The Whirlwind

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Up through the North Country

September 29, 2014 Chad No comment

Jaysus, what weather. Sunny. Warm. It’s like this year round, right Ireland?

‘Jaysus.’ That’s one of those good Irish words. Jaaaysus. ‘Yer man,’ that’s another great one. Everyone is ‘yer man’ in Ireland. That guy? Yer man. The soccer player on TV? Yer man. You can’t know yer man. That’s what makes him yer man. ‘Craic’ is another one. Oh, and fer feck’s sake, can’t forget ‘feck,’ the polite way to swear.

Within a week, the Irish accent was creeping back in me. There’s a vowel shift, especially with the o and the a. And the th- totally disappears. TANX! Monkey hear, monkey say: I spent six month mimicking everyone I heard. How quickly it goes. But how quickly it comes back.

But Jaysus, that weather. I followed the sun up the coast to the northern reaches of Northern Ireland. There’s a stark beauty to the island. A rugged, isolated beauty. It’s not so much peaks and valleys, but expanses. Expanses of cliffs and seas and rolling hills and, if you get the right day, contrasts of blues and greens. Today was one of those days.

Lunch break at an abandoned light house.

Lunch break at an abandoned light house.

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
I imagined I’d feel like Indiana Jones crossing the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. The bridge would sway in the Irish winds as I crossed over the 80 foot chasm, heart in my throat. Once across, I’d look back from the tiny fishing island with a sense of exhilarated isolation.

In reality, I patiently waited in line to pay my five pound fee. Then stood in another line and was shepherded across the bridge with a group of about 30 other people.

Life is all about managing expectations.

The extremely photogenic Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge.

The extremely photogenic Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge.

Giant’s Causeway
Having suffered through tourist mobs at the rope bridge, I was determined to personalize my time at the Giant’s Causeway. The geological marvel of solidified magma and erosion was a bucket-lister: let’s do it right! I parked my car 3-4 miles away from the crowded tourist center and set out on a hike along the 200 foot cliffs. Castle ruins and a well worn path were the only human encounters I had. The grazing sheep and cattle couldn’t even be bothered to watch me marvel at their every-day.

The clouds started to roll in from the sea as I started the hike. The grey day made the sunbursts that would occasionally appear look even more explosive.

The clouds started to roll in from the sea as I started the hike. The grey day made the sunbursts that would occasionally appear look even more explosive.

It doesn't look much from a far, but the Giant's Causeway is a wowser.

It doesn’t look much from a far, but the Giant’s Causeway is a wowser.

Around a bend, the Causeway appeared. From the distance, it didn’t look much different then any of the other bays along the coast. I started noticing those distinct geometric shapes as I got closer. Columns not yet fully eroded pushed against the ocean. Soon I was clattering over rocks of such design and beauty that certainly they were man-made, right? Or, as the story goes, made by giant’s.

Rocks! Row after row of perfectly formed, hexagonal rocks!

Rocks! Row after row of perfectly formed, hexagonal rocks!

Dunseverick Castle
Another couple miles down the road, a little further off the path, was Dunseverick Castle, or what was left of it. Perched on a cliff stood the magnificent ruins of the MacDonnell clan. Waves continued to pound against the castle’s foundations, just as they had for over 1000 years. I ventured into a cave below the castle that led out to the sea. This gap in the rocks was once one of the major “ports” on the northern part of the island. Today it was little more than an echo chamber for my footsteps and the gently lapping waves.

The ruins of a once great kingdom: Dunseverick Castle

The ruins of a once great kingdom: Dunseverick Castle

The cobbled market square. Listen to the sounds that floor used to make.

The cobbled market square. Listen to the sounds that floor used to make.

Bushmills
I pulled in to the Bushmills Distillery just after the last tour had already left. A bit of wandering though, led me to the real highlight of the estate: the tasting room. I walk up to the bar and your man says, “want to try something?” Before I could answer, a glass of Bushmills 12 was sitting in front of me. Not bad for a proddy.

I wafted. I sipped. I enjoyed my whiskey for the day.

A commotion built from the back of the tasting room. My first thought, terrible as it sounds, was “Americans.” Boy was I wrong. Not long after, a school for the mentally retarded walked by. They were on a field trip to the distillery. I tipped my glass to them and kicked back the rest of my drink. Oh Ireland.

Catholic. Protestant. Doesn't matter. I do like my Irish whiskey.

Catholic. Protestant. Doesn’t matter. I do like my Irish whiskey.

Turas Bóthair! Road Trip through Ireland!

September 20, 2014 Chad No comment

Things were quickly coming together. The bike got sold off. The World Cup bet I made on the Yanks got cashed: 28 Euros!!! My stuff was (almost) consolidated. I even got my haircut. A road trip through the northern part of the island beckoned.

The plan was to not get tied down with a plan. I knew the general route: Belfast by Friday night, then north along the coast, over to Donegal, down through Connemara, and a last evening in Galway before heading back to Dublin that next Friday. But sleeping arrangements? I’d figure that and everything else out on the road. After all, that’s what the road’s for, right? Figuring things out?

