Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Cead Mile Failte Ireland

That means 1,000 welcomes in Gaelic and we really did feel welcomed!

Ireland greeted us with sunny, warm weather, very unlike what we had been prepared for. I was looking forward to a cold, foggy trip to the Cliffs of Moher – thought that would make great photography – but as we approached it, we found ourselves shedding layers and were quite surprised, and challenged, to discover bright sunlight displaying the cliffs to us in all of their glory. I set the tripod up and attempted a panoramic view. Don’t think I captured it, in it’s noontime sunlit glory, but it we did witness a spectacular vista.

We drove on, frustrated by the roads. Driving was more challenging than we had ever anticipated. We were prepared for the left side of the road challenge and even the perplexity of the left side driver’s seat. We’ve both driven stick shifts, albeit not on the left, but the twisty windy roads that weren’t wide enough for the traffic…and ongoing, constant impatient cars behind us really made it quite impossible to appreciate the unique landscape we were now having set out for us. The eternal green fields were filled with a bright yellow bush (gorse?), interspersed with massive, wild, purple rhodedendrums and wildflowers and a variety of many other nicely contrasting colors and the view seemed to go forever. The Burren! People had told us to visit it and we weren’t quite sure what it was…it was kind of like the Grand Canyon. Acres of rock and mountains of rock and fields of rock interspersed with flowers. Outrageous – you can’t imagine it until you see it.

I don’t think it helped the traffic situation that it was Sunday – going through towns seemed even more treacherous than out in the country. People were walking to church and they use the same roads you drive on. Andy was mega-stressed with the driving. We each took turns, but between the shift on the left side and the crazy Irish drivers, we were off to a bit of a frustrating start. Then we came to the roundabouts. Between sleep deprivation, honking and hitting the left curb, we were not off to a good start. We finally navigated our way to the first B&B we saw – in the Salt Hill section of Galway - I believe it was called Bohalo B&B and we took a nice midafternoon nap.

We awoke and took a nice walk exploring the area, searching for a view of the bay. My bladder led us back to our lodgings and we attempted the car again and drove west in search of dinner. I had a Salmon salad and afterwards we walked around the town. It was a warm, beautiful evening and we finally felt welcomed to Ireland.

Step back in time and fall in love with the Aran Islands

Day 2.
Great Irish breakfast (fried egg, ham, sausage, warm tomato & black & white pudding) and off to the Aran Islands. Thought we were late for the ferry but luckily we made it. The Irish don’t seem to be known for punctuality. It was a warm, gorgeous day as we ferried over to the beautiful islands. We got ourselves bikes and headed to the lighthouse. The Aran Isle (Innishmore) was absolutely spectacular! It was a very warm, sunny June 1st, I was actually overdressed with my short sleeve shirt, but the whole island was alive with color, texture and form. Stonewalls everywhere decorated by a multitude of colorful flowers and accented by cows, sheep and horses. I told Andy that if I ever have trouble sleeping, remind me of how wonderful it felt to be bike riding on the roads of the Aran Island.

What a fabulous day, as we were surrounded by magnificent sights, wonderful weather and just a great sensation of finally being away on vacation. My plan was to try and get as far east and south as we could as our next stop was supposed to be the Ring of Kerry. We returned to the port and turned our bikes in early, so we went to have something to eat. The ferryboat pulled out of dock at 4:50 and we had to wait in the blazing sun for another…and it didn’t appear for another 45 min. So, we returned to Rossaveal at 6:30. A might later than planned. We drove and drove (one road I took was the first time we encountered another car who had to back up so I could get through) Finally around 8:30 we were outside of Galway in a town called Kinvara. We tried for a B&B and were told it was full. We tried a second time and lucked out. The innkeeper, Kathleen, sent us nearby to "world famous" Moran’s for dinner, where she claimed, people came by helicopter to get a taste of their fine fish. It was a pleasant pub and we enjoyed our dinner there. Had a tough night’s sleep, though, despite the clean place and nice bed ... it was closer to the highway than we had realized & we heard car noises all night. All part of the adventure I suppose.

How are things in Connemara?

Day 3:
Another difficult night’s sleep despite the clean place and nice bed .. it wasn’t far off the highway & we heard car noises all night. Kathleen served a great Irish breakfast (her husband had worked for Waterford – he is an unemployed house painter now) We told her we were headed for the Ring of Kerry and she recommended, instead, that we head for Clifden (back where we had come from – west of Galway) and Connemara and Oughterard. She said that Clifden was an hour away whereas Killarney was 3 hours. She lied. Or perhaps the problem was that we kept stopping for photo ops and to check things out. We did have a great day, seeing more magnificent sights, stopping to explore and photograph the Aughnanure Castle, Cong where the Quiet Man Bridge is located, the 12 Bens (mountains), boglands filled with sheep, and visiting the town of Clifden where we were convinced to take their scenic seaside ride (and saw the best caste ever!).

We arrived at the magnificent Kylemore Abbey, that Kathleen had recommended, at 4ish. The stop was quite worthwhile - one of the most beautiful spots on earth - where a gentleman built a dream home in 1868 for his true love and today it is home to the Irish Benedictine nuns. Once again, it was the end of the day and we were way far west when our final destination was to be headed east. So, we drove and drove again, trying to make time and get east of Galway once again. We did stop for dinner in Oughterard and made it to a town an hour east of Galway by 9 or 9:30. Kind of late for getting a B&B. We finally spotted one and went off the road far into the country to find it and it was fully booked. Outrageous. He recommended one on the main road. We were so tired we were happy to find it. A teenager girl showed us a room and we jumped on it. However, it was in a house with a family and all kinds of family noises. Giggling, TV, running…..Still, it was a bed and a shower for the night.


Andy's thought on Ireland:
Stinks like cow poop
Drivers all think they're Mario Andretti
Good seafood
Stone walls everywhere
The B&B people are nice and friendly

My thoughts:
Gorgeous countryside
Wildflowers everywhere
Lots of ruins - old churches, etc.
Beautiful weather (we were blessed!)
Yummy brown bread!