Sunday, March 17, 2013

Fare thee well, sweet Anna Liffey


I can no longer stay... though not for lack of desire, or lack of trying. I kept telling our hosts that I wanted to live and work here, asking if they knew anyone who needed someone with cooking or construction experience. Nothing. 
This morning, wouldn't you know it, Dublin gave us snow as a parting gift. Unfortunately, it was not enough to keep us from taking off. We are now in the air. Having just taken our last glimpse of the southwestern coast we've come to love so much, we are officially out of Ireland. But, I think, Ireland will never be out of us. As the song goes, "No time nor tide, nor waters white, could wean my heart away..."

Ireland, I've heard, is called a country of poets, priests, and warriors... And how could it not be so? How could a person write of Ireland without it coming out like verse? The land writes the poetry, and we have only to record it. How could a person see this land, and breathe this air, and not feel called to worship, and thank God for His blessings? How could a person have this country and it's people in their blood and not be so passionately disposed toward them as to be willing to fight to keep them? I believe that the reason the Irish are so notoriously unfortunate is that God realized he'd already blessed them too much by making them Irish, and he had to balance it out somehow. Whereas, the English were blessed with the ability to build an empire that spanned the globe (granted, the Irish sort of did the same, only through infiltrative breeding instead of conquering and subjugation), but God balanced it out by making them live in England. And, being ever jealous that we got the beautiful island, the personality, and the good looks, the English spent most of their time trying to kill us. 

I'm glad that I seem to have received different traits from both the English and Irish parts of my heritage. From the Irish, I've inherited a love of the land, alternating passion and stoicism, the aforementioned good looks, a love of music and literature, as well as a taste for good beer and whiskey, and a, "treat me well and I'll treat you well, leave me alone and I'll leave you alone" kind of attitude... And from the English I've inherited a desire to travel the world, and a desire to claim Ireland as my own. 

As the sun began to rise over California, I was sitting in the air somewhere between Iceland and Newfoundland... Either of which would have been more favorable for me than my actual (though temporary) destination... New York City. I wondered if there would be anywhere to get some good salsa during our layover... but, given that we had been in a rush checking in at Dublin, we did not think, until out over the Atlantic, that we should have had the agent check us all the way through to San Diego. So there was not likely to be a chance for salsa hunting. I guess we'll just have to settle for Pace Picante when we get back. 

Despite a few misadventures, not having enough time or money to do everything we'd want to do, and the sneaking suspicion that tour guides and Bed & Breakfast owners kept intentionally sending us to places where they knew we'd meet more American's than locals, we found the Ireland we had hoped for... and I think talking with Americans (and playing a little bit of country music on the drive back to Dublin yesterday) helped Erika fight off homesickness. I'm going to have to find something to help me with that when I get back to California. I just hope I'm not all like, "I just can't use Irish Spring deodorant anymore. It doesn't smell anything like the real thing." Y'know? I did get a kick out of the traditional Irish band the other night playing a Celtic version of Jimi Hendrix's "Foxy Lady" though. Oh, and, for those who are interested, we did not see any leprechauns (barring the fat Asian guy dressed as one at the hotel bar last night), but we did see more than a couple rainbows. One actually led us right to Dingle Brewing Company. Oh, and no pots of gold either. I think that may have been something the Irish came up with (much like the Mayans, or the Incas, or whoever it was, with their El Dorado story) as a way to distract stupid foreign invaders. Only, unlike El Dorado, the pot of gold was probably less of a "go searching way over those mountains instead of trying to kill or enslave us" thing, and more of an "if they're busy chasing rainbows, we won't have to share our delicious, delicious, whiskey or beer with them." I'd make up stories about leprechauns too if that was the case. 

After our brief and salsa-less stop, we took off from New York with a plane full of people who seemed happy to be heading to San Diego, and it feels very lonely. And what a place to stop off on the way. The only way I can think of for New York City to be less like Ireland would be to move New York nearer the equator. There is no gradual acclimation here, no slowly getting used to coming back to city life, no time to let the delusions and dreams fade out, and the cold realities seep in. Close your eyes on rural green pastures, open them on the stark grey expanse of man's supposed dominion over the earth. As we swiftly slipped toward the clouds, which hung over the city without touching it, as though not wanting to dirty themselves upon making contact with the urban wonderland, I gazed out across the city which so many seem to love (at least, according to the t-shirts) and it made me glad to know that there are so many people who would prefer this over my Ireland... That they would probably be bored by my Ireland... Because if they are happy to keep their New York, they are less likely to ruin my Ireland. And just before I caught  my last glimpse of that famous skyline cutting like a saw blade into the grey murky sky, I couldn't help thinking two things: first, I thought how much more fortunate I am than Irish who made their way to New York throughout our history... And second, I thought, "Hey, Spider-man lives down there."

Slainte, Happy Saint Patrick's day, and Eirin go bragh. 

The Rocky Road to Dublin

The sun coming up to the left of us laid it's first fingers on the hills across the bay as the fishing boats headed out to work, sliding across the top of the peat steeped water, leaving it looking like glistening crocodile skin in their wake, but bringing about no sign of the lone dolphin who has, apparently, made these waters his home for nearly thirty years. The locals all wonder why an animal that typically travels in packs would suddenly break off, and choose to live the rest of his life in Dingle Bay... But I know why...
As the sun arced higher through meandering wisps of cloud, it strikes a light on the trail of simple white farm houses that line the one road on the peninsula across from us, and I am reminded that Nature's first green is gold, and that it is her hardest hue to hold. Just like Erika and myself on this wet and rocky lump of paradise, nothing gold can stay.

I'll see you when I close my eyes
and in my own reflection.
My face, though vacant in disguise,
will, on further inspection,
bear the map that leads me home
to these far rocky shores.
My mind will sail across the foam,
My heart is ever yours.

