Trish and Harold's Weblog

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

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Day 5 – The Skerrie Return to Dublin

Our time in Ireland was drawing to a close. We had to get back to the Dublin area today and get re-packed for our flight the following morning. We were hoping, though, that the way back would be a bit easier without the detour to Waterford we’d taken a couple of days before.

We woke up a little later than we had the morning before. Thankfully Ann was still serving breakfast in the breakfast room. We sat and chatted a bit with our friend the bank employee (who was also heading back to Dublin that day), then went upstairs to get things packed up.

It was really hard to pull out of the Ballykine House’s driveway… we’d had such a lovely stay there, and we really didn’t feel like we’d gotten enough of what County Mayo had to offer. We didn’t want to dawdle, though; we knew that we were going to have to go to bed early if we were going to get up early enough to return our car and make our flight the next day. It was a great day for driving; after five days of blue skies and sunshine the clouds were starting to roll in. I’m sure our Irish hosts weren’t that happy about the weather (the past five days were the ONLY sun they’d had all summer!), but it was great for us.

On the way back we drove through a number of small villages and towns, all photo worthy (again, we neglected to pull out the camera. After a while Trish pointed out that EVERY small town we passed through had something to photograph, and we’d never make it back to Dublin if we stopped at each one). We were very tempted to turn around and get a shot of a bridge we passed just outside of Rosscommon, though… it was a bridge over the River Suck. Now who wouldn’t want to memorialize that?

We did, eventually, need to stop for a little something to eat (and the bathroom). We found a pub called the Mill Barn near Crannagh at about 12:30 and pulled in. The place was all but empty when we walked in; we ordered some tea and apple crumble and were told that most of the deserts weren’t even ready yet (we’d come in very close to opening). We had profliteroles instead (cream puffs) – we were expecting a single plate to share and were instead brought our own plate. Made for a very sugary stop!

About twenty minutes after we entered the pub, people started coming in. First a person here and a person there, and then a great mass of people; the large room was soon packed to capacity. We looked at the various types of people all crowding into the pub – some older men in suits, some younger men in T-shirts and jeans. Older women dressed well and younger women dressed simply. Mothers with babies. It seemed like the entire small town was in the place.

As we finished our tea and desert, we told the waitress that we wanted to pay so that we could make a table available to some of the people who were standing at the bar. An older man in a suit heard us, and came over to thank us for freeing up the table – it turned out that all these people were the extended family and friends of a woman who’d died a month and a day ago. They’d just had a funeral service for her, and were coming to the pub for the Month’s Main (pronounced "mine")- a little get-together to celebrate the end of the traditional Irish mourning period. They mourn for a month and a day, and then, in his words, they "move on."

We had a lovely little talk with the gentleman about the cycle of life and death, and what a great tradition it was to have a pre-determined end to the mourning period. Knowing the purpose of the gathering made all the children in the room seem that much more important. They served as a symbol, if you will, of that grand cycle of life and death that we all go through.

We walked out of the pub and sat in the car for a bit. It hit us that we’d just been given a real gift, being able to participate in a gathering like that. For me, travel isn’t about going to see attractions or getting holiday snap-shots; it’s about getting to know a different people and learning about how they live. That little stop, with its profliteroles and tea human fellowship, was a great capper to the entire trip.

Our encounter with the Month’s Main party put us into a contemplative mood… the rest of the trip back to the Dublin area was filled with conversation about observations we’d made about the Irish. As we passed by our hundredth little farmhouse on some small country road, Trish remarked that "Doors aren’t insignificant things here." Any time you look at an Irish home, one of the most ornamental parts of it is the door; they really go all-out with glasswork, color, styling, and other elements to make the door stand out from the rest of the house.

It fits in nicely with their tradition of hospitality.

We headed down the N-6 through County Westmeath and the midlands, over the Shannon river and into the town of Moathe. Along the way we saw several groups of cyclists escorted along the road by Garda (Police). Oddly enough, they were all men.

