Thursday, June 14, 2007

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.

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