Monday, November 27, 2017

San Diego, Part 1: Downtown

After twelve years of California dreaming, I moved to San Diego in June of 2017, along with Mrs. Tires (my wife, Leanne) and Trike (our 2 year old son, Jacoby). Our new hometown has afforded us many sun-kissed opportunities to explore our new surroundings. This blog will focus on downtown San Diego, an exemplary microcosm of the city itself. Subsequent posts will cover the natural beauty of La Jolla, the culture and nature of Balboa Park, and more spots to visit throughout San Diego.

Here are some of my favorite places to visit in downtown San Diego.

Waterfront Park

Between the sparkling waters of the San Diego Bay and the shiny glass windows of the business section of downtown lies a wide open field of grass, an art deco playground and an ankle high splash pool fed by high powered water cannons. During my brief stint as a stay at home dad, I learned pretty quickly that it can get scorching hot in the middle of the summer in SD. When temperatures rose, Waterfront Park became the go-to spot for me and Trike to beat the heat. The centerpiece of this downtown park is a series of water jets that spray water into a shallow splash pool. With depths topping off at four inches, this is a great play area for toddlers. Older kids love the jets themselves, which emit water with enough force to launch small toys into the air. There's also plenty of concrete to climb on to add some adventure in between splash downs. 

Between the splash pool and the San Diego harbor sits a large, flat field of grass that's perfect for picnics, sunbathing, throwing a ball around or flying a kit. 

On the other side of the splash pool sits one of the largest and best playgrounds in all of San Diego. The equipment here could be mistaken for modern art if it wasn't so inviting to climb on. In addition to the expansive series of metal rods and climbing rope, the playground offers several slides, some swings, and a climbing hill complete with hand rails for the way up and slides for the way down. 

The Embarcadero

Due west of Waterfront Park sits the northern end of the Embarcadero, a series of ships, ports, and shopping areas along Harbor Drive that pay tribute to the great servicemen and women who have served our country, especailly those who have called San Diego home. A pedestrian walking path connects each of the attractions on this strip, and visitors are treated to a wonderful view of the San Diego Bay as they stroll. In addition to the big ships, there are several monuments to fallen soldiers and foreign wars, as well as street performers and merchants. Trike and I took in the views as we walked the Embarcadero from north to south on a beautiful July day. 

At the Embarcadero's northern-most tip sits a collection of interconnected boats that make up the Maritime Museum of San Diego. A yacht, sail boats, a swift boat, submarines and more make up this impressive and intriguing site. There's a series of exhibits on some of the boats, and visitors can also tour the boats themselves. While we've yet to visit the museum, Trike and I were both quite intrigued when we walked by, and we will definitely be back soon to check it out. 

Perhaps the most intriguing ship on the water is the Star of India. Its sails and masts stand out in a literal sea of beauty. The ship first set sail in 1863, making it the oldest active sailing ship. Maritime Museum admission includes a chance to tour the Star of India, but they're wise to display this beauty of a vessel on its own. 

As Trike and I continued on past a couple of long piers used to load and unload cruise ships, the star of the show emerged. The USS Midway is a huge aircraft carrier that houses USS Midway Museum

I've yet to go inside, but from what I can gather, its another case of the ship itself being the museum, while also offering related exhibits and a sampling of many different types of military aircraft. If the fake people sitting on the back of the ship are any indication, there are a few surprises in there, too. 

South of the Midway sits a grassy peninsula that boasts two of the more artful and amusing features of the Embarcadero. The first one is hard to miss, as it's 25 feet tall. The Unconditional Surrender sculpture was inspired by the famous photo of a soldier kissing a woman after returning at the end of WWII. The piece is enchanting, and one can't help but be drawn to it. It's bright colors and grand scale seem out of character in a place that takes the task of honoring veterans so seriously, but nonetheless, it really is a sight to behold. 

The second of the more engaging tributes to the military is a bit more tucked away further down the peninsula, but is definitely worth the extra steps. The Bob Hope statue (which is officially called A National Salute to Bob Hope and the Military) is not one statue, but several all joined together to commemorate the entertainment Bob Hope provided to our military over the years. Something about the way the tribute is laid out and the way the individuals portrayed seem to be interacting with each other makes this monument feel alive. It's a must-see. 

