Friday, August 10, 2012

Exploring Dingle by Land & Sea

(8/7)  Tuesday
Today we woke up with hopes of kayaking; however, all of the tours were booked for the day so we basically had a free day.  After breakfast, the first order of business was getting some laundry done, so we each dropped off a small bag of laundry at the cleaners to be picked up later in the day.  Then we just bummed around town, hopping from shop to shop, eventually working our way into a place called Foxy John’s.  Upon first glance, one might think that Foxy John’s is a pub . . . or a hardware store . . .well actually it’s both.  Since we were technically still in a store, we considered this to be an extension of our shopping, even though the only things we were purchasing at this point were pints.  I’d switched from beer to mojitos and now to cider.  I like to have options.  After everyone enjoyed a pint, we headed across the street to do some more “shopping” at another half pub, half clothing store.  We each enjoyed another pint, the ladies having half-pints, and then set out to find something for lunch.  Beer before lunch, that’s just how the Irish do it.  We ended up at The Dingle Pub, where we enjoyed a late lunch and had some time to catch up on the Olympics.

Once our bellies were full, and we were out of shopping options (riiighht), we decided to go for an hour long boat tour of the Dingle bay.  To date, this was one of my most favorite parts of the trip.  Seeing the shore and all of Dingle from the water was amazing and I was able to get some great photos.  We also got to see Dingle’s local celebrity, Fungie.  Fungie is a dolphin who made his home in Dingle Bay in 1983 and has been living there ever since.  The locals aren’t sure why Fungie chose Dingle Bay, but they’re definitely happy that he did because they’ve been able to create an entire industry around him – boat tours, kayak tours, Fungie paraphernalia, Fungie children’s books  . . . you name it.        

We didn't plan ahead for dinner, so we wandered town until we found a place that had room for us - The Old Smokehouse.  The food was good, but not a place I'd rush back to.  Mr. and Mrs. Dite headed back to the B&B after dinner and the rest of us went found a pub and enjoyed a few beverages before turning in.  Yes, we definitely did a lot of eating and drinking on this trip.  In hindsight, I wish I had taken a picture of each pub we stopped in.  I could have had an entire Pub Tour photo album.  Tomorrow is our last day in Dingle and then we're off to Kinsale.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Exploring Dingle by Land

(8/6) Monday
On our first misty morning in Dingle, we set out after breakfast in the cars to do a 23K historical tour of the peninsula along winding roads with beautiful, lush green hills spotted with cows or sheep on one side and amazing cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean on the other side.  We’ve seen a lot of wonderful scenery on this trip, but touring around Dingle gave us some of the best sights I’ve ever seen in my life.  Along the tour we visited Dunbeg Fort that dates back to 500BC, Beehive Huts that would have been inhabited from ancient times through 1200 AD,  and the Gallarus Oratory that is shown in the picture below.  All of Ireland is covered in stone, or seems to be, so all of the historical sites we’ve visited have been built using stone and many of them have been constructed in such a way that they’re waterproof, without the use of mortar or any substance like it.   The Irish definitely knew how to construct a long lasting structure.  The different stones are still used today for construction and many of the houses dotting the landscape are made with some amount of stone.  I assume the houses built completely from stone are owned by the wealthier population.

                 Along the tour, we made a few non-historical stops as well. The first was at Luis Mulcahy pottery where Mrs. Dite and I did a little bit of shopping.  The pottery wasn’t really to Brian’s taste, but I found a few small pieces that I liked that are functional and will always bring fond memories of this trip along with a couple of gifts.  After shopping, we headed to a pub for lunch.  The lady who runs the B&B that we’re staying in recommended the pub because one of her cousins is the owner of the pub and a local brewery.  All she had to do was say “brewery” and we were sold.  Lunch was just okay.  After that we continued on to the base of Brandon Mountain where we found Brendan creek.  Brendan was thrilled that there is a creek named after him, so we stopped to relax and take some pictures.  Once again, the scenery didn’t disappoint.

We headed back in to town to our B&B for a little down time before dinner at The Chart House, another place recommended by the owner of the B&B.  This restaurant was a far better suggestion, but on the pricey side.  This was our fancy dinner for the trip and it was so tasty.  Mr. and Mrs. Dite have definitely been spoiling us on this trip.  After dinner, we walked through the small carnival in town (Irish carnies aren’t any different from US carnies) and then worked our way over to Murphy’s pub to listen to some Irish music while enjoying a few pints.  The two men performing in the pub, one playing a banjo and the other playing a guitar, were fantastic.  When they weren’t singing, or asking us to sing along with them, they were doing their own mini comedy act.  It was a nice way to finish the evening.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Bunratty and The Road to Dingle

(8/5) Sunday -
Since we didn't get to see Bunratty Castle on Saturday, the early birds - Brendan, Elise, Brian and I - headed out first thing in the morning on our own little excursion.  We arrived at the castle just as it opened and spent two hours exploring the castle, which has been refurbished to reflect 15th and 16th century medieval Ireland, and the small town that's also set up on the grounds showing how people lived during the 19th century in Ireland.  As we traveled through the different centuries in history, we got to see homes, shops, schools, farms and animals including a pair of Irish Wolfhounds.   

