We Decided to Live and Work Abroad for a Month: Here’s How we Chose the Destination

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Five years ago my husband and I looked at eachother and realized we weren’t thrilled with the monotony of our day to day lives. At the time we were both working long hours at stressful jobs, had a huge mortgage and other debts, and were trying to be great parents to tiny twins. Then and there we made a pact that one day (hopefully within 6 years) we’d take career breaks and take the kids out of school and travel around the world for a year. I even wrote an article about it which was published in Sept 2017, take a look here. We liked having this future goal and it motivated us fix up our finances a bit so we could put money aside each month to make it happen.

A lot of things have happened since then. We made an international move, we’ve paid off all our debt aside from our mortgage, and I work part-time hours now. All of these changes, some little and some not so, have made us like our day to day life a lot more than we used to. In the back of our minds though we’ve never forgotten about our dream to travel full time for a year. 

However, we feel that right now just isn’t the time to go gallavating around the world for a year. Many places that we’d like to visit are still picking up the pieces after a horrific two year pandemic, some places are still in crisis mode with cases soaring and their population unwell. Add to that the war being fought in Ukraine and the uncertainty that lies ahead. Also, and now this isn’t of equal importance to the global crises happening right now, but important none the less, we both happen to really like our jobs and we couldn’t keep them while traveling full time for longer than about 6 weeks.

Taking all of that into consideration, we decided to plan an extended holiday in the month of April when the kids already have a two week break from school. We’ll get a taste of the full time travel we dream of but without putting tourism pressure on the parts of the world that are struggling. 

What we looked for in a location:

  1. Excellent internet speeds: With Julian continuing to work remotely this is the absolute priority.
  2. Reasonable cost of living: We wanted a trip to the grocery store to be either about the same as at home or cheaper.
  3. A location where we could easily return home if needed.
  4. Somewhere that has had access to C vaccinations and where there’s been good uptake of them from the population.
  5. Similar time zone to home (within 1-2 hours): Julian will be working at the same time as his team here in Ireland so it makes the most sense that the hours match up.
  6. Somewhere we’ve never been before. We like to experience new places so while we’ve been to the country before we’ve never been to this location.
  7. A decent sized city that would have plenty to see, restaurants, public transport, etc.
  8. Close to nature for hikes and exploring on days off.
  9. Near water because that’s our jam
  10. Warmer than Ireland

Even with all that criteria we managed to find a place that fits the bill perfectly and we can’t wait to live on the island of São Miguel in The Azores for four weeks! 

Other locations we seriously considered: Geneva and Zürich, Crete, Kotor in Montenegro, Lagos in The Algarve, & Menorca in Spain.

Hiking Mám Éan in the Maumturks in Connemara

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This hike is absolutly brilliant for little legs. It’s an out and back hike and totals only 3km. Even so, we still stopped multiple times for sweet breaks, but such is life when hiking with kids! The initial part of the trail is a bit steep, so we heard some complaints from our little hiking buddies, but then it flattens out a bit and the uphill parts become more gradual. 

The trail is well trod so it’s easy to follow and there are markers along the path. Hiking boots are best for this path as there are loose stones that could cause you to turn an ankle and the trail is wet in a few spots. However, if you don’t have hiking boots you really could manage in sneakers. The highlight, in my opinion, is the views of the 12 Bens (12 Pins) in the distance, they’re really stunning and I could photograph them alllll day long.

The trail is acutally a religious pilgrimage that leads to a chapel in the side of a mountain. Also on the site are the stations of the cross, a holy well, a mass alter and a statue of St. Patrick.  This site was used a as secret church in the 17th and 18th centuries when Penal Laws outlawed the practice of Catholicism in Ireland. 

Every year on Paddy’s Day we take a photo of me holding the twins. They were discharged from the NICU on St. Patricks Day in 2015 and we like to compare their size now to their size in the photo we took that very first day at home. They’re getting so heavy!

To find the trail head, google maps is your friend. Type in Pás Mám Éan and it will guide you directly to the car park. There’s a good deal of space for parking, and when we arrived at 11am there were only a few other cars there. 

After the hike, we stopped for lunch at Joyce’s Bar in Recess. It’s only about 6 minutes drive from the trailhead. The food was a basic pub lunch, but good and really reasonably priced.

After lunch we visited Pines Island Viewpoint which is just another 3km down the road. There’s a parking area off to the right with room for about 10 cars. You can stay in your car and enjoy the views of the 12 Bens or you can explore on foot. There’s actually a stone walkway over to the island, however on this particular day the ground was quite wet from winter, and the water level on Derryclare Lough was a little too high to get across while staying dry. We’ll definitly come back another time and explore more. 

Exploring Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands with Kids

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This holiday was in paid partnership with Fáilte Ireland and it’s affiliated brands Discover Ireland and Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands. While the accommodation, meals, and activities were sponsored, the reviews and opinions are our own.

Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands is the area of the country that stretches from the top of Co. Leitrim to all the way to Limerick along the River Shannon. We actually live within the borders of the Hidden Heartlands and still have only managed to scratch the surface of all the things that you can see and do here. During our recent holiday over the course of two days we very nearly circumnavigated stunning Lough Derg. We drove from our home to Portumna, and then followed the eastern side of the lake all the way down to Killaloe/Ballina with stops along the way. The following day we crossed the River Shannon and continued around the lake to Tuamgraney and even had a very brief, very wet and wild stop in Mount Shannon where we enjoyed a picnic lunch inside the car.

