Author Archives: nicole
Drinking Our Way through Dublin (18-19 Aug 2016)
In order to maximize our time in Dublin, we found the hop-on hop-off bus stop nearest to the car rental return to start our sight seeing. This just so happened to be across from the Teeling Whiskey Distillery. And, I mean, since we were already there . . . It turned out to be one of the best distillery tours we have been on. The Teeling family has been making whiskey since the 1700s, but they just opened the distillery in Dublin in 2015, the first distillery to open in Dublin in 125 years and the only one currently operating in Dublin. Since the distillery just opened, the tastings were from the original family distillery that used to be down in Cork.
We then skipped the bus to walk over to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the National Cathedral of the Church of Ireland, on that site since the 1100s, with the current structure built in the 1200s. Jonathan Swift, the author and cleric (I had no idea) was buried there. We walked all around the church and then sat down for a few minutes to listen to a choir that was practicing.
Again skipping the bus (glad we invested in that pass), we walked over to and around St. Stephen’s Green, a big public park in the middle of the city. The weather was a little overcast and drizzly, making the park a bit drab, but I could see how it would be beautiful in good weather. It was around lunchtime, and there were a lot of people in their work attire taking post lunch walks around the park. We did find it odd that a lot of the grass area was surrounded by low dividers, making us wonder if people sat or played out on the grass in nice weather. The walk through St. Stephen’s brought us to the restaurant and pub area of Grafton Street for lunch and then it was off to the Guinness Brewery.
And I thought Smithwicks was gimicky! The Guinness Storehouse (it’s not actual a functioning brewery any longer) is a bit like Epcot Center. There was an entire floor dedicated to the history of Guinness advertising. Note the text in the bottom right of the fish ad. We did a rather quick self-guided tour, finishing at the Gravity Bar at the top, promising views of Dublin. Well, yes, there were views of Dublin. Not sure if it was the weather, or if Dublin just doesn’t have a great skyline or things to see, or what, but I was definitely underwhelmed.
We finally hopped on the bus to get us to Kilmainham Gaol for our reserved tour. This place is very popular, and we needed to schedule our tour a few days ahead of time. Glad we did, though, because we both really enjoyed the tour. The jail was a revolutionary design when built in the late 1700s, being the first to have individual cells to separate prisoners, which only last until the jail became overcrowded. While the jail functioned for almost 170 years, the the tour mostly focused on the famous Irish held and executed there during the Easter Rising against the British in 1916.
Since it was late in the day, the hop-on hop-off bus was completing its service before our hotel stop, so we got off at the closest possible location and did some more walking. The evening consisted of a Celtic Nights dinner and show performance. I’m sure it was mostly for tourists, but we really enjoyed it. The musicians and dancers were very entertaining and the food was good.
All told for the day, Ryan drank 2 whiskey tastings, 1.5 whiskey cocktails, a pint of Guinness and 2 pints of Smithwicks. A few more drinks and he could practically be a local!
On an unrelated noted, we have decided that cars make us fat. Not only do we not walk/bike as much, as of course everyone knows, but we also tend to snack more when we are driving than walking.
By our last day in Dublin, we were definitely feeling the effects of a whirlwind trip, and of Ryan’s cold, and decided to take it a little slower. We had heard the Trinity College tour and Book of Kells was a must do, so we booked a tour time online and walked over from our hotel. The Book of Kells is a Gospel book dating back to the 800s. It was very interesting to learn about how the book was made, though we weren’t wowed by the book itself. We both enjoyed the Long Library and college tour, given by an actual college student, more.
Since we had not had enough to drink the previous day, we walked over to the Jameson Distillery. The Jameson Distillery is also no longer a working distillery, but the tour was good and we enjoyed the tasting. The tour guide sat with us during the tasting, and actually had us taste 3 different whiskeys, an American Whiskey (Jack Daniels), a Scotch Whisky (Johnnie Walker), and the Jameson Original. I like the taste of the Scotch better, a bit smokier, but the Jameson definitely went down the smoothest.
We finally made good use of the hop-on hop-off bus, staying on and taking a sight-seeing ride around the city, before getting off near our hotel. We did some last minute shopping for gifts (I’m tired and need to use the bathroom ), packed up most of belongings, reserved a shuttle ride to the airport, and attempted to figure out the VAT refund.
