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Post Info TOPIC: Coasting through the Emerald Isle on Pints of Cider - May 2011!


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Coasting through the Emerald Isle on Pints of Cider - May 2011!


OK, so I'm back from Ireland, and starting in on my trip report.  It's still in rough form, but I thought I'd start, as I'm about halfway through so far.  I'll be posting the polished form with pics on my website when I'm done, but here it is so far, one section at a time. 

Ireland 2011 Taking Ireland by Storm! (May 12th through May 30th, 2011)

Itinerary:

13th (Fri) Fly into Belfast.  Overnight in Cushendall (Riverside B&B)
14th (Sat) Overnight in Cushendall.
15th (Sun) Overnight in Cushendall.
16th (Mon) Overnight in Ardara (Bayview Country House).
17th (Tues) Overnight in Ardara.
18th (Wed) Overnight in Ardara.
19th (Thur) Overnight in Westport (Boulevard Guesthouse).
20th (Fri) Overnight in Westport.
21st (Sat) Overnight in Inis Mor (Man of Aran cottage).
22nd (Sun) Overnight in Inis Mor.
23rd (Mon) Overnight in Ballyvaughn (Oceanville B&B).
24th (Tue) Overnight in Ballyvaughn.
25th (Wed) Overnight in Dingle (Blooming Wildflower B&B).
26th (Thu) Overnight in Dingle.
27th (Fri) Overnight in Kenmare. (O'Donnabhain's Guesthouse)
28th (Sat) Overnight in Kenmare.
29th (Sun) Overnight in Kenmare.
30th (Mon) Drive to Shannon and fly back home.

My fourth trip to the Emerald Isle ended up being a completely different trip than first planned.  The players changed, the dates changed, the places changed, and the pace changed, some several times.  However, there is no such thing as a bad trip to Ireland, that magical, mystical place of green rolling hills, dry stone walls, sheep on every mountain and pints in every pub. 

Our final plan was as is listed in the itinerary above.

With much research and planning, I found some fantastic B&Bs for our trip, decent flight arrangements, rental car, and other details as necessary.  Now I just needed to wait for the departure day to arrive!  That week at work was very, very long, let me tell you.  However, Wednesday May 11th finally arrived, as it must, and I was lucky enough to get out about a half hour early.  I checked in online before I left.

The plan had been to drive home, load up the car with my luggage, and for my husband, J, to drive me to Pittsburgh.  However, he felt a kidney stone coming on, so I drove the 1.5 hour trip myself, and just paid for long term rental at the hotel I was staying at.  The flight was in the morning, and my friend V was arriving from Gainesville, FL that evening, so we figured a hotel stay near the airport was best.  I picked her up around 8pm, and we got something to eat, and to sleep for an early morning start.  We stayed at America Best Value, which has a complimentary shuttle early in the morning, was inexpensive, clean and adequate.  They also had a long-term parking deal about $50 less expensive than airport long-term parking. 


Thursday, May 12th:  "Into the Bowels of the Theatre"
We were up at 3:30am to catch the shuttle to the airport, print out our boarding passes at the kiosk, and get through security.  We were checking no luggage on the way over, as we were able to pack carry-on sized bags.  I have had poor luck with checked luggage in the past, and didn't want a repeat of my Scottish trip, where I didn't get my bag for 5 days.  The security was my first full body scan experience, but it went rather smoothly.  We now had about 1.5 hours until our flight boarded, so we snuck in some WiFi time on our digital demons.  V had an iPad to keep in touch with work each day, and I had my iPhone to keep in touch with everyone else.  I introduced V to Shaun the Sheep videos, and came across an article about the 111 Most "Bangable" English literature characters (http://www.alwayssometimesanytime.com/new/?p=3342) .  We laughed very hard about some of the choices on this seemingly random list.  I get some of the Jane Austen characters, but Aslan?  Really?  And why would Frankenstein's Monster even BE on this list??  Peter Pan??  We posited that the list was created by scattering corn on a keyboard and letting a chicken pick the winners.

The flight ran about 15 minutes late, but we had a 12 hour layover in Newark, so this was no problem for us whatsoever.  My friend S met us there, as arranged, and proceeded to show us a lovely day in Newark and New York City.  We visited the Loew's Theatre  (http://loewsjersey.org/), which he has helped in restoring to its original state.   It is a beautiful old theatre and well deserves the chance to shine and glitter once more.  We explored it from projection room to the bowels of the theatre at certain points we had to pull out our cell phones and use them as flashlights, as the lights didn't work! 

We then found the hop-on/hop-off bus tours and went around to various touristy sites, taking pictures and having fun.  We wandered around Chinatown a bit and S took us to a dim sum restaurant in the heart of it for a late lunch.  Unfortunately, we probably got the last bits of lunch, as it was later in the afternoon, but it was an interesting experience.  There was serious police presence in town, and we discovered that there was a budget cut protest being planned we skedaddled elsewhere.  There was also a cluster of news vans around the courthouse a local police rape case was being decided that afternoon, and the vans were all awaiting the verdict.

Back to Newark, and this was the longest security line of our trip about 40 minutes, which isn't too bad.  They did check my CPAP, but it was no big deal, and the TSA were polite throughout the process.  We had some dinner at the Guinness Irish Pub at the airport to get into the mood some salad and some pints (usually cider for me, Guinness for V). 

We were on the plane by 9pm.  Our carry-ons were gate-checked, which was fine it's the full checking that always gives me ulcers.  And, for the first time in many, many years, I didn't need a seatbelt extender!  I had lost 100 pounds since the previous summer, and it was a fantastic feeling.  I also didn't feel like I intruded into the next seat, even better.  I did need some back support, so that silly little pillow became my lower back pillow for the trip.  V went right asleep, and made sure I didn't wake her up for dinner or anything, she would rather sleep right through the flight.  I watched an episode of Castle on the in-flight entertainment system, and then took some Xanax and actually got several hours of sleep myself.  I ended up skipping dinner as well, as a result.  I did wake about an hour before we landed, had some breakfast, and got our gate-checked bags. 



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Christy,

Welcome back. I was in Ireland at the same time you were. How about those 120 kph gales? One almost knocked over my 6'2" hubby.

Thanks for starting your report. Can't wait for all the juicy details. And congrats on losing so much weight! That is some accomplishment.

Michele

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Thanks, Michele! As you'll see later, those 120kph gales were on the day we had to take the ferry back from Inis Mor! :)

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Christy, thanks for the report. I see we were in Dingle the same days. The blowy day we went over Conner Pass then went to the Cliffs of Moher and it was knocking people over O'Brien's tower was closed. I'll post pic's in my report when I get to that day.

Frank



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Friday, May 13th: "No one takes swipe cards anymore"
At the arrivals area, I called Dan Dooley, and they sent Heather to pick us up in our rental car. Pick up was no problem, and NO hidden charges, yay! We drove to the first Boots we saw and picked up those supplies we didn't want to carry over with us, such as shampoo and the like. Well, we tried when I went to pay for my items, I gave them my chip and pin (I had obtained a prepaid Travelex chip-and-pin card for our trip). I had misremembered my pin, but I had written a hint on the back but the clerk wouldn't let me look, as it was physically in the machine. Therefore, I tried a couple more times, unsuccessfully, and it locked up. And they said they couldn't take non-chip-and-pin cards (and that this was true throughout Europe, which was NOT correct). So I gave up, went and found a customer service phone, and got my card unlocked (fairly easily). If she had just let me look at the card, all of that could have been avoided, but it is what it is, and no tragedy occurred.

On to Carrickfergus! We explored the castle a bit, and took our first scenic photos of the trip. Both V and I love taking photos, though I sell them more aggressively than V does. We were just arriving as hordes of schoolchildren were leaving, so we had the place pretty much to ourselves. It's a nice, solid old place on the water, with lovely big rocks and nice sea views. We stopped a couple other places along the way north for photos, captivated by the colorful cuts of rugged cliffs, the wide water with ghosts of islands in the distance. At a couple places in the road, the cliff was actually carved out into a tunnel through which the road went, and I think that's when it finally hit me that I was in Ireland again, my soul's home, my anam bhaile.

Cushendall is a small village on the Antrim Coast, one main street, one small grocery store, and 4-5 pubs, rather a typical Irish village. There is a river running through, a gratuitous ruin or two, a fairy hill, and a lovely coastal walk. We found the Riverside B&B (http://www.theriversidebandb.com/), just as our hostess was exiting she came right back when she saw where we were going. The B&B is right on the main road through town, and our hostess showed us to our room a beautifully decorated double room with a black, white and purple tastefully oriental theme. She recommended Joe's (pub down the street) for an afternoon lunch, and off we went. I had the goat's cheese salad (a popular pub offering in Ireland) and V tried some Guinness bangers and mash, both were delicious. V had never tried goat's cheese before, but she was hooked when I offered some of mine to try.

We decided to take a walk around town, see what was on offer, and then found a path to Layde Hill lovely path through the woods and to a park, with a small waterfall nearby. It was beginning to get later, so we stopped at the grocery store to get some supplies. V is a Diet Coke addict, and needed to stock up (3-4 a day, plus coffee in the morning is a minimum). We got some snacks, including nuts, apples, etc, and what V deemed Apple Crap carbonated apple-flavored diet drink (ick!).

We did a small nap for about a half hour, and then chatted with the host, Pat McKeegan, about the things around the area we can do. He was genuinely helpful, and you could very much tell he loved the interaction with guests, and talking about the local area. He recommended Glenaan, Torr Scenic Road, and Cushendun, as well as music at Joe's in the evenings. Some of it was traditional, some wasn't, but there were several rooms where music was played, so we could take our choice. We had a couple pints, laughed with a couple Australian girls about the 111 Bangable list mentioned above, listened to some of the music sessions, and tottered off to a well-deserved night's sleep of the dead.


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Christy,

Glad you enjoyed Cushendall. I will have to stop to see Riverside next time. Do they have off-street parking?

Michele

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They don't have off-street parking, but we had no problem finding a parking spot along that street at any time.

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Saturday, May 14th: "We're not climbing all the way up that, are we?"

Up, up, up! We were up at 6:30am, and discovered that the light in the bathroom is motion sensitive. If you stay still for too long (say, in the shower), the light goes off. And the sensor is not near the shower, so you have to stop and wave your hands as you shave your legs disconcerting to say the least. However, that's part of the adventure of traveling! It was raining a bit, so we decided to do some driving. We drove the Glenaan Scenic Route and the sun started peeping out of the cloud cover occasionally, in between spats of rain. We saw waterfalls, bridges, lots of sheep, a few goats, lovely rolling hills and tiny, windy roads. We ended up in Cushendun at one point, and explored a church back in Cushendall before breakfast was ready at 8:30am.

In the lovely breakfast room there were lots of nautical items we discovered that our host, Pat, used to be in the merchant marines, and worked as the harbor master now. The room had a slideshow of local photographs to some quiet traditional music to accompany our breakfast. Full Irish breakfast consisted of the usual fried eggs, brown Irish soda bread, bacon, mushrooms, sausage, and grilled tomatoes. There were potato pancakes and fried bread, as well.

