Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life-and travel-leaves marks on you.
----Anthony Bourdain

Friday, June 14, 2024

Ireland 2024: The Great Southern Tour Part 2

We began the next part of The Great Southern Tour through Vagabond Tours of Ireland in Kinsale. Our first stop was at Old Head, which is the site where the Lusitania sank. This was also the first place we saw some semi-dramatic coastline. It was cold, rainy, and windy, so I jumped out of the van for some pictures and jumped right back in.

The wind blew my hood right off of my head
Next, we went to the Cobh Cultural Center. It was interesting, but I was a little disappointed we didn't actually go into the town. I guess I misunderstood the choices our guide gave us; I would have rather walked through town than spend time in the cultural center. There was a lot of information about the Titanic as well as the coffin ships during the Famine. The best part about Cobh was running into the lady who had the window seat on the plane during the trip over. 

From there, we went to Midleton. Denise, our Vagaguide, took us to a memorial to the Choctaw Native Americans for their donation to Ireland during the Potato Famine. It was absolutely beautiful:
Kindred Spirits is in County Cork, in Midleton. The $170 raised by the Choctaw Nation would have been thousands in today's money. The donation was sent 16 years after the Trail of Tears. The sculpture is made out of stainless steel; no 2 feathers are the same. They are arranged in the shape of a bowl, representing a bowl of food.

After that we went to Jameson Distillery. I visited the one in Dublin, but that one is not where the whiskey is actually made. Denise told us an interesting story about whiskey in Ireland: at one time there were 4 different distillers. During American Prohibition, the distillers were financially in trouble so they decided to combine forces into one. The Jameson name was used; however, there are versions of Jameson that use the other names. 
The first thing we did was order Irish Coffee to warm us up.
This was the coolest's actually a door
The whole process was interesting. At then end we were treated with a drink. Since I've had a "Jamie & Ginger", I went with a Powers Honey & Lemon. I was not disappointed.

I'm not very sure when we attended the Garden of Remembrance. There was an Irish nurse in NYC who lost friends who were firemen. She planted trees in their memory and created a Garden of Remembrance. There is a total of 343 trees within the garden.
Some of the trees had trinkets (such as badges and fire helmets) on them.
Our stop for the night was a new hotel for the tour company. It is located by the sea and is an older hotel. The rooms were enormous...not the typical European hotel room at all.
The view from our room
The bathroom was large and very nice
A view of Ballycotton lighthouse. It is one of only 2 black lighthouses in Ireland and was first lit in 1851.
The "reading room" in the hotel
Day 3 was filled with outdoor activities and the weather finally cooperated. We drove to the Comeragh Mountains to visit Mahon Falls. Just before we reached the car park, we experienced Ireland's most famous "Magic Road". Putting the van in neutral while going up a hill, the van rolled uphill on its own. 
Once at the car park, we hiked a short way to the Falls. I didn't walk all the way down because I was talking and taking pictures of the sheep.
A Fairy Tree. People hang shiny objects as gifts to the fairies.
Scene from the car park looking away from the Falls
Mahon Falls...with sheep
This is what happens when you give Denise your phone to take a picture of you & your sisters in front of the Falls.
2 of my sisters and I in front of Mahon Falls
Next stop: Tankardstown Copper Mine.
The mine was opened in 1853 and closed in 1877. 
The view from across the road from the mine.
Benvoy Beach was next. It was a nice, peaceful walk along a rocky beach.
The dark rocks are Mudstones that date back to 440 million years ago when this beach was close to the South Pole.
Denise had one more stop for us: the Gaulstown Dolmen. 
The Dolmen is a Stone Age Tomb. This Dolmen (or Portal Tomb) is said to be one of the finest examples of a Dolmen in Ireland. We were fortunate enough to hear a pheasant while we were there.
Our stop for this night and the next night was in Waterford. One of my sisters & I went on a walking tour of the "Viking Triangle", but that will have to wait until the next post. The tour is halfway over already and we've seen so many beautiful things, but so much more is yet to come!

Thursday, May 30, 2024

Ireland 2024: The Great Southern Tour Part 1

The first day of our Great Southern Tour through Vagabond Tours of Ireland began right around 8:00 a.m. We started our day with a wonderful Irish Breakfast buffet at the hotel. 1 of my sisters was anxious to try the blood pudding, which I never had the courage to try on previous trips. But she was trying it so I decided to take her lead. I wish I tried it before; it was very good! My preference for breakfast is porridge with yogurt and fruit but I stepped out of my comfort zone and went for it. 

