Ireland Day 5 County Kildare, Kilkenny, and on to Waterford
Something tells me that this story will be a bit shorter than the last few I have written. I know from experience that it is vital to put the notes down while they are fresh, but that requires that I am also fresh, at least a little bit. Tonight, however, I am anything but fresh. A pint and a half of Guinness, a glass of wine with an truly magnificent dinner in a magnificent hotel restaurant, and I am completely worn out.
It is that time during a tour when things start running together and I classically get too full of stuff to take the time to write. Back in the days of my hand written journals, these are the days when the journaling suddenly stops and I have no idea what happened. In the days of the blog, when I can blog fairly live, I do a bit better, but there comes a time as well that I have to finish the blog once we are home and recreate how I felt from reviewing the photos.
I refuse to do that this time. For one thing, the daughters have said they are waiting impatiently for each update. Thanks, Deb and Melody, for pushing me because tonight I would probably just crash into these lovely white sheets and comforters watching the Pope do his thing on CNN as he visits the US. Nice. Here we actually have CNN, which we didn't have back in Dublin.
I had some amazing moments today. Moments I can barely describe because they leave me a bit at a loss for words. Is there such a thing as genetic memory? Having never been to Ireland, I have no reason to feel familiar with it, but as we rode the countryside of County Kilkenny today it felt incredibly familiar, as if I were in a place of home somehow. We settled into the bus late in the afternoon, after playing with the horses at the National Stud back in County Kildare and the deeper we went into the landscape the more beautiful it felt to me. And I don't think this is even supposed to be the especially beautiful part of Ireland.
Still, the rolling hills, the incredibly green fields bounded by shorn and unshorn hedge rows, the crisp little white houses, some trimmed with blue and some with lavender, and most surrounded by flowers in full color, were just so moving. Cows are everywhere, but as I once said as a kid, they were cows, not cattle. Cattle belong in the western rangelands, a landscape completely foreign to this island. Here the cows are mostly Holsteins and Jerseys, important for the rich Irish butter and thick cream that is everywhere in Ireland. The only tan colored fields were of recently harvested barley, the stubble still standing. Barley is beer, and Ireland is nothing it not beer country. Literally. The Guinness folks are some of the richest in the world.
Potatoes were being dug as well, and huge fields of cabbage were thick and green in the shifting light. Mo said she was surprised that I loved the landscape so much since it was cloudy. Well, maybe cloudy, but definitely NOT gloomy. The skies change every minute, and the darkness of shifting sunshine is offset by the wide open views from horizon to horizon. It isn't closed in, it is open and fresh and brilliant. I simply loved it.
I suppose my mood was colored a bit by the lilting voice of an Irish lass wafting through the bus music system. Irish music of a completely different sort than the raucous drinking songs that we heard in Dublin. Kind of a cross between Enya and Loreena McKennit, musicians that I used to listen to all the time, who have fallen by the wayside in my listening habits over the last few years. Does it sound completely silly that as I watched the landscape roll by riding on a tourist bus listening to music, that I felt tears of something or other stinging my eyes. The whole thing made me cry. Not sad, or melancholy, just emotional. An amazing moment that I tried to convey to Mo in words, but I'm not sure she got it. I am not sure that I even got it. It was a great feeling though, one of those moments that stand out years later in memory for no reason whatsoever, one of those moments that you can get traveling and not so easily any other way. The day started early, with us putting our big suitcases outside at 7am and going down to breakfast. This time I knew well enough to keep myself happy with a banana sliced up into Muesli with milk, a good cup of coffee, and a part of a croissant. All tasty and quite satisfying.
Seat wars are sometimes a facet of group travel, and since I get notoriously car sick in the back of the bus, Mo and I were careful to be out at the bus before anyone else, standing in the very chilly air in order to pick a good seat with no post in the view and far enough forward that I wouldn't get sick. I brought my wrist bands, but they are carefully packed in the big suitcase which was carefully loaded into the cargo bay. Tonight they are sitting here by the phone and my sunglasses, not to be forgotten again as we continue down the curving winding roads in the big soft wiggly bus.
