My first travel break was spent in Ireland this past weekend, and it was incredible. I should just stop there, because there’s no way I can describe everything I saw and experienced…I found myself speechless multiple times. But knowing me, I’ll just ramble about it instead. If you read nothing else of my post, just know this: go to Ireland. Go. I know it’s the only place I’ve traveled so far this semester, but it was honestly amazing. If I could go on no other trips for the remainder of my time here, I would be satisfied with having gone to Ireland. Anyway, I’ll get to the trip and (try!) to keep it as condensed as possible:
Traveling and Cork
Our group of ten (KaSarah, Jodi, Andrew, Vance, Ziggy, Chase, Austin, Jeff, Zach, and I) packed up and left houses 9 and 10 shortly after midnight on Thursday. We walked through dark, deserted Oxford to the bus station where we rode a brutal 3.5 hours to the London-Stansted airport on little to no sleep. Then we waited around for four hours in the airport for our flight. Luckily, I was able to fall asleep on a row of chairs for about an hour and a half, but that whole stretch of traveling was rough. And by the time we were on the plane, we were exhausted. But we hit the ground running as soon as we landed in a very foggy (very “Irish” looking) Cork and caught a bus into the city. Cork was interesting but not beautiful by any stretch, and we quickly made plans to head over to nearby Blarney for the afternoon.
We rode for about 30 minutes outside of Cork to get to this cute little town that’s home to a gorgeous castle and the famous Blarney Stone. We grabbed sandwiches in an adorable local restaurant before entering the castle park area. Though we were all running on 2-4 hours of sleep, our lunch and the beautiful park quickly woke us up. This was our first taste of what we considered to be “Ireland,” meaning green everywhere, old ruins, and beautiful scenery. It was astounding. The castle was massive and so cool inside and out…it was so crazy to think people had actually lived there once.
We enjoyed exploring the grounds as well as the interior of the castle as we made our way to the top and the Blarney Stone. We each took turns lying on our backs, bending over backwards (with the help of a castle assistant), and kissing the outer wall of the castle for good luck before climbing back down the tiny spiral stairs to the floor of the castle. We spent a little more time in the park looking around, taking pictures, climbing a massive tree, visiting the nearby mansion and its grounds, taking a couple minutes to swing on the park’s swing set, and just having a lot of fun. By the time our bus for Cork arrived to take us to our connecting train to Killarney, however, we were about to fall asleep standing up. Day 1 was definitely a success, but looking back on it, I wonder how we all made it through with so little sleep!
We arrived at our main destination, Killarney, around 8 or 9, but it felt so much later than that. We crashed in our hostel, Paddy’s Palace, with plans to explore our base-town in the morning.
The morning of day two was spent walking the streets of Killarney and peeking in a beautiful cathedral before walking to the Killarney National Park. Now, “park” makes it sound like a fun little area with trees and a playground, but this place couldn’t have been further from that image. It was spectacular. Over 25,000 acres make up the first national park established in Ireland filled with trees, fields of grass, lakes, and purple mountains in the backdrop. We slowly walked down to Ross Castle located within the park, taking many pictures and having fun along the way. And though the castle ended up being closed for renovations, the outside was wonderful, as well as the view surrounding it. The lake was still and glassy, rippled only by gorgeous swans and a few small, private boats. Our excursion was topped-off by a horse and buggy ride back into town, which led us through pretty, small-town roads.
We got some great lunch at a local pub (one we liked so well that we returned to it for dinner the next night) and then split up to divide and conquer. Jodi and Jeff went shopping around town; Chase, Austin, Vance, and Zach went to see some of the different historical sights in Killarney; and Ziggy, Andrew, KaSarah, and I branched-off to visit the Killarney abbey, mansion, and waterfall. I may be a bit biased, but I have to say our group won for the day. We had an absolute blast.
The first part of our walk was largely spent on the street and then in a park area near the lake. We made a point to walk “briskly” in order to make it to the waterfall by nightfall (it was probably around 3pm when we left) and soon made it to the abbey and cemetery. This area was amazing, filled with ancient, gray-stoned graves and a quaint abbey
set back into the trees. We walked around and took a few pictures and then headed to the mansion. This walk was a little different from the first, as we were getting further into the woods. The path grew smaller and darker and was lined by towering trees. We finally emerged into a clearing and could see the mansion a little ways in the distance. The walkway to the Pride and Prejudice-looking house was beautifully lined by arching trees and fields of bright green grass. We excitedly approached the mansion and were exploring its gorgeous gardens when it started to rain. Irish rain!! We were
so ecstatic and felt like we were living in a movie. Gazing at the sun resting over the purple mountains set behind the thick forest with a long, green field stretching for yards in front of us with the rain falling around us….it was simply perfection. Standing there, I can honestly say I’ve never seen a place more beautiful. The word that just kept running through my head was postcard. I was in a postcard.
