Wednesday, August 29, 2007

the land of little green men, part eight

day eight: a multifaceted southwestern education

in no other single day during my trip did i learn as much as i did during the drive from galway to killarney.


our first stop was "an international stop" near bunratty castle.

international stop- n- a bathroom break, so named because when you go in, you're a russian, when you come out, you're finnish, and in between, european

when that comes up on jeopardy, feel free to thank me.

useless trivia:

~during the drive from galway to killarney, we passed a bush along the highway that actually held up highway construction for two years. it seems the locals were convinced that the fairies from galway met the fairies from kerry there.

~the world's first duty-free shop was at the shannon airport.

what trip through limerick (home of frank mccourt) would be complete without learning a new nonsense poem? it would be severely lacking, i assure you. therefore, i'll pass along the one taught to us by anna, our tour guide:

there once was a monk from siberia
whose morals were slightly inferior
he did to a nun
what shouldn't be done
and now she's a mother superior

almost (but not quite) as good as my personal favorite:

there was a young couple named kelly
who became stuck belly to belly
because in their haste
they used library paste
instead of petroleum jelly

true, it pales in comparison to poe, cummings and silverstein, but unlike most of their works, it's short enough that i've actually been able to keep it memorized for the past twelve years. (ever since scribbling it on a blackboard during summer school before my senior year. for some reason, the teacher didn't allow me to scribble any more limericks on his board after that. go figure.)

..but i digress, so onward, to the hamlet of adare.

the castle of adare was built by the fitzgerald family. (interesting aside: when used as part of a last name, the prefix "fitz" means "illegitimate child of...")
our coach drove by the castle rather quickly, s while everyone else shopped, i trekked back to the river and snapped a few pictures....right before it started pouring, which was pretty excellent timing, if i do say so myself.

on the way to killarney, we stopped at aghadoe for our group shot, which several members of our group would later purchase for 8 euros apiece. mama and i are cheap, so it was a good thing we befriended one of those generous folks.

since it would be too much of a pain in the butt to get permission from everyone in the photo to post it online, i will only show you the most relevant sliver:

i wonder how many people in our group actually noticed the extra (albeit small) body in the picture....... (and one day, when i remember what the heck the password for his account is, perhaps i'll even get this posted over on bodhi's blog. perhaps)

there are three lakes of killarney- upper lake is the smallest, followed by muckross lake, and lough leane, which translates into "lake of learning". this third lake is named for the ruins of a 12th century university situated on an island in the middle of the lake.

our optional boat cruise on louch leane departed from ross castle, which was the second to last castle in ireland to fall to oliver cromwell's men.

during the cruise, i was mildly surprised to see this sign on the back deck of our boat:

speaking of photos, i should have taken one at dinner. mama and i opted out of the dinner and show excursion, and chose to dine at the hotel bar instead. i wish i'd taken my camera with us. i ordered a ham, pineapple, and cheese panini with fries and a salad (delightful, though unremarkable), and mama had the roast of the day, which was served on (wait for it....) potatoes and a side of (oh, yes!) potatoes. all that was missing was the potato dessert.

perhaps they hadn't scrolled down quite far enough on this website.....

in the next thrilling episode: i learn almost everything there is to know about muckross house, which is a good thing, since they don't seem to offer any informative brochures, take a blurry picture of king puck, meet charlie chaplin, and find a ferris wheel in the middle of killarney

Sunday, August 26, 2007

the land of little green men, part seven

day seven: the continuing search for fame, fortune, and that rich man

by this point, i was having to sit on my suitcase (which i'd already expanded a couple of days before) in order to close it. this, obviously, would not do. so, out came handy collapsed box number two, as well as the roll of tape, and i set to work transferring recent purchases (i mean, ahem dirty clothing left behind on holiday) into this box for shipping home.

our first stop after leaving castlebar was at the town of cong, in county mayo.

undoubtedly, you have heard of cong. not because of the giant monkey who didn't know how to spell, but because of that timeless classic, "the quiet man".

what's this? you've never heard of "the quiet man", either? ah, well- you, my friend, are truly missing out. apparently this movie was so utterly fantastic that you have led a truly sheltered life if you've never popped it into your vhs or dvd player. the town is still talking about it, over 50 years after its release, which means that either it's a piece of celluloid perfection, or else the town of cong is really hard up for tourist attractions.

however, i'm afraid all of the "quiet man" this and "quiet man" that left me unimpressed. however, in one of the "quiet man" shops, i saw a thing of great joy and beauty. i later spotted it in other sizes, more suitable for gift giving, but the first was certainly the best. unfortunately, i couldn't figure out how to get it home intact.

