Ireland – May 2006

I suppose, like most of us, I both love and hate traveling. I love the adventure, the incredible people I meet, the stunning vistas I see. However, I also hate the frustrations, the delays, the emergencies and the sheer panic when things aren’t going correctly.

So far, all of my trips have had more of the incredible things and fewer of the frantic things. This trip was no exception – the panic days were only those days we actually traveled to and from Ireland. Everything in between was serene and beautiful. Sure, there were small frustrations, but they paled in comparison to the larger ones.

So, without further ado, I shall now relate the grand adventure of Three Ladies in Eire.

This trip began as a grand plan of 8 ladies, all friends, traveling to Ireland. I, being the only one that had visited before (I’d been there twice) had agreed to do most of the planning and such, and was happy to do so. However, one by one our travelers dropped from the plan; hurricanes, finances and family contrived to keep them away from their vacation, so in the end, there were three; K, T and C (me).

For months I planned; I researched airfares, rental cars, B&Bs, and sites to visit. I grabbed a one-day airfare sale on Travelocity for Virgin Atlantic tickets from Miami to London at $265 plus taxes. I found Aer Lingus tickets from London to Shannon (departing from Dublin) at $80 plus taxes. I got advice from the great folks at www.fodors.com, www.flyertalk.com and www.irelandyes.com. We worked out travel logistics, and I booked our B&Bs and rental car. The day approacheth.

Friday, June 23rd

My plan was to ride down from Gainesville to Miami (about 5 hour drive) and fly with my two friends from there. My husband would drop me off and have a long weekend in the area with some of his old friends. For the most part that worked, and we got to MIA at 4:30pm for our 7:20 flight. That’s when we found out that Virgin had changed their carry-on rules as of April 1st – which I hadn’t seen since I bought the tickets back in February. The limit is 13 pounds, so after some shuffling about, we got it to work. My carry-on was 10 pounds when completely empty, so I had most of my heavy stuff (video camera, etc.) in my purse, which they didn’t weigh. I moved some of it back in when it had been tagged, and resolved to buy a much more lightweight carryon! K had the same trouble, though T was fine, as her carryon was very lightweight to begin with.

We checked in our luggage and made our way through security with no problems. Our gate wasn’t too far away, and we relaxed with a drink of Irish Creams/Toasted Almonds while awaiting our chariot.

Boarding was a zoo, but didn’t take as long as I thought. We were 3 seats in a 4 seat bank, with the 4th an Indian girl going to Mumbai for a family funeral. Much of her US family was also on the flight, scattered around as they were last-minute tickets.

Try as I might, I could not achieve the slumbered bliss I craved on this 8.5 hour flight across the pond. I had all the tools – a long day, one drink to calm the nerves, earplugs and eyeshades, a neck pillow, a blanket – but there was one, small thing that negated all these carefully planned items. The 3-year-old child who sat in front of me, sweet thing that she was, had a very active, curious mind, and asked her mother questions the entire flight in a very strong, high pitched voice. ‘Mommy, are we over the ocean?’ ‘Mommy, where’s my coloring book?’ ‘Mommy, how much longer?’ ‘Mommy, what was that sound?’. It seemed that every time I found the Sandman, he ran away to the melodious sound of incessant questions. Ah, the curiosity and innocence of youth, how we envy you.

Dinner was OK, but rather forgettable. However, I’ve noticed airlines seem to follow the cardinal meal rule – the main course can be horrible as long as you finish with a delicious dessert. And they did J

Saturday, June 24th – Discovering Irish roadworks

Once we arrived in Heathrow, it was the mad dash through the terminals. We needed to go through immigration, collect our baggage, run to Terminal 1, and discover that we were 5 minutes too late to check in with our luggage. The desk clerk suggested we run for it (with all our luggage!) and hope they can gate-check it. So off we ran again… T was in the front, then K pulled ahead as we rounded the bend. C was in last as she still had a cold and was short of breath. Just as we thought we had made it, there were more hallways, more bends, more passages… it never ended! Finally, we made it to the gate…. Just to find about 50 people still in line for boarding, many having done what we just did. We paused and panted and panted (and panted), gate checked everything, and climbed aboard. This flight was more comfortable, in my opinion, especially the seats. I even managed to nap on the hour and 20 minutes of the flight.

While the seats were wider, any snack or drink (even water) was on a cash basis on this flight. Since my Euros were in my gate-checked carry-on, I had to pass, though I was very dehydrated from our 40-mile marathon to the gate.

We got through customs upon arrival to Shannon, and got our luggage. We went down to rent the car, and I made a horrible discovery, the first real frustration of the trip (we had realized we’d have a dash in Heathrow). I couldn’t find any credit card but one. We looked through every piece of luggage I had and could only find the one card I had with my driver’s license – which isn’t the Platinum Mastercard I needed to rent the car with (and waive the CDW). I called my husband (who was still in south Florida) and asked him to search the car for the truant plastics – no luck. It was still too early for my parents to be up, but later I would call them and ask them to search my desk at home. In the meantime, the rental car fee went up from $220 to $550 due to the lack of that credit card. Argh! Expensive mistake!!!! But, as they needed the physical card (even though the reservation was made on it) and wouldn’t take a different card, I was stuck. NOTE TO TRAVELERS: make sure you have your Platinum MC with you if you are going to waive that CDW!

I was rather shaky after the frustrations (I still didn’t know if I had left them at home or lost them somewhere) and angry at the massive amount this mistake cost me, so K drove the Fiat Punto out of the lot. It was large enough for the three of us and our luggage, but only just. By the end of the trip, it was bursting at the seams!

We headed north from Shannon Airport to Ennis, and K learned the joys of roundabouts and driving on the left. It wasn’t too bad, as it is a wide National (N) road out of the airport, but it narrowed down as we entered town. The first vistas of Ireland panned out for my traveling companions, and I delighted to hear them comment on their first views of Irish sheep, Irish cows, Irish roadworks, and Irish loose chippings (gravel).

It took us a couple of wrong turns to find our B&B, which was called Stone Haven (http://www.stonehavenclare.com/page1.htm), and was on Kilrush Road. We called our hostess, and she directed us in easily. We met Marie, and she led us to our upstairs triple. It had three single beds, an en suite bathroom with shower, and a dormer window facing the street. The traffic noise slowed down at night, but never really stopped. This was great for T who liked noise as she slept, but K and I had our solutions – K slept with earphones and CDs, while I slept with my beloved earplugs.

We settled our belongings in our room, explored the amenities, and decided to go explore in town. It wasn’t really walking distance, but there was close by parking to the downtown area, so we wandered. We found several pubs, and decided on Cruises/Queens Hotel Restaurant for our first taste of Irish cuisine. Since it was approaching 3pm, only Restaurants would be serving food at this point… pubs stop around 2pm.

K and I both ordered the Irish Stew and pints of Bulmer’s Cider. We also shared a starter of garlic mushrooms. T had a sandwich and pureed vegetable soup. She liked it, but it wasn’t what she expected. She was looking forward to having potato soup, as that’s her favorite, but it wasn’t on the menu today.

The stews were huge, so we had the leftovers put in a take-away box, and wandered around the shopping area. We went into Boots for some drugs (T needed some migraine medicine), K and I went into a local chocolate shop and got some unusual chocolates – made with lime, chili, and other unusual flavors. There was a neat new age store, but it was already closed by that time. We went and bought some pints of cider to try (different brands) and went to our B&B to relax. We watched some TV, had some drinks, and went to bed around 8pm, exhausted after a long day and night of travel and travail.

We woke up around 9:30pm, talked some more, watched more TV, drank more cider, finished off our leftovers. We liked the Linden Cider, as it was sweeter, but I think my favorite was the Druid’s. It was still twilight by midnight, when we realized we had better sleep now to get our bodies back on cycle. It wasn’t too difficult.

Sunday, June 25th – Full Irish Breakfasts and the Burren

Up around 7:30am, we discovered that the radiator, which is RIGHT next to the toilet, is on in the mornings (and HOT!). It is almost impossible to sit on the toilet without touching the radiator. Makes you VERY careful in the morning.

We went down to our Full Irish Breakfast – egg over hard, toast, brown bread with butter and jam, cereal, fruit, bacon and sausage, black and white puddings, potato cake, grilled tomato, coffee, tea and orange juice. Whew! It was very tasty; K and T were pleased. T didn’t like the puddings, and I don’t like tomatoes, so we traded.

We were headed to the Burren today. Our plan was to drive up to Poulnabrone, to Ballyvaughn, and along the cost to Doolin and the Cliffs of Moher. Right. Well, we did make it to many of those. Luckily for us, the weather was bright, cool and clear for most of the day.

We started out at the Kilnaboy church, which we explored and oohed and aahed at. It was a wonderful specimen of old church in the middle of a more modern town, right at the edge of the main road through. Many graves were well-kept and recently visited (per the flowers) while others were crumbling and becoming reclaimed by nature in all her power.

Next we headed to Caherconnel – but not without first picking up a hitchhiker. Yes, we know, that was dangerous. But he was a little old man about 70 years old, and there were three of us. T is a police officer, she said she could handle him. His name was John Rafferty, and he was from Edinburgh, walking the lands where his father came from many years ago. He was on his way to Doolin, so we took him as far as we were going (which wasn’t very far, unfortunately). It perhaps saved him a half hours walk, but we did our good deed for the day. He was a very sweet man.

At Caherconnel, we got our first taste of old, ancient, crumbling and antique. It is an old stone fort, built on a fairly wide expanse and hill, very impressive. The wildlife and flowers were delightful, filling in nooks and crannies, elderberries growing in the gaps of the wall, and frogs jumping over the stones.

The Poulnabroune Dolmen was a little more crowded, as we had tourist buses to contend with, but that was alright – they left after a while and it was much quieter. The Dolmen rests on an outcropping of limestone that appears flat from far away, but is riddled with holes and nooks and crannies from the glaciers that carved it. It was a fascinating exploration of the microcosm of nature. We took oodles of pictures, and found all manner of interesting things.

