Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Ireland 2014, Part III: The Abbeys.

See part II and part I!


September 22


Day 4: Saw the lovely Holy Trinity Abbey and bought Irish wool in Adare, before finding a sweet pub for dinner and music on Galway! We also found an intriguing take on Irish history...
 — with Mandy and Bethany.

Remember my flat tire from yesterday? I envisioned at least a couple of hours of finding a mechanic with the right tire (I mean "tyre") and then sitting there waiting for it to be done. I'm pessimistic when it comes to cars. Because I don't like my vacation plans ruined or delayed (who does!), and because when I'm on a mission, I can't sleep or relax, I insisted upon getting up at the crack of dawn to just deal with it. It could not have gone more perfectly! The hotel manager called a mechanic in Limerick, who had the tire I needed in stock. I annoyed a few commuters by driving 20km/h under the speed limit, but I got there safely. While I waited, very friendly men told me all about the beautiful places in their country that I should go to next time. Just about twenty minutes later, I was on my way!

I've been to an Irish mechanic! Got my car all fixed.
 — at Mid West Tyres LTD.

After finding my cheery companions, we left our musty hotel for good and spent a couple of hours in the beautiful Adare. In a bookshop, we found President Obama in an Irish history book:

We drove by his ancestral village earlier, which we discovered by googling the Barack Obama Plaza. It appeared to be a very nice gas station. 

My main goal for the trip, as far as souvenirs go, was to find Irish wool. I totally did. They didn't have much yarn, but it was gorgeous. I asked if it was actually local wool, and she said, "oh my brother-in-law owns the mill! But the sheep weren't all Irish--pure Irish wool is too rough." Good enough for me! I wish we'd visited Kerry Woollen Mills; apparently it's been making yarn for over 300 years! I got a ton of the Aran knitting green fleck and I'm going to knit myself a sweater. :)

This was pretty cute.

We visited the lovely Holy Trinity/Trinitarian Abbey, which was founded in 1230.

That bag is entirely filled with wool, and
took up my entire backpack as one of my carry-ons on the plane home.

After a stroll through a park (where we met a puppy), we had lunch in a fun pub and then drove north.

 We were first pretty unimpressed by Galway, but that is partially due to the fact that we had to use the bathroom really badly, drove around and around before finding a decent place to park next to a mall (which *surely* had bathrooms), then literally walked the entire length of the mall before finding the bathroom, which cost 20 cents to enter and would ONLY take a 20-cent coin. Life significantly improved after that.

Deciding that anywhere would be prettier than the mall, we started wandering. We wandered into a bookstore, which didn't have my other main souvenir goal, but they suggested I try Charlie Byrne's just down the street. Guess what? I need to mail a package to Canada soon:

The streets only got cuter, the farther we wandered. Hunger soon dictated that we pick one of many beautiful restaurants that promised live music. 

We pretty much found the best one. They had good food,  drinks, and access to the WORLD.
So happy for Guinness and free WiFi!
 — with Bethany and Jessica.

The evening got even better when the music started! Two super talented gentlemen played fantastic rock with that terrific lilting Irish folk influence. It was open mike night, and every person who played the guitar or sang was great.

Jess and Beth's future husbands... If Glen Hansard comes in, I'm never coming home. Sorry Bob
 — with Bethany and Jessica.

Mandy is ever helpful.

Our journey ended that day in Castlebar, at the Breaffy House Hotel. It was mildly spooky in the dark, and the room was pretty sterile, but it did not smell like mold. It's the little things.


September 23


Day 5: Lazy rainy day in the (not) hopping village of Castlebar. Besides ice cream, the highlights were definitely the food at Bar One, the GPS' insistence that we take the 30-minute, cow-pasture route home instead of the 10-minute, two-cars-could-actually-fit-here route home, and the Ballintubber Abbey. The Abbey was constructed in 1216 on the site of a well used by St. Patrick for baptism in 441. THAT IS A LONG TIME AGO. Side note: Pierce Brosnan got married there.
 — with Mandy and Bethany.

Tuesday was our only real rainy day. It was also our only day without any sort of plan. Too bad we were in Castlebar, a small town that is definitely not set up well for tourists. It was kind of like being a tourist in Los Alamos on a Tuesday, I imagine! Though Castlebar totally wins in the restaurant department. We had lunch and coffee in a cozy spot, visited a few shops, and ate some amazing ice cream.

The chocolate "flake" makes vanilla soft serve 12309 times better.

We tired of Castlebar itself and drove off through cow pastures to the Ballintubber Abbey. It was built in 1216 (almost 800 years ago!), on the site of a well used by St. Patrick for baptism in the 430s or 440s  (like over 1500 years ago!!). The abbey also has the distinction of being the site of Pierce Brosnan's wedding.

The Sean a' Sagart Tree, under which the "notorious priest hunter" is buried. 

St. Patrick's well?! It wasn't marked, so probably not. :)

Bethany knows an awful lot about sheep, it turns out!
I absolutely love visiting old abbeys and cathedrals in Europe. So beautiful. So peaceful. (Especially the ones in remote villages accessed by narrow cow-pasture roads. Westminster was ah-mazing and anything but peaceful.)

