Monday 3 October 2016

part iv: to Dingle (alternate title: poop)

Okay, let me try to get this one out today...

Apparently, after consultation with the journal I'm forgetting to consult, I forgot to mention a trip to the grocery store, and two pub stops from yesterday. From here on in, assume there are always pub stops.

We got up early, excited for our hike, and ready for whatever the day brought us.

First we had a good breakfast, knowing we'd only be carrying snacks and nutella brown bread sandwiches. Once we had scarfed our tea and crumpets, or tea and whatever we had, we made our way back to our room. Our energy was definitely one of excitement. Selfies. Taking photos of the packed bags. Double-checking to ensure we had layers for when the sun came out and rain gear for wetter weather. It was only calling for high teens to low twenties and sun with scattered light showers all along our day's route, so we opted for leggings and rain jackets.

A few people have asked us about the touring group we went with, but it was really just us. We had a company arrange our B&B stays, send us maps and trail info, and cart our luggage from one town to the next, but that's it. We were a group of two, off to face this thing along, save for a few like-minded hikers that we happened upon on various legs of the hike.

Amped for an exciting day, we adjusted our walking poles to height, set our luggage out for the couriers, and hit the road!

Cloudy. No wind. Perfect.

We took six steps and it started to rain.

We zipped on raincoats, threw the camera bag's rain cover on it, and Nance whipped out the backpack cover she had bought for (or after?) a hike in Scotland years ago. All set, we started off again.

We took 30 steps and the sun came out.

Laughing, we adjusted our jackets to let in a breeze, and kept moving towards the road out of town. The first twenty minutes of this hike are indelibly etched in my memory simply because of our excitement. Everything was new - no sidewalks, the Irish road signs, even the road markers were all noteworthy and different from what we were used to.

Have I mentioned yet that I am allergic to bee stings? Well, it never occurs to me since the world is at a bee shortage, but holy beejaysus, there is not a shortage on the Dingle Peninsula. After day 1, I got used to them, but I was having a few "please, please, don't be mad at me for being here" moments.

The first part of our trek led us on roadways, which is, again, alarming and uncomfortable. People do not slow down to acknowledge pedestrians on the roads. Again, no sidewalks anywhere. But drivers wave a hello as they pass. "Hello, I may kill you! Sorry!"

We were tramping our way along a road that cut across a hillside, so the views were stunning. We passed pasture after pasture, old stone houses, and the ruins of many stone churches and other structures. We were shockingly close to cows and sheep, even getting a fright now and then when one would announce itself to us from a few feet away during a silent moment.

We eventually came to the first major sight of the day's walk - Minard Castle. Instagram link to said castle. (doesn't it burn you when you don't select that first letter you want linked!? Oh well.)

Minard Castle is in - surprise - Minard. It's a 16th century Fitzgerald castle and with its placement right on the waterfront, it is a stunning sight, even now, in ruins. You see it well ahead of arriving at its feet and it looks stately on approach. We read a little about the history of the castle and the area, and it was the site of bloody conflict. It all seems so Ozymandias now - fabulous old structures in ruins. Protecting no one. Ruled by no one.

I can't recall ever visiting a castle before, although I'm sure I have. Castles are a bit fancy for my usual tastes.

Fancy cat with top hat and mustachio.

After stopping here a while and narrowly avoiding having an entire ant farm inside my boots (so thankful for gaiters!!!), we moved on.

From this point, we headed up a hill to experience one of the most bizarre situations we found ourselves in throughout the entire trip. We walked up a steep hill, along a trail. On both sides of us there was thick, tall vegetation, and I'm guessing the cows on the other sides of the vegetation were not happy that we were near. It was a cacophony of mooing. Constant, loud moos all around us. They sounded either alarmed or annoyed. I'm not good with differentiating cow emotion. Once we reached the top of Moo Valley, as we quickly dubbed it, we were both sweating and I think it had more to do with the emotion in the air than the sun or exertion.

At this point in the journal I wrote "Cow Valley and the Chorus of Agonized Moos" and "Moo Valley High". My sense of humour isn't to everyone's taste.

Right around here we spied other hikers. I believe one couple was from Finland. We never did catch the other couple as they veered off on some side road, halfway up a hill.

Yeah, we were supposed to go that way too.

When one is in the middle of nothing but pastures and isolation, perhaps one should think twice about why that other walking couple is headed in a different direction than oneself. But no, we didn't do that.

We were back on roads at this juncture, and the sun was beating down on us. Every now and again, we'd stop and sip water or have a snack, but this hill felt long and killer. The road was bendy and it had a significant amount of traffic. Only when we came to a T junction and saw other hikers coming perpendicular to us did we realize we had gone the long, long way around. In our defense, the Finnish couple did the same thing. Hmm, maybe they were following us.

