There’s Moher to this trip

Portugal was a bit of a whirlwind in that we only had about three days to see it and one of those days was largely taken up with some non-tourist business we had to take care of, as well as recovering from one of the, shall we say, benefits of being in Portugal.

What benefit is that you might ask?

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How about an extensive selection of wine at the local grocery store for as low as 1.08 euros? That’s $1.22 in American dollars. For a bottle of wine with a cork in it.

We’re not sure if the wine the owner of the apartment we stayed at was of the 1.08 or 1.89 euro variety, but after drinking a provided bottle, we both woke up with a bit of a headache. However, that surely had more to do with the music that was being played somewhere outside the apartment until, and I kid you not, 5:00 AM. On both Thursday and Friday nights, we could hear a rhythmic pounding drumbeat interspersed with the deep bass DJ echoes you normally might hear at midnight at a nightclub in the Caribbean. And it went on, and on, and on. We covered our heads with pillows. We stuffed kleenex in our ears. At various times during the night the music would stop… and we’d hold our breaths, hoping we were finally going to be able to drift to sleep. Our eyes would flutter and start to close, with our minds drifting to thoughts of bunnies and sunsets. And the longer the silence went on, a very slight smile of relief would grow on our lips, and then suddenly the BOOM POP BOOM POP POW POW POW HEEEEEEEEEYYYY YAAAAAAAAAAAH! would start all over again.

We’d look at the clock. 2:00 AM. 3:00 AM. And incredulously, all the way to 5:00 AM.

Maybe that’s why wine only costs a couple of bucks. You need to drink yourself into a coma to sleep through the music.

We were sad to have to leave a negative review on AirBnB (which, again, is a better apartment-rental system than VRBO) because Silvina, our host, was so nice. But between a location near an all-night disco and a living space designed for hobbits, we just couldn’t.

Here is Carolyn squeezing through the front door of the place. Just beyond it is the ladder, -er, stairs, to the third floor apartment.

This is the view from the apartment. The street was in the midst of a six month reconstruction project, but since we didn’t have a car, it wasn’t a bother.

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I took a picture of this sidewalk just to comment on its construction. This design, using small square stones, is pervasive throughout Lisbon. While it’s kind of pretty and certainly durable, as well as I’m assuming fairly inexpensive, it really does a poor job of dealing with rain, which we saw plenty of during the entire visit. Puddles accumulate almost immediately due to the uneven surface. It has its charm, but if you’re going to visit Lisbon and you see a lot of rain in the forecast, bring your rubber boots!

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Leaving Portugal was kind of interesting because we got to the airport in plenty of time, checked in our luggage, passed through security, found out what our gate was, and sat down to eat some breakfast and wander around the airport until it seemed like a good time to go ahead to the gate. We rounded a corner and came upon this huge line of people, all waiting to go through another security checkpoint. We weren’t the only ones taken by surprise. It was interesting to watch our fellow travelers round the corner only to see their eyes grow wide at the unexpected crowd. Employees had to regularly walk up and down the sides shouting out flights for those unfortunate enough to be booked on them but still be in line.

A simple sign upon check-in or in the main concourse would certainly have eased the problem. Once you’re in the main area and have your gate and having already passed through one security checkpoint, you don’t expect to encounter this. Fortunately, we were there in plenty of time and had no issues.

Carolyn even got to enjoy a huge cup of coffee prior to the flight. Upon purchasing this, she adds this story: Despite being in Portugal, the employee who took her order was French, and she greeted Carolyn with a big smile and a greeting in French. When Carolyn responded in English, her face immediately fell and her lips pursed and she reverted to the famous French rudeness we’d encountered in Paris. Oh you silly French people.

Anyway, here’s a handful of the remaining shots we took in Portugal, both of the apartment as well as around Lisbon and Cascais:

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So off we went back to Ireland. We were originally scheduled to spend about ten days in the western part of the country, but we cut that short in order to return in time for Carolyn’s Dad’s funeral. Still, we were lucky enough to hit the main highlights of what we wanted to see.

The first was the town of Galway. Galway is the fourth most populated urban area in the Republic of Ireland, and is known as Ireland’s Cultural Heart. It has numerous festivals and celebrations, and is a sort of epicenter of Irish-speaking culture.

We hit Galway on a day with absolutely stunning weather; something unusual in this rainy part of the country. People were out in droves, both walking through the town as well as just sitting by the sea in the parks, soaking up the sunshine.

It’s a beautiful town we’d have loved to have spent more time in. We didn’t stop to see any of the touristy stuff; they have some cathedrals and castles and the Spanish Arch (which isn’t much of a thing), but with the weather so beautiful and with lots of gratitude at just being able to see and experience a little of it, we were glad to have been there.

 

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We stayed one night in a quaint little place called The Bellbridge House Hotel, wanting to be relatively near to the Cliffs of Moher, the grandaddy stop for this part of our journey.

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Along the way, we captured this image of the setting sun; as usual all around Ireland, it was a beautiful place.

Also as usual in some of the places we stayed, the shower in the room provided about enough space to wash one butt cheek (don’t drop your soap!), and there was of course no cooling in it as well. Which was a problem because with the setting sun shining directly on to the room, it was a near oven in temperature, with only the ability to crack open the window a smidgen to help mitigate. So we hightailed it out of there and went down to dinner.

Which turned out to be a very good time. We stayed late enough to listen to the live music begin. Upon check-in, I had asked the clerk if the live music was traditional Irish music, which was something we wanted to experience before we left the Ireland. He assured us it was.

Apparently Frank Sinatra, Elton John, Fleetwood Mac, Elvis Presley, Patsy Cline, etc. are all traditional Irish singers. We had hoped for a fiddle or something, but the “band” consisted of a middle-aged husband and wife team. The husband played the music tracks and the wife sang the tunes, a bit karaoke-style. However, she really did have a nice voice and we stayed and enjoyed what became a bit of the “traditional Irish pub experience.” Because it turned out that most everyone there was from Ireland, and we sort of stood out as the lone Americans.

It wasn’t long before a couple of them (the larger man in the peach-colored shirt was absolutely plastered, btw), coerced Carolyn out on the dance floor, where she had a rollicking good time dancing with the fun-loving Irish.

The Irish brogue in that part of the country, particularly if there is alcohol involved, is quite a bit harder to understand, so we nodded and laughed and didn’t understand half of what they were saying or asking us, but we did make out that multiple times they were really wondering if we were enjoying our visit to Ireland. Which we of course were.

