I woke up this morning certain that someone had broken into our house last night and used the phone in our hallway. I’m not sure why I thought this, other than I remember waking up last night at some ridiculous hour because I swore I heard someone pushing the buttons on the phone, which make loud distinct sounds when you press them. Then I heard someone in reception say, “Hello?” and then the phone hit the cradle again. Did one of us sleepwalk? Did someone wander into our apartment and try to place a phone call before wandering back out? Or, more likely, is apartment 29 really actually haunted?
The world may never know.
(Update: I’m not crazy. There’s an intercom system outside our windows that people can call from, which sounds exactly like our hallway phone and echo loudly through our open windows at all hours. I’m a little disappointed that I don’t get to be a super ninja spy now, since finding the intercom was so easy. Hopefully something else weird will happen soon so I can get my Nancy Drew stripes.)
We also got attacked by laser beams last night, but you can read up on that experience in the “Weird Dublin” post because it was just plain bizarre.
Unfortunately, the weirdness of our lives in Dublin so far did not get any less weird today. If anything, we had some of our strangest encounters of all while touring the Boyne Valley with Hilltop Treks. We didn’t have good ole’ Johnny boy, who led our tour in Wicklow last Saturday, but we did have John. There’s not much to say about John except he had a large bald spot and when he spoke about history – which was all he spoke about, bless him – a little string of spit would collect in the corner of his mouth,
We had to walk a good thirty minutes in the cold to get the meet-up location on Connolly Street, which is a main drag in town and somehow, I hadn’t been there until today. Along the way we found the famed Eason’s, the biggest bookstore in town and salivated all over ourselves (well, Jess, Abbie, and I did; Courtney, not so much). Forget all the statues of famous revolutionaries in Irish history that also mark the street.
Unlike last week’s tour, the van/bus was only half full. Courtney and I, seeing an opportunity to snag the two seats up front – the best seats in the house by far – pounced. We got looks from all the rest of the people on the tour, and the war for those seats would prove to be a violent one later on.
The drive itself was no where near as satisfying as in Wicklow because we went North out of town on the highway. Courtney and I almost to God nearly fell asleep and we hadn’t even seen any sites yet! Frankly, the tour was a bit disappointing in comparison to Wicklow’s, mainly because we saw a lot of sites but not thoroughly and we spent most of the time in the car. Plus, it was SO COLD. Like, we live in almost-Canada most of the year still we couldn’t feel our toes or fingers for the entire day. Ireland isn’t normally this cold, and I think it’s the wind that makes 30 degrees feel more like 5.
Another disappointment is that Courtney didn’t meet another Simon (the Australian lover she met last tour, whom she’s now trying to fly to Sweden to canoodle with) on this adventure, nor did any of us meet any other strapping young lads. We met some lads who needed a good strapping (or at least any discipline of some kind – parents are you listening?), but we’ll get to those.
First stop was Four Knocks, which until about three seconds ago, I thought was “Fort Knox” which made no sense to me because that’s in Tennessee somewhere, right? All well. Four Knocks was a neat little passage tomb that we got to go inside. It looks like a hobbit hole from The Hobbit, as it should since this was one of the passage tombs in the Boyne Valley that inspiried J.R. Tolkien in the first place.
These very old tombs – this one 5,000 years old – acted as celestial calendars because of the way they lined up with the sun and often as a place of burial for certain people in their collective. These tombs were sacred places, and this one can be found on a very non-scripted Irish country road without even so much as a parking lot (only a parking ditch which our bus/van swallowed whole).
Now, while we were at this tomb, there was a woman in our group that I couldn’t seem to stop looking at. She gave me a bad feeling. She looked really cold – and we were all cold because of the wind whipping off the sea nearby – but she had strands of snot dripping down her face like a child. She was definitely not a child. She wheezed when she breathed. I tried to keep my distance from her. When we got back to the van, we found her asking our guide John if she could sit up front because she wanted to be near the heater. She sounded an inch from death, so of course we couldn’t say no when John asked Courtney and I to move to the back. And that’s the story of how this sickly woman who didn’t come prepared for the cold (weather forecast, anyone?) got to take our excellent-view seats and we got shoved in the back with less leg room and significantly more annoyance. I was angry at her, but for the rest of the day she didn’t get out of the van to go see any of the sights, for which she paid 32 euro to go do, and I just felt plain sorry for her. I hope she never comes to the Northern US during the winter because she will not make it out of the airplane alive.
