Monday, June 23, 2008

England (Part I)

After I left Galway at 6:00 in the morning, I traveled by bus all the way across Ireland back to Dublin. I think I got to Dublin at about 4:00 PM. It was the longest bus ride of my life. Then I hopped on the ferry and rode across the Irish Sea over to Wales. This was the only point in all my voyages that I was ever in Wales. It became a running joke between my friends and I. We would be discussing weekend trip plans, and someone would suggest Wales. Then there would be a pause. Then someone else would say, "Let's go to Italy." Then the joke became "Let's go to Wales." "No one goes to Wales!" Maybe you had to be there. Where was I? Right, in the ferry. So I got off the ferry in Wales, and interestingly did not have to go through any sort of customs-type area. So I don't have a stamp in my passport for the first time I entered Great Britain. Wacky.

So here's where things got really fun. I couldn't check into my summer session in Brighton until the next day, and it was about 6:00 or 7:00 PM and I was in Wales. All two of the hostels anywhere near the station I was in were completely full. Maybe it was even as late as 8:00 PM. I ended up catching the last train out of Wales to London. When I arrived in London, it was to Euston Station, which is ghetto as hell. Like, creepy ghetto. So I took a bus over to Victoria Station, which is where I needed to go to get a train to Brighton anyway. This whole thing was way more dramatic at the time. I was constantly on the phone with Mama, and we were both freaking each other out about where I was and what I was doing. As usual, she was much more freaked out than me. So anyway. I took a double-decker bus across London.

I'm glad that the first time I did that it was dark out or I may have had a panic attack. So I got to Victoria Station at I don't even know what time. Late. Very very late. Or early, depending on how you view time. I asked around and discovered that there were not many hostels in Brighton, and the chances of me finding a bed in one at that hour were exactly zero. As far as staying somewhere in London, the only places with vacancies were fancy hotels, which I couldn't even begin to afford. So I reluctantly came to the conclusion that I was stuck at the train station until the next morning. After traveling alone for two weeks already, I wasn't too fazed about sleeping on train station chairs. Then I had a bit of a rude awakening. It turns out that Victoria Station has a huge problem with vagrants, so they kick everyone who is not getting on a train right now out of the station at night. So I spent my first night in London here:

(Obviously we went back later to document the place) There were lots of other folks out there with me, stuck in the same situation, and there was a guard monitoring the gate literally three feet away from me. But still. Major suckage. The entire city of London becomes a wind tunnel at like 3:00 AM. It was freezing cold. I kept pulling various articles of clothing out of my backpack and putting them on. Finally it was morning and time to get on yet another train, this time to Brighton. It may have had something to do with sleep deprivation, but I was not paying attention to the stops for the train. Instead of getting off at the station that is literally across the street from Sussex University (where I had summer session), I took the train all the way into Brighton itself. Then I had to take about three buses back to the university, and I still ended up walking a long, long way. Finally, after over twenty-four hours of straight traveling, I arrived at Sussex University and my very own flat:

I nearly wept with joy.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Ireland (Part I)

I finally got my Picasa Web Albums fully uploaded and current, so now I can start on a new series I've been itching to write: Places I've Been.
I'm starting with the oldest pictures I have and working my way forward in time. Basically my plan to to stick a few photos in a post and write whatever that photo triggers in my memory. This should be interesting since a lot of my pictures have associated memories like "That's a tree." and "We were somewhere. It was pretty. I took this picture."

Up first: Ireland!

This is one of the first pictures I took in Ireland, if not the first. It's a little hard to see, but in the window above the door is the word "Elsinore", which is the name of the town I grew up in. It's also a really cool door. I've always liked the idea of colorful doors.

I'm usually not a big cross person, but this one really caught my eye. I was in St. Patrick's Cathedral, and most of the other crosses were very elaborate, making the elegant simplicity of this one all the more striking.

The stained glass was equally phenomenal. It was very hard to photograph though, since any amount of flash would make it disappear. My hands shake, so holding the no-flash camera steady enough to get a decent picture was a painstaking endeavor.

