Hounslow, London - England
Sleepy and disoriented, we peered blearily through the coach windows at the all-too-familiar florescent faces of Burger King, KFC and that syrupy siren, Starbucks. What? Had we driven through some strange portal and ended up at an Omaha rest stop? Nope— here we were in the English countryside somewhere outside Birmingham at 10pm, about a quarter of the way through our epic, 12 hour coach-and-ferry journey from London to Dublin… and here was Colonel Sanders, inviting us in for a lovely cuppa and some fried wings with chips! (We had blueberries and water from Waitrose Market.)
What struck me most about Dublin was the smell: petrol and diesel fumes, and raw fish wafting out of Asian markets, and suspicious sewer odors, and Guinness and the cigarettes, cigarettes, cigarettes! (Granted, as I had a chest cold my sensitivity was probably heightened, but I felt like I needed a surgical mask just walking around the place.) The only reason we’d even booked a few nights there was in order to do day trips to the nearby sites of Glendalough and the Hill of Tara, however since I was under the weather we ended up spending our time alternately napping, drinking tea, watching British reality TV (ludicrous/amusing in a whole different way from American reality TV), and roaming the streets in search of viable sustenance. The most entertaining bit was when we went to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 at nearby “Cineworld,” and a world it was: with 5 levels, over 15 screens, a game room, a full bar, and a Ben & Jerry’s counter! The lobby looked like an airport, with films and show times listed on computer screens and miles of rope stanchions for people to queue in. (Apparently Dublin has the highest rate of cinema-goers in Europe.)
Finally, on Tuesday afternoon we were high-tailing it out of the city in our sporty black Peugeot rental car. (“Where can I get one of these in the states?” Marlon wants to know, and indeed— the car with the “zombie lion” emblem couldn’t be more appropriate for a metal head Leo!) We made it to Co. Cork on the southern coast of Ireland that night, and the colorful village of Clonakilty, where our room at the Bay View B&B literally had a bay view (and a cow view, which was nearly as exciting)! The next morning we woke to our first Irish rain and made our way west, along the wet, winding country lanes to the Drombeg stone circle (which couldn’t have looked more mysterious and alluring in the mist if a Hollywood set designer had conceived it). Drastically smaller than either Avebury or Stonehenge at only 9 meters in diameter, Drombeg had a wonderfully intimate feel, and also a preserved sense of sanctity and purpose that was truly special, with vestiges such as flowers and beads from recent private rituals. There I felt a wonderful connection with St./Goddess Brigid, which pleased me as I had been feeling too poorly the previous day to stop by her renowned well in Kildare.
After a night in Kenmare (which was notable mainly because the B&B only had a twin left so we slept like a couple from a 1950s sitcom, with a night stand between us: “Goodnight Ricky!” “Goodnight Lucy!”), we headed out onto the Kerry Peninsula. The 179 kilometer “Ring of Kerry” is one of the most popular of Ireland’s scenic drives, a route of sprawling pasturelands and picturesque coastal hamlets, of colorful cliffs and hills with “teeth”: jagged layers of rock jutting somewhat incongruously out of emerald carpets and flaxen mermaids’ hair, on which sheep perch stoically. The highlight of the peninsula was the ruins of Ballycarbery Castle (an excellent recommendation by Devon), where we spent over an hour scaling narrow winding staircases, peeking into yawning chasms, waving to the startled cows through beautiful arched windows, and taking pictures of each other in a variety of theatrical poses ranging from merry to melancholy to “metal.” (We wished fervently we could teleport Marlon’s drummer and bassist there, for some truly epic band photos!) Another highlight was Staigue Fort, an imposing circular stone structure which was pretty neat, but what endlessly amused me was the fact that we were the last in a line of seven cars filing up the road to the site, to the epic radio accompaniment of a selection from the opera “Carmen”!
When we entered the smaller Dingle Peninsula, we literally drove out of charcoal rain and into crystal sunshine, blinded by the brilliant emerald, lime and jade that greeted us. (Is Dingle really greener than the rest of Ireland? we wondered, Or is this just the first bit we’ve seen in sunlight?) The lush fields soon gave way to sandy bluffs and sapphire seas, and the charming, laid back town of Dingle, comfortably snuggled between hill and ocean and appropriately, a sister city of Santa Barbara. (The sculpture of Dingle’s famous resident wild dolphin, “Fungie,” that sits in their harbor was created by Bud Bottoms, sculptor of several iconic pieces around Santa Barbara including the dolphin fountain at Stearns Wharf.) The B&B we’d been recommended by one of our Kerry hosts was full, so we tried the B&B a few cottages down, where a typically Irish older gentleman opened the yellow door, gave us a long appraising look, and said rather ominously, “I have one room… You might like it…” He then led us around the back and showed us a gorgeous, bright room right on the water, with a private patio embraced by wildflowers. Gee, we guess it’ll work!
I confess that there have been a couple occasions on this trip, after a looooong day of travel, where I have found myself sinfully desiring the anonymity and predictability of a Motel 6, where the most complicated question you’ll have to field from the desk clerk is, “Smoking or Non-Smoking?” However the B&Bs, their stewards and their guests have repeatedly proven that quite silly with their memorable warmth, genuine hospitality, and quirky Character! Every experience is different and unique (with the possible exception of breakfast, which is pretty firm at juice and cereal, or the “Full Irish”: fried eggs, sausage, Irish bacon, tomato, toast and—if you’re really lucky—blood sausage), however there are a few B&Ber archetypes that one meets again and again… Like the Snorer, whose wife you keep telepathically prompting to give him a good shove; the Guy Who Charges into Shared Toilet without Knocking (always, always, always lock); and the Hoofers, those perfectly nice and normal people who inexplicably make sounds like bulls break-dancing when in their room. And then there’s that Sweet Older Couple that just sits smiling serenely at each other through out breakfast without saying a word, who you’re pretty sure you want to go home with and have milk and cookies and hear bedtime stories!
