Belfast

May 2, 2015: Well, today was nothing, if not one great big adventure. We started out by heading north, to Belfast. We took a black cab tour, which provided a fascinating look at the tumultuous history of the city. Interesting, provocative murals, gates that close off that part of the city every night (still), and the Peace Wall. I need to do some journaling about the experience. It was incredibly moving.

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From there, we headed up to the Giants Causeway, which is a geological wonder. Great big columns of black basalt, jutting up from the sea. The northern coast of Ireland is breathtaking … the Game of Thrones is filmed there, and there are all sorts of interesting ruins.

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We headed back to Dublin, picked up our car and drove to the last hotel of our stay … a castle! It was outside of the city, so a bit of a drive. It had been rainy and windy today, and by the time we made it there, it was nearly 9:30. We schlepped our bags in to the hotel, and the night clerk informed us that there was an unfortunate situation, and the hotel had been overbooked. I’m sure he was hoping for a no-show, rather than the late-arriving, bedraggled, luggage-packing guests that showed up. They had done us the courtesy of booking a Radisson … on them. Wait, what? We’ve prepaid, and we’re being moved from a castle to a RADISSON?! In the heart of Dublin? It’s late, we haven’t had dinner, much less our evening beverage … and since we have an early flight, we’d prefer a hotel close to the airport, thank you very much. So he did that, and offered to google its location for us. We’ll just take an address, please. The GPS will guide us there. Unfortunately, our GPS could not find this particular hotel, so Susan had the clerk program its location. As it turned out, the address he programmed directed us straight in to terminal one at the Dublin international airport. Uh … I think this is very much not right. One call to the hotel, and 43,000 roundabouts later, we were still unable to locate the hotel. But there WAS a Radisson, and we could SEE it. So we called our friend, Nick, to ask him to relocate us to the Radisson. Stat. We were in the parking lot, and if we didn’t hurry, we were certain to miss last call.

Well, Nick couldn’t do that. He had already arranged the other hotel. But he would be most happy to give us directions.

My sister is deadly calm in stressful situations … until she isn’t. Throughout the ordeal, she had been serene and respectful. Then … well … she snapped. “Forget it! Goodbye!!!” And then let out the most blood-curdling scream I had ever heard (before she hung up, of course, so he heard every ear-piercing decibel). She grabbed her purse so we could get our own damn room. “You might want to bring your phone”, I said. “I’m pretty sure they’re going to call you back.”

While she was in checking on rooms, I played with this app that guesses your age based on a picture. Earlier in the day, this delightful app was saying I appeared anywhere from 27 to 36. I took a picture to analyze, and it said I was 90! WTF?! I know this was stressful, but seriously?

So my sister came out from the hotel, having immediately been contacted by the night manager (who I’m sure she thought was bananas), and they could indeed take care of all of our needs.

So between the psychotic break, and me aging 60 years, we could not stop laughing. But we got our room. On them.

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Dublin, Ireland

May 1, 2015: Mayday in Ireland. A celebration of the beginning of spring … protests … a day of diversity … the first day of my birthday month! It’s been interesting being in Ireland at this point in its history. There is a great deal at stake, and I intend to do some research and follow this political storm. Signs are posted everywhere … “We already have civil unions … vote no!” “Discrimination damages lives … Vote yes!” We are past much of this dissension in the U.S. (and certainly in my own mind), but it is alive and well here.

It is a country of contrast, and it’s been fascinating to observe.

This afternoon, we stopped at Waterford on the way to Dublin. It is the oldest city in Ireland, and home of the Waterford Crystal Factory. I initially thought this would be one we might skip, but I’m so glad we didn’t. The artistry and craftsmanship that go in to these pieces defy description. The process of apprenticeship (up to ten years for some trades) takes intense dedication and hard work. I am coming home with two stunning wine glasses that I know I will treasure forever.

