The Rocky Road From Dublin
with Steve McCarthy
It's been a hell of a week. Mostly good, then near disaster. More about that later. First, let's talk about the good stuff. Dublin. What a great city. World's Largest Village. One of the most walkable cities in the world. Mostly, because everything that you'd really want to see is within a couple of miles radius.
Marianne and I got here, accompanied by daughter Meaghan and her boyfriend Yung on Saturday after a mostly uneventful flight. Seems that all that media stuff about how horrible TSA check times is mostly baloney. Same with the traffic problems at LAX. We, however, at the time, erred on the side of caution, so had a three hour wait before Aer Lingus people even showed up. The line moved fine, but of course, we were in a part of LAX that's under construction. Gosh, what a surprise. Construction at LAX. I can't remember a time when there WASN'T construction at LAX. Anyway, TSA was no real problem, then we waited. Found dinner at a burger place inside. All the for joints are average if you're lucky. Young got a piece of plastic in his, and the people at the counter were about as incompetent as you can imagine. sigh.
The plane ride was fine, we'd opted for the Extra Leg Room Seats and were glad we did. The only problems are no movie screen (BFD, I can't watch movies on planes anyway) and the trays are in the seat arms instead of ahead of you. The BEST part, aside from being able to stretch my 6'1" frame out was no one leaned back into us, and we didn't have to crawl over half the plane to get to the potty. Since we'd eaten at the airport, we could ignore the airplane food, no loss there. The other bonus was that the plane left at 8PM our time and got to Dublin about 2PM their time. Perfect! We slept most of the flight and woke up in the "morning". Hardly any jet lag. Our accommodations in Dublin are great. Seven people for a week though Air B&B for just over a grand! No kidding. No wonder hotels are screaming! Conor and Jorinde are great hosts, the place is clean, comfortable and well equipped. I highly recommend them.
We hit Dublin and of course it was raining. At times pretty good. Made us worried about driving the TR, but that was the last time it's rained all week. Remarkable! We headed out to dinner and found a pub with food and our first pint of the Black Stuff. DAMN IT'S SO MUCH BETTER IN IRELAND!!! It rained all the way there and back, a good couple of miles, and we were soaked. Tired and sore, we hit the sack, knowing that the rest of the crew would arrive about 6AM! And they did.
We let them sleep and we sacked out as well, then headed into town for a meal and a look at the museum at the Collins Barracks (formerly, the Royal Barracks and seat of English military control over Ireland for some 200 years). Found a Slovakian restaurant of all things and had great food (and Guinness, of course). I had a dish of cheesy dumplings with smokey bacon that was fantastic. Other's had stews, fish and chips, and assorted delights. It's called Pifko and is right along the Liffey River, across from the Four Courts.
The museum was, as are all museums in Ireland, terrific. I checked out the military part, others the decorative arts part. They, along with every museum in Ireland had a special display on the Easter Rebellion. This is the centenary of the 1916 uprising that finally lead to independence for most of Ireland, after 700 years of English domination. All the displays are both patriotic and realistic. Sure, there's the expected support of the Mythology of Revolution. We do that, every country has it's National Mythology that shades the truth. There is, in these displays, enough questioning and presenting other views that it is refreshing to see history that isn't so wrapped up in the flag of patriotic fervor that it becomes a warped alternate reality. So, enough of the history lesson. For now.
Monday, we headed out for more sightseeing around town, walking our legs off. Dublin Castle was the highlight. The self guided tour only takes in the State Rooms, not the Norman castle or church. One of the intriguing things is the statue of justice that the English put up. She's NOT blindfolded and has her back to the city (and it's inhabitants) of Dublin. The symbolism, wether intended or not, was obvious. Then it was off to Guinness!! The tour is great. It's also loud and crowded. The skyline bar has a 360 degree view of Dublin, but it probably the most crowded place in Dublin. And loud. Still, it's worth it. Dinner was at Arthur's, a pub just down the street. Excellent food an a blues band.
First up on Tuesday was a trip to the Powerscourt Waterfall, just south of Dublin. Up through the Wicklow hills on the narrowest of roads, meeting sheep wandering in the middle of things, and then this amazing place, part of the Powerscourt Estate. It's a massive waterfall (highest in Ireland) that truly impresses. Following that, we headed to Cashel for lunch. It was average at best. Place called Fahey's. My smoked salmon on soda bread was good, as was Marianne's seafood chowder. Others? not so much. Meaghan's peas tasted of cigarettes, and Paul's "Southern Fried Chicken" wasn't even up to the Colonel's standard. The good part was we drove around the Rock of Cashel and amazed everyone, then, I had a surprise. The Rock overlooks another ruined abbey, Hore Abbey. This place is FREE and has the same haunting feel as the Rock, without the tourists getting in every photo or the admission fee. It's just to the west of the Rock, the entry is off Camus Road.
From there we headed for Blarney and the most famous castle in Ireland, build by Cormac McCarthy (yes, indeed) in the 1400s replacing an earlier fortification dating from 1200 or so. And we made a discovery. We got there about 4PM. The place was empty. All the tour buses were gone. It's open in the summer until 7PM, so here's a top tip, get there late. When we were there ten years ago, the line stretched from well outside the castle entrance all the way to the top (and the Blarney Stone) and back down again. Either way, the climb is not for the faint of heart or claustrophobic. Up a spiral stair (that goes clockwise, so an attacker's sword in his right had can't really reach around but a defender's can!) it's more like a ladder than a stair. Going down it's a little wider but not much. Brianna and Paul kissed the stone, although none of us really need an enhanced ability to BS. The view from the top is spectacular. Here's another top tip. Eat in Blarney before heading home. The food is better and you're not stuck trying to find food in small towns that roll up by 5PM. We settled for back in Cashel at a "pizza" place called Moretti's. It was unmitigated crap. I mean it, it was some of the worst slop I've ever eaten. Hell, a lukewarm McRib would have been better. Our big mistake was to look for food too late and too tired to care. It will always bite you in the butt.
