Taking a ride on the Paddywagon

I’ve already taken a couple of bus tours in Ireland and while doing so I’ve noticed the Paddywagon tour buses look much more fun that the tours I am on. For today my friend has booked us one of these tours. We are heading to Rock of Cashel, Cork City and Blarney Castle.

Our first stop is at Rock of Cashel, a place of religious significance in Ireland. St Patrick came here to try to convert a king to christianity. Today the rock are ruins that are fun to look at. It’s cool to wander around and wonder how it looked during its time.

Rock of Cashel

The second stop is at Blarney Castle. Blarney castle is basically an old medieval castle. People come for the beautiful lure of the castle, the nice grounds around the castle and the most popular Blarney Stone. The legend is that if one kisses the stone they get the gift of gab, or ability to speak with eloquence. I don’t know about all that but I waited in a pretty long line to kiss the stone and not sure much has changed with me. My friend decided to forgo it all and I don’t blame her, who in their right mind would kiss a stone that millions of others kiss. Anyway I am here and I am doing it. As I wait in the long line I admire the castle but it would be nicer to see it without a line snaking through it. I get closer to the top and ask these two girls near me to take my picture figuring they would do a decent job since I see them taking other photos of each other. However at the last minute the man in front of me, also by himself, wants to work out an agreement that we take each others pictures. I reluctantly agree. They do sell photos here of the kiss but I want my own instead. When it is time for the guy to go do the thing he freaks out and cannot do it. We wait there for him to gain his composure which he never does. You see you need to lay on your back and lean your head over while one of the men lower you down. I can see how some would find this whole thing scary but I just turn off the fear switch and do stupid stuff like this so it is no sweat to me. Did I mention it is raining the whole time so everything around is like wet? He decides not to do it so I give him my phone making him at least hold up his part of the bargain. The whole thing happens so fast but I think I am really good at this and have reached down low. I pop back up and my guy says to me “I’m sorry I forgot”. What?!? He forgot to take my picture, his one job? I am annoyed and he is still up there contemplating everything and I resolve to buy the photo the castle takes. He eventually gives up and goes back down. I buy my photos since they are not too terrible anyway. Since I spend so much time in line I basically have no time left to explore the grounds. I head to the bathrooms to meet my friend and return to the bus. While I wait for her I look at photos on my phone and realize he did actually take some pictures. They aren’t the best but he wasn’t totally unsuccessful. Now I feel bad for being annoyed since his anxiety about the whole thing problem had him all out of sorts (plus language barriers). I’ve been there with the anxiety so I know. I feel fortunate that I am able to control my anxiety most of the time these days.

This is another I could have skipped the lunch days. We stop for lunch and the guide makes it seem like they’ve held some space for us at this upcoming restaurant so we can get in and out very quickly. What we find is an extremely busy restaurant packed with diners and possibly other tour groups. It is a buffet with a line out the door. However it is not an all you can eat, it is more cafeteria style where you pick out your main dish and sides. We are here for the long haul so I decide to eat. It is expensive and way too much food. I should have opted for a side dish like my friend. We finish early but have to wait around because the line was so long that some in our group just got their meals. While we wait my friend plays bus driver.

We finalize our day by a stop in Cork. We don’t have much time in cork because our long lunch. The roads are torn up in town and things don’t look too pretty today. I already know I am going to have to return another time to really see it. We just pop into a pub for a drink because its all we have time for.

We do stop at one more pub before we get back closer to Dublin. We sit down and chat with some girls from our tour and have a drink.

Soon we head back to town. Overall the tour is fun but the second half feels rushed. This is where a car would come in handy. I definitely plan to come back and do Ireland properly by car.

A late night Italian dinner is in the agenda. My friend is leaving tomorrow and I’m on my own again for another day. However I am heading back to the USA too. I will be taking a break from traveling to do some stuff back home. But first tomorrow is Howth. More on that later.

Day in Dublin

Trinity College Library

My friend S is still in town and we do a great job of not overdoing the fun so we can get in a fair share of sightseeing. Today we are exploring Dublin. What better way than book a hop-on hop-off bus?! We reserve a ticket to see the book of Kells and Trinity College Library this afternoon as well. Luckily we did because it is completely sold out for the day by the time we get there.

We follow the bus around its path deciding we can stop at one or two stops and still make our Book of Kells time. First stop is some historic pubs were we stop to get a snack at one.

