Ireland Part 3: Dingle Peninsula and Slea Head Drive

Dingle Peninsula, Slea Head Drive

After grabbing some breakfast we made the drive to our next destination in the tiny fishing village of Fenit. We were a few hours early to check into our Airbnb so Myles did some research and we set out to find a hidden beach. And yes it was very hidden, like as in we found the beach that all the locals keep to themselves and don't tell the tourists about. It was completely deserted when we got there and remained that way the entire time we were there! We spent time being chased by the waves (not in the water, it was seriously was cold and windy) and admired the beautiful Atlantic Ocean. 

When we finally arrived at our Airbnb we were greeted by our host Nannette, who was so kind and again couldn't believe we were travelling around the country with a one year old. I mean it's not easy travelling with a toddler but do people just stay home once they have kids!? If you're able to, go travel and take your kids it will be unforgettable! Anyways we quickly realized that the sleepy town of Fenit literally had one bar and it wasn't even open so we drove about 15 minutes into the town of Tralee to grab something to eat. We ate lunch at a hole in the wall place called Dish which was cheap and tasty and then walked around Tralee before grabbing a frozen pizza from the super market and heading back to our place for a night in. 

The next day we ate breakfast at the top rated cafe in town called Yummy Cafe Market. This is a lesson that you should never judge a place by it's name or exterior. I seriously almost wrote this place off when researching where to eat just because of it's silly name and weird look to it. I'm so glad we went because the breakfast was amazing, plus it was filled with all sorts of people from every walk of life which was cool. We then set out to drive the famous Dingle Peninsula/Slea Head Drive (also known as the Wild Atlantic Way) which is rated one of the most beautiful drives in the world. It did not disappoint, we were in awe the entire time and drove for 8 hours, yes you read that correctly 8 HOURS! Never once did we tire or get bored, we were constantly stopping to see the magnificent cliffs, tiny villages, thousands of sheep and so much more. We drove the weirdest way (thanks google maps) which took us down this abandoned dirt road through the mountains for almost an hour. We were definitely at the point where we thought we'd have to turn around because we were so remote there were no houses, like absolutely nothing except sheep.

We made it out eventually on the other side and made our way to Inch Beach. This beach was incredible and is actually made up of a 5km long sand spot. After running around in the wind and sand watching surfers we continued on our way. 

Our next stop were the Bee Hive Huts which were built in the 13th century. It was so unbelievable to drive up to this farmer's house, pay a few euros to step on his land then walk up a hill to this incredible sight. It's hard to believe how these settlements/churches have stood the test of time and weather, they are literally constructed of stacked rocks, nothing holding them together. It's so surreal stepping back in time like that, wondering what sorts of people lived or worshipped in these places.

We continued on our way and stopped at the Dunquin Harbour which served as a transportation point to the Blasket Islands. These islands used to be inhabited but are so remote and dangerous to get to that now no one lives there. You can take a boat across at certain times of the year but unfortunately we were there at the wrong time and the sea was too rough to cross. There was this crazy winding road that went down to the water which used to be known as the sheep highway. I had seen a photo online of this area and had to visit, funny story we actually drove 30 minutes passed it, pulled over and debating going back and I am SO glad we did! Aspen was sleeping in the car and we weren't about to wake him so we took turns exploring while one of us waited by the car with him. There's something so freeing about running through new, open and unexplored places, I felt like a child. We stopped many more times to take in the sites and sounds and people including making our way to the sea side town of Dingle.

Eventually we made our way back to Tralee on the most dangerous road we encountered the entire trip. I cannot even explain how terrifying this road was. It was considered to be two lanes but was just big enough for one car, like I'm talking you needed to move your side mirrors in to avoid hitting the cliff wall. Plus this road wound through some mountains, it was getting dark, and the fog had set in. Let's just say I prayed that entire time that no oncoming cars would come. One did and it scared us half to death, we had to reverse to get to a pull out point to allow it to pass. We eventually made it back to Tralee where we ate dinner at Lana Asian Street Food and which I'd say was one of the top places for Thai food that we've ever had. 

The next day we ate breakfast at Wild in Tralee and made friends with some of the employees. Everyone was so kind and so excited for us to continue on our journey, no one ever seemed bothered that we toted a toddler around with us everywhere we went. We then set off for the 2.5 hour drive to Galway. On our way we stopped in Adare which I had researched online and couldn't pass up walking through the town. This tiny town is known as one of Ireland's prettiest towns thanks to a street lined with traditional thatched houses. Unfortunately a few years ago many of these traditional homes burnt down so it looks a bit different than what we were expecting, beautiful none the less. We walked through churches, castles and graveyards before going for a walk around the river so that Aspen could take a break from the carseat. We stopped at the Blue Door Restaurant for lunch and it was a bust, super expensive and fancier food than what we would have liked. Onwards to Galway! 

