Monday, March 19, 2007

One more picture post and then it's off to Shanghai

Next stop - Asia. But for now while the memories of a great trip remain, enjoy a few more taken during my perambulations.
A more regular row of houses off the Grand Canal.

Better advice was never given.

My personal representative on this side of the globe.

Saint Patrick grabbing a snake.

A lock in the Grand Canal.

One more shot of the mayhem.

The outside of the Brazen Head, Dublin's oldest pub.

The inside, I didn't last in there too long.

Horsies lined up for a day's work on the holiday.

A few closing thoughts

A couple of things popped into my mind as I was gliding across the Atlantic that I felt were worth sharing.

The first happened as I was walking up Lower St. George's Street towards Dame and my place along the parade route. A very non-descript middle-aged man was whistling a song that immediately caught my attention and got stuck in my brain. I kept running and running it over and over as the blocks passed by, knowing it but not quite placing it. Trying hard to place lyrics to it in order to break my mental block, it finally came to the answer - Love Me Do by the Beatles. The man was short, oddly dressed, balding with a comb-over and thick glasses and here he is whistling Love Me Do while strolling down the street. I'd say it was like a scene from a movie, but I'm not sure what movie it would be.

The second had to do with our parade crowd companions. A couple of Irish women were near us with their children and it was wonderful to experience the parade through the kids reactions. We had some great conversations about their families in Tucson and their two boys who were identical twins despite being a year and a half apart but the most special one was a little girl who yelled wildly with each passing float. Getting tired, her mum picked her up and set her on the barrier, "Mum," she said, "You're making my poop cold," referring to her bum that was getting exposed to the cold wind. We all cracked up and Mum added that it was probably too much information for the crowd.

All of this stuff just drives home the point about how great it is to get out on the road. Yesterday was a tough slog home, made tougher by the lateness of my departure, my layover gap dwindling away, the nightmare of watching the time tick by as I was stuck in the international departure section in Atlanta, the furious haul on the subway from terminal E to A and the calf burning run to gate 27 (why can't I ever go out from gate 2?) to be the next to last person to board my connection.

While you're sitting there hearing those words "we apologize for the delay", your spirits sink. But when you snatch victory from the jaws of disaster and make it home to the ones you love, you realize it's all worth it. We just need to remember that the goal is to simply keep moving.

Sunday, March 18, 2007


Wow, they were not kidding when they estimated 300,000 St. Paddy's Day tourists, the airport this morning was insane.

Made it here okay after a crappy night's sleep due to the gale blowing outside my window. The directions Tom gave me were impeccable I cruised right it. The streets were expectedly dark at 4 AM, but I was shocked at the number of people roaming about, post St.Paddy's day. Most hailing taxis and trying to get home. The airport itself was absolutely mobbed with post-partiers, most with face paint and giant green hats still intact. I guess people fly in from all over Europe for one day, discount flyers like Ryan Air making it all possible. Just amazing to me that these kids would leave their partyer and head to the airport and home.

It promises to be an interesting day - we've had a big delay and 3 gate changes. Go figure.

After much a abortive fiddling with trying to get the local internet access to work, I was finally able to get these posts blogged. So here we are, waiting on the plane and wondering if my connection in Atlanta now has an outside chance.

Greetings from the center of the Green Universe

I was having some misgivings about staying through the weekend for the St. Patrick’s Day festivities. For one thing, I couldn’t find a single local person who had been or intended to go. On top of that, the predictions of one-half million people made it sound like most of the activities would be inaccessible, in particular the parade. And the capper was the report on the news that more than 300,000 people had passed through Dublin Airport on Friday. But I stayed on and lay in bed an extra hour on Saturday, figuring I’d just muddle through.

Outside my hotel window, a beautiful morning presented itself. Breezy, but with clear blue skies. Wanting to fuel up before a day on my feet, I gathered my goods and headed down the lift figuring I’d grab a quick breakfast in the coffee shop. I guess the host of tour busses blocking the entrance last night should have been a clue. My previously quite hotel was now mobbed, and the line for the restaurant was across the lobby. Electing a more urbane solution, I sat in the lobby lounge and had a pot of tea and a scone. A couple of Russians dressed in Irish rugby jerseys sat off to my side and carried on in their native tongue, the only word I kept catching was “Amerika.”

Finishing up there, I went out and headed south, wanting to explore some of the neighborhoods I had seen back on Wednesday when I was lost on the commute. Rows and rows of beautiful Georgian-era brick town houses spiced up with flowerings bushes and brightly painted doors. I walked past Herbert Park and saw a troop of Magpies working over the grass. A couple of homeless people were sunning themselves in a park shelter. Rounding the block I stumbled upon the Embassy of the United States, a rather unattractive round modern concrete edifice. A stylized metal eagle graced the west side.

Moving on I returned to the hotel for a quick break and then went off for a walk along the Grand Canal hoping to get some pictures of a big group of Mute Swans I passed each day while commuting. The neighborhoods changed along here, moving downscale from the aristocracy to working class. Row upon row of identical brick houses marching off towards City Center. Saw a sign for the birthplace of GB Shaw and decided to check in there post Swans. Found the birds and headed back seeking Shaw whose humble origins I found at 33 Synge Street. By now it was closing on 10 AM so I decided to take a stab at seeing the parade. I followed small groups of people heading in the general direction. Arriving at Dame Street, the middle portion of the parade, I was surprised to discover that the barriers were essentially empty. Had this been the parade setting in New York or Boston, they would have been crowded hours in advance. We were now less than 2 hours from the start.

