I enjoy a good sign. Here are a few that caught my eye.
I have no Irish blood in me. Well, maybe a few drops – about the proportion of insect legs the FDA allows in chocolate.
But for some reason I’ve long felt drawn to the place. Maybe it started with that old Disney movie, Darby O’Gill and the Little People, with the pretty Irish girl. A few years later, Fiona Ritchie’s voice enchanted me on Thistle and Shamrock on Public Radio and I began collecting music by De Dannan, The Chieftains, Planxty, The Dubliners, James Galway, Mary Black, and Maura O’Connell. In a Jackson Hole bookstore I found a cassette tape of Irish Reels, Jigs, Hornpipes & Airs played on the acoustic guitar by Dave Evans, Duck Baker, and others. In high school I discovered Van Morrison and The Pogues, and tried unsuccessfully to convince my band director that we should learn Fiesta for pep band.
Ireland by Frank Delaney burned itself into my mind as I listened to the audiobook on my walk to and from work. How The Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill was another fascinating read (listen).
Last week I finally had the chance to visit the country that has intrigued me for years. I had about a day and a half of free time surrounding a business trip to Dublin. I picked up Rick Steves’ Ireland travel book, downloaded a few apps and podcasts, and came up with my tourist agenda on the plane.
At checkin, the Delta agent asked if I knew why baked beans in Ireland have only 239 beans. “Because one more would be 240”. (Try pronouncing it with an Irish accent.) I normally lack appreciation for scatalogical humor, but that one got a laugh.
My hotel room was 533, which I loved to hear pronounced as “Five-Turty-Tree”.
The highlight of the trip was Newgrange, a large tomb built over 5,000 years ago (about 3,200 B.C.) by neolithic people. It’s older than Stonehenge and The Pyramids. There are a series of mounds in the Brú na Bóinne area, many of them designed around the sun. The morning of Winter Solstice, a beam of sunlight illuminates the passageway inside the tomb for 17 minutes. Other tombs are designed for other solstices and/or sunsets instead of sunrises. It was a strange and spiritual experience, more emotional than I expected.
The Book of Kells
The Book of Kells was also amazing. It’s an illuminated manuscript of the four New Testament Gospels, created in about 800 A.D. The monks had a good time with it, decorating letters and paragraphs and margins. They made a few mistakes, accidentally repeating at least one full page, running out of space at the end of some lines (and finishing them off in space above), and making the most beautiful spelling errors ever. The attention to detail and artistry that went into it is incredible.
Musical Pub Crawl
I finished the trip with a Musical Pub Crawl on Friday night with about 50 other tourists. Two musicians took us to 3 pubs and played music and told stories for a couple of hours.
If you’re looking to cram a lot into a short stay in Dublin, here’s what I did –
Day 1 (about 8 hours)
Landed at 9:30am, left luggage at the hotel, and got into the city before noon.
– Dublin Castle tour
– Chester Beatty library with very old Bible manuscripts from Egypt
– Trinity College tour, which includes the Book of Kells. The “Turning Darkness Into Light” exhibit is excellent and I recommend taking the time to watch the short videos that show bookbinding and calligraphy methods.
– St. Stephen’s Green – fun people watching here.
– Grafton Street – it was really entertaining the first time I walked it, full of street performers. When I revisited (twice), it was a disappointment, full of only tourists and shoppers
Day 2 (about 3 hours in the evening)
– O’Connell Street – I followed the Rick Steves guided walk and saw historical monuments and buildings, including the General Post Office where Patrick Pearse read the Proclamation of Irish Independence and kicked off the Easter Uprising.
– St. Patrick’s Cathedral – I didn’t pay (6 Euros) to go inside, but the park is nice. Jonathan Swift’s burial place
– Christ Church Cathedral – This was another 6 Euros, and I was out of cash, so I walked around outside. The cathedral choir was the first to perform Handel’s Messiah in 1742.
Day 3 (about 12 hours)
– Newgrange and Hill of Tara tour (10:20am – 4:30pm)
– Quick visit of the Garden of Remembrance while waiting for the bus
– Merrion Square – The Selfish Giant and Oscar Wilde monuments. There was a college group here doing a photo scavenger hunt, which entertained me.
