Return to the Emerald Isle

I’m back after a few weeks of slacking off, three days / about 1000km smarter in the matters of the Emerald Isle, aka Ireland. Benji, Barbora and I headed out from Edinburgh airport on Friday night after making a life changing purchase at the airport Accesorize: a pair of sunglasses. Their purpose was completely monofunctional: disguise! We were planning on picking up a takeaway dinner from Mr. Perri’s, an infamous place where I once worked, back in 2005. As suspected, the greedy owner was there, we even had a taste of the greediness itself! She refused to give us vinegar!!! Said it was no good with curry sauce! Bollocks! The more surprising thing was that I recognised three people who worked there, the one was still wearing the same shoes! And to think I was already horrified when she told me she had been working there for nine years back in 2005. Either way, we walked out with three curry cheese and chipses, though severely lacking in vinegar, and all of my dignity, thank you sunglasses, thank you owl hat!

From Santry we headed straight to Galway in our cute red Toyota Yaris. Got there just after 11pm, parked and went and checked into our hostel, the Kinlay House. I stayed there with Suzie six years ago and I remembered it being ok and very central. We got a 3 person private dorm and Barbora went to bed while I went out to show Benji around. Galway is famous for its nightlife and certainly didn’t disappoint! The pub street was packed with people and great vibes. Eventually we found what we were looking for. A quiet old mans’ pub just off Eyre Square: partying is all well and good but we just wanted a pint of Guinness before bed as we had a lot of driving to do and a lot of Ireland to explore.

In the morning we took Barbora into town for a quick tour before heading out Clare-wards at 10am. Before the Cliffs of Moher we stopped at Dunguaire Castle for photos and in Burren for Poulnabrone Dolmen and the scenery. The cliffs, though impressive as always, have become much more commercialised since last time. The tourist centre is finished, it’s buried in the ground and making great effort to be uninvasive. And it probably is. On the other hand, the highway that is the cliffwalk and the staircase that cuts the visitors off from the viewing platform which has obviously been deemed too dangerous, are a slap in the face of scenery. A short walk ends with a barrier that one is not supposed to cross though many do as that is where the proper cliff experience starts.
We decided to see the Cliffs of Kilkee next. They might not be as dramatic but they are quiet and tourist-less, it looks like it’s mostly locals that go there to walk their dogs and their offspring. Unlike Moher, they are maybe still Irish!

After the cliffs the plan was to head to Tralee and make it as far as we can before the Czech Republic – Poland game at 7h45pm, then try and find accommodation there. We cut the trip shorter by taking the Killimer Ferry to Tarbert, however it got late somehow and we decided to stop at every pub on the way and check if they were showing the Euro 2012 game as there were some local games on that night and we didn’t want Barbora to miss out, like that other time with chimpanzees. The first pub we came across, the Swanky Bar, was indeed showing it. It was 15 mins until the game and we decided to just stay there, after all, Barbora needed to change into her Czech jersey and all.
As the game was nearing the end, we got a bit worried about accommodation, it was almost 10pm and we didn’t really want to go ring people’s doorbells at that time of night to get a room in a B&B. We ended up asking the guy that was setting up the stage and the cows in the pub, in case he knew someone that owned a place, which he did indeed. He said there was a hostel right there in the village, he called the owner, told her we were watching the game and we’ll be right over when it’s finished.

Did I mention cows? This was because there was to be a cow milking, wellie drinking, best dressed farmer’s wife competition that night. We thought it was unlikely to be fun as the pub seemed deserted apart from us but just before we left a couple of farmers’ wives turned up indeed.
The nice Ferry House hostel lady greeted us with a “First of all, let’s get it over and done with. Congratulations on the win! It was a good game.” and with a handshake. Then we got an 8-person dorm for the three of us as we were being cheap and went out for Chinese. The curiosity got the better of us then and after the meal we headed back to the Swanky Bar to check out this competition. The bar was a different place! It was completely packed! In the back people were getting the cows ready and according to the poster the guy who arranged the accommodation for us was DJ Shicco himself?