The drive back to Dublin felt like the longest drive of my life... including the time my best friend and I drove from Missourri to California in just over twenty-four hours without stopping except for gas and food. Though it only took about four and half hours, it seemed I had eternity to contemplate what I was leaving, and what I was leaving it for. Really, if not for the fact that,after two weeks of spending Euro's while also not earning any dollars, I am in dire need of more money, I don't think Erika could have brought me back to Dublin.
Now that we're in Dublin, we are both exhausted, and ready to leave. We got to town with plenty of time to gas up the car (by the way 1.55 Euro per litre ends up costing $107ish to fill up. Ridiculous.), check into our hotel, return the car, then head to Temple Bar to meet up with my friend Forrest and his wife, who came over from Scotland to see us... or, at least, it SHOULD have been enough time. Just finding Agassi station in Dublin (without running over 10,000 drunken Saint Patrick's Day tourists) was enough of an adventure... Then we spent two hours or so with the hotel, trying to get them to give us the room we had booked. After we got that all sorted, and took the car back, we asked the lady at the hotel desk where we could find an ATM. A ten minute walk in roughly 39 degree weather (Fahrenheit), then ten minutes back to catch a bus into city centre... which did not work because ATMs only give out bills like 20's and 50's, and the bus only accepts exact fares, and only with coins... which the lady at the desk was kind enough not to tell us when we asked for the locations of the ATM and the bus stop in the same breath. So we started walking, hoping to get a taxi along the way, but none were lit up. By 9:45 we decided it was not going to working, meeting up with Forrest and Sami, who had arranged to meet us at the Trinity Bar at 6:30. I'm sure they still had a good night, but ours did not go at all according to plan.

Saturday, March 16, 2013


Remind me (or don't since you probably won't have to) to look into minimum wage, unemployment rates, and cost of living for Dingle and the surrounding area. If we were to open a pub/B&B/Sheep farm, this seems like a great place to do it. We could be the place that all the locals send the Anerican tourists "looking for an authentic Irish experience" to keep them from crowding the places where the locals like to hang out. I could even do my best Irish accent and the Anericans wouldn't be able to tell the difference.
I have absolutely fallen in love with the Dingle peninsula... which is unfortunate because the twelve year old boy in me still wants to snicker every time I say Dingle. We met an older couple last night who are from Washington D.C., but spend about half of their time in Ireland, and most if their time in Ireland is spent in Dingle. In talking about Slae Head Drive, they told us, "It's about a one hour drive if you don't stop, but you want to allow for at least two." I think it took us closer to four... Mostly for the same reasons that this entry could just as well be titled "Jacøb takes pictures of rocks and sheep while Erika stays warm in the car." The benefit of being the driver is that you can stop to take pictures of whatever you want to.
We saw what our tour book told us is the far western edge of Europe and, in fact, by all appearances, it may well have been the western edge of the world. Soft green and gold sloping hills veined with an irregular geometry of stone walls on the right side of the valley were met and echoed by the gradual slopes on the left. The only note able difference between the slopes to left and right was that where one set would crest and roll, leading off to more hills or valleys, the others ended abruptly and dropped off into the emerald blue waves, as though perhaps phantom hills still remained on the other side of the salty mist, where the ghosts of long dead sheep and farmers may wander through eternity beyond space and time. I wonder how it must have looked when these hills were complete, when the nearby Blasket Islands and Skellig Michael were part of the landmass. Was there a time when these hills sloped peacefully down to meet the sea, or have they always been such strong opposing forces?
More than any place we have yet been, this peninsula hurts to leave so quickly. It has sunk it's roots deep into me, and I pray continually that I will soon be able to repay the favor. We plan to save up, and return in 2018, but I'm not sure that I can last that long.

We stayed at Greenmount and Pax Houses here on upper John Street (so named, I think, because everyone running a Bed & Breakfast here seems to be named John), both of which are wonderful. I don't think either proprietor has taken me seriously when I said I'd trade places if they wanted to take a break and go to San Diego, or that I hoped to be their competitor soon. I regret not bringing copies of my résumé like I'd talked about. Not that it would have got me a new job, but I might have built contacts, in case we ever do move over here.

I have not done spectacularly well at abiding by all of my own rules of travel. I'm getting better though. The rules (more like guidelines, really), at least what I have so far, are:
1) Seek adventure.
2) Avoid the familiar (particularly when it comes to food and lodging... Unless you are familiar with the local specialty).
3) Fear no conversation.
4) Eat or drink at any pub, bar, or restaurant which bears your name (first, last, maiden, mother's maiden name, grandmother's maiden name if you wish).
5) Take it slowly.
6) Try to blend in.
7) Don't be afraid to look like a tourist when you don't know where you're going.
8) Get lost.
9) Eat, drink, and shop local.
10) Relax.
11) Document it to remember it better.

This list may need to be added to or honed, and I will keep working to perfect it. Obviously, there are items on the list that are easy for me, but not for Erika, and some that are the opposite... but I think we are working on that.
I am not good about starting, joining, or maintaining conversations. Erika is much better. Today, when we went into a local bar/hardware store/bicycle repair shop and a local man (are they called Dinglers Dinglites?) named Kevin started talking to me, despite the fact that I really was interested in getting to know him, and hearing what he had to say, there was a fight within me to keep from cutting the conversation short. Fortunately, Erika returned from the ladies room and by the time I came back from my trip to the restroom, they had a conversation in full swing, which took us from family to farming, to pubs, to locals and tourists, to pubs, to church (which took us back to pubs), to Saint Patrick's Day, and many other topics. When I told him where I thought my family might be from, he called me "a mean Cavan bastard" (which I like. I might put it on a t-shirt), when I told him I want to move here and start a pub, and raise sheep, he told me everything he knew on both subjects. If not for my wife, whose gifts are different than my own, I would miss out on much of what makes life full... and for that I am more grateful than I may ever be able to show.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

My green Heaven.

