Originally Published October 4th, 2017
We stopped at The Junction; a small pub foreigners could easily mistake for a cottage, had it not been for the sign out front reading “Hot Cappuccino”. It was nearly 11 am. We walked in and were greeted by an empty bar and a smiling Irish woman. Little white cappuccino cups chimed as the machine hissed, slowly dripping foamy black gold. There were two types of “black gold” on our road trip— hot European cappuccino and cold Guinness. After driving several hours from Limerick, it was the caffeine’s turn. As the bartender served our drinks an Irishman in work uniform trudged through the door and fell on a seat. “A Guinness.” he said, looking down at his big weathered hands. The bartender poured a drink and the three of us sat quietly, sipping foam. Not long after another Irishman walked in, rough and winded. He wore a stained oversized gray sweater. He sat next to us and ordered a water, taking huge gulps and sighing. They all knew each other. In fact the man who ordered the water owned a B&B across the street. They mumbled to one another about the weather in fast Irish accents. This was their hangout, a break from the ho-hum of daily work. For us it was the first stop at the head of the Dingle Peninsula, a mountainous strip of land stretching out into the Atlantic.
The bartender offered us a map and some information about the drive. “Most people on holiday take the loop. Follow the R560 to Dingle. It’s very beautiful.” She then proceeded to take our photo. We finished our coffee, thanked her for the information and hospitality, then set out to continue on our journey. The road that brought us from Dublin to that little pub had been long, sometimes dangerous, exciting and full of new experiences. Several days. Several hundred miles. A different B&B each night. Stories. Stories that’ll get lost if you don’t take the time to write them down. We were on the road. What better way to experience a foreign country than by snaking our way through vast countrysides, mountain passes, coastlines and tiny villages. For us this was the great adventure. To those friendly Irish people, it was just another Saturday morning.
Cappuccino and biscuits. We walked through sliding doors to the back patio for this photo. The Atlantic ocean to our backs.
On The Road
I love road trips. Some of my favorite books & movies are stories of road trips. On The Road, Into The Wild, The Way, Dumb and Dumber, to name a few. Something transformative happens when you leave your home—your comfort zone, and throw yourself into the unknown. Its an ancient concept. You can find stories of epic journeys all throughout history. Before the advent of tourism, traveling was meant to be a learning experience. There was often a spiritual connotation. Travelers immersed themselves in foreign cultures, in order to grow and gain perspective. Now we can fly to a secluded beach in a foreign country that’s completely isolated from the local populous, plant our rumps in the sand and drink copious amounts of fruity adult beverages. There’s nothing wrong with hitting the off switch and zoning out for a week on the beach. It’s just that the vacations I remember the most are the one’s where I get lost in the middle of some mountain town trying to navigate to the nearest winery. Stopping at a local farm and picking peaches. Seeing how other people live. How they work; how they eat; and yes, how they drink. These are the stories I remember.
“Thanks to the Interstate Highway System, it is now possible to travel across the country from coast to coast without seeing anything.” Charles Kuralt – American Journalist
I think this is a notion that’s slowly being lost in our culture. The American journalist Charles Kuralt once said, “Thanks to the Interstate Highway System, it is now possible to travel across the country from coast to coast without seeing anything.” Yes we have more connectivity than any other time in history, but are we connecting? Are we losing our curiosity? Is the implementation of technology bringing us closer? When you turn on the news today does it feel like we’re connected? I think one of our purposes in life is to connect with others. I think adventuring, experiencing, and connecting are in our DNA. That’s why we are so captivated by these types of stories.
Ok, now that I’ve had my soapbox moment, I’ll be honest in saying I am not the most adventurous person. I am an introvert by nature. I’m also not very good at talking to people. That’s why I’m sitting here alone on a Friday night writing this blog. But that’s no excuse. In the past several years I’ve made it my purpose to go out and find these types of experiences. Planning a trip to Ireland came out of nowhere. Its one of the most spontaneous things my wife and I have ever done. But what better way to experience our first foreign country than by taking to the road? We could have planned a week’s stay at a B&B in some sleepy town on the coast. Instead, we mapped out a week long journey that would take us from one end of the country to the other—then back. We saw a lot of things. We had a lot of experiences. When we got home it took a week to recover from the trip— but it was worth it. This blog is an attempt to recount some of my favorite moments while on the road. Our successes. Our failures. Our attempts to connect, with one another, as well as the outside world.
