Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ireland Day Four: If you don’t come home with cow poop on your shoe, you haven’t been to Ireland.

Yeah, I bet that one would go over well with the Irish Tourism Board.

Started off the morning at Portmagee and, as previously mentioned, discovered there was wireless internet in the lobby of the hotel. Coincidentally, something very similar is going on right now – there’s no wireless internet in my room, but there is a “fair” to “poor” signal in the lobby. So what’s going to happen here is I’m gonna write this post, run downstairs and actually post it … and the photos will get done later. (Too bad, really. They’re probably pretty nice. I just haven’t the time to do all the downloading, editing, and uploading.)

OK, here’s what happened. The weather actually was good enough for most of the group to go off to the Skellig Islands. Five of us remained back – not being all that excited about an island with something like 600 stairs going upward, with no handrail, and several deaths to their credit. Not that it isn’t beautiful – I’m sure it is. We just decided to pass on it. So, the gang is off on the boat to the Skellig Islands and the rest of us will go to the chocolate factory.

The other four strolled off to a local museum – I actually stayed in the hotel lobby taking care of business. Updated the journal, got caught up on email, and (score!) walked my laundry down to the local “community center,” where a very nice lady with three washers and dryers was happy to do a load of laundry for me for 8 Euros. (Which sounds like a lot for a load of laundry – but compared to hotels which would charge more than that for just a shirt, it was a steal.) I met up with the gang for lunch at a cute little bakery/cafe, and then Sam picked us up for our afternoon tour.

The chocolate factory was little more than a chocolate shop which happened to make its chocolates right in front of you. And yes, there were free samples! (And yes, I bought some.) Yummy.

Sam then took us off on a drive that ended up at, well, someone’s farm. We went through a gate one at a time – the gate sort of ended in a round bit, and you had to slide the gate in one direction to get in, and then the other way to get out on the other side. I remarked to Kathy that it reminded me of a subway turnstile – then took a good hard look at that word and decided that this was, very likely, exactly where “turnstile” came from.

Once in, we walked down a path (snagging a few fresh blackberries on the way), turned a bit, went up a hill, and ended up face to stone with a “cashel.” (Imagine an illustrative photograph here.) Picture a stone wall, a coupla stories high, in the shape of a circle. (Vaguely leaning inward – the damn thing would’ve been a dome if the stones went all the way up.) The rather cool thing about the construction here is that no cement was used – the stones stay in place just by the weight of the stones above. We’re talking strictly gravity, here. According to the nearby sign, these jobs could be as old as Iron Age, although this one (partially reconstructed) probably dates back 1000 years ago. Inside, there was a smaller stone circle in the center. (I was immediately reminded of the garden I’d wandered around yesterday. There was an open grassy field, with a little circle in the center with some benches in it.) Here, the central circle would’ve been roofed back in the day – it would have been the living area, with the animals kept in the outer circle. Very, very cool. Also: the inside walls of the outer circle are not completely smooth – there are steps (also made of stacked stones) working their way up. We actually climbed to the top of the wall and walked along the rim. (When I say “rim,” realize that the walls here were several feet thick.) It was a grassy path up there, with a great view. Sam was pretty good about giving us the history of these things (and Ireland in general) – he seemed a lot more open with just the five of us.

Our next stop was a castle … sorry that’s “15th century tower.” Much stronger and taller – they’d had cement by this time. Hard to tell exactly if we were supposed to just admire this from a distance – but Sam ducked under some barbed wire (which someone had clearly bent upward to make entrance easier) and we all followed. Approaching the tower, Sam told us to look out for the “fresh land mines” – the occasional massive pile of cow poop. (I think he may have stepped in one himself, moments before the warning.) Sam then took us closer to the tower (this time, stepping over an electrified cord) and around the back – where we spotted the herd of cows who clearly, at some point in the recent past, had found their own way into the area (not deterred by barbed wire or electrified cord). It was around this time when I took a step and realized, to my great dismay, that the ground underfoot was squishy. (Sam and I both spent the rest of the afternoon brushing one shoe against the grass, in a useless attempt to clean it.)

Sam actually found a way up into the castle itself – several stone steps in a rather steep and uneven pattern. I took a pass on this with one other woman, and we sat there looking at the incredible view which the castle-owner had given himself – right out over the water, absolutely beautiful. As the others gingerly made their way up the stairs, I said, “Have fun...” and quickly added, “... storming the castle,” realizing that I’ve never before had such a perfect opportunity for that movie reference.

On the way back, we stopped for a beverage near Portmagee and ended up spotting a pretty awesome rainbow – we could actually see both ends of it, and it centered rather nicely over a cute little building. (Again, the photo will follow.) We picked up the gang who’d gone to the Skellig Islands (and my laundry – I got everything back clean and folded, and a bonus pair of grey socks with little pink bows on them) and got on the road to Dingle. (On the way, we compared our stone cashel pics to their 600 stone-steps pics.)

Having settled in the Dingle Bay Hotel, I went up to my room and immediately discovered it was a Smoking room. I asked the nice lady at the desk, but she didn’t have a non-smoking room I could switch to. Not a problem, really, the smell of the cow shit on my shoe is actually cancelling out the smoke smell.

I’ve probably put in nearly an hour in the attempt to clean my hiking boot. Four trash bags, half a roll of toilet paper, and a Virgin Atlantic ballpoint pen have all given their lives for the cause. It still isn’t clean, but since I’ve signed up for horseback riding tomorrow, I’m thinking that there’s a reasonable chance that I could step in horse poop and have to start all over again. (What I really need here is a hose, with one of those power sprayers on the end. Or a shoe shine guy who wants a huge tip.)

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