Thursday, September 23, 2010

Ireland Day Five: Another Day Without Photos

Yeah, it's 11:10, I'm standing in the kitchen of what I've dubbed "the women's dormitory" (more, as per usual, on that latter) chasing a "poor" to "very poor" wireless signal, I'm quite exhausted, and I have to be awake early tomorrow.  If I wasn't afraid that I'd forget what happened today if I didn't immediately journal it, you wouldn't be getting any entry at all.  I will, at some point in the future, go through all the photos of pretty green vistas, and try to use the datestamps to figure out which ones happened where.

To begin, then -- this morning's optional activity was horseback riding on the beach.  Originally, four of us expressed interest, but two dropped out when they learned it was English saddle rather than Western.  I figured, hey, they're trail horses, we're just going to walk in a line, who needs a saddle horn anyway?  So two of us were driven out to the riding place (with, of course, a scenic photo stop I have no hope of ever placing along the way).

We were given cute little English riding helmets (with their sueded texture, they seem so much nicer than American brain buckets) and mounted up.  Nancy's horse was named Bob.  Mine was Pie.  Seriously.  I guess that makes me Elizabeth Taylor.

We went on a nice trail ride -- mostly along the beach.  There were about a half dozen riders and two guides, one at each end.  Pie liked to walk in the back, so I pretty much had a guide to myself.  (I know damn well why Pie liked to walk in the back -- clearly, I've been on enough trail rides to actually recognize this behavior -- he liked to walk slowly so he'd fall behind the group, and then trot to catch up.  I was good with the trotting but suffered a solid moment of panic when he shifted into a higher gear.  Pie stopped to attend to a call of nature -- this let the rest of the group get much further ahead.  The guide who was behind behind me immediately shifted his horse to block Pie -- he knew Pie was going to make a run for it and I did too.  As soon as Pie finishes with nature's call, he sets off at a fast clip -- I'm bouncing like crazy and when one of my feet falls out of its stirrup I realize the only thing that's actually keeping me on this horse are the reins (which really aren't), I now come to the conclusion that a pommel is a really handy thing.  Pie ultimately slows ("whoa!" is apparently acceptable in Irish) without me taking a roll on the beach, but it's the closest I've ever come to doing so.  The scenery was gorgeous, though -- I commented to the guide that he's got some beautiful country here, to which he affirmatively replied, "Thanks be to God," which was just so adorably Irish I had to try not to smile.

The rest of the group picked us up as we finished the ride.  Actually, they were all standing there taking pictures when we returned to the stables, which felt almost like crossing a finish line and was more fun that it should have been.

Back into the van, driving along the Dingle peninsula (yes!  I remembered a location!) and heading out toward the Westernmost Point in Ireland, there was a stop for photos and a short stroll (Sam drove the Land Rover a bit ahead and we walked the intervening distance stopping for photos.)  One seagull posed quite nicely for all of us.

I remember this little stroll in particular because of the bird.  Also because it started raining (it had rained a touch at the beginning and end of our horse ride, but most of it was sunny).  It was a sideways rain, so by the time we got back in the van, we were all soaked from the knees (or wherever our rain jackets stopped) downward.

Continued on until we parked the van for a "wee walk" up the hill that makes up the aforementioned Westernmost point in Ireland.  The last two major walks had sorta done me in -- I woke up this morning still pretty stiff and sore -- but, to my great surprise, I was actually feeling pretty good by this point.  I think walking might actually be the cure for too much walking.  Hair of the Dog and all that.  Besides, the sun had come out again, so taking this walk seemed the best way to dry out my jeans.  Out of the van, then, and up the hill out to the westernmost point of Ireland.  Sam stopped near the top and gathered us around for story time -- told us a legend about the place (he's a very good storyteller -- although the irony here is that the one member of the group who had asked to hear about these legends sat out the walk).  Many more photos -- I think I may actually remember these, as the geography was pretty unique.

(Still with me?  Good.)

Quick stop at a pottery shop.  We didn't buy any pottery, but they had bathrooms, so we were all directed to at least pretend we were interested in the pottery as we surreptitiously made our way to the toilets.  And it was pretty pottery, although a bit pricey.  (It was pottery that was more "art" than "pots.")

Then, back to Dingle for lunch ... at a spot right next to our hotel from last night.  

