Monday, "Oh, then you're no use to me."
Once again, I found myself standing outside at o'dark thirty, waiting for the bus to Stansted to catch the earliest flight. Getting up at three in the morning does have its drawbacks, but one does get a surge of adrenaline on the hike to the bus stop, and it's nice to have a full day touring and not have to pay for a room the night before. I got a special surge of adrenaline when I saw that the bus was almost full, and, if there had been two more people in front of me in line, I would've been stuck behind.
Fortunately, I arrived at the airport in plenty of time, watching the sun rise
as the bus approached. A quick queue later, I had my ticket and found out my bag was even underweight enough to carry instead of having to deal with collecting it later. Just as I was getting to the security checks, I realized I still had my razor inside my toiletries bag. I probably could've sneaked it through (and, really, it would be very hard to injure someone with a safety razor), but signs asked me not to carry it, so I pitched it and figured I'd get a new one later. Other than the razor fiasco of my own creation, the airport trip went as smoothly as one could hope.
Soon I found myself in the air, watching out the window. There was a good deal of cloud cover over the Irish Sea, which meant I missed out on some landscapes. Then again, the clouds themselves were poetic as a floating, frozen sea.
Somewhere along the way, sleeping only four hours caught up with me, and I was awoken by a poke as the stewardess was making everyone ready for landing. We sunk beneath the clouds, and the Emerald Isle suddenly appeared out of gray haze. My first reaction was a snort: It looked almost exactly like rural England. Ironically, England was greener. I was told that there had been a bit of hot, dry weather, so some of the grass had been scorched. (A little hot weather sounded good to me, but it was long over.)
As we lower toward the airport, I saw one other similarity to England: the traffic was on the left side of the road. My heart sank, and I made a grimace. Hannah, my friend from Ireland, had recommended not putting up with Irish mass transit and instead renting a car. I had no interest in driving on the left side of the road, but at least there were intersections instead of ubiquitous roundabouts. With a sigh, I tried not to think about dying in a horrible fireball after forgetting to stay on the left.
Once on the ground, I got through customs (there were a gang of American students on a tour through behind me in line... Ugh, American students, so loud and pretentious) and hopped the bus into Cork. Situated near the southern shore of Ireland, Cork is a surprisingly international city. There were Asians, Polish, and all kinds of everybody. Mainly, however, there were Irish. While the English accent makes me giggle and the Scotch utterly perplex me, the Irish are very pleasurable to listen to. I don't know whether it was the Irish half of my genetics kicking in or just the pleasantness, but I started picking up the brogue almost immediately. It wouldn't be constant, just every so often, which was quite weird. I'd be talking normally, then stop and think, "Wait, that wasn't American!"
Nothing seemed open in Cork till after 9, which is one downside of getting into the country so early. On the other hand, it gave me plenty of time to wander the city as I was waiting for the local info office to open where I could get a map. I checked out the "English Market", which is an indoor marketplace built in the Victorian Era. It struck me as a smaller version of Philadelphia's Reading Market, complete with disgusting fish stands and random international foods. Most of the stands seemed to belong to butchers. There are lots of butcher shops in Ireland. I guess the Irish like their meats.
Eventually the tourist information office opened, and I got recommendations on what to do and how to get there with maps and bus tables. Armed with a map to know what I was looking at, I set out into the streets again. Just across from the office was the memorial to the war of independence from England in the '20s.
I headed up through the city to Holy Trinity Church, so I could see what an Irish mass is like.
While through the trip I seemed to have pretty good luck understanding the Irish accent, I had better luck interpreting the Italian bishop in Pisa than the priest in Cork. After mass, all the little old ladies lined up for confession, which blew my mind. What on Earth are they confessing? They looked like the worst thing they could do would be to give their grandkids store-bought cookies instead of making fresh. Then again, no one is perfect, and at least they are seeking forgiveness for their shortcomings, whatever they are.
Back into the Irish morning, I walked northward, seeking the Crawford Municipal Art Gallery. There are a lot of clocks in Cork, almost as many as in Zurich. Along the way, I saw some cool stuff, like this statue of a newsie nearby the city mall.
And a statue of Father Mathew, the leader of temperance in Ireland. Regrettably, temperance didn't hold, but he is still recognized for his efforts to improve life overall, ethically and morally.
Soon I came to the gallery, which had just opened a new addition. It had a neat facade of a mixture of architectural styles.
There were lots of interesting things inside, such as a collection of wooden prosthetics. One gallery was devoted to Irish culture, where I learned that belief in fairies was commonplace even through the nineteenth century. I also learned of the sport of "road bowling", in which players go along a course of several miles throwing a ball. The winner is the one who makes it in the fewest throws. It struck me as a great time-wasting game, like golf without so much skill and intense frustration. A couple of the paintings, such as Time Flies and Home After Work really struck me, but I've been unable to find pictures of them anywhere.
