Dublin, Day 4: Double-Decker Bus Tour to Trinity College and The Guinness Storehouse

Dublin is a very difficult city to drive in: parking is a nightmare and the roads go in crazy patterns (so if you miss your turn, it could be half a century before you find your way back). Because of this non-drivability, we’ve been walking everywhere. Today, though, we decided to mix it up and try a hop-on, hop-off double-decker bus tour.

While it was fun riding the bus and convenient getting dropped off at each destination, I think the big red bus actually caused us more trouble than help. It took a long time to get places (the loop through the city took over an hour). My kids don’t do well sitting still–and remaining content–for more than two micro-seconds, so that was a bust. Plus, most of the buses we “hopped” onto were super-crowded and I had to give puppy dog eyes to comfortable-looking passengers in the hopes that they’d sacrifice their seat for a distressed mother carrying a baby, a diaper bag, a stroller, 3 jackets and an ankle-grabbing toddler. In the end, though, the experience did make for memories (and a cute photo).

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The first stop we departed our bus for today was Trinity College, a several centuries-old university in the heart of Dublin. As a former college tour guide myself, I just had to go on the student-led tour of campus.

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Our tour guide was friendly and witty and loud enough that I could hear her over the two screaming banshees we were pushing along in our stroller. It’s a beautiful campus full of interesting architecture (one dorm didn’t get running water and electricity until the late 1990’s–and now the entire dorm shares one measly bathroom), traditions (graduations are–and always have been–done entirely in Latin. The poor graduates can’t understand a word of their own ceremony), and colorful histories (a group of discontent law students murdered their law professor–and got acquitted in court. Hey, at least we know the late-professor taught them well…).

The most famous piece of history that we saw at Trinity College, though, is The Book of Kells. The Book of Kells is a gospel book written in Latin by monks in the year 800 AD. It contains the first four books of the gospel, and it is beautiful. There are ornate drawings throughout the book and the text itself is so fancy you can hardly tell there are supposed to be words on the page. We almost didn’t wait around to see the Book of Kells because there was a horrendous queue, but I’m sure glad we did.

After we viewed the Book of Kells, we went upstairs to the long hall of the “Old Library”. It’s a massive room with hundreds of thousands of volumes of literature dating back hundreds of years (this library has a copyright agreement that entitles them to one copy of every book printed in England or Ireland every year–that’s a lot of books).

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After our tour of Trinity College we hopped back on our bus for our afternoon adventures. Jon was really excited to go to the Guinness Factory but, since neither me nor the boys enjoy drinking beer yet, we decided to part ways for the afternoon. Jon had a great time learning about Guinness brewing and learning how to pour (and drink!) the perfect pint.

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While Jon was at Guinness, the boys and I returned to the zoo to visit some of our favorite furry/feathery/scaly friends. The boys’ favorite part of the zoo today, though, was playing in the sand and hitting bushes with some sticks they found on the ground. Ah, cheap thrills.

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To round out our day we made one last stop in Temple Bar for dinner. We went to a restaurant that a friend of mine recommended called Boxty’s. A boxty is a bit like a potato crepe stuffed with savory fillings, and it is delicious. Really, really scrumptious.

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Another busy day of adventure–and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Dublin, Day 3: Newgrange Tomb, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and St. Stephen’s Green

For Day 3 of our Great Dublin Expedition we actually left Dublin and drove about 30 minutes north to a place called Newgrange. Newgrange (along with her sister sites, Knowth and Meath) is an ancient Stone Age passage tomb. When you first see it, it doesn’t look like much more than an earthen mound at the top of a knoll, but it is most certainly more than a lump on a hill.

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The tomb is old…very, VERY old. Since it was constructed long before people had a written language, the only way to ascertain its age is through carbon dating. Estimates place Newgrange’s construction at about 3200 BC–making it well over 5,000 years old. This means that Newgrange had already been standing for several centuries when Stonehenge and the great Egyptian pyramids were built.

Nobody knows for certain what Newgrange was used for, but it was definitely a burial tomb with deep religious significance. Incredibly, every year at 8:58 on the morning of the Winter Solstice, a ray of light reaches from the entrance if the tomb all the way to the central chamber and illuminates the space. For the life of me, I cannot fathom how people living 5,000 years ago constructing giant stone domes would be able to create such a flawless design. I barely passed Physics 101, so I know they wouldn’t want me on the planning committee.

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The tour of Newgrange takes you all the way in to the central chamber of the passage tomb. It would have been really awesome to stay and hear the tour guide’s spiel about the mystical and historical significance of this Neolithic wonder, but we were politely asked to excuse ourselves so the other guests could carry on with enjoying their day (“Ma’am, are you sure your squawking baby wouldn’t be happier outside in the fresh air?”).

It’s actually a good thing she asked us to leave, because shortly after we got outside David had an incident (c’mon, we’re traveling with two children under the age if 3. You just know something has to go terribly wrong). David was having a great time running through the grass in front of Newgrange and we were happy to let him blow off some steam. That is, until he ran across the field, pulled down his pants, and started to pee.

By the time I could catch up to him (running across this ancient burial site with Jacob in the Ergo and lugging 3 jackets in my arms), he was already mid-stream. Whelp, guess you just peed on the oldest sacred ground known to humankind, Buddy. Thankfully our tour group was still absorbed in their lecture, so I was the only one who had to witness the Great Desecration.

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Potty incidents aside, it was an amazing experience walking through Newgrange. Perhaps we will visit again some day–some day after our children are fully potty-trained.