Because who doesn't want to add an extra 3-4 km onto a walking trip around an entire peninsula, right?

Let me talk about the water sitch for a sec. See, we had a nice big bladder with us with plenty of water for both of us in it. Sadly, my tired face could not work it. Nuh-uh. We had endless conversations that went like this:

"Bite just a little"
"I am"
"Don't bite too hard"
"I'm not"
"Tug it"
"Uh huh"
"Easy! Easy!"
"Not getting anything"
"Try sucking harder"

I only relied on the bladder on day 1. After that I switched to bottles. Nance had the bladder to herself and there were no further R+ rated conversations about the water bladder.

The hikers we had spotted at the T junction were a group of 6-8 Americans who we would see off an on for the rest of the day. About an hour after first seeing them, we ran into them as they stopped for a bathroom break in a small town and we went on ahead. Thankfully, we'd see them again later.

We meandered down long, wet trails, boggy fields, and then were back on yet another road walled by thick, brilliant hedges.

Ditch flowers fit for anyone's table.

After quite sometime on this road, we were starting to wonder where the next marker would be. On this trail, every so often,you see a black post with a little yellow man marker that tells you you're on the right path. He often denotes significant turns.

While looking for him, we saw this:

Sign on gate reading Beware of the bull. Whoah.

Jeepers, right?

It was actually part of this:
Beware of the bull is the way to go.

Note the little yellow man leading over the ladder.


So, we stopped for a nutella sandwich and a banana, because...last supper, amirite? We couldn't see said bull inside the pen, but the field was huge and largely surrounded by tall hedges, much like every other pasture in Ireland.

Then we went up and over the stile and hoped for the best. When exactly did I become a person who willingly enters a clearly marked bull pen?

This story ends well, fortunately, for Mr Bull was off having fun in the cow pasture on the other side of us. We made good time getting through this particular field, managing to avoid the bull patty mines all over the place. We weren't sure whether he was there or not (the pasture wrapped over a hill) until we had high-tailed it all the way up through the pasture and over the exit stile.

Did I mention that on day 1, we decided this chapter of our lives should be titled, "Let's Go for a Poop"?

Because there was a lot of poop. Sheep poop. Cow poop. The occasional horse poop. Goat poop. Poop. Poop. Poop.

For example, this is not mud.

Poop path.

And a lot of the paths had these fun signs!

Some were straightforward dirt roads.

Some came with the map warning, "may be a bit wet this time of the year".

Others had narrow metal bridges through what felt like paradise. Well, paradise plus scary bees. Scaradise.

Only on the loooooong road walks did we say "I need a fun snack. Now". The other terrain kept us interested, but the roads were sometimes long and laid out before us in endless swaths. 

Another common phrase of the day was, "stop hitting me with your poop stick".  Our walking poles were pretty shitty from morning until evening, and it was hard to manage the stiles, fences, drinking, eating, and other obstacles without the end of the poles flailing dangerously.

Somewhere after the bull, after the barking dogs, and before Dingle, we got a bit lost. Well, not lost lost, just not sure which way to go. The map read "go over the stile, pass two stone walls, and follow the path". Got it. Over the stile - check. But we couldn't find stone walls. Mind you, most stone walls are covered in brambles so thick, you'd never know they were there. 

We went North through the pasture, unsettling a few lady sheeps. Nope, didn't feel right. We went West, our path being ever westward - nope, not sure. I consulted the map while Nance headed South along a fence. When I looked up, I spotted a ram with his eyes set on Nancy's movement. I quietly called to her. Yeah, quietly called. Oxymoron that. "Babe. At your eleven o'clock, there's a ram watching you intently". Right about then, he started flicking his head in circles. I don't know much about ram speak, but I assumed that wasn't good. Then, using her great wisdom and physicality, my wife launched herself over a nearby barbed wire fence to escape an impending charge. 

I have since learned that farmers often call male sheep bucks, not rams. I am not editing my story. Backfill based on your new knowledge.

So, where are we? I'm on one side of a fence, with a stile in front of me that I know I have to go over. The angry ram/buck was on the other side. To my left, over a tall hedge/wall thingy was my wife. In a ditch. She managed to haul herself up over the stone wall - wait a second - we found the hidden stone wall! Hooray! Uh, yeah, she got herself out of there just as our friends, the noisy Americans arrived. 

See now, I don't think all Americans are loud. I lived in the grand ol' US of A and loved it. But this crew happened to be delightfully young and clamorous. And guess what? Male sheeps aren't fond of large groups of loud people. We all went over the stile and the head-bobbing tyrant was nowhere to be found. The group couldn't figure out which way to go either, but through trial and error Nance and I had figured it out and off we went.

