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Southern Ireland with Mom

nikkihop

10+ Posts
By nikkihop from Texas USA, Spring 2012

This trip report was originally posted on slowtrav.com.

Trip Description: Nicki and her mom tour through southern Ireland, ending in Dublin visiting castles, churches, natural wonders and even kayaking from June 10 - 21, 2012.

Introductions

I should warn you that this isn’t a strictly slow travel trip. In fact, none of my trips seems to be strictly slow travel. It’s not in my nature. I like to see, do, experience, and absorb at a slightly faster pace than most. Even my natural walking gait is fast. That being said, I love the slow travel philosophy (and website). I generally stay in bed and breakfasts and guest houses, love Mom and Pop eateries, and really strive to get to know a place while I’m traveling. I will spend months researching a place and listening to foreign language CDs in my car to work to try to absorb as much of the culture of a place before I go. Then, when I get there, my dreamy mental images all become magically sharp and focused and vibrant. I like the idea of really getting to know the people at my destination, which is why I love to learn languages. The truth is, though, I’m pretty shy of people. I like to be able to talk to them, and I love knowing what’s being said around me, but I don’t easily fall into conversation. The Irish do not suffer from this affliction.

Nevertheless, I apologize if this isn’t exactly what you’re looking for. I try to make up for my un-slowness by providing detail and reviews on sites, B&Bs and restaurants, in case YOU want to slowly enjoy these things. I read every trip report about my destination on the SlowTrav website before embarking on my journeys and try to incorporate the things I love about others’ reports into my own. I particularly love the stories that showcase the humanity of the travelers. I love stories about mothers finding the perfect gift for a child whose birthday occurred overseas, or even stories of arguments where I think, “I have so been there before!” You’ll see at least one of those if you keep reading.

My story has two main characters: me, a 38-year old lawyer with admittedly type-A tendencies; and my DM (darling mother), a 65-year old retiree with a seriously adventuresome spirit, but poor balance, as you will find out if you persist. DM and I travel together once every 12 to 18 months. We’ve been to Hawaii, Mackinac Island, South America, the Caribbean, and Alaska. That’s if you only count our adult trips together. As an Army brat, I remember my mom as a kind of superwoman. Dad would ship out and leave the packing, moving and traveling to my mom, who had two small children a year or so apart for a decade and then a third child who came along towards the end of our military lives. My mom is amazing. When we lived in Germany for a three-year-tour, she would pack my sister and I up in our VW bus and head off on road trips to waterfalls, amusement parks, great cities and small wonders. I wish she had kept a journal of her travels. I would have loved to read it. I can honestly say I’ve seen the world with my mom, and am a better person for it.

Here is our story of Ireland.

2018-01-Cliffs_of_Moher.jpg

Cliffs of Moher, Ireland
 

nikkihop

10+ Posts
June 11, 2012 – Doolin, the Aran Islands and the Cliffs of Moher

I drove from Austin, Texas, to Dallas the day before our trip so DM and I could fly out of DFW together. DM has a rule about getting to the airport at least three hours early, which was annoying before the iPad came along. Now, I consider it two hours of online time. We hung out in the pretty posh seating area outside our gate, where they have chaise lounges. I’m not kidding. We were surprised too. We spent the time reading and working Sudoku puzzles (DM) while watching a woman painstakingly wash and squeegee the glass windows and handrails. I thought she was going to murder the security guard who came up and actually put his hand on the glass that she had just cleaned. She went right over, wielding her squeegee with a crusader’s outrage, and set him and the glass straight.

We flew United to Newark (ug) and then hopped on the big jet to Shannon, Ireland. There is really nothing to report about the DFW to Newark flight except that we rode with a couple who was clearly going to a wedding or other fancy event because he was wearing a suit and she was wearing a large bubble-gum pink ruffled taffeta skirt and white lace top that would have been okay had she not been at least 45 years old. The reason I remember this couple is because we stood in line for the Newark bathrooms with the woman in the pink skirt. She got the stall next to mine and actually dropped her skirt full on the floor to do her business. (Horrified squeamish face here) I will never forget that. Does she not know what’s on those airport bathroom floors? (strangling sound). Ick.

I booked the extended leg room seats on United for our International flight and was glad I did. It really does feel much roomier than regular coach, so it felt like first class even though I couldn’t pay for it. Our upgrade cost around $89 per person (pp). DM and I had the window and center seats. The aisle seat was taken by the woman who played the bad guys’ mother from the movie The Goonies. I swear it was her or that they’re related. Before the doors had closed, Mama Goonie barfed up her breakfast into her airsick bag. Then, she barfed again. I asked her if she was all right. It was partly concern for her and partly my fear of catching the deadly virus she might be carrying. She said a dear friend of hers had died and that it was nerves. I felt bad for my earlier uncharitable thought and offered her both my and DM’s airsick bags. She thanked me by barfing into all of them the whole way to Ireland, and then leaving them scattered about her like used tissues. I kept thinking that since she had to be in her sixties or seventies, she would have to get up to pee and would take the barf bags with her to throw away, but she must have had a bladder like a camel or she was terribly dehydrated because she never got up to pee. DM and I used the extra leg room to squeeze out in front of her to use the facilities ourselves.

We arrived at Shannon airport at 7:00am. There was a negligible line at Customs and the whole baggage and Customs process took us less than 15 minutes. We rented a car at Avis, which took us another 15 minutes. DM and I both used the ATM in the Shannon airport, which is right in front of the tourist office, where we bought Ireland Heritage cards (€21 for adults and €16 for seniors). This was one of our best purchases. The card gets you into all the national heritage sites for “free.” To give you an idea of its value on our trip, I have provided a list of sites that we visited with the regular entrance costs. The Heritage card gets you in free. All of these would have cost us €60 if we paid a la cart.

Dublin Castle
€4.50​
Kilmainham Gaol
€6.00​
Bru Na Boinne/Newgrange
€11.00​
Trim Castle
€4.00​
Glendalough Visitor's Center
€3.00​
Kilkenny Castle
€6.00​
Jerpoint Abbey
€3.00​
Rock of Cashel
€6.00​
Muckross House (near Killarney)
€7.00​
Derrynane House (Ring of Kerry)
€3.00​
Great Blasket Center (Dingle)
€4.00​
Cahir Castle
€3.00​
Total
€60.5

Great deal, no? So, at 7:45am we drove out of the Shannon Airport in our navy blue, left-hand shift Opal Insignia, pretty proud of ourselves. The reason I relate how much time it took us to get in and out of the Shannon airport is because DM and I planned to drive from Shannon to Doolin on our first day and catch the 10:00 ferry to the Aran Islands. I was concerned about the timing and couldn’t find any reliable estimates of how long Customs and claim took at Shannon when I looked online. We had a back-up plan in case we couldn’t make it, but it worked out beautifully. We drove the 59.9 km (about 54 minutes by car) to Doolin and arrived by 9:00am. Now, many of you may be thinking we were crazy to attempt this, but since we were arriving at 7:00am, we didn’t want to waste a whole day recuperating from jet lag. We planned on taking a ferry to the Aran Islands and then renting a pony cart to shuttle us around the island. Minimal driving for us and a beautiful start to our trip.

We drove into Doolin proper, which is a tiny village that’s more like a street with about 12 houses or storefronts on it. We bought our tickets from a grandmotherly woman in the ferry ticket office on the main drag. Thinking we had time to check in to our bed and breakfast before the 10am ferry, we asked the ticket lady if she knew where the Harbourview B&B was. She repeated., “Harbour view, Harbour View...” then there was a five-minute-long pause before she said, "yes ... I do" and then proceeded to send us up a hill to another county before we decided to turn back and ask someone else after our ferry trip to the Aran Islands. Long, poor directions are all a part of the Irish experience. We had several good laughs about this on our trip. The facts that none of the roads have names and the roads all look like driveways are contributing factor.

Giving up on checking in early, we drove down to the small boat ramp to board the Happy Hooker, our ferry for the day. Note: a “hooker” is a type of boat, not an homage to Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. While waiting for the Hooker to arrive (love writing that), we chatted with the ticket master in the dock-side ticket office. He told us the ferry stops at the islands of Inisheer and then Inishmore and that we could decide on the boat where we wanted to go, but we had to get off the boat at Inishmore because it is the last stop until America. DM told him that's where we just came from this very morning and he told us we were crazy for driving straight over to visit the Aran Islands. We chatted for a bit and then wandered off to photograph the scenery, which is pretty spectacular since the Cliffs of Moher are to the left and the fascinating Burren rock extends right out to the ocean all around the dock. More about this later.

Eventually, we all lined up with our tickets to board the ferry. While we were shuffling forward to board, we saw a woman in full wet suit walking down the boat ramp to the water’s edge with bare feet and a snorkel in 50 degree windy weather. Yowza. What was even more amazing is that a dolphin came right up to the edge of the boat ramp and they swam together while all the ferry passengers loaded. It was great entertainment, and I wondered if that’s why she was down there at the ferry time, showing off with her dolphin for all the tourists. The ticket master was herding all of us gawking folks along the gangplank when he spotted us and said, "Now there are my two American peaches...on board wi’ ye." DM and I got a kick out of being peaches for the day.

It took about an hour and 15 minutes on the ferry to Kilronan on the island of Inishmore. We were hungry, so we stopped into the first cafe we came to: The Pier House B&B and Cafe. We sat inside the charming café with a view of the harbor. The service was slow, but also charming. In fact, all of Ireland is “charming,” so I’ll try not to be redundant. I had the seafood chowder and DM had the vegetable soup, and both soups were bland. Mine was spuds from the sea (no discernible seafood in the chowder, but a lot of potatoes). DM's was green (leeks) and therefore suspicious. However, the best thing about the food in Ireland is that every meal comes with lovely brown soda bread. We devoured our bread with slatherings of butter and shared a lovely pot of tea, which we are both now addicted to several weeks after our trip.

Here’s a tip: when you take the ferry to the Aran Islands, you cannot dawdle around eating soda bread and soup. If you want to ride a pony cart, you have to catch one immediately upon disembarking the ferry. We totally missed the pony carts, which was a big bummer. All of the cart drivers (there aren’t that many) picked up passengers and left for the outskirts of the island. We were left wandering the small pier calling, "Pony carts? Pony carts?" So sad.

All was not lost. There were still several minivan tour operators who, like streetwalkers, called out to us as we wandered by, trying to get us to pay €10pp to drive out to the Dun Aengus fort. We didn't like the look of the first two drivers, but were suckered into Patrick Mullen's red van, only to have him drive around the block with us twice so he could look for other wayward people who ate and missed the pony carts. He was lucky. He found two other ladies who proceeded to haggle like fishwives on the price only to agree to Patrick's original price of €10pp round trip.

Patrick was a local and showed us all the sites: his parent's house, his cow (actually his former cow...he sold it two days before we got there), the island's friendliest donkey, and the island's only round house. Patrick told us that only locals can build a house but foreigners could buy property in two ways: they can marry into it, or they can buy a preexisting house, but they cannot build a new house. Weird. He told us there are 800 people living on the island and that they export 2500 cows per year. He also told us that practically none of the sweaters sold on the Aran Islands are made in the Aran Islands ... they're made in Taiwan or China or somewhere, which was a total let down. I wanted a true Aran sweater.

The highlight of our minivan tour was the seven churches, where we saw a very old graveyard with a grave for Patrick Mullen, who died in 1915. So, not our minivan driver. Outside the seven churches, there was an adorable donkey who likes the tourists to feed him the sweet grass by the side of the road. I named him Justin Bieber because he has very shaggy and moppet-like hair. After feeding Justin Bieber, we were off to the Dun Aengus fort, which is about a 20 minute steep climb. The views were worth it though - amazing cliff views and gorgeous weather to reward us. If I lived in the stone age and I lived in a fort, it would be this one.

