My Travel Map

My Travel Map

28 July 2008

Ireland: Connemara, County Galway


On our second day in Galway, we woke up to more rain and decided to get some much needed sleep. By about ten, the rain had stopped, but it was still quite overcast. We started wandering Galway city some more and by about noon, the sky had cleared and the air had warmed. We decided to go for yet another drive. Connemara is the region of lakes, mountains, and rugged coastline west of Galway. Our first stop was the old tower house seen above, Aughnanure Castle. This castle has been remarkably preserved. It still has most of its outer defensive walls, and for a small entrance fee, guests are free to wander the grounds as well as inside the tower itself.


The tower house is built right beside a creek, which definitely acted as part of the castle's defenses.


Inside the Great Hall. Standing in the room, it was so easy to imagine a medieval, wealthy family sitting down to a feast with a massive fire roaring in that equally massive fireplace. The tower also housed some more impressive defenses including a trap door, arrow slits aimed along the main staircase, and a murder hole (a grate above the small area between the two main entrance gates through which boiling oil, arrows and other nasty surprises can be rained down upon intruders).


Connemara countryside...this was right up there with the Iveragh Peninsula for me. The landscapes were so beautiful and welcoming, yet another little corner of Ireland I could easily see myself retiring to.


Mountains and lakes define the countryside here. MLK


I honestly wasn't exaggerating about those roads...MLK


Clifden is a relatively large town at the heart of Connemara. The streets are lined with little shops and pubs, restaurants and cafes, all of which are filled with that Irish charm. Missy and I stopped here for a cup of tea and a snack.


The view out the window at the cafe. The day had become perfectly pleasant, and with the delicious tea and fresh scones (with black current and raspberry jam and fresh butter and cream), it was a surreal little stop that made us linger much longer than we first planned. Clifden is yet another little gem that I will try to stay in the next time I'm traveling around Ireland.



After our break in Clifden, we continued along the road, planning to make a big loop of Connemara before returning to Galway for the evening. These are just some of the scenes we came across during the drive.



We made a stop at Kylemore Abbey. This picturesque old manor house is now a girls boarding school, but the nuns that run it keep a few choice rooms open to tourists (for a fee of 12 Euro). Needless to say, Missy and I were fine enough just lounging about the grounds for a while and taking in the scenery.




Looking down the lake at Kylemore Abbey. While we were there, we saw some plans for the future at the site. They are working on expanding the walled gardens, which are just a short drive from the Abbey, into a massive garden complex.


MLK


Just a little waterfall at the side of the road... MLK


And just the view across the road from the little waterfall.


And some more mountain majesty along R336 on our way back to Galway city.

19 July 2008

Ireland: Galway City


Galway, a city by the sea and well known now for its vibrant festivals, music, pubs, and nightlife. Missy and I were pretty tired after our dreary day of driving, but we still decided to take in some of the city before taking an early night.


Galway center's streets are alive and bustling, with plenty of restaurants, shops, and pubs. We ate dinner at a restaurant called Couch Potatas, which specializes in all dishes made from the staple of Irish cooking: the potato. After this, we stumbled upon this place which claimed to have a trad music (traditional music) set starting at 8:45. Meanwhile, the Champions League Football championship was going on between Manchester United and Chelsea. We watched the first half, which was awesome, and then we headed over to catch the music at Tig Coili



The music was phenomenal and the pub was so atmospheric. Between sets, I had a chat with the guy sitting across the table here playing the stringed instrument, which he informed me was a bouzouki. We also met and talked to this incredible old, one-handed Irish drunkard in this pub. He was a fan of the Irish cider, Bulmers, and seemed to drown his troubles and sorrows in the sweet draught. Incredible character though with some interesting stories that just added to the whole genuine feel of the place.


Much to the chagrin of a couple local guys we were talking to in the bar, after the Champions League final was won by Man U., a large celebration poured out of the bars (namely the King's Head seen across the street, the same place Missy and I had watched the first half) and into Quay St. There was singing and chanting and the ringleader standing on a trash can. It was quite the sight, but kind of odd that such a large celebration was being held for an English team winning. Though part of this was explained to me by another local musician, who I talked to at the bar. Apparently, since football is "an English sport" and is frowned upon by the hardcore Irish, who much prefer their native sports of Gaelic football and hurling, many Irish footballers pursue the sport in England, and a good many of those go to Manchester.

