On Tuesday morning, we waved goodbye to England while soaring over the sparkling Irish Sea, courtesy of Aer Lingus. We landed in Cork around noon, rented a car (a bright red, two door, automatic Skoda Citigo), and headed to Blarney Castle.
Our rental car was hilarious. We sort of regretted not asking for a different vehicle, but its quirky features were endearing. It didn't have a "park" gear, so whenever we stopped, we had to use the emergency brake. In addition, its engine was laughably lackluster. Kyle would forcefully press his foot on the gas to shoot us up a hill, but nothing would happen...still nothing would happen...and all of a sudden, we'd blast forward. I think I got whiplash a few times. On top of all that, Kyle was learning how to drive on the left side of the road. He adjusted to the different traffic patterns quickly, though. I was impressed! (And grateful, because I probably would've gotten us into an accident.)
After driving for half an hour through rolling green hills, we reached Blarney Castle. The ruins and surrounding gardens were remarkable. Kyle and I couldn't believe how rich and green everything was.
After grabbing some hot chocolate, we made our way up the steep steps of Blarney Castle in search of the Blarney Stone. It's been a tradition to kiss the Blarney Stone in exchange for the gift of eloquence for ages. I wasn't sure what to expect. I guess I imagined there'd be a stone at the top of the castle, waiting patiently for tourists to pucker up. It wasn't exactly that easy, though! We actually had to hang upside down over a sheer drop to reach the stone. As you can imagine, this act was really dangerous back in the day. Luckily for us, a castle employee helped us down safely. I was still freaking out a little bit, though.
Our next destination was the Cliffs of Moher. It took us 2.5 hours to get there, so we passed the time by listening to an Irish talk show. The radio hosts were playing trivia with callers from around the country, so it was really entertaining. Our drive to the West Coast was lovely. We drove on small, winding roads that twisted and turned around green fields abundant with sheep and cows. We even had to stop a few times to let tractors pass.
When we reached the Cliffs of Moher, it was swarming with tour groups. It was also extremely cold, windy, and overcast. I was so happy to be there, sharing such a neat experience with Kyle, but I had also reached a precarious level of exhaustion. The previous four weeks of plane rides, train rides, car rides, uncomfortable lodging, language barriers, inconsistent food options, and on top of it all, working full-time, totally wiped me out. Hiking up the cliffs against powerful gusts of icy wind certainly didn't help the situation. We tried to take a few pictures, but the wind was so strong that every single photo had my scarf, hood, and hair whipping wildly around my face. We admired the view for a few moments, and after that, we took shelter in the Visitor Centre.
Next, we headed to Corofin to find our AirBnB for the night. Luckily, it was only half an hour away.
Corofin turned out to be a teeny tiny town in County Clare. We stayed at an adorable bed and breakfast with a lovely couple, Patricia and Mario. They were so kind and accommodating. As soon as we woke up, Patricia prepared a traditional Irish breakfast for us. The spread included fresh fruit, scrambled eggs (that were laid that morning by chickens in their backyard), sausage, toast, white and black pudding, grilled tomatoes, baked beans, tea, orange juice, and coffee. We ate slowly and had a great conversation with Patricia and Mario. They were wonderful hosts.
Shortly afterwards, we packed up the car and headed to Doolin, a small coastal village (also known as the music capital of Ireland). We drove through the town pretty quickly, but we were charmed by the colorful buildings that lined the Atlantic ocean and countless pubs that littered the street.
Our final destination on the West Coast of Ireland was Galway. I was instantly overcome with love for this thriving, seaside city. The labyrinthine cobblestone streets, colorful shops, spirited pubs, small fishing boats, and beautiful beaches were enchanting. Both the residents and visitors were so diverse and interesting, and it was fun to walk around and soak up the Irish culture.
I had a long list of things I wanted to do and see in Galway (like Kylemore Abbey), but my weariness from the previous day persisted, so we decided to take it easy. We threw our packs on the floor and headed straight for bed at the Galway Bay Hotel. Our room offered a gorgeous view of Galway Bay from our window. We ate a roast at the hotel's restaurant, and after that, we went right to sleep.
The next morning, we embarked on the last leg of our backpacking trip with a four hour drive to Dublin.