A Travellerspoint blog

One day in Cork Visiting Blarney Castle

Kissed the Blarney Stone, Sunday, June 02

Leaving Waterford after breakfast on Sunday, June 02, we headed to Cork. Cork is only 120 kilometres from Waterford. We decided to avoid the freeway and take back roads to spend some time in small towns before going to Cork. It was good that we did it. For the first time, we came across fruit stalls on the road, selling strawberries.

Mala buying Wexford Strawberries from street stall

Mala buying Wexford Strawberries from street stall

We stopped at one place and Mala bought a big punnet of strawberries. These Strawberries are from Wexford. They are very fresh and sweet. We have eaten similar tasty strawberries in Canada.

On our way, we came across a Farmers Market in a small town called Dungarvan. It was a small farmers market with a fair number of stalls selling various items. We were not interested in buying vegetables or plants. We wanted to taste home made foods found in these food stalls.

Mala buying home made Brownies

Mala buying home made Brownies

We saw a lady in one of the food stalls selling home made cakes and brownies. Mala bought some brownies from that lady. Then there was another lady selling cinnamon buns. We bought two buns.

Mala posing with the lady selling cinnamon buns

Mala posing with the lady selling cinnamon buns

We also bought freshly brewed coffee from another stall and had our cinnamon buns, brownies and coffee sitting at a small table at the Farmers market. The person making coffee knew a lot about Australia. He was in Australia for several years, but had to come back. His friend got permanent residency in Australia and stayed back. He was telling Mala that his time in Australia was the best time in his life.

We were still too early to check into our hotel when we came to Cork. We decided to visit the Blarney castle before going to the hotel. Blarney castle is a very small castle, but it has become famous mainly for one reason. Any one who visits this castle has to kiss the Blarney Stone. The Blarney stone is supposed to have some magical powers. People who kiss the stone would gain the gift of eloquence. There are different stories to explain how the stone acquired these magical powers. For more than two hundred years, millions of people have been coming to this place to kiss the stone and acquire this special power.

Blarney Castle from a distance

Blarney Castle from a distance

We drove to the castle grounds and parked the car in the special parking area. The castle in on high grounds and after reaching the castle, you have to climb about 100 steps in a circular staircase to reach the top and the Blarney stone on the top deck. Climbing 100 steps cannot be an easy task. But there were so many people in a queue waiting to climb. The climb itself was very slow as each person had to take close to 30 seconds to stretch on the ground and kiss the stone. Both Mala and I joined the long queue and slowly moved up the winding staircase.

Andrew getting ready to kiss the Blarney Stone

Andrew getting ready to kiss the Blarney Stone

There is a person near the stone to help you stretch on the ground and kiss the stone the correct way. You have to lie down on the ground on your back with your face up. Then hold the two rails, drag yourself up to the wall, bend your head down and kiss the stone which is below your body level. A photograph is taken as proof of your kissing the stone and you can buy it at the bottom of the castle if you are happy with it.

Andrew looking brainier after kissing the Blarney Stone

Andrew looking brainier after kissing the Blarney Stone

After following all these rituals and buying a photo showing I have kissed the stone, we drove to our hotel. We were fairly tired and also hungry. I have to wait till I come back to Australia to test my new found eloquence. In Cork, we have booked the hotel called Lancaster Lodge. The hotel was near a water stream. After checking in and keeping our bags in the hotel room, we drove to the city centre and found a Chinese restaurant to have our dinner. Most of the streets in the city centre area were one way streets.
Tomorrow we are planning to move to Killarney and spend two nights there.

Posted by fernando65 09:16 Comments (0)

Our time in Waterford, Marina Hotel

May31,June 1

We were planning to spend two nights in Waterford and booked the Marina Hotel in Waterford for two days. Due to the delay in ferry service and other issues, we almost lost one day and arrived at the hotel only at 2:00AM on June 1. We managed to have a few hours of sleep and got up in the morning to have a good look at the hotel and the surroundings. Our hotel was near the Suir river. Suir river is one of the major rivers in Ireland. It is 185 kilometres long and flows into the Atlantic ocean near Waterford. It is famous for its brown trouts and Salmon. We had a good view of the river from our room. We saw many boats driving past our hotel. We also saw many young girls and boys engaging in kayaking and rowing up and down the river.

