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Visiting Columbia Road Flower Market in east London is always a colourful experience. The market is only open on Sundays, and it's best to get there early in order to avoid the crowds. The market does get so busy later in the day that it's a struggle to walk down the narrow street. However, I recommend an early Sunday morning visit, followed by breakfast or brunch in one of east London's trendy cafes or restaurants. A visit to Brick Lane's Up-Market (Sundays only) or Spitalfields Market/Sclater Street Market can also be enjoyed as they are a short walk away. You can also combine this with checking out the lastest street art in the area. On this occassion, I stopped off at Bill's in Hoxton Square for brunch. Read on to see and learn more.


I last visited Columbia Road Market a few weeks ago now. The spring flowers were starting to bloom, and I love daffodils and tulips. Daffodils are my favourite spring flower. I used to love tulips as we had some that would always grow in our yard each year, and we also had more daffodils, and they have remained a firm favourite of mine. 


Columbia Road is lined with narrow terraced Victorian-style houses and some hidden alleyways, and it's at the top of Brick Lane. I'd often walk here during my lunch breaks when I worked on Brick Lane, and it's a fun place to watch people. I have seen and heard all sorts of conversations in thick east-end London accents take place here. It made me feel like I was in an episode of Eastenders with the accents. I'm certain that these generations of families who grew up here are still living here, but I'm sure that they will soon be chased out as prices of property increase and the average person is pushed out because it's too expensive to rent/buy here.  



The shop fronts are very colourful, but this cannot be fully appreciated when the market is going on as it's such a tight squeeze down this already-narrow street. Bring on the flower vendors on both sides, and it's a little congested.



During the week, it's fairly empty, and most of the shops are shut. It's quiet, except for the few local people seen wandering around and catching up with each other.




However, the place literally comes to life and attracts so many people every Sunday. The flower sellers arrive very early to start selling their plants and cut flowers. Real bargains can be had, but the best of the deals may happen later in the day when the sellers do not want to take their left-over or picked-over flowers home.


A favourite of mine is always the blooming cacti. I wish my cactus would blossom. I think they need certain conditions to bloosom, though.


Every type of plant or flower that you could think of is sold here or sold at certain times of the year.


I saw some beautiful blue roses when I visited. Along with this collection of roses, I saw a mixture of red, white and blue roses that would have looked perfect for (1) a celebration of Britain or (2) American Independence Day. 


I also saw some cream-coloured roses with a pink marbled effect.


And these flowers were pretty.


The flowers were so beautiful, and I wished that I could have taken some home with me, but I'm not so sure that they would have lasted the journey home. Hopefully I will be in London soon, so the possibility of buying some will not be so impossible.


After I was finished admiring the flowers, I walked down Ravenscourt Road to Hackney Road. My goal was to look at street art and then visit Hoxton Square to go to Bill's Restaurant for brunch. Bill's is a restaurant chain. It started out as a grocer's, but they were hit by the flood of 2000 (I remember those floods!), and after they had to rebuild, they added the cafe. The cafe has grown and expanded, and they serve good food as well as their own products in their shop. Their restaurants can be found all over the UK now (well, they are in Cardiff and Glasgow but not Northern Ireland yet), and they are in approximately a dozen locations across London.


The Shoreditch (Hoxton) branch is a large building on Hoxton Square and is bright with a European-style atmosphere. Groups of chillis were hanging to try, and the tables/chairs were vintage-looking.


I was shown my seat, which wasn't the one above but located toward the entrance and by the nice large windows. I had walked around quite a bit and had had an early start, so my first purchase was a smoothie. I cannot locate it on the menu now, but it had strawberry in it, and it gave me a boost of energy.


I also ordered the pink lemonade. This was my breakfast, and I didn't have anything before leaving the house earlier that morning, and bear in mind that it takes just over two hours to get to Columbia Road from where I currently live. The drink was much-needed. 


My food did arrive, and I had ordered the blueberry pancakes.  These came with slices of banana and strawberry and maple syrup. I also asked for a side of bacon (to be put onto the pancakes, of course). Maple syrup, American-style pancakes, and bacon go evry well together. The pancakes were good, and I did really struggle to eat them all. 


After my fill, I walked through Shoreditch and Brick Lane to check out the latest on the street art scene. Also, combine a visit to the Columbia Road Flower Market with a visit to Brick Lane Sunday Up-Market (and Spitalfields Market or Sclater Street) and brunch or lunch. This is a perfect way to spend a Sunday in London if you're looking for something to do.


Note that Brick Lane's Market is Sundays only. Yes, there is a smaller market on Saturdays now, but the big day is Sundays, and part of the road is closed off to prevent cars from passing. Sclater Street (off Brick Lane) also has a little market, and Spitalfields Market is open every day. I've been stopped by tourists many times when I was working on Brick Lane, asking where the market was, so make sure that you do visit on Sundays and not during the week. Also, Columbia Road Flower Market is only open on Sundays. Most of the shops on the road are also shut every day except the Sundays. Both Brick Lane and Columbia Road markets can be easily done in half a day at a slow pace, so go ahead and spend some time looking down roads immediately off Brick Lane for street art, and combine with a trip to Poppie's Fish & Chips (write-up to come), Rosa's Thai (write-up to come), coffee and sweet treats at The Antishop or Spitalfield's Market.

