Sunday, January 8, 2012

Day Six: Killarney, Pt. 2

For the first time on the trip we get to sleep in, which means I wake up for breakfast at seven-thirty instead of six-thirty in the morning, and I don’t have to put my luggage outside our door. Pure bliss.

Our first excursion of the day is a drive around the Ring of Kerry. It’s a shame that we’re coming to this area so late in the trip, because so many people have told me that the Ring of Kerry boasts some of the most beautiful landscape in the country. Unfortunately, I’ve seen so many picturesque coastlines, I’m kind of landscaped out. The days are blending together, and one rolling green hill looks exactly like the next. The days are blending together as well. I’m starting to get vacation fever, where I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t living on a bus. Is it day? Is it night? How many thatch roofed cottages are too many?

We stop at what our guide promises to be an absolutely spectacular view, and apparently he was right, because one of the pictures I took from this spot is now the background on my iPad and it still makes me want to cry a little every time I look at it, especially when I’m playing the Lord of the Rings soundtrack on said iPad at the same time. On an unrelated note, I eat seafood chowder for the third and final time on our trip.

We eventually return to Killarney for our jaunty car rides. My tour book calls it a “jaunting” car ride, but I swear, our guide said jaunty and I like the sound of that better. We climb up onto old timey wagons as our jaunty car driver doles out plaid fleece blankets. I am squashed in on a bench next to a cop from New York (or was it Boston?) of Irish descent and his sassy blond wife. Our driver is a short squat fellow who looks like a Mary Poppins extra and pronounces his “th’s” like “t’s.” I don’t remember his name, but the horse was named Charlie. Alka, a doctor from New Jersey, keeps sassing our driver about his jokes. I knew I liked her for a reason.

Riding through a national park, our driver points out a herd of deer, which are allegedly of Japanese origin, and are kept in this park for the sole purpose of feeding an indigenous eagle. It is illegal to hunt the deer, as this is the eagle’s only source of food. In hindsight, this story sounds kind of crazy and I’m wondering if our guide was just making crap up.

The jaunty car takes us to Ross Castle, where I once more harass my mother to take comical photos of me climbing around the ruins. On the way back, Alka convinces our driver to let her sit in the front, and then drive the jaunty car. This lady is out of control, and I am greatly amused. While I appreciate how modern travel allows us to cross countries and even continents in a matter of hours, there is something about traveling by horse that is charming and magical. For a moment, I almost wish I was one of those awkward girls who grew up on farms and learned to ride horses since she was three. I don’t want the ride to end. I want to jump on the horse and run away to join a traveling Irish circus.

Back in town, it instantly starts to pour and my mom and I duck into a shop to purchase my father a hat very similar to the one our jaunty car driver was wearing. When the rainstorm intensifies, we help the lady shopkeeper drag her racks and baskets into the store. See Ireland? See what a kind, helpful American I am? Wouldn’t you like to have me dwell within your borders? I thought you’d see it my way.

We’re on our own for dinner, and I am horrified to discover I am craving pizza. After a deal of whininess on my part, we walk back into town and find a nice, relatively inexpensive Italian restaurant to eat at. It’s not bad, but it’s no Papa John’s pizzeria.

Back at the hotel, we sit down with a lovely lady from Vancouver for a drink. I proceed to get slightly buzzed and tell her how happy it makes me to meet a successful, beautiful single woman who is 40. We talk about marriage, choosing our future paths, and just life in general. I think for the first time what an opportunity it is to go on one of these tours. You’re thrust into close quarters with a bunch of strangers, and while some of them might be real weirdos, you can also meet some really incredible people. With that thought, I fall into bed, now more than just buzzed, and quickly pass out.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Day Five: Killarney

I don’t remember much about the next morning, because I was hungover. I remember wanting a Perrier and settling for the Ireland equivalent. Our first stop of the day was a quick stroll round the quaint village of Adare, chalk full of thatched roof cottages. Most of our time in Adare, however, was spent trying to find dental floss. There was none to be had, at least in the sense there was nothing like the spools of thin waxed string that we crazy Americans are used to. We did manage to buy a sack of individual thick threads that the lady at the apothecary claimed would be exactly like our dental floss, only it wasn’t at all, and I could barely get it in between my teeth.

