Sunday, December 16, 2012

"When Irish Eyes are Smiling, Sure They Steal your Heart Away"

  It’s been awhile since my last post, but I’ve been busy writing essays and studying for finals this past week. (See, I actually do work here too!) I am happy to report that as of Friday, December 14th, I am finished with all schoolwork for the semester! Now, as promised, I’m going to write about my travels to my favorite country- Ireland! The inspiration for today's post title is from "When Irish Eyes are Smiling" by the Irish Tenors.


Trying my free Guinness...
        Katie and I departed from Gatwick’s airport and traveled to Ireland with Ryanair, the airline for the budget traveler. Contrary to what I’ve heard, they didn’t weigh our carry-ons, and it’s a good thing too because I know for a fact that my bag (for a weeks worth of traveling) weighed more than the allowed 10 kilos. The flight from Gatwick to Dublin was quick and only took about an hour and 10 minutes. After taking the cheaper transportation option, the public bus, we walked along the river until we found our Hostel, The Four Courts. It was huge, clean, cheap, and the staff was so nice! We asked for recommendations for dinner since we were starving, and we were sent to Bobo’s, a nearby all-Irish burger joint.  It was SO good! By recommendation of the waitress, Katie and I got the smoked applewood bacon burger, which had Irish beef, lettuce, bacon, apple relish, and a delicious thick smokey cheese. And we got Chubby Fries too, made of Irish potatoes of course…yum. You can’t go wrong with a good spud! With our Burgers we got a free ½ pint of Guinness, which I only accepted since it’s made in Ireland. It wasn’t as bad as other beers that I’ve sipped, but still I could only manage a few sips before declaring that I couldn’t finish it.
            After dinner, we walked around Dublin and saw St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the Boarshead Inn, the oldest tavern in Ireland. We didn’t walk around for too long because we were freezing; Dublin was so cold that first night! Back at The Four Courts, we settled in for the night, but only got about 4 hours of sleep since we had to get up early.
Blarney Castle
            Staying at the Four Courts was good research on our part because it was only a 20-minute walk away from the train station. At 7am, we started the beginning of our three-day tour at Heusten Station with RailTours Ireland! We took the train from Dublin to Blarney, where our first stop was Blarney Castle! It was so fun to walk through the castle and navigate the small stairs. There were also fun passages and caves to explore that I didn’t expect, but my adventuresome self was having quite a grand time. I kissed the Blarney stone, of course, and in order to do so you have to lay on your back and kiss it upside down, the only thing stopping you from plummeting to the ground below are two iron bars…it was a little weird, but something I can cross off my list of things to do in life! Haha.
            At the place where we ate lunch, they had samples of Rhubarb pie, and it was so good that Katie and I actually bought a whole pie to split between the two of us over the next couple of days. It was only 4 euro, so it was a great deal, and trust me we enjoyed every bite! Next we bussed to Cobh (pronounced Cove) where I saw the port at Queenstown where the Titanic made her last stop before her ultimate fate of sinking to the bottom of the sea. (I’m obsessed with the Titanic, so I enjoyed this a lot!) There was a nice exhibit at the Cobh Heritage Center about the Titanic and the Lusitania, and after viewing the exhibit I had some time to shop in town where I found a purple Claddagh Ring that I love; it’s what I really wanted from Ireland since the tradition originates there.
            We boarded another train from Cobh to Killarney where a nice elderly gentleman was waiting to pick us up and drive us to our hotel. (The RailTours people really know how to organize a package trip!) When we walked in the lobby of the International Hotel, there were carolers and Irish Dancing! Eventually we were told that Ireland’s Special Olympics team was invited to light the tree in the lobby that evening, hence the celebration. It was a very nice welcome for us! We checked into our room and it was beautiful, especially after staying in Hostels in London and Dublin. There was a twin bed and a Queen bed; to make it fair we each took a night in the Queen bed. The luxury was nice for a change, and Katie and I immediately decided that our student price for the RailTours experience was so worth it considering all the trains, tours, transportation, and lodging were included for the duration of the three days.
Katie and Me with Santa?
            Since it was raining in Killarney, we decided to dine at the hotel, which was a great idea because the food was delicious once again. I had seafood chowder, Pork in a mushroom sauce with mashed potatoes, veggies and French fries. At every meal, regardless of what you order, I swear you get a side of fries even if your meal comes with mashed potatoes! I wasn’t exactly complaining, haha. Three older gentlemen struck up a conversation with us during dinner and they were very nice. We even ended up taking a picture with Santa because he happened to be at our hotel. Seriously, he was just a guy that looks exactly like Santa and has an embroidered vest to prove it! The ambience and atmosphere of the evening was perfect, and our waiter gave us Christmas Pudding to try for free since we asked what it was. I didn’t care for it, though it was interesting.
The Ring of Kerry
Irish Rainbow :)
            The next day started off with complementary Irish breakfast of eggs, toast, ham, and sausages. We had some time to do a little shopping in Killarney before our scheduled tour for the day and I found an Irish wool hat that I adore! It’s purple of course. :) Our tour for the day was The Ring of Kerry through Deros Tours, during which I got to see what comes to mind when you think of Ireland: green mountains, gorgeous coasts, a little rain, an Irish RAINBOW, Cows, and Sheep! Due to the rain there was some fog, but we still had great views. At one point along The Ring of Kerry, the wind was so strong that I almost got knocked over, I swear! Our tour guide said that sometimes they aren’t even allowed to stop in that spot because if the wind reaches a certain speed the bus would actually be flipped over if it parked! (Crazy, right?) I’m glad it was just ‘a little’ windy so we were allowed to stop there. We also did a short hike to the Torc Waterfall, which was nice to see and reminded me of my adventures to waterfalls in PA, except all of the trees were covered in moss so everything was SO GREEN!
