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Being in Ireland: Day 7

Overview

  • Got up, ate breakfast, headed out
  • Got confirmation of the latest news from Pat concerning planes.
  • Headed towards Clonmacnoise
  • Arrived at Clonmacnoise, took the tour and some snaps. Had some tea.
  • Left for Dublin
  • Arrived in Dublin, checked into hotel, went out for lunch and whatever
  • Wandered around for a bit, had some lunch, took the tram back to the hotel
  • Left for dinner at Abbey Tavern
  • Had dinner, saw the show
  • Left and came back to the hotel, said our goodbyes

Detail

Breakfast was pretty normal, except that everyone was already buzzing about the latest airport news: Most of the airports in Ireland were closed or would be closing very soon, due to more volcanic ash from Iceland. I ate breakfast and worried. After breakfast, I went up to my room for the little remaining time and watched the news, cursing my lack of Internet access in the hotel.

Once the news had shifted to a new subject, I decided to go on down to the bus. As it turns out, most of the other people were already down there, even though we had 15 minutes remaining. As we drove away from the hotel, Pat told us the news that had been passed on to him concerning the airports, though there wasn’t much to it that we didn’t already know.

Our one and only stop this morning was Clonmacnoise, a monastic settlement established in the sixth century. We arrived there around a hour and a half after leaving the hotel. The weather was rainy, misty, and cold, and the general mood was kind of worried (about the airport closures) and/or simply tired, but still Clonmacnoise was fascinating. Though the original wooden buildings didn’t survive, a settlement (or the ruins of) has been here since the sixth century. It’s hard not to feel a bit awed by that. What I was looking at was history, a history from a time long before my home country was even a dream. True, I could have wished for some warmer weather. It was pretty damned cold out there, cold enough that after getting some pictures of the place Mom and I decided to ditch the tour and go get a warm drink. I felt bad for doing so, because the tour guide was funny and really knew his stuff, but the cold was just too much. But, still, the place was utterly fascinating.

Once the tour was over and everybody had the chance to get a hot drink, we left for Dublin. Pat filled us in on some more news concerning the airports: if the wind did what it was supposed to do this afternoon, then the airports should be able to fly people out in the morning. Until then, there wasn’t much he or we could do but continue on. He then proceeded to give us the transfer information for the morning. As it turned out, he wouldn’t be the one taking us to the airport; he’s only allowed by law and/or union rules to drive the bus so many days straight before he has to take a day off. He had arranged transfers for us to the airport in the morning with a company he knows and trusts, though. We were also informed that if the worst thing happened and the flights were canceled in the morning, then we would still need to go to the airport to arrange a new flight home. After that they would take us back to a hotel or… something. I was not quite certain what would happen. The only thing we knew was that CIE had a “contingency plan” for something like this.

A bit later we arrived in Dublin and checked into our hotel for the night, the Ashling Hotel (by Best Western). Pat had gotten us to Dublin nice and early, so we now had a choice: we could stay at the hotel and walk to anything we wanted to do (or take a tram, bus, or cab), or he could drop us off at either the Guinness Storehouse, the center of Dublin, the Harley Davidson Center (that one was specially requested — and yes, you read correctly, that’s the American motorcycles), or the Jameson Distillery. As before, though, he would take you there, but it was your own responsibility to make it back. At first I thought about just staying at the hotel. It would give me a long time to relax, and in general I was kinda just tired. But Pat had arranged for us to have 4 1/2 hours to ourselves, the longest stretch of free time we’d ever been given before dinner time, and I’m in Dublin. So I decided to venture out.

I did decide right away, though, that I wasn’t going to visit the Guinness Storehouse. Pat had indicated that it could take 3-4 hours to go through there, and I just didn’t want to dedicate that much of my free time for just a self guided tour. Also…..I had already spent most of my trip “allowance”, and the tour cost €15. Given that I still had lunch to buy, too, I just couldn’t do it. Now don’t let me fool you; if I really wanted to go on the tour I would. I’m in Dublin now; hopefully I won’t be by tomorrow afternoon. But concerning the tour, when I was thinking about what I wanted to do, I knew the tour was kinda just “meh” to me.

