Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Derry and the Northern Coast

THURSDAY - Derry

We woke up this morning and went downstairs to the basement at our B&B in the Moy and had breakfast. Watching my husband try to drink coffee out of teacups with teeny-tiny handles is one of the funniest things I've ever seen.

And then we made our way out of town toward the Northern coast. We drove up through Dungannon (which I've been pronouncing wrong for nine years, btw), and stopped at Dungiven Priory. I enjoyed this little stop.  You had to walk a ways from parking your car to get to the ruins...  Unlike the ruins in the Republic, this one's graveyard was only old gravestones, and they purposely didn't keep them cleaned up, and it made the place seem more authentically ruined. lol I don't know if that makes sense.  

At the back, there was a path that you could climb down to an "environmental park." I'm not sure what this means... as it mostly led down to either, on one side, someone's farm. Or, on the other, an abandoned hydroelectric facility that appeared to be mostly used for teenage drinking parties (judging by the trash inside one of the buildings).  Behind the building, however, you could meander down to the little creek and I rather liked sitting on a rock and watching the water trickle by.

We continued on our way into Derry. I really enjoyed driving through Co Tyrone... I thought it was lovely. I think Joel enjoyed it because the roads were better.  Thanks, United Kingdom!  Derry was interesting... I think Joel liked it more than I did. For some reason, I found it a little suffocating - I don't really know why.

Derry is a walled city -- you can climb the stairs to the top of the wall and walk the entire perimeter -- which we did, stopping to read all the informational signs along the way.  It took me almost the entire perimeter to figure out what seemed weird about it... and I finally realized that, after a week in Ireland, it was that the English weren't depicted as the Bad Guys.

After walking the walls, we dropped down and walked through the Tower Museum -- Joel was really interested in the Siege of 16-something.  But they had creepy mannequins!  I'm always afraid those things are going to come to life. (I know. I have issues.)  After the museum, we found our way across the Peace Bridge and went to lunch at the Walled City Brewery, which was really good!!

By the time we made it back to our car, it was getting later in the day than I had anticipated -- so we dropped the rest of our plan and just drove to Ballycastle to check into our B&B. I liked our room there -- though I couldn't figure out the shower!  We walked into town and had dinner at the Diamond Lounge.  By this point, I was starting to wear out a little -- so we called it a somewhat-early night and went to bed!


FRIDAY - Northern Coast

We had to cut short some of our plan the day before, so this morning began with me sitting on the bed with the two days' outlines and pulling out a new plan for the day that would make sense. So after breakfast, we headed out on the  Glenshesk Scenic Drive.  This takes you out of Ballycastle into the surrounding farmland and eventually makes its way to Armoy.

From there, it's a hop and a jump to the Dark Hedges. This little road has been featured in the Game of Thrones series (which I have no interest in), and can get pretty busy -- but we were there fairly early in the morning, so it wasn't completely overrun yet. It's apparently ranked in the Top 5 of the World's Tree Tunnels -- which I did not realize was a thing -- but yay? It was pretty though... we walked a bit further along the road (which, in Ireland, is always a bit death-inducing) and came across a tree tunnel that we liked just as much (but nobody else cared about).  And then walked a bit on the grounds of an imposing old house that was now a golf course.

Well, the house wasn't a golf course. 

After making our way back up toward Ballycastle on another twisty road through farmland (Joel may not let me plan the driving routes anymore!), we headed out onto the Torr Road -- which is supposed to be a lovely (if narrow and turn-y) drive along the northern headland -- with gorgeous views of the coastline.

I'm sure it's lovely.

Unfortunately, it was rainy and foggy and we couldn't even see the edge of the cliff, much less the ocean.  Which I thought was funny.  Best laid plans...  At one point, Joel pulled over so he could drink his coffee before it got too cold. But, there was a gate into someone's sheep pasture across the way -- so I decided I was just going to go explore!  I left Joel in the car and trudged my way down the hill to get a better view of the coastline -- and the fog cleared just enough that I could make it out - and I found a little collection of old stone cottages along the way.  My shoes and clothes took hours to dry out, but I thought it was totally fun and worth it!