After hiking back down the fort path, we stopped into the cluster of sweater and craft shops at the base of the hill. Some of the shop keepers were knitting, which was encouraging. It was also interesting since I’m a knitter and the ladies in Ireland have different knitting techniques than Americans. Patrick, who dropped us off to climb to the fort, picked us up and drove us to the port just in time for the 4:00 ferry back to the mainland. While getting out of the van, DM stepped in a huge gob of tar on the roadside and then had to make a trip down to the water’s edge to wipe her shoe in the ocean and sand. On our trip to South America, she stepped in dog poo, so I now have photos of her scraping her shoe in two different countries. I’m hoping for a series of these someday.

I won’t lie; we were tired on the ferry ride back to Doolin. The jet lag was nipping at our heels. We checked into the Harbour View B&B (good directions from a guy at the dock). Kathy Normoyle and her husband run this B&B, which is very close to the harbor and had a great breakfast room and clean comfortable rooms. The bathroom was fantastic – very large. Kathy, who is so pretty and helpful, I wish we were related, sent us off to Fitz's pub for dinner, where we had a great meal, if a bit pricey at €15 to €18 per plate. DM had the Guinness and beef stew, which came with a huge serving of mashed potatoes that made her whole day, and I had a perfect plate of fish and chips. Since it was still early at 6:00pm and we would have daylight until 10:00pm or so, we decided to drive the 10 minutes over to the Cliffs of Moher to take a look.

The Cliffs of Moher visitor’s center looks like a huge Hobbit complex built into the side of a grassy hill. It was closed when we got there, but there were still plenty of people about. We walked out to the cliff edge, and DM decided she’d like to try to walk out to the old signal tower ruins at Hag’s Head, which looked about two or three miles away to the south. There is a well-worn path along the edge of the cliffs, and despite several signs that strongly discourage climbing over the stone barriers, we climbed over them and walked along the cliff edge like everyone else. Had it been windy or inclement weather, I wouldn’t have done this, or at least not with DM. However, it was perfectly sunny and clear, so we didn’t have to worry about being blown over the “Cliffs of Insanity” as they were called in the movie The Princess Bride. We walked, and walked... and kept walking. Like a mirage, the signal tower ruins that seemed so close back at the visitor center never got any closer. Five miles later, and we still weren't there, although they looked close (still). If you are judging me for dragging my 65-year-old mother five miles along a cliff edge, please note that it was her idea and that I must have asked her a hundred times if she was sure she wanted to keep going. DM finally admitted she was getting tired, so we turned back without reaching our target. We definitely didn't want to be caught in the dark on the cliff edge, which lies about six inches to the right of the path.

After the long walk back to the visitor’s center, we arrived just in time to watch a beautiful sunset behind O’Brien’s castle. DM realized she had lost her hoodie on our walk, which thankfully we found on our way back to the parking lot (and not five miles south toward the signal tower ruins). After a full day, we wearily headed back to the B&B at 10:30pm for showers and bed.

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Justin Bieber
 

nikkihop

10+ Posts
June 12, 2012 – The Burren, Shannon Ferry, Conor Pass to Dingle

DM and I got up at 7:20am and felt surprising pain-free considering all the hiking exercise we got yesterday. We both slept great, which meant for me passing out and going into an uninterrupted coma for eight hours, and for DM, her usual intermittent wakefulness, with the ultimate wake up at 5:30 or so. It seemed we totally kicked the jet lag by staying up until a normal bed-time yesterday.

We walked down the hall for our first Irish breakfasts in the breakfast room of the Harbour View B&B. The menu consisted of rashers, bacon, eggs, grilled tomatoes and mushrooms (full Irish), French toast and bacon, scones, toast and/or cereal. I opted for French toast and DM had just eggs and bacon, neither of which she was very happy with. The egg was cooked over really hard, and the bacon looked like American ham. She choked it down whilst I truly enjoyed my French toast and ham, I mean bacon. I should also note here that if DM has any travel flaws, it is her finickiness. She likes brown and white food (meat, potatoes, dessert and bread), and that’s pretty much it. No seafood, veggies and most sauces. I cannot count how many Shepherd’s pies and beef and Guinness stews DM ate while in Ireland, but whatever floats her boat, ya know?

Another family was in the breakfast room when we sat down: a middle-aged couple and their parents from Boston. They had ridden the ferry to the Aran Islands with us yesterday and apparently were heading to Dingle today, same as us. We had a nice chat with them and Kathy Normoyle, our hostess. The Normoyles have a couple small children and are an adorable family. Apparently the littlest one is a streaker and gave the other guests a show the previous day.

After breakfast, we took a short drive through Doolin village for some photos we missed yesterday, driving by the Doonagore castle to do a bit of roadside sightseeing before heading into the Burren proper. Our first stop of the day was the Burren Cultural Center in Kilfenora, which is a small village a few miles inland and south of Doolin. At the cultural center, we watched a 12-minute video (or, as the Irish say it “fillum”) on the flora and fauna of the Burren and some interesting facts on the topography and anthropological roots of the area.

We bought an Irish whistle for my niece in the gift shop and then headed next door to St. Fachtna Cathedral (horrible name for a saint) to see some fine representatives of Celtic crosses and some unique carvings of bishops' and cardinals' faces and figures on various tombstones, crosses and stonework. Other than a few huge scary crows perched on the tombstones outside, the most interesting thing about the cathedral was the tiny doorways. The monks in those days must have been midgets because you had to stoop halfway over just to get in the door. Perhaps you were meant to do it on your knees?

Back in the car around 10:00am, we drove on route 480 past Leamaneh Castle, which really just looks like a large crumble-down country house, and then onward to the Caherconnell Ring Fort, which was very touristy. They've made a big production out of most of the sites in Ireland, which in my opinion, reduces the experience. Yes, it's nice to have amenities like cafes and toilets, but having some bored employee charge me €6pp to walk around a ring fort like it was Disneyland kind of brings out my cynical side. The Cliffs of Moher were the same. They built a beautiful visitor's center because the cliffs are one of the most visited world heritage sites on the island, but the fact that you can buy a plastic key chain with a photo of the Cliffs and a Lucky Leprechaun chocolate bar at the base of the cliff walk somehow diminishes the fact that this is a natural wonder.

Nonetheless, like everyone else we used the amenities at the ring fort, visiting the toilets and buying a picnic lunch at the café, where all of the young archeologists who were excavating the site were digging into lunch instead. DM and I bought sandwiches and some sodas to eat on the road as we made our way south to Dingle. Then, we were off to see the Poulnabrone dolmen. As we approached the sign for the dolmen, DM said, "It looks smaller than I thought it would be." I’m not sure what she expected. I thought it was really cool. It’s just three stones stacked like a house of cards where they used to perform burial rites, but it’s a powerful image. There weren't too many tourists at the site yet. We got some photos of the dolmen and hopped along the strange rivers of stone that comprise the Burren for a while. The stone landscape is really interesting. It looks like fingers of pocked and broken lava flowed over the land, leaving miniature grand canyons in between, which have since filled up with an impressive variety of ferns, lichen, moss, violets, heather and daisies. We left just as a bus full of people arrived and were thankful for the excellent timing. We continued to motor through the Burren, stopping at several scenic overlooks and winding around some very steep hairpin curves. And yes, I have done all the driving so far. No dents or scratches yet.

But, there is a universal truth that no matter how mature and old you get, your mother will always criticize your driving, from outright yelling, Aah! What are you doing?" to various eeks and ohs(!) and performing the mom-arm at stop signs. If I got too close to the center line on the very narrow roads, DM leans to the right and groans. If I get too close to the bushes or line on the passenger side of the car, DM leans toward me and squeals. I'm sure DM would agree that I did just fine driving on the left with a left-hand shift, but we did have a moment on the Burren road where I went a bit wide around a hairpin when a car coming the other way rode its center line, and you'd think we were in a scene from Speed 4. Drama, drama, drama.

Following the coastal road south, we drove through some really pretty country heading for Killimer, where the Shannon ferry would tote our car across the Shannon River into County Kerry. On the way, we saw a sign for White Strand Beach and pulled off the N67 to eat our picnic lunch overlooking the Atlantic. It’s really a beautiful spot and I recommend a stop for anyone making the same drive. It’s a nearly perfect circular cove with beautiful black rock formations running into the sea and a small white sand beach and boat ramp. Sheep were grazing in the meadows wrapping all around our pretty spot. Lunch was very tasty, and at about €4.5pp, economical. I had a really delicious tuna salad sandwich, which had fresh red onion, lettuce, cucumbers and other yumminess in it. Why do foreign sandwiches always taste better than American sandwiches? I’m not sure DM would agree with that last statement. She ho-hummed through her chicken salad sandwich and gave me all her onions, pickles and veggies.

Back on the main route, we drove down to the Killimer ferry port with no problem.

We arrived around 30 minutes early (ferries leave every hour on the hour from 7:00am until 9:00pm in June). They have a nice café and gift shop to browse while you’re waiting. We left our car at the front of the line to board the ferry and waited in the café with a big motorcycle gang from Germany (I think), all dressed in leather and boots. What must it be like to see a country from the saddle of a motorcycle? On Irish roads, it might be a lot more comfortable, though they can’t bring much luggage, can they? After a bit, we all drove onto the large ferry, where they packed us in so tight, I couldn’t get out of the driver’s side door. The motorcycles were two inches from my door. So, I climbed out the back passenger door to snap a photo of DM in the car surrounded by motorcycles. The ferry ride was only about 30 minutes long, and smooth. The ferry docked and a sign welcomed us to County Kerry.

I had read a lot about driving to Dingle via the Conor Pass, which is mostly a one-lane road and very steep. The best account I read was in the book The Last Donkey Pilgrim, Kevin O'Hara. He did this drive in a donkey cart. (Note: read this book – it’s wonderful light reading). Everything I read said that it’s best to drive the Conor Pass heading south if you can, so that’s what we did. Other than a couple cars coming down the mountain towards us, we didn’t have much to worry about. The person heading up is expected to back up if you meet a car on a downward slope, but we mostly managed to find small niches in the mountain to pull into to let others pass. As we neared the peak, the weather became darker and windier. We didn’t get any rain, but the wind was so strong at the lookout on the top, I had a hard time getting focused photos even with a tripod. If you’re driving to Dingle, this is a must-see in my book. The view down to the Dingle harbor with dappled patches of sunlight on the green pastures and farms is really fantastic.

Dingle is really pretty and quaint, with its brightly painted clapboard shops and houses. We had fantastic weather – blue skies and white puffy clouds all day, which were starting to darken as we checked into our hotel around dinner time. The Dingle Harbour Lodge is adjacent to the Dingle Aquarium and opposite the marina, about a three minute walk from town. It has free car parking and WiFi in the rooms. We were greeted by an elderly, slightly mangy boxer named Bella who looked pretty ferocious until she flopped over to have her belly rubbed upon closer inspection. Trish, our innkeeper was great. She checked us in and then really went above and beyond by calling the Irish Adventures kayaking company, who had gone radio silence on us after we paid the deposit on our kayak trip for the following day.

We were supposed to kayak the Dingle Bay tomorrow at 7:00am but we had received no information from the tour company. I wasn't sure about this company, because frankly, they were really bad about returning my emails or providing any information about our trip before we left the US. I must have emailed them 10 times after the initial email I got from them tentatively scheduling the tour. I think my last email went something like, "URGENT. We are leaving for Ireland tomorrow and you still haven't told me where we should meet you, what we should wear, and when our tour begins. Please email me back ASAP." So, Trish called Noel O'Leary, the main contact for the kayak company.

