Tag Archives: traveling with kids

Family Trip to Ireland, Part Two: Killarney & Connemara

For the second half of our Ireland trip back in March, we rented a 9-passenger van and drove west from Dublin to see Killarney, Galway, and Connemara.  It was a great way to travel across Ireland — we purposely mapped our trip away from motorways where possible, so while it took a little longer, we saw much prettier scenery.  Because it’s a small country, we drove from the east coast to the west coast in about three hours, a fact that seems sort of unbelievable when you consider our D.C.-to-Boston road trips that took at least ten hours and only covered about 1/3 of the east coast of the U.S.

I drove and Matt navigated, which is our standard plan.  I am garbage at reading maps and Matt used to teach land navigation in the Army, so he’s pretty awesome at it.  I prefer driving while Matt tends to get super sleepy when he’s behind the wheel for too long, which is, you know, insanely dangerous.  So we have our roles and we stick to them.  My kids and my parents played games and read books and passed around snacks.  It was a really good road trip!  And driving on the insanely narrow country roads in England prepared me well for the insanely narrow country roads in Ireland, so driving that big van was no problem at all.

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Family Trip to Ireland, Part One: Dublin

Our trip to Ireland last week was one for the ages — we traveled with my parents, drove the entire breadth of the country in a 9-passenger van, and visited the farm where my grandfather grew up and where my mom’s cousins still live.  It was a multi-generational experience that we’ll never forget.

We started out in Dublin, which is where my Dad’s Dad was born.  Rather than go our normal Airbnb route, we found that hotel rooms were actually a better fit for this part of the trip.  Since we had four adults traveling, we could get two rooms and split the kids up.  We knew we’d be spending very little time in our rooms because the two days in Dublin were PACKED with activity, so having a kitchen wasn’t a necessity.  We stayed at the Jurys Inn Christchurch and the location was super convenient to everything.  And it included breakfast, which is always a bonus with my children who wake up starving every day.

We arrived in Dublin mid-afternoon and got lunch at a cool restaurant called Bull and Castle near our hotel.  We walked around a bit, strolled along the Liffey River that runs through the city, walked across the famous Ha’Penny Bridge, and did a bit of shopping on Grafton Street (which Bridget was super excited about because it’s mentioned in her new favorite song, Galway Girl by Ed Sheeran).  Then we headed to Croke Park, a huge 80,000-seat stadium in Dublin, to watch a Gaelic football match!  This was the first time in all our travels that we’ve gone to a sporting event, but I don’t think it will be the last.  It was so much fun!  My Mom’s Dad played Gaelic football in the 1940s for a team in Galway called the Tuam Stars and he used to play in Croke Park — it was absolutely amazing to see the stadium and know my grandfather played there when he was young.  Gaelic football is also really exciting to watch; it’s fast and requires a level of athleticism and agility that is incredible to watch.  Everyone was totally into it — we had a great time.

The next day, which was actually my Dad’s birthday, we did a Hop-on/Hop-off Bus Tour.  We’ve done these in a few places, and although it’s definitely tourist-y and a bit cliched, I think it’s one of the best ways to get an overview of a city, learn some history, and be able to choose which sites you want to see in more depth.  Dublin is not a huge place, so we were able to see the entire city and get off at a bunch of cool stops to explore. 

The first place we went was to Phoenix Park, which is 7x the size of Central Park in Manhattan, and home to the Dublin Zoo and the Irish White House.  In the park is a herd of “wild” Fallow Deer that was originally established in 1660.  They roam the park at will, but because they are so used to people, they’re not skittish and we were able to walk right up to the herd.  Another family there had a bag of carrots with them which they shared with us and we were able to hand-feed the deer — it was like being in a Disney movie! 

We got lunch at a tea room in the park, then hopped back on the bus and headed to Trinity College, where we walked through the gorgeous library and saw the Book of Kells.  Somehow the boys had all learned about the process by which scribes created books like the Book of Kells and they were all excited to see it and were telling me how it was created and decorated before we even got inside.  Any time my kids get excited by history and start teaching me what they’ve learned, I consider it a win.  The library itself is just breath-taking.  I totally had ceiling envy the whole time.

Then we hopped back on the bus and took it to the Guinness Storehouse where we had a tour of the brewery and a pint in the Gravity Bar, a 360-degree glass room at the top of the factory tower overlooking the whole city.  The tour was really cool and even the kids loved it — it was really visually interesting, full of cool facts and information, and the perfect birthday outing for my Dad.

Dublin was a really cool city — it felt very international and we heard tons of different accents and languages being spoken as we walked around.  Because it’s fairly small, I think you could get to know it really well pretty quickly. And there were so many fantastic shops and restaurants that we saw and wanted to explore but just couldn’t fit them in just two days.  I would love to go back again.  I think we all would!

