Saturday, April 25, 2015

A New Directive

I know I've been absent lately, and I have yet to tell about my trip to Italy. I've been working on a different project for a little bit now and I'm feeling pretty good about it. Here is but a small excerpt. 

       Jessica did what she is often times quite remarkable at, and asked me a couple questions that made me think. She asked me first if I regretted coming home from Europe so soon. I didn't. Partly because I felt like I was finished in Europe, but also, I wasn't the type to regret things. I don't know if there was a definitive turning point in my life, if I had gradually evolved, or if I had never really experienced true regret, but I couldn't think of a single thing in my life I regretted doing. Every time I came up with something unfortunate that had happened to me, or a stupid decision I had made, I could think of the lessons I had learned from those incidents and decisions. I knew the outcome of each event in my life and I could either learn from or laugh about each and every one of them. Usually both. Every instance was undoubtedly responsible for turning me into the unique character that I was today, and I was genuinely excited about the person I was going to become in the future. I didn't just not regret coming home from Europe, I was intrigued to see what role that particular decision would play in my life several years down the road.  
The second question Jessica asked me was, "when were you the absolute happiest?" Immediately, my mind jumped to Belize. The first night on that windy, sandless island, sitting on the deck, drinking Belikin. Every five minutes I would get this shit-eatin grin on my face and say, "Dave! We're in fucking Belize!" It wasn't the place, the company, or the beer that made me feel happy in that moment. The reason Belize meant so much to me was because I had accomplished my life long goal. To drop everything on a moments notice and skip the country. To disconnect, almost completely, from the rest of the world. To just decide to leave, and go. It was exactly what I had always wanted to do and I had done it. I kept asking myself, Why did it take me so long to do that? School and work were both valid excuses, but they were still excuses.
Nike's just do it slogan was my new directive. I had just done most everything I wanted for a while, but there were things I had always wanted to do that I hadn't had any plans for accomplishing. Living in Colorado was a big one, and those pieces were finally beginning to fall into place. Do a road trip around the United States was another, and I already had a plan unfolding in my head for that as well. Again, I wasn't sure if this change in attitude had happened at a definitive point or over time, but I wasn't going to sit around and day dream anymore. I was going to make life happen for me. If there was something I wanted to do, or accomplish, I would do it. Whether I had a partner in crime or not was irrelevant. The world was lying at my feet and it was within my ability to go anywhere and do anything I pleased. 

Friday, April 10, 2015

Ireland: Carrick-a-rede Bridge and Giant's Causeway

Carrick-a-rede Bridge
Ever since the first time I saw pictures of the Carrick-a-rede bridge several years ago, I've wanted to cross it. When I found out Paddywagon did a tour with a stop there, I had to go. I didn't even care that it wasn't the main attraction, which was the Giant's Causeway, I bought a ticket right there. I didn't even care about going to the causeway, honestly. I boarded my bus around 8 in the morning in Dublin and patiently awaited my destiny. 
On the way there, we stopped at some cool trees that were supposedly used in filming some portion of the Game of Thrones. I'll be honest, they were pretty cool. It was at that stop that I realized two things. First, it was snowing. Second, the wind was blowing. Like a lot. When we got back on the bus, our driver crushed my soul with a single sentence, "the carrick-a-rede bridge is closed due to high winds, so we aren't going to be able to cross it." Thanks, wind! 

We did still go to the bridge though. It's a little over half a mile from the gift shop to the bridge and most people on the tour bus opted to have a nice cup of hot chocolate at the restaurant in the gift shop instead of making the trip. I, however, was not missing this opportunity. I said screw the wind! and started walking. The wind was so high that I was pretty sure I was going to turn into a human kite and fly into the ocean a couple times. I'm really glad nobody had any children there. 
On my way out to the bridge, it actually started sleeting! Then a fellow coming the other way stopped me and said, "be careful, there's a wall of rain coming this way!" And pointed behind me. When I looked and saw the downpour headed for me, I just laughed and said to myself, the only thing that could make this any better is if the wind actually threw me into the ocean!! Then I promptly knocked on the wooden fence along the trail, cause nobody needs that bad ju ju. About that time I found an older British lady who was just as determined as I was and we did our best to act as paperweights for each other for the rest of the hike. 

