Part two: Crossing off the Counties – Clare and Sligo

An hour and a half later we were wandering around Bunratty Castle and Heritage Park. We climbed narrow staircases, posed on thrones, and toured the replica old village.

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From Bunratty we made our through the narrow, winding roads of County Clare. We stayed in a little village called Ennistymon. The Falls Hotel, perched on a hill with glorious steps leading up to it, had waterfalls and a stream out back and donkeys roaming around the front. We checked in and immediately made our way to the leisure centre. The outdoor jacuzzi was my favourite – surrounded by crisp air, tree branches, and a waterfall. As it lashed rain that night we crossed our fingers and prayed for sunshine for the following day.

The next morning we prepared for the day by overeating at the breakfast buffet – we needed our energy for hiking! As we drove to the Cliffs of Moher the sun broke through the clouds and decided to stay awhile.

Standing 214m (702 feet) at their highest point the Cliffs of Moher stretch for 8 kilometres (5 miles) along the Atlantic coast of County Clare in the west of Ireland. From the Cliffs of Moher on a clear day one can see the Aran Islands and Galway Bay, as well as the Twelve Pins and the Maum Turk mountains in Connemara, Loop Head to the south and the Dingle Peninsula and Blasket Islands in Kerry. O’Brien’s Tower stands near the highest point and has served as a viewing point for visitors for hundreds of years. (www.cliffsofmoher.ie)

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It was a view that I can’t imagine you would ever tire of. The grande vastness and sickening height made me feel minuscule, while simultaneously filling me with awe at how great our world is and an overwhelming sensation of gratefulness and respect. It is a profound privilege to experience the worlds wonders.

You may knows the Cliffs from Harry Potter or The Princess Bride. The Cliffs of Insanity is an accurate description! I made sure to stay far from the fence free edge and had to clasp on to my neighbour and look away while Steve kept inching closer and closer to “insanity”.

The Cliffs of Insanity!

The Cliffs of Insanity!

With all that fear and bewilderment we worked up an appetite so we headed back to the car park, looked up directions, and put the car in drive. Suddenly some German people started waving at us frantically and yelled at us to stop. “Your tire, it’s flat!” We all climbed out of the car and sure enough the tire is as flat as can be, can’t get any flatter. One tour bus driver hung around and gave us a few helpful hints while the lads changed the tire. The boys got the coat offs, busted out the jack, and  proceeded to change the tire in the middle of the car park. At least it wasn’t raining!

Afterwards we carried on to Doolin, the village famously know for the birthplace of Irish music. We had some tasty fish and image_7chips and the most perfect pint of Guinness I’ve ever had. We also found a man who specializes in tire repairs. It seemed that punctured tires is an incredibly common occurrence in Clare. We came back to Doolin that night to take in some trad music. There were six musicians, all ages, sitting in a booth jamming away. No singing, just the traditional Irish instruments.

The next day we dropped Steve off at the train station and carried on to Sligo. We planned a pit stop in Galway city where we got stuck in major traffic then finally had a quick stroll around. It was interesteing seeing the scenery change from Clare to Sligo, even noticing the differences in the old stone fences. Sligo town is surrounded by lovely mountains (or hills, as we’d call them in Canada). That night we met up with an old friend, Jimmy, who brought us for dinner and then later hosted us at his perfect little bar, Lillies. The following day we met Jimmy and he showed us around the town and gave us a bit of a history lesson. We managed to find the Anglican church that my great, great grandparents were married in.

The church in Sligo

The church in Sligo

Back in Dublin we prepared for a night out in search of live music. We started at The Odeon then wandered further in to town and turned up empty. We decided to swing by Sweeney’s to say hi to Steve. Appearance wise Sweeney’s is a bit of a dive music venue, but it’s incredibly popular and always full of every demographic you can imagine. Dad was instantly a legend for these people. Drunk lads would stumble up to him and make a fuss about his hat. One guy kept complimenting how well dad pulled it off. Another guy kept walking past him, then say something to his friend, then stare at him. This went on until he worked up the courage to ask my dad if he could wear his hat to pose for a picture. My dad said to him very seriously that he couldn’t run off with it, to which he adamantly reassured over and over that he would never, EVER, do such a thing. The moment he had the hat on his head his face lit up and he looked like the happiest person in the world. The guy and his friends then insisted on taking a picture with my dad, going on about how he was the sickest geezer ever. That’s pretty much the gist of my night out “clubbing” with my legend of a father.

