Perhaps it’s a little odd to liken waiting for a baby’s arrival to waiting for Guinness to settle. One makes you wait nine months and the other… nine minutes? I don’t remember; it’s been too long since I’ve had one — a year, in fact.
It was a year ago when I was in Ireland, tossing back Guinness as if it was my drink of choice when, let’s be honest, I’m a wine girl. Not in Ireland, though. A year ago I started this blog on that trip. And here I am a year later, reminiscing longingly. And being in a very different place — waiting for a baby, not a beer (well, a beer after the baby, for sure).
As I recently mentioned, Ireland’s been on the brain lately. It was just such a very good trip in so many ways. We’ve traveled since then, plenty of times, and we’ve had fun trips, but none have quite measured up. I’m waiting for what our next Ireland will be — and when.
It’s weird to have spent the last several years of my life planning one trip to the next and now to have nothing in the works for the foreseeable future. Not “nothing,” just no travel. It will happen eventually, though, and until then, I’ll wait. For an impatient person, I’m doing an inordinate amount of waiting these days.
The little peanut who seemed to be hosting a rave in my womb at about 2 a.m. is doing a good job of making me wait; maybe she’s giving me my first exercise in patience. The poor thing isn’t even supposed to be here yet — not for another seven days, actually — but I’m already anxious. The waiting…
Frankly, I don’t know if it’s the waiting so much as the not knowing. When is it going to happen? It’s pretty amazing what this whole process does to a person — to me, anyway. You get to this point, to the end, and you really must just wait. And you’re too uncomfortable to do much of anything else, so the waiting is all that more pronounced. I get home from work at night and because I’m too uncomfortable to even go for a walk anymore — or I’ll have to pee the second we get down the block despite having gone three times before leaving home — I sit on the couch. No TV, no book (but sometimes Words With Friends), and I wait. Will it be tonight? If it’s going to be tonight shouldn’t I be feeling something by now?
Our last night in Dublin was a pretty low-key one. In typical fashion, we hem-hawed about what we wanted to do for dinner. Fish and chips was ruled out because I already had that in Kinsale and I knew that no place would compare to Fishy Fishy. Plus, KP has some strange belief that it’s a British thing and therefore shouldn’t be eaten in Ireland. We thought about burgers and chips at a pub somewhere, but weren’t sure which one to choose. We thought about the Winding Stair which sounds like such a cool concept (and we will go back next time we visit Dublin), but KP was looking for something casual.
Luckily one of my colleagues put together a list of Dublin restaurants for foodies for me, so we perused that and finally landed on Peploe’s on St. Stephen’s Green. A convenient choice, it was just down the street from our hotel. Stepping outside around 8:00 p.m. was quite different just a few hours earlier; Grafton Street was filled with people milling about, some pouring into the park. But by time we walked to dinner, the streets were nearly completely empty. It was kind of nice, like we had that sliver of Dublin to ourselves for the evening.
Immediately when we walked into Peploe’s I knew I was going to like the place. The manager greeted us almost instantly, asked if we had a reservation (we didn’t) and quickly seated us. The dining room was lively but in a comfortable, not too obnoxiously loud kind of way. It had a good energy.
While we enjoyed our aperitifs (bellini for me and sherry for KP — I had no idea he even liked sherry… ah, the things you learn when you travel), our server brought us some delicious — presumably homemade — sun-dried tomato bread with a pesto dipping sauce.
The menu consists mainly of pasta, seafood and steaks, and after some debate between the moules mariniere and the monkfish pie, I opted for the latter. After all, I eat mussels often enough in the States, but not fish pie.
But before I get into the deliciousness that was fish pie, I have to tell you about the starter that we shared — gratinated goat cheese. It was hands-down one of the best starter dishes I’ve ever had, and we will be attempting to recreate at home. It’s always the simplest things that are the most delicious, and that as definitely the case. It was essentially a smallish wheel of goat cheese, wrapped in Parma ham and cooked ever so lightly to just create a nice light golden brown bubbly crust on the outside. It sat atop a quartered browned shallot and a bed of spring greens, and the plate was encircled in a truffle and honey vinaigrette. Out of this world.
I could’ve easily had the goat cheese and dessert and called it a night, but the monkfish pie was good, too. In addition to the monkfish, there were also prawns and mashed potatoes in the pie and it was all topped with breadcrumbs and herbs and served in a cute little copper dish.
