Reid Bramblett - Travel Writer

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On the Road with Reid: 'Round Ireland on Four Wheels (cont'd)

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When Irish Eyes Are on Your Wallet
OK, that's one side of Ireland, the stuff of brochures and of feckless guidebooks that only like to show the pretty face of everything. It's all true—and, lucky me, I'm getting to do much of that stuff every day this week as I research an article for our magazine—but it's not the full story. The full story would start off something like this:

Ireland is not the inexpensive idyll it was just five or six years ago. Well, OK, make that seven years. That's the last time I spent a week on this gorgeous green island, and boy have things changed. Not the ancient sites, stunning vistas, and welcoming pubs part. That stuff is still here—but the price tag on it all, that has certainly been an eye-opener.

The roar of the "Celtic Tiger"—the 1990s run of prosperity that turned Ireland's economy one of the most booming in Europe—is still echoing across the land. Ireland has become a world leader in everything from industry to high tech. Just as a minor, yet timely, ferinstance, the Irish company Havok made one of the software engines that ran the digital special effects in Matrix: Reloaded.

The general prosperity has also led to a nation-wide spending spree. I've never seen so many new houses being thrown up all across the country, though, sadly, most are ugly little cottages fitted with oversized windows squatting on freshly poured cement slabs, utterly failing to blend in with the landscape. Those developmental eyesores aside, I've also never seen so many clean, well kept, and thriving town centers. Most villages here are tidy conglomerations of brightly painted shops, the sidewalks bustling with folks who are doing their shopping, popping in and out of pubs, and zipping around in shiny new Euro-cars. Of course, those images are all gross overgeneralizations, but there truly does seem to be a sense of a healthy, thriving economy.

Which brings us back to that downside for travelers: inflation has turned lovely little Ireland from one of Europe's cheapest vacation spots into one of its priciest in little more than a decade. In fact, as I sit down to write this, the TV news is reporting just-released figures that peg Ireland's cost of living as the second highest in the Euro zone; only Finland is costlier. Add to that the fact that the dollar is at a historic low against the Euro—it now costs $1.17 to buy a single Euro—and a holiday in Ireland has the potential to do some serious damage to your vacation account.

None of that's a reason not to come to this beautiful, friendly, and fascinating country, but it does mean you have to find all sorts of ways to contain your costs if you want to do it on a budget.

Over the next week or so I'll be checking in daily—well, as often as possible; Internet connections are hard to come by in countryside B&Bs—to share some of my adventures and, more importantly, discoveries on how to get the most bang for your buck on the Emerald Isle on everything from lodging to sightseeing to food (remember these words: "pub grub").

But first, here's a roundup of the hottest deals for getting over here so you can have your own Irish adventure—including one of the consistently best values in travel today. In fact, let's start with that one: the air-car-B&B plan.

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