The Embarcadero ends at Seaport Village, a quaint and perfectly manicured cluster of restaurants, shops and amusements. Its a big departure from the focus on the military found elsewhere on the Embarcadero, but it makes for a great stroll, with a pristine boardwalk surrounding the area. There's also an old-timey carousel, which gives you a nice long ride for your $3 ticket and goes much faster than anticipated. 

All in all, the Embarcadero is a fantastic place to explore. Its sparkling bay, variety of ships, and occasional quirkiness make it appeal to locals and tourists, young and old. 

Petco Park

San Diego is a fantastic adopted home for a stadium chaser like me, because Petco Park is one of the best parks in all of baseball. It offers lots to see and do, plenty of food and drink options, and a great overall experience including good wayfinding, wide aisles and friendly staff. Trike and I wasted no time in visiting this park, as we caught a game a week and a half after we moved to San Diego. Mrs. Tires joined us for our second visit on Labor Day in 2017.

Petco Park is a staple of downtown San Diego, and it integrates with the city extremely well. Most of the seats face part of San Diego's skyline, and an old manufacturing building is actually part of the stadium.

Additionally, some of Petco is open to the public on non-game days. This includes my favorite feature of Petco Park, the Park at the Park. This open area affords a wide open view of the stadium and lots of open grass including a hill that leads up to a statue of Padre great Tony Gwynn.

There's also a playground, a baseball field for kids and some teaser features of the Padres Hall of Fame.

Trike also loves Park in the Park. We visited the playground and park on a couple of non-game days. Trike jumped at the chance to drive his toy cars around Tony Gwynn's statue. Many of the parents there are baseball fans, making the playground chatter a bit more engaging than usual for fellow fans.

The experience from the seats is a blast. It's easy to get around, the chairs are comfortable, and since the Padres generally stink, there's a good chance you'll have room to spread out. Between-inning entertainment, music and amusements keep the crowd energized. These can be somewhat irksome to a serious fan, but they keep the crowd engaged and the kiddos entertained, so all good there. Add some sunshine and a great view of both the field and the city from almost any seat in the house, and you've got a damn fine place to catch a ballgame.

Food-wise, Petco Park is a conundrum. They've got most of the things you want in stadium fare, including wild new concoctions, contributions from award winning local chefs, and a huge selection of craft beer. However, they're missing any sort of signature dish, and I haven't found any of the food to be a home run, or even a ground rule double. When we went on Labor Day, I tried the Tri Tip Nachos at Seaside Market, a significant pile of tri tip steak, BBQ sauce, sour cream and chives on a bed of tortilla chips. It was a tasty meal, but there were too many competing flavors and it quickly became too much to take in. It sure was filling, so if you get it, split it. As it was, I ate half of the nachos and washed them down with a huge bottle of San Diego Pale Ale .394, my favorite San Diego craft beer.

Mrs. Tires had the Slugger Dog at Randy Jones' BBQ. This dog is HUGE, more than an inch thick and barely contained within the bun. While the dog was juicy and delicious, it was a real mouthful, and the bun split in half before too long. So far the best fare we've found at the park is the bloody mary michelada - a delightful way to kick off a day game.

Overall, Petco Park delivers a wonderful experience that even non-baseball fans love. My only complaint is that there's so much to see, do and eat it's hard to hit it all in one visit. Fortunately for me, it's my new home park, so I've got plenty of time to check out the rest of this baseball cathedral.

Downtown San Diego perfectly delivers on many of its signatures, including scenic beauty, a laid back attitude, a hint of tradition, and many military tributes. A stroll along the water makes for a fine half day of exploring, and there is still more I haven't checked out yet.

Stay tuned for more on downtown San Diego and other great spots throughout the city.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Illinois, Part 3: Matthiessen State Park

When it comes to hiking in Illinois, it’s hard to beat Starved Rock State Park. However, Starved Rock is not the only game in town. Matthiessen State Park is just a few miles from Starved Rock, and it offers similar views on a smaller scale. It’s typically much less crowded, too, though that wasn’t the case when Mrs. Tires, Trike (our son Jacoby) and I visited on Labor Day in 2016.

