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Posts Tagged ‘Ireland’

This blog is a compilation of my journal I kept while on the fantastic trip, as well as a few sample photos and videos I took while there. I edited the dates I actually added it to the blog so that they would be in this specific order, click on “older posts” at the bottom to continue on to the later days. Click on the pictures to see a larger version.

Enjoy!

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Not much to say about the transit. We got on a subway train, then a bus, then an airplane, then a car and finally arrived at the cabin. If only we could have thrown in a boat somehow… There isn’t much to comment on until we got to Ireland.

Shannon airport felt almost deserted, which was fun for me. It is small, and a lot less busy then O’Hare, Heathrow, or Gatwick. It was nice being small and unpopulated.

I love the British accent, but I find the Irish one to be prettier, or maybe just more exotic. I got to speak with a couple people to get the money conversion worked out and find the car rental place. I picked up the car, with the little Garmin GPS unit and went outside.

We got to our little roomy two door coupe, and I hesitantly slipped in on the right side of the vehicle. Took a minute to figure out the GPS unit, to look at all the controls and to decide it was time to try and drive.

The single most difficult thing about driving in Ireland that I’ve encountered so far is the stick shift in the car. Not only do I have to figure out how to do it with my left hand, which is new, but the format of where the individual gears are slightly different. So the whole unfamiliar car part turned out to be more difficult than using the left side of the road. Though I have pulled out to the wrong lane for a few seconds a couple times, thankfully not many people were around.

Driving itself was very exhilarating. Especially getting a chance to see the countryside for the first time. I was a little stunned for a moment when Ireland actually looked like how you’d imagine Ireland to look. I expected having to go and search for those little romantically idealized spots, but they were there right alongside the highway heading north from Shannon. The weather and sky themselves were amazing, which is always uncertain. We had huge beautiful clouds passing past and in front of the sun. A nice cool breeze sweeping over rolling hills scattered with trees and fields. There were stone walled pastures with sheep and horses grazing, also Ireland is indeed as green as it is reputed to be.

Just gorgeous.

Video – First Time in Ireland: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ogbGX9bk2U4

 

After getting off the highway (and our GPS abandoning us, believing that there was no road underneath us) we got onto N66 and started heading through villages on a narrow road. It had traffic both ways, but was one lane each, and a small lane at that. There were stone walls and many stone houses and cottages along either side, and the road itself would bend this way and that all the while being reasonably bumpy. I gripped the steering wheel tight, and I tried to keep up in speed with the traffic in front of me. Most of the way we did 80 kmh. Which is 49.7 mph. Johnathon kept his window down and the fresh cool breeze coming in, which made the ride very enlivening, and kept me wide awake and sharp.

We didn’t have an accurate address, only a “generally over here” address. I didn’t fully realize that until I tried to put it into the GPS and couldn’t, and then made it to a gas stop and asked for help. County Galway (that part is simple), then Loughrea (“Lock-Ray”) is the main city near where we were headed, Kilchreest is the village that as even closer, and Ballymullen is the sort of rural neighborhood that the gas station guy didn’t know about. Like starting with a large circle and drawing smaller circles inside of it. I later found out that once you get to that point then the directions are “The stone cottage for rent along this road.”

So I had to backtrack a little bit.

I got back to Kilchreest center (which is basically just a graveyard and two businesses) and then I stopped to ask for directions. One of the businesses was a little place titled “Village Inn” so I went there.

Inside on the first of two floors was a small restaurant with a bar. My first thought was that this place is like a tavern/inn from dungeons and dragons! Cool! There were no sword wearing vagabonds though. It was about 6 or 7 older men and women (it was not a young crowd). The lady of the Inn got up from sitting at the table with the patrons and asked what I’d like, while speaking with a thick accent. I was asking for help with directions, and to possibly use a phone. I had my paper with the “address” on it and the instructions. The Inn lady took a look as I tried to point out the address, but she apparently started reading the rest of it. On the paper I mention the cabin owner’s name that I was trying to reach. The innkeeper said “I know Olive, yeah she isn’t far down the road.” We tried calling her but that didn’t work. So the innkeeper gave me directions, “It’s about a mile down the road.” I asked her what it was in kilometers, because of the odometer was in km in the car.

“About 1.7 km. You go right until you pass the school, then you go along a bend to the right, then there is a straight bit.” She turns to a patron, “Isn’t that right?”

The man pipes in with barely understood words due to his slurring accent, speaking fast and adding in a lot more words then seemed necessary.

The innkeeper turns back to me. “That’s right, just after it goes straight for a bit she’ll be there right on the right.”

I’ll note here that the whole freaking road she pointed down is almost constantly bending around. So I stuck to the idea of about a mile and looking out for a school.

More or less I found it, after some concern about going too far and it happening to be about 3 kilometers down the road I barely spotted it behind a stone wall and trees to my right. I couldn’t find where to drive into it as there was a fence in the way. So I managed a parking spot to the left and decided I would walk up there and she if I could find Olive.

