Day 7 - Tuesday (Killarney)
[Music for this section: Shimmer]
Tuesday morning we woke early and set out to drive the Ring of Kerry in the southwestern corner of the island. This was one of two reasons we came to this area, with the second being that half of Julia's family was from Kenmare in County Kerry. We ran into some construction traffic on the way out of town and discovered that Irish construction crews actually show up and work when the signs are posted, unlike their American counterparts. They also use a "pace car" to lead the traffic through the one-lane portions of the construction. Interesting!
We finally get through the traffic and enter Killarney National Park:
This drive was glorious - wide open vistas, enclosed forests, and ocean views were all a part of our day. At this point I am very comfortable driving the car and good thing, as the roads get CRAZY in the Ring of Kerry! The drive to the Cliffs of Moher was nothing compared to some of the narrow, winding passageways we drove on our route. Thankfully we were there in the offseason and did not have to share the road with the tour busses. Another driving tip in Ireland: if you see the "curvy road ahead" arrow on the Ring of Kerry, they're feckin' serious about that! I ignored the first one I saw - really, how much more curvy could the road get? - and sweet Jaysus it was intense! We stopped for a few more pictures:
Two days before we left on our trip, Julia stumbled upon a message board post looking for her relatives in Kenmare. She ended up getting in contact with one of her father's cousins who lives in England, who got us in touch with mother. Turns out Julia's 92-year old great aunt (her grandmother's youngest sister) is still alive and lives in Kenmare:
Kenmare is a very small town and there were not many things open at this time of the year. We ended up in a wonderful little bakery where I finally had a cup of coffee and delicious pain au chocolat. We took a few pictures before heading to meet the family:
This is apparently a famous sign - saw it on several postcards later:
We stopped to pick up a small stone from the base of this wall as a keepsake:
The large church at the top of the hill, next to her aunt's house:
It was fantastic to meet her great aunt, although I don't know all of their family history and did my best "smile and nod" routine. She served us a lovely lunch with tea, sandwiches, and sweets. The couple from the Limerick handcraft shop mentioned the book about Kenmare family history and we talked about that for a bit, too. After saying our goodbyes we found our way back to the road to the coast:
This was the best curvy road shot I took - doesn't show the real perspective!
We finally made it to the true coastline:
This rock wall was very, very long:
The sun was setting but my little camera took a few good shots at the end of the day:
Pretty neat place to spend your birthday, eh?
The light is almost gone but I like these:
We got back to the hotel after a long and pleasant day, where I remembered to snap a picture of the giant Christmas tree in the lobby:
We walked around looking for dinner and happened to catch a great little restaurant just before it closed. I had another helping of the traditional Irish stew - Mary had a little lamb, and it was delicious - while Julia ordered the bacon and cabbage. Irish bacon is not like we have here in America; it looked like what we just call "ham" but tasted absolutely fabulous. We ordered a caramel toffee sponge for dessert and called it an early night. I haven't mentioned yet that we partied quite hard the previous night and Julia was feeling a bit precarious all day, especially going around all of those tight turns. I make up for the lack of any delicious birthday alcohol in 24 short hours...
Day 8 - Wednesday (Dublin)
Bright and early the next morning I grab an Americano at the coffee bar next door and we head back to Dublin. We stopped in Limerick to pick up a few more scarves at the handcraft shop and to report back on our trip to Kenmare. We also took this time to have a bit of lunch at the Chinese place in the mall food court. I happen upon a Stacker machine - these are frequently posted about on Reddit and seem to be the European version of the claw machine:
As we get back on the highway I notice the gas gauge is getting precariously low, so we start looking for signs to fill up along the way. We take the first available exit and end up in some tiny town that was seriously out of Children of the Corn. Not a soul in sight and there were American flags on every single building. We passed the Obama Cafe and never did see a gas station, so we turned around and got out of there posthaste. We had better luck in Roscrea - €82 for a tank! - and made it to Dublin in time for some nice afternoon traffic. By this time in the trip we have a Dublin map, know what to expect in terms of directions, and I am feeling comfortable driving in the city. We still end up lost for about an hour and a half, but it was not that horrible panic that accompanied our first moring in the country. Appropriately our hotel is located on "Findlater Place" and we check in with no issues.
