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Well, our trip to Ireland has come and gone and it’s time to focus on exploring our home state of Colorado! We live in one of the most beautiful places in the world and yet there is much of this state that we have never seen.

In an effort to change that, we have decided (after talking about the idea for a few years now) that we will begin hiking Colorado’s 14ers…that is, the 52 peaks in Colorado which have summits at least 14,000 feet above sea level. We have both been to the top of Pike’s Peak when we were younger, but the fact that you can drive all the way to the top seems to diminish the accomplishment slightly. Thus, we are starting with a clean slate and will keep track here on the blog as to our progress of summiting these various mountains.

Some perspective as to the location of Mount Bierstadt...this is one of the most easily accessible Fourteeners in Colorado and is thus quite popular.

Some perspective as to the location of Mount Bierstadt…this is one of the most easily accessible Fourteeners in Colorado and is thus quite popular.

Our journey began today with a climb to the top of supposedly one of the easier and more accessible of the 14ers, Mount Bierstadt. We woke up at 5:30am and we’re officially on the road (after stopping for gas and some breakfast burritos) by 6:20am heading towards the small town of Georgetown in the mountains.

We drove up the winding road behind town (taking a detour to avoid roads closed for some sort of event, probably a charity run) and arrived at the already quite full parking lot at the base of Mount Bierstadt just before 7:30am. We found parking along the side of the road and, after a quick stop at the lovely restroom facility (maybe lovely is a bit strong!) and a minor incident with sunscreen and large changes in atmospheric pressure, set off along the trail.

A lake near the base of Mount Bierstadt.

A lake near the base of Mount Bierstadt.

The first part of the hike crosses some marshy land and has several sections of boardwalk to make this easier. The trail is hemmed in on both sides by scraggly willow bushes (not to be confused with the weeping willow trees with which we both grew up). Along the way, we crossed a small stream by walking across logs and fortunately neither of us fell in!

The "bridge" to cross the stream at the base of the mountain.

The “bridge” to cross the stream at the base of the mountain.

As we began to gain elevation, we passed several pairs of people in hard hats carrying large logs up the mountain. We certainly did not relish their task but do definitely appreciate the work of these volunteers (we assume, anyway) to help maintain the trail. Fortunately for them, they only had to take the logs part of the way to the summit.

We don't envy these workers carrying large logs halfway up the mountain.

We don’t envy these workers carrying large logs halfway up the mountain.

Mount Bierstadt is also one of the 14ers considered to be puppy friendly and we saw no shortage of dogs along the way. Naturally, Philip stopped to say hi to almost all of them including a pair that looked a lot like Niko and Kali. We should also point out that the trail was quite crowded and we estimate about 1000 people climbed the mountain today!

It's late June, but this small lake on the back side of the mountain is still frozen!

It’s late June, but this small lake on the back side of the mountain is still frozen!

The view of the Rocky Mountains from the summit of Mount Bierstadt.

The view of the Rocky Mountains from the summit of Mount Bierstadt.

The climb was definitely challenging, but we reached the rocky summit at around 10:30am after scrambling up the last section of huge boulders. We spent a while taking in the breathtaking views with the hundred or so other people gathered on the summit. Before descending, we took a picture with a very nice looking sign on a pole (gave the name of the mountain and the elevation) that we learned a random person had made and brought up to the summit with him. We also realized at this point that we had forgotten our Which Wich sandwich bag and thus will not be earning our free sandwich for taking a picture with the bag on the summit of a 14er.

Two exhausted and happy hikers on top of Mount Bierstadt. Some other random hiker made this awesome sign and was allowing people to take pictures with it...too bad the elevation is off by 5 feet.

Two exhausted and happy hikers on top of Mount Bierstadt. Some other random hiker made this awesome sign and was allowing people to take pictures with it…too bad the elevation is off by 5 feet.

The trip down was significantly faster, although still hard on the legs as we had to keep from tumbling down the mountain. We made it back to the car at 12:40, for a round trip time of 5 hours and 10 minutes, which is on par according to the internet.

Looking back towards the mountain we conquered!

Looking back towards the mountain we conquered!

Our drive home was hindered by major construction in Denver on an I-70 bridge that reduced 3 lanes of traffic to a single lane, but we eventually made it back, exhausted but thrilled to have conquered our first Colorado mountain.

We’re not sure which 14er we will attempt to summit next and we learned the painful lesson that some amount of preparatory training might be in order. We will definitely keep updating here as we explore not just the rest of the world, but our own beautiful Colorado as well!

UPDATE: The day after we hiked Bierstadt, a group of experienced hikers were struck by lightning at 11:30am on the trail below the summit. All the people survived but a German shepherd who was right next to the guy who took the direct strike was killed. It is a scary reminder of how volatile the weather in the Colorado mountains can be and how vital it is to watch the weather closely and err on the side of caution when hiking.

Our hiking path, complete with an elevation profile and velocity tracking...it's amazing what can be done these days with a cheap GPS tracker and some free GoogleEarth software!

Our hiking path, complete with an elevation profile and velocity tracking…it’s amazing what can be done these days with a cheap GPS tracker and some free GoogleEarth software!

Stats:

  • Mountain and Summit Elevation: Mount Bierstadt (14,060 feet)
  • Total Distance Traveled: 133.7 miles
  • Distance on Foot: 7.3 miles
  • Vertical Distance on Foot: 2,810 feet

Conquered 14ers Tally:

  • 2015-06-27: Mount Bierstadt (14,060 feet)

*** Check out the first post of our trip to Ireland and read them in order! ***

We woke up an hour earlier than normal at 6:15am and quickly packed the rest of our belongings. Our hostess had kindly offered to have breakfast ready for us at 7am, 30 minutes earlier than normal, so that we could eat before leaving for our flight. She served us a wonderful final Irish breakfast of bacon, sausage, fried egg, toast, and even some black pudding that Philip had requested.

Our route for the day.

Our route for the day.

As we finished our meal, we spoke with her for a few minutes and then backed carefully out of her driveway and set off towards the airport. We stopped for fuel and found our way to the rental car return without any incident.

We had a brief moment of panic when in line to check in for our flight because of a sign attached to the top of one of the stanchions indicating that passengers on our flight needed to be through security by 8:15am (it was now 8:07am). However, neither the ticket agent nor security agents seemed concerned so neither were we.

We found it interesting that Dublin airport has its own US Customs area and so we actually passed through US Customs while still on the ground in Dublin. This means that we did not have to do customs when we landed in Chicago later. Our flight left on time and 8 hours later we landed at Chicago O’Hare.

Due to incredibly rainy weather in Chicago for most of the day, the airport was a crowded mess. Our 2.5 hour layover was already at 4 hours by the time we landed from Dublin. We had lunch at Chili’s in the airport and sat next to two guys who were recording sports-related soundbites on an iPhone. Not sure exactly what was going on but it sounded like one of the guys was a commentator of some sort and was giving insightful comments about the NBA championship series.

At one point, we boarded our plane, only to be stuck there since the lightning prevented the ground crew from doing their necessary tasks before we could depart. When given the option to deboard, we returned to the terminal rather than continue to sit cramped in our seats. We hung out near the wall directly across from our gate, about 30 feet or so from the boarding door.

Eventually, the weather cleared enough and were able to reboard our plane, though we didn’t realize this was the case at first. We were very thankful when a fellow patron whom we had spoken with about the delays earlier came and informed us that the plane was reboarding. Although we could see the activity at the gate, there were so many people loitering directly in front of the door that it wasn’t obvious what was happening. Furthermore, the PA system for the gate apparently didn’t stretch into the high-ceilinged area where we stood and we feasibly could have missed our flight without the lady’s help. Frustratingly, the large crowd of people in front of the boarding door was almost entirely passengers for the next flight, whose plane was obviously not even at the gate yet because our plane was still there!

Because of the long delay (our original 2.5 hour layover had turned into a 6 hour layover), the airline gave free access to the inflight DirectTV screens on the back of each seat. Philip was very excited because this meant he could watch Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Blackhawks and Lightning. Unfortunately, he was so tired that he fell asleep almost immediately and missed all but the last 2 minutes of the game!

We finally made it home at about 10pm and we’re greeted by two very excited puppies! A few minutes later, we climbed into bed and instantly passed out as our internal clocks thought it was 5am.

Now for the summary of our trip and some interesting revelations. First, it took us no more than a few hours on the ground in Dublin to realize that the 20 dollars spent on the Tom Tom app for the smartphone was the best money we spent on this entire trip. Rather than wasting time getting lost, asking for directions, and becoming very frustrated with the total lack of street signs in Ireland, we instead had the lovely voice of Samantha to guide us on our way. It was a great comfort knowing that we could never get too lost.

Second, we have officially confirmed that we really, really, really, really like castles! Whether they are still in ruins or have been restored, we are fascinated by the history and the architecture of these incredible structures. Our favorite castle of the trip is probably Blarney Castle, not because of kissing the famous stone, but because of how we were able to explore multiple different rooms tucked away around the building and we used several of the original spiral stone staircases to get around.

Blarney Castle on a beautiful day...of all the castles we saw in Ireland, this was our favorite one to explore.

Blarney Castle on a beautiful day…of all the castles we saw in Ireland, this was our favorite one to explore.

Third, we realized near the end of our trip that with the sky not getting actually dark until 11pm and the sun rising well before we would awake each morning, Rose never actually saw darkness while we were in Ireland! Prior to arriving, it had never occurred to us how far north Ireland is located and the implications of visiting near the summer solstice.

What follows is a categorized summary of the different things we saw on our journey around Ireland. We really enjoyed our trip and would highly recommend a visit to Ireland to any fellow travelers. We would also definitely recommend renting a car and exploring different parts of the country. Besides, everyone should have the simultaneously joyful and terrifying experience of driving on the wrong side of the road with a stone wall centimeters from the passenger mirror and a coach bus (or tractor) coming down the road!

Thanks for following along with us and we hope to be back sooner rather than later writing about our next adventure somewhere else on this magnificent planet we call Earth!

Stats:

  • Total Distance Traveled: 11.83 km
  • Distance on Foot: 6.57 km | 8,902 steps

 

The geographical summation of our trip around Ireland. We ultimately drove almost 2,400 kilometers, which is the distance from Denver, Colorado to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania!

The geographical summation of our trip around Ireland. We ultimately drove almost 2,400 kilometers, which is the distance from Denver, Colorado to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania!

Attraction Summary:

  • Castles:
    • Outside Only
      • Dublin
      • Dalkey
      • Kenmore Abbey
    • Inside
      • Kilkenny
      • Rock of Cashel
      • Cahir Castle
      • Blarney Castle
      • Donegal Castle
      • Dunluce Castle
      • Trim Castle
    • Natural Wonders:
      • Stephen’s Green
      • Powerscourt Gardens
      • Powerscourt Waterfall
      • Military Road and Sally Gap
      • Glendalough
      • Dunmore Caves
      • Ring of Kerry
      • Lakes of Killarney
      • Dingle Peninsula
      • Crossing the River Shannon on the ferry
      • Cliffs of Moher
      • The Burren
      • Sky Road
      • Loch Gill and Dooney Rock
      • Slieve League
      • Giant’s Causeway
      • Green fields with more sheep than we’ve ever seen
    • Manmade Wonders:
      • Guinness Storehouse
      • Cork Butter Museum?
      • Blarney Castle Poison Garden
      • Carrick-a-rede rope bridge
      • Newgrange
      • Thousands of stone walls, some closer to the car than desired
      • The Wheel of Dublin…NOT!
    • Churches, etc.
      • Dublin
        • Patrick’s Cathedral
        • Christ’s Church Cathedral
      • Kilkenny
        • St Mary’s Cathedral
        • Canice’s Cathedral
        • Jerpoint Abbey
      • Cork
        • Finn Barre’s Cathedral
        • Shandon Tower
      • Cohb
        • Coleman’s Cathedral
      • Armagh
        • Patrick’s Cathedral (Catholic)
        • Patrick’s Cathedral (Church of Ireland)

Grand Total Stats:

  • Grand Total Distance Traveled (not including flying): 2,385.6 km
    • Almost exactly the distance between Denver, Colorado and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
  • Grand Total Distance on Foot: 128.83 km | 174,587 steps
    • Equivalent to walking from our home in Broomfield, Colorado up Interstate-70 to the Keystone Ski Resort!

*** Check out the first post of our trip to Ireland and read them in order! ***

It’s finally here (unfortunately), our last real day of traveling around Ireland. We woke up at our normal time and went down for breakfast at 8am. After a hearty meal of toast, fried eggs, bacon, and sausage (sadly no pudding), we drove off into the center of Armagh to check out a few cathedrals. Being Sunday, we knew this might be challenging due to morning mass, but we hoped we could at least see the exteriors if nothing else.

Despite Armagh’s nickname, the Cathedral City, we had more trouble than expected finding the pair of St. Patrick’s Cathedrals (yes, both the Catholics and the Church of Ireland named their main church in the city after Ireland’s premier saint). We located Armagh’s catholic cathedral without too much challenge and parked nearby. The cathedral sits above the road on a hill with rolling terraces descending down from it to the road below. We were walking up the central steps taking photos, when a man who was walking along below us asked if we would like him to take a picture of us. We thought that was a splendid idea and showed him how to work the camera to accomplish such a task.

St. Patrick's Cathedral (the Catholic one) in Armagh. Believe it or not, this photo is not altered in any way...the colors were just that vivid in real life!

St. Patrick’s Cathedral (the Catholic one) in Armagh. Believe it or not, this photo is not altered in any way…the colors were just that vivid in real life!

After he took the photo, he mentioned that mass would beginning at 9am. We’re pretty sure he was one of the priests at the cathedral. While staying for mass was not in our itinerary, we did step inside to the back of the building for a few minutes to see the interior. Despite our best efforts, we passed through the two creakiest wooden doors on the face of the planet, so creaky as to be nearly comical because of the ridiculousness.

Since a handful of people were already arriving and seated in the pews, we thought it best not to walk around the interior taking photos. This unfortunately means that we only caught glimpses of the beautiful decorations inside the cathedral. The dominant feature we saw was the tile mosaicked walls, primarily with Celtic geometric patterns. The ceiling as well was covered in mosaic tiles and the morning light pouring in through the church’s many upper story windows (more than we’ve seen in most churches) lit up the features and made the colors quite vivid.

Check out the intricate mosaics on the ceiling inside St. Patrick's Cathedral. We would have taken a lot more pictures but mass was starting in just a few minutes.

Check out the intricate mosaics on the ceiling inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral. We would have taken a lot more pictures but mass was starting in just a few minutes.

We exited out the other side where a parishioner had just opened the doors using the automatic opener (less creaking!) and then did a lap of the building to see the rest of the exterior. After that, we returned to our car and went about trying to find the other main cathedral in Armagh, the much older one belonging to the Church of Ireland.

St. Patrick's Cathedral sitting atop its hill in Armagh.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral sitting atop its hill in Armagh.

After much searching, we eventually located this 11th century church on another hill in town and spent a few minutes admiring the architecture. Since church services had just begun, we did not venture inside. We’re both very torn on our feelings about new vs. old cathedrals. The old ones are interesting because they have stood the test of time for so long, though often they are not as ornately adorned. Newer cathedrals tend to have brighter colors and more impressive and intricate features, though we sometimes poo-poo them because they are so young. We do realize that we are being quite snobby in this way and that almost any cathedral we have seen here still easily predates the US Civil War so “young” is certainly a relative term.

The other St. Patrick's Cathedral, this one belonging to the Church of Ireland.

The other St. Patrick’s Cathedral, this one belonging to the Church of Ireland.

We returned again to our car and set off south to return to the country of Ireland and eventually Dublin. Again, we looked for signs of crossing the border back to Ireland but saw nothing official marking the boundary. We did however notice a stretch of road a few miles long where several of the bridges overhead we’re draped with UK flags. Philip also noticed a hidden turnoff from the highway marked “Police only”, followed very soon after by a similar turnoff marked “Garda only”. Since Garda is the term for the police force in Ireland, we are assuming the border lies there.

As far as we can tell, this is the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland...there were no signs!

As far as we can tell, this is the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland…there were no signs!

We continued on towards Dublin, through a toll booth where Philip had to awkwardly search for coins in his money belt tucked into his pants (not an easy feat when sitting with a seatbelt on). We also drove across a very modern and beautiful suspension bridge, which was an interesting change seeing something new after seeing so many ancient things on this trip. Just before 10:30am, we arrived at the visitor’s center for Newgrange and other nearby sites.

After a brief walk down a pergola-covered lane, we entered the visitor’s center to buy our tickets. The lady at the entrance asked if we wanted to see just one site or both. Since the both option (Newgrange and Knowth) would not have returned us to our car until about 2pm, we elected just for the Newgrange tour. The lady then abruptly stuck a sticker on each of our chests with “11:15am” printed on it, which was to be the time of our tour.

