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Live from Ireland: Day 7, Kilkenny

4 Jan

Location: Kilkenny, County Kilkenny, Ireland
Population: 7,000, inclusive of numerous nearby villages
Random Fact:
Accommodation: Lawcus Farm Guest House, Stoneyford (rural area outside Kilkenny)

We were really, really loving our time on an Irish farm. The weather was perfect, the dogs were friendly, all was well. Given our failure at not visiting a pub we agreed the best way to recover our ailing health was to sleep in a bit. We’d been up with the sun and out late every day, so we slept in a bit. When we finally did roll out of bed and head down for breakfast we were greeted with an amazing meal! The eggs were farm fresh, the bacon and sausage were decidedly not from the frozen food section, the huge bowl of fresh fruits and berries was to die for.

We happily ate and chatted with other American guests and our hosts and watched as Mark fed the tiny hedgehogs with a straw.

After breakfast we strolled around the farm, visited the animals a bit and took a walk along the river that ran through the back of the farm.

We even got a good chuckle out of watching Anne Marie – who’d just served us that amazing breakfast – leave the kitchen and head out to the fields to feed the animals, repair a broken fence and round up some escaped calves. All in a days work, I suppose?

After our walk we returned to the deck and sat down to hang out with the dogs and talk a bit more with the other guests. It was about then that I looked into the kitchen and saw our host walking about her kitchen with 2 bottles of Bacardi. A bit odd, I thought, at 10 in the morning. I watched as she rounded up shot glasses. What in the hell was she doing?

Out she came with her 2 bottles of booze and a stack of shot glasses.

Ready for a taste? She asked everyone cheerfully. My eyes widened. We’d been given Baileys in pretty much everything we’d been served everywhere we went – our coffee, hot chocolate, porridge, ice cream, cake, etc. Put this was the first time a host had offered us hard liquor at 10 a.m.

That’s when we were filled in on a little secret. It wasn’t Bacardi. It was Pocheen. It’s the Irish equivalent of Moon Shine. But stronger. It’s not exactly legal to have, or to distill. We’d joked about getting our hands on some but never for a second did I think we’d find any! And here it was, at 10 a.m.

Shots were poured. Shots were consumed.

I could only handle about half of my first shot. Zac finished his two, then mine.

And then we set off on our day’s adventures – me with a hole burning in the lining of my stomach, my husband drunk as a skunk.

Thankfully we didn’t have far to go, we were just down the road from the Kells Priory – a very large ruin full of sheep. We’d been warned that the sheep might follow us around, but that they wouldn’t bother us. Fair enough.

The Priory was really expansive with an outer wall and then another inner wall that concealed towers and the remains of a monastic settlement.

The sheep were everywhere. Which is to say, sheep poop was everywhere. We started out trying not to step on it. That lasted about 10 seconds and was declared impossible. So we were just browsing around, walking in poop, hanging out with sheep.

As promised the sheep started to follow us which made me very uncomfortable. They would walk towards us, then just stop and stare. I was convinced we were going to be sheep charged at any minute.

I was torn between wanting a nice close up photo of a sheep and not wanting to get stampeded. Zac tried to assure me that sheep don’t stampede and that if one charged us, he was sure he could fend it off and protect me. I wasn’t so sure. I mean who knows what a sheep is capable of. Especially when their ego is boosted. Look around, ya know, there are like 1500 sheep and 2 people. We were walled in by 800 years of stone, built to be defensive. No one was getting in and no one was getting out. It was like a sheep cage match.

But I wanted a picture, damn it. So I’d creep towards a docile looking sheep (and believe you me, some of them looked aggressive!!) and try to appear calm and soothing.

“Hi Sheep…How ya doing. Got some grass there to chew on. That’s good. Laying in a pile of sheep poop. Very alternative spa-like, I can dig that. Good sheep. Nice sheep.” click-click-click goes the shutter and I go running back towards Zac.

“Ahh!! Save me! I think its chasing me! It doesn’t like the camera! Save meeee!!”

Thankfully no one was harmed. Including the sheep.

We’d explored the outer ring of the ruins and now we needed to make our way across the field and down a steep hill to explore the interior. Past all the sheep.

We walked about 6 steps and one of the black-faced sheep came at us and I climbed up Zac like he was a fecking ladder and begged to be taken piggy back the rest of the way. But the point was raised that should he slip and fall I would land in all the sheep shit, so I just sucked it up, walked and tried not to make eye contact.

When we made it inside there were no sheep. But let’s just say…they’d been there.

This was one of the coolest ruins we visited. The whole thing spans about 3 acres and it’s excavation is one of the largest ever in Ireland.

Then we frolicked in the open green, like we had in Dingle. What can I say, I like to get my frolick on.

As we were poking about I decided that the whole thing reminded me of something from Super Mario Bros. So I get this bright idea that I should climb the wall, Mario style. You know – like when Mario jumps up onto a wall or a cage/fence thingy and then he can scurry across it? Yup. Just like that.

So up the wall I go, sticking my hands and feet into tiny gaps and scurrying across the wall, humming the tune from Mario Bros. Zac’s laughing and snapping pictures, I’m laughing, it’s all very funny. (You’ll keep in mind it’s just the 2 of us and the sheep. There were no other people in sight.) Then I’m ready to get down. But I can’t. Because I can’t see where to stick my foot and I’m too far up to jump down.

Zac comes to my aid. He reaches up towards me – and there’s nothing to grab onto but my ass – and as he reaches for me he says….

“Don’t…poop!”

Um. What?

“Don’t poop??!!” I yell. “Why would I poop?? Like I just randomly poop sometimes?!”

Zac can’t get any words out because he’s giggling like a school girl (or like Anderson Cooper, whichever). And now I’m giggling. So there we are – Zac with 2 handfuls of my ass, me still dangling from the wall by my hands – and we’re giggling ourselves silly, now too weak with the giggles to function. All of this over my known tendency to spontaneously poop, apparently.

Then it becomes apparent that we’re both going to fall and the poop won’t be so funny then. Zac regains enough composure and strength and pulls me by the ass off of the wall and sets me on my feet.

“Why would I poop?!” I demand to know.

“No!! Not you! I was going to tell you not to let go until I could get you on my shoulder but then I stepped in like a really really big pile of poop,” He explained as we both looked down at his poop covered shoe.

Fecking sheep.

As we walked on I determined that we needed to take a photo of each of us sitting in a window-like opening on the wall.

Zac went first. He just hopped right up into the window and I snapped the picture.

But my own hopping proved less effective.

“I need to be lifted in,” I holler to Zac. So he sets the camera down and runs over to me. With absolutely no grace he grabs me by the waist, lifts me, slams my ass down onto the stone ledge, then reaches up and with both hands on my ta tas pushes me back into the space

“What the feck!?!” I yell.

“What?” He asks, blankly.

“I’m your wife! Not a UPS package! You just slammed me down and shove me back in here like you were loading a truck!”

“Sorry. I guess I’ve just been hoisting you around ruins so much recently that its just all business now. Also, I’m still kind of drunk.”

Awesome. Do not drink and lift your wife. Cue another round of giggling. The absurdity of going all the way to Ireland so that we can get drunk at 10 a.m. and climb rocks and play in sheep shit is more than we can handle.

After a harrowing walk back through the sheep we head down the road were we’d heard about a round tower that was worth checking out. But we’d been warned about a bull. Sure enough when we reached the field we were supposed to cut through, there was a sign out that said “Beware Bull.” Our hosts had specifically referred to the bull as “a killer” so we decided to skip that little adventure.

We hit the for a quick stop at the Jer Point Glass studio, which is renowned for its blown glass.

As soon as we parked the car, a tiny but fat little dog came running up to us. He was shaped like a sausage. I was beginning to really love the amount of dog attention I was getting in Ireland. We both want a dog in a bad way, but it just isn’t in the cards right now. It seemed everywhere we went was another awesome dog. Each one we came across was off leash and perfectly trained. And they were just as friendly as the Irish people. (But not quite as friendly as that Spanish guy in Dingle.)

After wasting some time playing with the little sausage dog we shopped around the small studio/store debating taking some home with us, then headed out to the workshop where we were told we could watch the artists in action.

There was nothing fancy or touristy about it – it was just a legit workshop with a pair of lawn chairs. So, we pulled up a lawn chair and watched. Our “quick stop” turned into 30 minutes of marveling at the whole process. I was impressed. Plus there were  2 hot Irish guys helping the artists so that wasn’t too bad either… : )

We left with out any souvenirs, concerned that there was no convenient way to get the items home in one piece. But we took with us the awesome memories of the sausage dog and those 2 hot guys in the workshop. That second memory might belong to just me though…

Not far down the road was Jer Point Abbey – another set of ruins. We walked in, made a big circle, declared it neat and left. Apparently we’d seen enough ruins : ) It was lunch time anyway!

Back in the tiny village of Stoneyford (just 5 minutes from the farm we were staying at) we stopped for lunch at Knockdrinna Cheese Shop. It was a quaint shop with an impressive selection of cheese (we like cheese, nom nom nom), baked goods and lunch specials. We ordered half the food on the menu and grabbed a seat on the patio.

I was beginning to really like salads in Ireland! This was the 2nd or 3rd time we’d ordered a main dish that came with a selection of salads. It’s really an awesome way to do up a lunch – you get your main dish and then a small scoop of several different salads. Pasta salad, potato salad, something with shredded carrots…I rarely knew what I was eating but I almost always loved it.

After lunch we headed into Kilkenny City again to tour the Smithwick’s brewery.

Smithwicks is a red ale and I love it! While I loved Guinness in Ireland and drink it occasionally at home (where it tastes completely different) Smithwicks is one of my favorites – anywhere. We had reservations for the tour so once we arrived we signed in and then walked around checking out some of the nearby restaurants. The brewery – St. Francis Abbey – is located right in the heart of Kilkenny city.

When we returned for our tour a large group of American tourists had shown up. The kind you don’t want to be around. They were talking loudly and obnoxiously and I wanted to hide from them. But I also really like Smithwicks so I decided to just grit my teeth and bear it.

In case you aren’t a beer nerd – Smithwicks is pronounced “Smidd-icks” not “Smith-wicks.” Which is a fine error to make if you aren’t familiar with the beer. But despite our lovely tour guides kind guidance, our American tour mates couldn’t seem to contain themselves from yelling “Smith-wicks” every time they asked another obnoxious question, made fun of the tour guide, or blatantly disregarding any request not to take photos, to wear protective eye wear and so on.

At one point the guide was giving history of the brewery and asked, “Can anyone think of a year when our country faced political unrest that impacted the brewery?” The question was quickly answered by one of favorite new American friends…”Prohibition!!”

Wait. What did she just say?

Prohibition?

No, sorry, that was America. Honestly. Of all the places on God’s great Earth, Ireland would be about the last to enforce a prohibition of alcohol.

So my dear husband answers, “1916.” To which the guide happily replies, “Yes! 1916! Someone knows Irish history! Are you American??”

To which I replied, “Yes, we’re just not that kind of American.”

No of course I didn’t really say that. Americans, the guide commented, always seem to forget that their history isn’t everyone else’s history. Score 1 for the tour guide. She went on to connect political history to beer history and who doesn’t love that?!

On we went with the tour, which was great. Always sad though when you go on brewery tours (yeah…we go on a lot of them) to hear about the number of people employed 20 years ago vs the number employed today.

At the end of the tour we gathered in the tasting room. The room was built in the former cellar that held barrels of beer as they conditioned. We were then rewarded for putting up with the American tourists with a full pint of Smithwicks. Which the Americans actually made fun of. “Why is it that color??” “It’s so dark.” “Eww…I don’t know if I want one.”

Are you kidding me?! It was a good thing someone had put a pint of fresh Smithwicks in front of me because I was ready to tackle these people.

They proceeded to get drunk – or perhaps to act drunk – raise their volume a little higher, and mock everything the tour guide said. At one point the poor girl – who was being talked over – actually mumbled, “why am I even talking.” These were grown ass adults mind you – people in their 50s and 60s.

