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    Thursday
    Sep272007

    The Full Irish Breakfast

    We woke up, packed our stuff, and went down to the breakfast area where it was in fact time for the Full Irish Breakfast. Our second bed and breakfast, The Castle House, had no other breakfast options, so they served the traditional breakfast I've previously described. It came on a heaping giant plate of food, which was obviously something we were getting used to, and I'll be honest, the puddings didn't really seem all that freaky at first. So I decided to eschew my normal hesitancy, and give those puddings a try. There were 2; black pudding and white pudding. Black pudding is beef or pork fat, some salt and pepper, grains, and some fresh pig's blood. White pudding is the same, but without the vampiric ingredient. Wanna make our own? Go here. Now apparently no one in Ireland thinks this is a strange meal, but who am I to begrudge a people who have until relatively recently gotten by on the best of a small amount of available food. If I had to live on a diet of 85% potatoes, I would very likely feel like experimenting with pig's blood as well. Fortunately, for me, I got to experience the joy of many excellently prepared Irish potatoes (normally fried), but unfortunately, I also decided to give the black pudding the benefit of the doubt.

    It was not good. I barely found the napkin in time, and I most certainly didn't make it with a swallow. Remember the picture with the Guinness? It was kind of like that, but much worse. I also came to sort of enjoy the Guinness, where I fear the pig's blood market is going to always be shy of my business.

    I don't eat eggs, so I put mine on Lindsay's plate. She got one egg, and I got two, because I guess they feed men more as a matter of course. And she couldn't eat that much, so when we left, it looked like I'd eaten all mine, and she actually found a way to not eat hers, and produce one more. It's not fair, but that's how it worked out. The bacon was sort of palatable, but then sort of not. It's about the size of a medium or large dog's ear, and there's a little tail hat hangs off. That part is like American bacon, and the other part is like that, but without fat, and more like the texture of leather. After the pudding attempt, I fear the sausage had no chance. It was just too similar. And that left the tomato, which was sadly on its own, and I didn't want it.

    In an effort to avoid sounding like the pickiest and whiniest eater on the face of the earth (which I know I'm not, because that would have been me at age 10, and I'm much better now, believe it or not), I do have to say that before any of this happened, it didn't really matter because almost every day, we filled up on brown bread and toast. Every morning, they made with the brown bread, and Irish butter, and that stuff is just ridiculously good. Then came the toast, which was a huge amount of toast. I'd eat some fruit, have a bit of tea, and some juice, and I'm full before they bring the real breakfast. By the end, I just told them to not bother bringing the whle cooked breakfast, because the waste of food was getting to me.

    In this dining room, there was a family of British people with exceptionally posh accents. In the center of them was their grandmother, who asked each member of her family, about 8-9 times, how they'd slept, and what they were doing that day. Her voice was magnificent in it's comedy. It was high pitched and squeaky, as if it was off an old re-run on PBS with lots of old people which teenage girls who practice Wicca think is funny. And every time she repeated the questions, it got funnier and funnier. For the record, they slept fine, and the girl was going to resume her windsurfing lessons. Oh yes, they windsurf in Ireland, and they'll teach you how to do it as well.

    We didn't really have much to do on this day, and we didn't have that far to go, so we were going to take it easy. Originally, we would have had to drive around the mouth of the Shannon River, into Limerick, and then back to go up the coast, and get to the Cliffs of Moher, and then find a place to stay, but we figured out that there was a ferry that crossed the Shannon, and would avoid Limerick, and let us stay on the coast, and not have to inland. It saved about an hour or two.

    Plus the ferry was wicked cool. Maybe it wouldn't be all that cool if you'd done it a bunch of times, or perhaps it wouldn't be that cool if you were on it and it crashed like in Grey's Anatomy, and you lost your face, and then got rejected by the jerky, but hunky doctor, but it was cool to me. The Shannon is a big river too. The trip was about 20 minutes across, and this morning was one of the first we experienced with any kind of weather. It was a little foggy and rainy, but not really very cold, so after the ferry took off, we were able to go up and take a look around as we crossed the river. Plus they had a snack bar.

    After driving off the ferry, we took off up the coast towards the Cliffs of Moher, which was really our only destination of the day. We drove through a lot of small towns, and stopped a lot, and moved along, and repeated it, all going slowly up the coast and finally, started climbing a bit towards where the cliffs here. But the higher we climbed, the foggier it kept getting. And as we pulled in to the parking lot, the visibility dropped down to about 4-13 inches. Now, I'm not even going to begin to complain about the weather, because I still think we picked about the luckiest week in the history of Irish weather to travel, which you can see in the pictures, but this did kind of blow.