We were a bit taken aback at the 45 minute wait, but we learned later in the day from other tourists that we were fortunate. It is apparently not uncommon for people to have a several hour delay due to the limited number of people they can take into the site at a time. After paying for our tickets, we spent some time wandering around the visitor’s center, which is actually quite nicely done and has extensive displays.

Of most interest were displays where we could touch animal fur and then guess as to which animal it came from, as well as a teepee like structure with the most realistic artificial campfire we’ve ever seen inside of it. The fire was like many others with artificial logs and a flickering orange light. However, it also included a light fog machine rolling gently out of the top of the fire as well as sound effects of crackling. All in all, the combination of effects worked wonderfully.

When we had finished seeing the displays, we walked down a set of curving staircases and headed outside for the 5 minute walk to the bus stop. On the way, we passed grazing cows and crossed a river on an asymmetric suspension bridge. While we waited for the bus, we overheard one lady talking with a staff person and desperately trying to understand why she couldn’t get on a bus now since she was here and ready, even though her sticker said “11:45am”.

When our bus arrived, we got onboard as did enough people to fill every seat. The drive to Newgrange was bumpy, though thankfully only a few minutes long. We departed the bus and walked to the location where we were to wait for our guide, Paul.

The slim profile of Newgrange, one of the oldest buildings in the world dating back to around 3500 B.C.

The slim profile of Newgrange, one of the oldest buildings in the world dating back to around 3500 B.C.

Paul took our group of about 40 people over to some large vertical stones standing in front of the entrance to Newgrange and told us about the history of the site. Newgrange and other sites like it are among the oldest manmade structures not just in Ireland, but in the entire world. It is essentially an artificial hill made of stone with a single passageway ending in a large (6 meter diameter) central chamber. Historian believe Newgrange was constructed around 3500 years before Christ, though there is disagreement as to the purpose. It now seems clear that it was used both as a burial place as well as for some spiritual reasons due to the intentional alignment of the entrance towards the location of the Sun on the winter solstice.

The entrance of Newgrange leading inside to a chamber within the man-made hill.

The entrance of Newgrange leading inside to a chamber within the man-made hill.

Paul also explained that the site had lied dormant for over 4000 years as the Earth reclaimed the land and trees grew on top of the mound. To anyone above, it seemed like just another hill. It was rediscovered back in the 1800’s, and was exposed and somewhat restored in the 1960’s.

Since the internal chamber could only hold so many people, Paul split our group into two and took the first 20 people inside while the rest of us had some time to walk around and see the exterior. We did a lap of the building and noticed the interesting cantilevered stone ledge along the back half. We also spent some time looking at the enormous stone below the entrance that contains spiral-like carvings.

5500 year old carvings on the large rock marking the entrance to Newgrange.

5500 year old carvings on the large rock marking the entrance to Newgrange.

When the first group reemerged, we led the second pack through the narrow passageway, holding the backpack in front of us to avoid accidentally scraping any of the carvings on the walls. After 15 meters, we emerged into the vaulted central chamber where Paul stood waiting for us. Once everyone had gathered in the space, he continued his explanation of its history.

The interior is actually in cruciform shape, with three small alcoves and the long entrance passageway forming a cross. In one side alcove is a large stone basin, though its purpose is unknown. In another alcove are some stones with carvings and the central alcove contains a rock that has broken into several pieces.

The ceiling is built of enormous stone slabs that stack on top of each other narrowing the gap with each ascending layer. At the very top is a single capstone that Paul reported is over a meter thick. On different areas of the ceiling, we spotted various geometric carvings, as well as a few spots of carved graffiti, some possibly going back to the 19th century. At one point, Paul made a joke about the enormous tonnage of stone overhead and he personally promised to repay our admission fee if the structure suddenly collapsed while we were inside. Since it has stood for over 5000 years, it was a pretty safe bet for him to make.

Paul then demonstrated the conditions at the winter solstice using a light bulb mounted near the passageway entrance. The passageway actually rises and curves subtly on its way to the inner chamber, so much so that it is not possible to look out the doorway once inside. Paul explained that if you were to lay down with an ear to the floor, it was possible to see out through the window above the doorway and that this arrangement is what guided the light appropriately. When he turned off the lights and turned on the single bulb, we saw a sword of light on the floor, narrowing to a single point on the back wall of the central alcove.

Once the lights were back on, we walked back down the passageway and into the bright sunlight. A second worker stood there helping people keep their heads down so that they didn’t instinctively stand up too soon and smack their heads on the overhanging entrance. We walked down to the bus stop and waited a few minutes as a somewhat disorganized mob for a bus to arrive. Two came in quick succession and we rode the second one back to the visitor’s center.

After a quick glance at the prices and options at the onsite café, we elected to instead just press on to our next destination, Trim, located about 45 minutes west of Newgrange. The Sun was starting to heat things up for the day, including our car. We should mention that when the car got warm, we both detected a slight odor that smelled suspiciously like marijuana. Not so much that it bothered us, but enough to make us wonder about the habits of one of the car’s previous renters.

We arrived at Trim Castle and pulled into a full car park next door. Fortunately, a car backed out of a spot almost as soon as we arrived and Philip navigated skillfully into it. We walked up the slight hill to the castle entrance and bought tickets for both the grounds as well as the guided tour of the castle keep, which had just begun a few minutes earlier.

The defensive towers and castle walls of Trim Castle protecting the keep behind.

The defensive towers and castle walls of Trim Castle protecting the keep behind.

We thus embarked on one of the strangest and most thorough tours of our lives. We spent nearly an hour going through the keep of Trim Castle (the door of which the guide opened with the largest skeleton key we’ve ever seen) with a group of about 20 people, 5 of which were young children. The guide gave us a ridiculous amount of information, though he was rather sporadic and random with how he presented things making it sometimes hard to follow. Factor in his very thick Irish accent and it was easy to understand why several of the children were getting restless. The guide seemed both simultaneously frustrated, amused, and unfazed by the children’s reaction and on several occasions talked directly to them about something in the castle.

We learned that the castle was built in 1176 with renovations taking place in 1196 and again in 1206, each time taking the keep higher. Three large models in the main room of the keep showed how the building changed over time and the guide took a long time explaining those changes in detail. He also explained that the keep was originally heated by just a single central fire but smaller individual fireplace were added in later years. The castle is built in a cruciform shape like the emblem on the Swiss flag. The south arm has completely fallen, but the other three still remain.

Inside the keep of Trim Castle. Note the scale models showing the three phases of construction and the walkways above giving access to the various levels of the castle.

Inside the keep of Trim Castle. Note the scale models showing the three phases of construction and the walkways above giving access to the various levels of the castle.

Rather than reconstructing the wooden floors, the maintainers of the castle have instead built walkways at various heights through the keep giving visitors access to rooms at many levels. We hadn’t seen that particular solution yet in any of the castles we visited and it seemed to work well. The roof of the castle is a canvas tent material, much like that at the Denver International Airport terminal. This translucent material allows the Sun to illuminate the interior while protecting it from wind and rain. Interestingly, many of the interior walls were of a fairly green color, which the guide explained was due to the porosity of limestone, though he didn’t give any further detail about what might be actually providing the green pigment.

After a slow climb up a spiral staircase, we entered the chapel room on the second floor. As it was Sunday, the guide joked about this part of the tour meeting our ecclesiastical duties for the day. He explained, in detail of course, the significance of the room and how everyone would stand during the service with the priest facing away from the rest of the people. He also explained that, while “dirty” candles made primarily of animal fats would have been used for lighting up other areas of the castle (and smelling them up too!), only candles made of more than 75% beeswax would have been allowed in this sacred space since they burn cleanly.

In a bathroom, Philip served as the example and took a seat on the castle’s “throne” while the guide explained the ins and outs of certain logistics when living in a castle. He reiterated multiple times that Trim Castle was built first and foremost for defensive purposes, and thus was certainly not a luxurious lifestyle.

We worked our way up to the roof and enjoyed the views over the castle grounds and town from there. From that vantage point, it was easy to see the overall shape of the castle walls and the numerous defensive towers at key points along them. We could also see several gates in those walls and the guide told us that one of them had been added later in the life of the castle as a way to improve access to the river.

While on top of the building, the guide told us about the Irish war cemetery and he may have mentioned that an Irish brigade fought as Manassas Junction in the US. He also explained to us the meaning of the tricolored Irish flag with green representing the Gaelic people, orange representing the British, and the white between them representing peace.

The keep of Trim Castle with other ruins in the background.

The keep of Trim Castle with other ruins in the background.

We descended the entire height of the castle on a spiral stone staircase, regulated by the very slow pace of a mother with her young child. The guide said a few parting words in the main room on the bottom floor and then we exited the keep and out onto the castle grounds. We did a quick loop of the grounds and then realized we were getting hungry so exited the castle gates and crossed the street to a take-out restaurant located there. Philip of course ordered fish and chips while Rose decided to be brave and try a curry pie.

We took our food with us and walked up a path outside the castle gates towards some other miscellaneous ruins (not sure what they are). We found a spot to sit on a stone wall with the castle rising directly in front of us and there we ate our lunch. It wasn’t the best food of the trip but it certainly wasn’t the worst. Rose even made the comment that it “wasn’t worth writing home about” to which we both said simultaneously “…but we will!” Now that this paragraph has fulfilled that prophecy, we can move on.

Baby Polar Bear makes a final appearance in Ireland at Trim Castle.

Baby Polar Bear makes a final appearance in Ireland at Trim Castle.

It was approaching 3pm and so we decided the time was right to return the rest of the way to Dublin as we still had one thing we wanted to do in the city. The return drive was uneventful, but unfortunately our search for the “Wheel of Dublin” (a Ferris wheel that supposedly gives nice views of the city) proved fruitless. We followed Samantha (the name of our Tom Tom voice) to an address that we got FROM THE DUBLIN WHEEL WEBSITE. We’re not sure what was at this address but it certainly wasn’t a large Ferris wheel. We had originally thought that the wheel was located in a different area of the city (the docklands) so we drove over there and searched as well. We didn’t drive every single street but we both had the assumption that a Ferris wheel large enough to give nice views of the city wouldn’t be able to easily hide.

We eventually gave up on our search and our going assumption is that the wheel was a temporary attraction that no longer exists and just has an unfortunately misleading lingering website. The effort was not entirely in vain, though, as we were able to take a nice Sunday drive all around the city of Dublin. Note: we checked online when we got back to Colorado and, according to Yelp at least, the wheel no longer exists though we had passed the exact spot (in the Docklands, nowhere near the address on the website!).

We decided to be touristy for a little while and looked up a good souvenir shop in our guidebook. We followed Samantha’s directions to get there and she routed us across the River Liffey just to bring us back across a few blocks later. It’s hard to imagine that was the best route, though perhaps one way streets drastically limited the options. We found parking next to an interesting public park with a decorative pool in the shape of a large cross and we walked a few blocks to the main tourist drag.

The one store we entered was quite overwhelming, but had a nice selection of almost everything one could want to represent their trip to Ireland, from the cheesiest Irish themed ball caps to beautiful Celtic crosses and of course a large selection of Guinness-themed apparel. Our purchases complete, we returned to our car and set off on the drive to our final B&B near the coast northeast of Dublin.

We managed to miss the turn into the driveway of our B&B three times, but the fourth time was the charm. When we got to the front door, we saw a note taped there addressed to us that explained that our hostess was away for the afternoon but that the neighbor would let us in. As we walked the few feed towards the neighbor’s front door, she came out and greeted us and then showed us to our room.

We asked her for a dinner recommendation and she suggested that we head a few kilometers north to the town of Malahide. After resting for 30 minutes or so, we followed the suggestion and drove along the coast until we reached the main street of Malahide and its multiple restaurants. We parked and walked around the town checking out the dining options, though finding none of them super thrilling.

A marina near our B&B in Portmarnock northeast of Dublin.

A marina near our B&B in Portmarnock northeast of Dublin.

Along the way, we stopped at a liquor store to see if we could find any unique Irish whiskeys for gifts, though it seemed that everything sold in a bottle small enough to reasonably bring home is also easily available in the US. The clerk at the store suggested we try a different nearby store as well, though that ultimately proved fruitless as well.

We had eventually settled on what appeared to be a very popular pub and walked in the door. Instantly overwhelmed by the noise, crowds, and lack of anyone greeting us, we decided that maybe this wasn’t the place for us after all. After a bit more walking, we spotted a different restaurant called Hash Brasserie that we hadn’t noticed before. It wasn’t traditionally Irish, per se, but it seemed like a nice place for our final dinner in Ireland.

We ate a lovely two course meal that was, by all accounts, quite tasty! Philip had an appetizer of a warm salad topped with duck and served in a sweet waffle-esque bowl. This was followed by a main course of sea bass, roasted vegetables including fennel, and a large pile of mashed potatoes. Rose went with a pastry bowl filled with chicken and mushrooms for her appetizer and enjoyed a main course of a pork on mashed potatoes and topped with asparagus.

The coast northeast of Dublin is extremely shallow, thus revealing enormous beaches at low tide.

The coast northeast of Dublin is extremely shallow, thus revealing enormous beaches at low tide.

After dinner, we returned to our hotel to pack up our belongings for the trip home. Philip tried several times to find our caretaker and finally spotted her pulling out of the parking lot at about 10pm. She assured him that she would return in 5 minutes, a promise which she did indeed keep. Philip spoke with her for several minutes and learned about her family, her second house in Spain, and the appropriate timetable for the morning.

Enjoying a final gorgeous day in Ireland!

Enjoying a final gorgeous day in Ireland!

With the details in place, we went to bed and quickly fell asleep. We leave Dublin tomorrow to return home to Denver, a fact that causes us definite sadness. We’ve greatly enjoyed Ireland, the things we have seen, and the people we have met. Even though this trip isn’t yet over, we already are looking forward to our next one, wherever that may take us.

Summary:

  • Where, oh where are the cathedrals in Armagh?
  • Exploring the 5500 year old tomb at Newgrange
  • The awkwardly awesome tour of Trim Castle
  • Where, oh where is the Wheel of Dublin…nowhere!
  • A final evening and nice dinner in Ireland

Stats:

  • Total Distance Traveled: 236.60 km
  • Distance on Foot: 11.65 km | 15,792 steps
Our route for the day.

Our route for the day.

*** Check out the first post of our trip to Ireland and read them in order! ***

After a cold night under no fewer than 6 blankets, we woke up a little after 7am and got dressed. Apparently, the radiator in our room never came on during the night. We also were unable to connect to the hotel’s wireless internet during our brief stay. All in all, not our favorite hotel of the trip, though admittedly we never actually talked to the hosts to try and rectify any of the challenges.

Before heading on to Northern Ireland, we took a quick 5 minute detour south to the coast to see the view looking east towards Slieve League, the sea cliffs we visited last night. When we arrived, we understood why the hotel owner’s son had recommended against this spot and had instead sent us to Carrick to see the cliffs: you can’t actually see them from here! The view of the water was still nice and there was a lovey beach down below, but there were no cliffs to be found.

The picturesque beach south of Glencolumbkille.

The picturesque beach south of Glencolumbkille.

Our route for the day took us northeast from Glencolumbkille to the city of Londonderry, better known as just Derry. As we drove, we continued our audio book adventure, though we soon learned that we were missing the final chapters of the book just as we were reaching the point of climactic action! A bit dismayed at our disaster (okay, that may be a bit strong since this seems to fall firmly in the realm of first-world problems), we pressed on nonetheless.

We were expecting to reach some indication of the border between Ireland and the United Kingdom (of which Northern Ireland is a part), but we saw nothing. We reached Derry without seeing even a single sign indicating we had entered another country. Our first real indication was that the speed limit signs that had previously contained numbers like 80 and 100 (km/hour) had changed to numbers like 30 and 40 (miles/hour). Keep in mind that the signs only rarely included the units, though we managed the transition without too much trouble. Our Nissan Micra’s speedometer had just units of km/hour, but with our incredible math skills (multiplying by 2/3) we figured it out (and with some help from the Tom Tom app’s speed indicator.

Still alive and enjoying greatly our trip around Ireland!

Still alive and enjoying greatly our trip around Ireland!

After a brief stop to stretch our legs and plot our next path, we continued along to a region along the north coast known as the Causeway Coast. It is such named because of its most famous feature, the Giant’s Causeway, which we visited a bit later in the day.

Near the western end of the road, we took another detour further west to the shore of a long and narrow bay and a watch tower that stands there. The road to reach the tower took us past a military firing range where Rose spotted several men in a field wearing camouflage, as well as past a prison. We noticed with some amusement that the prison’s name began with the letters H.M.P., which we assume means Her Majesty’s Prison in the same way that ships have the H.M.S. prefix. While we understand the pride that comes with naming a ship this way, it does feel a bit odd to have that same pride of allegiance for a prison.

The tower itself was relatively unexciting, though the landscape around it consisted of sandy dunes covered in grass. This is the only place in Ireland where we have seen dunes of any kind. A sign near the tower indicated that it had once stood right at the edge of the land, but silt accumulation over the years had extended the point out more than 100 yards. We walked around the dune area for a few minutes enjoying the change in scenery, and then returned to our car to travel down the Causeway Coastal Road.