I insisted that the last dinner of the trip be fish and chips. A staff member at the hotel gave us a recommendation and we were not disappointed! And Ryan drank his last beer of the trip, a local craft amber called Brew-22.
Ryan’s Favorite Beer (17 Aug 2016)
Nearing the end of our driving tour of Ireland, we drove on ‘normal’, almost highway like roads from Cork to Dublin, with a few stops in between. We made it to the Rock of Cashel just in time to catch one of the hourly tours, which was very interesting and informative. The Rock of Cashel has a variety of buildings, dating back to the 1100s, the oldest being the Round Tower. The entrance to the Round Tower is about 10 feet off the ground, designed for better stability so the structure wouldn’t collapse. Also on the grounds is Cormac’s Chapel, built in the Romanesque style with curved arches and details, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, built facing the wrong direction to fit in the space available between the already existing structures, a tower house, and a cemetery, containing some very old tombs and some very new ones, as it is still active.
From the Rock of Cashel, we could see Hore Abbey(no, not whore abbey), named after the style of clothing the nuns wore, we were told.
Next was off to Kilkenney for a tour of the Smithwicks (pronounced Smiticks) Brewery and lunch. I learned that Smithwicks is probably Ryan’s favorite beer. Who knew? The Smithwicks tour was a little gimmicky. First there was a Jedi dressed hologram that provided the intro. Then, there was one room where you learned about the history of the family and brewery through ‘talking’ portraits. I could have sworn we were in “Harry Potter”. They kept blinking!
I drove the rest of the way into Dublin, luckily mostly on the wider roads and then through the city traffic in the pouring rain. Ryan agreed with me that even though I only tend to drive maybe 20% of the time we are going somewhere, I somehow wind up driving in 80% of the bad weather. Ryan was also very excited because our trip meter reached 2 megameters, which begs the question why no one uses the term megameters, but would instead say 2000 kilometers.
Our hotel directed us to park in a city parking structure across the street. I found a great end spot that I was determined to back into. Ryan was incredibly patient as I pulled in and out and in and out trying to get into that damn spot! Picture the scene from ‘Austin Powers’ and that about sums it up. It is very awkward looking over your left shoulder to back up!
That’s Just Blarney (16 Aug 2016)
Ryan kissed the Blarney Stone and will now be instilled with the gift of gab and great eloquence. Let’s see how that works out for him. The Blarney Stone itself was probably the least exciting part of the Blarney Castle, a tower house outside Cork built in the 1400s. There were multiple dungeons and caves to crawl through, which of course I had to, mostly with kids visiting the site while their parents waited outside. Ryan decided to pass up the dungeons, even though they were a ton bigger than the Cu Chi tunnels he crawled through in Vietnam.
Made it to the top!
The castle was on a beautiful estate, with multiple gardens to wander around.
We then headed back into Cork for a late lunch and wander around the English Market. This was a must see for me, cause I’m like a kid in a candy store in food markets. This one was primarily fresh meat, fish, and cheeses for locals and local restaurants to purchase. Not as many samples as I would have hoped for.
Ryan’s cold was starting to kick in, so we spent the rest of the afternoon in the hotel. He napped, while I watched Ireland win their second medal of the Olympics, a silver in women’s sailing to Annalise Murphy.
Lovely Irish Summer Weather, For Real (15 Aug 2016)
As the title indicates, the weather was absolutely gorgeous, high 60’s and sunny with a light breeze. The yearly Kenmare Fair is August 15th, and we walked around it before heading out. Very interesting to say the least. It takes place in the downtown area and has a rather odd variety. The stores setup displays on the streets. People come in and set up a ton of displays with odd random stuff, ie. antiques, used power tools, clothing, cheap plastic toys, and knock-off purses. And then there are the animals. One street is just full of animals to be bought and sold; horses, sheep, goats, cows, puppies, ducks, chickens, turkeys. The cows are not even tied up, just herded against a fence. It took some diligent steps to avoid all the ‘land mines’ on that street and we wondered how exactly they clean it after the fair.
Today was a relatively short drive up to Cork, with a few stops along the way. First was Kinsale, a beautiful harbour town, reminiscent of Sausalito, as one travel books said, and I concur. Again, the weather definitely helped.
St. Multose Church.
We wandered around the harbour, got some lunch, and then drove out to Charles Fort. Built in the 17th century by the British as a military fort, it is tucked into the side of the harbour and is deceivingly large. From the road, it doesn’t look like much. It isn’t until we were wandering around it that we realized the full expanse.
