Eddie Rockets

If ever there were an antithesis of an Irish pub, this is it. Yet for reasons purely logistical here I sit, surrounded by chrome and red and white vinyl, brightly lit by halogens and fluorescents, listing to calculatedly cheery music. The tea has an odd taste to it; I may be forced to switch to Coca Cola (beer only served with a substantial meal, and it looks like the only beer is something modeled on American Swill Beer).

All right, Johnny Cash just came on, so there’s one redeeming facet of this place.

Wm. Byrne’s Pub (accomodations available)

It was a pleasant time in Kilkenny, a touristy place but gracefully so, picturesque and friendly. When we got off the bus we had no idea where to stay, and none of us had bothered to check what time it would be when we got there. It wasn’t terribly late, but it was late enough to make finding a place to stay a bit worrisome after our adventures in Sligo (rhymes with “closed”). We gatihered up our luggage and started the tromp toward the center of town.

We hadn’t gone far when we saw a sign for a B&B. They were full, but they directed us across the street to William Byrne’s Pub. Soon we were installed in a room and free to explore the city at night. After a nice dinner at a Pub (established in 12-something-something by a woman who was married four times, opened an inn or three, then was accused of witchcraft and force to flee for her life — her staff and associates didn’t fare so well and met demises so grisly it’s hard to imagine anyone remotely civilized condoning them), we returned to our “home pub”, set up laptops, and I composed a couple of the previous episodes. (Things are getting a bit asynchronous here; sorry about that.)

Somewhere around closing time the bartender struck up conversation with fuego and me. We talked about movies, Web sites, music, and life in general. It turned out we were talking to Wm. himself, head honcho and owner of the establishment.

The next morning, or should I say later that same morning, we were a bit sluggish as we staggered down the stairs into the pub for breakfast. There was Billy, looking quite a bit more chipper than I felt. Breakfast was among the best I’d had on the trip, the full Irish deal for me (less mushrooms), while the others chose different items off the menu (one advantage I hadn’t considered to staying at a B&B connected to a restaurant is that the options for breakfast are much more varied).

That day we didn’t get a whole lot of sightseeing done, and what we did consisted mainly of wandering around the town aimlessly. I did manage to do a bit of writing, and a bit of napping. That night we finished up at Billy’s again, but although I stayed up working longer than the others, it was almost a reasonable time when I went upstairs to crash.

This morning we were up a little bit before Billy, who rushed down the stairs to open the pub for us. He explained that he had been on the Internet into the wee hours, playing with an internet jukebox type of site. The Internet — an intoxicating thing! We poked around town a bit longer and with more purpose, left Billy with a copy of Pirates and a bottle of Becherovka, and on we went to Cork.

The Pump House

It was a bit warmer today, but the sun is just a memory now and the wind blowing down the narrow streets carries a chill that goes deep. It cannot reach me here, however. I am in The Pump House, a fine pub in Kilkenny in the southern reaches of Ireland. To my left a small fire flickers warmly in the fireplace, on my right is a glass of Smithwicks (rhymes with Phythics), foam clinging in rings to the side of the glass, measuring my progress sip by sip. Were there usable electricity here, it would be perfect.

The Oldest Bar in the World

Last night found the three of us in Athlone, roughly in the center of Ireland. Although we found ourselves about as far from an ocean as you can get on this island, it is still a place with a long maritime tradition. The river Shannon (let me say right now that for no reason whatsoever I find the phrase ‘River Shannon’ to be poetry of the deepest and most moving sort) passes through here, or perhaps more accurately this town is here because it was one of the places land travelers could get across the river.

They would not be crossing today. The river is running high and swiftly; there is flooding downstream. I imagine that the powers that be are trying to allow the runoff from the recent storms to reach the sea with the least overall damage, and things are right on the edge here. Just downstream from town things are looking lakelike, with trees poking up here and there.

Now, of course, there are bridges and all that sort of thing up and down the river, so the rushing waters, while not helpful, can no longer strand travelers for weeks while they wait for the waters to subside. Naturally, those stranded travelers would have wanted to have a nip in the local pub while they waited for the water to calm. Where we sit now, while not in the actual building, is documentably the same pub that travelers cooled their heels in starting around 900 A.D. Yeah, you read that right, and I didn’t leave any digits out.

