After being in London for a few weeks, Dublin came as a bit of letdown. It took me awhile to figure out why, as I should have felt a connection because of my Irish heritage. Once I left, I felt like I understood why my ancestors did too: The place just seemed depressing. But it isn’t really. What it is is the capital of a nation that has no imperial history, and therefore no evidence of grandeur due to unexpected (or ill-gotten, as your opinion may be) wealth. Of all the other places we’ve been in Europe this is the first one that can make that claim. Spain took gold and silver from the new world. France had it’s forays in North America, Africa and South Pacific. Britain had it’s sunny Empire. Germany…well, yeah, you get the picture. Ireland? They’re just going about their business at (their exquisitely beautiful) home.
Once back in London, we did a few things that were at the bottom of the list. We trekked into places that weren’t as easy to get to. We saw the sorts of things that were afterthoughts. This included a trip to Lewis Leathers for the red lined motorcycle jacket, a walk across the Abbey Road Studios’ famous zebra, the Sherlock Holmes statue and taking in the local flavor in Notting Hill with some friends I’d made in my short time there.
Liz y Mig on the Zebra
All of these experiences were great, but the best part was coming “home.” London in general, and Notting HIll specifically, felt like home from the day I arrived. And returning from my first trip away really reinforced that feeling.
When the plan for Liz to fly over came together, one date stood out: June 16. That’s Liz’s birthday, and the date of the events described in James Joyce’s “Ulysses.” It’s hard to ignore when the Universe shouts out you, so we added 2 days in Dublin to the itinerary.
Miguel and Joyce
The James Joyce Centre in Dublin hosts a variety of Bloomsday events, the highlight of which are a series of walking tours to trace the routes Leopold Bloom took in the book. This was absolutely fascinating, as the city hasn’t changed much in the 100+ years that have passed since the book was written. And odd thing that didn’t emerge until the completion of the tour at the Joyce statue (seen at left) is that Dubliners don’t really care for him. He didn’t live in Dublin for most of his life, and the bulk of his literature is his ode to his homeland. In “Ulysses” in particular, he paints Dubliners is a less-then-flattering light. And while locals are aware of the book (even if they haven’t read it), their relationship with him is complicated. As a result, the colloquial name for the statue is “The Prick with the Stick.”
Reflection of Liz y Mig at the Jameson Distillery
Aside from this highlight, there was plenty of drink. I know it comes as no surprise to anyone reading this, but the Irish LOVE to drink. We hit the Jameson distillery, the Guinness brewery and all manner of pubs. Of course we hit Trinity College and the Book of Kells, and a few U2 locales, but in all honesty we saw everything we wanted to in a few hours. When asking locals what else we should see and do, the universal response was, “There’s a pub…” Followed by some mix of the following: around the corner, down the road, you have to see, that’s really cool, etc. The message was received: Welcome to Dublin, let’s get drunk! So while looking for the (non-existent) typical meal of Dublin coddle or traditional music, we proceeded to drink. And drink. And drink.
With the work portion of my trip almost wrapped up, we had a rare opportunity of one of us being abroad already and the other having the time to join them. Since I’d already been in London for 2 weeks, and Liz had been here a few years ago, we didn’t have to rush through the normal speed-touring agenda that one typically endures during a short visit to a place you’ve never been.
I’d done all of the civic and religious buildings, perused the museums I wanted to see and even insinuated myself into the London arts community by securing invitations to a few gallery openings. Liz on the other hand just wanted to eat and drink like a Briton. So that’s basically what we did once she arrived.
My hosts at the BBC provided a thorough list of places that would serve in this capacity. All of these places were in Central London, near our flat in Notting Hill or close to the office in White City. However, the best experiences we had came on our second day together. We hit Borough Market for some food and drink (see picture below), and then walked along the Thames towards Covent Garden for more drink at the Punch & Judy.
Mig showing his colors in London and sparking conversation.
The point of hitting the Punch & Judy was to see the street performers in the square below, and, in British tradition, mocking them from the safety of the balcony. There was plenty of that, but the highlight of this spot for us was the random bloke we spoke with about his love of Bon Jovi. He had to be 25, but had seen them play 12 times. And he was jealous that I’d seen them open for Ratt in 1985. It was one of those great moments you only experience when traveling – when you let your guard down and just embrace the moment because you know you’ll likely never be in that place or see that person again.
An’ after all this, won’t you give me a smile?
Shortly after arriving in Spain, we drove all the way out to the Roses peninsula. It’s a 2 lane road about 18 km long with a rotary every km. If they were 4-way stop lights, the ride would’ve taken 45 minutes. As it was it took about 30. We drove all the way through the town of Roses and into a residential area before we saw the first sign for our hotel, “Hotel Vistabella *****”. Those stars don’t really represent reality. It’s a wonderful hotel, and perfect for the site. The Four Seasons would stick out like a sore thumb here, so this is really how it should be.
After we checked in, we walked down the hill to a beach-front cafe. It was packed because of the free Wi-fi. We had some beer, fried calamari, and milkshakes. Yummy beach food! Just as we were leaving to walk back up the hill, “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)” began playing in the background. I have no idea what that means…I just thought it was nice.
The 5 and 1/2 hour trip from Monaco to Roses was bittersweet. Everyone knows how I drive, so you can imagine that I was like a pig in slop driving the A8, the main artery through the Riviera. Again, every 3rd car is a Ferrari. And those that aren’t are driven as if they were. It was the most awesome and efficient traffic experience I’ve ever witnessed. A 3 lane automotive ballet! And I was part of it without disrupting the flow. The only thing that would’ve made it better was my own car. C’est la vie.
Another thing that we loved about driving the Rivera was a local English-language radio station: Riviera Radio. Their self-agrandizing catch phrase? “From the best yachts to the finest villas, Riviera Radio!” In actuality, it was super cheesy 70s/80s oldies-but-not-so-goodies. But it was a fun sort of camp, and it was much better than the monotone Italian talk radio or French-language Euro Pop on every other frequency. When we lost signal someplace west of Cannes, we knew we were no longer in the Riviera. And pardon the horrible turn of phrase, but when the music stopped so did the ballet.
But before we knew it we started seeing labels on trucks that we could prounounce, and soon thereafter we had crossed into España. I tend to compare many of the places in which I’ve traveled to Mexico. This is primarily because Mexico is my baseline for societies that live below the mainstream standard we enjoy in the US. I almost instantly got this vibe from Spain and I mean this as a really good thing. The roads aren’t in the same condition as in France, and nowhere near the pristine billiard tables that Monegasques enjoy. And there’s a little more dust in the gutters. And there are bars on the windows. But it seems completely without pretense and so full of life. We’ll write more about our experience in Roses over the coming days, but it’s a really great place so far.
This little comparison came to mind when I was trying to explain to Liz cultural differences in Europe. Please forgive the sweeping generalizations, but here it is:
- Italy: Work hard, play hard.
- Spain: Play hard.
- Germany: Work hard.
- France: Don’t do anything hard.
I’m probably way off, but that’s my experience and I thought it made sense at the time.