w r i n k l e d
ADVENTURES IN TRAVEL, WRITING AND AGING GRACEFULLY
Ireland, Part 1 – Dublin
Chris and I were last here 13 years ago. We had a memorable time touring the sights, staying up late drinking Guinness and growing teary eyed as we listened to penny flutes and Irish warpipes. Within days, Chris, had developed a horrible Lucky Charms brogue and somehow convinced me to sign a lease. We had hoped the kids would also appreciate and identify with the richness of their cultural heritage, but shocker, kids, or at least my kids, have no affinity for ornately decorated Gospel pages in Latin. Yes, we made it to Trinity College, but to bird, use the bathroom and buy a T-shirt in the gift shop. We missed the Book of Kells and the tour of the Trinity Library. The Irish Museum of Modern Art was closed the day we visited so instead we raced the garden grounds. We did a walk around, but not into, Dublin Castle. I loved Kilmainham Gaol even more the second time around, but the kids struggled with our guide’s thick accent and managed to learn nothing. There was nary a museum, castle, church or author home visit on our itinerary. Rather, our Dublin stay comprised mostly of walking between St. Stephen’s Green and Merrion Square, indulging the kids in birding and swing sets while Chris staggered behind, sacking out in 30 yard intervals on every available bench. In the evenings, we circled the drizzling streets of Temple Bar along with all the other tourists in search of good food and music.
Thusly, we had grand plans for our last day in Dublin, but we ended up sleeping in, wasting the morning with bottomless cups of instant coffee and magazine flipping. Overall, it has not been the roaring start to the journey we had imagined, but a necessarily slow one as we overcome jet-lag and navigate the balance between traveling, sightseeing, writing and teaching. Speaking of homeschooling, Chris and I are competing for the title of “Most Impatient Teacher.” According to the kids, Chris is currently in the lead, but only by a slight margin. We often interrupt our bickering over workbooks to wonder how our friends back home are managing the first few days of school with their new haircuts, freshly sharpened pencils and unsullied backpacks. It’s made me a little wistful for the first day excitement of old friends, new teachers and the structure of school lunches, homework and soccer practices.
But no time for nostalgia. Before I knew it we were once again packed up and loaded in the Peugeot headed to Belfast.
Looking for food in the Temple Bar
WHERE WE STAYED:
George Frederic Handel Hotel
Great location in the Temple Bar/ Medieval Area. Comfy enough beds. Cozy bedding. Adequate kitchen. Acceptable size. Friendly staff. But no dressers or racks to store our luggage, an incredibly awkward layout, beds on wheels that kept seesawing as if we are sleeping on a rocking boat. And don’t get me started on the super sketchy common areas. But whatever; as I keep telling my weepy kids: Home is not a building, but just us, together.
WHAT WE DID:
St. Stephen's Green
22-acre Victorian park in the city center. It has everything from flower gardens, nationalistic sculptures, a fun little playground and a man-made lake that collects tons of waterfowl. Isoo spotted 7 new life birds here!
This is Oona on 30 minutes of sleep cartwheeling through St. Stephen's Green.
They have nice T-shirts in the gift shop. Oh, and the Book of Kells are here. And the Trinity Library is where they shot the library scenes from the Harry Potter films. (Full disclosure: Chris and I saw them many years ago. While the illustrations are beautiful, I don't really blame the kids for digging their heels and refusing entrance. The library on the other hand is absolutely gorgeous, and one I'd love to revisit in the future.)
A side view of Trinity College's student library.
Dublin's most famous pedestrian shopping district. As I really hate to shop, I walked through this street pretty quickly. The kids on the other hand loved gawking at all the street musicians (this is the street where Glen Hansard sings in the opening of ONCE) and the really, really terrible break dancers.
Musician on Grafton Street
The Liffey (or Life) river runs through Dublin and is crossed by several bridges. A pedestrian boardwalk, called the Bachelor's Walk, runs the north end of the river. I once heard a story that a long time ago, the area featured many men's boarding houses and that the walkway was named for the sad, lonely men who would walk back to their dinghy little rooms after a night of carousing. I tried to research this, but couldn't find a story to substantiate my memory, which means that I could be making the whole thing up. And I ended the last sentence in a preposition so you know I'm really suspect.
The River Liffey as photographed from the Bachelor's Walk
Oscar Wilde used to live off this cute little Georgian park. While it's got some interesting sculptures and a schedule filled with cultural events, it was the cool playground that made it worth the visit.
"Gym class" in Merrion Square
The largest unoccupied jail in Europe and by far, my favorite "museum" in Dublin. It's a great way to learn about Ireland's history and the men (and women) who fought for its secession from England.
Right down the road from Kilmainham Gaol. Unfortunately it was closed the day we got there, but if memory serves, it houses a fantastic modern art collection and according to other experts, has a great garden for racing, as well as, birding.
