My first year at Roehampton, Peggy and I went on a spur-of-the-moment, whirlwind spring break trip to Ireland. :D What an adventure!
Day One...packing...packing...asda...packing...boiling eggs...repacking...busy times, but finally we were on our way. The number 72 bus came fairly quickly, for a change, as well as the 211 in Hammersmith. Unfortunately, it was apparently the first 211 in about 8 days because it was packed like a can of sardines. :P Luckily, we were able to get a seat. phew. After the excruciatingly long and uncomfortable journey, we made it to the bus station where we waited in fear for our lives of the pigeons that kept poking around. Not to mention the weird coughing children and the ones who were running away from their mother. Finally, our bus loaded and off we went. Around the corner, down the lane, and into the countryside....
After about an hour, we finally got out of London (yay. narrow roads in a bus). The driver got on the intercom and started to tell us about the minor details for the ride, times and such. The best part of his narrative had to be in his instructions on using the toilet. He warned us to not lock the door upon leaving the toilet for we would all be locked out, and then reminded us to follow the instructions on the sign and "Poosh to floosh".
It was a fairly uneventful journey after that. There were a few stops along the way to Hollyhead for pick-ups, and at 2am (which would techically be Day Two, I suppose), we stopped at a rest stop. The restrooms had to have been the cleanest I've seen since returning to England in January. There was a mini casino in the foyer of the building and I tried really hard to win Peggy a stuffed Bear In the Big Blue House from one of those crane machines. Sadly, they were all firmly packed in. And I'm not very good at the game.
At 3am we arried in Hollyhead and had to go through British Customs before reloading the bus and boarding the ferry. The ferry itself was rather nice. Our bus was on the 5th deck by the "sapphire" stairs. We had to go up to deck 9 before we got to all the comfortable stuff. After wandring around for a bit, and seeing that Ice Age was playing in the cinema (for the bargain price of £4...), Peggy and I settled in the kiddy area for a long winter's nap. Ok, for about 4 hours, but still. We would have chosen a set of benches farther away from a place with the possibility of screaming children and loud video games, but we took too long wandering around. I ended up finally falling asleep and was pretty much out until the "ding dong" announcement of our arrival. Peggy wasn't so lucky; the early morning video game players woke her up.
As the ferry slowly made its way into the dock, I noticed that some people who were on our bus were sitting at a table semi-nearby. It was a group of either Spanish or Portugese people, seemingly a father, wife, and son. What brought them to my attention was the way the father told them to get a move on: he whistled at them. Whatever works, I guess. Peggy remembered seeing them at the coach station in London, and when we got back to the bus we realised they were sitting in front of us. We got on land, then had to get back OFF the bus for customs. I got a stamp in my passport. I was very excited. Peggy had to go through the EU member line, and they just rushed her through without a stamp. She was sad.
We arrived in Dublin at the most unreasonable hour, something like 8am (although it could have been earlier). It was cold, our bags were heavy, and we had no idea where to pick up our rental car the next day. We thought we would get all that out of the way before heading to the hostel, and see if the tourist information place had some good maps. Because of the time, we had to wait for most places to open (the tourist information place, for example...) so we went to this little cafe for coffee (or hot chocolate, in my case). It was very nice. We sat in this comfy couch that was so low our chins were level with the table top. But the coffee (and chocolate) was very warm and soon, so were we. At long last, 9:00 rolled around and we loaded our pack horses with our baggage once more (ok, it was really just ourselves). The tourist office still wasn't open yet, so we waited at the window until someone finally unlocked the door. By that time, a small queue had arranged itself at the door.
We didn't really find anything to get. The maps were nice but we decided to refrain from buying one until we were sure that we would have a car, and I thought that the rental place might be able to provide us with a better selection of maps anyway. There were a few leaflets and things with information about various sites to see around Dublin and the rest of Ireland. We looked at a few of their little trinkets, then decided to head out to our hostel, Ashfield House. Peggy had booked it on Sunday and it was actually listed in my guidebook. As we wandered down O'Connell Street, Peggy said "hmm...it's Zurich." She said the architecture (which I am told is Georgian) is very similar. The road to the hostel looked on the map to be a nice little hike, but Dublin is MUCH smaller than London (something neither of us really took into account) and we were walking in the door in about ten minutes. We checked in and checked our bags into the storage room. Then, with guide book and cameras in hand, we headed out to explore.
First on the list was the Book of Kells at Trinity College. We were about 2 minutes away from the place. Because it is located at the Old Library which is on the actual campus, we were rather hestiant walking into the gate. The first thing out of Peggy's mouth was, "Why can't our University look like this?" To which I replied, "I know...". It was lovely. Statues and carvings all over the place, with a nice lawn. Our campus has some great buildings itself, and some lovely greenery, but this was what I always thought of as a University in Europe.