With one museum under my belt already for the day, I decided I should probably find a place to stay. Whereas I had planned ahead in my other travels, my slackerness had stopped me booking a place, instead just making a list of places to check out. I hiked across the river and walked to the first hostel on my list.
That's the River Lee. Instead of saying "Lee River", they do it all backwardsy, which sounds so cool!
After taking a wrong turn near the train station and hiking an extra half-mile or so, I found out the place was already booked up. Fortunately, Irish hospitality recommended another place, and I soon dropped my increasingly heavy bag off my shoulders. Then I picked up a sandwich and old Cadbury Cream Egg for lunch and headed off to find a place to picnic.
That was the view from the steps of the institute of dance. Not too bad of a place to eat, though it was quite a bit colder than in England.
Next door was
the Cork Butter Museum.
Gee, shucks, it was closed for lunch. Instead, I went up to North Cathedral, which was remarkably modern in comparison to all the gray and gothic churches I had seen around.
From there, I walked south toward the University College Cork. I passed a lot of neat shops, one for toys, lots for clothes, and on and on. Along the way, a lady approached me asking if I'd like to take a questionaire. I explained , and she replied, "Oh, then you're no use to me," and bid me farewell. My reaction was very mixed. It's true, if kind of coarsely put, but when said in an Irish accent, it's impossible to be mad! Weirded out.
I soon crossed the River Lee (so cool) again, where I checked out some interesting apartments.
Next I came by one of the many convents in Cork. There are also a lot of barber shops there, but not as nice looking as the convents. I only saw a few nuns.
Nearby was St. Fin Barre's Cathedral, built in the 1800s as a supa-gothic structure.
They may have gone a little overboard on the gothic, but, hey, can you ever really go overboard on gothic? The more spooky statues and spires, the better.
After another wrong turn, I eventually came to the campus. A year ago, when I was filling out application forms for studying abroad, Cork was third on my list after Hertfordshire and Reading, though I considered trying to avoid the rush to England and going for Ireland. But, proximity to London was the deciding factor, and everything worked out well.
It was a very nice campus and reminded me a great deal of American campuses. At one point walking along a plaza, I thought, "Hey, this looks just like OU next to the library." Moments later I found a map of campus, and it turns out it was their library as well. Must be some influence one way or the other.
I think our union has theirs beat, but that may be just from a personal taste against modern architecture.
After the campus, I went back to the banks of the Lee, thinking, "Hm, Ireland wouldn't be a bad place to live." Really, it wouldn't. Plenty of country space, nice folk, and Ireland gives tax exemptions for writers. That certainly was something to ponder while hanging out in Fitzgerald Park.
Despite the chilly wind and the sprinkling of rain now and again, I found myself lulled to sleep in the peace of the park. It was probably that I had only had about four hours of sleep the night before. Whatever the case, I didn't want to fall asleep, so I marched on to the Fitzgerald Museum. Inside, there were displays on all things Cork, including a deal about the construction and restoration of St. Fin Barre's. Best of all, they had bathrooms to mooch. Thus is one of the keys to travel.
With the afternoon spent, I was feeling pretty exhausted, so I decided to head back to the hostel for dinner and an early night. But, my exploring spirit took over, so I went back the long way, by the proper entrance to Cork U.
From there I went by the Elizabethan fortress and the remaints of the Red Abbey, which is now an open-air plaza for public gatherings.
Oh, and I also got an obligatory shot of the local graffiti.
I picked up a pizza and chips for €5 at a local shop (very, very greasy) and munched them sleepily while contemplating the bum culture of the city. They had been at the bridges, sitting and more able-bodied than me, yet still trying to look miserable. Later on, I had passed a gang of them hanging out with bottles, asking for my pizza. When I shook my head at them and continued on my way, they sang a song at me. Weirded out.
After dinner, I watched part of the Saudi Arabia v Ukraine World Cup match before falling asleep in an oversized, very comfy beanbag chair. I awoke just as it was ending, and it was definitely time for real sleep.
Tuesday, "Much better after eleven hours' sleep."
After seeing most of what Cork had to offer and a long night of recovery from walking around for ten or so miles, I set off for a daytrip to the nearby town and castle of Blarney. I didn't get out quite as early as I probably should've, so I missed my scheduled bus and had to wait an hour or so for another bus. But, oh well, I was on vacation and was in no real hurry. I spent my time waiting walking through an Irish mall, checking out all the shops for clothes, furnishings, and even one dedicated entirely to sprucing up your car.
On the bus ride, I sat next to a gang of guys speaking with thick American accents. One of them was wearing the orange longhorn symbol of the University of Texas, so I perked up at seeing a familiar sight. Turns out they were from Georgia and out touring Europe for summer break.
