Exploring Dublin

Our last destination in Ireland was Dublin. We had a cosy apartment near the centre of the city, adjacent to shopping and transport hubs and from here we walked and bussed all around. Our first day in town we decided to join a walking tour and our guide set a cracking pace for what seemed like hours. So fast in fact that I paused to take a photo and completely lost the group for what seemed like an age – ugly feeling to be lost in an unfamiliar city. We were reunited after some tense moments but the guide seemed to just plough on regardless of whether her flock were with her.

We covered a lot of ground, saw many sectors of the city and learned a lot about Irish rebellion. There are many things Irishmen seem to want to talk about, the potato famine, the rebellion, breaking free from English rule, the country divide between staunch republicans and monarchists. Seems every location had some key part to play and each person telling the story tells it with a different slant.

Suffice to say, with Brexit and the current EU instability, big business is flocking to Dublin (many of the biggest blue chip countries now have their head offices here) for tax reasons, England seems very much the loser in this deal, but I barely understand the politics and economics of it.

Our first day was capped off by using the hop on hop off bus service to ferry us to The Guinness Storehouse for the obligatory tour. Read more »

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Crossing the Wicklow Mountains

Our drive back to Dublin, our last destination in Ireland, took us through the Wicklow Mountains. A clear, crisp day opened with blue sky – our first since arriving in Ireland and it is interesting what a psychological difference seeing sunlight can make.

After packing up, getting the car out of parking and heading off, we spent a short time on the motorway before heading off-main motorway and back into the quaint country lanes that I actually enjoy driving through. Twists and turns as we went ever upward, the green fields giving way to low browned off heather and gorse, bleak and windy. By this time the sun had begun to hide and the grey skies making it even colder. On the way up we spied patches of white, thinking it not cold enough to still contain snow we reasoned it must have been white rock outcrops.

We ended up at Glendalough, and decided to do a pair of circuit walks up through the forest, around black lakes and freezing streams. The countryside was lovely, trees tall, mixture of birch and spruce, old trees covered in moss, just magical. Amazingly, without too much puff we reached tthe top of the circuit, near headwaters of a babbling brook, then wended our way back down beside a black lake.

The water here seems tea-stained, presumably by vegetation, the streams like a weak cup o tea, the lakes proper brown. There were abandoned stone dwellings along the way and a rather charming chapel ruin set into the bank with stone-lined paths and retaining walls. Read more »

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OMG We Kilkenny ‘d

Sunday we were destined to explore Kilkenny, we awoke to rumblings and bleary drizzle. Determined to prove there is no such thing as bad weather, just wrong clothes, we rugged up, waterproofed and set off.

We started with a self-guided walk through Kilkenny Castle, a grand home that bears little resemblance to it’s original defensive past. Walking the grounds was difficult due to the mushy conditions but inside was cosy and dry.

You could see, on the ground floor, foundations of previous builds and fascinating trenches under the walls used to release troops outside the walls without having to open the gate, visions of original foundations and cellars. Higher up the rooms were lavish, lushly decorated with silk and handpainted wallpapers and a rich collection of period furniture recreated the past opulence.

We then went into the long gallery, a more recent addition and boggled at the collection of portraits of serious miserable people.

After a good look around, we headed off to meet our guide for a walking tour we had booked on. Scattered drizzle continued to plague us but we were shown around some interesting back ways, historical landmarks, remnants of the city walls and a cathedral rebuilt since Cromwell’s time, and got a good orientation of the city. Read more »

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Crystal and Ruins

Our Saturday was spend out and about. We had decided to spend most of the day at Waterford and then visit an Abbey ruin on the way home. It was crisp, the wind was lazy, the sky was fairly uniformly light grey and we set off after a sleep in.

Motorways interestingly are pretty well the same country to country. The way they are set up you end up seeing very little of the surrounding landscape, Ireland is little different. Our map lady “Sheila” (thanks google maps) took us off the motorway fairly quickly and we were once again hurtling down quaint wiggly lanes on our way to Waterford.

We know of Waterford for its lead crystal, so our first stop was the crystal factory. We looked around the showroom and was convinced the only way you could own lots of this stuff is by selling body organs. Beautiful bling but oh so pricey. We had a cup of tea while waiting for our booked tour to begin, then joined a group as we were taken to an antechamber for a multi media experience (that malfunctioned) then had a history lesson read to us from the walls of the display cases we were standing next to.

We learned a little about how glassworks came to be a thing in Waterford, saw an “apprenticeship”bowl which was the practical exam a trainee has to complete from memory flawlessly to be considered a glass worker – intricate and beautiful work.

Our tour party then split in two and were taken on a view of the working factory. First stop was the mould room. We saw wooden moulds used to initially shape blown glass forms before they are carved and engraved. Famous moulds of trophies from around the world were on show, made of wood that was soaked wet before bubbles of glass are blown into them to take on the shape – neat. Read more »

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Castling and Towerhousing

Being in a country with centuries of occupation by stone dwelling building peoples, one is surrounded by relics in various states of repair. We have visited grand houses on estates, ancient high rise living and fortified strongholds typical of Irish life.

On our rest day, we decided to venture out after a sleep in to visit Muckross House, a palatial grand estate with sprawling gardens on the possibility of seeing deer (something Jo wants to do for … reasons). We leisurely wandered the gardens, felt like royalty for a little while and then went on to what we thought was a ruined castle.

