Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Burren & The Cliffs of Moher

After our stay at Ashford Castle, we made our way down to the Dingle Peninsula (you can see it on the map in my previous post if you are interested).  There was sight-seeing to be done on the way, however.  How else to fit in half of the places we wanted to see?  We drove through Galway and then down through the Burren.  The Burren is quite an unusual place.  To say that this area has rocky soil would not be an understatement, it would just be plain incorrect.  The Burren is rocks, not just rocky soil.  For mountains of rock, however, an incredible amount of life and history is present.  These aren't just your typical rocks either.  Imagine the rock walls you could build with such a supply!  We were very happy to be able to get out of the car and climb around the mountains a bit.

Chris was wearing his "I Am Mr. Darcy" shirt made by our friends Justin and Brooke (get yours here!) when we stepped out of the car at a visitor's center...the girls who worked there were very entertained by his shirt.  Come to find out, one of the girls was named Liz Darcy. :)  Lots and smiles and laughs, I assure you. :)

Not far from The Burren are the Cliffs of Moher.  Or, the Cliffs of Insanity, for all you Princess Bride fans.  These cliffs are so impressive that it is difficult to take a picture of them that properly represents the awe one feels seeing them in person.  We were, however, frustrated to find that a huge amount of bugs were also visiting the cliffs (judging from the smell, they were there to visit a recently fertilized field) and that made the visit not quite as fun as it could have been.  You can't really tell in the photos, but there were also quite a few people there, even though it wasn't high tourist season.  The visitor's center is large and new, I can only imagine how crazy the crowds must be here during the summer.
See that blip on the top of the cliff? Castle remains. These are
some BIG cliffs!

And because we get a kick out of signs, here are a couple that were at the Cliffs of Moher.

You really should look at some of the professional photos of these places, they capture them far better than I did.  Google Images is a good place to start!

After seeing these two incredible sights, we raced to catch a ferry that would shorten our trip to the Dingle Peninsula.  We made it with no time to spare (the gate was already closed, and reopened just for us--they started moving just as we turned off our car!) and enjoyed the rest of our drive.  One thing Ireland is by no means lacking is beauty.  There is so much variety, so many extreme beauties, and the Dingle Peninsula is no exception.  I'll get pictures of that up soon!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Connaught: Ashford Castle and Beyond

After our brief time in Northern Ireland, we jumped back into the car and drove over to the west coast of Ireland--to the Connaught area.  The drive was lovely, even though Chris spent much of it being frustrated because he hadn't fully researched his route (I'm not actually sure if the route on the map below is the actual one we took, but if it isn't, it's pretty close.)  I'm so glad that we rented a car, and so glad that Chris is such a confident driver.  Driving from one location to another ended up being a great way to see some of the countryside.
The area of Connaught (Connacht) is varied in landscape and quite beautiful throughout.  It wasn't until we drove into this province that we began to see the rock walls that I assumed covered the entire country. (In the places we'd seen before, properties and fields were divided by hedgerows.  I could probably write a whole post on American misconceptions about Ireland...no green beer on St. Paddy's Day, no corned beef and cabbage, and much better food than I'd anticipated.) Roscommon and Galway counties (2 of the 5 counties in the Connaught province) are where my mother's maiden surname, Curley, seems to come from (Roscommon has a town called Ballymacurley, supporting that idea) although I don't have family records indicating a tie there.  Whether it is because of that predisposition, or simply because the area is magical, I felt drawn to this area.

View Ireland in a larger map

We stayed near the small village of Cong, on the shores of Lough Corrib, at Ashford Castle.  Not only were all 3 of these things (the village, the lake, the castle) drop-dead gorgeous, but we found plenty to do and tremendously enjoyed our stay.  The entrance to the castle grounds (which were extremely large grounds, by the way) was meandering and unfolded in a way you'd expect to happen only on film.  The castle was originally built in 1228 and eventually was purchased by the Guinness family in 1859 (they extended the estate to 26,000 acres, and added two Victorian wings to the castle) and stayed in the family until it was sold and re-purposed as a hotel in 1939.
Ashford Castle...view from the back by the lake
Inside the lobby.
I want a little tunnel pathway!!
Now that's a driveway.
A view of Lough Corrib.
Rosy cheeks and bagpipes!
While at the castle, we were able to bake scones with the pastry chef, (I loved being able to go into the service parts of the castle...it another of those weird dreams come true. I'm fascinated with what goes into making a huge estate work.) learn to be falconers at the school of falconry, ride horses, and watch The Quiet Man free of charge at any time (this is where the movie was filmed!)

