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Eire

Limerick, Ireland


So I got into Shannon Airport in Ireland at about 7:30 and had to find a bus to Limerick. I find the Irish bus system very confusing, for future reference. I managed, although I had to actually pull the "I'm not from here and I don't know how things work and I'm just a 20 year old girl please don't be mad" kind of act a few times. Strange that I didn't have to do anything of the sort in Eastern Europe, or Spain, or France, or anywhere else. Nope. Just the place where people actually do speak English.

Anyway, I made it to LImerick. Really though I didn't spend much time in Limerick. I spent a few days there - I explored the campus, met some people, sat in on some classes. We did go to a medieval feast in a castle that H.'s program let me tag along to. We had a tour of the castle and the grounds (which have a village set up in the old-fashioned Irish village way). Then we went into the main hall of the castle, sat on benches at really long tables, and had a medieval feast. The whole thing was structured like an actual meal - the courses and traditions were all the same as hundreds of years ago. The food was delicious, but hard to eat without silverware. And the costumes were horrendous and the performances rather cheesy. But overall it was a lot of fun.

Then we set out for some traveling.

First, H. and I went to the Aran Islands. My impression of that trip is that the Islands tend to be kind of overlooked on the Irish tour scene. But the impression I get, both from the extent of my travels and from H.'s recounting of her classes, is that Ireland is falling victim to commercialization. Pubs are becoming chains, music is going a little more mainstream, and people keep moving to cities. We went to Galway first, which was really nice, and had dinner in a pub with live music, then a ferry to the Islands. It was like landing in a completely different place. The landscape is much more rugged, and everything is older. It's almost untouched by the rest of Ireland. We went to the biggest island, Inis Mor, rented bikes, and rode to all of the sights.

First we went to DĂșn Aonghasa, which is basically a >2000 year old Celtic fort right on the cliffside facing the Atlantic. It was epic. It was a straight shot down to the ocean (and I mean way down) inside this old fort which had pathways and ancient methods of defense. In the middle, right on the edge of the cliff, was a big block of stone which was probably used for ceremonies. Apparently the boundary between land and sea was of huge mythological importance to the ancient tribes there.

From the fort one is SUPPOSED to be able to go to the "Wormhole," which was something H. and I both really wanted to see. But the guy at the bike place told us to just walk straight along the cliffs until we saw it, which would have worked if the cliffs weren't fenced off past the fort. So we walked back down towards the welcome center, trying to figure out how to get to the Wormhole. We considered jumping a gate we passed and just walking, but figured we'd ask at hte welcome center anyway.

At the welcome center, the lady basically told us in a really hushed tone "well, its private property, but no one is ever out there. Just jump the white gate."

So back we went to the gate, and jumped it. This quickly turned into a mile or two hike across cow fields and cross-country along the cliffs. We had to jump a few of the old stone walls Ireland is famous for, by technicality cross a waterfall on the side of the cliff (which was really just a trickle of water onto a ledge, but we enjoyed the literal description) and deal with rocky terrain, bogs, and cow paddies. By the time we were neared the first big inlet, though, we realized we didn't know how far the Wormhole was, and suddenly the expedition turned into a really cool idea. We were out of the area where even the cows can go. We were walking across the cliffs exactly as people have been for thousands of years, looking for a natural landmark. I couldn't believe that I was experiencing this in probably the same way the first person to find the Wormhole did - by just walking and exploring until we found something cool.

We did find it. It was in the second big inlet. The Wormhole is (I know you're dying of curiosity by now) essentially a big, perfectly rectangular hole in a ledge on the cliffside. Naturally made. Perfectly right angles. Crazy. The tide was out when we got there, so we couldn't really see the water in it, but we were tired and decided to sit a while. Turns out the tide was coming in, so we sat there and watched water gradually pour into the rectangle. Then the waves started to crash against the cliffside. H. and I were sitting about 2 feet from the edge (there was a ledge below us, just in case - we checked) leaning against another rock sheltered from the wind. Eventually the waves came in so forcefully that we actually got wet from waves... on top of the cliff. I have a photo that is shot looking straight out from the cliff, and the white foam that takes up most of the frame is the wave. So H. and I sat there together for a good 45 minutes, on the side of a cliff, with no one around and a private few of Ireland and the Atlantic.