After visiting Kinsale, Cobh, and Cork, we drove to Blarney Castle for our afternoon visit. Blarney Castle is one of the most famous castles in Ireland, and I'd certainly heard about it before visiting the country. I am sure that it was featured in cartoons that I watched when I was younger. When we arrived, we had sunshine, which made a big difference to the previous two days. In addition to the castle, the grounds and gardens can be explored.


The walk to the castle was about ten minutes from the visitor centre, and this was a pleasant walk through the grounds, where we saw flowers and a stream. The walkway was level and paved, so it was an easy ten-minute walk. Along the way, we also saw some information boards that we could read that told us about the history of the castle and grounds.


The site where Blarney Castle is located was built on three times. In 10th century, it was a wooden hunting lodge. This was replaced with a stone structure in 1210, and in 1446, a residential tower house (the castle) was built here by Cormac MacCarthy. The MacCarthys were known as one of the most recognised and powerful families in Ireland. 


The castle was seiged four times and eventually was taken by Cromwell and the MacCarthy family forced out in 1690. In 1703, the Jefferey family purchased the castle and grounds, and they are ancestors of the current owners.


Blarney Castle is built on top of a large stone (Card's Hill), and underneath is a cave. The cave is known as Badger's Cave. When Cromwell's men seiged the castle, the garrison had fled through the cave. When they fled, they took the gold plate that Cromwell's men had expected to claim. 


A legend says that the passages go to Cork, the lake, and Kerry. I entered the cave, and there are passages that do go far into the earth, but the passageways got very tight and narrow, and I'd have had to get on my hands and knees, so I did not bother. Others also were entering the cave after I did, so there was not a lot of room to maneouver.



After leaving Badger's Cave, I had a glimpse of the castle towering above, built eight metres up into the rock. The rock was used as a quarry for the building of the castle. The castle was actually built in two stages. In the photograph below, the side on the left was actually only half as large and was later added to. The window that sticks out is the Earl's bedchamber, and the small square openings to the left of the window were outlets for the garderobes (toilets). The exterior walls of the castle would have been whitewashed in its day, so it would have looked even more imposing and powerful.




The entry to the castle has a gatehouse and kennel for dogs, and all of this was built for defense purposes. Underneath the castle are a long series of tunnels. These were the dungeons, and a lot of them cannot be explored any longer. The water supply for the castle in times of seige was also located in the dungeon.


After having a quick look, we went to enter Blarney Castle on top of the rock cliff. We climbed the spiral stair cases and checked out several of the rooms and learned about each one. Several good information boards were located throughout the castle and the grounds in order to give us some insight into the castle's history and how the rooms were used.


The castle's entry point was through the basement, and this area housed cattle before the castle was opened to visitors like it is now. The area was a buttery and storage for barrels of wine. This room is actually two rooms as the floor is missing, and above is the vaulted ceiling of the Great Hall. The fireplace above would have marked the location of the floor.


As we climbed the castle, we were awarded with beautiful views over the grounds. We were lucky to have such a lovely afternoon as the previous couple of days had not been nice at all.


We eventually came to Ladies' Room & Priest's Room. Three young daughters of the owner in the mid-1500s grew up here, so this would have been their room. The floor would have been tiled, and a wooden bench would have been in the location in front of the window, and the walls would have been plastered. In the image above, the location of the floor for the room above can be seen, and this was the Priest's room or a small chapel.


Next we came to the Family's Room, and a larger window was added later on in order to allow more natural light to enter. The room also contains a large fireplace where meat could be cooked. The original plasterwork could be seen (above) too.


We finally found our way to the very top of Blarney Castle! This is where the Blarney Stone is located. Of course, there was a queue to see and kiss the famous stone. Probably the most famous aspect of Blarney Castle is the Blarney Stone, which is located at the top of the castle. Queen Elizabeth I was thought to have coined the term "blarney" first, which was important to the history of the castle. Her advisor George Carew was responsible for trying to get the MacCarthy family to abandon their ancient rights of the castle and grounds and give them to the English. Each time Carew met the MacCarthy family, they showed eloquence, loyalty and flattery for the queen but never agreed to relinquish their rights. The queen is to have used the term to describe the encounter with the MacCarthys, and the legend of the 'Stone of Eloquence' (or 'Blarney Stone') was born.


For over 200 years after this, the stone was visited by celebrities, politicians, and writers. Kissing the stone is meant to give the gift of eloquence. The stone was thought to be brought to Ireland by a prophet, and it was then used by Irish kings. It was then thought to have been taken to Scotland to propheticse royal succession. When the MacCarthys went to support Robert the Bruce in Scotland, it is thought that the stone was split in half and sent to Blarney. Apparently a witch told the MacCarthys of the stone's power.


