Monday, March 12, 2012

A Photographic Travel Journey to Discover Ireland

Ireland has always fascinated us and it was a destination that sooner or later we wanted to reach. We just waited for the right moment. On the last summer holidays, we took a trip to Ireland. It was a route full of castles and abbeys, Celtic crosses, mysterious carved stones, cliffs, prehistoric cemeteries, narrow streets and some traditional pubs. We write our special Ireland travel guide, telling our route, the places of interest we visited, our impressions and suggestions on this trip.

The Ireland travel itinerary was almost never planned. When planning the itinerary we realized that the days would not be enough to visit the whole country. We had to decide whether to limit ourselves to seeing only some counties well or doing the whole tour. In the end, we decided for the second hypothesis, choosing among the many beautiful places and attractions that we absolutely did not want to miss. We decided to spend three days in Connemara and three in Dublin but we had not made itineraries, thought to stop, or scheduled events. Nothing. Ireland was waiting for us, and that was enough.

It was a beautiful journey, in a moment of total change in my life, of those where you have a thousand new things to develop and as many to close. Probably the worst time to leave for a holiday, because you have to leave everything there, frozen, even just for a few days. And you should try not to stay with the home on your head, but take your head on holiday with you. Or maybe, just for this reason the trip was the best.

This trip was used to realize that everything is relative. I felt immersed in a whirlwind in the midst of changes in work and changes in general. But it was possible to really look at everything from outside and ask myself in the middle of a downpour in the Irish countryside if all I was changing in my life was really what I wanted. And the answer was always yes. Precisely for this reason, it was a journey that marked an "end" and a "beginning". It was a journey that I slowly metabolized, realizing in these following months, how those days of wild landscapes were a true watershed.

We discover this wild land of water and wind but with a sun that burns as soon as it comes out. It is the land of showers and cliffs and frosty winds. It is the land of motionless parks and beautiful flowers. It is a hospitable and smiling land, in its sublime privacy. Ireland is a land of contradictions. It is a very human place. Maybe that's why it has enchanted us all. Because we find something of ourselves in those flowers among the rocks on the ocean shore, and in those cliffs on the sea. Yes, they are scary, but from which you would not go anymore.

For us, Google Map Street View was very useful, with which we, before departure, examined the most difficult road sections and identified the points where to park the camper to visit the most pleasant places in the area. There are no equipped areas in Ireland as we know them, with the exception of one. For the water load we used fountains or the columns at the petrol stations.

We have not had much difficulty with food as well. We hardly eat at the restaurant when we travel by camper and usually we carry our food supply. Supermarkets are usually well stocked but prices are a bit higher. The potatoes and unusual and rather fibrous white carrots, Guinness beer, smoked fish and Soda Bread are not to be missed.

ireland wallpaper images travel

We go for our first goal, the Irish National Heritage Park. The journey is short and there is no problem for parking as there is a private one with some places that lend themselves to the parking of longer vehicles. This center is the reconstruction of ancient houses, forts, and Irish tombs and its visit is useful to immediately get a rough idea of ​the history of Ireland and of the civilizations that have gradually inhabited it.

At the beginning, it is possible to watch a movie that traces the history of Ireland and shows its main archaeological sites. At the end, a shop sells typical products and souvenirs, while the self-service restaurant and bar allow you to taste typical products. We take advantage of the hot tea, while a fine drizzle goes down outside.

Once out of there we head to Wexford to visit the city founded by the Vikings. We stop in Redmond Road and walk to the center. Although North Main Street offers a certain liveliness, the city appears to us rather decadent, with few interesting monuments. Beautiful the West Gate, one of the six city gates where once the duty was paid, while we find the Selskar Abbey closed.

We walk the city streets and the narrow medieval streets trying to follow the itinerary proposed by the tourist office. It's time to look for a place to sleep. We opt for a seaside resort just a few kilometers from Wexford. The parking near the beach is right for us. There are also public toilets. We have dinner and spend the evening on the square. We stay overnight without problems and in complete tranquility.

