My 27th day of travel, but first day in Ireland! First, I went to Iceland. Then, Scotland. Now leg three of this crazy 2.5 month journey through Europe brings me to the emerald isle… Quick one hour flight on Ryan Air from Edinburgh, and I’m not going to lie… I was sad to leave there. But Ireland is ahead of me and new adventures await!
My first glimpse of Ireland…
So how did I wind up in Ireland? Well, I’m am international housesitter. I’ve sat all over the world (Costa Rica, France, Malaysia, South Africa, Iceland…). And the first sit I accepted for this summer’s trip was 2 weeks in Dublin taking care of a cat. I had bought my airfare, both into Ireland and out of to France for my next housesit, when the home owner canceled on me because she wasn’t going to be leaving town after all. Super trashy move on her part, but it’s always a risk. So rather than be pouty, I decided to make the best of it and see as much of Ireland as I could! I researched, and decided to spend a few days each in Dublin, Belfast, and Cork.
Landed in Dublin, went to the bus counter and got my 3 day Leap pass for $23. Unlimited bus travel for three days. And that was going to be necessary, because lodging in Dublin is expensive and hard to come by in the summer. Especially considering I had budgeted $0 for lodging since I had a sit! So I found a little air bnb outside of town, about a 40 min bus ride to the center. This wasn’t going to be Edinburgh where I could just walk to everything, but I saved over $50 per night doing that. Plus, I could blog on the long trips back and forth! Win – win! Anyway, got my leap pass, got on the bus for city center, transferred at the spire… Easy, breezy!
Checked into my air bnb, which is run by a woman from Italy. Very nice little neighborhood overlooking a park. First order of business… Groceries. My peanut butter had been confiscated by security in Edinburgh… There was a little store just up the road. The prices were YOWZA expensive compared to my beloved Tesco (and it’s clearance rack!). I googled for the nearest Tesco, but it was over a mile away. Normally, not a problem, but it was after 8 and I was tired. I just bought the bare essentials- 2 ramen, a jar of peanut butter, a loaf of bread, a pack of cookies, some bananas, and a pack of frozen veggies to help ward off “traveler’s scurvy”. $14. Ouch.
Came back, talked to Brian over SCREAMING FAST internet (YAY…FINALLY!!), and crashed.
Day 2. I had planned out my days pretty well since I had only a few in each city. For Dublin, my first full day was going to consist of a free walking tour at 10 that was going to be 3 hours long, and the Leprechaun Museum at 2. The tour started at city hall, and I was supposed to change buses at the spire to get there. However, I saw it was only like 1/2 mile from the spire, so I got off and decided to walk instead.
Ok. All of these travel journals I create, I create for me. I LOVE that people enjoy them so much, and it really helps to motivate me to get an entry done every day instead of being a slacker, getting behind, getting overwhelmed, and giving up mid-trip. That said, because these are for me, I have to be honest to myself. Always. And not worry if I’m offending someone. If you love Dublin…um, here’s a nice blog on Scotland or Iceland to read!! Go check those out. Now…
First, I’ll say something nice. The weather was GREAT!! Sunshine, 60F. It’s the first time I’ve left the house without a jacket in a month. Felt nice! But as I walked the streets, I wasn’t impressed. There was no old European charm/history at all. It reminded me of a borough of New York City. Lots of non-descript red brick. Kind of gritty. I wondered if maybe the city had been bombed during WW2 and was rebuilt. That was the only thing I could think of that would explain it. As I crossed the River Liffey, I honestly didn’t feel 100% safe. I didn’t feel like someone was going to hurt me, but I just didn’t feel “safe”. Maybe like someone would take my bag or something. I’m not one to scare easily when traveling, and have been in MUCH sketchier looking areas before. But my instincts were on full alert for whatever reason. I walked through the streets and stumbled upon Temple Bar (which many have stumbled DOWN, I’m sure!!). The flower baskets hanging were absolutely gorgeous! But still…I just had this feeling. The streets reeked of urine. There were cigarette butts everywhere. I stopped at an ATM to get Euros, and was about 30 minutes early for the walking tour. So I just sat and waited. I wasn’t feeling this city. Not at all. I hoped that a good tour would change that!
The tour was beginning! My guide was Adam, and he is a history major!! <cue angels singing> YES! That’s what I needed to ground me to this place, some history. Because I wasn’t feeling it from the street. I’ll give you a quick rundown of some of the places we visited and the things that I thought were really interesting… First up, the flag. It’s a tricolor that was given to an Irish independence fighter by the French (based on the French tricolor). Now here’s what I found absolutely fascinating. If you’ve studied history, you know that religious conflict has been a major sticking point in Europe for centuries- especially Catholics vs. Protestants. Well this flag aimed to unite the two religions. Green is for the Catholics. The Orange (as in William the Orange) represents the Protestants. And the white in the middle represents unity. That really hit me as such amazing symbolism. No wind (YAY!), but here the flag. 🙂
The next story is about Lady Justice- a symbol that can be found in many countries, and is easily recognized from her scales of justice she holds. But unlike most Lady Justices, this one isn’t blindfolded. Hmmmm…. And generally, these statues face out over the city- a sign that justice is looking over the people. But in Ireland, she is facing the government buildings with her back to the people! There’s a saying about it…”The Statue of Justice, mark well her station, her face to the castle and her arse to the nation!” The Irish have humor. I like that! 😉
There’s a hole in her scales to let the rain through. It rains here? Really? Couldn’t tell from today! 🙂
Next we looked at Dublin Castle. It was first completed in the early 1200s! Of course, you can look at it and tell that it doesn’t look that old today. Fire destroyed the majority of the castle in the late 1600s. All that remains of the original building is the lower part of the round tower.
The castle overlooks some very pretty gardens, in the middle of which is a large green area. It is from this place that Dublin gets its name. This is the spot where two rivers once met- the Liffey, which still runs through the city, and some other river I can’t remember the name of that now runs underground. Where they met, a pool of black water formed. In the Irish language, Dubh Linn means black pool. 🙂
So speaking of the language, Ireland has two official languages. First is the Irish language and 2nd is English. Upon entering the airport in Dublin, I immediately knew there were two official languages, because very sign had this other language on it, and it was above the English. But I learned even more about it on this tour, and found it to be quite fascinating. The parent language is Celtic. Then, one sub language under that is Goedelic. The ancient Irish language is the original Goedelic language, and it spread to the Isle of Man and Scotland, where the highlanders there spoke (and some still do speak) Scottish Gaelic. Very interesting to see the progression of it! And very sad to say that although it is taught in Irish schools, the majority of the country is not fluent in Irish. English, even though it is the 2nd official language, is the language of government and business in the country. Mainly because it was under English rule for so long. (As I said on the Scotland blog…England is why we can’t have nice things!!)
Speaking of England, the guide touched on this whole weird thing about the island being split in two. And this is the simple, super-abridged version! It’s way more complicated than a guide could explain in 5 minutes… Anyway, it goes back to religion. So the entire island was under English rule. Those living in the north were primarily Protestant (like England). Those in the south, Catholic (not like England!). Those in the North weren’t really keen on the southern Catholics (lot of various forms of discrimination against them), and identified more with England. When Ireland was going to become independent from England in the 1920s, Northern Ireland was like, “Yeah, not so much. We’ll stick with England.”. Tons of conflict. TONS. Conflict that I remember hearing about on the news a lot when I was growing up in the 1980s. Anyway, today Northern Ireland is still ruled by the UK, and southern is independent. And, just like in Scotland, this whole Brexit thing is throwing a huge wrench into the works…will be interesting to see how it turns out. The super cool thing is that anyone who lives in Northern Ireland can apply for an Irish passport. So theoretically, citizens of the UK could still have an EU passport after Brexit. Of course, that doesn’t solve trade issues. Ah, politics! 🙄
We then went back down to the Temple Bar, and I learned that I needed some schooling on the matter!! In all of my research, I constantly heard about “Temple Bar” being a hotspot in Dublin. I took it literally. That it was a bar named the Temple Bar and it must have some claim to fame. That’s why I took the picture of it earlier when I was wandering the streets. However, I was incorrect! Temple Barr (yes, two r’s) was the original name of this area- one of the oldest in the city. It was named for the Temple family that owned the land. And land that is next to water is barr in the Irish language. However, somewhere along the way the other r got lost, and everyone built a bar (one r!) there!! The streets are cobblestone, and the flower baskets are amazing. But the guide said only come here if you like paying a premium for alcohol and hate drinking with locals. 😉 It’s a colorful area, and vaguely reminds me of New Orleans.
We saw several more places, but these were the ones that really interested me. I do recommend the tour. And TIP AT THE END!! Don’t be a cheap ass!! When the tour was over, I went over to Trinity University to see if I could see the Book of Kells. The line was ridiculous (Saturday). So I decided to wait on that and head on over to the Leprechaun Museum and see if I could get in early (I was booked for 2, and it was almost 1). Because still, even though I had learned some cool things, I was not feeling the city and really had no desire to wander around it for an hour. The vibe was just not clicking for me. It was really crowded by now, too. The museum said I could go in at 1:20, so I ate a pepperoni stick and granola bar and hung around outside. I should have just gone back to the house…
Remember when I went to the sad ass elf museum in Iceland? Well, they had an excuse. They were in the middle of no where Iceland! This pathetic excuse for a “museum” is right off the main area in Dublin. Why did I go? Because I’m doing a folklore class for my students and thought I could get some interesting pictures and information. Wrong and wrong. My tour had like 12 people on it. At (god, I’m going to puke when I write this)… $19 per person!!!!! For what? For fucking NOTHING. Literally, you walk in to some very poorly designed and decorated rooms. In each room, the guide tells you something. We got 2 stories out of it. One was about a leprechaun. One was about a salmon of wisdom. It was so dark in the rooms that I was about to fall asleep. I learned nothing. There was nothing worth taking a picture of. This is a huge, stupid tourist trap of epic proportions. If find a leprechaun and he gives me three wishes, I’m using all of them to close that mess down! The aftermath of this museum wasn’t helping my view of the city very much at this point…
I wandered around looking for Tesco to see if I could find some Dr. Pepper. Found a Tesco (and I should have done my grocery shopping yesterday here! Much better prices!), but no Dr. Pepper. Headed back toward the spire to catch the bus back (it was about 2:30 by now). Found a Spars, and found Dr. Pepper- for $2.50 a bottle. Dear Dublin, Reykjavik called, and they want their expensive Dr. Pepper back! Love, Mary. Sigh. I got on the bus, feeling pretty damn dejected about Dublin, hoping my adventures tomorrow would change my outlook on the city, and if not, that Belfast and Cork would save the day! Ireland, I have faith in you!! I know you’re more than just Dublin!
CONTINUE TO DAY 3
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Last night I posted on some Ireland FB pages to get some more suggestions of places to check out in Dublin. WOW! There’s a ton of things to do here! I already had planned on doing 4 things today: Two of the National Museums, the exhibit on the Potato Famine, and a Folklore Dinner. I had room for one more thing…and two suggestions popped out the most to me. EPIC- an exhibit on Irish immigration, and the Kilmainham Gaol. I looked them both up on the map, and EPIC was more in the general direction of where I was going to be for the day, so I decided to try that. Packed up my gear, snacks, and water, and headed out for what was going to be a VERY long day!
There were a few ways to get to EPIC. I decided on the one that didn’t require a change of bus. That meant walking for about 15 minutes to a new bus stop in the neighborhood. I took off and about 2 minutes in realized I didn’t put on deodorant! And I needed it- the weather was beautiful and sunny!! Back to the house, missed my bus. I don’t freak out about such things though, because there always a reason… Headed back out to catch the next bus. Found a Leprechaun!