I found a driveway and a way in, while on foot, and went up to the door. Well, it was a door that said Falco Electronics beside it. The lights were out inside and no one came to the door. The whole area was a bit odd, there was 5 or 6 separate structures on the property, so I kept trying doors. No answer, so I went to the cottage that I recognized from the website. There was light inside but no one was in. I was running out of doors to try so I thought I might just see if the cottage was locked. We were late from when we were supposed to arrive, and maybe she left the area (which might have just been shops and such, and their actual home might have been elsewhere), and maybe there was a note inside for me? The door was unlocked but no note or anything. So I left and went around the oddly laid out grounds looking for someone. I found another door, close to the front but further off to the left. It had a doorbell and when I rang it a dog barked. Olive popped up a second later.

She is a nice lady in her fifties and wearing a levi jacket and levi skirt. I went and got the car and drove up to our cottage.

She guided us in and although I had a glimpse of it before, it was still amazing. It is beautiful wood and stone interior, and wonderfully decorated. It’s probably bigger than my apartment altogether.

Wooden floors, leather seats, a nice hardy dining table with plenty of chairs. Stone walls, stove and burners, coffee maker, fridge set behind a wooden cupboard, bedroom with twin beds, mirror, cabinets, bedroom with queen sized bed, little funny fake candle on a fake book that flickers like a flame, shower, tv, towels, fireplace. In the next little structure beside ours is a washer/dryer, freezer, dishwasher, bigger shower, miniature sauna. Other then the great accommodations of this place, there is also some little touches she added. There was a fire already going in the fireplace, there is milk, bread, butter, eggs, sausage, and bacon already purchased for us. Coffee, tea, soap, movie DVDs, stereo with CDs, utensils, pots & pans, paper towels, dishwashing soap, cooking oil, and the crown jewel… Wi-Fi.

Amazing place. Very reasonably priced at 400 Euro’s for a week.

Video – Ireland Cottage: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BGzF5MuaZqM

 

Also there is a walking path right up the little hill beside us (they called it a mountain, but being from the Rocky Mountains in the U.S. I found it hard to give it that distinction), where we can see ruins of a castle, horses on the grounds. They said we could ride one of the horses. His name is Sam, he is an Irish Draft, and they figure that letting us ride him will help give him exercise so they said we could ride him for free!

We love the place.

We decided to go for dinner at the Village Inn (I want to point out here that this is not the franchise, this is just a little inn that they titled themselves), Olive said they would take care of us well there because they know we are Olive’s guests.

We arrived on a scene of a different 6 or 7 old seniors gathered at the Inn, but the kitchen was closed, they were just drinking beer.

We will drop by another night.

We headed to the grocery store in Loughrea and found it without too much trouble.

It was called Supervalu. We had 5 minutes before it closed, but we didn’t know that ahead of time. We ended up only having time to pick up some apples and an apple pie. The apple pie is good, it tastes different, not sure how to describe it, just subtlety different bread and pie filling.

That was about it for us, we headed back to the cottage. Listened to some music from a CD (Bryan Adams I think) and soon went to bed. I took the smaller twin bed in the ground floor bedroom, while Johnathon took the queen sized bed in the top bedroom. Plan is to switch off half way through our stay. Tomorrow is the cliffs!

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We fiddled with the washing machine this morning. I think we might have it figured out now… somewhat. Tried to get Mike and & Olive’s help but they were uncertain too and not very successful finding the user manual online. Later in the day when we returned for the day I spent some time online and found out how it works. I even wrote down the more useful directions and left it on the washing machine for the next guests who come. Olive thanked me for that.

Other than apple pie for breakfast we decided to cook up some of the bacon, sausage and eggs. That along with some bread and butter made a tasty breakfast and filled the little cottage with some great smells.

We decided to do the cliffs today. That was a whole day thing and would give us extra time to finish doing laundry and the like later, since we were running on limited cloths and didn’t wash anything while in London. We got some directions and an old map from Mike so armed with directions, map and GPS we eventually got to the cliffs. I did end up stopping and asking for directions twice, but both times were a pleasant experience. The people I’ve encountered here seem to be happy being helpful.

The drive was again interesting, it was beautiful and intense. The roads have speed limits that often are well beyond the safe speed to drive. I don’t think they expect you to go the speed limit unless you’re suicidal, it’s not like the speed limits in the U.S. who expect you to be able to keep control of your vehicle if you’re going up to the speed limit. The roads seem to have no obligation to be straight. I think they are just paved over old horse paths from hundreds of years ago. It’s one of the reasons the countryside is so stunning, but it takes a crazy amount of concentration.

Video – Narrow Roads: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zAsfsHceNLs

Yet, we managed the narrow racetrack like roads and got to the visiting center of the Cliffs of Moher (they seem to pronounce it “More-er”). It was plenty windy even before you climb up to the edge, and at times and in certain spots the wind becomes all encompassing. Other than the view it seemed like the wind was the other main attraction of the place. As for the view, the view is spectacular!

Video – First Glimpse of The Cliffs of Moher: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dduh6qMpmSM

(I think I am going to have beaten these adjectives to death by the end of the journal. “Magnificent!” “Amazing!” “Spectacular!”)

It was a very stormy day (mostly wind) and the surf below at the bottoms of the cliff created an “Amazing!” swath of whiteness at the base to the towering cliffs. I can see why they picked this location along the cliffs for the visitor center. Gazing out to the right is an old little watchtower that I’m not sure what its original purpose was for, and to the left is several jutting protrusions of the cliffs, making it clear to see their majesty. If you squint, you can see birds nest on the cliff face and fly around above the surf.

