We woke up pretty early and had slept soundly, despite (or perhaps because of) the noise from the neighboring pubs. We had a very homemade breakfast at the bed and breakfast, and it seemed to be very comparable to the English breakfast with eggs, sausage, bacon, baked beans, and all those kinds of trimmings. We both opted out of the black pudding, but Mike adventurously tried the white pudding and officially pronounced it “ok”. 🙂 I loved the Guinness clock with the toucan on it above our table, specifically because there’s another Guinness toucan picture similar to it at Paddy Coynes, Mike’s and my neighborhood Seattle restaurant.
After giving it some brief thought (and after realizing that we only had three days left of our trip), we decided to hightail it over to the west side of Ireland since that was the part we were the most interested in seeing. I should clarify: that was the part I was the most interested in seeing. Mike didn’t have hardly any background with Ireland and would have been hard-pressed to name any city in Ireland other than Dublin prior to our trip. I was especially interested in the west side since it’s much more rural, there are still areas of the Gaeltact (areas where Gaelic is still the first language), and since that was the area my ancestors were from. Although we could have driven across Ireland from the east to the west, a train was just as fast and meant that we didn’t have to bother renting a car until we got to the west side. One area that I knew that I wanted to see in Ireland was the Ring of Kerry, a (supposedly) fabulous mountain road winding along the perimeter of a peninsula jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean. The town at the base of the Ring of Kerry was Killarney, so I looked up train tickets on the Irish Rail from Dublin to Killarney and easily found some. There was one train leaving late that morning, which was perfect. We decided to walk to the Dublin Heuston railway station since that would allow us to see some last minute sites around Dublin before we left. It was very, very windy in Dublin. My coat was pretty warm, but we stopped at a local shop and bought Mike a winter hat to wear since his coat was thin, and then we proceeded on. Dublin was pretty busy in the morning with people walking down the streets this way and that, most of them looking like they were dressed for work. Thanks to the Dublin street map I had purchased on the ferry, we had a good idea of some local sites to see on our way to the train station. We walked past Dublin Castle, literally right over the River Liffey from our hotel and near the Temple Bar district we had visited the night before. Dublin Castle was not nearly as old as most of the castles we’d seen. It had been erected in the 18th century and was originally the seat for British rule of Ireland. Upon Irish independence in 1921, Dublin Castle was given to the newly created Irish government. Along the lines of Irish independence, one thing Mike and I didn’t realize prior to our trip is that Ireland is part of the EU independently from England and uses the Euro as its currency rather than the Great British pound. Mike and I also discovered from our Dublin cab driver that even prior to the adoption of the Euro, Ireland had had its own currency (the Irish pound, not to be confused with the Great British pound). This of course meant that the GBP we’d gotten in England weren’t going to usable in Ireland, so we got them transferred to Euros just before we left London. We also detoured a few blocks out of our way to walk past Christ Church Cathedral.
It was absolutely beautiful! It was built sometime after 1028 when the Norse king of Dublin made a pilgrimage to Rome. Some things that Mike and I would like to see on a future trip to Dublin:
* The inside of Christ Church Cathedral
* Trinity College and the Book of Kells
There is just never enough time on this trips to see everything you want to see! 🙂 We also walked past the Guinness factory. You can take tours of that as well, but we had a train to catch so of course we walked right by. The Guinness factory had high walls, which was a little disappointing. I would have liked to at least get some good looks at the outside of the factory! Dublin Heuston station was gorgeous!
Mike stopped to take some pictures while I looked around the beautiful old station. It had the same old, stone, drafty feel as the stations in Italy. Mike and I didn’t have that much time before our train so we headed inside and picked up our tickets from a kiosk. There were little stores inside of the station, and I got a fresh ginger carrot juice, and Mike got a latte. I also found some gluten-free Welsh snack bars to eat on our train ride.
