Monday, August 04, 2008

They Call Me Baby Driver

The next day started out with a pleasant breakfast of eggs, brown bread toast with Irish butter, orange slices, and Irish breakfast tea. Not quite as artery-clogging as the previous days, but one can't eat that way all the time. We researched the day's activities, which mostly consisted of driving around the Burren area and looking at ruined abbeys and the like.

I was thinking of putting together a route map to more accurately depict our day's travels. We did so much circling around and back-tracking and dithering that I can't remember all of it, although if I had it would've looked pretty spectacularly random. Suffice it to say that we spent a lot of time on the back roads of a relatively small area of the country, as we lost our way and corrected our route and stopped places and just drove around. I DO know that we saw the following:

+ Corcomroe Abbey (in ruins)
+ Poulnabrone megalithic tomb (which had fallen down recently but they found another slab rock to prop it up with)
+ Hillsides of the Burren free from any vegetation more than a couple inches high, thanks to cattle grazing that keeps the area tidy
+ Gravestones written in Gaelic
+ A Sheela na Gig near the town of Killinaboy
+ High cross of Kilfenora
+ Lots of ill-proportioned religious scenes carved in stone

We were denied having lunch in the Ailwee Cave because we felt it was wrong that they made you pay to park. After driving through the three roads of Ballyvaughan several times in an effort to find a place to eat, we took the back way round to Lisdoonvarna and traveled all three of THEIR roads, squeezing on such narrow thoroughfares that at one point I clipped the mirror of a parked car with my own. Fortunately in other countries the mirrors readily fold in for just such a reason, so no damage was done. We found ourselves at the Roadside Tavern, which specialized in smoked fish dishes. Having had quite a demanding morning, we grabbed a table next to the cheery coal fire and each ordered a Guinness.

A table of Australians across the way from us were just finishing their meal. For some reason they felt the need to complain about the fact that grocery stores are open on Sundays there. I had to resist the urge to go over and shake them by the shoulders and tell them that they didn't know how good they had it. I just sighed resignedly and ordered a smoked salmon dish. Jack got the smoked fish plate, which contained a variety of species. Both were very good, just the thing to ready us for the afternoon of more driving around. We lingered a bit after the meal, enjoying the quiet coziness of the place. At one point the proprietor came around and tsked himself for letting the fire dwindle, but he had a new pail of coal to toss on at the ready and it soon resumed its former strength.

Eventually we headed in the direction of the park containing the Cliffs of Moher, one of those things you have to see if you're in the area. We drove to the cliff's edge outside of the park and then looped back around on the Liscannor Bay side to come at it from the other direction. On the way, we happened by St. Bridget's Well, a cemetery and spring-fed pond featuring a life-sized statue of the saint encased in glass. A tunnel covered from floor to ceiling with rosaries, pictures, notes and statues led to a man-made pool where people go to get healed or whatever they do at places with supposedly mystical properties. All that needy hopefulness was kind of creepy. How many dreams were dashed after a visit here?

After that, we were ready for some unbridled scenery so we hit the cliffs. After an extensive, award-winning renovation, the cliffs are now essentially walled off and completely lacking in danger, giving this formerly wild place the air of a tourist-trappy attraction. It's a very pretty wall, for sure, but still I found it to be a real let-down. You could take photos of yourself and email them to your friends, but a gaggle of teens were using it so we didn't partake. The only exciting thing about it was the high winds, which forced us to walk at an angle at times. It was like being in a hurricane, except there was only a little spitting rain. We had a warm-up tea in the welcome center/museum/gift shop and then hit the road again, but not before the guy at the parking lot cashier's booth told us that the winds were quite normal, not anywhere near the extremes they sometimes see.

We returned to Kinvara to regroup for dinner. On the way back we bought some gas at a station on the other side of town. I went inside to pay. "Just the gas." "What kind?" "Oh, I don't know, whatever it was on that pump over there." [Gestures towards the car.] "Oh, I thought you said 'cigars'!"

Weatherwise it was another intermittently rainy, blustery day, and not really much fun being out. As the day drew to a close I walked to the grocery in town to forage for food for the next day. I thought we'd picnic on our way back to Dublin to save some time and money, rather than going to a restaurant. I got some tomatoes, cheese, a tube of English mustard, and some pastries for breakfast the next day. I also bought a bottle of Bulmers hard cider that we had seen advertised around but hadn't tried yet. The store wasn't very busy, and the cashier asked me where I was from (Washington) and whether they got snow there this winter (yyyyesss). I didn't want to get into the whole Belgian thing. Sometimes it's just too much for people to handle.

As night came on and the rain and wind picked up, it became clear that we were in no mood to venture out again. We made a meal of what we had on hand and drank the cider, which was good. Our host had this crazy hand-drawn map of the town showing all the ruins and various other items of note in minute detail. The map was printed in the 80s and falling apart, and we wished we could take it around with us because it had every street, alley and footpath noted on it, along with the locations of ruins, cemeteries, holy wells, caves, and other items of interest. But we made a mental note of a couple key features and hoped we might come across them in the morning on our way out of town.

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