Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Irish Vacation

Dublin (Pictures)
It has been a desire of ours to visit the emerald isles for a couple of years and so the time to realize that has come today. We connect to Dublin through Boston. While the international terminal is nice at Boston, the domestic terminal leaves much to be desired, not to mention the poor directions. Thankfully we had close to 4 hours to kill and so we could afford to get lost finding the right terminal. In any event we board an Aer Lingus flight that is beyond comparison of the United we flew in....personal entertainment, friendly crew and a clean always United you suck and have no hope. It is reasonably short flight from Boston to Dublin, 6 hours and we are in Dublin. I watch the Iron Lady and was disappointed that the focus of the movie was on the later life of that great lady and her dementia vs. what she accomplished…While Meryl did a fabulous job I wish she did not act in this movie. Anyway immigration in Dublin is a test in patience especially at 5am local or 11pm per our body clock. 2 plane full of visitors but only 2 immigration Garda's processing, European austerity in action. An hour later we face a friendly immigration Garda who welcomes us to Ireland officially. Then baggage and of to rent a car.  My research had indicated that the cost of car rental that is provided online tends to be different from what they charge with insurance etc.....very true, I am charged literally 4 times what the estimate was. Then again when they tell you that in that delightful brogue of theirs, what can you say.....sucker! When we go to the car we are nothing but shocked. I had asked for a small car to care for the narrow roads in Ireland, but I distinctly remember not asking for this toy they claim is a car....where do we put our luggage, where do we sit....this Fiat is a poor cousin of the smart car that we find hilarious in the US. 

Oh well, feeling like a giant we head to New Grange driving on the wrong side of the road...or is it the right side? New Grange is about 45 mins north of Dublin and is a Neolithic age tomb, supposedly built in 3200BC....5000 years ago, older than the pyramids. Incredible. We arrive an hour before they open and wander around enjoying the Irish morning and some interesting looking birds. It’s a short bus ride to one of the 3 tombs on these grounds. Whilst cliché in that the prehistoric folks were smart, it is quite insightful as we enjoy the particularly un-Irish weather…sunny and 60F.

Our hotel is right in the center of downtown Dublin, at the beginning of Upper O’Connell street named after Daniel O'Connell the liberator allowing us to walk around. We stop for lunch at the Bachelor Inn on Bachelor street on the banks of the Liffy river, some Dublin coddle washed down by Guinness…life is good! Temple bar area is particular plebeian and colorful with plenty of pubs, street artists and lots of energy. Dinner is fish and chips from Beshoff one of the best chippies in town.

The following morning we make use of the  hop-on-hop-off bus to get to Trinity college. We are given a walking tour by a graduate student getting ready to start his PhD in history who was very funny. The Book of Kells is an interesting manuscript while the great hall is spectacular with so many 1st editions, it’s a pity they don’t allow photography.  Lunch is at the best chippie in town called Leo Burdock and Leo himself serves us. He directs us down the street to the St.Patrick’s cathedral where there are benches for folks to sit down, enjoy his chippie and the weather. I am done visiting cathedrals especially when you have to pay to visit with god, seems wrong! but Saritha goes in by herself, who is a fan of old cathedrals. Jonathan Swift of Gulliver's Travels is buried in here. I have been looking forward to visiting the home of stouts, Guinness. That is next and as we drive to it, Saritha points out this street where the doors of each one of the row houses are painted different in bright colors of yellow, blue, red, purple and more that I forget to picture as I am laughing so hard…apparently the doors are painted so drunk husbands don’t forget their homes when they stumble home late in the nights. It happened a while ago that one drunk husband entered the wrong house only to realize it in the morning….if only that excuse could work? The Guinness brewery and museum is on a huge campus given this is the only place all the Guinness for the world is brewed. The brewing process itself is not so different but I am excited to learn how to pour a perfect pint and get a certificate as proof. The view from the gravity bar on the top floor has 360 degree views of Dublin….it is really a nice setting. 