The Old Library was easy to find (the signs read "Book of Kells, this way", and there were other tourists, also with guide books and cameras in hand, heading in the same direction, so we followed them). The exhibit about the book was a bit disappointing because it was organised really poorly, but it had a few pieces of old books and artifacts on display, and two videos on constant replay (one of hand book binding and one of calligraphy and illuminating). The Book itself was in another room. It has been divided into four pieces, and at any given time two of the set are on display with one showing text and one showing pictures. There are four other books rotated, the two we saw were the Book of Armagh and the Book of Durrow. They were under glass, of course, and the lighting was very low. But it was amazing. Something that old still pretty much intact. And made of paper? Granted it was vellum, but still. :)
Then, we went upstairs. Peggy, majoring in Book Studies, must have been in heaven. I certainly was, and I just like the things! Behind a rope fence and in glass cases were rows of old books. They were huge, and had some crazy titles. The leather bindings were coloured with age, and some of the ink on the spine was faded with age. And that was just the small room at the top of the stairs! There was a long room after that, two storied. All the way down the way were cubicles. A window on the side, two shelves for books on either side of the window making the two walls, and an opening toward the hallway. Betweeen each cubicle wall lining the hallway were white busts of various authors from throughout the ages. The windows had special shades to let light in while preventing damage to the books. The first cubicle on the left had an iron spiral staircase leading to the second floor, a gallery of even more shelves. In the centre of the hallway were tables with replicas and originals of many more old books. Some of the colours used were gorgeous, many with pages full of gold lettering. The final treasure of the library was the harp of Brian Bor?. The carvings on it were exquisite, and the wood was in excellent condition. The artistry of such an instrument was wonderful, and I wonder what story it might tell if it could speak. In the loft at one end of the room was a desk with a computer monitor. It seemed a little out of place. I can only imagine what sort of job the person who owned that monitor had, but I know I would love to have it and get the chance to handle the volumes that lined the walls.
It was just past 11 when we finally walked out into the open air of the campus. The sun was shining down on us, and the wind was blowing slightly. It was a beautiful day. We sat in front of a nice green lawn and looked at the guide book over a packet of crisps. Maps are wonderful things, and we figured out the path to our next destination: Dublin Castle. It was quite a conglomoration of various architecture, from the traditional medieval tower to what resembeled a Gothic cathedral. There was even a part of the tower which had been painted bright blue and yellow. It looked very inviting, but we didn't want to spend the Euros to gain entry. We walked around the back and to the left there was a large stone wall with a gate. It led to the gardens and the coach house. There were these really cool swirly patterns in the lawn which we figured were some sort of celtic knotwork design. To the right of the yard lay the Chester Beatty Library. We really weren't sure what to expect, but the guide book mentioned historical texts so we fancied a quick peek. And, as it was free, it certainly wouldn't hurt to check it out.
We were very glad that we did. The museum itself was quite modern. Upon walking in, a security guard checked our coats and bags into the cloak room and immediately after that another guard gave us a map of the place and a brochure. They were very friendly and most eager to help us enjoy our visit. It was almost intimidating, they were so friendly! The two galleries were on the first and second floors (the entry being on the ground floor), so we walked up the stairs and into the first set of doors. There was a little room with some Japanoisme furniture. I think my favourite piece was the large writing desk. I am not sure how anyone could use it, the drawer at the front was so low that for one to sit with one's legs under it would have made writing uncomfortable. Not only that, but it was so big, that it would have been difficult to reach anything that would have been stacked around.
The actual exhibit rooms were divided into three sections each. On the first floor was a combination of various pieces of furniture, clothes, paintings, and a few old books divided into East Asia on the right, Islam in the middle, and the West on the left. There was a little video display demonstrating the differences between wood prints, etchings, and engravings using the same drawing as a starting point. I had never really put much thought into the logistics of that art before, and was fascinated by the variations of the results. The second floor was dedicated to the great religions of the world (Budhism and Hinduism on the right, Islam in the middle, and Judaism and Christianity on the left). There was a little part upon immediately entering with videos on different religious ceremonies. The rest of it had actual ancient religious texts. There were old illuminated copies (both tiny and massive) of the Qur'an, fragments of papyrus with sections from various books and letters from the New Testament which were found in Egypt, and medieval and renaissance manuscripts.
We also found a stairwell leading to a third floor. It was actually more of a roof than a third floor I suppose, and had been landscaped into a little garden. It was really peaceful up there, decorated to demonstrate the atmosphere of the collections exhibited below. I felt like I was looking at a combination of various parts of the world all put into one little garden. There were little slats in the wall which looked down on a bit of Dublin, including the castle gardens which we had walked by to get to the library.
By this time it was about 12 so we decided to head over to the Guinness Storehouse (woo hoo!). On the way out, we found someone to take a picture of us in front of the Dublin Castle. Afterwards, when we thanked him, he said "Much obliged, I'm sure." I'd never had anyone say that before! It was so cool! Then we checked our map started on a very long walk. In typical form, the sign pointing to the road we wanted wasn't acuatlly pointing at the road we wanted. And, of course, the roads we were on weren't on the map. As we stood on the corner, trying to decide to go left or right, we saw a police man coming up the way. The conversation went something like this:
me: hello...could you tell us how to get to Thomas Street?
him: yes, where are you headed, the Guinness Storehouse?
him: ah, goin' for your free pint, eh?
Peggy and I think: FREE??
me: yeah, I guess so.
him: oh, that's very easy to get to.
me: could you tell us how to get there?
him: yes of course, you go up there, turn right and head straight down the way and there will be a sign for the factory to the left.
us: ok thank you!
we go on our way.
girls behind us to the policeman: hi could you tell us how to get to the Guinness Storehouse?
As we walked along the road, we saw our policeman friend come out of an alley ahead of us.... Someone took a shortcut.
