Jim's European Notesreworked for clarity more than once!
This was originally planned as a day-by-day, continuously-updated journal of our trip. That failed swiftly for several reasons, most notably the inability to keep my baby computer charged. It sat unused for half of the trip due to a failure of either the 240v converter or the 110v plug. Despite all that, here is the story.
OK, first a little bit of background. Both my father and my monther's dad were born in Ireland, so a visit there has been a goal for all family members. Both sisters had been there before, and my brother Larry and I hoped to get there in the near future. We (and our spouses) had in fact agreed that we would both go at the same time and meet in Ireland. Therefore, when they announced at Christmas 2000 that they would see Europe in 2001, it was a sign that our time had come as well! While Larry and Julie made their plans, I hammered out a September trip that focused on Ireland but hit other Continental highlights as well. To sync with Larry in Ireland was at the top of the list, but then I became aware that Munich's Oktoberfest was also in reach. The final result was that our trips would be in reverse loops: Larry & Julie would begin in Germany in mid-August and end in Ireland, while our trip would begin in England and Ireland and end in Germany. Tickets, passports and rail passes were obtained, and on September 10 2001 the adventure began!
- SEP 10 2001 - The flight to Chicago was generally uneventful, apparently we flew over SW Montata judging by the Grand Teton's posision. The Missouri & Mississippi were finally seen, having been missed on a rainy flight to St. Louis in 1996. After a stopover in Chicago (which included Leinenkugels red lager) we were on our way just after dark. Watched "Manchurian Candidate", then failed to sleep until 1-2 London time, when a Pink Floyd audio channel helped out. Watched the sunrise over a cloudy Atlantic and ate a breakfast wrap, blissfully unaware that within 12 hours all air traffic would cease.
- SEP 11 - Negotiated the madness that is Heathrow, then tubes to Notting Hill. Old buildings and odd cars on the wrong side of the road, but is it really London? We set up on the top floor of the Blue Bells B&B, then took the tube to Oxford Circle & walk to Picadilly, St. James & Westminster - yes, it's London! While touring the Abbey ~2.30 I'm suddenly pooped, so we work our way back toward the room and look for a nice pub for fish & chips. Pub 1 is fresh out, and I mistakenly order 'Strongbow' thinking it's beer but discovering it's cider (I think!) so we leave after sipping Marcia's lager. Next pub stopped serving at 3 (a half-hour before) but is packed with people riveted to BBC1 and the appalling obliteration of the WTC towers and their thousands of occupants. In shock, we head for home, my appetite now gone. We sleep from 5 to midnight, watch the news a while and sleep again from 2 to 8.
- SEP 12 - After breakfast we stroll to High St Kensington and find an EasyEverything web-shop, where 1£ buys over an hour of cpu time. I post a quick and reassuring e-mail to family and co-workers while Marcia tours the area, then it's off to Paddington station for tickets to Liverpool. We also pick up Big Bus tour tickets, and after a bit of wandering find the stop. We rode the Blue Line to the Hard Rock Cafe and stoped for lunch and a tour of their best rock gear. We get on while I donn my new shirt, then jump off at Harrods (one stop later). From there our plans dissolve as I fail to relocate our bus passes - so the bus trip ends as the rains begin. We take one tube only to find trouble on the Circle line, then another only to wait at Earls Court for 15-plus minutes. We decide to walk home, seeing no major sights but sampling fine British ales at three pubs.
We return home through a minor drizzle, with no dinner to speak of - but that was a great walk, and my fondest London memory (with apologies to all those historical sites)!
- pub1: Fullers london pride @ "the Handsome Cab"
- pub2: Courage best bitter @ ..? ("Grand opening Friday!")
- pub3: Adnams special bitter @ "Windsor Castle/Camden House"
- SEP 13 - Ate breakfast at McDonalds while waiting for Boots (chemist shop) to open, then bought a few more items before heading for the train to Liverpool. The ride is comfy and easy, watching the English countryside fly by. Our 13:50 arrival is just in time for the Magical Mystery Tour of Beatles history ... and a hard rain awaited us. A quick dash through a thundershower and into a cab, which takes us to the Dock, where we get both tour tickets and a decent room at the Holiday Inn! The tour goes nicely though it's relentlessly damp, and Beth from CA keeps us company. Her trip plans are a mess - she & her husband had plans to return home then come back to visit the Continent.. good luck with new plans! Ireland plans a day of mourning tomorrow; will ferries and rental cars be available? Dinner at "Ceasars Palace" was quite excellent.