As we left the hotel the next morning, I couldn’t help reflect that, despite traveling halfway around the world in order to rid ourselves of the stresses of the daily grind, we STILL COULDN’T GET AWAY FROM DONALD TRUMP:

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Speaking of Trump, we talked to a number of folks in different countries about the U.S. and the world and politics, etc. Every single person was well-versed in American politics, I daresay much more so than the average American. Every single person was pro-American and anti-Trump, and not a one would give up their universal health care, despite freely acknowledging its imperfections. To a person (of course, none of the French would talk to us at all), they were very appreciative of the U.S. and genuinely like Americans.

When I pondered the difference between the cultures of the U.S. and these European countries, one major difference became clear: the very U.S. culture is virtually defined by the embrace of profit. It’s the reason we have ten times the advertising and twenty times the retail space per capita. It’s why we think paying an athlete over $100 million dollars (think about that– who needs anything close to $100 million dollars?) is perfectly reasonable. It’s the reason why a man like Trump could even hope to run for President, let alone succeed: because he’s the very embodiment of American culture.

If you look at, for instance, dining out, the difference in the U.S. and Europe is clear. In Europe, they want you to sit for dinner as long as you want. Once you’re served your meal, the server (actually servers… most of the time multiple people assist with the serving of the meal) virtually disappears. You have to hunt them down to get the bill. Once you do, the bill is charged at the amount of the meal price. Only rarely did we see another space to put a tip, and that was only in heavily touristed areas. What you see on the menu is what you’re charged, and if you choose to put a small 5-10% gratuity on the table, it’s certainly welcome, but not expected.

“Tips” supposedly stands for “To Insure Prompt Service.” That’s the culture in America: we have an assumption/certainty you have to be incentivized to do a decent job. Eating out in Europe refutes that notion. They provide even better service than what we generally see in the U.S., even without the need for the special tip “incentive.”

And I believe that’s why those who are going to vote for Trump can never be talked out of it, no matter how boorish he is, how ignorant of world affairs he is, or what stupid thing will come out of his mouth next. Because he represents what America is all about: making a profit. Sure, sometimes making a profit means telling a lie, or twisting the truth, or being boorish, so when Trump does those things, it simply doesn’t matter. To you Trumpsters, Donald is a prophet- er, profiteer. That is the unspoken underpinning of the culture of America. If there is no profit involved, such as the government, or virtually every climatologist in the world being convinced that climate change is at least partially caused by humans, then there is no credibility. Indeed, climate change deniers are often absolutely certain that it’s a conspiracy for someone to make a bunch of money (even though shifting all that money away from the massively polluting gas companies would probably be a great thing for us all), because it’s so hard to understand how a scientist could just be doing his or her job, without the need for extra tips/profit. So it must be there somewhere. And if not, it’s simply not a credible source.

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Europeans don’t suffer from that mindset, and so Trump is seen as a clown, albeit a dangerous one that makes them nervous. Americans who have embraced the American culture as the world’s best culture of all time, will never see him in the same light. That’s why there is no changing of any opinion, no matter the facts. It’s a lot like telling a Parisian to stop being rude. You can present a bunch of data to that person, telling him that the tourist dollars alone would be a boon to the French economy, and he would just shrug his shoulders, and still be rude, probably having no idea what you’re even talking about.

And now on to The Cliffs of Moher.

The Cliffs of Moher were certainly one of the top bucket list items of things to see for Carolyn. They are cliffs that rise dramatically over the Atlantic ocean to a height of about 700 feet. As a bit of trivia, they were used in that great film, The Princess Bride (called “The Cliffs of Insanity.”) The cliffs get about a million visitors a year… and it’s very understandable why.

We also were privileged to be there on what had to be the most perfect possible weather day to see the cliffs. Clear as a bell, and warm enough to not wear a coat, with virtually no wind. It was simply mahvelous.

Upon arrival, you’re greeted by these cute little buildings built by Hobbits. They house the visitor’s center as well as various gift shops. But no shoe stores because Hobbits don’t wear shoes.

The background in the picture on the left are part of the cliffs, on the right is O’Brien’s Tower, built in 1835.

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Along the way was a lady playing a beautiful harp. It was the closest we came to hearing traditional Irish music live, but it set a very nice tone for the visit.

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The walk to see the cliffs, once you got past the government-owned area, was generally divided by a rock wall, allowing the sane people to walk safely and the daredevils to get closer to the actual cliffs.

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I asked one of the rangers on the grounds how often someone fell off the cliffs. He told me that actually having someone accidentally fall was rare, despite, in his words, the frequent stupid behavior of standing too close. However, it is a site that is used by those who wish to commit suicide. He said at times there were up to eight a year of those. Which is why this sign is also posted:

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Despite that, some people just have to stand as close as possible to the edge in order to take a picture. The thing that made me the most nervous was people walking around with little kids. I wouldn’t have held one of my kids anywhere near the edge. Unless they were really pissing me off at the time, of course.

Cliffs

This is the look from one side of the cliffs, toward the tower, with a view of the Aran Islands in the background:

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And this is the iconic view that you may have seen elsewhere:

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And here follows a slightly edited collection of photos of the cliffs. It was hard not to take a picture, move over a couple of feet, and then snap another one. And on and on. And then on the way back, wonder if you had taken just exactly that picture. So even though this is edited, it totals 69 different –or sometimes just slightly different– shots. But we’re glad we have ’em, because it’s surely one of the natural wonders of the world.

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In the end, we’ve been so happy and grateful during all this to be able to take such an extended vacation. So many vacations are either just to relax or perhaps only see the highlights of a city, as we did in Amsterdam, Paris, London, Dublin, and Lisbon. But it was surely a highlight of the trip to have multiple weeks and a car to drive all around the Emerald Isle, seeing so many beautiful things, taking our time, and having what you might call both a relaxing and adventuresome trip all in one.

And throughout, our love and appreciation for each other has grown. While we were already both very confident in our relationship, there’s nothing like being shoved together for six or either weeks, enduring uncertainties and challenges and a lack of road signs to prove that we not only are good for each other, but that we belong together. We both feel very grateful to have found each other at this stage in our lives.

 

Tragedy, and diversion

Our worst fears about taking an extended trip were realized when Carolyn’s father, Ray Worden, passed away unexpectedly. He was 89, and died almost instantly while doing what he loved: golfing. During the time I’d gotten to know him, I found him to be a funny, intelligent, sometimes goofy and self-deprecating man with a huge heart, and a keen mind.  He will be greatly missed.

While dying at 89 doing the thing you love best, and doing so after avoiding any kind of extended illness is something to which any of us might aspire, it still puts a huge hole in the heart of this trip.

