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Ireland: Return Home & Addendum

December 3, 2007 Leave a comment

Tuesday, Dec 3, 2002

We got up, ate breakfast and bid our farewells to Mrs. Kane, who had been a most wonderful host. She was even nice enough to give us a little gift for our honeymoon. Then, packs on our backs and hands and shoulders, we trekked to the rail station to begin our journey towards the airport. Our flight was scheduled to leave at noon, so we had plenty of time. Or so we thought…

Danny in the bus on the way to the airport.
Dec. 3, 2002

A very tired Yvette on our way to the airport.
Dec. 3, 2002

When we got to the airport, at 10:30 am, and went to check-in, the lady at the Aer Lingus counter told us our flight had already left. It seems Aer Lingus had switched into their Winter schedule, and Expedia.com, whom we bought our tickets from, never notified us of the change. We were also careless to not have confirmed our flight details the night before, but that did not excuse Expedia.com’s behavior. Aer Lingus was really nice to us, though, and managed to get us into a flight that appeared to be fully booked all the way to New York. From there we’d have to arrange with American ourselves. Danny got on the phone with Expedia.com and gave them a piece of his mind, though in the end it was useless, as they proclaimed they had no responsibility to update us of changes. Guess which travel service we’re never using again?

We got on the flight, though, and that’s what was important. After a short stopover in Shannon Airport, we were New York bound. Luckily, Yvette’s sister had just moved to New York and we at least had a place to stay for the night.

Addendum: Overnight in New York
Tuesday, Dec 3, 2002

Danny at JFK Airport in New York, still thinking of a few choice words for the folks at Expedia.
Dec. 3, 2002

The night in New York was okay, if long. It was cold as hell, and we were not quite ready for it, not to mention we were tired and hungry. After hours trying to figure out where to get something kosher to eat (remember Yvette’s sister has only been in NY for like four days), we ended up finding a kosher restaurant on 2nd Ave that was still open at 10:30 pm. After that we made it back to the apartment in Brooklyn, going to sleep at 2 am only to have to wake up at 5 am to catch a taxi to the airport to get on the earliest flight possible back to Miami.

We made it back to Miami at 4:30 pm, happy to be home, sad that Ireland was over, and still amazed at the fact that we were now married.

The End

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Ireland: Dublin, Day 4

December 2, 2007 Leave a comment

Monday, Dec 2, 2002

Being our last day in Ireland, we decided to take it easy and simply walk around Dublin, catching sights we had wanted to see. The first stop was Merrion Square, smack in the middle of Georgian Dublin. The square is one huge park, and inside is the statue of Oscar Wilde, one of our favorite writers. We sought it out, took a few pictures and then walked around the park, just drinking in the calm of the area. Along the edge we saw the Georgian house where W. B. Yeats had lived while a member of parliament, as well as Wilde’s childhood home.

Danny & Oscar at Merrion Square. While Wilde
may be looking a bit pale, his clothes are stylish as always.
Dec. 2, 2002

From Merrion Square we embarked on a very long walk to go see the Irish Jewish Museum, nestled in a southern residential area of Dublin, and away from everything. The walk was great in that we got to see working-day Dublin, but we were tired, and when we finally found the place, we found out it was closed. The museum changed its times of operations: it used to be closed on Sundays and open on Mondays, but they had reversed that and we were not aware of it. We took the photo below to prove we had made it there, and hiked all the way back once more, grumbling that the Irish were just making it so that we would have to return at least once more! The gall!

Signpost at the Irish Jewish Museum,
which we found out was closed only after we got there.
Dec. 2, 2002

We went next to St. Stephen’s Green, detouring to see the Bram Stoker house, and going into St. Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre for a duffel bag to carry all the extra stuff we had bought. We were in luck: we found a great bag for only €10! After we had lunch at the Green, under the monument to Yeats (a weird figure in bronze that as far as either of us could discern had no association with Yeats or his work). The weather was super windy and really cold, and even with the sun beating down, it was almost impossible to eat as our hands were freezing. We gave all our leftover pita bread to the ducks in the park, and then made a beeline for Cornucopia for some hot soup. Did we mention we liked Cornucopia?

Our afternoon was completed with our favorite pastime: book shopping! We went into used bookstores and new bookstores, only stopping because we were really tired, though not before buying like 8 new books! And for anyone who loves books, Dublin is a paradise, especially Dowson Street. So many bookstores!!! After this we went for our last meal in Dublin (guess where?) and then headed back to Dun Laoghaire to pack. We later went out for a pint, and ended up watching a football game on the TV (West Ham 0-1Southampton), going back to finish packing and going to bed at 1 am.

