ireland photo diary: loughcrea

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It was cold and rainy as we boarded our taxi in Loughcrea.  After a 2.5-hour bus ride our hearts were missing Aingeal and our tummies were missing her scones.  This was hanger at its finest, my friends, and after a day full of wet mountain biking, you can throw sore booties and jelly legs into the mix as well.  Our destination (one of the very last of the trip) was the mysterious Slieve Aughty Centre.

Our stomachs growled audibly and as if in deliberate cacophony as we twisted and turned, bumping up and down the rough dirt roads on our way up to the Bed and Breakfast.  Kevin broke the silence for the first time in 20 minutes, declaring his extreme craving for Italian food after 2 weeks of bangers and mash, and I was just starting to feel nauseous when our ride ended.  The rain lifted away a bit to reveal The Towers.  When we stepped out to clear the taxi-window-lense that stood between us and our home for the night, K and I were speechless.  Even in rain the Slieve Aughty Centre was beautiful.  A lush organic garden to its right, and stables out back, the only thing missing was a rope swing and some dogs…oh wait! there they were, all convened under the wrap-around porch, taking a break to dry off.  Pure farmland perfection.

As we entered, we were greeted with the friendliest of faces, inviting us to come sit for dinner, which we had not even reserved.  Maybe they can feel our hangry energy, and it’s upsetting the peaceful aura of this place, I thought.  The dining tables were so elegant, with candles and rustic flower arrangements, lilac placemats and water carafes.   Like a dream.  But then it got even more dream-like.  After slurping up a bowl of the best tomato soup I’ve ever tasted (for the record, I’m not much of a tomato soup fan at all), the chef hoisted out a heaping bowl of spaghetti onto the little buffet table, with a big bowl of bolognese to spread over the top.  Kevin’s pasta prayers had been heard!  The dinner was incredible.  It’s really amazing the way organic ingredients transform a basic meal into something worth bragging about.  Don’t even get us started on the melon icecream and berry cobbler that followed…we could go on and on about that one all night.

Our bedroom felt like a rustic spa retreat, with white linens, more water carafes, and an all-natural body wash to be used in the shower, so not to contaminate their water supply with our chemical-ridden other worldly soaps.  With full bellies and clean hair, we slept like babies that night.

 The next morning we awoke for another delicious meal and the long-awaited “donkey tour” I’d reserved for us.  It had become very clear to us then that not only were we the only guests outside of the large family of Germans staying in the B&B, we were quite unmistakably the only non-horseback-riders. Being the sole couple without riding pants on at breakfast is a strange feeling.

We headed out to the stables to collect a map of the forest trails and our donkey so we could be on our way.  Out came Hero, our designated donkey tour guide, looking a bit tired but ready for his morning brushing, which we were all too glad to give him.  A few moments later and we were on our way, trekking through the woods with just Hero and the trees.  Do you remember the scene from Snow White where she runs away into the black forest and all of the trees are covered in moss and they have spooky faces?  And then the scene in the morning when she wakes up and everything in the forest is alive, beautiful and happy to see her?  I’m convinced this was the exact forest from that movie.  With its patches of desolation and darkness, sections that glowed with light from the inside out, and a blanket of greenery covered absolutely everything,  it was right out of a fairytale.  Just breathtaking.

We hiked and hiked for several hours, singing to Hero as we went.  We decided that he was more of a “Badass” than a “Jackass”, and serenaded him with donkey-fied versions of “Bad to the Hooves” and other classic donkey hits.  In the end, when our Badass started to get a little fussy, we realized that we had essentially paid these people to brush and walk their donkey that morning, but checking Walk a Donkey Through A Magical Forest In Ireland off of our bucket list made it all worthwhile.  We were now friends with an Irish donkey, and how many people can say that, really?

ireland photo diary: connemara

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After a week of pure indulgence (re: too much beer, bangers, and mash), K and I were ready to get active.  We traveled from our hostel in Galway City down to Connemara, an Irish-speaking region in the west of County Galway.  Our angel of a host, Aingeal, scooped us up and brought us to her cute-from-the-outside, amazing-on-the-inside thatched roof cottage.  Aingeal is a 50-something bundle of joy, with a thick accent and a warm, round face.  She’s works with children who need an extra bit of attention scholastically, and that maternal inclination of hers didn’t hesitate to shine its light on us.  She immediately began nurturing, making sure we had everything arranged for our travels the following day, and taking time to ask me about ballet and K about his designs.  Ireland really does boast an extremely compassionate and caring people.

