11 Jul

Ireland: The Highlights (final part)

Skibbereen (spellcheck that!) was our base while we spent a day on the Mizen Head Peninsula, the southwestern-most point in Ireland. Our B&B hostess told us Mizen Head itself (the tip of the peninsula) was the most beautiful place in Ireland. So we had high expectations.

It didn’t quite meet them. At the tip of Mizen Head is a signal station. What does that mean, you might ask. Good question. Long story short, there used to be a manned lighthouse, but now there’s an automated signal, not even a lighthouse really, just a glowing orb encased in a steel cage, from what I could tell. Though perhaps “orb” is the wrong word there (it evokes images of fantasy creatures that pulse with light when they speak. Or is that just me?).

When you arrive at the signal station, there’s a nice reception building – I’ll call it – with a café and a small store, where you can buy a number of knickknacks and tchotchkes. To progress further, toward the more museum-y part of the reception building and then onward toward the actual signal station will cost you six euro. We decided to go for it.

There’s a path that takes you down to a heavy-duty bridge, which crosses a ravine and delivers you to a series of small buildings, which are now a museum. Yes, another museum.

This second museum was cute in a wow-isn’t-it-amazing-what-schoolkids-can-accomplish-these-days sort of way. You walk through a beaded doorway into a hallway covered in some fake-rock rubber stuff. The first room is also covered in the fake-rock rubber stuff, and has a television playing a loop of a narration-less underwater scene. The second room had a creepy clay head resting on a pillow in a bed with a fake body under the covers ala Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. There were various documents in glass cases, also. No idea what they said, though.

The third room had a stove and a mannequin sitting at a table eating a fake Irish breakfast. He seemed to be enjoying it. He also had a nice sweater. Off this third room, was another small room with some windows overlooking the cliffs. In this room were two fire extinguishers, a TV, and a VCR — both of which were unplugged – several posters of whales, and a glass case displaying toy whales and sharks.

A separate, smaller building housed even less worth talking about. I really only remember the DVD player in a glass display case.

This is not to say that the whole thing wasn’t worth the six euro, though. After the museums, you get to go out to the tip of the point and actually touch the glowing orb. I was standing right next to it when I took the video of Eileen getting blown around by the wind. It was crazy. Have you ever stuck your head out the window when you were on the highway? No? Well, this wind was like that. A steady 50-60 mph, I’m sure.
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03 Jul

Ireland: The Highlights (part 2)

From Dingle, we made our way toward Killarney, where I got Bing Crosby’s rendition of “Christmas in Killarney” stuck in my head for two days, but first we stopped at Inch Strand, which is a long and wide beach, still in the Dingle peninsula. (I’ve read that Inch strand is 3 ½ miles long. We didn’t walk the entire length of it.)

In Killarney, we rented bikes once again, but they were much more expensive than the Dingle bikes, and not made for efficiency. At the rental office, they asked for a driver’s license to ensure we returned the bikes, and they also gave us a bike lock, proving that we were in a bigger town (in Dingle, they had done none of the above). Unfortunately, they didn’t prepare us well with directions. The map they gave us was A-trocious. Still, we mostly found our way; we rode to Killarney National Park, which is full of gravel paths and nice views of a lake called Lough Leane (“lough” is the Irish word for lake, kinda like the Scottish “loch” and pronounced pretty similarly). But the hilly ride kinda destroyed Eileen’s knees.

The following day, having learned that our best times were when we got out of the car and explored on foot or bike, we stopped at another park near Glengarriff and embarked on a light hike. It had been raining pretty steadily all morning, but it let up just in time for our arrival at the park (it was a nature reserve, I think). By now, the Bing Crosby song in my head had been replaced by “Cracklin Rosie” by Neil Diamond, which I heard in some store in Killarney. Why is she “crackling,” by the way?

