Ireland Cycling Trip

With Adi and Eric

28 May to 14 June 2009

 28 / 29 May 09

San Francisco to Dublin to Cork The trip started off right with Adi, Christa and I driving behind Eric and Lee on 101 towards SFO at 4:30 am. Adi calls Eric, “you’re going too slow.” “What’d ya mean, I’m going 75.” (Adi and Josh snicker as Christa’s speedometer has been at 70 solid for the last 10 minutes.) We got to the Airport. In line Adi asks me if I got my visa. “Nope, no visa required for Ireland,” I reply. Adi grins and turns to Eric, “you got your Ireland visa right?” He said no. We told him that we both got ours a month in advance. I tried to search for emergency visa procedure in the lonely planet. Adi explained European legislature with regards to visas. Eric Sweated. Eventually we told him it was a joke and he cursed at us. On the plane Adi needed to go to the bathroom and tried to climb over Eric without waking him. He failed. Eric woke up to Adi's crotch in his face. The look on Eric’s face was priceless.

We eventually made it out to Dublin, got ripped off on an expensive cab ride to the bike shop with our bike boxes, but we expected that. This was probably Eric’s first time to take a breath and relax in several months, or at least since he started commuting to and from Pittsburgh. In addition, this was his first time in Europe. He seemed on cloud 9, just to be walking in Dublin along the river on little wooden walk ways. That kind of attitude was refreshing. We walked together down the street to a little cell phone hut where I got my cell phone unlocked for a couple of Euro (I have no idea if it's legal or not, but it was recommended to me by the equivalent of an AT&T store here in Ireland). I grabbed a pay as you go SIM card on the way out and now I've got an Ireland number. We wandered down the street and asked a bus driver how to get to Cork with bikes. He told me that there was a bus station around the corner: €9 for the ticket and €6 for the bike. We walked there and asked information: €12 for the ticket and €15 for the bike they told us. Later we would pay €13 for the bus and €11.50 for the bikes. Glad to know that people know what they're talking about round here. We started the walk over to the Guinness Storehouse and Eric made his first of several quotable quotes on this trip. He summarized Ireland in one sentence: "Jeez, where ever there isn't a church here there's a bar!" So true. Anyway, we did the Guinness store house which was a bit like going through IKEA. There was a specified route with big easy to read signs everywhere. The difference was that IKEA was pedaling home furnishing while Guinness is pedaling belligerency. We wandered through the standard "this is how you make beer," "our beer is better than your beer" stuff. Then we came to the advertising section which was great. The had video monitors of every Guinness commercial ever. My favorite was the WWII commercial where the Germans were attacking and the pilots were called to their stations. Toucans to the rescue though! In aircraft attack formation a squadron of black and white toucans came down in attach formation, through some random building and out with two pints of Guinness on their beaks, ready to serve the pilots. The pilots cheered. Then the slogan "Guinness for Strength" showed up. I just thought that was fantastic. Then up the top floor Gravity bar for a pint. It was the first time we stopped rushing around and could relax. We didn't realize it, but that was the first time we just relaxed. It felt good to slow down. We sipped our beer, looking down on Dublin, taking it in. Finally, we left, bought some crap at the gift shop, grabbed a stupid sandwich (2 filling for €3, just bread and cheese and that's it) and headed to the bike shop. We grabbed our bikes and off to the bus station

At the bus station it was a mad house. Everyone queued up nicely, but when the bus came there was pushing and shoving all over the place. People pushed outside and nearly ran the bus coordinator over. Then the bus backed up and moved three spots over and another parked in its place. Half the crowd bum rushed the first bus while the other half stampeded the second one. The conductor told everyone that the second bus was the direct to Cork even thought the first one said direct to Cork on the screen. There was much swarming and the crowds switched sides. Then he corrected himself and everyone switched back. It was hard to maneuver with bikes in this mad house, so we just waited it out and were eventually on our way.

Four hours and countless green pastures later we got to Cork and dropped off our bikes at the hotel. They had us put our bikes in an unused dining room. I didn't think I'd ever store my bike in a carpeted room lined with mahogany, but whatever works for them. We grabbed some curry, had a few drinks, and ran into a crazed bachelorette party. It was still light out. It stays light out here until about 10 -10:30. Eric made his next quotable quote as we were walking by a bunch of young folks in t-shirts and Jeans that could have been easily walking the streets of San Francisco:

Eric: "Everyone looks different than I expected." Adi and Josh: "What did you expect?" Eric: “I don't know, I just kinda expected them all to look like Andy."

His third quote was the next day with regards to their clothing. Eric: "People are Dressed differently than I expected... I just kinda expected everyone to be wearing peasant’s clothes." (Adi and Josh give quizzical looks). Eric: "What? All I know I get from the movies."

30 May 09 Cork to Blarney Castle and Back

We woke up lazily, grabbed lunch at the grocery store and headed on a short bike ride to the blarney stone in blarney. Blarney, by the way, is an eloquent compliment that's not too over the top. The example given on one sign was: Baloney is when someone asks a 50 year old woman if she's 18. Blarney is when you ask a 50 year old woman her age because you want to know at what age women are most beautiful. It is said that kissing the blarney stone gives you the gift of eloquence.