The Magilligan Martello Tower at the western edge of the Causeway Coast. This was the only place in Ireland we saw grass covered sand dunes.

The Magilligan Martello Tower at the western edge of the Causeway Coast. This was the only place in Ireland we saw grass covered sand dunes.

We drove through many small towns along the way and searched for our next destination, the ruins of Dunluce Castle. We easily found the Dunluce Expo Center though the castle was nowhere in sight. We did three laps of a large roundabout as we struggled to find our bearings, but eventually figured out that we had not yet gone far enough down the coast.

A few minutes later, we saw the signs for the castle and pulled off the road to park. We paid our entrance fee and then walked through the gate and into a large courtyard surrounded by ruins. The ruins of Dunluce Castle consist of two areas, though there are some indications also of the town that used to surround the castle including an area paved with limestone outside of the walls.

The area further inland (and higher up the hill) is where guests to the castle would stay, as well as where the stables and other supporting infrastructure were located. We walked around this area and read some of the information about the various rooms.

Dunluce Castle with the brilliant blue waters behind. Our weather was perfect (although windy) for our day on the Causeway Coast.

Dunluce Castle with the brilliant blue waters behind. Our weather was perfect (although windy) for our day on the Causeway Coast.

The highlight of the castle, though, is the lower section perched on the edge of the cliff. This is where the lord of the castle lived and it has stunning views of the coastline, the cliffs, and the ocean beyond. A small bridge connects the two areas and we spotted what appeared to be a cave in the rock down below.

The ruins of Dunluce Castle perched on the edge of a cliff.

The ruins of Dunluce Castle perched on the edge of a cliff.

Looking inland from Dunluce Castle across the ravine separating it from the rest of Dunluce.

Looking inland from Dunluce Castle across the ravine separating it from the rest of Dunluce.

After exploring the lower section, we left the castle grounds and circled around the outside to a staircase that descends down below the bridge. We weren’t able to enter the cave but could see that it connected through to the water. We climbed a shorter set of stairs underneath the bridge and were rewarded with beautiful views of a cove and the cliffs on that side of the castle.

Beautiful views of the coastline from Dunluce Castle.

Beautiful views of the coastline from Dunluce Castle.

We made the climb back to our car and then drove on down the coast to what promised to be the highlight of our day, the Giant’s Causeway. As we drove through a small town, we saw electronic signs next to a car park indicating that parking at the Causeway was full and recommending we park here and take a shuttle bus. Having been tricked by things like this too many times (queue up thoughts about airlines making people gate check carryon bags because the overhead bins are supposedly already full, only then to fly with half of the overhead space empty!), we decided to press on to the site itself and try and park there.

We pulled into the site and saw signs for two more car parks, both indicating that they were full. Again we pressed on and saw a relative abundance of open parking spaces quite near to the entrance. Philip navigated the Micra into one of these spots and we set off on foot to the Visitor’s Center.

Rather than waiting for a guided tour that wouldn’t depart for half an hour, we elected for the included audio guides instead and set off on foot down a long sweeping hill towards the water. We had the option to pay an additional British pound for the shuttle bus, but the walk did not appear to be very long and the weather was beautiful, although windy (it’s always windy!).

As we walked down the hill, we listened to several tracks on the audio guide about the scenery and the legends of its formation. Legend speaks of an Irish giant, named Finn McCool, who was responsible for many of the natural features in this area of Ireland. As we walked, we passed by two grass covered hills, which Finn McCool built as haystacks. Across the cove from those hills is a large rock formation called “The Camel” because it looks like a camel laying down.

We rounded the corner at the base of those two hills and saw the causeway out in front of us in a large sweeping cove. On the far end of the cove, high up on the hill, we saw rock pillars that the audio guide told us were Finn’s chimney.

The Giant’s Causeway consists of vertical pillars of basalt, typically of hexagonal shape and about 18 inches across. These pillars are packed together and form what could be construed as a roadway, although a very uneven one. As far as we know, this type of formation only exists in two places in the world: here in Northern Ireland and across the water on the coast of Scotland. This proximity of these two locations is likely part of the impetus for the legend of its creation, which our audio guide explained to us.

You can see the high water mark of the surf on this part of the Giant's Causeway...the waters were very calm during our visit.

You can see the high water mark of the surf on this part of the Giant’s Causeway…the waters were very calm during our visit.

Finn McCool sought to challenge a Scottish giant, and the legend states that Finn built himself a road across the water to get to Scotland. When he got there, though, he caught a glimpse of the giant and realized he was much bigger than himself. Finn retreated back to Ireland and went home to his wife, though he realized that the Scottish giant was coming across to get him. Finn’s wife had a plan and told him to lie in a bed and pretend to be a baby. When the Scottish giant knocked on the door, the wife answered and told him that Finn was not there, just her and her newborn son (really Finn lying in bed). When the Scottish giant saw how big Finn’s child was, he was terrified at the potential size of Finn himself and thus he fled back across the causeway to Scotland, tearing up the roadway as he went.

The famous Irish giant, Finn McCool, is legendarily responsible for the construction of this road across the sea to Scotland where another giant lived.

The famous Irish giant, Finn McCool, is legendarily responsible for the construction of this road across the sea to Scotland where another giant lived.

Geologists naturally have a much different explanation for the formation related to igneous rock and erosion. Either way, it is a spectacular thing to behold, particularly when walking and climbing around on the basalt columns.

We spent a while walking all around the areas and taking pictures from every angle. Despite the crowds, the site is large enough that we felt like we had enough space to enjoy it. Once satisfied with our time there, we set off on a path that would take us up the hill to spots where we could see the causeway from above, as well as check out some cool cliff features.

Standing on the edge of the Causeway looking across the cove.

Standing on the edge of the Causeway looking across the cove.

When we reached a section of cliff that looked like worn columns, we noticed two women sitting on a ledge about 10 feet up. They appeared to be French and one of them was pretending to be a queen on her throne with the rest of us as her royal subjects…we’re pretty sure alcohol was involved. The other one was wedged in behind her, but seemed to be enjoying the moment. We laughed and then continued along to the left to climb towards the chimney features and the red sandstone bands on the cliff face there.

Interesting rock columns along the cliff face above the Giant's Causeway. Note the intoxicated French girl pretending to be a queen on her throne.

Interesting rock columns along the cliff face above the Giant’s Causeway. Note the intoxicated French girl pretending to be a queen on her throne.

Once we reached the sandstone, the official trail ended so we decided to return back along towards the visitor’s center. As we passed the column cliff again (15 minutes later), the French woman was still sitting on her ledge acting the same as before, though her companion was absent. We found the companion a few meters along the path around the corner from the cliffs looking somewhat pissed off. It would seem that her tolerance for her drunk friend had reached its limits and she was done with the royal court playacting.

We continued along this path and climbed to the top of the ridge. As we’ve seen frequently in Ireland, the land just a few meters back from the cliff face was peaceful pasture land with cows happily grazing along, not having a clue of the UNESCO site just down below.

The Giant's Causeway leading up to the hill behind.

The Giant’s Causeway leading up to the hill behind.

We fought through the stiff wind and wound our way back down towards the visitor’s center. As we drew near to it, we cued up another track on the audio guide that proudly told of how the center was designed and its eco-friendly features. Multiple other audio guide tracks had pointed us to this one, though it seemed a bit anticlimactic after all the hype. That said, the visitor’s center is an interesting building built into a hillside with a grass-covered roof. It uses water pipes buried beneath the car park to capture heat for warming the space, and is naturally cooled due to being surrounded by so much earth.

We returned to our car, spotting a sign along the way that informed us that access to the causeway site was in fact free. However, entrance to the visitor’s center, use of the audio guides, parking in the car park, etc. all required the purchase of a ticket. The staff had not exactly been up front about this distinction, though it did not matter for us due to needing to park the car somewhere while we visited.

Our route then took us further along the coast towards a spot where we could go across a high rope bridge to a small island. While this sounded like a cool thing to do, we really did not know much about what we were getting into. We came around a bend and saw an enormous car park to the right of the road that was packed with cars and people. We both looked at each other and had the same though: there’s no way the bridge is cool enough to be worth waiting for that crowd!

Fortunately, we quickly discovered that this was an unrelated event: a tractor show. This became painfully obvious to us when four of said tractors pulled out in front our line of traffic and began slowly leading us down the hill. A coach bus led our line of vehicles, thus making it virtually impossible to pass since it would involve zooming past at least 5 large vehicles.

Nothing like a tractor festival to draw a large crowd!

Nothing like a tractor festival to draw a large crowd!

Eventually, the tractors turned down a side road and we made it the rest of the way to the car park for the Carrick-a-rede rope bridge. The lot was still crowded, though far less so than the tractor show. We bought our tickets, and then set off on the 1km walk along the coast down to the bridge.

A few site staff were stationed at the bridge, controlling the flow of people across it. They did this by allowing only a single direction of travel for about 10 minutes, and then reversing for the other side to go. We stood there for a full cycle, a bit frustrated by the wait but also enjoying the chance to take in the views of the steep island and the water below. We also noted with some disdain the habits of various tourists and their impact on the overall experience for everyone. Case in point: the people who would wait for the bridge to clear of other people, then slowly walk across, stop for a picture, and then continue. With hundreds of people waiting, this behavior was not particularly helpful!

The Carrick-a-rede rope bridge. The crosswind blowing over the bridge is terrifyingly intense.

The Carrick-a-rede rope bridge. The crosswind blowing over the bridge is terrifyingly intense.

When our turn to cross the bridge came, we walked across and Philip took video of the journey. The bridge has a good bit of bounce and the wind howls strongly through the gap between the island and mainland. Rose’s hair was blowing nearly horizontally as we went.

We stepped off the bridge and onto the island and then spent about 10 minutes walking around it and enjoying the views. The island is essentially a large meadow, although is certainly not flat. Wildflowers were growing everywhere and we had some great views of sea cliffs and the clear waters below.

After circling the island, we returned to the rope bridge and just missed the cutoff for the group crossing our direction. As a result, we had to wait another 15 minutes or so, but this turned out to be a blessing in disguise. While we waited, we conversed with two of the people around us, an elderly English couple who had retired to Northern Ireland.

They had been to the island before, back when it was a lesser known site and before the bridge had been rebuilt to modern safety standards. Apparently, back then one had to cross by holding onto ropes above one’s head and stepping carefully across ropes down at the feet. Given the constant cross wind, it wouldn’t take much to lose your grip and possibly fall 100 feet to the water below! While we were a little jealous that we didn’t get to have this authentic experience, we were also glad that we could visit the site without any real risk of death.

The man also explained the reason for the bridge to even exist; namely, it gives access to a small fishing hut on the island. Fisherman had realized that the ocean currents are such that they force migrating salmon into the adjacent cove on their way towards the stream inlets where they would continue their journey upriver to spawn. As the salmon exit the cove, their path takes them directly along the rocky edge of the island. Fishermen would drop nets off the edge of the island and then just pull in hundreds of salmon. According to the man, it wasn’t uncommon for the fish to be so large that a person could only carry two at a time. They would spend not very much time actually fishing, and a lot more time carrying fish back across the bridge and over a kilometer back to a road.

The couple offered to take our picture as we crossed the bridge, and so we stopped (briefly of course) on the way across for a quick photo. We then hiked back to the car park, stopping for a few more photos at a point with great views looking down on the bridge. We said farewell to the elderly couple there and thanked them for the lovely conversation.

As it was nearly 5pm, we decided to alter our plans for the rest of the day. The Causeway Coast took a lot longer than we had expected, although it was the main reason we had come to Northern Ireland so it was certainly worth the time we spent. However, we realized that adding in a stop in Belfast would be too much for the day. We had also hoped to visit one more set of castle ruins, though the elderly man had indicated that the site may no longer be accessible after storms a few years ago had washed away the path. We were unable to find any signs pointing to the site as we drove, so we think his assessment may have been accurate.

We reached the end of the Causeway Coast Road and set off south for the 2 hour drive to the city of Armagh. We stopped for gas and of course an ice cream cone and then found our hotel with minimal challenge.

Thankfully we found a place to pull slightly off the road as this guy came at us.

Thankfully we found a place to pull slightly off the road as this guy came at us.

Our hostess greeted us at the door and welcomed us in. We checked into our room and then sat down in the sitting area (where else would one sit!) for half an hour or so to go through pictures from the last few days. We also managed to download the missing chapters of our audio book to finish tomorrow. Bed (for Rose at least) was soon to follow as it had been an enormous day of hiking and driving.

We’re starting to realize that our trip is drawing to a close; we only have one full day of Ireland left before we leave to return home. This saddens us to no end since it has been such a fantastic trip so far, but such is life and we do have two pups at home that we can’t wait to see. Tomorrow, we return south to Dublin with a few stops along the way in the Midlands region of Ireland.

Summary:

  • A very chilly night
  • Caught in suspense…the missing conclusion to our audio book
  • Oh, I guess we’re in the UK now
  • The castle on the cliff
  • Finn McCool and his impressive causeway
  • Crossing the rope bridge at Carrick-a-rede

Stats:

  • Total Distance Traveled: 411.06 km
  • Distance on Foot: 13.34 km | 18,070 steps
Our route for the day.

Our route for the day.

*** Check out the first post of our trip to Ireland and read them in order! ***

We began the day at our normal time and we’re all set to leave at 8am. We were about to pull out when we realized the iPod was missing! Now, the iPod is about 5 years old and probably not worth very much; however, it contains the audio book that was to help us pass the long hours of driving and so began a frantic search to find it. We looked through the car and our belongings, but had no success. Philip went back into the hotel to see if we had left it in the room, while Rose stayed in the car to search some more. Just as Philip and the hostess were giving up the search in the room, they looked out the window and saw a smiling Rose down below who had just found the missing device.

Our trusty steed for this journey, a Nissan Micra.

Our trusty steed for this journey, a Nissan Micra.

A bit frazzled but relieved, we set off west out of Galway to the coast. As we drove through one town, we noticed a very odd site. Down below the road, where there should have been a wide river or small harbor, was instead the bottom of the riverbed. A half dozen boats were scattered around the area resting on their rudders and keels on the ground. We have no idea what happened here, but we naturally stopped to take a few pictures since it isn’t every day that one sees boats sitting on solid ground like this.

What happened to the water?...we stumbled upon this site as we drove west from Galway.

What happened to the water?…we stumbled upon this site as we drove west from Galway.

Once we reached Clifden, we took an 11km detour to loop around (clockwise, of course) a small peninsula on a route known as the “sky road”. This route offers amazing views of the water below from a winding path. Unfortunately, the weather was overcast and drizzly and so the colors were not as vibrant as they might have been with the sun shining.

A portion of the “Sky Road”, an 11km stretch along the coast west of Galway.

After this detour, we headed northeast and made a brief stop at Kylemore Abbey. While we didn’t actually go inside the abbey to see what we’re sure are wonderfully renovated rooms and furnishings, we did get out of the car to stretch our legs and take pictures of the magnificent exterior. It is set against a towering hillside with a large lake separating it from the car park. We overheard someone pointing out a Christ the Redeemer statue high on the hillside, overlooking the area much like the famous one in Rio de Janeiro.

Kylemore Abbey nestled between a mountain and a lake...a Christ the Redeemer statue sits high up on the hillside behind the castle.

Kylemore Abbey nestled between a mountain and a lake…a Christ the Redeemer statue sits high up on the hillside behind the castle.

We then settled in for a long portion of our drive north. We hugged the coastline at some points but also followed inland routes where it made the most sense. As we drove, the landscapes changed multiple times, including to one that reminded us a lot of driving through the mountains in Colorado with beautiful pine forests.

We were forced to stop several times due to construction on the roadways narrowing traffic to a single lane. While this was inconvenient, the delays were never more than 5 minutes or so and we will say that the overall road quality in Ireland is stellar. We have been very impressed with all of the roads on which we have driven, even those that seemed more remote and less touristy. We have encountered no significant potholes and the only fault we have with the roads is how ridiculously narrow some of them are with stone walls flanking both sides!

Driving through a green “tunnel” like this is common in Ireland…as are moments of terror when a large vehicle comes rapidly in the other direction!

As we came near to the town of Sligo, we headed east briefly to check out a large lake known as Loch Gill. This area is often times referred to as Yeats Country, because this was the home and much of the inspiration for famed poet William Butler Yeats. In fact, the Isle of Innisfree that Yeats refers to in his famous poem is a real island in this lake.

Loch Gill from water level.

Loch Gill from water level.

We had a bit of trouble finding our destination at the lake, a spot known as Dooney Rock. We eventually found the car park area and then set off on foot through a beautiful forest towards the lake. The forest has almost no undergrowth and the trees tower high overhead. We walked over to the edge of the lake and stood for a while enjoying the serenity of the quiet forest and calm waters.

