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!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Ireland 2014, Part I: Sláinte!

My dear childhood friends, Mandy and Bethany, and I just returned from a beautiful week in Ireland. We met so many wonderful people, saw so much of the gorgeous countryside, drank so much good beer, and tried very little black pudding.

All three of us kept Facebook apprised of our adventures, and I enjoyed our posts so much that this will basically be a filled-out version of those. With more pictures! Yes!

September 18

We've been traveling since 3am in each of our timezones and we're only in JFK. Waiting eagerly for Mandy and our 9pm flight to Dublin!
 — with Bethany

September 19

Day 1(ish): Dublin. Ireland is beautiful and its people are so nice. I've never had beer art before. The Guinness Storehouse is well worth visiting. Finally, once you get over the terror, driving in the left is pretty fun, and I can even park within the lines now. Gooooodnight!
 — with Mandy and Bethany.

We found Mandy eventually, and the three of us survived the long transatlantic flight. We breezed through customs, found cash and coffee, and spent a good half an hour with Dooley rental cars while they located our car and shuttled us to it. Then all of a sudden, we were given a Renault Fluence and expected to actually drive it out of the car park and into a busy CLOCKWISE roundabout. Beth and I were the drivers this trip, and she volunteered my foggy brains for the first turn. It was pretty terrifying. With my two backseat drivers yelling "LEFT!" every other minute, though, we made it out of the car park, through the roundabout, and down the road thirty seconds before we pulled over at a pub for a full Irish breakfast.

Driving on the wrong side of the road!!! We made it a 1/2 mile and stopped for breakfast... This is tough! Check out this sweet parking job!
 — with Bethany and Jessica

I don't want to die.
Too hard to park.

Full Irish breakfast! First meal in Ireland is not too shabby!
 — with Mandy and Jessica.

The Full Irish Breakfast was impressively hearty. I tried everything, except for the white and black pudding (the cookie-looking things in the upper left). I had read about black pudding, also known as blood pudding. No thank you. I was scared away from the white pudding, but turns out, it's only sausage and grains! (Okay, I also didn't eat the mushrooms. I don't like them in general.)

Fortified, we began our tumultuous relationship with the rental car's GPS and headed onto the highway toward Dublin proper.

I'm driving! Mandy's yelling "STAY LEFT!" Beth figures out the GPS!

In a light rain, we arrived at our destination: the Guinness Storehouse. 

Here, we staved off the urge to nap with the self-guided tour through the old storehouse's seven floors. Guinness's distinctive flavor is from their roasted barley, we learned. The most interesting, albeit a bit much for the senses, was the Tasting Experience. You walk through a very dark hallway into a bright white room with four columns emitting vapors of four scents related to the beer: hops, barley, malt, and I can't remember what else. The smells got to be a bit much after a while, but we were soon instructed to take a small glass of Guinness into the next room. This was decorated like an old study or library, with dark wood paneling, deep green drapes, and painted portraits and busts of old dudes. Here, we were led in a proper tasting: lift your elbow up as if you are going to salute, inhale deeply, take a long sip, then exhale and TASTE THE GUINNESS. It tasted fantastic. 

We also learned an Irish toast: Sláinte! ("Health!") Actually pronounced something like "Slahn-cha," it took us several tries to stop saying "cilantro."

At the top of the Storehouse, we enjoyed a free pint (with beer foam art!) and views of cloudy Dublin.

We sleepily drove from there about an hour west to our amazingly beautiful hotel in Killenard: The Heritage. It completely spoiled us for the rest of our trip, which was organized by a travel agency and purchased as a Groupon. I must say, it's clear they spent most of the housing allowance on this place.

We barely made it through dinner at the resort's restaurant before crashing. This was the only hotel that gave us two rooms. My friends sweetly let me have my own for that night, as a reward for not killing them while driving just off the plane on the weird side of the road.


September 20
Day 2: Killenard, Limerick, Adare. After a countryside run on our resort grounds, we toured a beautiful estate named Emo Court. We found delicious fish 'n' chips and walked along the water in Limerick. Finally, we arrived in adorable Adare, where we entered our hotel to bagpipes almost alongside a bride and groom. We're definitely in the wedding video... That was awkward. We promptly left the wedding for Irish stew and beer in town.
 — with Mandy and Bethany.

As our resort boasted a 5k trail around its golf course, and because sunlight (loosely defined for Ireland--these Washington girls felt right at home) and activity are essential for me to adjust to a new timezone, I got up early and had a refreshing run. I even got to pet a kitty!
The hotel across the golf course.

Pretty stone church.

It was damp and cool and felt like fall!


I met the ladies (after a shower) at breakfast, where we enjoyed the first of several buffets that combined traditional Irish breakfast foods (gimme all the fried eggs and hash browns!) and what I've seen in other European countries' hotel breakfasts (yogurt+all sorts of good fixings, fruit, a variety of breads and pastries). Soon, it was time to break in a new driver and head for the west coast.

Day 2... Beth is driving on the left side of the road!!!
 — with Bethany and Jessica.

Beth is driving! Mandy's yelling LEFT! I'm fiddling with the GPS!
On the way west, we stopped at Emo Court, a lovely estate designed in 1790 for the Earls of Portarlington. We took a little tour, and learned that it was sold to the Jesuits for a while, and in 1960, was purchased and restored by a wealthy businessman, who lived there until he died in the 1990s. 

We continued on toward our small-village destination of Adare, stopping in Limerick for the afternoon. I had phenomenal fish and chips. Bethany purchased some sassy red lipstick that she rocked for the rest of the trip!

Limerick's waterfront!!! Such a cute little town for lunch, coffee and shopping!
— with Bethany and Jessica.

So sassy!
Now, I'd be hard pressed to find a more awkward way to enter a hotel. After a snafu with the GPS and misguided expectations, we parked at the Fitzgeralds Woodland House Hotel, loaded ourselves up with luggage, and rolled loudly toward the front entrance, accompanied by cheerful bagpipes. Soon, we realized that not only was there a bride and groom out front, they were preparing to imminently run through the doors in triumph to their fascinator-wearing guests and reception. Annoyed at this hurdle between us and our room, yet embarrassed at the prospect of interrupting a wedding, we froze. A woman in wedding finery, rolling a large bag of her own on up behind us, said, "come on, girls!" and we followed her into the lobby, literally seconds before the happy couple. We're in the wedding video, indubitably. 

Upon finally entering our room, we were hit by a deep, musty smell. Not wanting to linger, neither in the mold nor at the reception, we drove off for the adorable village of Adare. I had delicious beef stew with hearty brown bread and an equally hearty stout at our first pub, and Mandy convinced me to try Jameson at the second. It was the first whiskey I've ever enjoyed! Don't give me the smokiness of Scotch or the harshness of the American whiskeys I've tried, but Jameson was quite smooth.

Just introduced these ladies to the awesomeness that is Jameson... I'd say they like it  Can't wait to tour the Jameson distillery later this week!!!
 — with Bethany and Jessica.
Pub #1 for dinner and beer.

Pub #2 for whiskey.

While the room was musty and not nearly as fancy as our first hotel, we slept okay after airing it out. We were there for two nights, so we made a point to not be in the room much. Stay tuned for Part II, which will have many pictures from my second day of driving on the left, our eventful trip to the Cliffs of Moher, and a cheesy-yet-awesome medieval feast at a real castle!