Through Southern Ireland to Kilkenny

We wake up with another beautiful sunny day. The night passed fairly quiet. We dedicate the morning to visit Kilkenny, going first to Kilkenny Castle. It is a large fortress, home of the Butler family of Normans, built near the river and surrounded by immense gardens where it is possible to access for free for walks. The interior can also be visited with a guide, but we opt for a free visit.

The environments are beautiful and the tour is interesting even if it does not stand comparison with any of the castles of the House of Savoy that we know well. However, Kilkenny Castle is the most visited county building. The most beautiful part is undoubtedly the Long Gallery, a long hall where family portraits are exhibited. We finish the visit with a walk first in the English garden of the secondary façade, then in the large park.

Opposite the castle, in the buildings that housed its stables, there are the shops of the Kilkenny Design Center, where you can buy beautiful local handicrafts. There would be many good things to buy, but for the moment we do not allow ourselves to be tempted to make our purchases when we are in Dublin. In hindsight it was a wrong decision, because in the capital we will no longer find objects of that quality and prices will be even higher.

After a visit to the tourist office to take a few brochures of the area we walk along Parliament Street to the Rothe House, a typical Tudor house belonging to the merchant John Rothe and for this commercial symbol of the city. There should be a cumulative ticket with the Cathedral, at least as reported by Lonely Planet, but it is not available, so we decide not to visit it.

We opt instead to see the St. Canice's Cathedral, a religious building that has been rebuilt several times, characterized by curious tombstones and a severe stone tower on which Marco, Mara and Giada climb through a long series of ladders (14 euro visit cathedral and tower). From the top there is an overview of the city. Returning to the camper we also see the Black Abbey and St. Mary Cathedral. We continue along the lively streets of the center with its colorful-colored pubs, descend the narrow and picturesque Butter Slip and walk along the St. Kieran Street eating freshly baked pretzel.

The parking lot of the fort could be the ideal place for overnight stops, but it is still early to stop, plus we would like to move to Cork. So we go down to Kinsale where we take a walk to the center. This lively town, ancient Viking port, is like a postcard. Its houses have facades in pastel colors, embellished with planters. It is certainly a bit touristy, but walking along the narrow streets leading to the sea is pleasant. Before dinner we head to Cork.

The city, second to Ireland in importance, certainly deserves a thorough visit for its cultural tradition.
Unfortunately our first impact is not the best. We immediately find it very chaotic and we find it difficult to find a place to stop. We have dinner and then take a walk downtown. The city is very pleasant, quietly lying along the banks of the river Nore.

Its medieval connotations, the ancient alleys, the mighty castle make it an ideal destination for tourists who populate the numerous pubs in the evening to eat typical dishes, pints of Guinness or to attend shows of Irish music. The rush hour traffic has disappeared. Everywhere there are people strolling and with the evening lights the city is very attractive. We remain along the main street, postponing the visit to the next day.

Derreenataggart Stone Circle

We stop for lunch in front of Dursey Island where a picturesque chair lift connects the island to the mainland. Unfortunately, at that moment it is not working. To get to here it is necessary to make a detour from the Ring road and take an even narrower path, but it is worth it. The place and the scenery are beautiful and a fairly large parking allows the stop of different means.

After lunch we resume the path that takes altitude and passes on the northern slope of the peninsula. We cross the small and cute village of Allihies stopping at the beach in what can be an excellent stopping point. Here I cannot resist the temptation and take a bath (of feet) in the ocean. The road, which looks like a mountain pass in all respects, cuts the peninsula in two and is spectacular.

We descend on the southern slope retrace the way to Glenariff that, through the Turner's Rock Tunnel, leads to Kenmara, our last destination of the day. We choose the parking along the N71, shortly after the center, excellent for visiting this country so pleasant and characteristic. To spend the night, however, we move to the pier, a point undoubtedly quieter where there are already other vehicles parked.


Killarney National Park and a taste of the Ring of Kerry

Today we wake up on a cloudy day. Since time is extremely changeable in Ireland, we hope you get a bit of a ride as we have to spend it in Killarney National Park. We then take the beautiful and scenic N71 that leads to the Iveragh Peninsula. It's early, there is no traffic and we do the meeting with a herd of sheep that peacefully invaded the roadway. After passing the Moll's Gap we enter the territory of the park. The landscape is very beautiful, an alternation of forests and ponds. The atmosphere is magical and to enjoy it we stop at the vantage point called Ladies View from where the view sweeps over the Upper Lake.