But our journey to Portugal was already on its way, and it has actually offered itself up as a bit of a distraction despite the loss. While we’re not enjoying ourselves in the same way as before, we are still experiencing a new land with new wonders, and since this blog serves to document our memories so that we can look back and remember what we’ve done, it marches on.

We had rented an apartment through AirBnB about 20 minutes outside of downtown Lisbon. Upon our arrival, the first thing we noticed was that the street in front of the apartment is completely torn up and is under six month’s construction.

The second thing we noticed, after squeezing through the outside door, which may generously be described as “not wide enough for most Americans,” was that the stairway to the third floor apartment might be better described as a ladder.

The door into the apartment was probably designed for leprechauns, the top of it reaches only to my chin.

There is no washer/dryer, dishwasher, oven, or closets, or even hooks for clothes. The TV is about 7 inches diagonal and plays only one Portuguese news channel. The shower is even smaller than the one in the B&B we had in Ireland that I described as reminding me of what it would like to shower on a boat. The plastic curtain sticks to your butt as you try to shower, and if you turn around it pulls along with you, resulting in the floor being pelted by water. The stairs to the bedroom are as steep as the ones to the place; getting up to pee at night is met with a great deal of trepidation. There’s not an unreasonable chance that one of us will end up with a broken neck as we lay at the bottom of the stairs, surrounded by a pool of long-held pee. The walls of the place are thin enough that we have literally heard our neighbors sneeze, and they seem to like talking to each other at 1:00 AM.

Despite that, it’s actually kind of charming and we’re happy to be here. It does, however, remind me of when you read the word “historic” when looking at a hotel. Experience has taught me that it generally means the bathroom will be the size of a closet and it’ll be draftier than sitting on the deck of a boat. But it’s historic! Yes, which means it’s just plain old.

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The next morning we had our first meal in Portugal. What we’re finding pretty quickly is that while some people will occasionally speak broken English –and the Portuguese seem generally kind and polite and so will work with you– it is more common than not to find that they only speak Portuguese, or at least not any English. Most signs and packaging are in Portuguese only, so you would be well served to bone up on a few words, and if you’re here for an extended stay, learn a little Portuguese. We’ve had no problem figuring things out, but in our obligatory trek to a grocery store, we found ourselves guessing at what we were looking at as often as not.

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So we wandered around Lisbon just to get our feet wet… literally. It rained for most of the afternoon, including a very serious thunderstorm. So we bought another umbrella and soaked our feet and the bottom of our pants and still very much enjoyed the exploration.

Lisbon is one of the oldest cities it the world, and is the oldest in all of Western Europe. There are places where it looks it, but again, that’s part of its charm. The Portuguese apparently enjoy erecting large statues of their heroes; there are a number of them throughout the city, often on pedestals taller than eight or ten Shaquille O’Neals standing on top of each other.

IMG_2589Their mass transit is pretty easy to navigate. We’re staying in an area called Belem, and all you have to do is catch the “15” train for a 20 minute ride to downtown. It costs a euro. For only a couple of euros, we also ventured in the other direction on a larger commuter train to a place called Cascais, which is a sort of resort area 30 minutes north of town. It has a sandy beach and a nice resort-y collection of shops and restaurants.

It also has a “Jumbo,” which is a store that is, well, jumbo. It reminded us of a couple or four Fred Meyers stitched together, complete with a laundromat, bar, bank, food court, hair salon, and virtually everything you might need to buy in the course of a normal lifetime, including a very large seafood area. Which is a little unfortunate because of the smell that we believe to be their dried salted codfish. We’re not 100% sure because we apparently missed the Gas Masks for Tourists display outside the store, and so we were only able to get so close. It smells a bit like a combination of a fish that has sat in the sun for about two weeks and, well, death. As we approached the seafood area, passing by rows of food on one side and appliances on another, the smell continued to deepen, to the point that if there had been a car for sale for one euro right next to the seafood area we might’ve still turned back. I’m sure it’s something you get used to, but boy…

Next to the Jumbo they had an American-style mall; the first we’ve seen on our entire trip. We noted that in the food court, which didn’t feature any international chains, they actually serve you on real dishes, and then clean up after you when you leave.

Otherwise, it’s a cute area of Lisbon. We’re not hitting the tourist scene, whatever that may be here, very hard. Just wandering about, feeling the vibe of Portugal, and occasionally pondering our loss as we do so.

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Ireland can drive you nuts

By that I mean the driving in Ireland. I have fully given up the idea of trying to navigate without Siri, but even that is problematic.

Virtually every time I’ve tried to chart a course from the house to our ultimate destination, thinking I wouldn’t need the often unintelligible voice of Siri telling me when to turn, I’ve looked at a map and said, “This looks to be a straight shot. Just this one highway change and that’s about it.”

And virtually every time we’ve gotten about halfway there, we’ve ended up, instead, listening to Siri give us about 28 turns and direction changes. At times I’ve had the iPhone balancing on my knee, trying to shift with my left hand without dropping the iPhone on the floor of the car, while Carolyn pokes at a map spread in her lap shouting “turn here! turn here!” while I’m screaming, “What? That’s not what the map on the iPhone is showing!” while Siri’s unemotional voice is telling us to turn down a road whose signs (if there are any) bear no resemblance to what she’s saying, while three Irish drivers are honking their horns and flipping us off (not really, Irish drivers are actually quite polite) all the while trying to enter a two-lane roundabout without creaming someone. (I have no idea why they ever have two lanes in their roundabouts because everyone just treats them as one). We almost got T-boned in a roundabout when I originally and erroneously assumed two lanes meant that they’d actually use them as two lanes. I’m pretty sure the other driver threw a few “feckers” our way, which is the way they say the “f” word.

Somehow we always get to where we’re going (and usually with some very pretty scenery along the way), but the map, Siri, and reality often bear no resemblance to each other.

Today we embarked on a sort of “B” list excursion, having either seen or eliminated all the A-list destinations we could find. The destination was ultimately Waterford, the home of Waterford Crystal and the “Viking Triangle,” which, apparently, isn’t actually the favored instrument played by the 8th century Viking choruses while they sang, “All By Myself” like I thought.

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Carolyn for President!

Anyway, our first stop was the Dunbrody Famine Ship (they were also known as “coffin ships”), which is a museum and a recreation of the vessel that hauled multitudes of Irish to America during the potato famine in the 1840’s. During the famine, approximately 1 million people died and a million more emigrated from Ireland, causing the island’s population to fall by between 20% and 25%, and McDonald’s french fry sales even more.