This is the floor of St. Patrick's Cathedral. Again, really hard to photograph. But also so very awesome. Which I guess is what you want in a church, right?

"Braaaaaaaaiiiiinnnnssssssss..." Saint Patrick's gonna git you! Aaaannnd I'm going to hell...

Did I mention that it's huge? You can also see more of the floor in this shot. I love how the area where the two sections cross (whatever it's called) is completely lit up compared to the rest of the church. I think I had managed to go on a weekday afternoon, so it was very uncrowded. That definitely helped maintain the hushed sense of awe that such a large elaborate space creates.

Moving on to more fun things. The Brazen Head is supposedly the oldest pub in Dublin. It is certainly the most expensive. I still had a pint there though. The story I patchily remember is that some woman stuck her head out of the window to yell at someone when something fell on her head. She was completely fine, so they said her head must have been made of bronze, hence brazen.

A significant portion of my trip through Ireland went like this:

Ireland is pretty. And green. Very, very green.

Very pretty. Very green.

Hey, look! A castle!

Rinse, repeat.

Cutest hostel ever, right? I ended up there completely on accident too. I was trying to go from Dublin to Kenmare and after I got off the train in Killarney I discovered that I had missed the last bus to Kenmare. So I had to find a place to stay. The hostel closest to the bus station was full, but they pointed me to this one. I loved Killarney and this hostel so much the I ended up staying there for four days and going back three or four times. The town itself is tiny, about five streets total, plus some narrow alleys. Killarney boasts the highest pub count for a town in Ireland. Those five streets contain somewhere between 85 and 100 pubs, depending on your source. I tend to believe it, since most of the shops either contained a pub, were above a pub, or were next to a pub. You can see why I kept coming back.

The hostel was also run by this crazy Polish man who jumped off of the top bunk after changing the sheets and yelled "Batman!" I don't have a picture of the interior, but it was fantastic. You can see a tiny bit of it in the above picture. Stone floors, huge beams in the ceiling that had all manner of crap hanging off of them, walls plastered with photographs, and huge tables. Oh, and this cracked-out chessboard. See how many non-traditional pieces you can find:

It was good times at that hostel. The next hostel was not so good times.

This was the road to the hostel in Cork that I stayed in when I went to visit Blarney Castle. Cork sucks. The only reason to go to Cork is if you hate yourself or you are going to Blarney but you can't pay for a fancy-shmancy hotel in Blarney itself.

Blarney Castle. Waaaaaaaay up at the top of that tower (No, the other tower. The tall one. Yeah, up there.) is the Blarney Stone. I'm not going to tell you the history of the Stone or why you are supposed to kiss it. Go wikipedia it. I will tell you that it ain't easy.

Told you so. There were grandmas doing it! I don't have problems with heights, and I had to close my eyes.

After kissing the Blarney Stone, I went back to Killarney to take a driving tour of the Dingle Peninsula, which juts out of the west coast of Ireland. (Heh, Dingle...Hi, I'm an eight year old boy.) It's also very pretty, in a more severe sort of way. It looks like this:

The story behind this picture is that some Irish folk hero (Cuchulain? Finn MacCool? Wait, aren't those the same guy?) who was a giant is sleeping off the coast, waiting for something or other to wake him up. Hence the name of this island, The Sleeping Giant.

This pony was near my hostel in Doolin. He was nice. I petted him. Doolin is a tiny town (only three pubs!) that is the closest place to the Cliff of Moher, one of the most photographed places on the planet.

Understandably so. They are I don't know how tall and absolutely breathtaking.

One of the many amazing things that happened to me on this trip were the fires in Doolin. Once every summer, each town piles a bunch of stuff up and lights it on fire. My theory is that this is a relic from Beltane fires. I just happened to be in Doolin the night that the fires were lit. In addition to our fire, I could see other fires along the river into the distance.

My trip to Galway consisted of: Hey look, there's Galway! The next morning I awoke at 5:00 AM to embark on the longest and most miserable bit of traveling I've ever done.