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krisek Cork - A travel report by Krys
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Cork,  Ireland - flag Ireland -  Cork
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krisek's travel reports

The real capital of Ireland. Cork.

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The city of Cork enjoys great reputation of being Ireland's friendliest place among the visitors and receives a great respect from locals, who call it 'the real capital of Ireland'. It is compact, easy to navigate and charming.

Cork's main street, running through the island.
Cork's main street, running through the island.
Many years have passed since the time, when I began to want to come and visit Cork. It must have been at least a decade. And finally, I decided to book a flight and see it. Ryanair helped with this decision by slashing its prices to £20 return from London, taxes and charges included. It actually costs more to get to London Stansted airport from my house...

I had to get up very early, as the flight was leaving just after 6 o'clock in the morning, and although I checked in online (as everyone is now 'encouraged' to so), the gate was closing at 05:50 a.m. and it still takes about 45 minutes from my house to the airport, by taxi. By coach it takes about an hour, as it leaves from the Stratford International Station. During the day, I can hop on the DLR and change there, but not at 4 o'clock in the morning on a Saturday.

Anyway, I arrived in Cork city centre just after 8 a.m. and did not wait a minute before embarking on an exploration escapade. I was eager to find out quickly why the Irish (at least some of them) would consider Cork as the real capital of Ireland. Also, it was not raining and I wanted to make sure I can see as much as possible before the the forecasters' foretold showers. Ireland does not enjoy too much of a sunny weather. In any season.

It was a great morning. I printed myself a little map of the town from the Internet - just navigated to google maps and printed a page. It helped a little, although the city had good signage in both English/Irish and Irish languages. I was completely self-sufficient.

It was a chilly day. I knew that I needed to warm up with the famous Irish coffee. I stepped into one of the cafes and ordered one. But to my greatest disappointment, they ran out of cream. So I expected just whiskey and a cup of coffee. But they found some and I was very happy. Later I reverted to nice stouts. Murphy's, Beamish and Rebel Red were all local brews. Beamish being the most popular amongst the Corkers. It was perfect.

Favourite spots:
The English Market
The English Market
The English Market, oddly named, in the heart of Cork's centre, was, strangely enough, my favourite spot in the city. It was apparently the most traditional market in Ireland and was called 'English'. It was so unique that visitors from Dublin would put it firmly as a key priority to see in Cork. It appealed to me strangely, as I am generally not a market person. It had a great atmosphere and between the stands selling fresh meat and vegetables, or clothes, or sweets, there were very small cafes serving coffee with sweet cakes and such. They would only have like a couple of stools squeezed between the bar/serving area and the adjacent merchant's stand. Very special! Somehow, the magnitude of dead meat and fish did not produce too much of miasma and walking in the market was so pleasantly explorable. The English Market was like a supermarket indeed but one had to pay at each stand rather than upon leaving the complex.

What's really great:
The City Gaol
The City Gaol
The City Gaol, the jail, overlooking the valley, which had been partially restored with funds from the EU, was set amongst rather nice garden but the starfish-shaped building looked horrifically grim. It was impossible to make a mistake about its purpose. Instead of windows it had holes with bars. I peeked inside and saw awfully small cells, utterly austere and terrifying. They looked like they had not been painted for at least a hundred years. The cell walls bore marks engraved by the former prisoners. Some were quotes from books, some - examples of very original poetry, and some perhaps promises of revenge. Old tables, chairs and other wooden objects found a doubtfully save storage there now; rotting and waiting for a second chance to fulfill their purpose in life. Hmm..

Somehow, this jail stood out remarkably from all other sights of the city. It spooked me to see such a magnificent structure built for such a gory purpose. I do not think I had seen a starfish-like structure before.

The Fin Barre's Cathedral
The Fin Barre's Cathedral
The famous St Fin Barre's Cathedral was closed when I came and parts of its towers and front facade were covered in scaffolding. The nearby Fort, although looking very mighty, was still under renovation and there was nothing of interest inside, apart from a Garda (police) station.

Cork had a few other churches around, which were listed as sights of the city, but I did not feel like visiting them. I had seen many similar churches on the isles and in Ireland before.

The city boasted a good number of Georgian architecture and some neo-classical one, too. The latter was represented in some of the governmental or religious buildings, like the City Hall.

And yet, the city's main attraction were its venues of social life. The England-Ireland rugby game that Saturday created a special chemistry and vibe in the air and in the pubs, clubs, bars...