For the first time ever, I managed to doze on the bus. It was that or get even more nauseous from the constant twisting, winding coastal roads. At last we stopped for lunch, in the most whimsically named town ever: Dingle. Needless to say, Dingle was a real delight.

If you’ve ever heard of the town of Dingle, you may know that it the city has a mascot. That mascot is Fungi the dolphin. Fungi is actually a real dolphin who likes to hang around the bay in Dingle. He first showed up in 1984. In case you hadn’t checked a calendar in awhile, it will soon be 2012, which makes Fungi a few years past the typical twenty-five year dolphin lifespan. Our tour guide pondered the question of what Dingle will do when Fungi is no more. Along the wharf was a charming statue of Fungi. Somehow I managed to bamboozle my mother and Evelyn into taking comical pictures with the Fungi statue. Joy is had by all.

I have to say the only downside to Dingle was the dog poo that seemed to be all over the city, in spite of the numerous signs posted telling people to clean up after their dogs. Did the people of Dingle just not care? Maybe they didn’t have as strict of fines as they do in Los Angeles. Or maybe the dogs are all jealous of the attention Fungi gets, and aims to ruin Dingle tourism. All I know is that it took fifteen minutes, several puddles of rainwater, and a very thin twig to clean off my mother’s shoe.

After saying goodbye to Fungi and the good people of Dingle, we continued down the coast, expecting to wind our way up to some famous rock or something up on a hill. Perhaps if we’d actually made it up to said rock, I’d remember the name, but we didn’t so therefore I didn’t. After the previous day’s downpour, a coastal bridge had washed out, denying us access to this mysterious rock and the picturesque landscape leading up to it. You could literally look across the enormous hills and see the long strips of brown where the rain swept the dirt from the mountain top down to the sea. What was most impressive though, was the skillful way our bus driver Mickey managed to turn the bus around on a narrow coastal road without falling off the edge, or running down one of the various sheep or cows meandering around the place.

All in all, it wasn’t the most exciting day, but it was a nice break. We arrived in Killarney that evening and had a bit of time to just relax, take a hot shower before we dined at the hotel on horribly salty mackerel. If you can imagine the texture of cooked fish, only instead of a meat or fishy taste, it’s like you dumped an entire container of Morton’s onto your tongue. I believe it was that evening that I vowed to stop trying to eat in Ireland and just stick to the Guinness.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Day Four: Ennis

The next morning, I awoke too tired to even feel angry anymore. It only took four days to break my spirit. You win, bus tour. You win. We actually managed to get downstairs to breakfast early, only to find half the old people from our tour were already milling about the lobby, getting cranky that the hotel hasn’t opened their breakfast buffet yet. Probably because they all went to bed the previous night at 7am.

Our first stop of the day is a little town called Knock. There wasn’t much in Knock, other than a rather large shrine to the Virgin Mary and a surplus of religious themed gift shops. Apparently, back in 1879, an apparition of the Virgin Mary, Saint John and Saint Joseph appeared to about seventy people in this very spot. This made me think of when I was little, and my catholic nanny would tell me all sorts of miracle stories about holy statues coming to life and saving kids from fires. The statues in Knock, however, did not do any of this while I was there, but maybe that’s because I’m not a Catholic. It was all a little awkward to watch people trying to go to church when you‘re just a tourist who wants to snap a few pics and then use the bathroom.

Previous in the trip, we’d experienced a bit of rain, but nothing that made me regret the absence of a Disneyworld poncho. Then we got to Galway for lunch. My mom and I took refuge in a delightful little crepe restaurant where we drank tea and gorged on sugar and dough.

The rain did not stop, and in fact, seemed to intensify, almost as if it knew where we were going next. The Cliffs of Moher. (Which, by the way, is pronounced like ‘more’ not like ‘mo-hair’…I think) Our guide made a point of telling us how many people either jumped to their deaths or accidentally fell off every year. This would not be the last time we received such a warning. I’m not sure if this is a statement about the stupidity of tourists or the dangerous quality of Irish national landmarks.

