Wednesday, October 31, 2001

Finally, A Taste of Dublin


Finally, A Taste of Dublin

In the morning, while still in the suburbs or the far reaches of the Irish earth at the B & B, we had an argument with the shower and the shower won. The shower is electric powered for the temperature and the speed of the spray. Neither one worked efficiently. On the highest speed for the jet, the water still only dribbled out. It was worse than the stream you have when there is a kidney stone blockage. Hence, we skipped our shower, which does not put me in the right frame of mind for the day.

The night was not fitful. The Irish do not believe in heat. Radiators are for decoration only and have only been turned on once since we have been in the country. That one time, it was only to defrost the room and then it was turned off when the ice chips melted. Did I tell you it was cold here? Being a dormer room, the window was on the slanted ceiling with makeshift curtains. It was a very windy night, so the glass bounced in the frame like a drum with a bad beat accompanied by the intermittent rain. Window frames need to be sealed to save energy costs, but if you never use the heat, who cares? The frame let in as much air as the big bad wolf when he huffed and he puffed the little pig’s house down. With that lively tempo, we tried to sleep with one little blanket on each of our beds. If we had not made plans to move the next morning, I would have been a lunatic in the morning, but with the transfer in mind, I was able to be my, ahem, charming self.

The lovely Mrs. Kennedy greeted us downstairs, wife of the dear man I lied to the night before. She was gracious enough not to question our need for leaving six days earlier than planned and offer us a full Irish breakfast. We were the only two at breakfast and the only settings that were out, so we believe we were the only guests.

Why someone would want baked beans for breakfast is beyond me. They are not even good baked beans, but a poor cousin to Campbell’s brand out of a can and warmed over a luke warm flame. She was generous with the bacon, what we would call ham in long strips, and two pieces of sausage. Hasn’t anyone done cholesterol studies in these countries? Since breakfast lasts us until the later hours of the evening, we are able to balance our fats and work them off with walking. I have come to grabbing sugar packets for their philosophy, the way some look to the horoscopes for the warning of the day. This morning, the packet said, “ He who runs away lives to fight another day.” I took that to mean we had appeased the tourism gods and were given absolution for my previous nights straying from the truth.

Who would want to be so far away from the city unless you had a car? Having a car in Dublin is an exercise in patience; the traffic is bumper-to-bumper much of the time. But Mrs. Kennedy was charming and her house was lovely for the most part. I think she had too many brass bric-a-brac in the living room for my taste, but so be it. She has to live with it, we don’t. The question in our minds was if we were the only ones in the house, why put us up in the attic room? Never once did we infer that the room was colder than the ice hotel in Norway. Why leave on a sour note, just leave and fast?

With luggage in tow, we hopped the first bus that came along before Mrs. Kennedy decided she needed to charge us more for lost revenue. She may have been counting on our weeks worth for the kiddies’ Christmas presents, after all. Off we were to our new home, until Saturday, but Saturday is in the future and we only deal with the present and immediate future. This makes you realize how many tenses English really has.

Once in the city, we took our luggage for a walk again from the central bus station to the hostel that we had booked. It seems that our luggage gets walked more often than our dog ever did, but he was content with a large yard to run in and would come when called. Well sometimes he did. Our luggage gets abandonment issues when left too long. The wheels refuse to turn properly. The two pieces in London will be hell to deal with when we finally return to retrieve them.

The name Dublin comes from the Irish, Dubh Linn and means the black pool at the confluence of two rivers: the Poddle and the Liffey. Earlier in the history of the city, the name was Baile Atha Cliath, also in Irish, meaning the town by the hurdle-ford. The original setting was around a river crossing of the Liffey. This is the preferred name on signs for reasons of Irish language pride.

At the hostel, our room will not be ready until 1:00 pm, so the two pieces go into ‘Left luggage’, while we walk the city with a backpack on my back. If anyone ever told me I would stay at a hostel, I would have sworn to drive him or her to a therapist for delusions. Hostels and hostile seemed synonymous to me for some reason. I never felt like I would fit in and probably would feel the same now if Ron were not a blender inner. In the past, it has always been admirable to me when people say they did hostels, but it never seemed like the right choice for me. The image is a huge dorm room, which is true, they have those, but they also have private rooms with showers. When we were in Dublin the first time and passed this place, through the window, I saw elderly people in the lounge area. I figured if they can do it, I could do it.

With the luggage safely, I hoped, snuggled in with other pieces of luggage, we set off for the Tourist Board once again. We had thought about taking the Dublin tour bus, the hop on and hop off all day kind, but it was already 11:30 and they stop at 4:30 pm. Not much time for hopping, stopping somewhere and hopping again. Funny, the tourist board had not changed much since our absence.

Tonight was Hallowe’en and we wanted to do something special. Not having time to make our costumes, and not having bought kilts in Scotland, we booked a special night walking tour called the Zozimus Ghostly Experience. The tour people said they get very favorable reviews from former clients. It starts at 7:00 pm at the entrance to the Dublin Castle. We wanted to purchase the Dublin pass, which would have given us entry to three or seven sights associated with the tourist board. The woman told us it probably would not be worth our money since a few of the attractions were closed earlier than expected due to poor sales. We had planned on going to the Viking Adventure, which was recommended by friends and gives the history of the Vikings in Ireland, which is extensive. The other we wanted was the Dublin Experience, a multi-media presentation on the history of Dublin, but that was closed down. Strike three came with the James Joyce house and museum to the famous author. We were disappointed for sure. They were all still open when we were here last week for their final appearances. For tomorrow, we booked a day tour of Newgrange and Tara Hill, more about this tomorrow.