In about ten minutes we reach Muckross where we fill up with diesel and water. This country, very close to Killarney, houses one of the most beautiful Victorian houses in Ireland: the Muckross House. It is our intention to visit it for which we stop in the large parking lot of the house that also has an area dedicated to campers. Among other things, we also discover that today is Heritage Day so we would get a discounted rate. This added to the fact that it is Sunday means that we have a lot of visitors!

The visits to the house only with a guide only so we have to wait a good 45 minutes for our turn. Let us deceive the time we walk in the vast gardens where, along the Lough Leeane, wide meadows extend and grow rocky bushes and rare plants preserved in old greenhouses. The park of the villa is immense and is crossed by paths that reach up to nearby Killarney or continue inside the National Park.

In addition to doing the classic picnic here, you can rent bicycles or canoes, go boating or with one of the many and expensive buggies. Finally comes our turn to visit the house, which fortunately turns out to be extremely interesting. Our guide, who only speaks English, is prepared and friendly. Although the tour lasts almost an hour and we have not yet had lunch, we do not find it at all boring or heavy. After lunch, we leave the camper in the parking lot and walk along a path to Muckross Abbey, a ruined abbey 2 km away.

After coming back we leave in the direction of the Torc Waterfalls. The famous Killarney National Park waterfalls is also accessible on foot from Muckross House, if only the weather was better or if we had more time available. From the parking lot in the wood it takes only 5 minutes to reach them. Their jump is modest and to tell the truth we have seen better around the world (for example in the Jura), but still remain one of the most interesting natural attractions in Ireland.

Galway and along the Wild Atlantic Way

Since we can do all the expected tour in a day instead of two, we decide to take a trip to the Aran Islands in front of us. The major island is rough, barren, windswept. We get there that looks like winter but after a while, the sun opens and it's hot. We rent the bikes, as recommended by Lonely Planet (damn!). The ride proves difficult, with climbs and dirt but the mood does overcome everything, even the sweat!

We arrive at the top of the Dun Aonghasa precipice. It is a cliff over 200 meters above the sea. Crawling to get closer to the edge is a very strong emotion for me, like the temptation to take flight. My fearless (or nefarious) friend sits on the edge. I can hardly look out.

The sound of the waves, the wind on them and the sense of emptiness help to increase the heartbeat, which ceases only when we move away. Let's go back pushing the bikes as the dirt road upsets us. But despite the hours that we take to retrace the road, we have time to return in time to have dinner (at 6 pm!) With the excellent cod and take the last ferry.

As a basis for discovering Connemara, we chose Galway. It is a colorful university town just over two hours from Dublin. We stayed in Oranmore, a residential village right next to Galway. After a regenerative break at the B & B with lots of flavored tea, we jump to nearby Galway (which in Gaelic is called Gaillimh). It is a university town full of pubs, music, and confusion. A fun and animated evening and the next day it starts southwards! We start from Spiddal reluctantly and we dig towards the Dingle, passing Limerick and other cities with evocative names.

The highlight of Galway, seen with eyes as a tourist, is definitely the center. There is a row of buildings suspended between the historic and the modern super-colored streets, with restaurants, pubs, cafes, and shops. In Galway, everything is very small and enchanting. It is suitable to be moved with family and without pretensions.

I advise you to book if you want to go out for dinner, and not to miss the playground in Piazza Eire, the small green lung of the city. We see a very beautiful sunset from the castle of Oranmore. It is like a mirror suspended between the water and the sky, in a lagoon looking as temporary as it is rooted, which is lost in sight. It is worth looking at the sun as it is swallowed by the Galway Bay, leaning there while it is evening.

We were lucky. We concentrated the discovery of a part of Connemara in one day, and it rained almost always. But we did not give up. We let ourselves be immersed in the fog, the mist, the colors that fade through the fields and rocks and the nothing that seems to self-generate, beautiful. And as soon as the sun comes out, the beauty of Connemara is shameless as if it were telling you, you do not see me, I've always been here.

