Monday 29 April 2013

Ireland: Day Seven - Cong, Connemara, Galway, Cliffs of Moher and Bunratty

I woke up this morning feeling well rested for the first time since starting this trip. I knew it was going to be busy, but never thought it would be this go-go-go. The Atlantic Coast Hotel where we stayed has so far been the best in terms of room, bed and leisure centre. The main city area of Westport looks nice, but I learned from some who went into town yesterday that it was a bit disappointing because not everything was opened. It reminds me of Wasaga Beach just in the weeks before the summer/tourist season starts.

It turns out that I am lucky to have not yet fried my straightener. At dinner some people were taking about adapters and converters. Adapters being the thing that plugs in and allows me to charge my North American devices and converters being the thing that changes the voltage. Despite my electrical family, I am electrically challenged. I had no idea converters may be needed. I mentioned this to my dad, and he looked at my straightener and was amazed that I haven't blown something yet. He gave me a converter to use, but as of yesterday I was struggling with getting the straightener to turn on and when I tried the converter it wouldn't work. So I just went back to using the adapter but limiting myself to 30 seconds. Just enough time to do my bangs as I have been wearing my hair wavy anyways. Hopefully I don't destroy the straightener in the process - one woman made the same mistake and her curling iron fell apart and another blew a fuse and caused the hotel fire alarm to ring.

Today we made our way toward Galway and the Cliffs of Moher. We passed through the village of Cong which was the location for the classic John Wayne film ‘The Quiet Man’. We had only 20 minutes here but there wasn't a lot to see, it's a cute village but you can tell their real "claim to fame" is the movie. Every shop has posters, the book store had a whole table of books dedicated to it, the gas station has postcards and calendars ---- I gave a feeling there isn't much else that draws people to this town. But the people are very friendly - I spoke to a woman at the post office for a few minutes and she was asking about my trip and how I liked Ireland etc. I had just enough time to buy a few Quiet Man postcards and get my stamps.

Everyone on the bus is starting to try and find that book "The Paperboy" but since we are back in Ireland and away from Northern Ireland no one is having luck. I could have bought out all the copies and made a profit if I was more business inclined like my brother! In all seriousness I told people I'd help them look since I tend to stop in every bookstore we pass.

We passed through Connemara county into Galway... For some reason I have had that Galway Girl song stuck in my head. Probably due to it being catchy and that I heard it at two pubs. I think it's one of the more popular Irish songs. Speaking of songs, dad doesn't think his Irish CD will play at home... Brian, I think he has a task for you! :)

We stopped for a 30 minute break at the Connemara Marble factory/store. There was a demonstration of the marble and the process as well as a store that made jewellery. It was nice, but truth be told it was kind of pointless. I would have much rather spent an hour at Cong rather then stop here. Or spent more time in Galway.

Then we stopped in Galway City for an hour and fifteen minutes. This was nowhere near enough time. Galway is definitely a city I want to return to. Its such a cute town, with all these small streets with shops and pubs. There are guys singing and playing Irish music on the street, and these old style European streets/allies. It reminded me more of other areas of Europe, rather then what I would think of as Irish. I took a bunch of pictures, but only went into one store. Dad and I ended up at a bistro where we had Tomato Basil Soup - the best soup I have had so far. We rushed back to get to the bus since it was such a small window, but ended up waiting nearly 30 minutes past our time for everyone to return. If I had known I would have spent a few more minutes exploring.

We drove along the southern shores of Galway and went up a very steep and narrow hill where the road was a bit scary. This brought us to a viewing point which was called "Corkscrew Hill" which offered a fantastic photo opportunity. After that we ended up at the Cliffs of Moher. According to the Internet, "The Cliffs of Moher have appeared in numerous media. In cinema, the cliffs have appeared in several films, including: The Princess Bride (1987) (as the filming location for "The Cliffs of Insanity"), Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009),and Leap Year (2010)." (Thanks Brian for sending me that info!) He also sent me a link to a clip from Princess Bride that shows them:

When we got there it was a very sunny day, but incredibly windy. The bus was shaking and when you stepped out you could feel the wind pushing you. We went to the main viewing point, but didn't go further because the wind + massive cliffs = scary! We got some good photos, but only from the one angle. It was an incredible experience - the cliffs are just massive and awing. I was glad to get back to the bus through because the wind made it very cold.

