Walking around Cork made me feel like I was in some weird parallel universe. Perhaps it’s just me, but it struck me as oddly American, but from the 50’s. Or maybe it was the disconcerting prevalence of pistachio-coloured things that affected my opinion.
The first day we were there we hiked around the city quite a bit with no particular destination in mind. We found an extremely tall/steep hill and climbed it up to the top to look out over the city. By this point in the trip, my feet were killing me – I’d say we walked 8 – 9 miles every day but one. Despite the pain getting there, the view of the city from above was well worth it!
Though Cork is slightly more populated than Killarney, shops and restaurants still close early (18:00-19:00). We’d learned our lesson by missing dinner hour in Killarney, and so made an effort to eat an early supper.
Despite it still being relatively early, the only restaurant open was an Italian restaurant, recommended to us by a pub we planned on going to later. It was absolutely delicious and not too pricey (we stuck with “starters” instead of full entrées!) Although it was a somewhat fancier restaurant, a rather large percentage of the people there were young children, which I found strange and surprising. All of them, even those sitting clumped together in groups were remarkably well-behaved, like little adults. It was truly astonishing to see.
After we’d finished dinner, we returned to the aforementioned pub. It was more of a sports-oriented pub, which intrigued us as we’d never before seen a rugby or a European “football” match.
The next day, we went to Blarney. By the way, if you ever go there, set aside multiple hours to tour it – you don’t want to rush yourself. It’s absolutely beautiful and you’ll want to have time to appreciate it and see as much as possible. Anyway, we’d planned on doing a bit of shopping beforehand, but because it was early on a Sunday morning, everything was closed (are you seeing a pattern here yet?). That plan having failed, we found a bus stop downtown that would take us to Blarney. While it was quite frustrating how long we had to wait for the bus (I’m fairly sure it was at least 45 minutes – they weren’t at all on time), we met a girl from Canada who was staying at another hostel in town and was also going to Blarney. She was incredibly sweet, and very cool; her dad is on a teaching exchange, so she’s spending those 8 months touring Europe during her gap year. We all got along really well, and decided to hang out together for the rest of the day. That’s the sad thing about meeting people on trips like this – you meet the most wonderful people and make the most wonderful friends, and then you have to split back into different corners of the world in a matter of days or even hours. But its a very unique experience while it lasts.
I don’t think Ireland’s beauty will ever cease to amaze me. I went in to Blarney expecting it to be pretty, but not drop-dead gorgeous. The pictures don’t do it justice, but I did the best I could! This was the very first thing we saw upon entering Blarney.
It was bizarre to see so much greenery and flowers there – it was the middle of February, what the heck? Not that I minded! If this is what winter is though, I can’t even imagine what spring looks like. S/o to my new friend to teaching us the names of all the flowers!
The grounds were simply incredible. I honestly expected more structure, like the groomed & pruned bushes at Versailles. But Blarney, though it did have a few sections of botanical gardens, was unchanged, natural and beautiful. While I have respect for the effort that goes into maintaining Versailles, I much preferred this.
A girl in our hostel described Blarney as a “playground for adults” and I think that this is a remarkably accurate description. Everywhere you turn, there’s trees to climb on and caves to go in. And of course you have to because – pictures!
An intriguing part of the grounds was the “Poison Garden.” That’s right! Lily of the Valley, Nightlock, and many other dangerous plants were grown there.
Obviously, no trip to Blarney would be complete without kissing the “Blarney Stone.” Legend has it that if you kiss the stone, it will give you the gift of gab. This is easier said than done for 2 reasons. 1 – you basically climb the stairway to heaven itself to get to the top (a bunch of tiny slippery steps) and 2 – you hang upside down to kiss the stone! This photo actually shows some of the larger steps – the smallest ones were half as narrow! It’s amazing to imagine servants running up and down these steps racing to fulfill their duties.
After we finished touring Blarney, we headed for the bus stop, pausing for some (excellent!) hot chocolate at a local chocolate shop on the way. I can now say I’ve had strawberry-flavoured marshmallows, and they’re amazing!
Right outside our hostel was the most adorable little nook, with a waterfall at the far end and Christmas lights strung back and forth across above. We’d been wanting to go to one of the restaurants next to it ever since we saw it, and decided that we’d go to one for an afternoon snack.
I ordered a “Chocolate St. Emellion with rum soaked macaroon and cream” and I’m not exaggerating when I say that it was THE most delicious thing I’ve ever tasted. Like perfect, rum soaked fudge, if you can imagine that.
Afterwards, we explored Cork city centre for a good while, and then went to a pub for some dinner. Wanting to try a traditional Irish dish, I ordered the Guinness Irish Stew, and was not disappointed!
A few minutes after we’d finished our dinner, a band started playing. The combination of guitarist, saxophonist, and lead singer was quite interesting. We stayed until midnight, and then decided we should probably head back to the hostel to pack our bags for our morning flight.
I think we all ran ourselves a bit into the ground on this trip – I ended up getting really sick really fast the day we left. Luckily it didn’t interfere with any of our Ireland travels though, and I was able to rest upon reaching Kent. But was worth it, and I would never trade these experiences! The trip was incredible, and Ireland is a beautiful country – both in terms of nature and culture.