Slainte, Ireland! Jenny

Posted on December 7, 2011

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Slainte, Ireland! Pictures

Slainte, Ireland! Video

The final week of our journey was spent in Ireland, where we continued to try not to obsess over the fact that our adventure was on its last legs. We had a two cities and a national park to explore, so there was no shortage of distractions.

Our first stop was Dublin, and we wanted to love it. We’d heard how welcoming the city was, and how the pubs were the best in the world. The city was nice, clean, full of parks and fun to explore, but it didn’t blow us away. The pubs were kind of a let down, at least the few that we tried. We went to one recommended by a book; it was pleasant but nothing to write your blog about. The other was a random stop, and it was less than pleasant. Dark is okay, but dark, dirty and unfriendly is less than favorable. Since there are approximately a billion pubs in Dublin, it is quite possible that the other 999.99 million we did not go to are wonderful and life changing.

The National Museum of Ireland was free, and worth a visit. We saw archaeological treasures, including the amazing bog people. I was fascinated by these guys, and remembered learning about them in school. The bog people were killed and dumped into their marshy graves thousands of years ago, but the unique properties of the peat bogs preserved their skin and organs. Many of them were killed quite violently, which is evident when you look at their mangled forms. It is extremely creepy but extremely compelling to look at the face of someone who died 7,000 years ago. The hordes of teenagers gallivanting through the exhibit seemed to like it as well, if you can judge their interest by the volume of their squealing and excited jabbering.

The main shopping thoroughfare of Dublin is called Grafton Street, and we had a good time looking at all of the small shops selling everything from garish tourist garbage to gorgeous hand painted wooden toys. David managed to get a free haircut from a barber school, and it actually turned out better than I expected. David chatted with the nervous lady wielding the clippers to try and ease her mind, but her instructor still had to come over to finish the job.

The ample quantity of green space in the city is definitely noticeable- there seemed to be a park around every corner. We found Oscar Wilde reclining in Merrion Square, and watched the sunny blue sky and simultaneous rain shower battle it out in St. Stephen’s Green. That made for some excellent pictures, and David had a great time trying to capture the scene.

My favorite landmark in Dublin was the Monument of Light, a huge, burnished metal spire that sits in the middle of one of the city’s busiest streets and stretches hundreds of feet into the air. To see the whole thing, you have to walk quite a ways away or crane your neck all the way back. It’s a stark contrast to the elaborate buildings with classic architecture and stone facades around it, but it somehow works.

We were both ready for some Irish nature, and Killarney was touted as the best place to get it. We were not disappointed. In fact, we were both blown away by the sheer size and awesome beauty of the park. Not only is it over 25,000 acres, it has everything; lakes and waterfalls, woodlands, and even a castle. And it all looks exactly like Ireland should- lush, green, misty and mysterious. The trails are extensive, well planned and maintained, and used by locals and tourists alike. What I liked most about the park was that although it has an entire tourist machine dedicated to ferrying people in and out of it, it was easy to escape the crowds. The busiest places were the peripheral trails where the constant clomp of horse-drawn carriages was only less annoying than the giant piles of horse manure.  But once we delved a little further into the park, we were almost alone. After a long and mind-blowingly picturesque hike, we took an equally picturesque (if less exhausting) boat ride through the lakes and back to the park entrance. The guide’s commentary was a little lackluster, but his cute Jack Russell first mate and the awesome scenery surrounding us made the lack of tourist info inconsequential.

The town of Killarney is pretty to look at but eminently skippable, and the only reason to go there is to have a place to stay while seeing the park. We were glad we chose a bed and breakfast (and that it was a hearty Irish breakfast), since the lack of good and affordable restaurants in the town made eating out quite a challenge. We ended up wandering the streets fruitlessly at dinnertime two nights in a row, and eating at Johnny Rockets both nights. Totally lame, but it was the only food (besides pizza) that was not 25 euros a plate. We toasted the park over chocolate milkshakes and listened to oldies playing on the jukebox.

The final stop on our Irish tour was Cork, and it felt a bit more like what we expected Dublin to be. It probably helped that the hostess of our B&B was one of the nicest people we met the entire trip, and her house was immaculate, super cozy and comfortable. She had plenty of good recommendations for restaurants and sights to see, and we ended up eating a delicious (if potato intensive) dinner at one of her favorite spots. Luckily, we’d spent the entire day walking and didn’t feel too badly about all of the butter and cheese we were consuming.

We experienced more of the famed Irish hospitality at a random running store. We’d stopped in to look around for gifts, and struck up a conversation with two of the men working there. I was hesitant to ask for anything, but David mentioned that our friends were runners and we were looking for some cool Irish running stuff. They dug into their stash of race leftovers and came up with some t-shirts for us, free of charge. We thanked them and left feeling that unique high of having asked for something out of the ordinary and actually receiving it.

Another stop for gifts at a candy store made us savor our last few days away from work. The harried girl behind the counter valiantly tried to take our order while keeping her eye on the group of rambunctious schoolboys who were hanging out inside the store. They clamored for her attention without actually buying anything. Apparently they were regulars, and though they had a mischievous charm to us, I could see how it could be quite challenging to deal with them on a daily basis. She spent about ten minutes trying to get them to leave or at least to behave themselves, and that wasn’t the first time that day.

We weren’t tired of Guinness yet, but it was time to return to France for our flight home.  As we packed, we marveled over the amount of stuff we had. David’s jeans that made it six months with a few repairs finally ripped irrevocably across the butt, and went into the trash. That was slightly satisfying, but we were both still fantasizing all the clothes we would happily burn when we got home. Once our mounds of travel weary clothes and gifts for friends and family were safely crammed into our bags, we said goodbye at the B&B. Our hostess chided us for not staying longer in Cork, but we assured her we’d be back.

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