Just like I'm having trouble deciding which has been my favorite town, I cannot figure out which has been my favorite portion of the drive. I would ask Erika, but she ends up sleeping through sections which strike me as being among the most beautiful and interesting. And I'm not complaining about doing all of the driving, I honestly don't mind it, and I know it wouldn't be good on her back... It's just a shame that the person who's free to look around and take in all the sights is also the person with nothing to occupy their mind and body (like driving) and, as such, is more likely to doze off and miss the views.
We drove the inland portion of the ring of Kerry, and finally did a bit of hiking. Inside the National Park, we came across Torc Waterfall. A beautiful, multi-tiered display of natural power, I could only imagine the ferocious glory it's ivory cascades must exude when the snow is melting off of the surrounding mountains, filling it's crescent track to the brim. I wish that I lived near enough to see it in all seasons, and devote more time to hiking it's winding trails. If I were to stay a year, I would surely find the time to wander the full length of the trail from Kenmare to Torc. After all too brief stops at Muckross house, Muckross abbey (or cathedral... I can't remember what it was called), and Ross Castle, we were on our way... not because we were rushed, and not because they weren't each filled with enough beauty to spend a day discovering and still have more to find... but because we couldn't do the tours (which are the only way inside Muckross house, and Ross Castle), and because we seemed to be chased by a very large tour group of Canadian high schoolers. We will come back, and we will go on those tours... and maybe take a Jaunting Car tour around the grounds.

The angels charged with orchestrating the welcome to Dingle must have been hand picked by God as the best of the best, because I have never seen, except in dreams, a more beautifully crafted depiction of Heaven than when we rounded the mountain and caught our first glimpse of Dingle bay. The rolling, wandering grey and white dappled clouds overhead seemed to mirror and mimick the mass of contented sheep speckling the hills on all sides, as if God had called his flock to the lushest of the pastures of the sky, and set them to graze in lazy unhurried joy... The hills and meadows before us, with the ancient forest to our backs, spread out like a blanket on an unmade bed, in shades of green too vast and numerous for words, and too intricate and soft for any camera lense to hold. But it was the bay herself... the bay set the tone of the welcome chorus that sang through my eyes to the depths of my soul. She spread out before us with the narrow end point toward us like cupid's arrow taking aim at my heart, with the cloud greyed sunlight shimmering across her waves like silver chainmail, and across the mouth of the bay, where the clouds parted to make way for the setting sun, was a brilliant track of light on the water like the fiery blade of a golden sword barring the entrance to my green Heaven... like that sword of the angel left to hold Adam and Eve back from the entry to Eden.

To Leave the Land I Love

My soul is forty shades of green,
my heart is rolling hills.
My blood, it flows like sweet potcheen
from secret peat-fired stills.
My mind is filled with stories, full
like whiskey in the jar.
Why must I, from this country, pull,
and leave behind my heart?

~ Jacøb Smith.

To sum up: Doolin to Dingle

We've made our way to Dingle Peninsula. From the west coast in Doolin, where we went to the top of the Cliffs of Moher, visited Doolin Cave, traveled round The Burren, dined and listened to trad music at 0'Connor's pub, we headed southwest through Cork, to Kinsale. Kinsale was part of a wine fleet that transported wine from France and Italy to other parts of the world. So if you know me at all, Kinsale would be my favorite town. It being a wine port, how could I not fall in love!? Unfortunately, the castle containing the wine museum, was not open this time if year. Thus making our trip back in 2018 that much more necessary. We enjoyed our stay in Kinsale very much. I was grateful we found a B&B that was open and had availability. You see, as we made our drive into Kinsale, we drove right through a mild snow storm that followed us all the way into town. When the locals are taking pictures of the snowfall just as you are, you know it's a rare occurrence. We settled into our B&B, I took a shower and we sipped on cider before we headed out to dinner. We got a few recommendations and found ourselves at the White House. An excellent pub/restaurant/B&B that served amazing seafood dishes and of course my new found favorite, Bulmers Cider. I believe Jacob already posted about the Americans, so I'll skip that. We turned in fairly early in hopes for a somewhat early start the next day. We wanted to tour the town a bit before heading out to Kenmare and we needed a post office .....which ended up being closed. However, we did find a chocolatier, Jacob bought a new flat cap, and I got a wool throw blanket. We did the most shopping we've done so far, in Kinsale. I loved this little town and can't wait to go back. There were many places we saw and plenty more we would love to discover! We got on the road around 12:30 (earlier than our past departure times) and after a couple of detours, thanks to our gps Garwin, we were finally on our way! Traveling through beautiful countryside and mountains dotted with snow, we eventually made our way into the small town of Kenmare and checked into our B&B, Riverville House. It was just off Main Street right along side the river. We had an excellent dinner that night, no live music that evening and we turned in pretty early. Our drive from Kenmare to Dingle was pretty pleasant. It wasn't as far as other drives and it was all scenic. We took the northern part of the ring of Kerry, through Killarney National park. I'm glad we took this route for two reasons. 1, it was shorter, so it wasn't an ALL DAY drive. And 2, the scenery was gorgeous! We stopped to view Torc Waterfall, Muckross House & Gardens, Muckross Abbey, and Ross Castle. Torc Waterfall was stunning. I imagine even more so once the snow melts and sends the water careening down the mountain. We, or I should say Jacob, took plenty of pictures from all views/angels of the waterfall and down the mountain overlooking the lake. We dint hike all the way up to the top. Jacob went farther than I did, I didn't want to slip and fall on the muddy trail. We skipped the tour of Muckross house and the gardens. Mostly due to time, but also because we had already visited the beautiful Victorian walled garden at Kylemore Abbey. The grounds around Muckross House were quite beautiful though. And we will be returning because the Traditional Farm was closed during this time of year, and we'd like to go back. We didn't tour Ross Castle, because we didn't want to arrive in Dingle to late. However, we did walk around the grounds and along the water's edge. The tour did seem pretty awesome, so we will have to go back to do that. Finishing the drive through Killarney, more countryside and mountains, we found ourselves in Dingle Bay, and we arrived at Greenmount House around 5:30. Stupid Garwin got us on a bit of a detour, again. Thankfully it didn't get us turned around much and we were already in town like we needed to be. I love Dingle. It's a bigger town, compared to Kinsale and Kenmare, but it still has a small town feel. From what I gather anyway. We are having a bit of a lazy day, cozy'd up by the fire at Greenmount House. I'm enjoying the relaxation and not being stuck in the car. Dingle As I look down from Greenmount Upon the harbour scene, I cannot but stand still and gaze At beauty all men must praise. The tourists speed on road below And miss what now I see; A little town at the water's edge Sheltered by hills serene. Brandon and Blasket beckon on, They call and call and claim A rugged and splendid shore and sea And, yes, they deserve that fame. But see, the harbour, the pier, the hills, The church, the road, the streets: Are the cradle, the nurse, the place, the scene Where the father first called me to be. Sr. Canice Barrett


It is growing increasingly difficult to decide which town we will be moving to when we come back to Ireland. We are moderately sure it will not be Dublin or Cork, and almost certain it will not be Galway... But between Westport, Connemara, Doolin, Kinsale, Clonakilty, Bantry, and now Kenmare, every town we come to provides a hundred new reasons to stay, as if we needed them. If we had a month to tour the five south-western penisulas, and $500 a day to spend doing so, the money would be sufficient, but the time would not. Next time we come out here, I would like to rent a house (as would Erika, I know) and spend at least three weeks taking day trips out to tour every penisula, and being able to stop whenever we wanted.

