We woke up in Galway on Thanksgiving day and had a wonderfully decadent Irish breakfast at the Marriott Hotel. Today's excursion was a driving loop around the Connemara region (County Galway and County Mayo). Connemara is the name given to the western portion of County Galway, which lies between Lough Corrib and the Atlantic, highlighting the rugged beauty of The West of Ireland. We picked up the R336 outside of Galway and had a scenic drive along Galway bay with beautiful views of the Aran Islands. The weather was a mixed bag, with a little sun and a little rain, sometimes at once. Before 11:30 AM we were treated to no less than seven intense rainbows along our drive. We stuck to the coastal route, switching to the R340 and R341 before eventually reaching Clifden. Right in town, you will see roadsigns for "Sky Road", a short driving loop that climbs high along the rocky terrain, offering stunning views of the Atlantic and surrounding land. There is a great car park near the highest point, and is definitely worth the short detour. We rounded the lower road and headed back to Clifden for a quick lunch before moving on.
Leaving Clifden, we headed north up the N59 towards Leenane. The road, like most in Ireland, wound through the rugged landscape before rounding a bend just north of Clifden, revealing the Twelve Bens mountain range which makes up part of the Connemara National Park. We briefly stopped at a pull-off in the road to appreciate the view. While we have many pictures, it simply does not translate to film and this part of Ireland was one I will have in my memories for a long time. Along the way to Leenane, we stopped at Kylemore Abbey (a very well photographed monastery which is now an exclusive girl's boarding school). While tours are offered, we opted to just take some pictures before moving on. Through mountain passes dotted with lakes and grazing fields, we hit our next waypoint of Leenane and Killary harbor, Irelands only Fjord. We had a short stop to stretch our legs before diverting off of the N59 to R335 towards Lousburgh. We refueled there before hooking east towards Westport, passing by Croagh Patrick, were legend states St. Patrick drove the "snakes" from Ireland. The main visitor center was closed for the season, and low clouds obscured the summit from view, but it was still a very pretty area. Perhaps one day we will take a day from Westport and actually climb the summit (about a three hour moderate hike).
We passed through Westport before picking up the R330 to the N84 and ultimately back to Galway. This section of the drive is a little less scenic, which works out well since it was already starting to get dark at that time. We found our way back to the hotel, had a nice Thanksgiving dinner of a Irish version of Lasagna before crashing for the night. Coming Up: The drive back to Dublin with a stop in Trim and the Hill of Tara.
We woke up in Killarney on day four, packed our gear, had breakfast, and hit the road for another scenic drive. This days destination was ultimately Galway, with a quick diversion to the Dingle Peninsula. In many ways, this is probably one of my favorite spots in Ireland. The terrain combines sandy beaches and rocky coastlines with amazing mountains and lush green fields. There are loads of ruins to explore and quaint towns to visit. It's very manageable in a half-day visit, but on a future visit, I think I would prefer to spend a day or two there. Leaving Killarney, we picked up the R561 to the Dingle Peninsula. Along the way, we stopped at Inch Beach (probably not proper any longer since Ireland is on the metric system). It was a bit blustery, but it was a nice stop to stretch our legs and stare out at the Atlantic for a bit. We continued on towards Dingle Town (not sure if they call it that, but it seems to have a nice ring to it) where we picked up the Slea Head driving loop (the R569). The Slea Head loop hugs the southwest coastline with fantastic views of the Great Blasket Island and the Atlantic. We took advantage of a break in the rain and enjoyed the view before moving on to the ruins of Kilmalkedar Church. The last time we saw the ruins, it was pretty well covered in scaffolding for renovation. All of that had been removed, and a nice sunny afternoon allowed us to get some great pictures. We touched our thumbs in the ogham stone (thus renewing our marriage vows) and looped back to Dingle Town for some lunch and light shopping. Leaving Dingle, we headed north up Spa Road to Connor Pass. The pass goes just east of Mt. Brandon, and has spectacular views looking north and south. We did not get a chance to drive this route the last time we visited, but I am glad we did this time.
