Category Archives: Ireland

Day 8-9: Sligo

After catching our breath coming down the Slieve League cliffs, we sped along to County Sligo, home of Yeats, peat, and an overrated megalithic cemetery.  I should preface this entry with saying that our stay in this county nearly led to divorce, not that we had a bad time.  See, H is not generally what I would call cheap, he would leave Ireland wearing a pair of Dior sneakers and designer jeans, but when it comes to hotels, he's a bit of a Scrooge.  The only way I've stayed at flash hotels like the Shelbourne and the Merchant is through Marriott Points and an industry press rate, respectively.  Since the rest of the trip we were planning to stay at places costing around 80 euro, I felt we could splash out once, especially as this trip was celebrating my college graduation, an event ten years in the making.  We also wanted to check out a country house, which is a unique experience where you stay in someone's house and borrow their wellies and such.  Hidden Ireland and Sawday's are good for this type of hotel porn.  I ended up booking at Temple House, the most reasonable country house I could find in the areas we were visiting, for 2 nights and 1 dinner.  I will swear to my dying breath that H agreed beforehand to the price, and yet when he saw the final bill (about $600 all told), it was…not good. Anyway, fairly warned be thee, says I.

Arrived at Temple House with minutes to spare before dinner began, but we had long enough to marvel at the acres of sheep surrounding the house, check into our room, and change.  The place is amazing, like being on a Merchant Ivory film set, but less sterile.  They have a whole slew of dogs, including a basset hound, which I was partial to.

Our room, with armoires big enough to hide multiple bodies and actual drapes that needed to be drawn:

Coming down the staircase:

We all met in the morning room for pre-dinner drinks and to choose our wines, it was frightfully civilized.  There were two Irish couples: one from Galway with a baby coming imminently, one from Northern Ireland having a no kids weekend; an Italian couple; an obnoxious American couple who thought everything was just precious!; and the obligatory single Swiss man.  The Swissman had just finished a language course (in English, his was of course, flawless) and was about to go on a horseback riding holiday where you travel the country on horses, which was neat.  Our host, Roderick, gave us the history of the house (it's cool, but read the website, I don't have all night), told us the troubles of sheep rearing these days (apparently, most of the lamb in Ireland is imported, as they export most of their own!), and then left us alone.  For dinner, we all sat around a huge dining room table and tried to make small talk.  It was like being in Clue, but without a host or any murders.  Food was very good, I had my first parsnip, which was delicious (I had more than one, actually).  After dinner, we went back to the morning room and had more drinks and more drinks (this was part of the $600 bill, at 5 euro a pop, on the honor system).  We ended up staying up really late with the Irish couples and the Swiss man, talking about every topic you are supposed to avoid in polite company: money, religion, politics, and sex.  The Northern Irish man gave us a lot of personal insight into the Troubles and we even had a few arguments, but on the whole it was much fun and highly recommended.  Very interesting to learn that Ireland is so expensive even to the Irish that it is much cheaper for them to holiday in Spain or France than in their own country. Made me feel better about feeling so poor in Ireland.

The next morning we went to breakfast again at the big table (huge Irish fry ups were getting tired at this point, but it was excellent) and set out to see Sligo Town, up the road about a half hour from TH, which is in the middle of nowhere. Sligo Town is quite pretty, but also quite dull.  There is a cool modern art museum (The Model), but it is really tiny and had a fairly crap exhibit.  Weather was also fairly crap, raining on and off:

They do have a supercool abbey ruin, which we meant to go into but didn't for some reason:

Actually, I think we spent the most time in Sligo Town shopping, I found a TK Maxx (the UK/Eire TJ Maxx) where I finally got a cute raincoat, which I had been looking for since arriving in the country.  You've been seeing my functional but not very stylish LL Bean coat, this one was more like a trench and only like 20 euro.  For some reason, I have only one photo of it, on our last night in Dublin:

Will pick up next with the overrated megalithic cemetery and an afternoon in Ballymote.