Even with the rain and the cold and the hail that eventually stabbed us in the eyes, I think this was another of my favorite places of the tour. I know there are beautiful landscapes in California, but so far, Ireland repeatedly beat any coastline I had ever seen in the states. We hiked as far as we could along the path, thankful for the large stone barricade that stood between us and a long plummet into the ocean. I think I could have wandered back and forth along the cliffs all day, but unfortunately, the rain had managed to permeate every layer of clothing I was currently wearing, which was a lot. We hopped back on the bus and over to our hotel, where we could blow dry my coat for our fancy castle dinner.

Fancy castle dinner?! Say what? Have you ever been to Medieval Times, or even a renaissance festival? Well, going to Bunratty Castle was sort of like that, only about a million times better because you were in an actual castle with authentic Irish people. We even had to climb an authentic super creepy and narrow spiral staircase. They really ought to have let us climb the staircase before they started dishing out the mead, or honey wine for you non fantasy nerds out there. As I sat on our long bench, trying to get my mom drunk on white wine, I pondered what would ye olde lord of Bunratty think if he knew back then what would become of his home hundreds of years later? And will we eventually suffer the same fate? Will our boring modern houses one day be visited by moon children of the future? Will they sit in mock-Ikea furniture and try to imagine what it was really like to live in the 2010s, back before they had eyelid TVs and colleges on Mars? Keep in mind, I pretty much consumed an entire pitcher of red wine myself, not to mention the mead. I think I remember at one point yelling at my mom, taunting her that one of our new friends was cool because she was drinking more than my mom. Needless to say, we all had a really good time.

Before each course, a chap in what looked like Shakespeare pumpkin pants would present a dish before an old couple they’d chosen to be the lord and lady of the house, so they could deem it worthy or not. The traditional singers and musicians were all quite skillful, even if their costumes looked like something from a Halloween shop. And because you can’t go anywhere as a tourist without audience participation, one of the lads from our tour was thrown into a dungeon and made to sing in a comical fashion for the amusement of young and old, but mostly old. The evening ended with me attempting to go to the bathroom in the disgusting, toilet-paperless bus toilet, giggling to myself that I could add “castle” to the list of historical places I’d gotten drunk in.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Day Three: Sligo

Another cheerful morning! Thankfully, I’ve already given up on any semblance of looking attractive, which really streamlines this getting dressed process. I figure in a week, I’m going to smell like Irish hotel anyway, so why not take the pressure off right away. Down at breakfast, we were delighted to find that in addition to the heart attack Irish breakfast special, this hotel offered croissants and tiny wrapped blocks of cheese. Later, my mom will reveal to me that she has shoved some of each into her purse for us to snack on later. I don’t know why this amuses me as much as it does. It makes me feel like I’m in Lord of the Rings. Characters in fantasy books are forever walking around with wheels of cheese and loaves of bread in their satchel. It’s a fitting metaphor, especially if you know my relationship with my mom, dutifully dragging me around while I whine and collapse from exhaustion. It kind of happens a lot.

I was truly quite excited for our first stop of the day, the Giant’s Causeway in County Atrim. According to my trusty guidebook, the Giant’s Causeway is a natural phenomenon of these crazy looking hexagonal rocks formed by a volcano fifty billion years ago. Our bus dumped us out at the little rest stop where were told to await another bus that would take us down a short drive to the rocks. After standing in the cold for an eternity, I decided to ditch the oldies and the bus and walk down myself, because that‘s what hip, rebellious young people do. We don’t play by the rules! And then my mom came along after me, probably to make sure I didn’t faint and accidentally fall into the ocean, because that’s what mom’s do. Take care of their idiot, rebellious children!

Though it was windy and cold, within a few minutes I could no longer see the small visitor’s center and gift shop. On one of me was a tall, rocky hill. On the other, the coast. I had this feeling that I didn’t want to blink, I wanted to somehow freeze this image in my mind. There are not words for it, other than it was all very Lord of the Rings, right down to the bread and cheese in our purse.

The actual site itself was even more stunning, and I can easily believe how people thought it was a magical place. I began to climb out onto the rocks pillars of rock, toward the ocean. There were a few other tourists there doing the same, so I figured at least I wouldn’t be the only moron who plummeted to my death. There, on the edge of the water, feeling a wind that was literally strong enough to knock me down if I wasn’t careful, I had either a transcendent or cheese ball thought, depending on how you look at it. It was a reminder of how puny and weak we are, that we can build our skyscrapers and are compuphonepads and they all mean nothing up against a wind that was strong enough to knock the air out of my lungs. No joke. For a few seconds, I held my arms out Titanic style and just let the sea spray hit me. Later, I would find that while I was getting my mind blown by the destructive beauty of nature, the oldies safe on solid ground snapped some very comical photos of me looking like a jackass.

