Trip Start May 31, 2007
72Trip End Ongoing
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We're gonna do this entry 'tag-team' style! It basically covers the whole of Ireland. We've been through the UK and are now heading out to New York, so we've got a spot of catching up to do. First, a bit of a flashback.. (cue harp strum and blur effect)
The Ferry ride into Ireland was a time I'd like to have removed 'Spotless Mind' style. We were not so much on a passenger ferry but on one of these pirate ship-themed swinging rides you see people lofting their lunches from at the Royal Melbourne Show.
Liam's account that I was "struck down and felt pretty green" was an out and out lie. I was not green
The ferry docked 22 gruelling hours later and I lurched like a drunken stiltwalker up the gangway toward dry, stable land.
Thinking of nothing beyond solid ground, I was taken completely off guard as an Irish immigration official asked for my passport. Forgetting that I'd need such a thing to, oh, I dunno, gain entry to a foreign land, I'd helpfully stashed it in the most out of the way place I could find. Fourteen unfolded t-shirts and a peek into a lunchbox later, I'd found my passport and presented it to the official as I quietly wondered why the room wouldn't stop spinning.
I was staring hard at a stable point on the ground as Mr Official asked me how long I'd be staying in Ireland. Without thinking, I replied 'till the money runs out'. This was apparently the worst answer I could have given short of 'til your mum gets her ugly face fixed'.
As the slow realisation of what I'd just done fell upon me, I realised that the Irish are not all smiles and sunshine
I sat there in a chair in full view of the Customs officials for what seemed like an age. My passport had been confiscated and was now being looked at in a room without windows.
After a suitably long 'stewing period', the offical came back and, towering over me, put the question of visit times to me. I felt the room go dark and a spotlight shining in my eyes..."T...t...two weeks.?" I hoped this was the right answer. Right then, I'd have said anything. I had read that Australians were allowed 90 days in Ireland as a standard 'Stamp and you're in' policy, so I figured 2 weeks was a polite way of getting my 3 month stamp. Apparently I had erred more drastically than I'd thought though.
"Two weeks it is then." said he.
"Gank!" thought I.
A second fellow came up and asked what was going on
Finally, the second man came out. He seemed to be more lenient from a distance. He handed me back my passport and told me, as if he'd done me a titanic favour, that my Irish visa time had been cut down from 90 days to 20 days and he'd put a special stamp on my passport forbidding me from taking any recourse against the decision. I thanked him as if he'd just rescued me from drowning in magma, took my passport and ran (or rather lurched faster) away to Ireland.
Lesson learned here kiddies: don't be sick before an immigration check, brush your hair, call them 'Sir or Ma'am', offer to wash their car and never, ever, EVER speak before you think.
Now, on with the show....
Liam will take over from here, then I'll be back later on.
(ringside palm slap) Hey all, Liam here.
We arrived in Rosslare and immediately took a train to Wexford. The journey was achingly slow, which gave us good opportunity to check out the coastal scenery - all very picturesque. Wexford was a relatively small, quaint fishing town with a long and compact main street running through its centre.
All the shops in town had personalised names - "Sean's Barber Shop", "Harry's Hardware", "Chainsaws 'r' Patrick", etc. It all had a nice country town atmosphere. We got a room in a B&B run by an extremely friendly, chatty woman who nevertheless seemed to harbour a deep-seated fear of smokers & smoking. All through the place were signs that read 'No smoking in this house!', 'Smokers will be asked to leave!', 'Smokers will be executed!', etc. At one point during our friendly conversation she stop and stared at me searchingly, as if counting the pores on my face. "You're not... smokers.. are you?" she asked suspiciously. We shook our heads. "Hmm. Yes..
We spent a while in Wexford relaxing and catching up on sleep. We were enjoying Irish friendliness and accents, too - on the ferry across from France, a tiny Irish girl of about 6 yelled to her brother in a thick Irish brogue "C'mon, Sean! Foive more seconds or oi'll moider ye for shore!" Adorable. Anyway, suitably recharged, we left for Dublin.
We had initially planned to travel west to Waterford, but due to the vageries of the Irish train system, this proved to be impossible. In order to get there (it was about an inch to the left on the map) we had to travel miles to the north, change at Dublin, then travel miles to the southwest. Compounding this was the fact that there were (at most) 5 trains running in that direction per day. Ahwell!
