Today, we close the circle. Our travels through Ireland will conclude in 24 hours from now. Still, to this day, I’m not over the beauty. The thousands of shades of green. The incredible rich, vibrant colors of all the many flowers blooming as far as the eye can see. The hundreds of castles, churches and abbeys, holding the past inside their rocky, vine covered walls, like ancient time capsules. The bright smiles and chipper hellos from locals and travelers alike. The numerous small towns with their brightly painted buildings and historic pubs. I doubt that the memories will fade anytime soon.
I think the most interesting was hearing stories of the struggles of the proud, hard working Irish. The stories of sorrow and triumph. The strong, proud individuals that tried to make a difference for their countrymen in the time of need. The big men and women with large hands and kind hearts. The thick accents that change slightly as we traveled from county to county.
There were many times that I would be listening to our driver and I could envision the people he was talking about laughing and a dozen small children running around underfoot. The homes and land passed down through generations upon generations. The miles and miles of rock walls, the sheep dotting the green hillsides in white and pastel colors, splashed upon their backs showing ownership. The border collies running after them. Life, so simple and so hard.
When we started planning this journey we really had no idea of what we were setting ourselves up for. We’ve never driven a right hand drive stick shift on the left side of the road, first of all. Secondly, we’ve never driven an “over-sized rig” on narrow roads. So perhaps we can save you some scary unknowns.
I’ll first start off with the advice we were given by a local bus driver…hug the white line. That means claim your space. The white line is the middle line, hugging it means your left hand side mirror stays out of the brush covering the rock walls lining the luge run.
Second tip, stop if you are nervous to pass and let the vehicle coming at you pass you. The alternatives…Loosing your right hand mirror and a possible head on collision.
Third, don’t let the vehicles following you intimidate you. There is plenty of opportunities for you to pull over, safely, and allow them to pass. If they are in a big hurry, which most drivers here are not, then they can pass when the law allows. You just need to slow down and allow them to overtake you.
Forth, there are red roads, orange roads and blue roads on the maps. These seem to be the widest, most of the time, and perhaps a bit quicker. Once a bartender laughed at us by not wanting to take the fastest route. He said, “it’s okay girls…there’s less traffic.” Well we risked it and the road was pretty much a one lane country road with pull overs to allow for on-coming cars to pass. This means you must pay attention and look beyond the road straight ahead.
Lastly, have a co-pilot that can remind you to turn right and stay left and turn left and stay left. You may think, that’s not necessary… maybe so, but when you’re trying to drive thru a traffic circle, shift, operate your blinker and exit at the proper time, it helps.
So, these are what we have been challenged with. Hopefully these few tips might help if you plan to travel to a European country that does use the left side to drive in a right hand drive vehicle.
What a glorious day indeed! The Irish coastline of Kerry, a fiord on the southeast side of the island surrounded by the Atlantic, is a magnificent combination of history and lore, blight and famine, conquest and survival. The peninsula is very isolated 179km of narrow, windy roads that takes off out of the small town of Killarney, Ireland. The drive takes approximately 3.5 hours without making any stops.
After our driving experience, we opted into taking a tour so Chris could admire the scenery, and not be so stressed. Turns out this was a fabulous idea and our driver gave us driving tips. He was a 68 year old from the O’Sullivan clan who had personal history living out on the peninsula as a boy. He drove milk trucks from village to village and had quite a reputation. As with all your drivers, he was a wealth of knowledge, singing, reciting poems and passing on the history.
I guess what struck us the most was the incredible shades of green. The incredible contrasts of the yellow Gorse bush or Furze. It is said that Furze bushes, like all other thorny bushes in Ireland such as hawthorn and white thorn, belong to the Sidhe, and often guard their portals to magical realms. It is a magical bush looked over by the fairies of the land. Folklore has it, that if a bride cuts a sprig and puts it in her bride bouquet, she will have all the luck of the Irish.
The Irish Black-faced sheep are also scattered around the towering hill sides. The only way to bring in the sheep from these craggy hillsides is with a sheepdog. I spent about 45 minutes watching one of these small, sure footed dogs in action with his shepherd. Amazing agility and speed, controlled mostly by different whistle tweets from as far as a quarter of a mile. I thought about Gandaulf for a moment and how he loved the chase.
We had a local lunch at “the most beautiful lookout in all of Ireland in fair weather”, or so the sign said. I had my first lamb stew and Chris had the shepherd pie. The view was indeed spectacular of the bay and the mountainous islands as the fog held light to the peeks. A statue of Mary standing on a serpent stood in the middle of a stone ring looking down on us with outstretched hands and a soft welcoming gaze. I felt blessed once more to be having this adventure.
Today began our Ireland trip. Our jet lag is finally waining and we are getting down to a new circadian rhythm. Overall we are getting into the groove of travel again after quite a long 6 month hiatus.
We grabbed a taxi into the little town of Blarney, on the southern coast just a few miles north of Cork. The history of Ireland is steeped in powerful lords and many wars. The landscape is dotted with castles and villages surrounding these monolithic towers of rock, most all older than the first settlements in the US. Even the woolen mill was older than my first “historic registry” home in Utah.