Despite the sad theme, it was a pleasant exhibit, made more entertaining by a lively tour guide and a couple of actresses who portrayed passengers. It certainly makes you appreciate what we have, because that was a pretty rotten stretch of life for many in Ireland, but resulted in America being heavily influenced by the lineage of the Irish.

Anyway, here are our pictures:

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From there we drove to the town of Waterford, which is a bit more industrial than most of the other towns we’ve seen. It is Ireland’s oldest city, and its name is the only one that came from the Vikings, who originally settled it.

d406_a_carReginald’s Tower is the oldest urban civic building in Ireland, and the oldest monument to retain its Viking name. To this day, it remains Waterford’s most recognizable landmark, so that was our first stop.

Reginald’s tower is the old round thing to the left.

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In honor of Mother’s Day, I could help but snap this picture from one of the exhibits, showing that perhaps mothers weren’t always the warm and cuddly source of love and solace they are for us today.

Otherwise, it was a nice little stop and an interesting old tower. Certainly not worth going way out of your way or anything, but we did learn a little history about Ireland, which has a lot more Viking in it than most non-historians might realize.

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IMG_2511Just a block away were a few other attractions. One was the Waterford Crystal plant, which isn’t even a plant anymore since the company went out of business, but then was eventually purchased by Fiskars, and now they make their crystal in other parts of the world, so this is now simply a visitor’s center.

The other was the “Bishop’s Palace,” which is an 18th century residence converted to a museum. We knocked it out in about 45 minutes, but it had some impressive Waterford Crystal items in it which made us feel perfectly fine about missing the Waterford visitor’s center.

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From there we made a short drive and a short ferry trip to Waterford Castle, which is really a hotel and golf resort made out of a converted 16th century castle on an island. Carolyn was quite smitten with it, but it’s not really a tourist destination. Anyway, you can decide if the photos smite you as well.

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So I have to admit that this probably wasn’t the most exciting blog, but hey, we’re the ones who lived it, sparing you the torment and torture of living through the B-level Irish attractions.

Besides, things are going to perk up real quick because tomorrow we’re flying to Lisbon, Portugal!

A grave subject

Before we get into the blog, I’d first like to give a shout-out to me mum on this Mother’s Day (even though they celebrate it on a different day in Ireland), because without her, you couldn’t be reading this blog, because I’d have never been born.

Speaking of not existing, our first stop today was to the Glasnevin Cemetery, which first opened for customers in 1832. It contains some of the most famous Irish people ever, most of whom Americans don’t know because, well, most Americans barely know their own famous dead people.

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A movie we’ll want to see now that we’ve been there.

Glasnevin is the final resting place to a whopping 1.5 million people, almost three times the current population of Dublin, and 1.49 million more than the hairs on Donald Trump’s head.

As you walk into the place, you’re a bit blown away by the huge monuments and the enormity of the place. It covers about 124 acres.

You’d think that visiting a cemetery wouldn’t be very high on most visitors’ must-see list, but it’s truly a spectacle, and was recommended to us by two different Irish folk, and we’re glad they did.

Carolyn in front of the entrance, and another view of the big tower. The tower was nice to have because no matter where you walked on the grounds, you could always see where the entrance was.

Also, the picture on the left is notable for two things: The first is proof that there really can be blue skies in Ireland. No, this wasn’t photoshopped. So far we’ve seen rain, hard rain, light rain, really hard rain, hail, more hail, snow, wind, and today, 70 degrees and sunshine followed by rain and thunder. When they say Ireland’s weather is unpredictable, they really mean it. The second thing the picture proves is that Carolyn really does wear different outfits under her coat. She’s starting to feel a little self-conscious about always looking the same in this weather!

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The high wall with watch-towers surrounding the main part of the cemetery were put there as a defense for all the people dying to get in.

Seriously, though, it was actually built to deter bodysnatchers, who were active in Dublin in the 18th and early 19th centuries. The watchmen also had a pack of bloodhounds who roamed the cemetery at night. I’m not sure where they buried the dogs.

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As mentioned in a previous blog, Irish law prevents the government from messing with gravestones. Despite that, the above was the exception to the rule; generally the stones and monuments are in very good shape.

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I’m not sure how they got all these guys into one grave, but note on the bottom it says “also served prison sentences.” This may be the Irish’s way of saying these guys are headed straight down so just throw ’em in the hole and they can go to hell.

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It’s obvious that some families spend more money in the graveyard than others, but these guys really take the cake. I mean, c’mon, they’re only burying a hand? How cheap can you get?

One style of memorial, presumably for family gatherings, is to have a door in the ground. Behind the doors are either rows of urns or caskets, or maybe they’re just family storage sheds, I dunno. One thing’s for sure, it’ll take a skeleton key to open ’em. Har har.

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I’m not sure a picture can really capture the extensiveness of all of these graves. But once you’re inside, there are simply tombstones everywhere you look. I daresay I’ve seen more tombstones on this trip than when I delivered Tombstone Pizzas for a living. Which I never did, but it woulda been true had I done that.

The saddest part was this section, called the “Angel’s Plot,” which is where stillborn babies are buried in consecrated ground. Glasnevin is one of the few cemeteries that allows that. The graves are covered with dolls and toys.

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And here are the rest of the pictures of the cemetery.

From there we drove further into Dublin in order to see the Kilmainham Gaol (which is Irish for “jail”). Many Irish revolutionaries, including the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising, were imprisoned and executed in the prison by the British. It’s now a popular museum and on most tourist lists as something you should do.

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Unfortunately, this was the sign that greeted us. Doh! I guess it pays to read up on these tourist sites a little closer. Apparently you want to book a tour online beforehand.

But hey, we got a couple pictures outside the place.

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And this is the entrance to the Museum of Modern Art just across the street, which we also didn’t go into. But it’s a pretty cool entrance.

If it’s one thing we’re both all about, it’s being flexible and adjusting to things on the fly. That’s one benefit of being in one place for a long time… you’re not pressed for time and if one door shuts you just go through another one (or take a picture of it). And so, even though the Guinness Tour was lower on our list because it’s so touristy and doesn’t involve a castle or graveyard, we decided to hike the mile over to the Guinness Tour and do that.

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We could hardly contain our excitement. The truth was, it’s not a bad place to visit, but we both felt that the 20 euro admission was a bit overpriced. Sure, you get a “free” pint, but they run you through the store full of their labeled souvenirs twice, and the rest of it is like one big advertisement. It’s polished and well-presented, but not really worth 20 euros each.

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The Guinness harp is on display. Surprisingly, there was nothing about the Guinness Book of World Records there at all. It wasn’t until this visit that it dawned on us that the two organizations are related. Should have been pretty easy for them to make their own beer world records!