We finally pulled into Dublin and were greeted by pouring rain & people dashing through it, heads covered by their jackets, and a few teenagers with their hoods up walking nonchalantly, pretending it didn't exist. The overcast weather & rain actually seemed to suit Dublin, turning trees & grass a deeper shade of green.
We walked towards the city centre, past densely packed, grimy buildings until we at last reached O'Connell street - one of Dublin's main roads. Eb had organised to meet a friend who lived in the city, and we were to meet at the entrance to Stephen's Green - a massive park close to the centre of town
While I waited for Eb to phone her friend to confirm the place and time, I noticed an old guy with a large beard & a Guinness beanie approaching. At every shopfront he would stop, rear back, and launch a thick wad of phlegm at the display window. "Look the other way, Liam. He won't notice you." I thought. "Kin ye help me with some moneh?!" I heard (or rather smelled) next to my ear. "Sorry mate, I just got here." I replied. A brief look of confusion flitted over the man's ruddy face. "Ahhright den." he breathed, then lurched off down the road, decorating shopfronts as he went.
The next couple of days were spent walking around the city and visiting attractions, including an exhibition of 'bog bodies' - bodies that have been found remarkably (and grotesquely) preserved in peat bogs, and viewing the 'Book of the Kells' - essentially a really, really old book with some pretty pictures, as far as we could tell. In any event Dublin was so packed with people and so choked with bus fumes that we decided to head over to the southwest of the country for a bit of fresh air - to Killarney National Park, by way of Cork.
After bidding goodbye to Eb's friends in Dublin, we left for Cork quite late in the day. We got there even later, crashed at a hostel, then awoke to find there was not much to keep us busy in town. The only thing that caught our eye was something called the 'Butter Museum' (if only for it's weirdness). I was quite keen to visit the place and stock up on mugs from the gift shop, but was eventually convinced otherwise by the distance from our hostel and the weight of our packs.
We fled, and it was late in the day after a pleasant train journey through the countryside when we finally made it to Killarney. Finding the tourist office in Killarney proved to be a lengthy task. Our guidebook stated that "The Tourist Office is large and helpful." but didn't really give us any orienting features beyond an address.
When we finally found the place & booked a room, we spent an age trying to find it (we eventually discovered, with a burst of maniacal laughter, that its location had been wrongly marked on our map). The B&B turned out to be very nice, friendly and genuinely eccentric, giving a real sense of staying in the home of someone's grandmother - all floral bedsheets, porcelain antiques and a host who randomly left to "see how the garden was doing".
As it was getting late and we were getting tired, we decided to just catch a movie at the local cinema, then pass into unconciousness. We ended up experiencing 2 movies - we bought a ticket for 'The Simpsons Movie' and heard the movie 'Transformers' coming through the wall of the cinema next door. Two for the price of one!
The next morning we were advised to hire a bike and cycle through the national park. This we did, peddling to Ross Castle, then taking a boat out on the lake that the castle overlooks. In the middle of the lake was an island with a ruined school and monastary on it - carvings of faces could still be made out in the stonework. Surrounding the lake were lush green forests and rolling hills, with the only sounds being the wind and the distant call of birds. It was all very appealing.
During the course of the day we managed to cycle around the entire national park, stopping occasionally to gawp at panoramic lake views, waterfalls and scattered ruins. Aside from a hair-raising cycle along a major freeway with no bike lane on the way back, it was a very relaxing, almost perfect day. We spent the night wandering around the town of Killarney & investigating pubs, but it was all pretty tacky and 'leprechauny' - a real tourist spot. After scrutinising the map, we decided to travel to Kilkenny the next day..
Eb's turn again (woot!)
We'd been on the train to Kilkenny for about a billion years. The joys of Irish rail are bountiful and made of pure gold. A simple trip from Killarney to Kilkenny, places which are far enough away to be a lil bit of a ride, turned out to be a day long stint on two trains.
Do me a favour. Open up a new tab, go to Google and type 'map ireland'. Click on the first one you see - the one with less detail on it. Cool. Now find Killarney. Bottom Left. Near the fingerey looking bits. Cool. Now look about 4 inches north-east of that. There's Kilkenny. According to the scale there, it's about 100 miles. Not too shabby by train. Now, look nor-nor east of Kilkenny and you'll see Dublin about 60 more miles away from Kilkenny. These are all in a roughly straight line from one another.
