Mom and Dad’s Visit To Ireland

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I just had the most amazing two weeks with these two: my mom and dad (or, as they are better known around this house, Nana and Papa). I can’t even begin to tell you how wonderful it was to have them here–to hug them, to show them our new home, to explore Ireland with them, to marvel together at how quickly my boys are growing, to introduce them to our new friends, to laugh with them, to have conversations that are not only between the hours of 3 and 9 PM (which happen to be the only times that we’re all available with time zone differences). It was…incredible. And I never wanted their time here to end. But, alas, the time has already come and gone. Now all we have are the memories…and lots of photos. LOTS of photos (we’re talking in the tens of thousands here, folks). So, I’ll try to do their visit justice with this little (read: LONG) photo diary of our adventures together in the Emerald Isle.

Cork City

Mom and Dad flew in to Dublin and spent a couple of days there exploring the capital and celebrating their 35th(!) wedding anniversary. I love that they are still in love and that they always keep things new and exciting in their lives. Although they have traveled all over the world, neither of them had ever been to Ireland before. It was my mission, then, to win them over to this beautiful country.

After their brief stay in Dublin, Mom and Dad took the train to Cork where two VERY excited little boys were waiting to greet them at the train station:

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For our first full day together, I took them on a whirlwind tour of Cork City, the real capital of Ireland. We started at the old Cork city gaol (jail)…not because I wanted to send any subliminal messages, but because I had already purchased a Groupon voucher to use there and I wanted to make sure we got to it before the boys got cranky (which is basically any and every time after they’ve woken up in the morning, so I don’t know why I even try).  The gaol is a beautiful 200-year old building with a colorful history.  We got to walk through the hallways where the guards would have kept watch and even go inside the cells where the poor miserable inmates would have worked away their sentences. Let’s just say I was glad we had the freedom to leave that place when we were ready!

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After exploring the gaol we went to another part of the city called Shandon. We hiked up a big hill to St. Anne’s Church, home of the famous “Four-Faced Liar” clock and the ever-ringing Shandon bells. We played a few songs on the bells (yes, they let anyone who pays the 4 Euro admission price ring those giant church bells to their little heart’s content) and then we climbed the steep, spiraly, claustrophobic stairs all the way to the tippy-top of the tower.

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When we got to the top of the tower we were rewarded with a gorgeous panoramic view of Cork city. Definitely worth the precarious journey.

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Once we got our feet back on solid ground, it was time for some lunch and shopping. We strolled through the city and crossed one of the many bridges that cross the quays (wharfs) that divide the city. This was about our (and by our, I mean the boys’) limit for the day so we called it quits and headed back for a quiet evening at home.

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Morning Run

My parents are both avid runners. I always feel a bit like a lazy slob when I’m around them because they’re up at 7 AM every morning lacing up their running shoes before I’ve even rubbed the sleep out of my eyes. I happen to have a few favorite runs around here, though, so I was ready for them. After we dropped David off at preschool on Thursday morning we went down to the pedestrian path that goes along the waterfront. Since my dad is the fastest, I made him push Jacob in the stroller (nothing like pushing a baby through a head-wind to even out the pacing!). Our turn-around point on this run was Blackrock Castle (and, like me, they were adequately impressed at being able to run to an actual castle).

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As you can tell from the plastic-wrapped baby in this photo, it started to rain a bit on our return trip. All the more reason to run faster all the way back to our car!

Later that day I converted my dad over to “The Darkside”: I taught him how to use Facebook. And now, instead of running, this is what we might all look like at any given moment:

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Now, since we all needed something worthy of posting to Facebook, we decided to go out and listen to some local trad (Irish music) downtown. Unfortunately for us there was a jazz festival going on that night so every SINGLE pub in town was featuring jazz musicians. No trad for us, but we did get some pints and some good music after all.

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Cliffs of Moher

Jon was actually able to take a few days off of work while my parents were visiting so we took a couple of bigger day trips while he was with us. The first outside-of-Cork trip we did was to the Cliffs of Moher on the western coast of County Clare. On our way up to the cliffs we came across this beautiful old abandoned church. We got out to stretch our legs and snap a few photos before continuing on.

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The cliffs are one of the most dramatic natural sites I’ve ever witnessed. Truly magnificent.

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The cliffs were the perfect backdrop for a family photo-op:

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There are miles and miles of trails that you can hike around the cliffs, but we decided to stick to the main paved path with our two little darlings.  After all, you never know when a lovely stroll might turn into a full-on fit because you aren’t allowed to swim in a giant mud puddle:

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Note: I should have just let him swim in the giant mud puddle because about 20 minutes later he FELL in an even BIGGER puddle and had to get showered off in a public restroom.

