day 3 - 8-16-13: dromoland, ennis, tipperary
we're able to sleep for six hours or so, which isn't enough for the big day in front of us. this is our heaviest driving day & we've tried to cram too much into it. i've worked out a tight schedule for us, but i have a minute to check my email - though last night the wifi was named "clare inn wifi", this morning it's "inn at dromoland 1". talk about renovations - they literally JUST renamed the router, haha.
setting out, our first point of interest is the burren. we pay the discounted visitor's center fee of 8€, then wander the exhibition & watch a short film about the area. it's like the surface of the moon, & local flora behaves oddly here. on the way out to the burren proper, we split an apple & almond tart we grabbed at costa yesterday. i pretty much love anything with marzipan in it. we drive out to the poulnabrone dolmen portal tomb, take some photos (where joe looks oddly photoshopped), & jump around on the stones. we leave on schedule at 11:10am.
on to our next stop, we come across plenty of true dry stone walls - i photograph joe hanging out on one of them. we drive on awesome backroads (i make another video) to aillwee cave; joe had sold me on this by saying, "THERE IS A WATERFALL IN A CAVE. A CAVE WATERFALL". we get a two-for-one deal from the visitor's guide & pay only 12€ together. it's pretty neat in the cave, but a chilly 10°C (50°F), & i make repeated requests for warmth from joe. (he obliges.) my camera takes a great shot of the aforementioned cave waterfall. we leave 30 minutes late so we can share a rather good bowl of vegetable soup & brown bread at the cave's café. the cashier offers us cream on the soup, & we ask her if SHE would order it that way. she would, & so we do, & the big dollop of softly whipped cream is a good decision.
doolin cave is next, & though it's less known than aillwee, it's a better experience. there's a long story about this cave that our guide relates - in short, a couple of explorers found the barely-man-sized opening of the cave one day, & crawled on their bellies for the full half a kilometer over two & a half hours, using only gas-powered headlamps for light & occasionally crawling in half light or full darkness when the gas started to get low. when they reached a large, open area, notified by the change in acoustics, they turned on the lamps - & saw the largest stalactite in the northern hemisphere, just hanging there like a chandelier. our guide lights the room at this point in the story, & we have a similar gasp reaction to what varley & dickenson must've felt. i take a bunch of photos as we're told the structure grows so slowly that it looks the same now as when cleopatra was alive. there's an interesting waviness to it, seen from the bottom - a "curtain formation". we're allowed to touch the lumpy stalagmite beneath it, & are also shown a 350 million year old fossil (they had it dated) & some other oddities.
leaving the cave, after returning our hard hats, i spot an irish ladybug (it looks just like an american ladybug, but speaks with an accent) & i purchase an "extra blackcurrant jam" for 3€, made by the clare jam co., in their gift shop. i also find joe some black "scrubby soap" from dr k's soap company. it has coconut oil, activated charcoal, & bubbly dreams from baby irish bats.
we want to see the cliffs of moher, but we're spooked by the insane amount of tourists at the car park. instead, we go past the lot for a kilometer or so, & find a one-lane road that seems to head up towards the cliffs. this road is pretty typical of ireland, we're finding - about every half kilometer, there's a wide spot where one or another car can pull to the side to let the oncoming vehicle pass. EVERYONE waves as they do this, so we've picked up the habit, too. it seems the irish have to be extra friendly like this because they have to interact so often on tiny roads, & this is not a method of transport that could withstand a seussian zax standoff. eventually, we come to an honor-system car park with maybe a dozen cars in it... but it's still kilometers away from the cliffs, & we have neither the time nor the inclination to make the walk.
we're now way past schedule, so we skip stopping in lehinch & limerick (though i do tell joe a limerick in limerick) & head straight to our reservation for horseback riding in tipperary. there are castle & random rock structures everywhere - the joke is that every irish person has their own castle, but i didn't consider that might be true until i visited!
we have to eat before riding, as we're both famished, & the ride is two hours. the GPS tells us there's a pub nearby in ennis, but we see something faster once we park: the snack shack sandwich bar. i order a double decker chicken/stuffing/cranberry on brown bread, & joe gets some chicken tikka job. i'm offered "salad", which i think means lettuce on my sandwich, but apparently means crisps. we each find a chocolate caramel in green foil at the bottom of our bags & are charmed. the sandwiches are decent, but are made better through the sheer degree of our hunger. joe buys double coffee - one at the snack shack & some giant mocha thing at a costa across the way - so he'll have fuel for the hour drive home after riding.
lack of sleep is affecting joe - he's pulling faces & making terrible jokes. i see a horse standing sideways on a steep incline, & i point it out as a "side pony"... & joe replies that the horse should turn to face away from us so it would be a side pony tail. :(
the tipperary mountain trekking centre is basically impossible to find, & it takes us 45 minutes longer than expected to locate it. we drive through borrisoleigh twice before spotting the tiny sign for L3602, but make it to the ranch 15 minutes before our 7pm reservation - good thing we didn't actually stop for dinner! the weather is overcast & gray, much like home, & we're bundled up in borrowed high riding boots & light raincoats. joe's horse, spot, is a fuzzy-hoofed, bearded gelding colored appropriately for his name. spot is tacked up & joe climbs on. this is his first time riding english, & he has to be taught how to hold & choke up on the reins; i've ridden both english & western since i was seven, & prefer english. i'm on sweetie, & she's true to her namesake - she has a super sensitive mouth that makes her VERY easy to control.