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Ireland: Dublin, Day 3

December 1, 2007 Leave a comment

Sunday, Dec 1, 2002

With an early start we headed to Kilmainham Gaol, the old jail in Dublin, setting for one of the saddest episodes in Irish history. The weather was overcast, cold and windy, with rain just waiting in the sidelines to make its entrance; fitting weather for our destination. The bus dropped us off in front of a thick stone building with a single massive black door that looks like it will swallow you and never let you go. The tour took us around the jail, starting on the East Wing, or the “new” wing. Built during Victorian times, it was meant to be a more humane setting for the prisoners, and it only seems that way when compared to the older parts of the jail. The roof used to be all glass, though parts have been covered with wood for protection (see the photo below). While we followed our guide, we could all hear a gut-wrenching wailing all around us, the bona fide cry of a banshee. It had everyone on edge, and when we finally asked the guard she compared it to a banshee as well. The wind gets through the wood and the old glass panes, making the awful sound, but in this jail, it is easy to believe that it is a banshee indeed crying for those who perished here.

Kilmainham Gaol’s “new” Victorian wing was
supposed to provide a humane environment for the
prisoners. Compared to the old area, this wing was a paradise.
Dec. 1, 2002

The tour took us to the old chapel, where we saw a video on the Easter Rising and the fate of the leaders, all of whom were executed at this jail. Heartwrenching was the story of Joseph Plunkett and Grace Gifford: Plunkett was one of the captured at the Rising, and sentenced to death at the jail. He had been engaged to Ms. Gifford to be wed later the same week as the Rising. On the night before his execution, Joseph and Grace were married in the little chapel at midnight. They were given 10 minutes alone, and at 3:30 am that same day, May 5, 1916, he was executed. Grace never married again. A sad story on any day, to learn about this as we are celebrating our honeymoon filled us with sadness without end; all we could do was hold on to each other as we walked out.

Next we were taken to the old jail wing, where the cells make street latrines look like palaces. From here we went out to the work courtyards, making our way to the most remote of them, where the executions took place.

Commemorative plaque to the martyrs of the Easter
Rebellion in the work courtyard in which all were executed.
Dec. 1, 2002

It is a place filled with pathos. Here the greatest leaders the independence movement had were all cut down in one fell swoop, but also here was born the desire to finally be free. It was here that the camel’s back broke, culminating six years later in 1921 with Ireland’s independence.

These men shall forever be remembered in the history of Ireland. Their death was a
great loss, but it kick-started the process that eventually led to the independence of Ireland.
Dec. 1, 2002

We left the jail drained of energy. There was so much sadness in those rocks. The wind and rain seemed to echo our mood, and we were suddenly very glad we had chosen to do the next destination after the jail. We were headed to the Guinness Brewery, just down the road.

In Ireland if you ask for beer you get Guinness, period. It’s not so much a drink as it is a way of life, part of being Irish, and they are fiercely proud of their stout. The brewery at St. James’s Gate is the old brewery, turned now into an exhibition that makes Arthur Guinness into a wizard, an alchemist who spurned the search for the philosopher’s stone in favor of the search for the perfect stout, giving Ireland a gift of happiness in a barrel, can or bottle. It is extremely sensationalistic, but a whole lot of fun. You do get to see the process, from the choosing of the ingredients, all the way to the packaging–old and modern–and the world-famous marketing campaigns. It is all topped by a cold pint of the Black Stuff at the top of the exhibition, the gravity bar, where one can see an awesome view of Dublin while drinking the wonderful gift of the gods and Arthur Guinness.

Danny at the Guinness Brewery exhibition. Mmm… Guinness.
Dec. 1, 2002

To you, Mister Sir Arthur Guinness… slainte!!!

Danny & Yvette outside the Guinness Brewery.
Dec. 1, 2002

After this we went souvenir shopping at Carol’s right across O’Connell Bridge, and then to dinner at Juice, another vegetarian restaurant (it was ok, a bit too pricey, and not as good as Cornucopia).

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Ireland: Dublin, Day 2

November 30, 2007 Leave a comment

Saturday, Nov 30, 2002

We used this day to relax. We woke up late, had breakfast and went out for a walk around Dun Laoghaire, eventually ending up at the stone pier, two giant stone arms jutting out to the sea, built during the Napoleonic wars in preparation for an invasion that never came.

After sundown, we headed back into Dingle to eat at the most wonderful restaurant: Cornucopia, a vegetarian place on Wicklow Street, where we sat down to have our first warm meal in our whole trip. And it was delicious! From there we headed to Temple Bar, ending up at a place called Gogerty’s Pub, where we hung out until it got way too packed for comfort, and then headed back to sleep.