After filling up to the brim with food, we were off to the Torr Scenic Road, Torr Head, Fair Head and more Antrim Coast delights. The sun was shy at first, but started peeking out as we got nearer to Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge. This area is listed as a tourist spot, but very little of what I saw mention the spectacular white and rock cliffs that surround the spot. On our way to the bridge itself, we walked by a young man trying very hard to sell us some programs. He tried guilt right off, by saying how stressed he was we at least stopped to chat with him. He lived on Rathlin Island (we could see it through the mists), which has a total population of 54 people. He had to drive his boat into work every day. We climbed over the bridge, all around the island, stared in awe at the beautiful coast, and wandered back. It is a long walk, and there were many tourists braving the winds, but it was definitely worth it. I think it was the most beautiful spot along that coast that I saw. It was wonderful to sit on the rock, look out over the seabirds darting into the waves, and realize I was there, in my home Ireland, once again.

Our next stop was the Giant's Causeway, something I'd wanted to see for many years. I had visited the Isle of Staffa in Scotland in 2008, the other 'side' of the causeway. The hexagonal basalt rock formations are surreal and strange. The walk down to the causeway was up and down, and beautiful as well, but the rain kept coming furiously through every 20 minutes or so. Then the sun made up for it by sparkling down on the wet surf and rocks. I had picked up a cheap rain poncho at the Rope Bridge and it was my most valuable purchase the entire trip! An umbrella would have been useless in the wind.

This site was more crowded than the Rope Bridge, but it was more open and climbable, as well. I was able to find some lovely photo ops here and there, and then the rain hit with a fury. We sheltered behind an outcropping until it died down, and we started the long walk back. The small café was bursting with people due to the furious wather, but I managed to get a hot Irish Coffee to keep me warm. We got back into the car and headed towards Dunluce Castle.

We ended up taking a wrong turn, despite having our handy-dandy TomTom SatNav to guide us. It tried to take us into Derry, but V beat it into submission, and we found our way. Dunluce was another spectacular spot, a castle situated on a sea cliff, with part of it having fallen into the sea hundreds of years ago. We had the place almost to ourselves, and the sun cooperated by shining through the rain and giving us some lovely views. The only other visitor was a large black cat who obviously owned the place, though he disdained from being petted.

We went into the town of Bushmills to find some lunch. It was about 3pm by the time the effects of the breakfast wore off, and of course that's when many pubs close for food. However, we found a tea shop called The Copper Kettle that served Irish lamb stew, and we had a warm, yummy, savory break.

We picked a road going south at random, and drove through farms and fields, over hills and through glens. We spotted many wind turbines in the distance, and one or two at individual farms across fields of bright yellow (not gorse this time perhaps rapeseed?). My legs were a bit achy from all the climbing up and down we did today, and the unfamiliar actions of driving a manual transmission without cruise control all day. We went through Ballymoney, and explored the glens of Antrim a little more before returning to Cushendall. The open vistas were impressive after the narrow hedgerows that grow along the farm roads.

We decided to explore the town a little more this evening, so we walked up one of the hills towards the fairy hill. I looked at it, felt the ache in my legs and said "We're not climbing all the way up that, are we?" This became the quote of the day, as it turned out. We found a road called Cairn Road, so I figured that there was a cairn on it off we went! Up and up, through foresty bits, past the fairy hill (and higher). We met Johnny, a local out for a walk, who said there was no cairn but that Layd Church was on the road, later on. We didn't find the church on that road (we missed the turn off) but had a lovely walk. It started raining again on our way back, so we dashed back into the B&B to warm ourselves in the lounge in front of the cozy fire.

We watched some TV (Cops was on go figure) and wandered for some food. It was later now, after 9pm, so the only place serving was the take-away I had some fantastic chicken curry, the place was called The Half Door. We went to Joe's for some more pints and music. It was more crowded than the previous night, but less music around. One room was singing along with something, and we heard several songs, such as The Joker and Summer of '69. We staggered off to bed around midnight, well-pinted and tired from a full day of exploration and visual feasting.



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The B&Bs I stayed at, by the way:
Cushendall: http://www.theriversidebandb.com/
Ardara: http://www.bayviewcountryhouse.com/
Westport: http://www.boulevard-guesthouse.com/
Inis Mor: http://www.manofarancottage.com/
Ballyvaughan: http://www.clareireland.net/oceanville/
Dingle: http://www.wildflower-cottage.com/
Kenmare: http://www.odonnabhain-kenmare.com/

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Sunday, May 15th: "We won't walk as much today, since it's raining"
This morning was the morning I was going to teach V how to drive manual transmission a mission fraught with danger and terror! We chose this day as few people would be out and about, especially early in the morning. The weather was a bit rainy, but it was bright enough. We took the Glenarm Scenic Route since we were already somewhat familiar with it, and it had big open spaces that made it easier to see oncoming traffic, if it existed. She did great, without any stalls or grindings, but decided it was much too much work with all the hills. That was fine, I figured I'd be driving this trip anyhow, but at least we tried!

Back for breakfast and then it was time to explore the Glens of Antrim a bit more. We just picked a road and drove and discovered the pain and promise that are the brown signs in Ireland. The brown signs point out places of interest sometimes ruins, castles, abbeys, and scenic views, but also often B&Bs, stores, and other things I wouldn't have thought a tourist would be interested in, such as furniture stores. We deemed these abusive brown signs, and did our best to ignore them when encountered. It did make things confusing, though, as one street junction might have 15 brown signs, only one or two of interest and trying to read them all at even 30 mph was difficult.

We saw signs for Glenarm castle and garden, and I remember reading something about a maze, so we set out to search for it couldn't find it. We ended up driving on the mountainside above the town, and could see it from there, so we went back down to town level, and found it. It was not open until noon that day, still 2 hours away, so we wandered away.

We found Glenariffe Forest and decided to take a walk in the forest path. Now, it is still raining and drizzling on and off throughout the morning, so we are packaged up in plastic like leftovers. However, waterfalls love rain, and make for lovely photographs, so off we went! The forest was lovely primeval, dripping, filled with ferns, water everywhere. There was a recurring odor that reminded me of musty stew, simmering all day in a rustic farmhouse, over the hearth with a peat fire. I think I counted at least a half dozen big, powerful waterfalls, and countless streamlets and cascades everywhere you looked.

We took the 2 mile 'easy' path, and it was delightful. Partway around, we came across a shelter that had 4 stalls with benches, and took a rest several Polish families were bringing little barbecues and setting them up for a party. This was a wonderful day, despite or perhaps because of the rain. It was very natural and rustic experience, with the constant dripping of the water, the rushing of the rivers, and the bombardment of scents from the greenery around us. The power of the falls was intense and humbling.

We finally made our way back to the starting point, and had a lovely lunch in the restaurant there, along with about 15 motorcyclists. All rice-burners, of course Harley Davidson doesn't seem to be very popular in Ireland. The restaurant itself was a bit touristy, but with lovely post and beam ceilings. I had some potato leek soup with brown bread, as I wanted something warm and savory. V had a goat's cheese salad. Much refreshed and recharged, we decided to try the Glenarm castle and gardens once more, as it was well past the noon opening times posted.

The gardens were lovely, but many of the flowers were not yet in full bloom in May, and others had been in bloom and were already a bit past their prime. There wasn't any 'maze', but there were hedges partitioning different parts of the garden, and a strange little spiral hill on one corner, that you could climb up and survey the gardens from above. The sun actually sparkled on the rain-wet leaves while we were there, affording us with a fairy-tale glistening of greenery. We went into the café/gift shop, and we asked about entry into the castle itself; we were told, rather snootily, that the castle was 'in residence', so there was no entry for tourists.

We went on to explore the brown-signed Glencloy Scenic Route, and came across many of the typically Irish stone walls corralling farms across galloping hills, steeper and steeper over each one as we drove. On the way back we found the first Ruin of No Consequence, a lovely ruined structure on a hill but no sign or indication of what it was, what it had been, why it was there.

Coming back to Cushendall, we decided to find Layd Church this time. We drove to where we thought the turn off was, and found a small parking lot and a short walk to the church itself. It was small, but with several lovely Celtic Crosses, so I took some photographs. We then started walking along the coastal path not realizing it was quite long. It was lovely, though, and we saw the shore from up high on this path. We saw islands in the mist in the distance, and V decided that it must be Scotland. In her best Tina Fey/Sarah Palin voice, she claimed 'I can see Scotland from my path!' Fisherman, a man playing with his dog, many varieties of flowers and the occasional mist of rain accompanied our journey, which let us out somewhat down the road from our car.

We made our way back and had dinner at Harry's, a restaurant on the corner. I had the seafood chowder (which surprised me by having chunks of tomato in the cream-based soup), while V had a platter with parma ham, chorizo sausage, and duck egg rolls. During dinner, we decided today's phrase of the day was "We won't walk as much today, since it's raining."

Having grown up in Florida, I took palm trees for granted, but always assumed it was at least a subtropical tree. I had previously seen a couple here and there in the southwest of Ireland, but noticed that here, in the northeast, almost everyone had at least one palm tree in their yard. There were various species of them, some short and bushy, most tall and V-shaped. Many looked a bit worse for wear, and not at all healthy, but everyone had them in their yards. It's not what most people think of when they think of Ireland, and it was a bit bizarre to see them so often.

We warmed up after dinner in the lounge of the B&B, by the toasty fire, and caught up on our facebook addiction. We watched a BBC special on puffins around the islands, and went off for an early night. The host also came in for a bit and talked to us some more, he was a very sweet man, and obviously loved the area.



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Monday, May 16th: "The Inis Eoghain 100" or "The hardest working man in Ardara"
I awoke from a disturbing dream. I had dreamt that we were already back in the US, at work, having taken a flight back, intending to return for the rest of our vacation, but then discovered we couldn't afford to come back to finish up. Shaking that thought off, we got up, packed and that's when I realized that I hadn't packed the battery recharger for the video recorder. D'oh! Well, that puts a damper on things. I had taken some video already, and while I was primarily a photo lover, I also knew there were some sights better shared through video, such as performances, crashing waves, etc.

I decided to order one on Amazon and ask them to deliver it to one of our upcoming B&Bs, so I tried that. Their delivery date was between May 20th and 25th; this would be OK if they delivered as promised, as we'd be close enough to the area to pick it up, so I placed the order. We shall see. In the meantime, my regular camera did take short video clips, though it ate up memory and battery but I had plenty of memory and a spare rechargeable battery, so I figured I was good.

I like bringing postcards from my home state and leaving them with Thank You notes at our B&Bs, so both V and I did this. Pat was off to work this morning, so we had our breakfast served by Mrs. McKeegan and settled up with her. Today we were off to Donegal!

We started off through Glenarm, and then to Coleraine, Ballycastle and to Derry. Around Armoy, I realized I needed to gas up for the first time, and realized I had almost forgotten one of the sights nearby I had listed, the Dark Hedges. Luckily, the store clerk knew exactly where it was (it was very close) and gave us directions for finding it. It's an amazing little place, just one road with interesting trees all along it, the branches twisting and tangling to make it look odd and strange. We also found a church with a round tower, called Gleneshk, and then we headed off towards Derry. We found the wide road! It was luxurious after several days of winding through tracks in the Glens, and afforded a wonderful view once we crossed a ridge, looking down on the Inishowen peninsula in the distance, half-hidden by haze and mist.