More Dublin pictures
As the day winds down, we indulge in some local shopping and stumble in to the local Marks and Spencer’s….it appears the Brits send their leftovers here, quite bad actually. Dinner is at Parnell heritage pub...cabbage and ham, more chippie and Guinness is perfect. The pub is full of friendly people including the clearly over-worked bartender and 1 waiter serving some 50 folks in there.

Croagh Patrick and Ashford Castle (pictures)
We plan on departing early to drive to Croagh Patrick, the mountain top where St.Patrick spoke to god and apparently a pilgrim site for a lot of believers.  However by the time we leave and get to Croagh Patrick it is 2pm. The drive was on a combination of highways and back roads but the landscape has been below expectation thus far. Thankfully this is the beginning of summer here and so the sun will not set until 9 in the night giving us plenty of time to hike up and back. Now Croagh Patrick is located in Mayo county on the north east coast and about 4 hours from Dublin. 

The weather is dry, cold and cloudy at the base but as we climb and come back down we have experienced, the strongest winds, hottest sun on our faces, hail storm and just pleasant temperatures.....I have never experienced these many fluctuations in a 5 hour period, along a 8 miles base to summit and back trip. The terrain is incredibly tough, rocks, gravel, slush and very steep inclines that at times could be about 60 degrees or more. There were more than a few times Saritha and I questioned the wisdom of this hike, given we are not really followers of St.Patrick....but despite all those doubts, we inspire ourselves to the top. While I can't candidly say the top was worth it, it certainly had some spectacular views, but it was particularly rewarding in that we could indeed complete this hard hike. From the top as we see the bluish-green waters of the north Atlantic Ocean it is clear why this is the famed Emerald isle. Coming down was equally difficult, particularly on the knees but the fact that we were going to be done once we
reach the bottom was motivating.

Croagh Patrick is etched in our hearts, but firmly in the rear view mirror we head of to Ashford castle, about 2 hours south in the village of Cong. Ashford castle has a history that I fail to remember after hearing similar stories about Earls, Counts, Barons and Lords, but what I appreciate is the glorious view when one first sees it as you drive on to the grounds and the fact that the Guinness family lived here for about 150 years. It is a five star resort and they treat us as such. Saritha charms them to upgrade us to a suite with some beautiful views of the water.  While Ashford serves dinner, we wander in to the village of Cong, whose claim to fame is "the quiet man", a movie with John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara. The village is quiet except for Lydon's another b&b but with a pub that serves food. A couple of pints (pronounced “Points”), locally raised meats and a delicious vegetable soup tucked away, we head back to a very deserving rest.

The breakfast is what I would expect at Ashford Castle with the level of detail and service. This is my first truly Irish breakfast and Ashford has done more than justice to it. The black and white pudding or sausage slices are something else, not to mention the bangers and their version of muesli. Saritha robs my smoked salmon which are delicious and why not, they are just off the coast. After this splendid breakfast, we pass on testing the golf course but instead walk the grounds, which are large with all sorts of trees and flowers. More pictures and it is time to head out to the next stop, the Cliffs of Moher.

Cliffs of Moher and Adare (pictures)


The drive is about 2 hours to the cliffs located in Clare county south of Mayo county. The landscape in Ireland continues to disappoint or is very differently from our expectations, there is an over abundance of the burning bush or a variety of that and overall has a scraggly appearance to it. Most of the lands are fallow and we don’t see any agriculture, not even potatoes.  We drive through an area called the "Burrens", which is essentially prehistoric mountain formations that are barren…Irish desert if you would.

The Cliff of Moher are extraordinary, the 5 sisters I christened are spectacular. Interestingly enough to get to the cliffs, one has to exit the park ground and walk on private property on the edge of the cliffs without any protection from falling of. There is a plaque recognizing all the people who died here at the point you exit park property and head to the edge. I am puzzled that while they recognize the dead, they don’t want to do anything to protect us….hmmmm. We spend time walking to the edge of one of the 5 cliffs and back to the other side to O’Brian’s towers, watch the birds and their nesting on the cliff walls and I am hoping I can get a view of the lovely looking Atlantic Puffins….but they are nesting too far for even my zoom lens to capture. 

