14 Must Know Tips for Visiting Ireland

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The stunning countryside and rich history of this gorgeous Emerald Isle has helped Ireland become a “must go” place for most first time travelers.  That being said the fall is a great time to visit Ireland as the crowds are starting to thin out and the weather is a bit cooler.  If you are planning a trip this fall to Ireland, congrats you are going to have a great time!  From the literary and pub scene in Dublin to the music and foodie scene in Galway there is something for everyone! If you are looking for some down to earth, no punches pulled tips for your trip, then you have come to the right place.

  1. Don’t underestimate the road distances in Ireland!  While Google Maps might say its only 40 km up the road, that road is going to be a narrow, twisting back road that is going to take a lot longer to travel than the estimated time.  Give yourself plenty of time to get to each location.  You will need it.
  2. On that same note, if you are planning on driving in Ireland, please drive on the left side of the road.  Thank you.
  3. While the Cliffs of Moher are awesome and iconic, there are other cliffs that aren’t as well know and equally as stunning (if not a little more) like the Sliabh Liag Cliffs which are Ireland’s highest sea cliffs.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  4. The adapter you will need if the one for the U.K., not the EU.  Or you can just bring a universal adapter like this one.
  5. The Republic of Ireland uses the Euro and Northern Ireland uses the British Pound.  If you are planning on visiting both, (and why wouldn’t you?) you will need both forms of currency.  Never fear if you forget that, because ATMs are widely available and easily accessible except on the Aran Islands.
  6. When you are in the pub, buy drinks in rounds.  Yes it’s a little strange the first time, however you will be seen as rude if you order a drink just for yourself so enjoy making new friends and buy a round.  It will be reciprocated!
  7. Dublin is an awesome city, however there is MUCH more to Ireland than just this city.  Plan to spend at least a few days in Dublin, then go explore the rest of Ireland and see the other cities and towns. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  8. For a more peaceful and quiet day trip, head to the Aran Islands.  These beautiful islands are located to the west and you can get there via the Doolin ferry
  9. Free camping is not allowed.  This really bummed me out because you guys know how much I love finding free camping, however be forewarned if you do here, you might have the police showing up.
  10. Dress in layers…even in the summer.  Anytime of year, layers are a good idea, just grab a day bag that you can shove the layers into as it gets warmer in the afternoon.
  11. Ireland is not exactly a budget destination.  It’s not the most expensive, by any means, but expect to spend around 60€ – 150€ a day for two people not including accommodations.
  12. To help offset the costs, check the hostels.  There are really nice hostels located in Dublin and Galway that relatively inexpensive.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  13. The Doolin Cave is awesome!  However there are a LOT of stairs and no elevator.  This is not for the faint of heart, however I highly recommend this if you are in good enough health for the stairs.  If you are not, skip this.
  14. Don’t forget your hiking shoes if you are an outdoor enthusiast.  Ireland is full of beautiful trails, so bring the shoes and be prepared for the view of a lifetime, especially if you are hiking near the Wild Atlantic Way.

 

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Mini Review – Queijo Vaquinha – Terceira

Welcome to mini review Monday!  Today’s mini review is for a cheese shop on the island of Terceira called Queijo Vaquinha.  This cheese shop is located in Cinco Ribeiras on the southwest side of the island and features truly delicious Azorean cheese.  We sampled the cheese and fell in love with our “cheese sandwich” which we went back for quite a few times while we were visiting.

Stats

Address: Canada do Pilar 5, 9700-321,Cinco Ribeiras – Angra do Heroísmo, Portugal

Phone Number: 295 907 138

Website: http://queijovaquinha.pt/

Hours of operation: Monday – Sunday 1000 – 2200 (10am – 10pm)

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When you walk in the front door you are greeted with a sample table, so you are able to try the cheeses before you order, and let me forewarn you, they are delicious.  Immediately beyond the sample table is the bar area where you order.  Now here is the kicker.  Don’t be shy!  Order a lot and take some to go too.  Two cheese sandwiches and two coffees cost us a grand total of 3,60€.  Yep that’s it.  So order away.   For a bit more of a reference, a beer there is 1€, and a soda is 1,10€.

