Monday, January 27, 2014

Christmas in Cork: Christmas Day Walks

After our long, wet, gloriously fun slog through Cork on Christmas Eve, we were hoping for a little bit more sun for our Christmas Day jaunts around the (hopefully quiet) city.  Our hopes were answered when, on Christmas morning, it was... well, like Christmas!  The sun was streaming in through our window and a close-hugging ground mist over the river suggested just a bit of crisp bite in the air.

First, we had to tackle our stockings and gifts, wrapped in very Spartan materials.  Why buy rolls of gift wrap that we won't be able to use up?  Brown paper from shopping bags and white tissue paper from packing materials made wonderful, practical gift wrap for us.

Christmas Gifts in Cork
Christmas Gifts
Time for breakfast!  We weren't sure how full the B&B would be around the holiday, but the dining room suggested they were close to capacity.  Lively travelers chatted up and ate delicious breakfast all round the comfortable room.  We started with some coffee, scones, toast, cheese, and fruit.  That's right, started.  The menu was impressive, and we ordered up some hearty food to help keep us going on a day when few restaurants or shops would be open.  Pictured below is the Eggs Benedict and Full Irish Breakfast (Egg, bacon, sausage, potatoes, mushrooms, white and black pudding, and a fried tomato.)

Eggs Benedict and Full Irish Breakfast
Eggs Benedict and Full Irish Breakfast
After our warm and filling breakfast, we hit the door and emerged to a beautifully crisp, sunny winter morning. The morning light had that mind-winter characteristic low-light color, which gave the impression of being much earlier than it was.  The temperatures had dipped just below freezing overnight, and the river near the B&B was covered with a heavy, swirling mist in the warming air.

Mist on the River Lee South Fork in Cork, Ireland
Mist on the River

Obligatory Cory-Looking-At-The-Water Shot on the River Lee South Fork in Cork, Ireland
Obligatory Cory-Looking-At-The-Water Shot
We passed on the River one of the many references to Cork being a "Rebel County."  Some quick Wikipedia checks reveal (very briefly, I'm sure) this nickname goes back to the 15th century, but more recently, Cork and her people played a prominent role in the Irish War of Independence, and it was an anti-treaty stronghold during the Irish Civil War- fought just after the War of Independance.  We had seen a lot of Cork Rebel signage and references when we watched the Cork v. Clare Hurling match at a pub near Croke Park stadium.  The Cork fans streamed to the stadium waving their red Rebel flags.  Disturbingly, a fair few of them were displaying and wearing flags of the Confederate States of America.  I understand the connection to "Rebels" with these flags, but flying the confederate flags in the States today (despite the loud crying of an ignorant and backwards minority) is a clear signal of racism, separatism, and white superiority.  I hope assume the people who use these American rebel flags don't know what those flags stand for, and would stop if they knew their hateful and painful history.  Maybe I'm just too sensitive.

Cork Rebel Sings along the River Lee South Fork
Cork Rebel Sings
Just beyond the River Lee South Fork (off of The Island) we could see a large church just up the hill.  It was St. Fin Barre's Cathedral.  A worship center of the Church of Ireland, the building dates back to 1879.  The gray stone stood out wonderfully on this cool, blue Christmas morning.

St. Fin Barre's Cathedral- Cork Ireland
St. Fin Barre's Cathedral- Cork
At the top of the hill, we stumbled upon another of Cork's most famous and historic sites- the Elizabeth Fort.  On top of the South hill, overlooking the whole River Lee valley the fort was built as a protective fortress for the English governors of Cork.  It was originally built in 1601, but rebuilt after several sackings in various uprisings and coups.  Today the site is mostly preserved in the walls.  There are some exhibits (all closed for Christmas, of course) to be seen, but the main gate was open for a poke-around in the parking lot.

Interestingly, we found this site totally by accident- not having done much research about Cork before our visit.  The plaque in the photo below is apparently a popular place, as we saw pictures of some politicians visiting Cork posing with the same plaque we had just curiously found.

