Test Post Before New Zealand

I just set up a new blog real quick before we get on our plane to New Zealand. It’s nothing fancy but we’ll write about what we’re up to and post pictures along the way. This is just a quick test post to make sure that it’s syncing up with Facebook and everything’s working alright.

Right now we’re in LA at Cambria’s house. My parent’s drove us up here and we ate lunch at Cambria’s restaurant, The Daily Grill. Our plane leaves at 10pm tonight and we’re just killing time watching the movie The Beach. We’ll probably head to the airport in about an hour. (I’m not looking forward to the 13 hour flight)

Hopefully everything’s working ok. Check back here often if you’re interested in what we’re up to.

See ya,
Matt

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Updated Route Map

Updated Route Map

We’re back in Dublin for the night to catch our plane back home in the morning. I’ve updated our route map so you can see our entire tour. Check it out here.

Alana and I will try to upload a bunch of pictures tonight. Knowing Alana though, I’m sure the entire picture collection will be on Facebook within about 48 hours…

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Connemara and Kylemore Abbey

Sorry for the lack of pictures on the previous post, and on this post. The internet here for some reason doesn’t want to let us upload anything, so we’ll do a make-up couple of posts with what we’ve missed as soon as we can get a more stable connection! Now, on to our trip!:

We woke up this morning at our bed and breakfast where we ate breakfast, and then we were picked up by the Galway Tour Company for our bus tour of Connemara. We had decided earlier that we would like a break from all of our driving, so it was very nice to be able to just sit back and relax and have someone else brave the Irish roads.

When we got on the bus we had to sit all the way in the back, because it was full by the time we got to transfer on from the pickup bus to the actual tour bus. The tour guide was very funny and knowledgeable. Connemara is a beautiful spot in the West of Ireland. It is mostly a national park, but there are many small villages throughout that are very traditional.

Our first stop was the ruins of Ross Errily Friary which was built around 1350. It is now in ruins but is still used as a burial ground for local residents. 

The bus then took us to the town of Cong, which is most famous because the movie “The Quiet Man” with John Wayne was filmed there. (We saw “the Quiet Man Bridge” later on our tour, as it was a little ways away from the town, and on our way back to Galway). 

The tour took us through rural farmland and we got to see many ruins of houses from the famine. We learned a lot of history about the famine in Ireland, which caused the great emigration from the country. Evidently, the potatoes just wouldn’t grow in the ground anymore due to a fungus that turned them black. You can still see where the old farmers sowed the potatoes in the ground because the hillsides are still striped in different shades of green. There are also strange horizontal stacked stone walls which divide hills from top to bottom. These are called “famine walls” because when the famine hit the poor villagers would go to the wealthy landowners to beg for food, and the landowners didn’t want to give them anything for free, so they set them to work building walls for no purpose. 

This is also the same land that is used by all the farmers in the area as a communal sheep grazing ground. Everyone’s sheep just roam free in this area because all the land is considered communal. The only way to tell apart the sheep is because of the coloring on their wool. The farmers here get grants from the government to run their farms. We got to see a lot of baby sheep right along the road as there are no fences keeping them in.

The main highlight of the tour is Kylemore Abbey. We have some awesome pictures of it, but you’ll just have to wait for that. It used to be a castle that a wealthy man built for his wife after having honeymooned in the area. It is now used as an Abbey and a school, but we learned the school will be closing in a matter on months. It is a really beautiful structure on the side of a large lake. The nuns in the Abbey actually make their own soap and chocolate, which are available for purchase. This is also where we stopped for lunch. Since the Abbey has been bought by private developers they are making the spot into a crowded tourist trap, with a visitor center, cafeteria and shops. There is also an Abbey garden, which I think they said was 6 acres of land. There were definitely some spectacular views at the Abbey, and it was interesting to tour the first couple floors of the Abbey, as they had it set up with furnishings from when it was first built.

The tour bus took us on our route home after the abbey, and we saw more sheep and farmlands. We learned about how the Irish people used the bog moss to heat their houses. People still do that to this day, and we got to see where they cut it from the ground and lay it out to dry. We also drove by some spots where someone had tried to burn the bush and the fire had gotten out of control and caused almost 5 million Euros in damage to the land. The fires are still not under control, and I guess the firemen are working to put it out. 

After our tour ended back in Galway city centre, we got to explore the city a bit. We found an awesome cheap chain store called Dunnes, which has great prices (even for being in Euros!) We wandered around for a bit and then walked back to our B&B which was a farther than we expected, but overall not a bad walk. The weather was good today so it wasn’t bad walking back.