While the area was nice, we were a bit disappointed that we had been unable to find the actual “Dooney Rock” for which the area was named. We were just about to give up as we had almost made it back to the car park, when Philip finally spotted the 50 foot tall rock face up ahead. It turns out the rock is much larger than we had expected and has massive trees growing on top of it. We wound our way up the path to the top where we found beautiful views of the lake and some of its islands. We even found a park bench where we could sit for a few minutes more before heading back to the car.

Loch Gill from above.

Loch Gill from above.

Since we were starting to worry that Donegal Castle would close before we could get to it, we decided to forego a proper meal and instead snacked on granola bars as we drove another hour north to Donegal. We arrived at 4:15pm and hurried inside the castle entrance to buy our tickets. We were informed that a guided tour had just begun (the last of the day, in fact) and so we hurried on ahead to catch up with the group.

Our tour guide was an Irish lady (go figure) and she talked to us and our fairly elderly tour group about each of the three levels of the tower house castle. Donegal castle is fairly small for the world of castles and the main tower house had been refurnished on three floors. On the first floor, we had missed most of her presentation about the kitchen areas. We followed the group up a spiral staircase called the “Trip Stairs” because each step was of a different height with the aim of tripping an attacking soldier during a swordfight on the stairs.

On the second floor, she told us about the history of the castle and the families that had lived there. This included pointing out the massive fireplace with its carved surround detailing several family crests joining together as one signifying the joining of families. The fireplace also showed draped ropes (sign of the Tudors) being linked by chains to thistles (sign of Scotland), again signifying the union of two families from different places. She also explained that the castle contained a hidden staircase in the wall next to the fireplace that would have served as an emergency escape hatch all the way down to the river below.

The third floor contained displays about the castle and the warring history that had taken place. The highlight for us, though, was the beautifully reconstructed vaulted roof that apparently took London craftsmen four years to build. The tour guide pointed out that the entire roof was held together by wooden dowels, which we could see joining the various members. Earlier, as we had walked up the wooden stairs from second to third floor, we had noticed a similar use of dowels that held the individual steps firmly to the stair risers.

We really enjoyed our tour through the restored Donegal Castle.

We really enjoyed our tour through the restored Donegal Castle.

The attic floor had not been reconstructed and so we could see additional fireplaces carved in the stone walls there where soldiers had been quartered. The guide also mentioned the corner towers that had been added to the house during its history. She told us that historians had originally thought them to be mostly decorative, but that a descendent of the family had explained the truth just a few years ago. Apparently, if a home had towers, then it could be classified as a castle and the tax structure for castles was more favorable than that for tower houses. Even hundreds of years ago, people were playing games to try and avoid paying taxes!

As the guide was finishing up, an older lady asked her if she was going to explain about the book (known as the Catacht of St. Columba) contained within one of the corner displays. The guide obliged and gave us a brief explanation that this was a book of psalms from the 6th century (replica actually, the original is at a museum in Dublin). When she had finished, the other lady asked if she could add a few more details. Thus, we spent the next ten minutes listening to her explain the fascinating history of these old psalm books in Ireland. It turns out, this other lady was the personal tour guide for the rest of the group and was an expert on these ancient books. While her information was very interesting, the best part was just seeing the excitement with which she presented and the light in her eyes when she was sharing about what she loved.

As the majority of the group left the room, we stayed behind and chatted with the castle tour guide for a few minutes. She thanked us for our youth and explained that we had been the highlight of our tour (as opposed to the elderly people who were probably getting tired from standing for the last 30 minutes). We asked a few more questions about the building, and then spent some time exploring on our own as we worked our way back down to ground level.

Once we had explored the tower house and adjacent ruined addition, we returned to our car and stopped at a gas station to refuel the car. Hungry, we also picked up a very healthy meal of cheese and macaroons to enjoy as we drove to Glencolombkille and our hotel for the night (this was not necessarily our first choice for a meal but was what was available).

The landscape west of Donegal became even more rugged than what we had seen before and it felt similar to pictures we’ve seen of parts of Alaska in the summer. As we got close to the town, we turned off on a road we dubbed the sheep road due to the many sheep grazing along it and roaming across it. We passed a bunch of fields with piles of what looked like dirt or manure arranged in very precise ways. We later surmised that the farmers here were harvesting the peat from the bog soil and had arranged it to dry in the sun so it could be used as fuel.

We drove past a lake and then came upon our hotel (after a brief wrong turn). There is a small field in front of the hotel with a soccer net (actually a hurling net, though they are similar) and a few young kids were kicking a ball around. We checked in with the owner’s son and he showed us to our room and then gave us some tips about what to see with our time in the area. We noted with both nostalgia and dismay that our “king” bed was just two twin mattresses pushed together with a nice ridge down the center.

Since the weather had cleared up and the sun was peeking out, we decided to go to Slieve League sooner rather than later in case the weather didn’t hold. We had originally planned to going to these sea cliffs (Europe’s highest) at sunset, but that was before we realized that sunset doesn’t occur until after 10pm!

We made our way back down the sheep road to Carrick, and then followed signs to Slieve League. We missed our turn at first and eventually realized our mistake when the road dead ended at some factories near the ocean. Backtracking got us back on the right route and we soon found ourselves driving up a steep hill and eventually ending in a car park with just a handful of cars and a large forklift.

Europe's highest sea cliffs, Slieve League.

Europe’s highest sea cliffs, Slieve League.

We exited our car and walked over to a fence on the edge of a cliff and were greeted with stunning views of an immense mountain rising from the sea. These cliffs aren’t quite as vertical as those at the Cliffs of Moher, but they are taller and are quite impressive.

A young American couple asked us to take a photo of them and we obliged. After reciprocating, they set off on a path up towards the top of the mountains (tall hills) behind the cliffs. We followed after them for a ways, but didn’t have the desire to go to the top, mostly because this would take us out of view of the cliffs we came to see (the cold biting wind may have also factored in a bit).

Looking back down the path we hiked above Slieve League...we could have gone a lot higher, but the views of the cliffs were worse the higher we went.

Looking back down the path we hiked above Slieve League…we could have gone a lot higher, but the views of the cliffs were worse the higher we went.

We came down and explored the area on the other side of the car park for a while with our ultimate intention to reach a Napoleonic Tower we could see on a jut out down the road. We quickly realized that it would make more sense to drive closer to the tower and then walk the remainder, so we returned to our car and drove down the road and then parked.

The hike out to the tower took us across terrain that can best be described as “spongy”. We could see areas that had been cut away, presumably by a peat farmer at some time in the past. Our only companions during our hike were the numerous sheep happily grazing all around us.

We hiked out to the Napoleonic tower at the edge of the peninsula near Slieve League.

We hiked out to the Napoleonic tower at the edge of the peninsula near Slieve League.

When we reached the tower, we spent a few minutes enjoying the views and Philip scaled the bottom few feet of the tower to peek in the window. Sufficiently chilled by the biting wind, we then returned the way we had come to our car and drove back up to the car park for one last look at the cliffs before returning to Carrick.

In Carrick, we stopped at a food truck in a parking lot as we were both hungry. Philip ordered some battered sausages (a common Irish fast food) while Rose had them construct her a barbecue chicken sandwich (still and Iowan at heart). While the food was prepared, we walked to the nearby market and picked up some scones for breakfast, and then returned to get our food.

We ate in the lovely guest kitchen at the B&B (guests can either have food prepared for them or prepare their own meals if they prefer). Despite it being after 9pm, there was a flood of guests checking in (still in bright daylight…can’t get over how weird it is to us to be this far north in summer).

Philip and Rose on an overcast morning in western Ireland.

Philip and Rose on an overcast morning in western Ireland.

Our food consumed, we returned to our room to call it a night and get some sleep before our really long drive through Northern Ireland tomorrow.

Summary:

  • A boat out of water
  • Driving the Sky Road
  • Wait…are we in Colorado?
  • A lovely lake and a rock so big we couldn’t find it
  • Just in time at Donegal Castle
  • The barren landscape of northwest Ireland
  • Europe’s highest sea cliffs, Slieve League
  • Not our healthiest day eating

Stats:

  • Total Distance Traveled: 491.71 km
  • Distance on Foot: 12.07 km | 16,349 steps
Our route for the day.

Our route for the day.

*** Check out the first post of our trip to Ireland and read them in order! ***

We had the sad realization today that we have crossed the half way point in our journey. While we are ready to see our puppies, we are certainly not yet prepared for the end of our adventure and the return to normal life. Beyond that, Philip seems to finally have the hang of driving on the left side of the road. It will be interesting to see how he readjusts when we’re back home.

Two happy travelers on a drive around the Dingle Peninsula.

Two happy travelers on a drive around the Dingle Peninsula.

We woke up early and were on our way towards the Dingle Peninsula just after 8am. The Dingle Peninsula is just to the north of the Ring of Kerry, which we drove around yesterday. We headed west from Killarney and drove though terrain that looked very similar to that just across the bay on the north side of the Ring of Kerry. As we drove, Rose pointed out a house along the road that had a large children’s play set in the back yard, including a scaled down version of a traditional Irish round tower. We both thought this was a marvelous thing and thus sparked a conversation of ways in which we could build small versions of structures we’ve seen on our travels for our own backyard. How cool would it be to have a 10 foot round tower, a small Mayan pyramid, and a Roman fountain in our yard to commemorate our travels?

We reached the town of Dingle in just over an hour and stopped in a parking lot to regroup. We then set off on a circular route (clockwise, of course!) from Dingle around the coast at the end of the peninsula. After leaving Dingle, the landscape began to change and become lusher with vibrant green fields set against the backdrop of blue waters.

The entire western coastline of Ireland seems to be an endless series of peninsulas and bays. This set of mini peninsulas lies at the edge of the Dingle Peninsula.

The entire western coastline of Ireland seems to be an endless series of peninsulas and bays. This set of mini peninsulas lies at the edge of the Dingle Peninsula.

As we drove further around the scalloped peninsula and its many bays, we saw sea cliffs rising dramatically from the blue water to the green fields above. The gray and green stone walls and the white fluff balls (sheep!) inhabiting almost every field completed the colorful landscape.

At one point, we came upon a pickup truck (one of the few we’ve seen here in Ireland), loaded to the brim with hay bales wrapped in black plastic. The truck was so overstuffed we were just waiting for one of the bales to let loose and go rolling across the pavement. While pickups are not common, we have seen a lot of compact cars with trailer hitches on the back and you would be amazed at the trailers we have seen some of these tiny cars pulling down the road!

This guy knows how to pack a pickup truck!

This guy knows how to pack a pickup truck!

At another spot along the peninsula, we rounded a corner and were faced with a small stream running across the road. The water was only a few inches deep and we had no issue in fording it, even with our small car. It did bring back some memories of our trip to Belize when we forded a much deeper river in our SUV.

Fording a very small creek on the Dingle Peninsula.

Fording a very small creek on the Dingle Peninsula.

We continued along and noticed an abundance of B&Bs with amazing views of the landscape and ocean. We fully intend to come back here someday and enjoy a few days of relaxation, hiking, cycling, and perhaps even boating around the area.

A beautiful coastline on the Dingle Peninsula.

A beautiful coastline on the Dingle Peninsula.

Our path brought us back around to Dingle and we then embarked in a northeast direction towards the town of Tralee. On this leg of the journey, we decided to finally start one of the audio books we had brought along for the long hours of driving. So far, most of our driving has been relatively short as well as relatively terrifying. Now that we have the hang of driving these roads and will be spending more time in the car, a David Baldacci novel on an iPod is a nice way to pass the time.

When we arrived in Tralee, we stopped for gas and of course an ice cream cone. We (Philip especially) have been quite impressed with the quality and value of the ice cream here. It makes sense that a country well known for its dairy products should be able to make a delicious ice cream.

We headed north to the south bank of the River Shannon where we planned on catching the ferry across the very wide river. By sheer happenstance, we arrived at about 12:15 and the next ferry was to depart at 12:30 for its once an hour voyage. Elated with our fortunate timing, we walked around the dock area for a few moments but then retreated to the car due to the cold wind.

When the ferry arrived from its trip across from the other side, we watched as several cars and even a large oil tanker (food oils, not petroleum oils according to a label on the side of the truck) unload and drive off. We then drove onto the ferry and paid our 18 euro toll for the one-way crossing of the river and got out of our car to explore the boat and check out the scenery. Unfortunately, the wind was cold and the overcast sky washed out the landscape into shades of grey. We crossed the river in about 20 minutes and then continued along our journey.

This would be our ride across the River Shannon.

This would be our ride across the River Shannon.

A few kilometers after disembarking, we arrived in the small town of Kenmare and parked along the main street to get some food for lunch. Philip was investigating the pay station across the street (pay and display style), when a local lady hurried up to him to explain that it was free for the first 2 hours. Just as she said that, Philip read the same information on the placard (Kenmare makes parking free during the tourist months it would appear). It was a neat experience to see her care enough to help us out, even though it only saved a single Euro.

We walked into a nearby take out restaurant and ordered some food. Philip went with his favorite, fish and chips, while Rose ordered the Irish version of a Doner Kebab. For the first time, we had a choice of the type of fish and so Philip followed the lady’s recommendation of the haddock. For fun, we also picked up a 1 euro “lucky fun bag” of miscellaneous candies (thank you lady who saved us from paying for parking!). The impetus for this purchase was the display of candies in tubs along a side wall, including the UFO shaped paper wafer candies filled with Fun Dip powder. Philip remembered these from his childhood, though he was also pretty sure that they weren’t all that good due to the paper wafer.

On the way out of the restaurant, Philip took the bottle of vinegar on the counter and gave his chips a good soaking. What he didn’t realize was that the vinegar decided to mostly bypass the chips and saturate the paper bag instead. We took our food back to our parked car and had just sat down when Rose realize the bag was disintegrating due to the vinegar penetration. With some quick thinking and nimble footwork, Philip took the bag and rescued his chips just moments before the bottom of the bag let loose! Disaster averted, we sat in the car and ate our lunch while listening to more of our book. Side note: this was the best fish and chips we’ve had yet. The haddock was flavorful and had a nice thick and crispy breading that wasn’t overly greasy.

Our meals finished, we pulled out of our parking spot and continued along through Kenmare towards the coast. As we were leaving town, a dog ran into the road and Philip slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting him. Thankfully, we avoided a collision and the dog trotted off happy as can be. Unlike the one we rescued yesterday, this one seemed to know its way around the streets.

The next stop on our journey was the famous Cliffs of Moher. These enormous sea cliffs have been featured in numerous movies including Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (location of cave where Dumbledore and Harry found Voldermort’s locket horcrux) and our favorite movie, The Princess Bride (where Andre the Giant climbed the cliffs carrying several people to get away from the Dread Pirate Roberts).

We knew the cliffs would be crowded (most popular natural attraction in Ireland) and our assumptions were confirmed when we saw a car park full of cars as well as about 10 coach tour buses. Bracing ourselves for the pending onslaught of oblivious humanity (we tend to get a bit frustrated with the general tour group mentality), we bought our tickets and then set off walking down the path towards the cliffs.

The cliffs are, in a word, stunning. In many areas, they are nearly vertical and the sea is several hundred meters below. We first walked to the right towards a stone tower located near the edge of the cliff. We decided to skip going into the tower because it cost extra and didn’t seem to offer much more than what we could already see. The information pamphlet informed us that it had been built in the 1800’s as a viewing tower for tourists. It’s interesting to think that even 200 years ago, people were coming to this site to behold he natural beauty.

The viewing tower on the edge of the Cliffs of Moher...we decided to pass since the views were quite awesome from the ground!

The viewing tower on the edge of the Cliffs of Moher…we decided to pass since the views were quite awesome from the ground!

As the skies began to drop a light drizzle on us, we continued to the right to the next jut out. To do that, we had to leave the official site and were warned by signs that we were entering a private farm and that the owner took no liability for our safety. Rose also noticed a sign with a phone number and the wording, “need to talk?” We surmised that this was likely a suicide prevention tactic as it is quite possible that people have chosen jumping off these cliffs as a way to end their life over the years.

As we walked, we navigated through the crowds of people and took in the sights on both sides. To our left, the cliffs dropped away just a few meters from us; to the right, there was a fence with cattle happily grazing away on the other side. To think those cows will spend most of their lives eating grass just a few meters away from some of the highest sea cliffs in the world without ever seeing them or likely understanding their existence is crazy to think about. We did note (with some glee) that a few baby cows were also grazing in the field. We couldn’t help but think about Kali and how she had instinctively herded cattle when we went camping one time. We then had a conversation about the totally unreasonable and totally awesome idea of getting Kali a baby cow to play with and move around the back yard as she pleased.

When we got around the corner to the edge, we stepped out onto the flat rock that formed the ground out to the edge. It was somewhat crowded with lots of people trying to take awesome selfies with the cliffs as a backdrop. One couple were laying on their backs at the very edge of the cliffs and holding a selfie stick above their heads. Hopefully it turned out to be a really cool picture. Other people were standing upright far too close to the edge for comfort, and a stupid few would even lean out a little more to try and get a better picture. Keep in mind, the wind is blowing 20 mph or more pretty constantly, though with some slight gusts. We wisely kept further back.

