(Old) The Double A’s Adventure: Part 1

(Originally posted on March 8, 2012)

I’m sitting in the Zurich Airport, after waking up at 4 AM and three trains from Germany. But it’s as good a time as any to talk about the Double A’s Adventure – my journeys with my older sister over the last eight days.

I’m no longer in the airport (thank goodness, ha), and am back in Reading! Still working on the account of the adventures because I am sick and quite worn out.

I’ve used cuts again, and I’ll try to stick to just the interesting stuff!

Background info: My sister was in the UK for a Welsh/Irish wedding. The bride was Welsh, the groom was Irish, so they had the wedding in Wales and reception in Ireland.

Day 1: Travel to Wales

Caught an afternoon train to Wales. It was about three hours long, through the beautiful English countryside. I put on my Wales and Ireland playlist (made up of modern and traditional ballads and a heavy dose of jigs) and stared. I was in an aisle seat, so I had to look past the lady next to me to see out the window. I think I made her uncomfortable with my fixation. I wanted to take pictures, but figured I shouldn’t freak her out.

Arrived at the station to see my sister waiting. Big hugs all around, then got into the car. A lovely British woman, Lisa, who was there for the wedding, drove us back to where my sister was staying (with Lisa, her husband and her daughter). We had a lovely dinner, then went to the King Arthur Pub for some tea. They had swords in the pub, which means I was a big fan.

Day 2: Wales and Ireland

I got up early and went to explore the tiny town of Port Eynon and the beach. I walked around a little stone church, then turned toward the coast. It was beautiful, all wild, windswept and sandy. It reminded me very much of The Dark is Rising.

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I climbed the dunes, admiring the views and enjoying my playlist again. There were locals also climbing around with their dogs, and some of the dogs came to visit me. I loved moving higher and higher on lookout points. Eventually I got to the rocky part of the beach, where it started to become cliffs. I climbed on some rocks, snapped a lot of pictures, then reluctantly turned back.

Arrived wet from a brief rain, cold, hopelessly messy from the wind and sand, but was welcomed to the breakfast table all the same. After a good breakfast, my sister and I went back to the train station to catch our train up the coast. It was another beautiful ride, with views of castle ruins and plenty of green hills. I think I’m in love with Wales. Can’t wait to return.

We arrived at the port and caught the ferry. As we were getting settled, we ran into the wedding party, so I was formally introduced to the bride, groom, and various family members. No sooner had I met them than the groom insisted I had to come to the wedding reception the next night. I was honored to be asked, even though they didn’t know me, and said I’d attend.

I’m proud to say that I got a little queasy but not seasick. Walking around and braving the fierce winds on the deck cured most of my nausea.

There was some panicking upon our landing about getting a bus to the hotel, but it worked out fine. We rode about two hours, then were dumped on the side of the highway. We had to climb about three stories of stairs up a hill, then hike up a small mountain with our luggage to the hotel. We were both lagging a bit halfway up the mountain.

A car came to a stop beside us. A woman hopped out and asked if we wanted a lift. We were like, “Yes, please!”

The friendly Irish couple was delighted that we were foreigners, and told us proudly that we were getting the chance to experience Irish hospitality. We threw our bags in the back and climbed in gratefully. My sister was panting with the effort of all the hiking. The husband told her, “Girl, stop your panting! You’re just punishing yourself!” He made her take deep breaths before he’d start the car and keep driving. He teased us that it was another good two miles till the hotel, but then we rounded the corner and there it was. “I feel like I should keep driving and make you walk back!” he teased. But they let us out and we thanked them about a million times.

We checked in and decided to do room service, as it was already late and we were both very exhausted. The guy brought it up, and my sister was super tired. There was some funny interaction wherein she was having a hard time signing her name on the receipt.

Then this happened:
Sister: Can you show us how to turn that off? *points to corner where the radiator is*
Guy: *extreme doubt**looks from corner to sister to corner* … The lamp?

I about died. We did manage to get the radiator off. But the poor fellow probably thought we were daft.

Day 3: Dublin

I slept late, but got up about the time I was planning to head out. The front desk recommended I take a taxi to Bray and catch a train from there, so I did. The cab ride was quiet. The cabby was listening to an interview with the author of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which was quite interesting. On the way we passed a funeral procession, with the car with the casket followed by the funeral party on foot. There was a tiny Irish boy in a suit who watched me as he walked slowly by. I wanted to give him a hug.

Gave the driver a generous tip, because I didn’t want to wait for change, and she told me to watch my camera in the city. I bought my train ticket without too much trouble, and asked some school girls which was the right train (there weren’t any helpful signs around). The ride was nice, but a little ghetto – lots of vandalism and graffiti, but some nice views of the Irish Sea.

