With everything going on, I debated for the last 2 weeks whether to write this post or not. It didn’t seem right to talk about travel when the world is torn. Yet when I write I always do events in order. To break up the vacation log would be jarring to the reader.
So, I decided the best course of action would be to think about things and educate myself on the situation, then continue with events in order, then take a full day to write two separate posts. I hope that satisfies.
So where we left off with my European travels in October 2019 (yes, as you know I suck at updating), I was coming into Dublin Airport to meet my Irish cousins on my mom’s side. I had met them several times before, once when I went to Ireland before in 2005, then on various occasions they came to Chicago.
When I went through customs in Paris and Brussels, they didn’t even ask me any questions. They just stamped my passport and let me through. In Dublin however, they asked where I was staying, how long I was going, whom I was there to see, and then asked it again to try and trip me up. Crazy huh? I got through though.
My cousins Neil and Patricia met me at the airport. They gave a start when they saw me. I think that may be because I had gained a lot of weight since they last came to Chicago. I have since lost a lot though, and I think if I stayed with them a month I would lose even more because they are great walkers. They walk 5 or 6 miles a day with their friends in various locations in the areas surrounding Dublin. God bless them.
The first place we went was Malahide Castle for lunch. Lunch in Ireland (unless you go to a pub) is much lighter than on the continent. It’s basically a sandwich and cold salads and tea or coffee. You CAN get the sandwiches and salads hot, too. My cousin Neil thought it was funny I talked about food all through lunch. He said, “I’ve never heard anyone talk about food as much anywhere besides Chicago.” I responded that Chicago is a food city, and that’s why.
They wanted to look around Malahide but I told them I’d just been to a castle in Ghent 2 days ago and I didn’t think I could manage it. So we got in the car and Neil and Patricia thought of another place to go. They said, “How about the Casino?” I was confused, and almost said, “I don’t gamble.” But Casino is Italian for “small house”. It was built by Lord Charlemagne after his grand tour of Europe.
Lord Charlemagne apparently was quite a character. Neil had been a tour guide in his summers off from teaching school, and he gave me some of the history. Charlemagne let squatters live on his land. One of his rooms had painted wallpaper that was painted with arsenic! I guess he didn’t know it was toxic.
Neil gave me tons of history as we went around places, but I mainly took pictures. I should have taken notes instead.
There was a lady on the tour who knew more than the young tour guide did. She “caught him out” on several points on the tour.
After the Casino we went to Neil and Patricia’s home in Blackrock. I got my laundry together (it had piled up since Paris). Their house is lovely, but I was so worn out I never saw the second floor! I stayed in the kitchen mostly.
I told Neil and Patricia a bit about my life since I had last seen them. I also gave them some gifts – stroopwaffles from Fra and Rudi, a Belgian Galler chocolate bar, and 3 books. They’re avid readers. One was my own forthcoming (someday) book – From Escort to Cohort to Consort, then Conor Bezane’s book The Bipolar Addict, and finally the book that made me want to be a poet, Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends. Patricia said my book was very “personal”. I don’t know what they thought of Conor’s book, but you can buy it on Amazon here:
I’m glad I brought them books because shipping to Europe is very expensive! And books are heavy. But seriously read Conor’s book. I helped edit this, and relate to a lot of it in my own history. So I gave some details of that to Neil and Patricia while Neil cooked dinner.
He made chicken breast, carrots and potatoes in an ancient Le Creuset pan. I told him, “That pan is well loved.” Patricia cleans up and makes dessert – usually yogurt and fruit. We had a bit of the Galler chocolate. Neil put it on the windowsill. The next day he said, “You know that chocolate we didn’t like? It melted.” Patricia said, “Aww.” So I think they DID like it.
But that’s the thing, the Irish wit and sense of humor is so quick, you can’t always catch everything. They could insult you and you don’t catch on til 2 minutes after. My cousins are very funny and kind though.
I fell asleep watching the DaVinci code then was up at 6:45am. Patricia was putting the breakfast stuff out because she had a tee time for golf. Neil came down a bit later and had breakfast and coffee with me while we listened to RTE news. Then he went around doing chores while I wrote in my journal.
After that we took the bus into Dublin city center. To get to the bus, you cut through a gap in a stone fence. I thought that was cute.
Neil took me to see the ancient Book of Kells at Trinity College. He waited outside since he’d seen it many times. You can’t get a picture of it for fear of exposure, but there’s a copy of it in the Irish Writer’s Museum.
I went up into the Long Hall which is a repository for vintage books after seeing the Book of Kells, and it kicked up my allergies so I headed back out. I met Neil and we went across the street to Costa for coffee and a sandwich. I had a hard time all over Europe with stairs. They seem to be everywhere, but I managed. Since I’ve been home I’ve been climbing stairs in my building twice a day to be ready for next time.
While I was in the museum, Neil had gone to the tourist office and gotten some brochures. The one that interested me most was Seamus Heaney at the Bank of Ireland. He’s a famous poet I studied at DePaul. Also, one of Neil’s favorites.
Funny though – the bank was being renovated so we had to walk around and ask at 3 different doors where the exhibit was. Neil got into a bit of a conversation with a security guard, joking back and forth. One of my favorite things about Irish culture is how friendly and familiar people are instantaneously. They just welcome you in even if you have a simple question or request. So endearing.
We found the exhibit and it was very well done. I looked at some of Heaney’s edits on his poems in his own hand, and commented to Neil, “Do you notice as time goes on there’s less editing on the page? That’s because the longer you’re a writer, the more you learn to edit in your head.” A lot of my own writing practices I found meshed with Heaney’s.
