Two excellent ways to see a beautiful country

Killarney National Park

So, logically, after travel snafus, my next blog post should be about my first few days in Ireland. But to be honest I've been having a difficult time deciding what to write. I mean, it's like, BREAKING NEWS: IRELAND STILL BREATHTAKINGLY BEAUTIFUL. I'm sure you're shocked. If you've seen any pictures or any movies set in Ireland, you've seen some of the rolling green hills, the fluffy little sheep, and the jagged cliffs spritzed with white frothy foam. That was what I saw, except in person.

I do, though, think we picked two very good ways to see Ireland's countryside. On Sunday, my first full day in the country, we did a two-hour horse ride through Killarney National Park. Now, up until I went to college, I rode horses nearly every day (at least during the warmer months) for about 10 years. I was in the best shape of my life. Going into this trip, by comparison, I had been mostly sitting around, resting my swollen foot, my muscles growing flabbier and flabbier. Things came back pretty quickly once I got on my horse, O'Sheen*, but my experience made me attempt to use muscles I hadn't used since high school, plus the more recently flabby ones. So for many days after the ride it was my sore legs that slowed me down, not my foot. I really need to stop doing things at the outset of my trips that ruin my legs for much of the rest of the trip.

I really did enjoy riding again, though, and horseback was a perfect way to see Killarney National Park. We covered a lot more ground than we would have walking, and it just felt like a more classic way to get around. Our group had a variety of experience and liking-of-horses levels, but by the end of the ride everyone was trotting quite nicely, and the two of us with more experience got to canter a few times — the last time through a muddy lane where the stocky Irish horses' heavy hooves splashed us thoroughly, but the mud only made it more fun.

Along the ride we saw people walking, and quite a bit of wildlife, including some different breeds of deer that looked more the size of caribou. Most impressive, though, were the mountains, Macgillycuddy's Reeks, rolling soft and green off in the distance, down into the silvery-blue lakes.

The beauty we saw in Killarney National Park was just a sneak preview for our tour Monday of the Dingle Peninsula. Our group size — 11 people — was once again advantageous here, as my friend Meghan was able to book us a sleek little private bus and driver for less per person than it would have cost us to each book a seat on a big bus tour. It's a good thing we weren't on a big bus tour, either, because our crew likes to take pictures, and we made a LOT of photo stops.

Taking so many pictures on our Dingle tour.

Eventually our driver realized that our camera fingers got itchy at the sight of any substantial cliffs, charming beaches or particularly cute sheep, and started stopping without even asking. He'd pull over, and say, in his thick Irish accent: "Get off my friiiiiickin' bus!" We all agreed that that would never, in fact, get old.

The photo stops also never got old, mostly because as we drove along from Inch Strand, through Dingle town, and out to Sleigh Head, around every bend, the scenery just got more and more spectacular — rolling hills broken into rough rectangles by stone fences, 4,000-year-old beehive huts still standing on windswept hillsides, daredevil sheep grazing where one false step would send them tumbling into the jewel blue ocean, and, of course, the cliffs.

Sleigh Head

I think that's really all I can say about my first two days in Ireland. I mean, I guess I did manage to write a post, but really, this one's all about the pictures. Here they are, for Killarney and Dingle. And here's a bit of video from our horse ride:

* I'm probably spelling that wrong, but I don't think the horse will mind.

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