Sunday, August 5, 2012

Riding full circle in Ireland

The last day of a trip on the motorcycle is always bittersweet. One sad part is leaving our new friends, Kelly and Rob. We've enjoyed riding with them, sharing new experiences, exclaiming over yet another gorgeous view, and recapping the day's adventures over dinner. They're continuing south for three more days on the motorcycle, while we're headed back to Dublin to start our 4-day hiking trip in the Wicklow Way.

Rob and Kelly on Achill Island

Our trip today took us from Westport on the western side of Ireland back to Dublin on the eastern shore of Ireland. We rode about 160 miles across the width of Ireland, and saw the countryside change from the mountains and sheep of the west coast, to rolling farmland and cows in the middle, to suburban and urban centers as we neared Dublin.

We notice our surroundings more acutely when we travel by motorcycle, taking in the different smells of the farms and homes burning coal for heat, the loud mixture of sounds as we rode through congested and narrow streets in larger market towns, the brush of the hedges and bushes on our left knees as we snuggle close to the edge of the road when we meet a truck or tractor coming the opposite direction on one of the twisting and narrow county lanes, the smiles and waves from both school children and adults leaning on fences as we ride by.

Along the way we drove through Roscommon, and stopped to see the castle, built in 1269 by the Normans.

Unlike other castles we've driven by this week, Roscommon Castle is open for free to the public. We wandered around the imposing stone ruins, imagining what it must have been like to live here during the 400 years it was an important stronghold.

Traveling further east we came to Athlone, a busy town of 21,000 filled with people walking the narrow sidewalks and dodging  streams of traffic on the old city streets. Athlone is located on the River Shannon, at 224 miles Ireland's longest river.

 I always imagined the River Shannon as a wide, winding, slow-moving river with lush green fields on either side. My imagination was correct, and I wished we had more time to take a river cruise and explore more of this area.

In our quest to stay off major highways, we zig-zagged our way into the urban sprawl around Dublin, staying on less-traveled side roads and finally entering into one business park after another. We reached Celtic Rider mid-afternoon just as the drizzling rain ended and the sun came out

Both Paul, the owner of Celtic Rider, and Noel, the friendly gentleman who transported us to and from Dublin, asked us our favorite parts of the trip. There are so many favorites, we couldn't pick just one. Each day brought to life places we'd read about and now were able to experience first-hand, new and unplanned discoveries, and encounters with the lovely Irish people.

Noel, Paul and Mike at the end of our trip

Back in Dublin, we wandered the streets surrounded by throngs of people including 8000 costumed as zombies.  They're part of a quest to break the Guinness World Record for the most zombies in one location plus raise money for two Irish charities. Just one more surreal experience in a week full of the unexpected on our trip in Ireland.

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