Crazy Weather

I’m sitting in a pleasant bar/cafĂ©, sipping Earl Grey, munching a bagel (occasionally wiping the cream cheese off my keyboard), watching out a large picture window as the wind drives the trees into a frenzy. The walk over here was quite the little trek; we marched straight into the face of the storm and arrived sodden in front and dry in back. As we walked through the nearly-deserted pedestrian mall alarms were going off in the buildings all around us, triggered by the violent thunderclaps. As we walked, fuego gestured. “Sky’s blue right over there.”

It is not raining anymore (or, more precisely, it’s not raining at this moment), but the weather is still much better to watch than to be in. Another pub day. It’s New Year’s Eve, and apparently Galway is where folks from Dublin come to party down. We plan to stake out our turf early in a pub that will have local music later; even on regular nights they’re difficult to sit down in once the evening sets in. Today will require dedication and endurance to get a prime spot. We are up for the challenge.

Grumpy Tummy

We’re in Galway, now, and we will be for a couple of days. The car has been returned to the Budget People, so moving is now a bit more of a hassle. That’s OK with me; the time spent in motion and looking for a place to stay each day is time that could be put to better use.

Unfortunately, last night I was unable truly appreciate this. We sat at the King’s Head, but halfway through my Guinness I started feeling queasy. After the second one I was decidedly ill. I thought eating would help, but that was not the case at all. fuego and MaK gushed over their Irish stew, while I stared listlessly at my potato soup. We repaired to the bar half of the establishment and listened to a local jam session for a while. “I feel all right as long as I don’t eat or drink any alcohol,” I said, to which both fuego and MaK responded by trying to get me to drink traditional czech medicinal alcoholic beverages.

This morning I am fine. As I told fuego, my stomach just needed to reboot. Onward we go, into the teeth of light rain driven by occasionally fierce wind, searching for that dark, warm haven that such weather caused a people to embrace. Truly this is the weather that gave birth to the pub.

While you’re at it, drop by fuego’s place and wish him a happy birthday!

Catching Up

The days pass, the miles and kilometers roll by (depending on the country), and the Internet remains a dream, a rumor whispered in hushed tones, stories told in back alleys about a place around the corner or in the next town. Now we are at a place that has Internet, but, in the words of the desk attendant, it’s a ripoff. When he told me the price, I choked and agreed that I could wait another day. There’s a cybercafe just up the street…

“But Jerry,” you ask, “you’re a cheap bastard; what are you doing in the sort of hotel that can charge out the wazoo for Internet access?”

I’m glad you asked.

Had you been reading the episodes in chronological order, you would have already seen the name Sligo (rhymes, most likely, with “I go”). We passed through on Christmas day, and everything was closed. Well, we’re back, and now there are things that aren’t closed. Unfortunately, any affordable accommodation is either full or… closed for the season. It was a little bit late in the evening when we got here, and after a long series of strikeouts we were faced with the prospect of moving on to a different town, to arrive even later and face ever-diminishing chances of people even answering their doors, let alone having room. The other prospect that loomed out there, that we had mentioned a couple of times earlier when it was still funny, was the all-nighter. Sligo really isn’t where we wanted to end up tonight, but we were all ready to get out of the car and into a comfortable bar.

Then we found the Sligo Southern Hotel. It is big, and fancy, and twice what we’ve paid for rooms so far. After a brief pow-wow and a room check we decided to accept their hospitality for the night. Now we sit in the very nice bar, of a pricey hotel in a town that once again is unable to provide us with what we needed. It looks like a really nice town, too.

Causeway and Effect

This morning found us in Bushmills, in Northern Ireland, eating a satisfying breakfast in a friendly dining room. We were the only guests at the B&B, so we had the undivided attention of our hosts. “Isn’t the weather fine this mornin’?” our hostess asked. “We’re keeping our fingers crossed.” I looked out the window at the street glistening in the gentle rain. I agreed with her wholeheartedly, both because I enjoy a gentle rain, and I assumed I would like any alternative less.

Our hostess had the traits I’ve come to associate with the people of this land: the gift of gab, a friendly demeanor, and a distrust of the cities. We heard about the rising cost of real estate, the driving habits of the locals (along with the details of a tragic accident), and a host of other topics. Somewhere in all that she asked us what our plans were for the day. We told her we were going to the Giant’s Causeway, and she approved of the decision. Since the causeway is the biggest attraction for miles around, I can’t imagine she was too surprised, but it did steer the conversation onto the subject of runaway development.

We escaped the pleasant conversation and headed the short distance to coast and causeway.

