Thursday, September 20, 2012

Discovering Ireland: Part 3

Bunratty Castle and Folk Village was only about 20-25 minutes from Ennis. Upon purchasing the tickets, we were given a map which numbered the sites and off we went.

Peat was burning in the houses, which gave the village an authentic feel, but totally irritated my nasal passage and lungs. I appreciated the homage to times past, but I could have done without the full sensory experience. The village was quite large, but there were just a couple of cottages before the immense Bunratty Castle.

Four very narrow spiral staircases occupied the spaces in each corner of the castle, and they just went up, up, up. Due to my extreme, compounded fatigue, I regretfully could not battle my fear of heights strongly enough to make my way up to the top of the castle. I tried to get up the final flight of one of the staircases and my body resisted by sending involuntary tremors throughout my limbs, forcing me to lean hard against the railing for security and sheepishly climb back down, thus making other tourists trying to come up, go back down as well. Stupid, ridiculous, embarrassing fear of heights. I did, however, thoroughly enjoy seeing the rooms of this castle. The map that was given to us was hard to make heads or tails of, and not all of the rooms were labeled as to what they were.

We spent about 2 hours total touring the rest of the village; there really was a lot to see including shops, animals, gardens, and yet another incredible view of the Irish countryside. 

 I don't know what these huts were used for. They were odd-looking though.
For a much needed lunch I had mushroom soup and brown bread in the village.
 I loved the overhead drying rack.
 Sewing room.
 This is one of my favorite pictures. A view of the countryside from the garden.
 A pony grazing.
 The center of the garden.
A church in Bunratty village. 

Off to Killarney! On the way, not far from Bunratty, was the village of Adare, Ireland’s “prettiest village.” Unfortunately, I was too tired and too determined to get to Killarney to stop here and take pictures, so you will all have to imagine picturesque thatched-roofed cottages and just the cutest darn street in Ireland at this juncture.

It was another 1 ½ hours to Killarney from there, and a fairly easy drive at that. Once we checked into Neptunes Town Hostel, we went to St. Mary’s Cathedral, a beautiful, gothic-style, massive church with fine mosaic designs inside.  

 The inside of this church just seemed enormous. The ceilings were so high.

 Some of the mosaic work that was inside the church.

We then wandered into Killarney National Park, which I just loved. I wish I had planned an extra day in Killarney just to stroll around this vast, lovely park. I saw a sign for Ross Castle and made no connection to when my father told me that the name of his and Mom’s favorite castle in Ireland was Ross Castle until we were right near it. I hustled the 2.6 km to get to the castle because I figured we were pretty close to closing time. I enthusiastically speed walked along, all the while trying to avoid the horse plops on the paved path. 

Along the way, we saw Red Deer on one side, then cows on the other side with a view of St. Mary’s Cathedral in the background.

Onward we walked and the foliage seemed to get greener, richer, and mossier. I heard horses clopping in the background; they were pulling carriages of people to the castle. We stepped to the side to let them by, and just as the last horse passed, just as I was admiring its strong, stocky build, it clopped its hoof in a mud puddle sending (in slow motion) a muddy splatter my way. In my fatigued state, I didn’t stand a chance, and I accepted my fate. I was splattered, and my white shirt will forever have a tiny brown dot, right in the middle, below my chin, where it looks like I may have dribbled Guiness-Braised Beef out of my mouth. But no, it was a mud splatter…honest.

As we approached the castle, I heard Dad’s voice, “That would be Ross Castle,” and I thought, “Ahhhh, yes! This was their favorite castle! I can’t believe I’m here and I’m going to see it too!” From the outside, the castle was a handsome, medieval structure overlooking a fantastical lake in the park. After snapping a few shots of the outside, my eyes landed on the “reception” sign and off I went. The last tour is in 7 minutes? Yes! I would like a ticket, please!

Our tour guide narrated the tour in her Irish sing-song voice, explaining to us the defense mechanisms of the castle, the soldiers quarters, the bathroom (they went down a corridor and eliminated on a grate, on which the matter decomposed and eventually drained down a chute. That’s not the disgusting part. They had a clothesline strung in the corridor so that at night they could hang their woolen outer garments to allow the ammonia from the waste to kill of any ticks, fleas or other critters in the clothing. This was when I realized that I was born in the right era for me, that I needed to stop romanticizing times past, and that maybe the stink there, about 400 years ago, was far worse than the ferocious stink at the hostel.

We also saw the bedroom where the royalty slept (where we learned the origin of the term “cubbyhole”), the counting room where the money was counted, and the dining room/kitchen/music area. Unfortunately, this was the end of the tour. Much of the castle was destroyed after the previous owners burned the ceiling off in order to avoid paying the ceiling tax on their second home, thus leaving it vulnerable to damage by the weather, which eventually destroyed much of it. So clever of them… Only the area of the castle that we toured had been completely restored. No photography was allowed inside the castle, therefore, I have no pictures of the inside, and that will be the same story for a few of the other sights that I saw. 

 View of the lake from the castle grounds.

The lake off of the castle grounds.

We walked back to the hostel, even though I felt like I had unfinished business in the park. Dinner that night was a chicken curry and basmati rice, served with, what else, chips. So bizarre. It seems as though everything is indiscriminately served with French fries. And, of course, every time I sat down to eat I was so hungry I felt it necessary to eat everything on the plate, justifying my desire by the logic that I burned so many calories walking and sightseeing that my body needed all of that fuel in order to properly recuperate. My theory may have held true; I did not gain any weight!

After dinner I joined my traveling companion and a fellow American traveler for some live music at a pub. This was the first time that I felt like I was experiencing the social culture of Ireland, but my experience didn’t last long because I was so extremely tired and was not feeling too well. After a few songs, I went back to the hostel. 

When I got to my assigned room, it smelled so awful (I saw a man’s feet poking out from beneath the covers and immediately knew the most offensive culprit of the noxious odors), that I went to the reception desk and kindly requested a room change.

Me: “I was wondering if it would be possible to change rooms, maybe to something smaller…it smells so bad in my room that I don’t think I will be able to sleep.”
Man: (Looking slightly questionably at me) “Is it someone in the room?”
Me: (scrunching face) “Yeahhh….”
Man: (understanding expression crosses his face) “Oh, that happens sometimes. I’ll put you in a half-full female dorm.”
Me: “Thank you! Thank you so much!”
When I opened the door to my new room it smelled lovely, of all things girly, and I was so relieved. I will sleep tonight. Though, I was not fond of the shared towel to dry your hands on in the whole-floor-shared girls bathroom (the last time I saw that, I was in a third world country), nor did I appreciate the lack of toilet paper holders. The toilet paper was simply placed on top of the garbage cans in the stalls. How sanitary! 

Part 4 to come: Ring of Kerry!



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