We were all expecting a lame castle tourist trap, that is obligatory, but we were pleasantly surprised. The castle is a standard European castle in a bit of disrepair due to 600 years of fine aging, but the grounds and gardens were fantastic. Seriously, they were some of the most beautiful gardens I've ever seen. There was the right mix of manicured and wild, with trees dotted across lush green fields dotted with yellow flowers. They had Rivers and streams, waterfalls and interesting rock formations, giant plant leaves and flowers, ferns and trees with tangled roots that twisted and turned over rocks like those of Ta Phrahm in Angkor Wat, Cambodia. There were wide open pastures, forested walks, Jungly areas, and craggy rocks. It felt like a fairy tale. It was like all those movies set in the UK in the 1500's with unrealistically beautiful grounds could have been actually true (though who knows what they would have looked like then). Regardless it was a wonderful afternoon. We had a leisurely lunch on benches by the stream, then headed back down to our bikes and back to Cork.

It was an uneventful evening. We just wandered around, saw the university and had pints in several bars. We chatted with a bartender who explained that in is little town of 3000 people there were 13 bars (a little more than one bar for every 200 man woman and child). We asked another bar tender his estimate on number of bars in Cork (population 200,000). He guessed 600. Crazy. Anyway, we'll be going to smaller towns from now until Galway on the 7th or 8th or 9th of June. It should be a nice change of pace. The riding starts tomorrow and we're all pretty excited.

31 May 09 Cork to Killarney80 miles biking (55 miles touring, 25 miles day trip)

Our first day touring Ireland! Up to a complimentary early morning breakfast of toast, tea and coffee at our hostel. Adi spiked Eric’s coffee with a bit o whiskey that he bought the day before. Halfway through the breakfast I asked how the coffee is. “Crappy,” Eric replied. “Well, what’d ya expect from hostel coffee,” I responded. “Well,” Adi chimes in, “at least you got a little bit of the Irish in ya.” Eric slowly lifts his head. “Did you guys seriously put whiskey in my coffee!?” Adi and I giggle. Eric storms off to pour the remainder of his coffee out.

Finally on the road, we take the scenic tour north of the river to McRoon (our halfway point). Gentle rolling green hills comprise our ride. Lovely bright and dark green trees create a tunnel for us to bike through as the morning sunlight plays with the leaves and branches. Occasionally it opens up to show a serene wide open river to our left surrounded by pastures. We get to enjoy this mellow scenic route for 25 miles before we hit the 1 lane highway at McRoon. We pass by another castle on our way through the charming little Irish town.

The book claims that there’s a big 5 mile hill ahead, but none of us recognize that this was the big hill until we go downhill for quite some time and don’t go back up. (The hills are a lot bigger in California. The tallest hill in Ireland is only 3000 ft.) After the hill we snap a couple picts at the county Kerry lines for Ms. Trumble, have lunch, then press on to Killarney and rent a room at a B&B. But, 55 reasonably easy miles is certainly not enough for the day, so we drop our bags and cycle down to Killarney National Park.

This is a tourist zoo, but the ride we had was the most beautiful bike ride that I have ever been on- simply stunning. Much of the small paved paths are shared with hikers which causes a slow down, but what’s the rush! Killarney National Park is comprised of three sparkling interconnected lakes with an impressive Mansion that Queen Victoria once stayed at by the second lake. (The house was renovated for six years to prepare for her two day visit. The renovation ended up bankrupting the owners.) Anyway, as we biked across green fields with a flawless mansion on our left and a pristine mountain backed lack on our right, we turn into the peninsula separating the first two lakes. This is where the magic happens.

Everything is as lush green as a rainforest. As we coasted along the road, the forest, illuminated by shafts of sunlight, engulfed us. Rich green oak trees, then a stretch of fern that took us back to the Jurassic. It was similar to Blarney garden, but much more untamed. The moss took over, covering every rock and tree with soft fuzzy greens. The forest parted and rocks jutted out into the sparkling lake. Green shoots jutted up from the waters and thigh high green grass dotted the shores. The cycle of flora repeated numerous times as we crossed over to “the meeting of two waters” (bridge between the first two lakes). There was a little café there which we remembered, Betty, the inn keeper’s assistant, had recommended. We went in and ordered some tea and said that Betty said hello. The owner of the shop lit up. Turns out he also owned the B&B where we were staying at. He gave us free candy and soda, which at 6:30pm was a miracle rejuvenator.

After snacks Eric went back home and Adi and I pressed onwards, up the hill to upper lake and Ladies View, which the B&B owner had recommended. We ascended route N71, which had a beauty and charm all its own. It was more open than our previous path; dotted with vibrant violet flowers and craggy rocks, it winded up the hillside. The hills opened up and became a mixture of rock and moss. The upper lack sparkled in the setting sun. We passed an abandoned church and another crumbling castle (which Adi would later trespass into for a photo op) up to Ladies view. The view was spectacular. It looked down on the three lakes nestled in the valley. You could see the rocky mountains melt into forests and marshy plant life which dissolved into a sparkling swirl of calm water.

