I love Cork!
What a cool little city. There are tons of things to do here, plenty of craic to go around, and yet it still maintains some character and an international presence. There are loads of backpackers here, and one of the best hostels in Ireland, the Bru Bar, which was one of many that I knocked on last night trying to get a room with no luck.
I have to admit, when 21:00 rolled around and i was still homeless with no hostel and no plan, even Mr. Vagabond was a little worried. Its too cold to sleep under the bridge. Out of chance, and why I maintain the argument that things always work out for the best, I ran into a very nice woman that was on my bus from Dublin. In exchange for getting her laptop on the network, I was allowed a stay on the couch in the common area of her apartment. That was my first experience at using my network skills on the road to benefit travel, but it took 2 of us because MS Windows was not in English!
As I lay there on the leather couch, shivering in the darkness, I was praying that none of her 3 roommates would get up and scream when they found a stranger in what is basically their living room. The people in Cork have been so spectacular and friendly that they probably would have not minded anyway. I talked to a very old woman while waiting on the bus today, and after she found out how long that I will be traveling, she offered me a 20EUR note! Here I am a complete stranger and she is offering to fund my travels out of kindness – she was so sweet, I couldn’t take her money, and so after seeing the catholic cross she wore around her neck, i told her to give it to the church. She only smiled.
Today I got up, still a little groggy, and walked in the cool, crisp morning air to the bus station. The city was coming alive with people and the noises of opening businesses. I took the 5.30 EUR bus to the nearby village of Blarney to see the famous 15th century castle, home of the Blarney stone. It was a nasty 8 EUR to enter the castle, but I have to do at least one touristy thing in Ireland so I paid my dues. And touristy it was…tourists were all over the damn thing, and they had placed gaudy signs and power wires in every conspicuous place to ruin as many pictures as possible. The stairwell inside was very narrow and steep, winding up and up in a clockwise direction, which keeps attackers entering the castle from below from being able to swing a sword. Pretty nifty. The view from the top of the castle was spectacular, and offered rolling green fields as far as I could see. I stood in line to kiss the stone, which is in an awkward position to reach. you have to lie on your back and wiggle backwards, meanwhile a dirty old man in a red jumper molests…i mean…holds the pretty women in place as they kiss the stone so that they wont fall backwards. I guess I wasn’t his type because he rushed me through and sent me packing, without so much as a picture. You have to pay for those! I can also buy an official certificate that says I was here and kissed the famous stone – the stone was literally worn smooth by lips and slobbers over hundreds of years. They say that it gives the gift of gab, I guess it worked, because here I am rambling!
I enjoyed the castle grounds much more than the castle. There was a bubbling brook, ancient moss covered boulders, and trees that were probably around to see the castle used properly before it became tourist bait. I sat in the sunshine under one of the giant trees (3 people could hold hands and barely be able to hug one) and took a much needed nap. There is a somber, old but peaceful spirit in the air here which makes people unaware lower their voices when talking, even though they are standing outside. There was also a stone stairwell called the “wishing steps” which went down a dark tunnel. If you say your wish while walking backwards up the unevenly carved stairs in the dark, it comes true. I didnt try it, by the looks of it, I would have been wishing for a neck brace and a lawyer after trying to navigate it backwards! 🙂 I avoided the uber-touristy shops camped in the shadow of the castle and grabbed lunch in a classic pub across the street. There was a football match in the park across from the pub, and I listened to a couple of rosy-cheeked old men sing Irish folk songs, unaccompanied, while drinking Guinness at 15:00 in the afternoon! It doesn’t get more Irish than that.