These are the stories we couldn’t wait to come home and share with our families. These are the quirky experiences, the culture shocks, the sometimes strange circumstances you find yourself in while on the road. The many— many pints of beer. I’m allowing the photos to tell most of the story; however, I will add commentary when applicable.
It was the second day of our trip. Coffee buzz in full effect, I gripped the tiny wheel of our rental car and zoomed through blurry Irish countryside. We were on our way to Athlone, a small village located in central Ireland. Amongst the cathedrals, medieval castle, battlements, and storefronts sat Sean’s Bar—the oldest bar in Europe. Sean’s Bar claims to have been established in 900 AD. It was our goal to stop in for a Guinness before heading on to reach our B&B in Doolin, a tiny village on the west coast. This would be one of the longest drives on our trip. The town of Athlone was our halfway point. It wasn’t long before we found ourselves in the country, driving past stone farmhouses on narrow one lane roads.
When I say one lane roads I really mean sidewalks—bike paths. While all the roads in Ireland were narrow compared to American standards, the back roads were the most precarious and claustrophobic. I could feel my blood pressure rise while pulling into a ditch in our rental car to let a huge tractor pass. The speed limits were sporadic. At any moment a car could come flying round a turn, the only option was to drive into the ditch to let them pass. After several hundred kilometers, these near death experiences became routine; however, it was a shock at first.
At one point we were rerouted due to construction. That’s when we were really experiencing some rural roads. For a while we saw no one, just glowing open fields. After what seemed like an hour we came upon a group of construction workers at a four way stop. “Are you lost?” asked one of the workers, leaning over a shovel. “We’re trying to get to Athlone.” I replied in a nasally American accent, mispronouncing the name of the town. Athlone is pronounced “ath-loan”—big O sound. I was saying “ath-lawn” all the way out my nose, like Steve Urkel. He gave me a confused look. “Ath-Lawn” I said again, a little louder. You mean Athlone, he said in a perfect Irish accent, the name rolling off his tongue like a bow. The construction worker started talking really fast. I had no idea what he was saying. I summoned all my attention and linguistic expertise. For some reason I’ve always had a decent ability to understand foreign speakers. I think its because I come from a family full of hillbillies who speak with an extreme Appalachian drawl. It took all my mental capacities to pull out the valuable directions the construction worker was giving me. We thanked him and were off.
Its very strange thinking about a bar that’s older than your country. That was one of those perspective changers I noticed while overseas. We live in a young country. We don’t have ruins of castles along the interstate and thousand year old bars in America, because America isn’t that old. There’s history, but not that much in terms of the entire world. So we parked our car, payed the meter, and toured the winding alleyways of the European village until we found the bar. We walked in mid afternoon, sat down, ordered a Guinness, and attempted to absorb the history. After the bartender brought our drinks I asked why there were wood shavings all over the black & white tiled floor. “Partly to protect the floor. We don’t clean it with conventional means because of the age. Also, if you notice the floor slowly slopes downward as you go farther down the bar. The wood shavings help to keep people from slipping.” He was a round chested burly man with a beard. The kind of man you want serving your drinks at a 900 year old bar. It was an old bar; empty, save a few other travelers huddled in a corner and keeping to themselves. There was no history lessons, for us anyway. It was quiet, dark, and sort of a mystery. So we sat there, looking at all the eclectic decorations, knickknacks and whatnots. There were parts of the walls concealed in glass, in attempt to preserve the decaying mortar. It was sort of like drinking a beer in a museum. Except you’re sitting inside the only piece of history on display. We gulped down our Guinness and set out to explore the streets and find some food.
