Archive for the ‘Ireland’ Category

On Food

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

When we were making the budget for the trip, we decided that we would aim for €10 a day for food. We thought it might be a bit ambitious, but we figured we would try it. After all, the more we saved on food, the more we could spend on experiences like the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the London Underground, Stonehenge, Norway, etc. It started on our first day with our ramen noodle hobo meal in the Dublin ferry terminal. Then when we were in Cannock we went to Aldi and we’ve been on a roll since then. Our first meal was rather bland. American cheese, white bread, and extremely cheap meat. Then after a day or two we realized we were way under budget so we bought some mustard and it’s been uphill ever since.

These days we’ve been living high on the hog. Scotts Porridge with raisins, apples, and sugar every few mornings; Real meat, cheese, and vegetables in our lunchtime sandwiches; and soups, stews and pasta dishes for suppers; have become commonplace, though certainly not unappreciated. Another thing we’ve been able to do has been experience more of the local flavors of the nations we’ve visited by spending a bit more to get something locally produced instead of mass produced and imported. These local delicacies have included: shepherds pie and Irish stew in Ireland; lamb roast and fish and chips in the UK; baguettes and Laughing Cow cheese in France; waffles and beer in Belgium; Apfelschorle and local ice-cream in Germany; and knäkebrödsskolan and swedish meatballs in Sweden.

I brought along a little camp stove and camp fuel so we’ve been able to buy foods that need a bit of cooking. Our facilities (and abilities) are limited, but stews, rice, couscous, porridge, and hot chocolate add a nice variety whenever we have time to set up the stove. One really amazing experience happened a few days ago. We had decided that the small camping pot we had was really a bit too small for four hungry guys, so we went into a Swedish grocery store to see what we could see and, lo and behold, there on the bottom shelf underneath a number of largeish pots for 139 krona was a largeish pot without a handle. “Well,” I said to David, “I wonder if we can get some money off for that.” So, we went and asked the manager and, after a bit of discussion in Swedish and broken English, he said we could have it for 100 krona! What a glorious day! Ok… so… not as exciting, perhaps, for normal people, but I hope you will exult with us. That pot has been wonderful and has allowed us such delicacies as fusilli with spaghetti sauce; pasta, potato, and tomato stew; and, best of all, popcorn.

At the moment, we have a variety of condiments (in a variety of languages), some snacks and fruit, some vegetables and soups, and rice, couscous, and pasta. When I first told people that we were aiming for €10 a day, some people doubted us but we’ve proven it can be done, it just takes a bit of willingness to experiment and learn how to cook, especially for 4 bachelors.

Daniel Z

An Interlude: The Giant’s Causeway

Sunday, May 24th, 2009

Since I was young I have longed to see the Giant’s Causeway, not simply because it is a wonder of the natural world, but also because the story of the giant Finn McCool was one of my favorite stories growing up. You may have heard it, but I wanted to retell it for anyone who hasn’t. Next time you see the Giant’s Causeway, remember, it’s not a natural wonder, but rather the work giants. So, the story.

The Giant Finn McCool was not particularly large for a giant. He only drank one or two barrels of mead in the evenings and ate only a few roasted cows for lunch, but yet all the citizens in his kingdom in northern Ireland loved him. While some giants stormed around all day laying waste to the countryside, scaring the livestock, and playing ninepins with peoples houses, Finn McCool preferred kinder pursuits. With his height, he would help farmers find their missing sheep, and with his strength he would help build bridges, houses, and fences from large rocks. Finn McCool wasn’t always in a good mood, though. He had an enemy who lived in Scotland across the sea and his name was Benandonner. He was another giant, but a mean one. His favorite activity was tearing the roofs off of peoples houses while they slept and laughing as they screamed and yelled.

One day, Benandonner saw Finn McCool far away across the sea and shouted “Oye! Finn McCool! I hear ye aren’t giant enough to even throw the puniest of cabers!” Well, Finn McCool got mad and went storming home to his castle. When he came in, he smashed the huge door so loudly that an earthquake rumbled through the countryside knocking over several of the fences he had helped to build. His wife, Oonagh, looked up from sewing a new kilt for herself and exclaimed “Why, Finn McCool, what are you doing causing such a ruckus around the countryside, you’ve certainly woken up our son Angus!” Just as she said that they heard a crying from the other room. It sounded like 20 cows lowing loudly.