Traveling provides perspective and a refreshing change in routine life. We had some hilarious moments along the way and the journey seemed to be over in the blink of an eye.

A quick stop in Galway

A quick stop in Galway

A perfect pint in Doolin

A perfect pint in Doolin

Bunratty folk park

Bunratty folk park

Sligo

Sligo

Siblings...

Siblings…

You may have won this one, but watch out!

You may have won this one, but watch out!

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Dad's birthday cake :)

Dad’s birthday cake 🙂

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That's a wrap.

That’s a wrap.

Part one: Davis family takes on Ireland

There’s a reason why people cite road trips as a priority while traveling. Driving through small winding roads amongst green hills, stone walls and bodies of water. Sparkling sunshine one minute, downpour of rain the next, and double rainbows to follow. There’s something charming about spending hours in a car with friends. Snacks, stories, music and scenery. What more could you want, besides the odd wrong turn, annoying GPS Sally, or accidentally driving on the wrong side of the road.

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I have always dreamed about traveling with my family, and living in Ireland has provided me a way to live that dream.  My dad and older brother Isaac came to visit me for two weeks. I would use the word ‘miracle’ to describe the fact that they were able to make the trip out here. Isaac had just graduated from a Masters program in Ottawa and it was my dad’s first trip outside of North America. Combine that with the fact they were bringing me home-made maple syrup and my excitement was obnoxiously palpable.

My plan was to show them my life in Dublin, rent a car, pray for sunshine and escape to the Irish countryside, scope out a little family heritage, and drink the perfect pint of Guinness. When I first greeted them at the front door I could’ve sworn I was dreaming  (in fact I very well could’ve been. They got here at the early hour of 9:00am). I led them into my studio apartment, but after dragging in the suitcases there was no room left inside for dad! Not really, but almost. Picture this – studio apartment with myself, a couple of suitcases, and three manly men. The next week was a display of obstacle courses, tight squeezes, shuffle dance stepping while swinging your partner round and round, and eating from precarious surfaces. The good news is there was no need to turn the heater on.

The first couple of days were spent in Dublin where I utilized my tour guide skills and escorted them to my nearest work place. They had a tapas smorgasbord as well as an Old Fashioned Canuck (a cocktail I named, which obviously contains maple syrup). They even had the chance to pull a pint of Guinness for a photo op. They stopped pulling the pint as soon as the picture was taken though, much to the dismay of my friend Vitor, the barman. We also went inside St Patrick’s Cathedral, toured the Guinness Factory with a couple of token Irish pals, and excitedly watched The Amazing Spiderman 2 at The Savoy Cinema.

Dinner and Old Fashioned Canucks at the workplace

Dinner and Old Fashioned Canucks at the workplace

Next on the itinerary was two days in Clare and one day in Sligo. After extensive reasearch we discovered we’d have to get to the airport to rent a car. Steve decided to call a taxi company to get a flat rate to the airport. I hurried everyone out the door at the estimated taxi time of arrival and we proceeded to wait another half hour on the sidewalk. At last I spotted a white station wagon lumbering down the road towards us. We filled the trunk with our luggage and peeled out onto the road, and by peeled, I really mean the most silent taxi man I’ve ever had awkwardly attempted to merge with traffic onto the roadway. With the luggage, a few big men, and a big breakfast not long before, the car was riding low. We inched along while the driver struggled with the concept of wise lane changing.

We make it to Dame Street, the centre of town, when suddenly we’re pulled over and the car has been turned off. Just as I work up the nerve to ask why we’ve been delayed, I hear a knock on the window. The Garda police officer instantly accuses the driver of not being properly registered, asks him why the meter isn’t on, and if we’re friends of his. The driver responded by saying he works for a company and is using his friends car. After a few more accusations, the cop tells us we should get out because the driver isn’t going anywhere. As we retrieved our luggage the Garda stops circulating the car just long enough to tell us that the tires are shot. We climb into a new taxi and the policeman melodramatically yells “you’re lucky to be alive”. Good start.