When we had our fill we raced down the green road, hugging the turns as we leaned down the hill and braced for potholes. An hour or so later, we arrived home at 9:30 pm. We had started biking at 8:30 am. We didn’t bike the whole day, but it was still a hell of a 13 hours. We grabbed a bite with some of the best tasting milkshakes ever, got the last two shots of Jameson at a pub and headed home to retire.

1 June 09 Killarney to Waterville 51 miles biking

When Eric and Adi & I parted ways yesterday to continue our beautiful cycling excursion Adi stopped to verify that we wouldn’t just be doing this hill again the next day during the ring of Kerry. So, I was excited to find out from Eric that we were doing that scenic hill again the next day. It was just as pretty this go round, but it’s amazing how much easier a hill is when you haven’t just ridden 70 miles.

We crested the hill to be greeted by bahhhing and an “adopt a sheep” sign. We considered doing just that for Justin O, but we thought better of it.

We cruised downhill for miles through sheep dotted pastures and the occasional quaint home. The cars were spars, the sun was out; it couldn’t have been nicer. We found out that this week has had more consecutive sunny days than Ireland has seen in over two years. It’s getting up to 75 or 80 degrees and, I hate to say it, but it’s even a little too hot, not that I’m complaining.

The valley of sheep opened up into the Atlantic gently lapping up against craggy shores. Old abandoned rock fenced livestock squares dotted the hillside. The sun shone brightly on the water as we ascended and descended to Waterville.

At Waterville we watched the sun set and had an interesting conversation with an old Irish couple who was living in Boston. The guy worked for Coors-Miller. Yup, they merged; I didn’t know that. I found out that Coors light was the lowest quality of the three light beers (Coors, Miller, and Bud), while miller light had the best quality ingredients. Miller commercials now tout themselves as better than Bud, but leave out boasting superiority to Miller. I’ll have to watch for that.

2 June 09 Waterville to Inch 58 miles biking

We finished up the ring of Kerry today. The north side of the ring was great. We road for miles on a cliff that fell several hundred feet into the bay between Dingle and Kerry. The sun was shining, the waters were calm and blue and all the plants around were green and healthy. There was a small cooling breeze at first which was nice. Just like before, we passed pasture after pasture with sheep lazily grazing. We passed a couple of quaint towns and for some reason had our picnic lunch in some random person’s backyard. We got up to the town we were going to stay in, but decided to press on. We figured that if we did, we'd have a small chance of chipping away at the three days we needed to chip off our itinerary to get to Galway by the 5th to party with Lauren O Laughlin's cousins.

The road was straight, but it was getting friggin' hot. It was like 80+degrees and this was Ireland. What gives? But, I can't complain. We headed back down the other side of the bay that we had been gazing across during the last leg of the ring of Kerry and ended up in a little B&B / Bar in the down of Inch. Now here’s the odd part. There was a huge friggin' beach just down the road. The beach was like half a mile long and the Irish used the upper half of it as a parking lot. I never thought I'd be sun bathing in Ireland, but after a quick dippin’ the Atlantic the nap in the sun on the beach was fantastic.

At dinner we discovered an awesome dessert called Banoffi pie. A gram cracker crust layered with butter scotch, bananas, homemade whipped cream, chocolate shavings and strawberries. We all want to make it once we get home.

Later that evening Eric read his book and Adi and I smoked the first two of the 10 cigars that we brought as we walked back to the beach. We posed in front of a heard of baby sheep and then wandered to a café by the beach. Adi and I had a romantic walk on the beach and he regaled me with tales of turning down prostitutes in Thailand as we drank tea and watched the sun sink into the hills by the ocean.

As I got ready for bed, I accidentally pulled out some old passport photos of Christa from Nepal. It was a goofy picture of her wearing headphones and a hoodie at Alcatraz. I miss her. It would have been nice to share this evening with her, though Adi does make an ok girlfriend substitute…

3 June 09 Inch to the Dingle Peninsula Loop to Tralee 75 miles biking (46 miles touring, 29 miles day trip), hilly terrain

Today was the roughest day of the trip. We hacked 2 days off our schedule with this ride. We got up early and blasted over to the town of Dingle near the end of the peninsula. In the cool early morning I was feeling good. My legs had stopped burning s much and I felt strong gliding over the hills, through the pastures and down the hill to the town of Dingle. Adi sweet talked a lady at a sports shop into letting us drop our bags off in her shop while we did the 30 mile Dingle loop out to the very end of the Peninsula.

