Traveler: Jamie Colosimo
When: Novemeber 2016
At some point after your first child is born, there will be a moment, most likely to occur at about 4 am on a particularly sleepless night. As you sit there covered in liquids you can no longer identify, a sudden realization will strike: “Moms are pretty amazing”. And no, I’m not tooting my own horn. I’m talking about seasoned mammas; the ones who somehow raised helpless babies into functioning adults despite the constant chaos and lack of gratitude. My mom. Your mom… Because, let’s face it, she could have left you on the steps of fire a station – but didn’t – and in that exhausted moment, you finally understand why that takes courage.
This was the train of thought that led me on a trip to Ireland. You see, my mom is Irish… and she’s pretty darn proud of her heritage! As a child, I remember she even considered painting our house green “to honor St. Patrick”. She’s THAT Irish. The diehard breed. To her, visiting the Emerald Isle was at the very top of her bucket list; a list she had graciously put aside so she could raise six kids instead. (Yes, SIX! And there I was barely retaining my sanity with one). With her 60th birthday around the corner, I realized that maybe I owed her a little more than flowers and a Hallmark card. I owed her that dream trip. And so, I began planning our girls-only getaway – just me, baby Naia and my mom – three generations of gypsy-spirited ladies on a pilgrimage to rediscover our Irish roots.
Aer Lingus offers direct flights from JFK to Dublin. At about 7 hours each way, it’s a relatively short skip across the Atlantic that is perhaps best done as a redeye (departing 9 p.m./arriving 9 a.m.). As an added bonus, request a bassinet seat and you may be able to sneak in a nice little nap as well.
Why is it that moms always seem to know you better than you know yourself?! On our way to the airport, my mom was going through her typical “did you do this” check list. You know – “Did you remember your passport? Did you print the tickets? Did you request an early check-in at the hotel?… etc, etc, etc“.. I was nodding and rolling my eyes, simultaneously, when she asked about my driver’s license… Oh #@% (insert choice of curse word here)! It was expired! I had meant to renew it before the trip but somehow it had slipped my mind. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to rent a car like we had planned. Of all the mistakes I have made while traveling, this was a pretty big one. Yet, I was determined to find a solution and, hopefully, a silver lining.
Luckily, I had heard about Ireland’s incredibly fast and efficient bus system. If you read my blog on New Zealand, you might remember my roadtrippin’ technique called “Connecting the Dots”. Well, as it turns out, this is also a very effective strategy for locating public transit options. On Google Maps, there are several icons to preview your preferred method of exploration. In addition to the drive (car icon), you can choose to walk (person), bike (bike), fly (plane) OR take public transit (train). What’s especially convenient about Google Maps is that you can also customize your departure/arrival date and time. No more waiting at the station for the next bus or train to come around! You’ll know exactly when and where it will appear.
About that silver lining? Traveling by bus may take a little extra time and effort, but, in the end, it also eased my mind and allowed me to enjoy the sights instead of focusing all of my attention on the road. With a baby, it was also nice to hold her on my lap instead of confining her to a car seat. One more perk? Like most travel methods, there’s no cost for babies, provided they don’t occupy a seat. In fact, the total cost of riding the bus versus renting a car came out to be about the same. So whether you have a fear of driving in a foreign country, or you are just an absent-minded fool like me who forgot to renew your license, exploring Ireland by bus is a worthwhile alternative.
Where to stay:
During the pre-planning phase of our trip, my mom confessed her desire to stay in an ancient Irish castle. The problem was that royal accommodations don’t typically come with a peasant-friendly price tag. So I compromised. I found a “faux castle” located in the outskirts of Dublin called the Clontarf Castle Hotel.
From its impressive stone façade to its medieval décor, the Clontarf certainly makes up in charm what it lacks in authenticity. At $150 a night, it’s also a lot more affordable than a traditional castle-stay AND you don’t have to share your room with any unwanted guests. You know, like ghosts.
