It is cold and raining this morning when Le Soléal docks in Cork, Ireland. All of the Tauck excursions are scheduled for afternoon departure, so we have free time this morning to sleep in, or do some self-guided discovering of Cork. I chose the latter. After my daily blogging duties, I disembarked the ship at around 9:45am for a short walk. Whenever you disembark, there is a table of bottled water available for the taking at the gangway.
The ship has also provided umbrellas for guest use, and they will be needed today.
Several guests have the same idea: to walk to St. Patrick street, a major shopping street in Cork. The walk only takes about 10 minutes from the ship. Fortunately, thanks to the small size of Le Soléal, the Captain was able to dock the ship right in town on the banks of the River Lee.
I have no real objective in walking into town other than to get some much needed exercise. It just feels good to get out and walk, even if it is in the rain. When I arrive at St. Patrick Street, I find it is almost deserted. There are very few pedestrians this morning.
St. Patrick Street was re-developed in 2004 and has been considered Ireland's premier shopping street ever since. The wide sidewalks make it perfect for walking; however, it is not a pedestrian street. There are a few cross streets which are controlled by traffic lights. The street is lined with local stores and high-end Irish and British shops. Debenhams, Marks & Spencer, they are all here. I found a nice souvenir shop where I was able to get a few goodies to take home.
After about 45 minutes of walking both sides of the street, I headed back to the ship to get ready for my afternoon excursion. After lunch, groups began boarding motor coaches for a variety of local tours. I chose to visit Blarney Castle. The drive to Blarney Castle takes about 45 minutes, and of course, our local guide takes that time to educate us on the Cork area. Our guide is quick to point out all of the American companies that have located in Cork because of the low corporate tax rates (12.5%). Apple, Facebook, Bristol-Meyers, and Intel, are just a few of the companies mentioned. She seemed grateful for all the jobs provided to Irish citizens.
When we arrived at Blarney Castle, we were dropped off near Blarney Woollen Mills, a massive store selling every sort of Irish-made woollen items. There is a small pub, an ATM, and restrooms.
After allowing guests to make a "comfort stop", our local guide leads the way to the castle, which is about a ten-minute walk away. The castle was much smaller than I imagined it would be.
Of course, the main reason for visiting Blarney Castle is to "kiss the Blarney stone", which requires a walk up 127 uneven stone steps to the top of the castle. Then, you lay on your back and are placed in a position, sort of upside down, so you can kiss the stone. Uh, no thanks. I am not kissing anything that has been kissed by thousands of tourists!
Instead of climbing the steps, I decided to get my exercise by walking some of the many paths that surround the castle. There are several gardens on the property which are quite nice, and lots of tree-lined paths. You could easily walk for two hours on these paths.
I walked for about 45 minutes in total solitude. It was nice, albeit still drizzling and cool. There are plenty of signs along the paths so you cannot get lost. After walking back to the castle, I decided to go back to the drop-off point and visit that little pub. I sat with a few other Tauck guests and we all enjoyed a pint of Guinness and swapped stories about our journeys.
All in all, it was a great day in Cork. Even though I did not kiss the Blarney Stone, I got to see the castle, enjoy a great walk, and make some new friends.
Tomorrow, we will be in the Isles of Scilly.