How did I fly to Ireland for £10 return..?
One of the things I take pride in is my ability to find bargain air, coach and train fares to places around Europe. I once even bought a 50p return flight to Frankfurt Hahn with my favourite airline - Ryanair! Some people are bemused how I find such low fares, but on this occasion, I noticed they had a £5 sale on via email and I bought a £10 return to Shannon for the last weekend before Christmas.
Whilst Shannon itself is not the most interesting place despite a fine aviation heritage, the airport is excellent for either Galway, Limerick or Cork.
Having been to Galway before on my bike on a one day ride from Dublin, spent a rather bleak New Year's Eve in Limerick, but never experienced Ireland's second city of Cork, I decided to head down to the south for the night and day.
I am a big fan of second cities as they give a more real feel of the country compared to the capital. I much prefer Birmingham or Manchester to London for example.
Riding around Cork on a 'Ajax Amsterdam' retro bike...
I set off from Manchester at 0600 and flew to Shannon before catching the coach to Cork. Upon arrival, I called into a Cycle Repair shop opposite the bus station and asked the quirky owner if he could lend me a bike for a few hours to ride down to Cobh. He did not do rentals officially, but quite liked me as I worked in cycling. He gave me a very retro 1990's MTB with Ajax Amsterdam FC stickers all over it!
There is a 'Coke Zero' public bike scheme in Cork and other Irish cities, however I can never figure out the subscription model. Why can't they just offer pay and ride like in London instead of a complicated pricing structure, huge pre-ride authorisation limits and unclear hourly rates?
I have now visited all of the Titanic calling points...
I left Cork and headed down towards Cobh and picked up an excellent rail trail along the track bed of the Passage West and Monkstown Railway. I then took the small ferry across the harbour to the town formerly known as Queenstown, but more infamously, the final calling point of the Titanic.
Visiting Cobh (Queenstown) has also given me the dubious honour of having visited all of the calling points of the Titanic before she sank (Belfast, Southampton, Cherbourg, Cobh/Queenstown and the unreached New York).
Unfortunately, I could not spend long in Cobh, but it seems to be a fine town and I imagine on a non-drizzly day, would look rather colourful and impressive to the passengers on visiting cruise liners. The harbour is also home to the Irish Navy at Spike Island on the opposite side to Cobh.
I could have quite easily spent a few hours looking around taking in the history about Ireland's mass emigration, the sinking of the Lusitania and Irish naval history.
My 'Champion's Bike' held up well over the 30km as I took the train back to Cork to return it to the shop owner before 1500. A great example of 'if you don't ask, you don't get!', but it did mean that I would have no bike the next day.
I was so tired at this point and drenched after a heavy rain shower in Cork, I fell asleep on my hostel bed for around 3 hours before a solid 10 hour sleep after tea.
Running to Blarney Castle to kiss the stone...
The next day I decided to run to Blarney Castle to 'Kiss the Blarney Stone' instead of taking the bus. It was only a 10km run up the road along the oddly named 'Faggot Hill' and I actually saw spells of broken sunshine. The first time I had actually seen blue in the sky all weekend!
Blarney Castle is Ireland's most photographed building and the hanging stone is said to give you 'eloquence' in your speech. It actually requires a bit of a gymnastic move to kiss the famous stone and would be dangerous without holding onto the rail. Also given the millions of people whose lips have touched the stone, I can't imagine it is that hygienic either!
I arrived back into Cork and spent most of the day looking around this vibrant city. I have wanted to visit this city for a while as I have been to all of the other main Irish cities previously and walked every inch of the city centre on the Sunday.
There are lovely waterfront spaces, a decent shopping centre with a good mix of chain/independent shops and a stunning cathedral. It was a shame that I did not have the bike for the second day because Cork is a 'cyclists' city with newly built bike lanes, segregated cycle paths and the 'great as a local, not as a tourist' public hire network. The atmosphere in the city was friendly and despite being busy due to the Christmas shoppers being out in force; there was no hustle and bustle.
4 hours to wait in Shannon Airport...
Having exhausted things to do in Cork, I caught the coach back to the quiet Shannon Airport and had four hours to hang around, so I am writing this in the Park Inn across the road from the airport with a €3 coffee bought as my 'Internet access fee'!
In conclusion, it has been an excellent weekend and cost very little in total. The flight was £10, the hostel was £8 and I probably spent about £30 in food. The coach cost £20 return and the early out and late return flight times meant that I could get the most out of my two days in Ireland.