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

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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