By the same token, I didn’t want to spend all afternoon at the Jameson Distillery. It sounded interesting, but again it just didn’t rate that high in my list. What I really wanted to do was just wander around a bit, get something to eat, perhaps see the Book of Kells and Trinity College, and then retire back to my room to write in my journal, rest, and prepare for tonight’s dinner and show at the Abbey Tavern.

Luckily, dropping us off in the center of Dublin basically meant dropping us off at the gates to Trinity College. Mom, Liz, and Evelyn also got off at that stop, but their plans were different so we split up. I first walked onto the Trinity campus. What I saw of it looked beautiful. I found a map easily enough and headed towards the Book of Kells. When I arrived at the building, I groaned. I knew they were probably going to charge a admission fee, but €9? To see a book? Umm, no. OK, I know it’s not just a book or anything, but I noticed the normal admission fee to Clonmacnoise when we entered it, and a standard adult’s admission for that is only €5. Admission to the Cliffs of Moher broke down to only €1.33 per person. Admission to Blarney Castle was admittedly €10, but at least there was a castle and surrounding grounds. Perhaps if I knew the planes were flying for sure in the morning then I might have gone in, but I said the heck with it. I knew my mom and them were going in, so maybe they will get pics for me. I took some snaps of the college itself, noted some cool things about it and the huge library, and then was in my way.

On the way to the tram station I kept my eye open for food. I turned my nose up at Burger King and McDonald’s. I looked at several bars and restaurants, but none of them were any kind of cheap. I stopped at a Spar and looked at their sandwiches, but even after ordering a cheap one I just couldn’t eat it. It kind of looked like gas station food, i.e. food that only really looks good when you are drunk. Luckily that wasted only a couple euros.

I did, however, stumble across a donut vendor. Fresh made donuts, sugar or chocolate, one for 60 cents or 6 for €3. I thought, why not? It sounded good, and I needed something to eat. I was feeling light-headed, given that it was around 2 in the afternoon and I hadn’t eaten since 7:30 that morning. So I got one. It was freaking fantastic. It was very, very fresh, nice and soft, still warm from the cooking, and perfectly coated with sugar. Ohhhhh, it was goooooooood. I immediately went back and got another, and seriously had to stop myself from “saving money” and ordering 6. It was a good thing that I spotted a sandwich shop soon after. I’m not sure I could have resisted getting yet another donut much longer. :)

I ended up getting a simple ham and cheese on white bread from the sandwich shop. It was only €3, so that wasn’t too bad. It tasted like your standard ham and cheese. Nothing special. I then looked at the tram map and realized: I don’t know which way I’m supposed to go. I knew the name of my hotel, but I didn’t know what area it was in. I knew it was the end of the line for one of the trains, but I didn’t know which one. I took a random guess, and as I was getting a ticket two other people from our tour showed up, asking how to get tickets. Luckily I had figured out how to get tickets (it wasn’t hard) and she knew which stop was the correct one. By our powers combined, we got tickets and got on the train. I had a nice chat with them (a mother/daughter pair; the daughter is going back to the States after this trip, having worked for the BBC in London as a intern), and we arrived back at the hotel. I went up to my room to shower, rest, write, and get ready for dinner tonight.

We left for the Abbey Tavern at 6:15. It actually took a little while to get there due to rush hour traffic. We were shown downstairs to the stage area where tables were set up for us and a couple other groups. We sat down, and we each had a card telling us the menu for the evening. We could choose our main entree, but other than that the menu was already set. I chose chicken just because it sounded best at the time. I thought about ordering a drink, but decided to save the money (and a drink was part of the meal, though it was Bailey’s coffee, so it was caffeinated).

