Ireland Part 2

September 4th, 2011

Finally, I’m getting around to posting part 2 of our Ireland trip. There’s still so much of our trip left, but I’ll try not to ramble too much.

I left us in Claregalway so I’ll pick up there.

Claregalway is a very small town so we didn’t spend any time there aside from staying in the hotel. After getting a good night’s rest we decided to make our first day in the area an adventure out to the Aran Islands. I had been there once before but  wanted to go again and it was one of the places K really wanted to see.

We had to drive about an hour to get to the ferry. K was nervous again to get back behind the wheel, but substantially less than the day before. Once we were out for a little bit he was fine. We had our first real experience with how much the locals like to speed. We actually got honked at while someone was passing us because we were going the speed limit. That was a first for both of us.

The drive was really pretty and took as along the outskirts of Galway (woo for yet more Irish construction) and then along parts of Galway Bay. It’s not quite as green on the west coast of Ireland, more rugged and beautiful in a different way.

The ferry ride was pretty uneventful. There seemed to be a class of teenagers or something headed out that day so it was pretty crowded. We got a window seat though, so that was nice.

Once on the island (Inis Mor, the biggest of the three islands) we debated over whether to take a guided tour in a van, or rent bikes. We decided that we would be good and rent the bikes. It gave us plenty of time to take in the scenery and let us go where we wanted when we wanted. It had been quite some time since either of us had been on a bike though, and the island has it’s fair share of steep hills. Fun for going down, not so much for going up. Armed with a map showing the major sites we took off from the main town and spent the next few hours exploring.

Our first stop was to see the only seal colony on the island, and rest, and admire the view over flowering fields and rock walls and blue water. Almost the entire island is covered in rock walled fields, it’s really amazing and very pretty. It must have taken years of work, but what else can you do considering how rocky the island is.

Our ultimate goal was Dún Aonghasa, a prehistoric stone fort sitting right on the edge of a cliff. It was really impressive. The view from the cliffs was amazing, and a little scary. It’s quite a straight drop into deep water beating against sheer cliffs.

After that it was back to the bikes and a ride up a large hill, by which I mean some riding and some walking and pushing the bikes. Way to make me feel out of shape. Before we started the big climb we stopped at the beach and had a snack, but we couldn’t put off the hill forever. I did get to see a baby horse, he was super cute, so that was nice.

Since our options for getting back to the mainland were to either leave after two hours or stay for six, we decided two hours wasn’t enough. That meant we could take our time. We had a good time riding down the giant hill back into town and then decided that we should ride out to the other side of the island and see if we could find what they say is the smallest church in the world.

This part of our ride was a bit stressful. We must have picked the exact time that a car ferry landed or something because we met a huge string of cars on a very narrow road. There was a steep little hill and we just had to hope that no one was going to come down and not see us. This part of the ride wasn’t that great in the end. We think we found the church but it was up on a hill with no discernible way to get to it. We took a picture and went back to town.

Once in town we turned the bikes in and decided to eat in one of the restaurants in town while we waited for the ferry. The meal was pretty good and it was nice to not be sitting on a hard bike seat. I was already sore and it was only going to be worse the next day.

After a long day of riding through rain and sun and up and down hills we were ready to be done for the day. We napped on the ferry ride back, so I assume nothing cool happened.

The next day we decided that instead of going in to Galway and spending the day in the city we would drive around the country side and see some of the sites. This included the Cliffs of Moher (or the Cliffs of Insanity as K liked to call them) and the Burren.

The Cliffs of Moher I had been to, but they are one of the things you should see if you visit Ireland (and especially if you are a Princess Bride fan). The best part was the cow grazing at the top of the cliffs (the cow of insanity as K named it).

We decided to drive around the Burren after. It is a very different landscape than one normally thinks of in Ireland. Lots of gray rock, but very beautiful. We decided to stop at Ailwee Cave and take a tour. Inside they have discovered the skeleton of an ancient cave bear, which is pretty cool. Along with the Cave there was also a Birds of Prey aviary. So we decided why not.

The aviary had a bunch of really neat birds. Owls and condors and eagles. There was a very playful raven who was quite fun to watch. I’ve never seen a bird roll over on its back before. We happened to be there for the last flying of the day as well which was really neat.

First they brought out hawks and showed us how they maneuver and how intelligent they are. Next was a Peregrine Falcon. The speed they can get when they dive is insane. Finally they brought out the buzzards.

They aren’t the most graceful birds in the world. One had a little crash on his way into the arena. At the end the guy led one of them through the bleachers so people could see it up close. He set a piece of meat down next to me which promptly got me whacked me in the head with a wing, so that was different.

We left that afternoon pleasantly surprised, and headed back to Claregalway for the night.

The next day was our first anniversary. We checked out and headed south. It was a pretty drive, and we got some adventure trying to figure out how to avoid toll roads around Limerick. This of course meant we ended up being slightly lost driving through the city instead of taking the much easier and more expensive route around.

Our final destination that day was Ballyseede Castle Hotel. This was our gift to ourselves for our anniversary night. We splurged a little but it was a really nice night. Our room was huge and the bed was huge. We ate dinner in their bar – they had multi-course meals that they served but we decided that we didn’t need to splurge that much. The “bar” food we ate was pretty impressive though. I had giant mushrooms stuffed with yummy cheese. We only stayed one night here, it was a bit fancier in some ways than we were used to but it was a pretty awesome way to spend our anniversary.

