Friday, November 13, 2009

Ireland – the agony and the ecstacy….

Well, our grandResized_HPIM3688 adventure is drawing, inevitably, to its close.  We woke up on Sunday morning, bid a fond farewell to the fairy ring at Athboy Green, and headed back towards Dublin , intent on figuring out a way to dump our poop, return our campervan and make the ferry in Rosslare by 5pm.

It had been raining all night – and all day the day before (and lots of oHPIM3689ther times the 8 days we were here) but, up until this point, the roads didn’t seem to be too bothered by all the moisture.  Unfortunately, I guess it was too good to last since we had to drive through several bodies of water on the way to drop off the van.  These things were way too large to be called puddles but to call them ponds also seems a bit extreme – what is the word I’m searching for?  This is the kind of murky muddy water that rises right over your wheel wells, the kind that if you were in any other place, you would turn around and go another way to avoid possibly swamping your vehicle.

We made it though and even managed to find a gas station with the bathroom door on the side so we could dump our poop out before returning the vehicle.  It would have been a ton easier with a hose, and more legal as well, but we really didn’t have any other choice.  Kudos to André on this stinky job well done, with the excited kids eagerly watching, while I attempted to pack all our belongings back into some semblance of order.   As we grow older, we lose our sense of wonder in everyday things – as a parent, I know this and I truly appreciate how having children helps me once again, to see the miracle of a blade of grass.  But really, I never thought I would hear. ‘Ooooh – you are going to dump the poop?  Can I come? Can I help?  Can I watch?”   Being the magnanimous person that I am, I gave my permission.  Highlight of their day, folks.

HPIM3692 We got to the rental place only a bit behind schedule and spent the next hour cleaning out the van whileHPIM3693 the kids played with the incredibly nice man who worked there.  Callie is really into dogs lately and especially had a great time playing with the beautiful collie they had, named Charlie.  (See, this is how my mind is.  I can remember the name of the dog – but not the person!) I love collies – they remind me of Lassie – a show I adored as a kid. Zander convinced the man it would be a great idea to give him a tour of all the campervans that were in the garage and ultimately reported ours was one of the best.  The most frustrating thing at this point was they wouldn’t let us throw out our trash at the rental place, and had no idea of anywhere else to dump it.  When we were driving around, sleeping on the side of the road etc… we often saw bags of trash that, more than likely, campers before us had tossed into the weeds.  This disgusted me and I refused to do it.  We know now, though, why so many people do this.  It is tough to find somewhere to toss trash!  There are no dumpsters that are open, the public trash cans in the country are few and far between and are pretty useless anyway since the holes are too small. We ended up literally bungeeing our trash to the trunk and driving off with it.  We found a neighborhood where people were having trash day, and André was for putting it in another person’s can.  I vetoed this idea figuring: 1. we might get caught and 2. they might get fined if they have too much trash and 3. it would be mean.  So, we finally asked someone who recommended a local grocery store that had bins around the back.  Turns out they have a locked area they put trash into, but luckily one of the doors was open and I tossed the stuff into it – expecting all the while to hear someone shouting at me.

Them: “Hey, what do you think you’re doing?”

Me: “Tossing my trash into the trash bin?”

Them: “Well, you are not authorized to toss your trash there – I’m calling the cops!”

Me: “Well, we bought all these groceries at this store, so it’s their fault we have this trash anyway!”

Luckily, wHPIM3697e escaped undetected, officially trash free as we breezed down the western coast on our way to the ferry. I made André pull over to take a few non-blurry shots of Guinness ads.  These were all over the country and I thought theHPIM3698y were such great pop-art. I just had to add the whale one – isn’t it awesome!   Drinking is a huge part of Irish culture and alcoholism is a problem.  My Irish grandfather was an alcoholic and the problem was passed to his son.  My mother has never been drunk, and, with such a history – one can see why.  I was curious about this idea of Guinness being for strength and it turns out (thanks to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guinness) that in the 20’s it was found that Guinness is chockfull of anti-oxidants – which stop fat from clogging your arteries.  The initial campaign slogan was ‘Guinness is good for you’ or ‘Guinness-for your health’.  They stopped this campaign, after public health concerns, decades ago, but the pub ads didn’t change. Actually, a pint has fewer calories than a glass of milk – maybe there is something to it after all.  This place was listed as ‘off-license’.  We saw this sign all over and André was curious about it. I looked up licensing laws of the United Kingdom to find out it only means that you can buy the beer or wine in the shop, and then take it elsewhere (as opposed to on-license – when you drink it on site).

