Heading out of Kinsale, we made a quick stop in Cork to check out the English Market, the largest covered farmers market in Europe. Fresh fish (the big ugly ones) and meat was everywhere. There were bread and fruit stands, cheese, and eggs galore. I tried a little sample of pate (I didn’t know what it was at the time) and actually kind of liked it! There were barrels of olives and pickled items, cases of chocolates, hoards of people. We grabbed 2 baguette sandwiches (still a favorite from Paris) and got back in the car to start out road trip around the Ring of Kerry. The Ring of Kerry is a 125 km, approximately, drive around the peninsula in County Kerry. You wind through hillsides, open fields, along the beach, next to steep cliff sides - you pretty much see every possible terrain in the west. Trip Advisor said the trip would take all day - I assume that's because most people do it in summertime and pop in to the teeny tiny towns that dot the countryside along the way. Since it's early spring, and still feels like winter, most of these little towns are boarded up, and very few other cars are on the road. The only places to stop, really, are the turn outs for photo ops. So, if you know my husband, that means we stopped about every 200 meters. :) The first 2/3 of the drive, while beautiful, was not quite what we expected- the hills were brown and actually reminded me of parts of the San Fernando valley. Pretty, yes, but not the bright green rolling hills that we had anticipated.
We pulled in for the night to a town called Kenmare. Rick Steves is right about this little place - the iron signs that hang perpendicularly to the buildings and the brightly colored walls give this little town energy and vibrance! We only had one night in Kenmare, so we wanted to make the most of it. After checking in with our Airbnb host, we ventured back into the town center to find dinner. We picked McCarthy's because it was the most lively - people yelling and laughing, it seemed like the place to be on a Sunday night. I'm glad we popped in because we had one of my favorite meals yet! No, we didn't get more Mexican food. Jake and I split the Cajun chicken pizza, which is probably the best pizza I've ever had in my life, and the beef and Guinness stew with mashed potatoes and soda bread. Now we're talking! Everything was incredible, the staff was so friendly, we were stuffed and happy.
The next morning we woke up to a full Irish breakfast prepared by our host! After devouring everything, we jumped back in the car to finish up our drive and head over to Dingle.
Now THIS is what we were expecting when we thought of driving in the Irish countryside! Rolling green hills, lush grass, everything smelling like manure (ok that part wasn’t so great, but, to be overly detailed, it smelled like healthy manure, not diseased feed lot manure that you smell as you drive down the 5 freeway between SF and LA). We took out time and took in all the scenery. What a lovely drive.
After checking in with our new Airbnb host in Dingle, we popped down into town to grab and early dinner and take a walk around the dozens of fishing boats. Since Dingle is known for its seafood, we ordered fish and chips and pan fried hake with shrimp and mushroom sauce at a spot called The Marina Inn. I know I keep saying this, and maybe it's because I'm pretty easy to please when it comes to food and maybe it's because we hadn't eaten since breakfast and now it's dinner time, but this meal was SO GOOD! Both fish dishes were cooked perfectly. What we really loved was seeing this sleepy restaurant come alive as we ate. We were there early, about 5:30. By 6pm a group of 6 or 7 locals had pulled out their instruments and were jamming in the corner of the bar. The place gradually filled up and, before we knew it, every table was occupied and every stool at the bar was taken. It's great to get to these little towns in the off-season because we can really see how the locals interact and how they spend their time when it's bitter cold outside. People watching is one of my favorite activities on this trip!
We were hoping to find more great people watching at the next bar we went to, Foxy John's, but it was an extremely quiet night in the half hardware store/half bar. Still, we ordered a couple of Smithwicks, our backs to the power tools, seeds, shovels, and brooms, and enjoyed the awkward sounds of the local old guy talking to himself and the bartender muttering about the soccer game on the TV. We finished our beers quickly and headed back to our temporary home for the night.
We were back on the road again in the morning, only this time we weren't leaving town- we set out too drive around the Dingle peninsula, a drive that almost rivals PCH. :) With it's dramatic cliffs, rolling rain clouds over the ocean, bright green hillsides of long grass, and big wooly sheep, Jake was in photography heaven! This route, called the Slea Head Drive, typically takes about an hour. We did it in four. Thousands of pictures later, we were wiped out!
On our last morning we said goodbye to our host, her adorable kitties, and pulled the laundry off the line. We hoped back into our teeny tiny car and headed inland for a quick stop in Kilarney (where I kept singing to myself "It's Christmas in Kilarney"). We had heard that there was a beautiful park in town and we were happy to break up our drive with a short hike! The park was nice and full of lush green hills, trees, and moss - seriously, the colors here are incredible. But the rest of Kilarney left something to be desired. People there seemed very rushed, drivers were rude, and the streets were full of honks. We got out of there pretty quickly to finish our drive up to Galway.
We arrived in Galway, tired, hungry, and ready to take a rest from driving, and then I remembered- we're not staying in an apartment this time, we're staying in a hostel. My very first hostel. Oh dear. Here we go.