After that, we headed back west a bit to pick up a couple of the things we'd missed the day before. First, we went to Bushmills and took a tour of the Old Bushmills Distillery - which I thought was kind of interesting.  And you got whiskey at the end -- Too strong for my cup of tea, so I had a hot toddy instead. I just got comfortable with beer!!  We walked further into town for a bit of lunch at a cafe, which was a cute little place on the center square.

The sun was finally starting to clear by that point and it was getting later into the afternoon, so next was a stop at the Giants Causeway. Our B&B host had told us that we could save a bit of money by parking at the 6-pound train station, instead of the Causeway parking lot.  There ended up being no one at the train station to pay, so we just left our car there for free.

After a rainy morning, it really turned out to be quite a lovely day -- so after making our way to a perch on the Causeway, we just sat there for a good long while, enjoying the sun and the breeze and the water. It was quite beautiful!

When we'd had our fill, we made our way back to Ballycastle and walked into town for dinner and our last night at a town pub.  Neither of us were really starving and it was proving a bit difficult to find a place to eat anyway (nobody serves food there after 9)... so we just stopped into a chip shop for a bit of fish n chips.

The sign on the wall made the fish look about the size of a KFC chicken strip -- so that seemed perfect for the amount of hunger I was feeling. However.... it was actually the size of an entire fish. I always thought it was just Americans that served super-huge amounts of food at restaurants. But no. Everywhere we went in Ireland, I almost never was able to eat it all!  A few drinks at a pub, and then we made our way back to our bed. :)







Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Day I Visited the Village they call the Moy, Part 2

Tomney's Bar is an adorable place. It's like what you would imagine an Irish pub to look like... except better. You walk in to the first room, and it's all dark and wood-y.... but then there are more rooms beyond. So many of these little gathering rooms... plush leather-y couches to relax in, stuff all over the walls (but in a good way). I should have taken pictures, but I forgot... You would love it.

So we ordered a couple pints and made our way into the only room that had people it, a group of guys gathered around the TV watching a soccer match. Joel's been liking watching the different sports on TV while we've been here, so I thought that would be an okay place to start.

But then, I wasn't so sure. It sort of felt like intruding on their little place and I spent the next 15 minutes of the soccer match, wondering what the graceful way was to remove yourself from a room you just entered without being just as rude to walk out of it as you were to walk into it. A touch miserable.

Eventually, one of the guys started some small talk with Joel, and it was much more comfortable after that. Thank you, Mr Guy from Uruguay, whatever your name is. Not long after, we all started to warm up to each other and it was a pleasant evening. Seattle-ites are kind of like that, too. We'll like you... but we're going to hold you at arm's length for awhile until we've decided if you're okay.

I've discovered that I really love the small town pubs... but not so much the big ones. And this one went into the small town pub category. I thought the bartender was a sweet guy...  Another guy there, who I think was connected with running the pub somehow, was fun as well. He told a story that I think was about 10% true and 90% embellishment, but it was funny nonetheless. An older gentleman joined us at one point, and he struck me as someone who would be quite kind, and I enjoyed talking travel and politics and sports with him... until...

"Well, the next obvious question," he asked... "What brought you to this little village?"

I cringed inside... it was the one question I sort of hoped I wouldn't have to answer. "Oh... I really don't want to tell you." I wrinkled my nose a bit and looked up.

The guy sitting across from me laughed. "It's Ryan Kelly, isn't it?"

I sighed with embarrassment.  "Yes... but! Oh, I have no excuse. Yes."

I hoped that wouldn't ruin the good vibe... and I was glad that it didn't. The conversation fell away from that subject soon enough... and except for being introduced as "Ryan's biggest fan" *SIGH!!!* to every new person that walking in the room, it was alright. I brought it on myself.

All in all, it was a fun night with a bunch of nice people, and I'm glad we did it. I felt very apprehensive about visiting the Moy, though I had doublechecked 97 times that it was alright...  but I'm glad I went. It was fun and my friend Diana was right. I would have regretted it if I hadn't visited.

