If you don´t believe me, just ask anyone from Ireland! Our first destination in this great country was of course Dublin. The city itself is very nice, very clean and surprisingly, full of upscale shopping. However, we later discovered that there are far more charming cities in Ireland, but I´ll get to that in a bit. Dublin was a great way to start our 12 day adventure through Ireland. We tried to emmerse ourselves in Ireland´s history as much as we could, but it can be a bit complicated. There is much emphasis on the Potato Famine that caused over two million of Ireland’s population to flee the country, mainy of them to America. We were very happy to also discover that the Irish think very fondly of America and Americans in general. We met a very sweet older couple who told us that if it weren’t for America, many Irish would not have made it through such hard times. That made us feel good and we found that no matter where we traveled in Ireland, we were always met with a smiling face and warm hospitality. But, back to Dublin…we tried to hit all of the major tourist spots such as the Guiness museum, the Temple Bar area, etc., plus the not so touristy spots, like the Kilmahnam Goal (prounounced Kill Main Ham Jail) which is a jail located on the outskirts of Dublin where many of the people who rebeled against British rule in the early 1900′s were sentenced to death by hanging or firing squad, or life imprisionment. The tour of the jail was fantastic and gave a great overview of Irish history from the 1900s to present day. We also visited the oldest pub in Dublin, which was actually built in the 1100′s. The pub was well hidden, so out of the tourist path and we got to experience our first live perfomance of traditional Irish music. This was exactly how I had pictured Ireland-sitting in a pub, having a Guiness and watching a small group of Irish men and women strike up an old Irish song. Priceless.
To make the trip a bit more exciting, we decided to rent a car and venture out of Dublin, south to Kilkenny to visit castles and the like. So, off we went to pick up the rental car in the pouring rain. Just to explain a little, when one drives in Ireland, you drive on the left hand side as opposed to the right like in the U.S. which doesn’t seem too horrible, except when everything in the car is backwards as well. Steering wheel is on the left, the gear shift is on the left (and yes, we rented a car that was manual shift to make matters worse…I mean exciting), even turning on the winshield wipers and the car lights was backwards. So evertime we wanted to turn or change lanes, Steve turned on the wipers instead of the turn signal. We made sure to listen to the advise of our friend Michelle…Stay left, Stay left, Stay left!!! As I mentioned earlier, it was raining when we picked up the rental car, so without thinking, Steve and I ran to our tiny compact Hundai, threw our luggage in the back seat and jumped inside, but then realized that I had jumped into the driver’s side which at home is the passenger side and he had jumped into the passanger side, which at home is the driver’s side. We then had to jump out in the pouring rain again and switch sides. I can’t even tell you how many times we did this routine. Eventually, Steve was able to master driving on the left hand side of the road and we were off to the quaint town of Kilkenny where finally got to see the beautiful Ireland country side and tour a very well perserved castle. It’s a very strange thing to see at first when your not used to seeing castles. Around you are mostly modern structures, stores and shops, etc. and then in the middle is a giant castle. Sometimes I found myself asking, why did they build this freeway or this office building beside this old castle? It’s so distracting! Don’t they appreciate their castles? But honestly, there are too many castles that are far too large and have been neglected for so long that they cannot all be taken care of. Plus, Ireland’s population and industry is growing so we can’t blaim them for not trying to salvage every single castle. It is a beautiful site to see Ireland’s fat cows (and they are fat) grazing around what used to be a massive castle or even through abandoned Abbeys and Monestaries. Needless to say, Steve and I took way too many pictures of castles and abbeys, but there was just something magical about them.