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Ireland: Dublin, Day 1

November 29, 2007 Leave a comment

Friday, Nov 29, 2002

We decided to return our car to the airport, since we didn’t need it in Dublin thanks to the DART rail system. Yet another adventure. Dublin is being modernized in everything from culture to infrastructure. That means that there were a lot (no, really, a lot) of ongoing roadwork all over the metro Dublin area. Following the signs to get to the airport from Dun Laoghaire, we ended up taking a detour due to some construction, and ended up some 10 miles south of Dublin, in some little town called Stepaside, before we realized we were lost, again. A quick stop at a petrol station and we were finally on our way, except what should have been a one-hour trip was now turning into an all-morning event. At least we got to drive pretty much all around the great ring road around greater Dublin. When we had finally returned the car, we took a bus back into the city, foot travelers once more.

Our bus dropped us off near the Post Office, so we decided to stop there. This was the scene of the Easter Rising of 1916, when a band of patriots took over the Post Office, declaring the independence of Ireland from British rule. We’d see more of this band of rebels later. The inside, while still functioning as a post office, also serves as a kind of museum, with signs pointing various locations. We didn’t go in; it as too crowded. Outside, however, once can still see the bullet holes made 87 years ago on that fateful Easter Monday. The very famous memorial to the Rising, the statue of Cuchulain, is visible from the outside. There is something wrong with that statue, however…

The statue is a reference to the death of Cuchulain, when faced with insurmountable odds in his final battle, he ties himself to a pillar stone with his belt in order to face death standing tall instead of lying down. It is the greatest symbol of defiance, of stubbornness, and the archetype of the Irish warrior. But this statue depicts Cuchulain slumped against the rock, defeated in death. It has been turned into a Christ figure, and emptied of all its burning inner fire. I understand why the Christ allusion was used, but to us it cheapens the legend, the myth, and the memory of those who fought and died Chuchulain-like against insurmountable odds, refusing to lay down their lives in submission.

From the Post Office we walked down to Trinity College, salivating at the idea of our next destination: the Book of Kells exhibition. The Book of Kells, briefly, is a collection of the four gospels of the New Testament, written in Latin, and created sometime in the 8th or 9th century by monks living in the fringes of the known world. It is the finest example of art from the so-called Dark Ages, but more than that, it is a legacy of the love of books that these monks had, the same love that would lead them to make copies not only of the gospels, but of other books of antiquity, thus preserving the knowledge of the classic period for posterity.

Unfortunately they do not allow photos to be taken at the Book of Kells exhibition,
so here’s the cover of the little book we bought at Trinity College on the Book of Kells.
Nov. 29, 2002

Housed in the old library at Trinity College, the exhibition begins with an incredible and excellent introduction called “Turning Darkness Into Light”, an exhibition on the process of book-making in the early Middle Ages. It is well-documented and it gives you information on everything, from the selection of skins for vellum, to the writing and illuminating process, to the binding process, putting the book in its historical and cultural context. It is all geared towards making you truly appreciate what you are about to see. Any bibliophile like us will love the exhibition, but they are sure to love even more the actual book, which is where we, the literary foreplay all done with, headed next.

At any given time you see, displayed under thick glass, two different pages of the Book of Kells, plus two pages from four other historical books of the same period. On this day, we saw the Portrait of St. John (pictured on the book above) and the page with the genealogy of Jesus (Luke 1, 23-38). Most everyone would come in and look around the display, spending a few minutes at most; we went in, picked a spot, and got nose-to-the-glass close in order to truly see the magnificent artistry. Even after almost 700 years, you can still see the brushstrokes on the paint, the marks of the quill as it etched its way on the vellum, the tiny pores on the calfskin page. The colors are still vibrant and time has been kind to the work, allowing us to see all these details. Just as one is able to see the hand of God in nature, there are works that allow one to see the hand of God as manifested through the artist; the Book of Kells is such a work. Christian or not, one has to admit that there was divinity guiding this work of art, inspiring it, and preserving it for future generations. That said, God has a sense of humor, so do watch out for all the little scenes drawn in by the illuminators, scenes of sexual romps, of earthly delights, of pure joy of life. They make for an interesting game of hide-and-seek amidst the centuries-old illuminations.

After this we headed back to the B&B as sundown was approaching and Shabbat was about to start.

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Ireland: Newgrange & Dublin

November 28, 2007 Leave a comment

Thursday, Nov 28, 2002

From Belfast we headed south, Dublin being our final destination, but not before stopping at a site some 30 miles north and about 5000 years in the past: the mythical Bru na Boinne, the valley of the river Boyne, with its famous tomb of Newgrange.