After a few minor delays at the airport (such as discussing the hidden 1,000 euro hold on Isaac’s credit car with the sales rep) we’re finally driving on the wrong side of the road. We were instantly off to a promising start, unable to find an exit from the airport and accidentally taking a one way to a car garage. Isaac held his own through all of the driving challenges – narrow roads, sitting on the opposite side he’s used to, terrible windshield wipers, and strong lead vocals in the singalong.

Next up on the adventure is Bunratty Castle, Clare, Sligo, and Dublin nightlife.

Good coffe, Dadios?

Good coffe, Dadios?

Looks like it!

Looks like it!

Guinness Factory

Guinness Factory

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Family channel advert

Family channel advert

St Patricks Cathedral

St Patricks Cathedral

Spot Isaac!

Spot Isaac!

St Patricks

St Patricks

My best "welcome" look

My best “welcome” look

Great site on my doorstep :)

Great site on my doorstep 🙂

 

Road trippin’

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When I pictured what life should look like in Ireland, it always included road trips on narrow country lanes with plenty of sheep, castles, greenery, and tea. Take a very random group of people, a deal from Pigsback for a two night stay in Tipperary, and a little red car and I finally got my road trip.

Allow me to set the scene for you. Work colleagues — two boys and two girls. James, an Irish lad, is best described as someone who has all of the fun all of the IMG_6624time. He’s a little outrageous, and some may say he has a few hippie-like qualities. Izabela is a passionate Polish girl who knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to make sure everyone else knows as well. She’s good craic and often wants to “do something crazy.” Shane is your token surf boy who looks more American than Irish. He comes across as very civilized at first and then as he becomes more comfortable he starts cracking the dad jokes one minute and doing a headstand the next. As for me, let’s just say that if you had to pick a character from Friends that I’m most similar to, it would be Monica. I bring the snacks and the itinerary. Together, it’s an interesting dynamic.

We didn’t get out of work will about 6:00am Sunday, so we aimed to leave between 2:00-4:00 that afternoon. It wasn’t an ambitious plan, but nevertheless it failed. Here’s a little break down of what happened during those hours:

2:00 — Iza is showered, packed, and ready to go. I’m baking muffins. The boys are nowhere to be found.

2:30 — Iza is starting to get antsy, I have finished getting ready, both Shane and James are not answering their phones or responding to Facebook messages.

3:15 — James is alive! Still no sign of Shane, who also happens to be the driver.

3:30-4:00 — James tries to protect Shane’s well-being (from Iza) by trying to find his home number to hopefully contact Shane and salvage the day. I proceed to run errands.

4:30 — James discovers that Shane has been sleeping INSIDE James’ house the entire time.

6:00 — We finally depart Dublin.

The road trip consisted of a little McDonalds takeout, scenic views of street lights, and some classic shimmying and fist pumping to Backstreet Boys, 2Pac, Vitamin C, and Michael Jackson. We got a deal from Pigsback for two rooms in the Ballykisteen Hotel and Golf Resort for 89euro a room/two nights. The hotel is in the middle of nowhere, but breakfast each morning was delicious and the leisure center was good fun. During our first visit to the leisure center we encountered the very hospitable Tipperary folk. You know how after sitting in the car for a couple of hours and working over 24 hours in two days all you want to do is relax in a hot tub for a while? Relaxation was our number one priority, so we beelined to the hot tub. Now, my job is to chat with people. I am a full time schmoozer. After a long weekend, the last thing I want to do is make idle chit chat. We finally get into the hot tub and Shane is already there, chatting away with a lady who had the thickest Irish accent I have ever heard. Shane seemed to understand her, but he bailed shortly after we got there and left the two foreigners to carry the conversation. Making conversation is one thing, but pretending to understand someone is a whole other level . This woman was extremely friendly, but for all I know she could have been saying cruel things about me while I smiled and nodded along, and there were numerous moments when I’d just keep nodding until I realized she had asked me a question and I had to guess if I should respond with “I’ve been in Ireland since the end of October, came here to travel,” or “Yes I do love castles” or “Sure I can turn the bubbles back on.” Combine her heavy accent with a too full hot tub that had aggressive bubbles shooting into my face and it made for a fairly comedic, less than relaxing experience.

