Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Ireland - Installment V

Saturday evening, September 14, in Kenmare was the evening of the big All Ireland Senior Football Championship 2019 - Kerry vs Dublin that we had been hearing so much about all along our trip so far. Due to all of the flags, bunting and banners in Kerry's colors, green and orange, that we had been seeing everywhere as we drove the highways and byways, we knew that we were in Kerry territory. Rich and I were also careful to pick a pub for dinner where we were pretty sure the game would be on all of the TVs. PF McCarthy's  was our choice based solely upon it's appearance and it was a great one.

The Guinness stew was to die for and the Fish and Chips that Rich picked was one of the best of our trip. But the best part of the evening was the conversation we had with the two young German women at the table next to us. Neither they nor we knew the first thing about the game going on which made the talk at our tables even funnier. One of the young ladies was furiously trying to Google the rules each time a referee held up a different colored penalty card. In the end all four of us chose to just cheer along with the crowd when Kerry did something positive, or groan when they committed a mistake. I did notice though, that the actual Irish fans in the pub were much better mannered when Kerry received a bad call than the Ohio State fans here at home when our team was in a similar situation! Hmmm? Ultimately Kerry lost and everyone in the pub when on drinking congenially.

Sunday morning, after a lovely breakfast in the dining room of Shelburn Lodge where I had the delicious porridge with whisky sauce, we decided to  stroll around town a bit to check out the shops.  I didn't really expect for any of them to be open on Sunday but since Kenmare is such a tourist town there were a few open. Of course I found a woolen shop with yarn in it and couldn't resist another purchase.

We also noticed a long line outside a lovely French bakery so of course we had to stop for mid-morning coffee and a pastry. We were not disappointed as we sat at a table on the sidewalk and watched the crowds.

After our delicious break we decided to go in search of the Kenmare stone circle that we had seen on an episode of Rick Steves PBS travel show. Tucked away in a grassy, out of the way corner of Kenmare, we found an actual stone circle. This was another one of my favorite places to see in Ireland.  I'm beginning to think that in another life I may have been an ancient Celt, or maybe a Druid Goddess. Who knows?

Rich dared to lay a hand on the center stone (sacrificial altar?) Luckily he didn't disappear into another time and place and we were able to continue on our trip the next day.

Later that same day we drove aimlessly around the country roads surrounding Kenmare. One of our discoveries was a small gourmet chocolate shop, Lorge Chocolatier. With a full showcase of chocolates to choose from we made a modest purchase of a variety of chocolates. They didn't even make it out of Kenmare as we began tasting after dinner and, well, one thing led to another! I suggest you check out the link that I provided so you can enjoy a feast for the eyes if not the palate. Lorge also offers classes in chocolate making and if I lived nearby I would certainly love to make myself sick in one of those classes!

That evening we had our supper in a small pizza shop in town and decided to turn in early because we had quite a few sites to see on our way to Kinsale, our next stop.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Ireland - Installment IV

We spent September 14th and 15th in Kenmare in County Kerry where we would later watch the "Big Match" between Kerry and Dublin in the Irish Football playoff on Saturday night. More on that later. The drive to Kenmare along the narrow, twisty roads was absolutely lovely. Most of the roads were lined with hedges of fuschia shrubs. These plants that we buy in hanging baskets in the spring to grace our porches and patios, grow wild and woody in Ireland's temperate climate. So to label the autumn colorful in Ireland means an entirely different thing than the earthy colors of fall at home.

We drove along the picturesque coastal roads for a little way before heading inland towards Kenmare and the vistas did not disappoint. The famous Ring of Kerry drive is so rife with breathtaking views that I have to recheck my iphone camera on each one to be sure just where I snapped the pictures!

We passed through the small town of Killorglin at about coffee break time and discovered a small coffee shop in the center of town where we decided to pause. Rich wanted to explore the map, (Yes, he's still a paper map kind of person!) and to check out the sites between Killorglin and Kenmare in case there might be something we didn't want to miss. Bob's Coffee Shop is just a little hole-in-the-wall kind of local shop that we love to patronize over larger chain shops. I had my first authentic, Irish scone there with an excellent cup of latte. Rich had a yummy, jam filled pastry with his coffee. I must say the coffees were excellent and the scone, served with jam and "clotted cream" was to die for!

(I set this post aside for a bit and when I came back to it a week later I had discovered that Bob's, which I followed on Facebook, will be closing down. It makes me sad when any small business that had an excellent product and atmosphere closes.)

From here we took the N70 down the coast, passing through towns with such lilting names as Cahershiveen, Ballinskelligs, Portmagee, and Caherdaniel, stopping along the way to snap pictures of the picturesque Wild Atlantic Way. Valentia Island just off the coast was just one of the breathtaking views of the North Atlantic.