our guide, clare, is the one i communicated with through email to set this up, & she's also the owner. she takes us into the ring first, to make sure that we're not the typical horrible americans who are going to ruin her horses. i appreciate this dearly - we also talk about it during the ride, how she doesn't allow people who ride poorly to ride her horses. when she's content, we take off on the black hill trail.
the trail is gorgeous - it's open & living & so green, & we stop many times to take photos & panoramas. the first hill we climb cannot be seen from other hills because of the camouflage of the hill behind it, & therefore it was used as a watchpoint, on horseback, for approaching armies. due to this history, clare says, the owners of the land let her ride on it. she points out some celtic ring forts (they look like a "30" from afar, & i'm pleased my 20x optical zoom can capture them!) & an area that was used as a bronze-age kitchen. clare relates a lot of cool local history, & that's a big part of why i like to ride horses in other countries.
we pass several groups of cows, & one starts to walk towards us. clare shouts, "COW COW COW COW COW!" & it goes running off. joe & i are in hysterics over this, & glee when it happens again a short while later. we see fresh hazelnuts growing on a tree, & clare tells us how the fuchsia came to ireland & is growing wild everywhere. we make friendly conversation about what else we're doing in ireland: i get to use ken's joke that we're hitting more castles than cromwell, & this earns a laugh.
i'm glad to note that 2.5 month old (& therefore still healing) piercings in the girl parts are just fine at a run. cantering on a small horse like sweetie is great - usually i'm stuck on a normal-person-sized horse, & i am not normal-person-sized. joe also successfully hangs on, despite initial fears to the contrary. (i'm confident - i saw him canter in hawaii without any trouble, though granted that was western & not english.)
despite gray skies, we somehow manage to avoid all presence of rain, & our ride comes to an end. we say our goodbyes & promise to write joyous tripplanner reviews. on the way back to the hotel, we pay yet another 1.90€ toll from our combined toll jug, & listen to more irish radio. in the hotel parking lot, i find a car brand i hadn't heard of, a renault fluence, & opine to joe how brilliant this naming strategy is - when the owner is asked what car he drives, he can reply, "i have a fluence"... affluency.
we finish our sandwiches & relax while internetting in the crap hotel. we share a surprise lemon tart joe picked up at costa. i'm starting to suspect that costa is the starbucks of ireland, but the pastries are REALLY good, damn.
joe's entry: link
 a wonderful bird is the pelican
his beak can hold more than his belly can
though he stores in his beak
enough food for a week
i'll be damned if i see how the hell he can!
day 4 - 8-17-13: cork, blarney
the wake up call just rings one solid forever-ring, which is sort of nightmarish, but we actually get over seven hours of sleep & are feeling okay. i pop in my serpentinas to wear to blarney castle today. i check us out & tell the front desk about their atrocious maid service, & they promise to correct their mistakes. i note that everyone we talked to was very kind, so that's a plus.
we don't have a ton planned for blarney, so joe spent last night on megalithicireland.com finding sites near cork. we resolve to visit them, but first to the cork english market, 1.5 hours away. my research online said to "Pick up a baat, an Irish breakfast sandwich - rasher, sausage and blood pudding held together on buttered nutty whole grain bread - at the Farmgate Café, which is located on the second story of this market." we haven't had a "full irish breakfast" yet - nor lamb for that matter - so we're looking forward to this.
we stop for
joe & i work on our irish accents; he sounds half pirate. we drive behind a "bus eireann" offering wifi, & at joe's insistence, i'm able to connect & check my email while joe giggles & tailgates. the radio is back on RTE RnaG. there's clearly more accordion in irish music than one might expect, & every instrumental irish song seems to end with clapping & cheers at the end as if it were recorded in a pub. it's charming. we finally figure out the small highway markers with three white slashes, then two, then one... they precede most major exits. we see many sheep, but far more cows, & windmills that look just like ours in the states. we pass a multitude of places named "murphy's", & irish friendliness is illustrated when we see a taxi driver give a pedestrian directions - whoa. the cork arts theatre is performing "grease" & i do not want to go.
we make it to the market, which is very much like seattle's pike place... but the farmgate café is packed & doesn't look as good as what i'd read, so we ask a passerby for a tip. she points us at tony's bistro, a block away. joe gets the "pauly walnuts": two slices of sourdough with irish oak smoked salmon, poached eggs, & enough hollandaise to drown an infant, plus an extra portion of hollandaise on the side. wtf, who needs a full cup of hollandaise?! i do my best to finish half of the "tommy devito": a full irish breakfast of 2 sausages, bacon, a fried egg, hash browns, sautéed mushrooms, baked beans, & Clonakilty Black & White Pudding. the puddings (blood sausage) are SO good; white has a lighter flavor as it lacks blood, but both taste similar to liverwurst. turns out clonakilty provides "ireland's favorite blackpudding", first made in 1880, so i suppose that's why it's capitalized on the menu. the bacon & hash browns are a bit different from home, but everything's pretty tasty.