The great passage tomb of Newgrange looms like a mighty king on its throne,
knightly menhirs (standing stones) in attendance, overlooking the Boyne River Valley below.
Nov. 28, 2002

Built around the year 3000 B.C.E., Newgrange is an excellent example of a passage tomb: it is a giant mound of earth covering a very narrow stone-lined passageway that leads into a cross-shaped chamber some 60 feet into the man-made hill. The tomb is actually older than the Great Pyramid at Giza, Egypt, and about the oldest thing we have seen in our travels; in fact, except for the cave paintings at Lascaux, France, we really cannot think of anything older still standing today, destroying all of our modern world’s preconceptions about the “simplicity” of stone-age peoples.

The visitor’s center at Bru na Boinne is excellent, providing a handy exhibition on stone-age life and technology, a replica of Newgrange and several good publications for those wanting more info. We picked up one of them, and headed to wait for the bus, which took us all the way to the tomb site. You can tell the place is a favorite with tourists, local and international, because in the middle of November, the groups were still about 15-20 people and constantly arriving. Lots of school children milled about that day, probably one or two schools taking their students on a field trip. It was actually really funny, because once our guide, a petite young woman, began to talk to us a bunch of elementary school-age children started to run around the area, making it impossible for us to hear her, so she turned around and yelled at them in Irish, telling them (she told us afterwards, it’s not like we understood it) to stop running and go back with their teacher. Their faces were priceless!

The entrance to the tomb and the skybox. The tell-tale swirly glyphs of
Newgrange still baffle scientists, who have no idea what they could possibly
mean. Take note of the skybox above the entrance (it will come in handy below).
Nov. 28, 2002

A few moments later our guide lead us inside the tomb. The passage is incredibly narrow; people had to take off their backpacks, and big people (like Danny) had to watch out for their head and stomach. The passage stones are decorated diamonds, chevrons and with more of the tell-tale swirly designs found all over Newgrange (like on the entrance stone above). The ceiling stones also have a shallow grove running the length of the passage in order to route water out of the tomb thus keeping it dry. Once again, no mortar was used to stick the stones together; it is only by sheer excellent engineering that the whole place is stable an does not collapse under the 200,000 tons of stone and dirt above it.

We reached the cross-shaped inner chamber, where even more decorations awaited us. In fact, our guide pointed out to us, some of the decorations were obscured by overlapping stones, meaning the stone had been decorated before being put into place in the tomb. She next explained to us about Newgrange’s little light show every Winter Solstice: on or around Dec. 21 (and actually, for a few days before and after as well, though not with the same intensity as on the solstice), when the sun rises over the horizon, sunlight filters through the skybox above the entrance (see above), shooting a thin shaft of light all the way to the inner chamber. For the next 17 minutes, the ray of light moves and gains in intensity, giving the chamber enough illumination to be able to read and discern colors, as the guide told us. She herself had witnessed the event three times before, and we all envied her. She did the second best thing for us, though. After a warning, she turned off all the electric lights inside the tomb, leaving us in absolute pitch darkness–the kind of darkness you can feel pressing against you. Then the electric facsimile of the light show began, and while only a pale imitation of the real event, it was enough to awe every single one of us.

Newgrange has watched over Ireland for 5300 years, still hiding
many of her secrets from modern peoples, silently watching history unfold.
Nov. 28, 2002

Newgrange humbled us all. Five thousand years ago, stone-age people had found a way to engineer this massive structure, bringing building material from miles around (the white quartz stones you see above come all the way from the Wicklow Mountains, some 40 miles south), and tuning it with exact precision to a natural event that only comes once a year, all without the aid of mathematics, at least as we know it today. Knowth, the second of three passage tombs on the Boyne Valley, is also attuned to a cyclical celestial event, with two passages each calibrated to allow light to reach the inner chamber of the tomb on the Spring and Fall Equinoxes in much the same way as Newgrange. Though we have absolutely no idea what the purpose of these tombs (beyond the obvious) were, especially in regards to the attunement to these times of the year, we can nonetheless marvel at the legacy these peoples left us. In a time when technology is pervasive and it’s so easy to be lost in the chaos of modernity, Newgrange reminds us that for thousands of years people lived close to nature, in harmony with nature, and mindful of nature. It does not mean that we must now live like they did as well, but it is a lesson we should all take with us. After all, we inhabit the very same world the builders of Newgrange inhabited. They left us Newgrange for us to learn; what will we leave the generations of 5000 years in the future?

After leaving Newgrange we wanted to do the other big sight of the area, the Hill of Tara, but it seems Tara is closed during the winter, so we headed straight into Dublin. And into end-of-day rush hour traffic. We were stuck in the traffic jam for about 2 hours, all the while realizing we only had the barest idea of where we were, and alarmingly aware that we had no place to stay. During the time in the car we decided to skip the city and head for Dun Laoghaire (pronounced Dun Leary, don’t ask why so many extra letters, Irish is just like that), a quieter suburb of Dublin. Rick Steves’ guidebook had a few recommendations, so we figured we’d try one of them. Getting to Dun Laoghaire was another adventure, since we didn’t really have a map of Dublin; half an hour later we had both gotten an interesting tour of suburban Dublin, and found our B&B, Mrs. Kane’s Seaview B&B. It was a bit late, and Mrs. Kane looked at us kinda weird when we arrived. Later she would confess to us that the only reason she decided to give us a room was because I had Rick Steves’ guide in my hand when I knocked on the door. Thank you, Rick!