I will be the first to admit that I am an ignorant American. Hells sake, I don’t even know how to physically dial a non-US phone number. At least I am not ashamed to ask and our campground host, Rebecca, was a pleasant young woman who was more than eager to educate me. Better to ask than pretend you know something you don’t.
Our visit to the lovely little town of Blarney, was like stepping back in time. The town is based around a castle built in the 1400’s. It remained in the family for centuries. In the 1800’s the Blarney Home was built. The castle is the home of the “blarney stone” given by the witch of the lake to one of the sons who rescued her from the lake. He was afflicted with a stutter and following the witches directions implicitly, he found the stone and kissed it as instructed. His life then changed as he became a fluent speaker and was given “the gift of gab” as it is said to do. Even until this day, the lines to ascend the castle stairs to the top floor where the Blarney Stone is at rest, just to give it a kiss, is at least an hour long.
The gardens surrounding the Blarney Mansion and castle, were in full display. The variety of flora and fauna planted was in full bloom. The magnificent colors were amazing. I didn’t know so many colors existed in nature. Anything from brilliant reds to flesh peach and salmon orange. Purple flowers, buttercup, and wild garlic filled the air with fragrance.
The most harrowing part of the day was the 2.5km walk back to the Caravan Park (campground). The road started out with a sidewalk, but quickly became a narrow road full of blind turns and no way to get off the road if two cars should pass by at once. The sides of the road was 3-4’ high thick growth which included its fair share of stinging nettle, which is normally found in riverbanks at home. By the time I realized what it was, Chris and I had both inadvertently come in contact with its viscous little hairs.
We finally made it back in one piece and toasted our 7 miles of walking in one day. The day ended with showers, laundry and a recap of our day.
It’s been a good day except for the 2 hours of driving. The countryside is gorgeous. The famous rock walls are now covered in a thick coat of green.
The roads are narrow and the means to an end if you want to see the small towns and castle/church ruins dotting the landscape.
Our choice of a van, the same size as our old van, was a good one at the time. Our driving skills are good but to combine the small rural roads, driving on the side of the road unfamiliar to us, a right hand drive and a stick shift, and we are like fish out of water.
We made it! It seemed like a long haul. It’s not been a very good one for me so far. I managed to get the stomach bug going around and allowed myself to get dehydrated bad! I guess with the jet lag and brain fog, I didn’t put two and two together. Fever, the runs and three red eye flights don’t work well together.
The van we picked up has been used hard! Coming out of The Turtle, this will take a bit of getting used to. First off, she’s a right hand drive and a stick shift. We drive on the other side of the road than we are used to so everything just seems a bit backwards.
Last night was our first full night sleep in the van. We went to bed, exhausted and exasperated, at 9:30 and didn’t stir until noon. Check out was at noon but no one came around to kick us out. It took a bit to get our bearings and I was trying desperately to convince myself I was well.
The first thing that became apparent was the WiFi we rented doesn’t work. Now we don’t know about the stove or hot water. The WiFi was to be our guidance for point A to point B. There are round-a-bouts everywhere and it’s hard to know ahead of time where to exit out, plus you have to remember to go in to the left, not right as we are used to. We almost pulled out in front of a delivery truck because we naturally look left. Here we turn right, stay left and look both ways.
We ended the day in a pub called Matt the Miller, a quaint little pub on the corner of the block on the waterfront. They have 3 pages dedicated to whiskeys alone. The burger I ordered was delicious and Chris ordered a pizza. A pint of Kilkenny for me and a Guinness for Chris. Live Irish music and the pubs decor just made for a pleasant end to an otherwise stressful day. Leaving the pub, the Kilkenny Castle was lit up and reflecting on the river. Beautiful. Cheers!
Life right now…well it is a whirlwind of activity. Between the scheduled visits with family and friends, planning the nuances of our upcoming travel, and many trial packs, we are just trying to stay ahead of the flurry…trying not to panic.
The first leg of our trip will be spent outside of the Schengen countries to afford us more time experiencing Europe. I keep getting reminded that the last time I was in Europe was almost 40 years ago, and things have changed. I have changed, therefore, my impressions may have as well. I know this as a true fact of observation and learning, but will I actually be able to “see” things differently than what is burned into my brain? See things through a different set of eyes?
Our journey will start with a 2 week, unscripted drive around Ireland. So much myth and history encompasses this little green country. The lush rolling hill, bogs and majestic cliffs, all laid out before us and passing by under the wheels of our rented camper van. https://indiecampers.ie/campervan-hire/dublin/dublin/nomad/offer.
Nomad Camper Van
The van is pretty similar to our old camper van, so we should be pretty at home while exploring the emerald isle. There is so much to see, ancient castles and small quaint hamlets, history written in stone and folk lore. The island namesake itself, is that of an Irish Gaelic Goddess. Because much of Ireland’s myths and folklores were transcribed in early mid-evil times by Christian scribes, many stories are depicting kings, queens, magicians and saints, when in actuality, these figures were originally depicted as gods, goddesses, heroes and healers, brave warriors and warrioress. As in much folklore and creation stories, these deities were often depicted asa living in or coming from The Otherworld.