As soon as I could get out of work on Friday, I rushed over to the car rental place. I’d be rolling in a black VW. Manual. Driving on the left side of the road. Shifting with my left hand. Yeah, go ahead and give me the full insurance policy.

With little more than a Lonely Planet map and a general sense of the direction “north,” I was off: direction Belfast. Leaving Dublin was a bit trickier than anticipated, prompting the random “roll down the window and ask the couple with the stroller for directions” maneuver. It worked so well the first time, I figured I’d repeat the performance as I entered Belfast.

Along the way, I stopped in Lisburn to visit the Hilden brewery, which was nestled in a 200 year old farmhouse outside of the village. Surprisingly, the village wasn’t on my map. My initial plan of driving to the town and looking for signs proved unsuccessful. When I asked for directions, your man said simply “follow me” and drove me right to the front door. I love it when a plan comes together! With keys to the car in hand, I knew I could only make it one, so it had to be good. Thankfully, Hilden didn’t let me down.

Looks cozy, huh? The Hilden Brewery.

Looks cozy, huh? The Hilden Brewery.

Arriving in Belfast that evening, I found all hotels booked. Totally sold out. Only one place was open. A bed in a 16 person hostel dorm. Miserable. And that was the last night I ever spent in a hostel.

As for Belfast though, that town packs a punch! I didn’t really know what to expect, but I didn’t expect what I got (in a good way). Growing up, there was such a stigma around Belfast. Car bombs. The IRA. Even now, I was told to avoid the areas with the British flags or the sidewalks painted red, white, and blue. There was none of that hostility, at least none that I saw. My main concern lay with my car tagged with Republic of Ireland plates. The concern was unnecessary.

Belfast City Hall and a very dour looking Queen Victoria.

Belfast City Hall and a very dour looking Queen Victoria.

I wandered through the busy streets, past the Victorian buildings, and through the narrow alleyways called the Entries. A city vibe permeated the streets, as the area around the Entries teemed with creativity and street art. I didn’t always get this urban feel from Dublin. There was a subtly different cultural atmosphere with the people as well. While the “Nordies” identified with being Irish, they were a bit more proper than those in the Repbulic. A little less easy-going. A little more careful with their curse words.

By dusk, I was walking along the Peace Line that ran down West Belfast’s Falls Road and housed the Catholic / Republican population. The giant wall that makes the Peace Line separates the Protestants from the Catholics, the Unionist from the Republicans. Amazingly, it has stood longer than the Berlin Wall. Parts of it are (apparently) still operational, though I felt the atmosphere in the neighborhood rather optimistic and subdued.

At the gates to the Peace Wall. I agree with Banksy.

At the gates to the Peace Wall. I agree with Banksy.

Murals covered any and all available wall space. Many invoked Palestine, South America, Nelson Mandela, and leaders within the Irish independence movement. I made it to the corner of RPG Avenue and Falls Road: The RPG standing for Rocket Propelled Grenade. Just fifteen years ago, this road offered the best sight lines to launch an attack. Today, I was going to use it for an amazing dinner.

The Bobby Sands Memorial, hunger strike martyr for the IRA.

The Bobby Sands Memorial, hunger strike martyr for the IRA.

RPG Avenue. Even with evening creeping in, I never felt uncomfortable in this former war zone.

RPG Avenue. Even with evening creeping in, I never felt uncomfortable in this former war zone.

That evening I wandered the Entries. A group of Germans made sure I wouldn’t drink alone. Bastian couldn’t believe I wasn’t German, given my accent. I took a certain pride in that. We imbibed at the Duke of York, with it’s overflow of beer and people and goodness reaching across the street and into the graffitied alley. To think that, this too, was once the site of a terrorist bombing…

Looking down the Entries at the crowds pouring out of the Duke of York.

Looking down the Entries at the crowds pouring out of the Duke of York.

My sleep arrangement for the evening was made through AirBnB. Marco had an extra bedroom and would be hosting me. Your man stayed up until 1 in the morning waiting for me to get home. When I did, he grabbed the whiskey bottles and we set to chatting about everything. I wanted little more than my bed, but couldn’t say no to the Italian hospitality. Or the whiskey. Finally, at 3:00am, it was bedtime. I collapsed in a heap of exhaustion and amazement.

Like I was Never Gone

September 19, 2014 Chad No comment

Within thirty minutes of checking in to my Dublin hotel, I had a full Irish breakfast at O’Neill’s in front of me, Guinness in hand. Welcome back!

To think, almost one year ago to the day, I was in Dublin interviewing for the job that would not only take me to Ireland, but also take me away. After that interview, I stopped in O’Neill’s for a drink but left thirsty. I simply didn’t have enough money to buy a beer! My how quickly time moves…

Back on Grafton Street: "On Grafton Street in November we tripped lightly along the ledge /  Of the deep ravine where can be seen the worth of passion's pledge..."