After visiting the Dolmen, we headed farther up into the Burren, towards Ailwee Caves. When we came into views of the Galway Bay, it took our breathes away. The silver grey limestone mountain next to the crystal blue bay made the view sublime (ok, pun intended). The road curved up onto a mountain to the cave entrances. These caves used to house bears, and T just loves bears, so she had fun. It was an interesting tour, and I would recommend it for those that like caves (though it’s probably rather simple for the expert spelunker). There is a farmer’s store off the entrance road that had all sorts of neat snacks and foods, like blueberries in honey, chocolate caramel peanut fudge, mead, etc. We bought some gifts and snacks, and headed on to Ballyvaughan.

It was approaching 4pm, so once again we were hungry. I had heard of Monk’s, so we stopped there to eat. It also has a fabulous view of the bay, the pier, and the cute guys from Kilnefora that were hanging out on the pier. K and I shared a dish of garlic mussels and some pints. T had soup, but still only vegetable – no potato for her. K had thai curry coconut chicken, and I had a marvelous seafood platter, with prawns and Rose Marie sauce and smoked salmon with capers.

After dinner we drove around the sea road, along the shore. We stopped at one point and went down to the beach/rocks to explore. Some locals were fishing for mackerel off the rocks. We tried to go play with the sheep, but they gave us disgusted looks and ran off. The melding of the sky and the sea was really fantastic as we looked out to the Atlantic Ocean. Next stop, America! J

We drove along through Fanore to Lisdoonvarna, and tried to stop at a castle we saw, but noticed that it was gated private property, so went away disappointed. There was a hotel next to it, and it looked nice, but empty. Instead, we tried to find the Smokehouse, which of course was also closed. Resigned, we walked back to the car, and chatted with a local (walking on the other side of the street) about the fact we brought the beautiful weather with us from Florida.

As we drove down to Doolin for dinner and a pint, we saw an old church on a hill near the seashore. It had a beautiful graveyard, all overgrown with weeds and flowers. The church itself was quite tiny, and definitely unkempt. Those are my favorite kinds, that nature has reclaimed them as her own. As I was exploring it, I turned around and took a fright. Behind me there had been a large Celtic Cross made of black marble. The base was very wide, making it look like a head on shoulders. It startled me quite a bit!

We went down into Doolin and decided to try out Gus O’Connors, as I had heard of that pub in my researches. We found ourselves a gift shop first, did some touristy shopping, and then found a table at the pub. First we had a little tiny table near the bathrooms, but the waitress came by and discovered we wanted dinner – so she switched us with a larger table. We shared starters of garlic mushrooms and goat’s cheese, brown bread and whiskey/onion marmalade. It was an odd combination, but it worked. We decided that was all we were really hungry for, and had some pints. K tried a ½ pint of Guinness, and decided that she was right the first time, she really didn’t like it.

Music was starting up here and there, but after one song, evidently the musicians got pints bought for them, so they stopped. J We met some US tourists at the table next to us and chatted a while, but decided to go on to find another pub, perhaps closer to our B&B.

We stopped at one called Biddy Early’s in Ennistymon. They didn’t have Bulmer’s on tap, so we tried it in the bottle, not bad. They had no food (they had stopped a half hour before) so we couldn’t have the dessert we were craving. We finished up our drinks, talked for a bit, and then made our way home. We had a midnight snack of chips & crackers, watched a show on the American West in Irish, and an Irish soap opera about a dying cow. The Irish shows were subtitled in English so we could follow along, it was very interesting!


Monday, June 26th: Ferries and cliffs and Ceilidhs, oh my!

Today our plan was to head for the Aran Islands. We got up and went down for our Full Irish Breakfast. We met another person staying at the B&B, Tom. Tom was English, and designed engines for Caterpillar, and was very nice to talk to. We had our breakfast, and headed out to Doolin via Lisdoonvarna (the only route we knew so far).

We had gotten hold of my mother yesterday, and determined that yes, the cards were still on my desk at home, and that yes, she could forward them to us before we left that B&B. Yay!!!

We got to Doolin too late to get the only ferry going to Inis Mor for day trippers – it had left at 9:30am. So we decided we’d do the Aran Islands tomorrow, and headed towards the Cliffs of Moher. The drive up was actually very fun, and we saw a cow standing on the edge of a cliff on the side of the mountain road.

They are currently constructing better access to the Cliffs of Moher, and an interactive visitor’s centre, so there were construction crews and scaffolding all around. However, it didn’t impede any wonderful views! We took the long, very steep walk up to the Cliffs. Part of it was steps, part of it was dirt/gravel path. All of it was crowded with busload upon busload of tourists.

It was a beautiful, clear sunny day out today, and the views from the cliffs were absolutely stunning. Literally breathtaking – since the path had been so steep! I stopped several times to catch my breath. At one point there is a sign warning people not to go beyond that point. The sign was more or less ignored by all. The path beyond the sign was very narrow, and only about 2 feet from the edge of the cliff. It was a dirt path, no paving. We walked along it a bit, but not very far.

200 pictures later, we were on our way back down, chatting with some Irish nuns on holiday. We also saw some cute biker guys, and one caught Kim while she was taking a surreptitious picture of him – he started posing and exaggerating.

We decided to drive down to Bunratty for the afternoon entertainment, and went into the Creamery to eat. The upstairs restaurant was closed, unfortunately, but we had a meal in the pub. It was less than stellar, but sufficient for sustenance. I had the shrimp open-faced sandwich with Rose Marie sauce, while T had Veg soup. K made do with just cider. I had called my credit card company just before lunch, as I’d been getting rejected (this is the one credit card I still had). They said it should be fine now, there was no problem with fraud holds, so I tried to pay for lunch – still rejected. I called again, and discovered the car rental company had put a $1500 hold on the card, and it would be there for another day or two. It was probably in the contract I signed, but I was so upset at the time I hadn’t read it all – they certainly didn’t mention it to me, even though they knew that was the only card I had. Since it had a low limit, I was stuck credit-less and had no debit card. Good thing I was with friends!!!

We did some super-fast shopping (we wanted to get to the castle and folk park before they closed) at the woollen mills, and then found out from the visitor centre clerk that the soup T had been searching for – her beloved potato soup – was a winter dish, and unlikely to be available during this time of year. Imagine that, any form of potato being unavailable in Ireland! We were shocked, nay stunned, by this revelation. What indeed is this world coming to?

We went into Bunratty Castle and Folk Park, and signed up for that night’s Ceilidh in the Corn Barn. We were the last admission (4 pm) and just made it in time. The stairs up to the different towers were very narrow, spiral, and claustrophobic. I limited my use of them as I was not feeling good anyhow – the climbs just took all my energy and breath. I was really getting sick of this cold that stole my much-needed oxygen! How can I climb the sites without air?

The banquet hall below was being set up for the nightly medieval feast, and the Earl’s Kitchen was especially fascinating to me, hung with (replicas, I’m hoping) shanks of pork, chickens and sides of beef.

We went on outside and went to the different houses in the folk park – a farmer’s house, a day laborer’s house, a tea room, a school house, etc. The village street had a pub (that served cider, yay!), a linen/lace shop, a millers. The set up was very nice, and reminded me of Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan.

Farther on we came across two different mills (vertical and horizontal), a church, and a beautiful walled garden filled with incredible flowers. It had a little hobbit-sized door in the garden that reminded me of fairy tales and Rumplestilzkin.

We also met several animals, including a donkey, some deer, goats, a horse and cow, and many sheep nursing their lambs.

On our way back, we discovered that we had stayed too long – the gates back to the village area were closed and locked! We found one that we could fit under, and crawled back into the area we were supposed to be. The Ceilidh was due to start soon, so we headed to the Corn Barn with the other milling tourists. (they weren’t milling at the mill, just in the street – go figure).

Once inside, we were given a drink – our choice of mead or irish cream (O’Carolan’s). I chose the mead, and we went to our table. We shared our spot with Bob and Ellen from Florida, and Brian, Paul and Terri from Virginia. They were all very nice folks and we really enjoyed the conversations. We got some of the extra drinks at our table, and I tried the irish cream – O’Carolan’s is much smoother than Bailey’s, it’s my new favorite!

The show consisted of songs, jokes, stories and dance. Most were very traditional fare, and the costumes were pretty – but the last dances were a special version of Riverdance-style that was quite polished and nice. One of the young men dancing was a champion dancer, and he was our waiter as well.

Our dinner choices included Irish stew with lamb, and we had potatoes, salad, wine, apple tart, and barm brack (rings were in them for prizes). All in all, we had a wonderful night!

We got back to our B&B in Ennis, and tried to tell Marie we didn’t need breakfast in the morning as we were getting up early for the ferry (breakfast starts at 8:30am). She insisted on getting at least toast, fruit and cereal ready for us.

We watched some late night tv, including Hong Kong horse racing in Irish.

Tuesday, June 27th: Stone walls and scary bus driving


We were up early to catch the ferry, and drove a shorter route to Doolin (through Ennistymon). We had our tea, toast and fruit for breakfast, and got there around 9am, plenty of time to get on the ferry. The seats were plush and very comfortable, and inside. This was good, as the temperature and wind were very cold! Despite the clear skies and warm temperature on land, the sea are was biting cold with the wind.

We could see Inis Oirr as we passed by, as well as Inis Meain. We watched an airplane land as we passed, and could see three large windmills on the far end of the island. K estimated that these could provide all the electricity needed for the residents, especially with the amount of wind that went through there.

As we rounded the bay of Inis Mor, I noticed the differences on the big island – definitely more touristy and saturated with people. There were lots of jitney buses, but only one jaunting car left (and that was quickly taken before we reached it) so we decided that the jitney bus was the correct decision. We found one for the day, he charged E10 each. The driver’s name was Bertie Flaherty, and he said they had over 2000 visitors a day on the island during the summer.

Our first stop was Dún Aonghasa, an incredible ring fort on the edge of a 300 foot cliff. At the base of the cliffs were several shops and a couple restaurants for food. It was near noon already, so we decided to eat first. Bertie recommended Nan Phaddy’s as having a greater selection and he was right. T had the tomato soup and loved it. K and I had chicken sandwiches, and she had a slice of Chocolate Guinness Cake that was to die for. I had a scone, and it was all delicious. We were lucky going in right away, because about ten minutes after we got there the hordes descended. Make the choice quickly!

