Monday, August 25, 2008

Ireland, Part IX: Packing Tips and General Observations


Packing Tips

If you are going to Ireland, here are some packing tips:

  • Layers. If and when the sun comes out it really warms up! You’ll want to be able to peel things off to a t-shirt level. And then it gets a lot cooler when it rains.
  • Raincoat! This is probably obvious, but make sure it’s a good one. What you see me wearing in photos wasn’t really good enough – with a good drenching, my wallet in my pocket got wet and my clothes underneath were slightly damp.
  • Rain pants! We really kicked ourselves for not having these when we were out for like 2 hours hiking in pouring rain. If you’re going to be inside most of the time it’s probably not a big deal, though. At the very least, don’t go hiking in the rain in jeans, they get heavy.
  • Contacts, if you wear both those and glasses. Glasses are a pain in the rain!
  • Good shoes. And by this, I basically mean hiking boots. Damon had more sneaker-like shoes and it wasn’t long before rain got into those, and they never managed to completely dry out after that. I had hiking boots which did start to get wet inside after really long stints in the rain, but not very wet, and they dried out quickly. There’s mud and water everywhere, so even just getting around town you don’t want to be in your nice, pretty shoes.

Irish English
We tried to not get too excited in advance about all the English-speaking fun we were going to have in Ireland, expecting that everyone would be so hard to understand that we wouldn’t get the full enjoyment out of speaking to strangers in our native language. Not so! Everywhere we went, the Irish were surprisingly easy to understand on the radio and in person, with only a few exceptions. They are much easier to understand than the people in London were! Perhaps Irish immigrants had a large influence on what is now the American accent? Having heard enough of it now, it’s probably the closest other accent I’ve heard to American, of course not accounting for all the variants in the accents of both countries.

It was so nice to be without the language barrier. We saw Italians, French, and Spanish struggling at the B&Bs to communicate with the hosts. The hosts spent more time on us because we were easier to talk to. One even commented to us that she was having a “language problem” with the Italians. Sarah at the sweater shop said she liked German tourists better than other continentals because they could speak great English. Now we see what people are probably saying about us as we travel around in countries which aren’t English-speaking, and see that maybe we aren’t getting treated as well as we could if we spoke the native languages of the places we go. I guess this works out for/against everyone as they move through the world – in some places one is favored for his language, and in others he is not.

Ireland for Americans
It’s easy to see why Americans love to visit Ireland. It isn’t just that so many of them have Irish ancestry (even more of them have German ancestry!), but Ireland’s culture feels very familiar, as an American. They are friendly in a way similar to Americans – not cold like northern Europeans, and not friendly in an overbearing/too-personal way like southern Europeans can be. Even the least nice Irish we met were at least as nice as your average German. Also, Ireland is very rural and not too crowded, much like Americans like their suburbs, their favorite places to live, to be. I’m sure there are many other reasons as well, such as a weaker undercurrent of anti-Americanism than other European countries, and of course the American tendency to romanticize all things Irish.

Cheap Eating
Sandwiches seem to be the way to go if you want cheap food in Ireland. They tend to cost half or less than half what the other menu items cost, and don’t come with any extras. However, you won’t get a better deal on a cold, pre-made sandwich from the grocery store. They cost just as much as the toasted ones you can get at a restaurant. You can order whatever fillings you want and they’re often priced by number of fillings. If you ask for a chicken sandwich, that’s what you’ll get – a sandwich with nothing on it but chicken! (Reminds me of my hometown restaurant’s “All Beef Burrito” – it really is all beef!) Getting tap water is super-easy – if you just ask for water, tap is assumed. And they don’t give you a dirty look for it.

And speaking of food, the short eating hours can be pretty rough! Breakfast at the B&Bs where we stayed started at either 8:00 or 8:30 and generally lasted around an hour. I love to sleep in as much as the next guy, but when you’re on vacation and itching to get started on your awesome itinerary for the day, it ends up being kind of a late start. On top of that, some places that serve food stop serving it as early as 7pm! You’re burning daylight if you eat before then! Plus we usually had an overall late eating schedule because of the late breakfast. So we always felt like we were burning daylight on both ends of the day!

One thing I was eager to get back to at home was our mixed sink tap. Nearly all the sink taps we encountered in Ireland were of the non-mixed variety: one tap for hot water, and one tap for cold. And the hot is HOT. Ouch!