“I’ve had enough of Benandonner’s abuse!” Shouted Finn in a voice that echoed through the vales and lochs collapsing several of the bridges he had helped to build. “I’m going to teach him that a McCool isn’t to be trifled with!”

“Now, Finn,” said Oonagh in a soothing tone, “why do you let that wretched Scot get your goat? You are loved by your people and all his people are horribly afraid of him because he treats them so cruelly.”

Finn, however, would have none of her soothing and declared in a voice that made all of the people cower in their huts “Today I will build a bridge to Scotland and settle the matter with that cur Benandonner once and for all!”

So, Finn built a bridge. It took him a long time to collect stones of just the right size and fit them all together. Several days later after working day and night he finally reached the shores of Scotland just before nightfall and crept up to Benandonner’s castle. Looking through the window, however, he caught a glimpse of the sleeping giant and was astounded by his size up close. His snores were like thunder and shook the castle walls. Finn was seized by fear and ran as quickly as he could back to the bridge, but he accidentally knocked over a peasant’s house on the way, waking up the sleeping giant with the noise.

Benandonner leapt from his bed and to the window spying the fleeing Finn in the distance on his way back to the bridge. “BLARGH!!!” he shouted in surprise, toppling several small mountains from the sheer volume of the yell. Then, in his nightgown still, he grabbed up his sword and charged after Finn, shouting the whole time at the top of his lungs.

Finn reached his castle well before Benandonner and slammed the door, much to Oonagh’s surprise. “What’s wrong with you, your face is as white as a sheep!” she said. “Benandonner’s coming to kill me!” squealed Finn in a very ungiantlike way. “Shhh,” whispered Oonagh, “I have a plan.”

Then, taking their baby and giving him to one of their servants to care for, she shoved Finn into the baby’s cradle, put a bonnet on his head and a pacifier in his mouth and went to the door where Benandonner was raging and carrying on and threatening to tear the castle down stone by stone. “What do you want,” said Oonagh rather disapprovingly, “You’ve woken up my baby.” And she pointed to the cradle where Finn sat curled up in a bunch of blankets looking like a very large baby.

“I’m very sorry, ma’am,” said Benandonner politely, rather taken aback by the size of the baby. “I’m here because your husband trespassed on my land yesterday and I have challenged him to fight.”

“Well,” said Oonagh, “you’ll just have to wait, Finn is out moving an inconvenient mountain so that he people have more pastureland. Why don’t you sit down and I’ll get you some supper.”

She left the room and Finn sat with eyes the size of dinner plates staring at his mortal enemy who was just across the room, but who didn’t know that the baby was actually Finn!

When Oonagh came back she carried a large plate of scones and two buckets of tea. “I’ve got supper on but here are some scones and tea for now,” she said putting down some scones into which she had slipped iron plates and a bucket of scalding hot tea in front of Benandonner then some normal scones and warm tea in front of Finn, then she left the room.

Benandonner picked up a delicious-looking scone and bit down on it then shrieked! The scone was as hard as iron and had broken several of his teeth! He picked up the bucket hoping to sooth his mouth but, taking a mouthfull found it to be scalding hot and he shrieked again spitting hot water and scone out of his mouth.

Oonagh came back into the room saying “What’s the matter?” to Benandonner. “The scones, they broke my tooth!” he stammered, his eyes wide with shock. “Well, that’s the way, Finn likes them,” she replied, “he eats several dozen of those at teatime every day.” Benandonner’s eyes got even wider and his sore jaw dropped. Then he noticed that the baby in the corner was happily chewing on a scone, with no problem at all. That’s when he decided that if the baby was that huge and could eat such horrible scones, he was sure the father must be even larger and more formidable. His face went white with fear and he began to shake. “I have to go” he said to Oonagh.

“But you haven’t had your supper yet!” she replied.

“I have to go!” he said, and ran for the door, slamming it behind him and as fast as he could charged for the bridge, looking behind him to make sure that Finn wasn’t following him. He thudded his way across the bridge tearing it up behind him so that Finn couldn’t follow him and, when he arrived at his castle he spent the next two days in the most protected part of his castle peering out of the windows looking for Finn who he was sure would be coming after him.

Meanwhile, Finn and Oonagh stayed in their castle laughing uproariously and since that time they were never bothered by the cruel giant anymore. Finn went on to fix the things he had damaged in his fear, but he never fixed the bridge And that is the story of why the giant’s causeway exists but doesn’t go all the way across the sea.