Arrived in the city and tumbled out at my stop… only to find Dublin wasn’t at all what I thought it would be. At the risk of offending everyone Irish who might read this, my impression of Dublin was that it was a smaller, more ghetto London. Sometimes my first impressions of cities are pretty harsh (like Oxford), because I dislike cities, and they grow on me as I find the nooks of personality. But my opinion of Dublin was unchanged by the end of the day. It was just crowded, dirty, and generic. I’ve heard this before from other visitors, so I will by no means judge Ireland (or Irish cities) on this one.

Anyway. After getting a little lost, I found Trinity College. I immediately fell in love because you walk into the courtyard, and all the buses and cars and obnoxious city sounds die away. I followed signs to the Book of Kells, nearly giggling with nerdy delight. Bought my tickets and went it.

I spent a good forty-five minutes in the two-room pre-book exhibit reading everything and examining all the close-ups. (Later I was glad I had taken my time, because the actual book went by so fast.) I knew some of the info, but it was great to gain perspective. I particularly liked learning about the design elements in the book and the legends around it, as well as all the history it’s lived through.

It was really empty, with a few people whizzing through. When I finally made my way to the book, I had the entire exhibit to myself. I bent over the pages (this one and this one) and stared, stared, stared for a long time. Finally I moved on to the next book (I forget the name at the moment), which was another period illuminated Bible. They also had some pages from the Book of Kells of the regular text, which was fun to examine. By that point a flock of schoolgirls had come in, so I moved on upstairs. I was thrilled with the exhibit, but sad it was over so soon.

But I went upstairs and found myself looking at a restoration project for old books. They’ve kept open part of the wall so you can watch the specialists cleaning ancient books. Really cool! I turned away reluctantly. Then I walked through the next doorway, and found myself in the Trinity Library. I’d seen pictures before, but hadn’t realized I was there. My jaw dropped, and then I started giggling. The security guard looked at me like I was nuts.

It reminded me of a cathedral plus a library–beautiful high ceilings, dark wood, spiral staircases, and volumes and volumes of leather-bound, worn, old books. I walked around twice just to take it all in. If I was going to run away and live in a museum (a la Wonderstruck or From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler ), this is probably where I’d go. Except then I would starve to death because there is no food (other than the Eternal Food of Knowledge).

After lingering in the shop for a very long time (I got a few postcards, little posters and a nice print of my favorite page from the Book of Kells) I went to find O’Connell Street. I’d had it written down as one of the famous walks of Dublin. In retrospect, I wish I’d followed the signs to the historic walk instead. Maybe then my impression of the city would be better?

On the way I grabbed an authentic Irish meal at Starbucks. (In my defense, it was already 2:30 and Dublin lacks (at least in this part of town) that cafe-or-pub-on-every-corner thing most European cities have.)

Anyway. O’Connell Street was okay. It was mostly just a street… with cars… and buses… and a few super touristy shops. I popped into the touristy shops out of boredom and picked up a few postcards, a little lamb stuffed animal (wearing an Irish scarf), a few scarfs (one is Celtic and one is for their football team, I think), and some clan gear (yeah, Nolan heraldry!). I walked up to the Writer’s Museum, but decided I didn’t have time to go in, didn’t want to pay the entrance fee, and hadn’t studied the writers from Dublin enough to fully appreciate it. I made a quick stop in the Garden of Remembrance (a memorial for lives lost in the fight for Irish independence). It was really pretty, with a gorgeous statue of swans turning into maidens. It was a little less atmospheric with teenagers playing some youtube videos on the benches and the buses roaring down the road. Did I mention I dislike buses?

After this, I walked back down the street and made my way to the ghetto train station. The sun peeked out, which made everything slightly less blah. I feel sort of guilty for giving such a negative review of a city I wanted to love… Oh well. I really didn’t hate it. It just wasn’t particularly special.

On the train back, the sun was just beginning to set. From where I was sitting, I could see old castle ruins out on a peninsula. The stone of the castle was cast in gold from the sun, while behind it lurked the dark blue rain clouds. Very poetic, I know. But it was beautiful.

After some confusion and teasing from an Irish cabby, I managed to get a taxi back to the hotel. The driver was astonished I was staying at the hotel, as it is so posh and I was obviously a student. He was quite friendly, as were all the Irish people I met.

Got back to the room with about an hour to spare. I was understandably exhausted, but having been invited to the wedding reception I really did want to go, and didn’t want to be rude by hiding away in my room. So I bucked up (rather unwillingly, I will admit), got dressed in something nice-ish and went down.

The dinner was really fun! They had speeches, and I got to know more about the bride and groom and their story. They hadn’t hired a photographer for the evening, so I wandered a bit after dinner and took pictures of people socializing. Later on there was some dancing, and I snapped pictures of the grannies and aunts enjoying themselves on the dance floor.

Over all, a fun and very full day.

… more to come.

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