As the rain poured, we drove back into town for dinner. We ended up at Bar One, where the sticky toffee pudding WAS TO DIE FOR. I intend to make it soon. The GPS was really, truly, not our friend going home. On the way to town, we followed the hotel's instructions and got there in ten minutes. On the way home in the dark, the GPS took us in what we're certain was a giant square around the hotel, through more pastures, on literally-only-one-car-fits-here roads. It took over half an hour. Oof.

That's enough pictures for one post! I will conclude next time. :)

Monday, September 29, 2014

Ireland 2014, Part II: Cliffs and Castles.

See part I here!

September 21

Day 3, part I: Cliffs of Moher! They were incredible and we only had a couple of wee mishaps...
 — with Mandy and Bethany.

The day began like any other--with too much breakfast and too little coffee--as I took the wheel for my second day of driving on the left.

The traditional "everyone looks cute but the person manning the gps in the back seat" photo. But somehow we all missed the memo, so instead I bring you Mandy looking great while Jess and I creepily smile into the camera.
 — with Mandy and Jessica.

Our drive to the cliffs was beautiful. We stopped in the visitor upon arrival, skimmed some displays, and walked out to one of the most amazing views we've ever seen.

We walked the cliffs trail for quite a ways, stopping every three seconds for more pictures and to marvel at each new angle. The weather was perfect. With clouds the previous day and rain rolling in the next couple, we were so blessed.

Her hair color was brilliant. 

Nearing the top of our final hill, we saw Italian teenagers taking this kind of silly photo:

Mandy took it one step further, and started this trend:

When we left, several other groups were pretending to fall off the cliffs, too. Don't worry, Mom: the ledge I was on was quite wide and sturdy.

We were reluctant to leave, but had to drive to the tiny village of Doolin for the Cliffs of Moher cruise. This is where our wee mishap happened. The combination of driving on the left, having all that car on a  side I'm not used to, the narrow two-cars-can-barely-fit-here windy roads with walls on each side was just too much for a split second, and BAM. My front left tire hit something pretty hard. Shoot. It was a while before it was safe to pull over, and indeed. A hissing sound is never good. Bethany suggested we just drive to the boat and deal with it afterward, and I'm so glad we did. Finding the cruise office was stressful (our dear GPS had NO idea where it was--we just wandered a bit until we saw signs), as was finding parking. The dock itself was a 2km walk from the office, and we arrived just in time!

It was fantastic. The rocking of the boat almost put me to sleep, but when we got close to the cliffs, it was too awe inspiring to nap!

The less-rushed walk back to Poor Car delivered some spectacular views, too:

Our favorite two words here in Ireland are "full coverage." Glad we got that insurance package! 
 — with Mandy and Jessica.

Back at the car, with its fully flat tire, we set about putting on the spare. We found all the equipment and knew exactly what to do.

The spare was good!

We had a jack!


Mandy knows how to work that thing.

Onlythe wrench we had was too short to get proper leverage. There were two pieces, but they didn't fit together. All three of us tried. Hard.
It's a matter of…leeeeverage…savvy?

Mandy finally walked to town (a NYC block away) to find help, while Bethany called to verify with the rental company that we'd get reimbursed if we got the tire replaced. We would! Yes!

Mandy returned shortly with Bill O'Brien, who happens to own the cruise linethat we did not take. Shoot! If you're ever in Doolin, please use O'Brien's Cliffs of Moher cruise! This sweet Irish gentleman and his daughter (probably in her early 20s?) said to not worry, it happens all the time. In fact, his American daughter-in-law got SEVEN flats in a week when she first visited. Ha! Mr. O'Brien got our lug nuts off with a few swift kicks to the wrench, all while on his cell phone. We were soon on our way, slowly, keeping under 80km/hour. So, so grateful!

We stopped in Lehinch on the way out of the area to enjoy a drink, some ice cream, and free wifi. 

Mandy's IPA and my porter: SO GOOD.

Day 3, part II: medieval feast at Bunratty Castle. Totally campy and delicious and wonderful, with madrigals and minstrels, meat and mead.
 — with Mandy and Bethany.

Our big event of the night was a medieval feast at Bunratty Castle, a real castle from the early 1400s that has been turned into a folk park and museum. As it was on the way home from the cliffs, we decided not to skip it just because of the tire. 

We were welcomed by bagpipes into a small entryway, and shuffled up a winding staircase into a great hall, where we were promptly given mugs of mead and entertained by a violinist and a harpist.

The furnishings are pretty authentic, we were told, and we were given a bit of history of the place, before being serenaded by a lovely madrigal performance.

Finally, we were invited down another narrow staircase into the dining hall. The performers doubled as our servers for the evening, and they explained that we'd be given no silverware (except a dagger).

We sat at long, communal tables, and enjoyed some wine (we were very sad that there was no more mead):

Our food was delicious. We drank parsnip soup out of bowls, devoured pork ribs (with BBQ sauce...) with abandon and the occasional help of our daggers, and had to wait for the fingerling potatoes and chicken with herb cream sauce to cool, but we managed. I was the only one of the three to enjoy dessert--a thick berry mousse with a slightly strange, jam-like topping. We were given one spoon to assist with the mousse. Courses were interspersed with music and silly storytelling.

Satisfied and happy, we continued our under-80km/hour journey back to our musty hotel. We made it without problems, and settled in for a goodnight's sleep.

My next (final?) post will discuss our adventures in small villages and bigger cities, touring abbeys and listening to great live music!