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Day 4: Kilkenny Castle & Coumshingaun Lough

We said farewell to the cute apartment we rented through Air Bnb in Wicklow and jumped out of our comfort zone. We didn't know what we'd be doing for the rest of this trip, no. Plans change spontaneously, as I'm sure many travelers can relate to. We had plans to couch surf on this night, but no word from our hosts! I became a bit nervous, would we have a place to sleep tonight? With these little moths flying around in my head, we packed up our car, said goodbye to our host and her cute sheep dog, and took off into a new part of the country. The GPS we were using,, was one of those ones that liked to take you on the scenic route...through all the smallest roads and villages possible. We found ourselves "lost" many times on our way to Kilkenny, but boy did we see what Ireland was really about! In one small village, there were four men with a power washer out in the middle of their one lane main street, cleaning a mud covered van. It was lady bug red, though you could hardly see through all the mud! Later down the road, one with grass growing down the center, we ran into a fleet of combines coming our way... two lines of traffic waited in both directions for these monsters to pass by. They barley fit on the one lane road themselves!

At last, we arrived in Kilkenny. We parked a few blocks away from the castle and walked the streets of the city to get there. A stone wall surrounded the property, and through the iron gate opened up a huge lawn where hundreds of people lay out to have picnics. On the far end of the lawn stood the castle, a three story stone structure build in the 12th century. Excitement caught the best of us and we ran to the entrance to enter into the past. Admission was 8 Euro, so we paid the price and started our self guided tour. The first rooms we went through, we took some clips, but after an employee saw us, she informed us that we could not film, just take photos. So, for those of you who came from my YouTube video, here is a photo gallery of the inside of Kilkenny Castle.

The castle was used over time, and as the years went on different groups of different artistic taste moved in. The castle was found a wreck from the climate in Ireland, the stone walls held in moisture and caused a lot of the interior to mold. Reconstruction and refurbishing started in the later part of the 20th century, calling in artisans and specialists to recreate everything in the castle. From the silk wall paper, to the furniture, to the elegant drapery, it was all recreated using small remnants of the original pieces. The century it was recreated to mimic was the 19th century, when it was last occupied. The castle was passed down the Butler family for 500 years believe it or not! The latest owner sold the castle to public works in 1967 for 50 Pounds. The castle refurbishing was finished not too long ago!

After touring the castle, we found ourselves in the tea room and bought some beverages to sip on in the rose garden. We spent a few minutes in the lawn soaking up some sunshine, drinking orange juice, before going into the town to walk around a bit. Buskers lined the streets and sang their traditional songs, while visitors munched on some lunch outside the bistros and cafes. Hand in hand, we walked along the River Nore and eventually ended up back at the car. Our next destination was two hours away, near Waterford.

The drive through the forest was magical, like we haven't seen before. Ireland's forests are similar to the Pacific Northwest, every inch covered in green, though the trees aren't as tall. Cars filled up the parking lot at Coumshingaun Lough, though we didn't come across anyone who was a tourist. Yes, we had found a locals spot! The trailhead didn't have a map at it, so we were wondering how to get to the top. Following the other hikers is always easy, so we started our way through the dense thickets of pines, all their needles dropped from twenty feet and below. This forest was like the one at Hellfire Club, dark and a bit spooky!

We came to a barbed wire fence with metal stairs going over it. Peculiar... we followed some other people over and it hit me that the trail was created this way to make sure the sheep stayed in the grazing are. Right away, we saw little specks of sheep scatted about the landscape. Dozens of sheep. We asked the people coming down which way to go, and a lady said to go up the grassy route, it was prettier. Onward we went, panting and trudging up this mountain in between rocks that looked like clumps of concrete and towering ferns growing all around. The same flowers from Howth painted the landscape. Up, and up, and up we went until we came to a checkpoint, a huge rock where you could sit and look at the lough. Behind us you could see the ocean and the green afghan Mother Nature knit out of trees and grazing lands.

Still, we kept on going. Austin likes to climb to the tops of these places... to get the best view. It was a long way up, but we kept trudging along. Somehow we got off the path and ended up walking uphill sideways through the meadows of flowers. Hundreds of bumble bees visited the pink and purple flowers, their legs covered in pollen, looking buff. A dangerous climb this was... we helped each other up and tried our best not to slip on the black and fertile soil. At last we made it to the top through the windstorm, careful not to blow over. You could see everything from this spot, from the cobalt blue lough, to the afghan land, to the ocean, and back around to the other mountains. It was like we found another world, went somewhere completely different, teleported.

We walked around some more up there, climbing on the rocks, careful not to blow over from the wind. Austin had some challenges in mind, so he jumped across crevices in the rocks, climbed upon isolated ones, and hung his feet off the edge of a cliffside rock. Me? I just watched, some of this was too scary to try for myself - though I know he's fine and dandy doing so. (In reality, it wasn't that dangerous... but still scary). This hike was by far our favorite during the whole trip. It accomplished the major criteria for us: adventurous, lightly trafficked, and unique. I have more pictures I'd love to share that I'll be adding to the "Ireland Gallery" of my Photography Page.

From here, we had another two hour drive to get to Cork, where we would be staying for the night. During the day, we got a message back from our hosts and I was relieved that we'd have somewhere to sleep not only that night, but for the next three nights! We arrived in Cork around 8 pm and had a vegan dinner at the Quay Co-op in the city center. It was my goal to have vegan shepherd's pie while in Ireland and this restaurant delivered! We walked up the stairs to the restaurant and a glass case greeted us at the counter filled with vegan salads. The menu had plenty to offer for a couple of veg eaters. Each meal came with two sides, the ones in the case and hot salads. I got shepherd's pie with chips and a couscous salad and Austin got the nut burger with chips and a chickpea salad. Stuffed, we headed back to the car and went to find our home for the next three days.

Around 9 pm we arrived at our hosts' apartment. They were a couple from France living in Cork. We talked until midnight around a pot of tea about traveling, our lives, what makes us us. They just got back from an 18 month international excursion, going to Asia, South America, and places in between. It was fascinating listing to their stories and experiences, something to look forward to for a lifetime of traveling!

When it was time for bed, we said our goodnights and went into our rooms. We had a lovely bed to sleep in for the night, and our own room! When couch surfing, this kind of thing isn't to be expected (hence, couch surfing), so I believe we got very lucky. I can't wait for the day where I can pay it forward and offer a space for travelers for free. How awesome that would be...

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Much love, and see you in the next post!