Saturday, January 26, 2013

Ireland Trip - Day 2

Remember what I mentioned about Ireland being an ideal country for sleeping, if you find rain relaxing? The environment was so relaxing that I actually didn't get out of bed until about 5pm, by which time Eddie and Bethany were preparing for a trip back to the UCC campus, this time for a meeting of WARPS, the wargaming and role-playing group that would be putting on WARPCon over the weekend.

We arrived a little late after a quick dinner at an Irish Burger King to find a number of games already going on. Eddie, who is still something of a Magic fiend, quickly got into a match, while Bethany and I mingled a bit, and I got to meet a couple of the folks organizing the weekend's convention. We finished up playing a game of Ticket to Ride: Marklin -- Bethany, Eddie, myself, and a shy Irish fellow with a very serious tremor but who otherwise was bright and as amiable as his shyness allowed.

Back home again -- this time without a stop at a pub on the way. Back to sleep to prepare for another day.

Ireland Trip - Day 1

Bethany and her fiancee Eddie met me at the train station in Cork, and after a short bus ride, we ended up at their cozy condominium. They showed me the guest bedroom where I'd be sleeping, then gave me the chance to clean up a bit. I'd been awake at this point for about 23 hours consecutively, but with the chance to freshen up and the fact that the sun was still up (and I was told that the sun actually being visible is a rarity in Ireland, so I shouldn't waste it), I decided to head out with them for a brief walking tour of Cork City.

We ended up at a semi-enclosed market called the English Market, which reminded me very much of International Market Square back home, except with much more 'staples'; plenty of butchers, fishmongers, and vegetable sellers abounded, with only a few touristy-type shops that sold chocolates or other delicacies. My first purchase in Cork proper was a bottle of apple juice laced with blueberry juice, while Eddie picked up pork chops (more like steaks to my eyes), potatoes, and cabbage for that evening's dinner. We stopped briefly at Tesco (the only supermarket in Cork City) to pick up some more staples and snacks, then headed back home.

Dinner was simple and very tasty, and afterward I finally indulged in sleep. Turns out Ireland is an ideal country for sleep, if you find rain relaxing -- by the next morning, a steady drizzle was falling and I ended up sleeping well past noon. Eddie headed into work at about 2pm, and Bethany and I planned to meet him later at the college's Med-Ren group (basically a re-enactment/SCA type group). Bethany took me on a more tourist-oriented walk of Cork City, showing me some of the local architecture, and we stopped in a pub for a drink to rest and wait for the Med-Ren meeting.

Med-Ren basically consisted of a bunch of college folks learning how to wield medieval weaponry -- the spear was on particular display, but some dagger training was also available. I begged out, on the pretence that since I'd had a beer earlier, I shouldn't wield weapons while under the influence of alcohol, so instead I ended up spending much of the evening talking with an amazing Irish woman named Rosheen, who'd been a practicing archaeologist for the better part of two decades and had a seemingly inexhaustable store of tales about things that happened on various dig sites and expeditions, mostly in Scandinavia and Northern Europe. She joined us on another pub trip following the Med-Ren meeting and we ended up eating dinner there (having taken it out from a nearby fish-and-chips place) and talking until midnight.

Back home, back to sleep and the promise of another day.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Ireland trip - Day 0

If you've read the blog about my GenCon trips, you know that travel days can be just as eventful as vacation days. My recent trip to Ireland was no exception.

The plan started taking shape back in September, after it was finally clear that a long-promised raise was coming through which would allow me to afford the trip. Then it was simply a matter of booking the flight, applying for a passport, and waiting for the departure date to arrive. Which, eventually, it did.

I slept better than I'd expected to, rising early enough to do one last load of laundry containing the nightclothes I'd worn. Then Senior drove me to the airport -- arriving at 2:00 for a 4:00 flight, I'd finished checking my bags and passing through security in about fifteen minutes, I then discovered, sheepishly enough, that the place I needed to be to do currency exchange was back outside the security area.

The theme of the series of flights from Minneapolis to Dublin was 'early'. I was early to the airport, but karma repaid me by having my flight to Chicago land fifteen minutes early, and the flight from Chicago to Dublin not only left 10 minutes early (all ticketed passengers had checked in), but with a 70 mile-per-hour tailwind for much of the first half of the flight, we ended up landing in Dublin nearly an hour early.

