Monday, July 1, 2019

Travels to the Emerald Island! An Ireland Vacation Photo Dump

Guess who's got one thumb, a cup of coffee, is featured in the photo below, and just got back from Europe?

This guy!

This week's post is a low-effort photo dump chronicling my adventures on a family trip to Ireland for one week.

It was a semi-guided tour around the south of Ireland, a package deal that hit up a bunch of the major historical markers one wants to see when they go to Ireland, such as Blarney Castle and the Cliffs of Moher.  In attendance were myself, Andrew, my mom, my brother Nate, and his partner, Also Andrew.  (To be clear, he is a distinct and separate Andrew; we aren't sharing.)

Part of my father's family hails from Sligo, so Ireland had long been on a must-see travel list for us.

The vacation immediately began on the right foot when our airline (taking Andrew and I from Los Angeles to Chicago) lost our luggage.  Well, not "lost."  Just... sent on a worldwide tour.  It went on to Orlando, Cancun, and possibly Dallas before arriving in Dublin, by which time we had already left for Galway.  In the end we had to tell the airline to ship it back to Chicago, where we would meet it at the end of our vacation.

The trip over was rough for me.  For reasons I can't fathom, I got violently ill on the plane and spent the last few hours of the trans-Atlantic flight vomiting myself stupid, sweating, crying, and moaning in pain.  I took some pride in getting a guy in first class sick, too.  (His seat was located by the restroom and separated from the other cabin by only a curtain, so he basically had front-row seats to watching me die from dysentery Oregon Trail-style.)

When we arrived in Dublin, the first thing that struck us was that everything was in both English and Gaelic.  Once considered a dead language, Gaelic is now the national language of Ireland and there's a big push to use it again.  Indeed, throughout our trip, we heard many people speaking it, which was fascinating.

We arrived at Dublin airport and went into County Meath with a brief swing through the city.

Leinster House, the seat of Irish parliament

The first day we were in town was all about getting settled and fighting jetlag.  It wasn't until the second day that we began touring in earnest.

Day 2 began with a guided tour of the city called "Viking Splash Tours," which was held in an old WWII car that had been outfitted with aqueous capabilities for Normandy beach, and was led by a man with a magnificent braided beard who shouted a lot.

He gave us hats.

If you're wondering why the hell there's a Viking tour in Ireland, it's mostly because Norwegian culture had a MASSIVE influence on Ireland.  Ireland, an island, has ample interactions with other seafaring cultures, so Norway and Spain both spent a lot of time conquering Ireland back and forth.  (You can see the Spanish influence as well; most cities have a Latin Quarter.)

The city is largely made up of row houses with the occasional incredible gem like this.  
I looked up what this building was and all I could find was a review for the bar on the street level:
"Phenomenal, got into a bar fight and didynt [sic] her kicked out. But told Sir.. please stop and sit."

Once the morning tour was over, we got a few hours to roam the city. It wasn't nearly enough, but I already knew what I wanted to do: see Trinity College, which houses the Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript from the 9th century.

The interior of Trinity College.

Trinity College's "Long Room" is a gorgeous and indescribable old library packed with ancient tomes. 

Don't worry, this is only a facsimile.  
Photography of the real book is prohibited, but I did see it!

It also houses Brian Boru's famous harp, a national symbol of Ireland, dating back to the 1400s or 1500s.

After seeing the wonders of Trinity College, we promptly got lost like dumb American tourists and spent about an hour trying to locate the tour bus. We met them at the famous Ha'Penny Bridge, which was built in 1816 and extends across the Liffey, and was famously a toll bridge for over 100 years.

I have no pictures of the bridge but lots of our lost wanderings.

After a night's rest, we set off to Cork.  The countryside was as picturesque and stereotypical as you could imagine, with farms, small churches, tiny towns composed entirely of bars, and the occasional castle.

A random castle, seen from the road.

We arrived at Blarney Castle, which has an impressive, expansive grounds.

The castle itself is maintained as authentically as possible, without any props.  There are signs strewn about warning you that the stairs are VERY steep and VERY slippery.  They are all single-file and have no hand rail.  This is not a castle designed for people who love Medieval Times, but a castle for those who want to see an actual medieval castle from 1446 as it exists today.

The wood floors have long-since rotted away, leaving huge, tall rooms that have "floating" hearths like the one above.

Above is another view of how several stories end up looking like a single "room" because of the lost wooden flooring that would have divvied them up.

The bell tower at the top.

Yes, I kissed the stone, which apparently exists in a big hole on the roof 
and requires you to dangle your body into the hole to kiss it.

Because of the ridiculous climb to get to the top of the castle (signs everywhere warned not to bother even trying if you had a health condition or mobility issues), my mom opted to stroll around the poison garden.  Outside, a lone bagpipeman played.  It was a lovely day, bright green and just as picturesque as you could imagine.  I wish we would have been able to spent more time there.

But we had to meet the tour bus.  This time we didn't get lost; the town of Blarney is fairly small.  There's a giant village green in the middle of Blarney, where we hovered while we waited, watching locals play hurling there.

The next day, we set off for Cobh, a fishing town in Cork.