It ended up being the craziest night, a real Irish experience. It felt like everyone was there, all age groups mingling together and having lots of fun. A funny Irishman tried to get Barbora and I to participate in cow milking and I was pretty keen but after the second round finished and we didn’t get a chance I opted for leaving since I was to drive overnight the day after. It was an unforgettable night though, it had everything: good 90’s music courtesy of DJ Shicco, a fight in which six people had to restrain an angry old guy, ladies in short skirts rolling on the floor in the spilled milk, an old man pulling old ladies, a toothless mumbling judge… but the highlight must have been the dirty MC guy. None of us could quite grasp the Irish accent yet but whenever we understood something it was hilarious. He said things like “Mind your language, there’s cows here!” and “Stop talking and keep wanking, I mean pulling.” and occasionally mooed! We felt a little bit out of place but it was the most fun night in a long time! The atmosphere was indescribable and impossible to catch in a photo!

We left the Ferry House early the next morning and headed through Tralee to the Ring of Kerry happy about the sunny weather. We bought hot food and wanted to picnic on the nearest lookout point but Ireland decided to play one of its old tricks and as we were approaching our spot dark clouds started gathering and the moment we reached the lookout the pourdown began. We ate our food in the car completely unaware of the scenery behind the fogged up windows. On the other hand, that was the only proper rain we experienced throughout the trip. As we headed out again the sun came back and pretty much remained for the rest of the trip. After the Ring of Kerry we did Beara and I am proud to say we managed to get lost on the ring road, which I think was my fault. It caused one of the biggest confusions of the trip where we ended up on a three way intersection with all the roads going to Ardgroom. We never reached the cable car at the end of the island but at least it’s something to do on the next trip. Beara easily compares to Kerry, especially the northern road. Again maybe not as dramatic, but much more Irish in the deserted kind of way with beautiful green alleys and coastal views.

As our flight was scheduled for early the next morning, we decided to save money on the last night’s accommodation which would give us about three hours of sleep anyway and just drive to the airport overnight. That opened up a slot for another sight that evening. First we were thinking Cork but we didn’t want to get caught up in a big city so we opted for a smaller place near Cork. One option was the Blarney Castle where one gets to kiss the stone of endless chit chat, which is what Benji really wanted to do, but the opening hours were unfavourable, thank god, and we went to Cobh instead. Briefly known as Queenstown, Cobh was the last port of call of Titanic before its infamous crossing of the Atlantic. Exactly a 100 years since, there was a pretty solid theme to the place. We took photos, had dinner while it was getting dark and headed back to Dublin at about midnight when my night blindess could no longer annoy me.

We got to Dublin airport at about 4am and dropped the car off there. Thank god the second rental guy told us we could just do that instead of going to the car hire place and then shuttling/mopeding to the airport. I went straight to work from Edinburgh airport and got there at 9h20, 10 minutes early!
Needless to say it was a hard day!

Moral of the story: No matter where you’re going, always take sunglasses! Even if it’s Ireland!

The Lords and Ladies of the Isles…

So we made it to the Isle of Mull and back… with the car in one piece, seaweed for my halloween costume, lots of photos, Benji’s newfound childhood and yet more things on our TO DO list…

We started off badly, but once we’d successfully located the hand break and the reverse gear things picked up a bit. The vibe was good from the start as the foreign visitors (my mum, her sister Mima, her cousin Eva and Eva’s husband Lubo) really liked the Vauxhall Zafira that I booked for the trip. A seven seater but supposedly they felt like they were on a bus. The “ideme” and “nejdeme”of an infamous slovakian advertisement clip were more than common.

The weather that Metoffice threatened us with didn’t take long to make an appearance; when we got to Doune castle (Winterfell) at was already raining unscottish rain and as my shoes are easy to get soaked through, I had my first chance to test out the new gumboots… best buy ever! Stylish, comfortable, swell, they keep out the water and they keep in the smell!!!
We didn’t go inside the castle but the ticket lady was saying how amazing it was to see the great hall all done up for the filming of A Game of Thrones.
In Killin it was pissing down so I went straight into the tourist shop and got myself a poncho. We had lunch at the old inn and then went to the MacNab island, which was pretty but very very wet. Thank fuck for gumboots!

