Monday, October 22, 2001

Over the Seas

Over the Seas

Holyhead had been just what we needed, a chance to relax and recoup our energy. The island and the people are very hospitable. Breakfast was an exercise in fulfilling nutrition only. Neither of us found the cold cereal, fried egg, bland sausage, bacon, and baked beans very exciting. My opinion may have been slightly more generous if it could be tasted. The hotel was more than agreeable to store our luggage until it was time to leave. Although I trust them with my clothes, my laptop goes with me when not locked in my backpack in a room.

We had a little more than three hours to spend in Holyhead before leaving. Ron was curious about a monument on the top of a hill overlooking the harbor and wanted to investigate it. I had my laptop and accessories in my backpack to create about twenty pounds of back weight, so I opted to go to the post office instead. We agreed to meet an hour later for tea before leaving and we went our separate ways.

Off on my own, after getting the mail out, I went up the street to Woolworth’s to see if there were any good books that were cheap enough to read and toss along the way. Nothing jumped out at me, but I did find the 2001 issue of Guinness Book of World Records and did check to see if the Hindu Temple we had seen in Neeson, outside of London was still indeed the largest Hindu Temple outside of India. It is indeed listed as such still.

After meeting up again, we went to one of the local restaurants for our tea. We sat at a table for six since there were few other choices. During our tea two other solo diners joined us. Joining others at their table seems to be a common occurrence here.

Wanting to get a snack for the boat, we stopped at a bakery that not only makes delectable looking baked goods, but also sandwiches. While Ron was ordering the sandwich, I decided to try a sample piece of cake setting on the counter. It was chocolate cake with chocolate sauce and raspberries on top. Looking totally decadent, I popped a piece in my mouth and tasted wet sand and nothing more. The hunt is going to start for that Prozac.

Ron got this bug to find out how Holyhead earned it’s name, but we only had an hour to pick up the luggage and get to the port. As he was on his holy grail, I went to the restroom outside St. Cybis and told him I would meet him there. When a half hour went by and he had not returned, I was getting nervous looking up and down the two streets that lead to that area. No sign of Ron. I was tempted to leave a note on the bathroom door “Your passport and boat ticket are at the hotel. See you later somewhere.” but of course I didn’t. Finally there was a Ron spotting as he was meandering down a hill looking at the water, the sky, whatever, but obviously not looking for me. He had forgotten that the bathroom was near St. Cybis and was headed to another public facility. Now we were in a hurry to get the luggage.

When we got to the port, which was only five minutes from the hotel, we had to undergo a security check before boarding. The boat was a huge catamaran with two levels of regular cushioned seating, two casinos, three restaurants with Burger King being one of them, and lots of café type seating along the windows. This is where we stationed ourselves for the ninety-nine minute cruise to Dun Laoghaire, Ireland.

For those of you who have not kept up on your geography, there are two Irelands. Northern Ireland is still part of the United Kingdom. This is where Belfast is and all of the fighting between the Catholics and the Protestants. The other Ireland is actually the Republic of Ireland and is an autonomous country that is self-governing, its own currency, etcetera and this is where Dublin is located. The currency is the Irish pound or as it is named in Gaelic, the punt. The exchange rate is 1.00 IP to $1.15 American. Ireland is not the inexpensive place to visit that it once was.

This is the first time we have had to change currencies since we arrived in Europe, so we will have to get used to different bills and coins once again. You may remember that ScotlandUnited Kingdom and the coins are all British minted. The Euro becomes the currency of twelve countries starting January 1, 2002 and all of the member countries will have until February 9th to phase out the national currency. The United Kingdom is not part of this group, but there has been talk about them getting involved since we have been here. All menus and signs that show a financial figure, show it in Irish pounds and in euros. We have not figured out the conversion yet, since some menu items show something as 2.50 pounds and 3.41 euros for one item then on the same menu 2.50 pounds and 3.73 euros. It doesn’t make sense yet, but I am looking into it. had its own currency, but it is usable throughout the

Ron had suggested that we might hire a car and drive around Ireland. There is no way I would drive around in a car that has the steering wheel on our passenger side and where they drive on the ‘wrong’ side of the road with a man who spends as much time adjusting the radio as he does looking at the road. All right, I will admit that he did do most of the driving when we were in the car together in the States. I hate driving and by sleeping in the car while Ron drove was rationalization. I always had it in the back of my mind that if I were to die in a car accident, at least I don’t want to see it coming, let me die in my sleep. I have told Ron more than once that his guardian angel was grateful when he was sleeping, as the angel needed the rest. In fact one night I had a dream that Ron’s guardian angel had to go out on a stress leave, was awarded the heavenly version of the Purple Heart and received a promotion. It did not seem prudent to tie up our year away being in an Irish court and having some Gaelic family take possession of our home at the end of the proceedings. Buses and trains can go wherever you want to go.