The brewery tour was one of my favorite parts of our time in Kilkenny but the folks on the tour were also one of the more eye opening experiences we had in Ireland. If this is the way that Americans behave when visiting another country then our reputation for being obnoxious, rude and arrogant is well deserved. It wasn’t the first example of this we’d seen. At a restaurant in Dingle, we listened to a neighboring American diner insist that his machiato be made a specific way. He was demanding and condescending to the waitress. He kept saying, “I don’t know how you’re going to make it but at home.…” She brought him his machiato, exactly the way the menu described it and not at all how he’d ordered it, set it in front of him and said frankly, “This is how we make a them in Ireland.” I wanted to stand up and cheer for her!

I don’t mean to sound unAmerican, and certainly the majority of American’s we met or encountered were lovely, but a lot of the behavior we saw was really disheartening. I won’t disagree that we live in one of the greatest countries on earth. But how the blessing of being American shifted from a place of pride and gratitude to one of elitism and entitlement I do not understand.

Forget being American even, maybe this is more about being human. How does anyone find this to be appropriate behavior? This isn’t the way you behave when you visit someone’s home. You don’t go into someone else’s home and make fun of it, ridicule it, disrespect it, use the phrase “eww”. Those rules don’t go out the window because your on vacation is a different country. That country is someone’s home for God’s sake! Put your manners on people!

But as I get older and the idea of having children isn’t that far off, I take comfort in knowing that as parents we’ll be able to do something about that. Because really what can I do, lecture the rude American’s on manners? Tell them to shove their ethnocentric bullshit up their asses? Ask them why they didn’t just go to the fecking zoo if they wanted to walk around mocking something that looked different?

No, I really can’t.

But I can damn well make sure I raise children who don’t even think about behaving that way. Who respect the people and country they’re visiting, can distinguish between right, wrong and just different, and count their blessings that they’re traveling at all. Who say, “Yes, I am American, thanks for asking. And where are you from?” when their nationality is questioned rather than responding, “Fuck yeah, I’m American!” while fist pumping or whooping they’re in a sports stadium.

(And yes, that last example is for real.)

This has kind of become my way of dealing with things that trouble  me in general – like people who are super rude in public. You know, like cashiers who make you feel like shit for no reason or customer service people who treat you like your an idiot. There’s not a whole hell of a lot I can do about those people. But I know I can raise children who don’t behave that way. Or at least I can try to : ) And that’s about the only comfort I can get from those situation, just like the rude Americans in Ireland. And hopefully, by the time our children are having their own adventures, new generations will have broken the “Rude American” mold for good anyway.

Sorry for the tangent…back to the trip…

After our tour we headed back to the B&B for the sad task of reorganizing our luggage and preparing for the last leg of our trip. We’d been stuffing all of our purchases into the trunk and now it was time to make them fit into our luggage. It was rough. The next afternoon we’d be dropping of our rental car and we’d hoped to condense everything down into the same number of bags we’d arrived with – one large suitcase and one large duffle bag – plus 2 small carry ons. The duffle bag arrived in Ireland with just 2 pairs of shoes and some socks in it. The whole point was to stuff it full of our dirty clothes (in space bags) and then cart our new belongings in the big suitcase.

We ended up with everything we came with plus 2 shopping bags that were busting at the seams. Sigh.

For dinner we headed back to Kilkenny where we ate at an Italian restaurant. The food was just okay. I was mostly amused to be eating Italian food in Ireland, served to me by an Armenian waitress.

After dinner we decided to head back and go to bed early. To be honest, we really weren’t feeling the vibe in Kilkenny. There wasn’t anything we disliked about it – we just didn’t seem to click with it the way we had with other towns.

So we drove back to Stoneyford in the only downpour we experienced in Ireland. Nothing like those narrow, windy Irish roads in the dark in a downpour. Such a peaceful journey…

We were both thankful to call it an early night. The next day we had some stops we were excited to make and then we were Dublin bound and very excited to explore the city!

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Live from Ireland: Day 6, County Tipperary

1 Dec

Location: County Tipperary, en route to the Kilkenny area
Population: 8,600
Random Fact: Though Kilkenny was our landing place of the day we spent most of the day in County Tipperary, interesting because it took very little time and effort for Zac and I to determine that his ancestors and mine lived in County Tipperary.
Accommodation: Lawcus Farm Guest House, Stoneyford (rural area just outside Kilkenny)

We woke up not the least bit hung over from our “quiet night in.” Or maybe it was that we were quite hung over and sweating through breakfast and trying not to keel over? I can’t remember now.

(I promise we aren’t always like this. The continual drinking was just an Ireland thing. Or perhaps it’s just a vacation thing. In any case the point is that it’s a rare event I consume this much alcohol. K? Good. Didn’t want anyone sending me meeting invites…)

We had another fine Irish breakfast and took our time gathering our things up. Throughout the trip we had only two stops that were one-night stands, our first night back in Doolin and this one in Kenmare. On this trip it was a great way to get where we wanted to be without traveling too far on any given day, but its also a bit tiring, so we were moving slow. One night stops are definitely not something I recommend if you’re planning a trip.

This was one of the few locations we stayed with a TV that got a proper news channel. Prior to this we’d only been able to watch cartoon channels. So we took a few minutes to watch CNN and catch a few of the 9/11 specials. Being the news junkie that I am, I was annoyed to be missing all the 10th anniversary specials and I’d forgotten to set the DVR to record them. When we were leaving for the trip, coverage and talk about the 10th anniversary was just starting to amp up and then it was like we were suddenly disconnected from it.

After a bit of depressing news coverage we loaded our stuff back into the Focus and set out to explore Kenmare by foot a bit more.

Our first destination was the Cromwellian Bridge, a tiny stone arch covered in moss spanning a small creek. It was adorable. And charming. And very Harry Potter-esque. And me, well, I was hung over. I’d survived the 4 block walk from our B&B to the bridge without a problem. Upon arriving at the bridge  there was much shaking, sweating and head spinning. So mostly I just leaned against the bridge and tried not the throw up on it.

Something about 5 nights (and 5 days!) of drinking my body weight in Guinness and Bulmers was catching up with me. I seriously needed a break from alcohol. But I am weak. And I really like Guinness. We agreed not to step foot in a pub for the rest of the day. You know, just to avoid the temptations all together.

Once I’d recovered from my little spell we headed back to the main streets of Kenmare. Things were just coming alive. There was a bakery truck unloading fresh breads and rolls into a bakery shop. There was even a police man in a long yellow slicker standing on the corner. It was like Sesame Street, but with more pubs.

There was also a man setting up a few tables of crafty-like items. I wasn’t in the market for such items but he had a cool dog so we stopped to talk about his dog. The dog was awesome and as it would turn out, so were his crafty items! He had oodles of handmade clay thatched cottages. They were adorable, painted by hand to have flowers in the window boxes and everything. I loved them!! I told him we were going to shop around a bit and let him get set up and then we would be back to do business. He seemed skeptical : )

We shopped around Kenmare, picking up a few random things and just enjoying the beautiful weather and quiet morning.

Eventually we made our way back to the man with the cottages. His collection was much larger than I expected. There were cottages of every size, shape and color. And Celtic crosses too. I was in trouble.

“How much cash do we have left?” I whispered to Zac.

“I’m not telling you.” he whispered back. He knew he was in trouble too.

Funny thing about switching currency – I treated euros like monopoly money. It  looked different, it was a different shape, it felt different. So obviously, it wasn’t money. I was more like a 3rd grader learning about Indian trading practices than an American shopping abroad.

“I’ll trade you 2 pieces of the orangish-colored papers and 1 bluish-colored paper for 2 little cottages.”

Anyway. As we browsed the cottages we chatted with the man. He was 60ish and a year or so back, like so many others, he’d lost his job. He said he’d looked and looked and hadn’t found work. He wasn’t the type to sit around idle and in a search for something to do with his time, he’d picked up some clay to play around with.

“I’d been good wit da clay in primary school so I taught itd fill me time.” He explained.

By now I wasn’t shopping, I was just listening. The global economy has been cruel in this country and has been even more cruel in Ireland. We’d talked to plenty of people who had plenty to say about the Irish economy and it’s staggering 14% unemployment. But talking with a 60 year old man who’d gone all the way back to something he’d liked in primary school to fill his time and maybe pay the bills…that was for real.

In filling his time, the man had found his next job – selling handmade cottages to tourists charmed by thatched roofs and intricate crosses. He talked about being in control of his own employment now and that even if business wasn’t booming at least it was his business. That was something I could relate to completely.

I passed him my handful of tiny cottages.

“You’re talking all of these?” He asked surprised.

“Yes but I’m not done looking I said.” He looked a bit surprised and then smiled big.

“You’re a salesman’s dream,” he said and laughed as we picked out cottages and crosses for our house, our offices and pretty much everyone we know. He charged us half of what I know we owed him. We talked a while longer about the economy, the evils of big business, and fickle tourists and then we headed off. I think we were all quite pleased to have crossed paths.

On the way back to the car we passed a small grocery store like place. (For our Streator readers…it was like an Irish Grant Street!)  Having agreed not to step foot in any pubs, we decided to stop here for lunch supplies.

There was a tiny counter in the back with a few full-sized roasted turkeys in the case and amazing smelling rolls still resting on a baking sheet. An older Irish woman was behind the counter. We asked if she could make us sandwiches and she said she could. So we watched her shuffle around behind the counter, carving big slices of the turkey and blocks of cheese, slicing up fresh tomatoes and making us some fabulous sandwiches. I think they were 2 euros each.

Around here, we’d have to pay the $10.99/pound if we wanted actual turkey on a sandwich! The promise of a fresh, light lunch was pretty pleasing after 5 days of stews, steaks and fried seafood.

Back to the car we went, ready to head off for our day of exploring castles. Then, to our shock, an SUV came flying down the road, flanked in front and back by more SUVs carrying men in army-style camo with very, very large guns. We sat in the car, mouth agape. Had we been in Mexico, I would have expected this. I was unprepared.

The vehicles whipped over to the side of the road, just past the man selling little cottages. The Army Ranger looking guys jumped out and created a perimeter along the road and the sidewalk. People moved out of the way. We sat. Stunned. Staring.

“Should we, like, get the feck out of here or something?” I said.

“Shh. I’m watching.” Zac said.

So we watched in silence. Except for me. I wasn’t silent. I was spewing all kinds of theories. Terrorist threat. Hostage situation. Kidnapping for the purpose of extortion.

Turns out, that’s just how they deliver money to banks to Ireland. Like a really dramatic Brinks truck.

So off we went to find our first castle – in a town called Cahir. After a brief drive through more rural areas we found the highway – also known as the Motorway – and we’re thrilled to be on a big wide road with 4 lanes (4!!).

We arrived in Cahir right around lunch time. There were high school age students out and about for lunch, in their plaid skirts and knee socks. It reminded me of the tortured years I spent in the same get up. (Though admittedly I never wore knee socks with my pleated plaid.)

We drove down the main street, with more painted shop fronts and rounded a corner to find the castle just in front of us. It was right there in the middle of town, with everything built up around it. And it was a castle. Like a castle, castle. Like in a movie, or a book, or…history.

We were pretty pumped for our first real castle experience. But we were hungry so before heading in, we snagged a park bench behind the castle and sat down for our picnic. First a picnic outside an abbey and now outside a castle. Not too shabby for ole Maggie : )

After lunch we joined a guided tour of the castle – the first official tour we’d actually taken. The tour was brief but came with all sorts of interesting information about the history of the castle and most interestingly, what function different parts of the castle served. I for one had no idea why castle towers have those little openings around the top. Zac knew so that must be a boy thing. (I’m told its so you can shoot arrows without exposing yourself…)

We learned all about the castle’s inner workings from defensive traps to bathrooms. At the end of the tour we were free to explore on our own.

Those open arch ways are made so that you can drop things like hot lard on the enemy when they try to invade your castle.

Look midway down the column…the black ball is a canon ball still lodge in the stone!

Guess what my husband made a beeline for? The insanely steep, narrow spiral staircase. Seriously.