this particular shop was run by a little old woman who'd forgotten to put in her dentures that morning, but i think i still made out something about her meeting john wayne personally. she was sharing various "quiet man" tidbits with another member of our tour group, but i was not convinced she was suitably enough distracted for me to be able to fiddle with my camera long enough to get a picture of this wonderful gift.

mama, carefully attuned to my needs, as ever, was kind enough to run back into the store and snap this picture. feel free to bask in its glory for as long as you like:

is it just me, or does the lamp in "a christmas story" pale in comparison?

aside from "the quiet man", cong's other claim to fame is its abbey, which dates to the 12th century.

before leaving town, we visited the facilities (slow to flush, but toilet paper and seats were included, so overall a good pick.), and shipped box number two- which, for some strange and bizarre reason, wound up costing 52 euros, despite only weighing maybe a couple of kilograms. (furthermore, you would think that would be enough to buy my package a first-class cabin on whatever ship it sailed on. however, since it took three weeks to arrive after shipping, i'm wondering if maybe it wound up on someone's canoe, instead.)

on the way to galway, we stopped to take pictures of lough corrib, which is the second largest lake in ireland, and we also stopped briefly at the connemara marble factory, just outside of galway.

galway is the third largest city in ireland, after dublin and cork. the main center of galway is eyre square, and the roundabouts in town are named for the 14 norman families who took over the city.

the main street in galway is for pedestrians only, and was reminiscent of las ramblas in barcelona, right down to the buskers.

since you're supposed to pay to take a busker's picture, i'm afraid i'll have to go back and drop a few cents into this guy's bucket the next time i'm in galway. (oops)

in retrospect, i should have also paid a visit to madam bridget, who read palms (sometimes while even looking at them!) in exchange for 5 euros. i wonder if she would have predicted that i'd find a 10 euro note in the parking lot of our hotel while walking back after dinner that evening.

in addition to living statues, the main street also featured multiple musicians, artisans, scantily clad girls who'd let you paint them for a small donation ("take part in body art", the sign said), and a guy who was either a very casually dressed interpretive dancer...or a drunkard.

one of the musicians caught my eye. he had instruments, like the others. he had a dog, as did some of the others. he had an open guitar case, like the others.

i could not resist taking a picture. when i asked if i could get a picture of him with bodhi, he said we'd do one better. i was handed an instrument, bodhi a pick, and we had our musical debut right there, in the middle of galway.

he "plinked", and when he pointed at me, i "plonked". a crowd gathered, and despite my fear of audiences (hence the stand-up comedy career that lasted a whopping thirty seconds- the time it took me to realize, with horror, that i'd actually have to be onstage in front of people), i made it through the entire song...including our finale with bodhi, whom i started to gather up and stow in my camera case until an italian tourist in the crowd asked to take a picture of.....go figure.

i'll let you kow when we start the world tour. cds were available "on line"- as in the cardboard discs he'd strung up on a string behind us.

actually, i think that, were i to become a busker, i'd take the easy way out- find an old, pouffy dress, paint it (and myself) silver, and stand very, very still for several hours.

in the next captivating chapter: i learn the meaning of "international stop",as well as yet another off color limerick, the meaning of "fitz", and that it is possible to lighten up an otherwise stuffy photo without the photographer noticing.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

the land of little green men, part six

day six: of pottery, poetry, and potatoes stuffed with salmon

our first stop this morning was at the ulster american folk park in county tyrone. the park focuses on the emigration of thousands from ulster to north america in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. in addition to several displays housed inside the museum, there are also a couple dozen buildings outdoors, which illustrate the way of life for both the (mostly well-to-do, from the looks of things) ulsterians (is that a word?), as well as the new americans. the star of the park was financier thomas mellon.

three residents of the ulster american folk park

the park was neat, but the two and a half hours we spent there was about half an hour too long, as evidenced by the large crowd waiting for the bus long before our scheduled departure time.

we stopped in belleek for lunch and a tour of the pottery factory.

lunch was excellent, though under slightly cramped conditions. after walking up and down belleek's main street, mama and i settled on dining at the thatch coffee shop.

i can't remember what mama had, but i had a very reasonably priced baked potato with smoked salmon and "seafood sauce" on top (i'm guessing it was some sort of ketchup/mayo/lemon juice sort of concoction), as well as a small side salad and coleslaw. i'd worked up an appetite, so i basically hoovered my food down, then wandered over to the factory for the tour. mama stayed behind, enjoying her pot of coffee (they didn't serve guinness), and still made it to the factory in time to join the second half of our group on the belleek tour.

the last stop before heading to our hotel in castlebar was at drumcliffe, burial site of the poet w. b. yeats. in addition to being yeats' final resting place, drumcliffe is notable for its irish illuminated cross, which dates back to the 11th century, as well as a round tower dating back to the same period.