We climbed up the stairway both to the left and right, wishing we were allowed to travel further along the cliffs, but happy still the same. The watchtower was particularly interesting in that it had a very clear and distinctly strong area of wind alongside it. We spent a majority of our time there, taking a handful of videos. We of course took many pictures of the area as well. Rain would come and go in spurts, and by the end of our stay we were feeling very chilled and numb. Johnathon loved this place more than any other so far. It’s the most excited and joyful I’ve seen him. It is a very humbling and glorious place. I am so glad to have seen it.

Video – The Surf below The Cliffs of Moher: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mMxLDNPa5Pk

 

Video – Cliffs and Cows: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K7mEPM3QPn8

 

Video – Gerbil on The Cliffs of Moher: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uCvoeyR1Njg

 

 

Video – Brother in the Wind at The Cliffs of Moher: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jy6NCSHZGPc

 

 

Video – Me in the wind at The Cliffs of Moher: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-z9GOWudH3s

We drove home driving along the coast, it is a great landscape. Rocky, but it provides great views and there is a lot of little quaint looking fishing villages along the way.

Video – Random stop along the road: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3E8O–Pkk9I

 

After we got back from the cliffs we went out to eat at the Village Inn.

The food was excellent. I got roast stuffed chicken while Johnathon got potato cakes & smoked salmon. I got a big clump of cooked cabbage with mine, and some carrots. I was really surprised that I enjoyed the cabbage, I usually don’t but it was cooked marvelously. The Chicken was great as well. The chicken had stove top stuffing in it and was sitting in some brown gravy alongside a couple scoops of mashed potato.

Johnathon said he loved his meal too. He really liked the potato cakes and ate up happily his coleslaw and salad sides that came with his meal.

Olive and her family came in while we were there, getting their own dinner. I got to chat with them and catch up a bit. We told them about our experiences with the cliffs. They are a friendly family, I am quite fond of Olive and Mike.

Interestingly, the news was playing on a TV in the corner, and it was showing off Obama’s visit to Ireland. I found the whole thing kind of neat as I didn’t know about his plans to come to Ireland. Apparently Dublin shut down (words that Mary the innkeeper used) and said their city was full and had no more room for people to come into it because of his visit. I am REALLY glad it didn’t land on the date that we are going into Dublin. From everything I could tell, Obama’s visit went over very well with the Irish people.

Johnathon hasn’t jumped in on much of the talking, but I’ve been enjoying my exchanges with the people here. I’m finding out interesting things like “half 4” seems to mean 4:30. I’ve been called “child” a couple of times but they have been in very positive and friendly ways. Just imagine it flowing naturally at the end of an accented phrase.

It seems like the waiters and waitresses typically bring the food out to the table, glasses along with a pitcher of water that stays on the table and then they leave you alone. You get up when you are ready to pay, and Mary (the innkeeper) refused to let me give her a tip. After speaking with Olive, she said at the end of our week if I wanted to give Mary a tip, then we could.

After dinner we went to the grocery store, and had a lot more time to browse around this time. We got an odd assortment of things, stuff like steak, bread, ice cream sandwiches. We got some orange flavored honey along with some pre-cooked and packaged “American Style Pancakes”.

Full day, and happy to be back and relaxing with a nice full tummy.

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Long drive to Blarney Castle.

I do feel I am getting the hang of the roads though, and the car that I’m driving. I got to speak with several lovely people as I asked for more directions, including a kind florist who said she wished she could go as well to spend the day at the castle.

We got to the castle car park and went in with the groups of tourists arriving mostly by bus. Weather was again fantastic. Less windy and more sunshine but it didn’t get too hot.

You cross a nice little bridge at the beginning. The stream has a wishing well worth of coins scattered along the stream bed next to the bridge. I’m afraid a security guard carrying a bag of coins must have been hit by a cannon ball there. Or people had the collective urge to decorate the stream bed with their spare coins in exchange for luck, I’m not sure, but I think it was the cannon ball scenario.

You get little glimpses of the small castle over the treetops, but once you are on the castle grounds you have the option of going straight (which looks to take you to the castle) and going left. There were less people to the left, so that’s the way we went. It goes past a cut grass lawn and then splits again, offering you another chance to go toward the castle or to keep going away from it, we opted to go away from it.

We came across a little clump of tall trees spaced a comfortable distance away from each other. There was very little ground vegetation amongst the carpet of dead pine needles. I really enjoyed the area. It brought back memories of childhood fascination with medieval forests, magic and sword fighting.

During that time of my life I played Dungeons and Dragons as much as I could, and absorbed as much medieval stories and movies as I could. This little clump of trees fit my inner imagined forest, where I would often play out in my mind the encounters and scenarios that came about while playing D&D. I of course took pictures and some videos as well. I even got a bit goofy, having Johnathon take pictures of me holding a mossy stick out like a sword.

Video – Blarney Grounds – Talk of Fantasy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=twNTZJ3WkCg

After that heartwarming spot we continued further away from the castle. Until there was an end to the trees, or some sort of barrier, we were going to continue on. There was a bend in the path that was the castle’s last attempt at leading people back towards it, but we found another path further on the way we were going. We almost didn’t, but there was a path just big enough to catch our eye.

Video – Wandering Away From Blarney Castle: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b–fEm4-62Y

The ground vegetation was much thicker, and a stream was audibly somewhere to our right. We passed what appeared to be old broken garbage from some sort of campground. I don’t know what was there before, there was a lot of broken white plastic piping. After that was a pathway from the field to our right and to our left, it had fencing and seemed to be meant for cows to be herded from one field to the next. (I even took pictures of the cows.)