And then found the reason for the delay. I met a wonderful woman at the bus stop from the Republic of Congo and her 4 year old daughter. (Side note: Dublin seems like a huge melting pot- I’ve seen people from all over the world here that aren’t tourists.) We all talked about everything! Cereal, school, colors, languages, Romania (the mom used to live in Romania, and I’m going there next month), and more! By the end of the 10 min wait, the little girl had scooted across the bench and was pressed up against me. So sweet! Such a wonderful little family! I put the little girl in charge of getting me on the right bus (same as theirs). She did a great job! 🙂
This bus route required me to walk along the canal area. There were these amazing statues, that you could literally feel the despair dripping off of, representing the great hunger. I’m not an art person, but damn, these pieces were powerful. Some yahoo was having his girlfriend take all of these smiling posing stupid pictures with them. Another couple that was with them was saying he shouldn’t be acting like that, that these represented sadness. He got a picture with every one of them. Sigh. Some people…
Got to the epic museum right at my 1200 ticket time. It’s in an old dock warehouse, one of the last ones left. It’s very modern, with a ton of videos and interactive screens, but being in that old warehouse gives it not such a “cold” feel. It’s brings a much needed sense of history to all of the modern technology. The museum isn’t so much a story of immigration, as it is the immigrants themselves. It moves you through different sections, and as the museum progresses, so does time. At the end of each section, you get your passport stamped. I really enjoyed the first half, which was more about the history. The second half was more about modern times, and I didn’t find it as interesting. I spent a little over an hour here. Overall, definitely worth a visit.
From EPIC, I walked to the National Museum of Archaeology. As I walked through the streets, I still wasn’t feeling connected on any level to the city, although I admit, this area was definitely nice than where I was yesterday. The museum is gorgeous inside! And the displays are really well presented. I looked through everything, except the ancient Egypt part. I’m here for Ireland!
The museum looks like a cake! 🙂 Or, I’m just super hungry for anything that doesn’t contain peanut butter or noodles…
By far, the most impressive exhibit were those about the bogs… What’s a bog? Well, it’s a type of landform found in Northern Europe, kind of like a wetland of sorts. Dead plant material accumulates in these wetlands, creating the bog. This is where peat can be found- the precursor to coal. The water in the bog is very acidic, and that, combined with the cold temperatures and low oxygen levels, causes a slow decomposition of the plants. But not only plants decompose every-so-slowly here. Any organic material that winds up in the bog has the same fate as the plants. Enter, the bog bodies! A rather ominous sounding name given to something that’s well…rather ominous looking! The remains of humans have been found in these bogs. And they are surprisingly well preserved! 17 have been found in Ireland so far, and 3 are on display at the museum. I’m not going to lie- I was in the museum as soon as it opened, like 3rd person in. So it wasn’t crowded. I was alone in the room with a bog body (they’re in separate little room-like things) twice, and I seriously felt it could come to life at any minute!
Meet Clonycavan man. He was found in 2003 after getting stuck in a peat-harvesting machine (which explains why he’s just a torso). He’s been dated to 200-400 BCE!! Holy crap, that’s 2200 to 2400 years old!! The super crazy thing about this one is the hair. It is so well preserved, that it looks like a wig! Kinda creepy. He had beard hairs, too.
Next, let me introduce you to Oldcroghan Man. He’s from about the same ridiculously ancient time period. He’s just a torso, and still has an armband on!
Last, is Gallagh Man. He was discovered in 1821. It is thought that all of these were sacrifices that were buried in the bogs…
While these bog men were undeniably fascinating, there was also an exhibit of clothing that had been found in bogs. And the condition it was in was REMARKABLE!! I seriously couldn’t get over how well preserved they were.
Dress from the late 1500s/early 1600s.
Look how well preserved the fibers are!
This cap looks practically new. Seriously. But it’s from the mid 1500s!!!!!!!! It was found in a bog in 1847!
Not just people and clothes were found in bogs. These fish traps (see the pointed end? fish would swim in the big end and get trapped) were found there as well in 2006. Take a guess at how old they are…seriously. Try it. Answer is at the very end of the blog.
From there, I went to another of the national museums, the natural history museum. The guide on the tour yesterday said locals call it the “dead zoo”. Um, that name was very fitting! It was literally two floors of stuffed animals. The tags only had the common name, scientific name, and location. Zero information otherwise. I really didn’t like it, so I left after about 10 minutes.
From there, I took a stroll through Merrion Square- a pretty little park. People were lounging around, enjoying the sunshine! Oscar Wilde was lounging around, too. 😉 He was born right across the street from this park. There was also a sculpture of his pregnant wife, and the column had a ton of interesting quotes from Mr. Wilde. I snapped a pic of my favorite.
I started walking in the direction of St. Stephen’s Green Shopping Center, which was where the Potato Famine Exhibition
I wanted to see was. However, I made a little detour. A lot of people on the facebook groups said I should go check out St. Stephen’s Green Park. So, I took a stroll. This park is HUGE! People were everywhere!
Ok. The Potato Famine Exhibit was FAS-CIN-A-TING!! It was so simple- there was a 15 minute movie and then 50 numbered boards that you read the story from beginning to end. This is what I live for- history exhibits that have flow and continuity. I learned SO MUCH. I’ll ignore the irony of it being next to an all you can eat buffet…. 😉 And if I needed another reason to hate the English historically, well, I sure as hell got it. I left there a combination of sad, appalled…angry.
The only thing that can get me in a mall….HISTORY!! Pay attention, Sherman Oaks Galleria!
Wow. Look at the things they did almost 200 years ago! Appalling isn’t it?? Oh, wait- that is hitting a little too close to home. Circa 2018. This made me so angry. Those who don’t understand history are doomed to repeat it. If you think things like potato famines and 1 MILLION (yes, 1 MILLION) people starving to death because they were considered to be “less than” can’t happen today, check yourself. Check yourself hard and fast. #endrant
There was only one thing left on today’s spreadsheet, and it didn’t start until 6:30. That gave me a full hour to wander around. I decided to go ahead and do something that was on tomorrow’s agenda- St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Yes, that St. Patrick! He’s the patron saint of Ireland, famous for running the snakes out of the country. Of course, no snakes ever lived in Ireland- they’re just a symbol of paganism. St. Patrick is credited with bringing Christianity to the “heathen pagans”.
And now, it was time for the grand finale of the evening! I rarely, rarely, RARELY eat out when I’m traveling. But I do always eat out at least once to try the local food. If I can be entertained while doing so, all the better. If I can be entertained AND learn something, well, stick your hand out, I’m giving you my money! And for my Irish experience, Food, Folklore, and Fairies was getting my $58! This was a 2.5 hour dinner at the Brazen Head Pub. This is Dublin’s OLDEST pub, established in…wait for it…1198!! And it’s just beautiful inside. Feels historic.
I walked in to a room with 5 huge tables and gave my name to a nice man named Ollie. Ollie told me to sit at the round table in the middle, and showed me the best seat for viewing the show! After getting people seated, Ollie came over and talked to me. I told him I am a teacher and am interested in mythology for a class I’m creating. He was really interested and had a ton of questions for me! Really nice guy! Soon, the room filled- I would guess there were about 50 people. I, of course, awkwardly stared at my phone and tried to blend into the tablecloth… We got to choose a 3 course meal- starter, main, and dessert. I chose fish cakes, Irish beef stew with Guinness sauce (there, I officially had Guinness in Ireland!), and apple pie. The show began with Ollie telling stories of the Irish people. How their folklore formed out of hardship. He spoke of the great hunger (the potato famine) that I had just learned about, rekindling that anger in me. He spoke of the stories they told. It was mesmerizing. Then, they interrupted us with food. Except that my fish cake was SO GOOD, I can’t complain!!
During the starter, the ladies next to me struck up a conversation. One of them has a little travel business and travels solo a lot, so she understood me. We really had a great conversation! Then, the plates were cleared and Ollie told us of fairies. Not tinkerbells with wings and fairy dust, but mean spirited creatures that would do you harm if you were unlucky enough to cross them the wrong way. I love how he really brought the stories to life and had me on the edge of my seat! Then, damn it, they interrupted us with food again! But once again, it was ok because my Irish beef stew was delicious! Stick to your ribs comfort food. The portion was huge and I couldn’t even eat all of it (got a doggie bag, no lie! I wasn’t going to throw that away!). The main course was a longer break, and Ollie came back over and talked to me. I told him about the Potato Famine exhibit and how I really enjoyed his stories since I had learned the history of it today. He had never even heard of it! He said that if I was interested, he was going to another Great Hunger exhibition on Wednesday and I could come with him. Seriously, that sounded SO WONDERFUL!! To go to something like that with an Irishman who loved the history. But I was leaving on Tuesday!! Damn the luck! I would have gone in a heartbeat…
Starters were cleared, dessert was served (the apple pie was literally the best I’d ever had in my entire life!!!), and it was song time! Ollie got everyone involved, and I was singing songs that I didn’t even know what the lyrics were! It was just so much fun- clapping and stomping and singing and laughing. I really didn’t want it to end. But it did. And it was 945pm….
Ok. I am a solo female traveler. And one thing I do is make sure I’m always in before it starts to get dark. Ok, granted, it doesn’t get dark here until like 10:30. So I had time. But I had a 45 minute bus ride back. Usually, I catch the direct bus from the spire, but the spire was .8 miles away (EVERYTHING I have to go to, I swear to god it does not matter what it is, is .8 miles away here!!). So I was going to catch some other bus, transfer to another bus, and then be home. Except I had a major concern. Google really sucks with the bus schedules. Seriously. I can’t count on it. It was late, and I knew the buses would stop or have a greatly reduced schedule soon. I just didn’t know when and didn’t trust google. And true to form, the stop I walked to from the pub that google said had a bus leaving at 10:05 had a sign saying that it was leaving at 10:25. Ugh. That was pushing me really late. I looked at my fellow bus stop mates. Three straight up junkies. I’m not lying. The woman was squatting on the ground, looking at me with dead eyes. I was in constant text contact with Brian. Standing in front of 3 junkies with a phone and a day pack. I couldn’t have been more obvious if I had put a sign on my forehead “HAPLESS SINGLE FEMALE TOURIST”. I told Brian I wasn’t feeling comfortable, and I walked several meters away to stand outside of a restaurant. But then, I got nervous. I really had no idea how long my transfer would be. I had no idea what kind of neighborhood I’d have to wait in. I had no idea if that bus had even stopped running for the night. And I was not feeling safe. I had to make an executive decision…
I started walking. Fast. Staying along the river where I felt it was safer than getting myself tucked into the buildings and alleys. Texting Brian the whole time. I was going to make it those .8 miles to the spire and get the direct bus! I crossed the bridge early because I kinda just wanted to put a river between that area and me. I saw a couple up ahead- the guy was pretty large. So I walked fast, caught up, and kept pace with them for several blocks. By the time they turned off, I was in a much more “touristy” area with a lot of people walking around. I could breathe again. 🙂 Made it to the spire just in time to catch my bus, and made it back no problems. Traveling solo as a female presents a whole set of issues that other travelers don’t have to deal with. It’s only you and your instincts. And I always follow my instincts and never question them. Better safe than sorry.
I walked back into the house right at 12 hours after I had left. A VERY full day in Dublin, indeed. I’ll be honest, I’m still not feeling the city. I’m not connecting with it. But there are at least some really cool things to see and do here, so I’m just focusing on that. One more day to go…
That fish trap is about 7000 years old!!!!!!!!! My mind was BLOWN!!!!!!!!!
