The following are some lessons learned and lessons remembered as well as general travel notes inspired by my 2019 trip to Ireland. The following notes are organized by topic. I offer no guarantees, these are just my opinions and I suspect that some will have other opinions and will publish their opinions on their own blog.
TOPIC: Currency, Credit Cards and Related Topics
Since this particular topic discussion is verbose; I will give the short version which is always carry plenty of local currency and do not over stress worrying about exchange rates and always carry a good credit card and an ATM card.
In preparing for this trip I would occasionally see discussions about currency exchanges and getting the best rates. What I found in general that is there is no general rule that is absolutely perfect. I usually try to avoid changing money at an airport since typically an airport does not have as many competing firms where as in the center of a city like Dublin there are a wider variety of exchanges often relatively close. I arrived in Dublin with Euros in my pocket which I had kept from from trip to Paris a few years previously. This allowed me to quickly buy a bus ticket into Dublin where I went to my hotel, checked in and then went to exchange a larger amount. I suggest always changing in large amounts of $100; doing $20 or $40 just is a waste of time. Also your time in a country is limited and there are more interesting and valuable things to do than waste thirty minutes of time and six Euros in taxi fees to get a five Euro better exchange rate.
My practice is to carry plenty of US Dollars in case I need to change unexpectedly as well as a card for doing cash withdrawals from an ATM. There are more ATM locations than currency exchanges so plan to use an ATM at least once in your trip and probably when you do not expect it.
I was fortunate to have the Capital One Venture card with Contactless technology which meant that as long as a shop's sales terminal supported Contactless then there was no need to do the signature step. And almost all stores in Ireland had terminals which support Contactless. Note that the staff at a store tended to look at the front of the card for the Contactless symbol while on my card it was on the reverse. Also they were not used to people from the USA having Contactless cards so I would proactively hold up my card and say "Just need to tap this" and depending on the location of the terminal either the cashier or I would do the tap and the transaction would proceed. I found no person there using the term "Contactless" everyone used the term "Tap" and even though it technically does not require touching the card to the terminal almost everyone does touch the card to the terminal rather than try to find the distance where the transaction went through.
One value of using the Capital One Venture card for many of my purchases such as museum or event admission fees and meals is that when I got home I had a record. If I asked myself what was the name of that nice little cafe where I had lunch on a particular day I could get the info from the transaction history online from the Credit Card website.
In the four weeks of this Ireland trip I used my Capital One Venture card about 110 times on everything from snacks to lodging. Just do the transaction in Euros and let Capital One do the conversion.
A final item that many do not consider but which I recommend is using the Starbucks mobile app payment system. Yes I know there is better coffee than Starbucks but that is a discussion for a different time and a different venue. I have used the Starbucks app many times in the USA and when in Dublin I needed a bit of energy so I walked into a Starbucks where I got a double espresso and a croissant. The cashier scanned the Starbucks app on my phone and international tech worked perfectly. Of course the Starbucks store reader needs to be working, a few days later I went into a Starbucks with a broken system and they were waiting for repairs. But in general having the Starbucks app with at least 25 dollars credit on it is a good idea. At this point someone is saying that this is giving Starbucks an interest free loan of 25 dollars. To which I reply well obviously and so what, the convenience factor in my value system far out weighs any trivial amount of lost interest.
Which leads me to the final point; always carry the local currency with you. In addition I always had an emergency twenty Euro note with me but stashed away from the rest of the currency as a "just in case" something happens like being mugged or pickpocketed or loosing the wallet, fortunately none of those happened to me and I never needed to use the emergency twenty euro note. In Dublin twenty Euro will typically get you a taxi back to your hotel.
I used taxis in Dublin about three or four times and a couple of times in Belfast and twice in Kilkenny and one in Limerick. What I found was the cost was lower that I expected however with one exception taxis were cash only. The exception was Dublin. When I first got to Dublin I saw reference to an app FreeNow which one installed on their smartphone and added a credit card then used the app to pay for a taxi which was part of the FreeNow system or to both summon and pay for such a taxi. I tried it and it worked sometimes and sometime it just would not work. In one case I got a taxi from a taxi queue and during the trip asked the driver about using FreeNow to pay and the reply was sure. When we arrived at the destination I brought up the app on my phone and the taxi driver did like wise and both were connected to the service however each time the driver tried to do the charge the back end glitched. Fortunately I had currency so I paid currency. Just as I was leaving Ireland got an update the app notice that a new version was out.
What I found out near the end of my trip is that Uber is operating in Dublin however not with independent drivers but only with regular taxis. So the last time I needed a taxi I got out my phone and fired up the Uber app and did all of the steps just like I normally do. It connected with a taxi and give me information about the vehicle and the name of the driver just as usual and I saw the little automation as the taxi got closer. The driver got me to where I was going and the Uber app did the charge to my credit card just like it always does.
I have been told that Lyft might be trying to get a foot hold in some parts of Ireland however this is not something I bumped into so I do not have info on that.
TOPIC: What to see and do
The most important this to remember is seeing everything is not realistic expectation. There will be either a lack of time or lack of funds or logistical problems getting to a location. Or the "if I had only heard about it when I was still there" lament heard when someone hears about some fantastic thing as their bus, train or plain is taking them to their next destination. If one expects one of the above to occur then when it does occur it will not be such a shock.
One approach is to have a list of items for each local longer than time, funds and logistics permit. Thus it is easy to go to the next one on the list and not fret. Good websites provide reasonable evaluations. I have used and booked through TripAdvisor and Viator for various tours and events and have found them both to be accurate in the description of the tour or event. Certainly there are others just be careful to check them. For example I used GetYourGuide in Dublin for the first time and all was as advertised.
I suggest stopping in the local tourist office and looking around at what is advertised, many of the items might not be to your taste but typically they have some good information. For example in Limerick that is how I found out about The People's Museum of Limerick which had just opened was not prominent in search engines and is too small for Viator or TripAdvisor.
And be aware of individual interests, just because several people like Cathedrals does not mean that they are a must see. Personally I am not much interested in Cathedrals, Synagogues, Mosques, etc unless there is some very important architectural feature. Some people like to visit the graves of important persons; others like to visit their birth places. So decide what interests you and if with a group realize that you might be in the minority.
TOPIC: Communications (T-MOBILE)
This short discussion about communications is only focused on T-Mobile because of the different practices of the various providers. I am a T-Mobile user so what I describe is T-Mobile specific and plan specific. As a T-Mobile user with a good plan I was able to land in Dublin and if I let the phone auto connect to a cell service it did and I had voice and text. So someone could call me at my usual mobile number and it just worked. Or they could send me a text. This is due to an arrangement T-Moblle has made and it is great. Well almost great because the data part of T-Mobile was not included. So what is required is go to the T-Mobile website and buy a supplementary data plan. The one I bought was about 50 Euros and it was worth every Euro to have data for finding museums and checking restaurant reviews, etc. Someone might be saying but 50 Euro is a bit of money and my response is a person will more than recover the cost in terms of a better quality of trip and will very likely save almost that much in finding less expensive restaurant options.
TOPIC: Food and Eating
Almost every large hotel has the breakfast buffet which as the advantage of being able to serve many people relatively quickly. This is particularly important for large bus tour groups. August was tourist season and there were many of these tour groups. Typically there are two prices; cold buffet which is cereal, fruit, pastries, juice and coffee or the hot buffet as a higher price which includes the cold buffet as well as scrambled eggs, grilled tomatoes, potatoes, bacon and sometimes sausage. Some hotels included breakfast in the price of the room and some did not. I would sometimes do the hot buffet for breakfast and then do a light lunch.
I seldom eat at McDonald's in the USA however I will occasionally eat once at a McDonald's in another country for comparison. For example the best McDonald's meal I had outside the USA was in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico; the worst was in Yokohama, Japan. London England and Paris France were sort of in the OK middle was was Australia. Of course I realize that single point samples are not valid for much however I find it interesting. In Waterford I got the Quarter Pounder with Cheese Meal (fries and Orange Juice) for 7.10 Euro. The burger was just barely OK but the fries were definitely below par so I would rank it in the lower tier along with Yokohama.
I found that Yelp reviews and Google reviews were usually very accurate in recommending places to eat. Overall the quality of the food in Ireland was very good and the service fine.
