Final Slainte

Well, that’s all folks! The trip is over. Thanks for following the blog. We hope future travellers will be able to use this as a resource for trips to Ireland and uncover some of the treasure we left behind. Thanks for the comments and the pints!

Slainte Everyone!

Edinburgh

Ah Edinburgh. When you’re walking around Edinburgh you know at every moment that you are not in any other city in the world. Edinburgh is a city with a distinct personality resonating out of the stonework and the monuments for Scottish literary heroes.

Sir Walter Scott Memorial

It also has a sweet castle.

Edinburgh Castle

We only went out once, but had a great time at Hive. They have themed Wednesday night parties every few weeks with cheap watered down drinks, and we caught Japanese themed Bansai!  But we arrived too late to receive free Tamagochis. The Hive had two dance floors—one with chart, one with cheese. We stayed in the cheesy 90s room. Duh.

The most popular thing to do in Edinburgh is to wander the Royal Mile and frown at fellow tourists searching for their Scottish heritage (just as you are doing).

The Royal Mile

Street Performers are everywhere on the Royal Mile

The castle is a pricey must.

Cannon POV

Edinburgh Castle Armoury

Even better than the castle is a walk / hike to the top of Arthur’s Seat for a beautiful view of the city.

Arthur's Seat

While Brice was off seeing the above sights, James met up with Scott (from the same programme at UBC), who is now doing his Ph.D. at St. Andrew’s. He came into Edinburgh for a pint (or 2 or 3 or…okay, fine…4 pints) of Guinness.

Cheers Scott!

Inverness, Scotland

Inverness does not have a good chipper. This was a serious blow to Brice’s Scotland in our ongoing “whose ancestors had the better country?” battle. BUT Inverness is on the River Ness and has cruise tours onto the infamous home of the Loch Ness Monster. So that’s pretty cool.

Loch Ness

Urquhart Castle

Our hostel, Inverness Student Hotel, was excellent because of the staff and the other travellers. Amanda (yet another Aussie) joined us on our Nessie hunting adventure, but we were all disappointed at the lack of options available. Renting bikes is almost as expensive as the cruise out of Inverness, so if you biked to the Loch you’d still have to find a cruise offered there for even more money. Finding your own row-boat, kayak, canoe, or whaling ship is also expensive or impossible. In the end, we settled on the cruise. But then saw the types of boats we wanted to rent!

Maybe renting a car and talking to locals would have worked, but we were short on time and took what we could get.

But just being on Loch Ness was amazing. We wanted to deliver a message to Nessie from Canada’s Ogopogo, Nessie’s long-distance boyfriend, but we couldn’t find her. James even tried drinking Nessie Ale on the boat to encourage her to appear.

But no. Sure we saw other mythological creatures of Scotland. But no Nessie.

Kelpie

The next day we had better luck. We walked along the River Ness, and there she was! Kind of…

Nessie liked Brice.

James...not so much...

Back at the hostel, we delighted Stef by asking her take a photo of us in the backyard with the interesting arrangement of rocks there. We had to climb down an embankment using a gardening hose as a rope to pose for this perfect picture with Pierre-Lou (he looks like Bret from Flight of the Conchords!), who joined us with the best choice of concealment.

Birthday Suit Up!

The hostel is going to put this photo up on the wall to encourage others to follow our example.

Stirling, Scotland

“Could you crush a man with throw?”

“I could crush you. Like a worm.”

“You could?”

“Aye.”

“Well then do it.”

“You’ll move.”

“I will not.”

“He’ll move.”

We often recite such lines to each other from one of the best movies of all time: Braveheart. The Scots love it for being solely responsible for the boost in Scottish tourism over the last 15 years, but they hate it for its historical inaccuracies. Apparently, Mel Gibson wasn’t actually alive back in the 13th century! And a bunch of other things we only half listened to.

Because of our love of this movie, we had to make a pilgrimage to Stirling to see the William Wallace Memorial. It’s quite the monument. We weren’t sure if we were headed in the right direction, but locals confirmed that it was “that big tower-thing on the hill”. We crossed the “wee bridge” in the directions given to us for our “wee walk” and walked a forest trail up to the monument. After paying an entrance fee…of course.

That big tower-thing on the hill.

Piper in the forest.

On the side of the monument is a huge statue of William known as the “Wee Wallace” to indicate the size of the real man (estimates run at 6’6”). The Scots never use the word “wee” to actually mean small. If it’s a “wee walk”, it’s a long walk that’s still easily doable. It’s used in a self-deprecating way very similar to the half-jested modesty of the Irish.

