Posted on July 22, 2015
Traveling to Ireland wasn’t the original plan. Initially, we were eyeing London as a sort of celebratory hurrah for the Mister’s recent graduation from a Master’s program, but found ourselves increasingly frustrated that tickets were stubbornly fixed at fares nearly twice as high as Paris or Rome. While exploring nearby airports, we stumbled on a great sale for direct flights to Dublin via Aer Lingus. Why not just go to Ireland instead, I proposed? The euro was down, and after a cold and snowy winter, wouldn’t it be great to hike around green hills and charming towns?
Sometimes by the end of a trip, I feel sated. Happy and full of new experiences, I’m often tired and ready to go home. Ireland and Northern Ireland were the opposite. A first taste. A scrape of the surface. An opening chapter. We practically circumnavigated the island, visiting both countries, and it felt like a flash. I’d rather linger for months, maybe years. Explore all the little towns, all the wild coasts, all the old ruins. Try the local cheese in every shop and take time to make friends with all the sheep and horses in every field we pass. And even more than all the beautiful places and surprisingly incredible food, I fell in love with the people. In many ways Ireland felt like a big hug. So often when traveling you feel like you encounter people, and here we felt like we really met them. Whether it was at pubs, in shops, in their homes, or installing art in a field of barley, people were open and warm and genuine, always happy to stop and chat, to tell us about their favorite spots and seemingly genuinely curious about us as well. We stayed with several families along the way and in just a few hours it felt like we were old friends. To be in such a beautiful place with such wonderful people, that’s about as much as anyone could hope for anywhere. Hopefully we’ll make it back someday, and if we are very lucky, we’ll have more time to linger. Until then, here’s a little travelogue of our stay, with a few tips in case you’d like to visit as well.
Posted on July 20, 2015
Over and over in Ireland, locals that we chatted with would apologize to us for the rain and gloom and fog. “It’s not Ireland if it’s not raining,” they’d say with a shrug. Yet over and over again I’d smile and try to explain how thrilled I was. Stormy skies and moody fog make for far interesting landscapes, a gift to any photographer. I’d take fog over sunshine any day, as long as I have a raincoat and a waterproof bag to stash my camera. The fog was thick the day we visited Kerry, and I was thrilled. We pulled over again and again, awed by the landscapes, chasing sheep, and occasionally, warming our bones with a little hot chocolate.
Posted on July 17, 2015
Luck had everything to do with our travels to the Skellig Islands. Luck that I Googled, “off the beaten path Ireland” about a week before we left; luck that we managed to find two spots on one of the dozen or so tiny boats that is allowed to visit each day; luck that the seas were just calm enough to allow us to be the first people to visit the islands this year; luck that the puffins were feeling friendly that day; and a great deal of luck that the islands were shrouded with a lovely mist instead of a beating rain. So very very lucky.
A visit to the Skellig Islands is not for the faint of heart. Though the seas were deemed calm enough for our small fleet of boats to visit, the eight mile voyage from Portmagee was anything but. We sat in the back of a tiny, open boat with no railings or ropes to hang on to as the churning grey sea tossed our little boat about on eight-foot waves, spraying us with salt water while a biting cold wind whipped across our faces. Altogether it was an exhilarating ride for those of us not prone to seasickness, but it was a harrowing journey for a few others who seemed green and wobbly-legged by the time we came in sight of the island.
I wouldn’t want to approach Skellig Michael, the larger of the two islands, on a sunny day. It was far more dramatic to see it emerge suddenly out of the mist, stark and craggy, a giant rock in the sea that loomed over our tiny boat. Our captain pulled us up close to the concrete pier and we leapt from the boat on to the island, then followed a twisting stone walkway around to find our way up to the monastery. The way up consists of several hundred jagged steps, hand-carved out of the rock by monks over a thousand years ago. The steps are steep, unguarded by any railing, and sometimes crumbling or slick from rain and mist. We’d been warned that the climb and sheer drops could be terrifying for anyone afraid of heights, and we saw at least one lady who was nearly carried down by a guide, weeping and trembling with fear the whole way. Heights and I have never been great friends, but as we zigzagged up the stone steps for nearly 600-feet, I was far too distracted by the beauty of the island to feel any fear at all. Sharp towers of rock rose out of the fog, cut here and there by patches of green and the nests of sea birds, a strange misty landscape so unlike any place I had ever been.
Eventually we reached the ruins of the Christian monastery near the top of the island. Built sometime between the 6th and 8th centuries, and occupied by monks until around the 12th century, the ruins are perched on something of a shelf in the rock, high above the sea. We walked amongst the stone walls, exploring all the nooks and crannies, the cisterns, and stairwells, the worn cemetery, and the strange and striking stone beehive cells where the monks once lived. Leaning against those ancient stone walls, with puffins circling in the air around us and the cold grey sea crashing far far below, it was easy to see this place as the monks once had, a sanctuary at the edge of the world.
Posted on July 15, 2015
Requisite pilgrimage to visit the Book of Kells and the Long Room at Trinity College Library in Dublin. The world is quiet here ❤
Posted on July 13, 2015
Often times when I love a city, I find myself too busy to photograph it, and so it was with Cork, perhaps my favorite city from our Irish travels. I was too busy eating at amazing restaurants, too busy making friends with our AirBnb hosts, too busy eating local cheeses on rooftops, too busy drinking in little pubs, and much much too busy celebrating the gay marriage referendum, which passed while we were in Cork and the entire city seemed to burst with smiling, joyful people. Cork was my happiest memory in Ireland and the place I’d most want to visit again. I’d happily trade all the joy I get from taking photos for the joy of being in that city again.