We also noted that Irish animals seem to be much smarter than their American cousins… after five days of driving we only saw three pieces of road-kill. Either that, or the Irish road works department is much more scrupulous about cleaning them up.

Another thing I saw on the Irish highways of note… they don’t seem to have any sort of highway patrol. I never saw a police car, except when I saw the Garda escorting those cyclists. A bit of a surprise.

In Moathe, Trish caught sight of a shop bearing the sign "P. Egan." Looked like it sold antiques. We got a good laugh out of that.

Finally, around 4:30, we arrived back at the Hillview House in Lusk. We knew that we needed to hit the sack early, so we checked in and then headed back to Skerries to find a bite to eat. We were running a little low on cash so we found a bank in Skerries and I popped my card in to withdraw some Euro. I was horrified to find a message on the machine saying that my transaction couldn’t be processed and that the machine was keeping my bank card! After a moment, I realized that I’d put it in backwards, and rather than simply spitting the card out the machine was keeping it. To make matters worse, it was Sunday and we were leaving in the morning before the bank opened… so there was no way for me to get my card back. Luckily Trish had her card with her, so we used it to get cash (and are going to have to KEEP using it for the rest of the trip), and we found a pub to eat at.

Pretty simple faire for this evening’s meal (we’d had our fancy meal the previous night in Clonbur). Just a chicken panini for Trish and a steak panini for me… though the panini they brought me had steak, onions and mushrooms spilling out the sides; I ended up eating most of it with a knife and fork. That and a pint of Smithwicks helped to calm me down a bit after losing my card in the bank machine.

After we’d eaten I found a pay phone and called Washington Mutual. Apparently most banks shred cards stuck in their machines that aren’t part of their system, but just to be safe they canceled my card and issued me a new one (which should be waiting for me when I return to the states).

With that taken care of we bid Skerries a fond farewell and headed back to the B&B. We re-packed our suitcases for air travel and hit the sack, knowing we’d have to be up early the next morning.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Day 4 – Castles, Cong, and Cream

We woke up in the Ballykine House to light filtering in through the window curtains. We went downstairs and chatted with our hostess Ann a bit, then had a simple breakfast of cereal, toast, and eggs. We also got to chat with the other late-night arrival, a young lady who works for Ulster Bank in Dublin. The Irish banks were having a fishing competition at the lake, and she was in town to officiate it.

After breakfast we walked around the grounds a bit, met Ann’s dog Jack and her daughter’s dog Amber, talked to a fellow repairing the wall around the lodge (he was using centuries-old stone from an old house that had fallen down to repair the centuries old wall. A great system!), and discussed what we were going to do with the day. We didn’t have a lot of time in Galway (well, technically we were in County Mayo; we’d crossed the county line several times on the way up the previous evening, and weren’t sure where we’d ended up). We had to be back in the Dublin area the next evening so we could get ready for our (ugh) 7:30 am flight the following morning. Ann had plenty of suggestions for us; nature walks around the lake, mountain climbing (really!), a drive down to the other end of county Galway… had we more time in the area we might have taken her up on it. We only had the day, though, so we kept it simple.

First, we headed up to Ashford castle, on the hill above the village of Cong. We’d passed it the night before while trying to find our B&B in the dark; the sign was lit up, and the entry way was hard to miss… we figured we should try to see at least ONE castle while we were in Ireland. A man met us at the gate and explained that the castle had actually been turned into a hotel (one of the top hotels in Ireland, in fact), and was off-limits to non-residents. The grounds, however, were open to visitors for a mere 5 Euros per person. We paid the man and drove through the gate, past a rather large golf course, and over a hill to find the castle itself.

It’s a pretty magnificent castle… words don’t really do it justice. Thankfully, we brought the camera. I did sneak into the reception area and swipe a brochure. The off-season rates are a mere 299 Euro per night. High Season, you’re looking at 499 per night. Not your run-of-the-mill Motel 6 castle, to be sure.

We had a great time wandering the grounds. We probably spent a good three hours just wandering around the gardens and along the lake shore taking pictures. A great afternoon for the price, I’d say.