We decided to explore said peninsula on the way to Ardara, even though it was one of our rainy days. We took the road north to Stroove, but ran across a brown sign that simply said 'Inis Eoghain 100'. We didn't know what this was, though I should have realized that it was the Irish spelling of Inishowen. I realized that much later.

We kept seeing more signs for it, and kept following them it led us to the other side of the peninsula, then up north along the coast. It turned into an epic quest, full of interesting sights and small villages. When I spotted a map next to another of the brown signs, I stopped to look the 'Inis Eoghan 100' was simply a poetic name for 'the scenic route', evidently. But that was fine, it was a lovely journey. Also, the map was right next to a small pavilion that housed a 7th century Celtic Cross, and I was excited to have found that by accident. I have an addiction to Celtic Crosses, and I had to get my fix regularly throughout the journey. Sometimes I could bypass a cemetery (V doesn't feel comfortable tramping around the graves, so I tried to restrain myself somewhat), but sometimes I just needed my fix. Usually I'd leave V somewhere shopping or with a pint while I went and indulged.

We continued along the Inis Eoghain 100 to Malin Head, and this is where TomTom started getting stroppy. As many of you know, most GPS/SatNav systems will plan the most direct route to your destination. It gives no consideration to the size, condition or accessibility of the road it recommends. We discovered this was a bit of a problem in Ireland, several times, as the most direct route is often the least maintained.

This particular time, it decided to take us up and up, over a mountain on an unpaved tractor path. First gear, all the way up! It took us to the Wee House of Malin, a tiny church on a small cliff on the other side of the mountain but TomTom tried to tell us to keep going, off the cliff. We wisely ignored its polite suggestion. At this point it got pissed at us and took us on another unpaved road over another mountain pass, and into Stroove.

By this time, we were quite hungry, and, having been on the road for several hours, needed some comfort facilities. However, as we drove into Stroove, it looked like a ghost town. Even though it was around 11am by this time, it was dead every pub or store we looked at was boarded up, despite huge signs declaring it was open. Really, is it so hard to take down an open sign when you close? False advertising!

We kept driving into town, and finally found Carey's Fish & Chips store by the shoreline. They said the stores usually open during season, but we were early for that yet, being only mid-May. We had some chips with curry and a chicken kabob, and enjoyed not driving on steep, tiny mountain tracks for a little while. We went out to enjoy the quay, take some pictures of furiously lashing waves upon the rocks, and then retreated from the ocean winds into our car.

We followed the now ubiquitous 'Inis Eoghain 100' brown signs around the east coast of Inishowen to Muff (giggle), and across to Letterkenny, once more on the 'mainland.' V realized that we were out of the UK and in the Republic of Ireland without any sort of border patrol or crossing check. There was a point on the large, wide road where they were stopping cars, but they glanced at us and waved us by, without even making us fully stop evidently we weren't who they were looking for. And going back in and out of the UK or Ireland had no signs, even.

And that's when TomTom got pissy again and took us through a tiny road with more potholes than I'd yet seen in one place before we found the main road again. We drove through mountains and rain, mist and puddles to Glenties, and finally to our day's destination, Ardara. I'm sure there was a better road, but we must have missed a turn, and TomTom found the most difficult way through once again.

Ardara was my favorite town on this trip. There isn't one reason that sticks out as to why it's my favorite, it just seems to be a conglomeration of all the little reasons. It's not a large place, just one main street through town with perhaps a dozen pubs and restaurants. It's near the sea, and has some fantastic sights nearby, with mountains in the distance. The people were all incredibly friendly, and I could easily move there someday. I felt at home more than that, I felt part of the family.

Once in the town, we found Portnoo Road (north out of town) without any problems. Our B&B, Bay View Country House, (http://www.bayviewcountryhouse.com/) was down the street perhaps a half mile from town, and was a pleasant surprise. The house itself was large, with a big yard and lovely landscaping and plenty of parking. The lounge was warm and inviting, and the room Marian showed us was huge. It had lots of windows, a large bathroom, and two beds (one single, one double). The other rooms appeared a bit smaller, but I didn't go snooping. We were delighted!

Since the wind was howling and the sky was weeping most of the day (especially the latter half) we were well-wearied and weathered, and decided to find some warming beverages and filling food. Marian recommended Nancy's Bar, and mentioned there was an event going on that night. When we arrived, it was certainly crowded, and when enquiring about food, was told that they weren't serving that night, because of the event, but that we could try the Heritage Bar. So we walked down the block for the Heritage Bar who said food was more of a 'weekend' thing or a 'bank holiday' thing. We got the impression it wasn't really a 'normal' thing at all.

Right so, off to the Nesbitt Arms, a hotel nearby. I have found that hotels serve food when no one else wants to, though not always the best food, it's the most reliable source. I prefer pubs for the atmosphere, but when those are unavailable, we can at least find food. And that's where we discovered the hardest working man in Ardara! He was desk clerk, bartender, busboy and waiter to a fairly full restaurant. I ordered the monkfish and prawn tart with vegetable soup, and V had the goat cheese salad, and we both had pints of cider. The hardest working man in Ardara booked around the place like a man on speed taking orders from a party of 9, getting us our food (and it was not slow service, either!), cleaning glasses, etc.

V and I started talking about books, the days' sights, etc. Kinnagoe Bay on Inishowen was breathtakingly beautiful, and I only wish it was bright and sunny to see the sweeping sand sparkling in the sunlight. As it was, the memories were dim and gloomy, misty and soft. V mentioned that she didn't like the Northern Irish accent too much, it reminded her of chav London accents, with a question at the end of each sentence.

After a pleasant evening not driving, we wandered back to the B&B for a well-deserved rest.


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Tuesday, May 17th: "Thou shalt not waste the pickle!"

 

This morning V was introduced to white pudding for the first time, which she liked. I enjoy both black and white pudding, as well as haggis I truly don't understand why people don't like it, it's just sausage with some grains in it. However, some folks are a little squeamish about ingredients, I suppose. We had breakfast with a woman and her mother, both from Australia.

 

We decided to head towards Errigal Mountain today, to see if we could try to climb it. We drove north through vast peaty bogs, saw some well-placed wind turbines, and traversed tiny, windy roads, windswept vistas of brown and black. There had been some devastating wildfires in the region a couple weeks before, but they were all under control now, thanks to a massive effort by the community, and we saw evidence of the char in many places.

We stopped at Errigal Hostel to meet Karl, a gentleman who climbs the mountain often with groups, and takes wonderful photos of it (he posts them on Facebook). He gave us advice as to where to start, and off we were. We started up the slope and realized it was VERY muddy and squishy. Even though we had proper footwear on, we were both rank beginners, and the slope did rise rather steeply for us. Another group of hikers (with walking sticks and better gear) went up past us, and we decided it probably would be better not to try. Besides, we reasoned we could see nothing from the top, as it was enveloped in mist. Sour grapes, and all that, doncha know!

We wandered around the area a bit, TomTom tried once again to do away with us by taking us across a lake into diminishing sheep tracks. We turned around and went back after some scenic photos. We decided to head up to Letterkenny to see if we could find some adaptors, as the ones I brought were evidently outdated and no longer useful in Ireland, and/or a recharger for my video camera.

While finding Letterkenny, we came across Griannan Aileach, a stone fort on a high hill I had wanted to visit. It was a long, rather scary drive up the narrow road with high hedges and limited visibility, but it brought us most of the way to the top. The remaining walk was short and WELL worth the effort. Again, we had the place to ourselves. The view was sublime, and it looked like you could see half of Ireland from the top. Though the sky still looked stormy, and the wind was fierce, it didn't rain while we were surveying the landscape, and it was a very powerful spot. It was one of those places you were reluctant to leave, because you knew that when you did, the magic of the spot would no longer hold you enraptured and timeless.

We saw another ruin nearby, and found a road that might have led to it but it simply went around it, through flower-framed lanes in a big circle around the hill it was perched upon. We dubbed it our second Ruin of No Consequence, and moved on, almost running over a rather questionable-looking farmer with an axe, standing on the side of the road.

Letterkenny was a maze of traffic circles and cars. We started at Dunnes (like a Walmart), got sent to B&Q (the equivalent of Home Depot), Argos (like AT&T) and then Mats (like Circuit City) adaptors we got cheap at B&Q, but no recharger. I resigned myself to taking videos via my still camera until and if my recharger came from Amazon.

We decided to give up and head down to Donegal for the evening, though we ended up back in the UK by accident once or twice. The only place to park in Donegal was a Pay and Display, and we had no Euro change yet, so we went to the tourist office, and they were helpful and happy to provide change. We wended our way through busloads of tourists in the center Triangle of the city, and settled on the Castle Bar Restaurant for dinner.

After having been in places that weren't very tourist-ridden, I had forgotten how braying a group of American tourists could sound, and felt sad that I was one of them. "Is the bus coming back? I had to walk a whole block!" "Oh, look at this cute leprechaun doll I bought! Isn't it precious?" "When is this rain going to stop? It's ruining the whole vacation!" Sigh.

I had a delicious smoked salmon and crabmeat salad, and V had seafood chowder, and we each had a pint, and I felt better.

In Donegal we did our first serious shopping of the trip, going from kitschy tourist shop to kitschy tourist shop. I have a tendency to pick up several postcards from each area to give to folks at work, while picking up actual gifts to those closer to me. While I try to avoid the 'tat and tacky', I still enjoy looking at the offerings and giggling a bit, like the glow-in-the-dark Guinness boxer shorts, and such.

I prefer local crafts, and enjoy supporting the local economy. I waited to buy a knit hat until I found one that was locally made, for instance. Much of the jewelry I purchased was locally made. I won't refuse to buy something commercial, but I do prefer the handmade. I can get commercial stuff on the internet the handmade stuff isn't as widely available, and helps someone make a living doing something they love. Since I make my own jewelry and photography as well (www.greendragonartist.com!) I sympathize and support the effort. The last place we visited still had several other shoppers, but was unable to take credit cards as she had already sent in the night's report, so it was cash only.

The drive back to Ardara was less than a half hour, as we had traveled in a large triangle across the county. We enquired about a launderette, and Marian said there was one that could do our washing for us the next day. We then relaxed a bit in the B&B before we went out for pints.

We decided to try Nancy's again, and as we reached the door, a thin young man named Angus insisted that we come right in. He mentioned that my hair was fabulous (he was rather fabulous himself, which we didn't expect in such a small town!), and introduced us to Daniel and Michael, who were sitting at the bar. He said Daniel was a fantastic cook, and therefore with my glorious hair, we would make a great couple certainly anyone could see the logic there! We settled down to a table, ordered pints and a Ploughman's Lunch of cheese, pickle and bread for a late night snack.

In the course of our dinner, we chatted with the men at the bar, who were quite nice, despite Angus' matchmaking attempts. Angus was evidently quite drunk, and left shortly thereafter. He evidently was a star at the event he night before, dressing up as the Toucan from the Guinness ads. I said he was quite the character. V said 'Character? That's the C word you're going with?' and the whole bar started laughing. We enjoyed the food it had some nice cheddar and brie, and V and I fought over the bits of delicious sweet pickle relish. A bit fell off the plate - Thou shalt not waste the pickle!