Public bathrooms tended to be mostly okay and they were free. Not really as nice as the paid German ones, but probably better than your average American public restroom. I always had trouble with the flush mechanisms, though! They have to be pushed really fast and then let go really fast, or they won't work.

This is probably not something that most people would think about, but since I’ve developed a habit of photographing them, I did: the Mary statues in Ireland were very different than in Germany. In Germany Mary is nearly always portrayed either holding baby Jesus or stepping on a snake, or both. In Ireland, I never saw her with a baby or a snake, she was always alone, either with her arms outstretched, or praying. I wonder why there is this particular difference? I think we have a mix of Marys in the US (although I didn’t pay as much attention to them back before I was taking pictures all the time), but the ones you find in front yards are usually more similar to the Irish variety.

Irish Radio
Irish radio wasn’t too hot. There was a surprising amount of talk radio going on! At any given time more than half of the stations were talking rather than playing music. Those who did play music did not play a very big variety. I guess this is probably normal for radio, and I’m just out of the loop because I don’t have a radio at home. There were 5 songs which became known to us as The Five Songs because they were played over and over:

* Madonna, “Give It to Me” – this was easily played twice as much as the other 4 combined. It was on all the time!

* Coldplay, “Viva la Vida”

* The Blizzards, “Trust Me, I’m a Doctor” - I didn't look forward to hearing any of The Five Songs, but this was probably the best of them, with Madonna coming in second.

* Kanye and somebody, “American Boy” – this is the only one I’d actually heard previously, on German MTV while Damon was flipping channels

* Something about taking off your clothes. I realize that in the current pop music atmosphere this does not narrow the field very much.

We also kept ending up back at a station that was obsessing about something called a “Naked Bus” that they were doing. The Naked Bus was mentioned several times per hour. There is also an Irish-language station which was mostly talk.

Coming Back to Germany
I thought coming back to Germany would be really rough. The whole time, as the Irish were being friendly as all get-out, I thought about how the lack of that sort of easy interaction with strangers in Germany really sucks. It’s partly a language issue, but mostly just a cultural issue. Germans tend to not really be interested in strangers. After long stints in Germany I start to forget what I’m missing, and to be reminded just makes Germany seem like an awful place. But as I wrote at the end of my Dublin post, Germany is home now. When I got back, I was surprised to get a sort of cozy feeling from hearing all these cute little German words all around and even just from riding the Deutsche Bahn (who we’d just been complaining about on the plane because the newspaper said they’re raising prices). This is a good thing, as we will be staying at least until September 2009!


  1. I'm glad you had a good time and even happier you weren't unhappy when you got back to Germany!

  2. Lol the song is Estelle and Kanye West. I really want to go to Ireland now! Looks like I need to be hunting for a proper rain coat...

  3. Diane: Thanks!

    Yankee: Sounds like a great excuse for a nice new raincoat! :)

  4. I know what you mean--Germany's become home (for now), and to feel that way surprised me!

    Although I do wish folks interacted more with strangers here...

    But the bike trails and fests and things are great!

    Found you via Betsy's blog.

  5. I too am constantly surprised by the fact that returning to Germany means coming home.

    Sounds like you have a great trip.

  6. I'm propably just being a total nerd, but since you asked:

    the Mary with child and snake is called a "Madonna triumphans", i.e., a symbol of the righteous (catholic) faith surmounting idolatry (including renegade christian denominations, symbolized by the snake she steps on and sometimes also kills with a lance). It's a hallmark of counter-reformational propaganda that's omnipresent in Heidelberg since the city was a hotbed of religious conflict in the 17th century. At the time, the predominatly protestant citizens stubbornly defended their religious freedom against their catholic prince. Eventually, they even won a high-profile case against him in the imperial court. To retaliate for this humiliation, the prince would subsequently move the electoral residence to Mannheim -

    Obviously, there was never a need for that kind of symbolism in Ireland, which has alway been -and still is- staunchly catholic.

    ...this smartass retreats...

  7. Ah, the talk radio! We listened to way too much of it while driving around Ireland (having foolishly neglected to bring along any CDs). At least it was in a language we could understand...

  8. Africakid: Welcome!! Yeah, we have to take the good with the's hard to know what to think of it all sometimes.

    Erin: It really is a strange sensation. I never thought I'd get it coming back from an English-speaking country.

    Anon: Best comment ever!! I should have an award for this! Thanks! :D

    Jul: The language was definitely a plus in the talk radio, but I didn't want to fall asleep!


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