Pub Crawl in Temple Bar, Dublin
There are many stereotypes about the Irish, the most notorious of course, being that they really enjoy their alcohol. Whether or not there’s truth to this typecast, I’ll let you decide, but for me, blaming my Irish genes for my intoxicated tendencies has always proven a solid excuse. It’s just part of my DNA… & I mean, seriously, how can anyone argue with science? Being in Ireland, our “homeland”, we didn’t want to miss out on the quintessential Irish pub experience. There was just one teeny tiny problem staring back at us from her stroller….
So how exactly does one bar hop with a baby? It’s quite easy, you see. Now before you put a call into Child Protective Services, hear me out – the pubs of Dublin actually cater to kids! There’s delicious food. There’s live music. There’s a jovial, laid-back atmosphere. It’s not all about imbibing copious amounts of beer – although that’s certainly an added bonus. But hey, if done responsibly and no one is getting behind the wheel (See?! The expired license was intentional, I swear), then I say let your hair down, pick up a pint and do an Irish jig.
Still skeptical? Here’s a few tips:
- Request a table near the music. This will provide endless entertainment for both you and your baby, especially if there are a few tipsy patrons trying to Riverdance.
- Order the “Baby Bowl” – mashed potatoes mixed with tiny bits of steamed veggies and smothered in gravy. Yup, that’s stereotype number 2, confirmed. Potatoes are indeed a staple of the Irish diet and they like to start you on the mashed variety from a young age. Just be careful! Baby bowls are all too often served piping hot. Give it a few minutes to cool down before letting your child go hog-wild.
- Broaden your beer horizons. When in Rome, you drink wine. When in Ireland, you drink… Guinness! Right? Wrong! According to many of the locals with whom we struck up conversation, Guinness is not the preferred beverage of choice, despite the hype. Feel free to sample a few brews and make up your own mind. But for us, Smithwicks was an instant hit.
- Play it safe by day-drinking. The pubs of Ireland seem to have a pretty steady stream of business. I’m fairly certain they don’t even close. It’s just a consistent 24/7 cycle of debauchery. Even so, there’s an evident rowdiness that comes over the crowd as the sun goes down and so, when traveling with a baby, it’s probably better to drink, dine and dash before the evening brawls break out.
- Take turns. If you do want to experience the Irish nightlife in all its drunken glory, suck up your pride and ask for a “hall pass”. One of the many reasons moms make such great travel companions is because they remember what it’s like to be a new parent, especially how much you miss your freedom. My mom was more than willing to spend some quality time with her granddaughter so that I could relive my youth, if only for one night. Just remember to bring a hotel business card in case your memory gets a little fuzzy by the end of the evening… Not speaking from experience or anything…
I didn’t kiss the Blarney Stone. Why? For one, this was my mom’s day to enjoy a few baby free hours while crossing an item off her bucketlist. Reason Number 2: Even though we arrived early, the line to the top of the castle was about an hour long. Trying to hold a toddler who would rather explore than stay put in mommy’s arms for an hour was not my idea of time well spent. Third? I don’t really need the “gift of gab”. Have you read my blogs? I don’t shut up. Ever. Last and certainly not least, I don’t need the gift of herpes either. With thousands of visitors slobbering on that stone daily, it doesn’t take a doctor to determine that it’s not the most sanitary experience. Still I was super proud of my mom for facing her fear of heights (and herpes) to pay homage to this time-honored Irish tradition. As for me and Naia – we thoroughly enjoyed exploring the grounds of the Blarney castle, especially all the secret crevices and the moss covered walls. Mostly though, my daughter was preoccupied with her new furry boots and I can’t say I blame her – they were pretty darn adorable!
