Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Irish Whirlwind

We woke up in Glasgow about a week ago, disappointed to leave behind the relative luxury of a television set in a private room with a bathroom, but knowing that we needed to get a move on to get to the land of leprechauns. We woke early in the morning and got on a bus to the port town of Troon to take a Ferry to Ireland. A train ride down the coast saw us arrive in Dublin, which was the city we were most excited to see in all of the British Isles.

Isaac’s Hostel was our establishment for the next three nights, but we had been thinking about staying longer . . . until we got out onto the streets of Dublin.
We’re not really big fans of visiting American chains, but we can use them to gauge how expensive a place is, so when we saw the Hard Rock Cafe in the Temple Bar District we checked it out. $22 for a burger and fries. Uh oh. We ended up getting falafel and kebabs for $16. Later, back at the hostel, we learned that Dublin, and Ireland as a whole was one of the most expensive places in Europe.
The next morning we woke and made a bee-line for the most visited tourist attraction of Ireland: the Alpha Alehouse, the Bastion of Beer, the Capital of Coopers and the Supreme Source of Suds. No visit to Dublin is complete without a visit to the Guinness Storehouse.
Seven floors tall, with a 360 degree bar on top, the Guinness Storehouse is a lesson in how to make, distribute, market and pour Arthur Guinness’ creation. It began when Guinness found the perfect water source for his beer and signed a 7000 year lease on the land for 45 pounds a year. First we learned the process of making Guinness works. Next came transportation and the history of the ships that have been used to turn Guinness into a global brand and my personal favorite part, how the coopers would hand-make the casks. For the record, “barrel” actually refers to a certain size of cask.
Finally, we learned to pour The Perfect Pint.
Pouring a pint of Guinness is actually a process that will take two minutes.
  1. Hold the Guinness glass firmly at a 45 degree angle.
  2. Pull the tap fully towards you to release the proper mixture of gas and Guinness. Pulling only partway will mess up the gas to Guinness ratio.
  3. Aim for the harp on the glass. Slowly tip the glass back to level. Stop when the Guinness is mid-way up the harp.
  4. The Guinness will “surge”, which is gas escaping the Guinness and creating the head. Wait until the surge stops.
  5. Push the tap away from you to finish filling the glass. No gas will be mixed with the Guinness. The Guinness head should be about 1mm over the top of the glass. The Perfect Pint will have no spillage.
We did want to make it to the top of the Storehouse for a pint, so we had to get another one pint (aww, dang!)
Unfortunatley, I made a major mistake.
I went to the bartender and ordered the drinks, but when the surge was settling I told him.
“So I guess you don’t serve car bombs here, eh?”
Now for those of you unfamiliar with the $3 special available from the Royal in my college days, the Irish Car Bomb is a drink that is 1/2 a pint of Guinness. You then get a shot of Jameson Whiskey and Bailey’s Irish Cream. You drop the shot into the Guinness and chug. It will curdle, so go fast!
The bartender looked at me like I’d just offended his entire nation, which I think I had.
“No. You will find nothing of the sort available here, nor anywhere in Dublin. You will not find any ‘car bombs’ nor that ‘Black and Tan’ that you favor. In fact, if you order one, you’ll probably get kicked out of the pub!” Ouch. I then thought about even the phrase, “Irish Car Bomb” and figured the name itself was pretty offensive. I thanked him, gave him a disproportionate tip and headed up to the top to view Dublin with Leslie.
That night, we headed to the “cheap Boxty place” the guy at the Hostel had pointed out… $20 a plate. Eventually, we found ourselves a noodle house where we could get fried noodles for $15 for the both of us.
That night, we went on TripAdvisor to find some discount food places, and it actually worked okay. Unfortunately, when we asked where the “Parnell St. Pub” was the friendly guy gave us directions, but said, “make sure your guard’s up and you have a hatchet before you go in there.” We ate more noodles.
That night we went to a college bar the hostel guy had told us about, which had some good music and was fun. We wandered through the Temple Bar district. “Traditional” Irish Music blasted out of bars and tourists went up and down along with pickpockets and touts. It was entertaining, but we didn’t stay too long as we had a tour the next day.
Our biggest expense of the trip was a day-tour to the Cliffs of Mohor, which was definitely worth it. It also doubled as our transportation from Dublin to the west coast town of Galway. The highlight of the tour for me was learning that there were 14 families that ruled Galway for years, one of which is the Morrises, which is a major branch of the Wokich family tree. Throughout Ireland there’s little keychains and stuff with the family crests. This was different though, as in Eyre Square in the center of Galway there was fourteen family banners flying, with the Morris’ family banner flying in bright yellow.
The Cliffs themselves were awesome, a sheer 700m drop from the coast to the water.
All that said, the highlight was the tour guide himself. He was a wealth of history, geology and legends.
My personal favorite was about The King’s Head. (Here’s hoping I get it right).
When King James I was captured by Oliver Cromwell he decided to cut off his head, but Cromwell could not find an Englishman willing to do it. He turned to the Irish in Galway and found his volunteer. Still, payment was needed, but instead of gold or silver, the headsman received a pub and named it “The King’s Head”.
The next day was the last day of the Premier League, so Leslie and I watched Manchester City earn their first title in over four decades in The King’s Head. The staff had shirts on the back that said, “drop on in” in Gaelic.
That was Mother’s Day and fortunately we got to speak to my parents over Skype and Leslie’s mom Deena over Skype connected to my Mom’s telephone.
That day was our last non-travel day. In fact, since then, we’ve been on buses, planes and trains almost non-stop. Our goal is to make it to Morocco for a few days before we have to activate our Eurail pass, which is good for three months. We came up with the cheapest way (we think) to get from Ireland to Morrocco while we were in Glasgow and purchased two RyanAir tickets. That journey has made the following happen.
  1. Day 1 – Take a bus from Galway to Cork on the southern tip of Ireland
  2. Day 2 – Fly from Cork to London – Gatwick Airport
  3. Day 2 – Bus from London-Gatwick to London-Victoria Street Station
  4. Day 2 – Underground from London-Victoria Street Station to to our hostel
  5. Day 3 – Underground from the hostel to London-Victoria Street Station
  6. Day 3 – Bus from London-Victoria Street Station to London – Stansted Airport
  7. Day 3 – Fly from London-Stansted to Seville, Spain
  8. Spend a few days in Seville.
As I write this, we’re on the bus to Stansted Airport from Victoria Street Station in London. We still have to figure out how to get from Seville to Morocco, but we figure we’ll have better info once we’re closer to the Straight of Gibraltar. Plus, the hostel we have lined up has been rated number 8 or 9 in the world by for the last few years running, so we’re excited to be there and relax in the warmth for a few days. We’re also going to use it to regroup, as Leslie’s fighting a bit of a cold and I’m out of clean socks.
This stretch of travel days has been a bit grueling. We got to meander Cork for a bit, which was nice, but you can’t really get much of a feel for a city in 1/2 a day. This morning we also were able to go to Notting Hill in London, which was a great market, but it would have been nice to be able to hang out there a bit longer.
There’s been some cultural differences, but the British Isles are probably the countries most like the USA. We have been able to travel with some Brits, and while we laugh at the few words that are different there’s a reason we have a “Special Relationship” as the politicians put it. Our cultures are similar, we hold reasonably similar worldviews, and of the utmost importance for travelers, we both speak English as our primary language.
That ends today.
Hastla la vista, English speaking world.

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