Blarney Castle

I heart public transportation. Throughout my stay in Dublin and throughout the country I’ve taken the tram, buses, DART, and ferries. I planned one trip to a city far outside of Dublin which would require a long-distance train ride. I wanted to kiss the Blarney Stone and visit Cork. When I googled to figure out their locations, I discovered that the Blarney Stone and castle were a thirty-minute bus ride from Cork. Two birds with one stone and all that. So, I planned an entire day to head out to Cork with a stop at Blarney castle.

I woke up early at my hostel and took the tram down to Hueston station. I was so excited to get on a train! The trains to Cork depart hourly and I almost missed the one I was aiming for which would have put me back an entire hour. I just barely boarded the train and sat down in the dining car before I felt the pull of it moving forward. It was a lovely train ride that gave me a chance to sit and watch the countryside pass me by. I ate my breakfast while watching fields flick by and yes, cows, grazing.

Train selfie!

Once at the Cork train station, I headed to the main part of town to grab a bus. After about twenty minutes waiting I hopped on the bus and headed to the town of Blarney. The bus was insufferably hot, the heat boxing us in and the sun searing through the windows. It had hardly rained during the entire five weeks I was in Ireland. Ireland experienced a drought this summer and a heatwave at the end of June which was hard to deal with as no buildings have air conditioning. I sat on the hot bus, fanning myself as the heat built up in the bus.

Despite the oppressive heat, the ride went quickly, and I hopped off and headed to the entrance of the park and gardens where the castle stood. I headed quickly up the path and saw the castle rising to the sky. As I approached the castle, the sound of a bagpipe grew louder. At the base of a castle a man played the bagpipe to eager listeners. At some point later in the day while I was in the castle, he must have gone home because the music stopped.

I just love the color of the bagpipes!

Before getting in line to climb the stairs to kiss the stone, I entered through a doorway at the base to go into the dungeons. The coolness under the stone and the shade away from the heat was a major relief. A couple walked out from its depths and I started to make my way through the cramped quarters. I maneuvered myself partially through and decided that I was not up to squatting and practically crawling to go deeper. I took some pictures and left, heading up the hill to find the line for getting inside.

It was over an hour wait to get to the stone and part of it was standing in the direct sunlight. I glanced up the walls of the castle to the roof where I could see the protective rods underneath the Blarney stone and tourists getting their kiss. They seemed to cycle through people quickly but the line barely inched. I was so thankful when the line did start to move and I was finally able to go inside. It was a tough day to be in the heat.

The castle is set up with a staircase leading up to the top. On the way up, you pass and can actually walk inside rooms like the kitchen or the daughter of the kings’ room. The stairs are narrow, and you sometimes only have a rope to hold yourself going up the uneven and slick stone slabs. There is a warning not too far into the climb that states it is the last point you can ditch the climb, otherwise you have to go all the way up.

It was very close quarters and I walked behind an older couple. They were making jokes about how small the space was. Winston Churchill had climbed the castle, and this became the running joke between us as we climbed. Well, if Churchill can squeeze through here, I can too. If Churchill could climb this castle, I can too. I made several jokes about my fear of heights and slight claustrophobia which amused the couple a lot. The husband shared my weariness with heights and once we did make it to the top of the castle, he abstained from pulling himself down for a kiss.

After climbing the narrow staircase, it was a relief to be in the open and the views were beautiful.

Once I kissed the Blarney Stone (and in doing so was granted the gift of gab), I headed down the exit stairs, stopping to take photos of some rooms not accessible on the way up.

Finally, outside of the castle, I headed for a quick stop at the poison garden. The garden is aptly named, filled with trees, flowers, and other plants that cause serious harm or death.

While in the garden I noticed a structure that looked like a piece of equipment from a jungle gym. I headed over to get a look, initially thinking it was a play thing for kids. In hindsight that was a pretty stupid idea considering Ricin, Mandrake, and Wolfsbane were scattered all around. As soon as my eyes met the sign outside the structure I burst into a bout of laughter. I’m sure I looked goofy to the family walking near me. The entire garden was filled with poisonous plants that you theoretically could (you shouldn’t) touch and the only plant that had any barrier to it was the cannabis plant.

Still chuckling to myself, I left the gardens and snapped a handful of shots of various interesting sights on the top of the hill. Then I headed back down to catch a bus back to Cork for some city sightseeing.