Tomorrow we have 2 people leaving which is unfortunate because they are really nice and fun. If I had to pick someone to leave it wouldn't be them. The tour is two weeks, but it connects to two, one week ones. So the two leaving just did the one week, and then we have 7 more joining for their one week tour. It messes up our being spread out in the back. I don't mind - I have the last seat which I am keeping - but Dad is losing his little space!

I am surprised by how many "for sale or for let" signs I am seeing. It seems like a lot of areas of Ireland have been hit by the economy. There are even some huge, really old buildings for sale. Tonight we had an option to go to Bunratty Castle for a medieval banquet. Initially the itinerary called for a different event at the castle but its not running yet. So the other one was offered in its place. The tour wanted 60.00 Euro each for this - which was summed up as basically a higher end medieval times. Most of the bus is opting to pass - dad and I included. Actually when I looked in my guidebook and online, tickets are only 39.00 Euro so obviously the tour company is making a profit. As such dinner isn't included so we were in our own. The tour guide recommend a place nearby, but it was a pub. I had heard of a really good seafood restaurant pretty close called Gallagher's, so dad and I went there. It was amazing. By far the best meal on this trip/in awhile. I'm glad we did our own thing, it was nice to get away from the group for a bit.

We have driven over so many roundabouts that I have lost count. Each one makes me smile because my mom HATES them. Whenever she encounters one she can't escape from, she launches into total anger and swearing mode at her detest for them. It's amusing to watch, so I think of her at each one. Mom, you should never ever attempt to drive here! (I miss you! Xoxo)

We are only in this hotel for one night, then we are off to Killarney where we will stay for three nights. It will be nice to have a longer stop and hopefully they have laundry facilities or services.

Also I am not sold on my blog title - any suggestions please email or comment.

Photo One: Cong
Photo Two: Me in Cong
Photo Three: Scenery
Photo Four: Scenery
Photo Five: Streets of Galway
Photo Six: A book theme pub in Galway
Photo Seven: A cool statue
Photo Eight: Canada Flag! :)
Photo Nine: Bridge in Galway
Photo Ten: These stone walls that are all over Ireland - date back hundreds of years
Photo Eleven: Corkscrew Hill View
Photo Twelve: Scary Narrow Roads
Photo Thirteen - Eighteen: Cliffs of Moher (lots of pictures for Brian)
Photo Nineteen: Random castle
Photo Twenty: Little stores in the rock of the cliffs - someone said they look like hobbit shops!
Photo Twenty-One: Me on bus
Photo Twenty-Two: Our hotel
Photo Twebty-Three: My room

Sunday 28 April 2013

Ireland: Day Six - Connemara, Kylemore Abbey and Mayo Country

It is my goal tonight to get to sleep way before 1:00am so I am going to attempt writing this as my day goes along. It's a bit hard as the road is pretty bumpy but that is what autocorrect is for!

I have had a few questions about the food on this trip. Breakfast and Dinner are included almost every day and done at the hotel. Breakfast is always a full Irish one served buffet style consisting of pretty much most hot breakfast foods you can think of. I personally don't like most breakfast items and would feel too full for our busy days, so I have been sticking to croissants, fruit or cereal. From what I hear breakfast is amazing, and people always feel incredibly full. For lunches we are on our own and most people tend to hit pubs for fish and chips. Dad and I have been finding cafes or pubs that offer soup/sandwiches. Dinner is done at the hotel and done as as fixed menu offering choices. So far all of it has been really good. I'm pretty amused by the Irish butter addiction my dad has developed. The man who swears away from carbs and hardy uses any butter that doesn't have the word peanut before it, is eating bread with butter at every meal. Apparently it is delicious and no where near what we have at home.

