The Good News Is…I’m Not on the No-Fly List
Posted by PintofStout on March 4, 2008
That isn’t the only good news – I’m finally starting to write down my vacation journal from our recent Ireland trip. I have journal entries that I wrote on the airplanes on the trip over and one long entry from the flight back, but everything in between went undocumented in the journal due to being very busy vacationing. So, I’ll start this by transcribing what I already have written down, then I’ll either insert my thoughts with a day-by-day account of the trip chronologically before the already transcribed thoughts on the return trip, or put it all in as it currently exists and fill the holes afterwards. Either way, I’ll denote clearly which is which.
Ireland Trip Journal
January 16-23, 2008
“After Me Lucky Charms” or “Guaranteed Cozy”
January 16 – 1:05 pm EST
After sitting on the tarmac and runway [in Cleveland] for about 20 or 30 minutes we are flying a small puddle-jumper along the shoreline of Lake Erie. All the ground below is brown trees on a backdrop of white. Meandering streams flow to colorful bogs or deltas or something at the Lake [I had bogs on the brains 😛 – PoS]. The flight should be about an hour to Chicago O’Hare.
We had a scare this morning when we left our package of itinerary papers and our parking voucher at D__’s. With not enough time to go back, we pushed on.
Later, turbulence over Detroit… [The writing gets quite shaky in the last few sentences – PoS]
January 16 – 6:25 CST (7:25 pm EST)
We are now ascending out of Chicago. The sight from above was delightful. The highways, with their cloverleaf interchanges and bustling traffic, were the most vivid. Looking back toward downtown Chicago, the immediate surrounding area was the most consistently and densely lit. One could follow the lights of the highways to downtown, which was dark and hard to make out. How anti-climatic!
The good news is I’m not on the No-Fly List. The bad news is I was pulled aside at the TSA (ACHTUNG! PAPERS PLEASE!) checkpoint because I forgot to take off my watch and belt [gawd forbid I forget to completely undress before passing through their little gate. Makes me think of: “We’re gonna need a shitload of dimes!” – PoS] and set off the metal detector twice – phooey on the bronze age! A__ didn’t get to her stuff in time to get my picture, but did catch me leaving. The entire time we were waiting at the terminal – about an hour before going through security and another two or so after – Orwell-esque messages are piped into the terminal over speakers to remind everyone how at risk they are and to be sure and report anyone suspicious. I almost find it funny, but in that pathetic clown sort of way.
We’ll have six-and-a-half hours to Dublin before going on to Shannon. It’ll be about 7 or 8 AM local time in Dublin and we’re scheduled to land around 8:50 AM in Shannon. I hope I can get some sleep.
January 23 – 3:15 pm EST
I didn’t get around to writing anything during the actual trip. We stayed pretty busy the whole week, getting up early to maximize daylight then driving an average of two hours home every night. I’ll have to remember the days well enough to document my thoughts.
Currently, we are in hour 6 or 7 of the eight-hour return flight from Dublin to Chicago. I think we are over Canada now. Flying over Greenland was interesting. It looked so harsh and frozen. Unlike the flight over, I actually caught about 2 hours of shut-eye this time. My ass hurts now, though. I’m ready to be home in a familiar bed and have nowhere to go.
This was a good vacation, overall. The scenery we saw while spending most of our time in the car was spectacular. It rained pretty much all day every day, except Monday when we went horseback riding in Cleegan in Connemara. But the rain only hindered seriously one day’s activities: Tuesday we attempted to see the Ring of Kerry in a dense fog and mist and rain. We only eeked out a few beach vistas and an iron-age fort. The temperature was between 47° F and 54° F, with some spikes to 56° or 57° F. Cozy.
Our company was fun. D__ and S__ were the motivation that drove the schedule, which wouldn’t have happened had they not had the guidebooks and some planning. S__ acted as the main navigator to my driving duties, while D__ and A__ were designated roadside stop picture takers. There were a few sing-alongs and late-night rap sessions as well. I thought there was a good chance we’d be tired of one another by now, but it doesn’t seem to be the case. I am pretty sure that we are all sick of driving and riding in cars or planes.