We went through the Dún Aonghasa visitor centre and up the path. It is deceptive at first, you can’t see the path until you round the bend of hedges. Then you want to turn back! It was built by the pre-historic Fir Bolgs, a group that arrived on the island long before the Celts did. It is a very impressive triple ring fort, surrounded by a field of defensive spiked stones. Walking up the path took us over a half hour, and there are a great deal of slippery black stones (watch out for them!) and loose rocks on the uneven path. Not for the faint of heart or clumsy!

We went up to the cliff edge inside, and I crawled to the edge to look down, get some photos and film, and crawl back away from the edge. I think K tried to as well, but T didn’t like the openness of it, her agoraphobia taking over. Several teenagers were lying down looking over the edge, singing songs from ‘The Little Mermaid’ such as ‘Under the Sea’.

On the way down from that fabulous place, I only slipped once, and landed on my butt and camera. The butt was fine, and luckily, so was the camera (butt must have cushioned it somewhat). Near the bottom, we wanted to laugh at the folks just starting up, with no idea yet of what was in store for them. One guy was wearing a suit complete with jacket, and we laughed out loud. Ha!

We shopped a little before the jitney bus got moving again with our driver. The roads were narrower on the far side of Dún Aonghasa, so we were treated to a wonderful ride of rock walls both sides, with no room for passing. We stopped at the Seven Churches to wander around some. The jitney wasn’t concerned for time, we just hung around as long as we liked. Some got back to the bus sooner than others, but I felt no pressures. We saw some thatched cottages, miles and miles of stone walls, sheep, goats and cows, and houses ranging from famine ruins to ultra-modern bungalows. We could see the land of Galway north of us in the mists, and the sea glittered in the sun like sapphires and diamonds.

Back at the port of Kilrona, I found a scarf that matched the shawl I bought ten years ago, same colors and pattern. I debated buying it though – I live in Florida. When am I ever going to need both scarf and shawl? I use the shawl a lot, but it’s usually more than sufficient to keep me warm. I let the temptation pass, and only regretted it mildly later.

K stayed shopping while T and I started around the pier back towards our ferry, as it was due to leave soon. K just made it back as we were boarding, and the trip back was hot, stuffy, and tired. We dozed a bit but it was very stifling.

Back in Doolin, we were determined to find the smokehouse in Lisdoonvarna again, so we went up and got there just in time before it closed again. We bought some cheese with whiskey, some cheese with Dilisk (seaweed), some potcheen, smoked salmon/trout/mackeral, and some crackers for midnight snacks. When we got back to the B&B we called Mrs. Nagle to get directions to our rented farmhouse the next night. I got very convoluted directions to her house to pick up the key. Then T took out some postcards from her trip to Williamsburg, VA that she brought along to give as thank you cards to each of our hostesses. We filled out some comments on it and left it with the B&B fee in the morning.

We decided to go into town once more for dinner, and found the Poet’s Corner, which has been recommended to me several times. We ordered garlic mushrooms stuffed with brie for a started, and let me tell you, it was ambrosia. The best mushroom dish I’ve tasted in a long time! T asked what the soup of the day was and, glory be, it was potato! Finally, T could have her Irish potato soup (winter dish, my left eye!). T and K both ordered the Minute Steak and I had the Chicken stuffed with bacon and pink peppercorn sauce. All were delicious, and our waiter was very nice – I would highly recommend the place! World cup game (France vs. Spain) was on while we ate, but only a few people from the bar paid attention. From that I gather the rest were American Tourists!

Once we got back to our B&B, we packed up, totaled up our cash and headed to dreamland.

Wednesday, June 28th: The two Rathmores

After waking and our last prepared Full Irish Breakfast for a while, we said hello to the two Belgian girls dining and made our way out of Ennis. Marie had handed me the Federal Express package containing my missing credit and debit cards, so I was once again in business! I had had some cash when we arrived (E200) so hadn’t been completely destitute, but I felt much better with credit power!

We drove around Limerick to Lough Gur, and found the standing stone circle before we found the visitor centre. There were baby cows milling around inside and out of the circle, which lent a rather surreal air to the place. Coins adorned an altar stone and it was a very intense place, in my opinion. I really liked the different stones and the trees surrounding the circle.

We drove around to the centre, and found an old burial passage tomb that used to house an old lady. It was very wild and grown over, covered in lichen and vines. The centre had a castle to one side of the entrance and crannog huts built as the centre itself. There were scores of children kayaking in the lake, and several folks walking or picnicing around the lovely grounds. The lake itself and the mountains surrounding were very picturesque, and for some reason I had to keep reminding myself that this was Ireland, not Wales. It reminded me of Snowdonia Park for some reason.

We tried to get to the castle but it is evidently private property, as a barn and farmhouse are built right next to it.

We drove towards Mallow, stopping in Kilmanock. We saw St. John’s Castle, smack dab in the middle of the road – the road was actually built around it to avoid going through the arch. We stopped to visit a Dominican Friary, but it was closed for spraying. I presume that’s spraying for bugs rather than, say, leprechauns.

We went into a nearby museum, where the kind lady told us where things were to see, and showed us a wonderful model of the city circa 1584.

We drove through Charleville and Buttevant, stopping for lunch at Margaret’s Café there. T had Shepherd’s Pie, while K had pork chops and I had a chicken/mushroom pie. We got scones to go for breakfast at our farmhouse the next morning.

We say Ballybeg church on our way to Mallow, unfortunately drenched in construction dust from a site just across the street. However, the church was a lovely old 13th century ruin with horses grazing in the field.

We arrived in Rathmore and stopped at a petrol station/grocery store for some food and supplies for our non-B&B accomodation for the next four days. We tried to find the Bridge Bar (the first landmark in our hostesses directions) but alas, we were in vain. We finally stopped and asked where it was, and was told there are two Rathmores, the second one is farther down the road. Well, why didn’t we think of that? What an obvious answer!

In the second town we found the Bridge Bar, and drove down the street near it as per Mrs. Nagle’s directions. We couldn’t find her house, though, and stopped to ask a lady getting in her car. She thought it was on a different road, and gave us directions, but that wasn’t a correct solution either. Finally we went back on the first road, and found two sweet old ladies out for a walk, and they directed us to it correctly. We found the key where it was hidden, as well as written directions to our farmhouse (it is a self-catering place) and drove there.

The directions said things like ‘1.5 km to the next turn’ when it was really more like 3 km. We have determined to absolutely ignore any distance an Irish person actually gives, as they are never accurate. 5 minutes down the road is usually a half hour – 1.5 km is more like 3km. You get the idea.

Finally we found our farmhouse (http://www.imagineireland.com/site/prop/prop.asp?fldProp=4160 ), situated on a sheep track with no name, on the side of a mountain. The driveway was gravel and very steep – we despaired of driving up it on the way out. The place was very charming, though, and well worth the effort. It was a two-story, two-bedroom place (two singles and a double). The one bathroom was downstairs, along with the country kitchen and living room. There was cable (glory be!) of a sort, and a wood stove heating unit to supplement the electrical one. Oh, and six matches.

The refrigerator wasn’t on when we arrived, which peeved us some, as the landlady knew someone was coming. It took us a while to figure out the heating system, but there were good instructions. A map in and out of town would have been much more helpful, though!

We decided to see if we could get into a town by continuing on down the road, as the way in was long and convoluted. We were successful, and passed many farms and cow pastures. The road came out in the first Rathmore, near the edge (close to the second Rathmore), and was much shorter than the first route in, so we determined that this would be our normal way in and out, unless searching for adventure. The shorter route took about 20 minutes.

We went into the first Rathmore for some dinner, and found Cahill’s. It was open, but he served no food, ‘just misery’. When asked for a suggestion, he said ‘Cork’. Lovely…

We headed into Barraduff and then Killarney, and walked around the College Street area, ending up in Murphy’s for dinner. After ordering a Steak & Guinness pie, I decided to run to the pharmacy for some cough medicine (my cough from last week still wasn’t going away). K ordered the lamb stew while T stuck with Minute Steak and some Potato & Leek Soup.

I wasn’t out long, but when I got back, a strange man was in my chair. His name is Joe, and he decided to join us. He was… special. He kept repeating things over and over, in several different ways, but no new information. He did say that K was very pretty, and she shouldn’t let anyone tell her otherwise. He was very keen on getting her phone number, so T put in the number to the Miami Police Department. The servers kept coming by and asking if everything was alright, eyeing the stranger oddly. Finally, one kind server got him up and off to catch his bus… we thanked her profusely! Sometimes I think we’re too polite. The guy was a bit scary.

We finished our dinner, which was delicious. The servers said they didn’t know the guy, but could see he was a little odd. We chatted with an American family coming out of the hotel next door, letting them know that their efforts to shop will likely be in vain, as it was past 7pm already. While we were talking, who happens to walk by but Joe? We pretended to be very interested in something in the other direction, and explained to our companions our sudden interest. They were kind enough to walk us to our car, but luckily Joe was gone. Yay!

Back at the farmhouse we watched an interesting show that turned out to be a production of ‘The History of Tom Jones’ as well as Highlander: Endgame.

Thursday, June 29th: Daring Dingle Dervishes

We woke up early (7am) and broke our fast with a feast. Smoked salmon, cheeses, brown bread, scones and apples filled our plates and our tummies. We went through Killarney to Tralee, and off to Conor’s Pass. It was a very misty, drizzly day, with patches of rare sunshine burning through the fog.

The trip through Conor’s Pass from the north is not for the faint of heart, nor for those afraid of heights. We chose this direction because we were on the inside (left) of the road, hugging the mountain on the way up. However, we discovered this mattered naught, as the road is only one lane most of the way up. Switchbacks is such an inadequate term for the snake of a road we climbed, without benefit of any view of what we could be tumbling down. We made the entire trip up in first and second gear. I am so glad K could demonstrate (if not feel) nerves of steel for this, I would have been a nervous wreck!

And at the top, what did we get for our heroic efforts? NOTHING! That’s right – there was so much rain, mist, and cold wind that we saw nothing of the promised fantastic vistas of the valley below. We saw the statue, and the line of rock heading down but that’s it. We were very disappointed!

Heading down towards Dingle, the road was much wider, and obviously recently improved. This must be the side the buses take up, as I cannot imagine them daring the other side.

We did take a wrong turn at one point, and drove through an area that must be the stinkiest area of Dingle – it was as if all the refuse of every type of animal had been mixed, concentrated, and dumped in a pile of more refuse. We turned around and had to go through it again to get to the main road, and into Ballynana. We were headed towards the Gallerus Oratory.

