day 5 - 8-18-13: blarney, clonakilty, & about six hundred other tiny irish towns
i wake 3 minutes before the 9:30am wake-up call i scheduled, which is fortunate since the wake-up call comes late at 9:45. no worries anyhow; our first stop doesn't open until 10:30, so we have time for breakfast regardless. on the way out, i put a note on the door asking for as many bewley's biscuits as is humanly possible to leave, & hope for the best.
we're not 15€ worth of buffet hungry, so reception suggests the local centra market. we've discovered that irish credit cards all have a chip in them that works differently from our magnetic stripe, & it's problematic - the self-check machines are super confused & we need manager assistance. my receipt specifies my "irish made purchases" - apparently my "juicy drench" brand black currant & apple still spring water is irish, but the 180g salad bowl from belfast, which says "made in ireland" on it, isn't irish. okay ireland, i see what you did there. the salad has red & green leaf lettuce, red pepper, cherry tomatoes, english cucumber, & "lambs lettuce": a tiny, bitter bunched green i've never tried. i photograph an example. i also purchased a croissant filled with cherry & almond paste, & it's perfection - a great balance of flavors & not too sweet. why is everything in the US always so sweet?
there's a lot of 80s music in this world - seems most of the stores & gas stations we visit & many radio stations are very into the 80s & early 90s. irish radio frequency seems limitless - we're still listening to RTE RnaG & RTE lyric, which we first picked up back in dublin. i hear the announcer in her adorable accent say "BEWM", & i'm delighted... though i don't think anyone reading this is oldschool irc enough to get the reference.
our first stop is the fota wildlife park - basically an open-form zoo with a ton of animals we've never seen. what's more is they do breeding programs for helping endangered species around the world, too. it's fantastic, & totally worth the 14.30€ admission (& i save 5.10€ for being a "student"! ha!) we see rothschild giraffes (highly endangered), spider & howler monkeys, siamang gibbons, grey-cheeked mangabeys, lion-tailed macaques (among the rarest & most threatened primates), kafue lechwes & scimitar-horned oryx, european bison (went extinct in the wild & have since been reintroduced; still close to endangered), bennett's wallabies & eastern gray kangaroos, a ton of maras, a few visayan warty pigs (critically endangered), lots of grant's zebras, great white pelicans, helmeted guinea fowl, & joe's favorite: a cheetah, which he'd never seen in person before! (they're also, sadly, a threatened species.)
we wander the park, sometimes only a few feet from these animals. joe tags a perfect photo of one of the giraffes eating grass, which is hilarious. the lechwes are trying unsuccessfully to get it on. i'm loving this place. joe buys a "dracula" ice cream bar - black sorbet over red sorbet, so it's all super gothy when he takes a bite. the park also has local foliage marked, & there's a monkey puzzle plant that looks so spiky & punk that i have to pose next to it. the only downside is that all of the grassy areas - & i mean all of them - are pretty heavily covered in landmines of poop. so we stick mostly to the [very clean] walkways & traverse the entire park over three hours.
the first of the megalithic sites is an hour & a half from the park, driving through wilton, ballinhassig, innishannon, bandon, clonakilty (where the best puddings are from), & rosscarbery. joe squeals over yet another beautiful old graveyard. while i wait in the car, i finally figure out how to program the GPS for coordinates to our 3 sites - the GPS has 3 methods of inputting coordinates, & none match how they were written on all the websites i researched before the trip. turns out that "-9.162287" really means "W 009.16228" - a number short & with extra zeros no one told me about - & suddenly it's a lot easier to find the megalithic sites.
joe's terrible raspberry cookies smell like chemical bubblegum, & so i'm extra happy to come across a small table of fresh vegetables by the side of the road. there's a money bin on the honor system, & the homemade jams are marked with last week's date. joe buys large blackberry/apple & rhubarb/apple jams for 2.50€ each. there are giant bunches of freshly dug carrots for 2€ each, & a few loose ones, so i leave .70€ for three. they're thoroughly flavorful & crisp.