Driving and, to a lesser extent, navigating were not exactly highlights, but they drew most of our attention. Keeping on the left of the road took about a day and a half for me to get used to and for everyone else to feel most comfortable with me. By the time we left, roundabouts, driving on the left of the road, driving from the right side of the car, and the narrow roads were all like second nature. The navigation was interesting due to (sometimes) slack signage, the lack of highways as we know them, and all the interchanges on the sometimes narrow national routes consisting of one or a series of roundabouts. Once the foreignness of driving in Ireland has been gotten used to, the narrowness of the roads with walls, hedges, or ditches on either side still wracks the nerves.
Ireland seemed to me to be a mix of the ancient, the old, and the modern – the modern is gaining fast and will soon overtake the old. The place had changed much in the five years since we were first there. If we ever make it back again, we may not recognize it. Eventually, I think it’ll be a modern society of cities and smaller towns interspersed with farms and the occasional historical site with a national park around it.
Time for descent, approach, and landing, which’ll be rough with the strong winds in Chicago today. So I’ll pick this up later and rehash the trip day by day.
[End of transcribed journal]
So I managed three whole entries. Wow. I had mentioned before that we hit the ground running and I was left with little time or inclination to attempt to recount the events of a vacation before the memories were even a few hours old. I took the “live in the moment and enjoy the vacation before attempting to gleefully recall it” approach. I’ll try to recall the events and my reactions as best I can without turning the whole thing into a list. Hopefully, while reading this one can get a feel of the mood and atmosphere of an enchanting place to visit and share my awe at its beauty.
We disembarked the plane in Shannon to an airport that seemed more like a remote outpost. The place was completely empty, save the passengers who had just flown in and the handful of people manning the various shops and rental car counters. I hadn’t slept at all the whole time we traveled, which left me feeling slightly off-kilter, but I wasn’t terribly tired either; I had done nothing but sit, undress and dress through security. I was a little preoccupied with getting a shower and washing the nearly 20 hours of travel off of me.
We picked up our rental car and the driving adventure began. Having to think about driving, I mean really think about it, was a foreign concept. It was a task that had been taken for granted once it became routine, but shuffle the orientation of the driver in the car, the traffic direction, and the different traffic control devices and routine is completely out. It was like learning to drive all over again. Learning to drive the first time wasn’t as difficult simply because I had been immersed in the set traffic patterns and such of home for as long as I can remember.
So far we’d been alright without our various vouchers that we had left on D__’s coffee table. The clerk at the car rental counter gave us the hardest time, but eventually just made a photocopy of our confirmation page we had from the web page when we booked and sent us on our way. All that was left to procure was the townhouse at the hotel. That check-in was easier and we were finally able to settle in for a little while.
The townhouse that we’d call home – or home base, at least – for the next seven days looked like an abused timeshare near a beach somewhere. Besides the general signs of wear and abuse, the construction was unlike anything we were used to. The air was quite chilly the day we arrived and we were surprised to find we had trouble heating the upstairs or getting hot water upstairs with the boiler. The door had no weatherization at all, so the draft was mighty around the front door, not to mention the screened over, six-inch diameter hole in the front wall directly to the outside. We took all the measures we could think of to try to get the radiators in the upstairs bedrooms to warm up before we showered and left, hoping they’d warm up by the time we returned.
It was just around noon and we had only a few hours of daylight, which we found was going to be our nemesis all week. There was a driving route from one of the guidebooks nearby, slightly to the north, that would take us past the Cliffs of Mohr and through the Burren. As we passed through Ennis, we stopped for lunch and a blood-pressure break from our first driving experience in tight quarters with lots of two-way traffic. It turns out that making right turns means I must yield to oncoming traffic. To help remember after nearly being hit, we took to calling them “Irish lefts” since we associated the turns more with traffic yielding rather than actual direction. Our first in-town navigation experience also revealed the gaping hole in our map resources. I squeezed the rental car, a Ford Focus, into a tight spot in a public parking lot and we got out to walk and find our lunch.