This site was very cool – it was anywhere from 1200 to 900 years old, corbeled construction with no mortar. Even with the misty rains all morning, there was no dampness inside. The E3 charge for the interpretive center wasn’t necessary to see the Oratory, but had some wonderful information and scenery.

It started clearing up as we got towards Ballyferriter for lunch. We stopped at Ostan Cheann Sibeal; K had lamb stew, I had mutton pie, and T had vegetable soup, which was terrible. It tasted burnt, and she returned it for something else. The pie was alright, though not incredible. Our waitress was American, and brought our water filled with ice (despite the fact we hadn’t asked for it and preferred it without).

We saw a Jack Russell Terrier who considered it his right, duty and privilege to chase each car as it drove through, and an old black Labrador Retriever who found such energetic pursuits the height of folly. We also sat next to a very nice family from Bristol, England named the Kelly’s.

We drove along the seaside roads and reveled in the crystal clear waters of the Atlantic Ocean. The rolling hills and walls of stone made the vista seem out of time and space. We felt transported to another world, another age.

We came across the Blasket Island Centre, and decided to go in for a visit. This was in Dunquin, and T finally found a book on Irish Castles she was looking for as a gift. We really enjoyed the poignant film about the residents of this lonely island, complete with their own legends, stories and kings. The presentation put on in the Centre was wonderful, informative, and moving.

We stopped by to greet a small pony and her foal on the way out, and saw a sheep standing on one of the ever-present stone walls, gazing over all she surveyed, as if to say “I am the sheep of the mountain! None shall pass!” Farther down we saw a goat doing his level best to be just as regal, also standing on his stone wall.

Dunmore Head was one of the more incredible views I have ever seen in my life. We could see the small, sandy beach below us, and a surfer trying very hard to catch the small waves coming in. Such a sunny day but with gentle winds, he was trying in vain. I think I used 100 shots just on that view, it was so beautiful, so stunning. The Blasket Islands were clear and omnipresent in the distance.

On to the famed Slea Head. There was a small parking lot filled with tourists gazing out at the cerulean ocean, and the weather couldn’t have been finer for this. One older gentleman was sitting on the edge, in a break in the fence, making K very nervous. She thought he was going to fall over the cliff, not realizing there was a walkway just under the edge where she couldn’t see. When I mentioned her concerns to him, he said ‘normally I have to walk on water to make someone that nervous!’ He told us about his hometown in England, where Sir Frances Drake was born, and we almost forgot to look at the incredible view. Almost! However, my photographer’s bug would not be denied, and I finished up the memory card then and there.

We drove along a bit more, and came across a complex of beehive monastic huts, and their caretaker, Maire Hanrahan. She said she had inherited the job from her husband, whose family had been watching the place for generations. The nominal charge was E2, which we happily paid to wander among the ancient ruins, and argue with the sheep and goats that were now it’s only residents.

We went on to Dunbeg Fort, but were experiencing a bit of overkill in the stone works department, so decided to pass on it and head on into Dingle, after waving to a donkey and her baby.

In Dingle we parked and went into O’Flaherty’s to see if we could find something to eat. Another comedian, he suggested Cork. Wow, they must have fantastic food in Cork this time of year! In all seriousness, he sent us around the block to the Supervalue (we had to stock up on toilet paper for our farmhouse), and got a recommendation for dinner from the store clerk. She sent us up to Tir na Ri, a Chinese restaurant whose name means Land of the King in Gaelic. The hostess told us that the owner’s name, Wong, meant King, so a little translation and there you had Tir na Ri.

T had pineapple/ginger chicken, K had roasted duck with broccoli, and I had beef satay. I have to say it was all incredibly good. Perhaps because I only eat at the cheap takeout Chinese restaurants at home, but I’ve always found the Chinese food in the UK and Ireland to be far superior to what I’m used to. We had some deserts, including chocolate fondue with fruit, profitileres (cream puffs) and fruit with meringue. Delicious, and highly recommended! The back dining room was more of a sun room, with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out on a tiny garden.

After dinner we waddled to our car and headed out. We thought about going up Conor’s Pass again, to see the previously missed vista (and coming back down the wider side to Dingle) but we realized that it was getting late, and the clouds were already forming at the top – it would be an exercise in futility.

Back down we went and took the southern route back into Tralee. We saw lots of naked, shivering sheep (freshly shorn) and beautiful, quaint tiny tidy towns on the way back. We got a bit silly and started making some of the worst puns of the trip on the way. It was nearing 11pm when we got into Tralee and filled up the tank. It only took E38 to fill up, and with all the driving we were doing, we were surprised. The gas mileage is SO much better there!

We got on the road to Killarney and discovered the total blackness that roads can get at night. Much of it was new road still under construction, so there were no road markings – thus no way to tell where the edge was. The locals still got right on our tails though, so we pulled over to the left frequently to let them zoom on by. We did see two cars trying to race eachother, and figured we’d see them in a ditch farther down the road.

We finally made it to Rathmore, and up our surreal little farmhouse sheep track to home. Good thing we left the porch lights on, or we would never have found it in that complete stygian blackness! The road itself was claustrophobic, with tall hedges on either side and no light from the sky.

Settling in to some TV before sleep, we discovered that the Brits/Irish love to play game shows that you can call into. We found a channel called Big Game TV, which worked like Match Game. You had a clue, such as ‘____ line’ and had to guess one of 10 answers. Not always the most obvious ones, but what the makers of the game thought were clever. Things like Underline and Walk the Line were rejected. We watched for a half hour and no one even got one guess right, so we gave up.

Friday, June 30th: Pony traps and tourist traps

Today we had leftovers for breakfast and headed off towards Killarney National Park.

We got into Killarney with no problem, but had to make about 3 U-turns trying to find Muckross House and Gardens. Each time we saw a sign, it led us in a different direction. I know that means there’s more than one way to a place, but it got downright confusticating! Finally we found our way in, and found Ross Castle first. We decided not to go inside, as the outside seemed much more interesting. It looked out across some of the lakes, and there were swans swimming by, very beautiful. We met the local owner (a calico cat) and paid our required obeisance to him before we took our royal leave.

We went on to Muckross House, and decided to do the touristy thing and rent a pony trap or cart. This was one of the two-wheel jobs, and getting on it was SO much fun for three fat girls. The poor horse was named Rosie, and our driver was Hugh, spelled H-U-G-H. (he was very emphatic about spelling many things). While it was certainly better than walking the long road to the house, the monologue he gave was monotone and repetitive. I could truly believe his claim to have been doing this for 20 years – and likely never changed the spiel. He pointed out the Lime Trees (not the kind that give fruit, mind you, ladies) on the right and the Yew (that’s Y-E-W) on the left, and there in front of us was Torc Mountain (that’s T-O-R-C) which was 1256 feet tall, that’s 1-2-5-6 feet tall, yes, and on the left are some more Lime Trees (not the kind that give fruit).

His monologue went on, seemingly without breath or brain activity to slow it down. We tried hard not to giggle too loudly at it!
Soon we came into sight of Muckross House itself, in it’s glory. The façade was impressive, and we saw all the pony carts off to the side, awaiting their return burdens. Inside we discovered an advertisement for the OPW (Office of Public Works) card, and decided it was definitely a bargain. It was E21, and covered many entrance fees (not all) to various sites. We later saved about E40 total using it, so it was definitely worth it. We could have saved more if we had purchased it earlier.

The interior was very lush and opulent, though we weren’t allowed to take photographs of it. The carving on the wood furniture alone was impressive, as were the paintings and the wallpapers. The line of bells to summon servants were great, right next to the wine cellar. Best of all, though, was the kitchen, with shining copper pots and scullery.

We trundled back to the pony cart for the ride back to the road, and it sounded like the exact same spiel we heard on the way in, just reversed. ‘And there is Torc Mountain, spelled T-O-R-C, which is 1256 feet tall, that’s 1-2-5-6.’

We went on up to Ladies’ View, and did some shopping in the Tourist Trap store there. The view was absolutely stunning, you could see layers of landscape; lakes, trees, mountains and hills, set up like a Bob Ross Painting in front of us. We had some snacks at the café, including potato and leek soup (that winter dish!), and a ham & cheese sandwich.

After taking in the gorgeous view a bit more, we headed back down the pass, riding the clutch all the way. We stopped at the sign for Lord Brandon’s Cottage, and started to walk down the path. At the small river, I turned back and went to the car, as I wasn’t feeling well again. K and T kept going… and going… and going. When I looked back at the map, the cottage was VERY far along the path, and they even went past it and over some wall. It was quite a hike!

Since we had heard so much about the T-O-R-C Mountain, our next stop was T-O-R-C Waterfall. It was a short but steep walk up to the top, only to find a horde of American tourists climbing all over the rocks, yelling and laughing. I’m glad they were having a great time, but it totally shattered any peace or serenity of the site, and made it impossible to get good pictures.

Once back into Killarney proper, we found a shop to put T’s photo’s on CD (right across from Danny Mann’s, I think). They guy was very helpful and made sure they were done right. We went to check our email at a nearby internet café, but K’s Earthlink site wouldn’t come up – evidently that’s normal for them. Going back to the photo place, the guy (Tim?) couldn’t get the larger card to read, so he asked if he could do so overnight off-site. We said we’d be back tomorrow to pick it up. Since T was still interested in ‘afternoon tea’, we asked if there was anyplace nearby. He suggested ‘Jams’ around the corner, but it looked more like a cafeteria than a place for a gentile, time-honored tradition.

We went on to the Gap of Dunloe, where we were planning on meeting fellow travelers from www.fodors.com, B and her family, that evening. We got lost several times trying to get OUT of Killarney in the correct direction, but finally found it by heading to Kilgorlin. We drove up the narrow road and found Kate Kearney’s Cottage. It was about 4pm, which was WAY too early for our 9pm meeting, so we talked to some folks about taking a jaunting cart (might as well try again, it couldn’t be worse than the first guy!) up the gap.