We all had a lovely conversation about politics, economics, music, etc. with everyone, perhaps a total of eight people including us. The place was much less crowded than the evening before. It turned out Daniel was a cook there at the pub, but was off for the evening. He was one of the sons of the owners, and Michael was a cousin. There were 6 children, I think, and most of them worked in the pub in some way or another. It had been in the family for 3 or 4 generations, and was a very welcoming place.



-- Edited by Green Dragon on Wednesday 8th of June 2011 12:45:02 PM

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Christy,

Wonderful trip report with all the juicy details we love to hear about. I had to laugh about the Inishowen 100 because on my first drive on it (way back in ancient times) it was even worse than you describe. It was such a bad road we started calling it the Cow Path 100.

Michele



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Christy

I'm glad you liked Ardara. We spent a week self-catering in the 'Bridge Bar' right across the road from Nancy's. It was once a pub but is now a very nice house with a secret walled garden in the back. Like you, we felt very at home in Nancy's; after a week I felt like one of the family - great oysters too! I'm enjoying your report very much.

Stewart



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Cow Path 100 is a perfect name!!!! Glad you're enjoying the details - I write them down so I'll remember them myself next year :)


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Stewart, I remember seeing the place :) Perhaps we'll stay there next time, within staggering distance of Nancy's - very handy! Glad to know someone is reading the report - comments always encouraged!



Wednesday, May 18th: "Sea caves and sandblasting"
We woke up and broke our fast, dropped the laundry at the launderette, and headed off for Glencolmcille and the southwest corner of the county for some sightseeing. It was turning into a lovely day, mostly sunny with wind, and we wanted to take advantage of the bonny weather.

We drove through more lonely, wistful peat bogs and farms, and saw a brown sign for St. Columba's Well, so we decided to investigate. It took us along a beachside road, and up a cliff. We parked and climbed a bit farther, but found no well. We did find a fantastic view, and perhaps a couple places where there were markers perhaps they were stations of the cross for pilgrims to follow? There was a church or a tower up at the top, but we decided the way was a bit too treacherous, and remained satisfied with the views of the coastline, rocky and violent with wind-whipped waves.

We then went on to the village of Glencolmcille itself, and passed by the folk village, but it was raining at the moment so we went on to the coastal road, pretty much by accident. This was a lovely drive, but a bit nerve-wracking with oncoming traffic, including busses, on a windy, narrow, cliff-bound road. We ended up in Carrick, which was past our day's goal of Slieve League Cliffs, so we backtracked a bit on the non-coastal road. We found the brown sign we were searching for, and followed the road and then another sign pointed back the way we came. There had been nothing but a café and gift shop along that stretch of road, so we were a bit confused. I went into the shop to ask evidently the wind had turned the sign around, we should continue on up. We saw several signs like this throughout the trip perhaps Ireland should invest in two poles, so the signs don't turn so easily? Or go fix the sign? Ah, but then the gift shops wouldn't get as many confused tourists stopping in and there was droves of them, as several tour busses were parked.

There is parking down at the gift shop, and a second parking lot halfway up the twisty, switchback road up the cliffs. However, there is a third parking lot at almost the top keep going up that, even the busses do it. You will have to open a gate and close it behind you, but you are allowed. We then walked the rocky sloped stairs up to the top, and it was incredible.

I love sea cliffs, and sitting on a high point, looking out into the ocean below, and the waves crashing against layered rocks below, pure power and fury. Sitting on top of these cliffs, 900 feet above the sea, was one of the things I was most looking forward to on this trip, and it was as wonderful as I had anticipated. There wasn't anyone else at the top when we were there, as the wind was still quite fierce, and the stormclouds looked as if they were gathering for an assault. However, there was a stripe of lighter clouds that stayed above us, and the storms parted as if commanded by the Gods.

The contrast and shadows created by the shifting sunlight on storm clouds was sublime and abstract, like an ever-changing tapestry of a living, breathing coastline. The sheer scale and distance was deceptive. We saw a small flock of white birds feeding around a floating island of seaweed below, and they were just small white specks, like sea foam. Again, I had no desire to leave this powerful place, I could have happily settled here for a long time. However, the storm clouds started moving about like a dance, and we figured our Gods-given reprieve was short.

We started back down, out of breath from the beauty of the experience, and as soon as we got into the car, the storms decided it was time to hit. This was to happen at several of the sites throughout the trip, where the weather Gods were kind and gave us sunlight, just enough to enjoy the places we were, no more.

We noticed many French schoolchildren at the sights in Donegal, and many older Dutch tourists. Later on, we would notice busloads of French and then German tourists. It seemed as if all of Europe was taking its vacation while we were.

We drove back down the road, taking photo ops when offered by view and by weather. We stopped in Carrick for petrol at a rather questionable-looking petrol station. Not the scary one that was back down the road a bit, and the pump looked like it was built in the 1930s. We saw many closed, or should-be-closed, petrol stations in our journeys. Some were Texaco, some were Emo, some were unlabeled. Was Texaco pulling out of Ireland? Or perhaps closed just for season, like so many other places?

Back in town at Ardara, we decided to explore the local area a bit. We drove down the road to a brown sign we saw for Lough Cros Point. It turned out to be down a very long (perhaps a mile and a half?) sandy inlet at low tide, and saw a boat slip with crashing waves to stop at. We continued down to another beach, and put our toes in the water. It was actually rather warm, and we weren't expecting that. We walked along the beach a while, noting patterns in the sand and a girl walking with her dog.

We went back down the point for another previously noted brown sign, for Eos Waterfall. I think the Irish name was Eas a'Ranca Waterfall, as that was on my list of things to see for the area. My friend Cathy had mentioned a lovely waterfall she encountered on her morning rambles through the area, was this it? The waterfall was fantastic tall, thin, with a nice little picnic area to sit and enjoy it right in front of it. We went on to Maghera Caves, supposedly some sea caves along the same road. We found the brown sign and it pointed to a path that led into some very tall sand dunes. The parking lot was nearby to some very deserted-looking holiday thatched cottages, obviously not open for season yet. Sure, why not?

Off we went into a surreal world of 12 foot tall sand dunes covered in wavering sea grass, and 25 mile per hour winds, resulting in a sandblasting. I ended up with sand in places I didn't even realize I HAD places before then! The footprints and patterns in the dunes from the wind made it a bizarre, organic, monotone sculpture. We followed the dunes through to the shore, a good twenty minute walk, and figured the caves were in the rocky outcropping but also realized that no one knew we were out here, and the tide was coming in. We decided exploring sea caves with an advancing tide was probably a bit foolish, and turned back to journey back through time to modern life, through the dunes.

We did some shopping back in town at John Molloy's Tweed Outlet, and I bought a nice hat and a couple gifts. V found the first of many cookbooks she bought, one on eggs. We looked at a couple other shops in town, and saw a street vendor van selling food the name was Watcha McCollum we giggled.

I stopped at the church to take some photos of many more Celtic Crosses (I can never get too many of those!) while V went shopping for her required addiction of Diet Coke, and then we went into Nancy's for an early dinner (or a late afternoon meal, whatever you like). I had the special, a plate of steamed mussels, while V stuck with seafood chowder. The mussels were fresh and very tender, and the brown bread was soft and yummy. If Daniel was the cook today, he was quite good.

While we were eating and catching up with the day, one of the sisters came in, with her son, Simon. We chatted with her a bit about the family, picked up our laundry (only E15 for all of it, yay!) and then went back into the B&B. I showed V a couple funny videos we were talking about earlier (Danny Bhoy and the difference between Scottish and Irish accents, and Talking with Animals). V was not feeling very social that evening, so I went back to Nancy's by myself for some conversation and pints.

Nancy's was a bit fuller that night, as there was a large group of French tourists in the second room having dinner. One man talked very loudly, and I could hear him over everyone else in my room, but of course I understood none of what he said, except it sounded like the worst over-exaggerated French accent I'd ever heard.

I met a girl named Lauren at the bar, she was trying to read her book and I kept pestering her. However, she turned out to be quite nice about it all, and we talked a lot. She likes science fiction as I do, and had read the Outlander books, Narnia, etc. I showed her some of the jewelry pieces I made, and brought to show off to folks, and she was duly impressed. She worked as a server at a nearby restaurant, and of course knew everyone who worked here; she called it a love/hate relationship. I also talked to Alan at the bar about our decision not to explore the sea caves he agreed it was a wise decision.

We alternated rounds, and I bought a pint for Alan when he was done with his bar shift, so he joined us. He bought me a bottle of cider while I was in the ladies room, so I drank three bottles in total probably a bit too much. Good thing the B&B wasn't far away!

We all chatted about the Queen's visit to Ireland that day, and how no one thought Northern Ireland would ever join the Republic of Ireland, at least not in their lifetime. We talked about the fires that had been coursing through County Donegal a couple weeks before, and the life of a small town in Ireland. Alan ended up buying a pair of my earrings for his mother, who loved them, and that was a sweet gesture. The place really made me feel as if I was part of the family I can't wait to go back some day. When I left, the owner made sure my B&B was close by and that I could get home alright.


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Loving it TOO, Christy.

You covered much of the area that I did, back in 2007.

Thanks for the reminder as to WHY we enjoyed it so much.

Bob



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You are most welcome, Bob - but I did it for ME :) :) :) I'm glad you're enjoying the report...


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Mo Chara,

A wonderful trip report so far. I am thrilled that you seemed to enjoy Ardara and teh wilds of Donegal. Did you eat off the McCollum food truck? If not, you missed good eats for little monies.

Slan Agus Barrogs,

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We did give Watcha McCollum's a skip - one of the side effects of my stomach surgery was that I can't eat much, so we at at Nancy's often :)


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Thursday, May 19th: "Those megaliths are hungry for ankles!"

As we checked out of our Ardara B&B, I discovered that, if a B&B does take credit card, they likely don't take Chip & Pin, but that was fine. I have learned to make sure to have Chip & Pin card, Credit card, and cash whenever buying something. ONE of them will work!

We drove around a bit trying to find the Green Gate Cottage we saw on a postcard, but the directions given by the woman at the store didn't work too well. So we went off to find Kilclooney Dolmen, and the directions were better. We did end up walking up the road about a half mile before asking a local, and heading back, but the dolmen was worth the extra effort. Walking through someone's yard to it freaked V out a bit, but I was used to such things, having been in Ireland (Scotland, England) before and explored the countryside. There was a big ditch dug around it in the peat bog, which successfully deterred anyone from getting close enough to touch/climb on the dolmen, but the sun once again graced us with its presence while we were there.

We went on to visit Glencolmcille Village again, since the sun was lovely and we had the time to visit each of the cottages. Father Dwyer had set them up to attract tourist income to the locals, and help them build up local infrastructure. The place is very nice, with about a half dozen cottages set up to portray typical life for each time period at 1700, 1850, 1900, etc. One was a General Store, one was a fisherman's cottage. We took copious photographs until a group of German tourists invaded, complete with their own interpreter.

