day 0 - 8-13-13: leaving seattle
it took months of planning, but we're finally headed out on our amazing road trip in another country. the groupon covers airfare, swanky hotel accommodations, & the rental car (we upgraded for a GPS), but has no itinerary. so it's been all about finding things we want to see & do, & then i made them work in a logical way so we didn't end up zig-zagging all over ireland & paying twice the euros in gas. we also got a bunch of help from an old get_up_dread_up regular, sensibleken, who not only still lives in ireland with his sexy nollipop, but is willing to come hang out with us when we make it to dublin!
since our jobs are ~more important~ now than last year, joe & i both work a half day on the day we leave, then head right to the airport from our offices. i am wearing the same pocket belt i wore to china: on my right hip is a pocket that zippers AND is covered by a flap which snaps in place, & our passports fit perfectly into it; there's a zipper pocket behind this one which i use for receipts to be balanced later; a zipper-&-snap pocket on the left has my wallet (i use a metal cigarette case for credit cards & ID) & lip balm; a zipper pocket behind that is stuffed with cash; & one long pocket towards the back carries my phone, some note paper, & a pen. it's pretty much a necessity to wear a belt like this so i've no chance of leaving our passports somewhere in a forgotten jacket. joe even modified it this year to have a full leather front closure with a thick metal double tongue, as i had some trouble with the original weak clasp in china.
the light rail gets us to seatac quickly, & i'm glad there's no need to fuck around with the terrible airport currency exchange - which is at a full 2:1! - as we're already stocked with euros from my bank. many places online said the cheapest exchange is to use an ATM in ireland, but my bank's rate was only .05€ less than market perfect, so we went for it. math: it cost us about $26 to get 350€ - worth it as we have no guarantee on ATM rates OR fees & we're stuck once we're there. (if you want to convert, multiply euros by 1.4 to get dollars.)
there are no security issues aside from both of us getting our dreads thoroughly felt up. as we leave at 6pm, the flight is ten hours, & we arrive around 1pm to our layover in amsterdam, the jet-lag avoidance plan is to nap heartily on the plane. the plane isn't very full (joe unintentionally jokes that not many people are on the red-eye to amsterdam - har har), so i achieve a few hours of acceptable sleep in the next row up. the skies remain sunset the entire way there.
joe's entries: link, link, link
day 1 - 8-14-13: amsterdam, dublin, killenard
the amsterdam airport offers enormous versions of mentos, toblerone, & chupa chups lollipops - it's like they're saying, "hey, fat americans - not fat enough? lose a few calories sleeping on the flight in? stop here for a refill!" the toilet paper in the restrooms is thin paper towel & there are no seat covers for my privileged american butt. we see a lot of unusually-structured faces - you don't realize how much of a melting pot the US really is until you go somewhere else & see people with cubic & inverted pyramidal heads. i successfully avoid a contact high from the surrounding atmosphere of amsterdam, & we board our connecting flight to dublin without incident.
ireland is +0000 GMT; wild. we flew here on delta, & now fly on aer lingus. yes, juvenile jokes are made.
we pick up our rental car, a brand new manual nissan micra, & i find myself terrified as i sit powerless in what appears to be the driver's seat as oncoming traffic rushes to the wrong side of us. all the cars & highways are built backwards, you know - joe drives from the right seat on the left side of the road & shifts on his left. worse, everything looks US-normal on one-way roads & freeways, so it's easy to slip into a mindset of "hey, only the car is built backwards!" but we manage to not kill ourselves or others on the way to our first stop, the newgrange megalithic passage tombs.
the tombs only allow access via tour group, & tickets are first-come & unavailable online. the last tour is already sold out when we arrive, but we pay five euros (2€ for my ticket - ireland accepts my decades-old floridian student ID) to check out the small museum at the visitor's center. after, joe decides to take a guerrilla drive to see the tombs anyhow, damnit. we run into some crazy old irish stoner who tells us about cars made out of hemp & how thinking can change your DNA (ok bro). we manage to locate newgrange on our own, & take a couple pictures from outside the giant fence of shrubbery. we then sneak into dowth tomb & climb up its hill; it's only locked at the tomb entrance, but i'm more interested in the sheep hanging out on top of it. there are signs EVERYWHERE warning that "thieves operate in this area", & it's disconcerting.