We so lucked out! We got Tim O’Connell, and his horse Harry. T and I took the cart, but they made K nervous, so she opted to ride another of Tim’s horses, Susie. It was a great trip! Tim was very chatty, and incredibly nice. He lived in the gap, as did most of his family, and he’d been doing this most of his life. He owned five horses, and his father and grandfather had been doing this as well. We passed his grandmother’s cottage, which was called ‘Colleen Brawn’. In Irish, (spelled caillin bean) it means White Lady, which is an old term for a witch or a healer.

K had fun staying on the English saddle (no pommel to hold on to!), and she had several conversations with Susie about where she wanted to go. Eventually she won the conversations, but it was iffy for a while, especially as Susie passed her home. It was a fabulous trip, and the visions and company were both incredible.

When we got back, we remember we had two apples in the car, so we went to fetch those for our hardworking horses. Then we went in to Kate Kearney’s for some touristy shopping and music, pints and dinner.

I had the smoked salmon with capers, which was fabulous. K had the bacon and cabbage, while T tried the Irish stew. I had a sticky toffee pudding for dessert, and oh, my god! It was divine!!

The music started up around 8:15, and we finally heard some traditional music, as well as some other stuff. We heard Raggle Taggle Gypsies, Seven Nights Drunk, a couple Riverdance tunes, Down to the Sally Garden, and some Irish Stepdancers performed as part of the show. It was touristy, but it was fun.

B and her family showed up around 9pm, and we met her husband and mother, who were following the opposite track we were – they were headed where we had just been, and vice versa. We exchanged recommendations and advices, had a couple drinks, and left around 10 as the pub closed down. It was an easy drive home and we watched some TV (Fletch) and off to slumberland.

Saturday, July 1st: The Evil Cyclists!

We were off early this morning to do the much famed and oft times maligned Ring of Kerry. We determined that we had no problem being behind tour busses, but would rather not have to pass them on narrow, windy roads, so we would go the same direction they tended to go – counter-clockwise. I don’t know if that was a good idea.

T’s card wasn’t completed yet at the photo store in Killarney, so he told her he’d leave it at the pub across the street if we got there after he closed. Such trust! She hadn’t even paid him yet!

We went through Kilgorlin, and off to Glenbeigh. Going through Glenbeigh, though, we saw our first glimpse of driving hell – a huge group of cyclists getting ready to do some sort of charity run. In our direction.

Yes, we found out that we were lucky enough, privileged enough, to be driving the Ring of Kerry along with about 5,000 cyclists, all for the 23rd Annual Volunteer Charity Bike Run. Several different charities were represented, and the bikers had one thing in common. They took over the whole road. No wimpy sticking-to-the-left-bike-lane for these yahoos! No, they rode 3 or 4 abreast, so any driver who had the sheer audacity to want to go more than 5 miles per hour would have to pass them. And then the next group, 20 yards ahead of them. And the next group. And the next group. All on small, windy roads with cars coming the other way.

We had gotten a recommendation from Tim the pony cart driver to try Rossbeigh beach, but we didn’t want to risk getting behind all the cyclists again. We foolishly assumed they had just recently started out. Oh, the wee poor mortals we are. They had evidently been starting in groups for hours!

This continued all the way through what would otherwise have been a lovely and relaxing drive. The constant need to watch the cyclists and attempt to make hair-raising passes made it nerve-wracking and dangerous. It continued on through to Cahersiveen, when we decided we’d had enough, and took a detour down to Portmagee and the Skelligs Visitor Centre. We drove up to Bray Head on Valentia Island and walked up – but not too far, as it was very cold and windy. Not really rainy, just a soft sort of mist, but cloudy and therefore cold.

We went back into Portmage and made our way around St. Finian’s Bay. What a beautiful area! We sat and admired the view on the beach, and the dead seal on it. We went on to Ballinskellig for lunch at Cable O’Grady’s. It was very relaxing at the table near the back patio door, but a bit chilly. The sun finally came out and therefore everyone was enjoying the patio – including the adorable canines (a golden retriever and a spaniel) that helped themselves to the food the children deemed unsuitable to eat.

I had the mushroom soup and shrimp sandwich. The soup was incredibly good, the sandwich was ok. K had the chicken curry (no veggies, all meat) and T had chicken fingers. I don’t know if it was my lingering malaise that kept me from feeling great or the shrimp sandwich, but as we went on to the Ballinskelligs Friary, I was really not doing well. The beach was beautiful but cold, and we wandered around the Friary looking all around us at the seashore.

Eventually we made it to Waterville and up Coomakesta Pass. This pass wasn’t nearly as scary as Conor’s Pass! We looked out at Sheehan’s Point, and the view was once again incredible. I don’t know if I could choose which was more beautiful, Kerry or Dingle, but at that moment I would have chosen Kerry.

On to Caherdaniel, where I took a picture similar to one I had taken my last trip, four years ago. The land and the sea kissed in a perfectly symmetrical pattern, blue to green, like Yin and Yang. We went through Castlecove and up to Staigue Fort, but I was really not feeling well, so K and T went on up to the fort to explore while I availed myself of the local facilities (luckily fairly new and spacious). The defensive location of the Fort doesn’t look great until you actually reach it and realize you can see all the way to the bay on the coast from there.

We went through Sneem and Tahilla, and headed over Blackwater Bridge, looking for the Strawberry Field’s pancake house. We went through Derreenarragh, and asked for directions there – we were on the right path! Now, the question was, would we get there before the magic universal closing time of 6pm? Yes, we could, woohoo!!! We got there 15 minutes before closing, and had T’s much-anticipated afternoon tea with delightful, delicious, delectible crepes. We got several types of tea to share – Strawberry Vanilla, Blackcurrant, and Peppermint Tea. I ordered a lemon/honey crepe, K had a blackberry and crème crepe, while T had banana and chocolate chip. I think the owner’s daughter was the delightful young girl who helped serve us – she was very earnest. There was art on the walls for sale by local artists, which lent the place a bit of flare. There was also a garden centre upstairs. Definitely a place I’ll recommend. I can still taste those crepes melting in my mouth… mmmmmmmmm.

On the way back we passed by Knocklomena Mountain, which T said she officially adopted as her own. She just really liked it. It was near Barfahinny Lake — what a funny name!

We went towards Moll’s Gap, and I began to fear we were doing another Conor’s Pass, but it was MUCH easier. We found ourselves on the upside of Ladies’ View again, and started running into more cyclists, evidently the last stragglers of the charity ride. We were so glad that our detour removed us from the thick of them!

Tome was waiting at the pub across the street to get T her CD. He wanted to make sure she got it alright, which was very kind. He said he didn’t feel right leaving it since it had her memory card in it as well. We drove towards home and tried to find An Shrone, an old site where they believe the first settlers in Ireland lived. Now, one of my fellow travelers gave me excellent maps to the place, but of course I had forgotten them at home (stupid me), so we saw a sign, went down a very steep valley into a farm, and turned around – asked directions, and tried again, only to come to the conclusion that once again, the Irish were having a joke on us. We never did find An Shrone, though we wandered around the area a bit. We did find the road to our farmhouse by accident, as it connected with the road we had gone down. Imagine that!

After a day of misdirection, evil cyclists and getting lost multiple times, K and I drowned our frustrations in some cider we had bought earlier, and relaxed to some more inexplicable ‘Big Game TV’.

Sunday, July 2nd: Castles and Cottages

This morning we got up early, finished the last of our snacky-food (such as the smoked salmon and some little fruit pies). Our first stop was Cahir Castle, on the way to Kilkenny.

We drove through Mallow and found Cahir with no problem. Indeed, it was right next to the road through town, it would have been very hard to miss! The castle itself is very intact, and the interiors are set up as they would have been several hundred years ago. The ‘open’ stairs on the side of the wall were a bit agoraphobic (no railings on either side, just wall on one side) but doable. I wandered up to the third floor of the main building. It was nice and spacious, with very little furniture, but incredibly stifling hot. There were tours going around in English and Italian. Yes, more Italian tourists everywhere. Some (about 30) were having a picnic on the interior courtyard grounds.

Next we went to the Swiss Cottage, which was adorable. No, it’s not really Swiss. Yes, it is really cute and looked like something out of a fairy tale. It wasn’t meant for anything more than a day trip stay, so as the guide mentioned, it was impractical for overnight stays. But charming nonetheless – with beautiful painted wallpapers and latticework. There are no photos allowed inside, but the outside is fine.

We had lunch at a place called Ladywells, which was down the street from the incredibly crowded (with Norwegian tourists) The Rock Café. K had chicken liver pate with mushroom and thyme soup, while T and I tried the pasta carbonara. I think we’ll pass on that again – it was rather bland and didn’t sit right with either of us. I didn’t even finish it, which for me is sacrilege. We had just sat down in the window (where a tree molested K) when a horde of Ohio students settled upon the place.

On to the Rock of Cashel, seat of Irish kings such as Brian Boru and the Church for many hundreds of years. This is, and has always been, a most impressive edifice. We wandered around a bit, and waited for the German version of the AV presentation to finish; English was next. I tried several times to get a great shot of a doorway in a doorway to a cross, but hordes of tourists kept getting in the way. Finally, I noticed it was clear, and scooted over to take the shot. Took several, in fact! I also got a really cute shot of an older couple sitting together in a decorated alcove. I’m going to call it ‘Till Death do we Part.’

If anyone is thinking of skipping the Rock of Cashel, I’ll ask you to reconsider. It really is a marvelous example of castle-turned-church, and cannot fail to impress in it’s location and sheer size. Despite the crowds of crawling tourists, I was once again struck (have been there before) by the beauty of the place.

After we were awed by Cashel, we went on to Kilkenny, which wasn’t far away. We found City Centre, and after I found the castle, I got my bearings; we found Alcantra (http://homepage.eircom.net/~alcantra/) with little trouble. Brigit Holohan, our host, was delightful, and settled us into a triple room – a double bed and a single. It was very hot, but by the time we returned in the evening, the open windows cooled it down considerably.

We went into town for dinner, after getting a recommendation for Langstons from Brigit. I had been there before 4 years ago, and it had been very smoky (we left quickly that time). However, no more smoking is allowed in pubs, so it was just the 1970’s tacky furniture that looked funny. However, we did eat there, after checking into the local internet café. T had the club sandwich, I had steak ciabatta sandwich with portobella mushrooms, and K had the chicken roast. We had a starter of deep fried brie with berry compote, and it was absolutely delicious! I really enjoyed my steak sandwich, though it was definitely the type you ate with a knife and fork. I tried the lemon cheesecake for dessert, but didn’t care for it at all – very dry and almost no flavor to it.

