Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Emerald Isle: Cliffs, Caves, and Castles

On the third morning we woke up early so we could get a nice start on the day. We wanted to see the Cliffs of Moher on the way to our next hotel in Castlebar, and they were not really on our way :) Mike went down to the hotel dining room for breakfast and brought some up for me. Soon we were packed and on our way. It was about an hour drive to the Cliffs and we passed some amazing scenery on the way.
A ruin in the countryside
I saw a castle as we were driving so I pulled out my camera. It turned out to be Bunratty Castle from day one :)
In the parking lot at the Cliffs there were a lot of crows. I am a softie when it comes to animals so of course I fed them. This one was especially friendly. He much prefered my peanuts over my crackers! I left lots of crackers under the car so the crows could eat and not get run over in the parking lot.
Isn't he a cutie? :)
The trail up.
A cute gift shop by the parking lot. I bought a really pretty, soft, creamy, knitted scarf for my Mom here on the way back to the car. By the time we got back to the car I was so in love with it I was wishing I had bought one for myself too!
A picture of us in front of a backdrop in the visitors center.
Our first view of the cliffs. Beautiful! God did a good job here!
It was still a little misty this morning
This guy was playing an amazing flute thing. It was perfect and I threw some euros in his case.
This watch tower was on one side of the cliffs.
Mike and I in the doorway.
Me and the cliffs.
Mike and the cliffs.
This sign struck me as funny :) Don't lean over the edge!!

Veiw of the tower from the other cliffs.

I love the layers and crevices! So Beautiful!
Always the rebel :)

This bay was so beautiful I wished there was some way to access it.
The crevices in the layers between the rock were nesting grounds for many gulls.
I thought this rock formation near the base of the cliff with the tower was really neat.
Pretty flowers
If you look closely you can see the gulls flying around :)
After spending a few hours at the Cliffs of Moher it was time to head to Castlebar. We had a long way to go and we wanted to visit some caves on the way back. We stopped at the Visitor's Center on the way to the parking lot and bought a Ireland coffee table book for our new coffee table and and ice cream cone because it turned out to be a really warm day :)
About a half an hour into our drive we were headed down a big hill and the views were amazing. I told Mike that I wished there was a view point to stop at and take in the scenery. I got my wish as there was a pull out just around the next bend.
This is the road. Good thing neither of us get car sick!
Isn't it beautiful! I love all of the colors and textures in this picture. It was even better in person!
Us at the view point
A detour to Allwee cave to see some stalactities and stalagmites!
We got here kind of late in the day, so we were just in time for the last cave tour, but the bird sanctuary and the wine and cheese tasting room were closed. The whold park was closing, so we didn't get much time to wander around after the tour.
The gift shop where we waited for the tour to start
The caves used to be home to bears and you can still see their dens. Unfortunately bears are now extinct in Ireland and have been for a few hundred years.
Entering the cave.
The ceiling
Tiny stalactites
Cave photo op :)
More cave. When we got to one point the tour guide told us to be very still and turn off all cameras and cell phones. Anything with a light. Then he turned off all the lights in the cave. I have never experienced such pitch blackness! It was kind of freaky. I didn't move a muscle for fear of falling!

Huge stalagmite
Mike next to a neat waterfall inside the cave.
The cave was discovered in 1940 by a man whose dog took off chasing a rabbit. The rabbit ran into the cave and the man followed with only a small flashlight! He is so lucky he didn't drop it or the batteries didn't die because it would have been pitch black and he probably would have never found his way out. He obvioulsy loved his dog! I wouldn't go running into a random cave after Chalrie!!
The origional cave enterance.

The gorgeous veiw from the parking lot.
Pretty flowers :)
After we left the caves, we backtracked about a kilometer to a castle that we had seen on the way in. It was on the grounds of an art college and open to the public, but only until 5 pm which, sadly, it was after. We still stopped by and checked out the outside :)
Newton Castle

We had never seen a tower with squared edges like a pyramid like this. We wondered if this was how it was built or if it was added later for reinforcement.
Castle door

A while after we left the castle we happened upon a pretty little stone church in a tiny town. We stopped at a petrol station and bought cold drinks and a couple European candy bars before continuing on our way.
As sunset approached we saw a castle ruin off in the distance on the coast. We were not on a time schedule, so we stopped again to explore.
It was so interesting to me to explore this ruin and try to imagine the people who lived there. It was also so amazing to me that so many of the castles we visited were built in the 1200's and they are still standing, or at least parts of them. It is amazing to have tangible history like that around you. We don't have anything like that in American because our country isn't near that old. They knew what they were doing building those stone castles!
Mike looking in what I think might have been a door between rooms and the other room has crumbled.
I went inside the door and discovered a living space that looked like a kitchen to me with little slits of windows. I was so frustrated that someone had tagged the inside of this room with orange graffiti. It seemed like desecrating a grave to me. To me that castle represents people's lives. I don't know, maybe I am just overly romantic, but there is still no call for defacing it like that!
Mike standing above me in what I think used to be the doorway into the second floor of the tower.
A window frame giving in to centuries of pressure.
Pieces of wall scattered about the beach below.
A room that reminds me of a basement of sorts. Nature is taking it over now with a large tree and grass growing out of it.
The wall fortifying the castle.
This castle intrigued me more than many of the others because there was NO information. It made me feel sad for the people who lived here who's stories have been lost through the centuries. I stopped a lady jogging down the street to as her if she knew the name of the castle so I could research it when I got home. She said something that sounded like Mulkanish Castle, but maybe I misheard or have spelled it wrong because I can't find any information about it online. :(
It amazes me that even as the castle crumbels such details remain intact.
As we pushed on to our destination the last two castles we spied out the window I only snapped pictures because it was getting late and we wanted dinner.

I was excited about the hotel we were staying at next because it was a castle that had been turned into a hotel with a world class spa :)
I was somewhat less than pleased when we found out that they gave our reservation away and "upgraded" us to a cottage in the woods behind the castle. I wanted to stay in the castle!!! When we got to our cottage I called the front desk and said I was very displeased with my upgrade and I would like the room I had reserved and prepaid for. She said there was nothintg they could do that night but we could move into our room in the castle the next day. Snort. Obvioulsy they do not understand the purpose of a reservation!!

The view of the castle from our room.
Meet Stanly, the stuffed bear we found in the parking lot at the caves earlier in the day. He is wearing a shirt with the Allawee Cave logo on it. We decided to give him a home and he appears in at least on picture a day from this point in our vacation on :) Here he is sitting in the window of our room with the castle in the background.
This was another one of those nights when we went out far too late to find anyplace open and still serving food, so we had to have fast food again. Burgers. Icky worse than McDonalds ones. We needed to learn to eat earlier. But......We had an AMAZING DAY. I so love Ireland!! I know I have ancestors from Ireland. I wonder if any of them lived in a castle :)