After that, we drove around the harbour again (we basically drove around the Kinsale harbour three times in the course of a few hours) over to the Lusitania Museum. Kinsale was the closest land mass and first responders when German U-boats targeted the Lusitania cruise ship during WWI. The museum wasn’t much to speak of, not what we would consider a museum. But it was shared with the Old Head Signal Tower on almost the tip of the peninsula and offered some great views. The actual tip of the peninsula is a private golf course. You are out of luck if you hit the ball into a water trap there :-).
The drive into Cork took us on a variety of roads, from single-lane two-way traffic to almost highway like. We have seen a lot of people biking in Ireland, even in the crappy raining windy weather. They bike on the hilly, narrow, windy roads, which looks very difficult and dangerous. They bike on road that we would consider highways, again seems rather dangerous. Sometimes they wear helmets, and sometimes they don’t.
The food in Ireland has been delicious (post on soups to come at a later point), but I was going into fresh veggie withdrawal. Luckily, as we get into the bigger cities, I’ve been able to find more salad options. We happened upon Oliver Plunkett’s for dinner, where we sort of branched out from the traditional Irish fare, Ryan with roast chicken, and me with soup and salad (I said sort of). By chance, there was live traditional Irish music with a banjo and Bodhran. After the musicians finished, they taught whomever was interested how to play the Bodhran. Of course I took them up on that offer, and Ryan got dragged into it. What fun! Both of the musicians had also been to Austin touring with music groups on the past.
Ring of Beara, Another Scenic Peninsula (14 Aug 2016)
What started out overcast turned into an absolutely gorgeous day. First up was Killarney National Park, where we hiked (more like walked) the Muckross Lake Loop Trail, a mostly quiet and peaceful trail around, you guessed it, Muckross Lake. We practiced our speed walking technique for the second half of the hike, because someone had a full bladder and the half point bathroom was closed. The Muckross House is a Victorian mansion that can be toured, but we passed that up in favor of driving the Ring of Beara. Before heading out of the park however, took another short hike mostly up to the Torc Waterfall. Judge for yourself, but we were unimpressed. Panting up the path, we asked someone coming down (German I think) if the waterfall was up that way, he said yes, and that it was rather small. Guess we should have turned around then.
The Ring of Kerry is the well known tourist scenic drive and incredibly crowded with buses and people during the summer months. Ryan and I opted to skip this for the lesser traveled, but supposedly just as scenic, Ring of Beara. We didn’t have time to drive the entire ring and opted to hit some of the sites a few locals had mentioned, driving through Ardgroom, a ‘Tidy Town’ winner wtih very colorful houses, down to Eyeries, across the peninsula to Castletownbere, up to Adrigole, and back across the peninsula over Healy Pass. Tidy Town is an initiative started back in the 1950’s and focuses now on making the towns more environmentally friendly and better places to work and live. Because of it, most towns are very clean and have very colorfully painted houses downtown.
More scenic views, I think from Castletownbere on the east side of the peninsula.
At the top of Healy Pass. We came up that narrow windy road.
Scenic picnic spot on the way home.
Ryan far exceeded his step count goal today, logging >26K steps. He brought his FitBit, mostly because it is also his watch, but it has been interesting to see how much we walk each day. With the exception of a slight miss yesterday (<100 steps short of his goal), he has met his goal each day, and the goal keeps increasing.
P.S. Happy 1st Birthday Nathan!! Can’t wait to see you in less than a week!
P.P.S. We arrived home yesterday evening and are planning to finish the blog in the next few days to keep a record of our travels. Ryan made it through Dublin with a slight cold, which got worse on the flights home, but it’s always more comfortable to be sick at home.
Scenic Views on the Dingle Peninsula (13 Aug 2016)
The Whispering Pines B&B, our home for 3 nights, was recommended by Trip Advisor, Lonely Planet, and Rick Steves, and now we know why. The host Mary and her family are all incredibly welcoming, and it’s more like staying at a relative’s house than in a hotel. Mary runs the place with her daughter Kathleen, and the grandkids are helping out and/or running around during the summer. The breakfasts are all freshly home made and delicious. I had french toast with fruit 3 days in a row, while Ryan tried them all, the full Irish breakfast, french toast, and then scrambled eggs and smoked salmon on the last morning. Mary and Kathleen chatted with us during breakfast. They have a first cousin who’s daughter lives in Austin and wanted to know if we knew her (we did not). They suggested some activities in the area and found us a local GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) football match to attend. Kathleen also recommended a local self service laundry, very necessary since sock supply was running very low.