Irish towns are chock full of pedestrian areas where the narrow alleys are closed to vehicular traffic and are lined with cobblestones and small shops. It was quite quaint. We walked for about ten minutes, surprised by the presence of Italian and Thai restaurants. A__’s and my recollection of the food in Ireland was that it was bland, at best, but we began to think we were working with a poor sample on the previous visit. The rain started to fall and the coffee and sandwich shop we were in front of at the time seemed like a good (and dry) choice. This would be my last lunch enjoyed with anything other than a pint of Guinness. I probably needed the caffeine of the cappuccino anyway.
After lunch, we managed to escape Ennis unscathed and found our way to a coastal route that would take us to the Cliffs of Mohr. This was our first experience on the narrow winding roads of the countryside, but the motion sick prone survived and we made it to the Cliffs. There was no indication of the force of the winds present at the cliffs until I attempted to open my car door with the car facing into the wind. The force and strength required to get the door opened surprised me. Little did I know that it was about to get much, much worse. Like the poor, idiotic, yellow-slickered weather reporter who is reporting from the site of the hurricane, we had to lean into the wind, that with a gust could blow my 245-pound (’bout 12 stones) frame back and sideways like the white trash that I am.
The amazing sight that are the Cliffs of Mohr were trumped slightly by the incredible extreme winds we fought to see the site. These cliffs rising several hundred feet up out of the ocean shrink into the haze of the horizon for about as far as the eye can see. I watched the specks of birds riding the winds way down along the cliff face above the white foamy sea below. I also watched as water from the sea was blown several hundred feet straight up the cliff face to shoot vertically into the air like a geyser. This wouldn’t be the first water shoot that we would see, but the height of this one made it the most impressive by far.
After a stop into the new and quite modern gift shop area (from the outside this structure could be mistaken for a giant Hobbit house in the hill), we were back on the road and headed north up to the coast, skirting the Burren. Along this route, we were taken in awe of some of the seascapes to one side and the vast, rolling, bare limestone of the Burren on the other. A few close calls with tour buses on the extremely narrow road and several stops to look and take pictures later, we pulled into the national monument site for the Poulnabrone Dolmen, the mysterious rocks stacked in the middle of a rocky nowhere that served as an ancient alter or tomb or some such thing, just as dusk descended upon us. This also served as the only opportunity to get out and traverse the Burren on foot and get up close with it. I was more amazed at all the crevassed limestone than by the stacked stones, I think. It was an amazing landscape in the dying light of our first day in Ireland.
The drive home in the dark was more than a little nerve wracking for me. The amount of oncoming traffic on the narrow, wet, winding, and hilly roads kept me tense for the entire hour or more we spent driving back home. To make things better, our headlights were aimed to illuminate about 15 feet in front of the car. I two-handed the wheel, which is unusual for me, the entire way and was so exhausted when we got home that A__ had to rub some of the residual tension out of my back in order for me to sleep.
When we did return home, the radiators in the upstairs bedrooms were still not warm, so we played around a little more and called the hotel, who would send someone over. A youngish Indian man came over and told us we were a little low on water in the boiler and that he’d take of it. He left and we walked to the hotel to have some beers and dinner only to be waited on by the same guy who was attempting to fix the heat! I think he did a bit of everything there. After our dinner and a few pints, we called it a day – a very long day – and planned to head out toward Dublin in the morning.