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Ireland: Belfast

November 27, 2007 Leave a comment

Wednesday, Nov 27, 2002

We set out from Portrush in the early morning, enjoying the Antrim countryside on our way to Belfast. It was hard to remember we were in Ireland; we were familiar with the road signs since we had been to England the year before (in the summer of 2001, see the Transfiguration Tour part for more) and they kept confusing us as to where we were, not to mention the people’s accent is a bit different in the north: a mixture of Irish and British that tells you you’re not quite in either place.

We made it into Belfast by mid-morning, and after about an hour in the car trying to navigate the many one-way roads of central Belfast, we managed to find a place with a vacant room, the Camera House, a converted Victorian townhouse with tons of charm and a great location, just south of the city and steps away from Queen’s University and the Ulster Museum. In fact, after settling in, that’s exactly where we decided to go.

Because of the heavy rain we stayed all afternoon inside the Ulster Museum. While our books rate the museum as an okay site, we decided to do the most of our situation, and fortune smiled on us: the museum was hosting a special exhibition of ten drawings by Leonardo DaVinci, part of the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations. Free entry, almost empty museum and 10 DaVinci drawings all for our tireless perusal turned the afternoon into an incredible time. To this add the exhibition on the treasures recovered from the Girona, a Spanish Armada ship that shipwrecked off the Antrim Coast in 1588, and we were two very happy travelers.

Later that night we went to town, to try to at least see something of the city. We went to the Crown Liquor Saloon, an Victorian bar with great atmosphere (though with one rude bartender) and these little booths–snugs, as they are called–where in Victorian times women could drink in peace and unafraid of being seen in a place such as this. We took a snug, ordered some pints, and just sat there, enjoying a (relatively) quiet drink while reflecting on our up-to-now wonderful honeymoon in magical Ireland. Afterwards we walked the streets, passing by the City Hall and going into the pedestrian shopping zone in search of Kellys Cellar, a 300-year old pub featuring live music, but it was already closed.

We headed back to our room, and decided to simply stay in that night: after all, this was our honeymoon…

NOTE: The weather in Belfast was horrible; the strong rain hardly let down at all, which explains why there are no pictures of Belfast here: we actually took none. Even later at night, when we went out on the town, we forgot the camera at the room. We owe Belfast an apology, and promise when we go back we’ll take enough pictures to make it up to the city.

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Ireland: Sligo, Antrim Coast & Giant’s Causeway

November 26, 2007 Leave a comment

Tuesday, Nov 26, 2002

Behold the guardian of Sligo, Ben Bulben.
Nov. 26, 2002

In the morning when we woke up, we opened the window only to finally see how good of a view of Ben Bulben our B&B had: it was right in front of us, looming large and serene, a crown of clouds on its head. It is said that you cannot go anywhere in Sligo without seeing Ben Bulben, and I believe it. It is a cyclopean sentinel watching over its kingdom, and over its beloved poet.

At breakfast we met another couple from Boston and dined on “little soldiers”, hard-boiled eggs served with a strip of toasted bread for a rifle, and some home-made orange marmalade. It was absolutely delicious. After packing all our stuff, we headed just some few hundred feet up the road to Drumcliff Churchyard, the site of Yeats’ grave.

Amid ancient relics–a Norman round tower across the street, and St. Columbkille’s (or St. Columba) Cross–and overlooked by Ben Bulben, Drumcliff is a solemn place. In winter, the trees reach skeletal branches to the sky, and the clouds descend quite low, shrouding the area in mist. In the middle of this otherworldly setting, we sat to pay our respects to a man who was as much a patriot of Ireland as any of the martyrs of the Easter Rebellion (more in Dublin), a man who sought to better his country by his words, a man who gave us a legacy in writing that will live for centuries to come. His true monument, however, is not in Drumcliff, but rather in our bookshelves, all the bookshelves of the world that still hold Yeats’ words and hope of a new Ireland, a new world.

Yeats himself put it best in his poem, “Under Ben Bulben”:

Under bare Ben Bulben’s head
In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid.
An ancestor was rector there
Long years ago, a church stands near,
By the road an ancient cross.

No marble, no conventional phrase;
On limestone quarried near the spot
By his command these words are cut:

Cast a cold eye
On life, on death
Horseman pass by!