    Why did it blow? Out of everything in the entire country, Lindsay really wanted to see the Cliffs? Was it because they were some of the highest sea cliffs in Europe? No, but it was used as the image for the Dread Pirate Roberts as he pursued Princess Buttercup in the Princess Bride. And therefore, it's very near where a Sicilian would have been messed with, as death was on the line.

    That was the nerdiest thing I might have ever written, and I run a comic book website.

    Anyway, I drove into the wrong entrance, and I pulled up to the gate for tour buses. They wouldn't let me in, justifiably, but she just told me that I was in the wrong place. But while she was telling me this, a bus pulled up behind me, pinning me against the gate. He got out, and came and told me that I was in the wrong place, but at the point, the lady on the intercom was non-receptive, so I held up a busload of people for a while. They eventually opened the gate, and my stupid foreigner time was over. I'd like to point out that the bus driver was the nicest person outside of the B&B owners we may have met the entire time in Ireland.

    So the Cliffs...may well have been there. But we couldn't tell you because the fog didn't give much away. As you walked up and up, you ended up closer to the edge, and the only place you could see anything was just past a big sign that said, "DON'T GO PAST THIS POINT," which is where everyone went of course, because apparently, there's no security in Ireland. If you want to be a jackass, and fall off a 600 foot cliff, go nuts, because we warned you. Yeah, that's Lindsay's head right in the center above the sign. It took some convincing, but she went. So I went and peered down at the ocean, but I felt like I kind of missed the spectacle of the whole thing. There were huge numbers of people just staring out at grey nothing. And they were taking pictures. Well, so were we, but we were doing it ironically, so that's better.

    Then, just as we were about to give up, the fog lifted, and pulled about 50 feet away from the cliffs for about 10 minutes. It was pretty nice, but we didn't get the big sea view. Also, at this point, people felt the need to start hopping the barricades, and trundling up to the sheer open cliff face to get a view. Some brought very small children. At least in America we have rules, and they're very often followed because of fears of the electric chair. Or so I'm lead to believe.

    But, I can tell you that they have a very nice cafeteria at the Cliffs of Moher. I had an Irish Stew that was awesome. Much better than the canned crap from the first day in Dublin, and Lindsay had some other thing I don't remember, but I remember she liked it, and that's pretty notable.

    The drive down from the cliffs was incredible. There were these sort of mountain switchback roads, and I think it's quite possible I nearly lost Lindsay to an early heart failure on that drive. I'll grant you, it was a bit narrow. It was raining a bit, and it was a bit hard to see, and finally, it was a bit scary. But it was a whole lot of fun as well. You could watch the video to hear Lindsay's terror, and my cackles of glee.

    We took a littel detour at this point, because at the bottom on the hill, I turned left instead of right, and after about 40 minutes or so, I thought, "hey, is the ocean supposed to be on our right side?" It wasn't, and after talking to a tour bus driver and confirming our mistake, I turned around on a scary narrow seaside road and nearly grounded out the car on some immense looking rocks. We were trying to make it to a certain castle before they closed for the night, and we just about made it. Oh well, we got some nice pictures of the outside. I still haven't seen a sky that looked that good since I've been back, and I'm looking for it. No photoshop there. That's actually what color things were there. There was, that evening a medieval style banquet, but we actually didn't have te necessary formal wear to participate. That may not have been the reason, but it sounds good.

    Now it was starting to get a bit later, and we had nowhere to stay, so we decided to make for Galway, which is apparently the coolest city on the west coast of Ireland. No, there's nothing terribly touristy or historic in Galway, but there are lots of young people, and a music scene, and good restaurants, and all that. We checked the book, and thought it might be a good night to get a hotel, so we found a place in the middle of the city, and like many of the other places we tried to find, we magically ended up in front of it. It's true. We just kept ending up in front of the place we were headed, over and over, without really trying. The whole place was a little creepy that way.