Daniel Z

Edinburgh, Jewel of the North

Friday, May 8th, 2009

Morning dawned cloudy after our unexpected nocturnal adventures (ie losing ourselves in the wonders of Edinburgh during construction season). It has been raining off and on for almost a week now and to tell the truth we’re all getting a bit tired of it. Another thing we’re getting a bit tired of is having Harvest Morn bars for breakfast each morning. Although these are delicious and highly nutritious, a full week of them begins grate on the senses. That’s why we decided to enjoy a full breakfast of free-range eggs, thick-cut toast, and real scottish bacon. It was spectacular. A breakfast which will stand out in legend for ages to come.

After fully enjoying the cooking and eating of our spectacular morning meal, we set off for a full day of exploration in the capital of the Scottish world, Edinburgh. A sprawling city built between several hills near the end of the Firth of Forth, Edinburgh has become a mecca for anyone seeking the “Scottish Experience.” Lining the steeply downhill Golden Mile from the ancient and stately Edinburgh Castle to the impressive and glamorous Holyrood Palace is a plethora of shops and tourist traps. The Scottish Whiskey Experience, Thistle Do Nicely, and The Edinburgh Woolen Mill share the road with two magnificent cathedrals and dozens of 18th and 19th century buildings.

Throughout the entire city, history meshes with kitsch in an amalgam of historic beauty and garish modernity. The finest example of this dichotomy was seen near the bottom end of the Golden Mile where ancient Holyrood Palace shares an intersection with the new Scottish parliament building. Built within the past decade to house the Scottish Parliament–a body devolved from the UK Parliament in 1997–the parliament building on the outside is made of shaped steel, wood and glass in a way which calls to mind an image of a bamboo forest. In any modern city (eg Chicago, Columbus, even Belfast) it would have been quite an interesting and beautiful building, but as the seat of power for the leadership of the rugged, rocky and natural nation of Scotland and when contrasted with the ancient stone cathedrals, palaces and castles surrounding it, it ends up looking simply tacky. But enough about architecture and back to exploration.

I’m not sure exactly what David, Dan and Matt did during the afternoon, but I made my way out of town in the car with our clothes only about half of which had dried overnight and used one of the first dry days since our arrival in Scotland to hang our clothes out to finish drying. I drove about 20 minutes out of Edinburgh and pulled off the highway doing a bit of exploring until I found a driveway leading to the entryway of a field. There tied up a line from the car to a fencepost and strung our laundry up to dry. It took about 2 hours even in the bright sun and constant wind, but I managed to get some reading done–I’ve been reading Frank Herbert’s Dune after finishing Starship Titanic earlier in the trip–and took a nap. It was a very nice day and no one bothered me until just as I was taking the laundry down a fellow drove up and asked if I needed any help and when I said no he asked if I had been dumping trash there–apparently a problem in the area–I told him I had just been drying my laundry and he said “Right. No problem. Cheers!” and drove off. We’ve been quite amazed by the friendliness of pretty much every single person we’ve encountered here (except for one rather curt waitress in Galway).

After my leisurely afternoon, I rejoined the guys at our appointed meeting spot in Edinburgh (the Burger King with free WiFi). Soon we were on our way (after a dash to get back to the parking lot before our time expired and we got charged €4.50). We drove steadily northwest toward Loch Ness and the Lake District of Scotland–not to be confused with the Lake District of England–and one of my ancestral homelands.

We spent the night by a stream just a few miles outside of Inverness at the tip of Loch Ness and were not attacked by monsters of any sort.

Daniel Z

Ireland to Scotland

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

We spent Monday night in our car in Donnegal, Ireland. It was raining and we decided to not try to put all our luggage on top; instead we kept all the luggage in the trunk and slept in the seats. The Dans slept in the front two seats, while Matt and I (David) slept in the back seat. I woke up at 6:00 with Matt’s head in my lap. I decided that since he still needed to catch up on his sleep from his flight over, I would let him sleep, which he continued to do for several more hours using me as his pillow.

