I’m composing this update on the plane and will post it when we land in San Francisco. This world of ours is full of wonders.
The drive west across Ireland, from Dublin to Doolin, was flipping gorgeous. And great fun, along many winding one lane country roads. Our GPS, which we christened Fiona, was such a clever lass. If she’d given me the choice of main motorways or back roads, I’d probably have chosen the motorway, as I was still a tad nervous about the whole left side of the road/manual transmission thing (guys, the gear shift is on the left. The left! Definitely stretched my brain *smile*). But it was grand.
We were actually quite lucky with weather. Always flirting near freezing, but never really rained, just patches of fog or mist. The back roads were not only charmingly pastoral, but it allowed Elizabeth and myself plenty of time to geek out over native wildlife. Sheep! Cows! Ponies! Dead badger beside the road (that last was sad, and sent my memories off on a ‘Wind in the Willows’ tangent). Also, praise be to the off-season, as we rarely encountered other cars. As many portions of our way were one lane roads bordered with rock walls and no shoulders to speak of, it was extra nice being more solitary. Pretty sure, had it been busy summer times, I’d have ended up pulled over in a driveway, a panic attack stress ball. *laughs* Instead, it was an amazing adventure.
We picked a B&B the night before and booked online for the Dubhlinn House in Doolin. And this is how we ended up basically crashing at Martin’s home (the proprietor of Dubhlinn House, and his family lives there, too. He was a bit sheepish greeting us, explaining that he’d forgotten to turn off the online bookings, but things are normally dead in February so he was quite surprised to get the email saying we’d booked a room. While the rooms upstairs were in the middle of renovations, he did have a main floor room available, so we were most welcome still.
It became quickly clear that the entire town of Doolin, and the neighboring two small towns, just shut down in winter. The only building open was Fitzpatrick Pub. Happily we had our two BEST meals of the entire trip here. Elizabeth particularly enjoyed devouring ALL THE MUSSELS!! Even happier still, they have an open door musicians session on Monday evenings, so we even had entertainment!! It did feel a bit like an apocalyptic movie, as here were picturesque tourist shops and restaurants, but all doors locked and all the people missing. So it was extra lovely when seemingly everyone who stays in town in February came out to the pub for the music that evening. Lively and wonderful energy.
The Cliffs of Moher remain gorgeous. And it was so cool having the place almost to ourselves. There were maybe 7 other people scattered along the pathways, but definitely you got your own space. One of the Rangers had the cutest dog, who was so so proud of carrying her leash handle in her mouth, prancing all around, taking herself for a walk. 🙂 After wandering a bit further, the evening was spent listening to music and making new friends at the Pub.
The next day we had a private tour of Aillwee Caves. After checking the car park a few times to see if any other tourists were coming, our guide realized it was just us that morning, so off we went. Then we drove off to explore Bunratty Castle (“Ireland’s premiere Medieval castle”). The two Irish Wolf hounds they keep on the grounds are amazing pony-sized pups. Holy cow. We basically had the run of the place, as well. There’s a “folk park” around the castle with random livestock and dwellings representing different eras and regions. As we were basically the only people there, it often felt like a ghost town, or a sad abandoned theme park. Which, actually, I guess it is in the winter time. I couldn’t tell, but got the impression that there might be a Colonial Williamsburg thing in summer months, with staff around to expound upon the history.
We then made our way to Adare, winner of the “Tidy Town” contest almost every year. Martin, our host back in Doolin, seemed a bit bitter, thinking Adare’s thatched roofs gave them an unfair advantage, although he did agree it was definitely worth visiting. Driving onto the grounds of Adare Manor House is quite a spectacle. Insert grand manor house of your preference here, whether Pemberley or Downton Abbey (And apologies for the fact that I can’t think of a famous Irish manor house at the moment). It’s lovely and sweeping, and bordered on two sides by a very nice golf course which just further extends the green rolling hills to the horizon.
Guys, while wandering the grounds, I found the spot where they offer PRIVATE FALCONRY LESSONS! My buddy John tells me there’s no Gaelic translation for “Fancy as Fuck,” but that “go h’ailin,” “go breath,” or “ana m’haith” will get the point across. As of course would the much more prosaic and Dublin-esque, “Jaysus, nice, wha?” *laughs* Seriously, it’s well worth splurging for one night if you’re ever taking a trip to Ireland. Truly 5 star accommodations, and I don’t know if it was low season pricing, a competitive dollar to euro rate, or what, but it was easily half the cost of similar accommodations in the states.
Our room was enormous, and felt even more so as we’d mostly been in tiny but perfectly serviceable twin bed rooms for the previous week. The lush down pillows and mattress were amazing. “Is this what sleeping on a cloud feels like?!?” Lizz took advantage of our spacious setup with a bubble bath and relaxing, while I went out to wander the grounds. It was freezing, easily our coldest day, but bundling up with scarf and gloves and I managed a good hour of exploration before needing to return to thaw out at the fireplace. It’s got to be a great place to golf, as well. Plus you get the fun of occasionally having swans on the green. *smile*
The next morning we slept in, which was glorious. Later we explored the 2013 “Tidy Town” winner Adare (not sure if 2014 just hasn’t been awarded yet, or if Adare has been dethroned). This whole area is just lousy with medieval castles and structures. Lovely. Excited to get some prizes at the grocery store, including Kinder Egg chocolates and Jelly Babies candies for my Whovian pals. Lizz was just excited by the concept of eating gummy children instead of gummy bears, but when she learned they had a Doctor Who connection, she had to get a few more packs. (She can be a wee bit bloodthirsty at times). *smile*
We ended our stay with high tea, served in the manor house library with a wonderful view of the gardens. Three cheers for tiny sweet and savory bites. And ALL the clotted cream and lemon curd on my scones. Yum.
Throughout our travels, I’ve been surprised by how many Irish folk are familiar with Seattle. I don’t mean have heard of it, but have actually been or know someone from there. And we got a fair amount of Seahawks talk from locals as well. This blows my mind. I just didn’t know American Football had any kind of presence outside of expat communities. Perhaps it’s just the spectacle of the Superbowl. But two gentlemen did get into indepth discussions of the game play with me. Who knew. Sea-HAWKS!!!
Our final night in Dublin and our final meal spent at a Russian wine bar. You know, a traditional Dublin evening. Ha. Then back to our home away from home, the Maldron hotel in Parnell Square. Their midweek rates were crazy reasonable, and a nice central location, allowing us to walk to most things within 20 minutes. But this evening it was about trying to get to sleep at 11pm, knowing the 3:00 am alarm was literally just around the corner. Ugh! Early morning flights can be rough. The cityjet flight to Paris went well, but a worker slowdown at Paris CDG airport had us running through the airport to make our connection. You know your timing is tight when the folks at security flag your boarding card, send you down the expedited line with encouragements of “Vite! Vite!” We made it to our gate at the end of the boarding process but before they’d shut the gates. Still about 6 people in line before us. Phew! Then we spent an hour on the runway and driving around the airport in our plane. I didn’t get exactly why, but something to do with de-icing the wings, so that sounds important. Watching the de-icer equipment was pretty cool, actually. Once we finally did that part, it only took about 20 minutes. Still not sure why we had to drive the plane around, slowly, for 40 minutes before that. *shrug*
En route to SFO, then one final flight to Seattle. It will be good to be home, but this trip has been an absolute blast. Hooray for last minute adventures!