Alex Blaze

Non-travelogue: Cork and Killarney, Ireland

Filed By Alex Blaze | May 17, 2009 2:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Politics
Tags: blarney castle, ireland, killarney, travel

I'mcows.jpg finally buckling under the pressure to write about the vacations I take. We'll try it this time and see how it goes.

I've hesitated to write about this because I don't think it's all that interesting and feels like I'm just showing the slides and explaining what I did. So let me know if you want me to do another non-travelogue next week in the comments.

I'm calling it a non-travelogue because I don't like the genre all that much, and I'm hoping that, at most, people will have less of an understanding of a place after reading one of these rather than think that any place can be understandable. And, I'm hoping that, in the best of the tradition of blogging, people who've traveled to and live in whatever area I'm talking about can call me stupid or add stories and other information in the comments.

My first non-travelogue on my trip to southwestern Ireland last week is after the jump.

viewfrommagnerton.jpgAfter the flight into Cork, Alberto and I headed straight to the bus station to go up to Killarney.

Mystery for idle speculation: Alberto went to the bathroom there, and right in front of the machine where you pay to get in, he said there was a woman standing there doing nothing. As he left, a man went up to her and asked her if she saw anything strange. She said no.

What's up with that? Someone assigned to make sure people pay the 20 cents instead of jumping over the machine? Uncover cop to watch out for guys cruising in the bathroom? A couple of people waiting for aliens to land, and they only knew the time and the place it'd happen but not the date?

So we get to Killarney and apparently it's "Drive your car along the strip repeatedly" Day in town. Everything was expensive, the cars were pretty chic, and there was way too much traffic and honking and people shouting from cars for a town that size.

Moral of that story: Killarney is a really, really touristy town.

dunloe.jpgThe next morning we headed off to the Gap of Dunloe, on the right. There's a nice 31-mile bike loop through it and part of Killarney National Park and Muckross Park that leads right back into town. It's a rather hilly path, but with every uphill comes a downhill, so it works out in the end. There are a few cafes and restaurants along the path, but it's probably a better idea to pack food instead of buying it there. Bad cake.

Fun, queer story: Alberto and I went to the tourist info office in the morning, and the guy working there was really, really gay. Like waaaaaaaaaay gay.

I asked about going through the Gap of Dunloe (that's what he said!), and he said we could take a bike half of the way and then a boat for the other half through the lakes back into town. He called the boat guy, really excitedly, to reserve two spot for us.

Well, he didn't tell us that we had to rent bikes separately, or that we couldn't make it to the boat on time anyway, so we're like, no we don't want to go on the boat ride. So he calls the boat guy back up, all disappointed, apologizes like eight times and promises to find more people to take the boat. "I'll send more people, don't worry. I'll find some more."

I'm actually pretty glad we ended up not taking the boat.

cows2.jpgThe next day we took a bus to Tralee and hiked out to the ocean. It's crazy times there, because there were cows all over, and the path ends for a while and we found ourselves in a field with electric wire all around it with a bunch of cows. One even started dancing in front of us.

We hitch-hiked back into town, got halfway hammered in a bar, and went off to search for a barber. We were both in need.

magnerton.jpgThe third day in Killarney we biked to Magnerton Mountain and climbed up it. It's a dormant volcano, and at the top there's a field in between the mountains that more desert than the extreme-green we were used to from, well, everything else in Ireland. There's a magnificent view of the town from up there too, if you can stand the wind to look down.

Day four we took the bus back to Cork in the morning and checked in to the hotel there. We headed off to see the town (didn't take any photos...). Cork is the Republic of Ireland's second-biggest city, and it's buildings have a lot more old-world charm than Dublin's do, if you're familiar with that city. The art museum downtown is worth the visit, and the English Market is fun just to check out (I had the first good cup of American-style coffee there since I left the US for France).

Question: Why aren't there any good vegetarian restaurants in France? I haven't tried them all, so maybe I'm too quick to judge, but every time we end up in one it's the stereotype of the humorless vegetarian made real: everyone chews slowly, the food is really small and surrounded with a lot of carefully-arranged sauce, and people are really, really quiet. In Cork, on the other hand, we found an all-vegetarian coop the first night we were there. It was fun and inexpensive, with healthy portions and dishes that were recognizable as food.

I'm thinking that because vegetarianism in the West is found mostly in the English-speaking countries, that they've just moved on from the idea that it's an entire way of life that involves shunning sensory experiences. Thoughts?

I do know that when I say I'm vegetarian in France it comes with a long conversation about what that means, but in the US people generally understand the parameters of that term.

BlarneyCastle.jpgThe fifth day of our vacation we headed off to the Blarney Castle. I remembered an old Lorrie Moore story I read where the main character and her mother traveled around Ireland and ended up there where they wanted to kiss the Blarney Stone and receive the gift of eloquence.

