Thursday, June 30, 2011

Harry and me

Note to self: when coming back into the hotel room, DO NOT put your hotel room key away - you will need it to turn the lights on. Insert key into the small slot on the wall so that all electrical items function. Brilliant but annoying.

Also note to self: Before you spend 10 minutes searching for your Oakleys check the top of your head.

So today I went out on a boat.  But before I get to the boat, let me tell you how I GOT TO the boat.

I went to a beautiful place in the mountains called the Gap of Dunloe. It is just what it sounds like - a gap in the mountains just near Killarney. The boat I needed to get to was on the OTHER side of the gap, which is a 10 kilometer winding path through the mountains. I had three choices - I could ride in a pony cart, walk... OR I could ride a horse.   No brainer.  I used to ride horses fairly regularly as a kid, so what the heck. 
So meet Harry. Harry carried me for 10 k's through the Dunloe gap. It was an interesting ride that included our tourguide Michael (who led the ponycart) - and the Swiss tourists that rode behind me in the pony cart - the ride was the absolutely unbelievably wonderful. (yes, Harry and I were leading...scary, huh?) I was in the fresh, cool mountain air on a horse and truly can't remember when I've felt so content. It was great.  Course, halfway up I was ready for it to end for reasons of comfort..but toward the end I didn't want it to end. (Just like a woman, I know)

This was at the end of the ride...didn't want it to end. 

Michael our guide. Nice Irish guy with a VERY thick accent - spoke gaelic to the horses, it was very cool.
The first half of the trip was uphill...too bad for Harry. We were sandwiched on either side by beautiful rocky mountains that were dotted here and there with an unexpected sheep or bunch of purple heather. At the very top Michael said we were at 3,000 ft elevation. Throughout the journey we had to squeeze by other carts and cars that were also making the single-lane trek. Temp somewhere in the mid 60's I would say overcast and breezy - perfect weather to be in the mountains. Harry and I were together in the gap for two hours. Scenery was amazing. Quiet except for the mumble of the swiss and an occasional sheep calling. I reluctantly said goodbye to Harry at Lord Brandon's cottage and settled down with a hot coffee to wait for the next part of my journey. 

Have no idea what this flower is???

The boat that took us through the chain of 14 lakes back to Killarney was a small wooden boat - not totally uncomfortable except for the fact that I had just ridden a horse for 2 hours. 

The water appeared almost black - that may have been due to the cloud coverage. It didn't rain, but the wind was brisk enough that I put my hood up. It was probably around 50 degrees with the wind chill factor - and to this Florida girl that felt freezing.

It was relatively quiet but for the soft hum of the boats motor. Once in a while our boat captain would stop and point out a ruin or talk about the lake. Loch Lein was the largest lake we went through, and at one point he said it was 450 ft. deep, which may have accounted for the color of the water.  There are eagles that nest along the cliffs of the river but we were not lucky enough to see them. 

Our boat guide..he was funnier than he looks in this picture

At one point he stopped the boat and pointed out the thick rhododendron that hugs the bank of the river - he said that these plants are choking out the oak trees. To which one Irish passenger said "they were brought over by the Americans, weren't they?".."yes" said the guide "and they are killing the trees"...there was a moment of silence in the boat when everyone looked at me (the only American) I smiled and said "well... I apologize" was pretty funny. But I did learn yesterday on the Ring of Kerry that in recent years there was a forest fire that could have been much worse but for the rhodedendrum that stopped the fire. So take that.
Ross Castle

We landed on shore at Ross Castle - a 15th century castle from the O'Donahue family. 

I'll miss Killarney tomorrow when I leave. This is a wonderful town. Today I met an artist, Deborah O'Keefe, who actually gave me one of her small greeting cards as  gift, because I admired her pastel of sheep. She was charming. 

I will be on a train to Dublin early tomorrow so I leave you with the signs of Killarney...
Slainte! Off to find some good craic.


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

This, That, and The Indescribable

So before I get into today's adventures, a few things I have forgotten to mention in previous posts: 

Did you know that in Ireland ....

....divorce has only been legal 10 years? And today you have to be separated for 4 years before a divorce petition can be granted. Learned this from one of my new Irish gal friends in Kilkinney. 

...When someone dies, the body is laid out for the wake at the house. Still to this day. Not sure if I could handle that one. And the body is never left alone incase....well, not sure what they are anticipating.

...bog, or peat, is still harvested and used for fuel in many areas. This is much cheaper than oil in the winter I'm told. Today I got a whiff of burning peat and it wasn't anything we will see in a bottle at the L'Oreal counter anytime soon.

Okay, just had to share those bits I've learned.  Now I'm settle down with a nice cup of tea (yes tea)..they have these very cool tea pots with all the fixin's in the put in the water, plug it in, and in a few minute's Bob's your uncle. (another saying I've picked up...meaning "there you go") let's move on to The Ring of Kerry.