Europe: Hallstatt

When I first started researching our Europe trip I had a goal of visiting a tiny mountain town on the edge of a lake. I came across an article that listed the top 10 most beautiful and secret towns you MUST visit in Europe, and Hallstatt, Austria was on this list.

When planning it became clear how difficult it would be to get there as it's legitimately in the middle of nowhere in Austria and isn't all that touristy which made finding a place to stay tricky. I was determined to make it happen no matter what it took! After booking a flight from Prague to Salzburg I set out to find a place for us to stay in Hallstatt. I ended up finding an adorable little B&B and started emailing back and forth with the owners who only spoke German (made making a reservation super interesting!).

We arrived in Salzburg on July 24th and realized getting to Hallstatt was going to be quite the trek involving multiple buses, multiple trains, a ferry and quite a bit of walking (and the 2 planes it took us to get to Salzburg). From the time we boarded the second bus which took us to the train station we were deep in the Austrian mountains and everything was unbelievably gorgeous.

We rode the train through tiny little villages nestled between lakes and mountains before arriving at the ferry "terminal," one dock with the tiniest boat to shuttle you across the lake. We now realize that we didn't document our trek to Hallstatt because we were so confused and exhausted the entire way. In total: 2 planes, 2 buses, 1 train, 1 ferry, a bunch of walking and over 12 hours later we arrived!

We hopped off the ferry and felt like we had stepped back in time, with less than 800 residents all dressed in lederhosen, Hallstatt was already a dream come true. Apparently everyone in this town has the same last name or very similar so finding our B&B was kind of funny and involved a bunch of "Is this it? No wait wait I think this is it." We were so happy with our accommodation once we found it, an old bed and breakfast with a lake view and the sweetest owners.

We headed for dinner and stumbled across one of five restaurants in the entire town and ate traditional Austrian food by the lake as swans swam past us, so dreamy!!! We walked around a bit after dinner before getting caught in torrential downpour which had us running back to our place where we met the owner, a lady in probably her late 70's, who suggested we go for a swim! We thought wait what? A swim? It's pouring and kind of cold, then she said okay well I'm going for a dip that's what you do here when it rains! So we changed into our bathing suits and ran in the most epic downpour to the lake where Myles jumped in, I dipped my toes in and decided it was probably best I didn't jump in as I was already freezing with blue lips and soaking wet anyways.

The next day the skies cleared up and we ate a delicious brunch in the town square before renting a tiny electric boat and driving it all around the lake which we had basically to ourselves. This is probably one of the most memorable moments of our entire trip, complete silence, towering mountains, a secluded mountain town with a castle within view. We wandered through the grounds of the church (most iconic photo of Hallstatt if you google it) and walked through the cemetery marvelling at tombstones thousands of years old. Part of the church contained skulls of deceased residents that had been dug up to create room for family members to be buried... that's how small this town was, no room to bury the dead.

Later in the day the rain came again but we decided to go on a walk/hike to a waterfall we heard was nearby. Well it wasn't quite "nearby" but we trekked on anyways before walking through a farmer's pasture filled with animals to the foot of this waterfall, again just so dreamy!

The following day we decided to hike to the over 3000 year old Faszination Salzwelten (salt mine) which was perched above the town of Hallstatt. Once atop we decided to splurge and purchase a salt mine tour and we were not disappointed! After donning some pretty amazing looking mining outfits (mostly just to protect our clothes) we headed into the mine with a group of people and one tour guide. The farther we walked the colder it got (like really cold!), ice started to form on the cave walls and you could see your breath. In total we travelled over a kilometre into the mountain and over a kilometre downwards. The tour was hilarious as we rode slides even further into the mountain (for sure not safe whatsoever), you just had to keep laughing or else the overwhelming sense of claustrophobia would get you. We rode out of the mine on the sketchiest "train" I've ever experienced, it was basically you straddling a piece of 2x4 with wheels on it through the narrowest track in complete darkness without any type of restraint. We were told to keep our heads down and bodies tucked in as the cave walls were brushing up against your shoulders as you flew through the darkness. Well worth the money we paid, as we will most likely never experience such history like the 7000 year old wooden staircase uncovered within the mine (the oldest in Europe) or taking home salt from that very mine itself.