A short walk away from the tourist center is Trinity College, one of the most famous schools of higher education in Europe. One of the claims to fame is that the college was granted the status of being a repository of printed information for the entire United Kingdom. One copy of every book that is published in the U.K. and in the Republic of Ireland is kept at the Trinity College library. This is similar to the U.S. Congressional Library.

A second claim to fame for the college is it is the home to the Book of Kells. The book of Kells is a handwritten book of the four gospels of the bible that was created in the 9th century. It is believed that the book is associated with St. Colum Cille who founded his monastery on the island of Iona. In 806, the monks moved to Kells, County Meath, Ireland when Iona was attacked by Vikings and sixty-eight monks were killed. Each page of the book is intricately decorated. It is guessed that it took more than twelve artists, calligraphers, and book craftsman to create the book. The pages are written on vellum, calves hide and it is estimated it took one hundred and eighty-five calves just for this one book.

Upstairs in the old library where the Book of Kells is located, is the Long Library. This is a reconstructed library that is currently the holding place of 200,000 antique books, papers, and journals. Prior to the reconstruction, the ceiling was flat and there was limited room. In the 18th century, they redid the ceiling to be an arch of oak, which allowed additional rooms on a second level. The Victorians did not like the lightwood and stained it dark brown. Along the corridor of the first level are statues of famous people in literary, philosophical, and scientific history. For a bibliophile like myself, this was an orgasmic mental experience. Just give me a cot, a blankie, and throw me some bread and water once in awhile and I could be an ecstatic camper for a decade or so.

In preparation for our nighttime adventure lurking through the city, we decided to check into our room and take a nap. The hostel had coupons for a discounted pub dinner around the corner, so after a snooze, we had a quick dinner before our rendezvous.

At the meeting place, we met two young women from New Mexico. One of them ran in the Irish Marathon, the weekend we were unable to find room at the inns of Dublin. This was her first marathon and won the entire trip as a reward for raising money for the Arthritis Foundation. Running in a marathon would not have spurred me to be a rah-rah fundraiser, but it worked for her.

The experience was to begin. Our guide was the ghost of Major Sir, who died over two hundred years before. He treated his ‘troops’ like a Major too. We had to march initially, and Ron was picked out to be one of the platoon leaders. Ron falls into whatever character he needs to be with ease and grace, which I greatly admire. I on the other hand can be the perfect actor when on stage in the classroom, but other situations, I find intimidating. We were soon met by the real tour leader, Zozimus, a blind and aging character who also died centuries prior. We were led to scenes of great escapes, murders, and mythical happenings in the mediaeval city of Dublin. Along the way, there were other persons who added to the experience and created a memorable hour and a half tour that is worth joining and repeating. For only six pounds, it was more fun than many movies we have spent more to see. At one point, a couple of young men handed Zozimus a pumpkin, then they stole his hat. At first we thought it was part of the act, but it was not. We later found out that Major Sir and Zozimus were real people from the history of Dublin. If you ever come to Dublin, his web site is for more information.

We spent two hours at the Internet café afterward, sending the last piece and then looking up taste bud problems on since none of my nurse friends have come forth with suggestions like I had hoped would happen. I could rule out all of the causes listed: cold, flu, syndromes that I have never heard of, but after looking them up, I did not have those symptoms either. The last was gingivitis or poor dental health. I could rule that out since I bought my dentist a Mercedes with my frequent oral hygiene visits and compulsion to have my teeth cleaned every three months. Old age was another reason. I don’t think so! These buds better have years of mileage left on them once they return. I am back to square one, but after another couple of days of using the nasal spray, it is back to the chemist for more advice. Maybe I should try Sudafed, but I need to think about how much thinner I want to get before I create too many changes. This is the easiest diet I have been on.

Being Hallowe’en, we thought the pubs would be really festive. The people on the streets looked like they do every other day. The only sign that tonight was different from any other was the fact that fireworks started when we started our tour and continued for over two hours afterward. The pub was crowded and other than the bartenders who were dressed as a sailor and a roaring twenties clapper, there was only one person in costume. He was dressed as a firefighter ready to fight the blazes. At least we think it was a costume, since we did not smell smoke.

Knowing that we had to get up early for a tour, we finished our beers and were just about ready to leave, but I needed to use the facilities. I was not gone for five minutes and when I returned this guy was talking to Ron. Ron, it seems looked exactly like a friend of his and he just had to exchange pleasantries. As serendipity would have it, he turned out to be an ex-Augustinian monk who is now a Professor of Medieval history at a private women’s college. We chatted for some time and told him where we were going on our tour. He had some good suggestions of what we should try to include if we had the time to enrich the experience and then we excused ourselves and left.

Dublin is a real let down in the All Hallow Eve department. We never saw any children dressed for Trick or Treat, no adults in fun costumes, except one young woman that was dressed as a fairy or angel. She freezing in her skimpy little costume and her magic wand was not heated. She had a nasty cough.

The room is sparse, but comfortable with two twin beds. The beds and the comforters are a little shorter than we are, but they are warm if you curl your body. We are in the center of the city and can survive this better than having to commute an hour to get into town.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2001

Dublin or Bust


Dublin or Bust

It will be different saying good-bye to Patty, the B & B owner. She was more than accommodating with her time and in trying to make us feel at home and comfortable. She is a wonderful host. One thing about B & Bs, when you really like the people running them is that I feel like a guest in someone’s home to a greater extent than I do in a hotel. That may be the point, but what I mean is, I almost feel a sense of obligation to do my dishes, make my bed, and clean my room just to be a good guest. Ron does that too. When he gets up in the morning he straightens his bed. When I see him doing it, I think, “Don’t do that. We are paying for this service. We don’t need to be doing it”, but then I catch myself in the same mode.