CONTINUE TO DAY 4
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I woke up exhausted. A 12 hour day yesterday on top of being out late wasn’t a good combination for these old bones! But no time to dawdle! I had a 9am date with the book of Kells! Ate a peanut butter and banana sandwich, packed my bag, and headed to the bus stop at 8. Walked from O’Connell street to Trinity College, and was about a half hour early. Saw a Spar across the street…if I ever needed a Dr pepper, it was this morning! Got it, went on to the campus to get off the busy streets, and sipped my dp like it was the finest wine! Ahhhhhhhhh…..
Headed in to see the Book of Kells
. Now, this wasn’t on my original schedule. I learned about it on the walking tour the first day, and many people on the Facebook groups said go. Plus, I learned that the library was the inspiration for the Hogwart’s library, so my students were going to get a kick out of seeing that! Worth it for $13 (go early, book online, and you get a discount!). I thought you just walked in, saw the book, saw the library, and went on your merry (Mary?) way. But no! There was a really fabulous exhibit before you went in, telling all about not just what the book was, but how it was made. I found the pigments fascinating, and struck up a conversation with a special Ed teacher and another lady from Virginia over them. We had a quick conversation about the amazing things people could do 1200 years ago (yes, the book is 1200 years old!!), and how current society would fare if all of our technology was removed. Amazing conversation, amazing topic, 3 minutes. 🙂
It was cool to see the actual book (no photos allowed), but I was more impressed by the “how” than the “product”. But it was cool to see something so old and crazy to think it had survived so long. Especially since the monastery where it was had been sacked by Vikings SEVERAL times. It’s amazing that it survived. And sad to think about everything that didn’t. 🙁 Fun fact- you only view a couple of the pages of the book on any given day. Each day, they change the page! 🙂
They had some exhibits in the library as well. I actually found those books to be more interesting that the actual Book of Kells itself…
This is a law book from the 1300s!! It’s talking about the laws for beekeeping in Ireland!
This book is from the 1500s and has amazing illustrations of the Burke family- a powerful family back in the day.
This is the Brian Boru harp. It’s the oldest harp in Ireland, most likely from the 1400s. It’s the model for the harp symbol of Ireland!
I was in the college for about 45 minutes. I had 20 minutes until my next destination, St Michan’s, opened. I could either take two buses, or walk .8 (it’s ALWAYS .8!!) miles. I opted to walk. And I got there 5 minutes before it opened! Soon, the doors opened and I went inside. Two cute little old ladies welcomed me. They asked, “Just you?”. Yes! “One adult?”. And this is where it got fun. I scrunched up my face and said, “Well, that depends on the day!”. They said that was a great answer. They laughed and joked and said that if I was 6 today I could get in free! I told them I was feeling rather adult today, so I’d pay the $8. So fun! I walked around the church while I waited for the tour guide. It was nice inside, but not knock your socks off wow.
The old tower of St. Michans, rising above the modern buildings.
It was just a few minutes before the guide showed up. He had a dry eccentric humor, and was cracking jokes and explaining things in such a quirky way! Now, I’ve been in a lot of crypts… This was very different. He unlocked a chained metal door kind of like a cellar door. You kinda had to duck and really watch your head to go in. I was the first one. 🙂 The original chapel was built in 1095!! The current chapel was rebuilt in 1686, but completely remodeled in 1825. However, these were the original crypts! At the end of this one was the main attraction… The mummies! (Because I didn’t get enough of desiccated people yesterday at the bog exhibit! 💀) He explained that the temperate down here remained constant. That the limestone ceiling and walls absorbed all of the moisture from above, keeping it dry. And that the ground released methane gas. These three conditions were perfect for mummification. So there are 4 that have their coffins open- it’s illegal to open the coffins, but these were busted open and damaged, so then I guess all bets are off after that! #givemeahammer
So let me introduce you to the mummies. The one on the far right is a woman- unknown. The one in the middle is possibly a thief- because he’s missing his right hand! But why would a thief be buried under the church?? No one knows. Maybe he reformed and became a priest. Maybe his hand was lost to disease or accident and not a punishment. He’s the only one that knows, and he’s keeping “mum” about it! Lordy, I crack myself up!! 😂 His feet are also missing. Possibly because he was too tall and coffins were pretty much all the same size back then, so if you didn’t fit, they made you fit. 😬 The one on the right is another female, thought to be a nun. The dude at the top is the crazy one, though. A crusader that is about 800 years old!! They know this because crusaders were buried with their feet crossed, like Jesus on the cross. However, this guy was no joke- over 6.5 feet tall!! That would have been a GIANT back then! So his legs were broken in typical “make you fit” fashion and tucked under him, but crossed at the thighs. And what’s even crazier, is that until just last summer, you could TOUCH his hand for good luck!!!! What tha what tha?? 😖 It’s thought that Dublin resident, Bram Stoker (of Dracula fame) visited these crypts and got some inspiration… There’s one other crypt that is open to the public. It was a lot bigger. Back in medieval times, you bought a crypt, and your family could use it FOREVER. There are still burials down here sometimes, the last I think he said in 2002!! Most have been abandoned. The coffins are just piled on top of each other. Crazy. Go here. It’s very, very unique!
Now, I had to make a decision. It was 1030,and my next scheduled adventure wasn’t until 230. Four hours. I knew I didn’t want to wander around Dublin for that long. It would be dumb to spend 49 minutes on a bus to the house just to have to turn back around. Decisions, decisions. Then, I remembered someone on the fb groups said that I could use my Leap bus pass to take a train to a place called Bray. Hmm. I looked it up. 40 minutes there, 40 min back. That would give me a little over an hour there. Why the hell not?! Using my public transportation prowess, I decided to take a bus to the train station instead of walk. So easy! Got to the train station, beeped my card, walked in, got on the train. I looked at Google maps to see which side of the train would be against the coast, and sat on the left side. After traveling through the city for a while, the landscape started to open up. Soon, there was a gorgeous ocean view filling up the window. I Googled “what to do in Bray”. There was an aquarium! There are 2 things I seek out in every country- Dr. Pepper and Aquariums!! With my plans firmly in place, I sat back and watched some stunning scenery approach…
Got off the train and followed google maps to the aquarium. And immediately, I knew it was not for me. Very “little kid” oriented from the outside. So I turned around and went the other direction, following the sidewalk up the coast toward a big hill in the distance. The little town was reminiscent of when I visited Coney Island in New York a few years ago. It had a feel of days gone by to it. Kind of an innocence and peacefulness. People were everywhere, enjoying the rare brilliant sunshine! Sleeveless tops and dresses revealed pale Irish skin. You could almost hear it crackling like bacon in a hot pan! I had read in my impromptu Bray research on the train that there was a gorgeous hike along cliffs to a place called Greystone. I figured this must be the direction of it. As I started up the hill, I checked the clock. Not much time before I needed to turn around to catch the train back so I wouldn’t miss my tour in Dublin at 2:30. Ok..I’ll just go around one more corner. And then that was super nice…and I’d tell myself again…just one more corner. Finally, I had to make a decision. Do this hike or go back. Decisions, decisions!! I decided to go back- especially after I saw the sign that it was a 6km walk to Graystones! Went back and as I got back on the main sidewalk, I had the super strong feeling of someone staring at me…hard. I looked to my left and it was a huge white building called the Bray Head. I could still feel someone staring at me. I looked toward the busted windows, some with old curtains, some without, and realized that whatever was watching me wasn’t a whoever. I got chills, even in the heat. I don’t know anything about that place, but I felt something so strong in there…I could still feel it watching me as I continued down the path, past ice cream cone licking people and parents pushing strollers.
If you know anything about this place, please comment below!
Hopped the train and sat on the right this time so I’d be close to the coast. The seats faced each other. I was sitting facing the back of an older man’s head. He was trying to talk to the lady in front of him, explain things about Bray to her. She looked about as interested as those mummies from earlier! She’d give him one word answers, and then turn her head. I was starting to boil. First of all, she’s being a disrespectful bitch to this guy. Second of all, I wanted to hear what he had to say!!
I really didn’t know how to interject myself into the mix, so I just stared out the window. Then I saw something interesting! Some kind of ancient tower looking structure out on a peninsula. This was my chance!
I hopped into the seat across from me and said, “Excuse me, but do you know what that structure is out on the peninsula?” The man told me it wasn’t a peninsula- it was an island. And that it was a watch tower built in the 1800s to look for approaching enemies. I think he said there were 27 of them total along the coast. I had my in!! I started asking him all kinds of questions! We got to another stop, and a bunch of people were getting on. He said, “Why don’t you sit up here?”. Didn’t have to ask me twice! I sat next to him and we talked the entire way back to Dublin. He was born and still lives in Bray. He’s seen a lot of changes over the decades. He works for a language school and is actually the guide for the lady sitting across from him and a bunch of kids from Spain that were with her. We talked about so many things, I can’t even remember them all! Moscow (don’t ask me how we got there!), the state of Dublin (he agrees with me that it’s very run down and rough), we talked about how Dublin got that way, how it seems to be the case all over the world, about Dublin bay and the electricity generators across the bay, about the football stadium and the world cup. So many things!! All too soon we hit the Pearse station and had to part.
Grabbed myself an orange juice at Spar and decided to walk the .8 (of course!) miles to the starting point of my free Fables and Folklore tour. It was really interesting! It was more of a talk than a tour. We just walked around to a few places to keep the blood flowing. At one point, we sat under a shady tree next to St. Patrick Cathedral and he told all kinds of stories about Irish folklore- focusing on 3 main segments…first, the Giants. Then, the Tuatha Dé Danann- beautiful, magical type people we might think of as elves from Lord of the Rings. Then, the humans, who ran the Tuatha Dé Danann underground, where they became the fairies of Irish mythology. And Irish fairies, just in case you weren’t clear, aren’t some Peter Pan Tinkerbell ass things with pretty little wings, wands, and fairy dust. No, they will fuck you up if you cross them. So don’t. You’re welcome. 🙂 The walk was 2 hours, very interesting, and I highly recommend it. TIP YOUR GUIDE!!!
Another long day out. As I walked back to catch my bus, I snapped a few photos of things that I found to be interesting…
Damn, there is SUCH a good story here!!!
Rock on, with your rainbow self, Ireland!!
So… Dublin. Have my thoughts about the city changed from the first day? No. There are a lot of things to see and do here, and many of them I really enjoyed. But as for the city itself, I don’t like it. It still doesn’t click for me on any level. I was thinking about this on all of my .8 mile matches across the city. I came up with an analogy. It’s like when you hang out with someone for the first time. You might have a few things in common to converse about, and when that’s done, it’s just awkward silences. You realize nothing flows easily and there’s no chemistry there. No connection. And you know it’s just not going anywhere. That’s me and Dublin. I saw pretty much everything I wanted to see, and I’m done here. It’s not one of those places I want to bring Brian back to. Eh. You can’t love everything. If you did you’d have no perspective. Tomorrow, Belfast awaits!
CONTINUE TO DAY 5
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Day 5: Got up, got my stuff together, counted out 3.30 euros for the bus (my leap card expired yesterday), and left my airbnb. Seriously, if you’re traveling solo and don’t mind a 35 minute direct bus ride to the city center, for less than $25 a night you cannot beat this place!! Last time taking the bus to the spire. Had to then walk from there to the Dublin Coach stop with my 15kg pack. I can’t wait until Brian gets here and can haul all these winter clothes back with him (well, that, among other reasons 😉 )! Boarded the bus and it is NICE! Way nicer than the one I spent 5 days on in Scotland! Good leg room, comfortable seats, wifi, fold down trays, and the best part? ROW TO MYSELF!
