The last week was July 14-20: Scotland and Ireland
Today we went to Dublin. The early bus left at 8, and we barely made it on time. This was another Ulsterbus trip, but this one was scheduled to take 3 hours. We slept a little on the bus, and got a good look at Irish countryside. It was green. 80% grass and fields, 10% sheep and 10% traffic roundabouts.
Upon arrival, we visited a bank and withdrew a little money. Dublin is in the part of Ireland that has nothing to do with England, so they have their own money. In Belfast, we were in Pseudo-England, so we were still using Pounds Sterling, but here we were withdrawing something new. They are called Punts. They are nice, worth about $1.15 apiece instead of $1.66 for the Sterling, so they were easy to relate with. At the same time however, we only wanted to get as much money as we were going to spend in this one day. I withdrew 20 punts, hoping it would last until I got back on the bus.
Dublin seemed a lot like an American city, even though the street signs and such were written first in another language.
We had breakfast and saw the freedom and anti-slavery ball-sculpture on the way to breakfast. We passed by what was left of a building on the way to the tourist information center. We didn't see a whole lot in the office that we were thrilled to go see. Only the Guinness brewery seemed like a worthy site to seek out. I realize how sad that probably sounds, but the rest of the sights were Universities and the James Joyce museum and lame-sounding fountains. So, we were off to the Guinness hopstore. Where we saw ads and took funny pictures. We were rewarded at the end of the tour with a tasty sample-pint of Guinness. All the museum-goers were in this little bar at the end, where you could order food, and everyone had a dark glass of Guinness. I would have loved to have been drinking a bottle of Corona in there, it would have been hilarious!
After the free pint, we walked by the pork store and the Dublin library, I think. We wandered around a bit and ran across the Irish Queen of Tarts, which happens to have the same name as a cafe I worked at for a couple years in Sacramento. We had to eat there, and it was very nice and a little surreal.
We passed the Molly Malone statue and stood on a mysterious stairway into the river Liffey. We checked at the bus station for when the last bus to Belfast left, but once we got to the station, we were pretty much ready to leave. Tara and I blew the last of our Irish cash on candy. I got a can of Coke, two Kinder Bueno bars, a Trapper bar, a Topic, a Moro, an Animal bar and a Fizzy Kola lolly for my £2.70. Tara got a chunky Kit-Kat, a Kinder Bueno, a Drifter, Cadbury's Marble, an Aero, Toffee crisp, Munchies, a Starbar, and two Kinder Suprise Eggs for her leftover £4.25.
We arrived home with worn out legs, agreeing that it would be wise to rest the next day here in Belfast.
Eric woke me up around 10, and told me that a tour-cab was leaving to go to the Giant's Causeway, and that it had a one empty spot. I got ready in a hurry and made it downstairs to the Black cab that was going to take us North. I met the other people in the cab and we headed north.
After almost 2 hours we reached the first tour-stop, the northern cliffs and the rope bridge. Steven had a digital camera too, but he was buying memory cards as he filled them up, whereas I brought a laptop and I transfer the files to that. I wondered which of us was the most foolish. We each had a camera, and we took lots of group pictures. We all made it across the rope-bridge, and saw some Irish paddocks of land.
Next we drove to the Giant's Causeway, a neat geological formation that is a few miles up the coast. This was the highlight of the day for me, I hope these pictures do it justice. First there was the steep slope down to the water, then the rocks themselves, irregular hexagonal columns all jammed up next to each other.
Dunlace Castle was a bit further west, and we were content to just walk around it, rather than pay the entrance fee to another old castle. It had a nifty grotto underneath, that Kristie and I climbed down into to see the ocean. Eric thought storming the castle would be easy enough, but we were all pretty worn out after the three sights. We laid on the grass for awhile, and dragged ourselves back into the cab.
The ride home seemed very long because it was the end of the day, but we made it home a little before 6:30pm.
We arrived home to find Tara understandably miffed that had we left her asleep that morning without leaving so much as a note. She had blown half the day waiting around for us to come back, and eventually discovered where we had disappeared to. I apologized and we came to an understanding to try to stop this kind of thing from happening again.