After a pleasant drive through Irish countryside (except for those loudmouth Americans, they ruin everything, heh), we arrived in Blarney. It's a quaint little town with a big spin toward tourism. Speaking of tourism, I hurried to my first stop: Blarney Castle, home of the Blarney Stone. After paying at the gate and walking up a trail, I went through some woods and over a stream, suddenly to be greeted with the towering vista of a crumbling castle as the trees separated.
I likes ruins, and Ireland is up to its neck in them. Before going into the castle itself, you go on a trail up the hillside, going past the Watchman's Tower.
The watchman had a great view of the gardens below.
After going past yet another stand selling certificates reading, "I kissed the Blarney Stone", I finally was inside the castle. Some rooms were massive caverns, others were so small that only one person could squeeze in at a time. The spiral stairs were narrow and slick. And it was packed with American, Australian, and elderly Irish tourists. Awesome.
The views from the top of the castle were similarly awesome. It was a very fitting gray Irish day.
From one of the other parapets, one can see the old manor house. My jaw dropped at the unexpected sight of such coolness. Imagine living in a house like that, with Blarney Castle ruins in sight, in the middle of Irish countryside... man, I know where I'd like to retire.
Soon after coming to the top of the castle, you stand in line to kiss the famous Blarney Stone. According to legend, the Blarney Stone is cut from the original Stone of Destiny of the Scottish Honours and a gift from Robert the Bruce. Maybe it's true, maybe not, but, hey, that's a cool story. Another cool story is the legend that kissing the Blarney Stone gives the kisser the Gift of Gab (meaning, talking really well). This may stem from the story of Queen Elizabeth's reaction to the Lord of Blarney, who never really pledged his disapproval nor his loyalty, but spoke with such eloquence and nonsense that she first uttered the phrase, "This is all Blarney!"
Now, I may seem like a wild guy, but I must admit this was my first time to make out with a rock. I was a little nervous, of course, but that may have been that I was four stories up on a slippery mat, leaning over backward, gripping slippery iron posts, with only thing to save me from a headfirst fall being a crazy old Irish guy holding my knees. I asked a lady to take my picture, and, a quick smooch later, I had the Gift o' Gab.
Teehee, I'm giddy.
With the stereotypical tourism bit out of the way, I went about my usual random touring. And there were plenty of random bits to see what with the ruins and all.
The castle was just the beginning, however. I was eager to get out to the grounds and see everything there was to see. Like the Lookout Tower.
It was a good place to hang out (well, it was at least out of the misty wind).
The weather was colder than England, but, thanks to the Internet, I had known to dress accordingly. There was more mist than rain, and the wind made it so that an umbrella wasn't worth the trouble. Instead, I buttoned up my coat and reminded myself that at home in July it'd be well over 100 degrees (or 40 for those of us scientific enough for the metric system). My first mission was to go check out the mansion.
Man, that is one cool house. I bet it's haunted out the wahzoo. Unfortunately, it's under renovation and not open to visitors, so I had to do plenty of sneaking to check it out from the outside. I even sneaked through the garden doors.
All around the house were woods, filled with giant, awesome trees that really need to have treehouses built in them.
And another tree closer to the castle has the image of a little girl in the blackened wood, if you look really closely.
Deeper in the gardens, there's the old lime kiln.
In addition to gardens, there are caves running under the castle and grounds, merged with tunnels to create an intricate maze of underground secret passages.
I took a peek, but since I didn't have a flashlight (or "torch", as they say), I didn't delve very deep into them. Maybe next time.
Instead, I walked down to the rock garden built in the late Victorian period ('cause the Victorians did cool stuff like that). Known as Rock Close, it has lots of interesting rock constructs based around old druidic themes. Heh, I was sold by the front gate alone.
They had also imported Elephant's Ears for a fanciful air. They're from the Amazon and are among the largest single leaves in the plant kingdom. Not only that, but they die back each winter, so that's just a few months' growth.
Then one gets into the rocks themselves, seeing little witch's kitchens, wishing stairs, fairy circles, and other cool bits.
After Rock Close, I decided to take in more of the grounds, so I followed the trail around the lake and up into the forest that would then circle back to castle. Once out of the wind and protected from the mist by leaves, it was really very pleasant. It was quite pleasant, and there were plenty of creepy woods to check out.
There were even some cows!
They didn't seem to like me very much. Actually, I was beginning to fear for my life as they approached and mooed very aggressively. I didn't expect them to be so violent, but it all became clear as soon as I saw they had calves around. Aw, just mothers protecting cute little babies. I gave 'em plenty of space and let them be.
Deep in the woods (after seeing the Horses' Graveyard), I came to the Fern Garden.
It was exceptionally peaceful and protected from the elements, along with being filled by awesome little plants.
