Travel Tales: Northern Ireland

I've been sharing some of my photos from my roadtrip around Ireland over the last few weeks. While I completely loved exploring Co. Kerry, Clare, and Galway by car, after 9 days we were ready for a break from the planning, the maps, and the narrow left-lane driving. 

So we booked ourselves a trip North with Rail Tours Ireland. I really couldn't recommend them enough. We hopped on a train in Dublin and after a gorgeous coastal train ride, our tour guide took us on a tour of Belfast. We started in the Titanic District with a trip to the Titanic museum, Titanic Studios (where GoT is filmed!!!) and a view of the famous Samson and Goliath yellow cranes.

From there we headed to the areas of the city that were formerly in turmoil for years because of the unionist and loyalist conflicts.

It was a perfect day of low-key sightseeing after which they dropped us off at our hotel so that we could take-in the city for ourselves (side note, we stayed at Hotel Europa, which I highly recommend due to the mind blowing showers, the killer bfast buffet and the hilarious complementary rubber duckies).

As a mega-fan of The Fall, I had to of course hit up the Botanical Gardens.

We headed out early the next morning on our Game of Thrones tour along the coastal highway. After just one day of packed-in exploring of Northern Ireland, it's no surprise that they film so much of the epic show here. We saw so many gorgeous places that I'm just going to let the photos speak for themselves. 

The Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. Not a GoT location, but definitely a must-see (and do).

Ballintoy Harbor aka Pyke.

Giant's Causeway

The Dark Hedges aka the King's Road.

Again, I can't rave enough about our amazing tour. If you have the opportunity and a limited time in Northern Ireland, check it out!

I'll be finally talking about Dublin in my next post so stay tuned!

Grapefruit Eton Mess

If you couldn't tell, I'm kind of obsessed with eating bright summery flavors lately.

And by that I mean citrus.

These individually-sized eaton messes are semi-vegan and are made using my new favorite aquafaba meringue buttons.

They're only semi-vegan though since I'm still working on a good eggless citrus curd. If any of you know the trip for this bit of culinary magic, please send me a link!!!

Anyway, these are made with layers of coconut whip, tangy grapefruit curd, meringue buttons, and fresh grapefruit.

They're the perfect light dessert to share with friends or eat while reading endless online articles about the shenanigans of US men's swimmers (because I'm sure I can't be the only one morbidly fascinated by this).

Recipe

Makes 4-6

Ingredients

GRAPEFRUIT CURD

  • juice of 1 grapefruit (or 1/2 cup)
  • zest of 1/2 grapefruit
  • 3 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 3 egg yolks
  • pinch salt
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter, cold and cut into small pieces

WHIPPED CREAM

  • coconut cream from 1 can coconut milk
  • 1/3 cup powdered sugar

ASSEMBLY

  • 1 grapefruit

Instructions

  1. If using aquafaba meringues, make these first (I'd recommend doing this the day before).
  2. Prepare grapefruit curd. In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the grapefruit juice to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 6-7 minutes until the volume is reduced by about half. Whisk in the zest, sugar, egg yolks, and salt and increase heat to medium. Whisking constantly, cook the mixture for another 6-7 minutes until the curd has thickened. Remove from heat and whisk in butter. Pour the grapefruit curd through a fine mesh strainer and into a medium bowl. Cover and refrigerate it for at least 3 hours.
  3. Prepare the coconut whipped cream. Chill a medium mixing bowl in the freezer for 15 minutes. Once chilled, add coconut cream and beat for about 1 minute until creamy. Add in powdered sugar gradually and beat until smooth.
  4. Prepare the grapefruit by peeling and removing the white skin of each section.
  5. Assemble the eton messes. Layer coconut whipped cream, meringue, grapefruit curd, and grapefruit until each serving glass is full. Serve immediately.
  6. Enjoy!

Meringue recipe from Pickles n Honey.

Travel Tales: Ireland Road Trip Part 3

After exploring the Ring of Kerry and Skellig Island, it was time to head up the coast to County Clare. Our first stop was the Poulnabrone Dolmen in the insanely picturesque area known as the Burren. The Dolmen is a portal tomb made in the neolithic era. We're talking before 2900 BC. So the sheer size of these stones makes it pretty crazy to think that a civilization without the wheel made such a structure.

The dolmen is surrounded by the classic Burren landscape of wavy stone interspersed with lush grasses. Walking across the stones, it almost seemed like the fissures were outlining the world's largest maze for some tiny critter. 