Garden grounds of the IMMA
OK, if you ignore everything else in this lame report, the takeaway should be: Go Here. It's a little science shop conceived as an experimental pop up store next to Trinity College. It's manned by students of, you guessed it, the school's science gallery. Two years later, the shop is still there (though admittedly struggling to stay solvent). The store carries cool science related toys and gifts, and if you are lucky enough, you can walk in and ask them to teach a workshop for kids. Isoo got to build light and Oona made a drawing robot. And Chris and I got to feel satisfied that the kids actually learned something that day.
"I really love science if it means I get to burn stuff."
Making a drawing robot
WHERE WE ATE:
Queen of Tarts
We snagged an outdoor seat at the larger Cows Lane location and had, what was for Ireland – a pretty healthy and tasty breakfast.
Huge touristy landmark known for decent grub, the house Porterhouse brew, and lively traditional music. Hard to believe, but very few places feature Irish music these days as the locals prefer Rock n’ Roll and American pop. We throughly enjoyed the traditional Irish music until we discovered it was, Sloiter, the same group we heard last time we were in Ireland. Talk about career house band!
Falafels because one cannot live on Fish and Chips alone.
The Old Storehouse
Chris scoffed at the cover band, joyfully bellowing "Brown Eyed Girl", but Oona and I, shrugged and had a blast singing along anyway.
Cafe located in the very charming cobblestoned South Inner City area. Their fancy sandwiches are perfect for a picnic in St. Stephen’s Green.
Last year I discovered that I have a mild dairy allergy, which means that the day after I have any dairy, I wake up to a red, inflamed, itchy mustache. It is super unattractive and uncomfortable, and every bite of their locally sourced cheese is worth it. Not to mention the clerks look adorable in their aprons and neckerchiefs.
Checking out the goods at Sheridans
The Exchequer Bar
About the drinks in Ireland: Unless you want a pint or some airplane wine, the drink list is still pretty dismal. I ordered my usual gin martini at this trendy bar and was told I had to “wait till for the bartender who knows how to make martinis shows up.”
Jewel of the Crown
Early bird dinner special, which had us (over)stuffed with delicious Indian food at bargain prices.
Since we announced our travel plans, we’ve received lots of questions. Here’s my attempt to answer some of the more common ones.
1. Where are you going?
We start in Ireland, and then head down to Portugal, Southern Spain, Morocco, Rome and Turkey. After that we have a general idea for SE Asia beginning with Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Bali, Hong Kong, Korea and Japan. After that the itinerary gets looser. It’ll be something like Columbia, Panama, Costa Rica and Mexico. Originally we were chasing weather, trying to avoid monsoon season in Asia, but we are open to suggestions and leaving things intentionally unplanned to allow for some spontaneity.
2. How did you pick the locales?
It started with a world map and a stack of post-it notes. Chris and I marked every place we thought we’d want to spend a month, both favorite (Ireland, Andalusia region, Vietnam, Thailand, Marrakesh) and new locations (Rome, Turkey, Bali, Cambodia). The initial idea was to travel slow and to mix it up between rural, small, and large cities. We invited the kids to make suggestions, which is how we ended up with Costa Rica and the birding mecca, Pipeline Trail, in Panama. Oona was not interested in participating and there is a 50% chance that she will run away to live with her best friend before we embark on this adventure.
After considering safety (India, Egypt), route logic/weather (Croatia, Great Wall/China), age appropriateness (Galapagos, Macchu Picchu) and most importantly, price (Paris, Normandy, Australia, New Zealand), we removed post-its until we arrived at the above itinerary. We’ll get to the other locations at a different date.
3. How long did it take you to plan this trip?
We’ve been talking about taking a gap year forever, but settled on this year, mostly because it coincided with Isoo switching to Middle School. It also seemed like a good time to sell the house. And the kids are at the right age – before Isoo starts high school and Oona is finally capable of keeping up with us. We hope both will remember this trip.
We actively began planning the trip in April, when we listed the house. Honestly, four months is not enough time to sell a house, get rid of 8 years of crap, plan a trip of this range and say our good-byes without feeling borderline crazy.
4. What are you doing with your stuff?
The house and car are sold, as is most of our stuff (see post regarding The Great American Purge). Part of this trip, is for us, about living with less and enjoying the freedom that comes with it. Being unfettered by our stuff is a huge step in rethinking our values and priorities, and will hopefully, leave us open to new opportunities.
5. Will you work?
Nope. We’re deliberately using this time to spend time with the kids, read, write, learn about other cultures and make new friends. Both Chris and I are at the point where we’re ready for a new professional challenge (or in my case, any professional challenge) and this year will be our chance to think about what comes next career-wise.
6. What about the kids?
They will be homeschooled. As long as they keep printing the answers in the back of the book, I think we can handle the math. Otherwise they will be expected to read and both will keep a blog. We will have some “research projects” along the way, but most of their learning will be experiencing the world around them.