While we were queueing, we read some facts about the stone and the castle. Apparently, a replica of the castle was built for the Missouri State Fair in 1904 for those who were unable to visit the real castle. In the 1940s, Blarney Castle was offered a million dollars in order to get the stone on a tour of the USA, but that was denied.


My partner and father kissed the stone, but my mother and I did not because we both did not like the heights. They had to be held over the castle battlements, and you could see down to the ground below. After that was done, we left the castle down a spiral staircase, and I looked up at the stone from the ground. The stone can be seen in the above photograph. It is very high up.


After our castle visit was complete, we walked through the Poison Garden and had a look at the different plants. The Poison Garden was the idea of the Jefferey family. It contains a variety of poisonous plants.


Along the trail to Blarney House is the ice house, where food items were stored for refridgeration.


We continued down the trail, looking at the flower bed. Some of the flowers were also in bloom.


We soon arrived at Blarney House, surrounded by the beautiful gardens. This house was built by the MacCarthy family and they lived in it instead of the castle. The house is Scottish in style, and it was open on the day we visited, but it closed early, so we were unable to go inside.


We continued to walk around the gardens, enjoying the beautiful flowers.





Next up was the trail around Rock Close. The Jefferey family created the landscaped gardens and the Rock Close, built on an ancient Druid site. There are 'fairy' glades, a reconstructed Dolmen (Druid burial chamber), stone circle, cave, and waterfalls. Photographs from the Rock Close trail are below.





After the Rock Garden, we walked back to the castle to exit the grounds. A woodside and lakeside walk can also be enjoyed at the Blarney Castle, but we did not walk these trails. 


The grounds of Blarney Castle are really beautiful, and I would say that this is one of the best castles we saw on our trip.


After the visit to Blarney Castle and its gardens was complete, we headed back to Kilarney where we were staying. Before we headed back to the hotel, we stopped off at "Meeting of the Waters", so check back here for photographs and a write-up of our little walk.

After the previous day's trek around the Ring of Kerry, Ross Castle, and Dunloe Gap, we had another full day of sight-seeing in Ireland. Today would take us to the villages of Kinsale, Cobh, a trip to Blarney Castle (which I will be covering in a different post) and the city of Cork. We woke bright and early to visit Kinsale first and get a bite to eat for breakfast. On the way toward Cork, we passed signs for a "Toy Soldier" factory, but it was too early to be opened; this is a note for a future visit if I ever get back to Killarney.

Kinsale is a colourful village on the harbour front, and many of the buildings were brightly-coloured. We parked on the harbour, which was quiet, and had a quick wander around the streets in the middle of the town. I've posted these photographs of various streets and buildings below. I really liked the vintage Guinness sign on the side of the building.

As it was very early when we arrived, not many of the shops were open. However, we found a nice little cafe in order to have our breakfast. Mother Hubbards is on one of the most picturesque streets in the village of Kinsale, and it was popular with locals.

The interior had antique furniture, plates, and other furnishings and decorations decorated all along the back walls. The cafe area was an open kitchen at the front. This was a small building with only a few seats available.

I had the American pancakes with tea. I believe that my partner had a bacon sandwich, but I honestly cannot remember what my parents had to eat here. Service was friendly, and it was a quick stop. Once we were satisfied, we left.

We went back to the harbour and got into the car to go off to the next place - Cobh. I loved the purple petunias along the harbour.

On the drive, we came across this traditional Irish tower house.

We arrived in Cobh, and we parked next to the cathedral. Cobh is a slightly larger town than Kinsale. It used to be known as Queenstown for Queen Victoria, but it since had its name changed. This is a fashionable Victorian town with a promenade and beautiful gardens along the seaside. You may have also heard of the town because of the part it played in Titanic.

The cathedral in Cobh is one of the focal points. It's actually on the top of the hill, so it's easy to see from almost any place you stand to get a view of the city. The cathedral is known as St. Colman's Cathedral. It's a gothic-style cathedral built in the mid-1800s. It was finished in 1916, and it was funded by the people of Cobh and donations from America and Australia, no doubt from people who claim ancestory here.

We decided to visit the cathedral as we were parked next to it.

The interior is similar to other cathedrals seen in Ireland. From a distance, it's not quite as pretty inside as other cathedrals that I visited in Ireland. The rose window is beautiful, and that was worth a photograph.

There were also some pretty details and little shrines, and these were highly decorated and very beautiful and kept maintained with flowers. Actually, I am not sure if the flowers are fresh or if they are just plastic ones.

After the cathedral visit, we went outside. The views from the area just outside the cathedral are beautiful; there's a walkway down into the main part of town from the cathedral. That's where we went next.