Once we boarded the train we saw that the Irish Rail trains were much nicer than the trains in England! There was a lot more room per person, there was lots of overhead storage area for luggage, and everyone was very friendly. The clouds cleared as we started heading west across Ireland, and the scenery was lovely, although not unlike the scenery we’d seen in England and Wales. We did see the Wicklow Mountains off to the south which were beautiful… dark purple against the skyline. We knew we had to transfer at Mallow to take another train to continue on to Killarney, so we were on the lookout for Mallow. The train was mostly empty, but three stops before Mallow a large group of German backpackers got on the train. They were loud and boisterous, and very interesting! They were all wearing matching kerchiefs, so it appeared that they were part of the same backpacking club. They had lots of German beer, giant knapsacks, and were talking back and forth in German. They took over a couple of empty tables in our area and broke out a game of Uno which was punctuated by loud shouts of laughter. Apparently Uno is funnier than I remember it being. Or the German beers were helping to increase the hilarity. 😉 Anyway, they were a really fun group! At Mallow Mike and I got up, along with the troop of a dozen or more German backpackers. I wasn’t sure what platform our next train would be on, but I noticed a train on the other side of our current platform when we emerged. The sign said it was heading to Tralee which, thanks to my overly extensive map reading, I knew was close to Killarney. Mike and I hurried over and asked a woman getting on the train if it stopped in Killarney and she assured us it did. So we hopped on with our luggage. Once again, the German group was in our train car, so it was a fun, boisterous 45 minutes from Mallow to Killarney. 🙂 We got off the train in Killarney and were greeted with absolutely gorgeous weather! The Killarney train station was much smaller than the one in Dublin… must more similar to the one in Newbury than the ones in London and Dublin. Once again, there was a whole line of cabs out front, and we instantly grabbed one. The taxi driver was so nice and friendly (just like all of the other taxi drivers in both England and Ireland). She was warm and welcoming and instantly treated us like family and confided to us that we had picked a really good hotel when I gave her the hotel name. “T’is off the main route,” she said. “But t’is still only a block from the main street, so i’s close to everyth’ng.” On further talking with her, we discovered that her husband just died three months ago and she was just now going back to work. We told her how sorry we were, and she told us about him and how they met. Apparently he was Irish but he was from Chicago, and his family had migrated out of Ireland during the Potato Famine. She grew up in Killarney but moved to Chicago because there just wasn’t any work in Ireland. She met her husband there, and he was a cab driver and got her into driving cabs as well. He had a dream to move back to Ireland where his roots were, so they moved back to Ireland about ten years ago and both drove cabs in Killarney. She said she absolutely loved it. Her story was so touching, and I couldn’t get over how easily she talked with us… just like she was talking to close friends instead of people she had just met five minutes ago. Seriously, I can’t say enough good things about the cab drivers in England and Ireland. Either the British people are all welcoming, friendly, and warm, or else the cab drivers represent a truly amazing group of the British people! I’ve had lots of cab experiences over the years, but hands down the best experiences have been in England and Ireland.
Our cab driver dropped us off at the Brook Lodge Hotel, which is a family-owned bed and breakfast in Killarney. It was absolutely beautiful! Clearly it was previously a large privately owned home and had been converted into a bed and breakfast.
Our room was light, spacious, and airy, with a big window at the far end. Very clean, and very charming!
It was only early afternoon so we still had a lot of time to explore Killarney. Since we were planning on driving around the Ring of Kerry the following day, we decided to get a rental car that day so we would be all ready to go the following morning. I called the local rental car company recommended by the hotel, but they didn’t have anything available that we could keep for three days and drop off at Shannon Airport. I looked up other local car rental places and found an Enterprise that looked like it was only a mile or so outside of town, so I called and reserved a car while Mike took a quick shower. We decided to get a cab to Enterprise and then from that point we’d have the car until we dropped it off at Shannon Airport the night before our departure. The woman at the front desk called a cab for us and also gave us some tips about driving around the Ring of Kerry in the few minutes before our cab showed up.
Once again, we had a delightful cab driver, an older man who kept up a good string of stories and lots of advice for us about driving in Ireland once he found out that our destination was the Enterprise Car Rental.
“Have ye iver driven on th’ left b’fore?” he asked in a thick brogue. We shook our heads. “Uh, uh, uh,” he said. “Well, t’is not too different. Ye just have to be constantly thinkin’, ye know?” We nodded.
“And roundabouts… do ye have those in the States?”
Mike shook his head. “No. Not really.”
“Ah, goodness,” he said. “It’ll be a learnin’ experience then! And who’s to be the driv’r on this expedition?”
I pointed at Mike. At that point our cab driver helpfully gave Mike very specific instructions on how to navigate back to the Brook Lodge from the rental car facility and repeated them several times so that we were sure to remember them. “If ye go this way, ye won’t encount’r so many roundabouts or one-way streets,” he advised.
When he pulled into the rental car lot, there didn’t seem to be Enterprise signs anywhere, and it looked more like a shop than a rental car lot. The taxi driver suggested that he wait for us until we were sure that we were all set. So nice of him! We went in and immediately met a woman who informed us that Enterprise has two locations in the area: one in Killarney and one in Tralee and that Tralee was the main office they operated out of.”
“We’re Pat Looney’s Garage here,” she said. “So we m’stly fix cars. But they have a space here with us, so if you’ve rented a car, they’ll be here to drop it off for ye,” she said. We had rented a car, but our rental didn’t officially start for another hour. The woman helpfully offered me her cell phone to call the Tralee office, and, despite the very pronounced Irish brogue of the man on the other end of the phone, I managed to gather that there was someone driving the car out to Killarney at the moment, but that traffic was very bad because it was Easter weekend so it might be half an hour. I thanked him, while Mike went out to tell our cab driver he didn’t need to wait anymore. The sweet man repeated the directions for getting back into town for Mike to make sure we were all clear on that, and then we sat down to wait.