Tomorrow will be our last full day here, so we’re planning to drive cross country back to our Dublin to see some tombs, and possibly battle ground.

Cheers,

Alana & Matt

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Dingle and The Cliffs of Moher

Today saw the most driving out of all of our days here in Ireland. We woke up at 7:30, ate our breakfast, and packed up to leave Killarney. We decided that we were going to do another ring called the Dingle Ring. We were told it was easier to drive than the ring of Kerry and was more scenic.

Since Alana drove the Ring of Kerry, Matt agreed to do the the ring around the Dingle peninsula. As it turns out, the ring around Dingle is much narrower and comes much closer to cliff edges the the ring of Kerry did. We survived it and we were definitely glad we made the trek. We saw the absolute best views that we’ve seen in Ireland so far.

The Dingle peninsula is a part of Ireland where Gaelic is still the primary language. It’s very cool but it gets very interesting when trying to read street signs.

From there we decided we would make the three hour journey up to the Cliffs of Moher. We plugged in the directions in our Tom-Tom and were very surprised when it lead us on to a drive-on ferry. We didn’t know any better way to get there so we rode the ferry from one peninsula to another.

We exited the ferry and drove along the western shoreline for a couple of hours. The scenery was amazing. We even stumbled on a spot that attracted surfers. I didn’t even know they surfed in Ireland… But we saw it today.

We eventually ended up in the Cliffs of Moher. The cliffs were absolutely amazing. They drop off vertically over 650 feet above the Atlantic ocean and you can basically walk right up to the edge of them. It was loaded with other tourists so we didn’t stay too long. We snapped a ton of pictures and headed out.

We drove about another hour and a half north to a B&B in Galway. The views along this drive were absolutely amazing as well. We really felt like we were out in the middle of nowhere in the Irish Country side. The roads were windy and the views traded off between miles of pristine beaches and endless seas of green farmland.

We checked in at our B&B and relaxed in our room for a bit before deciding it was time for dinner. At this time it was about 9:30pm. We walked down the street to learn that almost all of the local eateries close up at 9:00. We ended up buying sandwiches and Smithwick’s in a local gas station and headed back to our room to eat. It’s been a long day but the views from today were absolutely awesome and will definitely stand out as a highlight from the trip.

Unfortunately, the B&B we are in now has very spotty internet. It doesn’t stay live for long enough for me to upload pictures. Once I get to a solid connection again, I’ll make sure to upload double the pictures.

Tomorrow we’re taking a bus tour of the local scenery around the mid-west portion of Ireland. We’ll finally get a break from driving.

For now, we’re calling it a night.

Matt & Alana

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Ring of Kerry Day



This morning we woke up at our B&B in Killarney, had an amazing breakfast, and continued to debate whether or not to drive the ring of Kerry ourselves.

The Ring of Kerry is a 150 mile stretch around the Iveragh Peninsula in the southwest of Ireland. It is well known for it’s amazing views of the ocean, cliffs, and vast, untouched, green, hilly landscapes. It is also well known for it’s narrow, windy roads that come very close to cliff edges. It’s a two-lane road, despite the fact that there is often very little room for one car.

After a little chat with the lady who runs the B&B, Alana decided that she was confident in driving the route herself. After all, big tour buses do it every single day… Certainly our little subcompact would have no problem.

It turns out that it wasn’t nearly as bad as we had imagined. Apparently we have become much better at driving on the other side of the road now. We have actually driven in areas that seemed much tighter in earlier portions of the trip.

Along the way, we stopped dozens of times to snap photos of the amazing scenery. Alana was especially excited to see so many sheep and cows.

Our little tour books guided us down some special paths that even the buses couldn’t go down. We received some extra special views, off the beaten path, that most of the tourists that jumped on the buses didn’t see. It was pretty spectacular.

About half way through the ring it became really foggy outside. Visibility got worse the higher up in to the hills we got. That may have been a good thing though… As we passed along cliff-sides we lost all perception of how high up we really were.

We decided to stop for lunch at a little restaurant on a beach called O’Carrolls. Apparently it’s the only beach front restaurant in Ireland. Alana had a mountain of Mussels while I ate a delicious steak sandwich. We snapped some photos on the beach and finished off the ring.