Finally, we got some details, like bring a swimsuit to wear under the wetsuits they will provide. Um, yeah. We didn't pack swimsuits, Noel, because it’s never over 67 degrees in Ireland. No problem, he says, just bring a change of underwear. Uh. What? "Well, y'r underwear will get wet under the "wet" suit, so you'll want to have some dry drawers to change into when y'r done, won't you?" Thank you, Noel, for explaining. That's very helpful. You have just made it 99% more unlikely that my mother will make this kayak trip. I wrack my brain to think of a euphemism for "wetsuit" and a way of explaining the whole skivvies situation in a non-scary way to DM. I opted for no-big-deal-it's-obvious-that-this-is-what-we'll-do. DM seemed to buy it, but I'll bet her lack of sleep that night is directly correlated to the images of getting in and out of those wetsuits floating through her amygdala, the part of the brain that controls fear and humiliation. More on this tomorrow.

The Dingle Harbour Lodge is really beautiful. Our room was on the second floor and had a jaw dropping view of the bay. Really stunning. We had a twin room, which meant a double bed and a twin bed in the room, with white-white duvets and lots of space. We walked through town a bit and had dinner at Fenton's Restaurant, which had its large stone fireplace blazing. DM had lemon chicken with red and green peppers, which she promptly transferred to my plate. It came on a bed of polenta with a side of potatoes. I had a steak, which looked fantastic, but was a bit tough. The steak came with caramelized onions and mixed vegetables. The leek potato soup was fantastic and the atmosphere was lovely. The brown soda bread is like corn bread in texture with a bit more whole grain taste. They hung a boat hull over the bar and the small two-room restaurant was warm and cozy, if a bit overpriced.

We walked around a bit looking for some Irish music and settled on Murphy’s Pub on Main Street. There was a two-man band made up of an accordionist and guitarist/singer playing old favorites from Johnny Cash to Irish classics like Molly Malone and Galway Girl. They invited several patrons up to sing with varying results. One woman was so enthusiastic, she kept backing up and getting so close to the accordionist that he had to lean way out to the side on his wooden stool to avoid accordioning her in the butt. DM and I had Irish coffee and coke until about midnight, when we walked back to the lodge.

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Poulnabrone Dolmen in the Burren
 

nikkihop

10+ Posts
June 13, 2012 – Kayaking, the Dingle Peninsula and Tralee

Today was the action sequence of our trip. DM and I got up really early (6:00am) to go sea kayaking. I try to book special tours with DM when we travel. She’s a great sport. We’ve ridden a bicycle built for two in Mackinack, gone swimming with giant sea turtles and four-wheeling in Oahu, and hiked out to a penguin colony in South America. I’m a kayaker but she had never tried it. I took her out once in Texas to teach her the basics and she was game for the Dingle paddle. We arrived early (of course) for our kayak adventure with an extra set of panties in hand ... well, in pocket, per Noel’s instructions.

Our guide was a short, good-looking Polish man under 30 years old, which is not what you want when you have panties in your pocket and are about to shimmy into something that may make you look like a bag of marbles. He seemed harried and distracted (good), and maybe not so thrilled to be up dealing with us at 6:45 in the morning. We booked a private tour, which is the only reason DM had not headed for the Dingle hills at this point. Our guide, who never gave us his name (though he did ask us for ours at least five times), hooked us up with wetsuits, life vests, waterproof jackets (for over the wetsuits) and water booties, and pointed us toward the changing room.

Turns out, getting into the wetsuits was not the problem. We actually looked kind of cute. I got the turquoise and black one, which went well with my freckles, and DM got the lavender and black one, which was very slimming. DM made me give her our towels and street clothes so she would have something to carry in front of her as a sort of camouflage as we left the changing rooms and headed back to our guide. I had to look up our guide's name later on the Internet because he never did tell us during the three hours' kayak. We secretly called him Bob, but his name was actually Piotr Sznapka. Bob would have been easier.

After a very brief and unreassuring safety lesson (in which Bob managed to mention that hardly anyone capsizes in a double kayak), we set off. Now, I have kayaked with several tour companies in a variety of settings. The worst ones are always when you have to paddle quickly through shipping lanes to get to your ultimate goal. This was the case here, because we launched from the Dingle harbor and made our way along the coast to the Lough tower, a tower built as part of a community works project during the great famine (give people some work to do to take their minds off starving, according to Bob).

We continued out to the Atlantic, passing the red and white Lighthouse tower and then booking it across the main shipping lane of Dingle Harbour past Flaherty point, another tower corresponding to Lough on the other side of the harbor, past Reenbeg point, Colleen Oge Rock and Crow rock, which are sharp, craggy remnants of the continent.

The cliffs are riddled with sea caves along the southwestern coast, and teeming with seabirds. Bob took us cheerfully into several of the caves without seeming to realize we are from Texas where there are no sea caves. This is really where the "excitement," as Bob put it, came in. These sea caves are narrow, and they are formed by thousands of pounds of seawater smashing against the coast line, whittling ravines, fissures and cracks in the rock. That same sea is still there, crashing away (even though it was a very calm day). But still, it's not exactly easy to navigate a 16 foot double kayak into an opening 12 feet wide with swells and breakers pushing you around like a pinball. Luckily, DM and I resort to giggles in times of stress and kept reminding ourselves between gasps and gulps that we need a little excitement in our lives. At one point, one of our caves had narrowed to maybe five feet across when a swell pushed us excitingly into the rocks. DM, really excited now, leaned to the right to avoid an overhang, nearly making us that "almost never capsizes" cautionary tale. Bob seemed unconcerned, and actually got more and more chatty and cheerful as the morning wore on.

Sadly, we never got to see Fungie, the practically-tame resident dolphin in Dingle, probably because it was too early and he generally feeds in the bay in the evenings. However, it was a great day, and we paddled back to the pier pretty satisfied with ourselves.

If the previous three hours was the action sequence of the day, the next 15 minutes was the comedy sequence. It is actually much easier to get into a wetsuit when everything, panties and all, are dry. However, when everything is wet, neoprene is not your friend. These suits zip up the back, which makes it tricky to back your way out when you're all sticky. Much jiggling, shimmying and flicking later, DM was still having trouble getting out of the bottom half of hers. We started that panicked giggling thing girls do when they try something on in the department store dressing room that was way too small but you think Just. Maybe. Once. You. Get. It. On. It. Will. Be. Okay. Not so much. Our wetsuits narrowly escaped getting even wetter, we were laughing so hard. Ultimately, we devolved into high pitched squeaking with tears leaking out of our eyes trying to contain the giggling, which was not helping us extract ourselves from the wetsuits. We finally managed it, but it was exhausting.

We headed back to the lodge to shower, change and check out. Then, we walked down to eat lunch at the Chowder Cafe, which is only open for lunch, but had the best seafood chowder I've had in years. It's truly full of seafood, and not just an occasional clam. DM had a club sandwich of toasted chicken, bacon, lettuce and tomato. She removed all the unwanted items and scraped off the sauces, as per her usual routine. We both had a side of bland chips with funny tasting ketchup.

As expected, by the time we finished eating, we were both ready for a nap with no place to lay our weary heads (having checked out of our hotel). We muscled on, setting out on the Slea Head drive to sight-see along the Dingle Peninsula. I'm so glad we did. It's a magnificent drive. Following Rick Steves' self guided driving tour, we stopped at several viewpoints, including another stone-age ring fort and an old monastic site containing bee hive huts, called clocháns in Irish. There was a sign off the road that said the walk up the hill to the bee hive huts was two minutes. What they don't tell you is that it's two minutes straight up as the goat climbs, but only a 30 second roll downhill if you slip and fall. Oh, and you have to pay an old man €2 to climb his hill. He will take your money with a huge, somewhat toothless grin, and say, "Lovely!" before you pass his booth. The bee hive huts are these tiny round stone structures which look like their name. Monks used them to reflect and pray. Today, we would use them to house our dogs.

We stopped at the beautiful Slea Head (Ceann Sléibhe in Irish), which is marked by a crucifixion scene. This white stone statuary sits and the intersection between two church parishes: Dingle Town and Ballyferriter. It was commissioned in the 1960's by an American attorney who was a relative of a local priest. We followed the coast north, past Coumenoole Strand, where some of the filming of the movie Ryan's Daughter took place, to Dún Chaoin (sounds like dun quinn). I really wanted to get a photo of the pier, which has several sharp switchbacks winding steeply down to the water. This is where the ferry departs for the Blasket Islands, so after I walked down the path and settled myself as comfortably as possible in the best photographic position, I had to wait for 20 minutes while a troop of the elderly inched their way slowly up the path. I mean slowly, and God bless them for it. One poor couple only went about ten steps in two minutes, and then sat on the low stone wall to rest for five before repeating the process. Oh, the things we do for great photos. I finally waited them all out and got my photo retiree-free.

The Slea Head drive continued along narrow lanes only big enough for one and a half cars to share the road. That meant you carefully watched the road ahead and drove into a hedgerow when you saw someone coming the other way. We tried to visit the Blasket Islands Visitor Center, but for some reason they were closed, so we stopped at a cafe in an Fheirtéaraigh, or Ballyferriter for a snack. DM and I have noticed that sweets and baked goods in Europe are far drier than in the U.S. I ordered a brownie, only to receive a pie-shaped wedge of a dry cake-like substance that I soaked in milk so as not to dangerously inhale the crumbs. DM had a chocolate biscuit cake, which was a sort of cross between biscotti and really porous fudge. The view from the cafe was incredible, though, so the weird sweets were forgiven.

After our snack, we visited the excavated early Christian site at the Reasc Monastery, and then the Gallarus Oratory, a small stone structure that looks like an upturned boat hull that was made by monks a thousand years ago using a corbelling process (just stacking stone ... no mortar). Rick Steves warned me about the enterprising private landowner who built a visitor center and a big bus-friendly parking lot who then charges everyone €3 to see a site that is actually free and run by Heritage Ireland. It's possible to drive past the big parking lot and park on the lane behind it and walk to the site free of charge, but I forgot, so DM and I just paid the graspy local to park in his lot and watch a 20 minute fillum on the Dingle sites. Both DM and I nodded off during this video (we were in the back row against the wall and it was dark!) I would have paid that guy more to be able to curl up on the floor and really nap for a while. The oratory (where the monks chanted) was pretty cool though. This was pretty much the end of the 33-mile drive, so DM and I headed back over the mountains into Tralee, where we would spend the night before heading over to the Ring of Kerry on Thursday.

The drive to Tralee was good - a few narrow places in the road, some construction and some rain in an otherwise perfect day, but we arrived with no wrong turns at Benner's Hotel at 5:30pm or so. Probably the worst part about our drive today was parking in Tralee. We had to circle the block a couple times, and finally DM got out and asked where to park at the reception desk. They directed us to a tiny stone archway leading to an alley, leading to the world's smallest car park. You know that scene from Austin Powers where he tries to turn the golf cart around in the narrow cement hallway? That's essentially the parking scenario at the Benner's Hotel. It's frankly amazing that our rental car is still unscathed, and I can see why they're so big on selling the insurance here.

