Sydney/Bangkok/London/Dublin/Ireland/Dublin/New York/San Francisco/Sydney
21 August 2006 to 15 September 2006 Ė Mileage 25,418
7 Days driving around IrelandĖ Dublin to Kenmare on the Ring of Kerry Ė 30/8/06 to 2/9/06
Wednesday morning already! We booked out of the hotel Davenport in Dublin, leaving some postcards to go in their postage bundle, and waited for the taxi to arrive. Once again I made sure I had a good breakfast. We humped our bags in from the street to the reception area at Hertz only to find out that the car my travel agent had hired for us was considered too small for our luggage. Mind you, if I hadnít been in a hurry to get out on the road, I might have sussed things out more and asked to see the car that was booked. Perhaps I would have found that I was duped. Ah well, thatís part of the adventure, being duped by hire car companies, or so the gossip around the Internet goes and amongst others who travel and hire cars. It ended up costing me almost $600 extra in AU$, as I found out after I arrived home and saw my credit card bill! I also paid for a tank of petrol so that we didnít have to go searching for a petrol station on the way to the airport. Another thing about overseas; Iím so used to a petrol station every few kilometres and yet I canít remember seeing but a few so far in my travels in any country.
The car we ended up with was a Nissan Tino. We found it in the car park and checked that all the scratches and dings were noted on the paperwork. It was silver, the same as my car at home. It was only 6 months old and hadnít done much mileage but it had some paintwork and panel beating that needed doing. I wondered about all the people who had to pay extra for the accidents they had, and the insurance companies. The repairs to the car hadnít been done. I handed the keys to cuz, and she headed for the passenger door telling me that I was driving. I had hoped she would, but sighed acceptance. I acquainted myself as best I could with the car and adjusted the seat and the mirrors. It was a 5-seater with a hatchback; so getting our bags in and out was easy. The cabin was high off the road for a small car and I just slid out of the seat to the ground. I remarked to cuz how neat it was that it was high off the ground, and she mumbled that it was okay for me but she preferred to be close to the ground. Oh dear, how dare me to be tall - end of conversation!
One good thing about driving is you have an excuse not to navigate, and as cuz has a much better idea of direction that I do, it was probably a good idea that I drove. We made our way out of the rental car grounds and onto the road that would lead us to the highway south. A traffic jam! Snail trail trip until we hit the highway and then all was well. The car was easy to drive and purred along. The only problem was that the controls were all on the wrong side and I continually turned on the wipers instead of the flashers to signal a turn L woops!
We drove south, through Wexford to the harbour. We planned to take the ferry across the Barrow River to Waterford. Ooops Ė wrong place, wrong ferry! This thing was huge and trucks and cars were boring their way to the docks. We decided we best get out of there, so headed back down the road to find a B&B for the night. It was getting late and bed was a good option, but the second option following some dinner I hoped. After knocking on the doors of three B&B residences, we were finally assisted by the owner of the third, who rang around and found a room for us for the night. It was only a little way down the road, but in the poor light, we missed it. Turning around, we found the sign and drove into the yard that was quite large. The room was small but okay for a night and cost us 64 Euro for twin share; this included a nice hot breakfast. The bed I had was softer too but a single bed. It was raining and bleak when we arrived and fortunately, not far up the road from the B&B, there was a pub. I had roast of the day and finally, some vegetables. I also lashed out and drank a pint of Guinness.
I slept okay that night, happy to close my eyes as keratitis had been bugging me in my bad eye. I used the ointment and applied a patch for a while until the pain subsided. I was cold in bed and there werenít any extra blankets to be found, so I curled up and had some zzzzzzzís. Breakfast was at 8.00 am and then we were back on the road on our way to Waterford. I hoped cuz would drive, but as she didnít mention it, I assumed (incorrectly) that she expected me to drive. No communication. We had gone too far the day before, and ended up at Rosslare Harbour. The huge ferry we saw went to France and Wales, so just as well I didnít line up to board that!