I have also had some family asking about the bus. It's a brand new coach and we are the first trip on it. It's large - though a lot of guides keep referring to it as the "wee bus" (which none of us get) and there are four of us that just remain in the back. Everyone in the front is part of a seat rotation, so we are called the "riff raff or trouble makers" by the driver. It's enjoyable back here for a few reasons - we can spread out more, sit alone, jump between sides for pictures and not have to see the narrow roads, crazy turns. The bus being new has a few negatives - the clock keeps resetting and there is this awful beeping that comes through the speakers whenever our driver seems to accelerate. Yesterday it was driving me crazy so I listened to my iPod.... I initially did try to theme the music around Irish singers/groups but I had only two U2 songs, the August Rush Soundtrack, the song Galway Girl and some Enya.... So I gave up and put on Zac Brown Band (in other news only 4 more months until their concert!!!!!) The side door of the bus occasionally opens randomly when we stop and today the TVs came down for no reason. The guide does the driving also, and has explained that no one wants a new bus due to the kinks you initially get. I can see why.

The weather has been what you would expect - sweater/jacket weather. We have been lucky to have a few nice, sunny days but even those have a cool, crisp breeze or wind leaving us needing to bundle up. I feel sorry for one woman who brought mostly capris and sandals - I imagine she's freezing. The tour guide is great - he is really passionate about Ireland and you can tell how much his country and its history means to us. He has told us stories about living here, and aspects of daily life in Ireland - taxes, homes, building along with personal anecdotes of things and how they have effected him and his family. We learned a lot about the fishing industry - mainly salmon and how licences have been bought back from people by the country to try and repair the depleting salmon supply.

So on to today, I was rushed to leave because I was helping someone get into their email but luckily it's a day where we are going back to the same hotel so there was no need to pack up all the belongings. They used my iPad to get on, so I ended up not having enough time to take it back to my room, which worked well for this post. I haven't really bought much, yet everything seems to be getting heavier each day. We started off with a quick photo stop at the national famine memorial near our hotel. It was an interesting sculpture to see, somber yet compelling. It is fashioned like a ship and uses skeleton features to represent the number of people who died on the ships while emigrating. We learned a lot about the famine - it's causes, effects, and the work schemes and their impact. We also learn about the famine march and stopped at a monument commemorating that at an area I believe is called Black Lake. The views were incredible - so we had time for a photo stop.

We got held up by some sheep on the road, but continued to make our way around Connemara - an area which is said to be one of the most beautiful/picturesque areas of the country. We drove around the Murrisk Peninsula to get to Delphi and Killary Harbour, Ireland’s only true fjord. We heard about a film called "The Field" starring Richard Harris which was filmed around this area and stopped for photos at a small waterfall from the movie - Ashleigh Falls. I didn't bother getting out at this stop - it was cold, and from what I could see they weren't anything spectacular. Actually it made me smile as we drove past after the photo stop because they reminded me of a "wee" or miniature version of Niagara Falls.

We stopped for a morning break at a Sheep and Wool Centre which had a museum, cafe and store. I opted to spend time in the store, not the museum - big surprise eh? ;) I managed to get some postcards, the obligatory shot glass for my brothers collection and a wool sweater. I liked this very pretty pink one which was a beautiful colour, but it was only 30% wool. I am in Ireland - I am not going to buy something I can get at home. So I kept looking and found a beautiful white wool sweater. I'm glad I kept looking. I made my purchase and headed back to the bus. Dad wasn't there, and as I walked down I joked "No one saw this!" And placed the bag behind my seat. We will see if I manage to keep this purchase a secret. Not that he would really care, but I know I'll hear the usual "You have so many clothes already" speech.

I tried doing some post cards on the bus, bad idea. I apologize in advance to anyone whose postcard looks like a 7year old wrote it. Bus writing is even harder then bus typing. One thing I love about this area is how spaced apart the houses and land are. One thing I am amazed at is how many sheep we are passing. I swear I am seeing more sheep on this trip then I did in Scotland. If I was someone who ate lamb, I know I definitely wouldn't ever again after this trip. I think the difference is there went so many randomly roaming around.

We passed an area where they farmed mussels - that was a interesting to see. It consists of these large barrels placed in the water. It definitely changes the landscape - you have this beautiful water and mountains and then these barrels. Our next stop was a quick one for a photo of the Killary Harbour. It was a nice view, but pretty much the same as we have been seeing. I think sights tend to lose a little bit of their awe factor the more we see. They are all beautiful though.