It wasn’t all bad, though. We did find some fun activities at the Cliffs, like throwing pebbles in drains:

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And catching some sweet air with Papa:

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After a few hours (and a few thousand photos) at the cliffs, it was time to pack up and move on. We had a dinner date at…

Bunratty Castle Medieval Banquet

Yes, that’s right. A medieval banquet. I know it may sound cheesy (ok, I KNOW it sounds cheesy!) but it was so much fun that I don’t even care. Actually, I think this is one of my favorite things that we’ve done in Ireland.

The castle has a folk park that is set up like a medieval village, complete with houses, shops and animals–like this “piggery”:

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The castle itself was built in 1425. Incredible.  Just to imagine the things that have happened in this place…

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When we walked into the banquet we were greeted by our hosts who were wearing period dress and handing out mead (honey wine). I liked them already. There was also a harpist and a violinist (who, we discovered, studied at Juliard) playing for us in the entrance hall. I love this photo I got of David sneaking Daddy a kiss as we all settled in:

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After we all had sufficient mead it was time to go downstairs to the banqueting hall. We were all seated at long tables (except our family, who they sat in a secluded table away from the other paying customers. I wonder why…). There was much music and merriment.

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We were served course after course of delicious food (and bottomless wine. Did I mention that this is my favorite place in Ireland?).  David and Jacob both consumed ribs like they were rabid little baby beasts. It was awesome.

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And then Jacob had a meltdown. It had been a very long day for a 1-year old, and I felt his pain. Literally. I ended up eating my dinner standing up while holding a screaming, flailing, eye-gouging, hair-pulling baby. All I can say is, thank goodness for the loud music. And the bottomless wine. That helped, too. In the end, though, it really was an amazing experience. Perhaps we will return again some day with baby-restraint devices in tow.

Cobh and the Titanic Museum

Our next outing was to the quaint town of Cobh, about 20 minutes from our house. Formerly called Queenstown, Cobh was the last port of call for Titanic before her fatal voyage out to sea. Curiously, it is also the location where survivors and the bodies of those who perished in the sinking of Lusitania were brought ashore.

We started our day at the Experience Titanic museum, housed in the former White Star ticketing office from where passengers departed for Titanic.

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The museum is an interactive experience where each guest is given a “ticket” with the name of an actual passenger who boarded Titanic from this very spot over 100 years ago. As you go through the museum, you see mock-ups of the state rooms, the loading dock where passengers said their final good-byes, and audio-visual presentations.

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At the end of the tour you can search for your passenger to see what their fate was on Titanic (sadly, all of our passengers perished).  It was a fascinating museum to visit.

After our time at the museum we went outside to explore a bit more of Cobh. In the center of the town there is a Lusitania memorial. My dad actually has a relative who died in this shipwreck, so it was pretty humbling to stand in this place.

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We walked past rows of brightly-colored houses:

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All the way to the top of a huge hill where an even huger church stands guard over the town and her harbor:

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After sufficient exploring was had by all, we headed back home. To save us a little driving time we took the tiny car ferry that runs between Cobh and Passage West right up the street from our house.

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Kinsale

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We actually had a few days between our visit to Cobh and our visit to Kinsale. We celebrated David’s 3rd birthday (detailed here), we enjoyed a fun Halloween (yes, they dress up and trick-or-treat here!), and Jon and I went on an over-night trip to Killarney and the Ring of Kerry (read all about it here). While Jon and I were in Kerry, Mom and Dad took the boys to Fota Wildlife Park and the Rock of Cashel. I think they’re pretty brave adventuring alone with our boys!

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After our refreshing trip to Kerry, I was ready to continue my role as local tour guide. Next stop on the tour: Kinsale. Like Cobh, Kinsale is a cute little harbor town with a character all it’s own.

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Kinsale is known as a “foodie” capital and has some of the best restaurants around. We ate lunch at my favorite cafe in town, the Lemon Leaf. After lunch we walked around town and saw some of the beautiful sights: the harbor with its pristine white sailboats, Desmond castle, shops (where I bought my first pieces of Irish art–I’m in love!), and beautiful old churches. This is St. Multose church, built in the year 1190 and used as a place of Christian worship continually since then. In fact, they were even having a church service there while we were walking around.

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At about 3:00 I excused myself to take the boys home for naptime while Mom and Dad continued exploring. They had a pint at The Spaniard pub and then checked out the impressive Charles Fort.

