Add comment April 11th, 2009
Archive for April, 2009
Wednesday, March 18th
The Wild Wicklow Tour. After a scant granola bar breakfast, we catch the bus out front of the hotel, arriving early of course and so spending a bit more time talking to the lads from Michigan, also taking the tour. At just about ten o’clock, the bus arrives and, with our addition to the group, the bus with rear view mirrors that hang over the front and make it look like a caterpillar is filled to capacity. Amy and I are snug in the back row with three other people.
The driver is highly informative and very funny:
“People always talk about giving a very Irish answer to a question, for example, there was an old Irish farmer and one day a couple stop by to ask him for directions. ‘What’s the fastest way to Dublin?’ they ask him. ‘Well,’ he replies, ‘are you walking or are you driving?’ ‘We’re driving,’ they reply. ‘Well,’ says the farmer, ‘that’s the fastest way.’”
The driver/tour guide has a great depth of knowledge that spans history, religion, song, geography, geology, language, and good jokes, which is a damn good start and probably makes him a good partner on trivia night.
We drive south of Dublin, along the coast at first, to Dun Laoghrie (prounounced “Dun Leary”) and see “The 40 Foot” which is the last place that James Joyce spent in Dublin before fleeing for better climes where he could live without fear of religious persecution and whathaveyou. His tales on the colonization of Ireland continue as we head into the hills, past the quartz-lined ridges of the Sugarloaf Mountains (which are really just big hills, but their standards for a mountain are somewhat less rigorous). It’s near here that we stop at a shop for some coffee and some belated-but-delicious birthday cake for Amy, and then further into the hills/mountains we climb.
As we drive up the treacherous roads, we continue to learn about the history of the ancient Irish, the Celts, and finally the English invasions, and the English soldiers who took so much to the local culture that they became more Irish than the Irish themselves! We also learned about the yellow grouse dotting the hills, the extensive boglands, the not-yet-in-bloom lavender that normally gives the hills their purples, and about close calls on narrow roadways (for those who hadn’t yet experienced that elsewhere).
After another stop in a small town high in the hills, Laragh, where we stop for tea, we come to a spot overlooking a lake. The lake is on an estate owned by a woman who is a descendent of Arthur Guinness (who started the brewery that, if I remember correctly, at one time employed fully one quarter of all Dubliners in one way or another) and the lake itself is dark water, formed roughly in the shape of a pint glass. So, naturally, they imported a bunch of white sand and dumped it at the wide end of the lake, not just to form a beach but to complete the illusion of the full pint o’ Guinness.
It was here that the tour guide broke out the Jameson’s sampler for us all, and the tour guide gave a toast (slainte) to Amy’s birthday. Then it was back into the bus for our next-to-final tour destination, St. Kevin’s monastery. I’ll spare the history lesson– it was never my best subject– but suffice to say that it was a very old and very interesting monastery on a gorgeous piece of land.
As we left the parking lot forty-five minutes later, we came close to losing one of our tour members, but we circled around a bit and finally found her.
So off we went back to downtown Dublin, singing songs, passing by one of Daniel Day Lewis’s homes, and learning about the Great Famine.
We hop off near Trinity instead of the hotel this time, and kill an hour at O’Donohue’s and the surrounding shops before meeting Sophie at the front gates of Trinity College. Sophie is a girl that Amy had been en communique with over at couchsurfing.com to learn a bit about more of the “native” experience of the city. She turns out to be a super-cool girl who had moved there from Poland about three years prior for work. (Incidentally, as our tour guide told us, the Polish population is relatively high: as many people speak native Irish fluently as speak Polish, a number hovering around 5% each, again, if memory serves).
As we approached our final destination with Sophie, I asked her about a very prominent and tall spire on the median in the middle of the street, its light more noticeable in the evening. She points out that, although the tower was but to commemorate the millenium, “…being the Irish, it wasn’t finished until 2004.”
Sophie eventually leads up to a nice traditional Irish place. We have Irish coffees, some fish and chips, some garlic mushrooms, and a few pints of Guinness (with a dash of blackberry currant for the lasses). Finally, at Sophie’s behest, I try a Polish beer that they have, “Tyskie”; she orders it for me, on account of my not being sure at how to pronounce it initially, and it’s pretty good stuff (which is all the description I’m afraid I can give, since I can’t deign to remember now what it was that it reminded me of).
