A Travellerspoint blog

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Left! Left! Left!

With a travel bag full of clothes (but trying to remain under the Ryanair limit of 15 kg...) to fit any type of weather, especially the rainy kind, I arrive in Dublin aiport. Ten days of travel adventure are waiting for me and then my dear friend Ale comes walking down the terminal. She flew in from Italy, and we’re ready to start our Irish roadtrip together. We try to arrange a trip together every year, mostly a citytrip, but this time we managed to arrange a longer Irish roadtrip together, exploring the southern part of the island.

First job is picking up our rental car. We ignore the multinational Hertz and Avis desks and go for Dooley, a proper Irish family business. At least, we hope it’s a proper business, because car rental is expensive and tricky in Ireland. But we did our research well and have no unpleasant surprises with extra fees. A shuttle bus takes us to the parking lot where a white Skoda Fabia is ready for us. All I have to do now is get behind the wheel on the right side of the car and drive left. Left left left.

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Our gps guides us away from the airport and soon we’re on the motorway to Enniskerry, a small town just outside the Wicklow Mountains, where our first B&B is. Driving on the highway I notice a message on the dashboard saying there’s loss of pressure in one of the tires. Nice ... And we manage to take the wrong motor way exit and drive around in circles for a while – lots of roundabouts – before we make it to Enniskerry. Basically, it’s a main street and we also discover that the B&B’s don’t have an address with a street name. We just have to look out for the signs in the village and luckily we spot directions to Coolakey House. About 4 kms outside the village, amidst the fields and winding roads we find our first B&B. It’s a working farm and we receive a warm welcome from host Yvonne and - we’re guessing - one of her daughters. They bring us tea and biscuits and it’s good to sit down and unwind.

Sunday dinner at the pub

We get a very girly pink room, overlooking the glowing fields with the sheep and the Wicklow Mountains in the backdrop. To add to the Irish clichés: reading the B&B information map we learn that the local taxi service is povided by either Paddy, Paul, Jeff or Kevin ☺ The sun comes out and we have a look around the farmhouse, meeting 3 ponies in the paddock. For dinner we head back into town and take our chances in the Old Forge Inn. Live music meets our ears and the place is packed with mainly locals coming here for Sunday dinner. A waitress points us to a place in the back, she’s really rushed but then sits down with us to tell her in her juicy Irish accent what’s on offer. We order fish n chips, a Guiness (Ale) and a coke (me), sit back and relax, taking the Irish atmosphere in. Dinner is really good and afterwards we enjoy our little stroll through the village with some small shops that seem to have been here for decades. Yes, we’ve arrived and are ready to start the road trip!!

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Posted by Petravs 11:23 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

Kevin talked to the birds

The day starts with grey skies. Yvonne greets us at breakfast. It seems part of her daily routine to have a chat with everyone, apologise for the Irish weather and hear what everyone is up to today. We ask her where we can stop to have our tires checked.

“Oh, drive back into the village, you’ll find a petrol station there, ask one of the lads.”

As we say goodbye we get a big hug and two kisses from Yvonne, wishing us a good journey. Such a friendly lady! And so we hit the road after breakfast, first mission is to find the petrol station. Luckily ‘one of the lads’ indeed helps us to check the tire pressure, but the sign on the dashboard doesn’t go away. We continue our drive anyway and hope for the best!

Powerscourt Estate

First stop is Powerscourt Estate, a Palladian mansion with gardens. The house was built between 1731 and 1743, but burned down in 1974. They restored the house, but turned it into a shopping parlour. The gardens are well worth a visit though. From the terrace we see a magnificent blend of landscaped gardens, sweeping terraces, ornamental lakes, secret hollows, rambling walks, all beneath the stunning backdrop of the Great Sugarloaf Mountain. Walking through the 20-hectare gardens under a blue sky is a real treat. There’s even a pet cemetary with gravestones for Black Beauty, for the cows Eugenie & Princess, the Irish Terriers Jyp & Tim, Jack the Cocker Spaniel, ... it’s a peaceful spot and you can tell the pets burried here once were a real part of the families who lived on the estate.

