Thursday, August 20, 2015

Ireland: Day Four

Our fourth day in Ireland started early (well, all of them did really...).  We left Blarney to head towards Ross Castle in Co. Kerry.  As soon as we left our hotel, we got our first taste of a truly tiny Irish road.  The road was so narrow that branches and leaves on the hedges were hitting my window!  I was too busy being mildly terrified to get a good picture of this.  I got used to it a bit later in the day, however.

We arrived at Ross Castle and spent some time on the muddy banks of the Lough Leane taking photos (big surprise, right?).

Ross Castle

Me and Chris in front of Ross Castle

Boats at Ross Castle

Once we actually made our way into the Castle, we were told that the next tour was full and we would have to wait an hour and a half for the one after that.  This would have really eaten into our day, which was already planned to be a long one, so we decided to skip the tour.  There is a room with a lot of information that you can tour for free, however.  So we did that and learned all about the power struggles around that Castle (and how one of the owners tried to evade taxes by removing the roof at one point).

Main Door of Ross Castle

Tree in the Courtyard of Ross Castle

The Castle was in serious disrepair for a long time, but in 1970 the Office of Public Works began restoring it.  They did the restoration using only materials that would have been available at the time the Castle was originally built, which I thought was super cool.

We spent some time walking around the grounds, which have a gorgeous view of Lough Leane and the small islands in it.

Leaves on the Wall of Ross Castle

View of Lough Leane from Ross Castle

Outside of Ross Castle

After we were done at Ross Castle (and after I had a minor "oh-my-god-I-lost-my-cell-phone-oh-wait-nevermind-it's-right here" scare), we began our day driving the Ring of Kerry.

The tour buses generally take the Ring of Kerry in a counter-clockwise fashion, so we decided to drive it clockwise hoping we wouldn't get stuck behind the buses.  So, our first stop along the Ring was the Torc Waterfall.

Torc Waterfall

We spent an enormous amount of time taking pictures of this waterfall.  We were climbing around on the wet rocks, having the time of our lives and searching for the perfect shot (the one above is my favorite).

Me at the Torc Waterfall

Downstream of the Torc Waterfall

Downstream of the Torc Waterfall

After about an hour and a half, we decided we  had better get a move on if we were going to make it around the Ring in one day (which we kind of HAD to do since we had reservations at a hotel on the other side of it that night).

We headed off and ended up stopping for lunch at a lovely little cafe right by Ladies' View.  I had the BEST salmon and brie sandwich....I actually miss that sandwich.

Beer with lunch near Ladies View on the Ring of Kerry

After lunch, we headed out take in the gorgeous view.  It was crazy muddy up there and Chris's shoes were absolutely caked in mud as he bounded around trying to scout some shots.  He found this one and let me have it, because it's exactly my style.

Ladies View

Once we finished up at Ladies' View, we headed back out.  We spent the rest of that wonderful day driving through gorgeous little towns on a windy and very narrow road, stopping on the side of the road to take pictures whenever we just could not help ourselves. The whole day we blasted songs from what I call my "Ridiculous Songs" playlist -- Chris could sing a mean "It's All Coming Back to Me Now."

Driving the Ring of Kerry

Little Headstone on the Side of the Road on the Ring of Kerry

Oh, and we made sure to not break our streak and were stung by nettles while taking those photos -- you can actually see the nettles in the photo above.

Side of the Road on the Ring of Kerry

We decided that instead of staying on the main Ring, we would take a little offshoot called the Skellig Ring. The main Ring of Kerry cuts across the peninsula at one point, instead of keeping you on the coast. If you take the Skellig Ring, however, you stay along the coastline the whole time. It was such a good decision -- the towns are even smaller along the Skelling Ring and the views are absolutely breathtaking.

Side of the Road on the Ring of Kerry

Side of the Road on the Ring of Kerry

Side of the Road on the Ring of Kerry

Clouds Rolling over the Hills on the Ring of Kerry

As it got later and later in the day, the light started to take on that soft, golden hue that photographers love so much. It was one of the first times that we'd been able to get photos in that sort of light and boy, did we take advantage of it!

Beach and Cliffs on the Ring of Kerry

Beach and Cliffs on the Ring of Kerry (with surfers!)

Finally, we made it to Glenbeigh, where we had dinner at a delicious little pub while chatting with a lovely retired couple at the next table. Once our stomachs were filled to their breaking point, we began to make our way to our final destination, Tralee. On the way there, I looked out my window and saw the most stunning site -- thick white clouds quite literally rolling into the valley over the hills with the sun setting above them. I practically screamed for Chris to stop the car. Of course, we were on a two lane road (which was really only wide enough for one car) that had no shoulder. So I vaulted out of the car and took pictures as fast as I could so we would not die like bugs on a windshield. Luckily, I managed to get this shot (one of my favorites from the whole trip). It was a perfect end to a day filled with beauty and laughter.

