Saturday, May 22, 2010

Keep your Dingle Peninsula inside the bus at all times

Killarney is a town of tourists. It's at the edge of Killarney National Park and a launching point for the Ring of Kerry and Dingle Peninsula... some of the most spectacular scenery in all of Ireland.

The Sugan Hostel was as odd as it was charming. A push of the doorbell and the frantic Polish host rushes down to the door, greets you as "my man" and brings you into the narrow corridor of a common room. Log your name in the book, then it is back outside and up the stairs to your room. No electricity after 10pm in the kitchen. No drinking on the premises. But very small, well-maintained and cute.

And great people! I met Manuela (German living in Switzerland) and Kellie (Bostonian living in Oregon) and we set out for a night of dinner and drinks. Manuela, I learned, had just finished WALKING and hitchhiking the Ring of Kerry. Ridiculous.

We listened to live music at O'Connor's and helped Kellie celebrate her birthday one day late. Then it was back to the hostel.

The next day, off to see the sights of the Dingle Peninsula. It was gorgeous scenery seen through the windows of a bus with an unhelpful guide and an elderly group. If I could do it again, I would have rented a car. But nevertheless, it was breathtaking.

We stopped for a bit in the town of Dingle, an adorable little fishing and tourism town. I grabbed a crab bisque from the open air market as it was closing.

At night, again I went out with a new group of hostel roommates. Again, I returned late and went to sleep.

This morning I needed to reestablish my independence after the confining bus tour, so I took a beautiful bike ride thru Killarney National Park. My butt is sore, but the scenery was worth it!

Now at nearly 6 pm, I am unshowered, ready to sleep, and on the train to Dublin!

Location:Killarney, Ireland

Friday, May 21, 2010

There Once Was a Man from McDonald's

As I said in my last post, a funny thing happened on the way to Killarney.

I had a thirty minute stopover in Limerick on my way from Galway to Killarney. Everyone downplays Limerick as a tourist destination, but As the bus drove in, I saw a beautiful river front, a nice park, and easily a few hours worth of walking around. I checked my bag at the bus station and went exploring.

Not five minutes into my walk, I found the pedestrian mall. Right there on the street corner, a McDonald's. I went in to say hello and see if I could get a picture. And I did.

But it gets better. The person who I had asked was Dave, who is in charge of local store marketing for the four restaurants in Limerick. He offered me a tour of the restaurant, where I got to meet Ann, the incredibly sweet accountant.

It doesn't end there. Dave asked if I would like to see the OTHER McDonald's in the city. He poured me a coke, and five minutes later we were in his car taking the McD tour of Limerick!

Dave is an incredible guy. He has been in Ireland for nine years. It was his owner/operator who sponsored his visa, and who is helping him pay for continuing education now. He is outgoing, energetic, fiercely committed to his job and his people. Truly a remarkable guy.

Incidentally, I reminded him before our tour that I no longer worked for McDonald's, and that I was no one important when I did. No matter.

Here is Dave sporting the bandana worn by his crew to promote the All American Menu.

Who else but McDonald's? And where else but Ireland?

After a few fun hours, it was off to Killarney...

Location:Michael Collins Pl,Killarney,Ireland

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Burren or Bust

Wednesday I made some toast for breakfast and headed down to the bus station for my tour of the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher.

First stop was a family farm on the burren. Our guide's family owns a mountain (like ya do) and we took a "walk" (hike) up the side.

There were interesting tidbits along the way. Bits about getting the cattle to graze at the top of the mountain, about the tiny orchids growing everywhere... and most interestingly, about the stone walls that divide entire mountains. These walls, he said, were built by Irish workers for the British for no purpose other than to keep unemployed Irishmen busy with menial work.

The best of the Burren is barren, of course. Limestone for everyone! As much as you can carry home!

On the way down the mountain, we ran into neighbor John and his dog Penny, who looked just like my old dog Sydnee and immediately sat down on my shoe, stared up at me and begged to be pet.

Then it was off to the Cliffs of Moher. But wait! We must stop at this pile of rocks to take a picture! (This is an ancient tomb, I think.)

Okay, NOW to the cliffs. If you haven't seen them before, I suggest you drop by some time on your way to Doolin. They look like this:

...where each pixel is roughly a meter. (That's 900-ish feet tall.) It was truly breathtaking.

We saw some other cliffs on the way home. Less breathtaking, but the photo op gives a greater illusion of danger.

I made some nice friends on the trip, like Roman, who has lived everywhere and speaks everything.

I had dinner with Alana, another friend from the bus tour.

I nearly went to bed, but persuaded myself to find a bar outside the main tourist area. Lo and behold, it was comedy night at the Rougin Dubh, and their fifth birthday to boot! Here's me after the show talking with Maria, who has lived in Galway for eleven years, grew up forty miles away, and still won't call herself a "local."

That, plus a late night gyro, was enough for one day. Today, a funny thing happened on the way to Killarney... but that's another post.

Location:Co. Clare, Ireland

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Moher? I hardly even know her!

Galway was the perfect place to start my trip yesterday. Friendly people, a small but bustling city center, a great nightlife.

I arrived in town at 8:30 am, dropped my bags at the hostel, and treated myself to a traditional Irish breakfast. Yowsa.

Yesterday I beat back jet lag with a six mile walk to Salthill, a sleepy seaside resort neighborhood.

Along with me came hostelers Marcus and Leigh.

My evening started with a quiet pint by myself. Before the night was through, I was hopping from bar to club with an entourage of eight Americans, Australians, Germans, Canadians, and yes, one real live Irish person.

But the highlight of my day, by far, was when Marcus joined me in a photo at my favorite Galway landmark...

Location:Victoria Pl,Galway,Ireland

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Bathroom Corridor Wisdom

Location:Some sort of hipster hotel bar, midtown NYC

An Island People: New York City recap

My first few travel days were spent in the island-nation of Manhattan. I learned much about the ways and customs of these islands from my indigenous hosts.

This is me participating in a ritual they call "Off-Broadway Theater." Fuerza Bruta is a show without seats or a stage, but with such things as treadmills, confetti, wacky participatory dancing, hose-wielding DJs spraying the audience, strobes, industrial fans, a theater-sized pool with a transparent bottom which lowers over the audience to inches above their heads... et cetera. (You can see the DJ behind my arm.)

New Yorkers have converted their elevated train tracks into a green space called the Highline. This pedestrian path is gorgeous, and at a brisk walk is slightly more efficient than Chicago's still-operational elevated trains.

Pictured here is The Frying Pan, a cluster of docked boats upon which New Yorkers do such things as drink Corona, buy more Corona, and presumably after enough Corona reenact scenes from Waterworld.

Luckily, this island had some familiar customs as well:

Location:Written 36006 miles in the air, 1710 miles from Ireland

Monday, May 17, 2010

Newark to Shannon

I'm going to Ireland! See you in ten weeks, North America.

(This boat was for drinking beer on the Hudson, not for going to Ireland.)

Location:Neward airport, gate 72, seat 25D