View from our room in Waterford Marina Hotel near Suir River

View from our room in Waterford Marina Hotel near Suir River

The main task for the day was to visit the Waterford Crystal Factory. We could look at other tourist attractions only if there is time left. We had breakfast at Marina hotel. We had the choice of ordering breakfast and we ordered a full Irish breakfast. Irish breakfast is different from English breakfast. It normally includes sausages, eggs, bacon, black and white puddings, tomato and mushrooms.

Crystal clock Tower In Waterform Crystal factory

Crystal clock Tower In Waterform Crystal factory

We found the Waterford Crystal factory is only five minutes walking distance from our hotel. We came out of the hotel after breakfast to see promising blue skies. It was going to be a good sunny day. I was expecting to see the factory in an old heritage building, but I was wrong. It was a very modern glass building. We could see the inside of the building from outside. We had to buy tickets for the factory tour. The guide took us through various stages of blowing and cutting crystal objects.

Master Blowers at work in the Waterford Factory

Master Blowers at work in the Waterford Factory

Some of the objects are hand made by master craftsman. Some items need a very high level of precision.. These items are cut using machines.

We went through the collection of some priced items. There were items such as major trophies specially crafted to be given to the winners of tournaments. There were also some specially designed items to commemorate special events such as nine eleven. We came out of the tour learning a lot about the Waterford crystals and why they are so special and held in high esteem.

Highly Priced Custom made Crystal Tropies

Highly Priced Custom made Crystal Tropies

Mal wanted to buy a few items to take with us to Australia. We talked to a few sales girls asking for information and at one point Mala talked a sales person who happened to have her two daughters in Australia. She has been to Australia to visit her daughters and just come back only three weeks ago. Mala got her to show her some items including a crystal lamp, a crystal photo frame and a small crystal jug. The lamp was quite expensive. The sales lady gave her a 10% discount and Mala ended up buying the lot. I was wondering how we were going to carry these items, but that was something we had to worry about later only when we were ready to come back.

After the factory visit, we decided to drive to Kilkenny a small tourist town about 50 kilometres from Waterford. We drove there and had a quick look at some of the monuments, but came back only quickly. We wanted to spend a few hours in the shopping area of Waterford and visit the city centre to see what the city looked like.

People in holiday mood in Waterford town centre

People in holiday mood in Waterford town centre

The next morning, we were leaving for Cork which is famous for Blarney castle.

Posted by fernando65 14:49 Comments (0)

From Swansea to Waterford, Ferry Fiasco

May 31, 2013

We left Swansea on May31, around 9:00AM. We were impatient to cross over to Ireland for the first time in our life. The First part of the journey was to drive from Swansea to Fishguard, nearly 150 kilometres. The next step is to take the ferry from Fishguard to Rosslare in Ireland. Stena Line runs a regular ferry service from Fishguard to Rosslare. Stena Line is considered to be one of the leading Ferry companies in the world and they claim to be the biggest Ferry operator in Europe. We wanted to make sure that we do not miss the ferry or wait in a long queue to purchase tickets. To be on the safe side, we purchased two premium ferry tickets on line. Ferry journey from Fishguard to Rosslare takes nearly four hours. After the ferry crossing, we were to drive nearly another hundred kilometres to reach our hotel in Waterford. The premium ticket holders have certain privileges. They can bypass the long queue of vehicles when embarking and disembarking from the ferry liner. They also have access to the Stena plus lounge where they serve free wine and nibbles. They can occupy luxury seats and have dinner at the luxury lounge. We thought by purchasing premium tickets, we would be assured of a great time on the ferry.

We meticulously planned our trip and up to this point everything went very smoothly.
Our breakfast, our dinner, our leisure time in the hotel and sight seeing were all planned to perfection. On this day, we planned to leave the hotel in Swansea around 10:00AM, drive leisurely and reach Fishguard within two hours, then have lunch in a restaurant and be ready to board the Ferry at 1:30PM. The ferry was scheduled to leave Fishguard at 2:30PM and arrive at Rosslare at 6:30PM. We could reach our hotel in Waterford in another 90 minutes. Just before leaving the hotel, we received an email from Stena line saying the Ferry will be on time and to be at the terminal not later than 1:30PM.