With a view like that, I settled into a deep state of chilling. My thoughts settled on the last nine months and all the craziness I had seen, heard, tasted, and done. After replaying the year in my mind, I figured it'd been a jolly good show.
But, if I had rested against a cool, moss-covered wall, I'd have slept through the day, so I marched off for more nature, such as the lake.
In all, I ended up hanging out alone in nature for a good two-and-a-half hours. Mm, relaxed. And what better way to come out of euphoric relaxation than seeing Blarney Castle one last time?
From there, I moved out to Blarney itself, a pleasant little town with a wide green and colorful buildings.
After a quick tour of the hotels and things, I read a book of Irish Wisdom while waiting for the bus back to Cork. Everything came in threes (perhaps as a way to remember them), such as "Three cannot work without a hunch: a cobbler, a writer, and a cat." Weirded out.
Once back in Cork, I walked back slowly, taking in a few more shots from the street (such as the bizarre proximity of adult stores and churches).
And then this one of an alcove restaurant hidden so that I caught it out of the corner of my eye, did one of those stops with one foot in the air, spins on my heel, and going back at an angle to check it out.
I retired to the hostel for a little recooping before dinner. I dumped my stuff on my bed and started chatting with an Aussie girl who was sewing flags of all the countries she had been to in Europe onto her backpack. We swapped stories about our miscellaneous misadventures and crazy people we had met, and soon a French guy on vacation joined in. The three of us went to a pub for dinner, got some nice and Irish shepherd's pie, then watched the World Cup England match while hopping from pub to pub. The Irish seemed to be either ignoring it or rooting against England.
At one point, I was asked if I had gotten a Guinness yet, which I hadn't. Not having ever found a beer that didn't make me cringe at the taste, it wasn't very high on my to-do list to find the quintessential Irish beer. As quintessential as it may seem, however, rumor has it that the Irish mostly export it, while most drinking local beer go for Murphy's. The Aussie girl nodded and told us about how no one in Australia drinks Foster's, and, frankly did know why anyone would drink it. Moments later, four out of five of the Irish guys ordering drinks asked for Foster's. So there's the daily dose of fitting irony.
Wednesday, "When you travel with Jeff, you travel hungry!"
It's true. Maybe I should start a weight-loss-tours company: 10 mile daily hikes with a heavy bag, one meal a day, and so many museums your nasal passages start hurting. Hey, lost me ten or fifteen pounds that I didn't even need to lose!
Anyway, on Wednesday morning, I got up early to meet Tom at the airport. My plan was to be up at 6:30, but the sunrise and chirping birds awoke me an hour before scheduled. Oh well, that gave me time for my morning lay-in-bed-and-think routine. By seven, I was checked out and hiking down to the bus station.
When I arrived at the airport, the monitor for arrivals said Tom had arrived as well. So, while he worked his way through customs, I sat at the meeting point and wondered what I would do if Tom didn't make his plane. There was no means of communication between us, so neither would know if the other's plan had gone askew. But, I knew everything had worked out when I saw Tom appear through the steel doors, lugging his suitcase behind him.
Our next task was to find a car, then we'd make our way north along the preplanned path toward northwest Ireland. We got a car quote, then found out the companies had a slightly higher-than-expected age restriction on renting of 23. Being 22 myself and Tom not driving in the first place, we were stuck. All of our semi-carefully laid plans vaporized. My mouth moved for a few sentences, but no words came out. After a breath of recovery, I excused us from the clerk, and we settled back to think.
We took about two minutes to formulate a new week's worth of plans. We'd hop back to Cork, check train and bus tables for prices and times, then rely on public transport to get where we needed to be. Soon we were back on Bus Eireann, and I once more found myself at the Cork central bus station. We walked down to the library for some cheap internet access, only to find it still closed. It was about this time that Tom discovered his belt was broken and needed to be replaced. Wednesday just isn't a good day for travel.
Casting ill-fate aside, we redoubled our efforts to have good cheer. First we stopped at a charity shop where Tom got a very good belt for something like €1, and I picked up Wuthering Heights for thirty-three cents to read on the train (I hadn't brought a book since I expected to be driving). None too shabby for a morning's shopping. Then I showed Tom around town in the soft morning sunlight till the library opened. It was a pretty swell library and, best of all, filled with Irish accents even though it was early morning. Tom noted he hadn't seen many bookshops yet, and, throughout the whole trip, I only remember seeing one. Maybe nobody in Ireland buys books, just hits the library.
After checking out travel information as hastily as I could, I figured the train looked best, and we even had time enough left for a quick e-mail home. Then we hiked to the train station, taking only one wrong turn, and seeing more of the city, including one of the bums already out for a hard day's work of trying to look miserable. We got tickets smoothly and caught the train with less than ten minutes to spare.
