Friday, June 15, 2007

Picture Post

Some general shots from my day driving around.


Into town and daylight at the North Pole

We headed out of Trim in the general direction of Dublin knowing that sooner or later we would find one of the motorways that headed into Centre City. Rolling country side punctuated by massive road work projects and their associated giant trucks flashed by as we made our way east.

Eventually we found the N3 and it rang enough of a bell with me to assume it was the way I knew into town. As it would turn out, I could not have been more wrong. This became clear as the landmarks did not appear and we drove into more and more congestion. Eventually we found ourselves on the wrong side of the River Liffey at the zenith of rush hour.

I turned on my Nüvi personal navigation device figuring it was our very best hope at finding our way home. Emily, the voice of Nüvi gladly complied, asking me to turn on Atherton Place in .3 miles. What Emily didn’t know was that Dublin lacks the street signs necessary to make such a turn with any semblance of authority. Having missed the juncture, Emily issued a curt “recalculating” in her proper Londonian accent and asked me to make another turn. Again, no street sign. By now we were using all the technology available to us – our joint memories, the few street signs available, a plastic coated street map and Nüvi. Even these together, the golden acme of civilization was not enough. So we drove on at 5 MPH hoping that sooner or later Emily would make a recommendation that we could actually act on.

Church Street presented itself and being a big one, it was easy for us to follow her orders. We turned into yet a more complex morass of stopped autos. At this point it became obvious to me that every traffic engineer in Dublin deserved to be taken out and shot, the traffic was just that bad. Sitting watching one car make it through every 10 second green light made it clear that there was a significant problem with light synchronization. Eventually though our 10 seconds of freedom presented itself and we made our way across the bridge. From there it was easy sailing. We stormed down Kevin Street and rounded our way onto St. Stephen’s East knowing that the hotel was just around the park. Emily gleefully announced that we were approaching the Shelbourne Hotel on our right. What she didn’t know was that the hotel was on the other side of some mid-street barricades that prevented us from driving up to the front. The only approach appeared to be from an eastbound one-way street perpindicular to our present location that would require a significant around the block diversion. So off we went a second time into traffic choked side streets eventually making is back around and up to the hotel. The car parking guy grabbed my keys and luggage and escorted us into the lobby.

The Shelbourne is the hotel in Dublin and surprisingly on the Intel approved lodging list right alongside Motel 6 and Extended Stay America. Not to be diminished by this more proletarian company it is a grand hotel. Situated in a beautiful orange sandstone Georgian building, it’s what a hotel once was and should be again. Unfortunately, the personal cost of trying to get to it dampened our sense of awe and grandeur.

The staff was cheerful and friendly and helped us get on our way to our rooms which turned out to be quite pleasant and comfortable.

After a brief rest and refresh it was out on foot to find some food in the Temple Bar area. By now it was 8 PM and Dublin being at 53N latitude meant that the city was still bathed in sunlight. For grins, I have included this photograph taken at 9:12 PM simply to give you a sense of just how bright it is at that time of day. You walk the streets and you think it’s six o’clock, but it’s not. Why they further abuse the situation by employing daylight savings time is beyond me.

Dinner turned out to be some excellent Thai food and that coupled with a nice walk home gave the previous 24 hours worth of travel the chance to finally catch up to me. A coma it was and so the end of a really long, full day.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Trim Castle

I had one goal when I was here in March and that was to see Trim Castle. It’s considered the best preserved Norman castle in Europe. It was originally started around 1100 AD and work continued on it for the next three centuries before the shifting political climate caused it to fall into disrepair. Now it’s simply a wonderful remnant of a world gone by.