Long queue of vehicles waiting to be loaded

Long queue of vehicles waiting to be loaded

We drove to Fishguard without stopping anywhere and finally stopped at a restaurant close to the terminal to have a coffee. The girl who is running the restaurant is a very friendly person. She is the cashier and also the coffee maker. We told her that we are waiting to catch the freey. She took me to the back window and showed me the ferry terminal. The restaurant is in a high place and we could clearly see the ferry terminal from the restaurant. While waiting at the restaurant, the girl who served us came back to us saying the Ferry was getting late by nearly two hours. She heard it from a passenger who went to the Terminal and asked to come back in two hours. We had to make sure we were getting the right information, so we left the restaurant and drove to the main ferry terminal. We met and talked to the Stena ground staff at the terminal. Yes, they confirmed there was a delay and they could not tell us exactly when the Ferry would arrive at Fishgfuard. We had to come back in about two hours to get an update on the status or simply sit in the car and wait. We asked the staff whether there was a chance of cancelling the ferry trip. No the Ferry would come, but they are unable to tell us the time. We had no choice but to hang around and wait. A long queue of vehicles was building up, but we were not going to wait in the queue. We drove to the small town of Fishguard near by and did some window shopping. There were a few small restaurants, but we already had chips and coffee in the first restaurant. We came back to the terminal around 3:30PM. Still there was no Ferry. But they were able to give us an update on the situation. The Ferry liner is on its way and will reach the Fishguard terminal at 5:00PM. The passengers would be asked board the Wessel at 5:30PM and the Ferry would leave the terminal at 6:30PM. That means we would reach Rosslare at 10:30PM.

Cars driving into the lower deck of the Ferry Liner

Cars driving into the lower deck of the Ferry Liner

We were not happy, but it was not the end of the world. We could still get to our hotel before mid night and catch a few hours of sleep. The Ferry arrived at 5:00PM. As Premium ticket holders, we boarded the Ferry first. We walked straight into the Stena plus lounge. We had free wine and free snacks. When the Ferry Liner started moving at 6:30PM, we have already forgotten the issue of the unexpected delay and were back in good spirits. Two of us found a good table and we ordered two Rib Eye Steaks for dinner.

Mala enjoying her dinner on the Ferry Liner

Mala enjoying her dinner on the Ferry Liner

The Ferry reached the terminal at Rosslare at 9:00PM ahead of the predicted time. We were ready to disembark. We walked down to our parked cars under the direction of ferry staff. We waited in our cars for nearly thirty minutes when we were informed that the Ferry was having a problem in opening its gates to allow the cars to drive out. This was the second dose of bad news. We could see some passengers getting angry and openly blaming the captain and the crew of the vessel. What could they do? It was not their fault. We knew we had to remain calm and allow the captain and the crew to solve the problem. The captain made an announcement saying they were planning to turn the vessel the other way and park it facing its front end to the terminal. That way the vehicles can drive out from the front gates. It took another one hour to turn the vessel around and open the front gates. Each vehicle had to drive slowly and then make a U turn at the corner before being able to drive out. When we finally came out of the Ferry, it was past 11:30PM.
The road was dark with very few street lights and we drove carefully, making sure we are on the right path. Then came the next unexpected delay. There was some kind of accident and a burnt out vehicle on the road. The police stopped all the vehicles. We were asked to keep the engine running with hazard lights on. The police took nearly forty minutes to clear the road. We thought that was the final hurdle. But there was another one. Right close to Waterford, we came across a round-about that was not showing on the GPS device. There were two exits both indicating Waterford. We took the second exit to find out we have entered a tollway by mistake. After about five kilometres, we reached a toll fee station. The toll fee was Euro 1.90. I extended a five pound note to the lady who was collecting the toll. She was not accepting pounds. In Ireland we have to pay in Euros. We had only pound notes with us. We managed to solve the problem by paying the toll using my visa card. After settling the toll fee, we told the lady that we are lost and the GPS is not showing the toll way. She asked us to take the next exit and follow the signs that leads to the city centre. After we took the exit, the GPS started working, indicating the right direction. When we arrived at the hotel it was nearly 2:00AM.