The drive to Sligo was a bit rainier, and we got sidetracked by Glencar Falls and the lake around Ben Bulben. That was a nice hike up to the falls, and a break from being in the car. However, the side trip took us off the main road, and we were afraid we had missed Carrowmore megalithic site, which was one of my Must See items this trip. We asked at a grocery store, and all we could get is 'west of here', only one woman knew what we were talking about. So we headed west towards Sligo Airport, and found the inevitable brown signs.

Carrowmore had stone circles, cairns (yes, Carla, cairns!), and dolmens, at least a dozen different sites all within a walkable distance along a circle of trails. We explored several of them, and then the megaliths started to show their true colors, and attacked. Yes, I took a fall I swear they jumped out and grabbed my ankle. My right ankle twisted, I fell on my left knee, and scared V, who said I looked like I just crumpled. It took a couple minutes for me to get back up (was more concerned about my camera breaking). I was hurt, but not broken. I hobbled on to the other side of the road, where there were three more stone circles to explore. Both my knee and ankle ached, but after having lost 100 pounds in a year, my frequent falls were much less damaging, and no longer crippled me. I think V was worried she would have to drive the car now (she did offer), but I was good.

Heading on towards Westport, we saw more brown signs. There were several on one pole, promising a Fairy Hill, a Miniature Village, and some other things we couldn't read, so we figured, why not? Let's go find them.

We searched down one road, found a church and a graveyard (and a tourist that tried to back up into us without looking first) but no Fairy Hill. Then another road, and another. Was that the Fairy Hill? No, just a mountain. What about that? No, it was a ruined farm building. Perhaps the Fairy Hill was hiding? Playing silly games? Well, we did finally find a lay-by with a stone wall and a pulpit that might have held an informational sign, and there WAS a hill nearby but who knows if it was THE Fairy Hill. We started getting disillusioned with the brown signs at that point, and my ankle was aching from the driving, so we gave up and let TomTom find us a route back to the main road.

We got to Westport, found South Mall and our B&B, The Boulevard Guesthouse (http://www.boulevard-guesthouse.com/) without any problems. Sadie checked us in, and she was slightly abrupt, but professional. I had been corresponding with Noreen via email before, so was uncertain if she was the owner or Noreen was. She said breakfast was 9, 9:30, or 10, and we could have scrambled eggs and tomato, porridge, or something else (fruit and yoghurt?). None was the Full Irish we were learning to love, and since the first choice was the only low-carb friendly item, we chose that. We thought that, since none of the options offered meat, and tomorrow was Friday, that perhaps the owner was Catholic, and observed no meat on Fridays? Certainly not an impossible thought. There was also a sign in our room insisting No Takeaway Allowed. Since there was an Indian restaurant a couple doors down, I'm sure people had done so in the past. It just seemed rather militant. We wondered if there was No Loud Talking perhaps No Loud Giggling? Definitely No Loud Walking.

Our room was a sage green room, with two beds, no outlets, and very tall, Victorian ceilings. The bathroom was huge, and it was the only place we had a bath with a shower in it (the others were all showers). There was also very few surfaces to actually place things shelves or cabinets, etc. V found the one outlet, after having to move the bed to reveal it, so we could start budgeting out time for our copious electronic gadgets and chargers. There were so many books and magazines in the lounge area, I thought I was on an episode of hoarders, but I do appreciate that more selection of reading material is better than none.

We got hooked up with the WiFi (she evidently turned it off at night, as we couldn't get any signal from around midnight to 9am), and I contacted my friend Debe so we could meet up. I'd never met Debe in person, but we were online friends for several years. Her boyfriend Dee was performing at Matt Molloy's pub the next night at 10, so we agreed to meet at the pub beforehand and chat a bit.

We still had sunlight and didn't care for staying in the room while we could be out exploring. So, we decided to see if we could find Cong and take some pics for my husband, who loves the movie The Quiet Man, which was filmed there. It was a rather long drive of about an hour, and rainy at that. When we got there, the pub from the movie served no food, and didn't allow photography inside for non-patrons. It was nearing 8pm, and I knew from experience most places didn't serve food past that time, so we couldn't stick around. I did try to sneak in one pic as I left, but was unsuccessful in getting a good shot in the low light.

We walked down the street to the Crow's Nest Pub, and I had a Shrimp Rose Marie appetizer, while V had Fried Brie with Plum Chutney. They were both quite good, and we realized it was a place that catered to Americans as it was listed as shrimp rather than prawns. There was a big group of American tourists sitting next to us, as well, having a great time.

On our way out, we found Ashford castle, and went in to take some photographs of it. We were getting a bit punchy from our long driving day, and decided that every hill we came across was the missing fairy hill. Oh, look, a fairy pony! This must be a fairy castle, then. Is that a fairy fence? Right near the fairy lay-by? It's a wide road must be a fairy road, the straightest road in Ireland.

My ankle was very stiff and painful from the twisting and long day of driving, and I was very glad to get home.


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Friday, May 20th: "We're not climbing up that, are we?" Redux
Luckily, my ankle was feeling much better this morning. Since breakfast wasn't until 9am (by military decree), we went out to walk about a bit before breakfast. However, it started raining pretty hard as soon as we rounded the corner, and of course nothing was open at 7am, so we got back into the car to do some rain-free exploring.

We drove towards Croagh Patrick. I had originally had the foolish thought of trying to climb part of this, until I saw it in person. Yes, you could see the track people followed from quite a distance, but the upper part was at least a 55 degree slope not for beginners, certainly! And with the rain, and my ankle, it was right out of consideration. If I hadn't twisted my ankle, I might still have been tempted to try the lower, gentler portion.

We found a church with a lovely graveyard full of angels and Celtic Crosses, so I stopped to feed my habit and get some photographs. I very gingerly climbed through to the old, ruined chapel, the ivy-covered crosses, and the iffy footing. There was so much ivy and undergrowth covering the pieces of stone and brick that it was like walking in a bog of greenery. Back at the car we went on towards the mountain, like a beacon in the mists.

We saw another brown sign on the way Famine Memorial. It intrigued our interest, so we went to see a very bizarre but moving sculpture (bronze?) showing a large sailing ship, draped with skeletons. It was in the middle of a manicured park, the precision of care that it was kept made it seem quite incongruous next to the rough style of the memorial itself.

We backtracked a bit for petrol, and realized it was soon to be breakfast time, so we skedaddled back to the B&B, afraid that if we were a minute late, it would be 'no breakfast for you!' Noreen was there, and we met her and another gentleman that was helping. Scrambled eggs aren't my favorite, but it was plenty for breakfast with the toast and brown bread. The two women at the next table had asked about (and received) bacon, and we wished we had thought of that, but figured it wouldn't hurt us to have no bacon for a day or two.

Today's plan was to drive around the Connemara Loop and explore that area, and if time allowed, explore some of Achill Island later in the day. We realized that this was an ambitious plan, but we are ambitious folk, and we only had the one day in the area. We drove through Clifden first, and then tried to find Mannin Bay, another brown-sign-promised view. We asked a couple of older ladies walking on the road, they directed us in the right place to Ballyconneely, and a beautiful sandy beach at low tide, a rocky wasteland, desolate and stark.

We wandered around the area a bit, noting houses in various states of being half-built, and others in varying stages of deterioration, usually right next to each other. We were later told that people would live in the old building, build a new one, and simply use the older one for storage and do the same process again, 50 years later. Very rocky, but still plenty of holiday style homes built along that stretch of coastline the views were sweeping and epic. We saw one town with a spa that advertised seaweed baths, the thought of which horrified V. She said she would never take a bath in seaweed, chocolate milk, chili with cheese with fries on top anything she can't see through. To be more specific, anything that she couldn't tell wasn't 'waste matter,' to put it delicately. I reminded her that fish pee in water.

There were lots of horses and ponies, as well as cows, and not nearly as many sheep as had been in Donegal and Antrim. We saw a sign promising that littering would result in a fine, in the oddly specific amount of E1902.61. There was a place called Dogs Bay, and a sign that said No Dogs right nearby rather ironic, that. Farther inland, we had seen one field with about eight horses that seemed not to be penned at all wild ponies? Not sure, but Connemara would be the place to find them, if they were.

We made it around the coast to Roundstone, a sweet seaside village where we parked, took some photographs of the area, and found a place for lunch. O'Dowd's café had a Smoked Salmon Salad and a Seafood ****tail Salad, with fresh whole grain scones and a shared bottle of cider. It also afforded a nice view of the harbor, and an upstairs room with a higher view of the same.

The sun was out most of the day with occasional clouds and not much rain, so it was a refreshingly bright morning and we enjoyed being out in it. We decided it was time to head up to Achill Island, about a 2 hour drive. I have long since discovered that Americans think 100 years is a long time, and Europeans think 100 miles is a long way, and I know Noreen was surprised we'd been planning this much driving today.

When we arrived to Achill Island, I suddenly saw flags and streamers of blue and yellow everywhere. I currently live near Morgantown, West Virginia, and these are the colors of West Virginia University, so I was momentarily confused. Why would there be Mountaineer fans in Ireland? But it was a local school team's colors as well, as we saw several signs with the team symbols on it, as well as a pub entirely in yellow and blue (called the Way Inn).

School was out and the children were everywhere, so we drove very carefully through town. We saw a brown sign for "The Atlantic Scenic Drive" so off we went in search of scenic views. We were not disappointed. There were lovely views of the bay, and some ponies I stopped to photograph more closely. They were very friendly, especially the two foals, and one was quite brave to come right up to me, probably looking for something to eat. The owners were coming out of the driveway while I was there, and waved at me as they drove off. Obviously they were used to the charms of their friendly ponies to the tourists.

We drove around the coast road to the other side (south, I think) of the island, and saw a very narrow, very steep switchback road ahead, but we figured if the giant white bus that was coming down it could navigate it safely, so could we. We went up carefully, especially as the wind had picked up again to about 25mph, and it was well worth the journey. We later found out it was probably Keem Bay, and we had it to ourselves for a good while, though the wind tried it's hardest to discourage our presence. Once again the sun helped us out for photographs, but it could do nothing about Sister Wind. The coast of Ireland is definitely a wealth of wild and wooly coastlines, and I thoroughly enjoyed each one.

On the way along the coastal route, we also found a tower on the water, and it turned out to be Grainne's Tower. Grainne O'Malley was a female pirate who lived in the area in the 16th century, and was rumored to have butted heads with and met - Queen Elizabeth I.

After Achill Island, we headed towards Westport once more. A brown sign prompted us to go looking for a castle, but it was covered in scaffolding, even though it had a fantastic spot on a lake, overlooking a green valley. The scaffolding reminded me of the beginning feature in Monty Python's Meaning of Life, when the Accountants set sail on the wide Accountant Sea.

We settled up that night in the B&B, since we were off early the next morning for the ferry over to Inis Mor (no scrambled eggs for us!). Both Sadie and Noreen were there, and it was clear that Sadie was actually the one in charge. She reduced our bill by E10 since we didn't need breakfast the next day, and was much friendlier and less abrupt than the first night we were there. Perhaps she had just had a bad night?

I had hoped my charger would arrive, but told them that I would be back from Inis Mor in a couple days, and would call to see if it had arrived. If not, they said they could just forward it to my home, and I gave my details so they could. That is what ended up happening, and they were very kind about it. They refused compensation for the shipping.

