Thursday, July 31, 2014

Ireland, Part II: Waterford and Cork (and the Places in Between)

We drove two hours to get here- wherever "here" is.  We've been driving another hour around this area in an attempt to find the place we're staying tonight, which is a farm.  There was a girl, about 14, walking along one of the roads we were aimlessly driving down, who we pulled up next to, to ask for directions.  Since we're in Ireland, and not the US, the girl didn't run away at the sight of the slowing vehicle.  She gave us about 15 instructions to get to our destination, but ensured us the route was "well-marked".

Not surprisingly, we pulled over again about 10 min later and asked an older man walking down the street.  Similarly, he gave us instructions, but this time we understood about half of them because of his accent ("Was he speaking English?!")  We pulled over again after a little while, and asked a middle-age man playing ball in his front yard with his son.  He told us we were close, and pointed us in the right direction.

We asked another older man, who was leaning over his fence to talk with us, and he pointed down the road.  We came to a pub about a block further, and Dad has called it quits. 

"I don't care.  I'm not driving anymore.  We're stopping here."

I don't really understand what this means.  Does Dad plan on staying here for the night? This isn't exactly a place with extra rooms.  Is he thinking we'll just grab a pint to cool down?  Or stay for dinner?  Scared that he has decided on the first, I ask a woman across the street if she knows how to get where we're going.

"Aw, yes, dear.  It's just right up this road.  You can't possibly miss it," she declares.

We convince Dad to give it one last shot.  We drive to where she has directed, and sure enough, there is a beautiful house that is similar to the picture we have, but not quite the place.  It's also gated to keep folks like us out, and no one seems to be answering the phone at the gate.  We pull up to the next driveway and turn around to go drown our sorrows in Guinness and cider. 

As return to the pub, my dad halfway to ordering his beer before even getting inside, the same woman comes over to us.

"How did you not find it?!" she exclaims. This is hilarious to us. "Aww come now. I'll show you the way." 

And with that, she hops in her car and drives us back to the fancy house and the driveway we had turned around in.

"That's it- right down there," she points to the driveway.  We thank her profusely and head down the driveway, which suddenly opens up to the buildings we've been searching for, and a plethora of ducks and chickens greet us.  We have made it at last!

After Dublin we headed to Waterford where we had some of the best food of the trip (Italian) and where we went to the House of Waterford Crystal.  We took the tour to see how they make the crystal (all by hand and totally incredible).

I'm probably going to get this for my house

We even got to see the trophy for the U.S. college football championships which they were working on while we were there and which will go to the winners this year. 

After Waterford, we headed to just outside of Cork, with stops along the way in Dungarvan, Ardmore, and Cobh.  Dungarvan is a little coastal town with a marina and a couple of stores.  We were curious about the boats in the water- or not in the water. They were able to stand on their own in the mud, so I assumed  there must be a pretty significant tide range in this area to need to plan for it like this.  We looked around at the high water line, and I guessed that the tide range was about 10 ft.  A local confirmed this for us.  (Just for comparison, California tides usually only range about 6 ft).

The views from Ardmore were gorgeous. 

Looking for Sheehans

In Cobh we stopped by a Titantic "experience". Cobh was the last port of call before the Titantic was off.  A few lucky people got off the ship at this port (one who was supposed to be working on board, and sneaked off at the last moment).  We each got cards with the name of a traveler who got on the Titantic at Cobh and at the end you could find out if your person had survived.  We all died :(

Mandy died

That night we stayed just outside of Cork, where we stayed on a farm (once we found the place).  It was complete with pigs, cows, and a baby sheep named Barry.  The lamb had lost it's mother when it was little, so Barry had been bottle-fed and was very comfortable with humans.  While the other sheep stayed away from us, Barry came right up to the gate to greet us and to bah for his milk.

The pint at the end of the road

The first time we passed the pigs (including a ginormous pregnant pig) they were all lounging around and pretty uninteresting (other than for their unbelievable hulk).  But the next day, we happened to pass them right before feeding time, and they were going wild.

After our night at the farm, we headed to the Blarney castle.  We ended up just shopping and eating ice cream and skipping the castle in the end.  It was pretty pricey and from what we had read, very touristy.  And that's when we discovered an international secret: the Irish know how to make a mean soft serve...