We have booked the Marina Hotel in Waterford. The person at the reception desk was very helpful. He asked us to leave the car in the only free disable slot right next to the hotel and then to move it to the secure car park in the morning. We lost the whole day, but we had the next day to catch up. We were glad to be in our hotel and catch a few hours of sleep.

In our next entry, we will write about the Crystal factory visit in Waterford.

Posted by fernando65 23:07 Comments (4)

From Bath to Swansea via Cardiff

We would have loved to spend another day in Bath. There was so much to see and the weather was improving. When we left in the morning, the sky was clear and the sun was shining. We decided to have a short stop over in Cardiff. Cardiff has the second biggest castle in England. The biggest castle is the one in Windsor. We were not able to visit it due to our other commitments. We may still manage to do it , when we return to London.

Mala at the entrance to Cardiff Castle

Mala at the entrance to Cardiff Castle

Cardiff castle is in the city centre. There is limited parking near the castle. We were driving slowly looking for a parking station to keep our car. We found the car park that is attached to the Cardiff Stadium. This stadium can get full when there are football matches in the stadium. There was nothing happening on this day and we parked our car right next to the stadium. I checked with the stadium staff to see whether the Champion Trophy cricket matches are played in this stadium. It appears that there is another stadium only a couple of minutes away where they play International cricket matches.

Mala Inspecting the dining hall in the Castle

Mala Inspecting the dining hall in the Castle

We walked to the entrance of the Cardiff castle and bought entrance tickets. The price of the tickets includes a guided tour. If you do not want to pay for the guided tour, you can skip the tour and see it by yourself. Then you will not have access to some of the rooms and secret chambers in the castle. We joined the tour and waited for the next tour that was at 1:00PM. The tour was very informative. But the guide did not tell us about the history of the castle. The whole narration was about a few families who owned this castle in the last century.

Tour guide explaining a point inside the castle

Tour guide explaining a point inside the castle

Cardiff castle is one of Wales leading heritage attractions. During its history of 2000 years, the castle has been a Roman garrison, a Norman stronghold and in Victorian times transformed into a gothic fantasy building. During Norman Invasions, the castle was a strategic building. It got involved in the conflicts between the Anglo-Normans and the Welsh. After the fifteenth century, it’s military significance diminished. It was owned by many different families and in the mid eighteenth century passed into the hands of Marquessess of Bute, John Stuart.

Tall Tower at the corner of the Castle

Tall Tower at the corner of the Castle

The Butes were apparently very wealthy owning as much as fifteen castles at one stage. Most of the changes and modifications to the interior chambers of the castle were carried out by the Butes. The guide took us through the story of these Butes and explained how they modified the interior to suit their family living. You can look at the interior decorations of each room and visualise the type of life they lead at that time. There is one room where the children are supposed to spend most of their time. The walls of the room are decorated with all the fictitious characters of bed time stories. The guide also told us that the children saw their parents only twice a week.

We left Cardiff and arrived at Swansea late in the evening. We were tired to go out looking for a good restaurant. We had dinner at the adjoining restaurant. This place called Taybarns appear to be very popular among the locals. They have various offers including happy hours and all you can eat options. The food was good, but not spicy at all. The staff is very friendly and helpful. We have to find a good restaurant in Waterford, which serves spicy food. Waterford in Ireland is our next destination and we are planning to cross over to Ireland by taking the ferry from Fishguard to Rossiare.