The grounds around the castle were really beautiful. The driveway was big and long and overhung by huge green trees. You couldn’t actually see the building when you turned it. There were little statues around. It was a pretty awesome entrance. We went for a walk down it that evening and it was so peaceful and at the end we got rained on so that was pretty typical.

The next day we headed into Killarney, our last stop before it was back to Dublin and home. On the way we drove down around the Dingle Peninsula. I think if K had had any idea what the road was going to be like part way through, we may not have done it. But luckily he had no idea and it turned into a pretty awesome time. The Dingle Peninsula is really gorgeous.  Coming from the north we had to cross Connors Pass. It was a tiny one lane road over the top of a mountain (albeit a small mountain by our standards). If a car happened to be coming the opposite direction than one of you would have to move as far over as possible to the rock wall (literally a rock cliff wall on one side and a man made rock wall on the other) and wait for the other person to inch past. It was hilarious.

We got to the top and stopped at the pull out so we could look at the views. It was so incredibly windy up there. You had to shout to be heard and lean into the wind just to move. I was slightly terrified to get back into the car as I had visions of losing fingers to the car door.

After, we drove down into Dingle (the town) and then drove the loop at the end of the peninsula. The west coast of Ireland is really spectacular. On the way back through Dingle we drove down a little street and I saw the ice cream shop that I had stopped in years earlier while there with friends. It had the most delicious Bailey’s Irish Ice Cream. We didn’t stop though and I was a little sad.

We made it to Killarney and like the hero I am, we didn’t have any directions to the hotel. We drove around a while hoping to get lucky, and then pulled over and Kevin saved the day by realizing the road the we were looking for and one of the roads we had passed were actually the same thing with two different names. Thanks Ireland!

Our hotel was pretty nice, a little fancy for our tastes but hey we got a good deal on it. Want to guess the best surprise Killarney had waiting for me? The little ice cream shop from Dingle had expanded and had a shop in Killarney now! We had to eat there twice while we were in town, and even K had to admit it was delicious.

We spent most of the next day in Killarney National Park. There was rain, and not rain, and once or twice even some sun. But then more rain. Keep in mind the rain would only last about as long as it took me to open my umbrella. We walked out to Ross Castle, but we didn’t go in. The walk itself was nice enough. We got to see a crazy lady having conversations with the ducks around the castle, so that was fun in an awkward way. We tried to keep going but the park is kind of confusing and the paths don’t connect the whole thing. We ended up walking down a long road out of the park trying to see if we could find a way to another section but eventually gave up and went back and walked back to town. On returning to the hotel we promptly found out that the road we were on actually led almost straight to our hotel so we were probably almost back by the time we turned around.

It was a really nice day, and we spent the evening wandering around town and went back to the hotel bar for dinner as usual. Bar food in Ireland is pretty awesome, just saying.

The next day we packed up to head back to Dublin. We had one important stop on the way – Blarney Castle. You can’t go to Ireland without visiting it. This was my third time, but of course this time I had K who would not let me get away without kissing the stupid stone for the first time. You have to climb all the way to the top of the castle, stand in a long line, lay down and lean backwards over a giant drop straight to the ground with an old guy holding on to you and kiss a rock thousands of other people have kissed. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.  Oh but did I mention that by this point I was sick – yeah, great.

After kissing the stone we wandered around the grounds which are actually really nice. We got to see the poison garden where they have a ton of poisonous plants. We walked through the fairy glen and saw the druids circle and sacrificial stone and the witch’s kitchen. K even walked up and down the witch’s steps and made a wish (with his eyes closed and going backwards on the way back up). It was awesome.

From there it was on to Dublin. Once again we had an adventure skipping toll roads and we had to keep stopping at gas stations because we couldn’t estimate how much gas we needed to get to Dublin and we were supposed to return the car empty. Once to Dublin we got fantastically lost. The directions I did look up completely failed us and Dublin really likes to not mark all the streets at intersections. I’m not at all sure how but ended up across the river at the Guinness Brewery which is practically the opposite side of the town from the car rental place. On the bright side, by this point I was actually able to figure out where the heck we were on the map and we eventually made it back to drop the car off, even if we were like half an hour late.

After that we had to walk our bags back across the city to find our hotel for the night. A less than fun endeavor when you’re sick and tired and stressed from Dublin traffic (which wasn’t any nicer than they day we left). We finally found our hotel right in the middle of Temple Bar. As you can probably guess, we ate in the hotel bar that night. It was good and even better was the fact that K got his Guinness for free because the hotel gave us vouchers for two free drinks if we went before a certain time.

We had to be at the airport early the next morning, so we decided to spring for a cab just for peace of mind instead of trying to figure out the buses at 4 in the morning. Our trip was finally over and it was a bit sad, but we had some good things to come home too, so it wasn’t all bad. The part where I had to fly sick though…that was kinda bad.

Also, as an end note, I would like to mention that almost every bathtub in Ireland tried to kill me, or at least maim me. They are really tall for some reason which meant I came home with bruises all over my knees. At least one tried to kill me by making me slide and almost fall over the incredibly tall side.

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