Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Blarney Castle + the Gift of Gab

Rick Steves does not recommend Blarney Castle. He really seems to hate it. He calls it the most overrated attraction in Europe. We almost didn't go there because of his review. I mean, I really trust Rick Steves. He is like the traveling expert/role model I didn't know I couldn't live without. 

I think he must have had a bad experience there once or something because we loved it. And I can think of a few other European attractions that I would consider far more overrated than Blarney Castle.

Actually, I just sat here and thought about it for a good ten minutes and I really can't think of anything. I love everything, it turns out. Or we just go to the good attractions?

Okay, sure, Blarney Castle is corny but in a weirdly wonderful way. And once you are actually there, it doesn't feel that corny at all. It's about as iconic to Ireland as corned beef and cabbage (which, by the way, is not actually a traditional Irish meal. It's really just what Americans eat on St. Paddy's Day. I have now saved you from horrible embarrassment when you go to Ireland and you are welcome. I didn't order it, Forrest did. I hate cabbage). The point is, it was great.

The castle itself was great. It is mostly an empty shell (which Rick happens to think is a bad thing and I happen to think he is incorrect, good sir, and maybe he should stick to mainland Europe for his books because those are much better) but I've been in so many redone castles already that this was nooo problem. We climbed a few flights of stairs, read the signage on the walls, and learned which rooms were which. Then we emerged at the top with the legendary Blarney Stone at our fingertips

We must be the luckiest people in the world because, as we confusedly approached the old man who would lower us down to the stone, we realized that we were the only three people (besides old man) up there. We each gave that bad boy (the stone, not the old man) a quick kiss and then looked up to see at least 20 people in line behind us. I giggled with glee and we moved on.

They say that kissing the Blarney Stone bequeaths the kisser with the so-called "Gift of Gab" which makes him or her a convincing and eloquent speaker. I haven't really been seeing this gift manifest itself in me quite yet but maybe there's a brewing period or something? I'll keep the blog updated on that one.

Blarney Castle
Blarney Castle
 Blarney Castle flowers Blarney Castle
Blarney Castle
Blarney Castle
Blarney Castle
 Blarney Castle Forrest at Blarney Castle
Blarney Castle
Kissing the Blarney Stone Kissing the Blarney Stone
Blarney Stone
Blarney Castle old man
Blarney Castle
Blarney Castle Blarney Castle
Blarney Castle
Blarney Castle

We also went into the caves underneath the castle and wandered in the poison garden where I found an awful lot of potion ingredients i.e. mandrake, hellebore, wolfsbane, wormwood. They even acknowledged that mandrake screams when you pull it up (Harry Potter fans). So now I'm not exactly sure what to think but there may be wizards in Blarney?

I already know for sure that a witch lives in Blarney because she has a house. The witch is trapped inside a witch-shaped rock and can only come out at night when Blarney Castle is conveniently closed. They say that sometimes really early in the morning you can see the embers from her fire inside her house. Her chimney is pictured, by the way.

Blarney Castle Poison Garden
Blarney Castle
Blarney Castle Caves

Blarney Castle has some of the prettiest grounds I have seen at a castle and it's probably worth a visit just for that if you're in the area. They say that the first inhabitants of Ireland settled on the Blarney land. 

There was something really magical about the woods and the gardens. The trees let in just the right amount of dappled sunlight and the ground was covered in green. There were pretty flowers everywhere and they have not one but two waterfalls. There was a cute little pussy-willow tunnel and wooden bridges over the streams. There are weird (but magical) rock formations everywhere and it was all just the perfect effect. They even have a fairy garden (where we found a leprechaun). 

My favorite part was the set of stone steps appropriately named the Wishing Steps. If you can walk down and back up the steps while thinking of a wish the entire time, your wish will be granted to the Blarney Witch. Oh, but you have to keep your eyes closed the entire way. 

I attempted walking down the steps with my eyes closed but found that I really couldn't concentrate on a wish when I was trying so much harder not to die. I didn't even bother walking back up with my eyes shut. Before you judge, let me tell you that those steps are really steep and wet and slippery smooth. And they're in a tunnel, sort of.

Denise did it though. 