Backtracking, we found our way to Waterford finally, and into the town. The best idea for parking anywhere in Ireland, appeared to be to use the car parks where you either took a ticket on the way in and paid on the way out, or parked the car, walked to a ticket machine, bought a ticket and returned to your car before you left it so that the ticket was displayed on the dashboard. ĎPay and Displayí, itís called. From all the press I had read and comments from friends and others who had been to Ireland, I was acutely aware of the Ďclampingí practice that is rife in Ireland. This could prove to be a costly exercise.
We walked up the streets of Waterford in the light rain and visited the oldest tower in Europe for a look around. Cuz climbed the stairs to close to the top for a look, but I stayed on the ground floor talking to the two attendants. Iím not too good on stairs because of my eyesight and I had already gone up and down enough of them on our trip so far since leaving home. I remarked to the attendants how beautiful and green I found Ireland, awe-inspiringly beautiful! They seemed surprised, with one remarking that she never noticed it. Coming from a sunburnt country where green is something you have to look for, I found this amazing. I was told that since joining the European market, the Republic of Ireland is quite affluent, and that gave me an answer to why we saw so many new homes being built all over southern Ireland. The banks are like ours apparently, and will loan people what they need so they can get into the mortgage market.
The homes we saw are really quite large and very few have garages or carports. They are mostly all built on good size blocks, or even acreage, with no fences or driveways to be seen, except close to towns where stone fences were often used. Interesting too, is that in areas where they may have built 30 houses or more, they all look identical. They are all painted the same colours and the front views are all the same. I giggled to myself thinking about the Irishman who had one too many Guinness coming home and not being sure which house was his.
Colours for houses are mostly in shades of yellow or cream with green or pink trim. I was constantly amazed, when driving through a small hamlet or village, that there were so many houses being built, all appearing to be identical. I wondered where the people worked and how they could afford these homes. None of them, or very few are one level. They are all two-storey or more. It gave me a very good idea of how the many huge houses in Sydney that are packed together like sardines, would look out there in all the beautiful green grass with room to move.
I was learning fast that my ideas about driving in Ireland were fairly incorrect. I had looked at the maps, and Bryan had charted out an itinerary for us that looked like we would have heaps of time to spend doing whatever we wanted to between stops. Not so. I didnít realise that there would be so few road signs, that once you entered a town or city it was hard to find your way back out. But this was early days and my education hadnít really begun just yet. I had a lot of surprises up the road in the days ahead.
We drove out of Waterford to the Waterford Crystal complex. I noticed outside the door a sign for a Bureau of Exchange, so told cuz I was heading there to change some cheques and find a loo. I came back out to the sound of last call for a tour of the complex and for people to please board the bus. I hadnít bought a ticket, as I wasnít sure what we were going to do there. Looking around for cuz, I couldnít see her anywhere, and finally figured she must have boarded the bus and gone on the tour. I walked around the store for a while and then bought myself a kind of roll with some salad and meat and a cappuccino and sat outside on the wet seat waiting. My eye was a mess so eventually I headed for the car and rummaged through my bag for the ointment and a patch. Sitting in the car waiting for the pain to subside, I wondered again what had gone wrong between cuz and me. I couldnít find an answer so just decided to try and ignore the bleatingly obvious fact that we werenít going to share much at all on this trip.
Once my eye settled I removed the patch and got out of the car. I saw cuz standing outside the building so locked the car and headed over to her. She seemed dismayed that I hadnít been on the bus and gone on the tour. I was amazed that she would think I believed that, but said nothing except that I came back from the loo to find her gone. She almost dragged me back inside to buy tickets and went on the tour again with me. Amazing! It was interesting to watch the glass blowers; what a boring job that would be. They have a wooden tool or template that is the shape of the glass dish or light fitting or whatever they are making. The end of the long blower pipe is dipped in the glass mixture and heated in the furnace, then placed inside the wooden frame. The blower then blows through his end of the pipe until the glass forms the shape of the wooden frame. Itís then removed and placed on a conveyer belt for the next person to do his part of the process.