And on we went! We stopped in Derry for lunch, where I had my first of what would many bowls of seafood chowder on this trip. Unfortunately, the first place was the best, and I proceeded to lament that most wondrous original bowl for the remainder of my trip. None other could live up to it’s precedence. If you’re ever in Derry, the restaurant was called Fitzeroy’s. I warn you now, if you go there, be prepared to give up ever eating chowder anywhere else again. It was that good.

We made one more stop in Donegal as we continued on toward Sligo. By then I was starting to get antsy on the bus, so I decided to prove our guide’s claim that there were eight million sheep in Ireland. Thus, my mother and I began to count the sheep. Ironically, we did not fall asleep at all, but became very agitated when the bus was moving faster than we could count, which in turn led to a lot of hysterical laughing and screaming of “Quick!!! How many over there? Twenty? Fifty?! HOW MANY?!” Eventually, this devolved into a lot of rough estimating and upon reaching eight hundred, we gave up. In conclusion, there are in fact, a lot of sheep in Ireland.

The bus arrived in Sligo for the evening. We would be staying that night in an old train station that had been converted into a Best Western. After settling in, I headed back down to the lobby to explore. On the way, I ran into one of the ladies from our tour, Alka, a doctor from New Jersey. “Have you found the computer yet?” she asked. I nodded and told her where it was. “I always know if I find you, I’ll find the computer,” she explained with a laugh. This was when I realize how crazy I’m going being disconnected from Los Angeles. I was so excited to get away, and yet my brain is still suck there. Clearly, I’m not drinking enough on this trip.


Monday, November 7, 2011

Day Two: Belfast

I was once told by a doctor that when you lose a night of sleep, you can never truly make up for it, no matter how much rest you get in the following days. Which is probably why in spite of having gone to bed at like nine o’clock our first night in Ireland, I feel like death upon waking up the following morning at 6:15am. As my mother reminds me I need to get my suitcase ready for the porter to pick up, I instantly regress to the state of angst-filled teenager, cursing the ill stars I was born under, and wondering how anyone could be so unlucky as I am at this moment, in Ireland on a vacation that I really didn’t have to pay for! Woe is me! Curse you evil world!

Eventually I get out of bed, and a little after that we’re back on the bus, now heading to Northern Ireland. Our first stop is in a city called Downpatrick, where St. Patrick is allegedly buried. You know, St. Patrick. The one of banishing snakes and green beer fame? Yup, that guy. They say he’s “allegedly” buried there because he died in roughly 460 AD, and I guess they didn’t have DNA tests back then so nobody‘s completely sure. While touring the cemetery, I made sure to take about fifty million pictures in case any ghost decided to reveal themselves. Unfortunately, the only thing that was revealed was my inability to take quality photos.

A few hours later, we make it to Belfast and stop near the city hall to grab a quick lunch. Over a delicious meal of fish and chips, my mom and I make friends with some of the other tour goers. Everyone we meet is beyond nice and inquisitive to my job and life, making me feel even worse for my judginess earlier. But there is always one downside whenever I meet new people. I get to explain all over again that no, I’m not in college right now. In fact, I actually haven’t been in college for three years, and that was grad school, and no no, I’m not a child prodigy, I just look like it. Yup, almost 30. Yes, I get that a lot. After lunch, I try to stand in the sun so maybe my skin will wrinkle faster.

We arrive at our hotel in Belfast, which despite being in Ireland was apparently assembled by Swedes, because our bedroom looks like an Ikea display case with modern furniture and a crazy computer console on the desk. The computer had a huge welcome message for Ms. Steinhoff (I assume my mom) and… Steinho? I am not kidding, it says Ms. Steinhoff and Steinho. HOW DID THEY KNOW???

A brief interlude. Shortly after arriving at this hotel, I almost fall down a flight of stairs and die, but am saved by our tour bus driver, a delightful Irish fellow named Mickey, who grabs me before I plummet to what could only have been a most painful demise. Mickey and I quickly bond over this incident and become best friends for life. I instantly become cooler for having an in-joke with the bus driver.