Our original plan was to take the local bus to the bus station and catch our bus to Dublin from there. The weather had other ideas. The rain was coming down with such force it was like the sky was taking out a grudge against the earth, whipping it with belts of water. In a matter of seconds, we would have been wetter than if we showered with our clothes on. Although being a no, no in the Budget Traveler Handbook, we called a taxi. Arriving with a half hour to spare before the bus, we would probably have missed it if we took the local bus and the next one was an hour later.

Going to Dublin seemed like a much more sane trip then coming. The bus did not rattle us like milkshakes and we were actually able to read without nausea. I was able to finish the book “Fugitive Pieces” by Ann Michael. This is a book that is recommended for those of you who have a bad case of terminally happy and no other. This book is a real downer, albeit well written. If I tried to claim that I did not wish to be as proficient a writer as she is, I would be lying, but the story was odd to say the least. It seems she went into overenthusiastic detail where it should not have been necessary and ignored the areas where it would have added to the story. However, she won multiple literary awards for the book, so who am I to judge. It is the type of book that you know from the beginning that you will hate, but you continue reading it as penance for the greater glory of intellectualism, especially when it had received so many awards. Ron, is reading “The Butcher Boy”, but an Irish author. It was recommended in the second hand bookstore as being especially popular.

The directions that the Tourist Board gave us for finding the Guesthouse was to take the DART for two stops and the B & B was only a five minute walk from there. Ron called to confirm the directions. It seems that the Tourist Board omitted that we would need to take a bus after the train. This was not looking good. DART is the acronym for Dublin Area Rapid Transit. Ron and I renamed it DAST or DATT, Dublin Area Snail Transit or Dublin Area Turtle Transit. The train is so slow; I could run along side it. Well, my endurance may not be as persevering as the train, but I could run faster for at least the distance between two stations. I, who conned the doctor to write me notes to get out of physical education class for years, because I thought sweating was undignified, could run faster. That should give you and idea of the speed of this train.

When we reached the street at the DART station, mercifully there was an elevator so we did not have to lift luggage for two flights of stairs. The local bus stop is right outside the door. No, this is not the right bus for where you want to go. The right bus stop is a block and a half away. The bus stop is on the same road as the B & B, how far could this place be? Maybe we should walk. At the bus stop, the house number was twenty-two. The house numbers in Ireland run consecutively and do not alternate across the street the way they do in the States. The B & B was supposedly two hundred and thirty-two according to Ron, but something told me that was not correct. I did not question it and make him confirm it. My mistake. We took the bus to the two hundreds and as I was approaching two hundred and thirty-two, Ron was pulling the address out of his pants pocket. The correct number was three hundred and twenty-three. The irritation was building inside of me since I had wanted to book the hostel with private rooms in the city center before we left. We didn’t because we were pressed for time to catch our bus to Galway. Now we were out in a Dublin suburb where public transportation ends at ten at night. By the time we get into town in the morning, the sights will be closing for lunch. Well they don’t really close for lunch, but you understand where I am going with this.

As we approached the correct address for sure, I turned to Ron and said, “If you hear me lying, don’t contradict me.” He promised silence with a smile. Our room is a third floor walk-up with a sloped ceiling that could be dangerous to either of our heads in the middle of the night bathroom visit. It is small, barely fitting two twin beds and the television on receives one channel. The gentleman carried one of the suitcases up to the room when he brought us to it. At the doorway, I said, “I am sorry to have to tell you this, but we have had an emergency and will only be able to stay one night. We have left our other luggage with friends in Wales (Sorry Anne and Bruce for moving you without notice). Our friends e-mailed and they have to leave town and we need to get our bags back before they go.” Our friendly greeter turned into the older brother of Mr. Personality from London. My theory is a lie begets a lie. He told us we were within five minutes walking distance from the DART station. We could not do this in five minutes if we were Olympic Gold medallists. The bus takes longer without traffic. This is one of those damned if you do and damned if you don’t situations. If you had a car, this would be accessible. If you had a car, you would be fighting for a parking space all of the time and would waste just as much of your day as taking public transportation. So now, we didn’t have a place to stay for the next six nights. Sometimes you just need to gamble.

We dragged our butts out to the bus stop, took the bus to the DART, went two stops and forty minutes later, we were in the center of the city. We found our way to the hostel that we had checked out on the first time around here and were able to book every night until Saturday. They are booked solid for that night and that night only. We secured the room. The worst that could happen is that we would have to leave town for a night. The clerk was generous enough to give us a list of hostels in Dublin and those that she recommended. We walked to the next one. Nothing for Saturday night. The next one on the list was too far from where we were to walk to so we decided to call instead.

The first payphone I tried held my coin captive and would not swallow it or spit it up. Having limited small denomination coins between us, I needed for that coin to have a purpose. After hitting the coin return several times, the coin came flying out with a vengeance hitting the curb two feet from the phone booth, rolling down the street into the darkness never to be seen again by us. We switched phone booths. My coins were being used up faster than straw burns on a bonfire. Thirty pence is the minimum amount, but you barely get beyond the greeting before the warning comes that you are about to be disconnected unless you feed the blaze more fuel.

