A Travellerspoint blog


Dublin Departure

storm 15 °C
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People flying from Dublin to JFK get quite a sweet deal, really. First off, when I booked, it was a LOT cheaper to fly from Dublin to JFK than from London, in the order of it being half the price. Then there is the fact that while you wait for your plane at the airport, some smiling representatives of the US Immigration service are on hand to process your entry into the USA. You get to JFK and find that all you have to do is hand a form to a fellow waving a similar one at you and you're done. No search, no X-Ray, not even a question about your intentions. Sweet. But the best thing about leaving from Dublin is that if you know Richard or, as in my case, his brother or maybe even if you pretend to know someone who knows Richard, he'll be there to ease your passage out of the country.

He took me on a pub crawl, told stories, got me drunk, in the same pubs as James Joyce and Flann O'Brien had undoubtedly got drunk before me, he ferried me about and took me into his home and fed me and was a very generous host. Thanks, man. I'm on my way to see someone else who is going to be playing host, and he set the standard high, but I venture hopefully. After all, she has indicated the possibility of sailboating, of crabs and the absolute incontrovertible fact of truckloads of beer in the streets.

It was nice to have a bit of a leer up in Dublin, to be still out when the bars were closing around us, even though it seemed very early at 2:00 a.m. Travelling by myself, I'll go and have a drink, maybe two, but for a long mission company is needed. An odd thing happened, twice on the night out. In one pub this Frenchman told me that he'd seen a mural of the band The Dubliners, and as he fingered my beard, he told me I looked just like one of its in and out members, Ronnie Drew. Poor fellow - he was very earnest about how we Irish were so great, and that there was a deep spiritual connection between the French and we Irish people. We didn't have the heart to put him straight. In the last bar of the night, an American woman could have easily been convinced that I was Ronnie Drew. As I had been until about an hour earlier, she was ignorant of the fact he had died.

On the Saturday, it was time for another pilgrimmage, but this time without the beer. My destination was a lot smaller than I imagined
and I wondered about how "stately, plump Buck Mulligan" managed the stairs.

This is the famous Martello Tower at Sandycove, in which the first chapter of Ulysses is set and where James Joyce himself stayed for just under a week - he didn't take too kindly to being shot at by his friend, apparently.

The room has been set up as described in the novel,
except that the black panther in the fire place was just a dream.

There were two plastercasts made of Joyce's face when he died. This is one of them

After the fabulous weather of last week, it was a bit of a shock when it turned miserable. I left the hostel in my shirtsleeves, thinking it was just a bit of drizzle. Within a couple of blocks, I was thinking I should find an umbrella. By the time I was half way down O'Connell Street, I was so desperate I bought an umbrella from a gift shop. By the time I was at Connelly Station, it had turned itself inside out three times (the umbrella, that is, not the station) and its frame was bent so I biffed it away in disgust. Only then did I remember the toasty warm raincoat I could have gone back for.

There was an upside, however. By the time I got down to Sandycove, the rain had gone off and the wind trebled. As someone said to me "there'll be no swimming in this":

Funnily enough, I walked around the point and someone was swimming, and another fellow was heading out in a kayak. Into this

Not so funny: as I left, I noticed the lifeguard getting very anxious, then running to his wee shed, extracting binoculars and running back to take a look. I hope it was nothing, but I did notice a human head bobbing in the waves.

Posted by NZBarry 22:15 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

West Coast Lingering

sunny 25 °C

It was with a little bit of sadness I checked out of the Gresham Metropole and hopped into the bus to Galway. Five hours on a bus is not my idea of fun, and luckily Bus Eireann seemed to be aware of that: they chucked us off the Galway bus in Limerick and made us wait for another.

After I got established in my hostel, I ran into a problem. They very kindly gave me directions and a map to help me get to what they said was a good place for coffee, but half the streets in Galway have no signs. So that's what the U2 song Where the Streets have No Name is about. Makes it hard to get about - eventually I found the place I'd been sent to, which turned out to be a cute French bistro. Galway was completely chocker, full of people in for the Volvo Yacht race - the boats are in town for a couple of weeks and Galway's turning on the party. I was in the laundrette and overheard someone travelling with the yachts: of all the places they're visiting, Galway is by far doing the most to make their arrival an occasion. Not, it seems, that Galway needs much of an excuse: guys in my hostel were talking about coming to Galway to perfect their serious drinking habit.