The grave of the great Irish poet William Butler Yeats.
Nov. 26, 2002

From Drumcliff we decided to check out another Yeatsian location, so we set back into Sligo in search of Lough Gill and the Lake Isle of Innisfree. By now it had kind-of become a private joke between us: you see, Yeats had a very particular way of reading poetry, where rhythm was heavily marked, and Lake Isle was the poem Danny had heard a recording of Yeats reading in one of his classes. So whenever we spoke of Yeats, we would recite Lake Isle in a mock rendition of Yeats’ accent. Yes, we realize its one of those things you had to be there, but if you can ever hear a recording of Yeats reading poetry, do so and you’ll understand us perfectly.

“I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.”
The Lake Isle of Innisfree

Yvette & Danny in front of the Lake Isle of Innisfree (back and left).
Nov. 26, 2002

We made our way back to the main road, and with Ben Bulben watching over our departure, we headed north, way north, headed towards our next destination: Northern Ireland.

Our drive north took us through County Donegal, and we could see first-hand the difference in the landscape of this side of Ireland. The mountains are not quite as lush as the southwestern part had been; in fact, it had more in common with Connemara in its starkness than with Dingle and its verdant scapes. Eventually we took a roundabout that took us into Northern Ireland. We were expecting to have to show our passports, but the only way we knew we had crossed was because the signs changed and there was barbwire around various buildings, including a school. This was our introduction to Derry/Londonderry (depending on which side of the issue, and river, you stood).

Our destination was still far away: we were heading towards the northern coast of Ireland, to the Giant’s Causeway. It took a few hours but we finally made it, stopping first at Dunluce Castle. Not a huge tourist attraction, we nonetheless decided to stop and take a look, mainly because it was empty and we had the ruins pretty much to ourselves. Dunluce’s claim to fame is rather bizarre: in 1639, on a stormy night the Count of Antrim was hosting a party at his castle when all of a sudden half the kitchen just fell off into the sea. The guide told us that one could still see the ruins down in the water, though we could not reach the area since it was roped off.

“None shall pass!” Danny at Dunluce Castle.
Nov. 26, 2002

Our quick stop at Dunluce done, we headed towards the main course of Antrim, the Giant’s Causeway.

Formed by the Celtic warrior Finn McCool in order to reach his lover in the Scottish island of Staffa, the causeway is a natural wonder. Geologists say that it was actually created by cooling basalt lava some 60 million years ago, but we all know that scientists must have their own silly explanations. Finn was actually quite thorough, making his causeway all the way to Staffa (off the coast of Scotland), though only the foundations can be seen in Ireland and Staffa today, since the rest lies underwater, after Finn’s lover’s brother tore it up escaping from Finn’s wrath as he fled back to Scotland.

We decided to take the scenic path: it was 4:00 pm when we began our walk (remember that). The view of the coast is amazing, though we glossed it over as we wanted to reach the causeway before dark. The scenic path was longer than we expected and then involved going down the side of the mountain via a very narrow path. Remember we mentioned it had been raining a lot in Ireland before we arrived? The path was okay, though it could have been better at parts. Suffice it to say that we were very, very foolish to have taken this path and we made it down alive thanks to the grace of God.

Via this approach, we had to pass by The Organ first, so we stopped to take a few pictures. The basalt pillars that make up the causeway are actually all over the mountains in the area, and in this particular place, the top layer of the mountain had fallen, revealing the infrastructure of hexagonal pillars, making it look like a bunch of organ pipes, hence the name. It was quite impressive, especially when you stood at the bottom and looked straight up (major case of vertigo), but time was running short and we wanted to see the causeway.

Yvette in front of “The Organ”, one of the basalt formations at the causeway.
Nov. 26, 2002

By the time we reached the actual causeway the sun had set but there was still plenty of light to see the formations. Immediately we regretted having stopped at Dunluce, but we had made our choice and now we had to make the most of it. The formations at the causeway are incredible; no photograph can ever do them justice. The photographs make it seem darker than it really was, though not by much.

It is simply amazing to witness these strange shapes conjured by nature, so many perfectly fitted steps trailing off to the sea. Finn surely did a great job.

The hexagonal stones of the Giant’s Causeway,
another proof of how whimsical and fickle nature can be.
Nov. 26, 2002

Yvette wanders as close as possible to the edge of the
causeway. The marker shows where the tide normally comes up to.
Nov. 26, 2002

With the light fading very fast, we had to make our way off from the rocks and onto the road. We realized we were alone–completely alone–and no one knew we were down here. To make things more interesting, a big storm was rolling in from the north, and its windy herald was already upon us. With only the hint of moonlight to guide us, we set out against the wind and up the steep road. As we rounded a small corner, the wind buffeted us, throwing Danny three steps back. The climb up was a feat of endurance, with only a far-away light from the visitor’s center providing us a destination. Eventually we made it all the way up; the place was deserted, night had completely fallen and the storm had arrived. We got into our car and sat there for a few moments catching our breath, giving thanks that we had made it out of what could have been a really bad spot. It was then we looked at our watch: it was 5:00 pm on the dot. Our whole odyssey, worthy of its own epic poem, had taken only one hour.

