Monday, March 21, 2016

Diary of a World Traveler

Killarney Day 2: "What's a good Irish name?" "Jessica."

We didn't care that the wifi wasn't working this morning, since we all had a trip to Ross Castle and Killarney National Park anyway, but it is good to finally be using our own hotel's internet for a change! I can't wait to share all of these pictures of the amazing things we saw on our adventures today. Whether castle walls, mountain framed lakes, or any number of animals, it was an amazing day.

The day started off early again for me, as I like to get up and get breakfast before everyone shows up. I find it more peaceful that way. Then, I finished some reading and got some writing done before I had to get ready to go out to Ross Castle at 9:55. Our appointment was at 10:30AM, and in retrospect, we probably should have left a little earlier. Even at our professor’s long legged, almost running gait, we only just made it on time. But I am glad we did make it, because Ross Castle is one of the best examples of an Irish castle we have seen yet. It is fully refurbished thanks to a project led by an Irish American businessman in the 1970s. It took 20 years to finish because he only agreed to pay for the project if everything was replaced in the way it would have originally been done. That takes a lot of work, and also requires craftsmen skilled in practices unused for centuries! The wooden ceiling, barrel vault ceilings, most of the metal and wood work, and all of the floors had to be replaced in the original fashion. Now that it is finished, though, I think it really helps to showcase how the castle really would have worked, rather than just showing the bare bones of the structure. Blarney Castle was a great place, but it was really just empty rooms connected to an awesome view. Things happened there, but it is up to imagination as to how rooms looked and functioned. This plus our wonderful tour guide Maria made for a great tour of a true Irish castle. After the official tour ended, we got some time to wander around the grounds, skip some stones, and play with the ducks. At one point, all of our tour group (which was half of our full group) climbed up on the rocks to pose for a picture, taken by a lovely bystander. It was a great morning!

But it wasn’t over yet. We made the short hike up to the old copper mines, which are on the outskirts of Killarney National Park. The castle actually sits in the park, but the real trails don’t start until further in. The copper pits line one of these trails, which also looks out onto an incredible rocky beach lined by mountains on the opposite side. This was perhaps the most beautiful landscape I have ever seen—I thought the lake the other day was good, but this was absolutely ten times better than that. Even though the sky was cloudy, it added an eerie, surreal look to the whole picture. After a quick explanation of the copper mines, we were free to explore on our own. A group of us made our way down the beach to climb on a giant geometric rock that we named Jessica. About ten people made it comfortably on this rock along the shore, so that should tell how large it was. That time spent on the rock was some of the most fun I’ve had here. We sat, ate some snacks, and then decided after half an hour that it was time to leave the rock in peace.

At that point, half the group went back to the hotel, and the rest of us ventured further on into the forest, where we did some serious exploring. We stayed on the main trail for about two minutes before blazing our own trail amongst the moss covered trees and boggy ground. The unstable soil of the bog environment causes many trees to fall, so we were climbing all over them and looking at the little huts that their tangled roots made. It was really a magical place. We found more and more little beach alcoves, which each showed off a different portion of the neighboring mountains. The swans followed us around the coast, making their swan sounds along the way. I braved thorns and lots of squishy, bouncy ground to get some of the up close pictures I did, and I regret nothing. Because they are animals who need their space and respect, though, I tried to remain as silent and distanced as possible so as not to disturb their feeding in the enclosed, swampy water. They swam and hid around the little islands, bobbing their heads under the surface to catch their food.

Continuing on our route around the lake, we found some more trees and rocks to climb. While the rest were busy exploring a tiny cave and finding fox femurs, I made my solitary way toward the second rocky beach of the day. This one was more secluded, since the regular trail did not attach to it, so I liked it even more. The view might have been wider at the other beach, but this one was more personal. I found a rock, took some photos, and then sat down on the beach for awhile, slowly letting my hands brush the cold water. If I would not have frozen to death, I would have loved to jump in. Our swan friend followed us once more around the bend, calling out to his friend who had already passed. Eventually, everyone joined me on the beach, and we had a great time skipping more rocks and taking majestic photos. 

After our time on the shore was through, we made our way back to the trail, which was actually only about twenty steps away. Then we wandered back around to the entrance of the park, where we stopped for quite some time so that those brave enough could climb a giant tree. Needless to say, I was not one of them. Instead, I stayed on the ground, sat on a bench, and made friends with the dogs, humans, and babies that passed by on the way to the middle of the park. We even saw dogs in children’s bike carriers. They were so adorable.

Once everyone had a chance to climb the tree and had returned safely (mostly) to the ground, we walked back to the hotel. On the way there, however, we encountered what appeared to be a loose herding dog. She ran up to us from the other side of the street, which worried us at first. But she seemed to know exactly what she was doing—even if she knew she wasn’t going in the direction of her home, she wanted us to pet her, love her, and even scratch her tummy. Her mouth smiled and her tongue hung out whenever one of us would give her attention. It took some time to get her to finally go back into her yard, since she wanted to follow us, but she went eventually and we were all a little bit happier inside. Dogs can fix everything.

Later, we just did some homework with the now-working wifi, had dinner, and are about to go to bed. Nothing like a long day of hiking to tire you out. Seven miles later and we are still going strong! We have class in the morning, so it is probably good we go to sleep anyway. Hope you enjoy all the photos—this spot will hold a special place in my heart forever, and I am so glad I get to share them with you. We will definitely be back later in the week for more hiking adventures!

photo credit Diana Cleveland 

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