Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Finding the craic in Dublin

We're back in Dublin for 2 days before we start part 2 of our Ireland adventure - hiking! While we love riding a motorcycle, it's fun to include something more active as part of our vacation.

Saturday we spent 2 incredible hours at EPIC, The Irish Emigration Museum.  It's only been open about 18 months, and features 20 interactive galleries that explain why millions of Irish emigrated over the years, and how the Irish emigrants influenced other countries, including our own. Mike, Wayne and Colleen have Irish ancestors, and watching the stories of people who decided to leave Ireland due to famine, economics, or lack of opportunities was both heart-wrenching and inspiring as we learned how they created incredible lives for themselves out of often horrible circumstances.

Outside the museum is a group of bronze statues depicting people during the potato famine in 1845-1850 when 1 million Irish died from hunger or disease, and another 1 million emigrated. In 1840 there were about 8 million people in Ireland, and by 1871 after the famine and emigration there were only 4 million residents. The population has been under 8 million since 1840, with current population at about 6.6 million.

Sunday was a busy day with the Rock n Roll half-marathon for me and the 10K for Mike, Wayne and Colleen - the first race ever for Wayne and Colleen! We ran through the streets of Dublin with a band playing about every mile, finishing in Phoenix Park which at 1762 acres is the largest park within any European city. It was established in 1662 as a royal deer park, and there are still deer living within the park. The Irish president and US ambassador to Ireland live within the park, and the park also contains statues, monuments, and the Dublin Zoo.

On our way back to the hotel after the race, we stopped for lunch at the Brazen Head, Ireland's oldest pub. It was established in 1198 and is a delightful warren of low-ceilinged, dark rooms with advertising memorabilia from centuries of beer, whiskey and other types of alcohol on the walls.

In the afternoon we took a tour of Kilmainham Gaol, built in 1796 as the Dublin County Gaol and operating until 1924. It depicts the history of the Irish struggles for independence from Great Britain, especially during the 1916 uprising where 16 of the leaders of the rebellion were executed within Kilmainham Gaol. The uprising and executions eventually led to Ireland declaring independence and the treaty in 1921 that established the Irish free state and Northern Ireland.

We immediately recognized the interior of the Gaol which was used in the original Italian Job movie, and could imagine Mr. Bridger walking down the stairs to the cheers of the inmates. 

We ended Sunday and the weekend with the fantastic Celtic Nights traditional Irish music and dance show at our hotel, where we learned 'lilting' as we attempted to sing along with the musicians and finally figured out that 'craic' (pronounced 'crack') is the Irish term for fun, gossip, and entertainment.

Tomorrow is an early start on the train to southwestern Ireland where we'll hike for 4 days on the Dingle peninsula. We thoroughly enjoy the frenetic pace of Dublin, and are looking forward to some quiet time hiking.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Last day on the BMW in Ireland

The last day of a motorcycle trip contains so many conflicting emotions. We're sad to see the end of our fantastic 5 days on a BMW motorcycle rented through Celtic Rider who put together a brilliant itinerary that took us on the Wild Atlantic Way around southwestern Ireland. We're also looking forward to 2 more days in Dublin before we hike for 4 days on the Dingle Peninsula, a bit further west from our motorcycle trip.

We started our trip 5 days ago on a rainy day, and we ended the trip with equally cloudy skies but with less rain. In fact, it was more of an annoying drizzle and not really rain; it's interesting how my view of 'rain' changes the longer I spend in Ireland.

We wound our way west from Killarney through farm country, seeing more tractors on the roads than we have during the previous days of our trip.

The last 120 miles of our ride today was on M8 and M7, motorways that are generally 2 lanes traveling in each direction, with limited access similar to the interstate system in the US. Before we reached the motorway, we enjoyed the winding, bending, sweeping curves of the local roads, including a few sections where the trees and bushes grow high over the roadway, forming a living tunnel above us.

