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Report 2018: Southern Ireland with Mom

By nikkihop from Texas USA, Spring 2012

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Page 4 of 12: June 13, 2012 – Kayaking, the Dingle Peninsula and Tralee

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Kayaking in the Dingle Bay

Today was the action sequence of our trip. DM and I got up really early (6:00am) to go sea kayaking. I try to book special tours with DM when we travel. She’s a great sport. We’ve ridden a bicycle built for two in Mackinack, gone swimming with giant sea turtles and four-wheeling in Oahu, and hiked out to a penguin colony in South America. I’m a kayaker but she had never tried it. I took her out once in Texas to teach her the basics and she was game for the Dingle paddle. We arrived early (of course) for our kayak adventure with an extra set of panties in hand ... well, in pocket, per Noel’s instructions.

Our guide was a short, good-looking Polish man under 30 years old, which is not what you want when you have panties in your pocket and are about to shimmy into something that may make you look like a bag of marbles. He seemed harried and distracted (good), and maybe not so thrilled to be up dealing with us at 6:45 in the morning. We booked a private tour, which is the only reason DM had not headed for the Dingle hills at this point. Our guide, who never gave us his name (though he did ask us for ours at least five times), hooked us up with wetsuits, life vests, waterproof jackets (for over the wetsuits) and water booties, and pointed us toward the changing room.

Turns out, getting into the wetsuits was not the problem. We actually looked kind of cute. I got the turquoise and black one, which went well with my freckles, and DM got the lavender and black one, which was very slimming. DM made me give her our towels and street clothes so she would have something to carry in front of her as a sort of camouflage as we left the changing rooms and headed back to our guide. I had to look up our guide's name later on the Internet because he never did tell us during the three hours' kayak. We secretly called him Bob, but his name was actually Piotr Sznapka. Bob would have been easier.

After a very brief and unreassuring safety lesson (in which Bob managed to mention that hardly anyone capsizes in a double kayak), we set off. Now, I have kayaked with several tour companies in a variety of settings. The worst ones are always when you have to paddle quickly through shipping lanes to get to your ultimate goal. This was the case here, because we launched from the Dingle harbor and made our way along the coast to the Lough tower, a tower built as part of a community works project during the great famine (give people some work to do to take their minds off starving, according to Bob).

We continued out to the Atlantic, passing the red and white Lighthouse tower and then booking it across the main shipping lane of Dingle Harbour past Flaherty point, another tower corresponding to Lough on the other side of the harbor, past Reenbeg point, Colleen Oge Rock and Crow rock, which are sharp, craggy remnants of the continent.

The cliffs are riddled with sea caves along the southwestern coast, and teeming with seabirds. Bob took us cheerfully into several of the caves without seeming to realize we are from Texas where there are no sea caves. This is really where the "excitement," as Bob put it, came in. These sea caves are narrow, and they are formed by thousands of pounds of seawater smashing against the coast line, whittling ravines, fissures and cracks in the rock. That same sea is still there, crashing away (even though it was a very calm day). But still, it's not exactly easy to navigate a 16 foot double kayak into an opening 12 feet wide with swells and breakers pushing you around like a pinball. Luckily, DM and I resort to giggles in times of stress and kept reminding ourselves between gasps and gulps that we need a little excitement in our lives. At one point, one of our caves had narrowed to maybe five feet across when a swell pushed us excitingly into the rocks. DM, really excited now, leaned to the right to avoid an overhang, nearly making us that "almost never capsizes" cautionary tale. Bob seemed unconcerned, and actually got more and more chatty and cheerful as the morning wore on.

Sadly, we never got to see Fungie, the practically-tame resident dolphin in Dingle, probably because it was too early and he generally feeds in the bay in the evenings. However, it was a great day, and we paddled back to the pier pretty satisfied with ourselves.

If the previous three hours was the action sequence of the day, the next 15 minutes was the comedy sequence. It is actually much easier to get into a wetsuit when everything, panties and all, are dry. However, when everything is wet, neoprene is not your friend. These suits zip up the back, which makes it tricky to back your way out when you're all sticky. Much jiggling, shimmying and flicking later, DM was still having trouble getting out of the bottom half of hers. We started that panicked giggling thing girls do when they try something on in the department store dressing room that was way too small but you think Just. Maybe. Once. You. Get. It. On. It. Will. Be. Okay. Not so much. Our wetsuits narrowly escaped getting even wetter, we were laughing so hard. Ultimately, we devolved into high pitched squeaking with tears leaking out of our eyes trying to contain the giggling, which was not helping us extract ourselves from the wetsuits. We finally managed it, but it was exhausting.

We headed back to the lodge to shower, change and check out. Then, we walked down to eat lunch at the Chowder Cafe, which is only open for lunch, but had the best seafood chowder I've had in years. It's truly full of seafood, and not just an occasional clam. DM had a club sandwich of toasted chicken, bacon, lettuce and tomato. She removed all the unwanted items and scraped off the sauces, as per her usual routine. We both had a side of bland chips with funny tasting ketchup.