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Military Road: picknick by the river

We hit the road again, buying a little picknick lunch as we go for the drive on Military Road, passing the Sally Gap. The Military Road runs north-south across the spine of the Wicklow Mountains. It was constructed between 1800 and 1809, in the wake of the 1798 rebellion, to open up the mountains to the British Army to assist them in putting down insurgents who were hiding there. It’s a treat to drive through this rugged landscape and we enjoy lunch by the river Liffey. In fact, it’s more of a stream than a river at this point, but beautiful spot to sit down, listen to the silence. Just some sheep around on the hill sides and a few hikers.

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Glendalough: where Kevin talked to the birds

The Military road brings us all the way to Glendalough (“Valley of the two lakes”) and unfortunately we’re not the only ones stopping here. The parking lot is packed and we manage to squeeze our car in somewehere. What is all the fuss about? Well, Glendalough is an ancient monastic site, ruins and gravestones dotted everywhere. Way way back in time, AD 498, a young monk named Kevin (timeless name!) arrived in the valley looking for a spot to kick back, meditate and be at one with nature. He would hate the big crowds today, but I can imagine it was a really quiet place in his days. And once you leave the main walking path and have the crowds spread out, even we can feel the quietness and admire the beauty. Our Kevin slept on stones, wore animal skins and talked to the birds, and soon that lifestyle attracted some disciples. So Glendalough grew into a proper settlement and we see remains of the buildings, church and the round tower. There’s a big grave yard with old and recent tomb stones. What a place to be buried, here in this scenery. The tourists don’t seem to be looking for some peace and quiet today. Some even sit on the tombstones. A selfie for the homefront

“look, this is me sitting on a tombstone in Ireland, amazing!”

. We follow a boardwalk to the Upper Lake and on the way I come to think I could just as well be walking somewhere in Canada or New Zealand. We sit by the lake for a little while, there’s an Irish family with 6 (!) kids doing the same, and we marvel at the view. According to legend our monk Kevin lived until the age of 120. I have my doubts about it, but we walk up the hill to see St. Kevin’s Cell, the remains of the beehive hut where he is said to have lived. Even with my imagination I cannot with the best will of the world see remains, but hey, we get an idea of the place. On the way there’s a family with 3 kids rushing around. The mum is really stressed about the fact that they haven’t seen all sights yet and have to get moving.

“But we still have to go see that Kevin thing!”

she exclamates referring to St. Kevin’s Cell. The peace and quiet of Kevin the monk hasn’t found her yet.

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Elizabeth the teacher

We leave Kevin behind as we have a last drive of the day ahead to reach our B&B just outside Thomastown. Just after 6 pm we arrive at Kilbawn House, beautifully situated in the green countryside. We arrive over a picture postcard driving lane. Host Elizabeth welcomes us and promptly arranges us a table at a nice restaurant in town, including extensive guidelines on how to drive into town and where to park. She lends us brochures and maps to ‘study’ so we can ask her all our questions in the morning and we order our breakfast pancakes ahead. We joke about the homework she’s giving us and I ask her if we’ll have to do an exam at breakfast. She really is quite strict! Even asks us not to place our suitcase on the bed covers. I wonder if she is a retired teacher. One thing though: she sends us to an excellent restaurant. We enjoy some wine and a delicious pasta dinner with dessert to finish.

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Posted by Petravs 11:26 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

"I thought I would never see my family again!"

There’s no way for us to leave Kilbawn House anytime soon. Elizabeth serves us delicious maple sirup pancakes and we learn that she’s not a retired teacher but owned a pub for nearly 30 years and then opened the B&B 10 years ago. We have our lonely planets and brochures with us at the breakfast table and she urges us not to do “homework while eating breakfast” ☺ She won’t let us leave before going into the sitting room where she has maps spread out over the table, asking us about our plans for the next days. She doesn’t seem to agree with many of our ideas.

“Cork? Why on earth would you go to Cork? You won’t like it, believe me.” “Now, today, you first go to Jerpoint Abbey, there I want you to buy a heritage pass, ….” “The Ring of Kerry, you’re planning to drive around the Ring of Kerry yourself? Oh no, it’s terrifying! I was there 20 years ago and I thought I would never see my family again!! Whatever you do, don’t drive it clockwise, you’ll come across the tour busses, believe me you don’t want that on those narrow bendy roads at the drop of a cliff!!”