Headed out of Dublin and I felt relief. We drove through miles and miles of farmland. Trees, green hills, sheep, cows. Two hours later, we pulled into Belfast. I was a little anxious. I really didn’t want to have that same heavy feeling here that I had in Dublin. Stepped off of the bus and immediately felt different! The vibe and energy here felt so much better than in Dublin, and I breathed a sigh of relief! It was a 1.5 mile walk to my airbnb- with that stupid 15 kg pack. That’s a lot on an old woman! 🙂 It was a little after 11:30, it was going to take me about 45 minutes to walk with rest breaks, and I couldn’t check in until 1- so I thought what the hell, I’ll go sit down and have lunch <insert gasp>. I went a little less than halfway, and came to a shopping center area called CastleCourt. I didn’t want to eat in the mall (I don’t even like to go into malls!), but I figured there must be something on the little sides streets. I didn’t want to go too far searching, because the pack was killer. Then, I saw a sign for a place called Biddy Farrelly’s. Followed the arrow and ended up in a little local cafe by myself. Which meant the waiter was bored, so he came over to have a chat! I ordered a chicken and bacon sandwich, garlic chips (fries), and water. $11, not too shabby. He whole heartedly agreed with my choice of garlic chips, and said the chef didn’t like them. I told him garlic goes with everything, except maybe ice cream, and that got a chuckle! While I waited on my food, we talked about all kinds of things. My travels, this cafe (which has been open for about 8 months and he seems very proud and happy to work there!), the Giant’s Causeway (he’s never been- I almost invited him to come along with me!), and politics. It’s amazing how much conversational ground one can cover in 10-15 minutes!! He did tell me that the two sides here are the Unionists (think Union Jack- they want to remain a part of the UK- mainly Protestant) and the Nationalists (they want to be a part of the nation of Ireland- mainly Catholic). We talked about the murals around town, the “troubles” as they call the time period when Belfast was basically a war zone in the 70s, 80s, and early 90s. It’s so strange…you think of war zone areas in like Bosnia or Syria or something. Not in a western European country in the modern era.
Had my meal (very good!) and bid Michael a fond farewell. As I walked out, I realized I made a major faux pas…I tipped him with a $2 euro coin! They do pounds here! I’m back in the UK again! Whoopsy…. Walked to the bnb and checked in. It’s in an old brick Victorian row house (I don’t know if that’s the right word- all of the houses are connected). He was telling me how when this was built it didn’t have indoor plumbing. It’s 4 stories, the ceilings are soaring, and my room is just perfect! Today’s agenda was work. I had neglected it for the past few days in Dublin, and really needed to catch up. But damn my brain was tired! I took a 2 hour nap, then worked. 🙂 Walked to Tesco about a half mile away and got the necessities to get me through the next few days. I saw some murals as I walked along, and tried to understand their meaning. It was pretty obvious that I was in a Nationalist neighborhood. And, I was pretty proud of that!
No Dr. Pepper at this Tesco. 🙁 I’m seeing a pattern. When I’ve found Dr. Pepper, it tends to be near universities. Not available in the working class areas, and this was definitely working class. Headed back, and worked some more until bedtime.
Day 6: Titanic Museum day!! I had been looking forward to this! It was a 2.5 mile walk to the museum from the house. Anything 3 miles and under is doable on foot, plus I wanted to see the city more up close and personal, so I packed my day pack with lunch and water and headed out. Still that same lighter feeling I had yesterday, and I realized I had the spring back in my step and that little smile I carry when I’m off on a new adventure. Felt soooo nice!! I came to a mega street crossing…I will say, that Dublin does street crossings much better than Belfast!! Handy little “look left” “look right” signs on the street so you know which way to look for traffic, and easy to decipher pedestrian lights. Belfast, not so much. I saw a tunnel, and figured it must be the passage under this mega street crossing. Yep. And when I got inside, that’s when I said out loud, “I like Belfast!”
On the other side of the tunnel is what I think is called Queen’s Square. A lovely little square with water fountains. I didn’t have to walk much further, and then I saw one of the things I was excited to see….<cue dramatic music>…THE SALMON OF KNOWLEDGE (that should be said with an echo-y kind of tone!). If you remember that craptastic Leprechaun Museum from Dublin, that’s where I first heard the story about the salmon. Quick version….A man named Finnegas was very wise, and a boy named Fionn (super famous in Irish mythology!!) was sent to learn from him. They lived together. Every day, Finnegas would fish for a salmon. But not any old salmon- the <cue dramatic music and echo-y tone> SALMON OF KNOWLEDGE!! Apparently this salmon had eaten some hazelnuts that had all of the world’s knowledge in them (I only get fat from eating nuts, not wise, but whatevz…). Whoever would eat the salmon, would then have all of that knowledge passed to them! Day after day, Finnegas fished, until one day, he caught it! He gave it to Fionn to cook, with a strict warning not to eat any of it! Finnegas wanted that wisdom!! So Fionn is cooking it, and it comes time to turn it over. He burns his fingers, and quickly puts his thumb in his mouth to ease the pain. And BLAM-O! The wisdom is imparted to Fionn. Finnegas knows there is nothing more to teach Fionn, so he sends him off. And Fionn becomes one of the greatest warriors and mythological figures in Ireland. The end. 🙂 I touched the salmon, but fearing some heinous germ, didn’t stick my finger in my mouth! 😉 I crossed a long bridge over the River Lagan, and walked along it toward the museum.
The museum was gorgeous and imposing! I was one of the first ones in. I knew this was something I wanted to record for class, so I took pictures of every sign and several videos. The way the information was presented was STUNNING!! This is a world-class museum, no joke. An absolute perfect mix of reading, videos, and interactive screens. The story flowed and made sense throughout. One of my favorite museums now! It started out with how Belfast became such a center for industry and ship building, then worked it’s way into how the ship was built. Oh, just to clarify, Belfast is where Titanic was born- drawn and built here! After you got through the main museum part of that section, you had to go up an elevator. There was an employee there, telling everyone “hi” and “good morning” and such. I replied back “good morning” when it was my turn. He kind of stopped me. He said that he had been in security for an IT firm, and specialized in studying body language. He could tell as I walked toward him that I walked with confidence, and then when I greeted him, I looked him right in the eye- a sign of trust. He said so many people just look away, or if they do talk to him, look slightly to the left or right, avoiding eye contact. I told him, “Well, when you’re traveling alone you have to be confident!”. He then told me about his sister, who back in the 70s traveled the world on her own, a time when such things were practically unheard of. He said she was such an inspiration to him. That she was wise and gave him good advice. And that she was more like a mother to him. He told me he was from a ship building family and asked me how many kids did I think there were. I guessed 13. He said I was very close- 15!! His father was an alcoholic (he added “like many Belfast men”) and his mother was overwhelmed. So the older children pretty much raised the younger ones. We talked about street smarts vs. academics, and how having one can be detrimental, and having both is rare and makes for a well rounded person. He told me he grew up the smallest boy in one of the roughest schools in Belfast, and he was picked on a lot. He had to get street smarts. But he also got his master’s degree. We had the loveliest conversation! He said at one point, “But I don’t want to keep you from your day.” I told him, “You are a part of my day.” And I meant it. I think he stopped me because I reminded him of his sister. That was the feeling I got, anyway. Soon it was time for him to get back to work and me to be off. I reached out to shake his hand and told him my name was Mary (he said that was a good Irish name!) and it was a pleasure to meet him. He said his name was Keith, but people called him Pip (his middle name is Phillip, but people called him Pip because he has “Great Expectations”!). You can learn a lot in 5 minutes if you stop to listen…
After my conversation with Pip, I headed up the elevator. There was a RIDE in this museum!! I kid you not! I got into a little suspended car and it took me through the ship building yard, telling you all of the different parts. So unexpected and fun! Then you go into the area where it talks about the launch, then all of the furnishings and different classes of rooms, and then something I never knew. The Titanic didn’t just leave port and sail for New York. It picked up passengers at 4 ports- Belfast, Southampton, England , Cherbourg, France and Queenstown, Ireland. Loved to learn that! And it would have significance later in the day… After that, it discussed being on board, and then what you knew was coming…the fateful night. After that, it went to modern times and talked about the discovery of the Titanic and all of the technology used. This museum is fascinating and amazing. There’s so much more to the story than “Huge ship hits iceberg and sinks, becoming infamous in history”….
With your ticket to the Titanic Museum, you also get a ticket to tour the Nomadic (now do you see where the blog title comes from?! I’m so clever!! 😝). I showed the guy my ticket and entered with a couple. We went over to the person who would give us the “history run down” of the ship, then send us on our way for a self guided tour. OH MY GOD. THIS SHIP IS FASCINATING!! The museum is awesome, no doubt. But you’re reading about history. Here, you are ON history!! And I was captivated! Then, about 3/4 of the way through the guide’s speech, the lady in the couple pipes up and says, “Stop! Too much information for me.” Um, exsqueeze me, bitch, but the world doesn’t revolve around your brain’s inability to process information. Some of us would like to hear the rest of the story. But no, the lady then asked a couple of super stupid questions that had already been answered if she had been paying attention (I so wanted to step in and answer them with a smart ass sarcastic tone!!), and that was the end of it. Fucking tourists.
With that off my chest, let me introduce the Nomadic. You can feel the history on her!! I love her so much!! She is the last of the surviving White Star vessels!! Not only that, but she was the tender ship for Titanic (and other super liners of the day, but we’re here for Titanic!). So what’s a tender ship, you may be asking (because I didn’t know either). As you know, huge ships have huge drafts, meaning they have to dock in really deep water. Back in 1911, not all ports had water deep enough for these massive ocean liners that were being built. So Nomadic was built right alongside the Titanic, except it only took about 5 months to build her. And her job was to ferry the 1st and 2nd class passengers from the shore to Titanic- who could be anchored up to 2 miles off shore!! A smaller sister tender ship was also built- the Traffic. She carried 3rd class passengers, luggage, and supplies. Remember that map from before about all of the ports Titanic picked up passengers from? Well, the Nomadic was assigned to Cherbourg, France. That’s why she flies a French flag- which I noticed and wondered about as I walked to the museum earlier.
Like I said, Nomadic’s job was to handle the 1st and 2nd class passengers. And the ship was basically separated in half for each class! Just like on Titanic, the classes were not allowed to intermingle. There was actually a gate mid-ship to keep the 2nd class passengers from getting to the 1st class side. And all they were doing was being shuttled from shore to the Titanic! White Star wanted their tender ship to be just as luxurious as Titanic, so the passengers (at least 1st class!) would have a taste of what to expect. The detail on the paneling, so finely carved (I only have video, no pics 🙁 ), it’s just “fancy” looking. When you go to the 2nd class side, there are still some artsy details, but absolutely no where near as elaborate as on the 1st class side. So interesting!
On April 10, 1912, 172 1st and 2nd class passengers boarded the Nomadic. 63 of them would drown 4 days later.
The Nomadic continued to serve as a tender ship out of Cherbourg for other White Star and Cunard liners. Then, it was used in WW1 and WW2 to transfer troops and sweep the ocean for land mines. After the war, she returned to tendering, for huge ships such as the Queen Mary (which is now docked where I live in Los Angeles and now I have to go take a tour of her, too!). She was retired in 1968, and was saved from being scrapped when a private investor bought her and turned her into a restaurant in Paris, moored on the Seine River across from the Eiffel Tower. When the owner fell on hard times, the ship was seized by the French Government in 2002. By this time, she was 91 years old and not in very good condition. There were plans to scrap her if no one wanted her. Fortunately, the people of Ireland heard of her plight, and wanted to bring her back home- to Belfast! So money was raised, and the Northern Ireland government bought her at auction for 250,001 pounds. The minimum bid was 250,000. Had they not saved her, she’d be scrapped by now. 🙁 She was in such bad condition that they couldn’t even tow her to Belfast. They had to put her on a barge. Once she was home, renovations were begun! Fortunately, a lot of the original decor was still there! But it was in bad condition. They lovingly restored her to her 1911 glory, and today this 107 year old beauty flies her White Star flag on her bow, overlooking the Titanic museum, and the French flag on her stern. GO TO THIS. DO IT. NOW. I have so much love and respect for this little ship and all she’s been through. I can’t wait to teach my students about her!!