We bought fixins for burritos at the market. We almost had to re-think the burritos when we were unable to locate refried beans, (or black beans, or pinto beans) but Eric spotted refrys in the Ethnic food section. We had burritos.
That night I met Dev and his girlfriend in the hostel common room. Dev had financed his trip to Europe by selling Micronaughts on ebay. We hit it off right away. Dev is a former straightedge white guy from Tennessee who warned me to stay away from the "space cakes" when I got to Amsterdam. Tara hit it off with a Tasmanian woman and Canadian guy who wanted to see the Giant's causeway also, so she made plans to go with them the next day.
On Friday Tara was off, so I went to the post office and did some restricted sightseeing. I needed a day of rest. Eric did his laundry at the hostel, but they only had one washer, so I figured I would do it later. In the morning I took a picture of some fire trucks, the Belfast Titanic memorial and a strange bouy display celebrating the nautical history of the city. I caught two locals pasting posters to a club, and saw more than one Belfast Street mural. I was amazed at all the barbed wire and iron gates in town. I started my laundry and killed time by walking through some scary parts of town that looked more like a war-zone than a slum.
When Tara got back from her trip, She and I went to get pizza slices, and met up her new friends at an old Irish pub. Eric stayed at home and hung out with the hostel regulars. After the old pub, we went to a club called "the Kremlin". The Kremlin was nice enough, and featured a ninety-minute remix of Ricky Martin's La Vida Loco. As the night proceeded Tara and I realized it was cool to be a foreigner in Belfast. We found ourselves feeling like special guests from another land: California. I drank too much, but the club was close to home, so we made it home fine.
We woke up late in the day and realized it was our last day in Belfast. We made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the park at city hall and finally got a good picture of the amazing tanks they use as police cars here. We visited our local Internet cafe and then split up. I wanted to wander south, but Eric and Tara were not interested in another day on foot. I had traveled less than 50 yards when I discovered a club with the very same axe that Jack Nicholson used in The Shining. I saw a retro scooter, a small local gallery showing the paintings of Andrew Stahl, the Queen's University, and found my way to the Belfast museum.
The museum was FREE. It had turtles, an awesome glass exhibition, and an amazing exhibition by Maxim Kantor, the Russian artist that founded the red house painters unfortunately, photography was forbidden, and the one illicit photo I took was horribly blurred. They didn't even have postcards of his stuff! Here is a website with some of his stuff. I really liked the exhibition.
The museum closed at 5, so I made my way into the botanical gardens. They had a couple of vast greenhouses, one of which was called the tropical ravine. There was a long lane of flowers, and an amazing rose garden that my father would have enjoyed, with a trellis. The garden was well documented, so I took the time to make a list of the roses they had.
I passed by the palm house, but it was closed for repair.
I turned around and ran into a Loyalist parade, where there were enough cops around to get the perfect cop-car picture. All of the police cars in Dublin were armored like this, it was unnerving, to say the least.
I made it home alive, and met our new Irish roommates, Joe and Dounagh.
We had to get up the next morning at 4 am to catch our flight to Amsterdam, but that didn't stop Tara from coercing me back to the Kremlin. Eric knew it would be hard to get up that early, so he just stayed awake with the other night owls from the hostel.
At last we were going to be in mainland Europe.
We woke up at 4 a.m. and walked to a nearby taxi office. The taxi office was closed, and there was a brief moment of fear when we realized we needed to get to the airport, and we weren't near a phone. Luckily, we were on a pretty busy street, so we were able to flag one down in no time. The airport seemed deserted, except for the people boarding our flight. We were flying KLM, Dutch Royal Airlines, in a Fokker 100. We were taxi-ing to the runway when the pilot turned the plane around and called engineering. A few minutes later we got off of the plane. The plane was broken, and we would have to wait 4 hours for the repair. Those Fokkers! They bought us breakfast and eventually boarded our flight. We took off for Amsterdam at 11:20. To make up for the delay, they gave us little cokes and were very nice.