We went for some pints and tried to find Cleere’s for some traditional music, but couldn’t find it anywhere, though we kept passing by the silly place. Frustrated by our poor navigation, we gave up and went back to the B&B. There was no TV in the room or downstairs, so we read a bit. I cleared my photo cards onto my 30G memory storage with no problems. The traffic along the road behind the B&B wound down to almost nothing around midnight, and I slept rather well.

Monday, July 3rd: Expensive laundry, impressive churches

We got going at our normal 7am, and had a wonderful breakfast. Brigit does Full Irish Breakfast right – complete with homemade Gooseberry Jam, stewed plums, prunes and apricots, grapefruit and cereals. She had fresh-squeezed juice (very important to we spoiled Floridians!) poached eggs, wonderful tea, and the normal fare – black & white puddings, sausage, bacon, and homemade biscuits! Our company for breakfast included two couples from California.

We went to find the one laundrette in town. My it was expensive! E15 a load – E14 if we did it ourselves, so we just went ahead and left it with the lady at Brett’s, and went to Kilkenny Castle for some touristy fun. The long gallery, with over 150 paintings in it, was very impressive, as were the beautiful Italianate gardens. The lovely odor outside the toilets was less impressive.

We went to pick up our laundry and headed to St. Canice’s Church and Cathedral. The Church itself was very pretty, but the Cathedral was more impressive. Again, it was crawling with Italian school children, all laughing and swinging on the gravestones. There was a concert going on inside at the time (choral) and it was lovely to hear.

We drove to the mall parking lot inside city centre and found (by accident) a small museum called the Roche House. It is set up as a demonstration of how a local merchant had lived in medieval times, very interesting. The upstairs gallery was beautiful, with carved wood furniture. There are several levels in the house, and it has many displays of old coins, costumes, and such. Definitely worth it!

We found lunch at a pub called the Widow McGrath’s, where the publican was young and cute – I had the steak sandwich while T and K had the BLT. None were great, but they weren’t awful either.

We went to the Black Abbey next, a Dominican Abbey that was gorgeous inside and out. The stained glass was beautiful, with flame-like designs behind the main altar. The abbey was built early on, and there was one statue of Jesus from the 1240s near the back.

On to St. Mary’s Cathedral. This was a real treat, and was the most reverent place of worship we visited on our visit. This was a beautiful place, though not more or less than others. It was the sheer hush of the place, the quiet and solitude that distinguished it. Simply stunning.

I questioned why there were two cathedrals in one city, and evidently St. Mary’s was Catholic, while St. Canice’s was Church of Ireland.

After our heavy dose of churches we went to the mall and walked around, people watching. We saw a lesbian couple making out in one corner, (very young) and several Indian families with babies around. We went into a music store and got a couple CDs of local stuff, and then went down to find a converter. I discovered (having relied upon it working) that my car converter did not fit (was too small) for the cars here. It worked fine in English cars, so I figured it would work here. I needed it to recharge my video camera batteries. Found one at Sherwoods (after going to Agus and Ryan’s first) and we went back to the B&B to sort our laundry out.

We complained to each other a bit about the poor folding job the laundress did (for that much money, she could have taken more care). And we rested a bit and then went out to dinner. Brigit recommended Kyteler’s Inn, the oldest pub in town (est. 1342); it was named after Dame Alice Kyteler, a local witch. Kyteler’s menu looked good, but they stopped serving at 8:30pm, and it was 9 – so we went across the street to Marble City, which Brigit had also recommended.

The recommendation was much deserved – the food was delicious and the staff very friendly. K had quiche while T and I had pannini sandwiches with chicken, brie and garlic mayo. It had to have been one of the better sandwiches I’ve ever had!

After dinner (they were closing down as we finished, but never rushed us) we went across to Kyteler’s again, as we saw some musicians setting up. K had a pint of cider while T and I had some Bailey’s. I tried to open the window, as it was very hot inside; the guy at the table near it tried to help (he climbed to it like a monkey) but no luck.

The band, Caladh (which means Safe Harbor) was great. They played traditional music with a banjo, believe it or not. www.caladh.com is their website, and we got CDs of their music. They played jigs, Kerry polkas, The Entertainer (which melded into Irish music near the end, very strange), the Man who Drank the Farm, Banish Misfortune, etc. The lead singer, Liam, also told a very bad joke about Connor Carney, who was always very cold. You know, he was a Chilly Con Carney.

Brigit had left some tea out for us when we got back from the B&B so we relaxed downstairs and read for a while. Coming back in to our room we had a visitor, a result of leaving those windows open – a mosquito-eating mosquito. We got it to go it’s merry way, and off we went to dreamland.

Tuesday, July 4th: Sheep caca!

Happy Independence Day! Not here in Ireland! Just another day here (well, aside from World Cup games, of course). We had our first real rainy day today. So far all the days have been either bright, cool and sunny, or overcast with brief periods of mist and sun. Today it was just plain raining, lead skies grey above us. The night had rung with the sounds of thunder and barking dogs. One of the other couples at breakfast were all set to go hiking to Inistioge in this. Poor souls!

I wasn’t feeling well again (never was perfectly well all trip, but usually well enough to sightsee). K and T went into town for the morning while I slept. They went to the internet café and made more photo CDs, got some smoothies, and then came for me.

Our first stop was Kells Priory. It was raining, but not too hard. Which was good, as the place was a virtual caca minefield! There were a couple hundred sheep and goats running around the grounds, and the ground was fairly covered with their gifts. The rain made it more dangerous, slippery and slimy. There was some construction work going on in the priory itself, so we went to explore the other parts. It was a huge complex, with dozens of rooms and areas. Most of it was in ruins, so we could only imagine what this place had been like in its heyday.

We started back after our explorations, and just as we did it started coming down harder. However, by the time we got to Knocktopher, it had pretty much lightened again. We went into the Abbey (where I had stayed 4 years ago) and tried to eat at the Bistro there (it was housed in a circular tunnel in the abbey itself) but they weren’t serving lunch, only dinner later that day.

On to Jerpoint! Jerpoint is a Cisterian Abbey near Thomastown, where we got a very nice, informative tour by Amy. I’ve been here before, but liked it just as much this time around. The carvings on the sarcophagi are incredibly detailed, and the gallery was impressive.

We were getting hungry, but there was little in Thomastown to eat, so we went on to Inistioge, the town where Circle of Friends was filmed. In fact, the restaurant we ate at was called Circle of Friends, and was on the main square in the center of town. The lunch was very good, and presided over by two Jack Russells looking out from a window above us on the patio (their names, per the chef, were Troy and Lucy). T had the pizza with chicken, tomato and sweet corn, while K and I had the steak and mushroom special. We had a starter of garlic bread with cheese, which was like a white pizza and was fabulous!

We saw what might have been the store used for the film (as the main character’s father’s shop), and a tower up on the hill that was supposed to be a watchtower. We tried to find something signposted ‘Swiss Cottage Ruin and Falls’ but failed horribly. Instead, we came across a little road to Coolhill Castle, which turned out to be on private property. A nice old gentleman directed us there, but it was all locked up behind fences.

We drove up to a town called Gramenamagh and then back to Kilkenny, across several very beautiful and picturesque bridges (like Bennetsbridge). Unlike out west, there were no signs warning of ‘dangerous bridges’ so we lost our fear of being attacked by such bridges.

We went back to the internet café where we copied photos again and went to the B&B, packing up for tomorrow’s checking out.

Wednesday, July 5th: Gravestones Galore

We checked out from Brigit’s, mourned the loss of her wonderful breakfasts, and headed out to Baltinglass Abbey, our first scheduled site. We found it without much trouble, and met folks from British Columbia looking for their ancestors who were buried there. Then we got lost about five times trying to get to Glendalough!

There are five different routes out of Hackettown – we took all of them before we found one that would work. We missed the correct direction, and took a smaller road than we intended. It was very scenic, but very… lonely. At one point, concerned at our direction, we stopped a couple of men out hillwalking. Their map was much better than ours, and showed that we were going in the right direction, just taking the scenic route of sheep paths. This is new?

Finally we found Laragh, and drove through it to Glendalough. I have been to this valley and abbey twice before, and each time was touched by the serenity of the place. That serenity was hard-pressed to make itself felt this time. That may have had to do with the hordes of tour buses that descended upon the place on a regular basis. We were able to get out and explore the areas a little bit, and I tried to find the spot I had photographed my last trip there (my best selling shot). Then some rain started coming down rather hard, so we scooted into the hotel/restaurant next door. We had some sandwiches and ice cream. T’s mint chocolate chip ice cream was great, dairy fresh. My sandwich was dry and not very satisfying. However, it being 3pm, we had little choice in our fare.

On our way through Enniscorthy, we came across some roadworks. Nothing new there, but the very attractive, very tan, shirtless young man directing traffic was very comical, as he tried to direct a tourist who had started driving through the one-lane opening when he shouldn’t. The man tried to get them to back up, using body language, while they tried to execute a three-point turn instead. K got a picture, and then he saw that she was doing this and posed for us.

We headed up to Powerscourt Falls and House/Gardens, but found the turn to the House/Gardens first. We went up the long, scenic drive through golf course fields to the parking lot. There was a huge Home Depot-style garden center next to the parking area. We went up to the house, which looked fabulous. Swimming upstream against more Italian tourist children (we could not escape them!) we went into the house to get tickets, to discover that the house itself is mostly unrestored (due to a fire over 20 years ago!). The only part restored is a ballroom, where they have an AV presentation. However, the gardens were lovely, so we went to explore them.

There are many little gardens in addition to the central formal gardens. Japanese, ‘dolphin pool’, etc. – it is well worth a couple hours to wander. I loved the walled flower garden to the right (as you look out the back of the house). Also the roses in the rose garden were exquisite. There is a little tower near the Japanese gardens on the left side as well, and Unicorn statues near the pond in the middle.

On to Dublin, the fair city where the girls are so pretty and the traffic is terrible!

