Learning "Conkers" and Climbing a Round Tower

Last weekend I got to spend the night down in Kilkenny. In May, when the trees were still are and the weather was just starting to decide if it wanted to be nice or continue pouting, I got to take a day trip down from Laois. So if you want to see the inside of the castle, head on over to that post! But I'd suggest you finish this one first because I got to explore the entire town including, but not limited to, the castle grounds, a round tower, and tons of shops!

Luckily, Kilkenny is pretty small. It's technically a "city", one of only a few in Ireland, but you can pretty much walk all of the highlights. We stayed in Hotel Kilkenny (see pictures from their site below) and it was within walking distance of the main shopping streets and castle! I mean, what more could you ask for?

There were so many beautiful buildings like colleges and churches on the walk to the main streets. It was also starting to feel like autumn with the cooler air and some leaves falling so I felt nice and cosy. Mmmmm fall air!

There were so many little nooks of cuteness tucked into the streets.

Kilkenny is a medieval town, and one of the cool things they've kept is a market of the original city wall. You really wouldn't notice unless you happened to be paying attention to the ground. But it's a neat piece of history.

Once you come into view of the castle, it's stunning. The sun was breaking through in patches all day and I was able to catch a few rays by the river.

Another thing I love about Kilkenny is all of the neat little shops. A lot of them have funky names and bright paint.

There are also "slips", which are basically alleys lined with shops that connect two main streets.

We walked around to the back of the castle. We didn't go inside this time since you have to pay and I'd already been. But the grounds are just as stunning, and I was excited to be back with the trees leafy and green!

This was also my first time exploring the grounds. Only 3 walls of the castle remain, so the "fourth" opens out into a huge public park. There are endless walking trails, playgrounds, and trees. There are also plenty of places to go from the park down to the river path, which is what we eventually did. It was on this path that we found a huge chestnut grove and started collecting the nuts so that Killian could teach me how to play conkers, a game that a lot of Irish kids play. I'll explain that at the end!

I had the most amazing lunch of my life at River Gauche across from the hotel. It was so flavourful and surprisingly affordable!

One thing that was on my to-do list this trip was to visit St. Canice's cathedral. So we walked to the opposite end of town to check it out. Of course, coming across more churches and cute shops on the way.

St. Canice's is one of the main sites in the area, but I was super excited to be able to visit their round tower. I've seen a few round towers in Ireland during my travels. The one most people think of is the Glendalough round tower. They're actually really incredible, architecturally. Different from other castle towers, round towers were used as watch towers and are found near churches. They're built incredibly shallowly in the ground, and to help the integrity of the structure, the doors are actually really far off the ground! The section between the door and the ground is filled with soil and stones to kind of act as a weight. Although a lot of them have survived over time, many lean (this one included) and only 2 are structurally sound enough to allow people to climb today. St. Canice has one of those two! Since seeing the one at Glendalough I was always intrigued with how they'd build the ladders inside to get up and what the experience would be like.

It was €3/person to climb the tower. I expected a spiral staircase for some reason. Maybe because that's been my experience in towers in castles around Ireland. Really, it was a series of platforms with ladders in between. Most only had a rail on one side, and it was a super tight fit. I had to focus on what I was doing or I would've panicked over my claustrophobia! There are also very few windows, which means very little light. They'd put in a bulb at each platform to help.

Below you can see Killian standing on the topmost platform, with the last ladder that we climbed. I'm not sure how they were originally built, but when they re-did the ladders for tourists, they tried to keep them as horizontal as possible. It still feels like climbing almost a vertical ladder with how skinny the tower is! Also, talk about a hard activity to do while wearing a purse.

Below you can see the view from one of just a few windows near the top. The others had pigeon nests, but this one had somehow not been discovered!

When we reached the top, there was one other man up there already. But a minute later, there were 7 people. On top of this tiny tower. And more coming! I don't think the ticket guy really thought it through. So we snapped some pictures and had to leave because there was nowhere to stand. The picture below broke my heart because it's this beautiful old church or abbey in ruin surrounded by ugly construction and no longer accessible. I had to admire it from afar.

The climb down was a little more challenging with no way of seeing where we were going. We took a second to relax on this cool stone bench at the base.

The church itself costs more money to go into, so instead we just checked out the grounds. There were so many beautiful doors!

Then, it was time to make our way back towards the  castle for lunch.

There was a marathon on, so lots of places were full. I'd already been to Kyteler's (check out the last post for more pictures of the interior and the story) but I knew the food was good and the inside is so fun so we went back!

The table we ended up at was actually an old butcher's block! A Mullens one, no less.

I was snapchatting the whole weekend so I'm going to insert a video of my story so that you can see some footage of the town and us climbing the round tower! Leave a comment below if you'd be interested in vlogs for the future (video blogs).

Now! Conkers. We had seen one on the walk into town,on the street where the first college is in the video above. Killian picked it up and was telling me about the game that he played as a kid. I'd actually heard about it before, but never really heard how it was played. You need two good ones to play, so I pocketed that one and we kept our eyes peeled the rest of the day. Luckily, behind the castle, we found a little grove of these horse chestnut trees and went to town cracking them out of the spiky shell they come in. I continued on the rest of the day with a massive pocket full of conkers (chestnuts). It looked and felt a little odd. When we got home, Killian took over the most terrifying part of a surprisingly violent game: drilling a freaking hole into it! Kids did this! All the time!

Once there's a hole all the way through the centre, a shoelace is strung through and tied at one end. The gist of the game is to break the other person's conker by hitting it with your own. Hard. You can see mine, which obviously broke first because I had no idea what I was doing, on the right below. And that's really it! Of course there's rules and there's a certain way you each hold them, but it was kind of a cool glimpse into Ireland.

Stay tuned to see what country I visit this weekend. If you have any guesses, leave them in the comments below! Make sure to like my Facebook page to get the first look and a notification for when future blogs are posted.