Thursday, July 3, 2008

Ireland, Once Visited, Is Never Forgotten

Saturday morning we woke up early and had breakfast at the hostel. They provided a breakfast of toast, jam, and coffee there with some various fruits as well. Not exactly a great breakfast, but definitely better than having to go pay for something. We left the hostel and made our way down to the main Tourism Office in Dublin. The previous day, we had called a few tour companies and inquired about availability for their trips. Most of them were full, but a couple agreed to put us on stand-by in case people didn't show up. So we went to the Tourism Office to meet up with the tours and find out if we could get on any of them. We talked with some of the bus guides and, after waiting for people to show up, we finally got onto an "Over the Top" tour, which ended up being one of the better ones. Their tours were out of vans that held about 16 people and our guide, Ed, was great. He was an elder Irish gentleman and he had the classic Irish accent. It was wonderful.

The tour started out by taking us through Dublin and out of town. We passed through a few suburb type cities and then made our way into the Wicklow mountains (which aren't really that high) outside of Dublin. Along the way, Ed would point out important things, fill us in on history, and tell us stories. As we drove into the country, we started to see beautiful green fields everywhere. The weather was not ideal (it was cloudy and misty most of the day and actually started raining at one point and it was also pretty cold and windy), but the views were incredible. The area seemed to be fairly sparsely populated. The roads we drove along were little winding country roads (which Ed drove pretty fast on) and it was interesting being in a vehicle on the left side of the road... it definitely takes some getting used to. Along the way, we would pull over and get out. A few times we stopped at some beautiful lakes and walked a bit. We drove through lands that they used to film movies like Braveheart.

We stopped for lunch in a little town called Glendalough (which in Celtic means field of two lakes). We ate at a classic Irish pub (or at least that's what the tour brochure said). I had some delicious salmon (but definitely there was no comparison to Dad's) and the meal came with lots of veggies, which was wonderful.

After lunch, we got back in the van and drove a little while. There are ancient monastic ruins outside of Glendalough that we went through. Currently, the area is a cemetery, but back in early times, there were buildings where monks lived and helped to convert the Celtic population into Catholics. During the period of the Reformation though, the majority of the monasteries in the UK and Ireland were destroyed under the orders of King Henry VIII. The area was really beautiful and it was interesting to learn about this part of Irish history. After going through these grounds, we walked down a path and saw the two lakes for which Glendalough is named. The path meandered through some wooded areas which were beautiful and finally led out to a field and the largest of the two lakes.

After this excursion, we all got back in the van and headed back towards Dublin through more countryside. We got back into Dublin around 5 or so and Caitlin and I walked over to Grafton Street, the main shopping district in Dublin, and did some souvenir shopping. Afterwards, we walked back towards the hostel and stopped in at an Italian restaurant for dinner, which was really good. We were pretty exhausted from getting up early and knew that we had to get up really early the next day so we decided to call it a night.

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