Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Castle Tour of Ireland

Jude and Tara came to Europe for a three week tour of Sweden and Ireland. They first stopped in Dublin on a weeknight before heading to Copenhagen and then to Sweden for Vilda's Christening and a visit with Petra, Andreas and Hanna's family and friends. Since we only had one night before they continued to Sweden, we decided to head into Dublin City Centre and had a nice dinner at Peploes Wine Bistro which I would highly recommend for their ambience, selection of excellent cuisine and fabulous wine. After dinner, we walked around Dublin for a bit before heading back to Blackrock so they could taste a local pint of Guinness.

They returned to Dublin last Friday night and we decided to have a night of rest before beginning our tour around Ireland on Saturday morning. We started our castle tour by heading down to Kilkenny, where we had lunch followed by a tour of the Kilkenny Castle. We then did a bit of shoe shopping and headed back on the road to Waterford where we saw the Clock Tower, the Reginald's Tower and the Waterford Crystal Factory. The original plan was to also hit Wexford but I was told by several locals that it was too far for a one day trip so we skipped it. We then headed into Cork City for the night.

That night we had dinner at a local italian restaurant and stayed at the Imperial Hotel and walked around a bit in the rain. The next morning, the rain was a bit lighter so after an interesting breakfast experience at the hotel, we walked around a bit through the quays, Parliament Bridge, through the English Market which was unfortunately closed, and into the shopping district. We also got to see the Red Abbey and st. Mary's Dominican Church as we were searching for the car park where my car was hidden a few blocks from the hotel.

After finally finding the car, we hit the road and headed to The Blarney Castle where Jude and Tara kissed the Blarney Stone. Kissing the stone is said to bring the gift of magical eloquence or the "gift of gab". I declined as I have been told by several locals that the locals of Blarney actually pee on the stone. Yuck and no thank you...I already have the gift of gab and am eloquent enough without kissing it:) It was a beautiful castle to visit though.

We then headed toward the Ring of Kerry which is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. There are winding roads and exquisite views over the ocean and quaint villages. Unfortunately, just as we were heading out of the Ring and towards our next intended stop, which was dinner and a night's stay at Bunratty Castle, my car literally blew up. We were coming down a hill towards a cliff and as I went to make the turn, my car literally lost all power including steering and brakes. I am not quite sure how (divine intervention maybe) but I managed to turn the car as hard as I could to not head straight off the cliff while pulling on the hand brake to get the car to a stop. Thank God I had ordered AA (which is Ireland's version of AAA) the week before as it took an hour and a half to get a tow truck to come and get us and take us to the nearest city which was Killarney.

This turned out to be a blessing in disguise as we never would have seen Killarney if my car had not died and it turned out to be one of our best evenings. Jude found the name of a hotel out of one of our travel books and I called and booked the room at the Killarney Park Hotel. This hotel had the best service I have ever encountered in my life. Not only did they give us their last room at a discounted rate because of how late we got there, but they helped with everything including finding us a rent-a-car the next morning. Killarney turned out to be my new favorite place in Ireland. We found a late dinner spot as we were all starving at this point and then found a cool spot playing fabulous live music called McSorley's. McSorley's also has a two story night club which we danced at after the live music ended at about 1am. It was a great night and of course not at all part of the plan.

I awoke the next morning at 8am to get the car situation sorted so we could get back on the road, we finally found a rent-a-car place at the Kerry Airport (with the help of the staff at the Killarney Park Hotel) and were back on the road by noon, a bit behind schedule. Now I was learning new skills as driving a car on the opposite side of the car on the opposite side of the road with a stick-shift around the roundabouts is quite a skill, I've decided.

We headed up the coast, through the town that hosts Kirby's, Jude's family name, to Bunratty Castle which I've visited before. Bunratty Castle also hosts the best apple pie I've had in years which we got to taste as the weather decided to take a turn for the worse and was downpouring. Finally, Jude and Tara were seeing the "real rain" of Ireland. We then high tailed it up the coast to Galway as I was supposed to catch the 6pm train that day from Galway to Dublin so that I could make it to work on Tuesday after the bank holiday weekend. We made it to Galway about 45 minutes too late though so we headed another hour up the coast to Jude and Tara's hotel for that evening at the Ashford Castle.

The Ashford Castle is unquestionably the most beautiful castle I have seen with an amazing golf course, although I didn't find the service there to be as nice as at the Killarney Park Hotel (Jude said the service was better the next day). We had a beautiful dinner and I did a tour of the castle as I wouldn't be there the next day to really explore it. I then woke the next morning at 5:30am, caught a cab to Galway, took a 3 hour train to Dublin and headed straight to work where I proudly arrived by 10:30am. Wow, what an adventure!

Jude and Tara continued to tour on Tuesday and saw the Cliffs of Moher, somehow got a flat tire in the rent-a-car(what was it with our bad luck with cars) and spent that night at the Drumoland Castle while I spent the evening getting some much needed sleep. They came back to Dublin on Wednesday night and toured the Hills of Tara and attempted unsuccessfully to tour Newgrange. They did see the Newgrange Museum but the actual tour of Newgrange had sold out by the time they got there. Apparently, you have to get there early or book through a tour due to it's popularity. So they returned to Dublin and we had our last night in Dublin at a great recommended restaurant Fire at The Mansion House. Tara was not feeling well at this point so we headed briefly into St. Stephen's Green, over to St. Patrick's Cathedral and then caught a taxi back to Blackrock and spent the rest of the evening packing for them to return to LA.

Other than my car exploding (I have since confirmed that the engine is blown and I will share that adventure in a later blog), it was a fabulous tour of Ireland. The castles were amazing, the memories will last a lifetime and it was so wonderful to have Jude and Tara visiting to share the experiences with. I was sad to see them go as it was so much fun to see so many things here that I may not have even attempted had they not been here. And we are already planning "The Comeback Tour" of Ireland to plan a trip back here to spend some quality time in the towns that we enjoyed the most. I already know I would like to spend more time in Kilkenny, Killarney and The Ring of Kerry.

Special Thanks: Thank you so much Jude for coming to visit, for all of your help and constant generousity with everything. I love you and will see you at the Barker Ranch for Thanksgiving dessert:) xoxo.

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