Posted on July 10, 2015
One of the dreamiest evenings we spent in Ireland was at Ballymaloe House in County Cork. Having read great things in Bon Appetit about the restaurant and cookery school housed in the old country house, we were happy to snag a late evening dinner reservation. Irish sunsets come closer to 9 p.m. during late spring, and it was lovely to spend a glowing, golden hour exploring the extensive grounds of the estate before dinner. We fell in love with lush back gardens, the glowing barley fields, and most especially the charming kitchen gardens where I would have happily had my dinner there in the open air among the rosemary bushes and old stone walls.
Posted on July 8, 2015
Posted on July 6, 2015
Posted on June 26, 2015
Considered one of the most iconic landscapes in all of Ireland, we could resist spending a morning at the Cliffs of Moher. Though the view from the main platform was breathtaking, we’d heard wonderful things about the trail that extended along the southern edge of the cliffs, and we quickly headed away from the crowds towards the quieter trails. Before long the the guard rail gave way to a wooden fence, which gave way to stone slabs cut from a nearby quarry, which eventually gave way to dirt and grass and cliff’s edge. Standing there on the grass a few feet from a sheer 200 meter drop, with wobbly knees and winds whipping through our hair and trying to toss us back onto our bottoms, we gazed out at the green cliffs in either direction, the soaring birds, and the wild ocean crashing below, and it was easy to imagine that we were standing at the edge of the world.
Posted on June 25, 2015
Things don’t always go according to plan. Sometimes, when you are driving cross country, you have just a little window to try to visit somewhere special. Sometimes schedules posted online are not the same as the actual hours open when you pull up into the drive. Sometimes you would have been perfectly willing to pay an entrance fee, but there was no one there to take it. So sometimes, you make a split second decision to take a stroll through a nearby cow pasture, use an ancient step stile built into a stone wall to hop over, and have just a little look, because it’s so so beautiful and so unlike anything you’ve ever been, and this is your only chance.
Posted on June 11, 2015
When traveling, I find that so many of the best moments are those that are unplanned. Perhaps because the lack of expectation erases any chance of disappointment, leaving only room for discovery and adventure. One morning we were navigating hairpin turns along the coast of Northern Ireland, and just ahead, perched on the edge of a cliff, the ruins of Dunlace Castle came into view. “Let’s go there!” I exclaimed, and swerved across traffic into the pull-off for the castle. The northern coast was stormy that day, and as we slipped amongst the battered stone walls and towers, the wind and rain whipped through our hair and across our faces. The castle cliff seems to rise straight out of the sea, and we peered through openings in the stone walls, both those meant as windows and those created by time or misfortune. Looking out at the cliffs that stretched out on either side of the castle and listening to the crashing waves below, we wondered if anyone ever slept well living here. Were the howling wind and beating rain and wild crashing waves a nightly menace or a soothing lullaby?
Posted on May 20, 2015
When I close my eyes and think of Italy, it’s usually memories of Cinque Terre that come to mind. Cinque Terre with it’s colorful towns clinging to cliff-sides and the blue green Mediterranean crashing on the rocks below.
Pictures of Cinque Terre were what had originally spurred me to ask for a honeymoon in Italy and we quickly agreed to spend the third and splurgiest week of our travels there. We arrived by train, and the property manager led us up through the twisting streets of Manarola (the second of the five small, car-free towns) to the little apartment we’d rented. The doors and windows of the apartment were shuttered tight, and I remember with clarity the look of glee on the manager’s face as he led us into the dark bedroom, and dramatically threw open the doors to the terrace. It must have been his favorite part of the job, seeing the look on people’s faces as they took in that view for the first time and ours were surely no disappointment. The apartment had a large terrace overgrown with grape vines and looked out on the rest of Manarola, the terraced hills, and the sea.
That week in Cinque Terre was like a dream. Visiting all the little towns, we tried the local seafood specialty (a combination of clams, shrimp, fish, squid and langostino) cooked a half dozen different ways—as a cioppino; breaded and fried; sauteed in a wine sauce over pasta; as a sort of paella; grilled with vegetables—each variation better than the next and oh-so-fresh. We’d collect pesto, bread, and local wine while we were out for the day, and bring it back to enjoy at our apartment while spending lazy hours taking in the unreal view from our terrace. Often we’d hike in the hillsides from town to town or walk amongst the gardens growing on the terraced hillsides. We meandered through olive groves and saw lemon trees heavy with fruit. Sometimes we ate gelato and most afternoons we’d make our way over to Monterosso al Mare to rent an umbrella and a couple of beach chairs. Hours were spent napping and reading in the sun, taking turns fetching more gelato, and most wonderfully, swimming in those clear blue-green waters. One lazy afternoon we found a dozen tiny orange kumquats floating in the water, lost from someone’s lunch or fallen off a tree, and we spent hours playing toss with them in the sea, taking turns hurling the little orange fruit into the air, while the other made a spectacular dive to catch it, the warm Mediterranean waters catching us as we fell.