in which your author doesn't get nearly enough sleep, drives through his great-grandmother's hometown, and arrives in one of his favorite cities anywhere!
07.01.2014 - 08.01.2014 40 °F
From what I recall of the morning of Day 8 – and do forgive me, as I must admit I’m now writing these posts from the distance of slightly over a week ahead! (the blog must be completed) – I awoke frustrated about the fact that I was granted fewer than five hours of glorious sleep in the quite comfy and large hotel bed. This would be an ambitious travel day of crossing the country in the morning and ending up in a different country by afternoon, and leaving at 7:30am would be crucial to making the day work as planned.
We stumble downstairs; I ask if we can grab coffee to go and am told plainly by the kind-but-not-messing-around man in charge of the hotel’s breakfast service, “No.” (I've forgotten we’re Americans used to breakfasting on the run and the Irish simply won’t have that!) I grumble about the time to Danny and Amy and we sit while Graci and Mark join us; Mark orders a veggie breakfast for us – by this point the breakfast man has told us leaving at 8am will get us to Dublin on time, though I do want to see a bit of Athlone on the way – and we’re all sitting and drowsily enjoying our last moments in Galway. As I guessed, we really didn’t leave enough time to spend in this town, and because it’s “the off-season of the off-season,” I fear we’ve missed out on the typical festive character of the town that I witnessed when I visited in 2008. Still, it was great to solidify the mental picture of the town I began forming almost six years ago, so when I visit next I'll have an even better idea of where I am!
We pack up the car – I’m flummoxed after somehow losing my Red Sox hat (which was later located in Stranorlar!), and say fond farewells to our serendipitous travel companion, Mark, The Pride of Magherafelt and Enabler of One of Our Most Fun Experiences Of The Trip. (Flights on the fly to Edinburgh were too expensive, but something tells me this isn’t the last we’ll see of our Irish friend. Perhaps next time we will watch some “American football” and eat some “MackDonald’s” with him?)
I last only about 45 minutes behind the wheel and Amy kindly takes over, driving the remainder of the three-hour trip to Dublin. I had wanted to stop in Athlone, a small-ish town in County Westmeath, because it’s allegedly the town our great-grandmother Bridget Creighton came from in 1882. As the family history goes, she was only 5 and came over with her mother on a boat; she got deathly ill on the journey and her mother prayed she wouldn’t die so they wouldn’t toss her body overboard. Luckily (especially for us!) she didn’t, and raised a typically large New England Irish family. We didn’t get out of the car in Athlone, but drove through its downtown section, and it looked perfectly nice, if small. The midlands don’t get nearly the same tourist traffic as do coastal cities like Dublin and Galway, but there’s a charm nonetheless. I look forward to spending more time in Athlone on some genealogy-dedicated trip in the future!
We get to Dublin with what feels like plenty of time, but Amy is a ball of stress, having not yet printed out her crucial boarding pass; RyanAir is very cheap to fly, but if you don’t bring a printed boarding pass they charge you 80 Euro to print a new one! We find our way (barely) to the hotel Amy has booked for our last night in Dublin and I repack my computer bag with essentials for a 2-day trip to Edinburgh. (RyanAir also charges lots for checked bags so we all made sure to slim down for the trip.) Amy wants to stay behind to try to get her ticket printed at the hotel, and the rest of us head to the airport on the hotel shuttle. I don’t have a good feeling about splitting up like this!
We manage to get on the plane (after forgetting to have our boarding passes stamped by Irish customs and encountering a sympathetic and very helpful gate agent who does this for us) but alas, no Amy. (We wouldn’t see her until much later that night, after she caught the next flight, unfortunately at a not insubstantial financial loss.)
Arriving in Edinburgh, we take five or so minutes relaxing in an airport lounge; a poorly timed rest, as it turned out, because just as we are about to board our bus to the center of town, a frantic airport agent tells us to evacuate the area because the airport is undergoing an emergency closure! We wait for over an hour in a small room crammed with would-be passengers, and information is sorely lacking. (What kind of fire drill tells people they can’t leave the area?!) Finally I approach someone official and state that we’re not trying to stay at the airport, but leave it and go into town, and she matter-of-factly says “Oh, you can just walk out.” (Good thing I asked – we might still have been waiting hours later!) While we're waiting, Danny and Graci, ever in good spirits, entertain themselves with Mad Libs.
