Driving half of Ireland in half the time

Trip Start Nov 29, 2005
Trip End Nov 21, 2006

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Thursday, November 2, 2006

We awoke in Wales to steady rains and stiff wind, the exact sort of weather you could only dream to have if you were about to get on a long ferry ride. But for as miserable as the weather was in Holyhead, we arrived on the other side in Dublin to find the Irish skies a shinin'. I had already seen Dublin fairly extensively so my main interests in being back in the city were social. Not to sound like a total lush (and while readers of this blog might very easily reach that conclusion, I prefer to think of it as merely being a backpacker) but I hadn't experience any sort of nightlife in the near week my parents had been out and I was starting to get a bit stir-crazy. Fortunately I already had plans to get back on the piss with CJ, who would also be joining us for dinner, giving my parents an opportunity to actually meet and talk to one of my good travel friends, instead of merely going on my word for everybody I'd met. We only had a couple hours to kill before dinner (courtesy of the ferry being late with all the weather issues on the British side) but managed to chew up a fair bit of the city -- a stroll through Trinity College, where we skipped paying the 7euro entrance fee to view the Book of Kells in which you actually only get to view a Page of Kells and from a healthy distance as well, past Christ Church and along the river through Dublin Castle and on to St. Patrick's. The weather was fantastic for late October so the walking was easy and I was surprised that I actually remembered how to get around the city.

Getting back out with CJ was a welcome change. As I previously mentioned, my social life had taken a bit of a dip in the past week. It wasn't merely a matter of getting out and drinking, it was more that my parents were basically the only people I'd interacted with in all that time. It's not quite as terrible as it sounded, but it was good to be back with a relatable friend. After dinner CJ and I parted ways with the parents and it was obvious from the start that CJ was intent on making my only night back in Dublin memorable while making up for his previous poor performance (check back a couple weeks). We started bar-hopping around Temple Bar -- the district -- before ending up at the Temple Bar. As you'd probably imagine, Temple Bar is a bit of an institution, it's world famous, it's put on postcards, all that jazz. So with it comes a certain level of obnoxiousness inherent in such places. Mainly you go there and it's expected that you're going to have to deal with loads of English stag and hen parties and the sort of other corny stuff that can either make a place great or annoying. And it was there that the night, ummm, took a turn. I had talked my parents into finding a hotel downtown because I knew I'd be going out with CJ, and presumably in Temple Bar, so we found something that was not only a reasonable stumble back, but also a stumble I knew I could make no matter the influences. But then CJ decided we were taking the show to a non-Temple Bar bar. This was a certain recipe for disaster since I noticed that at the pace we had set for ourselves I'd quickly be liberated of all the euros I had in my possession. CJ said he'd have no problem paying for a taxi but he also had a reputation for being a bit flighty. Sure enough... At some indeterminate point the silly bastard just wandered off and I was on my own. This was good and bad news. The good news was, in my naivete I assumed he would reappear at some point so I hung out by the bar and quickly struck up a conversation with Angie, a local girl who'd also recently come back from Australia. Not only did we hit it off but she was going to be in London the same time as me. As for the bad news, well, you can figure that out. It's an interesting note that Dublin taxis can't be paid for in sob stories, so I had quite a trek ahead of me, not to mention the tricky situation of sneaking into the hotel room and into bed without stirring the parents.

Fortunately the next morning was a rare occurrence on one of our vacation where I was allowed to sleep in. I woke up to a buzzing phone, going nuts with nonsensically entertaining voicemails from CJ and a call from Angie reciting her number in her lovely lilting Irish accent (so lilting and quick though that I had to go about deciphering the digits like I was a code breaker) so there were at least a few things to feel good about in spite of the heinous hangover. The plan for the day was to drive across the island to Galway where I could spend a Saturday night in the culture capital, but we learned before we left that the city was completely booked out since had about seven festivals, a hurling championship and the annual Irish-Australian Gaelic Rules Football game were all taking place in the city. I wanted more than anything to see the hurling (particularly in person, at the very least on television) because as far as I can tell it's the most insane sport in the world played by people that would HAVE to be insane to play it. But as I mentioned during my road trip entries, it can be very slow-going on Irish highways, particularly on a Saturday and particularly on a Saturday when Galway is in such high demand. What's normally about a two-to-three hour drive took five and we had to settle for a B&B in a tiny town outside of Galway which had one restaurant for dinner and one pub for a pint and a TV to watch the Gaelic game (a combination of Gaelic soccer and Aussie Rules football, total chaos, lots of mayhem, and occasionally fluid play).