Walking back to the B&B with our clean laundry, we stopped at a cafe for coffee. I realized that I’ve only been drinking coffee if I can get it with soy milk, which is such a joke considering all the cheese, cream, butter, and eggs I’ve been eating on this trip! Guess it’s just a habit.
The rest of the afternoon was spent driving around the Dingle Peninsula. Doesn’t the word ‘Dingle’ just sound funny? We stopped at Inch Strand, a beach that, while much colder in temperature, reminded us a bit of Port A, where everyone drives out and parks on the beach. There were also some crazy people actually out surfing in the water.
We then drove out to Dingle, towards the end of the penninsula, and caught a bit of the local Dingle Regatta races taking place. The drive between Inch Strand and Dingle was incredibly scenic, exactly what I pictured Ireland to be with green rolling hills.
Our time in Dingle was cut short in order to get back to Kenmare for the football match. The drive took a bit longer than expected when traffic was stopped to allow the local cows to cross the street.
We watched a local senior level game between the Kenmare Shamrocks and Kerins O’Rahillys. Gaelic football is a bit of a mix between soccer and rugby. We spent most of the first half trying to figure out the rules, and then a local helped us out the second half filling in the blanks and describing out the scoring worked. The home team won! The field was in the most amazing location, with mountains in the background.
Ireland’s First Medal of the 2016 Olympics (12 Aug 2016)
Another day with a lot of driving! This blog is getting repetitive in that respect. According to GoogleMaps, the drives are not that long. However, it does not appear that GoogleMaps takes into account the windy narrow roads, where one cannot actually drive the posted speed limit, or tractors, sheep, or cows in the road slowing forward progress. More from Ryan on driving later, he plans to write a whole blog post about it.
Nothing beats the convenience of having a car though. First stop, a last minute decision since the route took us right past it, was Dunguaire Castle. It turned out to be another Tower House, interesting in that it had been updated a few times since originally being built in the 1500s. The tower hosts traditional banquets, but I read they were very touristy and envision something like Medieval Times.
We then passed a sign for a chocolate factory up the road, and of course Ryan and I had to stop! It turned out to be a cute place that buys their cocoa beans from around the world including Madagascar, Cuba, Venezuela etc and makes all their chocolates in house. We sampled the Madagascar dark chocolate, which was surprisingly complex, with a description one would expect of a wine.
The Cliffs of Moher was the highlight stop of the day. Similar to Dun Aengus, this is an amazing natural location on the edge of the Atlantic with cliffs dropping straight off into the ocean. The weather was slightly better than the previous day, but still very windy. It is definitely a bit freaky standing on the edge of a cliff with those strong gusts! We did a little off-roading along the trails to get some good views of the cliffs. Unfortunately, we did not see any puffins, the clown birds of Ireland that live in the area. The visitor center at the cliffs was built into the landscape and reminded us a bit of the passage tombs.
We finished up at the cliffs just as it was starting to rain, and began the long drive to Kenmare. During a stop at a pub in a small town for lunch, we had the opportunity to watch the Irish O’Donovan brothers earn the silver medal finish in the 2 man lightweight sculls (rowing). This was the first medal for Ireland at the Rio Olympics and the first medal ever in rowing for Ireland. The locals in the bar were ecstatic and it was a lot of fun watching the event with them. We heard about the event over and over on the radio for the rest of the day.
A warm welcome from Mary greeted us at our B&B in Kenmare. We dropped our stuff and walked into town to grab a light dinner, becoming entranced by the 20 km Olympic speed walking event on TV.
Lovely Irish Summer Weather (11 Aug 2016)
The weather has really been wonderful for us so far, until today. We drove in rainy, windy weather an hour to take a ferry in rainy, windy weather another hour to arrive on the Aran Island of Inishmore, in rainy, windy weather. Ryan saw dolphins swimming along side of the ferry, but I was too busy sleeping trying to avoid the motion sickness. The original plan was to rent bikes and bike around the small island to the various sites. That was quickly nixed (I am only a fair weather cyclist) for a small 15 person bus tour given by a local named Rory. It turned out to be pretty good. He drove us around to all the sites, stopping along the way to point out of things of interest and answering all our questions about life on the island. During the long stop at Dun Aengus, Rory picked up his maybe 10 year old son and his friend, who joined us on the second half. I asked what his son did during the summer, and it sounded exactly like kids in the US; soccer camp for two weeks, swimming camp for two weeks, music camp for two weeks, etc.
