Vacation: Racing to disappointment


Imagine the weather as a blog. Day after day the weather posts something new, rearranging the clouds, sending winds first this way, then that; then one day it needs a break, and reblogs an earlier post. That’s what Dublin’s weather did the Sunday we were there. Instead of posting a summery June day, it reposted a day from March, an especially cold and rainy day that barely made it to double digits on the Celsius scale.


It turned out to be the perfect weather for me.


The night before our one day in Dublin, I had looked over the brochure for the Hop-on Hop-off bus and selected bus stop number 3 as my must hop-off must-see place to go. I was going to see the Book of Kells at Trinity College. No matter what.


Life, of course, has a way of showing us what’s what. And sometimes “what” matters. Our “what” turned out to be Formula One: Bavaria City Racing. To accommodate and showcase F1 cars and other means of transportation that go zoom, the police cordoned off half the streets of Dublin for the small crowd of 100,000 people expected to attend.


We waited until almost lunch to leave the hotel, and I dressed as warmly as possible with my I’m-pretty-sure-I-won’t-need-anything-too-heavy-because-it’s-summer-and-I-mean-how-cold-could-it-possibly-get clothing that I had carefully packed several hours before I left on vacation. Four layers later, I stepped outside and began the long, slow process of freezing to death.


We took the tram downtown and waited in the cold for the bus. For a while I stood inside a telephone booth, but then we discovered we were waiting in the wrong place. Once we found the bus stop (the one without a phone booth), we made sure we were first in line. That way we could choose the best seats. Because brilliance runs in my family, both my brother and I thought it would be a good idea to sit on the top of the tour bus under the little roof. The one that doesn’t cover the entire top half. The one that lets cold wind blow down your neck and find your skin beneath the four layers of summer material. Surely, it would be heated. And we could see so much better. In a better world, a warmer world, a not-so-rainy world, it would have been a good idea. We thought we would have to scramble to get the front seats at the top, but oddly no one else went up top.


But no matter, in just two stops from this first one, we would hop off and see the Book of Kells. Except we didn’t because we couldn’t. The bus had to go a different route and visit places out of order because the race cars needed the streets. So we sat in the cold, waiting to hear the driver announce stop number three, which was difficult to hear over the chattering of our teeth.


We passed interesting stop after interesting stop and stayed put. Finally, when we stopped at Number 13, Guinness Storehouse, we got off. Just to warm up. Really. No, really. And we were hungry. So there.


Inside the Guinness Storehouse: Water + hops+ barley + yeast = beer



We spent a couple of hours exploring the seven-story building, learning the history of Guinness, and walking through a mock-up of the brewing process and cooperage (beer barrel building). We took the glass elevator up to the top floor, the Gravity Bar,with its circular wall of windows that provide a panoramic view of Dublin, weather permitting. The weather did some intermittent permitting, but no one seemed to mind. Everyone there was enjoying a pint of Guinness, which is included in the price of admission.


At the Gravity Bar


Hey, bartender, there’s a girl in my Guinness!


When my brother and I de-bused at the Guinness Storehouse, we discovered that the lower level of the bus had a surfeit of heat. While we had suffered up top, all the other tourists basked in the warm and cozy seats below us. To understand why we didn’t just move to the lower level right away would require more explanation than I can give you in just one blog post. Let me just say that one of the defining characteristics of my family is a determination and hardiness that looks vaguely like stupidity in a tuxedo.


From that point, we rode in the lower part of the bus, waiting for number 3 to be announced. It never was because that part of the route belonged to Formula One for the day: it’s route ran right in front of bus stop number three. By the time we realized this, we were headed back to O’Connell Street where we started. We were too tired and hungry to go through the tour again, so we walked over to the Spire of Dublin, officially called the Monument of Light. Our bus driver pointed it out on the tour and called it The Stiletto in the Ghetto. Dubliners have a few other colorful nicknames, which you can search for on the web. The Spire stands almost 400 feet, and everyone on the web says it’s the tallest sculpture in the world, so I believe it. You should, too. (It cost somewhere between four to five million euros, approximately €40,000 per shiny, pointy foot.)