Blarney Castle
Blarney Castle Gardens Blarney Castle Wishing Steps
Blarney Castle Gardens
Blarney Castle Wishing Steps
 Blarney Castle Witch's Cave Blarney Castle Wishing Steps
Blarney Castle Witch's Stone
Blarney Castle Gardens
Blarney Castle Witch's Chimney Blarney Castle Witch's Chimney
Blarney Castle Gardens
Blarney Castle Blarney Castle Leprechaun
Blarney Castle Gardens
Blarney Castle

So to recap:

Blarney Castle is worth the visit but don't eat the plants in the poison garden.

And  one last service announcement: If you want to make one of those smashed penny souvenirs  but find yourself without a penny, don't take a penny from the places where weirdos leave them as tribute (like in the fairy garden or on the witch rock) because they are definitely cursed. Forrest did it and had bad luck the rest of the day. Or at least the place we ate at ran out of frozen yogurt right when it was his turn. So.. if that doesn't make you think twice, I don't know what will. 

One last Ireland post is coming at you soon. I really and truly promise that it's the last one. Really.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Burren

Happy Friday and welcome to the second to last (maybe?) installment of the Grand Ireland trip of 2013. Other installments can be found below.


Now I didn't actually realize that I have already written t-e-n (10?!) posts about Ireland until I just linked to them all, but what can you do? 


The Burren (which means "rocky place") is a strange but wonderful part of Ireland located in County Clare and really close to the Cliffs of Moher. The ground is all rock. No wonder that everything in this area is built of stone. Those lumps under the grass where the cows are grazing? Rock. The ground is literally all rock.

We started out our Burren adventure by stopping at Leamaneh Castle which is just a big 15th century shell that, unfortunately, is closed to pretty much everybody. But it's pretty from the road.

Then we made a short stop at the Caherconnell Ring Fort. There are ring forts all over the Burren (and all over Ireland) which were used by the Celts in the early medieval times as places of shelter for themselves and their livestock. But not like a fort for war. Due to our untimely arrival at about 7:00, it was closed. So I couldn't get a very good picture of it. But seriously, look at the lighting. I would sacrifice entrance for this lighting any day. The actual fort is behind the cows and the other pictures are the walls around it.

The main attraction of the Burren (at least to meep) is the Poulnabrone Dolmen or the "druid's altar" as it was called 200 years ago. It is actually a portal tomb, not an altar, despite its tricky appearance. The top slab is about 12 feet long and the supporting stones are about 6 feet high which is not apparent even when you are standing outside the rope barricade. I didn't actually know how high it was until I looked it up. It used to be the entrance for a tomb chamber. We decided to see this late (around 7:30 pm) so that we would have it all to ourselves and we surely did succeed in this endeavor.

These are maybe my favorite pictures from our whole trip. 

But I say that all the time.

And this was the view from our hotel room. I'm pretty sure that the very furthest away cliffs are the Cliffs of Moher, but I'm not actually positive. But we'll say they are.

And now for a sad story that involves me missing dinner because not even the hotel restaurant was serving anything but alcohol.

While living in the UK, I have been introduced to several new cultural norms, one of which being that if you want to eat late at night (or past 9 pm..) you basically have two options: Chinese takeaway or some type of kebab house. It turns out that Ireland is no different in this respect, but even after two years I sometimes forget that food is not always available at all hours of the night (again, after 9:00) and pubs stop serving food at around 5-6:00, a time which I have mistakenly always associated with dinnertime? Seeing as how the town we stayed in was mostly a seasonal beach town and everything basically shuts down at 8:00, there was only the one option: a Chinese takeaway. And it was expensive.

I don't know about you, but sometimes when I haven't eaten for several hours or forgetfully skip a meal, I start to feel sick if I don't eat something right away. This was one of those times. We had been rushing around all day to see everything and also to get back to before the hotel pool closed and somehow we missed at least one meal and I was feeling more than a little hungry and sickish.

Now this is one of those general sweeping statements, but in my experience, UK Chinese food is extremely greasy (also true for Ireland) and generally doesn't sit well in a queasy stomach. Forrest (of course) ordered his takeaway and joyfully scarfed it down but I could barely bring myself to smell, much less consume, the greasiness that was the sweet and sour chicken. Luckily, we had some snacks in the car that we bought earlier in the day.

So I had grapes for dinner at 11:00. The end.