- SEP 14 - The ferries at least were running, and so were we to catch it at 8am. A smooth but smelly ride (diesel fumes) takes us across the sea to Ireland. A bus takes us from the docks to the center of Dublin, where only buses are working - no pubs for food or drink, and clearly no car-rental agencies. The National Day or Mourning was being taken seriously in this country!! The phones seem to be taking the day off as well, as I can't reach the Kellys (my dad's second cousin) either. I finally suggest we bus to Drogheda, where either the phones will work or we can inquire our way to their house. As our bus approaches the airport, Marcia suggests that, despite their mourning, planes are arriving with people who expect rental cars; we get off there, catch the Hertz bus to their office, and rent out a nice Opel Astra for the week. Soon we're driving west, and as I gently grind gears with my left hand we see little food and only one working gas station. At last we u-turn and back up to an open place- the Gandon Inn saved us twice, with food AND internet! Here I reconnected with Larry, who feared our plane had been forced down in South Dakota until my London message had reached him. Finally we reach Birr, a lovely Irish town, where the Kellys (the Birr Kellys, not the Drogheda Kellys) welcomed us - they were near to giving up. Marcia relaxed in our nice room while I visited with astro-nuts at the Whirlpool Star Party. Well actually, the pre-event social; the true star party would occur while I was elsewhere, seeing as much of Ireland as possible! Larry called from Tralee as I was getting into bed and suggested we meet in Kilkenny the next day at 6; optimistic for him but fine by us!
- SEP 15 - Birr castle (and its monster telescope) was briefly explored, then off to Clonmacnoise for intensive ruins and impressive scenery. From there we work eastward to Moate, then to Tullamore for a sip of their famous Dew (whiskey). The waitress confessed to spending four years in NYC illegally without any trouble, only being found out when she upset a neighbor who turned her in. From there we visited the Rock of Dunamase and a small ruined church at Stradbally, but time prevented us from seeing the dolmen at Carlow. We reached Kilkenny at six, then spent a half-hour looking for Kytelers Inn, where we agreed to meet Larry and Julie. Turned out we had parked within a block of it! I found a marginal room for an OK price while Marcia sipped and waited, and after a while they found us. With the tragedy of 11 Sep still so recent, it was wonderful to see familiar faces in a strange but beautiful place. We had a great dinner with story-telling from our journeys, then split for the evening since they hadn't had time to find a room. It turns out that Kilkenny is extremely popular on weekends, so they
had to drive about 20 minutes away to find a B&B. (At the time it didn't occur to me, but this was my 21st anniversary at work; what a fine way to celebrate!)
- SEP 16 - We meet again around 10:30, then take off to the Brownes Hill dolmen near Carlow, then south to Jerpoint Abbey, Kells Priory and Cashel for the night. The weather is fine, and each site is wonderful and mysterious in its own way. We find a perfect room in Cashel for a great price, just below the Rock; Larry did even better since he could look out his window to the Rock at sunrise! The Rock was closed despite what we read on the admission board, but traveling on the cusp of tourist season we found this to be disappointing but not too surprising.
- SEP 17 - A quick tour of Cashel, then we part ways, L&J east on their way home and we to Ireland's west coast. We buzz through Tipperary (where the banner overhead reads "you've come a long way") before hunting for Lough Gur. Success is slow but inevitable, but the site is not much more than hints of what once was. The Grange circle was overgrown but still impressively huge. A final dash through Killarney and over the top at Ladies' View to stunning Kenmare. I pick up a fine new hat at Ladies View and a nice sweater in Kenmare -- & we finally get fish and chips for dinner (sought since London)! The sweater salesman insists that the Beara Peninsula is the finest drive of the Big Three (Kerry and Dingle), so we contemplate it over dinner and sleep.
- SEP 18 - In a move that surprises us both, we choose the Beara Peninsula. That takes all day, landing us in Glengarriff for the night - but oh the sights! From Uragh and Ardmore rings to the immense ogham at Eyeries, to the Atlantic at Dursey: amazing. Having also seen a ring fort and wedge grave, one of each has now been seen (except oratory and/or beehive huts.. Killuta next?). Problem is we're far from Gowna with one night between - perhaps the Gort or Kinvarra area? Stay tuned... Marcia gets a gorgeous rose-color sweater in Glengariff, and a cheap 14-punt room with no breakfast.
