Expanded Adventures in the Little Red Bus

Yeah, more photos. After the cut.

Saturday:

Bus to NYC. While going through the Holland Tunnel, got a text asking where I am. They were sitting in traffic ten miles from JFK. LIRR to Jamaica. Phone call asking where I was. AirTrain to JFK, walked up to the Aer Lingus counter just as they hit the front of the line. We were early. Way early. It was not even 2pm yet and the flight wasn’t scheduled to leave until 5:45pm. Dawdled around after checking bags. Realized that I’m the only one who brought cable for iPod/iPhone, so all will be using it in rotation. The flight was FULL, but oddly less cramped than other full flights I’ve been on. Very little carry on luggage overhead. All settled when the captain told us that due to construction on one of JFK’s runways, there is a habitual back up and we weren’t cleared to even queue for take off for another 45 minutes. Eventually take off after 7pm.

Sunday:

We landed and got luggage, took the bus into town. It dropped us right in front of the hotel…which was full because it was a bank holiday weekend. I’d’ve dropped my bags and found something to do. Instead, we ate breakfast and hung out in the lobby while waiting for rooms to become available. I have a charming photo of The Adorable Cousins and The Boy Uncle zonked out on the really comfortable couches in the hotel’s lobby 😛 Checked in, took a quick nap that ended in a serious charlie horse, then went to Trinity College for a tour and to see the Book of Kells. It was raining, and I learned that I was the only one of the group to bring a raincoat or umbrella. (WTF?) Our tour guide was charming and very funny, a new graduate with a degree in French and German. I was particularly entertained by his complaint about the building in which the language department/school was located — it’s relatively modern, designed to look like the Hanging Gardens of Bablyon. But the building materials are too alkaline for plant life, so it’s just a blocky building. The students hate it, but it received architectural awards and is a protected building, so they are stuck with it, even though it doesn’t match the older buildings around it. He also pointed out the statue of the provost who voted against admitting women early in the 20th century; he died not long after and women began to attend Trinity College…and now they make up 63% of the student population.  ETA: the Trinity College Library also had an interesting exhibit on the Irish & India, how they participated in the colonization.

Wandered around downtown for a bit, stopping at the tourist office and in front of the statue of Molly Malone, The Tart with a Cart, then walking up Grafton Street. The Adorable Cousin with Criminally Long Eyelashes (hereafter Eyelashes) was *starving*, so we went looking for food. At one point, we asked a member of the garda, a very pretty blond girl, for a recommendation. While she was giving Young Aunt directions, a guy Eyelash’s age paused as he walked by and asked sotto voce if he wouldn’t mind being hand cuffed and roughed up by that garda. Inappropriate but very funny. Nice dinner at Gallagher’s Boxty House in Temple Bar, then walked back to the hotel. Mom was seriously dragging. All to bed with a plan to meet for breakfast at 9:30am.

Monday:

Slept late, had breakfast with Mom. After hanging out in the lobby, waiting for the others I asked Mom if she thought they were still awake. She told me later that Young Aunt thought Mom was joking when she said it was after 10am. And that she cringed like a vampire when she pulled the curtains open. To the Guinness Storehouse. Very cool, the interior of the storehouse is shaped like a pint of Guinness, and the top floor has a 360 view of Dublin for your delectation as you sip your Guinness. One of the bartenders built a Guinness while I watched and finished the foam with a shamrock 🙂

Then back to the hotel to collect bags and off to get the rental car, which is actually a van. The Little Red Adventure Bus. It could seat 8+ passengers, plenty of room. The Boy Uncle was awesome as the driver. He needed one reminder when we first started out about turning left and NOT crossing to the far lane of traffic, but that was it. And so we were off to Breaffy House Hotel outside of Castlebar in County Mayo.

Pit stop. Mom felt the need to get some tea biscuits and to tell the fellow at the register that she’d read about them but never tried them. He looked gobsmacked. And after I’d paid, he told her they were terrible. She seemed to like them, though. The Other Cousin (hereafter known as Curls) fell in love with the Tayto Crisps (salt & vinegar flavored, ick). Brief wibble as we approached Castlebar, and we stalled in the roundabout. Well, it was more, go straight, wait, turn here! Then the stall. And a restart and a trip around the circle again.

There were signs for Breaffy House generally, but nothing specific, so we flagged down a cab driver who was very friendly and chatty and who wrote the directions down 🙂

Breaffy House is out in the middle of nowhere. Very pretty. We called it Hogwarts. Must’ve been a house with pieces built at different times.


Tuesday:

More late sleeping. Needed euros, so we detoured into a smallish town. But not too small. The street was one way and there was no parking, so we had a Chinese Firedrill so Mom and Young Aunt could get out. We were just going around the block. Yeah, no. At one point, The Boy Uncle asked me which way to go; my response: how the hell would I know? I was sitting in the furthest backseat. It was only after the fact that I realized I was the only other "grown up" in the car. We eventually made our way back to the main street (after visiting one roundabout twice) where they were waiting for us outside the bank, euros in hand.