It was another 30 minutes to our next stop: the Hill of Tara. I don’t remember much from driving around through endless countryside except that all the house were exceptionally cute and different than any other I’ve yet seen in Ireland. Many have nice stone fronts or accents, but somehow still look old and quaint. John just kept on talking and really, he could have been speaking French for all I heard. I kept looking up at the rear-view mirror, where I could see John’s forehead. And when the light would hit the mirror just right, his lips would magically move up onto his forehead and I could see his lips speaking words and that little string of spit forming in the corner of his mouth. There I was just zoning out as I watched this dude’s mouth on his forehead trying to talk to me about Irish history.
I thought to myself, “This is it. You’ve officially effin’ lost it.”
The Hill of Tara is normally an lovely sight to spend an afternoon at. Just not when it’s so cold we feel our bone joints knocking together with a wind that just seems to penetrate our pores. We got out and made our way slowly up the way to the hill itself, stopping every few feet so John could say some words that our ears were too frozen to hear. As you can see, this whole tour thing so we could “immerse in the culture” and “learn about Irish history” was going so very well.
When we got up to the hill, the wind was insane but the views were lovely. This was the place where the high kings ruled for many years in Ireland, long before the British got involved here. It’s a sacred place full of more passage tombs, groups of concentric circles, and the Stone of Destiny, which was used in the crowning of each new king. We were so cold that we snapped some photos and tried to fall down the hills into the mud before running back to the warmth of the bus. Luckily, I know I will be coming back in April with my Early Irish History class, so I will have a proper visit later.
This is where things got weird. We drove to our next site, Trim Castle nestled nicely in the town of – you guessed it – Trim. This old Norman castle is remarkably well-preserved. The only difficulty was getting there unscathed. From the parking lot to the castle was about a block’s distance, and we found an enemy waiting for us the moment we opened the van/bus door: the trackies. Well, not the trackies we’re used to back in Dublin, but a younger, stickier version: the baby trackies. They weren’t wearing tracksuits, so at first I thought they were just some kids passing through.
Then they came over to us and started to ask us where we were going and what we were doing there. We tried to be vague in our answers. Then they started running around throwing coke on each other and I was sure we were about to get covered in the warm, sugary liquid. Thankfully we didn’t. As John kept trying to lock up the car, one of the boys – literally ten years old or so – would run up and open one of the doors so he couldn’t lock it. Then he’d have to move around the car to shut the door, at which time they would open another one. This went on for a while until John basically told them to piss off and used our bodies as shields so he could lock the door finally.
Of course, they followed us. Why wouldn’t they follow us? Luckily the castle was behind gates and you had to pay to get in, and clearly (by the looks of their chubby little faces), they’d spent their spare change on cookies and coke. Except, we had to get our wallets out, which was a sticky proposition with so many little brats running around us in circles (like animals stalking their prey). They weren’t brave enough to grab at someone’s wallet, but one of them did grab my backpack to move me out of the way so he could get in front of us. Trackie cooties, gross. We even managed to get photographic evidence of one of little eejits (see above for eejitness).
Trim Castle is famous for its use in the movie Braveheart. It was here that Mel Gibson did whatever Mel Gibson had to do in the movie to reach a satisfying conclusion that brought a nice and neat resolution with no loose ends (can you tell I haven’t seen it?). I do know for a fact that a bunch of men from the Irish army were used as extras and at one point in the movie, lift their kilts to show their arses. Mel Gibson reportedly had to make a deal with them all that he would lift his if they lifted his, to which they agreed. So Mel lifted his kilt and the Irish army laughed (about what, we can never be sure), and lifted their own. Our tour guide last week, Johnny, has a brother whose arse features prominently in the movie.
The castle grounds were amazing, but we didn’t get to go inside the castle itself even though tours do go through there. We only had about 30 minutes to see the whole thing, and of course the sun came out only as we were running – late – to the bus/van. No baby trackie sightings to report, thank goodness.