The Wee-Wallace

Outside the monument, an actor / historian wearing Wallace’s crest gives a rallying speech to encourage we loyal Scots to fight the English (or at least to cheer against their World Cup team…which lost yesterday. The Scots must be happy).

We'd follow him into battle.

Inside was Wallace's Sword. Our target.

We, through a series of complicated rouses and Mission Impossible-like stunts, stole the sword and tried to make a break across the battlefield of Stirling.

But a group of angry Scots chased us.

James ran all the way to Bannockburn—getting lost in the actual town before finding the battlefield—to hide behind the statue of Robert the Bruce.

James, the decoy, leading the Scots away from Brice and the Sword.

So, you’re probably all wondering: Did Brice escape with the sword? Did he kill Nessie with it? Is there now a replica hanging at the William Wallace monument while the real sword is sailing back to Canada on the ship of the Dread Pirate Roberts?

We’ll never tell.

Unless you buy us a pint.

We Left

This is a song James wrote when we were in Doolin. Turns out it was not true. We’ve since been in Scotland and are now in Amsterdam, coming home soon.

In Ireland We’ll Stay

                        G

We’ve been drinking, we’ve been dancing

            D

We’ve done every nature hike

                        G

We’ve been feckin’ locked in Cork

                   C                          D

And they think we’re locals like

                        G

We’ve seen Fungi out in Dingle

                        D

And we’ve kissed the Blarney Stone

            G

We know we’re only tourists

              C        D              G

But this island feels like home

 .

            G              D

We’re not going home (No!)

         C                                    D

We love our pints of beer

           G          D

It’s welcome! Cheers!

 .

            C                         D

And kiss my ass you’ll hear

            G                     D

We’re not going to leave

      C                  D

In Ireland we’ll stay

        G                         D

It’s failte (fawl-cha)! Slainte (slawn-cha)!

          C                                                      D           G

And pog ma thoin (pok ma hown) you’ll hear us say

 .

We hate When Irish Eyes are Smiling

And we’re sick of Danny Boy

We need music sung in Irish

To fill our hearts with joy

 .

We love our pints of Guinness

Smithwicks, Bulmer’s, Murphy’s so

When we suggest another pint

The answer you will know

 .

<chorus>

 .

We just looked in our passports

There’s an expiration date

Does anyone know the penalty

If we go home too late?

 .

Ah screw it (yeah!)

We’re never leaving here

And if customs comes a-calling

We’ll just blame it all on beer…’cause

 .

<chorus repeat as desired>

                 C          D      G

‘Cause in Ireland we’ll stay

The map of our trip!

James’ Bloomsday

My main requirement for this trip was to be in Dublin for June 16th: the day described in James Joyce’s Ulysses. Joyce chose the 16th for his novel because it was the day he had his first date with Nora Barnacle. They’d met on June 10th and she stood him up for a date on the 14th. She did meet him two days later and now June 16th is immortalised in Dublin by literary geeks like me.

My Bloomsday began at Sandycove with a plunge in the Forty Foot pool near the tower. Tom, an Australian from the hostel, heard of my plan the night before and joined me for the early morning expedition on the DART. We wanted to skinny dip, as people used to do and as Lonely Planet says men still do before 9 a.m., but when we reached the rocky bathing area we were greeted with “Togs Must Be Worn” signs and a young girl filming her parents swimming in the icy cold water. We kept our shorts on and, avoiding the jellyfish, earned a place in the ranks of the Forty Foot Gentlemen.

Forty Foot Gentleman

We didn’t stay in the water for long. Tom had to go back to Dublin to go to work and I wanted to go to the top of the Martello tower (which is also a Joyce museum) and explore the town.

Forty Foot Gentlemen as seen from the Martello Tower

Bloomsday Breakfast

Back in Dublin, I went to St. Stephen’s Green and spent the first half of the afternoon reading Dubliners in the sunshine.

St. Stephen's Green

At 3 o’clock I went on a Bloomsday walking tour led by Clarissa from the James Joyce Centre. She pointed out landmarks associated with Joyce’s works and finished the tour on O’Connell Street. I met up with Brice and we went to get tattoos. We’d selected a studio and artist a few days earlier, but I didn’t want to get the tattoo until Bloomsday. I have no particular association with any days in the middle of June, so I decided to make the day most important to Joyce a day forever important to me as well.