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Blarney Castle

I wanted Mom and Dad to go out with a bang, so for their final full day with us it was a trip out to Blarney Castle and the famous Blarney Stone.

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The stone (which is said to impart the gift of eloquence on all who kiss it) is actually built into a precipice at the top of the castle. We hiked up flight after flight of stairs until we reached the roof of the castle.

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To kiss the stone, you actually have to lean backward, hang onto support bars, and dangle upside down from the top of the castle. Mom was the only one brave enough to actually kiss the stone on this occasion, so we’ll just have to let her do all the talking for us from now on:

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After exploring the rooms and staircases and crazy defense mechanisms built into the castle, we spent a couple of hours exploring the beautiful grounds. There are actually lakes and rivers and forests you can hike to within the castle grounds so it was the perfect place for David to get out and run around.

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Seeing such an amazing castle was the perfect ending to an amazing trip!

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It really was the visit of a lifetime. So many fun times were had and so many lasting memories were made. I think I did a good job showing them the local sites–and left just enough out that they may have to come back and visit us again. Miss you already, Mom and Dad!

Our Trip To Ireland

We just got back from an AMAZING week in Ireland! I seriously feel like I spent the whole week walking around with my jaw hanging open–I was just in such awe of the beauty and the history surrounding me in that magical place. And, lucky for you, dear reader, this blog is about to get a whole lot better. You see, while we were there we made a trek to the Blarney Stone–the fabled stone that gives the “gift of gab” to whoever kisses it. I managed to kiss the dang thing (see Day 6, below, for more details), so we’ll see how witty and wry my writing has become since that fateful day.

If you’ve been to Ireland before, you know what an incredible place it is. If you haven’t been, I’m sure you’ll be booking your flight by the time you’re done reading this post. I hope I can do it justice here!

Day 1: Traveling To Ireland With A Baby
Jacob did amazingly well traveling. We were fortunate to get a row with an extra seat for the long flight across the Atlantic, so we were able to bring his car seat on the plane with us. He fell asleep during take-off and took enough naps during the flight that I was able to watch a couple of movies and read my “airplane magazines” (the high-caliber celebrity magazines that I really only ever read above 10,000 feet). Our route to Ireland was a bit of the hop-hop-hop variety: we went from Seattle to Minneapolis to Amsterdam to Cork, Ireland. Our 2 hour layover in Amsterdam turned into 5 hours because they had just gotten some unexpected snow and had to clear the runways. While we were waiting, I treated myself to healthy breakfast at the airport Starbucks (those Dutch sure know how to properly use whipped cream!).

Ireland Allisons iPhone - 0002Jacob had fun looking out the windows with me. We watched huge snow plows blow past us clearing the way for all of the pretty blue Dutch airplanes.

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After about 22 hours of travel we made it to our hotel room. It was a nice, spacious room in a 250 year old hotel. They had even set up a “by cot” (a crib) for us before we arrived.

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After a quick nap we went out to get some dinner. We found a great pub with delicious steaks and boisterous “trad” music (traditional Irish music). Then it was time for bed. Jacob was a thoughtful baby and let me sleep for almost 13 hours (with a few wake-ups for feedings, of course).

Day 2: The Cliffs of Moher
Every person we know who’s been to Ireland and every guidebook that’s ever been written insisted that we visit the Cliffs of Moher on the western coast of Ireland. We decided to take a clue and used our first full day there to drive out and see what all the fuss was about. The cliffs are–well–cliffs. Really big, tall, intimidating cliffs that jut right out of the ocean. They really are incredible.

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We spent a few hours walking the paths that line the cliffs so we could see every incredible angle.

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From what I hear, the weather at the Cliffs of Moher can be pretty treacherous, even in the middle of the summer. We lucked out with a relatively mild day, rolling fog, and even a few sunbreaks. The cliffs truly were as beautiful as all the hype made them out to be.

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After our glorious afternoon at the cliffs, we were feeling adventurous. Perhaps a bit too adventurous for sleep-deprived, jet-lagged, over-zealous tourists.  We decided that we weren’t done exploring yet and wanted to take a scenic route home. So, instead of driving straight back to our hotel (which was still two and a half hours away by the most direct route, mind you) we hopped on a ferry.

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By the time we had crossed the water and started looking for our scenic drive home, the sun was setting. We decided to ditch our plans for the 4 hour scenic drive along the water (what WERE we thinking?!) and find a quick route back to the city. This is when we learned that there are no quick drives back to the city when you are in the middle of the Irish countryside. It’s also when we learned that Irish country roads are actually small dirt paths that were built for horses, not Toyotas, and that on-coming traffic will barrel you off the path-road if you don’t scoot yourself out of the way quick enough. We also learned that it gets very, very dark in the middle of nowhere with no streetlights, stars, or settlements to help guide you. Did I mention that you also drive on the left in Ireland and that none of the street signs actually match up with the road names on a map? Let’s just leave this story here: it was a long drive, a terrifying drive, and one that we will never, ever do again. Lesson learned.