As mentioned, Cobh was an important town for Titanic. Titanic made its third and final stop in Cobh (or Queenstown, as it was formerly known) before it sailed to America. There's a museum dedicated to Titanic on the waterfront. The museum is actually in the place that the Titanic docked (at the White Star Line Office as it was known then) and the people boarded to start their journey. The office had actually been recently refurnished for this stop. As expected, there were quite a few items around the town dedicated with the Titanic. Across the street from this museum is a Titanic Memorial, which was erected in 1998.

Titanic picked up 123 people in Cobh, but only 44 of these people lived through the experience.

Across the road from the museum (former White Star Line Office) is a pub/hotel called the Rob Roy Hotel. The building contains Titanic-related items and information about "American Wakes". A "wake" is a gathering after someone has died, and it's a time for people to remember the deceased as well as celebrate life. In the 1800s and early 1900s, the term "American wake" was used for the many parties had for people leaving their family and friends in Ireland to start new lives in America. The hotel/pub had hosted many of these over the years, including ones on the night that the 123 people left on the Titanic.

I did not go inside the museum as we did not have a lot of time, and we also felt that as we had been to the big Titanic museum in Belfast, that nothing could top it. However, we did walk into the Victorian gardens along the sea front next to the building and admired the Victorian promendade of buildings along it. The gardens are known as John F. Kennedy Park, and they were updated in 1999. The Irish love Kennedy, and there's a lot of dedications to him in Ireland.

The cannon above was captured from the Russians during the Crimean War. We got to see some views of St. Colman's Cathedral, and we did sit down for a few moments.

We watched this warship sail out to the sea in front of us. 

Across from the gardens is a beautiful sculpture of an angel. This is the memorial to the S.S. Lusitania. It was a civilian ship that was sunk by a German submarine during the first World War. The sinking of the boat turned America against Germany and contributed to America entering the war.


The ship sunk off the coast of Cobh and Kinsale, and many of the bodies washed up on the shore here. They were buried in the old church's cemetary. 

After we were finished looking around, we walked back up the hill to get to the car. We actually saw many cats in Cobh as we headed back to the car. This cat in the photograph below was eating outside, and the cat indoors in the following image really wanted to get out and meet this other cat that was just outside the window. I love cats and wish I could have one!

The cats below seemed to be on a mission.

After our visit to Cobh, we headed to Cork to have a quick look around the city. This is the largest city in the area but it's actually not too big of a city and appears quite industrial on the outskirts. Our first stop was to the English Market in the middle of the city. It was called the English Market because there was another market nearby called Irish Market. The Queen of England visited the market in 2011. The market was refurbished in the 1980s and suffered from a fire but was repaired. 

Fish, fruit and vegetables, meat, baked goods, olives, and spices could be bought in the market.

I loved the spice stall with the beautiful spices and herbs; rose buds and cornflower petals could be bought.

Marzipan fruits could also be bought.

I also noticed a few local delicacies - Irish black/white pudding is a blood pudding. This is typically had at breakfast. 

Lamb and sheep tongues were also on offer, along with other parts of meat.

The interior of the market has high wooden vaulted ceilings, and there's a fountain as the centrepiece in the main hall.

After we had finished looking around the market, we walked down the main street and popped in a few shops and went to have a quick lunch.

Before heading back to the car, I walked around the pub area of Cork and got some photographs.

After our brief visit, we headed out of Cork. Our next destination was to Blarney Castle, where we would spend the rest of the afternoon. Keep checking back for my post on Blarney Castle, which is probably one of Ireland's most-visited attractions.

After visiting Ross Castle and having our jaunting car ride in Killarney National Park, we headed over to the Gap of Dunloe, a mountain pass road on the edge of the national park. I was told that this was a beautiful place to visit and checked out some photographs of the gap online before my trip to Ireland last summer. Unfortunately, as you know from my previous few posts about Ireland, we were not too lucky with the weather. However, there was not a lot of fog, and we had pretty decent visibility to snap away.


We drove to the Gap of Dunloe to find that all of the jaunting cars had left for the evening. The Gap was actually pretty quiet; the last of the people seemed to be heading away.


We felt like we pretty much had the place to ourselves, except for a couple of wooly friends to keep us amused. Despite everyone being gone, we noticed a large parking area outside the Gap of Dunloe and could see that the place does appear to get quite a few visitors each day.


We drove the car down the narrow and winding road to enter the gap. As we'd been having quite a bit of rain off and on, we saw many beauiful waterfalls cascading off of the mountains.


As we drove further along the Gap of Dunloe, we admired the winding and narrow roads and the lakes along the side of them. The lakes are quite close to the roads, and a couple of stone bridges take us over the lakes between the mountains.


At one point, the road grew even more narrow when we discovered two large boulders virtually in the road.


We climbed a little higher...


And then we crossed the stone bridge between the lakes.


I got out of the car to take some photographs, but I did not like it much as the water looked a little scary between the bridge.


We did not go much further into the Gap when we decided to head back down as the time was getting late and we'd had so many busy days and nights; don't forget that we drove up really early in order to get to Portmagee that same morning.


