Sunday, September 25, 2016

European Odyssey - Part 3: 36 Hours in Cork

We had smooth sailing on our red eye Aer Lingus flight from Boston to Shannon.  So smooth that our plane landed almost an hour early.  My friend J. was going to drive over from Cork to pick us up from the airport.  I assumed that we'd kill some time waiting to get through customs, but as we were the only 2 non EU citizens on the flight we breezed through customs and settled in to wait in the lounge by the front door thinking we'd be there a while.  To our surprise J. walked through the doors a few minutes later.  She had gotten up early and checked the flight.  When she saw we were ahead of schedule she left early and arrived just in time.  We walked out the sliding doors and into a gusting, rainy pre-dawn morning to start our 36 hours in Cork.

Amy was so excited that she didn't sleep at all on our Aer Lingus flight.
Amy was getting her bearings using this sign post in the Shannon airport just before J. walked in to collect us.
A grand soft Irish morning to welcome us.
On the way to Cork from Shannon we saw Ballybeg Priory all lit up and decided to stop and take a look around.  It was windy and the rain was coming down hard, but we had a blast running around the boggy grounds of the ruin in the dark.  The light from the floodlights that illuminated the site wasn't enough to get great handheld shots, but I managed to get a couple OK images by using the wall to brace the camera.

The flood light cast an orange glow that made it look like the place was on fire.
After we had our fill of hunting for ghosts in the abandoned priory we squelched our way back to the car and hit the road again.  We were all starving and after some driving we found a 24 hour road side convenient store that was servicing breakfast.  We got these sandwiches that were essentially a full Irish breakfast on a bun.  When you're cold, wet, hungry, and sitting in a dark car early in the morning nothing tastes better.

Through the help of Yelp, recommendations from people, friends who cooked for us, and sheer luck we did not have a single bad meal the entire trip.  In fact after my friends the thing that I miss the most from this trip is the food.  We arrived in Cork at J.'s house a little after sunrise.  I've know J. since I lived in Cork back in 1999.  I took photos at her wedding more than a decade ago, and she and her husband and their oldest son were at my wedding 9 years ago.  This was my first time meeting her daughters.  All of her children were so much fun to be around.  It amazed me that they didn't bat an eyelash that their mother brought home strangers early on a Sunday morning, they welcomed us in and treated us just like family.

After quick showers and a change of clothes we all headed off to church where I was able to see some of the people I used to know when I lived in Cork.  We stayed for an hour and then changed back into casual clothes and got on the road to Tipperary to see the Rock of Cashel.  Shari caught up on her sleep during the drive and I caught up with J. about everything that I'd missed since I'd seen her last.  It was so good to catch up on the news from her family and our friends.  When we arrived in Cashel we stopped for lunch at Grant's Bar adjacent to the Kearney's Castle hotel.  It was a cozy pub with tasty comfort food.  It was Amy's first taste of Irish food and she couldn't get enough of the Fish & Chips and the Bangers & Mash.

Lunch gave us enough fortitude to brave the rainy January weather and make the trek up the hill to the castle.  The weather got progressively worse so we ducked inside the screening room to catch a film on the history of the site and warm up a bit.  After the film we explored the ruins and the cemetery and then walked down the road after the Rock closed for the evening to get a photo of Hore Abbey.

I'm sure this carving wasn't originally this inappropriate.
Jesus and him are like this...

Another inappropriate carving.

Amy searched high and low but she finally admitted that Sheldon wasn't there.  We headed out of the castle.

When we arrived back in Cork both S. and I crashed for a nice long nap.  While we were sleeping J.'s husband D. decided to be a rock start and prepared a lovely dinner of seafood chowder and Irish brown bread for us before we drove to the small village of Ovens to visit my friend C. and her sons.  We passed the evening in front of the fireplace catching up and reminiscing about old.  Later that night back at J.'s house her daughters had graciously given up their room for S. and I, Little Miss J stayed up to welcome us home.

After chatting with Little Miss J we hit the sack and slept like the dead.  In the morning Little Miss J woke us up and informed us that the other kids had already left for school.  She wanted to see Amy and show her around.  Amy explored the royal sweet we were staying in and interviewed the locals from the Frozen tundra and the Hundred Acre Wood about Sheldon's whereabouts, they hadn't seen him but offered to keep an eye out and report back if he crossed their paths.

D. and J. had both taken the Monday off so after a quick breakfast we were back on the road to visit Blarney Castle.  Along the way we discovered that even though D. had lived in Cork for quite a while now, he had never actually kissed the Blarney Stone.  J. and I have both kissed it so we insisted that both D. and S. had to do it.  S. and I were cozy in the back seat with Little Miss J. and J. thoughtfully provided fuel for the adventure in the form of Mars bars.

It was the first day of February and it seemed like the weather decided to show us that it was playing nice.  It was bright, sunny, and dry, perfect for enjoying the castle and grounds.  Meanwhile we discovered that back home in Utah a massive winter storm had dumped almost a foot of snow the day before and it was wreaking havoc all over town.  It made 40F seem balmy, and that put a spring in our step as we walked the grounds and climbed to the top of the castle keep.

