The Emerald Shores of Ireland - Part 16
A trip journal by David Bowers
We arrive at the loading area and with 13 of us, the other groups load in 4, 4 and 3, and the carts seat 4, so that means Bob and I get a private cart. I notice one key difference, in the pictures jaunting cars usually have the 4 seats facing outwards to the sides, on these cars they are still sideways but they face the inside. There is also a door that closes over the back opening, which I am sure is all for safety. To tell the truth, I was a little nervous about getting into the jaunting car when I saw the one step you have to assist you is barely larger than my foot. Bob climbed up first with the help of the jarvee and I, and then I climbed in, no problem. Since there were only two of us the jarvee took the other seat and closed the door. We were offered a blanket and introduced to our horse, Susie, don't ask me what the jarvee's name was.
We start on our way, and even though we are in the back of the pack, our horse seems eager to catch up to the next horse. Our jarvee jokes that our horse has a thing going on with the next horse, and also that since its 5pm, our horse is excited as we will be his last fare of the day, then they get to go to the stable. As Jerry said, even though our jarvee was friendly and very helpful, willing to stop when we wanted to take pictures and all, the narration was a bit more than jibberish. He pointed out some trees and the children's playground, and then he took us to see Muckross Friary. We parked in a jaunting car parking area, and our jarvee indicated this was as far as he was allowed to take us. He invited us to get out and take about 15 minutes to explore the Friary, then come back, and he'd be waiting for us. Since we had not yet paid him for the ride, I felt quite sure he would indeed wait.
We walked up the walkway, and looked at the signage before heading in. You first go through a graveyard, what we though was interesting is that not only can you some pretty old graves there, but you can also see some pretty new ones as well, in addition there wee some examples of celtic crosses. We headed into the friary building, or what is left of us. The walls are all intact, but the roof is totally gone. You can see in the walls where the windows and doors used to be, but they are also missing. So it's the ruined shell of the former Muckross Friary. In the first room, on one side we could clearly see a stone altar, and on the other side we could see a bunch of scaffolding. As I mentioned earlier, there are all sorts of preservation and restoration projects going on. The scaffolding is protected with a wood fence and numerous no climbing signs , then is covered in fabric most of the way up. We pass through a high tower in the center that still has glass in the windows and come to another roofless room, and I realize that might not have been an altar I saw before, these may be crypt style graves. We headed back under the tall point of the building and went down a short dark hall and came out into a nice courtyard with a tree in the center of it, more scaffolding, and some very dark passages leading off of it. We decide not to chance going further into the building and head back towards the graveyard to meet the others on the tour I'm still curious about the first room altar or tomb, I mean it does have steps going up to it like an altar and it has some real nice stone engraving work, like a frieze, leaving a great example of art behind it.
After we all met back up, we returned to our waiting jaunting cars and continued the ride. The next segment of the ride took us around some of the large lakes, offering wonderful views, and with a helpful jarvee, who even recommended a photo spot and everything it was a fun time. I did note on the walkways that you have to look out for the exhaust the jaunting cars produce, to put it nicely, if you are walking about the park, like several people were.
It was right after the nice views of the lakes with the mountain like hills in the background that my camera told me it had taken enough pictures for the day. Oh sure I had the battery low indicator almost every night, so I charged every night. When I got back home, I laughed when I saw a sign that said a heavy duty camera battery should be good for 80 photos a month - I was averaging 200-300 per day. We next went around the outside of Muckross House, just outside the formal gardens and we could see the vine covered walls of the mansion. I'm not sure I approve of driving the jaunting cars through the grass, but based on the ruts that were already worn into the grass, it won't be the first time, and it probably won't be the last. Besides, its their park so if they feel its fine, so be it. We then returned to the jaunting car loading area, and our jarvees took souvenir pictures of us, using our own cameras, for no extra cost. We got out of the jaunting car and then started to settle up. The lead jarvee thought I was personally banking the entire 13 person excursion and presented me with a bill for €127. I was not left on the hook for long as we have an honest group who probably didn't even realize what was going on, and when they all joined us to pay, she was agreeable to €9 per person. Since €10 is such an easier number, we told them to make it an even €10, and then settled up. We had no sooner started up the ramp from the jaunting car stand that Jerry was leading the rest of the group down the hill from Muckross House. Talk about timing, and we still had some time left to make use of the comfort station located at the coach park. After we boarded our coach we had some fun watching a coach pull in, realize the lot was full, and then have to back all the way out.