Morning provided us with a hot and pressurized shower which couldn’t have felt better. We also partook of our first Irish breakfast consisting of eggs, sausage, black and white “puddings,” among other things. This breakfast was to become a staple every morning, but there was enough variety with the hot food, fruit and cereals that I never really tired of it. We hit the road after packing some things for an overnight stay at a “super-secret” location booked by D__ and S__ as a surprise for A__ and me. Driving through Limerick wasn’t too bad, but took a while clearing the traffic. Driving to Dublin was pretty uneventful. I wish I could say the same for driving in Dublin. First, there was major, MAJOR construction entering Dublin. The traffic pattern weaving through the site can only be described as a clusterfuck. I missed an obscured light in the middle of this mess and had the point of view of the stunt driver barely clearing an intersection as oncoming traffic charged down upon us from the right. Exciting! We drove around a few blocks trying to find the Guinness brewery and some parking nearby. This was our only real experience with city driving, which I actually felt pretty comfortable with. Trying to find where we wanted to go and not crash at the same time was tougher, but simply not crashing and trying to go where the navigator told me to wasn’t that bad at all.
After successfully parking the car, we walked two or three blocks to tour the Guinness Storehouse. This was our main focused goal of Dublin and we enjoyed the heck out of it. Being the smooth model of coordination and tact that I am, I spilled most of my free pint in the Gravity Bar all over the sleeve of my white shirt. (I guess I have to buy a shirt in the gift shop now.) We left the brewery and struck out to see more of the city and get some lunch. With no other pressing specific sites in the city that we could get to before they all closed, we commenced to walking across the Ha-Penny bridge and found our way to the Temple Bar area, another pedestrian enclave full of students and tourists. Mostly we just walked and took in the general atmosphere of the streets.
We eventually found our way to the General Post Office, the main site of the Easter 1916 rebellion. Besides its large federalist structure with giant columns out front, which was different from any other building I saw in the city, this site was pretty nondescript. Still a working post office, there is only a small display of the declaration with a small sculpture in a front window (and a gigantic pole-like tower with a beacon on top in the boulevard in front). Knowing a little history and some story behind the events at this place help to bring the proper reverence, which are punctuated by the bullet scars on the giant columns. The feeling of shrugging off illegitimate and immoral authority at the potential cost of one’s life stuck a powerful chord with me. Standing in the cold, rainy street in front of this proverbial line in the sand, I contemplated my current situation and where my line may be.
After much walking, we got a cab back to the car and exited the city long after sundown without even making a wrong turn. We headed south toward Kilkenny, just outside of which was our “super-secret stay.” We had our dinner at the bar for the golf course that was part of the complex where we stayed and had the time and energy to sit and have several drinks while chatting and enjoying ourselves. A party from an adjacent room stumbled in like they were celebrating something (they were) and took roost at the bar. Before too long, they were singing songs and having a laugh. Once, when I got up to use the restroom, I came back to find A__ over with the group attempting to lead them in a song! This isn’t all that surprising knowing A__, but it was funny nonetheless. Unfortunately, stage fright got the best of her as happens every time she’s put on the spot to sing. A little later, the fella sponsoring the party (drinking several bottles of Dom Perignon) was asleep and passed out sitting upright in his bar stool – that is until he toppled over with a crash. He didn’t even stir until people attempted to help him up! What a hoot!
Posh. Swanky. These are just some words that come to mind when I think of Mount Juliet Estates, where our “super-secret stay” took place. The room was fantastic, with a large soft bed, a large bathroom with heated marble floors, and a view looking over the swollen, flooded stream that flows through the pastures of the estate. We could not get into the stables for a horseback ride, but it was raining pretty hard anyway. Instead, we just drove through the estate after we took our time checking out and took in all of its beauty. Then it was off to Kilkenny with us.
Driving from the estate to Kilkenny was D__’s first go at driving in Ireland. For the first time, I could relate to the feeling of being a passenger in this situation and I have to say that it is harder than driving; not having any control whatsoever over the movements of the vehicle, combined with the strangeness of being on all the wrong sides of everything made it tough. Kilkenny turned out to be as wet as everywhere else. Walking through it’s quaint little streets was very pretty and we had possibly the best pub lunch of the trip at a corner pub (Matt the Miller’s Pub, I think) near the river.
