Friday, November 21, 2014

Éire go Brách - Part IX

The last two days have been pretty easy going. I did take a slightly extended walk yesterday to deliver my pilfered car key which also took me close to Croke Park, which is a stadium where a majority of Ireland's Gaelic games are played. The games consist mostly of football (similar to Australian Rules football) and hurling (similar to their football but with short hockey-like sticks). The stadium has a museum dedicated to the games of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA). Now I'm not exactly the most sports minded person. I couldn't get two shits about any of the popular sports back home, so I'd be lying if I said I was a fan of those here in Ireland. However, I was right there and it's a big part of Irish culture so I figured why not. The museum in split in two levels. The lower level is all about the history of sports in Ireland, in Celtic history, and to a lesser degree the world. This part I found quite interesting and it's extremely well produced and laid out. The upper floor is all about the modern teams, stars, winners and has several interactive exhibits to show off your complete inability to do anything remotely sporty. This part was not my favorite, but it did give some burly guy an excuse to show off his burliness to his date. For those particularly interested you can also take a tour of the stadium itself whenever there aren't games going on. I didn't take part in the tour cause...I don't really care.

Éire go Brách - Photos Part V

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Éire go Brách - Part VIII

I think it's funny that a tiny, frigid room with two bunkbeds and not much more makes for the best night sleep I've had in Ireland. The owner gave me a small electric radiator, but I never bothered to turn it on because I was quite comfortable under the slightly small but very warm blanket. The bed was no more or less comfortable than any other bed I've slept on. Maybe it was the simplicity of it all. Regardless, I slept rather well and woke up in time for breakfast in a place that doesn't serve breakfast. I didn't realize it that night, but in the daylight (and it was starting out a bright, sunny day) it became apparent that the hostel was maybe 30 feet from a nice little cliff with a beach down below. I took in the vista for a few minutes and then took the 20-ish minute drive to the Cliffs of Moher. When I arrived it was partly cloudy and there was still a heavy morning mist which gave the cliffs an almost cinematic look. It's a striking view even without the theatrics, but with a little ambiance it was spectacular. It's the second time that my apprehension of a mainstream tourist attraction has pleasantly surprised me (the first was Peggy's Cove in Nova Scotia). The way the park is set up you have a visitors center within a very short walk of the main view of the cliffs. For quite a few people, that seemed to be enough for them. It's sort of the fast food of tourism. However, there are paths of to the left or right for different views. In fact, the visitor center for the cliffs represents a sort of halfway point of a roughly 18 kilometer trail. I only went about half a kilometer in either direction as it gets very rugged and supposedly a bit difficult beyond the maintained portions of the visitor center. I wasn't prepared in any way for that kind of endeavor, despite the fact that it would obviously provide some stunning views, including the ruins of an old watchtower.

After strolling back and forth along the cliffs I stopped for a little food at the cafe inside the visitor center. There's a tiny coffee shop cafe when you first walk in, but upstairs there's a full service, cafeteria style deal. The coffee shop just inside the visitor's center has some lasagna, quiche, and soups that they can heat up for you and after having a rather mediocre shepherd's pie I think I might have been better off with that. Still, it was food and it did the job and I was set to head out. I made a decent effort to drive around and catch a view of the area called The Burren (a huge, rocky, partially barren, limestoney area) but between the remoteness of most of the trails at the national park, my aforementioned lack of preparedness for a serious jaunt, and all the other facilities of the area being closed for the season I decided to skip The Burren. After mostly aimlessly driving around for an hour I chose to head down towards the Ring of Kerry. It's a nice drive down some slightly less harrowing roads, through some beautiful towns. I'd love to spend a day wandering around the town of Adare with the old Holy Trinity Abbey church and the impressive Adare Manor. Maybe on another trip, though. I was only about 3 hours into my drive and had just gotten onto the circular route known as the Ring of Kerry that circumnavigates the coastal County Kerry, but I was already losing the light and I just happened to passed by a hotel, the Towers Hotel in Glenbeigh, that looked like it was open. Although portions of the hotel were closed (the restaurant, and thus bed and breakfast portion of it) the pub was open and serving food and the woman I assumed was the owner gave me a super-cheap rate on a very nice room. I had dinner in the pub, which was a really nice grilled fish (I swear she called the fish a Hick, but I'll be damned if I can find that fish listed anywhere), and an interesting take of apple pie - it was thin, almost like a turnover, and covered in custard. It was a pretty good meal and the room was definitely a deal. The wifi was limited to the pub, so I spent the rest of the evening chilling out.