I was talking to a regular there, Jeffrey (Geoffrey?), whose father was a regular there, and whose father’s father was a regular there, and who’s father’s father’s father… It is possible that some ancient ancestor of Jeffrey sat on the first barstool 1107 years ago, and had a pint of something that we would judge today to be truly awful, but at the time was just the thing.

Compared to that place, that institution, I’m nothing. I’m just a spark, a flash, here and gone. The bar has outlasted all its patrons, the people who lit up the place when they arrived, the people who were greeted gladly by name, the people who mattered to those around them. They are all gone now, and forgotten. You and I, in this noisy-fast world, we don’t stand a chance.

New Year’s Eve, Galway-style

The blustery, cold weather continued through the day on New Year’s Eve, the atmosphere itself a participant in the festivities. When we left the haven of the café, our plan was to go to one of the more popular pubs with live music, to establish a beachhead early before the crowds started to gather.

I’m not sure of the definition of early required to pull this off, but mid-afternoon wasn’t it. The place was packed, the music was already going, and the chances of sitting within the next few hours was next to zero. On to the next place. And the next. There were two sorts of pubs in that area: ones that were overflowing with humanity and ones that would not be having music that night. A couple of smaller, local pubs were inviting, but we’re in Ireland, dammit, and we wanted music. Our quest continued.

We ventured back to the square and up a different road, into a less pedestrian-friendly but consequently less crowded neighborhood. We tried a couple of places, then a bartender in one told us that the next pub up the road would probably have live music. The place was not crowded, rugby was on the projection screen, and the bartender confirmed that there would in fact be live music. While fuego and MaK took our excess electronic gear back to the hotel for safety, I settled in and scratched out a few passages in my notebook. The bartender was a personable guy; he had lived in New York for a while and so when I mentioned that I was from San Diego he asked if I was a Chargers fan and what I thought of their chances this year. I didn’t mention that the fate of that team rests almost entirely in my hands.

Eventually the others returned and we relaxed and tried to figure out the nuances of rugby by watching the games. It was a good way to spend some time after fuego’s birthday celebrations the night before. More people arrived, and after a while two girls and an older man started setting up their instruments. The band, at a guess a father and his two daughters. Before long they began to play, exhibiting not a shred of joy as they executed the songs. The first time the girls broke a smile was when one of them had a hard time with the words to a song. They loosened up a bit as the gig progressed, but they never stopped giving the impression they wished they were somewhere else. Still, it was music, Irish music by Irish people, and the pub was pleasant enough.

The band wrapped up at 9 pm, leaving us once more with the choice of crowds with music or comfort with none. We began to tromp around once more, heading back to a place we knew that was a bit off the main drag but would have music. We went in and I was surprised that the place was less crowded than it had been on previous visits. We easily found a place to sit and ordered drinks. Then the band started.

They were horrible.

Soon we were on the street once more, the wind throwing the light rain at is from random directions, and we followed a similar course, wandering through the streets, asking the police where they thought the best place to go was on New Year’s Eve. The King’s Head, the cops agreed, but the party there was spilling far out on into the pedestrian mall and I knew at a glance that that would not be the place for me. We wandered some more, my companions produced a bottle of Becherovka, fuego scored plastic cups from one of the clubs, and it slowly became clear that we would be celebrating the new year outside.

We made our way to a more sheltered street where there were other revelers under the awnings of the bars. fuego frightened some of the locals with his exuberance — one Irishman, in particular, responded with the typical passive-aggressive “I’m backing away from you slowly, but not without judging you first” attitude when my brother asked him why no one had fireworks. Of course, that just added fuel to the fuego and he spent the next few minutes explaining to the guy why fireworks were a good idea. I spent the time talking to a girl that was in the group with them, enjoying the contrast in style of the two main characters in the little drama.

Midnight came, midnight went, the year was new, the bottle spent. We made our way back to our B&B, to peaceful slumber.

Crazy Weather

I’m sitting in a pleasant bar/café, 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.