Our trip was scheduled to begin the morning after Storm Ellen. We woke after a terrible night of sleep due to the high winds and heavy rain battering the windows, and luckily we didn’t notice any obvious damage from the storm, bar our patio chairs which had tipped in the night. Our full recycling bin had also tipped, but by the grace of God the contents remained securely inside – we’re not sure how! We loaded up the car and departed around 9am as planned and a few minutes into our journey it was very obvious that there had been quite a bit of damage around us, there was debris all over the roads and several large trees had fallen along our route. 

Our first stop that morning was at Brookfield Farm on the shores of Lough Derg in Co. Tipperary. Due to the damage from the storm, we didn’t know if Ailbhe Gerrard, the farm owner, would still be able to give us a tour, but we continued on safely in the hope that we would still be able to visit the farm. Finding Ailbhe was a serendipitous affair, our cell signal was down and we had only quickly glanced at the directions to the farm online before we left so Julian was navigating solely by memory and his inner compass, always a risky combination! We very luckily ended up at Ailbhe’s house just as she was driving out to meet us at the farm which is a couple of kms away. Ailbhe kindly ushered us inside and offered us coffee and homemade apple juice.

Brookfield Farm is a sustainable farm that specializes in wildflower honey, minimally processed lamb, and homemade beeswax gifts (which utilizes the precious beeswax that would otherwise to go waste). Ailbhe has studied both sustainable development and organic farming, and is the recent recipient of the RDS sustainable farming, sustainable living award. We were fascinated learning about how bees make honey and how the honey is extracted from the honeycombs and made ready for consumers. We then toured the farm and were able to meet and even bottle feed little George, one of the lambs who’s been born this past spring. It was such a wonderful visit and we were graced with a bright and sunny morning for it. We actually talked for so long that we ran out of time to see the wildflower fields and bee hives. I hope we can get back again sometime soon to enjoy them. We couldn’t leave without a few goodies to remember our visit, we brought home a few jars of honey, lip balm, and taper candles as well as a candle scented with essential oils, some of which Ailbhe kindly gifted to us. I’ve linked her website here if you’ve been looking for a source for sustainable honey or beeswax gifts.

Next we headed to Terryglass for lunch in Paddy’s Bar and Restaruant. We knew that there were still widespread power outages evidenced by the power lines down along the roads, so while we assumed we wouldn’t be able to get lunch we didn’t want to just not turn up for our reservation. Much to our surprise, the staff at Paddy’s Bar were working hard to light candles and get the restaruant all set up for diners! In the end I had the lovliest lamb burger (an ironic choice after falling love with George the lamb on Ailbhe’s farm!) and Julian had what he describes as the best steak sandwich he has ever eaten. We’re really picky when it comes to eating in restaurants. I liken eating average quality food in a restaurant to lighting your money on fire, Paddy’s is very much worth your time and money and we will definitely go back. 

Our next stop was just a short jaunt to Nenagh to ramble around Nenagh Castle. It’s an impressive structure and you can see it from basically wherever you are in the town of Nenagh, but for us out of towners we kept driving in circles around it going, “so how do we actually get to the castle?!” We ended up parking on the main street and walking down a little alleyway that turns out is drivable and has public parking! The overseer of the castle keeps the number of poeple who are in at one time to a minimum and there are santizing stations in a few different places. While we wouldn’t necessarily drive to Nenagh just to see this 3000+ year old castle, it was definitely worth a visit while we were in the area. It’s free to explore and the star of the show is really the sweeping views from the top. To reach the top it’s a climb of about 100 steps. 

We were all ready to relax after a busy day of sightseeing, so next we drove straight to The Lakeside Hotel and Leisure Centre which is on the Ballina side of the twin towns of Killaloe and Ballina. We timed our arrival quite well because they had just gotten power restored about an hour prior! Entering the hotel and getting checked in was almost as easy as arriving home, the staff were so kind and so efficient. We were handed our keys and whisked down to our room in only a few minutes as they’re working hard to keep the lobby area clear and quiet to minimize risk for guests and staff. The staff were also absolutely excellent about wearing masks when not behind perspex barriers. Their masks were always properly in place and never touched or adjusted, we noticed this for every single staff member whether they were servers, housekeepers, porters, managers, kitchen staff, etc, it really put us at ease that they made mask wearing seem so second nature and not a big deal. The hotel has the coveted Covid-19 safety charter check mark as well. The Lakeside Hotel is incredibly clean and comfortable and we would happily go back to stay again sometime.

That evening we enjoyed dinner in The Derg Room within the hotel and it was so convenient to be about 60 steps from our room. For a starter, Julian opted for the pork belly and I had the caprese salad, for our mains I had the hake and Julian went with the sea bass. The food was very good and very filling, I actually couldn’t even finish my main, however I did manage to leave a lIttle room for the homemade cheesecake, yum! 

Friday and Saturday mornings started with a perfect mini fry for breakfast and hot, delicious coffee. We love starting days with a big hot breakfast that will keep us going for several hours, and the breakfast here really fit the bill. They have a some cold items like juice, cereal, yogurts and breads safely behind a perspex screen which you can request a staff member to plate for you, and then you place your order for the hot food with another server who comes to your table.

Then we were off to the hotel pool to splash and play for an hour. The kids love to swim so the fact that the hotel has a pool was a total bonus. They actually have a waterslide as well, but the power outage the day before meant that it was not up and running for our visit. We’ll just have to go another time! It looked really cool. 

