Monday, July 13, 2015

The final stage of our vacation

Today is Monday and we are on our way home. We were in Dublin for the last three days. We had a nice hotel in Parnell Square, a not so nice area. We were two blocks from O’Connell Street, which is a major pedestrian area. But as soon as you left the pedestrian area, the street became pretty dodgy. Lots of closed and shuttered shops and lots of garbage. We arrived in the evening and this was our first impression of Dublin and it was not very positive. On our first full day we did some more exploring. The pedestrian sections we visited were very busy.  The highlight of the day for me was a visit to the Guinness Storehouse. Our impression of the city improved.

Our second day, we ventured across river for more exploring. We had lunch at the Temple Bar in the Temple Bar district. This is the center of the ‘tourist’ pub area. It was nowhere near as authentic as the pub we visited in Ballyvaughn, but there was beer, food and ‘trad’ music. We did a tour of Trinity College and saw the Book of Kells and the Old Library. The Book of Kells is described as Ireland’s greatest treasure. It is an illuminated manuscript of the gospels created by monks in the 800’s. Illuminated means that the monks added art to enhance the text. It was an interesting display and the book is quite remarkable.

So we will be touching down in St John’s in about 30 minutes. Our vacation has been composed of very different components. The cycling tour in Germany was a lot of fun. It was slow-paced and relaxing. The scenery was beautiful. We left Germany at the beginning of a heat wave and the cool wet weather of Ireland came as a relief. We probably tried to pack too much into our Irish vacation with too much time in the car travelling between sites. We were often exhausted at the end of a day. If we were to visit Ireland again, I think we would concentrate on the south and west.

The last day with the car

Friday is our last day with the car. We drove down to Dublin to drop off the car and to spend a few days in Dublin. We were not sad to leave our B&B behind but we had the feeling that our holiday is drawing to an end. On the way, we stopped at another Game of Thrones site. This one is called the Dark Hedges. These 300+ year old beech trees that were planted by the Stuart family to provide an impressive avenue to their Georgian estate, Gracehill house in the 1700’s.

Over the years the branches have intertwined producing an almost mystical effect. 

A day on the Antrim Coast

We stayed in Portrush in Antrim County on the north coast. It is a sort of tired resort town with a large beach, gambling and a small amusement part. We booked all our accommodations on-line before the trip. For the most part, the accommodations were good. The exception was our room in Portrush. Let’s just say that the pictures on-line did not represent the state of the B&B. The room was clean, but in poor repair. Not very pleasant.

For our full day in Antrim, we decided to drive down the coast. There is a beautiful links style golf course at the edge of town. Green fees on the weekends are 175 pounds ($350) and given the Irish weather, you are almost guaranteed to be raining on.

Just down the coast and on the edge of cliff are the ruins of Dunluce castle. The castle fell into ruin after the kitchen collapsed and literally fell into the sea. As the story goes 7 servants and the evening meal were lost.

Sometimes the most enjoyable parts of a holiday are the parts that are not planned. We stopped into a tiny village called Ballintoy Harbour. The road was too narrow for buses, so it was uncrowded and very beautiful. The little stone building is a cafĂ© called Roak’s Kitchen where we had a delicious lunch. Apparently several scenes from the Game of Thrones were filmed in the harbour.

Our main objective for the day was the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. This is a 20 meter rope bridge to an island some 30 meters above the water. The original bridge was built and used by local salmon fishermen. Today it is a tourist attraction run by the National Trust.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

From Trim to the Antrim Coast and the Giant's Causeway

The next phase of our trip was to travel north to the Antrim coast of Northern Ireland. Time to put away the Euros and bring out the pounds. Before we left Trim, Cathy wanted to explore a wool shop and I wanted to explore Trim Castle.

Trim Castle is the largest Norman castle in Ireland. It was built between 1173 and 1224 by Hugh de Lacy.

From Trim we traveled north to Antrim and the Giant's Causeway. The Giant's causeway is a unique area of 40,000 interlocking basalt columns that are the result of an ancient volcanic eruption. But like many things in Ireland, legends are part of the story. In this case, it is stories of the Giant Finn McCool who built this causeway to Scotland,

Cathy is sitting on Finn MCCool's boot.

