Friday, December 20, 2013

Ireland

My cousin Erin is studying for the fall semester at the University of Limerick in Ireland.  (Check out Erin's blog here!)  Of course, we didn't need much excuse to travel to Ireland, and of course we wanted to make it there while Erin was still there!  We headed to the Emerald Island on Thanksgiving day.

I was not going to give up a Thanksgiving dinner just because we were travelling!  I made a turkey dinner with all of the fixings the Saturday before Thanksgiving.  If I do say so myself, it turned out very well.  We are extremely blessed and have so much to be thankful for!!


Our journey to Ireland included a train to Frankfurt followed by a flight to Dublin.  We arrived in Dublin right around lunch time.  We took a bus to the city center, dropped our luggage off and headed out for lunch that was accompanied by a nice, fresh Guinness.  (Would you expect anything else??)


Because we had just a short time there, we didn't want to run around like crazy to squeeze stuff in.  We wanted to enjoy ourselves!  Firstly, we decided we wanted to see the Christ Church Cathedral, the oldest in Dublin.  The cathedral was probably founded sometime a bit after 1028.  Obviously, the cathedral has a lot of interesting history that we read about on our self-guided tour.  The crypt was interesting, as well.  I was very excited to learn that they did a lot of filming for the Showtime series The Tudors at the cathedral.  They had some of the costumes on display down in the crypt. They also had on display a mummified cat chasing a mummified mouse that was found in an organ pipe!


Inside the Christ Church Cathedral


Costumes from The Tudors on display in the crypt

Mummified cat and mouse found in the organ pipe in the 1800s


After we toured the cathedral, we spent the evening walking around the city.  It was decorated beautifully for Christmas!  It started to get dark right about 5:00 pm, so we had plenty of time to enjoy the lights!  Dublin is a city that's much more beautiful than pictures let on.  It's one of those places that you have to visit to fully appreciate.


The Ha'penny bridge




The next morning we picked up our rental car to begin our journey across the island!  Our final destination was Limerick, but we made an awesome stop along the way.  Just a bit south of Dublin, in the Wicklow mountain valley, is the early medieval monastic settlement of Glendalough.  It was founded in the 6th century, then mostly destroyed by English troops in 1398.  It was kind of surreal to walk through the ruins and imagine what life must have been like.  There was a bone chilling wind blowing through the valley and gray skies, giving it a very moody atmosphere.









From Glendalough it was about a two and a half hour drive to Limerick.  The landscapes in Ireland vary greatly, from the barren and rocky Wicklow mountains, to the lush green rolling hills dotted by grazing sheep.  It was a gorgeous drive!  Once we got checked into our hotel, we got a hold of Erin and her friend Kelsey who was just wrapping up her Ireland trip.  We headed to downtown Limerick to check out a pub that is known for live music.  The three girls had a delicious dinner of bangers and mash, and of course Kyle had the chicken.  :-)  We hung around a while after that and heard some awesome traditional music by some locals.  It was a great beginning to our trip!


We began our Saturday morning at the Limerick Milk Market.  It's a part indoor/outdoor market that has a lot of amazing fresh and local food as well as some really random flea market kind of stuff!  It was really interesting to walk around and take it all in.




From Limerick, we drove north along the coast to the Cliffs of Moher.  It's a gorgeous landscape with grazing animals in a green pasture on one side, and dramatic cliffs along the coast on the other.  We spent a good amount of time admiring the beauty, and stopping every ten feet to take pictures!  We crawled on our hands and knees to peek over the edge at one point, and it was extremely creepy!  It was one of those moments where you imagine all of the freak accident-type ways that you could plunge to your death!







Doing an Irish jig!








After walking along the cliffs, we drove through an area called the Burren.  It is a really unique, almost lunar looking landscape.  It's a pretty hilly area, and the ground is covered in limestone with crevices growing small plants and such.  It's unlike anything I've ever seen.  Along the way we saw a Megalithic tomb dating back to around 2500 BC!




