Wednesday, April 16, 2014

dangerous connor's pass, the blarney castle, and a last-minute change of plans!

The Connor Pass is the tallest mountain pass in Ireland. It is located in County Kerry on the Dingle Penninsula. The road bridges the gap between Dingle, the town, and the coast on the other side of the mountain.

We had been warned that Connor's Pass is very dangerous and NOT recommended for tourists... we were even told that many locals avoid it for the treacherous set-up. The travel books and websites we'd Amanda had scoured before our adventures also all warned against it... 

I'll be honest... I was nervous. 

Amanda was confident that this would be  the thrill of a lifetime.
It's a good thing I trust her. :)

We had a blast.

As you can see, we were up close and personal... and going a bit too fast for me to capture the full sign.

Remember how I mentioned Ireland had been going through a drought in 2010? I'd say it's still quite beautiful.

I don't believe any of the danger lie in the winds, apparently they were a bonus just for us. Amanda and I were (as always) avid photo-takers, eager to document each and every sweet memory we encountered on this grand adventure. We found a scenic carpark where in one direction, we were able to see as far as the Aran Islands off the coast of County Galway, and in the other direction, we were able to see the beautiful backdrop of all the memories we'd just made in Dingle town. 

We stepped out of the car and found ourselves in a wind tunnel. As you can see by the photos, we nearly blew away! We could not stop giggling. It was unlike anything either of us had ever experienced. Unfortunately, the photos do NO JUSTICE. It was really super intense!

Tour buses, trucks, campers, and caravans are not allowed on this road due to the lack of view (and space) allotted while driving. 

See what I mean?

Amanda did an incredible job driving through the pass. Only once did I truly fear at the sight of this face, merely because it was followed by the sight of this vehicle:

I so wish there was something in this photo to gage how crazy narrow this road really is! We did work up a sufficient amount of nerves and fear prior to the drive, but both agreed that it was well worth the risk. I can't wait to try it again on my next visit... hopefully not during a drought!

SO much of the beauty of Ireland, and much of Europe in general, is the romantic history that lies there in their many castles that accessorize their roadsides and rolling hills. I guess when you know the history in detail, it's a lot less romantic with all of the captives and slaughterings and lack of freedom... but the princes and princesses and the fight for freedom! Now, that is romantic. 

We came to a fork in the road. We could follow the path laid out for us, follow the traditional tourist trap, and continue onto the big city of Cork... OR we could find something new.

We took the blue pill.

We followed the plan. 

I just wanted to build a little anticipation for ya. ;) (You're welcome!)

Beautiful Blarney Castle!!

One of my favorite 'games', if you will, is the 'Small World Game'. Some may know it as the 'Sixth Degree', but it's basically meeting people and finding that you already have a connection with them through a mutual friend, location, or experience (I typically start with people and I love it, it's just so great.) Well, as soon as we stepped out of our car, I saw a group of gals walking our direction with an Okoboji sweatshirt on. I really doubted there were more than one Okoboji in the world and asked the young girl if she was from Iowa. Sure enough, she was from Spencer, Iowa and knew a sweet girl I grew up with from elementary school. They were visiting for Spring Break and were going the opposite direction of the path we'd so recently covered.

We were told daffodils were typically EVERYWHERE by St. Paddy's Day... that they normally took over ditches! This was the first we'd seen and they were clearly manually placed there for aesthetic reasons by the people of the Blarney Castle.

Irish wit never ceases to amuse me. :)

Amanda told me this was the only reason she agreed to come to this silly stop (she's not a huge fan of tourist spots -- a lot of times, I'm not either, I definitely most enjoyed the locals we met and following their suggestions). She's got a good point. It's an incredible view.

Thanks to this kind lad, I survived kissing the Blarney Stone and we were able to carry on our merry way.

The original plan took us back to the city of Cork where we'd landed just a week earlier. We arrived and found our B&B with little to no problem. We put our things in there and drove a little bit into town. 

It was that moment where it dawns on you that you're just not quite where you need to be but that you're very close and you actually do know what comes next... we looked at each other and said, nearly simultaneously, "I don't like the city! I feel claustrophobic! Let's drive back down to Kinsale and see if we can find anyone we met last week!"

And simple as that, we were a mere 20 minutes from the most beautifully, magical pub in the world.

We parked the car in the carpark overlooking Kinsale Harbor and marched inside. We found the same table we'd started our journey at and made ourselves comfortable. 

Before we knew it, the bartender and others were coming over to our table, recognizing us as 'The American Girls, John and Danny's friends'. Over the course of the night, we learned everything we needed to know about exploring Ireland (too bad they ALL weren't there a week prior!) If only I could find that napkin I'd taken notes on!! They informed us how to find the house where Def Leppard stays when they're in Ireland, where to find Sinead O'Connor and Bono, they told us about where the end of P.S. I Love You was filmed and how to get there - seriously, conversation packed with vital information for one (or two) looking to explore Ireland and all it has to offer... I wish I could find that napkin!!