The air was crisp, though by no means frigid, as we walked the streets of Kinsale this morning, soaking up it's seaside charm, letting the welcome sunlight melt the cares away as it melted the night's residual snow from it's few remaining shady foot holds.
One day proving to be at least two too few, we did not leave til 11:30, if it was even that early. Having told the lady at Rivervill House in Kenmare, we'd be in around 4:30, and then leaving so late, meant only one short detour, and very few stops... which did not exactly fit the schedule I had in mind. My schedule started earlier, had a little less walking around Kinsale, and included the Ring of Beara, and the great Blasket Island. Due to weather, all sailing to the island was closed... Not that it matters, since we left too late to make it out to the peninsula. The good thing is that we're giving ourselves things to do on our next trip out here. We will have to do Beara, and Healy Pass, and Blasket Island when we return or move here. From what I've heard about the island, nobody lives there anymore, but the town remains. It was once the home of a village of incredible story tellers who only spoke Gaelic. When a couple of guys came over from the main land and helped them translate and record all of their stories in English, they almost instantly became the people group with the densest population of published authors in the world. I cannot personally vouch for the quality of any of the stories, or the writing, but regardless, that's pretty impressive.

Along the drive up to Kenmare, though we didn't take "the most beautiful drive in Ireland" (as the Welshman at The Old Presbetery Bed &Breakfast called the Beara peninsula), we did take in our fair share of beauty. We even stopped off to see Drombeg stone circle. The portal stones (essentially the entryway) stand almost as high as my shoulders, with the stones decreasing in height on both sides until they get to the low point, opposite the portal stones, where a wide flat stone stands to about the bottom of my rib cage. The two bowls carved into the top of this stone lead historians and archeologists to believe this circle to have been of Druidic ritualistic and sacrificial use, and the bones of a small boy, found in the earth inside the ring, seem to confirm this speculation.
About thirty yards distant, in the same field, sit the foundations of two small huts. One is a typical circular stone hut, with nothing unusual or extraordinary about it. The other, just down hill of the first, has it's floor dug almost two feet down into the turf, and a stone hearth raised up on the uphill side. Where the small stream that crosses the boggy field trickles up to the hut and across the floor, there is a trough cut, leading into a two foot by three foot rectangular stone basin, dug deeper into the floor. The plaque on site says this would have been used for cooking, brewing, and bathing (though not at the same time). The basin would be filled with about 27 gallons of water, while rocks were being placed on the hearth to heat up. When the rocks glowed red, they would be moved into the water and, after about 20 minutes, would bring the water to a boil... Keeping it hot for about three hours. Then they could remove the block from the downhill side and all of the water would flow back through a trough into the stream.

We did make it to Riverville House in Kenmare, though we were about 45 minutes late. It's a cute house, and Margaret is very kind. Kenmare, with it's two organic grocery's, weekly farmers market, and two vegetarian cafes, might be where we have to move, if we want my family to visit or join us. Maybe we could buy a large house here and start a Bed & Breakfast/Brew pub with +Benjamin Englesmith  and +Jaason Englesmith  that would feature standard Irish pub and B&B fare, as well as vegetarian and vegan versions.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A letter to the American family at the restaurant.


While I, as I'm sure was the case with all of the other patrons at the small local lodge and seafood restaurant where we ate last night, absolutely loved your debate on whether or not it was acceptable to tuck a napkin into your collar. I personally believe it's fine, and is not, as one of you said, "a sure sign that the person is a slob, and isn't rich enough to be eating in a nice restaurant", but I'm glad you were able to figure it out amongst yourselves so the rest of us could hear. I also thoroughly enjoyed being a part of your conversations on taxes and finance, American college football, and the entirely too jam packed (and poorly planned) rest of your itinerary... Otherwise we wouldn't have been able to chime in and tell you, politely, that your plan to drive up to Dingle, then Galway, then to Doolin, then do the Ring of Kerry, before going back down to Cork, before flying out of the Shannon airport, was kind of stupid, and would take way more time than you'd accounted for. I'm also glad to have been a part of it because it allowed us the chance to add a stop to our trip, so we're not in Dingle at the same time as you.
In short, you make me proud to be an American. Please continue being the loud, obstinate, argumentative, stuck-up, tourists that you are. The world loves it.
Jacøb Smith

Weather or not

By this point, Erika and I should plan for "bad" weather wherever and whenever we go. From snow on our engagement day, at the end of May, to rain on our engagement photo shoot, and our wedding day, and now this ridiculous wind when we're trying to see the cliffs on our Honeymoon. No boats sailing today, so we drove to the visitors center at the top. Somehow, wind that is bracing and forceful at sea level, when it hits a rock wall, and is forced to climb, becomes a screaming tempest of freezing hatred. I love cold weather, but could not go without my jacket for more than a minute or five... and even with the jacket and hood, my face was numb but for the frozen pain in my jaw. Erika was doing worse.
And, as if that wasn't enough, the road to Kinsale (down south by Cork) was... Well, it was like we were driving through an Ireland snow globe. Not snow flakes, so much... More like fluffy little flavorless white dippin-dots. Kinsale is beautiful, as every place has been, and I'm a little sad we won't be staying after tonight.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Please, sir. I want some Moher.

