I took advantage of Labor Day weekend to go on my first non-Dublin excursion. I picked Killarney, home of Ireland's first national park. I was happy with my choice. This bit of Ireland looks kind of Scotlandish, with a series of lakes tucked between steep and rocky hills. In addition to the lovely scenery the park also includes a Victorian mansion, a medieval castle and a ruined abbey, so I got to geek out on some history while I was at it. I am a total sucker for informational plaques.
The weather was almost obscenely good. Not too hot, not too cold, and blazing sunshine almost the whole time. I got sunburned. In IRELAND. But it was perfect weather for walking around in nature, which was great since I ended up doing a lot of that. The park has great nature trails; I saw some red deer, ate blackberries straight off the bush, and stood on a 300-year-old bridge with the wind in my face and felt vibrant and alive.
On Sunday I saw the famous Gap of Dunloe, a picturesque glacier valley. You can drive there, or you can take the scenic route like I did: a 1 1/2-hour boat ride across the lakes, a pretty steep climb up to the Head of the Gap, and then a gorgeous trip through the gap itself. I decided to cycle it, and quickly discovered the initial ascent is not for amateurs. After a couple of tries I gave up and pushed the damn thing all the way up, and I was far from the only one. Totally worth it though, because the way down is fantastic. The views are just beautiful, and once you get over that first hill you can almost coast all the way back to Killarney. Watch out for pedestrians though - the older ones in particular are inattentive and slow-moving, and the way they complained about my cheery little bike bell interrupting their contemplative reveries you'd think they'd rather be run over. Just saying.