Friday, April 10, 2015

Ireland: Cliffs of Moher and the Blarney Castle

I'm a little late with this post because I've been doing other things.. Very important things.. Like drinking my life away in Italy. It's been a good time. Anyway, here's my experience with a couple tourist stops in Ireland. More to come later. 

Note: since I'm too young to rent a car in Ireland, I did all of my tours with Paddywagon tours. They have busses leaving pretty much every day from Dublin, Belfast, Cork, and a few other places, and they stop at all kinds of cool little spots on the way to your main destination so you actually get to see quite a bit. All of their tour guides were very nice and friendly and knew a lot about the places we went. If you can't rent a car, or are too cheap, I recommend using them. 
Cliffs of Moher
For those of you who are fans of The Princess Bride, the Cliffs of Moher are THE CLIFFS OF INSANITY! Yeah, they're real. It's ok, I thought they were a movie set too until I turned 5 and discovered how to use the Internet. They're on the west side of Ireland just a little way south of Galway. Galway looked like a pleasant little town, and everyone I talked to spoke highly of it. If I'd had a car and not been too cheap for a train ticket I would've stayed there for a couple of days. The Paddywagon tour stops in a town called Doolin for lunch. In Doolin there's a bar called Flanagin's. It's kind of amazing. If I'm ever foolish enough to get married, I'm doing it in Ireland just so that place can cater the wedding. Which, I don't think they cater, but I'll figure that out. They also stopped at the "baby cliffs" which are only about 100 ft high. They stop there first so you won't be completely underwhelmed when you make it to the real ones. 
The real Cliffs of Moher stand about 700 ft tall. You don't really get a true appreciation of just how high that is through pictures though. You kind of have to go. If you can help it, go when it's not pouring rain, because if it's stormy or there's a lot of mist, you can't see much. Don't get discouraged if the weather forecast is calling for rain though, there's rarely a day in Ireland that it doesn't rain. It rained while I was there and I still saw the cliffs just fine. Take a rain coat instead of an umbrella though; and for you ladies and men with luscious locks, go ahead and tie up your hair. The west coast of the island is quite windy, and on top of the cliffs there's not much to break it. I'm pretty sure if they had half a dozen wind mills on the cliffs, Ireland would have clean energy for decades. Hats are a bad idea too. 

When you get there, I suggest breaking the rules. All of them. When you get on the trail past the gift shop and take your first glance at the cliffs, you can go left or right. Going right will take you up a little hill to a round castle looking thing where the guy that used to run the town would take his women (he was a womanizer, the local husbands weren't his fan), for a romantic view. I can kind of see why they went for it, cause the view really is incredible. On the trail to get there, if the winds are high like they were when I was there, there's actually a spot where the wind carries the ocean spray all the way up and onto the sidewalk. You're seven hundred feet above the ocean and you can hear the waves crashing on the rock, and then you feel the spray on your face. Kind of awesome if you ask me. 
There's no rules to break there though unless you want to climb on the tower, breach a castle door, or do some deadly cliff diving. However, if you go left, you'll soon come to a sign that says not to pass it. Pass it. Cops aren't going to come after you. I honestly didn't even see the sign because of all the people who were walking right past it. It's really just there so they can't be held liable if you fall and die. There's a narrow trail with a wire fence on the left and kind of a rock slab wall on the right. It's quite safe. Next, go over that rock wall. There's kind of a trail on that side of the rock wall as well, but it leaves nothing between you and the edge of the cliffs except the wind. The trail can be wide in places and narrow in others, and it can be a little muddy, but it's really not bad and the view is ssssooooo much better! 

You really can't go wrong if you visit this place. I feel like even if you were there when it was misty, you could still get some pretty good pictures. You'll probably have the uncontrollable urge to watch The Princess Bride too, so just go ahead and pack that. 

The Blarney Castle
When most people think of the Blarney Castle, they think of the Blarney Stone and being granted eloquent, flattering speech. I have two things to say to that. First, there's a lot more to this place than just the stone. Second, I kissed that stone and I wouldn't say that my speech has changed at all. It certainly didn't help me in Italy, where I arrived with a vocabulary consisting of "thank you" and "whore island" (thank you, Sterling Archer). Thanks, for nothing, stone. 
The Blarney Castle itself really is quite a sight. There are a lot of castles around Ireland, but many of them aren't this intact. This one has obviously had some maintenance done on it, but it's still awesome. When I got there, there was a choir group singing at the base of the castle distracting everyone. Since I have the apparently unique ability to appreciate someone singing without watching them move their mouth, I passed the crowd and made it to the entrance before everyone else. Score one for me. Inside the castle is really nice, but on the way up, it's pretty much a straight shot to the stone. At the top, take a second to enjoy the view, and maybe put on some Chapstick. After all, the locals piss on this thing at night, so having a nice protective layer between you and that nastiness probably isn't a bad thing.. That could be why my speech isn't flattering though.. Kiss at your own risk, I suppose. You have to literally lay down and bend over backwards over a hole in the floor to kiss the stone. Don't worry though, there's a mat there to lay on, and someone there holds you to make sure you don't fall, and another to take your picture. They're probably the same ones that relieve themselves on the stone though. 

The way down from the top is a little more interesting. There's a few rooms in the castle you can go into. The dining hall, the kitchen, the maids room, etc, etc. it's all pretty interesting. Once you leave the castle though, you can go behind them to see the poison garden, the caves, the creek, and a non-poisonous garden. I'm not sure about the poison garden though. There's a sign that says not to touch, smell, or eat anything in it, and I definitely saw and old lady bent over getting herself a good whiff. To my knowledge, there were no ambulances called there that day. If you're not quite as brave as that old lady, you can sit on a bench that's got some kind of "poisonous" vine growing in a canopy over it. I saw a couple taking a photo there. Kind of ironic how they were celebrating their love in a poisonous place. Way to kill your relationship, guys. 

If you're still not that brave, you can walk on a trail along the wall to the other gardens, or down to the creek. The trail along the creek is actually quite pleasant. I am in love with the sound of creeks though, so that's just me. I found a stump to sit on right over the creek and pulled off my shoes for a bit of relaxation, then headed for the cave ( after I put my shoes back on). The caves were a let down to say the least. I was expecting something big and filled with pots of gold and maybe a leprechaun or a cave troll. Nope, just a little cave inhabited by a spider. 
When you're finished with the castle, the lying stone, the not-so-poisonous garden, the creek, and the caves, go ahead and pull out your cash. The world's largest Irish gift shop shares a parking lot with the Blarney Castle. They have some pretty awesome t-shirts for normal people and alcoholics alike, souvenirs, and a bunch of cotton stuff all made in a warehouse there just up the street. The place is huge! Like, three or four stories kind of huge. If you're like me with only a backpack and you don't want to buy anything, there's a nice restaurant attached. I didn't eat there, but I was told it was pretty delicious.