I suppose it’s about time I told you what the Giant’s Causeway is. A long, long time ago, a volcano erupted and filled a basin with lava. This lava cooled and contracted, and cracks formed in the basalt. The cooling was steady enough that the cracks formed in a regular pattern, and now the sea is eroding the formation, revealing hexagonal columns of stone.

On the coast the wind was brisk and chilly, and we taught MaK the word “blustery”. Loaded up with cameras (four between the three of us), bundled against the bracing December air, we set out to explore the cliffs on the northern end of the island.

[I’ll put some pictures here, I promise. Just not right now.]

This I will say: Of all the places to go in the off-season, this is a no-brainer. Time after time we have been faced disappointment because things are closed for the off-season. At the Giant’s Causeway pL didn’t park very close to the car next to us because their doors were open. “That’s got to be good enough for this time of year,” he said. I agreed. After all, we were three of perhaps fifteen tourists in Ireland.

Wrong. There were a lot of people there. I don’t blame them, either; that place is pretty damn cool. I can’t imagine what things are like in the summer. Well, actually I can imagine, and it’s not pretty. At some point the person/rock ratio gets tilted too far and I, at least, would start to think more about the other people there than the attraction itself. We rambled, got our shoes muddy, hopped across rocks, stacked a rock or two, then tramped along the cliff top for a ways. Between us, we took many, many pictures, which will tell the story from here on out. At least they will, once I sort through them and delete most of them.

Roving on an Irish Christmas

I’ll try to keep this episode short, after that last one. Today was our first full day on the Emerald Isle, and we spent it going from one end to the other, in order to meet up with friends. The roads were empty, so driving was not as much of an adventure as it might otherwise have been.

Note to any who might spend christmas day here: Everything is closed. In the town where we stopped for lunch, one passerby we asked had heard that there was a market somewhere that might be open until two; he was out looking for it. Even the chinese restaurants were closed. (At one point I’m pretty sure we saw a gas station that was open, but we didn’t realize what a rare find that was at the time.) Fortunately we still had ample munchies, packed in preparation for just such a contingency. Right after we started munching our snacks we found the One Restaurant In Ireland Open On Christmas. It was an Indian place, and was mighty good.

The end of day two finds us at Ritz Budget Hotel in Killibegs, and this place is right nice. There’s a fishing fleet anchored nearby, so soon I expect to be munching some fine, fine fish and chips. In the meantime, I’m Ireland for my second night and have yet to see the inside of a pub. That’s just not right.

Hostalized in Cork

As we sat in fuego’s apartment wrapping up supper and getting ready to leave on our trip, fuego said, “dang, we’ve still got a lot to do today.” With the plane leaving well after dark, it felt like we had an extra day’s worth of stuff to do, even after running around all day getting ready to travel. Soon we were on our way, however, lugging luggage through the metro system, spending an extra buck-fifty for the express airport bus (we weren’t quite sure the other bus was running that late on christmas eve), and losing a few toiletries to the new “no fluids” rule (MaK maintained that they were not fluid, so the security people produced illustrated cards prepared for just such an occasion, which of course did nothing to placate MaK, resulting in the entire check-in process grinding to a halt. This would have been a problem, but there were only thirteen passengers going through the security for that gate.), we were ready to fly.

I was a bit surprised to see the plane getting the de-ice treatment before takeoff, but I agreed with the pilot that it’s better safe than sorry. The only drawback was that if the plane was late reaching Cork we might not be able to score our rental car, which would complicate things greatly. The flight was uneventful, as flights usually are these days, and we made up for the lost time, went quickly through customs, and found the guy waiting for us at the car rental place. Thus armed with a four-door instrument of death with the steering wheel on the wring side, we made our way into Cork town proper. I was navigating, fuego was steering, and MaK was cowering in the back seat. Things went pretty smoothly, but as navigator I was a little dismayed that we didn’t have driving instructions to the hostel where we would be staying. What we had were walking instructions from the bus station.

Fortunately there are lots of arrows on the roads telling drivers which direction each lane is heading. fuego piloted well, although the windshield wipers got a good workout — the lever for the turn signals is on the other side of the steering wheel. Suddenly we discovered ourselves to be right next to the bus station. Bickety-bam, up and around on some narrow streets and there we were. We unpacked the car and as we were hauling all our crap into the hotel a kid loitering outside wished us a Merry Christmas. Loudly. We replied in kind (only more quietly), and I wondered if that was going to the last we were going to hear from him.

We checked in, and were informed that although the reservation was for three, it was actually for a double room and another bed in a dorm. Naturally married couple got the double room and I got pot luck. It didn’t bother me much; I could leave my stuff in the more secure room and just crash in the dorm. After a supper of bread and cheese (there was nothing open at that time on Christmas Eve, however MaK brought a variety of cheeses and breads so we were in no danger of starving) and the traditional Czech Slivovice Christmas toast, I made my way to my room. I figured I’d either be the jerk who comes in last and wakes everyone else up, or I’d be the first one there and all the other jerks would wake me up.