– Wandering, eating
– Temple Bar – very touristy pub area with lots of street musicians
– Musical Pub Crawl, meets at the Oliver St. John Gogarty pub in the Temple Bar area
There were two additional things I wish I could have fit in:
Angels Landing is a tall rock formation in Zion National Park in Southern Utah. It’s an awfully fun hike. It’s about 3 hours roundtrip and the views get progressively more impressive as you go. The last half-mile gives amateurs like me a little taste of the thrill of the mountain climbing I’ll never do. It’s just the right amount of dangerous. There are huge chains to hold on to and there’s only one short section where you can see straight down both sides of the trail.
Adding to the excitement is a sign that informs you of six deaths on the trail since 2004.
If you’re curious, you can find links to articles on each death at Wikipedia.
My first ascent was in about 1995 when I worked at Jacob Lake Inn at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. I took this photo of my feet dangling over the edge and displayed it in the convenience store as “Photo of the Day” for a couple of months. I miss those shoes.
A couple of years ago, I met up with a couple of old friends to celebrate surviving 40 years on earth by risking our lives on the hike. The most dangerous part ended up being almost missing the last shuttle of the night from the trailhead back to the campground.
In 2011, I went with the young men from our ward and encountered a rattle snake on the trail –
On the last visit (May 2015), I found this guy playing the didgeridoo at the peak –
You should go. Just be careful when you back up for photos.
There are four things I remember from reading Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) –
- Never make eye contact at an intersection in Mexico City
- Late merging is actually the most efficient use of road space even though it infuriates everyone else
- Risking your life to teach a bad driver a lesson is illogical (you’ll never see them again) but it may benefit the rest of society
- One in 10 traffic fatalities worldwide happens in New Delhi, India
That last point is of particular interest to me because I visit New Delhi once or twice a year for work. Traffic there is fascinating! I pretty much hold my camera out the window the whole commute, trying (in vain, generally) to capture some of the chaos for later.
You desensitize to it slowly over time. After a dozen trips to India, the driver will still suddenly stop so I can get a picture of another pig in the road. “No, I’m good. Enough pigs,” I say, pointing to my camera to show where all the digital pigs are stored. I think he’s a little sad it has become routine.
Much of the danger and excitement of New Delhi traffic is due to the variety of road users. On a U.S. interstate, you might have variance of 10mph across vehicles sharing the road. In India, you have cars, motorbikes, scooters, pedal bikes, pull rickshaws, bike rickshaws, auto rickshaws (tuk tuks), big trucks, buses, cows, buffalo, pigs, dogs, and endless pedestrians.
Bike helmets are required in big cities (“even for women“, the signs say), but you rarely see them. If you do, it’s only for the driver and not the passenger. It’s common to see a full family on one scooter or bike, with an infant on the lap of the driver.
So much honking! It almost makes you laugh how incessant it is. Honking is a signal, not necessarily a warning. “I’m coming up behind you” or “I plan to pass” or “I don’t plan to stop” or “I notice you have an American tourist in your car”. I’m starting to notice nuances in the length of the honk — there seem to be nice ones and mean ones. Most of the trucks have beautifully-painted “Honk Please” and/or “Use Dippers” (flash your brights) on the back.
Some road signs plead “Lane Driving is Sane Driving” (or the less-rhyming “Safe Driving”). Drivers tend to use the middle of the road when it’s clear, moving to the left only when oncoming traffic requires it. I see a lot of lane-straddling on multi-lane roads.
When a road widens before an intersection, vehicles spread out to consume all available space. Even though they’ll have to squish back down to a lane or two after the intersection. And it works fine. I can’t see this working in the U.S. without gun shots.
Throw in some police barriers, pot holes and sink holes, and you have the makings of an entertaining daily commute.
What strikes me most is the lack of anger and frustration. I’ve seen one fist fight and one fender bender in a dozen visits, but their scrappy driving methods work surprisingly well. You can get very resourceful when rules are just guidelines. When a one-way side road backed up due to a wreck, a couple of drivers ran to nearby shops for scrap metal and created a ramp so cars could drive over the median and borrow a lane from the other-direction road. The other drivers just shifted over — it was no big deal to have hundreds of cars driving the wrong way.
I used to play the video game California Speed at a friend’s house and had to concentrate on the drive home to suppress the urge to jump ramps and mount sidewalks like you could in the game. That’s how it is when I get back from India. Here in the U.S., roads are for cars and sidewalks are for pedestrians. And you can only honk when you really have something to say (and when your wife is not in the car). How boring.
In Zermatt, Switzerland – the ski town from which you can see the Matterhorn in the distance – there’s a fascinating and moving little cemetery behind the St. Mauritius Catholic Church. It memorializes those who died climbing (or descending) nearby mountains.