This is us in front of a formation called the pipe organ.

The stacks in the distance is where Finn lived.

Some steps were involved in the visit.

A visit to the Neolithic Passage Tombs at Newgrange

We left County Clare and headed back across Ireland to Trim, just north of Dublin. We decided to visit the Neolithic passage tombs at Newgrange and Knowth. We were lucky to arrive in time to visit both sites. Buses take you from the visitors centre to each site as independent tours. We visited the Knowth site first. There is one very large tomb and several smaller ones are Knowth.

This is the large tomb with a smaller one in front.

Here is a different small one.

These structures contain inner passageways that lead to central chambers. There are two passageways in the large tomb leading to different chambers. The amazing thing is that these structures are 5000 years old, pre-dating the pyramids. The Irish guide was proud to note that they also pre-date Stonehenge in England by 1000 years. These sites contain about 3/4 of all the Neolithic art in Europe and most of it is at Knowth. The passageways are closed to the public to protect the art, which is etchings on rock.

The site at Newgrange is the most famous. After its use some 5000 years ago it was sealed until the passages and chamber were rediscovered in 1699. Much of the material inside Newgrange has been lost. In the 1970s, there was an attempt to rebuilt the dry stone rock walls in a way that they might have looked 5000 years ago.

This is the entrance to the passageway. There is only one passageway that has been discovered at Newgrange. The passageway is 60 feet long and leads to a large chamber that has a high vaulted ceiling, The chamber is 20 feet high at its central point. The guide pointed out that we were standing under one of the oldest human-built roofs in the world and after 5000 years, it still does not leak! There are three smaller chambers off the main chamber each with a large flat basin stone where the bones of the dead were laid. Newgrange is referred to as a passage tomb, but perhaps temple is a better description. The passageway is aligned with the rising sun on the winter solstice so that as the sun rises, the light gradually moves down the passageway until it reaches chamber. This must have been a place of spiritual and religious significance.

Note the opening above the door. This 'roof-box' is where the sun shines in illuminating the central chamber during the winter solstice.

Also notice the designs on the rock. These designs were created 5000 years ago. The interconnected spirals are amazingly complex.

This is the view looking in from the door. We were permitted to enter the tomb and go to the central chamber but we were not permitted to take pictures inside. This is a special place and standing in the central chamber I felt the same kind of awe that I felt a few years ago when we visited St Paul's cathedral in London.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

We stayed in the village of Ballyvaughn in County Clare for two nights. County Clare is on the west coast of Ireland. Monday was our touring day. We started with a drive through an area called the Burren. This a strange landscape of exposed limestone that covers about 300 sq km.
While there is little but rock on the Burren, there are an amazing array of tiny flowering plants especially in the spring.
Surprisingly, despite the apparent barrenness,  this area supported large numbers of people in ancient times. There are many historic sites. We stopped to explore the Poulnabrone Dolmen on our way. This is an 4500-year old neolithic tomb.

Besides the Burren, the cliffs of Moher were the other site we were particularly interested in seeing. We did a boat ride and then visited the top of the cliffs.These cliffs are among the highest sea cliffs in Europe and reach a height of 710ft.

Notice O'Brien's tower on top of the cliff. We took a picture of it when we did our walk on the trail at the top of the cliffs.
 This sea stack is home to one of the largest sea bird colonies in Ireland.
 Here is O'Brien's column from on top of the cliff

You can O'Brien's in this picture. It gives some prospective to the height of the cliff.

Kilkenny to Clare County

Our car is a little diesel Renault. It is well suited for the narrow twisty roads we have encountered.
We are using a combination of a GPS and road atlas to navigate. Sometimes the GPS decides to take the most direct route which may involve narrow, unnamed roads with ridiculously high posted speed limits. This is an example of a 100 km/hr road. I typically travel at about 65 km, much to the frustration of those behind.

On Saturday we took a walk around Kilkenny before leaving for County Clare. Here is Kilkenny Castle. As you can see, rain is on its way.

Since we had a long drive, we only did one stop along the way. That was at Dunmore cave for a tour.