    The Hotel Meyrick came highly recommended by our little book, which would explain why the price in real life was a great deal higher than what it said in the book. But what the hell, we were under budget for the day. The lobby was all black, and just about too cool for us. But then when we got to the room, we were brought a bit more down to earth. The sun was actually directly outside of the window, so the room was about 145 degrees farenheit. Or whatever that is in centigrade. Plus, it so happened that just outside this window was not a gorgeous view of the center of Galway City, but rather a busy bus terminal that operated all night. Lindsay's the tough one, so she got us a new room, which was slightly cooler, and a crappy view, but at least it didn't make any noise. Also, hotel rooms in Ireland don't come with air conditioning, which makes sense, because it's not hot that often there. But one some days, or any days we tried to get hotel rooms, it could have used it.

    We got spruced up and went out to find some food. Only at this point, it was sunday night, and things close in Ireland on sunday night. So we did quite a large loop around Galway City, and finally we found a somewhat swanky hotel with a very nice restaurant, and we had a great dinner. For once, I don't remember exactly what we ate, but I remember they had great bread.

    On the way back to the hotel, we found the lively part of the city with all the cool restaurants and people all over the place, but what are you gonna do?

    Besides ask the locals or the hotel concierge I mean. But I think she was away from her post when we left the hotel, and my experience asking concierges for recommendations never really turned out that well.

    There had been a great deal of driving and walking up to this point, so we decided to try and get some sleep, and turned in sort of early.

    Besides, there was a breakfast in the hotel the next morning. Oh yes. All you can eat Irish breakfast buffet!

    Tomorrow, we drive for about 40 minutes. Sweet.

    Monday
    Sep242007

    The Two Words were Failte and Slainte

    But in reality, I probably know more than that. You see, when you're trying to be all entertaining with the writing, you say things that aren't necessarily true, but are just slightly more interesting than the real thing. There I've given it away. But I learned it from Frank McCourt, so it's sort of appropriate, isn't it? There's still a question though. What do the words mean, and more importantly, how are they pronounced. Well, I had to wait to find out, so you'll have to as well.

    We woke in Cashel and headed down to our first Irish breakfast. I had been weary about the idea of Irish Breakfasts, which are much hailed for their heartiness and goodness. But here's the thing: I'm not much of a breakfast guy, because I don't really like breakfast food all that much. And you heard how it went with the bagels. An Irish Breakfast consists of eggs (Never ate eggs), tomato (which makes a fantastic ingredient when it's in something), sausage (could go either way, because there is a lot of different sausage out there), bacon (I had thought that there was no way to go wrong with bacon), and usually black and white pudding (which will be explained, but suffice to say, the name isn't nearly descriptive enough). This is all I knew going in. But we were told this morning that we had our choice of several options at breakfast (yay!), and we both went for the pancakes (yay!), which weren't really as good as American pancakes (Aww!), but good enough (yay!). There was also, at each breakfast, we would learn, brown bread, toast, butter, orange juice, and tea. We really go into the whole tea thing while we were there. I miss that.

    We were sat with some British people who weren't so into talking to us. Now, we're not the most outgoing couple in the world, but we were sitting there in silence, when Lindsay shocked me by taking the bull by the horns, and starting up some conversation with them. Bless her heart, she went right in while I was thinking about it, and they were avoiding it. I would place them in the age range of the 50's, middle class, and from somewhere in England I couldn't identify by accent. Not much came of it, but dammit, we tried!

    It was 2 hours to Killarney, which was at the edge of the Ring of Kerry, our destination and activity for the day. When we got to Killarney, we were overwhelmed by a tourist trap. It was campers, and rented cars, and people from just everywhere in the world walking around waiting to hand out money for overpriced everything to the waiting merchants. We learned that if you just sort of follow the road and signs, you'll end up in the middle of town every time, and before we knew it, we were held up in traffic behind a lot of cars looking for spaces that weren't necessarily there. But I admit I did myself proud by finding and parallel parking in one that happened to open up. Please don't forget, it was reverse parallel parking as well. No mean feat. We popped a euro in the parking meter (US equivalent: $87), and went off for our allotted hour.

    There were basically a lot of shops selling Irish knickknacks, and I started seeing a ton of places who sell crap with Irish names on them. I read that there are 4 million people living in Ireland, but 40 million people who live elsewhere, but say they're Irish, so this is a big industry to sell "authentic" crap with the "Irish" names on them. But sure, I looked through it. Wouldn't you? I've already got Flanagan coasters, and I don't really need a shotglass. The next step up is the big plaque with the crest and family motto. For the record, the Flanagan crest and motto is pretty badass. The motto is "Certavi et vici" or "I have fought and conquered," which I like, because it's already done. Much nicer than, "I will fight and conquer," which sounds very hard. And you can't beat the flaming sword and the tree of knowledge. Awesome. I didn't end up buying any of that, but I admit the pull was ever so slightly there.