We pulled into Celtic Rider and were welcomed by Paul, telling him stories about our trip and reliving the highlights. The end of the trip went by so fast - unpacking the bike, packing the suitcase, saying good-bye to Paul and Liam from Celtic Rider. This was our second self-guided trip in Ireland with them, and we're sure it won't be our last. There are still miles of mountains and coastline to explore!

Ring of Kerry on a BMW motorcycle

Image result for king puck statue

Image result for king puck statue

Image result for king puck statue

Today we rode the iconic Ring of Kerry, a 120 mile loop around the Iveragh Peninsula in southwestern Ireland. Yesterday we enjoyed bright blue skies, but that type of weather doesn't last for long in Ireland and today we were thrilled that we didn't need raingear as we rode under cloudy skies.

N71, N70, and N72 are the 2-lane paved, mostly narrow and sometimes really narrow roads that comprise the Ring of Kerry. We road counterclockwise starting and ending in Killarney, with views of the mountains on one side and often the Atlantic Ocean to our left.

Our first stop was the Torc Waterfall in the Killarney National Forest. The waterfall itself is beautiful, but what really struck us were the moss covered trees. We expected a leprechaun to jump out and start dancing around us at any minute.

Soon we were climbing through Moll's Gap, named for Moll Kissane who ran a small pub, or shebeen, during construction of the road in the 1820's. She was popular for selling home-brewed whiskey to the road workers, and the Gap was named in her honor.

We rode this way yesterday in the opposite direction on our way from Kinsale to Killarney, and it was fun to see sheep once again in the middle of the road and on the hillsides.

We continued on into Kenmare, turning onto the N70 and heading west along Kenmare Bay past Sneem where we stopped a few times to let the views of the coast and mountains on the other side of the Bay sink in.

Everything I read said that the section of the Ring between Caherdaniel and Waterville is considered the most beautiful, and we have to agree. We looked out over the beaches and the Atlantic Ocean, imagining life here centuries ago.

After Waterville, the road cuts across the peninsula. Instead of mountains and ocean views, I was mesmerized by the brilliantly colored bushes and flowers that lined the road.

We were warned about heavy tourist traffic, and especially tour buses, but mostly had the road to ourselves except for one close encounter.

We stopped in Glenbeigh, on the northern side of the Iveragh Peninsula, for lunch at Rumour's Bistro where we enjoyed local mussels in white wine sauce that tasted like they had just been plucked from the sea. The next time you're on the Ring of Kerry, make this your lunch AND dinner stop - the food is that amazing.

We hit the worst traffic of the day as we rode into Killorglin, where the annual Puck Fair was taking place. Legend has it that the fair started in the early 1600's, although many people believe it's far older. Puck is actually a wild goat, who is crowned King Puck by a local school girl who is the Queen of Puck. We've been to numerous street fairs in different parts of the world, and this one easily was the largest we've seen, with people parking over 1 mile away to walk to the festivities. We didn't see this year's King Puck, but we did see his statue as we rode past.

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We enjoyed the shorter yet absolutely beautiful ride today, yet it's bittersweet because tomorrow is our last day on our Ireland motorcycle tour. We walked around busy downtown Killarney, listening to street musicians and savoring our last evening in County Kerry.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Wild Atlantic Way by motorcycle: Look right, stay left, watch out for the bends, mind the sheep and mountain goats, and don't forget about the cattle crossing!

When we picked up the BMW from Celtic Rider, Paul reminded everyone to always "look right and stay left" as we learned to ride on the 'opposite' side of the road. Today Mike kept that in mind, as he also dealt with sweepers and 'bends', or as we would call them 'twisties' riding up, over, and through mountain ranges in southwestern Ireland on the Wild Atlantic Way that winds up the southwestern coast of Ireland.

Wayne and Colleen on the Healy Mountain Pass

Then there were the sheep - hundreds of sheep on the hillsides, high up the sheer rock walls of the mountains, and often standing in the middle of the road or voraciously eating leaves.