After Bunratty, we headed back to Ennis to pick up Mr. & Mrs. Dite and Tim from the hotel so we could get on the road to our next destination - Dingle.  The drive to Dingle was a few hours of winding roads and amazing scenic views, with our usual pit stops along the way.  Rather than staying in a hotel, we have rooms in a B&B called The Lantern Townhouse.  It was my first time ever staying in a B&B and I really liked it.  Our room was kinda small and there were some things I'd do differently, but overall it was a very nice B&B and the people running it - a wife and husband with a baby on the way - were very nice.
Once we got settled into our rooms, we headed out to find explore Dingle and find a place for dinner.  Our B&B is in the center of town, so everything is in walking distance.  We found a restaurant called Canteen for dinner.  The previous day some fisherman had caught a huge blue fin tuna so many of the restaurants in the area, including Canteen, were serving the tuna.  Tim and Brian both ordered it.  I, on the other hand, had a hunk of beef that had been marinated and slow cooked in one of the local craft beers for 12 hours.  It was delicious!

Cliffs of Moher

(8/4) Saturday -
On our first morning in Ennis, we had breakfast and then loaded up our cars and drove out to the Cliffs of Moher along the West coast of Ireland.  Even thought it was a rainy, gloomy day, the Cliffs were incredibly beautiful.  This was my favorite stop of the trip so far.

We spent several hours walking the cliffs, until we saw a storm in the distance and decided it was time to head back to the visitor's center.  From here, our next destination was Bunratty Castle, so we hopped back in the cars for some more scenic driving.  It really is impossible to get tired of the scenery here.  It's breathtaking no matter where you look.  Everything is so green and lush.  There are rolling hills, valleys, mountains, lakes . . . it's so different from the flat, dry (right now at least) lands of Illinois. By the time we reached the Bunratty area we were starving, so we went to the original Durty Nelly's Pub for linner and a few beverages. 

After eating, we were ready to explore the castle, but unfortunately it was closed so we did a little bit of shopping and then headed back to Ennis.  We decided to rest at the hotel for a while and then went out for a small bite to eat and some traditional Irish music.  Mr. and Mrs. Dite joined us for food and a few pints. Mrs. Dite stayed out to enjoy pub time with her sons after Mr. Dite, Elise and I decided to turn in for the night.

It Was Very Good of Me

(8/3) Friday -
Friday we crawled out of bed and headed down to breakfast.  By now, my lack of more than 4-5 hours of sleep had really caught up to me, but since I didn't want to hold up the group or miss out on anything, I got my butt moving.  While at breakfast, the cutest little girl came strolling out of the toilets (they don't say washroom here) and walked up to her mom with a big smile on her face.  She then said "I went to the toilet all by myself.  It was very good of me."  With her accent, maybe Scottish or British (I'm not good at deciphering accents). It was the cutest darned thing we'd heard.  Brendan, Elise, Brian and I cracked up laughing because she was so sweet and excited about going potty on her own.  It's the little things.
We spent a little over an hour strolling around Westport, going through the various shops, checking out the town, etc. and then we packed up and got back on the road for the long drive to Ennis, with a planned stop in Galway.  Along the way, Mrs. Dite suggested that we exit earlier than planned, but wouldn't tell us why.  She directed us into a little town called Cong, where The Quite Man was filmed.  Growing up, I think I probably saw The Quiet Man 100 times too many.  In my family, if a John Wayne movie was on TV, we watched it . . . even if half the family could recite the movie because we'd seen it so many times.  So visiting the town where Quiet Man was filmed was quite cool, just don't tell my dad I said so.  We stopped in the shop dedicated to the movie and I bought a few things.  By this time, it was pouring outside, so we hightailed it back to the car and got back on the road to Galway.

Once in Galway, we headed for the city center where all of the shopping is.  Elise was on the hunt for a claddagh ring and I just like to shop.  I found a necklace that I really liked in the very first shop we stopped in, so Brian bought it for me. We browsed a few more shops, but the rain started to pick up and we were getting hungry for lunch (it was 4:00) so we found a restaurant and took shelter long enough to fill our tummies. During lunch, we had a great view of the main street through the city center so we were able to do a lot of people watching.  We kept seeing women in dresses, heels and fancy hats and men in suits and ties.  At first we thought they were business people, but it turned out the had actually been at the Galway races.  Horse racing is very big in Ireland. 