Back on Grafton Street: “On Grafton Street in November we tripped lightly along the ledge /
Of the deep ravine where can be seen the worth of passion’s pledge…”

But Ireland — I was back! One week in Dublin to tie up loose ends followed by a week-long road trip. Adventures to be had and hangovers to be conquered!

Hurricane Jeff blew in from Germany on the same day I arrived, leading to more drinks that first evening than would be usually be prescribed for jet lag. Waking up surprisingly refreshed on Sunday (relatively speaking), I set out to play tourist with a bucket list. Most memorable was a tour through the Kilmainham Gaol, final resting place of many of the leaders of the 1916 Uprising.

Inside the Kilmainham  Gaol, home to the final days of the rebels in the 1916 Uprising.

Inside the Kilmainham Gaol, home to the final days of the rebels in the 1916 Uprising.

Following the tour, we donned our finest green (and gold) for the GAA Gaelic Football semi-final match featuring Donegal. Pints before the match, and was that a Jameson’s on the way out(?), and we were in a sold-out Croke Park. On the way, I had hoped to stop by a Paddy Power to partake in the great Irish pastime of betting, but sadly, no bookies could be found.

Hup Donegal!!!

Hup Donegal!!!

Two hours later, I was kicking myself for not having placed that bet. Donegal came through in a major upset and bookies were paying 10-1! That could have made for a pretty nice dinner. The match was electric though, both in atmosphere and in play. We carried that enthusiasm back to the pub for a round of celebratory drinks.

That day set the tone for the rest of my week in Dublin. Culture. Drink. People. Work I also did, and good work too! This was a business trip of more than just work though.

A bellissimo evening with soon-to-be newlyweds Massimo and Nadia.

A bellissimo evening with soon-to-be newlyweds Massimo and Nadia.

I tried to (re-)soak up as much of Dublin as I could. Those streets felt as comfortable as any home town streets would.

A sunset stroll (past the travelers) to the Poolbeg Lighthouse

A sunset stroll (past the travelers) to the Poolbeg Lighthouse

I was happy. Really happy. Thank you Dublin. Thank you.

Cheers from the Hall of Fame rugby bust at the Swan!

Cheers from the Hall of Fame rugby bust at the Swan!

Embrace the Absurdity

August 25, 2014 Chad No comment
 

 

Such a comically absurd picture.

There I am, suspended in air. Am I moving up? Down? Sideways? Maybe I’m just hanging there.

The scene is set with carnival rides and tents, yet a sense of isolation prevails. Where are all the people?

Now listen. Do you hear how quiet that picture is? Even with the machine at the side, all there is to hear is suspension.

That smile though, it’s still there. It’s a bemused smile, almost as if I understand and embrace the absurdity. I’m in on the joke too.

This picture was taken at the Rightside company picnic and sums up my current outlook: Somewhat in limbo, but quite content to go it alone. Movement, yes, but which way? Only the next frame will tell.

I hope to be back in Dublin next week to tie up the loose ends. Pick up my stuff, see some people, do a little work, and hopefully put some closure to the past. I’m sure there will be a couple of frames to tell the next part of the story.

I’m Staying in Seattle

August 24, 2014 Chad No comment

With the flick of the pen, I was a Seattle resident. The lease to my new apartment was signed.

Parts of me enjoyed the apartment search. Dreams of new neighborhoods and open spaces flashed with each visit of a prospective pad. Then the budget started to extend and the end of the month deadline approached. Always the same question for the realtor: “How much interest have you had in the place?” Always the same answer: “A lot.” Slowly, the situation grew stressful.

Every afternoon I checked one of three website with apartment listings, usually with the same results. Too expensive. Too far. Carpet—no way! At one point I found the one. It went online at noon. I saw it listed at 2:00pm. My viewing was scheduled for 7:00pm. By 6:30pm, it was off the market. From that point on, I had my checkbook with me at all times, ready to put down a deposit.

I started applying for places I didn’t even want. One apartment was a few bars short of a jail cell. The neighborhood was perfect. Close for the commute. And faux wood floors! But cinder block walls. Poor lighting. After submitting my application, it thought: “I don’t want to live here.” And so I didn’t.

My future home was one of these on-the-spot decisions. A viewing was scheduled just 30 minutes after mine, so I felt the clock ticking. I felt comfortable in the 500-ish square foot one and one, and really dug the the claw-foot bath tub and the door handles that harked back to the 1910 building design. That carpet though. Shiver.

The apartment manager then brought me up to the roofdeck. “Best view of Seattle” he said. He was right. After explaining where holiday fireworks could be seen, he mentioned that the pub across the street was a Sounders bar. With that, I was sold. Check signed, sealed, delivered.
I celebrated with a beer in the pub. Everything about the neighborhood reminded me of Prospect Heights. Pub, distillery, doughnut shop, deli, and pizza joint all right there on the corner. I immediately felt at home. I cozied up to the bar. The Seahawks were on TV. I cheered on my hometown team.