Monday, May 14, 2012

I heart Ireland...

Ah, Ireland has been good to us!! Excellent weather, lovely people, nice food, beautiful scenery, it’s been a dream and I’ll be sorry to leave it tomorrow!

Yesterday was a bit of a relaxing day, I was quite buggered from all the driving I’ve been doing, so it was nice to just sleep in in the morning! After slowly getting up and ready we headed out to explore Cork and see what it was all about. It’s actually a really pretty city! We wandered down from the hotel to the river, grabbing some Subway for breakfast/lunch on the way, and hoping to find a park or a bench on which to eat – instead we just leaned on a wall next to the river and ate. It was Subway-ish. We found the main shopping district, which is really nice and really extensive, actually, a whole bunch of streets and laneways chockas full of shops and cafes. Unfortunately, being as it was Sunday and we are in the very Catholic Ireland, most places were closed, not opening until later in the afternoon. We did see something being filmed in the main street – I don’t know what it was, but there was a dodgy-looking actor crossing the road, made-up to look like he’d had the you-know-what bashed out of him, and a director who seemed to be screaming at everyone.

The River Lee, running through Cork (or Corcaigh for those of you who speak Irish)

A laneway in Cork. A lot of buildings are painted bright colours, it's so pretty!

After finding a shop that sells conditioner, we stopped in a park (yay, we found one!) to have a Cornetto ice cream, seeing as the sun was shining. It was such a beautiful day! Mads was getting rather tense as Man City was playing in the afternoon to find out if they would win a championship of some kind, so we desperately had to head back to the hotel (via Marks and Spencers as I had run out of clean knickers and we couldn’t find a laundromat) so she could blow-dry her lucky Man City outfit. They won (hooray!), however I did get rather terrified because it looked like they were going to lose AND the internet cut out on her so she couldn’t watch the end of the game. Luckily Ben was watching and was able to text me updates to relay to her, and when they won she burst into tears, partly because she was happy they won but also mainly at first because she missed it. I don’t think sports are a good idea for this kiddie...

Cornettos in Cork! Yum yum

Mads prepared to watch the big game

Once she calmed down we went to the health club in the hotel to have a play in the Jacuzzi, which was fun, but we wished it was a swimming pool. Apparently all the restaurants are closed on Sunday night in Cork, so we had room service dinner again, which was nice, and chilled out: I had a bath and finished Swallows and Amazons. It was a really cute book. Mads watched the highlights from the game on BBC.

Today was a very good day indeed. The sun was shining again, it was actually quite warm! We dragged our suitcases down the fifty flights of stairs to check out of our hotel in Cork, packed up the Audi again and we were off to Blarney Castle to kiss the stone.

Blarney Castle

Blarney Castle is quite nice. It’s basically a big old stone tower set in really beautiful, lush green grounds. It has a few rooms still intact, but it also has a very cool network of cavey underground passageways which we did check out a little bit. Unfortunately, there were A LOT of tourists in parkas, which always means trouble! For some reason many of them didn’t understand what an old castle is, and were rather put out by the fact they had to climb a lot of steep, narrow, windy stairs to the top. ‘I’m claustrophobic and afraid of heights!’ complained one halfway up the staircase. ‘I have to stop off and catch my breath’ said another.

One of the secret underground passageways beneath the castle

I knew she could be obsessive but I didn't realise how much of a Smeagol she really is! This pic cracks me up it is so creepy!

A bit of a house that was added on to the side of the castle. Apparently the owners decided they didn't like living in a castle. Honestly there's just no pleasing some people!

Mads bravely navigates the narrow, windy spiral stairs.

The castle itself is pretty ruin-y. There are a lot of rooms you can explore, like Dunottar, but unlike Dunottar the actual features of the rooms aren’t in good condition, or even existent in many cases. There are a few fireplaces in the walls, but the kitchen, for example, is completely empty. The grounds were absolutely stunning, however, and really the only reason you go is to kiss the Blarney stone, which, legend has it, gives you the Gift of Eloquence and enables you talk your way out of, or into, any situation. The stone is built into the battlements, so basically you have to lie down and pull yourself out over a hole at the very top of the castle, leaning down backwards to reach it. There was a bit of queue to kiss the stone: ‘Why are they lying down?’ asked one tourist. ‘I don’t know, I’m not going to lie down to do it, I don’t see why you need to’ responded whoever it was she was with. Jeepers. Anyway, despite the fact I was a tad nervous about the height thing, I did it! I kissed the Blarney Stone! I am so brave. I lay down and leaned right out – it’s a long way to reach, I have to say, and while I did look down for a second or two I was concentrating more on getting to the stone and so it wasn’t that bad! Did I receive the Gift of Eloquence? So far signs point to no, but maybe it takes a while to work...

 A fireplace in what was the Great Hall

Mads in the castle

Me in the castle

The line of people keen to receive the Gift of the Gab

Mads kisses the stone

Me kissing the stone! Note the height... Bloody glad those poles are there I can tell you!

The view from the top

The Blarney Stone from the bottom, you can see someone going in for a smooch up there.

Me and the castle

We had a bit of a wander, past a Poison Garden, full of various poisonous plants (why??), and down a wooded path by the stream that runs through the grounds. We had lunch at a pub in Blarney after checking out a couple of souvenir shops (so, so, so much green! You walk in and the green really hits you!!), where the Man City game was on the tellie, so naturally we couldn’t leave until it was over.

Walking in the Irish woods

A cave leading to more secret underground passageways

Irish pub in Blarney

Euros. I hate them, the coins all look the same! How exactly are you meant to tell the difference between 20 and 50 cents? Not to mention the 1 Euro when you're looking at them from the side! Generally I open the coin section of my wallet, give up and just go for the notes...

Next stop: Doolin. We drove through a few little towns on our way, and the last little bit of our journey was down narrow, winding roads with old stone and hedge fences – plenty of cows, sheep, horses and even a few paddocks with donkeys!! Doolin is a tiny little town near the West Coast of Ireland, and it seems like a great little town. After checking in to our really nice hotel, we decided to try and find the beach, which we eventually did: it’s just rocks, but it was absolutely beautiful! The sea was such a gorgeous colour, there are loads of rock pools and heaps of cliffs all around, and it was such a beautiful afternoon! We went back to Doolin for dinner at a pub, I had a half-pint of Guinness (because you really have to when you’re in Ireland, don’t you?) beef stew and potatoes. There was a guitarist playing and singing, which was nice, and possibly the best bit of all? A waiter with a dreamy Irish accent calling us ‘girls’ (say it in your head in Irish. Sigh!).  

The 'beach' near Doolin. Quite spectacular.

Rocks for Madsy!

Climbing on the rocks

Explorer Mads.

Me on the rocks.

Driving in the Audi. We have done A LOT of miles in that car, it's become part of the family.

Driving in Ireland.

Another ruined castle, this one near Doolin. They're all over the place! That old 'oh, a caastle' ad with the goldfish in the bowl is starting to make more sense, Mads and I are starting to sound like it!

Fitzpatrick's pub in Doolin.

Yummy Beef and Guinness stew with scrumptious potatoes for dinner.

First Guinness of the trip. Actually, I think it's my first Guinness ever...

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