Killarney. We came to renew our car rental but we stayed for the pretty flowers. At least for a while.
The Killarney National Park is a 26K acre plot of beautiful scenery–both rugged and manicured–and of venerable buildings of a bygone era. As we rolled up to the park in our freshly renewed Skoda rental, a man hopped down from his horse and buggy and began to flag us down, trying to direct us where to park in a parking lot with fewer than handful of cars and dozens of open spaces. “Great,” I thought resignedly. “This gent is wanting to take us for a ride.” For a couple trying to make their euros stretch for two months, a trip on his jaunting car was probably not in the picture. I got out of the car, and he let me know that there was a funeral procession to be passing by soon. If we were to use his jaunting services, we’d need to get cracking. We drove on a little further and pulled off onto the side of the road where there was a small path leading into the park.
We passed through the woods and over a stream before coming to the ruins of an ancient friary turned abbey. Though most the roof was missing, the abbey was still in remarkably good condition. After some exploration we came upon a magnificent yew tree in the middle of a courtyard that is said to be as old as the abbey itself.
Upon emerging from the abbey and into the adjoining graveyard we noticed that a large number of people had begun to gather. These folks didn’t look so touristy and, in fact, their attire was rather dark and formal. It became clear that if we didn’t get out of there soon, we’d become part of that funeral procession that the jaunting car driver had warned us about. Who would’ve thought that this seemingly ancient graveyard was still in active use? We tiptoed around to the other side of the abbey and continued on our way.
After a brief stop at the toilets (instead of the “restroom” euphemism, they get right down to business here) and stumbling upon the modern marvel that is the Dyson Airblade (seriously, if we don’t get these in the U.S. sometime soon, well, I’ll just feel sorry for us), we visited the Muckross House and its expansive gardens. Despite the numerous signs that insisted dogs were not to be allowed in this area, we saw several of them traipsing about, some without leashes, peeing on every plant they passed and tromping wherever they pleased. Even so, the gardens seemed to be thriving and were immaculately maintained. Flowers of every sort bloomed in colors so saturated that it didn’t seem quite real.
As we walked back to where we had parked our car, we passed by a large and quite active parking lot that had signs warning people not to leave valuables in their cars. In seeing these I was reminded of when my family was touring Europe 17 years ago and we saw some similar signs at the ruins of Castle Falkenstein. However, we didn’t quite get the translation right, and we thought it said something along the lines of “beware of wolves.” When we returned to the van a side window had been smashed and our stuff rifled through. I thought of our little red Skoda on the side of the road, probably all alone and ripe for plundering. That added some pep to my step. I nearly raced up to it only to find…all windows were as solid as ever with the contents safely stowed inside. Phew!
The Gap of Dunloe was next on the loosely sketched itinerary. We drove along the windy roads of a valley and stopped at a cafe by the name of Ladies’ View, so called because it was built at the spot where Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting were to have said in thick British accents “Ooooooh, what a lovely view” to which another responded “Quite.”
The Ring of Kerry is a famous stretch of road in County Kerry that takes you passed some marvelous vistas. It was getting late in the day by now, and so we decided to try to cut off a bit of the ring and pass right through the middle of it. Paved road turned into somewhat paved road with grass growing in the middle of it and from narrow to constricting. As we approached a farmhouse set against a backdrop of huge, looming mountains, the road turned from semi-paved to large stones that were heaped into the muck to prevent vehicles like ours from being consumed in a mud pit. It was around this point that we decided we must have missed a turn. Once we got back on track we continued on our journey by the wondrous landscapes of mountains, fields, and cliffs by the ocean.
Here’s a short clip to get a feel of what driving around the ring was like (take Dramamine and wait 30 min. before watching):
As night fell we sped along to a smaller town along our route by the name of Skibbereen (now referred to by us by the more memorable name Skinnamarink-a-dink-a-dink). Little did we know that we were in for some of the best/cheapest fish and chips of our lives. Just as Allison was about to resign herself to an evening of apples, bananas, and granola bars (a.k.a. starvation), we came across Long’s Traditional Fish & Chip’s food stand. It was a shiny beacon in the darkness, and we buzzed on over and hovered around it, absorbing the deep fat fried goodness of it all. We absconded back to our hostel with the fried fish and chips drenched in Thai sauce where we filled our bellies and played Tennessee for Two (Rook) until it was time for bed.