We drove off to the town of Slain to eat lunch in a very nice hotel with a very strange, unmemorable name. I, of course, brought a thermos of rice and butter for my lunch. Everyone else ordered some delicious looking sandwiches with french fries. I sat next to a woman from Spain visiting Ireland with her boyfriend/husband/friend? and her/their? daughter, Martina. Her English was good, but not fully developed, and we chatted about our travels and what Spain is like, since Abbie is planning to go to Barcelona – where the couple/family? live. She was really sweet and Martina, at two and five months, kept singing in Spanish and putting her napkin on her head. It was cute. She didn’t cry at all the whole eight-hour day, which was mighty impressive. I did see the boyfriend/husband/friend’s? buttcrack one too many times for comfort, though. (And the bathroom stall door, an actual door that doesn’t leave space above or below, at the hotel tried to lock me in and keep me forever. I thought I would die in there. Luckily, where I will die is as yet unknown.)
As we left – very important detail here folks – Courtney wanted more french fries to take home. So when the girl sitting beside Jess got up to go pay – done with her meal, mind you – I grabbed her little basket of fries and dumped them in Courtney’s zip-loc, then put the empty container back on her plate. Sometimes, you just gotta go for it. Luckily, I’m not even sure she noticed when she walked past the table again to head for the door. Now, Courtney better eat those damn french fries. Still waiting.
Even though we were in Slain and a neat place called the Hill of Slain exists, we didn’t see it. We also drove past a really stunning castle – too quickly and without warning to take photos of – but didn’t get to visit. I can’t even remember the name of it, which makes me sad. It was another long drive to Newgrange, one of the oldest and largest passage tombs in Ireland. Built in 3,200 BC, it’s older than even the Pyramids of Giza. There’s an opening at the front of the tomb, which is perfectly aligned so that on the Winter Solstice, the sunlight will shine directly through and light up the tomb. This is evidence that the tomb was used partially as a calendar. Only five people were buried in this giant tomb, whereas other passage tombs nearby (there are about 35 in the area) had 30 or more people. We don’t know what these differences reflect.
One of the passage tombs, named something that I can’t remember, has been left totally alone by archaeologists because they figure that, 100 years from now, their science methods will be more advanced and they will be able to learn more, especially since some of the stuff kept inside may be sensitive to oxygen/light and will quickly decompose or change. From the road, it looked just like any other hill in Ireland. PS, Mom, there were lots of trees in this part of Ireland. They obstructed the view from the road, which I found to be very rude of them.
Our last stop was Monasterboice, an old monastery very similar to the one we to last week in Wicklow, Glendalough, except much smaller. The tower here, which a monk used to have climb five times a day to ring a bell of prayer, was struck by lightening some years ago, and so is missing its roof. Other than that, the tower is in excellent shape. Residing in the cemetery spread out at the feet of the tower are some beautifully-preserved Celtic crosses, which were used to teach the illiterate masses about Christianity. We were the only ones in the cemetery, which was nice and the sky was appropriately grey for such a serene place. I didn’t feel like I was surrounded by dead people even though I most certainly was.
Hands and feet still numb from the morning adventure on the Hill of Tara, we piled back in the van/bus and settled in the for the hour drive back to Dublin. I tried to stay awake, remembering how I’d chastised Courtney in my head earlier for falling asleep when we were supposed to be seeing things, but couldn’t. Then I threw up in my mouth a little – for no apparent reason – and went back to sleep. I tell you this because, hate to break it to you, I write this blog as a way to keep a record of what happened. I want to tell you about how much cooler my life is right now than yours, yes, but my real goal here is to write for myself. So I include even the gross detail like vomiting in my mouth. And the fact that it tasted like sour butter.
John dropped us off not on Connolly Street, where he dropped everyone else off (the woman from Spain made a point to tell me goodbye <3), but on Dame Street right near our house so we didn’t have to walk in the bitter cold. Of course, with out luck, he dropped us off right as two trackies were walking by us. I saw his track pants just as he was looking at the side of the van and then at me. I could see the words “feckin’ tourists” flash over his eyes and then he started laughing like we were, you know, tourists. As they do here. Whatever. They kept walking and so did we. But first, Courtney had a message for John. We’d been hoping our tour guide from last week, Johnny, would be our guide so that we could give him updates on the Courtney/Simon love story.
So Courtney pulled John aside and said, in dramatic movie-scene fashion, “If you see Johnny, tell him that Courtney found Simon.” And with that, the curtain closes on another adventure. Maybe not worth the 32 euro we paid, but you know. I had that feeling which I get pretty often around here that I’m in the right place with the right people – some amazing people. I see them walking beside me and I just get the warm fuzzies. I love my friends. They make every adventure worthwhile.