Call after call we found that Dublin is a very popular place on Saturday nights. We struck out at four places before we finally hit the jackpot at one on our list. They can keep us warm and cozy for Saturday, Sunday, and Monday nights. We just have to switch rooms each night. I did not ask why. It would seem so ungrateful and switching rooms seemed like a lot less trouble than leaving town for the night. This new dance is called the Dublin shuffle. How many different places can you fit into one week without straining your back or your mind?

Having secured our lodging we found a lovely authentic Irish fish restaurant for Ron’s dinner. It was started by a Russian immigrant in 1913 and continued by his children. The kitchen help spoke Swedish and the person mopping the floor was Asian. Just give me the chips!

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Monday, October 29, 2001

Last Day in Galway


Last Day in Galway

This was our last day in Galway. We bus off to Dublin once again tomorrow now that the Bank holiday and the national marathon is over with. We booked our B & B at the Dublin Tourist Office before leaving so that we had direction once we go off of the bus.

Today, we occupied our time by taking another Lally tour. For you future travelers, their web site is . Since we had taken their tour on Saturday, we received a one-pound discount each. Normal fare is fourteen pounds for younger people and our senior friends as well as students receive a discount bringing their fare to eleven pounds, fifty.

Today was the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher. The tour bus was supposed to pick us up at the B & B at 8:50 am, but did not turn up until 9:20 am. It usually would not be a problem, but it was very windy out today and being across the street from the Bay, it makes it feel worse; the wind chill factor is heightened. When the bus arrived, they brought us to the Lally station, which is across the street from the Tourist office. They don’t leave there until 10:10, so a ‘full day tour’ is a misnomer.

The seats on the bus were the most cramped we had ever experienced. Poor Ron had to keep his knees up to his chest most of the day. There was no room for long legs. Well when you travel in countries with short people, what can you expect? I had to fold my legs under the seat in order to survive the seats. Half way through the day, we switched. The aisles were so narrow; you could not spread your legs into the aisle without having the back of the seat digging into your back.

One of the things that we are learning about Irish tours, at least in the Galway area is that the brochures are very misleading. The brochures lead you to believe that you will be stopping at a number of sights along the way during the day. The truth is that since the roads are so narrow and in some areas poorly developed, the bus only drives by and you get a look. For example, the brochure advertises that we will stop at a number of picture stops including the Poulnabrone Dolmen. This is a 5,000-year-old megalithic burial tomb. We passed by it as the driver explained that it is on private land owned by a farmer. Last year, a woman from a tour walked out to the tomb and fell. She sued the farmer, who has a ‘No Trespassing’ sign on the gate. Since he does not have insurance, he was out of pocket for the expense that never should have happened. Returning to the tomb, it is two giant upright rocks with a two ton rock crossing over the two of them. Professors of Archeology at the University of Galway, found the remains of a man, woman, and two children that were carbon-dated to 5, 000 years ago. Nothing else is known about them.

A second example is where the literature states that we will visit places such as Doolin. This is the home of traditional Irish music. The driver/tour guide explained that this is the city where every man, woman, and child is involved in Irish music and instruments. They have music camps here for those that are interested in learning more. We drove through the town and did not even stop for a traffic light. We were told that if this was one of our interests, to be sure and return to this town. Pardon me, but isn’t this the reason we are taking a tour and not renting a car?

We had three actual stops, but one was only a tea or coffee stop with a restroom. The pub where we first stopped had a fire roaring in the fireplace so it was a cozy place to curl up for a stretch. For the second stop, we found ourselves at the Cliffs of Moher, one of the primary reasons for taking the tour. The cliffs are over six hundred and sixty feet above the ocean. The driver warned us repeatedly not to go near the cliff. He said there are rock fences that we will be safe and secure if we do not go beyond them. He warned that every year people die by taking risks trying to see over the edge. The winds pick up and stop suddenly and without warning. At one moment you feel like the wind is supporting you and then it stops and you are falling toward your last dip in the ocean ever. There is a paved path to the right and a dirt path to the left. We were told that the path to the left was private land and we were not to use that path. That side did not have security fences either. The right path was to the right. There were signs in six languages with warnings all along the path, not to go beyond the security walls. There were at least two dozen people that were over the walls and crawling to the edge. I was waiting to see a catastrophe happen while we were there.

To climb to the highest point where the look out point is, you follow a cement pathway. The wind was so severe, any wrinkles we once had were blown off of our faces. Our hair is now a half inch longer than when we started. The wind was so strong, it pulled our hair out of our scalps. One little girl literally flew away and landed on the grass. She thought it was fun, but her parents didn’t.

The cliffs cut out into the ocean in five different areas. Each cliff is rich in green grass on the top layer, but from the observation area, you are able to see the layers of earth all of the way down to the ocean. These would be a geologists dream. In spite of the height of the cliffs, the wind is so strong that the water comes over the wall on the path. It is a beautiful sight and was worth the trip just to see this. Our lunch break was at the little restaurant here. It is a tiny little thing that can only handle about fifty people at a time. The tour bus clients have to take turns going in to be served.

We passed by a number of building remnants that were identified as castles, but the guide stated that they were build in the 16th and 17th centuries by wealthy families who still own them many generations later. None of them were acknowledged as castles of royalty and not one is currently habitable.