In Amsterdam airport, signs were in another language. It suddenly hit us that things might be a bit trickier from here on out. They were written in Dutch. Neither Eric, Tara nor I speak Dutch.
We were going to see a lot of funny bikes in Amsterdam, and the first ones were right outside the station.
We took a short train ride to Amsterdam Central Station.
We found our new hostel, Arena and dropped off our packs. It was still pretty early in the afternoon, so we headed into town to check out the action. What struck me first were the bikes. They were everywhere. Thousands of bikes. Most were of an older style: Black, with full fenders and a bell. There were more than Davis, CA. Really. Everyone was on a bike.
When we got into town, we found hookers, sex shops and pot! The prostitutes stand behind big windows wearing bikinis, and you are not supposed to photograph them. They looked like prostitutes do in the U.S.A. The pot is sold in little cafés, where you buy it by the gram and smoke it however you want. You could smoke your own too, if you bought a drink. Many had outside seating, and it was acceptable to smoke pot at those tables, too. It was pretty interesting to me, as a non-smoker, to see how it was regulated. Different varieties were sold, priced from fl. 12-18 (US $6-9) a gram.
Tara and I ate expensive Thai food for dinner. Eric hadn't slept in two days, so we went home when he started fading. Our room at Arena had four beds, but no one else ever arrived, so we had it to ourselves for two nights.
Monday we walked around Amsterdam. More bikes. This town has lanes for busses, cars and bikes, and they have tracks for the trams. We were happy to see the cars on the right side of the road again, but often we would have to look left, right, step past the bike lane, look left and right, step over the tram tracks, look left and right and cross the road. It was tricky. Sometimes the scooters would be in the bike lane, sometimes the road.
The street names were incomprehensible: Weesperplein, Valkenburgerstraat, Nieuwe Spiegelstraat and Plantagemiddenlaan. I swear these are real street names.
After spending so much money on Thai food the night before, we decided to buy food and prepare our own meals. We came across some beautiful but expensive food shops, and eventually found a micro-supermarket. The market had funny packages and the food was theeworst! We had to do some logical handiwork to find which cold cuts were made from chicken. Eric and I bought 1.5l bottles of carbonated orange drink in plastic bottles. We later realized we had each been charged 50 cents deposit (one guilder) on the plastic bottles. At the checkout, the checker extended a briefcase-sized shelf and placed the items there after ringing them up. Soon the tiny shelf was full, and she gave Tara a look that said, "I am running out of room to put your things". Tara asked her if there were any bags, and she produced a 20-cent plastic one. We bought it and packed up our new items.
We found a bench overlooking a canal and made some simple sandwiches.
After lunch we were on foot again, exploring the city, trying to get a bearing on where things were.
We found the Internet café we had been dreaming of, where you could drink beer and surf the Internet. Actually, you were obligated to buy a drink when you used a machine, so it turned out to be somewhat expensive.
On the way home we bought wine, bread and cheese for what turned out to be a very nice dinner at the hostel. Tara and Eric passed out early, so I worked on the Euro-journal and took a walk around nearby Oosterpark.
On Tuesday we moved to a new Hostel. Arena only had room for us for two days, but we had reserved the rest of the week at The Last Waterhole. It was crappy. Tara and I were in two of the 20 beds in one room, and Eric was in one in the adjacent 20-bed room. The reception was also a bar/coffeehouse. It was dim, and very hot the first night. Many windows were painted shut, and so the ventilation was rotten.
We wandered around again today, but we got such a late start that we missed the Rembrandthaus being open, and just got online instead. We met a couple of American women on their last day in Europe, Nicole and Carrie, and traded stories with them at a bar. It turned out that they were familiar with the bar-part of The Last Waterhole, so they came home with us and we drank together in our hostel.
Getting to sleep was difficult, because of the number of people in the room coming and going. In the middle of the night I was awoken by the beautiful woman in the bunk next to me snoring. I looked around and other people were sitting upright in their beds, staring at her in disbelief. It was so loud! I worked up my courage and jostled her awake. She woke up, startled, and stated, "oh! I was snoring, wasn't I?"
She rolled over and went back to sleep. The guy across from me gave me the thumbs-up sign.