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Ireland 2018: My Ireland Tour Company

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 The stunning Cliffs of Moher. Ireland

The stunning Cliffs of Moher. Ireland

 Our Tour Group and Driver

Our Tour Group and Driver

I'm back and sufficiently recovered from a couple weeks in Europe. What a trip! My mother, niece and I had a blast. I wish we could have stayed longer. That's usually the best indication for a successful trip. For those who don't follow me on social media (if you're not... why?), I planned this trip as a birthday gift to my mom. She'd not been to Europe, and I was more than happy to accompany her on her first trip abroad. I'll write a few different posts regarding this trip, but today's post will focus on the tour company I used. By the way, this post is not sponsored in any way.

When deciding on how to see Ireland with my mother, I knew fairly early I wanted to use a tour group. I figured this would be the best way to visit several top locations, not have to worry about figuring the driving, and it would also give us a chance to learn a bit about the history of Ireland. 

 Our tour bus.

Our tour bus.

There are several tour companies in Ireland, and I'm guessing they're all fairly similar when it comes to what sites they incorporate into their trips. I chose the 10-day Iconic Scenes of Ireland tour with the company "My Ireland Tour" after researching several sites, and getting feedback from friends. Their website was cleanly designed and very easy to use. The staff was quick to respond when I had a few questions or needed to make an adjustment. The booking process was seamless. 

As the title of the tour suggests, this tour was 10 days long. There were 25 people in the group, and the driver, Tony, played double duty as he was the tour guide as well. The bus we used to get around in was clean and spacious. It had free wi-fi most of the time, and there were USB ports at each seat for charging our devices. 

We stayed in a total of five hotels which were all rated at 4-star. Some were nicer than others, but most of them were quite lovely. I will say there were two locations that barely made the 4-star rating (in my opinion), but all were clean, and their staff very kind and accommodating. All hotels offered free wi-fi, and the tour cost included hearty full breakfasts and dinners at each hotel. Lunch was often something we needed to take care of ourselves, but it was included on two of the ten days. And as a side note, our bags were always ported for us, to and from the bus/hotel room. We never had to handle our own bags, which is really a lovely extra touch. A few people on the tour noted that on other tours they'd taken, they had to handle their own luggage, and it was a real treat to not have to worry about that part of transitioning from hotel to hotel.

The other guests on our tour were fun and outgoing. We all really got along well, which made the trip even more special. Enjoying breakfast and dinner at the hotel, with the group, gave us a chance to get to know one another. By the end of the 10 days, it seemed like I was traveling with old friends.

A large reason this trip went so smoothly was the excellent care given by Tony, our driver/guide. He was incredibly knowledgeable about each area we visited as well as places along the way. And he did a terrific job keeping the history-telling interesting with his pace and timing. Tony also gave us an idea of living life in Ireland today with information on things like how their government works, their taxes, their school system, the cost of living etc. It was all so fascinating. If I didn't know better, I'd swear Tony was a teacher in a previous job! 

Tony wasn't the only guide we had on the trip. At several stops there were location guides, hired by the individual historic sites, who would tell us all about the grounds and history of the location. All of them were terrific, though a couple of them really stood out as exceptional! Again, all of this helped make the tour more enjoyable than traveling these sites unaccompanied. This was my third trip to Ireland. I'd been to several of the locations on this tour, but it was new for me because of the terrific guides and information!

 My mom and me with the gorgeous backdrop of Ireland.

My mom and me with the gorgeous backdrop of Ireland.

My mom and I had such a terrific time, I find it difficult to believe it could have been any better. I plan on taking other tours in the future, and hope it's as good as this one. If you're thinking about visiting Ireland, definitely take a look at My Ireland Tour options to see if they have a trip that fits your needs. If you have any questions for me about this tour, feel free to message me, or leave a comment and I'll do my best to answer you as soon as possible! 

Watch this space for my recap of the hotels we stayed in. There are a couple I'd love to return to upon my next self-guided trip to Ireland. Thanks for reading! 

Isle of Skye, Scotland

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If someone had granted me the gift of creating the most beautiful day in Scotland possible, I wouldn't have done as good a job as Mother Nature did when I visited the Isle of Skye. My husband and I were visiting Scotland with two of our dearest friends. The first leg of the trip, we rented Highland Apartments by Mansley in Inverness. From there we were able to drive to a few spots in the Scottish Highlands, the Isle of Skye being one of them! 

Carron Restaurant in Strathcarron.

Our first find along the way was in Strathcarron, were we stopped for a mid-morning snack. There, next to Loch Carron, was the cutest little restaurant which served delicious house-made muffins and scones, and tea, along with full meal items and Scotch, of course. After enjoying a bite, we returned to the car and traveled up to the Isle of Skye. Upon arrival, the sky completely cleared and the sun came out full force. It was absolutely the loveliest weather.