The food was pretty good. Standard-ish fair, but hearty and it tasted quite nice. They’ve obviously honed their skills over the years. The entertainment began somewhere in the latter part of the main course. It took a bit for the crowd and the entertainers to really warm to each other, but eventually things got going and much craic (Gaelic word meaning essentially “fun” or “good times”, pronounced like “crack”) was had. I did kind of wish that the dancers had done more than just Riverdance songs, and I could wish that the stage had been higher and larger so the musicians could play at the same time the dancers danced, but that’s just how it is.

I will add that it was just about impossible to get a picture of either the singers or the dancers with my camera. There was just too much movement. I did however, I think, get some nice shots of the candles and drinks and such. And, uh, one of the times I was trying to get a nice shot of a candle on a table, I had completely tuned out what was happening. The fiddle player had noticed what I was doing and had actually came and sat down beside me. We had a good laugh, I snapped a shot of him while he was there, and he moved on. :)

We left Abbey Tavern and headed back to the hotel. True to what Pat said earlier, driving back was much faster since there was far less traffic. Pat passed on some good news: at this time, Dublin airport is set to open as normal at 4am. Pat then, of course, had to pass on some bad news: once we got back, he had to say goodbye. He wished us well in both English and Gaelic, and we could tell that he was truly choking up when he said it had been a absolute pleasure driving us around, and that he too was sorry that our journey together had to come to a end. You could tell half the bus was near tears, myself included.

Regardless of any complications getting home, this has been one absolutely fantastic vacation. The weather wasn’t always great, but it was for most of the time, and I got to see Ireland at its best. I got to meet relatives that I barely knew existed, and I finally got to see what life is really like in another country. Pat worked very hard to make sure our trip was as comfortable as possible, while at the same time working hard to teach us about Ireland and show us a land he truly loves. He even arranged to get us a extra tour element here and there, like the Connemara Marble Factory tour and an extra scenic drive in Galway. He really gave his all to make our time here great. I wish I could give him five times the tip I did, and in the future I would likely pay extra to have him as the guide.

I will be very sad indeed to leave in the morning. This vacation has almost been like a dream. We’d get up in the morning, eat a bit of food, and then it would be off to see fantastic sights and meet wonderful people. In the evening, tired after a long day, we could immediately get our rest or enjoy some time out at a bar. Eventually went to sleep and then got up the next day for more grand adventures.

I won’t lie, though. There were times of frustration with my family, and also times of loneliness. There were many times I would have given quite a lot to have someone truly here with me, not just someone who happened to be going in the same direction. And though traveling by bus had many, many upsides, you are stuck going at the pace the tour company sets, and seeing the things they want you to see. True, sometimes this can be a boon; I might not have travelled out to Clanmacnoise today because the weather wasn’t nice, so I would have completely missed it out of simple laziness. But other times it can be annoying, if for no other reason than you have to wait on and plan for everybody else. I can eat pretty fast, so I could normally be back on the road in 20-30 minutes, and we’d be there for an hour. Also, I could have happily eaten elsewhere for a couple of the nights, since the meal provided was just a “safe” buffet rather than something more representative of Ireland. Oh, and wi-fi. What wi-fi? Tonight is yet another example of a high class hotel, but no wireless, not even for pay.

However, I think the bus really was the best way to experience Ireland, at least for the first time. We were taken care of. We were watched over. Yeah, we had to switch hotels, which can be annoying. But they made the process as painless as possible; all we had to do was put our bag outside the door in the morning, and it would be delivered to our new hotel room for us. With the exception of extras we chose to do, all the admission fees were taken care of, and we were usually able to just waltz in. We were almost always dropped off at the door anywhere we went, and we had a true knowledgable native guide to give us good recommendations. And we always knew that Pat was calling ahead, making arrangements, and simply in general being there for us. He met us at the airport and made us feel immediately welcome, even though we were quite tired, and was with us the whole way.

This was a trip that I hope I never, ever forget, and I already know that I would love to visit this country again. That may or may not happen, but the money I spent on this trip was well spent indeed.

Now, to pack, and then bed.  Tomorrow, home.