Apr 292011

Day 7 (April 26, 2011)

Itinerary: visit Dingle, boat ride in Dingle Harbor to visit Fungie the dolphin, walk around town, drive the Dingle Peninsula loop, attend the opening ceremony to the Pan Celtic festival, find dinner and music in a pub

The week feels as though it’s half over, but today is only Tuesday. For those of us on vacation, that’s a good thing. For those of you at work, I’m sure your week will eventually end. We woke up this morning to more gray skies and chilly weather (48 or 50 degrees) and the sun didn’t come out until late afternoon. Then we only saw the sun for about 15 minutes anyway. But it was still a great day for vacationing.

My first step this morning was to go find a Petrol station to fill up the rental car. The gas stations around here don’t open very early, but I was able to find one that was open before 8:30am. The pump had an old-style feel to it, and there was no computer communicated to the attendant my price. I simply just told the guy behind the counter how much it should be.

Then we were off to Dingle. Dingle is about 30 minutes from our cottage and straight down the road, so it was easy to navigate. We were hoping to find a ferry/boat trip out to Great Blasket Island to see both a variety of wildlife and also learn about the history of the now deserted island. The islands used to be inhabited by farmers up until the mid-1900s when they finally realized that they were too far from civilization and they needed to move off. However, we found out that the sea was too choppy today. Instead we settled for a harbour tour to see the famous Fungie the dolphin of Dingle Harbor. Fungie stays here even when the other dolphins leave to play with the boats in the harbor.

Since we stayed in the small harbor area, there were no waves to speak of and our boat stayed at a nice slow pace. At this rate, I don’t think I even needed the dramamine. But I’ve learned when it comes the sea, it is always best to be prepared. The first part of our trip was more of a harbor cruise as we drove around looking for Fungie. We had some good views back to Dingle and some views of various old towers built near the mouth of the harbor. At the mouth, the tall rocks at the shore line had several caves that looked interesting. Just as we had started to wonder if we were going to get our ride for free because there had been no Fungie sighting, we found him. The legends are true….he does love to play with the boats. Once we found he, our boat when racing up next to him and he swam next to us in our wake, jumping up several times to get a good peek at us. Meanwhile, our boat felt as though it would tip sideways into the water with everyone pushed to one side to get photos. It sure was fun to play in the harbor with him. He was right next to the boat after all.

Back on land, we took a little tour through the town stopping at shops and eventually finding a cafe to eat lunch. The main street name was Goat Street, and the Goat Street cafe had delicious seafood chowder, bacon/leek/tomato tarts, curry, and fish. We were pretty satisfied, but still had time to stop at the Dingle ice cream shop called Murphy’s that makes their own ice cream right here in Dingle. We had heard about the Guinness flavor of ice cream that they are known for, but apparently in their rotation oof 30 flavors, today the flavor was not available. We did see other flavors of the are with sea salt, brown bread, whiskey, and Baileys. I’m pretty sure everyone was happy after our stop.

At this point in the afternoon it was nearly 3pm and a perfect time to head out on our Dingle Peninsula drive. Rick Steves was our tour guide as we followed his kilometer by kilometer guide through the 47 mile/30km loop. As I watched the km gauge, Mark read out the various items of interest that we were passing. This area is the western most tip of Europe and the landscape is fairly hilly and rocky. At some point the Irish decided to move the rocks and farm/raise livestock here. The rocks were moved into fences made of stone that wind up the hills in rectangular shapes. One side of a hill almost looked as if someone was trying to spell out something in stone fences. The extra rocks were also used to make stone houses. We saw many well-built stone houses that had been abandoned during the potato famine and are still standing today. The houses have walls more than a foot thick and are built water-tight….very impressive looking. Now 500,000 sheep live on the penninsula. Most of the houses are newer, leaving the historic houses standing. But the stone fences are still used to hold sheep and cattle. Spring and lambing season is a great time to walk around the sheep farms. All the little ones are adorable with their high pitched baaaaa as they cry for attention.

The coast line around here is tall and rocky with only a couple scattered sand beaches. It made for some gorgeous views. Even with the clouds, we could still see the Great Blasket Islands west of the tip. One looked like a sleeping giant, complete with his hand on his beer belly. We found the oldest Christian church built in the 12th century, small and made of stone. The surrounding cemetery had some recent additions and was full of Celtic crosses and interesting headstones.

Traveling during the off-season has it’s perks since the normally bumper to bumper loop was fairly free of cars and it was easy to find parking spots. I’m getting used to driving on the left. The hardest part of course are the turns. Parallel parking poses a unique challenge just because I’m sitting on the opposite side of the car. I’ve never been good at parallel parking anyway. At this point, the most challenging part of driving is the limitations of our Opel “minivan.” It is an automatic transmission, but drives like a manual with an inexperienced driver. The gear changes are rough and sometimes late. Also, there is no forward idle while the car is in drive. On hills, I keep my left foot on the brake and right foot on the gas so as not to roll down the hill into an obstacle.

Back in Dingle, we headed towards the Skellig Hotel as this was the location for the opening ceremonies for the Pan Celtic Festival. I had no idea what to expect, but I was expecting something a bit larger. The number of chairs in the conference room seemed to small. Though the schedule told us the event was starting at 7:30, nothing happened until 8, but we were there early enough to grab a chair around a table and partake in the free wine and coffee. The room did fill up, but still less people than I would have expected. For the first 30 minutes, the opening ceremonies consisted of the heads of the Celtic Festival and Celtic Nations speaking in Gaelic, Welsh, Irish, and other Celtic languages introducing everything and everyone. They did go back and translate most of it into English, but the ceremony felt long with all the translations. Eventually, they brought out a school group to start entertaining us with music, but we didn’t stay much longer past this point. It was 9pm and time for dinner!

The Irish do not eat as late as the Europeans and are usually done eating by 8pm. We had to think differently in order to work with this schedule as now we are used to eating late while traveling. Luckily, we found a pub that was serving food until 9:30. Dingle Pub had traditional Irish food and live musicians to entertain us. Tonight’s group had two players, an accordion and keyboard and both were blaring through the speakers located directly behind our table. Needless to say, all conversation stopped as soon as those started playing.

After dinner, we made the drive home and to bed. Tomorrow we’ll take it easy in the morning and then go back to Killarney National Park to find some hiking and some castles.

(No pictures today due to a slow connection)

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