With nothing better to do, I decided to walk up to Grafton Street and get something to eat and drink. A black knit cap with an Ireland badge on it caught my eye on a display and I decided that would be a good souvenir. I asked the girls manning the stand if they could break a 50 and they said “no.” I grabbed my handful of Euro coins and counted out 8.50. I asked if that would work and the answer was “yes.” Arriving at Grafton and crossing the street by the Molly Malone statue, I heard “Terry” and found my Intel pals coming in the opposite direction. A bit of a surprise. I bought a bottle of water, a banana and yet another Pain au Chocolate and we headed off to find a spot to watch the parade.

We walked alone Dame Street and found a spot in front of a coffee shop and a pub, two key support zones for a day that was now becoming windy, overcast and sprinkly. Slowly but surely, the crowd built and the crush began. We allowed several children to move up to the barrier so they could see better, but managed to maintain a more or less unobstructed view.

The parade began at 12 but we were so far down the line that it was close to 1 before anything came into sight. A little girl, perhaps 4 became our official spotter, getting very loud and excited as the parade came around a bend in the road. All around us children were blowing whistles and these incredibly loud horns that made you think a lorry was on the sidewalk.

A group of Segway rides did spins and figure-eights up and down our stretch. And then the parade came into view.

First up was a group of people spinning long metal rods with fire burning on both ends. Judging from the smudge marks on their arms and clothing, it’s an in-exact science. The crowd roared as the festivity kicked into gear.

Mounted police, the fire brigade search dogs, a marching band of bagpipers, on and on it went. Perhaps a dozen marching bands, primarily from the US with Iowa, Indiana, Colorado, Texas, North Carolina, California, Arizona represented. I recognized a large band from Tennessee from the tour bus at my hotel. When I was last there the adults were doing a headcount and one lagging girl was running down the stairs, trumpet in hand.

A German oompa band comprised of middle-agers trooped past, dressed all in gray. Most amazing though were the ad-hoc groups of adults and children dressed in screamingly loud colors in all manner of surreal outfits. Pirates, men in hairy suits with big bunches of bells on their backs, half-horse people, cavaliers, fish monsters, a bright band of Sikhs, little girls carrying streamers swirling in the wind, some ships, Queen Elizabeth 1, a giant troll and a enormous dinosaur. Lions, kings, dancing ladies, King Midas himself and his court, all dressed in gold, men with wicker cages for heads and people driving a cart with wispy white horses towering over the crowds. A giant aligator and Dracula. All conceived in that odd Euro-aesthetic that we rarely see on our side of the pond. Honestly, I’ve not seen anything like it. It just went on and on, defying description and overloaded your senses.

This went on for about one and one-half until we had a band of motorcycles and then a train of old Volkswagens followed at last by three street sweepers driving abreast. That was the signal of the end of the show.

We did an abrupt 180 and headed into the Rogue Pub for a Guinness and a bit of televised rugby, with Ireland (appropriately) playing in the championship game. The timbre of the game drove the tone of the bar with large shouts going up with each success. Finishing our pints, we decided to head around the block to an open air food market that had been spotted earlier. Vegetables, fruit, pastries, Thai and Middle-eastern, all available for the starving. My choice seemed obvious – Fajitas! I spoke a bit of Spanish with the proprietor discovering that he was from Guadalajara. My attempt to talk about our place in San Carlos resulted in a correction to my Spanish by his Irish wife who explained that my poorly constructed sentence had simply brought the teacher out in her.

Our plan at this point was to head to the Guinness brewery where a festival was underway. It was a long haul punctuated by a stop at the Brazen Head pub, Dublin’s oldest having been first incorporated in 1198. It was mobbed so we moved on.

The brewery was pretty busy, and I decided that additional drinking was of no interest to me so I made my farewells and headed back to the hotel across town. It was now starting to rain.

The bells at Christchurch Cathedral proved a nice backdrop to my walk which was a bit tough as the streets were now crowded with the post-parade revel and people spilling out of pubs to have a cigarette. Young men standing in the alleys drinking 1 liter cans of beer made me think that the joyous tone of the celebration must certainly get uglier as the day winds up into the night. A drunken youth standing in a crosswalk gesturing madly at a car that was exercising its right of way confirmed my prediction. All the windowsills lining the alleyways down to Temple Bar were quickly filling up with empty bottles and cans.

Once again at Grafton, I headed up towards St. Stephen’s Green and my path home. The crowd was oppressive and my progress slow. Garda policemen in bright yellow vests patrolled in groups. Everyone everywhere was flaunting the no public drinking restrictions.

Arriving at the Green, my hope for a quiet walk in the trees was stymied by a locked gate. Instead, I headed down the side towards the hotel. As I came around on the south side, I heard Irish music and went off to investigate. The road was closed off at the end and a large stage was hosting a band of fiddlers, singers and clog dancers. People from the audience were invited up onto the stage to dance with the experts. At a break the crowd was enjoined to sing Happy Birthday to Irene Cunningham whose 23rd birthday was that day, she was one of the fiddlers. I stayed there for a bit and then moved on, taking a route outside my standard just to see some different things. More pubs, more revelers and finally I was at the Grand Canal. My last shot of the day being a dinner barge tied up at the end of Sussex Road.

What a day and what an experience. I would not have missed it for the world and I doubt I’ll ever accidentally have a chance to see it again. Goes to show one more time that the best experiences in life are often unplanned and that in order to have them, you have to be open.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Another picture post - shots from Tuesday

A shot looking down the main lane in St. Stephen's Green.

Spring flowers. Daffodils are endemic - all the medians in all the major motorways are filled with them.

The River Liffey.

A shot of the City Center.

Grafton Street shopping district.

More Spring blooms.

A hero framed with blooming Magnolias.

Cobblestones. All the streets down by the river are paved with these.

Another shot down by the City Center.

Row houses along Sussex Road (near the hotel.)