To Cork & Meeting Our Tour Guide
On Saturday, we ventured out on our own (independent from the organized bus trips through the school) for the first time. We booked bus tickets to Cork (about 2 hours from Limerick) and made it safe and sound early that morning to meet a lad who lives there (fun fact: The friend I was travelling with knew him because he visited her house over Christmas and experienced Wisconsin for the first time. His girlfriend went to high school about fifteen minutes from my house in Wisconsin. Small world!). He was our tour guide for the day, and he told us to tell our friends about him – he’s free and funny, and as long as you pay for his parking and a pint, he’ll drive you around town.
The Blarney Castle & Kissing the Stone
Our first stop was the Blarney Castle. The castle is set in a green wooded area with the River Martin running through the grounds. As an American walking up to the castle, I felt like I was on a different planet, one that was much older than I could ever believe existed. Almost 50 years before America was even discovered by Columbus, this castle’s walls were being built by the King of Munster, Dermot McCarthy. It’s almost eerie to walk inside its walls, knowing that people had viewed and visited this same building for hundreds of years, that people once lived in and worked in this building.
There’s more to explore than just the castle. There are gardens full of poisonous plants, gardens filled with ferns, and woods that house fairies. There are small waterfalls and an old icehouse (huge stone houses that go deep in the ground to store food – a.k.a. old-fashioned refrigerator). Apparently there’s also a horse graveyard and a Victorian septic tank house but unfortunately we did not view either of the two, sorry to disappoint.
Of course, we participated in a bit of Irish tradition: We climbed up the steepest and skinniest stone stairwell I have ever seen in my life to kiss the Blarney Stone. It wasn’t until we were halfway up the castle tower that our tour guide started freaking out. Despite his tall stature, he’s actually afraid of heights! He is so afraid of heights, he has never kissed the Blarney Stone in his life though he has lived just 10 minutes from the famous thing. I could hardly believe I was being led around by an Irishman who had never kissed the stone. At the end of it all, just my travelling buddy and I risked getting diseases to gain eloquence. I didn’t want to lick my lips the rest of the day, but so far I haven’t gotten sick!
Experiencing a Bit of The City
Our First City Pub & Six Nations Rugby Game
Our tour guide took us out to lunch to a cute little pub in town. It was our first time being in a pub away from campus and we enjoyed a chili chicken panini with salad and chips. I also decided to order a pop (yes, it’s POP, not SODA you Wisconsinites) but the waitress looked at me like I was from a different planet. Our tour guide told me it’s a soft drink, not a pop or soda, in Ireland. I’ll remember next time!
Side note: I also learned that waitresses don’t usually get a tip. Waitresses get paid minimum wage in Ireland.
We also happen to be in the pub when a big rugby game was televised between Ireland and Scotland. I kept asking questions about the game because I had no idea what was going on, although there were elements of it that reminded me of American football. Our tour guide did a fairly good job of explaining some basics, and as I kept asking questions and interrupting his viewing, a guy sitting next to him kept looking at me like I was from the same strange planet the waitress thought I was from. Oh well! Eventually I’ll figure it out.
The game turned out terribly. Later in the day, we happened to catch the ending and our tour guide was pretty bummed – Ireland lost (and across the country, you could hear all the lads in the pubs groaning).
Our tour guide then drove us downtown to see the famous English Market that was founded in 1788. Every single day people come down to work their stations within the market. It’s easy to get lost in there, but it’s even easier to get lost in the sight of all the food that was put on display for customers. I had never seen more fresh-cut meat and seafood than I did at this market. We also stopped for some chocolate at the end (if you ever go, get the Irish Whiskey dark chocolate!)
I’m not much of a city girl, but I really enjoyed walking around downtown Cork. They have lots of shops, cafes, pubs, and restaurants. We walked down to the River Lee and then down a street that led to Saint Finn Barre’s Cathedral. It was a beautiful building!
Our tour guide ended the day by bringing us to his favorite little pub in Cork, The Franciscan Well. They had a really nice outdoor tent with seating and we enjoyed a cider while watching another rugby game.
I was told I could come back and visit our tour guide’s uncles… they own sheep and I could have the chance to cuddle with a baby Irish lamb! (dream come true… I may be blogging about it later)