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14 Dec

Even though our last blog post ended with our last day in Europe, it skipped the center of our trip to Ireland. On Thursday morning Mitch and I were up early to catch the bus to Galway. We had a tour that took us first to the Dunguaire Castle  and next to The Barren. This is a part of Ireland famous for its rocky plateau and we visited a beef cattle farm in the area. After a chilly, but humorous walk up the mountain (Irish mountains aka slightly tall hills haha) as our guide, Daragh charmed us with his too cute Irish charisma and resistance to the chilling wind. I’m fairly certain the only one completely oblivious to the cold was the tail-wagging, happy go lucky golden retriever, Mildred. Such an appropriate name for a pup right?! We ended our tour of their grounds with some heavenly strawberry-rhubarb cake and an Irish coffee in their Grandma’s house! Now I can see why the Irish staked claim to  coffee with a shot of whiskey, coming in from that cold you not only need something to warm you up, but something to give you a little zip in your step. Leaving the farm we headed to our main attraction of the day, the Cliffs of Moher.

The Cliffs of Moher

The Cliffs of Moher

 

While on my first trip to Ireland as a People-to-People Student Ambassador ten years ago (ahh!! I feel old!) I couldn’t wait to see the Cliffs of Moher, but when we arrived the fog was too thick to see anything. As the rain started to come in on our way there this time I was beginning to worry, but for not- it was as beautiful any picture! We walked along the entirety of the cliffs from the tower around to the other side to enjoy a look from the top. The fog definitely sets the mood for the Irish folklore, it’s easier to believe in a leprechaun at the end of a rainbow you can’t see! We finished off the day with a delicious meal at a quaint pub and were dropped off in Galway again. After a quick walk in the Christmas Market we headed off to Cork.

Cork was definitely our sketchiest hostel, when we walked in the 50 year old man in our room was watching a youtube video titled “How to get laid” so that was awkward… but after he left on his quest to get some it was same old. We woke up in the morning and headed for Blarney to kiss the infamous Blarney Stone. Blarney is a really beautiful small town and the gardens around the castle alone are worth the 12 euro entrance fee. Kissing the Blarney Stone is said to give the gift not only of Irish gap, but eloquence. One of the signs read: “Baloney is when you tell a 50-year old woman that she looks 18.Blarney is when you ask a woman how old she is, because you want to know at what age women are most beautiful.” Cute right?! Both of us kissed the stone and went for a tour of the grounds before having a picnic lunch. We did a walking tour of Cork before catching the 2 1/2 hour bus ride back to Galway.

Mitch kissing the Blarney Stone!

Mitch kissing the Blarney Stone!

Our last night on the west coast was spend at a pub just across from our hostel call The Quays (pronounced Keys). There was a really great band that played everything from American rock classics to Irish jigs. The bar was full of 20 somethings to 60 somethings all having a great irish time. We met a nice couple from Boston who introduced us to some of their favorite Irish drinks and finally called it a night around 2am. Waking up with no hang-overs was a definite plus! We were able to go on a walk out the Mutton Island Lighthouse and enjoy the ocean for a few hours before joining our free walking tour. On the tour we saw such sights as the Lynch Castle and went to the location where the first lynching took place (Apparently father Lynch hung son Lynch so when a Lynch hangs a Lynch it becomes a lynching??). Saint Nicolas Church was our next stop and had a great farmers market out front- we enjoyed some made-in-front-of-us donuts and sampled all types of interesting food. We went to the Spanish Arch, all that remains from the wall that used to encompass Galway, the Galway Cathedral, built in the 60s as the last “great stone church in Europe” and was built of old prison stones (the irony is not lost on me!) and the Town Hall.  We ended in Eyre Square where we started and where the Christmas Market was. We had just enough time to grab some lunch at a pub before we began the cross-country (albeit 2 hour) trip back to Dublin. We loved our time on the western half of the country. Galway’s average age is 25 so it’s the perfect place for everything from culture to night life. Next time we come we’ll have to head up north to explore more of what Ireland has to offer!

