Sunday, April 05, 2009

West Coast of the Emereld Isle

Before we left Enschede for Dublin, some of our neighbors told us that we had to visit the west coast of Ireland for some amazing scenery. Likewise another friend from back home and my cousin also recommended the same when they found out that we were in Dublin from my Facebook status. Although Roxi was busy with the conference for the week, she insisted that at least one of us get to visit the west. So I woke up at 5 AM on Thursday March 26 to catch my tour bus to the Cliffs of Moher. Roxi and I even had a chance to have a quick breakfast together before I left for my thirty minute walk to the rendezvous point.

The Paddywagon arrived just about 7 AM and our Irish tour guide began telling us about Dublin as we passed through it on our way into the countryside. The wagon was a miniature tour bus with comfortable seats and full to near capacity. There were thirteen other travelers on the bus but that number would dwindle as we made our way across the country. We had a long day ahead of us so I got comfortable listening to the guide's audio tour through Irish history. After about an hour, we made our first stop for a restroom and breakfast snack. After the short break, we were back on the road getting more stories as we made our way to the city of Limerick.

We arrived in Limerick about two hours later where we rendezvoused with another Paddywagon that would be taking some of my fellow travelers to Blarney Castle for the day. Although I was interested in seeing the castle and kissing the famous stone, I was more interested in the Cliffs of Moher, the destination everyone told me I should see. We had a few minutes in Limerick to stretch our legs and take some pictures before loading back onto the bus for more driving.

King John's Castle in Limerick

River Shannon in Limerick

Treaty Stone in Limerick

After our break and rendezvous in Limerick, we were down to eight travelers on the bus for the hour bus ride to The Burren in the wilderness of County Clare. The drive up and down the rolling hills along the way was absolutely beautiful especially once we could see the Atlantic Ocean. The landscape became more and more rocky until there was nothing but rock at The Burren right on the edge of the ocean. Upon disembarking from the bus, I was overcome with the smell of salt air. The ocean was an inviting beautiful blue green color. If the cold breeze was any indicator the water was surely freezing! The landscape was amazing and the view of the semi-isolated Aran Islands on the horizon were gorgeous. We braved the cold at The Burren long enough to take a few pictures before heading to nearby Doolin for lunch.

The Burren

The Burren

Aran Islands

We stopped for lunch at the village of Doolin where the bowl of beef stew is just what I needed to warm myself up after being exposed to the chilling sea breeze at The Burren. During lunch the tour guide was asking me questions about the US and world economy and we got onto the subject of the Euro. I was surprised to hear that he thought that the Euro had ruined Europe because of how expensive everything suddenly was. With the Euro doing so well against other currencies like the US dollar and even the British pound, I guess I just assumed that everyone loved in the EU loved the value of their money. He said he had seen no personal benefit of the currency and when I asked if anyone had, he said it was mainly farmers and large companies because the common currency has allowed them to trade more freely across the continent. Since then I've spoken to other people about the switch over to the Euro and my take is that it comes down to the value and strength of each country's economy before the switch. If the currency was strong before the switch, the Euro's relative strength within that country was also strong. Ireland as a nation had an economic boom in the 1990's with rapid growth in Dublin and other major cities, while the poorer parts of the country remained so. It would seem that some of Ireland was left behind twice, once with the switch to the Euro and again during the boom times. In any event, it was an interesting conversation especially getting the perspective of an average Irishman.

After lunch, we made the short drive to our main destination, the Cliffs of Moher. I spent the first half hour of our hour and forty-five minutes there admiring the amazing view and trying to take pictures on my way up the hill to O'Brien's Tower.

Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher

O'Brien's Tower

There was a moderate wind as I was taking pictures but it began to strengthen as I made my way up the hill to O'Brien's Tower. The wind was pretty constant, but there were also very strong gusts every now and then that made me feel like my glasses might just blow away so I put them in my pocket as I continued my climb. As I arrived at the top and began walking towards the tower, there was an unbelievably strong gust that actually pushed me along the path. It was pretty funny at first...but when the gust didn't stop, I actually started getting a little scared! I wouldn't say I am deathly afraid of heights, but I definitely don't like them. Although there were walls along the edge of the cliff at the top and I was nowhere near them, I started to get very frightened about being blown off the top of the cliff. Most people up there seemed to be having fun with it and maybe it was because I was by myself, but I was suddenly not enjoying it! At one point I was knocked to the ground by the wind and thought it best to just sit until the gust stopped...but it never did! I realized that the wind was being amplified in some sort of Bernoulli effect around the tower itself and that the gust wasn't going to die down as long as I was near the structure. So I picked myself up and kept a wide bearth between me and the tower. Just as quickly as the strong gust started, it was over. I carefully made my way back down the hill and into the warmth of the visitors center where I decided to kill my remaining time at the cliffs in the museum.

Back at the bus, we were now only six travellers as two of our companions had rendezvoused with another Paddywagon to travel to another part of the country. So began our long trip back to Dublin via Limerick. For the next hour I listend to my iPod while everyone else slept and the tour guide listened to Irish talk radio. Back in Limerick, we picked up the six travlers that had gone to Blarney Castle earlier in the day. From there it was another relatively quiet two and a half hour ride. Without an iPod I might have gone crazy though! Right around 7 PM we arrived back in Dublin and I began my walk back to the hotel to meet Roxi.

I only beat Roxi back to the hotel by about thirty minutes. We split her leftovers from lunch and then walked to the Vat House Bar in Temple Bar to meet some of the other conference attendees for drinks and to watch an Irish band play. We had a good time but I offically had my fill of Guinness (I never thought that could happen!). The band was great. They played traditional Irish folk songs and threw in some contemporary American songs too. I had never really made the connection before but American bluegrass music really has it's root in Irish folk. From the instruments to the style there are so many similarities. It makes sense because of all the Irish immigration to the United States during the Great Irish Famine in the mid 1800s. I suppose that also explains why the Blue Ridge Mountain area is so famous for their whiskey. After the fun but late night, we went back to the hotel for a little sleep before Roxi's last day at the conference.

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