Today on TraveLinkSites we have Billie and Steve of the Santa Fe Travelers. They have a real love for Ireland and now we do too!
1. Hello guys! Could you briefly introduce yourselves, your site and your experiences travelling in Ireland?
We are the Santa Fe Travelers aka, Billie Frank and Steve Collins. We’ve been traveling together for over 38 years. We live in Santa Fe, New Mexico where we own a travel and tour business catering to visitors to our area. Our blog, Santa Fe Travelers began to promote the business. Turned out, we love doing it. Billie does the majority of writing and Steve discovered he loves photography and shoots most of the photos. Sometimes we change places.
Billie: I love Ireland. Steve has Irish heritage and I just look like I do. People often ask me if I’m Irish. My first trip to Ireland was in 1997. I got to spend my birthday on a mystical island in a lake. I went back with Steve the following year. After all, he had to see the land of his roots. We went back again in 2008 and we’re ready to go back again. Our travels have mostly taken us to the western part of the country with a bit of time in Dublin a few places in the south and middle.
Steve: What she said. We love all of Ireland, especially the West. I love the food, the single malt Irish whiskey, the good craic (getting together with others and enjoying the good times), the music and standing on the shore feeling the salty breeze. I want to go back!
2. How does Ireland compare to the rest of Europe in terms of things to see and do, its food and its culture? Is it very similar to other countries or very different?
Billie: Ireland is a small, quiet country. The cities, for the most part, don’t have the glitz and sophistication of some of the major European cities. They don’t have the major art museums found in Paris, London, Florence, Madrid etc. For me, what makes it special are the ancient sites, the rich history and the traditional music. For years, the food scene was fairly dismal with an occasional bright spot here and there. We used to smile when two different potato dishes showed up with dinner. Today, one of the things we love about Ireland is the culinary renaissance taking place. Thanks to people like Darina Allen there’s a new emphasis on fresh and local and some exciting things happening in many Irish restaurants.
Steve: One of the things that continues to impress me about the Irish is that clan, tribe and family connections are still very strong. I’m sure this is more the case in rural areas than in cities. My sense was that Dublin is a modern European city, similar to the older European cities in its connection to the middle ages. As Billie mentioned, Ireland is now in the forefront of restaurants with a farm to fork approach.
3. How much money can someone travel around Ireland for? What are the greatest expenses? What things are relatively cheap?
Everyone travels differently and has different priorities so it’s hard to say how much money you need. Ireland, as the rest of western Europe, is not inexpensive, especially when your native currency is the dollar; it doesn’t trade well much of the time. Food, lodging, car rental and gasoline are the big expenses. A light lunch in a pub with a Guinness can run 15€ and more per person. Soup is a great option for an inexpensive and filling meal. Almost every pub has a delicious variation on vegetable soup. We discovered that taking bread, cheese and trail mix on the road allowed us to both enjoy our days out in the remote countryside without having to think about food and to save money. For part of our trip, we rented a cottage and cooked most of our dinners which was very economical. The best part was shopping at the local markets and buying the freshest and best of what was available.
The bargain here: there’s a lot to see and do for free. That can go a long way to compensating for high prices in other for travel necessities. We loved driving around the countryside discovering pre-historic sites, old churches, great vistas and more. We rarely paid admission fees. When we did it was, maximum, a few Euros. Granted, if you take the step-on bus tour in Dublin, it will cost you a bunch. Get a good guide book and then get on a regular bus or walk. It’s a bargain!
Our favourite evening activity was going to a pub and listening to traditional music. For the price of a brew, you can spend the night listening to wonderful local musicians playing tunes that have been passed down for generations. While some places have them, we never encountered a cover charge.
Steve: When we were there last it was a plus to be driving a fuel efficient car because of high fuel prices. For those interested in exploring Ireland economically, I recommend renting an inexpensive cottage as a base and shopping locally for meat, fish and produce. The greatest expenses are fuel, luxury meals and luxury accommodations, especially in the most popular areas at the height of tourist season (July and August). Food bargains can be found buying local specialty foods like smoked salmon, whiskey, fresh seafood and fish (especially where the locals shop). Listening to music at a pub, a walk on the beach or visiting an ancient site yield rich rewards at no expense.
4. What are your favourite destinations in Ireland and why?
Billie: I love the ruggedness of the country’s west coast and the ancient sites found almost everywhere there. I prefer small towns over cities, although, there are a few on my list. Just about wherever you go, you’ll discover beautiful scenery, friendly people and an Irish welcome.
