Tag Archives: ireland

Great Craic: Pubs and Trad Sessions

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I can say, without reservation, that getting sick while traveling SUCKS.  I came down with a nasty cold last week on the day I went over to Kilkenny to spend a couple of days with my old college roommate and her family.  When I got back to Doolin on Thursday night, I felt like death, and so I missed out on the Doolin Folk Festival this last weekend.

Talk about a heartbreaker– I had been looking forward to this weekend for weeks, especially because the trad sessions at the pubs have become one of my favorite things about the area.  To be honest, if the tickets had been less expensive, I probably still would have gone, sick or not, but I didn’t want to spend so much money and not be able to enjoy the experience to the fullest.   Luckily, I still have the pubs, and since I finally seem to be over the worst of my illness (knock on wood) I’m trying to cram in as much great music as I can into my last couple of days in Ireland.

Doolin is famous for its folk music and trad (traditional Irish music) sessions.  All four pubs in the village feature live sessions nightly starting about 9:30.  That being said, I’ve found that the overall experience on any given night varies widely.  In the month I’ve been here, I’ve been to all the pubs, and the craic has ranged from “meh” to outstanding.  I have yet to figure out the perfect formula for an outstanding experience, though I think it’s largely subjective, based not only on the music, but also on the atmosphere and the crowd on that particular night.  It’s amazing to me how much a session, with the same musicians in the same pub, can vary so much just based on the crowd that night.

Quick tip for those wanting a more authentic trad experience: STAY LATE!!! I’ve noticed that a lot of the tour groups and day tourists leave after the first hour or so, but the later it gets, the better the craic!  At least that’s been my experience.

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Trad session at Fitz’s Pub.

So, getting back to how I got from “meh…” to “wowza!” sessions: I had been here for a couple weeks and had yet to hit a really good session, so I asked around and was told by several locals to look out for signs advertising Blackie O’Connell and Cyril O’Donoghue.  I was on the lookout, but it was still just by chance that I went into McDermott’s one Monday night and they were playing.

Between sets: Live session at McDermott's Pub with Blackie O'Connell, Cyril O'Donaughe and Foolin in Doolin.

Between sets: Live session at McDermott’s Pub with Blackie O’Connell, Cyril O’Donoghue and Foolin in Doolin.

Holy Amazing, Batman!  

This is one of the times I wish I shot video as well as stills. These guys are masters and are an absolute kick to see perform.  Watching Blackie on the Irish bagpipes is incredible.  How he makes such a complex instrument look so effortless, I have no idea, but I love watching him play.  And Cyril’s vocals are mesmerizing. HIs version of “The King’s Shilling” is probably my favorite song that they do (and they played it for me by request last night, which was all kinds of wonderful). I admit that I’ve become a bit of a groupie as I’ve tried to hit at least a couple of their sessions each week!  It’s always a delight.

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The piper and the fiddler.

Non-traditional music is also thriving in the area.  A week or so ago I went with a couple friends to a bar in Lahinch, another small village just a short drive down the coast.  That night we slistened to two Irish bands with completely different styles of music than the trad sessions. These groups had a folky-alternative-bluesy quality (how’s that for a description?) that I happened to love.  It actually reminded me quite a bit of the Seattle indie music scene, so it was almost like a taste of home–with a bit of a twist!

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The group “Mongoose” performing at Kenny’s Bar.

Live music has been a huge part of my travels, and I’ve been blessed to have some incredible experiences: a classical concert in the Sainte Chapelle in Paris, featuring an amazing string quartet, a baroque concert in a church on the Piazza Navona in Rome, and now these amazing trad sessions in the local pubs of Doolin.  There’s just something about music that enriches my travel experience and enhances my appreciation of different cultures.  I can’t wait to enjoy more as I continue traveling!

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Island of the Grey Dolphin

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Sunny skies at last!  Yesterday, after weeks of rain, wind, and choppy seas, the weather finally broke, and I had a gorgeous, calm afternoon to go out to the islands.

