Two Sisters, One (Gluten-Free) Sojourn In Ireland

Every year, my sister and I take a trip abroad — our annual "sisters' trip." We've been traveling together since childhood. We make sure to try a place we've never been before, to experience new culture, new food, and new sights.

While we have a close relationship, my type-A personality clashes with her — how should I put it nicely? — Bohemian approach to life. This is not the case when we travel. I'm the planner who likes to organize our meals and our days. Erin is a thrill-seeker, willing to push the envelope and try anything new and exciting. I make sure we make don't miss our flight, and she makes sure we see something worth flying for.

This year, we knew we wanted to travel for something more than just a good time. Last fall, Erin and I lost our cousin Tracy to a very brave battle with cancer. Tracy, being 16 years older than me, was like my big sister. She was only 43 years old. We decided our next sisters' trip would take us to Ireland, the land of our ancestors, to celebrate our family. My maternal grandmother was born in County Wicklow, but Erin and I had never been.

We arrived in Dublin on Thanksgiving Day, bleary-eyed from jet lag yet filled with excitement. We strolled through the streets, pausing at Leo Burdock for their famous fish and chips, which they have been serving for more than a century. After several more stops at traditional sweets shops that my sister couldn't resist, we celebrated our Thanksgiving dinner at Gallagher's Boxty House in the Temple Bar area. The restaurant came highly recommended from my knowledgeable Irish-American cousin. The Boxty House is known for its entirely gluten-free menu — its way of celebrating the spud.

I sampled a delightful gluten-free beer with seafood chowder and fluffy potato pancakes. We cheers-ed to celebrating our very American holiday in the land of our ancestors before heading out to the pubs, like any good Irish person would do.

The next day, we hit the road to experience everything Ireland had to offer — the sweeping countryside, the animals, and the unnamed roads. Our trusty GPS guided us through the Ring of Kerry and to the Gap of Dunloe.

Dying to stop for a bite, we pulled into a beautiful countryside restaurant named Heather. We peeked our heads in and were almost certain the restaurant was closed, when a quiet Irish woman appeared and welcomed us warmly. She sat us next to a window with a beautiful view of green foliage. The restaurant had an entire homemade gluten-free menu — bread included.

I warmed myself with a delicious bowl of carrot and caraway soup to start. An Irish croque monsieur with corned beef and béchamel sauce on toasty, warm gluten-free bread with a side of sliced beets and coleslaw followed.

With full bellies, we continued our drive through the gap. We "oohed" and "ahhed" for the 30-plus minute drive, but when we came out the other side, we were informed by a friendly local that the best way out was the way we came in. So, with our trusty GPS instructing us to take yet another unnamed road, we turned around to "ooh" and "ahh" all over again.

Our gap detour set us back several hours before we reached our next destination, the Trump International Golf Links at Doonbeg. After our last dark windy road for the night, we pulled into the parking lot, only to be welcomed by a beautiful fireworks display at the hotel's annual Christmas market.

Families were holding hands, staring at the sky, and singing along with carols — a beautiful greeting we were certainly not expecting. We were then whisked to our beautiful two-floor cottage, complete with a kitchen, gas fireplace, and stunning living room.

While we yearned to have a hearty soup by the fire, we dressed quickly to share a meal at the hotel's Ocean View restaurant. Although downtime was on our minds, we certainly enjoyed our delicious fine-dining experience, featuring a cod dish paired with all of Ireland's best seafood offerings: mussels, crab claws, and prawns.

The following morning, we refueled with one of the best Irish breakfasts I've ever had, while staring out onto the sunlit golf course and its views of the ocean. The temperature was mild with only a slight wind, so we decided on a leisurely stroll through the grounds before once again hitting the open road.

Our next stop was the Cliffs of Moher — the quintessential photo op. We paid for the "ultimate visitor experience," which seemed to simply be parking and access to the bathrooms, but that didn't bother us much. Bundled from head to toe, we climbed both cliffs, stopping to admire the small castle. While Erin the adventurer stopped every few feet to take photos of our beautiful surroundings, I was much more cautious, taking note of the danger signs and the cavalier nature of crazy tourists walking way too close to the edge for my taste.

When Erin saw that I had reached my limit of exhilaration for the day, she knew just the next place to take me: the Burren Perfumery. She was interested in the Burren in Country Clare, known for its plants and temperate climates as well as its rich natural resources and stunning views.

That evening, we made it to Galway with bags of lotions, soaps, and perfumes stuck in the back, for good measure. We had dinner reservations at Ard Bia at Nimmos, which came highly recommended by Erin's colleagues.

The farm-to-table restaurant was just as I expected: local, fresh and heartwarming. The stewed rabbit dish was suggested by our server, as was the Irish pheasant and pumpkin risotto. We followed our delicious meal with a drink at a local pub, Salt House, which has a killer craft beer menu filled with IPAs and gluten-free options.

The next day, we explored Galway; its Christmas markets, charming side streets, and bookstores. Following a lovely lunch at Cava Bodega, where we feasted on Spanish tapas, we happened upon the Charlie Byrne bookstore. As a journalist, my eyes lit up at the sight of the classic works of famous Irish writers, photography books celebrating the Irish landscape, and bestsellers of yesterday and today.

For our evening dinner, we drove roughly 20 minutes outside the city to Moran's Oyster Cottage, located along the water. We were greeted warmly by owner Michael Moran, who works closely with his father and siblings on the day-to-day operations of the restaurant.

Michael provided us with a tour of the restaurant, showing us the original cottage as well as the additional bar and restaurant. We dined in a private room that was part of the original cottage, and had once served as a bedroom. As we settled down into our cozy home for the evening, Michael presented us with the fresh oysters with a mineral finish that the restaurant is world famous for. He also shared a great little tidbit — he happens to be a world-champion "oyster opener."

When he laid out his tools and began to gingerly open the famous Galway flat oysters, we could tell he wasn't pulling our legs. And as we sat there marveling at his skills, out came another beautiful platter filled with salmon, crabs, and prawns. Crab claws and mussels in garlic sauce with a side of brown bread for Erin and toasted gluten-free bread for me.

Although we were completely stuffed from our seafood feast, Michael encouraged us to finish our meals with the very best Irish coffees in all of the country. We laughed and agreed, warning him that we would be harsh critics, though. Our Irish Uncle Liam makes them every Christmas and prides himself on crafting the very best.

Beyond feeling like family at Moran's, the food was surely noteworthy. We promised to return on our next trip.

The trip was a wonderful one for my sister and I. We bonded on a level we haven't ever before through learning about our ancestry, heritage, and homeland. We also carried our cousin Tracy with us in our hearts throughout the entire journey, and gained a newfound understanding of the importance of family.