I think we were more appreciative of the central location of our hotel since we spent the first two nights far away from the city center. Being right on O'Connell Street was extremely convenient and we really enjoyed being five minutes away from the action rather than thirty-five. We took a few pictures on our way to dinner:
Baile Átha Cliath - the full name of Dublin, meaning "town of the hurdled ford"
O'Connell Bridge at night:
We walked down to the Temple Bar area and ate dinner at The Porterhouse, a microbrewery that we were very interested in checking out if we had the chance. I had the delicious bangers and mash, and Julia had another one of those heavenly burgers. Their beers were all very good, but craft beer in Ireland is not the same as craft beer in America. I started out with the Hop Head Red on cask, complete with warnings about the "intense hop flavor" and the bartender even commented on my extreme bravery. Pliny the Elder this was not - about 4.6% ABV and definitely the hoppiest beer we tried in Ireland, but still very mild. We enjoyed their stouts (they claim to have been awarded the best stout in the world) and I had to try the An Brainblásta - a 7% Strong Scottish ale that was nice. Since we did not go out for my birthday the previous evening I also decided to partake in some Redbreast 12-year aged whiskey before heading out.
While we were in the area we decided to go into some of the Temple Bar pubs, and we ended up at the original Temple Bar:
At this point in the evening it is definitely time to party, and we did it up right. We had a few pints and I asked the man behind the counter for a whiskey you can't get in America, and he shows me Green Spot. This happens to be something I had written down to try, so I was very excited to happen upon it randomly. That stuff is amazing - ended up being a bit too expensive in the airport, but I would drink it again in a heartbeat. I get lost trying to find the toilet and end up out on the street, so I walk back in the front door and sit down like nothing happened (smooth operator!). I am feeling pretty good about the amount of celebrating we've done this evening (and running out of cash) so we call it a night and head home. Apparently I took a few pictures on the walk back:
Day 9 - Thursday (Dublin)
The next morning comes all too soon and I can relate to Julia's feeling on our drive through the Ring of Kerry. Everything tastes like whiskey and although I feel fine otherwise, even the elevator leaves me feeling more than a little green. This was our most "tourist" day of the trip, as we did almost everything you read about in the travel books as being important to see in the city. We also walked for quite a few kilometers during the day! First up is a trip to tour the Guinness Storehouse; to get there we took the scenic route by the river:
The Ha'penny Bridge:
Dublin street reflection:
As pretty as this walk was, I was certain I would be puking in the river any second (never did!)
Note the tiny street signs on the sides of the building:
The Four Courts - former judicial building of Dublin:
It was cloudy but thankfully never rained:
Good advice on a narrow street next to a primary school:
After quite a hike and a map check we finally arrive at the Guinness Storehouse. While brewery tours are not allowed, this is a massive museum dedicated to Guinness at the site of the original brewery:
The storehouse is a self-guided tour that takes you through the brewing process and history of the company. You start out at the bottom of a pint glass-shaped structure that houses the famous 9000-year contract that Arthur Guinness signed for the land:
The proprietary yeast strain has a reserve locked in a safe - presumably not this one:
Waterfall from the River Liffey (actual brewing water comes from the Wicklow Mountains):
Timeline of master brewers at Guinness, beginning with the legend himself:
This is an 11-foot tall pint glass carved out of wood:
The original plate used to print Guinness labels:
Racist advertising from the mid-20th century:
Bottle of Guinness that survived the 1916 Easter uprising:
Directions to pour the perfect pint - huge display on the wall:
This tour was one of those things that you do once and don't need to do again, except for the last portion. With your ticket you get a free Guinness either on the fourth floor to pour your own pint, or the top of the museum at the Gravity Bar. The top floor features a glassed-in bar area with a panoramic view of Dublin that was GLORIOUS:
See the white spire in the upper left hand corner? That's the Millenium Spire, right by our hotel:
Remember my delicate stomach situation? No better cure than the hair o' the dog, as they say, so we're drinking Guinness at 10:00am!
We pick up some authentic Guinness glasses in the gift shop, as well as a bottle of the Foreign Extra Stout to bring home. The next stop is across the river to the original site of the Jameson Distillery. We arrive just in time for the next guided tour and learn about the Jameson family and their triple distillation process:
The final still in the triple distillation process:
After the tour the guide asked for volunteers in a whiskey tasting. Ordinarily I would be first in line here, but I am honestly still fighting to keep down last night's festivities. I did manage to keep down the free sample at the end of the tour and try Julia's Jameson and ginger ale drink, which was pretty decent. We bought some glassware but opted out of the €54 bottles of Jameson Special Reserve. This tour was a bit disappointing as it was expensive and I wasn't really feeling up to drinking in the bar at 11:30am. I think next time we come we will skip the tour and hit the bar to try their super-expensive rare vintage whiskies (€350+ per bottle!).