We decided on an early dinner at Finnegan's Cellar Restaurant, a place I found online with great reviews. They weren't lyin'. This was the best meal we have eaten so far in Ireland. The restaurant is literally in an old stone cellar that is charmingly lit with hundreds of real candles and a big open fireplace, with wood fire burning cozily. They have an "early bird special" menu that includes a starter, main course and coffee or tea to finish for about €18.50. I ordered the vegetable soup, a very unromantic name for truly one of the best soups I have ever had. It's a cream based soup with a mysterious and delicious variety of other taste-a-magoodies in it. DM ordered the baked brie, wrapped in filo pastry dough and served with chutney over a salad. Brown and French bread were served immediately and we ate every bite of those starters. They were exquisite. We ordered beef and chicken kebab (DM) and Morrocan Beef and Chicken over basmati rice (me). It was all so good, I hated to leave any of it on the plate, but the portions were huge and I just couldn't fit it all in. I would recommend this restaurant to anyone, and will be reviewing it online to show my appreciation.

After dinner, DM and I walked back to the hotel through a sweet-smelling rose and botanical garden behind St. John's Cathedral, which was only about one block from our hotel. Once there, it was early to bed since we'll be getting up early to start our Ring of Kerry drive.

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Kayaking in the Dingle Bay
 

nikkihop

10+ Posts
June 14, 2012 – Kenmare, the Ring of Kerry, the Skelligs

Up early (again) so we can drive to Kenmare and start our Ring of Kerry driving tour before the mass of tourist buses leave Killarney. Rick Steves recommends that you arrive in Kenmare no later than 8:30 for that purpose, which means we have to leave Benner's Hotel at 6:45. We don't quite make it. DM is instant messaging with my little sister, and I'm just stumbling about. I had to hang my toiletries bag way up on the shower rod (it's one of those folding hanging bags with a hook at the top so you can hang it up), and of course, all the stuff I needed was in the top zipped pocket. DM found me half dressed, standing on the toilet (below the toiletries bag), leaning over so I could look in the mirror and put on my mascara. We finally got ourselves put together around 7:00 and off we went to Kenmare via Killarney.

Killarney is a big town popular with tourists and tour buses. There were dozens of them lining the roads waiting to fill up with people on holiday. We made it through all of the roundabouts okay, with one missed turn. "Doug", our GPS service, was really slow this morning for some reason, and the arrows on the visual were confusing. However, it could have been my fuzzy brain, as evidenced by my slightly kissing the edge of a curb on one of the roundabouts. DM barked like we had hit a rhinoceros. I'll be honest, it's hard enough driving on the left, with a left-hand shift, and a car that has no visibility in the rear windshield to speak of, without the passenger seat peanut gallery. I was also hungry, since we planned on eating in Kenmare.

Before we got to Kenmare, however, we had to drive through the Killarney National Park down very narrow and sometimes single lane roads with rocky cliffs literally and lowly hanging over the road on the left, with steep drop offs and/or gullies on the right. Did I mention that the road rises and falls, and twists around hairpin curves every few hundred yards? If a car comes toward you from the other direction, everyone either has to inch over to their "side" of the road while sucking in and crawling past each other, or one of you has to back up to try to find a wider part of the road. While passing another car heading toward us on a somewhat wider part of the road (at least one and a quarter lanes), I pulled a bit too far to the left and bumped sharply over a mango-sized rock on the shoulder. The old Opal Insignia we rented didn't much appreciate it and, shockingly, turned itself off. I don't know if it's a safety feature that automatically shuts off the engine when the sensors pick up an impact vibration, or what, but DM let's out an "Oh, great! We must have broken something," with this huge exasperated sigh and is about to launch into serious judgment, when I turn the key again and get going. We had a very typical teenage driver and her mother spat at that point, "Jeez, Mom, I'm doing the best I can - do you want to drive? We'll see how well you do!"

"Well, you're just awfully close to the left side of the road!"

"Yes, I know ... because people are whizzing by five inches from our right mirror!"

Hmph! Hmph! We got over it. It actually brings back my youth.

The scenery would have been really nice if the weather was better, especially the Ladies’ Viewpoint at the peak of the Killarney mountains. But, with the rain and low hanging clouds, it all looked kind of dull and gray. We arrived in the village of Kenmare with no further driving incidents (or arguments), and stopped to eat some breakfast at a cute little cafe called Prego on the main street in Kenmare. I ordered a ham and cheddar omelet with toast and coffee. DM had the Irish version of pancakes with maple syrup and tea. The cafe was full of bright modern abstract art with a culinary theme, wood floors, and funky chandelier lighting.

After breakfast, we hit the Ring of Kerry route, traveling clockwise around the 77 mile loop because the tour buses travel counterclockwise from Killarney at the top of the ring. We had no traffic to speak of, but again, many of the roads are narrow and the sharp bends are plentiful. The road signs are funny, too. Ireland's commissioner of public works must be part Native American or another culture that doesn't have a written language, because the signs are very pictorial. There is a sign with a picture of a man lunging while holding a shovel with a small mound of ... something on the shovel which I interpret to mean there is a horse stable nearby, but we later figured out means "road work ahead." There is a sign of a man running across a road with a car behind him, which I interpret to mean, "Run for your life! Mad Max is coming!" I think that sign is actually a warning that pedestrians might be crossing the road, but why is the man running? Are they encouraging the pedestrians to run, or the drivers to be watchful?

One of our first stops along the ring was to the Staigue Ring Fort, which DM had very little interest in, seeing as how we had been to two ring forts already. She changed her mind when we walked up to the entrance, however, because the entrance had been modified apparently to keep sheep and chubby people out. The ring fort wall is circular (of course) and has only one entrance for security reasons. Someone had built up stones on either side of the stone archway into the fort, leaving only a narrow opening about 12 inches wide that you have to squeeze through sideways in order to get in. When we were walking up to the fort, I initially thought nothing of the rather sour look on this portly gentleman's face as he walked back down the path towards us. Now it all makes sense. There is no way that guy got into the fort. DM managed it on her tiptoes, chuckling the whole time. She made me take her photo on the way out because it was so funny. Damn weight-ist wall!

Another round of playing car chicken on the 10-foot wide road back down to the main route from the fort, and DM and I were zipping on to Derrynane House, home of Michael O'Connor, Ireland's political and religious liberator. We zipped so efficiently that we hit Watersville without seeing or making the right turn for Derrynane. So, we turned around. We saw a sign that had the word Derrynane in it, but it was obviously not the right road because it dead-ended into a farm, but only after about 30 minutes of hair-raising motoring on what was essentially a driveway that would have been comfortable on Lombard Street in San Francisco.

So, we went back to the main road and stopped at a cliff-side cafe purporting to have the "Best View in Kerry!" OMG, it also had the worst smell in Kerry. I ran in to ask directions and hit the wall of stench at a trot. It set me back on my heels. I don't know what they had going on in their strange shop-cafe-living room establishment, but it smelled like 100 octogenarians who hadn't showered or washed their cardigans for 20 years. When I got back to the car, DM said, "whew! You brought the smell of ... onions(?) back with you from that place." I told her I didn't think it was onions, it was more like 90 proof geezer.

One more wrong turn and 20 minutes later, we finally found our way through a primordial forest car path to Derrynane House. When DM told the cashier that it was very difficult to find the house because there was no sign from the road, she said if she had a Euro for every time someone told her that, she'd be a rich woman. I wanted to tell her I would give her a Euro to write "DERRYNANE HOUSE" with a freakin arrow on it on a big piece of poster-board and then staple it to the post at the top of the road. Hell-O?!

We walked through the beautiful house with its mementos, including the chariot carriage O'Connell rode on triumphantly through the Dublin streets when he managed to secure equal rights for Catholics. We watched a short fillum (sorry, it’s just how I say it in my head now) on his life and accomplishments, including a bit about how another man challenged him to a duel. During this part of the film, a grandmotherly lady sitting behind DM and I in the small theater softly cried out, "Oh dear!" And then she cried the same thing again, in a much more anguished tone when we learned that O'Connell actually killed the challenger. After a very short, windy and wet walk through the gardens, we traveled back to Watersville for lunch via the pretty Coomakesta Lookout Point with a sweeping view of the sea and Skellig Islands.

We ate at a purple-painted cafe called An Corcan just off the main road. DM ordered the shepherd's pie and I ordered the ham, tomato, onion and cheese toasted special. Mine was good. DM thought hers was seasoned oddly. The best part about lunch was the fact that (1) they had WiFi and (2) they were playing the obituary radio in the background. For 20 minutes we got to hear about all the requiem masses, wakes and funerals of the dearly departed citizens of County Kerry. Imagine our concern when they read off Bridie O'Connor's name and death details. Bridie O'Connor is the name of our bed and breakfast owner near Portmagee. We discussed protocol in case it was our Bridie ... maybe we would cancel the reservation and go back up to Killarney to spend the night? Surely they wouldn't expect us to attend her wake? More on that in a moment.

Despite our shocking news, there was nothing left for it but to soldier on. We self-soothed by stopping at the Skellig Chocolate Shop. I tried to sample the Irish Whiskey Chocolate, but unsurprisingly, they don't allow samples of that flavor. It would probably go like hotcakes, especially when it's raining.

After making some purchases, we could stall no longer and set off to learn the worst at the Beach Cove B&B. Once we laid eyes on it, we really wanted Bridie to be alive because it's incredible. It's a large grey stone and white clapboard cottage with a slate roof that is steps away from a small gorgeous beach and cove with a view of the skellig islands. The waves were crashing into shore and the dramatic clouds and grey-green ocean make this place very fairytale-like. To our relief (and hers as well, I imagine), our Bridie O'Connor is very much alive and full of cheerful energy. She showed us to our wonderful room overlooking the cove on the second floor. It was decorated in an ocean blue and crisp white theme that is one of the nicest designs I've seen. We've been so lucky with our hotels and B&Bs -- not a bad one in the bunch so far.

Since it was only 3:00pm, we headed back out and drove up the steepest road yet to Portmagee proper. The Irish road sign for steep road is pretty self explanatory: a car on a nearly vertical isosceles triangle. They could make it better if there was another car facing it on the way down. It was still raining, as it had been pretty much all day, so we were limited in our options. We elected to visit Valentia Island and the Skellig Experience, a small interactive museum on the skellig islands and the lighthouse keepers in the area, including the ubiquitous 20 minute fillum in their small theater. This was the fourth fillum DM and I have seen since arriving: (1) the Burren flora and fauna at the Burren Visitor Center, (2) the Dingle Peninsula at the Gallarus Oratory, (3) the Life and Times of Daniel O'Connell at Derrynane, and (4) the Skellig experience. We have napped through portions of all of them. Fillums are dangerous for DM and I. We have been getting up at 6:00 in the morning every day and go-go-go-ing all day, every day. If you sit us down for an educational fillum in a small dark room, we starting nodding off like toddlers. We take care to sit in the back row for this reason. When we are tired and need a nap, we start looking for tourist sites with fillums.

One of our last exciting moments on Valentia Island was an honest-to-Goodness leprechaun sighting. Okay, maybe it was just a midget or a dwarf in a blue jacket and wellingtons walking the fence line of his farm, but it could have been a leprechaun.

Unwilling to wind our way back to the B&B and then just turn around and have to find dinner two hours later, we sat in a cozy pub called the Bridge Bar in Portmagee and had tea while reading and working Sudoku puzzles. At dinnertime, I ordered the seafood pie with salad and chips (French fries), and DM had the shepherd's pie ...again! For those of you paying attention, yes, she had this for lunch as well. She didn't love her pie at lunch, so she ordered it again, and apparently successfully, because she liked this shepherd's pie a lot. Have I mentioned that it is nearly impossible to feed DM in any foreign country (and Hawaii, as I know that from experience). If it came from the sea, has a sauce, contains any vegetables that aren't potato, corn, or tomato, or has any interesting spice, DM is probably not going to eat or like it. Since shepherd's pie is basically ground beef topped with mashed potatoes and sometimes, cheese, I guess it's on her approved foods list. So, we had a very satisfying meal after a somewhat stressful and grim-weathered day and drove back to our gorgeous B&B by the sea.

