Foulksrath Castle (Kilkenny, Ireland)

Best hostel I’ve stayed at. Ever. The surroundings are fantastic, you are staying in a REAL castle, dating back from 1320. The caretaker, Jack, is awesome, and willing to retell the (ghost!) stories of the castle. The rooms are big and warm – the toilets and showers are clean. It’s better if you’re staying in the girls dormitory, the bathrooms are just next to the main bedroom. However, the guy’s room is upstairs, so it’s a trek down the stairs if you want to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

The only possible drawback is actually getting to the place — the last bus leaves town at 5:30 pm, otherwise it’s an expensive taxi fare. Even with this in mind it’s definitely worth the effort. Make sure you bring dinner and breakfast, as there are no dining opportunities anywhere near the castle!

Sleeping with ghosts

Europe ~ Republic of Ireland ~ Kilkenny, Waterford, Cork, Ventry, Galway

I stayed at the best hostel the other night. I stayed in a castle. With ghosts. And secret passageways. AND PUPPIES!!! Foulksrath Castle is just outside of Kilkenny, it was built in 1320 and modified in 1525. Since then its basically remained the same with very few modifications (although I’m happy to note that bathrooms and heating were two modifications I appreciated!). I rocked up on the last bus out to the castle (5.30pm, if you miss it you have to catch a taxi, expensive!), only to find no-one about. A couple of other travelers were hanging about, desperate to check in, but turns out that the caretaker, Jack, had decided to go fishing for the day. We amused ourselves until 8pm, when he rocked up, looked us over and said, “Right then, who’s for fish?”. Jack was happy to tell tales of the history of the castle over a whiskey or two, he told us about the tunnel that lead from the bottom of the dining room all the way down to the river (about a kilometre away) amongst other things. I didn’t hear or see any ghosts, but was more than happy to play with Jack’s dog’s puppies, cute little lab-cross-something-or-others.

Puppies fast asleep on my lap

Puppies fast asleep on my lap

While in Cork I took some time out to visit Blarney Castle. Arrived nice and early, I was one of about 8 people in the castle, which I’m told is unusual – when I got to the top I was the only one there, no lines at all. Kissed the Blarney Stone and had an absolutely horrid photo taken. I mean, really, how can you look half decent when you’re dangling umpteen thousand metres above the ground, over the side of the top of a castle, attempting to kiss a bloody rock whilst upside down? You can’t, although the models in the castle brochures do a pretty good attempt. People have been kissing the Blarney Stone for over 500 years, in the belief it will bestow the gift of eloquence on all those who kiss it. The grounds of Blarney castle are fantastic, boasting caves, fairy glades and even witches kitchens. It’d be awesome to be an 8 year old girl playing in these gardens, I know a certain 20 year old who had a blast.

The Witches Kitchen, in the rock gardens, at Blarney Castle

The Witches Kitchen, in the rock gardens, at Blarney Castle

Ventry was a heap of fun. I keep telling myself so I don’t notice the pain. From the beginning… I decided that the only way to really experience the Irish countryside was to go out to the middle of nowhere and hire a bike. Great in theory, not quite so good in practice. When I arrived at the cute little hostel late at night, it was pouring. My host tried to point out the sights as we drove into town, “that’s where the bay… usually is. And thats where the pub/grocery store/restaurant is”. Hmm. Luckily the next morning the rain had cleared up, so I borrowed one of the bikes and set off. The scenery was beautiful. I saw wild foxes, sheep grazing and heard the ocean crashing against the rocks. And then I came to the first small incline. They say you never forget how to ride a bike, but they fail to mention how hard it is if you try to do it after nearly 5 years of no riding. I pushed on, seeing all sorts of sights. I stopped at a Celtic museum, saw an old fort and watched a ferry come into dock in between huge cliffs and dangerous rocks. I nearly gave up, but then decided that I’d find a pub for lunch, have a pint, and all would be good. So I kept going and going and going. Unfortunately, there were no pubs. None. Eventually I gave up and rode back to town, stopping at the pub to have a well-deserved pint. The day after I had a 6 hour bus trip. Very. Painful.

Apart from all that I’ve just been seeing the beautiful Irish country-side. One fun-filled day was spent on a tour bus, a very full tour bus, going around the Burren and the Cliffs of Mohair (pronounced ‘More’). Although everyone proclaims that the cliffs are spectacular and breath-taking, I found it more breath-taking just watching the tourists climbing over the rails, standing on the edge of the cliffs, just to get that ‘perfect’ photo. The burren was amazing, an area completely covered in rock, completely in contrast to what Ireland is perceived to be. I also spent a day at the Waterford Crystal Factory, which was great fun watching the visitors spend upwards of 600 euro (about $1100) on glass vases. Well that’s it for this side of Europe. Now we are going to go camp out at Glasgow airport and next stop… Paris!
luv Bobs

Mill Rest Hostel (Bushmills, Ireland)

Absolutely loved this place.