At the bridge a stout gentleman there saw my complete lack of qualifications in the area of paper weighting 100 pound old ladies in 60 mph winds, and took over for me. Since the half mile trek back was into the wind, I had to grabbed my coat hood from the inside with one hand and pulled it down over my face because the wind was making my eyes tear up. Then I ran. Or tried to. In normal conditions, the pace I was setting would have been a steady 7:30 mile, but I'm pretty sure that's how long it took me to make it the half mile back to the gift shop. 

I may not have gotten to cross the bridge, but I'm pretty happy with having to gotten see it. Plus, it costs money to cross the bridge, and I didn't have to pay! And there were no crowds!! What more can you ask for?

Giant's Causeway
The Giant's Causeway was the next stop after the carrick-a-rede bridge. I'm told that on a clear day you can see Scotland from there. I kinda had to laugh at the thought of a clear day in Ireland, cause I didn't see one the whole week that I was there. 

It was still insanely windy and cold, so I paid the 2£ to ride the shuttle down to the causeway from the visitor center instead of taking the "15 minute hike" to the bottom. There was a lady at the bottom with an infant. Woman was nuts, but must have incredible grip strength cause the wind was measured at 60mph with higher gusts. I won't lie, I was thoroughly unimpressed with the hexagonal rocks. What did impress me though, was when I let myself fall into the wind and it actually held me up! I did that for as long as I could stand the cold and got some foreigner to get a photo of me. Then I paid attention to the rocks.. There was some kind of officer there making sure no one climbed on the rocks, but while someone else was distracting him, I grabbed a guy from Minnesota, gave him my phone, asked him to get a picture for me, and climbed the rocks. 

As soon as the next shuttle came around, I jumped back on and rode to the top. There wasn't much to hold my attention in the huge visitors center though, so I did what I do best. I found food. There was a restaurant in the visitors center, but who wants to eat at a visitors center? There's a tiny little restaurant just down the hill that looks more like a cottage. They had a bar and a few open fires. I grabbed a seat next to the fire and had what will probably the best soup and sandwhich combo I'll ever have. And a hard cider. I'm pretty sure I'll never be satisfied by food in the United States again. 
I doubt I'll ever pay that much for soup and a sandwhich ever agin either though. Since  Northern Ireland is technically still a part of the UK, they don't use the Euro, they use the pound. So the 12£ i paid for my meal seemed fairly reasonable. Until I did the math and realized I had just paid about $25.. I still probably should have gotten another cider though. The one wasn't enough to keep me warm for long after I stepped outside. 

Ireland: Cliffs of Moher and the Blarney Castle

I'm a little late with this post because I've been doing other things.. Very important things.. Like drinking my life away in Italy. It's been a good time. Anyway, here's my experience with a couple tourist stops in Ireland. More to come later. 

Note: since I'm too young to rent a car in Ireland, I did all of my tours with Paddywagon tours. They have busses leaving pretty much every day from Dublin, Belfast, Cork, and a few other places, and they stop at all kinds of cool little spots on the way to your main destination so you actually get to see quite a bit. All of their tour guides were very nice and friendly and knew a lot about the places we went. If you can't rent a car, or are too cheap, I recommend using them. 
Cliffs of Moher
For those of you who are fans of The Princess Bride, the Cliffs of Moher are THE CLIFFS OF INSANITY! Yeah, they're real. It's ok, I thought they were a movie set too until I turned 5 and discovered how to use the Internet. They're on the west side of Ireland just a little way south of Galway. Galway looked like a pleasant little town, and everyone I talked to spoke highly of it. If I'd had a car and not been too cheap for a train ticket I would've stayed there for a couple of days. The Paddywagon tour stops in a town called Doolin for lunch. In Doolin there's a bar called Flanagin's. It's kind of amazing. If I'm ever foolish enough to get married, I'm doing it in Ireland just so that place can cater the wedding. Which, I don't think they cater, but I'll figure that out. They also stopped at the "baby cliffs" which are only about 100 ft high. They stop there first so you won't be completely underwhelmed when you make it to the real ones. 
The real Cliffs of Moher stand about 700 ft tall. You don't really get a true appreciation of just how high that is through pictures though. You kind of have to go. If you can help it, go when it's not pouring rain, because if it's stormy or there's a lot of mist, you can't see much. Don't get discouraged if the weather forecast is calling for rain though, there's rarely a day in Ireland that it doesn't rain. It rained while I was there and I still saw the cliffs just fine. Take a rain coat instead of an umbrella though; and for you ladies and men with luscious locks, go ahead and tie up your hair. The west coast of the island is quite windy, and on top of the cliffs there's not much to break it. I'm pretty sure if they had half a dozen wind mills on the cliffs, Ireland would have clean energy for decades. Hats are a bad idea too. 

