Trish and Harold's Weblog

News, information, and random thoughts from the busy lives of Trish Egan and Harold Phillips.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Day 1 - Almost the same day as Day 0

Hey gang

Wifi has been a bit harder to come by than I expected in Ireland. I'm going to try and upload the blog entries I've been keeping on my laptop over the next couple of days, and try to get caught up before we move on to Germany. Here's the report on Day 1:

Our Aer Lingus flight touched down at Dublin airport around 5:00am (Dublin time; about 9:00 pm Portland time). Trish and I slept a little on the plane, but not a lot. Still, we were willing to make a go of it.

The road through customs was a bit of a march... down some non-descript stairs into a blank hallway... then into another hallway... then another hallway... until we finally got to the customs agents in small booths. Once they'd verified that we were who we said we were our passports were stamped and it was out into the "real world."

We picked up our rental car (ironically, a small Chevrolet Aveo - Ford and Chevy make lots of small, fuel efficient cars for the European market. They just don't sell them in the US because, ya know... "Americans don't want small fuel efficient cars." That'd be way Toyota is the number-one selling car maker in the US, right? Don't get me started...) and headed out to find our bed and breakfast in Lusk, about a half hour outside Dublin. The usual hijinks involved with driving in the UK commenced:

"Ok, here's a roundabout. Take the third exit. No, the third exit! Ok, go around again."
"LEFT! LEFT!!!!"

Thankfully we have our trusty GPS with us... one of the best Christmas gifts Trish ever got for us, especially on this trip. The European map add-on SD card was pricey, but worth every penny when we heard the calm voice of "Jill" giving us directions (even "Jill" seemed to be getting a bit harried by the end of the trip to the Hillview House B&B, though; sometimes you can almost hear an edge creep into her voice when you miss a turn and she says "Recalculating...").

Driving on left side of the road wasn't as intimidating as it might have been, though, since I drove in England and Scotland when we visited there in 2004. It came back to me pretty quickly. What's more intimidating, however, is the width of Irish roads. Especially off the main Motorways (M1, M50, etc) - when those lorries come speeding at you on the right (those are "Semi's" for you non-UK speakers) on a road barely wide enough for two cards to pass without kissing on the way... it can be a little nerve wracking. It's customary here to pull to the side of the road (especially on a country road) to let oncoming traffic pass. That's one custom I'm not complaining about one bit.
We found our Bed and Breakfast in Lusk (actually, between Lusk and Skerries) around 7. They hadn't even started serving breakfast, however, and we weren't due to check in until 3pm. Rather than disturb the hosts, Trish and I got back into the car and drove up to Skerries to look for a place to get some breakfast ourselves. Once in town, we were a bit mystified as to where to go. Rather than just drive around on the "wrong" side of the road hoping we'd find something, we pulled into the Skerries Mill, a historic site, and asked one of the workmen where a good place was to get breakfast. He looked at us a bit skeptically...

"Well, I suppose what you want to do is go down to Olive. They should be open this early."

We thanked him and followed his directions into downtown Skerries, and could see why he was so skeptical. Nothing was open except Olive (it was close to 8:00 am at this point), and they'd just opened. It seems that businesses open later here than in the states; 10am or noon isn't out of the ordinary for restaurants especially.

We found a place to park on the street and wandered into Olive (another interesting feature of driving in Ireland - parking. It's not uncommon for the Irish to park their small cars on the opposite side of the street, leaving about one car width between their cars and the curb. Sometimes they even pull up onto the sidewalk). The folks working there were very friendly and happily served us a couple muffins and some espresso. Afterward we wandered up to the seacoast and got some lovely photos of the water and the towers there.

As we were walking back to the car, Trish realized that we were supposed to pick up our Dublin Pass (a card we'd pre-purchased online that gives the owner discounts and free admission at attractions in and around the city) at the airport... but we forgot to get it in our excitement at just being out of an airplane after 7 hours. We figured that this was a good excuse to head into Dublin to get the pass at the tourism office there; we had some time to kill before we could check in at the B&B anyway. Just then we saw a train whiz by. Eureka! Ireland, like most European countries, has a great rail system. Rather than braving Dublin traffic in our rental car, we could leave it in one of the small towns around the B&B and take the train into town. I wasn't going to turn that notion down; I was still pretty shaky after the journey out to Skerries, and taking on the traffic in the city wasn't something I was looking forward to.

We drove back to the B&B and asked our hostess, Katie (kEHtee) if we could leave our bags there. She was perfectly happy to open one of the rooms for us (though we'd do the formal check-in later), and give us directions to the Skerries train station. A little lighter now, we headed back out for Skerries - we were getting to know this route pretty well.

Parking around the station was a bit of a challenge; the lot was completely full and all the street parking was metered, with a three hour limit. The ticket seller in the station said that we were looking at about a 40 minute ride to Dublin, which gave us just about an hour-and-a-half in the city to get our pass and then get back before we got a parking ticket.