Normally, after any kind of disappointment such as not seeing the Book of Kells, I pull out my small dark cloud and place it over the center of my head, halo-like. But that day in Dublin, I decided not to do that. Why waste my time walking under a small dark cloud when I could walk under the big dark cloud over Dublin. It seemed friendly somehow, as if the entire city shared my disappointment, and I felt strangely cheered. Then again, maybe I felt strangely cheered by the Guinness.


Next installment: On the rails

The cult of vacation


Our first two weeks in Europe as we traipsed through Budapest, Paris, and London, we scheduled our own days, lingering and loitering with abandon. We squandered mornings, wandered through museums as long as we liked, and generally stayed out of reach of the clock’s little hands. When we locked the door of the London apartment, we left that life behind.


At London’s Euston Station, we abandoned our lackadaisical ways, forsook lingering and loitering, and took the vow of obedience that joining a tour requires.


Becoming a tour-ist is like joining a cult. You must agree to obey the rules (“Carry these papers with you at all times and don’t lose your tickets.”), be on time (“Or we may have to leave without you.”), eat when you are told to eat (“You have one hour.”), drink when you are told to drink (“Is this koolaid?”), and cheerfully donate all of your money to the group (“We take Visa, Mastercard, or your firstborn.”)


Goodbye, London. Hello, Holyhead.


The cult we chose was Railtours Ireland. As far as cults go (and this one goes all over Ireland and back), they’re a good one. A yellow-vested representative met us at Euston station in London, handed us the information packet and tickets, and remained with us until the train left the station for Holyhead in North Wales. We saw beautiful scenery along the way, so I took a picture of a red sign. Sadly, our train did not stop at Llanfairpwilgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwillantysiliogogogoch Station, one of the longest place names in the world: Welsh for “St. Mary’s Church in the hollow of the white hazel near the rapid whirlpool and the church of St. Tysilio with a red cave.” (Amaze your friends by learning to pronounce it.) More sadly, the place name is not authentic Welsh, but a ploy to draw tourists to the place. And most sadly of all, this station really has nothing to do with my trip to Europe but does support my contention that the Internet should be called the worldwide warren because once you enter in, you find yourself heading down rabbit trail after rabbit trail.



At Holyhead we boarded the Ulysses (Largest ferry in the world!), reportedly decorated according to James Joyce’s book of the same name. If you’re like me, and I’m sorry if you are, you’re thinking, “What a novel idea.”  We got on the ferry with what seemed like thousands of English tourists eager to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee by going to Dublin, where it wasn’t celebrated.


When the ferry docked in Dublin Port, we followed the crowds down six or seven floors where the cars were parked. It took us that many floors to realize (1) we could not exit that way, and (2) we didn’t have a car. Going up the down staircase does little to foster good will and gives American tourists a bad name, so we excused ourselves saying, “Sorry, we’re from Canada.” (Note to Canadian readers: Just kidding! We excused ourselves with an accent and said we were British. Note to British readers: Sorry.)


I practiced sleeping here for two nights in Dublin.


Another yellow-vested tour guide kindly met us when we de-shipped and took us to our hotel. After settling in, we noticed it was past time for our repast, so we put on warmer clothing, activated our push-button umbrellas, and took the tram downtown in search of a restaurant. We discovered 101 Talbot and had the best appetizer ever: an organic hen’s egg with broccoli and some kind of wonderful lick-worthy sauce, that made me rue my slavish obedience to the rules of polite behavior. Some plates were meant to be licked. Both of our entrees included potatoes cooked in duck fat, which for some reason creates a picture in my head of Robin yelling at Batman as an oily criminal lobs lard bombs, “Duck! Fat!”


My bathroom in the hotel. The picture? I don’t know either. Was it meant to be endearing?

The source of my strange dreams that first night?


Our official rail tour would not begin until Monday. We arrived in Dublin on a Saturday, which left us Sunday to see some of Dublin. The tour package included a pass for the Hop On, Hop Off bus, so before I went to bed I read through the brochure and selected the one stop where we had to hop off.  No matter what.


Next installment: I discover what’s what