at this point, we haven't eaten since lousy breakfast on the plane, & we have just enough time to make it to sean's last-minute suggestion of thornton's restaurant. (& i mean last-minute - i caught him on airport wifi at seatac & he told us we had to go.) though we bought tickets online for the bunratty castle medieval banquet for tomorrow, thornton's is closed on the monday we're in dublin... so this is our only shot. we bail on seeing the hill of tara & race back to dublin. we'd been warned by multiple people that parking in dublin is an impossibility, & you're more likely to get a boot than a legal parking spot, but it wasn't even a problem - 6€ to the parking garage next door & it's a non-issue.
thorton's is run by kevin thornton, head chef & proprietor, & he's "widely regarded as ireland's best chef". it's located in the five star fitzwilliam hotel, & seems like a great place to have our first irish meal! so we go alllll the fuck out, & for around 120€, joe & i split:
(i found most of the descriptions on their website, but they were kind enough to email me the other bits!)
after, with joe in pretty serious food coma, we traipse downstairs to the hotel bar to get him some kind of coffee for the road. joe asks the overly charismatic barkeep for an espresso, & he replies, "guinness?" & starts going into all the ways he can order a guinness. i'm about 10% thinking he's screwing with us & 90% convinced he's simply insane. joe purchases a redbull instead ("tastes like a redbull," he notes, contrary to the "redbull vitamin drink" he had in china) & we embark on the hour drive to our first hotel.
after some GPS fuckups, we arrive. our hotel is the heritage golf & spa resort in killenard, & though out of the way, it's fancy as fuck. our bed is decent, there's a giant tub, three-ply toilet paper, a towel warming rack, & pillow mints, yessss. good night!
joe's entries: link, link
day 2 - 8-15-13: dromoland, limerick, bunratty
i can't get the towel warmer to turn on, but the shower is a delight. we steal all the toiletries to give to people back home. i also pick up an "ireland's visitor attractions guide", & it gives some great discounts for attractions we've already planned to visit! breakfast isn't included, & we don't want to spend 45€ here after last night, so we drive to the café just outside the gates... which doesn't exist. oh well, we'll find something along the way.
the GPS has no idea where the rock of dunamase is, but i overprepared, & pull out my printed google maps directions. we find it easily. we first visit the church across the street, & joe poses like a silly stage 6 goth in the cemetery. we head up the hill & find very cool ruins of castle archways & stairs that we climb around & record for posterity. we each pose on what probably used to be a retaining wall, & the wind kicks up our dreads. on the way out, i crouch down to shoot some thistle, & joe says, "go ahead & take a photo of your extended family." i give him points. the weather is a perfect climbing-around temperature, & i feel a couple of raindrops just as we get back into the car.
driving an hour to the rock of cashel, we note that all of the highway signs list town names in irish above & english below; sometimes both are impossible to pronounce. dear ireland, why so many extra letters? we listen to irish radio ("RTE RnaG" & "RTE lyric") & i record some when we realize they're speaking in irish! i take a video so everyone can hear irish radio, & the crazy giant tractors passing us can be seen, too - they're a frightfully common occurrence. we happen upon the gala market & gas station, & buy yogurt - a hazelnut yoplait for me (i've never seen THAT in the states) & a rhubarb crumble thing for joe - & a couple pastries to split (apple & pecan). the cashier says to a little kid at the register, "oi boyo, ya waitin' fer yer pa?" it's so ireland here. we also pick up some irish candy bars we've never had - i choose lion & drifter, & joe buys turkish dairy milk & a yorkie.
we arrive at the rock of cashel in pouring rain & park in their lot. my ticket is 2€, less than half of joe's. i so love milking this student ID. we catch part of a boring tour & then wander around a bit despite the persistent rain. joe thought the round tower was dry-stone technique, but it's not. we bail on it for lunch at ladys well restaurant, as recommended by a local. the way she recommends it charms me - she says, "this is where i'd go with you", which is so friendly it's almost painful. my chicken pesto salad has interesting lettuces, mango, walnuts, giant hunks of sun-dried tomato, & some kind of seeded dressing. joe has a more traditional item, goujons: essentially fried chicken strips with honey & mayonnaise. the rain lets up & we wander a bit; joe purchases what he considers one of the best cappuccinos he's had. we pay 4.50€ for parking, & head towards limerick - running into yet more castle ruins on the way. this one is marked as hore abbey, & there are several sleepy-looking cows laying in front. we make jokes. joe runs up to it while i wait in the car, & reports that it looks nicer from afar.