Day 3: Exploring City Cork
Jon was in Ireland for work, so he had to spend the next several days in meetings. I decided to spend my first solo-day exploring the city we were in. Cork is the second largest city in Ireland, but that’s a bit deceiving. It’s only 1/10th the size of the largest city, Dublin, and has a population of roughly 100,000 Corkians (Corkites? Corkies?). Jacob was my little travel buddy, and he was a great little companion to take along on all of my adventures. We started by walking through downtown to look at all of the cute shops.

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While we were walking around we found the English Market, an indoor public market that began in 1788. They had lots of traditional Irish foods, including the largest selection of butchers that I’ve ever seen in one spot.

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Next, we crossed the river and climbed a hill to St. Anne’s Cathedral. You can see St. Anne’s Cathedral from anywhere in the city, and she is famous for her bells and her clocks. There are four clocks on the top of the cathedral, one pointing in each direction. The clocks have the nickname of the “Four-Faced Liar” because each clock tells a different time, all the time, except on the hour when they somehow sync up to tell the correct time.

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You’re able to climb to the top of the cathedral’s bell tower and they actually let you ring the huge church bells (called The Bells of Shandon). They even have music sheets so you can play your favorite song for the whole city to hear.

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After Jacob and I perfected “Happy Birthday” (I’m sure to the great annoyance of the church’s neighbors), we donned these fancy headphones for our climb to the top of the tower. You literally climb on top of the bells to get to the top of the tower, so ear protection was necessary (the bells ring every 15 minutes on their own, plus any obnoxious tourist can start ringing “Happy Birthday” whenever they feel like it).

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Once we got to the top, though, the view was totally worth it. Cork really is a beautiful city!

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The next part of our adventure involved walking back across the river to the other side of the city.

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We went to a massive old church (and by old, I mean that there’s been a church here since the early 7th century) called St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral. It was a beautiful building with a lot of history.

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After St. Fin Barre’s we hopped in the car and drove about about a mile outside of the city center to the Cork City Gaol (Jail). It was the city’s jail from 1823-1924 and held all of the most notorious crooks and criminals from those days. Plus, it was another impressive structure.

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They had jail cells open that you could go inside and see what it would have been like to be a prisoner in those days: cold, cramped, and quiet–they didn’t allow any talking or noise whatsoever. The guards even wore special pads on their shoes so thew wouldn’t make any sound as they walked the hallways. It was a beautiful, disturbing place (or maybe just beautifully disturbing).

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Day 4: The Rock of Cashel
After another good night’s sleep we woke up and hit the road for a little town an hour north of Cork called Cashel. Our destination was the Rock of Cashel: an ancient castle on the top of a massive stone extrusion. Wikipedia explains “The Rock” pretty well: “According to local mythology, the Rock of Cashel originated in the Devil’s Bit, a mountain 20 miles (30 km) north of Cashel when St. Patrick banished Satan from a cave, resulting in the Rock’s landing inCashel.[1] Cashel is reputed to be the site of the conversion of the King of Munster by St. Patrick in the 5th century.” How cool is that?!

We drove about an hour and a half north of Cork to get to The Rock. It was fascinating to see such a piece of history firsthand.

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We spent some time walking around the grounds and exploring until our fingers and toes were about to fall off due to the frigid winds that were blowing through the area. Honestly, I don’t know how we managed to walk into Siberia. Siberia or not, though, it was really, REALLY cool to see it (no pun intended).

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Upon returning to our car I realized that our parking was good all day, so we decided to stay in Cashel town to explore some more. I’m so glad we decided to stay because the town itself was one of the most charming places I’ve ever been. We’d be walking down the road and all of a sudden I’d look up to see…a castle.

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This castle was called Kearney Castle and now it’s a hotel and restaurant on Main Street. How crazy is that?!

We also found this little museum that explored the history of Cashel and the surrounding areas. It was technically closed for the winter, but the curator happened to be there doing some spring cleaning. He decided to let me in–for free–and spent the next 2 hours showing me every artifact in the museum and telling me fascinating stories about his precious collection. It was an incredible museum and I am so grateful to this man for taking time out of his day to show me so much.

