My 15 Favorite Photos for the Year 2016

The year has come and gone. 2017 here we come!

But before we welcome the new year, let me recap memories gone by (so quick, right?) with a photo list of my faves. Like my previous year-ender post, I wanted to wrap up my travels these past 12 months with these precious photos. They have all been wonderful and amazing experiences! From the mind and body oriented yoga retreat and yet adventure filled short trip to Costa Rica to the jaw dropping views and sceneries of Ireland, there were so many things we learned about others and about ourselves as well. What is a trip without a lesson learned or two!

Here they are in no particular order. I hope these inspire you to dream and travel some more!

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The Cliffs of Moher, Ireland
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Forest at Torc Falls, Killarney National Park, Ireland
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Ballycarberry Castle, Ireland
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Muckross Abbey, Ireland
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Ross Castle, Killarney National Park, Ireland
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St Finn Barre’s Cathedral, Ireland
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County Antrim, Northern Ireland
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County Antrim, Northern Ireland
the field and the beech tree
The Dark Hedges, Northern Ireland
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Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland
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Killarney National Park, Ireland
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El Higueron de Cabuya, Costa Rica
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Santa Teresa, Costa Rica
the access road from the beach to the main road
Santa Teresa, Costa Rica
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Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

“They’re just cliffs… “

On our most recent trip to Ireland, one of the places we visited, though ranked high on the very touristy list were the Cliffs of Moher. They were supposed to be Ireland’s number 2 attraction. It doesn’t help that a lot of movies were filmed around the area, such as, The Princess Bride and Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. Being a fan of those two movies, I have to come see this attraction, touristy or not.

The night before our scheduled trip to the Cliffs, we hung out at our hotel’s bar  with hubby having his regular Guinness run, and I was just there to keep him company. Not that he needed it. My husband can talk to anyone anytime anywhere much unlike me.

While having a conversation with the hotel bartender, we asked him for suggestions on what to do or where to go. We told him that we wanted to see the Cliffs and if there is anything we should check out before or after going there. Much to our surprise, he said something like, “It’s not that spectacular, they’re just cliffs! You should check out Connemara or the Aran Islands instead.” I was flabbergasted he would say that to one of his country’s most popular attractions which was almost akin to one describing the Grand Canyon as a mere crack in the earth.

Then came another stranger who stopped by to talk to us. He was this nice older gentleman whose thick Irish accent I loved dearly. So like we always do on our trips, we always ask locals for suggestions. Lo and behold, he said no to the Cliffs and suggested the Aran Islands too like the bartender before him. We learned he was born and raised in those islands and in about 15 mins, we had a haphazardly drawn map of where to go and what to do when we get there. We learned about his family and what he did. Ah, those friendly Irish people!

Now if we had more time, we would probably head out to the Aran Islands too because I’ve read about them in my research. So, off to the Cliffs we go against locals’ advice. I was thinking the same of us when people ask us about Disney World, it was just ho-hum, just another theme park in Orlando. I guess when you’re local, you take for granted the popular attractions.

The Cliffs of Moher are not just your ordinary cliffs. They are 320 million years old and spans 8 miles along the western coast of Ireland. The highest point is 702 feet near O’Brien’s Tower and has more than 20 species of birds living and nesting on its steep rocky face.

There is a visitor center which was built into a hillside near the cliffs and the vicinity around it have walkways, viewing areas and importantly, walls protecting visitors from accidents. But you can walk around the walls if you wish to get closer to the edge.

There are numerous tours going to the Cliffs. Timing your visit would be a challenge as there are always tour buses around. But if you can learn to just go with the flow and find a not so busy spot for your photos then you are good to go. The weather can also be tricky. I’ve heard and read that some days it can be so foggy that you won’t be able to see anything. They close on those days. And rightfully so. Or it can be so windy or rainy. Either of those conditions don’t make for great pictures or for safe walking along the cliffs. On the day we went there, we were nothing but blessed to have a beautiful day…no rain, no wind and no fog!