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Day 8: Donegal to Sligo

We awoke in our wee bed at the Green Gate, hoping in vain for another gorgeous day.  The weather had been a mixed bag over our first week; usually rainy and grim in the morning but burning off and warming up in the afternoon.  After a lovely breakfast (one of the best of our trip and while I love bacon more than life itself, I got a bit sick of Irish bacon everyday) with a shell-shocked looking Swiss couple, I signed Paul's guest book, which is about the size of the Oxford English Dictionary composed mostly of photos and drawings sent to the Green Gate.  I had to reassure him that I would tell the gang at Conde Nast Traveler that his website has changed, and I'm glad to see that they got the right one.  He gave us some recommendations for beaches and drives to check out on our way to Sligo that were well appreciated.  After a bath in brown water (sign reads: "The water is brown.  It is normal." due to peat in the ground), an odd but not unpleasant experience, we headed into town to check out the tweed, which is what Ardara does best.

We didn't go to Eddie's (shown above), as he also runs a pub next door and was installed at the bar when we passed and we didn't feel like making him open up shop for us.  We did go to a large store and factory at the end of the main road in Ardara, whose name escapes me at the moment, but can be recognized by the large amounts of tour buses outside.  We went in and wandered around, and while the stock is very nice, hearing the employees give their well-rehearsed spiel to masses of tourists with their wallets open at the ready turned me off immensely.  We walked up the hill and ended up buying our Aran sweaters at Kennedy's, which had the best prices I found and a no-pressure atmosphere.  We headed to the coast, driving through gorgeous misty hills and valleys, past many sheep of course.   Here is a map of County Donegal, we were in region 4, on the westernmost side:

Stopped in the little town of Glencolumbkille, where we were met by the
village idiot dog, who chased after us for ages, insisting we throw him
rocks and sticks to fetch on the deserted beach:

Gorge.  Moving on, we drove all the way to Malin Beg, which is even more remote and gorgeous.  We took a long flight of stairs down to the beach:

Just ridonculously beautiful but not that warm.   My forlorn bathing suit remained in my suitcase, tag still attached. e attempted to get closer to this structure to figure out what it was, but this was as close as we could get without incurring the wrath of rural farmers and sheep:

 Last stop in Donegal was the Slieve League Cliffs, the highest in Europe, but not as well known as the Cliffs of Mohr.  To get to the top, you can either hike about a kilometer from the lower parking lot or drive a harrowing drive to the upper look out spot.  We opted for walking and when we got to the look out spot, I was amazed but ready to turn around and go back. Oh no, H was insisting we go up *further*, up the ominous One Man's Path.  Um, yeah, perhaps you're acquainted with my fear of heights?!  He suggested we just go as far as I felt comfortable, since we'd come so far.  It was misty, but the views were still remarkable:

I don't think we actually made it to the pass, as it is described as having sharp drop offs on either side and I don't recall anything that scary.  We did get pretty high up there, enough for me to sit clinging to the dirt, far away from the edge, while H took photos and I begged him to stop before he fell down the mountain and left me a widow, a la Auntie Mame.  The way down was scarier, but I made it without tears or hyperventilating, though I am trying hard to keep it together here:

I will have to relabel this set of photos so that they have more information, we have a slew of beautiful shots from Donegal and Slieve League.  A word on my shoes: I had bought a pair of Dansko clogs for the trip, finding them practical but not hideous, despite H's snickers.  Anyway, I had tried to break them in the week before we left, but even a week into the trip, they were still making me walk in a way I can only describe as a pimp roll.  It turned out to be because of a small piece of leather embedded in the top of the shoe, which I still haven't bothered to get repaired.  I wore them anyway most of the trip, but seeing them again makes me wince at the memory.  Wow, that was a dull story.  Sorry.

On to Sligo next..