We talk drink recipes, movies, t.v., politics, and we must be having a good time because it’s late before we realize it and Sophie has to head off to sleep before work the next day. Ensuing, my first ride on a double decker bus, and it’s nice and empty so we get the front row on the top level and ride that big yellow bastard all the way back to our hotel retreat in the south of town for a sound night of sleeping in.
That night, “The Peacemaker” with George Clooney and Nicole Kidman was on. I’ve never seen more than twenty minutes of it in a row, and this night proved to be no exception.
Thursday, March 19th
We get up late and the day is incredibly misty, as apparently it has no plans either. We laconically catch the bus downtown somewhat around noon, exploring the north side of downtown Dublin. Amy finds some killer boots, Italian, at a great price, and is elated to have found something worthy of her birthday money. They’re awesome. You’ll just have to see them yourselves.
I, on the other hand, find killer Dr. Who toys, most of which unfortunately wouldn’t fit in my bags, although the remote-controlled Dalek and the discounted voice-changing Metal Man helmet are very tempting. I settle on just one thing: a set of The Doctor (David Tennant version) and K-9 (remote control, if in a limited fashion).
We have a late-but-delicious bagel lunch and wander the day away. We find some great chocolates (from Butler’s, I believe), but eventually Amy’s feeling unwell and, after some rest at Trinity and some wool-hunting, we decide to part ways for the night. She hunts more wool and heads back to the hotel; I find the whiskey shop, buy a bottle of the non-exported Paddy’s for my friend Andy (as promised) and spend some time exploring Temple Bar on my own.
Eventually, as promised in my dream in the evening before, I do manage to find a local comic book shop, and even manage to pick up a locally-made comic. The Dr. Strange series which existed in my dream does not, of course, manage to materialize (especially no epic issue #400) and I visit various establishments en route, catching up on my journal at a place called Farrington’s, before finding myself near the Tara Street Station, catching the train around nine in the evening, and returning.
Oh, and at some point I manage to find these intriguing chips, which are part of a “new flavors” contest. I really wanted to try the Builder’s Breakfast ones, as well, but never came across them. Chili and chocolate… It’s a strange combination for a chip, but I guess there are any number of sweet and spicy chips that work out okay. This was… odd, but still kinda good.
Friday, March 20th
Sleep in. It’s a habit I could get used to. Catch the trainout to Howth, the farthest point north along the coast, for some breathtaking and windy pierside views and fresh fish-and-chips at The Bloody River. I have the haddock, which was delicious, and always reminds me of the Marx Brothers routine where Groucho is trying to gain entrance to the speakeasy:
Chico: Aw, no. You gotta tell me. Hey, I tell what I do. I give you three guesses. It’s the name of a fish.
Groucho: Is it Mary?
Chico: Ha-ha. That’s-a no fish.
Groucho:She isn’t? Well, she drinks like one. Let me see. Is it sturgeon?
Chico: Hey you crazy. Sturgeon, he’s a doctor cuts you open when-a you sick. Now I give you one more chance.
Groucho: I got it. Haddock.
Chico: That’s-a funny. I gotta haddock, too.
Groucho: What do you take for a haddock?
Chico: Well-a, sometimes I take-a aspirin, sometimes I take-a Calamel.
Groucho: Say, I’d walk a mile for a Calamel.
Chico: You mean chocolate calamel. I like that too, but you no guess it. Hey, what’s-a matter, you no understand English? You can’t come in here unless you say “swordfish.” Now I’ll give you one more guess.
Then we take the commuter rail to the “Phoenix Park” stop, which we thought would be near the Dublin Zoo. It turns out that Phoenix Park is approximately a billion acres (1,760 acres) and the stop does not seem to be near the zoo at all, so, after walking a mile out and back, Amy and I hop back on the rails. For not the first time, I’m grateful to be travelling with someone as flexible-yet-exhausted as I am at this point in the journey.
There is a stop along the way called “Clonsilla” (Cluain Saileach), so we get the Blue Oyster Cult “Godzilla” song stuck in our heads on the long train ride back, but with a twist. “History shows again and again / How clowns point out the folly of man… Clownzilla!” I drew a Clownzilla, but I’m too lazy to scan it.
