Monday, October 31, 2011

My Big Fat Irish Vacation: Day 1 - USA and Dublin

We're finally off to Ireland! Except for one "minor" detail. To get to Ireland from America, you generally need to get on a plane. And I don't particularly like airplanes. The closer we got to our departure date, the more horror stories I heard about miserable trans-Atlantic flights. This did not inspire confidence. I wasn't afraid of our falling out of the air; I was just afraid of 7 or 8 hours of unmitigated misery. Turns out the trans-Atlantic flight was fine; it was the domestic flight that was the baddie. We were packed in so tightly that my claustrophobia tried to rear its ugly head - heart pounding, breath getting short, the usual schizophrenic internal dialog between the rational "yeah, it sucks but we're okay" and the monkey mind screaming its fool head off. But I got control of it and by the time the plane took off, I wasn't happy, but the monkey had been persuaded to shut up.

The Aer Lingus flight was actually rather pleasant - at least about as pleasant as being shoved into a metal tube with 200+ total strangers and being hurled through the air at over 400 mph can be. The seats were larger, there was a lot more leg space, and the flight attendants had a completely different attitude. Aer Lingus completely won my heart when they let me watch the latest episode of "Top Gear", one of my very most favorite guilty pleasures, on the little screen in the back of the seat - at no extra charge, I might add! So we're winging it to Ireland and I'm watching James May drive the  new lunar rover. I was too cheap to buy a Guiness, so the scene wasn't quite a perfect as it could have been, but it was pretty darn good.

We got to Dublin about 10 a.m. The plan was to pick up the rental car, visit the neolithic tombs at Bru Na Boinne, and stay the night at Trim. We got the car, set out - and were back at the airport in less than an hour. We'd barely gotten clear of Dublin when Tom side-swiped a stone wall in the town of Sords and really messed up the passenger side of the rental car. Turns out that the hardest part of driving on the "wrong" side of the road is not staying on your side of the road, it is keeping your vehicle positioned properly in its lane. As Tom pointed out, you're used to protecting your right when you drive in the US; figuring out where the left of the car is is a whole different ball game.

We were completely rattled when we got back to the airport, so our hearts were not broken when the rental car people very apologetically informed us that it would be at least a day before they could get another car with an automatic transmission. We'd also done the math and realized that we'd been going nearly 24 hours. The adrenaline had worn off in a big way, and all we wanted to do was stop for a while. The rental car clerk, whose name I wish I could remember, she was fantastic, pulled out her cell phone, found us an inexpensive hotel in Dublin, and told us how to get there on the buses.

It took us a bit to find the hotel. Once we found Talbot Street, we were looking for something rather large. What we finally found was a narrow door leading to a small lobby; the hotel was actually on the floors above. It wasn't much to look at, but it was clean and the beds were comfortable, so we were good with it. It was late afternoon before we were up again and went out to explore the neighborhood. We found out later that we were on the "bad" side of the Liffey River. I was not impressed - but then, my idea of bad neighborhoods has been informed by places like the south side of Chicago. This was just the neighborhood where working people instead of tourists stayed. The streets were pedestrianized within a few blocks of the hotel, and we enjoyed getting out into the sunshine and air and doing some people watching. The auto-free streets were packed with various street vendors; I am under the impression that Dubliners get most of their fruits and vegetables that way. It was end of the day, and they were determined to sell the last of their goods. Their chants and rhymes reminded me of the opening scenes from "Porgy and Bess," just with a different accent.

StreetVendor in Dublin

There were baby buggies all over the place. Ireland is a very young country, about half the population is under the age of 35. The baby buggies are strong evidence that they are busy doing what people that age do. I was also surprised at how rarely I was hearing an Irish accent. I did not know that when the USSR collapsed and the Celtic Tiger began to roar, scads of people left Eastern Europe for Ireland. The strong presence of the Catholic Church makes Ireland a particularly comfortable place for the Poles; Polish in Ireland has become like Spanish in America - it's good to have at least a smattering of it in your tool box. An interesting shift for a nation that historically has been the one providing emigrants to the rest of the world.

As always, I had fun taking signs literally. I saw this one on doors all over Dublin - just wish I'd been the one who'd thought to add the commentary!

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