During the tour the guide had cautioned everyone to watch their step because the staircase had been built as a defensive strategy. Something about swinging swords in a small space? And the steps had been built unevenly in height and width, and they slopped down, and they were white washed. So basically they were made for people to fall down.

Up the damn stairs we went. Zac first, me behind him. He kept turning his head and asking if I was okay, probably worried I would give myself a panic attack before I had a chance to fall down the stairs. It was like this…

One set up.

Two sets up.

“Are you okay back there?”

“TURN AROUND! WHAT ARE YOU DOING!! DON’T LOOK AT ME! LOOK WHERE YOU ARE GOING!!!!”

“Okay, I’m watching, I’m being careful.”

Three steps up.

Four steps up.

“Are you sure you’re okay?”

“WHAT THE FECK!?! FECKING TURN AROUND AND WATCH THE STEPS!!!”

Six steps.

Seven steps.

“I can’t go any higher. I can’t. I won’t. I refuse. I’m not moving. Come back and get me!!”

“I can’t, you won’t let me turn around.”

Fecker.

We made it up the staircase.

Would you like to know what was at the top?

An open room with an old wooden desk.

Totally worth the scare.

And here’s me peaking through a gun hole. I feel that while this gun hole is effective for shooting people, it’s not so effective in terms of energy efficiency. You’re going to loose a lot of heat out that gun hole in the winter.

Outside we did some more exploring. Including more stair climbing.

I powered through another narrow, open-sided stair case (right below where Zac’s standing, naturally) just so I could stand on the open ledge of the castle wall. I could have hung out on the open ledge all afternoon. It would have been way better than going down the stairs!!

A view of Cahir from atop the castle wall…

Zac standing under the portcullis. This portcullis (neat word, yes?) is special because its one of the few remaining working ones in the whole world. Because of this, it makes lots of appearances in movies. Portions of the Tudors were filmed using it and the surround corridor. When fake portcullises are shown in movies, a recording of this one is dubbed in. Watch Braveheart to hear it in action!

When we’d finished our castle exploration we hit the road for our next castle – the Rock of Cashel.

When we spotted the Rock of Cashel in the distance we gasped, we’d heard it was huge, but it was seriously, seriously huge. It was intimidating and breath taking even with the town that had popped up around it – I can’t imagine what it would have been like hundreds of years ago, when it was the only structure around.

When we made it to the entrance the last tour had just left and we were given the option of hurrying to catch up with it. We decided to pass and just explore on our own using the little guide book included in admission. Of all the places we explored these (the Rock and Cahir castle) were the only places with proper parking lots and an admission fee.

Our first stop was to view St. Patrick’s cross. As in the real and original St. Patrick’s cross.

It was neat. Then we made our way out into the Rock. It was towering. There is no way to explain how large it is. I’ll let the pictures do the talking – that’s far more interesting.

We explored and took lots of photos. Then we parked our butts on the grassy hill and just sat for quite a while. We were exhausted from the traveling and exploring (and drinking) and this was the perfect spot to catch our breath. It was one of the most beautiful days we had during the whole trip. The temperature was perfect, the sky was clear and bright blue and the sun was lighting up the miles and miles of rolling green hills. In the distance, the hills grew bigger, showing off that perfect patchwork of green and further beyond that, the mountains peaked up toward the clouds. It was awesome.

So glad Zac snapped that shot of me. It was one of my favorite moments of the trip and I had no idea it was being captured.

Ohmagosh its so hot when he wears my camera…

We sat a while and just enjoyed the view, then we did a bit more exploring, poked around the cemetery area and then we sat on a different hill and looked at a different view. Then we got up and went back around to were we were sitting before and we sat there again.

(You must be really thrilled to be reading this right now.)

We sat and looked around and soaked up the sun until it was closing time. Then we hit the road for our next destination – Stoneyford in County Kilkenny. It was about 4 in the afternoon. I’d gone 15 hours without alcohol. The longest – by far – since we’d walked into the Chili’s in Concourse C at O’Hare Airport 7 days prior.

Lets stop and talk about Irish Counties for a bit. We spent the majority of the day in County Tipperary. It was fun because we knew ancestors from both Zac’s family and mine were originally from this county. We didn’t know what towns or areas specifically but it was enough to know we were in the same general vicinity and to wonder out loud if maybe our families had crossed paths long before us.

The other neat thing about crossing through various counties was seeing all the team flags flying. Ireland participates in International sports – like soccer/football and rugby and those are popular but what seems to really drive the country crazy are the Gaelic games that are played within Ireland. We had to ask an Irishman for a lesson on this because I was totally clueless. So this is what I learned – there are two main Gaelic games, Gaelic Football and Hurling. Now I will share with you my vast knowledge of these two sports:

Gaelic Football looks kinda sorta like American football but the ball is round and you can only run it 4 steps before you have to pass it, kick it or do this little jig where you bounce it off your foot. The men are big and hunky and not covered in pads.

Hurling involves sticks. The men are big and hunky and not covered in pads.

You’re welcome for that enlightening introduction to Gaelic athletics.

(Any Irish readers can feel free to abandon this blog and curse my name if I completely jacked that up.)

Anyway…the teams are by county and each county of course has its team colors. And those colors are everywhere. As in, everywhere! If you think St. Louis during the World Series was the height of sports obsession, you should see what Kilkenny looked like after winning the All Ireland Hurling Finals. If it held still it was draped in the gold and black of the Kilkenny Cats. As we drove into County Tipperary, we only knew we’d arrived when the caution painting on the sides of small bridges switched from the standard yellow and white to Tipperary blue and gold.

While I couldn’t follow any of this sports business to save my life I did enjoy listening to other people chat about their home teams and go on about big games. It seems like a very awesome part of Irish life indeed.

So anywho…we were in the car trying to reach Stoneyford and County Kilkenny, lost as all get out, knowing only where we were by the color of flags flying in peoples yards. (I have no idea, by the way, how my husband picked up on the various team colors but I was glad when he yelled, “Gold and black!! At least we’re in the right county now!!”)

At one point we were so lost we just pulled over to sit and figure out where in God’s name we had gone wrong. As soon as we’d come to a stop, a farmer appeared from his field to help and point us in the right direction. Which was a very good thing because we’d gone every way but the right one!

Back on the road we cruised through a few tiny towns and past many, many sheep and many, many cows. We’d spent the better part of a week cruising around the edges of Ireland, looking up into the farm land, the cows distance specs in the green. Now we were in the farm land.

We pulled into Lawcus Farms around 6 p.m., down a long dirt lane with barely room for a single car, past a herd of cattle. We parked the car and hopped out, greeted instantly by a woman with wild, curly red hair. She introduced herself as Anne Marie, our host. The next thing I knew we were sitting in her kitchen, her husband Mark having joined us, watching her unpack groceries and random items from a shopping trip. They chatted with us about our day and theirs, teased each other about the shopping and in general made us feel instantly like we were home with our family.

The house was made of beautiful stone, but the kitchen was all glass windows – like a green house – and led to a beautiful deck with views of the perfect, bucolic landscape. Between the old farm house, the beautiful Irish hostess and her handsome farmer husband I was pretty sure we’d just stepped into a Nora Roberts novel.

Mark introduced us to the animals – two awesome dogs, pigs, cows, horses, even a pair of infant hedgehogs that he was nursing back to health after they’d been drug in by a neighbor’s dog. After some hot tea on the patio, we headed up to our room. We’d booked the Stone Room, which true to its name had beautiful stone walls. It was one of my favorite places of the whole trip.

A beautiful view out the Stone Room windows…

This guy showed up to drop off something farming related. We’re still wondering if he’s real, or if as part of the experience these B&B hosts hire the elderly to dress up the way we picture old Irish men and then have them pretend to deliver stuff in feed sacks…

While we’d found ourselves the perfect farm to serve as our home base, it was also only 15 minutes from the bustle of Kilkenny City so for dinner we cleaned up and headed for town. Kilkenny was a far departure from the towns we’d been in previously. It was much larger and much busier, with real parking garages and everything. We parked and walked around a few blocks looking for a place to eat. You’ll remember we’d promised we wouldn’t go near a pub today, so we were looking for a proper restaurant. And we found one.

We popped into a place with a name I recognized for reading Trip Advisor reviews. It was a lovely restaurant with people in nice clothes and candles on the tables and real legitimate menus and everything. Nothing like the pubs we’d been living in. We were seated and started to browse the menu, neither of us saying a word.

“It’s really hot in here.” I finally said. Which it was, kind of.

“Yeah, it is a bit hot.” Zac agreed.

“Want to go to that pub down the street instead?” I asked.

The next thing I knew we were out the door, back out into the cool Kilkenny rain, making our way to a pub we’d passed that promised Trad Music and delicious pub grub.

We sat on bar stools and ordered stew and fried fish and pints of Guinness and Bulmers and we lived happily ever after.

Live from Ireland – Day 5 – Kenmare

15 Nov

Location: Kenmare, County Kerry, Ireland
Population: 7,000, inclusive of numerous nearby villages
Random Fact: Kenmare has been named the Tidiest Town in Ireland.
Accommodation: O’Donnabhain’s Guest House, Kenmare

After rearranging our planned itinerary a bit we opted to spend the first half the day enjoying Dingle, then set off for Kenmare with our only goal being to get there before the sun set. Our original plan was to spend the day hiking in the Gap of Dunloe. Despite having spent the spring and summer walking (and walking, and walking) to build up endurance for this trip by the time we reached day 5 our legs and knees were very, very upset with us. We’d done a bit of hiking here and there but really we’d just spent the entire time on our feet, going somewhere. There was no way we were going to survive a 7 mile hike. And with the weather just so-so we didn’t think it was worth the pain. Maybe next time!

After one more perfect breakfast and several long looks from our patio, we packed up and left Pax House. It was sad and I did not like it.

We headed into Dingle town and parked the car the by the marina and set off walking about. We popped in and out of shops buying up all kinds of fun Irish goodies. I’m pretty fond of a little ceramic cottage that we picked up – it burns a tiny little peat brick so that you can have the smell of a peat fire at home.

Eventually we wandered down to the docks and strolled around checking out the fishing boats. We even watched one boat dock and unload its catch. It was kind of like watching the end of Deadliest Catch : ) The views back into Dingle town and of the surrounding hills were beautiful, peeking between the nets of the fishing boats.

We hung around a while, tried one last time to find a way to get out on the water and settled on the fact that we were just going to have to come back another time if we wanted to fish or kayak in Dingle.

We shopped around some more, picking up Rugby jerseys, a claddagh ring, and one of my favorite things – a painting of the coast. We’d gone into several small galleries hoping to find a painting but nothing was catching our eye. The difference at the last gallery was that the scenes of Ireland weren’t painted in 40 shades of green, but in 40 shades of blue and gray.

The rolling green hills were amazing, no doubt, but the views of the rough seas, cloudy skies and jagged coastline are as equally burned in my mind. There was something haunting but calming about the cloudy sea views we’d taken in and the paintings we found captured it perfectly.

Eventually we wandered into Adam’s Pub for lunch. It was empty, except for an older gentlemen reading a paper. It was – of course – small and warm with floor to ceiling dark wood. Perfect spot for one last meal in Dingle. So after our round of fish, chips, chowder and stout we gathered up our shopping bags and enjoyed the walk back through Dingle and down to the marina where we packed up the ole Focus and headed off for our next destination.

To get to Kenmare, we would be following the same route we’d taken the day before back through Killarney. This time, we didn’t get along so well with the fair city of Killarney. We drove in circles – actually I think it was a huge square – at least 3 times. Around and around and around. On the third loop, we determined that the sign we were following was askew and we were missing the correct turn.

It was frustrating. Maddening even. To hell with Killarney. I will never go back there. You can’t make me.

Once we were out of town and back on track we took a few deep breaths and shrugged off the cranky pants mood that was threatening.

As we got deeper into Killarney National Park (deeper than the day before) the road grew increasingly narrow. And the tour buses seemed to grow increasingly wider.

The road was essentially one lane at this point and every 500 yards or so there would be a little pull off area so when you looked up ahead and saw a tour bus flying towards you could whip into the little pull off and duck and cover your head while it passed.