Food, glorious food!
Even the few things we have eaten on this trip that were slightly disappointing have been fantastic.

Last night, we ate at O'Connor's pub, here in Doolin. Erika had the fish and chips, with Bulmer's cider. I had the beef and Guinness stew, with a Murphy's stout, and neither of us wanted to stop eating... But, alas, we had to stop when it started coming out our ears.
Today, I awoke early. Not to the sunrise, but to the sound of the rushing wind as it tore down the valley and returned like the tide to the sea. Where our arrival in town had been greeted by an icy, though fleeting, rain storm, this morning, the skies were clear (for Ireland), which we took as a good sign for smooth sailing to the cliffs of Moher, and the Aran Islands. After and incredible, and entirely filling, breakfast of fruit, home-made yoghurt, orange juice, and porridge with strawberries, brown sugar, and Bailey's Irish Cream (with tea, of course), we drove down to the coast to start the day's adventure. Despite our host having received an email from the man who runs the boat tours, saying they were running today, and telling her the times, the place was empty and locked when we arrived fifteen minutes early. All of the tour shops were closed, and the one we'd come for had a note on the window saying, "No sailing today. Will sail tomorrow", with dates and times.
Not to worry. We are not tourists, set to schedules, and thrown off by changes. We drove off into the wind for a rambling, self guided, tour of The Burren.
The Burren is a large area of protected landscape, kind of like a National Park or preserve, that seems to be a cross section of all of Ireland. It has seashores, grassy hills, plains, and vast expanses of grey rock with gaps and fissures, either from erosion, or having somehow been naturally formed that way, which makes the whole ground look like an enormous cuneiform tablet. It's as though some long dead race of giants carved out their collected knowledge in the surface of the country.
The first place we came to on our alternate excursion was Doolin Cave. It was discovered in the 1950's by two 19 year old English explorers who happened to find a river coming out of a small hole in a hill, and decided to crawl into what turned out to be a 200 meter muddy crawl space that took them all day to get in and out of. To their damp and cold but overwhelming joy, what awaited them was the largest cave in Ireland (that we know of). The chandelier in this underground ballroom is a crystalline calcium rich Cthulhu, seven meters long, over three million years old, weighing over three tons, and still growing.
For the next few hours, we drove around the Burren, though most of the stops along the way were closed, we were fortunate to find the Poulnabrone Dolmen (an ancient standing stone tomb) and Caherconnell stone fort... though that was only visible from the side of the road, since it's not yet open for the season. On completion of the ring around the Burren, and our safe return to Doolin, we went back to the ferry docks to find... still no trips to the cliffs. We are hoping to get one tomorrow though, because they have been the one thing Erika really wanted to experience on this trip (I think it's because they were in Harry Potter and the Halfblood Prince, and she's super nerdy and stuff...), and I would hate for her to miss it.
Tonight, we watched a one legged man who (aside from the missing leg) looked just like the farmer Logan stays with in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, sing Celtic music at the pub. I wish I could be more eloquent and descriptive, but I am going to sleep. I'll see you in the morning.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

'Round the Salt Hill Prom with a Galway Girl

Going from Renvyle to Galway has been among the more pleasant bits of travel so far... Not only is it a beautiful drive (as the whole thing has been), but it is significantly shorter than from Dublin to Renvyle. Also, my wife whom I love was actually awake, which makes any trip more pleasant. Before heading South, we made a stop at Kylemore Abbey & Garden. The Abbey is a castle, or a mansion, that was originally built for a wealthy land owner and his family. I believe it was during the famine, and he was paying workers significantly better than average wages, while also providing decent housing, a post office, and a school for their children. He essentially made a town out of his estate, and planted a forest around it, in addition to a beautiful six acre walled Victorian garden. At one point, his son got sick, and Doctors told him the best treatment was in Egypt, so the whole family  went. The son did get better, but his wife got Nyle Fever, and died sixteen days later. He didn't want her buried in Egypt, so he had her embalmed, and brought her back when they returned to Ireland... four years later, I believe. He still didn't want her buried, so he kept her under the stairs until a mausoleum could be built to hold her, and a small gothic church built to honor her. Unlike most gothic churches, hers is adorned with angels, rather than gargoyles.
When he died, after having to spend more than forty years without the woman he loved, his worthless son (who had nearly bankrupted him in life) sold the estate to an American oil tycoon who gave it to his exceptionally stupid daughter, and her surpassingly stupid husband as a wedding present. Because the husband was a Duke, and she was stupid, she had the gothic arches and stained glass windows removed from the house, and took out a number of walls to expand the bedrooms for the royals she imagined would be their frequent guests. Because her husband was a gambling addict, and was also stupid, he lost the house in a card game. The house went unused until it was sold to an order of Benedictine nuns, who still live there, and use the ballroom to hold Mass every Saturday. They keep the house and gardens in shape, and make soap, chocolate, and jam to sell on site. The jam, by the way, is delicious, and, having been to the castle and gardens, I kind of wonder what it would take for me to become a Benedictine nun. Nothing drastic... Maybe a little Bosom Buddies type of shenanigans.