The next stop was Court's Coffee across the river - at this point it was around 2:00pm and the only thing in our stomachs was alcohol. Julia tried to order some kind of chicken sandwich but they were out of nearly every ingredient - I don't know what she ended up with, but it was non-alcoholic solid food and we were happy to have it! We walked to the old Viking portion of the city to see some of the old churches and ruins. The light was getting a bit low, but these still look okay:
Christchurch - we didn't pay to go inside, but it was still gorgeous:
Next was St. Patrick's Cathedral, restored by the Guinness family:
The cathedral is next to a city park - this is where St. Patrick was to have performed his first baptism:
We got a bit lost looking around and not looking at a map at this point. Here are some street shots, starting with those arrow pedestals in the street that saved my bacon finding the correct lane:
Eventually we make it to the Trinity College campus - this is a beautiful university and I would work here in a heartbeat:
The beautiful campanille tower at the center of the commons:
After the sun sets we decide to head back to the hotel to drop off our purchases. This hotel was very nice but it gave me the creeps - the lights were all off until you walked forward and tripped the sensors. Reminded me very much of the twins in "The Shining" and I snapped a picture of the creepy hallway:
After a day full of walking we enjoy sitting for a minute before heading back out to find food. We walk a few doors down and find a place that looks busy enough to be good but not too busy where we have to wait, and it turns out to be a fine choice. I order an O'Hara's stout that we have not yet tried and Julia drinks half of it before our food shows! She has one last order of fish and chips, while I get the bacon and cabbage. When we were in the small pub in Killarney we saw they had a special on hot whiskey but ended up ordering coffees. As this was our last night in Ireland I decide to try the hot whiskey and it wasn't too bad - boiling water, whiskey, brown sugar, and a lemon with 4 cloves. It's no Irish coffee but definitely something I would drink again. We finished up and walked next door to Madigan's Pub for a few final pints and to hear the last bit of live trad music on the trip. It was bittersweet leaving the pub; we were exhausted from the day but not ready to leave at all!
Friday morning we wake up nice and early to take a few final pictures on O'Connell Street and pick up a few last souvenirs. Walking outside to bright sunshine and a warm day was a nice change - how fitting that the nicest weather was on the day we leave! At least it made for some sunny pictures:
The famed James Joyce statue just off O'Connell - glad we were close and did not have to make a special trip to say hello:
We grab a cheap breakfast at a pub (the waitress forgot to bring my coffee, booooooo) and run back to grab our bags. I carefully triple wrap and bag the bottle of Guinness Foreign Extra and stick it inside a shoe for it's 3000 mile journey. After paying an arm and leg to get out of the car park we are on our way to the airport. We are old pros at following the signs and have no trouble getting out of the city. The only problem is that the rental car company will be charging €70 if we bring back the car without a full tank of gas, and there are NO stations in sight on the way. We make the perilous decision to drive past the airport in search of gas, and finally find a station about 15km down the road. Thankfully we left in plenty of time to top up the tank! Checking the car in was a breeze and we get to the airport with several hours to spare.
Our gate is yet to be assigned so we look around the airport shops. This has been an expensive trip and I really don't want to buy anything else, but Julia says to look in the Duty Free shop at the liquor to see what they have. Jameson is about $10 cheaper there than at home, so we pick up a bottle and add it to the carry-on. We have a bite to eat and find a beer from the Porterhouse Grill that we did not try a few nights ago - surprisingly the beer prices were reasonable in the Dublin airport! We have an aisle seat this time and know about the free in-flight movies, so the flight home was much more relaxing in that regard. Once we land in JFK we get hassled by Homeland Security for Julia not changing her name when we got married - your tax dollars hard at work, folks! Our parking bill here was $165 (Jaysus!) and they wouldn't take our debit card, which causes us temporary panic. Driving home was a HUGE drag, not only because we would rather be in Ireland but the 16-hour travel time really started to wear on us at this point. We finally made it home to three cats who were very glad to see us! They were allowed to free feed while we were gone with occasional check-ins from a friend, and they all gained several pounds:
In closing, it was a fabulous trip. Neither of us had been to Europe before, and I think it was the second day that we started talking about how to get back ASAP. I had three trad songs in my head on a rotating basis for four days after we got home, and they still pop in from time to time. Julia is working on documentation to get her dual Ireland-US citizenship, and I will freely admit to checking the university job postings daily. I am also gathering materials for an Irish song cycle - more on that as it comes together. Thanks for reading, and sláinte, friends!
If you would like to read Julia's blog postings (as well as see her superior photographs) click here.