We stopped off at some Gaelic museum with a skeleton of a large brown bear which included a penis bone (odd). The road was disappointingly barren, especially after everything that we had heard about how awesome this loop was. But, after about 10 miles we hit the coast and it rocked. Huge cliffs into blue waters with islands off the coast. There were ancient stone buildings and fortresses on our sides as we biked passed (though they were disappointing when we paid the €3 to take a look inside). We had lunch cliff side where Adi took a nap over the protective fence on a small spot of grass over next to an unprotected 300 foot drop. I munched plums next to him. We soaked in the scenery enjoying the lack of panniers all the way back to Dingle.

We grabbed some fantastic milkshakes, and Adi repeated the phrase "I drink yoooouur milkshake" (from no country for old men), which he's been saying over and over and over the last few days, several times. Off to O'Connor pass. This is the hardest part of the journey. It’s not actually that bad of a hill - about 4 1/2 miles up hill, but after riding a while and with bags, it was a bit of a grind. But the reward at the top was great! We got to careen down the other side of the hill recklessly for 4 miles. Adi and I were passing each other and trying to yell over the wind. When the fun hill finally ended, we grinded the last 20 miles out. We were all grumpy and tired and hungry. Eric and I get moody when we're tired and hungry, but Adi, remained reasonably even keeled except for his steady grumbling about this sore butt.

We reached Tralee, got a B&B, scarfed down Mexican food... well kind of Mexican food. They served warm tomato sauce and called it salsa, but it was still good. Then we went to a Gaelic play about folks who lived on the island. The play was in Gaelic, and Adi complained that the costumes were 1800's era while the play took place in 1952, but other than that it was good. Then we came back and stayed up until midnight chatting with the B&B owner Kerry. We drank whiskey and tea with him as he told of tales of the good times and the bad in Ireland and his life abroad. It was a perfect end to a tough day.

4 June 09 Tralee to Lahinch 63 miles biking

Here come the flat gentle rolling hills. We were out of the beautiful county Kerry and into the more pedestrian portion of county Claire. For 30 miles until river Shannon the road was straight and mediocre in scenery, but we had been spoiled. We popped over the river on a boat where we enjoyed our quick lunch and then off to the north to the resort town of Lahinch. The scenery took a turn for the better. It opened up and lovely pastures and green hills unfolded in front of us. I bounced back and forth between biking with Eric and Adi as we pushed forward to Lahinch. A little before the town we ran into an old befuddled English man named Patrick. He was biking around Ireland. He had started a month ago and was doing this for his 70thbirthday. He hadn't been on a bike since he was 20 and was learning everything a new. He was wearing pants and crock shoes and had lost his bike helmet, but he was having a blast. He's writing a book, "Around Ireland clockwise on a Giant." He said he'd put us in the book. I'll be looking for it in a few months.

We got to town and plopped down in an awesome new B&B lodge with huge fluffy comforters and big screen TV's and even a common area with a Wii. The owner was this guy Duncan, who was about 30. He bought the10,000 square foot place for 1.2 million euro. It sleeps 76, and, if full, can pay its monthly mortgage in 3 days. We talked real estate and traveling.

The three of us had a pint at the Lahinch golf course, Ireland's most famous golf course, and Adi and I pretended to play a round as we wandered the holes. The course over looked the beach and hill side. The fairway was a set of mini rolling hills that was unlike anything I've seen before on a course. We finished up and met back up with Eric for whiskey and pints and then a well deserved rest.

5 June 09 Lahinch to Galway 57 miles biking

We got a late start and then went to the cliffs of Moher. These are fantastic 600 ft sheer cliffs into the Atlantic Ocean. They are a beautiful formation of limestone that looks like someone just took a knife and sliced off the edge of the island. We wandered up and down the landscape, soaking the cliffs in. The annoying part was the tourists and all the guard rails and safety precautions. I say let Darwinism take its course and let us have our fun! But I guess the lawyers don't agree :-(.

After some meandering we got on our way and ran into the same set of Englishmen that we had been seeing the whole trip on their bikes. They were about 2 of a dozen folks we'd seen touring, but they were doing the same basic path as us. We exchanged pleasantries and went on our way. This part of the county was called the burren and it was a bit different. It was rock and had a few intermittent forests. The whole area was apparently on top of a large limestone base, which gave the land a unique feel. The headwind started to kick up and it really does take a toll. At the top of a long slow climb the Galway bay leapt into view and a corkscrew road that looked like a giant steep downhill switchback showed itself. Ah the fun stuff. We screamed down the hill and leaned into the windy road and then held on for dear life as the road degraded to a patchwork quilt of asphalt. Pressing on through the wind we hugged the large bay and stopped by a road-side castle. Tired, and a bit under the weather, I pushed on until the roads became busy highways. We were nearing Galway. Tired from the rolling hills and howling winds we pushed through to the city center.

The city was packed. Every hostel was booked. We barely found a B&B. The Volvo Ocean Race was in town and apparently this was a huge deal. The town of 100,000 had maybe 2 - 3 times that many people there. Adi was very excited to have made it here by the 5th. Cause that meant drinking with the locals!