Outside Sean’s Bar, the oldest bar in Europe.It takes a while to poor a good Guinness.
I’ve found there’s no better way to drink a Guinness…in Ireland with a handlebar mustache.I love the juxtaposition of a 900 year old bar, furnished with digital cash registers.All original.Yes, everything looked old.
Bethlehem Pizza: That one time we got molested.
Pizza and a Pint. Mchughs’ pizza cafe. Cliff Pizza. Rainbow Pizza. Green’s Pizza. Pot of gold Pizza. All great names for Irish pizza joints. But the one we stumbled upon was “Bethlehem Pizza”, no explanation. Its a “Take Away” food service, Irish talk for fast food. We walked in, ordered our pie (which comes with a side of chips!) and waited patiently as the young men behind the counter made our pizza. I left Ashley to go outside and snap a photo of the restaurant.
“It was a strange experience. But the pizza was worth the molesting.”
As I walked back in an older gentleman was entering as well. He held the door, looked at me, paused, and then started tapping me on the top of the head. As he gave my head a vigorous tap tap tap, he mumbled something inaudible. My thoughts: OMG I’m experiencing my first drunken Irishman. No matter. Smile. Pretend this is just normal. Walk inside. I looked at Ashley smiling and shook my head. The man then walked up to the counter and started ordering. He turned around, approached Ashley and I, then began tapping her head vigorously and mumbling something that sounded like a Catholic blessing. Ok this is getting strange. I looked at the man, bald with a thick unkept mustache, and motioned for him to stop. Ashley and I looked at each other, wondering whether we should laugh or start running. The man went back to the counter and began ordering again, this time I overheard him mumbling absurd amounts of food. Twenty five pizzas with all the sauces— all the sauces. Again, he turned around and began tapping me on the head. This time I pushed his hand away and said “Stop!”. As the man walked away, a huge cloud of body odor surrounded us. He walked into the bathroom, mumbling the blessing. I looked at the guy behind the counter and mouthed, “Is he drunk?” The pizza chef replied by pointing his finger at his temple and spinning it around in a circle— CRAZY. By this time my adrenaline had kicked in. I wasn’t about to see my wife molested again. As the man exited the bathroom, a young woman walked in and started talking with him. She appeared to be his guardian. The molesting ceased and our pizza was ready. All was well. The pizza was amazing. We all sat there eating our delicious pizza with chips and dipping sauces. The crazy old Irish dude was now scarfing down loads of pizza with his caretaker. It was a strange experience. But the pizza was worth the molesting.
That look when you’ve been molested, but your pizza is coming…
In Ireland, everything is served with a side of “chips”—including pizza.
Went to Ireland and all we got was molested….
Overseas “Ranch” sauce is called “Garlic” sauce. I didn’t know this. When I asked for Ranch they had no idea what I was talking about. When I ordered Garlic sauce I had no idea what I was talking about.
“Cash me ouside— Irish pizza place molester guy.”
I wonder if I can fit one of these in my backpack?
Back to the road.
Bunratty Castle Area
A lot goes into planning a trip, especially one overseas. Ashley had a really hard time picking which B&B’s we would stay at. Our plan was to explore as much of Ireland as we could in the short amount of time we had. We were pleasantly surprised by all of the B&B’s, even the creepy one (I’ll write more about that later). Everything was very clean, comfortable, and private. Actually everything in Ireland was amazingly clean. Even the bathrooms of the most offbeat pubs were immaculate. Being on the road has its perks; however, there were drawbacks to staying in a different B&B every night. We didn’t really get a chance to meet anyone. Some evenings we would arrive early enough to take a drive around the village and have dinner, other nights we had to sneak in quietly and meagerly ask for our room key. It was too fast. There wasn’t enough time to go deep and notice the details. We were only taking snapshots. After we got back to the states we both agreed that our next trip will be in one place— for at least a few days.
We landed at the Bunratty Castle area after a long day climbing the Cliffs. Read more about that here: https://timothymichaelphoto.com/cliffs The Avarest B&B had a donkey. I don’t remember what his name was. I gave him a name and now I don’t remember that either. Let’s call him “Bingles.”