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We made our way back to Dublin. My sister was getting impatient with my love of photography, so she headed back to the room while I wandered. I noticed there are a lot of homeless in the area, so I dug out a handful of euros, and stuck them in my pocket. I found one homeless man sleeping, and I tucked a couple of euros where he’d be likely to find them. I spoke with another, fully intending to give him some money, but I felt compelled to talk to him for a bit. It was obvious he was used to being dismissed, so my interest in his story was a little puzzling to him, I think. I asked him enough questions to know he and his sister (aged 14), had run from an abusive home and were on the streets. How much was true, and how much was fabricated, I’ll never know. But the desperation? It’s universal.

I saw a beautifully handcrafted crystal Cinderella coach drawn by fine horses today. It was priced at €40,000 (close to $45,000). I also saw a man with a shabby sleeping bag as his only source of warmth. We live in a crazy, crazy quilt, don’t we? But it’s beautiful. All of it.

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Myrtleville, Ireland

April 30, 2015: If you hear me muttering “fooking ‘ell” when I return to the states, pay no mind. I’ve developed a bit of a tic from driving on the left side of the road and working to pick the correct exit route off the roundabouts.

Well, I kissed a Blarney Stone, and I liked it. Craziest staircase ever to get there, but the view from the top was magnificent. And well worth the climb. Fair warning … the kiss bestows the gift of gab. I’ve never been the quiet sort, but now? Yikes …

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After that, we drove to the coastal town of Myrtleville and had lunch at a beautiful restaurant cliffside. Couldn’t be this close to the Jameson Distillery without stopping in for a visit, so we headed there after lunch, and tasted some of the reserve selections. Left the factory a few euros lighter, and some really good Irish whiskey richer. We decided to head to Cork, so I put “Cork City” in to the GPS. For whatever reason, it translated that to “Cork City Gaol” (jail), which we have been hoping to avoid all week long. “Fooking ‘ell”, I said, and corrected the address ..

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Kilkenny, Ireland

April 29, 2015: If I’ve learned anything, it’s listen to the locals. We never would have gone to Kilkenny if it weren’t for a conversation over Guinness with three young Irishman who told us about it. I won’t ever forget the climb at St. Canice’s round tower … 120 ancient steps up to the most sublime view. The tower has stood for close to 800 years, but on the (very shaky) way up, all I could think was, “well, this could be the day …” The view from the top made the trepidation (read: terror) worth it. Afterward, we traveled to the Rock of Cashel. After another Guinness stop, and another new friend, we have one more unplanned destination in mind for tomorrow … Myrtleville by the sea. Cork tonight, kissing the Blarney Stone in the morning. Can it get any better? Life is good. It is very, very good.

Ireland country roads

April 28, 2015: One of the most compelling things I’ve observed in Ireland are the prolific, magnificent ruins. You’ll be driving along a narrow, winding country road, turn a corner, and see a crumbling castle or church. We came across one today, so I stopped to take a few photos. It was next to a field, and a group of large, docile-looking cows immediately headed my way. “Well, that’s cool”, I thought, watching them. About thirty feet from me, they charged, bucking and snorting, with only a waist-high stone wall between us. I’m glad I haven’t lost my ability to sprint!

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Seattle to Dublin

April 27, 2015: Before we left, my sister was at the Nordstrom bar enjoying a glass of wine while waiting for the restaurant to open. As she sat there, a woman briskly strode in, ordered a shot of Absolut Vodka, and slammed it down. Without missing a beat, my sister glanced over at her and says, “trying on swimsuits today?” That, my friends, is why this week is going to be such a hoot. Watch out, Ireland, here we come …

Day 1: I am in love with Ireland. The country is blanketed with a shade of green I have never, ever seen. Stone walls crisscrossing the countryside. Narrow country roads with a speed limit of 100 km per hour, with a whisper of space between the stone wall on your left and oncoming Kamakazi vehicles on your right. The coast! Oh, the coast. Guinness. Jameson. It’s either “feck” or “fook” depending on how far south you are. I am crazy about Irish men, whether they are twenty, seventy, or anywhere in between. I may never come home.

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