We drove past the beautiful views, and I really wished that we had sunny weather so that I could enjoy it more and see the reflections of the mountains in the lakes.


We met back up with our sheep friends, who were grazing the green grass on the side of the lake. 


Viewing these beautiful photographs makes me wish that I could go back to the Gap of Dunloe (and hope for nicer weather). 


When we arrived back at the Gap of Dunloe's entrance, we stopped off at the pub named Kate Kearney's. This pub caters to the tourists and does Irish-style food and drinks. There's also a gift shop selling souvenirs inside for visitors. The food was pretty decent, but the service was the slowest that I think I've ever experienced. Before we had even received our meals, we just wanted to get back to the hotel to sleep. Anyway, keep coming back for the next Ireland road trip installment.

After our morning drive around the Ring of Kerry, we drove back to Killarney National Park. We wanted to take a tour of Ross Castle, a traditional Irish tower house. The castle closes fairly early each day, and visits are by guided tour only. When we arrived, we saw jaunting cars (horses and carriages) lined up and asked one of them if he would take us for a dash around Killarney National Park. 


We ended up with a pretty black horse named Rosie, and she and her Irish friend took us on a ride around Killarney National Park. We were told about some of the plantlife and shown some beautiful views. Some of the route led us down these forested trails.


St. Mary's Cathedral in Killarney came into view at one point, and this beautiful cathedral is built in the gothic style. It dates from the mid-1800s. The cathedral was built by Augustus Pugin, and the building work was suspended during the famine. It was used as a shelter for the sick during this time. 


The views over the fields were absolutely stunning. With the mixture of grey and white clouds, the landscape looked like a beautiful painting.


Rosie led us down more trails with beautiful flowers and trees and through meadows. We saw yellow iris flowers growing along the trail in some places. We were told a little about the trees and plant life, but I do not remember what we were told now.





Finally, we came to one of the sides of the lakes and were rewarded with beautiful views.


Although it was not raining on our ride, we could see that the rain was evident in the clouds and the tops of the mountains were covered with fog. This was a pity because I could imagine how beautiful Killarney would look in the nice weather and sunshine.


In front of us, we saw an amazing view of Ross Castle along the lake.


Rosie took us toward the castle. In the distance, we saw the Purple Mountains. The fog took the colour away, but you can see the tinge of purple on the hillside. This is from the rhododendron flowers. I can imagine that this looks stunning in the sunshine.



The views were amazing.


Finally, we were on the 'home stretch'. Rosie seemed to know this and trotted a little quicker.


We said goodbye to Rosie and got some photographs in the car park area next to the castle. Our next visit was to Ross Castle to go on a guided tour.


Ross Castle is a traditional Irish tower house, and it was built by the O'Donoghue family in the late 1400s. There are thousands of these tower houses across Ireland, all ruled by different chiefs. The O'Donoghue family ruled this area (Killarney) of Ireland. The castle did change hands a few times, and it also changed shape as some of the towers and walls were added or removed. It was siezed by the English Protestants and also by Cromwell in the 1600s. It was expanded in the 1700s for protection against France and was much larger in size then than its traditional shape of today. The castle's appearance closely matches what it  was like before that time.


We entered the castle to wait for our tour to begin. In the waiting room is a museum with information about the castle and a model of it, which we read while we waited for the guided tour. Photographs of the interior were not permitted, but I did manage to take a couple sneaky ones. The castle's interior matches what it would have been like in the 1500s. The furniture and furnishing are of the time. 


The castle was described as being damp-smelling and cramped. Only a little bit of natural light came in, and there was not a lot of privacy for the lord either. The Great Hall is at the top of the tower, and this is where the dinner and entertainment would be held.


The walls inside were white-washed, and the outside walls were also white-washed. They must have looked impressive. These tower houses were built to show strength and power, and the later ones were built more for convenience over defense. For example, the entrance was on the ground floor; entrances in earlier tower houses were on the first floor because it was more difficult to gain access.


After the guided tour, we walked around the castle in order to get some nice views. I caught a glimpse of sun poking through the low clouds and fog and it highlighted the beautiful Purple Mountain.



A little sun came out, but it did not stay for too long. At least the rain had stopped.


The below photograph is a beautiful bit to the lake next to the castle. We saw some ducks here.


Our next stop in Killarney would be the Meeting of the Waters.

After visiting Muckross Abbey near Killarney, we had a drive down the road through Killarney National Park in Ireland. This post will cover that evening and our drive the following morning when we woke up bright and early in order to drive around the Ring of Kerry. We'd just been to a visit of Muckross Abbey in the pouring rain, but the rain ceased during the drive. This post will feature some really amazing places that we saw, such as Ladies' View and Torc waterfall, the fishing village of Portmagee, and Kenmare Stone Circle.


