Coffee, Climbing, and Culture in Cork, Ireland – Day 3

On the road again.

As I walked down the River Liffey to the bus station, I felt like I understood Dublin a little better. The sun and bright blue skies had gone, replaced with thick grey clouds and the constant chance of rain.

Dublin is a little bit broody, let’s be honest. It isn’t one of those cities filled with historic sites you want to snap a picture of. To be honest, I haven’t felt the impulse to grab my camera. I’ve had to actively remind myself to put it in my little backpack every morning. Despite the damp and the clouds, Dublin is lively. People make their own fun here, and I appreciate that. I like Dublin.

In what appears to be a pattern at this point, I left just as I got my footing. Cork was calling, and my first week was quickly passing me by. I booked a single night in Cork and though I was planning to stay the following two nights in Galway, I wanted to leave myself open to staying in the southern city longer if I liked it. Look at me, being all spontaneous.

As the bus made its way out of Dublin, the landscape changed from urban to rural. Green farms stretched out over rolling hills. Much of the UK is covered in farmland, but there is something about Ireland that is just so green. So specifically green. Or I could be crazy. The world may never know.

Things began to get urban and industrial again the closer we came to Cork. The thing about Cork is it’s a little rough around the edges. It is not the quintessential little European city. To be fair, driving through the outskirts of any city can be a little touch and go. Many limit their charms to their historic center. I began to get a little apprehensive. I knew next to nothing about this place. Was it such a good idea to head this way rather than straight to Galway?

Yes. The answer is yes.

Walking down the River Lee. It feels like autumn is finally here.

The coffee capital of Ireland. Probably.

Cork was so pleasant. I know that sounds so blasé, but it’s really the best word for the job. Everyone just seems so cool there. There were all these youths with their funky hair and edgy piercings but there were also elderly couples and families and all sorts. And there was no shortage of coffee shops. I even picked up a loyalty card for one of them despite the fact I was only in the city for 20 hours.

It was pretty hard to get lost in Cork. Everything stretches out from the River Lee (from the Adele song? I think so.). My hostel was nestled right at the base of Shandon Tower, a large church tower with a giant, golden, fish-shaped weathervane at the top. Hard to miss, surprisingly.

I dropped off my stuff and headed out in search of adventure. The guy at reception had pointed out a few streets with good restaurants, so I started out that way. My peanut butter sandwich breakfast felt so long ago. I found my way to the center of town. I walked around for almost half an hour scoping out all the coffee shops. I was overwhelmed (in the best possible way).

Cork city center.

I finally popped into Gloria Jean’s coffee shop and grabbed one of the outdoor tables. I consulted my Lonely Planet guide in between bites of sandwich and sips of tea. Turns out there aren’t a lot of tourist sites to see in Cork. There’s the English Market, a bit of the old city wall, and some churches. Otherwise it was just ‘go soak up the atmosphere’.

Luckily, I didn’t have a ton of time in the city, so having only a few things to see made life super easy.

I started off walking through the English Market. It reminded me a little of Chelsea Market in New York. Butchers and grocers and bakers fill the main area of the market while the periphery is full of cute gift and clothing shops. In the alleyways leading into the market there are quite a few pubs, all of which were sporting some form of fairy lights.

I did a loop around the other big name sites in town, but there wasn’t much to see. With plenty of time to kill before dinner, my brain decided it would be a good idea to try to walk up to a church I had seen earlier high up on the hill past my hostel. I figured the view would be nice.

Perusing the English Market before the evening’s festivities began.

I guess I’m climbing a hill now.

I walked down the river, following an adorable girl and her dad. The trees were turning yellow, and it felt a quintessential autumn day. Have I mentioned I’ve been wearing sweaters since I got here? New York can keep its muggy summers. I’m good with my jumpers.

The road crept up the hill, switching back and forth as the incline became steeper. The shops slowly disappeared, replaced by residential streets. I huffed and puffed my way up, and just as I was starting to question my life choices, I came across a pub. It seems like I wasn’t the first person to burn out halfway up the hill. The sun was so bright at this point that I actually had to take my sweater off. Yeah, crazy. I know.

It took me a little under an hour to make it up to the top. I found myself at the Church of the Ascension, which seemed a fitting name. I sat on the steps of the church for a while in the shade. The view was nice. No stunning vistas since the rows of houses kept most of the view hidden. But every now and then on the way up I got a glance of the churches in the distance or the river curving out of sight. I enjoyed it. I might not recommend this course of action to the lazier traveler.

The higher I climbed, the more surprise views I found.

Tired from my hike, I made my way back down to the city. It was still too early for dinner, so I decided to grab a drink at one of the cafés I had seen earlier, Farm Shop Café. I followed Cathedral Road back down to the river and made my way along bank. I stumbled upon a cool looking bookstore called Vibes & Scribes, so I had to go have a look. Sadly by the time I had finished perusing the titles, my destination was closing up shop. Thankfully there were a dozen more cafés, so I chose Bracken’s.

In a happy twist of fate, I was in Cork on Culture Night. Basically a bunch of museums, pubs, and other public buildings were hosting events well into the evening. My brief internet search told me a few intriguing things were happening at the library, so I headed in that direction once I finished my tea.

In the end, I saw a short production of Jane Austen’s Three Sisters and a poetry reading of some classic Seamus Heaney. On my way back to the hostel, I popped into the English Market to hear some live music, though it was too crowded to actually walk through.

Sunset over the river.

But wait, the day isn’t over yet.

Feeling fully cultured, I returned to the hostel to prepare for my next move. Because I was delayed by all the festivities, though, there were no more bookings left in Galway for the next night. I wasn’t too upset. I wanted to visit the coastal town of Kinsale anyway, so I figured I could head there instead and go to Galway after. Nope. Kinsale was all booked too.

Now I was a little concerned. I had to be back in Dublin on the 25th, but all of the places I wanted to go were filled up or the bus tickets to get there were crazy expensive/complicated. I then did what any practical person would. I pulled up Google Maps and looked for any towns or cities that were between me and Dublin.

I tried many options, but I ended up booking one night in Kilkenny and an extra night in Dublin.

So that’s my life now. I’m headed to Kilkenny tomorrow, and I have no idea what to expect. To be fair, that worked pretty well this time around, so I’m not worried.

Sorry I’m a day behind now guys (and by guys, I mean you Mom and Dad). I temporarily misplaced my laptop charger yesterday which hindered posting. Will try to avoid in the future!

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