Sunday, May 17, 2009

Do I need any help with the gift of the gab?

Maybe I should have cussed at the weather earlier - today we wake to a brilliant sunny morning - yeehah!
Now, double points if you can guess what we are up to today (look at the title)!

We made an earlier start than we have for a few weeks so we can be on the first round of the Cork city bus. We were actually at the bus stop almost an hour before the first one departed so we wandered around Grand Parade getting a feel for the area and taking some photos. Although it is early Sunday morning, there are quite a number of people walking through - many I suspect on their way to Mass. And it appears that in one of the flats above us, a party from the previous night still rages - one fellow walking through the mall calls out and a very bleary eyed girl hangs half out of the window to have a loud conversation with him (not angry mind you, I think she has hearing loss - if the music is as loud as it is on the street then you must barely be able tohear yourself think in the flat!) After a little while the music abruptly stops, and the curtain is pulled to shut out the sun! Fancy that - you would think that the young ones would want the sun, but maybe they need the sleep more.

The bus arrives at the stop right on time and we have a private tour - we are the only ones travelling. This tour was particularly interesting because of the number of very narrow streets the bus negotiates. It was the kind of trip where each time the bus had to turn a corner you sucked in your breathe willing it to become thinner like the bus in that Harry Potter movie. Still, the driver must be used to it, although he did curse at one car parked on one of the streets he had to travel.

Cork was a walled city with a difference. Built on marshy islands, the original city was on the largest and was connected at both ends of Main Street by drawbridges. Around the city the wall was then constructed on adjacent islands meaning that ships could be sailed into Cork within the safety of the walls. Small alleys ran off on both sides of Main Street. Most of this has all disappeared now and there is only one small section of the wall standing. However, there is one interesting legacy. Due to where the city developed, many of the streams were covered to become the streets of today. In fact, the main street - St Patrick's Street today covers part of the River Lee on which Cork is built!

There was much to see -

  • St Finnbarr's Cathedral is the third on this site since the holy man arrived in the 7th Century,
  • the National Monument that remembers the great Irish people who led fights of the wars of independence with the Maid of Erin in the centre
  • 8 or so of the 30 bridges in central Cork over the River Lee and its tributaries
  • St Anne's Church - known locally as the 4-faced Liar because the four clocks on its tower always told different times - depending on the direction and ferocity of the wind!
  • Sunday's Well - where the wealthy built their homes high above Cork with terraced gardens to the river
  • The UCC that was once the QCC (University College Cork - formerly Queen's College Cork) - upon independence the civic leaders thought that references to the English royals should be replaced with more appropriate names.
  • The 60,000 sq ft Merchant's Shopping Centre where once commercial warehouses stood

Cork comes in three colours - most of the earliest civic buildings are in a grey limestone while later buildings are in red or cream limestone. The grey stone was quarried very locally and when it ran out, builders went further south for the red and north for the cream stone. Since then, red and white have been adopted by Cork sporting teams as the City's colours. We are just finished the tour and heading out to our next destination when - you guessed it, it began to rain - A G A I N.

Thankfully we were nice and dry in the car. We were headed slightly north-east just out of Cork by 8 kms. Yep, we were
up to Blarney - hope that you all guessed the location with my little clue in the title of today's post! The Blarney Castle is well known for rewarding those who climb to the top, hang periously backward over a parapet and kiss a well-kissed (hmmm, no wiping despite the Swine Flu?) stone with the gift of the gab. Just as well I am already well-endowed in this attribute as those blasted steep, very steep narrow spiral stairs prevent me getting to the top. Got to the 2nd level up. Michael however makes it all the way and we have the pic to prove it!

This castle is in a really beautiful setting as you first see it (the castle itself, like most, is pretty ugly actually!). The gardens are reknown for their stunning setout and floral displays. But what I found fascinating was that, being spring, it is not only the flowering shrubs that are blossoming. There are also stunning growths unfurling within the ferns. There are lots and lots of people here while we are here inbcluding a couple of buses. But the grounds are so large that we do not crowd each other at all.

So just after 12:30 pm we head off to the south west through Cork to Waterford. Last time I came to Ireland Mum and I chose to go to Killarney (probably because we did not realise that Waterford was just as close!! Yes, Mum loves crystal as much as me.) I am determined to see the Waterford Crystal factory on this trip. Egads! The website tells me that there are no factory tours at the moment. Still, I go. When we get there (through more rain), it is obvious that there is something amiss. The lass at the reception desk gives me the lowdown:
- 5 January 2009 Waterford goes into receivership
- 30 January 2009 all the workers were laid off (what a tragic loss of skills) which led to a long sit-in by those laid off
- 27 February 2009 the receiver confirmed that US equity firm KPS Capital were to purchase certain overseas assets and businesses of the Waterford Wedgwood Group. The purchase was completed on March 27, 2009.
Now, this KPS is one of those (a-la-Pretty Woman) companies that buy other companies in trouble and split them up. Which is what has been done here - they have bought the brand. Not the land. Not the production facilities. Not the operations tha include some of the greatest glass cutters and engravers in the world. Just the name. And all these people are now out of work. When asked what they will do, the receptionist told me there is no other work for them in the country, so they are on the dole. WHAT A TRAGIC LOSS.

I was aware that Waterford had been outsourcing some of their production to central Europe for some years. The Czech Republic has a great name for crystal as well - but it seems that this is where all future Waterford Crystal will be manufactured - what a loss for Ireland. Although we cannot see the factory - COS THERE ISN'T ONE ANY MORE, we can still go through the showroom and buy some the remaining Waterford stock (of course we can). And while there are some lovely pieces on show, there are no real bargains - in fact I can get the same products for less at the annual David Jones sale, so we don't buy any crystal. But we do buy a few souvenir products. (Hint kids - there are two birthdays we need to recognise!!)

So that disappointment done, we take a drive around Waterford itself. Interesting city. Lots of new roads projects means that there are lots of deteors. There is even a new suspension bridge partly completed on the skyline. And we think that trains are manufactured here as well - there are a number of new looking carriages down on the waterfront near a plastics company - maybe they fit them a little differently over here?

Oh, and by the way, for the lat couple of weeks we have been trying to get the perfect photos of paddocks full of Freisan cows. We have passed so many of them, but never been able to get just the right shot with them all near the road. Today we hit pay-dirt! We came across a paddock full of them contentedly munching on grass right by the roadside. And what was even better, as Michael got out of the car to get a photo (and I mooed from inside the car!) many of the girls wandered over to see who was chatting to them - affording us the greatest cow pics! I am happy now LOL.

We are pretty hungry now, with no lunch. En-route to the hotel we stop at Eddie Rockets - a 1950's styled hamburger diner. While we would have preferred something a little more substantial, at just before 5 pm on a Sunday there is not much else on offer. Still, the food was hearty and the mood fun with great music playing:
I had a Smokestack burger (beef patty, smoked applewood cheese, smokey bacon, crispy onion rings, Bicks relish (yum) and Eddie Rockets secret sauce) and an Oreo cookie malt milkshake (more yum)
Michael chose the M Fifty burger (beef patty, melted swiss cheese, caramelised onions, grilled mushrooms, Bicks relish and Eddie Rockets secret sauce), coupled with a coffee and followed up by a Banana Split (Fresh Banana, sliced & crammed with Ice Cream (chocolate, strawberry and vanilla), Fruit, Cream & a Wafer).

So fully sated, we checked in to the Ramada Viking Hotel and are warmly greeted by Nina who meets our every need. Tonight we are lucky enough to catch up with Anne and Mick in Brisbane on Skype.

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