After a short stop by the Old Jameson’s Distillery gift shop to obtain for myself a bottle of the distillery reserve, we ride the tram a bit further to find the south end of Phoenix Park, which we finally do. My right foot, twisted badly about a year ago in a tragic street grating mishap outside of The Back Stage, is killing me at this point, but we do manage to eventually find the zoo. It’s four o’clock when we find it, and since it closes in an hour and costs €15 per person; we’ve seen our share of animals, so we just go to the nearby tea house instead.
Afterwards, we go check out one of the big obelisks in the park, this one commemorating the victories of the Duke of Wellington. I noticed a lot of spires and obelisks in Dublin, it seems to be a popular way to commemorate a thing; it certainly takes up minimal space. At any rate, this particular obelisk was supposed to be done sooner and built taller, but the Duke fell out of popular favor and the public funding ran short, so it is what it is.
This guy was at the base of the Duke’s monument.
We leave the park and find Cobblestone’s, catch our third wind and a bit of music before heading roughly westward (thanks, compass!) and eventually end up back at the pub that Sophie had taken us to– Murray’s– thanks to Amy’s ace navigational skills. We get to Murray’s just in time to see some traditional Irish dancers who rocked. We got some footage of their dancing, and especially noticeable is the bit where Amy goes up on stage to try to learn a bit of the dance.
I also remembered this night to try the traditional Irish stew and other than being in a gargantuan proportion with heaps of mashed potatoes piled over the sides of the bowl, it was quite hearty and fantastic. It’s getting late enough for us, though, and, exhausted, we catch the bus back to the hotel.
Saturday, March 21st
Again we sleep in, and once we’re up we make it over to Trinity College in time for the 11:45 tour. Our guide, a former Trinity student of philosophy and a current student of law, seems a bit under the weather but otherwise knowledgable and personable. At the end of the half-hour tour, we get in to see the library (and a damn lot of books) as well as the famous Book of Kells. Now, neither of us is too interested in religious artifacts, but it was hard not to be amazed by something that intricate and that old.
Just after the tour, we have lunch at a vegetarian-friendly place called Nude which Amy had been looking for for a couple of days, so when we found it, we went. It was pretty good, but I’m no food critic and am out of good words with which to describe things outside of “delicious”, so I’ll leave it at that.
Then we went on to the History Museum to see the well-preserved bodies recovered from the bogs– but, alas, it’s closed. It has been for a year, as the garda out front tells us. So, we goof off in the nearby park at the Oscar Wilde statue before returning to the train station and taking it as far south along the line as it will go, to Bray.
Bray is a charming enough beachside town, sort of like Seaside in a way, but the weather threatens to rain and we’re low on energy, especially with the though of getting up early the next day to catch our morning flight. We stop in at a pub called Katie Gallagher’s for a couple of drinks and a snack and then it’s back to Booterstown.
About halfway back, a guy on the DART who hears us talking picks us out as being American and invites us to split a cab with him and meet up with his mates to watch the rugby match of the last sixty-some-odd years: it’s Ireland vs. Wales in the Six Nations finale. We decline, despite the temptation, and instead catch the game at the once-again-packed-to-the-gills The Punchbowl, much nearer our hotel.
Rugby is an intense game, and the match is particularly mad. We meet a pair of older guys, brothers, who are drunk on the game and also on Guinness, but they explain to us some of the finer points of the game and tell us how winning this match will mean a lot to the Irish and help restore their economy and whatnot. Anyhow, crazy guys, but nice:
Ireland wins, and there’s gaiety, laughter, noise, excitement… But we are wiped, and we trudge back to the hotel, and say hello to the three-legged kitty for the last time on our way.
Sunday, March 22nd
We end up taking a cab to the airport from a cab driver who’s headed that direction anyway; he charges us the same amount as the bus would have, and we split the journey with a German woman who teaches German in Dublin. After the taxi driver almost leaves Amy behind as she’s putting the luggage in the trunk, we manage to all get inside the taxi successfully and make it to the airport. We’re fairly early which is good because it’s quite busy and we have to go through (a.) security, (b.) drop off a couple of receipts to get back the taxes on them, (c.) fill out our customs declarations, and (d.) go through customs. After forty minutes, we board the plane, where we show our ticket and ID to approximately three more people before finally boarding.
Nine-and-a-half hours and many in-flight movies later we arrive in Atlanta, where we go through (a.) customs (which apparently we didn’t need to do, but the signs pointed us there so there we were) (b.) baggage claim, (c.) drop off our bags for the connecting flight, (d.) through a security checkpoint, and (e.) on to the train to the proper terminal. Whew.