TOPIC: Head, hands and feet
In some parts of the world such as Ireland one will often encounter ancient stone steps, spiral stairs, low ceiling and door frames so here is a reminder:
1. Keep one hand always on the hand rail
2. Go slowly and carefully and watch where you put your feet.
3. Keep the other hand palm up and flat about two centimeters above your head.
4. When you reach a level area and there is no longer a hand rail and your hands feel wet avoid the often unconscious impulse to wipe your hands on your clothing. Your hands might just be wet or they might be covered with rust. Particularly in open air sites such as King John's castle in Limerick Ireland there any many bare iron hand rails and door fixtures. A little hand sanitizer and a facial tissue will take off the worst and later when a restroom is available a vigorous scrub with soap and water will take care of the rest. I strongly suggest always carrying a small packet of facial tissues at all times.
In some "Out in Nature" sites there was no wind protection so one should be very careful that one was not blown off one's feet. I was not blown over however during many sudden gusts I noticed that I and many around me were bending over with our hands on our knees in order to lower our center of mass as well as reduce the surface area for the wind to impact. Plus one had to be careful about stepping because some of the rocks were not stable as well as being slick. The trick was to always look ahead before one took a step to where one could reach out a hand to steady oneself on another higher rock nearby in case of a wind gust or a slick or unstable rock.
TOPIC: Multi-person All Gender Restrooms
These are not new to me since the are several "Unisex" or "All Gender" (the two terms are often used interchangeably) restrooms in the greater SF Bay area. I am mentioning this here because I expect they will become more common. The one I encountered was identified with a sign outside the door saying that it was "unisex and for all" and also indicated there were gender segregated facility elsewhere. In this facility my memory is there were about seven stalls with lockable floor to ceiling doors and an area with about four soap and water stations for hand washing and a baby changing station. I did not think much about using it however it seems that this was the first time that some had seen this based on what I heard on the day tour bus. The comment from one person on the tour was something like "We do not have anything like that in the state I come from. But I did give a try to see what it was like" and it appeared the commentor had no problems. One reason that I predict the "all gender" restrooms will become increasingly common is that it allows more efficient use of space for example in just needing space for one baby changing station instead of two. Another reason is for venues which have events with varying uneven gender attendance there facility doe not need to create a facility which is underutilized a various times.
TOPIC: Hints on what to wear and what was useful
I joking told people that weather in Dublin for Worldcon in August was not that different from the weather in San Jose in January. Well it was a joke but with a bit of accuracy. There was wind and some precipitation on many days and the temperature did not get very high. I wore my black Scott T5 Travel Sport Coat and it worked incredibly well. In addition to the usual outer left and outer right pockets it has many inside zippered pockets for security as well as convenience. I found that I could carry all my Euro coins in the left front pocket and if I needed to pay a small about such as one Euro it was very easy to dip my left hand in to the pocket and bring up the coins and use my right hand to find the ones I needed. Yes I know that a skilled pickpocket could maybe reach their hand in the pocket and maybe I would not notice but at most I would loose maybe a few Euro which was trivial compared to the convenience of getting to the coins quickly.
I also had a monocular that I had years ago purchased for about $25 dollar on Amazon. The key thing about this monocular is that it has one hand hold and operation. Focus is done by a rocker on the top which you control with your pointer and middle fingers; the thumb and other fingers grip the unit. The one hand operation is really very handy. This is not precision optics but it is good enough for looking at architectural detail up on a building or a better view of birds on the water away from shore.
I will also mention Sea to Summit wallets. I have two; one I carry everyday at home and one which is only for travel. Thus when I arrived in Dublin I just needed to switch wallets since I already Euros in my travel wallet. And the Sea to Summit wallets are RFID shielded which is important. They are not cheap but I think are well worth the price. A hint, if you buy them on Amazon make sure you are getting the size you want since when I bought mine the Amazon listed three sizes on the same page and it was important to click based on size not on color. The smallest size is what I use. Also if you get the Fisher brand Telescoping Space Pen it will just fit in the zipped coin section of the wallet so you will always have a writing instrument with you and it writes at any angle. The price for on Amazon for a genuine Fisher Telescoping Space Pen is about $30 but in my estimation is worth it.
I hope these comments have been helpful.
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