As we zipped along we caught beautiful mountain views between the trees and glimpses of the shimmery lakes. Eventually we spotted a small pull off and of course we whipped right in. Several people were pulling in, snapping a picture and moving on. I just don’t see how you can remember where you’ve been if that’s all the time you give a place. But to each traveler their own pace.

We hiked our way down to the edge of the water which was completely crystal clear. There were lots of large rocks and stone formations all along the shore so of course we climbed all over them : )  Give me a big ole rock — jagged, smooth, slippery, whatever ya got — and I’ll climb all over it. But a steep set of stairs? Sorry baby, no dice.

The view was amazing with the lake wide open if front of us and the mountains towering around us in the distance. Nothing makes you feel small like mountains. I love that.


Later on we came to another scenic outlook – the official kind with the viewfinder thingys. It was a gorgeous view but at that point we were pretty well up into the mountains and I’ve decided I prefer the view from the bottom looking up than vice versa. It just feels more dramatic.

We stayed in the car for the rest of the journey to Kenmare, enjoying the views but desperately ready to be off that road and out of the car! Of all the driving we did, this was the part that I liked the least. The road was just so narrow with so many tight, blind curves. Because its the last leg of the Ring of Kerry (a famed scenic drive popular with planned tours) it had by far the highest number of tour buses as well. We’d gotten used to the narrow roads and the sheer cliffs but those combine with the giant rocks jutting out of the mountain side and the buses –  just a wee bit too much it was.

When we pulled into Kenmare we were relieved – proper sized roads! The town was quaint and charming, with long streets lined with shops, pubs and B&Bs, all framed by the mountains. It reminded us a lot of Galena (in Northern Illinois) which is one of our favorite places for a getaway (we were married there).

We ditched the car (and our jackets! whoo hoo!) and set out to stroll the around the shops. Kenmare has 3 main streets set up in a triangle so its very walkable. The shopping here was very different from Dingle – far fewer shops selling shamrock emblazoned trinkets and a much bigger selection of artisan items. We heard from several locals before we went to Kenmare that its a popular getaway destination for the Irish and you really could tell. The selection of shops spoke to a more local clientele for sure. No worries though we still found plenty of things to buy!

When we first pulled into town I spotted this very large store advertising Quilts! and I was pumped. An Irish quilt. What a souvenir that would be. I marched in with my credit card ready. I searched two floors of assorted Irish goods and nary a quilt did I find. So out the store I saulked.

“How can a store that has “quilts” written across it in giant print not have a single flipping quilt??” I complained.

The I realized it said “Quills.”

Oh.

For the record, Ididn’t notice any quills either.

After a bit more shopping we headed to our B&B to check in. It was located right on the main street, among all the pubs and restaurants and of everywhere we stayed certainly had the most iconic Irish exterior:

Best part about it? It’s a pub!! A room above a pub? Does it get any better than that? At this point we’d been going out and having us a time every night and we were feeling the effects! We’d also been up early nearly every morning. We were plain worn out. So we figured we’d have a quiet night in and just have dinner in the pub down stairs and then head for bed.

Nothing ever goes as planned.

When we walked into the pub we snagged a booth right next to an open fire. There was a taper candle burning in a stone jug on the table, the lighting was dim, and an Irishman was playing guitar and singing Johnny Cash. It was exactly what we needed, warm, cozy and low key but plenty entertaining.

We had a fantastic meal and finally got to try one of those Kerry cows we’d been seeing all over the country side. That was some good beef! And you know what goes really well with steak and potatoes? Hard cider. Its like my kryptonite, I’m powerless against it. Why couldn’t I just order a glass of water?!

In the 10 days we spent in Ireland I think I consumed my body weight in Bulmer’s cider. (Side note…they do sell Bulmers in the States under the name Magner’s but the flavor is quite watered down and has a lower alcohol content. Boo that.) (Another side note…hard cider and the like tends to be ruled “girly” around these parts. Definitely not the case in Ireland. We saw just as many Irish men drinking Bulmer’s as Guinness. And that’s because its damn good. And boozy. Man do I miss Bulmers.)

We were really having a fantastic time in this pub and the pints were going down a bit too easy. But the singer was really great – a bit different sound than we’d heard yet – but singing many of our personal favorite Irish songs. Isn’t it always better when you can sing along? It is.

Most of the crowd was Irish as well which some how made the vibe seem more laid back. True to what we’d heard, we didn’t meet any Irish local to Kenmare but several couples were away for a few days to enjoy the shopping, scenery and a few good meals.

As the night wore on the musician began to play what is – in all seriousness – one of my all time favorite songs. Not my favorite Irish song, or my favorite ballad, or any of that.

One of my very, very favorites.

I remember the first time I heard it in college and I’ve loved it ever since. I’ve listened to a hundred versions by a hundred different artists and the version this man played was as good as any.

So I sat in our cozy corner next to the roaring fire, kinda drunk, and I sang every word of “The Green Fields of France” and knew it was something I will never, ever forget.

For most of the people there it was probably just a depressing slow song. But for me it was just really, really awesome.

When the music at O’Donnabhain’s was over we weren’t quite ready for bed. We wondered out the front door and heard some good tunes coming out of a pub across the street and quickly took up residence there for the rest of the night. Here too the music was just by a single guy with a guitar yet completely different than what we’d just been hearing. That’s one of things I enjoyed about catching these Trad music sessions – we might have heard some songs in several places but they were different every time.

We’d come to Ireland with a very lengthy “hope we hear” list of songs and by the time we headed back to our room we’d heard darn near all of them.

All in all, it was a quiet day with plenty of beautiful sights and beautiful music. And beautiful alcohol. It seems there’s no break from the alcohol in Ireland.

We went to bed looking forward to the next day which we’d dubbed our Castle Day!

Preview of the next day… When I woke up my good camera was on the night stand next to my bed. I’m a photographer people, cameras get backed away securely in their padded bags. They are not stored on nightstands where they can be knocked over and spilled on. What was it doing there? I couldn’t recall. I eyed my camera suspiciously. Then I reviewed the evenings photos and found these little gems:

Operation Quiet Night In: Mission Failed. Ireland-5, Maggie and Zac’s Sobriety –  0

(By the way – I don’t know which is my concerning – Zac wearing a duvet as a cape or the quality of these photos!)

About the Photos – I’ve gotten emails and messages from a number of folks wanting to buy prints of the photos I’ve featured in our Ireland blogs. Once we’ve posted the last installment, I’ll follow up with a post about how to go about purchasing them. They’ll be available in a variety of sizes, professionally printed, with or without a matte. All proceeds from the sale of our Ireland photos will be donated directly to the Irish Society for Autism. Watch for the details!

Prerecorded in Ireland – Day 4 (Again) – Dingle

26 Oct

Location: Dingle, County Kerry, Ireland
Population: 1,920
Accommodation: Pax Guest House, Dingle

So we’re having another day 4 in this trip because I can’t count.

Day 4 was about the time we decided to throw away our itinerary. It was causing issues. We’d hoped to do some water-based activities while we were in Dingle but Hurricane Irene wasn’t having it and no matter who we asked or attempted to bribe no one but no one would take us out on the water.

With the day forecasted to be rainy and windy we opted to switch things up and take a little road trip to the nearby Killarney area for some activities that really weren’t weather dependent.

We got up early and headed out to the grocery store before breakfast. This trip to the grocery store ended up being one my favorite little bits of the trip. It was early, barely 8 a.m., and Dingle was just getting to work. There wasn’t a soul around unless they were heading to school or work or just coming back from the fishing docks. I felt like we were peeking in on the real Dingle, while all the other tourists were still in bed.

There was a little red headed boy kicking rocks down the sidewalk on his way to school – private school uniform and all. There were a pair of fisherman walking up the street, still with their waders on. A farmer drove a tractor down the main shopping street. Everything else was perfectly quiet.

When we strolled into the grocery store looking for picnic items we were quickly reminded this was Gaeltacht territory – basically areas of Ireland where Irish is still spoken, used in all road signs, etc. We’d managed okay on the roads the day before quickly learning the Irish words for “caution” “slow” and “stop.” The words for “cheesy snacks” and “pre-packaged salami” were not familiar to us though.

After a bit of wandering about and a brief “please help me find salami” encounter with a stockboy we had ourselves a still-warm loaf of fresh bread, a block of aged Irish white cheddar and a package of salami, capacola and prosciutto. It rang up for just 9 euro. During our planning we’d come across a lot of “Ireland is so expensive…” complaining so I about did a jig for 9 euro. Fear not, future travelers, it isn’t that expensive! (Just this past weekend we grabbed the same 3 items at the local grocery store (minus the proscuitto, it was too pricey) and it rang up at $17. Can I go back to Dingle now? )

We headed back to Pax House and had another wonderful breakfast then grabbed our coats and picnic and hit the road for Killarney.

Killarney seems to be one of those love-it or hate-it Irish places. We’d read horror stories of wall to wall tour buses and masses of American tourists and other things we were avoiding like the plague. But we drove through and really, it wasn’t that bad. Probably because we were traveling in the off season. We did take notice that everything in Killarney was maybe just a bit too polished. It lacked the grit of a real town. Like Disneyworld. That’s just our assessment based on a drive by though.

We arrived at our first destination easily and without getting lost. Victory was ours.

We were in Killarney National Park, smack in the middle of the Kerry Mountains. Joy or joys, fall arrives earlier in Ireland and the trees were already starting to burst with color. I was having a real “are you kidding me?!” moment. I get to be in Ireland and see fall color?!

We’d come to see a few things here – Muckross House (a large tudor style mansion), Muckross Abbey which is a ruined abbey founded in the mid-1400s, a waterfall, and a trail promising mossy goodness.

We parked, grabbed our gear and headed up to what looked like a visitor center but turned out to be a cafe-like-thing stuffed to the brim with aging Americans. It was like a nursing home with a souvenir shop. As I waited in line to use the rest room I looked up the line. Then I looked down the line. I was the only woman in line under the age of 80, I promise you.

Anyway. We walked back out and found a sign pointing to the actual visitors center where we wanted to pick up a walking map. But I’d forgotten my hat in the car. So Zac ran allll the way back through the parking lot to get it for me. Good man.

Quick jaunt over to the visitor center, got the map, map points….allll the way back through the parking lot, right past our car. Sorry husband.

We set out along the paved path toward the abbey and in less than a beautiful fall mile, we were there.

I was amazed at how mystical the place looked in the fog and low hanging clouds. The abbey and surrounding grave yard were much larger than I had expected.

We opted to just walk around the exterior once to start and then have our picnic before exploring the inside.

There wasn’t a soul around so we spread our blanket out under an ancient-looking yew tree and enjoyed our picnic with the abbey towering over us.

It started to mist heavily – heavy enough to call it raining but the rain was really fine so more of a mist…Irish rain is hard to explain – but the yew tree was thick enough that we weren’t feeling it at all. So we sat eating our food, sharing a few cans of hard cider and being wowed by how awesome the whole thing was.

Once we packed up our gear we headed for the inside of the abbey. If I’d been surprised by how big it was outside, I was shocked by the inside. There were numerous rooms, ‘hallways’, stairs. Plaques and stones marked tombs (tombs? graves? crypts?) from the 15, 16 and 1700s. All of this in a towering stone building with no roof left, windows 3 stories high, a light mist falling. It was magical.

You know those scenes in Disney movies where the two pre-teen explorers discover something magical and they stand in the middle of it with their hands at their side and turn a circle real slow, looking up around them, their mouths hanging open and they say something intelligent like “Whooaaa. What is this place?” Well that was us.

Soon we found a narrow spiral staircase with steps so warn they sloped downward in the middle. There was no handrail. It was the scariest looking thing I’d ever seen.

Zac said, “Come on!!” and scrambled up the stairs before I had time to protest. I slowly made my way up and was thankful I did because it was beautiful and open and the trees were poking in through the old windows. Looking through the narrow old window openings framed old Celtic crosses and bright orange trees. It was awesome.

Then Zac found more stairs.

They were narrow and worn and built up against the wall. The other side was wide open. Just waiting for someone to fall off. Up he goes…like it’s a totally normal. Like they aren’t worn cement steps wet with Irish mist.

