Monday, March 14, 2016

Diary of a World Traveler

Cork Day 3: Cork City Bus Fire

Though the day started out rough, our walking trip to Blarney turned into a beautiful afternoon in the hazy sunshine. We got to climb the castle, see the surrounding gardens, and even say hello to a neighboring horse. Then, to top it all off, I bought sweaters for everyone on my list, including myself, and sent them home for free. The bus ride back was an added bonus. What a day it has been in Co. Cork!

The morning began normally with breakfast and a stolen lunch of two croissants, an apple, and a hard boiled egg. These would come in very handy later for an on-the-move lunch, so I am glad I snuck them. Anyway, our professor had told us that the walk to Blarney from Cork would take around an hour, and was approximately five miles long. Though I was more hesitant, both of us agreed that it would be cool to walk it. And an hour did seem reasonable. Right? Wrong. We set off at 10 and did not arrive until around noon or a little after. Though we did get to see some amazing views over the hills, we had stretches with no sidewalks, lots of uphill walking on muddy ground, and very close encounters with residential houses, guard dogs, and speeding semi trucks. As soon as we arrived at Blarney, we rejoiced a little, but we remained a little grumpy having gone through all of that on our own without proper preparation. Our feet hurt just a little bit.

But let me say that the whole walk was worth it. The Blarney grounds are some of the most amazing gardens I have ever been to. The day turned from windy and chilly to perfectly sunny and warm while we explored the various sections of the grounds. We decided to look around the outer parts of the site first, and end with the castle. We saw the Druid’s Cave, the Witch’s Kitchen, the Fairy Glen, and the Wishing Steps. At the bottom of the steps was a waterfall that was absolutely gorgeous, and Diana and I couldn’t help but reach our hands out to let the water splash on our hands. There were birds singing in the trees, and a calmness in the air. Everything from earlier had righted itself.

 Another amazing building on the grounds is the Blarney Mansion, which is currently closed to tourists but is open to approach and observe from the outside. The afternoon sun was falling perfectly behind the structure, and I could not help taking about twenty pictures from every angle. There was not was that did not turn out beautifully. The turrets and the fancy embellishments and the hedge fencing and the hilly view… How I would love to live in a place like that.

 After walking past the mansion, we found a giant tree that had a perfect branch that dipped almost to the ground. Of course, both of us wanted to sit on it, so we proceeded to help each other get the other’s short body up onto the slightly-taller-than-us branch. It was a heroic effort that eventually paid off, as we both made it up onto the tree. Once we had gotten our fill, we continued on to the poison gardens, which house a collection of many poisonous plants from around the world. The most infamous ones include tobacco, cannabis, poison ivy, and wolfsbane. But I definitely did not expect things like Rosemary, rhubarb, and juniper to be in there. It was fascinating to read and learn about the different plants and how they can be poisonous in certain ways. I would recommend this to anyone, since it is both good knowledge to have and also very interesting to learn from a historical perspective.

Now, there was nowhere left to go but up. The castle awaited, and we could not wait to see the view from the top. Unfortunately, we had waited until prime tourist time to do this, so we had to wait patiently in line for about a half hour before we could get to the top. And we didn’t even want to kiss the stone; we just wanted to look over the walls! But either way, I think it was really worth the wait and the hike up those teeny tiny stairs. The countryside extends for miles, buildings nestle perfectly within the landscape. The mansion looms over the grounds from across the way. Everything becomes small and things like a tiring walk become unimportant. On the way back down, we stopped to climb through the earthy smelling dungeons, crawl in mud and let our hands touch the grimy walls that so many have touched before us. Then we emerged, thankful we are not prisoners fated to that small, dark tunnel. Instead, we get to enjoy the spring sun setting slowly over the river. The nature helped to bring us back, and we are glad that it did.

Luckily, we met up with our professor and other members of our group just as we were leaving the grounds, so we did not have to figure out the bus ticket for ourselves—we were not about to walk back after a day like that. They wanted to stop at the Blarney Woolen Mills, so we gave it a try. I am so glad we did! I ended up buying all five of my souvenir sweaters there, and they sent them home with no shipping, just insurance. Amazing. I also saved a whole sweater’s worth just in tax deduction. I don’t even know what that means, but I’m glad it happened. I just thought the sweaters were great and everything, though definitely catered to tourists, looked authentic. Plus, the employees were so accommodating to helping me find what I wanted, each in the correct size. To me, that is priceless.

The long day almost over, we hopped on the bus and bought our one-way tickets back to Cork. Finally back at the hotel and off of our feet, we did some homework in the room and relaxed before dinner. I decided to go vegetarian for dinner, since fish for a straight two weeks is probably not the best idea; instead, I got a chicken and mushroom pastry for the appetizer, a delicious vegetable curry for the main course, and an even more delicious chocolate mousse for dessert. Sure, I should probably be asking for the fruit bowl dessert more often. But after that five mile walk, I think I deserve some wonderful mousse.

But the day was not over yet! Our music professor had already said he was going out to see some music, so we decided to go with him. The place apparently came highly recommended from people around here, and it did not disappoint. There were four musicians to start: a piper, a concertina player, and two flutes players (one of them a lefty—crazy!). They started off with some lovely songs with soaring melodies—the classic stuff of trad music. The lefty flute was particularly good, as well as the piper. Soon, a guitar player sauntered in and started strumming along. But the real fun for me started when the accordion player joined the group, which added a solid undertone to the whole outfit. Tonight turned out to be more about listening to conversation than about listening to music, but these talented musicians provided such an excellent backdrop that we didn’t even need to pay attention to them to know that they were playing fabulous music. Minus the short fire alarm going off thanks to a burned pizza, the whole night was great. The pub was one of the coziest we’ve been to, but it didn’t seem crowded or staged. It was exactly what I was looking for when I came here.

Now it is late, my feet ache, and I want sleep. Class starts at 9AM, so I need to get some rest before then. But I will dream about reels in a cozy pub with a warm fire close and friends surrounding me.

photo credit Diana Cleveland 

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