Anywho. Just being a part of the local scene was magical. They filled us in on their personal lives and asked us about ours. They asked our favorite part of our trip and we responded that obviously it was Kinsale, which was why we decided to make one last stop before leaving. 

It felt as if we'd always been a part of their community. It was gorgeous.

Amanda tracing our trails to share with our new friends.
John enjoying a traditional pint.

Local, incredible Irish duo.

And last, but certainly not least, Danny, our new bar-tender!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

exploring the dingle peninsula

I apologize in advance for the photo overload, it's just that the more I reminisce, the more excited I get about it all and the more I want to share with YOU.

I simply can't help it. 
Don't hate me.

SO, as I stated yesterday, Greenmount House, was nothing short of incredible with nothing less than impeccable hospitality (I highly suggest a stay there!) The day we left, we filled up on a proper Irish breakfast... okay, that's not true.... no blood pudding for these girls. Sorry... maybe next time.

While we didn't venture that far, we did indulge in a HUGE breakfast beginning with anything and everything you could imagine. I ended up ordering eggs with smoked salmon, but finished with the only bread pudding I've ever enjoyed (photographed on the right side of the following photo!)

Again, the Curran's didn't skimp on anything! Such a wide array to choose from for our last meal at the Greenmount House.

We both enjoyed a helping of traditional Irish brown bread. It was the perfect density, heartiness, flavor... everything!

While neither of us got too crazy, we did have plenty to choose from!
We bid farewell to John and Mary and were on our merry way back toward Cork.

Along the way we saw more gorgeous views. Honestly, it never got old. I could wander the countryside of Ireland for months. 

If you read my post from yesterday, you too will look at this poor little ewe and know she's wandering off somewhere in hopes of escape... thankfully I didn't know then what I know now. If you would rather look at the colors of these sweet sheep as 'flair' then just skip the part of yesterday's post where I talk about the sheep.

I decided to have a little photoshoot with this darling little miss.

She's got the perfect 'catwalk'. You know, for a sheep.

A little sass, a little strut. Nailed it, sister-friend!

We were informed that this is where the film 'Ryan's Daughter' was filmed. I can see why any producer would want to use this as the backdrop, always so beautiful.

I discovered that I'm a little obsessed with sheep and would one day like a few lambs of my own. I couldn't stop taking pictures of them... they even had me giggling just watching them! They were just bouncing off the ground and pouncing on each other. Ugh, they were absolutely irresistible. I loved them. Every last one.

Below, you'll see the photo that always makes me think of my brother. :) It was fun in Ireland how they embrace the analogy of the 'black sheep'. Leif and I have always kidded that we alternate carrying the title of 'Black Sheep' for our family. 

This is my favorite photo of all of them. :)

I don't know why these signs always get me! I think they're too funny!

We weren't in the car long after the sheep or our B&B before we stopped again to explore the Kilmalkader Church. Nearby we found Gallarus Oratory, a SMALL chapel built entirely of stone. You'll see in later photos how small it is... 

My model-friend, Amanda. :)

I realize I'm kind of tall, but heavens! 

Amanda has a love for maps. It's one of my favorite details about her.... but there are many.

We made sure to go through the churchyard to see all the gorgeous Celtic designs on so many of them.

Kilmalkedar Church is the most important church site remaining on the Dingle Peninsula. I suggest reading up on it before you arrive so you know it's significance and what you're looking at and for. Kilmalkedar is an ancient monastery of the Christian saint, Maolcethair. It is also strongly associated with Saint Brendan who may have resided here. 

The inside was fascinating and had many interesting, modern details including a sundial and an alphabet stone. We were able to see that it would have been a masterpiece in its day. We were always so amazed at how incredible it was to be standing in something that had been preserved for hundreds, sometimes thousands of years. There's just so much history to be found in Ireland!

With much exploring comes quite an appetite. Ice cream is typically the best go-to on nearly dreary days with much exploration and ancient discovery. 

We found world renowned Murphy's Ice Cream shop from all the travel books and sites we (mostly Amanda) had investigated, the many locals and traveller's we'd encountered, and just by walking by it, it's bright blue entrance is quite inviting!

I'm never disappointed when artwork of cows are intermingled with tables decorated with shamrocks.

All in all, Dingle was an absolute success. I would recommend any and all stops mentioned in this and the previous post. 

Should you be on your way to Ireland and have any questions at all, please don't hesitate to ask... I love talking about Ireland and if I don't have an answer for you from my own personal experience, I'll research until I have something to share with you. :)