Because of my work schedule in the morning, it made the most sense to just do Inisheer, the closest of the three Aran Islands.  Mary Jo drove me down to the pier, and, at the last minute, I decided to splurge and add on a sightseeing excursion to the cliffs for the return journey.  Ticket in hand, I boarded The Happy Hooker for an afternoon jaunt to the island. It was such a glorious trip out there with the sunlight on my face and wind in my hair (though still cold enough to need my jacket and ear warmers)!

When we arrived at the port in Inisheer, we were greeted by Sandy, the resident dolphin. She was living in Doolin until they began construction on the new pier, and since then has taken up residence off Inisheer.  She was having a magnificent time playing in the waves created by the incoming and outgoing passenger ferries, and I loved watching her.

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Sandy, the friendly dolphin of Inisheer.

I had several hours to explore the island before the return to Doolin.  Upon disembarking we were presented with a couple of options for sightseeing: horse and cart tours, bicycle rentals, or your own two feet.  Now, I, being adventurous spirit that I am, and wanting to see as much as possible, opted for the bicycle rental.  I forked over the cash and was given a map, a bike, and proceeded down the road on what was probably the most miserable and painful bicycle seat ever designed by man.  I kid you not, the old wooden teeter totters at my elementary school were a luxury compared to that stupid seat.

It had also been about 8 years since I was on a bike, so I made a pretty comical image teetering down the road, trying to get used to riding with my camera equipment strapped to my back and my backside already protesting at the underserved abuse it was receiving.  I was half tempted to turn around and return the bike and ask for my money back, but my stubbornness (foolishness?) wouldn’t let me.

One of the problems with cycling as a photographer, I discovered, is that every time you want to take a picture, you have to stop, lay the bike down, take the backpack off, take out the camera, take the pictures, put the camera back in the backpack, put the backpack back on, and continue on your way.  My camera was too large and the lens way too expensive for me to just ride around with it on my neck.  In the end, with all the stopping I had to do, not to mention the hills where I had to walk the bike up, I’m not sure I gained any time by using the bike.  But there were occasional stretches of narrow, secluded roads that I could ride freely without worrying about pedestrians, horses, or vehicles, and it was a blast!

The island itself was breathtaking.  The sea was an intense blue green, and it literally sparkled in the afternoon sun; small fields were separated by miles and miles of stone walls and fences, and occasionally a horse or cow would peer over, looking for a handout.

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Making friends…

The island has several points of interest, including a medieval sunken church in the hilltop cemetery, a rusted out shipwreck on the beach, a lighthouse, and the ancient castle ruins.  All that, combined with stunning views of the island landscape, the Ciffs of Moher across the way, and the distant Connemara mountains, made for delightful summer afternoon.  By the time I turned my bike in I had just enough time to get fish and chips (sooo delicious) at the chipper near the pier before catching my return boat back to Doolin.

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Ancient castle ruins, Inisheer.

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Thatched white-washed cottage on Inisheer.

I was thinking that the return trip would detour to the islands, but I was wrong.  We went back to Doolin, let off passengers, took on other passengers, and then made the short trip up the coastline to the cliffs.  Now, the boat ride to and from the island was relatively smooth and easy, a couple of larger swells, but nothing compared to the choppiness of the last few weeks.  Boy, is it a game changer as you approach the cliffs!  I quickly learned why the cliff tours only operate in optimum conditions, because even on the nicest of days, it gets rough as you approach the rocky outcroppings.  It makes taking pictures difficult when you can’t stand without holding on to something, and even then keeping your feet can be tricky!

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I managed to get a few decent shots (and several more lopsided ones), but as we began approaching the large sea stack that houses thousands of nesting seagulls, I was hit with sudden seasickness, and had to go back inside the cabin.  I sprawled out dramatically across a row of seats in hopes of keeping my amazingly wonderful lunch where it was supposed to stay.  I succeeded, but sadly, no more pictures! I was able to crane my head a bit to see the sea stack through the window.  EW!!! It’s much nicer from a distance.  Thousands of birds make it pretty disgusting, and as the boat left and other people started to come back inside, I overheard a guy talking about being hit with raining seagull poop, so I figured it was probably just as well that I went inside.