The island is about 15 km tall by 4 km wide and has 14 separate villages. Residents must take the ferries (or the plane) over, so are limited getting to and from the island. The schools are taught in Irish, and some kids from the mainland come to school on the island primarily for that reason. They take a ferry over at the beginning of the week and then stay with families and head home for the weekends. The island also has its own nursing home, but has a shortage of nurses.
Dun Aengus is the main site on Inishmore. It is a prehistoric circle fort sitting on a cliff, dating back to 1100 BC. The fort was updated and added on to multiple times, they think around 500 BC and then multiple times afterwards. There is still a lot of unknowns surrounding the exact timeframe of the construction of the fort.
The seal colony is one of the other big attractions on the island. One large seal was lounging on a rock, while another one kept poking his head out of the water to say hi.
After our tour, we had some time to spare and stopped for a light snack and drinks. Ryan’s first Smithwicks of the trip!
Luckily, the ferry ride back was not quite as rough as the one over. We were beat from the day and decided to do a light snack/dinner in the hotel and go to sleep.
P.S. Well, we made it over half way through the trip, to August 15th, the date of this posting . . . But it wouldn’t be a trip abroad if Ryan didn’t get sick. Hopefully, it is just a mild cold and passes quickly! The local pharmacy gave him some stuff to take, and he brought some amazing nasal spray he bought in Norway last year when he got sick. Keeping fingers crossed.
Garderobes, Yuck! (10 Aug 2016)
Another driving day, though a short one, from Clifden to Galway with a few stops in between. First stop was the Roundstone Music Shop, housed within an old Franciscan Monastery and home to one of Ireland’s famous Bodhran makers, Malachy Kearns. Bodhrans are traditional drums, all made by hand in the shop. Malachy runs the shop, and we had the opportunity to talk with him and have him sign our Bodhran. He said that unfortunately, with all the cheap goods from China, they don’t really make enough on the drums any longer to have a sustainable business, but that it is still his passion. He loves to travel and has met a lot of very friendly Americans and would like to retire to the U.S., preferably Laguna Beach if he could afford it. How funny!
We then stopped at Aughnanure Castle, an old Tower House ruins. As we have since learned, Tower Houses were rather common in the 1500s. They were multi-story towers surrounded by one or two walls and then typically some sort of moat or other water (lake, river, stream). The first floor was used to store grain and other food. The upper floors were then used for eating, sleeping, and hosting guests at banquets. Wealthy families that owned animals would bring the animals inside the stone walls at night so they wouldn’t be stolen. The Aughnanure castle had a murder hole, basically a double door, with a grate in the ceiling above the area between the two doors where enemies could be trapped and shot from above. It also had a garderobe, a chute on the side of the castle, used as a toilet. Disgustingly, the people of the time thought that excrement could be used as a disinfectant and would sometimes hang their clothing in the chute to cleanse it of bacteria. Gross!
McDonagh’s fish and chips counter, recommended in both the NY Times 36 Hours in Galway and Lonely Planet was a must for dinner, though Ryan and I opted for the restaurant side with slightly healthier fare, starting with grilled Gigas Galway oysters and a fried fish skewer followed by grilled salmon with mash and veg, as it is called here. Based on the food available and how we have been eating, ie. full Irish breakfasts, lots of pastries and scones, food with cream and cheese, we wondered if Ireland had an obesity problem like the U.S. A quick Google search turned up an article stating that according to the WHO, Ireland was on track to become the most obese country in Europe by 2030. No indication of why, food vs lifestyle, etc, and no comparison to the U.S., which probably still has higher percentages of obesity than Ireland.
Afterward our not quite so bad for us meal, we walked down the main pedestrian thoroughfare of pubs and restaurants, crowded with people and lots of street performers. The crowds were slightly reminiscent of our stay in Beijing, though not quite as crowded and not nearly as chaotic.
Correction posted 8/16/2016: The correct term is ‘garderobe’, not ‘gardenrobe’.