We finally got to the storehouse and walked up the steps, the brewery smell washing over us. Up the stairs to the first floor and we got to the reception area, with the shop on the left. We walked around the store for a bit first, to see what was there, then we headed over to the counter and paid for the tour. The guy behind the counter asked us where we were from (actually, he first assumed we were both from England because of our student cards) and then gave us our guidebooks. Peggy's was a bit bigger because it was in German. Then he asked us we were both over 18 (yes) then gave us our tickets. They are so cool! Little plastic paperweights with a drop of Guinness inside and an electronic scanner thingie which would get us a free pint at the bar at the end of the tour.
The exhibit was great. We walked into the first room and were bombarded with sounds and music from a bunch of screens showing clips from previous years of adverts, and the sound of water coming from the right. There was a huge fountain of sorts, it sounded like a mini-waterfall, it was going so fast. The walls and floors had pieces of the Guinness brewing philosophy written on them, and we had to walk under and behind the waterfall to get to the first part of the exhibit. There were platforms set up full of water, yeast, and barley and magnifying glasses so we could get a closer look at them. Each ingredient and its purpose was explained, as well as the history of where Guinness gets them. The next part was a little room set up about Arthur Guinness, the founder of the company. They had his desk and some of his papers and his chair set up in the middle of the room, and screens set up in a circle showing images that corresponded with the soundtrack. I learned that when he purchased the lease on the builiding, the contract was for £45 for 9,000 years. That's quite a long time to not take inflation into account. :)
On the second floor, there was an explanation of the brewing process. They had old machines on display, and then glass vats with the different ingredients at their different steps. Next to them were magnifying glasses again to look closely, little speakers to hear the way they sound, and sniffy things that had the scent of the ingredients. There were these giant metal vats that we could walk inside, and more Guinness philosphies on the walls. The rest of the tour wasn't as good as the first bit. They had a little section on the old barrels, with some of them set up with video displays inside. The glass above the screen looked like water, so it all these people were standing around barrels touching the top to see what the water felt like and then got surprised when it was actually a hard surface. The video was an old, old film of someone making a barrel by hand. Apparently, as the switch was made to metal kegs, the old Guinness barrells were used as furniture in order to keep them being made. But that fad wore off. On the third floor was a room for the adverts. They had old bottles in shelves, and video displays to see the old adverts. My favourite ones were with these tucan bird things with glasses of Guinness on their bills. The fourth floor had a little bar and the training room for how to pour the perfect pint. The fifth floor was a little cafe, so since Peggy and I hadn't had lunch and it was getting on 5, yet we stopped for coffee and desert. We had this apple pie with mango and strawberry sauce drizzled on the side and a scoup of whipped cream flavoured with cinnamon. It was so good. Then we went up to the seventh floor (the sixth just had toilets) to the Gravity Bar. There were windows looking out over all of Dublin, which isn't exactly beautiful but it was kinda cool. Our pints were the extra cold kind (2ºC...brrr), and it took awhile for us to find seats because it was so packed. Lots of people were sitting on the floor. While we were sitting there, who should walk in but our Spanish friends from the bus! We thought that was pretty funny.
After that, we went down to the store again, and then headed back to the hostel so Peggy could change her shoes (her feet hurt) and we could get some dinner. We ended up taking the bus, and didn't have to pay because the coin thing was jammed. I thought that was very nice. :) What wasn't very nice were the kids at the back of the bus smoking pot... which was rather... strange. Win some, lose some I guess.
Back at the hostel, we went back to our room and found 5 teenage girls straightening their hair and using Peggy's bed to put their stuff down. We went downstairs for dinner, making our first bit of pasta and pita bread. The kitchen wasn't all that nice, but it was better than the kitchens back at the dorm. I think it was the clean floor. The flavour of our pasta sauce was rather bland, but that was ok. Afterwards, we went upstairs again to have showers and then get ready to find a Traditional Pub. As we were digging through our bags, the girls got all ready and apologized for coming back noisily later on. We went out to find our pub, there were a few named in the guide book. We didn't find the one that we wanted to, but we found one called the Longstone. Looking in the window it looked really nice and old, but when we were in it had trendy music and young people. I figured that it was some sort of student hangout, being so close to Trinity College. There were these neat sculptures inside, it made me think of something you'd see in a church not a pub, but it was cool. We sat at this little table in a corner. Although, it was more of a nook rather than a corner, and the wall behind me was curved and had shapes carved into it. We didn't stay too long there, it had been a long day and we knew we had another long day in the works. When we got back to our hostel, we went online to check a map and find out where exactly the rental place was and which bus we would have to take. Then we pretty much fell into bed and were out.
The next morning, we got up at 8. I had the top bunk, and was looking down at Peggy while we were finalizing our plan of attack and I caught sight of this slightly large guy as he got out of one of the bunks across the way in just his underpants and bent over his bag. Not a sight I wanted to see first thing in the morning. Understable that people sleep in different things, but in a co-ed dorm with people you don't know? I just looked away then looked back at Peggy and shook my head. We then went down for our free breakfast. It wasn't anything to be excited about, two small rolls and coffee, tea, and orange juice. But it was better than nothing. There were two Australian guys who were eating at the same time. They were talking to these other two people. I would say they were having conversations, but they didn't give the girls a chance to get a word in edgewise.