Sorry, but our pistachio ice-cream-filled profiteroles were inhaled before I could snap a pic. Our server actually told us she was going to take our plate away before we began licking it. Clearly she got to know us well over dinner.
We strolled back to the hotel on the park side, which was all closed up for the night.
We leave Dublin tomorrow morning, so we had to pack into today everything we missed when we were here last weekend. No laughing, but we decided that the best way to do that would to really be tourists. That’s right, we got on the hop on/hop off sightseeing bus.
I’ll admit it — while I think these buses are kind of hokey, I’ve taken advantage of them in more than one city and they’re really a good way to hit all of the tourist spots without walking all over a city.
On our agenda for today: Dublin Castle, Chester Beatty Library, St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Kilmainham Gaol.
Dublin Castle just isn’t that impressive. Maybe it’s because we’ve already seen so many other picturesque castles in the week that we’ve been here, but it sits right in the city and the grounds really aren’t very spectacular. There’s also a car park in the back which I think takes away from it.
Chester Beatty Library
On the castle grounds also sits the Chester Beatty Library. I have to credit KP with this one; I don’t even recall seeing it mentioned in our guide book but it was worth a quick (and free) stroll. If you’re really into books you could probably spend a few hours looking at every piece in great detail, but I got to a point where I was itching to get back outside in the sunshine. The library is very museum-like — dark, cold and super quiet.
Chester Beatty was born in the U.S., naturalized British and became an honorary citizen of Ireland. He made his millions in mining and was a serious collector of books and ancient art — all of which he gave to Ireland. And to say he was a serious collector is somewhat of an understatement. There are ancient works on display in this small museum, including many religious manuscripts, several from the Middle East.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
Just a short walk from the Beatty library is St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It’s massive — the largest church in Ireland — and the grounds are beautiful.
Since the country is still experiencing uncharacteristically gorgeous weather, there were plenty of people sitting on the grounds picnicking, reading or just relaxing.
Directly opposite the cathedral is a large fountain where St. Patrick is said to have baptized some of the first Christians in Ireland.
Here is where it comes in very handy to be on a hop on/hop off bus. Instead of walking endlessly to our next stop, we walked around the corner from the cathedral and got back on the bus to go to Kilmainham Gaol.
KP was told by a few people that if you see just one thing in Dublin, see Kilmainham Gaol, initially a regular jail which then turned into a prison for those who were fighting for independence from Britain, and eventually served as a prison during the civil war, when the Irish were fighting their own brothers. It does seem to be a wildly popular tourist attraction. When we tried to visit last weekend, most tours were full and when we arrived today, all of the tours before ours were full, too.
The one-hour tour is definitely enlightening, but of course also terribly depressing. The “old” side of the prison is just horrific, especially when you let your mind wander to what it was really like back in those days.
Inmates were initially subjected to solitary confinement but that ended when the jail became overcrowded. When prisoners were brought in, they were given a slab of wood to use as their bed, a candle for light (which was meant to last two weeks) and a single blanket. There was no glass on the barred windows, either; the theory was that the breeze would keep air circulating through the jail and also help prevent disease. It wasn’t successful at achieving the latter.
A new wing of the prison was created, panoptic by design, so that prison guards could stand on the ground floor and see and hear anything that was happening in any of the cells.
The acoustics in this new wing are so fantastic that concerts are sometimes held here (including Sinead O’Connor and U2), which I find slightly chilling.
The prison didn’t discriminate. In addition to men and women, there were also children prisoners. A five year-old who stole a necklace was imprisoned here — among many other children, I’m sure — and punishment included lashes and salt in wounds. It truly gave me the chills just to hear the stories.
The last bit of the tour is on the grounds outside, where 14 prisoners were executed. The executioners were said to be young and terrified with what they were forced to do, so they would shoot blanks so as not to know if they were the ones who in fact carried out an execution or not. There are two crosses on either end of the courtyard in memory of the 14 executed there.
Having driven around in the lovely country of Ireland for the past week — sometimes beating our heads against the windshield because we had no idea where we were going — I now completely understand why U2 has a song with that name. More on my favorite Irishmen in a moment.
Today we began winding down our last few days of this wonderfully relaxing vacation, which meant heading back to Dublin since we fly out from here on Monday. Because KP has a penchant for castles, he did a little research and found one that we could visit on our drive back from Galway to Dublin. Pop quiz for the movie buffs: what castle played a part in Mel Gibson’s Braveheart?