The workshop is open 24 hours a day, as they canít let the fires die down. We walked on from the glass blowing section to other parts of the building where various skills were used to finish the glass products. The men working there are all highly skilled and they arenít paid either for any pieces that they do a dud job on. All are quality tested and those that donít pass the judge mean no pay for the worker. A lot of the workers stand as they do their parts on the glass and I wondered how long they had to stand before they had a break and a walk.
We saw some extremely beautiful workmanship and copies of all the big trophies that Waterford has produced over the years. The copies are kept for show and also if any of the originals are broken and need replacing, then there is another to take its place. There is also a miniature of the huge ball made for Time Square in New York, but you only get a glimpse of it for a couple of minutes in the theatre to take photos if you want to. You can purchase any items that are on display for sale and they will be shipped to you. Just as well as thereís no way you could take any of it on a plane as luggage with safety.
We left Waterford and drove in heavy rain to Barryscourt Castle, where we walked around and had a look in the Castle and heard the history of it. Some of the castles are restored and some are just walls that remain standing, or part of walls. Others form part of houses or hotels. It seems that all over Ireland there are remnants of forts and castles that were built so that the owners could withstand attacks and guard their families. It tells of a history of oppression and wars between tribes. From Barryscourt Castle we veered off the beaten track to Cobh, where the Titanic reportedly made its last stop before disaster struck. I found the memorial to the Titanic, just a small one on the corner of a street, and read that although the Titanic did berth outside the harbour at Cobh, it was too huge to venture in and rowboats were used to take people ashore and then take those on board who were departing from Cobh.
Cobh is of course on a harbour and the roads around the town are quite hilly. The streets are narrow, and as usual in Ireland once you enter a town, you find you could be stuck there for a while trying to get back out. People park on both sides of streets with their cars half on the road and half on the footpath. Trucks then block the bit of access available as they unload goods. As the majority of roads, or streets, are very narrow, that leaves only enough room for one car to go between them Ė on a two-lane road. Hence the continual traffic jams and hold-ups.
We spent our time in Cobh apart, as usual, with cuz going off on her own and I meandered around on my own. I found the Titanic memorial though, and I donít know if she did or not; we didnít discuss it. I also went into a tobacconist and asked for some low mg cigarettes. They all look at you blankly overseas when you ask for low mg cigarettes. I asked to see a few packs of menthol cigarettes and found out the lowest rating was a 7 and the highest a 9. I was kicking myself constantly whilst I was away that I hadnít taken a couple of cartons of my favourites with me, as 2mg just didnít exist anywhere in the world. The closest I ever got was mild or extra mild.
We re-tracked from Cobh to the highway and on to Cork. It was such a shame that we were having a bad run with the weather as I could only imagine the beauty of Cobh and the harbour, on a sunny day. There was quite a bit of low lying fog around the waterfront wherever we went, which again, was a huge disappointment. But the countryside wasnít a disappointment; just spectacular, lush beauty, as far as the eye could see. The hills were magnificent with the purplish hue of the heather.
Cork was a nightmare. It was getting dark when I drove into town, at the insistence of cuz. I suggested we should try and find somewhere to stay outside of the city but I did as she wished. Trying to find my way around a city that large late in the early evening was not something I enjoyed, being the driver. I ended up in a traffic jam and seemed to be going round and round in circles. We eventually did find our way back out onto a highway and headed in the direction we thought we should be going in, or at least where we would find a B&B. However this highway was like a freeway with little egress.
