Ireland, the Green Isle, the Emerald of the Atlantic Ocean. The Celtic Tiger that roared in the 1990s and went the way of the dodo in 2008. That part of the world that is most known for exporting leprechauns and the colour green. (as a Belgian I can’t really give them credit for the beer thing).
That mysterious island that has intrigued me for so long, the one that I have studied and written about, the one whose national holiday coincides with my birthday parties, and the one whose food and pronunciation of the t(h)r sound I have adopted. The one I travelled to in the summer of 2015.
When flying into Cork I was immediately treated to a slice of heavenly bliss, because after an hour and half of nothingness outside of my window, the gray water gave way to rolling green hills and dark jagged cliffs that marked the sudden border between the realm of land and that of the sea.
Once my plane had touched down, I, in contrast to two thirds of my fellow passengers, skipped the queue for a rental car and went straight for the bus stop. Not really having been outside of Belgium after my big Vancouver adventure, I was struck by the comparable friendliness of the locals. Never in my life have I seen or heard people in Belgium thank the bus driver when they get off. But in Vancouver and now in Ireland, this seems to be the norm, and for once, it’s a norm I am happy to comply with.
Living in Leuven, I am partial to smaller cities and so I felt at ease in Cork. Its city centre is located on an island in the river Lee and is filled with small one way streets that brim with charm. Though charm is well enough I suppose, I did sometimes feel a bit closed in when walking through the inner parts of the city. The small streets can get quite dark and gloomy when the weather is overcast, which isn’t that uncommon in this particular area of Europe.
Which isn’t to say that the city itself is dark and gloomy. Not by far. Even without moving away from the island, there are large boulevards to be found and walking along the river is a treat in itself. I would highly recommend going to the southern side of the island and then walking away from the city centre towards University College Cork.
The college itself looks like the quintessential British / American / … college, with its mandatory ivy covered stone buildings surrounding a courtyard. But it was the river itself that drew my attention and the best part of walking towards the college might have been the walk away from it alongside the water and towards the park.
Cork is supposedly a treasure for the food and drink lover, but travelling alone – and on a budget – I can’t really testify to that. What I can say, however, is that if you visit but one bar in Cork, make sure it is Electric. Not only was it pretty much the only bar I came across that featured an outdoor area, but it also has a very good restaurant on the first floor. I am not ashamed to admit that I frequented said bar almost as much as I did the nearest Starbucks, so that is saying something.
A lot, actually.
Cork is definitely a place worth visiting, but if you’re travelling on your own, two days is plenty of time to see the sights and get acquainted with everything in walking distance. If money is an object, I would recommend staying just outside of the city centre, as I did. A perfect, and cheap, place is Blackmore Court Hostel, where you get your own room within a shared appartement. Just be mindful of Dutch tourists who, for whatever reason, decide to try out their key on the other rooms and suddenly find themselves in your room.