The nature reserve was nice. We took a 1-km loop, which we just about completed before encountering a huge puddle obstructing the path. We could see the lot where we’d parked our car, but this puddle was not the kind you just sidestep. It was a shoes-submersed puddle. So we turned around and hiked a different path to a waterfall, where we were able to join up with the park road that would take us back to the parking lot. By the time we got to our car, though, the river had overrun its banks to the extent that water was just a foot or two away from the front tires of our car, which was parked about 30-40 feet from the river’s original bank.
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02 Jul

Ireland: The Highlights (part 1)

Dingle was just how we remembered it, except that they officially changed the name of the town back to the original Irish name: “An Daingean.” We had planned on taking the same bike ride we took five years ago, which was a highlight of that trip, but we had to wait since our first full day in Dingle was steady rain. It cleared up a little in the evening, which allowed us to take a hike recommended by Rick Steves* himself (in an Irish guidebook we took from Eileen’s parents). The hike took us out to an old tower of some sort and then to a lighthouse and some rocky cliffs. (pics below) Overlooking the water, we chanced upon the famous dolphin that frequents Dingle’s harbour (look at that! I spelled harbour the British way. My spellchecker is underlining it in red.). His name is Fungee (pronounced foon-gee, according to Rick Steves), and there are boat tours of the harbour which guarantee you see Fungee or you don’t pay. He is also immortalized with a bronze statue in the center of town. We were pretty proud of the fact that we got to see him for free, and on foot, no less.

At the lighthouse, I was fascinated by a particular pocket of water roiling against the cliffs below – an obvious death trap, which made it tempting to jump into. Is that strange of me? I wouldn’t say that I’m comfortable swimming in whitewater. I also fear being stranded in the middle of large bodies of open water. So why I had any urge to throw myself from a cliff into a whirlpool in the ocean is beyond me. It made me think about this Blasket Island museum we went to earlier in the day. The Blasket Islands are a group of small Island off the tip of the Dingle peninsula. People used to live there, but their small population dwindled to the point that there was only one child left – a boy – and no young women. So they ended up evacuating the Island in 1953.

Now no one lives there. The thing is, why did anyone ever choose to live there? The weather made it impossible to reach the mainland more than half the days of a year. Deaths at sea were not uncommon. It’s a harsh, brutal location to live.

I started theorizing that perhaps the Irish had a certain familiarity with pain. Maybe that’s why there are so many great Irish writers. I mean, the population of Ireland is about 4 million. It’s tiny. And yet, great literature.

But back to Dingle. Wandering around town on the first night, we came across a beautiful church and tried unsuccessfully to determine what time the next service was. The church remains open all day, so we went in and admired the architecture and stained glass from a pew close to the altar. After a quiet five minutes, an old woman entered and slowly made her way up the aisle, using the pews as her support. When she reached us, she explained that the next service was at 10:00. Eileen remarked that in place of a church bulletin, they seem to have a little old Irish woman who can read your mind.
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30 Jun

Ireland: The Beginning

The worst thing about traveling is the travel. I mean the transportation – the stale air on the bus, the overpriced airport food, the seatback in front of you inevitably crushing your knees, the smell of jet fuel just before takeoff. All that stuff. All things considered, though, our trip to Ireland went pretty well. The plane was equipped with individual tv screens on each seatback, and you could choose from about 10 different movies, some tv shows, video games, and detailed flight path info. I watched two movies and played five video games before breaking it. I don’t know what happened.

Unfortunately, Eileen and I can’t really sleep on planes, so we ended up essentially missing a night of sleep. When we see the sunrise, our internal clocks are telling us it’s midnight. And when we disembark from the plane in Shannon and step up to the Dan Dooley car rental counter, it’s 3 a.m. back home. So when I discover that the car is stick shift, I’m a little surprised, but in my current state of exhaustion, I’m sure I just look confused. Driving on the right side of the car and on the left side of the road isn’t that hard. But it takes some thinking. Add to that shifting with your left hand and worrying constantly about the width of the road and you’ll find it makes you even more tired than you already are.

But I’m not complaining. Having done this once before, Eileen and I are sure to take it slow and not drive too far on day one. We go to Kilrush, which, in retrospect, was not a great town by Irish standards. Still, it’s clearly European – with its small cars, its roundabouts, its restaurant/café/pub-filled town center, and its plethora of men wearing unfamiliar sports jerseys. So we’re happy.

We’re even happy to pay the equivalent of $7 for a tuna salad on white bread, it being the cheapest thing we can find. The euro is valued at about 1.6 U.S. dollars currently. So prices will hurt. After lunch, we go to a walled garden just outside of Kilrush and debate whether to pay the five euro each for entry. We do. The garden is just okay; the highlight, hands down, is the truffula tree-looking plant (echium pininana), which the internet tells me is called the “tower of jewels.”

Eventually, we make our way to the Killimer ferry, and, in an odd stroke of luck, we arrive one minute before the hourly departure. Perfect timing. We’re crossing the Shannon estuary, and you can sometimes see dolphins from the ferry. But not today. We’ll have to wait until Dingle to see a dolphin.
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