Cork panorama
Cork panorama
Jury's Inn established itself well in the city centre with one hotel right by the bus station (€60), and the other (hyper trendy and new) near the St Fin Barre's Cathedral (€more). Other hotels in the centre were: Clarion, Quality, Isaac's, Gresham, Imperial and Victoria (all in upper mid-range and not particularly or exceptionally funky). Close to the Isaac's Hotel, there was also Sheila's Hostel, which looked decent and clean.

Cork had many more accommodation options. In the immediate vicinity of the cathedral, I spotted at least five hotels/B&Bs. I did not see many tourists around at all, so I guess there was plenty of availability everywhere.

Larry Tompkin's Pub
Larry Tompkin's Pub
Apart from over 100 pubs, Cork offers the usual night time entertainment. And it is for everyone. Not just the bloodthirsty teenagers and twentysomethings. The Irish know exactly how to make most of the nightlife at all ages. This is what makes the country so special. And their hospitality in the bars and pubs towards the visitors is legendary. And I experienced that on my own skin. I would lie if I said I did not expect that. I knew this about Cork. This is exactly why I wanted to go there.

I only had a chance to visit few of the establishments, but I passed by a good number of others. They were the Long Island cocktail bar, the Scotts Nightclubs chain, the Mangans Niteclub. All of them looked very popular.

I sat at the Larry Tompkin's Pub for a while. It attracted clientelle of all generations. It was facing the river Lee to the north and had two bays were sofas/cushioned benches faced one another, each one could sit about 4 people. Its location was perfect.

The Hi-B pub
The Hi-B pub
Unless one came to experience the atmosphere of the Hi-B pub, one did not taste the real hangout of Cork. No mobiles are allowed in this tiny and ultimately cozy place, and ordering a non-alcoholic drink is a no-no. The 76 years old owner, Brian O'Donnel doesn't tolerate mobile phones - with passion and does not suffer those who order water on ice gladly. He was witty and talkative. The type of banter that flows from behind the bar or the space on the sofa next to you was unique. And spontaneous. I was asked by the customers there (four of them) how I found the place. I told them. The music played from tiny CD player, mainly tunes from 1920s and 1930s adds particular ambiance. I chatted with the owner and the crowd (it eventually grew to about ten guests) for about two hours and these were amongst the best two hours of the year so far. What an atmosphere!

The Jade Palace Restaurant
The Jade Palace Restaurant
The Farmgate at the English Market, one of locals' favourite breakfast stops, had patchy service when I dropped by. I must have been sitting for 20 minutes and the waiter had not handed me a menu. I was not impressed with my first impression! He eventually did ask me what I'd like and I just ordered a full Irish fried breakfast (€12). Obviously no menu was necessary for this. It was good, if a bit small, their coffee was... adequate but came with unlimited refills, and the marmalade was fantastic! The place also does set lunches (two courses €17) and famous seafood pie for €15.

Along very narrow Careys Lane, there were a few very cosy restaurants, like Gambieni's, the Pavilion, Cafe Mexicana, Newport, Amicus.

Jade Palace Chinese restaurant did great authentic dishes in generous portions. The décor was authentic too - simple and tacky. Local Chinese population ordered takaway from it! Efficient service. Reasonable prices €9 for mains. The chef claimed he could prepare any Chinese dish.

Other recommendations:
The Parade, the SkyLink bus stops right here.
The Parade, the SkyLink bus stops right here.
From the airport to the city centre, one can take, apart from the €4.50 ow national buses taking approximately 25 minutes (#229, 249), a regular SkyLink bus running hourly at €8 return, which takes 15 minutes. I took the latter on arrival and the former on departure. The driver was very friendly, patient and good humoured. He gave advice to anyone who looked a little bit disorientated, and handed out maps and timetables. In time it took to drive from the airport to the city centre, he even managed to book a hotel for two ladies, who admitted that they had not made any reservations. Now, that is some service! The company has comfortable small Merc buses, and they tend to meet the flights at the airport. They stand right outside the exit from the terminal. It is impossible to miss them.

Published on Thursday March 5th, 2009

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Sat, Mar 28 2009 - 10:02 PM rating by shubh

Thanks for telling me about this so beautiful touring spot. It was new to me. Your report is indeed valuable for me.
Adviser travel.justluxe

Fri, Mar 13 2009 - 09:43 AM rating by bootlegga

Yet another great report!

Fri, Mar 06 2009 - 02:32 AM rating by porto

Top O' The Morning Krys,its another cracker!

Thu, Mar 05 2009 - 08:01 PM rating by pesu

Elaborate report of just a day trip (though it started VERY early)! Listening to Rory Gallagher while reading it has been a good choice. ;-)

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