christmas is over and we are well into a new year that promises to be at least as good as the last one. it’s not starting out badly – christmas in the perfect irish home of a sweet dublin family, the lynches; plus new years spent with my best friend and roommates – a quiet evening in over champagne from france, twinkle lights, and soft conversation.
i am still not much closer to finishing my essays, which are about half done at the moment. i’m not worried, despite that all my classmates seem to be freaking out. i’m sure i can write a damn good enough essay in just a few days. as they say here… it’ll be grand.
with kenneth here for some weeks, it seemed a good idea to rent a car and go for a little excursion out of the city. it would be well cheaper to simply rent a car than to bother with train or even bus tickets for two, and we both wanted a chance to get our hands on a little right-hand drive car anyway. much to ken’s dismay, we got a hyundai getz – CLASSY to say the least – but it was small and maneuverable. actually, it had the worst turning radius of any car i’ve ever driven, including my grandfather’s 1986 cadillac deville. but luckily we didn’t have to flip a bitch to often, so we were good.
my first real experience on the road was trying to exit dublin on the M50, which is a “big” loop highway that encircles dublin, and missing the turn off for galway amongst the construction cones and lack of signage. we had to turn around and i kept telling kenneth not to talk to me and turn down the radio and look for signs, and getting confused as to where the turn signal was located.
finally, we made our way out onto the open road and all was well. driving in ireland is more or less a piece of cake if you can get used to the fact that the intersections are called junctions and they’re all roundabouts that go the wrong way and every other vehicle you pass in oncoming traffic is a tractor. the number of tractors on irish highways is staggering. (HIGHWAYS people, not just little back roads, huge national highways). i could not get used to the seatbelt coming from the right and ken kept turning on the windshield wipers instead of the turn signal, but otherwise we were more or less competent on the road.
the first stop was the cliffs of moher in county clare. we drove all the way across the country in about 4 hours, with stops and mostly along TINY county roads that were barely paved and definitely not big enough for two cars to pass each other. mostly i kept driving down the middle of the road and there were several exciting incidents where i nearly sideswept other vehicles on the RIGHT side for fear of hitting little stone walls or folliage or general mud on the left. it’s still incredible to me that one can drive from the irish sea to the atlantic ocean coast to coast in less than the time it takes to watch all three of the back to the future movies. still, people here think it takes AGES and they get back aches and sciatica and any number of other ailments from being in a car for that long. ah, culture. by the end of the day, kenneth had named the car “gort” after a small town in county clare that we’d passed through earlier.
the cliffs are stoic and beautiful. i had visited them once before the first time i came to ireland, but nowadays things have changed. back then, there was a little ledge where you could get right up and crawl on your belly and look over. now they have installed this whole visitors centre and railings and all manner of “security measures” to keep the wind from blowing people right off the ledge. we took photos and jumped a fence to climb to the very top of the cliffs and watch the sun set. definitely one for the books.
we stayed the night in galway, one of my favourite irish towns for it’s bohemian flair and laid back attitude. unfortunately, we got stuck in a hostel dorm room with Snoring Guy. and i swear, this guy snored ALL NIGHT. ken and i kept giggling and throwing things at him to no avail – another couple in the room tried unsuccessfully to shush him, and a third guy just laughed the entire night. when i saw him get up the next morning he was totally what you would expect a Snoring Guy to look like – long gross hair and a big nose and carrying a huge camera. he was like Gross Greasy European Snoring Photographer Guy. at one stage in the middle of the night, kenneth forced me to go down to the common room and play a game of chess (i had never played chess before but i learned that chess could put you to sleep in the most dire of circumstances, even if you are sharing a room with Gross Greasy European Snoring Photographer Guy).
day two was connemara and i am still never more convinced that connemara is like my favourite place on earth. it is so stark and barren and beautiful, and its beauty was that day compounded by a gentle overnight snow that blanketed the bare, brown hills in a fine layer of white icing. still, there is a warmth to connemara, even when it’s frosty.
we drove right up the coast road, through clifden and up the centre of connemara to kylemore abbey, a gorgeous benedictine abbey situated on the edge of a tranquil lake, right below some of the most fantastically beautiful mountains in connemara. although the abbey was closed, we managed to get a few photos in the waning winter sunlight.
