Sunday, February 18, 2007

Yes, "Dear"-- Days 2 and 3

I'm back in the states now, but I don't want to forget to write about all the wonderful things I did after my first day in Ireland. I'll write it all down, slowly but surely. There will be a picture post coming soon, as well.

Irish Extravaganza, Day 2
Come to find out, my travel alarm clock fails at its major duty (namely waking me up.) Katrina and Emmalee showed up at 11 am, and I was so dead asleep that I didn't recognize them for a full 45 seconds. We eventually navigated to Pearse Station, where we purchased E7.20 day passes to aid in our adventurousness. Unfortunately, the DART line south all the way to Bray and Greystones in County Wicklow was out of order, so we could only ride down to Dalkey, the furthest south portion of Dublin (just two more locations to put on my "wish I could have gone to" list, which also includes Galway, the Ring of Kerry, and... yeah, just most of the West coast). Luckily, Dalkey was quite charming, with little windy roads and a couple "castles" (old fortified houses) plopped down in the middle. We explored quite a bit, had some coffee, and found our way down past a working Abbey to the Irish Sea. The sun proceded to come out for the first time (What? I have a shadow?) After our adventure to Dalkey, we returned to Dun Laoghaire, another stop on the DART, where there is a 2 km-long wharf out into the bay. We took our time taking pictures of the boats, the waterfront, the lighthouses. It was quite lovely in the setting sun. For dinner, our Adventure Policy (stop wherever we want and see what happens) went a little awry, as we ended up in an Industrial Park. So we went back to Dublin City Proper, to the super-chic Temple Bar area. There, our waiter made fun of Katrina for getting a hamburger.

Irish Extravaganza, Day 3.
Emily woke me before her Monday class with the idea that I would shower and meet her for breakfast near Trinity before heading to the bus station. She told her roommate I was coming up and left. However, by the time I was ready to go upstairs, I had encountered two problems:

1) When the girls living in the basement, where I slept, left, they locked the door. Thus, I learned important Lesson #2-- Irish doors lock from the inside.
2) When I used Emily's cell phone, which she had left with me, to call her roommate, the roommate had left as well, and locked the door to her room (with the shower and all my clothes in it) behind her.

I considered the situation and concluded that I was trapped in an Irish basement (a good basis for the sequel to "Trapped in the Closet"? I think so.) After freaking out for 15 minutes, I discovered a side door which was mercifully unlocked and planned to meet Emily in my pajamas and explain the situation. Luckily, she came home early, so I was able to shower quickly, dress, and even get to the bus station on the other side of the Liffey (the river that runs through Dublin) in time to catch the bus to Thomastown.

I purchased my ticket and resolved to look out the window during the 2.5 hour ride, but encountered culture difference again. In the states, the best place for window-looking is the right side of the bus. Not so, of course, in Ireland. I felt quite silly once I realized my mistake. Luckily, once we got out into the country the roads were narrow enough that it didn't matter. I spent the ride feeling totally enchanted-- the view of verdant fields, sheep, little sleepy towns with ruined castles or abbeys in them, white churches against the hills. As we passed through Carlow, two boys in school uniforms motioned to the busdriver to honk his horn. He did, and the excitement on their faces made me smile, too. A village called Castledermot, left me sorely tempted to get off and just wander along its winding alleys. Every corner looked like a postcard. Another force attempting to convince me off track: the guy sitting in front of me on the bus. He introduced himself to me as Ben and proceded to attempt to convince me, in a strange Irish/Spanish accent, to forget my friends in Thomastown and to go on to Waterford with him, which he assured me is "very quiet and beautiful, not dear like Dublin" (Lesson 2.5: "Dear" is Irish slang for "expensive.") I managed to rebuff his advances, but he did tell me when we stopped at Thomastown (Lesson 3: Unlike in the States, Irish public busdrivers do not announce stop names as the bus pulls in, meaning that if you've never been to a place before you're a little screwed.)

Given this fact, when Brenda (the woman I was to stay with) didn't immediately meet me as I got off the bus, the first thing I did was to make sure I was actually in Thomastown. Some of the small downtown's signs indicated that I was, and so I was set to do a little bit of problem solving. I reminded myself that I was not, in fact, stranded in the middle of the Irish countryside (albeit in a very charming town in the middle of said countryside) and went into a bank to ask for help. The woman promptly called Brenda, and Ollie (Brenda's son, who is 27) came to pick me up. He drove me about 7 km back to Capagh, a tiny enclave outside a still-tiny (population in the hundreds) village called Inistioge (pronounced Inis-TEEG). We zipped through increasingly narrow and windy roads, the Rone river silver in the valley below, before turning down a lane so stereotypically charming that I actually thought, "You're fucking kidding me." Brenda lives in a little wooden cottage in the back of the house she lived in most of her life but which she recently sold. There is a vegetable garden, a fantastic bird feeder filled with strangely colored birds (blue and yellow finches, pink robins), and a stream running through the yard. It was so picturesque I could barely breathe. For the moment, Brenda shares the house with Ollie (who is back home after breaking up with a longtime girlfriend) and three dogs-- Fiann, Jessie, and Sasha (but I think it has a more complicated Gaelic spelling.) The dogs were unendingly adorable. Jessie gives hugs (she gets up on your lap and puts her arms around your waist), and they've all figured out how to open the door from both sides, and come and go as they please. Brenda took me up to Woodstock, an old noble estate that the family in power in the area recently donated to the Inistioge villagers. They've started to manicure the place as it would have been a long time ago, although all the structures are ruins that were burnt out in "The Troubles" (what Irish people call the past history of civil unrest). She knew incredible amounts about botany, and was able to point out any number of species of trees as we passed. It was a very pretty walk, but really I could have just driven around all afternoon. That Irish countryside had its hooks in me. I was just hungry for the view.

Ollie made us dinner in the house's little kitchen, and we commenced a night of talking. About so much-- politics, culture, differences between Ireland and the US, funny stories, serious stories. I had assumed that because Ollie sort of drifts around and doesn't do a whole lot that he wasn't particularly sharp (which is admittedly elitist of me), but he had just as large a knowledge base as his mother, and our discussions lasted through visits to two pubs in tiny Inistioge center. The pubs were even more of "what pubs should be" than even the Stag's Head, mostly because they were in the middle of the Irish Countryside. All the locals knew each other, the bartender greeted Brenda and knew what to make her. An old, drunk Irishman came up and put his arm around me and slurred at me in Gaelic. The only part I caught was "Milanna," which Brenda told me means "pet" or "sweetheart" in Traveller tongue. The man is an Inistioge councilman who, in Brenda's words, "gets paid to start drinking at 11 AM, and a right good job he does." We drove home at breakneck pace from the pubs, narrowly avoiding the police lorry (issues of drunk driving run rampant,) and proceeded to stay up until almost 3 AM continuing our discussion of the realities of Ireland, politics. I explained the SATs and a testing society to Ollie, and he explained Ireland's system, in turn. He and Brenda told me, repeatedly, that I was "very well-informed for an American." I chose to take this as a compliment.

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