At one point earlier in the day, all traffic came to a halt as a family herded their cows across the narrow lane. Toward the end of our ride, a black mountain goat calmly sauntered across the road, again stopping traffic in both directions. He lives there, we're visitors, and he's obviously in charge.

Our day started with brilliant blue skies and sunshine, a comparative rarity in cloudy and rainy Ireland. We waved good-bye to Grianne, our host at the Desmond House in Kinsale after enjoying a stupendous breakfast prepared by herself and her husband, Paddy. 

Our first stop was Charles Fort, just outside Kinsale. Completed in 1682, it was built on the site of an earlier fort. The star-shaped fort is designed to repel cannon attack, and it occupies a high point on the harbor to defend the town from the sea.

Our route today took us on normal-size 2-lane highways, narrow 2-lane roadways, even more narrow side roads, and every now and then a lane with grass growing down the middle - my very favorite Irish road.

Along the route we stopped at the Dromberg Stone Circle, a circle of 7 standing stones with an urn burial in the center, established between 153 and 127 AD.

We stopped in Glandore, a small town in County Cork on the ocean, where we sat outside to enjoy our lunch and watched children in the sailing school take an ice cream break.

After lunch we rode through Baltimore, a harbor town raided by pirates in 1631 who sold the townspeople into slavery. The town plays up this history in a variety of ways, including a 'pirate' climbing the church wall.

We kept heading north into the Beara Peninsula, one of 5 peninsulas in this part of Ireland. We rode on narrow lanes with hedgerows so close to the side of the road that at times my knees were brushing the bushes on my left.

Then it was up and over the Healy Pass through the Caha Mountains, where we first encountered the sheep.

We continued on N71 into Kenmare, the start of the Ring of Kerry on the Iveragh Peninsula. N71 on this stretch goes through Moll's Gap with views of Ireland's highest mountain range, the Macgillycuddy's Reeks, the Black Valley, and lakes around Killarney, our stop for the next 2 nights.

We rode 150 miles over 7 hours through some of the most beautiful country and fun motorcycle roads we've ever been on. Tomorrow we complete the Ring of Kerry, riding along the Atlantic coast. 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Rain, castles, and more rain in Ireland on a BMW motorcycle

"It's a lovely, fresh rain" said our waiter last night, as the rain poured outside the open glass window of the pub. With that phrase in mind, we pulled on rain gear in the morning before we left Kilkenny, and made good use of the raingear as it rained off and on throughout the day.

We parked our motorcycles outside Cahir Castle, admiring the ducks in the river outside the castle walls as the rain came down hard.

Built in the 13th century as a defensive castle, it was purchased in 1375 by the Butler family, who owned much of this area of Ireland, including several other castles. Because the family surrendered to Cromwell in 1650, the castle was spared destruction and was remodeled and renovated several times over the years.

Some of the rooms inside the castle have been recreated as they might have appeared around 1600. The banquet hall features an impressive set of antlers high on the wall.

We ate lunch in the Shamrock Lounge just down the street from the castle, because how could you go wrong eating in a place called the Shamrock Lounge? The food didn't disappoint, and we had a friendly chat with our waitress and the owner.

As you can tell from the photo, it started to rain again as we finished lunch, making it difficult to take pictures of the countryside as we rode along on narrow paved roads with hedgerows so close I could reach out and touch them - if I wasn't worried about thorns.

The rain held off as we pulled into the parking lot of Blarney Castle, home of the famous Blarney Stone.

A wooden structure was built on this site in the 10th century, followed by around 1200 with a stone structure. The current castle was built in 1446 on the foundations of the stone structure. We walked through gardens of brilliantly-colored flowers on our way to the castle.

The guidebook wasn't exaggerating about the steep, narrow, and slippery winding stone staircases necessary to climb up to the top of the castle to reach the Blarney Stone. It didn't help that a misting rain was falling, making the stones even more slippery. The climb, however, was worth it.

We continued our ride south to the town of Kinsale, located on the southwest coast in County Cork, and the official start of Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way that we'll be traveling for the next 2 days. We're hoping for less rain!