We then headed back to Tralee, and I realized we drove past Killarney Cathedral, so we did in fact take a Ring of Kerry tour, in terms of making a full circle drive. On the way back to Tralee, Jerry advertised that we had dinner on our own that night, but just in case anybody would be interested he had reserved some seats for the hotel dinner. The hotel dinner would be at our own expense, of course, and the negotiated rate would be €23 plus drinks. I asked Bob if he would prefer to eat on the town or in the hotel, and owing to him being tired, it being a Sunday, which Jerry had already mentioned a lot of stuff closes early or doesn't open on Sunday, and with it getting dark early he would prefer to eat in the hotel. So we raised our hands when he took a count, okay that's 7 for dinner then. Meet in the main restaurant, not the banquet room.
When we arrived at the hotel, we had time to go upstairs, freshen up, and repack the carry on bags. During the day somebody mentioned on a prior trip having their passport in a plastic lined passport protector and the passport inside getting damaged with moisture from sweat. This of course meant I couldn't wait to check my own, since it sits behind a plastic window in its fabric holder. The idea is you can show it without having to pull it out of the case, and it has a pocket for your regular ID the same way. Of course, I have found in the real world of travel, airports and passport agents would prefer to have the actual document, out of its case in their hands. No damage there, and we were glad the hotel left the extra pillows in the room. I started to put a large pile of pocket change on the end table, and for some reason decided to sit there and count it. I was shocked to find out I had nearly €20 in change. I think this comes from my own reluctance to fiddle in change, but a count of it revealed I would have to do a better job of it. The coinage units mostly follow ours: 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 cent, and 1 and 2 Euro coins. The 20 cent coin was a hard one to get used to since I am more used to dealing with quarters, and I never did see the 2 cent coin. Those 1 and 2 euro coins start adding up in a hurry though. Before diner, bob mentioned he was low on Euro, and if I could pay the restaurant check tonight and he would pay me the equivalent in US Dollars. Fair deal wit hme, and we head on down. We get to the restaurant about 5 minutes early and wait till 5 minutes after our appointed time, and thought we had been left alone, but the others had already been seated. No problem, we were shown a table and handed a special menu. The menu was the banquet style menu, except this time it had the notation of the price for the meal service.
It was similar to what we had been having in service, we got some bread, we ordered beer and wine as suited us. When it came time to choose an appetizer, Bob went with the melon salad again, and I ordered the French onion soup, hoping it would not come from the puree school of soup. A short time later our first course was served and where before Bob got a little melon and fruit in a sundae glass, tonight he got a much larger salad plate sized assortment of fruit. I was even more pleased when my soup was served. It was served in a large bowl, much larger than you would want soup in, but that was because that was the outer bowl that held a sourdough bread bowl full of honest to goodness see the ingredients soup. After having soup puree the last couple nights, seeing real onion, croutons and thick melted cheese was a decided plus. The broth was a lot lighter in color than we are used to, but it was still great soup.