The last 15 miles or so were the absolute tightest but we were lucky because we seemed to be passing during a low traffic period. These were also some of the most amazing views because you had hillsides to the left of you with the Atlantic ocean to right. The water was crystal clear and looked like glass. The ring ended in the Killarney national park which had some of the best views we had seen yet.

We finished up the ring and headed back to the hotel. Alana took a little nap while I plugged in all the places we had been on a Google map.

After Alana’s nap, we headed back in to town and ate a delicious dinner at a restaurant called Mac’s where I enjoyed a Sheppards pie and Alana ate her first Irish hamburger of the trip. We both enjoyed a Murphy’s Irish Stout and finished it all off with a chocolate milkshake.

We headed down the street to O’Connell’s pub to enjoy another pint and some traditional Irish music before heading back to the B&B to call it a night.

Alana and I are both looking forward to moving on to the next town. Killarney is nice but it seems like the tourists far outnumber the locals. We’re looking forward to getting in to some towns that aren’t quite as well known. We’ll see where we end up tomorrow.

Cheers,

Matt & Alana 

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Our Journey So Far

Our Journey So Far

I found this cool little mapping program. You can see exactly where we’ve been so far. Unfortunately, it doesn’t show the exact routes we’ve taken but you can get a good idea of the path we’ve traveled so far. Check it out here.

I’ll make sure to keep this update. :)

Matt

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Blarney and Killarney



This morning we woke up in Kinsale, had breakfast and checked out; There wasn’t really a lot to see (although I’m sure there were things we could have found to do) but it was pretty rainy and a bit windy. 

We filled the rental car up with gas, which was an adventure in itself…you actually pay after you fill up, which is weird! I guess they don’t think anyone will split without paying…and then headed on our way to Blarney.

In Blarney we got a little lost for a couple minutes, and then just had to follow road signs to Blarney Castle, home of the famous Blarney Stone. It is said to give the gift of gab to whoever kisses it. You can google the information on it to see the different speculations about why the stone is so famous. (Matt thinks it’s just an ordinary stone with no importance that they hyped up to get tourists to pay exorbitant amounts to kiss. This may be actually true.) The stone itself is set in one of the battlements high atop Blarney Castle, where you have to climb a ton of skinny, narrow, tight spiral stairs to get to. Then you lie on your back, scoot out into the battlement, and a guide holds you to keep you from falling as you lean backwards and kiss the stone. Alana kissed the stone and actually heard later that tourists kiss the stone and locals pee on it. (It’s a good thing she put antibacterial gel on her lips afterwards.) Unfortunately, we only got a video of Alana kissing the Blarney Stone, which we can’t post on here; and they actually don’t let you take pictures at all, but they have it all set up so THEY can take pictures and sell them to you for 10 euro a piece. *sigh*

On the way up (and down from) the stone you can explore the different rooms of the castle, and take pictures of the fantastic scenery around Blarney Castle and gardens. There are the standard cows of course, wonderful trees and shrubs, green green grass, and the remains of the ancient walls of Blarney and lookout towers. Also on the grounds and Blarney house (which we didn’t opt to see) and Rock Close, which is the remains of an ancient Druid civilization. It was fun exploring the ruins and hearing the magic and culture behind it all. It was still pretty rainy and misty throughout our journey in Blarney but our newly purchased REI rain jackets kept us nice and dry. It probably kept some of the crowds at bay, but not enough, surely.

After Blarney we headed to Killarney, where our B&B was waiting for us. We will stay here a couple nights and kind of use it as a base for the Ring of Kerry (tomorrow) and to see the town itself. On the way, we passed through the city of Cork again, which was still trafficy and congested, and he got stopped up in a teensy tinsy little town called Macroon, which looked just like out of a storybook, but it must have been the only way to get through to a further destination because the traffic was a bit slow.

Once we arrived in Killarney, we checked into our wonderful B&B, Woodlawn House, and went out to find some lunch/dinner. We ended up eating at a place in the city center which was also a hotel, but they were practically the only ones serving lunch/dinner at that hour (which was like 3:30ish PM). Matt had a good turkey club and Alana had a BLT along with a whole pot of tea. We met some Canadians who had just taken the bus trip on the Ring of Kerry, and Alana asked whether if they had had the option to take the bus again or drive it themselves, which they would rather do. They were split in their decision so it didn’t help Alana any because she had been debating driving the narrow, treacherous roads on the Ring all day. 

It was too early for any of the pubs to be open so we wandered around the town and went souvenir shopping. We found lots of cool handknit woolen things, along with your cheesy kitchy souvenirs. One thing we noticed about Killarney was that it is a BIG tourist town. Most people use it as their homebase when exploring the South of Ireland. I’d say about 90% of the people we encountered at all were American. 

