After sailing across the Atlantic, and spending nine glorious days at sea, we finally reached the Emerald Isle. Okay, I’m jumping ahead a bit. Let me back up…
We had this amazing Royal Caribbean cruise booked that sailed out of Copenhagen and covered seven Baltic countries. (Look for details in future posts.) While Stephanie was diligently researching the best airfare, I happened to discover that the sailing right before ours was a transatlantic crossing. What better way to arrive in Copenhagen than having spent 16 days already at sea? Finally, Stephanie cracked under my relentless hinting and we booked our first ever back-to-back sailing.
The transatlantic leg began with six days in a row at sea. Now, for those of you who have never cruised before, you should know that sea days can be even better than port days. There are so many activities, shows, and of course, opportunities to eat. We always tell people “If you’re bored on a cruise ship, it’s because you’re trying to be bored on a cruise ship.” We spent our time relaxing by the pool, reading magazines, cross stitching, ballroom dancing, winning trivia contests, going to the gym, making friends, watching movies in the ship’s cinema, playing miniature golf, climbing the rock wall, and of course, eating. As you devoted followers of this blog know, we usually travel pretty hard, so having a week of forced relaxation was heaven.
We did actually call in another port before Cork, Ireland, but if I had started with Ponta Delgada in the Azores, the opening for this post wouldn’t have had the same “gotcha” factor. In truth, we had been to Ponta Delgada before when we were traveling around the world in 2012. The Azores are beautiful islands belonging to Portugal, and located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The only reason Ponta Delgada was less notable this time is simply that it rained all day, and so we didn’t do much on shore. Stephanie and I did manage to wander around the town for a bit, and of course, we found the obligatory free Wi-Fi so we could catch up on the important goings-on at home. In the end, however, we were glad we didn’t have big elaborate plans for the day. We tried some local hot chocolate to stay warm, and looked in the local stores to see what types of treats and candies they had.
Ponta Delgada was just as we remembered it with interesting patterns in the sidewalks made out of black basalt and white limestone. No two are alike.
Another two days at sea saw us to the port of Cobh, Ireland. Cobh (pronounced “cove”) is just a quick 25-minute train ride away from downtown Cork, which in turn is only a 25-minute bus ride from famed Blarney Castle – home of the famed Blarney Stone.
The castle itself is exactly how one pictures an old castle: equal parts ominous and charming. We climbed the narrow, spiral stairs to the top where we hung upside down over a 40 foot drop and planted our lips where thousands of other people planted theirs before. It’s a bit of a cliché, but it’s one of those bucket list things, so we did it anyway. See….
The grounds of Blarney Castle are huge and varied. Our first stop was the poison garden where they grow toxic plants including hemlock, belladonna, and nightshade. Stephanie was delighted to find that Harry Potter favorites mandrake and wolfsbane are actually real, live plants and not just made up for the series. The garden even had cannabis. I never thought of marijuana as poisonous, per se, but just in case, it was safe in a cage where no one could accidentally lay their hands on such a toxic danger.
We strolled through glades and glens, saw waterfalls and caves, and even found a swing for Stephanie to play on. There is a rock staircase called the wishing steps where if you walk up and down it backwards with your eyes closed, the Blarney Witch is said to grant your wish. (Stay tuned for confirmation.) We also strolled through the Pinetum which I’m sure is pronounced “pine-ee-tum,” but we had fun calling it the “pine-tum.”
Back in Cork, we discovered Dealz. Dealz is to Ireland what Poundland is to England or a dollar store in the U.S. Now, having British parents, I know a thing or two about candy from the U.K., and Dealz had great prices on two of my all-time favorites: Fry’s Turkish Delight, and jelly babies. I know I went into detail about jelly babies once before on this blog, but they’re worth mentioning again. So much better than jelly beans! I may have gone a wee bit crazy stocking up on British candy. (A note to the jelly baby purists: I looked for Bassetts, but couldn’t find them anywhere. Crilly’s taste exactly the same.)
What we saw of Cork was nice, but between the trek to Blarney Castle and the candy, we didn’t really get to see the town itself. So, as with many places we’ve been on our travels, we resolved to come back again someday.