The next day we spent on Joyce's Country, which I assumed I could could just gloss over since I'd already seen it once and described it a few entries back. But since nothing comes easy, we had a joyful experience with a flat tire, all the more fun since we were in the middle of absolute nowhere. What the flat tire meant, more than anything, was that the next day would be even more of a nightmare since we no longer had a spare and there was a little bit of damage to the car, which we had been hoping to upgrade anyway. Once all the car dramas were done (and completely unresolved) we set out for the one place in Ireland I wanted to see that we didn't hit on my road trip -- the Cliffs of Moher.They're as spectacular as the tour books make it out to be. The more you walk, the more the angles change and the more you find something new to photograph, even if at the end of the day most of those pictures come out exactly the same. The only problem was the weather had turned absolutely foul and the wind was brutal -- bad enough that you didn't want to get too close to the cliff edge for risk of getting blown into the view. As we walked farther along we found a place that wasn't necessarily supposed to be accessible, but it seemed lots of people were hopping the fence and going along anyway, so my dad and I decided to give it a go. Really all this accomplished though was completely muddying up my pants and shoes (neither of which were really built for this weather and both of which were my only pair respectively -- the joys of backpacking) while focusing more on not stepping in the bullshit than enjoying the view.

We drove that night to the town of Dingle out on the Dingle Peninsula, which is meant to be just as nice as the Ring of Kerry (we were debating which one to do, and since I'd already done the Ring, I persuaded my parents to skip it and indulge me with something I hadn't seen). Dingle is a tiny town but is famous for being packed with 52 pubs -- quite a ratio for the size of the town and proof once again about where Ireland's priorities lie.The next morning the rain had passed and we had excellent weather again, and although I saw it in far superior weather, I have to say I rate Dingle much higher than the Ring of Kerry. The scenery is spectacular, rolling green mountains and a dramatic coastline, that's even better at the farther outreaches where the surf is stronger and the waves crash against the rocks more violently. There were excellent views everywhere, and the sheep were ubiquitous, so my mom got to indulge her unhealthy obsession. The plan for that night has originally been to stay in Kinsale -- a highly reputed town south and west of Cork. But Kinsale was not all it was cracked up to be, so I talked my parents into staying in Cork, where I could more effectively enjoy Halloween.

I ended up spending that night hanging out with my friend Tony, which really meant my trip had come full circle. Tony was pretty much the very first person I'd met on my trip. I was jet-lagged and hungry but we struck up a lengthy conversation in the hostel bathroom in Raglan, while I peed and he shaved. He shared his beer with me and still the best idea I've encountered for remembering the people you meet (I wrote about this in my first entry, instead of merely collecting email addresses, he hands his journal over to someone with a title on the top of a page, and you just have to fill up the whole page in stream of consciousness -- my story was 'The Next Best Thing to Sleep' -- and all in all it makes for a fantastic, hilarious, deranged keepsake). We swapped email addresses, probably never imagining that 11 months later I'd be calling him up and inviting him out for a beer. It seemed Tony was a bit of a local celebrity, as the first spot we went to had a live band that consisted of his brother, sister-in-law and cousin. But that place was dead, so we moved on to a bar that was celebrating Halloween with a little more earnest. We spent the night rehashing what we had done with the last 11 months and had numerous conversations on the endless virtues of traveling. One of those conversations centered on random meetings, and sure enough, as I was walking to the bathroom, I bumped into Megan, one of the slew of Irish girls from Ios. We both exchanged shocked 'What are you doing here?'s but of course her excuse was much better, since, ya know, she's Irish.

Our only goals for the next day were checking out Kilkenny and making it to Rosslare to get on the evening ferry back to Britain. And have I mentioned before that the traffic in this country is miserable? The opening leg of the drive really offered me nothing since I had done this leg exactly about two and a half weeks earlier. This time in Kilkenny, though, we'd be stopping to do the castle tour. The tour guide was entertaining and very witty to make the experience enjoyable, but the castle was more a chateau than a 'castle' so it didn't quite pack the excitement I was hoping for. Where's the torture room? We left Kilkenny and the traffic was even more of a nightmare. This time, though, it was risking throwing a serious wrinkle into our plans since we had to be at the ferry by a specific time since we'd already booked our ticket and a hotel on the other side of the strait. But we made it, and with enough time to get thoroughly lost and pick up some mediocre take-away Chinese. And at some ungodly hour, we were docked back in Britain. And I had made the final country change of my trip.
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