We made it to Galway and found our lodging, after a brief detour where our gps said "turn left" when it meant "turn right", and got all set to go out to dinner. We set the GPS (which I think might be an agent in the robot uprising, set on destroying it's cruel human masters) to search for a restaurant called "The King's Head" near us, and set off when it said it had been found. When it became evident the sleeper agent GPS was trying to get us on the freeway, and we'd already been driving for longer than the concierge at our Bed & Breakfast had told us it would take, we took a closer look at the rout, and realized it was trying to take us to England. We recalculated, and it eventually found the King's Head we wanted, but lead us around and around in circles before we took the first parking spot we could find outside the Salt Hill Prom, and asked a shop keeper. It was a two minute walk, straight down a pedestrian street. Of course, by this time, it was after 9:30pm, and the only place still serving food was a nice pizza place. It was delicious, though not exactly traditional Irish fare. However, when we finished dinner, we went over to Taaffe's bar, which had been suggested to us by a tour bus driver in Dublin (very nice lady). This was much more like the "real Ireland" that we had been looking for. It was packed, almost to overflowing, with locals, and had a small group of middle-aged musicians stuffed in a corner, playing "Trad Music." I've learned that drunk Irish people behave entirely differently than drunk Irish Americans do. Irish Americans drink, and fight. Real Irishmen (which it seems I am much more like) drink, then drink some more, then they get really happy and peaceful, then they drink some more, and challenge friends and acquaintances to step-dance battles. Yes, really. As I said, the room was packed, but Erika found a table near the front, with a decent view of the goings-on. Suddenly, I see a space clearing in the middle of the floor, and I immediately pull our glasses away from the edge of the table, and make sure Erika is near me, because I'm thinking there's a fight... Then I see a chubby, bald, bespectacled head popping up above the crowd, and down out of sight again and again. That face goes away, and another almost just like it starts doing likewise. Through a break in the wall of spectators, I see that attached to these chubby bald heads are the equally chubby bodies of two drunken gentlemen in their mid to late thirties... who, when standing, slouch and sway, drink in hand... dancing, in perfect form, and with perfectly assured footing, traditional Irish step dance.
Erika, upon seeing my delight, asked, "Why is it that, at home, I can't get you out to a club, or any other loud crowded place, but here you're having fun?" The answer, I told her, is that these are my people.

To Renvyle with love.

The majority of day 3 was spent in the car driving through countryside to Renvyle. After another amazing breakfast at Two Rooms (porridge with caramelized brown sugar, Irish whiskey, and cream, followed by baked eggs with cherry tomatoes, gruyere, Irish cheddar, Parmesan and basil, with homemade bread and thick cut bacon) I began to feel sleepy roughly 3/4 of the drive in. We stopped along the way to check out random castles placed in the middle of towns. We drove through Westport, which was an adorable little town, stopped to stretch, and went into a store where we bought jam tarts. About an hour later, we were in Renvyle... Or so we thought. We weren't quite there yet, and our gps didn't really recognize the hotel at all. We drove through houses (along a dirt road that was really more like two dirt tire tracks through the grass) that dotted the hillside along the ocean/bay, or maybe it was a lake (?). We stopped to try our gps again. This time, it recognized the hotel.
Entry into Renvyle House Hotel was breathtaking, and, as we approached, there was a sign that read "stress free zone". They mean it. Not only is stress not welcome here, it's not even spotted. It's impossible to not relax when you're here. The hotel is on a couple dozen acres (or more. I can't remember), it has a large lake that almost meets the ocean, a small dock for boating, fly fishing, golf, croquet, tennis, gardens, clay shooting (extra fee for that). It's like an all in clusive resort, yet full of charm and has the feel of a quaint B&B. our view as we woke up was absolutely gorgeous. It's around 9:30, and we're heading down to breakfast soon, and then plan to take full advantage (weather permitting, it's kinda windy) of the amenities here.
~ Erika Smith.

Friday, March 8th.
Yesterday, we rented a car in Dublin and drove across the width of the country, stopping every so often to pee, stretch our legs, and look at centuries old castles and churches that are just strewn about in odd little towns... Kind of like Wal*mart's in America. Despite our GPS not knowing where we were going, and my urge to take every road that pointed toward Cavan (lake country, in the North, which I've read has, historically, had a high McGee population), but we had not started as early as planned, and we did not want to be lost on nameless one lane roads, in the dark, once we got out to Connemara. Our desire for adventure seems always at odds with our desire for safety, order, and comfort, and I pray that someday adventure will truly win.
Renvyle house, and the surrounding seaside and country, is beautiful. We got in too late to really explore the area, but the worn brick fireplace, smoldering peat fire, hot seafood chowder, and cold glass of Guinness combined to fulfill the prophecy on the entry sign; "Now entering a stress-free zone."... And brought up memories in my heart of a home I've always hoped to know.
Looking out the window of our room (around the corner, up the stairs, turn right through the door, down the hall, turn right through the next door, up the stairs, then down the hall a bit. It will be on your right), I can see the Atlantic held firm in the arms of the rolling hills, with islands dotted throughout like emeralds sprinkled on a blue steel plate.
Perhaps we've found, at long last, a place where time does not exist... With the notable exceptions of checkout time, tea time, and tee time. It looks like a place where a person could be neither early nor late, but where every arrival and departure happens just when it needs to, no matter when. I could spend a day that lasts a thousand years here, or stay my whole life, and it would seem like an hour.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, I have more Celtic music on my iPod than you can listen to while driving from one coast of Ireland to the other.
~ Jacøb Smith.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Best Coast

Good evening, from Renvyle House Hotel. It is absolutely beautiful here!! Amazingly gorgeous! If we could afford another night, we would absolutely stay another. But weekend rates jump up starting tomorrow. It was a long journey to get here. Fortunately we traveled through beautiful country, passing sheep, horses and cows along the way. Also driving by/near century old castles, stone ruins, streams, beautiful hillside and through cute little towns. We made about two quick stops along the way to get out and stretch our legs and to capture the random castles/cemeteries right in the middle of town. I think it took us about 4 1/2 hours. Neither of us were really paying attention to the time, nor do we recall the exact time we left. We arrived around 6:00, after a detour or two, checked in, and we were offered tea and scones which we enjoyed by the peat burning brick fireplace. Jacob wants to smuggle some peat back home. I'm not sure how he will do that. We ordered a light fare dinner of west coast seafood chowder, toasted ham and cheddar cheese sandwich on brown bread and and a plate of smoked salmon with capers, lemon, a side of greens with honey mustard dressing served with sliced brown bread( I'll let you guess which one of us had the salmon) the salmon was beautifully plated in the shape of a rose and was just as delicious as it looked. The chowder was scrumptious. Thick and hearty with lots of pieces of seafood and a little bit of corn. We are both still enjoying the fire, accompanied by a bulmers cider for me and a Guiness for Jacob. We are so in love with the country/west coast. Dublin was nice, but this is just lovely. We passed Kylemore Abbey along our way and our plan is to go there tomorrow or the next day. Renvyle house has so much to offer (golf, boating, fly fishing, croquet, tennis, rose garden, etc) all complimentary. And since we got in much later than expected, we plan to take full advantage of the gorgeous grounds and amenities tomorrow. It's now 9:45pm and I want to shower and get to bed, I don't want to sleep away the day. This morning seemed to be much more difficult for me to get up. I blame Fred, he didn't wake us this morning. My guess is that he was preoccupied with the French couple who arrived that night, they were already awake. No need to come find us. - Erika Smith

Lovely day for a Guinness tour.