after spending a few minutes wandering around the grounds and taking pictures, i decided it would be a good idea to make use of the facilities, which featured all of the necessities, except two out of the three stalls were missing toilet paper. since i'm occassionally sensible and industrious, i got the bright idea to wait for the stall with paper to open up, grabbed a handful, and then toted said handful into one of the undersupplied stalls. others followed suit, so maybe i'm one of those "natural born leaders" after all. (yeah- doubt it)

our hotel for the evening was breaffy international sports hotel in castlebar. it was easily my least favorite of the hotels we stayed in during our trip. the hotel was the latest addition to the breaffy house hotel complex, and had obviously opened very recently, as the trim in our room was unfinished and kinks still needed to be worked out.

this was also the first time i'd encountered an electrical system that required insertion of the room key into a slot in the wall for any of the lights or outlets to operate. had mama not encountered this sort of setup recently, i'm sure i would have wound up either calling the front desk (a lesson in futility, as we learned when we requested a sewing kit for our room), or showering in the dark.

this problem resolved, mama and i got settled in before heading to the restaurant for dinner, a journey that took slightly longer than expected, because mama got turned around somehow and tried to lead me to dinner in the small sports arena attached to the hotel. (thankfully, she'd straightened out her sense of direction by her third guinness of the evening, eliminating the need to dispatch a search party.)

dinner was good, though many in our group had issues with being served on couches. i can't recall exactly what i had for dinner, though i'm quite certain salmon was involved. each table also had a large bowl of veggies, which went untouched by many. (it was hard to witness such waste.) mama and i wiped our bowl out, and omehow still had room for dessert.

after dinner, i headed over to the breaffy house hotel, where rumor had it, they had free internet.

was it free? yes. did it have the lightning-fast speed of roadrunner? uh, not so much. it tok me half an hour to send three short emails. fortunately, when i went back an hour later, someone had restarted the computer, and it no longer took five minutes for a webpage to load.

so much for the plan to launch my very own pay-per-view website from the road.*

in the next exciting installment: i find the perfect gift, though i can't figure out how to haul it home without breaking it, travel all the way to galway to eat at mickey d's, and launch my musical career.

*calm down, daddy- i'm only kidding

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

the land of little green men, part five

day five: in which i meet my sister's future husband, and after which, mama will undoubtedly get a frantic phone call.

after several mornings in a row of rolling out of bed before 7am to get packed, stuff myself full of food, and get all my worldly possessions on the bus by 8:30, i was thrilled to finally sleep in. in fact, i was so thrilled that i passed on breakfast, which allowed me to catch at least an extra half hour of sleep.

when the spirit finally moved me (and by "spirit", i mean mama, who was clearly highly caffienated at the time), i pried open my eyelids, threw on some clothes, and we headed down to the coach for our walking tour of derry.

i have pages upon pages in my journal of tidbits and trivia about derry, mostly gleaned from our tour guide, ronan mcnamara. i will spare you the bulk of it, but here are five interesting tidbits:

tidbit #1: there are approximately 104,000 inhabitants of derry, which lies near the border of northern ireland and the republic of ireland. according to ronan, roughly 74% are catholic, 24% are protestant, and there's one buddhist. (that'd be ronan.)

tidbit #2: bogside, just outside the western wall, is full of murals depicting scenes from the struggle between the catholics and protestants in the 1970s and 1980s, a time referred to as "the troubles". glenfarda park, located in bogside, commemorates january 30, 1972- bloody sunday- when 13 people were killed and 14 injured by police during a civil rights march protesting the imprisonment of citizens without a fair trial. ("sunday, bloody sunday" by U2 also commemorates the event.)

tidbit #3: one of the men killed on bloody sunday, john duddy, has a brother who named one of his sons in his honor. this younger john duddy is a boxer in america. interestingly enough, the local paper ran an article on the boxer the day we tooled around derry.

tidbit #4: the walls of derry were built between 1613 and 1618, and there were four original gates. of those four, bishop's gate, built in 1789, is the oldest. in the 1800s, three new gates were added, making a total of seven that one can walk both across and through today. the walls of derry measure 1 mile in circumference.

tidbit #5: at the end of the bridge over the river foyle, which runs through derry, there is a sculpture called "hands across the divide". this sculpture is designed so that the two figures can be moved closer and closer together as the city comes closer to achieving a lasting peace.