After breakfast, we packed up, checked out, and headed on our way up the road. We had to hike up to the top of the road, which really wasn't all that far except we had our bags to haul. We caught the bus (after asking the driver if it went to Lower Drumcomdra) and put our stuff down in the luggage carrier thing. Two stops later, the bus pulls over and the driver announces that this bus is ending it's route now, but the next one will be along in a few minutes and we can catch that one. Naturally, that bus was much more crowded. But at least the luggage thing was not full, even if we did have to stand in the aisle. Peggy looked one way, and I looked the other and we counted the building numbers. Peggy caught site of the Budget sign and she pushed the button really quick. Good thing too...we probably would have missed the stop.
At the Budget car place, we sat down and got our stuff out. The whole car rental situation was quite nervewracking for both of us. My license had expired three weeks before, but I had an offical letter of extension from the WA Dept. of Licensing. I wasn't sure if they'd take that (you never know). We were more concerned about Peggy's license though. Being in German, the website said that it had to have been translated. In order to get it officially translated, it would have cost about £30 (appx. $45), so between the two of us we translated her license (she did the words, and I made the phrasing make sense) and printed that out. When we added her onto the paperwork, he didn't even look at the print out. We were pretty thankful that it was that easy, if she was not allowed to be on the thing, I don't know how we would have gotten away from the building. I'd never driven stickshift before, let alone on the wrong side of the car. But it all worked out and by 10:15 we were on our way to the motorway around Dublin in our (for the next three days) brand new, four door, red Daewoo.
Finally, we were on the road. We went through the toll gates to get on the M7 going west towards Cork and Limmerick, which soon turned into the N7 (basically it went from 6 lanes to 2). It didn't take long once out of Dublin to go from city scenery to fields with horses, cows, and sheep. While we were close to Dublin, we got quite a few radio stations. Peggy had made tapes for the car trip, but there wasn't a tape player. A cd player, yes, but no tapes. Figures. Once we got out of the city, however, the number of stations dwindled from about 20 to 5. There was Lyric (classical), RNAG (the Gaelic station), Radio 1 (which was mostly talking), FM2 (more talking and sometimes music), and Today (a dubious selection of music). Where were the stations with just traditional Irish music??? As we drove through various counties we'd come across one or two that were specific to those counties, but still no folky songs. It was quite a disappointment.
As we passed fields of cows and sheep, with the occasional horses here and there, it never got boring. Often, there would be random towers and run down stone crofters cottages in the middle of the fields of sheep. Some of them even had trees growing in the middle of them! (the buildings, not the sheep). The road we were on would actually pass through random villages, which seemed strange to me, as it was a main road. Rather than go past it with an exit to the town, it just went right though. And we'd see a few stores, a restauraunt, a pub, and a post office, and then it would be back to the scenery. We drove past Kildare, and then got on the N8 south towards Cork. It did not take very long, we were probably on the road for just two hours when we drove past a sign that read "Welcome to Cashel". That was our destination for the day, we hoped to get a hostel in the town. There were these signs along the side of the road with colourful banners with the welcome again but in various different languages. Then, as we went around the hill, we caught sight of the Rock of Cashel, perched atop a hill. Both Peggy and I said, "Look! ooooo!" As I was frantically scrabling for my camera to get a cool picture, it disappeared behind a tree and we went around the corner. Then we were driving through the town again. The signs there are so crazy, you don't know where you're going exactly, and the signs are so small that by the time you see them you're passing them. Which is what we did for going up to the Rock. We turned round in this little side street and went up the hill to park.
The sun was shining merrily, and while it wasn't exactly summer weather, it was very nice. We parked the car in the lot just below the Rock, and walked around a bit. There was a garden of some sorts on the left of the road with a short wall around it. We peeked over and saw lots of chickens pecking around! There was a taller wall with a gate and a sign that read "Hotel of Cashel", but all we could see was a field with lots of grass. There was a little sign pointing down a small path towards Hore Abbey, but we decided to check out the Rock of Cashel first. We did look down and got a few pictures of the Abbey from up above.
I had read previously that the Rock of Cashel was one of the important spots of power back in the day before St. Patrick. I had always thought that meant some sort of castle, but in actuality it was a small cathedral and rectory/chapel or church. I'm not sure if the Rock part refers to the buildings or just to the location (rock meaning mountain/hill?) The rectory was in fairly good condition, and there were quite a few artifacts on display. In the lower level there was a large stone cross (of St. Patrick, I guess that was the style), and an old stone sarcophagus with carvings on the side. There were also old weapons and carvings and such which had been dug up from various places. In the upper level there were two rooms with artifacts of 'daily life' on display. There was everything from a churn to a wooden cupboard with carvings. At the end of this level was the chapel, and there were stairs to a loft up above which were blocked off. We went out the side door that led up to the cathedral, and found ourselves next to a small cemetary. The readable headstones weren't that old, dating from 1850 through to the 1980's. But there were some that looked just like stone slabs with faint tracings of writing which was quite unreadable, so I don't know how old they are. The cathedral was right in front of us (the cemetary being between it and the other building), and right next to it was another little chapel. It was essentially a square building separate to the actual cathedral. There was an even older sarcophagus in there, and some faint traces of fresco paintings on the walls. We then walked around the right side of the cathedral (which was actualy more of the apse, where the altar would be). There were more headstones all around there, and some to the other side of the cathedral as well.