Running short on fuel I turned off towards a town and found a service station. Cuz spoke to someone there who directed us to a hotel in Blarney, about Ĺ hour drive away. We eventually found the hotel that was supposed to be not much more expensive than a B&B, after driving past and having to turn and drive back. It was the Woollen Mills Hotel in Blarney. The hotel looked lovely in the evening with the lights on around the building. This time I let cuz go in and do the enquiring about a room for the night, but followed her in after a few minutes. We were lucky to secure a room and it cost us 70 Euro each, so double and more than the most expensive B&B we stayed at throughout the trip. The room was fine with a king size bed and a smaller bed. I got the king size, not because I asked for it, but cuz always seemed to prefer a smaller bed. The lift to our floor was broken so we had to use the stairs, and I was glad that I had begun using my cabin bag as an overnight bag so that I didnít have to cart my large bag in of a night.
The hotel restaurant seemed the best option for dinner and I had Irish stew and coffee for 10 Euro. I asked for a cappuccino and the girl brought me out a black coffee. I asked her what happened to the froth off the top. She shrugged her shoulders and said that she thought what she brought was a cappuccino. I asked if I could have one with froth and chocolate on top, so she took the cup away and came back about 10 minutes later to tell me the machine was broken. So milk and sugar it was in the black coffee. I grinned to myself, not believing that in a hotel like the Woollen Mills, the staff didnít know what a cappuccino was. We wandered up to bed after dinner, pleased that the rain had stopped.
Next morning, after breakfast and signing out, we packed the car ready to set off to Blarney Castle. We decided to walk up towards the tourist shop to see if the Woollen Mills were still there perhaps as a tourist destination that we could have a look at. But it appeared to be all hotel and restaurants. I noticed a sign pointing to Blarney Castle with a walkway to follow. We headed off and the sun was shining, although the sky was full of clouds, and there was a nice cool feel to the air. The walk was about 10 minutes and by the time we reached the entrance to the Castle grounds, it was raining. Another 5 minutes or so up the path to the lower grounds of the Castle and it was literally pinging down. Neither of us had remembered to take our wet weather gear with us and stood under a huge tree trying to not get as wet as we might otherwise. It eased off a bit so we walked up the hill to the Castle and inside. Fortunately, outside a makeshift tourist shop inside the castle grounds, we found a cover over the walkway to shelter under.
Cuz went off into the castle and, after a brief look inside and at the steps that had to be climbed to the Blarney Stone, I settled for staying outside under cover. Iím also careful what I kiss! I heard some people talking about two ladies who were on their way up the steps to the Blarney Stone to kiss it. One was 87 and the other not much younger. I winced and felt like a wimp; however I knew my limitations and didnít fancy kissing a stone that many had left their marks on. A personal thing of course, and being a writer, I donít think I need any magic to help me speak or write. Once the rain eased off I moved out of the way and walked outside the castle and stood waiting for cuz, taking a few pics between showers. Cuz had kissed the blarney stone and I laughingly said, when she emerged, that she should be happy as and full of chat from then on. The look on her face told me different, so I just sighed inwardly and set off back to the car park. People who did kiss the Blarney Stone had their photo taken doing so and had the option of buying the photos or not buying them. Cuz picked hers up on the way out, at a price of course. She showed me the photos, so guess that was a plus. You also get a certificate that states you kissed the Blarney Stone.
We made our way back to the car park and I decided to go into the tourist shop for a look. I bought my daughter a lovely silver Claddagh ring for her Birthday and for me, a silver ring with Celtic knots on it. I asked cuz if she wanted to drive that day and she said yes, that she thought we were going to take turns. Shame she hadnít told me earlier, as I certainly could have done without driving the second day with my sore eye. The driver has limited chances to look around too, and I couldnít see enough of this beautiful place. I gratefully climbed into the passenger seat and giggled to myself when cuz turned on the wipers instead of the indicators J We drove back into Cork and found the old jail where we noticed a sign that indicated the hop on hop off buses picked up and dropped off from the front of the jail. I hoped it was a safe place to leave the car and that it wouldnít get clamped. A few minutes later the bus arrived and we climbed on board. Cork is full of hills and it was hairy travelling in a large bus, especially through the narrow streets where only one lane was left for traffic moving through.