After the castle we drove into the village of Cong. Turns out this is the village where The Quiet Man, starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, was filmed back in the 40’s. There were plenty of memorabilia shops and even a Quiet Man location tour. Cong also is a lovely holiday village in its own right; it’s on a small river with an old church (dating back to the 800’s), and has lots of little shops and B&B’s. We stopped in at the Hungry Monk Café to check our email. We also got a ham panini with smoked cheese and apple that we ate by the river. It made for a lovely afternoon.
We headed back up to the B&B and took a little nap. After we got up, we went out to find something to eat for dinner. After a little bit of wondering (again crossing the line between counties Galway and Mayo a couple of times) we ended up in Clonbur, a small village a couple of miles from the B&B. We went into what we thought was a local pub, and ended up getting shown back to a much fancier restaurant than we were prepared for. We hadn’t really had a fancy-restaurant type meal in Ireland, though, so we decided to splurge. Boy did we end up happy we made THAT choice!

The food was really good (I had a stuffed chicken dish, and Trish had an Irish lamb stew to die for, with tender chunks of lamb and potatoes), but the real treat was talking to our waitress Jennifer. She has family in Boston that she goes to visit regularly, and we got to talking about the differences between the East and West coasts of the United States. She also shared a big long list of Irish phrases (what we used to call Gaelic… Irish has stopped being a "dead" language, and is now taught in the schools. In additional, all the official signage in the country is bi-lingual, and many radio and television programs are entirely in Irish. As Trish pointed out, calling it "Irish" instead of "Gaelic" serves a couple of purposes; first, it solidifies the language as the property of the Irish people. Second, it makes the language a "living" language, rather than an old language that was only spoken in antiquity). By the time we’d left, Jennifer and another of the waitresses, Carolyn, had written us out a long list of Irish phrases to take back with us.

Before we retired for the evening, we had one more stop to make. When we were in Cong earlier in the day, we’d noticed that one of the bars advertised live Irish music every evening. We thought it’d be a shame to leave Ireland without having heard any live music, so we went back by the bar and grabbed a seat. The place was very full, and two musicians sat at one end of the room with a pair of guitars (and one had a harmonica rigged around his neck so he could play it while he played his guitar). I ordered a glass of Jameson’s and Trish had a cup of coffee with Baileys. Neither drink was particularly to our liking; the barman put ice in my Jameson’s (he may have assumed that Americans all prefer their whiskey "on the rocks"), and he put some sort of sour cream in Trish’s coffee. After a while the cream wasn’t sitting too well with Trish’s stomach, so we took off back to the B&B.

We settled into our bed back at the Ballykine House sad that we only had one day to spend in this area… we could easily have spent an entire week here and not soaked in the beauty of the countryside or the people.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Day 3 – Coast To Coast To Coast

After another hard night’s sleep (up and down for Trish, very deep for Harold), we got up, had breakfast, and pondered out plan for the day. We thought about going back to Dublin to do the castle, but after the mad dash to the train station last night, Trish’s blisters were pretty bad so we decided to get in the car and head cross-island to County Galway. That had been, after all, the nearly unanimous recommendation of the half-dozen folks we accosted on the street or in the pubs (furthering the reputation of Americans as being royal pains-in-the-ass.). We spoke to Katie, and reserved a room for Sunday, figuring that staying in Dublin Sunday night would be good since our plane left for Germany at 7:15 a.m. so we had to be at the airport at oh-god-it’s-too-frigging-early.
We had no idea where we were going IN Galway at that point, we just jumped in the car and trusted that Jill-Jill would get us there. That was a mixed blessing….we had a very confused time getting away from Dublin, eventually driving through downtown Dublin (not Harold’s favorite part of the drive) to get away. (We discovered a couple of days later that the GPS was set to avoid toll roads…so it never took us to the major morotways which would have halved the travel time….another sigh. :) )

We stopped in a little village named Naas (which we thought was "Nahs" and made us think of Allen Nause, but which turned out to be "Nays", so sorry Allen) and made some phone calls to find a B&B to sleep in somewhere in or near Galway. We lucked out and got the first one we called, our first choice, the Ballykine House, a 200+ years old lodge near a lake. While we were in Naas, we stopped in a lovely little coffee shop called the Berry & Coffee and had coffee and muffin for me, coffee and scone for Harold, then headed out of town.

