This post is brought to you by my Irish-themed bout of nostalgia induced by Saint Patrick’s Day.
Bus rides through Ireland quickly became my favorite method of transportation as I was gifted with endless grassy knolls speckled with white sheep. A quick detour from Dublin left me in the busy little town of Cork. My mom has been filling my head with stories of the Emerald Isle since I was a little girl. The green countryside, the warmth of the people, and, perhaps most impressionable of all, the tale of a castle that sits just north of Cork. I decided to take a break from my tour of Europe’s big cities and, probably for the first time in my life, intentionally follow in my mom’s footsteps.
A fair sized city, Cork has all the modern amenities a 21st century girl could want and the perfect amount of old world charm. From the moment I arrived, the entire town felt warm and welcoming- despite the gray skies threatening to open up at any minute. I am a planner by nature and find a weird sort of pleasure in over-researching every city I travel to. Once I get there, however, I seem to forget there was a plan and go wherever my feet want to take me and in the direction locals point me. Which is how I ended up at the English Market, a bustling indoor market, enjoying a cup of tea and a delicious homemade sandwich. My number 1 travel tip: listen to the locals. They know what’s up.
Now, from what I’ve heard, Blarney Castle in the summer can be hot, sticky, and swarming with tourists. Sounds fairly miserable. However, Blarney Castle on an overcast November day is an absolute fairytale. The grounds were practically empty. I ran into maybe 5 other people and was completely free to, for lack of a better word, frolic around. And I did just that. I have a weakness for ruins and relics of the past so I spent half my time at the castle imagining what it must’ve looked like a couple hundred years ago.
As I journeyed to the top of the castle, wandering through every room and looking out all the windows, a light rain finally began to fall. Then I summed up all my courage and kissed the Blarney Stone. Its an awkward little feat; you have to hold onto some bars, lean back as far as you can, and smooch a stone 400,000 other people kiss every year. You might be brave enough to lean over the edge but are you reckless enough to kiss the world’s most unhygienic tourist attraction? Well, I’ve always been the quiet type so I took my chances in the hopes the so-called Stone of Eloquence would really give me the “gift of gab.” I don’t think it worked. My mom on the other hand…
I waited out the worst of the rain in a horse-stable-turned-bakeshop by eating the last piece of an extremely moist coffee cake. Afterward I walked aimlessly around the absolutely remarkable castle grounds which include rock formations, badger caves, an old mansion and a poisonous garden among other things. My personal favorite was a hidden set of wishing steps tucked neatly behind a waterfall. Between the fresh air and beautiful trees, I felt completely revived and ready to continue traveling. My little detour to Cork and the Blarney Castle was all I needed to calm my mind and remember just how lucky I was to be seeing a new part of the world. A relaxing walk in nature’s beauty can go a long way. Especially when you’re in Ireland.
In my opinion, the best thing about Ireland will always be the people. I’ll never forget the kindness of my host in Cork. When I returned after dinner, she brewed a pot of tea for us and we talked for a good hour or two. Maybe the Blarney Stone did work… Either way, I now know that I’ll always have a friend in Cork and one who studies the anthropology of Irish quilt making at that. As cliché as it might sound, travel has this surreptitious way of opening up bold and timid explorers alike to new ideas and interesting people. And I think I’ll end on that.