June 27 2010

Sinners, Saints, and the Drink in Dublin

A person can learn a lot about a country by the symbols the country uses to represent it.  It tells you a lot about Ireland that the symbols of the country is a musical instrument , a harp facing in one direction. And the unofficial symbol of Ireland may just well be a pint.  Of Guinness to be exact.  A Beer that uses the National symbol isn’t all that uncommon, but music and beer–well, that tells you a lot about Ireland, doesn’t it?

 

The Guinness Harp–a symbol of Ireland

 

AND the gates to the Guinness brewery… Notice the similarities

See, music and beer. Throw in a few writers, poets, and books, and you have Dublin in an overly-simplified nutshell

Trinity College:   Nowhere in America is there a 400 year old college much less a 900 year old book. Trinity College is a contemporary college still accepting students; its building are a mix of architectural styles from 400 years to present. And during spring and summer, it’s elegant gardens are truly a sight to behold. I love visiting college campuses… especially well done ones, and ones with spectacular libraries.  The Old Library at Trinity is amazing: stack and stacks of ancient wooden bookshelves filled with ancient (and not so ancient) books that seem to go on endlessly.

And while Trinity College is certainly something to be seen, my absolute favorite part of the college is the Long Room in the Old Library at Trinity College. The room is a book-lovers dream (and downstairs you can see the famous Book of Kells).

The Sinners:

Kilmainham Gaol: Maybe it’s my dark, twisted soul that has me visiting things like cemeteries and jails wherever I go, but Kilmainham Gaol is Irish revolutionary history in living color.  Constructed in 1796, and used as a prison for the city of Dublin through 1924, the uprisings of 1798, 1803, 1848, 1867 and 1916 ended with the leaders’ confinement here. Robert Emmet, Thomas Francis Meagher, Charles Stewart Parnell and the 1916 Easter Rising leaders were all visitors, but it was the executions in 1916 that most deeply etched the jail’s name into the Irish consciousness. Of the 15 executions that took place between 3 May and 12 May after the revolt, 14 were conducted here. As a finale, prisoners from the Civil War were held here from 1922.

While the revolutionaries are certainly the most (in)famous citizens of the prison, Kilmainham Goal hosted men, women, and children during its nearly 130 years in operation.  While some inmates were there for crimes such as murder and assault, others were there for theft of food to feed a starving tummy. The jail closed in 1924, but happily these days, one can tour the jail and the tour leads you through old, crumbly prison cell-blocks and ends in the yard where the  hangings used to occur.  I’m not one to be superstitious, but if any place is haunted, I’d imagine this place would be.

 

The site of executions at the gaol–yes, it’s a little bit creepy

The Saints:

St. Patrick’s Cathedral:  Construction began in 1191; it became a cathedral in 1224.  Yep, it’s over 800 years old… kinda makes the 400 year old college [Trinity] look like a spring chicken, and most surprisingly [to me] it’s not a Catholic church.  The most famous church in a country known for Catholicism is Anglican.

 

The Drinks:

Take a tour of the Guinness Storehouse, which may just be Ireland’s top tourist attraction. Yes, more people come here than visit the Book of Kells or the Cliffs of Moher. For around 15 Euros, you can tour the 7-story building, learning  important things like the history of the Guinness, how it’s produced, and how the it has evolved over the years. At the end of the tour, there is the chance to enjoy a complimentary pint at the Gravity Bar (although for 15 euros, in my opinion you should get something).

I was 19 years old the first time I visited Ireland and some of my first alcoholic drinks were in Dublin, because how can you not? While the taste of a Guinness never took,  Irish Whiskey most certainly did. Especially in the form of Irish Coffee… There’s a reason Irish Breakfasts are a thing, and Irish Coffee is a great addition to it.  Jameson’s distillery was the first distillery I ever visited and those smooth triple distilled grains are like sweet honey. Even though I’m not a huge coffee drinker, the combination of whiskey, Irish cream, and coffee is pure magic.

Jameson Irish Whisky

The Temple Bar, I guessing at one time, was authentically Irish.  These days, its just another overpriced bar, with a great location, that caters to tourists.  For the love of all things holy, go somewhere (anywhere) else to get an authentic ‘pub experience’.  The are literally hundreds of pubs in Dublin and I’d wager than any one of them not located in the city center would be a better experience than the Temple Bar. I’m not saying to not go to the Temple Bar, just know that these days, you’ll rarely find a local hanging out there.  One cool thing about the Temple Bar, is there’s always live music playing so pop in, if for no other reason than to listen to a tune or two.

