This morning we got up and walked the short distance from our hotel to the Blarney Castle and Gardens so we could be there when it opened at 9am. Even the entrance sign had pretty flowers, which gave me hope that the inside would be really nice. My hopes were met and exceeded!
A bus full of Italian tourists also showed up right at 9am. We ended up pretty much sprinting from the entrance to get to the castle before they did. I still managed one quick shot of the front first, though.
The first part of the castle that we came across was the dungeons. We went part way in, only to see a narrow tunnel. Grayden went in first so we had him explore and see if the tunnel opened up at all or went anywhere. The last thing I wanted was to crawl through a narrow tunnel, only to be trapped in by a bus full of people. Grayden soon reported back that the tunnel did not go anywhere. (Turns out that we would have also known this if we had taken the time to read the sign out front...)
Next was the climb to the top of the castle! We passed a sign at one point that said it would be a 90 minute wait in a queue to the top of a castle from that point and a little bit later one that marked a 60 minute wait. It was like the signs for rides at Disneyland when they are really busy. The last thing that we wanted was to be climbing up super tiny, windy castle staircases in a giant queue of people. So we increased our speed and made it to the top of the castle before anyone from the tour bus!
Here are some pictures from the top of the castle.
Turns out that the main reason why there can be huge lines for the top of the castle is because this is where the famed Blarney Stone (that supposedly gives anyone who kisses it the "gift of the gab") is located. I had read about kissing the stone and knew it was at the castle. But what I didn't know until I got there is that the stone is in the side of the castle wall at the very top. And the way that you kiss it is by laying down, leaning backwards, grabbing onto some metal bars, and pulling yourself upside down toward the castle wall. There is a guy whose entire job is to supervise this ordeal for hundreds of tourists, every day of the year except for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Crazy!
Suzy got pics of us kissing the stone, which was really nice!
With the most important and arduous part of our castle visit done, we took a more leisurely pace for our descent. Below are pics of some of the nearby towers and a pic of us looking down a "murder hole" where hot oil could be poured on people trying to invade the castle. And also a pic of Suzy posing in one of the tiny windows for shooting arrows down from the castle.
From the castle, we first followed signs toward the "poison garden," which was a garden full of plants that can be harmful to humans in any number of ways. Grayden got jailed for getting too close...just kidding.
From there, we wandered through the grounds, first finding a beautiful house and then a bunch of differently themed areas.
Like this place that Dylan dubbed Fern Gully.
And a place where a witch had supposedly lived. Here Dylan and Grayden walked down the "wishing steps" with their eyes closed, which is supposed to make a wish come true.
This was the stone that looked like a witch's face.
We found an opening in a rock in one of the cave structures here. We saw an incredible photo opportunity and took advantage!
We then explored through a jungle and forest area before walking through a more conventional garden area with flowers. I really loved the trees and flowers! I also noticed that one of the trees had kokadama balls that I learned about from my mom!
We also came across another set of caves/tunnels. Apparently the tunnels originally went all the way to two nearby towns. We explored a little ways before the spiders scared us off.
One of the other highlights of our Blarney gardens experience was some impromptu bouldering. The rocks in the first picture are famous stacked ones, so not fit for climbing...only silly posing. But then we found a good climbing rock. Dylan scrambled up first, which was no small feat in his increasingly worn down crocs. Grayden followed. I, of course, had to stay down to take the picture.
At one point, the sun and blue sky really came through, so I got another couple pictures of the castle. I zoomed in so you can see where people lean back to kiss the blarney stone.
We spent quite a few hours at the castle and gardens, but by the time we finished we still had a lot of day left. So we regrouped at the hotel and made plans to head out to explore a nearby brewery in Cork and the small town of Kinsale. (Dylan and I got a quick arm workout in first.)
Our first stop was the Franciscan Well Brewery in Cork!
The brewery had a really cute beer garden, great beer, and a super chill bartender. We got pizza from the adjoining restaurant, hoping for Dough Bros-level delicious pizza. Unfortunately, the pizza wasn't as good as Dough Bros, but pizza and beer is never bad.
From there, we went to Kinsale, which was on Elin's list of cute Irish towns to visit. The town had a harbor and was quite picturesque. Unfortunately, it started raining pretty hard soon after we got there. We went from pub to pub, looking for somewhere to wait out the worst of it. Most places were packed because there was a big Gaelic football match on tv. But we eventually found one that had space for us, and a good view of a tv. I had an Irish coffee that was even better than the one I had the day before. It was so good Dylan ordered one too. (This was his first full cup of coffee ever. He decided caffeine is weird.)
Eventually, the rain stopped and we got a little sunshine before we headed back to Blarney.
I don't have any photos to go with my last story of the day, but I figured it was still worth sharing.
When we got back to Blarney, we had plans to check out the Chinese restaurant in town, only to pretty much get laughed out the door when we asked for a table of 7. The other popular and well-rated restaurants in town were also packed. So as a last resort, we walked into an Italian restaurant that happened to have a ton of open seats. We were suspicious but ordered food anyways. Most of what we got was impressively bad. If you can imagine eating Italian food that was made without any garlic or spices, you should have a sense of what it tasted like. Randy and Dylan both considered pouring basalmic vinegar on their pasta dishes, just to get a bit of some flavor. Suzy and I had both ordered the soup of the day, which we were told was vegetable. What we got was an extremely watery broth that tasted vaguely like celery. It was served with what looked like store bought bread. Luckily I wasn't too hungry, so I mostly just found it funny.