Cork city is on both sides of the Lee River and you would need a week there to work out where you were in the town. Or so it appeared to me. Traffic was bad; the roads were narrow and hilly in places, and I was glad to get out of there after the hop on hop off bus made its way back to the jail. After having a quick look around the jail we eventually found our way out of Cork and headed for Killarney. I think cuz was finding that driving around Ireland wasnít a picnic as it took us about Ĺ hour to find the right road to Killarney. As I said before, there are few signs on roads in the Republic of Ireland and when you find a sign with main roads on it, there might be 6 roads on 1 sign and at the next roundabout the road you want has disappeared off the signs. Itís a guessing game which way to go and often you end up turning around and coming back to take another road to try and find the way to where you are going. We saw 2 signs to Killarney, both going in different directions.
Passing through Killarney, we headed out on the Ring of Kerry. I noticed a sign along the road about Ďjaunting cartsí and as I drove past I remembered that in the notes I had from a lady in the US she had mentioned not to miss that site. I turned the car around and went back, driving into the bit of paddock that was the car park. The jaunting carts are horse drawn carriages that will take you on a trip around the gardens to Muckross Waterfall. I have never been for a ride in a horse drawn carriage and was tempted to go, but the sky was looming black, and it was already 4.00 pm. We had no plans of where to stay on the Ring of Kerry, as I hadnít read up on it at all. Cuz said that the Ring of Kerry and the Mountains of Mohar were the only two places she wanted to see in Ireland, so I guessed that we would spend a fair bit of time in the Kerry Mountains.
As we stood there by the car having a smoke, one of the drivers approached us and offered us a ride for 35 Euro for the two of us. We explained that we had to push on, as we wanted to do the tour around, not realising how far it actually was all the way around. He said that we could spend the night somewhere on the road and as going for a horse drawn carriage ride would take less than an hour, it wouldnít be a problem. We thanked him very much but said we would keep travelling. By the time we drove out he was offering the ride for 30 Euro.
The views along the Ring of Kerry are beautiful beyond my wildest dreams! The weather wasnít good and yet the beauty was still there. The views were such that you had to keep looking for a place to get off the road so you could pull over and get out of the car and just gaze out over the Killarney Lakes and the hills of Kerry. The colours are inspirational and awe inspiring, and I could only imagine the heightened beauty with a blue sky and sunshine as I gazed down at the Lakes far below. We stopped at a place on the side of a hill called ĎLadies Viewí and I had an Irish coffee sitting outside the pub, gazing across at all that beauty. I bought a couple of small books about Killarney and The Ring of Kerry, and they proved to be useful in finding places to stop and look around. Interestingly, the photos I took of the views have depicted the water as blue, and yet from where we were standing, under a cloudy sky, the Lake far below was not blue.
The road is very narrow in many places around the Ring of Kerry, with sheep grazing along the sides of the road in unexpected places. The sheep seem unperturbed by passing cars, and they became an extra thing we had to be wary about on the road. I noticed one sheep limping and felt so sorry for it, wondering if it had hurt itself or been hit by a motor vehicle. A two-way road travelling off the beaten track in Ireland is equal to one of our lanes in Sydney. There is more often than not a sheer cliff on one side and a small rocky fence on the other side before you go over the cliff and down into the valley below, or into the sea. Of course this is how visitors manage to see such fantastic views because of where these roads have been built, and this is where I found that my estimations of how long it would take us to travel the distances between towns were totally incorrect. I was so happy to see many hundreds of stone fences around Ireland, either to divide paddocks or as fences around houses, or around the edges of the cliff hanging roads. Many are covered in vines or bushes, but they are still visible. What a charming and beautiful way to fence those wonderful, many shades of green, paddocks.