How did I know we had a 70mph tailwind? Turns out international flights are cool. Aer Lingus, which I flew on, had monitors where the flight conditions flashed throughout the flight, interspersed with maps showing the GPS position of the plane. But it turns out, no matter how cool the flight is, international travel takes longer than it takes for the cool to wear off -- I am not at all looking forward to the flight homw.

Culture shock didn't really set in on arrival -- all airports pretty much look alike and are festooned with signs so that it's very difficult to lose your way. My problems began upon leaving the airport and looking for the bus that would take me to the Heuston train station. I didn't really get any sleep on the plane, and so had been up for about 20 hours consecutively at that point.

"I'm not really sure what to do," I told the driver as I climbed aboard the bus.

"First thing is, you pay me."

So I did. I had gotten 150 euro in Chicago, since the booth that did the currency exchange was convenient from the international terminal, but I wasn't yet prepared for a currency where everything below 5 euro was transacted in coins.

Riding through Dublin on a bus while sleep deprived, you get the idea that this is what would happen if some Brobdingnagian creature devoured all of human culture, then selectively vomited some of it back out over two square miles. Riding down a street with a mishmash of buildings of various sizes and colors, the bus would then turn right and drive down a stretch of two straight blocks of bed and breakfasts. Then a left turn and we were driving through a square surrounded by posh department stores. Another right, and we were driving past Trinity College and a bunch of ecumenical buildings well over a century old. It was vaguely phantasmagoric -- I almost expected at some point to see flames bursting from the roofs of tall towers like in 'Blade Runner'.

Arriving at the train station, I discovered I'd just missed a train and would need to wait an hour for the next one to leave, so I went looking for a "pub" that the person I was coming to see had said was in the station. It took me about five minutes to find it, as it was the only thing indoors in an otherwise open-air train station. It was called the Galway Hooker, and oddly enough, especially for someone now on 21 hours without sleep, it appeared to be run by Poles. The big Polish cook was waiting for me order at the breakfast buffet, but I recognized very little, and the little I did recognize made little sense. There were, for instance, beans that looked like pork and beans, but with no pork. (Turned out everything else was pork, though.) There was a pair of puck-like meat-looking things, something that looked like a boiled hot dog, a very oddly-shaped bacon-like thing that, if I'd had to guess, I'd have called a 'rasher', and a container of sautéed mushrooms. Last, and most confusing, was a bunch of deep-fried potato wedges, which I'd have thought were invented by Arby's rather than being part of a 'traditional' Irish breakfast. I let the old couple behind me go ahead while I puzzled out the offerings, and once it was my turn again, the cook took pity on me.

"Full breakfast?" he asked.

"Yes, please," I breathed out in thanks.

'Full breakfast' meant one of everything -- one each of the pucks (the darker one was 'black pudding' while the lighter was 'white pudding'), one hot dog (which was actually a lightly packed sausage), a rasher (and it was actually a rasher), a scoop of beans, a scoope of mushrooms, and the potato wedge in the middle of it all. And a fried egg and two slices of white toast. I ate it all, greedily, then relaxed for a few minutes before heading out to the train.

Trains in Ireland are astonishingly modern considering some other parts of the country. (I'd have this same weird feeling many times over the course of the trip, such as being shown a smart-chipped ATM/debit card used by pretty much all Irish banks, while walking to that bank on a cobblestone street following a patch first laid out in the Middle Ages.) They all have free Wi-Fi, and while it's not fact, it exists, which kept Sophie (my iPad) useful. I ended up sitting across the aisle from a girl who didn't look to be over 16, and who had an iPad mini and an Android smartphone, but who got off the train at Limerick with a bunch of other folks looking for all the world as though they were heading back to college. A beverage truck staffed by two attractive Polish girls rolled up and down the length of the train; I spent over 10 euro on snacks and beverages at least partly so that I had an excuse to keep talking to them.

The weirdest part of the Irish trains, though, was the restroom. Not because of the facilities - there was a commode, a sink, all the regular stuff - but because the restroom was circular, complete with a sliding door that was controlled with buttons and spoke to you to remind you to lock it.

Upon arriving in Cork, Bethany and her fiancee Eddie picked me up, and we all rode another bus back to their condo. About which, more later.