Thursday, March 17, 2005

Marcus in Arabia: The Trip to Africa Ireland!

I was going to write about my African trip because it sets up my plan to photo-blog The Last Bit. I have pix from Africa digitized but not from Ireland (something that needs fixing!) but due to the fact today is St. Patrick's Day my trip to Ireland is much more appropriate.

Now despite my Roman demeanor and name I have Irish heritage so the trip was not just a trip but it was more than that.

Originally I was aiming for a trip to Belgium. I wanted to tour the Ardennes and spend a weekend at Spa-Francochamps to watch the F1 race their that weekend. I couldn't make it work though because the race was too close to the day I had to return to work and I couldn't be sure I would make it back in time. So we decided a free form vacation in Ireland. Yes, I did not travel alone and no my companion was not Claudia it was Barnubus!

We flew from Chicago to London to Shannon Ireland. We got off the plane pretty beat and we picked up our rental car. I was worried the car's pedals would be reversed as well as the shifter and the seat on the left side. This was not the case. We got in the car and drove on the left side of the road to Limerick. Luckily we found the hotel we booked with very little searching we checked in unpacked the car and went to sleep. We spent two days in Limerick and it was pretty cool, there was plenty to see and do within walking distance of the hotel and we did just that. The coolest thing was King John's Castle, this is the same King John from Robin Hood Fame. That was real neat seeing that. The Pubs were nice. One night at a pub we asked if we could do a "left turn on red" (which would have been the equivalent of right turn on red) they never answered no but it was pretty clear the answer was no.

The guys said "Red light means stop!" We then explained to them right turn on red but did not have to go any further with this one.

Driving on the left side was a trick and it took some getting used to. What we did to help out with this was to talk it out. Okay I am turning right, car goes to far lane and so on. It worked pretty good. None the less the driving was unnerving at times. The worst was on our way to Galway from Limerick.

We drove through this one town called Ennis. In Ennis the streets were very narrow (a general rule for city streets), we were on the left hand side of the road, cars were parked on both sides, and people were crawling all over! It was unnerving indeed but we made it through without incident. We then went up to Galway. We ended up staying in a motel that Barnubus sprung for on the edge of town overlooking the bay. We had a wonderful view but had to hoof it quite a bit to get to the pubs. Galway had a carnival atmosphere and was enjoyable. Galway is one of the places were our ancestors were from so it was cool walking around that thinking someone who made me possible walked those same streets.

After our stay in Galway we doubled back and went south. Not wanting to drive through Ennis again we pulled out the map and picked some lesser highways that did not go through Ennis. This was well worth it. At first the land was rocky and had scrubby trees, not quite what one thinks of when talking of Ireland. This area was the Burrens and it is legend that Cromwell or one of his lieutenants said of The Burrens: There's neither water enough to drown a man, nor a tree to hang him, nor soil enough to bury him. Indeed! But it was beautiful!

Eventually the landscape gave away to the more traditional fertile farm land we imagine Ireland to be. The traffic was light and my only regret was not stopping at some of the sites to snap photographs. One photo I wish I took was that of a falling castle tower. Here in Wisconsin we have old silos maybe 100 years old, in Ireland they have old castle towers.

Ireland is indeed the emerald island. I can not say for sure if I ever saw two fields displaying the same shade of the color. It was beautiful to look out from atop high ground. To see the patchwork quilt of green fields (each a different shade of green, remember) each separated by a grey stone fence.

Eventually we came back to Limerick but we were done with Limerick and continued on. IIRC we eventually stopped in Tiperarry Town. A small farm village and we checked into a bed and breakfast. We did the usual thing and spent the night sampling the beer in town. The most interesting thing about Tiperarry Town was this little incident. Then we moved on.

IIRC our next destination was Killarney. Again we arrived and found a place for the night, parked the car and hoofed it into town and sampled the night life. Killarney was also had a carnival atmosphere to it. I recall seeing two big and grimy guys with dogs putting on a puppet show on the street and story telling. My guess was those guys travel somewhere were and work on earning money to get to their next destination, that is professional vagabond travelers. Another Killarney sight was that of a little girl with what looked like her mother and an aunt. The little girl wanted to dance soooo bad and would coax her aunt into dancing with her. It was real cute. The next day we did drove the Ring of Kerry.

The Lonely Planet Guide suggested we drive it opposite the normal way so busses and slow drivers would not hold us up. Furthermore this was about the only stretch that Barnubus drove. Wrong, don't drive the ring of Kerry opposite from the normal traffic. Busses will NOT hold you up! The road was NARROW and had rock fences pretty much on the edge of what road was there. Barnubus could tell when we were getting close to the edge because he noted I developed a very noticeable nervous tic when that happened (I provided the credit card to pay for the car so I was going to be on the hook for damages). The busses being big take up a good portion of the road and are traveling fast and to boot there was a fair amount of driving out of shade into bright sunlight.

The Ring of Kerry was magnificent with many occasions to stop and take photographs.

Cork was nice. I had a UAE colleague from Cork and I rang him up. But when I called him he denied knowing me and I gave up before he was done with his joke. He told me when classes started it was a fighting point between he and his wife for sometime. I never did get his sense of humor. Yes we went to the Blarney Castle and kissed the Blarney stone.

The next destination was Waterford. [Insert standard activity] and we met up with a tour group from the US. This was pretty neat we ended up talking this crew quite a bit. The day after that we toured the Waterford Crystal factory and ended up leaving some of our dollars there. It is incredible the attention each piece gets but at the prices one pays for the stuff it had better be extraordinary in some way. This is also a heritage scene for us. Our mother is in possession of a letter from Ireland that is postmarked from the 1860s (IIRC) and it contains the name of a nearby town. So we took some time and visited the town. Sure enough, we saw the maiden name of our Grandmother in one of the store windows. I wanted to seek out some of the other sites mentioned in the letter but we had to get going.

Next destination was Wexford. We went into this one bar that looks like it was an old barn and the proprietors did not put a lot of effort into trying to hide that fact. A troupe (actually a family) of musicians came in and played traditional Irish music and we met a fellow from the UK who was also traveling. We hung out with this fellow and enjoyed the music. Barnubus at one point was getting a little loud and was whacked by the father musician's fiddle stick, I did not see it but Barnubus tells us this happened.

Earlier in the day we participated in a little foolishness with some locals. Their buddy excused himself to relieve himself and they asked if I could wear his sunglasses. I said okay, I took of my glasses and wore the sunglasses. Now I am blind w/o vision correction (or perhaps just have God awful eyesight) and so could not read the situation. Eventually Barnubus told me he could tell the guy was afraid to ask for his sunglasses back so I took 'em off and returned them. We also toured an old Viking fort (King Reginald's keep IIRC) nowhere near as impressive as King John's Castle. Ireland was home to many Viking types which hits the other major piece of my heritage as a Norwegian.

Then it was off to Dublin. We reserved a room at a hotel the day before and we managed to find it without too much problem. Dublin had a lot of things to see. We toured St. Patrick's Cathedral, The St. Jame's Gate Guinness Brewery and took a bus tour. That night the Irish world cup soccer team was eliminated from by the Lituanians from further competition (Lituania need to tie or better, guess which one they played for). In the hotel bar I said hello to this one woman and she told me not to talk to her! Wow, okay lady. Little bit later she struck up a conversation with us and Barnubus figured it out. She thought we were Lithuanian! Eventually we wished she would have stuck to her guns. But they were a nice couple.

From Dublin Barnubus caught a flight back Stateside and I drove back to Limerick and left from Shannon.

Ireland was nice and if your heritage is Irish go!