We continued north into Northern Ireland, officially a part of the United Kingdom, and stopped at “Downhill House” which was owned by a bishop who apparently had made enemies with really small people and/or really stupid people. He determined that he needed a moat but it was only about three feet tall and four feet wide. First of all, why does a bishop need a moat, and secondly why make such a puny moat. He did have an incredible library though. He built a cylindrical building right out on the coast with steep cliffs dropping away from about half of the building. The view would have been spectacular if it would not have been so rainy and cloudy, but since it was raining heavily, we could not see much.

We continued on our way, and Matt gave us quite the excitement when, at highway speeds, he hit a curb on the side of the road and several minuites later he did one better: he drove over the curb . In the process we lost a hubcap, thus making our Passat look less stunning.

We then went to the Giant’s Causeway on the northern coast of Ireland, and discovered that humans did not invent steps, they apparently were invented by the giant Finn MacCool many moons ago. The rock formations along the coast formed natural steps and were hexagonal in shape and were very slippery because of the rain. We walked out right to the coast and watched the tide come in. I noticed how harsh the ocean looked with its cold waves crashing into the coast, and thought about how in several months we will be at on the banks much more inviting waters. We then walked along paths on the cliffs and viewed the stunning beauty of the Giant’s Causeway and its surrounding regions. It would have been great to spend a bunch of time there, but the weather was miserable: it was cold, not much above freezing, raining, and had gale-force winds. At one point, up on top of the cliffs, extremely strong winds blew from three directions in a two-minute span. It was enjoyable to look across the cliffs and watch seagulls swoop around below us, using the wind to its full soaring potential. I had to think of how an attraction like this would be handled in the States. They would have luxury hotels, condos, and tourist areas on top of the cliffs, but in Ireland sheep placidly graze right above the stunning vistas. I have to think that the weather has much to do with this. It rains about 200 days out of the year and is severely windy, thus decreasing its tourist appeal.

We made it down to Belfast that evening and drove around town. We drove down Shankill Street, where Bloody Sunday took place. There were quite a few murals supporting the Irish cause, but there were also some British-support murals. When I was in Belfast three years ago I was amazed at the number of cranes dotting the skyline. This trip there were many fewer, probably a combination of completed projects and the slow economy. The city is really trying to get past its violent image and I really enjoyed the city. There was a noticeable improvement in the city from my last trip. At night, we walked along the Lagan River and enjoyed the bridges and lights along the river. Matt brought a big tripod along and he spent most of the walk well behind the rest of us trying to capture the perfect held-exposure shots of the city. After that, we went to City Hall for some more pictures. The building is very stately and beautiful but it had a ferris wheel attached to the side of it. They looked so odd right next to each other, like conjoined twins of different nationalities. The ferris wheel is basically a miniature London Eye that provides views of Belfast, and Matt and I stopped to talk to the night guard, about it. He was fairly young and talked of his dream of moving to Texas and working on a cattle ranch. We have found that the cowboy part of American culture is really stressed abroad, possibly because that is one thing that we didn’t copy from the Europeans.

We left Belfast on a ferry at 3:30 a.m. to save some money. The ferry was very empty so I was able to find a long padded bench to sleep on. I woke up at one point with a TV blaring above me so I quickly turned it off and went back to sleep. I don’t think much else of note happened on the trip, if it did I missed it because I was asleep. We got to Stranrear, Scotland at about 7:00 and drove to Edinburgh.

We first secured a hostle for the night, the Belford Hostel, which had transformed an old church into a hostle. It cost £10 per person and included hot showers and a kitchen area where we were able to use several times. The hostle was very nice and I would recommend it to anyone who stops in Edinburgh. The shower room had four sinks, so we used them to do our laundry. I am sure our mothers would have enjoyed watching us wash all our clothes out in sinks. It took quite a while and we hung up our clothes in our room. Our room looked like the top of Mt. Everest with its Tibetan prayer flags. I have resigned myself to looking like a hobo throughout this trip, but it is necessary when living out of a car and bag for several months.

We then decided to check out the town, so we walked around Edinburgh Castle and down the Golden Mile, the stretch of road between the Castle and the Queen’s residence. It is a nice stretch but has been overrun with tourist shops. There is an incredible number of cathedrals in Edinburgh; it seems as if they needed at least one for every century that it has been in existence. We climbed a hill that gave us a good view of the entire city and also the Firth of Forth, on which Edinburgh was built. (Is there a cooler name than the Firth of Forth?)