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If you choose to eat there, tables are provided along with a very comfortable atmosphere and decor, as well as a porch area with tables if you choose to enjoy the weather instead.  This is a place for the locals as well as tourists, so head there expecting to see the local cops or families hanging out.  You can also take it to go, which is what we did the first time, and had a picnic at one of the many beautiful pull offs located on the island.

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There are a few types of cheese, not as many as you expect being a cheese shop, but enough flavors to satisfy almost anyone’s taste and the cheese is handmade by the owner, his wife and sister in law daily.  Terceira island and traditional tie for first place in my opinion and the spicy cheese comes in at a close second.

Conclusion

Would we eat there again? Most definitely and we plan on it in December when we return to the island.  It is a little out of the way, so if you don’t have a car rental, you might want to consider a tour group that stops by for lunch or a bus to get there, but it’s really easy to find from the main road.

Mini review – Free Campsite Jefferson National Forest – The Pines Campground

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Welcome back to mini review Monday! Today’s mini review is for a free campsite in the Jefferson National Forest which is located in Virginia. This campground offers hiking, wildlife viewing, fishing and jeep trails nearby. Being very secluded, the nearest store is quite a hike so make sure you come prepared.

Stats

GPS: 37.605,-80.075829

Water: Drinking water is available

Stay limit: 21 days posted at campsite however website says 14 days

RV Appropriate: YES small ones

Trash Receptacles: YES

Cell Reception: None

Open Season: April 1 – December 7

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Pros

  • Double campsites are available. There are 3 double campsites available at this campground making camping here with more than one tent, or with a small RV a very pleasant experience.
  • Enough campsites to go around. There are 7 single sites and 3 double sites along with an awesome picnic area.
  • Space, lots and lots of space. Does this mean you won’t see the other people? No, but it does mean it’s a lot quieter at night, especially if you do one of the two double campsites located down a small hill from the rest. We never heard anyone else, and the only time we saw other people is when we walked through the campground and as cars were leaving (our campsite was right by the exit).
  • Paved roads. All roads leading into the campground were paved.
  • More than one vault toilet provided. There is one at the bottom of the hill for the double campsites and the picnic area and one at the top of the hill for the single sites. The one at the bottom by us was not usable in my opinion, however I heard the ones at the top were nicer.
  • Plenty to do, or nothing to do. You pick. This campground has lots to do to keep kids entertained for hours, however there is also nothing to do if you need a moment to sit back relax and enjoy nature.

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Cons

  • As previously mentioned this campground isn’t really close to any stores so come prepared and know if you forget anything, it’s going to take awhile to get it.
  • The vault toilets leave a lot to be desired. They do have two sets of toilets which is awesome, but they could use some (ok a lot) of help
  • Bugs! Now, before you say it’s nature there is always bugs, let me just say we tent camp a lot. We are about 96% of the time tent camping in woods, so we are used to bugs. Having said that, this was nats (small ant size flying bugs). They were so bad we couldn’t even have a conversation during the day because they were swarming around us and would get into our mouths. Surprisingly, the mosquitoes and every other NORMAL forest bug was at a minimum, and if you walked out of the campground to the creek area or trails, there weren’t any nats.
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Water available however it was shut down when we were there.

Conclusion

So would we stay here again? Yes ish. The scenery was gorgeous and the seclusion was very welcomed in our case, however the bugs made it uncomfortable for us. So we would definitely stay here again…in the colder months.

Mini review – Free Campsite Daniel Boone National Forest Turkey Foot campground

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Welcome to mini review Monday!  Today’s mini review is for a free campsite in the Daniel Boone National Forest which is located towards the middle of Kentucky.  This campground offers hiking, fishing, swimming (in the creek), and places to go four wheeling.  Vault toilets are also provided, however bringing your own bathroom tissue is strongly advised.