Phoenix Park

Later in the day after my afternoon at Trinity. I took the tram to Hueston station, a short walk to Phoenix Park. In total, I had been in or through Phoenix Park three times. The first was on a bus tour with the program directors and fellow students. We got out of the bus to take a group picture near the ginormous cross where Pope Francis will say mass this August and where in the 1970’s, Pope John Paul II said mass to over a million people. The second time I went through Phoenix Park was to get to Dublin Zoo. This final stop in Phoenix Park had two goals, to see the Wellington Monument and the deer.

On our bus tour through Phoenix Park, our program director explained that deer roam the park and if you’re lucky you can interact with them and give them a pet. While we were leaving that day, we saw them in a field. I knew on that early day that I would absolutely come back to see them. And I did.

Our first trip to Phoenix Park

I guess I was expecting to have some magical girl/Disney Princess moment in the woods, frolicking around cute deer who let me pet them. I did get to pet the deer and see them up close. What I did not expect was how much their faces freaked me out with their large bug-eyes on the sides of their head. My list of fears stands at 1: confined spaces 2: heights 3: The deer at Phoenix Park.

The Wellington Monument

I found the deer almost immediately, but it took some time for them to warm up to me. After some time one deer decided I was interesting and walked up to me. I was able to pet him and checked that off my list. Once people saw me interacting with the deer a family and a few people in cars stopped to interact with them too. I was able to take pictures pretty easily while others entertained them.

I was so excited at this moment until I saw someone pull out white bread and begin feeding the deer. Just like my issues with people not following photography rules, I was mad at seeing someone feed a deer something obviously not close to their diet. A gaggle of teenagers came up not much longer and scared the deer away for fun. They dashed through a field of tall grass and away from the people.

It had been a long day at this point and I headed back for the tram station, passing a small pond to see the swans before leaving for Temple Bar.

Trinity College

One of my favorite things about studying at Pitt is the Cathedral of Learning, our beloved Cathy. Walking through the first floor to secure a study spot on an uncomfortable wooden bench or walking along the second floor, peering over the edges to the bottom is enough to make one feel like they are in a magical castle, Pittsburgh’s very own Hogwarts. The outside of Trinity, with gray stones and impressive architecture looked beautiful and reminded me of my favorite place on campus back home.

Throughout the trip from friends and loved ones I was bombarded with the same question: “Have you seen the book of Kells yet?!” Seeing the book of Kells and joining a tour was definitely in my plans but I left my visit until the end of my stay in Ireland. The farewell dinner had come and gone, and I was now without classes and classwork. I had my last days packed with activities, including a trip to Trinity.

We learned a ton from our tour guide, a sophomore who is fluent in Italian (and two other languages) and gives tours in Italian as well. This fact amazed me. While I studied German at Pitt, I couldn’t imagine giving a tour of Cathy to native German speakers. Although, several Germans I met through my travels complimented my German and said I knew more than I thought. I think they were being nice, but anyway…

Trinity is a large campus with its main entrance right next to tram lines and near busy shopping districts and government buildings. The main entrance is a large wooden door and once through that door, you are met by the open campus, with green grass, people galore, and more lovely architecture.

The tour guides stand at a little booth next to the greens taking visitor after visitor for tours or selling tickets to see the library and book of Kells. They wear brown robes that strike an image of Harry Potter robes, and in fact, our tour guide made that very same joke. She explained that all tour guides wear them, and it was expected until I believe the 1970’s, that all undergraduates would wear their robes at all times on campus.

The students in the brown robes are tour guides.

Much of the tour discussed the architecture. One of our group’s favorite facts regarded the payment of architects. Three times those in charge of planning/building did not pay the architects who drew extensive building plans. They are beautiful buildings! Poor architects.

My personal favorite fact, which horrified the Americans on the tour (me included), involves the graduation ceremony. In the States, we are lined up alphabetically. At Trinity, they are lined up based on highest to lowest exam scores, which means everyone knows the first and last student at graduation by means of score. I’ll stick to alphabetical order, thanks.

The student body is a very superstitious group. We were told of several superstitions while on our tour. A bell tower sits between two large green spaces on the campus. If a student passes under it while it rings, the superstition goes that they will fail all of their exams.

