(The above picture may someday be an active map once I find the time!
As some of you can see from the above map, we drove a heck of a lot around Ireland this year on our vacation. Flying into Shannon on the Aer Lingus flights is always disorienting; it feels like 2am when it's really 7 or 8. All you want to do is lie down somewhere and sleep, but the day has barely begun. So you struggle over to the Bureau de Change, get your first taste of the new Irish Coins (Bloody Hell, the ten-pence shrunk in the wash and what's this, a POUND COIN? Yikes...), and try to figure out how to waste some time. Ah, call the family in Dublin. But you need a cardphone. No problem, the candy store, er I mean newsagent or sweet shop, sells them.
That doesn't take long, so it's off to pick up the rental car. I had already booked through EuropCar (Murray's, affiliated with National in the US) so there was no hassle. Just some raised eyebrows when I gave my profession as Astronomer... ("Hey Jenny, I've got an Astronomer here!"). Seemed to brighten the car rental workers' day.
Then it was off to the car in a light misting drizzle (Yep, we're in Ireland), squeeze the suitcases into the back of the Fiesta (wow, they actually fit, as long as I lean on the door when closing it!), figure out which side I need to get in (where's the darn steering wheel?), and off we go. NO, ON THE LEFT!
So we find ourselves looking at the impressive bulk of Bunratty Castle. Unfortunately it's still only a little after 8am and they don't open for at least another hour. One of these days they'll figure out to offer something low-key to bleary-eyed tourists arriving from the US... However, looking through the Town and Country Homes book, which you can buy at any Bord Fáilte (Irish Tourist Board) office, you can find many Bed and Breakfast places that kindly say "Morning Guests Welcome".
But, we are determined to try and struggle through more of the day, so it's on to the Cliffs of Moher. Grab a cup'o'tea at the visitor centre to make sure I stay awake a little longer, and then we decide to head for a B&B for the night (day, whatever). We had picked one potential candidate out of the book several weeks before...
On the way there, Kim manages to catch a glimpse of a wild Hedgehog. Bryan saw one in the following days, but yours truly had to be content with seeing the kind one finds in the souvenir shops. Oh well...
So we end up at Villa Maria in the little village of Burren, County Clare (yes, there is indeed a village called Burren and it's not far from The Burren itself). The proprieter was very kind and understanding, and we were able to finally crash on the beds at about 2pm. (The image is a link that brings you to a longer description of Villa Maria).
Then a few hours later hunger set in (those Marietta biscuits [cookies] and Cream Crackers didn't hold us very long...) so after some good advice from our host, we set off to Kinvara --- just up the road in County Galway --- for a meal. I don't recall the name of the restaurant unfortunately, but it was quite good. It was around now that I realised things had changed since my last visit (1987); the food had got (gotten?) quite a bit better. As had the service. This restaurant is on the south-west corner of the little square near the centre of Kinvara if you're curious.
A link to the second and third days.