When you get there, I suggest breaking the rules. All of them. When you get on the trail past the gift shop and take your first glance at the cliffs, you can go left or right. Going right will take you up a little hill to a round castle looking thing where the guy that used to run the town would take his women (he was a womanizer, the local husbands weren't his fan), for a romantic view. I can kind of see why they went for it, cause the view really is incredible. On the trail to get there, if the winds are high like they were when I was there, there's actually a spot where the wind carries the ocean spray all the way up and onto the sidewalk. You're seven hundred feet above the ocean and you can hear the waves crashing on the rock, and then you feel the spray on your face. Kind of awesome if you ask me. 
There's no rules to break there though unless you want to climb on the tower, breach a castle door, or do some deadly cliff diving. However, if you go left, you'll soon come to a sign that says not to pass it. Pass it. Cops aren't going to come after you. I honestly didn't even see the sign because of all the people who were walking right past it. It's really just there so they can't be held liable if you fall and die. There's a narrow trail with a wire fence on the left and kind of a rock slab wall on the right. It's quite safe. Next, go over that rock wall. There's kind of a trail on that side of the rock wall as well, but it leaves nothing between you and the edge of the cliffs except the wind. The trail can be wide in places and narrow in others, and it can be a little muddy, but it's really not bad and the view is ssssooooo much better! 

You really can't go wrong if you visit this place. I feel like even if you were there when it was misty, you could still get some pretty good pictures. You'll probably have the uncontrollable urge to watch The Princess Bride too, so just go ahead and pack that. 

The Blarney Castle
When most people think of the Blarney Castle, they think of the Blarney Stone and being granted eloquent, flattering speech. I have two things to say to that. First, there's a lot more to this place than just the stone. Second, I kissed that stone and I wouldn't say that my speech has changed at all. It certainly didn't help me in Italy, where I arrived with a vocabulary consisting of "thank you" and "whore island" (thank you, Sterling Archer). Thanks, for nothing, stone. 
The Blarney Castle itself really is quite a sight. There are a lot of castles around Ireland, but many of them aren't this intact. This one has obviously had some maintenance done on it, but it's still awesome. When I got there, there was a choir group singing at the base of the castle distracting everyone. Since I have the apparently unique ability to appreciate someone singing without watching them move their mouth, I passed the crowd and made it to the entrance before everyone else. Score one for me. Inside the castle is really nice, but on the way up, it's pretty much a straight shot to the stone. At the top, take a second to enjoy the view, and maybe put on some Chapstick. After all, the locals piss on this thing at night, so having a nice protective layer between you and that nastiness probably isn't a bad thing.. That could be why my speech isn't flattering though.. Kiss at your own risk, I suppose. You have to literally lay down and bend over backwards over a hole in the floor to kiss the stone. Don't worry though, there's a mat there to lay on, and someone there holds you to make sure you don't fall, and another to take your picture. They're probably the same ones that relieve themselves on the stone though. 

The way down from the top is a little more interesting. There's a few rooms in the castle you can go into. The dining hall, the kitchen, the maids room, etc, etc. it's all pretty interesting. Once you leave the castle though, you can go behind them to see the poison garden, the caves, the creek, and a non-poisonous garden. I'm not sure about the poison garden though. There's a sign that says not to touch, smell, or eat anything in it, and I definitely saw and old lady bent over getting herself a good whiff. To my knowledge, there were no ambulances called there that day. If you're not quite as brave as that old lady, you can sit on a bench that's got some kind of "poisonous" vine growing in a canopy over it. I saw a couple taking a photo there. Kind of ironic how they were celebrating their love in a poisonous place. Way to kill your relationship, guys. 