Wednesday was another tour, this time to the Boyne Valley and the REALLY old stuff. Older than the Pyramids stuff. 5000 year old burial mounds at Knowth and New Grange. To see them, you MUST use the visitor's center (which has some great displays) and then take a shuttle to the sites. Knowth is frankly more interesting than New Grange, there's more there. New Grange has the advantage of being able to go all the way into the center. The engineering on these is remarkable. Even more so, when you realize all the had for tools were sticks and stones. And no Space Aliens didn't help, do NOT get me started! We were all amazed at the enormity of it all. From there, we headed to Trim Castle. By the way, the Garmin GPS was working well, if, at times a bit oddly. It is, however, almost worthless in Dublin City itself. Anyway, we hit Trim after munching a good lunch at the cafe at the museum. Ireland's museum food is generally quite good. Trim Castle was of particular interest, as it was a Norman fortification built by Hugh de Lacy in the 1170s. That's important because Marianne is a direct descendant of de Lacy! I've got Blarney, she's got Trim. Pretty cool, eh? It's a marvelous ruin that is, in a way, a playground for the locals. The weather was fantastic and families were out picnicking, kids were running about shrieking and climbing on things, it was wonderful! Anther top tip. Get the OPW Heritage Site card. It get's you into most of these places free! From there, we headed back and the GPS got us completely lost trying to find the Hertz place. We made it just in time, then had dinner at a local place, the Headliner. Excellent seared hake (a white fish) and a flight of whiskies. "Writer's Tears" is now a favorite.
Thursday was to be the Big Day. Off early to get the TR. Got there a bit too early, but was invited in for a cuppa. Signed the paperwork, paid the last fees. Had to jump start it of course. Found a gas station, and headed back. Then it happened. Traffic came to an abrupt stop and I didn't. A brake hose sprung a leak, pedal went to the floor, I swerved but no. WHAM. Hit a poor guy's van. SHIT! Front corner of the TR crunched. Managed to get her stopped and worked it to the side of the road. The poor guy was amazing. Very understanding. He called the Garda (cops) for me. I got out the crowbar and pried up the bonnet. The 'good' news was the damage was all superficial, not structural. No damage to the radiator or suspension. Just a nice hole in the right front Aeroquip brake hose. hmmm.
Then things got interesting. A guy comes up and suggests I ask at the garage across the street if they can help. By that time the Nicest Policeman In the World, comes up and takes the info. He then offers to not only block traffic, but to HELP PUSH IT ACROSS THE STREET!!!!!! Amazing! The garage, Atlas Auto Service, run by Brendan was also great. Said they'd help get it all sorted. Got the offending hose off and a mechanic walked over to a parts place to find a match. They give me a alb hammer and I pounded out the worst of it so nothing rubs. Mechanic comes back and of course, the hoses don't fit. No worries, they have a guy who makes up hoses. They say, leave the car here, we'll get you going. With a heavy heart, I leave the Blue Meanie and grab a cab back. Nice chatty fellow. "Don't tell the missus, the women, they're the worriers." I get back and call Moss Motors UK. Yes, the have replacements and yes, they can overnight them. Wonderful. I can rest easy. It's never this easy, is it? I call Friday about noon to Moss and find out the shipping department sent it out 2-3 day delivery! WTF???? I have them send another, "overnight". I get a tracking number late Friday night, and bugger. It says delivery MONDAY! I call Moss and yep, they did it again. As I type, the part is sitting in the TNT (like UPS, but not. Not at all) depot in Dublin and they don't seem to actually do Saturday deliveries!!!!! WTF AGAIN! Naturally, our Air B&B place in Dublin is booked next week, so off to the internetweb to find new digs for Marianne and me. And look here, a Best Western almost next door to the garage where the car is! HUZZAH.
The rest of Thursday was great, despite the Car Crap. Caitlin and I went to a play at the Abbey Theatre (Ireland's National Theatre) and saw an awesome performance of "Observing the Men of Ulster As They March Towards the Somme." No, it wasn't a light hearted romp. It was heavy and exceptional. Caitlin was blown away by the technical aspects as well as the play.
Friday was Meaghan's 30th Birthday! She was off with Yung, then we all met up at the Porterhouse in Temple Bar. Excellent food. Slow braised pork belly and lentils, Kilo of Mussels, Oysters, Salmon. WOW. After, we tried to find room at the Brazen Head (oldest bar in Ireland, dates from the 1100s!) but on a Friday? Nope. Across the street was O'Shea's Merchant. A place dedicated to traditional music. AND HOW. The lass with the fiddle (and I'm sorry, I never caught her name) was the Heifetz of Irish fiddling. SHE WAS BRILLIANT!
Now it's Saturday night. we should be in Mullaghamore but aren't I've devised a plan to get us back on track to make Edinburgh by next Friday and still see Loch Ness and the Whisky Trail in Scotland. So far, we've at least proven Robert Burns' dictum, "The best laid plans o'mice and men gang aft aglee".