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Dublin, Ireland

6 Dec

After a quick and easy flight from Rome to Dublin Mitch and I began our Irish adventures. We began with a walk around the city to acclimate ourselves. With the Christmas season upon us, the city is decorated to the nines with lights of all shapes, colors and designs! It felt really magical as we walked down the pedestrian shopping street, Grafton and the main boulevard, O’Connal St. We stumbled upon one of the sights Mitch knew he wanted to see, The Church. This might be my new favorite restaurant! St. Mary’s protestant church turned restaurant and bar where Arthur Guinness and his son were both married is a perfect combination of well-maintained character and historical value, but with a fun, chic feel. We had our first Irish Guinness’s there and some delicious eats. We followed the self-guided tour to from the bust of Arthur Guinness to the original pipe organ and down to the crypt where bodies have been removed to created a hauntingly beautiful bar and rental area. We were so excited to find almost every place we visited in the city had free wifi and were able to check-in on foursquare and facebook!

Our first Guinness at The Church

Our first Guinness at The Church

Wednesday we were up early for a walk through the fairytalesque St. John’s Park, on to The National Gallery of Ireland to see works from Carravagio, Van Gough, Rembrandt, Piccaso and Monet and to our free walking tour. Our guide was a sweet girl who attends Trinity college. She took us to The Dublin Castle and gardens, City Hall, Christ Church, The Ha’Penny Bridge, and into the Temple Bar area. Free walking tours are nice because you can tip the guide whatever you thought the tour was worth, which is a win-win for both guide and tourist. After the tour we stopped for what the Irish lovingly call a chipper or fish and chips before directing our attention to the Guinness Storehouse. We enjoyed the self-guided tour, especially the advertisements and marketing through the years. The best part hands-down is The Gravity Bar which offers stunning 360 degree views of the city and surrounding Wicklow Mountains all with our complimentary glass of Guinness. Pooped, we headed back to the hostel for wine and cheese night!

 

Christ Church

Christ Church

On Thursday we headed to Galway and the west of the country, but I’ll get to that in the next post. So when we arrived back in Dublin on Saturday night we just made it in time for the pub crawl! I was kind of skeptical about paying 12 Euros to go to some bars, but with the free shots at each bar, free pizza and fun people to play fun drinking games with it was actually a really fun evening. After our late night out we slept in a little on Sunday and enjoyed complimentary pancakes with the other hostel guests. It was raining so we were a bit lazy, but got going around 3pm for the Jamison Distillery. We took the scenic route over the Ha’Penny Bridge and past the Four Courts. The distillery was a bit cheesy, but I did learn a lot. Jamison, like most irish whiskeys is triple distilled which gives it the smoothness and without the smoky characteristics of Scotch or sweetness of Bourbon it goes well with many things. Mitch was chosen to be a “Whiskey taster” and got to sample not only the complimentary glass everyone enjoys, but an extra Jamison whiskey, Johnny Walker Scotch and Jack Daniels Bourbon- all the top-selling world-wide in their category. He said he was really able to taste the differences.

 

On our last day in Dublin we saw the Molly Malone Statue and visited Trinity College. Mitch had learned of the Book of Kells in an art history class in college and I’m glad is insisted on going. Seeing a thousand year old book isn’t something one does everyday. I also didn’t know that many of the celtic knots were first displayed in this text. The Old Library at Trinity is breath-taking. Easily the most beautiful library I’ve ever laid eyes on. From that great smell of old books and mahogany to the busts of all the literary greats it is a real treat. On display there are the oldest harp in Ireland and the proclamation that made  Ireland a free country. The next thing was something I’d wanted to do in Italy the entire time we were there and was very excited about- my first International Rotary meeting! The Dublin president was kind enough to meet Mitch and I in the lobby of the hotel where they meet and the Irish Rotarians were quintessentially generous, kind and extremely funny. The meeting was run extremely similar to our own Louisville Club, minus the name tags (which I really could have used!) and even had similar demographics. We were able to swap club flags, take a picture and after promising to e-mail them some of our favorite wines from our travels in Italy we were off for our last night in Ireland.

Being gone for nearly three and a half months left us with clothes (from summer and winter!), souvenirs and gobs of other goodies. Cramming everything into our bags wasn’t even the hardest part, that was the decision we had to make of what to take and what to leave. Who knew 50lbs could be reached so easily?! We had a life-changing experience in Italy and a lovely vacation in Ireland, not bad for some poor 20 somethings! We are so excited to get on to our next adventure, deciding where to plant our grapes and start our winery and planning our wedding!

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