Did you know that you can book in for a free visit to the production area at Wilde Irish Chocolate Factory? And that it includes taste testing chocolate?? Well, it’s true! You’re of course not able to walk into the production area because it could compromise their chocolate, but you can observe the process from behind a perspex screen, and learn how chocolate bars are made starting from a cocoa bean. It was a very fun and very tasty activity! After the presentation and chocolate tasting, we ordered hot chocolates and espresso from their on site cafe. We also may have purchased enough chocolate bars to sink a small ship. Afterwards, definitely hop over to McKernan Woolen Mills, it’s a gorgeous little shop near the chocolate factory and we came away with a couple of goodies that will keep us warm this winter! Following McKernan’s was when we enjoyed our car picnic in Mount Shannon, no photos were taken due to the absolute torrential rain!

The post storm weather wasn’t ideal, but it did improve enough that we could get out for a bit of fishing from the jetty near the hotel. Frank had actually asked us so many times throughout the day if we could go fishing that it was melting our heads and if we didn’t just bait a hook for him to cast with we may have actually lost it. We have very little knowledge about fishing in Ireland, so we not surprisingly didn’t catch a thing, but Frank was so happy! And so were we because it was quite peaceful with a lovely view of the iconic Killaloe bridge in the background. Claire opted to pass on fishing this day, but usually likes to get in on the action with her own pole. The rods, reels, tackle and worms were purchsed from Open Season in Nenagh, they were a gift from my mom who is a very talented fisherperson. 

We eventually convinced Frank to put down the rod, but only because the next activity was a boat ride which is his second favorite thing to do after fishing. We took an hour long journey with Killaloe River Cruises and it was spectacular. They organize guests by giving them assigned seats both on the top deck and down below and I can assure you there isn’t a bad seat on the boat. This way guests aren’t moving around too much or sharing spaces. We mostly stayed on the top deck and sipped on an Irish coffee (me) and a G&T (Julian) that was very kindly served to us in our seats, the kids happily slurped juice pouches. We cuddled together, thankfully no rain fell during our outing, and took in the gorgous landscape around us. There was a little bit of local history over the loud speaker and some relaxing Irish music, it was just so enjoyable, we would highly recommend booking with them while you’re in the area. 

After a quick change and a hairbrush, we had a delicious meal in Tuscany Bistro, they have two locations and we obviously ate at the one in Ballina. This is a lovely locally-owned restaurant with excellent food and service. When you go, order the goat cheese starter and the seafood risotto for your main, they were out of this world. We of course had the kids with us, and this restaurant would have been a bit more enjoyable for Julian and me on our own, the Leonard Twins are renowned for sucking the joy out of mealtimes, particularly in restaurants, since their arrival in 2015. This will improve as they get older, yes? Please say yes.

I always like to make sure to mention things we would change about our itinerary or add to it if we were to do the trip over again. Honestly, we would keep everything the same, and we would just hope for slightly better weather so we could go kayaking with My Next Adventure because a trip just doesn’t feel complete to us if we don’t put on our wetsuits. We would also try to visit the Aqua Splash in Dromineer, unfortunately their damage from Storm Ellen was so extensive that they won’t be reopening until 2021. Next time we’re in Killaloe I’d like to eat at The Wooden Spoon which is a bakery and cafe with excellent reviews. We may also try to hire a boat sometime so we could do some fishing in deeper water on Lough Derg. We loved every second of our getaway and can’t wait to go back to explore more!

A Day Trip to Inis Oírr, Aran Islands

Inis Oírr (or Inisheer, pronounced just how it looks) is the smallest of the three Aran Islands. I can’t tell you that it’s my favorite yet as we’ve only visited 2 of the 3 islands so far, but I really do think it will be my favorite. Hopefully sometime soon we can round out the trifecta with a visit to Inis Meáin (Inishmaan) and then I’ll report back.

HOW TO GET THERE

We departed on a ferry from Doolin Pier. I booked our tickets in advance as it was forecast to be a scorcher and I didn’t want to be disappointed when we arrived in Doolin. There are two ferry companies, Doolin Ferry and Doolin 2 Aran, and tbh I don’t remember which one we used. I think they’re equally good and reputable. The total for a return ticket is €85 for a family of 4. There’s plenty of parking at the pier, but give yourself plenty of time to 1) park, 2) pay for parking, 3) use the toilets and then 4) queue up to get on board the boat. It’s nice to sit on the top deck on a fine day and seats are first come first served. The ferry ride is a quick 25 mins. 

It’s also possible to get a ferry to Inis Oírr from Rosaveel in Connemara or you can fly from Connemara Regional Airport which sounds super cool, we’ve never done that. The ferry from Rosaveel to Inis Oírr takes about an hour and 10 mins. 

WHEN YOU ARRIVE

We walked straight over the Rothái Inis Oírr (bike hire) right near the ferry port. I had emailed them the day prior to request bikes as I didn’t know whether they’d have enough. They definitely do, however it was nice because they had our bikes set aside, and they had the tag-along all set up already for our daughter. It was only a few minutes before we were speeding around the island on our bikes. The total for us for 2 adult bikes, a child bike and a tag-along was €50 for the full day, this was in 2021, so prices may have changed. 

WHAT TO DO

We headed west on the bikes where we were told the seals like to sun themselves at low tide. We got lucky and saw tons of seals which was such a highlight for us. One of those core memories that I’ll absolutely never forget. We continued around the western side of the island and stopped every so often when we felt like taking a break. 

Seals sunning themselves at low tide.