Much to my relief, and to the relief of my fellow passengers I’m sure, I maintained my dignity until we got back to shore.  Alas, as incredible as it was to see the cliffs from that angle, I’m not anxious to give it another go.  Apparently even dramamine couldn’t hold it’s own against the powerful forces of nature!

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Cliff Walks

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The Cliffs of Moher: Distant view of O’Brien’s Tower and the Branaunnmore sea stack.

 

You can’t come to western Ireland without spending time at the Cliffs of Moher.  This was THE place I wanted to see on my first trip to Ireland, and it still remains one of my favorite places in the world.  So, when I’d been here 10 days, and still hadn’t made it up to the cliffs I was feeling a bit distressed.  Luckily, on Tuesday afternoon, the fates aligned and I had a clear and sunny afternoon off.  Mary Jo was kind enough to drop me off at the cliffs, and I spent several hours walking the trails and enjoying the majestic views.  Along with the Amalfi Coast, this is my favorite coastline in the world.  It’s staggering.

Spring flowers blooming along the cliffs with Branaunnmore in the background.

Spring flowers blooming along the cliffs with Branaunnmore in the background.

One of the amazing things about the cliffs is that you can literally walk right up to the edge.  There are various trails to use–some set back further from ledge and others that go right along it, so even those that are scared of heights can still enjoy the views but feel comfortable.  I used the safe trails until I got to the more interesting ones!

Fellow travelers watching one of nature's great free shows just north of O'Brien's Tower.

Fellow travelers watching one of nature’s great free shows just north of O’Brien’s Tower.

After a an hour or so of going crazy with my camera, I took a break and found a nice little grassy area on the edge of the cliff to sit and enjoy the scenery, 390 feet above the Atlantic Ocean.  Laying on my stomach, and leaning over the edge (sorry, no pictures of this as I didn’t want to take any risks with my camera) I watched the seagulls play on the wind currents and watched the waves pounding the rocks below, feeling the spray from the sea and the wind in my face.  It’s one of those moments you wish could last forever.

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Adventuresome travelers enjoying the cliff walks.

You can actually hike all along the cliffs either independently or part of a tour.  From Doolin it’s about an 10 km walk, that can be done independently or as part of a tour.  And if you aren’t to keen on heights, there is a 1 hour sightseeing cruise that leaves from Doolin several times a day during the summer (weather permitting).  I actually went to do this yesterday but the water was too choppy so they weren’t running.  However, one of the benefits of being here for several weeks is that I can wait it out for a good day!  Stay tuned for pictures and a report on that adventure.

World Traveler Extraordinaire

World Traveler Extraordinaire

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Early Evening, Cliffs of Moher

 

 


Ireland, Day 3

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Doolin, Ireland

You should all be impressed that I have captured photos that make it look bright and sunny, because 70% of the time it’s been raining and COLD.  You know that scene in Sense and Sensibility where Marianne sprains her ankle running down the hill in the rainstorm and is rescued by Willoughby?  Yeah, that was me about 10 minutes before I took the above picture-drenched by rain and nearly blown off the road by gale force winds. Sadly, no handsome stranger on horseback though.  Darn it. There’s always tomorrow I suppose.

Despite the weather, I’m settling in nicely.  The jet lag prevented me from doing anything too ambitious on Saturday.  I must be getting old, as I don’t recall ever having a problem with jet lag before.  However, after a solid nights sleep, my internal clock seems to have reset itself, and I was good to go yesterday, which was fortunate because my first full day and I was put straight to work!