The view of the countryside was absolutely breathtaking. Massive fields of green. Hore Abbey again. A few houses dotting here and there. Lots of sheep baaing and a few cows. Even with other people walking around, and one of the curator people mowing the lawn on a rider mower, there was this peaceful feeling to the place. Calm, clean, and fresh. Silenceevven amid all the noise and chaos of the contemporary world. Just below the Rock was the N8 going through the town, but if I didn't know it was there I never would have guessed. Looking down onto the countryside with a slight breeze blowing made me think, "this is Ireland." It was just what I had pictured, like something from a picture in a book or a scene from a movie. Yet it was so much more vibrant and alive. A picture cannot capture it's beauty, and the mind cannot begin to comprehend all the colours, smells, sounds, and the vastness in encompasses.
We continued on, looking at the various gravestones and the inside of the cathedral. Or at least what was left of it. It never fails to amaze me. How in the world did they manage to get all those rocks up there? Granted, the Rock of Cashel is by no means a mountain. But still. When we walked through to the other side, lying on the ground was a piece of wall or tower or something. It looked as though it had randomly fallen off or had been knocked down. What astounded me, however, was the fact that the piece that had fallen had not fallen apart. It was just sitting there in a big chunk, happy as can be. The lawn mower was still going back and forth, and it struck me as curious that as soon as it went around behind the ruins the sound muted to almost disappearance.
Finished as we were at the cathedral, we decided to follow the footpath we had seen earlier and go visit the ruins of Hore Abbey. After we had walked a bit, we noticed that the footpath curved way off to the left, though the Abbey was pretty much straight ahead. At this point, we experienced our first 'Elizabeth Bennet Moment' and hopped over the fence to cross the field that was in our way. We were obviously not the first to attempt such a move, a little worn away path made its way down the hill. At the end was a little stile, and there were some rocks sticking out as though they were steps. We climbed over and hopped down, thankful to not find ourselves 'six inches deep in mud'. Although, I suppose that would have been unlikely as it had not been raining for the past few days at least.
Across the road was another wall, with shrubbery on either side. Hore Abbey was in the middle of the field directly in front of us. The gate on the left was locked, and we weren't too sure about hopping yet another fence. The wall around the Abbey follwed the road down the hill and around the corner past some houses, and we could see another gate down the way, but we were not sure if we wanted to walk all that way only to find another locked gate. Besides, we were hungry and figured we should probably start looking for a hostel to stay in for the night. That decided, we walked up the road towards town.
As I looked through the guide book, I realised that one of the hostels was where those houses that we saw. But we decided to keep walking into town, thinking we'd maybe find something there. The one hostel we found was actually full, so we called the one that we saw down by Hore Abbey. After many rings, someone picked up. He said there was room, but he was at lunch and wasn't at the building so we should come by in a few hours. We thought that was perfect, since we wanted to eat lunch anyway. We ended up at this place called The Coffee Shop; it was a smallish restauraunt with a bakery on the ground floor and small eating rooms on the two floors above. The people there were really friendly, and it was really cosy and cute. Peggy had the tuna salad on a baguette, and I had the chicken salad on a baguette. They were HUGE and soooo good! We weren't sure how to eat them at first since they were so big, but we plowed our way through them. Just thinking about them makes me want to have another, and I have not found anywhere in London that makes them like that. Very full, we headed back to the Rock of Cashel to get our car, and then drove down to O'Brien's Holiday Lodge.
When we go there, no one was around. We figured that the guy I talked to must still be at lunch so we wandered around the yard a bit. It was really quiet there. We could sometimes hear the sheep that were on the hill, and there were these tiny birds playing in the birdbath. As we stood by the car in the parking area, we could see across the little walls and the road was Hore Abbey. There were cows in the field surround it just milling about. One of the doors to the hostel was open, so we walked in and peeked around. It was just a little foyer, but it had a couch and some chairs. We went back and sat on the picnic bench to wait for the guy; it was really sunny out and fairly warm. After about ten minutes, he drove in. On a tractor. We couldn't believe it, it was just too perfect. He came over and asked if we were the ones who called, then showed us in to the room and pointed to a set of bunk beds. It looked like there was only one other person there so far, the top bunk of one of the other two sets had stuff on it. He then said that he had to do something because of the school and that he'd be back in a little while. Not really sure what he was talking about, we checked out the kitchen and then started bringing our things in.