We then looped back into the main village for lunch. We had sandwiches and treats at Teach an Tae, they had a nice outdoor eating area and the food was fresh and very good. There seemed to be quite a few restaurants, cafes and food trucks around so I don’t think you need to worry about making a reservation for lunch. If you’re staying overnight in peak season, it might be a good idea to make a dinner reservation, especially if there’s a specific place you want to eat. 

After lunch we headed to the beach. At no surprise to anyone who’s ever been to Inis Oírr, the beach was awarded blue flag status this year, 2022. It is absolutely one of the most beautiful beaches in Ireland and it’s safe for swimming and perfect for families. We played in the sand, swam and read for awhile before we hopped back on the bikes for the last leg of our adventure.

This time we explored the eastern part of the island. We walked around Plassey Shipwreck and ate some ice cream here. We then cycled by the lighthouse and looped back to the village where we stopped and played at the playground at the base of O’Briens Castle before our ferry back to Doolin. It was absolutely the best day. It’s not an inexpensive day out, but it’s a memorable one for sure and we’d highly recommend. If we were to do the day over again we’d try to add a visit to the castle into our itinerary.

Plassey Shipwreck washed ashore in 1960. A bad storm sent the ship off course and caused them to hit a rock. The crew were rescued by residents of Inis Oírr.

ADDITIONAL TIPS

We hope to go back this summer to stay at Rua Camping Inis Oírr. You can pitch your own tent OR you can stay in one of their bell tents which look so cool!! Our summer is filling up, but I’m really hoping we can spend two nights in a bell tent here before the kids head back to school in the fall. 

You must take the ferry that is listed on your ticket. If you book the 1:15pm return for example you can’t just decide to stay until 4pm! This happened on the day we were there, a few people thought they’d chance staying longer on such a nice sunny day and the poor things were left on the pier as the boat couldn’t accomodate them. I’m still not sure whether the ferry went back for them or whether they had to stay on the island overnight. 

If cycling is not for you, you can also explore by horse and cart. The driver will bring you around to all the main attractions.

THINGS TO KNOW IF YOU’RE NOT FROM IRELAND

Inis Oírr is a gaeltacht region, so the main language is Irish. English is spoken, but it’s polite to have a few words/phrases of Irish, simple things like good morning, thank you, bye, etc. You tube is a great resource for this. 

There are no cars on this island so it’s really safe for biking with kids. 

Thanks for reading and as always, contact me with any questions.Kristina.bell.leonard@gmail.com @transatlantic_leonards on insta.

Day Trips from Ponta Delgada on São Miguel, The Azores

On the days we wanted to go on an adventure we opted to hire a car. We could walk to a number of rental agencies from our apartment and the best rate we found was €50/day. There is also the option to take buses to different areas around the island from Ponta Delgada. We opted for a car to have the most flexibility with timing. For info on bus timetables and where to hop on and off, visit the tourist office. It’s near the city gates on the main thoroughfare running through town. 

1. Sete Cidades 

Our very first day with a car we took off for the western part of the island. We first stopped at Miradouro do Pico do Carvão to take in the breathtaking view. I wanted to come back to see this view a second tijme while we were on the island but we ran out of time, it’s really spectacular as you can see the whole eastern side of the island.

We then continued on to the trailhead for Miradouro do Boca do Inferno. To get there, naviate with google maps to Miradouro da Lagoa do Canário, park in the dedicated parking spaces and cross the road. The walk to the viewpoint is an easy 15 minutes. We also took the steps off to the left of the trail that lead down Lagoa (lake) do Canário. 

The veiw from the Miradouro do Boca do Inferno is incredible. You’re looking down at the village of Sete Cidades and the twins lakes of Lagoa Azul and Lagoa Verde. They’re freshwater lakes that have formed inside the crater of a volcano. The lakes are separated by a stone bridge, and they really do each have a distinct color to them due to differing depths. This viewpoint is a probably the most popular spot on the island, so unless you come really early or late you likely won’t have the place to yourselves. We didn’t mind and chatted to some other tourists while the kids snacked on biscuits. 

We then drove to the village of Sete Cidades. We parked the car near Lagoa Azul and explored on foot. It’s fun to see the lagoa up close after taking it in from the viewpoint. We then visited the chapel and then walked to find a restaurant. We ate at Restaurante Lagoa Azul, it was an all you can eat style buffet and was about €13 each for me and Julian, and €7 each for the kids including a beverage and a coffee. It was fine, lots of meat and potatoes which is not really my thing, but they had some pasta dishes and all found something we liked. There weren’t a ton of options for restaurants in this village and this one had the best reviews. There were a mix of tourists and locals so it felt like an authentic Portugese dining experience.

After lunch we grabbed an ice cream cone from the restaurant and walked to the playground which was just down the street. We generally find a playground for the kids while we’re out and about, they enjoy it and we can just sit and relax for a bit. Following the playground fun, we walked over to the lake to see if we could hire a canoe for an hour. We lucked out with the perfect sunny, calm day for our visit here. You wouldn’t really want to head out on the lake if there was a strong breeze as it would be tricky to maneuver around. A man was at the waters edge renting out canoes and kayaks, and we were able to head out right away, the kids were given sturdy life jackets. Pricing is based on how long you stay out on the water so you pay on return which is nice. That way if the kids hate it, you can abandon ship and you haven’t lost much. 

