Friday, May 15, 2009

Round the Ring to Cork

Hurrah - we wake to find that the rain has stopped!! It was not the most comfortable of nights for either of us and I am thinking that single beds do not aid people who have been sleeping together for 28 years at all. But breakfast was great. We started with OJ and muesli (Alpen brand - hope we can get it at home - it is delicious) followed by scrambled eggs for Michael and poached for me. Not too heavy and both cooked very nicely.

We are on the road just after 9:30 am heading in clear weather towards rather ominous looking clouds. I now know why it is so green in Emerald. For 10 minutes every hour it rains, and then the sun comes out, so the grass and shrubs and bushes and trees are constantly being fed and growing! We stop to do the daily top up with fuel as you can never be certain of where you can find fuel on the road. Today we pay €1.12 per litre and before you start to make comment, this actually translates to $2.04 per litre back home. So you can quit your whinging right about now!

And today I re-introduce the Oh Wow days. As we travel south from Tralee into the Ring of Kerry via Killorglin where we see the proud statue of King Puck at the entrance to town. Like many small towns in the tourist areas, they can be very congested and today is certainly no exception to that. In response, Killorglin it seems wants a bypass so the banners around town compete with the political billboards! Although it would be hard to beat one of the campaign banners of a local candidate - trouble is, can you take him seriously???

The Catholic Cathedral at Cahersiveen is currently undergoing a full restoration at an estimated cost of €5 million with only €1 million raised to date. Seems an awful lot to be spending on such a project - although we did not stop to have a look.

Valentia Island is right at the south west of Ireland - part of the Iveragh Peninsula and bordered on the west by Dingle Bay. It is reached by ferry from the coastal collection of buildings (that could never be called a village or even hamlet) of Reenard Point to the port of Knightstown on the island.

The trip over on the ferry is short - just 300 m across the bay, then a turn through the harbour breakwalls before docking. The information on the net says that the ferry operates every 15 minutes, but we watched as it just went across and back continuously, carrying people who live on the island as well as tourists. It was interesting - we arrived at the depature point first in a line of cars and I pulled up a little way back to allow for traffic to come off. Another car arrived after about 5 others and just drove passed us all right to the edge of the ramp - obviously a local. He then proceeded to drive on to the ferry almost before the last car was off! Obviously a local!! Our trip took only 4 or 5 minutes - hardly enough time to pay the charge! The ticket seller gave us a free map of the island thankfully. We could see there was a small network of roads from our map, but this one also gave us what there was to see - something we did not have.

And OH WOW This is some of the most stunning scenery we have seen anywhere on our travels to date. It is everything that you think of Ireland and then some - with the seaside thrown in! And it has quite a history from prehistoric animals to the first Atlantic telegraph line crossing to Irelands largest slate mine complete with a Marian grotto.

Then there is the Tetrapod Trail - fossilised tracks from the first known vertebrate to walk on land - 385 million yeas ago. Before this all known vertebrates were fish. They walked, dragging their tails behind them, across the muddy flat that over time was compressed to become shale and millions of years later eroded to expose the trail again. These were only discovered in 1992. It makes any of the history we have seen to date kind of seem a bit lame for a moment or two!

And then there was the Altazamuth standing stone that we came upon quite by chance - although it graces the front of the free fold-out map, it is not very clearly marked. The island continues to offer up small and not-so-small surprises. We spent a couple of hours wandering across the island with me constantly oh wowing, OMG, oh wow, OMG, oh wow! Can you hear it?!!!

We had debated whether we would just skip past Valentia and continue across the mainland coast road. But every time we just go with a spur-of-the-moment decision we have been thrilled with what we find. Eventually, we had to push on. Instead of retracing our steps and re-crossing on the ferry we drove down to the opposite end of Valentia Island (sounds like it should be in Italy don't you think) and crossed the bridge to Portmagee. By this time we are starting to think that we will not make it to Killarney and have to head straight for Cork.

Back on the mainland, we continue to follow the coast on the N70, getting more and more glimpses of the outstanding beauty of the Inveragh Peninsula and the Skellig Islands - those sharp conical rocks thrust proudly out of the boiling sea. We drive a few kms, stop, take more photos, drive a few more kms, stop, etc etc etc. But we are not alone - we play hopscotch time and time again with half a dozen other cars doing exactly the same.

By the time we get to Waterville further around Ballinskelligs Bay at 1:30 pm, we desperately need a toilet stop and some food. This little seaside town is base for a lot of walkers, holiday makers and was a popular choice for holidays by Chalie Chaplin. We find a parking stop right outside the Lobster Bar and Restaurant. Walking in, there are plenty of diners and most of them tucking heartily into fish and chips. So when in Rome ... I ordered the Fish and Chips. Michael opted for the Prawn, Crab and fish cakes and spends most of the time searching for the fish - they are chockers with prawn and fresh crab meat. And my cod -the batter was so light and crisp and the fish so fresh that it tasted of sea water and hardly even had a fish taste!!! It was sublimly good, as was the service fromt he friendly waitress and the coffee we finished with. A quick stop to get a pic with Charlie and a final decision to give Killarney a miss and head straight to Cork.

We re-connect with the main highway at the town of Kenmare where there is supposedly a stone circle. But we do not see it as we drive through - so I guess it is just out of town in the other diredction. Bu a little further on we do see a sign pointing to the The Staigue Stone Hillfort 4kms off the road near Castlecove. And can't resist a quick look! This is all that remains of what would have been an enclosed settlement of a local chieftan built in the early centuries AD before christianity arrived in Ireland. It is the largest hillfort in Ireland and built without mortar, is a testament to the skills of the earliest settlers. Look had, we get back onto the road and given that it is now 4 pm, vow not to stop again, puching on passed great views and through quaint little towns!

And so that brings us to tonight in Cork where we are writing the blog from the Maryborough Hotel and Spa! Yep, you read right! A link with home - but in name only. This is luxurious and oppulent but in a quiet understated kind of way. Set on a hill above Cork and in the most amazing gardens. They have given us a Spa suite - complete with bath IN the room (shower and toilet in the ensuite), leather sofa, table and chairs AND with 20 LED lights set into the feature wall, overlooking a grassed roof between us and the gym! So there is really very little to compare with here and home!!! (Hmm although I must admit, the lights in the wall here are the same ones we have in our 'runway' ceiling to the bathroom! Had forgotten that until now!)

As we had had a latish lunch are are not really hungry, tonight we decide to just eat from the Light Bites menu in the bar. Our waitress (Kristina from Slovakia) settles us in to armchairs overlooking the beautiful gardens with mature trees and flowering azaleas and rhododendrons and busy little black birds pigging out on fat worms they pull from the lawn. Then supervisor Siva brings along a Specials Menu for us to have a look at. He hails from Penang in Malaysia and if there ever was someone suited to his career, he is it. He personally introduces himself to everyone who comes in, and then, remembering eveyone's name, he addresses them personally every time he speaks with them. The perfect employee in hospitality - you feel valued from the word go - good on you Siva - you are a shining light!

Oh, and that menu - hmm. SO much for a toasted sandwich! We choose:
Breast of Chicken wrapped in Parma Ham (Michael)
Loin of Pork with sage stuffing and a mustard dressing (Maria)
Both are served with Potato Au Gratin, creamed pumpkin and fresh sugar snap peas

Dessert: Michael only !
Assiette of tropical flavours - pineapple mousse, passionfruit cheescake and caramelised bananas in a crisp case - I had a taste of each and it was delicious. I finished with a Cointreau over ice while Michael had a coffee.

Ah yes, Maryborough - now that is something to remember!! Ha ha ha!!!

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