The next kilometre or two or the trip were the poopiest and had the thickest mud of our entire hike. My high hikers threatened to suck their way off my feet a few times. Again, thank dog for gaiters. The Americans had fallen behind by then, several of their pack wearing low sneakers or hikers. None wore gaiters or had hiking poles. I remember as we pulled away from their group, one of the girls yelled back to her friends "It gets better" and I, trying to be helpful, yelled back to her "Sorry, it gets worse again!" as I mucked my way through unavoidable ankle high cow shit. I heard a small "fuck" from one of the guys.

The end of the day was a lot of field hiking with sheep all around us. The bucks would stand on guard but would politely move off the path if we lightly banged our poles on any rocks we passed. The final few kilometres were across a valley with views that would bring tears to your eyes. If reincarnation exists, I want to come back as a wild sheep in Southwest Ireland.

One thing I forgot about the weeks leading up to our trip - I had broken the pinky toe on my right foot, three week previous. It was purple and ouchie for a day or two, but then I simply...forgot about it. Well, right around the "Two km left to go" mark, my body decided to remind me. We were rounding the valley, coming out of field after field of sheep, and on the home stretch. When we hit road, my right foot felt uncomfortable. Huh. "Just tired, I guess," I thought to myself. 

Well, no. Not just tired. Broken, dumbass. But I still hadn't made the connection. I thought I had busted a toenail, which has happened on every race I've ever entered, or developed an ungodly rub blister. And let's face it, also on the table was the possibility that one of my many demons was trying to escape through the weakest point in my structure. 

The final two clicks were all downhill and by the time we got to our B&B I was limping, tearful, and trying to ignore the throbbing from my foot. Welcome to Dingle, baby. It's way down there.

Waaaaaay down there.

We were pretty tired from the full day of walking but we were still all smiles right up until I got halfway down that hill.

We found our B&B - the very hospitable O'Neill's - left our boots, poles, and gaiters at the entrance, and were shown to our comfy room. A foot inspection revealed nothing but a red toe and inflamey area on my foot near the base of the toe. Huh. That's when Nance remembered I had broken the damn thing. Day one and heading into three more days of longer hikes on a broken toe/foot?

We showered and headed out to see a bit of the town. I hobbled along, wondering how I was going to muster the gumption to keep going, all the while knowing I'd be impossible to live with if I quit. Poor wifey. We talked about our options. 

In reality, we found a pub so I could consult Dr Guinness for advice. I knew I'd be a cranky mess pretty much forever if I bailed on the hike now. So, we drank our pints at a pub named O'Flaherty's, and talked it out. It was not a hopping spot while we were there, but the town itself was buzzing with tourists. Dingle is a perfectly lovely spot, although much more touristy than the rest of the peninsula. The homes are brightly coloured as are the shops and restaurants.

After a pint, things were looking up...mainly because I had been seated for twenty minutes - so we hit the grocery store for foot wrapping supplies. We planned on buddy taping it, bucking up, and hoping for the best! This is pretty much how I make my decisions. I've been living ten years with MS - a few days of walking on a broken toe couldn't be worse, right?! Right!

Once the decision was final and we had our supplies, we hit a restaurant recommended by our hilarious server in Annascaul, and grabbed another pint each for good measure. I couldn't manage a proper walk about the town but we hit a number of shops in the downtown area and picked up a few souvenirs, including a tiny glass sheep for the wee nephew, lover of all small things. Fun fact: Dingle has an unusually high number of ice cream shops. We went to one to try different flavours and I had a sea salt ice cream. Keeping with a scrumptious theme, Nance tried the brown bread. Brown bread is everywhere in Ireland. And it should be. Deeelish.

We made our way back to the B&B before dark and enjoyed the comfort of the room before heading to bed for an early turn in. On the MS side of things, I was tired but not fatigued. We had planned out heat solutions well in advance, so I always had layering options.


part iii: Annascaul

Yes, I know it's taking me forever.

So, Annascaul, or Anascaul or, in Irish, Abhainn an Scáil or Abha na Scáil. Whatever name you choose, that's where we found ourselves.

I woke to the sound of a sheep bleating in the neighbour's backyard. It's actually an effective alarm clock and who can get mad at a cotton candy goat?

Before setting out on the hike, we had this beautiful day in this beautiful town to rest. The day's plans were to maybe do some light wandering, check out the farmer's market and see what trouble we could find.