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Staigue Ring Fort's weightist entrance
 

nikkihop

10+ Posts
June 15, 2012 – Killarney and Crashel (Cashel)

You know well before you travel to Ireland that it will rain while you are here, possibly every day. Nonetheless, when you have three beautiful days starting when you touch down on the Shannon runway, you start to forget this. So, when it does start raining, you are sort of crestfallen because everything started out so well and your photos were all amazing ... and now they're grim and your camera and nose gets all damp and icky. That's what our Friday was like. We pretty much knew on Thursday that the trip out to the Skellig Michael Island was out, because the boats only run out to this majestic monastic settlement on perfectly calm days because of the difficulty of the boat landing. Bridie O'Connor confirmed our disappointment in the morning – no boats to the island. We were sad. This was one of our don't miss excursions because the brightly colored puffins (so photogenic!) live on the island and you have to climb something like 618 hand carved stone steps to get to the pinnacle, where a thousand years ago monks built a tiny settlement on top of a mountain in the middle of a harsh, blustery island just to get closer to God.

Part of me was relieved, because I have been worrying about DM climbing all those steps. All my planning -- learning certain nautical knots to rig up a rope harness to attach her to me -- were for naught. So, we executed plan B, which was to drive the rest of the Ring of Kerry and visit Killarney. (A note to those debating whether or not to do the Ring of Kerry or the Dingle Peninsula. Choose Dingle. The sights were more interesting and the coastline was even more impressive.)

We pulled into Killarney, which is very touristy since all the tour groups use this town as their base because of the sheer number of shops that can sell tourists key chains and four leaf clover-bedazzled knick-knacks before they herd the cattle on the big buses.

First order of business was to find dessert. Don't ask me why. We just felt like it. DM had a real moment in Killarney because it is the location where she ordered and ate the best food item (for her) in Ireland. It was a giant puff pastry, filled with clotted cream and topped with strawberries. Strawberry shortcake on steroids. I had some terrible weak coffee. Mmmmm. We went into a few of the ever-present shops, hit the ATM, and the tourist office to get directions out to the Gap of Dunloe. In Irish, it's known as Dún Lóich, which means "Lóich's stronghold". The gap is a narrow mountain pass between Macgillycuddy's Reeks (mountains, to us in America) and Purple Mountain in County Kerry.

We drove out to the base of the mountain and parked at Kate Kearney's cottage, a typical tourist cafe and shop. You can find one like it around every natural scenic wonder in Ireland. It all started out well. DM and I were determined to do something in a pony cart while in Ireland. Don't ask me why. We just don't think you're seeing Ireland unless you're trotting along behind a horse's ass. That came out wrong. Anyway, you can rent a "jaunting car," a fancy way of saying a pony and cart to drive you up the narrow path through the gap. After four hours of rain, we actually got some sun at the bottom of the mountain and went trotting off in our cart, pulled by a brown horse named Charlie and driven by a very polite man named Jim.

Jim referred to us either in plural or singly as "lady," as in, "And Lady, here we are at Coosaun Lough, where ye can see the lovely ash tree growin' just there. And if ye want me to stop, Lady, so you can get yer pitchers, well just let me know, Lady, and we'll pull over."

We got about a quarter of the way up to the gap when it started raining again. Then, it really started raining. The carts have two seats, so passengers can sit facing each other like a subway. Our driver was actually sitting on one side, so DM and I were side by side facing him. I was closest to Charlie, so I got the brunt of the rain as we trotted along. It pelted me in the face, making it impossible for me to see anything other than the occasional squint at Charlie's rump, which I didn't need to see as I could smell that it was still there. DM hid behind me, using me as a windbreak. Before long, DM and I were soaked, even with our rain gear because the water was streaming in under my rain coat hood and dripping down off my coat onto my jeans below. You know DM and I though, we were so miserable, we started to get the giggles. We are determined tourists.

Jim, our guide, started coughing, which might have been a ploy for a larger tip since he and his pony were working in such desperate circumstances. Despite all this, he kept on pointing out the sights and stopping the cart so we could photograph the hazy scenery with our fogged cameras. "And here is Black Lake, Lady, which gets its name from the way the mountain shadows the water. And here is the old arch bridge called the 'Wishing Bridge,' so named because it is said that wishes made while upon it are destined to come true. Make yer wishes, Lady." He stops the cart. DM and I are pretty desperate to just get on with things so we can get out of the rain and stop the stream of rainwater(?) dripping off our noses. So, in a moment of rash desperation, I vehemently wished that it would stop raining, and ... it did. Wow. I wanted Jim to turn around and go back to the bridge so I could wish that I would win the lottery. That was a monumental error of judgment, and all because of a little inconvenient rain. If you ever visit the Gap of Dunloe, wish for world peace or at least fabulous wealth.

We returned to the car park with dampened pants, if not dampened spirits. We were actually pretty thrilled. If we can't pretend we're monks, toiling away on a mountain top in spartan devotion to God, then at least we can trot wetly behind a horse's butt in a deluge.

After the Gap of Dunloe, we drove to Muckross House, an old manor house famous for hosting Queen Victoria on her vacation in Ireland just before Prince Albert died. The house and grounds were beautiful. DM and I like this sort of thing. The tour of the house is interesting. We saw the enormous grand dining room with a table set for at least 16 and a huge mahogany buffet displaying an striking collection of silver tureens and serving dishes. Waterford crystal chandeliers hang in almost every room, and we were told you could tell the really antique crystal from the newer models by the shine. Newer crystal has less lead content, and thus is brighter, lighter and more reflective.

Most of the house (except the nursery, thank God) was occupied by a herd of dead deer poking their heads out of the walls, hunting lodge style. Seriously, there were more deer than tourists. There were some large stuffed fish too.

The entrance hall, which also doubles as a ball room, is lit with a sparkling crystal window the size of a billboard that was ordered as frosted crystal on purpose to hide the view out back to the servant's courtyard and stables. The view from the front, by contrast, is a gob smacker of lake, rolling lawn and ancient forest. You can see this view from the "queen's quarters" and the family rooms. Servants got the underbelly and attics of the house.

The kitchens were one of the most interesting things about the house, with row upon row of polished copper pots, pans and mysterious implements. The ovens and scullery put a Michelin restaurant to shame. My favorite thing about the house was the servant's corridor, in which about 35 bells hung from left to right in steadily increasing size. Each bell was hooked up to a bell-pull mechanism in each room of the house, and although the bells have small plaques indicating which room is ringing, illiterate servants could tell which room by the tone of the ring (higher for the small bells, and deeper for the largest bells at the end of the corridor.)

With the sun intermittently peeking out, DM and I took a quick spin through the remarkable gardens and stopped for sandwiches and a chickpea salad at the cafe on the grounds. I couldn’t stand my wet britches anymore, so I did a quick change in the car before revving up and heading to Cashel (pronounced CASH-ul, not ka-SHELL, as we were corrected a couple of times). This next part is depressing.

We made it safely into Cashel, where I parallel parked the car a block from our hotel on the main street. We hadn't gotten out of the car yet when BANG! A silver Ford Fiesta crashed into our front tire on the driver's side. All this driving on the left and careful parking and navigating tiny roads and hedgerow-lined country lanes, and we get hit while parked a hundred feet from our hotel! Jim Mahoney from California was the culprit. Also in a rental car and on vacation, and apparently struggling with the whole drive-on-the-left thing, Jim miscalculated and got a leetle too close to the parked cars on the busy main drag.

The really weird thing is that our car only sustained minor damage in the form of a scrape behind the driver's side wheel well, but Jim managed to break his front axle, probably by wedging his tire behind ours and then attempting to correct course by yanking to the right. At any rate, his right front tire was pointing to toward the center of his grill ... and so was his left tire. Because he could not drive the car, he managed to halt rush hour traffic for an hour.

DM walked a block to the gardai station and returned with a stoic garda with a notebook. After ascertaining that everyone was okay, he sternly tells poor Jim that he can't leave his car here in the middle of the main road. He said two or three times, "ye'll have to shift the car, sor." Um. Jim and DM, who frequently needs a translator even if the Irish are speaking English, both look at the garda with confused expressions. I explain to the garda that the front axle of the car is clearly broken and it won't be driving away under its own steam, so to speak. The garda then repeats to Jim, "well, ye'll have to shift the car, sor." DM said later she thought he was saying we should all shoulder up to the car and physically shift it off the road. I ask about wrecker options and the garda calls a wrecker. Jim seems satisfied that I have taken charge. We exchange information while waiting for the tow truck. Jim's mannerisms and speech are so like my dad, I'm having a weird deja vu. We offer the hapless Jim a ride to his B&B because he’s in a foreign country with no wheels and we felt bad for him. He comes to our hotel to ring his B&B owner, who comes to get him. We part ways the best of friends to call our respective rental car companies. Avis seems unsurprised when I give them the details and email them the photos I took of the damage. I'll bet they deal with this a thousand times a day. It just sucks that it's us this time.

We wilted into Bailey's Hotel and try to get over it. I feel a vague sense of guilt even though there was nothing I could do. We were parked, for Pete's sake. We check in at Bailey's with the help of a very sweet blonde 20 year old receptionist. When we ask her about pubs that may have live music, she lists a couple places but hesitates on the second place, saying apologetically that it's kind of a club ... and we may not like it there. I think she is trying to tell us that we are too old for this happenin' Irish club scene, so I say, "What, we don't look like we are down with the hot club scene?" She explodes into giggles, confirming what I thought -- we are too old.

So, we head down to the Cellar's Bar & Restaurant in the cellar (surprise) of our hotel. Plenty of old people in there. I had the fish cakes with chips and salad, although the "cakes" were actually fist-sized balls. It's a weird concept: fish balls. Fish balls. Hmmmm. DM ordered the open faced steak sandwich with chips. We both liked our choices, and liked the fact that they had wireless Internet more.

Trying to salvage our evening, DM and I walk out to visit the Rock of Cashel a few blocks away to work off the stress and our dinners. Unfortunately, it's still light out at nearly 9:00pm and will not get dark until 11:00pm, so the Rock is not yet lit up with the flood lights I've seen in photos. I wanted to get a photo of it with the lights but there is no way I'm going to be awake at 11:00, so we squelched back to the hotel in another light rain. We call the day a wash (no pun intended) and got back to the room only to discover that there is no WiFi in the rooms, only land-line Internet. It's weird that they have it in the bar, but not the rooms. DM is bummed because now she can't instant message. Oh well, over and out for the night.

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Make a wish at the Gap of Dunloe
 

nikkihop

10+ Posts
June 16, 2012 – The Rock of Cashel, Cahir Castle and Kilkenny

The Bailey's Hotel in Cashel is really nice, and should be as it was our most expensive hotel in Ireland at €120 per night. The rooms are comparable to a Hilton in the U.S., only with creakier stairs and an elevator so small, they have sliding doors on two adjacent sides. You get in on the south side of the elevator in the lobby, and because they know you're not going to be able to turn more than 45 degrees in any direction with your luggage, you get out by sidestepping west through the second set of elevator doors. The best thing about our room is the bathroom, which is large, paneled in dark wood, and has a full sized tub. I took a long soak last night to wash away my crash anxiety.