after our walking tour ended, mama and i continued walking along the remainder of the mile-long walls, stopping to take pictures every 50 feet or so (anyone who's travelled with me knows how photo-happy i can get). i'm afraid mama was a little nervous about snapping this one, since i was on the edge of the wall, roughly 30 or 40 feet from the grass outside the wall:

after finishing our mile, we cut through the center of the city, then exited the walled portion of the city near guild hall, a stone's throw from the public bathrooms at the bus station. i was treated to the relative luxury of a commode with both a seat and toilet paper, while mama hovered while reading about all the people "jennifer" (or was it "jessica"? i didn't get a picture) loved.

lunch was eaten on the hoof, and i tried out a tuna deluxe sandwich (tuna, mayo, bell pepper, and green onion) and ham and cheese potato crisps (still not my favorite, thought they were edible.)

we returned to the hotel for a short break, then set out on our tour of the inishowen peninsula.

the peninsula is part of country donegal. when ireland was divided in the early 1900s, only six of the nine counties in the ulster region of ireland were included in northern ireland, due to their protestant majorities. county donegal was one of the three counties left behind.

our first stop on the peninsula was at the GrianĂ¡n of Aileach, an ancient fort that's been traced back to the druids. i wound up lagging behind the rest of the group, as i had to change rolls in my pentax. i wound up walking through the gates with a local guy named jonnie. he and i chatted during the short walk up to the fort, and he set up his laptop while i took pictures of the panorama. (you can see three counties from the walls of the fort, including county tyrone, from where my great grandfather's family hailed.)

before leaving the fort, i asked jonnie if he'd mind posing with the gnomes, as we'd conversed about them a few minutes earlier. he said he wanted a picture with me, and a few of the gnomes snuck in.

post-picture, i acquired jonnie's email address and promised to email him a copy of the photo. conversation ensued, and while i won't bore you with the details (you'll have to wait for the book, i guess), at one point he asked if i had a sister who was looking for an irish husband.

so, sibling......

we drove up to malin head, the most northern point in ireland. on the way, we passed a town (i didn't catch the name) with a police station that's only open from 6-7pm monday through friday.

yes, you read that right. sadly, my photo of the sign listing their hours was both blurry and poorly aimed. i'll try to get a better shot at it next time.

dinner was a buffet back at the hotel. many in our tour group opted for the optional evening excursion, which was dinner and a medieval show at a local castle, but a few of us decided we'd rather pay $30 for the hotel buffet than over twice as much for the medieval show. the buffet was very good, and i wound up positively stuffed. (my chocolate cravings got the best of me, i'm afraid, and i wound up making an uncharacteristically large number of visits to the dessert bar.)

after dinner, i headed back to our room, while mama stopped for a guinness nightcap at the bar. around 9:45, we were startled by a piercing sound, as were many of our tourmates, judging from the large number of folks standing in the hotel hallway in their nightclothes. we later found out that one of the members of our group had a temperamental hairdryer in their room. (hairdryers were provided in every hotel room we stayed in.) it seems that, while using the hairdryer, it emitted a puff of smoke, at which point he shut it off and decided that dripping dry was preferable to setting anything on fire. several minutes later, the fire alarm went off.

it's nice to know that if the building had actually been in flames, we would have been notified...eventually.

in the next electrifying passage: baked potato + smoked salmon = bliss, review of the facilities at yeats' resting place, and mama nearly gets lost

Saturday, August 11, 2007

the land of little green men, part four

day four: i am my own grandpa...or something like that

our tourmates included an 81-year-old man who took copious notes on everything (scribbling first on a newspaper, and then in a spiral bound notebook), and his companion, at first thought to be his daughter, but as it was soon discovered, she was, in fact, his wife. they happened to be seated next to us at breakfast in belfast on the morning of the 21st.

as our other tablemates discussed the excitement of the evening before (apparently, the wedding reception got a little out of hand and rowdiness, chaos, and drunken behavior worthy of lindsay lohan ensued), the daughter/wife (we hadn't worked out the particulars just yet) decided to strike up a conversation.

"so- are you celebrating anything on this trip?"

mama and i looked at each other, and replied that we supposed we were celebrating our recent birthdays.

daughter/wife's reply singlehandedly rendered mama a broken woman for the remainder of the trip:

"oh. normally, when a grandmother and granddaughter are travelling together, it's to celebrate a graduation or something....."

it's a good thing mama wasn't drinking her coffee at the time, because she surely would have spilled it in her lap or shot it out her nose or something. while she recovered, i broke it to daughter/wife that i looked young for my age (most estimates on our trip shaved ten years off, which i'll happily take), and that mama was, in fact, mama, and not grandma.

daughter/wife apologized, and i don't recall having any other conversations with her for the duration of the trip- though, as you'll learn a few episodes from now, that was not the last we'd hear from her.

where, you may ask, was her 81-year-old spouse during all of this? well, though he was sitting just a few feet away, at the other side of the table, i believe he missed the entire conversation, as he was enjoying the view on the other side of his eyelids.