We were closing in on the city, and crossed a river – thinking it was the Liffey, we thought we had to turn around, as our B&B was on the southside, near Trinity College. But no, it was a smaller canal, and we still had a while to go. Finally we found the street we needed to be on, and where we needed to go – Dame Street. Alas, we couldn’t turn right there, it was a one-way street. Only buses and taxis were allowed in. Since we didn’t have the equipment to morph into one of these magical vehicles, we found our way around the area, down several more one-way streets. We came out right next to a pub, and Lo and behold! It was O’Neill’s! Knowing there were a couple pubs named O’Neill’s, I asked the guy standing in front if this was O’Neill’s Victorian Pub, and it was. Yay!

We had to circle around again to get parking, but we did. Our room was up several part-flights of stairs, (46 stairs total – we counted!) but the room itself was very large, had a TV (yay!) and three single beds. The bathroom was decent sized, and the traffic noise wasn’t too bad. The buildings across the street seemed to be either abandoned or at least vacant, so no one would be spying on us. We had to keep the windows open as it was once again hot and stuffy. Have the Irish never heard of fans?

We went down to the pub for dinner, and found out the trick to turning up the volume on the TV (which was mounted high on the wall in the corner). There are volume controls under the mounting, so we had to push it back to get at them, while perched on a chair. The ceilings in this place were very high as it WAS a Victorian household at one time.

K had the filo lamb pastry for dinner, while T and I had burgers. We all had drinks! The food was ok, but not fabulous. The World Cup was on (France v. Portugal) and our Czech waitress was very nice. She mentioned she and her boyfriend were working in Dublin to save enough to buy a house in the Czech Republic.

After dinner we went on a search for soda, water, and an internet café to check our email and send reports of our arrival home. Finally we found one several blocks away, though it could have doubled for a sauna. Every internet café we went to was incredibly hot and stuffy inside.

Back to the B&B for the nights’ sleep. It took me a very long time to sleep over the traffic, as it never really stopped, though it did slow. Big trucks came through all through the night, though, and they were loud enough to startle me awake through my earplugs. This wasn’t a problem later nights, but that first night killed me. If you rent here, ask for a room facing the courtyard!

Thursday, July 6th: In Dublin’s Fair City…

K and I didn’t get any great sleep, though T slept fine (she’s the one that likes sleeping with city noises). Breakfast was OK, though the service was a little curt. The white pudding was a strange hybrid of sausage and pudding – I only had one bite.

We found a parking lot near a bus stop, and we went to the nearest Hop-on/Hop-off Bus Tour (the beige/yellow bus has live commentary, not the red one which has tapes). The guy selling tickets for the bus was very nice, chatty and helpful, with a bit of a stutter. The first tour guide was great, and as several elderly ladies were disembarking, he proposed to one of them as she giggled.

We took the tour around, seeing Christchurch, Guinness, Phoenix Park, all the usual suspects. We took one whole run around, noting the places we wanted to take more time at. Our first stop was Christchurch and Dublinia. I know Dublinia has a cheesy reputation, but I’m very interested in historical re-enactments, so this was fascinating to me. The realism in the dioramas and the examples of medieval and Viking life were well done, in my opinion. Dublinia and the Church were E5 and E2 respectively, and were not covered by OPW. Christchurch was beautiful, and the newly renovated crypt area fascinating. The church carvings and decorations were particularly breathtaking. However, I didn’t get the same reverence we had seen in St. Mary’s Cathedral in Kilkenny – it was much more commercial and crowded. Perhaps the gift shop INSIDE the church helped with that impression, you think?

We went to lunch across the street at the Bull & Castle Pub. Getting there we passed a lovely man who fumbled with his fly for a bit, then peed on the church fence as we passed. Delightful! A native performing his traditional acts.

T had the deep fried Mars bar for lunch, while K had the bacon & leek quiche, and I had the chicken and camembert panini. It wasn’t nearly as good as the one I had at Marble City, but it wasn’t terrible either. K had some Kopparberg Cider, which turned out to be almost white and incredibly delicious!

We went off to the Dublin Zoo, but discovered it was already 4pm and it closed at 5pm. We decided that T, who wanted to attend it particularly (she loves animals) would come tomorrow while K and I went to the National Stud and Japanese Gardens. Instead, tonight we headed for the Jameson Distillery, something else T really wanted to see.
When we got to the Distillery, it looked like we were one of the last (if not the last) tours to go through. Our tour guide, a nice redhead lad named Christopher (with a pentacle on his belt-buckle) was very funny, and gave a great tour. T volunteered to be one of the taste-testers at the beginning of the tour (there can be only four). The tour was through some very warm rooms, but it was rather fascinating. IMHO, it was more informative than the self-tour you get through Guinness, which I had gone through in 2002.

The taste testing was at the end, where each participant was asked to taste four drinks – two types of Jameson, Johnny Walker and Jack Daniels. Of course, as long as you say Jameson was your favorite, you get a certificate as an official taste-tester for the Distillery. Everyone got a shot of whiskey, but I’m really not a fan of the hard stuff unless mixed with hopelessly sweet things (like punch). They did offer some mixers, such as coke or juice.

We got back to the bus stop, and got off near O’Connell Street for some shopping. We actually went off the street to LUSH, which K had never encountered before, and I told her she would love it. I think she spent an hour in there, and emerged with far too much – as did I. T discovered that it was a great spot for people watching, as the perfumes in the place were much too strong for her (I sympathize, as I had to leave a couple times myself). It was very busy and crowded, sort of like being in Disneyworld on Labor Day weekend.

We wandered through a book store, as K was looking for a gift for her nephew – a primer in Irish. We noticed a very poorly stocked scifi/fantasy section, and then finally wandered back across the bridge. We found our car park with some help from T’s sense of direction, paid our daily fee (E25!) and took a scenic route back to our B&B (via St. Patrick’s Cathedral). We parked and went up to our room to regroup and get ready for dinner. We tried next door at Trinity Pub, but they were not serving food, despite the chalk board full of menu (that was for lunch). So we hustled back to O’Neill’s in time for getting our orders in before that kitchen closed. C had the pepper steak, K had the pepper burger, while T had a regular burger. The steak was great, as it didn’t have to be burned to a hockey puck. The burgers were, well, charred at well done as they are evidently required to be by law.

We went up to our room for a relatively early night, as I was exhausted from last night’s lack of sleep. We read a little, it was much cooler out, and I slept much better than the night before. Yay!


Friday, July 7th: Ancient Burials and Tourists everywhere!

We got off on an early start this morning, as we were headed towards the north and ancient burial sites. Many of the places we were planning on visiting I had been to before, but 10 years before. I was especially interested on the differences to the Hill of Tara, which I know will shortly undergo a change as the surrounding roads are widened.

We found the N1 with only a few errors, and took the M50 to the N3, north to our first stop, the Hill of Tara. We made it there around 10am, and went up to the hill before anyone else was there. It is, and always has been, an incredible view from the hill. You feel as if you can see the entire island from your vantage point, laid out in front of you like a patchwork quilt of fields and sheep.

I climbed up the Mound of Hostages, and managed to recapture some of the thrill of my first visit. The place was still quiet and powerful, though somewhat less urgent than the last time I had visited. My solitude was short lived, however, because several German tourists arrived in a bus, and started climbing the hills.

We explored the various hillworks, the mounds, the stones, the sheep, and the stunning view. We wandered the steep paths and steeper hillsides. Finally, the OPW clerk came out to let us know the English AV presentation was about to start, so we fell in and followed her back to the little church which housed it.

The AV presentations we saw throughout our trip were very informative, and had very lush photography, interesting commentary, and relevant data. Everything from computer graphics to archeological dig photos was shown. T inquired in several places whether the set of them were for sale, and was told the request had been made several times – in vain.

We saw a sign as we were leaving for a Holy Well, just down the road from Tara, so took a detour to explore it. It was a small enclosure, fenced away from the cows but with an area where they could drink from the troughed stream. There was a small pitcher, evidently for filling bottles with from the water. It was set up very simple, and very quiet. I believe the well was dedicated to St. Patrick.

We went on to Navan, and around the city to Newgrange. When I was here 10 years ago, there was no visitor’s centre, and visitors parked right up near the path to the tomb. Now you enter the centre, which is extensive, and take a bus to the tomb. The centre has some wonderful displays on pre-historic life, and a nice little AV presentation.

You get your time of visit when you arrive, and it gives lots of time to wander the centre and gift shop before you have to walk along a path (and over a bridge) to the bus stop. Then the bus takes about 10 minutes to the site itself. You go within the tomb still on the tour, though it’s rather claustrophobic. I am a fat person, but still managed to squeeze inside some of the smaller sections of the passage, but just barely!

We were allowed about 15 minutes after the passage tour to wander around, which in my opinion wasn’t nearly enough time to walk all the way around, examining the stones and decorations. However, our tour inside was delayed by the last group being late, so I suppose we would normally have had more time afterwards.

Getting back on the bus, we were second to last in line. The guy behind us (dragging his wife with him) was so concerned about getting on first that he pushed ahead of us and several other people – only to be turned away on the first bus. He was first on the second bus, though, and I gave him a dirty look for queue-jumping, as it got him very little in terms of saving time. We all got back at the same time, after all!

Back at the centre, we started towards Malahide house, after several wrong turns and R roads. Malahide is a wonderful 18th Century manor house, restored with beautiful carved wood panels and lush tapestries, wallpaper, and furnishings. The grounds were fantastic, and I wish we had more time to explore them, but we were rushing to get into the house before closing. There was a wedding we passed on the way here, and as we left, we saw the bride and groom having photos taken on the grounds. That’s when the Italian school children came again! Photography wasn’t permitted inside, more’s the pity.

We asked for a recommendation on dinner from the gift shop clerk, who mentioned Smyth’s in Malahide itself. We found Smyth’s parked around the corner, saw the bridal party again (in a car this time), and ordered dinner. Smyth’s is decorated like a retro American bar, which was really odd. T and I ordered the garlic butter steak, while K tried the cajun steak. Mistake! I tried to warn her never to trust the European idea of cajun, but she didn’t listen. It was awful. The steak itself was full of gristle and the seasonings terrible. She asked for, and received, a garlic butter steak instead. Those were great.

We headed south to Howth, but were waylaid by a nice set of stairs going down to a rocky beach. There was a sandy portion, but lots of limestone rocks around, filled with seashells and seaweed. We collected some, watched a mother and her son swimming, watched the mother change on the beach (she wrapped a towel around her as she changed, but wasn’t too concerned when it slipped). It was a very peaceful spot, despite the cars driving by on the road above. It was around 7pm and the sea was restful, gently lapping waves against the rocks in a soothing rhythm.