After our walking tour of the city, I was surprised to see that Dublin is really a huge metropolis of 1.5 million people, sprawling over the valley along the south side of the river Liffey much like Seattle along the Sound. It is huge. We traveled on a fairly new highway, a freeway that our guide called a "flyover", telling us how great it was to travel this new fast road from Dublin to Waterford.
Within an hour, we arrived at the beautiful grounds of the Irish National Stud. Established in 1900 by Colonel William Hall Walker, who had a passion for horses, what once was a private stud farm was later donated to the Irish people and is now one of Europe's premier studs.
Not only was Walker a horse lover, he was an astrologer who believed he could pick race horses based on their birth positions, and was an avid gardener. The stud is a beautiful horse farm, but it is also an incredible garden. The Japanese garden rivaled any I have seen, and no, I haven't been to Japan, but there are some amazing Japanese gardens on the west coast that are pretty darn spectacular. This garden was whimsical, and wonderful, a treasure of plants that reminded me very much of Bloedel in Vancouver, of the arboretum at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, and the Japanese gardens in Seattle.
From what I could see, many of the plants were similar to what can be grown in our moist northwest climate, but just a bit warmer. Maritime influence must be strong here, and we saw tender plants in bloom that reminded me of all the English gardening books that were my personal bibles back in the 80's when I was learning to garden with flowers and plants and especially perennials.
The stud houses some very famous horses, and our guide was incredibly knowledgeable, really cute, and full of all sorts of raunchy information that he delivered with a great sense of humor. After all, breeding horses is all about these big guys "getting it on", and they do so with great enthusiasm.
Invincible Spirit was probably the most famous horse currently munching in the pastures, but the list of important stallions that came from this stud is long and impressive. The foals from Invincible Spirit are worth in the hundreds of thousands of Euros with a stud fee of €100,000.00.
We saw the covering barn, the stalls of the stallions that were much like rather nice apartment complexes, and the famous stallions in the fields. We then walked through more gardens, and on to the mares and foals, and then to the retired geldings put out to pasture, including the guys that do the "teasing" to get the mares ready and the mares that will foster babies who have lost their mom.It was a wonderful morning, full of sunny blue skies and fresh air.
We arrived in the town of Kilkenny in time to wander for about 90 minutes before our scheduled tour of Kilkenny Castle, an old stone fortress on the banks of the River Nore. Kilkenny is a Medieval town, with abbeys, and castles, and narrow winding medieval streets. Isabella pointed out a pub as we drove by saying it was among the best, giving us directions to return if we chose. We did. It was an interesting place, with many small rooms and some truly beautiful bars, but it didn't have that immediate intimacy that we enjoyed so much yesterday at Merchants.
Still, the pint of Guinness was perfectly poured as is the custom. It is something about that foamy wonderfulness with the creamy head just sitting above the edge of the glass that is so much fun. That toasty slightly burned flavor from the accident of burned hops that made the beer in the first place is really nice too. The best part were the "chips". French Fries in the US. One thing Ireland knows how to do really well besides make beer is cook potatoes. I am not sure I have had fries this good anywhere except yesterday at the other pub. Geez! Fries and beer for lunch was a good holdover for us since we knew that tonight we were in for a free dinner with the group.
Thank goodness that is all we did, because the free dinner was incredible. But more on that later.
After our walk through the Main Street of Kilkenny, we asked our waiter how we could find the pub at Kyteler's Inn. Neither Mo nor I could remember the name, except it was the inn owned by the woman accused of being a witch with a black cat on the sign in front.
Dame Alice Kyteler's house was built in 1224. She had four husbands, all of whom died under suspicious circumstances, and eventually she was charged with witchcraft in 1323. She was one of the first witches of that time to be sentenced to burning, but she never actually burned. Instead, thanks to the head cover that was used on sentenced people before burning, she actually sent her handmaiden in her place and avoided the stake.
The pub includes the original building and stonework, with some other areas in the upstairs that have been redone to look original, and features live music from traditional Irish to blues. We sat at the bar, where I drank only a half pint this time of the heady brew. I think maybe this beer is a bit stronger than I am used to because I felt as giddy as if I had been drinking champagne.