The next stop was the town of Tarbert where we would catch a ferry across the Shannon river. The alternative is to drive all the way to Limerick, the location of the first bridge. This cuts down the travel time by 45 minutes, and allowed me to relax from driving for a short period of time. We picked up the N67 and headed north. I was originally going to drive through Ennis, but the torrential rains western Ireland was experiencing had closed the road from Ennis to Galway with heavy flooding. The only suitable route was N67 through the Burren. The downside is that this is a very narrow and twisting road, and with standing water in many areas, it added about an hour and a half on to our travel time. By the time we got to Ballyvaughan, it was already dark and we were starting to see spotty flooding in some areas. We encountered a few areas of the road which were flooded over (standing water only, no movement), one of which caused me to stop in my tracks when I could not see the centerline. We waited a few moments considering our options (the nearest detour was at least 20-30 miles) when a small van came in the other direction and made it through without issue. We drove our SUV through with fingers crossed and made it to the other side of the flooded roadway without incident. Shortly after, we found ourselves in Galway in heavy traffic. Even with the GPS, it was pretty much luck and Jens sharp eyes that landed us by our hotel. After checking in, we had a nice dinner at the hotel restaurant before unwinding for the evening. Finally being in Galway, I did have an opportunity to break out my Yaesu VX-7R handheld transceiver and keyed up a local repeater with IRLP connectivity. I dialed up the Fulton County repeater (K8LI) and spoke with a few of the guys over the radio (great geeky radio fun). One of the guys gave us an update on the sewer line replacement progress at our house, and as promised, I sent them all custom QSL cards with my temporary call sign EI/KD8KBU. Coming Up: Thanksgiving in Ireland and a drive through Connemara.
The heavy rains from the low pressure system over Ireland were with us once again on Tuesday. We awoke to overcast skies and blustery winds with the occasional rain pelting the window. Not the greatest day for a drive, but still better then a day in the office. We had breakfast at our new hotel (they had a wonderful selection of Irish cheese as well) before packing up the vehicle and hitting the road. For the benefit of those who have not had the thrill of driving the N71 between Killarney and Kenmare, try to avoid it in the rain. The road is narrow and winding, with a ridiculously fast speed limit which the Irish are sometimes intent on achieving. All that aside, the views are spectacular near Lady's View and Moll's Gap before crossing over on the downward drive to Kenmare. I've often wondered on how tour buses can manage to navigate the curves in the road on this stretch, I had a difficult enough time with our little Kia Sportage. We arrived in Kenmare and continued on to Glengariff at the southeast end of the Beara Peninsula. We did not have the time to explore the Beara the last time we were in Ireland, and I only wish the weather would have been more cooperative this time around. There are many quaint villages on the drive around the rocky coastline, and it can easily be done in a few hours. We eventually looped back to Kenmare and stopped for a very tasty lunch at a local B&B/restaurant.
With the rain not relenting, we decided that a quick loop around the Ring of Kerry would be in order to pass the remainder of the day. We stopped along the way at Staigue Fort, a late iron age stone ring fort estimated around 300-400 C.E. It's in great condition and worth the stop, although the drive up is a bit narrow and not too suitable for tour buses. We played in the rain for a bit before heading back to the car and continuing on our way. We stopped along the coast and took some pictures the best we could given the weather conditions before packing it up and trucking back to the hotel. We had dinner at a trendy little Italian place in Killarney, followed by more live music and snake bites at the Pub near our hotel. Coming up, Day Four: Dingle Peninsula, the Burren, and the journey to Galway.
After a night of much-needed sleep, we had a wonderful Irish breakfast at the hotel before getting a cab to the rental car depot. The car rental was a bit too far of a walk, and it was not even an option since it was raining that morning. The cab driver was a pleasant enough person who seemed to enjoy talking about current events in Ireland. Specifically, he (and the rest of the country) were up in arms over a recent soccer match between Ireland and France, which had a bad call causing Ireland to lose. He stated that they had done everything short of declaring war on France. My comment to him was "they (France) probably would have surrendered if you did that". That made him laugh for quite a bit, so points for making an Irish caby laugh. We were also updated on the recent flooding issues in areas we were intending on visiting. As I understand it, the floods in the Shannon river valley, Galway, and Cork had never happened before in recorded history. There was an option on our route for a trip to the Blarney Castle in County Cork, but being unsure of the road conditions, I opted to stick to Cashel and Killarney. After getting the rental, I found it actually quite easy to slip back in the mode of driving on the left side of the road, it was not nearly as bad as our first time Ireland.
