Welcome back from the break. Sorry about that, I was just crashing last night. As some may have noted on my fitness blog at http://surelybonds.blogspot.com, I have decided to start training for a marathon. Yesterday was the first day and even at just 3 miles, I was tired (we had just had 2 hours of softball practice - I am not that bad haha).
Last night, I made a couple revisions to the PHP coding of the website so now you have a date in the message feed around all of the items. I hope that this will help those of you out that were not quite clear on the dates. Sorry about that, it was part of the template I used and did not really do much modification before I left. I also posted up the article that I wrote for the Observer. Since then, they have asked me to come on board as a bit of a regular columnist in the science and technology field. Therefore, that has been kind of interesting. I submitted an article about nano-technology this afternoon - it will be posted up once published next week. In any event, I will continue here with the trip to Galway picking up with our tour of the Cliffs of Moher.
Flash back to Saturday night, there were two different camps when it came to deciding which tour company to take. One company got us back at "approximately 5:30" and came highly recommended by the hostel staff; it also was supposed to pick us up right there at the hostel. However, we needed to make it on a 6pm bus back to Dublin... The other company got us back at about 5pm but was not as recommended citing some customer service issues, was 2 hours shorter and departed on the other side of the city centre. Well, the camps were divided between the two and those that wanted to take the "better" tour knew that there were other options to get back on later buses or trains - we would just have to pay for the ticket again.
Needless to say, we ended up going to the "other" tour that got us back by 5pm because it was the safer bet and those that wanted it were not willing to compromise. I understand that but I really did not want to split the group up and I also wanted to enjoy the 20 euro that I would be paying to see the sights... Fortunately, for us, our tour was amazing. Billy, the coach driver and tour narrator, flung our agile bus around mountain switchbacks like a La Mans driver. He didn't seem to have any regard for the winding roads and charged forwards with the sort of determination a middle aged woman might have to get home when they need to pee (I remember that lmc...).
In any event, when I called to confirm the location for departure on Sunday morning, the owner/operator told us to stay put at our hostel and that he would come pick us up. Five minutes later, we were whisked away in a nice mini coach and delivered to the loading area for the main tour. I had a slight feeling that this tour was going to be better than we had heard. At this point, I bumped into a bunch of friends from the softball club that were also in the city for the weekend. We chatted a bit and then parted ways to get onto our respective tour company's buses. Our coach was not nearly full; each of us had our own row and got to spread out comfortably. This was a godsend because those of us with long legs rarely get comfortable on the cramped seats of the coaches here in Ireland.
Before we knew it, we were rushing past beautiful scenery as we headed south out of the city. It was still early and the morning fog still held the harbor but we could tell there would be better conditions to come. Our first stop would be an area known as the Burren. Billy explained to us that it was named such for the abundance of limestone rock that scoured the hills. Indeed, the landscape looked much like the alpine zones of high mountains with little more than scrub brush and grasses filling in the space between rocks. We let off some passengers at a welcome center for a preordered "walk" around the hills. I couldn't help but think of it as the Australian "walk about" where we just sort of wandered through the brush and such forth until we found what we were looking for. For the rest of us, we held on for dear life as Billy launched our nimble craft up some treacherous switchbacks and hills as we climbed the side of hill to reach a welcome center for some natural caves. Unfortunately, the tour was not included in our tour costs so I decided that once you see one set of caves, they are really all about the same. Mammoth Cave National Park pretty much got me set with all of that and the caves in Colorado Springs that we visited during basic training gave can't really be topped.
After dining on a latte - can I just say that this country is in love with its espresso drinks!? I mean I cannot get a regular filter coffee for the life of me. Instead, they hand me a café Americano and I am sorry, but that is not the same. Anyways, we left that facility passing an aviary that some researchers were trying to preserve and train hunting birds for public display. We then had to bypass the next stop because of road works - another thing this country has an awful lot going on. If there is so many road works, why do the roads still stink? I mean it really ought not to take 4 hours for us to cross this country... it's not that wide! Our backup was a spot called the corkscrew hill, which as you might guess had more switchbacks but also offered a beautiful view back down the valley. I am not sure that the pictures do it any justice because of the haze.
Next, we were dropped off at the cliffs - dropped because the city had decided to raise coach-parking costs from 5 euro to 60 euro per bus. In protest, the tour companies are boycotting the parking area. Anyways, the first thing we noticed was that the visitor center was built into the hill - that was pretty cool. The next was the odd look of built up steps and ramps around the edge of the field. It looked something more akin to the Great Wall of China rather than the dramatic landfall that everyone calls it. Ironically, the Cliffs of Moher are not the tallest cliffs in the country - they are about a third the size of those found in the northwest coastline near Ulster province.
We trekked up to the walls that contained us in the publicly owned areas. They kept us back from the edge by about 10 feet but even so, the view was absolutely amazing. Looking in each direction the site was just as majestic as the professional postcard photographers make them out to be. Craggy cliffs shaded in grey as far as the horizon to the south and a hill with a small castle to the north. Many photos and scenery shots were taken to be sure. A couple of us BU students ventured farther down the coastline and finally past the public area on a well-trodden path with a series of signs that were ironic. First was a Samaritans sign that read, "Feeling depressed? We care" and gave their helpline number. Good to know that I can call someone while I am enjoying freefall before hitting the rocks and water below. Next was a large national park style sign that proclaiming that we were entering private property. Finally, an even larger sign asked us not to go beyond that point. Well, we went past that point and with about a thousand of our best friends that day and the millions that have already gone before us, we pressed on further down the cliffs.
Now, we no longer had the fences holding us back and one false step would easily send us sliding down the mud and into the abyss below. I trod carefully. We took many more photos and had some great shots of the coast and cliffs since there were no fences to get in the way. I have posted all of the shots back up onto flickr and facebook so take your choice - links are to the right hand side in my blogroll. It was about time to get going so we headed back to the visitor center to avail ourselves of the restrooms and then headed for the gift shop (The visitor center "experience" was something like 12 euro... not happening. There were the standard knickknacks and Chinese made Irish gifts etc - we left without purchasing anything. Back to the bus for us.
We made another stop two stops on the way back to Galway. One, a nice rocky shoreline with 30ft cliffs on the edges, the other had an old castle. I think I slept through the second one, oops. We made it back to Galway in record time thanks to Billy's lead foot. We were so early that we caught the citylink bus at 5pm instead of waiting an hour for the 6. Good thing too because the bus hit traffic and made us about an hour behind schedule. It was to home and to bed that we went since all of us were about to get into bed on the bus already.
Well thanks for reading the annals of my journey over the weekend. This week I have got another article for the Observer - turned in today - a hiking trip to the Wicklow Mountains and Glendaloch on Saturday. We are also launching our private beta of my newest adventure with MinuteFix at http://www.minutefix.com where we offer community based IT support at per minute rates. If your problem isn't solved you don't pay anything. So we are off to Irish History class here in a little bit but I wanted to get this written and posted up now that I am back from grocery shopping in the city center. I hope you are all well and in good health. Thinking of you all!