“Did he say how long they’d be?” the friendly woman working at Pat’s Garage asked us. I told her about half an hour, and she laughed. “Ye’d be better to double it!” she said. “They’re never on time!”
Mike and I looked at each other deciding what we should do for the next hour. “Is there anywhere to eat close by?” I asked the woman.
“Oh, yes, yes,” the woman assured us. “There are some lovely cafes up the street. One in p’rticular. The Brown Sugar Cafe. It’s very good!”
It was getting close to dinner time, so we headed off to the Brown Sugar Cafe with the woman’s promise that if Enterprise showed up early (“Which they won’t,” she said emphatically), she would call us.
Mike and I easily found the Brown Sugar Cafe, and I loved it! They had all of their gluten free items labeled, and I ended up getting a broccoli salad and a vegetable soup while Mike got a tasty looking baked quiche and a side of vegetables. Everything in the cafe was warm and clean-looking, so we lingered before heading back to Enterprise. As we got close to Pat Looney’s garage, a small dog showed up at our heels. At first we just smiled and waved at him… but he kept following us and we didn’t see any owner for him. We walked right up the front walk towards the office at Pat Looney’s… and he followed us. We walked into the building and I told the dog he needed to go home and then carefully shut the door most of the way. There was no one in the office so we sat down to wait. However, our little furry friend pushed the door open with his nose, walked in like he owned the place, and marched towards the back door that opened into the car garage and stood by it expectantly, obviously waiting for us to let him in. I told him I wasn’t sure he should be back there, but he didn’t seem to understand.
We started calling him ‘Bob’ because he reminded us so much of Bob from the Hercule Poirot episode “The Dumb Witness”. Such an intelligent little guy! 🙂
A few minutes later, the original woman who’d helped us showed up. “See! I tol’ you they’d be late,” she said with a wink. We asked about Bob, and it turned out that he lives at the shop. So it probably would have been fine to let him back in the shop after all. 🙂
Several minutes after that another nice woman came breathlessly into the office and sat down at the Enterprise desk. She apologized for the delay, reiterated that the traffic from Tralee was crazy with the Easter weekend, and then we signed all of the rental papers and were ready to go!
We ended up with a small black mini cooper, which Mike didn’t like at first but which had totally grown on him by the time we returned it at the end of the trip. Cars have a way of growing on Mike. 🙂
We took a deep breath and prepared for our journey into the world of driving on the wrong side of the road (Well, Mike prepared. I just dug all my maps out of my purse so that I was prepared to give him directions). We were off to a questionable start when Mike walked around the car to get in the left side. But, of course, there was no steering wheel there. Our eyes met over the top of the little car, and Mike gave me a half smile and just shook his walk. We both walked around to our correct respective sides of the car, and Mike got in and tried to get oriented. As it turns out, the pedals are the same: clutch all the way on the left, then brake, then accelerator. The difference was that the steering wheel was on the right side of the car, shifting was thus done with your left hand instead of your right, and we would be driving on the left side of the road.
A minute later and we were on the left side of the road headed towards the gas station next to the Brown Sugar Cafe since the car was pretty much on empty. It took a little talking through it to figure out what lane we were supposed to be in given that there were three ‘in’ lanes to the gas station. We successfully navigated that crisis and after getting gas we were back on the road. On the left. Going through roundabouts and trying to figure out whether we should be in the left or right lane going into the roundabout if we were getting off on the third of five exits. Fun stuff!
Fortunately, the cab drivers directions were right on, and we navigated around town and came down from the north so that we could be coming in the right way on the one-way street. We still managed to get turned around a few times just because Irish directions seemed to be based on landmarks, and we weren’t sure whether the thing we were passing was ‘a large church’ or not. But we ended up back at the Brook Lodge.
The Brook Lodge had free parking, so we parked in their lot and then decided to go car-free for awhile and wander around downtown Killarney. The main street was literally only a block from the Brook Lodge, so we headed out to the main street. There were so many people out! We weren’t sure whether this was normal or whether this was part of the ‘Easter traffic’ that the locals were all talking about. We shopped for a couple of hours, and I ended up with a woolen scarf in a bright purple, pink, and red pattern, and Mike got a very Irish beret-looking hat. The little shops were crowded next to each other all up and down the main street and there was such a friendly, positive energy!
We stopped for dinner at Treyvaud’s, an Italian restaurant on the main street since Mike felt like something besides his usual fish n chips. 🙂 The atmosphere there was very relaxing, and we were uncharacteristically camera-less so that we could just enjoy exploring Killarney. Then, pretty worn-out from our day, we headed back to Brook Lodge.
We watched a couple shows on the Kindle Fire while we listened to muffled, musical sounds of the town from outside of our open window. There was a soft, cool breeze blowing and everything seemed very peaceful. We felt as though we were a million miles away from everything (which I guess we kind of were, particularly after the city experiences of London and Dublin). It was a wonderful relaxing evening!