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I was thrilled this weekend to get so many comments from new Vox people!  When I discovered I was on the home page of Vox, I actually ran around shrieking like a banshee and generally driving H crazy. In case my fame ends soon, I took a screen shot:

To be fair, it's really H who should famous, as nearly all of the photos on this blog are his, even though he refuses to be named or shown on the wide, wide world of web (H is short for Husband or Himself, as Marian Keyes refers to her husband).  I yammer on and on, he takes gorgeous photos.  Mostly of graffiti, doors, dilapidated buildings, and me reading guidebooks.  I spent a lot of time Friday trying to make a customized banner for this blog of me reading guidebooks (there is apparently a photo of me in every country doing this, wearing the same sweatshirt) to no avail, but now I wonder if it is less clever than just narcissistic.    Well, if I figure it out, you'll know the story of why I'm posting photos of myself not looking at the camera.

Once I get some work done, I'm going to try to get through a few more counties in the neverending Ireland saga and visit all the blogs of those who were kind enough to comment here.

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Day 7: Ardara, Donegal

We spent much more time than we planned or wanted to driving in Ireland.  It doesn't help that I don't drive at all and thus can't help out, but if we had to do it again, H would take the bus.  It took a few hours to get to Ardara, where we were going to stay the night at the fabulous Green Gate.  I had found the Green Gate online and was shocked to find a B&B that allowed, even encouraged, smoking.  Then I learned it was owned by a Frenchman (natch) and it's not for everyone: there are no showers, you have to stoop in most doorways, and the bathwater is brown.  But it is in a magical setting, and Paul could not be more charming.  I had read that he refused to rent to Americans, but when I called to reserve the room, he was thrilled that I was from New York.  He's also going to be profiled soon in the travel mag where I used to work, so I got more feedback on the place from the editor who is writing about Ireland and Paul's place.  Here is the town, which is lovely and bucolic:

After some difficulty, we made it to the Green Gate, which is about a kilometer from town.  Paul's signage along the road is not horrible, but here is the sign when you get to the gate, totally obscured by plants:

Paul is as charming as could be, offering us coffee and biscuits, as well as special Green Gate lighters and cigarette pack covers, to hide the large European warnings.  Excellent.  I told him how I'd been referred to him by a colleague who was writing a story about Ireland.  Paul seemed very concerned that the magazine wouldn't include his new website, as if a major national magazine would fail to fact check such an item.  He also joked that so many Americans come to Ireland and nearly knock the left-hand rear view mirror off their car, he should start selling them and make a fortune (there but for the grace of God goes our mirror).  Finally, he gave us some restaurant recommendations in town and told us we could have breakfast whenever we felt like it the next morning.    All the while that we sat outside chatting, bunnies hopped around us and birds alighted on Paul's shoulder, like a Disney cartoon!

Here are some pictures of the property, but no photos could do it justice. :

We headed into town on foot, not wanting to deal with driving back on tiny roads in the dark.  I began collecting bottles and trash along the way, muttering how no one respects the country code anymore.  Lookit how pretty:

One of many hilarious roadsigns.  80 kilometers?! You'd be lucky if you hit 40! The other side says 50, which also makes no sense, but often you will see an 80km and a 50km one on top of the other.  Confusing.

We had dinner at Nancy's on the main road, full of interesting objects and great food:

After dinner, we checked out the pubs, of which there are many (every Irish town, no matter how small, has at least two pubs).  Of all the places in the world, we walked into the one pub where the bartender was from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, which is a few miles from where we live.  We were the only people in the place, so we talked about  Brooklyn and Ireland.  She offered this advice for driving on the left side: keep your right shoulder to the middle of the road and don't worry about how much space you have on your other side.   Sound advice.  We went back to the Green Gate (still on foot, apparently a first, most take a cab home as the walk home seems a lot steeper after a few pints) and entertained the idea of drinking wine outside but the midges prevented that.  Settled instead for guidebook reading and wine drinking on our tiny bed.  But no sleepwalking, thank God, as I would have ended up in the middle of nature!

Rather posted out for tonight now.

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Day 7: Out of Northern Ireland and into Donegal

After I had recovered my composure about my second potential nude sleepwalking venture, we headed out of town, stopping at the glorious beach.  Way too cold to swim, of course, but lovely to walk along:

A few hours drive from Portrush brought us finally to Londonderry/Derry, where Bloody Sunday happened.  It's also one of the oldest walled cities in Europe and very pretty.  We spent some time walking around the wall before we got our day's fix of political murals.