We arrived in Cashel after a couple of hours and spent a good portion of the afternoon wandering around St. Patrick's Rock of Cashel and the actual town of Cashel as well. The Rock had a lot more scaffolding up than the last time we visited (efforts to preserve the site), and several major features were unfortunately closed off for the season while they renovated. Since we had seen the site before, it was not a great loss. We took some photos and walked down to the town to find some lunch. There is another great ruin site as well right in town, something we did not get a chance to see last time, the St. Dominic's Friary (see photo album). In addition to that, there are several other historic sites right in town, which we may not have had an opportunity to see with a tour bus group. We had lunch at a local pub and stopped at a local grocery store for misc items before heading out to Killarney. The remainder of the drive was an uneventful couple of hours. The afternoon's excitement came when we went to check into our hotel in Killarney. We were booked by our tour company at the Killarney Towers hotel and leisure center, but when we came to the main door, it stated "Closed for Season". We were both somewhat surprised by this new development, and decided to go around to the leisure center door which was open. A desk clerk there did confirm the hotel was closed for the winter season, but was kind enough to call their sister hotel, the Plaza which was less then a block away, who confirmed our reservation had been switched to there. Not a big deal, I would have slept in the car if I couldn't have found a hotel room. The Plaza was also a very nice hotel, and very conveniently located on the main strip in Killarney. We walked around for a few hours after checking in, made a few purchases from the Aran Sweater Market (should be here any day now) and had dinner at a nice little Pub. While out walking, we noticed a Pub less then a stone throw from our hotel had a couple hours of live traditional music lined up for that night (come to find out, it's almost every night they have live traditional music, but it's all good). We both had a few pints before crashing for the night. Coming up, Day Three: The Beara Penninsula, The Ring of Kerry, and heavy, heavy rains
We are back from a week in Ireland and Amsterdam. The trip was fantastic, with lots of new experiences and sights. As a recap, I wanted to do something adventurous and exciting for my 40th birthday this year, so some kind of road trip seemed like a good idea. I worked with my travel agent on some various ideas after being pretty dead set on a drive up the Pacific Coast highway. He made some initial estimates for time and costs and presented me with some various options. After reviewing those, he also gave me an option for a self-guided driving tour of Ireland which came in considerably less than the Pacific coast idea. Knowing Ireland is a hot button for me, my dead set intentions quickly crumbled and I started to get excited about Ireland instead. We had visited Ireland a couple of years ago, but there was still more of the country I wanted to see. Combined with an extra day in Amsterdam on the way home, that pretty much sealed the deal. The tour package we used was the Independent Irish Spirit package courtesy of C.I.E. Tours, a pretty big travel agency in Ireland for guided tours. The reason it was such a good deal was because November is largely considered very off-season for tourism in Ireland. This means many major sites have limited hours (if any at all), colder weather, and around 8-9 hours of daylight available for driving. So I planned as best possible with these caveats in mind, and took advantage of the three major cities we would be staying in Dublin, Killarney, and Galway.
To start off, we had a very late flight out of Detroit Metro (around 9:45 pm). We got to the airport a bit earlier than necessary, and passed the time playing Gin and reading. The flight out from Detroit to Amsterdam was pretty uneventful. KLM's Airbus 330's have in-seat entertainments with movies, music, and games to help pass the time on an eight hour flight. The fact that it was at night also helps if you can actually manage to sleep in Economy class. We landed in Amsterdam on time and had only a brief layover for our flight to Dublin. That flight was definitely more "exciting". Dublin airport was experiencing gale winds and rain due to a heavy low-pressure system battering them and the U.K. for the past few days. The heavy turbulence started a few minutes before landing, which really made it feel like more of a roller coaster ride. Perhaps it was just lack of sleep, but Jen and I both had an inappropriate chuckle when the stewardess reminded us (shortly before landing) to "double-check for the nearest emergency exit to your seats"...the landing was a bit of a roller coaster ride as it felt like the plane came in pretty hot, but we came to a safe stop and had a great view of a rainbow forming. over the airport (Ireland welcomed us back).