The Day I Visited the Village that they Call the Moy, Part 1

WEDNESDAY -- Belleek and the Moy

We got up this morning and had a pleasant chat with our B&B hostess. Serious, you guys. I have eaten more sausage and bacon in the last week than I have ever had in my entire life.

Today, we were off to Belleek so I could do a little requested shopping for my mom at the pottery place -- and I'll be honest, a little for me, too. We walked into town, intending to have lunch at the Thatch Coffee Shop which I'd read good thing about.  I walked in and promptly walked back out. Too busy and too dark for me.  But we wandered back down to the cafe on the corner, whose name i can't remember but might have Lemon in it. I liked it much better... light and airy... probably too girly to take your husband to, but the food was good, light, and simple.

Over lunch.... I said... "So....  about this place we're going to tonight.... ok, it's the only weird thing I've done the whole trip..."

Joel raised an eyebrow at me. "Only? You've stopped to say Hi to every single cow and sheep we've encountered."

"Ok, I didn't know I was going to like Irish livestock so much. That doesn't count. I meant, the only PLANNED weird thing. So... this town....  it's Ryan's hometown." Ryan is a musician I met who, over the years, has become my friend. "He's not even there. I just wanted to see the place he talks about."

I got a "I will humor you but you totally owe me" look in return.  And I'll own that -- I so do.

It was interesting to drive across County Tyrone to the Moy. We'd just spent several days in the Wicklow Mountains and the West of Ireland -- both landscapes that seemed fairly rugged and hardy. They were the kind of places that you understood the people who lived there were made of tough stuff... that they endured hardships that they didn't really speak of because it was just something that came with the place.  I'm sure I'm romanticizing that... but that was the impression it gave off.

Co Tyrone was a completely different landscape altogether... rolling hills of green farmland, big full trees, nary a stone wall to be found... It feels peaceful, like a place that you can draw a deep breath and relax. Let the world go on without you, don't you know, because this around us is all fine. I liked it.

We drove into town and checked into our B&B, which had this adorable Victorian vibe going on.  Different from anywhere else that we stayed.. so I liked it just for that. The lady who checked us in was super nice, and I liked her a lot.

"So." Basically, anything I say after that word is going to be weird. "When we drove in...  Okay, a super long time ago, Ryan wrote a song about this town.... and I noticed one of the streets he sings about when we drove in. Do you mind if we go out and hike it?....Just to say I've been there?"

So much owing, you guys.

It ended up being a five mile walk. In the rain. With a mile on a highway that had no shoulder, sidewalk, bikepath, anything.  Basically, it was like "Here! Come to Ireland! Die on the highway!" But I ended up walking through three lines of the song! That's worth it, right?  Okay, I know. So much owing. (There were also baby goats and cows to talk to. So awesome!)




Takin' a stroll over Drumgrannon's Hills
And back by The Major's Lane.
I walk the fields of Listamlet,



Eventually, we made it back and changed out of our soaking wet clothes and went to dinner at the hotel down the street, which was really good. I ordered an "8 oz" steak. I looked at it so quizzically when it was delivered that Joel asked me what was wrong.. "Nothing... I just... How is that 8 oz???"  It was huge.  But totally yum. It didn't need a thing but the steak.

And then it was off to the pub...


Connemara and Westport

Monday -- Tour through the Connemara region

Today, we left our little home in Galway and continued along our way.  After stopping to find an ATM machine and a gas station, we made our way out along the coast road into the Connemara.  I fear that I probably had a better experience than Joel.  He drove... I got to just sit and take it all in.

Connemara is beautiful... it's open and rugged...  We managed to drive through it on one of the only two days of Irish summer with beautiful blue skies and pretty white clouds. It kind of reminded us of driving through Montana on our way to Glacier National Park. I'm not sure I took many pictures... just drank it all in.

We drove up and down valleys through the mountains until we got to Clifden, where we stopped to walk around a bit and pick up some lunch... oh, and some shortbread. We started back to the Sky Road (which is amazing pretty) until we got to a castle gate. A short hike down a road through someone's farm (with cows and horses for me to say Hello to!) took us to Clifden Castle, which I thought was completely fun.