Really, taking the train worked out for the best, I think. Once back, I calculated our spending and, with petrol purchases at mindnumbing European prices, it was a bit cheaper for us. On the other hand, we were limited in our destinations and routes. On the other, I didn't have drive on the left side of the road (plus, it would've been a manual, which I haven't driven in six years, and never left-handed). And in the train I could stare out the window at all the Irish countryside without having to worry about crashing and dying in a horrible fireball from not paying attention.
Ireland has plenty of sweet, sweet countryside. There were fewer sheep than I expected (bizarre thing to have a stereotype about, but oh well), and instead lots of cows and even a fw goats. While it wasn't as green as the fields of England, there were plenty of tall, majestic trees acting as separations between the fields instead of England's walls or America's electric or barbed wire. Best of all, there were ruins everywhere! Most of England's ruins have been cleaned up over the years, but Ireland still has plenty of haunted-looking, crumbling, stone structures.
On our first leg of the journey, we passed towns such as Limerick (home of the infamous limerick poem style) and Tipperary (after which the neighborhood in London is named, from where the song "It's a long way to Tipperary" comes... yeesh, how trivial can I get?). We had to stop and switch trains at Portarlington.
Portarlington is a tiny town just outside Dublin basically used as a train depot. The station's really nice, but we couldn't find anywhere to eat. Instead, we just waited for the next train and chatted with some girls from Finland who were doing some backpacking of their own. They beguiled us with stories about how it's not really cold till it's twenty below. Eventually the train did come, and we came to our next stop in Athlone.
By this time, it was late in the afternoon, and we were pretty eager for lunch. We got directions to a pub from some ladies in a chemist's shop and hiked up into town to find O'Neill's. (Talk about your stereotypical Irish names, heh.)
Pubs are very different from bars in America. Families were there, groups at tables ranged from teenagers to older folks, and, after the World Cup match ended, they showed the Simpsons on the big screen projector. The sound was off, but that was okay since I could quote the episode anyway. While there, Tom got me to taste a Guinness. I was reluctant, but the first sip proved to me that there are things out there better than nasty, watery American beers. It was very hearty with only a hint of foul rotted yeast taste.
So, with food in our bellies, we headed out into the streets. We checked the city church, which was very pointy, then went back to the station to wait for our train.
The reason for all this train changing is that Ireland's rail system (in Gaelic, "iarnrod", the only real Irish I know or even makes sense to me) acts as a web going out from Dublin. While this makes a good deal of centralization sense, it means to go anywhere on the west side of the island, one has to go almost all the way to the east and back. Maybe someday they'll get a spur up from Cork to Limerick and then up from Galway to Westport or somewhere of the like. Anyway, we crossed the Rivr Shannon and met with some off-and-on rain in the wild weather of Ireland. It poured at one point, while the sun was out at others, and then the wind often rocked the train cars.
After a long ride and a long day, we finally got to Castlebar just before nine o'clock. We had an invitation to stay with Hannah's parents and see a bit more of real Ireland in the midst of all our museum-going and tourism in the bigger cities. All we had to do was give them a call, and they'd find us in town. So, using our last fifty cents, we used the phone at the station.
Only to find out the receiver was broken.
There was a very discouraging trade of "Hello? Hello?", till I gave up and hung up. Tom and I spent the next half-hour or so stumbling through town blindly, checking for a phone to borrow or change for a payphone. Irish hospitality again proved itself, and we soon got change at a pub and directions to a phone in the town square. The town sign had read, "Welcome to Castlebar, the Friendly Town", which played out to be true. Just as the sun was lowering, we finally made contact, confessed our troubles with transport, and soon got a lift to safety.
An evening with the Mulvihills was just was we needed after the stress of such an uncertain day. Plenty of Irish humor, toasted sandwiches for a snack, and a call from Hannah to make sure we were okay (she even predicted exactly that her parents made sandwiches). After a couple of episodes of Fawlty Towers, we settled in for a good, much needed night's rest.
Thursday, "I'll be glad to get back to England where it's warm!"
The next morning, I awoke with the typical "Hm, this isn't my bed" thought that often comes with travel. Once the initial madness was over with, I got around and had weetabix for breakfast. Mm, delicious breakfast chunk covered in sugar and milk. While we ate, we listened to the Irish news on the radio, which was speaking at length about some politicking debacle. Judging from the quotes and reports, the majority of Irish politics seemed to boil down to wordplay and clever namecalling. That's what happens with the Gift o' Gab, I suppose.
For our first tourism bit of the day, Tom and I went to the National Museum of Country Life.
Built on an old manor, part of the museum is the old manorhouse's library and dining room. The rest is a modern museum with lots and lots of country life exhibits.