At night Matt and I walked back to our hostel from downtown. We didn’t have a map and ended up getting a little lost. We stopped in at an internet cafe and he had a map of the city and was able to help us out. We got back to our hostel in time to watch the second half of the Chelsea-Barcelona “futbol” match. It was the semi-final of the Champion’s League, and Chelsea had a 1-0 lead until Barcelona tied it up in the 92nd minute. It was their first shot on goal all game, so supposedly I could have done just as well in net as the Chelsea goaltender. It turned out that if they tie after 90 minutes, Barcelona advances, so they celebrated their tie while Chelsea was furious because the referee missed several obvious hand ball calls in the last few minutes (which elicited quite an uproar from the English journalists).

Matt and I waited for the Dans to return, but they didn’t come…and didn’t come. Finally I decided to go to bed (and Matt ate their sandwiched he had made for them), and just as I was climbing into bed Dan Shenk walked in the room. He had gotten lost and had spent nearly three hours traipsing through the city. I woke up this morning and Dan Ziegler was in his bed, he also got lost and had trouble finding the hostel. So if anyone takes up my recommendation and stays at the Belford Hostel, make sure you have a map of the city.

We are really enjoying our time so far, but are ready for some a stretch of time without rain (maybe by the time we get to France in a week-and-a-half).
Thanks for staying interested in our travels, and may you find ways in which you have fun and adventure wherever and however you can. Don’t leave it all up to us.

david miller

Religion and The West

Monday, May 4th, 2009

Our first Sunday in Ireland dawned predicatively cloudy. The night had been a bit hard, having spent a tense and hectic half hour in the in the driving rain and gathering dark staking down our tarps to keep our belongings dry. It was with smiling, if tired faces, then, that we greeted the calls of “It’s dry!” that morning. It was about 9 in the morning and the sun was up, although low in the sky and a dry wind was blowing. We laid out the tent and tent fly that hadn’t quite dried from the night before.(leaving at 8 before the sun came out and the dew dried meant we hadn’t had time to air them out.). We also laid out the precious tarps which had so successfully kept the rain off of our bags the night before.

After a half hour or so, we left our little spot in the field for the second time and headed to Dublin.
In Dublin, we parked about a block from St Patrick’s Cathedral and walked to church, feeling a bit bedraggled without a shower, but in our best clothes.

The cathedral is magnificent. During the week the main chapel is home to a gift shop and costs several euro to enter (I always think of Jesus ejecting the moneychangers and others profiting from God’s temple when I see gift shops and admission fees at these cathedrals). On Sundays, however, mass is held at 8:30 and Eucharist sung at 11:15 and admission is free. We didn’t feel like waking up early and wet two days in a row (plus most of us aren’t big fans of waking up early in the morning) so we aimed for the 11:15 service.

A group called the City of London Chamber Choir were the guest choir and sang beautifully, although, as in most cathedrals, the words were lost in the nooks and crannies of the decorated ceilings and walls. The cathedral is Anglican now, although I’m not sure it has been always. St. Patrick is, of course, the patron saint of Ireland and his name and face are widespread throughout the country. Schools, streets, villages, restaurants, hotels, tour companies, breweries and almost every other possible variety of institution bear his name. There are a lot of people who get a lot of acclaim who don’t really deserve it, but Patrick is one who almost certainly does. There are a lot of legends about his life–many of them probably true, for example his origins in Roman Britain or his relationship with the church, which is fairly well documented. Other stories are less documented. For example, he is said to have banished all snakes from Ireland by praying on a mountain for 40 days and 40 nights. It is certainly possible that a man in tune with God’s will could ask for God to perform a miracle as spectacular as banishing snakes from an entire nation.

Back in the church, the service celebrated the 4th Sunday of Easter and was filled with some beautiful spring music and a sermon exhorting the members of the congregation to be shepherds of our brothers and sisters and not sit back and assume that the pastor (shepherd) of the congregation will pick up your slack. The congregation was made up of a number of people who seemed as though they might be Dublin-area regulars and probably about 30 or 40 people who looked like tourists. All in all, attendance was probably at about 150. Not bad for secular Europe, although Ireland is one of the most religious nation in Europe.
It was a sombre service, but seemed filled with a groundswell of celebration of Christ’s resurrection. One of the morning’s hymns, written by John Crum and sung to a traditional French melody, seemed to fit well.

Now the green blade riseth from the buried grain,
Wheat that in dark earth many days has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again,
Like wheat that springeth green.