    So we had a bit of lunch at some place who had handmade ice cream (vegetable soup and brown bread for me, some sandwich with chips for Lindsay), and we were on our way. After some "discussion" about whether to do the Ring clockwise, or counter-clockwise, we couldn't figure out how to go for the latter, so we accepted the former.

    Today was the day Lindsay did the most praying. Now for a woman who isn't really at all spiritual, this was of note. You see, the Ring of Kerry is an old, windy, narrow road, and unlike the roads we'd seen so far, this one has a sea cliff along one side of much of it. There are also other cars who are ostensibly in their own lane, but the idea of two lanes is nebulous at best. Plus there's the aforementioned ability to go at what seems like a high rate of speed, often by people who are not driving in their accustomed driver alignment. For me, it translates to big fun. For Lindsay, it means a lot of gasping and clenching from the left side of the vehicle.

    So what of this Ring? Is it really as good as all that? Yes it is. It's astonishingly beautiful, and we were blessed, not for the only time, with gorgeous clear weather. I've grown up on the coast of Maine, and I've driven down the Pacific Coast Highway, and so far, this is the winner. There's something about the color of the hills and sky in Ireland that just blows away anything else I've ever seen. Every corner you turn has the same ingredients, but they're mixed together in such a way that they seem completely new. It's absolutely stunning, and I thought that perhaps that this might be as good as it gets, but it got better in the days that followed. So yeah, it's a nice place to visit.

    But then something bad happened.

    We stopped in some little town about halfway around the ring, and got out. There was big cathedral there (and everywhere in Ireland), where we went in to look and Lindsay took some pictures. Not being a churchgoer ever in my life, it's odd to be in a place where religion is so omnipresent, or at least was up to a few years back. But I don't even have any idea what's appropriate, so we went with a tone of general respect and looked around, and came out. Just after this, we're walking down the street towards a little market that was set up on the street. All of a sudden, Lindsay has whipped around, and she's yelling at some kid. I didn't even see what happened, but apparently, she got shot in the butt by a pellet gun. I'm sure that if I was any kind of a man, I'd have chased the kids and beaten them up or something, but the fact is, they were gone before I even saw them. Besides, I'm not sure how international law works, but beating kids can't ever be good. This kind soured Lindsay on the town, so we hopped back in the car, and gave the scenery a little time to soothe the wound sustained in the awful little town with the nice cathedral and shitty little 12 year olds.

    Again, this was a further example of never really feeling terribly welcome in Ireland, especially in the first few days. The sentiment towards us was always professional and courteous, but well shy of friendly. We were there, and they were there, and that worked for the most part, but there wasn't a lot of personal contact that made me think that anyone actually wanted us around for that long. I suppose I have that coming, since I work in the Empire State Building, and I make a habit of silently cursing mouth-breathing- sidewalk slowing,-taking pictures of goddamned everything in creation - tourists on a daily basis. But I do do it silently. I don't know what I was expecting really, but we were determined not to let it get us down too much.

    That forgotten and left behind us, we still had a long way to go. We stopped in another town in desperate need of toilets.

    Side note: In Ireland, you say "toilet." You don't say restroom or bathroom, but just "toilet," a word we tend not to use directly here. It feels a bit like you're being impolite, just a step removed from "John," but you get over it.

    We stopped at a little coffee and tea place run by a man supposedly in his foyer, where I made the mistake of ordering a carrot cake. They forgot to mention that there was absolutely no sugar in this dessert at all, but we made it through OK with a pot of tea (love that tea!). It was a strange place where it was in this gorgeous spot on the coast, but it was just shy of what we would consider appropriately professional. I was a fan of the novelty of the whole thing, but the bathroom really was kind of nasty.

    One of Lindsay's goals was to get some up close pictures of sheep. Ireland is literally full of sheep. You couldn't fit anymore if you tried. However, regardless of what it looks like, they do not want to be hugged. Or if they do, they don't know it, because they run away with very little provocation. At one point, there were some sheep who'd managed to escape the fencing, and were strewn about the road, just waiting to be exploded by passing, ignorant vehicles. So we thought that would be a good time to get out of the car, and try to take pictures of them while also ushering them to safety. Of course, this caused them to run away from us, and more into the road than they had been, and we never really got close enough for that elusive great sheep shot.