I learned a great deal I didn't know about the Irish war of independence from England and the following turmoil and reconstruction. Meanwhile, the countryside was working industrialization, growing up from the days of the blacksmith, cooper, and cobbler (of which they had statues and displays for each). Another exhibit discussed holidays and traditions, such as the torment of unmarried people on the day before Lent (even to the point of throwing rocks). Then there's St. Stephen's Day (the day after Christmas, in which wrenboys go door to door basically trick-or-treating with a chicken). Speaking of trick-or-treating, when "mummers" go out in masks, instead of just saying "trick or treat", they have to put on a short show, often a song and dance, for which they are paid a few pennies or what-have-you. Then there're "strawboys" at weddings: uninvited bachelors who are expected to show up in straw masks and rough up the place a little. I even learned about why there are easter eggs. During Lent, animal products like milk, meat, and eggs aren't eaten, so on Easter Morning when Lent is over, eggs become a big deal.
During the exhibit on agriculture and farm life, I scored 8 out of 10 on the growing quiz and told Tom about growing up in rural America. Every so often, I could point out a pot or milk bottle or something and say, "Hey, we have one of those!" Ah, the joys of living on a farm where nothing is ever thrown out.
Outside, they also had a display of differing thatching techniques.
And one of the things we learned was that when Ireland broke away from England in the '20s, instead of replacing postboxes, they just painted them green. It was very trippy to see a normal British postbox, only green, out in Castlebar later on.
After the museum, we had lunch back with our Irish hosts and some chatting about everything Irish. Then Tom and I went to check out the town, which was mainly shops, comparable to any other moderately sized town, but everything had an Irish touch to it. Such as the massive, dark Christ's Church.
And a pretty art nouveau post office.
And there modern library, where I read through an exhibit about one of the leaders of the independence movement and Tom sat trying to resist a nap. Different kinds of interests, I suppose.
But, the wind off the North Atlantic made western Ireland very chilly. After England was just beginning to warm up, it felt like I had gone back to April or something. I uttered words I'd never thought I'd say, "I'll be glad to get back to England... where it's warm."
Other than me being whiny about cold, Castlebar is a very pleasant town, and I'd dare to say quite livable. Many people must agree, judging from the rapid growth. Their massive, almost uniform suburban additions seemed to be expanding as quickly as those in America.
We spent the evening watching British comedies and borrowing internet access to sort out the next leg of our adventures (and upload all these crazy pictures I've been taking). Then it was to bed early, for tomorrow was another day.
We awoke early and caught a taxi back to the train station. Strangely, our driver had an English accent, so I guess there's something to that stereotype of foreigner taxi drivers. On the long train-ride back, there was plenty of countryside to see and Victorian prose to read. I didn't see much of either, however, as I was distracted by the kid sitting next to me with a portable DVD player. He was watching Father Ted, a comedy show that had been recommended to me time and again. It's about a gang of misfit priests in their misfit parish out on some Atlantic island (where they don't have a west side to it because a storm had blown it away). Pretty funny stuff, especially having seen Ireland firsthand.
Toward the late morning, we at last arrived in Dublin. When leaving the train station, the first thing you see (other than ) is the Guinness Brewery.
I'm still not sure what to make of that one. Anyway, if you turn around, you can get a nice look at the train station itself, which is prettier, I think. (Plus, it doesn't smell like rotting yeast, just sweaty traveler.)
We walked the streets in search of a place to stay. The first reasonable looking hostel we found was booked up, making me lecture myself for getting out of the habit of booking ahead. Good ole Irish hospitality showed up once again as the nice Irish lady not only gave us a map and directions to another good hostel, but also called ahead to make sure they held two beds. So, we hiked across town with our bags, which got heavier with each step.
Along we way, we saw lots and lots of Irish churches.
We also saw the Irish solution to reminding foreign pedestrians which way to look for traffic, even overcoming the language barrier.
The streets were an interesting conglomeration like any major city, yet there was a definite laid-back yet determined Irish air about it all. (Either that, or the fumes from the brewery were getting to me already.)
We crossed the River Liffey to O'Connell Street and then hung a left, pausing to check out the O'Connell Memorial.
Down a dark, creepy, brick-paved alley, we found the hostel, which was very spacious and friendly inside. Very gratefully dropping off our bags, we set out again to find some food. There was a neat pub with stained glass windows of pub scenes just past the halls of justice, so we stopped in.
Looking for something Irish, I decided to try the Irish Stew. It came in a gigantic, almost-American-sized bowl and proved to be very tasty with a mixture of vegetables and mutton. Maybe a little heavy on the pepper, but as starved as I was, it didn't matter.
One thing I didn't expect to do in Dublin was be met with the Lithuanian language barrier, but it happened. Our waitress was from Lithuania and had a good deal of an accent, which made Tom end up with "rice" instead of "fries". It all turned out all right, though, since Tom got an extra order of "chips" (he used the British term this time), and we weren't charged for them. "Rice" became the inside joke of the rest of the trip.
After lunch, we checked out a couple more churches...
