Thursday, September 29, 2011

Ballinahown Tea Room & Birr Castle

On Wednesday Mom attempted driving on the "wrong side" for the first time! We rented a car to drive down to an adorable Tea Room in Ballinahown just south of Athlone, to see more of the country side on our way to Birr Castle. It was a bit nerve wracking at first, especially because the roads are so tiny and cars and lorries come barreling toward you at 100km, but Mom did great!
We made it safely to Ballinahown and revived ourselves with a lovely lunch and tea in the beautiful tea room.
 Their menu was an old altered book, such a cute unique presentation!
I loved the delicate mix matched floral china that held my loose leaf tea. 
 For lunch, a delicious open faced cheese sandwich with red onion relish.
 Everything about this place was homey and comfortable and adorable!
We were revived and ready to hit the crazy narrow road again to Birr Castle.

 The outside of the castle is absolutely glorious, but as a family still lives there (!!) we weren't able to tour the inside of it. 
They do, however, have a lovely museum telling of all the interests and accomplishments of the inhabitants over the years, and brilliant gardens that we could walk through.

One of the most amazing things at the Birr Castle is the Great Telescope that the Third Earl of Rosse designed and built in the 1840's. It was the worlds largest telescope, and the first of its kind. People from all over Europe came to Birr to see the spiraling galaxies that the Earl described viewing from his telescope.
 Seeing all of the gears and chains and all of the work that went into this grand piece of machinery was so amazing!
We continued walking the castle grounds admiring the lovely landscaping and flowers in the most perfect weather I think we have had so far in our time here.
 One of my favorite places around the castle was waterfall point - the calming sound of a small tranquil waterfall over mossy stones with sunlight illuminating the already perfect scene.   
 Back up to the castle, then around the grounds to the formal gardens we headed.
 Inside the formal gardens was a quaint little hothouse where richly colored flowers flourished.
 And around the back of the hothouse was a charming apple orchard. 
 The sweet smell of ripe fruit in the warm sun wrapped itself around me 
 In the tangle of these branches I could find my gaze lost all day. 
A brilliant afternoon at Birr Castle!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Inis Mor (Aran Islands) & Galway

This weekend we headed out to the Aran Islands, more specifically Inis Mor. The ferry boat left from a small town called Rossaveal just outside Galway, so we took a bus to Galway then a shuttle to Rossaveal then the ferry to Inis Mor. Lots of travel, but well worth it! It was nice to get to spend some time earlier in the day in Galway and go to the Saturday market. There were some French ladies making crepes outside the church that smelled too delicious to pass up.
We ate our crepes and drank some coffee from this adorable tiny coffee cart and strolled through the market. We were heading back to wait for our shuttle to the ferry and saw crowds of people gathered around the street. We stumbled upon a parade! It happened to be the Galway Oyster Festival that weekend and we had enough time to watch some of the adorable children in the parade before we caught our shuttle! 
Timing couldn't have been better, we got to see these adorable little boys and girls march along playing music right around the corner from our shuttle stop. Great start to the weekend!

The ride from Galway to Rossaveal was a beautiful one, right along the coast with picturesque landscape the whole way, I had to make myself stop taking pictures from the window of the bus as I knew Inis Mor would be just as, if not more, scenic!
After boarding, and surviving, a pretty choppy ferry from Rossaveal to Inis Mor I was proven right on my thoughts about the scenic landscape! We passed this beautiful horse grazing by a church ruin on the short walk to our B&B. 
After dropping our bags at our lovely B&B we hired a charming horse and buggy to tour around the island up to Dun Aonghasa.
The weather was brilliant, and our "driver" was a perfect representative of Inis Mor as he had lived there his whole life and could point out sights to us along the beautiful ride.
When we got close to Dun Aonghasa we had to walk the last 20 minutes or so up to the fort sight.
 See that tiny little pinhole at the top of the hill there? That's the entrance we later walked through!  
It was a beautiful sunny walk so we stopped often to take pictures and soak it all in!
When we finally got up to the fort it was breathtaking. The fort itself dates back to about 1500 BC and the entire western edge of it drops right off a 300 foot cliff straight down into the ocean! 
This picture doesn't even do it justice - but you can walk right up to the edge, no rail or rope and it just drops right off! The picture below shows my foot as close as I was willing to walk, but sitting on the edge and looking over was just amazing! The guide books "advise against" bringing children as they may just run right off the cliff!
The water was such a beautiful color, I could have sat there all day listening to it crash against the rocky cliff. After relaxing a moment, we headed back down to find our horse and buggy waiting to take us back through town.
I loved seeing the old thatched houses that our driver told us were becoming somewhat extinct on the island as everyone these days wants a "plastic" house, not all the hard work and upkeep of these old beauties. A sight to see while they last. 
When we got back into "town" (I say this because the island is so tiny that even the locals hesitate to call it a town - but the main populated area of the island) we headed over to a local favorite Joe Watty's for some dinner and were greeted outside by this adorable pup who was desperate for a buddy to play with! We played fetch with a pub coaster with him for a minute then went in to get some warm food. 
After dinner we took a short snooze (working on Irish time!) then came back to Joe Watty's for some traditional music and some good craic. The atmosphere was so wonderful, hearing bits of conversations in Irish, listening to amazing Irish ballads, but by far the best part of the night was seeing the floor circle up around this little boy dance - beyond words.   
Sunday morning we walked around a bit more before we had to catch the ferry back to mainland and I made some sweet animal friends.
One last stop while in Inis Mor - the Aran Sweater Shop where I got my very own green Irish jumper.
We took the ferry and shuttle back to Galway to shop around a bit more and... ARD BIA! I had been dreaming of this fresh wonderful delicious food for weeks since our last visit to Galway. 
And it didn't disappoint! A delicious end to an amazing weekend!