St. Colman's cathedral, as seen from the Spike Island Ferry.

We went to Spike Island, a famous ~100-acre fortress island often likened to the USA's Alcatraz.  Once a military stronghold, later a prison island (with a tiny ghost village where all of the guards and their families lived), it's now a historical location you can tour.

Afterwards, back on the homeland, we explored the fishing town of Kinsale, which like all other towns, was filled with small shops plying sweaters and sheep-stamped paraphernalia, interspersed with pubs.  It was a cute little holiday town and we swung by the local churchyard, where I found a snail.  This isn't really a remarkable note on Ireland's culture but snails are cool.

After Kinsale, we went back to the hotel for a rest before setting out the next day for Adare.

From the bus.

The fifth day was almost entirely dedicated to going to the famous Cliffs of Moher, in County Clare, which offer a sweeping view of the Atlantic from about 700 feet up.  Crisp, windy, and wild, a path along the cliffs offers virtually no safety, assuming people will be smart and not lean over the edge.

For more pictures of just the cliffs, taken while my mother yelled in the background for me to "not get so close," you can visit my Instagram album here.

That night, we made our way into Galway, where we stayed at the Glenlo Abbey hotel.  Famously, the traincar where they shot Agatha Christie's "Murder on the Orient Express" is located here, and you can have dinner in it.  It's a great experience but all the travel was making me sick and I ended up retiring early.  Andrew and Nate opted to go play croquet on the grounds that evening.

Glenlo Abbey

The next day, feeling refreshed, we took a ferry to the largest of the three Aran Islands, Inis Mor (or Inishmore).  Twelve square miles, with a population of under 1,000, Inis Mor is a rocky little outcrop covered in stone cottages.  Horse carts pass through the streets regularly.  It's a place out of time.  The main "village" features a couple of bars and a couple of sweater shops, and not much else.  (There's a seal colony on one of the island's beaches.)

The most Irish photo every taken.

Like many of the tiny islands surrounding the mainland, Inishmore was once a historical stronghold.  At the island's peak is Dun Aengus Fort (Dún Aonghasa), or what's left of it.  This prehistoric fort is 100 meters up, perched on the edge of a cliff, and a decent hike.  I had flashbacks to the Cliffs of Moher as I leaned over the cliffside to get pictures while my mom warned me not to get too close.  It was windy and there was, again, no guard rail.  I have to say, I sort of like the Irish sensibility of "buyer beware" when it comes to exploring ruins.

 Me and my mom.  She bought a sweater.

Back in Galway, we finally got some free time and city wandering.  Having learned our lesson in Dublin, this time we took note of various landmarks so we didn't get lost.  We had dinner at The King's Head, a pub established in 1649 following the execution of King Charles I.  (Note: I was not a huge fan of the food, actually.)

The Aran Islands are famous for their knit sweaters, with different patterns representing different clans.  This sheep, for example, represents the clan of "tourist souvenirs."

After another night at Glenlo Abbey, we went to Rathburn Farm.  There's nothing especially historical about Rathburn Farm.  It's just a farm. But our tour guide had astutely and correctly determined that American tourists would like to see a sheepdog herd some sheep and eat scones in a cottage.  (I got to feed a lamb with a bottle!  My mom has pictures of this that I need to ask her for.  It was a delight.)

That evening we went into Shannon for our final day.  We spent the vast majority of it at Bunratty Castle.  Bunratty Castle includes a whole fake medieval town where you can visit different shops and see Irish Wolfhounds.  (Again, there's pictures, somewhere, but they are not in my possession.)  Unlike Blarney, Bunratty has decked out many of the rooms to give you an idea of what they looked like a few hundred years ago.

The stairwells are still steep and single-file, though, so if you plan to climb any of the towers, prepare not to use a handrail.  The Irish don't believe in them.

I could have spent one or two days at Bunratty, but only got to see a few animals and the castle itself before we were bustled back onto the tour bus, taken to a pub for dinner, and then told good-bye.

The next morning we made our way to the Shannon airport and back to Newark.  Here, United canceled our flights back to Chicago, St. Louis, and Los Angeles.  Over 600 people ended up stranded; like the others, we were told we'd have to hang out in the airport all weekend.  My mom ended up camping out; my brother called a few rental car companies to see about driving from New Jersey back to St. Louis (the closest place with available cars was Atlantic City).

Andrew and I opted to take the Metro into New York City, where we stayed at the Umbrella Hotel in Queens before going to JFK and taking a separate airline back to L.A.  This was in the midst of Pride weekend so Union Station was its own show.

Despite the stressful and upsetting end to what was supposed to be a relaxing vacation, it was overall a great experience, and the main draw wasn't really Ireland itself, but the people we explored it with.  My favorite attractions were Trinity College's Long Room, the Aran Islands, and Bunratty Castle, but in all honesty, getting to spend a week with my mother, brother, and husband would have been special, even if it was at an Ikea.  That being said, Ikea probably wouldn't have produced so many great pictures.

Andy and I

My brother Nate and I.  (He's a whole foot taller than me.)

All three of us: me, Mom, and Nate.
Nate wouldn't wear the hat.

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