It turns out I was somewhere in the middle. I came in as quietly as I could, and there was enough light to see by so I found my bunk and settled in. As I lay in the darkness I heard a faint beeping from somewhere nearby, then heard someone listening to their voice mail. More beeping, and then the room fell silent once more, until a few minutes later when the same phone announced the arrival of a text message. Not long later another arrived, at which point at least the phone’s owner turned off the sound. There was then a short whispered conversation between the phone’s owner and her friend, and the two girls said goodnight. Across the room a male voice grunted a good night as well. The room fell silent. Outside I heard a nearby church chime the quarter hour and realized it was now officially Christmas.

“Faith,” whispered one of my roommates some time later, pronouncing the name as two syllables: Fae-aeth, “don’t forget the candle.” After a pause one of the girls that had whispered previously climbed off her bunk, which squeaked loudly, and blew out a candle on the windowsill. She returned to her bunk, was inspired to type out another message, and the room was quiet once more. It felt final.

Meanwhile, outside the window, Loud Merry Christmas Kid had been joined by several friends, and they continued laughing and bickering into the night.

I lay in the darkness, wondering if my roommates would be getting up as early as I did. I wondered what they looked like and I imagined the possibility of even talking to them. I imagined that this might be a good way for me to travel, to put myself into situations where conversation is nearly automatic. I thought about the breakfast room in the morning, and about how I might meet some of my fellow guests there.

I was relieved when the loud people outside finally fell silent. The pleasure was short-lived, however, when at least some of them came into my room. They tried to be quiet, but (presumably) drunk young folks still have things to whisper and giggle about, and it was a long time before things settled down once more. My fantasy about traveling from hostel to hostel, staying in the dorms, and writing about it was quickly eroding. Instead, I decided to let my alarm go off just a little longer than necessary in the morning. So much for conviviality.

The last person to arrive was the one sleeping in the bunk directly over mine. As with the others, he tried to be quiet, but the climb was difficult for him. Eventually he made it up and he settled in and quickly fell asleep. I know he was asleep because he was snoring. Twice I’ve been in a Hostel dorm, and both times it was my job to roll over and disturb the Snoring Guy whenever things got too loud.

Overall, the first night in Ireland was not a restful one; really just a layover between air and car travel, and not the true start of the adventure. Christmas morning came far too soon, and in the darkness I put myself together and went down for breakfast. By that point I had no illusions that any of my roommates would be showing themselves before we were long gone. Even had they been there I would not have been able to recognize them, except perhaps by voice. I will never meet Faith and her Irish friend, never speak with any of the others about adventures past and future. They are whispered voices in the night, formless, faceless, and fleeting. Not to mention annoying.

A Load of Carp

I’m heading to distant shores later today, and in my classic fashion I managed to completely squander yesterday. I plead extenuating circumstances — I was out with Soup Boy, Izzy, and Little John Friday night and while the night wasn’t excessive (at least for me it wasn’t), it did run late. After walking most of the way home I realized the day trams were running. So, yesterday I was pretty tired.

Rather than photograph sidewalk carp vendors and track down an electrical adapter so I can keep my array of battery-powered items running in the Islands of Misfit Electricity, or even do simple tasks like catch up with email, I watched cartoons. (For those keeping score at home, I watched Chobits, an anime that fails to have the weight of a serious show or the charm of a silly one. It does involve a robot with special powers, which of course looks like a teenage girl (rhymes with Japanese). The story is pretty much the same as Pinoccio, but instead of a marionette the main character is a robot who wants to become a Little Girl Superweapon.)

In the late afternoon I took a nap that lasted until this morning. Now I feel pretty good, but there’s a lot to do between now and departure.

Speaking of carp, my landlord knocked on my door yesterday and gave me a big chunk of the stuff. “Kapr,” he said, as I hefted the plastic bag. “Ryba,” he expanded in my moment of confusion. Then the light turned on and I realized he had just handed me several pounds of frozen, not-very-tasty fish. Still, it was a nice gesture. I thanked him with enthusiasm that lasted for about fifteen seconds. What the hell am I going to do with this? I asked myself as opened up the fridge, and then made things more complicated by breaking the handle to the freezer compartment. There’s a lot of carp in there now. It’s frozen, but they might be working on the wiring while I’m gone, which leads to nightmare scenario #48, freezer filled with rotting animal when returning from Christmas travels. That hasn’t happened to me since I was in college, but the memory of that incident has left me scarred for life.

So, anyone want some carp?

1