Archive for May 2nd, 2009

The Long Way Back to Dublin

Saturday, May 2nd, 2009

April 29: After picking up our car in Cannock, stocking our larder at Aldi and wrapping up official and personal correspondences at the Cannock public library, we began our trip back to Dublin to pick up Matt when he flew in on Saturday. Because Matt was bringing a large atlas of Europe, we did not buy any road maps of the Welsh countryside we would be driving through, relying instead on a hand scribbled copy of the directions provided by Googlemaps.
Daniel Ziegler drove for the first part of the trip because he was the first to drive the car when we picked it up. Once outside of Cannock I took over. It takes some time to get comfortable driving a right hand car on left hand roads. We all experienced a strong tendency to drive on the left side of our lane, causing the passengers, especially the one navigating in the front passenger seat, to continually call out warnings about getting too close to the curb. This instinct was exacerbated by the the roads which are generally more narrow than in the United States. I did my best to follow the advice Rick Steves offers in his book, Europe Through the Back Door; when in Europe, drive like a european.” This involved such things as side swiping an orange cone because the car waiting to turn left was too close to the curb, and weaving around on coming traffic in crowded alleys with vehicles parked on both sides of the street. Of course, I did my best to exercise as much caution and discretion as possible.
On the way to Conwy, I made a wrong turn on route A55 which took about an hour and a half to sort out on these european roads with their confusing signs. The error did have a happy side-effect because by the time we reached Conwy it was late enough that we decided to try to find a place to park by the roadside and spend the night. In the course of this we went out into back country roads, many of them only one lane and with tall hedges on both sides, which we guessed were probably hundreds, if not thousands, of years old. Having found some promising spots on our first trip through the countryside, we headed into Conwy where we stopped at a Tesco to get some additional supplies. We did not find everything we were looking for but managed to pick up Cod Liver Oil which would supply all of our necessary vitamins and an off-brand hazelnut spread that we termed “Fauxtella.” Following our shopping/bathroom break in Tesco we drove back into the Welsh countryside in search of a place to pull over and spend the night. Eventually we found a pull-off where we could spend the night in relative seclusion. Piling all our luggage on the right side of the car we folded over the left half of the rear seat, giving David space to stretch out while Daniel Ziegler and I leaned back in the front seats.
In the next day’s morning light we could see the spectacular Welsh countryside laid out on either side of us including a very tall hill to the right of us which we spontaneously decided to climb. Daniel and David both having learned that walking on private property is not a cultural taboo in Wales so long as you close all gates and assure that no animals escape. We set out across the sheep pastures by the road. The grass was wet from the night’s rain, and I was happy that I had brought water resistant boots. The climb took quite a while as it involved hopping over many fences and crawling through dense bushes of a prickly plant that we decided was most likely Swedish Ivy. We have pictures of this on our Flickr site and if any of you can give us a more certain identification for this yellow-blossomed bush we would be grateful. At the top of the hill, we could see even more of the rolling Welsh countryside, divided by fences and hedges and even thought we could see the ocean in the distance. We walked back down the hill and, reaching the bottom, were happy to have Daniel and David’s hunches confirmed in having the only man around wave at us pleasantly when we emerged from what we believed was his pasture.
Returning to the car, we headed back northwest toward Holyhead where we would meet the ferry. Because we were not following the directions on Google Maps, we drove through Snowdonia which had the most stunning landscape we had seen so far. On the right side, there was a lake and rugged hills jutted up on either side of the road. We parked, took pictures and decided, on a whim, for the second time to climb the hills to our right. It was constantly misting and the extremely rocky hillside was very slick so the way was slow. But, once we climbed as far as we felt comfortable, we got an even better view of the Welsh countryside which I would diminish if I tried to describe in detail. We will be posting pictures if you want a better idea of what we saw than I can express in words.
Returning to the car, we ate a quick lunch of peanut butter and honey sandwiches and set off again toward Holyhead. On our arrival at the port, we purchased tickets for a vehicle and three people and drove our car to the waiting line to board the ferry. Because the gates would not open for another hour, we decided to explore an interesting monument and fort we had seen on a nearby hill. Working our way around the port’s system of fences and roads, we found a stairway leading up the hill. The monument was to the commander of the mail boats in the bay and was quite impressive. What we had throught to be a fort was actually a fancy playhouse which had taken a turn for the worse at the hands of the locals.
As we were sitting at the base of the monument, we realized that all the other cars in the waiting line were beginning to turn on their engines. Hoping to keep our place in line, I took the keys and ran down the hill, around fences, down a road, and back down the line of cars. Arriving just in time, I managed to get the car going and Daniel and David joined me shortly.
Except for the process of driving on and off a boat, which was new to me, the ferry ride was uneventful. Once in Dublin we drove back through, in much greater comfort, the streets through which we had walked the first day in Ireland. After finding an internet cafe and restocking our larders in Tesco, we drove south out of Dublin into the Irish countryside.
Pulling over for the night at Devil’s Glen, which is just outside Wicklow Mountains National Park, we continued the next day to Glendalough which is in the park. There we saw an early Christian monastic community dating to the 6th century AD which included a chapel and an impressive 70-foot tower. In the same compound were the ruins of a 10th century church, which were also impressive. In search of St. Kevin’s Bed, we came upon a vista as grand in its own way as Snowdonia had been the day before. It was much greener, though, and, in many places, just as rugged. The rocky hillsides on either side were divided in the middle by a blue lake which was fed by a waterfall that we could see winding down the mountains at the far end of the valley. We hiked all the way to the base of the waterfall and explored the ruins of an 18th century mining village. That night we drove into the northern countryside outside of Dublin trying to find a place to sleep that was close enough to the airport to pick up Matt the next day in a timely fashion. Passing through Swords, we found an empty game reserve where we pulled in to spend the night. Because the forecast did not have any rain, David and I stayed in a tent while Dan slept in a car. We woke up early the next day and headed back into Dublin to pick up Matt at the airport.
Hoping to still be able to sleep in the car with four people, we experimented with tying our large suitcase full of miscellaneous items (which we have dubbed “The Beast”) to the top of the car for the trip to the airport.
David ran in to search Matt out while Daniel and I searched in vain to find the arrivals gate of the airport which was difficult with heavy construction. Driving through the dropoff terminal for outgoing passengers, we met up with Matt and David by sheer luck.
We’re excited to finally have Matt with us and looking forward to the new flavor Matt will bring to the trip. Keep us in your prayers as we continue on.
Daniel Shenk