Thursday, October 18, 2012

Ireland

From the title, you're probably figuring out why I haven't blogged in a while. While the subject matter of this blog is supposed to be about Levittown, I feel I would be remiss to not speak about my time in one of the most amazing places on earth. I have so many amazing memories and emotions left over from Ireland. My explaining it in detail would probably be as exciting as a vacation slide show, so I'll just give you things that surprised me about Ireland.

First are the speed limit signs. I know that the Irish can have a droll sense of humor, but they border on the absurd with this. It's an amazingly disheartening experience when you are crawling along a mountain pass, with nothing but the Atlantic Ocean and certain death to one side and 4 million tons of Irish granite to the other side of a road about as wide as a queen size bed, and you turn a corner to see a 100 kph sign (about 60 miles an hour for those bad at conversions). I later asked a bartender if people really drove that fast, or if it was a plan by the Irish government to keep the population down. He said that after the EU came and invested in a new Irish infrastructure they had signs left over and had to put them somewhere. I laughed, he didn't.

The Guinness tastes the same in Ireland. I even went to the Guinness Storehouse, it's all in your head. The difference in the Smithwick's on the other hand is almost worth the trip by itself. While on the topic, Dublin is way more fun after two flights of Jameson tastings (and finishing what your wife couldn't). Tullamore Dew makes a single malt. I'm mad at myself now for not buying it when I saw it. I have no idea if they sell it in the states.

No one listens to Irish music in Ireland. I asked a bartender (I think you are probably picking up on the pattern of how I discerned all my information) why every place I went played American music from the 80s. He didn't explain the Irish love affair with The Thompson Twins, but he did explain that during the summer season that's all they hear. We arrived at the tail end of the tourist season and the locals want nothing to do with the "diddly dee" music in October. I suppose for us, it would be like hearing Yankee Doodle Dandy or You Are My Sunshine over and over again. When I arrived in Dublin on the last leg of the trip, I got a taste of what he was talking about. Everything geared towards tourists plays the same 4 stinking songs over and over again. I now unwittingly know all the words to Sweet Molly Malone, Black Velvet Band, The Irish Rover and Whiskey In The Jar. (oh, and I had to ask, Christmas in Killarney is not a big deal, it really is just an American musical.)

Now before I visited the emerald isle, I was aware of an old tradition referred to as Bleigharty. This was a mischievous practice by the Irish natives of doing things to mess with the English land owners to keep them always guessing. Although none of the "helpful" folks we met would admit to it, I'm pretty sure the tradition is alive and well. This is how I discovered the aforementioned roads in the Ring of Skellig and Connor's Pass. That's right, I fell for it twice. This is probably the same vein in which the fella at the Jameson distillery gave my wife a shot on the house, when she mentioned she was having trouble getting through the tasting. Please don't mistake this as mean spirited or truly trying to mess with people. Those two detours led me to some of the most beautiful and moving places I have ever seen and the whiskey was meant to go with the cranberry juice my better half asked for so she wouldn't commit the sin of mixing it with the 14 year old special reserve. But it was that sort of helpfulness that said, "Oh your looking for an authentic experience? I'll give you one you'll never forget!"

Finally, and most importantly, you really do get potatoes with every meal. In the nicer places, you will get them served four different ways with dinner. This is not hyperbole. At a restaurant in Killarney, I literally had parsley potatoes and quartered fried potatoes on my plate, a side dish served family style of mashed potatoes and then the waitress made her rounds offering every table french fries, of which I of course excepted.

If you've never been, go. Go now. Or at least start planning it. Newgrange will change your life. The cliffs of Moher and the Skellig islands will leave you in utter awe. Dublin is a fascinating international city that is growing more metropolitan by the day. The architecture, from the thatch roofed cottage to the gothic spires of their cathedrals, is breath taking. Pictures and stories will never do it justice. You have to see it for yourself.