Sometimes, you’re just sitting on a park bench chatting it up with some of your friends while the sun beats down on your face. Oh sun hugs, one of my favorite things. Sometimes, birds join the party, not unexpectedly so. Mostly ducks and pigeons, of course, but also the occasional swan. But, what is it with swans? You want to like them because they are just so majestic and beautiful, but if you don’t already know, then I’ll clue you in on a small fact. Swans are actually evil. Don’t let their beauty fool you. You know how I know this? Because for some reason, it appears as though European swans are the worst of the lot, even in the lovely Ireland, where I had the unique opportunity to witness a two minute battle between two swans. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it was at least a good 30 seconds, and the best part about it all, other than the fact that I was shocked beyond measure and didn’t know if I should fear for my life or burst out in laughter, was that the one that ended up losing, didn’t just fly away. No, it walked on water for a good five seconds. It’s normal for a bird to glide ever so slightly over the water as it flaps it wings viciously, but have you ever seen a swan walk on water, barely using its wings at all, in what appears to be slow motion? Thank you to the Lough, a lake or oversized pond of sorts about a twenty minute walk southwest of the city center in Cork, Ireland and its city of birds, I can now properly say that I have.
Traveling is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get, like one great Forrest Gump once said. Okay, so I altered the quote ever so slightly, but I really do think that it holds true. My experiences with this idea never cease to end, and they weren’t any different throughout the rest of my time in Cork, Ireland.
Though I spent my first full day in Cork by myself, a couple of friends came in around noon at the Cork train station. After checking into our hostel, we only had half the day to explore the city.
Cork is a beautiful city to explore. The city center is actually quite small compared to other cities and is, therefore, quite walkable. You don’t really need to take public transportation everywhere to get to where you need to go, such a beautiful change from a good majority of the cities in which I’ve traveled so far.
Though it was kind of chilly and a bit rainy (because you know, it’s Ireland.), the weather was still decent enough to walk around in, and the sun even came out for about an hour or two for us in the late afternoon.
When in Cork, you must happen by the English Market, not only is it one of the hot spots of the city, but it is a fantastic place to get some of the best potatoes. I never knew potatoes could taste so amazing. Throw them together with some spicy sausage and some garlic mayonnaise, and the foodie locked inside you might burst out with deep appreciation. Also soda bread, that’s a thing, and it’s delicious. Buy some. I promise, you won’t regret it.
Our first day together consisted mostly of hitting up a few sites, the first of which was Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral, a cathedral that was actually quite recently built, as far as cathedrals go, having been built in the 18th or 19th century, if I remember correctly.
If you are obsessed with European architecture, especially beautiful churches with stained glass windows, much like myself, then it is definitely worth the 5€ for adults or the 3€ for students. There’s also a tiny (meaning that it looks like a miniature version) labyrinth on the grounds, intended for meditative prayer that you can walk through.
Our explorations of the city streets also took us by the Red Abbey Tower, an old medieval tower of an old abbey, one of the last pieces of Medieval architecture still standing in Cork, a cool thing to explore if you are into medieval history.
Really into towers? Not afraid of tiny spaces? Really want to be that obnoxious person that tries to make a song out of church bells? Then, the Shandon Bells Tower is definitely a place that you don’t want to miss! By paying only 5€ for adults or 4€ for students, you can climb all the way to the top of the Shandon Bells Tower of the St. Anne’s Shandon Church in Cork. On one level, you can actually ring the bells yourself. The church has even been so kind as to provide songs for you to try out on the bells. On another level, you can witness the bells actually being rung, with ear muffs provided by the church, of course. Then, once you get all the way to the top, you get the most gorgeous view of the city while still hearing the bells sing their songs. It’s a pretty fantastic experience, if I do say so myself.
Cork’s quirkiness doesn’t stop there though. Despite the unfortunate lack of time I had in Cork to fit this gem into my schedule, there is a butter museum in Cork! Now in what used to be the old home of the Cork Butter Exchange, this museum takes you through the history of dairying in early Ireland, the development of the dairy industry in Ireland in the 20th century, the history and the production of Cork butter, and the history of the great Cork Butter Exchange. Additionally, it’s only 4€ for adults and 3€ for students! Who knew that butter was one of Ireland’s number one exports? Who knew that Ireland even made butter? I, most definitely, did not.
Lastly, don’t forget to hit up Franciscan Well Brewery, a craft brewery slightly northwest of the Cork city center. As a former beertender myself, living in France has put a large dent in my craft brew consumption over the past 7 months, as it’s the land of the wines, is craft brew scene is basically non-existent. So, needless to say, I was in a beer heaven of sorts at this place.
Founded in 1998, Franciscan Well Brewery was built on the grounds of an old Franciscan monastery that dates back to 1219. Local legend claims that the well from which the monastery got its water back in the day had healing powers, and people would come from all over to drink from it. Now, how cool is that? As a history buff and a storyteller, I adore a good legend. You can learn all of this and more through a guided tour of the brewery with free samplings for only 10€.
Unfortunately, the brewing does not brew with water from the well in modern day, however, they do brew amazing beer. They have three main brews: Rebel Red, Chieftain IPA, and the Friar Weisse.
Rebel Red, my personal favorite, is a red ale with a bit of a caramel finish named after Cork County’s nickname (because apparently each county in Ireland has its own nickname. Again, who knew? The things you learn in Ireland), Rebel.
The Chieftain IPA, brewed to honor the king who founded the site of where the present-day brewery is, King Diarmund McCarthy Mor, is not overly hoppy, so even the likes of Stout lovers can enjoy it.
Lastly, the Friar Weisse, a German style wheat beer, offers anyone who tastes it an enjoyable bit of citrus with some added clove.
So, even though this brewery is still growing, it’s definitely a not-miss stop, especially for my fellow craft brew lovers out there.
Cork is a must on any traveler’s bucket list. Cork’s quirkiness meshes well mine, as I’m sure it will with many people’s, and I can’t help feeling that I’m going to need to go back there some day. Besides, where else would you get the opportunity to participate in an unusual combination of travel experiences? Beer, butter, and swans, my friends….The unknown side of Ireland.