Our first stop was not far down the road from the abbey, and that was a visit to Torc Waterfall. We parked up in the parking spaces for cars, which was empty except for one other car. The rain must have chased everyone away. It was raining lightly, but the trail was covered by trees and the waterfall was not too far away; I anticipated that we could walk to the waterfall in under ten minutes.


We saw the brook with beautiful rhododendrons along its banks as we walked further into the trees. 


I loved the green moss growing everywhere. Everything (rocks, tree trunks, the ground) seemed to be covered by the green moss.


At last, we arrived at Torc Waterfall and watched the water cascade down and over the rocks. It was beautiful. Even better was that no one else was around; we had the waterfall to ourselves. The water cascades down from Torc Mountain and is 20 metres high.


Isn't it beautiful?


Actually, Muckross Abbey is just across the fields from the waterfall, and the horse-drawn carriages (jaunting cars) can make the trip between the two places. This would be nice for a sunny day. There's also a pathway to stairs up to the top of the waterfall with nice views over the lakes, but we did not do this.


After we had seen enough of the waterfall, we headed back to the car. After all the rain, the trees were surrounded by the large puddles of rainwater.


I loved the beautiful rhododendrons. They were everywhere.


We continued to drive around Killarney, and we headed south. There were nice views of the lakes that we could see as we drove.


The fog was lifting, and as we climbed the mountains, the rain ceased. 


The sun started to come out, and we saw a beautiful rainbow. I stopped to get a couple of photographs. We soon came to the summit of the hill, at Ladies' View. We were rewarded with the most beautiful landscape that I'd ever seen with a rainbow. In fact, it was a double rainbow for awhile.


Ladies' View is the location in Killarney where Queen Victoria's ladies-in-waiting admired in 1861, and it was named after them. There's a small area for parking and a cafe opposite where the views can be enjoyed. Of course, it was quiet and the cafe was shut for the day. One other car did stop to admire the rainbow while we were. We stopped for a short while, and I got several photographs.



This was the last view before we drove back to Killarney for the evening.


The next day, we woke early to begin our day. Our first stop was to get to Portmagee, a small fishing village along the Ring of Kerry, west of Killarney. The plan was to get the boat from here to Michael Skellig, an island off the coast which is a UNESCO heritage site with beehive huts. The morning was foggy.


The fog cleared, and the weather did not seem too bad, but we did have rain. 


We arrived in Portmagee at last. Portmagee is a successful fishing village with a long history in fishing. Boats were also built here. Scallop fishing and lobster/crab fishing are currently done too. 


The village also has a New Year's eve celebrating dating back to 1727. Three days after Christmas, a boat from France came into the port and docked. On New Year's Eve, the crew of the French boat started to carry torches and marched through the village. They were led by a piper and in the middle of the group was an old man staggering as they paraded the street. The parade returned to their boat and a shot was heard, and the old man lay on the ground. Another man, a younger one, came out of the boat he and the old man continued the route with the piper to parade again. The French then explained that the old man symbolised the old year and the new man that joined him symbolised the new one. This tradition is still carried out in Portmagee. It's been cited as one of the top three place to be at New Year's Eve for the millennium. In 2008, the parade was led by members of the NY police department band. 


We waited to hear some news about our trip on the fishing boat to Michael Skellig, and I ended up phoning them up. Unfortunately, the weather out to sea was too bad and windy, so this was cancelled. 


We left Portmagee and carried driving around the Ring of Kerry. As we drove north, we soon realised that the weather on this part of the land was really bad. It was windy and rainy and foggy.


We stopped in a couple of places and took some photographs before continuing on our way back to Kilarney.


We arrived in Kenmare for lunch, and we had lunch here and looked around this small but pleasant village. I got a cupcake as there was a bakery in the town. The lunch was at a hotel's pub.



Kenmare is also the location of a stone circle a short walk from the town centre. Kenmare Stone circle was built in the bronze age (2200 - 500 BC), and is the largest stone circle in the southwest of Ireland. The stone circle was thought to be based on the setting of the sun. The centre of the monument is a burial, known as Boulder Burial, and these are not often found anywhere else except southwest Ireland.


When we arrived, there was already a large group of people looking around the stones. One of them was standing where there was a missing stone for a long time, and she looked strange pretending to be the stone and looking like she was trying to get some source of energy from it. I think I broke the circle as I got impatient waiting for her to move and went to the middle of the stone circle.


After our visit to the stone circle, it was back to the car to go back to Killarney National Park. On the way, we came to a monument based on the town's history. It was once a ghetto, and those who lived in appaling conditions there were offered free passage to America. The film 'Gangs of New York' is based on these people, who had their own support community.


The weather was still not good, unfortunately. We came to some views that would have been beautiful had the sun been out. This was a real pity.



Our next stop would be to take a jaunting car in Killarney National Park and visit Ross Castle, so keep checking back for my other posts on Ireland.