As we were finishing, a woman came in the front door followed by a line of little kids. They couldn't have been older than 6 or 7, and they were really cute. Then cars started to pull up and parents picked up their children. And they would show their little drawings and were so excited. It was too cute. The woman asked if we had been helped and we said yes and he said he'd be back in a few minutes, so she kept on with the kids. After all the parents were gone, it was quiet once again. We decided to sit on the picnic bench and wait. As we were there, the guy came out of the house next to the hostel and went to the back yard. Moments later, the lawn mower was going. Peggy and I looked at each other, then decided to have some biscuits (cookies). As we were sitting there, a girl of about 12 ran across the yard. She said hello to a dog that was laying there, we hadn't noticed it before. It didn't really acknowledge her, just kept sleeping. So we opened our package of cookies and at the crinkling wrapper, the dog popped its head up. Looking over in our direction, it padded over. doot doot doot doot doot. Nice and easygoing like. It was white (originally anyway, it was rather dirty) and little and fluffy. Peggy doesn't like dogs, so she kind of froze. It kept coming and went under the table and looked at us. We looked at it. wag wag wag. Peggy got up and stood next to the table. I told it we didn't have anything for it and to go lay down again. It hopped up to the bench and turned toward Peggy. wag wag wag. She backed up. It turned and looked at me. I told it to get down. wag wag. down. patted the ground. wag wag. sigh. get down, doggy. wag wag. Peggy started to chuckle. The chocolate on the cookies had melted in the hot car, so we decided to put it in the fridge. I said bye to the dog. It came with us. Peggy hightailed it to the kitchen. I went back outside. The dog followed me out. We then went up to the house to see if someone was there, and the woman from earlier came and invited us in to have us sign in the book and get a key for us. The dog came in too. The woman told the dog it was dirty and to go outside. She also called it Holly. Holly went outside, but when she left the room, guess who came in again and sat under a chair. Not the most obedient dog, but it was cute. We then left again; we had to find a cash machine to pay for our room and we wanted to do more touristing. So off we went again, this time down the N74.
We had a brochure from the Cashel Tourist Information Centre that had some of the sites in the area and wanted to see some of these historical and scenic sites. So we drove. And drove. And drove. Finally, in the village Golden, we saw a sign pointing toward the first site of interest: Athassel Abbey. Turning left onto this little dirt road we drovve with fields on one side and houses on another. The road was very tiny, and Peggy asks me what happens if another car comes toward us. Then, a car came toward us. So we pulled over to the left (Ireland uses the left hand side to drive on, same as the U.K.) as far as possible and went really slowly, and they pulled over as far to the right and went really slowly, and we all came away unscathed. Phew.
After driving for what seemed like forever (though in truth it was probably five minutes), we saw the ruins of something. I saw the sign which read 'Athassel', but I couldn't read all the little information things about it because we went by too fast. We looked for a place to park so we could go check it out. There was this little driveway thing that had been blocked off as for members of some fishing club only, but there was another car parked in the entry so we pulled up right next to it. Then we walked along the road until we were directly in front of it. There didn't seem to be any gate or anything...but that didn't stop us. We hopped the stile (again, there were little steps in the stone fence) and started to cross the field. Again, it was an Elizabeth Bennet moment. :) As we got closer to the ruins, we saw a little stream with a bridge to cross it. And we saw the cows in the field. Peggy takes this moment to tell me about how when she was younger she got chased by a cow. These cows were all laying down or eating. One or two had looked at us, but then went back to doing their cow things. I told her they probably wouldn't do anything. Peggy wasn't too sure about that. So, to prevent any cow chases, we went took a few pictures closer up (but on the non-cow side of the stream) and went back to the car.
Driving back along the little dirt road, we again came to the N74. But we weren't sure which way to go, so we pulled to the left and pulled out the map, the brochure, and the guide book. A car behind us came and rather than going on her way, she stopped and rolled down her window. She asked us if we needed help. Neither of us were expecting that and weren't sure what to say so we both just looked at her and said something to the effect of, 'Um..uh...well, no thank you. We're just deciding where to go next.' And she smiled and waived and went on her way. Friendly people, these Irish.
We decided to head toward Tipperary, for there were three dots on the brochure of things to see on the way there (Ballinahinch Castle, Fr. Matthew Statue and Thomastown House). About half an hour later, we were in Tipperary. We had completely missed all three things. So we parked the car, found a cash machine, and then drove up and down the main street. We also found a grocery store and bought some cheese to spice up our pasta. We tried to find some touristy shops that would sell some cheap irish folk song cds, but we couldn't find any. So we headed out of Tipperary. This time, we went on the N24 to Cahir.
The scenery was amazing. We went from fields and fields of cows and sheep to a forest with mountains in the distance. So we drove and drove and drove and got to Cahir. It really wasn't all that late, so we decided to keep going on the N24 rather than go back to Cashel. Heading toward Clonmel, we kept our eyes open for the dot on the brochure called 'Black Church'. I saw the sign as we passed it, so Peggy pulled over and I ran out and got a picture with the digital camera. :( It did not come out. It was actually just a really nice mansion. Nothing too exciting, but it was the dot on the map! After getting to Clonmel, we headed North to Fethard. It was supposed to have 'many features of medieval town'. We drove there, and managed to pass the sign pointing toward the medieval parts. So we got to the end of the town and turned around. In Fethard, there were remnants of a medieval wall. The plaques on the wall had numbers to take a walk and see the different parts. There was a little gatehouse area thing, and part of a pub used one of the old buildings. We saw a yard that had lots of ducks in it. And one with chickens. And one with white geese. There was a piece of wall that had a medieval sculpture of something in it; but you could barely make it out. At this point, we decided to go back to Cashel and on the way we would find the Famine Graveyard that was mentioned in the brochure.
To get there, we had to cut down off the main road to a less main road. They still had the numbers that designated them as highway types, but they weren't. We drove and drove and passed fields with cows and sheep (of course), and drove through villages with a few houses, a store, and two pubs. We ended up taking a little detour that wasn't the direct way, but seemed like it would be more scenic (ie., more cows and sheep). At one point, we were pretty deep in the middle of nowhere, and as we went up a hill we saw a large truck trying to turn out of a little road and onto the road we were on. Deciding it would be best to just pull over and out of the way, we did so. And some cows looked at us. After awhile, it finally made it around the corner and we drove on.
