Reid Bramblett answers your questions about Ireland
It's one of America's favorite destinations--foreign enough to be exciting, familiar enough that the native tongue is English--a place where the craic (conversation) flows as freely as the Guinness. Like many Yanks--more than 44 million to be precise--Ireland is the land of my forefathers (and one foremother), and I always relish a trip back to the Emerald Isle.
The "Beyond the Blarney" article in the April issue of our magazine merely scratches the surface of the wonderful experiences and amazing sights from my two-week jaunt to Ireland, where ancient sights and rhythms are struggling to find a balance with the modern prosperity boom.
Ireland's still a land of family-run B&Bs that feel like nothing so much as staying in the back bedroom of a favorite Irish auntie, and of hearty Irish breakfasts featuring multiple pork products and enough cholesterol to kill a mountain goat. The twisting coastal roads are strung halfway between a drop dead cliff plunging hundreds of feet into the crashing Atlantic and a drop-dead vista of bright green fields embroidered with endless stone walls and dotted with sheep.
Despite the changes wrought by the modern world and the decade-long economic boom called the Celtic Tiger--not to mention the new early closing on Thursdays and smoking ban--village life still centers around the local pub. Cozy tables snuggle around a turf fire filling the room with the sweet perfume of peat, enticing you to sidle past the craggy locals planted at the bar jawing in Gaelic and gulping their Guinness, give a nod to the local musicians jamming Celtic-style in a corner, and ask the publican to pull you a perfect pint.
Reid will be answered your questions Tuesday, April 13, 2005 at noon EST.
Reid Bramblett holds the somewhat dubious distinction of having authored both The Complete Idiot's Travel Guide to Europe and Europe for Dummies. His love affair with Europe began at age 11 when his family moved to Rome and proceeded to spend much of the next two years exploring Europe in a hippie-orange VW campervan. Reid experienced a budget continent of campgrounds and picnics with the locals, though mostly he remembers having to sleep in the VW's moldy pop-top. After a brief stint as an editorial assistant at a travel publisher, began writing European guidebooks for Frommer's, Dorling Kindersley's Eyewitness, Idiot's, and For Dummies. He joined the Budget Travel editorial staff in 2002. He champions such underdog Irish causes as real ales, traditional Celtic music, Irish cheeses, hurling (that's a Gaelic sport, not what happens after too many whiskeys), pub grub, and tramping around bogs and wind-bitten downs in search of ancient tombs.
Reid Bramblett: Mille Failte! Welcome to the Ireland chat. Let the questions begin!
Washington, DC: My two friends and I are hopping to Dublin from London for 4 days. That doesn't leave us much time to explore the country. We don't know whether to rent a car and coordinate our own itinerary or to book a 3-day Southern Ireland tour with one of the commercial tour operators. What are your thoughts on the tour operators? (we were looking at Paddywagontours.com, tirangogtours.com, and shamrockertours.com). Thanks!
Reid Bramblett: Actually, I know nothing of those tour operators because Ireland is one place where tours are utterly unnecessary. For one thing, everyone speaks English there, and without a language barrier, getting around gets so very much easier. Sure, you've got to get used to the whole driving on the left thing, but trust me: you adjust pretty quickly.
In fact, I'd argue that tours seriously get in the way of having a real Irish holiday, because a big part of visiting Ireland is getting to know the people. That's easy if you wander into a pub or check into a B&B and strike up a conversation (the Irish are big talkers; they love the "craic"--gaelic for "conversation"). That's darn hard if you've got 40 other yammering Americans surrounding you and are staying at chain hotels.
On a guided trip, you're regimented into a schedule--and Ireland's pace of life chafes at schedules--visiting a litany of sometimes sublime, sometimes silly sights to be checked off a list. You also spend an inordinate amount of time waiting in line to do things like kiss the Blarney Stone and shopping at sweater mills. (Of course you want a thick Irish sweater, but it's better to browse for one at small village shops or even buy direct from farmers' wives who plant hand-painted signs reading simply "Sweaters. Around back." in their front lawn).
Also, just picture that solo trip: bombing around the country roads in search of just the sights that interest you, skipping stuff that doesn't measure up to snuff, and lingering when you discover a place worth exploring or a person worth jawing with for an hour.
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