One of the steep cliffs at the Cliffs of Moher.

One of the steep cliffs at the Cliffs of Moher with a large flat rock ledge.

Down below on the face of the cliffs, we could see thousands of birds (puffins to be exact) perched on ledges. Considering how densely they were packed in many areas, and how little of the overall cliff system we could ultimately see, we would guess there were hundreds of thousands of them living their lives in this beautiful spot.

On the water below, a few boat tours were circling around giving their patrons a very different view of the cliffs than what we could see. Someday, we would like to come back and rent some sea kayaks and do our own ocean level tour of the cliffs. The ocean was shockingly calm with no breakers and seemed to just gently lap at the base of the cliffs. It was probably rougher than we could properly see from this far up, but it still seems like a viable possibility.

The Cliffs of Moher. The rocky island looks tiny from here but it is actually quite tall and is home to tens of thousands of puffins.

The Cliffs of Moher. The rocky island looks tiny from here but it is actually quite tall and is home to tens of thousands of puffins.

We then walked back towards the tower and around to the other side of the cliffs. This was a somewhat arduous journey up a hill, made even worse with the gnats and mosquitos buzzing along with us. We passed more fields with cows as we walked and eventually reached a nice high point with gorgeous views back at the cliffs. We sat on the grass there for a while (along with about a dozen other people) just taking in the scenery. From this angle, we could better see some of the terrain down near water level and realized that features we had though were islands from other vantage points are actually long narrow peninsulas.

A view of the Cliffs of Moher from the rocky ledge...just out of site is the couple laying on their backs at the edge with a selfie stick.

A view of the Cliffs of Moher from the rocky ledge…just out of site is the couple laying on their backs at the edge with a selfie stick.

Eventually, we walked down the hill and stopped in the Visitor’s Center for a moment to look at a bird’s eye view video playing on loop there. We then returned to our car and set off north east to Galway. Along the way, we drove through an area known as “The Burren”, which has some of the stoniest terrain we’ve seen yet.

Cattle grazing in The Burren. Note the exposed limestone on the hillside in the background.

Cattle grazing in The Burren. Note the exposed limestone on the hillside in the background.

On that note, we have come to realize why the Irish built so many things out of stone: it is absolutely everywhere! We had gotten used to a constant onslaught of stone walls, but the Burren is a whole different story. Not only are there stone walls separating grazing areas, lining the roads, etc. but there are many areas where rocks are just piled up in mounds. The mountains and hills seem to be paved with limestone and have little vegetation on their tops. All of the grazing area (can’t really call them fields) are just littered with stone poking through the soil.

The drive featured a lot of switchbacks and turns, and unfortunately Rose got a bit motion sick due to the winding roads and poor site lines due to…the high stone walls! She did recover and we made it back to more sensible roads soon after, though without as many pictures as we might have otherwise taken.

The rest of the drive to Galway was uneventful, though we hit a frustrating amount of traffic when we reached the town. As has seemed to be our routine, we rolled into town during the evening rush hour. We survived, though, and eventually reached our waterfront B&B (though our views were of the backyard parking lot instead of the beautiful harbor) at around 6:30pm. We checked in and our hostess gave us some information about nearby food options. Rose wasn’t hungry but Philip was (of course!) and so we set off for a small bit of exploration.

We botched the simple directions, though this allowed us to enjoy a short walk along the water (and a fairly large marshy region where the bay seems to only cover the ground at times). We then circled around to the street we had been seeking and investigated the food options. Philip had just opened his mouth to say he wouldn’t mind some Indian take-out food (the former British Empire and India have a long history) when we looked in front of us and found exactly that. We went up to the second story restaurant and placed the order and then left to walk a bit more while the food was prepared.

The colorful and mucky edge of the bay in Galway.

The colorful and mucky edge of the bay in Galway.

We went down the road and into a supermarket to pick up a few items: an Irish apple cider for Rose as well as a chocolate muffin for Philip’s breakfast. We then returned to the restaurant to pick up the food and took it all back to our hotel to enjoy.

The Indian food was delicious, though Philip was provided with an odd chip-like (American chip) item in place of the traditional naan. Rose enjoyed her Irish cider and actually preferred it over the Guinness from earlier in the week.

Not long after eating, we fell into bed exhausted after our long day. We have definitely begun the driving portion of our journey and the next few days will have even more. That is the price to pay in order to see much of Ireland’s rugged natural beauty along the western coast and we’re sure it will be well worth it.

Summary:

  • The beautiful Dingle peninsula: Kerry’s lesser known and possibly more beautiful peninsula
  • A ferry ride across the River Shannon
  • More fish and chips!
  • Amazing views at the Cliffs of Moher
  • Understanding Ireland’s use of stone in The Burren
  • An Indian dinner in Galway

Stats:

  • Total Distance Traveled: 371.67 km
  • Distance on Foot: 12.06 km | 16,339 steps
Our route for the day.

Our route for the day.

*** Check out the first post of our trip to Ireland and read them in order! ***

We began the day with a delicious and filling Irish breakfast at our B&B, which consisted of tea, toast, bacon, sausage, a fired egg, and black and white puddings. Although perhaps not the most balanced meal due to the lack of vegetables, it certainly prepared us for a full day of exploring Ireland.

At 8:22am, we set out for the 1km drive to Blarney Castle. The castle did not open until 9am, but we were intent on being the first in line when it did so we could avoid long lines and make the most of our time. When we arrived, we stood in front of the ticket area for about 20 minutes and perused a map and information pamphlet one of the workers had given us. While we were there, we watched the various site workers arrive and get ready for the day. At about 8:45, many of them returned to their vehicles and then spread out to different areas of the large site, presumably to their station for the day.

The front of Blarney Castle and its nearby tower.

The front of Blarney Castle and its nearby tower.

The gate opened a few minutes early and, after buying our tickets, we set off at a fast walking pace directly towards Blarney Castle. A few additional people had joined us in line by the time the gate opened, but we knew we had a good head start. When we reached the castle, we quickly ascended the tight spiral staircases and made our way to the very top where a few workers were waiting. The man in charge explained that they needed a few more minutes, so we took some pictures of the surrounding country side and enjoyed having the space mostly to ourselves.

Looking down on the grounds from the top of Blarney Castle.

Looking down on the grounds from the top of Blarney Castle.

When the workers were ready, the man called us over to kiss the Blarney Stone. For those that don’t know, the Blarney Stone is actually the bottom stone on one of the parapets at the top of Blarney Castle. To kiss it, you must lay on your back and hang over the edge of the castle while holding onto hand rails and having your feet held. Falling isn’t an issue due to the metal grate below, but it can still be unnerving for some due to the height and general ridiculousness of the arrangement. As to why so many people want to kiss a dirty stone at the top of a castle? The legend says that the gift of eloquence will come to any who kiss the stone, though we question the verifiability of such a claim.

Rose went first to kiss the stone while Philip attempted to capture the moment in a picture. Unfortunately, his timing was less than perfect and he didn’t get a good shot. Fortunately, the castle takes professional photos of the moment of the kiss and will even give a certificate that certifies one has kissed the stone.

Philip went next and Rose had much better timing with the camera. In a matter of moments, we were both now speaking with an eloquence never before heard on Earth…well, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Having kissed the stone, we were grateful for the sanitation efforts the man took beforehand (Rose saw him wipe down the stone with cleaner). It is doubtful that this happens between every guest so we were definitely glad to be going first.

Philip kissing the Blarney Stone...hopefully these blog entries are more eloquent from now on as a result.

Philip kissing the Blarney Stone…hopefully these blog entries are more eloquent from now on as a result.

By this time, a handful of people had made it to the top of the castle for their turn to kiss the stone. We took some more pictures of the surrounding area and then began our slow descent down the exit staircase to explore the remainder of the castle.

We explored every nook and cranny on the way down and then crossed back over to the upward staircase to explore the rooms we had blown past earlier in our haste to reach the top. By the time we reached the top again (perhaps 20 minutes later), the queue of people to kiss the stone was in the multiple dozens and growing every second. We chuckled to ourselves at the poor people stuck in line and then descended back down the castle.

The queue to kiss the Blarney Stone...this is why we got there early and were the first two of the day!

The queue to kiss the Blarney Stone…this is why we got there early and were the first two of the day!

We stopped by one of the castle gift shops, conveniently located right at the base of the castle, to look at Rose’s pictures and ended up purchasing one to commemorate the occasion. We then set off around the castle and along what appeared to be a low curtain wall around a courtyard. We would soon learn that the wall is only low on the inside; from the outside, it becomes evident that the wall is built on the very edge of an outcrop of rock and is significantly higher than it appeared.

As we walked, we came upon an area known as the “Poison Garden”, a collection of various poisonous and otherwise dangerous plants. A warning sign at the entrance forbids touching, tasting, or even smelling any of the plants. It also states that all children must be closely watched. It’s not something we would ever want for our backyard, but it was cool to see a version of an “anti-garden”. A bit further along we saw a placard for the “Irish Garden”, though it was unclear if it was marking the beginning of a path to said garden or if the heavily overgrown area with native plants (i.e., the forest) was the garden.

An all around awesome sign for the Poison Garden near Blarney Castle.

An all around awesome sign for the Poison Garden near Blarney Castle.

The Irish Garden near Blarney Castle..it's probably down the path a ways, but we prefer to think it's just the overgrown Irish forest around the sign.

The Irish Garden near Blarney Castle..it’s probably down the path a ways, but we prefer to think it’s just the overgrown Irish forest around the sign.

We proceeded around the edge of the curtain wall and down to the base of the outcrop towards some caves we knew were there. The first two were quite small, but the third one was a long tunnel that winded its way well beneath the castle in two separate directions. We stooped and crouched as we worked our way along the tunnels. Our information pamphlet indicated that the cave had been used in the past for castle residents to escape when Cromwell overran the castle, but we could not find any evidence of an upwards passageway that would lead to the castle.

Blarney Castle sits on top of a large outcrop of rock, making it seem even taller than it actually is.

Blarney Castle sits on top of a large outcrop of rock, making it seem even taller than it actually is.

When we finally made it back out of the cave, we walked on a few meters further and entered what were supposedly the castle dungeons, though this was essentially another tunnel with a very low ceiling and slippery mud floor. We naturally made it all the way to the back as we both have some strange love for exploring underground spaces.

When we had reached the back of the dungeon tunnel, we overheard two girls coming towards us comparing the tunnel to the ATM cave in Belize, although we had not toured it when we visited there. When the girls came into sight, we spoke with them for a few moments about our respective Belizean adventures and then returned to the entrance to continue on.

After a quick stop to wash our hands, we set off to a different part of the site called the Rock Close. This is an ancient area that contains some Druid ruins as well as caves and features said to be associated with a witch that inhabits the area. The myth says that the witch takes embers from the castle fires each night to a cave called the Witch’s Kitchen to keep warm and, in return, she grants wishes to those that come and walk backwards with eyes closed down the Wishing Steps, a long staircase tunneled through a rock.

For fun, we both traversed down the Wishing Steps backwards, though we learned after the fact that one needs to go both up and down for it to work so we aren’t holding our breaths for our wishes to come true…that said, neither would we be if we had gone both directions.

The best part of the Wishing Steps is the beautiful waterfall located adjacent to the bottom. The falls is only a few meters tall, but it has a fairly wide coverage area and truly does feel like a magical place with all the surrounding rock and the falling water.

Here we are in front of the waterfall at the bottom of the Wishing Steps near Blarney Castle.

Here we are in front of the waterfall at the bottom of the Wishing Steps near Blarney Castle.

We finished at Blarney Castle by following a path through the woods for a few hundred meters, enjoying the peaceful calm of the forest. We then stopped one additional time for Rose to use the restroom. This fact is only important in light of these other facts. First, Rose took longer than 20 seconds to do her business. Second, 20 seconds is approximately the amount of time it took Philip to notice an ice cream stand next to the restrooms, determine the cost for a cone, count the money in his pocket, and execute a delicious transaction. When Rose walked out of the restroom a few seconds later, there was Philip standing under a tree with a sheepish look on his face and holding an ice cream cone.

After a few eye rolls from Rose, we returned to our car and set off towards Killarney. The ride was mostly uneventful, though we did have to swerve to the side one time to avoid a driver who slammed on his brakes to make a turn. This had the effect of angering the driver behind us who moments later zoomed past.

We got into Killarney just after noon and stopped at a grocery store to regroup and gather some provisions for our afternoon adventures. It took two trips into the store, but we eventually ended up with two pastries, a small block of mild parmesan-esque cheese infused with bits of pineapple, and two bottles of water. While in the complex (the grocery store was just part of the building), Philip also noticed an inclined moving walkway called a “Travelator”. We had never seen an apparatus such as this before and made mental note to follow the signs instructions of “Please hold trolley when using trolley on travelator” should we ever find ourselves in such a situation.

When the escalator and moving walkway combine, the result is called a “Travelator”.

Our afternoon was to be dedicated to traveling around the famed Ring of Kerry, a route around one of Ireland’s beautiful southwestern peninsulas. We had only one intended place to stop at the farthest point on the ring, but assumed we would see interesting things along the way and stop as needed.

Our challenges began almost immediately, as we got very conflicting information between the guidebook, the Tom Tom app, and the “helpful” roadside signs on how to get to the Ring of Kerry. We eventually decided to go with the guidebook and ignored the other inputs. Ultimately, we figured out that the standard direction of travel for the Ring of Kerry (at least for coach tour buses) is counterclockwise, though we traveled it in a clockwise manor instead.

We first passed several of the Lakes of Killarney, though our views were often obstructed by the very thick foliage on all sides of the road (yes, this includes above as well). As we drove, we seemed to pass large coach buses rather frequently, and while we lost track of the official count, we are sure we passed no fewer than 40 of them throughout the afternoon. Keep in mind the roads are extremely narrow, often with stone walls on one or both sides. In many areas, the coach bus is itself wider than the lane in which it is traveling, making the passing experience harrowing.

Looking back towards the Lakes of Killarney.

Looking back towards the Lakes of Killarney.

It was not just coach buses that caused us anxiety, however. Early on in our drive, we saw an approaching car flash his lights at us, though we weren’t immediately sure of the reason. When we came around a bend, it became quite obvious, due to the multiple sheep laying down on the shoulder of the road! Thankfully, we avoided hitting any of them but it was closer than we would have liked.

So many sheep! This one's friend was curled up on the edge of the road as we came around a corner! Fortunately, we missed him by a few inches.

So many sheep! This one’s friend was curled up on the edge of the road as we came around a corner! Fortunately, we missed him by a few inches.

One random highlight of the day took place about a third of the way around the loop when we saw a dog running free across the road. We slowed to a stop, put on our flashers, and the dog ran right up to Rose’s passenger door with its tail wagging. It had a collar on but no tags; it also smelled like the wettest and muddiest dog in the world. Despite our absolute love of dogs, we had no intent of allowing this one into our vehicle so Rose improvised a leash from our belongings and walked the dog back up the road a bit while Philip turned the car around and got out of the traffic lanes.

Fortunately, we were fairly close to a house so Philip drove ahead to it while Rose walked the dog down the long lane. A woman was out in front of her house and Philip greeted her when he pulled up and explained the situation. Once she saw the Cocker Spaniel happily trotting along with Rose, she said she believed she knew to whom it belonged and went to make a phone call while we hung outside with the dog. Rose had a momentary brain lapse and opened the car door absentmindedly and he began to jump in the backseat but she was able to catch him just in time before he got muddy dog smell inside the car! The lady’s first guess as to the owner was ultimately incorrect, but she then figured out it likely belonged to a different neighbor. Since there was nothing more we could do, we left the dog with her to return it to its family and we returned back to our trip. We lost about 15 minutes with our dog rescue but it was well worth the time to keep a loveable dog from getting hit by a passing car.

Views from the Ring of Kerry.

Views from the Ring of Kerry.

As we drove on a little further, the landscape changed several times from lush foliage to fields and even some scrubby grazing land. A bit further on, the road reached the coast and we could now see beautiful views of the bay between this peninsula and another one just to the south. We stopped multiple times to enjoy the views and take pictures.

We came around a corner and saw this beautiful beach in front of us on the Ring of Kerry.

We came around a corner and saw this beautiful beach in front of us on the Ring of Kerry.

As we continued along, the neighboring peninsula came to its end and we saw the true Atlantic Ocean. We also saw a bright sandy beach and pulled off the road and down a side lane towards the beach and a restaurant there. We parked and took off our shoes so we could walk across the sand and stick our toes in the beautifully clear water. As anticipated, the water was frigidly cold, but now we can say we have been in the eastern side of the Atlantic!

The water off the Ring of Kerry is very clear...and very cold!

The water off the Ring of Kerry is very clear…and very cold!