We departed from Chicago on a beautiful but steamy Monday morning, and after a two hour drive, we pulled in to Utica, ready to hit the trail. The traffic coming off the highway was killer, and it took us a good ten minutes to get from the ramp to the first intersection. After driving past Starved Rock, we approached the entrance to Mattiessan State Park's Dells Trail. This is known as the best trail in the park. Unfortunately, the entrance was blocked off, and a sign informed us that it was over capacity. Surprised but undeterred, we continued on to the entrance to the River Trail. As we pulled in, we were greeted by a packed parking lot. It took us four trips around the lot, but we eventually scored a space. I was quite surprised by the huge crowd, as it flew in the face of the park’s rep. However, a sunny day over a holiday weekend is bound to bring people in, so we shrugged it off. We covered ourselves with sunscreen and bug spray, strapped Trike to my back, and headed out into the forrest.

Despite the crowded lot, the grassy straightaway that lead us to the trail was sparsely populated. When we reached the trailhead, we found pretty much everyone else that was visiting that day. They were all hunched over a wooden stand, checking out the trail map before them. When we finally got to the map, we figured out why there were so many confused faces. The map was disorganized and was nearly impossible to decipher. We gave it a glance but gave up on it pretty quickly, deciding just to wander in and see where the trail took us. We were getting a bit skeptical about this place as we trudged in.

You can't tell from the photo, but the map didn't match real life and made no sense

Fortunately, the dense forest filled with beautifully green trees and brush changed our outlook in a hurry. We were quickly encapsulated by the forest. The trail was rough, a bit muddy, and covered in tree roots, but navigable. Hiking with a baby on my back was a new experience, and it made me much more aware of each step. Still, the greenery was enchanting, and the light shown through the trees with a heavenly glow. It was a pleasant and gratifying trudge.

It wasn’t long before we came to an intersection in the trail, which was quite populated thanks to a different trail map, tattered and worn and even more confusing. We tried to make heads or tails of the map but we were just as confused by the incongruent markings on the map as everyone else was. We conferred with other hikers and decided to turn left.

Once we got past the trail map, we were seemingly alone in the forest. There were plenty of other hikers on the trail, but the thick forest made it seem like we were the only ones there. At about that time, Trike became enamored with the view of the tops of the trees. He spent most of the remainder of the hike with his head cocked all the way back, staring straight up at the tree tops and the sky. We could tell he was fascinated by it all. A hiker in the making, no doubt.

We didn’t see much wildlife during our hike, other than a small chipmunk at the edge of the trail. However, plenty of birds made these woods their home, as apparent by the frequent chirping and song present whenever we made a conscious effort to listen for it. At one point we heard the unmistakable tap tap tap tap tap tap of a woodpecker, though we couldn’t locate it among the trees.

As we kept going, the trail became more hilly, and more muddy. We worked up a good sweat as we proceeded, and we were extra careful at the muddy patches. Trike's presence made us much more cautious in that regard.

Fortunately, we successfully navigated the trail without incident, and eventually we arrived at the river’s edge. The river was prominent enough to draw attention, yet shallow enough to cross it if you had a good pair of boots. We were in sneakers, so we kept to the river’s edge. It made for a great place to rest for a while. It may have been the apex of the hike, but because of the shoddy map, we weren’t sure. It ended up being the apex for us anyway.

When we turned back, we took a different route. The tail forked, and we went in the direction that brought us uphill. This portion was even less populated, and we were seemingly alone in the forest for the majority of the stretch. It was more muddy than the trails we were on previously, but we avoided the mud well enough and stayed upright. All the while, Trike was cooing and kicking his legs in delight.

Our trail selection was a leap of faith, but it paid off, as we ended up back at the second trail map. From there, it was an easy hike back to the trailhead. We were happy about that, as we were sweating like crazy, and Trike’s face was turning red.