I left in a good mood, feeling reminded of what a great, international God we serve.
That afternoon we headed to The West, straight across the country. It only took about 3 and ½ hours to cross the entire nation! Along the way, we were thrilled at the the sights of the Irish countryside, damp as they were. Matt also took his first turn driving once we were outside of Dublin, and did quite well. One of the phrases we’ve taken to using here is “Driving like a European” since it seems that in the two European nations we’ve visited on this trip so far, driving in a crazy manner seems rather mundane over here. Matt learned to drive like a European.
Eventually we made it safe and sound to Limerick in The West and headed up the coast. That evening we spent at the beautiful Cliffs of Moher, one of the 7 Wonders of the Natural World (As a sidebar, who comes up with these wonders? I mean… can I just declare myself one of the 7 Wonders of the Human World? Not that I want to. Just asking.)

Pictures will do a better job of describing the cliffs, but they rise several hundred feet from the frigid and tumultuous North Atlantic below. We were all awed by how dramatic a form Creation can take, more wonderful than the most spectacular of man’s buildings. In other words, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water is nothing compared with God’s Cliffs of Moher (just to clarify, I’m not dissing Wright, I really like his work!)
We left the cliffs a bit late–we had tried to see the sunset, but in typical Irish fashion, it was cloudy–and drove north through Doolin and Galway. Tomorrow we’re going to see the Giant’s Causeway built by the infamous giant, Finn MacCool himself. We’ll finish the day in Belfast where we’ll catch the 3:20 ferry to Stranrear, Scotland.

Daniel Z

And Then There Were Four

Monday, May 4th, 2009

I arrived in Dublin, Ireland ahead of schedule after a whirlwind of a week. That whirlwind involved four final projects, two finals, very little sleep, two showers, and a large portion of stress. I unwound slightly by watching Slumdog Millionaire on the Aer Lingus (the Irish airline) portion of the trip. The flight also included an execution-style last meal. Which I enjoyed thoroughly. Saturday morning I arrived in Dublin, painfully aware that I could not remember if I had told the guys when my flight would arrive and so the adventure begins. I watched random people in the airport for an hour before I spotted David. Before that a customs official had warily eyed me and my haggard expression and questioned how long I would be touring the European Union. “Three months.” Crazy Americans.

The guys had guessed my arrival time and pretty accurately at that. We left the airport in our gleaming black Passat station wagon while they filled me in on what my academic endeavors had caused me to miss we drove to Phibsboro Street to research hostels in Dublin and continued on foot into the city at the top of O’Connell Street I received my first taste of real Irish culture as a mob of young men dressed in red accosted another in blue, jeering lustily and generously dousing him in alcohol. I had seen an usually large number of those red jerseys at the airport that morning. I learned through a newspaper that the Munster rugby team, based in Limerick, were in Dublin for the semifinals in the European Rugby League. Dublin’s own Lienster team sported the same blue as the abused fan on O’Connell Street. We continued to explore the city, including Trinity College, dating back to the 16th century. At St. Stephen’s Green I became separated from the guys when preoccupied with photographing a line of horse-drawn carriages. Then we ate Fauxtella on crackers in the park laughing about Rosedale times of yore.

Around 5:30 and the beginning of the rugby match, we walked toward Croke Park through throngs of red and blue supporters, many of whom were well intoxicated in the Irish tradition. We enjoyed the stadium’s cheers and roars as we circled the game just under way. Along our route, we each received a banana from a man clad in a monkey suit. Naturally. Back in the city center on Temple Bar Street, we found a pub and tried to blend in with the throngs watching the match on several flat-screen tellys. To complete the experience of watching rugby in an Irish pub we shared half a pint of Guinness David, Shenk and I decided we weren’t quite ready for Irish citizenship, finding the brew slightly less than pleasurable. More pleasurable was the rugby match where the home team dominated in an upset, winning 25 to 6. Munster fans were much quieter as we left the pub finding our car in its parking garage we drove out to Swords to the game reserve where the guys had slept the night before.

With Ziegler’s burner we cooked delicious pea soup with ham, adding extra ham and carrots. Needing more space in the car as it began to rain, we stowed our suitcases and miscellaneous necessities on the roof and draped it with the two tarps. We fell asleep, Shenk and I in the back and David and Ziegler in the front, praying that the stakes would hold and that our few belongings would remain dry. To be continued…


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