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When we returned from Newgrange it was time for the boys’ afternoon snooze. I seized this opportunity to sneak out alone while Daddy manned the fort. I decided to use my alone time to walk down to St. Patrick’s Cathedral (because, after the morning’s incidents, I realized that sacred sites and toddlers just don’t mix well).

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St. Patrick’s Cathedral is a 1,000 year-old stone cathedral that is said to be the spot where St. Patrick himself baptized new converts to Christianity. Incredible! Jonathan Swift (author of Gulliver’s Travels Was a Dean here and spent several years serving The Church. The cathedral is also where Handel’s “Messiah” was first performed in the 1700’s.

The inside is beautiful–full of marble statues, stained glass, and ornate carvings. It was breathtaking. The Cathedral Choir was also singing while I was walking around, their music echoing through the cavernous halls.

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It was a remarkable place to visit–and I’m so glad I got to see it sans-children!

By the time I got back from my trip to the cathedral, the boys were up and it was time for dinner. We wandered down the street until we happened upon St. Stephen’s Green, a large park near the main shopping quarter of Dublin (Grafton Street). We picked up some burritos to-go and had a picnic dinner in the park.

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The boys had a great time running through the grass, watching ducks in the ponds, and playing on the large playground. And, because no day would be complete without a treat, we stopped for gelato on our walk back home.

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A sweet finale to another great day.

Dublin, Day 2: Dublin Zoo

For our first full day in Dublin we decided to do something child-centric (perhaps if we appease the munchkins upfront they’ll allow us to enjoy some museums and cathedrals later this week. I know it’s probably unrealistic, but I can still hope…). The Dublin Zoo came highly recommended to us–and, as an added bonus, we have free admission thanks to our season pass to our zoo in Cork.

After a frustrating attempt to find breakfast before 10 AM (really, do Irish people not have kids that wake up hungry at 6:00?!?! If so, I need to know what “supplements” you give your children to help them sleep in), we drove across town to the zoo.

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It was a really fun zoo with lots of lively animals. David INSISTED that we find hippos (thankfully they actually had them at this zoo), so we bee-lined it up to the African Savannah portion of the zoo. Here’s David with his beloved hippos:

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The hippos were actually quite entertaining to watch, but I think the main reason David wanted to see the hippos was because he was hoping they would sing and dance like the hippo in his favorite YouTube video.http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=zHDLUbssMIw

The hippos didn’t sing, but they did swim and chomp and pounce upon each other.

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By late afternoon, everyone was exhausted and ready for a nap (hmmm…maybe we shouldn’t wake up at 6 AM, children). We didn’t quite see everything, but we made some good progress. Since we get in to the zoo for free, we may go back again if we have some extra time later in the week.

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After a much-needed siesta we walked along the canal to an area with lots of restaurants. We typically avoid taking the boys out to eat very often (because they’re loud and messy and require more attention than the meal I just paid $20 for) but, hey, we’re on vacation. We found a great Asian street food restaurant called Neon. The food was good and (by Dublin standards) relatively cheap, so the place was busy. Just busy enough that I don’t think the other patrons could hear David yelling 10,000 times about wanting to play the coloring game on my iPhone, busy enough that I could blame the pile of noodles under our table on the family sitting next to us.

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The day was absolutely grand. No, it was brilliant (look how Irish I’m becoming–already using fancy words like grand and brilliant!). Brilliantly grand.

Dublin, Day 1: The Rock of Cashel and Temple Bar

This weekend we decided to take our first mini-vacation since moving to Ireland. Monday is a “bank holiday” in Ireland, meaning Jon has a 3-day weekend. We wanted to do something fun with the long weekend and get out of town for some exploring. And, since our fur-baby (dog) Bota will be flying in to Dublin on Thursday morning (yay!!!), Dublin was the natural choice for our getaway.

We left our home in Cork on Saturday morning and started driving north. One of my favorite spots that I visited on my last trip here, The Rock of Cashel, is just off the main highway between Cork and Dublin. Jon didn’t get to see “The Rock” with me, so we decided to stop by on our way up to Dublin.

The Rock of Cashel is an incredible castle built on a high precipice overlooking the town of Cashel. The Rock is reputedly the site where St . Patrick converted the king of Munster in the 5th century, and was the traditional seat of the kings of Munster for several hundred years.

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It is an impressive space to walk through and imagine what life must have been like inside these walls 1000 years ago.

David’s favorite part of The Rock was running through the cemetery (we got a few nasty looks for this one, but you do what you can to make history interesting for a 2-year old).

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It was un-Irishly warm at The Rock, making for some beautiful views of the castle and the surrounding countryside.

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After our stop at The Rock we loaded back into the car and headed on to Dublin. We are staying in a rental house that we found on airbnb.com. As far as I’m concerned, air bnb is the best travel tool ever created. The site allows individuals to list their homes for short-term rentals–and allows people like me to rent out a full house for the same price as a cheap hotel. Plus, you can rent castles on the website. Real castles. I will do that some day, but for this trip it was a bit out of budget. Anyway, our rental house is comfortable and close to all the action in downtown Dublin so we can walk to all of the local attractions.

Things don’t really get hopping until about 9:00 around here, so we gave the boys a late nap and then took our babies out for a taste of the night life! On our first night in Dublin we walked to the infamous Temple Bar area for some dinner and trad (traditional Irish music).

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We ended up finding a great place called the Vat House. The food was excellent and the music was so much fun! The musicians even invited the boys to dance and help play their instruments.

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We were enjoying ourselves so much that it was nearly 11:00 by the time we left the pub. A late night, but well worth it (well, at least until the boys woke us up at 6:00 the next morning…but I’ll save those adventures for my next post!).

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!