My tour coincided with a strange time at Trinity. The two lawns next to the bell tower were roped off, a large tree stump protruding from the green grass around it. I knew this before the tour as I kept up with Irish news. In June, a 170-year-old Oregon Maple tree collapsed and crashed onto the lawn. This was a sad occurrence for locals and students. The tree was a common sight, the lawn normally open to students, now closed off as the tree was removed and the other maple on the opposite lawn examined for diseases. I had visited the campus very briefly at the beginning of my program to take a peek and saw the lawn before it had collapsed. Sadly, I didn’t take a photo of the lawn as I had planned to come back. There was a collective mourning at the loss of the familiar tree. Our tour guide explained that all students received an email about the loss of the tree and the sadness was shared among students, faculty, and staff. You can see the stump in my photos as well as its sister tree on the other lawn, what it would have looked like before its demise.

Once the tour concluded, we thanked our tour guide and continued on our way to line up for the entrance to the Book of Kells. Photography is allowed intermittently through this area of the library. The room in which the Book of Kells sits is off limits to photography. I strictly follow museum rules regarding photography. It is a privilege to shoot, not a right. There were a handful of people who seemed ready to break this rule, but the room has a permanent guard to watch the guests crowded around the glass table to get a glimpse of the ancient book.

Since I don’t have an image of the Book of Kells, I’ll explain a little about it. It is an illuminated manuscript which contains four gospels of the New Testament. It is believed that the book was created around the 9th century. The book is believed to have been created on Iona, a small island off of Scotland, and brought to Ireland during a Viking raid to preserve it.

I quite enjoyed the book for its beauty and history.

After squeezing in between the multitude of people to get a good, long look at the book, I left the room to visit the long room, a massive library containing 200,000 old books. The room is a dark wood with book shelves on multiple levels. Lining the shelves are busts of famous academics and important historical figures such as Shakespeare, Socrates, and Robert Boyle. The room bears a striking resemblance to the Jedi Archives in Episode II of Star Wars.

I loved the long room but hated how many people used flash photography, which is prohibited. Several times people had to be told to stop taking flash photos. It’s my pet peeve as you can see. 

Countless photos later, I left the long room and took more pictures of the campus before leaving.

The statue pictured below is of George Salmon provost of the college from 1888-1904. He actually paid for that statue to be built. He is known for the decision to allow women to begin studying at Trinity despite his very strong personal opinion that women should not study or be admitted. He only agreed under pressure. He died before he had to see women study at Trinity, as in 1904, after his death, the first women were admitted. His own daughter ended up studying at Trinity. There is a bit of tradition for the graduating women at trinity to take pictures sitting on his lap, leaving lipstick kisses on his cheek.

My suggestion: Go to Trinity and enjoy a nice tour and the beauty of the library. You won’t be disappointed.

My Goodness, My Guinness

It’s most definitely one of the top five tourist spots in the city. My student housing was directly across from the entrance to the Guinness Storehouse and a consistent stream of people flowed in and out through the alleyway every day. Those leaving held their Guinness Giftshop purchases in black and gold lettered giftbags. Horses, pulling carriages filled with families holding cameras, selfie-sticks, and Go Pros, trotted out from the alley and on to the road from the storehouse for scenic tours of the city.

A few other students in my program gave lukewarm reactions to the Guinness Storehouse. The tour was self-guided through the massive facility that ends at the famous Gravity Bar, which offers a panoramic view of the city. Despite hearing that it was just an “ok” thing to do, I felt excited to visit.

If you are planning to go, I suggest ordering your tickets online. You can pick your time and you get a small discount. As with most things, I got a discount for being a student (yay!). It’s a bit of a walk from the street to the back of the lot where the entrance is. Once you walk to the entrance of the Storehouse, you see the crowds of people, standing in line waiting to buy tickets and catching horse-drawn carriages to take them to other locations in the city. I was able to bypass the line and get right into the building because I bought my ticket the night before.

The Storehouse is massive. There are seven floors to explore Guinness past and present, and even when you think you’ve gone up a floor, you still may not have reached the next one.

Immediately upon starting your tour, you are greeted by the sound of a roaring waterfall as you enter into a dark room with ingredients used for beer such as hops and barley. Guinness facts dot the wall. One of the facts states that Guinness uses 100,000 tonnes of Irish barley per year. You move through the first floor, reading about the ingredients and then move under the waterfall before taking stairs or elevators to the next floor.

Some parts of the facility are not part of a standard ticket, such as the Guinness tasting room. My ticket did not include this, so I moved past that part to the rest of the Guinness Story.

There is a floor with interactive videos of actors portraying members of the Guinness family and workers talking about their lives and the normal of their everyday. The lower floors contain these stories and more about the brewing process.

Old machinery actually used in days of Guinness past are placed in large rooms.