Breakfasts at the B&Bs were quite an ordeal. Without ordering breakfast, you'd get cereals, fresh brown bread, toast, fruit, coffee, tea, and juice. Most places offered yogurts and some sort of pastry as well. The night before, you'd place your breakfast order for hot food. Every B&B had a different process for ordering, and at Annascaul House we had to fill in a little form and leave it on the front table so Noel could run to the market across the street before they closed. Cooked options were smoked salmon, porridge (made with Bailey's Irish Cream in most places we stayed), eggs done however you'd like, bacon, sausage, and white or black pudding.

Being from Newfoundland, I knew the latter options weren't delightful custards of any sort and steered far clear of them. Growing up, I knew black pudding as blood pudding. Pork meat, pork fat, beef or mutton fat, and a binder of bread and sometimes oatmeal. Blood optional. Without blood, it's called white pudding. With oatmeal, it sometimes has the tricky name of oatmeal pudding. Don't be fooled!

Just butter for me, thank you.

It's no wonder we don't eat meat.

After we had a very full breakfast, our host suggested a few sights for us to take in. People in Ireland are especially excited to offer the names of favourite pubs. He also mentioned the farmer's market and a nearby lake.

The sky was a mezmerizing blue but it was a cool day, so a little walk to a lake sounded inviting. We got a quick set of instructions from Noel - one or two kilometres down the road past the bridge. We'd see a sign for Tom Crean's grave. Go right and go through a gate to get to the lake.

We opted for the lake and after checking out the market, we found the bridge, and started down a road lines with tall fuchsia hedges. The wildflowers were stunning.



Twenty minutes or so into our walk, we were wondering where the lake was. We had yet to see much beyond a few homes, cows, and the odd black and white farm dog. We were not moving at any great speed, so we kept going, assuming the gate would be around the next corner.

In the meantime we were in awe of the flora. This may sound silly but I had no idea that holly grew much bigger than knee high shrubs. Imagine my surprise as we passed massive towering holly trees!

Holly tree
Squinty wife for scale.

By this point, we were 40 minutes into our walk and where the heck was the lake?

Finally we saw a little sign denoting the burial site, so we knew we were on the right course. The distance wasn't bothering me but it was warming up and I was in a cotton hoodie and jeans. Not the best "I have MS and have to stay cool" outfit.

We happened upon an older couple who were also tourists in search of the lake. Still nowhere in sight, but further proof that we were heading the right way.

So, it turns out that heading to the lake that's a kilometer or two up the road, on your rest day, can turn into a 12km trek. Twelve kilometers. In cotton and denim. 

What the fuh?

Mind you, once we found the lake, it was beautiful. It was surrounded by steep, treeless mountains, speckled with sheep, of course. The water was calm and the surface reflected the tall peaks surrounding it. It was surreal to walk through a valley with sheep bleating far overhead. They echoed into a chorus of wooly cries. Not gonna lie, most of them sounded bored.

While we took in the lake and stopped for a few photos, the couple we had met along the way caught up to us for a chat. They were from Florida and were overwhelmed by the landscape around us. I pointed out one particularly sure footed sheep high on the mountain behind us and we left them there with their cameras pointed up at the wee bahhing cloud.

We made our way back to town, taking in the vibrant scenery, careful to listen for traffic on the twisty, teeny roads.

Wifey's wingspan almost touches both sides of the road at once.
Wingspan wife for scale. This is not a one-way road.

When we finally made our way back to town after walking 12 kilometers on our rest day (do you get the sense this pickled my grits some?), we popped into a café for a bite to eat. To backtrack, we were not having a terrible time.

Instagram link to happy faces.

Up until this point we hadn't been eating fabulous lunches or suppers. There aren't a ton of veg options in most small towns, unless you want fries. When we saw chana masala on a chalkboard sign we basically ran inside the café. Nance ordered the masala and I got some kinda sandwich. Brie, spinach, pear, and cranberry on brown bread with a slightly tart vinaigrette. To. Die. For.

We didn't want to leave.

Curious about the plants of the area, we asked our waitress about one we had seen that looked a lot like humongous rhubarb. One leaf could obscure an entire person.

"Oh," she said, "that's giant rhubarb." Go figure. The shop owner filled her in on the plant's real name, Gunnera. She informed us with a smile that it's "not to be confused with...the other". Only in Ireland can waitresses make STD jokes at lunch seem appropriate and charming.

She was lovely, though, and asked all about our trip - where we were from and where we were headed. She even drew up a list of sights to see in Dingle when we got there. She also told us that there was quite a time across the street the night before and it got wild. That's Hanafins. The place we left as all the women loving women were getting tipsy. We missed a good time from all accounts.

After a bite to eat, we turned in to pack our bags for the next day's hike and to catch some Olympics. During our stay at Annascaul House we met people from Germany, France, the Netherlands, and New Jersey. Yes, I did just equate the land of Bon Jovi with countries.

