Good morning from the Irish Sea! I am writing this blog post from the spacious and large deck of the Ulysses Irish Ferry headed from Dublin, Ireland to Holy Head, Wales. It has been an eventful couple of days since I have posted last.
On Monday morning Bridget and I hopped on a two-day charter bus tour called The Paddy Wagon. Our driver/tour guide’s name was Freddy. Freddy was a hilarious, short, red headed Irishman who liked to use the f-word when explaining the sights we would go by. He had the whole bus laughing within the first five minutes of the tour. He explained the stops for the day: Cobh (pronounced “Cove” and filled with “Ugly f***ing English buildings”), Blarney Castle (where we would “kiss the most hygienic stone in all of Ireland”) and Cork (home of a Heineken brewery and the new Jameson Distillery).
First stop was Cobh, Ireland. This was the last port of call for the Titanic and vacation spot of Queen Victoria (not sure which one… so don’t ask). Because she used to vacation here, the name of the town used to be Queenstown. The small town is filled with buildings in the English Style and situated on hill next to the water. Naturally the Cathedral that Bridget and I wanted to go see is at the top of that hill. Our legs are looking toned after that walk is all I am saying. Back on the bus!
If you liked jungle gyms, exploring and getting lost in forests as a kid, then the second stop, Blarney Castle is for you. This was my favorite part of the whole Paddy Wagon Tour. We were dropped off at the entrance of what looked like to a park. But, at the top of the hill was 600-year-old Blarney Castle. At the top of the Castle was the Blarney Stone of Eloquence. Legend says that if you kiss the stone you will have the Gift of Gab for the next seven years. “And if you give it a little tongue, you’ll have the gift for fourteen years,” said Freddy the tour guide.
So here Bridget and I go to make out with a stone. As we cross one of the many creeks, it goes from light rain to heavy rain to hail! It is a mad dash to the first coverage of the Castle, the dungeon. Give it about two minutes and the rain stopped. I thought Minnesota weather changed fast. This place takes the cake. We get to the main gate and start to head inside. There’s a sign that says “Blarney Stone” with an arrow pointing up. Here comes another hike. I want you to imagine a twisty stair case. Okay, now add everything in stone. And now, shorten up the length of the steps to about six inches. And lastly, think about moving your arms out at a forty five degree angle and that’s how much space you have. Tight, tight, tight. After ten minutes of climbing, we reach the top of the castle. The top is in the shape of a square and there is not a middle covering the next two floors. It is windy but the view is breathtaking. At the opposite end of the roof is a white haired old man sitting on the edge. His name is Dennis and Dennis is a very friendly man. I will try to do my best of explaining the kissing of the stone process.
So, you lie on your back right next to Mr. Dennis. Then he takes your left hand and has one arm around your waist. There are two handle bars above your head that you grab onto. Then he guides you to arch back and kiss the stone upside down. And then Bam! Gift of Gab. Bridget went first and got friendly with Dennis. He laughs as she squeals and kisses the stone. Then, I get down next to Dennis and tell him he has to judge what sister is a better kisser. He says the younger sister is always the better kisser. (Damn right! *hair flip*). We giggled all the way back down the winding castle stairs.
Next we started to explore the gardens. I felt like I was a fairy in the forest or an explorer in wonderland. There were creeks, boulders, waterfalls and wooded pathways. We came across a pasture of cows, hidden gardens and the Blarney Witch’s steps. The myth says that if you walk up and down the stone steps with your eyes closed and only thinking of a wish, your wish will come true. There was a Swedish family with kids that kind of distracted me on my way back down. But, I think I got my wish in.
We got back on the bus after the adventure in Blarney. I was pooped and coming down with a cold. A little while longer and the bus dropped us off next to a hostel in Cork. We dropped our bags off and then went to get dinner at a traditional Irish Pub. Tonight’s meal of choice: Irish Stew with lamb, potatoes, carrots and thyme. Really hit the spot when I wasn’t feeling so well.
The next morning, the Paddy Wagon picked us up. The main event for the day: the Cliffs of Moher (pronounced “more”) on the Atlantic Coast. We drove for a couple of hours on motorways, through winding country roads and across pastures filled with sheep and cows. We stopped for lunch in a town named Doolin at the new driver’s favorite place: Fitzgerald’s. We got the seafood chowder to warm us up on the windy coast. Just a twenty more minutes on the bus before we got to the Cliffs. I thought Nebraska was windy. I was wrong.
Another climb up the grassy back side of the cliffs and your fighting with the wind to keep your footing. There were a lot of elderly tourists around and I saw four almost fall down. When we got to the top of the hill, we saw the view that we were coming for. The cliffs were 700-some feet high with the sea crashing into the bottom. Along the top was a narrow walking trail that Bridget and I opted out of because of the strong winds. There was a castle at the top and the cliffs went on for miles. We would have stopped for more pictures but the wind was literally blowing us away. This is one of those places that you realized that there are forces much stronger than man.
Back down the hill we stopped in a little cave/cutout in the rock. There was a cafe and museum. We grabbed tea before we hopped on another Paddy Wagon back to Dublin. I was becoming sicker as we sat in the cafe just waiting to get back to a bed in Dublin. The last Paddy Wagon driver was a wonderfully friendly man. I stayed on the bus during one of the stops because I had the chills. He came up and asked me if I was alright or needed anything. It was one of those instances where you’re alright and then start tearing up when someone asks if you are okay. I teared up. So he gave me a hug. Such an unexpected display of compassion and warmth.
Warmth is one of the things I will miss most about Ireland and the people there. They are friendly, welcoming and good people. I enjoyed many parts about my stay in the various cities and towns. There will always be a special place in my heart for the homeland. I cannot wait to come back in another seven years to kiss the Blarney Stone again.
Bridget’s thoughts on Ireland – I loved it. It reminded me so much of home in so many odd ways. We couldn’t go a few feet without running into a shop or pub or site that didn’t have a familiar last name (Mc-something, O’-Something, Fitz-Something…). It was beautiful, welcoming, and a really good time. Cannot wait to go back!