We headed straight for the stone bridge that separates Lagoa Azul and Lagoa Verde. There are large arches in the stone bridge and we guided the canoe through to the other side. Even the kids were impressed with the views which is saying a lot as one kiddo always tells us that, “views are boring, because all you do is look at it!” In total we were out for about an hour and a half. The kids took turns paddling and for a little while we just floated and basked in the sun. We were charged €20 when we returned the canoe to shore. 

It was such a relaxing day and if we were to do it again we wouldn’t change a thing. After this we headed back to Ponta Delgada to do a big grocery shop in a massive store where all the products were unfamilair to us. As you can imagine in was torture! After this we did all our grocery hauls before our outings not after when we were tired! Lesson learned. 

More São Miguel day trip recommendations to come! 

5 Restaurants In Ponta Delgada, The Azores, You Don’t Want to Miss

We didn’t quite so know what to expect for restaurant choices/food options in Ponta Delgada. We had read that the cuisine in The Azores is typcally “peasant food” meaning meat, potatoes and veg. This wouldn’t be anything new for us having lived in Ireland for the past four years. However, we were pleasantly surprised to find a huge variety of restuarants within walking distance of the apartment we rented that were all excellent quality and offered really unique and delicious options. Our top five are listed below with some details about opening times and cost, although these things change season to season so double check on google and socials before visiting.

Number 5: Oishi

We had never had an all you can eat sushi experience before and as sushi is a cuisine we all love, it was a huge treat. Yes the portions of sashimi are small, but you can literally keep ordering as much as you want. So for €42 plus beverages, which are inexpensive in Portugal (Julian and I shared a bottle of wine and it cost €7!), all four of us had eaten so much we had to roll ourselves home. Everything tasted fresh and delicious. We tried to eat here again a second time one Friday night but they couldn’t take us as they were fully booked, so I’d recommend making a reservation on Fridays and Saturdays.

Number 4: Lan’s

Sometimes you want a slice of good pizza and for us, this restaurant was just the ticket. They also had a variety of Thai dishes which also looked really nice, but we stuck to the pizza. We didn’t make a reservation here, we just popped in around 6pm and we were able to get a table right away. It was one of the only restaurants that opens up at 6pm, many aren’t open for evening meal until 7pm. We actually ate here twice, and the price came in at €37 for all four of us both times, this included pizza with extra to take home for lunch the next day, soft drinks for the kids, and a beer for myself and Jules.

Number 3: A Tasca

This restaurant is really special and is definitely not to be missed. On google it has 4.5 stars and over 5,000 reviews so to be honest I thought it was going to be overhyped and ultimatly disappointing. I was wrong! We all absolutely loved our meal here and will eat here again if/when we get back to Ponta Delgada. Get the queijo fresco for the starter and try the pinapple cake for dessert. I’m getting hungry typing this and wish I could go eat there right now. They don’t take reservations, so it’s a first come first served basis. They actually don’t close in the late afternoon like most restaurants, so they open at 11:30am and then stay open through dinner. We arrived around 5pm thinking we’d have a snack and a drink and then head home for dinner, however we had to wait about 30 mins for a table so we decided to just stay and order dinner and we’re glad we did. Our meal here was €60 including drinks, so a little more expensive, but for the amount of food we ate and the quality of the food, it felt like a steal.

Number 2: Michel Restaurant

We ate here on our last night in Ponta Delgada and we’re disappointed that we waited so long into our trip to come here for a meal. It was literally around the corner from our apartment, we passed by the doors multiple times every day and we just didn’t know how delicious it would be. You can walk in for a lunch, but if you want to come for dinner, go on their website and make a reservation. It’s incredibly easy, just do it about 3-4 days in advance for a Friday or Saturday night reservation, those spots fill up quickly. The food was out of this world. I had ahi tuna and Julian had octopus and while we were slightly terrified, the octopus turned out to be delicious. It’s a heavier meal than you’d expect, kind of like pork. The kids had bolognese from the kids menu which was also delicious. Our meal here including drinks, 2 each for the adults, a starter and two desserts was €72 so again, more expensive, but if we’d had that meal in Ireland it would have been much much more.

Number 1: Õtaka

This was an absolute dining experience, and one of the best that Julian and I have ever had. The staff here couldn’t have been more friendly and engaging and kind. Every once in a while we love treating ourselves to a really speical meal, usually we’d get a babysitter, however we didn’t have that option here so along came the little people! We opted for the six course tasting menu with wine pairings. Frank had no interest in that so he ordered his meal a la carte, but Claire wanted to try the tasting menu and actually ate nearly every bite including the sting ray! She has an adventurous palate and we’re really proud of her. We walked in on a Friday evening to see if we could get a table and they were fully booked, so while we were there I booked a table for the following Friday. This seemed like the easiest way to make a reservation and then we got to look forward to it all week. They have 2 sittings each evening, at 6:30pm and 9pm. This was a real treat and the price reflects that, the six course tasting menu is €90 pp. I let them know about my mollusc allergy when we arrived and they didn’t need to make any ammendments to the menu.

There was another restaurant we didn’t get to try, but wanted to called Louvre Michaelense. We did pop in one evening for a drink before dinner and that was superb. The restaurant itself had a really nice and kind of quirky ambience, we’ll have to go back next time. I hope the info is helpful as you plan your holiday to The Azores and feel free to get in contact if you have any questions! kristina.bell.leonard@gmail.com

Tips for Planning for Long Term Travel

It all started with an excel spreadsheet. Once we had gotten approval from the school for a long absence for the kids and approval from Julian’s boss for him to work from abroad for 4 weeks, it was time to narrow down where we would stay. We had our destination criteria outlined here, and a spreadsheet helped to compare the cost of various locations and make our final decision for where we would stay for the month. 