Uh, yeah, this is blackface.  Pretty offensive blackface, at that.  There must be some explanation?

Meg atop the Roaring Meg:

Stopped in this pub briefly, where an old drunken lady sang along to the Westlife music video and asked H if she could kiss him:

We spent a long time watching this car get repo'd:

Finally, we got to the Bogside, home of the nationalist murals and the Free Derry corner:

There are many more where that came from, but I feel I've been overselling these murals.  Finally, reluctantly, we left Derry and Northern Ireland.  You could tell immediately when you crossed the border into the Republic, as the road got suddenly much narrower and shittier.  We stopped in a supermarket for supplies right before Donegal and saw this notice by the bathrooms:

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Oops, I did it again.

My greatest travel story ever has to be from Buenos Aires, two and a half years ago.  It was H's birthday, but as we were getting up really early the next day to head to Uruguay, we had a fairly early night and didn't drink too much.  The next thing I remember, I'm having a weird dream about walking naked
in the hallway. I really, really have to pee and it's really bright. I
start walking down the hall outside our room until I see a guy in
uniform (hotel employee) down the hall and I stop and walk back. It is
then that I realize that this is not a dream. I am actually walking down the hall in Buenos Aires naked.  As I start to wake up, and the horror of the reality sets in, I start
banging on our door to be let in. H is sleeping soundly and I'm
vaguely aware that the guy is asking me if I need some help and I tell
him this is my room. He didn't come very close, but I'm sure he saw
plenty.  Finally I hear our room phone ringing and H saying that yes, there is
someone knocking on the door and he will go answer it, but his first reaction was apparently, "Yes, there is someone knocking on the door, could you make them go away please?"  I get back in bed and we go back to sleep, I pray that
this is just a dream and I will laugh about it in the morning. Next day
arrives, and nope, it was no dream.  As far as I can explain, I must have been sleep walking, which I have
never done in my life, and must have gotten up to go to the bathroom
and opened the wrong door. What boggles me is how I did this asleep, as
the door was heavy and probably deadbolted from inside. I was grateful
that we were checking out that day and no one was giggling at me in the
lobby, but I'm sure the story got around. It has to be the most random
thing that has ever happened to me and every time we think
about it, we crack up laughing. H said to me, "You realize that's
most people's worst nightmare, right?"  Fortunately it was the middle of the night, as a few hours later an entire tour group was getting up to check out and the hallway would have been crowded with people.

As I said, I'd never to my knowledge sleep walked before and I never did it again.  Until Portrush.  After we left the pub that night, I remember getting up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom.  This time, I had the presence of mind to put on my fleece, but, uh, nothing else. Though our bedroom had an en-suite bathroom and I was unable to unlock the door even wide awake, I remember going out of the room and down the stairs.  Somehow, I found a bathroom not attached to a bedroom, and went back to bed.  The next morning, I told H that I was fairly certain that I had sleep walked again.  He thought it was just a dream, due to my recollection of the events and the fact that I opened the door and re-locked it.  As we went down to breakfast, I noticed a hallway with several doors separating it from the main part of the house, a hallway we had never been in.  I told him, "I bet you that there is a bathroom in that hallway, separate from a bedroom."  Guess what?  There was.  Fortunately, this time no one was a witness and no one at breakfast looked at me in sheer horror or threw me out.  But again, we were fortunately about to check out, and I hightailed it out of there before anyone asked any questions. 

Maybe I should start packing pajamas?

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Day 6: Death-defying Antrim Coast

So…I left off at the Carrick a Rede rope bridge and my imminent death.  Actually approaching the bridge and seeing how high it was above the water, I started to get quite a bit nervous, but I was determined to do it.  The guide/ticket collector told me it took her several days of trying before she could cross it and not it ain't no thing.  My strategy involved: no other people on the bridge to make it bounce, looking straight ahead and not down or to my sides, and a low center of gravity.  To wit:

I literally shook like a leaf when I got to the other side, and it took awhile to get the feeling back in my legs, I was so freaked out.  It is gorgeous on the other side, but I would just assumed see it from the other side and not cross the bridge again.