Clouds Rolling in at Sunset on the Ring of Kerry

Like the pictures?  Want to see more?  There are loads posted to my Flickr photostream, but to see what I consider the best of them go straight to my Best of Ireland 2015 album.  I'm adding more every week!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Ireland: Day Three (Part Two - Ballycotton Cliff Walk)

After we were done at Blarney Castle, we had to decide what other thing from the original itinerary we wanted to do.  We landed on the Ballycotton Cliff Walk, and I am so glad that's what we chose!

Ballycotton is about 45 minutes away from Blarney, so we had a pleasant drive through Co. Cork.  When we got to Ballycotton, we decided to stop for a quick pint before heading up to the cliffs.  We walked into a virtually empty pub (to be fair, it was in the afternoon on a weekday).  Chris started chatting with the barkeep and told him that we were headed up to the Cliffs.  The barkeep pulled out a little book about the Cliffs that the Ballycotton 5th and 6th graders had created.  It was really special to be able to see.

An overview of the Ballycotton Cliff Walk by Local 5th and 6th Graders

The Cliffs were less than 5 minutes away from the pub (Ballycotton is a really small town). We drove up to the top and parked -- we were the only ones there.  Perhaps it was because it was a weekday afternoon or perhaps it was because of the significant amount of fog that had rolled in.  Regardless, we donned our fleeces and headed up the path to the top of the Cliffs.


We found an outcropping on the side of the cliffs that had a beautiful view of waves crashing against rocks out in the ocean and flowers on the side of the cliffs.  We spent quite a bit of time there taking a variety of pictures.


Mist on the Ocean

Beauties on the side of the Ballycotton Cliffs

While I was taking the above photos, Chris went exploring and found stairs that led to the bottom of the cliffs.  They were steep and there was no guard rail, but he convinced me to be adventurous yet again and we headed down.

Sitting on the stairs from the top of the Ballycotton Cliffs

Once we were at the bottom, I spent some more time taking pictures while Chris continued to explore. 

Flowers on the Ballycotton Cliffs

The next thing I knew, Chris was hanging out on a rock out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean!

Standing in the sea

Again, he convinced me to join him out there and we had an amazing time, hopefully getting some shots that no one else has seen!

Ballycotton Cliffs

Looking out over the sea at Ballycotton

Eventually, Chris headed back to the main part of the Cliffs to get one of my favorite shots of the day!  Yep, that's me out there!


He came back to retrieve me and make sure I didn't fall into the ocean on my way back.  Then, we packed up, and headed back up to the top of the Cliffs.

Getting ready to head back up the stairs

By this time, we were both chilled to the bone and it was getting close to 8 PM!  The Cliff Walk is pretty long, and we'd barely made a dent in it.  However, we were both exhilarated with our experience and happy with our pictures so we decided to head back to Cork city to warm up and get some dinner!

We got back to Cork close to 9 PM and that was when we learned that if you want to eat in Ireland, you should do it before 9.  It took us quite awhile to find a place that was still serving food and we ended up in a fantastic burger joint (which luckily also served beer).


After our burgers, we were both exhausted so we decided to skip the pubs for the night and headed back to our hotel to relax with one more beer and turn in for the night. We were getting up early (as usual) the following day to drive the Ring of Kerry!

Like the pictures?  Want to see more?  There are loads posted to my Flickr photostream, but to see what I consider the best of them go straight to my Best of Ireland 2015 album.  I'm adding more every week!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Ireland: Day Three (Part One - Blarney Castle)

We woke up on our second day in Cork, excited to go to the Blarney Castle.  We were originally supposed to go there the afternoon before, but our spontaneous trip to the Jameson Distillery made that impossible.

Good thing too!  The Blarney Castle isn't just the Blarney Castle; it's the "Blarney Castle and Grounds."  And when they say "grounds," they're not messing around.  Besides the main Castle, there are over 60 acres containing ridiculous amounts of gorgeous flowers, a lake, a waterfall, gardens, and a manor.  What we thought would be a 3 hour tour turned into a 6 hour photography extravaganza, so strap in!

We got our first view of the Castle after passing a harpist and making a slight left on the path.  And there it was, huge and rundown and gorgeous.  We spent at least 45 minutes in the grass in front of the Castle trying to get that perfect shot of it.