The Alliwee Cave was our last stop before returning. There are over 3,000 caves in Ireland, but this is the only cave that is open to the public. The cave tour was not included in the tour and cost three pounds seventy-five with the group discount. It was purported to be the most incredible sight that we could see with incredible colors of stalagmites and stalactites. We chose to do the tour. A farmer who followed his dog who was chasing a rabbit founded the cave in 1949. It was not until 1976 that the cave was established as a tourist sight and now hosts hundreds of thousands of people a year. Inside the cave, they found bones of bears that they can date back over 2,000 years ago. There is what they call a bear bed. It is a hollowed out area that a bear would dig out in order to hibernate. The bears in Ireland were no larger than a goat and were hunted to extinction over 1,000 years ago. The inside of the cave, the temperature remains a constant ten degrees Celsius or fifty degrees Fahrenheit.

There were some areas that were claustrophobic and I had remembrances of climbing through the caves in Turkey, last year. The difference being this time, it was a guided tour and we knew we were safe. As Ron stated later, the caves in California with major stalagmites and stalactites have jaded us. The few they have in this cave were tiny little things.

One photo stop on the way back to Galway was the Dunguaire Castle. They still hold medieval fairs and parties there during the summer. One town we passed, but did not stop is a highlight for those that need a date for Saturday nights. This town has a yearly festival dedicated to Matchmaking. It started over a hundred years ago, when farmers would come down from the hills and allow themselves one month from September 5th to October 5th to find a wife. If they did not succeed, they went back home for another year. This tradition is still in vogue today and this town has a full-time yenta or professional matchmaker, who happens to be a man. Surprise!

Basically, this tour was drive, drive, drive, stop, drive, drive, and drive some more. If you like sitting on a bus and watch the sights pass you by, these tours are wonderful. Those of us you are tactile and more active, we want to get more involved in our sightseeing, so there is some disappointment, but live and learn.

In retrospect, we agree that we are not sorry to have come to this area for a week’s time. The sights were interesting. We never saw so much rock in all of our travels of any other country. There are miles and miles of rock covered ground in any direction you look. The places where you see grass cannot be cultivated due to the soil being so thin. Under the thin layer of soil, there is more rock that is not visible.

On a different note, shortly after arriving in Galway, I had this thought that my tasting problem may have been caused by a sensitivity to the toothpaste I was using. For the last four weeks, I was using Rembrandt toothpaste with peroxide. Was it the peroxide that was killing off my taste buds? I switched to McLeans, an Irish brand and have been using that for almost a week now. It is with sadness that I report that nothing has changed, which means that the nasal spray has not had any positive consequence either, though the nasal drip is gone. What confuses me is that my sense of smell is so acute. The only satisfaction I am able to get from food is from smelling it, but the enjoyment ends there. I am ready to try Acupuncture, Reiki, Spiritual Healing, or a Witches Brew. Fortunately, we are taking vitamins everyday, because I don’t think all of my nutritional needs are being met from the little food I am eating. If this continues I will not mind wearing a swimsuit in public, but we will need to find a heated pool first. Just my luck; right body, wrong season.

A couple of times this week, I have noticed people walking up to others and greeting them, then exclaiming how good it was to see them and how it had been so long. The first time I noticed it, I had a twinge that friends and acquaintances can bump into each other in the street. The second time I was envious. Ron and I are with each other twenty-four seven, but it would be so pleasant to run into someone we had not seen in awhile. Fortunately, that happened in London with Nick and Yolande and then again with Anne and Bruce, but there are so many faces from the recent and not so recent past that I would love to run into and share a moment. I think this is why I started dreaming about some of you the last few nights. The dreams were not spectacular and not in any order, but different faces come in and out of the dreams assuring my waking up is filled with a sense of warmth and familiarity that I am missing. It is over two months since we left California and well over a month since we left New Jersey. Although I was ready to make changes, I don’t think I was as prepared for the loss of camaraderie as I may have thought I was. New cities, new sights provide an inordinate amount of interest to the day, sometimes just a simple distraction and most of the time an escapade, but it is less meaningful when you don’t have people with whom to repeat the stories and show the pictures. I have taken fewer pictures on this trip than I have ever done in the past. We don’t want to cart the pictures around and there are few people to share them with anyway. Do I wish we were back in Modesto? Not for a red hot minute! Do I wish some of you where here to share the experience? Every day!

We get bits and pieces on the news about the Anthrax scares and today we heard about the recent related deaths. It is unbelievable that a country the size of the U.S. cannot track down were it is coming from. We heard that the embassy in Peru had an envelope with Anthrax. Why pick a country like Peru? That seems so strange. The most upsetting news was the televised press conference by Ashcroft about the government knowing that there will be another strike in the next week, but they don’t know more details than that. It seems to us that this is another time that the government knows more than what is being shared with the public. How can they possibly know that much and not know more. The fact that a small group of terrorists with outdated weapons can cause this much grief and fear in the “greatest nation of all” should be a humbling experience for every citizen. From what we have seen of Bush and heard him speak, it has not been very impressive or reassuring. Just about every church and other organizations here have fundraisers going on for the victims of Afghanistan. As much empathy as I have for the innocent people that are suffering, I cannot help but wonder if they will ever see any of the aid that the money produces. We read reports that the government and other entrepreneurs were collecting the ‘yellow care packages’ that the U.S. has drop shipped into the country and then turned around and sell it to the people at the open air markets. I am glad we are here at the moment, but I fear for all of you that are there in the States. If they are targeting Peru, then regardless of where you are in the States, it is a potential target.

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Sunday, October 28, 2001

Sundays Are Lazy Daze


Sundays Are Lazy Daze

I am not expecting much of anything to happen today to inform you of, so I thought I would take this opportunity to educate you on the Euro conversion. For those of you who have relatives in a member country or who may plan on visiting one of the member countries, it could be of importance. Others of you may just be curious as I am. To me, the whole thing is fascinating.