perhaps this contributed to mama's cranky disposition during our ride to derry. (perhaps "perhaps" is an understatement.) at one point, i asked her if we needed to start getting her guinness in "to go" cups, but i'm afraid the idea doesn't seem to have caught on in ireland....which is surprising, considering all the marketing guinness does- right down to guinness underwear. (i passed, mostly because thongs weren't an option.) i am certain that guinness drive-thrus will soon be as common as starbucks is here in the states. the time is coming- mark my words.

carnlough, where the public bathrooms feature both toilet paper and seats, and the postmaster decided my first box back home was full of "clothing left behind on holiday" and therefore was of no value, as far as customs was concerned. i'm still trying to figure out how one wears four canned leprechauns and a few dishtowels, but given enough time, i'm sure i can come up with something fabulous.

we arrived at giant's causeway around lunch time. giant's causeway is a world heritage site, and in case you're trolling for interesting vacation destinations (and who isn't?), here's a list of the others.

there are a couple of legends regarding the origins of giant's causeway- both involving giants. the official version is here, but i prefer our tour guide, anna's, version, which was far more romantic- there was a giant in ireland who fancied a giantess in scotland, and he built the causeway so he could walk across and "get his hands on her".

ah, young (giant) love.

had the camera nuked my pictures from the causeway, i would have been devastated.

in the background, our 81-year-old tourmate, undoubtedly scribbling in his notebook while roaming around the causeway.

after our visit to giant's causeway, we reboarded our "coach" (tourbus), and continued our drive to derry.

a few miles from the causeway, we stopped at bushmills distillery, the oldest legal distillery in europe (dating back to roughly 1608). while the rest of our group took the tour, mama and i wandered around town for a while and took pictures of some rather unique cows that wre grazing next to the distillery. the cows are called "belted galloways", and since my pictures turned out to be blurry images of belted galloway butts, you should probably click on the link, rather than holding out for my artistic rendition....though it must be noted that i'm pretty good when it comes to drawing stick figure cattle.

our next two nights were to be spent at the everglades hotel in derry. i found it amusing that an irish hotel would be named for an american national park, but sleep deprivation had caught up to me by that point, and i was even more easily amused than usual....which is saying a lot, now that i stop to think about it.

upon entering our room, mama and i discovered we were not alone. a stranger (though, admittedly, a rather cute one) was hiding in our shower.

we found out over dinner that not only were we not the only ones to find a stranger in our shower, but as it turned out, everyone else had one the night before, as well.

needless to say, mama and i felt a wee bit rejected. i mean, why was everyone else met in belfast by their own, personal little yellow welcome wagon, yet we were not? we'd taken showers that morning. we'd remembered our deodorant. we had minty fresh breath. we would not stand for this! so, we did the sensible thing.

we (well, actually, mama did the dirty work) told a little white lie. we stopped by the reception desk upon our return from dinner, and we left with not only an additional unadorned duckie, but a smaller one sporting a santa hat (suitable for hanging on the christmass tree), as well.

thrilled with our unexpected bonus, i headed to our room with our two new friends, while mama headed to the bar to make two (three? i neither know nor care, as long as she made it back to the right room) new friends of her own.

in our next thrilling episode: mama and i fight over the lone buddhist in derry, i meet my sister's future husband, and way too many of our tourmates wind up standing in the hotel hallway in their skivvies.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

the land of little green men, part three

day three: and i've got a picture to prove it!

the scariest bathroom i have ever encountered (spot-a-pots excluded) was in warrenpoint, northern ireland. we stopped shortly after crossing the border in order to hit the ATMs en masse so we could stock our wallets with pounds and pence, in addition to the euros we were already lugging around. i'm unsure of the state of the men's facilities, but the women's restroom was lacking soap, toilet paper and, oddly enough, seats. i seem to recall something strange going on with the ceiling, too, but can't be sure. i remarked in my journal that i'd felt compelled to take lots of pictures, but, well, you know how my camera felt about those pictures from early in my travels.

we were let loose in belfast for an hour or two, which is where i was introduced to chicken tikka sandwiches. as i recall, tikka is an indian spice, though i should probably take the initiative to google or wikipedia the term to be sure......some other time, perhaps. i also decided it was time to broaden my horizons and picked up a variety of oddly flavored chips- sweet thai chicken, prawn cocktail, worchestershire sauce- some proved more delightful than others and begged to be smuggled back through customs.

during our bus tour of belfast, we stopped at queen's college, which (take notes- this could be on jeopardy one day) was the first university in the UK to permit women to earn degrees. according to our tour guide, anna, when c.s. lewis was born in 1898, his mother already had a college degree from queen's university.