We compared cost of flights, accomodation, groceries, average prices of restaurants, cost of airport transfers, cost of day trips including hiring a car for periods of time for three different locations. The prices in the spreadsheet are really just an estimation, you can find all the information with google, but of course costs are going to vary from family to family, so you have to make adjustments based on your own lifestyle. After adding that total together, we then subtracted the money we wouldn’t be spending at home for the month. Things like groceries, shopping, fuel, tolls, restaurants. Our gas and electricity use would be greaty reduced as well. This was an easy amount to calculate as we use a budgeting app and enter all spending into the app. 

Not only did the spreadsheet help us make a final decision about destination, it gave us an accurate picture of the cost. We toyed with the idea of renting out own house with airbnb. In the end we decided that we didn’t have enough time to get the needed supports in place, cleaners, someone who could greet the guests and be available if there was an issue, etc. However, the next time we do this we will rent out out house to offset the cost of our mortgage which would make a real difference in total cost of a month long trip like this. 

10 Fun Trail Games for Hiking with Kids

  1. Twenty Questions: This one’s simple. First, choose a category (animals, foods, people, sports, etc), then one person gets to choose an item within the chosen category. The others ask yes or no questions to try to identify what the item is. This is hugely popular with our kids and they learn about some unique animals from the show Wild Kratts so we can’t always figure out what animal they’ve chosen! 
  2. Find 5: One person chooses an item and everyone else needs to find five examples of the item. For example you might ask the kids to find five purple flowers, five white stones, five birds, 5 shells, 5 tree stumps, etc. 
  3. I’m Going on a Picnic: For this game you take turns adding new items to your picnic basket. Before you can state your item, you have to recall each item that everyone else has contributed. One person starts by saying “I’m going on a picnic and I’m going to bring strawberries.” The next person says, “I’m going on a picnic and I’m going to bring strawberries and cake.” Then the next person says, “I’m going on a picnic and I’m going to bring strawberries, cake and pickles.” See you long your list of items is before people start to forget them! It’s a fun one and the kids always end up saying things like stinky socks which makes everyone giggle.   
  4. Sing: Technically not a game, but a fun way to pass the time! Our favorites are the songs from The Sound of Music, it’s probably time to expand our repetoire. This goes all the way back to when the twins were tiny and singing to them was the only way to keep them from crying. We had to sing on many a car journey, walk, 
  5. I Spy: “I spy with my little eye something that starts with the letter…” Then everyone guesses until the object is found. If you’re with little ones who can’t yet spell, play by color instead of letter.
  6. Ask the kids to describe the most recent episode they watched of their favorite show or if you’re brave enough ask about what their building in Minecraft. (I don’t know about you, but my kids can go on and on and on about Minecraft for ages and I don’t understand most of it so I have to work really hard to stay engaged and pay attention!) We’ve played this game a few times and now while we’re out on hikes our boy asks us if we would like to ask him questions about Harry Potter! It’s actually a great way to get to know what they’re interested in and what their watching/reading/playing.
  7. Bring binoculars or a magnifying glass to search for items and inspect items on the trail. 
  8. Try to find hiking sticks. This won’t work for every trail, but can keep kiddos occuplied for awhile if you’re on a forest trail. 
  9. The Neverending Story: Tell a story by taking turns contributing one sentence at a time. Someone (ahem the 7 year old boy), usually contributes something about poop and the whole thing usually devolves into giggles. It’s great fun.
  10. Scavenger Hunt: This one will take some advanced planning on your part, but the effort will likely be worthwhile. Print or draw a list of items you expect to see on the trail have the kids try to find them. They can cross them off the list when they’re found and even take a picture of the item which always makes my kids happy.
  11. Bonus! The Alphabet Game: First find something that starts with the letter ‘A’ and so on. Work together and try to find something from every letter of the alphabet. This one requires zero effort and is usually a hit!

A Comprehensive Guide to Ireland’s National Parks: Part 2

Ballycroy National Park was designated as a national park most recenlty, in 1998. It’s 15,000 hectares of mountains and active bog land. It’s completely uninhabited and extremely remote, an incredible example of truly wild Irish landscape. Like a lot of places, photos don’t do the area justice and it really requires an in-person visit to take it all in with your own eyes. It’s magnificent and is jockeying with Connemara NP for our families favorite national park in Ireland.

What’s wonderful is that all the national parks in the country are well signposted and easy to find. Not the case for a lot of other hiking trails in this country which can be so frustrating! To find the visitor center car park, simply type ‘Ballycroy National Park’ into google maps. The visitor center offers an interactive exhibition, a cafe, and outside there is a 2km looped nature trail that boasts views of Achill Island and the Nephin Beg Mountain Range. This is the only hiking trail that departs from the visitor center. **You will likely not have cell service passed Newport, but there is excellent signage leading the way. Also, GPS with google maps will still work even if you don’t have cell service (if GPS is enabled on your phone), so you can still use the app to make sure you’re following the correct path. We also sometimes download sections of google maps that you can then use offline – I feel like some sort of rep for google maps becuase of how often I mention it. I am definitely not, I just think its a really useful tool for finding remote places around the country. 