On the road again ... and (insert yawn here) here's where it starts to get a bit hazy.  The day's main activities were the horseback ride and the hike out to the Westernmost point -- the rest was driving to our next destination, which involved taking a ferry (the aptly named Shannon Breeze) across the River Shannon.

Also... it's Arthur's Day.  (Who?)  Arthur Guinness, of course.  Arthur Guinness founded Guinness on September 23, 1759.  So the Guinness Marketing Folks decided that at 17:59 on September 23, everyone should raise a glass of Guinness to Arthur.  This caught on.  And we decided to take part.  When in Rome and all that.

So, while racing to catch the 5:30 ferry, we stop in a small town to pick up enough Guinness for us all to toast Arthur at 5:59.  (Sam sends us down a hill to a "Swanky Pub."  We look down the hill and see no swanky pub.  It's actually a bit of a dive, named "Swanky Pub.")  Twelve cans of Guinness are purchased.  They're room temperature, but the Swanky Pub Folk give us a plastic bag full of ice, which would ultimately serve to melt all over the floor of our vehicle, and maybe raise the temperature of the Guinness a whole degree.

The Shannon Breeze breezes us on across the Shannon -- we stand on the upper deck and get a good face full of wind -- and when we're on the other side, we get back in the van and it's just about time to toast Arthur.  Guinnesses are passed out, flip tabs are flipped, foam spills out the top of my can all down my arm (and Brian's backpack, and the floor of the Land Rover...), we all yell out, "To Arthur!" and I take my very first swig of Guinness ever.

It is also my very last swig of Guinness ever.

(Later that night, I will overhear a stranger say, "The only thing more vile than Guinness is warm Guinness."  I heartily agree.)

Having duly participated in the Irish Guinness Marketing Tradition, we continued down the road -- passing half- (and mostly-) filled cans to those who wanted to drink them, and also sharing whatever snacks we happened to have on hand.  Sam put some festive drinking tunes on the speakers, and the Party Bus continued its way to...

.... the Cliffs of Moher.  (Sam says they were the "Cliffs of Insanity" from "The Princess Bride."  Amazingly, some folks in our group have never seen "The Princess Bride."  Sam starts quoting lines.)  Problem is -- we don't actually get to the cliffs until just after 7:00.  And it has started raining again.

Look, I'll be honest with you -- I didn't take any pictures of the Cliffs of Moher.  They were beautiful.  And as the setting sun reflected off of them, they were all kinds of majestic.  But I was so wet, I could barely keep my glasses dry enough to get a good look at them myself -- getting my camera out of its nice dry little camera cover was just not going to happen.  I guess that for some things, you just had to be there.  I was.  :)

And then, I had a thought.  And that thought was:  "I'm cold and wet and the van is way over there and the sun is going down.  And I'm going to be much colder and wetter once that happens."  So I stopped admiring the cliffs and raced the sun back to the van.  (I was treated to a very pretty low hanging full moon for my trouble.)

On again ... now just after 8:00 ... to our lodging for the night, the Doolin Activity Lodge.  It has several buildings -- Lord knows what they used to be.  But when the guy was handing out keys for the single rooms, he made a point of putting three women together in three consecutive rooms.  When we got up to the rooms, we found out why.  There's a common kitchen, living room, and bathtub -- we each have a small bedroom and a teensy bathroom with a shower, but the bathtub is communal.  There's wireless internet, but the really good signal is in the lobby, and that's closed -- the best signal I can get is standing in the kitchen.  And we've got issues with the heat.  (To wit:  there isn't any.  There are radiators in our rooms, but no way to turn them on.  There's a thermostat in the hallway -- we cranked it up to maximum, but it hasn't made the individual radiators go on, or otherwise warmed the rooms.  And, as previously mentioned, the lobby is closed, so we can't get anyone out here to explain the heating system to us.)

(So, um, if the name-dropping thing still works, hey VAGABOND TOURS, the Doolin Activity Lodge is not up to your usual standards.)

They also didn't have a restaurant on the premises -- well they did, but it doesn't have dinner.  Sam directed us to a pub a 5 minute walk down the road.  Good pub.  Busy.  (Still having "Arthur's Day Specials" -- more Guinness was consumed, none of it by me.)  Real live Irish music and everything.  We ate, we drank, we listened, we walked back ... I'm wiped out.

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