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You have to take a steam bath of your face before they’ll allow you to sample one of their beers. No, actually, this is a place to sniff some of the flavors from the beer, like hops and so on.

One floor is dedicated to their advertising, which apparently included a fish on a bicycle and a whistling oyster. Which made me wonder if it’s really hops they were experimenting with when making up these ads.

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They said “butt!”

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They had an impressive video room where they played some of their best ads, some of which were quite entertaining. A deep bass sound like thunder might give some people seizures, it was so loud and bass-y. I thought I was watching The Towering Inferno in a theatre again. That last line just went over the heads of almost everybody younger than me.

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I just could help but snap a picture of these three young gals all standing in line, all nose-deep into their smartphones.

We were taken in small groups to a tap, where we were all given lessons on how to pour the perfect Guinness. I kept pretending to screw mine up and would chug the glass and insist on pouring another. After the fourth time doing that, the guide finally caught on and kicked me out of the line.

Despite that, we both got a diploma, which makes me think that it’s not much of an accomplishment, since I’m pretty sure everyone gets one.

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Here was our group shot. Apparently we were “The best group ever!!” I’m a little surprised the girls on the right had enough time to look up from their cell phones to have their picture taken.

Afterwards, we took our glasses up to the top floor, where you’re treated to a terrific view of all of Dublin.

 

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Very cool taps up on that floor. By the way, we must’ve been told a dozen times before we went on this trip that in Ireland the Guinness is different, and that it’s served warm. Wrong. It tastes the same, and it’s served chilled.

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And the slideshow of the rest of the pix.

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On the walk back to the car, we discovered that my last parking job wasn’t so hot, and they had barricaded us in. So we hacked our way through the back, snuck into the car, started ‘er up as quick as we could and then crashed through the barrier like we were in Fast and Furious 18.

Actually, we saw this vehicle in the front yard of one of the houses. Generally, the area around the place didn’t look like the best of all areas. In fact, as we were walking to the tour, we saw a group of ladies sitting on the sidewalk minding their own business, and a car drove by and an idiot inside threw a half full cup of soda at them just for kicks. I guess teenage boys all over the world are brain damaged.

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And of course, no visit to Ireland is complete unless you order up one of their famous Irish pizzas. On the back window is the menu. There’s nothing like Irish pizza, let me tell you!

 

 

Back to my roots

Kilkenny– I have returned!

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The road to Kilkenny. Some of our drives have been simply beautiful.

 

My most formative years were spent in Kilkenny, and so returning to the land of my youth was quite emotional for me.

What’s that? Oh, yeah, sure… heh heh. The Kilkenny I spent those years in was Kilkenny Drive in Lake Oswego, Oregon, but hey, can it be a coincidence that a country with a St. Kevin also named a town after the street I grew up on? I think not!

The day started with a drive to the Rock of Cashew, which is famous for having really hard nuts. At least that’s what I thought until I re-read it and saw that it was the Rock of Cashel. Cashel can be literally translated from: “castle, as pronounced when drunk,” and Rock means, “What you invariably hit your head on when you’re too drunk to even pronounce that.”

When seen from a distance, the castle is quite stunning. The Rock of Cashel refers to the rock on which this structure is built, not the music they were playing when they built it.

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This is the Cross of St. Patrick. Cashel is reputed to be the site of the conversion of the pagan King of Munster by St. Patrick, way back in the 5th century. Centuries later, The Munsters recreated some of the hilarity of that time.

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This is a reconstructed example of the kitchen they had back then. The microwave is in the far right corner, just out of the picture.

As usual for these kinds of castles, the view was stunning. 360 degrees and as far as the eye can see.

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No, this isn’t the Door of the Day. But it’s a great door, next to the Wife of the Day. Well, all my remaining days anyway.

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The castle is being protected and restored; the scaffolding is actually there to hold up a temporary roof they had to install in order to dry the place out.

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Considering how old this is (the majority of buildings on the site date from the 12th and 13th centuries), the cathedral is quite impressive. A rope for a bell on top dangled through that hole, so they could let everyone know when the next Taco Bell grand opening was occurring.

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Carolyn felt a little cross.

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I see dead people. Actually, one of the stories about these graves we got from the tour guide was that by Irish law, gravestones are private property and cannot be touched by the government or anyone except the owner. The tall one at the left is from a family named Skully, and the Celtic cross that was on top was blown off in a storm. They can’t restore it unless a Skully comes forward as an heir and authorizes it. Vin? John? Are either of you Irish?

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This gravestone dates back to 1748. Obviously a lot of them were illegible. Irish law allows the remaining descendants to also be buried here, but that’s it. Apparently there are about ten people left, and after that, the graveyard is closed. So in addition to tombs from 1748 and before, there are also current ones in the graveyard.

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The abundance of Irish redheads is not a myth. These two cuties were climbing on a piece of the castle that was left in place after it crashed down during a storm, before they started making efforts to fix up the place. I couldn’t find the witch’s shoes underneath it, however. Probably looted.

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And here’s the slideshow of the remaining pix.

From there we drove to the town of Kilkenny, as mentioned, the street name on which I spent most of my teenage years.

You can’t really tell here, but the traffic on the “Medieval Mile” was very clogged. It almost took longer to drive from one end to the other than it did to walk it. The streets are narrow and just nothing about it is designed to handle two lanes of cars.

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The highlight of Kilkenny is the Kilkenny Castle. Remarkably, it was essentially a private residence from its construction in 1195 all the way through to 1935, when it was more or less abandoned. It was then sold to the people of Kilkenny in 1967 for £50.

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The view from inside the castle. Those are a couple of cathedrals in the distance. But you probably already guessed that.

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This is the Hall of Portraits, which they needed before the invention of YouTube.

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This is the way it actually looked in the 1800s. When you own a house for almost 800 years, your ancestors are bound to accumulate.

 

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In that same room, they incorporated stereo fireplaces so you could hear the fire crackling in both ears. This was produced after they first attempted to make fireplace headphones, which failed disastrously.

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This guy was named “Larry Long Arms.” To be honest, this was the first sign we had that the place wouldn’t have the luster of a Tower of London, or the ancient authenticity of Trim Castle.

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Because the castle was used as a residence into the 1800s, some of the displays had a Downton Abbey-esque feel to them. I dared Carolyn to go sit on one of the chairs real quick for a great photo opp, but she wisely declined. Given the alarm notices posted all around, that was probably a good thing.

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On the other hand, there was no alarm notice on this old toilet, so I took great offense that they chased me from the place when I decided to try it out.

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I told them that based on the color of this wallpaper alone, I was already ready to take a hike anyway.