As we reached the trail entrance, we witnessed an awkward and somewhat humorous scene. One of the children in a family made up of three kids and two adults informed his mother that there was a bug on her. This sent her into uncontrollable hysterics, and she swatted and shook to get the bug off of her. She called to her husband for help, and he came to her rescue, only to recoil when her flailing arms almost caught him in the face. His retreat made her even more upset, as she interpreted his hesitation as abandonment. Finally he got close enough for a good, accurate swipe, and he knocked the presumably poisonous insect to the ground. The kid ran over and inspected the bug. Much to his amusement, it was a caterpillar. Regardless, she launched into a deadly blame game, berating her husband for not rescuing her from the killer butterfly-in-training. We ran into them again when we made it to our car, and she was still laying into her husband for his egregious error.

On our way out of town, we drove through the downtown area of Utica, which brought back memories of our previous visit. Eager to relive our past and feeling a bit peckish, we parked the car and strolled down the strip. It was a small but charming downtown area, lined with shops and restaurants. At the end of the street stood Duffy’s Tavern, a bar and restaurant we were quite familiar with. Mrs. Tires and I spent a memorable afternoon there during our previous visit.

The place was packed when we walked in, but much to our delight, there was a table in the back with just enough room for a highchair. We instantly remembered the low key atmosphere and the Irish firefighter inspired decor. What’s more, the high chair came with a pack of animal crackers, a nice touch that Trike thoroughly appreciated. We snacked on thick, buttery onion rings and enjoyed some deliciously cold beers, then split a rueben sandwich. All the while, we reminisced, looked back on our hike, and eavesdropped on the loud, jubilant group of bikers on the other end of the room.

With our bellies full and our hiking goals fulfilled, we hit the road back to Chicago. On the drive back, we admitted to each other we were slightly disappointed that we didn’t get to go on the Dells trail, but we agreed that was reason to go back. As it was, Mattiessen State Park made for a wonderful one-day excursion, and we were thrilled to have taken Trike on his first hike.

More on Illinois:

Illinois, Part 1: Chicago
Illinois, Part 2: Starved Rock and Galena

Saturday, August 5, 2017

London, England

I studied in Stirling, Scotland in the spring of 2002, and my time abroad allowed me to travel around Europe. During the University of Stirling's spring break, I embarked on a journey that took me to London, Paris and Spain. My friend Jeremy picked me up at the train station in London. He was studying there at the time, and we caught up on our respective study abroad experiences as we made our way to Clink 78, the hostel I'd be staying at for the next two nights. After check-in, we hit the town.

That's where things get fuzzy. While I remember my arrival quite clearly, the details of where we went and what we did while wandering London are lost to time. I do remember noting to myself that London looked like an older version of any American city. This of course makes sense given the shared history of our great nations. I also remember seeing  (and drinking) a lot of Hoegaarden. This distinctive white beer was available everywhere, and could be found pouring out of custom Hoegaarden-branded taps into huge Hoegaarden glasses.

Jeremy and I met up at the London Eye the next day to kick of my only full day in London. This famous ferris wheel was brand new at the time, having opened shortly after the start of the new millennium. We intended to ride the Eye, but the wait was over two hours. That was too long for our tastes, so we decided to stroll down the Queen’s Walk, a walking path that flanked the river Thames. From the river's edge, we took in a great view of Big Ben and did some great people watching. We also encountered a few installations promoting a Salvator Dali exhibit along the way, which further enhanced the experience.

From there, we weren’t too far from Piccadilly Circus, so we wandered over for a peek and a pint. If you combine the blinking screens and advertisements in Times Square with the shopping at Faneuil Hall in Boston, you’ve got Piccadilly Circus. We perused some of the souvenir stands and stopped for a while to watch a street performer juggle swords blindfolded before finding a watering hole.

Once we settled into a pub, Jeremy produced two Cuban cigars. Cubans are illegal in the US, but were readily available in the UK, and with smoking allowed in London pubs, we eagerly lit them up. The smoking session didn’t last long, as it annoyed some patrons, prompting the bartender to ask us to snuff out our stogies. We took that as our cue to move on.