- SEP 19 - Northbound to Killarney again, then northward. The Caha pass is pretty and desolate, and we sweep north then east to Limerick. No Killutta oratory, even the nearby filling station hasn't heard of it, but we enjoy Askeaton abbey very much. We dash into Ennis, then wander a while in search of a laundry joint. When told to pick up tomorrow, we head for the Cliffs of Moher, eager to catch it in the perfect weather. The cliffs are an amazing sight, and we decide to sleep nearby, at a spot above Doolin. The Stonecutter Inn feeds us well. As the sun set over Doolin I notice contrails in the western sky - a good omen for Larry and Julie actually getting home after all the planes were grounded.
- SEP 20 - Time to head east, and swiftly! We take a roundabout way to Ennis and discover that the unmarked site on my map is the Dysart O'Day tower/cross/abbey, which I had heard of but it wasn't named on my map. Back in Ennis we found the parking areas full (turns out that Ireland's Tioseach or President - don't recall which - was in town), so took a walk to reclaim the laundry. Back roads took their toll on my patience with trucks and roadwork abundant. After Ballinasloe the traffic and roads improved, and we reach Gowna shortly after 4pm. Paul Moffat was not home, but Annie entertained us with craic and drink for forty minutes. We finally say farewell, take a few pictures of my grandfather's childhood property (right next door) and head up to Cavan for the night.
- SEP 21 - We make a quick dash into Dublin, then back to the airport to drop off the car. Sounds easy, but a 'quick dash into Dublin' is like a short walk to China. We weave through town in a zigzag, hoping for a simple, direct road into the center of town. Suddenly, amid all the traffic, I look to my right: it's the General Post Office, site of the 1916 proclamation of independence or Rising: I now know I'm in the heart of town! We finally find a parking lot, then jump on a tour bus to see at least the outside of famous buildings in town. We jump off near Grafton St. and fill up with more treasures before returning to the car. I take the easiest route out of town - due east - and hit the 50 loop toward the airport. Oops, didn't refuel; this was not a cheap rental week! Hilary appeared just before 4:00, and off we were through rush-hour traffic to Drogheda. She fed us a fine fish dinner before her sister arrived, and we spent the evening chatting and sampling from the liquor cabinet before turning in - Frank was out of town until the next day, but we knew he wouldn't mind!
- SEP 22 - Slept in until 9:30, and at 10 Hilary received word that her mother had fallen so off she went before Marcia made her appearance. Her mom was OK but shaky, but Hilary dropped us off for the Knowth and Newgrange tours while she did other things. Knowth will be open for tours next year, including the summit and its old ruins; too bad since we are one day ahead of the equinox that would light up the chambers there! Newgrange is of course already available to step deeply into the past, and we did so. They recreate the 21 December lighting to show its amazing construction. Hilary returned at 3:30 and took us home, where a fine chicken dinner awaited us. Frank (my dad's cousin) arrived from Estonia later that evening, and we spoke a while (and sampled several fine whiskeys) before heading for bed.
- SEP 23 - Rumor had it that a local pub would be playing traditional music after 11AM, but the truth intervened and said otherwise. This was the Sunday of the All-Ireland Gaelic Football final, with Galway playing Meath for the trophy, and most pubs were probably gearing up for the afternoon parties rather than hosting traditional-music events. I spent the morning exploring online for flight bargains to the Continent, finally settling for a Paris flight for Monday afternoon ($78 round trip, or $109 one-way?). Frank took us to my dad's birthplace in Bettystown before our early-afternoon supper, then afterword we went to Mellifont Abbey, my dad's childhood home in Newtown, and a scenic loop to Omeath and the Carlingford Lough dividing Northern Ireland from the Republic. That evening we reluctantly repacked, saving out some gear for Frank to ship home to us. Our minds (and clothes) were ready for the final week of our journey.