What lay beyond was a third and different wooded section. The trees were close together and in rows, but they appeared mostly dead. Through the middle of them was a path, and we couldn’t see the end of this darkly lit path of dead trees. The ground was even more greatly carpeted with pine needles. It was soft and spongy because of it. It was exciting to continue on, we hadn’t seen anyone else for a while, and we had to know where this dark path led.

Video – Deadwoods Near Blarney Castle: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I2_rtGnDm0o

There were places where one or more trees had fallen over, or tried too and leaned against the other trees, but at their base they had made this opening where they picked up a patch of the pine needle carpeting and exposed raw dirt underneath. It was neat to see.

Finally we got to the end of the path. At the end the trees changed type, and there was a fence blocking us from going further. Also at the end was about five trees all leaning and exposing dark crevices of dirt under their base. Satisfied with reaching the end and pleased with the expedition, we turned back.

We rejoined the people and explored more of the castle grounds that was meant to be explored. Benches along paths that wrapped around to a rocky area.

There was a stair passageway through stone. You were supposed to walk backwards down the steps with your eyes closed, and this act would grant you a wish. We were coming from the wrong direction though, and it took us a while before we could climb up, which was the only pathway to get to the castle from where we were. At first when I saw this I just thought the girls I saw doing this were super scared of going  down the steps and cling to the railing with their eyes closed. As for going down backward, I thought perhaps they felt more secure that way.

It taking so long to get a chance to go up, I decided not to go backwards, I’m sure whatever wish granting capabilities that place may have ever had has been used up by the tourists long ago.

We passed some more interesting rock formations and finally got to the castle. Blarney Castle didn’t expand out like I thought all castles did. Mostly it was one fat stone tower, or at least that was mainly the only thing that had survived.

We went inside and it was intriguing to see how narrow and small all the passages and rooms were. It was hard to imagine it was used for anything other than a military outpost.

The process of going through the rooms, and especially that of climbing up the spiral stairway was sort of unnerving. There were many holes in places, it started to feel like I was climbing around in a child built stone treehouse.

Video – View & Stairway in Blarney Castle: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IYZ9264RVgI

By the time I got to the top I was pretty nervous, and the walkway around the top where you kiss the blarney stone was really uneven. It was quite a drop when you looked down and the people helping you slide over to kiss the blarney stone didn’t seem very patient, especially sense there was such a big line of people waiting.

At this point, at the top, I had separated from Johnathon. We were checking out rooms and climbing higher and checking out more rooms. More people started catching up to us and it was getting crowded to see the rooms. There was another way to go but we had just finished checking out a room and were one floor from the top. I told Johnathon I was going up, hoping he would follow behind. I got up and didn’t see him following  me. I sat off to the side to let the line go by, but I never saw his brimmed hat peek up from below. I was planning on kissing the blarney stone with him taking a picture of me. And you can’t be holding any bags, have on glasses, or have loose things in your pocket. The ground was uneven and there were holes for things to fall all the way down. Along with the impatient men and no good place to put my things without my brother I decided to pass the stone kissing. It was an intimidating height and you have to lay down, and slide head first down this hole while holding these bars and  awkwardly kiss a bit of the wall. They weren’t cleaning the stone either, which probably doesn’t matter much but the whole combination of things dissuaded me.

Sigh.

But it doesn’t bother me that much. I’m not very superstitious and I don’t think kissing the stone does anything, I just wanted to be able to say I did it. Kind of like how everyone goes to see the changing of the guard? Oh well, maybe I can kiss a random stone in Illinois and try to start a trend.

So I went down and waited for my brother. I was worried for a bit because I thought he left the castle before I did, going a different way out. He had mentioned he didn’t want to kiss the stone, but I couldn’t find him. I waited, and eventually he came out of the castle. He said he looked at some more of the rooms on the second to top floor then tons of people started crowded around and it took forever before he could go up and come back down and out of the castle. Basically he was besieged and couldn’t make his escape until later.

We walked along the ramparts, then down and away from the castle. Along the base of the mini cliff that Blarney Castle stands on was a pathway to a cave.

It was called Badger cave, I saw briefly on the plaque before walking by and into the cave. It was fenced, but the gate wasn’t closed. Me and Johnathon went in and had to crouch and walk amongst muddy rocks and puddles of water. I was surprised they let people in there. No one else was there, no one else seemed interested in going in. It was about 60 feet deep and cramped. I couldn’t really take a picture because I had to use my hands to navigate around and they got really muddy right away. It was cool. Me and Johnathon had found another place nestled away from everyone else, it was a fun little detour.

After the caves we left Blarney Castle and surrounding area.

As we left there was a girl sitting on a bench playing Irish music. It was a great little piece of music and I love violins anyway.

We walked around Blarney town a little bit and went to a café. The food wasn’t as splendid there as it was at the Village Inn. I still enjoyed it though. I had vegetable soup, and Johnathon had a scone with butter and jam, and a hot cocoa.

