Friday, January 22, 2010

The Bells of Shandon Toll for Thee - Cork, Ireland

Destination:   Cork, Ireland
Number of Days Spent:  1 day
Where we stayed:  RCI's Jewel of the Seas
Best restaurant:   We found a great market with terrific Irish soda bread and excellent cheese similar to the Dutch gouda.  Too bad we were kicked out of our picnic spot when we dug out the wine glasses. 
Best of:   The warm hospitality of the Irish, the Bells of Shandon were good cheap fun, having a pint in the pub
Worst of:  The English Market uses a black light for illuminating the restroom.  Not sure if I really wanted to "see" all the germs you are forced to touch, but it does provide an excellent case study on "splatter analysis"...not to mention your urine glows - how cool is that! 
Most Memorable:  Getting kicked out of the park with wine.  Who would have thought that of all places, Ireland would kick you out of a park for drinking wine? 
Cork is located in the southern part of Ireland and vies against its rival Dublin to win over the tourist trade in Ireland.  Dublin has Guinness.  Cork has Murphy's.  If you are an Irish-American, chances are this was the last plot of the mother land your ancestors saw.  During the "Potato Famines" millions of Irish came to Cork to catch the ships bound for America.   
We tagged up with Ron and Patty who we first met on the Transatlantic heading to Europe; small world after all.  I had originally thought of heading out to the famed Blarney Stone but after our fiasco the day earlier, we opted to keep it closer inland and just stick to the city itself.  Besides, why waste your entire day getting to the castle, waiting in line for over an hour only to climb up some rickety stairs to kiss a rock when there is plenty of culture to be had in Cork proper?  A short cab ride from the train station we arrived at St Finbarr's Church beating the crowds of fellow passengers.   The massive Protestant church is one of the star attractions in town, mainly due to the three massive spires.  A sweet old man, perhaps the caretaker, was kind enough to show us around and tell us a few odds and ends about the church as we were one of the first visitors of the day.  One oddity for me was that the pews had prayer kneelers, which I thought were strictly Catholic.  I suppose there are sects within sects in any religion. 
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Leaving the church we passed by the now closed Beamish and Crawford Brewery.  Apparently Heineken purchased them and moved the operations out to the Murphy's Brewery, which is also owned by Heineken.  Heineken's takeover of the World's Fermented Beverage Market is well on its way. 
Dubbed the "English Market", Cork's main market is located in the heart of the town and can provides an excellent array of meats, cheeses and baked goods.   Once again, with the help of Ron and Patty, we start to plan one of our favorite past times - picnics in European squares and parks.  After procuring our provisions we headed across the street to the park, dug out the glasses and popped the cork in Cork :-) (sorry, couldn't resist).  Just as we were pouring the first glass, an officer comes over and informs us that we are not allowed to drink in the park.  What?  This is Ireland - a country well known for drinking.  Perhaps this is the start of trying to shed that image.  At any rate, we were forced to pack up our things and seek friendlier environs.
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Across the river and up the hill a ways sits the somewhat smaller St. Anne's Church.  The church itself is rather plain, but in the tower of the church lies the Bells of Shandon.  Made famous by a song from the 20's, one can climb a couple of flights of stairs and reach a wall with 8 cords hanging down which are attached to the bells.  8 Bells - 4 people - 2 hands each - Perfect!  There are a couple of laminated sheets to guide you through a couple of songs ranging from "Amazing Grace" to "Three Blind Mice" to more "Contemporary" hits like "You Are My Sunshine". 
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After having our go at ringing the bells we proceeded to the top.  The next landing has ear muffs to prepare you for the next level where you are face to face with the pigeon poo covered bells themselves.  After climbing through the rafters, you come outside at the top of the tower for a commanding view of the city.
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What day in Ireland would be complete without a stop at the pub?  While not the Blarney Stone or the Bells of Shandon, having a pint in the pub is a quintessential experience when visiting Ireland.  Football (soccer) blares away on the TV, locals chat it up at the bar and beer connects all in long as the local team is winning that is.  Drink Guinness at your own peril - this is Murphy's territory and the people of Cork have somewhat of a friendly rivalry with Dublin.  I prefer the lighter Murphy's any ways, but to each their own.
Still carrying around the wine, cheese, and bread - we headed back toward the ship.  We arrived at the boat a little early and since they don't allow you being on wine, we sat down at a rather large eating area to finally enjoy our wine and cheese.  No sooner had we poured the wine into our glasses when a man came out and told us that we could not drink here as he did not have a liquor license.  Refusing to waste good wine - we chugged it down as the man looked on with a someone disdained look.  At least we got to finally "enjoy" our picnic.  Sometimes you just can't win.
Next stop - Belfast!
To see more photos from Cork click here!


Raju India - A team for your India holidays said...

Great posts, you have done great job.
Wish you all the best.
Raju India.

Dave and Deb said...

I would have chugged the wine too! I can't believe the strict laws in Ireland, It sounds like Canada:) I also want to know whose idea it was to put a black light in a bathroom. Definitely someone with a sense of humour. Really enjoyed your post and looking forward to following your journey!