Archive for May 2009

Back Home

May 5, 2009 - 9:07 pm 2 Comments

Descending over Newark, the familiar landscape was nauseating. Haze blanketed colorless, boring apartment buildings and industrial structures. Even the grandeur of Manhattan’s skyline was dulled by familiarity.

Everything was nauseating. The gate we arrived in, the little restaurants, the brand-name retail stores, and even the people walking around in the airport all looked depressingly familiar. Whenever you lose yourself in another country for a few days, coming home is always a bit of a jolt, no matter how much you prepare yourself.

Ireland is a beautiful country of velvety green grass, medieval ruins, and rusty bacon. I’m amazed with what we did and saw in six days. Everything went like clockwork. Definitely the smoothest vacation I’ve ever taken.

Getting the car was key. We were able to drive at our own pace and stop for snacks or a photo whenever we wanted. The roads are narrow and slow, but the distances are short and the traffic is light. The late sunsets (didn’t get completely dark until around 10pm) made it easy to get most of our driving done during daylight. And the GPS was a godsend.

Traveling east to west is definitely the way to go. On our trip, each day was better the last, with the sights getting bigger and better and the scenery getting greener and wilder every time we stopped the car. At the end of our trip, winding down in the quieter towns of Galway and Ennis was perfect.

And we completely lucked out with the weather. It was raining when it didn’t matter and sunny when it did.

The Irish people are a genuinely friendly, confident, talkative, and happy, with a quick tongue, a great sense of humor, and wonderful little expressions like “That’s grand!” or “He wouldn’t beat an egg!” Stef loved the accent, falling in love with every Irish guy who spoke in her general direction.

A few of the locals mentioned to us that Ireland is in pretty serious economic trouble, but you wouldn’t be able to tell by the way they carry themselves. The Irish have an easy, laid-back, no-stress attitude and enjoy the simple pleasures in life like talking and drinking and laughing. This a happy people who take nothing for granted.

And there are no losers or dicks in Ireland. Everyone seems to respect each other. Liam was a tall, gawky kid who actually plays an accordion, and he was a confident, polished speaker. And the bartenders and bouncers and cops and taxi drivers, generally arrogant assholes back home, are all friendly and helpful.

Still have no idea where all the tourists were. The attractions and roads were virtually empty. Is spring the off-season for Ireland?

B&B’s are everywhere. In some neighborhoods, every other house is a B&B. TripAdvisor was immensely helpful, allowing us to sort through hundreds of listings and pick out the best and more affordable ones only a day or two before we came into each town. Each was pleasant and homey, with small bedrooms having clean beds and a tiny TV mounted high on the wall or on top of the wardrobe.

Staying in a B&B every night starts to get a bit expensive, but such is the price of luxury. With the cheap flight, average meals and drinks, and a good price on the car rental, I’d say it was a fairly priced vacation overall.

Part of the reason we were able to do and see so much in six days was that we were flexible. The key to flexibility is knowing your options. We had a basic idea of what we wanted to do, but due to research we did before the trip and a few minutes here or there on the laptop, we were able to make educated decisions on the fly that allowed us to cram in as much as possible into each day. It’s amazing how everything worked out.

Do we have any regrets? Maybe some small ones, like the fact that we didn’t get to catch a traditional Irish dancing show or that maybe we stressed a little too much trying to cram as much as possible into our tight schedule. But like I said, everything went so smoothly that it’s hard to complain about anything.

Despite the various leg injuries, Stef had a fantastic time. It was really the first time she has taken a big trip like this, and everything was new and fresh for her. I’ve done quite a bit of traveling, and new places are surprising me less and less, but one thing I never get sick of is being away from home.

Stef loved how un-American everything and everybody was. It’s a more familiar experience for me, but Stef began to see that America really is backwards in a lot of its habits and attitudes for the first time. After a few days, Stef was saying that she wanted to move to somewhere like Ireland. After few more days, she said she wasn’t going home.

Maybe it really is time to live in another country. It’s an idea that I’ve been kicking around for a while, but perhaps it’s time to really start looking into it.

For now, we’re back in America, where guys piss everywhere in the bathroom except in the urinal, where slow drivers drive in the fast lane, where turn signals make the drivers around you accelerate, where cars honk loudly and often, where people are afraid to make eye contact, where fat people are unhappy but beautiful people are unhappier, where we need too much and need it yesterday, where one flavor of Coke isn’t enough, where we need it faster and bigger and louder but not better, where news and advertising is about fear and urgency, where everyone moves too fast or too slow but nowhere in between, where people push other people but not themselves, where people hate their jobs but whine when they can’t keep them, where no one’s interested unless they’re getting money or sex, where no one takes responsibility, where no one even tries to be articulate, where courtesy is a courtesy and not a standard. I’ve made most of these observations in the past, but international travel really brings them out in relief.

So what’s next? Got some potential trips in the works. Maybe a long weekend in Yellowstone, maybe Israel, maybe Rio for New Year’s. My Mom is even talking about taking the family on a Mediterranean cruise. We’ll see what happens…

Last Night in Ennis

May 5, 2009 - 8:19 am No Comments

Another easy drive, this one down the N18 to Ennis. We found our B&B just outside of town. We checked in, chatted with proprietor Anne, and then asked her where we should go for dinner and music. She recommended Brogan’s, a pub in Ennis that was sure to have live music.