We went back to Portrush and found a room at the Belvedere Town House, a place recommended by our Rick Steves’ guide. After getting some food we hit the town to check out the Portrush nightlife, meaning the arcades. Portrush is a holiday spot, and that’s exactly what it caters to; it’s full of bars, restaurants, amusement centers and arcades. The arcades are actually very cool, a mixture of oldand new games: video games stand next to 2p-slot machines and air hockey tables. We had a blast for a couple of hours, eventually heading back to the Belvedere to a very well-deserved night of sleep.

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Ireland: Connemara & Sligo

November 25, 2007 Leave a comment

Monday, Nov 25, 2002

We left Galway early and headed up to Connemara, the wild western area of Co. Galway. In the early winter, Connemara sported a yellow-orange color scheme that made everything seem stark and lonely. Actually, Connemara was pretty lonely; we hardly saw any cars or people as we drove around. The peat bogs are amazing, and as you drive around you can see the peat “quarries” and the piles of peat logs or bricks left to dry.

The Connemara landscape is beautiful in its starkness.
Nov. 25, 2002

We wanted to see two things in Connemara. The first one was the village of Roundstone. We are both fans of the movie “The Matchmaker” (rent it if you haven’t seen it), and it was filmed in Roundstone, so we wanted to see this town. It took us a while to find it, mainly because it is all the way in the southwestern tip of Connemara. Roundstone is a one-street town, literally, right on the water. We walked around for about a half-hour, identifying all the locations from the movie, and drawing glances from the locals who for sure don’t see tourists in their little town in the middle of November (in the summer Roundstone hosts a big folk art festival).

Main (and only) street of the village of Roundstone.
Nov. 25, 2002

We bid goodbye to Roundstone and headed back into the main road to see Kylemore Abbey.

Kylemore Abbey, star of so many Ireland calendars.
Nov. 25, 2002

Built in the mid-1800’s as a neo-Gothic country mansion, it was taken over by refugee Belgian nuns during World War I, and today it serves as an exclusive girl’s boarding school. Every single book we had read told us that it was a waste of time to take the tour, not to mention it was pricey, so we decided to heed the overwhelming advice and skip it. Besides, the true beauty of Kylemore is the incredible setting. The house was built on the idyllic site of a fairy tale, a lush spot in front of a clear lake, surrounded by the wilderness of Connemara; there’s a reason why Kylemore Abbey is included in pretty much every Ireland calendar ever printed.

Yvette & Danny at Kylemore Abbey. Perhaps this photo
could one day read “Welcome to our new home!” (We wish!)
Nov. 25, 2002

About noon we hit the road north again, passing by Croagh Patrick, the fabled mountain from which St. Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland (there have never been snakes in Ireland, by the way) and which the faithful climb every July, and the haunting Coffin Ship, a memorial to the victims of the great famine who died by the hundreds in coffin ships–so called because they were rickety and because so many died in them–on their way to the promise of a better life in America.

It was the early afternoon when we pulled into the town of Westport to rest, eat and find accommodations in Sligo. What better place to do all this than at Matt Molloy’s Pub, owned by the flutist for the world-renowned Irish music band, The Chieftains. Westport was cute, a large town almost pretending to be a small city. At the pub we just people-watched; the Irish are great subjects for this good-traveler sport. Everything they do, they do with gusto, with passion. There was a group of three old men at the bar, all having a pint of Guinness, agitatedly discussing something. By the time we figured out what it was, we laughed: they were arguing about the proper way to drink a pint, and that one of them had seen someone else actually remove all the foam from his Guinness before drinking, at which point they all groaned out loud their incredulity. We will always remember this scene.

Our bladders empty, our stomachs full, and our reservation in Sligo made, we set out for Yeats’ Country.

We arrived in Sligo after dark, and it took us a moment to finally find our B&B, the Mountain View B&B, a charming farm house in a secluded corner with views of Ben Bulben. Of course, when we arrived it was dark and we couldn’t find the mountain. Once settled, we decided to go down for a pint at the nearby pub. We knew we were in Yeats’ Country–the poet grew up in this area, and some of his most evocative early poetry has Sligo for a theme and protagonist–so we expected the area of be Yeats-centric. The pub was a surprise. The walls were full of Yeats memorabilia: old photos, newspaper and magazine clippings, artwork based on his poetry and even some manuscripts in his own handwriting (it is unmistakable once you get to know it). Yeats permeated the room like a vapor, infusing even the beer in your hand with literary greatness.