We crossed the thick, grassy field for the waterfall and once again entered a completely new walking path. With the taller trees and descending sun, the walk grew even more dark and even more jungle-like. This section of our journey was a little more tiring since we were going up steep stairs to the waterfall, but when we reached the top, it was completely worth it. It was by no means a Niagra, but the falls were stunning and so peaceful. We took in the beauty around us, snapped a few pictures on our iPhones (KaSarah’s and my cameras were dead by this time), and headed back down the mountain. As the speed-walkers of the group, Ziggy and I booked-it down the mountain and made it to the outside of the park where we waited for Andrew and KaSarah to catch up. The return walk was beautiful in its own way, as we were able to see all the places we had recently passed covered in deepening shadows as night fell. By the time we reached the lamp-lit road, it was pitch-black outside and growing cooler. The four of us walked on aching feet back into town, looking at pedometers that read 13 miles (we’re in a Walking for Fitness class…not just carrying pedometers everywhere for fun, don’t worry). We had walked 13 miles that day! Hungry and physically exhausted, we found a good place to eat and then made the spontaneous decision to go see The Descendants in the movie theater. It was a really good movie and a welcomed restful end to our wonderful but tiring day.
Tralee and Dingle
We slept well that night and were up and ready to go to the oceanside town of Dingle the next morning. Andrew and Vance went to the bus station to check on times and found out we had about 20 minutes to make it. So they came bursting in the hostel room door saying we needed to leave right then, and we jetted across town. Our bus took us about 30 minutes outside of Killarney to a little town called Tralee–a place we’d never heard of, and we had two hours to kill there before the connecting bus to Dingle arrived. We ate lunch on the second story of a local restaurant and then walked through town towards the top of a huge steeple we could see above all the buildings. With time to spare, we decided to go in and look around. And I’m so glad we did.
Though Tralee was just a random pass-through town we happened to be in, God knew to drop us off there for just a minute…because that cathedral was the most astounding one I’ve seen yet. The ceiling was incredibly tall, and the detail was just beautiful. Pictures capture this one much better than words.
Our bus finally arrived, and I hopped on totally unaware that this ride would be an event in itself. The hour-ish long ride into Dingle was simply magnificent. This was the part of the trip that really looked how I had always pictured Ireland to be. It was like I was driving right through the set of P.S. I Love You.
We passed rolling hill after rolling hill, all green and brilliant. The low clouds hanging over the purple mountains made them look like they went straight to heaven. There were cows, horses, goats, and tons and tons of sheep grazing on the steep slopes and flat valleys. When we reached the bay, I felt like I was seeing all of God’s creation in one snapshot. The highs and lows, dry and wet, dark and light, bright and dull all converged in one view. After walking around Dingle for a while and getting some ice cream cones, we were able to go down to the beach for a while. It was perfect. The air was warm enough that we didn’t need our coats, so we left them along with our shoes on the rocks, rolled up our jeans, and stuck our feet in the freezing water. We ran around like little kids with huge smiles on our faces, taking pictures and having the time of our lives. It’s going to be hard to find a place more gorgeous than Ireland. At one point I even said, “If this is Earth, what must heaven be like?” Dingle and the lands around it made me come to understand just a little bit more how truly amazing heaven will be one day. Get excited, cause it’s going to be great!
The ride home from Dingle was beautiful in its own way. The bright yellows and greens turned to pinks and purples as the sun set behind us on our drive home, and by the time we got back to Killarney, it was nighttime. We splurged a little on a final Irish meal and spent some time out on the town before hitting the hay with our alarm set for 6:45 Sunday morning. Though the travel home was long, it was much more bearable than our arrival had been, and we made it back “home” to Oxford by 8pm–truly feeling like Oxford was home sweet home.
Well, that’s it in a nutshell. I apologize for rambling, and hopefully I’ll get better at condensing my posts as the semester goes on. The moral of the story is, absolutely go to Ireland if you ever get the chance. It was phenomenal–a trip I know I’ll always treasure. Travel break #1=success.