Warm and full from a hearty lunch of chowders and potatoes and the like, we walked in the drizzle up a river walk below the walls of Kilkenny Castle. It was a beautiful walk, but it didn’t get us into the castle grounds like we had hoped, so we backtracked and found our way into the courtyard. We only had a few minutes before the grounds were going to close, but we saw most all of what we needed to. The architecture of the castle was the first we’d seen up close. It was pretty interesting, but the view of the castle from down near the river was the best.
Traffic in Limerick was a major concern on the way home due to a major rugby match that evening. It was difficult to go anywhere south or east of Bunratty (where we were staying) without going through Limerick. Coming from the southeast, we decided we’d test our navigation skills and take back roads in an effort to detour around the traffic from the match. We didn’t do too bad.
We had stopped in O’Briensbridge to eat in a pub crowded with folks watching the rugby match, which ended shortly after we got there. By the time we were done eating, the first crowd had cleared and a new crowd was moving in for the after-match festivities. When we left the pub the small street outside, where there were cars parked on both sides of the road, was full of cars passing carefully in both directions like blood cells through an extremely blocked artery. I managed to squeeze through with inches on the left side and only tapping side mirrors with one of the passing cars. We still hadn’t figured out how to adjust the headlights to shine further ahead, but traffic was minimal and the ride turned out to be pretty easy.
When we got home we changed clothes pretty quickly and headed out to a pub within walking distance. We ended up at Durty Nelly’s, which the guidebooks had little good to say about. We ended up having a wonderful time, though. It may have been slightly dirty and dark, but it was our kind of place. There were three people sitting at a table with instruments, singing and playing and providing shades of order – or at least rhythm – to the chaotic atmosphere of the packed bar. We had a chance to speak to many people over the course of the night and came away with a buzz and good feelings about life, in general. We henceforth ignored the travel guides’ opinion of the place and went back a few more times over the course of the trip.
Sunday we slept in longer than usual and got a little bit of a later start than intended. Some of us had minor hangovers and the wait to get in to eat breakfast was nearly 45 minutes. Not feeling terribly motivated, we waited it out and got to eat around 11:30. After our typical Irish breakfast, we were headed south to tour the Dingle peninsula. Denny drove us down to the peninsula where we switched drivers for the narrow coast road and to facilitate his taking pictures (not to mention the easing of S__’s nerves). We switched and the tour of the peninsula started in Castlemaine, home of the Wild Colonial Boy. The coast line along Dingle Bay on our left revealed itself intermittently at first and then pretty constantly after that. Across the bay, the hills ducked behind a foggy mist that hovered over the water. We stopped several times in a few miles because we were so taken by the view until S__ reminded us that there was much more to see and daylight was scarce.
In a few subsequent stops, we took in a dirty beach with lovely coastal geology and natural beauty and a prehistoric site consisting of old stone walls and beehive huts. The huts were made of stacked stone and only stacked stone – no mortar to be found. The guidebook informed us that there are thousands of such huts still intact on this peninsula. It goes on to explain that even without mortar or joint-filler of any kind these structures, including some of the more intact ones today, were (and are) water-tight. Perhaps it was the overcast silence, the pastoral peacefulness of these ancient stacks of stone with sheep grazing in the green middle distance that can grab a person like a warm ethereal hand from the past and instantly place them on the vast time line of human existence. The setting and its expansive view of natural beauty, and indeed the work of ancient humans that becomes like a part of nature, shrinks the individual of the present and makes them an ever smaller part of an organic whole. Even as the time remaining of my vacation sped away, my time in this history screeched to a pleasant halt.
Many of the western regions of Ireland have become Irish only areas, where the old Irish language is the only official language. Of course, to make it “official” the government mandates that all town names and street signs be in Irish. The town of Dingle has quite a bit of notoriety, not An Daingean, the Irish name of the town on maps. The residents of Dingle voted to keep their long-standing name, but were denied – or more rightly threatened with the removal of various government funds – by the national government and assigned an Irish name. Now a large sign hangs from the side of a building along the main route through town that reads, “Dingle: A Town Denied Democracy” (written in Irish, as well, of course).
