Saturday, August 13, 2022

Shannon Ferry to Cliffs of Moher

I slept so well at the very comfortable and clean Rose Hotel Tralee. I was sad to have to leave that hotel after only two nights, but our tour group had to make tracks to the next series of destinations. Our group traveled north to Tarbet. There we, tour bus and all, boarded the Shannon Ferry across the Shannon Estuary. The temperatures topped out at only 57 degrees Fahrenheit/14 degrees Celsius that day, and the wind whipped across the water. I planned ahead with layers of warm clothing and a raincoat topper. I sometimes experience motion sickness on boats, even big ferries. I exited the bus and stood topside on the deck of the ferry for a few minutes. The cold, fresh air calmed my sensory system. Yay! None of the usual motion sickness!

How many buses fit on a ferry? Um, 6?

Upon landing on the other side of the estuary, our tour bus drove through County Clare to the Cliffs of Moher on the southwestern edge. These dramatic and sheer cliffs tower 510 feet/155 meters above the churning Atlantic Ocean. The Cliffs of Moher Experience safeguards visitors from the cliffs with fencing and wide walkways positioned safely back from the dangerous edge of land. The whipping wind is beyond blustery, like seriously tie down your hat and anything you don't want to lose. The pathway around the small castle-like building, O'Brien's Tower was very crowded. If you choose to walk beyond O'Brien's Tower caution signs soon appear that you are leaving the Cliffs of Moher Experience, that rock slides do occur, and that your safety is not ensured. The wire fencing on either side of the narrow dirt path past that point barely gives two people room to get by each other. Just don't. Instead, turn around and head back in the other direction for more breathtaking views along the other side of the official, and much safer, Cliffs of Moher Experience. The farther you go in the direction opposite O'Brien's Tower, the less crowded the walkways become. 

At a certain point, Chad and I decided we had soaked our eyeballs in enough of the dramatic cliff scenery, and that we had enough punishment from the sheer winds. The Visitor Center provided much-needed shelter from the elements. We had lunch at the little cafeteria. The food there was surprisingly good, especially after eating so many monotonous hotel dinners. The little cafeteria even had a small green salad! Fed and recovered somewhat from all the buffeting winds, Chad and I perused some interesting interactive displays about the geological formation of the burren and cliffs, the animals (including puffins), and the plants of the area. Upstairs from the main displays, we found a touch screen program with historical details of Irish family names. Sure enough, I found my family name there! My only regret about the Cliffs of Moher Experience is that we did not see any puffins in real life. 

Looking towards O'Brien's Tower at Cliffs of Moher

Puffins that we did not get to see at Cliffs of Moher

The Regan family crest via touch screen at Cliffs of Moher Visitor Center

Our tour bus made its way to the next destination, driving through new-to-me terrain of the  Burren National Park. Loosely translated from old Irish, the word burren means "rocky place." Think of huge shelves of rock hills. The burren landscape contained a kind of desolate beauty with swirling swaths of greenery daring to pop up every once in a while. 

Our group stopped at the Burren Centre in Kilfenora which is tucked into a cute little village. At the Burren Centre we watched a short film montage of some of the different types of Irish burren landscapes. Then we walked through the exhibition space with charming life-size dioramas of different animals and plant life of the burren. In addition to lots of historical information about the region, the Burren Centre also houses a whole room meant to look like a pub with information about the local music scene.

As afternoon turned into evening, we arrived at our group's hotel for the next two nights, the Lough Rea Hotel and Spa. The guest rooms here were clean, modern perfection. I slept so well here, even if on our first night at Lough Rea Hotel and Spa, there was a pack of semi-feral children, escaped from some event at the hotel, littering the stairs with candy wrappers and crushed candy bits, taking joy rides in the elevators, unaccompanied by any adult presence. Luckily the stomp-running up and down the hallways ended at a reasonable hour, as did the yelling and squeals of youthful joy. We'll have none of that past 8:00 PM!

Speaking of the perceived wasting of youth on the young, one of the elderly men on our tour cornered me in the dining room before dinner that night. He said that he overheard me saying how long my husband and I had been together. He said, "So you've known your husband over twenty years? I thought you were only in your twenties. I wondered what a couple of twenty-somethings were doing on OUR trip!" Feeling a bit peeved at this statement, I did a defiantly brave thing. I said my actual age aloud to this man and his wife. They said that they still have me, "beat by about thirty years." But they did seem a bit less hostile to me after that. So, yay! I think? Ageism is real, and goes in all sorts of directions.

I found out that some of the members of our tour group went to local pubs each night after dinner. I was so tired after eleven hours of sightseeing each day and our hour-long 8:00 PM dinners each night, that I could barely get myself showered and under the covers before I began snoring loudly and having the twitchy eyelids of dreamland. I can't fathom how my elders on this tour had the energy for each day's busy itinerary and late nights at the local pubs!

Tune in next week for more Irish travelogue. Thanks for following along.