The School of Falconry was one of the best experiences ever.  We learned so much about the birds and falconry in general.  We even got to meet Dingle the Owl...quite awesome when you're a foot away from him!  The birds we flew are Harris Hawks, which work well for hunting with multiple people because they naturally work as a team.

Wow, this is a long post.  Sorry about that!  There's just so much to talk about in this area and I couldn't conceive of how to split it up.  What follows are some pictures of Connemara, which we saw on our drive from the castle to Clifden (where we got a flat tire that was--amazingly--replaced in only a couple of hours).  Connemara is beautiful.  All the pictures I see of it look a little like Nevada, which is funny because it didn't look like that when seeing it through my eyeballs. :)

Remnants of potato farming still exist on the mountains.

Love this area...lot's of good memories, would love to go back and explore more!

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Causeway Coast: Northern Ireland

I don't know if there is that much to say about these pictures, but the northern coast of Northern Ireland is spectacular, and I must share.  One of the highlights for me was seeing a peak of Scotland in the distance.  I pictured Shawna and Greg over there waving right back at me. :)  We took the scenic route up the coast, stopping at the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge and the Giant's Causeway before heading back toward Belfast.
Some of the coastline--I love the colors!
What a cute little tunnel!
Coastline at the Carrick-a-Rede rope 
Chris and Andrea crossing the rope bridge.
It was pretty steady/reinforced, but still so high!
Chris and I.
Some of the stone @ Giant's Causeway--an incredible
natural formation from ancient volcanic cooling.
The scale on some of these formations
are overwhelming in person.

Bushmills is the oldest licensed whiskey
distillery in the world. Fun tour!
After our tour at the Bushmills distillery, we were feeling rather peckish (hungry) and asked some people who worked there for a recommendation of somewhere to eat in town.  They pointed us toward a pub that, as we found out, did not serve food.  But the barkeep did invite us to sit down and eat at their tables if we were to find some food to take-away.  We walked down the street and each ordered some fish and chips...thinking we'd get a nice snack sized meal.  We were wrong.  We were sent out with parcels of food wrapped in big brown bags stuffed full enough to feed a small army.  We popped back into the pub, and the barkeep was super friendly--he brought us flatware and napkins, salt and drinks. We shared our food with a guy at the bar who was three sheets to the wind. (it was about...5pm?  No biggie, it's Ireland.  time of day is relative for things like alcohol.) The greasy food probably did him well!  He couldn't believe we'd bought cod, (the good stuff) and a 1 minute conversation at the bar about cod must have included the word cod at least 100 times.  Maybe 1000.  I was a little dizzy with all the cod flying around and lost count.

We left the town of Bushmills with enough food for a 4th and 5th meal, even after sharing it all around.  Who can stomach cold greasy food when you've already had too much of it, though?  If we'd only known, we could have gotten by with one meal for sure!  Oh well, it makes for a fun memory. :)

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Belfast, Northern Ireland

After our time in Dublin, we rented a car and drove up to Belfast in Northern Ireland.  We enjoyed our time in Dublin, but were eager to see how Northern Ireland might differ.  The people that we'd spoken to in Dublin said that the mood was a little darker in Belfast, but that there was no real difference between The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland (part of the UK).  They said, It's all just Ireland.  And they were right.  I was surprised to find that the border wasn't even marked, let alone observed.  The main difference seemed to be the fact that we now needed British Pounds instead of Euros for cash.
The City Hall in Belfast was beautiful.  The picture below shows one part of it with a monument to Queen Victoria in the foreground.  The grounds around the building seemed to be a popular teen hangout, funny enough.  Like we'd heard, the air did seem to be a little heavier in this area.  We didn't have a lot of time to explore the city, but we did quite a bit of walking and discovered, if nothing else, that there isn't a whole lot open on Saturday nights.  When we looked at store hours, they seemed to close earlier on Saturdays and stay open later on Thursdays.  I wish I knew the "why's" on that!
Belfast City Hall
So many places available to rent or buy.
The Irish Breakfast.
This guy never ceases to crack me up.
We arrived in Belfast on Saturday (March 19) and on Sunday (March 20) we drove along the Causeway Coast.  We left Northern Ireland on Monday, so you can see that we really weren't able to really get to know the area at all.  I am glad that we were able to see it, however.  Next post: the incredibly beautiful Causeway Coast.