May 052011

Day 12 (May 1, 2011)

Itinerary: Drop off the Covington family at the Shannon airport, pick up a smaller rental car, drive towards the Rock of Cashel with several stops along the way

Amazingly this morning started off sunny again. All this gorgeous, sunny weather is out of character for this time of year. The Irish all exclaim about the weather when we talk to them. Our Bed and Breakfast host couldn’t get over all this weather. I like to think we brought it.

We had a traditional Irish breakfast, called a fry this morning including eggs, bacon (more like fried ham), tomatoes, potatoes, and of course a variety of bread. I probably ate too much, but we plan on eating a lighter lunch because of it. Since we were occupying all 3 rooms at the B&B, we felt as if we had the place to ourselves and we all ate together just as we would at home.

At 9:30am it was time to say goodbye to Alan and take him to the airport. He’ll head back home to Pittsburgh with a layover in JFK. We wish him good travels. Then at 10:30am it was time to say goodbye to Mark’s parents and wish them farewell as they travel back to Dallas, through London. Though it was sad to say goodbye to family, I was looking forward to trading in our rental car for something a)smaller and b)one that drives better. After some confusion, we finally found our new rental car, a Nissan Micra, and turned in our Opel Zafira. The Micra is indeed tiny, but perfect for 2 people. It drives so much better as well. I’m very happy to let my foot off the brake or gas pedal and not worry about rolling down hill.

Now what? We hadn’t really planned out where to stop along the way to the Rock of Cashel, so Mark and I sat in the rental car lot and flipped through the guidebooks looking for stops along the way. We decided to take the scenic route and drive smaller roads rather than the main highway-like route. We found the Grange stone circles that were excavated rather recently in 1939. These stone circles, unlike the ring forts we’ve seen, consist of various sizes of flat stones placed in the ground vertically in a 46 meter diameter(interior) circle. The stones are placed in sockets and supported by a large bank on the exterior. The ring is not very tall, but is estimated to have been placed about 2000 BC! Now that’s old.

Nearby was Lough Gur lake and park. Since it was 2pm, we pulled out some picnic food from the car and watched the children play and several people fish. I felt very relaxed at this point. It was windier than I’d like, but the lake was pretty, the people watching was entertaining, and the picnic food was good. I was a little reluctant to get back on the road, but Lough Gur, while nice, was not really a historic place for us to stay. Per a guidebook recommendation, we took a scenic drive towards the town of Tipperary. Honestly, all the driving has been scenic and I can’t say that one area was more scenic than another. Darker clouds rolled in and created an interesting backdrop to the mountains. It almost looked like a sunset with a thin slice of brighter sky lining the tops of the dark mountains and then dark clouds on top of that. We started to see a few rain drops today, but it was to be expected. Perfect weather can’t last forever.

I enjoy driving through the Irish countryside. I’m so used to driving roads like I-10 between Houston and San Antonio. I-10 is rather dull and I have all the exits and billboards memorized. But here, driving brings an interesting and new sight around each bend. The narrow, one-lane roads are lined with tall grasses and hedges that almost make me feel as if I’m hiking instead of driving. Even the two-lane roads (and by two-lane, i mean one in each direction) replace shoulders with grasses and hedges. The drives are beautiful and the landscape is greener than anything you can imagine. I don’t think I’ve seen so much green in my life!

We stopped in Cahir (pronounced like the word, care) to see the Cahir Castle built in the 13th century, remodeled in the 15th century, and renovated in the 19th century, and of course again in the 20th. This castle combined the best of both worlds with an informative tour and time to wander and explore even the insides of the tower on our own. We were here for the last tour of the day which was pretty small. The castle is built in a perfect location on an island surrounded by a river and on a large piece of limestone. the limestone base meant that enemies could not tunnel underneath, and the river meant no moat was needed. Cahir castle had such good defensive measures that it was only taken over by force once in 1599.

I really enjoyed this castle visit because there did not seem to be a restriction on photography. I do love to spend time taking photos from various angles while a tour guide is talking. After the tour, when we could tour the tower on our own, I was able to take photos there too and have the time to set up the composition as I wanted. We watched the film that went with castle as well and felt very informed about the region.

We nearly got locked in the castle overnight as we were touring the tower while they were locking up the gates. We were clearly 10 minutes away from closing, but we got pushed out the door as it was unlocked for us. Oh well. I would definitely recommend this castle visit to anyone in the area. We had some rain off and on through our tour, but nothing that would slow us down. The film gave us some ideas of locations to take photos of the outside walls, so we went on a walking tour of the tiny town to find those locations.

The river near the castle was full of ducks chasing bugs and diving down into the crystal clear waters to find nibbles at the bottom. The water was so clear that we could see the duck’s head underneath poking around in the rocks. And the ducklings were so fun to watch. They spent their time swimming in circles trying to catch the bugs flying through the air. They would almost lift themselves out of the water as they kicked super-fast to propel through the water after the bugs. We stayed very amused for quite a while watching their antics and adding our own commentary.

Cashel was only about 20 minutes away from Cahir, so we headed to our bed and breakfast located at the base of the Rock of Cashel. In fact, you really can’t get any closer than Rockside Joy’s B&B. The host of this 4-bedroom B&B was very welcoming and gave us lots of information on the area to start us off on the right foot. We will have to ask her again tomorrow to repeat some of the information. =) She gave us a recommendation for dinner, but the town seemed to have turned into a ghost town for the night. The Fahy’s restaurant we visited was probably the least interesting restaurant we’ve been to this whole vacation. The food was fine, but not quite the quality we’ve been getting other places. However, I can’t figure out where everyone else is going.

After a trip to the grocery store to get some more picnic food and ice cream dessert for tonight, we retired early to our room for a nice catching up on the internet. I’m about 3 days behind on typing up this blog/journal and we both wanted some time to catch up with Facebook and email.

When the sky became a nice dark blue after sunset, I bundled up and headed out with my camera to take night photos of the Rock of Cashel. The attraction is literally at the front door of the B&B. The walls are lit at night creating a neat looking view and very different from the day view. I found a little path that took me past a sheep farm. It was dark out with no lights and while the fence-line provided a stable place to put my tripod, the bleating sheep created a rather creepy atmosphere.

Picture it. The sky is dark. I am on a path with no lighting. Reflected light off the castle is giving me just enough light that I can make out the difference between the path and the grass. No one is out here and the silence surrounds me like a blanket. I can’t even here the bugs chirping. A light rain starts to fall and I take shelter under a tree for several minutes until the shower passes. The sound of my camera shutter is the loudest sound around and can almost make me jump. Then, a low bleat startles me and I realize that the field next to me is full of sheep. Their bleats, several minutes apart startle me all night long. I can just barely make out the shape of the sheep in the grass. Meanwhile, though, I think I captured some fantastic photos. I’ll have to wait until I get home to my good computer monitor to make sure, but I do have high hopes.

I found my way back to the room where Mark was waiting and here I am, typing away. Tomorrow we plan to spend the morning touring the Rock and then see how much of the day is left for other activities. Since tomorrow is the May bank holiday, places might be closed. We’ve had a lot of bank holidays on this trip.

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