Day 1 | Day 2-3 | Day 4 | Day 5-6 | Day 7-8
Disclaimer: After the last travelogue I took a lot of flack from people (especially Irish folks) for being such a selfish, bitchy, stupid American. Those folks won't like this version much either. So if you're going to get all bent over my sarcasm and attitude, do us all a favor and just find some other happy, smiley, fawning travelogue. You'll like that better. For the record I found the Irish to be extremely helpful and friendly. And I had a great time on the trip. Don't bother explaining to me why I'm such an ass. I already know. So does everyone else.
Okay, back to Ireland again. All on my lonesome this time. A few observations first.
1) I didn't do enough research. The main point of going was to see as many cool archaeological sites as possible. But most of these are very hard to find in Ireland. I had lots of maps, but I should have printed out more information from the Internet. The survey maps are great, but even if you know exactly where something is, you may not know what it is or how to really get to it.
2) I really wish farmers would be more helpful with access to the thousands of pre-bronze age sites that dot the country. Yes, I understand that they don't want to deal with liability, stupid questions, gates left open, etc, but still. I like the idea of putting out a toll box and charging a Euro see the site. Every day I'd get within 100 yards of some 4000+ year old site but not be able to figure out how to actually get to it.
3) Going alone sort of sucked. Having dad plan out the itinerary last trip was very nice. And not having a navigator to help with the driving caused problems. I kept finding myself saying things like, "Wow! Look at that." Which is just silly when you're sitting alone. No more going alone. I need an activity buddy.
4) Dad was wrong about not being able see as much as you think you'll be able to. There was only one day where I didn't get everything done. The key is to go go go, and avoid monasteries. Vehicle speed will indeed average only 40 miles per hour, but it's easy to account for that.
Okay.... Day 1
Here was the plan: Pack a ridiculous amount of computer and photo equipment, try to sit on a plane for 12 hours without going insane and being restrained by the flight staff, grab the car in Shannon, and hit the road with lots of maps and no plan.
The flight over wasn't too bad. For some reason Aer Lingus seems more comfy than other airlines. I was only albe to snatch a few minutes of sleep, but I hit the ground feeling eager and ready to go. Ireland!
Getting all the gear through inspection and customs wasn't a problem. They did search my shoes but didn't seem interested in examining the 50 pounds of gear I had stuffed in my carry on. How does that work? They're going to be having everyone submit shoes for inspection, but they don't care about wallets, 5 pound transformers, or laptop batteries? Forgive me if I think airport security still needs a realty check.
And I'd like to mention how easy Sceptre Tours made the trip. There was a bit of a snafu on the last day, but frankly I was amazed that I was able to get this whole thing set up and finalized with a 15 minute phone call. Highly recommended.
Okay..... So I'm in Shannon Ireland. I just got off the plane. I have a car. I'm checked in at the hotel. It's noon. Ready. Set. GO!
I had a vague plan to drive off into the Burren and do some hiking about. I decided to try making it all the way to Black's Head before heading back to the hotel or some much needed sleep.
The first thing I noticed was that driving wasn't that big a deal. This was the first time I'd driven on the left side of the road and I was a bit paranoid about it. 20 years of habit to deal with, ridiculously narrow roads, and Irish drivers who I swear live to play chicken. In fact it wasn't too bad at all. I'm rather shocked that more people don't die on these roads, but I didn't have the problem of constantly finding myself on the wrong side.
The second thing I noticed was that I'd forgotten how green Ireland is. It's not just that it's green everywhere. It's that the green is like some sort of heavily tweaked in Photoshop sort of green. It's really really green. Wall to wall green. Green on green. More green than you can shake a freakin stick at. Very very green.
One thing on the list of goodies to buy was some Bunratty mead. I didn't even know where the place was and it wasn't on my itinerary, so I wasn't quite sure where I was going to pick that up. Imagine my surprise as I'm speeding along, trying to figure out how to get from Shannon to Ennis on the widest road possible, and look up to see Bunratty Freakin Castle. Hey. Cool.
Bunratty was where I first encountered the "busloads of kids" problem. It wasn't the last. I would like to suggest to the Irish Tourist Board that they institute some sort of "busloads of kids" advisory alert. Busloads of kids fully suck.
Even more annoying than the facts that a) these little ankle biters never stop screaming, squealing, etc, or b) 6700 noisy brats seriously detract from the photo quality when taking pictures of archaeological sites, or c) they have an uncanny knack for rushing en-mass to the area I'm trying to get to, is the completely unfair social custom that you can't give the rug bunnies a serious smack in the head as they run by.
I didn't go inside the castle. The idea of trying to negotiate narrow castle stairs and corridors with these ill-mannered hyperactives was just too painful. So I did a quick photo tour, bought some gifts, and got back on the road.