It's not a terribly old castle, comparatively, but falling apart and open, so it was fun to wander around inside the floor of the place.. peering up the tower, finding a little alcove with the prettiest of views -- imagining what it would have been like to be the lady of the house and whatnot.

Back to the car, we continued our way along the Sky Road with such beautiful views of the ocean and then continued our way up the freeway.  By then, it was getting fairly warm, Joel needed to change into shorts, and I needed to pee (again) -- so we stopped into Connemara National Park to use their bathroom and make some choices.  The day was getting in so we could either hike at the park or go to Kylemore Abbey but not both.

In the end, we chose the hike so up the mountain we went.  Climbing, climbing, climbing.... until we got to the top of the little mountain.  Again, gorgeous views.. you honestly can't do justice to the place with pictures, so I didn't much.  Just enjoyed the landscape,

On to Westport which was our home for the next couple days.  We had a lovely room... lots of space, and the B&B was a little bit in the country. With a cow and calf living across the road, which I loved. Poor cow... every time a car drove by, it had to moo at it.  We walked into the Wesport Quay for some dinner and then on to the pub on the corner, where they had a bit of traditional music played that evening,  Very nice day!

TUESDAY -- Day in Westport

Today, we had a little bit of a quieter day with a full day just in Westport. (If we come back, I would plan more of these days... and less days driving helter-skelter around the country. I sort of knew that coming in... but this is a good "skim the top" trip for our first time.)

After breakfast, we drove into town and walked to the bus station where we picked up a Tour of Westsport bus. It drove us all through town, giving a bit of history along the way, through the Westport House lands, and then down the highway to a pub at the foot of Croagh Patrick.  Here, we stopped for about 20 minutes for refreshments and chats.  I learned that the boy who served us, about 14 years old, climbs the mountain nearly every morning (a 2 hour climb) to open the church at the top, before coming back down.

We met a lady who was absolutely thrilled to meet us... she had a sister who lived in Dallas, Oregon and was absolutely tickled that someone actually knew where she was talking about.  And then we sat and chatted with a lovely couple from Wicklow and the bus driver before coming back to town.

A bit of lunch and then we came back to the B&B to rest a bit.  Joel took a nap in our room, while I spent much of the afternoon in the den (because the sun room was way too hot!) to catch up on our first few days.

We returned to Westport that night by way of a 2 mile walk on a bike path for a quick bite of dinner and on to a pub that I'd heard good reviews for the pub and their nightly trad session.

I'd told Joel the day before that I would be really happy if I had one experience that fit the stereotypical Irish pub experience... but truthfully, I didn't know if it really existed or if it was just a nice story of a place that once did... but had perhaps moved on.

We walked in and made our way to the bar -- where we made the acquaintance of Philip White. I'm fairly certain that Philip White was an insane leprechaun in another lifetime.  I was rather delighted to observe him all night... though I'm not sure he was entirely stable.  He actually sort of reminded me of one of the drunk characters in the town of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland.  But he was sort of the inebriated greeter of the place... like at Walmart.

A short time later, we met an older gentleman whose name I never got... but who we spent the better part of the night talking with and who I thoroughly enjoyed. Opinionated and feisty... but I think lonely and happy to have someone to talk to. He had lost his wife of 33 years to cancer four years earlier -- and still missed her very very much Anyway.. we talked for about 3 hours or so... buying drinks, laughing, telling stories, and the like -- and I came home very happy. And very very drunk.

Also, I peed in the bushes.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Wicklow, Galway, and Clare

Saturday -- Wicklow Mountains and Galway

Breakfast was another lovely affair... the same Table of Cereals and Cakes was fully laden.  I was about to order one thing from the Menu of Hot Delights when a waiter walked by with a stack of pancakes for another table and I said, "Oooo, I want that!"  And they were DELISH. The pancakes had a slightly different feel to them, a touch crispy on the outside, perhaps like they had been cooked in a bit of butter? They were topped with cream fraiche and fresh berries. Simple but decadent.

After repacking, the lady at the front desk called a "cab" for us... which ended up being a swanky personal car driven by a lovely Irishman. (They're all so nice!) I had no idea where in the airport we were supposed to be dropped off and suggested we could probably figure it out once we got there, but he called the car rental place to figure it out for us.

