They Speak English Here?

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

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Flag of Ireland  ,
Monday, October 9, 2006

We stopped for lunch at a tiny sandwich shop in the shadows of the Kilkenny Castle. The place was so small that my three road trip-mates and myself couldn't all fit in to the room to order our food at the same time. When the nice old woman running the shop handed me a menu I couldn't stop myself from exclaiming, 'Wow, it's all in English!' The woman stopped what she was doing and gave me the sort of bemused, confused look that said, 'What other fucking language would it be in?' After seven months of traveling in countries where English wasn't the native language, I guess I was just excited to have a little normalcy again.

Normalcy would not exactly be the word I would've used to describe the beginning of Day #1 of the road trip. My wakeup call came at 8:30 when the lunatics from Birmingham were crashing around my room and diving back into the vodka. At least Aoife felt my pain and brought me breakfast in bed. She's a keeper.

Eventually, Heather, Kate, Adrian and myself made our way out to the airport to pick up our little POS Nissan (though vastly better than the Corona) that would take us around the whole of Ireland in about four days. But within minutes of picking up the Nissan we'd already hit our first potential pitfall. It was a manual, which meant I couldn't drive and Kate only had her international license but not her domestic, which meant she couldn't drive either. This meant Heather was by default our alternate driver, and that didn't exactly inspire confidence.

Our first stop was Kilkenny, and that was more because we were starving than anything else. It turned out to be an excellent little surprise. It's a nice little town of quaint pubs, shops and restaurants, plus the large castle sitting over the river that runs through the heart of town. The sandwich shop was also great, which doesn't sound all that special, but you'd be shocked how hard it is to find a decent sandwich outside of America. Most places a sandwich is two pieces of bread, a slice of meat, maybe a slice of cheese, and if you're willing to pay a little extra, a slice of tomato.

We were sitting in the parking lot, eating our sandwiches and trying to figure out the best way to get up to the castle for a look-see when we stopped a woman as she was walking by with her dogs for advice. Twenty minutes later we were saying our good-byes. That's the thing about the Irish -- they are easily the friendliest people in the world. This revelation shouldn't come as much of a shock to most travelers, you encounter the Irish everywhere (literally everywhere -- you wonder how there's only 4 million of them) and with little exception they're gregarious and friendly and always up for a good time. But most backpackers are like that. But while the average local in many countries couldn't be bothered to stop to talk to three Aussies and an American during the afternoon dog-walk, the Irish love the excuse to stop and talk to someone new, give a little help and make a new friend.

We took a few minutes to stroll up to the castle and walk around the nice patch of green that stretches out in front of it. We didn't bother going in since it was by tour only and that tour cost more (which means it cost something) than what we were willing to pay. So we were on our way through Waterford (home of Waterford Crystals) to the south coast and on toward Cork. The one problem of driving through Ireland is it always takes maddeningly long to get anywhere. For one, it seems like all of the non-four million who are traveling the world are out on the roads. For another, the tremendous economic boom that has hit the country is only now, at best, extending to roadwork. Ireland has experienced a tremendous economic turnaround since the introduction of the euro (just about the only country to make such a claim), a shift known as the 'Irish Miracle.' But most of the roads, even the major highways are still just one lane on each side. This means that traffic grinds to a halt if anything -- construction, an accident, a slow driver, someone wants to make a left turn -- anything at all happens.

We were well behind schedule when we found the brown sign (as is the signs that dubiously advertise something worthwhile lies down the road) pointing for a detour to Mahone Falls, but decided to go explore anyway. The road was narrow and fairly precarious at points as it took us up and down small hills and through a couple small towns and finally opened out into some dramatic landscape over the coast. There was some spectacular scenery, but not a waterfall in sight as far as we could tell. Lots of sheep though. It was nice enough that we deemed the break from the itinerary a success even without the waterfall.

What all the traffic and the detour meant, though, was that it was nightfall by the time we pulled into Cork. The only map of the city we had was the crappy Lonely Planet one and it's impossible to find a street sign in Cork, like every other European city. I realize that most cities put street signs on the corner of building long before the introduction of cars to cities, but we've had cars for quite some time. Is it so difficult to put up a metal pole with a couple pieces of scrap on it and write a street name so people who might be lost can figure out where they're going without slowing to a stop at every intersection, infuriating and endangering everybody around them? That's all I'm saying.

With a bit of luck and some excellent navigation (if I don't say so myself) we finally found our hostel and set out to find some pasta and alcohol -- equally important parts for a successful night. I suffered the ego-crushing insult of getting carded walking into the liquor store (not even while purchasing, just to enter) while the rest of my friends cruised in. I realize I might have a bit of a baby face but do I look 17? I knew I wasn't going to be living that down for a while.

It was a fairly typical Friday night, bar-hopping from bars with U2 cover bands and that sort until we hit the main drag, Oliver Platt which offered up plenty of options for late-night entertainment. The whole time I was trying to reach my friend Tony, the Irish guy who shared his beer with me on the very first night of my trip. For one reason or another, we never connected and we were left to our own devices. Even without a local tour guide it still wasn't difficult to find some decent nightlife on a weekend and we made sure to enjoy it even with a 8 am wakeup call staring us in the face (for better or worse).
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