Rain, in my experience, has a way of making everything seem so fresh, and so clean clean... Usually. I suppose, as Noah found out, sufficient quantities of rain can scrub about anything spotless. Perhaps today's rain, as tame and tepid as it was, lacked the necessary force to remove the dog droppings and litter off of the Parnell street sidewalks between Portland and O'Connel. Wet garbage does not look or smell any better than dry... But at least it wasn't also hot.
After an incredible, and very filling, home made breakfast of scones and tea followed by granola topped with yogurt and poached pears, followed by brown sugar crusted pancakes topped with thin sliced cinnamon baked apples and drizzled with maple syrup, we hefted ourselves out of our chairs and ventured out to meet the day. Actually, we did something today which we should have done yesterday... Bought tickets for the double-decker tour bus, and saw... About 3/4 of the tourist attractions... Maybe. I was, initially concerned about a reprise of my trip to Paris, thinking Erika would have to elbow me like, "Jacøb, wake up. That's the Molly Malone statue you wanted to see." (A la, the Eiffel Tower). As it turns out, there was no napping this time, and we did see a fair number of the sites, from the bus, because I wanted to make sure we made it to Guinness, which we'd already paid for.
If you ever watch travel shows, you may have noticed a trend... Hosts always seem to be offering tips on how to find "the real (insert city name)". I'm not entirely sure why anyone would really want that. The real (any city) is full of people who hate their jobs, or like their jobs but hate having to work, or would like to work but hate not having a job. The real (any city) is full of stress and worry, and the day to day business of continued existence. If you wanted that, you wouldn't be on vacation. What I think you really want is to experience the romance and culture of whichever location you settle on, however that is offered up. And maybe sometimes that means going to museums and tourist traps. To know a place and a people, you have to know their history, and what they think makes them stand out among all the other peoples on earth... This means museums, tour buses, shows, books... Anything that says, "This is us, and this is how we got here. "... though, maybe it's a good idea to avoid anything that's obviously pandering.
As Chimamanda Adichie said, "The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete." For this reason, I would choose to avoid Dublin's Leprechaun museum (yes, it exists. I walked past it) and instead go to history (and folklore) museums if you can find them.
Our bus tour, which, among other things, pointed out the sites of a number of rebellions, uprisings, and subsequent slaughters or executions, provided easier transport than my two feet could, to nearly everything I'd want to see in town anyway.
It took us back to Trinity College and, though the Book of Kells was not on display that day, we got to learn about it, and then see the long room library, which I want to live inside.

Back on the bus and over to what we thought he said was Dublin Castle. Turns out it was not, and that the stop we'd just passed was Dublin Castle, and we got off at the stop for Christchurch cathedral. Not that I'm complaining. Inside was an exhibition on the Viking's, who'd originally built Dublin. Not being Irish or a Viking herself, I think Erika was somewhat less interested than I was, especially since we didn't find time to go to this one street full of shops like she'd wanted. I guess I'll have to make it up to her over the rest of the trip.
We had lunch at a place called Queen of Tarts, and hopped back on the bus for Guinness.
As we pulled up outside, our bus driver told us, "It's said that Guinness is an acquired taste,and it's true... it's a taste I happily acquired over twenty years ago. They actually make so much of it here that, despite our brave efforts, we Dubliners are unable to consume it all, and they are forced to export it."
Contrary to what our taxi driver had said, the tour is not a three hour movie and a pint of beer. It was self guided and somewhat interactive, with videos, wall displays, a tasting room, quizzes, and The Guinness Academy, where my darling wife and I learned to pour the perfect pint. We got certificates. If I ever apply to work the bar at an Irish pub, I'll bring that instread of a resume`.

Sadly, by the time we were done, the tour bus was too, so we had to walk back to the Arlington Hotel to meet Shannon for dinner. It was a trek, but not as bad as the map made it look. Besides, we're here as adventurers, not just tourists, and it gave us a chance to walk past the main Guinness gate, and a stillstanding section of the Norman Wall that had been built around the original town.

At the Arlington, I think there were more Americans than Irish people, among which were myself, Erika, and Shannon, who was nice enough to join us for a pint, and carry on an enjoyable conversation with us  I guess, as Dublin itself, and O'Connel Street, are more touristy than other parts of the country, it's harder to find  that "real Ireland that tv hosts  look for... Though I assume that doesn't mean it's not there. There was live"Trad Music. (Traditional, or Celtic music, as we'd call it.), and Irish step dancing on the stage in the bar... But, given the lack of spontenaety in it, that everyone performing was being paid to do so, and that so many patrons were American... It struck me as being sort of the Irish version of a Hawaiian luau at a hotel. This is what our ancestors used to do, and we know it's what you came to see, so we'll make pretend, and make some money from it. That being said, and since I'm pretty sure if my heart and should made noise, it would sound like whistles,, pipes, bodhrans, fiddles, and banjos, I enjoyed it thoroughly... but it whetted my appetite for smaller towns, smaller pubs, and music sessions with no script or order.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

One long day in the Emerald City

~ Jacøb Smith

For me, this journey began on the 3rd, at around 11:30 a.m. That's when I woke up to go get my rain jacket out of storage, before heading to work for the night. As the luck of the Irish would have it, the corporate Chef was coming to town the next day, so we had to stay late for deep cleaning. So, when I got home from work, showered, ate dinner, and read for a bit, I found I only had about  twenty minutes to sleep before we left for the airport. I seemed it to not be worth trying. I could not sleep on the flight to Chicago, nor at the Chicago airport during our layover. I finally fell asleep (or the in-flight equivalent thereof) somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean at around what (as close as I can figure) would be around four or five a.m., California time, on Tuesday, March 5th. And that probably lasted for two or three hours.
I don't know how well Erika slept, but, given her back issues, I don't imagine it was very well.