This was my first time getting a tattoo and it does hurt, but not nearly as much as I expected—the teeth cleaning I received last January was far more severe. It also helped that I got the tattoo on my right ankle, just above that bone that hurts like hell when hit with a hockey puck. I felt the needle enter the skin and then it felt like I was being cut with a small knife. Over and over and over. I heard that getting a tattoo can also feel like being burned, but I only felt heat once during the process. I’ve been dressing the tattoo frequently as I travel and have had to wrap it up to avoid all the germs present in hostels.

I’m glad I got it. I’m glad I got it with Brice. I’m glad I got it on Bloomsday!

Slainte us!

Things to Know about Dublin (Daytrips and Drinking)

We saved Dublin for the end of the Ireland portion of our trip so James could be there for Bloomsday and so that we could fly directly from there to Edinburgh and avoid going near horridly dull Glasgow. We stayed at Isaacs Hostel (located close to the bus station and Connoly DART station with cheap beds and a fun lounge area overrun with World Cup fans from around the world) and used Dublin as a base for daytrips into the surrounding area.

Daytrips

The DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit) is a fantastic way to cheaply visit the coastal villages 30 minutes out of Ireland’s biggest tourist magnet. James met Heather (from Summerland B.C.!) and went on a coastal walk with her around Howth.

Howth Harbour

To find the Connoly DART Station on the north side of the Liffey, by the way, one must carefully follow the vaulted railway lines and circle the station completely before the entrance will appear. It has some sort of magic spell over it which confused other travellers we met as well. The less than 2.50 euros spent each way are so worth it, especially because of these seals begging for fish in the harbour.

Seals calling for fish

Another good choice is Bray. It’s in county Wicklow, so James went there just to earn the Wicklow sticker for Erin (the guitar). Follow the beach and breathtaking cliffside walk over smuggling (now train) tunnels towards Greystones.

Bray Head coastal walk

Malahide also has a scenic beach and its castle is set in a forested park. Inside, there are lots of portraits and history about the family…not worth the admission.

Malahide Castle

Pubs, Late Night Bars, and Clubs

We didn’t actually hit as many pubs as you’d probably think we would have. Dublin is expensive, and the price of pints in the Temple Bar area goes up as the night progresses. We did a lot of Guinness drinking around the rest of the country, and although we did go out in Dublin we didn’t try to research the definite guide to drinking there. In fact, I’m not sure how one would do that. There are far too many pubs and only so much alcohol our livers can handle.

Porterhouse. We didn’t actually return to James’ favourite pub from his last trip. Try the oyster stout.

Fitzsimmons, Temple Bar. Multi-levelled with something for everyone. A good raised area in the dance section downstairs for dance exhibitionists like James.

The Auld Dubliner, Temple Bar. Excellent DJ rolling out sing-along after sing-along. 60s-present. Closed out with traditional songs.

The Hop House, Parnell Street. Korean bar where James watched South Korea’s World Cup games. They had free makali and haemul pajeon!

Korea loses to Argentina

Woolshed, Parnell. Crowded (the biggest audience we’ve ever had for) karaoke on Thursdays. Our tattoo artist Rob was there!

Brice singing Green Day's "Boulevard of Broken Dreams"

Dragon. We didn’t go, but a Brazilian woman at the Auld Dubliner assured James, whom she thought was gay, that this is the place to be for gays on Sunday. And the George too.

Krystal. Again, we didn’t go, but it’s the club of choice on Saturday nights.

Belfast

James went to Belfast with our friend Jonathan five years ago and they were welcomed by police tape on the street of their hostel. A girl had died in a nearby hostel and that is where we coincidentally stayed (Brice booked it) this trip. Arnie’s Hostel was an excellent place to stay (the altercation leading to the girl’s death had nothing to do with the hostel, and don’t bring it up with Arnie. He hired the girl who died, and we doubt he’d want to discuss it. We learned what little there is to know about her death from a helper at the hostel). Arnie owns two spoiled Jack Russell Terriers (Rosie and Snowy), who are getting on in age and will hound you incessantly for food.

Because James had already done the tourist bit in Belfast, Brice hit the museums. The highlight was a stuffed Irish Wolfhound. It’s massive!

Irish Wolfhound at the Ulster Museum

The Ulster Museum has a restaurant for when you get hungry. And you will. The place is huge. There are many collections from early Irish history including Stone, Bronze, and Iron Ages. “Treasures of the Armada” displays items recovered from the wreck of the Girona (1588) and other Spanish ships. There’s even an Egyptian collection to gaze upon, including a mummy. The top floors display Irish and British art.