    Turning back inland near the end of the ring, we drove through the Killarney National Forest, where we found a place, the only one we saw in Ireland, who let you frolic among, and get close to their sheep. It was a sheep petting emporium of sorts. Alas, it had just closed, and once more, the sheep were not to be in Lindsay's vicinity. But driving through the forest was something else altogether, as the land morphed once again into something new and beautiful with these great hills and lakes, and trees, and just more scenic pretty than you knew what to do with. There was almost no direction we couldn't point the camera and come out with something nice.

    That evening we had a reservation at a Bed and Breakfast on the northern coast of the Dingle Peninsula, which is just north of where we were. It was getting pretty late though, so we hauled back through Killarney (which we took no pictures of either time), and drove out to the most rural of places we'd been, a town called Castlegregory. Apparently, the incidentally named Conor Pass, which runs along the southern side of the peninsula was something to see, but we wouldn't know, cuz we didn't see it. We got to the B&B, and there were some young, tough looking polish people wearing a great deal of name brand clothing across the hall from us. We headed off into town where we looked for food, and ended up coming up short on choice, and ate some burgers (it took 3 days) in a pub. They were actually really good, and came with chips of all things. The accents were getting thicker as we travelled up the coast, and it was starting to get harder to understand some of the older people, like the guy who ran the pub. We were told that there was live music that night, and figuring that we'd need to hear traditional Irish music at least once, we stopped back in a little later, got a couple of pints of Guiness. I tried to order Beamish, which is a stout brewed on in Cork, and therefore closer to to where we were, and despite the fact that the room was covered in Beamish ads, I was told they don't serve Beamish. Oh well. I made it through most of this Guiness without wincing. But one was enough.

    The music we heard was in no way traditional. It was something wholly other. I'm not even sure I can explain it. There were three of them. The singer was not unlike Sonny Bono in look, and there was an acoustic guitar, and some keyboards. The music was a mixture of standards, and a couple of Beatles songs and some country favorites. He didn't know all the words to any of the songs, but he tried his damnedest to sing when he clearly had no ability to do so. It was odd, and somewhat charming, but not really what we were looking for. Down the road, on the way home, there was another pub, attached to a youth hostel, where apparently, every 18 year old in Ireland had gone to hear a rock band that actually sounded really good play. Lindsay and I both thought we'd heard Eddie Vedder singing some song we'd never heard of from the road. We went over to check it out, but the place was chock full of people right at the entrance, and we just weren't energetic enough to deal. But this was in the middle of what seemed like nowhere, so that was a bit strange.

    So we went to bed, because tomorrow was another early start, and it was already 1 AM. We got no extra sleep on this vacation. No one said it would be easy.

    Next: Puddings and Ferries. I liked one. The other, not so much.

    Wednesday
    Sep192007

    The Road to Cashel

    The second day began fairly well. We actually slept pretty well, and from that point on, jetlag wasn't too much of a problem. Until we got home.

    We did a bit of a wander in Dublin before leaving for Cashel, which was our random stopping point for the day. Beforehand, I was very confident, as I usually am, often wrongly, that we'd be there before we knew it, and could continue on as far as Greenland by dinner. But we didn't have a place booked to stay this night, so we had to be where we were going to be no later than 5 or 6, because it's hard to get a room after that at most bed and breakfasts.

    For breakfast, we had a bit of a panic mode reaction, where we ended up stopping at an "American Style" bagel shop, for 2 of the most unenticing bagels we've ever eaten. When it's early, and you're hungry in a foreign country, along with not being the two most adventurous eaters, it's easy to make a bad call on a meal. Of course, within a half a block of the offending bagelry, we found the 3 most charming and delicious looking breakfast spots in perhaps the entire world. We ended up buying some scones to wash away the horrible bagel memories. Thus were the last bagels ever to be consumed outside the continental United States.

    We then took a little walk around Dublin Castle, which is really more of the site where a bitchin' castle was once. There's really only a tower left from the old castle, and it looks a bit silly with a bunch of Volkswagens parked at its base, and surrounded by what look like office buildings. Still there were a bunch of Swanky buildings around it, built for the British to keep trying to rule the place after the real castle burned down. There was a neat garden area though, with little pools and tiling, which would have been better had it not smelled like a toilet in the immediate area. Overall, it was still an impressive collection of buildings, and a fitting start for what would follow, because things just seemed to get better from there.

