Thirteen hours sitting on a bus to get to see the Blarney Castle and kiss the stone that supposedly blesses one with the gift of eloquence. In my case, I got to kiss the stone twice. Does that mean I have double the eloquence? Or does the second kiss negate the first?
The tour started out from Suffolk Street in Dublin City Centre. As the bus pulled into the street at 08.45, there were 10 people on board - myself included. We drove close to two hours before our first bathroom stop. Somehow, from that very first stop, I was the last one to board the bus.
We continued for a while until we reached Cork where we picked up a handful more people who joined us for the tour to the castle. It was a beautiful city - the 2nd largest in the Republic of Ireland - and I was looking forward to seeing what the English Market was all about. The first driver exited the bus and made way for the guide - an older gentleman - to continue the drive for the main part of the 'tour'.
The new driver/guide handed us a map and circled the location of the English Market. We were given 20 minutes to find it and return. "Be back at the bus by 12.30", he mentioned. I was 3 minutes late because I wanted to photograph a metal ring on the seawall seeing how I hardly had time to pull out any camera to photograph anything during the short walk to 'tag the market' . Those 20 minutes was hardly enough time to cross the bridge and the street to get to the English Market - which I never found, even though I asked where it was.
Back in the bus, we continued onwards to Cobh where we were given 1 1/2 hours to find lunch and be back at the bus by 14.30. The consensus on the bus was that it was a useless stop. "Why did we stop here?", people asked. "We should've completely left out this place and stayed in Cork instead", an older man commented. He was right. Cork would've been a better option for a lunch stop as there was so much more to see. I guess the only reason was that the city is known to be the last stop of the Titanic before it sank. I walked around for a few minutes and noticed that most of the stores were closed for one reason or another.
As I started walking, I looked for a place I might find a quite bite to eat. In front 'Taste', I noticed a couple enjoying a Panini. That sounded good. I kept that in mind as I continued down and up the street. Noticing there was not much to be seen, I returned to Taste and ordered a grilled chicken sandwich thinking it would be toasted - thinking it was a Panini. It was not. When the waitress brought it out, it was on two large pieces of white bread and the chicken was cold. I questioned it and yes, I made her remake it since it was our only food stop of the entire day.
Another waitress brought out the food to me and asked if it was to my liking. It was. Although I would have liked to sit there and slowly enjoy the food, I knew that we had to be back at the bus by a certain time. The first time I was late, the girl in front of me asked 'I wonder what happens if you get left behind.' After that comment, I took all of my belongings with me in case that happened. I didn't want to find out.
After my taste at Taste, I continued on the street going the other direction past where the Titanic Bar and Restaurant was located. I wanted to see if there were any shops worth exploring. No, there were not. I stopped in a Christmas shop devoid of any customers where I walked to the back simply for the sake of it not seeming as if I was walking in simply to ask a question...which I was. At the front counter was a young lady sitting and busily browsing the computer. I inquired if there was a place to get good coffee. She was more than happy to explain that Cuppacity just down the street and around the bend had the best coffee.
The cappuccino was not too bad and the free scone that came with hot drinks wasn't too bad either. I've concluded that scones are nothing more than fluffy biscuits stuffed usually with raisins or some other type of fruit. The one I had this morning at Keogh whilst waiting for the tour bus had cherries with a taste of almond, although the cherries were the maraschino ones - not exactly what I'd hoped for but you cannot be too picky whilst traveling. Eat when you can and whatever is the best option because you never know when your next meal will be.
Seeing how I still had a few minutes until we had to return to the bus, I walked across the street to the gift shop. I browsed the various shelves, being careful not to knock anything over with my bulky backpack. I found a cute stuffed bunny that I thought my Cinnamon would like. I grabbed it and continued around the shop looking for something for the other two because you cannot bring one child something and not the others.
I found a tiny stuffed bear ornament for Sagey and a challenging memory puzzle for my oldest. It wasn't easy finding something unique for each child in the 5 minutes I had left. I almost left everything once I saw that the clock had struck 14.30. But I didn't because I was not going to leave the shop without getting something for my kids. I decided on those items and walked to the register where I kept checking the time.
The bus was directly outside the shop. If it left without me, at least I had all of my belongings and would have to find a way back to Dublin. The last on the bus again, I found my seat as we continued onto our final destination - the Blarney Castle. Two hours was our allotted time. Not enough time to really explore the castle and its surrounding gardens and walks, but it was a tour and I was realising that tours were meant only to get a taste of a place and not as a way for exploring an area in more depth.
