October 4th & 5th, 2014
This is the second half of our trip to Ireland. To see the first half, click here.
We woke up the next morning wondering where we were going to find food. Because the hotel is in the middle of nowhere, there weren’t any other dining options, and we knew even after we left, it might be a few hours before we were out of super-rural Ireland. So, with this in mind, we decided to pay the assuredly eye-wavering prices for a meal, and we figured breakfast was probably cheaper than lunch, so, down we went to the dining room. The waiter gave us a table by a large window that overlooked the water, and we got to look at the water glittering in the morning sunshine. We quickly skimmed the menu and realized it didn’t list prices, and looked at each other with dread. You know you’re paying too much for a meal when the prices are omitted. Unsure of what was the cheapest option, I ordered the fish (we’re on a lake, right? How much could it possibly be?) and Stephen had the Irish breakfast.
Besides the main dish, they had a buffet table to the side with all sorts of French cheeses, crusty and soft breads, scones, jams, butter, a massive uncarved honey roasted ham, muesli, granola, and yogurt. Determined to get as much for our money as possible, we marched up to the table, filled with determination to eat enough to last us until we got to Dublin. We tried at least one of everything, and I went back for seconds (Stephen for thirds), getting more treacle walnut bread and ham. The black treacle bread (black treacle is what they call molasses on this side of the pond) was probably the best bread I have ever had. Dark and rich, with a cake-like texture, and even though it had treacle, not too sweet or cloying. I have tried to replicate it at home trying different recipes I found online, but it just wasn’t the same.
After we ate our weight in food from the buffet table, our main courses arrived, and I was presented with a supremely flaky-looking fish. Stephen hadn’t even glanced at his breakfast yet, and he continued to stare with his mouth a little open as I took my first bite, which tasted even better than it looked. It had lots of butter and lemon, which is really all the information I need to give; it speaks for itself. I had to give Stephen over half of my fish to stop him giving me sad eyes the whole meal, so I only had a few more bites. However, Stephen assures me that it was the best fish either of us has ever eaten. After his very first bite, all thoughts of money went out the window. “I don’t care how much it costs, can we get five more of those?” I promptly said no, and told him if he was still hungry, he could stop eating my fish, please and thank you, and go gorge on the buffet. Which he did. After finishing all my fish. You win some, you lose some.
After we ate our breakfast, we took a morning walk around the lake, watching the salmon jumping out of the water to catch their own morning meal. It was even more beautiful in the morning sunlight than it was the day before. Most of my pictures from the previous post are from this morning walk since I didn’t take my camera out much the day before due to the rain. After walking around for a couple of hours, we packed up our bags and prepared ourselves for the stressful drive ahead. The night before we had decided on a whim, which is so unlike us, to go to the Cliffs of Moher on the way to Dublin. It wasn’t on our way by any means, but not more than two hours out of it. Since we didn’t know the next time we would rent a car in Ireland (or, more accurately, want to rent a car in Ireland), we thought we might as well cross it off our bucket list.
Before we left, we trudged up to the front desk to check out and settle our bill for breakfast. We signed a few papers and returned our room key, and the lady at the desk smiled at us and wished us a safe journey before beginning to turn back to her desk. Stephen and I exchanged a quick look, trying to decide whether we should do the bad thing and high-tail it out of there, or do the good thing and remind her that we hadn’t paid for breakfast yet.
We grimaced at each other, and then Stephen called her back over. “I’m sorry, we haven’t paid for our breakfast yet.”
“Oh, breakfast is complimentary. Nothing to worry about.” We couldn’t believe our luck, especially since we got to eat what we now just refer to as that fish. The first month back, on a weekly basis, Stephen would say, “Remember that fish we had in Connemara?” Now he doesn’t even finish the sentence he just asks, “Remember that fish?” And I always have to say that yes, I do, and yes, it was delicious, and no, I don’t think we will be going back soon, and yes, I already said it was very, very good.