County Kerry is on the west coast of Ireland, just below the Dingle peninsula. These two jutting out land masses are divided by Dingle Bay. The road that goes all along the coast of Kerry is called the "ring"...because it's round I suppose. Anyhow, it's approximately 180 Kilometers long, and from beginning to end, took our tour just under 5 hours to complete - with several stops along the way.

What was amazing about The Ring of Kerry is the change in topography from one mile to the next. In the beginning you are pretty much at sea level (or so it appears), but by the time you are finished you are up in the mountains surrounded by panoramic views of the mountains, islands, lakes, and moors. To say it's breathtaking sounds so very cliche, but that's about all I can come up with. Mountains, fresh water lakes filled to the gill with salmon (pun intended)...I was just itching for a pole, by the way. There were forests and tall pines, and rocky craggy hillsides dotted with fluffy sheep.

Dingle Bay- across the Water is the Dingle Peninsula


Rocky shores of Waterville

I decided to take a tour instead of trying to drive it myself - for two reasons; 

1. I can better watch the view and had the added benefit of a very entertaining storyteller-tour guide.  

2. There are very narrow roads with drop offs next to cliffs. And I really want to live. The roads in many places aren't even wide enough for two vehicles - and people drive them very fast. At some points when you pass another vehicle it appears that maybe you have two inches to spare. Several times the driver told us to "breath out" so he could pass. :-)

Besides the scenery, I have to say that the highlight of the day, besides the couple in front of me (more about them in a minute)...was the "sheep man" Brendon.  An honest-to-goodness sheep farmer with over 250 sheep, he gave a great demonstration on the border collies he actually uses. It was the most fascinating thing I've ever seen. Each dog is trained but much of what they do is pure instinct. They train for over a year to learn whistles and calls that are distinct to that dog - in other words - if Brendon has all 250 of his sheep out, he can take 5 or 6 dogs and have them all doing something different at the same time, because they all have distinct calls and whistles they follow.  And watching these dogs work was so cool because their body language and faces (if you know dogs) showed they were ANXIOUS to do what they do. Here are some great shots of Brendon and his dogs:

Border Collie sheep dog watching the sheep and waiting on his commands

These are some of the 16 different kinds of sheep Brendon has on his farm. Who knew there were so many different kinds of sheep? Who knew I would find this so interesting? 

We also stopped at an old Bog village - it was an obvious tourist trap but charming none the less. I had heard about bog - the dense, dark peat that is dug up from the ground, dried out and used for heat and cooking. But I had never smelt it or touched it.  To the touch, it's very brittle. To smell it, smells like burning smokey oily stuff. Not pleasant at all. 

Underside of thatched roof

Bog pony

Irish wolfhound

At this same village we got to see a few Irish wolfhounds (massive dogs) and Bog ponies...these are the ponies that have been bred for hundreds of years specifically to work in the bog fields. 

Now, I have to tell you about the couple in front of me in the bus.  You can't, I suppose, get 17 people on a bus and not have a few that just make an immediate and lasting imprint.  The older man and woman were Irish. He had a hairstyle that defies description and this was my view the entire day. But that wasn't the funniest....what was funny was that as the driver was talking and telling stories and describing what we were seeing, the woman was replying as if it were just he and she in the conversation:

(Driver with very thick Irish accent in a microphone) - "So, we are coming upon Dingle Bay..."
(lady) - "That's right"
(Driver) "....and there's a story ya know that's told..."
(lady) "yes, yes..."
(Driver) "'s about a sailor who left for America"
(lady) "well ya don't say!"
(Driver) "...and he wrote a song"
(lady)"that's right, yes"....

And on it went.  Her most common responses were "that's right" and "yes" was hilarious. Those of us in the first few rows who could hear her were all trying hard not to laugh out loud. It was hard. It bonded us immediately. 
The husband to the lady I just told you about. Serious comb-over. 
Had to wear my long raincoat most of the day - wind was harsh and just cool enough to make me enjoy a nice Baileys coffee halfway through the day.  Bought me a set of wellies...those are the rain boots that are so popular here, just love them! I've just about bought every silly souvenir in Ireland for everyone else, but the wellies are for me.

Last night Nancy and I stayed at the Failte Hotel in Killarney, but had serious internet issues so moved across the street today on my own. I'm at the Killarney Towers hotel and internet is working well, thank you very much. 

I decided that I'll stay here another day and so won't  be able to make the Cliffs of Moher this trip. Too much to cover. Tomorrow I'm taking a boat trip - and tomorrow night taking in a concert with Liam O'Connor - heard of him? Looking forward to that. 

Thanks for stopping in, I'll post again tomorrow. I'm off to a night of music and craic. Slainte from Ireland!