Saturday, November 7, 2009

Cliffs of Moher – or should I say – The Cliffs of Insanity???

Well, here we were, at an actual campground.  I slept easier knowing were officially allowed to sleep here for the night and it was great to have electricity to recharge our computer and camera and also to have our fridge items get really cold for once!  Being in the camper van for cooking was working out pretty well.  Our meals were cereal or porridge for breakfast, sandwiches with fruit and cheese or yogurt for lunch and dinners were tacos, eggs, pasta or ramen noodles with veggies and dip.  Of course we also had lots of snacks, nuts and pumpkin bread, cookies and chips, and, especially, since it was Halloween week, candy!  It was neat to be able to just pull over when we were hungry and make our meal, but it was also a bit challenging since the burners on the stove Resized_HPIM3405 blew out all the time, the work surface was tiny and it was almost impossible to keep the refrigerator cold when we were stopped for the night.  Even when we managed to get it lit, it often turned off. 

Then there were the sleeping arrangements.  After Griffin’s first adventurous night, we had him rotating sleeping with Callie and Zander – which worked OK except, for whatever reason, he still fell out of the bunk at least once per night.  André and I had to put our bed together every night using the kids’ seat cushions,  it was quite complicated but worked out OK.  Resized_HPIM3407

The campground was very peaceful and the kids found another camping family to play with.  They had 8 and 4 year old boys and a 2 year old girl.   When we woke in the morning they spent a few Resized_HPIM3410hours just running around.  It was nice to have a lazy morning where we got to have a real shower and I blogged a bit.  We didn’t pull out until around noon.  Our goal for the day was the Cliffs of Moher, and we hoped to stop along the way to perhaps see a castle since wResized_HPIM3409e saw a  few marked on our map.

We drove through Listow, a genuine heritage town, hoping for a castle.    We think “heritage town” might be the Irish version ofResized_HPIM3443 ‘most beautiful village’ (the designation they have in France).  We were warned to keep the town ‘tidy’!  Unfortunately, although the castle was very interesting architecturally, it was only open for tours during the summer months.  We visited off season, so we were often unable to visit sites of interest.   I really should haveResized_HPIM3470 bought a better guide book but it was hard to even find an open souvenir shop. Our map made it impossible to tell if the castle we would be passing was suitable for touring or yet another of the seeming thousands of ruins we passed.  They were perched along the side of the road, set at the edge of a river or plopped into the middle of a field. There were almost never signs for these ruins.  I wonder if most of their names have even been forgotten in the mists  of time.  

We journeyed on down more tiny and unmarked roads.  I know I keep harping on this, but these people really have road issues.  Some of the roads featured giant placards informing us they were part of a road improvement scheme.  It seemed all this scheming had not done too much for the sResized_HPIM3414tate of the roads since they still seemed mostly narrow and slow.  I have to mention some of my favorite road signs, which I could not photograph since we hurtled by them, focused on survival.  The first is ‘UNSTABLE ROAD EDGE’.  This is a scary sign to see when you are in giant sponge country and piloting a vehicle, that, in order to avoid collision, regularly crosses the road edge to ride on the almost non-existent shoulder.   How unstable is unstable, anyway?  Is a crevasse about to open up under our wheels?  Another favorite was spotted several times as we crossed into new areas and informed us how many hundreds of people had died on that road that year.  Not dozens, hundreds!   If there was any way to avoid the road where 209 people have already died that year we would have done it – but, seemingly, it is the only way to reach our destination.  When coming up to sharp turns, in the US, usually we get a curve sign and, often, a lowering of the speed limit, but in Ireland you had two choices.  The first, and more common, was the painting of the word slow onto the road itself.  We saw ‘SLOW’, ‘SLOW, SLOWER, SLOWER’, ‘GO MALT’ (that’s slow in gaelic), and even ‘VERY, VERY SLOW’.  Of course, we slowed down, but sometimes you would get a very gentle curve and others, a hairpin bend.