He instantly declares it’s awesome and that I must join him. I refuse.

We proceed to argue in a 600 year old abbey. (Nice arguing of course, not like ‘feck you’ arguing.)

I am not climbing those stairs.

You’re going to miss the view. What are you worried about?

This would be the first of many times while exploring that Zac asked what I was worried about. What was I worried about?? What. Was. I. Worried. About?!?! Falling to my death, dear husband!! I was worried about falling to my death!

He eventually got me to climb the damn stairs. Slowly.

Guess what was at the top of the stairs, through the little doorway.

More fecking stairs.

I parked my ass and declared I was going absolutely no further. So I sat on the top step and he was right, the view was awesome. Over the tops of the abbey walls you could see across the yard of crumbling, leaning crosses, over the tops of the bright orange trees and it was beautiful.

Zac climbed around some more and explored his way half way up the old bell tour before I started yelling about insurance premiums and my inability to carry him if he broke a leg.

We explored for a good hour or better, poking around the little rooms and through the dark passageways. Now and then a pair of people would walk in, glance around and move on. They had no idea what they were missing.

Sadly the inner area of the abbey which surrounds an even older yew tree and has many beautiful arches was blocked off for ongoing preservation work. Disappointing, of course, but you can’t hate on the preservation efforts…I’d like to think of children will see our pictures and plan their own trip someday and who knows how long these structures have left to live if no one reinforces a few walls now and then.

When we made our way back outside we spent even more time walking around the grave yard, looking at the ornate designs on the crosses, reading the fading dates carved in the stones.

At one point I nearly fell in a crypt. There were a handful of them throughout the yard where a small set of stairs is dug in, level with the ground, and goes about 6 feet down to a crypt door. With the grass and ivy and flowers covering everything, they weren’t exactly easy to spot and I nearly tumbled down the little set of steps. Have mercy. That would have been a real Disney-movie moment. A talking black cat probably would have been waiting for me at the bottom.

In another spot I was telling Zac I couldn’t believe how close together some of the old plots were and I was wondering out loud how they got all these people in here. I took a few more steps and the ground beneath me felt funny. I stood still, tapped my foot, cocked my head, tapped my foot again. Then I whispered, “Holy shit Zac get over here!!”

Why do I feel the need to whisper at cemeteries?? Is that just me??

Zac came to where I was and I told him to tap his foot. So Zac stomps his foot. It echos.

“Holy shit!!” He shrieks. “Why are you still standing here?!” he hisses as he pushes me father down the way.

The ground was hallow. Super hallow. Like tap tap tap your foot and listen for the echo to come back to you. Cloudy sky, light mist, orange trees, hallow grave…yup, that was the creepiest, coolest day ever!

When we’d had our fill of abbey exploration we headed back the way we’d come. Not far along there was a sign pointing out two options – the paved walking path we’d come on – or another direction which pointed into the woods and listed the same final destination, just about twice the distance. Feeling like real adventurers now, we picked the long path through the woods.

It wound through the forest, as green as it could be, and everything that held still was covered in deep green moss. The farther in we went, the mossier it got. Eventually we reached the edge of a lake with gorgeous mountain views and we veered away from the path to get a better look.

From there, an old stone staircase and wall caught our attention. What was it doing out in the woods? Just a set of rough, worn stone steps and a long, narrow stone wall. We decided the friars who has inhabited the abbey must have used it for defense, to spy on invading forces that might come in via the lake. Duh.

We poked about and then came upon a trail. Was it the same trail we’d veered off of? Or a new trail? Crap. Then the rain started to come in harder. Zac jogged off down the trail – back the direction we’d come from – to find a marker and see if it was the same one. I stood at the edge of a cliff, enjoying the rainy view out onto the lake. He’d been gone about 45 seconds when the wind and rain got so intense I had to crouch down and cover my face.

So there I am, in my waterproof jacket, hood up, gloves on my hands, crouching along the moss covered ground, arms over my head yelling “What the feck is this?! What is with this fecking country?!” Zac comes running back. He’s winded. “Oh good,” he breaths a sigh of relief, “I was going to be pissed if those gust blew you over that cliff.”

The wind and rain stopped as soon as they’d started. And here I thought the weather changed suddenly and drastically in St. Louis. I mean, I’m from a place where you use the air conditioning and the heat in the same afternoon and even I was dumbfounded by the whims of Irish weather. Zero to hurricane in 15 seconds, I swear.

Thankfully, the trail was the same one we’d been on and we headed on our way stopping often to admire the lake views or wow over the moss covered everything. It truly looked like a hobbit could pop up at any minute. So many things we’d seen looked like something out of a Harry Potter movie. This was one of many afternoons when I fell into a pattern of just saying “Wow. Wow. WOW! Oh wow!” I sounded like an idiot but it was just my natural reaction. “Wow! WOW! WOW!!

Eventually we found ourselves back at Muckross House. We’re not much for old houses that have been restored and stuffed full of Victorian furniture. Blech. But we do love colorful foliage and the whole side of the house was covered in brilliant red ivy. I had to have pictures. But the rain was back and it was too heavy of a rain to subject my cameras to.

So I told Zac to bust out one of our disposable ponchos and hold it over my head and the camera like a little camera tent. He agreed, seemed easy. Of course he gets it over my head and we’re just about set and wham – here comes that Irish wind again. Suddenly I am under attack. 12 square feet of thin blue plastic have surrounded my head and I cannot get out. I am an advertisement for why you do not put grocery bags in cribs. My arms are flailing, I’m shrieking and stomping my feet (you never know – it could have helped) and Zac is pissing his pants. I free myself from the thin blue prison of the poncho just in time for the rain and wind to die down.

We moved over to the other side of the house for more photos and a similar scene was repeated when the wind kicked up yet again. There’s a strange blue cast to some of the photos : )

And just like that, the sky was blue again…(just like the poncho in my nightmares.)

From here we went back to the gift shop and did some shopping for ourselves and family for Christmas. Now, in Ireland (and other EU countries) prices include Value Added Tax. If you are not an EU citizen and are exporting the goods, you are due a refund. You collect this by having sales people swipe a card at check out. It collects your refunds and you get them back later. We were spending a good hunk of change here, so of course I want my VAT refund. But I can’t find my card.

“It’s in the car,” I apologetically say to my husband. You know, the husband who has already run allll the way to the car for me once. Needlessly.

Off he goes to find my VAT card. Twenty minutes later he returns. Couldn’t find it anywhere. So the cashier gives me a new one. On the way to the car I reach into my coat pocket…there’s that VAT card! Good thing our B&B room as a sofa for me to sleep on…

Our next stop was Torc Waterfall, also inside Killarney National Park. We left the car at the car park and started hiking up to the falls. Just past the car park was a rocky stream – practically a waterfall itself – that was really pretty. I kindly ask a woman to take our photo and she agrees. I return the favor. We all do the smile and thank you bit and as they walk away Zac reviews the photo on the back of the camera. No water in sight. This woman has miraculously managed to not get a single drop of this entire water fall in the photo. I’m framing that one…

When we finally reach the waterfall it is amazing. Gushing, roaring and much bigger than I expected. That it is surrounded by trees and rocks covered in moss makes it even more magical.

Headed back to the car we declare it the coolest day in the history of days. I don’t know that a blog post or photos or silly stories can convey exactly how cool it was. It just was. But I can tell you one thing –  to do Ireland on our own time, at our own pace and with our own car was the best decision we made. Stressful? Expensive? Months of intense planning? You bet.

But getting to explore ruined abbeys and mossy trails and waterfalls alone, with no one else in sight and no where else to be was worth every penny and every moment we thought we were going to die on those narrow ass roads.

It can be as intimidating as all hell to suddenly be sitting in an airport parking lot with a foreign car and foreign currency, reading signs in a language you don’t speak with a cell phone that doesn’t work. But if you’re thinking about having yourself an adventure, just get over it and go. I wouldn’t do it any other way and this day was the perfect example of why.

On the way back to Dingle a miracle happened. The skies parted and the sun shone down! We had a lot of days like this, mostly cloudy but with breaks of perfectly clear sunny skies. I decided that this must be why it rains so often in Ireland: Because it’s always beautiful. In the clouds and rain and wind, it is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. When the sun shines, it’s almost too beautiful to handle.

We stopped here and there to take in the view and mostly just gawked in amazement as we drove back along the coast…WOW! Wow. OhmagodlookoverthereWOW!

When we got back to Pax House we made a bee line for our patio. This is why we’d splurged for the extra big room with the sea view!! We cracked open a few more cans of hard cider and kicked back on the patio and watched the sun shine on the bay and the green hills. Perfect. Absolutely perfect.

And what makes a great situation even better? A dog!!

Rio the resident dog came to hang out with us, so we played a good game of fetch. Then a resident chicken came over to see what was happening and I ran for the door. I don’t do birds. Unless its roasted and on a plate, I really, really don’t do birds. I think its because I watched “Birds” the movie on TBS once when I was like, 10. Never forgot it.

When the sun was sinking we got cleaned up for our dinner date : ) We had reservations at Out of the Blue – a raved about sea food restaurant right across from the fishing docks in Dingle. Whatever is caught that morning is what’s on the menu that evening. If it’s stormy and boats can’t go out, the restaurant doesn’t open. Simple as that. We stolled around the area and may have stopped for pre-dinner drinks : )

Our menu arrived via giant chalkboard, which was pretty neat. Thankfully the seafood lived up to its reputation! I had Pollock encrusted in potato, super yummy. Don’t know why I haven’t thought to batter up my fish in hashbrowns before! Zac had something that looked at me throughout dinner.

The meals came with a big selection of salads – all different kinds and just small servings of each. I don’t know what half of them where, but they were all yummy!

After dinner we walked around town a bit, stopped at Murphys for ice cream (again) and then decided to have a drink at Foxy John’s another of those half this/half that pubs. This one is half hardware store, half pub. When we walked in the door, all 5 heads at the bar turned to stare. All 5 very local, very Irish heads. Not a tourist in sight…could be good, could be not good.

We took 2 stools at the bar and ordered a pair of pints – Guinness for both of us. There was a football game on TV (also known as soccer) and everyone was watching, so we did too. Not long after we’d arrived the fellow next to Zac turned to say hello and offer his hand. It started out typical – Where ya from? How long ya been here? Where else ya goin ta be?

He asked, we answered. Every single guy in the bar watched intently and weighed our every word. They were clearly deciding if they liked us. We were deciding if we might be going to die. They were clearly not guys that worked at the Tourist Information Center by day, ya know?

Asked what we’d been doing in Dingle the last few days I replied, “Well, we came here hoping to fish but the weather hasn’t let us do that yet.”

Eyebrows are raised. Zac gives me a “good call” look.

“River fishing or sea fishing?” The question comes from the guy at the end of the bar. The guy who of the 5 is the most likely to kill us dead.

“Sea.” I say. “Didn’t know you had good river fishing around here.”

Much talk of brown trout follows. We’re gaining ground but not much. At this point, I’ll be damned if I’m going to chug that Guinness and run. I’m going to make me some fecking friends, damn it.

The guy who originally struck up the conversation starts to tell a story. Picture it now – he’s a big dude, rough around the edges, faded tattoo on his left forearm, hasn’t shaved in a day or two and has had more than a pint.

He tells us just earlier today he was driving down the main road in town…

And this American tourist – fecking tourist walkin right in de feckin road – gets pissed cus he tinks I drived too close to em. He feckin turns around and starts punchin my feckin Jeep!

Now stop right there. We’re Jeep people. We love our Jeeps. If someone punched my Jeep, I’d lose my feckin’ head. Here’s something we can connect on. We’re building bridges with Jeep love.

So I slams on me brakes and I puts it in park and I get out ma Jeep. I feckin told him, you feckin apologize right now. And I’m up in his face and he ain’t got nothin to say. And he’s a big guy, big is me, prob-lee strong is me.

-Guy half way down the bars laughs out a bar – Ain’t no body in this town strong is yew

Well any way, he wes strong. But he woo-ent apologize for net-in. So I starts to cussin em. He took of right den. Face all red…Good ting meh buddy was dhere too, tell meh it wahn woth da fight, chya know?