Steve: I love Galway for its rich history and the Burren in County Clare for its wildness and connection to the ancient Druid spirit. (You can still find Druid wells and megalithic dolmen stone formations there.) Kerry is a magical place with wild coast and old stone forts. Cork is where my grandfather’s family came from so I feel a deep attraction.
5. What cultural activities and events would you suggest everyone seeing or taking part in while travelling in Ireland and why?
Billie: Traditional music is the first thing that comes to my mind. It’s one of the things that has defined the Irish people and their culture. You can usually find a session somewhere. Some are more touristy than others. Two towns known for their trad music are Dingle in County Kerry and Doolin in County Clare.
Go to an art festival or local artisan shops. The country has a rich weaving, knitting and craft tradition. My best buy ever: a heathery purple hand woven jacket form a shop in the Spiddal Craft Centre on the coast just north of Galway City. Fifteen years later, it’s still going strong.
Sites like New Grange are really special at equinoxes and solstices. They were built to catch the suns rays on these days. Other ancient rites commemorated throughout the year like Beltane, Lughnasa, and Samhain (roughly corresponding to May Day, Midsummer Night and Halloween) have festivals associated with them in different parts of the country.
For horse lovers, there are the Galway races in July and the huge Ballinasloe Horse Fair and Festival held in County Galway each October. What started out in the 1700s as a horse-trading event has grown to a huge festival with music, fireworks and more.
Depending on the time of year you visit, there are bound to be interesting events somewhere in the country. The pagan influence can still be found all around the countryside. A little Internet searching or good guidebook on Ireland will give you year round fairs and festivals to include in or build a visit around.
Steve: My favorite things are exploring ancient monasteries and forts; listening to music and getting to know the musicians and instrument makers. In Roundstone, County Galway, there is a famous bodhran (Celtic drum) maker named Malachy Kearns. You can buy a drum at his shop, Roundstone Music, and learn to play it right there.
6. What is your favourite thing about travelling this country? What is your least favourite thing?
Billie: My favorite thing: the quaint, narrow country lanes found all over. I love exploring and getting lost on them. My least east favourite thing is these same narrow country lanes. Sometimes it’s challenging to fit two-way traffic on the road. There’s also the challenge of driving on the “wrong” side of the road. For us, there’s always a mishap. You should have seen the expression on the man’s face as we blissfully headed straight for him driving on the right. Priceless!
Steve: Favorite thing about travel is the winding country lanes with unexpected delights just around the next curve. I love talking to folks – most are friendly, and extremely helpful. Least favourite would be paying for fuel.
7. What things do you focus on most when you blog about this country? Why do you choose these things?
Billie: Food, music and history. We are huge foodies and appreciate good food wherever we find it. I love that Ireland is experiencing a food renaissance. The music was one of the big pulls Ireland had for me and the many ancient sites speak to my soul
Steve: What Billie said.
Billie: That’s why we can travel well together. We mostly enjoy the same things.
8. What’s one thing you can’t travel around Ireland without?
Billie: Raingear- you want either waterproof shoes or Wellies, a raincoat and hat (I hace a wonderful oiled cotton hat bought in Dingle) or an umbrella. I prefer the hands-free approach.
Steve: A camera; it’s so great to have the photos to remind us when we get back home.
9. If you could have lived/travelled anywhere else in the country (but for some reason you couldn’t) where would it have been and why?
Billie: Sligo and Donegal in the northwest are on the bucket list. Donegal is one of the Gaeltacht areas; places where Irish is recognized as the official language. There’s rich Irish history and culture to be explored. Sligo has some megalithic sites I want to explore. I also want to visit the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland.
Steve: I want to see Northern Ireland.
10. If you could think of one thing you wished someone had told you before you started travelling in Ireland what would it be?
Billie: A wise Irish friend said something really important at the onset of our trip. If he hadn’t shared it, our travels would have been very different and perhaps not so enjoyable. “You American tourists,” he said to us, “try to get everything into one trip.” He suggested we pick an area to focus on and explore that in depth. We took his advice and we’re glad we did.
Steve: I agree with Billie. Ireland looks like a small country (and it is in pure geographical terms) but each area is so dense with history, culture and delightful experiences it can’t be properly appreciated in one bite.
Thanks guys! What a feast of beautiful Ireland you’ve laid out for us.
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