Posted by fernando65 23:59 Comments (2)

One night in Bath visiting Roman Baths

May 29, 2013

We had early breakfast at the hotel and started early from Exeter. We were heading towards the world famous city of Bath. A trio to UK is not complete if you do not visit Roman Baths in Bath. When we came out of the hotel, the sky was gloomy but there was no rain. The previous night, the temperature went down to about 8C in the night. We had the heater on through out the night in our bed room. I had to wear a woollen jumper to come out of the hotel. England is refusing to embrace Summer. We would not be able to walk around freely and enjoy the country side if this weather persists.
The area surrounding Bath has been designated by Unesco as a world heritage site. Bath has some of the finest architectural sights in Europe. Some of them are: the Royal Crescent, The Circus, the Roman Baths, Jane Austin Centre and Thermae Bath Spa.
We decided to avoid the freeway and take back roads to Bath. We drove through small towns like Ilminster and Ilchester. Ilminster got its name from the imposing Minster church. It has an arts centre and a theatre. Ilchester has some Georgian houses and a town hall. Its thirteenth century church tower changes from square to octagonal shape as it rises. At one point there was a welcome sign on the road saying “Welcome to Somerset”. That means we entered the Somerset county.

Driving through Lush Green Fields

Driving through Lush Green Fields

We have booked Holiday Inn Express in Bath for only one night. We decided to drive straight to Bath city centre and visit Roman Baths before going to the hotel. It was hard to find parking in the city centre. After doing several rounds, we found an empty slot in a small parking area about two blocks from the Roman Baths.
The history of Roman Baths is not clear. They have been built around hot springs found in this city. According to legend, Bladud, the mythical king of the Britons, built these enclosed bathing stations in 863BC, around the hot springs that miraculously cured him of Leprosy. Then later in 43AD, the Romans built what is now known as the Aqua Sulis as a sanctuary of rest and relaxation.

Roman Baths

Roman Baths



We had to wait in a long queue to get into the enclosed building where the Roman Baths are located. The water in the main pool is still warm vapour coming out from the surface. I put my finger in the water to feel how hot it is. It is not too hot. The Romans specially sick people would have paid dearly to have a bath in this main pool. There are several other small pools and water canals that brought hot spring water to the pool and then excess water out of the pool. On the top floor there are Roman figures placed along the fence. There was no human tour guide to explain the various artifacts found in different enclosures in the building. We were given electronic guides to take with us. It is like a telephone mouth piece. At each place, there is a number to key in press a green button and then keep it close to your ears. You will hear a description of the place and the details of items found in that place. There was a skeleton which is believed to be that of a Syrian man. The DNA and carbon tests have proved it to be a man of Syrian origin. However there is no explanation on how a Syrian man came to be there.

Skeleton of a Syrian Man

Skeleton of a Syrian Man

We left the place after about two hours, drove around the city looking at the Cresent and other historical buildings. We spent nearly one hour scouring around in the main shopping area, but bought nothing other than a few cards from a tourist shop. We need more than one day to see all the things in this historical city. We had our lunch in a Thai restaurant, but the food did not taste anything like Thai. We checked into our hotel around 5:00PM, tired enough to take a rest and a good Bath in our hotel room.
It started raining in the late evening. We were looking for a good restaurant to have dinner. We asked the reception to recommend a good place. It so happened that there was an Indian Restaurant just behind our hotel . The girl at the reception was all praise about this place and very keen that we go there. She even offered an umbrella to take with us when we said we have to wait till the rain stops. The restaurant is called Mint Room.

Biryani Dishes at Mint Room in Bath

Biryani Dishes at Mint Room in Bath



When we entered the place it was almost full. We were lucky to get a table for two. In a few minutes we saw more people coming and forming a queue to get in. all the waiters were male and dressed in shirt and tie.The manager came to our table to take the order. First thing he asked is whether we are from India. Mala said “No we are from Australia and originally from Sri Lanka” . He responded by saying that he visited Sri Lanka last year. He is originally from Bangladesh and last year he got married and spent his honeymoon in Sri Lanka. They are typical Indian dishes. We went through the menu and ordered Chicken Biryani and Mutton Biryani. They were serving Indian beer, so I ordered a large bottle of beer, big enough to share between the two of us. The food was not spicy, but very tasty. We can understand why the place is so popular among the locals.

Tomorrow morning we are leaving for Swansea via Cardiff. We will have stop over in Cardiff.

Posted by fernando65 23:32 Comments (3)

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