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!

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