...on our way to the Guinness Brewery. (It was Tom's idea.)
Having toured the Miller Brewery before, all I knew to expect was the stink of the brewing process, which didn't disappoint me. But, instead of seeing the process in action itself, Guinness had built up much more of a museum about the Guinness family, the brewery, advertising, responsible drinking, and barrel-making (which was actually very interesting. Did you know that the proper term for a barrel is a "cask" as "barrel" is a size?). One exhibit was dedicated to "craic" (pronounced vaugely like "crack"). It is the Irish notion of laid-back chatting, pub-style. There were also about five pubs and bars inside, each cah-razier than the last. Of course I got the typical tourism picture in front of the waterfall showing just how much clean spring water has to go into brewing.
At the highest point of the brewery, one gets a free Guinness pint (well, included in admission, anyway). While Irish Guinness is pretty tasty stuff, I can only drink about half a pint before it makes me nauseous. Oh, and if you ask, you can get one with a shamrock in the foam! And because it is so thick and hearty, the shamrock stays for minutes till finally disappearing as the bubbles burst. How cool is that?!
The Gravity Bar, in which people get their Guinness, has glass walls so everyone can look out over the city while they sip their beers and enjoy some good craic. Dublin looks as pretty from above as it does from the streets. And the weather was great after enduring the harsh pseudo-winter of County Mayo.
Eventually, we had to leave the brewery. Walking east and then south, I led the way to St. Patrick's Cathedral. (Cathedrals for me, breweries for Tom; just different styles of touring, I suppose.)
As we were checking out a little information board outside the cathedral, I read that this was the cathedral where Jonathan Swift himself served as priest. My jaw dropped, and I made an overly excited gasp. Dragging Tom behind me, I rushed to go see the tomb of the hilarious satirist inside.
They had a little almost-museum about Swift inside, with death masks, copies of his works, and lots of biographical information I never knew before. That wasn't all, however, as there was also a memorial to Boyle, that master of the chemical arts.
The rest of the cathedral was very huge and beautiful as well (though not as gold-covered as the Italian cathedrals). There were lots of memorials to soldiers fallen in past wars.
We decided to hang around for evensong, which would be shortly after we were finished looking at all the stuff. To kill the time, we hung out in the green outside the cathedral.
Evensong was cool, at least on par with what I had seen in St. Paul's or Westminster. Tom said he had not been to an evensong before, but enjoyed the experience. The best, though, had to be the organ striking up as we were hanging around.
From there we decided it was time to call touring to an end for the day. We sought out a bathroom break and then walked up and down O'Connell Street to see all the shops and madness, such as the creepy, creepy bunny statues by sculptor Barry Flanagan. (They seem to be popping up everywhere I go. Eerie.)
There was also a statue of Father Mathew. He was good to see again.
At the end of the street is a large memorial to Charles Stewart Parnell with a long inscription about national right. "No man has a right to say to his country thus far shalt thou go and no further", hmm, that is a terrifying statement in my opinion. While I'm all for progression, there are times where government (even of the people) oversteps the line between justice and injustice. That's when a great person needs to stand up and say, "Hey, jerks, knock it off!" or something perhaps more eloquent.
Speaking of eloquent, I got my picture with James Joyce. Now if he would only write books people could read.
We took a long look at the River Liffey, which was very green, fitting for an Irish river, I'd reckon.
From there we got some dinner. I had tomato soup while Tom tried Subway's for the first time (he gave it about a 4 out of 10). The guy making sandwiches at Subway's was Asian, but had an Irish accent, which reminded me of the infamous Plucky the Irishman from high school senior play years ago. Hilarious, to me at least.
Then, since Dublin was originally founded by Vikings, Tom got his picture in a Viking boat artsy bench.
After that, it was getting toward time for bed. I was tired and grumpy (well, a grumpy Jeff is almost identical to a normal Jeff as I usually know that I'm grumpy and make efforts to be nicer, so it balances out). We had a little discussion about Irish sports like hurling and celtic football, and I met a girl from Colorado by chance.
Saturday, "Wow, it's just like the beginning to the Vicar of Dibley!"
After stuffing ourselves on the free breakfast at the hostel, we turned in our keys and stashed our bags in their luggage storage room. Then we went out into the drizzly rain for a hard, fast day of touring. We crossed the River Liffey once more, heading south into the heart of the city.
Our first stop was Trinity College, the internationally famous university in Dublin. It does indeed have a pretty campus, even on a gray Irish day.
Nice buildings, too.
Their library is fairly modern.
Past the college, we saw the American College Dublin, which now occupies the house of Oscar Wilde.
Just across the street was Merrion square, with Oscar Wilde himself lounging and smirking like a comedic playwright.
Heh, what a slacker.
We continued walking south, passing a very quintessential Irish street.