We made it back to Kilkenny Castle in time for the 3pm entry with Isabella and our group. What can I say...it was a castle. I hate to sound provincial, but sometimes a castle is a castle is a castle. Not always, but this one was imposing and wonderful in many ways, but still a big, gray, cold thing made of stone that made me glad I didn't ever have to live in one.
It was donated by the Butler family (very wealthy) to the town of Kilkenny for just 50 pounds. I took a few photos before I noticed the no photos signs, and then I discovered that kind of cool idea of turning off the sound of the clicking shutter, hiding the red light of the "on" button, and taking a few surreptitious photos from waist level with no one the wiser. Just couldn't resist.
When the castle was donated by the family, they auctioned off the furnishings and paintings, but for the last few decades many of the original paintings from the castle have been found and repurchased, and are now hanging in the impressive "Long Room". Most of the furnishings have been recreated from documentation of what was once there and looks very authentic. One piece that was original was a huge marble table that was just too incredibly heavy to move. No one said how much it weighed. I know these tours are full of fascinating information, but this one was simply "OK". According to the Lonely Planet, Kilkenny Castle is one of Ireland's most visited heritage sites, possibly because it is so close to Dublin and the town of Kilkenny is definitely charming. The castles Melody and I saw in Budapest and Prague were much more interesting to me however. Sorry Ireland, you know I love you.
What is wrong with this picture!
It was five pm when we all returned to the bus for the last hour of the day driving to Waterford. I think everyone was pretty worn out, I know I was. Waterford is a port city, and our hotel, the Granville, faces the riverfront. I had seen it on the internet and hoped it was as lovely as it looked. At first, it seemed a bit tired, but as we found our room and opened the door, I was thrilled to find a luxurious, spacious room, with lovely beds, period furniture, a huge desk, instant free wifi, a big deep bathtub, a room safe, tiny biscuits on the coffee tray, and even heated towel racks. Ahhhh....we both have room to walk around even when the suitcases are open.
With just an hour to get ready for supper, our suitcases were delivered within minutes of our arrival so I managed to get off the tired clothes I had worn for a couple of days and put on something fresh. It is quite chilly here in Ireland, but not all the time. Periods of chill seem to be interspersed with too much warmth, and I am constantly putting things on and off to try to deal with it. Tonight I expected a warm dining room, and a light blouse with a scarf and low shoes was the perfect choice.
We entered the lovely dining room, set with white linen, lots of cutlery and glassware and a wonderful menu. I forgot to mention that when our bus arrived at the hotel, the hotel manager came out to the bus and greeted us before we disembarked with a welcome and a description of the locally sourced and prepared food we were about to enjoy.
There were several choices for dinner in the beautiful Bianconi dining room, and I am sad to say that I didn't even bother to take my camera down for the meal. We sat with Kathy and Mary Beth, the best friends I mentioned from our first day, and Debbie and Kay, two additional women who have somewhat bonded. It was a lively meal with great conversation. Turns out that Mary Beth and I were born in the same maternity hospital in Alta Dena, just three years apart, and that we had many things in common, silly things that we laughed about a lot.
Ahhh dinner! My starter course was a salmon and prawn salad with some fresh greens, the entree was pork roast from Bobby Flynn's local farm, done to perfection and served with a fabulous, tasty, but very light gravy and a very simple apple sauce that was smooth and silky. Fresh carrots and green beans from local farms made the plate lovely to look at and again the potatoes were Irish heaven. Not only did they hand serve perfect little scoops of mashed potatoes, but we had small roasted potato orbs that were unbelievably good. The service was impeccable, with the hot plates served to us first, and the entrees dished out on our plates individually. Lovely. The Cabernet was also complimentary, and quite tasty, and dessert for me was an apple berry crumble with warm custard. We were asked to create a cavity in our crumble for the waiter to add the warm sauce, again individually. I don't think I have ever had a complimentary meal with a tour that was this perfect.
Whew. I managed to get it all out, and will have to read this back to Mo to see what I missed. At almost 10PM and with another early and long day awaiting for tomorrow, I am done!
Photos for this amazing day have been uploaded to SmugMug. You can see the here.
Coming Next: Waterford, the famous Waterford Crystal Factory, and the Magnificent Rock of Cashel.