When we reached the farthest point from Killarney, we left the ring and headed further west towards Valencia Island, which is connected by a short causeway to the mainland. Unfortunately, this is where our plans fell apart as we realized that the Monastery of Skellig Michael actually sits on top of…Skellig Michael, an island off the coast only reachable by boat. In planning, Philip had mistaken the location and assumed it was possible by car to reach the base of the steps to climb to the monastery. Alas, this was not the case.

Neither of us had much desire to visit the Skellig Experience Center and watch a video about the monastery so we headed back east to rejoin the ring road and continue on our way back to Killarney. The closing leg of the journey was fairly unexciting, though the scenery was certainly still very beautiful (no more puppies, though). Despite some nasty traffic in a neighboring town, we made it back to Killarney just after 5pm.

Beautiful view at the western edge of the Ring of Kerry.

Beautiful view at the western edge of the Ring of Kerry.

We only had a road name for the location of our B&B, but we weren’t sure where it was along that road. We used the Tom Tom app to navigate to the road and then, after not seeing our destination, pulled into a parking lot to regroup and attempt to navigate by GPS coordinates instead. Just as we were looking for the binder of booking confirmations, Rose happened to look up across the road and spotted our B&B just 20 meters away! We laughed and then made the short but challenging drive across the road.

We checked in and talked with the owner for a few minutes about what we had done today and our plans for tomorrow, as well as suggestions for where to eat dinner. She gave us two recommendations for “inexpensive, yet good” food (a fish and chips shop and a “grub pub” called Porterhouse that was the same color orange as the B&B) in Killarney and so we decided to walk the 15 minutes into town for dinner.

The walk was not particularly lovely, though it did improve when we hit the actual downtown. We followed a map our hostess had provided on a Killarney tourism booklet, but it turned out to be very challenging to follow and seemingly inaccurate (or at least very much out of scale). Old town Killarney was decorated with a lot of flags and banners hanging above the streets, which gave it a nicer feel and a slight medieval flair.

Downtown Killarney with its banners flying.

Downtown Killarney with its banners flying.

After not very much walking we came to two realizations. First, we were both getting hungry and quickly. Second, we both had absolutely forgotten what the second place was that our hostess had recommended for dinner. We walked up and down the street checking out restaurants and looking at menus. When we spotted Porterhouse, our memories reengaged and we realized that was the place we were looking for…at least until we saw the prices on the menu!

A bit dismayed, we continued our search and realized that dining in Killarney would be an expensive proposition. Eventually, we ended up at a sports bar called Scott’s that looked reasonable and was closer to the price range we were seeking.

Dinner was tasty and Rose got her first shepherd’s pie of the trip. Philip had a steak sandwich, though his “medium” steak was actually “well done”. While we ate, we talked about our plans for tomorrow, watched a bit of rugby, and eavesdropped on the Irish family with two cute kids dining next to us. When dinner was finished, we swung by a grocery to use the ATM and pick up breakfast and then returned to the B&B for a night of rest.

We had been considering tweaking our plans for tomorrow to bypass the Dingle peninsula, but two different people (our hostess and our dinner waitress) proclaimed its wonders today so we have decided to leave it in the plan. We will head north tomorrow and cover our greatest distance yet. As of today, we have begun the driving-heavy portion of our journey as we have a lot of country to cover over the next few days as we head up the western coast and circle around through Northern Ireland before returning to Dublin.

Summary:

  • Kissing the Blarney Stone
  • Climbing through caves and tunnels beneath a castle
  • Driving the Ring of Kerry
  • The great puppy rescue!
  • Beautiful views and a very cold ocean
  • An enjoyable dinner in Killarney

Stats:

  • Total Distance Traveled: 298.33 km
  • Distance on Foot: 10.23 km | 13,870 steps
Our route for the day.

Our route for the day.

*** Check out the first post of our trip to Ireland and read them in order! ***

After a bit of a late night writing, the morning came sooner than either of us wanted, but the excitement of the day helped get us motivated. We packed our belongings and set out from Kilkenny towards city of Cashel, home of a very popular set of ruins known as the Rock of Cashel. As we approached Cashel, we saw the ruins sitting atop a limestone outcrop on a hill overlooking the city.

Our first view of the Rock of Cashel as we drove towards town.

Our first view of the Rock of Cashel as we drove towards town.

When we arrived at the base of the hill at about 9:30, we learned that we would have to pay for parking, a theme that would carry throughout the day. We also noticed with some dismay that one tour bus was already there, though we didn’t see too many people yet. We quickly walked up the hill to the entrance of the site and learned that the first guided tour of the day would begin a few minutes. We stepped outside to await the start and admire the massively large structures.

Only a minute or two later, a large group of French tourists poured out of the Visitor’s Center and their guide began talking rapidly in French, presumably about the ruins. She finished her spiel and her group moved off into one of the buildings just in time for our tour to begin. In the less than 10 minutes since we had arrived, our group had grown to over 20 people. The website had indicated this site was very popular but we were still unprepared for the mass of humanity that was about to convene on this hilltop overlooking Cashel!

Our own guide (Seamus) took us around the site and explained the history of this location from a relatively small castle early last millennium to a massive cathedral complex in the centuries that followed. While he was talking, our heads were mostly pointed upwards admiring the vast quantities of stone in the ruined walls that still reached high into the sky.

The Rock of Cashel had many interesting aspects, though the highlights for us are the fresco remnants that have somehow survived the test of time and weather, as well as the towering overall structure. We’re not sure why these buildings feel so much larger than other places we’ve visited (and it’s likely that they aren’t really that much bigger), but something about the ruins on the top of the exposed hill just increases the impressiveness.

Baby polar bear reappears again, this time in front of the Rock of Cashel.

Baby polar bear reappears again, this time in front of the Rock of Cashel.

In one area, the walls had crumbled to reveal the narrow passageway between the inner and outer wall of the tower house where the stairwells were located. Our guide also explained how the various buildings on site (many of which shared walls) were connected and allowed for residents and guests to move between house and church without going outside into the cold.

The round tower and cemetery at the Rock of Cashel.

The round tower and cemetery at the Rock of Cashel.

We finished our tour in the graveyard around the structures and enjoyed the opportunity to step away from the ever increasing group of people around us. By the time we walked away from the Rock of Cashel and down through a poop-strewn path (thanks to the nearby sheep) towards a ruined abbey set a half kilometer or so down below, there were likely more than 200 people at the site with even more still arriving.

Standing in the cemetery at the Rock of Cashel looking at the ruined abbey in the field below.

Standing in the cemetery at the Rock of Cashel looking at the ruined abbey in the field below.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t find an easy way to get over to the abbey and didn’t relish the idea of jumping a fence and trudging through a field. Rather than climbing back up the hill we had just descended, we decided to follow the roads into Cashel instead with the hope of circumnavigating the hill back to our car. This walk turned out to be a flat and lovely stroll through a very quaint Cashel and we even managed to find a bakery on the way back to our car.

As we pulled out of the car park, the number of tour buses was up to 6 and we were quite glad we had come as early as we did. We weaved through the pedestrians and made our way out of Cashel and to our next castle located in the town of Cahir. When we arrived, we parked in the pay lot directly adjacent to the castle and walked towards the castle entrance. We took a moment to look at the river next to the castle and saw a very interesting triangle shaped waterfall in the river.

The river surrounding the island on which Cahir Castle stands.

The river surrounding the island on which Cahir Castle stands.

When we got to the entrance, we learned that part of the castle was closed due to electrical work. Fortunately, though, admission was free for the day as a result so we couldn’t complain too much. We walked across the castle courtyard and enjoyed the feeling of being mostly alone in this huge area (save for a few workers along one wall). Just before we reached a renovated building at the other end of the courtyard where we were to watch a 15 minute video, the doors opened up and a few dozen French tourists streamed out…so much for the serenity of the moment (pretty sure these were a different group than the ones we saw at Cashel).

The video gave an overview of the Cahir Castle, as well as some video and explanation of various other castles around Ireland. When it finished, we returned to the courtyard and began the process of wandering around to see what we could find.

According to our guidebook, Cahir Castle has been used a set for several movies and we could easily see why. The castle has been well maintained/renovated and still has the feeling of a fortress, rather than the rebranding as a palace or mansion that has taken place at some other castles we’ve seen (e.g., Kilkenny Castle).

In one section of the castle, we found a room with a grated hole in the wall, which we instantly recognized from the overview video as a medieval bathroom and toilet. We were somewhat surprised by the large size of the room, considering its purpose. We took a look around but decided to keep our hands off of certain areas for obvious reasons.

A bathroom and hole in the wall (yes, that is the toilet) at Cahir Castle.

A bathroom and hole in the wall (yes, that is the toilet) at Cahir Castle.

Just when Philip had assumed we had seen all there was to see, Rose pointed out a set of stairs in a corner that descended underground. Excited, we walked over to them and followed them down to the base of one of the castle towers. A very narrow staircase then branched off to the side, which we naturally followed and it took us up several floors until we emerged at the top of a tower overlooking the river below. It seemed that nobody else around knew about this area and we enjoyed the views for a few minutes on our own private tower. When ready, we returned back to the courtyard, just as an older couple was eying the stairs with some trepidation. We explained where they led and encouraged them to check it out, but English may not have been their first language so it wasn’t clear if they really understood what we were saying.

The entrance to our private tower at Cahir Castle.

The entrance to our private tower at Cahir Castle.

Enjoying the private tower we “discovered” at Cahir Castle.

We then found an additional area we had not yet seen on the second floor inside one of the castle buildings. Inside, we found a large diorama depicting the order of events when the English lay siege to the castle centuries ago. As he tends to do, Philip spent a while studying the diorama and its intricate details.

After the castle, we walked to a large park directly behind it hoping to get some great views of the structure. Cahir Castle and the park sit on an island that is flanked by rivers on all sides. As we did a lap of the park, we enjoyed spectacular views of the castle and were able to see how the builders had built the walls directly on top of a rugged stone outcropping. While walking the outside of the walls, we noticed that some of the arrow slits appeared to be backwards. Typically, the wide part of an arrow slit is inside the area being defended, but in this case it was reversed. We have no idea why this may be the case and it seems like a very poor design decision for a defensible castle.

The ducks hanging out in front of Cahir Castle.

The ducks hanging out in front of Cahir Castle.

The walk around the park was one of the most peaceful times we have had yet in Ireland. The river flows slowly through this stretch and the vegetation is lush. Palatial houses sit on the opposite bank with what must be stunning views of the castle. Interestingly, there is also some sort of high ropes course apparatus crossing the river. Philip of course wanted to try it but Rose wisely said no and we both remained dry.

Cahir Castle from the other end of the island on which it stands.

Cahir Castle from the other end of the island on which it stands.

Quite satisfied with our visit to Cahir Castle, we returned to our car and drove onward to the small village of Blarney on the outskirts of the much larger city of Cork. Blarney is famous, of course, for Blarney Castle and its very well known chunk of rock, the Blarney Stone. We will be visiting the castle and hopefully kissing the stone tomorrow.

When we arrived at our B&B in Blarney, we realized we were 2 hours early for check in but we knocked on the door just in case the caretaker was there. We were greeted at the door by a somewhat frazzled Irish lady with the thickest accent we have heard yet. After speaking with her for a few minutes, we learned that she was having severe plumbing problems and several of her rooms were without water. As a result, she had negotiated with another B&B nearby to house us instead at the same rate.

With memories of our hotel situation in Otranto, Italy, running through our minds, we returned to our car and followed her husband to the other B&B. We checked in there and got some tips for how to spend the remainder of our day. We had already planned on going into Cork to see a few sites, but the owner suggested that we might visit the city of Cohb if we had time afterwards. Cohb was the last port of call for the Titanic prior to its fateful encounter with an iceberg.

We set off in our car for downtown Cork and quickly hit “end of the school day” traffic. Eventually, we made it through to a parking garage in close proximity to St. Finn Barre’s Cathedral. Being the frugal people we are, we decided to park on the roof of the garage since that was 1 euro per hour cheaper than parking inside of the structure (some may scoff at this amount of savings but over a 3 hour visit, that’s at least worth a cone of gelato and Philip doesn’t mess around when it comes to gelato!).

After parking, we walked a few blocks and came upon the incredible façade of St. Finn Barre’s Cathedral. The cathedral is of Gothic design and includes two bell towers flanking the front entrance, as opposed to the more common symmetrical arrangement of a single bell tower.

The Gothic facade of St. Finn Barre's Cathedral in Cork.

The Gothic facade of St. Finn Barre’s Cathedral in Cork.

We entered the cathedral and attempted to pay for our tickets with a credit card, causing a look of panic to wash over the face of the young worker behind the counter who had apparently never had to ring up a card before. He quickly sought help and finished our transaction. We then inquired about the sign behind the counter that said free tours are available upon request. We were pleasantly surprised to learn that personal tours are offered on an impromptu basis. It seems that the cathedral does not get an exceptional amount of visitors and thus this service is possible.

We set off around the cathedral with our knowledgeable and somewhat hyper tour guide. He told us a lot of fascinating facts about the cathedral and about the eccentric nature of the architect (Rose knows a little something about eccentric architects). The cathedral is relatively modern, with the structure having been completed in the mid-19th century and some of the interior adornments being completed as late as the 1930’s. As might be expected, the cathedral is in exquisite condition. The adornments are extensive and include beautiful colored marble throughout. The cathedral also has an enormous pipe organ (possibly the largest in Ireland) with over 4000 pipes. It is especially unique because a large quantity of the pipes sit at ground level rather than being mounted high in the walls. A subset of pipes does reside at the back of the church above the entrance; these used to be mechanically activated but since the organ was recently renovated (at a cost of well over a million euros), they are now controlled via fiber optics.

Just part of the enormous  organ at St. Finn Barre's Cathedral.

Just part of the enormous organ at St. Finn Barre’s Cathedral.

After thanking our tour guide, we headed out of the cathedral and did a quick lap of the adjacent park. We then set off across Cork towards the Butter Museum. We first found ourselves in a somewhat icky industrial area but a timely one block adjustment to our path and the crossing of a river put us instead in a lovely pedestrian area. We made a quick stop for some curry chips (fries with a curry sauce) and continued towards our destination. Despite a brief detour when we thought we had gotten off track (would have been helpful to realize Cork has two rivers, not just one!), we eventually made it across the second river and up the hill to the Butter Museum.

We purchased our tickets to the museum and entered the gallery area. We sat for a while and watched a video produced no later than the early 1990’s about butter and its importance to this region of Ireland. Despite the questionable film quality, the information and history presented was actually fairly interesting. After the video finished, we walked around the 2 floors of the gallery briefly and looked at the various butter making artifacts. We also watched a video from the same era of awkward people awkwardly churning butter.

Truth be told, the butter museum was not the highlight of the day. Fortunately, the walk to that area of Cork revealed a clock/bell tower nearby, which ended up being far more satisfying to visit. We arrived there at 4:32 and were told we had made it just in time to climb the tower since they close promptly at 5pm. We paid our admission fee and were each handed ear protection to save our hearing when we were in the bell area.

This tower is unique amongst others we have been to in that they encourage visitors to ring the bells. On the first level of the tower, there is a songbook on a music stand next to 8 cords that descend from the ceiling along one wall. Each cord, when pulled, strikes the hammer of one of the bells and the 8 bells together make up a full octave. The songbook contains various popular songs (not that we had heard of many of them) and calls out which numbered bell should be rung and with what cadence. Philip had a fine time playing a few tunes including “Here Comes the Sun” and “This Land Is Your Land”. Fun fact: “This Land Is Your Land” actually has both American and Canadian versions. Who knew!

The controls of a really cool musical instrument... the church bells in Shandon Tower.

The controls of a really cool musical instrument… the church bells in Shandon Tower.

After playing the bells (and briefly wondering what it would be like to live near the bell tower), we climbed higher. We reached the third floor with the clock mechanism and spent a few moments looking at the intricate gears and equipment to drive a clock face on each side of the tower. We donned our ear protection and climbed to the fourth floor where the bells themselves hang out. This would be a wonderful place to spend some time if it weren’t for the very brave pigeons that also live there and the incredible mess they make. While we were there (and on our way back down later), somebody below rang the bells and we were very thankful for the ear protection. It was a cool experience to be basically crouching beneath a 1 meter diameter bell and see and hear the hammer strike it.

We then climbed to the top of the tower and out onto the exterior walkway. From here, we had views all over Cork and could see St. Finn Barre’s Cathedral off in the distance. While up there, we looked down into a small park next to the tower and noticed a few dogs running around. As might be expected, we now knew our next destination!

We climbed back down, returned our ear protection, and set off into the park where we met a beautiful husky and an Irish Setter mix (and said hi to their humans as well). A stroll back across Cork brought us back to our car. Rose validated and paid our parking fee while Philip got dizzy bringing the car down 6 stories of parking structure switchbacks.

As it was only about 5:15pm, we decided we would follow the advice of our new B&B owner and check out the town of Cohb, about 30ish minutes away. The “ish” in this case was important because we ended up stuck for several minutes in Cork’s evening rush hour traffic. Eventually, we made it through and the rest of the drive to Cohb was quite pleasant.