From the Aran Islands we took a ferry back to the mainland, then a bus to Doolin. Doolin is a TINY town. As in, our hostel is the place to buy groceries and bus tickets. Doolin is also the closest town to the Cliffs of Moher. We talked to the guy at the hostel and got some advice. We went out to lunch at Fitzgerald's, which was kind of mediocre but good enough to fill a stomach. Then we took the 5:00-ish bus out to the Cliffs, knowing the next one didn't come until 8:30 or so. The Cliffs of Moher are much higher than the cliffs on the islands, and greener, and overall much more impressive, but it's so touristy. There are paved paths, and stairs, and people everywhere, and H. and I were just laughing about how unimpressive the experience of being there was. The Cliffs themselves are awesome, but stairs are nothing to rock walls, and paved pathways are not bogs.

Because we couldn't get a bus back before dark (which was part of the plan) we walked back on the Burren Way, which they tell everyone is a popular biking and hiking trail. What it actually is is no space on the side of a road. At least until a turn-off. But it's really scenic and follows the coast almost all the way back to Doolin. It was actually really fun - just walking along the side of a little country road in Ireland with some rations in our bags. We were most of the way back (we'd been walking for about an hour, and it's only supposed to be an hour an fifteen minute walk) when a car pulled up next to us. Inside was this 70 or 80 year old farmer who offered us a ride. I told Heather I didn't care if we got in or not, because he seemed completely harmless. She said yes, so we hopped in. I did a check to make sure we could get out if we wanted (which is what I do most places I go now, looking at doors, locks, speeds, etc.) but the guy was in an old car with manual locks. And was driving at about 2 miles an hour. He was really nice, but impossible to escape a conversation with. He dropped us off in Doolin.

That night we went to McDougal's pub, which is the only actual traditional Irish pub I've seen, and apparently one of the last ones around. It was dark and dusty with fantastic traditional food - H. had Irish stew and I had vegetable pancakes. There was traditional Irish music and spontaneous step dancing. It was a lot of fun. We did meet a bunch of people from Texas, who were college friends way back when and decided to take a trip together, which meant a lot of talking about American football for a while. It dampened the Irish experience but was fun nonetheless. The next day we headed back to Limerick.

Tuesday we went to Dublin for St. Patrick's Day. The entire town was a madhouse. We couldn't figure out where to go to see the parade, because they did not block things off the way we expected. We got shepherded around, and finally stuck in a spot simply because we could see the reflection of the approaching parade in a window in a building across the street. We managed, somehow, to actually make it to the first and second rows (H. and I let the two shorter girls with us go in front). I don't really know how that came about, but we saw most of the parade up close in the end. It actually looks a lot more like Carnival than anything else. St. Patrick's Day is much more Irish in America. Irony? We found a Lebanese place for lunch because the pubs were all absolutely packed, then a restaurant and bar for dinner. The bar was a lot of fun - everyone in there had had more than enough alcohol (I couldn't convince an Irishman that I was, in fact, not Irish, but from Texas) and there was live music. Overall, awesome.

From Dublin I took a ferry to Holyhead, Wales the next day. The cab driver was really really nice. We talked about literature. The train of conversation went from which boat I was taking to James Joyce (once of the boats from that company is called Ulysses). The cab driver thinks Ulysses is an absurd book and does not understand why Joyce is seen as a god of Irish literature. So I asked him what he would recommend, and he really just talked to me about really obscure Irish authors and playwrights for half an hour. It was so much fun.

permalink written by  lost_red_balloon on March 18, 2009 from Limerick, Ireland
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