When we arrived in Dun Laoghaire, we had to go through customs and passport control. We were two of about ten people in our lane. All of the European Community citizens only need to go through another line and state their country of citizenship. Within a minute the customs officer asked how long we stayed in Ireland. We said up to two weeks, but thinking that it really depends on whether or not we like what we see, but wanting to say, “How long would you like to have us around?”

I was expecting the Emerald Isle, the green wonderland, the true Oz. We were confronted with a small city outside of the ferry station and not a sign of the wizard in sight. This place that was so glorious that according to some to whom we spoke, we would never want to leave. Perhaps when we get to Dublin it will be different. When you do a lot of traveling, you find out that travel brochures, tour brochures, and other such advertising devices are marketing tools. Many times they build on the facts to the point that when you finally arrive, there is a bit of let down until you finally find something that quenches your initial desire to make the journey. There have been many tours that we have taken over the years and at the end of the day, we were left saying, “Is that all there is? It looked really different in that brochure.” At least here, both Ron and I had a bit of a common goal and that was a bit of heritage research. We both have relatives from Ireland, mine are on my father’s side and for Ron it is his mother’s lineage. When we were in London, I found Frenches (my real family name) in Westminster Abbey’s records and in Scotland I was able to find Frenches listed as veterans in the war of 1912. Each time I uncover something I have been e-mailing it to the family genealogist, my Aunt Carolyn. We knew that our family started in France with joined William the Conquer into England. Then we had lost track. With updated information that my aunt secured from another family member, we have updated the family to the 16th century in England, perhaps those that were listed in Westminster. Now it was both of our turns to ferret out more of the gene pool.

We intended on taking the train to Dublin, a twenty-minute ride on the rapid transport train, but first we needed to make some calls to find a place to stay while in Dublin. Living moment to moment, we don’t make too many plans in advance and were sure that the tourist information would be able to find us something if our leads turned sour. While Mr. Map was interrogating the tourist information personnel about the tours and other sights to see, I was calling B & Bs for lodging. Fortunately, I had changed my last British pounds which are used in Wales, for Irish pounds or as they call them punts. My first call found us a room for fifty-five IP a night. They could accommodate us for Monday through Thursday, but they were booked up on Friday through Sunday. The second call only provided a phone machine. The third, the line was busy. My last resort was an agency that rented apartments on a short term. I called and they just received notice of a Dublin apartment that was available for 279 IP for the week. That seemed like a bargain considering we would have a kitchen and would not need to eat out.

Ron was getting information on available B & Bs in case I had struck out. Well, it seems that we decided to visit Dublin on the weekend of the Irish National Marathon and a Bank Holiday. There was nothing available anywhere for Friday through Sunday anywhere. Call the apartment finder again and secure the apartment. This is when I started questioning the Irish. Emma, the woman that I was working with said the apartment was available and when did I want it? I said that is would be starting this evening. We found out later that the term ‘Bank Holidays’ has nothing to do with the financial banks. These are National holidays to give a four day weekend to the nationals and therefore the banks and post offices are closed on those days. The first Monday in June, the first Monday in August, and the last Monday in October are Bank holidays.

“Oh, that is impossible. The apartment needs to be made ready. I can call the owner and see if tomorrow would be all right. Do you have a phone where I can reach you?” was Emma’s response.

With drama in my voice that was meant to arouse sympathy I responded, “I am calling from a pay phone at the dock in Dun Laoghaire. We just arrived a little while ago and we need a place to stay starting for tonight.”

Dear Irish Emma professionally replied, “Well I will call the owner and double check. Do you have a phone or fax where I can reach you?”

At this point EireComm disconnected us due to a shortage of funds for the call. I went and obtained more change and called Emma again.

Darlin’ Irish Emma now said “Well perhaps I could mail you information, since we normally work over the Internet or by mail, can I have an address to send you information.” I am wondering what synapses Emma is not using here. I clearly stated, though I have to admit without an Irish accent, that we were currently homeless in Ireland. Therefore, no communication company would issue us a phone and no Irish mailman would be able to find our mail slot for any deliveries. After round and round with Emma and being disconnected once more for insufficient funds, we arranged, Emma and I, for me to call here tomorrow and just find something for tonight. Meanwhile Ron was loaded down with brochures, maps, tour information and anything else that the tourist person was willing to part with without a fee. He was a happy camper.