Torc Waterfall
            When we got back to Killarney we heard word that there was a parade later that evening, and although it wasn’t anything like parades back home it was still cute to see all the Irish kids dressed up in costumes welcoming Santa to town. And they lit the town lights for the first time too! I enjoyed seeing all the gorgeous girls with lovely red hair, and oddly enough, I kept getting comments about my blonde hair! One Irish guy did a double take and said: “My goodness, your hair is lovely! Don’t ever change it” (Imagine that with an Irish accent…) I was so flattered.
Enjoying my Bailey's
            In search of dinner we found a great place where I got shepherds pie, and despite the fact that it’s covered in mashed potatoes as you know, it came with a side of fries again. Haha. We went to a bar to listen to some Irish music, and when we entered the doorman said “I trust you girls are over 18?”  Why yes sir, I’m 21. The guys playing music were so great! I love Irish music and I could listen to it forever. I even ordered a drink, which is the first I have ever ordered for myself at a bar: Bailey’s Irish Cream on the rocks; what a great creation. I actually really enjoyed it a lot! We talked with Adam and his mother Ruth, Americans who have been traveling for awhile. Interestingly enough we ran into them at the waterfall, at the parade, and again at the bar; Killarney must be a small town, haha.
            The next day was December 1st, which made me realize how soon my time abroad would be coming to an end. It was my favorite day ever though because our tour for the day was to The Cliffs of Moher. We took a car ride from Killarney to Limerick, which was about 2 hours, and we met up with the rest of RailTours for a short tour of Limerick before going to Bunratty Castle and Folk Park. It rained a tad, or course, and I wasn’t impressed with the castle itself compared to others I’ve seen. I do have a new goal in life though- return to Ireland and attend a medieval banquet in one of the castles that offer it like Bunratty! The experince sounded like so much fun, but we didn’t have time to fit it into our Ireland agenda.
Irish Cow.  So cute!!
            We drove through the country to get to Doolin where we walked across the rocky coast to view the Cliffs of Moher in the distance, our next destination. I loved the sound of the waves smacking against the rocks and it was absolutely beautiful. We grabbed lunch at an Irish pub where I got the glazed ham special of the day and chocolate fudge at the shop next-door…Yummy. On the hill next to our bus there were Cows grazing in the grass, and I smiled because the grass was so green and the Cows were adorable!
            Finally we headed to the cliffs where the sun was shining and it was actually warm as we hiked along the edge. The Cliffs of Moher was my favorite memory from Ireland because the experience was like no other. The Cliffs are the highest in Europe, and I would certainly not go cliff diving off these like the ones in Cyprus! The trek was a little muddy, but the view and journey was amazing. At one point a girl asked us to take a picture of her, and it turns out she (Carolyn) goes to Susquehanna with our friend Whitney who we are studying with back in Cyprus! It is such a small world. Pictures don’t do the experience justice, but I tried to get the best ones I could. There is a stone barrier that is supposed to prevent people from going towards the edge, but that didn’t stop me because I just climbed right over the barrier to get a better view. ;) Adventure is the spice of life after all!
The Cliffs of Moher- my favorite place in Ireland <3
Walking across The Burren
            Back on the bus, we headed to Galway and stopped along the way to see Galway Bay and walk across The Burren, basically a field of rocks that’s pretty fun to explore. When we arrived in Galway, there was a Christmas market that reminded me of Chriskindlmarkt in Bethlehem, and it made me happy that I’ll be returning home to work there this year. There, we tested out a Harry Potter Playstation game called Standard Book of Spells; it was totally for kids but fun to play. My goodness Harry Potter has creeped into this trip a lot! (See previous post about London).
            Eventually it was time to board the last train from Galway to Dublin, a two and a half hour ride. We took a shuttle from Heusten Station to our stop for our Hostel- Jacob’s Inn. I didn’t care for this place as much as the one we stayed in our first night in Dublin, but we were only there for a few hours. Dinner was at a Pizza place around the corner because they were offering a great 5-euro meal and we needed something nearby since we had to get to bed to get up to go to the airport. At the Pizza place we met Donald, a Dubliner who used to be a pilot for over 30 years. We talked about Cyprus since he actually knew where it was and he invited us over to his house to meet his sons. His exact words “You girls are so nice. I’d love if you came to meet my boys. And then marry them.” We thought it was funny and originally said we couldn’t since we were already getting less than 6 hours of sleep due to our early flight the next morning. Shortly after he left though, we changed our minds and tried to find him outside. (He was completely trustable, don’t worry). We saw him walking across the street, but he then disappeared into thin air; I’m convinced he was a Leprechaun.
            We got picked up at 5am to go to the airport for our flight to Gatwick where we caught another flight back to Cyprus. I was sad to leave Ireland because I loved it so much, and I will honestly say that it was my favorite country that I traveled to this whole semester. Irish people are so nice and willing to make sure everyone has a good time. Every part of Ireland is so beautiful and I’m glad that Katie and I got to see so much of it by booking the three day adventure with RailTours. I’m obsessed with Ireland, I’m in love with Ireland, and I will be back!

Till next time!
-Courtney <3

No comments:

Post a Comment