Still flipping through channels, I was determined to find something Irish folky sounding. We drove through a residential area, and in one yard there were some people standing around talking. When we drove by, they all waved and smiled. We could see the end of the road ahead and would soon have to turn left or right. I had just flipped to RNAG. I reached for the map. We came to the end of the road and we looked up at the sign. As an Irish jig came floating out at us from the speakers, the fact that there was no sign to look at sank in.
So there we were. Somewhat lost in the countryside of Ireland. A field with cows in front of us beyond the road that went left and right but with no designation of where left and right went. The first Irish folk song we had heard from the very beginning on the radio. At the same time, we both looked at each other, then looked right, then looked left, then looked back at each other. All we could think of to say was, 'This is so Ireland.' Then we started to laugh. Fairly randomly, we picked right and drove on. Eventually, we got to the road that we should have been on in the first place, and kept our eyes open for the Famine Graveyard. We found Cashel again instead. Slightly disappointed at all we didn't get to see, but still happy about all that we had, we went back to the hostel to pay for our rooms and have dinner, planning on going back to town later to find that traditional pub that we didn't quite find in Dublin.
We knocked on the glass door of the house to pay for our room, and the man from earlier answered. He had a plate of food in his hand that looked really nice, and said he'd be right there. Holly had been laying on the doorstep, and he called her in the other room and gave her the plate. Spoiled dog. :) We paid for our room and then went to make dinner.
In the kitchen there were so many people. One couple were tenting out front and making mexican food. A girl was talking to a guy as he washed dishes and she made tea. Peggy started making our pasta and pita bread, and I set up spots at one of the tables. The set-up of this room was you walk in the door and immediately to the left was a counter with cubby holes above for guests to put food in and sink and cupboards below. On the left wall was the stove area and the fridge and one table. Directly in front of the door were two more tables. Beyond that were couches and a coffee table, plus a tv and a fire place. It was really comfortable there. The windows looked to the back yard, and beyond the yard was a field with cows (of course). As the pasta was almost done, I went in the fridge and took out our pasta sauce. I also looked at our package of cookies. Earlier that day, we had only eaten one each. They were too melted to eat more, so we had put them in the fridge. However, as I stood there looking at the package, I noticed that more than two cookies were missing. Somone had eaten some! I shut the fridge, Peggy added the sauce to the pan of noodles and we served ourselves. As we sat there, I looked at Peggy and she looked at me and we just grinned. Somehow, we knew exactly what the other was thinking. It was just too funny.
The man we had met earlier (the one who forgot about us and mowed the lawn instead) came in and started a fire in the fire place. As we were cleaning up our dishes, the guy the girl was talking to left, and the girl came back in with some books. Another guy (who we had met earlier in our room; he ended up having the other bunk) came in and asked her how her Gaelic was going. She was from the Netherlands and had worked as an Au Pair for a year here in Ireland. She was studying Celtic Studies and was touring around Ireland for a while before she went back to University. The guy was from Scotland and had been backpacking around Ireland for about a year. He was in Glascow for three months before coming to Cashel. Just would work temporary jobs to have enough money to survive, and then would head off again. Wow. Peggy and I had some hot lemonade, and talked to them about various things. We told them about how we went looking for the Famine Graveyard today, and the guy said that they're everywhere. He also said he'd seen two pubs in town with signs for traditional Irish music. We thought we'd head out and try and find them.
After we found a place to park (an empty parking lot that charged during the day), Peggy had me get in and I drove around in a few circles. That was very exciting. hehehe. Then we went off pub-hunting. We didn't find any signs for Irish music, but we found an pub that looked old on the inside. There was a young guy behind the bar, and some business men in the back, but we picked a table in the front and sat down. A football match was on the telly. As we sat there talking about our day and drinking Guinness, about four old Irishmen came in what looked to be the back door. They sat at the bar and talked about who knows what, all of them having given us odd looks as though they weren't sure what we were doing there. Peggy and I just grinned. It was just what we wanted when we looked for a 'traditional pub', that post card, stereotypical image. After about two hours there, we headed back to the hostel for some post-card writing and bed. Back at the hostel, the kitchen was still open and it was reallly warm because of the fire place. The Scottish guy was watching Beverly HIlls Cop III and but it was still nice and quiet in there. We had some more hot lemonade, and after we were done, we got ready and went to bed. It had been a busy and fun day. :) :)
The next morning, we got ready and packed up the car. We knocked on the glass door of the house to check out, but no one was around. So we stood there for about 5 minutes until a car came by. This time it was someone completely different, but she took our key and gave us our room deposit back. We drove into town to see if we could get a hostel near Athlone, which is where we wanted to go next. After three tries (the first time was no answer, the second time was a Gaelic only answering service), we finally got through, but the place was booked. So we went to plan two, and decided to head up to Doolin on the west coast of Ireland. There were numerous hostels in the area, and if we couldn't find anything, we figured we could just keep going. Then we walked over to The Coffee Shop for breakfast. After rolls and tea (or in Peggy's case, coffee), we were nice and warm and full. As we sat finishing our drinks, we planned our route to Doolin. We had the choice of taking the N74 back through Tipperary, or taking a more scenic and rustic route. Naturally, we went for the rustic. We bought some rolls at the bakery downstairs, then went on the road again.
