Well, I'm starting a blog. I've been meaning to do it for some time now, but am just getting around to it. It's an odd thing. Blogging means that you think your life is interesting enough that people will want to read about it. I don't know if this is true, but I figured I would give it a shot anyway. This is a blog about my travels and quest to live fearlessly. Welcome.

- Christina

Sunday 30 June 2013

Ireland: Land of a Thousand Welcomes (Part 2)

And so our voyage around Ireland continues...

     The previous posts were all from Ireland's West Coast. This part of the country is more developed and has bigger cities with more attractions. The East side of the island, which we explored next, is full of small towns, natural wonders, and breathtaking scenery.
     KILLARNEY: We arrived in Killarney, dropped off our stuff at a hostel, and headed for Killarney National Park. This is a huge, 26,000 acre park. The grounds were beautiful. We walked through until we reached Ross Castle. We took a tour of the castle, and being fairly exhausted, we headed back for the night.

 Ross Castle.
     In the morning we took a bus tour of the Ring of Kerry. This tour circles the peninsula in Kerry and boasts some of the most beautiful sights in all of Ireland. Unfortunately for us, this was the day of our worst weather. It was so cloudy, foggy, and rainy that we could barely see anything! We couldn't complain though, we were extremely lucky with weather for the majority of our trip. Luckily our tour guide was very experienced, he had been doing the tours for 40 years, and he was able to ensure we had a good time. He taught us a lot about Irish history, real-estate, cows, and fuel. One of the most interesting things he showed us were the famine ruins. In the 1800s the Irish suffered through the Great Famine. There was simply no food, and many died. The houses the people lived in were extremely small, usually one roomed buildings made of stone. Many of these houses still lay on the country side. Our tour guide said that someone, who doesn't even know it, owns them, so luckily for us they can't be torn down. Although we didn't get to see the traditional Ring of Kerry sights, we still had a great time and gained some valuable knowledge.

 Ring of Kerry.

 Famine House.
The last stop on our bus tour was at Torc falls. It was a short hike up to see a beautiful waterfall. 

     DINGLE: The weather was much better the next day, so we decided to drive to the Dingle peninsula. On our way we came across a beautiful beach, and decided to stop. The weather was sunny and warm, but with a bit of a breeze. The beach was beautiful. I did not expect the water in Ireland to be so clear and blue, it almost looked like the beaches in the Bahamas!

     Now it was off to explore the Dingle Peninsula, which was full of beautiful coastal sights and many historical ruins. While driving along the coast of the Dingle peninsula, it was amazing how much history Ireland has. Off the side of the road you can find forts from 500BC, ancient oratories, and intact famine ruins. It was mind-blowing to be immersed in so much history. 

Famine House.

 Gallarus Oratory.
      Once we were done driving the Dingle peninsula, we had to find a place to stay. We had stayed in hostels the 3 previous nights, and it was pretty expensive and not nearly as fun as CouchSurfing. We headed to a cafe to use their Wifi and started looking for CSing hosts. We found Paddy and Sean, and they let us come over right then! Paddy and Sean are musicians who play in an Irish/Latin band, neat right? They welcomed us right away. It just so happened that Paddy's computer had broken when they were trying to record a song, and David was able to fix it for them. Paddy was so excited. He said it was fate that brought us together. They took us to a really cool Irish pub that had traditional Irish music. That was the first time we heard the bodhran, a traditional Irish hand drum. The atmosphere in the pub was something we had never experienced before. It was clam, friendly, almost family like. Everyone knew each other and welcomed strangers. Everyone was there to relax and have a good time. One of the things that David and I loved about Ireland was the friendliness of the people. In Ireland if you are sitting at a table with 3 empty chairs, those chairs are not off limits. Those chairs are for friends you haven't made yet. It is customary to sit down and introduce yourself, and enjoy the strangers company. Everywhere we went we felt at home and as if we were with friends. I love Ireland. 