Stats

GPS: 37.466717.-83.915375

Water: No drinking water available

Stay Limit: None posted however the stay limit for National Forests are usually 14 days

RV Appropriate: No

Trash Receptacles: No – Pack out ALL trash

Cell Reception: None

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Pros

  • First of all these campsites are HUGE!  We easily fit our 7 person tent and our 4 person tent in the campsite with room to spare.  So spread out and get comfortable…there’s plenty of room for it.
  • This place has a GORGEOUS creek running through the area that have areas for swimming, wading, exploring and anything else you want to try.  The water is almost blue as you can see in the photo at the top of this post and clear so you can see everywhere you are stepping.
  • Secluded…meaning in the middle of nowhere with a decent amount of space between you and the next campsite.
  • Plenty of outdoor activities.  Besides sleeping under the stars, there is hiking trails near by, fishing and four wheeling trails.
  • Vault toilets that are somewhat clean.  Yes this is considered a pro.  We have camped at places that I refuse to use the toilets because they were just that unsanitary…however these were not bad.
  • Quite a few campsites.  This has at least 9 campsites that I counted so there is plenty of room for everyone.  When we stayed, it was considered “crowded” by the local standards however there were still at least 3 empty sites.
  • Picnic table and fire ring provided for each campsite.  Needless to say this always makes the camping experience more enjoyable.

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Cons

  • Let’s talk about the road leading into the camping area.  First of all there is this bridge that you see above.  If it has rained recently, the bridge will be flooded.  As you can see water already flows OVER the bridge, just be safe and heed the warning signs on the way in.  Next the road is gravel…with lots of potholes.  We drove a Ford Expedition on it and had little problems, however smaller vehicles or trailers might have some issues.
  • Campsite placement is also high on this list.  There is a beautiful stream within walking distance from the campsites and you can hear the stream at night, however the area closest to the stream is for day use only, no camping allowed.
  • No drinking water.  We have been to some free camping sites that have drinking water, however this is not one of them.
  • Trash left behind.  Please pack out all your trash, as trash receptacles aren’t provided.  We got in late at night and set up camp.  I walked out of the tent in the morning to see that our campsite was covered with cigarette butts, and beer cans.  We cleaned up the area for the next person, but please be considerate and just know the person before you probably wasn’t.

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Conclusion

So would we stay here again?  Absolutely!!  In fact we discussed heading back without the kids for a weekend away from it all.  We just need to remember to bring more water and an extra trash bag or two for the trash that was left behind, but it honestly is currently one of my favorite free campsites we have found.  If you would like to see my review of the campsite on YouTube, click here.

 

 

 

 

 

The only 10 things you need to start tent camping tomorrow

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Summer is here and it’s the perfect time to start tent camping.  There are a lot of people I know that want to try camping, or their kids want to try camping and the number one reason they don’t is “we don’t have the gear”.  The reality is, you really don’t need a ton of stuff to try out tent camping, in fact there is a good chance you already have quite a few of the necessities laying around your house.

So if this is you, you have come to the right place.  I have put together a list of the 10 things you need to start tent camping tomorrow.  These are the basics, till you decide if it’s right for you.

First Aid Kit

You never really want to go into the woods without a first aid kit.  This doesn’t have to be a fancy one, but you want something that has the stuff to clean, treat and cover a wound, along with some pain killers and tweezers.  I make my own first aid kits depending on where we are going or how long we will be gone, but there are plenty of good premade ones out there.

“Cleaning” Supplies

We usually designate one bag in the car to contain all of the “cleaning” supplies so everyone knows where they are.  This bag (bin or box) should contain baby wipes, paper towels, trash bags, a towel of some sort, and toilet paper.  I am sure you can guess the uses of these items, just don’t forget the trash bags.  This is a pet peeve of mine.  There is nothing worse than pulling into a free campsite and seeing cigarette buds, bottles and trash thrown about.  Help keep the places clean by packing out ALL of your non burnable trash.

