Blarney Castle, Republic of Ireland

Blarney Castle sits north of Cork in the southern part of Ireland, its most famous for the Blarney stone which if kissed give you the gift of the gab! The castle is situated on an impressive estate where the entrance fee was part of our tour costs with Busabout / Shamrocker Adventures and we arrived early in order to beat the crowds (mainly tours with older clientele).

Blarney Castle, the Jewel of Southern Ireland Castles

There is a queue to enter the castle and kiss the blarney stone, to give an idea when we arrived it took 35 minutes for us to make our way (causally) through the castle up to the stone. However once we left I noted the line to kiss the stone extended well past a 2 hour mark, so early is essential to avoid a morning in queue and there is plenty of other things to see.

The main attraction… no not the sign!

The castle itself is quite a fascinating structure, while the walk up is enjoyable (yes lots of stairs and tight spaces) they have off shoots into the various rooms used by staff when it was a functional castle. Its a good idea if you can spare a few minutes to check out a few nooks and crannies as they are unique but also give you a bit of breathing room from the line of eager rock smootchers.

The Famous Blarney Stone – and protective rails and attendant.

Now if you don’t want to actually kiss the rock (I for instance did not) its still worth the climb for the amazing views of the grounds.

The poison gardens on the grounds is worth a wander around, if you are into botany or want to notch up your survivalist belt on which plants not to eat this is the place to do it.

A had a good giggle over how some of the plants were in tiny protected. Mandrake, Wolsbane, Nightshade… all deadly and in little cages; however, Cannabis (Marijuana) is kept in a playground sized bubble! Priorities…

Those yellow flowers looked so tasty!

On last glance back at the castle… through a rock… oh Ireland is the Emerald Island, but also the land of unique rocks.

Everyone has to get this photo… including me.

Dingle Peninsula, Republic of Ireland

Nearing the end of the All Ireland Rocker trip with Busabout / Shamrocker Adventures. Today we explore the Dingle Peninsula, a stretch of land jutting out to the sea that like most of Ireland is breath taking and green. It should be noted that the ring road around the peninsula while 2-way is generally taken only in one direction by the locals and tourists in the know, that is because for most of the journey its a cliff-side road without a lot of room for modern traffic to allow for casual passing.

First stop on the ring road was a farmer’s estate where for a few euros you can pay to explore the Beehive huts (Clochán), the old farmhouse and pet baby sheep. Expecting a bit of a tourist trap I was pleasantly surprised that it was actually pretty straight forward process. Pay to enter and explore at one’s leisure. The baby sheep where in one section and as long as you were gentle you could pick up one for a photo.

They don’t mince words… exactly as advertised… also historic Beehive Huts

But for a bit of culture I did manage to drag myself away from the cute baby sheep and check out the Beehive Huts that are another staple of the area history.

Next stop on the Dingle Peninsula is Coumeenoole Beach, first we stopped for another photo opportunity then headed down to the beach itself.

Overlooking Coumeenoole Beach

Its quite a trek down to the beach from the parking lot, I opted to grab some more photos and a awesome time-lapse using my iPhone and the DJI Osmo Mobile 3 which makes up my micro travel kit for photographers.

Next we headed out to the point of the peninsula, it got very craggy out there and the wind did start to pick up but was not unmanageable, again weather seemed to be on our side (fun note, the north side of the island was getting pelted by heavy rain so weather is highly variable on the emerald isle – I just got really lucky and I’m sure that luck with eventually run out… cough spoiler cough cough). The Devils Horn as the region is known is quite something, and looking out to the ocean you can see some islands which were used in a recent Star Wars movie.

At the start and subsequent end of our trip around Dingle is the small town of Dingle. Known for its dolphin Fungie that lives out in the bay I had to take a look and see if I could spot the elusive critter.

They even have a statue by the marina honoring their unexpected town mascot
Dingle Harbour / Marina
FOUND HIM!
(J/K – Photoshop is my friend – But I fooled a bunch of people on the bus!)

We did stop for lunch in town, so several of us found a nice place called John Benny’s Pub to have some lunch at the recommendation of our tour guide Gemma. I had the fish of the day and chips, which came with peas as the veggies.

And that was it for the Dingle Penisula, a great day exploring a unique region of Ireland. Along the way we did drive by the famous “Rose Hotel” and stop in town for a rest break. I managed to find a rose bush and an old car to take pictures of… but otherwise short break.

Inis Mor, Aran Islands, Republic of Ireland

Today we leave Galway to check out Inis Mor, the largest of the Aran Islands just off the coast. We had to walk 1.5 blocks from the hostel to catch the charter bus, everyone from Shamrocker Adventures and some other tour groups boarded the Aran Island buses. After a short trip along the coast we reached a marina where large sea ferries waited to take everyone over to the islands.