Coastal town of Cobh
My mom thinks our family may be from Cobh, the coastal town whose claim to fame is the last-known departure point of the Titanic. She also seems to believe we may have had a relative on board. Mind you, this is the same lady who also claims my grandfather’s childhood bestie was Frank Sinatra. There’s absolutely no proof to any of these stories but whether or not these family legends are true, Cobh is certainly the kind of place that I wouldn’t mind calling home. A small town of colorful houses set on a sleepy marina, Cobh looks like the setting of a fairy tale. It’s charming, walkable and, not surprisingly, boasts some of the best fish-N-chips we had in Ireland. My only regret is we visited as part of a day trip. Next time around, I would prefer to stay awhile… and perhaps share a pint or two with some of my long lost relatives.
Killarney and Ring of Kerry
Besides the booze and castles, visitors flock from all over the globe to behold Ireland’s gorgeous countryside. If rolling green hills speckled with sheep and wildflowers set your heart a flutter, the Ring of Kerry is not to be missed. There are a variety of ways to explore this scenic drive along Ireland’s southwest corner including car, bike and tour bus. With a baby and no driver’s license, we opted once again for the bus which proved an excellent choice, not only because it allowed us to take in the sights at leisure but also because our journey was narrated with a bit of the trademark Irish humor thanks to our jovial bus driver.
We caught the tour from Killarney, an adorable “drinking town with a tourist problem”. At the city center, the streets are lined with pubs, restaurants, shops and street entertainers. You’ll want to pick a hotel close to the action, without actually being in the midst of the action – that is, if you want to get some sleep at night.
Cliffs of Moher
If there was one experience in Ireland that truly took my breath away, it was the Cliffs of Moher. I was prepared for Ireland’s emerald green hills. What I hadn’t expected, however, were enormous moss-colored cliffs, towering hundreds of feet above the wild Atlantic. My mom chose to stay behind on this adventure which meant a day of solo exploring for me. When my tour bus pulled up to the entrance, I noticed that most visitors stayed in the vicinity of the main lookout. Since I was by myself, I decided to take a stroll as far away from the masses as possible. And that’s when the Cliffs of Moher transformed from memorable to magical. As the people began to dwindle, I found myself on a path at the very edge of the cliffs. To my left, there were curious cows and to my right, a sheer drop into the abyss. Here, I took a seat and watched the seagulls soar below. Time stood still. I was mesmerized. With the winds blowing wild and raw, inspiring nature surrounding me, it truly felt like heaven on earth… or at least the closest I’ve ever come. You ever want to savor a moment so bad that you actually tell yourself to remember it? I’m so grateful that, to this day, my memory has kept that promise to me.
Ireland proved every bit as magical as I had imagined. More than just spectacular scenery, it was the carefree ambiance of the country which I found so delightful and endearing. The mood was always light and the interactions, playful. Locals often speak in jest and it doesn’t take long before you are part of the pun. Now that’s not to say it was all clovers and rainbows, as with any mother-daughter duo, we bickered from time to time. Blame it on another inherited trait: the Irish temper. Quick to fight but even quicker to forgive. That’s our relationship in a nutshell. Nevertheless, we always found a way to ease the tensions of travel usually over some good grub and a pint of Smithwicks.
Having a child of my own has certainly opened my eyes to the challenges of parenting. I have a newfound respect for all moms, especially mine. I have also come to realize my strengths while at the same time accepting my flaws, or “genetic defects” if you will. Lord knows, we Irish lads are a tough breed to raise and it seems the crazy cocktail of characteristics being passed down the lineage only gets stronger with each generation. In the end, however, exploring Ireland with my mom and daughter made me darn proud of our heritage. Yes, we’re a rowdy bunch. We enjoy beer and never pass on the potatoes. We are natural storytellers. Sometimes, we’re pretty stubborn (though I prefer the term, “strong-willed”). We work hard, we play even harder. But most of all, we love our friends and families fiercely. That’s the real take-away. After all it’s never where you are but who you are with and I can honestly say that there’s no one with whom I would have rather shared this journey.