- SEP 24 - Frank dropped us off well in advance of our flight, so we relaxed at the airport and had another O'Brien's sandwich (a chain first discovered in Ennis near the laundry, and rediscovered twice more). The flight was short and simple, but it turns out that calling Beauvais a Paris airport is similar to calling Boston a suburb of New York. After an hour on the bus, we arrive at no particular point in Paris, at dusk, in a light rain. We were near the Arc d' Triomphe, in the dim light, with no real clue where to go, but we walked down a long street in search of two-star accomodations. We found it in about twenty minutes, a fine place for a decent price (as best we could tell, since our exchange-rate calculator was not charging), then set out for a meal. We turned the corner and found ourselves within two blocks away from the fully-lit Arc, with the Eiffel Tower partially visible behind! We took several photos before finding food, and returned to the hotel for a good rest.
- SEP 25 - A full travel day! First down to the underground rail from the Arc to Gare de Lyon, then validate the Eurail pass and it's off for Geneva on the TGV, a gran vitesse (speedy train) indeed. We actually stay on until Montreux, from which it's the Golden Pass Panoramic trail into the higher Alps, and ultimately to Interlaken. While in Montreux we had an hour to pass, and we found a sport shop with a few bike shirts that were not labeled 'Scott USA'. I had promised myself a European bike shirt that spring, and to come all that way for a 'USA' shirt would be a tad silly - so I found a nice grey/white bike shirt whose name sounded vaguely European. The next train was amazing, with great views into the higher peaks. Up one valley full of French names, over the summit at Gstaad, then down into a German-speaking valley! We switched trains at Zweisimmen and again at Spiez before reaching Interlaken, again unfortunately at dusk. The good news was that we would now be in German-speaking lands the remainder of our trip, so my high-school German training might finally pay off. We took a bus that dropped us off in front of the Hotel Tell (as in William), where a woman who looked very much like my high-school German teacher rented us a room and fed us some great fondue.
- SEP 26 - We had the room for two nights, so this was our day to see the Alps up close! We took the train to Grindelwald, then transferred to the cog-train to Kleine Scheidegg at the base of the infamous Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau peaks. When I say the base, I mean it - those suckers were over a mile above our heads, and so close you nearly bent over backward to see the summits! We wandered there for an hour or two, and picked up some souveniers and bratwurst mit sauerkraut (und Bier) while marveling at the sights and the great weather that allowed us to see so much. (Larry and Julie had stood in this same spot a month earlier, coming up from the Lauterbrunnen valley.) We finally came back down to Interlaken around 5:30, visiting more shops along the way. We ate at a fancy restaurant before turning in early; the next leg
of our journey needed an early start.
- SEP 27 - We awoke around 5:30 and walked under the stars to the western train station for our connection to Zurich. I had purchased tickets through Austria from Interlaken the day before, since our rail-passes were not valid there. Imagine our surprise when our conductor inspected our tickets and said they were NOT valid for Austria, and that we might have to step off in the middle of nowhere to buy some!! He took our railpasses and the tickets away for a while to consult, and the news he brought was much better: he would buy back our useless tickets from us, take out the fare for what we really required, and give us back some change. Much relieved, we relaxed and enjoyed a few hours in Innsbruck before heading north into Germany. We ended the day in daylight for once, at Garmisch-Partenkirchen (for sanity let's call it G-P). It's a lovely town, and we arrived just in time for the tourist bureau to find us a room a few blocks away. G-P is where one would catch a ride to the top of the Zugspitze, Germany's highest peak, but we had just missed the last train. It's a beautiful area, and one worth seeing again some day. Especially attractive to us at the time was the Mexican restaurant near the train station - their food was excellent and the drinks half-price. I recommend the mango marguerita, two if you're taking the train.
- SEP 28 - More travel, and with a new bag that we picked up to hold our ever-expanding supply of trinkets. Unfortuately, that would levy a high cost at Munich, our main stop for the day. Having grown used to carrying two things, we jumped off the train in eager anticipation of the nearby Oktoberfest, and it wasn't until we finally found an empty locker that I realized that I should now be carrying THREE things: backpack, trinket-bag and .. video camera. That precious cargo was now working its way north into the heart of Germany without me. (Fortunately, I had changed tapes at Interlaken, so only one day of shooting was in the camera at the time). This mistake cost us another hour as I wandered from place to place, attempting to determine with my vague German to whom I should report my problem. We finally found the right place, but no camera had been turned in at Munich. Since nothing else could be done, we made the logical choice: go have a Bier!
