The morning started (early) with a round of goodbyes to the 25 American ladies on the People to People trip. Breakfast was scrambled eggs, tomatoes and smoked salmon, served over toast (gluten-free, of course). Delish! (Nice job, Mike! You showed me I actually like smoked salmon…who knew??)
In the morning, we visited a little town called Rathmore (pronounced “rat-more,” as the Irish never make the “th” sound. For example, three is “tree” and thirty three is “terty tree” and Matthew is “Matchew” and you get the picture ).
I ate a mid-morning snack at a little cafe, in Rathmore. Did you know that vegetable soup, in Ireland, is not a clear broth type thing with pieces of veggies floating around (I’m not a fan of that kind of veggie soup) but instead, it’s puréed and creamy and absolutely yummy!
My plan for the afternoon had been to take the hour-long train ride into Cork City and wander around on my own…you know, a proper adventure. But true to their incredibly hospitable nature, the Thorntons (Pam and Mike) offered me a ride, since they were heading to Cork, anyway.
If I had realized that would mean Pam was squished in the back between two car-seats, I would certainly have declined the ride. But despite my strenuous requests to let me sit in the back, she refused and off we went. I am glad we got to drive together, though, because it was the first time I’d had much of a chance to talk with Pam. She has a dry sense of humor, and I loved hearing the story of how they met. It’s a good one. (Hmmm…may have to ask her if I can use it in a book!)
Mike explained that the road into Cork was called the Butter Road. It actually ran from Castleiland, in Kerry, to the Butter Exchange in Cork and was a main thoroughfare for farmers bringing their goods to market, in the 1800’s. At the time, Cork was known as the world’s butter capital, exporting to every corner of the world.
The “Kerrymans Table” is a spot on the Butter Road that lies exactly half-way between Killarney and Cork. It’s a large flat rock that was often used as a place for travelers to take a breather and rest their horses before continuing on their journey.
The Butter Road turned out to be a wonderful place to get a view of the countryside, with all the patchwork hills and multiple shades of green. Mike and Pam probably thought I was going to have a heart attack because I kept exclaiming, “Oh, look at that view!” “Oh, I have to get a picture of that!!” It was like I’d never seen green before. Haha. So, I kept sticking my iPhone out the window, praying I wouldn’t drop it, and snapping pics along the way.
Soon, we were in Cork and the Thorntons dropped me off outside a Tourist Office. I waved goodbye and swallowed a little bit of panic as I realized this was the first time I’d ever been completely alone in a foreign country. (Thankfully, one where I can understand what people are saying.) I shook off the uncomfortable feeling that tried to rob me of the joy of the moment and took a look around me. A map. I needed a map.
Into the Tourist office, I went. I loaded my back pack with all sorts of free maps of Ireland (not considering that I would be lugging said back-pack for the rest of the day) and consulted one particular one that showed the paths to take on a walking tour of Cork. Seemed like a good place to start.
I left the Tourist Office and noticed a double-decker tour bus, just across the street, taking on passengers. That seemed like a better place to start! (My motto: Why walk when you can ride?)
I hopped on and paid my 15 Euros, which would allow me to get off and on as many times as I wished. Mike had suggested I visit the older part of the city, near the Shandon Steeple. The Steeple is part of an Anglican church, reaching 170 feet in the air and is a beloved place in Cork. So, I rode on the top level with the sun on my face and the wind in my hair, taking pictures every thirty seconds.
Earlier in the day, I had told Mike that I wasn’t good at walking up to strangers and introducing myself to them. I don’t think he could really comprehend that, as he’s one of the most outgoing, friendly people I’ve ever come across. And I couldn’t really comprehend it either, as I really like people and I’m always glad to get to know someone new. But as I thought about it on the top of that bus, I realized what it was. If I have a specific reason to introduce myself to someone, it’s not hard at all. If someone introduces themselves to me, that’s not hard either. But if I have to approach someone with no other purpose than to say, “Hi, I’m Rebekah,” most of the time, I won’t do it. I keep to myself, because I don’t want to impose on them or assume they want to talk. The irony of this is that I want them to approach me. I want them to do exactly what I’m not comfortable doing. Weird. I know.
So, I challenged myself (okay, Mike may have challenged me) to talk to some strangers while I was in the city. Yes, this is the exact opposite of the advice all well meaning parents give their kids. Stranger danger, and all. But I’m 41, not four, so I should be able to handle a little talking to strangers.
When I got off the bus at Shandon Steeple, there was a classic red jaguar parked on the side of the road, and a sixty or seventy-ish man was standing beside it, selling souvenirs from its trunk.
So, I approached him and introduced myself (aren’t you proud of me?) and we proceeded to have a lovely 30 minute conversation. He was a wealth of knowledge, having had a long career, first in the military and then in journalism.
After he retired, he secured a patent for the design of a souvenir in the shape of Shandon Steeple and had been selling his wares, ever since. I truly enjoyed our talks about his life as a newspaper man and beyond. I bought one of his heavy little Steeple souvenirs and headed toward the entrance to St. Anne’s Church, home of the Shandon Steeple.
I was given a pair of noise blocking headphones on my way in, (They came with the price of admission.) and told I should be sure to wear them as I got closer to the top of the bell tower. Partway up the nearly vertical steps, I came out into a little room with a spot along the wall where tourists were ringing the Bells of Shandon, using note sheets provided for a variety of songs. (I may or may not have been out of breath by this point.) I continued on without playing a tune.
From the top, I saw all of Cork in a breathtaking Panorama. It was worth the tiring climb!
After my time at Shandon, I hopped back on the bus and got off at the Tourist Office stop. From there, I headed into the English Market, where I found all sorts of fun things for sale and a few funny signs. But I only bought a couple of jars of marmalade for my Irish grandmother.
After a few more stops, I took a seat at a little restaurant called Clancy’s and had an amazing meal; pan seared chicken over chive potatoes with a whiskey sauce. Sounds good, doesn’t it? It was.
I received a few strange looks as I sat at a table by myself, because my friend, Heather, was texting me and I was laughing out loud. Before I left home, we had joked that she discovered she was a very small, teeny percentage Irish, which meant she kept calling the Irish “my people” and asking me if I thought she should go find her ancestors. So, here’s the text she sent me. You may not find it as funny as I did. That’s okay. I still laugh when I look at it.
After dinner I had a very fast paced walk to the train station, which turned out to be at least ten minutes further away that the nice lady at the tourist office had said. Which meant that I barely caught the last train back to Millway. Phew! I had no desire to hitch-hike along the Butter Road.
Less than an hour later, I was back in Millway. The Thorntons were expecting another People to People group…only about 15 this time around. So, it was another round of hot chocolate and pancakes and pretending I was the Irish neighbor, Mary.
I met Kevin and Isaiah, the group leaders. They were really interesting to talk with and I was so impressed with the heart they had for the kids in their care. Apparently, the kids called Isaiah, LeBron, saying he looked just like LeBron James. I wouldn’t have known, I’m basketball ignorant. (I had to look him up or I wouldn’t have been able to pick him out in a crowd.) Kevin was obviously a dad because he allowed the littlest Thornton to paint his nails (and his fingers) a lovely shade of purple.
Day two ended with the adults having conversation way too late into the night. I imagine Mike, Isaiah and Kevin regretted the late night, when their alarms went off at O-dark-thirty. I, however, was on an adventure and I’m pretty sure the rule book says alarm clocks are not allowed on adventures. (I mean, hello? Do you think Bilbo had an alarm clock? Please.)
That’s all for day two. Here are some more pics from Cork City: