Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Great Expectations - Athlone, Ireland

Not long now until we go! I've been working really hard putting all our research on the site for you and got me to thinking about how I imagine our trip to be. Having travelled a fair bit already, I'm well accustomed to the fact that nowhere ever looks or feels like you imagined it to. You just can't judge from books and TV what a 360 degree, 4 dimensional place will really be like. 

Years after visiting America, I remember everything being different to what I imagined but I don't recall the way I envisioned it before I went there. All I see now are the memories. So I thought it would be cool to share with you not only the plans we have for each town but the expectations I have. I can't wait to look back and see how wrong I was. That's the beauty of travel, you can sit at home in your lounge and discuss the pros and cons of towns and judge their people and decisions until the cows come home but so often you find when you get to a place that you were wrong the whole time. That's what they mean when they say travel is eye-opening, and that's one of the most exciting parts. 

Our first stop is Athlone, my bosses home town.

Where we will sleep

No accommodation plans here, we will be staying with my bosses brother and sister in their family home for the 6 nights we are in Athlone. I've met her brother when he visited, and her sister worked with us for a year and became good friends with both Courtney and I. In fact, it's Joanie's fault we are off on this adventure! 

What we want to see

While in Athlone, we are at our dear friend's mercy. She knows her country far better than we ever could through research and so we trust her to show us a good time! Athlone is smack bang in the middle of Ireland, almost literally centred, so it's a good place to explore the country from. We've Googled a few places but if we didn't make it to a single one we wouldn't mind - we're there for the people! 

A few places we're interested in -
  • Kilkenny Castle - Courtney is obsessed with castles, I have a feeling we will be seeing quite a few! This is as good as any to start with, it looks beautiful. Kilkenny is 2 hours away from Athlone which is no    problem by car but I don't think we will have one, and the train is 3 hours/€50 so this may end up being a no-go.
       €6 admission 
       Open 9am-5.30pm 7 days. Tour compulsory, lasts 1 hour.       
  • Kells Priory - One of the largest medieval monuments in Ireland, Kells Priory is 15km south of Kilkenny so if we do go, it will probably suit to do both on the same day if possible. Only thing is, it's not accessible by public transport. We'll see how it goes.
       €0 admission
       No set opening hours
  • Blarney Castle - Location of the famous stone, which legend says will give you the gift of the gab if kissed. 3 hours away from Athlone by car. Would be cool to see but I don't think Courts or I are fussed if we miss it.
       €10 admission
       Open 9am-7pm Mon-Sat and 9am-5.30pm Sun. Can book online for ease but this has no price benefits.
  • Ring of Kerry - A region of intense natural beauty with many walking trails which is a popular day trip for tourists. 3 hours 15 minutes away from Athlone by car.
       No set opening hours
  • Cliffs of Moher - Huge sheer cliffs offering amazing views and scenery. 2 hours from Athlone by car.
       No set opening hours
       €4 admission, 30 minute tour included
       Open 10am-6pm 7 days

K) is Athlone, B) is Kilkenny and Kells Priory,
D) is Blarney Castle, F) is Ring of Kerry,
H) is Cliffs of Moher and  J) is Donegal Castle
What we are expecting

I used to imagine Athlone as a tiny little village. Our friends family owned the local sweet shop and helped out with sweets and ice creams for the neighbourhood children when they were younger. Pictures tell me it's much bigger than I first thought, but I still imagine it to be more quaint than any of the bigger towns. I know there's a pub down the road and a chip shop a few houses down that has a huge array of different sauces for your chips. I know the locals are incredibly friendly and will love it when we tell them we both have Irish blood. I am very concious of the fact that we don't have transport so I expect most of our days will be spent in Athlone itself, which I am  perfectly happy with. 
Cliffs of Moher

I've been told our lovely hosts have been fretting about readying the house for visitors, which I think sums up how I anticipate Athlone - accommodating, polite, friendly, a little bit old fashioned, not shiny and new, more homely and comfortable. Warm in a way that excludes literal temperature. A little bit Kiwi, judging by the pics of the surrounding areas. And a lot-a-bit small town Irish, with lots of beer and lots of cheer.

Courts wasn't a huge help, saying he expects it to be 'quite Irish'. Erm, yes. When pushed he said he expects it to be really friendly, very green but with grey skies. He expects it to be not terribly warm but to be filled with friendly beer drinking people - which he is quite looking forward to.