A scant six hours later, we’re back in Portland, catching up with friends who are staying the night with us to fly out to Hawaii the next morning. Then, to sleep, because tomorrow it’s back to work.
1 comment April 10th, 2009
Saturday, March 14th
3:30am – Wake up.
4:00am – Catch the cab to the airport. About $30, a lot cheaper than long term parking would be.
6:00am – Succeed in making it through security. Board the plane at PDX for JFK, a 5 1/2 hour flight.
Five hours later – Arrive in JFK, where it’s something like two in the afternoon. A grey day but not too cold and not raining. Amy’s friend Joe drives down from Vermont and meets us at the baggage claim. We take the airport rail out to the Long Island Rail Road station, and take the LIRR to Manhattan.
I’ve never been to NYC (although I had a great view of downtown on the flight in) and it’s every bit as mind-boggling immense and crowded as I could have imagined. The only thing GTAIV really misses is the sheer size of the crowds. Anyway, we make our way to Times Square and have a slice of pizza for lunch and snap the classy pic below before hurrying back to the airport.
6:50pm-ish (EST): Make it back through security with forty minutes to spare, and catch the plane to Dublin.
Sunday, March 15th
6:00am (GMT): Arrive in Dublin, make it through customs with a minimal fuss, collect our baggage, hit up the ATM for some Euro, buy bus tickets to our hotel, check-in, and have a traditional Irish breakfast at the hotel, involving scrambled eggs, baked beans, grilled tomatoes and mushrooms, and sausage.
10:00am – 2:00pm: Sleep. Neither of us slept for more than a few minutes at a time on the flight in, so we take a few hours to catch up.
3:00pm: After getting directions to the DART station (the train) and getting a little lost trying to find it, we eventually find the right road and walk the mile or so down to the coast where the station sits, overlooking the bay. We catch the train up to Pearse Station and walk our way up to the River Liffey in what is more-or-less the center of the city.
We then make our way to the famous Temple Bar district; we quickly find the crowded main touristy drag, stop to watch a couple of performing musical groups on the sidewalks, and then make our way to the ends of the large crowd. Amy and I find ourselves at a place called Dandelion’s, which is apparently where U2 got their start. It’s Sunday and we’re at the end of the brunch crowd, but we just get a snack and a couple of drinks. The chicken wings were incredibly delicious, but they were nothing next to the Bushmill’s and the pint of Guinness. Amy takes a sip, in preparation for committing to drinking a full pint on her birthday while we’re there. We wander around a bit more but I was apparently too tired to remember much of it. Eventually, we go back to the hotel and get some more sleep in preparation for a busy week ahead.
Monday, March 16th
We get up at eight and, having just recovered from a nasty bout with a cold, I successfully have my first full night of sleep in a couple of weeks. I felt pretty fantastic. We eventually get our act together enough to make our way down for another expensive-but-delicious hotel breakfast, and as the package deal on the hotel and flight was a good one, a few extra luxuries are to be expected. When are you going to be here again?
After breakfast, we spend some time talking to the porter? in the lobby who gives us even more information about where to go and what to do, and talks about his large family and about growing up in Dublin. Amy asks him about good wool shops, and he mentions a couple. We then make our way down to the train station and buy all-day passes for eight euro each; we take the train up to Connolly Station, then hop the tram over in the general direction of the Guinness Storehouse. One of many lessons with the Confusing Roads of Dublin is had here, as the street that we actually wanted to take was right in front of the tram stop but hidden by a low brick-and-iron fence, so we spend an extra fifteen minutes walking the grounds of the St. James Hospital before realizing that there’s no way we’re getting east of where we are without backtracking.
Eventually we can’t help but find it, however, and we see a lot of information about the long and storied history of Guinness (two-hundred and fifty years as of 2009): the brewing process; the world’s largest pint glass; the 9000-year lease signed by Arthur Guinness for use of the land. We work our way up the several stories to the second-to-top floor where we redeem our tour ticket stubs for a pint (with an expertly-done clover in the top of the foam). We’re one story below the famed Gravity Bar, with it’s amazing view, but our view is no less amazing for the missing twelve feet in height, and it’s much less crowded.
After a sojourn into the impressive gift shop, and making a day out of the where-alcohol-is-born tours, we make our way back to the tram and ride it a couple of stops to the stop that looks as though it’s nearest to the Old Jameson’s Distillery. As luck would have it, there was a sign pointing the way right as we exited the tram, and it was only a block-and-a-half yonder.
