The woman herself! Annie Tanner in photographed in front of the Killary Fjord

PHOTOS - A slideshow of Annie's trip Connemara

It's been a while - much has been happening!

My friend Julia came for a long visit, which meant the house received a scrubbing akin to the one it endured when we moved in.

During her days here, we went to a bunch of my favorite places to eat (The Cake Cafe, Queen of Tarts, Munchies, Govindas, and Murphy's Ice Cream), strolled through lots of parks (Ranelagh Gardens, St. Stephen's Green, the Iveagh Gardens, Merrion Square, and along the Dodder), and of course went to the Archaeology Museum.

We also took a big day trip and went on a bus tour of Connemara, a region in the west of Ireland known for its Irish-speaking communities and rugged landscape.

Lina and Brittney took the same tour when they visited and raved about it, and I'd never seen Connemara except for from halfway up Croagh Patrick.

 So we booked tickets online and got up very early - the website said the bus left from Suffolk Street at 6:50am (though of course it didn't leave until a quarter past seven), and as it was a Sunday the Luas wasn't running yet, so we had a very brisk walk into town to get there in time. And then none of the bus drivers recognized our tickets!

Lots of day trip bus tours leave from Suffolk Street early in the morning, so we ran up and down asking "Connemara?" "No, Cliffs of Moher." "No, Giant's Causeway." "No, Killarney." Eventually we found a bus that was going to Galway and could transfer us to the Connemara tour, but we had to pay the fare again in full in cash.

PHOTOS - A slideshow of Annie's trip Connemara 

Needless to say, the website we'd booked with received a very annoyed e-mail that evening and issued us a refund. A stressful start to the day!

We snoozed on and off during the rainy westward drive and dazedly bought chocolate bars for breakfast at the rest stop. In Galway we got off the bus and hopped onto another, smaller one for the Connemara tour. I think

about 90% of the passengers were American and for some reason that embarrassed me. I think I've become a bit jaded after living over here for a while now; all the loud "WOW!"s and "OOH!"s and zip up fleeces and sneakers and mispronunciations made me cringe. "Keep your emotions to yourself!" I found myself thinking. (More reflections on this in a future post, I think.)

Creeping around the historic Ross-Errilly Friary
We saw lots of beautiful places over the course of the damp day, including the roofless twists and turns of the Ross-Errilly Friary, the water-ringed village of Cong, Killary Fjord, potato fields from the famine years, Connemara Ponies, huge lakes with mounded islands sloping out of tufts of fog, and turf and sheep a-plenty.

We spent a few hours at Kylemore Abbey, a fishing lodge turned mansion turned boarding school turned abbey that's set against a dramatically steep rise, looking over Kylemore Lough and green and brown mountains topped with mist. We could easily have spent another hour there exploring the gardens alone (especially since Julia is quite the botanist). 

The last leg of the tour was entirely scenic: our driver maneuvered the bus up tiny roads to give us the best views of the Twelve Bens and other fantastic mountains and loughs. Back in Galway he kindly let everyone off as close to their respective hotels as possible as we made our way back to the depot, where Julia and I were put on a bus back to Dublin.

It’s funny – Ireland is a very small country, but until quite recently it still took a very long time to get from place to place. Now that there are big highways between most cities, places that were [and often still are] considered far-flung in the Irish psyche are actually very accessible. So we found it funny and a bit confusing when everyone back in Dublin was shocked when we told them we’d been to Connemara and back in a day. It goes without saying that the United States is a big country and Ireland is a small one – to Julia and me a three-hour drive isn’t that big of a deal, but to everyone we spoke to here it was considered quite the journey. To be fair, we were exhausted by the time we went to sleep.

Although it was all very organized and efficient and fun and we saw a lot in one day and the guide was funny and knowledgeable, I'm not sure if I would do another group tour. I am not a native and don't feel like one (and don't pretend to be one), but being in a bus full of other Americans with cameras made me feel like I'd taken a step or two back in terms of assimilation. Food for thought.

PHOTOS - A slideshow of Annie's trip Connemara