Seriously, the castle was just really so-so for us; it was sort of a combination of Kensington Palace in London and one of the old castles here. I guess we really like the ancient castle thing. So while it was interesting and we were glad we visited, it definitely ranked lowest on our list of favorite Irish castles.

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Here’s a slideshow of the rest of the pix.

In addition to the castle, Kilkenny features the aforementioned “Medieval Mile,” which is simply a charming collection of little shops all scrunched together along a too-narrow street for two lanes. At the opposite end of the mile from the castle, are a couple of cathedrals that are impressive. We arrived too late to get in to see anything inside, but here are the pix we took of them anyway.

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This is St. Canice’s Cathedral, also known as Kilkenny Cathedral. The present building dates from the 13th century and is the second longest cathedral in Ireland.

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The construction of Saint Mary’s was begun 1843 and finished in 1857.

Today we have three Doors of the Day, because they’re all cool in their own way.

 

Hell’s Bells, it’s Kells

Irish Road SignsDriving in Ireland presents some challenges. Aside from driving on the left and negotiating some incredibly narrow roads, in Dublin you have two additional things to contend with: traffic and non-existent street signs.

When charting a route from where we are into downtown Dublin to see Trinity College and The Book of Kells, this is what I wrote down:

M9 to  M7 -> Turns into N7 -> Turns into R110 -> Turns into R810 -> Turns into R108 -> Turns into R137 -> Try and find some parking.

On Google Maps, it looked like a straight line from when we first got on the freeway to Trinity College. So other than the road names changing every couple of miles, it looked easy-peasy.

Except once you’re on the N7, which is supposed to turn into R110, there are no signs indicating when that happens. And the straight line doesn’t end up being a straight line when you’re forced to turn right or left at some random intersection. Before you know it, you’re heading to Belfast or London via the Irish Sea.

Very few streets have signs on them, and the number of signs indicating that you’re headed toward M50 or M9 or whatever are few and far between. Despite that, one way or another we managed to get close enough to the college and found some parking. Phew!

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On our way to the college, we were accosted by these fun-loving Irishmen, who asked where we were from when they saw us taking pictures. After posing for a picture, they began yelling, “Trump! Trump! Trump!” They were clearly either inebriated, brain damaged, or they really hate America.

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Trinity College was founded in 1592, just shortly before I was born. It’s the top university in Ireland, and is famous for housing the “Book of Kells,” which we’ll get to shortly.

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The campus is quite beautiful, with many old buildings that date back hundreds of years.

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This music student took us on a 30-minute tour of the campus. He does the job as a way to assist with his expenses. Like so many enlightened countries, college is free in Ireland, but of course you still need some money to eat and get haircuts. Well, maybe just eat.

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This beautiful tree was in the middle of the courtyard, and actually is responsible for helping to keep one of the buildings from collapsing for a third time. Why? Because the campus was built on marshy ground, and the first two attempts in the construction of one particular building ended in collapse both times. Between the river retreating further from the campus and the planting of these… wait for it… imported Oregon Maples… the third time was the charm. The Oregon Maples apparently suck up a ton of water, drying the ground even further. Who would’ve thunk Oregon could have helped Ireland by drying something out?

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This is a “sphere within a sphere” bronze sculpture in front of the library. It spins if you push on it, and has matching pieces in more than a dozen places around the world, including Tel Aviv, The Vatican, The University of California Berkeley, as well as the inside the kids play area at a McDonalds in New York. Except the latter one doesn’t spin on account of the Kid’s Meal toy that got stuck in the gears, and is covered in smears of ketchup, milkshakes, and snot.

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After going through the tour we went into the library, which houses the Book of Kells. The Book of Kells is a famous illustrated book of the Gospels written in Latin, and dates back to about 800 AD. It was named the Book of Kells because it was held in the town of Kells for a long time before being donated to Trinity College. Which means that it’s a good thing that it wasn’t originally written in Intercourse, Pennsylvania.

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They don’t let you take pictures of it, but they had a big exhibit with lots of close-ups of the incredibly detailed artwork. Amazing what can be accomplished without computers and the patience of a saint.

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But for us, the place that took our breath away was the Long Room, the home to over 200,000 Very Old Books (Or VOB’s, as they’re known in the trade). It is known as one of the most impressive libraries in the world, even surpassing the one in Wilsonville. It was simply amazing… not sure the pictures do it justice, but it actually was a more impressive exhibit than the Book of Kells was for us.

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Lots and lots of VOB’s.

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The books are arranged by size, which is great for aesthetics, but sure made searching for the book you want a challenge unless you knew ahead of time how tall it was. True story.

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Busts of luminaries such as the philosopher Socrates (pronounced So-Krates), who achieved worldwide fame due to Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, line the hall.

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They also had the world’s oldest surviving Irish harp on display, and is the model for the emblem of Ireland, as well as Guinness Beer’s logo.

This is inside one of the study halls. A pretty cool scene to greet you every day as you walk into class.

They also had the skeletal remains of Bullwinkle on display there as well. Or maybe they were extinct deer, I can only remember so much.

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From there we wandered over to see the Dublin Castle. Unfortunately, by the time we got there they weren’t handing out any more tickets for the day. It’s a fully restored castle, unlike so many of the others we’ve seen that have been cleaned up but not restored. We both prefer the unrestored castles that let you in even if you show up at 3:00 PM.

Still, we were able to get into the courtyard. It’s an impressive building, and we may be back to see it later in the trip. Stay tuned! Don’t touch that dial!

From there we went to the Chester Beatty Library, which is an exhibit of the collection amassed by Warren’s brother. I think. Anyway, it was interesting, and free, and I’m sure delights many an aficionado of old religious and Asian art, but it wasn’t really our cup of tea, and we soon wandered back to the streets in order to find our car.

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Along the way, we passed by this 400 foot steel sculpture, which was a monument to the 1st place finish Ireland had in the prestigious World Crocheting Tournament held in Serbia in 1988. Either that, or it’s called the Spire of Dublin. My theory is that it’s an example of what it would look like if Google Maps really did plop a real live pin in the middle of the city.

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The River Liffey flows through Dublin, and looks great from this angle.

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Unfortunately, it doesn’t look so great when you look down in it. Apparently “Liffey” ain’t full of “lifey.” At least not anything that wouldn’t star in a horror film.

Today we have two Doors of the Day. The first is Carolyn in her seldom-worn black ensemble in front of a dark blue door. The second is Carolyn in her seldom-worn black ensemble in front of doors in Trinity College.