General Post Office
Molly Malone statue

We enter into the book of Kells exhibit and learn all about this ancient text. We learn how the colored ink is made and we learn of the meaning of different symbols. The book is basically a book of a couple gospels of the New Testament but in elaborate visual detail.

Next we visit the library at trinity college. They are in the process of removing all the books to preserve them. Fortunately we get to see the library with some of the books still in place.

We take our hop on hop off tour for a little longer and end up on the other side of the river where we come upon the Jameson distillery. Unable to get tickets ahead of time we pop in to see if they talk walk ins and they do. We get a included Jameson drink and start our tour. The tour ends with a sampling. We enjoy hanging out at the bar in the front for a little bit.

Finally we end the evening at the Cobblestone, known for its local Irish music. It is impossibly packed but we wait it out and score two seats. We can’t really view the band but we enjoy the music just the same. I am surprised we stay as long as we do because of the thick crowds but we do have a limit and call it a night.

We have another long day tour scheduled tomorrow. Nite nite.

Guinness Storehouse visit

Sad that we missed out on our previous Guinness appointment due to Delta and JFK airport but we are glad we get a make up session on St Patricks Day. After a bizarre morning we can use some beers in our life.

We decide to head down to the Guinness Storehouse early to eat a late lunch since all the restaurants will be either packed or not serving food near where we watched the parade.

We eat at one of the on-site restaurants. The food is nothing to rave about but at least we are no longer hungry.

The can’t reschedule us for the same experience we had booked because it is totally sold out until my friend leaves and only offered once a day. But they do offer us tickets to pretty much every other experience that they have. We have a scheduled time but they don’t seem to be strict on that as long as you have a ticket for the experience you are in line for.
We soon learn we will be drinking lots of Guinness today. We have three tickets for events that will give us full pints of beer and on top of that we get to have a sample of Guinness.

We start with the learning how to pour a Guinness at GUINNESS ACADEMY. Guinness is not always my beer of choice but I have had enough of them to know there is a special way to pour them. Our beer instructor takes us through a very fast instruction. It is obvious there is something we are missing. We discover that most people arrive here after visiting the complete museum before hand whereas the people at the entrance erroneously told us to come directly to the 4th floor to start our special experiences. We get through our own pours, gain our certificate and decide to take our recently poured beers downstairs to start our way through the museum. This is where we have our first full pint given to us.

Guinness is no longer brewed here but we learn about the history, chemistry, etc.

After the tour we do part 2 of our experience, we have a beer sampling. A guide takes us throw the flavors we experience in the beer.

Part 3 is the STOUTIE experience where we have our faces printed on a pint we then drink. This is pint number 2.

We stop into a bar to watch an Irish band play for a little while. We haven’t heard much Irish music since we’ve been in town. The bars we have visited thus far play mostly covers. We stay awhile to enjoy.

Finally we visit the Gravity bar up top for an additional free pint. The bar has beautiful views of the city. We chat with some former locals who are back in town to watch the upcoming Rugby match. They tell us only tourists watch the St Patricks Parade because it is crap.

We make one more stop and then call it a day. Tomorrow we plan to wander around Dublin and sightsee locally.

The most bizarre St. Patrick’s Day parade ever

Happy St Patrick’s Day?

I haven’t been to too many St Patrick’s day parades because where I live up parades aren’t a thing on that day; but drunken parties are. My only exposure to St. Pat’s parades are the few years I lived in Brooklyn in New York. Brooklyn’s parade usually starts with local police and first responders and other local dignitaries, then there are bands and other groups but there is one common theme – lots of green. When my friend and I decided to meet up in Dublin it also happened to be the week of St Patrick’s day. What a fantastic thing to celebrate in the land the day originated!

Obnoxiously obnoxious
Hotel reservation includes breakfast!

There is a website and lots of tips around town to tell you the parade route and times. We just had to pick a strategy of where we would stand. We decided on a spot not too far from St Patricks Cathedral. We get there a little early but not as early as one person tells us – three hours early. I am pretty sure at three hours early most of the route would have still been a ghost town. Considering the parade didn’t get to us until over an hour after start time that would have made a very long and uncomfortable wait.