Our last stop of the day took us to an out of the way, but very famous destination - Abbey Road Studios. After riding from one decrepit tube station to another and wandering through a rather dodgy neighborhood, we arrived at the studio that recorded the Beatles and countless others.

The building itself was a lot smaller than I anticipated. One might walk right by it without noticing it if it wasn’t for the swarth of tourists taking photos. Between the tourists and the studio sat a long, low wall covered in Beatles lyrics, provocative statements and a sea of names. It was a fascinating piece of living art.

We didn’t have access to the studio itself, so after marveling at it from the street, there was only one thing left to do - try to replicate the Abbey Road album cover. The famous photo on the cover of the Beatles album that bears the studio's name was taken at the crosswalk closest to the studio. All of us tourists had the same idea, so we all waited patiently for the opportunity to cross without being smacked by a tiny but vengeful British car. It seemed the touristy hubbub the studio brought to the neighborhood annoyed the locals. They zoomed through the intersection with little regard for the lives of the tourists crossing the street.

I was so excited to cross when it was my turn, and I couldn’t wait to develop the photo Jeremy took so I could see myself in the most famous crosswalk in history. Of course it’s just my luck that the photo came out blurry - and I’m walking the wrong way!

Jeremy and I went out for dinner and a couple of drinks after that, and when I returned to my hostel, I realized I wasn't quite ready to call it a night. I opted to visit the nearest night club, which, conveniently, was located in the hostel's basement. Not long after I bellied up to the bar at the club, I struck up a conversation with a good looking young lady who was also visiting from America. I was single then, as I hadn't yet met the love of my life, the awe-inspiring and breathtakingly beautiful Mrs. Tires. The American gal and I flirted and joked over drinks for more than an hour. Eventually we parted ways, and I was sure I'd never see her again. As it turned out, I saw her when she descended the ladder attached to the bunk above me the next morning. Without knowing it, we had slept on different levels of the same bunk bed. Awkward!

After a delightful breakfast at the hostel, I met up with Jeremy for one last day in London. We were joined by his cousin, an ex-pat who played for a semi-pro rugby team. Jeremy and I gladly accepted the invitation to join him and his mates for a pick-up rugby game in the park. To a man, every single one of his friends was huge, stocky, and strong. By comparison, I was a twig. As such, they made me out to be a speedster. That couldn't have been further from the truth, but I didn't let on. Neither of us had played rugby before, so they explained the rules and promised to go easy on us. We played a non-contact game, which was convenient because these men could have flattened me with ease.

Despite the casual setting, the action was fast and intense. The game took some getting used to, especially because forward passes weren't allowed. At some point during the game I managed to score a try, the rugby equivalent of a touchdown. Everyone was cracking wise while we played, and I matched them quip for quip, so we were all friends by the end of the game. This friendliness came in handy, because after the game, Jeremy's cousin offered me, Jeremy and two of his mates a ride, and the five of us crammed into one of those tiny British cars. Despite the sardine can ending, the rugby game was the highlight of my stay in London.

Jeremy and I said goodbye shortly after that, and off I went to the nearest station that would get me on the Chunnel to Paris.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Ireland, Part 4: Cork, Kinsale and Carrigaline

Our Great Irish Road Trip was in full swing when we woke up in Cork. After a day in Dublin, two days in Galway, and a day checking out the Cliffs of Moher and the Dingle Peninsula, we arrived in Cork sometime past midnight the night before. Despite the late arrival, we woke up early, ready for another jam-packed day of in Ireland.

Our morning started with a wonderful Irish breakfast, courtesy of Breeta, the owner of the Higgins B&B. We chowed down on eggs, sausage, beans, toast, tomatoes, cheese and coffee while we chatted with Breeta and a German guest who insisted on drinking Guinness with breakfast.

With our stomachs full, we hopped back into the car and headed to Blarney Castle, one of the most anticipated stops on our journey. We successfully arrived right at 9:00 AM, a full hour before the tour busses showed up, meaning we beat the crowds. We marched towards the castle with the hope of getting some time at the Blarney Stone, the castle’s signature feature. According to legend, kissing this stone grants the visitor “blarney,” which is essentially the gift of gab.