For the next part of our Ireland adventure, we picked up a 9-passenger van and headed west to Killarney, Galway, and Connemara!  Coming soon!

Why We AirBnb

Traveling with a bigger family can be expensive.  Obviously buying six plane tickets or train tickets adds up, but we also have other added complications because of the size of our group. We almost always need advance dinner reservations if we want a table at peak times because it’s hard to squish six extra people in.  That means we always have to plan dinners at least a day or two in advance, which isn’t always possible. We can’t rent a standard size vehicle because they only have five seat belts, so we always have to upgrade to an SUV or van, which is, of course, more expensive.

The worst thing though, is that we can’t usually fit in a single hotel room — the limit there is almost always five people as well — so we need to rent two rooms.  Obviously doubling the cost of accommodations is a big hit to the wallet.  We’ve also run into difficulty where hotels don’t have adjoining or even adjacent rooms, which means Matt and I separate and each take two kids.  That’s a pain in the butt, to say the least, and when coupled with the significant additional expense, it makes hotels not very appealing.

Before moving to England, we’d never used Airbnb before, but now we use it almost exclusively.  It is THE BEST source for family accommodations, in my opinion.  For far less than the nightly cost of two hotel rooms, we’ve rented entire apartments where every kid has their own bed and there are two bathrooms and a living room with couches and a television, and the best part — a full kitchen. 

My kids wake up hungry, but when we’re staying in a hotel we have to all get showered, dressed, and ready for the day before we can go eat.  Having a full kitchen means the kids can be eating breakfast while Matt and I get ready and by the time we leave the room, we’ve already eaten and can start whatever that day’s adventure is straight away.  It also means that Matt and I can usually get a cup of coffee in before we head out, which makes everything easier to handle.

The other great thing about Airbnb is that the hosts are usually really happy to help us plan our travel.  Our hostess in Rome arranged the van that picked us up at the airport and had treats for the kids and bottle of wine for Matt and I awaiting us on our arrival.  Our host in Praiano arranged the car service that drove us from Naples to the Amalfi coast and back and gave us restaurant recommendations for our stay.  Our hostess in Edinburgh stocked the kitchen with croissants, yogurts, fruit, coffee, and milk so we’d have breakfast on our first morning because we were arriving very late and no stores would have been open.  Our host in Chamonix coordinated our ski rentals with the shop in French so we didn’t have to deal with the language barrier.  We’ve had really great experiences and excellent assistance from our Airbnb hosts. 

We don’t even look for hotels anymore when we’re traveling because we’ve had such success with Airbnb.  Our one bad experience, when we couldn’t get in to the apartment near Disneyland Paris, was a complete fluke and we were compensated for the night we weren’t able to be in the apartment. 

Another bonus is that, with an apartment, you have a little more space to spread out than you do in a hotel room.  When we were in Edinburgh, one afternoon was really cold and wet and we were all hungry but because the weather had turned quickly, every restaurant nearby basically filled right up with people escaping the cold. After trying 3 or 4 places and being told there was a 45 minute to one hour wait, we walked to a take-out place and got food to go, hopped in a cab, and went back to our apartment.  We ate at the kitchen table, snuggled up on the couches in the living room and watched a movie, warmed up, rested a bit, then went back out that evening to the Christmas markets.  If we’d have been in a hotel room, we’d have been crammed in with little space to relax and would have had to eat basically sitting on the beds or on the floor.  Apartments give families more flexibility.

Plus, the places we’ve stayed have been SO MUCH COOLER than a boring old hotel would be.  Our apartment in Rome had two lofted bedrooms, and the coolest entrance ever — that’s it in the first picture at the top of this post.  Our place in Naples had the funniest entrance ever — basically a tiny hobbit door in the immense full-size door that even the kids had to duck to get out of.  Matt could barely fit! 

Our place in Edinburgh had a gorgeous view from the kitchen window.  Our place in Praiano looked right out on the Mediterranean and we ate breakfast on the patio every day.  Our place in Chamonix was directly below Mont Blanc.  We’ve had way cooler experiences in these quirky places than we ever would have had in a hotel room.

Traveling with a big family can absolutely be complicated and stressful, but Airbnb has absolutely made our travels more fun and for far less money we’ve had better accommodations.  I can’t imagine we’ll ever go back to hotels!

If you use this link to book your travel on Airbnb as one of my friends, you’ll get a travel credit for your reservation!

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Visiting the Aiguille du Midi in Chamonix, France

The Aiguille du Midi is a gondola ride that goes from the village of Chamonix seemingly vertically to almost the tip top of Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps.  This single experience was, without a doubt, one of the very coolest things I’ve ever done in all my life.  I cannot recommend it highly enough; none of us will ever forget it.