Connemara presents itself as a succession of harsh horizons full of springs, lakes, rivers, and mountains, inhabited mostly by horses and sheep. We move from more humanized areas with dry stone walls that divide the plots, to wilder stretches. We eat fish, we appreciate the sunset on the sea at 10 pm and drink beer.

We move from Galway to Clifden, with a stop at Clifden for a fish lunch. We then attempt to go to the discovery of the Sky Road, which they say is beautiful. We have desisted too much fog. The road is narrow and the slope very accentuated. The Sky Road is, therefore, one of the reasons why I already know that I would like to go back to Connemara!

From Clifden then we get lost towards Ballyconneely. We reached a panoramic stop at some point near a restaurant, right on the ocean. I do not remember the name, I did not mark it, but I took a picture. Tell me that you have never felt like those heather flowers. So provisional, so fearless. Colored, luminous, there for a moment, or there forever.

From Ballyconneely, without a specific itinerary, we continued along the Wild Atlantic Way, the coastal road, and mostly very scenic that runs along the ocean. Every so often on the coast, sometimes in the interior, it was us and Ireland. In its silences and its shining water of fog and sky. In its houses, many along the road there is an impression of silence, but of continuous settlement. This is another reason why we loved it. We love the road. We are used to being in the car but we would not like to be completely isolated.

Connemara is a very intimate and truly suspended place, but not uninhabited. The roads that run meander through many houses, b&b and villas and cross villages. And you get a little to imagine how one would live there. If you would be able, it would be absurd. It would depress you if you could not draw nourishment and power from that contact without veils with nature, in all its beauty without the filter. It is hard to photograph it because there is too much light even if apparently there is no thread of sunshine.

We arrive at the Dingle peninsula. Wonderful! a favorable climate gives us the best day of the whole trip (temperature of 30 degrees!). We admire the gentle green hills, without trees, which contrast with the blue of the sea. We climb the car up the O'Connor pass and the view is fantastic. The eye ranges from thousands of meters of mountains to sea level in a few kilometers. The jagged coasts but at the same time with sweet profiles, throw themselves into the sea creating postcard images.

We have dinner in the homonymous city that gives its name to the Peninsula, devoted to the Fungi dolphin that was established 19 years ago. As always, dining in a pub is a wise and tasty decision, as well as fun.

The day after despite a start to the rainy day we can have lunch in the sun and in a film context! At the end of the Kerry peninsula, at the edge of the Valentia island, near the lighthouse, there is an organic coffeehouse. In that place of ancient origins (the remains of a reptile of 385 million years ago were also found ) I ate the best fish soup of my life.

We continue the tour of the Ring of Kerry and what we see affects us less, perhaps because of the chaos (many coaches), of the weather like this or because we are still kidnapped by the memory of Dingle. But it is still very nice. The mountainous part of the National Park, the waterfalls, and all that nature are regenerative for the sight and the lungs. We arrive first at Kenmare and then at Killarney. They are similar to many towns in Ireland, have colorful houses, pubs, nice people ready to chat and in fact, we also know the Irish doc that offers us a drink! The stout beer is already flowing.

Do not miss Roundstone, with a stop for a slice of cake at one of the cafès. Because? Because there's nothing at Roundstone. But nothing. There are some beaches, which seem to be beautiful with the sun. There are colorful ocean view houses. There is a well-kept playground, always overlooking the ocean. There is the beauty of having been there, of knowing that a place like Roundstone exists. If I had to draw it in my imagination, I would have designed it exactly like that.

Roundstone is too silent a place to stop without being advised. That's why I left a piece of my heart, which is still there, to rest, with a slice of cheesecake and a cup of tea, while it's raining outside on the Wild Atlantic Way.

Cliffs of Moher

The Cliffs of Moher are a really feasible stage with the children. Yes, it is true, they are hundreds of meters overhanging the sea. Yes, it is true, there is a pull of a strong wind. Yes, the path is dirty and sometimes muddy. But the walkway is very inside, and not overhanging. There are protective walls that are still ten meters away from the void, and the path is all leveled. The wind is very strong, and for this reason, as already mentioned, it is necessary to wear a hat and sunscreen. Just a few precautions are enough, and you can safely walk as much as you can and want to discover this enchanted place.