After lunch, we did a little more shopping and then got back on the road to continue our trek to Ennis. We checked into our hotel and then Tim, Brendan, Brian, Elise and I walked around Ennis, checking out several of the pubs along the way.  The first pub we stopped in had Smirnoff mojitos on tap.  Yes, on tap.  So I switched from Guinness to mojitos. It was very good of me!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Away We Go to Sligo

(8/2) Thursday -
Goodbye Northern Ireland.  We were back on the road and headed to Westport with a planned stop in Sligo.  Once again we were driving on winding roads in the rain.  Whoever said it only drizzles in Ireland was lying.  Just on the outskirts of Sligo, there is an area with a waterfall and more amazing scenery, so we stopped to stretch our legs and take some pictures.  

We continued on into the town of Sligo for some lunch and a little more exploring.  We walked through town, found a great old pub to have lunch in and then wandered around the ruins of Sligo Abbey. After a few hours of strolling, we hopped back in the car to continue our journey to Westport.  

When we got to Westport, it was already later in the evening so many of the shops were closing.  We explored town for a little while and then headed out for dinner.  (I'm sure it sounds like we do a lot of eating, but we also do a lot of driving between meals . . . at least during this stretch of the trip.)  We found a great little Italian restaurant and had a really tasty dinner.  I had cheese pizza.  I know, wild and crazy!  But after eating Irish food for several days, it was pure heaven to bit into a slice of pizza.  A few bits of advice when eating out in Ireland: 1. If you're in a hurry, good luck.  Everything moves slower here. 2. If you're hungry, starters might sound like a great idea, but keep in mind that restaurants don't put your dinner order in until you've finished your appetizer.  3.  Ask for your check, otherwise you'll sit for quite a long time before the waiter/waitress brings it to you.  

After dinner, we did a little bit of pub hopping, looking for a place with traditional Irish music.  We found a great spot, that was completely packed, but we managed to squeeze in.  The first song we heard was an Irish tune, then the music changed (we wonder if it was because 6 Americans walked in) to Dolly Parton "Jolene", Garth Brooks "The Dance", Johnny Cash "Ring of Fire" and several other American/Country songs.  All we could do was laugh and sing along. We also tried a new beer (new for us) called Caledonia.  Very tasty with no aftertaste.  My kinda beer!  

Marble Arch Caves

(8/1) Wednesday -
On our first morning in Enniskillen, we headed over to the Marble Arch Caves with plans of a boat ride and walk through the caves.  The drive to the caves was a bit of an adventure.  Brian, Brendan, Elise and I were in the mini van together, which is entertaining on its own.  Then you put us on the left side of a very narrow, winding road, in the rain with huge puddles and it's a recipe for silliness.  While Brian was trying to concentrate on the curves in the road and trying not to lose a mirror by hitting oncoming traffic (you really have to think skinny thoughts on these roads), Brendan was laughing hysterically at me because each time we drove through a large puddle on the passenger side of the car, I'd scream for fear of getting soaked because Brendan had his window wide open.  Thankfully, I only got wet once, but from that point on I shrieked every time we hit a puddle.  (Probably not smart to open your mouth when you're afraid of getting splashed.)  Anyway, we were being completely silly, but it was a lot of fun.  Typical Audrey and Brendan shenanigans.

Once we arrived at Marble Arch we found out that the tour had been shortened due to all of the rain and would only last about 15 minutes . . . and no boat ride.  We decided to do the brief tour anyway, so we descended more than 100 stairs into the cave and walked along the path for a short distance; long enough to get a sneak peak of how amazing the caves are. I'd recommend this to anyone visiting Northern Ireland.

After the caves, we headed back into town to do some exploring and have lunch.  We lunched at Patrick's Pub on Main Street in Enniskillen.  The food was great and the owner, who was also our waiter, was fantastic.  I must say, everyone we've met in Ireland has been so nice and so welcoming.  I had chicken goujouns, which is the Irish version of chicken tenders, and they were so tasty.  I also tried some fish goujoun and it was also quite tasty.  (Yes, I said I ate fish and enjoyed it.)  After lunch, we headed over to the Enniskillen Castle ruins and museum for a quick tour and then over to St. Michael's cathedral. Then we called it a day and headed back to the hotel to relax.  It was such a nice afternoon, Brian and I decided to relax outside instead of in our room.  We spent the rest of the afternoon/evening lounging and enjoying the weather until the sun went down and it got too cool for us to sit outside.  Tomorrow we head to Westport.