Ross  Castle it seems is misnamed. It is more correctly a “tower house”, the residence for a well to do family that was essentially a series of stacked rooms built of stone, timber and daub. We arrived and discovered not a ruin but an almost completely restored tower house. Not what it looks like from without. Although it was slightly defensive, the defences were really to keep squabbling locals out rather than a military stronghold.

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Didn’t we have a lovely time, the day we went to Dingle

There are times when technology is terrific and others … well. We set “sheila” the google maps lady to take us towards the Dingle Peninsula and I am not sure what her settings are at the moment (am convinced it is ‘torment the tourist mode’) but she sent us up hill, in decreasingly smaller roads, until the road became a track across the paddock. Jo and I remember such a roller coaster when we had “plastic patsy” the Tom Tom and only panicked a little.

Up hill, down dale, beside this cow shed, over this blind hill, between these rocks, avoid those sheep until we emerged on route after what seemed like a major expedition to the wilds of Dingle. We then headed to Conor’s Pass, what turned out to be a sheep track clinging precariously to a green cliff, in deepest fog and cloud cover. Our outside visibility was a few meters- terrifying and hilarious on a single carriageway  when you meet traffic coming the other way.

We survived, and headed to the cliffside drive that took us past the Potato Famine huts. When times were hard, and the potato crop failed, peasants did it tough. We saw tumble down stone stacks that were used as houses, along with tiny cottages that had many families crowded into them, perched on bleak hills being pummelled by stiff cold sea breezes- I think I would have made a lousy potato farmer.

Among the cottages was an original ‘Beehive hut’ – a glorious ovoid hollow stacked stone structure that apparently were used originally by reclusive devout pilgrims for leading humble lives in, later for outdoor toilets and pig houses. Among the ruins were stone burial mounds (infant mortality was so high, unemployment was crippling so there was little to do but make babies). The church old not let unchristened kids be buried in church graveyards so families were forced to bury them at home. So tragic. We also saw the remains (much less than half) of an Iron Age Ring fort perched on a cliff, most of which had long tumbled into the sea. Read more »

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Lord and Lady of The Rings.

After a fabulous night sleep (you know, that perfect storm of clean sheets, firm bed, thick comforter and just enough chill to make the comforter snuggly), we awoke to another grey day in Killarney.

After breakfasting and rugging up, we set off on what would be an epic car journey around the Ring of Kerry. This trip uses a series of roads, most named the ring of Kerry, that for  a great circuit down the peninsula, along the waterfront and then back through the ranges.

We first headed over to Killorglin to “Jacks Bakery” for some provisions. We bought a rather spectacular goats cheese and sun dried tomato quiche, a picnic box of mixed salads and some fresh apple pies for a picnic lunch later in the day. We travel with a cold bag and had frozen a popper as a freezer brick to keep it all fresh.

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It’s a Trap … well, a jaunting car actually

Monday was a long day on the road. After waking from a less broken sleep at our digs in Ennis, we breakfasted, packed and set off for Listowel via Foynes.

To break our journey we planned a caffeine stop at the writers and literature centre at Listowel which happened to be right beside the ruined facade of a castle. Ruins dot the landscape here, some merely piles of rubble, others recognisable battlements. It is easy to forget the centuries of habitation, hostility and fortifications this part of the world endured.

Our main destination was the Gap of Dunloe – a tiny wedge of a pass in an otherwise impenetrable shield of rugged stone ranges that is all but inaccessible by car.

We had a warming lunch (our first chowder – salmon and prawn this one) with soda bread, and I had a rather nice cider as well before going back out into the cold. Read more »

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Ireland East to West

We spent most of Saturday in transit of one form or another. After getting up early, finishing packing and just making the Waterbus to the airport, we then searched for the Air Lingus checkin and boarding gate. On being bussed to the plane we were told we would be waiting on the ground until fog cleared from Dublin airport. Some half hour later we took off for the relatively short flight from Venice to Dublin.

On arrival, we noted the temperature drop, but found our luggage had joined us, lugged it down to the hire car place and safely ensconced it in the boot of a lovely red Mazda 3 sedan. Being really new, and 6 speed manual (well, 8 if you include neutral and reverse), there was lots of bling to master. We had to ask how we start it (lol).

With gears and other bling mastered, we motored fro the airport to a nearby Premier Inn for an evening stop before going further afield. We then went walking to purchase a SIM card for my phone, the designated satanic for this trip. We bought a 3Mobile all you can eat data plan which did not end up costing too much, then returned to the hotel for dinner and sleep as we were both tired.

Premier Inns motto is “A Great Nights Rest”, oddly they failed their brief as at 2 am the fire alarm went off. We blearily went down to reception along with most of the rest of the residents only to be told it was a false alarm. It went off again before someone worked out how to turn it off. Back to bed for a truly terrible rest of night sleep.

Packed and breakfasted, we motored West, leaving the built up parts of the city onto the motorways for a fairly zippy trip (gotta love 120km/hr limits) to Clonmacnoise – the centre of Celtic Christianity and resting place of Saint Ciaran. 

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Venetian Food Trail

Our memories of the last trip to Venice were of walking miles on uneven cobbles and that certainly has been reinforced by this trip. Transport options around the city are few – you walk, use a waterbus, hire a water taxi or hire a gondola. These options are arranged in order of cost, meaning you need to sell a kidney to ride for any period of time in a gondola.
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