After some of the worst coordination and directions I've ever heard, we finally met up with Lauren’s cousins Dave and Ronin (thanks for setting us up with them Lauren, they rock). They had about a dozen friends with them and everywhere we went we seemed to lose a couple and pick up a few more. We listened to a packed free concert with "The Stunning" which apparently was big in the 80s. Ronin's friend Sykes talked about how he likes to get piss drunk and likes Che Guevara and Cuba. The vibe was great and everyone, young and old was having a pint and enjoying the scene. When the concert broke up everyone flooded the bars like mad. Ronin lost all his friends and then began to collect them one by one on the way to the bar. By 11:30 we found Dave at a pizza joint near our destination bar completely plastered.

We wandered up the beer hall and had drafts and whiskey till 3 am. The Irish were falling over, some random dude told me about a threesome that he almost had in San Francisco while I was trying to make my way to the toilet. I tried to help divert ladies in Ronin's direction, which I think he appreciated. He got a number and we discussed the 2-3 day rule. Eric headed home at 2 and Adi and I became minor celebrities for having 4 cigars. Everyone and their mother commin' out of the pubs wanted a puff. And everyone asked if they were Cuban. Adi gave the bouncer a cigar that cost us $3 and was worth $12. He was so excited, he couldn't contain himself. He was showing all his mates and promised us that he was going to save it until august for some special occasion. We just smiled. Adi, Ronin and a couple of his friends and me were left. We got invited to two or three different house parties by people we'd given a drag of cigar to, but they all forgot where the parties were or got distracted by the need to urinate in an alleyway. Lord knows where Dave had stumbled off to.

We got pizza at Apache pizza and ate it at 4 am on our way back to the B&B as we watch day break. It was a simply fantastic evening full of shenanigans that this trip has been lacking. Tomorrow we don't bike.

6 June 09 Galway to Aran Islands and back

Ah a day of rest. After zonking out for five hours we began the task of packing, finding a new place (ours was booked this night) then getting a bus and ferry to and from the Aran Islands.

We popped off the boats and wadded through the gauntlet of touts trying to have us hire a bike to tour the 9 mile by 2 mile 800 Person Island. We strolled by and found a local named Tomas with too much hair on his nose to drive us around the island for the precious 3 hours we had. We could have taken a fancier minibus with a tour guide that was loaded with facts, but we picked Tomas and his beat-up blue van. He owned some plots of land on the island and contributed commentary like “That Fortress up on the hill there is old and nice to look at too.” Just like a true local; he could care less about the ancient history of the land. It was kinda nice.

We hopped off for a spot of tea and to hike up to Inis Mor’s larges fortress; Dun Aonghasa. It laid on the highest point of the Islands cliffs at 300 ft above the Sea. We ascended the windy path and Eric pointed out the broken stone that had been laid out in front of the castle walls to prevent attack by horse.

As we approached the Fortress outer wall we realized that it was a semi circle and not a full circle. Apparently half of the 1500 year old fortress had literally fallen into the sea. These sheer cliffs were half the height of Moher, but in my opinion, much more impressive – mostly due to the fact that there were no guard rails and you were free to dangle your feet over the edge. Someone before us even lost a shoe which fell to a ledge 20 meters below. As you stand in the stone fortress with the grey sky and menacing clouds at your back, the edge of the sharp cliff at your toes and the black wind-torn sea sprawled out in front of you, you feel like a Gaelic warrior of old. With relatively few tourists the atmosphere is intoxicating. You could see the whole island below you and the cliff line which stretched out for a few miles. With so few tourists this simple fortress of stacked rock walls felt rugged, real and powerful. The closest thing to a protective barrier was Tomas’s parting words “be careful lads.” Adi and I dangled our legs over the edge as the wind whipped by and light rain moistened the ground. I inched out onto a one foot wide ledge to get a better shot of the cliffs. The wind was harshly gusting off the cliffs towards the sea and even Adi gave me a cautionary warning. We breathed in the history, power and beauty of this place one last time before heading back down to Tomas.

Off we went through the stone fenced fields. The entire Island was a puzzle of interlocking stone fenced grazing and farmland. This little 9 by 2 mile island had 7000 miles of these walls – unbelievable. We saw a traditional cottage, one of three churches on the island (even though there’s only one priest) and a tiny grassy island where they boat livestock out to for 3 months to fatten them up. Our simple tour came to an end and as we boated back visions of Dun Aonghasa burned in my head.

In the evening we went to the Kings Head pub, established in 1650. The story goes that in the 1600’s the Protestants wanted the English King Charles II killed, but they couldn’t find an English executioner to do it. So, they went next door to the Irish who hated the British and were happy to oblige. The bloke that chopped off Charles’s head was from Galway and was given this bar as payment.

I ran into an amateur soccer player from Brittan who told me about winning yesterday’s match 8-2. Towards the end of the game, when victory was all but assured, they had some penalty kicks. So, for laughs, they dressed up a friend’s 65 year old dad in uniform and let him kick the final shot. Hi missed, but they still won handily.

We wandered next door for traditional Irish fiddlin’ and accordion playing. I chatted with a Scotsman about Obama’s politics then we had a conversation in broken Spanish.

