.




We finally reached Galway for dinner, and choose from what seemed to be 100 pubs and rastaurants in this small walking area in the town.  There were some pedestrian walkways that looked like an old version of Pearl Street in Boulder.  We’ll be back in Galway later on this trip, and I’m looking forward for the opportunity to explore some more.


Day three is in the books! Thank you for continuing to accompany us on our adventure!