Monday, January 7, 2008

British Isles - Cork, Ireland

Last month I started to tell you about our 12 Night British Isles / Norwegian Fjords cruise on Royal Caribbean's Jewel of the Seas.

I've already talked about our pre-cruise stay in London, and our first port of call LeHavre, France.

In this post, I'll share our experiences in Cork, Ireland. This was our second time in Cork, the first being on September 13, 2001, just after the World Trade Center attacks. If you'd like to read about our first visit, you can do so on our Path of the Vikings cruise web page.

This trip, we booked a private tour with 16 other passengers with West Cork Tours , a local tour company. They tailored the tour to our desires.

Pictured above is Blarney Castle, our first stop on the tour. Upon arrival at the castle, we had a one hour guided tour of the castle grounds. The castle could be seen in the distance. A vast green field, so common in this part of Ireland, lay in front of us. We followed the path to the castle and then continued into the gardens.

The path wound thru the gardens, past rock formations, past magnificent tree roots that crossed our path, thru tunnels (good thing I'm short - see picture), and past streams.

After the guided tour portion of the tour, we had free time to explore on our own. Some of our group climbed the path to kiss the Blarney Stone. You need to hang upside down to kiss the stone. See our photo ablum for more pictures of this portion of the tour.
No trip to Blarney Castle would be complete without spending some time in Blarney Woollen Mills. Here you will find Belleek Irish China, Waterford Crystal, Galway Irish Crystal, Royal Tara Fine Bone China, and other fine Irish merchandise. The best thing is they will ship it home so that you don't have to lug it around the rest of your vacation.
Departing Blarney, we drove through the courtryside of West Cork and arrived at our next destination, Kinsale. As you can see in the picture, this is a colorful town with narrow streets, shops and galleries. We had 2.5 hours to explore the town, checking out the local bars, restaurants, and shops.
The people here are very friendly. In one shop, the shopkeeper demonstrated the art of blowing glass for us. We picked up some souvenirs and reboarded the mini-bus for our next stop, Charles Fort, which is still in Kinsale. See our photo album for more pictures of Kinsale.
Charles Fort was constructed in the late 17th century and is still in fairly decent condition. This is a classic example of a star-shaped fort consisting of five bastions. We entered through the archway where we were given a brief talk about the fort and then we had 30 minutes to explore on our own.
We took several photos while at the fort which can be seen in our photo album. All these albums are hosted on Kodak Gallery. This is a free service, that does require user registration.
There's plenty to do near Cork, Ireland. On our first visit, we spent a Day in Killarney including a stop at the restored 19th Century Muckross Manor House. Whatever you do, make sure you explore the Irish countryside - it is a sight to behold.
Happy Sailing,

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