Sunday, May 10, 2009

Ireland with Friends

I started Monday morning by taking the train from Belfast to Dublin, which is roughly a two hour trip.  I will be flying from one destination to the other for most of the trip, but I am taking the train here and there when it is cheaper than flying and the distances are short.  I was surprised to find how cheap the European low cost air carriers are - many times as low as 30 Euros a flight and almost always cheaper and faster than the train.  Because of my budget, this was necessary.  But after having the experience of taking the train from Belfast to Dublin and being able to sit back and really see the countryside that way, I know that the next time I’m in Europe I’ll be taking more trains.

Once I arrived in Dublin, I met Chris Underwood, his sister Michelle and her boyfriend Lee outside the train station.  They had all arrived the day before.  Michelle has lived near Newcastle, England for six years now, and she was our guide to everything British, including British words and phrases, British fashion and British music (Justin Timberlake is awesome; Britney Spears is a joke - hmmm... maybe things aren't so different over here after all).


After I got settled at the Westin Dublin we walked the block or so from the hotel to Trinity College and took a tour led by one of the students of the university grounds. During part of the tour, the guide told a story about how women came to be admitted. One of the Provosts, George Salmon, opposed the admission of women and said that they would be admitted "over his dead body."  He died two weeks later and women were admitted the following semester, in 1904.  The tour ended at the old library building where we saw the Book of Kells and the Long Room. 


After going to a couple of pubs and dinner, we had an early night.  The next day, Tuesday, I was sick, so that turned out to be a wasted day for me other than going out for breakfast, walking around a bit and then ending up at  walk-in medical clinic.  As an aside, I was actually surprised how easy it was as a foreigner to get medical treatment.  Michelle found me a clinic near the hotel, I paid 50 Euros at the front desk, saw a doctor, self diagnosed my illness to him, he wrote me a prescription and I was out of there - all within five minutes.  Maybe it was a touch shady, but I was better by Wednesday so it apparently worked! 

As another aside, Roy and Marion (back to Belfast for a minute) were appalled at the state of health care in the United States. They didn't really know anything about it until I explained what an employee in the U.S. might have (or at least, what I had with the firm) - employer pays for health insurance but employee is still responsible for doctor visit/prescription co-pays - and I gave them an idea of what those co-pays might run.  They couldn't get over it.  "$40 for a doctor's visit?  $50 for a prescription? And that's WITH insurance?"  They also were shocked to find out how little vacation time we get.  At Marion's last job she received seven weeks vacation time.  Can you imagine?

Meanwhile, back in Dublin... 

On Wednesday morning, Chris, Michelle and I caught a plane for Cork.  (Lee had to go back to England for work.)  We rented a car and stayed at the Imperial Hotel in Cork, which was well situated for shopping and restaurants.  We spent the rest of the day walking around Cork and looking around.  We visited a market - each stall has cheese, or meat, or fish, or bread, or fruits and vegetables, or chocolate... yes, we each had a piece of chocolate.  Chris and Michelle had been out late the night before, so we had an early night to get ready for the next day - exploring Blarney Castle.

Blarney Castle is located in Blarney, which is only 8 km from Cork.  The castle is roughly 600 years old, and at the top of the tower of the castle is the Blarney Stone - legend has it that if you kiss it  you gain the gift of eloquence.  We made our way up into Blarney Castle to the tower and all three of us kissed the stone.  Beforehand I assumed that kissing the stone just involved walking up to it and kissing it.  Sounds logical.  But you actually have to lie on your back, grab onto two bars, let a strange man hold you to keep you from falling off the top of the tower and lean back until you are able to kiss the stone upside down. Apparently Winston Churchill did this.  Really?  I just can't imagine him in this position.  He was certainly eloquent, though. See pictures below and make your own judgment call.  After kissing the stone, we made our way out of the castle and decided to take a 45 minute hike around a lake and woods on the grounds.  Then we walked through the Rock Close, which is described as a mystical place with features like a dolmen, wishing steps, a witches stone (that had little offerings sitting on top of it - a lot of nickels and trinkets), a fairy glade.

After we left Blarney castle, we drove to Blair's Inn, which is a nearby pub.  It was the quintessential Irish countryside pub (or at least what I imagined).  We sat by the fireplace and ate lunch, and the barkeeper was so nice and suggested places in Cork to get cheap pints of beer.  After we finished, we drove back to Cork where we ate dinner at Fenn's Quay - great restaurant.  We stayed there until they closed, and then went back to the hotel since we had a long day of sightseeing outside Cork the next day.



Our last day, Friday, we left the hotel early and drove to the town of Clonakilty.  We walked around, went in a couple of shops and once it started raining, took refuge in a pub for lunch.  After lunch, we drove to the Dromberg Stone Circle.  Chris has been to Stonehenge, and he said that the Dromberg Stone Circle is basically a smaller version.  I’m not sure that I want to spend a day away from London to go to Stonehenge just because it’s Stonehenge.  

After we left the Dromberg Stone Circle, we drove to Kinsale, a small coastal town.  Gorgeous.  I could have spent several days there instead of several hours.  It sits on a harbor full of sailboats and the town is full of cute shops, cafes and bakeries. 

Michelle and Chris decided to drive to Columbus Fort near Kinsale while I stayed in town and walked around.  We agreed to meet at a restaurant about 1/3 mile outside of Kinsale, and they pointed out which road to walk down to find the restaurant.  After an hour of walking around Kinsale I started walking down the road they told me to walk down.  Or so I thought.  Turns out there were two roads side by side, and I picked the wrong one.  Nearly a mile later, no restaurant and actually not much of anything really, I texted Chris and he said to stay put, that they would come pick me up. Except they couldn't find me because they didn't know I had taken the wrong road.  Oops.  A misadventure, perhaps? Forty-five minutes later we found each other and went to dinner.  

The next morning, we left early for the airport, so they could each head home, and I could continue my journey. London bound! 

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