Little Miss J was bound and determined to help Amy find Sheldon
Everyone was super excited.
Spring comes much earlier in Ireland than it does in Utah.  Seeing all the early flowers in full bloom did my heart good.

Inside the remains of the ruined round tower, looking up at the sky.
The watch tower and the remains of the keep.

The hearth hanging out in the middle of the wall.  The wooden floor that used to sit under it has long since rotted away.  I loved the roots growing down through the chimney.
My partners in crime, J. and S.
I climbed into this window to take a shot out through the arrow slit.  S. snapped this image of me.
View from inside the walls.

The manor house in the distance is Blarney House.  The woolen mills is nearby as well.
Looking down several stories.  In between the battlements and the floor you see here would have been several floors with rooms for public occasions and private family gatherings.
Bell tower at the top of the castle.
 After much climbing and scrambling through dark, narrow, and steep stairways we reached the very top.  J. and D. only required minor goading and reassurances before laying down to kiss the famous stone of eloquence.  It was fairly painless and there was a professional staff member there to ensure that no one fell to their deaths while attempting the feat.  Once everyone had proven their mettle we began our descent.  After a quick stop for waltzing in the area marked as the ballroom, we toured the extensive gardens surrounding the castle.

Photo by S.

Photos of the ladies taken by D.
Photo taken by D.
We found cannabis in the "poison" garden.
A view of the wishing steps from the other side of the waterfall.
D. leading the way to the Rock Close.
Little Miss J. and I held Amy's hand while she explored under the Dolmen Stone in the rock close.

View from the bottom of the wishing steps.
The Witch's kitchen.

Searching for Sheldon at The Witch's Stone.
Amy spotted the Sacrificial Altar in the Druid circle and suggested a human sacrifice might boost her chances of finding Sheldon.  We thought she was joking so we played along.
She wasn't joking.  Luckily S. stopped just in time and my life was spared.  Thanks for D. for taking these two photos.
I loved this tree.  The branches had grown into the shape of a harp, the national emblem of Ireland.
S. grabbed this shot of us heading back towards the car park.
Obligatory tourist photos in front of the castle.

As we rounded the base of the castle Little Miss J. told D. "stairs too strong" and asked to be carried.  Her poor little legs just couldn't keep up with us.  We decided to let her nap in the car while we drove back into town to climb to the top of Shandon Tower and ring the bells at St. Anne's Church.

One last view of the castle before driving back into Cork City.
Sleeping Beauty.
View of the tower from the car.
We got out and waled to the church while D. circled around to find a spot to park.
The North face of the "4 Faced Liar"
In Cork it's Murphy's!  And Beamish...and Carling...and Guinness.  A pub in Shandon.
One of the famous Shandon Bells.  They give you hearing protection to wear while you're climbing the tower.  Even with the hearing protection on you don't want to be climbing past one of these when they're run.
The view from the top.

Can you see D.?
How about now?

Here are D.'s photos looking up at us in the tower.

Can you see us?
How about now?
S. making her way back down to the room where you ring the bells.
I don't remember which song we selected from the book on the music stand next to the ropes, but the three of us played it together.

Stained glass window inside the church.
Our time in Cork was growing short and all of us were growing hungry.  We headed downtown, not far from where I used to live, and stopped in at the English Market.  In case you've never been to Cork, the English Market is an amazing market in the heart of the city.  It is packed full of individual stalls selling fresh ingredients or amazing meals already made.  The seafood section is especially impressive.  Inside we grabbed lunch from the Sandwich Stall.  It's such a generic name for such AMAZING sandwiches, great meal to end our time in Cork before D. and J. dropped us off at the airport to catch our very bumpy flight to London City Airport and then our also VERY bumpy flight from London to Antwerp.


I had to take a photo of this poultry stall and post it on Facebook as a challenge.  I was planning a wing cook-off with friends after we got home from the trip and I considered this research.
The market didn't just have food.  There were other types of stores as well.  Like this shop that had the cutest vintage clothing.
We left the market with sandwiches in hand and walked around taking in downtown.
Seriously so good, just looking at this photo makes me want to go back for seconds.
The Princes street entrance to the market

Our cheesy self portrait in this window.
Great friends, great tour guides, and great hosts.  We're so grateful to them for taking such amazing care of us.
After D. and J. dropped us off at the airport we checked into our flights and wandered about the airport.  Amy wanted to sit in the lounge with a beverage and check over our travel documents.  We left her there and went exploring.  We found a statue of a fisherman, and even though it may look like a salmon, he's saying "I caught you this sweet bass."

I'm absolute rubbish at taking selfies...
So S. took over and saved the day.

So for now it's Goodbye Cork.  Just be grateful I didn't take any selfies of us on our City Jet flights from ORK to LCY and LCY to ANR.  The extreme turbulence got to S. and we had a run on airsick bags.  Luckily we were in the back row and had an amazing flight attendant sitting in the jump seat just behind us.  She jumped into action and took good care of S.  With great relief we landed in Antwerp and caught the last train of the night to Brussels.  Next stop waffles.

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