we opt to visit the crescent shopping center in limerick because we wouldn't mind a bit of shopping, & it's near bunratty, & dinner is about four hours off. on the way, joe spots a horse in a small paddock by the road, & we jump out to say hello. judging by this single example, irish ponies are beautiful, wary, & not interested in cuddling. joe also spots many tiny graveyards, & despite his schoolgirl squeals of joy, they are also not interested in cuddling. the irish countryside is gorgeous to drive through, & driving has become less terrifying... when joe remembers to stay on the left. & when there's at least a minor shoulder - my side of the car is mostly shoved up against hedge brambles, & sometimes there's no taper between the paved edge of the road & the ground.
the mall is actually kind of rad - only about 10% of the stores are familiar. i buy some fake nerds called "weirds" that are packaged in the same dual-sided box - cherry & cola flavors. joe buys some other candies there, then a coffee from a pretty but idiotic barista at costa. i find & photograph a coke bottle with gareth's name on it - coke is doing a silly campaign in ireland to put names on all the bottles, but kneedrawp will be amused to find his name is apparently irish? we tool around a bit, wasting time before leaving for bunratty castle.
the rain has stopped & the castle is about twenty minutes away. we're an hour early for dinner, & are glad to be told there's no dress code - many traveler warnings noted that castle dinners required suit jackets, so i borrowed a blazer from one of my employees. (sorry christopher, looks like your jacket isn't getting a very good ireland experience in your absence.) there's a tiny door in a giant door at the castle entrance, & i pose with it.
we hear bagpipes being played to summon us to dinner - umm well er yeah, that's touristy... & wrong, as both the bagpipes & the outfit are scottish. we're taken up a stone spiral staircase to a great room, where we're given an aperitif of mead & watch a bit of minstrel performance. next comes dinner - we're taken a floor down to a large dining area, seated, & are told that this medieval feast will be eaten with our hands... wait a minute, this all seems familiar. i've been here before, to this very banquet, when i was in ireland with my grandmother in july 1985. as confirmation, i ask one of the servers how long they've been doing this, & am told it's the fiftieth anniversary this year! yep, i was here for the 22nd anniversary, too.
there's a lot of joking & fun with the staff - they've denoted a king & queen of the feast (some tour-bus americans, of course) & continually mess around with their guests. we each have a small fingerbowl of water with a piece of lemon in it, & we're told that this is the "soup" that will be fed to the peasants outside the castle after our meal. the menu is in four courses, & i'm able to find the specifics online:
between courses, there's silly entertainment. the performers pull some doofus from the crowd & threaten to put him in the dungeon; the king makes him sing for his freedom, & i'll spare you what terrible american song he chooses. there's a bit about a food taster for the chicken course, who chokes & sputters, only to report that the food is a mite hot. after dessert is served, we watch the performers sing & play instruments (primarily the violin & harp) for a half hour, & are then released to the ground floor for coffee, tea, & gift shopping. i skip tea & get a second coffee for joe, as i know it's going to be tough for him to drive all stuffed full of yum.
we're staying at the inn at dromoland, formerly the clare inn, for two nights. it's the low point of our trip, & is kind of horrible. they're renovating, & the rooms don't match the website - & aren't even clean. at my insistence, we change rooms twice before finding one without a layer of grime, sticky fingerprints, dirty water glasses... it's bad. but we're finally taken to a nicer room on the other side of the hotel, & it's okay. the wifi is decent, & i'm able to do some torrenting before bed.
we notice here that ireland doesn't use topsheets. wtf?! after our troubles, i call down to reception to check, but it's true - there is no top sheet, & the duvet cover is washed for each guest. that seems absurdly labor-intensive to me, but hey, i'm not irish. or maybe that's why the cleaning staff is too busy to do the rooms properly? ;)
joe's entry: link