The rest of the day was pretty uneventful. We spent about an hour and a half in the passport control line since they appeared to be a little understaffed. This killed my idea of doing a Guinness brewery tour, but it was probably for the better since we were both pretty exhausted. The bus ride out to our hotel in Ballsbridge was slightly humorous as well. One of the main routes through Dublin (O'Connell Street) was closed for Christmas decoration lighting, and this seemed to irritate the bus driver beyond description as he tried to maneuver a very large vehicle through winding Dublin streets already clogged with overflow traffic. As a brief aside, the Dublin area has a population of around 1.6 million with a density of around 11,000/sq mile within the city. There also does not seem to be a very clear layout for the city. This, coupled with the staggering lack of road signs in Ireland in general, had us very much lost while traveling on the bus and very much unsure when our stop would be. The bus driver assured me (in a slightly cantankerous manor) that he would call the stops out when we got to them. After a stream of obscenities from his direction (mostly related to traffic), we arrived at our hotel for the evening. The rest of the night was spent at the hotel pub with dinner and a Guinness for my birthday treat. I will say this for Bewley's hotel though, besides a great breakfast and free WiFi, that is one of the most comfortable beds I have ever slept in. I would have tried to smuggle that home if I had bigger luggage. Coming up, Day Two and the journey to Killarney.
Having rested up after an amazing amount of driving the previous few days, it was back on the road again, destination Cody, WY. While there are plenty of attractions right around Custer, like Sylvan Lake, Wind Cave, and Jewel Cave, time was going to be a factor as we definitely wanted to stop at Devils Tower along the way. Most of the routes we took were two-lane rural routes which were practically deserted, but full of spectacular scenery. On the way, we stopped at Jewel Cave National Park, but guided tours (a necessity) were not scheduled to start for a few hours from when we arrived. We looked around the bookstore and marveled at the interactive map of the cave system below us. I think this would be a worthwhile stop someday, along with Wind Cave. Back on the road, we were to Devils Tower in about two hours.
Northern Wyoming has some incredible terrain, and while driving through some sizable foothills, Devils Tower makes a statement. Like Mt Rushmore and the Badlands, I had seen photos but we never terribly impressed. What a difference seeing these things in person makes. From a distance, it really is not much too look at, but certainly recognizable. Getting closer, you can see the amazing patterns in the rock that photos just cannot seem to do justice. We checked out the visitors center and decided to go for a walk closer to the mountain. They have a very nice path a little over a mile that circles the mountain, giving some amazing views of both the mountain and the valley below. We observed a group of climbers making an ascent (that would have to be incredible to see the top, about the size of a football field) and a small group of deer grazing. When we got back to the parking lot, we pulled the car around so we could sit and eat some lunch with a view. Near the base of the mountain is a small field called prairie dog town. I recommend stopping for a bit to observe and hear the high pitched squeaks from the hundreds and hundreds of prairie dogs that call this home. All in all, Devils Tower was a very fun stop along the way to Yellowstone.
Jen took over driving at this point, and I think the fresh air and lunch tired me out. I woke up somewhere between Gillette and Buffalo as we were rounding a bend to see the Big Horn Mountains looming in the distance. Our itinerary had us taking US-16 (the Cloud Peak Skyway) which cuts through the Big Horn Mountains and offers beautiful scenery. One interesting thing did happen, around 9,000ft, the Kia threw a Check Engine light. Not panicking, I checked the owners manual which indicated an emissions sensor and to get it checked eventually. I figured either an oxygen sensor or a fuel pressure sensor. We stopped at a pullout, threw a couple of snowballs at each other, checked for venting from the engine, and proceeded on despite the sensor light. Once out of the mountains, there is beautiful canyon the road winds through on the way to Worland. We stopped and took lots of pictures and enjoyed the solitude it offered with no buildings or power lines or other cars for that matter. We eventually arrived at Worland were we stopped for fuel and some cold beverages. Amazingly, the emissions sensor light decided we were at a low enough elevation and went out (but it would return the next day). One more interesting vehicle note, around the time the emissions light came on, the Kia started to get amazing fuel efficiency, more then I've ever had with that car. I normally get around 30 MPG but was mysteriously getting more along the lines of 38 MPG....I'll take it.