One of my favorite floors contained old and new advertisements and marketing artifacts, paper, and videos. I love media and marketing and found walking through this section fascinating. Here you see all the Guinness animals, including the bird and sea-lion, and when you walk out of the past section you can enter into a large dark room with more recent advertisements playing. They are dramatic as they light up and surround you.

With your ticket you have two options. You can take it all the way up to the final stop, the Gravity Bar, or you can go to the Guinness Academy and learn to pour your own pint. I chose the latter, naturally. Who wouldn’t want to learn to pour their own pint at the Guinness Storehouse?

The view outside the window while I waited in line for pouring my pint. 

At the Academy, ten of us gathered around as the pouring expert showed us on the official glasses on the perfect pour. That perfect pour, by the way, should take 119.5 seconds. First you pour the glass, slowly tipping it back and fill it mostly up. Then you have to wait, as one of the unique parts of Guinness is the nitrogen involved in their brewing. That’s how the iconic head of Guinness comes to be. After the beer has settled and turned from a caramelly color to a dark red with a nice head, then you push the lever the other direction to properly fill your pint glass. Fun fact: I accidently pulled it the wrong way the second time and got a few shouts as I started adding more nitrogen. Oops! I corrected it quickly and had a delicious pint, I promise you.

My Pint!

After the Guinness Academy, there was more exploring old advertisements and playing an interactive harp. I stopped by 1837 Bar & Brasserie for lunch. It was fantastic. The menu had a myriad of options and the best pint to pair with them. Oysters and Guinness have been eaten together since 1837, hence the name of the restaurant. I developed a love of oysters after being introduced to them by my fiancé and his family. I haven’t had any for a while, so I was so excited to have some in Dublin! Pittsburgh oysters are just not the same as oysters from a coastal area.

The pictures will have to do. I can’t describe how good they were! Ah, they taste like summer.

After getting my fill of food and the history and process of beer making, I took the escalators up and a set of stairs to get some great views of Dublin at the Gravity Bar to end my visit. I didn’t get more beer up here, instead I took pictures out of the windows and watched the bartenders fill pint after pint.


My visit exceeded my expectations. I loved every floor and exhibit, and of course all the pints of Guinness! I think it is a must-see/must-do while in Dublin.

After perusing the gift shop and buying a few gifts for family and friends, I left the building and ended my Guinness experience, taking photos of the exterior of the building and the Guinness gate.

I spent about four hours inside the Guinness Storehouse and highly recommend taking your time as you make your way up and around the building. There is so much to see, do, and yes, drink.




Before landing in Ireland, I had been told to visit Galway. Take a bus and make a weekend out of the city if I could. The bars and restaurants were fantastic, the city felt alive and bustling, it was a great place to have fun. I did end up spending a weekend in Galway, but the days were split at the Cliffs of Moher and the Aran Islands. Still, I had a blast in the city, walking around and enjoying the street performances, eating amazing fish and chips, enjoying world cup matches at the bars, and taking a photo walk around the city.

This blog post contains both days I spent in Galway, marked most by my captivation with the street performances. This blog post won’t be too long as I had no plan as I wandered the streets. I captured what caught my attention and what inspired me. I was able to get great shots of performers, architecture, and the Spanish Arch. My suggestion if you head to Galway, plan on just hanging out on the street and enjoying the music, the stunts, and the fun that pops up. Also the Latin Quarter was fantastic with varied restaurants, bars, and shops.


Had a nice pint and watched a some of the world cup here!

I heard music and cheering and followed the sound to hear this band, Bianco Sporco, performing. I stayed for a while to enjoy their work and photograph them. 


The Latin Quarter is bustling and filled with great shops and restuaraunts. 

This is the start of my second day in Galway!

So the swans were right up against the walking path and I went to photograph them. One honked at me and I jumped back and a few bystanders laughed at me. Thanks, bird. 

The Spanish Arch!


A memorial for mariners lost at sea. 

Wolfe Tone bridge

They were singing (and drinking of course) and were excited to see someone taking their photo!

I love how bright this mural is!

The second street performance I watched on my second and last night in Galway. I came a little late into his routine and didn't catch his name. He's from Brazil traveling around and performing. 

His routine involved juggling fire, knives, and grabbing members form the audience to assit. 

"How the British juggle" - to loud laughs from the crowd. 

Using three audience members to help him get on top of the ladder. 

His countdown before they scatter. 

Audience member preparing to throw him his knife. 

Catching the knife

Now its time for fire

So stressful 

He did catch them!