From the early stages of our trip planning, Andrea and I knew we wanted to see the Cliffs of Moher. No matter what we were going to see, that had to make the list. Considering the limited amount of time we had in Ireland there were things we had to leave off--Giants Causeway in the northeast, Rock of Cashel in the southeast, Blarney Castle in the southwest--but Cliffs of Moher wasn't going to be one of them.
We had breakfast with Vicky, our AirBnB host, discovering that she is a runner, an art teacher and an all around charming person. In fact, she raved so much about the Dingle Half-Marathon that my brother and his girlfriend are thinking of running it in September when they go visit my sister. If you're staying in Galway and want a reasonable rate on a great room, stay with Vicky. Just make sure to get solid directions ahead of time since we had the misfortune of being without that.
We said goodbye to Vicky, and drove the short distance into Galway for a quick walk around town. Galway is one of those towns that people rave about and say you must spend at least a couple days there, but when you don't have a couple days, then you make do with a stroll along the river, a visit to Ireland's best bookstore and call it good.
Of course, it was no Powell's, but what bookstore is? It did have a great selection though, rooms upon rooms of books, and I was so impressed with their Irish fiction selection. Too bad books are heavy, and I was determined not to buy an extra suitcase to get home. I still bought a few gems, though.
More strolling through the town, and we saw a Spanish arch built in 1584.
Yes. Hello old arch.
Then we walked along the river Corrib, before we were on our way.
There are a couple different routes to get from Galway to the Cliffs of Moher, but we wanted to do the drive that took us through The Burren.
For our trip, I relied on the Lonely Planet's guidebook Ireland's Best Roadtrips. It had suggested driving through The Burren because of its unusual landscape. And unusual it is. One minute you're rolling green landscape, the next minute you're driving up a huge limestone mountain.
We detoured off the main road to get some pictures, but then discovered this farm road that veered even farther off the main road. Good for pictures, also good for hikers as we saw a number of them walking their dogs along the path.
Rather than return down the mountain to the main road, we remembered seeing a sign that indicated a chocolate shop was not too far away. So like any good explorer we drove that way.
It was this cute little chocolate shop that had quite a variety of chocolates as well as delicious hot chocolate. We visited with the woman running the shop that day and learned she was an ex-patriot from Jacksonville, Florida. Since Jacksonville is not known for its beauty or charm, then she certainly did well to move to Ireland.
The woman told us to stick to the coastal route as we were driving through The Burren to the Cliffs of Moher. "It might take a little bit longer, but it's so much more picturesque. And you can get out and walk on the rocks."
She was right.
It's amazing how a bunch of rocks can be stunningly beautiful. But they were. Far from feeling like a wasteland, you could see life growing everywhere--in tufts of grass between rocks, in square foot plots behind boulders. In the mid-1600s, someone wrote that The Burren is "a country where there is not enough water to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, nor earth enough to bury him...... and yet their cattle are very fat; for the grass growing in turfs of earth, of two or three foot square, that lie between the rocks, which are of limestone, is very sweet and nourishing."
And then as soon as we had entered The Burren, it disappeared behind us and we were parking again and walking along the Cliffs of Moher.
Is that a stunning view or what? Amazing cliffs. And if you're a Princess Bride fan you may recognize them as the Cliffs of Insanity that Wesley climbs up in order to chase/rescue Buttercup. Even the Harry Potter movies drew inspiration from a cave set in the wall of the cliffs, although they didn't do any filming here. They did, however, recreate the cave on a set.
The Cliffs of Moher has quite an impressive tourist center that's set into the hillside in order not to obstruct the views.
This kind of eco-tourism is quite popular in the area--bringing in people, but trying not to destroy the beauty in the process.
My trusty Lonely Planet guidebook gave us the advice to keep walking along the southern wall past the proper walking path.
Although you are only a few feet from falling off the cliffs, it's not like you're horsing around pushing each other over. It is absolutely worth it to walk past the crowds of the main center to this part of the cliffs. Even for those who want to see this part of the cliffs but don't want to walk on the unofficial path, the center has created a barricaded path for a good portion.
Seeing the Cliffs of Moher was perfection. Being there on a sunny day, walking along with my sister, in Ireland, having people from Bellingham take our picture, hearing languages from all over the world: it felt like a once-in-a-lifetime deal.
I'm not one of those people who contemplates much while I'm in the midst of traveling. There's too much adrenaline for thinking straight. But looking back over my pictures has made me really appreciate all over again the experience of being there.
We eventually dragged ourselves away from the Cliffs of Moher so that we could make it to Dingle before it was too dark. Driving around in a foreign country on unmarked roads without reliable GPS is not our idea of fun.
We had two choices in driving from the cliffs to Dingle: we could go farther east and through Limerick, or we could drive due west and take the ferry across the Shannon River.
The only catch: we didn't really know anything about the Shannon Ferry system except what was written in my Lonely Planet book. Didn't know precisely when it was running, didn't know how much tickets were, weren't entirely sure how to get to it even except that we had a map to the town where it departed from. If we had smart phones this is where we would have used them. But we didn't. So...
We decided to try the ferry. It was a bit of a risk because if we missed the final ferry--or if there actually wasn't a ferry at all--then we would have to drive a long ways to get back on track, but what's a good road trip without a little by-the-seat-of-our-pants unpredictability.
We got to Killimer at 6:10 where we saw the 6:05 ferry just departing for the otherside.
But this post is getting too long, so you'll have to wait for the rest of the story tomorrow!