By the harbour there is a tree with rags tied around it. According to the guide this tree is being claimed to be something it is not. In Ireland there are wells that are steeped in Celtic legend that have healing properties. The idea is you dip a rag in it, wipe the affected area and tie the rag around the bush which is nearby. These bushes are called rag bushes, and around at holy sites. This rag bush by the harbour is one that a tour operator created and has his passengers tie ribbons around. He actually tells them they have a chance of seeing a leprechaun and finding is pot of gold.

According to our guide if you look at a map and turn it around a bit Ireland looks like a bear or buffalo. We did it, and I actually agree. I'll take a photo later and post it. I am also surprised at how much bogland is in Ireland. I never really associated Ireland with bogland but it does make sense due to the amount of rain and water it has.

Our next stop was Kylemore Abbey which is right on the shores of Kylemore Lough. This Abbey is a massive castle that was built by a man Mitchell Henry for his wife. He built her this stunning dream home right on the lake, and the home is amazing. (Brain: when are you building me my castle? It has almost been three years.... ;)

The house has a long history and I bought a book chronicling it because it seems fascinating. Eventually it was taken over by nuns and run as a boarding school. Now is is still used by the church and nuns, but more of an attraction. Only a few rooms are open for viewing but they are beautiful. It's definitely very dark as it faces in to the mountains, but the land and outside are incredible. There is a private chapel down the road but we didn't walk to it due to the rain that started. There is also a walled garden but its up far enough from the house they use a shuttle bus to get to it. They have a cute craft shop but most of the items were overpriced, and a little cafe. Dad bought some Irish music CDs since we aren't really hearing much in way of Irish music.

We headed back through the Maam Valley where blackheaded sheep make up a large part of the population. Then we were back in Westport for some free time --- free time in a city, finally!!! Fact about Westport - its a lovely town which was voted Ireland’s tidiest in 2001, 2006 and again in 2008. A few people are opting to head to the hotel for spa appointments, but I decided not to. If I really want to make use of a spa day I can go in Killarney where we are for three nights or back at home. Initially we were going to stay and walk around the town, but when we drove through most places were closed. It's a seaside town so their tourist season hasn't kicked off yet. It's fine, I was a bit tired anyways. I went for a swim back at the hotel and then had some time to relax.

I plan on getting to bed early tomorrow as we head in to Bunratty.

Photo One: Famine Memorial
Photo Two: Up close look at the detail in the memorial
Photo Three: I think this place is called Black Rock Lake
Photo Four: Me - self photo-ing because Dad stayed on the bus
Photo Five: Why dad didn't get off the bus
Photo Six: Seaside Cemetery
Photo Seven: Scenery
Photo Eight: Famine March Monument
Photo Nine: Mussel Traps
Photo Ten: Killary Harbour
Photo Twelve: Kylemore Abbey from across the bridge
Photo Thirteen: Kylemore Abbey
Photo Fourteen: Up close
Photo Fifteen: Dad and I outside
Photo Sixteen: Dad outside
Photo Seventeen: Dining Room
Photo Eighteen: Me in the Dining room (another selfie - dad went of the guided tour which I never like)
Photo Nineteen: Drawing Room
Photo Twenty: View from the front door
Photo Twenty-One: Dad and I in front
Photo Twenty-Two: Religious Idol way up high

Saturday 27 April 2013

Ireland: Day Five - Donegal, Belleek, Silgo and Westport

Last night after posting my entry a group of us went down to the hotel bar to listen to some Irish music. There were dancers - which I was told were amazing - but I missed them as I didn't get back from swimming in time. On the plus side, the hotel pool was amazing and I had it all to myself.

The bar atmosphere was nice and cozy - very much showing the history of the hotel. It's actually the oldest hotel in the country being run by the same family - it's been passed down through generations. The music was great, but there was far too much American music then Irish. We wanted to hear Irish songs not Johnny Cash and Elvis which he was singing. He did play two Irish songs.... But the rest was American Blues, Oldies and Country. One of the guys requested some George Jones in tribute (I had broken the news that he had died) but he didn't know any. The group stayed out later then we should have, but since I was only drinking water it was amusing to watch everyone else up there dancing and letting loose - especially those in their 70's and 80's. It was a nice change from the structure of the daily bus routine.