Later we found out there was a false alarm based on a suspicious package, and the airport was in fact shut down for a number of hours. We walk over a mile to find a bus. Not the best way to drop into town but we at least feel better off than our dear, poor friend stuck at Dublin Airport! Here's the shot where I say "put on the face that represents your last hour"; somehow it comes out looking like the album cover for an indie band.
We hop on a double-decker to town, sitting on top in front. (Why don’t they have these in the US? Apart from being fun, they seem an efficient mover of people. Then again if we did have them perhaps they wouldn't be as fun?) Approaching the center of Edinburgh, I start to recognize neighborhoods and landmarks from my trip in March, 2011. (Especially the Castle, which looms ominously over the entire city.) Edinburgh is an eminently “memorizable” city – after having spent only five days here I really felt I could “see” the layout of the city in my mind.
The bus lets us out on the North Bridge; as Danny gets out he hears bagpipes. We walk up through a neighborhood I remember, and pop our heads into a cute café where I remember eating some rather mind-blowing vegetarian haggis in 2011. They don't serve food for a couple hours, so we press on; Graci and Danny grab loaded baked potatoes from a neighboring shop with a friendly attendant. She has me take a photo of her in one of the trademark British style red phone booths. Welcome to Scotland, Graci!
We make the rather long hike to our Airbnb, and are disappointed to discover that although the place is clean and the furnishings are nice, there’s only one large bed for the lot of us. After a fairly pathetic attempt at a nap, Graci and I decide to hit the town a bit while Danny is collapsed in sickness-recovery mode on the couch. First stop is the afore-mentioned Arcade Whisky and Haggis House, by now open for food. I thoroughly enjoy my veggie haggis, and also my first scotch back in Edinburgh, a Balvenie 15. (I think? I remember I wanted a fairly expensive one for my first scotch whisky back in town.)
The area in front of Edinburgh Castle is completely deserted; when I was here in 2011 there were swarms of people about. Graci seems floored by it (understandably).
Walking down to Grassmarket, it’s noticeably quieter than my last visit. (It’s also fairly early at night, but still the city seems pretty dead.) Speaking of dead (bad segue), we read the text at the raised circle where hundreds (thousands?) of religious dissenters were publicly executed; Edinburgh is a city that wears its ghosts plainly. (The ghost tours proceeding around us add to this feeling.)
We stop at another pub (the Black Bear?) for more ridiculously-inexpensive-by-American-standards scotch on "malt of the moment" sale (Dalwhinnie 15 and Highland Park 12) – I think Graci is starting to get one reason why I love this town so.
We walk up a street and I recognize where I am – right by what could be, apart from the Castle, the most famous landmark in all of Edinburgh: the beautiful statue of loyal Greyfriars Bobby, pilgrimage spot for dog lovers all over the world. (As detailed on my last visit.) I really like coming back to cities I love.
We make our way over to a pub called the “Brass Monkey” which a few locals have recommended. It’s a bit more lively, and sort of fascinating in its low-light Brooklyn hipster vibe (doesn't really feel like a proper Scottish pub, but more student-friendly) but my social graces are exhausted so I retire to the back room where enormous mattresses are spread out (Apparently the bar plays movies in this space at 3pm every day.) I spend about an hour texting with a great new friend. (Wink.)
After a while we head out and outside the bar I meet one of the friendly chaps Graci has befriended – a friendly intellectual type with a very cool handlebar moustache!
We get back to the flat and wait for Amy to arrive. Not the most exciting day, especially in comparison to our previous day of travel serendipity –although we did successfully execute (so to speak) a somewhat crazy itinerary of waking up in Galway, crossing over to Dublin, and going to sleep in Edinburgh! – but at least we all made it to this fantastic city, by hook or by crook, and we have the next couple of days to explore. I have such a soft spot in my heart for Edinburgh and can’t wait to revisit certain spots and show this town off to the crew! If only any of us could manage some decent sleep...