Okay, keep that all in mind...
The Irish rail system is so darn well set up, that to travel from Killarney to Kilkenny, you have to change in Dublin and double back to Kilkenny. In fact, go back to your map...
To get from Kilkenny to Sligo, up the far top west, you have to also change in Dublin. Oh, and Wexford (bottom right) to Killarney (bottom left) too. It's the travel equivalent of going to the corner shop via, oh, say, the moon.
Having begrudgingly accepted our fate, we boarded a train to Kilkenny via Dublin, safe in the knowledge that we had a good hour to change trains. A great thing, since the train into Dublin left from one major station and the train out left from another major station, a 15 minute tram ride away. Fiddly, but we had time.
We'd settled into our 5ish hour trip, having accepted the fact that we could have got out and run to Dublin in less time, we were in decent spirits, cup of thermos tea in hand and a book or two. The train clickety-clacked along for about two stops before we pulled up and waited. Unperturbed, Liam and I sat and read and generally were folks on a train at a station. I think we'd been there for about 20 minutes before we realised we were, well, there for 20 minutes.
An announcement came over the loud speaker on the train, perhaps a little signal fault, or a late train ahead... we blithely waited to hear a standardised thingamie about why we were late, feeling sure we'd heard it all before.
"Hello folks, this is the driver here. Seems a passenger got off at Killarney for a cup of tea and forgot to get back on the train. They're being driven here, so we'll just hang about here and wait for them".
No, it's okay if you re-read that. I'll just go get a cup of tea.
Oh, I'm sorry. I forgot to come back to the computer. So glad you waited!
So there sat a train, a full commuter train with at least 6 carriages crammed to the rafters, waiting politely for a Forgetful Jones and his cuppa. And there sat Liam and I, quietly gobsmacked. It was amazing. You've gotta hand it to the Irish. Nothing is a bother.
Our second leg of the Killarney - Kilkenny jaunt took us through some of the most lovely scenery. Rolling emerald hills gently undulated past us as we click-clacked through the land. I'd been lazily reading a book in between my internal 'ooh-ing' and 'ahh-ing' at the world around me. I'd somehow prized Liam's iPod off him and was having a grand old time.
After about an hour, I sensed that little 'push' of knowing that someone is watching you. I looked up. Liam had struck up a conversation with a lady and they were making the "We're talking about you" nods. I unplugged my ears and found they were finalising the details on a lift for myself and Liam into Kilkenny proper.
Her name was Bridget and she was a firey Irish lass. She could blister paint with an everyday conversation but something about her oozed kindness. She piled us into her car ("It's no bother") and drove us into town. She'd already mapped a route in her head to cheap but good digs in town and decided that she'd give us a guided tour while we got there. A cruise past the major landmarks, a little venomous spiel about Cromwell and two brief stops to tear shreds off other motorists, we were at the hostel door in time for tea. You've gotta hand it to the Irish.
Unfortunately the hostel was full, so we wandered a block to a little B&B. The door opened with a flourish and a young man with a thick accent and lively spirit greeted us like we were old mates. We lumbered up to our room weighed down with free maps, goodies and a promise of a full Irish breakfast "between 8 and 10ish...or whenever, just pop down".
We stayed a couple of days, taking in what we could within walking distance. We checked out the castle (which was surprisingly intact) and the enormous castle park before doing a tour of the pubs in town. We managed to catch some traditional Irish music in a pub called 'The Pumphouse', drank a couple of pints and some whiskey, and retired quite happy.
Kilkenny is a pretty little town, with a big nod to its past at every turn. The folks are a proud lot and are some of the friendliest you'll meet. NOTHING is a bother!!
Liam here again, with thanks to my tag-buddy Eb.
The next day was spent travelling to Dublin (yet again) and onwards to the northwest corner of Ireland, specifically to a town called Sligo. We were keen to check out what was apparently a little-explored (by tourists, anyway) part of the country. According to the guidebook, Sligo was apparently where Yeats was buried, and was supposedly a centre for a few megalithic burial grounds. This seemed like as good a place as any to check out all the "rugged countryside" people had been telling us about.
