Last weekend, my ridiculously lovely girlfriend took me on a surprise trip to Ireland for my birthday. My instructions were simple – turn up with a passport. Until we were through security, I had no idea which country we were going to, and even after we landed, I didn’t really know where we were. (For the fun of it, I was quite happy to cover my ears and turn away while she talked to officials and handed our boarding passes etc over)
In case you’re curious what London looks like at 4am in the morning – this is it. Kinda beautiful. Once you get farther away from the city lights, the sky opens up and the earliest moments of the dawn break through.
Tired but super excited and dressed for inclement weather. M & I on the plane. As I said, even after landing I wasn’t totally sure where we were. However, one hire car and an hour or so of driving later we ended up here:
First stop – The Cliffs of Moher. Now, as exquisitely beautiful as they are (and up close? They truly are jaw dropping), they’re exciting for another reason too. These are the Cliffs of Insanity, from The Princess Bride! If you’d like to see what it’s like to climb them, check this:
Apparently climbing is easier if you’re a pirate – no footwork is required – inconceivable!.
To give you some idea of the huge scale of these things. It continued from here to the right about another 50%, and around the corner to the left you can see them stretching off into the far distance. Oh, and that tiny little blip on top? That’s a two storey castle. After all the climbing I’ve done, heights aren’t too much of an issue for me – but I have to say, being up there (with the highly variable wind gusts and no safety gear) standing closer than a foot to the edge definitely made my legs a little wobbly.
After that we headed up to Galway for (what else?) a pint. On the way, we saw this – a super cute sweater shop. Which sold (of course) super cute sweaters.
After walking around Galway, and driving the car back to the hire place, we then caught a cab to Limerick. Now, the Irish are notorious for liking their pubs. Indeed, the first place we stopped in Limerick was a wonderful little pub recommended by the cab driver (nothing like a local suggestion for a great place to get beer). Upon walking around we found this glorious stretch of road. It may not be super clear from the picture, but that is four, yes FOUR pubs in a row. Right next to each other. On one street. In a row.
Ay. May. Zing.
Never seen anything like it in my life.
After Limerick, we trekked on to Dublin by train. Oh, I do love train journeys. We stayed in a gorgeous little hotel (with a wonderful bed and deep, fast filling bath) a short walk from town.
Then, first thing the next morning – guess what?!?!?
Yeeeeppppppp, the Guinness Brewery!
If that’s not a perfect start to a birthday day, I don’t know what is.
Now, I’ve been on the Guinness tour before, about a decade ago, but they have really picked up their game now. There’s a reason it’s been voted the most popular tourist attraction in Dublin two years in a row. For a start, there’s about five times as much information as before. The vast majority of the tour you just wander around at your own pace (you can get audio guides if you don’t speak English). They have almost no staff for the entire tour – they just don’t need it. There’s lots of clever multimedia work (eg being able to put yourself into a Guinness advert). So, they have massive throughput, vastly reduced staffing costs and a far superior tour. It’s a win-win-win. Smart. Genius, you might say.
For example, as part of the tour, you get taught how to properly pour a Guinness. Along with getting to drink it, of course. Hey, I even have a certificate proving I can pour a perfect Guinness – with my birthday date on it! Woohoo! And if you think that was an accident, ha ha ha. I’m regularly reminded that while I’m no slouch, M is still farrrr smarter than I am.
Another ridiculously fun/silly experience? This. Hehe. (I’m looking a little high, dammit, but still, awesome)
Now what’s not to love about that? Perfect.
Of course, with any travelling, it’s always the little things that are most fascinating. A homeless bedroll – ok, common enough. What I found most interesting here? Count the books. There’s three books left there with their roll – a veritable library. Oddly intriguing, I thought.
Also, this. Oh boy.
We also checked out Trinity College, which was started, essentially, as an Irish answer to Oxford and Cambridge. That’s the central bell tower, which we were reliably informed peals out if ever a virgin walks underneath it. It hasn’t sounded in over 200 years. *cough*
As a small sign of how far I’ve come in terms of getting rid of my Catholic detritus, when M suggested visiting St Patrick’s Cathedral, I jumped at the chance. It’s obviously architecturally stunning. One whole end of it was repaired by Sir Benjamin Guinness (yes, of those Guinnesses) in 1860ish. There’s also a very interesting display on the left hand side, with a bunch of flags brought back by the Irish from various wars, dating back hundreds of years. Many of the flags are burnt beyond recognition. An odd place to store them, but a strong reminder of how core to the community these ancient houses of worship truly were.
There are, of course, many beautiful parks.
And on a random whim, we went on an utterly impromptu pub crawl – The Dublin Literary Pub Crawl. This is without a doubt the most fun public pub crawl I’ve ever been on. It’s run by a couple of actors, so has a combination of skits, poems, stories and general literary exposition and explanation. Now, I’m hardly a high brow reader (I read a couple of Pynchon’s books earlier this year and they just about made my head explode) but these guys made the whole thing incredibly approachable, entertaining and informative. I really can’t recommend it enough. It went for a few hours, but I could easily have hung out with them for several more.
There’s also general merriment to be found. A different kind of bombing going on in Ireland these days, although the pain of The Troubles, even as far south as we were, was still widely felt and acknowledged. Never quite-too-directly talked about, but often surprisingly near the surface.
First time I’ve ever seen one of these – that’s quite some effort there.
We spent a ton of times on trains – which was glorious. Endless hours watching views like this – always different, always gorgeous.
And of course, the best thing about travelling on trains – lots of secret snacks!
One more train trip, and we ended up in Cork. Many of the streets in Cork have these gorgeous plates set in them. They appear to describe often defunct side alleys, many tiny, several blocked completely. Still, the plaques are intricate and exquisite.
Cork has the Protestant St Fin Barre’s cathedral, which utterly dominates a huge part of the city. It also has statues of a groom, five wise virgins and five foolish virgins guarding the front door – which sounds like one hell of a wedding.
After walking around utterly and somewhat intentionally lost for a couple of hours, we stumbled across this utterly wonderful local pub. They had a happy hour on, and as such the only beer we found in Ireland that was cheaper than London. I have no explanations what’s up with that.
Eventually, our time in Ireland came to a close, so we headed back to the airport.
Where we found this guy. I’m not sure what the fishing is like in an airport concourse, but he seems to be doing ok.
The crazy thing is, the adventure still wasn’t over. As we came into London, the intercom came on – they were looking for a guy. Since he (apparently) didn’t immediately offer himself up, the entire plane was exited through the front door. There were two armed policemen waiting, checking everyone’s passports. Wait, did I say everyone? I meant just the guys. Eventually, some elderly fellow, in his 60s or 70s, hobbled down the stairs. He was the one they were after. The cops pulled him and his (obviously long suffering) wife aside and everyone else was allowed to go on their way.
What a trip.