Well, Elizabeth sure knows how to make us enthousiastic about our following days. She’s not so much giving us tips on what to do, but on what NOT to do if we want to come out of our roadtrip alive. We leave the house somehow hoping that we’re not spending our last days and that we will see our family again ☺

Jerpoint Abbey & Kilkenny

First stop close to Thomastown is Jerpoint Abbey, or what remains of it. But there’s not that much explanation on site and under the grey morning sky we’re just not tempted to stay around too long. Elizabeth would no doubt find us bad students, but we continue to the city of Kilkenny. Traffic is very busy and it’s not easy to find a parking space. According to the travel books Kilkenny has all it takes to be ‘Ireland’s best city’ with the medieval historical centre of winding streets, notable buildings, and a rich heritage of arts and culture. I’m just finding it hard to adjust to the crowds and busy traffic again. It’s a lively place, but somehow I don’t feel the click. We visit Kilkenny Castle with the impressive Long Gallery, which showcases portraits of the Butler family members over the centuries. After lunch and a stroll through town we head towards Cashel.

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Rock of Cashel: the lady with the sixpack

Our B&B is called Tir na Nog but our hosts don’t seem to be home (or they are hiding). There’s an Italian family waiting in the garden as we arrive and they first think we are the owners, shaking hands with us ☺ So we just leave a note telling the family we will check in in the evening after our visit to the Rock of Cashel. Now, the Rock is a must-see. You can’t miss it, towering high above the little town of Cashel. The Rock is in fact a prominent green hill, banded with limestone outcrops. It rises from a grassy plain on the edge of town and the site has a round tower, a Gothic cathedral and a Romanesque chapel on offer. We tag along with guide Peter who entertains and informs us with his funny Irish accent. He stands still next to a big rock stone and says: “I’ve seen people kissing and hugging this rock, but I can tell you, this is not the rock of Cashel. You are standing on it. All this is in fact the Rock of Cashel.” Inside the building where once the choir of the church housed, there’s a Flemish tapestry and Peter gives us a funny detail. Apparently the tapestry weavers used to leave their mark by adding a mistake in the scene. “In this case you can see the artist gave one of the ladies a nice sixpack stomach,” Peter points out. And indeed, we see a graceful lady with a very masculine breast. Thinking of people from the Middle Ages I never considered them as people with humour, just like we have today, but these tapestry artists were not so bad ☺ A short stroll from the Rock of Cashel are the ruins of Hore Abbey, amidst the cows. They just continue grazing while we walk over the paddock and see the abandoned ruins. No one else around. The place offers great views on the Rock of Cashel as well, and I can imagine local youngsters coming here to scare eachother with ghost stories in this strange deserted place.

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Finding a place for dinner turns out to be a difficult task. After the Rock of Cashel closes for tourists in the evening, the market town is totally deserted. We enter a pub, but they don’t serve food in the evening (who would want to eat in the evening, right?). The only place we find is a restaurant that’s part of a hotel and it’s actually quite good. As we sit there, more people come in and soon the place is packed. We have to wait ages to get the bill and eventually arrive at the B&B for check-in after 8.30 p.m. The teenage son opens the door and we can tell he is used to welcoming the guests every now and then. He shows us our room and offers us tea or coffee which he serves a bit shaky on a tray complete with biscuits in the sitting room. Eastenders is on the telly and he leaves us to enjoy our mega cup of coffee. We find it a very amusing scene to find ourselves sitting here in an Irish family room, complete with a doll collection, so we take a photo with the selftimer of my camera to capture the moment.

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Then ‘dad’ walks in, apologizing a thousand times that he wasn’t there when we rang the doorbell earlier in the afternoon. “I was catching up on some sleep, due to my job, I didn’t hear you.” Then our host overloads us with tips on what to see and do, he folds out a map and shows us a scenic route. This man is truly in love with his country, telling us about the beauty of it. He grew up on a farm and has never been to Belgium or Ireland, but he has been to Vietnam. And oh, Petra, what a lovely name, he used to have a friend named Petra (not exactly your typical Irish name though) at college. It’s a flood of words and questions and answers, but what a lovely way to be welcomed.