Although these narrow roads in Ireland are rated mostly 100km, there is no way you could drive that fast. 80km is too fast because there is no distance vision; the roads wind round and round the sides of the cliffs. There are areas where sections have been widened out slightly, and those areas are where you end up off the road to let cars go by, or where they end up letting you go by. Fortunately there arenít that many vehicles travelling on any one road like that at the same time, but we did encounter tourist buses and those large camper vans (scary!) coming the opposite way. There is little relief in this kind of driving for the driver, and the passenger is often not so happy either! Looking around at the views isnít a great idea if you are the driver, as concentration on the road is extremely important. I found the driving very tiring and hard on my eyes, and each night when we found beds for the night we were both just happy to shower and hit the sheets.
Cuz wished she were back home in Brisbane in the dry heat. I was happy being where I was as the coolness of the days, and even the rain suited me fine. The rain was mostly light, although you could get fairly damp if out in it for a length of time. I wore jeans and T-shirts with a light denim jacket and lace up shoes and socks. There were times when I was tempted to buy a light coat as it was chilly at night, and sometimes edging on being a bit too cool during the day when it was overcast and a wet. Although I had left the last remnant days of winter behind me in Sydney when I went overseas, winters in Sydney, even where I live out near the Blue Mountains, are relatively mild. I have a log fire at home, an air-conditioned car, and I work in an air-conditioned office. I donít have winter clothes really with the exception of a few sloppy-joes and a ĺ coat if I go out at night.
We drove on down into Kenmare, a nice town with a small, flowing river running through part of the town. We drove past quite a few B&B places on the way into town, but ended up staying at one a stoneís throw from the town, and near the river. It was a split-level home, built on the side of a hill. Our room cost us 35 Euro each, including breakfast. We were finding the ensuites a bit of a battle, as often the hot water wasnít hot at all, and the loos very often didnít flush very well. They were all very small, like a wardrobe converted into a bathroom. At one B&B we had to climb up on the loo to turn on the switch for the hot water. But when you are tired, a clean room and two beds are about all you want. Once we settled ourselves into the room we walked into town, over the bridge that crossed the river. It flowed along under the bridge, over the stones and was magical. I noticed a sign in an estate agentís shop for a house for sale in Kenmare Ė 600,000 Euro, over $1,000,000 AU. Moving to Ireland would prove to be something only those with a good bank roll in Aussie dollars could afford.
We had dinner at one of the pubs and finally I found lamb shanks with vegetables on the menu! The meal cost me 18.50 Euro, and that included a glass of Guinness. I rated that dinner the best one I had eaten since leaving home. We noticed signs up at the pub for a night of Irish music and were told the show started at 9.30 pm. All the places in Ireland seem to kick off with entertainment late at night. We decided to go back to the room and then return later to the pub for the show. Back at 9.00 we got ourselves front row seats and a small table, and waited for the entertainment, that didnít begin until 9.45 pm. Once the show started, the pub became packed with people. Probably there were more people standing than sitting, and getting out the door for a smoke was a struggle.
There was a young guy playing piano accordion (Michael OíBrien) and with him, a guitarist, a female Irish dancer, and the accordionistís sister, who sang a couple of songs. The music was amazing and almost non-stop for about 2.5 hours. There was no sheet music; they just played, with the guitarist following the piano accordionist wherever he led him. We both bought Michaelís CD of Irish music. I spoke to him after the show and congratulated him on a delightful evening of entertainment. He asked me where I was from and said that he had been to Sydney earlier in the year and loved it. I wondered how people could love our sunburnt country in comparison to Ireland. While I was at the pub I had an Irish coffee and another Guinness. I stayed up until 1.00 am doing some writing before hitting the sheets. Breakfast was organised for 8.00 am.
Read the next instalment Ė Kenmare to Dublin Ė we continue our trip around Ireland from Dublin to Dublin in 7 days