Back in Chicago right before the quarantine, the Poetry Foundation had a tribute to Heaney, and I met his daughter and was able to tell her I’d seen the exhibit! She told me the desk in his exhibit was previously in her house! Catherine Heaney, the daughter, curated the exhibit and I told her well done at that event.
After the exhibit, Neil was kind enough to buy me a selection of Heaney’s poems, which I read often. Then rather than tourist more, we took the bus back to his house. Neil had wanted to show me more, but climate change protests had been blocking the streets in Dublin so we headed back.
Patricia was back from her golf outing and had been shopping for Sían, her daughter. It was her birthday the next day, so we ran down in the car to drop off the gift for her husband to be wrapped. Sían and her husband have 3 kids – Ella, Dylan and Bodi. I gave the Silverstein book to Ella when they came over the next day. She loved it.
Neil made stir fry for dinner and practiced his Mandarin as he put ingredients in. He was learning Mandarin for a trip to China in February. Obviously that was cancelled!
It was decided we’d go to Glendalough Monastery and Lakes the next day. So we headed out to beat the weather, since it did look like rain. There’s a small visitor’s center and then the grounds. They took it easy on me and didn’t make me walk much. I had bruised 2 toes in Paris on each foot with the amount of walking I did. Patricia was nice enough to give me Epsom salts for my feet later that day.
The monastery was founded by St. Kevin in 900AD. He climbed up the nearby mountain and lived in a steep cave! There are 2 mountains – Sugar Loaf and Little Sugar Loaf. There are also 2 lakes – which is what “Glendalough” means – 2 lakes.
There’s also a cemetery and lookout tower right before the part of the lake where we’re standing in the photo.
It started to rain right when we got back to the car, so we decided to go for lunch. We went to Powerscourt, an old landed estate. The gardens are supposed to be heavenly, but again I was a disappointment to my more athletic cousins. I ate and shopped with Patricia while Neil popped in at a wake and just took a picture from the balcony over the gardens.
After that we went back to Neil and Patricia’s house. First we “collected” Max, the youngest grandchild, from daycare. He’s Fergus’s son and super sweet. He had just had mango for the first time at daycare, and kept saying it. “manggg-oooo”. He even knew my name! So nice to meet the younger generation for the first time.
We had Chinese takeaway for dinner, then Neil went to Mandarin class and I went to bed. The next day we went to the Irish Writer’s Museum in Dublin city center. It was tiny, but had a few interesting things, like an original edition of Dracula. Also some busts of Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw.
We popped in next door after that, to see some Harry Clarke stained glass:
We went on a bit of a walk after that. There’s a bridge over the river Liffey on the way to Dublin Castle, which is what I wanted to see next. In both the Castle and Writer’s Museum, several of the rooms were closed. I also missed the tour, which was okay ‘cos I really wanted just to sit!
There was an interesting video presentation about how Irish prisoners were treated by the British during “The Troubles”. A lot of prisoners came out of it with PTSD. While I was in Ireland, Brexit was an issue, and it fired up a lot of Irish people because Northern Ireland would be a part of it.
After Dublin Castle, we went to nearby Chester Beatty Library. They were almost closing, but I got a glimpse of some ancient Oriental and Islamic texts. They had these beautiful Japanese scrolls on delicate paper. I didn’t take in much of it because as I said to Neil, “They’re kicking us out.” He said, “I wouldn’t put it that way.” Again, Irish wit.
We stopped for a drink on the way back, then the post office so I could buy postcard stamps. Rather than bring back a lot of souvenirs for friends, I let them travel with me vicariously by sending postcards. They all enjoyed.
We got back to the house and I got to soak my feet for 20 minutes, then we went to a fancy restaurant called Cinnamon. I had a red curry. Hadn’t had curry in ages! I meant to pay, but when I switched out my purses my credit card got left at the house. I honestly didn’t mean to!
The next day was my last full day in Ireland. Neil said he would take it easy on my feet and drive me to EPIC – the Irish Immigration museum. I felt bad making him drive because he had to go around and around to get there due to protests and pedestrian malls. Was so nice of him though.
By then, I was exhausted of taking pictures but there were a few cool things, like this light sculpture:
There were lots of video installations on various topics concerning Irish Immigration – food, sport, culture, housing, and more. At the end you could quickly look up your Irish lineage but it only gave you 20 seconds and I didn’t get “Sweeney” typed in time!
When we got back all the cousins came over to celebrate Sían’s birthday. I gave her the necklace I bought her at AVOCA which is like an Irish chain of museum shops. She gave me the hugest hug. I saw Fergus and his wife Ciara and we all had TONS of pizza.
I can’t find pictures of the family, but they’re all good lookin’ people! After everyone left I packed. They had “a fry” for me for breakfast. Neil asked how I like bacon cooked, and I said “Crispy but soft in the fatty parts.” He laughed when I said that and said to Patricia, “Erin gave me the most specific instructions ever for frying bacon.”
After breakfast we went to the airport. I felt bad saying a quick goodbye but I was right to when the line to customs queued up. I first went though Dublin Security, then Irish customs, and then the line to American security and customs was INSANE! I hadn’t seen a line that long since I lined up for the Mona Lisa. As it was, I had just time to get water and get on the plane.
I arrived home safely and have been sleeping ever since, lol. No seriously, I have NO circadian rhythm since I got back from Europe. But man, what an adventure. I feel bad though, I had to miss Frank Turner with Conor cos I was exhausted. He had fun on his own though.
Thank you to everyone who made this trip possible – my Mom and Troy, Fra and Rudi, Neil and Patricia and family, and the kind strangers of Paris. When this is all over, you can bet I’ll be back. And hopefully more in shape for it. I love you all!
Stay tuned for more current events, hopefully late tonight.