Ireland Vacation, C’est Fini!

Day 10 – Cork to Kilkenny (September 19th)

Day 11 – Kilkenny to New York(September 20th)

Okay people please bear with me as this is the last time I’ll talk about Ireland… PROMISE!

We spent our morning in Cork at the Old English Market which was like a huge indoors farmer’s market. It would have been so awesome if we had had a kitchen at our hotel (and if they had been open when we arrived last night) as they sold everything from pounds of pork belly to sheep’s liver and buttered eggs. We ate breakfast there at a cafeteria-style restaurant and picked up sandwiches for a lunch later on.

We headed to Cobh from Cork to see the Annie Moore statue as well as the the last port of call for the R.M.S. Titanic. History lesson of the day: Annie was the first immigrant to the US to pass through Ellis Island and to honor that, a statue of her was erected at both Cobh and Ellis Island. Class over.

After the port we headed to Fota, a wildlife park where there was a limited cages separating you from the animals.

Kangaroos (I think) were hopping around uncaged and a group of them sat right next to the picnic table where we had lunch.

This was the extent of the cages many of the animals inhabited at the park.

Unless you were a cheetah. Then you were caged.

Ryan’s favorite part was feeding the ducks. I swear he was like a kid in a candy store. There was him and a couple pre-school aged kids and then there was me and all the moms taking pictures.

They loved Ryan (or the food that he gave them anyway) that they started following him through the park.

Okay, last animal picture I swear, but baby monkey pictures are automatic posts.

After Fota it was time to drive up to Kilkenney for our last night’s stay in Ireland. In the morning we drove through Glendalough National Park and stopped at Powerscourt for lunch on our way back to the airport, home, and the kittehs.

So that’s it. No more! Now back to the irregular scheduled posts of food, cats, teenie bopper books / movies and liberal rantings.

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Ireland Vacation, Part VIII

Day 9 – Kenmare to Cork (September 18th)

Just a quick (non-paid-for) shout out to the Hawthorn House in Kenmare. This place was amazing. It was run by only two girls and I really don’t know how they managed to check people out, serve others breakfast, and get the rooms ready for the next group, but they did. So if you are ever in Kenmare, stay there!

After a delicious breakfast we were off to the Drombeg Stone Circle on our way to Cork County. Drombeg is the Stonehenge of Ireland except perhaps a little smaller as you can see.

But still pretty cool to be touching and posing next to stones that have were last used in 5 AD.

From Drombeg we headed for Kinsale, the unofficial gastronomic capital of Ireland, for lunch at Fishy Fishy Cafe. Despite the ridiculous name, the restaurant was amazing. The fish are caught that morning right next to the restaurant and therefore everything tastes so fresh. But we were held up for quite a long time due to 1) getting completely lost (Seriously, what does Ireland have against addresses? Listing your address as “next to the pier” is not helpful when the pier is not just a couple of blocks long.) and 2) the long wait for a table. But still, I highly recommend this place.

The delay did create a problem though as I wanted to squeeze in kissing the Blarney stone before heading to our hotel in Cork. (Clearly I need the gift of gab.) The internet stated the castle was open later than it actually was so with 15 minutes to spare once we entered the castle and park we had to sprint to the castle and up the MANY stairs.

We made it to kissing that blarney stone (we were the last two they took). So yes, I dangled off the edge of a tower to put our lips on a nondescript stone that thousands of lips have touched already. And I’d do it again!

After kissing the blarney stone the park was officially closed but with many people still miling around and no one chasing us off the property we decided to stroll through some other areas of the park. We followed the signs to the Rock Close though we weren’t sure what it was, and ended up in a partial enclosure surrounded by different storied rocks. So of course we had to go on a hunt to find the Rock Close.

We thought maybe it was this.

Of course we found out later that the entire enclosure WAS the Rock Close. Oops! Live and learn. The one (sort of) interactive piece in the Rock Close was the Wishing Steps. The point is to walk down the stairs blind and walk back up blind, thinking about nothing except your wish. Doing this will guarantee that it will come true.

I tried to concentrate on my wish but most of the time I kept thinking to myself, “don’t fall.” So maybe that was my real wish, which did come true. So look at that, the steps worked!