The process of kissing the Blarney Stone was quite involved. We entered the castle, wove our way through its narrow passageways and hiked a series of tight steps.

Eventually, we reached the top of the castle, where we encountered a line that wrapped around the perimeter of the roof.

It took us about 20 minutes to get through the line - not too bad a wait considering a 2+ hour wait is common. We didn’t mind waiting, as the castle’s features were fascinating, and we encountered great views of the expansive and beautiful surrounding area.

The Blarney Stone was located below the level of the floor, so a couple of castle staff members were situated there to help visitors deliver their smooch. Mrs. Tires went first. The attendant supported her as she laid on her back, grabbed the support bars and extended her neck. The other staff member snapped her photo while she puckered up and kissed the stone.

I followed suit and gave the stone a big, juicy kiss. During this process, we both conveniently ignored the rumor about the staff routinely pissing on the stone during off-hours.

With the gift of gab bestowed upon us, we set off to explore the castle and the grounds. As it turned out, the grounds around the castle provided lots to see. We had access to several gardens, a few miles of hiking trails, and some interesting areas around the castle, including the dungeons. We strolled the grounds and took it all in while snapping some photos and enjoying the perfect weather.

We were drawn to the Poison Garden, an eclectic collection of plants that were poisonous. Some plants had signs warning visitors not to touch, eat, or even smell them because of the various ailments the poisons could cause.

No plant was more heavily guarded than the lethally dangerous marijuana plant.

We also visited Badger’s Cave, where Mrs. Tires did her best Gollum impression.

In lock step with an unfortunate reality of our fast-paced road trip, we didn’t have as much time as we would have liked to explore the grounds around the castle. Nonetheless, Blarney Castle was a lot of fun to explore, and it far exceeded our expectations. We were sad to leave.

We had a date with some of Leanne’s relatives, so we headed towards Carrigaline, a small town about an hour outside of Cork. Pete and Jenny O’Leary resided in Carrigaline…or at least they used to. They had long since passed, and we were going to see if we could find any trace of them in this small Irish town.

Upon arriving in Carrigaline, its charm impressed us right away. Many of the destinations on our Great Irish Road Trip were rather touristy, so in comparison, this town seemed more authentic, and it was clean, comfortable and welcoming. We parked and strolled down the main drag, not exactly sure what we were looking for. The town bookstore seemed like a good place to start, so we went there and chatted with the shop owner about our search. She half laughed at us as she delivered some unfortunate but totally logical news - there were hundreds of O’Learys who resided in the area, and our chances of tracking down Pete and Jenny were pretty slim. She did, however, provide a couple of relevant clues. She advised us to visit the town church, which had more extensive records than we’d find in the bookstore. More importantly, since Pete and Jenny owned a farm, it was likely that the farm was on Kilmoney road with all the other farms in town.

We found the church and entered, hoping to find someone who could help. The stately and ornate church was impressive, but no one was home.

We had a similar experience when we went to the Carrigaline Library, which was closed for lunch. Disappointed but still upbeat, we grabbed a bite at a local grocery store and had a beer at a nearby pub before settling for a cruise down Kilmoney road, the closest we’d get to tracing Mrs. Tires’ Irish heritage.

Rolling fields flanked the road, one of which must’ve been Pete and Jenny’s farm back in the day. We tried to imagine visiting said farm and meeting her relatives, an amusing exercise that enhanced the experience.

Ultimately we didn’t find whatever it was we were looking for, but we did get to check out the town Mrs. Tires’ relatives lived in, and that was good enough for us.

On our way back to Cork, we followed Breeta’s recommendation and stopped in the seaside town of Kinsale. After struggling to find parking for a time period roughly equal to the rest of our time in the town, we strolled along the waterfront marveling at the docks, which seemingly went on for miles. From there, we found a seaside restaurant, where we devoured a plate of oysters and enjoyed a couple of tasty Irish beverages. After a quick stop in a gift shop, we were on the road again, headed back to Cork.

After a much-needed nap back at the B&B, we changed and got ready to go out for the evening. All of the driving around left us just one evening to visit downtown Cork, and in true Rayman fashion, we intended to make the most of it.