As you can see, hubby definitely doesn’t have a fear of heights. I thought I didn’t too until I walked the trails and felt the dizzyingly pull of gravity. Ack! I wanted to take a shot of me sitting on the edge legs dangling but no, I was too chicken. The hubby did it for me instead.

The cliffs as magnificent as they are can also be very dangerous, obviously, and a few people have lost their lives either by accident or intentionally. Hence, the walls of the visitor center and the numerous warning signs.

Of course, a visit to an Irish attraction would not be complete without seeing animals. We spent about two hours there majority of our time taking photos. I would have wanted to hike the trails but we were both starving and didn’t bring anything substantial to eat so off we go in search of Chinese food. Did I tell you I was having rice withdrawals in Ireland?

So, do you think they’re just cliffs? Or that they’re just amazingly spectacular cliffs?

 

The Ring of Kerry: Tour Bus or Self Drive?

May the road rise up to meet you,

the wind be always at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face,

the rain falls soft upon your fields.

And until we meet again,

May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

                                        -old Irish blessing-

One fine sunny day, we took a road trip around the Ring of Kerry, Ireland’s most famous scenic drive. We hopped into our trusty little red rental car, this time with my husband almost quite getting the hang of driving on the opposite side of the road. Starting early in the morning was recommended because it can be a whole day drive, although 9 am wasn’t really considered early, we just wanted to beat the huge tour buses and crowds.

With a rental car being part of our Ireland trip package, it was a no brainer that we would use it to explore more of the countryside and not just a transport in between cities. Initially, I asked my hubby if he preferred to drive along the Ring of Kerry or join a tour group where he doesn’t have to worry about directions and driving. He insisted we drive to which I was just all too delighted to agree with. I didn’t mind being the navigator at all.

There are tons of tour operators and companies in Ireland that do all sorts of trips to the Ring of Kerry and to all the four corners of this country as well. You just have to chose which ones you like best. Traveling made easy. Of course, you can also always rent a car and make traveling more challenging and adventurous and tailor fit to suit your needs.  Whatever floats your boat.

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For us, it is self drive all the way! 

The Ring of Kerry is a 179 km loop around the Iveragh Peninsula in Southwest Ireland, which takes you to different landscapes and sceneries, from the rugged and craggy sheep-filled mountains to rolling green valleys to the tumultuous waves of the Atlantic coast.

After reading different websites and travel blogs, we decided to travel clockwise. The buses go in an anti-clockwise direction so if you don’t want to get stuck behind them (and I wouldn’t really recommend passing them in those super narrow roads!), then drive the opposite way. Just be careful also because those big buses come barreling down the roads like they own it. Another caveat, when you get off the main Ring road, say you want to explore a certain town, the Ring of Kerry signs all point to the anti-clockwise direction. Again, just go the opposite way.

A day before, we explored Killarney National Park which is along the Ring of Kerry. That was a whole day affair too as there are lots of sights to see and activities to do around the park itself. On the day of our Ring of Kerry trip, we started from Killarney town and drove South to Kenmare. Along the way, we stopped at one of the Killarney Lakes where we accidentally discovered an unmarked trail down to the beach.

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After enjoying a few quiet moments in this “secret” spot with the early morning air and the sound of the waves lapping gently on the shores, we then proceeded to head on to our next destination which was the Kenmare stone circle. The drive was, for the most part leisurely, except for those twisty turns and hairpin bends what with the road already being narrow and with speed limits set at 100 km/hr (62 miles/hr). Seriously, they need to lower the speed limit as no one can go that fast on those roads. Wait, I think the buses do.

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These photos are just a small sample of the breathtaking vista that is the Ring of Kerry.

We get to the town of Kenmare, find parking and head to the Tourism office for directions to the stone circle. Across the Tourism office, we find a directional sign and walked for about ten minutes along what appears to be private homes and offices. At the end of the road is a  private residence with a large yard/garden/farm. The stone circle was part of the private property with a separate entrance for the public and an “honesty box” with an admission fee of 2 Euro. (I got more photos of the stone circle here)

One thing I like best about doing it yourself is the ability to stop anywhere you want and for however long you want. There were so many random stops we made along the way that truly made for a great road trip.