We met our "vagaguide" Denise and were pleasantly surprised that there were only 6 people on this tour, and we were all women. The other 2 ladies on the tour with us were both traveling solo; 1 was Australian and the other lives in NC (although she is originally from England).  We bonded almost instantly with these women and I made it clear to them that if we're ever too much, to let us know they need "alone" time. 

Once on the van, Denise started with an ice-breaker. We were to answer several questions such as: Have we ever been to Ireland? What are we most looking forward to? Since 4 of us were sisters, we pretty much knew the answers but it was interesting to hear what the other 2 had to say. We also had another vagaguide on the tour. Angela had only been with the company for a few years and was tagging along since she hadn't led this tour before. 

One of the first business orders was regarding the restroom situation. At 62, I was the youngest on the tour (not counting the vagaguides) and I knew there would be times I had to use the restroom. Denise said we wouldn't drive more than 1 1/2 hours before stopping but if we needed a restroom before then, just speak up. Very accommodating!

Our first stop was the Rock of Cashel. Denise did a fantastic job relaying the history and the significance of what we were going to see as we headed to Cashel. And then, just as we turned the corner:
This was my second time visiting; I enjoyed strolling through the grounds at a more leisurely pace than I was able to previously. My goal this time was to see St. Patrick's Cross; unfortunately, it isn't accessible to the public at this writing. I thought this was some kind of cross:
Replica of the 12th Centurey St. Patrick's Cross on the site where the original once stood.
The Rock of Cashel is well worth a visit. On the previous visit I wasn't able to go into the Hall of the Vicar's Choral. We stepped in to have a look around at the building which was restored in 1982.
Tapestry in the Hall of the Vicar's Choral
Lovely wood in the Hall of the Vicar's Choral
Cormac's Chapel was closed off, which was a shame because I knew my sisters would have been fascinated with the frescos. I ended up not taking very many pictures; I was "in the moment" and was just enjoying being there. The fact that it was cold and very windy may have also been a factor.
View from an open door
The group (minus 1 & Angela-who was the photographer)
Our first sheep sighting
1 of the best signs I saw on the trip
We had more than enough time to see what we wanted to see. We hopped back onto the van and made our way to Blarney Castle. On the way Denise gave us a lot of interesting facts and myths about the Blarney Stone. 
I said over and over that I was not going to kiss the Blarney Stone but when I got to it I thought, "What the heck". 
I ended up not doing it after was a very long way down
This will give you somewhat of an idea of how far down you have to go, or at the very least, how far up you are:
The grate at the top is where you hang down.
A zoomed in shot of how far down you have to drop
The grounds were stunning. Even though the gardens weren't in full bloom, the tulips and some other flowers were blooming. We walked around the Poison Garden and a little bit of the park before getting back on the van just before it started to rain.

Blarney Castle through blooming tuilips
The Bell Tower from the top of Blarney Castle
An idea of getting to the castle
The dungeons were closed due to the nesting of the Lesser Horseshoe Bats
Blarney Castle
The Castle as we approached it
Our stop for the night was in Kinsale, a beautiful village right on the coast. Our hotel was incredible, with great views:
1 thing I liked about our hotels: each one had free water, instant coffee, tea, and tea biscuits. A very nice touch!
Kinsale was just beautiful. We managed to find the oldest pub in town, founded in 1690. Chris the barman was extremely nice and helped us to warm up by lighting a fire.
Danish beer in an Irish pub
The picture didn't capture how slanted the bar was
Thanks, Chris the barman!
We took Denise's advice on where to eat and walked into Fishy Fishy. The hostess didn't look very happy that we didn't have reservations, but the server was extremely nice. We didn't have to wait for a table, even without a reservation. Kinsale was such a sweet town. It is definitely someplace I would like to go back to and spend more time wandering in the shops. Here's just a taste:

Can you believe that was all Day 1 of the tour? I had no trouble falling asleep in the nice, comfortable bed. It was a jam-packed day with a lot of history and folklore as we drove to each of our stops. Counties traveled through and visited: Dublin, Kildare, Laois, Tipperary, Cork. This was just the beginning...
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