All the amenities are great, from the large dining room to the clean kitchen. Bedrooms are well laid out with large lock-able lockers in the room, beds (not bunks) with reading lights and en-suite bathrooms. The best thing about the hostel HAS to be the bathtubs – the extra bathrooms (there were two on my floor) had bathtubs, a real luxury. There’s a grocery store across the street and the bus along the coast stops right out the front, making it easy to get to the attractions.

Being followed by Crazies

Europe ~ Republic of Ireland ~ Dublin, Drogheda & United Kingdom ~ North Ireland ~ Belfast & Bushmills

What a fantastic country!!! Arrived in Dublin early in the morning, not really sure what to expect. Booked into my hostel, then set off on one of the open top, hop-on hop-off tours. Highlights of the day included Dublina (a cute little museum aimed at kids, certainly made it easier for me to understand!!), Christ Church and, of course, the Guinness Storehouse. YUM. The storehouse itself was a little disappointing – very manufactured, plastic-y, but the reward was the free pint of Guinness sitting waiting for you at the Gravity bar – right on the very top of the building. However, the amount of beer that was being thrown away would make grown men cry. Tourists were coming in, getting their free beer, having a sip and then leaving it basically UNTOUCHED. These beers were being poured down the sink. I almost had a bit of a sob myself!

Enjoying a pint of Guinness at the Gravity Bar

Enjoying a pint of Guinness at the Gravity Bar

After two days in Dublin I caught a [early] bus to Drogheda, to visit the famous Bru na Boinne. Bru na Boinne is an area that has three large pre-pyramid burial tombs (Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth), plus many many smaller ones. They think that the tombs were created between 3500 and 2700 BC. Knowth was particularity interesting because of all the carvings on the stones – the guides were able to speculate what they were about, but no-one really knows. Newgrange is the more famous of the three tombs – we were able to go right inside the tomb, where the guide showed us a re-enactment of what happens on winter solace. The cave-like tomb is in complete darkness for the whole year, except for the 5 days surrounding the shortest day of the year. During these 5 days, at 8.58am, light enters a small ‘window-box’ above the entrance and lights up the tomb. I think the most spectacular of all this is the man-power that it would have taken to create these tombs – huge rocks were moved over large distances to get them into place, amazing to think about when you see the size and number of these rocks.

Next stop was Belfast. I intended to spend two days there, but was so disinhearted after one night that I left straight away. Nothing seemed to be going right and I wasn’t having a good time, so I though ‘Bugger it’, and moved on. Glad I did, because the next place I went, Bushmills, was one of the best hostels I’ve ever stayed at… I had my own room, real beads (not bunks), ensuite… and, best of all, a BATHTUB. The luxury of it all… Spent the day seeing the coast, went to Giants Causeway. Giants Causeway is a section of naturally formed 4- and 6-sided rocks that look just like a pathway leading out to the sea. Legend has it that the giant, Finn MacCool, built it to visit his lady love in Scotland. Also stopped at Carrick-a-rede, a rope bridge strung 30 metres above the pounding ocean over to a tiny island. Whilst it was fun crossing the bridge, it was even better watching people pay 2 euro and then LINE UP just to cross a rope bridge. Guess I did it too, so who’s to judge?! After a day on the north coast, I moved back down to Belfast, where I enjoyed myself a lot more. Took a day tour of the city and found out all the nifty little facts. Like the Titanic was built in the shipyards there. Of course we went through the areas where the Troubles were most prevalent, down past the murals and all the churches and police stations with wire cages over them. Scary but intriguing too.

Giant's Causeway

Giant's Causeway

The people of Ireland are incredibly friendly. Almost all will chat to you over a pint, I’ve met a heap of people traveling on my own, locals and fellow travelers alike. Unfortunately, I also seem to be attracting the crazies too. On my trip to Newgrange, I noticed a guy carrying a little stick [wand?] with a feather poking out the end, waving it all over the carved rocks and bowing and whispering to them. This same guy turned into the hostel I was staying at. Turned out he was staying in my room. When we were all sitting around drinking later that night, he kept doing things like waving his feet over the glasses and mumbling to himself… My first night in Belfast, I was sitting in my room chatting to some of the other girls, when a guy walked in and proclaimed we were reading his mind. Turns out he was chatting to one of the girls earlier, he was completely nuts. And then in Bushmills, whilst waiting for the bus, an old guy came and sat next to me and chatted to me in what I think was Gaelic for about half an hour. My bus pulled up, and he said in perfect English, “There’s your bus”. Ahhh! With all this in mind, when I was on the bus on my way out to see Giant’s Ring (Belfast), and an older lady came and sat next me, I was more than a little wary. When she said to me that “I wouldn’t go there, dear, its not a nice place for young ladies to go by themselves, funny people go there”, I decided to take her advice. Had enough of crazies for the moment…

Cheers to all [said as I raise my pint of Guinness]
xoxo Bobs