Often I find that the mind’s eye picture one forms of something based on reading and maps is in direct conflict with the reality of the place itself. In this case, I picture the castle located on a broad plain in farm country, hard on the River Boyne. When I went looking for it last time, I found myself on a bunch of one-way streets to nowhere that culminated in a dead end street that was choked with Land Rovers disgorging children for their day at school. I remember lots of cursing and backing up and running into God Knows What was I tried to maneuver out of that mess and back onto a civilized road. You know, one of those 60 MPH two lane nightmares. I was tired, fuzzy headed and jet lagged and after trying my best to find it, I caved in and asked a young man for the quickest route out of town and he gladly obliged. I could see the Yellow Steeple ruin off to my left, and it never occurred to me that it was connected with the castle itself. I figured the ruins were on the far side of town and that I had simple taken the worst possible route. I left Trim in a huff, drove for a bit, tried to go back and finally just gave up. It was a reasonable big disappointment to me, and a major affront to my infallible sense of direction.

This time I came armed with maps and a navigator, figuring nothing could go wrong. Using finely honed dead reckoning skills, I made my way through town making turn selections based completely on what my gut told me to do. The result of this was that we found ourselves on the fast road out of town and heading in the opposite direction of our goal. A quick u-turn and a couple of strikes on the curbs and we were heading back. The Yellow Steeple hove into view but still no castle. My previous understanding of the proximity of the two had been altered this trip around and I knew they faced each other across the Boyne. But as we drove, it quickly became apparent that my original mind’s eye approximation of a castle amidst the golden barley was woefully in conflict with the reality we were facing. The castle seemed to be in the middle of town.

Driving on, again using our advanced navigation skills bolstered with a dash of Newtonian successive approximations (in simpler terms, just keep turning left) we saw what must be the castle grounds. A couple more lefts and a couple of rights and there we were at the center of the spiral – Trim Castle itself. In the local tongue, Caisleán Bhaile Átha Troim. Right down at the end of Frenchie’s Lane pay by the minute car park and across from the Trim Pizzeria. So much for fields of gold.

Despite its prosaic location, it was darn inspiring, The Yellow Steeple, a ruined portion of an old cathedral stood majestically across the Boyne at the top of a grassy hill. The castle itself was arrayed on our bank at the top of a rise. Remnants of the curtain wall surrounded the rise and towering over the entire site was the original castle keep. We wandered about taking it in and snapping a lot of photographs. Between the sounds of Rooks cawing over head and a group of uniformed schoolboys shouting “F--- all” as they climbed on the posted-no-climbing walls, the tableau was quite remarkable. We paid a few Euros to go inside and combed the ruins. The keep is closed except for a guided tour but the outside was impressive enough. To the south, the remains of the original towers that framed the Barbican Gate stood silently, recalling their past grandeur. In its complete state, prior to its absorption by Trim village, it must have been an impressive sight, much like my original expectation. In all, an experience that far outweighed the inconvenience of getting there.

Time to find the hotel and put an end to a long day’s trip that began at early morning in the New World and culminated half a world and 1000 years distant.


Back in time 1000 years

Well here I am back on the wrong side of the road again. This time though with a bigger car (Volvo) that inspires greater confidence aside from the times that it insists on hitting the passenger side curbs. Ah well, between hitting things and forgetting to pop it into 1st gear at just about every stop light, not much has changed since I was here last in March.

Getting here was as always, interesting.

It all started way back in Albuquerque on Monday. Sitting around waiting to board, we were entertained by the antics of a sugar loaded 4 year old boy who was running around yelling at just about everything. His father was a good father, remarking with incredulity over each of his scion’s pronouncements. “Yes, the blue plane is leaving.” “Yes, there is another blue plane.” “Yes, the bug is on the outside of the window.” “Yes, that bug is on the inside of the window.” On and on it went, causing me to rue the fact that I was in boarding group 5.

But finally it ended and we started to board. Walking down the jet way I was passed by a grumbling airport worker complaining into his walkie that he had to check a child seat for 28F. Looking at my ticket, a grim realization came over me – I was in 28D.

Arriving at my seat, said boy was already in it and seat belted. I looked at the father and told him he was sitting in my seat. While he didn’t appear to be the argumentative type, he challenged me on this fact until I pointed at each seat in the row and said “A B C D E F” and he relented in the face of my fact laden assault.