Our first stop in Killarney (after our visit to Dingle and boat trip to see the famous dolphin) was to visit Muckross Abbey. We arrived in the late afternoon, and a shower of rain welcomed us. The abbey is located a few miles outside of the town of Killarney. There isn't an entrance fee to visit the abbey, and it's about a 15-minute walk from the parking, so we were happy to walk around and explore at our own pace. The abbey itself is in ruins, but they are well-preserved. Historically, it is a Franciscan monestary, and it was formed around the year 1445. The monestary was dissolved under Henry VIII, but it was later reinstated in 1612. However, Cromwell chased the friars out in 1652. After this, it became a ruin.

muckross abbey

Of course, getting to the abbey in the pouring rain was a little bit of a struggle, but we had umbrellas to help keep us from getting too wet. The rain actually did stop during our walk. As mentioned, the walk to the ruins was 15-minutes, and it's down a paved pathway. Horses and carriages can drive down here.

muckross abbey

Some pretty wildflowers were along the paved walkway, and there are good views over the meadows. There was a tree in one meadow that looked like it has been hit by lightning.

muckross abbey

Finally, we arrived at the ruins and had a step back to take a look. There was still rain to contend with, but it was only light at this time.

muckross abbey

Before we went inside the ruins, we looked at the graves. A large graveyard surrounds the abbey ruins. Bram Stocker, who wrote Dracula, used to spend time in this graveyard, and he may have been inspired by it and its legends. One of the legends is of a man who was found eating a corpse, so maybe this is the inspiration for vampires. The graveyard is also meant to be haunted, and there are other ghost stories associated with it.

muckross abbey

We went inside the abbey and had a look at the ruins, many of which are open to the elements.

muckross abbey

muckross abbey

Enclosed cloisters were typical of Franciscan monestaries, and they always had a yew tree planted in the middle. The yew tree inside Muckross Abbey's cloisters is meant to be one of the finest examples, and the tree is thought to have been growing when the abbey was being built. Yew trees are popular in Irish graveyards and monestaries because they last for generations. The cloisters had vaulted ceilings, and these were intact, and I could also climb up to the second level and walk around to get some photographs.

muckross abbey

A series of tunnels exists at the ground and lower level, and this enclosed section is dark. I did not want to linger here long by myself as it felt slightly creepy. The photograph below shows what I believe are the storage rooms. The kitchen and refectory (dining hall) are opposite the cloisters area and enclosed.

muckross abbey

I had actually walked upstairs first so that I could explore from above. The below photograph is a part of the second level, and I believe they were part of the dormitory. What looks like a fireplace can be seen in the photograph below.

muckross abbey

Another bit on the top level was above where the dining hall would be, and I could see the cloisters and tree from the windows on the left in the photograph below. There were also stairs on this level which looked like a third level existed at one point.

muckross abbey

This would have been a large fireplace on the second level.

muckross abbey

After we had a look around, we met back outside and walked around the front of the monestary. Actually, they had left me while I went to explore on my own. The abbey did have a sort of 'creepy' feel as I was alone most of the time. When we met underneath the large trees in front, the rain started up again, and it was coming down hard.

muckross abbey

We opened the umbrellas up and walked back, down the green and picturesque lane with the meadows on both sides. I think that this would be a beautiful place in the sunshine. In my next post, I'll post more about Killarney National Park and the Killarney Ring Road, so keep checking back.

Over Easter weekend in April, I visited Betty's Tearooms in Harrogate. I know that the tearooms would be popular (as they are well-known), so I booked ahead in order to get a table. I was fortunate that I did because everyone else had the same idea; the day was wet and rainy, and I think that this was a popular choice because of the bad weather. The queue was actually going around the side of the building, so it was a great feeling to walk straight in without having to wait.


Actually, before I entered for afternoon tea, I checked out the window displays first. I last visited Harrogate at Easter of 2004 or 2005, and I remember the beautiful displays of giant chocolate eggs in the windows. I loved the beautiful chocolate easter egg display this year, with the beautiful flowery egg and an egg with a golden egg in the middle. They also had biscuits.


After taking a look at the window displays, I walked up the stairs for afternoon tea in the upstairs lounge. I choose the Ceylon Blue Saphire tea, and the bloke had Lapsang. The Ceylon Blue Sapphire is a black tea with a honey flavour and cornflowers. The tea was very good.


We had champagne to start to make it extra-special. We were excited to be going away for the long weekend, and I'm not sure when the next holiday will be, so we wanted to make this a little extra special.


The upstairs area was busy when we arrived but nearly empty by the time we left, and the windows face the gardens in Harrogate.


Our afternoon tea arrived fairly quickly for us to enjoy, and it is set over the three-tiered plates.


We had a selection of sandwiches, including prawn and salmon, chicken, and ham. The ham sandwich was the most delicious, and I could have had more of these. Besides the ham sandwich, I did not think much of the others.


Next up were the scones, served with strawberry jam and clotted cream. These were okay, but they were not nearly the best scones that I have ever had.


Next up are the pastries, and I must say that the pastries were delicious. We each had a selection of three, and we tried a little of each one that we wanted to try between us. My plate came with the chocolate macaroon, Victoria sponge, and a chocolate dessert with the Betty's logo on top.