I found the whole place far too packed to be comfortable - I couldn't walk around without being bumped into, and trying to get a spot for dinner in anywhere that looked decent was impossible. Around 10:30, I finally succumbed and went for some chicken'n'chips at Supermac, where the person serving seemed to bark at me and all the staff scowled there way through the night. To make matters worse, two guys spent most of the night outside my window accosting all passersby. It was a little amusing, in that one guy sounded just like James Nesbitt (the fellow in Cold Feet) and the other like Billy Connelly, but still I was geting more and more uptight the longer I was in Galway. And I'd booked for a week!

I was considering doing my dough at the hostel, and finding somewhere quieter - even a hotel would have let me hole up - but had the brainwave of asking the hostel if I could shift my booking to another. And so I came to spend most of my Galway time in the Burren.

First, though, I had a night booked out in Clidfden, out through Connemara on the coast. It was nce seeing Connemara as we whizzed through on the bus, and Clifden was almost completely as I remembered it, a nice wee town set out in a triangular pattern
with a tail leading off to its "beach"

After I'd wandered around a bit, I had my heart set on salmon for dinner, as it seemed to be everywhere. I think I made a good choice, in the very modest EJ Kings hotel, in its third floor restaurant. Modest because, despite being started in 1820, they say they are "over 100 years old". Really good dinner. I was sitting outside, enjoying the last remnants of the sun, about 10:00, when this charming couple, up from the country and dressed for a visit to town, he was in a suit, she in some sort of eveing dress, sat with me for a bit and wanted to know all about New Zealand and my travels.

To get out to the Burren, I had to go back into town and catch a bus that went south along the coast for a bit. The Burren is a very odd piece of land - hills which have been denuded of their vegetation and soil, and just have crowns of limestone. I tried for some photos, but taken out of the bus window, they weren't so hot.

There were lots of wee cottages with thatched rooves - again, my efforts to take photos failed: I tended to get the tractor parked nearby rather than the house. Some worked, however:

Stone fences prevail - I think that each of these blocks were farmed by an individual crofter, to give him and his family a subsistence living. When I was here in the 80's, I remember a lot of them becoming unoccupied, simply because they were of no use to anyone.

My actual destination is a town called Lisdoonvarna - six hotels and a gift shop and that's about it. Oh, and the spa. I actually saw a movie about this town a while ago - it has had an annual match-making event every September for more than a century.
So, of course all of the hotels are plastered with banners promoting that, and promising "weekday dances" [so long as you wait until September]. It has the dinkiest wee library

The hostel is a former hotel

I had a really great time in Lisdoonvarna - the hostel was very peaceful, with a group of young Frecnhwomen hanging about chatting quietly to give a touch of sophistication. I even cooked. Town was a two minute walk away, where I could repair for a decent coffee twice a day. Incredible weather, 25 degrees every day, and long evenings - I found it very pleasant to sit outside until after 10:30, when the light finally faded. When I checked out, I had to tell the fellow its the best I've been in.

I did venture out for one day - through this odd town called Doolin. It seems they couldn't work out where to put it, so just flung it about on the side of the hill facing the coast. My objective was the Cliffs of Moher.

I didn't quite make it to the very end, as I had a bus to catch and really didn't want to miss it. Plus I had to visit the gift shop

Further round, the information centre and restaurant are fully underground.