I was very tempted to make a Zoolander reference there but managed to restrain myself.

From the Burren we drove through more fields of cows and sheep to the equally epic Cliffs of Moher (aka the cliffs of insanity from Princess Bride and where Voldemort hid his locket).

The cliffs were just as gorgeous as expected, if a bit crowded in the area near the visitors center.

I can also definitely see why people fall and get blown off of the cliffs every year. I'm all about getting a nice photo but I saw so many people climbing over the safety ropes and leaning over the edge with their cameras that I'm honestly shocked that I didn't see anybody fall.

We only stayed at the cliffs for about 2 hours. In hindsight, it would have been great to have gotten there earlier so that we could have had more time to walk further along the cliffs.

Still, we were lucky it was so sunny and clear when we went. 

It was far from sunny on the next day of our road trip. We drove in to Doolin in the morning to catch a ferry out to one of the Aran Islands. Our ferry route incidentally took us by the Cliffs of Moher again, so we got so see them on a gloomy day as well.

We went to the smallest of the three Aran Islands, known as Inisheer.

We chose Inisheer because it was possible to walk around the whole island in one day. From the harbor, we set off to Saint Gobnait's church and the surrounding cemetery.

The cloudy day gave the sunken church and the celtic crosses of the cemetery an air of mystery.

From there we headed out along the rows upon rows of stacked stone walls that crisscross all over the island.

The beautifully stacked stones allow the strong ocean winds to whip through the walls without eroding the structures.

From Inisheer, we headed back into Doolin to the Doolin Café for some fish and chips. Our plan was to catch some live Irish music since Doolin is a great town for it, but after a day of wandering around Inisheer we were pretty beat and headed to our next airbnb to hit the hay.

Our next stop was Connemara in County Galway. We headed first to Clifden for a bite to eat (scones!) at Walsh's Bakery and a walk around the adorable seaside town. 

From there it was off to the Connemara National Park. From the main park entrance, we set off and hiked along the blue diamond trail through the hills, enjoying some truly gorgeous views of the area.

It's worth hiking the trail just to experience the springy bogs that the trail crosses. It's really trippy, you take a step and all of a sudden the gravel you're standing on gives way then springs back up. Just don't wander off the paths because you can literally sink into the bogs if they're not reinforced.

After our hike, we drove up the road to Kylemore Abbey. We didn't actually go into the abbey or the surrounding gardens but the place is pretty amazing and I'd definitely recommend it.

After Kylemore, we continued our loop around Connemara, ending in Galway where we spent the evening taking in the city. One of the regrets of our trip is that we didn't have more time to spend in Galway. It's a really great city with a bustling old town center surrounded by rivers and loughs. We grabbed savory pies at The Pie Maker for dinner. All of their pies are delicious and affordable and they are vegetarian friendly! Any of the pubs on the high street seemed amazing so we just spent some time going from place to place before catching a play at the Druid Theater. Seriously, Galway is awesome and definitely worth spending a few days in.

We unfortunately only had one night there as we headed back East to Dublin the next day. On our way we did a driveby at Trim Castle (no pics, sorry) and then went straight to Newgrange to get tour tickets before they sold out for the day (you've gotta get there by noon to get these, they're very popular).

Near the River Boyne in County Meath are Knowth (pictured above and below) and Newgrange, two heritage sites preserving neolithic passage tombs older than both Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids.

Built around 3200 BC, the mounds are made with huge rocks that aren't even native to that area of Ireland, meaning that these ancient people somehow and for some unknown reason moved these heavy rocks across miles of land in order to build these structures there. The outer stones are also decorated with fine carvings that you can see in some of the pictures of Newgrange below.

At Newgrange (shown in the picture immediately above and the two following pictures below) you can actually walk into the tomb. There is one accessible entrance and when you walk through the narrow passage to the center of the mound, you reach a sort of altar.

The highlight of the experience for me was when the tour guide simulated what occurs on the winter solstice. The structure is aligned so that when the sun rises on the morning of the winter solstice, the light flows directly and unimpeded down the entire passageway, lighting up the area that I'm calling the altar. So our tour guide shut off all of the lights in the tomb before turning on a single beam that recreated the angle of the winter sun. It's hard to articulate but the point is, if you're in Ireland and are at all interested in history, make the trip up the Newgrange.

And that was the end of our road trip. We drove down to Dublin, ditched our car and checked into our rented apartment in town. Stay tuned for more later on my explorations of Dublin and the surrounding coastal towns as well as on my journey up to Northern Ireland aka Westeros.