That concludes our pre-hike portion of the trip. The next day would bring us from Annascaul to the town of Dingle via Lispole. It was calling for sun and rain. Lots to prepare for!


Thursday 8 September 2016

part ii: to Annascaul

The day to the Dingle was long. However, not nearly as long as it has taken to upload this post. 

We woke early to get to the Dublin train station in plenty of time. Showered, schemed to steal the bulldog puppy again, packed our last few things into our backpacks and hit the road.

The walk to the train was a few kilometres through a residential area. Mostly residential. Pretty sure we passed a prison too.


I was full of happiness. Filled with happiness? Happy. Nance and I travel well together and chat about the everything and the nothing. We were contemplating pack comfort on the morning walk.

We really haven't used our big packs much since buying them out of MEC money last year (thanks dad and Linda!). We had used them to lug things during our moves, but that's about it. We did zero weight carry training before this trip, so this could have gone much worse! The packs held enough for two weeks and were surprisingly comfortable once adjusted correctly...this adjustment process was a theme throughout our entire time in the UK. Baggage handlers tend to pick oversized backpacks up by one strap, placing all the weight on one slippage point. Finding exactly which strap had gone awry was a daily challenge.
The packs weighed around 15-16kg each, which isn't bad at all with good weight distribution.

So, we wandered to the train station early in the morning. The streets were empty. We passed a girl heading for the gym. Cats in windows. One or two folks who had yet to hit their beds for the night. I silently wished them good luck navigating the sidewalks.

At the station, we printed our pre-purchased tickets and headed to our platform. I haven't been on a train since I don't know when. Maybe Boston a few years ago. It was interesting to see our names digitally displayed over our seats. Not so private, that. 

Throughout the day, we passed endless fields of sheep, cows, and painted horses. Lots of farms had all black cows, something you rarely see here. Ninja moos. At one point we passed a garden with three donkeys. Not very majestic looking, are they? I love their fuzzy manes. What's a group of donkeys called, anyway? I think it's a drove. I could be wrong on that. Drove sounds right, though. Gawd, you'd never say I majored in English. I need an editor. 

Late morning, we switched from our spiffy newish train to a less modern one in Morrow. No fancy digital names and more crowded. Overhead announcements were all Irish first then English. Place names sound so similar that it wouldn't have been difficult without the English translation, though. If you ignore a lot of their vowels and some of the consonants, Irish isn't all that tricky a language.

The Dingle Peninsula is a nearly completely Gaelic speaking region. Folks speak English too, but signage is Irish. Locals all speak Irish amongst themselves. Not surprising, I suppose - it is the national language, after all. I quite like the sound of it. People speaking Irish sound positively happy. Interested. Pleasant. I may not blog about all of our trip, but let me tell ya, we did not hear a whole lot of pleasant tones in England. I'm getting ahead of myself. 

By this point, we were hearing much different accents than those in Dublin. A little flatter. More like Newfoundland's East coast. Still not difficult to understand, though. We shared a table with a man and his young daughter for a while. They were chatting and eating the ever-present cheese and onion Tayto crisps. Aged cheddar and onion. Three cheese and spring onion. Cheese and caramelized onion. Cheese and onion is the prevailing theme in UK junk food. A gross one if you ask me, but no one did.

Another shrug

Nearby there was a group of girls in their early twenties. They seemed to be on their way to a friend's wedding. Or to an evil villain's wedding. Hard to tell. I know mean girls exist, but their conversation was shockingly cutting. They were sharing the obscenities of previous weddings. Who was cheap. What was tacky. Favours, accommodations, shoe travesties. The dresses they just couldn't believe. The out of style fastenators. Who could have afforded more and who spent way too much. And I thought the cheese and onion chips were gross.

Thankfully that particular drove moved on after a few stops. After a full morning of train rides and eavesdropping, Tralee was within our sights.

At Tralee we grabbed our packs and checked the time. We had 45 minutes before our bus, so we wandered into the town to find food. You can guess what kind of crisps were in every shop front. Unable to find simple fruit, we opted for crisps and I had to try these.

Shamrock and sour cream crisps. They taste like onion and cream.

Tralee had Tralee was...uh. I'm sorry but it's hard to say anything positive about the feeling we got from Tralee. It seemed like people there had lived hard lives and they were the exception to the typically welcoming, attractive Irish. The bus station felt sketchy in the middle of the day - a far cry from the places we had been thus far.

A short while later we happily hopped on the bus for Annascaul and found the Ireland of movies. I can see why National Geographic calls this peninsula the most beautiful place in the world. Sheep-speckled rolling green hills as far as the eye could see. The flora was lush. Everything was green. The ruins of stone homes had been taken over by dozing cows. The buildings were few and far between. 

