I’d never booked a bus tour before Ireland but in order to see more of the country outside Dublin I thought it behooved me to try it. It’s a risk trusting your vacation to someone else, even tour professionals. All you can do is research the route, trust to reviews from past travelers and cross your fingers.
Fortunately, my daughter and I are a lot alike in personality; we’re a good travel partner match. She’s like me in my ability to laugh when things go wrong and find humor in the ridiculous. Stupid inconveniences aren’t the end of the world and disasters that don’t kill anyone make for pretty good memories. Even when the bus tour you booked doesn’t turn out exactly how you anticipated and when buses break down not once but twice in the same trip, leaving you stuck in the middle of the Irish countryside.
There are far worse places to be stranded.
I chose two different tour companies for two separate journeys. The first Paddy Wagon Tours, on Sunday, May 25 for the following itinerary:
The “Ring of Kerry” Tour:
- Killarney National Park
- Killarney: Charming Town
- Torc Waterfall
- Killorglin (Where?)
- Dingle Bay
- Wild Atlantic Way
- Inch Beach
Paddy Wagon had so many tempting tours it was difficult narrowing it down. In the end, I decided journeying south to Dingle Bay would give us a good cross-section of that part of the country. To be honest, I also chose Paddy Wagon for the garish buses, because I thought it was funny riding in a vehicle emblazoned with the face of a leprechaun. It’s understated and elegant, not whoring national folk traditions at all.
And, full disclosure, I was anticipating Allison’s reaction to finding out she’d be spending a full day in it. I’m always willing to go that extra mile for a laugh.
Lovely Adare! I’ll never forget the blur of its beauty as we drove straight through it. Didn’t get a single pic but no worries, Google:
Adare is one of the reasons I booked this particular tour. Everything I found mentioned what a gorgeous showcase Irish village it is, with thatched-roofed houses: a picturesque beauty with brightly painted front doors, a veritable village in the shire – minus hobbitsses. Would have made for some lovely pictures. We sort of got a glimpse of it as we barreled through, on our way to Killarney. When I turned around in my seat, I think I saw a thatched roof, growing smaller and smaller.
Not to bad-mouth Paddy Wagon; I suppose it was my fault for not realizing listing a town on an itinerary doesn’t mean you actually stop there. Sometimes it just means it’s pointed out on the fly.
Keep that in mind while planning trips, kids.
The driver/tour guide turned out to be lovely; just a treasure. The second one, that is. The first drove us to where he’d left his car at the beginning of his prior shift, where we picked up the driver with a distinguishable personality. Well worth the stop. Our first guide said nothing on the hour long plus drive to his car, save to sit back and rest, as it was so early in the morning. The second was hilarious. A portly gentleman, a good-natured, red-headed stereotypical Irishman, regaled us by singing along to the song “I’m Sexy and I Know It,” which had us laughing so hard we cried. It was all in the delivery. Classic.
If you take a Paddy Wagon tour, ask for the sexy ginger man.
Killarney National Park
Our first actual stop, Torc waterfall:
Lush and verdant, that’s how I’d describe Killarney National Park, based on the fifteen minutes we had to find the waterfall, take photos and get our arses back on the bus. We were so giddy to stretch our legs, it was almost as nice as the waterfall.
trees – magical and spooky…
From the waterfall we visited the nearby home of a rich person, some man or other who’d made a lot of money (thus was rich). Someone not famous enough to merit actual memory space in my brain. Instead, the link is below my pic:
muckross house, killarney national park
As for its history, Queen Victoria once visited. Wonder if she was amused?
“The important thing is not what they think of me, but what I think of them.”
– Queen Victoria
In 1932, the house was given to the Irish nation. Now it’s a hotel and conference center, has a magnificent library (which I didn’t see or know about), a book bindery and is generally a pleasant place to walk around – if not in.
And this is the view:
fit for a queen
You can pay for a horse and carriage ride along the lake path, or, like us, you can wander until you feel you can safely get back to the bus on time. Supposedly there was time to see the interior of the house, as well, though you’d be choosing that over the walk by the lake. Given our time constraint, I think we chose well.
Killarney town was our lunch stop. Unlike Adare, our time here was much more extensive: HERE’S KILLARNEY YOU HAVE HALF AN HOUR TO FIND LUNCH BE BACK ON TIME.
pretty killarney, where something must have happened once, damned if I know what it was
Allison and I just bought sandwiches, so we could walk around and actually see something. We sort of accomplished that while strolling down the main street far enough to find a mini grocery store. I don’t know how those who ate in restaurants managed. I suppose they just saw the interior of the place and their food. I don’t recall seeing anyone else from our bus while in Killarney. Come to think of it, I barely remember Killarney.
I found the bookshop and we found a church:
take pictures, quick! we’ll figure out what it was later!
What it was:
Present church built: 1870
I found out later there’s much more to Killarney than shops and pubs, things like: lovely churches, a castle, ruins of medieval buildings, etc. But no big deal. We enjoyed cheap sandwiches, went to a bookstore and saw St. Mary’s Cathedral in fast-forward. I feel so worldly, so well-educated.
So ripped off.
If you want to see Killarney, go there on the blasted train, please. Otherwise, you’ll see the bit the tour company wants you to, the commercial parts where money is spent. Interested in Irish history and culture? Go there and hoof it around. What we missed is heartbreaking.
For instance, this:
I give the bus driver credit, though. He didn’t lie. He said there wasn’t much time and it would be a miracle if we found the medieval castle and made it back to the bus on time.
There are no miracles.
Didn’t see it.
Dingle Bay/Wild Atlantic Way/Inch Beach
This leg was pretty. Very pretty. Our time here was more generous, twenty minutes to half an hour, somewhere in that range. Half an hour to eat and see an entire town, twenty minutes to half an hour to take photos of a beach. Yeah, that sounds about right.
dual Irish/English sign for the beach
Lesson: there are pros and cons to travel by bus, just as there are pros and cons of train travel. Buses take you to more places in a shorter period of time, so you see less of more. Trains are the opposite. With trains you are at least partially in control of your own timetable.
Both allow you to see the countryside, assuming you’re traveling by day. It’s just a matter of how much you want to see in the time you have.
Given the opportunity to do this leg of our trip over, would I choose the bus? Hard to say. I saw a glimpse of Adare, enough to whet my appetite and frustrate me. Killarney National Park was lushly gorgeous but I love history more. Killarney town still frustrates the living hell out of me, knowing what we could have seen but didn’t. Killorglin went missing after we lost time the first time the bus died but Inch Beach and environs were well worth the trip.
Looking back, what I’d do is take an extra month or six and see it all by train and foot. That’s my answer. Stay longer than you’ve arranged or told anyone you’re planning, then make up a story about how you fell, hit your head and got amnesia and can’t recall anything after that. Those photos of you giving thumb’s up by castle ruins? Who knows how they got there? You certainly couldn’t be expected to!
A person can navigate train routes with amnesia, right? And manage to book lodging and eat, maybe buy a few souvenirs.
It’s always easier to beg forgiveness than ask permission. Never forget that.
[I will be posting more photos on Bluestalking’s Tumblr blog: http://bluestalking.tumblr.com/ I’ll let you know when they’re up]