our overnight was spent at this hostel on killary fjord, a place i actually stayed once before when i was in ireland in 2006. although then the hostel was buzzing, this time around it was nearly vacant – we were two of 5 guests plus one attendant/caretaker/receptionist. the others were a swiss-french guy learning english and a couple – canadian girl and irish guy. we sat beside the fire in the hostel’s bar and listened to the wind from the rough western water beat on the windows, and drank ciders and played guitar until we all more or less fell asleep in a lull through the night.
day three, kenneth decided he wanted to see belfast. now, i have always wanted to visit belfast, so i agreed thinking it would be a longish drive (all of FOUR WHOPPING HOURS OH MY GOD), but we pressed on anyway, up through the southerly part of county mayo and past sligo, into northern ireland. we stopped along the way to get a whole chicken from the supermarket and had a picnic overlooking these amazing green hills in sligo. it was more or less perfect, although the whole chicken made gort smell a little funny.
passing into northern ireland was strange. there were no markers or signage or ANYTHING to signal the change. it was little things like how the road became smoother and the asphalt was different and the font on the signs was slightly bigger and they said “give way” instead of “yield.” and up until we got into belfast proper, everything seemed wealthier. i guess it is that lovely pound sterling, but it’s amazing how you can just be driving and suddenly using one currency or another without warning! northern ireland did feel a lot more like britain, which is fitting since it IS britain. i don’t know what i expected, but i just always had this dark, war-torn, poverty stricken image of the north, which was DULY changed once we got into n. ireland. there were these gorgeous manor homes which sat on rolling green hillsides and upmarket country towns with glittery twinkling lights and expensive shops lining well-groomed streets.
all of that lasted right up until we got into belfast. it turns out, belfast is crap. we arrived after dark (it gets dark at like 4:15 this time of year) and everything was closed. well, let’s rewind. first, kenneth scoured the lonely planet for a place to stay, as we had not pre-booked anything. so, he finds this place called “the linen hostel” which is supposed to be decent enough and has parking and blah blah blah. so lonely planet says. lonely planet also said that belfast was a bustling town with trendy shops and a noisy nightlife. i ALWAYS KNEW that lonely planet was not to be trusted. china taught me that.
LONELY PLANET YOU LIE. belfast is NOT FUN. all the shops were closed. we drove right through the city centre and got lost like 4 times trying to find the street on which “linen hostel” was located. first of all, we should’ve known better. for one, the street was dark and dank and quiet and small. it was made seedier by a pub with a CAGE AROUND THE DOOR located JUST ACROSS from the “linen hostel”, but we decided to press on since we had been driving around looking for the place for at least 30 minutes.
the first thing ken said inside the hostel was “hm, it smells like… chinese food.” the room was gonna cost £13 for two people, reasonable enough. once again, we should have been tipped off by the fact that they were advertising rooms as “6 bed dorm” “8 bed dorm” “12 bed dorm” and then “large dorm.” the vagueness of the phrase “large dorm” should’ve easily been an indication for things to come, but no. we just paid for it and went upstairs where we discovered about 300 beds, most of them looked like they were being LIVED IN, not just occupied for a few nights. laundry was hanging about. there was an old woman wearing a scarf on her head on one of the beds. she looked like she was about 82 and probably from romania or belgrade and she was coughing and wheezing. so we just threw our stuff down and left because the room smelled like feet and the rest of the place smelled like chinese food and eggs and we really did want to explore.
getting out into the streets, it was insane. NOTHING was open. there were no restaurants. no people. no life. just closed up shops and empty, wet streets. the city centre houses a beautiful city hall building and a ferris wheel which, juxtaposed, make for a stunning view right in the middle of belfast. too bad NO ONE WAS THERE to enjoy it. we walked for at least half an hour before we found ANY restaurant and we managed to get a good dinner for £22 which is insanely expensive, and later we both decided the food made us feel ill anyway.
we pondered our existence and shitness of belfast on the way back to the hostel in the rain. it was then that ken got up the gumption to say “hm, i mean… we could just.. go…….” and trailed off like it was going to hurt my feelings. i was like “well, that is ok with me except you paid for the hostel and i don’t want to waste the money.”
please don’t make me go back to the egg hostel, peg. i don’t want to get tuberculosis!
we arrived back in dublin before 11 pm. i nearly cried for the sheer joy of seeing the lights of the beautiful, living city as it came into view over the horizon.
and that was the little road trip that could.
stay tuned for the continuing episodes… peg & ken do denmark.