7. How are you a paying for this?
This is the most common question. We live pretty cheaply - one car, modest home, I cook almost every meal, we seldom have a sitter, the kids get to take whatever classes they want, but otherwise we don’t buy them presents, and the kids and I are mostly outfitted in fashions by Target (Chris is only slightly more fancy). The last couple of years we’ve taken to driving to most of our vacations. We managed to sock away Chris’ bonuses, tax returns, and cashed out some stock and a small inheritance to help fund the trip. We have roughly $40k allocated for start up costs such as flights, health insurance, immunizations (which cost a whopping $3,600 with another $1,000 for malaria pills!), technology, monthly storage costs, etc. For the trip itself we’ve budgeted $250/day which includes the cost of local transport, housing, food, entertainment and incidentals. Extremely challenging to manage for a family of 4 in Europe and large Asian cities, but easier in SE Asia and South and Central American (minus Costa Rica). I have no idea how realistic this budget will be (especially since we have picky children who can easily waste $100 worth of food/day); only time will tell. But if you get a mass email saying we are stuck abroad, broke and please send money, you can safely assume that it’s not a scam.
8. How are you packing for this?
Excellent question. Three years ago we took the kids backpacking in Europe and mistakenly brought too much luggage. We’ve learned our lesson and this time, plan to bring one carry-on suitcase and backpack/person, plus one bigger checked suitcase of games, school books, meds, etc. As we’re going to hit all four seasons (thanks to our last minute addition of Cappadocia, Turkey), we’re going to go big on layering and then purge and buy as needed, which will be a necessity for the kids since they grow so fast anyway. And yes, I finally broke down and bought a North Face puffy jacket and some hiking boots. See, travel is changing me already!
9. Are you coming back?
I hope so.
10. What will you miss most?
My pillow, babysitters, privacy, girls’ nights, sushi, having to not mentally convert everything to dollars/ Fahrenheit/ English/ American measurements. Most of all I will miss my friends and family. Please visit!
I really thought I was only going to store some art, our bikes and like 4 boxes of photos. Ha.
I had forgotten about the rest: the diaries, the wedding dress, Christmas ornaments, piles of report cards and class pictures, expensive luggage, ski jackets, the Dyson, camping gear, a tool box, the good wine glasses. A mix of sentimental and so unsexily practical that it would be a nuisance to replace. For Chris, it was newspaper clippings, drafts of novels, autographed books, comfortable clothes that he insist will come back into fashion. The kids each got a plastic bin which Oona filled with assorted garbage, literally trash in the form of gum wrappers, broken shells, bottle caps, half used jars of glitter nail polish and topped with a stuffed penguin the size of a toddler. Isoo, was only slightly more selective, piling his box with bird guides, stuffed birds, a Harry Potter wand, and a plastic pirate chest loaded with marbles, jibbitz, Matchbox cars, a whoopee cushion. When he returns he will be 12 years old, nearly a teenager and (at the rate he’s progressing) having a fully developed sense of sarcasm and irony. I wonder what he will think of the treasures left behind for him by his 11 year-old self.
The Tuperware that holds an entire sliced-up watermelon. The Frye boot collection (which since its not like my feet are going to grow anymore, will last me forever, right?). Oh what to do, what to do?
I attack the linen closet with vigor. Goodbye one million tiny bottles of body wash. So long mix-matched sheets, faded pillowcases and frayed towels. The set of margarita glasses we used once for a Cinco de Mayo party 6 years ago. The deviled egg tray, the giant martini glass I used to serve shrimp cocktail at Christmas, turkey platters embossed with ceramic grapes. Dear god, I should never be allowed to walk into a Cost Plus World Market again. And the basement. There are no words. 17 boxes of documents for the shredder. Shelves of unopened toys with the yellowed receipts still taped to their bellies. When our trash bin overflows, Chris waits for nightfall and surreptitiously fills the neighbors' cans.
But the most fun was lying on the floor of my closet, tossing out dresses and shoes for Elaine and Lisa to try, Isabel sipping red wine on the bed, dispensing advice and commentary while our kids ran wild downstairs. “Those would look great with wedges. Try it with a different belt. Roll up the pant leg a little.” There goes the dress I bought 7 years ago to wear to my next job interview (still waiting). Aloha to the dress I bought for our trip to Hawaii. Elaine takes the flowing red skirt with the tags still attached. Piles of too tight jeans, summer frocks with bras I’d clumsily stitched in by hand, sky high heels that never made it out on the town. Alas, my friends look so much better in my clothes than I.
Isoo's bed. Oona's desk. The DVD collection. The table from the Michigan House. The coffeemaker, of course.
It may not have been the purge I'd imagined, but we’re getting close. Tonight some friends will come for the sectional. They’re knocking off work early to beat the rain. We will have to show them where the pieces connect and help them to maneuver through the doorway, tilting and angling so the armrests don’t catch. When they leave the house will look ever more transformed; bare walls, stacks of boxes, rolled up rugs, and we will sit, cross-legged on the floor next to the Dutch oven too bulky for a box.