We left the check out desk with a new spring in our step (despite our overloaded stomachs) and made ourselves comfortable for the long drive ahead, which mainly consisted of putting Stephen’s candy within arms reach. Although the Cliffs of Moher are a major tourist destination, the drive there is on narrow, rural roads like the ones we had taken the day before. Although the drive was just as hazardous and frightening as before, it was much less stressful. As we wound our way along tight bends and beautiful lakes, we were both a good deal calmer than yesterday. Not only were we more prepared for the sheep and the speed and the tiny roads, but Stephen also had a better sense of how much to pull off the road, how slow to go, and just how small a space the car could actually squeeze through (pretty small!). I finally felt comfortable enough to look out of the window and take in our surroundings, and I spent the next few hours looking at some of the most beautiful countryside I have ever seen (second only to Tuscany maybe, and only by a hair).
We passed lakes and fields, flocks of sheep, fences made of stacked rocks, granite outcroppings, and every now and then, a crumbling stone keep or tower. The grass and vegetation were impossibly green (it really is the Emerald Isle!), and the day, although cloudy, was dry for our drive, thank goodness.
Below is a selection of photos from our drive. Stephen thought I should limit it to one or two photos, but I told him that I couldn’t possibly narrow it down any further. I’m impressed I took any photos at all since I am usually a very fickle photo-taker; I only take them when I am in my best moods, which means when I’m not hungry, hangry, thirsty, tired, sleepy, or motion-sick. And on this trip, I was one hairpin turn away from losing all of that complimentary food I just ate. What follows is a bunch of countryside photos, which you should feel free to skip, although I’ll warn you that once we get to Dublin, the photos all dry up. I must have been in one of the above states of crankiness.
After driving for almost two hours, I was very car sick after all of the twisting roads, and Stephen was in desperate need of a break, so when we saw the sign ahead for a lookout point in a few kilometers, we decided we would pull over and stretch our legs a bit. The next sign warned us that there was no stopping for the same amount of kilometers, gave a scarily-high incline percentage, and warned us not to continue if we had any reservations about our brakes. All of this wasn’t very reassuring- and for good reason. If we thought the day before had been somewhat dangerous, this felt positively foolish. But once we started there really was no where to go but up, so we gritted our teeth and made our way up the hill. (Don’t I always make it sound like I’m the one under all the stress, when poor Stephen is the one actually having to drive it? He has stronger nerves than I.) Once we got to the top, we were awarded with this beautiful view, looking like the perfect patchwork quilt countryside you always see in pictures. However, it’s not at all an accurate depiction of how scary and high we had to climb to get to it! It looks like just a nice jaunt to the bottom when in reality, the hill was far too steep to walk without hiking boots and poles.
After getting back in the car and driving for another half hour, we finally reached a sign that said we were 10 kilometres from our destination. We started to get more excited as the kilometers slipped by, and 5 minutes later, we saw another sign for the Cliffs of Moher pointing us further down the road. Another 10 minutes went by, and another sign appeared pointing us onward, with the promise that we were only 10 kilometres away. Stephen and I looked at each other. “Ten kilometers. Still?” But we decided that maybe we had misread the previous sign, and shrugged it off. Until 15 minutes down the road, when we saw yet another sign pointing to the Cliffs of Moher, again only a mere 10 kilometers from our current location. Our phones didn’t get any signal, our map of Ireland was incredibly uninformative, we hadn’t seen any signs of civilization besides some cows for at least an hour, so all we could think to do was keep going in the direction indicated by the signs and ignore the increasingly panicky feeling in our stomachs.
The good news is that we did finally arrive at our destination, but not until Stephen had lost his temper more than once and I had bitten my nails to the quick. The drive had turned out not to be the 1.5 hour detour Google Maps had promised us but instead a good four hours out of our way. We still have no idea if it was faulty signage or if we had actually gotten well and truly lost. If we had been in the United States heading to one of the most beautiful natural formations in the country, it would have had its own interstate exit, which you would take only after viewing endless billboards for miles along the lines of “In only 76 miles: You gotta SHOW HER the Cliffs of MOHER! Exit 91.” But this being Ireland, we drove hundreds of kilometers on deserted country lanes, saw 4 small signs pointing our way, and then drove up to a parking lot smaller than that of a typical WalMart, surrounded by cows. We couldn’t decide if it was infuriating or refreshing.
In this same vein, the county that the cliffs are in, County Clare, wanted visitors to be able to experience the cliffs in as authentic an environment as possible, and made an effort to limit the number of man-made structures, and make the necessary ones as unobtrusive as possible. For this reason, the visitor’s center is made a hill like a hobbit house, so it can only be viewed on your approach to the Cliffs, and it can’t be seen when you’re walking along the path. It really was wonderful how untouched the entire area was. It made me feel like I was experiencing the Cliffs the way people two hundred years ago did, although they probably only had the benefit, if you can call it that, of two signs pointing them on their way.