Funny thing about the bar scene here, all the girls get dressed up to the nines and all the guys dress like slobs in t-shirts and jeans. That’s just the norm. Adi wants to import the trend.

7 June 09 Galway to Cahir to Cashel 12 miles biking

We had planned to end our journey in Galway, but we had managed to shave 2 or 3 days off the journey and we decided to double back and see some of the center of the country. So, off to see the Rock of Cashel (A castle whose church St. Patrick used to preach at). We bussed 120 miles to a nearby town and at the bus stop was another castle. We peaked in and read some familiar history about the Irish getting beat up by the British, then off to Cashel.

It was a mostly wasted day on the bus, but in the evening I achieved one of my goals for the trip: drinking with stereotypical drunk old Irishmen. It was great. They were 70, I could barely understand what they were saying and when I asked Paddy how many drinks he would be having this Sunday evening he replied, “dunno, 12 or 13.” Willy complained that all the rural pubs are closing because they’re cracking down hard on drunk drivers.

We watched the world championship of darts with them. Phil Taylor smashed Osborne 11-6 games in 501. Eric and I now each owe Adi a beer.

Another guy from Kerry had just come back from a football match in Kerry. It was a draw and he was going back to see them play again next weekend. As we left he told us “I’ll be going back to Kerry next weekend.” Then he turned to the closest one of us, Adi, and asked “will you? Will you be going back to Kerry next weekend lad?” Adi chuckled and replied “Yes, I will definitely be going back to Kerry next weekend.” The old guy roared in cheer.

8 June 09 Cashel to Callan 38 miles biking

We saw the Rock of Cashel. It was a castle. It was pretty. The Irish got sieged and defeated by the British. Tomorrow we’ll see Kilkenny castle. I wonder what it will be like. Ah, today a lovely 38 mile ride through the countryside complete with tractor traffic, rolling pastures, and stopping at cow crossing. We wound up in the lovely little town of Callan where we had fantastic Chinese food and climbed a spiral staircase, wiggled through a broken gate to a roof and squeezed through a slit of a window to get into the upper most chamber of a cool 16th century Abbey. It’s nice to get away from the tours.

Of course, we were supposed to go 35 miles to Kilkenny, but Adi and I took the lead in our bike ride and blew 10 miles past our turn. Looks like it was a blessing in disguise. This is the first trip I’ve don’t B&B’s and I have to say that it’s kinda nice. I’m writing at a nice ladies kitchen table while she stuffs us with tea and muffins and chats with us about her golf game and our travels.

9 June 09 Callan to Kells to Kilkenny 17 miles biking

Up early, a quick discussion with the proprietor about raising hens and the finances of shearing sheep, and we’re off.

In Kell’s, as the lonely planet will tell you, resides the best kind of ruins; big, well preserved, no hours, free of charge and free of other tourists. We ambled about this monastic ruins before heading 2 km away to quench Adi’s thirst to climb at least one tower. We had to cross a treacherous field with a sign that said “Caution, Bull in field,” then through a cemetery just to find out that the tower was hollow with no means of ascension. Foiled!

Now off to Kilkenny, home of my favorite Ale when I studied in England. We saw another grand castle that fell in 1650 to Cromwell. An Irish lady overheard our historical conversation and remarked “As we say in Ireland boys, ‘That Bastard Cromwell!’”

We wandered over to what turned out to be one of the two remaining climbable towers in Ireland. You walked into this little 8 foot diameter tower and inside is a Harry Potter look alike 15 year old kid eating gummy works and reading a book. “Three Euro please,” he says. This is his summer job. Later we would see him in town with his girlfriend and Adi greeted him warmly with “Hey tower guy!” Anyway, we ascended ladder after ladder after ladder. Look, rooftops and a dozen churches.

Now we ambled over to what is hailed by both our guide books as a terrible tour of Smithwicks Brewery. I beg to differ. It was free; we watched a 20 minute video made in the 80’s. Adi took a nap, then we got two free pints of Kilkenny’s Ale a piece. A comfortable nap and two free pints; it’s the best deal in Ireland!

We checked out some old merchant’s house from the 1600’s. They had the bones of a families pet Terrier from the 1800’s on display. Adi danced with a mannequin decked out in 1800’s garb. Eric burped loudly.

We had dinner at a bar established in 1324 then later enjoyed live traditional Irish music and a little bit of free fallin’ and Hotel California thrown in for good measure.

10 June 09 Kilkenny to Dublin

Finally our biking had come to a close and we took a bus to Dublin on my birthday. We got our hotel, dropped off our bikes to be boxed and headed to the old Jameson Distillery. We've been quite disappointed this trip because there have been almost no distilleries. We found out that there are only three different distillers in all of Ireland: Jameson, Bushmills and one other that I can't recall. The tour involved a video that was absolute commercial drivel, but Adi, Eric and I were selected to be on the tour's whiskey tasting panel after much over excited raising of our hands and "ooh ooh pick me, pick me's" when the guide asked for volunteers. We tasted Jack Daniels, Jameson and Jonny Black. It was pretty interesting to do a side by side comparison, but more importantly it was good to have three free extra drinks of whiskey. They got our names and even printed out Jameson tasting graduation certificates - very cute.