The road was terrifying.

One big ol' bus on a wee little road. I'm not a nervous passenger but my bladder was happier when I wasn't looking over the sides of the road/cliffs.

An hour later, we reached our stop, grabbed our bags from the bus, and looked around. We had arrived! It was breathtaking in the same way parts of Newfoundland are. Vibrant and lacking gawdy signage and ads plastered all over everything. Like home but without trees. The peninsula has been farmland for so long that many trees that may have been there are long gone. There are some right in the towns, but the landscape is devoid of anything taller than the tallest ram. We turned in a circle and every direction was like fairy tale perfection. 

Now to find our B&B. Annascaul is not a large town in terms of population (299 to be exact), but it is a bit sprawling. We didn't have to look long, though - the bus had let us out four houses from our destination. Excellent.

Annascaul House is perfect. It's pretty, the owners are friendly, the dining room is airy and bright, and the living room was comfortable. Our room had an en suite, a locking door, and a tray with tea, coffee, and biscuits laid out. Our host, Noel, met us at the door and showed us around. He is a delightful man who should never have kissed the blarney stone, or never needs to. His rate of speech is beyond compare.

We dropped our bags and lobbed ourselves at the bed, but decided on a walk around the town before naps took hold. The front door of the house had no inside handle. I've never seen that before. Tug the lock's bolt to open.

Annascaul is the birthplace and home of Antarctic explorer, Tom Crean. Autocorrect, knock it off. A nearby pub, the South Pole Inn, celebrates Crean and is loaded with historical facts, artifacts, and photos. It also has an adorable window to the South Pole that kids can open to hear recorded whistling wind and see styrofoam snow whip about. 

After a pint, we headed back towards our newest home and stopped at Patcheens Pub for a bite to eat. And yes, another pint. There was an Irish league rugby match on the telly and even the 70 year old women were cursing at the plays. Apparently, some fecking eejit was making a lot of badbadbad fecking calls. Fed and watered, we set off again.

Before getting back to our night's rest, we fell into yet another pub, this time Hanafins. This was one of my favourite spots of our entire trip. The entire interior is painted a plum color. There are fairy lights strung here and there at one end of the pub. On the opposite end, a wall showcases two rifles. Not sure why. A full sized Marilyn Monroe graced the door of the women's loo. Not sure why that either, come to think of it. All the while, the b̶u̶r̶n̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶s̶t̶e̶n̶c̶h̶ wonderous aroma of peat was swirling about. It was 25 °C but the fireplace was burning hunks of peat. As much as I liked it, I really didn't understand much about this place.

We got comfortable and sat facing the bar, next to the fireplace. John at the bar  (is a friend of mine) owns the place. It had always been run by women, he told us. His grandmother, then his mother. He himself had been born in the pub, he mentioned casually while pointing to a spot on the floor. None of his sisters were interested in the business so he took over the bar from his mother. He is also the local history teacher and had plenty of interesting tidbits to share. If this weren't the third pub in under a few hours, I'm sure I'd even remember some of them!

It should be noted that the longer we sat, the more people poured in to watch another rugby match. Funnily, most of them were female couples. I'm not sure how a town of 299 people has a happening gay scene, but we had found it.

Before the onslaught of sensible footwear wearers arrived.

Exhausted from a day of doing very little, we had a few rounds and then meandered home, kippered from the peat. Nance suggested we join the growing group at the end of the bar, but they were fresh for a time and we were fizzling out.

On our way home we grabbed a few beer to bring back to the room to enjoy while watching women's Olympic soccer. Because our livers had gone six minutes without being tested.

We were watching France vs the US in the living room when a family from France came in. Their young sons joined us and the dad sat with us on the couch shortly afterwards. We all cheered France on (always love the underdog) and lamented the US luck/skill together. The boys were very into the game and it was a great, satisfying moment to watch such a universal event together.

Sleepy-eyed from the day's adventures, we hit our room where I journaled fora while. At this point in the journal I wrote "have to say the area is a LOT hillier than I expected. Should be an interesting week."

We had an extra day in Annascaul, so we went to bed knowing the next day would be a day of rest.

Nothing to report on the MS side. It was a pretty still day, despite all the travel.

Wednesday 31 August 2016

part I: Dublin

Holy shamrocks, I have a lot of words to type!

I longhanded our trip highlights and that's a lotta pages, so I'll try to pluck the plumpest grapes for storytelling. Or not - you know me, I tend to ramble.

So, Ireland. Short version: I loved it. You can stop reading now.

Couldn't fit another damn thing in these backpacks. MEC rocks.