we arrive at the drombeg stone circle, & it's REALLY cool. there's a placard to tell a bit about the site - the wide, flat stone on the far side is the axial stone, & this faces the two portal stones that mark the entrance to the circle. on december 21st, solstice, the sun lines up with these & makes druidic magic happen. it's all bronze age, & there are two prehistoric huts & a fulacht fiadh - an area where large stones are heated & tossed into a water filled trough to make the water boil. in 18 minutes, 70 gallons of cold water could be brought to boil in this way, & it'd stay hot enough to cook with for three hours.
on the way to the next site, we pass casey's bar. it looks great, very tiny & irish & probably delicious, so we give it a shot. joe orders bangers & mash with a rich gravy, & i have a flat white fish i've never heard of: plaice. they agree to broil it instead of frying, which pleases me on two levels - i hate eating fried crap, & also i wanted to be able to taste this fish i've never tried! i'm served a huge portion, easily ten ounces, with a large bowl of mixed glazed honey vegetables (carrots, acorn squash, celery, & red, yellow, & green peppers), & a ton (4 scoops!) of buttery mash. it's all scrumptious, the plaice like a softer mahi mahi, & i leave with more than half of it in a takeaway container.
raheen castle is the next megalithic site. it's a busted castle that's gone very green, & apparently still has cromwell's cannonballs in it. the castle is half a kilometer off the nearest parking spot, through a lot of bramble & brush, so i hang back & take video of joe going up to it while i eat wild blackberries by the side of the road, just barely ripe. (keep the volume up to hear irish birds chirping.) joe hikes around & actually finds a way into the castle; i head back to the car & learn of an irish indie band, little green cars, that i am totally buying when i get back to the states. (update from the future: done.)
twenty minutes to the next site is the knockdrum stone fort. we find the area easily enough (there's a big gate with STONE FORT handwritten on a sign), but the fort itself is another distance from the road through an overgrown field & a bunch of brush & stuff that is not lish-friendly. i go back to the car & nibble at my plaice leftovers until joe gets back. he reports it's cool, but he has the idea that it's cooler than we can know about, as there's a locked grate & a chamber in the wall that he can't get through...
it's now 8:30pm, & that's unfortunately too late to drive to the southernmost tip of the island & see the dunlough tower house/three castles head - it's an hour drive & then a thirty minute walk just to get to the site, & would be dark by the time we arrive. plus joe's ankle is still bandaged from a serious rock fall in the states, & he hasn't been gentle on it during this trip. so, we bail on dunlough & decide to try to see "kick ass 2", which came out just two days ago. i take more video of us driving on a tiny road, & as we meet up with N71, we spy a beautiful little waterfall & jump out for photos. the GPS shows a theatre in clonakilty, the park cinema "multiplex" (three screens!), & we make it there during the previews for the last showing of their last movie of the night - "kick ass 2"! it's 7€ each & i'm glad to note it's not dubbed in irish. ;)
we make it back to blarney without incident, & joe spots a fox in the driveway to our hotel; i catch video of it being foxy while listening to a great irish cover of pink floyd's "shine on you crazy diamond" by christy moore. i have a hot HOT bath/shower, with a warmed towel this time, & i'm out zzzzzzz.
ps. the cleaning staff left us 11 biscuits :D :D :D
joe's entry: link
day 6 - 8-19-13: dublin
we rise early on day 6, as we have a three-hour drive to dublin to meet sensibleken & nollipop at noon. we stop through the centra market again for breakfast, & joe buys some "HP sauce" that we tried at casey's bar - it's "brown sauce", made of malt vinegar, tomato, molasses, & dates... joe loves it but i'll give it a miss. we're on the road around 8am, destined for our meet-up point of the dublin spire, which ken says is just around the corner from our hotel.