We decided to take a break from pub food for the evening, and ate at the Indian/Nepalese restaurant down the street, The Everest. (they had takeaway, probably prompting the sign in the B&B room) The food was delicious, we had Chicken Tikka Masala and Nepalese Lamb Masala. The lamb dish was very tasty, sweeter than I had expected, very aromatic. I wished I could eat more, but I am physically limited to what I can eat at one time, due to stomach surgery. And, of course, we couldn't bring any leftovers into the B&B on pain of death.

V was feeling unsocial again, so we went into the small grocery store and got a couple of small bottles of wine for her to relax with for the evening while she soaked in the tub, while I went to Matt Molloy's to meet Debe. I sat in one of the small rooms waiting for either Debe or music to show up. There was a girl from Hamburg, Germany sitting at one table, and a group of folks from Louisiana at another. I nursed my half pint of cider (I was still quite full from the lamb) and caught up on the day's events in my notebook. I find it's always easier to be sitting alone at a pub if it looks like I'm doing something, so I always bring my notebook.

I did hear a girl singing My Lagan Love in another room, her voice was sweet. There were several small rooms, like many pubs in Ireland, so different singers/players could have their own small audience without intruding on the other performers. I liked the setup up, as it allowed for different types and styles of music for different tastes. Joe's in Cushendall had been like that as well. Nancy's in Ardara wasn't doing music the nights I was there, but they often did Jazz or Blues, I was told.

Since I still didn't have my charger, I discovered I was doing fine getting small video clips on my camera. It did gobble up charge and space, about 1 picture 'space' for each second of video, but that was fine as I had plenty of memory cards. That's good, as the charger never did show up to the B&B in time.

As I sat and reflected on the trip so far, waiting for Debe to show up, I realized one of the main differences I saw was that there were decent seafood selections at every place we went shrimp, salmon, chowder, mackerel, monkfish, you name it, they had it. I love seafood, and require a high amount of protein on my current dietary plan. Shrimp has a high protein content, so I ate that frequently, but it was very nice to have several options available. And it all tasted fresh and delicious!

I also realized that as we headed farther south, into 'touristy' areas, the roads got wider and less windy than in Donegal and points north. I'm sure that will change eventually, as more EU funding helps tourism, but I already saw the differences. Of course, Westport and the surrounding areas are also more heavily populated than, say, Ardara, so that was certainly a factor as well. Can't blame the tourists for everything, can we?

I'd long ago learned a very important lesson in Ireland there is no shame in letting the locals drive past you. In fact, they appreciate it when you do, as they know the roads well, and actually go the speed limit, while you're poking along, afraid of what's beyond the next bend or hill. Pull off in a lay-by and they'll blink their lights as they go by in thanks. By now, however, I was driving confidently enough that some tourists were pulling over to let ME by. I felt so proud!

We also noted a proliferation of signs, whether they be warning of twisty roads ahead (which should just be a blanket sign for the entire island of Ireland), or 'no verge ahead' (there was a sign every 20 feet coming off of Achill Island). We posited that there was one little old lady in the back country churning out hundreds of signs for the roads, and she was rather overworked by now. The time-honored tradition of Sign-Making in Ireland, a true cottage industry! Random 'Danger' signs on every bend, 'Concealed Entrances' ahead, or perhaps 'Hidden Dip?' You decide.

The pub is filling up quickly as the evening progresses, but I have not yet seen Debe. I'm pretty confident I'll recognize her when I see her, as she looks a lot like my friend Celesta, so I just continue to observe, sip, and write. A short, older man with white hair comes in and starts chatting with one of the tables, asking where everyone is from. For each response, he sings a song or a bit of a song related to their place of origin. When he comes to me, of course, he sings 'Country Roads' (or a clip of it) when I tell him West Virginia. I told him I was from Florida before that, and that seems to stump him, so I start off with Suwanee River (Old Folks at Home).

I was joined by another older gentleman (perhaps around 70?), who literally put his dancing shoes on evidently he was looking for someone to dance with, but I begged off due to my ankle, as I've never been the most graceful person at the best of times, and my ankle made me a right danger to those around us. He told me the singer's name was Mick Lavelle, and you could tell he loved the singing. Mick continued singing some other songs, including Molly Malone (which many of us joined in on) and Wild Rover, then When Irish Eyes Are Smiling and Black Velvet Band. He tried to get us to sing the chorus on that, but we failed in volume and tune.

The four people next to me borrowed the stool I'm saving for Debe, promising to return it when she arrives. I spoke to one of them (they are from Boston), and showed off my jewelry once more. One man's daughter also makes jewelry, and I gave him my card, as I wrote an article on getting started in the art show business.

There is a rowdy group of girls against one wall, obviously here to drink and not listen to the music, so when two players started in one corner, everyone got quiet except them. I think they were too drunk to notice that the music was even playing. These were definitely session players, there for fun and to enjoy playing, not paid performers here to entertain the tourists. Not that there is anything wrong with that, that's fun, too but there is a definite difference between the two types of entertainment. Paid performers are more polished, and cater to the crowd more, while session players simply play for the pleasure of it, and play what they like and know.

Debe walked through, and I recognized her, called to her. She said she hadn't been sure it was me. She sat and chatted for a bit, and then we migrated into another room, a larger one, where her boyfriend was performing. He was one of the aforementioned paid performers, and he was very good. He knew how to work the crowd, which increased dramatically quite quickly. A hen party (bachelorette party in American) of about 60 girls came in, all dressed like Audrey Hepburn, the theme of the party. It was a nice change from the usual flashing headdresses and sparkling neon jewelry bits of most hen parties.

I met Debe's friend Jackie, a buyer for a department store, she was a blast. We sat and talked about all sorts of things. I dragged my jewelry out again to show it off to them. She told me that it was great stuff, but in all honesty, too high priced for the Ireland market right now I greatly appreciated the information, and it made sense, since everyone was in a recession right now. Dee sang things from traditional stuff like Clare Island to Sweet Caroline, 500 Miles, Daydream Believer, and Always Look on the Bright Side of Life. Fun was had by all!

By midnight I was tuckered out and made my way back to the still hard-partying streets of Westport to my B&B. It was only about a block away, but ducking drunks on the street made it an interesting slalom course. This is definitely not a sleepy town on a Friday night, and had a healthy night life.



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Saturday, May 21st: "That'll be E15 Euros. Close the door, you're letting the weather in"
We had an early start today, out at 7am and off to the ferry at Rossaveal to get to Inis Mor. It was a gloomy, rainy morning, lowering clouds and a bit depressing. We packed only what we wanted to bring on the island, as there was no need to bring 7 days of clothes when 2 will do, and we couldn't bring our car on the island only residents could do that. It was a 1.5 hour drive to the ferry dock, and we met very few cars on the road on the way. We stopped at a Spar in Rossaveal, got some snacky bits to make up for missing breakfast. While scanning the items on offer, we saw Spam selling for E4.99. We figured we could buy a bunch and bring it over, make a killing.

While we waited for the ferry (we were about an hour early, just in case something had gone wrong), we decided that Ireland is a bit of a contradiction. Everyone drives fast, but does things slowly. Things may say they will open at 7 (if hours are posted at all), but not really open until 8. Perhaps they just want to hurry and get off the roads so they will have to pass fewer people on the road? Debe had mentioned things don't really get going until 9 or 10 in the morning, but many stay up late at night. In the US, if a place is closed, that open sign is turned off, turned around, but definitely gone. They seem to leave them up everywhere in Ireland, even when a place is obviously closed.

We went in to where the ferry parking lot was, confirmed our prepaid tickets, and headed to the dock itself. It was pouring rain at this point, with high winds, so the umbrella was useless. I couldn't even get my poncho on due to the strong wind, it threatened to fly away, so I just pushed through, carrying my smaller bag (without wheels, unfortunately). We boarded the ferry amidst a group of American teenage tourists, one of which sitting behind me seemed so vacuous I was afraid my brain cells were being siphoned off due to extreme osmosis. The trip was very choppy due to the wind, and one woman a couple rows from us lost her breakfast, and was almost carried into the back of the ferry, where the rocking up and down wasn't as pronounced.

Luckily for us, both V and I have iron stomachs, and considered this to be a roller coaster ride and rather fun. When we docked, it was still pouring and the wind was still raging. We rushed in (with everyone else) to the tourist office. I wasn't sure if our B&B host was going to pick us up, so I tried to give him a call busy. The very helpful lady at the tourist office said the jitney tour busses lining the dock doubled as taxis, and they would be able to take us out to the cottage (which was about 5 miles along the 9 mile island). That was great in theory, but the first driver we approached (an older man with a blue van) said he wasn't interested. The second driver (a younger man with a red van) was also reluctant, but finally agreed to let us at least sit in the bus until he got a full load of tourists. We got the impression that, if he was able to get a full tour-load, we would be asked to get back off, and try a different taxi driver.

The driver waited about 15-20 minutes, while I continued to try our B&B on the phone. I finally got through (I was worried that our host was out there looking for us) and was assured by Maura, our hostess, that Joe wasn't there, and that we should go ahead and take the taxi. Meanwhile, the driver had started gathering a larger group. He dropped some off at other B&Bs (turned out he had a taxi day rather than a tour day, after all), and then picked up some others to do the same. One of these groups had Jeff an organizer of a tour group of some 40 people from Dublin, here for the weekend. One sat next to me, Ken, and we started chatting. He had been to the US, even lived in NYC for a year.

With everyone else nearby dropped off, our driver started the tour for the 4 people left in the bus, and headed towards the center of the island, where our B&B was, Man of Aran Cottage (http://www.manofarancottage.com/). When he made it to the village near Dun Aengosa, he dropped off the tour folks and then down the street and around the corner, dropping us off at our place. Warm, safe and dry at last!

The cottage was charming, lovely, and nicely restored. It had been used in the film Man of Aran, a 1934 film about life on the island (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0025456/), thatched and comfortable. Our room (#5) was in the next building, nicely done with wood floors, a decent sized room with a window overlooking the water, and a rather tiny bathroom (by US standards normal by European standards).

V and I were both thoroughly tired of the rain and gloom, and since we couldn't use our car to get around the island and stay dry, she decided to stay put for a while and read. I went in to the dining area, and chatted with Maura a bit, taking her up on her offer for tea and biscuits. We talked about island life, politics, crime, jewelry (I dragged out my stuff again, and she was kind enough to buy a pair of my gingko leaf earrings), depression, finance, weight, etc. It was a thoroughly enjoyable alternative afternoon to slogging through the rain.

She told me that Joe Watty's, a pub I was looking forward to visiting, served food from about 6pm to 8:30pm, and I went back to the room and checked my email and Facebook (yes, they have WiFi, yay!). I started getting stir-crazy then I didn't travel 3000 miles to stay inured in the B&B! So, when the sun started burning through a bit, I put on my rain poncho and went walking to the nearby village. I remembered it from last time I was here, and they had hearty soups and wonderful Guinness chocolate cake.

I ended up walking the same way the bus had come, which I discovered later was the long way around, but it was a nice enough walk. The rain came and went, but I was thoroughly ponchoed (the umbrella was useless in the wind). I got into the village, did a little shopping in the shops, and traded a few phrases of Irish with the locals. They all seemed impressed that I even tried, and I was gratified that my accent could be understood.