As expected, by the time we finished eating, we were both ready for a nap with no place to lay our weary heads (having checked out of our hotel). We muscled on, setting out on the Slea Head drive to sight-see along the Dingle Peninsula. I'm so glad we did. It's a magnificent drive. Following Rick Steves' self guided driving tour, we stopped at several viewpoints, including another stone-age ring fort and an old monastic site containing bee hive huts, called clocháns in Irish. There was a sign off the road that said the walk up the hill to the bee hive huts was two minutes. What they don't tell you is that it's two minutes straight up as the goat climbs, but only a 30 second roll downhill if you slip and fall. Oh, and you have to pay an old man €2 to climb his hill. He will take your money with a huge, somewhat toothless grin, and say, "Lovely!" before you pass his booth. The bee hive huts are these tiny round stone structures which look like their name. Monks used them to reflect and pray. Today, we would use them to house our dogs.

We stopped at the beautiful Slea Head (Ceann Sléibhe in Irish), which is marked by a crucifixion scene. This white stone statuary sits and the intersection between two church parishes: Dingle Town and Ballyferriter. It was commissioned in the 1960's by an American attorney who was a relative of a local priest. We followed the coast north, past Coumenoole Strand, where some of the filming of the movie Ryan's Daughter took place, to Dún Chaoin (sounds like dun quinn). I really wanted to get a photo of the pier, which has several sharp switchbacks winding steeply down to the water. This is where the ferry departs for the Blasket Islands, so after I walked down the path and settled myself as comfortably as possible in the best photographic position, I had to wait for 20 minutes while a troop of the elderly inched their way slowly up the path. I mean slowly, and God bless them for it. One poor couple only went about ten steps in two minutes, and then sat on the low stone wall to rest for five before repeating the process. Oh, the things we do for great photos. I finally waited them all out and got my photo retiree-free.

The Slea Head drive continued along narrow lanes only big enough for one and a half cars to share the road. That meant you carefully watched the road ahead and drove into a hedgerow when you saw someone coming the other way. We tried to visit the Blasket Islands Visitor Center, but for some reason they were closed, so we stopped at a cafe in an Fheirtéaraigh, or Ballyferriter for a snack. DM and I have noticed that sweets and baked goods in Europe are far drier than in the U.S. I ordered a brownie, only to receive a pie-shaped wedge of a dry cake-like substance that I soaked in milk so as not to dangerously inhale the crumbs. DM had a chocolate biscuit cake, which was a sort of cross between biscotti and really porous fudge. The view from the cafe was incredible, though, so the weird sweets were forgiven.

After our snack, we visited the excavated early Christian site at the Reasc Monastery, and then the Gallarus Oratory, a small stone structure that looks like an upturned boat hull that was made by monks a thousand years ago using a corbelling process (just stacking stone ... no mortar). Rick Steves warned me about the enterprising private landowner who built a visitor center and a big bus-friendly parking lot who then charges everyone €3 to see a site that is actually free and run by Heritage Ireland. It's possible to drive past the big parking lot and park on the lane behind it and walk to the site free of charge, but I forgot, so DM and I just paid the graspy local to park in his lot and watch a 20 minute fillum on the Dingle sites. Both DM and I nodded off during this video (we were in the back row against the wall and it was dark!) I would have paid that guy more to be able to curl up on the floor and really nap for a while. The oratory (where the monks chanted) was pretty cool though. This was pretty much the end of the 33-mile drive, so DM and I headed back over the mountains into Tralee, where we would spend the night before heading over to the Ring of Kerry on Thursday.

The drive to Tralee was good - a few narrow places in the road, some construction and some rain in an otherwise perfect day, but we arrived with no wrong turns at Benner's Hotel at 5:30pm or so. Probably the worst part about our drive today was parking in Tralee. We had to circle the block a couple times, and finally DM got out and asked where to park at the reception desk. They directed us to a tiny stone archway leading to an alley, leading to the world's smallest car park. You know that scene from Austin Powers where he tries to turn the golf cart around in the narrow cement hallway? That's essentially the parking scenario at the Benner's Hotel. It's frankly amazing that our rental car is still unscathed, and I can see why they're so big on selling the insurance here.

We decided on an early dinner at Finnegan's Cellar Restaurant, a place I found online with great reviews. They weren't lyin'. This was the best meal we have eaten so far in Ireland. The restaurant is literally in an old stone cellar that is charmingly lit with hundreds of real candles and a big open fireplace, with wood fire burning cozily. They have an "early bird special" menu that includes a starter, main course and coffee or tea to finish for about €18.50. I ordered the vegetable soup, a very unromantic name for truly one of the best soups I have ever had. It's a cream based soup with a mysterious and delicious variety of other taste-a-magoodies in it. DM ordered the baked brie, wrapped in filo pastry dough and served with chutney over a salad. Brown and French bread were served immediately and we ate every bite of those starters. They were exquisite. We ordered beef and chicken kebab (DM) and Morrocan Beef and Chicken over basmati rice (me). It was all so good, I hated to leave any of it on the plate, but the portions were huge and I just couldn't fit it all in. I would recommend this restaurant to anyone, and will be reviewing it online to show my appreciation.

After dinner, DM and I walked back to the hotel through a sweet-smelling rose and botanical garden behind St. John's Cathedral, which was only about one block from our hotel. Once there, it was early to bed since we'll be getting up early to start our Ring of Kerry drive.

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