After the tour we did a high class tasting of Jameson's finest $200 / bottle whiskeys. It was just like Napa, they bring you several whiskeys in small glasses with tasting notes and descriptions about the flavor, color and nose. Eric was in his element and Adi and I couldn't be more pleased. We even got the standard Jameson so we could appreciate just how much better the good whiskey was (and it was a lot better). After two hours of drinking whiskey, we thought it would be a good idea to go to a pub to drink some whiskey. We spent the next 5 hours drinking Jameson, eating, listening to a live band play Irish music and Simon and Garfunkel. I failed in my mission to find a place to serve Banoffi pie (which I found out is actually Italian), but ended up getting an assortment of cakes which we shared with a group of Irish and Finish girls who chose to consume €5 ($7) / bottle Coors light over any of Irelands fine ales. Preposterous.

The music ended, and we headed down to Temple Bar area. We stumbled into the most touristy bar in town. We realized this when we listened around and no one had an Irish accent. Adi struck up a conversation with an 18 year old girl who he later found out was there with her sisters and dad. We left. On the way Adi stumbled into a girl crying by the side of the road. He tried to give her a high five, but she refused. In only the way that Adi can, he managed to get out of her that she had just been fired, and had a big fight with her boyfriend. He tried to find something to cheer her up and after five minutes of searching in every pocket he had, produced some matches from LA. The whole process made her light up and by the end of it her tears had dried and she was smiling. It was pretty touching, but all in a day’s socializing for Adi. We spent the next 15 minutes trying to locate new matches for our cigars.

Eric went to bed and Adi and I smoked our celebratory birthday Acid brand cigars as we walked around Saint Stevens green. We chatted with a couple of guys shooting up in an alley way. They were brothers and one of them had just gotten out of prison after 15 years just two days ago. They both claimed to be part of the IRA and spoke about the need for Irish independence from Britain. They also claimed to have blown up English Parliament 15 years ago and they were completely out of it, so I take what they said with a grain of salt. We ran into a homeless guy and bought him and ourselves a bowl of meat balls at subway at 2:30. He spoke of Northern Irelands need to be freed from the "Oppressive" British, despite their voting to be a part of the union. He was reasonably eloquent. Adi made the point that when you have nothing you focus on these kinds of problems. When you have money and a job and things going for you, you focus on your own personal problems. It was an insightful statement. I went to bed content.

11 June 09 Dublin

After a lovely birthday, we set no Alarm and slept in… but the sun rises at five, so we only made it ‘till 9 without waking. We were, as Adi would put it, quite civilized as we drank tea and pastries while promenading around St. Stevens Green (Dublin’s mini Central Park). A spot of shopping, then off to Trinity College to see the famous book of Kells. The book, as I found out, is just a 1200 AD copy of the New Testament. No new information is in this book that isn’t in earlier writings. However it is written in size 48 calligraphy font, double spaced and had ornate pictures of lions and crosses all throughout the margins as well as lovely illustrations. As a result the book stood an impressive ~1 ft thick and needed to be split into 4 sections to be properly displayed.

We went through the painstaking $150 process of shipping our boxed bikes home. Eric had to remove stuff from his box and repack it twice before he was under the arbitrary max weight of 20 kb for shipping anything out of Ireland. I mean seriously, you can’t ship a 50 lb box out of Ireland; it’s ridiculous.

We strolled to St. Patrick’s church. A lot of famous old people were buried there including Jonathan Swift. One of the dead guys had taught his dog to climb trees.

Terminator salvation was disappointing, but pints of Beamish at the Dukes ‘till closing were not.

12 June 09 Dublin to Belfast

Adi and I grunted our goodbyes to Eric at 5:30 am, then rolled out of bed and caught the 7am bus to Belfast. The main tourist attraction in the city is that the Titanic was built there. Adi and I went on the walking tour. It was comically terrible. The tour is a 2 mile walk through an active industrial shipyard. There isn’t even a sidewalk the whole way; you’ve got to walk on the street. There are lovely maps and historical placards on the way, but when we got to the main event, the Titanic slip; it was blockaded by a leasing office for new Titanic Quarter luxury condos which were being constructed. We just laughed and headed back into town. There was on highlight though. We found out that the Olympic, Titanic’s older sister, was converted into a military transport for WWI. During its service a German sub fired a torpedo at the Olympic. It missed. Having no retaliatory weaponry, the Olympic did the only sensible thing; it turned around and ran over the U-boat, splitting it in two.