    Then it was time to be off. And by off, I mean, to drive our rented car on the opposite side of the road from which we are accustomed to someplace we don't really know, in a land where streets actually have no name. I hadn't realized Bono was speaking literally in that song. Consequently, they have no address numbers either.

    Right after arriving at the airport in Dublin, we picked up our car, a 2007 Volkswagen Golf, which is basically a newer version of the car we have, but without the turbo engine (therefore less fast for which Lindsay thanks God), and that passenger and driver are of course switched. It's a fairly easy transition, because everything is opposite from what you're used to, so when you switch sides, it all still works the same way. From the airport into Dublin center was supposed to be the most difficult part of driving in Ireland, so we'd be getting it out of the way as soon as possible, and surely there'd be nothing but smooth sailing from then on, right? We acually found our way to the hotel without too much trouble. At that point, I was concentrating so hard that it would have been difficult to make a mistake. It was later, when I started feeling comfortable, and switched to auto-pilot that I made mistakes, or got confused. But into Dublin, there was some traffic, so we basically got behind some cars, and followed them.

    But on day two, we were off on our journey. Lindsay was to navigate by map, and I was to avoid hitting the various sheep, ducks, tractors, and such on the road. It took me about 7 days to stop looking to my left to put the window down, and about 3 days to stop reaching to my right to shift. Conversely, I still haven't broken those habits in reverse order having been home. I found that for a day or so, I would drift towards the edge of the road, and when then Lindsay would reprimand me, and I'd correct the course.

    We stopped in the first town we came across for lunch, because we figured that we might not see another town for a while, so we went to a local restaurant, which served sort of regular food (with chips). I ordered some pork sandwich thing, which turned out to be horribly deep fried, and not that great, and Lindsay maybe had a BLT. We were avoiding going for burgers, which is usually the standby when we can't find something we like. But at this point, we weren't sick of chips yet, so it was still fun. They had some badass looking cakes, but we started realizing that after they serve you food in Ireland, there's rarely enough room left for dessert, and either no one is eating all their food, or they have gigantic stomachs which don't show on the outside. Or people don't usually eat dessert with lunch, which is also likely.

    It was at this place that we noticed something odd about Ireland. They have the cutest children anywhere in the world. Little Irish babies are inescapably cute beings. They don't necessarily stay that way, but we saw it all over the place. And now I don't rest as easily knowing that my own country is chock full of babies who are just not that cute by comparison.

    We arrived in Cashel, which is the home of a great big castle on a hill (The Rock of Cashel as it is known), and took the tour. Basically, it's very old, and there are lots of people buried there, and the big St. Patrick's Cross outside is a fake. The real one's inside, but honestly, if they didn't tell you, you'd never know the difference, so who's to say with all the other antiquities in the world.

    At this site we met our first friendly Americans. I guess we didn't meet any unfriendly Americans, buy you get what I'm saying. She saw us taking a picture of ourselves, which we do very often, and asked if we wanted her to take one. Of course, it's rude to say no, so we said yes. Then she talked to us for a little while about where to stay and what to eat and all that, and then some other dude from Ohio starts talking to me. Apparently, we can't keep away from one another. I look over at Lindsay and the lady is still going. Incidentally, she was giving Lindsay directions to a place we never found.

    We take off into town to find a place to sleep, and the first one we try is booked, and they referred us to another one who had a spot with 2 twin beds. After a few loops through town, we found the place, which was originally built in the 1740's, and had a really nice little garden behind it, where we parked the car. She let us push them together, which Lindsay sighed at, because who really wants another night with me all spread out in the bed? She certainly doesn't.

    Then it was giant Irish meal time again, and after walking the length of the town and back, the choice was pub food, pub food, expensive pub food, and chinese food (Irish chinese food). We went with pub food. It came with chips. After the pub food, it was clear that we couldn't move any more, as the restauranteurs of Ireland were clearly trying to fatten us up. So, there would be no Guiness that night for us, and we went to bed flicking through the 5 channels, one of which is in gaelic, and 3 showing American programming. I did see some show about giant boats being built at Bath Iron Works, which is where I grew up. I felt some small comfort in the accents of the men on the show as well. "Put it right ovah theyah!"

    Honestly, not a lot happened this day, and we were pretty much fine with that, because we were trying to recreate after all. Yet I still managed to write all that.

    Monday
    Sep172007

    I now know two words of Gaelic

    And I'm proud to know them.