Lights

This doesn’t have to be fancy, a flashlight will do, but have some sort of a light.  There are fancy head lanterns, or camping lanterns, but honestly as long as you have some sort of light and it has batteries, you are good.  Just remember, you will probably be where there aren’t any lights, and it’s summertime so starting a fire is not always practical in the 90 degree heat, so have something that will offer you enough light that you can see the ground and not trip over fallen branches.

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This is the tent my 14 year old uses and sets up in 5 minutes on his own.

Tent

This is probably something you don’t already have, but don’t worry.  You can buy small tents or even a 4 person tent for under $80.  Make sure it’s one you feel comfortable setting up.

Something to Sleep on

Now you have the tent, let’s be honest.  You don’t really want to sleep on the hard ground do you?  There are numerous options here, from air mattresses to a self inflating sleeping pad, or even just a plain old foam camping pad.  Anyway you choose, just remember you want to be comfortable.  Getting a horrible night’s sleep is not a good way to really try out tent camping.  Give it a fair shot.  Get something to sleep on.

Sleeping Bagish

I added the “ish” to the end, because this is not really necessary especially in the summer.  We use an air mattress, and we never take a sleeping bag in the summer, only sheets.  Remember to check the weather and pack at least a lightweight blanket and/or sheets but if you have a sleeping bag that will work too.  The opposite of this is making sure in the winter time you have the appropriate sleeping bag.  Don’t get one rated for 50 degrees and then expect it to keep you warm when it’s freezing outside.

Something to eat with

Cooking utensils will not be included in this “get you camping tomorrow guide” because let’s be honest, you don’t need to cook.  Breakfast can easily be a granola bar and banana, lunch a tuna or chicken sandwich and dinner tortilla chips with a jar of queso and can of chili combined.  Is this the healthiest?  No, but it’s still food you don’t have to cook.  Having said that, after you open the can of tuna or chicken how do you get it out of the can?  This is where those utensils come in.  There are so many types of utensils you can use, but for our first trip out, I just grabbed spoons out of our utensil draw and used them.

Knife

This doesn’t have to be a fancy knife.  A simple pocket knife will do for the first time.  Once you decide you love camping, investing in a camping knife is a great idea but till then, something to open packets of food and slice slivers off a huge log so you can start a fire easier is all you really need.

 

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Firestarters

On the off chance you want a fire, (seriously who doesn’t want to cook smores for their first time out tent camping?) firestarters are a necessity.  Please don’t go buy a $4 fire starter, that’s crazy.  Nacho cheese Doritos work just fine.  We always buy a bag of the single serving chip variety packs before we go and save the Doritos for the firestarters and let the kids eat the rest for a snack.  This bag is the same price as the firestarter logs and provides snacks and fire… a much better deal in my opinion.

Appropriate Clothes

“Why does this even need to be mentioned?” you ask.  Well because you really need to think about it before you pack clothes.  Are you heading towards the forest?  Pack pants.  Yes even in the summertime because there is poison ivy and I am sure you will want to walk through the woods without rubbing against that.  Are you heading into the mountains?  Pack a lightweight jacket.  Yes even in the summertime.  Night time in the mountains can get down in the 60’s and if you are not doing a fire you might get cold.  Just remember to really think about your location.  You can always take off layers, but you can’t add the layers you don’t pack.

That’s it!  Now go enjoy those beautiful summer nights under the stars, and let me know when you decide if tent camping is right for you.

 

Stone Mountain State Park – What to do at this little known gem in North Carolina

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Located in the northwest part of North Carolina in Alleghany County, this state park’s central attraction is a granite dome.  Visitors to this huge park marvel at the 600 foot tall dome when they first lay eyes on it.  And while the dome is really impressive, this park contains something for every type of nature lover.  We just returned from a camping trip there, and let me tell you all the great things we found in this park.

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Camping

The campground is absolutely beautiful and contains 90 campsites.  Some of the campsites have utility hook-ups however we were tent camping and did not experience that side of the campground.  The tent camping area has generous tent pads, picnic table, and a fire ring with grill.  There was also a wash house, however, if you can I would avoid it in the summertime because the mosquitoes were horrendous.  However there are other restrooms in the park that did not have this issue, which was a nice perk.