Next came the main course, and we had both elected the Cajun style blackened salmon. Hmm, both Cajun and blackened, this should be nice and spicy. Our plates come and we each get a very generous cut of blackened salmon atop a bed of mixed vegetables and a couple boiled potatoes to the side. It is easy to see why we assumed this was the extent of our main course, but then they sat another plate with more mixed vegetables and three scoops of mashed potatoes in front of me. We thought this must have just been a courtesy plate of additional sides to share, I mean the sides on our main plate are more than ample. They then set a similar side plate in front of Bob. Wow, talk about a feast! We joked to ourselves about how much better the meal service is when you are paying for it, than when it is included in the tour. After the main course, we finished it off with some lemon cheesecake. All in all not a bad meal for right around €60 with tip for 2 people. I had asked what the local tipping custom was, but the manager just gave me the unhelpful advice of "Tip what you feel is right", so we went with our usual tipping custom. We left the restaurant and after inquiring about internet service, I learned the public guest computer was out of service, but they did have wireless available if I had a laptop with me. We decided to just head up to the room, it may not seem like it would, but two back to back days with a lot of bus riding can really take it out of you, I think on past choir tours, we called it "Bus Coma". I have a feeling we may have over tipped when our server went out of their way to greet us and thank us profusely as we were boarding the elevator. Time for another great shower, and then off to bed, with a bit of world news from the TV. Even in Ireland, the United States managed to dominate the news coverage with the bank bailout.
Day 7: Monday. September 8, 2008
This morning we awake, and make it a point to be punctual after yesterdays dash to the bus. We don't want any more of that reputation, so its model citizens day. We head down to the banquet room for breakfast, and the hotel must have had more groups in this morning as there were more buffet lines set up. Mostly the same as the day before, and with the big dinner I had, I went with a lighter meal of fruit and cereal. We were out and on the bus noticeably early and seek to resume our proper slot in the seat rotation, which puts us in row 5. We start the day with a drive to Gougane Barra. We start the drive there while a soft rain falls outside. On our way there we drive past a castle arch in Macroom that is showing off some cannons out front. Macroom Castle is long gone, a city park sitting on its grounds, but the castle arch and a couple cannons remain as historical markers. We pass through the village and notice advertisements for Murphy's Stout on the walls, Jerry mentioned that this is a local competitor for Guinness, based out of Cork. Not to worry as we would also pass a fully loaded Guinness truck, not refrigerated enclosed truck, but instead more like an open flatbed proudly displaying its barrels of Guinness to the world.
We then passed a stately looking building that might have been city hall, and which review of my photos reveal had half staffed their Irish flag. We continued through the rather pleasant town square and like most roads it seems we started going down a road that runs alongside a river. We passed back into the countryside, as it would just not be a day in Ireland if we could marvel at the greener than green grass of the heather lines fields, with rivers and streams flowing peacefully in the valleys. We passed by farms, a few houses, a couple villages, and one house that looked like a mansion, with a wonderful setting.
We had been driving down one of Irelands two lane country roads when Jerry announced we were leaving the main road for something a bit smaller, a one lane road into Gougane Barra. We heard the story about St. Finbar, and my initial reaction was Saint Who? Anyway, he was the 6th century bishop of what would become Cork, and is said to have lived his life in hermitage at what is now Gougane Barra, he is also credited with createding a monastic settlement which has grown into the modern day city of Cork. Jerry pointed out a small stone chapel sitting on an island in the lake, the island that is claimed to the be the actual hermitage site. It was then announced that we would take a rest and Mass stop here. We parked the bus in the parking lot right next to a pub and hotel. It was raining lightly as we started to head to the lakeside to get photo of the chapel as it reflected in the water surrounding it. Jerry had also mentioned another site of interest, and that is that the park has won Ireland's Top Toilet award for the best public toilet.
I was a bit confused at first, as I didn't realize we would be having Mass inside the little chapel on the island until Father started getting his equipment out of the bus. First though, a trip to the Top Toilet, which was pointed out to us by a handy directional sign made to look just like a road sign. We walked along side the water with the reflections of the chapel getting better and better as the sun started coming out. We passed the locked gates blocking the bridge out to the island, and continued on to the top toilet. We did pass two wooden rowboats docked on the mainland side, which added to the park like setting. We arrived at the restroom building and found not a simple brick building but a round building complete with what at least looks like a thatched roof with a dome skylight in the middle. Well, it certainly is an attractive restroom building, and inside it is clean and well kept up, but I wouldn't say the inside was anything special. I noted the building was proudly displaying its award plaque, and I'll just comment that if in an Irish speaking area, and judging by the official park welcome sign, this is such an area, remember that "Fir" means men, and "Mina" means women. An important travel tip, just for you. After the rest stop we headed to the gates.