Then we made our way to Strokestown Park and the Famine Museum. The museum was…kind of a downer to be honest. It’s located there because when the original family/owner sold it in the 80s/90s, the new buyer found correspondence from tenants and the land manager related to the potato blight and efforts to feed and/or relocate tenants. The house was lovely but also sad, because it had clearly seen better days; the last tenants had essentially closed off all but two rooms. The house is being renovated now, bit by bit. The plaster was being redone in the stairwell, so we had to go up the servants’ stairs. And outside, we walked into the tunnel that one owner build outside so his view wouldn’t be marred by the sight of servants going past. The guide told us a story about one of the family dying in the Battle of New Orleans and being shipped back in a cask of rum, and that being the origin of Packenham Punch. (Must look that up.)   The photo to the left is of the original kitchen, which had been walled off – you could see the marks of the building on the floor – but discovered by the new owner as the house is being restored.

The garden was absolutely gorgeous, even in the rain. In better weather, I would be willing to stay in it all day. Pagodas, pavilions, lily pond complete with ribbiting frog, herb (?) garden with jack rabbit, kitchen garden with green houses.

Drove to Westport for dinner with a restaurant recommendation, but it was full up with no tables to spare without reservations. Instead, had dinner down the street (yum). Drove up the Coast Road. Gorgeous view of the water. Low tide, some little boats were beached. Learned later from Dermot (Dublin cab driver) that Westport has fairly high property values, because a lot of Dubliners have weekend homes there, and it’s a bit of a resort town. Reminded me a little of Cape Cod.

Wednesday:

Off to the Cliffs of Moher. The drive was beautiful, so green. Hairpin turns on skinny roads. We were driving along outside Galway when The Boy Uncle decided to stop. Screech! Because one of the random castles and ruins we passed was open to the public. Dunguaire Castle on Galway Bay. Climbed up to the top, took photos. Mute swans drifting in the inlet. More driving, on to the Cliffs, edging around the Burren. There were a couple of extremely close calls with tour buses as they hogged the narrow, winding roads, but it was all good.

The Cliffs of Moher. Photos and videos do not do this geologic event justice. Their size, height and majesty become flat on paper or screen. And offshore, we could just see the Aran Islands peeping out of the mist and haze. Curls and The Boy Uncle climbed up to the top of O’Brien’s Castle, at one end of the public area…he really wanted to see castles 🙂 We walked up the other side, intending to go to the far point, but quickly reached a private property/no trespassing sign…which a lot of people were ignoring. Having the burden of boneheads on both sides of his family tree, Eyelashes had to ignore the "private property" signs and walk up the left hand side of the cliffs. One woman went off the path — I was sure she would fall.

Back toward the entrance, there was a pretty cool exhibit on the geology of the area.

Drove through some small villages, ending in Lahinch, a surf town, where we had dinner at The Corner Stone (bangers & mash for me). At some point, we drove through Lisdoonvarna, which advertised its Matchmaking Festival in September. Didn’t Janeane Garofalo do a movie about that? On into Limerick.

By this point, I needed some time alone. However, the Cranberries were in town for the first time in 10 years, plus the Special Olympics. All of us had rooms with a single double bed rather that two beds of any type 😦 I went for a walk on my own, down to see King John’s Castle and the River Walk. Came back and read in the lobby. Mom wanted to know if I was mad; no, just needed alone time, thanks.

Thursday:

Blarney Castle, Blarney House, Blarney Woolen Mills. Okay, so the Castle is pretty cool, especially the oriel window and the cave/tunnel at the base — the defenders escaped through the tunnel when Cromwell’s forces arrived, leaving them without the riches they expected to seize. Climbed up to the top; the climb was pretty easy, in stages, and you could stop and see different chambers (daughters’ room, priest’s room, kitchens, etc.). The stairwell and passages got narrower as you climbed higher. Mom was right behind me until about half way up when she disappeared; I learned later that she stopped and went back down because she had a claustrophobic attack. Kissed the Stone, then down again.

Got a chuckle out of the poison garden: wolfsbane, henbane, foxglove, poison ivy, hemlock, etc.

Then over to Blarney House, which is still occupied by the owners. Lovely house with some gorgeous antiques, including a birds eye maple piano — it was beautiful, but a little odd to my eye, because I’ve never seen a piano that color. Looking out the windows of the drawing room, our tour guide brought our attention to the optical illusion outside, one that I’d read about in novels but never seen in person, the haha. It was pretty cool, it just looked like a change in the texture/type of grass.

Back to Limerick, where we switched rooms, getting a lovely double room overlooking the Abbey River. Walked down to Locke House for dinner.

Friday:

Drive back to Dublin. How did I end up navigating from the backseat once we hit Dublin? Well, I had the brilliant idea that we should follow a tour bus downtown to the City Center, which worked, then located us on the map. The problem is that the map showed one way streets but not which were for buses only. Also, I have a tendency to say "go right" while pointing left. Poor Uncle. But we got there eventually. Quick regroup, then we were off to the Jameson Distillery, which was pretty cool, if a little more like an advertisement than the Guinness tour was. I volunteered to be a taste tester, comparing Johnny Walker, Jameson’s, and Jack Daniel’s. Ick to scotch. The JD was sweeter but also sharper with a bite. The Jameson’s was just good.