We drove back to the cottage. We had thought perhaps to go driving around The Ring of Kerry, but it took two and a half hours just to drive one way to Blarney. I didn’t really want to spend 5 or more extra hours on the drive back to the cottage to drive along a scenic road that borders a county. The Ring of Kerry is supposed to be a beautiful area, it is highly recommended from several people I’ve talked to already, but it doesn’t look like it is going to happen. We spent equivalently $60 on gas putting in three quarters of a tank. Gas is crazy expensive here. One and a half Euros for one liter. The conversion from dollar to Euros (at the currency exchange at the airport) is 1.6, so $1.60 gets you 1 Euro. And there is approximately 4 liters in a gallon. That comes out to being $9.60 per gallon for gas. Wow! So, a whole bunch of extra driving when already every dang place we’ve driven here is gorgeous just doesn’t seem worth it.

So yeah, I’m thinking about just buying a horse while I’m here, you know, to save money.

After we got home and rested a little, we decided to hike up the mountain, like Olive and Mike had been talking about. We set off on foot up the road that goes all the way to the top.

Video – Walking up the “Mountain”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fQB1yOpQ51I

The mountains around here are not very tall. The beautiful countryside is that of rolling hills. So climbing to the top of the mountain turns out to involve a long walk up a very subtle sloop. Which turns out to take forever to get to the top.

I think we saw our very first cat out along the road while we were going up. In London and in Ireland we hadn’t seen a cat up too that point, and I’m not a hundred percent certain it was a cat.

Me and Johnathon practiced our Irish accent and had a lot of fun conversation while walking up the mountain. We got to the point that we started leaving the trees behind, and the landscape was this fluffy yet rocky grassland the higher we went. We saw some bones up along the way, also some sheep. They were roaming around the path/road and stopped to stare at us as we passed. So I took pictures of them, and made sure to get one of the all black sheep.

Video – Field on the Mountain: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v0jnAFg-jIY

We continued on. It took a long time. An old abandoned tractor was up there and even a car went past us going slowly across the amazingly bumpy road.

We got to the top but it was so flat that it didn’t off that great of a view. We went a little further down the other side but we could not find these ruins of a castle that Mike and Olive had talked about. It was getting late and took us an hour and half to get up, so we decided to start heading back.

Video – Top of the Mountain (more or less): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FBNk0-W7Jok

On the way down we joked and tried running now and again to see how fast we could go. I yelled as loud as I could but couldn’t get my brother to give it a try. Not far from the top we noticed some horses ahead. They were using the road to come up the mountain. I pulled out my camera and started taking pictures and videos of them.

They came surprisingly close to us. They seemed to be just wandering around. It was exhilarating encountering horses in the wild and being so close to them. That could just be that I am more of a city person, and the experience was fairly novel to me (and Johnathon). We started walking down the mountain and the four horses began following us. It was intimidating and enjoyable. We thought best to just keep on walking and after a ways they stopped and just watched us go.

Video – Horses – Part 1 of 3: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r3S50WpyZWo

 

Video – Horses – Part 2 of 3: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QeTK0IoRbxw

 

Video – Horses – Part 3 of 3: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0l9XJtf_s1E

 

We got down from the mountain and cooked a steak for dinner.

It was a good day, a lot of adventuring and exploring that I’ll always remember.

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Off to Galway.

Arrived in Galway.

My ease with driving in this country with this car has been improving, probably to the point that it will take a readjustment period to smoothly drive my car again back home.

Galway is certainly the biggest city we’ve seen in Ireland so far. It was hard getting an idea of its dimensions though with as many trees and curved streets that it had. The main downtown area didn’t seem all that big however. We had the notion of going and joining a  walking tour in Galway which would have lasted about an hour but we were a little late getting there and even when we had given up because we knew we were late, we still couldn’t find the tour company. This was one of the rainy times so far here in Ireland for us. We tried to get shelter here and there as the rain would come and recede and back again. We saw Corrib river, I took a few pictures with my phone as I did not want to bring out my camera bag in the rain. Then me and Johnathon noticed a group of people huddled around a man talking. It looks like we found the tour group. I had the slightly mischievous thought of trying to sneak and hide in the group, but I thought it would have been too rude. So we only sort of followed them to get an idea where they were going. It helped us find the more interesting places to be walking along.

There was an old church, which even allowed us to take some (camera phone) pictures inside. They turned out kind of crap accept the stained glass picture.

It was nice, but so far none of the Irish architecture really can compare with the grandeur and size of the London buildings. England looks to simply have been richer throughout history than Ireland.

It was also in active use, there was a side room where there was chanting going on, while the main room was filled up by a different tour group, while the tour guide talked. We left and the went through the pedestrian street and shopping center of Galway.

We went into a place called the Cheesemongers. I had never heard of the word mongers being applied to cheese before. It looked to be a nice cheese shop, but we had mainly come in to use- or ask where we could use- a restroom. They had one upstairs. I went and up top was a winebar. But it was closed at the time, and there was no one up there. After I finished I came out and wanted to take pictures of a quaint, closely confined shop, but then a staff member came up at that time. She asked if I was alright, but not in a very friendly way. I think I was weirding her out by taking pictures. I stopped and left, embarrassed, but not before buying a chocolate bar to try and ease my guilt of using their restroom.

We walked for a bit longer, checking out the shops and periodically getting drizzled on. We were about to leave Galway, as nothing of great interest seemed to be grabbing our attentions, but then we wandered into a sort of hidden mall. Inside was a heraldry shop, and as a gift I bought a nice parchment of heraldry for the last name of my friend that originally drove us to the airport in Illinois. Johnathon also purchased one of our last name, which was interesting to read. I’d like to check the sources of the information, but it looks like solid information.