We ended our day of site seeing in Galway, where Kelsey caught a bus back to Dublin for her extremely early flight the next morning.  Kyle, Erin and I stayed at a cute little bed and breakfast for the night.  Galway had a nice Christmas market that we got to check out!  We walked the busy streets and had a great dinner.  Galway is a fun and bustling town.  I wish the three of us weren't so tired that evening!  We wimped out and decided to sleep rather than staying out for the live music!  (Which I think was probably the responsible choice!)


The next day we actually went to visit a place that Erin hadn't been to yet!  We drove about 45 minutes northwest of Galway to catch a ferry to the Aran Islands.  It was a pretty quick ferry ride to the largest of the three islands, Inishmore.  The Aran islands still have a very traditional way of life.  There are only 1200 inhabitants between the three islands.  The locals speak primarily Gaelic, but they speak English as well.  They are famous for the wool knitwear.  Only the residents are allowed to have cars, so once we exited the ferry we found a local that was offering island tours in a small bus.  He had been a fisherman for most of his life before he began giving tours.  There was a lot we didn't get to see, but it was a good way to cover a lot of ground in a little bit of time!

We saw really beautiful church ruins and seals, but my favorite part of the tour was seeing the prehistoric fort of Dún Aonghasa situated right on the edge of a 100 meter high cliff.  The first part of the fort dates to around 1100 BC.  (That blows my mind!)  As we were hiking to the the fort, we heard a loud rumble that we thought was thunder at first.  We later realized that it was waves crashing up on the cliffs.  There were not many people there, so it felt really remote and secluded.  We met the island Jack Russel while we were there, and he kept appearing throughout our time on the island.  He even tried to come back on the ferry!







Cute cafe where we ate lunch

Hiking up to the fort




Crawling out to peek over the edge...

And this is what we saw...

Our furry island friend!


Living on the edge


Kyle goes to great lengths to get the perfect shot.


We drove back to Limerick that evening, which was just under three hours away.  On our way back, we drove by the Bunratty castle to eat at an old pub that's right by it called Durty Nelly's.  It was a really cool, atmospheric place.  Their live music that night was a pianist, which is not what you expect to hear in a place like that!


The next day was our last full day in Ireland.  Luckily Erin didn't have class that Monday, so she was able to come with us to drive the Ring of Kerry.  It's a gorgeous drive along the coast around the peninsula.  You see mountains on one side, and the coastline along the other.  There are cute towns and historic sites to see along the way.  The good thing about being there in November is that you don't have hoards of tourists to deal with.  I think we only saw one mini bus tour the whole day!  We ended the ring of Kerry drive in the Killarney National Park.  It was already getting dark by the time we got there, but we did get to enjoy sunset views over the two lakes.  We also briefly walked around the manor grounds  in the park area.  It is a beautiful place that we easily could have spent the whole day exploring!  We walked around the town of Killarney for a bit before heading back to Limerick.  Somehow we all ended up with a cold, and the Irish pharmacist told Kyle to drink hot whiskey every couple of hours!

Beautiful Galway Bay seen from the Ring of Kerry






An early medieval Ogham Stone (4th-6th century) that has primitive early Irish inscriptions on it


Going to check out a Staigue Fort, built around 300-400 AD





Beautiful view of the lakes in Killarney National Park




The next morning started our LONG journey back to Germany.  First, we drove about 2 and a half hours from Limerick to Dublin.  We turned in the rental car, then flew from Dublin to Frankfurt.  We waited for our delayed train back to Stuttgart for just under two hours, before the short hour long train ride.  From the main train station in Stuttgart, we took the S-bahn (regional train) back to where we parked our car.  Then we had to go pick up our dog Gizmo.  The final stop before we finally got home was to the store to pick up some cereal and milk.  What a long day, but luckily it all went off without a hitch!

We had a wonderful time in Ireland, and Erin was a great tour guide.  Ireland is such a unique place with such a diversity of dramatic and pastoral landscapes.  The people are extremely friendly and make you feel right at home.  Like I usually say, we would love to go back, because there's so much that we didn't get to see!  We're glad that we get to see Erin and her boyfriend very soon for Christmas at our home in Germany!

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