Lastly, our drive back from downtown Dublin to our house just outside of Kilcullen was something right out of the Twilight Zone. We have Siri on the iPhone GPS, but I like to use that sparingly because even with sparse use, I’m really going to be squinting my eyes, opening them ever so slowly, when I look at our AT&T bill. Hitting the GPS regularly surely racks up the charges, even with the international plan we bought through AT&T, so I tend to turn it on, get our bearings, and then turn it back off.

But since we were in rush hour, and in no big need to get home at any particular hour, we decided to try the old fashioned way of navigating… by map. But not only is Dublin’s rush hour traffic pretty much standstill, the lack of street signs keeps you guessing the entire way. On top of that, long lines of cars get backed up in two lanes, and it isn’t until you get to the intersection that you realize you really needed to be in the other lane. And despite their reputation for Irish friendliness, when it comes to trying to butt in line with a car, most of ’em ain’t havin’ it. Despite that, I got away with it a couple of times, shouting, “We’re just stupid Americans! Get off our backs!”

Anyway, we’re tootling along, moving away from Trinity College and Dublin Castle, and we get a few miles away after driving about 45 minutes, but then have to take a turn we didn’t want, so we drive another few minutes through some back streets, and lo and behold, we’re passing right by Dublin Castle again. I swear we were transported in front of it like in a Twilight Zone episode. 45 minutes to get away from it, five minutes to be right in front of it again.

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So I finally gave in, and we turned on Siri and the GPS and she found a way out of town lickety split. It helped that by that time most of the rush hour traffic was already dispersed since they actually know how to get home.

The AT&T charges will be worth it.

She’s a Keeper!

Yes, she is. But the keep at Trim Castle is pretty cool too!

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We ate dinner at a randomly selected restaurant, and have finally decided that our initial assumption –that European restaurants wouldn’t serve as big of portions as we tend to find in American restaurants– just isn’t true. Here, Carolyn begins devouring an enormous dish of beef and Guinness stew, along with a huge plate of vegetables. So far, while we haven’t visited that many restaurants because we like to travel on the cheap and buy food at the grocery store and eat it at home, the ones we have visited have plied us with enough food to keep us fat & happy. This isn’t a weight-losing expedition boy howdy.

Today we put on our time travelers cloaks and visited some very, very old things. In fact, we visited the oldest manmade structure ever found on earth.

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The place is called Bru na Boinne, and dates back to before the Pyramids in Egypt, built some 5,000 years ago. It was amazing to stand inside this thing and see the layers of stones laid with amazing precision and engineering. They moved stones weighing over ten tons from 50 miles away or more. And then piled them on top of each other to create a room, that even after 5,000 years, hasn’t allowed a single drop of water to seep through.

It’s basically a huge mound on top of a cliff that overlooks the countryside about as far as you can see. The outside was rebuilt using the same stones and style in which it had originally been built, but inside, virtually nothing has been changed.

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This is the wall on the outside… layer upon layer of rocks that were originally hauled from miles and miles away.

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This is the entrance. Most of these prehistoric “passage tombs” have these big rocks in front of them, meaning the ancients had to scramble over the rock just to get it. The circular designs etched into the rocks are a mystery to everyone. In fact, no one even knows what these mounds were really used for.

The window above the door was built solely to allow the sun’s rays to shine into the room at the winter solstice. For five days surrounding the solstice, as the sun rises, it illuminates the room for about 15 minutes. Something right out of Indiana Jones.

 

The area around the mound consists of beautiful countryside. So peaceful and green.

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They wouldn’t allow you to take pictures inside, but here’s one from the internet. It consists of a very narrow passageway; at one point, you have to turn sideways to get through. And then you enter a small room, with three smaller alcoves surrounding it. One has a bowl-shaped rock in it, another a flat rock, another, not much of anything. No one really knows what these mounds were used for; they found a smattering of human bones here and there but they may not have been tombs. It’s simply a mystery… but again, to stand in the oldest structure man has ever found on this planet… that was something special!

From there, we drove to the town of Trim, which has a well-preserved castle with a Keep in the middle of it. We went on a tour throughout, presented by a lively Irish lass who made it very entertaining.

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This is the keep… our tour took us to the very top.

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And this is the house where Jonathan Swift lived, the author of Gulliver’s Travels. This was a view from atop the keep.

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And here is the slide show of the keep and grounds. We finished up the day with that hearty dinner, with more plans set for tomorrow!

The little tings

For some reason, some of the things I find most fascinating when traveling are the little things (or as the Irish would pronounce it, “tings”); the small differences in what otherwise are very similar cultures.

Especially with the UK and Ireland, we share a common language, and largely a very common lifestyle. Carolyn and I can walk throughout either country, and until we open our mouths to speak ‘Murican, no one has any idea we’re from a foreign land, especially one filled with Heffalumps, Woozles, and Trumps.

In no particular order, these are some of the tings I’ve noticed to be different here:

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Everyone knows about driving on the left. Most people know that Europeans use a different current. In the case of Ireland and the UK, it’s 230v 50hz. But here we also see this additional switch, which controls whether the switch to the left is even active. And then on top of that, there’s a smaller switch which controls whether the individual plugs are active. I’m not an electrician, so I don’t know how much of this is regulatory overkill, common sense safety, or conservation… or maybe it’s all necessary because 230v 50hz would fry a blue whale if it touched it the wrong way. No big deal overall, just different.

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I got a kick out of these instructions on a bag of microwave popcorn. I suppose if you’re going to distribute anything throughout the EU, you need to be readable by everyone. It does make all the hullabaloo about “speakin’ American” in the USA look pretty silly in comparison. So what if there are different languages that have to be posted? We gripe about adding one, and these people are accommodating 24? (Yeah, I counted ’em.) It’s nice to include as many people as possible, even if all you’re telling customers is that you have to open the damn popcorn bag and unfold it before you do anything else.

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This is our (okay, by “our” I mean “Carolyn’s”) second experience with the small combination of washer/dryer. Yes, she’s taken on all the clothes washing duties. Just for the record, I do most of my own at home. But these things are so foreign and hard to work with, Carolyn has graciously been willing to take on the task, and I’m blessed for it.

It has now been named, “Lucifer’s Washer.” It’s a space saver to be sure, but clothes not only come out overheated and wrinkly, but it takes for-frickin’-ever to complete. We’re talking four or five or it seems like ten hours. Of course, she might be hitting the “four hour” button each time thinking it’s the symbol for express wash, but there’s no setting in the world that should make a wash and dry take so long. Clothes have to be started before one goes to bed in the hopes that it’ll be done by the time you wake up, we learned that the hard way after staring at a never-ending cycle through two moon phases.