We ended the day by eating some authentic Austrian food again (okay and a hot dog at 9pm from some guy standing outside) and a restful night in our B&B. The quietness we experienced was a whole new level of peace which was so beautiful. There were no crowds, no mad tourists buying souvenirs in a frenzy, just the people who had lived there for generations. 

We could not have asked for a better time in Hallstatt and want to visit again so badly but maybe next time in the winter as there'd be no better sight than those mountains covered in snow! 

We highly encourage you to do some of your own research on Hallstatt as it was just so incredible we feel like our words don't do it justice!

Up next (who knows when) Berlin, Germany!

Europe: Split

Welcome to Split, Croatia!

I had no idea what to expect when we hopped on the plane to Split. Chantelle did all the planning for the destinations, and spent days on Pinterest looking at interesting cities in Europe. I pretty much heard the summary of each day of research from her, but did not see the images or read the articles that she was seeing. When I thought of Croatia, I pictured an Eastern-European country that was like Russia, but smaller. Cold, flat, and people who all had crazy dash-cam videos. I was SO far off. 

We arrived at the Split airport in the afternoon, and it was blistering hot outside. After clearing customs, we hopped onto a charter bus that apparently took us into town with a bunch of other confused looking tourists. As soon as we started driving from the airport to the city, my perspective drastically changed. We were driving through a rural part of town, with every house having red-clay roofs, and little farms. With a mountain on our left, looking out the right window, past all of the farm-style homes we could see a beautiful city surrounded by water on all sides. It made me think of Vancouver because it was a city next to water, with a large forested park at the very end, just like Stanley Park. 

Arriving, we were instantly taken back by how vibrant this city was and how clear the water was. We walked along the main promenade to the sound of music and conversation from all the people eating at the restaurants right beside the bay. Our airbnb host was super helpful when we arrived, and gave us maps, and tips and tricks to seeing everything. We were a short walk from the Tower Square, so we started to walk!

Split's old town is beautiful. It first started off as the resting place for an emperor of Rome way back in the day and the city wall still stands surrounding everything. The cobblestone streets were filled with restaurants, farm markets, and everything else you could think of. There were a couple Game of Thrones shops, because I think that some of the show is filmed here? Our first full day we spent walking around this awesome town, and explored every small alleyway and shop. We finished our day by having dinner at the little restaurant fixed in this small square surrounded by stone walls and apartments. We decided to walk to a nearby beach to end the day, and spent some time falling asleep to the sound of the waves crashing against the rocks at our feet. 

Second day we made the trek to Krka National Park which has these beautiful waterfalls that you can enjoy. After taking forever to get there, we realized that this might be the busiest day in Krka history. It was so busy that we had to find a spot about 100ft from the water, and I didn't even end up swimming because it was chaos!! Besides the crowd, the place was definitely magical, and you could not deny that it was beautiful. An hour and a half both ways for travel had me a bit irritated, but whatever! We ended the day on a high note (literally) by climbing up the tower at the Cathedral of St. Domnius. The views of the city on the bay was beautiful! Wont lie, I was super sketched out being that high in a super old tower built of stone. The only thing that kept me calm was the amazing views and the camera that I used to hide my face as the wind picked up! The town at night is a pretty vibrant place and next to the Cathedral is this large square made of marble with steps that people sit on. At night this square is packed with people sipping on their drinks while this amazing performer sings songs that everyone gets into! The vibe was really amazing with hundreds of young families and people everywhere with gelato, food, and in good spirits. We stuck around and enjoyed the crowds for a bit, and then explored the town square with some more gelato before heading back for the night. 

Our third day in Split we decided to travel to one of the small islands you can get to by ferry called Brac. This ferry we took was the slowest boat in the history of all boats. We could see our destination the entire trip, and crawled there in 50 minutes, which should have been 20 mins at most. We learned to laugh at these kind of things, because if you have ever been to Split, you realize that public transportation is a very special entity in its own. After arriving to Brac Island, we took a charter bus up and over the small mountains, and arrived on the other side to this really cool beach that they call Zlatni Rat, or Rat Tail. It is this large beach out of smooth round river rocks that shoots out of the island, just like a rat tail! It was nice to get off our feet for a while and soak in our last day of swimming on the trip; Bittersweet. On the way back we caught a really nice sunset as the ferry was pulling into the small bay which was amazzzingg. 

Up next we are in the fairy-tale castle city of Prague.