We arrived in Cork in the dark, after a long ride from Dingle. It was a beautiful drive, through the mountains, with green fields everywhere, and cows roaming. Cork was almost the exact opposite. Although the sky was dark, the stars weren’t visible with all the lights from the city. Everything was lit up – the bridges, the shops, the traffic lights. Not the hostel we had booked, which was up on a hill, hidden out of the way, with poor signage. When we walked it, it was bright, and the girl at the desk was excited that we’d been in Dingle. It wasn’t our cheapest stay, but not our most expensive either. We got two beds in an 6-bed dorm, and it was only a little sketchy. As it got later, we got hungrier, and we ventured out into the city. As we passed the hostel lobby, the Garda – Irish police – were at the front desk… we didn’t linger to find out what the problem was.
We found pizza and a drink at a small pub across the bridge. Cork, like most cities in Ireland, is built on a river, which makes for lovely wandering, and for the directionally challenged like Rachel, generally easy to find the way home.
Our nights in Cork were long – it’s a big party city, and a dorm room is not the calmest place to be – but the days were lovely. There are probably almost a dozen bookshops in the city, mostly centered around a major, pedestrian friendly shopping area. Cute cafes, including a Costa Coffee we spent a rainy afternoon in, booking tickets and hostels for the next leg of our trip.
I had an interest in Blarney Castle, which was conveniently only a short bus ride from Cork. Although the day was cloudy, we took the city bus out to Blarney. The grounds surrounding the castle are immense, sprawling and green. For children, it would be far more attractive than the castle, filled with duck ponds, fields for playing in, and flowers to sniff (I’m pretty sure picking them would be frowned upon). By the time we reached the castle, it was absolutely pouring. Even our rain gear was drenched. For people who like castles, this was a good one. Although many of the roofs are gone, the many turrets are great for climbing and exploring, and unlike some more in-tact and delicate structures, Blarney Castle was good and destroyed by the time we arrived, with very few restrictions on where you could wander. In the sunshine, it would be absolutely lovely. In the rain… we say it’s authentic.
And since we were all the way out at this tourist attraction, and we were already wet, I was convinced to be slightly manhandled by a burly Irishman in order to kiss the Blarney Stone. Legend says that by kissing the Stone, one will never be lost for words – clearly that’s not a problem… maybe it worked!
For those who may not be as in love with the castles as I am, there were some very interesting caves just down the path from the castle, included in the price of admission to the grounds. It was a perfect respite from the rain, though very dark, and although I am not a geologist of any sort, I suspect there were some interesting features for those who might be more knowledgeable.
For Rachel – not as much of a castle-lover as I am – was far more engaged by our second highlight of Cork, the English Market, a covered food market in the centre of the city. Along with all the merchants selling local produce, meats, fish and souvenirs, on the second floor there is a sweet little restaurant and a posh cafe, where we splurged on coffees and a treat, overlooking the wandering shoppers and the merchants with their wares. Although it was a bit of a touristy day, with the market and the castle, we got to see a slice of Irish life in the market, and saw lots of side streets in Cork trying to find our way there!
Cork was not our favourite stop by any stretch – the hostel was slightly creepy, the weather did not hold up, and I cannot recall huge sections of our few days there – but Blarney Castle was memorable. Blarney (the town) was very cute, and the sheer number of bookshops we got to visit made the trip worth it. And, if the rain just won’t stop, the Costa Coffee across the river is the perfect place to wait it out, book a ticket, or hope for a bus out.