Dublin is one of those big cities that somehow holds onto a healthy smattering of charm despite the rush of crowds and traffic. Colourful buildings, whimsical decor, and an overall positive feeling. Humour is injected into storefront signs, and pub names are frequently bawdy or otherwise entertaining, much like home. This pub is not named for what you'd expect.
The Hairy Lemon pub, named for an unattractive dogcatcher with bad hair.

I don't know if people in bigger cities have the same level of friendliness as reported, but coming from Newfoundland, the land of slaughtering you with kindness, it's hard to judge. Friendly enough.

One thing that stuck out to me right away was the lack of cell phones. People aren't as glued to their cells there as we are here in Canada. On any given day I see the mobile appendages of most of my friends. They're on the table at restaurants, even if we're resisting the urge to check every bleep and chirp. In Dublin, you rarely see a table full of mute young people thumbing their phones. There aren't signs advertising free wifi at every turn either.

In pubs, you don't see hordes of people with their hands glued to their ears or fiddling with lit crotches in cafes. Phones almost seem to be used as phones. It's refreshing.

I'm off topic. Surely that's not the most impressive thing about Dublin, but it's damn impressive.

We had opportunity to see the massive Dublin Castle complex and Gothic/Romanesque Christ Church Cathedral, with its medieval edifice. The architecture of the city is head turning and I'm sure an architecture walking tour would have been fascinating had we more time. Ireland has a thick, dark history and you can't walk ten feet without tripping over something old and impressive...and heartbreaking. So much turmoil.

And, in the current age, such rich entertainment. Theatres left, right, and centre. Ads for shows and live music at every turn. You'd spend ages scoping out an endless line of performances.
The Gaiety Theatre

Trying to fit as much in as possible, we hit The Brazen Head pub (instagram link), established in 1198 (according to the pub and some historians...not all). Nice pint of Guinness, that. We discovered packaged condiments on the table here and wondered at the mysterious Brown Sauce. And left it at wondering. Some mysteries are best unsolved. Packaged condiments are only really found in fast food restaurants in our region, but they were in every pub and restaurant we visited in Ireland.

On the condiment note - big props for never having to ask for malt vinegar anywhere! Always on the table. Ireland, Newfoundland, and PEI share the vinegar love.

We did a lot of walking around the city and over the many bridges across the River Liffey, but paced ourselves on pubs. Heading into a week of hiking, we didn't want to be carrying hangovers with us. We wandered to the hallowed grounds of Guinness via some sketchy roads suggested by Google and later popped into Darkey Kelly's for live music and beer sampling. Nance sampled. I ordered Guinness. Why order anything else when you've found perfection? The Irish sure know how to pour a good black pint - perfectly cooked and then topped before delivery. Pay attention, SJ pubs!

Darkey Kelly's was, once upon a time, a brothel and is now named after its madam, Dorcas "Darkey" Kelly. Kelly was accused of killing a shoemaker on St. Patrick's Day in 1760...or 1746 (history is wibbly in Ireland) Kelly was hanged and burned at the stake for the crime and for witchcraft. Or for the alleged murder of her child. Hard to know which factual account to believe. Investigators later found four or five skeletons (depending on which historian you side with) in the brothel vaults, placing Kelly among the world's earliest known female serial killers.

A peculiar bit of history to attach to a pub, but whatever floats your boat. The music was crackin' and the beers were delicious. I also loved that the pub had a "no ball cap or tracksuits" rule. Gotta love a former brothel owner/serial killer's home that has standards!

  • having the washroom security code printed on the Starbucks receipt and then having to unlock again from the inside to get out. They sure are big on toilet security.
  • Paying 20p to pee in a mall. What if you don't have change, people!? I rarely have silver on me! Come to Canada - peeing is free!

Now, let me warn you if you've never been there - the sidewalks in Dublin are meant to test you. They are legitimately out to get you under ideal conditions - under a clear bright sky you still have to look down. One moment you're walking on cobblestone, the next minute there's a nice big gap out of nowhere and you're on angled cement, then pavement, uneven brickwork, then back to stone. So, I can only assume that people who have had a few pints either get a cab, walk in the streets, or give the fuck up and sit on a stoop until they can navigate the neck cracky pathways.

Happily, we stopped after a few pints and got back to our B&B with our ankles intact.

Our Dublin lodgings were an Airbnb adventure that panned out reasonably well. We had a private room with a queen-sized bed. Hysterically, the bed was the lower bunk in a set of bunkbeds. I don't know why this amused me so much, but I kept picturing someone else walking in to claim the top single bunk. We shared the household bathroom with our Brazilian hosts.

Our interaction with our hosts was minimal since we were there for such a short stay. We did meet another guest, Ryan from... I dunno, the US somewhere. Georgia? The best part of this household was undoubtedly the bulldog puppy. I was in love. Beautiful pup. Couldn't figure out how to carry her on the hike, though, so I didn't pupnap her.

