European Adventure 2019, Leg 4: Ireland, Part 1

Leg 4, Day 1: Cork
June 22nd, 2019

I know I have said on many other days in these writings that we needed to be up early, but no other day except this one did we need to be up as early as 5 a.m.

With that in mind, it really did not help when the fire alarms in our Edinburgh hostel started blaring at 3 in the morning.

The four of us in the room jolted awake, and as we were on the top floor there was a light haze of smoke in our room. I will be the first to admit that in the situation, Danielle and I were not models of how to act. Our room had easy window access to the rooftop, and I threw it open and looked outside. Immediately, I knew something about this was not a regular fire. I saw no flames at all anywhere, and the only smoke was coming out of a chimney, though it was especially thick and black.

One of our roommates, who as far as I could tell was German military there with his significant other, started yelling at us to leave and go to the exit as fast as possible. He was right of course, but Danielle and I still frantically took the extra seconds to dig out our IDs, passports, and phones. Even with risk of a building fire I did not want to be stuck in a foreign country with no identification.

We never made it outside, when we were in a mass group in the lobby they told us it was a false alarm and to go back to our rooms. Apparently someone had set off fireworks or something in the fireplace. When we returned to our room, we were scolded by German military man for acting irresponsibly, but even without that, all hope of sleeping in the next hour and a half was gone.

Anyway, we upset their sleep even further by gathering our things and leaving less than two hours later. We filled up the gas in our rental and were on the way to the airport.

By the time we were at the gate waiting for our plane, the chaos that morning was pretty much at the back of our minds, and we were much more excited about the adventure ahead. Going from a small airport to another small airport, it is in retrospect no surprise that this was both the first time I had ever been in a propeller passenger plane and had an outside entrance onto the plane. Even with the slow speed of a prop plane, the flight to Cork airport was only about an hour and a half. The most notable part of the flight was observing all of the windmills in Scotland. Scotland, if I remember correctly, harnesses over 50% of their energy from wind power and I think that should be an example for all developed countries.

Renting our car in the Cork airport, we learned that it would be an extra charge to register two drivers, so Danielle again offered to be the sole driver during our time in Ireland. I felt bad, but realistically it was the only option. Keep in mind for future context that she drove on the left side of the road masterfully, especially accounting for some of the difficult roads and conditions we found ourselves in later.

For all of the romanticizing of Ireland we have done, the first thing we did after leaving the rental lot was drive to the underside parking of a grocery store to do our laundry at a public-access machine. We had a lot of it to do, and a bit of food shopping to do, so it was a convenient and productive few hours for us, it is just amusing to me that it demystified the experience for us slightly.

Some time in the afternoon, we eventually made our way to our AirBnB. Some sort of street fair was occurring in the area, so parking was once again a bit difficult. Similar to bathrooms, long-term parking is a major factor to keep in mind when visiting Europe.

Cork was our first destination because during college Danielle spent a semester studying abroad at University College Cork, which is the primary source of her firsthand love for the country. We knew we were only there for one night, and as tired as we were, we would have been remiss to not walk around the city. We had plenty of time for her to show me her favorite sights, the downtown area, and the college. I loved watching her reminisce about the quad, the buildings, and the routes she would take to return to her house. I knew exactly how she was feeling being there, as if I were visiting an old friend’s house that I had been to dozens of times as a child.

We finished our impromptu walking tour at Franciscan Well, a pub that you would not be able to find unless you knew where it was, but of course all of the locals did. Danielle had been there countless times during her semester, and most surprising of all was their diverse and high-quality pizza.

We went to one or two other bars after that before returning to where we were staying. I am by no means a bar fly, but I appreciated the togetherness that a small space with live music and happy people created.

Leg 4, Day 2: Journey to Killarney
June 23rd, 2019

This was probably my least favorite day of the entire trip. We started by having a full Irish breakfast in a hole-in-the-wall restaurant that looked like it was run by a father and daughter team. As someone who cannot get enough of sausage and potatoes, that was easily the best part of the entire day. We drove around a significant portion of southwestern Ireland, and I was anticipating a gorgeous day with amazing landscapes, but our streak of luck with perfect weather ended, and it was rainy and foggy all day. We stopped at a few places like a rocky oceanside beach, an old monastery, and several seaside towns to salvage the day, but the inclemency prevented us from having the experience I wanted. The various detours we took to try and dodge the weather delayed us arriving at our hostel in Killarney by a few hours. By the time we arrived, we did not really have the energy to soak in the city, so we settled into the room where we would stay for the next three nights. In my opinion Black Sheep Hostel in Killarney is far superior to Castle Rock Hostel in Edinburgh, but it is probably not a fair comparison considering this one was not even a third of the size of the other.