After checking in at the rental office, it was time to actually pick up our car and head out on the road. In Ireland. Where the cars AND the roads are backwards.

Our first plan was to drive through the Wicklow Mountains to Glendalough.

I should rephrase that.

MY first plan was to have JOEL drive through the Wicklow Mountains to Glendalough. If JOEL had known this road was roughly the size of a bike lane, he probably would have made other plans.

It really was beautiful... It's a hardy landscape, all windblown and covered in heather.. and gorgeous. We stopped at the top of a hill to get out and take in the view of a lough down in a valley, and chatted a moment with a local bicyclist who was stopping to catch her breath.

"You can get down there, you know...." she told us. "There's a path that way....  Go on, you'll love it."

So we did.  It was a bit muddy in places, but it was fun, and probably one of the highlights of my day.  Really beautiful and quiet once we got down there.  Later, I looked it up and we were at Lough Bray.

Eventually, we returned to the car and went the rest of the way to Glendalough, where we meandered a bit through the Monastic village there, and then continued along the path up to the Upper Lake. A bit to eat at the cafe, and then circled back to the visitor's center.

From here, we took the 3 hourish journey on to Galway.... At one point, Joel decided he needed a break. SO I DROVE THE CAR. And I didn't crash it, so yay!  Driving on the left hand side of the road isn't so bad. It's driving on the right side of the car.

So eventually, we made it to Galway and checked into our new B&B.  It was run by an older couple, Mary and Patrick. I never did meet Mary, though I can attest to the tastiness of the breakfast she cooks! Patrick was adorable (Older Irishman. I'm not hard to please.).

We walked into Galway and meandered through town. I really liked the vibe of Galway a lot. There was something about the whole busker scene that I just really loved the feel. I would happily spend more time there, just out in the streets.  We stopped and listened to a few different acts... Joel got roped into participating in one. There is video... but I'm not sure it's appropriate for Facebook.  Funny, though!

I popped into a pie shop that I'd heard good things about, ordered a Guinness steak pie, and ate it on the streets... Yum!

SUNDAY -- Co Clare and the Burren

Sunday was our day to drive out to County Clare and do some exploring. We started after breakfast with a trip just a touch north to Claregalway, which I'd read about on a fluke, and the old abbey that's located out there. It was a lovely place...  and it was cool to wander inside. I am mesmerized by these old places that are still standing.

After that, we drove to Kilcolgan and another ruin called Drumacoo... in which I planned badly.  My directions took us out to the middle of nowhere, where you parked in half an alcove and trompled across someone's cow pasture.

Actually, I thought this part was totally fun.

Once we got there (and walked 3/4 of the way around the building to find the door), I discovered there was a parking lot if we'd come at it from the other side. Oops!

After that, I decided Joel could probably use a driving break and we pulled in to Ballyvaughan to visit the craft fair, and then walked down the road to the pier where I met Irish cows in a field. They would not be the first cows I tried to befriend.  For some reason, I feel the need to greet all the livestock I come across..

Next, we drove out to the Poulnabrone Dolmen, which was pretty cool.  It was interesting enough just to see the site of the Dolmen... but it's up there on top of the Burren, which is just the coolest landscape.  I loved hopping around up there on the limestone rocks. What a gorgeous place.

Then, it was off to the Burren Smokehouse where I intended to pick up some smoked salmon... but during the informational video that they played for us, we discovered that they were associated with the pub two doors down. So we helped ourselves to lunch.

The day was getting a bit long by that point, so we drove to Hag's Head and planned to hike up the Cliff path to the Cliffs of Moher, about 3 miles away.  It was a calm day and looked beautiful....  what we didn't realize is that the usual wind keeps the bugs away!  Which were pretty darn awful with no wind...  so we didn't make it all the way to the Cliffs of Moher site.  But the views of the cliffs along the path were just as lovely, so I wasn't disappointed.

We took a long scenic drive along the coast back to Galway and then had a few drinks at a pub on the Salthill Prom before heading back for bed.
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