Trim Castle, in the little village of Trim.
The castle dates back to 1172 and was given to Norman lord Hugh de Lacy, whose son, Walter, later expanded it. Apparently, it was generally ignored until Mel Gibson gave it its role in Braveheart. It reopened to the public in 2000.
For a small fee, you can tour the grounds and for an additional small fee, you can go into the castle itself. We opted to simply tour the grounds. After all, one castle isn’t much different from the next at this point!
The entire compound is rather massive and the work that went into it impressive. If only they built apartments in Chicago this sturdy…
The town itself is really cute, albeit small. There’s a Trim Castle Hotel which looks nice and the gift shop in the lobby has some really unique gift items (yes, I’m happy to report that some Christmas gifts have been purchased!). There are also a handful of coffee shops and small restaurants, but the picturesque row houses with brightly colored doors were my favorite.
Trim is only about an hour or so from Dublin, so getting to the airport to return our rental car and then get into the city to our next hotel was relatively painless.
When we checked into the Fitzwilliam Hotel on St. Stephen’s Green, we got the dreaded, “your room isn’t ready yet,” so we had some time to kill. Ironically, KP had been commenting on how little he had seen or heard of U2 since arriving in Ireland. No sooner did he say that than we passed The Little Museum of Dublin with this banner on display:
Naturally there was no question. In we went. Happily paid the 5 EUR fee per person and took in two rooms full of U2 photographs by Patrick Brocklebank.
Getting a glimpse of their early days was pretty cool. It’s amazing that they’ve been together for as long as they have. After all, they’ve been a band for just about as long as I’ve been alive.
Some of the photos were pretty funny — Adam Clayton with acne, Bono wearing rather girly heeled boots and so on.
The rest of the museum is great, too. Dublin is displayed in decades. Artifacts representative of a specific decade, provided to the museum by individuals, are displayed together in a collage-like fashion. It’s a museum of the people and for the people, they say. And for a non-native who doesn’t know too terribly much about Dublin, it’s really informative but in an atypical museum kind of way.
It only takes up one floor so far, but it only opened last year so I imagine as they gather more pieces it will expand. That said, the display is quite impressive already. And there are a few U.S.-centric items that were fun to see, like a thank you letter that Bill Clinton wrote to the city in 1996 for the enjoyable visit he had here, and the podium from which John F. Kennedy spoke to the government here in 1963.
Goodbye, Castelmartyr. Hello, west coast.
We checked out of the beautiful Castlemartyr Resort — begrudgingly — and headed northwest to Galway. Listening to the radio in the car, we were treated to some serious comedy. It was some morning radio show and the DJs were going on and on about the uncharacteristically gorgeous weather. A woman then called in and proclaimed that she was taking her kids out of school for the day so that they could enjoy the sunshine; and then other parents called in saying the same. The DJs were justifying the callers’ decisions because they simply don’t get sunny days here. Then they went on to poke fun at themselves, saying how their pasty white freckled complexions needed some pigment and so on. Staying home for a snow day, sure. But the concept of staying out of school because it’s sunny? Apparently somewhat commonplace here!
Cliffs of Moher
When I asked my Facebook friends about must-see sights in Ireland, the Cliffs of Moher were suggested by multiple people, and our handy guide book reconfirmed. So we planned to stop on our way to Galway, and what a perfect day for it. Though, naturally, every other tourist in the country had the same idea, so it was pretty packed, especially with tour buses, my favorite.
The cliffs are a natural wonder that span about five miles and over 700′ above the sea — no doubt a site not to be missed.
Our drive from Cork to the cliffs was 2.5 hours or so, give our take. And when we got closer to the cliffs, the roads were winding but the scenery was just spectacular. Though, there have been few places where the scenery here isn’t.
They say that on a clear day, you can see the Aran Islands from the cliffs, and we could only barely make them out in the distance yesterday. Despite being sunny, it was still overcast just enough to prevent us from clearly seeing them.
The one downside — as is to be expected at any major tourist spot — was the crowds. There were so many people wandering around and I lost count of how many tour buses were there. There’s also a visitor center which apparently opened in recent years and it was chaotic just to get the restrooms inside. Also annoying, parking was a whopping 10 EUR (they charge by the number of people in the car, oddly) though I suppose if you’re more flexible on time you could go when the visitor center closes and you don’t have to pay to park. We were on a schedule, though, so we sucked it up and shelled out the 10 EUR.