We then stopped for a hot chocolate and a coffee along with Bailey’s Fudge at a little cafe in town. Because it was still  misting outside it was the perfect ambiance to be cuddled up warm with your coffee and hot chocolate while watching the rain. By this time it was about time for the pubs to start opening, so we stopped in one called Sheehan’s, which had a traditional irish band playing. We discovered later that this particular pub was a haven for tourists, and it wasn’t exactly the experience we’d been hoping for. Still, a couple pints of Smithwicks can cure anything. :)

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post about “Alana’s Insane Driving on the Left, on the Right Side of the Car on the Treacherous, Tour Bus-Laden Ring of Kerry” trip. 

Cheers! -Alana & Matt

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Killkenny to Kinsale



We actually squeezed quite a bit in to our Monday in Ireland. We’ve taken so many pictures it’s hard to decide which ones to post on here. Unfortunately, Tumblr does not make it easy to post a lot of pictures at once. So we’ll fill in all the gaps and upload all the rest of our pictures to Facebook when we get back home. Consider these just teasers. :)

Monday morning we woke up and headed to the stables behind our B&B, where breakfast is served. Behind our B&B was a pretty amazing garden with a view of the Kilkenny castle. Our B&B itself was actually built back in the 1700s to house the head builder of the castle. So the building itself was actually quite castle-looking as well. Breakfast was delicious with fried eggs, bacon, croissants, scones, and several different types of sausages.

After breakfast we walked over to the grounds of the Kilkenny castle where we watched a short video on its history and then wandered the grounds, snapping tons of pictures. There was a massive park behind the castle that just seemed like miles and miles of green grass.

We left the castle and wandered down the streets of Kilkenny popping in and out of little shops on our way to St. Canice’s Cathedral. The cathedral was awesome but somehow seemed less impressive after just having walked the grounds of the castle. We snapped some photos and then headed back to the B&B to check out.

The next stop on our trip was the Dunmore caves. At this point our tom-tom let us a little astray and we ended up traveling down several “unnamed roads”, ending up literally in the middle of nowhere. After some major backtracking, we found the main roadway again and managed to get back on track.

Caused by millions of years or erosion, these Dunmore caves go about 150 feet below the ground. They are filled with very cool stalactites and stalagmites and are home to about a thousand bats. The caves were used hundreds of years ago by the Irish people to seek refuge from the attacking vikings. When the caves were discovered by archeologists, the remains of women and children were found. These were the lucky few that weren’t found and slaughtered by the vikings.

After leaving the caves, we took a very scenic route to a town called Cashel to eat lunch. We stopped several times along the way to photograph scenery, animals on the side of the road, an old destroyed castle in the middle of nowhere, and even our little red Hyndai rental car.

We arrived in Cashel to learn that it is home to another castle called the Rock of Cashel. It is very impressive and ominous looking, sitting high on a hilltop above the city. Unfortunately, this castle is currently undergoing some renovations and restorations so we opted not to walk up and take the tour. We ate lunch at a little cafe that cooked delicious homestyle meals. Our waitress was very young and definitely fit the Irish stereotype. We learned that she has big plans to leave Ireland to study and live the American dream in Chicago.

We spent most of the rest of the day just driving. We drove through the town of Cahir, snapped some photos of the castle here and then drove on in to Cork.

Cork is a big industrial city. There is a large harbor here and lots of commotion. We had planned on staying here for the night but things were a little too hectic for us. The streets were congested and it just seemed a little too industrial for us. We drove through town then and opted to head towards a little fishing town, south of Cork, called Kinsale to sleep for the night.

We checked in at a hotel called the Actons hotel and went to our room to plan the rest of our trip. We got so caught up in planning the rest of our route that we realized that we hadn’t eaten dinner yet. It was about 10:30pm at this point and we headed in to town to find some fine dinning. Upon entering the little town, we realized that this place was very quiet. All the shops and restaurants seemed to be closed and we even had a hard time finding a pub with the lights still on. We eventually found at a little fast food joint called Mama Mia’s that, despite the Italian sounding name, served mainly hot dogs and hamburgers. We ate our grub and headed back to the room to sleep for the night.

We’ve got a big day planned for today as well but for now… we’re off to breakfast.