Now here comes the good part. The guy at the end of the bar, the one I mentioned before, chimes in. Takes a big swig of his Guinness, slams it down and says…

Oooh I fecking woo-ent let him walk away. I tell ya woot I feckin woulda done. I’d a hit em. I’d a hit em in es face and I’d a knocked him down. Dhen I’d a kicked em.  Dhen I’d taken a feckin torch and I’d a feckin burned his ass. Dhen I’da drug his feckin ass up to dah feckin’ cliffs and I’d a feckin’ thrown em to the sea…

Silence has fallen over the pub. Everyone stares at him. No one blinks. He stares back. Then the big guy says…

Well dats a bit a feckin overkill donchya tink?

Everyone laughs. He laughs. We laugh. What the feck else can we do, right? From this point on, we are all friends. We are asked at length about both the Cardinals and the Cubs. We discuss the shity-ness of American football and the manly-ness of Gaelic football and hurling and rugby. They tell us how Kerry (the county we are in) is going to crush those cos-mo-pol-ee-tan city boys up in Dublin next weekend.

Then the big guy asks Zac how we met. He asks how long we’ve been together. Then he says…

You got a reeeal chemistry dhere. I tan see et. Its really sometin. Sometin special. You shet write a book about et.

What?

You shet write a book about et.

I thought that’s what he said…

Ya got a real good wife dher. Real good wife.

Zac agrees, nods, says thank you. (He feckin’ better…)

No really. I mean dats a real good wife. Feckin great wife. She feckin drinks Guiness that’s a feckin great wife.

Another guy two stools down agrees. Ya, drinkin Guiness, that’s feckin great.

Whatever. After the Spanish guy, I was just glad a drunk man was loving me.

We stay a bit and chat some more and finish our pint. By the time we leave, they’re glad to have met us, they wish us well, tell us which pubs we ought to check out, where to buy our bait if we do ever get to go fishing in Dingle. We stroll out of the pub and walk down the road in the rain.

“Thank God you ordered Guinness.” Zac says.

“No feckin shit.” I say.

I wasn’t stupid enough to take out my camera and snap photo in Foxy John’s but I did snap this one of the outside the next morning…

We wandered our way back through Dingle Town – finally feeling after a couple days that we’d learned our way around – and popped in and out of several pubs with a variety of trad music. We sang real loud and we drank much.

Then we wandered a bit father and into O’—- pub. I instantly liked it. Where the other pubs had been warm and cozy, this one was very open, just like a big open square with a bar along one side. There were stools scattered all over, pulled up to tables or clustered together. When we ordered our pints and looked around for a spot the bar tended pointed out two stools.

“Open seats fer yah dhere” she motioned.

“Those ones? Right there?” Zac verified. She nodded.

So we wandered on up and took the only two empty stools, right next to the musicians. Right next to them. Like right, right next to them. We spent the next hour or so with a front row seat to an authentic Irish jam session. There was an accordion, spoons and other traditional instruments I can’t name.

(Notice the open seat in the photo below.)

Between songs, this fella chatted with Zac about where we were from and such.

(Side note – Zac actually purchased on of these whistles while we were in Ireland. Sometimes, we get drunk and play it. The neighbors love it.)

And the guy in the blue winked at me a few times. He was pretty cute : )

A newspaper clipping on the wall of the pub…and part of the reason I loved Dingle : )

It was just the kind of up-close, real deal, trad session we’d been hoping to experience but not counting on. I actually felt like that a lot in Ireland – I was hoping for some things but not really expecting them. Like painted buildings.

I wanted every Irish town, big and small, that we drove through to have those flat fronted brightly painted shop fronts. But I didn’t expect it because I thought there was a chance it was cooked up for tourists and only found in tourist hot spots. Again to my delight every single place we drove through (on purpose and because we were lost) had those painted shop fronts – and some of them were most certainly not touristy.

I was hoping there would be chatty locals mixing with tourists in small pubs but figured it was tourist legend. It was real.

I really wanted those green, quilted and rolling hills to surround me but figured the photos were just cleverly cropped and leaving out the ugly. But it was real.

I wanted the ruins to be isolated and free of other people. I imagined Zac and I exploring old castles and abbeys all by ourselves, with no one but the sheep. But I figured there would be a ticket counter, or a que to get in, or dozens of camera and fleece clad tourists milling around. But it was real, it was often just us and the sheep!

So anyway…that trad session was just another amazing moment and probably one of our favorites. At the end of it, one guy stood up and introduced the rest of the musicians to each other. They’d never even met! They were playing like they’d been together for years and they’d never even been introduced. Even better : )

And so ended our final night in Dingle. There was no silly adventure getting back to the B&B. We just drove back in silence and then I sat in bed and cried my eyes out because we had to leave Dingle.

But not before we spent one last morning attempting to purchase everything Dingle was selling…

Stay tuned!

Prerecorded in Ireland – Photo Update, The first few days

23 Sep

I haven’t had a chance yet to expand on the 2nd day of our trip since I had blogged it live. The day was spent driving from Doolin to Dinlge – which should have taken 3 hours but took the better part of the day because we couldn’t stay in the car! The views had us hopping out every 15 minutes. So today, you’re getting a full post of pictures!

This is also me copping out on writing because I’m as sick as a dog and not feeling very clever. I once gave a speech while taking prescription medicine and I vowed never to tell another story under the influence of any of type of medication ever again. If you think I embellish when I’m clear headed…whoa buddy.

My drama reaches epic levels when I am ill. You should really feel bad for the hubs. Today I saw a recipe for Sticky Toffee Pudding in a Martha Stewart magazine and I cried. Honestly. Because I’d meant to try it in Ireland and never got around to it. What the feck?! For real I’m a hot, over dramatic mess.

This also means that tonight my husband has to go to the mall alone. I don’t think he’s done that since he bought my engagement ring. But tomorrow 2 of our dear friends are getting married and he needs a new shirt.  So this morning when I said, “There’s no way I’m going to the mall tonight. Stop by on your way home and pick out a shirt by yourself.” He just looked at me.

“But how will I know which one to buy?”

Have mercy.

My husband is many wonderful things. He is not a shopper.

I said, “You know how when we walk into Express all those thin, leggy blonds – the ones who are trying to wear everything in the store at once – rush around us asking if we need help? Flirt with one of them. Flirt with all of them if you have to. Just tell them you are a lost, confused man and you desparately need helping finding a shirt that makes you look insanely sexy.”

He didn’t protest any more. I told you I was really sick.

On to the photos!

Road signs when we first arrived in Doolin. Very helpful…

The cattle is always close enough to road that you can stick an arm out the window to scratch a cow’s nose or feed him part of your granola bar. If that’s your kinda thing.

These next 3 are of Lahinch golf course:

The next set is from when we pulled over into the car park just outside of Lahinch. The views were amazing. If you’re planning a trip and will be in the area do plan on stopping. The parking lot was on the right, just past the main part of Lahinch and the foot path was in the lower right corner of the lot.

No guard rail or fence. The only time of the trip I yelled “Stay right!!”

Surfers!

Enjoying the sun while we wait for the ferry. We arrived just as it was leaving, so we got to spend an hour eating potato chips in the sun waiting for it to return : )

View from the ferry, looking Southwest.

View from the ferry, at the exact same time and place, looking Northeast. Oh, Ireland.

These next ones are from one of my favorite moments from the whole trip – when we stopped in the mountains to snap some shots of the view. It was rainy when we got out, then the sun came, then a rainbow. It was so windy I could barely stand up but it was the most incredibly gorgeous spot I have ever seen in my life.

(Psst…camera geeks…noticing the difference in the shots, yes? It’s not a photoshop situation, its 2 different cameras. The first ones, which have great color in the rainbow are from my new point and shoot! It’s a Canon PowerShot SX210IS and if you’re looking for a great small camera to travel with I recommend it. You can see it isn’t quite as sharp or vivid as my big ole DSLR (the later shots of the same place) but when I got tired of lugging that thing around it was great to have the trusty little guy. And seriously it really nabbed that rainbow!)

Next is not exactly the most flattering photo of us ever taken. But I never thought I’d have a picture of Zac and I standing on a mountain in Ireland, with a rainbow in the background, so I will love it forever.

Here comes the sun… (more fabulous color from that PowerShot!!)

Driving on…

Doing what I do best : )

Since we were stuck with either self pics or individual pics, in places we really loved we tried to take shots of each other in the exact same place and we’re going to frame/put them in an album next to each other : )

The road to our B&B – Pax Guest House

I want to share shots from the places we stayed as well since I know lots of fabulous folks from the Fodors travel website are stopping by to read these posts. (Thanks for stopping by, new friends!) We can’t say enough great things about Pax House. We will absolutely return. The service was top notch and the room was too. We opted for the Sea View room with the patio and it was great to have all the extra space since we were there 3 nights. More shots of the patio (in the sun) to come in a future post.

From our patio…

Just one of many comfy spots in the sitting room…

That’ll do it for today. More to come soon. A big thanks to everyone who has left comments and sent messages about enjoying these posts. Nothing has ever made me as happy as telling stories – through pictures or words or both – and it puts a big smile in my heart to know people are enjoying themselves here. Zac and I are incredibly blessed to have each other and to have great adventures. We’re even more lucky to have awesome friends, family, and imaginary internet friends to share it with!

And if the comments are true, a large percentage of your are either peeing yourselves or shooting food/beverages out of your noses. You should get that looked at. Seriously : )

Prerecorded in Ireland: Day 4, Dingle

20 Sep

Location: Dingle, County Kerry, Ireland
Population: 1,920
Accommodation: Pax Guest House, Dingle

We woke up on Day 4 of our trip and the weather outside was not looking too friendly but it wasn’t bad enough crush all of our plans.

We started our day out right with another wonderful Irish breakfast. A “full Irish,” as they call it, is a traditional Irish breakfast. Not to say it what Irish everywhere are eating for breakfast every morning but think of it as the Irish equivalent of a Denny’s Grand Slam. It consists of Irish bacon (like a hybrid of our bacon and breakfast ham but way better than either), sausage links, black and white pudding (blood sausage), fried eggs, fried tomato and mushrooms and toast. It is fantastic. And the perfect cure for a hang over. Which we always had.

(Sorry. I ate a sausage and half the bacon before I remembered to photograph it.)

At Pax House, breakfast was a real affair. White linen table cloths, beautiful little china plates and tea cups, no detail overlooked. There was even a nice menu to order from including not just the full Irish but omelets, salmon dishes, pancakes…a whole assortment…plus a buffet of fruits and yogurts. If you’re Ireland bound, we recommend Pax 110 percent. This was a great way to start the morning.

After breakfast, we set off on the Slea  Head loop drive. Slea Head is the peninsula where Dingle is located and the drive is a scenic loop drive that traces the perimeter and offers the obvious beautiful scenery as well as lots of historical spots to stop and explore.

One of our first stops was a long stretch of beach with pretty views and plenty of sea shells to pick at. The weather wasn’t at its best but we were comfortable in fleece and jackets and went for a nice walk along the shore before heading off again.

These next two are probably 2 of my favorite shots from the whole trip. I love moody beaches in the morning. One of these is destined for canvas…

We then came to Dunbeg Fort, which is a promontory ring fort built during the Iron Age (500 BC-500 AD), which makes it crazy old. It’s built right on the edge of the sea cliffs and the views down the rock cliffs to the sea were amazing. I could have spent the rest of the day sitting in the grass watching the waves break against the cliffs.

We poked about the fort, exploring the small passages and rooms built into it. The information said it was likely used for defensive or ritualistic purposed. Hmm. The neatest part of a lot of these structures is that they are built of dry stone – meaning no mortar of any kind binds the stones. They are simply stacked up. But they are stacked up perfectly to resist the weather and are actually water tight. Quite amazing after thousands of years of wear.

We then frolicked in the grass knoll beside the fort. Mostly just because it was really green and really pretty and I’ve always wanted to say that I’ve frolicked in a grass knoll. No one else was around, so why not act a fool, right?

hehehe. I’m frolicking. Zac is fighting invisible hill ninjas.

