Ireland Journal: Arrival and Acclimation

6 10 2009

Since Matt and I haven’t had any time or money (Dear Recession: Please End) to go out to eat recently, I haven’t had any new material for restaurant posts (home cooked meals coming soon). Conveniently enough, I found the journal that I kept when I backpacked around Ireland in the spring and summer of 2001 just the other night and it reminded me that I had always meant to preserve it electronically. So–that’s what I’m doing. I’m going to record excerpts from it every week or so (slightly edited because my 23-year-old self was a bit more skittish with her writing). I realize that it may not be as entertaining to everyone else, but it’s the closest I’m going to get to Ireland again in the near future, and it makes me happy to reminisce.

This first excerpt is from my day of departure from University of Delaware, where my brother was at school and I caught a shuttle to the airport (long story) and my arrival in Dublin.

May 1, 2001

Andrew and I were waiting for the Delaware Express Limo Service to pick me up at UD, totally expecting a van, when a real limousine pulls up to whisk me away to the airport. Picture a limo pulling up to a dorm to pick up a 23-year-old in a backpack that’s almost as big as she is. I wish I had been calm enough to enjoy the bar and TV inside but I have never been so nervous in my life, though if I can survive living in Tokyo for two years, I think I can survive 2 1/2 months alone in Ireland. We’ll see.

May 2, 2001

Well I did it. It’s official. I’m in Ireland. I took a cab from the airport and the whole time the driver was talking to me about two gay Irish actors that started a Theater together in Sligo and an Irish poet that he didn’t care for but that “we” (Americans) gave “some kind of prize” to. He did not know the names of any of these people. What a character. [I am assuming that he was talking about the Hawk’s Well Theater and Yeats.] I got to Alpine House, where I was staying for just that night, in Santry, a pleasant, residential neighborhood just outside of the city complete with kids running around with Super Soakers. One of my main goals of this trip was to stay away from cities because I was sick of them.

[Side note: I did the math very carefully back then when I was deciding where to stay.  The average nightly stay at a B&B was around 20-25 Irish pounds per night, including breakfast.  The breakfasts were so large that I usually did not need lunch, and I would buy some light snacks at grocery stores for dinner–hardly more than 5 pounds each night.  So, my average daily cost for food and lodging (beer not included) was usually around 25-30 pounds.  A hostel could cost around 15 pounds, plus I would have to buy 10-15 pounds of food for three normal-sized meals instead of one large and one small, so it was usually just as cheap to stay in B&B’s as it was to stay in hostels and about 1/3 of the price most are now.  And, I got to eat an Irish Breakfast every morning if I wanted to.]

It was a beautiful day in Dublin, and despite what I really wanted to do, shower and sleep, I caught a bus into the city.  Two friendly locals pointed me towards Eden Quay (pronounced “key”), where I had to catch a return bus. I wandered around a bit and finally alit in O’Neill’s Pub where I survived my first lone meal at the bar: a bowl of soup, brown bread, and a pint of Guinness.

The Aran Islands

3 07 2009

I’d like to take a trip down memory lane this weekend, back to a time when I could pick up and travel for three months without a care in the world. This time was the summer of 2001, before the twin towers fell, before I knew what blogging was, and, obviously, before I had a digi-cam (I apologize for the scanned images below). I spent the summer in Ireland, and I spent some of that time on the Aran Islands off of the west coast. Time went so slow on these islands that I think I left before I arrived.




I was on Inishmore, the big island, for a week. This was uncommon as most visitors took the morning ferry to the island and left on the last one, back to the mainland, at 5:00. I stayed overnight and met some young Irish troublemakers who were camping for Bank Holiday weekend. They took me on a pub crawl (three pubs, one street) and rode me back to my B&B on the backs of their bicycles.

By day I rented bikes and rode around the island. Dun Aengus was the main attraction:


Inishmaan (Inis Meain) is the middle island, and the furthest from civilization. This island warranted a day trip only. I was planning on spending another week, but in half a day I was waiting for the ferry to come back and get me.  The main problem was that I was there during a hoof and mouth outbreak and a lot of the island was off limits (because most of the land was used for sheep grazing).



This was the town of An Cora:


These were the major sites I saw (Synge’s Cottage and Synge’s Chair):



It was beautiful and desolate. Completely desolate. The only pub was closed all day and the only person I saw was peering at me from behind a closed door. It was a welcome change from the hoards of tourists.