There were sunny yellow flowers nestled among the coastal rocks in places where it didn't seem that anything should be growing.

By late afternoon we arrived in Kenmare. Rich drove around a bit before we checked in to our B&B, something he does just to get an idea of the layout of the town. It gives us an idea of where to park if we drive or if we even need to drive into the business area. Mostly we try to get accommodations that are centrally located so we can walk everywhere. We did stop at Holy Cross Catholic Church, an old stone church that is at a pivotal point in the town. Holy Cross has a simplicity that makes it serenely beautiful and a perfect place to gather one's wits at the end of a day of traveling.

Holy Cross Catholic Church, Kenmare, Ireland

From here we drove to our B&B, The Shelburn Lodge to check in and rest up a bit before supper. Shelburn Lodge was built in the mid-18th Century and was the home of William Petty Fitzmaurice, Lord Shelburn. He loved this area so much that after building his home he commissioned the building of Kenmare town which was completed in 1775. After the American Revolution he became friendly to some of our founding fathers and Adams even named a town in Pennsylvania after him. Shelburn, PA (not Fitzmaurice!).

Shelburn Lodge

This was one of my favorite places to stay. Liz and Moira, the two lovely ladies who so smoothly ran the inn, greeted us warmly. The room was spacious and so lovely, with a very posh and cushy bed and a huge bathroom. The breakfast was delicious and the porridge with whiskey sauce has hooked me on   McCann's Irish steel cut oatmeal to this day. And I can get it at my local Kroger store!

This is why I so loved this place and will definitely book a stay if (when) I go back:

Entrance hall of Shelburn Lodge

Our room with a deep window ledge and a view of the lawn.

A teeny little snail on the windowsill outside our room

More on Kenmare and the Kerry vs Dublin football match in my next installment. 

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Ireland - Installment III

4:30 a.m. New Year's Eve 2019

It's very blustery outside and the temperature has sunk overnight from a steady three days in the mid 50s to a present 32 degrees and headed down into the twenties tonight. The past two days have been rainy and rather miserable for late December in Ohio when we usually have snow. I've worn my raincoat with the lining buttoned in more this month than I did in Ireland where all the travel literature told me that I should be prepared for rain in September! I wore that raincoat once to dash from our B&B in Doolin across the street to the pub for supper. The rest of the time it was just taking up baggage space that could have been used to bring home more lovely Irish woolens.
Murphy's Pub and B&B, Dingle
On our second leg of the trip we drove around the Dingle peninsula towards Dingle Town where we would be staying three nights. Rich had been really looking forward to this because we would be staying at Murphy's Pub B&B where our room would be over the actual pub. We all know what was on his mind here, I'm sure.  Three nights of imbibing in Irish beer and cider, sampling the fish and chips and then being able to stumble up the stairs to our room. No worrying about driving after the party.

Murphy's is right on the strand across from the harbour at Dingle and in the midst of all the tourist shops and Dingle Bay cruise ports. As with all of the pubs we encountered along the way there is music every night of the week.  Dingle Town itself is very much geared to tourists and the streets are crowded every day. Parking at Murphy's is in the back and a bit tricky with the twists and turns to maneuver into (see Installment I about not getting a larger car). And you have to climb a flight of steps with your luggage.

The really big attraction for Dingle is Fungi, the local Dolphin, who has been living in Dingle Bay since 1983 and puts on such a show that several short cruise lines have sprung up centered solely on viewing him. He is so reliable in his appearances that they offer a money-back "guarantee" if you don't spot Fungi while you're out in the bay on the boat.

Fungi statue, Dingle Town center

We couldn't go to Dingle without taking one of the hour long cruises and I will admit, it was impressive. On the way out to the rocky, cavernous area where Fungi lives we passed some colorful kayakers and several other cruise boats creating a festive atmosphere.

Fungi did not disappoint. Our boat idled just offshore along with the kayakers and other cruise boats and after just a short while the dolphin surfaced and began swimming around amongst the various watercraft. He never jumped full out of the water that day but put on a show for us by keeping us guessing where he would surface next, spurting water and air from his blow hole. I took very few photos and videos, caught up as was everyone else, with trying to guess where he would appear next.

 In Dingle we also met a man with a donkey and a dog, quite a colorful trio, who set up each morning the main square. On the second day in Dingle, Rich went out for his early morning walk while leaving me to prepare for the day ahead. He arrived back in the room, excited to show me what he had discovered in the square. I must admit it was a delightful surprise to find a small gypsy wagon and a gentle donkey just outside the pub. 