After getting the Bunratty Castle tourist/shopping thing out of the way I continued on my way. At this point I was about two hours behind schedule. I'd figured checking in at the hotel would only take a few minutes, but it turned out the entire place was a maze.
It had one entrance and then miles of spiraling corridors. My room was all the way at the back, 200 yards away from the only door, and hauling my luggage through the 20-30 stupid little double doors they had was one of the most strenuous things I did on the whole trip.
Travel tip - If you get a room at the Two Mile Inn in Shannon, be sure to request a room which is not all the way in the back. I seriously felt like I'd wandered on the set of "The Shining".
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The Irish do not understand things like traffic, right of way, parking, defensive driving, etc. It's not that people are inconsiderate. It's more that the "rules of the road" just don't exist. It's like cars suddenly appeared one night and everyone just got in and took off.
It's perfectly acceptable to block traffic in a tiny town by parking your car in the middle of the street and walking away. Or blocking the sidewalk by leaving a car there. Walking into traffic. Driving on the wrong side of the road. Speeding through city streets. Tailgating anyone not driving 30 MPH over the posted speed limit. Running people off the road. Parking in posted "no parking" zones. All acceptable and expected.
They're all good drivers. Just very wacky.
I wanted to spend my time avoiding high traffic tourist sites, but I also wanted to see some of the bigger dolmens. So the first stop was going to be the Poulnabrone wedge tomb. Or is a dolmen? Passage tomb? Who knows.
I pulled off many times to get pictures of fields, walls, and bushes. Feeling very silly each time. Taking pictures of landscapes in Ireland is very frustrating. They never look as nice as they did when you pulled off into the mud on a blind curve and struggled through thorn bushes to get a photo of the magical vista. I'm looking at all these cloudy, hazy pictures of cow pastures now and wondering what the hell. Gee. A field. How nice.
But I had fun. So there.
The Poulnabrone tomb is very large. And rather precarious looking. I was very dismayed to see a tourist pretending to push the structure over in pursuit of a witty photo op. Is it wrong to yell at such dolts? "Step away from the 5000 year old tomb you fucking idiot!!!" I. Hate. Tourists.
If they had something like this in The States it would be turned into a park and it would at least have a little fence around it. In Ireland it's a handy sheep shelter. I'm glad I can get this close to this stuff, but I can't help thinking that it may not be such a good idea.
The Burren continues to amaze me. This is all limestone. Under it is a sponge-like maze of caverns. It's all little pools, wildflowers, and slugs. It seems like it should be barren, but if you get down in look into the crannies it's teaming with cool stuff. I wish I'd had more time to hike around.
Unlike the farms, things are very open, so it should be easier to get to some of the unlisted archaeological stuff. The survey maps show iron age sites scattered all over the place here.
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Back on the road, racing to Black Head, I passed this "castle" that was listed as Leamanegh Castle. Hmmmm..... That's not a castle. I don't think you'd keep many of Cromwell's troops out if they can climb in the ground floor windows.
But more interesting was what this structure was being used for - A barn. It had cows and poo filling the ground floor. In this case I have to Shelagh, this hideous structure is ready for the wrecking ball. Or I guess someone could just sort of push it over. Very silly looking. But a cool barn.
A ways down the road I saw a sign pointing to this castle (Gleninagh Castle). It was down a little one lane road and then a short walk through the mud. The sun was nice enough to pop out for a couple minutes so I could get this classic picture.
Everything was muddy on this trip. All of the Irish folks I talked to mentioned that they were having the worst rain they'd had in 100 years. Everywhere I went there was mud and standing water. Most nights I'd come back caked with mud up to my knees. Which I'm sure the B & B hosts just loved.
This was actually a good thing for me. The mud wasn't going to scare me off, but I figured it might slow down the German tourists who I developed a rather strong contempt for on this trip.
I'm not really big on holy wells. My folks and my sister get all excited about them, but to me they're just springs. I suppose it's possible that God messed with the geologic strata so that water would bubble out of the ground, but I'm inclined to think it's just a natural process. Like porous layers sandwiched between solid layers? Maybe I'm just wacky.
And finally I got to Black Head. One of the guidebooks said that hiking up from here would bring me to one of the nicest ring forts in Ireland. I did lots of hiking but never found it. I guess I didn't go high enough. Great view though. And it was nice to be hiking in Ireland on the first day.
Things were actually turning out quite well. I was only about an hour behind schedule a this point, but I'd made the schedule for the first day wildly optimistic anyway. I'd wanted to set a fast pace right off the plane and every thing was going wonderfully.