The second way they would mark a turn, much less common, was by placing a giant sign on the side of the road that said, WARNING, ACCIDENT BLACK SPOT.  The middle of the sign featured an actual giant black dot.  I think this waResized_HPIM3415s to highlight how Resized_HPIM3412 the curve ahead is completely blind to all those drivers coming from the other direction.  How about cutting down some of those bushes, people?   That might help….  Also we saw many signs that we weren’t even sure could be right.  Within 300 meters of driving there would be 3 speed limit signs, 100 km/h, 30 km/h and 80 km/h.  So, how fast are we allowed to go?  Usually we just journeyed as fast as we felt was safe.  OK, safe on Irish roads means not driving on them at all, but you get the picture.

Resized_HPIM3422 Next we got to the ferry across the mouth of the Shannon River.  It was a small ferry and only about 15 cars made the journey across.  It cost 20 Euros per vehicle but the boat was only about 1/3 full.  I wonder how much it reallyResized_HPIM3427 costs to run one of these ferries?   Many of the passengers didn’t even bother getting out of their cars, but, of course, we did get out and sit on the deck for the 20 minute journey.  Griffin treated Daddie to one of his special hugs and kisses – he gives the best in the world, you know.  I took the  photo, right, of the bunk camper to show how it compares in size and height to the truck parked immediately in front of it.  We are probably just as long and wide, but not as tall.  Also, note the obnoxious paintings all over the thing.  We could never pass for anything but tourists.

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We were Resized_HPIM3438fed up with driving at this point but I was determined to get to the Cliffs of Mohr before dark.  Driving was definitely the toughest part of this vacation.  It required constant vigilance on the treacherous roads, and constant sign watching by the gun since the signs were so small and hard to read.   The roads wandered through every small village.  That part was fun since we got a feel for how the average Irish person liveResized_HPIM3467s.  The homes, in general, were pretty small and had low ceilings, even the fire stations seemed smaller than would be expected.  Once again we were grateful for the DVD player to keep the kids happy as we tried to navigate.  The 2nd movie of the day ended and the kids were shot – but we were still at least half an hour from the cliffs. Resized_HPIM3449 We decided everyone needed a break and took a small detour to see Spanish Point.  According to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_Point, “Spanish Point was named after the unfortunate Spanish who died here in 1588, when many ships of the Armada were wrecked during stormy weather. Those who escaped from their sinking ships and made it safely to land were executed by Sir Turlough O'Brien of Lisacannor and Boethius Clancy, High Sheriff of County Clare”  Poor Spanish sailors!  I had a great history teacher in high school – I can’t remember his name, but he gave us these date quizzes and, though I don’t remember anything else I do remember that history, for us, started with 1588 – when England defeated the Spanish Armada.  So I looked it up some more and found http://www.clarelibrary.ie/eolas/coclare/history/spanish_armada.htm.  It turns out that the poor lost ships had already lost the battle at the point when they crashed into the coast of Ireland, but, in an age before email or even telephone, this was not common knowledge and the plan, ahead of the anticipated battle, was to view any Spanish ships headed for Irish shores as aggressors.  They were under orders to "…make inquiry by all good means, both by oath and otherwise, to take all the hulls of ships, stores, treasures, etc. into your hands and to apprehend and execute all Spaniards found there of what quality so ever. Torture may be used in prosecuting this inquiry.”  Must have been before the Geneva Convention (1864) or after the Bush Administration (2000).  About 400 men drowned in the treacherous waves after the 2 boats sunk and 60 to 70 survived.  Those who were not killed by the natives who met them as soon as they stumbled to shore (the majority) were captured, tortured and executed.  Their bodies were thrown into a mass grave still known to this day as Tuama na Spaineach.  Wow….

Now, however, this seems to be no more than another amazing Irish beach - this one was really neat because we could walk right over the rocks to the sea.   Notice, please the trailer home park perched right on the edge of all this.  I believe that such views, in the US, have been co-opted by now by either rich people or national parks.  I would be happy to live in a trailer Resized_HPIM3450home for this view!

