Stop #18:
Galway lies on the River Corrib near the Galway Bay. It is Ireland’s fourth biggest city. This city seemed to me an arts center with great nightlife in pubs and clubs with live music almost anywhere we went. There are medieval town walls, shops hocking Claddagh rings, and busy streets and sidewalks with lots of energy. We went to one bar called Tribeton, which may be the nicest bars I’ve ever seen. The pictures of the Spanish Arch are not that great because there are sand bags in front of the Arch because of all of the heavy rains in Ireland this winter.

Donegal Castle

Stop #17:
Donegal Castle sits right in the city center of Donegal Town. Fully restored in the early 1990s, the castle consists of a 15th-century rectangular keep with a later Jacobean style wing. You can see in some of the pictures the River Eske. The castle was the stronghold of the O’Donnell clan, Lords of Tír Conaill and one of the most powerful Gaelic families in Ireland from the 5th to the 16th centuries. It was constructed in 1474.

The keep has odd square shaped windows at the top which make this castle quite unique.  It also has one of the most spectacular stone fireplaces called the Brooke Fireplace located in the Great Hall.

Cahir Castle


Cahir Castle is one of the largest castles in Ireland. It sits on an island in the river Suir, which explains why much of the park near the castle was flooded by recent rains. It was built from 1142 by Conor O’Brien, Prince of Thomond. Located right in the town centre, the castle is very well preserved.

The site for the castle is a former native fortification known as a cathair (which means “stone fort”). The core structure of the castle dates to construction in the 13th century by the O’Brien family.

The Great Hall, which has been beautifully restored, was partly rebuilt in 1840. You can see the panoramic photos I created of this hall in this portfolio.

Blarney Castle

Blarney Castle is a medieval stronghold near Cork and, incidentally, the River Martin. Though earlier fortifications were built on the same spot, the current keep was built by the MacCarthy of Muskerry dynasty beginning in 1446. I did not kiss the Blarney Stone after hearing all the stories of how people have done disgusting things to it. The Stone of Eloquence (better known as the Blarney Stone) is located at the top of the castle, where tourists literally hang upside-down over a sheer drop to kiss the stone, which is said to give the gift of eloquence.

The highlight of the visit is strolling through beautiful gardens, which are spectacular even in the dead of winter. Blarney House was not open when we visited, but it is the more recently built (1874) mansion on the property.

Cork, Ireland


Cork actually means “marsh”. With all the rains in Ireland this year, I can see why! The city is a University town split into a few islands by the River Lee.

Viking invaders expanded the area around 915, and Prince John, Lord of Ireland, granted the city’s charter in 1185. Like many European cities, Cork city was once fully walled, as you can see in some of the photos.

We saw Cork in the evening after a day packed with visits to the Ring of Kerry and various castles and we stayed at a very nice hotel central to the city. We also had beers at the Oliver Plunkett, where lively Irish music was performed in the background.

Ring of Kerry

The Ring of Kerry is a 179-kilometer-long tourist route in County Kerry, Ireland. We drove the route counter-clockwise to avoid being on the outside lane on all the cliffs that plummeted to the sea (Ireland drives on the left side of the road)! If you ever drive this road, be prepared for a harrowing experience. Somehow, the speed limit is 100 km/hr, but you feel like you are about to risk your life at 60 km/hr, so there must be much better drivers in Ireland!

On the trip, we encountered high winds, hail, snow, sleet, rain, and just about every other form of precipitation you can think of. Gratefully, we drove this road during the least likely day for packs of tourists to be traveling all over the place. This meant we had most sites to ourselves. Maybe it was cold, but it was a small price to pay!

King John’s Castle

Stop #2:

King John’s Castle is a 13th-century castle located on King’s Island in Limerick, Ireland. The River Shannon runs in front of the castle, and with the heavy rains, much of the park surrounding the castle was flooded. The site dates back to 922, when the Vikings lived on the Island. The castle gets its name from King John, who ordered the construction of the castle in 1200. Well preserved, this Norman castle still maintains original walls, towers, and fortifications.

Orava Castle, Slovakia

Stop #3

Orava Castle (Oravský hrad) sits on a high rock above the Orava river . Dating to the 13th century, Original design was in Romanesque and Gothic style, but it was later reconstructed as a Renaissance and Neo-Gothic building. It is now a National Monument.