The HaPenny Bridge–Dublin
June 27 2010

When in Cork…

Encounters with Blarney

I am not above being a cheesy tourist.

And one of the more cheesy, more touristy things I have ever done occurred a few years ago when I spent a few weeks tooling around Ireland.  After taking the ferry over from Anglesey, Wales to Dublin and tooling around Dublin for a few days, I headed south out of the city towards Cork.  I’m not a bad driver, but I don’t do so well with the manual transmission or driving on the opposite side of the road than what I’m used to.  Let’s just say it was baptism by fire, and I probably shaved a few years off my life and perhaps some of the other drivers on the Dublin-Cork highway.

I am a small town kinda girl, and while Cork is a pretty big city, but it’s fairly navigable.  Cork has a fair amount of charm, but it main draw in the Blarney Stone and to a lesser extent–Blarney Castle.

So the question of the day is did I kiss the stone? Did I really put my lips on that wet slab of germ-infested rock where thousands…maybe millions of people have done the same thing before me? Did I actually DANGLE my body off the side of the castle and risk my life?!  People have actually DIED doing this.

Yes. Yes I did.

I mean, how can you not? It’s there; I’m there. A lot of other people were doing it, and while it may be cheesy and touristy… occasionally I’m cheesy and occasionally touristy.

The Blarney Stone is a block of Carboniferous limestone built into the battlements of Blarney Castle, Blarney, about 8 kilometres from Cork, Ireland. [Thank you Wikipedia] According to legend, kissing the stone endows the kisser with the gift of the gab (great eloquence or skill at flattery). The stone was set into a tower of the castle in 1446. The word blarney has come to mean “clever, flattering, or coaxing talk”. John O’Connor Power’s definition is succinct: ‘Blarney is something more than mere flattery. It is flattery sweetened by humour and flavoured by wit.

The Blarney Stone gets all the press, but the castle itself is actually rather interesting and the surrounding castle grounds are gorgeous. The tiny, winding staircases are not for the claustrophobic, but the sweeping views of lush green country and manicured gardens are worth the trip to the top.

Kissing the stone is not for the faint of heart -– you have to dangle yourself over the gaping hole in the castle floor, death-grip the handrails and the man assisting unceremoniously grabs two fist-fulls of your clothes and shoves you close enough to kiss the stone. A second later you’re hauled upright and sent on your way.

Tell me, would YOU have kissed the stone? Or do you now think my lips are now tainted for a lifetime. Leave a comment and let me know.

 

June 20 2010

Postcards from Anglesey

I absolutely loved my time on the Welsh island of Anglesey.  It’s rather remote, though certainly not hard to get to if you are in the area [I have yet to meet another person who has been to this part of Wales who isn’t from the UK].  It’s also breathtakingly beautiful in a rugged, historical sort of way.  This part of Wales, North Wales to be exact, was known as Mam Cymru (‘Mother of Wales’) during the middle ages because its fertile fields formed the breadbasket for the north of Wales.

The name Anglesey is thought to have come from a Viking place name. Anglesey is probably derived from “Ongl’s ey”, Ongl’s island. Who Ongl was, I have no idea.

Today it has several thriving towns.  The historic town of Beaumaris is the site of one of the castles built by Edward I after his defeat of the Welsh princes.

The town of Holyhead serves as a ferry port for travel across the Irish Sea to Dublin and Llangefni, in the center of the island, is the county town.

 

Anglesey also has the village with the longest place name in Britain:  Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch .  The name, when translated into English, means “The church of St. Mary in a hollow of white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and near St. Tysilio’s church by the red cave”. The name was actually coined in the nineteenth century to attract tourists to the Island. It is abbreviated to Llanfairpwll or Llanfair P.G. by the locals.

I did make it to the town with the world’s longest name whilst wandering about Wales. Thankfully they just call it Llanfair. This one tells you what it means…
This one tell you how to pronounce it… Not that it helps too much.

Anglesey also has a few windmills which reminds me a little Holland than the United Kingdom.  At one time there were 50 or so windmills just on the island; sadly only a few still remain on the island.