We ate sandwiches sitting in the grass, overlooking the cliffs and we loved it. At the Visitor Center, there is a restaurant, but it is really very crowded. For children, good weather permitting, it is an excellent walk with 100% guaranteed panorama. The path of the cliffs is about 8 km long. We went till the end, with various stops, photos, and dives in the grass.

The Cliffs of Moher is a step to do with the sun, as far as possible. The Cliffs of Moher are all panorama. They must be seen, they must be looked at. They must be put in perspective, knowing that it is impossible to put them in perspective, in all that immensity. They take a breath. They are beautiful and knowingly dangerous. You have the desire to tame them, but you know it's impossible. We see the ocean, which seems so cruel, and you do not know if the ocean or the immensity of that rock is more cruel. And then in all that wind, I've never felt so much wind in my life. It is immensely liberating.

Burren and in the Clare

The Burren is water and rock, rock and water. We drove it through the car, after a half day at the Cliffs of Moher, to return to Galway, also passing through the County of Clare.

The ocean shines on one side, the meadows glisten on the other: it will not seem real to you that you feel as temporary as they are rooted in that land. In one afternoon we have done many stages, because and this too, travelers, you will tell me if it ever happened to you? Irish distances and relative time are very relative. It will be for the opening of the sky, it will be for the angle. The landscape changes very fast and in a short time, so in a single day, it would seem to cross many worlds.

First of all, the limestone planks, where you will seem to walk on the moon. And it will seem to you that the more the ocean gets angry, the more beautiful it is. Then, the views along the way like the view on Ballyvaughan, a village on the water, drawn in a postcard.

We enter the forest, towards the chocolate factory (found by chance) called The Hazel Mountain Chocolate where the interior decor will remind you of a fairy tale. We wanted to stop, fascinated by the furniture and the details, and the counter suspended in time, colors in the countryside, a real stop of goodness. I discovered then that it is a chocolate factory with a rather famous shop. There are young guys who live here, surrounded by greenery, and produce chocolate. Is it not a fairy tale?

With hands still dirty with chocolate, we then discover Corcomroe Abbey. It is an abbey in stone deconsecrated and well preserved, without the roof and with tombs that might seem macabre. But I assure you that they are not. In fact, you will find them comfortable, and you can walk in the middle, and feel a little King Arthur or a fairy looking for shelter.

Our last stop is Kinvara. There are a few houses, colorful, on a small harbor set in a bay. What's in Kinvara? Just this. But if you sit on a bench, in front of the boats, with your feet in the damp meadow, and try to ask yourself if you could stay there forever...who knows, the answer could be yes.

After three days in the wildest Ireland, we headed for discovering the Celtic lands of Bru Na Boinne and the Hill of Tara. The night is quiet and in the morning we prepare to be in Bru Na Boinne at the time of its opening. We arrive early, but its gates are already open and we can park in the area for campers (with water column). Bru Na Boinne it is one of the most important archaeological sites in the world. The number of visitors who can access it every day is quite limited and for this reason, we need to go there early.

Knowth extends over a large area near Donore where tombs, megaliths and other monuments dating back to the Neolithic period are scattered. The main attractions, however, are three large corridor tombs: Knowth, Newgrange and Dowth, which can only be visited with a guided tour starting from the visitor center where we have parked. Dowth is not open to the public and is currently being recovered and studied by archaeologists. While we wait for our tour to start, we visit the interesting and modern museum in the center thanks to interactive stations.

Newgrange

At 9.45 we get on the bus that goes through the countryside to Knowth where there is waiting for our guide who explains in a very comprehensive way the site dating back about 5000 years ago and consists of the main tomb with two rooms and a series of satellite tombs outside. The particularity of this tomb is the large decorated stones from which it is formed and the presence, inside one of its rooms, of a large stone basin that the archaeologists could not extract as larger than the present opening.

Hence the supposition that the whole complex was built around this object which for the ancients undoubtedly had great value. After about an hour of explanation, the guide takes us back to our bus that takes us back to the visitor center from where, got on another vehicle, we are led to Newgrange.

The tomb of Newgrange, dating back to the same period of the previous one, is impressive for its size and for the beauty of its perfect ellipsis architecture. Here too we find a nice and prepared guide ready to show us the site. Everything is very interesting.