The rest of the drive to Cody was through some of the most deserted land I have ever seen. It is amazing as there is nothing as far as the eye can see. It was very weird, yet oddly comforting. Cody is an interesting town, obviously built around tourism and not much more. Small mountain towns kinda creep m out in a way...probably seen one too many horror films. We had dinner at the historic Irma Hotel, serving a fine piece of steak, as any Wyoming restaurant should! The last highlight of the evening came as I was going to brush my teeth that evening. I went to remove the cap from my tooth brush and discovered a bee lodged in between the plastic and the bristles (the cap is clear, so I could see him in there). After much debate we managed to get the cap off the brush which was then discarded into the parking lot with bee in tow. We did find the cap the next morning sans bee. We guessed he must have hitched a ride a Devils Tower...
The one good thing (and only one) about having an east facing hotel room is that you will be up with the crack of dawn. Oh sure, hotels have some of the most opaque curtains known to man (lead lined I think...good for blocking radiation) but there will always be cracks around the edges or down the middle where the two halves meet (the light rays bend and meet at the focal point...don't ask, Physics Lab joke). So despite a very long drive from the day before, I find it very heard to sleep with the room naturally illuminated. No matter though, we had a big drive ahead of us again, but with the promise of fun with scheduled stops at the Badlands, Wall Drug, and Mt. Rushmore. We took advantage of the hotels complimentary continental breakfast (sweet buttermilk pancakes, they had biscuits and gravy...I love the midwest) and hit the road early with a good start to the day.
There was very little left to drive in Minnesota, and no sooner did we hit South Dakota when we started seeing billboards for both Wall Drug and the Corn Palace. I do recall seeing blurbs about the Corn Palace on Roadside America, and what good would a road trip be without experiencing some of the prime oddities of the west. The clincher was that there happened to be a Cabela's at the same exit. Yours truly, the decorated Eagle Scout, forgot to pack a rain coat in his fervor to hit the road the day before. I figure that would be a good location to acquire the necessary outerwear as rain/snow was in the forecast for several of the days we would be in Yellowstone. The Corn Palace was intriguing. A visitor center and convention hall that also doubles as a basketball court for the local high school. I was more surprised by how many of my friends and co-workers have both been to and admitted being at the Corn Palace. It really is a delightful roadside oddity. We spent a little time perusing the gift shop (corn related memorabilia acquired) and also found a great deal on a rain coat/wind breaker at Cabela's before hitting the road again.
Our next stop was the Badlands National Park. We opted to take the scenic drive which ends up in Wall, SD. Having only seen a limited number of pictures (perhaps a few viewmaster reels in my youth) of this park previously, I was not aware of the scope and variety of formations. We walked a trail and checked out the visitors center, along with almost every scenic viewpoint available. I would have liked more time to spend in the park, and I could easily see going back there in the future to spend a day or two in the area (there is a minuteman missile silo run by the national park service just north of there).
The Badlands scenic byway dumps you out very close to Wall, SD, home of Wall Drug. If the dozens of billboards along I-90 in South Dakota didn't get your attention, the numerous welcome signs near Wall should do it. The setting is a western town meets three ring circus. Of course we had to stop and get pictures and our obligatory authentic Stetson hats. With time running out in the day, we had even less time to spend in Wall then we had at the Badlands. We still had about 100 miles to go to get to our hotel, along with a stop a Mt. Rushmore.
I never had a burning desire to go to Mt. Rushmore, presidential history is not a strong interest of mine. All the pictures I had seen made it seem much smaller then it actually is. Winding our way through twisting and turning roads around Keystone (a bit "touristy" of a town for me) we made our way to the main visitors center. We arrived after most of the museum portions had closed for the day, but we were still able to get to the main viewing pavilion. I must say that I was impressed with scale and magnitude of the carvings. Something like that can never truly translate from photographs. We sat and enjoyed the cool evening air while taking turns with the binoculars and taking silly pictures. After a quick perusal of the gift shop (mini Mt. Rushmore puchased, now sitting on my monitor in my office), it was back on the road and a short drive to Custer for the night.
We wanted to take in a few other attractions that day, but time would just not allow for it. We stopped at the Crazy Horse Memorial which was closing for the night (perhaps another year), and decided to skip Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park also. We found our hotel and a small pub/restaurant before calling it an evening after 500 miles behind us. The next day would find us in Wyoming with a much anticipated stop at Devils Tower before winding up in Cody for the evening.