We wandered up to Temple Bar for dinner, then walked back to the hotel via Grafton Street and St. Stephen’s Square. [Once again, I was navigator. Not sure how that happened.] The Boy Uncle and the kids went to a pub later, but I was feeling under the weather (throat was really bothering me), so I bailed.

Saturday:

Breakfast with Young Aunt, then Curls joined us and we went to Grafton Street. Young Aunt was looking for jewelry for her mom (I found it!) and Hollee for a white dress for graduation — she ended up getting three but none of them were white. I wanted to get a model car for a child of my acquaintance, and stamps. Back to the hotel to check out and be on the way to the airport. Out in the parking lot, once we were loaded, The Boy Uncle tried to start The Little Red Adventure Bus but the engine wouldn’t turn over. The interior lights were left on all night, oops! But we all got out and push while he popped the clutch, so all was well.

Aunt got directions out of the city from the concierge, but we missed a turn, so we end up going way out of the way (into a neighborhood called Irishtown, which made me laugh because Irishtown Road is a main country road near my childhood home) and had to ask for directions. The directions were simple but took us to the airport by toll roads. Fine, we’d prepaid our return toll. Except the scanner didn’t recognize that and the arm didn’t lift. The attendant several gates over said to get out and bring him the toll…but a passenger, not the driver. Eyelashes, as usual, wasn’t listening, and Young Aunt couldn’t get him out of the way fast enough, so I got out of the van and climbed over the barriers for four toll lanes. Never in a million years would I do that in the US, but it was fine there. And I felt way less goofy when I saw someone else doing the exact same thing, coming from the other direction.

Returning the van, we turned in toward the other car rental places. Why? I don’t know. Dan Dooley’s wasn’t with them when we picked the van up, would it have moved in a week? But I learned my lesson when driving into Dublin, so I sat in the back and STFU. Eventually made it to Dooley’s and then the airport. I spent the last of my euros on a book to read and sweets for the office: people had requested Mars and Milky Way bars, so they could compare the European versions to the American versions.  

Airport observation: CBP has an office in Dublin Airport. I’m guessing there’s a lot of traffic to the US, then?

General observation: the green. The clean! And the cows. Seriously, those cows were huge. And they produced amazing butter. Curls and I joked that they were happy cows; happy cows don’t come from California, they come from Ireland.

Food observation: banoffi pie, bananas and toffee, not two tastes I would put together. But tasty. And sausage. I ate more sausage in a week than I normally do in a year. And boxty, yum. Plus cider, I drank a lot of cider.

Tickled by a sign I saw on the way out of Limerick: National Ploughing Championship/Contest in September.

Loved the colored doors on houses/buildings in Dublin.  Did not buy a calendar of photos (they were ubiquitous) but I did snap one pic.

At one point, we passed a car with a little old lady behind the wheel who was the doppelganger of our great aunt.

Sunlight until 11pm.

Eyelashes sat in front with his earbuds in, despite the fact that Aunt told him repeatedly that if he sat in front, he had to navigate and leave them out. It tweaked her nerves more than a little.

Overall, it was a lot of fun. I think I would meet everyone some place and do part of a trip together. The hardest thing to adjust to was everyone else’s pace. Group breakfast, periodic feeding of The Adorable Cousins, etc.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Expanded Adventures in the Little Red Bus

  1. Anonymous

    I’m impressed with your mum: I couldn’t work out how to go backwards at Blarney. I got half way up before realising this was really, really not a good place for someone afraid of heights, and then was stuck in the queue. I had to go right round to get out, moaning gently the entire way…
    You should have had Tayto’s cheese and onion – it’s one of the things people really miss when they leave, proper cheese and onion crisps. (I was told at some party that Tayto’s were the first people in the world to think of putting flavour on their crisps, and that if they’d also thought about exporting, the world could have been a different – and more cheese & oniony – place. We’ve no natural resources, and it’s hard to export from the far edge of Europe, but we do have potatoes, and crisps are apparently easy to export. It could, according to this random stranger, have been a really great business venture.)
    Marianne McA

    • I’m impressed that you attempted it while afraid of heights! The ground seemed so very far away as I peered over the edge.
      Hmm, cheese and onion sounds pretty good. It was the vinegar that put me off the bag my cousin bought, as I don’t care for it on crisps or chips. My favorite flavors are honey barbeque and Old Bay (not together, though). Old Bay flavored crisps are a regional thing; I have to ship them to my sister in Texas, or carry a bag with me when I visit.
      Are crisps easy to export?

      • Anonymous

        According to the man at the party… Like the internet, knowlegeable men at parties, always a reliable source of factual information 😉
        (And I promise you, for the rest of your life, whenever you meet anyone from Ireland, Tayto cheese & onion crisps will prove a fruitful topic of conversation.)
        MMcA

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