     MOHER: Ah, the Cliffs of Moher. This was one of the things I was most excited about! The Cliffs of Moher can be compared to the Grand Canyon. For those of you who think it's not all that special, and smartly remark "how long do I have to look at it?" this isn't for you. I loved the Grand Canyon. David and I stayed all day admiring it's beauty. The Cliffs were the same. They were breathtaking, both because of their beauty, and because they were scary as hell. The cliffs have a 702 feet vertical drop into the Atlantic coast, and only some parts of that are fenced. We walked along the cliffs for a while, and then headed back up the other side. There's not much to say about them, and pictures don't do it justice. Just go, trust me. The visitor center was really cool. It was built in the side of the hill, hobbit style. They did this so they didn't take away from the natural beauty of the cliffs. 
 Visitor Center.

Don't fall off!
     After the cliffs we went to our next hosts' house. Here we met Derek, Christian, and Ashling. They were three young Irish students living in Lahinch, a small surf town- yes people surf in Ireland, we were surprised too. Derek, Christian, and Ashling took us to a pub and we just hung out talking. On our way back to the house Derek made us link arms in the middle of the street, do a dance, and sing a song. He said it was Lahinch tradition, but people seemed to be staring, lol. He then took us to look at the shore, although you could barely see anything at night. We had a wonderful time with them, and they are truly our fiends now; that's the beauty of CouchSurfing. 

     DONEGAL: From Lahinch we took the coastal route all the way up to Donegal, which was our last stop in the Republic of Ireland. We drove most of the day and didn't get to our host's house until dinner time. All of our other hosts had been young people like ourselves, but this time we decided to stay with a family. Sharon is a meditation coach that lives in the blue-stack mountains with her four kids. She welcomed us into her home and we had our first home-cooked meal in almost 2 weeks. Sharon was amazing. We sat up late talking with her, and had another talk in the morning. She was wise and gentle, and very easy to talk to. She gave me some wonderful life advice, and I am very happy to have met her. After our one short night with Sharon we went off to explore the Slieve League Cliffs, per her suggestion. They were similar to the Cliffs of Moher, but much smaller. Unfortunately as soon as we got there it began raining, and we had about a mile walk back! We ran back to the car and decided it was best to cross the border into Northern Ireland and meet up with our host there.
Slieve League Cliffs. 

Ireland: Land of a Thousand Welcomes (Part 1)

     Cead mile failte! In Irish this means "a thousand welcomes," and boy did we really feel them. Ireland was an amazing place with beautiful landscapes and the friendliest of  people. That's a pretty good summary of our time in Ireland. If you want you can stop here, but I think I'll expand a bit. That's the point of a blog, right? Here it goes...
     After a full day of traveling, literally 24 hours, David and I tiredly stepped off the plane at the Dublin airport. We picked up our tiny rental car and were ready to go. In Ireland they drive on the left side of the road. The steering wheel is on the right, and you shift with your left hand. This combined with the endless roundabouts and signs posted in kilometers left us extraordinarily confused and stressed. David was amazing though. He was able to get the hang of driving pretty quickly and with some help from out GPS system, we were able to make it to our hosts' house.
Driving on the left. He was a little freaked out at first.
     So, as I said, we were staying with "hosts." If you have not heard of Couchsurfing.org yet, check it out. It was AMAZING. Couchsurfing is a website aimed at bringing travelers together and creating a world-wide community. You make a profile similar to Facebook and you can request to stay with people in different cities. Sound scary? It's not. As my Mom always says, "the majority of people in the world are good." She's right. If agreed upon, hosts then welcome you into their home and let you stay there free of charge.  Free, awesome, huh? But that's not the point. Couchsurfing is about meeting new people, making friends, and experiencing culture. We surfed about half of the time we were in Ireland and it was one of the best parts of our whole trip. 
     DUBLIN: We arrived at our hosts' house and they welcomed us with open arms. We stayed with Roser, her boyfriend John, and their roommate Theo. Roser is from Spain, but moved to Ireland to learn English and fell in love with John. John and Theo are both Irish born and raised. They live in a flat in Dublin right beside Pheonix Park, which is one of the largest urban parks in Europe. Roser and John showed us around the park and taught us a lot about Irish history. We then went back to the flat where John made us sausages on the BBQ- because it was actually wonderful weather and they don't get to BBQ very often in Ireland with all the rain. John then showed us a map of Ireland and gave us lots of suggestions on where to go and what to avoid. His advice really helped us navigate Ireland.  
Our room in Roser & John's flat.