We decided the next stop was going to be our destination in Tralee bay. Fortunately, the day before we managed to book ourselves a six berth caravan unit in a caravan park by Oban.
The rain had stopped by the time we got there and the Slovakians were pretty blown away by the place. Located on a beach, the trailer won them over with a huge living space and smartly arranged rooms. Also, it was probably a lot better than what they imagined when I said we were staying in a caravan, mwahaha! For £25 per head it was by far the cheapest thing we could get and the ratio of price / comfort / privacy (yes, a triple ratio, geek!) was more than favorable and made me an accommodation guru in an instant.

Having a few hours of daylight left we decided to go check out the nearby town of Oban, which neither of us had ever been to. There we discovered a pretty little fishing town with a waterfront promenade, a crazy colosseum-like structure called McCaig’s Tower and rightfully nicknamed McCaig’s Folly, lots of ducks to spit on and lots of old ladies to disapprove of us doing so, and a Tesco supermarket with the most shocking car park in the world.
When we got back to Tralee bay with provisions of beer and whisky, we still had a little while to go and check out the little beach before it got dark. On the way there, we ran into a playground with a foofy slide where Benji finally had the opportunity to discover the joys of childhood other than candy and video games. I have pictorial evidence of this!
We spend the rest of the evening drinking whisky and leffes, chilling and talking in our caravan, yo!

The next day started off easier from the driving point of view, as we headed off early on Sunday morning. It was drizzling and the hills were wrapped in clouds. After we crossed on the Corran ferry, the mist started to lift and reveal beautiful countryside. We took some toursity breaks on the drive to the next ferry crossing which ended up being a huge mistake. When the road changed into a single track with passing places, we realised we might not make it in time for the ferry departure. It was hard to speed up on that road as one could run into oncoming traffic behind any odd hill and if the road happened to be straight, there were weasels promptly crossing the road to make the task more impossible. As we neared the terminal the traffic off the ferry slowed us a little bit more and we arrived to the slipway when the goddamned ferry was about 2 meters off the shore! Next crossing in two hours time!

A friendly lady from the refreshments stall gave us advice on how to spend the time and sent us up the old Drumnin road which supposedly goes all the way to Mull underwater. (Which we considered as an alternative way of getting there, with 0 excess and all, our liability reduction waiver never listed underwater driving not being covered.) We drove along the coast with a pretty view of Mull that had evaded us, but the sky was blue and cloudless by that point and everyone’s mood was improving. We found the wishing stone that the lady had mentioned and we made wishes before climbing through the hole, the way it’s meant to be done!

We finally crossed over to Mull and decided to take the low road, as Benji has not been down there with his parents. The plan was to see what happens and we ran into a sign for Duart castle, so we spontaneously went for it. It was a pretty location for a castle, with an underwater wreck of HMS Swan nearby. In the boggy area under the castle I managed to get my gay shoes wet. The only time I didn’t wear gumboots on an outing and this was what happened, dammit! It was nice and sunny otherwise.

Since we’d missed the “Last eating place for the next 27 miles” sign in Craignure, we pushed ahead and tried to look for a restaurant, to no avail. The hills were beautiful but when we finally got to the loch (about 26 miles from Craignure) we had to turn back to the wish of the majority (or more like people that expressed the wish, as there might have been four of us wanting to push on). That has left the isle of Iona and its famous abbey on our TO DO list.
Craignure Inn had amazing food though. I was hesitating for a long time but eventually decided to go for fish stew which was exceptionally yummy!

After that we pressed on! We took an earlier ferry back and made it just in time for the small Corran one this time. That way, we managed to see Glencoe before it got completely dark. The drive back started to be tiring somewhere along the Bonnie (but windie) Banks of Loch Lomond and after we hit the motorway a few gay signposts and missed turns didn’t help, but we saw some real life police action on Erskine Bridge, where a suicidal fellow on the phone was standing on the edge. Eventually we made it back safe and sound and before the hour of ghosts to the open arms of Claivid and Hellipp.