I saw a Burger King in the mall, I checked out the menu, and noted that the cheapest meal deal they had was & euros. Seemed kind of expensive to me. I will mention here that I still haven’t had a burger yet on this whole trip. I’ve been doing my best to avoid the U.S. chain stores, because of course they are everywhere.

Then Johnathon bought a old style big fancy key, just for a souvenir, and we were more or less done in the mall.

Before leaving Galway we decided to look at this small and funny closed carnival ride area. They had their gates open but were obviously not up for business. A group of five kids went inside and I saw one or two workers inside with vests. I couldn’t figure out what was going on, but I had swung by the car at this point and the rain was less, so I took pictures and videos.

Notice the Ferris Wheel is moving, but no passengers.

Video: – Galway Carnival Rides: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aWzp3zRijEw

After checking later, it turns out the place is called “Funderland”.

The city was constructed oddly. Right after the carnival section was an old graveyard we got to wander around inside, and then was a docking yard right next to the widening Corrib River. Carnival, graveyard, docking yard. It was an odd aesthetic.

Happy to have done some of the gift shopping we had wanted to do, and finally getting a chance to wander around a graveyard, we left Galway.

We hung around the cabin enjoying the accommodations until we went out for dinner at the Village Inn. After dinner was an Irish dancing thing that we didn’t really know much about. It turned out to be a girl teaching Sean-nos dancing to a group of locals. Sean-nos is a type of traditional Irish dance.

I’ll note here that my overall experience in Ireland is that it is full of old people. I don’t quite understand it. It’s like they ship away their young people until they are of a right and proper age of 50+ and then ship them back. The ratio between the young and old seems to be quite different in Ireland than it feels in other places I’ve been. Even Florida.

Sean-nos dancing was really interesting to learn about. We didn’t partake of the dance lessons though. I have a hard enough time ever getting myself to dance (though I was quite tempted) but Johnathon definitely wasn’t going to and then we would have been the one and only person sitting off to the side.

Sean-nos is more of a freestyle dance than the other Irish dance types. It specifically isn’t choreographed, and apparently developed when music and even instruments was outlawed in Ireland by Queen Elizabeth the first. The queen felt that Celtic music reminded the Irish too much of their pre-occupation period and stirred up the emotions for rebellious behavior. Musicians would be arrested on site and hung. The oppression of Irish culture lasted for over a hundred years. The people of the time were afraid of losing the timing and beat of the music since they weren’t allowed to play the instruments and pass them down to younger generations. But a style of dance called Sean-nos came about to imitate the music. Basically you are playing a song with your feet, and it is lovely to watch a live and skilled dancer go at it. It really was a treat.

That was our day. Tomorrow we are getting up early and going to Bunratty Castle.

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Bunratty Castle is Ireland’s most complete and authentic medieval fortress according to their heritage site. The folk park is a reconstruction of homes and environment of Ireland over a century ago. They light a fire in the fireplaces and let people wander around. At some point they are supposed to have performers inside doing traditional chores and activities but during the time we were there, there were no performers. We went early so we could avoid the masses that come later according to reviews. I think that was a better choice, and allowed us to hit another tourist spot later in the day.

The castle was pretty cool. They had a lot of the rooms labeled and appropriately furnished and decorated. Many of the side rooms and bedrooms were barred off, but you could still see everything inside. The great hall was great for the imagination.

Video – Bunratty Castle: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RAkwRoV9Kos

There was the added suspense of having a large horde of barbarian children grouped together behind us. We tried to stay one or two sections ahead of them, and were fortunately given lots of time as they were valiantly delayed by the guards of the castle (tour guides assembling the kids into one room after the other and talking to them for awhile about the history). Yet a couple times we could hear their excited war-cry not far behind us and we knew we had to get moving.

Something to be aware of- castles are not accessible to the physically disabled, those with weak grips, bad footing, those who can’t fit in surprisingly narrow passage ways, are afraid of heights… or afraid of children.

We got a couple silly pictures as well, like of Johnathon trying to use his souvenir key in one of the locks in the old doors. (Not surprisingly, it didn’t work.)

After the castle we walked around the folk park. By the end of it I was tired of breathing in the air from the smoky little buildings. The folk park was a bit bigger than I had original presumed and it had nice little walkways and bridges. Various animals were around. Cows, horses, pigs, roosters, sheep, deer. They had a little church with an audio track of churchly music. It was a pleasant wandering around.

Video – Folk Park Outside of Bunratty Castle: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0FVf0dcEGCs

Video – Church in Folk Park: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T0i2clM1Gtc

We left Bunratty and checked out a “Woolen Mills” (these stores are all over the place here. They have a lot of crafts, clothing, house wares, ect…) but there wasn’t anything of interest to us. Oddly there was one random human statue guy hanging around outside.

We drove on toward Cashel…

Cashel means “fort on a hill” but it is also the name of the town that The Rock of Cashel is in. The location for The Rock of Cashel is the site that a cashel use to be but is no longer, and instead there is a big ruined cathedral up there called The Rock (Or St. Patrick’s Rock). A “fort on a hill” is apparently not a castle either, according to them. While The Rock is in Cashel, it is not a castle, and it’s not a cashel, nor has there ever been a castle in Cashel, but there was once a cashel. You follow me?

