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On the Road with Reid 'Round Ireland: The Post-Modern Pot o' Gold

Ireland's Heritage Card can save you as much as €157 on sightseeing at 80+ sights—€10.50 even if you hit only the top five
By Reid Bramblett 

The Heritage Card is your ticket to mroe than 80 of Ireland's greatest sights, including the romantic ruins of Mellifont Abbey just north of Dublin

(Originally published May 28, 2003 on Reprinted with permission. All photographs by Reid Bramblett, save the ones of Reid Bramblett, which are by Frances C. Sayers. This article won a Lowell Thomas award for travel journalism.)

One of the worst things about returning to a beloved vacation spot is seeing how much has changed from the way it was in your perfect memories (which, like the postcards you bought on that first trip, have all the unpleasant bits airbrushed out). For me, in Ireland, that perfect travel destination was the Dingle Peninsula, but the day I just spent touring it made me quite crabby.

I realize it's a bit odd to start off a travel article on a down note, but just wait a few paragraphs and you'll get to the big pay-off that can save you some big bucks. But first, let's get back to the beautiful Dingle Peninsula and the foul mood it put me in.

Last time I was in Ireland, the Dingle was one of the highlights of my trip. Jutting from the southwest coast of County Kerry, the Dingle had always been a much homier, less touristy alternative to the famed Ring of Kerry on the next peninsula to the south, with its summertime conga line of oversized tour buses crowding the road.

The Dingle, too, features a loop road strung along an equally gorgeous coast where the steeply sloping land is quilted with green sheep pastures parceled up by a lace-like pattern of low stone walls. Sprinkled all along this roadside are ancient monuments in drystone, the stones cut and stacked in such a way that they don't need mortar to hold them together: there's a 3,000-year-old circular fort on a high cliff here, a 1,300-year-old early Christian oratory in the valley over there, a collection of 1,500-year-old beehive huts congregating on that hillside up yonder. Seven years ago, on my first trip here, all of these sites were so much fun to discover, explore, and photograph, what with all those sheep grazing right there amidst the ancient stones.

Well, all of those fabulous ancient monuments that had in the past been just sitting on farmland and open to all have since been fenced off—which keeps out both interlopers and those scenic sheep—and each has sprouted a ticket booth charging €2 to €3 admission.

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