The Botanical Gardens sucked when James and Jonathan saw them because it was raining incessantly. This time, the rain yielded for a day of sun, and James discovered that the Gardens include a park and are not just an indoor greenhouse.

Out enjoying a day of sunshine at the Botanical Gardens

Different bars claim different weekday nights to attract the local talent (The Parlour on Mondays for example), but the best bet on any day is Laverys (with Spice Land curry cheese chips across the street). It’s between Arnie’s Hostel and the City Centre and has three subdivided floors.

James met the band playing traditional music one night and had the chance to swap poetry with Clare the next day. She told him more about the Troubles and how it was unthinkable during her youth that traditional Irish music would ever be played at Laverys. It’s baffling, coming from a small town in Canada, to realise what people our age went through in other parts of the world.

On the third floor of Laverys (with an open mic down on the first), we also decided to try some Irish style pool. To our surprise, the balls, tables, pockets, and cues were smaller than in Canada.

Brice, trying to get used to smaller balls.

At first it threw both of our games right off, but gradually we were able to compensate and play with the skill we were beginning to worry we had left at home. Only the eight ball is numbered, and the rest are divided evenly into yellow and red colours. It was refreshing to play a game we knew and yet still had to learn in a new way.

James working with a smaller cue.

The Crown (near the main bus station) is the most famous pub in Belfast.

The Crown Saloon

The story goes that the wife of the man who started the bar was Protestant and she demanded that a crown be placed somewhere on the premises. He, a Catholic, agreed, but put a crown in the entryway where patrons could wipe their feet on it. As James and Jonathan did five years ago, Commonwealth Canadians, James and Brice, walked around it.

Slainte Jonathan!

The Black Taxi tour of the murals is good, but if you ever go to Belfast, just meet some locals and hear about the Troubles from them.

Kells (not related to the Book of Kells), Co. Antrim

My (James’) family was originally from Kells: a tiny village outside of Ballymena in Northern Ireland. The last time I was in Ireland, five years ago, I stopped briefly in Ballymena, but did not go to Kells because of time constraints. Buses are infrequent and I had no contacts in town anyway. So I skipped it. At first, it was wasn’t in my itinerary for this trip either, but as Brice and I headed north and north and north, I decided I should at least see the place, even if it killed a day.

The plan was for Brice to head to Belfast with our guitar and the rest of our stuff while I would bus / hitch into Kells with only a small day-pack, intending to walk into the local pub declaring: “Do you know any Stevensons?” This worked in Shaunavon, Saskatchewan (where my family originally settled in Canada) for my dad and I years ago.

Thanks to meeting Hugh (the name of my great-grandfather and my grandfather’s middle name) in Malin Head, this plan became even easier. Kells is a short detour off the road from Derry to Belfast, so we rolled into the “Ancient Monastic Settlement” and asked where the local pub could be found.

“What pub?” was the response.

What? There is no pub in Kells. There is an Irish town with NO pub. And my family is from it. Brice is still laughing at me over the irony of this.

My shirt reads: "I don't belong here." Never has it been more true.

Connor, an adjoining village, has a rugby club that wasn’t open in the late afternoon, so I went into a pharmacy and asked about Stevensons in the area and was told that the only Stevensons to be found in Kells would be in the cemetery. “Stevenson is a Ballymena name,” they told me.

This made me feel better. Not only did my ancestors escape from their pub-less village to Canada, but the ones still in Ireland made sure to relocate to a more livable town.

I’m glad I had Hugh to get me out of Kells and into Belfast. And the pubs there.

Slainte! (and a brief tour of Londonderry-Derry)

Slainte Hugh!

Thanks Hugh for all your help!

On the way to Belfast, we stopped in Londonderry (to Protestants) or Derry (to Catholics) and Hugh showed us the murals and (even though he’s Catholic) took us to the Protestant district. We went into a guard tower converted into a museum by Mr. Jackson who lives nearby. Jackson has war memorabilia from WWI to Afghanistan including uniforms, pins, badges (some Canadian), a copy of the Nuremberg Trial documents, and model ships. The most impressive item, because of its personal nature to Jackson, was a graffitied soccer ball at the top of the tower.

Soccer ball of hatred.

It’s not part of the collection, but a confiscated item Jackson took from local children. The ball has anti-Protestant slurs written on it by Catholic children who then kick it into the Protestant area hoping to incite retaliation. Jackson, whose house has been hit by bricks launched over the fences of the area even with the last few nights, blames the kids on both sides and wonders why with such throwing abilities they’re not playing cricket. Jackson and Brolly shaking hands with a shared desire for peace has been one of the highlights of the trip.

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