If you desire a longer hike than 2km, there are two other options for hiking within the national park. You can head to the Letterkeen Loop Trail Head which offers a 6km, a 10km and a 12km hike. The way to this trailhead is also well signposted. We walked the 6km loop with the kids and and while it was wet and very muddy, the trail was easy to follow and there were no real elevation gains. It took us 2.5 hours to walk the 6km with the 5 year olds, but they didn’t ask for a piggy back ride once! (According to my watch, it was closer to 7km!) To find it, type “Letterkeen Loop Trail Head’ into google maps and it will bring you right there. There are no toilets available at the trail head, so we stopped in Newport on the way to use faciliites there (at a filling station) before starting the hike. Just a note, the visitor center and the Letterkeen Loop Trail Head are actually about a 45-50 minutes drive away from eachother, we hoped to see both the day we visited, but we ran out of time. So next time we’re in the area we’ll go to the visitor center. After our hike we had dinner in the Mulranny Park Hotel, which we would highly recommend. The food and the views from the restuarant were incredible. We said we would like to stay somewhere in Mulranny sometime and then hike all the way to the top of Croagh Patrick, visit Achill Island again and hike more in Ballycroy. 

The final trail for hiking within Ballycroy NP is called the Bangor Trail and has earned the nickname as the “lonliest trail in Ireland.” As it’s 40km long we won’t be attempting it for quite soem time, however it sounds enchanting as it leads to some of the most remote and wild areas of the country. It sounds like there is an option to only (<- only, ha!) Hike 26km if you can have a vehicle meet you at the Letterkeen Loop Trail Head. 

Connemara National Park

There four hiking trails within Connemara National Park (although there are many more opportunities for hiking within the larger Connemara region). This NP holds a special spot in my heart as it is within our home county and the drive to get there is absolutely stunning. We visited for the first time just before lock down back in March 2020 and we hiked the Lower Diamond Hill Loop which is 3km long. It’s really perfect for kids with not too much elevation gain. Funny story though, about 20 steps frome the car park Frank started whining that he was “so tired he just wanted to sit down!”  It was hysterial considering we could practically still see the car! I actually caught it on video and made a reel with the footage, it’s on our instagram page in my reels tab. Now, when Frank watches it, he giggles. With a little encouragement and possibly a small bribe, he trudged on and we all really enjoyed the hike. 

At about the halfway point of the lower loop trail, you can start the ascent to Diamond Hill Upper Loop. It looks incredible and I really hope we can summit it one day soon. It adds about 3.5km to the journey and has some serious elevation gain, but from photos that I’ve seen, the views from the top are worth any difficulty in getting there!

Besides those two there are two shorter hikes that also conveniently depart from the visitor center. One is 0.5km loop and is called Ellis Wood Nature Trail and the other is a 1.5km loop and is called Scruffaunboy. 

A hike here would easily be combined with a visit to the stunning Renvyle Beach which is not too far away. I couldn’t believe the color of the water here, so beautiful it looked like we could have been in the carribean! We also always highly recommend a visit to the Misunderstood Heron, a food truck in the Killary Fjord (I believe they operate seasonally so check their fb or insta account for details). There is so much to do in Connemara you could visit for a week and still not see it all. 

Killarney National Park

I’m sitting here writing about the last National Park in the country and it just dawned on me that the twins haven’t actually been here yet, just myself and Julian visited in Setpember 2018! When we brought the kids to Kenmare in January 2020 we explored the Ring of Beara, but didnt’s step foot into Killarney NP. And here I thought all four of us had visited all of them. To be honest, I don’t mind going back to Killarney NP for another visit one bit! Hopefully we can make it happen in the spring. Although I have to say, visiting Kerry in January was really nice, it wasn’t too cold and we felt like we had all the gorgeous outdoor spaces to ourselves. 

Killarney NP is absolutely stunning, it was the very first area of land to be desiagnated as a national park in this country, and it’s the most popular for tourists and locals alike. Like Wicklow NP, one of the nicest ways to take in all the scenery is to drive through the park. What we did and what we’d reccomend, as long as you dont mind narrow and winding roads, is to drive to the Gap of Dunloe and stop after the first bridge to take a little walk and take in the scenery. There is a layby after the bridge that has space for about 3 cars. You’ll likely get stopped before entering the gap by a person offering a pony and trap ride, they may make it sound like you are not allowed to drive through, but it is not the case. It is difficult driving so if you’re not 100% confident behind the wheel, don’t do it. Even the GPS kept telling us to turn around, but it was so stunningly beautiful it was worth the sweaty palms and palpitations – just kidding, it wasn’t that scary. Take a look at a map beforehand, or download an offline map like I mentioned above because we had zero cell reception in the mountains. We followed signs and Julian’s internal compass and eventually we made it to Moll’s Gap, but for a long time we kept thinking we were going to have to turn around. After Moll’s Gap take a stop at Ladie’s View. 

We spent the night in a B&B in Killarney and then hiked up Torq Falls from the base near the waterfall the next day. The car park was already filling up around 10am so maybe try to go off peak to avoid the crowds. When we go back with the kids I think we’ll hike to the top of Torc Mountain which is accessible from the Upper Car Park. To find the upper car park at Torc, take a left turn off the N71 immediately after you pass the main entrance to Muckross House and Traditional Farms. Follow this narrow road for about 1 km until you reach a small car park where you start the walk. From what I’ve read, the hike is about 8km and has some steep inclines, but is mostly and easy to follow path to some epic views. 

As always, make sure to maintain social distancing guidelines while you’re out there enjoying all the natural beauty that Ireland has to offer. Know your plan ahead of time so you’re not congregating in the car park around the trail head signs, give space to other hikers and consider hiking at off peak times to avoid over crowding popular areas. Feel free to connect with us on instagram @transatlantic_leonards and happy hiking!