Reading for the week was a brand new book the Guardian reveiwed a wee while back, by Richard Milward: Ten Story Love Song. The Times said of his first book, Apples, that it was a celebration of teenage immorality. I haven't read it, but in his second book, his post-teens are growing up and finding value in old values. It was curiously like the The Forsyte Saga, if you could imagine it set in a tower block in early 21st century Middlesburgh. Bob the Artist (the author is one and all) is the central character and a bit of a sweetie, although he spends a lot of his time doing multiple drugs and painting while in that state. An example of his innocence: a london gallery wants to show his art and bring him to London. He goes to McDonalds for lunch, and then remembers he's on expenses. His blow out? Another burger, and maybe an ice cream. Plus there is his yearning to be back home, with his girl. There is an enormous amount of drugs and violence in this book, but ultimately, it is a comedy, in the traditional sense.

Posted by NZBarry 19:55 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

Creeping Down the Irish East Coast

semi-overcast 17 °C

It has been a while - I was in Dublin, with a plan to update, but the internet was so slow, every photo I tried to upload just died on the vine. I'm now in Philadelphia and the internet is very fast.

That wild sea I was watching at Manorbier? Still a bit wild when I had to cross it from Fishguard to Rosslare. The ferry heaved considerably and I was less than comfortable with the movement. In a brilliant stroke of Swedish design, the ferry was equipped with swivel chairs, nicely spaced to provide the tables with an almighty thump every time we hit a wave.

I’m afraid that reportage from Ireland is a little limited. This is not because there is nothing to see, but work has tended to get in the way of my explorations. As a fellow in the hostel in Fishguard said, its a terrible thing to do when you’re travelling. He did accept my point that the travel makes the work go easier.

When I was in Ireland twenty years ago, I found it to be completely enchanting. Mind you I was a bit closer to the ground. After flying in to Belfast and getting up to the Giant’s Causeway, I hitched the rest of the way, travelling with farmers, priests, prison warders, tradesmen, accountants, a friend from my first year at university, you name it. This time, I don’t think I’ve seen anyone hitching. I’ve had to have recourse to buses again, as the train system has not really catered to my plans. The only train running south from Rosslare was at 7:13 in the morning, and from the south to get over to the West Coast seems to involve many changes or going via Dublin whereas the buses are frequent, direct and cheap.

First stop was Waterford. What a grim place. Of everywhere I have been, this is the most savaged, or maybe it is ravaged, by the economic crisis. Two big new buildings standing completely empty, a big hole in the ground where another was planned, and many vacant buildings in the centre of town tell the story. I just got a bad feeling about the place, and found nothing I liked except for this 800 year old tower
and Scholars bookshop. And then there was the food – even a sandwich seemed to be 8 euros. I did go into a pub for lunch and hit the trifecta: surly service, bad food and expensive. The only thing good about it was that there was not much of it. I stayed in the Travelodge which is a bit south of town: after my first wander around, I wasn’t tempted to go back. Waterford made McDonalds look good - the food was plentiful and the staff cheerful.

The trip south to Cork was nice, with cool looking towns and pretty countryside. Cork itself was much better than Waterford, starting with the food – my first two meals were an extraordinarily good Moroccan lamb tagine and a wonderful spicy concoction of prawns and green beans. Plus the best coffee I’ve had in a long time, thanks to Cork Coffee Roasters. They’re the best in Ireland, at least according to the plaque leaning against the Probat sitting in the middle of the cafe. Various coffee related items adorn the wall, and the ceiling has this psychedelic floral wallpaper. I was in Cork for almost a week and this was a regular feature of my stay.

I wouldn’t say Cork had much of the spectacular about it, but it was comfortable and had a bit of a buzz, plus the various waterways were a nice feature to wander around. The University confused me, though: it seemed to be made of modern materials, but was built in an old style, including turrets.

I had another of those dilemmas while I was there, as I had a two day space for which I had no booking and couldn’t decide if I should go south to Kinsale or north to Ennis. Then I saw a poster saying Holly Golightly was coming to town and that clinched it: one night in Kinsale and back to Cork. Kinsale is a pretty harbour town just south of Cork

I was intrigued by its port - ships practically tie themselves to the flash looking Trident Hotel

This ship was loaded old school style - a crane with a bucket emptying the contents of the vessel, looked like cement, into lorries. Not exactly a container port, but for some reason I found it curiously satisfying lounging about watching the boat being unloaded.