Finally worried that we might get locked in the park, we left and drove on to Cork for dinner. Except that Sunday in Cork meant that there was barely anything open. So we pulled the typical American faux pas and ended up at Burger King (for myself) and a fast food Indian place (for Ryan), which just so happened to serve garlic cheese fries. Yum.

Ireland Vacation, Part VII

Day 8 – Killarney to Kenmare (September 17th)

First thing in the morning (okay, first thing after ANOTHER huge Irish breakfast) we headed out to Killarney National Park. The park was huge and since we didn’t realize we had parked 5 KM away from the actual entrance, we had a lot of walking and picture taking to do.

I think we logged about 10 miles in that park. Not too shabby if I say so myself.

After Killarney we took Moll’s Gap (for a shortened Ring of Kerry) to Kenmare.

There’s really no purpose to this picture other than the fact that I was on a hunt for leprechauns!

We found our bed and breakfast, Hawthorn House, and dropped off our car since Kenmare was just like every other town in Ireland we came across, tiny roads and no parking.

We ended up at Prego (an Italian restaurant) for dinner. I know I know, I am such a foodie snob and shun my nose at people eating McDonald’s in Poland (which I bring up because I’ve done that!) and yet I had pizza in Ireland. But I really missed it!

Ireland Vacation, Part VI

Day 7 – Bunratty Castle to Killarney (September 16th)

The holly green, the ivy green

The prettiest picture you’ve ever seen

Is Christmas in Killarney

With all of the folks at home

I sang this all day as we made our way to Killarney. I was told this was very annoying. Whatever.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. In the morning we headed back to Bunratty Folk Park and castle to experience the place when it was truly open in the daytime. The folk park showed different abodes from the 18th century from the landless paupers whom lived in the stable’s of their boss’ to the wealthy inventor of HP branded ice cream. The castle was from the 15th century, as in anything that had been moved into the castle since the 1600s was moved out when the castle started to be shown to the public. There was even a dungeon that was really used back in the day!

We did spend some time looking for a shrubbery. Get it? The Knights that say Ni? Monty Python? Bueller?… It’s okay, Ryan didn’t laugh either.

After Bunratty Castle we were off to drive around the Dingle Peninsula in what is probably Ryan’s most memorable (if not most enjoyable) partof the trip. But before we arrived at Dingle we drove by the Blennerville Windmill, supposedly the most photographed object in all of Dingle. I’m not really sure why… but since it was on the way, I decided to join the masses.

Now is omitting certain truths the same as lying? You are probably saying yes, but I hope the answer is no. Either way Ryan is about to find out something I may have omitted until now. There were two ways for us to get to Dingle. (Pausing to let this comment sink in for Ryan.) One was very boring and we’d be doing most of that drive on the way out of Dingle anyway. The other way was the only option I presented to Ryan: through Connor Pass.

Connor Pass was touting as having some of the most beautiful sights to see in all of Ireland. Truth! It was also only supposed to be done by the most skilled drivers as it was terrifying. So as I routed Ryan through Connor Pass, but not before I calmly mentioned that there was some difficult driving ahead for him but nothing he hadn’t already done. (I thought this was true! I was wrong.)

It started out a little treacherous but not too bad. We stopped for pictures along the way and finally got back in our car when we were done. And then it got bad. And then it got worse. As in Garda (police) barreling down on us on the ledge of a cliff with no place for us to pull over. But after a furrowed brow (and perhaps a few gray hairs) Ryan showed he really was a pro at this manual car business!

Here’s a shot of the two-lane road of Connor Pass. No, that’s not an optical illusion, that’s the width.

Arriving lunch in Dingle we headed off for our scenic tour of the Dingle Peninsula and our first stop the Dunbeg Fort. Now I’m going to come off as a huge cheapskate, but here’s the Fort…

That’s the extent of it.  And to get any closer it would cost you 6 euros per person.  What on earth could be 12 euros better any closer? We didn’t think it would be so it was time to move on and see the rest of the Peninsula before making our way to Killarney for the night.

Ireland Vacation, Part V

Day 6 – Clare to Bunratty Castle (September 15th)

We left early to travel out to Aillwee Caves. I found my usual place with the Budget Rent-A-Car Map, google maps, and GPS (yes, all three were necessary) and noted that the drive didn’t seem to be too difficult. That is, until we came to a detour. At a loss, we put ourselves in the GPS’s capable virtual hands and let her guide us up a steep cliff which was barely wide enough for 1 car. We did get breathtaking scenery out of the deal, which I originally uploaded and then realized there can really only be so many pictures of hillsides before I lose all my followers.