Saturday, May 17th, a great day to start a multi thousand-mile road trip. It was Jen and my 11th wedding anniversary, and the start of a trip we have been planning for months. We carefully planned our clothing and electronics (at least for Yellowstone, I neglected to see how hot it would be on the actual trip there), we secured a bunny sitter (Thanks Carl!), and updated the Garmin vehicle icon to the Black Pearl among other important preparations. After a marathon packing session the previous evening and part of Saturday morning, we bid the bunnies goodbye and hit the road around 10:00 am.
Our route to the park took us out I-90, through Wisconsin, South Dakota, and Wyoming. Unfortunately, this also included Chicago and Rockford Illinois. I have made this junket many times before, and I can never seem to find a good time to drive through Chicago. If it's not the ridiculous amount of traffic, it's Illinois' unrealistic road construction goals exasperating said traffic (really, 25 miles of single-lane traffic near Rockford with approximately one mile of actual active road work? I call lazy...move the darn barrels when you need to work on that section). I really do give credit to anyone that has to commute in Chicago on a regular basis, I personally could not do that myself, at least not without eventually serving some mandatory federal prison sentence. After missing one toll gate due to heavy traffic (thanks to the state of Illinois for a convenient website to pay missed tolls...I know I probably could have ignored missing an 80 cent toll, but best to be accountable...and somewhat funny using a credit card online to pay 80 cents) we finally greeted Wisconsin and the promise of cheese curds with open arms (queue Journey).
You see, I-90 comes very close to Tomah and the home of Humbird Cheese. While you can obtain cheese curds at almost any exit in Wisconsin (and complimentary with AAA roadside assistance), the squeaky freshest are always at Humbird. While I'm not sure if this is a factual statement, this stop in Tomah is almost mandatory for Jen and I (certainly a tradition, we used to stop there on our trips to Minneapolis/St. Paul, and it's been a while). With snacks and the all-important strawberry-rhubarb jam obtained and the car refueled, we made like Lee Nails and pressed on to our destination for the evening: Jackson, MN.
But there is so much more before that, well, not really actually. Southern Minnesota is somewhat dull, at least after the Mississippi river valley which is very stunning this time of year. I was very surprised to see the number of wind turbines both active and under construction though. It makes me smile to see them gracefully spinning in the distance, and nice to see an investment in alternative energy. With the sun setting, we wrapped up our eleven hour and seven hundred mile leg of day one by arriving at the AmericInn in Jackson. The laugh of the evening came from the receptionist. We stated we had reservations for the evening (although given the five other vehicles in the parking lot, reservations where probably not needed) to which she smiled and said "I've been waiting all day to hear you pronounce that last name". Oh, we did have a few more smiles that evening (keep your minds out of the gutter). We found a small Ma/Pa restaurant very close to the hotel and written on the pane glass windows were various specialties. The one that stuck with us and remained our interjection throughout the trip was "Sweet Buttermilk Pancakes" (used in context: Sweet Buttermilk Pancakes, that's a lot of cheese...). The other smile was watching llamas at a farm across the street. Llamas make me smile....
Tomorrow: South Dakota and the Corn Palace...oh and some place called the Badlands and Mt. Rushmore...
Having no solid plans, we stopped out to Harrison Lake State Park in Fulton County Ohio. It was a little past noon so we picked up a sandwich from Subway and had ourselves a little picnic. We loaded up the kites but decided to take a stroll around the lake. Turns out it was about 3.5 miles around the lake, but it felt good to walk that distance. One of the events along the trail was witnessing a garter snake attempt to eat a bullfrog. That was one ambitious little snake, but there was no way it was going to complete the task, and the bullfrog looked more annoyed than anything. When we approached the feast, the snake was either startled or saw us as a bigger opportunity. It released the frog and eventually slithered back into the woods. To celebrate our unexpected exercise, we stopped for ice cream in Wauseon on the way home...
We awoke to our last full day in Ireland on Thursday. Not wanting to stray too far across the country, we decided to drive the N71 between Killarney and Kenmare to see the many ruins and natural sites along the way. We drove this route a couple of days before, but were on a time table to start the Ring of Kerry after Kenmare, so we skipped many places along the way. We were chatting with the woman at the hotel reception desk trying to pinpoint were the Torq Waterfalls were. She said if we were driving there, we might as well stop at several other points along the way, marking them on a map.