When we planned our trip to Chamonix, this was the only thing besides skiing that we felt was a MUST DO.  But, because the gondola can only operate in the right weather conditions, we almost didn’t get the chance.  We spent the first two days of our trip skiing; overnight that second night, the weather in Chamonix turned and it snowed.  When we woke up on Sunday morning, we went to the ticket office and were told that because of the snow and high winds, the gondola wasn’t open yet and to check back at 10:30AM.  We were totally bummed, but went and got some hot chocolate and croissants while we waited for the next update.

When we got back, thankfully the ride was opening!  The sky had cleared, the clouds had lifted, and we were on our way.

The ride up takes about 20 minutes, with a stop halfway where you switch from one car on the lower set of cables to a second car on the higher set.  The village of Chamonix sits at about 1035m above sea level (2277 ft); the first half of the gondola ride takes about 10 minutes and seems like a fairly gentle incline — rising up to 2317m (5097 ft).  The second half of the ride takes you up to 3777m (8310 ft).  Our ears popped and Gabe was freaking out a little bit, but that’s what Gabe does.  Then we got on the second cable car and looked up.  And then Gabe wasn’t the only one freaking out a little bit.

I thought for sure that there must be another relay point we just couldn’t see between where we were and the top; looking at the cable stretching up in front of us I felt completely sure that there was no way on earth that we were going to follow that line straight up.  It looked physically impossible.  And yet, that is what we did. 

As we glided over the snowy, rocky mountainside, sitting in a metal box dangling from a metal rope hundreds of feet above the ground, I felt this weird combination of exhilaration and fear.  We were hanging in space, suspended over a mountain and a glacier.  It was both breath-takingly gorgeous and spine-chillingly terrifying.  As we rose, the gondola swung a bit each time we passed one of the three pylons holding the cable aloft (one of which is 70m tall!).  Each time, everyone in car gasped a little.  There was a general sense of amazement and a feeling like everyone there was holding their breath.  It was intense.

At the top, we stepped out of the cable car and had to walk across an open air bridge…

…that looked across this incredible vista…

…and up at our eventual destination. 

The wind was absolutely whipping and it was about -15C and within 5 seconds my hands were numb and stinging.  On the other side of the bridge we went into a bit of a tunnel carved out of the ice.  In there were a few mountain climbers who had taken the Aiguille du Midi UP, but were making their way DOWN on their own.  They had ropes and ice picks and gear that I can’t identify and were attaching crampons to their boots and they were going to go OVER THAT GUARDRAIL and climb down the mountain. 

I made the children promise right then and there that if they love me they will never, ever do that.

We walked through the building to an elevator that brought us up to the very top.  Because of the altitude, everyone’s ears were popped and it was, to be absolutely honest, a bit hard to breathe normally.  We all had headaches off and on, and I got dizzy walking up the scariest staircase on the planet, all metal and snowy and hanging off the edge of a mountain.  But it was 100% worth it for what came next.

When you stand at the top of the world and look out, you feel both tiny and immense.  The Alps stretched out beyond us in every direction forever and ever; at that moment we could see France, Italy, and Switzerland all in one panorama.

It was a perspective change that you don’t forget.  We are these specks on the Earth, so insignificant in comparison to the mountain.  And yet, there we are, standing at the top.

The last part of our tour was called Step Into Void.  It’s a glass box built off the side of the building that hangs out over a 1000m drop.  In order to convince my brain that it was okay to walk out there, I had to look straight ahead.  Once I was in the box, I looked down, and even though I am not afraid of heights, I felt my knees go a little weak.  I may have cursed out loud.

Bridget was the only one who, throughout the entire experience, never hesitated, never felt a tingle of fear; she loves this stuff, eats it up.  She’s the one I’m going to have to worry about going over guardrails and climbing down icy mountains. 

Owen went in the box, but only with Matt beside him.  Quinn declined entirely.  And Gabe, who spent the entire time up until that point near tears with fear and anxiety, watched the rest of us Step into the Void with his back against the opposite wall, refusing to even look.  And then, when everyone else had gone, quietly asked if he could have a go.  He’d worked up the courage; he knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime.  And he slid out into the glass room, looked out and down and up and raised his hands in triumph. 

And I thought, “THIS.  THIS IS WHY WE TRAVEL.  THIS IS WHY WE DO THESE THINGS.”

Even if we hadn’t skied, the trip to Chamonix would have gone to the top of my list of favorite destinations for this single experience alone.  It was inspiring, it was humbling, it was exciting.  If you can go, you should go.

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