The Perfect Family-Friendly Itinerary for Connemara

Connemara covers a huge area of Co. Galway and there is so much to see and do here. We’re lucky that from where we live we can actually take day trips to this national park, although it does require about 4 hours of driving which might be a little longer than most people would “day trip” for! We hope one day soon to stay a couple of nights in the area to be able to revisit a lot of these places as they are just that good. If we were staying overnight, I’d probably choose accommodation in or around Clifden. Full disclosure, Julian and I did have a kid-free overnight in Clifden back in September 2016 and it was so relaxing and wonderful! We stayed at Abbeyglen Castle Hotel and I have such fond memories staying up late and listening to traditional Irish music in the hotel bar. It’s the perfect hotel for a couple’s getaway.

Now, I’ll get back to focusing on family friendly activities in Connemara.

DAY 1: Drive to the Connemara National Park Vistor Center, which is easy to find with google maps.

SIDE NOTE: One word of caution about google maps in Ireland (for non-Irish people reading this guide), it will always bring you on the shortest route to your destination, which is definitly not always the best route. It doesn’t take into consideration the quality of the road. In Ireland, roads are designated with ratings, M is motorway and these are easy to drive on and very good; N is national road, these are also very good and generally plenty wide and easy to navigate. R is for regional road and depending on where you are, can become quite narrow and winding and just take more concentration for the driver. L stands for link road and generally require one car to pull in to allow oncoming traffic to pass. They’re incredibly narrow, have many blind turns and they may have grass growing up the middle. So as a non-native driver, I generally avoid L roads like the plague. Well, google maps has tried to take me down many an L road, but I’ve learned to just stop and reroute. There is probably a setting within the app to avoid L roads, and it would do me well to figure that out. 

Okay back to the itinerary.

There is a large car park at the Connemara National Park Visitor Center which is where you park to hike Diamond Hill. The scenery here is breathtaking. We brought our 5 year olds in early March 2020 and just hiked the lower loop which was not very strenuous, but we can’t wait to go back to hike all the way to the summit. Our kids aren’t quite ready for that yet, but hopefully in the next couple of years we can do it. The lower loop wouldn’t accomodate a buggy as there are steps, but you’d be able to easily manage the hike with a hiking backpack or sling of some kind.

After your hike, drive to the Misunderstood Heron in the Killary Fjord for either lunch or just coffee/tea and a baked good. It’s a food truck that boasts all homemade fare, and everything we have tried so far has been divine. Just be aware that it’s popular and sometimes they understandably run out of things. They have several picnic tables for outside dining, and we have “dined” in our car before when we’ve been there in the lashing rain. I would really like to go on a boat ride with Killary Fjord Boat Tours sometime soon, they’re docked just a little ways down from the food truck. The views of the fjord from land are epic, but I bet they would be even better from the water.

The Killary Fjord on a wet day in March 2019

On your way back to Clifden stop at Renvyle Beach. We genuinely think that it might be the most beautiful beach we’ve been to in Ireland (but if you’ve read a few of my guides I have said that before!) At Renvyle Beach climb on the rocks, play in the sand, and if it’s warm, take a dip in the ocean, the water is a turquoise color and the surrounding scenery is stunning.

DAY 2: Take a drive on the Sky Road Loop. You can access the loop from Clifden and the whole thing only takes about 25 minutes to drive. There are signs directing you to the Sky Road from Clifden, but it’s also easy to find with google maps. You’ll probably want to stop off and take some photos along the way. There is a scenic overlook called Point Amharc Atlantic Fiáin Sky Bothar, which is also easy to find if you type that into google maps.

After the drive, stretch your legs by wandering around the beautiful town of Clifden. Then drive to Roundstone for a nice lunch. Don’t forget to walk around the town and to the Roundstone Harbour, it’s just picturesque. We have had an incredible meal in O’Dowd’s in Roundstone in the past and would highly recommend it. After lunch, visit Dog’s Bay for the afternoon for swimming and sandcastle building. 

DAY 3: Drive to Omey Island which is about 22 minutes from Clifden. Unfortuantely we have not yet visited this island, but we’re dying to and hopefully will by the end of the summer 2020. It’s a tidal island accessible by a sub-sea “road” (which is really just firm sand!) either on foot or by car. It is only accessible from 2 hours before low tide to two hours before high tide – always check the tides before visiting as you will be stranded if the tide comes in while you’re on the island! If you choose to walk to the island from the mainland, park at the car park for Claddaghduff Church, if you choose to drive across the firm sand then park in the car pak at the end of Omey Strand. There is a lovely walk detailed here, this is likely what we will follow when we come to visit. My friend told me that there is actually one house that you can rent on the island, which would be really cool. 

DAY 4: If you have one more day on your holiday, take the ferry from Cleggan Pier to Inishbofin. It’s located 10km off the coast of Co. Galway and has very few cars. There are 3 looped walks to choose from to take in the wild Atlantic scenery, there are award winning beaches with incredibly clear water and there are a few pubs and restaurants. I actually think I’d like to come and stay on the island for a few nights to really be able to enjoy all the activites available. Once you reach the island you can hire bicycles to get around. 

And there you have it, an epic 4 day itinerary for visiting Connemara as a family. Enjoy! Definitely let me know if I’ve missed any ‘must visit’ spots in the area. We love to connect with fellow travel families on insta @transatlantic_leonards or by email at Kristina.Bell.Leonard@gmail.com.