it's "cork heritage open day" & there are a lot of free things available, but the observatory that most interests us is way too far to walk. we tool around a bit, & pass a pawn shop with a ton of old game systems. i'm sorely tempted - in the window, there's a green screen nintendo gameboy, gameboy color, gameboy micro, nintendo DS, DS lite, nintendo game cube, nintendo 64, NES, nintendo super famicon, sony ps one (WITH video attachment), sony hit bit 75, atari 2600, atari 2600 jr (rev. a), atari lynx, intellivision, a sinclair zx spectrum +2, radofin tele-sports, sega megadrive (PAL version II), sega master system II, sega dreamcast, sega game gear, & even a sega saturn (xref joe's birthday post!). i can hear testing4l screaming far in the distance, & he doesn't know why. (& yes, the photo below is clickable to the huge image.)
in a grocery store, we find pay toilets asking for .20€ on the lock, but everyone just holds the door for the next person. now's a good time to discuss irish toilets: they all seem to be similar - there's often no visible cistern, a very deep bowl with almost no water, & the flush is way overdone in a FLOOD. some have dual flush buttons like we saw in china, & i don't find a single seat cover even in public bathrooms. & to that end, they're never called restrooms or bathrooms - all the signs just say "toilets".
back to the market, we're feeling overloaded in euros & strive to correct this immediately. joe finds some local honey, scrummy plum chutney, wild burren & traditional doolin mustards (heavily seedy), & whole bean coffee. i buy a selection of tiny 37g jams: irish whiskey marmalade, lime marmalade, mango chutney, quince jelly, & quince chilly [sic] jelly (nope, not chilly like mint - the ingredients list "chilli's", heh); plus two 130g jars: poitín toddy marmalade, & pear & vanilla jam. i also pick up a delicious water beverage - d.p. connolly & sons' elderflower & pear juice. it's primarily water & only 2% sugar, & i love it.
we pay 10.50€ for parking, coming in just three minutes under 2 hours. i take a panorama of blarney at the car park. joe informs me that 1€ & 2€ coins make sweden look like limp peen. i can't disagree.
we drive ten minutes or so to blarney castle. as i purchased our tickets online, we do better than the visitor guide's "10% discount with one paying adult" - my student rate is 10€, & joe's ticket is .50€ less than the 12€ gate price, so we come out on top. we wander the grounds & enter the castle. joe finds his way into the dungeon & requires me to snap a photo; i eyeroll & oblige. there are fun signs along the way upstairs, explaining things like "baloney is telling a 50 year old woman she looks 20, but blarney is asking a woman's her age because you want to know at what age women are most beautiful." we make our way up the tiny spiral stone staircase to the top, assisted only by a thick rope tacked along the middle & tied at the top with a tiny piece of copper wire. the spitting rain stops just in time. joe kisses the stone, but feels he only brushed it with his lips, so he wants another shot. (really, i think he's trying to catch up with me, since this is my second kiss of the stone since i was six.)
i take my turn before joe goes again. for those unaware, the blarney stone is located in the wall below the battlements. to kiss it, you sit/lay at the edge of the wall facing the center of the castle, then grab some iron rails mounted in the wall above & behind you. the gentleman manning the stone holds onto you as you do a backbend to smooch the stone. from this position, the ground is visible far below, & you're essentially out in space to do this. it's great! i THINK the man holding us could've been the same man who held me when i was six. he tells us to keep the line moving & hurries everyone along despite there only being six people wandering the area. (joe's description of him is perfect: "[a] miserly geezer ... shuffles you through the experience with all the warmth and flair of a head nurse giving an inoculation.") there's a camera set-up like on rollercoasters, & they give us a print-out with a number on it - my photo is so particularly good that i actually give them the 10€ for a print. joe says he'll pay half of that, because he likes having a hot girlfriend. *sashay*
i photograph joe in the murder hole (a grate in the floor of the room above the castle entrance, used to kill unwanted visitors), & i pose at the entrance to the poison garden. we wander this garden (amusingly, joe is stung by some nettles), the caves, & the rock close, deftly avoid the horse graveyard (!), & leave just after closing.
we drive a minute, but are pretty hungry, & quickly find food on the GPS: christy's pub. the menu looks amazing, & we go in. we decide to split three courses:
we leave contented & get fairly lost on the way to our hotel - ireland really hates putting up signs ANYWHERE - but we manage. the blarney golf resort is back to what we expect: lush, new, & beautiful. we check in, & take the lift to our room. like all elevators in ireland, the ground floor is floor zero, & this makes more sense than starting at one... but it means our room 219 is on floor one, which is odd. the bed is super soft & pillowy, & HUGE - actually two large mattresses pushed together. the tub is also enormous, well big enough for joe & i to share. there are yummy bewley's biscuits & irish breakfast tea (assam & darjeeling) in a little tray in the cabinet. joe & i work on finalizing the megalithicireland.com stuff for tomorrow, & happily sink into bed.
joe's entry: link