When I was finished with Nomadic, it was time to go to my last port o’ call for the day- Titantic’s dry dock
!! And I was a little concerned. Because their website wasn’t working and I couldn’t order my tickets in advance. This was one thing I knew I didn’t want to miss!! It was a half mile walk from the museum to the dry dock. I saw the entrance for the HMS Caroline, and it said that the dry dock was the next door down. I went in and…it was just a cafe. I didn’t see a sign for Titanic anywhere. It was pretty busy, but I went up to the front and asked where do I buy my ticket for the dry dock? The guy said right here, 3 pounds (which is like $4 and the best deal in the ENTIRE UK!!). Handed me a self guided map and sent me through a door on the other side of the cafe, which me and my obliviousness to my surroundings had missed…
I walked through the door and realized it wasn’t just a door. It was a time portal to 1911. I found myself in the pump room. It was filthy, covered in dust and flaked paint and pigeon shit. This wasn’t some slick, manufactured history for the masses. This was the real deal. And when I got over the awe of that, I realized that I was all alone. No one else was in here.
There was signage in the pump house, but I didn’t fully understand the mechanization and the role it played. Honestly, I was a bit confused and the self guide brochure they gave me wasn’t super informative. I walked through another door to the outside and HOLY. FUCK. I own a lot of words. But none of them are sufficient to define what I saw and felt when my eyes hit Titanic’s dry dock for the first time. I’ll try though. It’s massive. It’s breathtaking. It emanates history. It’s… well… Titanic. And as I stood there and looked into that gaping behemoth of an opening in the ground, there wasn’t a single person in sight. How could this be? Why is no one here? The museum was PACKED. Don’t they know that THIS is where the history is? The last place Titanic was on land? The only place where you can truly get a feel of how fantastically large this ship truly was? Apparently not…
For some perspective, those are two sets of stairs on the far end. Each set is 6 flights
I followed the signs around. They showed pictures of Titanic in this very dock, and I tried to get the same angle to show how it looks now.
Amazing, isn’t it?! THIS IS TITANIC’S FOOTPRINT ON LAND!! I swear, I could have squealed with delight at the wondrousness of it all! And to be able to experience it without another soul around. People…people…I can’t express it. Once I made my way to the other end of the dry dock, there was a “bridge” you could walk out on. It’s that white cement wall to the right of this picture, just on the other side of that wooden walkway you see. At this point, it started coming together for me. Ok, here is what I was able to decipher…and if anyone has facts that dispute my interpretation, please comment and let me know. That white wall that I was able to walk on is new. It’s kind of a retaining wall of sorts, to keep the ocean at bay (no pun intended!). Between that white wall and the old looking “wall” is dry space, so no water is against the old “wall”. That’s because, well, it’s old. How old? IT IS THE ORIGINAL GATE THAT TITANIC SAILED THROUGH IN 1911 OLD!! Ok. Let that sink in for a moment. (It literally took me a lot of moments for the reality and importance of that to truly sink in as I stood there.).
I descended six flights of stairs to the bottom of the dry dock, and this is where I almost lost it. The emotions of the history of this place overwhelmed me. The knowledge that I was in this place, alone, experiencing this without any distractions from tourists, overwhelmed me. Tears came to my eyes. I touched this gate- the very one Titanic sailed through- and I let the energy of that history flow into me. I can’t describe it. I don’t have the words.
Down here, there was just me and these cut outs of people who were innovators in shipping through the ages. And I learned more about how this place worked. Under each set of stairs was a culvert of sorts with a gate on it. So here’s what would happen. The gate would be closed. The two culverts would be opened. The ocean would rush in through the culverts, and fill this place in about 3 hours. How much water is that? 21 MILLION GALLONS. Once it was full, the gate would be opened and the ship could be placed in position. In the case of Titanic, her hull was built on slips here in Belfast, and then she was maneuvered into position in the dry dock. Once she was in, the gate would be closed behind her. Now, the dry dock had to be emptied. That’s where the pump house came into play!! I understood it all now! That pump house could empty the water, all 21 MILLION gallons in about an hour and a half!! Amazing!! And they could control the flow- drain it quickly at first, but then go slower as the hull was about to rest on the keel blocks- those are those things down the middle of the dry dock that the ship sits on. It lifts it up above the floor of the dry dock so workers can put the finishing touches on the hull and install the propellers. When she was finished, the culvert doors were opened, the dry dock would fill, the gate would open, and Titanic would sail out. Amazing. Simply freaking amazing.
This picture shows Titanic resting on the keel blocks. My god!!!!
As I climbed out of that hole, my respect and admiration for the people who built the world’s largest movable man made structure at the time was off the charts. Oh! How they must have felt when they learned of her fate and the fate of so many of her passengers! I can’t imagine the anguish. I’ve always heard the story of Titanic. We all have. But today, that story was brought to life for me in a way history rarely can be. Today, I didn’t just learn more about Titanic, I felt her. I took so much video for my students. I want them to feel her, too.
I was now 3 miles from my airbnb. It was HOT out. Ireland is in the middle of it’s worst heat wave since the last ice age or something. I was out of water, tired, and frankly just didn’t want to walk anymore. I’m old, dammit! But I’m also a cheap ass. But old won out and I walked the 1/2 mile back to the museum and ordered an Uber for $8. When the driver realized where I was going, he asked if I had seen the murals yet. I said I had seen a few on my way to the store and in town. He then took it upon himself to drive me to see where the major murals are- just a stone’s throw from where I’m staying! Apparently, my neighborhood was a serious flashpoint during what they call “the troubles”. My area is very Nationalist. He showed me an area where IRA members were tortured. He said they were waterboarded. Blindfolded and dropped from helicopters- just a few feet, but they didn’t know that at the time. This divide is still very much on the minds of the people I have encountered here in Belfast. They all openly talk about it. I plan on heading out in a couple of days to get up close and personal with the murals. But for now, today was about Titanic. I had spent over 5 hours at the museum, Nomadic, and the dry dock. And it was a damn fine day.
Ah, buses. Especially the kind filled with tourists. But a necessity for a girl who isn’t interesting in driving on the wrong side of the road for the first time while trying to navigate and look at the scenery all by herself! So here I was, on yet another bus tour. This time a full day tour of Dark Hedges, Giant’s Causeway, and the Carrick-a-Rede
death trap bridge. I chose to go with Finn McCools tours. Mainly because it was only 20 pounds out of Belfast and they were one of the few companies that didn’t have Game of Thrones splattered all over the description. I don’t watch it, and didn’t want to listen to someone blather on for hours about references to some TV show that I would never understand. Also, important to note: If you want to do this tour, do it out of Belfast like I did. If you do it out of Dublin you’ve added FOUR FREAKING HOURS to your bus ride and about 40 pounds.
I walked the little over a mile to the bus stop and boarded at 9:30. The Dublin passengers were already on board, but there was a free row! Yay!! Free row all to myself! No wifi or usb charging port, though. #firstworldproblems We headed out into the Irish countryside, passing sheep and cows and rolling green hills. And then, we stopped. Right on the road, because there was no shoulder. And the driver turned the key, and the bus went “rrr, rrr, rrr” and nothing. He did that a few more times. Nothing. He and the guide got out, were gone for like 15 minutes. Came back and said there was an electrical problem and they were trying to work with headquarters to get us a replacement. We sat on the bus another 10 minutes or so. It was pretty hot outside (Ireland is in the middle of a massive heat wave- worst in decades), and the bus was soon getting really warm and stuffy. The guide came on and said we all needed to get off the bus in case someone hit us from behind. So we all pile off, and walk in the weeds down the side of the road (at least we didn’t have to worry about snakes! 😛 ) to a driveway. The bus driver knocks on the door, no one is home. So we all sat in this person’s driveway, in the heat and full sun (there was NO shade) for over an hour. Not fun. Our replacement buses arrived- two small buses instead of one big one. We piled in and headed off for our first planned stop….dark hedges.
Irish flares. 😉
Now that we were on 2 smaller buses, there weren’t as many seats. So I lost my comfy, cozy row for 1. I was now sharing my row with a fellow female solo traveler. I figured she was pretty cool, because she had two long braids down either side that were dyed mermaid greenish/blue! 😍 We got to talking a bit, discussed our past and present travels (she travels a lot, too). Her name is Leilani. I should win a prize or something, because I sat next to the one girl on the bus for FIVE days in Scotland and never even knew her name! Reached dark hedges, and went our separate ways. We had 20 minutes here, which wasn’t quite enough. Really needed 30 to get all the way to the end and back. So what is dark hedges? It’s these AMAZING beech trees that were planted in 1775 along the drive leading up to some rich guy’s brand new house. Game of Thrones (last time I mention it!), filmed something here, and the place became an instant tourist attraction. Of course, with tourists come idiots, and they’ve been carving shit on the trees and are destroying them. 150 of them were planted, a little less than 90 still remain. Traffic along the road has been banned to try to help preserve them, but these trees are already about 250 years old…they won’t be around forever. 🙁 They are gorgeous!! Not very dark today, as the sun was shining as bright as it possibly could, but still beautiful and very peaceful- even with the tourist hordes walking around.
ANOTHER bus met us at Dark Hedges. This time, we all piled on one big bus. I ended up toward the back (which I hate, especially on winding roads) with some guy sitting next to me. Soon we were pulling in to the Giant’s Causeway. And the story about how it got its name is a really fun one! So there were two giants, Fionn from Ireland (you may remember him from our story yesterday about the Salmon of Knowledge) and Benandonner from Scotland. There’s a few different versions of how this went down (it’s a popular story here, I’ve heard it a few times already, each with a different twist!). I’ll go with a simple one. So the giants see each other across the water, and decide that there isn’t enough room in the world for 2 giants. They each start building a bridge (causeway) so they can reach each other. As Fionn starts to get closer, he realizes that Benandonner is MUCH larger than he is!! He goes back home and tells his wife. She’s super smart and devises a plan. She dresses Fionn up like a baby and puts him in a huge crib. Benandonner finishes building his side of the causeway, reaches Ireland, and beats on the door of Fionn’s house, demanding to fight him. Fionn’s wife answers, and says that he isn’t home right now, but Benandonner can come inside. There, she introduces him to her and Fionn’s “baby”. Benandonner can’t believe the size of the baby!! If Fionn’s baby is this large, how huge must Fionn be?! Benandonner skeedaddles it back to Scotland, destroying the causeway as he went- to make sure that the monstrous Fionn couldn’t come across and get him! 🙂 And yes, this same type of formation is on the Scottish side! Super cool! So that’s the legend. Now for the science. These are columns of basalt that formed about 50 million years ago during a volcanic eruption. They are very similar to what I saw at Reynisfjara beach in Iceland. The weird thing about them, is that they all have basically the same shape- hexagonal. Why? Well, they are basically crystals of basalt that are formed with the lava cools. The molecular structure of crystals for certain substances is a set pattern. For basalt, it’s hexagonal. Pretty cool!
We were going to change buses AGAIN when we were done here, so everyone who had luggage had to haul it with them! It seriously was ridiculous. You have the guide sit with people’s bags or something- not have passengers haul their stuff on a hike over uneven rocks! Christ. Anyway, I met up with Leilani again and she was struggling with her two bags. I offered to take one, and we took off down the hill together. We had a really nice talk, and it was cool to actually get pictures of myself in a place that weren’t some dopey ass selfie!!