Cheers,

Matt & Alana

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Dublin and Rental Cars

For our second night in Dublin we took a walk down Grafton Street and tried to find some grub. We ended up eating at a New Zealand burger place (we had no idea it was a Kiwi burger joint beforehand) and drank some New Zealand beers. Still tried to figure out the tipping customs, because we’ve been told so many things…but I think we settled on a reasonable 10% in restaurants. Back to the hotel in for an early night.

We woke up, checked out of our hotel in Dublin where they held our luggage for us to pick up later, and hopped on the bus to make full use of our passes and find some place for breakfast. Matt and I had saw on one of our maps a crepe restaurant (and I love crepes!!) so we decided to eat there and have some coffee and tea. After that we hopped back on the bus and took a guided circle tour around Dublin, making sure we didn’t miss any stops along the way we may have overlooked on the previous day. We then went back to our hotel, grabbed our luggage and headed for the airport to pick up or rental car, thus ending our stay in the city of Dublin.

After signing our life away (and many euros) for the rental car and a pay-as-you-go cell phone, Matt got to experience driving on the left firsthand. The freeways were a breeze, but the roundabouts were tricky.

We drove to county Wicklow and stopped at the Powerscourt House and Gardens. We  took a walk through the grounds in which the scenery was magnificent. I can only imagine the kind of family that lived there previously.

Next up was Alana’s first left hand driving experience. The bulk of that drive was freeway, so it wasn’t that tricky but he GPS led us astray a couple of times, which resulted in some unnecessary roundabouts and backtracking. We eventually made it to our destination for the day and overnight stay: Kilkenny. Kilkenny is a small medieval town where Smithwicks is brewed. We found one of the B&B’s from our travel book right away and they had a vacancy for us. The older gentleman that greeted the door very much fit in with the name and ambiance of the B&B; Butler House. The hotel is right behind Kilkenny castle, and our room is just wonderful.

After bringing up our things we were starving by that point, so we ate at one of the restaurants the caretaker of Butler House recommended, called Zuni. It was a pretty upscale little restaurant for such a small town, and we definitely felt a bit out of place in our jeans, t’s and merrell hiking shoes. The food was excellent and the cappuccino too.  Then we walked down to the River Nore, where the caretaker had recommended a pub to visit. The pub was called Tynan’s Bridge House, and it’s the oldest pub in Kilkenny. It was once a grocery store and pharmacy, and it still had some of the old spice drawers and scales. There was live music (mostly classic rock…Johnny Cash, Queen…etc.etc.)

So now we’re back at Butler House staying for the night, and tomorrow will be another adventure checking out Kilkenny castle and beyond. :)

Cheers-

Alana & Matt

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Our First Couple Days in Ireland

The first night we arrived in Dublin we went back to our room, took another nap, and then went in search for a nice restaurant for dinner. Alfie’s seemed like a fitting choice…

Upon arriving at Alfie’s, we immediately ordered our first Guinnesses. We were very pleased to find out that they were actually served nice and cold.

We decided to order the Mexican nachos as an appetizer to get started. We found it quite funny when we received a bowl of chili with nacho cheese Doritos dipped in to it. They were quite tasty nonetheless.

We finished up dinner and went back to the hotel to go to sleep for the night.

This morning we got up kind of late, Alana blew a fuse in our room with her straightener, we ate at a little cafe, and then we walked over to Trinity college.

The college had beautiful stonework and felt very old. We paid 9 euro each to look at an ancient book (The Book of Kells) with about 100 other tourists. It wouldn’t have been worth the cost if it wasn’t for the awesome library on the second floor that made us feel like we were in Harry Potter. We couldn’t take pictures here but it had awesome cathedral ceilings and had floors and floors of really old books that looked like they would disintegrate if you touched them.

When deciding what to do next, a friendly bus driver persuaded us in to getting hop-on-hop-off city tour bus tickets, which turned out to be a good deal.

We hopped on and headed for the Guinness storehouse. We took the tour, heard a random French choir group singing inside, got our free pints, and the view from the 8th floor was amazing.

We hopped back on our bus and headed for Kilmainham Gaol (pronounced jail). This was very interesting and very educational. This was where many political prisoners were held and executed. Apparently no one ever escaped from this jail. They now film a bunch of movies and TV shows inside here.

We hopped back on our bus, got off at the wrong stop, then proceeded to get lost somewhere in Dublin. After walking for about 4 miles, we finally found our way back to the hotel.

Now we’re headed back out to grab some dinner (and another pint or two).

Cheers,

Matt & Alana

The Photos:
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