In the morning, DM and I headed downstairs for breakfast in the hotel restaurant. It's adjacent to last night's bar/restaurant, so we have high hopes of being able to log on to the wireless Internet and catch up on emails while eating a tomato, bacon and mushroom omelet (me) and pancakes (DM). Unfortunately, there's no wireless in the breakfast room, so we eat up and go sit in the closed, dark bar for a while to get our WiFi fix.

Feeling a bit better after a good night's sleep and breakfast, DM and I hit the streets of the newly-dubbed Crashel, and walk over to tour the Rock of Cashel. It's hard not to say, "the ROCK" like Sean Connery in the movie by the same name. We explore the ruins a bit while waiting for our tour to start, which is led by a nice man named Sean McShanus. Sean is a bit long winded and manages to tell us a lot less than you might think about the ROCK. (See? It's really hard.) Sean spends a lot of time moving his 15-person group around to get us in a position that he likes and then makes several comments about the weather like, "Now, I know yer all likely cold here in this wind, and tis a bit breezy, but I'm going to tell ya about the St. Patrick's cross here in a moment." Ah, Sean? Maybe a bit more about the cross and less about the obvious. In a coincidence about as odd as having a car wreck when you're parked, we notice that Jim Mahoney, our local driving menace is actually in the same tour as us. We act like old friends.

The Rock of Cashel is the traditional seat of the Munster kings in Ireland, and it's rumored that St. Patrick banished Satan from a cave a few miles away so forcefully that the Rock from the explosion landed in Cashel. The Rock is at the top of a large hill overlooking town, and we had several kinds of weather while we were touring. We had wind, rain, warm bursts of sun and cloudy overcast skies. We thought it was interesting that the graveyard is still being used, but only by a short list of families in the area. Sean said there were four people still on the list and I wondered if they have a betting pool going on who goes first.

After our tour of the ROCK, we stopped into the Cashel Woolen Shop at the base of the hill selling sweaters and knick knacks. There, we met our favorite shop keeper so far. She was hands down the most loudly upbeat person in the country, if not the world. She loudly chirped "Good morning, madam!" at every person to enter. When you actually buy something, she goes into overdrive, "Oh thank you, madam! Thank you very much!" A single exclamation point really does not do her lilting over-loud, over-the-top, Julia Child-meets-Mrs. Doubtfire voice justice. She helped these German ladies with some purchases, and by the end of the transaction, those ladies couldn't get out of there fast enough. Having lived in Germany for three years, I can tell you that Germans and loud, clucky cheerfulness don't really mix well. For the rest of the day, and indeed the trip, however, DM and I continued to thank each other effusively in imitation of this lady. "Thank you, Madam, for buying my lunch!"(me, to DM). "Thank you very much, Madam, for opening my door!" (DM, to me.) "Thank you! Thank you!! Thank you!!!" You have to imagine that it's said like "you hoo!" really loudly, or you just won't get it.

Thank You Madam lady put us in such a good mood, we decided to celebrate with second breakfast a la hobbits, who are surely related to the Irish. We stopped in for pastries in Spearman's Bakery and Teashop, where I ordered a yummy apple pound cake square, a coffee and diet coke for DM.

We found out at the Shannon Airport Tourism office that the Waterford crystal factory has shut down permanently since the economy hit the skids. Since we had originally planned on driving to Waterford today, we had to resort to plan B again, which was to drive to Cahir Castle just a few minutes down the awesome three-lane motorway. We were so glad we did.

Cahir Castle is a really cool, almost completely restored castle where you can explore on your own, climbing turrets and spirally staircases to the ramparts. Kids would love this place. Parents might not love this place, as handrails and safety are clearly not the main concern. They also have an excellent fillum, which of course we took advantage of. They have built a complete miniature model of the castle in its heyday, rich with tiny soldiers and knights, trees, shrubs, river and the works. There was also a fascinating exhibit on medieval women. To top it all off, there were white swans floating serenely around the moat as we walked back to the car park. We strolled down the river walk for a while, looking for a pub so we could eat lunch.

We settled on the Galtee Inn, which is a pub with a horse racing theme, including steeple chasing on the telly and riding boots hanging from the ceiling with jockey's pants pooled around the ankles. I ordered the French onion soup and cucumber sandwiches (very posh!) and DM had the chicken and avocado sandwich, both with rocket salad and crisps. Rocket salad is the Irish description for arugula salad with thousand island dressing on it. I'm not sure why it’s called rocket salad. Maybe it has something to do with all the fiber...

Next on the agenda was the city of Kilkenny, which has the narrowest streets we had experienced that far. We reached town during rush hour, and bumper-to-bumper traffic takes on new meaning when it's also side-mirror-to-side-mirror traffic. We also had some trouble spotting our B&B, so had to make the main street loop twice, and went down one alley where I honestly did not think we would fit. I had to pull in the side mirrors to inch down the cobblestone sidewalk posing as a city street. Nonetheless, and I want to emphasize this, we parked in the city garage and got to our B&B with no scratches to our rental car. Why the emphasis? Because I'm still bitter about all this painstaking driving only to be Jim Mahonied in Crashel while parked! Grrrrrr.

The Butler Court B&B (free parking in Ormonde Street, multi-story car park 100 yards away) is another gem, set right on the end of the main drag just behind Kilkenny Castle and close to everything. Our innkeeper, Yvonne, and her adorable black and white border collie, Bob, met us at the gate and showed us to our chic and very comfortable room. We have been so lucky in the hotel/B&B department while in Ireland. I would recommend every single one of our lodgings. Yvonne gave us a map and some recommendations for food, and DM and I set out to walk the grounds of Kilkenny Castle (impressive) and the town. We walked the whole main street again up to St. Canice Cathedral and back down in a loop to see St. Mary's church.

DM started to get really hungry, so we stepped over to the Kyteler's Inn for dinner. We have a knack for picking good restaurants in cellars. This place still looks medieval with its vaulted stone cathedral ceilings and dark cozy wooden tables. First established by the notorious Dame Alice de Kyteler in the 13th century, the Inn is one of the oldest inns in Ireland.

Mrs. Kyteler was a merry widow, churning through four husbands and amassing a considerable fortune. Local jealousies abounded, however, and she was eventually accused of witchcraft and sentenced to be burned. Being the resourceful woman that she was, however, she skipped the country to England before the execution could take place, and her maid was burned in her place. I listened to a podcast on her before we came to Ireland, so I was thrilled to eat at her place.

I had the Irish stew with lamb, potatoes, carrots and celery, and DM had the roast beef, potatoes, and cabbage. Both meals were very good. We were also treated to some live music by an Irish busker with just his guitar. He had a great singing voice, and we would have liked to stay longer, but everyone was smoking out on the patio where the music was playing, so we left rather than contract lung cancer.

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The ROCK of Cashel
 

nikkihop

10+ Posts
June 17, 2012 – Kilkenny Castle, Jerpoint Abbey, and Glendalough

This was our last full day in the car as we were scheduled to return the car to Avis in Dublin the next day. I was not sorry. I really did not mind the left-hand shift or the driving on the left, but the narrow roads were stressful. I woke up thinking about this. DM and I were a bit slow in the morning. We lollygagged around the room until 9:00 since the breakfast was continental and provided mini-bar style in the room, which had a small fridge with yogurt, milk and orange juice, fresh fruit, cereal and a selection of tea and coffee. We packed up, left everything in the room, and hopped down the block to visit Kilkenny Castle.

The castle also had a fillum, which was mainly about the history of the Butler family, who owned the castle, rather than the castle itself. The castle is an incredible eighteenth century wonder, restored to much of its previous glory. You're allowed to wander through the castle on your own, with docents in each of the main rooms to answer any questions the self-explanatory plaques don't cover. We saw the dining room which has an imposing set of china and crystal with service for ten, although it could have sat 20 easily. The parlor, library and retiring room are all one huge gallery with many of the original furnishings, Chinese wall paper and small details like sewing boxes, magnifying boxes and hand-stitched fire screens. The upstairs bedrooms share an old fashioned toilet, which looked like Fat Albert would be the only one comfortable on it. Everyone else under 450 pounds would fall in. Perhaps it doubles as a swimming pool? The castle sports a Moorish staircase straight out of Ali Babba with deep stone byzantine arches spiraling down three fights and bright rose-red walls. The picture gallery was the highlight for me: a long room approximately 100 feet long with Romanesque arched windows and an amazing vaulted painted ceiling that includes interlaced beams with gilded animal and bird heads on the cross beams. The whole castle came across as eccentric and colorful.

After our castle tour, we walked through the huge stables complex (now shops) and through a tiny door into a garden that leads through the Butler House, an inn next door to our B&B. We just walked through from back door to front door as if we belonged there. It was very convenient.

We fetched the car and drove a few miles away to Jerpoint Abbey, which is famous for its wonderful carvings on the stone balustrades of the cloister. At this point, we were starving and couldn't find any pubs open on a Sunday. We drove down teeny tiny roads through a half dozen villages that looked exactly the same and all had in common the fact that they don't have eating establishments open on Sunday. DM and I were just hitting hunger DEFCON 1 and were debating testing the Irish reputation for hospitality at the nearest farm or house we came to when we finally got to the larger town of Carlow.

One of the first open places we saw was McDonald's, which I at least am trying to avoid. Thankfully, right across the square from the golden arches was a restaurant called Din ri. Don't ask me what it means: maybe "sanctuary" given DM's and my low blood sugar moods. It was an interesting place, sort of home-cooked cuisine that you get by assembly line with your tray sort of like Luby's in the USA. We both had breaded chicken with scalloped potatoes and cabbage and carrots. It tasted great, but that could have been the hunger talking. I don’t remember the price, but that’s also probably because I was so hungry I would have paid anything.

Next, we drove through the Wicklow mountains to Glendalough, a peaceful large monastic site next to a river about 45 minutes south of Dublin. Although there were lots of tourists, it still seemed quiet and pastoral. We walked through the jumbled gravestones with Celtic crosses and large leaning slabs of limestone, and visited the tall bell tower and monks' dwellings and church ruins. There was a woman playing the ulyian pipes as we walked down the path towards the car, which we miraculously parked front and center just steps away from the monastery. For those driving, be aware that parking is extremely limited and difficult due to the tiny road in front of the monastery. DM and I noticed a soft serve ice cream truck, so we each had a cone before heading on, past the Wicklow Gap mountain pass to Dublin, and finally Newgrange.

We're visiting Newgrange, a world heritage site, first thing tomorrow. We wanted to stay as close as possible so we could get the first tour (supposed to be less crowded), so we booked a room at the Newgrange Lodge B&B just down the road in a small village called Donore. We found Donore with no problem, and in the center of the tiny village, there's a small brown and white sign that says, "Newgrange Lodge B&B" with an arrow pointing directly into the parking lot of the village's only church. Uh. We pulled into the parking lot, but unless we were sleeping on a pew, we figured this ain't it. We drove down another (wrong) road, turned around, and finally parked in front of the Daly's Inn pub, which was hopping on a Sunday night. Seriously. There were three horse carts out front with about a dozen kids running around, some dogs and half the townsfolk. DM got directions from about six people at once and discerned that we needed to go the opposite direction that the sign was pointing in. We found it no problem once we were on the right road.