Hey! It’s a sign of my travel itinerary for the past month!! 🙂
As you can see, it was stunningly gorgeous. There is talk about closing it so tourists can’t walk on the rocks and damage them. Seriously, it’s pretty dicey to walk in places. I was wondering how many people slipped and fell off these things every year. The rocks are worn smooth from all the walking, making them super slick- even in the hot, dry conditions we had. I can’t imagine trying to navigate them in the rain!! What comes down, must go up. And that meant we had a hill ahead of us with all the bags. There was a little tram picking up people, but we thought it was part of what you got when you paid money to go into the visitor center (which the guide said was a total waste of money- don’t do it). We walked a little closer to investigate, and for 1 pound or 1.20 euros, we could ride the tram up!! I would have paid 5… Now that we were back at the top, we looked for our new bus, with the goal being to get a front seat! Please- two savvy solo female travelers on a mission? The rest of the passengers didn’t have a chance! 😉 The bus wasn’t there. We had to wait 20 minutes for it, which really pissed me off because I definitely could have spent more time at Giant’s Causeway- we had an hour and a half and needed at least another hour. 🙁 Bus finally arrived, and true to form, we got the front seat. #girlpower We headed along the Antrim Coast to the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. The views from the bus window were spectacular!
I swear. It doesn’t matter where I go. There is ALWAYS a creepy, high, walking bridge!! Sigh. I am scared of heights, and have actually done a decent job overcoming some of that fear as long as the bridge is steady. I pushed myself a little too far in Borneo last summer and got out on a shaky ass rope bridge that had me in tears and no way to turn around. So I was pretty sure that when the guide handed me my ticket, it would be for souvenir purposes only! The hike down to the bridge was- and I know I keep using this word- spectacular! The ocean was calm and so blue and clear in places, that it reminded me of the Caribbean. The cliffs and islands were gorgeous. It seriously could not have been a more perfect day. I got down to the bridge, kind of cut in line a bit so I could peek over the edge and take a look. It was high, and swaying with every step someone took. Yeah, not my gig!! Especially since you had to wait in line for it. So I hiked up some more and made a circle.
Um, not no, but HELL no.
As I hiked, I passed an elderly woman who had to be in her very late 70’s or early 80’s. I couldn’t believe she had made this hike! She was kind of hobbling along, slowly, with someone there to hold her arm and help her. I had to stop. I said, “Ma’am, all of my respect goes to you. You are amazing! And today, you are my spirit animal.” She smiled. Another lady in her probably late 60’s was passing at the same time, and we ended up falling in step together and starting a conversation. She’s from Australia. We talked about the bridge, and she said she decided not to go across. I told her I was too scared to! She said she used to be afraid of high bridges, until she when trekking in Nepal and had to get over it! Wow! Trekking in Nepal! Nice!! As we walked, she explained that her husband had recently broken his leg motorbiking in Nepal, and she was too impatient to walk slow- so we might encounter him somewhere on the trail. Ok. This couple officially wins the “Awesome traveling couple of the millennium” award! We did meet up with him on the trail. Had a nice chat as we walked. Lovely people.
The day was so clear, you could see Rathlin Island in the distance. And behind it, those mountains…that’s SCOTLAND!!
I got back to the parking lot about 25 minutes early (because I didn’t waste time standing in line for that death trap!). On the other side of the parking lot, I saw some people on a blindingly white path. Hmmm. Could be interesting! It was down a pretty good hill, so I set my alarm for 10 minutes. I figured 10 minutes down the hill, turn around, 15 minutes back up. The trail actually ended up being shorter than I thought, and you could even get all the way down to the water from there! Unfortunately, my timer went off when I was about 100 feet from the shore, and not ever wanting to be THAT passenger, I headed back so I wouldn’t be late. Which was a bummer, because there was a cave in the cliff down there that I really wanted to explore!
Huffed and puffed back up the hill and found the guide. I told him where I had gone- he said that was the Larrybane Quarry. And apparently Game of Thrones has filmed down there as well. Piled back on the bus and headed out across the glens of Antrim. Just rolling green hills for as far as you could see! And what I really love about the farmland is that all of the fences are little hedges. So there are these dark green lines cutting through the lighter green fields. Just green, green, and more green!
We sang some songs (one of them I already kinda knew from my Fables and Folklore dinner the other night- something about “and it’s no, nay, never” and some clapping. 🙂 Leilana fell asleep, and I just stared out at the country. Soon, we were back in Belfast. And just to prove what a backwards, socially awkward, weirdo I am, I just got up, got off the bus and headed toward the house. I was around a few corners when I realized I didn’t even tell Leilana goodbye!! So if you’re reading this, Leilana, nice meeting you and safe travels! Stay outta the way of them bulls in Pamplona!! 🙂 As I walked back, I passed a store called Iceland. Figured I’d check and see if they had Dr. Pepper. BINGO!! And at a price I can live with!! Ah….
CONTINUE TO DAY 8
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DISCLAIMER: I don’t give a damn if you don’t agree with what I write here. This is MY journal, MY story, MY feelings, MY opinion. MINE. Not yours. I fully admit I do not have the entire story. It would be impossible for me to. It would be impossible for anyone to, because you can never fully understand both sides in an issue such as this. But some of what I do know, the evilness of it can’t be argued. I follow my gut and my instincts, and my gut and instincts are not up for debate. If you have something constructive to say that differs, I am 100% open to that discourse. But if you’re just here to be a keyboard warrior, I’m already bored with you.
I developed a nasty cough last night. I don’t feel sick, but something’s up. I think I’ve just been running too hard. I haven’t had a full down day since Iceland, over 3 weeks ago. Plus, I have a wee bit of sunburn from yesterday (standing outside for an hour with no shade when the bus broke down didn’t help 🙁 ). Dear Ireland, No one told me to pack the sunscreen, sunhat, and sun glasses! Love, Mary. I had planned to do a free Belfast walking tour and then walk around the neighborhood and find murals. I think walking miles and miles is just out for the day. Body is telling me it needs a break, and I have to listen. I still have a month and a half of travel ahead of me. When I’m at home, I seriously do not walk further than from the couch to the refrigerator to the bathroom to the bedroom on most days, because I’m working constantly. When I’m traveling, I’m in hyper walking mode, and average 5 miles a day. Plus, I’m getting about 6 hours of sleep a night when I’m a full 8 hours kind of girl. The sunrise at 4:45am is about to kill me. Enough is enough. I had heard of the Black Cab mural tours and thought maybe having someone drive me around would be a better option. I went to several websites, and none offered “day of” booking. I did find one that said to email them for availability, so I’m sitting in bed at 8am, waiting to hear back from them.
I waited until 9:45am, and no reply. I called Taxi Trax and yes, they do have availability and can be here in 30 minutes to pick me up at my door! Woo-hoo! And in true “things happen to me that are meant to” fashion, I ended up with Michael (Mikey) as a
guide/driver friend. I’m about 3 days late writing this- much more behind schedule than I like to get. But I’ve had to let this one marinate in my mind for a while. This one is hard. The hardest post I’ve ever written. Because what I learned on this day is not history. It’s present. It’s real. It’s people lives TODAY. It’s shocking. It’s scary. It’s a part of Belfast that I think few people know or understand if they haven’t lived it. I haven’t lived it. Mikey did and is. See, Mikey is my age. He grew up during what is referred to as “The Troubles”, which is a pretty low key term for daily warfare on the streets of Belfast for decades. Troubles, indeed. Now, you know I love to give a quicky history lesson. But you aren’t going to get that today. I can’t give a summary of this. I just can’t. It’s too personal to people who are still living, who are still living THIS. If you want the background, research it. That’s all I can tell you. What you need to know for this journal is that Ireland isn’t one country. It’s two. The southern part of the country is the country of Ireland. Independent. A member of the EU and not a part of the UK. The northern part, commonly called Northern Ireland, is under the control of the UK and will have to leave the EU when Brexit culminates. In Northern Ireland, you have two main groups: the Unionists are primarily Protestants who identify with Great Britain and want to remain a part of it. The Nationalists are primarily Catholics who identify with Ireland and want to be a part of it again and get out from under the rule of Great Britain. And the power struggle between these two groups are what caused/cause “The Troubles”.
Mikey is a nationalist. Not a practicing Catholic. He, like I, has no use for religion. He wants his 3 children to embrace their IRISH heritage- to speak Gaelic and know that part of themselves. And they do! This wasn’t possible a couple of decades ago. Mikey told me stories. Personal stories. Stories of pain and suffering of family, friends, and himself. Of having friends shot dead in the streets. Of going to prison for 2 years. Stories that are his to share, not mine. I don’t know what happened when I got into Mikey’s cab, but something clicked- I think as soon as I asked, “May I sit in the front seat with you?” and added, “I’m a history teacher. Don’t go easy on me.”. He immediately began pouring history out, filling the cab and my mind with it. (We later discussed how this is so cathartic for him, to be able to speak of it. Many have bottled it up, and have serious mental and social problems because of PTSD.) We sat in the cab talking for a solid 30 minutes before we even got out at the first mural. This was a 90 minute tour. He looked at the clock and said, “Oh! We need to get moving!”. I said, “I will pay extra for extra time. I don’t care what it is. Tell me your story.” He said he didn’t care about the money, that he doesn’t do these tours for the money. He does it to release it from him. He doesn’t do 4 and 5 tours a day like some people. He just so happened to get a last minute call this morning and decided to do this one (thank you, universe). Once he understood that I was listening- not hearing, but listening- and that I got it, and was making the connections, and was engaged…that’s what he wanted. Not some nidget jumping around for instagram worthy shots of murals. To me, the murals were illustrations of Mikey’s story- that’s all. The story was the important part. The murals were decoration that emphasized his topics.
He had picked me up at 10:15, we were supposed to be done at 11:45. He looked at the clock again after I told him that I wanted his story and said, “Ok, let’s start the clock now and we’ll call it at 12:30.” He showed me murals, he explained them. He explained how they fit in with HIS narrative. With HIS childhood. With HIS young adulthood. Those connections- those are priceless to me. He told me of the Potato Famine, and that it was NOT a famine and he would never call it that. The British allowed over 1 million people to starve. I will never again call it a famine either. It is An Gorta Mór- The Great Hunger.
He told me of Bobby Sands and the hunger strikes. How Bobby Sands is someone he looked up to so much as a young boy. And how Bobby’s quote, about “Our revenge will be the laughter of our children”…how he couldn’t imagine it when he was a young man. But he sees it coming to fruition now. How his children have never seen armed conflict. And how happy he is of that. But how some people are still so mired in what happened to them and their families, that the conflict is still just as real in them, and they pass that conflict to their children in a vicious cycle…
He told me about solidarity with other peoples around the world in similar situations- Cuba and South Africa. Places I’ve been and could talk to him about- especially Robbin Island in Cape Town where Mandela and his fellow political “terrorists” were held and how similar those men’s stories were to his. See, you’re a terrorist when you’re doing things the government doesn’t like. When progress is made, the terrorists become the heroes. I remember growing up and hearing about the IRA on the television and how they were “terrorists”. If fighting for your rights and beliefs under an oppressive government is terrorism, well, I’d be glad to be called a terrorist.
Mikey said he was supposed to pick his daughter up at noon, but he’d call and see if he could get someone else to do it. I told him to do whatever he needed to do. I would be happy to be along for the ride. We went and picked up his 8 year old daughter and dropped her off. Then, we resumed our tour. When I had seen this mural, it really stuck in my mind. Finally, I had to ask, “I saw something about bring the wall down- was that metaphorical or physical?”.