The good people of Kinsale seem to have gone to town in terms of the colourful way in which they present their buildings

The first of these, the Spaniard's Inn, is about 400 years old, commemorating the joing of Irish and Spanish forces to fight off (unsuccessfully) the English. The people at the B & B I was staying in had commended it highly to me as a place to eat, but as no-one else there was, I didn't really feel in the mood. Besides, Kinsale is well known for its food, and has a number of acclaimed restaurants. Funny then that I shouldl end up eating fish and chips. Good ones, but, and from a proper restaurant. All in all, it was somehow well after 10 before I trudged back up the hill to the B & B.

Back in Cork, more great coffee, more fighting for space with school kids in the Cork public library, and then I checked into a real hotel, the Gresham Metropole. Nice. A few steps above the Travelodge, to be sure, and without costing the earth. I particularly enjoyed that the entire groiund floor was given over to lounging space.

In the evening, I crossed back over the river to see Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs, who are actually just one person.
Sorry it is not the best photo ever. He's from Georga, she's very English but their music is old fashioned Americana with lots of jokes in-between. Surprisingly, only about 20 people turned out, but we managed to make a bit of noise to show we were glad they had come. After the gig, I was talking with Holly, wanting to know what would make her come to New Zealand, as I reckon we could produce a better turn out - even if she played the Penguin Club. The answer: someone with the money to underwrite her trip. Hmmmm. I know someone with money and a yearning to see Holly Golightly in New Zealand.

I read the last volume of The Forsyte Saga, and it is by far my favourite, although I laughed and cried my way through them all. Some of these three novels struck a very contemporary note, such as the people writing to the Times about Iraq, or worries about the rising unemployment and runs on banks, or that Westminster Abbey might be turned into apartments, or that England would be so much more well off if it didn’t import so much pork, poultry or potatoes.

The last 200 pages, I just read in one sitting, finishing about 3 in the morning and going off to bed, to dream I got married, to a girl I have never seen. Maybe it was Dinny Charwell, the central character in the volume, a woman of “pluck” and a “brick” – the highest of accolades. Each of the three novels in the last volume sees her family go through the mill. First, her brother is accused of letting down his team leader when on an expedition in Bolivia, and basically not playing the game. That’s almost worse than the fact he killed someone, because the fellow was “only a half caste” (yes, quite a lot of racial slurring seems to be part of being English in the late 1920’s) so, when the Bolivian’s want him extradited, his success depends upon which strings can be pulled.

Then it is Dinny’s turn. She has the misfortune to fall completely in love with one Wilfred Desert. He does with her, and all, but he is a man not completely sure of himself, so he cracks when it is revealed that out in the Sudan, when given the choice of recanting his Christianity and becoming a Moslem or being shot he converted. Again – that’s not playing the game and it is “yellow”. For her long term happiness, he has to break free, but although it doesn’t break her spring, it bent it severely. I found myself with tears in my eyes when one of her dear old uncles spoke of her in this way – poor Dinny. In the final novel, sister Clare is in for a hard time. Out in Ceylon, her husband has been sexually perverse, something to do with a horsewhip, and she leaves him, meeting a nice young fellow on the way back. Of course hubby wants a divorce, since she won’t return, and within the family, divorce isn’t really playing the game.

There is a touch of the soap opera to these tumultuous times, but much more than that, Galsworthy is taking a look at the things that the English of 1928-1932 really hold as their values, and the ways in which they’ve changed. But his younger generation have such great people within it that maybe these changes won’t destroy the fabric of society. I think the other really great thing is that his characters are not portrayed as black and white (well, maybe he goes overboard with the white). Wilfred is a complex man; Clare’s husband could have been just a monster, but he’s not and another fellow, Jack Muskham who bullied Wilfred, has his good points.

There was a cute reference to Dr Johnson. I thought it was funny enough that the two gardeners were called Boswell and Johnson, but it was made even better that once Boswell had been taken on as a gardener, they had to cast about for a Johnson to complete the set.  

Posted by NZBarry 17:07 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

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