We walked all around, but the most interesting thing was the walk down Falls road and back up Shankill road. The roads run parallel, east to west and in between likes the peace line; a 6 meter metal fence that’s been up longer than the Berlin wall. It’s open at sections, but is a stark reminder of the Catholic (Republican) and Protestant (Unionist) divide. The southern road, Falls, was Republican territory, home of anti-Israeli, pro-Palestinian, anti-George W, and anti-British, Pro Ireland unification murals. It also is home of Sinn Fein, the prominent political arm of the IRA. To the north on Shankhill road, the Unionists focused all their murals on war memorials for the Great War and WWII. (The unionists (Northern Ireland) fought with the British in WWI while the Republicans (Republic of Ireland) used the opportunity to trade military aid for independence from Britain. Northern Ireland Fought again in WWII while the Republic of Ireland remained Neutral.)

Dinner and several pints later we were at Fiber Magee’s listening to excellent Irish music. I chatted with a girl who was with her mother and her mum’s 50 year old friends about polar bears and penguins. One of the particularly hammered older ladies said something to me. It was loud, so I leaned over and asked her what she said. She grabbed me by the cheeks and planted a kiss right on me. She giggled with her friends as if they were 15, and then went on drinking.

A wee bit more drinking and dancing, then off to bed for our last day in Ireland.

13 June 09 Belfast to Giant’s Causeway / Bushmills and back then to Dublin

Having seen the sights in Belfast, Adi and I had arranged to rent a car to hit up the North coast for a day. We were clear that we only wanted the car for one day, not the whole weekend. The car guy comes to pick us up at 9:30. We inquire, just to be safe, if we could drop off the car at the lot late in the evening, around 8. The guy told us that they closed at noon. Wow, a two hour car rental. Here’s the kicker, we asked if we could just leave the car at the lot and have them pick it up tomorrow. “No,” he replied “We’re closed tomorrow. You’ll have to do a three day rental and return it on Monday.” He hadn’t even finished speaking by the time I had left and purchased tickets for the North Coast coach tour leaving in 5 minutes.

Now this tour was a fantastic end to a great trip. We drove through spectacular scenery with lush rolling green hills, grazing sheep and cliffs that melted into the Irish Sea. It was just as stunning as the Ring of Kerry. First stop, Giant’s Causeway, a unique costal geological formation found only here and nearby in Scotland. Rumor has it that an Irish Giant named Finn made this land bridge (Causeway) to Scotland to fight a Scottish giant. When Fin arrived, the Scottish giant was asleep, and he was huge. Finn ran home scared. The Scot found out it and came over to challenge Finn. As he neared, Finn had his wife dress him up in a baby’s bonnet and put him in a crib. When the Scottish giant arrived, he saw the baby and thought, my God, if this is the size of his baby, I can’t imagine how big Finn must be. He ran home so fast that he destroyed the bridge in the process, leaving only the ends that you see today.

We descended down the cliffs into the rocky shores of the Irish Sea. The sun shown, then it rained, then it was sunny, then it rained. When we had descended, a bizarre rock formation lay before us. Somehow, crafted by a volcano 60 million years ago, lay a shore of raised ~1 foot wide hexagonal pillars. They meshed together like a man made bathroom tiled floor. It was absolutely wild. I can’t fathom how these things were formed naturally, but somehow these perfect little hexagonal pillars made rolling hills and flat planes and tidal pool boarders.

From the seas edge we start up at the plant lined cliffs ominously hanging above. We could have explored much longer, but the area was infested with tourists and we had made a deal with the bus driver to have him take us to the Bushmills distillery early so that we could do the tour. As I jogged back to the bus via the cliffs, it rained and the scenery sprang alive in a whole different light. It felt good to stretch my legs out.

Adi and I both agree that Bushmills isn’t that good of a whiskey, but for £5.50 you got the only real tour of an active distillery (where you see the whiskey that will be sold in stores actually being made) that I’ve ever seen. The tour was quick, but real and not commercial drivel, plus at the end we got a free sample of reserve whiskey worth £5; what a deal.

A quick coastal castle stop and off to a tiny rope bridge to an island raised up 100 feet off the ground, planted on a spectacular beach surrounded by stunning turquoise waters. The sun was brilliant; it ignited the shores, made the ocean sparkle violently and the flora burst to life. Atop this tiny rock island Adi found a cigarette butt and remarked to our acquaintance, Sean, and me that this disgusted him. He promptly picked it up and disposed of it by tossing it over the edge onto the sandy shores below. “That’s much better,” Sean exclaimed and he and I busted up laughing as Adi looked quizzically at us. 100 pictures later we were on the bus back to Belfast and then another bus back to Dublin.

At 11pm we fought our way, like Salmon going up stream through a river of 90,000 “Take That” fans exiting the concert on our way to our haunted hostel which used to be a convent. A pint, our final cigar and our final pint at Dublin’s Fiber Magee’s heavy metal dive bar, and then we said our goodbyes to this lovely city.

14 June 09 Dublin to San Francisco

Now, as we sit on this airplane, we plot the trips final picture. Just like the first picture we’ll go to Ruby’s diner in Newark and order milkshakes, but this time Adi will construct a massive straw and finally enact the line that he’s been saying from No Country for Old Men several times a day for the last two weeks; “I drink your milkshake!”

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