This post is part of my British Invasion 2014 series. Click here for all posts in the series.
Our second day in Ireland was amazing! Well, they all were.
All of their day tours leave super early (between 6:30-6:50am) from the Old Stone Church, conveniently located downtown near Trinity College, a 13-minute walk from our apartment.
We loved this company! Their prices are reasonable, include admission to the attractions, and have plenty of extras throughout the day. The guides were all wonderful, and we learned a lot about the country. We will absolutely go back with them! I've got my eye on that 15-day adventure they offer....
For our first tour, Cork/Blarney, we had the Best Tour Guide Ever: Barry. He was cute with a terrific accent, he was funny, unbelievably knowledgable about everything, had great music playing on the coach, and had the best catch phrases. It's possible we're still using the line "bet ya a bag o'skittles" every chance we get.
The Cork/Blarney tour's first stop is at the Rock of Cashel, a cathedral built in the 1100s. As we were driving, we rounded a corner, and I looked out the window. Just beyond the gas station, I could see an ancient castle. Turned out, that's where we were going!
Cashel is an adorable little town. We had a few minutes to explore, but it was a Sunday morning, so everything was closed. But still, adorable. With the exception of a 10 minute downpour, we had great weather this day. There was even a rainbow as we arrived!
That rock up there? Part of the wall that fell down ages ago.
After exploring inside (minus the chapel part, which was shut down for repairs) we headed outside to the cemetery.
There were gorgeous views all around this place. Unfortunately, this is when the rain storm hit, so none really came out.
The cross in the center is the original Saint Patrick's Cross, moved indoors to protect it. If you go to Cashel, stop at Cashel Woollen Store (down the hill on the left from the Rock). It was the only shop open when we were there, and the cashier woman was so friendly! She was so excited to ring up a transaction in USD because it was "exotic!" They've got little touristy trinkets, as well as beautiful woollen products.
Our next stop, and the main attraction of the day, was Blarney Castle. We purposely planned our trip so our first day we could get the Gift of Gab, to make the rest of the trip would be better :) Blarney Castle is exactly what you'd want your medieval fortress to be: big and strong, complete with a dungeon, poison garden, and a Murder Hole.
As soon as we got there, we booked it to the line to kiss the stone. The Blarney Stone is a rock imbedded in the castle 90 feet from the ground, installed sometime in the 15th century. Rumor has it that kissing the stone gives the kisser the Gift of Gab, or Eloquence. There are dozens of theories on why this is the case, but no matter what story you go with, it's something of a tourist requirement that you go kiss the stone.
We had great timing, so there was barely a line! Before you head in, you can see just how high up it is. If you look close, you can see a person kissing the stone by the arrow in these pictures.
You don't just get to walk over and kiss the stone though. You have to work for it. You climb 100 steps (most of them tight and windy) though all these ancient rooms until you get to the top.
It was so dark I couldn't get a good picture of the stairs while moving, but I kinda like it blurry. Because let me tell you, if you climb up, then down, a hundred tight spiral steps holding only a rope handrail with vertigo, this is how it feels. Hope you're not claustrophobic!
All these dark, tight stairwells and rooms, then suddenly you're on top of the castle, looking over the grounds! It was windy this day, and I kinda love this picture.
You have a few dozen more people to wait though at the top of the castle, but it goes really quick from here.
Before you know it, you're sitting on a padded rubber mat, being flipped upside down by some Irishman who is at least 80 years old, as he tells you in his lovely accent to hold on to the rails and lean back, kiss the stone, and then upsy daisy! you're all done.
If you look to the bottom right of the left photo, you can see the line of tiny people forming outside. By the time we all took a turn and went down the stairs of death, the line was ridiculous! So glad Barry got us there when he did. Guy knows his tourist attractions!
We had two hours total to spend at this place, and could've definitely used more! But we did see quite a bit. The grounds are interesting and beautiful. Just behind the Castle is a garden. Not a regular garden, though.
This "exhibit" was most interesting to me. At first I didn't understand why there was a jungle gym in the middle of the poison garden, but then I saw the signs for the plants inside.
This is how they ensure the cannabis and opium plants don't go missing. Just beyond the poison garden is the battlements, with this fun little tower thing that's perfect for a photoshoot. I wasn't brave enough to stand in the opening, though (remember the whole vertigo-spiral-stairs thing that just happened? yeah.)
At the base of the castle, there are a few caves and dungeons that you can explore. We didn't go too far, because the rain had made it way too slippery and muddy for us to want to venture too deep inside. But still very cool.
All around the grounds are pretty little spots that make me want to stop for a picnic, or settle in with a really good book, or something.
Plus, this really awesome strange tree:
As we were leaving, there was this art piece set up (or destroyed? It's hard to tell with art, especially when it's just named "Weather Vane, Beacon, Float & Rope"). Anyways, this one part? I'm pretty sure whatever they're calling it, this is actually a Golden Snitch on Steroids.
Before heading back to Dublin, the tour makes one final stop in Cork city for a bit. Like true-blooded American women, we managed to wander into a mall (Merchant's Quay) and had burgers before actually exploring the city. Cork sits on the River Lee, with it's beautiful bridges.
Our day ended with an accident, because I obviously can't vacation without an injury. We made a bathroom stop at a highway reststop (just like home, with gas station and minimart). I bought some Pringles, because I needed them. Ladies, you know what I mean. So I had them open by the time I left the store, and was walking to the bus. As I was walking between two cars, this woman, without even looking out the window, whips open her door, slamming right into my arm and thigh, spilling half my Pringles all over the ground! I was teary by the time I reached the bus. When I told Chrissy what happened, she asked if I was crying because I was hurt or because of the Pringles, and I couldn't decide! I was equally upset by both facts. I was left with ugly, suspicious-looking bruises for the rest of the trip, and no Pringles. Bummer.
How do you think the Blarney Stone got it's powers? Ever kissed it? What's your best travel-accident story?
Stay tuned for the next installation in the British Invasion series: Cliffs of Moher, coming later this week!
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