Bibs and bobs: they showed us how to use the powered shower, having never seen one before. On/off. Start/stop. Pretty easy.

The shower mat was a wooden crate top. I like it. No wet mat.

We found the train station the night before leaving so we could figure out our itinerary. My sister-in-law just cringed, I'm sure. We don't plan things out much. It usually works out.

No one at the Dublin train station had ever heard of our destination, Annascaul. 

Hmm. They consulted this map and that map, and it was nowhere to be found. The lovely Dublin train employee called the nearest train station to the Dingle Peninsula, Tralee. The employee of the Tralee station ran across the road to the Tralee bus station to see if it headed to Annascaul. And success! After much laughter, googling, and map reading we were all set for the next morning. The train people even told us to buy our tickets online to cut the cost nearly in half. Super helpful!

I'd do a short stint in Dublin again, for sure, but our destination was the countryside, so we were eager to leave the city bustle behind and get going.

The next day was a travel day of trains, buses, tiny roads, mild fear (see previously mentioned buses and then add previously mentioned tiny roads), and more pubs! Shocker, I know.

From an MS perspective, no problem with the flight length, I was getting plenty of rest, and the weather was cool. No trouble with the time zone difference either. All systems go!

Dingle bound!

Wednesday 27 July 2016

life as it is

I have been pretty busy since moving back to the big city of #saintawesome. It's been a flurry of cleaning, unpacking, organizing, and general prettification, and we're finally getting back to normal.

Well, more normal after a yard sale. And some shelves.

I'm not sure what kind of environmental hoohaw has occurred since we left but this has been a sweltering, brain mushing week. Trying to think through porridge. It's been in the low 30s the last four days and that slows the aforementioned progress to a drunk sloth's pace.

With the heat comes symptoms, of course. Shittiest cracker jack surprise ever - here's some sunshine and heat and hidden inside is the lasting sensation of carpet burn for your left arm, and spider webs on your right! Go, me!

But, screw that kind of talk because our late honeymoon in Ireland is drawing nigh and we couldn't be more excited! I have been making lists of the essentials - passports, adapters, extra card for the camera, and candy. natch. I have a sweet tooth on hikes. I blame Robyn Benincasa for that. Too much time watching her eat Twizzlers in the Eco-Challenges. Funny, she ate jerky too but I have no I penchant for that. I realize how obscure this reference is. It's hot, remember. My brain is as floppy as an over easy poach.

Nance's parents, aka the guests/ petsitters, arrive tonight or tomorrow, depending on how tired they are after the gulf cruise. It's about a six hour drive after the ferry. Blergh.

It'll be great to spend some time with them before we fly out. Fun to not have an agenda for a few days. We'll have almost a week with them to get them used to the animals and their habits. I am excited that they're bringing little Luce too. They have had her for years but it seems like only last year Nance found her wandering the highway in the middle of nowhere. She's a cutie. She and Abbey and Ringo will have to figure it all out. Luce never liked Abbey (jealous boots/resource guarder) and Ringo used to stalk the little dog. Sooo, we'll see!

We have very thoughtful friends who have offered to take Abbey out for exercise now and then, so we'll leave all appropriate numbers for the babysitters. Our dog needs a village.

It will be so strange not to see Abbey for that long. We kennelled her once when we went to Québec and once for something I don't remember but other than that, she's been with me from the moment she got off the plane from her kennel. Is it weird that I am emotional at the thought? Probably. Blaming that on Tara. I spent part of the morning looking at photos of a dog she lost recently. Heart tugs. lots of good memories.

Nance is also en route as I type. She's still working in the Northwest, so I get her for ends of weeks and weekends. Not ideal but it is what it is. Can't wait to see her. We're sickening, really. If people knew how lovey we are at home, it'd be a vomfest.

So, yeah. Ireland. We have the first seven days planned, I believe. After that we're considering England. Not to see Big Ben, nope, not Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, nor Madame Tussauds, no. We'd be going for the sea glass. Yes. Sea glass. In Seaham. I swear she's okay with it.

We may end up happily staying in Ireland for the entirety of our travels. Who knows. It will be fantastic, no matter what we do. We need to sort it soon, though. Accommodations are on the dear side in the UK. Airbnb has been great for planning, so far. We're staying at a proven gay-friendly spot in Dublin our first night. Safety first!

Let's see...what have I missed? We did a Color Run. Hilarious and fun right up until the point where MS threw up the middle finger at being in the sun for so long. Got confused near the end. Meh, still had a lot of fun.

It is super having friends so close again. This was a good move.

On that note, I should go chill some frosties for my wife.

Oh, she's home. Later dudes.