Since the townsfolk were so helpful, we drove back to Daly's for dinner and walked into the pub only after telling our life stories to the villagers out on the front stoop. They remembered us from 10 minutes ago. We walked into the pub proper, which was packed with everyone who lives in a 10 km radius ... and their dogs. Literally. I have a nice photo of a pretty black lab in a neon yellow vest who was happily licking the salt from our small table top. I waited 10 minutes at the bar to order two diet cokes and DM and I started to worry about getting fed when there were so many patrons clamoring for service. Finally, I noticed some people walking toward the front of the pub with take-away boxes and, as it turns out, there's a restaurant attached to the back of the pub which is quiet, spacious and dog-free. We settled in for a long wait (they were cooking and serving for the folks in the pub too), but it was worth it. DM got the steak and Guinness pie again, which came with a lovely golden brown French bread mushroom roof on her pie, and her beloved mashed potatoes. I had the seafood pasta, which was excellent. We ate, paid, and wave good bye to the town.

Back at the Newgrange Lodge, we sat upstairs in their guest lounge to use the free WiFi for a bit. DM fell asleep in her chair waiting for me to finish this. Tomorrow: Newgrange, Trim Castle and Dublin!

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Kilkenny Traffic - a bit too close for comfort
 

nikkihop

10+ Posts
June 18, 2012 – Newgrange, Trim Castle and an Emergency Clinic in Dublin

The Newgrange Lodge itself is pretty unexciting compared to all of our other lodgings so far. It isn't bad, just like comparing Motel 6 with Green Gables. The bathroom was teeny tiny and the accordion folding shower door wouldn't close all the way, so the floor of the bathroom and the bedroom got all wet when we showered. Furthermore, when I tried to pull the curtains back to let in more sunlight, the right curtain just flew completely off the rod. I spent the next five minutes painstakingly fixing it and then re-sticking the duct tape over the end of the rod (evidence that this is not the first time this had happened). Despite all of this, I would not have booked anywhere else. The convenience was worth it and being the first people in line for tickets meant we only had a tour group of 12 instead of the usual 25 people stuffed into Newgrange’s tiny stone corridor with only one entrance.

Once we checked out of the Lodge, our day started out great. We had beautiful weather for our tour to the Newgrange prehistoric monument, which is just 300 meters down the road from our hotel. DM and I both really enjoyed it. You start at the visitor's center, where you see another short fillum and some models of the site, then you board a minibus that takes you on a five minute drive to Newgrange. It sits atop a hill, and the white limestone quartz walls shine in the sun as they wrap in a semicircle around the monument. The monument looks like a grassy mound with the front half fronted by white stone and completely surrounded by large plates of slate like giant teeth. Many of these kerbstones have been carved with ancient geometric patterns and swirls. Our group was small since we were the first group of the day -- only 12 of us. We had a variety of folks, most notably a Chinese man with a lump on top of his bald head that looked like one of the beehive huts we saw in Dingle, and his girlfriend, a 60-something crusty French woman dressed completely in shades of red and a full beard. Seriously, her whiskers would give ZZ Top a run for their money.

Our Newgrange guide led us past the stone entrance, which resembles a low altar, and through these low stone buttresses to get to the central chamber where ceremonial stone basins sit in recessed alcoves. We had to be careful, because a pair of swallows had made their home in the chamber and kept flying in and out of the monument like bats. Our guide explained that Stone Age people used the monument for some kind of sun-worship, or burial rites (they think). Newgrange is older than the pyramids, so it was a pretty cool experience.

After Newgrange, off we went to Trim to visit Trim castle, which is where they filmed (fillumed?) parts of Braveheart. The castle site is pretty imposing. We toured all through its three stories and had a great guide. When the tour was finished, we walked across the grass courtyard to this archway leading underground to the castle cellars. The stairs were pretty steep, and just after the words, "Mom, are you sure you want to walk down these stairs?" came out of my mouth, DM stumbled. She was two steps below me, and though I tried to catch her, she twisted her ankle and went crashing over to the left, banging her face on the last stone step. I nearly had a heart attack, because I have witnessed this scene once before when Mom fell walking our dogs and it wasn't something I ever hoped to repeat. And can I just say that DM is missing the part of her brain that tells you to throw your arms out to catch yourself when falling? She just topples over like a tree with no arm instinct whatsoever. It's a real handicap and I think they should study it. Acciarmnegatus: the failure to use one's arms to break a fall in an accident.

To make things worse, DM banged her left eyebrow so hard, she was bleeding pretty badly, and she couldn't move because of her ankle. Poor DM really rang her own bell and was bleeding and sobbing, which is pretty much a daughter’s worst nightmare. It took everything I had not to go into frightened child mode. I used DM’s scarf to staunch the worst of the bleeding, but I told her I was going to have to leave her to go find help. I was smart enough not to say ‘ambulance’ to her, but I think she read my mind. All of sudden, she kind of pulled herself together and said she felt well enough after a while to limp to the ticket office and toilets. The camera monopod I brought served as a cane and we got there eventually. While she was in the ladies, I did run to the ticket office and borrowed a first aid kit from the ladies working there. We applied some antiseptic wipes and a band aid to her cut and gimped back to the car. After stopping at a grocery store for some ice for face and ankle, we broke a few speed limits to Dublin.

DM started apologizing to me on the castle cellar steps and didn't stop for the next hour ... what am I saying? She still hasn't stopped. It's in her DNA. I wanted to go straight to a hospital, but DM wouldn't hear of it, so we returned the rental car at Avis. Incidentally, there was a French couple returning their car as well. They didn't have good English, but apparently, they had had an accident as well. The Irish Avis agent was having difficulty communicating with them. Finally, he just handed them an accident report form and said (LOUDLY),"Just fill out this form explaining what happened ... you can write it in Spanish." Um, you mean French, right? I asked my Avis agent how many people return cars with accident damage and she sputtered out a laugh and said this was her third today, so I'm guessing the ratio is pretty high. Because I had already called in a report and sent photos of the accident damage and scene by email, we were out of there pretty quickly. We called a taxi, who took us to our hotel. Miraculously, there is an emergency clinic right next door to our hotel, the Grafton Capital Hotel. So, if you're in Dublin with someone who is prone to falling over, book here. It's very convenient.

Apparently, you have to make an appointment for emergencies - they don't do walk-ins. They sent us four blocks away to another clinic that had an appointment in a few minutes. We limped over there and saw a very nice young Irish doctor-girl who looked DM over and determined that her ankle wasn't broken, just badly sprained. She patched DM's cut with a creative bandage that looked exactly like a Celtic cross and gave us a prescription for anti-inflammatories and a pepsid-like drug to counteract the hard-on-your-stomach side effects. By doctor's orders, DM was to take it easy and stay off her ankle for 24 hours.

We went back to the hotel, and it took me about five hours to gain any sort of sense of humor about this. It was pretty awful, but DM put on a brave face for me and I put on a brave face for her. DM didn't want to sit around doing nothing, so we started researching ways for her to sit around doing something, or having something to watch. We agreed on the Irish Nights Show at the Arlington Hotel, which is a dinner, music and mini Irish Riverdance show. It’s a little cheesy, but gimpers can’t be choosers. Our hotel managed to get us some last minute reservations and we took a cab over there. We sat at a great table close to the stage, where DM was able to put her foot up on the chair across from her. Her eye was turning more and more purple by the minute, and our waitress commented on it, asking DM where she fell over and then showing us some bruises she had received that week by dropping a tray of bottles on herself. DM's face won the bruise contest.

First, we ordered from a pre-set menu, which (Thank God) included beef and Guinness stew with mashed potatoes, DM's favorite dish. You get a starter, a main dish, and a dessert for €28, which includes the show, so it was a pretty good bargain, I thought. I had a goat cheese and arugula salad with the beef and Guinness stew and the cheesecake for dessert. DM had the same except with vegetable soup instead of salad. The Irish band started playing around 8:00pm, and they were very good. The band consisted of a guitarist/singer, a Concertina accordionist, and a flute player, who was awesome because he did a little jig with his feet and shoulders the whole time he played. It was very entertaining. At around 9:30, four Irish dancers, three girls and a boy, came out and danced a number of reels and Riverdance highstepping-kicking-tap dancing numbers. The boy's feet were so fast, I couldn't get a decent photo of them.

The Irish band came back on after the dancers, but it was time I put DM to bed, so we took a cab home. She went down to the guest lounge to email a bit and I went out with my camera to explore and get some night shots of the city. I also called my fiancé for some moral support while walking and let myself have the freak out I’d been bottling up since Trim.

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DANGER: Falling retirees. (Trim Castle)
 

nikkihop

10+ Posts
June 19, 2012 – Dublin, Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus Tour, Book of Kells

Since DM's doctor prescribed 24 hours of inactivity and we cheated a bit last night by going to the show, DM stayed in bed while I went out to forage for some pastries at a local pastry shop. We made tea in our room and ate cinnamon rolls and croissant, and watched crazy TV in the form of a children's program about getting chickens to lay eggs through various "scientific methods" such as singing love songs to the chickens. None of the chickens laid any eggs, so it was both bizarre and disappointing. They're rating system for TV programs must be a lower standard than ours.

At 10:33am we caught the hop on, hop off bus tour, which worked out great. You buy a ticket that is good for 48 hours, and then you can get on and off at about 22 stops all around the city. Our plan was just to ride for the full hour and a half circuit to wait out the doctor's timetable. We had gorgeous weather for it -- blue skies with white puffy clouds here and there and a brisk breeze. We sat on the top deck of our red double-decker bus, under the open sky. We drove past St. Stephen's Green, Christchurch Cathedral and St. Patrick's Cathedral, the Guinness factory, the Kilmainham Gaol (jail), Phoenix park, the Jameson Distillery, O’Connell Street, and Trinity College, where we finally got off so we could see the Old Library and the Book of Kells.

This was DM's number one to-do while in Dublin, so we did it first to see if she could make it. She limped through it and did really well. The Old Library is inspiring. Literally, it inspired the Jedi Archive in the new Star Wars movies, and the dining hall in Harry Potter's Hogwarts. The library is about three stories tall with an intricate wrought iron spiral staircase rising to the loft gallery that circles the entire "long room" of the library. It's about 50 yards long and contains more than 200,000 really old books stacked on floor-to-ceiling mahogany shelves jutting out from the right and left and capped with white marble busts of famous educated men. Once in there, it's hard to leave, it's so beautifully textured and fantasy-like.

We were a bit hungry though, so we left and ate at the Porthouse Pub, a short walk (or hobble, as the case may be) away. We then hopped back on the bus and got off at Merrion Square, which is famous for its Georgian architecture and brightly painted doors. We took a few obligatory door photos and headed over to Number 29 Georgian, which is a museum of a restored Georgian townhouse just off the square. We took a couple of wrong turns and had a hard time finding it since the entrance sits below street level at the cellar entrance and the pedestrian signs aren't great. The wandering was making me anxious because although she said she was fine and that her ankle felt better, I was worried about any extra walking. I wanted to take a cab everywhere, but DM wouldn't hear of it.

There was yet another fillum before you start your guided tour, and DM and I both fell asleep -- again! I didn't even try to stay awake. The fillum wasn't that interesting and was slow. We're not even embarrassed anymore about snoozing through these fillums. We take it as our God given right as tacky tourists. The tour started out well enough, but it became immediately apparent that our guide, a sixtyish woman with a small lisp, was not the most efficient of souls. She kept having senior moments, saying things like, "Now if ye'll notice the basin there, which is called a ... a ... what's the word? It's escaped me."

The group kept trying to help her out. "It's a hipbath, isn't it?"

"Oh! Right you are! A hipbath ... a hipbath. That's it exactly." This poor woman could not walk and talk at the same time, and if someone asked her a question, she would stop where she was to answer it, causing the whole queue of people on her heels to screech to a stop and wait, toe-tapping, to answer it. I wanted to turn to the handful of ladies who were part of our group that kept interrupting all of us with these stop-and-answer-questions-rest-stops and say, "Do you see my mother's face? She had a lot of questions yesterday and look what I did to her." I will add here that DM's eye and the left side of her face from brow to cheekbone had purpled up nicely. She has a lovely Tammy Faye thing going on with her eyelid too.