We stayed 2 nights in Dingle and had the greatest time, touring the Oceanworld Aquarium, eating at the vegetarian café, shopping the local handcrafted goods, and sitting on the bench outside the Marina Inn, where we could both hear the live Irish music playing inside and enjoy the sea view. (Pubs in Ireland are truly communal and seem to encompass the sidewalk and street as well as the interior, with folks hanging out curbside with pints in hand, and occasionally toddlers on hip as well… By that same token, there are no “sleepy” little villages in Ireland— no matter how tiny, every single one of them has a pub which merrymakers will be making their way merrily home from at 2am!)
Heading north towards the Cliffs of Moher, we crossed the Shannon River into Co. Clare and passed through the charming surf community of Lahinch (a surf community in Ireland? Abso-freezing-lutely!). Devon and Terry had told us about a “secret” back way in to the Cliffs of Moher, so with great relief we bypassed the zoo of coaches at the entrance and wound through the little farm lanes, passing by foot through three gates and a field full of cows (who seemed downright perplexed by our adoring attention). Eventually we emerged on a positively breath-taking plateau 700 ft. above the ocean, with kaleidoscopic cliffs plummeting below us and parading down the coast as far as the eye could see, wearing crowns of silver and tawny grass and purple wildflowers. This was the rugged, windswept Ireland I had been anticipating, and I felt deeply, deeply blessed and grateful to be able to experience it in such an authentic way!
From there we headed into The Burren, a downright alien-looking limestone landscape where, word has it, exotic wildflowers and orchids grow out of fissures and crevices in the rock. Unfortunately we wouldn’t know, because we made it about a hundred feet down the trail in the horizontal rain with our umbrella bucking like an animal in the wind before conceding an indoor activity might be more sensible… So we headed to the Burren Perfumery (another great recommendation by Devon), from which we emerged smelling extremely attractive, if we do say so ourselves, after sampling the oils, creams and perfumes made on site (secretly I thought flower essences made from the native Burren plants would have been even more interesting).
Then it was on to Galway. Arriving at rush hour, we had a hell of a time trying to negotiate the one-way streets and find vacancies, but eventually found the Red Gate B&B, where a teddy bear of a man with a red beard and only three teeth that we could see gave us an enthusiastic welcome, and his last room (another twin… “Goodnight Darin!” “Goodnight Samantha!”). That night we enjoyed uncommonly delicious pub food and phenomenal Irish music and dancing at “The King’s Head,” supposedly named because the building’s original owner was responsible for beheading King Charles I (apparently the English wanted a non-English executioner)!
En route back to Dublin, we rather impulsively decided to spend a night in the Midlands, a decidedly less touristy part of the country with an authentic heartland feel. We ended up in the pleasant village of Birr in Co. Offaly, where completely incidentally, they were in the middle of their annual Vintage Week and Arts Festival. The most entertaining element of this by far was the “Mongrel Dog Show,” where locals young and old paraded around with their pooches in a generally disorderly, comical and heart-warming fashion, in classes ranging from “Fluffiest Tail” to “Most Gentle” (privately we agreed that if Mom’s dog Bella had been there, she would have swept the lot).
The next morning we stopped by to play with the ghosts at Leap Castle, supposedly the most haunted castle in Ireland, however Lonely Planet had failed to articulate that it was a private residence! The master of the castle, Mr. Ryan, wasn’t bothered though, and invited us inside by the fire to tell us tales about the place’s original owners, the O’Carroll clan, who were apparently so greedy and quarrelsome they were shipped off to North America (perhaps that explains some of our political problems). Mr. Ryan—a wizard of a man with a gray beard that straddles a line somewhere between Santa Claus and Gandalf—is also a professional tin whistle player, and his wife and daughter both dancers, so we spent a great deal of time also discussing music and the arts!
Back to Dublin for one more night (and back to Juice Restaurant, this time for a banana-pineapple-parsley-spinach smoothie, among other goodies), and then it was back on the Epic ferry-and-coach journey to London, this time during daylight hours and significantly easier. The trip came full circle as we returned to our B&B in Hounslow (aka Little India) where we had initially met up with Devon and Terry… was it really a month ago? After a day spent recuperating and eating a LOT of Indian food, we did indeed head into London, where thankfully despite the recent riots, everything was British-as-usual. At the Tate Modern, we attempted to look as solemn and intellectual as the other patrons as we scrutinized “art” that included red paint splashed on canvas and, as far as we could tell, an entire room devoted to a pile of sunflower seeds. The highlight was Monet’s "Water Lilies" and of course, our very reason for being there, Raoul Dufy’s “Kessler Family on Horseback”, circa 1932! There were Marlon’s grandmother, great grandparents and great aunts and uncles, memorialized forever in paint for everyone to see and keeping very good company, just feet away from Rodin’s “The Kiss”! It was amazing to think of all of the family history this painting had witnessed, hanging in the Kessler home for fifty years… How incredible.
And that brings us to the conclusion of this particular MarandAr Odyssey. Our hearts over-flow with gratitude for the myriad blessings, perhaps the biggest being returning Home with an even greater appreciation for the everyday blessings! Thank you all as always for taking this journey with us (and having the stamina for some exceptionally long Logs, even by my standards!). (In addition, I have broken my own picture-taking record. Uh-oh...)
;) With love and gratitude, Always, Arielle & Marlon
Vibrational alchemist, writer, artistic mystic, pack mama and spiritual adventurer living in The Goodland - Goleta, CA. Creator of Lioness Energetics.
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