Ruins of castles were all along the motorways. I’m driving 120 miles per hour! Wait that’s in kilometers.
For a hefty fee travelers could attend a medieval feast at Bunratty Castle, along with locals dressed in medieval garb. We saw a few fancifully dressed attendees as they were entering through the back gate. We settled on eating at “The Creamery”, an old factory converted into a pub. The food was absolutely amazing. In Ireland the kitchens close early compared to American standards. We found ourselves eating a lot earlier than we would back home. This would become an issue some nights, resorting to all you can eat pre-packaged gas station food. “I’ve had it with all these castles and beer!”As you make your way through the slideshow, note the varying expressions on Ashley’s face. I’ve made sure to include many post Guinness smiles for your enjoyment.
Dingle Part 1: That time Ashley peed on a mountain.
After we left the Junction Pub & Cafe, we found ourselves riding the zigzags of R560. Snaking towards the coast as mist rolled over mountain peaks in the distance. We were deep in the hillsides of rural Ireland. Tiny cottages dotted the landscape. Sheep were everywhere. On the hills. Along the roads. In the roads. We followed the signs to Brandon Point, a mountain village overlooking the Atlantic.
Everywhere in Ireland; along almost every road; the ever present shrub/rock wall. Brandon Point was our first destination of the day.Slowly climbing mountains. More sheep. Behind a pub in a small fishing village.We took a wrong turn and ended up on the dock.Brandon Point: I walked along the edge of the cliff to capture these. Ashley sat in the car because she had to pee. Something about a continuous beverage rotation of coffee and Guinness. The entire peninsula is a hiker’s dream. The paths seem to continue on forever. Gorgeous coastal countryside.
As we continued along the “Loop” we were met with more of the same. Mountains. Villages. Climbing higher in altitude until we reached the top.
Can you see the climbers?
“Connors Pass” Towards the top of the mountain sat a small parking lot where tourists could pause and take in the sites. A hiking path continued to the highest peak.
“When you in Ireland and you driving up mountains and taking in amazing vistas and all that, but you gotta pee.” Over Ashley’s shoulder you can see the town of Dingle below.Ashley making her trek to find a secluded pee spot. We climbed about 4 false peaks before reaching the actual top of the mountain—safely out of site from the tourists below.No matter how far you climb, you’re always being watched.Either hundreds of hikers and tourists have placed rocks on this pile, or I’m standing on a giant ancient burial mound. The lakes looked like puddles. A vast maze of ancient rock walls; village ruins, trace the ground below. We kindly persuaded a napping mountain sheep to assist us with this photo— no, I’m kidding. I used the ancient burial mound as a tripod.
Dingle Part 2: The town of Dingle
Dingle is a great example of what most of the towns in Ireland looked like. Winding claustrophobic streets. Color— color was everywhere. In fact, almost every city we visited there was a man painting a bright storefront. I attributed this to the fact that we saw almost no rain the entire trip (which is rare in Ireland). Pubs. Shops. Restaurants. And like most places we visited on the road, we stopped only long enough for a pint. Coming and going like ghosts. Taking snapshots and mental photographs.
Attempting to decipher the Irish jargon.
At this point in the trip we were both looking a bit weathered. Contrasting against the colorful bustling streets. No time for another pizza shop molesting today.
Reading storefront menus to decide where we would have our next round of Guinness and chips.
Being somewhat of a beer snob, I was extremely excited to sample the many craft beers Ireland had to offer. To my surprise I was mostly disappointed, sticking mainly to Guinness.
For Ash it was no contest—Guinness by the gallons.
In Dingle, we kept noticing these oddly placed door handles. Some were directly in the center of the door. Not a good sight for those with the OCD.
Walking off our beers down beautiful alleyways.
This concludes the first “slideshow” blog. I’ll begin my next with “Dingle Part 3: Slea Head Drive” and continue on to the end of our trip.
Thanks for reading!