The best way to see Ireland, by far is with a car. We were able to cover a lot of ground, visiting places such as Doolin, where the famous Cliffs of Moher can be found. Since this area was far too touristy, we jumped in our car and found some cliffs further south all to ourselves. They were actually more spectacular because unlike the Cliffs of Moher, we could walk along the edge of the cliffs without a huge wall blocking the view. This area is known as Kilkee. Even further south of Kilkee at the very tip of the penninsula, we were able to walk out on the cliffs and lay in the sun on the soft spoungy grass. It was beautiful. After leaving Doolin, we drove up to Galway, stopping at a few fortress ruins along the way. Galway actually surprised us. The city itself was far more charming than Dublin and the night life was amazing. Tons of young people were out and about dressed to the nines ready for a disco, even on a Thursday night! We were still able to find a couple of old Irish pubs with traditional Irish music and enjoyed my new and personal favorite beer-Amstel Lager…not available in the U.S. Darn it!!! When we first arrived in Galway, we booked a hostel, but were only able to stay there for one night because it was completely booked the next night. So, the hostel referred us to a small Bed and Breakfast just a few blocks away and we were able to secure a room there the next morning. This B&B is owned by a sweet older Irish lady named Betty. We had a great time with Betty because she was a talker! Not only that, she would forget what she had just talked to you about, so you would end up having the same conversation with her about three different times within five minutes. It didn’t matter though because she was one of the sweetest ladies we met. Her accent was just darling and she always called people ‘Love’…Ok now Love, have a good day now Love, thank you so much Love.
From Galway, we drove south, stopping at the Canamera National Park for some hiking before heading down to an area known as the Ring of Kerry. Before our trip to Ireland, Steve had booked a small cottage for us just along side of the Ring of Kerry, outside a small town known as Sneem. I have to admit that I wasn’t all that excited because I had seen a picture of the cottage on-line and it appeared a bit too rustic. But, I have to admit that the photograph did not do the place justice in the least! The cottage was nestled within a group of small trees and overlooked a small bay and the ocean. The owners had completely rennovated this old stone cottage to where the outside had the original stone, but the inside was completely modern with a washer and dryer, dishwasher, etc. In front they had added a very large sun room with couches and daybeds perfect for lounging. There was an island directly accross the bay infront of the cottage that Steve and I were able to row to in a small row boat that was lent to us to use by the owners of the cottage. Steve spent an entire afternoon rowing ‘the princess’ around the bay and down to a small island that was a popular hang out spot for about 14 seals. These seals were not like the ones in California, they were very curious and when they saw us approaching, they swam within about 10 feet of the row boat and watched us. They even follwed to boat as Steve rowed us all the way back to the cottage. At night, we would sit out under the stars in our own private jacuzzi and reflect on the days activities. Kevin and Lori, the owners of the cottage lent us their kayaks so we could explore the coast line even further. The water was freezing cold, well cold to my standards, but about 59 degrees, yet Steve decided to attempt swimming with the seals anyway. Of course, it was totally entertaining for me watching him scream as he hit the cold water, but not so funny after a few minutes when his body went numb and I thought I was going to have to go in after him. None the less, a seal came within 15 feet of him and just watched him curiously. I think that if Steve had a wetsuit, the seal would have swam along side of him all day. So cute. We were only able to stay at the cottage for four days, but it was probably the most relaxing four days I have ever had. Kevin and Lori left us robes to lounge in, peet (for fires), some snacks, even candles to make our stay a little more romantic. One morning, Steve and I sat in the front sun room for two hours in our robes on the day bed just reading together. It was so rejuvinating. I will never forget that place. We were able to spend a few hours chatting with our hosts in their beautiful house that was just down the driveway from the cottage and what an amazing couple. They were from America, but had moved to ‘Mermaid Isle’ (as they affectionately named their property) about 10 years ago. Such a wonderful couple and we immediately felt relaxed and at home with them like we had known them for years.
I was actually a bit sad on the day we had to fly out of Ireland. When we first decided to visit this amazing country, I thought 12 days was far too long to spend in one country, but I could not have been more wrong. I wish we had more time because there are plenty of things to see, things to do and people to meet. I guess I was most surprised by Ireland’s coast line. I never realized how beautiful the beaches were. Who would have thought that Ireland would have some of the whitest sand and turquois blue water I had ever seen. At times, Steve and I thought we were in the Carribean…until the wind blew and reminded us we were in a place much much colder. Still, the history of this country is fascinating and the Irish are truely some of the sweetest and most genuine people I have ever met. This is one country people cannot afford to miss.