We started our evening at Sin É, a pub loaded with character and known for live music, delicious stouts, and an eclectic mix of decorations. The music, literature, and sports-inspired decor covered the walls and the ceiling, and made staring at the walls an exciting and surprising experience. The whole vibe of the place was brought together by tables lit by candlelight coming from wine and whiskey bottles turned candlestick holders. We sat at the bar initially, where we talked to a friendly regular of the pub. He recommended we go to St. Anne’s Church, where tourists are invited to ring the gigantic Bells of Shandon at the top. Unfortunately, our schedule didn’t allow for it, so that’s another destination for the Next Time list. We spent the second half of our time at Sin É sitting at a small table tucked away in the corner of the bar, where we enjoyed some whiskey and beer and toasted our time in Cork.

We could have spent all evening at Sin É, but we had reservations at Greene’s, a fancy restaurant famous for fresh, inventive food and a secluded outdoor seating area accented by an actual waterfall. Mrs. Tires made our reservations well in advance of our stay, which afforded us a seat on the romantic outdoor patio. We enjoyed a wonderful bottle of wine, and I had the Skeaganore Duck, which was easily the finest duck I had ever eaten. As nightfall crept in, the restaurant lit the waterfall with colored lightbulbs, which added to the allure.

We were going strong after our delicious meal, so we sought out some nightlife in downtown Cork. It was Monday night, so the town was pretty quiet, but we didn’t let that deter us. After closing down a bar that shut its doors at 11:00, we sought out a late-night establishment, which was unexpectedly hard to find. Fortunately, we stumbled upon the Old Oak Pub, a huge, soccer-obsessed pub that was not only open late, but also offered karaoke. Mrs. Tires and I love the stage, and we rarely pass up the opportunity to get behind a microphone and belt out a tune. Only a couple of people had put in songs by the time we made our song selections, and we feared our karaoke experience would be a dud. Nonetheless, when our names were called, we went up and give it our all. I sang Can’t Take My Eyes off of You by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, and it was one of my best performances ever. The crowd cheered like crazy when I left the stage.

Not to be outdone, Mrs. Tires belted out an amazing rendition of the Beatles’ Oh, Darling, which was met by equally enthusiastic whooping and applause.

As soon as Mrs. Tires sat back down, our server approached with a round of drinks on the house because of our performances. It was the first and only time our singing produced free beer. I couldn’t believe it.

The karaoke enthusiasts came out of the woodwork after our performances, and we were treated to some fantastic karaoke. It was an outstanding evening that left us walking five feet off the ground when we made it back to our B&B.

After another delightful breakfast the next morning, we were on the road for the final full day of our stay in Ireland. We couldn’t take the radio anymore, so we bought some discount CDs at a gas station and rocked out to them while we drove back to Dublin. After a smooth and pleasant cruise, we were assessing our lunch options when we saw a sign for the Rock of Cashel. Breeta recommended we stop off at this Irish castle. We weren't entirely sold on a visit, but with lunch in mind, we took the exit.

We planned to poke our heads into the Rock of Caschel and see if it was alluring enough to check out further before fully committing. We walked in the front door to a room overlooking the castle's courtyard, but the view didn't sell it well. Still unsure, we took a few steps into the courtyard for more, and upon looking back, we realized we walked right by the cashier and had actually inadvertently snuck in without paying. Whoops! Since we no longer had cost as a barrier, we rocked the Cashel.

This castle was scenic and sported some intriguing installations, but didn’t live up to the castles we visited previously, and we didn’t connect with it. Besides, we’d be staying in a castle that night, or rather a castle-turned-hotel. The hotel is described in the post on Dublin, and it perfectly capped our Great Irish Road Trip.

Ireland was a wonderful country to explore. The fields were as green and lush as we had imagined, the people were as welcoming as we had hoped, and the beverages were delicious. We got everything we wanted out of our trip, and we’d gladly go back again.

For more on Ireland check out:

Ireland, Part 1: Dublin
Ireland, Part 2: Galway
Ireland, Part 3: The Cliffs of Moher and the Dingle Peninsula

and check out #craicandcapriccio on Twitter.