Exploring the big(ish) city of Cork

Trip Start Sep 06, 2004
Trip End Nov 23, 2004

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Saturday, November 6, 2004

First thing in the morning I attempted to go on one of the horseback tours, which was when I found out they had closed for the winter. (Too many rainy days to make it worthwhile, I think.) Oh well, off to Cork. After some false starts trying to find the bus station (it's hidden around the corner from the train station and at the back of a discount shopping mall) I was off into the Irish countryside again. Looked exactly like the rest of the country. Occasionally we passed a ruined castle or tower just sitting in somebody's field, no signs or anything.

That's what I like about Ireland: the old is still hanging around, right next to the new. This is also apparent in small towns, with a castle or some very old abandoned buildings just behind or beside the main street. They don't seem to knock down old buildings much, although I suppose they must or there wouldn't be any room for new buildings. In some places the new buildings do look a bit crowded in between the old ones.

Cork: The second biggest city in Ireland, right down at the bottom end of the country. I was a bit nervous about being in a big(ish) city again...crime, pickpockets (there were warnings in my guidebook), getting lost, long distances between bus station and hostel.... But Cork is still only 120,000 people, much smaller than Edmonton. The bus station turned out to be right on the River Lee that runs through the centre of the city. So to get to my hostel all I had to do was cross the river to the north side and walk a couple of blocks. (Actually I picked the hostel precisely because it was close to the bus station. There's a Kinlay House in Cork too, and since I'd stayed in both of the other two, I would have liked to stay at the third to compare, but it was too far away.) Of course, the last few blocks to the hostel were straight up a very steep hill, but at least the distance was close.

I booked in at Sheila's Hostel, a big, well-run place with an enormous self-catering kitchen (which means that guests can cook in it, not that the kitchen makes meals all by itself). The only drawback were the on-site Internet terminals, which had truly horrendous keyboards...not normal computer keyboards but something more like enlarged calculator keypads. Also the rooms were co-ed, or at least mine was. But by this time I was a seasoned hosteller and didn't care as long as I wasn't the only girl (which I wasn't). But the people behind the desk were friendly and helpful, and the place was clean--the most important criteria.

Finally relieved of my backpack, I headed out to wander the city. Downtown Cork is old and atmospheric, set on both sides of the river (which in fact has two channels at this point, so part of downtown is on an island). The nearest main street to my hostel had expensive restaurants, an art school, a theatre showing a musical, a secondhand bookstore, a convenience store, etc. The river lay just one block away. The other side turned out to be the main shopping district (still downtown). I walked down a wide thoroughfare that curved in a U, lined with extra-wide sidewalks and fancy new street lights. It looked very modern, but tiny dark alleyways branched off on all sides, some for pedestrians only, all lined with shops. Finding my way was rather confusing in this setup, and I walked back and forth trying to find the tourist information office but no luck. The streets were filled with people, giving the impression of a much bigger city. I was quite delighted until I realized that the main street consisted solely of chain stores--not even any pubs or restaurants (except for McDonald's). So much for atmosphere there.

Consulting my trusty guidebook, I walked across to the other side of downtown (south of the river's south channel) to have an early supper at a restaurant called Quay Street Co-op. This was a health-nut/granola-eater restaurant that catered to non-wheat-eaters like me, so I got to have a vegetarian entree and for dessert an apple/raisin/walnut flan. Yummy!

After supper I meandered back to the centre of town and got waylaid by a movie theatre (called a cinema in Ireland) that was showing Finding Neverland. I felt like going out and doing something that evening, but hadn't been able to find the tourist office that had the "What's On" guide, so short of live theatre or music, I decided that a movie was a good way to spend the evening. Unfortunately I didn't think much of the movie. It's been getting rave reviews, winning awards, and being talked about as an Oscar contender, but I thought it was way overdone.

Oh well, at least I got out and did something (eating supper out doesn't count when travelling). And the movie was set in London--a place I would be seeing in a couple of weeks. There are no Air Canada flights to Dublin in winter, so I would be flying home from Heathrow. A perfect excuse to check out London for a couple of days!

My day wasn't quite over yet. I wanted to find a "talk shop," something like a cybercafe except with phones at fixed rates. In Galway the rate to Canada had been around 18 euro-cents (27 Canadian-cents) per minute. I wandered all over the back streets (don't worry, Mom, there were lots of people around) looking for a cybercafe, and being confounded by the lack of street signs both on the streets and in my guidebook. When I finally found a cybercafe, it didn't have any phones. But they gave me directions to a "talk shop," and eventually I found one. The guy behind the desk was extremely chatty and it took me a while to get away from him, but the rate was only 10 euro-cents (15 Canadian-cents) per minute...dirt cheap, relatively speaking. Woohoo! Happily got to talk to Arvin without feeling horribly poor. Naturally, it was a good end to the day.
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