Cory at Elizabeth Fort Cork, Ireland
Cory at Elizabeth Fort
Coming down from the hill of, we again crossed the South Fork of the river and snapped another photo of St. Fin Barre's from a distance.  The mist was mostly cleared by this time, but notice the church is slightly faded as the last of the fog was burned away by the (almost midday) sun.

View from the South Fork River Lee Cork, Ireland
View from the South Fork
We've already mentioned Beamish Stout, and we took a stroll past the historic brewery in which it is produced.  The brewery is open for tours, but not on Christmas Day.  

Beamish Brewery Cork, Ireland
Beamish Brewery
The narrow lanes around Patrick street, so busy with traffic, shoppers, and street performers on Christmas Eve, were nearly empty and silent on Christmas morning.  We had the neighborhood almost to ourselves.  Shops were quiet- except for the radio speaker in the doorway of one department store.  On a normal day, the music of that small radio would only be heard just outside the doorway, but in the quiet of the Christmas Day streets it could be heard echoing for a square block all around.  

A Murphy's Stout Sign on a pub in Cork, Ireland
Murphy's Stout Sign Dwarfing that of Guinness
We made our way to the River Lee proper and crossed the bridge to the North bank of the river.  On the bridge, we saw what I thought was one of the highlights of the trip, because I am a water-creature-nerd.  A big lump popped out of the river a ways from the bridge.  The photos we took were difficult because of the great distance and the angle, but the naked eye could see clearly- a seal.  Awesome.  After living in landlocked Iowa for so long, I still can't shake the novelty of living in a place where a sea mammal might just pop up into town as if to say,  "Merry Christmas!"

A seal pops up for air in the River Lee, Cork, Ireland
Hey Buddy!
 Nothing springs the appetite like a few hours (and a few miles) of walking on a cold, clear day.  We were ready for our Christmas feast, mostly purchased at the English Market the day before.  We tucked in to the cured meats, bread, cheeses and wine while we connected with some family members Stateside via video chat.

Meat, Cheese, Wine, and Everything Nice
Meat, Cheese, Wine, and Everything Nice
After our feast, we were again a bit restless.  We had warmed up, eaten some great food, enjoyed some great wine, sipped some hot tea, and there wasn't anything good on BBC or RTE- so we decided to take another (shorter) walk around town to see the city at night.

Cork Christmas Lights on Christmas Night
Cork Christmas Lights
Wow!  Were we ever glad we took that night walk.  Just like Dublin, Cork dresses its streets up with lights, trees, and decorations for the holiday.  On Christmas night, all the locals were inside enjoying the holiday with family and all the tourists were too full of food and drink to bother with the cold night- so we again had the streets almost to ourselves.  There were a few other people out who looked like they were just out to photograph the Christmas lights.  Smart plan, with the streets empty and quiet.  These clever devils could set up tripods in the middle of Patrick Street and take long-exposure night photos with no trouble.  We made a mental note to do the same thing next year, no matter where we spend Christmas!

Light ornaments on the street in Cork, Ireland on Christmas night
Tommy and Gap take the beauty from the scene...
Try to ignore them

Christmas Tree in Cork Ireland on Christmas night
Christmas Tree in Cork
After a pleasant walk to stretch ourselves out, we made our way back to the B&B.  The temperature had once again dipped below freezing, and the sidewalk along the South Fork was very slippery.  With the cold temperatures returned the mist over the river.  The fast current threw the fog up in big playful swirls and twirls.

Christmas Night Mist on River Lee South Fork in Cork, Ireland
Christmas Night Mist

At last, we had returned to the warm B&B.  We were to make our trip back to Dublin the next day, but we knew even then that this would be a Christmas that we would treasure forever.  Cork is a beautiful city, and we were sorry to leave it- but isn't that how one should always travel?  "Always leave 'em wanting more" is the phrase, and we believe it also fits with travel planning.

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