Today started with a trip back to Dublin Airport to pick up a rental car for the rest of the trip. There were red, white, and blue balloons everywhere, including in arches over the doorways. Pretty impressive! I finally got the car, a Volkswagen Jetta (my only requirements were automatic and a/c; no small feat – or price tag – in Ireland), and discovered that it runs on diesel. Add that as another first for me! Having driven for a week on the left in England back in April, I wasn’t nearly as nervous or apprehensive this time. I should mention that my nervousness this time stems more from the low mileage – only 19 km! – on the car than the driving. I’m afraid of getting any little scratch on it. They actually have pictures taken of it just before I picked it up. Hertz’s NeverLost system seems to spend more time “searching for a GPS signal” than it actually does navigating, but I managed to make it to all my intended stops for the day.
First up for today was a visit to Powerscourt Gardens just outside of Enniskerry. I was looking forward to a leisurely stroll around the beautiful gardens. Unfortunately, there were many student tour groups visiting today too. It was practically wall to wall people, making the experience somewhat less than I had hoped for. After an hour or so visit, I was off to Glendalough. Glendalough is actually a valley in County Wicklow, and is well-known for the early monastic ruins found in the area. Many of the ruins date from the 12th and 13th centuries. While also very crowded, there was still a sense of solitude to the place. You can wander among the 17th and 18th century tombstones and Celtic crosses around the cathedral and round tower. I had some trouble getting good pictures due to the clouds, but the sun managed to break out for a little while!
From the ruins, a short one-mile trail leads to the Upper Lake of Glendalough. I was definitely not alone on the trail, but there was ample room to spread out. The Upper Lake is nestled in the Wicklow Mountains, and seems to be a “hot spot” for swimming and relaxing. As I walked back to the Visitor’s Centre, I was following behind a group of high school students from Spain. One of their leaders struck up conversation with me, and it turns out she is a high school teacher outside of Dublin and helping to lead the Spanish students on their two week trip. We spent the rest of the walk back sharing “war stories” and comparing the education systems in Ireland and the U.S. After leaving the Glendalough area of the Wicklow Mountains, I headed across Wicklow Gap en route to tonight’s destination, Kilkenny. The view from the top was stunning, and definitely fit the picture I had in my mind of what rural Ireland looks like.
My final destination today was Kilkenny. After checking in, the woman at the desk suggested Kyteler’s Inn for dinner. I was not disappointed. I had a table right in front of the three musicians set up for a “trad” (traditional Irish music) session and enjoyed my first real “pint” (of cider) while listening to them play. Today was definitely the first day where I really felt like I was in Ireland. From the ancient ruins to the scraggy mountains to the live Irish music, this is what I came here for!