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May 22, 2006: Ireland Trip - Fota and Cork

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This morning when I went to go wash my face, I discovered that there was only a dribble of water coming out of the tap. At first I assumed that it was just that their pressure was bad, since there were likely other guests using the showers at that time, but when we mentioned it to one of our hostesses at breakfast she noted that actually it wasn't just our room; it was the whole town. And the way she talked about it, it sounded as if this was not the first time this sort of thing has happened, since they'd been prepared with a huge container of water for a back-up (to at least have enough for coffee and tea). Luckily we weren't in need of water, so it wasn't anything more than a slightly amusing little diversion, but I got the impression that a few of the other guests weren't so lucky (or understanding).

We headed south again, this time to Cork, or rather, to slightly west of Cork, to the Fota Wildlife Park, which is located on the former grounds of the Fota estate. I knew it was the sort of place where the animals were free to roam at will, but I'd expected, somehow, for it to be a drive-through kind of park. It is actually a walk-through sort of park, even though yes, some of the animals are allowed to just roam about the park at will. They do a lot of conservation and species restoration work there, apparently; hence the presence of both white and black swans, about a dozen cheetahs, a huge herd of giraffe, the European bison, and too many varieties of duck and other waterfowl to count. Most of the waterfowl were allowed to just roam free, but the park also had peacocks, some kind of shaggy llama-type equines (guanaco), various deer, several little kangaroo families, and a whole herd of these strange little critters that looks like a cross between a rabbit and a deer (and which turned out later to be a mara, which is some kind of giant guinea pig relation from South America). But the very best thing of all they had roaming free, and the reason why I was so determined for us to go there in the first place, were the ring-tailed lemurs.

It is important at this point that I note that lemurs are some of my very favorite animals (second only to cats, of course) and that the highlight of every trip we take to the San Francisco zoo is the lemur island, and that if I could have a chance to interact with any other critter in the world (besides, of course, cats), it would be lemurs. So naturally I was a bit excited about the chance to see lemurs up close, maybe swinging right over our heads or curled up just out of reach beside the path. When we finally spotted a little cluster of ring-tailed lemurs they were, in fact, hanging out in special little perches quite obviously designed just for them, and they were only a few feet away so I was quite happy to be able to just get some good shots of them. But then. Then! Across the path another ring-tailed lemur came scampering, directly at us. It paused, pondered our feet for a moment, and then stretched up and leaned one tiny little paw very lightly against my leg for just a moment, staring right up at me. I know exactly why it did this - earlier we'd run into someone who had been to the park before and recounted a tale of lemurs making off with parts of people's lunches, so obviously this little guy was hoping I might be carrying something tasty I would be willing to share. But I really didn't care *why* the lemur decided to come over and pat me on the leg; I only care that it did! A lemur! I've been a bit giddy about it ever since.

We got to see a tiny family of squirrel monkeys come skittering past us on the fence rail, which was pretty amazing, since they came within about two feet of where we were standing. They have such a high-pitched squeak of voice, and they're really adorable. We also got to see a number of the cheetahs. They were caged, and not roaming free (go figure) but still obviously comfortable enough around people that they were perfectly willing to hang out near the front of their enclosure. In fact the first enclosure we passed, there were four of them, all piled on top of each other, taking a nap.

After the zoo we had a quick lunch at the little lunch counter in the Fota House (and I think it may have been the smallest lunch we've had in Ireland yet - portions here tend to be huge), then took a leisurely stroll around the gardens. They've been restored and the arboretum has all kinds of trees from all over the world.

Next it was on to Blarney. Neither of us has any desire to go kiss the Blarney Stone (just the thought of voluntarily touching something with my lips that hundreds of thousands of other people have also touched with their lips makes me queasy), but I'd seen signs for the Blarney Woollen Mills and our map noted that the one in Blarney was the largest ("The Premier Irish Shopping Experience" it was called) so we decided to stop in. And it certainly is large - three floors of mostly sweaters and such, but lots of other Irish-made things for sale. And here I finally found some yarn for sale, such as it was (one type of yarn, one small table), and while it was a fantastic price, I didn't want to buy yarn just for the sake of buying yarn without having a project idea in mind, so I bought no yarn at all.

We thought about trying to get to the castle just to walk around, but decided instead to head back to Cork and try to find our B&B. And what a nightmare driving in Cork is! The narrow little roads we were navigating in the countryside, where they were only a bit wider than one car, but still allowed two-way traffic, were bad enough, but driving in Cork is kind of insane. The roads are still narrow, and while there is a line painted down the middle so that they would fit two cars going opposite directions, this only works if the streets are clear - and they were not. People just park wherever - sometimes even up on the sidewalk (if there is one), so with the parked cars the roads were down to only wide enough for one car, and yet, still, two way traffic. Add to this the fact that the only maps we could track down for Cork were for the city center (and most of the streets on the map were unnamed because identifying streets might actually be *helpful*), and our B&B is most definitely not in the city center, and we were starting to get stressed. We tracked down a phone booth at one point to try to get directions but had no luck getting ahold of anyone, so started asking random strangers, who at least got us pointed in the right direction. And then we stopped at a pharmacy to see if someone there might be able to help us, and met the nicest elderly gentleman who overheard our conversation with the clerk, and volunteered to lead us there himself. They may not be able to create maps that provide any assistance, but the people here more than make up for it - everyone we have met has been nothing but friendly.

Our B&B is in the middle of what is obviously a newer neighborhood ('newer' as in the sense that the streets actually are mostly labeled somewhere where you might actually see the sign when driving on them - a novel concept in a lot of places, it seems) and within walking distance of all the important amenities - places to find dinner, an internet access point (located in a large video and music store), a grocery store so we can restock our supply of traveling snacks, a gas station, and an ATM. And also a phone booth, which turned out to be important later, since when trying to pay for dinner Richard's card was refused, and as we found out, even though I specifically called our bank to make sure they flagged our account so they would *not* assume that all these sudden purchases in Ireland were fraudulent, they didn't bother to note this for Richard's card, they only flagged it for mine. Luckily we cleared it up, and did find a little humor in it later, since it was about this far into his trip that this happened to him the last time he came to Ireland.

Pictures from Fota.

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