Northern Ireland: Likely to Cause Wanderlust

Giant's Causeway
Giant's Causeway

There’s nothing like an amazing trip to spur motivation. Ireland is that for me right now. Although my visit was short, it was all I needed to convince me it was time to start up my blog again.

Last month, I attended TBEX (Travel Bloggers Exchange) in Killarney, Ireland. I’ve attended this awesome conference three times in the past, and am especially excited about it now, since we’re hosting it in the Finger Lakes next year. Yay!  Years ago, it was TBEX and the incredible people that I met there that made me want to start Byte-Size Travel in the first place. And now, it’s this trip that has me inspired all over again.

Ireland was a work trip for me, but like any travel lover, I took advantage of an extra weekend to do some exploring. I first visited Ireland during my study abroad, but in true college-student fashion, I pretty much just showed up and figured out what I was doing on the fly. In Ireland, that meant landing in Dublin, staying in a hostel, and taking a bus to the Cliffs of Moher. My love of glass did take me to Waterford the first time, which was a lovely side jaunt.

Over the last seven years, I’ve developed my lengthy bucket list, and was fully prepared to tick off a few of the items. My main objective was actually not in Ireland at all, but Northern Ireland: the Giant’s Causeway. I’d seen plenty of pictures, but nothing could have prepared me for the stunning beauty that I found along the coast. Some 40,000 interlocking hexagon-shaped basalt columns rise out of the sea, a product of a volcanic eruption 60 million years ago. I’d seen the towering basalt columns at the beach in Vik, Iceland, so I expected to be just as impressed as I was by those. But the epic scenery found in Northern Ireland literally had me pinching myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.

Giant's Causeway

Giant’s Causeway

I read an article about the Giant’s Causeway that described it as a “portal to Earth’s most ancient past.” I just love that. The columns fit together a like jigsaw puzzle, piecing together one incredible story full of both history and legend. Sure, it could be the result of lava cooling and contracting, but it could also be the handiwork of Irish giant Finn MacCool who built the causeway to go fight a Scottish giant who was threatening Ireland. (Check out the article for the tale).

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Legend or lava, the UNESCO World Heritage Site is breathtaking. We visited through a bus trip with Paddywaggon Tours. Years ago, it was the company I booked for my visit to the Cliffs of Moher, and I still remember our bus driver Shawny singing Backstreet Boy classics as we drove along, field after rolling green field. This tour included a few other points of interest that were high on my bucket list, like the Dark Hedges, a group of 18th-century trees that have grown to create an eerie and crazy dramatic landscape today—which is why Game of Thrones has used it as a filming location. Coincidentally, I also saw more GoT filming locations in Iceland—and I’ve never seen an episode!

Dark Hedges

Dark Hedges

Also on the tour was the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, which links the mainland to a tiny island that was used by salmon fisherman. Visitors can pay a small fee to cross it, but it was closed when we visited since the wind was too strong. There’s nothing like plummeting into the ocean to ruin a lovely holiday! The hike is about .6 miles to get to the bridge, and it’s absolutely stunning. Totally worth the walk, even if the bridge is closed. The journey is the destination, right?

Rope Bridge

Rope Bridge

We stopped in Belfast for a hot minute before ending the night, back in Dublin where we went to an incredible little pub called Merchants Arch right at the end of the Ha’penny Bridge. We certainly lucked out—there was phenomenal music, seemingly free-flowing hard cider, and an atmosphere I just wanted to bottle up and bring back home with me.

Belfast

Belfast

All of this was just the beginning of my adventures in Ireland. Next week, I’ll share stories from the unparalleled Dingle Peninsula, which is about to be famous as the backdrop for the upcoming Star Wars movie.

Lobster and Lighthouses: Coastal Maine Road Trip

Bar Harbor, Maine
Bar Harbor, Maine

Ogunquit to Bar Harbor

Recommended Time: 5-7 days

The coast of Maine is one of the most ruggedly beautiful spots in the United States. From craggy cliffs to miles of nature trails, there’s a lot that remains untouched—pristine, even. Quintessential New England harbor towns set the pace for vacationers. Life happens slowly here. You take time to smell the ocean air, walk hand in hand along the beach, and savor your lobster roll. From photographing lighthouses and browsing art galleries to whale watching and exploring Acadia National Park, a coastal Maine road trip is the perfect mix of relaxation and adventure.

Start your trip by spending a few days in Ogunquit, the most idyllic New England beach town you’ll ever come across. In the language of the Algonquin Indians, it means “Beautiful Place by the Sea,” and indeed, it is. Browse the galleries found in Perkin’s Cove, and stroll Marginal Way along the ocean. Even take a boating excursion to nearby Nubble Lighthouse. Summer is also the perfect time to catch a show at the Ogunquit Playhouse.

Meander up the coast to Kennebunkport, the summer home to President George Bush and family. With beautiful beaches and a thriving art scene, Kennebunkport attracts a cultured clientele. It is home to some of the most beautiful seaside hotels and upscale restaurants in the entire state. This is also a great place to catch a whale watching cruise or a lobster tour down the Kennebunk River.

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Whale watch in Maine, photo credit: Pat Hawks

En route to Bar Harbor, make a stop at Cape Elizabeth to visit Two Lights State Park. See the twin lighthouses—one the brightest on the New England coast, and the second, inactive since 1924—and take time to grab a bite to eat at the Lobster Shack. Perched high above the rocky coastline, this is the perfect place to enjoy a picnic lunch and watch the waves crash below. Stop at the Portland Head Lighthouse, just five miles north, to see the oldest—and most famous—lighthouse in all of Maine.