If you're still not that brave, you can walk on a trail along the wall to the other gardens, or down to the creek. The trail along the creek is actually quite pleasant. I am in love with the sound of creeks though, so that's just me. I found a stump to sit on right over the creek and pulled off my shoes for a bit of relaxation, then headed for the cave ( after I put my shoes back on). The caves were a let down to say the least. I was expecting something big and filled with pots of gold and maybe a leprechaun or a cave troll. Nope, just a little cave inhabited by a spider. 
When you're finished with the castle, the lying stone, the not-so-poisonous garden, the creek, and the caves, go ahead and pull out your cash. The world's largest Irish gift shop shares a parking lot with the Blarney Castle. They have some pretty awesome t-shirts for normal people and alcoholics alike, souvenirs, and a bunch of cotton stuff all made in a warehouse there just up the street. The place is huge! Like, three or four stories kind of huge. If you're like me with only a backpack and you don't want to buy anything, there's a nice restaurant attached. I didn't eat there, but I was told it was pretty delicious. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015


To anyone who is wanting to travel to Ireland, I have a few pieces of advice for you. First things first; once you land, leave Dublin. It's not a bad city, and there's some cool history there, but in comparison to places like Belfast and Cork and the countryside.. It just doesn't compare. Second, drive around the north. I, unfortunately, didn't get to do that. I tried to rent a car in advance, and Avis' website says they can rent to those under twenty-five, but that was a lie. They did give me a refund though, so that was nice.. I spent the first few days in the south, and while I enjoyed it, my final day in the north was more scenic. In the north the hills roll on for miles a little more fluidly than they do in the south. The mountains are even prettier. It is colder though, so bring a coat. They consider 26C (78F) sweltering heat, so if you're from the south like me, just plan on being cold.

Third, pack a rain coat or an umbrella. Preferably both. Most of the time it's cloudy and drizzly.. And when it's not.. One minute you can see the blue sky there promising you a glorious day under the sun, and the next there's a tempest blowing through. The locals all said that's pretty much an all year round thing. 

If you are going to drive through Ireland, be prepared for some changes. Like EVERYTHING IS BACKWARDS. In my head, I knew they drove on the wrong side of the road and the steering wheel was on the wrong side and the Irish just generally do things involving transportation wrong, but it still messed with me. When I went to get on the bus at the airport, I immediately felt dyslexic. Imagine my surprise when I suddenly looked up from my phone and realized that we were turning into the wrong lane. Yeah, I shit a brick. About twice a day every day. Also, in the cities I think there's more one way streets than there are two-ways. And being a pedestrian trying to figure out which way to look was almost impossible. Thankfully, the Irish have gotten one thing right. On the ground at just about every crosswalk in Dublin it says "<- look left" or "look right ->." That was pretty awesome. 
Do the tourist things. Ireland is gorgeous and if I could (and it was warmer), I would probably rent a car and explore it for a month. But since I didn't have that option, I used the paddy wagon tour company and rode their tour busses all over the place. The tour guides were pretty cool, and they stop at a lot of interesting places. Like the Blarney castle. Yeah, I kissed the stone. I'm really eloquent and have the gift of flattering speech now, could you tell? If I had planned better and wasn't so cheap, I probably would have done their nine day tour. But I am not a big planner and I'm a cheapskate. 
           One last weird thing that I've realized is pretty much the same all across Europe; in a multi story building, the ground floor is floor zero. And you might be on floor three, but have room fifty-one. I swear they do that just so they can watch Americans walk in circles sometimes. 
Overall though I found the Irish people to be very friendly and welcoming. Weirdly enough, I heard a lot of other languages just walking around in downtown Dublin. I mean, virtually everyone speaks English, but other pedestrians talk in several languages. I heard Slavic languages, Arabic, Celtic, Spanish, some Asian languages and several others I couldn't identify. It was really interesting. Overall though, everyone seemed pretty friendly, and even though I stayed in the slums, it didn't feel that sketchy.
          Oh yeah. If you're a cider person, have some Bulmers. It puts everything I've had in the states to shame. Of course there's also the Old Jameson Distillery and the Guinness brewery in Dublin. They were, of course, packed with Americans.