Posted by Petravs 11:30 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

"The land of eternal youth" (Tir na Nog)

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In the morning we learn that our host is called Tom, nickname ‘Tommy”, also his wife tells us “My Tommy is a countryboy!”. Joan welcomes us in a loud but very warm way while she’s cooking breakfast in the kitchen “How are you doing, girls?”. I like the fact that she keeps the kitchen door open and just continues talking to her guests. And we learn she’s nervous today as her son is getting his exam results today. “I don’t know who’s more nervous, me or him!” she shouts from the kitchen. Then she turns the sound of the radio up

“Oh, this is the song I always dance to with the kids!!”

. We just sit there and smile, enjoying our Irish morning. Tommy walks in “Are you alright, girls?” (and will only ask us about 10 times more). “You won’t have to leave hungry, there’s plenty more food!” (the fact that we don’t order the Irish breakfast seems to worry them). When we leave after breakfast, it’s like saying goodbye to friends, with a hug and even a ‘tot ziens’ and ‘arrividerci’. We learn that Tir na Nog means ‘the land where you never grow old’ and we like this B&B even more.

Cahir – walk by the river

Under a glorious blue sky we leave the land of eternal youth on our way to Cahir, a compact town - with ofcourse a castle - by the river Suir (complete with swans). Cahir Castle was founded in 1142 and we enjoy some time just wandering through another survivor of Ireland’s medieval past, avoiding the big American tour group on site. We follow Tom’s advice and start a walk along the river Suir, leading up to the Swiss cottage (ornamental cottage), built in 1810 for lord and lady Butler (Richard and Emily) to entertain their guest on sunny summer days. They liked to dress up as peasants (what else to do when you’ve got plenty of money and time?) and make their own version of rural live in this peculiar house with spiral staircase and elegantly decorated rooms. Next to the house there’s a tree who’s said to be a 1000 years old and you wonder what happened all those bygone ages right around this giant. Did Richard and Emily Butler stand underneath his branches in their peasant clothes? You can only visit the house with a guide, and I’m glad we took our time to go inside and hear the story about the house and its inhabitants. Well, our Richard and Emily never actually spent a night here, they’d just come out here for an afternoon or so, bringing a whole household of servants who were confined to the spaces below the house, carved out in the rocky underground. The house was left abandoned and vandalized eventually, but was restored in a beautiful way and walking through the rooms with all the peculiar details, we immerse ourselves in the history of it.

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After the visit we walk back to the village center, meeting lots of walking and jogging locals on the way, all saying a friendly hello, even when running and being out of breath. In a village shop I see a coffee cup with a beautiful drawing of the Tir na Nog legend. I’m not much of a souvenir buyer, but I can’t resist this cup as I know it will remind me of this beautiful day every time I drink from it. We go for another pick nick lunch, this time around the castle walls, and then we’re up for a scenic drive all the way to Cobh, a town by the sea.

Cobh - Irish palm trees

Our gps has a way of leading us down very local roads where frankly I’m glad not to meet too many cars coming from the other direction, but it’s a beautiful way to travel. We leave Cork for what it is – Elizabeth would nod with approval – and arrive in Cobh after a good drive. We see palm trees, houses by the sea, boats, … and instantly feel a summer vibe. Is this Ireland? Talking about boats, there’s a giant cruise ship spoiling the view. And apparantly Cobh is Titanic-city complete with a visitor centre. How reassuring for the cruise guests to be reminded of that drama. We prefer to wander through the streets, climb up to the cathedral above the town and then enjoy a cold drink on a bench by the water doing some people watching.