We had time to kill, we thought, since it was 11ish and our hostess Mrs. Lambe (later learned her first name was Ann) was going to be spending the day with her grandchildren and wasn’t going to be back to the B&B before 6pm. I had some weird kind of inspiration while we were driving and talked Harold into going to Waterford. Mind you, I didn’t look at a map during this ill-advised fit of travel fever, so didn’t really realize that by going to Waterford, we were heading all the way to the south coast of Ireland, which was going to add 3 or 4 hours to the trip to Galway. Never let it be said that common sense got in the way of my traveling bug. (ok, horrible mixed metaphor there.) We just saw a sign that said "Waterford" and headed that direction. (How does Harold put up with me???) On the way south to Waterford, we passed through dozens of small Irish burgs and even more ancient ruins, historical monuments and churches, etc. We kept saying that we’d stop for pictures when we came back that way (which of course never happened), and I wanted to get to Waterford before they closed. (Well, before the crystal factory closed. They probably don’t close the town, Harold is pointing out, but…..One of the things we discovered early is that you can NEVER count on anything being open the same kind of hours they would be at home. "Why, of course, dear, Thursday is Aunt Millie’s second-cousin’s grandson’s confirmation party so the monument is closed…")

About an hour or so outside Waterford, outside Carlow on the N-9 (basically a state highway) we ran into a complete traffic stoppage. A police officer directed us away from the entrance into town, onto a country road alongside the local landfill. We went about a quarter mile up the road and then stopped again… for about a half-hour. Eventually some workers from the Conway Council came up the road to tell us that some of the heavy trucks the police officer had sent up the road had had an accident, and we were going to have to be diverted again ("fookin’ intelligent," said the Irish gent ahead of us. "Sendin’ heevy equipment oop a countreh road… fookin’ brilliant.") After another half hour of waiting, the nice guy in the car ahead of us offered to lead us out in a different direction toward Waterford, where they were also headed. Long story short (HA!), we finally made it to Waterford. By then we were not really in the mood to take the long factory tour, so we walked around a bit, picked up a few little gifty things, and asked the cashier, Inis (pronounced Ainish) where a good local place would be to get some dinner. She wrote out some directions, raved about this place Uluru (we thought it an odd name for an Irish place) and sent us on our way.
Half an hour later we ended up at, believe it or not, an Irish version of Outback Steakhouse. Not what we had in mind at all, it was clear that it was a pickup bar, complete with the desperate looking early-30s Irish ladies in their pumps and jeans drinking American beer (Coors light and Miller! Ack!) with ice. Some things are the same the world around, it seems. Anyway, it SUCKED. Harold had "lasagna" (a great Australian dish, don'tcha know) which was a step down from Hamburger Helper, and chips ("steak fries" to you Americans). I had some batter fried cod, which nearly dissolved in a greasy slime when I added vinegar. (My little travel note was "Sucked…only the Guinness was good. Nuff said.)

We headed down the road, passing through Thomastown, a lovely village that really should have had photos taken…sigh….but the roads were starting to get really scary as the sun went down. Whose bright idea was it to drive directly into the setting sun on roads ¾ of a car’s width wide and on the left side of the road to boot? Which moron was that? Oh, yeah….me. Sigh again.

Not much more to say about the drive, the usual dark and spooky when oncoming traffic bore down on those narrow roads, but we did note that the frequency of the stone walls around the various fields increased massively. We stopped for gas (petrol, at 1.15 Euros a LITRE, for God’s sake), paid 11.78 E (about 15 dollars) for 10 litres, about 2.5 gallons. We did stop and call Mrs. Lambe a couple of times, but she had another guest who wasn’t arriving until midnight, so it was no problem that we were going to be rolling in between 9:30 and 10:30.