Blarney Castle

After we finally broke down the tripod and packed up my photography gear, we headed off to the castle.  At the base of the castle, there's a small opening where you can crawl back into what they believe used to be the dungeon.  Chris was carrying the large camera backpack, so he couldn't fit.  But I could!  So, I crawled through a very cold, muddy, dark, and wet "hall" back to a tiny opening.  There wasn't a whole lot to see but it was eerie (and totally cool!) being back there all by myself!

Dungeon at Blarney Castle

Next, we headed into the main part of the Castle and got in the extremely long line to kiss the Blarney Stone.  We didn't mind the line too much, however, since it winds you all the way through the Castle as you climb to the top.  There were plenty of photo opportunities the whole way.

Flowers growing on the walls of Blarney Castle

Detail of hand rope on the stairs to the Blarney Stone

Climbing the stairs to the Blarney Stone

Room in Blarney Castle

Greenery growing in the cracks of Blarney Castle

About 45 minutes after we got in line, we finally reached the top of the Castle and the Blarney Stone.  To kiss the stone, they have you sit on the ground with your back to the wall.  You then grab onto some steel bars attached to the wall and lean back over a gap between the wall and the flower, while someone holds onto your waist to make sure you don't plummet to your death.

Eeek!  Getting ready to kiss the Blarney Stone

The thing was, I'm so damn short that they had to tell me to keep scooting back so that I could reach the actual stone.  By the time I was back far enough to reach it, my butt was actually hanging off the edge of the wall!  It was thrilling, and yes, extremely touristy, but it was totally worth it.  Although, I'm not sure my "gab" actually became any more gifted...

Kissing the Blarney Stone

We made our way back down the long spiral staircase to the bottom of the Castle and then headed over to the little cafe right next to the castle.  There were beautiful white flowers growing up the stone walls around the outdoor eating area, so we had ourselves another little photo shoot there, then had a delicious lunch right next to the Castle.

Flowers growing on a stone wall near Blarney Castle

Lunch at Blarney Castle

After lunch, we decided to explore the vast grounds around the Castle.  Our first stop was the small waterfall where we got to practice our long exposure photography to blur the water.  It worked!

Waterfall at Blarney Castle

Next to the waterfall was a really lovely archway made entirely of branches and leaves.

Archway on the grounds of Blarney Castle

Both Chris and I took shots of it.  I took mine from the safety of the walkway but Chris got a little more adventurous and hopped off the walkway to get the shot he wanted.....and that was HIS first experience with nettles.  I even have a picture of the fateful moment.


If you're not familiar with nettles, let me tell you, they're jerks (aside from their medicinal properties, I mean).  If you just slightly brush them with any exposed skin, it will feel tingly and then very stingy, and I mean VERY stingy.  Then you break out into a nice rash that'll last the rest of the day.  Luckily the initial intense sting goes away fairly quickly but you're left with weird tingling and the rash for quite a while.  Chris was stung all over his arms and, at this point, we didn't know what caused it, which meant we didn't know what to avoid...(that's foreshadowing, people).

Once we decided that Chris most likely was NOT going to drop dead (at least not anytime soon), we headed towards the lake that's on the grounds.  On the way, we saw some beautiful trees and flowers.

Tree and flowers on the Blarney Castle Grounds

We also passed by the Blarney Manor where we were lucky enough to see horses and cows grazing out front, which makes for a lovely picture. 

The Manor and horses on the grounds of Blarney Castle

Now, to get this shot, I was using my telephoto lens, but I also needed to stand on my tiptoes and reach over the fence so as not to get it in the shot.  I was also using the fence to steady my hands as I was using a slower shutter speed than I would've liked to while handholding the camera.  Strangely though, my arm kept twitching while I was trying to take the picture.  I looked down and realized that my arm was actually resting on an electric wire around the top of the fence!  Luckily, I was wearing about three layers of clothing so it didn't directly touch my skin (I've been hit by an electric fence before and it's no fun, I tell ya).

Once we made it to the lake, we took a few shots of the surrounding area and the tons of lily pads!

Lake at Blarney Castle Grounds

Lily Pads in the lake on Blarney Castle Grounds

From there, we started back up towards the Castle, and on the way I had MY first wonderful nettle experience.  As I was taking this photo, I stepped directly in a patch of nettles which promptly found the slightly exposed skin in my shoe...

Horse on the grounds of Blarney Castle

Again, we couldn't tell what had caused the stinging pain, and so this would not be our last encounter with the evil plant.

Finally, we finished our loop back to the Castle, took our last shot of it, and (6 hours after we got there), we headed out to drive about 45 minutes away to the little town of Ballycotton.  To be continued...

Last view of Blarney Castle

Like the pictures?  Want to see more?  There are loads posted to my Flickr photostream, but to see what I consider the best of them go straight to my Best of Ireland 2015 album.  I'm adding more every week!