This was one of them. We stopped to admire the view and what do I find when I looked down? A road leading to the beach, which also looked like a place to launch boats.

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This was another unplanned stop.

Waterville is a charming little village facing the ocean with quaint shops and restaurants. When we got there, the lunch crowd was in full swing. There were I think four tour buses parked along the road. Four doesn’t feel like many but these buses have the capacity of 60-80 people so when you stick that number in a small town, it can get too crowded.

We wanted to have lunch there but skipped it because of that. We just strolled over the Promenade to enjoy the pebbly beach.

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From here you can either chose to take another smaller ring road called the Skellig Ring or continue with the Ring of Kerry. The Skellig Ring is about 20 km. more rugged natural beauty. Whats awesome about this ring, there are no tour buses! If the Ring of Kerry road was narrow enough for you, try the Skellig Ring, your heart drops to your stomach when you have an oncoming vehicle specially one that does not appear to slow down. The road really is a one lane road but no, not in Ireland.  Maybe with horses then?

The Skellig Ring is named after the Skellig Islands, Skellig Michael (Great Skellig) and Little Skellig, two rocky craggy islands off St Finian’s Bay. Skellig Michael is known for its Christian monastery founded sometime around the 6th century and later abandoned in the 12th century. It is a UNESCO world heritage site. Recently, it has been made more popular due to Star Wars which filmed one of its final scenes in the episode The Force Awakens. Little Skellig is famous for its bird population, a colony of gannets, the largest in Ireland.

There are boat tours to these islands but unluckily for us, they were closed for the season which ends in October. You can land on Skellig Michael and explore the monastery site but not on Little Skellig. The tours are also weather dependent as the waters can be very rough and it can be quite a challenge docking the boat. Strong winds can also be dangerous when you are on those steep narrow steps that lead up to the monastery.

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I never really expected to see the islands because the weather in Ireland can go from cloudy to foggy to rain to sunny in five minutes. But when we saw THIS, I was squealing with delight! That boat trip will have to wait another day.

Mission accomplished and feeling quite high we drive on and get off the Skellig Ring. Next on our list was Ballycarberry Castle, off the town of Cahersiveen. Just another castle ruin but charming in its own way.

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After the castle, we were ready to go home, hit the pubs, grab some beer and dinner. It took us about seven hours to do the entire Ring of Kerry plus the extra kilometers for that Skellig detour we took. We never really got a proper lunch stop but thank God we brought along snacks and water. There was too much to see to stop for an hour break.

Was it worth driving? YES. I didn’t drive but my hubby didn’t complain or regret it one single bit. You can also go slow and don’t have to do it in a day. Sleep overnight in one of the Bed and Breakfasts. Take one hour lunch stops. We didn’t have the luxury of time so we decided to overachieve. We met our road trip goals and that is what matters.

Sheep anyone?

The Giant’s Causeway: Legend or Science?

Some 50 to 60 million years ago, volcanoes did their magic, like they always do, on the Northern coast of Ireland creating what we see now as the Giant’s Causeway. These are the 40,000 or so interlocking basalt columns scattered along the coast of Antrim. They were declared as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1986 due to its unique geological formation.

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However, most Irish folks would like to believe in the alternative story of how they were formed. Legend says that an Irish giant, Finn McCool built this causeway so he can fight with the Scottish giant across the seas named Benandonner. When he realized that the other giant was much bigger than him, he asked his wife to help him. So his wife disguised him as a baby and put him in a cradle and dressed him in baby clothes. When Benandonner came over and saw this massive “baby”, he realized that its father could be even bigger, he ran back to Scotland and destroyed the causeway so that McCool couldn’t come get him. On the other side of the ocean, on Scottish shores, there lies the same basalt formations that stretches out to sea thereby backing up the story of the two giants.

The whole area is stunning with raw natural beauty. There was a visitor center which we skipped and went straight down to the coastline. It was about a 15 minute hike or you can take a free shuttle ride from the visitor center and back. We took our lunch with us and had a small picnic along the stones in a not so overcrowded spot. There are restaurants near the visitor center too but we were advised that they were on the expensive side. It was way better eating lunch out there as you soak in the breathtaking views.