I caught a full rainbow and spent some time photographing it as it quickly disappeared. Then I continued on the walked and came upon an opening at the base of the castle. It was a dungeon but I did not venture up the narrow stairs to explore further. I could have easily spent half an hour there, but time was of the essence.
At one point the rain started again and I continued on around until I got to the castle entrance. The sometimes spiral stairway leading up to the Blarney Stone was narrow and tight. There were various openings along the way that used to be bedrooms or a kitchen where I'd stop to photograph as it was a beauty to behold.
Upon reaching the top of the castle, I was in awe of the view. I continued to photograph the horizon and noticed the sun would be setting soon. One of the two men working the stone told me I could stand up on the ledge to gain a better perspective. I looked at him and looked at the sign stating you are not allowed to climb up on the ledge.
Sure, it was dangerous and the reason I chose the Blarney Castle tour when I read you had to lie on your back high up above the ground only to be held onto by someone as you Spiderman-kissed the stone - although in my case I got to kiss it twice.
Why did I kiss the stone twice? Well, the guy manning the big camera meant to capture the shots of tourists meant to be sold as you exited the castle thought he'd save me the purchase by having him use my camera. I handed him the camera - as bold as that was - and asked if he needed another lens. He said he needed something wider, so I switched out the 70-300 with my most favourite 24-70.
What I didn't realise is that I forgot to switch the focus from manual to auto when I was photographing the rainbow. I also did not adjust the aperture correctly so when the 'photographer' snapped the photo, he commented on how dark it was. I got up and changed the aperture to 2.8. Then I laid down and kissed the stone again. I should have insisted that he use his camera. I would have gladly purchased the touristy photograph seeing how I would most likely never return here again - at least not in the near future.
A bit disappointed, I continued on my way as I was not going to kiss the stone for a third time. I had asked the two men about the rumours of people peeing on the stone at night. They were both adamant that it was NOT true and something made up to detract from people visiting the stone. Plus, they continued, the area is armed with security cameras, one directly in front of the stone. Then I noticed a bottle of disinfectant sitting nearby. I remember a comment made by one of the girls on the bus about how she would need to set aside her phobia for the day so that she could kiss the stone.
Stone kisses out of the way, I checked the time and noticed it was close to 17.00. We had to be back at the bus in half an hour. I walked to the bus, as it was now getting to dark to explore anything else, and asked the tour guide where we needed to meet. "By the Woolen Mills", he replied.
One could spend at least an hour or two in the great big store looking at all of the wool hats, scarves, gloves, and throws. A throw is something I've had my eye on since the one I had in my flat back in Edinburgh. I browsed the store, still keeping an eye on the time, and wondered what I could bring back. I kept going back to the throws and hats and wondered if the children would value anything I'd get them, or those items would simply be tossed around as they always seemed to be.
In the end, I hastily decided on chocolate from Butler's. My boy somehow does not like most chocolates, so I got him the white chocolate with vanilla bean specks. I chose three more different bars and headed out the door to look for the bus.
Out in the parking lot where the guide stated he would be waiting, I started to wonder if I'd been left behind. It was a few minutes after the time we were meant to leave, but I did not see the bus. As it finally came into view, I noticed that once again I was the last to board the bus. We were on our way back.
The day was a long one and we did not make it back to Dublin until shortly after 22.00 - an hour later than the tour description stated. Would I do another tour again? Perhaps not. Although I did see much of the Irish countryside in those 13 hours to and from our destination, I would have liked to have more stories and information during that journey.
The upside to a tour like that is getting to meet new people. There was the couple in their 50s, traveling with their teenage daughter, who at the last bathroom stop bought two bottles of wine - at least one of which they drank during the ride back. Then there were the three college-aged girls traveling from Florida for an impromptu 4-day trip. They got a really good deal on both the plane ticket ($500 round trip from Florida) and the hotel they stayed at in the Temple Bar area.
As I searched for bus 130 to take me back to my hotel, I realised the importance of staying in the city centre. It would have been nice to drop off my bags at a nearby hotel and sit at a bar to get a chance to use my newly acquired 'gift of eloquence' - or double in my case - that Blarney imparted on me. Unless, of course, that second kiss negated the first.