morsla: (Default)
I've spent most of today swallowed up within the vast grey void of the international airport domain, as the airlines decided to send me from Dublin to Edinburgh via Heathrow...

Heathrow is a winding maze of narrow, signposted passages. It's a comforting claustrophobia - I was quite content to scurry along, happy in the knowledge that the covered walkways were protecting me from something unimaginably vast out there. The bulk of the airport lurked out beyond the walkway tubes - occasionally looming large on the other side of a window, and then mercifully hidden again. I was glad to escape the labyrinth with my sanity in as many pieces as I'd entered with.

After spending about an hour in the rabbit warrens, I can confidently say that I have absolutely no idea which part of the airport I was in, or how much of it I saw. All that I know is that I bought the world's most expensive sandwich for lunch, when my normally reliable constitution baulked at the thought of having muesli bars for the fifth week of travelling...

For my last night in Dublin, I went to Johnny Daly's "Food, Folk and Faeries" at the Brazen Head - apparently the oldest pub in Dublin. Johnny is a masterful storyteller, and split the evening into three parts (punctuated by hearty servings of some excellent food). I arrived early, and had a pint of Guinness while he launched into the first chapter - daily life in Ireland, for the landed and landless farmers. It's a significant portion of Ireland's history, and one I've heard from a few sources now. Here, Johnny used it to introduce the conditions that helped Irish folklore to evolve over the generations.

Food arrived, more drinks were ordered, and our resident bard moved on to the main area for the evening - detailing the world o' the gentle folk, and their history in Irish myth. Unlike most of Europe, Ireland was never taken by the Romans: with its cold climate, they christened it Hybernia, and decided against fighting in a land that seemed cloaked in perpetual winter. As such, the country escaped the initial wave of conversion to the christian church. When the church finally made inroads into Ireland, it did so in a far subtler fashion - incorporating itself into local myth and legend, and gradually subverting the stories. The fair folk became fallen angels, soulless creatures of white blood, cast down from Heaven. Their trickery was an attempt to lead humans astray, or to mingle their bloodlines with the red-blooded mortals who were assured a place in Heaven.

Johnny finished up the evening with a motley collection of yarns garnered from all about the country - of piskies and pookas, leprechauns and banshees. It was a good way to wind up the Irish leg of this trip, and to celebrate a couple of birthdays (September is the month for them, it seems) at the same time. Not the cheapest thing to do in Dublin, but if you're a fan of folklore I recommend it.

Now I'm in Scotland - staying in a hostel right in the shadow of Edinburgh castle. It seems like a friendly place, possibly as most of the occupants seem to have been there for several weeks. I've managed to find my room (no room numbers on my floor - I'm in the Puzzle Room), and after trying my keys in all the lockers I've found my bed (again no numbers, so I'm sleeping in the worryingly titled Pandora's Box). Judging by the vast piles of football gear covering the floor, and club banners hanging from the beds, I'm guessing that it's a room full of guys who are here for the rugby. Some peaceful nights ahead, obviously :)
morsla: (lookin)
I'm posting snippets, mainly so things don't fall straight out of my head.

Just before leaving Dublin on Monday night, I saw Ketzal at the Fring festival. The show was... manic, bewildering. I loved it. From the opening moments (when the audience have to fight to clear plastic and foam off their seats, and are promptly clambered across by a tall man with a habit of picking up the audience and rearranging them), to the tearing down of the backdrop (which was used to fend off a group of other performers who'd been hiding behind it), to flooding the theatre so they could run about trailing droplets and ripples (in the best tradition of many Hong Kong crime flicks), the show kept going at a frantic pace.

It also went almost half an hour over time - if it appears in the Melbourne or Adelaide fringe festivals, don't schedule anything directly after it. It's a bit of dance, a bit of circus, a bit of bizarre costuming (mostly done with gaffer tape, black plastic sheets, and a few bits of coloured cloth). I don't make any claim to understand what went on, on stage or among the audience. I do know that it was the most fun I've ever had at a fringe show...

The trip to Bushmills took three buses and about six hours, heading north on the inland route. On the way, I met a Spaniard named Angel, who was riding a bike around Ireland in his two weeks of annual leave. The weather was closing in, he'd been riding for five hours already, and so he decided to catch the bus I was waiting for at Coleraine. A few hours later, we were having a few drinks at the only open pub we could find in the town...

Bushmills is a comfortably quiet little town, a few kilometres south of the causeway. If you ever visit the place, keep in mind that the hostel doesn't open until 5pm - I arrived at 2pm and wandered up and down the (short) main street to kill some time, browsing through a second-hand bookstore. After looking longingly at their hard-bound Ordnance Map Survey collection (I love maps, but I couldn't fit the things into my bag) I settled on a copy of "The Fairies of Ulster" - a handmade book, reprinting a series of articles from an Anthropological journal circa 1858.

I spent all of Wednesday on the coast, walking first to the Causeway itself - where I think I spent a few hours, climbed everything in reach, and took about a hundred photos. I love a national treasure that you can climb on :)

I then headed east past the Organ Pipes formation, until the paths were closed by landslides on the cliffs. Turning to the west, I walked to Dunluce Castle via a nice strip of beach (I had the place to myself, and walked barefoot through the waves) and Portballintrae (Ireland's Portsea or Sorrento - although I guess we copied them) - full of Mercedes and BMW's, and bereft of the cheerful greetings I'd had elsewhere on the coast.