The lines for the tour were long, but the tour was worth the wait. The tour guide was fantastic, and a lot of fun. We learned things, as well. For instance, it’s the Old Jameson’s Distillery because it’s where they got started, but “Old” because the operation got too big for its britches, and now all of the distilling proper is done down in Cork. Additionally, Irish whisky doesn’t use peat moss, unlike Scotch, but gets its additional color and flavor from the barrels that they use, which are generally a combination of used bourbon and sherry barrels (which is where you also get the vanilla and oak flavors). So basically there are whole warehouses of other whiskys that are eventually destined for something greater.
The portion of the whisky that evaporates during the aging process? It’s called “the angel’s portion”.
After, again, a detour into the gift shop– where I finally found a good little journal to write in– we were starved for lunch and made our way over to the nearby mall. We got sandwiches from a food court place called “La Croissanterie”, which was not nearly as popular as the nearby KFC, but on the other hand, the commercials there manage to make KFC look fairly appetizing. (As an aside, I noticed more than one reference to “‘southern’ fried food”, so apparently “southern” is becoming universal slang for southern U.S. cuisine, which is odd.)
We wander about a bit further and find the Dublin Woolen Mills shop that John had recommended, near the Ha’Penny Bridge; Amy has a couple of decent find there before we hit up a corner store for some evening provisions and catch the train to the tram to the hotel where we relax for the evening (and see a three-legged cat near the side-street gate that leads to the path to our hotel).
Tomorrow is St. Patrick’s, so we try to conserve some energy for it.
Tuesday, March 17th
Amy’s Birthday! And CHAOS.
We waited for the morning bus but it was on a holiday schedule– of course– so after we got tired of waiting, we split a cab with a couple of guys from Michigan who were also staying at the St. Helens Radisson.
We get downtown and after a bit of detouring about, and stopping to ask a Garda directions, wer finally find the crepe restaurant where Amy wanted to eat: Lemon. We had walked right past it initially, looking prospectively at the restaurant across the street from it in our hunt for breakfast on unusually empty Dublin streets. Once the nearby hellishly loud alarm stops wailing, it’s a good breakfast.
The streets were bereft of life, most of the shops were closed, and it’s because everyone in the entire waking world was lining the parade route. I have never seen so many people in my entire life gathered into one place. People everywhere decked out in green outfits, green hats, painted faces, fake orange beards, everywhere they can fit, hanging off of fences, standing in window sills, perched on top of statues; Amy promptly gets a shamrock on her cheek, and we walk along the parade route with tired legs.
Eventually we get to what must be the far end of the parade route, and the parade begins. We see Simpsons characters come to life, and we begin to trace backwards along the route, watching the whole thing unfold in fast forward.
We hear bagpipes: it’s an official parade. We stop now and then to attempt to see some of the more interesting bits, but eventually decide to beg off and start heading towards the park where the parade started. Along the way, we get a bit lost and end up at Dublin Castle, which is fortuitous. At the gift shop, I find a nice souvenir in the shape of a compass, and once we escape the castle it deftly helps us wind our way eastwards towards the park.
We ultimately find ourselves at Foley’s Bar which quickly becomes a standing room only venue not fifteen minutes after we arrive, taking refuge from the madness of Merrion Street, and we’re seated next to a group of older American women from California. As a guy with a guitar plays traditional Irish tunes, they tell us tales of things to do, including a must-see pub called Cobblestone, near the Old Jameson’s Distillery (as it later turns out).
Then more walking through the madness of the street fair where there is an insane line for the Ferris Wheel, and although it’s still the middle of the afternoon, we decide to catch the crowded train back to Booterstown, and to the hotel.
Once there, we stopped at The Punchbowl, our local Irish pub (with its dubiously named adjoining restaurant, dubbed “The Latino”) and it turned out to have musicians that evening playing Americana music that quickly got extremely popular moments after our arrival, a theme for the day. (Amy noted that, from the freedom with condiments, to the attitude of the drivers, to the attitudes in general, that the Irish seemed a much nicer and less sarcastic people than the British did in her months living in Leeds.)
Back at the hotel, as an entirely random aside, there was a channel with a caption stuck on it for the duration of our stay. It read, in confusing simplicity, “Will it be lovely Luke?”
(To be continued…)
Add comment April 4th, 2009