Moving on we visited a cluster of bee hive huts surrounded by a stone wall. Bee Hive huts date back well over 2,000 years and were likely dwellings for monks. They are small and round and like the fort they are done in dry stone.

It’s amazing to stand among these ruins and consider what time and labor must have gone into creating this. Especially considering the perfection with which they are made – perfectly symmetrical, perfectly water tight.

After a bit of climbing around and exploring we headed back to the Slea Head Drive where we perfected our skills in not wrecking our rental car.

The road is approximately 3/4 of a lane wide, with the edge of a sheer cliff down to the sea just to the left. And there are buses. Big tour buses. Big tour buses that come barreling down the road. It’s very pleasant.

Oh that’s narrow…

Holy Mary…

As we drove we saw all sorts of great views across the sea to the nearby Blasket islands and stopped often to just take in the view and snap pictures.

We also saw the first of what would be an overwhelming amount of roadside Jesus in Ireland. It became some sort of car game, one of us yelling “Roadside Jesus!” each time we spotted the Lord just up the road. At first I wondered exactly what Jesus was doing spread out all over the Irish countryside in locations where maybe a dozen cars pass in a day. But I figure its there for all the lost souls who are braving their first day of Irish driving.

The above shot is of an island referred to as The Sleeping Giant. I think you can see why…

And in the next photo…your typical Irish roadway : )

We also saw oodles of sheep.

Eventually we spotted a beach. It turned out to be the one used in the movie Ryan’s Daughter. After looking at it from above, we grabbed some cake and a mini bottle of wine from a nearby shop and headed down to the beach. (Don’t judge, the only thing they sold was cake and alcohol!)

We sat under the towering rock cliffs and enjoyed the sea rolling in. I’ll take a beach anyway I can get it and sitting in the sand in Ireland, cold waves pounding the shore and a light mist falling was as fabulous of a beach as I’ve ever seen.

After our snack we busted out the camera and played around in the waves, climbed around on the sharp, slippery black rocks and labeled the beach, just in case the beach forgot where it was…

Had to black bar certain things hehe : )

These next photos are great. The giant waves crashing over sharp rocks and us standing in the middle really accentuates our intelligence.

Hi, we’re Maggie and Zac. We make poor choices.


Zac!! The ocean!! It’s right behind you!!

HAHA! Notice is right foot sinking by the way.

Then Zac said, “Maggie, stand in that little cave looking area and I’ll take your picture!”

“The tides coming in fast though,” I said.

“You’ll be fine, just hurry up,” he says.  So I hurry over and climb into this cave-like area and he starts fiddling with the camera. And the waves are getting closer until they are washing over the tops of my shoes, which is cool cus I’m rocking water proof tennis shoes.

Then comes a very, very large wave. Followed by my screaming “it’s going to fill with water!! It’s going to fill with water!!” Which is followed by Zac yelling ‘Runnnnn!!”

So I run. Straight into the wave. Fully clothed. Which was the better alternative to getting slammed into the rock wall and drug out to sea.

I was wet. Very, very wet. And let me tell you, when the water comes up to your knees and enters your shoes from the top down….doesn’t really matter if they’re water proof.

There are no photos. He never get time to snap the shot. ha!

So we had a good laugh and then hiked back up the massive hill to our car with the lovely slooosh slaaaash of my wet shoes marking every step. I spent the next 20 km worrying that I was going to die of hypothermia. Zac insisted I wouldn’t.

We made a few more stops to take in the view and do a bit of shopping. Eventually we reached the place we’d been planning to have lunch. It was a small pub, middle of know where, highly recommended by folks we’d met the night before. Sadly, it had a sign on the door that said “Closed today due to death. RIP.” Whose death it was we really can’t say. But we offer our condolences.

We back tracked to a town we’d just passed, picked a random pub and popped in for bowls of soup and chowder and more of that fabulous Irish brown bread. Perfect lunch! The only other patrons at the pub were a pair of older Irish gentlemen who spoke Irish the whole time we ate. I made up stories in my head about what they were saying : )

Further down the road, we turned down a one lane road-like-thing. It was becoming common for the road to be grown up on either side with hedges at least 6 or 7 feet tall, as thick as can be, all blooming with amazing flowers. (Freesia maybe??). We found a spot to park the car and headed down a walking path also walled in by the flowering hedges. It looked like a scene come to life from a storybook.

At the end of it was the Gallarus oratory. It is an early Christian Church approximately 1,300 years old and in perfect condition. Again with the water-tight dry stone. It had a small door and a tiny window and it was awesome. So we did some poking around, imagined what it would have been like to worship there 1,300 years ago and then headed out.

Photo credit to the husband on the one above!

Interesting though, we were taking our usual self-pic inside the oratory when a woman asked if she could take a picture for us. As I turned around to say yes, we recognized each other. She’d done the same thing for us hours earlier at the Beehive huts : )

About this time, I announced that I really had to pee. Like really had to pee. And, shocker, there are not reststops along these 1 lane country roads. By this point in the trip, we were surprised to see other humans, so a bathroom wasn’t about to pop up soon. And as you’ll recall, the road is lined with the 7 foot hedge rows and that are far too dense to push your way through.

So we drive down this 1-lane hedge lined road-ish thing hoping for a break in the bushes. We find one! It’s a farm lane looking thing, something you’d maybe drive a tractor down – just two muddy tire tracks with grass in the middle. It looks like it hasn’t been used in ages, so we figure its a safe bet. Just beyond it is a blind curve. This is not somewhere to safely just stop your car and leave it. There would been no way for another car to come around the corner and fit around us.

Zac steered the front half of the car into the lane to leave room for passing cars and I hopped out to go tinkle in front of the car. I open the door. I say “this looks a little muddy.” I take two steps. And I sink in the mud. Not a little, a lot. And then I see the car tires slowly sinking with me. This isn’t a dirt road that’s just gotten some rain. This is a fecking bog or marsh or swamp thing and our car is sinking in it.

“Back up! Back up! Back the car back onto the road!” I’m yelling and waving my arms at Zac is shocked and confused and oblivious to my sinking feet. He throws the old Focus into reverse and punches the gas.

The sweet sound of tires spinning and mud flying everywhere fills the air. Zac looks at me wide eyed.

“It’s not solid ground!” I yell to him, visions of us pushing a Ford Focus out of a bog filling my mind.

“No shit!” he yells as mud splatters all over the windshield, the hood and sides of the car. Once he’s freed the car and back on the road, I hold my foot up for him to see.

“I sunk in the mud I say” my shoe and the jeans bottoms – up to my ankle – look like they have been carefully chocolate dipped. Zac starts laughing, I start giggling and am suddenly reminded that I had to pee.

Back into the mud I go to tinkle, hoping I don’t sink up to my waist, carefully trying to pee on my shoe to get the mud off. Juuuust kidding hehe. (Welcome to my blog, new visitors, where foul language and potty jokes run rampant. Now who wants to hire me as a wedding photographer?!)

I did have to waste two full bottles of water to rinse my shoes well enough to get back in the car. These are the same shoes mind you that were recently filled with sea water, so I’m real comfortable at this point. But at least I didn’t have to pee anymore. (Note there are no photos to illustrate this portion of the blog. Sorry.)

We cruise along down the road for our next stop but first spot a creepy old church along the road. It is not mentioned in the guide book we’ve been using for this drive. But the gates are open and there are no signs. And in fact, that gate is pretty damn cool so we stop several meters up the road and run back down to the church.

We poke around, take pictures, make up the history of the building and both keep mentioning that we find it really creepy. Could have been the light mist and hanging fog. I’m pretty sure a WalMart parking lot would look mystical with this kind of fog and mist, so an old abandon church really takes full advantage of the creepiness.

When we finished our pictures we turned to leave out the gate. But both sides of the gate had closed and were latched.

We stood and stared. Sufficiently creeped out because when we came in, both we’re open, the latches dropped so that the posts were stuck in the wet ground.

We walked up to the gate and could see the trail torn through the ground where the gate had been pushed/pulled shut. We were creeped out. Like pee your pants (even though you just peed in the mud) creeped out. So I grabbed the gate and yanked it open ready to get out of there as quickly as possible. The sound that old iron gate made was loud and sharp and as creepy as they church looked. How it got shut without making a noise is beyond me. But we think it was fairies : )

Not far up the road was our last stop for the day – an old church that had been a previous Norman center of worship, built in the 12th century when the English were trying to take control of Irish religion. It is surrounded by an old cemetery full of amazing Celtic crosses and grave stones too worn to date.

In front of it is a tall, skinny Ogham stone that is said to have been in place about 900 years prior to the church being built. And the ancient Ogham writing indicates it was marking a holy spot. Centries ago, a hole was drilled into the top of the stone and it came into use a spot to seal a deal. The idea was that two people would touch thumbs through the hole and in front of the House of God and standing at the feet of their ancestors they would make a promise.

Likely, they were making deals over land or cattle. We opted to renew our vows. Of course we couldn’t really remember our vows. So we made some up. I think I liked them better than the originals : ) It was a cool moment, with the mist still falling and fog hanging in the hills, surrounded by centuries and centuries of life and faith.

After that, we made our way back to Dingle town to our B&B to rest and warm up.

The weather outside was fierce. Driving, howling winds were blowing and a consistent (though not heavy) rain was falling. But we really didn’t want to drive into Dingle. We wanted to walk so that we could be sans rental car and not have to worry about how many pints the hubs was enjoying. So we chatted with the B&B host about transportation options in the area and he gave us the number for a taxi. We were planning to take our car, leave it in a car park, then get a taxi back. But our host was far to hospitable for that and before we knew it he was personally driving us to the restaurant.

We had dinner at a very nice pub/restaurant where we both devoured yet another amazing Guinness Beef stew. I love making Guinness stew at home but as soon as we had it in Ireland, I realized I’d been doing it all wrong. I always cook chunked potatoes in mine. In Ireland, it was always served over a big scoop of mashed potatoes. Perfect!

After dinner, we set out to find some traditional music (trad as its known in Ireland). Just steps away was the lively Dingle Pub and a pair of musicians were just setting up. We grabbed a booth and a couple of pints and settled in for what turned out to be a fantastic trad session. We got to hear some of our favorite songs, once we’ve been singing while drinking since long before we planned to visit Ireland and it was a surreal moment to look around and realize we were finally singing trad Irish songs in Ireland. Happy faces, I tell you, happy faces.

After a while we ventured to another pub for another type of trad session. Where the first pub had feature 2 musicians doing sing-along songs the next had 3 and they were doing all instrumental, older trad which was just as amazing!

When the pubs had closed – they closer early, around 11:30 – we stepped out to assess the weather and if we wanted to call a cab. The wind had died down to nearly nothing and the rain wasn’t heavy at all.

So we decided to walk. We had our rain proof coats and a flash light and my coat happens to be white and thereby reflective. What could go wrong?

We walk on, up hill and up hill and up hill. But we’re happy. Cus we’re in Ireland and the mist is falling and the cobblestone streets are shiny and reflecting the colors of all the painted store and pub fronts. We belt out our favorite Irish song – Fairytale of New York – because we know we’ve no hope of hearing it in a pub (it’s a Christmas song) and we figure this is the next best thing.

As we walk on, singin’, we fail to realize we are now on the edge of Dingle town. The rows of buildings have come to an end. We pause at the last intersection and look both ways. Then we step off the curb and into the road. And suddenly there is nothing between Boston and us, save for a few fishing boats in the harbor, and we are nearly knocked off our feet by the wind.

It is officially too late to call a cab. We are walking. And we are walking looking like Jim freakin’ Cantore covering a Cat 4 hurricane. The once romantic and enchanting mist is now a driving rain. But we’ve had our pints and really, what’s left but to laugh. So we do. We giggle ourselves silly trying to get up this hill.

Whoa, there’s a photo. Raise your hand if you’re glad we didn’t drive back!!

This is completely the middle of nowhere and it is pitch black. There are shoulder high hedge rows on either side of the road and the road is wide enough for exactly 1.25 cars. I am trying with all my might not to be freaked out.