Did I mention that we didn’t have directions to the B&B? The B&B book listed two or three city or county names, no address, no directions other than a route number. AARGHH!!!! Now we had found the B&B in Lusk without an address, but it was SO dark in rural County Galway that I suspected we’d not be quite so lucky, even with Jill’s having gotten us through various detours, accidents, wrong turns, etc.

We made it to a little village called Cong (who expects that name in Ireland? I didn’t, but then I can be a moron, already proven by the Waterford detour) around 10:30, and decided we’d better give the nice lady a call and find out how to get to the B&B. It turned out we were only 5-6 minutes away, and thank goodness we found it ok, since Ireland is notorious for no house numbers, often no street names, usually no street signs. That’s bad enough during daylight on a wide street but terrifying at night in serious countryside where a single light shines for miles in the stygian blackness, in the rare area where the light isn’t behind the hill….

It was about 11 when we got in. Thankfully, Mrs. Lambe was more than cordial even at that late hour. She offered us tea and bannana bread, didn’t want to fuss with "checking in," and showed us right up to our room.

The room was downright palatial, in fact. The Hillview house, our previous B&B, had been a bit like a dormitory; nice enough, but a bit spare. Ballykine House, by contrast, was nothing but class. A large room with a wonderfully appointed bed, lovely furnishings, the works. We even had our own private bathroom up the hall. It was to die for… and we were very happy after our long drive to tuck into bed and enjoy it.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Day 2 - More Than Just A Taste Of Dublin

We woke up surprisingly early this morning. A combination of the early night last night and the anticipation of the day ahead conspired to kick Trish and I in the rear a bit. Trish did get up for a little bit during the evening; she was going to step outside to cool off, but found that she was locked into the hallway outside our room. She managed to sneak out through the owner’s residence. We found out later that was ok, and that the expected late-night walkers to do that, but it was certainly disconcerting to have to creep through someone’s stairwell to the outer door.

We went into the breakfast room that morning and ate a hearty traditional Irish breakfast (including ham, stewed tomato, black and white pudding – don’t ask – and eggs), then hopped into the car and headed out.

Lusk is a little closer to Dublin than Skerries (at least it’s one stop closer down the rail line), so we headed to that train station instead. Unfortunately our friend “Jill” had a hard time picking up a satellite, so we had to find much of the way ourselves. About the time we found the station she “woke up.”

Remembering our parking dilemma the day before, we looked for non-metered parking around the train station. The station’s lot was filled with cars (presumably left there by the morning commuters), but there was a field next door with an open gate that had a few more cars parked in it. We debated with each other as to whether we should park in the field or not… the desire to get on the train and not look for other parking options won out, though we were certainly nervous about coming back to find our car locked into some farmer’s property (luckily nothing like that happened).
We sped into Dublin and got off again at Connelly station. Across from the station we found an internet parlor that “rented” computer terminals for 1 Euro an hour. We bought an hour and went through our email, then headed out.

Trish wanted to see a show at the Abbey Theatre (Ireland’s national theatre) that evening, so we stopped by the box office. Our timing wasn’t great – it was the final week of a play we’d never heard of called The Big House, which was all right… but in another week a new play written and directed by Sam Shepherd (and starring Stephen Rea) was going to open. To rub a little salt into the wound, a new adaptation of Playboy of the Western World was due to open in October. Sigh… what were we going to do? We bought tickets to The Big House and bemoaned the great theatre we were going to miss.

We made our way from the Abbey back to Connolly Street, that grand plaza I’d gotten a glimpse of the day before. Trish realized on the way that it was getting really sunny (we found out later that the week we were there had the best weather the country had seen all summer – there’d been four months of rain previously). She didn’t have a hat, and we couldn’t find the sunblock we’d packed. So, we headed onto the side streets of Connolly to find some sunscreen at a chemist. While we were shopping, we also picked up a new purse for Trish at a local department store.
Suitably pursed and screened, we boarded the Dubliln Tourism hop-on-hop-off bus. This bus goes around to most of the major attractions in the city, and your ticket allows you 24 hours on the bus with a tour guide (ours was named Anthony, a kick in the pants, for Gods sake!). You can get off at any of the attractions, then get back on and continue the tour. A great deal!