The twelve countries which will be involved initially will be: Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands (Holland), Portugal, and Spain. The United Kingdom (England, Scotland, and Wales), Denmark, and Sweden have not joined yet, but may do so later.

Euro coins will be in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50 cents and yes, the cents word is used. They will also be in 1 Euro and 2 Euro coins. One side of the coins will all be identical regardless of the country. They will have a map of the EU countries in different forms and backgrounds of lines and stars. The other side of the coin will have twelve stars to symbolize the twelve participating countries and the year of minting, plus a national symbol reflecting the country where it was minted. In Ireland, the symbol will be the ‘harp’ its national symbol along with the word Eire. Regardless of the national markings, the coins will be usable in any Euro country.

Euro notes will be in 5 (grayish blue), 10 (rusty red), 20 (blue), 50 (brown), 100 (green), 200 (yellow), and 500 notes (purple). I knew purple was my favorite color for a reason. They will be the same regardless of the country that has produced them. On one side of each note will be pictures of windows and gateways to symbolize the openness and cooperation of the European countries and on the other side will be bridges to symbolize communication among the people of Europe with each other and the rest of the world.

All coins and notes go into circulation on January 1, 2002 and all national currencies must be turned in by February 9, 2002. The national currencies of these countries will not be considered legal tender after this date. If you are hoarding extra cash from a previous trip for use in the future, you will be out of luck. As of January 1, 2002, you may still use your national currencies, but will receive Euros back in change.

Postage stamps will be changed to Euro pricing as well as vending machines, public phones, parking meters, toll plazas, cash registers, and on and on. The magnitude of the changes is quite incredible. National currency postage stamps must be used as soon as possible, but will be honored until December 2002. That means postage metering machines have to be converted over as well. Euro checks need to be used starting January 1, 2002 and the old national checks will be valid for six months only. All bank machines will be converted to Euros on January 1st, so that is the only currency it will dispense.

For Ireland one euro is equal to .787564 pound, thus one pound is equal to 1.27 euros. For a while, this will mean a great deal of confusion for each country’s citizens deciding what the worth of various items is based on the new currency. For us, it will only mean converting our dollar value into euros rather than twelve different currencies as we hop from country to country.

I still have not found the answer to the question I had above about the restaurant prices.

Here is one more piece of education for you jewelry buffs out there. I am sure most of you have seen the Claddagh ring and never knew the name for it, what it symbolized or where it came from. The ring is composed of two hands, which are coming together to hold a heart, and on top of the heart is a crown. If this does not ring (pardon the pun) a bell with you, try pointing your browser to . Once you see the ring, I am sure you will remember seeing it a million times at craft fairs, street vendors of jewelry, and other places where rings are sold. If you did not know the history or symbolism, now is your chance to add to your trivia bank for when you are called as a contestant on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”

Irish historians believe that the Claddagh ring is associated with a group of ‘fede’ or faith rings, which date back to medieval times. Fourteen tribes of Welsh-Norman families ruled Galway during the 14th to 17th centuries. As the Irish are famous for their legends, one such goes like this. Margaret Joyce of the 16th century and a member of one of these tribes married a Spanish merchant, who died and left her a fortune (the rich get richer?). Being a generous lass, she used her bundles of money to build bridges throughout the Providence of Connacht. As a reward for her good deeds, an eagle dropped the ring from the sky into her lap. The hands symbolize friendship, the heart is a symbol of love, while the crown symbolizes loyalty.

According to the Irish professor of Archeology, Etienne Rynne, in the areas of the Claddagh, or an Cladach in Irish, which means a ‘flat, stony shore’ it was forbidden to use a spade or a hoe, by ancient law. The people of the Claddagh were fisherman who spoke Irish and were ruled by their own elected king. The last king was Eoin Concannon who died in 1954. These people lived in mud walled, thatched roofed homes, but were declared unsafe in 1934 and the government made the people convert to more traditional housing. The Claddagh rings were handed down from mother to daughter as both betrothal ring and wedding rings. When betrothed, the ring would be worn with the crown toward the wrist. After marriage, the ring would be turned around to have the crown toward the nail. You will see this design all over Ireland on rings of all metals as well as necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and pins.

Happy Halloween!!!

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Saturday, October 27, 2001

Connemara Tour


Connemara Tour

The Lally tour company very efficiently picked us up on the street in front of the B & B at 9:20 am this morning. We were the only ones on a full size bus as we drove around the city and through a coal yard, back to the Lally garage. We had to wait until 10:20 for the bus to leave and by that time, it was quite full. Alan our driver and tour guide was an older, wiry Irish man with a good sense of humor. He normally conducts tours of seven and ten day durations all over Ireland, but the season for that is over. He tried cramming our heads with all of that information in a matter of five hours.

Alan explained that Galway is the youngest city in Ireland. Sixty percent of the population is under twenty-five years of age. It is the fastest growing city in Europe and the second most expensive. Small homes are selling for over two hundred thousand pounds. The area is growing due to Information Technology, healthcare equipment manufacture, and tourism. He also said that the number of pub liquor licenses within Ireland is limited and no more are being issued. In order to open a pub, one has to wait for another pub to close and buy their license. The last license and only the license sold for four hundred thousand pounds.

This country is filled with rock. So far everywhere we have gone today, there is rock instead of soil. Rock fences are everywhere out necessity. There is little room for farming due to the rock that has to be cleared first. Potatoes are grown on ridges to allow for drainage.