in other trivia, the titanic was built in belfast, as were the other 11 "sister" ships in her fleet. three of the twelve ships- the titanic, the olympic, and the brittanic were built exactly alike- the titanic and olympic were built side by side, and the brittanic was built upon their completion. (of the three ships, only the olympic managed to stay afloat long enough to be decommissioned and dismantled. the brittanic, which served as a military hospital ship, was hit by a torpedo in 1916 and sank in about an hour- half the time it took the titanic to go under after her little run-in with an iceburg four years earlier.)

after a brief photo op at the house of parliament (interestingly, my camera decided to let me keep those pictures), we headed to our hotel, the stormont.

dinner at the hotel was nothing short of interesting. to accomodate our large group (as well as the other tour group staying at the hotel that evening), the restaurant was set up with a buffet arrangement, which was an interesting choice, considering the space limitations. as it turned out, even with our group sitting down to eat over half an hour before the other group, the food line snaked between tables and while mama spoke with our tablemates for the evening (ken and marie from new zealand), i sat there wondering what it would take to get a conga line going- preferably one that would allow yours truly to spend a little extra quality time with the cucumber slices and tomato wedges at the salad bar.

i keep forgetting to mention the silverware we encountered in ireland (both in the republic and in northern ireland.) here in the states, all of our silverware is positively dainty compared to the dining implements we encountered in ireland. the forks and knives weren't too much larger than what we're used to, but the spoons....i would have brought one back had i not thought they weighed enough to possibly cause "overweight suitcase" charges on my way home. the spoons for tea and coffee are the closest equivalent to our standard spoons, and their standard spoons are slightly larger than our teaspoons. while i have been accused of having a rather big mouth, i found it a physical impossibilty to stuff one of those trowels intomy mouth. (which leads me to wonder if my "big mouth" is a trait inherited from my irish forebears....)

as the table was cleared after each course, the silverware was removed, as well. by the time dessert rolled around, i was down to only my trowel-like spoon. unfortunately, all of the cheesecakes that were placed on the dessert table had been snapped up by folks who'd skipped the second trip to the hot food buffet, so by the time i was ready for dessert, all that was available was jello with fruit in it. (dessert had also been set out for the other tour group, and a member of our group was harshly reprimanded for daring to take a piece of cheesecake off of the other group's table.)

i used to be a jello eater, before the "jello shot incident" during my college career. our evening in belfast marked only the second time i'd been near jello in nearly ten years.....and the first time i'd ever attempted to dig berries out of jello with a spoon the size of a small trowel. i'm telling you- you haven't lived until you've chased half a strawberry around your plate, trying to hack off the stem with a trowel-like spoon. i'm thinking about officially adding that particular skill to my resume, as i'm certain it's an invaluable one to have.

after dinner, mama retired to the bar with our tablemates, as well as john, an aussie whose name she didn't actually know until a day or two later, while i headed outside to scribble in my journal.

it was a little chilly (60s), very cloudy, and i guess it had been sprinkling during dinner. a wedding party arrived as i tipped one of the metal patio chairs to let the water run off before i set up camp and started scribbling postcards and recording the events of the day in my journal. unfortunatley, it seems i didn't tip the chair quite far enough for all the water to run off, as i soon felt the seat pattern soaking through the seat of my jeans. while i'm generally all for people looking at my butt (especially when i'm wearing my "good butt" jeans, as i happened to be doing at the time), pointing and laughing while doing so is generally discouraged.

as usual- stylish and fashionable no matter where i go.

in the next captivating chapter: mama has an identity crisis in the middle of breakfast, we find bathrooms with toilet paper and seats, and a stranger lurks in our shower.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

the land of little green men, part two

day two: wait- if i haven't slept yet, is it still day one?

in my journal, i ended the july 18th post by scribbling that i was going to start a new book, called the tender bar. by the time i arrived in dublin, i finally admitted defeat (couldn't focus past the fifth page, for some reason), and started on the painted veil by w. somerset maugham instead. i hate admitting defeat, but sometimes, it's necessary to hoist the white flag.

i didn't sleep more than maybe a half an hour on the flight across the pond. perhaps it was due to excitement. perhaps it was do to the high quality cinematic feature being shown (blades of glory) that i didn't watch. perhaps it was due to the less than nap-friendly seats.

yeah- my money's on that last one.

so, after a power nap upon our arrival at the hotel, mama and i bravely trekked through the drizzle in search of (as our tourmate nell would put it:) fame, fortune, and rich men.

instead, we settled for postage stamps, postcards, and souvenir t-shirts.

i took lots of pictures along the way. however, as you already know, i cannot show them to you- not because you'd be dazzled by my mastery of basic photographic skills, but because my camera decided it would be best for everyone if they never actually saw the light of day.