Next up, a tour of the city. The tour mentioned that Belfast happens to be where the Titanic was built. They showed us a bright, shiny new museum (not open yet, we drove by it) that has been constructed for the hundred year anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking on April 14, 1912. If you’re interested and have a bazillion dollars to burn, there is going to be a memorial cruise next April that will follow the Titanic’s voyage across the Atlantic, stopping on the spot it sank on the proper night, then hopefully continuing on what would have been its route to New York City.

ENOUGH ABOUT HISTORY! Now on to what Ireland is really known for. The drinking. The tour ended with a stop at the Crown Bar, a beautiful old Victorian pub filled with these tiny cubicles where guests can seclude themselves for a night of Guinness binging. The story goes that you can leave the door to your “snug” as they’re called, open if you wish to invite others in, but were originally built as a way for people to drink unseen. That’s Victorian morals for you I guess. It’s okay to be an alcoholic, just don’t let anyone SEE YOU being an alcoholic. We linger at the bar until our Guinnesses (Guinnessi? What is the plural of Guinness??) have all been quaffed, and then head back to the hotel. Somehow I manage to direct my mother and our new traveling companion, Evelyn, back to the hotel without anyone getting murdered.

We dine in the hotel restaurant and are seated next to a family from our tour. The most remarkable fact concerning this event, is that the family contains young people. YOUNG PEOPLE!!! They invite me to go walk into the city for drinks, and I very much want to join them on this journey. I’m a young person! I like drinking! I’m super hip! Okay, I’m moderately hip. I can pass for hip if I need to. If someone held a gun to my head, I could hopefully convince them that I maybe knew a few hip people in college. I really do want to go to bar and hang out with these young people…. But instead I pass out in the hotel at ten o’clock.

And so ends DAY TWO.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Day One: Dublin

Our trip to Ireland got off to a rocky start before we even left the country. Before we even left the state, actually. We awoke Wednesday morning to find our flight from Detroit to Philadelphia had been canceled, and after a phone call to the airline, they placed us on another flight at 4:15, a couple hours before our previous flight. This meant we had to race to finish packing and get on the road to Detroit, roughly an hour and fifteen minutes away. Arriving at around 1:15, we are informed immediately upon checking in that the four o’clock flight has also been canceled. Our last chance is a flight at 1:15. Oh wait, it’s already 1:15! Good luck catching it, because this is Detroit and we will absolutely not help you any more than we absolutely have to. Long story short, after begging a few kind strangers to cut in the security line and running halfway down a terminal in my socks, my mother and I are the last ones on the plane and make it to Philadelphia, where we have like four hours before our connecting flight to Dublin! Hooray U.S. Airways!

Cut to: Dublin airport. I’m delirious from lack of sleep. There are absolutely no red heads in the airport. I try to look as cool as possible, standing next to my mom and dragging my purple luggage. As I scan the crowd gathering for our tour group, a horrible realization dawns upon me. These are all old people. Old or at least middle aged. Young people stay in hostels. Young people go backpacking across Europe. Young people do not take bus tours. What have I done?!

We get to the hotel and are allowed a brief time to sleep before our trip begins in earnest. In our room, my mother and I are baffled by an inability to turn the lights on. We discover a key slot beside the front door. Apparently, to either save money or energy, you have to keep your room key in this slot anytime you want to turn on the lights. While I appreciate the effort to save on resources, it is rather difficult to stumble around in the dark looking for a keycard when you have to pee in the middle of the night.

After a lot of juvenile whininess on my part and a lot of Mother Teresa like patience on my mother’s part, we walk to a nearby cafĂ© to enjoy a bit of breakfast. Now the traditional Irish breakfast is made up of the following: sausages (bangers), bacon (rashers), another type of sausage, fried eggs, a grilled tomato, and something that may have had mushrooms in it, and toast. So basically, a whole lot of meat and carbs. What they did not have was fresh fruit. This is the moment where I realize how incredibly spoiled I’ve become living in southern California. Not everyone lives in a magical world of sunshine and citrus. But a impending case of scurvy is a small price to pay for escaping the traffic and smog of Los Angeles.

