Aladdin's Valentine Visits St. Patrick's Ireland

This summer, after much anticipation, I visited Ireland, both northern (Belfast) and southern (Dublin).  In Belfast we stayed in the Europa Hotel, which was a luxuriously modern hotel, with a bar and restaurant on site.  In Dublin, the Merrion Hotel offered 5 star luxury, while maintaining the history of the original Georgian townhomes and lush gardens from which it was converted.

While in Northern Ireland, we did an amazing walking tour of Derry City's Historical Walls.  Martin, our ruddy faced, red haired tour guide, was the picture of a true Irish gentleman with the teasing twinkle in his eye.  His passion for Derry City and its history was brought magically to life as we walked along walls that were hundreds of years old.  Martin calls Derry City "Legend-Derry". 

Next came the mystical Giant's Causeway, with the gray mist, crashing waves, slippery rock, and tumbling hills.  After departing the Giant's Causeway, we took the Causeway Coastal Route back to Belfast.  This route is a must do, as the scenery is enchanting.  We saw the ruins of a castle, that you could just envision ghosts peeking from the stone turrets; emerald green grass swaying in the fields with fat, wooly sheep and lazy cows grazing together; and, of course, the coast of the ocean all along the drive was more than the mind can imagine.  Since the day was gray with   drizzling rain, I expected to see a miniature leprechaun dancing in one of the lush clover fields.

Other high points that should not be missed in Belfast are the Titanic Quarter, which is undergoing a massive renovation, along with a new building being built.  End your day at St. George's Bar and Grill for a simple, traditional gourmet dinner using local ingredients.  I had the rhubarb buttermilk panna cotta for dessert, which absolutely melted in my mouth with an explosion of sweet vanilla, sour buttermilk, and tart rhubarb.  Yum!

Dublin offered its own deep rooted history, that is tragic while entertaining.  Must see attractions in Dublin would include Dublin Castle, St. Patrick's Cathedral (an extremely humbling experience that will bring tears to the most stoic of visitors), and of course the Guinness Factory. Our group was able to tour Trinity College Library, where the Book of Kells, a 9th-century gospel manuscript, is housed within the historical Old-Library building.  Dinner at Thornton's Restaurant was a sumptuous gourmet experience, as their chef, Kevin Thornton, was the first Irish chef to receive two Michelin stars.

Keep in mind if visiting both northern and southern Ireland, the country still uses two different currencies, so either use your credit card, or only get enough cash for what you need in each city. TV

Tonia Valentine is a Corporate Travel Advisor who joined Aladdin in 2002. She has been in the industry since 1999. Her favorite destinations are Minneapolis, Chicago and the Outer Banks. Tonia loves to explore new places, take weekend trips and browse antique shops.

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