Rock Climbing

This is not something that I tried, but I did look into it while we were there.  Rock climbing is allowed on the exposed sloping side of Stone Mountain and is supposedly some of the best in North Carolina.  With that being said this climb is only recommended for experienced climbers.  All climbers must register at the self-registration box located in the climbing area and a valid permit is required.

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The park is pet friendly however make sure your dogs are in shape or you will be carrying them to the car.

Hiking

There are over 18 miles of trails in the park ranging from moderate to strenuous.  We loved the trails here, but let me warn you.  If you get the itch to hike the Stone Mountain Loop Trail or just hike park of it to the Stone Mountain Waterfall, there are stairs and lots of them.  I will say the waterfalls are definitely worth the aching calf muscles that are inevitable after that many stairs.  There is a beautiful pool of water at the bottom you can rest at, go rock jumping at, or wade into if you wish while gathering the gumption to climb up the stairs.

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Stone Mountain Waterfall

Picnicking

There is a picnic area located next to the visitor center in a nice woodland (read bring bug spray) atmosphere.  There are 75 individual picnic sites with tables, grills, and water fountains, and this area does connect to the trails as well.

Fishing

While I am not a person who enjoys fishing, if you are this is a great place to go!  There are 20 miles of park streams that are designated for trout fishing, however please remember a special fishing permit is required for this area.

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Historic Site

Hutchinson Homestead is located close to the Lower Trailhead parking area, and is a walk through history.  First built in the mid-19th century, it was restored in 1998.  This homestead contains a log cabin, barn, blacksmith shop, meat house, etc.  You are welcome to walk through the homestead grounds anytime, however the buildings are open to the public only on the weekends during peak season.

 

 

Cardio and history at the Wright Brothers National Memorial

Have you ever been to the Wright Brothers Memorial? We visited the Outer Banks in North Carolina over the weekend, and being the history fanatics we are, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to stop there.  The National Park and monument showcase the land where the first official flight took place.

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Atop of Kill Devil Hill (a 90 foot sand dune) there is a 60 foot monument that honors the Wright brothers. In the area below the monument there is a sculpture of the 1903 aircraft, stones charting the first four flights, and the 1903 hangar and workshop reconstructed.

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Getting to the top of Kill Devil Hill is where the cardio comes into play.  There are paths leading up to the monument, however skateboards are prohibited and bicycles are only allowed on the roads, not the paths.  This means you walk.  I did have my Garmin Activity Tracker and there are around 2500 steps up to the monument from the parking lot.  Round trip is about 5000 lung busting, calf crapping steps, but the view of the surrounding area from the top is worth it.

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The monument was build in 1932 and though it looks solid, it’s actually hollow with black granite floors.  The inside is closed to the public except on special occasions, but the combined height of the hill and the monument makes it the highest point on the Outer Banks.  The inscription at the base says “In commemoration of the conquest of the air by the brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright, conceived by genius, achieved by dauntless resolution and unconquerable faith.”  This inscription is my favorite part of the monument.  “Dauntless resolution and unconquerable faith.”  How many people do you know have that kind of resolve?

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Would I recommend the memorial?  Absolutely.  The entrance fee is $10 per adult, and there are various discounts (senior, military, child, etc.) just so you know.  The entrance fee includes everything.  Definitely bring sunscreen as there is absolutely no shade and come prepared to spend a lot of time outdoors.  While there is a visitor center, it’s the only indoor area in the park.  Also, if you have dogs that love spending time with you bring them with you because they are allowed!

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When would I recommend visiting?  Anytime really. We did in the summer months, and I would love to head back on December 17th.  This is when there is a celebration every year for the first flight.  However if you can’t make it that close to Christmas, any cooler day is good.  I wouldn’t recommend in the middle of summer just because of walking in the heat, but if that’s the only time you can make it, pack water and sunscreen and go for it.

 

 

 

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