Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Republica Update/What is Love?

Ok, so not the most original question. In fact, it’s been posed many times, most notably – in my humble opinion – by the R&B quartet En Vogue of the mid 90’s and even though they recited Webster’s Dictionary on the track, even they were left disappointed with their findings.
Tonight, I sit on a plane. I sit in coach. That first row of coach where you have slightly more legroom and a front row seat to how the other half lives (as seen through the thread bare curtain that separates the first class haves and have-nots).

I fly quite a bit and seem to have a knack for being sat next to senior citizens. Don’t get me wrong, I love the elderly (more than most), but there is an implied reverence given to those who have lived on the planet decades longer than you that means arm rest priority and acceptance of personal space boundaries being crossed.

Tonight, when approaching my seat I saw just what I was up against. Not only were my row-mates old, they were ancient, and foreign! The man and woman seated next to me spoke, from what I could tell, no English, and seemed to be from the Eastern Block, so much so that they insisted on carrying all of their earthly belongings on their laps.
It was clear that the two were married, and it seemed safe to assume that an audition for the newly wed game was not in their near future, but in their very distant past.  (Read More)

january 2012

Friday, January 20, 2012

sunsets and sausages: a long weekend in europe

Thirteen Hour Layover

My sister wrote me an email before my departure yesterday detailing that perhaps sometime in the near future I will want to travel with more comforts and, as I grow older, I will become mote ‘high maintenance.’ When on my 13-hour layover in Frankfurt Germany today there were moments where I thought perhaps the old broad was onto something, but I rest assured tonight, cozy in my 6 person dorm room at the Abraham House in Dublin Ireland that, at least for the time being, I still prefer to forgo the luxuries f or the exhilaration that comes with an adventure and a hostel.

Thursday night Jackie and I set sail for Ireland, by way of Germany, knowing that we were in for a long voyage. An 8-hour red eye landed us in Frankfurt at 9 am, with heavy mist in the air, and an even heavier order on the table.

I had set clear and concise goals for our brief stint in Deutchland: Beer, Sausage, Bauhaus.

Part of traveling, part of life, is realizing things do not always turn out as planned. Such was the case when my search for the Stad museum ended with my realization that Stad means place in German and all day I had been asking poor, unsuspecting Germans where 'the place' was. This was occasionally met with expressions of confusion, but was more often met with lively gestures and directions in broken English, which now leaves me wondering where exactly they were directing us.

Needless to say we never made it to a museum, but did in fact have sausage and beer, before 10 am- and then again for dinner several hours later. The crisp winter day flew by and before you knew it we found ourselves back at the Frankfurt airport, stuffed full of sausage and happily weighed down with another stamp in out passports.

With the jet lag and mounting exhaustion reaching fever pitch, we took a quick catnap in the airport score boarding a quick flight to Dublin.

A Pint and A Whiskey

Landing in Dublin I felt surprisingly refreshed as our extraordinarily amiable cab driver, Joe regaled us with tales of his time in New York in the early 80s. We soon found ourselves settled into a dorm for 6 at Abraham House and wasted no time on hopping over to the bar next door for a pint and a whiskey respectively, as see silently judged watching a girl from Wisconsin flirt her blue spandex clad ass off so shamelessly and so poorly, that I realized why I am occasionally embarrassed to be an American.

The pubs on our hood seemed to be closed for the night, so we returned to our hostel only to find more entertainment in the form of a promiscuous Norwegian hockey player and a sweet Adidas-clad single father from Scotland. Jackie grew weary of my translating English to English, as a Scottish rogue is almost more difficult to decipher than a drunk with their jaw wired shut, and we headed back to our fragrant dorm room for a not so good night's sleep.

Early to rise is what we had been hoping for but when programming my phone to alarm I did not account for the time difference. No matter, as we were awakened by the rustling of a ham sandwich being both prepared and consumed by a menopausal religious zealot below (bunk beds). We hurriedly escaped the confines of our ham cell, had a quick yet delicious hostel breakfast and hit the road on foot to explore Dublin. Fashionable girls and plenty of shops in which to find said fashions flanked the narrow streets. We lost track of time meandering and realized a bit too late that we had missed a date to eat Irish oysters with some hostel mates. We instead opted to walk over and pick up our Hertz rental car to drive north.

Not having my normal mental rubix cube challenge of speaking another language in my travels, I had decided that driving on the wrong aide of the road would be the work out for my cerebral cortex this go round. Turns out this is a much more difficult, and dangerous task.

Road Trip

According to our finicky GPS, Belfast was just a short 2-hour drive north. Minimal provisions were purchased before embarking on our journey north, thinking the M1 was a major thoroughfare and had to be loaded with places to eat. Oh America, land of the fast food joint. Our 2-hour drive became much closer to 3 factoring in my Mario Andretti speeds and a few photos ops. With nothing but the crystal clear sky turning unique shades of sunset pink over the emerald hills to feast on, Jackie and I had one thing on our minds and we rolled in Belfast after sunset: food!

