We recently returned from a 2 week stay in Ireland (with a satellite trip to London for a couple of days). What follows is a mis-mash of what we did with some tips and suggestions for anyone thinking of making the trip. Of course, being a photographer, much of this is photo related, but there’s still lots that will apply to any casual tourist.
First off, since you can’t really do much without any money, be mindful that you will need to change your currency in for Euros. We were lucky in that when we went to Ireland, the rate between the U.S. Dollar and the Euro was close to parity (1.00 USD to .94 EU).
Before you travel to Ireland (or anywhere, really) check with your bank and see what their policy is regarding conversion rates. My bank had a simple conversion rate using the daily currency rates, with a 1% transaction fee. This made it pretty easy to use my debit card in Ireland and not have to worry about a high transaction fee. Comparatively, one of my credit cards I was planning to use had a 3% conversion rate, so I left that one behind.
Ireland (and most of Europe from what I’ve been told) use the new chip-and-pin cards. These are different from the mag strip credit/debit cards we are still using in the US. You can tell the difference by the computer chip exposed on the upper left hand side of the card. This chip gives the card extra security. When you use it at a terminal, you push the card in to the terminal, and then input your pin. The transaction is validated, and you are done.
Knowing I was going to Ireland, I asked my bank for a new updated debit card and they provided one with the chip-and-pin. Also of note: If you want to use your card outside your native country, you will want to let your bank know when and where you are going. Otherwise, they will flag the transaction and most likely lock your card down, preventing you from using it until you call in and explain why your card is being used far away from home. Be advised!
Using your cellphone in Ireland is easy if you have the right hardware. First, you’ll need an unlocked GSM or LTE phone. I have an unlocked iPhone 6, for reference. If you are on a CDMA carrier in the U.S., like Verizon, Sprint, or any of their MVNOs (like Boost, Virgin America, or StraightTalk), you may not be able to use your phone overseas. Unless that phone is unlocked by the carrier for international travel. For example, if you buy your iPhone from Verizon, even though it is locked to them in the US, the iPhone has the hardware to use CDMA/GSM/LTE bands built in. Verizon allows you to use your phone as if it were unlocked on providers outside the U.S.
Anyway, getting your phone connected in Ireland (if your device meets the criteria above) is a piece of cake.
I walked in to a Vodafone shop and told them I wanted a pay as you go SIM card. The cost of the SIM card is $10 EU. For an additional $20 EU, you get unlimited calls and texting to other Irish registered phones, and 5GB of LTE data. So $30 for the initial buy in. If you run out of data, or your 30 days of use expires, you can ‘top up’ the phone via text message, phone call to the provider, or online for another $20 EU. For another $10 EU, I was able to use my Vodafone SIM in London as well. Though I only got 250MB of ‘roaming’ data on that plan. Laws were recently passed in Europe that will do away with roaming fees, so this situation should only improve in the coming years.
We flew in to Dublin, and were staying with friends who lived in Wicklow County, about an hour south of the city. Our friends don’t own an automobile, so getting was a challenge at some points.
Getting from the Airport was easy. There is a coach (AirCoach) that goes from the Dublin Airport to many points outside of Dublin. It leaves every 30 minutes and is pretty cheap.
Dublin has many different transit systems. Since our hosts were located in Wicklow, the one that services them is the DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit). Unfortunately, the DART does not go straight to the Airport, hence our use of AirCoach.
The DART was easy to use (mind the gap!), clean (please keep your feet off seats) and hit all the areas we needed to go between Greystones and Dublin. Price for a family of 4 to go from the end of the line in Greystones to Dublin (and back) was just under $20 EU.
Tipping is slightly different in Ireland than in the U.S. First, we were told by our hosts that a generous tip for a meal out or a taxi ride was 10%. Being that my wife is a former waitress with waitress tipping guilt syndrome, we are more conditioned to tip generally 18-20% here in the U.S. for such things. We felt a little odd at first tipping so little, but we were assured by our hosts that a 10% tip would be the talk of the town for it’s generosity, so we followed her advice.
The people we met in Ireland couldn’t have been nicer. Tourism is a large part of the Irish economy, and they treat their guests appropriately. Whether it was on a suggestion of what to order off the menu or what sights to see, everyone was super helpful and friendly.
Dublin is a great city for street photography. Lots of old architecture, interesting people, and a vibrant street scene. I did a lot of my shooting on the DART and at various train stations in Dublin. Grafton Street was another area that was teeming with people. The Temple Bar area also featured lots of people walking about, and lots to see. We tended to stay south of the Haypenny Bridge during our visits. Trinity College is also close by to this area, so you have lots of college students meandering about as well.
A few photography related notes:
One of the shots that was on my punch list was the ‘Long Room’ library at Trinity College. Getting this iconic shot as I had envisioned is impossible unless you can pull strings to get in to this library before or after visiting hours. The room is quite dark, and shooting hand held meant ISO 6400 and as fast an aperture as your lens can handle. Then there are the obnoxious blue placards being suspended in each outlet. I was able to muster a passable shot of the room, but nothing that is portfolio quality. Next time, I’ll do the leg work to see if I can get in there before the toursists and get 5 minutes on the second level with a tripod.
I generally hate taking tours, but at our hosts suggestion, we took a small tour of Wicklow County by Day Tours Unplugged. Our guide, Damein ran a small bus, really more of a van, seating about 16 people max. He took us thru Dublin and out to Wicklow County to see the beautiful sights of Sally Gap and Monastery. Afterwards we walked thru the Wicklow Mountains National Park. Our tour guide was highly informative and friendly. If you are going to take a tour while in Ireland in this area, look them up.
Our hosts lived in Greystones, and we spent a good bit of time there. One of the beautiful (and free!) perks of this area is the Cliff Walk between Greystone and Bray. This 8.4KM walk takes you along the cliffs overlooking the sea between the two towns. It took my two girls and my acrophobic wife about 2 hours to complete the hike between the Greystone and Bray DART stations. The sights on this walk were incredible. If you are staying in this area or visiting Wicklow, I highly recommend this hike.
As usual, I over packed for the trip. Gear wise, I took two systems.
The plan was to use the D750 for the ‘scenic’ shots and the X-T1 for the street shooting. On our first day I ended up using the D750 with the 35mm for a good bit of street shooting in Dublin. While not as discrete as the X-T1, the general area we were in was very touristy, so it wasn’t out of place.
The only place I used the Tokina 17-35mm f4 lens was at Trinity College. I used it in the Long Room shot and the court yard. For what this lens weighed and how little use it got, I definitely could have left it at home. The Nikon 24-105mm saw the most action. I used it on our tour of Wicklow County and our Cliff Walk from Greystone to Bray. The lens is heavy, but it has great optics and covers most of the focal range you’d want.
The Fujifilm X-T1 saw most of it’s use while walking around Dublin (and later London). I used the 27mm pancake lens and the 23mm f1.4 lens almost exclusively. I don’t think I used the 35mm lens once. It’s still one of my favorite Fujifilm lenses, but I found the 23mm focal length better for street, even though the lens is nearly twice the size.
The 27mm lens saw the most action though. Even though it’s slower f2.8 aperture meant that I was cranking ISO up in the dimly lit areas, the small size and weight made it the perfect match on the X-T1.
For my next trip, I plan on leaving the Nikon gear at home and taking an all Fujifilm rig that will consist of:
This kit would cover everything I need focal wise and come in at half the weight of the Nikon kit. Most of the street shooting could be accomplished with the 14mm and the 27mm lens. For low light street shooting, the 23mm would get the call. For a general walk around lens (like for hikes our day tours), the 18-135mm lens would cover all the bases.