Irish Days in Cork, Blarney & Cobh

Iceland’s budget airline Wow air started direct flights to Cork, only 2h15mins away, for a mere €150 round trip if you’re lucky. My sister and I found the cheapest tickets and decided to hop over for a couple of nights, and maybe try to find some of our roots from our great great great great great great… don’t know how many generations ago grandmother Melkorka, an Irish princess stolen by Vikings to make many, many red headed Icelanders throughout the generations. We were also going to let Kristjana try Couchsurfing for the first time in her life.

Me and Kristjana at the Blarney Woolen Mills

Cork, one of Ireland’s oldest cities and currently second largest, kind of has that small city/big village feeling. Similar to Reykjavik, you can see and do a few things in town for a day or so before you start looking further out to the very green countryside. Blarney Village and the port town of Cobh are less than an hour away by public transport, so we spent half a day in each of them.

Cork

Cork has a walkable city center, with lots of public houses, watering holes, and even a couple breweries right downtown. Definitey don’t miss trying some of the beers from the Rising Sons and Fransiscan Well, and for a dose of history and culture, dip into a few of the old, stone Catholic Churches and Cork City Gaol.

The old city jail, Cork Gaol

Take a bus to Blarney village to visit the Mills, Blarney Castle and gardens, and don’t forget to  kiss the Blarney Stone! Apparently it will give you the gift of eloquence and flattery, but you’ll have to ask my sister if that worked on me.

Kissing the Blarney stone

Go to the Kent railway station and take a 25minute train south to Cobh, the last port of call the Titanic stopped at. There you can learn a lot about other ill-fated voyages at the Cobh heritage center, visit a couple more churches, and walk down old Street and past the port to see some cute and colorful architecture.

Cobh

Make sure you eat a full Irish breakfast every morning to have enough calories to burn for all the walking, drink some Baileys (or try Baileys cheesecake – it’s to die for) and an Irish coffee, have a Murphy’s or Beamish local stout instead of lunch, and gobble down some Irish stew or seafood chowder to make sure you come home a few kilos heavier. Atleast it worked that way for me! Next time I’ll spend more time looking for leprechauns and four leaf clovers, though there was plenty of green between all the gray.

Green fields at Blarney castle

Don’t take first time couchsurfers to surf in the nearby village Ballincollig, unless they really like pitbulls (we shared a garage with three of them on tiny couches), and try to find Central-American decent Parisians in downtown Cork – our host had a really big, nice apartment with  a guest room and private bathroom. I think that might have rebuilt my sisters faith in the Couchsurfing theory.

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The Republic of Ireland

 

 

The Royal Gardens at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, with the Wellington Monument in Phoenix Park in the far background

I spent a week in the ‘Irelands’, 4 days in Dublin and 3 days in Belfast, split between 3 couchsurf hosts and a handful of other local friends and couchsurfers. In Dublin, I stayed at a couchsurf house full of Irish students, and my host Griffin (what a perfect Irish name) had plenty of time to walk around with me. He worked some evenings at a Yoga studio and let me drop in on an advanced classs to partake in some well overdue detox and stretching. He showed me Phoenix park, and Kilmainham Gaol – a former prison which has played an incredibly important part in Irish history. We tried to go to the Irish Museum of Modern Art, just to discover no exhibits are open until 2013. He walked me through Trinity College campus, where I saw some of the most beautiful and oldest architecture in the whole city.

Kilmainham Gaol West Wing

We visited the famous Porterhouse, and sampled their large but weird array of beers. We had oyster stout, and some red ale that tasted like dirty gym socks. I forgot to sample the strawberry beer apparently so I´ll have to go back for that. I spent some time wandering around by myself, visiting the Guinness Store house and learning it takes 119.5 seconds to pour a perfect pint of that yummy stuff. I spent a day working on my phd proposal at the Art of Coffee cafe house, sipping on a never ending cup of tea on the edge of downtown Dublin.

Griffin´s roomate Hugh worked at Jameson Old Distillery, so I went with my next host Gary and couchsurf friend Marcin to learn about whiskey making and tasting. We tried whiskey ginger, whiskey sprite, whiskey cranberry, and irish coffee, and learned the difference between irish, scotch and bourbon whiskeys. I even got certified as an official whiskey taster, something I never thought or expected I’d achieve so easily.

 

Jameson certification

I met up with another couchsurfer named Flo who is what I’d call a German Gypsy recovering from extreme nomadicism. At 30, after years of hitchhiking from North America to Patagonia, he settled into a salaried job at Google, and invited me there for lunch to talk about it. Google Europe headquarters are in Dublin, and the 3 googly towers housing 3500 employees (mostly between the ages of 25-30) are full of mac computers, free food and drink, and quirky lounges to nurture creative thinking. I got given a badge and had immediate access to everything, and ate my belly full on what Flo claimed was the best food in Dublin.

119.5 seconds later

We had a lot of laughs to share after realizing our travel philosophies were much the same, but just at different stages in our lives. He had apparently gotten his position after being selected over 2,014 other applicants, and with a facial piercing and dreadlocks, you would maybe guess its the education and character he´s developed from seeing the world that overpowered to make him top choice. He said he got the job by accident, and its impossible to leave with the pay and luxuries he benefits, but after many months there, he´s getting the travel itch bad… ironically I sympathized with him in kind of the opposite way; I’m here trying to settle into a 3 year paid phd position so I can have the comforts and steadiness of a paycheck and a home, but in the back of my head I know I’ll probably be thinking the grass was greener on my side the way I have it now.