Munster v. Leinster (more…)

Winding Down in Galway

May 4, 2009 - 3:02 pm No Comments

The last day of our Ireland adventure…

Woke up this morning and had a chat with Eddie, one of the proprietors at 4 Seasons, over breakfast. Instead of the regular concentrate that everyone else had, I was delighted to find that Eddie served freshly squeezed orange juice. So good that I had three glasses.

Eddie is an interesting, funny guy. He taught us a bit about Irish history and attitudes and discussed Ireland’s affection for Obama. Like a lot of the Irish, he had a quick way with words. “If America sneezes,” he said, “we all catch a cold.” He also told us funny stories about rude Americans that have stayed with him in the past. To him, most Americans, especially the ones from New York City, are rude and a little slow-witted. He told us the story of how one woman was so impressed with his scrambled eggs that she asked him for the recipe. He recounted the conversation quickly and articulately, which served to make it even funnier:

“I make scrambled eggs at home, but they don’t taste as good. How do you do it?”

“Well, you got a pan and you add the eggs, butter, a little salt, and a bit of milk. Then you take your whisk and mix it up a bit to get some air in there, but not too much.”

“Well that’s what I do, but it doesn’t taste as good as yours.”

“How were you stirring? Clockwise?”


“Well you have to turn it anti-clockwise.”

“Ahhhhh, OK.”

Eddie also mentioned that he goes to America quite often to go shopping and gloated how economically he was able to shop over there. With his $7 sweater and his $10 jeans, his whole outfit cost him less than $50. Eddie was also a part of Ireland’s clean-up operation in Iraq after Desert Storm. He showed us the empty shall casings he kept and now uses to decorate his fireplace and hold umbrellas.

Stef & Eddie (more…)

An Island, a Cliff, and a Poem

May 3, 2009 - 11:00 pm No Comments

Pretty cruisy morning. Decided to be crazy and had scrambled eggs and smoked salmon instead of the traditional Irish fare for breakfast, then made our way down the road to the pier near Doolin. The air is crisp and fresh, but the smell of rusty bacon is replaced with salty spray and the smell of decomposing seaweed.

No Driving Off the Cliff Allowed (more…)

Ring of Kerry and the Mad Dash to Doolin

May 3, 2009 - 1:21 am No Comments

We woke up and met with Rose at breakfast, asking her to turn on the Internet for us like she had promised, but she went into this story about how her computer’s hard drive made some funny noises a few days ago and that she lost everything. Then she told us that she was instructed by her “computer guy” not to turn her computer on while they are cooking. Perhaps her computer sits on the stove? In any case, it was breakfast, and we couldn’t afford to wait. We headed into Killarney’s city center to find some more information about the rally on the Ring of Kerry and assess our options.

At a tourist information center, a helpful woman named Michelle told us that only a small section of road on the Ring was closed for the Rally of the Lakes and that we’d be just fine since we were getting a late start. The bonus was that all of the tour buses and most of the other tourists had left Killarney several hours before, meaning that there should be very little traffic on the Ring. We cursed Rose, got our morning scone, and hit the road.

Setting off to the Ring of Kerry, we knew that we were about to begin the more scenic part of our trip. Except for one wrong turn that took us the wrong way for a few miles, our GPS and maps met our navigation needs perfectly. That GPS has been a godsend.

Like County Wicklow, the scenery of the Ring of Kerry was varied and beautiful. One minute, you’re gazing at the openness of Dingle Bay, then you’re driving along the edge of a thickly gorsed cliff, then you’re passing through a town that smells like rusty bacon, and then you find yourself in the middle of a rocky, scrub-filled mountain range.

The roads themselves were like many of the roads we’ve been driving for a few days: narrow and bendy. Not a problem, though, since there were hardly any cars around. We don’t understand it. All the books we consulted say that traffic on the Ring is a bit of a pain, especially from the tour buses clogging the roads. But we had entire stretches of road to ourselves several times, and we saw only two tour buses the whole day.

But the posted speed limits on these roads were ridiculous. We’re supposed to drive 100 km/h around a turn along the edge of a cliff? With no guardrails? It was a challenge driving even half the speed limit in most places.

The drive took us through the small town of Cahersiveen. Having done some research on my last name, I know that “veen” is old Dutch for “bog,” and the town of Cahersiveen seems to be surrounded by bogs. I guessed that the town might have been originally settled and named by the Dutch. Turns out that “Cahersiveen” comes from the Irish “Cathair Saidhbhín,” meaning “town of Little Sadhbh.” Oh well.

Daniel O'Connell Memorial Church (more…)

Three Castles and a Kiss

May 2, 2009 - 12:51 pm No Comments

Up early once again. We had a big day ahead of us, and we couldn’t let the pouring rain slow us down.

We started with an early morning drive around Kilkenny, stopping first at St. Canice’s Church, which wasn’t even open yet. I snapped a few photos outside of it before we went to Kilkenny Castle. Pretty cool from the outside but pretty bland on the inside. I almost didn’t mind that they didn’t allow photography in there.

St. Canice's Cathedral (more…)

The Road to Glendalough

May 1, 2009 - 12:54 pm No Comments

We woke up to a traditional Irish breakfast: a fried egg, two sausages, a runny pile of baked beans, and a thinly sliced, fried piece ham (the Irish version of bacon), served with orange juice from concentrate and your choice of tea or coffee. Fills you up nicely, but it’s a bit heavy. I found that Weetabix, which looks like it’s made of compressed bran flakes about the size and shape of a bar of soap, cuts through the grease nicely.

River Liffey (more…)