Old friends, new tales: Ireland and Wales

December 19, 2011

Kat: During our travels Justin has earned the nickname “Marcus Brody”, for his ability to “get lost in his own museum”. So it was with great reluctance we parted ways on our first separate journeys in the last four months. I went to Ireland to visit some friends, while Justin left for Cardiff in Wales.


While my weather application told me it was smiles and sunshine in Cork, Cork County, Ireland, touching down in sleet conditions when your head feels like it’s going to explode from the pressure and the plane is shaking from the turbulence is not my idea of fun. Eventually Ireland stood at my feet. Cork actually. And I’d left my raincoat at home.

blarney castle
Blarney Castle in the early morning light

Cork is close to one of Ireland’s national treasures: the Blarney Stone. Apparently, if you kiss the stone, you’ll be granted the gift of the gab. Winston Churchill did it, but I had no fancy to touch my lips to what could be a petri dish of herpes and flu viruses. But the grounds of Blarney Castle are beautiful to walk around, full of green fields and stone bridges. After viewing the stone atop the Castle, I ventured into the poison garden, replete with Deadly Nightshade and Mandrake Root, some items you may be familiar with from Harry Potter’s Herbology classes. Unfortunately their sample of Marijuana had been seized by the Irish Police. I wonder why?

poison garden
Don’t let your children play in this garden of fun!

Ireland is very easy to get around on the bus system, however I’d recommend that anyone sitting up the back of Bus Eirnann be warned – it smells like a pub! Dublin has a great vibe this time of year, plenty of people out doing Christmas shopping, lots of music on the streets. Only the Irish would have a 12 pubs of Christmas crawl, where you get dressed up in your ugliest Christmas jumper and go between pubs. My first day I visited the Book of Kells, one of the oldest books in the world from 800 AD. It is an illuminated manuscript of the gospels, featuring elaborate Celtic designs painted on vellum. The book is housed in Trinity College Library, a gorgeous light filled room full of tall ladders and leather-bound books.


I lived in France for a year and made some great friends in Poitiers, including a fantastic bunch of Irish gals (and one guy) who lived in Rue des Grandes Ecoles. I caught up with Maebh (who acted as my magnificent tour guide), Laura and Mark over dinner at a French restaurant in town. It made me excited to visit France again – boy do I miss a good French feed! Baguettes here I come. Maebh and Mark spent the next day showing me around Dublin, shopping for tacky Irish souvenirs, leprechaun hats and Guinness scarves. While Maebh, as a trainee solicitor, knew all the facts, Mark had a little more creative interpretation of Dublin landmarks, and I now know where Dumbledore lives.

Mark and Maebh, tour guides extraordinaire

Mummies have been a point of fascination for me ever since I was a child. It’s a problem when you’re the daughter of a history teacher. I really enjoyed visiting the National Museum of Ireland, where they exhibit four of the bog bodies. There’s an equal mix of fascination and dread; their faces are so realistic it’s crazy to think they’ve been dead for so long. Another man had been decapitated but his hands were so well-preserved they looked like human gloves. Most of the bog bodies were people who’d been murdered or executed; the bogs provided a good place to dump the bodies. It worked out for the murderers – they weren’t found for a few hundred years!

Freeky! You can even see his hair!

That afternoon we visited Dublin Castle, a very different castle to Blarney. You can still see the remains of the original Viking castle underneath, but most of it was knocked down by the English in a very controversial part of Irish history. Now it’s used as a political function centre to welcome guests and dignitaries. After our long day wandering the city there was nothing to do but to grab a pint in a pub with friends and enjoy the Christmas “Craic”.

The stunning Cafe de Seine in the heart of Dublin

Justin: Cardiff, Wales. Took the Megabus from Victoria Coach Stationto get there, only around 5 quid which works out to be around $7.50 Australian dollars, for a three and a half hour coach trip that’s pretty damn fine. Actually I raced for the bus, raced and raced a la Home Alone and made it just in time. Going to a toilet in a moving coach is infinitely harder than an airplane toilet, wasn’t aided by the fact the latch didn’t work either so one hand needed to permanently enforce my occupied status.


I spent 4 nights in Wales in Nomad hostel, a classic backpacker joint, relatively quiet during the week and much more alcoholic and lively come the weekend. Cardiff has two main attractions: Cardiff Castle and Millennium Stadium. Cardiff Castle (in welsh: Castell Caerdydd)was built by the romans around AD 55. It had a neo-gothic revival in the late 18th Century with many of the rooms decorated in detail with fantasy tales and allegories plastered around the various rooms, the theme and topic of time also permeates and directs the theme and motifs in both interior and exterior of the castle. The castle was also used as a bomb shelter during WWII, but fortunately unlike the Churchill war rooms we didn’t need to evacuate. I loved the castle, strolling through something nearly 2000 years old is really humbling and awe-inspiring really.

Cardiff Castle
Cardiff Castle in well… Cardiff

I didn’t get to do a tour around Millennium Stadium but got to walk around in briefly and see it poke out at different angles from different parts of Cardiff City, kinda like the Sydney Harbour Bridge really. Millennium Stadium is perched right in the heart of the city, like a gargantuan spidery UFO decided to plonk itself not so discreetly and stubbornly stay there. It was constructed for the 1999 Rugby World Cup and remains one of the best rugby stadiums in the world.


Cardiff, like NYC is replete with Starbucks, Starbucks and more Starbucks the ubiquitous star sign in the coffee universe. I spent a lot of my time in Starbucks reading the Bible and some fiction books, I’ve really taken to writing and journalling a lot more in this trip. When we settle down in Asia I intend to do a lot of work on websites so getting into the discipline of daily writing – notwithstanding mood, inclination or motivation is really important. Travel gives you ample opportunity to personally reflect on your life, and for me, on my faith. There are so many ‘firsts’ for me in this trip, sometimes it’s a little daunting, new and sometimes even a little lonely at times, these moments do really give you a chance to look deeper within and strike a new level of self understanding in acceptance which I am really grateful for.

The Nomad Youth Hostel… Just kidding.

Cool thing about hostelling in meeting a variety of different people, continental ships crossing in the mist. We actually had N E S W covered – A Pommie (North), an Aussie (South), Chinese (East) and a Yankee (West).

And so it goes, 4 nights in Cardiff, gotta healthy taste of hearty Welsh food, drink and hospitality, castles, travellers and rolling green pastures so I bid you farewell in Welsh this time: Da bo chi. Justin and Kat x

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