Based on the waiting area performance, I figured this would be a memorable trip. But the kid started to nod off, kept only awake by his dad who was patting his legs and raising his hands, revival style, in concert with the increasing speed of the plane during take-off. Some sort of family ritual I guess.

The kid passed out and the dad sat perfectly Buddha-like staring straight ahead with his mouth open doing absolutely nothing for the next 3 hours.

We arrived on time in Atlanta and found our way to the departure gate. Having 4 hours to kill we decided that we would get back on the train and stop at each terminal. While this sounds sort of futile and boring, it was actually a fascinating study in the different food and retail outlets present at each location.

Arriving at the gate and the discovery that we were now delayed for 2 hours. Lack of a plane apparently. The 37 person senior citizen tour group was undaunted, not missing a beat in their hearty rendition of Irish pub songs. So back to the train and a second opportunity to check out the terminals that we had missed.

We boarded about 2.5 hours late after an inspiring speech by the Captain who miscalculated the time zones, giving us an arrival time of an hour later than it should be. He explained it away due to his tiredness and lack of sleep. Not hardly an explanation I wanted to hear. My row mate was a young man with “Bono” tattooed on the inside of each wrist. I figured him for Irish until he spoke and then I changed my assessment to that of an American on some sort of U2 pilgrimage. He was reading Hunter Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail,” interesting for me in that he was pretty young to be reading a book that detailed the very first presidential election I was old enough to vote in.

He promptly fell asleep and left me alone.

Nothing interesting on the flight aside from the guy behind me who insisted on using my seat as leverage every time he got up. Which was a lot, meaning my fitful sleep was interrupted pretty regularly. I finally tore off my sleeping mask and shot him a bleary eyed look, putting an end to his gymnastics.

We arrived after a wonderful sunrise over the Atlantic and Ireland was surprisingly sunny.
Nothing much to say about the airport, we got in, got out and went for our rental car. Naturally the computers were down at Hertz which offered us an authentic 19th century car rental experience complete with handwritten contracts. We got the car and following a standoff with the shuttle bus driver – furiously waving at me to get out of his way – got out of the lot and onto the highway for our pre-planned morning tour of Celtic and Norman ruins.

Now last time I was over, finding things was not that easy. It was early and most of them were closed and I was deeply in the throes of sleep deprivation. This time was better – it was midday, I had had a little sleep and for some reason the places we wanted to see were all clearly marked with brown attraction signs. What a difference 2 months makes!

First stop was Mellifont Abbey, a 10th through 12th century church ruin. Really amazing to walk amongst walls that are almost 1000 years old. The tales of these churches are very compelling, outposts of civilization regularly plundered by hordes of drunken Vikings.

From there it was on to Monasterboice, a 10th century graveyard featuring a round tower and a handful of prime High Crosses.

This stop was very pleasant – the graveyard was surrounded by tall Plane trees filled with Rooks and Jackdaws croaking away their displeasure at some thing or another. The tower was quite impressive – almost entirely intact and only missing its cap. These towers served as sanctuaries for the monks of the various abbeys when the Vikings came a-calling. They would pile all the valuables inside, head in, pull up the stairs and wait for the bad guys to get bored.

The High Crosses were particularly impressive, standing 10 or 12 feet high and being covered in intricate carvings depicting Bible stories. Apparently their purpose was educational, offering the monks a text book if you will for telling the stories to the local converts. This stop really was nice, the green countryside rolling off in all directions, the sunny skies over fields, the birds and the peaceful nature of the graveyard, all adding up to a nice counterpoint to the 15 hour trip we’d just completed.

The next destination was Trim Castle, my nemesis from the last trip. I tried hard to find it last time but was unlucky in my quest. This time would be different.

Bombing down one lane roads at the posted 60 MPH (100 KPH) leaves me gasping for air each time I’m here. In the US, these would be 25 MPH; here it’s a death race from town to town. We took a short break to look at another church ruin with an accompanying tower and then got back into the race to Trim.