i finish last night's leftovers (perfectly refrigerated in the car overnight) as we pass through a town called watergrasshill... gosh, i wonder how they came up with such a creative name? at a gas station, i buy a small ribena blackcurrant drink that i'd been seeing all along & sort of wanted to try, but it was always a huge size. however, i buy their "toothkind" version by accident, which means aspartame: yuch. it's not terrible, but i feed most of it to joe. i see a "vikingsplash.com" DUKW, which matches our stupid "ride the ducks" vehicles in seattle. tourists. :(
we make it to dublin with twenty minutes to spare, & take ken's suggestion to drop off the car at our hotel for 12€ all-day parking. it's too early to check in, but i ask reception where to find the spire. she says it's next door! but next door is a spar grocery. apparently my accent in ireland is not so clear as i think. the spire is actually three-quarters of a kilometer away, cripes. we hoof it to get there just a few minutes late - & approach just as ken & nolly walk by! i call out their names & there are big hugs all around. ken & nolly are two of the most gorgeous, kindest people we've met; super friendly & outgoing. we feel immediately at ease with them.
our first stop is at st. michan's church, where ken covers everyone's fare (5€ normally, 4€ for nolly's & my student tickets). i promise we'll get their lunch, & the ladies at the counter joke that ken could make a very good deal of that! beneath the church are some crypts dating back 900 years - & if the families who own the vaults came back today, they'd still be allowed to use them. the guide is AWESOME, taking us through the vaults with perfect creepy comedic timing. he tells us about wolfe tone & some other irish rebels executed in 1798, whose coffins are before us. wolfe met a very gruesome end: he was hung, but not until dead. he was taken down, & his entrails were cut out & burned in front of his eyes. he was then finally beheaded, & his body quartered. when asked why his body is still beneath the church, the guide replies, "we do love our rebels."
the guide shows us some mummified remains in the vaults - the temperature, lack of humidity, & other atmospheric conditions in the crypt caused this to happen naturally. we're told it's illegal to open a coffin in ireland, so no one would've known they were mummified... except that one of the stacked coffins had broken under the weight of those above, & mummified remains spilled out.
in the last vault on the left, we see a nun whose toes are in perfect mummified condition - even her toenails are visible. (our guide makes us stick our heads into the vault to see them clearly.) we're told about the crusader at the back of the vault - he apparently never made it to the crusades, as he's only 650 years dead, but he's huge (6'5", extraordinary for the time - his legs were broken to fit him into his coffin) & touching his finger is lucky. the guide expresses that looking at the toes is mandatory, touching the crusader is not... but he highly recommends it. he moves the gate aside, & of course joe & i both touch the crusader's finger. he feels like stone. we're permitted to take a few [non-flash] photos despite the signage to the contrary, & the tour is done.
we stop through dublin city hall & see their cool murals, then take a cab to the kilmainham gaol prison & museum. it's 6€ for an adult but just 2€ for students, & ken kindly covers us again. here we learn about multiple irish rebels who were executed fighting for irish freedom. the guide here notes that it's tough to pack 150 years of complicated irish history into 1 hour, but we think she does an admirable job. the tour also shows us a familiar sight, where a ton of prison movies were filmed, & i get a shot of ken & nolly with joe.
we cab back (nolly keeps sitting on my dreads - it's definitely time to prune these things), & head to cornucopia (*snap*) for lunch. my sweet potato, cashew, & mint soup with seedy spelt bread is superb! joe has the chilled carrot & avocado soup, & it's delicious. i love vegetarian restaurants - the flavor profiles are always so interesting. i tell ken i'd be here every day if they had a location in seattle, & i mean it.
joe is on something of a quest for irish death metal, & ken knows of a little cd store nearby. joe buys an album by primordial & i pick up a free irish indie sampler - perfect. the cashier says "thanks a million" (this is the most common gratitude phrase we hear in ireland - even ken says it), & we split. ken & nolly have to stop back to their house to take care of their dog & another they're watching for a friend, & so they walk us to the general vicinity of my tattoo appointment & we make plans to meet back up for dinner.
the tattoo studio is inside the mall, which is VERY weird to an american - only SUPER shitty tattoo studios are in malls here, but the artists at wildcat ink are capable at worst & often expert. we use the mall pay toilets - another .20€ each, this time handed to an attendant waiting outside. it was pretty clean in there - perhaps the fee is what keeps the toilets so nicely maintained.
we walk into wildcat, & i fill out the typical paperwork. i meet rachel, who's very sweet & chatty. everything with the process is standard to the US, & after a few stencil placement changes, we begin. joe tells her a bit about the trip, & rachel & i bond over our grandmothers. after a few minutes, "Ireland" is added to my thigh. i've already paid the 60€ deposit by paypal, & there's a tenner balance to cover the shop minimum. i give rachel 15€ in cash; she asks all bashfully if i'm sure i want to give her extra, & it's just adorable. she hands me the shop aftercare sheet just to be thorough, & then goes weirdly beyond to encourage me to call the shop if i'm feeling lightheaded or if i start to freak out or get sick. haha, it's a five-minute tattoo on a person with six solid days' worth of tattooing on her... it's pretty much already healed as we leave.
(backstory for those who don't understand why i tattooed Ireland on my thigh: i have a memorial tattoo for my wonderful, amazing grandmother, who was a world traveler of 57+ countries by her death at 96. as i travel, i have the country name tattooed in her handwriting beneath the memorial, ideally IN that particular country, & thus the memorial is a living, evolving tribute that grows with me as i age. (blue ink is for the countries we once visited together; black for everything else.))
we wander the mall a bit & buy nothing, then head out to meet ken & nolly at jo'burger. along the way, we see some beautiful graffiti, & a bit of what looks just like the purple skylight sidewalk glass of underground seattle. (i make joe pose next to it.) i think ken must walk about twice as fast as i do, 'cause it takes us near 40 minutes to get there, twice as long as estimated... but it could also be because joe & i are kind of destroyed by this point in our trip. anyhow, we do make it & find a cute little restaurant with old kids' books on the table with the menus in the front. joe & i split an an irish beef burger (charolais 28 day dry aged) in the "mapetla" style of beetroot, horseradish, & rocket; & an irish lamb burger (lough erne) dressed "chiawelo": fresh mango salsa & rocket in a wrap. (i get to teach everyone that "rocket" is "arugula" in the states.) joe has a "soda mint lime" to drink, which is basically a fizzy limeade with a ton of fresh mint leaves in it - yum!
the walk to mother kelly's pub is mercifully brief, & ken buys joe a pint of guinness. ken & nolly went to some efforts to find us a trad session on a monday night, & i'm stoked for it! a trad session is basically a group of random folks who can play instruments &/or sing - sometimes up to 30 of them - who show up at a place at a time & play traditional music however they like. it goes right along with the friendliness & accepting atmosphere we've encountered throughout ireland.
after an hour or so, it's on. we have a guy on
the music is terrific - the guys are really good (despite being SO stoic that they look utterly miserable - ken explains this is typical), & chris plays the tin whistle so fast on one song that i comment i'm surprised he can keep a hold on the thing! (i regret not getting that one on video.) ken does join in on the banjo, & even sings a few songs a cappella, including a particularly haunting rendition of "do me justice"/"here i am from donnegal". (i dreamed about it a few days later).
ken regales us with stories of the IRA, mentions that he knows the guy who runs the megalithic ireland site, & states vehemently that jameson is cooking whiskey. i note that joe thought the round tower at cashel was dry stone technique, & ken makes a very good point that it couldn't be, as "the vikings would've just pushed it over!" it's getting late, & joe & i are barely awake, but i'm loving this. ken laughs as half of joe's body is tapping in perfect time to the music, while the other half is completely still & seemingly asleep. i compare him to a dolphin.
three hours pass at the pub. it's past midnight, & we finally part ways after taking a photo for get_up_dread_up - where joe & i first spoke, & where ken & nolly met, too. we would not have these friends & lovers if not for my dreadlock community. ^_^ unable to walk any farther, joe & i take a taxi back to the hotel for 21.85€. the car smells like vanilla, nutmeg, & clove, & i sleepily enjoy cookie cab.
the north star hotel is somewhat old & musty, but is beautiful, & our bed is lovely. wifi isn't included, which is just as well since we have no hours to sleep before getting up for the airport. the list on the wall says this room is 350€ a night - that's nearly $500 US! considering the trip (airfare, hotels, & rental car) only cost around $1700 each, & four nights over two of the other hotels were at least at this level... all i can say is YAY GROUPON.
joe's entry: TBL
day 7 - 8-20-13: home to seattle
i roll out of bed after maybe five hours. my feet are SO sore from walking over 10km yesterday - that's more than i've ever walked in a single day... hell, more than i've ever walked in a weekend. fortunately, i arranged all of my items last night so it's easy to throw on today's outfit & pack up. i pay just a tenner for parking (2€ less than expected - joe says it's because the attendant thinks i'm hot) & we leave the north star on time at 8am.
we drop off the rental car at dan dooley with no real issue, & even save on gas because the car's petrol gauge is digital & didn't notice that we'd driven around for an hour after filling up. X) the shuttle from car rental to the airport puts us there with exactly three hours until our 11:20am flight to kennedy airport. we go through normal security, customs, & a special US-only security where our shoes are checked for bombs. we make it to the gate half an hour before boarding, with just enough time to internet & successfully download "breaking bad". i also have a minute to eat a fruit & nut flapjack (from the irish flapjack muffin co.) that i purchased yesterday because i saw them everywhere. it's like a chewy but dry granola bar; it's not fantastic, but it's a decent breakfast.
we board, & delta shows us the standard, boring pre-flight instructions on our in-seat tvs... but wait, this isn't the usual boring presentation! delta has ramped up their act & has made this dull safety video actually really funny! they're on youtube, but the amusing bits we laugh at include a passenger storing a tiny bonsai tree under their seat; when the voiceover says to turn off electronic devices, a robot is seen shutting itself down; signs on the plane that say no smoking, no cartwheels, & no juggling chainsaws; & my favorite part: two identical twins, dressed identically, are sitting in a three-seat exit aisle. the flight attendant asks if they're comfortable performing exit-row duties, & the third dude says no. he gets up & leaves, & is replaced by an identical triplet, also dressed identically, of the first two guys. :D (our flight attendant is SO happy we get the jokes - apparently most don't? wtf.)
jetlag avoidance math on the way back is also to nap a bit on the plane - mostly on the first flight to NYC, & not so much on the second flight to seattle. we enjoy some freeze dried apple crisps & tomato crisps (basil & oregano) that we bought in a coffeeshop yesterday, & i resolve to buy more on amazon - hooray for healthful snacks. i check my belt pouch, & find i have just 6.15€ remaining from the 210€ i brought - granted we paid for most things on credit, but i'm pleased with my money management. :D
we get in to NYC safely, have a few hours to layover, & board the flight to seattle on time. there's a slightly different but equally funny delta video (a passenger stores a miniature suitcase under her seat; another passenger puts an oil painting of a suitcase in the overhead bin; girls carefully play jenga during turbulence), & we arrive in seatac an hour ahead of schedule. we wait around at baggage claim, & find our bags - & see that one is totally torn open! the corner seam has popped in a really unreasonable way - this bag has seen some trauma today. i head immediately to the lost luggage office, & politely show them the damage, asking if there's anything delta can do about this. the woman behind the counter briefly inspects the bag, then goes into a back office & reappears... with a brand new piece of luggage! it's very slightly larger & different from my matched set, but dude, free luggage! i tell her i'm very pleased & am going to have to fly delta more often. she is completely impassive & unaffected.
thankfully, we don't have to wait too long for buses. & while i'm glad to be back in our bed, i can't wait for the next trip. :)
below is a composite of pretty much our entire trip. the letters go A-R then A-M because google maps couldn't even handle all the awesome. more details are at these two links: one, two.
joe's entry: TBL
YAY THANKS IRELAND