Quay St. Galway City. Quay St. and the adjoining High St., Shop St., and William St. are a long, pedestrian only series of shop and pub lined streets, which would take quite some time to fully explore considering all the cool little off-shooting alleys and side streets. Like Kilkenny, Galway has old medieval buildings scattered about it. One of the largest is Lynch's Castle right in the heart of the city center, which used to be the home of the city's leading family from the 15th to the 17th century. Now the massive stone structure is a bank.


Plenty of pubs with plenty of charm and character.



There were tons of swans where the River Corrib meets Galway Bay. Missy and I also saw our first Irish rainbow here in Galway. From here on, I am going to give Missy credit for her pictures by putting her initials (MLK) at the end of the comments beneath them. MLK


Looking up a small canal beside the Corrib River at sunset. MLK


Cathedral at sunset in Galway City. MLK


Galway was a great city, but being there, I definitely realized that my travel tastes have developed into seeking out more natural beauty and small, charming towns and villages instead of wandering the larger cities, regardless of how culture soaked they may be. MLK

Ireland: Counties Clare to Galway


Poulnabrone Dolmen, the Burren, County Clare. Missy and I woke up fairly late for our drive up to Galway from Killarney. This was mostly due to the weather, which was extremely wet and dreary. After eating breakfast at the hostel, which included some lovely black and white pudding for me, we zipped our way north through County Kerry to the Tarbert-Kilrush car ferry. Our timing was impeccable and we were able to pretty much drive right on with no wait. Fortunately, we could stay in our car for the ride, which was exceptionally windy and rainy...but still with some beautiful views up and down the River Shannon. When we hit the north shore, we booked it again north aiming for our goals of the day: The Burren and The Cliffs of Moher.


As mentioned above, this is the Poulnabrone Dolmen, a massive megalithic tomb that served as the resting place of over 30 people dating from around 2500 B.C. (yea...that is old). As with other prehistoric megalithic sites, it is absolutely mind-bending to think how people moved these massive stones around, let alone how they stacked them. Anyway, as you can see from the surrounding area, the Burren is an awesome landscape of limestone riddled (and often dominated) hills and plateaus.


The Burren is home to more than 70 megalithic tombs and countless other wedge tombs, ring forts, and rock circles. As we drove through this breathtaking and other worldly landscape, we saw plenty of these prehistoric human sites just from the road. I found the landscape itself to be the most awe inspiring, however. The amount of rock is just staggering, and the usually green and rolling Irish country is turned gray and craggy as far as the eye can see.


When we first arrived in the Burren, we stopped at the tiny village of Kilfenora, which is apparently well-known for its traditional music. Missy and I stopped at a local pub around one or so to have a tea (we wanted scones too to help lighten the mood of this dreary day, but unfortunately we couldn't find any cafe's open). Anyway, the tea was great and the pub was even better. The interior screamed of character and history, with a plethora of pictures covering every bit of wall space and all containing images of musicians and musical groups with their instruments. The best were the pictures behind the bar: a journey into the obviously very musical past of the old bartender (and likely owner). It was an interesting place, and I wish we had more time to spend a couple days in Kilfenora to learn some of the stories, but more importantly hear some of the music, of the people in those pictures.


Look at the hills in the distance in this picture, the stone just permeates the region.


The Cliffs of Moher. This is one of the sights I was most looking forward to on this trip, and of course when we got there, we were faced with what seemed like gale force winds and painful rain. The cliffs were still extremely spectacular...beyond anything these pictures can show. Imagine the Atlantic Ocean, 600 feet below you and just beating at the base of the cliffs you are standing on top of. There were plenty of seabirds braving the storm too, and their aerial acrobatics really helped give a sense of the true scale of these cliffs. They were incredible, even in a gale.


An awesome feature of the cliffs is O'Brien's Tower, which was built in 1835. I would recommend doing a google image search of the cliffs and this tower. You should come up with many a picture exactly like this one but taken on a sunny day, when the sky has some scattered white clouds, the sun is bringing out the amazing shades of green in the grass, and the sea is a beautiful shade of deep blue. That was what I was hoping to see, but I guess I'll have to wait until I return to Ireland sometime in the future.