We went along about half the route, listening to the history of the city and having little bits of local color pointed out to us over the loudspeaker by Anthony. About halfway through the route we got off at the Guinness Storehouse, part of the Guinness brewery complex. Our Dublin Pass gave us free admission to the storehouse (and allowed us to bypass the line), and a little gift as well.
The storehouse is an amazing show… in the foyer, set into the floor, is the original lease signed by Arthur Guinness in 1759. The term of the lease is 9000 years (no, really!). The brewery has since grown to 60 acres of land in Dublin, and produces 3,000,000 pints of Guinness a day. All that for 45 pounds a year (the rent spelled out in the original lease).

Once you’re inside, you’re treated to a multi-media show as the ingredients that go into making Guinness are explained, and the brewing process is demonstrated (every hour they start a new batch and allow one of the visitors to give it his or her name. While we were there a woman named Dorothy lent her name to a batch- very cool.

We could have spent hours and hours in the storehouse, looking at the advertising wing, the educational sections, etc… but by the time we’d gone through about half the tour we were ready to sit down and get something to eat. Luckily, your ticket to the storehouse also allows you a free pint of Guinness… so we sat down in the restaurant and had some VERY hardy beef-and-Guinness stew (with carrots on the side and a dollop of mashed potatoes on top) and our two free pints. Well, ok… Trish drank about a quarter of her pint, and I couldn’t let that go to waste… After lunch we went up to the top of the storehouse to get a view of Dublin from the “Gravity Bar” (the bar actually hangs out over the building and is enclosed in glass all the way around… it can be a little disorienting when you’ve got 1 and ¾ pints of Guinness in you). Then we made our way back to the hop-on-hop-off bus and took the rest of the tour back to Connelly Street.

We had a little time before the play at the Abbey started, so we wandered up from Connelly a little way. We wanted to get a cup of coffee (I needed it after all that Guinness), so we looked for a café that was still open at around 6pm. We found one in the Hugh Lane Dublin City Gallery; a modern art gallery tucked up just beyond the Garden of Remembrance.

The coffee at the Hugh Lane Gallery was fine, but what really captured our attention was a stained glass room just inside the doors (the gallery was technically closing, so we couldn’t go much beyond the front doors. Good thing, too; if the rest of the gallery was as enchanting as the stained glass room, we would have spent an entire day in there). One piece in particular, The Eve of St. Agnes by Harry Clarke, totally captivated us. After devouring it panel by panel we fairly stormed the gift shop (which was trying to close) to find a print of it; they had one, but it was over $100. We settled for a notebook with the piece on the cover… and more than a couple of sneaky photos of the panels.

After the gallery and our coffee stop, we still had a bit of time to kill. We stopped in a pub across from the Abbey called Murphy’s and had a slice of chocolate fudge cake and a pint of Carlsberg… and Trish drank some tea (she’d had enough beer for one day). While we were at Murphy’s, we started quizzing the patrons on where we should next in Ireland; we didn’t have a room at the Hillsview House the next evening (they were full up, and we’d only reserved two nights), and we knew that we wanted to get out into the countryside. We heard at least two people (a patron and the bar keep) suggest County Galway as one of the most beautiful places in Ireland. We filed that away and headed for the Abbey.

Before we went in, though, we took a quick stroll up by the River Liffey and got some photos of the Ha’penny Bridge and the… colorful folks sitting by the riverside. By the time we got to the theatre Trish’s feet were more than ready for the rest.

The play itself was… challenging. Written in the 1930’s, The Big House is a melodrama about an aristocratic Anglo-Irish family who live in a manor house and rent land to the Irish farmers. This family is the defacto aristocracy of the area, but they’re treated ill by the English (because they’re Irish) and treated ill by the Irish (because they’re English).