so, instead, you'll just have to picture a really tall tower, resembling an old-school boombox antenna, sticking up out of the middle of the road, near a sizable tidal river. you can call this either "the stiletto in the ghetto" or (in honor of the river) "the stiffy on the liffey".

you'll also have to picture the sign outside the hard rock cafe in dublin. more importantly, picture the four gift shop employees whose wages were paid for a week by my purchases. (after doing a quick conversion, i realized that my spiffy hard rock cafe hoodie set me back around $75. i am still clinging to the hope that my math was off due to sleep depravation, but i'm too chicken to get the receipt out and double-check.)

i'd tell you to also picture the book of kells and the oldest harp in ireland (depicted on the irish euros, as well as the guinness logo), but we weren't allowed to take pictures in the two rooms of the trinity college library where they were stored, so for once, my camera didn't completely gyp you out of anything.

after seeing the book of kells, we wandered back to the bus for a quick drive around town. while others enjoyed the drive past the guinness distillery, i enjoyed a view of my eyelids....or at least that was all mama said i missed. for all i know, bono could have been tap-dancing in the street in front of the clarence hotel, which he and the edge own, but heck- the pictures would be lost at this point anyway. i woke up in time to take some decent pictures of the doors in the georgian section of town, but like just about any other recent jim morrison sighting, they didn't come out. (of my camera. at all.)

as i noted in my journal, dinner was at a place that may have been called "the dungeon". i was going to look back at my photos to be sure know. dinner was excellent- only two potatoes offered with our meals, equal to the number of free beverages we were allowed. mama settled into a couple pints of guinness, and i ordered the same for my first drink.

i am told guinness is an acquired taste. sadly, i have yet to acquire it. i'm not a beer drinker to begin with, and while i get that there's a large difference between bud light and guinness, i still don't find myself waking up in the middle of the night craving it.

tacos? yes.
blueberry cream soda? on occasion.
guinness? right up there with craving intense stomach cramps.

mama was thrilled by this development, and, not wanting to appear ungrateful for the hospitality, drained my glass.

my second beverage of the evening was white wine, chosen because i figured it had been long enough since my last white wine. (that would've been thanksgiving a couple of years ago, when i downed an entire bottle by myself in front of SO's whole family. i don't rightly recall how festive the after-effects may have been, but everyone's still speaking to me, which is more than i can say for some of my college roommates, so i must not have been in too rough a shape.)

it had not been long enough since my last white wine...or maybe it was too dry or tart or just plain funky. (can you tell i'm not a conniseur? can you also tell i'm not quite sure how to spell "conneiseur"? i figure if i do it a different way each time, one is bound to be correct.) sadly, mama was unwilling to drain that glass for me.

so, in my state of sobriety (okay- two sips away from sobriety), i headed off to the restroom before dessert. let's just say i'm glad i had all my faculties in proper order when i made my little visit, because i'm afraid that otherwise, i might still be trapped in a stall or wrapped up in the automatic towel roller thingy.

in order to enter the stall, one had to practically climb up on top of the trashcan, which was wedged under the toilet paper dispenser. now, i am not a large person, so i can only imagine how some of the well-padded folks managed this feat of acrobatics. this is yet another instance when i think it would definitely be better to be a boy.

to add insult to injury, after extracting oneself from the stall and attempting to wash up in the sink, one was confronted with another problem. the hot faucet was perfectly honest, the cold barely trickled, and due to the dual-spout setup, it was impossible to mix the two and come up with a happy medium.

(i neglected to warn mama about the faucets, instead focusing on the heavy outer door and the bathroom stall gymnastics. upon her return to the dinner table, i expected her to remark on the water situation, but as it turned out, she'd found a way to tussle with the towel roller thingy (yes, that is a technical term), and somehow broke least i that's what i got from her rapunzel simile.)

in the next exciting installment: my bathroom woes continue, i attempt to eat using a spoon the size of a trowel, i take fabulous pictures of belfast, and somehow wind up with wet pants. (what vacation would be complete without all that- especially the wet pants?)