There were LOTS of people and it can be a challenge getting your shots right but, this is a popular place so expect a huge crowd. Don’t worry, there was plenty of room for everyone! I also liked the fact that there were staff from the National Trust manning the site. As it was a windy day, it could be dangerous climbing up those rock formations.

Here they are up close and personal!

Most of these stones are hexagons, though some have five sides, maybe even more!

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Some are slabs and some are columns.

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Some are almost irregularly roundish and some are perfectly angular.

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Some have white spots and some are volcanic black.

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Some appear to be like pavers while some are in mounds.

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Some are stuck on the mountainside and some stretches out to sea.

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This whole day tour was made possible by Finn McCools tours of which we spent an hour and a half on the causeway. Of course, there were so many other companies to chose from. It really is up to you. I just happened to chose this one because aside from the good reviews, they have the best value for your money. There were other stops along the way too, each beautiful by their own right. You can also drive up there yourself and enjoy the scenic ride at your own pace.

So, which one are you most inclined to believe in?

Giants or science?

Castles, Churches and Ruins along the Irish Countryside

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who dreamed that she was a princess living in an enchanted castle in a far, far away land. There she would meet her knight in shining armor who would rescue her from the evil clutches of this ferocious dragon whom he slayed after a long battle. Then, they both lived happily ever after….. or so they say.

Fairy tales, you either love them or hate them. I suppose Ireland is the land of legend and magic. I would also like to believe, that it is the land of fairy tales. Call me childish or childlike but all my childhood dreams were coming true. Medieval castles, gothic churches, ancient monasteries…. all these were but found in my books or in the movies or in my imagination. As I come to see them before me with my very own eyes, I felt like I was transported back in time.

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Muckross Abbey

There were so many castles and ruins we saw along the way it was impossible to visit them all. So many oohs and aahs and wows were said either aloud or in quiet disbelief as I wandered into empty halls with my hand touching the stone walls wondering about the people who once lived there. My inner Lady Belle was working it. 🙂

According to one source online, there are over 30,000 castles in the island of Ireland! Most of them were built in Medieval times. It is also interesting to note that most of these castles were not built for kings and queens but rather as forts or defensive fortresses or what they call tower houses.

We took a tour at Ross Castle and actually, learned a lot of things about how they lived during those times and how each part of the fort from the wooden doors to the stairs had a purpose in helping defend its occupants from invading armies.

Castles

Dunluce Castle. Location: Co Antrim, Northern Ireland

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Ross Castle. Location: Killarney National Park, Co Kerry

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Ballycarberry Castle. Location: Cahersiveen, Co Kerry (along the Ring of Kerry)

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Bunratty Castle. Location: Bunratty Village, Co Clare

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Dunguaire Castle. Location: Co Galway near Kinvarra

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Churches, Monasteries and Abbeys

My world history was being refreshed big time on this trip as it was actually fascinating to see all these history passing before us. At one point in our bus tour to the Giant’s Causeway, I thought of the thousands of people that were persecuted and had died defending their religion, i.e., the Catholics vs Protestants war in Ireland had me so troubled that I can say that we are so lucky today because of the freedom of religion.

St Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Cork

St Mary’s Cathedral, Killarney

Muckross Abbey, Killarney National Park, Killarney

Random church along the Ring of Kerry

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Inisfallen Abbey, Inisfallen Island, Killarney National Park

Ruins (and a Stone Circle)

Ireland is dotted with them. Some you can’t really identify whether it was a castle or a farmhouse. All you see are scattered stone remnants of some sort of structure. And don’t get me started on stone circles. Although I only saw one at Kenmore along the Ring of Kerry, Ireland has a couple hundred stone circles scattered around. But it was enough to get my geek hat on.

There was that one day when I told my hubby though that I was afraid I was getting “castled out”! Eek! But I eventually resumed to my otherwise enthusiastic self the next day after having my 6th Irish breakfast in a row. Go figure.

Are you a history fan? Would you rather live in the past or in the present?