Monday, January 6, 2014

Christmas in Cork: Arrival on the Island

We hadn't been out of Dublin for a while as the Christmas holiday approached.  Our Northern Ireland trip had been in October and we were ready for a holiday adventure.  Our first plan had been to visit a hostel or a cheap B&B in a small town with a fireplace.  We had hoped to arrive on Christmas Eve and spend a relaxing holiday with some fresh scenery (and a more comfortable bed and chairs...)

We quickly found out, without great surprise, that many of these small family-run hostels and B&Bs are closed over the Christmas holiday.  Further complicating the matter was the reduced services of public transport on and around the holiday, making travel to the smaller towns a bit more tricky.

Plan B, then.  What about a hotel?  Plenty of hotels open for Christmas, but they were mostly the nicer (more expensive) properties and bookings for the holiday usually came with a special package with meals, parties, and spa days.  Would have been nice to be pampered for the holiday, but those kinds of trips aren't in our usual plan or usual budget.

So, small town is out, hotels are hard to find.  What about a fewer-frills B&B in a larger town with more bus service and a higher probability of anything being open on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  After some searching, we found just what we needed- a B&B in Cork near-enough to the bus station and City Centre.  To Cork we go!

Cork is in the South-West (kinda South-Central) of the island of Ireland.  The main buzzing commercial and tourist center of the city is on what they call "The Island."  The River Lee flows from the nearby mountains to the sea through the city.  A small offshoot comes off the river Southward and rejoins it about a mile later, creating an island-like chunk of real estate.

What we love most about our method of travel is the adventure.  Especially after we've had the adventure and are safely home.  The main Cork bus station is on the Northeast corner of the island.  Our B&B was on the Southwest end, more than a mile away.  We could have copped out and caught a taxi from the taxi line right outside the bus station but we took a different, more adventurous approach.  

The sun had just come out after a rainy and windy bus ride across the country (it never gets old to say that) and we took off through the main street, wheelie suitcase in tow.  We have learned since moving to this country that turn by turn directions with street names are utterly and embarrassingly useless because accurate street signs are hard to come by.  Lack of smartphones forced us (in a good way) to print off a more general map with the route highlighted along the streets we needed.  The map was a bit too zoomed-out to follow the exact street-to-street route, but we could get the general idea of compass directions and large streets.

We walked (unknowingly at the time) through the main shopping and tourist district of town, Patrick Street on our way to the B&B.  Our first mission was to get to our lodging to drop off our backpack and wheelie suitcase, so we walked determinedly past the beautifully decorated streets, interesting shops, Christmas festivals, and holiday performers making only small mental notes for our return sans bagages.

Once past the hustle and bustle of the high street (English/European term for main shopping/tourist street) Cork quieted down into neighborhoods, homes, and lodgings.  After only having to stop once to ask for directions, we arrived at our B&B, Garnish House.

Sign for Garnish House, Cork, Ireland
Does that say "Welcoming Afternoon Tea..."
Waitaminnit, does that say, "Welcoming Afternoon Tea?"  Did we mention it was getting close to lunchtime when we finally walked up?  We would not be disappointed when we stumbled in- cold and tired from dragging baggage more than a mile through busy streets.

Coffee, Tea, and Cakes at Garnish House, Cork, Ireland
Coffee, tea, and cakes
Whew!  Hot coffee, tea, and a variety of cakes was exactly what we needed.  We had never done a B&B before, so we weren't sure what to expect, but we were impressed as soon as we were ushered to our table for a welcome rest.  After tea, we dropped our bags in the room and got ready for a more leisurely exploration of the city.

See what I mean about loving the adventure especially after the adventure?  It is exhilarating to feel a bit unsure (but not afraid or unsafe) and it feels good afterward to know one took a (very small) risk and did something not every modern middle-class traveler would do.

...And saved a few bucks on taxi fare.

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