So if you need to supervise it in order to pull out your clothes immediately after drying, prepare for a long day of listening to Lucifer’s Washer grind on your earballs for hours on end. And just when it sounds like it has stopped, and you get ready to pounce… “whoosh, chugga-chugga-chugga” starts up again, following by some eerie and maniacal laughter you can just barely make out beneath the grinding.

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This looks to be a common heating scheme, and it’s actually pretty effective, if you don’t mind bending over to set the temperature. Instead of heating the whole damn house, each room has one of these, so you simply turn it on when you’re in the room and leave the other ones off. It heats up pretty quickly, so I have to imagine that if you’re conscientious about those settings, it reduces energy consumption far better than our heat-the-whole-damn-house-including-every-closet American scheme.

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Nothing too remarkable about these switches except they tend to put them outside the doors instead of inside. Imagine that, having your light already turned on before you enter the room? Brilliant! How many horror movie scenes would have to be changed if the US used this scheme? The only issue it raises is that it’s very easy to play a joke on whoever’s in the bathroom. But I think it’s safe to say that joke would probably only happen once in most cases, because, you know, everyone’s gotta pee, and no one should have to face an enraged grizzly, a hungry shark, or a wife who is sitting on the pot and had the lights turned off on her.

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I already covered this road construction on a previous blog, but it’s worth noting again in the context of, “why is it America doesn’t pay more attention to what other countries do?” I mean, this is just a solid idea, and a way to eliminate one of the most dangerous jobs we have.

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Cars: my take on cars over here is that you rarely see SUV’s, even vans are pretty rare, and by far the most common vehicle is the four-door sedan. My recollections of Italy from nearly a decade ago were that they had a lot more of the teeny-tiny mini-cars that still look a little funny. I haven’t seen very many of those in any of the countries we’ve visited this time. The other point of note is that it’s rare to see a crappy-looking old beater. I don’t know if that represents a more prosperous middle class overall or it’s because of government policies that make it easier to own a newer vehicle, but no matter where we’ve traveled in Europe, the cars look pretty nice.

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In addition to the scarcity of fast food outlets, with only an occasional big M providing the eyesore of its promise to deliver excessive and fatty calories to the populace, it’s also quite a distinct change to not see huge shopping malls and grocery stores and have-everything stores the size of small towns populating the landscape. There are far more individual “ma and pa” shops everywhere. Part of what makes Europe so fascinating is that you can go from country to country and see different ways of life and architecture and languages and so on. The U.S. would be quite a different tourist destination if every state did its own thing as well. But alas, we’ve got to have those billionaires, so every city gets the same malls and eight fast food joints per person and the same mega-businesses. Europe’s a lot more interesting to visit as a result, not to mention healthier with people less worried about working even more hours so they can buy more stuff.

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We haven’t turned on the telly all that often during this trip. I do always enjoy getting a peak at the overall experience in different countries, especially the commercials. For my money, no one does more interesting and crazy commercials than Japan. It’s as if their way of convincing customers to buy something is to be as silly as possible and appeal to the level of a five year-old. It’s actually very cute… in a weird way.

Here, humor is the most common theme, but otherwise there isn’t that much difference in commercials between here and the US. I was curious to see whether commercials were mostly Irish or imported from the UK. Most of them are Irish. There’s a smattering of British accents as well as American, but mostly high production values apparently produced out of Ireland, for the Irish.

However, one constant that seems to be on no matter when you turn on the telly is Britain’s Got Talent. It’s as ubiquitous as Judge Judy (which I mention because yes, she’s on here as well) or the way Gilligan’s Island and Star Trek used to be in the ’70’s, or maybe America’s Funniest Videos today. They even have a Britain’s Got More Talent, which is a sillier offshoot but apparently created because Brits and Irish can’t get enough of the premise. I don’t know if what we’re seeing are repeats or if this is the High Season when all these winners are picked for some later elimination shows, but it has almost always been on when we’ve surfed the telly. I’m sure Britain’s Got Even More Talent is waiting in the wings, soon to be followed by Britain’s Got Even More Talent Than The More Talent We Promised Before.

One of the commercials we just saw advertised was health care insurance for about 30 euros a month. Keep in mind, this is on top of the free national health care they already have, I think it gets you moved up the queue quicker. Meanwhile, in the US… well, you already know what you’re paying for health insurance in the US.

Anyway, as I’ve gazed over the people throughout the big European cities as well as the countryside, I’ve been struck at how reasonably prosperous and content everyone seems to be, even though their big, loathsome, horrible, gonna-kill-all-jobs governments provide far more services than we do in the US, such as health care. The number of homeless people or beggars we saw in Amsterdam, Paris, London, and Dublin was almost nil. I’ve walked past more homeless people in Portland on one block than we’ve seen so far in every place we’ve been, combined.

It seems as if these countries are willing to say, “You know, we’ll be content with having a larger and medically treated middle class with a built-in retirement program at the risk of having a few less billionaires.”

According to the World Health Organization’s rankings, including the responsiveness of said care, the finances, level, and distribution, the number one country for health care in the world? France. Italy comes next. UK is 18 and Ireland is 19. The U.S.? 31st. Keep in mind that the US spends more per capita than any country in the world, and by quite a bit. Despite that, according to the CIA’s World Fact Book, the US is 57th in the world in infant mortality, right in between Serbia and Croatia. There is no western European country worse than we are. The worst? Afghanistan, predictably.

My favorite data point as to the efficacy of any health care system is how well we keep our children alive. Keeping young ones alive is perhaps the paramount imperative of any species. So how where does the US rank in keeping children five and under alive? 44th. Again… we spend the most, but are 44th in the world at keeping our five year olds and under alive. This all accumulated pre-ObamaCare, which provides just baby steps in the direction the rest of the civilized world has already traveled. Sure every country has its problems, and no system is perfect, simply because they’re all human, but when we have something to compare it to, it’s worth looking at the comparisons. Just sayin’.

Okay, end of rant. But when I see health insurance advertised over here for 30 euros a month, the statistics that are so easily accessible to evaluate which direction we should be pushing our own health care become all that more real and obvious. For those of you who believe the politicians’ screams that even just ObamaCare has brought our country to the brink of economic oblivion, do me a favor. Show a piece of data that supports that. Anything. Email me, whatever. If there is no data, then perhaps it’s time to ponder that maybe the U.S. isn’t always smarter than the rest of the world, and we could learn a thing or two, eh?

In the end, we’re all largely the same, and we want the same things. It’s nice to travel over here and have that confirmed. With all the political gamesmanship and lying going on in today’s American election cycle, sometimes it’s nice just to come over and see that people are just living their lives and all the other nonsense is just that.