Portland Head Lighthouse, Photo credit: Anthony Quintano

Finally, make your way to Bar Harbor, a lively coastal town and host to Acadia National Park. Drive the 27-mile Park Loop Road, making stops at Sand Beach, Jordan Pond House, and Cadillac Mountain for stunning 360°-views of the harbor. You’ll want to spend some time exploring the crisscrossing carriage roads established by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who worked with architects and masons to ensure the infrastructure played in harmony with the landscape. Where sea and mountains meet, Acadia’s natural beauty makes it one of the most visited national parks.

View from Cadillac Mountain, photo credit: walknboston

 

What other coastal Maine towns would you include?

Places

Ogunquit

Ogunquit, ME, United States

Places

Two Lights State Park

Two Lights State Park, Tower Drive, Cape Elizabeth, ME, United States

Places

Bar Harbor

Bar Harbor, ME, United States

Places

Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park, ME, United States

Places

Portland Head Lighthouse

Portland Head Light, Cape Elizabeth, ME, United States

Ogunquit

Ogunquit, ME, United States
http://www.ogunquit.org/

Two Lights State Park

Two Lights State Park, Tower Drive, Cape Elizabeth, ME, United States
http://visitmaine.com/organization/two-lights-state-park/?uid=vtm80A5A66E87D5818FC

Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park, ME, United States
http://www.nps.gov/acad/index.htm

Portland Head Lighthouse

Portland Head Light, Cape Elizabeth, ME, United States
http://www.portlandheadlight.com/

Off-Roading in Sedona with Pink Jeep Tours

Soaking up the scenery on the Pink Jeep Tour.
Soaking up the scenery on the Pink Jeep Tour.

Doug beamed with pride as we reached the summit of our first viewpoint, Sedona red rocks towering above us in every direction. “And this is the view from my office!”

Enjoying the view from Submarine Rock.

Enjoying the view from Submarine Rock.

It’s hard not to be excited about your job when you are completely surrounded by immense beauty such as this—and fresh perspectives from tourists each day to make sure you never stop appreciating how lucky you are to enjoy the view.

Doug grew up on the Broken Arrow Trail. He knows every curve of it—every bump in the road. He can drive it in reverse (and yes, he’s done it!)—but he has yet to test the theory that he can do it in his sleep. It’s home for Doug. Each day, an adrenaline rush as he takes people on an off-roading adventure they won’t soon forget.

Soaking up the scenery on the Pink Jeep Tour.

Soaking up the scenery on the Pink Jeep Tour.

I first heard about Pink Jeep Tours when our friends at The Constant Rambler visited Sedona and took one of the tours. It sounded awesome, and I knew it would be a highlight of our visit to the area. But I’ll admit, I was a little skeptical of their tagline: “You Gotta Do It!” Having spent a handful of years working in tourism marketing, I equated this generic—and a tad presumptuous—phrase to the dreaded “there’s something for everyone!” But now, having experienced this for myself, I can whole-heartedly say that when it comes to Pink Jeep Tours, you really “gotta do it!”

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You can’t drive down a road in Sedona without seeing an open-air Pink Jeep loaded with happy passengers off on their adventure. For more than 50 years, Pink Jeep Tours has been showing people the very best of the history, nature, geology, and, of course, the stunning vistas of the Southwest. In fact, when the company was founded in Sedona in 1960, it became the first Jeep tour operator in the United States. Today, Pink Jeep Tours sees more than 300,000 guests each year, and offers lots of tour options in Sedona, Las Vegas, Scottsdale, and the Grand Canyon.

And don’t be fooled by the hue of these Jeeps. They mean business! Designed for “rock crawling,” they are custom made to traverse the rocky landscape of this trail—even going down a 45° angle at one point in the tour! But why pink, you wonder? During a visit to Hawaii, Pink Jeep’s founder was struck by the Royal Hawaiian Hotel’s choice of color—which permeated everything from the building to the staff uniforms. Pink isn’t a color you’d expect to see in that context—and it’s not a color you forget once you’ve seen it. Soon, pink became the signature color of Sedona’s favorite tour company.

Broken Arrow Trail was the first—and is still the most beloved—tour offered by Pink Jeep Tours. If you want an authentic, down-and-dirty, off-roading experience, this is the tour for you! While there is definitely a lot of action during this 2-hour tour, there is also plenty of time to get out and enjoy the crazy stunning views that greet you in every direction. Highlights of the tour include stops at Submarine Rock and Chicken Point, driving on top of some red rocks—something only Pink Jeep Tours is allowed to do—and taking one perilous journey down the Road of No Return.

The Road of No Return

The Road of No Return

During your trip to Sedona, do yourself a favor and take a Pink Jeep Tour. It’s a unique way to explore those famed red rocks, and your tour guide will take your on an adventure that’s sure to be a highlight of your trip. If your guide is anything like Doug, they know how lucky they are to get to explore the back roads of some of the most beautiful country every single day—and they are excited to share it with you.

Me and Doug

Me and Doug

Climb aboard and hold on tight! It’s going to be a bumpy, beautiful ride!

What to know if you go

The Broken Arrow Trail takes 2 hours and costs $95 per adult ($71.25 per child, 12 years and under). Make sure to reserve your seat in advance!

 

 

Places

Pink Jeep Tours

Pink Jeep Tours - Sedona, AZ, State Route 89A, Sedona, AZ, United States
(800) 873-3662

Pink Jeep Tours

Pink Jeep Tours - Sedona, AZ, State Route 89A, Sedona, AZ, United States
(800) 873-3662
https://www.pinkjeeptourssedona.com/
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