Aside from myths and lore, the isle also is renowned for fishing and golf. Two sports, I was always told, cannot exist together. The temperate climate and bountiful rain, creates a lush landscape. Ireland’s name itself is also said to mean isle of rivers or flowing water. In either case, the lush golf courses are world class as is the fishing. Ireland experiences seasonal migrations of ocean white trout, salmon and an indigenous population of native brown trout. Today the isle boasts over 300 golf courses and 148 fishable rivers containing salmon, trout and pike. Of course Chris is looking forward to fishing any and all rivers we come across.
We are planning to use this wonderful isle as our jumping off point. To unwind and reconnect with nature and the world outside of our own; to mingle with the people and customs of their homeland; to experience and enjoy a new culture and take-in the beauty surrounding us; and to make this our home for the short time we visit.
It’s been a month since we said farewell to Gandaulf. I still have moments in the day when my eyes fill with tears and the words get stuck in throat. Times when all I want is to feel his thick, soft fur between my fingers, and smell his musky odor. At night I swear sometimes he is still there at the bottom of the bed snoring. Of course I sit with the feelings, let the tears fall and, like the clouds in a blue sky, it passes and I am left in the present moment…to move on.
We continue to sell off all our possessions and donated 4 big boxes of women’s clothing to the women’s shelter and odds and ends to the DI. Our shed is becoming more and more vacant everyday. Getting rid of “stuff” is fun, freeing and terrifying all at the same time. What I want to get rid of, Chris thinks we might need someday and sometime visa versa. No matter we settle and the item stays or goes and we move on to the next.
We have started our trial packs. It takes almost as many clothes to be gone for a week long vacation as it does to pack for a year. Save a nice outfit for the occasional fancy dinner or cafe hopping, a few more necessities for hiking or swimming, and an extra pair of shoes…they make a thing called a washer and dryer, so…just like at home, you still need to stop for a domestic goddess day.
The farewells continue almost daily. I have hooked up with some healers that are concocting some plant medicines for me to continue my journey of good mental health and a balance of mind and body. It’s been almost six months since I went cold turkey on anti-depressants and entered the world of good, wholesome plant based medicines. The journey has had its ups and downs, but I am a whole new person, not better, just changed and more energized and grounded.
Between this change and my spiritual endeavors, I have broken through the ancient fortress built around my heart and mind, and found a strong, safe foundation to build a new life on. Yes I have many small tears left on my heart, but I am free from this old baggage and free to build a new adventure in loving kindness and peace.
It’s been 3 weeks since the loss of our pup and companion, Gandaulf. We got his cute paw print from the vet that compassionately help us let him go. Yesterday was the first day I didn’t cry over my coffee and all morning. I almost didn’t cry at all.
The hardest thing to reprogram is my brain. Let me explain; I know our boy is gone. I know he’s not coming back. We also talk often about the hardest forever decision we made and I think we both are getting better knowing that it was also the most selfless decision we’ve made concerning another living being. We’ve spent the past few weeks looking for the right words. The words that tell us it’s gonna be okay…someday.
A good friend posted exactly what I needed to hear. My tears are not shed for Gandaulf, but actually for me. He has been released from this world of suffering and moved into the universe as energy we can draw on through our memories. I can feel him in my day in and day out movements, sometimes I stop at the van entrance and wait for him. The day will come that memories with bring me joy, maybe through tears, but at least he will make me smile again.
Part of any journey, after a death, is picking up the millions of pieces of your life that are scattered about in places you didn’t even know or forgot existed. Then put one foot in front of the other and live! Living for us includes travel, so that’s what we’ve been doing.
I told Chris that when Gandaulf passed, she and I needed to go on a around the world trip. First stop…Ireland.
We are starting in Dublin and traveling south along the country, this map is going the wrong direction, but symbolizes the trip.
We have given ourselves two weeks to sight-see, hike and explore the rich history of this small island.
We are too excited to find the words to express our giddy, child-like wonder that stands in front of us on this long journey of travel and cultural immersion. The world is our oyster, as the saying goes. Travel without our side-kick will be lonely at times, and for sure much quieter. The hardest part of jumping off is always that nagging fear that rightly resides in the back of everyone’s brain when it comes to getting out of our routines and facing the unknown. Traveling for an undetermined amount of time, to places we’ve only seen in magazines and blogs. To relieve yourself of all your worldly possessions and travel with what’s on your back, what fits in a carry-on roller bag and a small daypack.
Someday we will settle down, when the wanderlust turns old and our body’s desire a place to call refuge. By then, perhaps we will have found a place, or a couple of places, that check off all the blocks. Until then, tune in for the next adventure to begin and we invite you all to travel vicariously with us. Thank you all for your support while traveling in The Turtle (sleepyTurtle our van). We may be down one body, but his traveling, fun loving spirit will continue to travel along with us. Peace