Even more obnoxious

We thought we could pass the wait time with a couple of beers. We don’t know the street laws and asked the nearby police doing crowd control about alcohol consumption and they say no alcohol is allowed to be consumed on the streets *although I am sure it happened when the crowds thickened. We contemplate visiting a bar for a pint and switch off getting a beer while the other saves the spot. That plan soon falls through when we find out the no alcohol before noon rule that I thought only applied to Sundays applies to bank holidays as well. So it will be a dry parade for us. No big deal but it is a long wait for the parade so it would help pass the time. Luckily some pre-parade aerial arts entertainment starts up.

House music starts pumping from the make-shift DJ booth and aerial acts one by one flys around in front of us suspended by a large crane. The performance goes on for a long time, even leading into the start time of the parade. I read the parade pamphlet and it seems like this whole day is an ambitious combination of arts groups. I am expecting a parade with an art flair but I wasn’t expecting it to be only that. Arts is pretty much all we got.

There is the standard grand Marshall, local officials, and police and first responders along with many bands. Most of the marching bands are from high schools and colleges in the USA. We see one or two multi-cultural groups such as Venezuelans and break dancing French but just about zero Irish heritage groups: No Irish dancers, no St Patricks themed floats, and no kitschy leprechauns. All we see is costumed performances of different themes, all impressive in their own right, but none having to do with the theme of the day. The only groups remotely related are the ones that have pagan themed costumes and performances. At least those can be explained as how Ireland was before St Patrick came in and spread christianity (no he did not chase out the snakes….there are no snakes in Ireland).

It is all so confusing and poorly executed that no one really knows when the parade is over. There is no finale float. The last group we see is a biodiversity group and they come by in bicycles nicely decorated. There is no indicator that they are the last group. We wait for a few a few minutes but everyone else seems to leave so we leave too. Perhaps there was more but we aren’t sure. We head off to guiness to get lunch and get ready for our visit time there this afternoon. The parade lasts longer than we anticipated so we are starving.

More on our Guinness visit to come.

Dublin, Kilkenny, sheep dogs

Kilmainham Gaol

It’s my second day in Dublin and my friend is on her way. Her flight gets delayed a little so I get breakfast and get some trip planning done for my next set of adventures (note this morning I accidently book a ticket from the wrong airport in Croatia but more on that later).

Good but greasy sausage roll.

We are supposed to do one of the high end Guinness experiences today but we miss out because of airlines. Unfortunately this experience is limited and completely booked during her entire visit. They do work with us and give us tickets for all the other Guinness experiences instead and that is scheduled a few days from now on St Patricks day. More on that later.

I do score us tickets for the Kilmainham Gaol Museum that are hard to get last minute (they sell out a month or so in advance). I remain flexible to skip if she is too tired from her travels. She is up for it so we head out there soon after she settles.

Kilmainham Gaol is famous for holding prisoners during the many conflicts over the years. It is a very unique looking structure and many executions took place over the years.

After prison we head down Temple Bar to get the whole experience. The place is probabably always busy but it is especially busy tonight because it is St Patrick’s Day coming up. We stay for one beer and listen the band a bit. We then head to another historic bar that is way less crowded.

The next day we have a day tour scheduled. First stop is the town of Kilkenny, a very cute town. We get bad advice from our tour guide. She tells us an option is to visit and tour Smithwicks. It is bad advice since not only does the tour start late, the tour guide doesn’t seem to know his stuff and stumbles slowly, and the beer isn’t even brewed here anymore. We don’t even have time to drink our beers at the end because they are too slow to pour. We have to run back to our bus. In our minds it is a waste of our too short time. I will have to come back to stay in the town to truly experience it. We did see a nice rainbow though and learn about some agreement about turkeys.

Much more of the tour is hey look out the window at this thing while we drive past it fast. This is the number one thing that bugs me about bus tours, number two being ridiculously short stops. Here are some things I saw really fast.

Photo stop at the Wicklow mountains.

We visit an old monastic sight in glendough founded by St Kevin, we try to find the trail to view the nearby lakes but again after bad advice or directions we never find the trail start. We waste our time going the wrong way and staring at some sheep. I get some greasy fish and chips that I soon regret. I am already tired of fried foods.

Finally we reach the best part of the day, the sheep dog trails in Wicklow. We watch border collies round up sheep like it is in their nature to do. We also meet some lamb. Another day making it harder for me to not be vegetarian. They are so adorable.

We head to dinner, both wanting to avoid fried food, and stewed food, we find a place that has smoked salmon. I am a enjoying my salmon on Guinness soda bread.

Tomorrow is St Patricks Day so time to rest up for another long day.