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Kinsale - Italian evening in La Cantinetta

Our final destination of the day is Kinsale, another town by the water, and the start of the real Wild Atlantic Way, a 2500 km long coastal route. Finding the B&B turns out to be a challenge. Like I said, there’s no real addresses, so you depend on descriptions from the B&B websites or road signs. We see the center of Kinsale many times before arriving finally at the right place, on a hillside just above town, at a 10 minute walk from the hustle and bustle. Before heading into town for dinner, we get sad news from Ale’s family: their little dog Pele had to be put to sleep. We already knew in the morning things were going bad, but when the message comes in, it’s very very sad and we shed some tears. It’s already later in the evening when we get into town, have a little stroll and pick out La Cantinetta, an Italian restaurant, for dinner. Travelling with an Italian friend is always a good excuse to pick out an Italian place. The owners are ‘real’ Italians and Ale chats away in a way too fast Italian for me to comprehend ☺ I think they’re happy to get a real Italian customer. We’re seated upstairs and no kidding, they serve one of the best pizzas I’ve ever eaten along with a very tasty red wine. Comfy chairs by the window are an excellent place to sit after dinner and think over the past day that brought us beautiful places to see and also sad news from Ale’s home front. It’s good to get some fresh air on the short walk back to the house and we decide to take some more time the next morning to explore the town in daylight.

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Posted by Petravs 11:33 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

"Look at that day!"

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This morning our hosts Valerie & Brian are cooking us breakfast. No open kitchen door here, there’s a bell to call out to them, and there’s quiet talking at the surrounding tables, but we enjoy pancakes once more and then walk into town again, happy to see the sun come out. I love the vibe in this little town, there’s something about it. The woman from the flower shop steps out of her door and says “Look at that day!”, admiring the blue sky above us. Now that puts a smile to my face. We almost feel sorry leaving the town later in the morning, but there’s so much more to see and do.

Along the Wild Atlantic Way

There’s a beautiful coastline to explore and we discover Garrettstown Strand, a wide stretch of beach, not busy at all, and go for a morning walk. There’s a group of kids in wetsuits doing some summer surf camp, funny to see even the very little ones with boards.
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And we’re up for more when we arrive at the Old Head of Kinsale with magnificent views over the cliffs. Ale’s fear of heights is not bringing her too close to the edge, but close enough to take the views in. We hadn’t planned any of this, it just came on our way. We continue our drive along the magnificent coastline, have a lunchstop in Clonnakilty, followed by Schull to stretch our legs. We find a rocky ‘beach’ and sit there for a while watching the many sail boats in the bay.

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We move on to the direction of Mizen head, the most western point of Ireland, passing more breathtaking views: golden sand, blue water, green landscape. You’d stop around every corner, but we’d never make it to our next address in time if we did. It’s a long stretch of local road to Mizen head, and to be honest, when we get there it’s a bit disappointing. This piece of scenery is exploited touristically big time. Okay, you get the comfort of paved walking paths, but it takes away what should be rugged beauty and we’re near closing time so we don’t have time to start one of the bigger walks. We could have saved ourselves the drive and stay some time longer on one of the less discovered spots, but there was no way to tell it would be like this.

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Bantry Bay

For our next ‘home’ we’re heading to Bantry bay. I immediately like the place as we arrive. B&B The Mill is situated just outside the town center and as we enter the house our host is talking to other guests in a very ‘Holland’ English. So when she comes up to us I greet her in Dutch, so she continues in a mix of Dutch and Holland English (for Ale), being very enthousiastic. Oh, how she loved that Belgian tv – program, what was it called… with strange people, … yes ‘Jambers’! (it was on about 25 years ago ☺). Our host’s name is Tosca, not your every day name, and she shows us around and gives tips for restaurants. We get another really girly room with flowery curtains and two little beds, we feel like two teenagers, especially as everyone keeps calling us ‘girls’ ☺

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As we head into town the sky colours red and the water has retreated from the Bay. Looking outside the window of one of the restaurants, a man assures us that we won’t regret chosing this one, and luckily he turns out to be right. It’s a simple place, apparently run by a mum and her daughters, and we enjoy a fresh catch of the day. After dinner we see the lights of a boat in the Bay, stranded on the sand until the water will flow back in. Back at the B&B we make ourselves a hot chocolate in the guest kitchen and ‘admire’ the collection of cat art and chicken paintings. I’m trying to keep up with my travel notebook and write a postcard to my gran and little nieces Roos & Loes. Another great day on the road has come to an end …

Posted by Petravs 11:36 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

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