Well, that's pretty much what we did. The castle is a great visit and the grounds are beautiful, but we had to climb to the top to kiss that Blarney Stone.

We got up there, and the stone, we find, is a bit off the edge of the castle. We were about 8 stories up at that point. You have to lean over backwards to reach the stone (see right), and the guy who's in charge of keeping you from falling off the castle seemed half-there.

holdalex.jpgAnyway, Alberto went first, and the guy working there proceeded to hit on him (everywhere we go people hit on Alberto, it's amazing). It was my turn, I went quickly, not sure if I kissed the right stone, and then it was next in line. As we were leaving, there was a sign explaining that guides will often try to make the line go quicker and not tell you the right one to kiss, and I knew I'd regret it for the rest of my life if I didn't get it right. Besides, who doesn't want to be eloquent?

So Alberto asked him and I got a redo, and now I speak really well.

That night we went out to find the gay nightlife in Cork. We found a gay bar that was twice as expensive as all the other bars in the city, and it was completely empty (that's a running theme from all my travels - gay bars are always expensive and empty). So we headed out to find another on the southside of town that was pretty laid-back. After that we headed on up to the third address we had, a disco bar with a dance floor and, like every bar we went to that week, cider on tap.

The next day we headed back to smelly Paris. Ha ha.

I had a great time on this trip. A few of the highlights included the cider-on tap, which I had never seen before but couldn't get enough of; shouting "Look, cows!" or "Look, sheep!" every half-hour, and never getting tired of it; eating Galtee cheese, Ireland's most versatile cheese (it's a lot like Velveeta); and the green, the constant, natural greenness of everything.

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That's the longest pre-apology I've ever read, and totally unnecessary. I enjoyed your travelogue. On the next one, skip the negative setup and go straight to the good stuff.


Actually, the intro was about twice as long before I cut it down....

Agreed. Less negativity and more what you did (with pictures!). We're living through you, Alex!

Keep these coming, Alex.

And, aaah-hem, have I not been asking for these and pics for, like, ever? :-) Glad you started these.

The hell are you talking about? This installment will be delightful. Continue it.

It would actually be amusing to create a notebook detailing all the instances in which Alberto gets hit on ;).

goddammit, i'm goign to have to keep on writing these.

It is funny. He is seriously always getting hit on, and I'm, like, never getting hit on. I think it's because I have a tendency to give off negative vibes....

My husband and I went to Ireland two years ago. It was on of the best trips I've ever had! We started out in Limerick, went to the Cliffs of Moher, and ended up in Galway! Galway is a fantastic town with a big pedestrian street and pubs all along it. We heard some fabulous traditional Irish music! We drove east - I wanted to see all the ancient sites. We went to the Rock of Cashel, Newgrange (6,000 years old) and Carrowmore (an ancient burial site). Slept in a castle. Then we went to Dublin. I wanted to have tea in the Shelbourne Hotel. As we were seated, I looked to my right and did a double-take! There, in person, was Julian Lennon (John Lennons' first son). He was sort of giving me dirty looks, so I couldn't take his photo or ask for an autograph. But I don't lie, so people have to know this really happened.

I want to go back.

That picture of Blarney Castle is stunningly beautiful. I'm green with jealousy (ha!).

Angela Brightfeather | May 18, 2009 1:10 AM

I, so ya think you've seen Ireland do ya now????
I spent three weeks of the most lovely time in my life there last year. Landing in Dublin, then to Sligo and completely around the entire island from there. I figured out why it is so like an emerald green. It's all the sheep. There is so many sheep there and they eat so much grass, there is always, always huge patches of new green grass that is slightly lighter in color than the older grass.

And by the way Alex, I need to tell you that Blarney Castle, while being a lovely place to see, especially the Druid area along the side, I have it on expert authority that after the tourists clear out for the day, the kids from the neighborhood go up to the top and pee on "the stone" at night and then spend all day looking at the toursits kiss it, while they are laughing their heads of. I got that info from a towny, at a local pub, who was mostly in the bag, while we were watching the World Rugby Finals with Ireland playing. So you know it's not a lie.

Yes, by all means, continue. I love having a point of view like mine to get to know another country!

(... but, haven't you heard about the locals and the Blarney Stone?)

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | May 18, 2009 11:08 AM

The Irish naturally do better with veggie restaurants. They have a history of being able to live on potatoes and greens and will flee the country when they run out. This had led to a greater familiarity with seasonings and presentation.

Also, not being French they are less stingy. May I assume you eat cheese, legumes and eggs?

I presume you have found a job to take a vacation from so congrats on that. As they used to say in Vaudeville: "When you are not working you are on vacation."

You covered much of the same ground I covered in 2005, when I spent my honeymoon there, though not from the alt-angle. Can't help but love the place, although parts are a bit touristy. i'm also not surprised that you found good food there; my time in Ireland was devoid of anything resembling fast food, and it was very pleasant.