Getting ready to go back was almost worse, knowing how it really was.  H insisted on going first so he could photograph my face for later mocking.  Bastard.

But I did it!  A small step for most people, but a giant leap for me.  Speaking of giants, we pressed on to the Giant's Causeway, another supercool feature of the Antrim Coast.  Photos speak more than my description:

It was after 5pm and we had no hotel room, so we decided to head to Portrush for the night, a resort town on the coast rather than drive further to Derry.  Portrush is pretty but nothing too exciting, but we did see this cool abandoned castle on the way.  The story is that the kitchen fell into the ocean in the middle of dinner.  It's also on a Led Zeppelin cover!

Arrived in Portrush, where after 4 or 5 tries, we found a room for 50 pounds with a sea view at the Ramona Lodge.  Portrush is a cute harbor town with a lot of nauticalness:

We ended up making more sandwiches in our room and avoiding have dinner out, but we did go to a great pub that was tiny and most untouristy:

We spent the evening drinking pints and watching a fascinating program about home makeovers, one of those when someone British comes over and yells at your housekeeping, but you get it together and make dinner for your girlfriend and you get a crown and a ceremony!  Fun!  Then some local boys came in and complained about the TV, so we watched American COPS again and they asked us if it was really like that in the states.  Not having been busted for running a meth lab, I can't say, but it was another surreal moment.  We made friends with one guy, Dave, who goes by Booger and is horrified that his sister has just become a cop in Northern Ireland.  Here's me and Booger:

His shirt "Zoo York" is a Yankees tee, not some racist comment as I feared.  We were invited out with Booger's peeps to a nightclub, but decided to make it an early night, perhaps to our detriment.  Good times, though!

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Day 6: Mo’ Northern Ireland

Our first stop out of Belfast was the charming town of Glenarm, where we stopped for food and ATM.  Very picturesque:

Cool old cemetery:

Lacking any sort of place to get food to go, we bought bread and sandwich things and I fashioned some sandwiches in the car.  We also succeeded in setting up my iPod so that we could listen to some music rather than more obscure talk radio, so I had the surreal experience of listening to Snoop Dogg's P.I.M.P. while sitting in the car on a street like this (actually, I think that little red car is ours):

Sandwiched up, we got back on the road.  Here's what our view looked like most of the time:

Next stop was the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge.  Now, I have a pretty decent fear of heights, but I was assured by many that it was "not that bad" and as long as there weren't other people shaking the bridge, it felt pretty steady.  I was confident that I could do it, as long as I threated bodily harm to any people who looked like they might shake the bridge while I was on it.  You have to walk about a kilometer to get to the bridge from the car park, and the views were amazing.  This is Sheep Island, which begged the question: Can sheep swim?  Consensus: yes, if they have to, but not that well.

Clearly, I'm alive to tell the tale, but I haven't time now to do so, as I'm late to go somewhere. For now, I'll leave a taste of what's in store:

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Day 6: Northern Ireland

Before leaving Belfast, we decided to have a stroll around the (amazingly stinky) river and check out East Belfast, where we saw, wait for it…more murals!

Another peace line:

Guess what this is?  Not a fortress or a prison, it's just a police station, and we saw many in Northern Ireland that looked like this:

Nearly the opposite of West Belfast, the Protestant area of East Belfast was more cheerful than the Catholic section, but again, not at all scary.

The cranes that helped build the Titanic. They are called Samson and Goliath:

If you need more mural photos (and who doesn't?!), I made a handy dandy set of them.