A little ways beyond Dingle, a small coast road continues in a loop at the end of the peninsula. Essentially a one-lane road, it winds its way around the seaside cliffs jutting into small pull-offs to take in the view (and accommodate oncoming traffic). This little drive was, by far, the most amazing drive I have ever had the privilege of taking in. Majestic cliffs spotted with grazing sheep to one side and white waves crashing into the rocky cliffs on the other side frame this tiny road. The whole scene is painted on a backdrop of ocean horizon broken occasionally by distant islands in the haze of the gray dusk. Such ocular feasts could enchant me for hours.
Alas, just as we turned away from the coast on our loop road, darkness had settled in. So we figured out how to adjust the headlights ( a handy knob I thought was the panel dimmer, which S__ figured out, but not before I got myself nice and greasy under the hood), stopped in Dingle for some dinner, and drove the long drive home. Dingle is a natural beauty that none of us will soon forget.
The group got off to a bit of an earlier start than the day before. The mission before breakfast was to find a place to ride some horses in the Connemarra region, since our attempt at Mount Juliet was thwarted by rain and lack of schedule slots. We chose a place out of a guidebook because it was at the very edge of the coast and made a call after breakfast. Alas, we were able to schedule a ride for just after lunch, which would allow us about two hours to drive there. We chose Connemarra because A__ and I really enjoyed the mountainous landscape during our first trip and thought that it would be a fine place to view from the back of a horse. There was a lack of specific destinations in Connemarra, as well, which allowed us the flexibility to take a few hours out of driving to ride.
We drove straight to Cleegan where the stable was located and had about 45 minutes to spare, so we wandered just a few hundred feet down the road and had lunch. After lunch we arrived at the stables and got fitted to our equipment, got a quick lesson on horse control and English riding technique, then hit the road on our ride. It was a pleasant day for a horseback ride. It even stopped raining long enough for us to not get soaked while riding. Maybe we were just lucky, but the longest span of our vacation without rain happened to be when we were outdoors this day.
Our ride took us a short way down the road in this very small town where we turned onto an even smaller lane that lead to a small beach. The beach was nestled in a small cove with the greater ocean in easy view. We trotted up and down the beach following Pavel, our guide, and his horse through the surf. A__, who has been taking English riding lessons intermittently for about two years, attempted to get her horse to canter several times, which is much faster than our trot. It was a gorgeous setting and fun practice in very basic horsemanship. Again I came away with the impression that regardless of how impressive the landscape looks through a car window, it can hardly hold a candle to actually being in that environment and treading it up close and communing with it.
Fresh from our jaunt in the landscape and walking sort of funny, we continued driving down the road to the Kylemore Abbey, a beautiful mansion built for a private residence and eventually given to nuns. The grounds were closed to tours by the time we arrived, but we were still able to see much of the enchanting surroundings such as the green, soft mountains behind it, the large, still lake in front, and the hills carved with obvious glacial valleys across the road. The whole region of Connemarra is studded with beautiful green mountains sporting random limestone outcrops between valley lakes and bogs. The sky was still relatively clear enough to allow for a serene sunset that further enchanted this lovely landscape with muted color.
We took in every wink of our surroundings as the sun went down. Many sections of the road we traveled, which traveled through or skirted a national park, reminded A__ and me of Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park. From the low stone walls to the general look of the forested surroundings, there was likely some inspiration taken from the American park. (We actually saw this again the next day on the Ring of Kerry; not so much the scenery but the road construction.)
The peat bogs, on the other hand, have no real comparison. They are unassuming on the surface, but in various spots cuts can be seen where the peat is being harvested. While not visually stunning, the concept and development of the bog and what it produces (and preserves) is pretty neat. The smell of a burning peat fire is unique and pleasant as well.