The fish and chips that Rich ordered most often were delicious because of the proximity to the sea and freshness of the seafood. I usually ordered some traditional Irish dish for supper but stuck with the seafood chowder for lunch. I think that we both agreed that Dingle had by far the best fish and chips. Two of our favorites were Sheehy's Anchor Down for both seafood chowder and fish and chips and Harrington's for fish and chips. Harrington's came in ahead of Sheehy's but only by a nose.

Harrington's fish and chips
Although there are quite a few pubs in Dingle Town, I think our best experience was at Paudie's Bar in the Dingle Bay Hotel. The "Blowin' Ins," a trad(itional) duo were playing that night and are apparently popular in the area. Along with a pub full of tourists and locals, we enjoyed their music and maybe a half-pint or two of Guinness. I discovered that their superb Irish coffee paired well with the sticky toffee pudding as an after dinner treat.

During our wandering around the hilly streets of Dingle we also discovered Foxy John's Pub, a hardware store/pub combination, and Dick Mack's Pub where we had a beer in the "snug," a cozy little area that was partitioned off from the crowd. Many of the older pubs had snugs where tradition has it that the local women sat to chat, business was conducted in private or couples had some privacy while courting.

The "snug" at Dick Mack's Pub
 We had originally planned to stay at Murphy's for three nights but being someone who needs her sleep in order to fully enjoy the next day's activities (see paragraph 3 above, i.e. music all night) we decided to move on a bit along the Ring of Kerry  and stay the third night in a different B&B in Ventry. The drive from Dingle to Ventry took us along the Ring of Kerry where we had a couple of unplanned stops along the way. We arrived early in Ventry and decided to travel up to Slea Head which we had been told was even more scenic than the Ring of Kerry. Slea Head did not disappoint. Running along the bay with a steep drop off on the left (my side, remember) I was breathless for most of the route and not just in awe of the view! 

Traveling on our own as opposed to an organized tour allowed us to make impromptu stops along the way. One of them was the site of the ruins of a famine house, built in the mid 1800s. The house and its history brought home to us the tragedy of the potato famine and the horrible conditions that sparked the great Irish migration to other parts of the world. We were also able to stop at the ruins of a ring fort and beehive homes believed to have been built in the 11th century at about the time of the Norman Invasion. (don't quote me on this one as I found different sources all saying something different.)

Famine House 

A Chochan (beehive home) within a ring fort  at Fahan

I will say that the hike up the hill is not for the faint of heart. At first I wasn't sure that I was going to tackle it as I stared up the steep, rocky and winding path. I let Rich go ahead of me while I pondered my dilemma. In the end, given that there was a handrail on the path, I haltingly made my way up each hill and wasn't sorry that I did. Each location was fascinating in it's own right. The people who lived and worked up those hills earned my respect as they were much heartier than I. 

The view and Rich's new friend at the Famine House
At the end of each day I had been consulting my Fitbit, proud that I had been racking up at least 10,000-11,000 steps each day. At the end of this day I was dismayed to find only 5,000+ steps. I was positive that it had been more. Upon checking the number of staircases that I had climbed (a stairway is both up and down to be counted as one) I found that my Fitbit had been calculating those hills as stairways!

The Plough in Ventry is located high atop a rocky hill on the Dingle Peninsula overlooking Dingle Bay. The lawn area was charming and the view spectacular! In the house itself the decor was in a word, crowded, and the hostess was less than welcoming. I'll leave my review for TripAdvisor.

The next day we would be headed to Kenmare and a stay at The Shelburn Lodge.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Ireland - Installment II

Doolin, a small, mostly tourist, village near the Cliffs of Moher and about an hour's drive from Shannon Airport was our first scheduled stop over in Ireland. We arrived there well before check in time at our b&b so we drove around the area a bit just to check things out. Since we traveled in September the tourist trade was very light and the streets not very crowded so our first impression was of a charming, picturesque Irish village. Rich, still becoming accustomed to the differences in driving, decided to venture out of town for a look around the countryside. We decided to stop for a mid-afternoon snack at a charming looking little tea room, The Stone Cutter's Kitchen, where I had my first taste of tea and scones, and the famous Irish hospitality. The somewhat rickety, mismatched tables and chairs only added to the authenticity of the little cafe. Our server was a lovely young woman who spent quite a bit of time chatting with us. She seemed surprised when we remarked on the narrow road and informed us that it was one of the larger highways in Ireland!

Fortified, we drove back to Doolin for check in at our b&b, Cois na hAbhann (Cush nah Own, by the river) where were met by a friendly, blue eyed husky named Mishka.  Our host, Brian, came out to the parking lot to greet us and help carry in our bags.  He led us down a short hall way to our room at the back of the house. We found it to be a comfortable,  light and airy room with views of the hilltop where contented cows were grazing and a small, stone wall encircled lot at the side. Brian showed us the breakfast room and pointed out the tea and coffee station that was available 24-7 and Dimpna, his wife, came out from the kitchen to welcome us. After a few minutes of easy conversation they both felt like old friends that we hadn't seen for a bit.

View from our window at Cois n hAbhann

Since it was a beautiful, sunny day and we had time before dinner, Brian advised us to go see the nearby Cliffs of Moher. So our  first real touristy excursion was to the famous Cliffs of Moher and as I mentioned earlier, as we traveled in the off-season, it wasn't at all crowded. It was, however, an exceptionally windy day and we chose to walk up the more civilized paved stairway on the shoreline facing the cliffs instead of hiking the path over the cliffs themselves. We had heard so many stories of tourists who got blown off the cliffs by strong gusts on windy days. It was a wise choice. Rich, who is more firmly anchored to this earth than I, walked all the way to the top. I chose to stop half way, sheltered by a shoulder-high stone wall, since some of the gusts had caught me by surprise and sent me off balance. The Cliffs of Moher were still an awesome sight from afar.

Atlantic Ocean over my shoulder

The Cliffs of Moher
Once again, overlooking the cliffs, cows appeared to be clinging to the rocky hills!

Once again, overlooking the cliffs, cows appeared to be clinging to the rocky hills!

After our long flight, drive from the airport and hike up to the cliffs, we settled in for a short snooze before dinner, pulling the curtains on the daylight. When we woke up very hungry two hours later to the sound of gentle rain on our window and pulled back the curtains we found that the "vacant" lot outside our window wasn't as empty as it had been upon our arrival. The cows had began coming down off the hill and into the small pasture for the evening and this is what I saw when I pulled back the curtain.

Same view two hours later!

Brian had recommended Fitzpatrick's pub which was a short walk next door across an intersection on the corner. Like most of the pubs we found that there was music every night from about 6 or 7 pm. This first night a musician named Jimmy, played traditional Irish music on the guitar with an occasional classic rock, i.e. James Taylor, thrown in. Fitz's, as Brian affectionately called it, was cozy, dark wood paneled bar with an open fireplace. The first evening we sat at a table for delicious dinner of traditional Irish fish and chips. Rich ordered this quite often on our trip with the aim of rating the "Best Fish and Chips" in Ireland. I, on the other hand, decided right away to order a variety of seafood and other traditional Irish dishes. The seafood all along The Wild Atlantic Way was, of course, fresh and very delicious. I had my first full pint of Guinness that evening and decided that I would take the half-pint option from then on. Maybe it was the fact that I was hungry and still jet-lagged tired or maybe it was the unaccustomed alcohol content, but the Guinness went straight to my head and made me quite giggly!

After a welcome and very comfortable night's sleep we woke up to a sunny morning and this critter staring in the window! All of the cows had wandered down to the pasture and quite a few of them were nursing their calves. Brian told me at breakfast that he had, "paid a premium" for that feature! Dymna prepared a traditional Irish breakfast for us, eggs, bacon, sausages, grilled tomato and blood sausage. Very delicious except for the blood sausage for which neither Rich nor I developed the palate.

We headed out to The Burren, 96 to 135 square miles, depending upon your sources, of glacial karst, exposed limestone. While 96 miles of limestone doesn't sound very exciting it was absolutely fascinating and probably one of my favorite places to visit in Ireland. This area borders the Wild Atlantic Way and is designated a national park of sorts. The first stop along the way was on my list of absolute must sees.

Scene from The Burren
Poulnabrone dolman, portal tomb, is the oldest recorded megalithic burial site in Ireland and the second largest of its kind. It's so difficult to describe the feeling that came over me as I stood before a man-made object that had been built over 6,000 years ago in such a desolate looking area. Mystical, magic, awed, speechless. I stood before it marveling first that humans could have eked out an existence on this rocky landscape let alone dig a grave where over 33 remains were found, one an infant, along with the everyday items for use in the afterlife that were buried with them. I could have stayed all day pondering the resilience of these ancient human beings.

Poulnabrone and a non-megalathic, Rich
At breakfast Brian had recommended that we stop at The Burren Perfumery, a small perfume and cosmetic shop located deep in the Burren. So we headed that direction from the portal tomb. Following the directions on the SatNav since we would never have found it by chance, we wound our way through multiple unmarked by-ways, each one narrower than the next, until we arrived at this amazing fairy tale shop.