On our way out of the city (actually, it was the opposite direction, but not far from Belfast), we went to the awesome Ulster Transport Museum.  With tons of old cars, trains, motorcycles, and some Titanic stuff, I called it the zoo for boys, but actually I was more excited to go than H!  I took a gazillion photos of everything, which proved less interesting when I looked at them later, but here are some highlights:

The De Lorean, another Belfast product, looks way uglier in person.  Ah, the 80s, they thought it looked really cool:

Cute recreation of a train station newsstand:

Thought this was cool and a bit dangerous:

Funny diorama of the Night Bus, the late night bus that traditionally takes all the drunkies home.  See, the old ladies are all shocked and disapproving, the dude on the left is having smoke and the woman next to him is checking out her ripped stockings:

More neat things:

For the Deadwood fans:

We spent far too long at the museum, but it was a really fun outing and got us wondering why no one is making cool cars anymore.  What happened to the bubble car and other odd but fun designs?  Why do Europeans have so many more cool tiny cars than Americans?  We saw cars there that made the Mini Cooper look like an SUV. 

We planned to drive up the Antrim coast, loosely following the route taken by my esteemed former colleague, and land somewhere for the night in either Portrush or Londonderry.  If I had it all to do again, we would have spent more time enjoying the glens of Antrim and the coast, rather than just trying to get from point A to point B before dark.

Paranoid I might lose this, so posting…

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Yet more Day 5: Belfast

I will finish this part of the recap if it kills me.  Lessee, I was last in West Belfast, yes?  After our self-styled tour, we took a bus down to the university area.  We went to Lisburn Road, the supposed Fifth Avenue of Belfast.  It's cute, rather like Park Slope, but underwhelming.  Maybe we didn't walk far enough.

We did find a really lovely park with amazingly clean public restrooms:

The University area is quite nice, with tons of pubs and beautiful archicture, as well as a botanical garden:

We ended up at a massive pub with a beer garden and a bathroom dispenser with not only condoms and lip gloss, but thongs for purchase as well (I wonder what the market is for that, for women who forgot to wear any or suddenly fancied a change?)!  We sat in the beer garden and started talking to a very nice but very drunk, self-loathing, gay man from Derry/Londonderry.  We hadn't a clue what he was saying half the time, but he was very friendly, if a bit maudlin.  He did advise us as to what cheap off-brand of cigarettes were most palatable, a useful tip when most brands cost $10 US.

On the advice of the drunken Derryman, we headed over to the very promisingly named Sailorstown in search of the Rotterdam Bar, which apparently still has outdoor toilets, live music, and booze.  An honest-to-goodness dive bar, nothing fancy, not for the squeamish.  We could not wait!  I've read that it used to be a holding pen for prisoners enroute to Australia.  If something involves prison, you have my attention.  Sailorstown is pretty bleak and run down, we were there just before dusk, and I wouldn't advise wandering around there after dark, but it's really interesting. Sort of a hard core Red Hook, with old drunks instead of hipsters:

There was an amazing abandoned church down the street which is fortunately being renovated and not being razed for luxury loft condos or some shit:

However, much to our chagrin, the Rotterdam was closed.  An old man standing outside a nearby bar told me the roof had caved in, but I see that it is going to be reopened.  Will have to go back!  With the development all over the city and the authentic character of the neighborhood just aching to be exploited, I'm sure they'll be bitching about IKEA Sailorstown next time.

As much as we wanted to sample one of the seedy bars in the area, it was getting dark and there were no signs of food in Sailorstown, so we hotfooted it back to the Cathedral District, walking under highways and passing empty lots and surly teenagers up to no good.  There's probably a nicer way to walk to the docks, but we didn't find it.  For dinner, we ended up across the street from our hotel, to the awesome Potthouse, which is very clubby and hip, but has an amazing deal for two courses for two people and a bottle of wine for 25 pounds!  Good deal, and good food.  We had the odd experience of watching music videos with entirely different music playing over them while we ate.  We were pretty much the only customers in the restaurant:

It was pouring rain like the end of the world when we left the restaurant, so we went across the street to the Cloth Ear, the public house bar of the Merchant Hotel.  It's a really cool bar, a successful mix of traditional pub and modern bar:

I was thoroughly impressed with the bathrooms, the ladies' has freaky mannequin heads in the stalls and photos on the door which I took a ton of photos of:

The men's room has robots, apparently:

Next up: Mo' murals and peace lines, and the transport museum!  Whee!

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