The way we wanted to go actually took us back past our hostel again. We drove by it, and then continued down the road until the turn to the one we wanted. As we neared the corner, we saw in the field to the left a bunch of cows running. We thought it must be breakfast time for them. But as we turned the corner to drive by where they were, the cows were all standing behind this rope that was strung a little behind the fence. They were all in a row and they looked at us as we drove past. That was the clincher for naming Cashel as a wonderful place to visit.
The drive was more scenic than anything else. The morning was rather grey, and it would spatter rain on and off all day. However, we did have a bit of... excitement when we got stuck in a traffic jam because of a tractor. That was nothing, however, compared to being stuck behind the horse-drawn, two-wheeled cart. It was just trotting along and there were three cars behind it. We got back on a more main road, and headed toward Limmerick. We drove through it just before noon. It isn't that beautiful of a cit that we saw, just very industrial. Then we went through Ennis, and from there we headed slightly more west. The closer to the coast we got, the less main roads there were to use. This meant we would be driving fairly close to the coast. It wasn't the most direct route, but it was the least likely way we would get lost. Or so we thought.
All seemed to be fine at first, we were making our way quite nicely. However, the signs seemed to get much more confusing. On the coastline there is something called the Cliffs of Moher. Apparently, there is an amasing view of them at a point called Hag's Head (I don't know the history of these names). According to my guidebook, we were to take the road as indicated by the sign past the village Liscannor. So we turned left onto this little dirt road. And it was VERY narrow, more than the one on the way to Athassel. It looked as though the road had been cut into the hill side; the ground on either side was at least two feet higher than the road. At some points we could not see anything except for the grass because the hills were so high. The grass reminded me of the kind one finds at the beach, that sun-dried, wind-blown stuff. There were also little wildflowers scatterd around in it as well.
At one point as we drove (and drove and drove) on this little road with lots of puddles, I told Peggy to stop the car. We got out and climbed up on the little hill thing. There was a wire fence so we could not go wandering, but we were able to see down below. It was absolutely breathtaking. We were not looking at the cliffs, but were looking at some cliffs. The water churned and the waves crashed against the rocks. The sky was still grey, and that gave the whole impression this gloomy feeling, but it was not a depressing gloomy. Just powerful, the sheer magnitude of them. The wind was blowing slightly and the rain was sprinkling down. For all the chaos down below, there was such a feeling of calm and peace.
Getting back into the car, we drove on for a while longer, trying to find Hag's Head. We drove and drove down this little road, until we ended up in someone's driveway. So we turned around and tried again. Dead end. And again. Another dead end, with cows looking at us over the fence. And again. This time we ended up on some main road or antoher. At least, as much of a main road we'd get around there. As we drove on it and past some landmarks, we eventually found ourselves at the point where we turned left to go on our little detour in the first place. All that, and we went in one gigantic circle. And still not Hag's Head or Clifs of Moher. However, in our driving in that loop, I managed to locate one of the landmarks on a map, cross referenced it with the other map and figured out where we were. Finally, we ended up in Doolin and stopped at one of the hostels on the list. They had plenty of vacancy, so we paid for a room and looked it over. It was a small room with three sets of bunk beds and the roof was slanted. The window in the slant looked out over the road and part of the village. There were a few different buildings, one was something of a guesthouse/b&b, the rest were just big, non-descript buildings.
It was just past lunchtime, so Peggy and I decided to see what there was there was around to eat. We saw a few pubs (quite a few for a wee fishing village) that were advertising live music that night. There wasn't much open, we were about three hours too early. So, we ate our little rolls that we bought in Cashel and munched on a bit else. That didn't really satisfy any hunger, but it tied us over for the time being. We decided to go out and see if we could find a few castles and things that were in the guide book and on the map. We also had to get a bit of gas and were hoping to find a better map of the area (known as the Burren). The first place we looked for was Doolin Castle, shown as on the hill above the village. This hill had a road that was really narrow (there are so many of those!) and very steep. We slowly creeped up the hill, encouraging the car as best we could. We were pretty glad that there was no one on the road at the same time as us, we were going so slowly. Finally, we got to a good vantage point and got out of the car to take some pictures. Perfect timing that we had, as soon as we were positioned, a car came from ahead and another came from behind. It complicated things slightly, for we were not sure where to go to get out of the way, but we made it out of that bind and went for the gas station.
The first place we stopped at had no power. Apparently, it would get shut off randomly for no reason whatsoever, and they would not be able to pump petrol for another hour or so. We drove down the road and found another one. The man there had a fairly bushy beard and when we went in to pay we asked him if he had any maps. He said that the owner put them somewhere, but maybe he could find one in the garage. So off he went, leaving us there. As we stood there looking at each other, waiting for him to come back, another man came in. He started asking us where we were from, so we told him. And then he started talking about something, we weren't sure really what. He seemed really nice, but just a bit too intense for the amount of sleep we hadn't gotten that week. At this point the garage man came back with his map, it was an advertisement for a medieval banquet that is held at some castle or another. We thanked him, though it wasn't exactly what we were looking for, and went on our way.
Eventually, we did find a map of sorts in our driving about and decided to head into the Burren to see what we could see.
That night, we wandered over to one of the pubs that had advertised the live music.
Pooped and ready for home, we boarded the bus and began the long ride home!