Our adventure took us to a castle ruin, a field of sheep (ok. that's pretty much everywhere.), through some of the most darling villages, and down some of the most narrow roads I've ever been on. And in case you're wondering, the traffic was two way! Polite driving is a must, especially when meeting a large tourbus coming from the opposite direction!

We were enjoying our adventure so much, we forgot to think about food until all of us were peckish. So we stumbled upon a little market, and picked up some hummus, fresh veggies, crackers, water and fruit. With weather like we were having, we didn't mind enjoying a car picnic! 

On our way back, we had a little mishap with the car, and needed to be towed. (Side note: It is always a good idea to pay the extra $6 per day for roadside assistance insurance.) Long story short, we and our rental car took rides on/in two different flatbed trucks, and that was an adventure in itself! I have said over and over, the people of Scotland are kind as the Summer day is long! The second tow truck driver we had, Angus, even stopped along the way so we could have a few photos in front of Eilean Donan Castle. By then the sky had become quite moody and dramatic. In other words... Perfect!

  Eilean Donan Castle  at night.

Although we had a bit of misfortune with the rental car, we kept our sense of humor and ended up laughing most of the rest of the night. It was a really long day, filled with memory making adventures. Of course, this view from our apartment was a lovely way to end each night regardless.

 View of  Inverness Castle  from our apartment's balcony.

View of Inverness Castle from our apartment's balcony.

Iceland, 2017

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I had the terrific fortune of traveling with my husband and two sons to Iceland. Our older son had just completed his freshman year at college, and our younger son was about to begin his senior year in high school, so we wanted to take a bit of a celebratory holiday. It was a fun week full of adventure, delicious food, lots of laughs, and new experiences.

 The view from Reykjavik water's edge.

The view from Reykjavik water's edge.

Whilst we were there in July, the sun didn't really set. It was the time of the "Midnight Sun", and that saying is spot on! My younger son, Ben, and I stayed up to see what the Midnight Sun looked like, and it pretty much looked just like the image above. Maybe a little less bright, but in general the sky was never dark, even at 3 am. That took a little getting use to, to be honest. And there's so much activity going on at all hours, that it really is easy to accidentally stay up until 3 am. There is certainly a lot of partying happening within the city of Reykjavik! 

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We stayed just a few blocks down from Iceland's largest church, Hallgrímskirkja. It was designed to mimic the rock formations on the black sand beach. It's absolutely a sight to behold. 

Not far outside the city limits of Reykjavik we hiked a gorgeous mountain. There were four different options for hiking difficulties and length of hike, and we opted for the 4-6 hour hike with medium difficulty. It was beautiful, but more difficult toward the top of the hike, than I'd expected. I was actually proud of myself for completing it. The views were breathtaking! And the fresh, glacial water that came out of the ground was the most delicious water I've ever tasted. We were told by a local hiker, and I'd also read several travel posts stating the same, that the natural spring water was not only safe to drink, it would be some of the most delicious water tasted. It was 100% true!

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We spent one day traveling via a bus tour, booked through Extreme Iceland Tours. We saw the varied landscapes, the black sand beach, the natural rock formations, and of course waterfalls and glaciers! The weather in Iceland in July, is actually quite pleasant. Yes, there was some cloud coverage and a few sprinkles, but there was also beautiful blue skies and sunshine. Temperatures ranged from mid 50s - mid to high 60s. Quite nice for hiking and general sightseeing.

The Blue Lagoon: Yes. We did the most touristy things, including whale watching and enjoying the Blue Lagoon. How often does one get to travel to Iceland? You might as well do as much as possible! I loved almost every moment. The Blue Lagoon was SO fun to experience with my family. The whale watching was exciting, as we got to witness several whales, but I was sea-sick most of the time (even after taking dramamine before boarding). I really wish I wasn't prone to sea-sickness. I do really love being on the water, otherwise. We also took a few hours to stroll through the Botanic Garden of Reykjavik. It's lovely, and holds much inspiration for rock gardens and cutting gardens for cooler climates.

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 Cappuccino with oat milk and a vegan brownie at our favorite spot Te & Kaffi

Cappuccino with oat milk and a vegan brownie at our favorite spot Te & Kaffi

I will be sharing the food we enjoyed on this trip, but that's for another day. I will say that the cafe Te & Kaffi has THE most delicious cappuccinos and vegan (and non-vegan) treats! I'm fairly certain we stopped in at least once per day... maybe twice.

 Let me know if you've been to Iceland, or if you're planning on visiting! I could see returning and visiting the less populated areas on that trip. It's fun experiencing new places, don't you think?