At some point on the trip I seem to have become the unofficial tour guide - as a bunch of people tend to ask me the plans for the day/hotel etc (rather then the guide) and the bus tech support person. I keep being asked questions regarding wifi, cameras etc. I have been given devices to help people get online and for tomorrow my services have been "booked" for breakfast (to get someone online) and after dinner (to help import pictures to a tablet). I don't mind helping, but it's amusing because at home while I know tech, I am never the tech go to person as that falls to Brian or my uncle.

Today we drove through Donegal to a town called Mullaghmore for views of the Donegal Bay. Then we went on to Belleek to visit the famous porcelain factory. However it was a bit disappointing as the factory was closed, so rather then see it being made we were shown a VERY outdated video and given access to a small museum and store. The video demonstrated the passing of time the kiln needs to fire by jumping to an ocean sunset and then sunrise... It was laughable. The porcelain however is beautiful stuff so we did end up buying from the store. Luckily they ship to Canada so we don't have to worry about breaking anything. I do think that we should have been told the factory wasn't operating, and though our guide said he was just as surprised as we were, I find myself doubting that as the hours are clear, so they obviously never work on Saturdays. The guide and company must know that because this isn't a new tour...

Afterward we drove to Drumcliffe where W.B Yates is burried and visited his grave. It a very old and beautiful cemetery. Truth be told I never quite got the whole cemetery tourism/attractions - but this past year since being in a few I am seeing how fascinating they can be. It was enjoyable to walk around and look at the old graves/monuments. We stopped in Silgo for an hour - which as per usual was only enough time to have lunch. That's the biggest downfall of this trip - not enough time to really see and explore some of the places we stop. Then again, we are seeing so much that the pro tends to outweigh the con. Dad and I had lunch at an Italian cafe (I think he is getting sick of potato and leek soup which we have had about 3 times for lunch thus far!) where we had sandwiches. Mine took longer then his (the downfall of being picky) so we had hardly any time to look around Silgo. We did manage to pop in a "wee" shop (I am going to start talking Irish to ye in my posts) and were able to buy a fold up duffle bag. We need something as both our suitcases are getting heavy.

Our next stop was Ballintubber Abbey which was built on the site of a church founded by St. Patrick in 441, 276 years before Columbus discovered America. This place has a fascinating history as its considered the church that refused to die, because it continued to be operational despite being destroyed and taken over numerous times. It is said to be the only church still operational that was formed by an Irish King, and Pierce Brosnan was married there (two fun trivia facts for you).The story and history of it is fascinating - I suggest googling it. It is a beautiful church, which is now used as a Catholic parish. We briefly saw the priest as we were coming in just as a wedding was finishing. The bride and wedding party looked great - it reminded me of my own wedding at the Old Mill Chapel.

Finally we got to Westport where our hotel for the next two nights is. It's a great hotel, facing the beach and my room has a large bed at last! Dad and I are across the hall from each other which also works out well. I went for a swim once we got here and this hotel by far has the best pool yet. It's odd, a lot of these hotels have "leisure centres" attached but consist only of a pool. Many people are annoyed at the lack of gym, but as long as there is a pool I am happy.

After dinner we went down for more Irish music at this hotel pub... Which was an odd experience. First the bar is at the back of their restaurant which is seafood based/themed. It actually looks more like a higher end Red Lobster then an Irish pub. I get that it's near the sea and all, but not at all what we were expecting. The music was done by a French singer who again knew hardly any Irish songs and sang blues and oldies. I opted to not stay long, and left dad down there with the group. It's been a busy few days and I find it catching up to me. I debated skipping tomorrow but upon research found we see some great things. I will likely skip on Wed/Thurs when we are in the same town for 3 nights.


1: Me on the bus
2: Irish Countryside
3: Belleek Museum Display
4: Outside of Belleek
5: Another shot of me
6: The view of our bus (I always sit in the back as I don't like seeing the narrow roads and lack of barriers!)
7: An operational "summer home" left in the family of a former lord whose name escapes me.
8: Beautiful Scenery
9: More beautiful scenery
10: Just one more...
11: W.B Yates Grave
12: Ballintubber Abby 1
13: Ballintubber Abby 2
14: Ballintubber Abby 3
15: Ballintubber Abby 4 - This is the ruins of one area that was destroyed at one point
16: Ballintubber Abby 5
17: Ballintubber Abby 6
18: Dromcliffe Chruch where Yates is buried.
19: More scenery
20: Last scenery picture of today!