So our first night in Ireland, I almost got my mom murdered. Okay that’s an exaggeration. After ditching the old people on the bus, we set out into Dublin, happy and carefree, ready to enjoy all that this beautiful city had to offer! Our first stop was at a Starbucks. YAY!!!! No, this was just a stepping stone. A coworker had recommended to me a good area to find tradition Irish music. We set off in what I thought might possibly be the right direction. Now, I’m usually rather good at following maps, but since I refused to take out said map because I didn’t want to look like a tourist, we ended up wandering into some sketchy area. I don’t know if it was actually sketchy but it looked and felt sketchy, so I ended up having to take out my map anyway and steer us onto safer streets. Afterwards, I realized we weren’t anywhere near where I had been trying to get us. The lesson of the day is acting like a tourist might be uncool, but so is getting murdered in an alley in Dublin.


Friday, October 7, 2011

I Like My Houses Murderery and My Mental Patients Charming

Last weekend, I saw the film Dream House. If you have seen The Amityville Horror, The Shining, Shutter Island, or The Number 23, then you have also seen the film Dream House.

My immediate thought upon exiting the theater: At least Daniel Craig got a wife out of the movie. And a hot wife, too!

As I’m sure I’ve said before, I’ll pretty much see any horror movie. There are only a few things that are beyond my tolerance level, and even those I usually end up watching anyway, because I’m a sick, twisted individual. I think there’s only ever been a couple times in my life I’ve been so disturbed by a movie image that I wondered why I was subjecting myself to this horrid torture. The first was during the opening of the film, Ghost Ship, where about forty people are cut in two by an errant guide wire, and then flop around for a few minutes before they die. Even writing that makes me want to grab my stomach and go “eeeee!” I think the second moment may have been during Piranha 3D. There were so many mangled legs and torsos and decapitated heads and dismembered members, that I had to stop for a moment and think, “Really? You couldn’t go on in life without seeing a piranha eat its way through the back of a porn star‘s head?” But other than that, I’m up for anything. Except maybe The Human Centipede. That's just nasty.

Dream House, however, wasn't nasty, or gory, or disturbing. It was just boring. Even the handsomeness of James Bond couldn't save it. SPOILER ALERT. I’m about to tell you exactly what was so bad about it, so if you’re going to ignore me and the reviewers who gave it a whopping 8% on, then maybe you should go back to playing words with friends on your iPhone.

This movie is very difficult to describe, due to its awfulness, but I’ll give it the old college try.

Daniel Craig decides to give up his cushy job as a publisher to build a dream house with his family and write a novel. Only none of that is real! He murdered his family for no reason, and then forgot about it and was really in a mental hospital. But they had to let him go because there was actually no evidence he actually committed the crime. And now he’s seeing either the ghosts of his dead family, or just hallucinating because he’s crazy pants. Only that‘s not entirely true either, because some other dude killed his family, and he just forgot that, too! But not Naomi Watts’ character, the kindly neighbor across the street. She never gave up hope that her best friend Daniel Craig was magically not the murderer after all, which he wasn’t. The movie ends with Daniel Craig staring at a bookstore window, where his novel he wrote "Dream House" is now a bestseller. Really, Dream House? A published novel balances out family murder? This is almost as bad as A Beautiful Mind where they claimed love cured schizophrenia.

There was a half-hearted attempt to throw in some creepy visuals, like a millisecond shot of the two daughters blending into the wallpaper in a ghostly fashion, as he realizes they are in fact, either spirits or delusions. The house shifts back and forth from moldering pile of wood to cozy fantasy home. Other than that, the only scary parts of the movie was the horrid dialogue.

Oh, the dialogue! Not since poor Natalie Portman in the new Star Wars movies have I ever seen such a abysmal case of good actors gone bad. I don’t like to throw around the word atrocious, because it makes me look like a pompous twit, but the dialogue in Dream House was atrocious. And unnatural. I think maybe the film was written by a robot, and not David Loucka as the internet claims. It relieved me to learn that both Rachel Weisz and Daniel Craig were unhappy with how the film turned out and threatened not to do press for it. That’s scruples for you!

If there is one silver lining of this film, is that it made Rachel Weisz leave her fiancé, Darren Aronofsky, who I have never forgiven for creating the movie Pi.