After about 3 rotaries (or round-abouts as the Irish call them), we finally arrived at our destination: Aingeal’s picturesque old fashioned cottage out in the woods.  We were greeted by her neighbor’s cartoon-like fluffy pooch, Honey, and a tea party: Aingeal’s fresh baked irish soda bread with caramelized onion hummus and cheddar, plus her homemade fruit cake (don’t scrunch up your nose, it’s actually delicious!) on the carpet, right by the indoor fireplace in her beautifully decorated, serene and bookshelf-lined living room.  It couldn’t have been more opposite of our previous night’s stay (hostel bathrooms and bunkbeds) and, needless to say, we welcomed the pampering with open arms (and full mouths).  Our hostess even prepared some traditional lamb stew for us, which we noshed on with a side of wine and a movie.  Even though we stayed in, and there wasn’t a pub within a mile, this was one of my favorite nights in Ireland.  I finally finished the book I’d been toting around all week, right by the fireplace, before taking a nice hot shower and curling up in bed.

The next day, after a plethora of fresh from the oven scones (TOO good), we decided to “do some cycling”, as Aingeal suggested.  Well.  It turns out, this activity was a little less “cycle through the old town” and a little more “mountain bike up and down rocky trails while screaming for your life and toppling over several times”.  I was in way over my head, but K was in absolute heaven, which made me happy.  Aingeal packed us a picnic for the expedition (I told you she was an angel), which we enjoyed down at the docks of a large lake that encompasses most of Connemara.  Of course, the sunny morning didn’t last long before Ireland’s weather came back to say hello, and soon enough the trails transformed from dry grey to slick black and our helmets dripped with a cool Irish rain.  We were drenched and had to cut the adventure short, but the surprise outdoor shower definitely made for a memory that won’t soon be forgotten.

all photos by me

ireland photo diary: galway city and the burren

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On day five of our trip, K and I bussed ourselves down to Galway City, a quaint little seaside shopping town.  Immediately upon entering the colorful streets of Dublin’s baby cousin, our ears buzzed with the many sounds of local music.  Traditional Irish tunes, classic American rock hits, symphonic strings played by a solo violin, a marionette and his matching maneuverer fiddling away, this place has got it all.  Walk into a pub at any point during the day (because this is Ireland, remember, and bars open up with pharmacies and cafes alike) and music can instantly be heard, almost as if pouring out through the Guinness taps, over the bars and into the streets.  The constant melodic sounds become synonymous with Galway so quickly upon arriving, in fact, that after a day there you may not notice the sheer volume of it until you’re gone and the final notes of those sweet songs drip sluggishly from your ears.

Galway City is also home to the Claddagh Ring museum, which is more of a little shop where you can see the process of claddagh-ring-creation, and even purchase one of the iconic bands for yourself.  You can stroll along the coast and stop in at Sheridan’s Cheese Mongers for a hunk of sharp Irish ghouda and some fresh produce, or swing by St. Joseph’s Cathedral for a live concert in the evening.  Pop into The Quays (pronounced like “keys”) for a fun traditional Irish pub experience, complete with two-story layout, multiple bars, and live music every night (even on a Tuesday).

Stepping just outside the city, we decided to immerse ourselves in a bit of Galway’s countryside with an 8-hour tour of one of Ireland’s most magnificent national parks, The Burren.  This expansive park’s name comes from an Irish word meaning “rocky place”, which makes sense considering how much of the area is tiled in exposed limestone pavement.  Did you guys know that limestone is actually one of the most fertile substances found in nature, consequently earning its name as “Fertile Rock”?  No wonder there is so much farming going on in the super green Burren.  K and I made a game of hopping from stone to stone as quickly as we could.  I wonder if children growing up here so many thousands of years ago may have had the same idea…

We visited a dark and stormy castle, the ruins of an ancient church, a 5800-year-old tomb (that’s older than the pyramids in Egypt!), an ex-fortress and family residence where legend has it laprechauns and fairies used to dwell, and of course, the majestic Cliffs of Moher, one of Ireland’s most prized natural beauties.  It was a whirlwind of a day, with loads of information and sights to be taken in, but also one that I will never, ever forget.  The magic of Ireland’s countryside is not to be taken for granted- if you ever travel to the land of the green, you MUST go out and experience it!

ireland photo diary: dun laoghaire

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During our stay in Dublin, we took a day trip to the beautiful coastal town of Dun Laoghaire (pronounced like “dun leery”, I think).  Our excuse for training it out to this pretty little wedding destination (we  passed by 4 that day) was entirely average and perfectly normal: to participate in Ukulele Hooley, an annual international ukulele festival.  Sounds like your typical Tuesday, right?

Well, it might if you play the ukulele, but I think most would call what I do “attempt feebly to strum along to the beat and smile while holding the aforementioned ukulele”…not exactly pro-status.  Despite our lack of ukulele talent, Kevin, his parents and I climbed aboard and settled into the front row, top floor of the double-decker  Ukulele Bus.  Behind us lay a vibrating sea of faux hibiscus and palm trees taking the form of aloha shirts and plastic leis- not your usual Ireland scenery, that’s for sure.  When the first song was called out, the family and I began hectically surfing through our shared “book of songs” (re: loose-leaf printed sheet music with lyrics and the occasional chord), while the rest of the uke crew erupted into a symphony of strumming and singing, eyes closed and noses in the sky.  A few wrong notes from the front of the bus later, eyes opened and our amateur capabilities were revealed.  We shifted in our seats awkwardly, smiled crooked smiles and gave a few weak strums and a giggle, hoping our uke-inclined busmates would find our enthusiasm cute.  This was not the case.  Eyes rolled, sharp exhales emitted, and annoyed glances were exchanged.  Who knew the world of ukulele was such an exclusive one?  Woops.

After our first stop and several more song attempts (we are not quitters!), we made a few friends who shared our lack of extreme uke skills (albeit they were all at least at Kevin’s level of beginner ability).  Boarding the bus with a few partners-in-crime made the whole experience a bit more enjoyable.  That, and a few glasses of wine, of course! ;)  It wouldn’t be an adventure in Ireland without a bar as your final destination…

*It should also be noted that on this day trip I got to play (hold) the world’s teeniest ukulele…this thing was the size of my hand- adorable!

*Also, I’m a dingus and mixed up my locations!  This post previously set us in Loughcrea, but it did in fact take place in Dun Laoghaire.

all photos by Kirsten Evans

ireland photo diary: dublin

Hello, friends!  I apologize for the delay, but after a few days of “rest” and an ongoing attempt to fight the evil enigma that is jetlag, I have finally gone through my photos from the trip.  I realized immediately (actually, after my computer crashed several times) that there are far too many images for one post, so I’m going to split up this photo diary into several mini-diaries, each representing a different place we visited along the way.DSC04103dublin2dublin5DSC04195dublin1dublin11DSC04190dublin9dublin6DSC04304dublin10DSC04307DSC04302DSC04212

So first off, we have Dublin.  Ah, Dublin.  This is where I spent the majority of my stay, right in the heart of the Temple Bar area, a lively bit of the city, crowded with street performers, pubs, paintings, and PEOPLE.  The busy streets bustled with life, hanging flowers and colorful graffiti creating a painter’s palette backdrop for the quiche vintage shops, galleries, and bakeries that dotted the city’s center.  This area is famous for its party-happy vibe, attracting tourists and locals alike, all sharing a common goal: drink lots of Guinness, dance and be merry!

Never one to disappoint the spirit of a city, I embraced this culture right away, partaking in a pub crawl (re: stumbling from bar-to-bar with a rowdy group of travelers lead by a local), which directed me to some of the city’s most energetic pubs.  Our crawl (aptly named) even brought us to Whelan’s, a vibrant bar made famous by the film P.S. I Love You (if you haven’t seen it, grab a box of tissues and get going).  There, more beer was consumed, a dance-off ensued, and new friends were made.

It’s interesting to visit many different cities in rapid succession the way we did on this trip.  Each place has its own feel, its own heartbeat.  Without warning, Dublin scooped me up and held me almost too tight– pressed right into its heart, insisting I feel that heartbeat all the way down into my bones.  This city is a proud and determined one, refusing to let its inhabitants ignore that thumping, a request I was only too willing to oblige.

all photos by me, some via my instagram

travel time

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Today’s the day!

In just a few short hours, I will board a plane and begin my travels from BOS>JFK>DUB…that’s DUBlin, Ireland!  Excuse my excessive usage of exclamation points, but I am pretty excited over here!

I will not be able to update the blog until I’m back in the states (see you in September, STBers), but if you’d like to follow my day-to-day adventures in the lush land of the Irish, follow my instagram account, @keeksevans!  I promise to fill you in on all of the castles, cliffs, and scones I delight in during these next 10 days!

photo via Ballet Ireland’s facebook

end of summer bliss

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Ahh, the sweet sights of late summer in New England.

Colorful, shiny, enlightening, trips to the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston.  Rustic flower arrangements by the beach in York, Maine.  Summer fruits in the spotlight for a healthy breakfast in Providence.  These are the captured moments of happiness and creation that have fueled my curious mind these past few weeks.

It’s all too easy to find one’s self unmotivated, uninspired, stoic, and stir-crazy as mid-August approaches and the nights lose their humidity.  Luckily, that hasn’t been much of a problem for me this year, as planning for my upcoming trip to Ireland (!!!) has kept me beyond activated in the inspiration department.  In 9 days I will fly from Boston to Dublin to meet up with le boyfriend’s family in celebration of his graduation from college.  When the rest of his family returns to the states, K and I will spend another week exploring the beautifully green postcard-ready viewsof Ireland.  Already on the itinerary: a visit to Galway City, Connemara, and hopefully a few more destinations close by.  We plan to hike through the Cliffs of Moher, check out the art museums, hop on board a ‘ukulele bus’ and be lead through the woods of the countryside by donkeys.  If you have any suggestions of sights, restaurants, pubs, or anything else that cannot be skipped- please let me know in the comments section!

all photos via my instagram (@keeksevans)