The next day I woke up just before checkout and hit the road. The Ring of Kerry is a 179 kilometer (111 miles) ring road that more or less starts and ends in Killarney. The road takes you along peninsular coasts, through rolling sheep pastures, and then winds through Killarney National Park. It's a fun drive in the right car, luckily the Golf is pretty zippy and handles really well, and rolls through some great scenery. There are a limited number of pull-offs along the road with some being no more than a slightly wider shoulder on one side but others having ample parking and even some signage and minor monuments. Although the speed limit along most of the Ring of Kerry is 80kph (~50mph), it's so twisty, rolly, narrow, and pretty that there weren't too many places I went that fast. About an hour into the ride of stopped at a place called Bake My Day somewhere near the little town of Caherdaniel. Despite it being lunch time I hadn't eaten and the heartiest thing on the menu looked to be their version of a full Irish breakfast. It was absolutely delicious. It had a variety of sausages (including blood sausage), a couple rashers of bacon that didn't taste like crappy ham or Canadian bacon, a variety of sides, and a basket of bread. It was easily the best breakfast I've had in Ireland (not that I've been awake for many). While eating and enjoying some tea I managed to wait out a heavy but short-lived downpour. I drove the remainder of the Ring back to Killarney, stopping a few times to check out the views, fall down some hills, climb over a small creek to check out the ruins of an old fort, fall down a rock. By the end of my drive my shoes and socks were wet, I had dirt up and down my pants (which were also mostly wet), and a few scrapes and bruises. Unfortunately by the time I got back to Killarney it was time to head back to Dublin. It was a mostly easy drive up until about 30 minutes outside of Dublin where the rain had caused several wrecks and I spent about an hour in stop and go traffic to go about 10km. I eventually got the rental car back to the airport, took the bus back to the center of Dublin and got up to my room only to realize I had left the room key in the car (I think) and had stolen the car key. The hotel has a spare, but I have to figure out a way to get the car key back to the rental place. That's a problem for tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Monday, November 17, 2014

Éire go Brách - Part VII

Yesterday was get out of Dublin day so I took a bus to the airport to pick up my rental car. I was expecting some ridiculously tiny thing but ended up with a spiffy little Volkswagen Golf TDI. Driving here in Ireland has been an intimidating prospect since I started planning the trip. Driving on the left side of the road from the right side of the car just feels all kinds of backwards to me. There are so many little nuances you don't think about when driving in your native country that suddenly come front and center and constantly require thought and reaction. Which lane is the fast lane on the highway? Can you turn left on red? Will reactions to sudden changes kill me since I'm programmed backwards? Then getting in the car is a whole other host of issues. Looking over my left shoulder to back up is suddenly full of blind spots I've never seen. Is my left tire even on the road anymore? I have no sense of awareness of where the car is on the road. The first hour was a mixture of "Oh fuck I'm going to die!" and "Fuck it, I can only die once." Surprisingly I've only been honked at once and that was trying to get over on a roundabout because I had no idea where I wanted to go until I saw the exit. What I thought was certain to end in an international incident has been, at worst anxiety inducing, and at best just another road trip. Driving in the dark down narrow back roads with no shoulder and stone walls immediately on either side with some assholes bright lights in my eyes is definitely on the anxiety side. Rolling over hills through lush green countrysides, with sheep on one side and the ocean on the other...well that's pretty damn nice.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Éire go Brách - Photos Part III

Éire go Brách - Part VI

As I mentioned yesterday, I planned to spend today wandering down toward the waterfront. It's a pretty good walk, about 3 miles, from my room to where I was heading so once I got out I started straight away. I started out taking some side streets between my room and the River Liffey that bisects the city. About half way there I stopped in at a pub along the way called Graingers where I had a pretty good Shepherd's Pie in a place that oddly enough wasn't completely decked out in dark old wood like every other pub I've been in. In fact it was a surprisingly cheery looking place considering it's a pub, with contrasting light and dark blues and embossed walls and ceiling. Graingers isn't on the busiest city centre streets, but it does have a pretty good corner location and had a fair amount of traffic while I was in there. After Graingers I made it river-side and strolled down the way towards Dublin's port area. It's a nice walk with lots of bike paths built in, lots of runners going to and fro, and several bridges that cross the Liffey including a large white suspension bridge strung up like a tilted harp. Part of the way along the river is the tall ship Jeanie Johnston, a replica of an 1850s trading ship that ferried emigrants from Dublin to North America and then timber back to Europe. It had scaffolding on the stern and workers hammering about on deck so I didn't check it out, assuming it was closed.