    Mrs. Flanagan and myself have completed a 9 day driving trip of Ireland. Once at third world country in Europe, and now one of the most powerhouse economies in the world. I imagine things would have been very different had we taken this trip a decade ago. For one, I don't think I would have been old enough to rent a car. Two, I didn't really know Lindsay, so it might have been more awkward, and 3, I was supposed to be starting my junior year of college, so I was kind of busy.

    Ireland is 5 hours ahead of us, so we traveled in the evening from New York, and arrived at about 10AM in Dublin the next morning. We each maybe caught a couple hours of fitful, non-restful sleep, and the prospect of spending a whole day awake was daunting, but we were optimistic at that point. So we checked in to the Westin Dublin. (Westins always have good beds. This was certainly a factor in the equation. ) The doorman was our first example of a cheerful, friendly Irish man. This was a stereotype that turned out to be much more rare than you would think. He heard my name, and said, "oh you're one of us?" which, if you know me, absolutely charmed me to pieces, and I looked forward to the 9 more days of that kind of brotherly sentiment. In retrospect that may have been foolish.

    At this point, it was clear that I had no idea if A) you were supposed to tip people in Ireland, and that B) it didn't matter because I didn't have anything less than 50 euros. (50 euros translates to roughly $1543. This is likely to be recurring joke.) So perhaps it was my own bad karma that ended up making him the last friendly Irish person we saw for several days.

    That's a bit of an exaggeration perhaps. There were friendly people, but they're really not any more friendly than anyone else in the world. Actually, they're probably more friendly than the average New Yorker, but that's not really that hard. The fact is, we were just some tourists; two of thousands; and we were treated as such for the most part. But that's not really bad, and I think it got better as we were there longer. Except in Ennis, which we hated. More on that later!

    It's the first day in Dublin. We decide to take a stroll in the Temple Bar area which, if you've ever been in Times Square or the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica or Quincy Market in Boston, will feel familiar. It's basically a tourist trap. There are according prices everywhere. We later learned that there are such a thing as prices and tourist prices. We didn't really ever learn to avoid tourist prices, but it got to the point where we could at least recognize them. The farther north we went, the cheaper things got. Dublin is not for the traveler on a budget however. We got lunch at a "traditional Irish food" restaurant for not the last time. I had Irish Stew, and Lindsay had Fish and Chips. These would be the first chips (fries) eaten, but certainly not the last. The meal was typically touristy (not very good, and way overpriced), but dammit we were having fun, and well on our way to stop converting euros to dollars.

    It must be said that Dublin is a beautiful, vibrant city you can walk around for hours and hours, and see wonderful things. There's not a lot of architecture in this city that isn't attractive. There's a giant green park called St. Stephen's Green which we strolled through, and people from all over the world are everywhere. There are free museums everywhere (except the natural history museum, which was temporarily closed.) There's a castle in in the middle of the city. There's the Guiness Brewery, which we didn't go to, which I regret slightly at the time of this writing. It's great. We had our trusty Lonely Planet Book, which was invaluable, and only let us down once (Again, Ennis.)

    So we basically strolled. We visited Trinity College, and saw the Book of Kells (touristy sure, but interesting nontheless), which is nearly the oldest surviving text in Ireland, dating back to about 800 AD. Quite fascinating really.

    Then we tried to go to an art museum, which is about when the fatigue took us over. We decided it would be best to take a short nap.

    About 3 hours later, with only a touch of regret, Lindsay and I had what might have been the best food ever served in Ireland. Thanks to the book, we found a place called Gruel, which was really very good. I had some pork belly thing with cinnamon and a grilled pear, and Lindsay had some kind of chicken that I remember was also quite good. Lindsay frequently orders chicken, but actually rarely likes it, so the fact that she liked this is no small thing.

    Then it was off to the pub.

    What's that? Josh in a pub? Well, I was in Ireland wasn't I? You've got gotta have a Guinness when there, so off we went. I'm not really a beer fan. Who can say why? But at least I'm not afraid of it any more. So I had one. Lindsay did too, and she took to it quicker than me. I got about 2/3 through it before it made me wince. I think the foam coats the throat, which stops the bitter part from burning. It's like I'm 15 at this point. Except I wasn't trying to get drunk. I think I felt, at best, a bit warm, with slightly tingly fingers.

    But dammit, I felt like a man.

    I'm 30.

    Coming soon: The Rest of the Country!

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