I’m staying with Michael and Mary Jo O’Connell at Seascape B&B in Doolin, County Clare. The O’Connell’s have been delightfully warm and welcoming, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the past two mornings serving guests breakfast at the B&B.  I love meeting other travelers and visiting with them.  It’s a wonderful way to connect with people on the road.

Killilagh church and graveyard, just up the hill from Seascape. The church dates from the 15th century, and the grounds were used as a cemetery until as recently as the 1980s.

Killilagh church and graveyard, just up the hill from Seascape. The church dates from the 15th century, and the grounds were used as a cemetery until as recently as the 1980s.

Doolin is small village on the west coast of Ireland situated just north of the Cliffs of Moher, with convenient access to the Burren and the Aran Islands, making it a popular tourist spot.  In fact, most of the village is made up of dozens of family run B&B’s, a handful of pubs featuring live music each night, and a few gift shops selling Aran sweaters and leprechaun figurines.  Despite its tiny size, its fairly spread out, with lots of farm and grazing land in-between, so it takes me some time walking through the main part of the village.  At least I know I won’t grow fat and lazy!

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View of the cliffs from Doolin. Ambitious hikers can walk the 7 km or so to the highest point (which can’t be seen from here). Others can opt to take a bus or drive to the top and hike back, or drive both ways!

The big tour busses come through town about noon each day, bringing lots of business to the restaurants before continuing on to the cliffs or Burren Nation Park.  According to my hosts, there are mixed feelings about this amongst the locals.  The restaurants do very well, but it brings nothing to all of the B&Bs, and tends to congest traffic, which is a problem for a village with only one main road that’s barely wide enough for two small cars to pass one another.

There are no grocery stores or banks in town.  The nearest market town is Ennistimon, about a 15-20 minute drive away.  I’ll be going with Mary Jo tomorrow to do a little shopping, and hopefully find an ATM!


The Adventure Begins…

Have any of you ever seen The Chipmunk Adventure?  If you haven’t, you should.  It’s an amazing cinematic masterpiece and an icon of my childhood.  It’s also full of wonderful, catchy songs, my favorite being “Off to See the World” which has been running incessantly in my head all day.  For those of you heathens unfamiliar with this iconic song of American cinema, I present it to you here (it’s actually better with the video, but YouTube has failed me).

This is my long way of saying, I have my tickets booked, and I am off to Europe for 5 months on a grand photographic and blogging expedition!

Through a website called HelpX, I have connected with various hosts in Europe who provide travelers with room and board in exchange for part-time work.  After a series e-mails I have confirmed my first arrangement, which begins in Doolin, County Clare, Ireland.  I fly from Seattle to Shannon in mid-May, a week after being both the maid of honor and photographer and my best friend’s wedding.

I’m planning to write about my experiences and post pictures here on this blog–the places, people, and communities that I encounter and the ups and downs, trials and triumphs of the journey.

Interestingly enough, the decision to actually go has been the hardest part.  It was several weeks of pro-con lists, heartfelt prayers, pro-con lists, and long conversations with friends and family before reaching this decision.  This has been one of my biggest dreams for so long, it’s a little unbelievable that it’s actually becoming a reality.

My next hurdle is the logistics of this move: What do I do with my stuff?  What do I sell, store, give away? What size storage unit do I need?  How much will it cost? Oh! I need to go to Costco to get my contact lens exam and get new contacts ordered.  I need to find someone to keep my car while I’m gone. Must remember to cancel/suspend insurance. What do I do about cell phone coverage…

See?  These are the things going a mile a minute in my brain–especially when I’m trying to fall asleep.  And oh yes, there’s the matter of my best friend’s wedding in there too!  Pictures to be taken and edited, dress fittings to attend, and a shower to throw!

It will be a busy month, but I’m excited to have you all along with me for the ride!

The Journey Begins: Washington State. Tulip Fields, Skagit Valley, WA, about 60 miles north of Seattle.

The Journey Begins: Washington State.
Tulip Fields, Skagit Valley, WA, about 60 miles north of Seattle.


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