The last island is Inisheer (Inis Oirr). Closest to the coast of County Clare and the town of Doolin, this island doesn’t attract the sheer number of tourists that Inishmore does, but there is a bit of civilization: a small cafe with ice cream.  The sites are below and are, in order, the Plassy Freighter Shipwreck, Teampall Chaoimhain, and O’Brien Castle.




Getting to and from the Aran Islands can be tricky, but it’s easier in the summer.  Ferries go to Inishmore from Galway and Doolin a few times a day in the summer and the biggest and fullest boat is usually going there so you can’t miss it. To the smaller islands, make sure you tell the ferry men which island you are going to, or they may skip it. I was the only person on my ferry going to Inishmaan.  Island Ferries goes to and from all three islands from Galway.  Inishmore trips are a few times a day but the ferries only take one trip in the morning and one in the evening to and from the smaller islands year round.  Doolin Ferries goes to all three islands from Doolin.  In the summer the ferries go back and forth a few times a day but from November through March, there is no ferry service.

International Wish List Summer 2009

26 05 2009

Behold: Part 3 of my Summer 2009 Wish Lists. I will either need to have two International lists because it was way too hard to choose 10 destinations only or elaborate and create a full itinerary for each of the ten destinations.  I may do both–stay tuned!

1. South Africa: My interest began in 7th grade when I researched Apartheid and journalist Steve Biko for a school project. Since then I have been intrigued with the country and how it has been portrayed in Hollywood and music. I want to see for myself. I would concentrate my time in Soweto, Pretoria, and Johannesburg.

2. Canada: Fly to Vancouver and take a luxury train across the continent to Prince Edward Island.

Route: Vancouver–>Edmonton–>Saskatoon (Shelly Tambo!)–>Winnipeg–>Toronto.

This trips takes about 3 1/2 days!  More if I get off to explore.  Spend a day or two in Toronto to stretch my legs.

Then hop back on the train from Toronto–>Montreal–>Moncton.

This trip takes one day but I’ll probably make at least a one-night stop in Montreal.  The last leg from Moncton to Charlottetown is about three hours.  The return trip would be a ferry to Caribou, Nova Scotia, drive to Halifax and fly back to Philadelphia.  I’d need at least 3 weeks for this trip.  Thanks.

3. Spain and France: Fly to Madrid, take a train to Barcelona and through the Alps to southern France.  Stops in Perpignon, Toulouse, Carcassonne, and Bordeaux.  Eat and drink.  A lot.

4. Japan: Tokyo, of course, but go for the main purpose of attending the Earth Celebration with Kodo on Sado Island.

5. Ireland: Spend more time in Donegal, climb Croagh Patrick again, spend another week on Inishmore, and a few days in Galway and Doolin.

6. Ecotour of Ecuador and Galapogos Island: I am not a fan of organized tours but my serious lack of Spanish skills may force me to join a group for this trip.  I am also very curious about this new “ecotour” fad and if it is indeed just a fad.  Technically the trip would fall during the winter holidays, because the tour only runs a couple of times a year, but planning now is key.  (I’m talking like I am actually going.  Ha!)

7. Iceland: It’s not as cold as it sounds and what better way to cool off in summer?  With 24-hour daylight, you can see the sights in the middle of the night, if you so choose.  On the itinerary: glacier exploration, Westfjords, and rotten shark meat.  Mmmm.

8. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines: I will readily admit that my love of Pirates of the Caribbean affected this choice.  Laugh, kid, even make fun, I don’t care.  I love me some real-life movie settings.

9. China: Dragon Boat Races in June.  I’m participating in the Philadelphia races in October so how neat would it be to see the original tradition in action?  Races are throughout China, but could I still catch the May 28th race in Guangzhou?  Maybe if I leave tonight.

10. Benelux region: Belgium (Ghent–to escape the tourists), Netherlands (Amsterdam–just to see what the fuss is about), and Luxembourg.

Got the travel bug yet?  Itching to book a plane flight somewhere?  Anywhere?  This list of mine is just the tip of an iceberg in Iceland.  My lust for the perfect detailed itinerary now has ten chances to be satiated.  Please take the poll below to help me choose which trip to expand on next: