Tuesday, November 30, 2010

County Wicklow, Ireland's Lovely Garden

On the Sunday of the weekend I was in Dublin last, I headed south into the countryside on a tour I’d wanted to do back in August and was determined not to miss out on. Naturally, it was grey and wet and raining that day.

The first stop was Glendalough in the Wicklow Mountains.* Glendalough means something like “the place of the two lakes,” which is nice, but the reason it’s famous and I wanted to go there is that there’s medieval abbey with a round tower and multiple ruined churches. You’d think I would be tired of these places by now, but not quite. The bus driver dropped us off a kilometer or so up the road and said he’d pick us up at the church site about an hour later, so there was a nice walk through the wet woods in addition to exploring the ruins. It started POURING halfway through, but I didn’t really mind. It was lovely.

We then drove through the mountains along the “Braveheart road,” where a lot of scenes from that were filmed. I couldn’t really take pictures through the bus windows in the rain, which was unfortunate. It did, however, really make me want to watch Braveheart.

After leaving the hills (and possibly Wicklow--I don't remember what county this is in), we came to Brownshill Dolmen, which is a portal tomb and has the biggest capstone of any portal tomb in Europe. It’s massive. It weighs something like 100-150 tons (they guess). That was cool to see, and was actually the reason I booked this particular tour, because none of the half dozen others to Glendalough and Kilkenny stop there, but it’s never been excavated, so there’s not really much to learn about it because nobody really knows anything about it. Other than that it’s monstrous. The setting doesn’t hurt, either—the area it’s in is ridiculously flat (like, northeast Ohio-caliber flat), which makes a giant, unnatural rock formation really stand out.

We spent the afternoon in the city of Kilkenny, which is filled with medieval buildings, most of which are churches or monasteries and most of which I didn’t actually see.

I was somewhat disappointed, because despite being on a “tour,” we didn’t tour Kilkenny so much as get taken there and told where to meet the bus in three hours. I’m not sure that visiting the dolmen was worth not going on tour that might actually have been organized, or not just figuring out how to get to places myself on my own time.

At any rate, I visited Kilkenny Castle, which is enormous and would be right at home in the Loire Valley, I think. I paid the nominal fee** for a self-guided tour, which in theory should have taken about an hour and took me about twenty minutes. The reason for this is that while the castle has been fully restored and is indeed beautiful, it’s been restored to what it looked like in about the 17th and 18th centuries, which is a little late for my interests as far as castles are concerned. Back in high school I found the Palace of Versailles to be somewhat dull for the same reason. I’m aware that that’s blasphemous.

Anyhow, I saw it, and then I had almost two hours to kill. The tourism office was closed because it was a Sunday, so I had no maps or information other than a sign here and there around town. For a little while I just walked around aimlessly, in search of an inexpensive lunch (know what else is closed on Sundays? Most cafés) and feeling frustrated and annoyed with my choice of a day tour. About the time I started actually seeking out medieval buildings and realizing how close together everything was (more so than it looked on the map sign), I had to rush to get back to the bus. Other things that were closed that day included a medieval house museum and gardens (I’ve never been in a medieval townhouse!) and the round tower at the cathedral (the first one I’ve seen in a city, and also the first I’ve seen that one is allowed to climb… but no).

So, I’d call that day a partial success. Glendalough was beautiful and I’m so glad I went. Kilkenny was kind of a bust. If I ever get another chance, I will definitely be doing that differently.

* Not really mountains, apparently. Actually, I learned that, technically speaking, most of the “mountains” in Ireland aren’t high enough to be officially called mountains. Could have fooled me.
** Student discounts abound. Sometimes they’re not great—-a euro or two off—-and there’s at least one bus route I know of where it’s actually cheaper to buy an adult day-return ticket than a student return ticket. Go figure. But other times, student prices are like half the regular price, or even less. This was one of those

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