We have checked in at Two Rooms, in Dublin. It's a little Bed & Breakfast on North Summer Street, just outside of town center, on the North side of the river Liffey. You wouldn't know where it was, unless you were looking for it. Even then you might have trouble. Part of a long row of red brick houses, and with no signage, we weren't sure it was the right place until the projector opened the door before we'd even knocked.

Erika's been calling him Kevin, but he introduced himself to me as Garvin, so I don't know what to believe. (Side note: Erika informs me this place is run by two guys. One of them is named Kevin, and one is named Garvin. I guess that explains the "His & His" hand towel set). Garvin gave us a map and pointed out places to check out. He looks like Alan Cumming with a well kept five o'clock shadow and is very friendly... Only slightly less friendly than his dog, Fred... which is good because a person jumping on strangers and nipping at their hands, then grumbling at them when they don't pet him, would tend to drive away customers, or invite the wrong kind. From a dog, however, it's endearing.

Erika showered, and took a short nap before we head out to explore the town. I wasn't sleepy, somehow, so I read a book about anAmerican guy who, out of the blue, moved his family to Ireland (foreshadowing. keep reading and you might find out). We've decided against doing the Jameson tour here in Dublin, in favor of touring the actual distillery on our way out to Galway, or back, and considered forgoing the Guinness tour in favor of Smithwick's in Kilkenny. As our taxi driver said, "Save your Euro and get a pint at a pub, go to Chimney Tower for a view of the city, and go to the actual Jameson distillery when you're out in Cork... Plus, the Smithwick's tour actually takes you through the brewery, instead of just showing you a three hour video and charging you 15 Euro for a free pint." Plus, there's a pub at the Arlington hotel where you can learn to pour a pint properly, and has a tap on every table. I think we'll still do Guinness though because... You can't not. We'll be going to the Celtic Whiskey Shop here in Dublin. It boasts the world's largest selection of Irish Whiskeys (and Whiskeys from around the world), and does free tastings every day. Perhaps, when we go out to Trinity College to meet up with my best friend's sister, we can also go to one of these places, since they're in the area.

What little I've seen of the country so far is beautiful. Flying in, catching glimpses of fields broken up like shattered safety glass through the clouds (on what, I'm told, is a "pretty sunny day here.") made my heart feel like speeding up and slowing down at the same time. In the more rural areas, the thin fog seems as much a part of the landscape as the grass and rocks. Not as though clouds have come down to rest here, but as though they are born and made to grow here until they are strong enough to fly.

Around Dublin:
Based on my limited experience with Dublin to this point, I can say this: It is, perhaps, among the most singularly beautiful, disgustingly filthy cities or towns I have ever seen. I am beginning to understand what The Dubliners are talking about in the song, "(Dublin) In the Rare Old Times."

"Oh, the years have made me bitter, the gargle dims my brain, 'cause Dublin keeps on changing, and nothing seems the same. The Pillar and The Met have gone, The Royal long since pulled down, as the great, unyielding, concrete makes a city of my town."

Everywhere around are visible signs of the picturesque and character filled history of the town -A town which, in my hopefully mind, was going to be the soul of Ireland, in concentrated form; warm despite the cold, bright despite the fog, inviting despite inaccessibility- yet it seems to be fairly more mundane and usual than that. A city built on a deep and vivid history, trying to keep pace with the modern world... A city which thrives on tourism, populated by townsfolk who miss their town, and resent the outsiders who've made it change.

This is, obviously, generalization, based on only one fraction of one day's experience, and is reminiscent of my initial disappointment in Scotland based on a few days in Edinburgh ("Where is the green rolling countryside that Braveheart promised me."... Well, you have to go to the countryside to find it), so I have hope that we will still find the Emerald Isle, and her enigmatic and hospitable inhabitants. All told, my experience here has been overwhelmingly positive, and I am increasingly hopeful about the rest of the trip 

We embark on our journey.

Day 1:
We aren't in Dublin yet, and I have already realized items that I have forgotten. At SD Airport/on the plane to Chicgo, I realized I left my book, blanket, and snacks. At Chicago Airport/on our way to; postcards from San Diego (I wanted to leave them as thank you notes to each of our hosts at every B&B we plan to stay at), Shannon Nickel's boots (I completely forgot, and with the busy work week Jacøb had, he neglected to remind me. And, finally, Dramamine! I guess, a few weeks ago, it never made it back to my med bag :(. Thankfully, I bought Tums at the airport, which helped me enough with keeping me from throwing up on the plane. Little sleep, little nutritious food, and a rough/bumpy ride = a not so well Erika. At least I remembered the important things, my husband and my passport! We are eager to land in Dublin to start our travel adventures as husband and wife.

I'm pretty exhausted, but can no longer "sleep" on the plane. Jacøb is sleeping (he's so cute when he sleeps) next to me. Poor guy, he's worked 8+ hours for seven days straight, didn't bother to sleep at all the night before/night of when we left (last night).

I imagine there will be far more entries written by Jacøb. He's the writer, and the reader, out of the two of us. But I figure I might as well make an entry while I'm awake and processing thoughts.

~ Erika Smith

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Thus begins the journey: we've said our vows, committed our lives, and so signed on for an adventure which will surely take us in directions we could not possibly predict. We know what we want to do, where we want to go... and who we want beside us along the way.

Our honeymoon begins tomorrow, as we fly from sunny San Diego, California, to notably less sunny Chicago, Illinois, before finally setting down in Dublin, Ireland. The forecast says the temperature will top out at 52 degrees, with the sun stopping by for perhaps a moment or two along the way. Maybe for most people this would sound like a slightly less than ideal honeymoon (it seems most people favor places like Hawaii, Fiji, Acapulco.... places where palm trees grow... But, considering it snowed on our engagement day (in May), and rained on our wedding day, it wouldn't be us without a little cloud cover. We're ready for it (we hope).

We are now "one flesh"... But still have two minds. So, what will follow is likely to be two accounts of the same adventures. Just like those adventures, we don't know how this blog will turn out... But we hope for the best.

~ Jacøb and Erika Smith