We just barely skirted The Burren on our way to Galway. The interlocking rocks are pretty amazing to see. Have I mentioned enough yet that the scenery here is spectacular? Because it is.
When we finally arrived in Galway mid-afternoon, I believe the temperature was around 30 degrees Celsius. (That’s pushing 90 degrees, Americans…) And traffic was at a near standstill. Clare wasn’t cooperating. And I was starving. All in all, a pleasant Friday afternoon.
We eventually made our way to our hotel, Harbour Hotel, just outside of the town center. Maybe it was due to the heat and/or lack of food, but both KP and I were cranky and scratching our heads a bit at the fascination with Galway. So many people had recommended going and even when we mentioned it to the hotel staff and taxi drivers here, they all raved about it.
So we ventured out to see what all the fuss was about. First stop — food. We wandered for a bit and ended up at Busker Brownes. It was dark inside and slightly empty. We grabbed a table in the back and quickly ordered a round of Guinness and food; an open-faced smoked salmon sandwich for me. Note: I mentioned previously that I don’t really like beer. And I don’t. It’s okay and I will certainly drink it, but more often than not I opt for the vino. However, I feel obligated to drink nothing but Guinness mostly while in Ireland, and I’ll admit that it’s sort of growing on me.
From our late lunch, we walked around a bit to get the lay of the land. KP suggested a boat cruise so we headed to the banks of the River Corrib to investigate, and passed the beautiful Galway Cathedral on our way. Unlike most picturesque churches in Europe, the Galway Cathedral is a bit of a new kid on the block, comparatively speaking. It was only dedicated in 1965.
The Corrib Princess river cruise was just leaving the dock as we arrived, so we hoofed it back to the hotel for a little R & R (with a pit stop at Mexx for a few seasonally-appropriate tops for moi!).
A little rest is just what we needed. And since it stays light until around 10:00 p.m., we still had plenty of time to see the town. Yes, 10:00 p.m. And that has thrown me off even after being in this country for a week now. It will feel like it’s about 6:00 and I look at my watch only to find that it’s 10:00.
Our plan for the evening was a simple one: walk around a bit, stop at a pub or two, grab some dinner and then maybe hear some traditional Irish music.
On our walk through town that evening, it really struck me how dirty Galway is. Many of the streets were littered with trash and I was blown away by a pile of garbage — literally — right in the middle of Eyre Square. I get that it’s a college town, but this is what made me have a hard time grasping what was so cute about it.
Moving on… We made our way to the Latin Quarter (much like Temple Bar or Rue Mouffetard) and combed the streets for a pub with an outside table available. Every place was packed with people like us trying to enjoy the gorgeous weather. We opted for the next best thing — seats in the open windows at the Dail Bar. To say the people-watching was priceless would be an understatement.
The food snob in me wouldn’t ordinarily choose to dine in such a tourist trap, but hey, we’re on vacation. And it was simply easy to stroll from the pub to the first place with an open table outside. We found one at Gemelle’s, a little Italian restaurant. And we got the best of both worlds — filling our tummies and more people-watching.
We never did hear any traditional Irish music. Because after one Guinness and half a bottle of wine, I’m spent.
There’s always tonight.
For once, our dear guide Clare led us in the right direction and finding the market — and parking nearby — was no problem. It’s right in the center of Cork, bordered by Princes St. and Oliver Plunkett St.
At the advice of the concierge at our hotel, we arrived around noon. Our original plan was to go later in the afternoon, but our concierge pointed out that it’s best to go first thing in the morning while all of the stalls are full. Good point.
The sites and smells are pretty powerful, especially the latter. And naturally, the smell of the fresh fish is the strongest.
It reminded me a lot of Borough Market in London, though not nearly as crowded and perhaps a bit smaller. In addition to the fresh fish stalls, there were several bakeries, butchers, cheese and produce stalls.
One of the butchers, Bresnan and Son, has been selling meat at the market for over a century. Today they were butchering a full cow, which was a site to see. I debated snapping a picture or two, but feared it might make me go back to my vegetarian days so I opted not to. The leg on the butcher’s block was just massive, though. And bloody.
Since we were en route to Gougane Barra, we decided to pick up some treats for a picnic. KP had that genius idea, given that it was a beautiful, sunny day. In fact, this was the first day where we experienced consistent sunshine all day long. Maybe the locals were right about the weather getting better.