As we drove through Connemara, this beautiful area with hills and mountains on one side, a beautiful rainbow appeared through out the sky. It was the largest and most radiant rainbow either of us had ever seen. Magnificent!! For the first two hours of the tour, rainbows appeared everywhere. Some rainbows were just patches between openings in clouds. With all of the rain, what grass there is is able to stay green for longer periods of time. Alan said that it is not uncommon for it to start raining in early December and not stop until the end of March, continuously. Due to this, there is a lot of depression in the area and some families just cannot make a go of it and leave. The positive is that artists, writers, sculptures, musicians that live in Ireland pay no income tax at all and many locate in the Commemara area due to its beauty.

One of the big crops in this area is the peat bog. Peat, which takes 10,000 years to develop, is cultivated, dried and used as fire fuel. Alan said that in this day, it should no longer be used since when it is used up, there is no way of renewing it. Other fuels are readily available.

Our first stop was the only fjord in Ireland. The scenery was beautiful. We passed by some of the scenery where “The Quiet Man” was filmed, though most of it was in the Aran Island. We had a number of photo opportunities along the way.

Our lunch break was at Kylemore Abbey. This was once a 19th century castle that was bought for 400,000 pounds by Benedictine nuns and part of it is now used as a private girls school. This complex is the largest employer in Connemara. They run a large gift shop and cafeteria, besides the school and charging admission to the Abbey. The castle and the church are both created in a neo-gothic style. The church is small and has been restored within the last five years. Outside the church is a small graveyard for the sisters that have passed on to their rewards.

The Connemara pony is also from this area. They are ponies that are strong and sturdy and have a high level of endurance. There is an International Society of Connemara Ponies and each one born is DNA typed to make sure that their lineage is not mingled with other breeds of ponies or horses. Some Connemara ponies sell for as much as twenty thousand pounds. We passed a number of sheep grazing on the mountains and each had a dye marking on their back. Alan explained that each dye mark was like a branding. Some mountains are owned by up to three families and this is how they keep track of which sheep belongs to which family. As well when they let loose a ram in the breeding season; they coat him with a dye as well. When they find his dye color on the ewes, they know which he has mated with and which family owes what for the stud services.

One of the interesting things about Ireland is that there are about seventeen areas where only Gaelic is spoken. Alan explained that to the Irish the language is called Irish, not Gaelic. In these Irish-speaking enclaves, the government gives each school child one hundred pounds a year for attending school. Businesses in these enclaves receive a major tax incentive for creating more jobs.

Tonight we expected to see signs of Halloween. In Scotland and Wales, the celebrations for adults were happening tonight due to the weekend. There was nothing to show evidence of this happening in Galway. We went to Fat Freddies restaurant after returning from the tour. While we were waiting for a table though, the host suggested we go across the street to the Spanish Bar for a beer. He said he would come find us when a table was ready. When we entered, there were eight men with eight different instruments playing traditional Irish music. It was delightful to watch and listen to. I took my dinner in a doggie bag.

The clocks go back here an hour at 1:00 am, an hour earlier than at home. That means an extra hour of sleep is coming our way. There is not much planned for tomorrow, so it should be a relaxing day.

Don’t forget to send in your suggestion for the “Name My Computer” contest.

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Friday, October 26, 2001

Off to the Island


Off to the Island

We were willing to try this again. The rain was again hammering the earth and the wind was strong enough to blow us off balance. We were not going to miss the bus again today, so we stood out by the road. Buses passed us by and Ron went into the house to check with Patty again. We were soaked regardless of the umbrellas, since the wind was blowing the rain in all directions. As Patty was calling the bus company, the bus showed up for us, late, but they showed. The hostess on the bus told us they would not charge us for the bus ride as an apology for forgetting us yesterday. We thought that was decent of them.

It was quite a long ride to get to the ferry dock in Rossaveal. The traffic was bad due to an accident. They needed the jaws of death to open the remains of the car open like a canopener. Ron looked at me and I at him. He said “We are not renting a car.” While at the same moment I was saying “See, probably an American driver”.

Many of the homes we passed had these incredible stonewalls. None of them were cemented, but stacked with only physics holding them up. Most of these stone barriers were of irregular shapes. Some enclosed the local homes and others were only enclosing grassy areas with cow or horse grazing.

The ferry ride was an adventure. One of the crew told those of us sitting in the front that due to rough waters, this would be a grueling ride and those of us sitting in the front would feel it the most. We had our opportunity to move at that point. We did not. It was a bouncy ride and we were able to see walls of water on both sides of the boat and we fly into the air and splat back down into the water. An hour and twenty minutes later, we were at Aran Island. All along the dock were tour buses or rather tour vans that were hawking their ability to show us the island. We walked past them, thanking them and stating that we wanted to walk. That was until we went to the tourist center and found out that some of the sights were two hours by foot each way. We would never make it back in time for the boat back. The island was freezing cold and very windy. The rain came and went, but when it did rain, it poured. So we did what we have learned to do in situations such as this. We went for tea. The sugar packets have Irish philosophical sayings on them in English and in Gaelic. Here are a couple of samples.