I found The Burren Perfurmery to be such a fascinating place with the neat little sales room, the tea shop and the actual work room/lab, that I could have stayed there all day; lived there even. The women of the Perfumery create organic cosmetics and scents using the naturally occurring flora and fauna of The Burren added to organic base materials like anise seed oil, glycerin and macadamia oil. Visitors could actually peek into the lab and watch the creation of these wonderful products. I purchased several soaps and lotions while there and when I got home I ordered more online. Rich enjoyed the products of the bakery and tea room more so than the shop!

As our day on The Burren came to an end we headed back into Doolin. On the drive back we discovered this ruin of an old manor house with no signs or markings at all. But for the locator on our iPhones we would never have known that it was Leahmanah Castle, a 17th century mansion with a 15th century tower house near Kilfenora. All over Ireland we saw so many unmarked ruins that were obviously as old or older than this one. Had we stopped to snap pictures and research each one we would still be in Ireland. Not such a bad thought, really.

From here we drove back to Cois n hAbhann and a short rest before dinner at Ivy Cottage in Doolin and more "trad" music and drinks and conversation at the bar in "Fitzy's." After a second night at the delightful Cois n hAbhann we would be heading on to Dingle where Funghi awaited.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Ireland - Installment I

I can't believe that it's been over two months since Rich and I took our big vacation to Ireland. And yet, here we are preparing for the holidays. It took me the whole first month, working an hour here and an hour or two there, to transfer and organize all of our photographs. Rich and I each took so many on our phones that I had to sort and delete and sort some more. The picture of the thatched cottage by the shore is one that seems iconic to me. Even though most of the small homes along the coastline are newer versions, this one looked to me like something one sees in those old movies like The Quiet Man.  Everywhere we went was so picturesque and lovely that it was deserving of our photography.

We flew into Shannon airport, much smaller than Dublin, where we'd been advised by our AAA agent that it would be easier to drive out of and get to our first destination, Doolin in County Clare near the cliffs of Moher. Considering that in Ireland they drive on the left we decided that might be the more prudent option. I do have one or two bits of advice for anyone looking to plan a trip to Ireland. After the long flight from Newark airport we were understandably tired and just wanted to get the smaller car that we had reserved and get on the road to our destination an hour or so away. When Rich queued up to get the car he told the agent that we had reserved a mid-sized, standard shift car with GPS (SatNav in Ireland), $12/day extra. "For just $25 per day more we could have a BMW that came equipped with SatNav and automatic steering." Without a second thought Rich agreed. (Keep in mind, we were both exhausted and excited to be on the road.)

Coming out of the airport and on to the main highway was fairly easy as the main highway was four lanes wide and well marked albeit a bit narrower than our four lane roads. It was startling to see large semis and tour buses coming towards us on the "wrong" side of the road but Rich, who did the driving, quickly got used to it. Great! Then the SatNav told us to exit at an upcoming route. No problem finding that, but here's where the rude awakening occurred. What was a regional highway there was more like the country road we live on! Except, and this is a big exception, there were no berms or easements on either side of the road. There were tall, dense hedges sometimes with very solid stone walls embedded in them creating a maze-like effect. But, because it was considered a main route there were still tour buses and semis coming at us, as well as cars.

The back roads that often led to some of our destinations were often only one lane with the same hedges and stone walls on either side. On those roads we encountered the same traffic but with the addition of farm vehicles hauling wagon loads of hay and such. On those roads someone had to back up to the nearest driveway or intersection in order the oncoming traffic to pass. As far as we could tell there is no set etiquette rule for who should back up but those tour bus drivers are pretty aggressive and that huge bus windshield means that the driver's expression and gestures are highly visible. I'll give you one guess as to who was going to back up.

 Don't even get me started on the round-a-bouts, confusing enough in the states but more so when you have to remember to "look right and go left," a phrase Rich heard all too often from the passenger seat!  I also learned that the "Traffic Calming" signs did not mean that drivers were very chill. No, far from it. It only meant that traffic was slowing down ahead, usually for a school zone or something similar. After the first two days of driving, Rich politely informed my that my constant loud gasping wasn't helping much. Good news though, we're not planning a divorce any time in the future.

So my bits of advice for car rental and driving in Ireland:
         1. Don't let the car rental agency talk you into a larger car!!!!!
         2. Be sure to get a GPS (SatNav) and automatic steering if possible
         3. Speed limit signs are big white disks with a red border and are in KPH; the speedometer on the car was in both KPH and MPH so be sure to look at the right one or you'll be going too fast!
         4. Save change for tolls.
         5. At the Round-abouts look right, go left.
         6. Driving in Kinsale is not for the faint of heart. More about that in a later post.