I want to say some words to sum up Ireland.  In all, it was a place that gave me many mixed feelings.  On the bad side, the roads were terrible, the food was expensive and not very good, the weather sucked, many sites were closed and we didn’t get enough time to rest and play since it took so long just to get anywhere.  The entire country seemed poor, caught in what I imagine life was like during the Great Depression or something.  On the plus side, this lack of modernization obviously keeps communities close – with local businesses thriving and everyone knoResized_HPIM3695wing everyone else.  People were very friendly, helpful and kind, and they spoke English – which was quite wonderful.  There are unique stores, charity shops, thatched cottages,  ruined castles and abbeys to wander across.  The scenery and the cliffs are beyond words in their beauty and wildness, inspiring 4 year olds to say they love the earth.  The megalithic history of the country is rich beyond imagination.  The art is unique and mysterious.  There is a spirit here I have felt nowhere else in my travels, running through the soggy turf, the windswept trees, the barren rocks, and the hearts of the Irish people themselves, who tell stories and sing songs and live their history.  I truly regret not making it to a ‘real’ Irish pub, late at night, filled with dancing and storytelling, and pints of Guinness - we wanted to do  it but, with 3 little ones, it just didn’t work out.  I have almost finished Angela’s Ashes, and it is an amazing memoir if you have never read it.  It really sHPIM3708peaks true to my own experience there – lots of things that were awful – but also HPIM3702so much that was incredible and that you would never have wanted to miss out on.   Someday, if I ever make this into an incredibly successful novel and become super rich, I’d like to come back, with months to spend and a driver to take me where I want to go (but not before I do Greece).

We got on the ferry and headed back to France.  The journey back was much better although Griffin apparently felt the need for one more nocturnal adventure.  He was sleeping up on the top bunk with Zander.  This had worked out fine on the way over, when he shared with Callie and was next to the wall.  This time, however, I guess he got restless because, once again, I was awoken in the night by a very loud THUMP!  This time, falling about 5 feet, he definitely wokHPIM3706e up.  Thank goodness he wasn’t seriously hurt.  After holding him and checking for injuries I said, exasperated: “Griffin, why did you do that?”  He wailed in reply, “I don’t want to do it but I can’t help it Mommie!  I was sleeping!”  Of course he was – poor guy.  I kept him in bed with me the rest of the night and he managed toResized_HPIM3712 avoid further injury. By the morning we were past the rough seas around the Irish coast and woke up to watch yet another movie.  Callie played around with the camera a little and got Griffin dancing around like a nut.   She also caught this shot of me.  This was taken when we were ready to leave our miniscule cabin  and head for the deck and then, one by one, all my kids decided they needed to go poop.  This takes quite a bit of time and so, I’m waiting (I hope patiently) for the poop parade to end so we can get out of this little box!  I spent some time blogging, André read, and the kids had a wonderful time playing in the little play area with some other kids, who were French.  Obviously a week in Ireland hasn’t harmed their ability to speak a foreign tongue.  Resized_HPIM3720  Resized_HPIM3719

We headed out on the deck to catch sight of France.  They put up a French flag as we got close – I wonder if it is naval regulations to fly the flag of the country you are arriving at, since they put an Irish one up on the way over. The pilot came out from Cherbourg to bring the boat the last kilometer or so to dock.    We were wondering why this is.  Can’t the captain of the ferry do this?  Is it a tradition, a unionized thing or is it really true that, for this port, there are only 2 or 3 people with the expertise to navigate the harbor safely?  Do they get paid lots more because of this?  We got cold and went back to the cabin to await the ‘get into your cars’ announcement.  We were interrupted by the chamber maid who informed us we had to leave – like, right now!  Guess we missed that announcement. It wasn’t a problem though, and we left the boat with the rest of the people.  When we got to customs, they asked for our passports – in French.  I knew we were back, but still it surprised me that strangers no longer had lilting Englishwords coming out of their mouths.  I wish I could say this felt good, that it felt like home – but I once again felt like a stranger, a stranger in a strange land that I wonder if my heart will ever call home.

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