We drove home in the dark again, stopping for some dinner on the way. When we returned S__ was feeling tired from a combination of exhaustion and a slight allergy to horses. So she went to bed and A__, D__, and I proceeded back to Durty Nelly’s for pints. The pub was much less crowded than the Saturday night when we dropped in, but there were two musicians at the same table playing for the handful of patrons paying attention. The musicians turned out to be a father (on piano) and son (on banjo) who played a mix of American music – ranging from Dixieland jazz, to New York jazz, to rock – and Irish music – usually at our request. The father had a light touch on the piano during a sweet, soft jazz number (a famous, familiar song I can’t remember now) and the son had such a soulful, gravelly voice for the jazzy tunes of Armstrong and others. It was a fine time and the beer was perfect, as usual*.
*(A note about perfect beer – the perfect pint of Guinness, specifically. Every beer I was served in Ireland was poured with patience and care to do it properly. They were all poured into the trademark tulip glass of Guinness in two stages and all had the perfect amount of foamy, delicious head on top. I was spoiled by the perfect pint while there, but haven’t had anything close since returning – indeed they have always been few and far between in our country. I wonder if this is a lack of knowledge, a lack of caring or both. It might be indicative or symbolic of how Americans run rough-shod over detail in their rush to just get to the end. We’re about as deep and attentive to detail as our cluster bombs.)
We awoke with the feeling of the impending end to our trip looming over us. The thought brought mixed feelings for me – probably for the others, as well; I was torn between feeling the miles accumulated over the week and yet using the entire time in the country to the maximum. I nibbled at my breakfast, which was the same all week long. I was eating less and less of it in the morning and with less variety, instead sticking to small portions of one or two things. S__ and I actually discussed not proceeding to the Ring of Kerry, which was probably the farthest we would travel in a day, and just staying closer to home and relaxing for the day. I considered it very briefly and summoned the fortitude similar to the last 200 meters in the 3200-meter race to make that one last push.
The weather the day before had been more pleasant than the average of our trip, but the weather today was making up for it. It rained pretty steady the entire drive down to the Ring, which, by the way, is just a loop route around the Kerry peninsula. Unlike the tiny coast road in Dingle, the Ring of Kerry is passable to tour buses, though still tight in some places. We didn’t worry much about passing the tour buses or having them block our view because it was off-season and there were only a small handful. Our view was blocked most of the time by rain and fog, though.
As I mentioned in the journal entry above, we did catch a few vistas and some nice coastline. We found our way to an Bronze Age ring fort way up in the country amid a persistent misty drizzle. The fort was kind of interesting and the setting overlooking an incredibly green valley, with the partially shrouding fog, was surreal in a Tolkienian sort of way. Again a picture of grace, I managed to slip in the spongy mud trying to get a picture. Unfortunately, I had my hands in my pockets as I hopped down from the small hillside (really small, like a foot – maybe). So when I caught myself with my hands, which were the only things to actually hit the ground, I had keys in one hand and my wallet in the other, both of which were henceforth caked with mud. I felt shame.
We continued around the whole Ring despite the weather. We saw very little before night fell earlier than usual due to the darkness that already dominated the daylight hours. On the way home we stopped to shop for some woolly products and dinner. We found no woolly products to our liking, but did manage the best dinner of the trip. It was our most expensive dinner, but it was worth every cent…er…Euro. Full and tired, we lumbered back home.
It was our last night in Ireland and we decided to go get our last pints of the trip when we got home. The pub was the emptiest we had seen it. No musicians. Barely any patrons. We had about 45 minutes before they would kick us out. So we sat and rehashed our trip experiences, planned our departure, and enjoyed our perfect pints, the last and purest we’d see in who-knows-how-long.
Our final morning in Ireland came with a slight sense of relief mixed with sadness. I could certainly use the break, but on the other hand, it was vacation and there was much more to see. I don’t think any of us were looking forward to running the airport gauntlet again. The day started off with an easy pace. We packed our stuff and loaded the car to leave, went and had our breakfast, then checked out of our townhouse. This all left us with some time before we had to be at the airport, so we walked over to see the castle that had been looming over us all week.