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Ireland: Driving, Cliffs of Moher & Galway

November 24, 2007 Leave a comment

Sunday, Nov 24, 2002

Our hosts at Ballymore House, Maurice and Theresa,
with Yvette as we were getting ready to leave.
Nov. 24, 2002

We left Sunday morning, but not without feeling that we had left part of ourselves in Dingle, and that we would have to come back to claim it. Thing is, for the rest of our lives, Dingle will be the place where we spent the most peaceful days of our honeymoon.

Yvette & Danny at the Connor Pass observation point.
Nov. 24, 2002

Since Galway was our next destination, we decided to head north via the Connor Pass; seemed like a good excuse to drive up to one of the highest points in the peninsula and enjoy the scenery. Once you reach the summit, you can pull over to see the peninsula from an incredible vantage point. The fields seem to undulate with the wind, and the various lakes, ponds and streams sparkle like quicksilver. In the distance we could see all of Dingle town, waving us good-bye, and reminding us to return one day. But for now, the road called, and our next destination promised to be simply amazing.

Danny on the side of a mountain on our way out of Dingle. Note the clouds not that far away.
Nov. 24, 2002

Our drive from Dingle took us north, where we had to take a ferry to cross the River Shannon, on our way to the Cliffs. It was early afternoon when we arrived, and we were not prepared for what we saw. The Cliffs of Moher are about as simply a natural sight can come, and yet they take your breath away even from afar. Extending for about five miles from the mainland, they soar up to 650 feet above the raging waters of the Atlantic below. A fine mist hangs permanently in the air, though it is almost impossible to hear the waves crashing (unless you ignore the warning sign and go to the platform and brave the strong winds for a chance to peek over the edge, which Danny thought about doing, except Yvette had no desire to become a widow on their honeymoon). You can see, however, the hundreds and hundreds of birds that make their homes on the crags of the cliffs, playing in the updrafts, well aware human onlookers envy them.

There are a few places on Earth where it is hard to
deny the hand of God in the world; this is one of those places.
Nov. 24, 2002

We wandered the area of the Cliffs up and down, even going to the little tower built by a local lord with money to spare, trying to see the Cliffs from every possible angle. These pictures do not even begin to do justice to the Cliffs of Moher, so be sure to visit them one day.

Yvette & Danny at the Cliffs of Moher.
Nov. 24, 2002

As much as we liked this place, we had to get on the road in order to make it to Galway not too late. There was, however, yet one more ancient stop on our map before getting to the city…

We took a detour on our way to Galway because we wanted to see the Burren, an area unique in Ireland. Once a glacier-covered tundra, it today offers an ecosystem found nowhere else in Ireland, with glacier-gashed limestone peeking from the ground, a network of tunnels that once housed bears, and various archeological sites, including the one we really wanted to see, the Poulnabrone Dolmen. Believed to be a “druid’s altar” a couple hundred years ago, today we know it is a stone-age portal-style grave, possibly a chieftain’s though no one knows for sure. While a center is promised for the future, today the dolmen stands alone in the middle of a field, and it takes a 200-meter hike to reach it. As you can see in the picture, we got there just before dusk (meaning at around 4:00 pm), but we had enough light and time to really marvel at this ancient artifact still standing after four thousand years. The Burren is supposed to be incredible in the summer, with flowers bursting out of the limestone all over; I guess we’ll just have to come back and see. Very carefully we picked our way back to the car and then drove for another two hours to reach Galway.

Poulnabrone Dolmen, a 4000 year-old grave, still captures the imagination.
Nov. 24, 2002

In Galway, we stayed at the Cill Cuana B&B, a place we reserved that morning before leaving Dingle (had it only been one day?). In fact, from here on, all our accommodations would be booked on-the-go, one of the perks of traveling in winter. Cill Cuana was decent, but not a place I would go back to; it was just good enough for the night. In fact, Galway felt pretty much like that.

Galway is a university town, and you can’t miss it. This would have been great if we had been with our friends, but on our honeymoon, and especially after the quiet solitude of Dingle, Galway simply grated on us. We walked the pedestrian part of town, dipping into the King’s Head Pub, there since the 16th century, for a pint and some music (rock covers, not bad). Galway is full of street artists, buskers, and on our way back to the car, we passed by a young woman with her guitar, strumming along in the chilling wind. She started to sing after we were about 10 feet past her, and her voice made us turn around simply because we had to know who it was that was singing. She was amazing, and we purchased her CD right there. Her name was Orlagh De Bhaldraithe (see the Links). After this it was back to the B&B and to sleep.

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