Far away hills are green - “Is glas iad conic I bfad uainn”

The man with boots does not have to worry about where he puts his feet -

“Is cuma le fear na ca’ gcuireann se’ a chos”

Silence is golden - “Is binn be’al ina thost”

What is strange is wonderful – “ An rud is annamh is tontach”

And my personal favorite: Though little it is tasty – “Bionn blas ar an mbeaga’n”

The most prudent course of action was to take a tour to maximize our time. This island is only nine miles by two miles, so it is not that large, but our time was limited. As we walked out of the restaurant, there was a tour van sitting there. I went to ask the cost, five pounds per person, a bargain. That is how we met Tom (pronounced Tum). Tom was ruddy skinned, but with a complexion like cream. He is in his fifties and has lived on the island all his life. His family history goes back two generations before him. He knew the island so well that he was able to drive while his head was turned to tell us the tour information and not even be close to scaring the wits out of us.

There were two other Americans that were going to share the tour. As serendipity would have it they are from New Jersey. Artie was a construction worker on the World Trade Center when it was being built. He now commutes to New York for work every day. We never found out what Kathy does, but she was in Egypt last year for a Past Life Regression Conference.

Tom drove us over the north island, which has a population of nine hundred. The two smaller islands have a population of three hundred each. Tom was agreeable to stop whenever we wanted to snap a picture. Tom explained that only Gaelic is spoken on the island except for with the tourists.

The island is covered in limestone rock. I have never seen so much rock. The way that they solved this problem was to dig up rock, break it in pieces and make fences with it. The entire island that is utilized is broken up into small rock fenced off areas. They use these for boundary lines and in the areas where there is not a house; they use the area for sheep, cows, and horses to graze. We did not find out if they had to dismantle a section in order to get the animal in and then reassemble it, but that is the assumption since it would be so difficult lifting a bull over the fence. Tom explained that the fenced off areas are small and numerous because they did not want to have to cart the rock far away. Therefore, there are thousands of these little fenced off areas. This is the island where the movie “The Secret Life of Rowan Inish” was filmed as well as “The Quiet Man” with John Wayne. They love John Wayne here. Duh?

On the island there are three churches and each smaller island has one church each. There is one priest who has his own plane and flies from island to island. The priest is also a mechanic. He alternates the mass times and serves at all of them. Oliver Cromwell destroyed some of the oldest churches back in the 17th century.

There are seven schools on the big island. One school that we passed has seventy students and seven teachers. How is that for a great ratio? Everything is taught in Gaelic.

The best part of the island tour was the ancient fort, Dun Aonghasa. Tom was not able to drive us up to it since there is no road. It cost a pound to enter the grounds, then it is a long hike over tons and tons of stone to reach the fort. There is little information as to why a fort was needed in the first place. The fort was built somewhere between 4,000 and 2,000 B.C. The signs are different wherever you look. One sign states 4,000 and the other 2,000, but they both agree that is was B.C. There has been little archeological evidence to be able to date it more specifically or to gather more information as to what the purpose was. The fort is built in a horseshoe shape with the open end on a huge cliff, almost three hundred feet above sea level, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Of course it is all built from stones that are piled on each other. We were warned not to go too close to the cliff, due to the heavy winds. There is a story about a bachelor party that was held up there and one of the party goers who had too much to drink, was blown off to his death. Of course, not being deterred, Ron had to crawl out to take a video. With his Guardian Angel out on a stress leave (this being an example why), I had two choices. I could walk away and think about how much longer I could stay in Europe since one can live cheaper than two or choice two which was stand there and nag him to get away from the cliff. Since he has been such company and has not frayed my nerves, I stayed and nagged. Later, he admitted it was a foolhardy thing to do.

Behind the walls of the fort are another set of walls as a fortification wall. There were tunnels through the walls for quick escapes and for getting messages around the wall without being exposed. Beyond the second wall are yet more carved spikes of limestone (cheveaux de fries) that are set into the ground in dense clusters. Supposedly, this was for keeping enemies from riding horses in an attack, but there is no evidence that horses were ever on the island until they were brought from the mainland. Little is known about the people that built this fort. It was a formable hike up, but it was well worth it. Coming down the rain started which made the limestone rock very slippery.

Many of you may be familiar with the Aran Island, because they are famous for the Irish hand knit fisherman’s sweaters. Since farming is so poor on this island and the few crops they can grow are potatoes, turnips, and other winter vegetables, they are dependent on the sea to make their living. Every family has a knitted crest for their sweaters that are developed by the women. When a wife has a son, she creates a distinctive pattern square for his sweater. With the second son, the first son’s square is knit into it along with another distinctive pattern for the second son, and so on. If a sailor is lost at sea, the patterns on the sweaters are sometimes used for identification purposes. Naturally, the sweaters are all wool, which is why we did not purchase any, not to mention room in the suitcases.

Tom brought us to a little café on the island for lunch and Artie and Kathy were good lunch company. Ron and Artie had bowls of vegetable soup that they said were delicious, but Kathy and I only had tea. We were glad to have walked to the fort before lunch. We needed the warm up after the walk back in the wind and rain. When Tom picked us up again, we had a few more minor things to see and then back to where we started for some store browsing before we went back to the boat.

With the wind at our backs, the boat ride was not as tumultuous as it was going. However, when we arrived at the dock, the bus was not there. It took over an hour for the bus to show up. So much for this company. Our other tours are booked with another company.

Back in town, we went to a pub that has authentic Irish music and listened while we drank a pint. I am missing out on the great tastes of this endless variety of beers. A little snack was all we could handle before going back home again and YES, I am going to whine about not having taste buds. I thought by now they would return and they haven’t. Irish cuisine is nothing to worry about missing, but I do want to taste the beers at least, for heavens sake. There has not been a thing in any of the bakeries that compares to what we saw in Scotland or Wales. God knows a scone is not worth the energy of chewing even if you have hypersensitive taste buds, but without them it is like chewing on gravel.

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