Ireland: Ah, the Peat!
This episode is dedicated to Loretta - the premier travel journalist in the family - and an all-around inspirational person. Fresh off the heels of our Moroccan adventure, we jetted to Kerry, Ireland. After spending several days enclosed by a stone medieval labyrinth in Fes, we treasured the sensation of total freedom to explore the lush rolling hills of the green isle.
We headed out of Luxembourg back to the warehouse-like Frankfurt Hahn airport for the second time in as many weeks and hopped a quick, one and a half hour flight into Kerry. The moment we touched down, Davey Boy's beard grew noticeably redder. Upon arriving, we picked up our rental car, a compact, hatchback, red model called a "Micra" and drove off toward the Atlantic. Over the weekend, we covered 700 km in this zippy, emasculating vehicle. This marked Dave's first time steering from the right side of the car, and as we navigated through the overgrown country roads, we bushwhacked intermittently. For our first day, we decided to circumscribe the Dingle Peninsula on a looping drive along the coast. Our first stop was the town of Dingle. We parked our car and walked around the small coastal town. We were surprised to see the row-house buildings on the main streets each painted in different bright, cheerful colors. We pictured more of a grim, brick London aesthetic, but were happy to see that this part of Ireland is wild and eccentric. We popped into the famous Murphy's ice cream shop to sample homemade ice cream from the local dairy and enjoyed a creamy sea salt ice cream cone whilst touring the town.
From there, we carried on around the peninsula, stopping along the way to take in the views of the ocean, walk around ancient stone "beehive huts" and explore wide open beaches. Surprisingly, the water looked clear, turquoise and much more Mediterranean than Atlantic. We could also see crumbling fort ruins and even remnants of the Irish potato famine. You can just make out the long abandoned planting lines tracing up the rocky mountains.
We stopped at a family farmstead to cuddle baby lambs and then balanced along stone walls protecting the narrow street from tumbling down into the oceans. The country was more wild and less developed commercially than we expected. We didn't see any McDonalds or chain hotels the entire weekend. Instead, we passed by charming bed and breakfasts, pubs and outdoor markets.
The drive around the peninsula is also called the Slea Head Drive, because one of the most majestic views is from Slea Head, the westernmost point in mainland Europe and an awesome outcropping of rocks, peat and grass sprawling out into the ocean. We pulled over along the road and hiked out onto the rocks to have a picnic dinner at sunset with nobody in sight. The clean, quiet and calm was such a contrast from Morocco and we appreciated being able to experience both in the span of a week.
We headed to our country house accommodation for the night and were delighted with our sweet and friendly proprietors. The husband and wife team were so cheerful that they even got Erin to say "toodaloo" which is not in her character at all.
We headed out the following morning to explore the Ring of Kerry, another Irish country peninsula drive with stops for hikes and views. We enjoyed a traditional Irish pub breakfast and hit the road, starting with Killarney National Park. In the park, there are lakes, castles, boats, mountains and forests, and it is Ireland's most famous protected nature area. We enjoyed a picnic lunch while Dave climbed trees, explored massive public parks with flower-filled gardens and a 17th century mansion and swung by tiny coastal towns to check out public markets. At sunset we headed to a lakeside castle for some views, climbs and duck feeding. We then headed into Killarney for some pretty good Thai food and checked out the Irish young adults dressed up for a night at the pub.
The next morning, we drove north to Doolin to hike along the famous Cliffs of Moher in County Clare. We took a ferry to get a view of the brightly-colored coastal towns from the sea. In many of the towns there aren't even grocery stores, just pubs and convenience stores. Throughout the trip, we were impressed with how rugged and undeveloped this part of the country still is, even as we got closer to one of the biggest tourist sites in the nation.
The Cliffs of Moher rise 700 feet above the Atlantic for several miles along the coast. We parked at the tourist center and began our trek by ascending a castle tower. From the top, we could barely make out another tower perched along the cliffs in the distance. Although we didn't pack any food or water for an extended hike, in order to experience the cliffs alone, away from all other tourists, we decided we had to make it there.
Once we departed the tourist area and passed a sign that read "loose rocks - proceed at your own risk" we knew we were on track toward the castle. After tracing the cliffs for 5 miles, we arrived at a crumbling castle tower surrounded by wildflowers. Boulders cascaded down toward the bright blue ocean. Dave climbed on a massive stone outcropping and Erin lounged in a thicket of spring flowers.
We took a short break after the exhausting hike and started looking for the shuttle back to the main tourist area, only to learn that it didn't service our location. As we'd just done a grueling hike with no lunch and no water and it was now late afternoon, we started to walk in the direction of our car, not really knowing how long it would take.
After about 20 minutes of walking along a dirt path through fields of cows, we started to get desperate and decided we would attempt hitchhiking. Erin was worried more about rejection than danger, but Dave stuck his thumb out to an approaching BMW hatchback and it immediately slowed to a stop. We were relieved to see a sweet-looking elderly couple who spoke only French, and we managed to communicate where we were headed and that we were tired "Je suis fatigué." We climbed into the back of the hatchback amidst the couple's personal belongings and enjoyed an awkward but appreciated 10 minute ride back to our car. The friendly wife shared with us that she is learning English via Duolingo and before we got out, she handed us a Jehovah's Witness business card and encouraged us to visit the website. Maybe Erin had good hitching Karma from back in the day when Terry encouraged her to share the backseat of their jeep with locals in the Caribbean.
From the cliffs we headed into Doolin for some much needed rest before weed-wacking our car to another castle to watch the sun set over the cliffs. We zoomed in our Micra through cow pastures and past groups of sheep. We headed to a pub for dinner and Dave enjoyed his first pint of local Irish lager.
We woke up the following morning and visited more ancient stone structures and explored the Burren National Park. We took our time heading through Limerick and Shannon on our way back down to Kerry Airport. We enjoyed a "gourmet" pre-flight meal of snacks bought at a Tesco grocery store and before we knew it we made it back in Luxembourg. With its rugged, wild nature, Ireland felt more like a tropical island paradise than a modern member of the United Kingdom. We can't wait to return to Ireland to roam its vast open spaces.
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