Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Day 100 - Ireland/Glendalough

I have never been to Ireland. Given everything I have heard about the history and majesty of the country, Ireland is a place I have always wanted to visit. However, I could never justify the expense of traveling so far to temporarily surround myself with the sights and sounds of the Emerald Isle. I knew it would be a beautiful place, but I always felt the time and money needed to experience it could be better spent on other things. Sure, I used to travel a lot and I missed the feeling of exploring someplace new, but adventure was not high on my list of priorities in recent years. Now 100 days into my journey, I can honestly say the "I have never..." idea has begun to change my perspective on a lot of things, including travel. As a result, I recently made plans to travel to Ireland for the first time and take in a country that has been on my "to see" list since I was a child.

Knowing I didn't want to make the trip alone (Rachael didn't have enough vacation time to come along), I recruited my friend Patrick to accompany me on the journey. As the trip approached, the two of us periodically talked about what we hoped to take away from the experience and did our best to narrow down a list of places to see over our week in Ireland. With the trip upon us, we left the United States last night and landed in Dublin today. After gathering our things and getting our rental car, we immediately headed to the countryside south of the city. Stated plainly, before I left for the trip I was hopeful the experience would be amazing, but I never expected to suddenly and immediately stunned by the sights, the people, and the experiences we encountered on our first day of our trip. As a result, I'm quite confident the next week's worth of blog entries will be brief, as I know I will find it hard to accurately describe the scenery and experiences we will have during our journey. If the rest of the country looks like what we encountered today, I know I will be incapable of finding the words needed to express my thoughts and feelings about the trip. Today was simply that amazing.

Now, onto the story from today. After finding our way to the storied Glendalough in the Wicklow Mountains of Southeast Ireland, Patrick and I took to the trails leading along the lakes resting at the base of the Wicklow Mountain range. As two individuals that seek to see the unseen, travel the untraveled, and experience the uncommon experiences, Patrick and I lasted about 10 minutes on the designated trails before we began climbing straight up one of the surrounding mountains through a forest of aged trees surrounded by a forest floor of moss, grass, and ferns. As we climbed the whole experience felt surreal. The forest around us appeared as though it was plucked from a fairy tale, and the lake below us was touched only by the periodic bursts of sunlight that broke through the blankets of clouds. The vibrant greens of the forests and yellows of the grasses illuminated the hills around us and left us speechless each time we stopped on our trek upward. Below, ruins speckled gaps in the forest made the history of this country immediately apparent. I won't try to describe it further, I will simply let the photos attempt to do justice to the beauty we encountered today.

After climbing the to top of the northern most mountain at the Glendalough, Patrick and I worked our way back down to the lake in an effort to cross to the other side and ascend the end of the Wicklow Valley toward a cascading river. On the way we came upon a stream that wound its way through the forest and toward the lake. Over and over we encountered small waterfalls and rock slopes that diverted the stream through the forest in sweeping bends. Walking along the stream, we eventually met the lake and continued to the north shore. There we noticed a shift in the forest. The grass thickened and eventually gave way to dense ferns that overlaid the forest floor. That covering continued until the mountain slopes steepened at the river mouth and suddenly turned into a rocky landscape of grasses, boulders, and more ruins populated by flocks of sheep from a nearby farming community.

After climbing out of the river valley along a seemingly unending series of waterfalls, Patrick and I used a nearby trail to find our way back to the entrance of the Glendalough park. With evening setting in, we stopped by the ruins of the cathedrals and abbeys on the shore of the Glendalough's lower lake. There we found the ruins of several buildings resting at the edges of a graveyard weathered with time. It was impossible not to feel the history around us as we walked through the area observing the structures and markers around us. Eventually, our path took us to a centuries old cathedral left in ruin. Its former architectural grandeur could be seen in the fragments of arches and windows that remained, but the jagged walls that still stood left a powerful, and equally beautiful, impact in the fading sunlight. Like so many things on my first day in Ireland, I was stunned in the structure's presence. Even now the whole experience is hard to explain.

Patrick and I made our way back to our rental car shortly after spending some time in the ruins of Glendalough and plotted our course for our hotel in Killenard. On our way to the hotel, our first day in Ireland presented me another new experience, driving on Irish country roads. The asphalt and gravel packed roads were little more than a car and half wide, were rarely straight, and were lined with stone walls, towering barriers of raw foliage, and steep drop offs. On our way to the hotel we found ourselves veering off of the road to make way for passing trucks and speeding vehicles occupying more than their lane of traffic. It was frightening and unbelievable at the same time, leaving the two of us dumbfounded and a little stressed out by the time we found our hotel. Again, its hard to describe, so Patrick took a video of us driving down one of the "wider" roads. 

My first day in Ireland was laden with new experiences that were unlike anything else I have experienced in my life. While I can't say what the rest of the trip will present to us, I know this will be a life altering experience if we continue to have days like today. I'm one day in and I can already say everything anyone has ever told me about Ireland is true. I just don't know why I took so long to experience this incredibly beautiful place.

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