There are four different ways to explore the island, walking, cycling, horse drawn cart, micro bus. I choose a bicycle option for 10£ although there are now options for electrical bikes for a bit more. Out of the group about 80% took the bicycle option, and the remaining 20% when with the pony trap option.

The map we were given to navigate the island and estimated cycle times

I decided to check out Dun Aonghasa and the Seven Chruches, along the way there were a few other notable historic sites along the way but mainly it optimized views and I took the costal route to avoid to many hills (I have been sitting on a bus for the last 4 days).

First Stop at the Seal Colony – No Seals at the moment.
The beach on the island at the narrow point about 1/2 across the island. It is also the main split in the coastal road to the various sites found on the map.

Dun Aonghasa is my first stop, there is an additional fee to enter the site and its quite a hike up a hill. A fort on the highest point on the island, half of it fell into the ocean below when the cliff eroded.

Dun Aonghasa in half its glory!

Inside the fort was pretty barren, it is basically a large stone (semi) circle of stones that act as wall from the outside. There are a few holes in the walls to act as windows and a doorway.

The views from the fort are breath taking!

The View from the Fort back to the far side of the Island where the ferry dropped us off!
Fences? We don’t need no stinking fences..

Yes you can look over the edge, if you want too! The remnants of the fort can clearly be seen below in the ocean. Its quite a unique experience and hope everyone acts responsible so to allow people the opportunity to gaze over the edge!

Well.. gulp!

After having lunch and enjoying the views such a vantage point allowed it was time to head back down the hill and jump on the bike once more, my second location awaits for no one and the time on the island was running thin to fit it in!

View as I trek back down the hillside to the parking lot where my bike awaits!

Down the hill and past the beach again, this time turning left I cycled along some shallow rolling hills and farms, at least it will be downhill on the way back to the beach!

Now All I have to do bike 2/3 of the length of the island before the Ferry leaves… totally doable… erk!

Low Tide, guess the Ferry is stuck here (Just Kidding, its behind the derelict ship)

Connemara Countryside – Republic of Ireland

The quintessential Irish landscape, endless rolling hills of green. It feels like we drove through the region for hours but with every new bend in the road was another breathtaking view. In a way it was good I was on a bus I didn’t control or I would of stopped over a dozen times in the first hour alone. But words can’t describe how beautiful this area in western Ireland is… and the photos barely do it service as well!

Its just so majestic, the landscape… not me 😛

Mid-way through our travels in Connemara we came across a small village nestled beside a shallow wide river. Here was our afternoon stop where we could try Irish Coffee or Hot Chocolate (both being mixed with Irish cream). I went with the coco and it was amazing.

Gaynor’s is our afternoon stop for a hot beverage!

The Gaynor’s field bar itself was pleasant nook which had a faint smell of smoke from the fire place and was full of locals in addition to the odd tourist that had stopped like us to grab a nip and use the facilities.

A final group image as we leave the Connemara Countryside, definitely making the “return” list.

Punta Cana, Dominican Republic – February 2013

Graeme and I holidayed in Punta Cana in December 2009 (2009 Dominican Republic blog entries)

This time around, it was my wife and I who were hoping to enjoy a bit of warmth and sunshine away from Ottawa’s snow-covered landscape. To travel south from Ottawa, we need to find a tour departing directly from Ottawa or else, as an alternative we drive to Montreal or Toronto to get alight from either of those two travel hubs. On this occasion, we found a Sunwing tour departing from Montreal that fit our schedule. Our flight was scheduled to leave from P. E. Trudeau airport at 9AM so, once we factored in the required three hours for check-in and the 2.5hr drive from home to airport, we decided to drive down to Montreal the day before our flight departure date and stayed at the Holiday Inn Express where for a relatively small extra fee we could park our car until our return from Punta Cana.

The drive from Ottawa to Montreal would normally be uneventful. Not this time, though. High winds and falling/drifting snow reduced visibility in some places to close to zero and added a bit of extra excitement of our trip.

The Haunted Walk – GH2 Low Light Test

The Haunted Walk – GH2 Low Light Test

I finally got my hands on the Lumix GH2 from Panasonic. I’m very excited with this camera due to its small form, light weight and with an adapter I can use all my Nikon Lens. All the shots are handheld, most unchanged (beyond size reduction) but a few have some minor changes in post to their raw files to JPEG (crop, sharpen, white balance).

The adapter had shown up last week so I was all set. Continue reading

Lower section of Great Falls – Almonte, Ontario

After extracting Graeme’s car from a muddy rut on a bushland trail north of Almonte, I drove to the lower section of the Great Falls parking lot in Almonte, Ontario, expecting to be able to walk over to bit of dry land at the base of the Lower Falls. I forgot that, since the last time that I had stopped here, a new power generation structure had been constructed and getting to the island by foot was no longer possible. Thankfully, the planners didn’t block off access to the falls completely so there are still some excellent vantage points for viewing this Eastern Ontario falls.

Continue reading