When we finally reached Sligo, it turned out to be fairly grim & charmless - buildings and houses were slate grey and often appeared abandoned, at least in the town itself. An air of quiet desperation seemed to hang over the place. We were pointed in the direction of a hostel located in a dockside industrial area by a monumentally bored girl working at the tourist office, and made our way there under overcast skies.
When we reached the place, we were dismayed to find that it looked like the setting for a 'John West' commercial. The hostel itself was no more inviting. Scattered around were signs indicating various fines imposed for noise, eating in rooms, smoking, consumption of alcohol, chewing with your mouth open, etc, and after these was a warning stating that management could basically fine guests for any reason they felt was appropriate. I wandered back outside to see if there was perhaps a blinking 'Bates Motel' sign I had missed.
After checking out the next day, we left our packs with a good-natured guy who worked at the train station, and went to check out the burial grounds. As we left, a huge Irishman called out to us on the street, asking us for directions. We let him know that we'd only just arrived in town. "Oh. Foreigners, eh?" he asked. We allowed that we were. "Oh." he said, considering this. "This place is a fuckin' dump, eh?" he said by way of departing.
After strolling into the quiet and quaint suburbs of Sligo, we were met by an obstacle - the road stretched through farmland with no space on either side for walking. Faced with this, Eb asked a pleasant looking middle-aged woman for directions. The woman started to relate the route, but then stopped. "It might be easier if I just gave you a lift there. It's no bother." we drove through green countryside chatting, and eventually arrived at the burial grounds, where we said our thankyous and goodbyes and set off to explore.
The grounds were very interesting, and the guide who accompanied us to the various 'passage tombs' scattered around was a fountain of knowledge. After the tour was over, we realised we still had to get back. This involved walking on the road, occasional panicked sprinting away from cars, and burying ourselves face-first in roadside hedges.
We eventually made it back to civilisation and picked our bags up from the station, but not before the clerk at the ticket office pretended to know nothing about them as a joke, causing Eb to nearly uppercut the guy Mortal Kombat style, then caught a train to Dublin (again).
We had initially intended on staying in Dun Laoghaire just south of Dublin, but when we showed up we found that it was crammed with people attending the 'Festival of World Cultures' - a 3 day event we happened to arrive in the middle of. A sign on a local info booth stated that "there was no accomodation in Dun Laoghaire that (they) knew of".
We went back to the train station and tried a couple more stations down the line, but we were faced with the same problem. It was pretty late by this time, so we decided to try our luck with accomodation in Dublin. Most places we found while wandering around had notices indicating that they were full, but we managed to find one that had a free room for 70 Euros.
The place looked alright, so we decided to check in. "Go down the hall, out the back door, up the stairs, through the door, your room is on the right." we were told. The stairs turned out to be fire escape stairs leading up to a kind of propped-up portable housing building located in the backyard of the main building. It was a very dark and overcast night, with the only source of real light coming from an orange streetlight. High up the stairs and standing next to the doorway of the portable was a huge, messy-haired man in stained jeans and a dirty woollen jumper.
He was swaying gently & staring into space. When we got closer, we saw that he bore an uncanny resemblance to Jack Nicholson near the end of 'The Shining'. He responded to my 'hey' with a barely perceptable flicker of his eyelids. We edged past him uneasily and made our way to our 'lodgings'. These comprised of two tattered single beds barely able to fit within the confines of the room, and a busted nightstand. There was no way we were staying there, particularly with 'Chuckles' standing in the hallway all night.
After getting our money back, we proceeded on a tour of Ireland's worst hostels. One place we looked at had masses of mould growing on the sagging ceiling, no door handle, and the words "DON'T STAY, DON'T PAY - This place is a fucking rip-off!!!" graffiti'd in massive red letters on the wall. Eventually we found a Best Western with one room free, and settled in for an expensive night.
The next day we met up with Eb's friends and attended the Festival that had been causing us so much trouble, which turned out to be good fun - we ate a ton of food from around the world, saw some international acts, and retired couchward feeling content. We got up early the next day, bid farewell to our hosts, and caught a train bound for Belfast. It was time to go to Scotland.
Unfortunately we're out of time here, but we'll be covering the UK soon. Thanks to all who've read this far and who have left messages and comments. We appreciate it!