I didn't hike high enough to see the ring fort above Black Head, but I did see some cool things. There was a very old looking road about 300 yards up, and a square, stone-walled pen. I really think I need to go back and hike up to the ring fort though. Now that I've researched it a bit more I'm seriously kicking myself.
On a future trip it might be nice to spend a week here hiking around the Burren. My reading seems to indicate that things are better preserved here. Plenty of good seafood nearby. Tons of photo opportunities. Centrally located if I did decide to drive somewhere else. I saw these little slugs all over Ireland. Many more than I did on the last trip. Snails also.
In fact the whole place seemed to just be exploding with plants and wild life. Many times it was hard to see the road signs because the bushes alone the sides were so overgrown. Typically they have big machines that drive along the road and trim the brush up to about 15 feet, (which sometimes creates cool little tunnels through the bushes) but I guess they were having trouble keeping up.
I didn't get much use out of my 300mm lens. Most of the time I was swapping between my zoom lens and my wide angle. But this shot was interesting. This couple is about 150 yards away. Also notice the "car falling off a cliff" sign in the background. One of my favorites.
I would think that it might be better to just put up a curb or wall between the car park and the edge, but I guess that makes too much sense or something.
Then back to BallyVaughan for a seafood platter.
Very yummy. Five hours in Ireland and I'm hiking in the Burren, drinking Guinness, and eating mussels. Wonderfully wonderful.
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Service in Ireland sucks ass. Everyone is very friendly, but try and get them to take your order, show you a table, or get you your bill and you'll be amazed at how well they can avoid doing so. Do not expect to be waited on. The places listed in the tour guides were much better, but I spent most of my time trying (repeat - trying) to get some food in unlisted, local places.
I developed the idea that I could only get worse service if the manager were to come out and pee on my leg.
My advise - Be a bit pushy. Physically corner the waitress and ask her to take your order. Don't wait for your bill, they'll never bring it. Ask for a menu first then go sit down somewhere where the staff seems to be walking by. If you just grab a table and look through the menu quietly you'll be ignored. Forever.
I hadn't planned to go to the Cliffs of Moher, but I thought maybe I could get over there in time for some sunset pics. I wanted to go over Corkscrew Hill anyway, so I could just continue on through Lisdoonvarna and then I'd be there. Only about 30 miles out of my way.
(a curious aside - One of the most frequent search requests for this site is "cliffs of moore" which is how I misspelled it in the last travelogue)
No, the problem was that I'd forgotten Ireland is close to the arctic circle. And I was there during the Summer Solstice. So while it's 8:00 and I'm still an hour away from the cliffs, that's no problem. Because the sun doesn't set until 10:30 here. But I assumed I'd never make it in time and just drove back to the hotel. Damn. The sun was still up.
This was very frustrating. I'd wanted to take lots of sunrise and sunset pics, but I would have had to stay up until 11:00 and then gotten out of bed around 3am. The sun was coming up at 4!!!
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Ireland Focus: B & Bs
I was a bit apprehensive about roaming around Ireland with nothing more than a car and a pocket full of B&B vouchers. But it turned out quite well. No problems and extremely convenient. But for those who might be wondering what the whole "self-guided B&B enabled tourist" thing is all about, here are some observations.
1) I got my vouchers through Sceptre tours. Highly recommended. I called the number and someone walked me through all the options. It took minutes. The vouchers arrived in a few days along with a book listing all of the B&Bs that would accept them. It had pictures of the places, phone numbers, emails, etc.
2) Call and reserve a room early. Don't expect to call the same day and have something available. And keep in mind that many towns won't have a B&B that takes vouchers so any in the area will fill up fast. I had one day where I spent over an hour calling to find a place the next day. But other than that I had no trouble.
3) Try getting to the place in the afternoon and then heading back out. They'll give you a key so you can get in whenever you want. It's a pain to cut short a side trip because you know the B&B host is waiting on you to arrive. And ask for directions when you call. They won't give them if you don't ask.
4) When you first show up, find out about breakfast details. It's very annoying to wake up and not know if breakfast will be ready when you want it. Or what breakfast will be. I suggest telling them you don't want toast. They love serving toast. Lots of toast. Too much toast. Please hold the toast. You'll usually get brown bread anyway. Nix the black pudding also. That stuff should never be eaten.
5) You'll need to bring power adapters, but I found most of my chargers would run fine without a step-down transformer. Don't bring the thing if you don't need it, since it weighs about 10 pounds. And they always supply soap. So no need to bring those disgusting used soap containers. Some places had alarm clocks, some didn't. Ditto for things like hair dryers, in-room TV, and ironing boards.
6) If you're going to be wandering around on foot at all you're going to end up a bit muddy. Consider carrying a change of shoes and pants in the car. None of my hosts seemed to mind that I was covered with mud, but I think they were just being nice and it was a bit embarrassing.
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