 At Phoenix Park with Roser.

 David and John throwing the frisbee. 
Me, Roser, and John.

     The next day we went and explored Dublin's city center. We took the hop-on, hop-off bus to see the city. We went to: National museum of Ireland, the Jamison Distillery, Trinity College, Dublin Castle, and The Guinness Storehouse. David loved the Guinness Storehouse tour. You get to learn a lot about Guinness and he even took a class to learn the perfect pour. 
 National Museum.
 Bus tour.
There was lots more in Dublin, but we had to head off to see the rest of Ireland! 

     KILKENNY: The next city on our trip was Kilkenny. Here we saw the Kilkenny Castle and the Dunmore Caves. The amount of castles in Ireland blew us away. Every city has a beautiful old castle, which is not something we are used to in the U.S. After exploring the city center we took a short drive to the Dunmore caves. We drove up to a very unsuspecting welcoming center. We were in the middle of farm-land, and it did not look like the kind of place to find huge caves. When we began the tour we were amazed. The caves, which were formed by glacial movement long ago, were huge and magnificent. 
 Kilkenny Castle.

 The Dunmore Caves welcome center.

 Inside the caves.

     After exploring the caves we headed back to Kilkenny in search for a place to stay that night. We weren't able to find any CouchSurfing (CS) hosts, so we searched for a hostel. We found a great little hostel in Kilkenny and settled down for the night. We were torn between going out, and staying in. Just then, our roommate Felix came in and introduced himself. Felix is a Swedish architecture student who was in town for a wedding. Felix went to the store and grabbed a 3-pack, yes they have those, and we became instant friends ;) We headed out to a pub for a pint and we really got along. We ended up going to two more pubs and a club before heading back to the hostel. We had a wonderful time meeting Felix and we were so happy that we decided to go out. 
 Beer sampler.
Felix making a crazy face.
     CORK: Our next destination was Cork! The city itself was pretty underwhelming. It was full of shops and malls, which is not really our thing. Fortunately, the morning before I had made friends with an Irish guy while making breakfast in our hostel. He told me about a wildlife preserve near Cork called Fota. We decided to check it out, and it was awesome. It is a huge open preserve full of animals. Some of them are behind fences, and others are left to roam free. We spent the entire beautiful day wandering around the enormous park admiring the animals. The last thing we did was watch the cheetahs get fed, don't worry, they're behind a fence! The staff put meat on zip lines that go around the enclosure. The 4 cheetahs have to catch their own food. This encourages wild instincts in them, that would normally be lost in captivity. It was fascinating to watch them run, hunt, and jump for their food. 
 Hanging out with lemurs.
 Momma and baby Kangaroo.
   Our next day in Cork we went to Blarney Castle; this was one of my favorite things we did in Ireland. Blarney Castle is famous for the Blarney Stone. It is said that who ever kisses the Blarney Stone will be endowed with the gift of eloquence (hopefully it worked!). We climbed the narrow staircase to the top, lied on our backs, turned our heads upside down, and kissed the stone! Now, who knows if we were actually granted the gift of eloquence, but we did have a fabulous time. Besides the stone, Blarney Castle rests on beautiful grounds with a poison garden, regular garden, woods, lake, stream, and caves. The grounds had so much to offer that we could have spent all day there, but alas, we had to move on and see the rest of Ireland! 
 Explanation of the Blarney Stone.
 Blarney Castle.
 Kiss kiss.

 Walking the Blarney Castle grounds.

 Caves under Blarney Castle.