Llanddeusant-llynon windmill, Anglesey, Wales

My favorite is the rugged coast of the Irish Sea…

The White Arch and the Irish Sea

 

Baby seal

 

June 13 2010

Wandering about Holyhead

Ahhhh, Holyhead… One of those places where you truly feel like you are at the edge of the world.

Holyhead, located on the Island of Anglesey and Irish Sea, is the jumping off point for Ireland and for nearly 4000 years people have been making the journey from the Welsh outpost to Ireland and vice-versa.  The town is the largest town on the Isle of Anglesey with a population of around 11,000.  It’s a mere hour from Bewts-y-Coed that I featured previously in my post about Snowdonia.  Holyhead is a cute little town located on the Irish sea.  It has been continuously occupied for over 1000 years.  The town center is built around St. Cybi’s Church, which is built inside one of Europe’s few three-walled Roman forts (the fourth wall being the sea, which used to come up to the fort).  There are only three remaining three walled cities in all of Europe.

The church of St. Cybi was sacked by the Vikings in the 10th century, damaged by Henry IV’s army in the 15th century in an assault on the holdings of a Welsh prince and much of the interior destroyed by Cromwell’s army in the 17th century. Despite this, most of the church remain intact.

If you’ve ever been to or seen the Cliff of Moher in Ireland, then you might have an idea of what Holyhead Mountain is.  It is not, as I originally thought, a mountain with subtle gains of elevation.  It is, however, a giant rock formation surround by water.

 

If rock climbing is your groove, this is the place for you.  We all know that that would be an excellent way for me to injure myself, but I do think it’s an awesome sport.

 

On the island where the lighthouse is located… you can see a few of the 400 steps that lead to it
The beautiful and wild Irish Sea at the edge of the world… 
Rocks delicately balancing on each other in the shape of a person… I cannot claim this; it was already there when I made my way down to the oh-so rocky beach.
June 6 2010

All aboard for Aberystwyth

Do you ever feel like you need to get away from it all?  As an introvert, cities easily overwhelm me and while I am a fan of London, think Cardiff is cool, and loved Liverpool, Aberystwyth was like a breath of fresh air.  Just over an hour’s train ride from Swansea, Aber [as the  locals call it; Aberystwyth is just too hard to pronouce]  is a haven for Welsh speakers [of which I am not], mountain bikers [I did my fair share of mountain biking although no mountains were actually biked], and trail walkers [trails were most definitely walked]. Much of the beauty of Aberystwyth lies in its isolation.  Swansea is 70 miles away; Shrewsbury is 75 miles away.  Cardiff is over 100 miles away and London is more than 200 miles away.

So what is there to do in this historic outpost in middle Wales, you may ask?  Allow me to show you…

Aber has a pretty nifty castle.  I think I could see a hundred castles, and still be amazed by the architecture and craftsmanship that went into building said castle.

The stone work is simply amazing
A castle with an ocean view? Yes, please. I am going to pretend that this in my ancestral home as I am am about a quarter Welsh.
Also I love the blue-gray color of the stone used here

Aberystwyth is located on the Atlantic Ocean in the Ceredigion region of Wales, and has an approximate population of 15,000 people.

The same Atlantic Ocean I see back home
 There is something about a small city on the ocean with mountains in the background that will always make  me happy.

Perhaps you are a train nerd, or just want to imagine you are on your way to Hogwarts.  Aberystwyth has something for you as well. [Fun fact:  I actually, at one time, had a hardback, UK printed, first edition copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone because I went to a book store to pick up something to read between Stafford and Edinburgh.  Oh how I wish I had that book now].  It’s a steam engine train that runs from Aber to Devils Bridge, a distance of 12 miles on a narrow gauge track [see, train nerds?].

More into hiking or biking than trains?  That is quite OK, me too, Aber has you covered on that front too.  Just past the borders of the town lie the Cambrian  Mountains, and probably hundreds of different hiking trails, biking paths, sheep roads? that you could take to truly make the hike [bike?] trek your own.  Also, not coincidentally I think, cardigans got there start nearby.

Hiking through the Cambrian Mountains
The Cambrians in all their glory
Think of the sweaters that could come from these guys
Other than cats, this is problaby my favorite animal…. He just looks so sweet and cuddly [I know that he’s not, and those horns aren’t just decoration,  but look at him… I want to take him home with me]