The bloke's came with a chox bun, fruit tart, and mango-flavoured pastry.


On the way out, I went to the toilets, and I loved the vintage wallpaper there.


The pastries were the best part of the afternoon tea experience. If I could choose a favourite, it would be a toss-up between the fruit tart, chocolate slice with the logo on top, or the Victoria sponge. Let me know what you think if you have been to Betty's Tearooms.

Spring is a beautiful time of year to visit London. All of those years ago, my first visit to London was in the spring. It was at the end of March and during the week we had as 'spring break' between quarters at university. The spring season tends to start at least two weeks earlier than where I lived in the states, and I remember the spring flowers out and the trees budding. Although signs of spring can be seen in most places in the city, I have three favourite places to enjoy spring: St. James' Park, Green Park, and South Bank.


First up, St. James' Park. This is the oldest of London's eight royal parks and is located along the Mall, to the side of Buckingham Palace. The park has several unique birds, including Pelicans, and has a complex history. It was once the location where King James in the early 1600s kept his exotic birds and animals, such as crocodiles and camels and an elephant. Later on, it was landscaped with a canal. When it became open to the public, it was not a nice place to visit at dark as it attracted the wrong people. The park also has an island called Duck Island, which became inhabited by an exiled Frenchman; apparently he'd been told he could be the governor of this island, which turned out being a tiny island inhabited by birds. Until the the 1800s, a group of women would daily bring a cow into the park and would sell milk to visitors from it. Today, the park is home to many different types of birds, trees, and beautiful gardens. In the spring, there are nicer views of House Guards Palace and Buckingham Palace as the trees are not in full leaf to obscure these views.


In spring, the park is covered in thousands of daffodils. 


Ornamental trees are in full blossom, and I also caught a green bird in one of the trees. Actually, there were three green birds (which I learned are called ring-necked Parakeets) in this tree. They liked picking the flowers off of the tree.


I watched the parakeet for a few more moments to get some photographs.



The views of the London Eye and Big Ben from St. James' park are unobstructed from view with beautiful flowers in the foreground. 



Next up is Green Park, which is opposite the Mall from St. James' Park. The park is mainly large trees, but the daffodils are in abundance here as well, and there's a few different varieties and colours of daffodils.



Finally, South Bank is another place in London that I recommend to visit in spring. Actually, South Bank is pleasant during any time of year, and at the weekends on nice days, there are often street performers along here. Spring is a nice time to visit because the views of Big Ben are unobstructed by trees in full-leaf.



Dingle's famous resident is its dolphin named Fungie. Fungie the dolphin has been living in Dingle Bay in Ireland's west coast since the early 1980s, when he just arrived into the bay alone. He enjoyed Dingle Bay so much that he stayed, and he enjoys seeing the visitors and chasing the boats. I wanted to catch a glimpse of the famous resident during my visit to Dingle, so we headed to the harbour to book a tour. Morning tours were cancelled, so we had a bite to eat and then went back to the harbour in Dingle for a chance of seeing the dolphin.


After our pub lunch on the harbour, we waited for our boat to arrive. When our boat arrived, we boarded it and were taken out to the sea, passing the fishing boats in the harbour.


Our boat, the Lady Laura, had a resident dog. This was the first they had gone out that day to look for the dolphin, so it probably felt that the day was a little different.


As we sailed further out into the bay, Dingle looked fascinating from the distance with its harbour and the mountains in the background.


We caught sight of lighthouses and sea cliffs. We admired these before the boats started to look for Fungie. We kept our eyes open, but we did not see any signs of the dolphin. We were joined by two other boats looking for him as well, and a small boat also joined us to aid in locating him. We kept circling for awhile.


Finally, we caught sight of him. He was swimming between the boats, but it did feel as though we were disturbing him and chasing him.  I'm sure we were not as the boat owners love this dolphin and would never harm him, but I could not help but to feel that we were in his territory and that he wanted to be left alone. I think that maybe he was relaxing and sleeping in.


Fungie is a Bottlenose Dolphin, but no one knows how old he is. He's made the bay his home since the early 1980s. Dolphins live to be about 50 years of age. When I saw him early last June, he would have just enjoyed thirty years at Dingle Bay.


The boats kept following him and circling around to locate him. At times, he seemed to play with the boats. Unfortunately, he never jumped out of the water so that I could get a decent photograph.


We caught glimpses of him around our boat or the other boats, but they did not last long. I got the feeling that he just wanted to be left alone and he lived near the sea cliffs on that side of the harbour.


For those unlucky to see him, the visitors get their money back. Apparently, this does happen a few times a year. I'm sure Fungie needs to take "sick days" from time to time.


After watching him for a few passes and circling around the boats, we headed back to the harbour.


Our next stop was the drive to Kilarney, as that was the next area in Ireland that we would visit. 

Have you see Dingle's famous dolphin, Fungie?

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