We were lucky to see it in autumn, with yellow and orange leaves surrounding the rock on which the castle sits.

Lisbon, Portugal

Stop #33 (the final stop):

Lisbon sits on seven hills, and no matter where you go in Lisbon, you always feel like you are walking up one of them! To get a feel for the streets, take a look at the photos of the streetcars. I don’t know what they have for engines, but they must pack some serious power to navigate the hilly narrow streets.

The city is just north of the Rio Tejo (Tagus River) and has several distinct neighborhoods. We spent time in the following ones (and probably others but didn’t know what they were called):

  • Alfama is the old Moorish quarter. It has some of the oldest buildings because it survived a major earthquake in 1755. This is where the Sé (the cathedral) and the Castelo de São Jorge (St. George’s Castle) are located.
  • Baixa (Lower Town). The very large square, Praça do Comércio is one of Europe’s largest riverside squares— in the photos, is a yellow (perhaps ochre) and white large square building with a gigantic square and monuments. Baixa sits between this square and Praça Dom Pedro IV, a smaller square.
  • Bairro Alto (Upper Neighborhood). We went to a bar and restaurant in this area, which is had hills (of course) and 18th-century streets with lots of bars and restaurants.
  • Alcântara and Belém. The old port district. Belém is the Portuguese word for Bethlehem. It was from here that the country’s great explorers set out during the period of the discoveries. The Manueline buildings in this part of town make it obvious that they came home with many riches.


  • Castelo de São Jorge (St. George’s Castle) was constructed by the Moors, but it refortified previous forts built by the Romans and Visigoths. Dom Afonso Henriques, mentioned in the Guimaraes portfolio, drive the Moors from Lisbon in. The views from the castle were some of the best in town.
  • Elevador de Santa Justa. This is a tourist attraction built in 1902 by Raul Mésnier, who studied under Gustave Eiffel. You will see the steel tower in pictures below.
  • This is another name for Lisbon’s main square described above. It is the same as the Praça Dom Pedro IV. There are ornate sculptures/statues throughout the square.
  • Torre de Belém. The building shown with a reflection in my photos below including balconies and turrets is Belém completed in 1520 to defend the port entrance. It is dedicated to St. Vincent, the patron saint of Lisbon.
  • Padrão dos Descobrimentos. The white Monument of the Discoveries in photos below was made in 1960 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Prince Henry the Navigator. From this site, Vasco da Gama left for India. Prince Henry is first figure on the monument, nearest to the water. Behind him are the Portuguese explorers of Brazil and Asia.

Guimarães, Portugal

Stop #28:

One of my favorite cities on this trip was medieval Guimarães.  We stayed at an old monastery converted into a hotel.  In the fact, the history of the monastery is described below.

The city is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a 2012 European Capital of Culture.  You will see a picture below with the words “aqui nasceu Portugal”, which means “ Portugal was born here”.  Actually, Portugal’s first king, Alfonso Henriques, was born here.  He eventually brought together lands between the Minho and Douro rivers.  From Guimaeres, Afonso Henriques eventually took back Lisbon from the Moors in 1147.  While the city was the first capital of Portugal, power eventually moved to Coimbra and later to Lisbon.


  • Castelo de Guimarães – Alfonso Henriques was born in this castle (lots of photos of the ruins below).
  • Paço dos Duques de Bragança (Palace of the Dukes of Bragança). The Paço dos Duques de Bragança is a 15th-century palace that once belonged to the dukes of Bragança but which is now the official regional seat of Portugal’s president. These are the photos below with the tapestries and heavy wood furniture with porcelain and paintings.
  • Pousada de Guimarães, Santa Marinha – We stayed at this pousada (former monastery) from the 12th-century.  It was originally founded by the wife of Dom Afonso Henriques to honor the patron saint of pregnant women. Our room was a former monk cell.  We enjoyed the gardens on a sunny and warm February day.  The views were also pretty extraordinary.

Thanks to Fodor’s Travel Guides, Trip Advisor, and Wikipedia for the great lessons that helped me to plan and summarize this trip.

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