The Oktoberfest is amazing, either a super-State Fair, a mini-World Fair, or just a string of beer-halls with amazing rides, souveniers and crowds. We arrived at lunchtime, so I had a half chicken while Marcia had wieners mit sauerkraut and we split a liter of Bier. We moved on to an obscure corner where an English-speaking attendant sat us down by some well-inebriated Italians; Marcia made eye contact, and one practically sat in her lap, hugging her and speaking an interesting Italic-Germanic-Bier-English. As we were leaving Marcia wanted them all in a photo, so the same man sat me down with them and gave me a bear-hug (without the grope, thankfully), and we continued our tour. By about 4:00 we were getting hungry again, but the crowds had grown tremendously; we tried a spot or two that were now standing-room only, so we returned to the station and headed to Augsburg, a half-hour away. I inquired again about my camera, this time referring instead to the green bag rather than just the camera; still no luck. In Augsburg we found a good motel 50m from the station, and Marcia rested while I hit the town in search of an Internet post. I verified that our flights had not been canceled, much to my relief, and returned to the motel. At bedtime I noted with dismay that my sinuses were getting congested, a terrible thing for them to do just before my longest flight ever.
- SEP 29 - For the last time we packed and headed for the station. Our route this morning would not be through Würzburg as I had presumed, but instead went through Ulm, Stuttgart, and Mannheim before reaching Frankfurt about 11:15. Marcia's dad had been stationed near Ulm many years ago, so she snapped several pictures to prove we'd been there too. At Frankfurt we switched to the airport train and arrived well in advance of our 3:30 flight. We checked in the big bag and found another Internet spot, where I hopefully would find news of my runaway camera; sadly, no news could not be considered good news. Also in the airport we hit a supermarket for a few supplies, a nearby apotheke for nose-drops, then dined at a pizza/pasta joint. The flight home was interminably long (nine-plus hours) but was aided by a tail-wind for the first few hours; we actually reached Denver a half-hour early and had to wait for the previous plane to vacate the gate before we could park. Sights along the way were few but impressive, including a great view of Greenland's ice-cap reaching its glaciers down into the Atlantic, where many massive icebergs were visible. The Denver landing was entertaining, as we slalomed through several big thunderstorm cells before landing. The Denver airport was extremely spooky. Less than two months before I had been here, and it was full of people and generally unadorned. Now we wandered the empty, flag-draped building practically by ourselves, and the train to the concourse held only one other traveler. I napped for most of the final leg to Portland, where we arrived at 9:30 and were met by my parents.
What worked, What didn't
For the most part, everything worked very well. Our improvisations seldom came to grief, and even failures became successes in their own time. Other than leaving the video camera on the train at Munich, most other problems were external - the wrong tickets at Interlaken, Ireland's day of mourning - and were solved with no more than imagination and just a bit of stress-induced adrenaline. My prime regret from a packing standpoint was my choice of tiny computer - had I brought the one that lives on AA batteries, this narrative could have remained entirely real-time. The other regret is the time constraint, but every traveler hits that one. Each open door representes a thousand closing doors, and our leisure on the Beara peninsula cost us views at Dingle, Galway and other spots. Nothing should be explored halfway; to rush the Beara would mean it would need to be seen again, so losing Dingle and Sligo is a choice we will live with. Clearly Ireland will need three more weeks to see, and maybe more. Other lost sights along the way - Chamonix is my best example - will simply move up the priority list for next time. We saw some amazing stuff in wonderful weather; what more dare we ask? The camcorder never did reappear, so replacing that hurt a bit also. Considering that most of the videotape was not lost, though, it could have been much worse.
This entire trip was put into perspective by the tragedies in New York and Washington. I personally had never been to either city, living three time-zones away, but such unspeakable damage was done that the shock could be clearly felt in London and all over Europe. BBC1 showed nothing else for the entire time we were in London, and Ireland in effect shut itself down on Friday the 14th. The Irish never lose their own, it seems, and every missing American with an Irish name was as painful as their own missing nationals. Nearly everyone expressed their sympathy to us personally throughout our trip, and we were touched by these statements. Whenever I would begin to mutter or complain about travel issues, I would simply recall those who would gladly exchange our little problems for their huge ones - and accept my small burden.