I guess I have a few days' worth of updating to do, but I'm not sure how successful I'll be since it's 11:30 and my energy clock is starting to run out sooner and sooner. I'll have to talk about leaving England and what we've done in Ireland so far...it may be a two-parter!
For starters, we woke up at a good time on Thursday in Chester and departed for our city walking tour in Chester after breakfast. The weather was pleasant--not sunny, but not cold either--so the walk was great. Chester is an interesting place for the simple fact of the rows all along the city streets (that and it's another walled city). The theory is Chester was built on top of an old Roman city because of the rows and the fact that they have recently been discovering ruins like a part of a coliseum (sp?). Because it was built on top, the streets are lower than the sidewalks. They also did it because it was "stinky" in the city since everyone threw out their sewage and their other delicious items. They raised up the fronts of the shops and houses so they could rise above the muck. Very cool...and stinky...
We continued on from there through Wales and stopped at Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (translation: St Mary's Church (Llanfair) in the hollow (pwll) of the white hazel (gwyngyll) near (goger) the rapid whirlpool (y chwyrndrobwll) and the church of St Tysilio (llantysilio) by the red cave ([a]g ogo goch). I think this was more of a tourist-y stop than anything else, but I stamped my passport with it anyway and armed myself for the trip across the Irish Sea to Ireland. We drove quickly through Anglesey (home of Kate and Wills) and arrived at Holyhead where we boarded our ferry and settled in for the 3-hour ride to Dublin. The ferry was lovely--basically like a cruise ship without beds--and the crossing was smooth and fun. We were able to relax and spend some time with our new friends from the US, Australia, and New Zealand before we encountered the Irish.
Our late evening Dublin arrival was a little misty and cold, but we arrived at our hotel (The Burlington on the south side) with just enough time to freshen up before our dinner in the bay at Howth. Though a few people were disappointed with our coastal drive (the east side is more like mud flats), I thought it was delightful and it really reminded me of home when we landed at Howth, had dinner, and walked out by the boats. The breakwater was nothing like that of Morro Bay (ha...what waves?), it was beautiful to see the sun setting on the Irish coast with the quaint little storefronts dotting the landscape.
The next day was Dublin, and we went on a driving tour with our local tour guide (our first real hint at the Irish brogue) and saw some of the sights of the city. I was very interested to learn about the bullet holes that still remain downtown from the IRA uprising in 1914--there is so much history surrounding this little island, and most of it is sad, but the people seem to embrace it and truly want us to learn. We also took a drive through Phoenix Park (largest in Europe) and went into the State rooms to see how the better half use to live before Ireland elected presidents. Once done here, we were dropped off at the Guinness Storehouse for a visit and a free pint of the black stuff. We all thought the trip would be more of a visit to the actual plant rather than the museum they've set up for Guinness, but we still had a good time (and a beer!). From here we walked along Grafton Street and marveled at the ecclecticism of the street performers. I think they set it up so weird sideshows played for an hour and then classical violinists and guitarists play the next hour, but most of the shops were very commercial. We then went on a mission to try to find Irish jewelry, and that turned out to be a farce. I did end up purchasing a unique pendant made in Ireland, but a lot of the celtic jewelry looked like it was probably made in China, and that would completely defeat the purpose.
That night we joined most of our 32 members and partied at a dinner and cabaret show. The food was average, but the entertainment was great. The dancers were amazing in their Irish dance, and the singers and musicians (eilin pipe?) were great. Along with that we were treated to the comic delights of Noel Ginnity (I think that was his name). He was more for the older crowd, but he was funny nonetheless.
The next day was our trip west to Killarney, which is where we are now. The trip around the countryside was beautiful--we finally got to see what Ireland really looks like away from the big city. We first visited the Irish National Stud (I'm still kicking myself for not buying the shirt that said this on it for Jeremy) and saw some beautiful horses. The are one of the biggest and most successful studs in the world, and they showed us a few of their stallions that not only have won some races but are producing some of the best racers in the business. Some of these stud fees reach upwards of 100,000 Euro! The grounds and horses were beautiful, and since it was our first real day of sunshine, we were all more excited than we should have been. We then went in for a nip of scones and tea before taking a stroll through the Japanese Gardens and meditating before the long haul to Killarney. We drove further into the interior and stopped at the Rock of Cashel for lunch. We grabbed a sandwich and walked up to the top of the hill, then walked through an old established hotel before doing a little window shopping and heading to the coach. From here we wound our way through County Cork and into County Kerry, our home for the next two nights. Killarney is an absolutely charming city! We had our "dine around" meal at Treyvaud's, a little restaurant that had excellent stuffed portobello mushrooms (with Irish cheese), Irish meatballs, and cheesecake. We then walked around the city, scoffing at the hen parties and the girls dressed in scantily-clad outfits trying to attract the young guys. Even I got a little winky-winky from one little Irish guy who wanted a high five. That night, we went back to the hotel and decided take a quick drink in the hotel pub before turning in...but the "quick drink" turned into a 2 1/2 hour drinking fest with our new Aussie and Kiwi friends. We had so much fun listening to the live singer, singing the songs, and having drinks until late. We all were very happy to be where we were at that time.
This morning was our trip to the Ring of Kerry, but the weather decided not to play well for us. It never rained, which was good, but the low clouds and fog hung in the mountains and along the Atlantic coast didn't make for the best of views. However, I think it was traditionally Irish in its appearance, and it made for great photos (I have one of a statue of Madonna shrouded in mist--I hope it turns out!). The clouds also accented the green hills and the trees beautifully, so I won't complain too much. We stopped in Sneem (I think--it's late) for lunch at a little B and B, and then we took our drive back down to Killarney on the other side. Aside from the weird biting flying ants we encountered at a "picky stop" (photo op), the trip back in was smooth, and we transitioned easily to the Jaunting Carts with the jarvies...basically a horse-drawn buggy around Killarney National Park. This was a highlight of the day because of the good company and great views of the park--we saw a few deer, a few lakes, and a beautiful shot of Muckross Castle (it takes its name from the wild boar that use to roam the countryside). After one last jaunt around Killarney's town, we headed off to a traditional Irish ceilidh (cay-lee) in the hills, which was phenomenal. The three men who played the traditional Irish instruments took time to explain them and really play good Irish music--we even chimed in with a rendition of "Danny Boy" that was all about our tour guide, Nigel, and his quirky ability to tell random jokes and be positively British. The craic was a good time, and I think it's been the most relaxed we've all been thus far. Listening to the music makes me long to stay here forever (with Jer and the animals, of course!), and I could hear the music linger as we dropped back down into Killarney at twilight, the mist hanging gently in the rolling hills around the town. It gave me the feeling of warmth and home and what Ireland is supposed to be. I hate to leave this place on Tuesday.
We are off to Waterford and the Blarney Stone tomorrow, and then it's back to England for Wales and Cardiff Castle, Stonehenge, Bath, and then home. I'll update again when I get a chance. Before signing off, however, I just want to send out my condolences for all the families affected by the Norweigan extremist who shot and killed over 90 children and set off bombs in Oslo, killing 8. I also was saddened to hear of Amy Winehouse's tragic death. I love her music and think she will be missed. Hopefully tomorrow can bring that same feeling to all that I get when I think of the Irish music and the mist in the trees.
Until next time.