We pulled into town on a steep street that descended towards the ocean (probably more of a bay, actually) below. While seeing water for the first time since we landed on this island was nice, what really dominated our attention was a magnificent cathedral near the bottom of the road. We had no idea of what to expect when coming to Cohb, but we certainly hadn’t anticipated a cathedral of this magnificence.

We rolled into Cohb and were stunned to find this enormous cathedral waiting for us.

We rolled into Cohb and were stunned to find this enormous cathedral waiting for us.

We parked a few blocks up the street from St. Colman’s Cathedral and walked down to the building, taking pictures every few steps. We went inside and were instantly blown away by what we saw. Unlike most of the other churches we’ve seen in Ireland, this one is extremely ornate. In fact, it even blows away St. Finn Barre’s Cathedral, which itself had far surpassed any of the others we had seen. We walked around the interior in awe (that is the point of magnificence in a cathedral after all) and took it all in.

The ornate interior of St. Colman's Cathedral.

The ornate interior of St. Colman’s Cathedral.

One aspect we found very interesting is the ornate, almost to the point of absurdity, stone carvings that cover a large percentage of the interior walls. In the nave, we realized that these were carved in the shape of shamrocks. In the transept, we saw a combination of fleur-du-lies and flower petals. We also noticed the mosaic tilework on the floors of the cathedral, which have a decidedly Celtic theme, as well as other green accents around the building. More than any other church we’ve seen, this one feels the most Irish.

After we picked our jaws up off the floor, we went back outside and stood for a few minutes looking over the ocean and then walked back up the hill towards our car to find food. We stepped into a small corner take away restaurant called Sorrento Pizza (or something like that). Rose ordered a taco pizza…yes, an American ordering Mexican-themed food in an Italian-inspired restaurant in Ireland. Philip ordered some fish and chips and we chatted with the female worker for a few minutes while we waited for our food.

Our view of the ocean in Cohb.

Our view of the ocean in Cohb.

Philip asked her if she was from Sorrento, thus beginning an always welcome conversation about Italy. We told her about our previous adventures in Italy and then took our food and left. We walked around for a few minutes hoping to find a place to sit and eat, but eventually ended up just sitting in the car. The view from there was fantastic so we really didn’t mind. After eating way too much food, we realized we were out of water and both thirsty so we set off back down the hill 1 block to a small grocery store.

Before we made it more than 20 feet, Philip felt the gravitational pull of puppies and we stopped to talk to a man and meet his two dogs: a husky and a border collie mix (yes, Philip was momentarily in heaven). As he petted both dogs, the border collie kept nibbling on Philip’s hand, just like Niko! After a minute or two, we completed our journey to the market and then returned back to our B&B in Blarney to call it a night (after some writing and pictures, of course).

Check out our awesome ear protection to protect our hearing from the bells in Shandon Tower.

Check out our awesome ear protection to protect our hearing from the bells in Shandon Tower.

Today was pretty awesome and the unexpected journey to Cohb was a satisfying finish. Tomorrow, we head west, though not before stopping at Blarney Castle to do that quintessential Irish tradition: kissing the Blarney Stone.

Summary:

  • The Rock of Cashel and the deluge of tour buses
  • Exploring Cahir Castle and finding our own tower
  • Memories of Otranto: the B&B switch
  • Our private tour of St. Finn Barre’s Cathedral
  • “Butter makes it better”…unless it is a museum
  • Playing the church bells over Cork
  • An impromptu visit to Cohb and discovering its awesome cathedral
  • A little touch of Italy in southern Ireland

Stats:

  • Total Distance Traveled: 234.82 km
  • Distance on Foot: 13.83 km | 18,737 steps
Our route for the day.

Our route for the day.

*** Check out the first post of our trip to Ireland and read them in order! ***

We woke up before 8am, excited to continue exploring this area of Ireland. After getting dressed and packing up our day pack, we set off on foot towards the heart of Kilkenny and our first destination, Kilkenny Castle. Along the way, we stopped at a bakery and grabbed a scone for Rose and chocolate muffin for Philip for breakfast.

The quaint storefronts on our walk into Kilkenny.

The quaint storefronts on our walk into Kilkenny.

When we arrived at the castle, we purchased our tickets and were told rather definitively by the ticket person that tours were self-guided today. We had been expecting to do a guided tour, but the statement was so certain that we didn’t even question it and set off on the route proposed by the provided brochure. Sadly, we were not allowed to take pictures of the castle interior.

Kilkenny Castle

Kilkenny Castle

We began our tour in the underground levels and were fascinated by a room in one of the towers where the ceiling seemed to have bits of wicker stuck in it. A placard in the room explained that these wicker remnants were left over from the construction of the castle when they used a wicker framework to support the vaulted ceiling of the room during construction. After finishing the ceiling, the wicker structure was removed, though some pieces remained giving clues to the room’s origin.

The route then took us upstairs into the main entry hall where we encountered a very large tour group with a tour guide just finishing his spiel about the room. We followed this group up the stairs, though dawdled a bit to give ourselves some distance. We then entered a room containing several large tapestries. The guide pamphlet gave several bits of information about the room and its contents, though of most interest to us architecture nerds, was that the ceiling was shaped like a keyhole because a square tower had been added adjacent to the preexisting medieval round tower.

As we got to a bright yellow library room, we saw a different tour guide just finishing her bit about the room for the same large group. Suspicious now, we decided it might be wise to stay close with this group (apparently a musician/artist tour) as it seemed they had stolen all of the tour guides for the morning.

In the drawing room, we heard a tour guide talk about the significance of some of the paintings and the subtle messages included in them, such as showing a future King of England as a powerful child looming over a very large dog as if to say, “I’m powerful enough to control even a beast this large!). He also pointed out the tea lockbox (tea was an expensive item in those days that only the wealthy could afford) as well as the “conversation couch”, a large circular sofa with four seats where brides and grooms would have their first meeting a few days before the wedding (for pre-arranged marriages, at least), though had to sit back to back and communicate through their chaperones.

We continued along with this group to some bedrooms, including one that had an ensuite bathroom with the world’s most ridiculously large toilet that was installed for the visit of an English king. Most of these rooms had incredibly intricate hand-painted wallpaper and it was clear to see that no expense had been spared on the furnishings.

The highlight of the tour was the Portrait gallery, the second longest room in Ireland that took up an entire wing of the castle. The room was purpose built to hold part of the Butler family’s large collection of artwork. The room had a beautiful roof (both in architecture and adornment) in the hammerbeam style that is very similar to a Viking boat turned upside down. The guide in this room explained that one reason ceilings of this type became popular was that the craftsmen who built ships could easily transition to building roofs when the shipbuilding demand was low. While we couldn’t take pictures here, St. Canice’s Cathedral has a very similar roof (architecturally at least) and we were able to take pictures there.

This hammerbeam ceiling at St. Canice's Cathedral is similar in construction to the ceiling in the Portrait Room at Kilkenny Castle.

This hammerbeam ceiling at St. Canice’s Cathedral is similar in construction to the ceiling in the Portrait Room at Kilkenny Castle.

The guide also spent some time talking about the Butler legacy and the origins of many Irish names. The Butler’s came to Ireland as part of the Norman invasion in the 12th century and are thus of French origin. He explained that almost every Irish name that begins with “Fitz” (e.g., Fitzgerald, Fitzsimmons, etc.) is of Norman ancestry. The key exception to this rule are the FitzPatrick’s who are wholly Irish. All in all, it was a fascinating few minutes of Irish history and we gained a new appreciation for the intertwining of Vikings, English, French, and Irish influences that have made Ireland what it is today.

After the portrait gallery, we went outside the castle and entered one of the towers from the courtyard where a short video described the history of the castle and showed clips from the latest renovations in the early 1990’s. When the video was finished, we took a few more pictures of the exterior and then walked over towards the river and then back towards the center of town.

Foolishly, Philip took the lead and promptly got us stuck on the wrong side of a supermarket parking lot and unable to get through to our destination. Rose saved the day and wisely regained navigational control and led us to St. Mary’s Cathedral, a few blocks off the main street.

The impressive St. Mary's Cathedral.

The impressive St. Mary’s Cathedral.

St. Mary’s is an impressive building at first sight and was completely devoid of tourists when we arrived. There were, however, a few construction workers going in and out of the church. We were a bit apprehensive at first, but after checking for any signs forbidding entry, we walked in through the open front door and took in the beautiful cathedral. A large curtain hung in front of the altar area as this was the location of the renovation activities. We did a quick lap of the building and then returned to the street to continue along.

Our next stop was St. Canice’s Cathedral, the saint for which Kilkenny is named (yes, we know it is hard to see in the English spelling – the Irish spelling too for that matter – but we promise it is true). We paid the entrance fee and received some laminated information cards that pointed out interesting spots around the church and gave information about them. In general, St. Canice’s feels much warmer than St. Mary’s (emotional warmth, not temperature though read below for more on that). The stone used in its construction is lighter and there is much more natural light entering the space. All in all, it is a very pleasant place in which to pass some time.

St. Canice's Cathedral and its leaning round tower.

St. Canice’s Cathedral and its leaning round tower.

Soon after we started our self-guided loop of the building interior, Philip asked one of the workers about the metal grates running down the main aisle of the church and in other areas as well. She explained that this is part of the church’s heating system, though didn’t give any more details. Most likely, the grates cover a trench containing hot water pipes for radiative heating. As far as we can remember, we haven’t seen this type of feature before at any of the numerous churches we have visited both in Ireland or elsewhere. We also noticed enormous radiators along some of the walls of the church and we suspect this cathedral can stay nice and toasty during a cold Irish winter.

The tilework and heating system floor grating at St. Canice's Cathedral.

The tilework and heating system floor grating at St. Canice’s Cathedral.

Along the left side of the church we saw a large diorama of the city of Kilkenny as it might have looked in medieval times. We stood there for several minutes orienting ourselves and trying to figure out whether or not we had seen a piece of the city walls on our walk to St. Mary’s. We also read about Kilkenny’s status as the first city in Ireland to burn somebody for witchcraft (actually, they burned her servant; she fled successfully to England!).

In the front section of the church, we admired the beautiful multi-colored marble adorning the altar floor. The 4 colors of marble (black, green, pink, and white) each come from different regions of Ireland and are a commonly used theme in Irish cathedrals. Also in this area we saw what appeared to be a digital video confessional booth, though it was really unclear to us how something like that might be used.

After finishing our trip around the interior of the cathedral, we went outside for the part we had been anticipating, climbing to the top of the 33 meter tall round tower next to the church (adding to the fun is the knowledge that the tower is at least 2 meters out of plumb…watch out leaning tower of Pisa!). While over a hundred of these ancient towers (roughly 1000 years old) still exist in Ireland, this was the first one we have seen (of two that exist in Ireland) that allows visitors to climb to the top of it! We entered the first floor doorway (remember, we’re in Europe so floor 1 is not the same as the ground floor) via a steep set of stairs/ladder and then set about the task of climbing the 6 or so levels in the tower to reach the top. Each section of stairs became progressively steeper as we climbed due to the smaller diameter of the tower at the top than the bottom. By the last section of stairs, it was quite a tight fit to slide past the wall to get on the proper side of the ladder.

Looking up at the 33 meter tall round tower at St. Canice's Cathedral.

Looking up at the 33 meter tall round tower at St. Canice’s Cathedral.

The top of the tower was unexpectedly crowded (about 10 of us up there on an area about 6 feet in diameter), though we understood the tendency to loiter there once we saw the views from above. We looked out over Kilkenny and could see the various churches, the river, and the castle in the distance. One amusing sight was a ruined abbey/church not too far away completely surrounded by a parking lot. It was quite the odd juxtaposition of 800 year old stone ruins and a modern day car park! We likely could have stayed up there for hours, but the biting wind eventually encouraged us to return to the relative warmth of ground level.

With our feet firmly back on the ground, we went around the back of the church to wash our hands in the washroom there (the limited hand holds when climbing the tower stairs all but guarantees every single person touches the same spots) and then asked a worker inside the cathedral for a lunch recommendation. She suggested a spot back towards Kilkenny Castle so we walked back that direction and stepped inside Kyteler’s Inn to grab a bite to eat.

We learned an interesting fact while at Kyteler’s; namely, the sandwiches on the menu contain exactly what they say on the menu and nothing else. Philip’s smoked salmon and lettuce sandwich was just those ingredients on bread. Rose’s toasted chicken sandwich equated to just toasted bread and dry chicken slices. She managed to salvage the meal with the addition of the contents of a packet labeled “Brown Sauce”, though it wasn’t quite the lunch we were looking for.

Our stomachs satiated if not our taste buds, we returned to the hotel to pick up our car and set off towards the Dunmore Caves north of Kilkenny. The caves are set in one of the most beautiful landscapes we’ve seen yet in Ireland; rolling hills with fields stretched as far as the eye can see, some with cattle, others with sheep, others with crops, and most separated with stone walls or hedges.

We went into the visitor’s center and learned that a tour was just beginning so we ran to catch up to the tour group of about 10 people. We descended a long flight of stairs down into the mouth of a cave. We learned from the tour guide that an earthquake about 3000 years ago caused one of the caverns to collapse the field above it. While this made a portion of the caves accessible, it also dropped so much rubble into the cavern below that it permanently (well, at least without removing a lot of material) blocked off other caverns further down the line. Our tour guide expressed his hopes that someday in the future, the Irish government will decide to pay the cost to excavate enough material to open up those additional caverns.

Descending down to the entrance of Dunmore Cave.

Descending down to the entrance of Dunmore Cave.

Our tour guide showed us several interesting formations and told stories about the history of the cave. Sometime last century, a rogue rich guy decided he wanted to have one of the cave formations as a centerpiece for his garden and proceeded to use dynamite to try and detach it from the ceiling. He ended up breaking off the bottom half of the formation, and it presumably crashed to the ground below and was destroyed!

The tour guide also told us about the one accessible cavern that is not on the tour due to the challenging crawl required to reach it. This cavern contains a blue lake (colored by high copper content) that floods the cavern annually with the winter runoff and causes an abundance of crystal formations called cave coral. After our tour, we saw a few pictures of the cavern in the visitor’s center and it looks truly magnificent. He also pointed out a formation called the buffalo and we have to agree it looks a little like Ralphie, our favorite University of Colorado mascot!

The buffalo formation in Dunmore Cave...Go CU!

The buffalo formation in Dunmore Cave…Go CU!

Near the end of the tour, the guide told us of the history of humans using the cave over the last 1000 years. Sadly, this tale included stories of Viking feuds and the death of hundreds of women and children that were hiding in the cave. Historians believe that the attackers set a fire to try and smoke them out of their hiding places but that the fire was too hot and it consumed all of the oxygen in the cavern. This story gave a new eeriness to the experience of being down there, but also a new appreciation for the fact that real people really lived their lives and died their deaths in these ancient places we are visiting on this trip.

Our guide also explained to us the cave’s somewhat sketchy archeological history. Apparently, numerous “amateur archeologists” (some good intentioned, others less so) have visited the cave over the last century and removed a significant number of artifacts, bones, etc. It is not known how much history was lost forever as a result, though a tour guide did serendipitously discover a Viking cache of silver deep in a rock crevice when he reached down to remove a stray candy bar wrapper about 10 years ago.

The area around Dunmore Cave is incredibly lush, as can be seen when looking up from the entrance.

The area around Dunmore Cave is incredibly lush, as can be seen when looking up from the entrance.

After asking a few questions to the tour guide, we returned to the surface and then proceeded on to a bonus attraction for the day: Jerpoint Abbey. We reached the Abbey in about 30 minutes and learned that a tour would be beginning in just a few minutes (our timing rocks today!) We waited outside for a few minutes, giving Philip time to realize that a t-shirt alone was not sufficient with the cold wind. Fortunately, he had just enough time to run to the car for his jacket and make it back for the start of the tour.

Our tour guide (Jim) for Jerpoint Abbey was a phenomenal wealth of information and we got so much more out of our visit than if we had just wandered around on our own. He told us the history of the abbey from its start in the 11th century and its existence as a Cistercian abbey until its abandonment in the 15th century with the dissolution of all monasteries at the order of the King of England.

The cloisters and cathedral nave at Jerpoint Abbey.

The cloisters and cathedral nave at Jerpoint Abbey.

The abbey contains a wonderful collection of stone carvings, both on grave covers as well as on the reassembled columns of the cloisters. The guide took time to explain the significance of many of them. Of particular interest was a grave cover with carvings of many of the apostles and he pointed out the characteristics of each one that makes them identifiable (Thomas always with the spear, Jude with the knife, etc.).

A grave covering at Jerpoint Abbey depicting several of the Apostles.

A grave covering at Jerpoint Abbey depicting several of the Apostles.

After taking a ridiculous number of pictures around the abbey, we returned back to the hotel. We inquired at the front desk and got a promising suggestion for dinner with live Irish music. We spent about an hour relaxing in the room, going through pictures, and doing some writing, and then set off back towards Kilkenny Castle for dinner.