Then we came into the government area of the city. For some reason or another, Dublin doesn't feel like a national capital. Maybe it's just the laidback Irish nature not inspiring the craziness typical of national politics.
But, they do have very pretty government buildings.
Just as we were walking, we looked up to see a blue sign. At random, we had stumbled across the birthplace of Wellington. Ah, randomness is the best bit of travel.
We still had a little while before the museums opened, so we went down to St. Stephen's Green. It was a very pleasant park: trees, a lake, a few rock outcroppings, and even ducks to feed.
It was a good place for some early morning chilling.
And, as all good parks should, it had an arch dedicated to fusiliers.
Then we saw a guy with a bicycle of a kind I've never seen. It had two independent wheels, steering poles, and the seat high in the center. I never could've stayed on top of that thing.
Finally it was time to hit the museums. First up was the National Museum, filled with history about Ireland first prehistoric, then medieval, then modern. They had an exhibit about bog people, prehistoric people who'd been killed and thrown in the bog, which petrified them into terrifying mummies now in cases. I even got to do a survey, which probably screwed up the averages of their studies on what people want from giftshops.
Next up was the Natural History Museum. (We did pause for lunch at Tom's request. It's a good thing he reminded me, otherwise I would've ended up skipping as many meals as Easter Break.)
The ground floor of the museum was dedicated to Irish creatures, such as the extinct Giant Irish Deer, whose antlers were the size of most couches. They had lots of stuffed animals, such as the big, round, goofy-looking sunfish. Other cases had collections of baby badgers and baby foxes assembled in playful manners. Aww, so cute! But, it was hard to forget they were stuffed with sawdust. Plus there were giant mock-ups of such wonderful creatures as "scab mites" and "itch mites".
The other floors of the museum had more and more cases of stuffed animals ranging from walruses to bats to butterflies to a lynx or two. We went from case to case, gaping and joking at all the funny animals.
Time was growing short before we had to leave for the airport, so we went out to the streets again for more Irish culture. We hit Grafton Street, one of Dublin's massive pedestrian shopping areas.
We moved from there to another pedestrianized area called Temple Bar, which still followed the medieval streets, tiny and winding. It was there that we heard some strange drumming music. Tom suggested we head out to see what's the matter. Soon we discovered a high school group performing to raise money for something or other.
Then louder, weirder music flared up, and a parade begin right in front of us. Tom and I went over to investigate what turned out to be the gay pride march. There was lots of disco, costumes, and Irish police keeping an eye out. Unexpected, to say the least. And I thought seeing Wellington's birthplace was random.
After the parade, we crossed the street and checked out Dublin Castle.
For one final sight-seeing thing, we went to the Old City, which really wasn't old at all. Everything seemed to have been replaced with modern buildings. Dejected, we decided it was time to pick up our bags and catch the bus to Dublin airport. Along the way, Tom mentioned, "Oh, I guess I should get some money for the bus." Whereas I had been carefully calculating and spending the euros I had so that I would have just enough for the fare, Tom just grabbed some at the cash machine. Different kinds of travelers, once again.
We waited in line with all the other baggage-laden travelers in front of another creepy, creepy rabbit.
The bus ride was fairly pleasant (and even a doubledecker, woot!). I spent the trip staring out the window at the suburbs and streets of Dublin. We even passed one of the arenas.
Once at the airport, we checked in and walked miles through the twisting corridors to find the extremely crowded RyanAir terminal, where, seemingly ubiquitous, the World Cup was on. After seeming hours, we boarded the plane and flew out. (Just before we took off, this little boy started freaking out and yelling "Don't take off!" and "Help me!", which I found funny for some reason that escapes me. I seem to remember having a similar reaction to flying.)
From there, it was back to Britain. Having flown out of Stansted twice but never in, I was interested in seeing what it was like to land in rural England. With the green fields zooming below us, I gasped and said, "Wow, it's just like the beginning to the Vicar of Dibley!" Maybe I do watch too many British comedies.
After a quick bus, we were back at Hatfield, where the plan had been to call Mary for the key to Alec's, but, due to a lack of communication, she had left her phone behind. So, Tom invited me to his, where we'd watch some more Father Ted and some Black Adder. We hiked across campus to meet Tom's dad, exhausted and lugging bags, hearing some people shouting and playing out in the darkness of the field. 'Crazy students', I thought. 'Maybe I should see if it's anyone we know... Nah, it couldn't be.' (Later, I found out it was indeed them, heh. All that calling, yet we were only a few yards away. Should tell us something about this mobile phone age.)
Oh well, it made for a great, unexpected, random end to a great, unexpected, random trip.
Man, I need to go back to Ireland. It's been the first touring place I left thinking I need to return as soon as I can. I didn't get half of what I wanted to do done, found out about a million more things to do, and decided the culture was homey as well as foreign enough to be awesome. Plus, you gotta love the craic.
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