It’s a four-act play that covers a period from 1918 through 1923. Each act takes place in a different time period… and I’m sorry, but it was BOOORRRRRRING!!!! Trish fell asleep soon into the first act, and I was struggling by the time intermission came around. Maybe it was the stilted, melodramatic style the play was written in, maybe it was the fact that the history related in the play wasn’t OUR history… but it just wasn’t grabbing us and we were both tired. We sort of skulked out the of the theatre, embarrassed that we were leaving at intermission (something we always hate to do, especially when the tickets cost us 30 Euro each). We passed a young couple talking quietly around the corner of the theatre, and tried hard not to make eye contact, because then they’d know
we were leaving.

After a few steps, I realized that they were following us. I marshaled enough courage to turn to them and ask them what they thought of the play… and they answered with an American accent that they were glad someone else was leaving at intermission! Turned out they’re also actors (from Los Angeles) named Piper and Adam. We had a great discussion about theatre and what didn’t work for us in this particular production as we headed for the train station… small world, eh?
We got into Connelly in time for the last train out to Lusk (actually, we were early for the last train, having left at intermission). As we waited on the platform a voice came over the loudspeaker telling us that the train on our platform was being delayed, however, because it had been vandalized. Visions of our rental car being locked in that farmer’s field started to swim in our brains… luckily, though we did get out after the vandalized car was pulled into the yard, and the malevolent farmer we’d imagined hadn’t been at his gate; we got in the car and headed back to the B&B.

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...


Ireland Day 1 Photos

Photobucket Album

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Zero Hour!

And we're off! After weeks of preparation, a wedding and hosting my entire family this weekend, and a furious day of packing... we headed for the airport a little before 5:30 this morning.
Before we go, though, I thought I'd share a couple of the comments we had after the last post...

Having experienced Athens firsthand, I highly recommend you
forego the taxi. It's unregulated and they seriously rip you off, every chance
you get, especially if you give any indication that you speak English
and/or are American. Seriously, do not take a taxi in Athens! I talked to
many Americans staying there who were ripped off several dollars, including
myself. Lots of professional con artists who without regulation, make darn good

The metro subway system is very clean, very new, nice,
and fast, and signs and announcements are in Greek and English (it was
created just for the Olympics). It's very convenient and runs everywhere
you want to be as a tourist. Cameras and security everywhere. You can take
the Metro from the airport to Omonia Square (where your hotel is) with relative
ease in about 50 minutes. Omonia Square is where I stayed too, but in a
different hotel. It's still a sketchy area but it's improving. The square and
surrounding neighborhood used to be where all the homesless and drug dealers
congregated until the Olympics rolled back through Athens and the city
government pushed them out of the city limits. Some areas are still very rough
and I recommend you stay in the square (which is really a circle), avoiding side
streets, and take the Metro right there in Omonia Square south to the Parthenon,
Agora, and all of the village surrounding the ruins (called the Plaka, and very

This is a city that was only democratized in 1969, and
much destruction and urban decay is still prevalent from the Turkish occupation.
It's a culturally rich city and worth the stay, but the amount of decay was
surprising and disturbing at the same time. If you decide to walk from Omonia
Square to the Parthenon and surrounding Plaka, please stay on the main
artery boulevards that traject from the Omonia circle. The Stiri neighborhood,
situated between Omonia and Monastiraki, a safer area where all the
shopping is just north of Plaka, is very dangerous, especially for American

My travelling companion and I took a day trip to
Paros. It was such a beautiful visit. I recommend if you have the energy to take
a skipper boat trip to the island of Hydra, which has forbidden the use of cars
on the island and uses only mules for transportation. It's a lovely island and
the simplistic nature of their lifestyle is refreshing.


catholic, protestant, whatever I found the cemeteries and the churches -especially the ones with tombs in them- to be amazing when in Dublin. It was amazing to be in these holy places and to see dates in 1500 and earlier. And you may think I'm crazy, but if you love indian food the best I've ever had was in Ireland.


And so, here we are. We're headed for the Airport now; I'll try to post from Ireland soon!