Monday, August 06, 2007

the land of little green men, part one

i should probably start by warning you that, sadly, the next few posts will be free of visual aids. i hate to disappoint you, but let me point out that you're not likely to take it nearly as hard as i did when i realized that my new (hand me down from mama) camera did not feel the need to share with my laptop any of the fabulous photos i took in dublin and belfast during our first two days in ireland.

i was almost as thrilled then as i was about finding out about the lack of photo evidence of my smooching the blarney stone, but that's another story for another post. (don't worry- i won't forget.)

at any rate, technical difficulties aside, and without further ado.....

day one: getting from here to there

i was a little nervous when told at the airtran ticket counter in charlotte that a seat wasn't assigned to me. i mean, when i ordered my tickets, i had seats. were thos rows tossed off the plane to make room for extra exit rows or something? as my (hopefully) fellow passengers boarded the plane, i noticed that three of us were left over: a girl roughly my age, an upper-middle aged woman, and myself. as luck would have it, the three of us wound up in first class.

i'm not sure why the other two ladies wound up in first class, but as far as i'm concerned, it was my belated birthday gift from the airline. how they knew i wanted a bag of tgi friday's tato skins instead of five mini pretzels in a vacuum sealed bag was anyone's guess, but i'll take it.

not only did i get a snack upgrade and not one, but two (two!) drinks during my hourlong (yeah, figures- these things will never happen during a cross country flight to phoenix, for some strange reason) flight to atlanta, but i also had entertainment, in the form of the upper middle aged woman, who wound up in the seat next to mine. in the space of an hour, i heard enough about her (recently ended) marriage to become adequately reassured that running screaming in the opposite direction is the only sane action to take when presented with an engagement ring.

the most important piece of advice from this dear lady is something that really should appear in "dear abby" sooner rather than later:

always be sure to check for signs of mental illness before getting married.

the flight from atlanta to boston was relatively uneventful. however, should you ever find yourself flying into/out of boston logan airport on airtran airlines, be forwarned- the terminal may or may not actually exist. i mean, there's a building there, but it's not labeled, and there are even airport employees who are unaware of its existence. very encouraging sign, i assure you.

after meeting up with mama in boston (how she found her way to my unmarked terminal is beyond me, though i'm glad she did), we headed over to the international flight area, where i got a great picture of a cow in the airport. (wait- was it a cow, or some other kind of animal? i'd check my photos, but the mystery animal was one of the photos nuked by my oh-so-helpful new camera.)

we got a not so great meal on the plane, though i shouldn't complain too much, because when was the last time you were on a flight where they actually provided something more than a half-size can of soda and bag of five pretzels without charging you five bucks for it? i think the large brown object in my hot meal was chicken, but decided discretion was the better part of valor and concentrated on my cheese and three leaves of lettuce salad instead.

after a brief stop in shannon (in western ireland), we arrived at the dublin airport and cleared customs just in time to narrowly miss the first pickup of our tour group. however, the unintended quality time spent at the airport allowed us ample time to hit the atm (woo-hoo! euros!), purchase my first three books (how could i pass up a "3 for the price of 2" sale? i mean, anyone who knows me knows i have a slight book habit. which reminds me- three of my goals for the next year (so far) are book-related.), and scribble my first handful of postcards...which i got around to mailing later in the day.

in the next thrilling episode: still no pictures, but i nearly become trapped in a bathroom and try my first guinness- though not necessarily in that order.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

out from under the pile?


since getting back from ireland a week ago, i've been playing catch up, albeit at a somewhat leisurely pace. i've been trying to get a few extra hours in at work in order to pay off what is undoubtedly a scary credit card balance (whom should i thank first for the weak dollar? i mean, seriously- the last time i was overseas, a euro cost roughly 80 cents. now it's closer to $1.50, which is ridiculous. oh- and since we visited both the republic of ireland and northern ireland, i had to stomach not only the euro exchange rate, but also that for pounds. let me tell you, paying $2 for a british pound is not something i stomach easily.), and i think i might possibly be caught up on sleep by next tuesday.

i managed to finish five books while on vacation (the painted veil by somerset maugham, you have to kiss a lot of frogs by laurie graff, the sirens of titan by kurt vonnegut, jesus land by julia scheeres, and the pilo family circus by will elliott), and of those five, i only jettisoned one at a hotel when finished, and that was because i'm over chick lit and the book weighed about five pounds and i needed to cut a little weight out of my suitcase anyway.

surprisingly, i spent almost as much time scribbling as i did reading, though had i been able to read on the tour bus for more than a minute and a half without wanting do decorate the scenery with some slightly used potatoes, i probably would have gotten through all fifteen of the books i'd packed/purchased along the way. i dutifully recorded the day's events each night, which is a damn good thing, since even a week after my return i have a hard time with the timeline of the trip. (however, i clearly recall where i met my sister's future husband and where i had my musical debut, so i guess my memory's not completely toasted from sleep deprivation.)

oh- and speaking of sleep deprivation, let me finish off this already disconnected post by recommending seeing weird al yankovic on tour. SO and i took my five year old sidekick and her ten year old brother to carowinds and their first concert last night (my belated present to the ten year old for his birthday). it. was. excellent. i even have a blurry picture taken with the evil camera to offer up as proof of our attendence (and our ability to sneak in a camera):