Once the tour busses filled back up and took all the extras away, I wandered into Nan Phaddy's to find a warm, welcoming, toasty fire in the fireplace, hot vegetable soup on the menu, and a seat near the fire waiting for me. I met a girl from Malta who was visiting, she was part of the group from Dublin. I can't now remember her name, but we talked for a little bit then and later on as well. I also heard another of the Dublin 40 speaking Spanish, and was delighted to discover I could understand every word she said. Since I grew up in Miami, I speak Spanish passably well, but Cuban Spanish is much faster than some of the other accents, and it is difficult for me to understand when the words stop. I concluded that she was from Spain, as her words were well-enunciated. I asked her '¿Eres tú de España?', and she answered yes it was great! I spoke two foreign languages that day, and was understood in both. We get our little joys out of life in odd ways, don't we?

Jeff came in after a while, and extended an invitation to join them at Joe Watty's later, even giving me his cell number. Since I was planning on going there anyhow, I told him that would be great. With V feeling unsocial, I wanted to have someone I knew already there. While I don't mind going in blind, it's much nicer if there is at least one person you've met before.

I headed back to the B&B via the shorter route, which was only about ten minutes to walk. There was no rain for the first couple of minutes, and then it returned with a vengeance. When I got back to the room, V was happily playing on her iPad, and I set my clothes and jacket on the radiator to dry. That's when the sun decided to come out and start shining through, even revealing some lovely, much missed brilliant blue patches in the sky. I decided to take advantage of the unusual weather and set out to walk the 4.5 miles to Joe Watty's. I could have called a taxi, but I wanted to absorb that rare sunshine.

Since my sneakers were soaked, I put on my other shoes and started out. The walk was long and windy, up and down hills, in and out of sun and rain. I did develop a small blister on one toe, but made it in about an hour and a half without problems. I saw several folks driving, another walker, and a biker. I saw a ship anchored off the island, and was later told it was a National Geographic vessel, doing a story on the local wildlife. Along the route I also saw two donkeys, about a dozen chickens (the most we had yet seen in Ireland), several horses, and a gang of young hostelers.

When I got to Joe's, I saw several tables marked Reserved, and concluded that this is where Jeff's group was planning on sitting, but no one that I knew was there yet. I went up to the bar, and got myself a pint of cider and a Smoked Mackerel Salad. The smoky, salty flavor of the fish worked perfectly with the sweet balsamic dressing, it was delicious. There was a game on television, and everyone was very excited about it Leinster was playing, and they won. This was evidently a good thing, judging by the cheering and other reactions. I'm rather a dunce about sports, but the mood was infectious.

Jeff and his crowd started trickling in a bit later. They were all part of a group called "New and Not So New in Dublin", a social group that did all sorts of meet-ups and gatherings. I sat with and talked with several people. Fernando, who was from Mexico and just moved to Dublin a short while ago; Maria who was from Belgium, originally; Jeff, the social butterfly who flitted from group to group; Louisa, who had a huge plate of stone crab claws, and was somewhat apprehensive about being able to get them open; Ken, the gentleman who sat next to me on the bus, looked like a younger version of Ian McShane, and was an accountant like me; Declan, who had lived in Thailand for a year teaching English, and was about to embark on the same job in Barcelona. Declan and I actually got along quite well we both loved trivia and history, so we chatted a lot. I showed off the jewelry once again, and got lots of compliments.

After everyone else finished their dinner, the pints started flowing. Ken got Declan to start drinking Gin & Tonics, which I wouldn't think would mix well with the cider, so I stuck with my Bulmers. The singer started up, and we all danced and sang to songs like The Gambler, Country Roads (really? Is West Virginia so popular in Ireland??), Piano Man, With or Without You, Daydream Believer, Fields of Athenry, Molly Malone, Stuck in the Middle with You, Galway Girl, etc. The place was now packed, with at least one hen party, several groups of guys, and with a couple outright stumbling drunks.

I went outside for some cooler air, as the wind was still whipping about with bits of rain. There was a pub dog playing fetch with whoever was willing to throw the straw (we couldn't find a proper stick for him). The wind was raw and wild, so it drove me back inside for more fun.

As it neared 11, I decided to try to find a ride back to the cottage I didn't want to get stuck walking back in that weather. I made my way through the dancing crowd to the bar, and asked one of the girls to ring up a taxi for me. When I went outside, the guy in the blue van was there again he wanted E15 for a 5 mile drive. I thought perhaps he wanted to haggle, so I offered E5 (Ken had told me that E2 was more normal, but it had been E5 that morning). He said that wasn't even going to pay for the petrol now shut the door, the weather is coming in. Well, I went back into the pub, and asked the girl if that was really the going rate, or was he trying to gouge me? PJ, the owner of the bar, heard me, and got very upset. He said it was a ridiculous sum, and that he'd take me himself.

Now, the pub was STUFFED with people. He had a great staff, but for him to leave his own pub in the middle of a Saturday night crowd just to take a tourist home was incredible. He was livid about the taxi driver, and wanted to make sure that this wasn't the impression I took away about Irish hospitality. PJ, you more than made up for that man's attempt to gouge the tourist. Your kindness and help is what I will remember, and pass on to everyone who will listen. Thank you!

I am very glad I didn't attempt the walk back, as it was by now pitch black, and there is NO light on that route. I would have used up what was left of my cell phone charge to try to see and not stumble on some unsuspecting donkey, or tumble over a dry mortar wall.


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Christy,

Glad the twisted ankle was not too bad and you were still able to drive and walk about. I've done the same at anceint sites. That uneven ground will get you if it can.

What a lot of various experiences you had. People who were kind (majority) and those that wanted to gouge you. It's the same everywhere. I like your take on how fast the Irish drive, yet they do things slow. There was a survey done and the Irish are the world's fastest walkers. I can belive that because when my Irish friends visit and we are out and about I can barely keep up.

Seems like you really enjoyed the fresh Irish seafood. I do too. It is so delicious.

As for walking home in the dark; always take a small flashlight to Ireland with you.

I like that you made the best of the weather. That's all you can do in Ireland.

Michele

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The weather is as it is - and I wasn't going to let it keep me down :)

The taxi driver really was the worst of it, and that's fine - I have had much worse in the US.

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Sunday, May 22nd: "It's not my inner thighs that hurt, it's my inner butt!"
We slept well, and saw sun in the sky, so we set off to breakfast with refreshed vigor and high hopes for the day ahead. Maura had broken her ankle, and was off to an anniversary mass for her mother's death a year ago, so Joe was cooking breakfast for us. I had some wonderful smoked salmon, and loved a country in which I could have this for breakfast and not be considered odd.

We were concerned about the weather. PJ had mentioned that there was a storm due to come in tomorrow, with 45mph winds; he listened to the marine forecast. When I discussed this with Joe and Maura, they did express some concern as well. PJ had thought they might cancel the ferry back, which would mean we needed to stay on the island a third night, and make arrangements for that and a missed night in our next stop.

Maura was certain that they wouldn't cancel the ferry, but we were still a bit worried. The ferry office said they wouldn't know until the time of the ferry the next day, so we decided that, to play it safe, we would take the morning ferry out instead of the noon ferry, as we had planned. That way, if one or even two were cancelled, we could still get out on the third. The blow was unlikely to cancel all three. Joe said he'd arrange an early breakfast and a taxi to go out to the docks with us and our stuff. What wonderful service (as long as the taxi wasn't Joe Gill and his blue van)!

Joe said he would order some bikes delivered so we could have a little more mobility and freedom, but they wouldn't be here until 10am. In the meantime, we walked up to the village. No tourists yet this day, so everything was still locked up tight, but we decided to see if we could get through to Dun Aengosa, which was nearby. The visitor centre had evidently just opened up, and I think they were quite surprised to see us so early. We climbed the path up to the 2,500 year old fort, from about sea level to a 300 foot cliff. It was amazing to have the place to ourselves the last time I'd been there, I was a daytripper with all the others, and there were probably about 75 people all over the place. This time we had no one but us, the wind, and the now shining sun. It felt prehistoric, momentous, and intimate at the same time. The high wind meant great, crashing, powerful waves far down on the cliffs and rocks below us.

We tore ourselves away from this wonderful place, and got our bikes. Now, this is the first time I'd ridden a bike in probably 25 years, and I wasn't nervous at all until I realized what I was about to try. I'm still a very heavy girl, even though I've lost 100 pounds, I've another 100 to go until I'm at a 'normal' weight. But, after adjusting the seat up much higher than it was (I was hitting my knees on the handlebars!) we headed off towards the Seven Churches.

We saw a sign for Clochan na Carraige I thought I remembered something about that, but the brown sign gave no indication of what it was. We parked our bikes and started walking down a path. Then down another path. And another mazing through short dry stone fences, we finally gave up. We found out later it was a beehive hut, which is fine, I'd seen many of those before, and V wasn't particularly interested in them. I think that's about the time I took my first spill on the bike, landing on the knee I hadn't hurt when I fell at Carrowmore. I felt better with a matched set again, it wasn't a particularly injuring fall, but it did concern V that I fell again.

We went on towards Seven Churches, and found it shortly thereafter, about 2 miles down from the B&B. As we walked down the driveway to the site, there were two farmers (and their dog) trying to get a very upset cow to stay in a pasture. She had another cow with her, and a calf, and she was complaining loudly, and trying to escape at various points in the field. We quickly vacated so the farmers could get their job done without worrying about stupid tourists hanging about getting hurt.

We explored the Seven Churches area a little bit, and took lots of photos (V preferred the beach and coastline, so went and looked at that while I tramped around the church). Again, it was delightful to wander around, get the shots I wanted to get without other people in the way. I found the exact spot I had taken one of my more popular photographs at in 2006, and tried to recreate it. That never works, but I keep trying.

We got back on the bikes and started the long trek to Kilronan about 7 miles from where we now were. We were foolish and did not take the coastal road, not realizing that it was much more up and down, hill and valley. I fell at a couple more times, usually when braking. I couldn't get the bike out of 6th gear (they were both pretty old and rusty, and I think they were both stuck in 6th) so getting up hills was difficult we walked them up. The bike chain fell off the gears when I tried to switch them, but V figured out how to fix that. Then my brakes seized up on me I had a bit of a tantrum, and V suggested we switch bikes, since she had ridden them more recently than I had. That seemed to work a little better, and we made it safe and sound to Joe Watty's. I was SO ready for a pint and some lunch!

We walked in, and found Declan waiting for his own lunch, so we joined him and chatted some more. I was disappointed that the mackerel salad I had loved the night before wasn't on the lunch menu, but got a Greek Salad instead, and it was delicious. V wasn't yet hungry from the Full Irish Breakfast she had eaten, so we just had some pints and talked politics, education, etc. We left Declan and went off into town for some serious shopping.

I had remembered the large woolen outlet from the last trip, and had been looking forward to the selection. I was looking for a sweater to keep me warm the next winter, so it had to be too small for me now, longer (past the hips), zipper was preferred, pockets, and a darker color. White and off-white don't mix well with me, it gets instantly dirty!