We soon located a pub that served food along one of Belfast's famous muraled alley ways  ( I actually watched a man painting while several policemen walked by without so much as a glance – it was amazing!) and sat for hours defrosting, hydrating and dining on why Irish people evidently consider chicken curry but what the rest of the world considers chicken soup with flour and bits of chicken. I was hungry and it was warm, so I am not complaining. Sustenance was needed, as was a place to lay our head for the evening.

Our trusty British GPS showed that the cheapest hostel in town was just a couple of books away and we headed to Linen House hostel fraught with extended Italian family's and sorority girls from the countryside.

After procuring the key to our 2nd floor room, Jacks and I were greeted with awkward silence only incurred when interrupting young girls applying far too much makeup. The Dee Snyder band was clearly on the prowl and all Jackie and I wanted was a drink, or three.

We quickly dropped off our bags and headed to The Crown Bar, infamous for being the most bombed bar in the world. Cute private booths and ornate tile work filled the cozy bar, along with extraordinarily friendly, but not in a creepy way, Irishmen. The people in this country are genuinely earnest and open with seemingly no agenda. At first this is a little off-putting, but once you allow yourself to believe it is real, its border line magical. No matter where Jackie and I landed we have been met with helpful advice and a warm smile. 

Hungry and not wanting to have Jameson floating in my belly all by his lonesome, popped next door for pizza. It was here I struck up a conversation with a man of indiscriminate ethnicity in town on business who I only later found out was Puerto Rican and Dominican. The irony that I some how sniffed out what might possibly be the only Dominican in all of Ireland was not lost on me and we had no other choice but to make him our mate for the rest of the evening.

An entire pizza and 2 homeless encounters led us to our next watering hole, where I quickly spotted an open booth in the corner and snuggled up in the well word Naugahyde for the evening. The three of us talked about what most people discuss when abroad, out own travel experiences until Jackie pointed out that a man was looking at me. It seems the mobile UN had set up shop beside us and the leering Italian man looked at me quizzically and said he was certain he knew me from somewhere. After sorting out that it was most certainly not his dreams, it was clear that we had not met and that he understood sarcasm, so I was immediately put at ease. We became fast friends. After the Dominican gave up on scoring with the endearingly oblivious Jackie, the Italian man and his Spanish friend gave us a tour of the city’s closed pubs. This was not the intention, but everything here closes entirely too early for 2 New Yorkers looking to make poor choices.

Off to bed at our toasty sorority house it was.

Fried Chicken and Mrs. Avey

This morning I awoke filled with anticipation, as I knew today I would be doing one of my favorite foreign things: a morning run. It was on this run I discovered a couple of beautiful cathedrals and the local occupy Belfast, which seemed to be accomplishing just about as much a our local chapter.

Not wanting to repeat our previous offenses to our stomachs, we chose to stop for breakfast in Western Belfast and, aside from me almost running an old man over by entering on the wrong side of the parking lot, it was an enjoyable mean. Then we re off on the PCH of Ireland, a coastal road with curves bordered by a stone wall on one side and the ocean on the other. The sights were undeniably beautiful, but the stress was undeniably palpable.

I'm a Californian. I love to drive. And I can honestly say driving this route was one of the least enjoyable experiences I have ever had. White knuckling the first 5 hours, I was concentrating on navigating narrow roadways and staying on my side of the road while missing breathtaking scenery doing my best Morgan Freeman impression of driving miss daisy on what I can only imagine converted to 35 mph on a major highway. Needless to say the natives were none too happy, but the grey hairs earned on the stressful drive were well worth it as we pulled into Kings Causeway just in time- at sunset.

After confirming that Ireland has some of the most beautiful sunsets on this planet Jackie and I were left with one question on a dark, windy, foreign road. Where to go next? Flying by the seat of our pants, per usual, we checked out the map and decided that Derry seemed like the next logical choice and I nervously navigated our way through the unlit night, with the help of our unreliable lady GPS to the small port town of Derry in northern Ireland, filled with boats, history, and pubs.

After a brief search for a Rick Steves approved pub we stumbled upon Tracy’s Bar where a well coiffed, yet severely inebriated woman shouted at me the moment I walked in the door. At first I was frightened but soon realized, I'm in Ireland and everyone is nice! She gave a couple of dining suggestions and after a disappointing meal at Flaming Jack’s and unsuccessful trek in the Arctic breeze for shelter we decided to suck it up and book a room at the far too pricey Travelodge for 45 pounds a night and return to Tracy’s Bar to spend the rest of the evening. Inebriated Lady’s fella had promised me a dance, but he was nowhere to be found, so Jackie and I, once again, had to make friends.