TResized_HPIM3455here were all these amazing tidal pools left in the rocks, lined with algae and little crustaceans.  We used the knife I keep on my keys (thanResized_HPIM3459ks dad) to pry one off the rocks – I wonder, do people eat these things? I wanted to get a great photo of myself way out  on the rocks, spray all around me, but the rocks were slick.  André warned me, and I thought I was being careful, but I majorly wiped out when I stepped off the edge of the dry rock and onto the wet.  So, we settled for climbing around the dry areas and then I hurried us onward, the light was beginning to fade and the Cliffs were still ahead.  Zander was pretty pissed about this, since he was having a great time at Spanish Point, and fast transitions are not his strength, but we managed to get him moving along.

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Yes, we did make it.  Was it worth it?  Well, Ireland was once again giving us an amazing suResized_HPIM3482nset – just take a look at the photos below and judge for yourself.  I know the colors look fake – but the water really was pink.  At 230 meters, these are the highest cliffs in Europe – and they are beyond words.Resized_HPIM3476  

 

 

 

 

 

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We asked Griffin what he thought and he said this was a beautiful place – this was followed by what we thought was him saying, I love you.  André naturally replied with, “I love you too Griffin” but was hastily corrected.  “No Daddie, I’m not saying I love you.  I’m saying I love this beautiful world.”  Who could ask for anything more?

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Kudos to André on this amazing shot!  It is of us standing in front of O’Briens tower – built in 1835 by Sir Cornelius O’Brien as an observation tower for the hundreds of Victorian tourists coming to visit the cliffs.   He also increased signage in the area and improved walkways and is known as one of the earliest pioneers of promoting tourism. Since this is now the most visited site in all of Ireland, I guess it worked!

I can take credit for most of the other shots – including the bathroom doors – tastefully decorated with a photo of the cliffs. We tried to walk around the other side of the cliffs as well, but it seems they are private property.  What a shame, for it seems like such a spot should belong to everyone.  I think America actually has a pretty great system of national parks – you can feel free to wander all over the pl

ace through the natural wonders of the US – and not worry about private property signs – sounds amazingly socialist, doesn’t it?  Shh…. don’t tell the conservatives.  We considered jumping the fence (like thousands had so obviously done before us) but it was time for us to go to sleep anyway, which we did right in the Cliffs of Mohr parking lot!  Inconceivable!

I have to say a bit more about the cliffs here, because, being me, I of course googled the cliffs once I started blogging about them.  It turns out that these are none other than The Cliffs of Insanity.  If you have never watched The Princess Bride, I truly feel sorry for you for it is my all time favorite movie – and also one of my favorite books.  My friendDeb also loves it – and we used to quote the movie quite often in conversation (and frankly, I still do).  I also learned that in September of 2008 PlayRoom Entertainment came out with a Princess Bride board game, and the BluRay DVD came out in March of 2009 (not that I have a BluRay player, but I might someday, right?)   If you want a taste of the height of the cliffs, and a giggle, just watch this clip.

It was a rough night since there was very bad storm outside and the wind was strong off the cliffs.  I woke several times due to the fact we were swaying in the wind and the rain was hammering on the roof like a ton of bricks.  We were undisturbed by the parking authority though, and woke up to the sound of Griffin and Zander happily playing together.  I overheard Zander say to Griffin (who was his baby at the time). “Now baby, if you don’t listen, I’m going to throw you off the Cliffs of Moher.”   Luckily the baby listened, he already knows never to trust anybody.  That’s why he’s still alive. 

3 comments:

The Golden Papaya said...

Wow. Beautiful. Sounds like quite the adventure!

Deb Tross said...

I love that you saw the Cliffs of Insanity!!! That's so cool. Also - love the sunset silhouette pic.

Anonymous said...

Just a correction, the signs you saw about hundreds of people dying on the roads, it is in fact a figure for the entire county of clare, not that paticular road. The roads are normal for a native, they are poor in comparison to other areas of europe but you have to remember Ireland has a tiny population on a large island. Who's going to pay for top class roads? Most accidents happen in the summer months, yep you've guessed it, TOURISTS!

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