I found one that fit my requirements, but decided to shop at the other shops a bit before deciding. We laughed at some of the kitschy bits for sale, wandered down the street to more shops, bought some things there and found Declan again. He was evidently bored enough that he agreed to join us shopping I think he just wanted to see what American Tourists considered worth buying. I got the sweater (a nice dark green) and then we had some ice cream at the Spar. We ran into Ken and Maria, hugged everyone goodbye (their ferry was leaving soon) and rode our bikes back along the coastal route. This route was much more level and easier to deal with, and was much more pleasant, despite biking against the prevailing and increasing wind.

We saw the seal colony basking in the surf, and they were so still we at first thought they were statues put there to fool the tourists but no, some of them moved a bit! We took copious photos, and moved on to the village near our B&B. They were closing up, but V managed to go in and buy some bits and bobs before they were done. We biked back to the B&B and recharged a bit.

After some relaxation and reconnection, we decided to head for Joe Watty's again but not by bike. My inner butt hurt too much to try that right away. We were taking a taxi this time! I had told Maura about my previous night's experience with the blue van, and she said she knew just who it was, he had been a problem before. Tourists beware! Don't take Joe Gill's blue van he has a bad attitude.

Today's taxi driver was John, and he had a jeep. He picked us and another couple up, and took us down to Joe Watty's for dinner. The mackerel salad was back, woohoo! V had her staple of seafood chowder, we had pints, and noticed that most of the folks around on a Sunday night were locals, as opposed to the tourists from the weekend. That made sense, of course and even at that, most of the tourists had been from other parts of Ireland. But everyone was speaking Irish, and that made it more interesting to me. I tried to catch a word here and there, and barely succeeded.

Some other interesting quotes of the day included:
"It's a romantic candlelight dinner now, maybe I can get my thighs rubbed."
"I like the soft underbelly"
"Mine curl like monkeys around rocks"

We chatted a bit with Grace, PJ's wife, and when she mentioned that her sister makes jewelry, I dragged out my stuff again. She ended up buying a pair of earrings, and offered us a ride home later in the evening. I really do appreciate the way Irish folk do things and wish it wasn't such an unusual occurrence in the rest of the world that I have to note it as different.


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Monday, May 23rd: "Celtic Cross Addiction Satisfied for now"
Up early and ready for our non-Joe Gill taxi ride to the docks! Joe was kind enough to make the arrangements, and get up early to make sure we were well-fed. He asked if we wanted something different for breakfast, since the ferry ride was likely to be very rocky, but we both assured him that we had iron stomachs, and would be fine (and we were). We settled up with him (he had fronted the money for the bike rentals the day before) and we made it in good time to the ferry. The taxi driver (John) talked to us about Obama's visit, the Queen, and even Pope John Paul II (the best pope ever, in his opinion).

While the wind was fierce, there was no rain to make it miserable, so it was energizing rather than depressing. The boat crossed the waves sideways, so the ferry went side to side rather than up and down like the trip over. It made it hard to stand, but still fun. We did find the music on the ferry interesting it was a local radio show, and played Kung Fu Fighting and Freedom.

We drove towards Galway, and while TomTom wanted us to go around the city, we decided to try to find the Spanish Arch and drive around inside the city a bit a foolish idea at 9:30am on a Monday morning, perhaps. It was very crowded, very traffic-heavy, with busses and people everywhere. We didn't find the arch (even if we had, there was no place to park) and decided we had had enough with the hustle and bustle. After we saw the unusual site of a redhead man with dredlocks, we made our way out of the city and on to Clonmacnoise.

Our final stop that night was Ballyvaughan, but there was enough time for a detour on the way to this large monastic site. This was where we were when the heavy winds hit, and at one point I actually had to hold down my big, heavy purse as the wind was actually lifting it up.

Clonmacnoise has two round towers (one evidently older than the other), many beautiful crosses, and is situated on the river Shannon. It was lovely, and fed my Celtic Cross addiction for a while. We made our way back through gentle rolling green hills with farms and villages, crossed a river with the humorous name of River Suck, and made it to Kinvarra at which point TomTom took us over a mountain again. While we were used to his shenanigans by now, it was always an adventure to discover if he had chosen a road that still went through where he thought it did.

We found Ballyvaughan easily, and our B&B was right where I thought it was, just past Monk's Pub, literally right next door. It was a lovely big place, with bright, colorful gardens, parking, and a large room. The bathroom was nice, the view over Galway Bay was delightful, even in the gloom. We checked in (had a little trouble getting onto WiFi), and then went off to Monk's for a late lunch.

We each had a half pint with lunch, me sticking with cider and V trying Smithwicks ("Smiddicks") for the first time. I had a salad that was made up of slices of black pudding, crispy bacon, slices of green apple, and a balsamic vinaigrette it was a bit dry, but still a tasty combination. V had the goat's cheese salad once again.

We walked into town, explored the neighborhood, went into Spar for some snack refills. We went into a gift store, and discovered the closest ATM was back in Kinvarra. The weather started deteriorating, so we walked quickly back to the B&B, got the internet working, and asked the hostess (very nice, but a bit fluttery) about a local launderette. There was one in town, we could go by in the morning before we headed out.

Tonight we headed back to Kinvarra for cash, stopping at several brown signs on the way Traugh Beach, a Napoleonic lookout tower, and other various beaches and scenic views. In Kinvarra, I finally found my toothpaste (I prefer a brand you can't get in the US). The town of Kinvarra was a little quiet, oddly so, but it had a largish Londis that we shopped around in a bit.

On the way back, we saw our first Irish rainbow a double one, and one that met the earth on both sides. Welcome to the Emerald Isle!

We stopped for dinner at the Hyland Burren Hotel and Pub. It was very quiet, and we thought at first it was closed, but it was open. Again, not tourist season here yet, I suppose. I had the smoked salmon and prawn rose marie salad, while V stuck with her seafood chowder.

V has several cats, and all have Egyptian names. We discussed possible names for future cats, and she opined that she couldn't have a cat named Ra, because Ra was the Sun God, and all the other cats would think he was better than them.

We had an early night tonight, praying to the weather Gods to be kind to us tomorrow.



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Sorry you didn't get to see the spanish arches. Here's a few pic's.



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Thanks, Wellsley! We just wanted out of there...

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Wednesday, May 25th: "National Irish Fish-n-Chips Day"

We were up early this morning, as it was another long travel day down to Dingle. We repacked, breakfasted, and checked out to a rainy day. The route was only 3.5 hours, but we knew well that side trips and brown signs could easily double that figure.

Our first diversion was to Cormcoroe Abbey, a nearby place I had noticed the day before. I was able to get some nice architectural photos there, and then skedaddled back on the road to Dingle. We did get shots of the several different types of stone fences the Irish built, creative folk that they are.

We came across another brown sign, for Tully Holy Well and Shrine down a narrow farm road we went. The hill took me past some very friendly, sleek brown horses, to a very odd little shrine on the hill, and then back to the main road. By the time I saw the Shannon Estuary, I realized that TomTom had ignored our request for 'no ferries' in his instructions, and going around at this point would add at least an hour and a half to the trip so we bit the bullet and took the ferry.

It was only about E18, and a nice, easy trip in the car. The rain kept splattering, but we only had to wait about 15 minutes for the ferry to start boarding, and the trip was short. Once on the other side, we went exploring for a scenic view or two. At one point, driving along the road, I heard a huge THUMP on the windshield, and saw the underside of a big black bird he hit us! Hit and run! Track down that bird!

We tried to find Glin Castle, but all we saw were a couple castle gates that looked like someone made them from papier mache. We took the 'scenic route' back, and decided that 'scenic route' was Irish for 'crappy road with very little to see' on it.

On the way to find Ardfert Cathedral, we found Lislaughlin Abbey, and then went on to find Carrigafoyle Castle by accident. This was a well placed ruin on a lakeside, and looked like a mouth permanently open to swallow all of time within. Ardfert was worth exploring lots of lovely architectural spaces, archways, halls, galleries of stone stretching around to ancient gravesites.

By the time we got to Camp, on the north side of the Dingle peninsula, we realized that it would be much too misty to see anything from Connor Pass nor was I interested in braving that north road in the rain, so we took the longer, windier path across the peninsula before we got to the pass. It did switch back and forth a lot along that southern coast, but it was relatively wide throughout, and I remember going up that pass with Kim constantly in 1st gear the whole way up.

We got into Dingle and found our B&B along the road without any problems, The Blooming Wildflower B&B (http://www.wildflower-cottage.com/). Evidently she runs an herbal shop out of the front of the house our entrance was in the back. There is no street parking or off-street parking she told us we could park in the lot across the street, which was several houses in a group. The room was the Captain's room, and not huge, but the bathroom was almost larger than the room itself. Marianne, our hostess, was a tiny, soft-spoken woman from Seattle, but she reminded V of Tangina, the little old psychic woman from Poltergeist, with her little voice.

We settled in and found at least one extra plug, a fantastic view over the water, and it was a nicely decorated room, with a blue nautical theme. The rest of the house was cut off from our hallway by a brochure stand on wheels evidently she would come fetch us for breakfast the next morning. This all felt a bit odd, but this house isn't set up as a B&B as well as some of the others, which were probably more purpose-built.

We walked into town, and passed by the Aquarium, to find a fish-n-chips place. Today was Irish National Fish-n-Chips Day, and we meant to honor that. We stopped at Harrington's, had some cod, and somehow came to the conclusion that V was the 'black hole of sin' for some reason.

We did some serious shopping then, finding odd shops like The Craic House, The Dolphin Store (which was full of hippie stuff, incense, beaded curtains, and a huge, wall-sized 3D graphic of a dolphin on one wall). It also had the only real seed-bead work I'd yet seen, though there was no clerk to help us or ask questions of. We went into another shop called Cuchulainn, which had some higher-end jewelry, and a couple other shops with lacework, knitwork and woolens, music, etc.

We settled into the very American-tourist-oriented Dingle Pub for some pints and to escape the rain. They had free WiFi, but only if you sat at one table in the pub, evidently. I had a meal of smoked salmon on brown bread, and while the bread was tasty, it was so dense it could easily give someone a head wound if properly wielded. We watched some silly commercials on the television in the pub, and wandered again once the rain stopped (for the moment).

We got the recommendation of the Courthouse pub by a local, but couldn't easily find it wandering around, so we went into Murphy's, which promised trad music. It was pretty well packed, so we moved on to John Benny Moriarty's, which had a free corner for us to curl up in. Again, this pub had trad music, and again, it had many American tourists, but seemed less commercial than The Dingle Pub. Also, there was free WiFi throughout so V could hide in her corner.

V actually engaged with another pub patron on her very own, too! She commented on him texting on his iPhone, a common addiction. He was a tourist from Denver, named Phil, and she had a whole conversation with him before he had to leave. I was so proud!

A couple sat next to us on the other side, and ordered a couple of hot whiskeys. It looked very warming, but I'm not a fan of whiskey, so I passed and stuck with my ciders. The pub started filling up as the music session got closer, again, true session players. They were very good, but after 3-4 tunes, V wanted to get going, so we braved the wind and the rain and got back home cold, wet, and very loopy.


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