A car approaches.

I take the flashlight and Zac steps in front of me so that we’re walking single file. My coat is white. His is, cleverly, black. I wave the flash light back and forth along the ground beside us in an attempt to beg the drive not to run us over.

The car passes. We give praise.

The car brakes.

We slow our pace.

The car begins to back up.

I begin to chant “ohmagawd ohmagawd ohmagawd”

Zac says nothing.

I say, “Are you going to protect us?!?!”

Zac says, “Yes. I have a swiss army knife in my pocket. First I’ll feck em up with the corkscrew, then I’ll trim their beards with the tiny scissors.”

I begin to wield my flash light like a weapon.

The car reaches us and window rolls down. The wind picks up with brilliant force and even more brilliant timing. The rain is hitting me in the eye and I can barely see.

A voice from the car says, “Do you need a ride?”

There is no discussion. Before I know it, we’re both in the back seat of the car and all “Hi! Are you American too? Where are you from?”

I can’t say when we went from frightened and ready to protect ourselves by whatever means necessary to being willing hitch hikers, but I think it had to do with that final gust of wind.

Thankfully, we were returned safely to our B&B where I made Zac promise not to tell my dad we hitched a ride with strangers in the countryside of a foreign nation.

And so ended another wonderful day of Irish adventures. By this point, Dingle had forever won a piece of my heart. The weather was shit but it seemed appropriate and everything else – the view, the sea, the people – were perfect. I don’t think its anything I can put into words or even capture in the photos. It could not be more opposite than the places where I happily live out my every day. But it is a special place. It was on this day of our trip that we confirmed what we expected before we’d even left – we’d be back to Ireland – and probably sooner rather than later.

Much more to come! Before the stories continue I’ll be posting a photo catch up blog because believe it or not there are more…some of my favorite photos from the trip where taken on the day we drove from Doolin to Dingle and I haven’t been able to share those yet!

Prerecorded from Ireland – Day 3 – Dingle

14 Sep

Location: Dingle, County Kerry, Ireland
Population: 1,920
Random Fact: Dingle Bay has a lone resident dolphin.
Accommodation: Pax Guest House, Dingle

We’ll pick up here where we left off in Ireland – in the coastal fishing village of Dingle.

One bit of warning – those of you who know me well know I have an affinity for using the “f” word. I consider it a talent. However, I usually avoid using it on my blog for obvious reasons. On this trip to Ireland though I learned that the only people more adept at using the beautiful word are the Irish. And they all use it. B&B hosts, bar tenders, the women checking you out at the grocery store. It’s eff this and eff that and I’ve never felt so at ease : ) So to properly illustrate these stories, the “f” word will be used freely, though I’ve taken to spelling it the way the Irish say it, which is of course “feck.” If this offends your delicate sensibilities, please go find another blog cus we don’t want the feckin likes you of you round here anyway.

On to the stories…

We got fancied up and headed out for our first evening in Dingle town with just a fine bit of rain coming down. The guesthouse was within walking distance of town but we were feeling a wee bit exhausted so we decided to drive.

The streets of Dingle were as charming as I’d hoped and imagined they would be. Rows and rows of flat fronted, brightly painted buildings, their corners well worn by a consistent salty wind.

The pubs are lined up one after another, each more charming looking than the last. Thankfully, the streets had just the right amount of buzz to them and it was a heavily Irish buzz. We were worried we would find towns overrun with tourists but at the beginning of September things had slowed down to just a handful of International guests and the residents of the town. We were very happy to find that.

This is a strange comment to share but I kept saying how wonderful the Dingle area smelled. I’ve always heard people say they like the smell of the sea, then every time I’m near the sea I think, “Why don’t I smell anything?!” But in Dingle the air was fresh, salty and wonderful.

So anyway, we spent a bit of time driving in circles around the main streets of Dingle town. You see, the Irish are more than happy to draw you a map of anything. So we were armed with a hand drawn map illustrating all the roads of downtown Dingle, little ‘x’s marking various pubs and restaurants. The street names were drawn in. Should have been easy. But the Irish are allergic to street signs. It’s apparently a very, very serious allergy too because you’re lucky to see a street sign at all. Anywhere. This makes the street names on you map incredibly useless. We learned quickly to ask a local what street we were on. From there, we had to use our sharp wits to determine the rest of the streets : )

Eventually we found a parking spot and wandered a bit and decided on a restaurant for dinner. After a fine meal and a few glasses of wine, we wandered back out into the light mist and heavy breeze.

Half a block away, we spotted Murphy’s Ice Cream shop. I’d stumbled on Murphy’s blog a long time ago when I was first planning our trip and looking for random Irish blogs to follow. Many great things have been said about Murphy’s homemade ice cream. Many complaints have been made about the price of it. We practically ran for the entrance. Fancy overpriced ice cream? That’s my idea of a good time!

The flavors were perfect…caramel, dark chocolate, baileys, sea salt… Oh baby. We shared a mix of dark chocolate and sea salt and it was ah-maz-ing. (And not overpriced.) Then I said, “Let us go husband, with these scoops of ice cream, and wander the romantic streets of little Dingle town.”

And then we stepped outside and the wind blew and I’ve never been so fecking cold in my life!

We huddled inside a doorway to block the wind, put on gloves and scarfed down the ice cream. It was like eating an ice cream cone outside in Chicago in January.

We headed straight for the nearest pub after that which as luck would have it was Dick Mac’s.

Dick Mac’s is an iconic looking Irish pub, exactly what you would picture. Except that it is half boot shop, half pub. There are a number of these places in Dingle – half hardware store, half pub, etc. I wondered if they were just a hokie tourist invention and was anxious to find out. Turns out, it was pretty authentic and the crowd was more local that tourist and that would hold true in the other half this/half that pubs we visited.

As we pushed through the pretty stained glass doors we were met with a small, lively, warm (thank God) little pub (and boot shop). We grabbed two stools that had just opened at the bar, ordered pints and looked around.

Everything was just as you’d want it to be, lots of dark wood, lots of old stuff on old shelves. Snugs at either end of the bar. (We pause for a bit of Irish education – a snug is like a little closed in booth or room at the end of the bar, with high walls so you can’t see who is in the snug. At the end, there is a little window that can be opened for the bar tender to serve the occupants. They were originally designed for women to drink in the pubs in privacy. Now I think they’re just for people to get it on in a pub. Jusssst kidding.)

Shots below of the pub and boot shop sides of Dick Macs:

It wasn’t long before we struck up a conversation with a couple from South Carolina. As we talked about where we had been and where we were going, the bar tender wandered over and listened in as he pulled a few more pints.

Then his head snapped up at me and he said, “Wet da feck?! I’m sew feckin’ stewpid.”

I said, “Wet da feck is da matta?” (Don’t worry I didn’t really repeat his accent back to him, I’d only had the one pint so far.)

He said, “I taught yas were feckin’ Irish. Yas ain’t are ya?”

Of course we admitted we were not Irish but I tell you what, that made my day! Mistaken for Irish on our first night out on the town : ) What an honor. I then proceeded to drink like I was Irish. Which I am not. And it showed.

So we’re half way through pint number who-knows-what when we notice a kinda loud Spanish speakin dude behind us. The guy from South Carolina says, “Oh. That’s the Spaniard. He was in here earlier. He’s…um…he’s a special Spaniard.”

“Hmm…,” I think to myself. “He must be too polite to say that Spaniard is a drunk, which he clearly appears to be.”

So I lean over to Zac and say, “This guys says that Spaniard is a drunk so watch yourself.” cus this dude is starting to get real close to Zac.

Zac nods. “No problem, this aint my first drunken Spaniard, I got this,” the nod seems to say.

We sip our pints a bit and the next thing I know the Spaniard appears to be trying to put his hand in the back pocket of Zac’s jeans. Which is awkward because Zac is sitting on the back pocket of his jeans. Now this is the sort of pub behavior that would usually win someone a knuckle sandwich. But one doesn’t go around popping Spaniards in the jaw on his first night out in Ireland. So instead my husband attempts being mild mannered and just says, “Hey man what the feck are you doing??”

The Spaniards response is “Oh, eh, oh, eh, ahhhh, oohh.”

And we have ourselves a language barrier.

He points violently at Zac’s jacket and we gather he is trying to look for his own jacket. He manages to see the tag of Zac’s jacket and puts his hands up and shakes his head as if to say, “Oh, you’re right, that’s not my jacket your ass is sitting on.”

He then locates his own jacket much to everyone’s relief. But then he comes back over and is standing just between Zac and I and he’s trying to say something. But I have no idea what. My Spanish sucks. Zac’s sucks a little less.

There is much gesturing and much speaking in Spanish and I have no idea whats going on so I just keep sipping my pint and occasionally looking at Zac and his new Spanish friend and I throw out the occasional “Si! Si! Gracias!”

And each time I throw out my “Yes! Yes! Thank you!” phrase Zac looks at me a bit more shocked, like I’m a bit more stupid every time I say it. About the third time Zac says, “Maggie! Stop thanking this man and help me!”

I have no idea what he’s talking about. Back to my pint.

I look over again and Zac is pointing to his wedding ring yelling “Me espousa!! Me espousa!!”

This I understand.

He is asserting that I am his wife and I am not to be messed with.

So I look at that Spaniard and I say, “Si! Espousa!! Gracias!”

More Spanish, more gesturing. A lot of the gesturing is coming my way.

Again Zac says “Mi espousa!!” and the Spaniard manages in broken English to say “I wish not so.”

My mouth falls open and I lean into my husband and I say, “Zac, I think he’s propositioning me!!” Because there are certain gestures taking place and I may not know Spanish but believe you me I know the hand gesture for let’s get drunk and screw.

Zac leans in and says, “No, my dear. He is NOT. He is propositioning ME!!”

Well now that about does it and nearly pee my pants. The Spaniard now has his arm around Zac’s neck. Zac is pleading for help. “Don’t you remember any Spanish at all?!?!”

I say, “Si!! Gracias!!

And the Spaniard says “Si!! Si!!!” As he hugs my husbands neck.

What else can I do? I take a picture.

For the picture, the Spaniard decides to kiss my husband right on the ole beard. (Which by the way is getting thicker by the hour because despite saying it was compatible, Zac’s shaver blew up the first time he plugged it in. He would be destined to maintain his beard with a swiss army knife and my hot pink disposable razor for the rest of the trip.)

By this point, even Zac is laughing so hard he’s going to pee his pants. This little drunken Spaniard who looks like Robert Deniro and Robert Downey Jr.’s love child is clearly loving him some Zac.

So I look to our new found friends from South Carolina who are talking to a lovely, appropriate woman from Argentina and I say “Help!! The Special Spaniard is trying to kiss my husband.”

The new friend looks up from his pint and says “Oh Jesus Christ! I told you he was special!”

Ahh ha. Special. I gotchya. You meant he was gay, not a drunk. Although he certainly appears to be both at this point.

So new South Carolina friend quickly says, “Hey Zac let’s take these pints outside buddy!” And out the door they run, leaving the love struck Spaniard to shrug his shoulders at me.

“Oh bueno” he mumbled to me and stumbled off to the back of the pub. Lord only knows what became of him.

Regular drinking resumed after this until the lights were flashed and last call was hollered out. We ordered another round. They turned the lights back on. We drank on. They turned up the bar stools. We drank on. Then they told us to leave. Fine then. Something about it being a Sunday night…

We then located our rental car and proceeded to drive the wrong way up two one way streets. Ahh…what can be better than Irish roads? Irish roads in the black of night that’s what!

But we made it home safe and sound to our B&B where we collapsed into bed and tried not to have nightmares about little drunken Spaniards…

Here are some additional photos from our first day since we didn’t get to put many in the first post. I’ll catch up on shots from the second day tomorrow!

Scene outside the pub, just a few minutes walk from our B&B

Our first pints at Gus O’Conners pub before heading out to the Cliffs of Moher

At the Cliffs

Driving through the countryside on the way back to Doolin. I’m not used to the countryside including castles!

The wee little village of Doolin. Small place but it packed a nice punch: )