Newgrange is the most famous tomb of Bru Na Boinne because it is affected by a truly singular phenomenon. During the winter the only sepulchral chamber present in it is illuminated by a ray of the sun coming from the outside. Entering the interior through the low and long corridor towards the center of the tomb is really exciting, as is the simulation, thanks to a torch, of what happens at the time of the solstice.

This visit also lasts about an hour and leaves us extremely satisfied. Back to the camper, we have lunch and in the afternoon we head to Trim to visit the castle. The view from the top of the stands is magnificent, but the visit does not excite us. The guide speaks too fast and his speeches are often incomprehensible. After the visit, we walk freely in the meadows around the castle and reach the Yellow Steeple and then leave Trim heading to Tara.



Hill of Tara

The hill of Tara was a sacred place inhabited by the druids and an important center of Irish paganism. Among the rolling hills there are several tumulus tombs, remains of forts and places used for ancient rites. The Irish Celts kings were crowned here. Do not expect much, but let your imagination fly and try to go back in time. The place, especially if there is not a lot of people, still has something magical about it. We arrive a few minutes after closing, so we find the visitor center closed.

Inside you can watch a video showing the story of Tara. No problem for entry. It is always open, just pass the small cemetery and you find yourself on the hill. We explore it far and wide and around 6.30 pm we leave for our hotel. The next morning we begin to return to Dublin, passing through the Japanese gardens and the famous stalls of Kildare. We stop to sleep on the coast, south of Dublin, rather squalid and rundown, but as always the life of the pub makes us have fun and we forget the surrounding environment.

This morning, unfortunately, we have to take it comfortably. We are informed at the reception that the first bus to the city on Sunday passes only at 11.10 am! We sleep a little longer and eat a sandwich before leaving to discover Dublin. The stop is right in front of the campsite. The only problem is the tickets that are strictly on board. The driver, however, only accepts coins and does not give change, so you always need to have the right price.

After a trip of three quarters of an hour we reach the center and begin our visit. The day is very windy and when the sun disappears behind the clouds it is also cold. We already like the Irish capital. There are a lot of tourists around, of course. The city is very easy to get around and visit, all the attractions are quite close and is ideal for those who love walking.

When it starts to rain strong we move to the National Library, unfortunate that today the reading room made famous by the description of Joyce nell'Ulisse, is closed. From there we move to the National Museum, a truly remarkable place where artifacts dating back to 9,000 years ago are preserved. Not to be missed, especially if you want to see the original objects found in the various archaeological sites previously visited, such as the Ardagh Chalice and the Tara Brooch.

At 8.00 pm we eat dinner in a restaurant that serves American burgers and then take the bus at 9.00 pm that takes us back to the campsite. Our second day in Dublin begins. We wake up early and take the 8.35 bus. We do not want to waste even a moment of our stay here. Time flies by walking through the streets of the capital. Unfortunately, the sky is overcast, but there is no wind like the day before.

We dedicate the day to visit the Dublin Castle, whose tour is very interesting. We see the fabulous Book of Kells after waiting a long queue in the courtyard of Trinity College, where it is now preserved, we let ourselves be thrilled by Dublinia, a fun museum where medieval Dublin is rebuilt. We also visit Christ Church Cathedral and St. Patrick Cathedral and wander the narrow streets of the Temple Bar district, the most characteristic of the city. We have lunch and before returning to the campsite with the bus at 7.00 pm we do a quick shopping.

We spend one and a half days in Dublin (to see monuments and museums it is more than enough) and discover a charming city, lively, young, snappy, teeming with life and young people, who run everywhere. The Irish people are fantastic, the hand, sociable, always ready to drink and sing or play in the company. I tell myself at once that I could also transfer myself!

In Dublin, we leave one last day for the frenetic shopping and for the inevitable lunch break with a sandwich on the lawn, as the Irish do. In addition to the inevitable stage in U2 studies. The departure is painful. Ireland has conquered us. Once you get used to their quirks you would not want to come away anymore.

In the meantime, I greet you with a beautiful Irish goodbye. May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face; the rains fall into your hand and until we meet again.

1 comment:

ashok said...

stunning image