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Day 5: Titanic Museum in Cobh
For my final solo day I decided to drive to a little town called Cobh that is about 15 minutes outside of the city. Years ago Cobh was called Queenstown, and it was the final port of call for the most-infamous of all ships: Titanic.

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I have always been fascinated by all things “Titanic” so I wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity to see this piece of the ship’s history first-hand. There is a great little museum in Cobh called the Experience Titanic Museum. The museum itself is housed in the old White Star Lines ticket office where the passengers would have actually boarded the ship. When you get to the museum you are given a boarding ticket with the name of an actual passenger who boarded Titanic in Queenstown (Cobh). At the end of the museum they have kiosks where you can learn more about your passenger and whether the survived or perished on that fatal night (I’m pleased to report that my passenger did survive. Unfortunately, Jacob’s passenger–a 15 year old boy–died). It was moving to learn more about the ship from a more personal perspective.

After the museum we walked around the town of Cobh. As with all towns in Ireland, Cobh has a rich history. This is the town where they brought the survivors of the Lusitania–the British ocean liner that was torpedoed by a German U-Boat in 1915 thus beginning the world’s involvement in World War I. Cobh is a beautiful little fishing town with pristine waterfront parks and lots of cute shops lining main street. I would love to come back here on a warm summer day and just spend all day exploring.

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On our way back to the hotel I had to stop in a park to nurse Jacob. While we were sitting there in our car I got a wonderful surprise–a huge double rainbow that stretched across the horizon. I looked for leprechauns and even poked around the car to see if anyone forgot their pot of gold, but to no avail.

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Day 6: Blarney Castle and kissing the Blarney Stone
Jon got the afternoon off this day so we wanted to do something special together after his busy week of work. Blarney Castle (which houses the infamous Blarney Stone) is just outside of Cork City. We decided to spend our day exploring the castle and its grounds (which are beautiful, it turns out). The castle originally dates from around the year 1200.

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As you walk up the narrow spiral staircase to the top of the castle you can poke into all of the rooms and imagine what it would have been like to live in such a formidable place. It was quite impressive to see all that they were able to build into a massive stone structure.

When you finally reach the top of the castle, you are rewarded with breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside.

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You are also greeted with the opportunity to kiss the Blarney Stone. The Blarney Stone is said to give the “gift of gab” to anyone who kisses it. Basically, kissing this rock is supposed to give you eloquent speech, wit, and wisdom (which is probably why it’s been a favorite destination for politicians and world leaders for centuries). This is what the rock looks like (it’s the long gray stone at the bottom of the black bars):

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And this is how you kiss it:

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You have to grip the black support bars and lean over backward over the battlements to get to the rock that’s underneath the ledge. Oh, and you’re about 100 feet in the air. It’s a bit exhilarating to hang upside down from such a height!

After exploring the castle we spent a good amount of time exploring the gardens, stables, towers, and trails that encompass the grounds. I have to say, Blarney Castle was probably my favorite excursion of the whole trip!

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Day 7: Kinsale and the Jameson Whiskey Distillery
We began our final day in Ireland in a little waterfront town called Kinsale.

Ireland Allisons iPhone - 0305Kinsale is known as a foodie capital with great restaurants on every corner. Unfortunately, we got there pretty early before things were really up and going. Double-unfortnuately, we were there in the middle of February–the non-tourist season–so a lot of things were simply shut down for the winter. We did enjoy walking around the town to see all of the brightly colored buildings, and we had a delicious lunch of crepes before we headed out.

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On our way out of town we stopped at an old military fort called Charles Fort. It was a key player in the Spanish War of the early 1600’s. We decided not to go inside the fort for the tour, but it was really neat to see the structure (and the view, oh the view from up there!).

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We drove from Kinsale straight up to Middleton, home of the Jameson Whiskey Distillery.

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We went on a tour of the old distillery (the new, more modern production happens next door). We learned a lot about the whiskey-making process and even got to sample the finished product.

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We called it quits early on our last day because we needed to get back to our hotel and pack so we’d be ready for our 3 AM wake-up call the next morning.

The next day was travel day again. We were sad to leave, but also excited to get back home and see our little David who didn’t get to accompany us on this trip. We ended up having a very smooth, uneventful trip back to the states. Jacob was a trooper (as always) and slept for about 7 hours on the plane. I think traveling with a peaceful 6-month old is about as good as it gets!

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We had an incredible time in Ireland and truly loved every bit of it that we saw. The country was beautiful, the people were friendly (seriously, some of the nicest people I’ve ever met in my life), the food was good, and the sights were amazing. I can’t wait to go back and see all of the places we missed on this trip!