We finally made it to Aillwee Caves, which advertised a “30-minute stroll through beautiful underworld caverns, over bridged chasms, under weird formations and alongside the thunderous waterfall.” It wasn’t quite as grandiose as that advertisement led us to believe but the waterfall was pretty cool.

Our harrowing trip was not for nothing, since Aillwee caves also made their own cheeses. I was all for heading to our car and driving to the shop but Ryan pointed out a “woodland trail to Cheese Shop“ sign, and since our unspoken motto of the trip was – active active active –, instead of lazy-ass-couch-potatos, we ventured on.

The trail was gorgeous, tranquil, and just a little bit weird.

Awhile later, armed with delicious cheese, we headed out to the Cliffs of Moher.

Now these cliffs were the one place I wanted to visit even before I opened my first guide book. I pictured standing on the cliff, looking out into the Atlantic ocean and just taking in Ireland. However, it was a little more commercialized than I envisioned, and a little less standing on a cliff – because that would be dangerous…. Go figure.

There was a flat outcrop jutting into the ocean that looked like the perfect place to take a picture. I pointed it out to Ryan and joked about standing out there while he took a picture. But we didn’, because I’m not stupid.

Before I knew it these tourists did just that, to the dumbfounded stares of the hundred of us that figured, not walking out onto the outcrop may be a good rule to follow.

And then as the girl who had dangled her legs off the precipe for a picture was getting up, she completely fell and had to be caught before she fell off the edge. I’m going to guess that the word that people were muttering all around me in different languages was “idiot!“

On the top of my list of things to do was visit Craggaunowen. I could be wrong but I think it is like Jamestown or Williamsburg with people dressing up as if it was a century (or several) ago. I love that kind of gimmicky stuff. But every place I turned had a different information listed. From last sale in August to mid-September. The actual website was still selling tickets. Ryan offered to do his best in getting me to the park on time (yes, he spoils me) so he actually floored that skoda gas pedal to 100 kmh (which was the speed limit). The reason we weren’t actually ever going the speed limit was because… well picture a not well paved road with about 1.5 lanes for dual way traffic. Now picture doing that at 60 mph? Exactly.

But he did it. And he got us there with minutes to spare before last admissions of the day. And it was closed! BOOOOOOOOO!

Oh well, more time to head on over to Bunratty Winery where they sell Potcheen (the original Moonshine and Mead. Side note: as I’m now writing this after enjoying some of our souvenir Potcheen. One does not enjoy Potcheen. One just tries not to black out from Potcheen.

That evening we headed out to Bunratty Castle and Folk Park for a medieval nights type of dinner. It was the highlight of our entire trip. The folk park closed earlier that afternoon, but once we gave our dinner tickets at the entrance we had free reign to roam around the park until dinner.

When it was finally time to enter the castle, we were lead up to a welcome reception and offered cups of mead to drink while we listing to the violin and harp before we were collected for dinner.

In the dining hall (originally the guards’ quarters) we sat on long wooden tables and were not provided with utensils (a la medieval times).

The food was really tasty and utensils weren’t really missed. After dinner the minstrels of the castle entertained us with singing – including my long awaited favorite, Danny Boy. I had been dying to hear it every night when live music came on at the pubs but I suppose it would be the equivalent to waiting to hear Tiny Bubbles at a (kamaina attended) luau.

Meanwhile, all the way in Ireland we ended up sitting next to a BC graduate. Go Eagles!

Ireland Vacation, Part IV

Day 5 – Mayo to Clare (September 14th)

Another day, another Irish breakfast. These breakfasts were really screwing with our appetites as we weren’t hungry again until around 4 PM on most days. But if we must we must. After leaving Westport we headed towards Galway via an out of the way stop at Kylemore Abbey.

I didn’t know much about Kylemore before we stopped there other than it was gorgeous but the story behind it was quite romantic. It was built as a castle and private home by an Englishman, Mitchell Henry, whose wife fell in love with the Connemara area on her honeymoon. At one point it was rumored that King Edward VII thought to purchase the castle but ultimately decided that the property was too pricy for a king. The castle was eventually turned over to Benedictine nuns in 1920 whom converted it into a school until it finally closed one year ago due to monetary constraints. We wandered the grounds of the Abbey to get to the breathtaking gardens of Kylemore, and on the way spotted a few interactive art pieces.

