These carved heads represent the river gods.

Traveling in Ireland during the off season, alone and off the beaten path has added up to some unique experiences. I was the only tourist in Twomey’s Pub in Castletownbere; I was the only guest one night at the Sea View Inn in Allihies; I was the only tourist on the boat to Bere Island. But today was a little ridiculous, when I was the only passenger on the double decker Hop On Hop Off Cork City bus tour.

As I looked down on the lowly pedestrians from my perch on the open top deck I tried not to feel superior. Imagine! An entire bus to myself, for the cost of a single admission. They probably thought I hired the bus.

The way these buses work is you can get off the bus at interesting stops along the way, and the next one picks you up. They make a big circuit and you can get on and off as often as you want. Oh – and I found out the winding streets weren’t built on cow paths, as I suspected, they were built on top of river channels!

Medieval Cork was built on 14 islands in the River Lee, and as the city grew they just filled in between the islands and paved in the channels. There are still a lot of channels though and something like 13 bridges. I think I drove around and around on every one of them. It was nice to park the car today.

It's hard to take a photo in Cork that doesn't include at least one church and bridge.

The tours are a really good way to see a city in a short amount of time, and I find it helps me get the lay of the land. But this trip I didn’t have much time so I just wanted to stay on the bus the whole way. The driver, who couldn’t see me from his seat, would pull up to the stops as usual, and wait. And wait. And wait. No one got on. No one got off. Then he would pull away and resume the tour.

Finally, at the Cork City Gaol he stopped and came upstairs. “You might want to get off here just to take a few pictures,” he suggested. I took this to mean he wanted a smoke break, so I obliged. The gaol (jail) apparently as a wax museum-like gruesome display, which I had no desire to see. Still, it was an interesting building with lovely views over the city.

One of my goals on the bus tour was to figure out where the Maldron Hotel was, as I wanted to check it out for my tour. It’s in the Shandon area, near the famous “Shandon Bells” church. You can climb the bell tower and ring the bells, which was tempting, but I had to pass this time.

The Maldron Hotel in Shandon, Cork City. This could be anywhere in Europe, it's so charming.

I met with the hotel reservations manager after the bus tour and she gave me a private tour of some of the rooms. I was thrilled to see the graceful old building had large, recently remodeled rooms overlooking the city (as opposed to my current B&B which has views over the neighbor’s backyard). I immediately told her I definitely wanted to book my tour group with them. That marks the last place I needed to look at accommodations, so it really feels like it’s coming together! I’m really excited about the places we’ll be staying, not to mention the things we will be discovering.

I have also been meeting with coach (bus) companies and have several excellent choices. They are excited to be driving a group that truly wants to get off the beaten path. One coach company owner pointed out that places like the Beara are where they like to go on holiday!

Kieran Deasey, owner of Deasey Coaches, with the type of bus we will be using. It's large enough to be comfortable yet small enough to be agile.

I have one more coach company meeting in the morning, and then I can begin my Irish holiday! I’ll be going to Doolin, trad music center of Ireland, and Galway, my favorite city in Ireland, before heading to Bunratty for the final night. Wonder if I’ll have the castle to myself…