Teeny tiny stairwells!

Teeny tiny stairwells!

Bunratty Castle & Folk Park was next on the itinerary. The boys enriched our cultural experience by pointing out many “watch towers” during the drive and providing us with numerous “facts” about Ireland. Touring around the castle was fascinating and the artifacts on display made it easy to imagine how it looked when people lived there hundreds of years ago. I could imagine the feasts and parties taking place in the banquet hall with people in beautiful hand stitched gowns and handsome jackets, drinking a little too much and dancing not hard enough. I pitied anyone living in the castle who might have been claustrophobic — the narrow stairwells would have been a daily living nightmare. The Folk Park was a lot of fun as well, and was a great historical glimpse of how life used to look in Ireland. I definitely recommend checking it out.

As for the rest of our getaway, what happens in Tipperary stays in Tipperary. I’ll leave it up to your imagination.

So excited to see a castle!

So excited to see a castle!

One of the room displays in Bunratty Castle

One of the room displays in Bunratty Castle

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Inside a heritage house

Inside a heritage house

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When to use “Howdy”

“Howdy, can I help you with something?”

It was the first thing a Stampede staff member said to us. If one “howdy” wasn’t good enough, we were greeted by several other people, all giving us a friendly “howdy, enjoy your day!” I quickly turned to Robyn and Chris and mumbled under my breath, “I’m pretty sure this is the only place in the world where it’s normal for people to say ‘howdy.’ I wonder if I can pull it off?”

Don’t worry, I don’t greet everyone by saying “howdy” now. I did however give it a test run, busting out a cheerful “Howdy, ya’ll!” Shockingly enough, I wasn’t taken seriously.

I’ve only been to Calgary once. My visit was during the Stampede, so I don’t know if it’s always swept up in cowboy culture, but it sure was when I was there.

We stopped at an Earls (which is a popular restaurant out West,) for lunch after Robyn and Chris picked me up from the airport. We were immersed in a sea of cowboy boots, hats, and denim galore. All of the waitresses were decked out in cowgirl gear. Even the TV’s were set to the country music station — again, the ONLY place in Canada where that’s perfectly normal. Before you knew it, the three of us were chatting about where we could go to find ourselves a pair of cowboy boots.

After you count the number of cowboy hats, please note the guy in the white cut off shirt. .

When we finally got to the Stampede I was in awe of the amount of Western plaid, hats, and get this — CUT OFF tee shirts. I know it’s only clothing, but clothes represent people and cultures, and it was really neat seeing something totally different.

Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to check out the rodeo and see real cowboys do their thing. We did stumble upon seeing OneRepublic live though! They were playing at the outdoor stage so all you had to do was pay Stampede admission to see them play. They sounded amazing – even better than they do on their albums. Ryan Tedder’s vocals on the album do not do him justice — he had a lot more freedom live and we got to see how talented he really is.

Ryan Tedder workin the crowd.

Unfortunately my staggering 5 foot 3 inches frame didn’t quite cut it and I spent most of the time on my tiptoes trying to find an opening through the masses to catch a glimpse of the stage. There were a lot of “THERE HE IS!” moments, followed by breathtaking views of the back of someone’s head. I didn’t mind though because the band sounded amazing and it was great getting to hear them play.

The drive back home was definitely a highlight of the trip. I can’t even describe how beautiful the scenery was. I love mountains and getting to drive through the Rockies was amazing. We made a quick stop in Banff (another location I’ve added to my list of places I want to live) and we stopped to stick our feet in a beautiful river.

I got to see a lot of new things on our trip to Calgary. It was a really fun road trip!

Just leaving Calgary and approaching the Rockies

Banff! Please note the kilts behind us.

Skipping rocks

Since I didn't have my life jacket on me Robyn made sure I didn't get swept away in the river. Safety first boys and girls.

Almost home.

Note to self: refrain from saying “howdy” unless one is in Calgary during the Stampede…