I called the first B &B back and said we would take the room for tonight. His response was as intellectually stimulating as Emma’s. He asked if he could have my address in Ireland as well as my phone number. I told him I was not from Ireland and did not have either. He had to put me on hold. When he returned he asked for my credit card number. After he had it, there was another pause on hold waiting for the approval from Visa. When he returned, he asked me for a phone number where I could be reached until we arrived. The icing on the cake was when he asked me to spell my name and got it wrong. This IS Ireland where Ryan is as common as John is in the States and James is not uncommon either. What piece of the puzzle is missing here? We just arrived, neither of us is from Ireland for at least three generations and if Irish people keep asking me stupid questions, I think I know why my relatives left. Perhaps there were less complex reasons there was a potato famine here?

One nights lodging was secured and a call to Emma tomorrow should secure the rest of the week here. The train was fairly empty when we boarded and were able to find seats where we could hold our luggage at our feet. By three stops, it was a sardine can. By the time we got off they were threatening not to move the train if people did not quit trying to stuff themselves in. The doors would not shut.

From the Tara station, it was a twenty-minute walk to our hotel and check in was less painful than the phone call securing it. BUT, then the punishment came for all of my nasty mental judgments about the desk clerk. The room was on the third floor and we started at floor zero. Who is the Patron Saint of Bellboys? I need to do some special prayers. The room was stark, but clean and adequate for one night. It was on the River Liffey and a major one-way street, so there was a lot of traffic noise.

Whenever we told anyone along the way that we had intended to visit Dublin, if they had ever been there, their faces would light up like a mask that was held in front of the noontime sun. The rejoinder was always, a purring sound that seemed to imply we would love the city and some even went so far as to say we would never want to leave. I am not one for listening to critics regardless of the topic. Just because Siskel and Roper give movies two thumbs up, I need to decide for myself. The same goes for the professional travel critics, so I am not even close to trusting amateurs that we meet in different situations. I never like a city when I first arrive, especially if it is after dark. I need to develop a relationship with it first. I need to gather the flavors of it by filling my senses. I need to bring the scents to my nose like a coffee connoisseur waves the steam to their nose. My eyes need to be filled with the colors, the scenes, the people and the activities that they are engaging in. My ears need to filter through the sounds and decide what are pleasant noises and what are sheer reverberations without meaning. Then and only then can I make a decision as to how involved this relationship will go.

Not being intimidated by three flights of stairs when we are free of the travel weights, we went down to explore Dublin. Over one of the many bridges arcing the river, we found there to be a full nightlife for a Monday night. There were a number of people walking the streets, but our first objective was finding an Internet café. When we succeeded with that task, Ron wanted to go to the Temple Bar for a beer. He claims it has a great deal of literary historical value, but he could not go into detail what it was. Me thinks I smell something fishy with this story for the time being. Later, we walked to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which looks like a castle when the night display lights are shining on it. According to the sign it is the official cathedral of the Church of Ireland. When did each country start getting their very own church?

Dinner was a fantastic Irish treat. We settled on Johnny Rocket’s diner. Don’t point that finger at me. I don’t have taste buds remember? Where we eat is a non-issue for me. So sitting in an American diner makeover with Rock and Roll songs playing on the jukebox, we ordered dinner. My grilled ham and cheese with grilled onions looked less appetizing than the menu picture, but it smelled inviting, especially the onions. It was cut in quarters and looked bare on the plate without anything else to dress it up. After two quarters and three of the cheese fries Ron ordered, I was done. The waitress came by twice to ask if there was something wrong and the third time, she wanted to wrap the rest of my sandwich to go. I politely refused.

Fortunately, for us our hotel has a small gym on the ground floor and we had free access being guests of the hotel. We decided that a steam and or a sauna would work out some kinks of carting baggage and relax us for the night. The steam room was not especially blistering, so I was able to stay in for a long time, hoping to steam out whatever was wrong with my tongue. By the time I left, all of the salty taste I had been getting from my own saliva was gone. There was hope that I had found a solution. I had been taking the Chinese medicine for a week now twice a day and although it has helped the nasal drip, it has not done a thing for my palate. We will sleep very well tonight.

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