An Irish donkey (or small horse, we couldn’t tell) welcomed us to the gardens and OF COURSE Ryan had to pet him and feed him. Until the donkey decided that Ryan’s jacket might be the best food out there.

And then there was the garden. It was amazing. I thought we had seen all of it and it turned out we were only halfway through.

Half of the garden was a useable herb garden, prompting me to take hundreds of pictures due to great illusions of grandeur involving me and my future herb garden.

Okay, last picture of Kylemore I promise! But would you check out what we also found in the gardens? Bog!

As I said… enamored. Or obsessed.

We headed around the Galway coast and stopped at Clifden for lunch. Popping into the first restaurants we saw, I ordered one of my favorite meals of the entire trip:open Connemara smoked salmon sandwich. The smoked salmon in the US does not compare. At least not in the NY/metro area. Their smoked salmon was so fresh it tasted as if the salmon had just been caught and smoked. Which may not have been far from the truth.

After completing our drive around the County Galway coast we arrived in Galway and encountered something we hadn’t experience in Ireland before, traffic. Arriving during pau hana traffic does that to a person, I suppose. So after a long wait we finally made it to our hotel and were soon enough off to tour Galway. I was worried that in my planning I hadn’t given Galway its due, but the town was really small and quaint and we were able to finish our self-guided tour in no time and were about to focus on more important tasks: souvenir shopping.

(Top left) Lynch’s Castle – now the A/B Bank; (top right) I finally got my claddagh ring; (bottem left) Lynch’s Window; (bottem right) the Spanish Arch.

We ended up at Da Tang Noodle House for dinner after 1) needed a break from the heavy food and 2) reading that it was one of the best restaurants in Galway. Umm…. It was fine. But where Ireland may have cornered the market on smoked salmon and fish and chips, NY has Ippudo. Enough said.

Ireland Vacation, Part III

Day 4 – Sligo to Mayo (September 13th)

After our first and very hearty Irish breakfast

we left Temple House armed with very detailed instructions from our hostess and set out to find (and then hike) Knocknarea mountain.

First I got us lost because I’m not the world’s best navigator. And then we just could not find the place. I was expecting a lot of signs directing us to a giant car park (Diamond Head Crater style) but instead all we saw was space for a couple cars to pull over. Figuring that must be the place, we parked and started to climb. We climbed for a few minutes until we came to a fence set up to keep the nearby grazing cows from wandering off.

Could this really be Knocknarea? It turns out, no. Nonetheless, the views were spectacular.

We finally did find the true entrance to Knocknarea and started to climb. The hike itself wasn’t too bad but Hurricane Katia (possibly Tropical Storm Katia by this point) was still being a real bitch.

See, not pleasant!

Sitting on the top of Knocknarea is a gigantic unexcavated cairn (or grave mound). Folklore says it was built for the mythical Iron Age Queen Maeve, who was buried standing in the cairn in full battle gear, spear in hand. So clearly the goal was to make it to the top.

But I didn’t.

I blame it on tiny feet and Katia but no matter what I did, every time I tried to climb the last mound I got blown off. Stupid industrial-strength wind.

After three failed attempts I finally parked myself at the bottom of the cairn and tried to figure out how I could catch Ryan if he blew off the cairn (just kidding familia, sort of).

From Sligo town we drove northwest (the most northern point we stopped at on this trip) to Ballycastle, home of beautiful Mayo cliffs.

and Ceide Fields, a neolithic farming settlement preserved for nearly 6,000 years beneath bog.

After the awe-inspiring sites of Newgrange I have to admit, I was picturing a little bit more than some white stones laid out to depict where farm walls were built several millennia ago, but the visit did teach us about something that had us enamored for the rest of the trip… bog.

From Ceide Fields we were off to Westport for the night. After quickly checking into the hotel we headed out in search of dinner. An easy task until we realized that nothing was open save for a dark pub with a couple patrons lingering to hear the live music. So we crowded around a tiny table set up in a separate room from the bar itself and ordered fish and chips. And I tell you, it was the best fish and chips I’ve ever tasted.