We kept driving along the seashore route, out to Howth. There were some beautiful houses, though few with much land, as I’m sure it’s at an incredible premium here. There were a couple more nice beaches, and we stopped at a marina to have some ice cream. Our first choice was closing as we approached, so we went on to Maud’s. T had berry ice cream, I tried the truffles and cream, while K had something colorful that I don’t remember. It was all rather good, and we had a window seat looking out at the boats and children playing. We met a young lady and her sister (they were perhaps 6 and 4 years old) dining with their grandparents, on holiday up from Dublin.

As we came back into town, the road we were on became Amiens road, which became Moss road, which stops just at the corner our B&B was on. How convenient was that? We slept well after such a full day.

Saturday, July 8th: Hi, Ho, Silver!

We woke up early for an early start, but discovered that breakfast wasn’t served until 9am this morning. Oh well, we went back to the room to pack for the morning. It’s not like the time was wasted!

We got into breakfast, and Hughey (one of the owners, evidently) asked how things were. We arranged to meet with him that evening to settle up, as we would be leaving much too early for humans the next day (4:30am for our 7:30am flight).

After some fun with more one way streets and crossing back and forth across the Liffey, we dropped T off at the Dublin Zoo for the day, and arranged to meet her at around 5pm in the same spot. Then K and I headed off to Kildare to the National Stud and the Japanese Gardens, as well as St. Fiachra’s Garden, all of which are in the same complex. On the way in we saw a sign for St. Brigid’s Well, which we resolved to visit on the way out.

The admission into the complex was E9, not included on the OPW, but well worth it, IMHO. The gardens were stunning, each area representing a different stage in life. There was the Easy Path vs. the Path of Life, there were sections marked Disappointment, (after Marriage, of course) and the Chair of Old Age, etc. The paths went in and out, around and through the gardens. I met Tim the Gardener, and we chatted of weather, Florida versus Ireland, house prices, and career paths. We both agreed that you have to find something you enjoy doing, and you won’t mind the hours you put into your career. Otherwise you are just imprisoned by your job.

We traveled on to the Stud area, where there was a small tour. We managed to get through the Japanese gardens before the horde of, you guessed it, Italian school children came through. Were they following us???

The horses were interesting to me, but K is a horse nut so she was much more fascinated. When there was a choice of going out and greeting the horses in the fields or walking around St. Fiachra’s Gardens, we split ways. St. Fiachra is the patron saint of Gardeners, and this area was set out as a natural garden, emphasizing random natural beauty. The place had a waterfall, swans and ducks, weeping willows, and some manufactured monastic huts in honor of the 7th century saint. Inside one of these huts was a rather disappointing ‘crystal garden’.

When I read about the underground crystal garden, I imagined something grand, crystal all around, lit from underneath, in natural formations and shapes. Instead, there was a small 4’X4’ box set in the ground, covered with glass, with some cut crystal from Waterford in it. Lit from below, yes, but thoroughly unimpressive.

Despite that, the gardens themselves were wonderful. A family was exploring near me, and I could hear the father trying to teach the 6-year-old daughter how to quack like a duck. I hooked back up with K near the end of the gardens, when it began to rain. This was only our second day of heavy rain on the trip, of which we were very glad!

We headed towards the restaurant for a late lunch, but it was crawling with those Italian school children. Most were done eating, but their bus was not yet there, so they took most of the tables. We ate inside, since most of them were outside. (most, not all!).

K and I both had the steak & Guinness pie. I tried a delicious salad with feta cheese and broccoli, while K had a cucumber salad. We made up for this relatively healthy side by sharing a slice of some meringue/fruit/cream dessert that was sweet and fluffy.

We shopped a bit, realizing that it was our last day in Ireland, and I got the last of my required gifts. The we went onto St. Brigid’s Well. This is by far the most impressive holy well we saw, complete with a statue of St. Brigid holding up a flame, a wishing tree, and several alcoves for blessings and wishes along the area. The water tasted clear and sweet, and while we were there, a chatty man from Dublin and a Franciscan Friar greeted us. The Friar was very nice; though dressed in plain clothes he had a wooden pendant that evidently identified him as such. I asked him about his opinion on the bits of paganism still showing strong in Celtic Christianity, and he said that it was pretty much accepted as part of the belief system.

K and I both gave some gifts to the wishing tree, and as we were leaving, some of the Friar’s friends were pouring some of the Holy Water into small labeled bottles. They gave us a couple, as well as directions to another Holy Well nearby to visit, called Father Moore’s Well.

We got to this well by driving through the city of Kildare, and it was very different from St. Brigid’s well. Hers was very solemn, but light and full of, well, presence. It was very reverent. Father Thomas’ well felt much more… plastic, I guess. It certainly had a much more Catholic feel than pagan/Catholic (like Brigit’s). There were offerings, shrines, tombstones, remembrances, and a dirty, muddy pit that must have been the well. We didn’t like the place much at all, and left rather quickly. The fact that it was raining harder may have helped our decision!

We drove back through Naas, on a sudden urge to find a shopping area, but we searched in vain, finding nothing worth stopping for. We made it back into Dublin in short order, and picked up a soggy T from the zoo. We went in search of shopping in Dublin, convinced that we would find some. Indeed we did, on Grafton Street, a short walk from the Car Park we found (Setanta). We stopped in a couple of shops, but they were all starting to close as it was past 6pm. We were really frustrated with this early close thing! We knew about it, but that didn’t make it easier to deal with. We had money to spend, darn it!

We smelled some really good cooking, and decided it came from Bocca Italian off Grafton Street. We had to wait about 10 minutes for a table, but once we were sat it was cozy. For starters we ordered the antipasti. The description said it had meats, cheeses, olives and artichoke hearts. They lied! There was one slice of one artichoke heart on the top. Since I can eat a whole jar of the things, I was quite disappointed! The olives were normal green and black ones, but the meats and cheeses were delicious.

I had the spaghetti mare, K had the pollo vesuvio and T had the pasta carbonara, despite her earlier encounter with this dish. Everything was delicious, and the service (once we were sat) was great. K had the amaretti ice cream for dessert and loved it. We were blown away by seeing the first real pepper mill of the trip!

We got back to the B&B at 8:45pm, which was, IMHO, plenty of time to walk down the block to meet a fellow Flyertalker and his family also traveling in Ireland. Alas, I looked at the sheet of paper that had the hotel name, and it was 8pm we were supposed to meet, not 9pm! I felt like such an idiot. That for all my planning!

We were exhausted after a long day, and had an early traveling day tomorrow, so we packed and went to sleep.

Sunday, July 9th: Travel heaven and hell

Up before light? Not in Ireland in the summer! 4am and it was already false dawn out. It was light by the time we were in the car and on our way to the airport. We got there at 5:30am, expecting it to be rather deserted. HA! There were crowds of people everywhere! The kiosk to drop our car keys in the car park was closed as it was too early, and we couldn’t find the in-airport desk in time. We waited in the line to check our luggage (Aer Lingus to the UK) and waited for about an hour. We started getting worried about checking in on time, but we were fine. The gentleman working ‘triage’ at the check in line was fantastic, efficient, and had a great attitude. I wish I could remember his name, but he had a feeling of the military about him, like a drill sargaent. The flight from DUB to LHR left on time with no problems, and arrived on time in London.

Our trip into the Virgin terminal was less hectic than last time, but still hampered by two working elevators (out of 4) and a huge amount of people trying to use them. We got to the VA check in kiosks, checked in, got our luggage tagged and our boarding passes. No gate was assigned yet (it was 10:15 for an 11:30 flight) but the boarding pass said boarding started at 10:15???

We went to the gate section, and finally saw our gate assigned at 10:30, and started booking it down the terminal to gate 88. And booking, and booking, and booking! We made it with plenty of time, and they started boarding. Down the jetway, onto… the tarmac. Onto… a bus??? This is the first time that ever happened to me! We were standing room only on a bus to our plane. Very odd!

A hectic ride under the runway, through tunnels, through airport traffic, dodging larger busses and we made it to our plane. It was rather tough as we were packed together like sardines, and I can’t stand for long periods of time. Walking is fine, but standing is agony. I was ready to drop after that ride!

We walked over to our plane and up the stairs, found our seats, and sighed. Then we crossed our fingers! We had three of the four seats in the center section, and were hoping that fourth seat remained empty. We waited while several busloads of folks got on. And waited. And waited. We were due to take off at 11:30, finally leaving at 12:45. They were good about making announcements about our delay, but we soon realized that they were not very helpful in terms of information.

The flight itself was fine, though the little girl behind us kept asking for Stuart? Stuart? Stuart? Stuart? In a loud voice. Halfway through the flight both K and I felt kicking on the back of our seat, and I very politely turned around and asked the mother if she could ask her daughter to stop. She said the daughter did nothing wrong, just put the tray table up, but there was no more kicking after that. I doubt that the tray table going up would be felt in the bottom of my seat. J

The pilot kept making announcements throughout the flight, including the World Cup half time and full time scores, this being the finals. I could have done without them, but understand than many cared. They also listed them on the IFE units.

We arrived at 5:05, about 45 minutes late – and too late, evidently, to catch my connecting flight from MIA to MCO. I tried to push through, leaving K to collect my checked luggage, but was much too late. I ended up waiting in a line to re-assign me for about 45 minutes, my luggage long gone home with K. An Office Palomba? was very helpful and kind. Finally I just asked to use the phone, as I found out all the flights were gone to MCO for the night, and they couldn’t help me until tomorrow. I waited 20 minutes just to use the phone! (mine had SIM card problems and wouldn’t work). I called my DH, told him to meet me in Palm Beach, and went out to rent a car (at $120 for two hours!!!!) and drove up to meet him.

The ride home was long and I got home at 2am. I had to be up in the morning at 7am to go to work, so I collapsed. I’d been up for 26 hours, and was exhausted!

My luggage was Fedexed to me the next day, and arrived Tuesday, all intact except a missing pair of scissors. Even the chocolate wasn’t melted!

All in all, despite the problems in logistics and travel, I had a wonderful time. I will return to the magical isle some day!