The tour, which should have taken no more than 20 minutes, took about an hour. The group behind us, which started well after us, was breathing down our necks towards the end. We were happy to get out of there.

We walked a block to the Shelbourne Hotel to try to have high tea, but there was a dress code and we felt out of place in our sneakers (DM) and flip flops (me), so we did the next best thing and caught the hop on hop off bus to the Queen of Tarts cafe for tea. We told our driver where we wanted to go, and tried to get off the bus at the stop before the cafe. We actually made it off the bus when he honked at us and called out, "Who gave you girls permission to get off my bus? It's the next stop!" Laughing, we climbed back on and he dropped us right in front of the Queen of Tarts.

The cafe is this adorable old fashioned tea shoppe with a bright red exterior and a yummy display of cakes, tarts and sweets. DM and I had the Victorian sponge cake, which is exactly like strawberry shortcake with clotted (whipped) cream, and a pot of tea in mismatched antique china cups and saucers. This was DM’s second favorite meal in Ireland.

Back on the bus, we hopped off again at Christchurch Cathedral, which has spooky old stone vaulted crypts below the church where you can see a variety of artifacts and stone effigies and tombs. The church itself is a Gothic wonder, much like the National Cathedral in Washington DC, but older. We tried to visit St. Patrick's Cathedral a couple blocks away, but it closed at 5:00pm, so we went back to the hotel.

I mentioned earlier that our hotel room has a really nice bathroom. It’s one flaw is the toilet. It doesn't flush every time. DM has struggled with it, but I have had no trouble, so after a little experimentation, I determined it's because I am a forceful flusher. I really show that toilet who is boss. DM tried it and sure enough, she was being too tentative with her flushing technique. She is now showing the toilet who is boss too. So, if you ever stay at the Grafton Capital Hotel, be warned. You must walk up to the toilet in a firm manner and then press forcefully down on the handle with conviction! Take that!

Flushed with victory (sorry, bad pun), we headed off to catch a cab to The Church Bar for dinner. I hailed a cabbie outside the hotel and thought, "What luck!" until we got in the cab, asked to go to the Church Bar, and the driver had no idea where it was. How many Church Bars are there in Dublin? Sheesh. So out we got so we could ask the hotel for the address and a new cab. The hotel receptionist also thought it was crazy that our taxi driver didn't know this famous place. Our new cab driver did, but took us on a circuitous route that left me thinking he was after a bigger fare with some clueless Americans. Cabs have only cost us between €5 and €10 so far, so this €15 ride seemed fishy. At least we got to our location without DM doing any walking, so it was worth it.

The Church Bar & Restaurant used to be St. Mary's Church of Ireland, an 18th century church with a gallery wrapping around the inside of the nave (think the courthouse in To Kill A Mockingbird), complete with wall-sized pipe organ and spectacular stained glass windows. The church closed in 1964 and lay derelict for a number of years until it was purchased in 1997, and restored into a restaurant and bar. It was fascinating to eat dinner where Arthur Guinness, founder of Guinness Brewery, was married in 1761. We sat in the bar because we couldn't get a reservation for the fancier gallery portion of the restaurant. DM ordered a hamburger to see if it compared to U.S. hamburgers (it didn't -- too bland, and on ciabatta bread with a weird side of red cabbage coleslaw). I ordered lasagna (I know, not very Irish), which came with salad and French fries? I've never eaten lasagna and fries before but mine was all delicious.

After dinner, DM wanted to see the Ha'Penny bridge, so called because you used to have to pay a half penny toll to cross the River Liffey here. It's a pretty Victorian white iron bridge with street lamp pendants hanging from scrolled archways periodically spanning the bridge overhead. We walked a block or two through the Temple Bar district and took photos of the famous red Temple Bar pub before heading back to the hotel for showers and WiFi fix.

I headed out again after dark, which doesn't come until 10:30 or so, to photograph the Samuel Beckett bridge, which I never found on my trek last night. I barely found it this time. I took a wrong turn somewhere, and actually ended up on the far south of Dublin, only figuring out my error when I hit the Dublin canal, which does not look like the river Liffey. Argh! I retraced my steps and must have walked five or more miles to get to the bridge, which was really beautiful lit up at night. It's designed to look like an Irish harp spanning the Liffey. I took several photos and then caught a cab back to the hotel with a very charming cabbie that pumped me for information on my trip the whole way back. I returned to our room exhausted and fell in to a coma. Only one more day in Ireland!

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Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour in Dublin
 

nikkihop

10+ Posts
June 20, 2012 – Dublin, St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Guinness Storehouse

DM and I woke up to another beautiful summer day. Blue skies again for our last day in Dublin! DM's black eye was looking worse, but she said both ankle and face felt a bit better. We headed downstairs only to discover that I had forgotten the receipt for our hop-on-hop-off bus tour, which we needed if we were going to ride the bus (the receipt is good for 48 hours). I ran back upstairs to get the receipt/tickets but after a 10 minute search, I couldn't find it. I knew exactly where it should be -- right inside pocket of my black fleece jacket. It's not there. Finally, I had to admit defeat after rummaging through the entire contents of my suitcase, under beds, etc. I told DM the bad news. She took it in stride but we decided to eat first before deciding what to do. We headed across the street for breakfast at the Metro Cafe, where we both ordered pancakes that looked like the frozen kind you get in the states. Their maple syrup is strange too. It has the thick consistency of honey and doesn't taste as maple-ey.

After eating, we decided on one more search of our hotel room, but to no avail. I wallowed in guilt, and we decided to walk the five blocks or so to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which was closed yesterday when we tried to visit. This is the cathedral where Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver's Travels, was dean for many years. As we were walking around the corner to the front entrance, I looked on the ground, and there next to the curb was a receipt for the hop-on-hop-off bus. I picked it up and sure enough, it was purchased on June 19 at 10:33 for two adults, and the ticket agent/driver that sold it was the very same as ours--Paddy Habington. We bought our ticket at 10:33 on June 19. As hard as it is to believe, I had found our lost bus ticket. I am sure of it. It was folded exactly the same as ours. Thank you ST. Patrick! Patron saint of people who lose things. This made my day, not the least because it saved us buying new tickets for around fifty bucks.

Already the recipients of a St. Patrick miracle, we entered the cathedral. It's a beautiful church with an elaborate, colorful tiled floor, many marble statues and the largest organ in Europe. We visited Mr. Swift's grave, took photos of the stained glass windows and the funny enclosed pews, which were like box seats for the wealthy and important. I couldn't figure out how they got in and was imagining a Dukes of Hazzard hop-and-slide when DM pointed out the nearly hidden swinging wooden door panels.

DM and I headed back to the bus stop right out front with our ticket in hand and caught the hop-on-hop-off to the Guinness Storehouse. The Guinness complex is amazing. It's over 60 acres of red brick buildings and cobbled streets that Arthur Guinness leased for 9000 years. The storehouse is just that, one of the old warehouses used to store ingredients such as barley, hops and water. They have converted it into a very slick and interesting museum, rising over seven floors and capped with the Gravity Bar, which has the best view in Dublin. There isn't a guided tour, but I had downloaded a walking podcast tour from Dublin Tourism iWalks on my iPhone and iPod (for DM), which was perfect in conjunction with the videos and interactive displays that they had in the building. I was also pleased to see they had both escalators and an elevator going all the way up between floors, so DM didn't have to worry about many stairs. We ended our tour in the Gravity Bar on the top floor, where you get a ‘free’ Guinness (included in the price of your ticket), or diet coke, in DM's case.

Back on the hop-on-hop-off bus, we headed over to Kilmainham Gaol, a huge Victorian prison. The guided tour was okay -- not great. There were too many people in our group, and we were all crammed into small spaces. Our group included a large party of teenage Germans, who were quite loud and pushy. First, we were lead into the chapel, where there was a screen, and what we thought would be a fillum (again). However it was just a slideshow, which didn't have the same somnolent effect on us. Only fillums make us sleepy. The main prison block is architecturally stunning, with scrolled iron catwalks and staircases right out of Shawshank Redemption. Our guide told us some interesting stories of conditions in famine-era Dublin and the execution of the leaders of the Easter Rising.

At this point DM and I were pretty anxious to get some lunch since it was past 2:00pm. On the bus ride to Temple Bar, where we would eat lunch, we drove through Phoenix park, one of the largest parks in Europe, and saw a herd of red deer, many of them with a large rack of horns, grazing in the fields very close to the road.

Since planning this trip, I have wanted to try a traditional Irish dish called boxty, which is a potato pancake stuffed with meat and other items. We went to Gallagher's Boxty House in Temple Bar, where DM had the chicken boxty with smoked bacon and leek cream sauce, and I had the salmon boxty with dill and cream sauce. They were delicious - like thick crepes. I ate every bite of mine. This was my favorite meal in Ireland and I have had food dreams about it since.

After lunch, we decided to do some shopping on Grafton Street to try to find a gold charm for my charm bracelet. We walked through Temple Bar on our way to the shopping district, and as we passed the main square, we saw a decently dressed older gentleman in slacks, white button down, blazer and loafers flat on his back, asleep on the sidewalk, clearly drunk, next to a street busker singing with his guitar. I took a great picture of it, which I call "Irish Lullabye." It was a few blocks from the Royal Liver Assurance building, which is right next to a pub. Gotta love those Irish.

We found a cute gold shamrock for my bracelet and wandered back to the hotel, where I took a nap and DM got her WiFi on downstairs. We left the hotel late for dinner around 8:30pm because of our late lunch, and went back to Temple Bar to eat at The Old Mill, a traditional Irish restaurant/pub. DM and I both ordered the potato and leek soup to start and I had the Caesar salad and DM the chicken pasta carbonara. We went back to the hotel in a light rain to pack and turn in.

Our flight out of Dublin airport was at 9:00m, so we left the hotel at around 6:15 to take a taxi to the airport. Our flight got in to Dallas around 3:00pm Dallas-time. Overall we had a great trip. Obviously, our disasters set us back a bit. The old Irish blessing, "May the road rise up to meet you" has taken on new meaning for DM, and I have a new-found respect for the rental car insurance plans. All in all, though, we had great weather and a lot of amazing Irish adventures. Now, bring on the Mexican food!

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Irish Lullabye
 

nikkihop

10+ Posts
Resources

Books

Last of the Donkey Pilgrims, Kevin O'Hara
McCarthy's Bar, Pete McCarthy
The Story of Ireland, Emily Lawless
Fairies and Folk of Ireland, William Henry Frost
Ulysses, James Joyce

Travel Guides
Ireland by Rick Steves
Must See Ireland - Best Places to Visit in Ireland - A Travel Guide, Robert Doyle
Dublin Tourism iwalks (podcast audio tours)
Ingenious Ireland - Audio Guides

iTunes & iTunes U
Irish Fireside podcasts
The Engaging Ireland podcasts
Irish Studies by the University of Notre Dame
Glucksman Ireland House
The Arts Past & Present: Ireland (great short videos)

Films, TV, Documentaries (available on Netflix
The Wind That Shakes the Barley
Hungry Hill
Ryan's Daughter
Out of Ireland: The Hit Songs and Artists of Irish Music (a wonderful 3-hour documentary on Irish music from traditional music to U2 and Riverdance.)
In the Name of the Father
My Left Foot
Out of Ireland: the Story of Irish Emigration to America
St. Patrick: The Irish Legend
Historic Pubs of Dublin

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Samuel Beckett Bridge
 

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