While cheese makes me salivate, sweets do the same to KP. So it wouldn’t be a true picnic without dessert. As you can see, it was incredibly hard to decide, but we opted for lemon cake and rocky road. The lemon cake was my favorite, but the rocky road was good, too — and it had M & M’s in it!
Our picnic destination — Gougane Barra — was a good hour away, maybe a bit more. The roads were windy and heart attack-inducing; we just never knew what was coming around each bend. Somehow, the speed limit on these roads is 80 km which seems absurd. After all, you’re on the wrong side of the road! In true Ireland fashion, we eventually got to a T in the road yet there was no sign telling us where to go… Luckily there was a gas station at the T, so KP popped in for clarification.
Admittedly, I wasn’t so sure about Gougane Barra. Frommer’s didn’t make it sound too appealing in our guide book, but in hindsight, I’m glad KP stood strong on this one. It truly is breathtaking.
The area was flooded with people today, no doubt due to the sunny, warm weather, and we met a local who told us that the church is now often used for weddings. With just 10 or 12 pews, it’s no doubt an ideal spot for a quaint, cozy wedding celebration.
This is what we’re told almost daily by someone or other. Today, the General Manager of our hotel told us that he was sure the sun was going to break through the clouds. It did, for maybe a minute or two, but in general it was another grey day in Ireland. And that’s fine. But what better way to spend a day like this than with more liquor.
And so we set off for our tour of the Jameson Distillery in Midleton. Once again, good old Clare led us astray and took us to the distillery business park, but one of the maintenance workers got us back on track.
Tour tickets are 13 EUR a pop which includes a guided 40-ish minute tour of the property, a tasting and a glass of whiskey. But due to the time we arrived, we had to wait about 50 minutes for the next tour. So we bellied up to the bar and settled in for a pre-tour beverage.
I couldn’t help but compare the Jameson Experience, as they call it, to the other booze tour we took on this trip, the Guinness tour in Dublin. And I liked the Jameson tour better. Perhaps because we actually had a tour guide this time around so it was a bit more interesting. Still, the only nuggets I retained are the various reasons that scotch is different from whiskey. I know one of the reasons is because scotch is smokier due to drying the barley with peat smoke, and another is that whiskey is triple-distilled whereas scotch is only distilled twice. There — I have taught you a lesson for the day. You’re welcome.
I also learned a few words of Irish wisdom today:
Health and long life to you.
The wife of your choice to you.
A child ever year to you.
Land without rent to you.
And may you be half-an-hour in heaven
before the devil knows you’re dead.
After the tour, we had a tasting which included Jameson (natch), Johnnie Walker Black Label scotch and Jack Daniels whiskey. And they all are rather different. I’m not a whiskey gal, but I can now confidently say that I prefer the smell of scotch but the taste of whiskey.
After the tour, we strolled down Midleton’s main street; it’s yet another cute, picturesque little Irish town.
We popped into a few shops, including Aunty Nellie’s Sweet Shop, which looks like an old-time candy store, but alas it is just another chain. That didn’t stop us from getting a scoop of fudge and a scoop of wine gums (you figure out who picked what). The walls are lined with jars full of colorful candies — a dream come true for a sweet tooth.
I’m a planner. Especially when it comes to travel. I like to know where I’m going and when and have all my ducks in a row. That’s why it’s a bit out of character for me to completely mix up plans midway through a trip — like we just did.
We’ve been at Catlemartyr in County Cork since Monday afternoon. And it’s beautiful. Heaven on earth, really.
It’s truly one of the most peaceful places I’ve ever been. It’s quiet and serene and everything a vacation should be.
There are lots of simple things to do here, like take the tandem bike for a spin, which KP and I did this evening.
And there’s a lush trail that surrounds the property, perfect for hikes… which we also did this evening. And I swear I am going to go for a run in the morning (headphones or not).
So tonight, sitting over our pub fare and beers at the bar, KP made some comment about wanting to stay and forego Dingle (our next stop). One thing led to another, and we found ourselves at the reception desk asking if there was availability for the next two nights. There is. And we’re staying.
We’ll spend the next few days relaxing, taking advantage of the trails around us and the bikes and the swimming pool (okay, and probably the gym). And on Friday we’ll get back on track and head to Galway.