Well, that seemed do-able... so we waited for the next train in and then hopped on board. The Irish Rail trains are very comfortable; nice padded seats, tables in some areas, and overall pretty clean. We road out with a couple of locals and some other tourists staying in the area. We pulled into the Connelly station just about forty minutes later, and set out to find the tourism office.

I have to pause a moment to tell you how striking my first view of Dublin was. This is a vital city, with a predominantly young population (over half the population in Ireland right now is under 25 years old). The traffic whizzed by outside the station as busses pulled in and out... sleek light-rail trains slipped silently along on their rails, and the sidewalks were abuzz with foot traffic.

All this modernity, however, is contrasted with buildings hundreds of years old. The courthouse is right outside Connelly station, a great marble edifice with statuary and Wrought-iron gates. On the street opposite the station a number of shops are at foot-level, built onto the base of old, OLD buildings made out of stone. All the way to Connelly Street (where the tourism office is), I was amazed at the blending of old and new.

And the statuary is something to behold - it seems that there's a statue on every corner of this city, commemorating some historical figure, writer, artist, event, or what have you. Art is everywhere; on the side of buildings, on the signs advertising cell phone service or pizza, and in the windows.
Connelly Street, one of the main thoroughfares through town, is a grand plaza with an island (it's too big to be termed a mere "median" in between the lanes. All along this island are statues on pedestals. The street itself is busy, with hundreds of people walking down its broad sidewalks. As we were walking up to the tourism office, Trish paused to point out the post office (a massive stone building), which still bears the bullet holes from multiple battles for Irish independence. The city of Dublin has purposefully left those holes on the face of the building as a reminder of that fight.
Of course, it's also a commercial street with lots of hotels, pubs, shops, and lures to the tourists. Many people were sitting outside at tables enjoying their Guinnesses and coffees. People were strolling between the department stores, and popping into the news agent's (that's a convenience store) for a copy of the paper or a packet of crisps (potato chips).

After a while we shook off the majesty of Connelly Street and found the Toursim office. We were told that we could pick up our pass in town instead of going back to the airport, but that we couldn't do it there - we'd have to go to the main office down near Trinity College instead. I wasn't too displeased by the idea of walking a bit further through Dublin's streets. The city was already working its magic on me.

So, we walked south across the Connelly bridge (over the River Liffey) towards Trinity. On the way we passed more statues and old buildings dating back, in some cases, to the 1500's. We even stopped by the statue of Molly Malone (the "Tart with the Cart") and touched her for luck.

It took a couple minutes to find the main tourism office, in a reconverted church near Trinity. They fixed us up with our Dublin passes and gave us some tips on getting around. When we got out of the office, though, we realized that we just under an hour to get back to Skerries to pick up our car before we got a ticket. Luckily we were close to the Pearse station, so we headed that way.

When we got to Pearse, though, we ran into our first bit of bad luck. We'd confused the train schedule for Connelly station for Pearses - we had almost an hour's wait before the next train got into Pearse, plus the forty minute ride to Skerries. We did a quick consultation of the schedule and realized that there was a train departing from Connelly in just about a half our. With that in mind we took off up the road, not quite running but walking very very fast! We just made it to Connelly, huffing. puffing, and sweating, as the train was getting ready to leave.

We got back to Skerries in the nick of time (we were actually a bit late, but thankfully we didn't have a ticket waiting for us). We were pretty exhausted from the run through Dublin (and the jet lag... and the four hours of sleep we'd gotten on the plane... and the four hours of sleep we'd gotten the night before... you get the idea). We figured we'd better get something to eat, so we drove back to the Skerries bay and stopped a little bar overlooking the water called the "Stoop Your Head Bar and Restaurant." The odd name was explained when I stepped inside and had to duck under a padded archway to get into the main dining area.

Here's a tip in case you're ordering something at an Irish pub - if the server asks "Are ya's all right?" don't take it personally. Our waitress came up and asked me that, and I said... "Uh... yeah, a little tired, but we're ok." She kind of took a breath (TOURISTS... sigh...) and asked again, "Are ya's all right? Do you want some food?" "OH!! Yes, please!"

We had a pair of nice little open-faced prawn sandwiches on dark brown bread with a thick, orange sauce (not quite mayonnaise and ketchup mixed together... there was something else in there....). They really hit the spot - as did the pint of Guinness I had with them (Trish just had a cup of tea).

We finally dragged ourselves back to the B&B around 5:30 and did the formal check-in. We figured we'd just lay down for a minute and watch some television... we didn't want to go to sleep just yet - best not to succumb to the jet lag, you know. Just for a second, we'd lay down and rest and see what was on the four channels offered to... zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

I woke up at around 9. Trish had already been up for a little bit. We went outside and strolled around for a bit, then retired to our room to watch a little more tv and munch on some of the fruit and Pringles we'd bought in Skerries. It wasn't too long before we were crashed out again.

That's it for Day 1... I'll try to get online sooner or later and let you know what the days afterward were like!

Hope you're all doing well out there...