Okay, so I tried to make that confusing, but everything I said is accurate (probably).

It is a wonderful site though.

The building itself is great to look at, but just the location deserves an equal amount of attention. It was beautiful gazing at the countryside from up there. It was very windy, so me and Johnathon enjoyed that a great deal, and the graveyard up there is one of the prettier ones you could find.

Video – Rock of Cashel View of the Countryside: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oG3SWIJHGF4

Video – Inside The Rock of Cashel: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xz9HERIIzUg

After walking around a bit we went on the short guided tour of The Rock and learned some of it’s interesting history. Other tidbits like the murders and massacres that went on up there, and how it is fabled that a chunk of mountain 20 miles north was bitten into (‘cause it looks like a chunk of that mountain is missing) by the devil as he flew across the land and then spat out the stone on the location of The Rock. Also that St. Patrick’s cross can be hopped around backwards with one foot 9(?) times, and if you do that you will be engaged to be married within a year.

Offsite and clearly visible from the hill was an old ruined abbey set off in its own field. We went down to check that out.

The ruins of the abbey were great. They were a playground of stone, I climbed up on the walls and sat for awhile just taking it in. The surrounding field was very serene, especially with the sun and weather we were having. It was drizzly and sunny at the same time, but very beautiful sky. But I did not enjoy the abbey nearly as much as Johnathon did. There were very few people around and Johnathon was all over the place. Literally smiling, climbing and running all over the place. I played around with a couple goofy videos I made there and we hung out for as long as we could before our parking meter was up. So far, I think that might have been the highest point of the journey for Johnathon. It was great to see him so lively and happy.

Video – Hore Abbey – Part 1 of 4: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4P0Y-GUxSII

Video – Hore Abbey – Part 2 of 4: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yRSiQoGYGf8

 

Video – Hore Abbey – Part 3 of 4: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ntHxD8o_VF8

 

Video – Hore Abbey – Part 4 of 4: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BK3Zh8e0I7o

Not much to say after that. Oh, before we saw The Rock or the abbey we ate lunch in Cashel. I forgot the name of the place but the food was excellent. I had a meat and pasta dish that was called something I had never heard of before. And then for desert we had something else that I had never heard of before that was equally as good. It was a strawberry, strawberry sherbet, and some sort of tasty spongy meringue. That probably isn’t as helpful without the names of the dishes, oh well. It was practically empty while we were there.

After our visit to cashel we drove home and are heading to bed early. I am thankful that we get to sleep in tomorrow.

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Good slow morning, and then at 11am we went to ride a horse named Sam.

Mike, the husband of Olive and owner of the cottage we are renting had offered to let us ride a horse for free when we wanted. We took him up on that offer.

Sam is a big horse. He is an Irish Draft, and has a vibrant golden brown coat of fur. Mike had an employee ride him around for a little bit to use up some of Sam’s initial energy, in hopes of making him less likely to be wild with me and my brother.

Sam is a beautiful horse and was a good sport about the whole thing. I got outfitted with a helmet, leg guards and a vest (to protect my ribs in case I am thrown against a fence or something). Johnathon took a picture of my dorky self and then I jumped up on Sam.

Video – Me Riding a Horse Named Sam: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KiI4x_iqWrI

I did not feel like I was in control. I just tried not to upset the horse, and gently attempted to steer him as Mike had instructed. We had a nice sand arena to go around. I didn’t want to ride the horse to travel anywhere. I just wanted the experience of being on a horse, basically. I had been on a horse a while back, but it has been over 5 years and I don’t remember it too well. I think I was recovering from mono at that time of that ride.

Sam attempted to start a trot for a second, but I freaked out, not feeling like I would be able to hang on and I pulled the reins to slow him down. I went around a few times and felt good about the experience. Johnathon got outfitted next and up on the horse. Things seemed to go smoothly for him too, though neither of us were able to steer Sam very well.

Video – My Brother Riding a Horse: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3l5R0k4xunc

I was very happy for the opportunity, and it was very nice of Mike to do that for us for free.

Me and Johnathon weren’t sure of what to do afterward. We had planned to go looking for the ruins of a castle that we believed was up the mountain nearby, but found out it wasn’t up there. Mike and Olive said “You can see the ruins of the castle up on the mountain.” But that didn’t mean the ruins were up there, only that we could see them FROM up there. The ruins of the castle was in the valley below, with the implication that it was not accessible. So me and my brother needed to come up with a new plan. I wasn’t too enamored with the idea of doing a lot more driving, but there wasn’t anything to do unless we drove to it. Especially with the cost of gas so high (equivalently $9.60 per gallon), I was hesitant to do any extra driving. In the end though, I couldn’t think of anything to do locally after my brother shot down the idea of the both of us trying to get drunk. So, we decided to take Mike’s suggestion and drive to see the Connemara Mountains.

Along the way, a little ways past Galway, we saw a sign that pointed off the main road and said Aughnanure Castle, so we went there. It had started raining a bit more since we had ridden the horse, but it would come and go. Just about all the landscape of Ireland is lovely, and doubly so when they try to make it lovely. The grounds around the castle were very nice, but not extensive like Blarney Castle’s were. It was only one Euro per person to get in but we had to go back to the car to find a two Euro coin. I was all out of cash and needed to swing by another ATM. We got in though and looked at the simple and few remaining ruins of the castle. I am still interested by the history of these places. Always trying to imagine the original setting. That place was just as interesting to think about as the others.