The castle (thanks for the tip, Hugh) was well worth my £2 entry fee - despite the busloads of tourists who were taking photos from the road, once I crossed the entry bridge I had the place to myself. It's been heavily damaged by cannon fire across the ages, and the northern walls (and kitchen) fell into the sea one night - prompting the lady of the house to move the family home inland. Still, the round towers are intact, and I got to climb up a winding set of stairs to get a view all the way to Portrush, in the west.

I'd had glorious weather all day, but dark clouds blew in as I left the castle - a meteorological warning that it was time I headed back Bushmills. The warning came with impeccable timing, too, as I reached the old distillery just in time to join a tour...

Bushmills have been producing their whiskeys on site since 1608, making them the oldest licenced distillery in the world. After almost four hundred years, they've turned it into quite an art, too... I'd tried their "original" the night before, and sampled the twelve year old House Reserve after the tour. It was like drinking a roaring open fire - one sip and I could see why you'd use it to thaw out people frozen in the snow. I left the distillery with a lighter wallet and a heavier bag, having bought myself a bottle of the house reserve as a birthday present. I'll open it up for a suitably momentous occasion - looking ahead, I think there will be several coming up, over that horizon.

And that, in many more words than I'd expected to type, is the short version of what I've been up to over the last few days. The long version? Well, the best way of describing a tale is to tell the tale, in its entirety...
morsla: (Default)
It's a sad day when you can't get a drink amidst all 64 acres of the world's largest brewery. Still, if there's one thing I've learned this trip, it's that anything is possible - especially if it goes against whatever you had planned to be doing.

I walked over to the Guinness Storehouse this afternoon, worrying about a couple of things: that the streets (which never seem to have signs) were leading me so far from the River Liffey that I'd end up in Galway Bay, and that the blisters on my feet would force me to investigate the bus routes that might take me home. When I finally found it (realising at last that I'd been inside the brewery district for a good five minutes), brewery employees and yellow-jacketed Federal Security officers were standing around looking worried.

Last week I'd spoken to a Scot, about the worryingly short opening hours of Canadian pubs. We'd just had last round called at 1am, and weren't sure what to do with the rest of the evening. "If a pub didn't open in Scotland, it'd be a disaster - might cause a riot."

Of course, in the Guinness capital of the world, that would never be a problem. Unable to get a pint at the brewery itself? Unheard of.

Well, except when undisclosed "maintenance issues" forced the lower levels of the storehouse to close down this afternoon, preventing any thirsty tourists from getting into the building. "Workplace safety," they said. "But I've already paid for my drink, and I leave on the first bus tomorrow morning" I said.

I've been promised a refund, and given two complimentary tickets for a tour and pint at the brewery - expiring this time next year. I doubt I'll be in town to use them, but I'm sure someone out there is heading to Dublin before then. If you are, have a drink for me.


Sep. 9th, 2007 06:31 pm
morsla: (Default)
Q. What d'ye call a northside Dubliner in court?
A. The accused.

Q. What d'ye call a southside Dubliner in court?
A. Your Honour.

Dublin's been great so far. I've already walked off two edges of my map (note to self: get a better map). After two cities with right-angle streets, I've had some trouble adjusting to narrow, winding laneways - but the best thing about travelling on foot is that if you walked there, you can generally walk back again later on. In my many miles of rambling, I've wandered past everything from super-trendy Temple Bar restaurants, to a group of teenagers trying to demolish a parked car using 2x4's. I've since decided not to plan any shortcuts via the housing commission flats up north.

Getting here proved a little harder than expected. Apparently, airlines have about a 10% drop-out rate on seats allocated. Their solution? Simply sell 10% more tickets than they have seats. I spent a few hours in Toronto Airport, waiting to see if they could fit me onto the flight that I'd paid for. Five minutes before boarding started, I was finally given a seat...

Once in Dublin, I headed to the hostel to crash for a couple of hours - partly feeling the jetlag of a five-hour shift, but mostly just feeling the end of a week's poor sleeping habits. Globetrotters feels like the result of describing a hostel to a luxury hotel owner, and then having them try to build one based on their own experiences. It's great - security entrance out front, sparkling clean stainless steel bathrooms, comfy beds, muted lighting all through the building.

After spending about three hours walking blindly about the city, I decided the best way of finding out what I'd seen was to take a tour. Lucky I did - it turned out to be a damn good way of speed-loading about sixteen centuries of Irish history into my head, courtesy of Tommy Graham's Historical Walking Tour. As he said at the start of the tour, "You'd better pay attention - otherwise you might miss a century or two."

My "wander blindly into big events" abilities are as keen as ever, it seems. Without realising it was happening, I saw the opening bit of the Toronto International Film Festival, and now I've arrived here in time for the start of the Dublin Fringe. I've just bought a ticket for tomorrow night's performance of Ketzal - a dance/circus hybrid from Russia, which sounds like fun.

September 2014

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