We had been told there would be a band there that night, and we were not disappointed. The live music was beautiful and the people were generous, continuing to buy us Jamesons. A man with partial paralysis went so far as to offer his home to both Jackie and myself for the evening, proclaiming that even though he would very much like the sex with “yous” he was really just offering a warm bed with clean sheets, he made sure to emphasize the clean part.  The cozy watering hole was the perfect spot to spend out 1 evening in Derry and we were enjoying it so much that when we stumbled out at closing time, we were saddened. We extended the festivities by opting to pay a visit to the local late night Hillbilly’s where we felt it appropriate to order fried chicken to be consumed in our beds back at the hotel later. Trust me, the scene was just as repulsive as it sounds.

Mrs. Avey Returns

A planned run by the water the following day to work off our late night chicken feast did not end up materializing, but looking for a doll for my niece allowed us the opportunity to watch the sleepy town wake up and come alive. I was reluctant to leave Derry, but but Dublin and our impending return home was calling, we had to get on the road.

It was a few hours in the car we knew, so we got some distance behind us, and waited until noon search for food. We did so in Tyrone County, for which I am certain Erykah Badu named her famous ditty. We found a small 1 street town outside of Omaugh and were the first to arrive at Fairley's where we each ordered the Irish Breakfast while the elderly men seemingly fresh from the fields feasted on Guinness alone. At noon. You’ve got to love Ireland. The cook, who was another dead ringer for my childhood babysitter, had the kitchen acumen to know that eggs, means, bread and French fries all belonged on the same plate. She made sure to come out from the kitchen in which she was rocking out to Bruno Mars to ask about where we came – a common theme I have found in towns where talking to the same 30 people must get old real fast.

Back on the road we traversed back roads and rolling hills at increasing speed as my ass began to make a permanent mark in the left side driver’s sear. We were occasionally lucky enough to catchy sunlight struggle and burst through the thick clouds with it’s magnificence, raining down rays of hope and vitamin D. But mostly we were in an overcast countryside, serenaded by Death Cab for Cutie and Rhianna.

The Final Hours

Arriving in Dublin yet again was supposed to be the end of our adventure, but IRA members, split personality Ugandans and the return of ham Sammie offered a last chance at adventure on the emerald isle.

Not yet having seen the trendy neighborhood of Temple Bar, Jackie and I took a walk along the water to the district filled with restaurants and those quirky stores that house absolutely no essential goods or services but somehow seem to stay in business. I bought earrings! The woman at the revolutionist bookstore recommended a Spanish restaurant around the corner and being filled to the gills with processed meats an whiskey I eagerly anticipated a meal in which all of the 4 major good groups were represented, and was subsequently rewarded. If in Dublin, eat at Salamanca abs have the brown bread ice cream. I know it sounds strange, but it is amazing.

More wandering ensured and we ended up at a corner pub that was clearly designed for tourists, but with it being a low tourist season, was filled largely with chinless women from the UK and rugby boys on holiday.  Jackie and I stuck out like 2 American thumbs, which prompted Aaron, our intoxicated IRA friend to come over, insist that we should get laid while in Ireland and then proceeded to try to hook us up – as if we would need any help! A little light revolutionary conversation and we were off to the pub where it all began, just beside our hostel.

Of course we got sidetracked and ended up at Eddie Rockets, Ireland’s version of Johnny Rockets (ps. They also have TK Maxx here – weird). After splitting a chicken sandwich served by the least friendly server I have ever encountered, Jackie and I ran into a ‘friend’ from earlier in the day. When we had been looking for parking that afternoon we had passed the same man several times, and being one of the, I am guessing, very few black men in Ireland, I made note. He had tried to help us find a spot, but his approach in the evening hours was slightly different because, before he recognized us, he leered and exclaimed 'nice figure' a cat call I believe was originally developed in the 1920s along with get a load of that dame's gams! When we saw who it was we began to chat and we discovered he was from Uganda and heading to a nightclub. Jackie and I were stoked to have hit such a gold mine and were excited for a night of dancing. Then we asked him his name. A simple enough question- or so we thought. He told us his name was Ricky- fair enough. Then he paused, and said – ‘I can be honest with you, I do a lot of drugs, so my name is Ricky, but in my head…Its Melvin.’ Ding-times up! Although it was had for Jackie to walk away from a good party, we both decided a possible dismembering wasn’t worth shaking my booty to Chris Brown. Hell, its not worth shaking my booty WITH Chris Brown.

That was it-the jig was up. We headed home, had our last pint, heard stories of perhaps how foolish our voyage to Northern Ireland with Southern Ireland plates was a perilous choice and headed back to Abraham house, our home for the next couple of hours.

We had already caught site of our old roommate Ham Sammie upon our return earlier in the evening, but nothing could prepare us for the offensive odor that met us at the door for bedtime. If room 32 had had wallpaper it would certainly be peeling from the walls and making a run for it from the sour cream and feet combination thick in the air. This, of course, was coupled with the cacophonous melodies of our Brazilian bunkmates incessant snoring making for a restless few hours in Lucifer's Lounge. Jackie threatened suicide by jumping out of our first floor window. Luckily I talked her down.

So here I lie on my top bunk, my last night in Ireland and glad that another adventure is in the books. An adventure made of sunsets and sausages.

january 2012