We plan on spending the night in Adare, advertised as Irelands prettiest village, just south of Limerick. 2 hours later we are there. The B&B and we chose is run by Dennis and Eileen Moroney (Adare Country House) who are typically friendly Irish folks. A 2 min walk takes us to the village pub called Pat Collins where we enjoy the local fare, Guinness for me and Bulmers Irish Cider for Saritha and lots of Irish music….we are here close to midnight. Irish village life is a good life.

In the morning after another full Irish breakfast that is beginning to take me to the edge of a coronary, we wander the picturesque village with its cute cottages with thatched roofs and pretty flower gardens. A quick drive through the grounds of Adare Manor, which is by the way no Ashford Castle we are off to our next destination…Dingle.
Dingle (pictures)

Another lovely town at the beginning of the Dingle peninsula. Once we check-in mid afternoon at the Pax House, a B&B run by John O’Farrell an interesting character with a sense of style and detail that we have not experienced. John welcomes us, serves tea and helps us with an itinerary. First order is a drive around the Dingle peninsula, driving clockwise, so you are closer to the water and can enjoy the views better. Slea Head Drive is what takes us around the peninsula and we finally see views that first inspired us to visit Ireland. The weather is picture perfect, the sheep and lambs are in the meadows, the landscape is green as it gets and there is peace. This cannot be described…only experienced.

We have dinner at Paddies which was perhaps the weakest served by another friendly Irish lady but was overwhelmed trying to serve 50 other tourists….mostly demanding Americans. We then walk up to have a few pints at Small Bridge, a pub to enjoy the live band. This was disappointing….firstly because the band sucked, they wanted to play everything but Irish and secondly we were invaded by perhaps the most rowdy American group of seniors who were perhaps here on a nostalgic visit….but clearly forgot manners. Damn spoilers!

Ring of Kerry
Dont bother….its a scam this drive around Ring of Kerry, a waste of petrol and time.
We have a wonderful breakfast at the Pax house overlooking the Dingle bay, however our luck with the weather has run out and it is looking like a very Irish day, cloudy, drizzly and right melancholic. After bidding our goodbyes to John, we Drive to the Ring of Kerry starting at Killorglin and driving anti clockwise. The rain has taken over and it is generally unpleasant, driving through particularly narrower roads and with low visibility. We stop at Portmaggie and drove through the Skallig ring. A short stop in Sneem, a little village with picturesque river flowing through and where they won't let you throw garbage bigger than your fist…yeah the village motto is take your crap with you.

Tipperary (Tip Town) & the Rock of Cashel (pictures)
Given there are no real street addresses in Ireland, GPS will at best take you to the village or town and then you have to ask your way to the final destination. We have on day 7 sort of mastered this art and so while I am frantically trying to find petrol/gas station, a group of really nice teenagers direct me to the only petrol station in a 25mile radius. The kind man there then gives me direction to the Ballyglass house where we will rest for the evening. The folks are typically Irish friendly and we enjoy some pints at the next door Forge pub that is authentically medieval. Dinner is served in the main house and finally get to taste the local lamb…note to self, could have skipped it. More Guinness at the pub, rugby on TV and locals playing pub….peace brother.

We start with the traditionally large Irish breakfast and now I am convinced that I am a day away from a coronary at this rate. I then have to wander the great house to find people so I can settle up….so very easy going, just loved the sense of trust.

Rock of Cashel is our last tourist attraction. It is a large complex of cathedral, bishops house and round tower from the 12 century that also served as a cemetery till recently. The queen visited a year to the day as part of the 1st monarch to visit Ireland since her father….part of peace, live and let live. The complex is essentially in ruins but there is an effort in preserving it. We wander the grounds, take pictures and enjoy the views of the landscape. Glad to have visited it.

We are a couple of hours away from Dublin and so off we drive to the airport, with a stop along the way for tea. Delightful this business of tea here and the UK, always a moment to just chill, should do it more. We spend the last night here in Ireland watching Chelsea woop some German butt to win the champions league and enjoying fresh Guinness from down the street. Tomorrow is back home and work….it was nice visiting Ireland, very nice folks, peaceful countryside and the best Guinness ever. 
Slán go fóill