This is my oh-my-gosh-this-is-the-best-soft-serve-ever face
Oddly, we seemed to find the 3-ft plastic ice cream cones indicating that soft serve was served there most frequently at gas stations, but after our experience in Blarney, we were willing to eat gas station food if it meant more of that creamy deliciousness.  If you go to Ireland, I highly recommend trying some ice cream.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Ireland: Belfast and Dublin and a whole bunch of Guinness

"Thank you, Dolores!  It was lovely staying with you," I called out as I lugged my ginormous backpack onto my other shoulder.  I started saying "lovely" on the trip because every waiter or waitress was always referring to my potential order as "aw, well, it's low-vly."
"Of course! It was great having you even if it was a short stay. Like any good love affair: in, out, before the rot sets in!" Dolores called back.  This is Ireland, where the people are sincere, hilarious, and out-of-their-way helpful. 

At the beginning of June, my family and I took a vacation to Ireland.  I have 2 weeks worth of pictures taken by 4 different people, but I'll do my best to narrow it down and just share the highlights of the trip.

We flew into Dublin on a redeye and immediately grabbed our rental car to head up to Belfast in Northern Ireland for the day.  It was a red, stick, Peugeot, which my dad bravely drove for the entire trip (left-hand side of the road + left-hand stick + extremely narrow roads + roundabouts everywhere = adventure).  In my delirium after so many hours of travel and so few hours of sleep, I read and then mispronounced the brand of the car as Pew-ga-not, which became the running joke-name of our trusty vehicle.

The Pew-ga-not

Highlights of Belfast:
We took a black cab tour to learn about the politics of Northern Ireland.  Our driver/tour guide took us around to the different neighborhoods in Belfast, which were either Catholic/Irish or Protestant/English.  These neighborhoods are divided by "peace walls" which are like a series of Berlin walls meant to separate people. Interestingly, there are separate but equal services on both sides of the wall- so within one block, we saw two KFCs; one on the Catholic side and one on the Protestant side. Similarly, a public park was divided in two by a wall for each side to use. Our guide pointed out a duck to us, "We're on the Catholic side, so that's a Catholic duck."  He also explained that people of other religions were also considered to be either Catholic or Protestant.  So in one neighborhood, I spotted a mezuzah on a door and pointed it out to our tour guide.  "Yep," he said, "those are Catholic Jews."

Wall through the park

Catholic Jews!

Mandy and I, adding to the art/wishes on the walls

We also had our first pint of Guinness in Belfast,

checked out the Giant's Causeway,

and tasted some whiskey at the Bushmills Distillery.

We drove through the Glens of Antrim and I was absolutely floored by the beauty.  If I make it back to Ireland some day, my to-do list will include hiking and camping in the glens. (The pictures below don't do it justice.  Views through car windows do not usually turn out well!)

Just driving, was spectacular. We pulled off the road a bunch of times to snap pictures of the coast or sheep or the mountains.

They spray-paint their sheep to keep track of them. Note- the blue/green on the shoulders.

After Belfast, we headed back to Dublin.  Some of the highlights:

Trinity College. O.M.G. that library!  I was at home.

The Guinness factory.  We learned to pour the perfect pint.  Did you know that how your Guinness taste depends on the pour and the tap (distance from the keg)?  Anytime we asked locals for a pub recommendation, they would include that their rec had the best pour of Guinness around.  I never realized that a pour could make such a difference!

The typical, American, "We're Irish!!!" photo

I couldn't see the first word, but I'm pretty sure it said "Hydrologists"

We went to the James Joyce Center and we were there within a week of Bloomsday (Ulysses, anyone?)  This was really exciting for me, because I had painstakingly read Ulysses as an undergrad, so finally seeing Dublin was pretty cool.  We stood on the ha' penny bridge (they use to charge half a penny to cross) to snap a picture.

We also checked out the Kilmainham jail.  I've never been much of a history buff, but I found Irish history to be fascinating.  Probably because the Irish are such good storytellers! And maybe a little because they always seem to be on the heroic, but losing side through history. 

After Dublin we headed to Waterford, but I'll leave it there for now.  Still to come: Cork, Killarney, Dingle, Bunratty (and Dolores!), Galway, and the Aran Islands!