The church at Jerpoint Abbey.

The cathedral at Jerpoint Abbey.

Without too much trouble, we found a car park and walked a short distance to Matt the Miller’s, a quaint restaurant on the river. We sat upstairs and could hear live Irish folk music rising from the room below through the open loft. In a moment of bravery, Philip decided to order the house favorite: roasted chicken stuffed with black pudding in a scallion sauce, served alongside mashed potatoes and roasted vegetables. When he asked the waitress what black pudding is, she struggled to come up with words and said, “it’s like pudding…but with meat…different parts of pig.” We’re not sure if she was legitimately struggling to describe it or was trying to not scare Philip off from the meal. For the record, we looked up both white and black pudding later that night. White pudding typically consists of various cuts of pig, ground up and mixed with oatmeal. Black pudding is white pudding, but also with pig’s blood mixed in! We should note that the texture of the pudding is nothing at all like what one would expect in America with the word “pudding”. It is a much drier and crumblier consistency (thankfully not slimy), more like dry oatmeal cookie dough.

Rose ordered a salmon salad, and thus was rather confused when our food arrived and she was given a large bowl of seafood chowder. After a quick conference with the waitress, she decided to go with the mix up and the chowder was quite delicious. Philips meal was delicious as well and the black pudding within the chicken was not as scary as originally feared. Without a doubt, it was the best meal we’ve had yet in Ireland!

After dinner, we returned to our hotel to finish posting to the blog and then called it a night. So far, our planned itinerary is working wonderfully and we are excited for the rest of the trip. Tomorrow, we leave Kilkenny and head southwest, stopping at several castles along the way.

Happy travelers at Jerpoint Abbey

Happy travelers at Jerpoint Abbey

Summary:

  • An awesome castle
  • Cathedrals, a round tower, and some incredible views
  • 6 euros for dry chicken and bread
  • Another country, another cave!
  • Jerpoint Abbey and the awesomeness of free tours
  • Finally, some good (although scary) food!

Stats:

  • Total Distance Traveled: 78.8 km
  • Distance on Foot: 13.37 km | 18,118 steps
Our route around Kilkenny for the day.

Our route around Kilkenny for the day.

*** Check out the first post of our trip to Ireland and read them in order! ***

We woke up around 7:30 am after one of the most satisfying sleeps of our lives. The total exhaustion jet lag plan appears to have worked as we felt rested and ready to go for our next day of exploring Ireland. After packing up our belongings, buying our Guinness Storehouse tickets, and paying our M50 toll from yesterday before the 8:30 pm deadline, we went upstairs for a delicious breakfast of fruit, eggs, bacon, sausage, and toast with marmalade. While we were eating, we noticed a middle-aged couple at another table and overheard them talking in Italian. After checking out of the hotel, we passed them in the parking lot and Philip had to ask where they were from because…well he just had to because it’s Italy! It turns out they are from Bologna, which is one of the few major cities we didn’t make it to on our epic two month journey around Italy 6 years ago.

Two happy travelers enjoying day 2 of their journey around Ireland.

Two happy travelers enjoying day 2 of their journey around Ireland.

We were originally going to take the bus into Dublin, but the hotel owner assured us that Sunday traffic would be light and that the Guinness Storehouse has free parking so we opted to drive again. We used our Tom Tom app to navigate the few kilometer journey. While it technically got us to our destination, we were a bit suspicious of the navigation algorithm as it seemed like the aim was to maximize the number of turns we had to make between points A and B!

After a brief moment of confusion when we arrived at what was obviously a Guinness facility and, just as obviously, not a tourist destination, we realized that we needed to drive just a few more blocks to get to the Storehouse. We parked and walked into the entrance to pick up our tickets and then continued along into the main atrium. A man gave a brief introduction about Guinness and pointed down to a document sealed in plastic in the floor: the 9000 year lease Arthur Guinness had signed for the property. He then set us free to tour the exhibits at our own pace.

The center atrium at the Guinness Storehouse.. the world's largest pint glass!

The center atrium at the Guinness Storehouse.. the world’s largest pint glass!

The visitor area of the Guinness Storehouse is a 7 story building with each floor detailing a different part of the Guinness story. As the tour guide put it, the building looks like the world’s largest pint of Guinness because of the shape of the glass atrium down the core of the building. On floor 1, we walked past exhibits explaining the 4 main ingredients of the beer: hops, barley, water, and yeast. Floor 1.5 had numerous exhibits detailing the brewing process and floor 1.8 talked about the cask making process. Floor 2 contained a small café and a tasting room where they serve small tastes of Guinness and explain how to taste it properly (big sips so as to get both the foamy head as well as the beer below it). This area also contained a portrait gallery of members of the Guinness family.

Part of the water display on the first floor.

Part of the water display on the first floor.

On floor 3, we encountered exhibits about the many famous advertising campaigns used to sell Guinness over the years. Many of them were obviously not targeted for American (or even western audiences) and it was interesting to see the ads over the years. There was also a section of large statues of animals, each holding a Guinness in some way (the seal on its nose, the kangaroo in its pouch, etc.). The oddest item was probably a large mechanical fish riding a human-sized bike, which was related to an ad campaign challenging the old saying, “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle”.

Where else would you carry your Guinness as a tortoise?

Where else would you carry your Guinness as a tortoise?

Not sure we'll ever understand the people who think up advertising campaigns...as engineers, though, we thought this thing was pretty cool as it actually pedals the bike.

Not sure we’ll ever understand the people who think up advertising campaigns…as engineers, though, we thought this thing was pretty cool as it actually pedals the bike.

Floor 4 was probably the coolest part of the tour as it contained the Guinness University where they teach visitors how to pour the perfect pint of Guinness. We crowded around a bar area with about 8 other visitors and Aisling (pronounced like Ashley) taught us the 6 steps of pouring Guinness properly. It was fascinating to learn about the special taps Guinness requires (20% carbon dioxide, 80% nitrogen gas mixture), the importance of the settling period, the topping off process, etc. Rose performed excellently and was rewarded with her very own pint of Guinness to enjoy.

Rose mastering the perfect pour of her Guinness pint.

Rose mastering the perfect pour of her Guinness pint.

We rode the elevator to floor 5 to avoid the chance of dropping a pint off the edge of an escalator, something which had apparently happened in the past. Since this floor just contained a café, we continued up the stairs past floor 6 (just the restrooms) to floor 7 and the Gravity Bar. This room at the top of the building offers panoramic views over Dublin, which we enjoyed while Rose drank more of her beer and Philip enjoyed a lovely “fizzy orange” soft drink (Fanta). Rose tried her best, but wasn’t quite able to finish her whole pint (okay, she probably only had ¾ of a cup since it is so strong) and then we descended back to ground level via the stairs and headed back to our car.

We set off SE through the Dublin suburbs towards a small town near the coast called Dalkey. Along the way, we experienced some more terrifying moments and may have even had a slight curb check when a turning driver was straddling the line and encroaching on our already way too narrow lane (okay… “slight curb check” may be an understatement as we did pull over to verify that we had all our hub caps and no ruptured tires…we did!) We also noticed an ever increasing quantity of people walking along the road wearing bright green shirts. Eventually, we reached an area that was blocked to traffic and had food trucks and other tents set up. We learned later in the day via the radio that a historic football match between Ireland and England took place today for the first time on Irish soil in 20 years.

All we knew was that Dalkey is supposedly a Mediterranean-esque town and it has two castles. We walked through a nice neighborhood street to the center of town and a very small and crumbling building. It turns out this was castle #1, though was smaller than a lot of modern day houses. We walked around a church next door and quickly found castle #2: Dalkey Castle. This one was a bit more impressive, though we elected to skip the 8 euro tour since our itinerary was pretty tight for this day and we hadn’t planned on spending an hour at the castle. We were told by the attendant that the tour features people dressed up in period costumes and explaining life, which could either be really cool or really hokey. Perhaps when we return to Dublin someday, we will venture back to Dalkey and check it out. One downside of trying to visit so many places in such a short trip is that we have to skip out on some things.

After a quick jaunt down the main street of Dalkey, we returned to our car and headed to the Powerscourt Gardens. Along the way, we experienced even more driving terror as we navigated down narrow streets with no shoulders and stone walls on both sides. In some other areas, the foliage was like a thick jungle pressing in on all sides and even joining overhead so as to form a tunnel. It was absolutely beautiful to drive along those roads, as long as we could ignore the ever present fear of hitting something.

The Powerscourt Gardens consist of a large mansion, numerous greenhouses, and a vast array of gardens, lakes, and terraces. We walked the suggested loop around the area and climbed a neat stone tower on one side. While at the top, we had to dodge a group of girls speaking Spanish and attempting a selfie with a long selfie-stick.

The tower at Powerscourt  Gardens...Philip narrowly dodged a selfie-stick concussion at the top.

The tower at Powerscourt Gardens…Philip narrowly dodged a selfie-stick concussion at the top.

The gardens contain trees from all over the world and many of them are labeled and most of them are incredibly tall (i.e. 250 years old or so). It was breathtaking just to look up and see how high some of the trees stretched towards the clouds. Others were covered in beautiful blossoms, some of which we had never seen before.

Sugarloaf Mountain in the distance as seen from the bottom of Powerscourt Gardens.

Sugarloaf Mountain in the distance as seen from the bottom of Powerscourt Gardens.

The main lake at Powerscourt with the manor house in the background.

The main lake at Powerscourt with the manor house in the background.

We continued along through the Japanese gardens and then came to the main lake at the halfway point around the loop. We did a smaller loop of just the lake and found an interesting little boat house cut beneath the grand staircase at the bottom of the gardens. Continuing along the main loop, we stopped briefly at the pet cemetery where beloved pets of the family had been buried for hundreds of years. We finished the tour by walking through the Walled Gardens, an area with a central corridor of plantings flanked by large lawns on either side.

The Pet Cemetery at Powerscourt Gardens.

The Pet Cemetery at Powerscourt Gardens.

We returned to our car and drove a few kilometers (actually a few more than intended since we got a bit lost) to the nearby Powerscourt waterfall, the tallest waterfall in Ireland. We weren’t sure what to expect, but it certainly wasn’t the scene in front of us. Rather than a few people standing and looking up at the base of the waterfall, we instead found an enormous area of parked cars with people grilling, playing games, and enjoying a Sunday afternoon picnic. It would appear that the waterfall is a popular place for locals to come and enjoy being outside on a nice day and the smells of barbecue were painfully delicious as we walked from our car to the base of the waterfall. The waterfall cascades down rocks and is really quite delightful. We took a lot of pictures, including one with our friend Baby Polar Bear and then returned to our car to continue our journey.

The Powerscourt Waterfall, Ireland's tallest at over 400 meters high!

The Powerscourt Waterfall, Ireland’s tallest at over 400 meters high!

Hey, Baby Polar Bear made it all the way from our last trip in Belize and is now enjoying the sights.

Hey, Baby Polar Bear made it all the way from our last trip in Belize and is now enjoying the sights in Ireland.

We planned to follow a route known as the Military Road and then cut through an area called Sally Gap before turning south to Glendalough. Despite a few problems with our Tom Tom app, particularly our total inability to make it stop navigating us, we eventually got things sorted (this may or may not have been limited to just turning off the sound on the phone…). The drive was very nice and the scenery changed from dense foliage to scrubby fields to barren land as we drove. On the way to Sally Gap, we saw a gorgeous lake in a valley down below, somewhat reminiscent of some of the canyon lakes we saw in Arizona (minus the saguaro cacti at water’s edge of course).

Once we passed through Sally Gap, we found ourselves stuck behind a very slow driver for at least 10 km. Considering we are finding it challenging to even reach the speed limit on a bunch of the roads, this guy must have been going really slow to irk us. He eventually reached his destination and we were able to continue our drive to Glendalough in much faster time! As we drove, we decided to listen to the radio for a bit and found a live broadcast of some sporting event, though it wasn’t rugby or football (we suspected it was hurling, an Irish sport we know nothing about). A day later, we finally figured out that it was indeed hurling, a team sport played with a wooden racquet and a ball. However, having never seen the game played, we had a very challenging time understanding the action and still can’t figure out how the commentary and play-by-play calls correspond to guys hitting a ball with racquets. Note: as of writing this entry, we took a few minutes to watch hurling highlights on Youtube and now understand the commentary, though are somewhat appalled at the lack of safety equipment for a sport that combines aspects of lacrosse, field hockey, and Australian Rules Football. For those that aren’t familiar with hurling, imagine a bunch of guys running around a field with large wooden sticks and optional helmets, swinging wildly at a baseball and tackling each other frequently.

We finally reached Glendalough at 4:30pm, about 30 minutes later than intended, though were pleased to find out that it is just the Visitor’s Center that closes at 6pm and not the entire site (we had anticipated needing 2 hours to visit the site and were worried about time). We elected to pass on the movie about the site and instead just purchased a 50 eurocent map to guide us on our way. Glendalough (“Gleann da loch” in Irish) literally means valley of two lakes and consists of a serene valley, two lakes, and two sets of ancient ruins of monasteries and related buildings.

We walked out of the Visitor’s Center and found a small archway and a set of stone stairs leading to the top of a hill. We climbed these, only to realize that this was not the actual entrance to the site. We carefully climbed over a metal wire fence and then found ourselves in the area known as the Monastic Circle. This consisted of ruins of several buildings including a round tower, a church, a priest’s house (so named not because priest’s lived there but because they were buried there) as well as a large cemetery. We walked around this area and took a lot of pictures, particularly of the round tower with the beautiful azure sky as a backdrop.

Round tower In Monastic Circle at Glendalough.

Round tower In Monastic Circle at Glendalough.

The priest's house with the round tower in the background at the Monastic Circle at Glendalough.

The priest’s house with the round tower in the background at the Monastic Circle at Glendalough.

After exploring this area, we set off towards the second site of ruins about 1.5 km away. We elected to take the boardwalk route, which led us over the marshy ground and past a small lake and pastures of grazing sheep (all with blue spray paint on them marking their ownership). As we reached the end of the path, we realized that this end of the “serene valley” now contains a large parking lot, a concession stand, and numerous lawns. As was the case at the waterfall, the Irish locals were out enjoying the nice weather on a Sunday afternoon.

The Lower Lake at Glendalough as seen from the boardwalk.

The Lower Lake at Glendalough as seen from the boardwalk.

We stopped by the concession area to order some food (hamburger for Rose, kebab on chips for Philip) and we sat down at the nearby picnic tables to eat. The food was good because we were hungry, but certainly not spectacular. We’re definitely missing Italy a little bit where we could walk into almost any shop and get an amazing panino or pizza for just a few euros.

The view from the shore of the Upper Lake at Glendalough...this place is stunningly beautiful!

The view from the shore of the Upper Lake at Glendalough…this place is stunningly beautiful!

After eating, we walked towards the shore of the much larger “Upper Lake” and then attempted to find the sites of the ruins there. Our 50 eurocent map proved to be worth its face value considering we were only able to find some of the sites and some of them were even in the wrong place on the map! The most interesting was probably the 11th century ruined church that was in a lovely meadow separated from the busyness of the people in the parks below.

The small 11th century church at Glendalough.

The small 11th century church at Glendalough.

At this point, we decided it was time to move on and so headed back towards the car via the “Green Road” route. Along the way, we saw several people walking with their dogs. Philip being Philip naturally wanted to say hello to all of them, though he has a habit of seeing puppies first and the realizing a real life human being is attached to them via a leash. With one dog, Philip asked the lady if we could say hello, and she promptly responded with “Sure. Hello.” Philip clarified that he was actually referring to the dog (a border collie named Judy), but that it was also nice to meet the lady. A little further along, we came across a 4-month old Golden Retriever puppy and of course stopped to say hello to that one as well.

Upon returning to the car, we set out for the final leg of our daily journey to our hotel in Kilkenny. After some country roads, we reached the motorway and enjoyed the opportunity to cruise along with wide lanes at 120 km/hr! Despite only having a road name and not an actual address for our hotel, we found our destination without too much trouble and pulled in around 8:15 pm.

We checked in and spent the rest of the evening going through pictures and writing. At one point we looked out the window and realized the sun had still not set, despite it being after 10pm! We didn’t realize how far north we had come in visiting Ireland and the implications on the length of the day. We hope to take advantage of these long days during the trip, though it may cause some difficulty with seeing some sites at sunset. It was a great first full day of traveling and we look forward to what the rest of the trip has to offer!

Summary:

  • The Guinness Story and pouring the perfect pint
  • A quick walk around Dalkey
  • Walking the Powerscourt Gardens
  • The Powerscourt Waterfall…where locals go to picnic
  • Glendalough and the Concession Stand Incident
  • The sun never sets (almost) on Kilkenny

Stats:

  • Total Distance Traveled: 214.67 km
  • Distance on Foot: 17.21 km | 23,323 steps

    Our route for the day.

    Our route for the day.