Dunguaire Castle, just another roadside view along the road to Galway. This is just outside of the town of Kinvarra, which itself is a beautiful little seaside town at the end of an inlet on the southeastern end of Galway Bay.


A view across from the castle at the town of Kinvarra.

13 July 2008

Ireland: the Dingle Peninsula, County Kerry


For day two out of Killarney, we decided to take a drive around the Dingle Peninsula, a more rugged and narrow finger of land due north of the Iveragh Peninsula. We woke up early, and one of our first detours took us to the town of Anascaul to see the South Pole Inn. This pub was founded by a local man named Tom Crean (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Crean), who was a member of the Shackleton and Scott Antarctic expeditions. Now, if any of you have been following this blog for a while (Dec 05 -Jan 06 posts), you know that I spent some time on "the ice" at McMurdo and South Pole stations. I have already mentioned both of these expeditions in these posts, and basically, Tom Crean was a heroic man: Shackleton's expedition was stranded on the Antarctic coast for more than a year when their ship got stuck in the ice, and Scott's expedition was the second group to reach the pole in 1912 (Amundsen's was the first in 1911). Anyway, after spending just under a month in Antarctica in the summer, I have a profound respect for the early explorers of that frozen continent. Unfortunately, Missy and I were there too early to grab a pint in the pub, but I got to see it and pay some respects to Tom Crean, a good Irish adventurer and hero.


The Dingle Peninsula is another highly visited part of Ireland, though not as much (fortunately) as the Ring of Kerry. We came across a couple of tour buses, but for the most part, and barring the drives through Dingle's scattered towns and villages, we felt quite isolated and by ourselves on our drive about this rugged bit of land.


On Dingle, you are never far from the sea, and you are constantly reminded of that, whether it be by views like this, the crisp sea breeze, or just the distinct dampness and saltyness to the air.


Dun Beag: a Bronze Age promontory fort, which sit at the top of steep cliffs so that visitors, both friend and foe, can only approach from one side, adding to security. This fort is quite impressive with its fortifying walls and trenches still visible. It also had an underground tunnel which was possibly used as a last ditch escape route for the fort's inhabitants. Ireland is blessed with an incredible amount of ancient sites, and the Dingle Peninsula has a great deal of them. Wandering around these sites, it is difficult to comprehend that those stones and structures were put in place thousands and thousands of years ago by early humans, who actually lived there!


View from West from Dun Beag.


Just down the road from Dun Beag is another farmer who takes a couple Euro per tourist for the privilege to wander through his fields and check out some 4000 year old human settlements.


A 4000 year old "beehive hut". These thick stone walls are stacked in such a way that they are watertight and definitely took the bite out of the very damp and chilly wind that seemed to be a regular feature of the area.


No explanation needed...oh but the speed limits here were still 80 kph.


We had gray skies for most of the day, but it definitely added to the feel of the place, which I'm sure would be so absolutely different on a sunny day. As I mentioned above, the feeling of isolation is heightened in the country here and the bleak sky just added to the lonely feeling.


These roads were fun.


And the scenery spectacular...



Dingle is one of the strongest of the Gaeltacht areas. It was so great to be sitting in a cafe and to hear the original Irish language being spoken all around us. There is a great effort in Ireland to keep the language alive, but English is by far the most commonly spoken language throughout the majority of the country.


The 1300 year old Gallarus Oratory. This is an early Christian structure with a design like an upside-down boat. The fitting on the stones is amazing and there are even some carved areas where a door was in place and for a window at the back of the building. It is also quite spacious, quiet, and somewhat warmer (than the surrounding air that is) inside.


There is just so much charm to the Irish villages and towns....I wish that the pictures could convey that more.


Missy and I had lunch at a small cafe in Dingle town. This was an extremely charming place, and when I go back to Ireland, I will be sure to spend a few days based out of this town. Our lunch consisted of two delicious and amazingly fresh hamburgers followed up with some tea and scones. Missy had never tried scones before, and the combination of those with the fresh cream and jam definitely won her over.


More colorful and charming buildings in Dingle town.


Our little Nissan Micra (and a sheep).