It IS physical was the answer. Present. Tense. And I was just this side of a state of shock. A wall? In Belfast? In 2018 separating the two groups? Yes, indeed. And wait until you hear its name…the Peace Wall. What fucking wall ever built in history was built out of PEACE??!! And he showed it to me. And he told me about it. Wait…I’m saying “it”. That’s wrong. THEM. Because there are about 100 of them spread around the city!!!! And this fucking gate (and many more like it), IN GOD DAMNED 2018, is locked EVERY NIGHT to separate the two communities!!!!!! WHAT THE HELL???? I just. I just can’t. Walls do NOT solve problems. Ever. Dividing people rather than coming up with compromise and viable long term solutions is a band aid on a broken leg. An easy, temporary “out” for ignorant, lazy people. But a wall never solved anything. Listen up, Trump wall supporters… Do we really want to go down that path? Because where does it stop. Think about the divisiveness in the US right now. Think hard about it. Think about Belfast. Just THINK instead of react.
Here you can see the wall. the houses on this side are Nationalist homes. They had to build cages over their back yards because of all of the things that were thrown at them. My. God.
Mikey held out a marker to me and said I could sign the wall. It was covered. I told him I didn’t want to write over someone else. He pointed out a faded patch and said I could write there.
Remember- if you don’t understand history, you are doomed to repeat it. LEARN. LISTEN.
I can’t tell you how long we sat at stops, talking, before we ever got out to look at a mural. He had to remind me to take pictures. I was that engrossed in the stories. We visited memorials to the people who lost their lives- many of whom he knew. Many of whom he was friends with.
As we drove past one of the walls, there was this huge, and I mean HUGE stack of wood pallets. Mikey told me those were for the bonfires to celebrate July 12, and that as this was just the end of June, they weren’t even finished building this one yet. It would be FOUR TIMES THIS SIZE by the 12th! This is the date that is to celebrate when William the Orange (Protestant) defeated King James II (Catholic King of England and Ireland), and began the rule of Protestants in Ireland. It’s mainly celebrated in, you guessed it, Northern Ireland. These huge bonfires, and there will be many of them, are not always just peaceful celebrations. They can have very dark and sinister tones to them. And it’s a slap in the face, a punch in the gut, or whatever you want to call it to the Irish Catholics/Nationalists. Why? Because many times the image of the pope is burned in effigy on these bonfires. Or the Irish flag. How in the hell can the UK condone this?? It’s like a damn government approved KKK rally burning the effigy of Martin Luther King, Jr.! Or a Nazi rally, burning the Israeli flag! This is not free speech. It’s hate speech. How in the hell is this in any shape, form, or fashion tolerable? Divisiveness. It’s ugly. Listen up, United States.
These pictures I didn’t take, but I want you to understand what I’m talking about…
Want to know what KAT means? It means “Kill All Taigs”. What’s a Taig? A derogatory term for Roman Catholics. Imagine this saying “Kill All Niggers” (I hate to say it, but I need to shock you- especially Americans- into understanding how serious this situation is. I want the harshness of that word, and all of its connotations, to sink in. It’s the only thing most of you can relate to if you’re in the US.). This is where unreconciled divisiveness gets you. It makes me SICK and ANGRY, and I don’t even have a dog in this fight. I can not even imagine how the Irish nationalists must feel seeing this- literally in their own backyard. Let it sink in, way in. If you think this stuff is in the past, you are sadly mistaken. If you think this stuff can’t happen in the US, you are blind. It’s already germinated, is sprouting, and growing. And it’s going to choke us all if we don’t pay attention to history and allow our ignorance and fear to win out over logic, compromise, and understanding. Shame on you, British Government, for allowing this. And shame on you, US, for allowing the same in a different form.
We then drove through a gate. I shit you not. A GATE. To go to the other side of the wall. The Unionist side. The tone of the murals I saw here was different. Very militaristic and frankly, a little scary. There’s a lot of backstory that I won’t get into here. Mikey is self admittedly biased towards the Nationalist side, and I wasn’t helping that bias as it is mine as well. So I do not feel qualified to tell the story from that point of view.
This was (thankfully) replaced with the women’s mural below. Much better message.
The houses on this side of the gate were all decorated with flags. Ok, I can get that. Nationalists might not like it, but I get it. Because like it or not, this is the UK, not Ireland. But the divisive bonfires? I can’t even fathom how that is allowed. What purpose does it serve other to further incite hatred, decisiveness, and violence?
We stopped and Mikey bought us waters. We talked. Non stop. It was over 3 hours when he dropped me back off, twice the allotted amount, and it was still too soon for me. I did slip extra cash in with the 35 euros. What he had given me was priceless and in a way, sacred. Because he didn’t give me a tour. It wasn’t some practiced regurgitation of what he had seen and lived through. It was deeply, deeply personal. He said giving tours was cathartic for him. I can’t imagine there are enough tourists in the world to get rid of such a pain. But Mikey has hope, has purpose, remembers the past but tries not to live in it. You have to live in the present and look forward to the future. Otherwise, you’re doomed. Many are doomed. Mikey isn’t. And for that, I’m glad. He deserves everything wonderful in life, and to watch his children grow up speaking Gaelic, laughing, and embracing their Irish spirits. Because in the end, that is how you win. That, as Bobby Sands said, is the revenge.
CONTINUE TO DAY 9
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Day 9: After I got home from the Black Cab tour yesterday afternoon, my body crashed. Between having that cough and the emotional wear of the tour, my body said, “Ok, lady, welcome to bedridden…population you.” My eyes were sizzling in their sockets, I was coughing like crazy, and I felt like crap until I went to sleep. I couldn’t even wrap my brain around work, so I gave up and just watched mindless youtube videos. I woke up the next morning and felt a little better, but still coughing. Got my stuff packed and ready to catch the bus to Cork. I highly recommend the AirBNB I stayed at! Since I’m on the mend, I didn’t want to backslide by over doing it, so instead of walking 1.5 miles with the pack, I opted for uber. $5 for a ride in a super nice Mercedes? Done. Guy was really nice. There are two things people talk about here… Politics and alcohol! He asked if I’d had a Guinness or Bushmill whiskey. I said no, I don’t drink. He said in a low voice, “get out”. We laughed and he said I should tell my friends that my driver tried to kick me out for not drinking Guinness…. Oh, little does he know! 😜
And this paragraph begins what shall be forevermore known as, “The Bus Ride From Hell”. Dublin Coach was AWESOME on the Dublin to Belfast trip a few days ago. Right on schedule, super comfortable bus, wifi, usb port- seriously everything you could want in a 2 hour bus ride. The trip from Belfast to Cork- yeah, not so much. So the bus arrives on time, and there was a HUGE line of people. The driver had to make change for pretty much every person who didn’t have a booking (the majority). It took so much time that we left 12 minutes late. They really should have an exact change only policy. Not only that, but two girls at the back of the line who had bookings in hand were turned away because the bus was full!! WHAT?! Shouldn’t the driver ask first for people with bookings and THEN start boarding people without? That made me really nervous for my return trip… This bus wasn’t as nice as the other one. No usb port, so I had to be really careful with my power on my phone- I was going to be on the bus for 5 hours. We pull into Dublin 10 minutes late. My connecting bus was leaving in 5 minutes! I didn’t see another bus parked where we were dropped off. Driver informs me and 2 other ladies who are going to Cork that we have to cross the bridge and turn right. They said, “Will the bus wait for us?!” The driver just shrugged. FUCK! Here I am, with this heavy ass pack, feeling like crap, and now having to full on RUN for a block in the heat. Get to the bus stop, and….no bus!! Did we miss it?! There was a huge line of people. Apparently the 10am bus to Cork didn’t even show up!! So I’m talking to the other 2 ladies that got off the Belfast bus with me, and their ticket says the bus leaves at 11:40. Mine says 11:45. Some other people’s say 12. WTF? At this point, I’m not having a lot of faith in Dublin Coach…. A Dublin Coach shows up- it’s not the Cork bus. I asked the driver when the Cork bus was coming. He said noon. Great. Noon comes and goes. No Dublin Coach. Another bus comes. I ask this driver where’s the Cork bus. He calls someone and says it will be there at 12:20. And it did show up about that time. Again, no usb, but I only had to make it through 3 hours and all would be good. Emailed my AirBNB host to tell him I’d be an hour late.
Now it’s after 3pm, and have made a couple of stops. I ask the girl next to me if she knows how much longer to Cork. She said she’s getting off in Waterford, and doesn’t know, but maybe another 2 hours. WHAT?!! We stop in Waterford, it’s almost 3:30, and one of the ladies from the Belfast bus comes up and asks the driver when we’re getting to Cork. He said a couple more hours. They’re panicking, because they had timed things to attend to in Cork. Their ticket, like my ticket, said we would be arriving about 2:45!! Well, Dublin Coach put the arrival time to Waterford on our tickets- NOT to Cork, even though we bought a ticket to Cork. We’re all completely over this bus at this point. Long story short, 8 hours after we left Belfast, we arrived in Cork. I will never again take Dublin Coach- and I had already paid for my return ticket. I told a few people about this, and they all suggested GoBe, so I booked a new return ticket with them.
8 hours on a bus, not having planned for food, and no stops for any, I was starving and tired and feeling like crap with my cold by the time I got to the AirBNB. I dropped my bags, went and bought some groceries, and crashed. The coughing was getting worse…
Day 10: I woke up feeling awful. Serious cough, exhausted. But I was not going to just lay in bed! I had 2 things planned for today, and I was just going to do them and get back to the bnb to rest. First stop, Blarney Castle! Now, I had heard that the lines can be over an hour to kiss the damn stone. I wanted to do it, but not if I had to stand in line for an hour. So I intended to be there right when it opened, and basically do what I did at Edinburgh Castle- beat the crowds! I was feeling so poorly, and really didn’t have the will or energy to deal with figuring out the bus, so I used the MyTaxi app (no Uber in Cork). I really hate when you don’t know the fare in advance…it ended up being 20 euros!!!!! I almost died right there. Arrived at 8:30 and was 2nd in line behind a girl from Orlando, Florida. We both had the same plan- run to the rock! While we were in line, the buses started coming and dropping off hordes of tourists. Doors opened, paid my money, and with what little energy I had, I did a super fast walk up the hill to the castle. I took time to snap a couple of pics with no tourists in them, but my main focus was getting to that stone! Got to the castle and realized now I had to climb 4 stories of narrow, spiral, uneven rock stairs. My least favorite type of stairs. As I kept going up and up and the stairs were narrower and narrower, I was seriously afraid that my fear of heights was going to be an issue getting back down. Between that, and my coughing fits, I was not enjoying myself.
Reached the top. The girl from Orlando was ahead of me- first to the stone. I was second. And then I saw what you had to do!! You had to lay down, hold on to some rails, and lean backwards into a hole 4 stories above the ground to kiss the stone. Seriously? Can’t they just put in it a nice room somewhere?? Ground level?? My fear of heights was in high gear right now, between being at the top of this castle, worrying about the stairs, and now this. I hesitated and wasn’t sure I could do this. I let the guy who was after me go. He asked if I’d take his picture. Sure. The the staff at the top in charge of helping us maneuver into position to kiss some damn stone were 2 for 2 in not dropping a tourist into the abyss this morning. I decided to take my chances. Asked the guy who went before me to take my picture, kissed the stone, and apparently now I will have the “gift of gab”. Considering how verbose I already am…watch out world! When I finished, I asked the guy where’s the elevator down. 😉 He said the stairs weren’t as steep and narrow going down, and he was right. Whew!