Leg 4, Day 3: Killarney National Park
June 24th, 2019

In contrast to the previous day, this ranked in my top five favorite days of the entire trip.

A lot of my favorite days on this trip had to do with the food we ate, but I honestly have no memory of eating anything the entire day.

Killarney National Park lies right next to the city, and it was only a block or two from our hostel. To be honest, the paths themselves were pretty similar to a state park back home in Minnesota, the only real difference being a gorgeous green mountain in the backdrop. Not to say it wasn’t beautiful, and it was enough to feel like I was somewhere new. We walked for quite a long time, and as Ross Castle came into view it certainly became much less Minnesotan. 

We walked around it for a little bit, but there did not seem to be much to do except for some boat tours on Lough Leane. Danielle suggested we take the smaller one that ferried people to a nearby island. I was apprehensive but it turned out to be the correct choice. On this beautiful verdant island in the middle of the lake is an abbey that was inhabited for hundreds of years, stone arches and foundations still defying the weather. In my opinion, visiting an area is not about the grand landmarks as finding the hideaway locations and less-traveled areas, and I had found one of my favorites yet.

There were horse-drawn buggies taking us back to our starting point, but we opted to walk. Despite the length, it was still early enough in the day that we decided to take the car to a waterfall on the other side of the park, then travel a bit farther out of the city to the Gap of Dunloe.

We parked our car and set out for even more walking. In terms of walking distance, we almost certainly covered more this day than any other.

The idyllic image of Ireland I had in my mind, rolling green hills, small but dominant mountains, rocky lakes, and grazing sheep, was brought forth into reality in the Gap of Dunloe. I find it hard to have cathartic release, but nature always seems to provide it for me. I never wanted to stop being there.

Leg 4, Day 4: Ring of Kerry
June 25th, 2019

Due to the foul weather two days prior, we were not able to see very much of the coast, which is a must if you are to ever visit. The weather was spotty the entire day, but it was nice when it needed to be and miserable when it was convenient to be.

Today we more or less followed the Ring of Kerry, which is a seaside route that circuits pretty much all the way through the Iveragh Peninsula on the southwestern portion of Ireland. It was a long drive, but the mountain and ocean views made it seem like no time at all. We did not make very many stops, but a couple that we did take were quite notable.

The first was O’Neills The Point Seafood Bar on the northern side of the peninsula. I love seafood more than Danielle probably ever will, and to my grateful surprise there was a dish that offered small portions of their major dishes. This was easily the best food on the entire trip.

The second was the reason that I initially agreed to come to Ireland in the first place.

Our main stop was the eponymous Cliffs of Kerry, approximately halfway through the drive. The whole area was a bit more touristy than I was anticipating, but I was happy to pay the entrance fee and there were not really that many people. It was a long, beautiful walk from the parking lot, and private farms lined either side of the path to the top of the cliffs. Finally, the Atlantic laid before us as the bottom of a great height, and far off in the distance the island used for filming many scenes from the Star Wars sequels could be seen. 

I cannot decide the most breathtaking part of the cliffs. It could have been the sheer height, I have never been especially prone to vertigo but I would not recommend this place to anyone that does. It could have been the irregular shapes of the juts and inlets into the surrounding water, which made me think that if I were to fall I would never be found.. It could have been the identifiable Irish green color that coated the rock face.

None of those things were my reason for being there. I picked the most secluded area on the cliffside for us to go to, while still of course staying within the confines of the tourist area. I waited for her to be distracted, then I held out a ring, called out to Danielle, and right there on the Cliffs of Kerry on the southwestern edge of her favorite place in the world, I asked for her to marry me.

I had managed to hold in my excitement thus far on the trip, although it was certainly much harder that day. I knew that I was going to do this ever since she suggested the trip, and I could not have asked for a better opportunity. A major facet of our relationship has been adventures we’ve taken and experiences we’ve shared, and I could not think of a greater adventure to undertake with her.

It was a mountainous, winding, and occasionally rainy drive back to Killarney, both of us high on the events of the day.

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