The first stop was Ross Castle, built in the late 1400s by local ruling clan the O'Donoghues. Ross Castle is located in Killarney National Park and is a short drive off N71 right from Killarney. Located right on Lough Leane, there are many boat hires to tour around the lake to places like Innisfallen Island with many ruins. Parking is very easy as this is also one of the many entrances to Killarney National Park. You could easily spend a whole day exploring the park, either on foot, horseback or boat, but we had much more to see along N71.
Our next stop was a few kilometers down the road to Muckross Abbey. Construction began around 1440, about the same time as Ross Castle, and the Abbey opened in 1448. The Yew Tree in the Abbey cloister was planted when the Abbey was built making it over 560 years old and the oldest living thing in Ireland. The Abbey was undergoing some minor construction when we visited, largely work to shore up walls, and preserve what is left of it. Much of the Abbey was still open to visitors and is simply amazing to see and touch. This is a must-stop for anyone in the area.
We packed back into the van and drove a few more kilometers to Torq Waterfalls. Part of Killarney National Park, Torq Mountain is a very lush and heavily wooded region of the park. The path leading to the waterfalls is surrounded by so much life it's almost overwhelming. Everything here is alive and the vibrant colors reflect this. When I think back to the wasteland of the Burren a few days earlier, the contrast is staggering. We took some photos of the waterfalls and Roger, Anne, and myself decided to take a short forty-minute walk on the yellow trail. After quite an uphill hike, revealing stunning views of Lough Leane and County Kerry, we eventually made our way back to the parking area where Jen, Dave, and Stephanie were patiently waiting. While the trail was definitely a moderate hike, the short trail to the waterfalls is very easy and should not be missed if you are in the area.
We continued to drive south to Kenmare, stopping at Ladies view for some pictures and food (there is a cafe and gift shop here). Unfortunately, there were problems with the power so the cafe was closed for the day. Everyone was starting to get very hungry for lunch and not wanting a revolt, I remembered a cafe at Moll's Gap a few more kilometers up the road. We loaded up the van and pressed on, through the winding roads of N71 which were even more spectacular in the sunlight (it was quite foggy a few days earlier).
We arrived at Moll's Gap and the Avoca Restaurant. Not being quite sure as to what kind of food to expect, we were overwhelmed by the amazing gourmet quality of the food they had to offer. It was our oasis in the desert. The ladies running the restaurant had a variety of quiche and salads (including a particularly grand mushroom salad). You received a mountain of food which was very reasonably priced. I didn't think I would finish it all, but is so tasty that it didn't seem to be an issue. After days of pub grub, the quality of food in the cafe was refreshing and amazing. Almost too amazing, scary amazing...I almost felt a little like Hansel & Gretel, waiting for the nice ladies to cook us up in a pot...but that never happened, instead we browsed the vast gift shop located here. The tour buses started to roll in from the Ring of Kerry, so we piled back into the van and proceeded to Kenmare.
Kenmare is pretty easy to navigate once you get your bearings. Which, of course, took us several minutes while staring at a map of the town and trying to determine where we were. We finally spotted the tourist information office, which we knew the stone circle to be only a few hundred yards from. The Kenmare Stone Circle is reported to be the biggest in the southwest of Ireland. Stone Circles were built during the Bronze Age (2,200-500 B.C) for ritual and ceremonial purposes. They were often orientated on certain solar and lunar events, such as the position of the sun on the horizon on a solstice. In the center of the circle is a Boulder Dolmen, which is unique for stone circles. Dolmen's often marked the burial place of someone important. We spent a while playing, relaxing, and enjoying the sunshine and mild temperatures.
The day was wearing on so we decided to head back to Killarney and the hotel to freshen up for dinner. Once back in town, we located Murphy's Pub on College Street (right behind our hotel). A gentleman in the corner of the pub recommended the Guinness Stew (reported to be the best in the area, if not the country) which a few people did try and enjoyed. I had the fish & chips (something I had been wanting since we arrived) and pint. We had a great evening listening to live music at The Grand (I think that was the name) located on Main St, a short walk from the hotel. We didn't stay out too late though. We had an early morning with a two-hour drive back to Shannon to catch our flight to the states. We packed up that night feeling a little blue. I think this was the first vacation Jen and I had taken where we felt we belonged...so anyone up for Ireland in 2010?