Not the place to be if you are not a fan of heights….
View from the top
That little gap at the tippy top- that’s someone kissing the stone! Yikes!
Inside the castle, there really isn’t much to see. It’s just a shell of a castle, really. It’s outside where the action is!! The grounds and gardens of the castle are…hmm…what adjective??? OUTSTANDING. AMAZING. GORGEOUS. PEACEFUL. PERFECT!! There are all of these trails through the woods, along rivers, into secret gardens. I was in heaven! Especially because for the most part, I had the river walk area all to myself because everyone else was in line for the stone! It was so relaxing, and much needed after so much go, go, go over the past few weeks. I took about a zillion pictures, but here are a few of my favorites. Even if you don’t care about the stone, if you love plants and nature, go here!!
These are from the poison garden.
These are from the river walk.
Horse’s graveyard. 🙁
These are from the woodland walk and secret fern garden.
Soon I came into an area where the grounds opened up. There was a pasture with some cows, and then I saw lovely Blarney House!! It’s only open Monday-Saturday though, and I was there on Sunday. So disappointed! 🙁
I made my way back around to the front through some (more!) lovely gardens!
Black cat photo bomb…remember him for later!
And then into the area called the Rock Close, where there were even MORE lovely gardens, and ancient and odd things to look at as well…
There was that cat again!! In a totally different area!!
The witch’s kitchen
The druid’s cave
The witch’s stone
If I had felt better, I literally could have spent 4-5 hours here easily. But after 2.5, it was time to head out to my next destination. As I made my way back to the castle, I was soooooooo happy I got here early when I saw the line at 11:30!! Honestly, I was a little concerned about Blarney Castle when I was doing my planning, and almost took it off my list. A lot of people said it wasn’t that great. I’m SO GLAD I went with my gut and did it anyway!! It’s one of my most favorite things I’ve done in Ireland so far! Of course, I love plants, so this was like a slice of paradise for me. 🙂 If there was just the stone, eh. I mean, you can say you kissed the Blarney Stone, but I wouldn’t pay just to do that. Especially if I had to stand in line! It definitely wasn’t the highlight- the gardens were!!
Now I had to get to Cobh (pronounced Cove). I wasn’t going to spend money on a taxi again, so it was bus time! Caught the bus to Cork, then had to walk (which really sucked because my cough was getting worse) to the train station. On the way, I saw a pharmacy. Usually I try to keep those OFF my “to do” list, but I was needing some assistance. The pharmacist recommended what would be best for my cough, and sent me on my way. I caught the train to Cobh. Roundtrip 10 euros, and 24 minutes one way. Not bad! The reason Cobh was on my list is because it was the last port of call for the Titanic before she sailed off to her fate. Back then, Cobh was called Queenstown.
I had booked a 2:30 tour of the Titanic Experience, and was about an hour early. I walked around town a little, but I didn’t have much energy. 🙁 I really wanted to go into the cathedral, but it was up a really steep hill and I knew I’d never make it. At 2:30, went in for my tour. The building is the actual White Star Line office where everyone boarding Titanic from Queenstown had to go through! Ah, history…. They gave everyone a little boarding card with the name of a real Titanic passenger on it. At the end, you’d get to see if you lived or died. A bit morbidish, but kinda fun, too! I was Hannah Riordan, age 18, sailing 3rd class (yep, sounds like me! Too cheap for anything else! 🙂 )
Inside we had a guide and she would explain things, plus there were videos as well. It kind of took you through the whole experience (which is probably why it’s named Titanic Experience! 😉 ). After you got your boarding pass, you boarded a tender ship. Cobh actually had a deep enough port for Titanic to dock at, but it would have taken about 8 hours to turn her around in the harbor, so the captain decided to anchor off shore. Just like I learned about the Nomadic and the Traffic, there was one tender boat for 1st and 2nd class, and 1 for 3rd class. Titanic couldn’t be seen from the shore, as she was anchored on the other side of these islands. The tender boats would go between these islands, and that’s when passengers would get their first view of the ship. The original dock that the passengers used to board their tender ships is still standing!! Amazing!! A lot of history there…This picture is of Titanic’s captain, Captain Smith (with the beard) taken on the docks here in Cobh. The last picture of him…
After we learned about the tender boats, we “boarded” the Titanic. We got a little tour of the different cabins on board the ship, then we went into another area that played a film about the iceberg, sinking of the ship, and the rescues that followed. All in all, it was a pretty cool little tour that lasted about 30 minutes. After that, you went into the exhibit room where there were different things about Titanic. I was feeling crappy and had seen most of that in Belfast, so I did a really quick walk through. Oh! And Hannah Riordian, who I was for the trip….well, she survived and lived in New York until her death in 1982. 🙂 Me and Hannah- traveling cheap and surviving to tell the tale. 😉
I had another hour until the train back to Cork, so I decided to <insert dramatic music> eat lunch at a restaurant. I thought that maybe it would make me feel better. I had my heart set on the Titanic Bar underneath the White Star office (the one with the tables by the pier in the above picture), but it was full. 🙁 So I walked along and found the Commodore Hotel. Ordered a bacon cheeseburger with chips and it was goooooood…
I walked back toward the train, but had one last stop planned. A visit to a statue of Annie Moore and her two brothers. See, Cobh isn’t just about Titanic. It was where about 3 MILLION Irish immigrants left their homeland in search of a better life- many of them never to see their island home again. On January 1, 1892, 15 year old Annie accompanied her two younger brothers and sailed to the United States to meet their parents. She was the very first person processed through the newly opened Ellis Island in New York, and there is a statue there to commemorate her as well!
I wish I would have had more time to explore Cobh, and had been feeling better. It really is an interesting little town! Maybe another day… I took the train back to Cork and walked back to the bnb. Took another dose of medicine and fell into bed completely exhausted. I had to feel better!! Because tomorrow I had a 12 hour bus tour scheduled!!
CONTINUE TO DAY 11
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Day 11: Today, I had a 12 hour bus tour booked. Every fiber of my body said, “SKIP IT!”. I had spent much of the night coughing, and even my airbnb host mentioned he heard me and felt bad for me. I felt bad that I had disturbed him. 🙁 But I couldn’t bear the idea of missing out. So I got up and got myself together to be at the office at 730. The half mile walk was downhill and flat. My coughing was echoing off the stone buildings in the narrow streets. Ugh.
Got there for my Paddywagon tour to the Cliffs of Mohr
! I ended up in the front seat behind the driver (best seat!). Sat by the window and put my bag in the other seat. A couple of people who boarded in between my coughing fits asked if anyone was sitting there. I said no, but I have a really bad cold. They scurried down the aisle.
Our guide was green- and not in a good Irish way! I could quickly tell that she wasn’t very confident and didn’t have her “shtick” down pat. I think it takes a certain personality to keep 40 people entertained for 12 hours… But she was friendly and trying, so I was rooting for her! The roads were crazy narrow. Like I have no idea how two buses going opposite directions got past each other!! And the hedges were so close to the road that they were like walls on either side. Seriously, there was zero room for error. If you’re renting a car here, get full insurance!!
It was a damn long bus ride to our first stop, the Cliffs of Moher. I had read about everyone RAVING about this natural phenomenon, so I was excited to see it! Unfortunately, we had to climb a bit of a hill to get to the view point, and my lungs were not in the mood to cooperate. But, I made it! When an elderly man with a cane is passing you on a hill…well, it’s embarrassing. OK. I’m all about honesty here, and while the cliffs were nice, I was kinda like “meh” about them. There were tourists everywhere, and it just seemed really over-hyped to me. The views were lovely, I don’t deny that, but not 12 hour bus ride lovely…
Next stop was pretty close to the Cliffs. The Burrens. I was interested in it for my earth science class, as it’s an excellent example of a glaciokarst landscape. However, for general tourism purposes, if I thought the cliffs were “meh”, well, you don’t want to know what I thought of this place. If you don’t understand what it is, the place where the bus drops you off really isn’t that exciting.
And then we headed back. Yep, that was basically the entire trip. I napped a bit, and thought about how I should have skipped this. Next stop, Dingle for lunch. Where we stopped, there was really only one sit down restaurant, Fitzpatrick’s. I really hate that kind of thing, because you’re trapped and you know the company is getting a kickback. For the record, that never happened in Scotland. We always had a ton of choices and never felt like one place was given favor. Fitzpatrick’s was cafeteria style. I got a seafood chowder (yes, another meal out!) and I’ll admit, it was a lot tastier than I was expecting!
Back on the bus for a couple of hours, then we stopped for a photo stop at castle. I was in need of vitamin c, and bought a blood orange lemonade in a to go coffee cup for 3 euros….
Me: Doctor, I’m not feeling well at all.
Doctor: What are your symptoms?
Me: Well, I’ve spent about $50 in taxis because I’m too tired to walk, about the same in restaurant meals in the past 2 days because I’m too tired to deal with making anything, I spent 3 euros on a freaking lemonade, and I’ve been to the pharmacy.
Doctor: Nurse, get a toe tag for this woman. She’s not going to make it.
Our tour ended up being about 11.5 hours. To see 2 things. The countryside was beautiful, but none of it to me was worth the bus ride. Here’s my advice. If you’re going to be in that direction, go see the cliffs. Unless you’re a serious fan of cliffs, don’t drive out of your way to see them. Honestly, on the bus ride from Dublin to Cork, we passed thru a little picturesque town called Kilkenny. I mean, this place looked like something from a fantasy idea of what an Irish town looks like! Colorful shops, a little river, and a castle. I would have rather gone there… Plus, the town of Cork itself is worth a day of exploring! Not having the time /energy to explore more of Cobh and Cork are definitely regrets.
Speaking of regrets, I had definitely pushed myself too hard yesterday. Last night was hell. My body was punishing me for not listening to it and running around all day yesterday. I woke up super hot and sweaty in the middle of the night, and kicked my leg out from under the comforter. Wrong move! I was immediately racked with chills, forcing a retreat under the sauna comforter again. Full on fever. I literally sweated so much I had dreams/ visions /hallucinations of sweat soaking through this nice man’s mattress and on to the floor…sigh. Got up and packed, and called a cab to take me to the bus. I highly recommend the AirBNB where I stayed
Met the GoBe bus that I had booked after being so disappointed with Dublin Coach, and they were right on time with a nice bus. Three hours later (much of which I napped), we were in Dublin. I knew the bus to my airbnb
was going to require a 10 minute walk. With this pack, in this heat, with this sickness, not happening. Got a mytaxi for 9 euros. Worth every penny. I told the host that I wasn’t being rude, but I was going to put myself in quarantine in my room to not spread germs. Because now, my sinuses were in full blown (no pun intended) crisis mode. I dropped the pack off and headed out for a level 1 mile roundtrip walk to the pharmacy and grocery store. Got sinus meds, a huge bottle of orange juice, and some deli chicken and chips. Went to look for Dr. Pepper and was met with the most heart breaking scenario possible…
I was in a 100% residential area. Not a tourist in sight. Who says locals don’t drink Dr. Pepper???
Went back, ate, and took a 3 hour nap. Woke up, wallowed in my misery, tried to work, and went to bed at 10. Not a very exciting ending to my Ireland trip. It kinda went out with a whimper (literally). 🙁
So, a recap. I saw things and learned things in Ireland that were amazing. Would I come back? Never say never, but probably not. I’m not much of a scenery for the sake of scenery person, and I think that’s most of what I missed out on in this trip. I will say that the people I met were LOVELY! So friendly and open. I’m not sorry at all that I came and had the experiences I did. Tomorrow, I’m off to the French Riviera, where I can finally slow down a bit and hopefully get rid of this cold.