With our usual luck, almost as soon as we arrived it began to rain and the wind picked up, but we raised our hoods, tucked our hands in our pockets, and got on with it. After all, we had driven hours to get here. A little rain and wind wasn’t going to stop us now.
Walkways without railings of any kind ringed the cliffs, so you could peer at them rising out of the ocean as close to the edge as you pleased. Stephen and I walked along for an hour or more with the Atlantic Ocean to one side and fields of cows to the other. Some people stopped and put their hands through the fences, poking and prodding the poor animals, which made them entirely deserving of any kicks, bites, or head-butts they might receive. These were probably the same people who sat with their feet dangling over the edge of the cliff, unconcerned with the jagged rocks 700 feet below.
Stephen might have been even tenser walking than driving, and I could almost see the thoughts going through his head, documenting each safety violation and wishing he could start taking names. If I heard the word safety once, I heard it twenty times, a marked increase from the five or six times I normally hear it a day. If Stephen had his way, I would somehow chop all of our vegetables and cook all of our dinners without the use of knives, peelers, graters, or -the latest kitchen appliance he has taken against- the food processor. I kid you not, he can barely stand to watch me turn it on. But, enough of my dear, dear, husband who I love very much and am not in any way criticizing.
But back to Ireland.
If you’ve ever seen Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, when Harry and Dumbledore go to the creepy cave to find the Horcrux, first they apparate out of Hogwarts onto a large rock in the middle of the ocean with some large cliffs looming in the distance. These were those cliffs. (In case you need a refresher: they’re here at 1:17.)
Once it got too windy to make walking enjoyable (or very safe around precipitous cliffs, in Stephen’s opinion), we headed back to the car to begin our journey back to Dublin. The drive was uneventful, just hours of green fields blurring together. We did see a double rainbow at one point (and after hours of boredom we were prepared to think just about anything was hilarious), so we amused ourselves for close to half an hour with leprechaun and pot of gold jokes.
We drove and drove and drove for hours until it was night, and we still hadn’t seen any food options the whole way. Even though we ate a very large breakfast, we were getting pretty desperate, so we resolved to stop at the first place which promised food. Dozens of kilometers before we drove through the town of Kearney, we began seeing signs advertising Barack Obama Plaza, which was a large rest stop with bathrooms, a drive thru (very hard to find in these parts!), a few restaurants, and on the top floor, a Barack Obama tribute/museum. (For Barack Obama Plaza, sure, there are dozens of signs, but for the Cliffs of Moher–nothing. Although to be fair, we were on the Irish version of an interstate at this point.) The week before, Mom had kept telling me that her grandmother was a Kearney, and that when in Ireland, Barack Obama had found out he was related to the Kearneys, too. So it was a funny coincidence that we not only drove through a town called Kearney, but also that there was a building dedicated to him. (If you want the full Obama/Kearney ancestry story: here it is.) We stopped there for dinner, and got two Papa John’s combos, which came with a small pizza and fries. Because the one thing you need after eating cheesy dough dripping with oil is something fried in oil, too.
After we arrived in Dublin, we took a bus into the city, checked into our hotel, and fell asleep almost instantly. The next day we set out to explore Dublin. We wanted to see the famous Kilmainham Gaol, but the wait was hours long, so we decided against doing it. We walked down O’Connell Street and (Stephen) looked at all of the bridges spanning the River Liffrey. We then went across the river to the Temple Bar area and had some wonderful chicken and potatoes at a place called Crackbird. After that, we wandered around Trinity College for a bit, and then went back to Temple Bar to listen to some musicians playing Irish folk songs and to drink Irish coffees until it was time to go the airport. You could say we just spent the whole day wandering around, and you would be right. We were very relieved that we hadn’t spent the whole weekend in Dublin. It seemed like a wonderful city to live in, but not a great one to visit. I’m sorry I don’t have more photos to share with you as we were bad tourists. I’ll leave you with all of the shamefully few photos we took of Dublin. Hopefully we can go back to the Emerald Isle soon and do a better job with Belfast!