Bunratty Castle is purported to be one of the best restored castles in the world. After walking through it, I’d have to believe it. A walk back in time through this cold, damp castle full of artifacts and a very knowledgeable curator was a very memorable way to close out our trip. We were quite enthralled by the castle and ended up having to rush to get to the airport.
It wasn’t too big a rush to get checked in, but we didn’t know what to expect for security lines and such, plus we had to return our car. We forgot to fill the gas tank before returning it, tried backtracking, and ran out of time, which really put the squeeze on. We got checked in pretty quickly though and didn’t wait very long in the terminal before boarding. Once on the plane we settled in for a long trip, since this was the plane that would take us to Chicago. Little did we know we had to vacate the plane for a security sweep before taking off to the U.S.. We were able to go through customs preemptively while disembarked in Dublin, though.
Sitting in the crowded little seating area, I had the feeling of awaiting an immigrant ship with folks crowded together with kids and baggage. Of course, the trip was much less traumatic than emigrating from one’s home; these feelings are just evoked by the folklore and attention that particular era in Ireland have produced.
The flight was uneventful, which gave me some time to sleep and write in the journal (see above). Chicago was a disaster when we landed, though. They were receiving a non-trivial amount of snow that backed up flights and clogged the gates. Our plane taxied the entire way around the O’Hare terminal waiting for a gate to be available, a “tour of the tarmac” as the pilot said. We immediately went to check into our connecting flight back to Cleveland. It was then that we found out our flight was delayed about three hours. (I think. My sense of time was so out of whack from travel and hanging out in the airport that I couldn’t say for sure how long it was.) The agent behind the counter checking our bags said that O’Hare goes bat-shit crazy “if someone spits on the runway,” resulting in delays galore.
We retired to the terminal to find some food and wait it out. What we found was Chili’s, which was good. The margarita was so cool and refreshing in the sweltering terminal. While we waited for our food, I was checking out some pictures we had taken on the small digital we had and snapping a few of us drinking margaritas. Unfortunately, that was the last time we saw the camera (with our new memory card purchased in Kilkenny that carried the majority of our pictures from the trip). I guess in the cramped space of the booth, our carry-on bags and coats and stuff cluttered our brains when we left and we forgot the camera. Of course, we didn’t realize it was gone until we got home to Cleveland. I made several calls to the folks who ran the Chili’s and they said nothing turned up. I filed a report with the airline we flew and tried to do the same with the airline whose gate we sat in waiting for the crowd at our gate to dissipate. But customer service can’t help; you can’t fill out the form online unless your inquiry fits a certain formula, and calling the baggage service who is charge of all the lost and found for the other airline was like ringing an automatic busy signal. As a last resort, a post on Chicago’s Craig’s List also went unanswered. So we lost a hundred-dollar camera and several-hundred-dollars-worth of travel pictures. Shit.
It’s hard to call the preceding activity “vacation.” I think of vacation in a classical R&R sense, consisting mostly of downtime and, well, rest and relaxation. What we did in Ireland is better described as adventure or, the milder description, touring. It certainly wasn’t going in to work everyday, but it wasn’t meant for relaxation either. The shifting of gears immediately back to work was difficult; not difficult in the way everyone says when they have to stop vacationing, but in a mental fatigue sort of way.
I was apparently busy since returning because it took several weeks for me to get around to even start this write-up, the video footage has yet to be compiled into coherency, and I haven’t even loaded the scanned photos from my film camera into the computer for use in this post. I can still feel the lingering wonder in my psyche, though, of the sites and experiences from our visit to Ireland. Traveling may be grueling, but it is a big world and the adventure of striking out into it – no matter how civilized -taps into some primal desire and stokes that appetite for more. I hope I get more opportunity to travel, lest I risk letting that curious adventurer in me starve.