Medieval Toilet

Video – Outside Aughnanure Castle: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MUAdCzwjYbA

Video – Inside Aughnanure Castle: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fA_wo1MQwC8

The drizzling rain was annoying and hard to avoid. So I had a hard time taking pictures, but still managed to get some. When we left I was still not done with the rain however, oh no.

We drove further west, toward the Connemara Mountains. It was pretty rainy and there wasn’t much visibility. It was starting to not be worth it for me. The time and effort of driving with little to show for it, not to mention the gas money. We stopped to eat the lunch we brought, bananas and bread with honey. I mischievously rolled down Johnathon’s passenger window when he was looking out, mischievous because the wind and rain was blowing pretty strong right into his window. Gave him a wet surprise. Haha.

We continued on and while there was a few nice lakes we could see, but it wasn’t all that special. So I stopped. I was upset with the excess driving and the seeming pointlessness of it. The plan was that I’d be driving for 6 hours tomorrow going to the Burren Forest, and at least 3 hours the day after that. We were supposed to have at least one day of not driving and using up the expensive gas. I just didn’t think it was worth it seeing the low hanging rain clouds anymore. Johnathon was trying to encourage me, saying he was enjoying the landscape even with the limited visibility and that he would like a better chance to see the mountains. I had trouble deciding, but according to the map it wasn’t much further until we were supposed to be right next to the main section of the mountains. We had driven this far, it would be silly to go back at this point. So I grumpily continued on, hoping there would be something to make it worth it.

It did become more mountainous, even if we couldn’t see very much of it. It wasn’t much, but I decided to turn down a side road that seemed to go directly into the mountainous part. It was a very thin and bumpy road that we’d have to figure out a way to back up and find a spot off to the side if a car came at us. One car did come the other direction but luck had it that there was a side spot for them to allow us to pass. We kept going, and as we got deeper it became more intriguing. The misty mountain side became very quiet, with the occasional sound of sheep. We crossed a scary small stone bridge and had an open space to turn around if we needed. We parked there.

Video – Drive up The Connemara Mountain: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9-zQ-k42rk0

We had just come up to the edge of a little forest section. I guess it could have been a very big forest section, I’m not sure. We got out and it was still drizzling, but I eventually decided to pull out my camera and risk trying to take pictures anyway.

I love my camera, the Canon Rebel T2i, and the Tamron 18-200mm lens (it was the cheapest lens I could get with that convenient of a focal range). They’ve both taken abuse from banging around and various degrees of moisture. I’ve tried to be kind to them, but with as much use as I’ve gotten from them, they are bound to wear. They still look great and operate flawlessly (although the autofocus on the Tamron isn’t the greatest), and the lens doesn’t seem to be scratching despite how often I’ve wiped at the lens to remove water droplets and smudges.

The area was very atmospheric. It created a… lost feeling. Being on a path that is barely a road in the middle of the mountains, with very little sound except for the grinding of gravel from your car tires to bounce and muffle against the foggy mist. Just knowing we were hidden away in a random spot in a foreign country. I enjoyed the feeling.

We parked and began to explore on foot up a diverging road that went into the forest. The road was about 4 feet deep (lower in elevation) in comparison to the ground and trees at either side of us, so we went on the road for a while and tried to find an easier way to get up into the trees. We found one and came up to a stream. The same stream that went under the bridge that we passed over with the car. Since we knew where it flowed downward, we followed it upstream. The forest was pretty thick with trees, and the ground was simply odd. It had little mounds, made out of mostly vegetation I would wager, and were very soft but lumpy and spaced every few feet. There would be random rocks hidden under the soft lumpy ground that loved to surprise your ankles. It was hard to walk through and very wet. It was still this blowing drizzling mist, but being in the trees we no longer had to worry about the smaller droplets. Instead we would get less frequent but bigger droplets, and when a gust of wind would come by it would be worse than being out in the open.

Video – Forest in the Connemara Mountains – Part 1 of 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bEoHTPyKIas

It was very beautiful. I’m thrilled that I keep seeing these new type of landscapes I had never quite seen before. It was like a moist and lumpy enchanted forest. We left the stream and went through the darker areas. We came out to this brighter area. It was still thick with trees, but there was this double line of baby trees that hadn’t grown too high, like a pathway had at one point been cut through years ago. We were attempting to swing back around where we thought the road would be, but were not having luck. At this  point getting lost seemed a possibility so we decided to spend the time to go back to the stream and follow it down back to where we started.

Video – Forest in the Connemara Mountains – Part 1 of 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5deR2DdVbrk

We got back. We were very wet. I hope my camera innards are holding up. My feet were completely soaked after lumbering through the soft ankle twisting forest. My cotton jacket was really wet too, but not yet soaking.

We got back to the car and decided to head home.

Video – Short View of the Forest in the Connemara Mountains: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kp9gKwGd6i0

I did enjoy my experience up there, and I am happy to see my brother really liked it too. It was still a lot of expense to get there, and I know it would have been mostly disappointing to head back when I was thinking about it. I’m glad that I turned off on the road I did. I’m glad the rain didn’t stop us from enjoying the landscape.

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