Thursday, May 19, 2011

Ireland!!: Newgrange and some other stuff

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It's never taken us more than an hour to pack." Famous last words by my husband. We put it off until the day of our flight, since we didn't fly out until the evening. He was right that we're normally pretty quick and efficient packers - but normally we aren't packing for going to a wedding, visiting cities, and possible hiking in a very rainy country. The day included running out looking for a cheapie super-simple garment bag somewhere in the center of Heidelberg - and having no luck. Only nice ones for 40 EUR or more were available. Dear Germans, not everything has to be high quality.

When we finally boarded the train to the airport - GIANT suitcase and two backpacks in tow (to keep the suitcase under Aer Lingus's weight limit) - the lady standing next to us had exactly the garment bag we'd been looking for. So they do have them somewhere.

We arrived at the Aer Lingus counter in what we thought was plenty of time, but were chided for being late. Apparently boarding time for our flight was 50 minutes before takeoff instead of the usual 30! We had no problem getting to the gate in time, thankfully, and they ended up not boarding until 30 minutes to takeoff anyway. Argh. Aer Lingus has gone the way of US airlines by eliminating all free snacks and beverages and charging to check luggage. I missed my lovely Lufthansa, but at least the flight was only 2 hours.

We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express at Dublin Airport. Surprise, it's not really at the airport! There is a free shuttle, but the hotel feels pretty isolated. It's attached to a Crowne Plaza which was hosting a wedding reception that night. Completely trashed people in fancy clothes were spilling out all over when we wandered over to get a bite to eat at the hotel restaurant. (Which was kind of expensive - 27 EUR for a Guinness, a glass of wine, a small soup, fries, and a slice of cake. We missed German restaurant prices throughout the trip.) Our room was really nice, though - better than expected for the price - and even though I paid the no-breakfast-included rate, they gave us breakfast anyway.

The next morning we got all dressed up for the wedding, met a friend who would be hanging out the next couple of days with us, and picked up our rental car. The wedding, in a tiny town called Kilcloon that most Dubliners haven't even heard of, wasn't until 2:30, but we weren't sure how long it would take to get there or how traffic would be, so we set out for it around noon. We followed the directions to the church to a T and found it - WAY early. There were 2 guys doing maintenance in the graveyard, so we went to ask them if there was a pub nearby, since we hadn't seen anything. We mentioned that we were going to be going to a wedding there later that day, and they hilariously insisted - multiple times - that there was no way there was going to be a wedding at that church later. I'm sure they were taking the piss but it was a riot and we all got to leave the conversation happy. And, they did tell us about a great pub in a nearby town, Caffrey's, where we had a great lunch. Well, actually, I found a twitching spider in my salad, which was a little unnerving, but everything was delicious. (I didn't try the spider.) We ran into some other wedding guests there, too, which was fun.

Then the wedding! It WAS at the church we found, by the way. Everything was lovely and the Irish even do that fascinator-wearing thing. After the ceremony, we checked in at Hazelwood B&B - the cheapest option available in the area around the Village at Lyons, where the reception was held. (Still more expensive than any other place we stayed the entire vacation - I guess the north end of Co. Kildare is just fancy.) It was a little on the cluttered side, but super-friendly and the rooms were appropriately clean, so we can't complain. The proprietor - who looked JUST like a Kennedy in an old picture of himself sitting near the entrance - even gave us a ride to the reception so we would only have to take a cab one way. (Forget the car - no one who could drive a stick was willing to leave sober.) The reception was fantastic, and only the second time I've been to one that had a band rather than a DJ. We arrived back at the B&B around 3am.

Saturday morning came allllll too soon. I don't know about the other two, but I had a wicked hangover. I just threw on whatever, packed up really uncarefully, and went to breakfast. Irish breakfast isn't bad for a hangover, really. Our fellow guests had been to another wedding nearby - I got the idea this place did a brisk business with all the reception venues in the area. After breakfast, we picked up my husband's old boss and his wife to give them a ride into Dublin. They'd gotten out to the wedding by cab!! It was a tight squeeze with all the luggage in the hatchback - why do they make cars that seat 5 but only hold 3 suitcases? - but we wanted to help them out. We got great instructions for a place to drop them off from the Village at Lyons reception, then got them into Dublin.

The three of us continued on north of Dublin to the Boyne Valley, the site of several huge prehistoric sites including Newgrange, Knowth, and Dowth. These three are giant mounds with passages inside leading to chambers with tombs. The passages of all of them line up with the sun at either sunrise or sunset on either the equinox or solstice (depending on the passage). The passage at Newgrange, the most famous of the mounds which has been reconstructed, lines up with the sunrise at the winter solstice. The chamber inside is completely black inside all year except at this point (and maybe a little light on the days before and after at sunrise). Tens of thousands of people enter a lottery every year to be present in the chamber on that date to witness it. If you don't mind a fake-up, though, you can take a tour of Newgrange any time and be there for a recreation of the sun coming into the passage. We decided to tour both Newgrange and Knowth - Dowth tours aren't available - which came to 11 EUR per person. These mound tours are only available by bus from near the visitor's center, and TONS of time is eaten up waiting for and riding on the buses - so you have to budget a lot of time to visit them. It's a little annoying but it's in a beautiful area and the staff are all really friendly, so that made it seem not so bad.

Newgrange, Knowth, and More Mai 2011

The two tours are pretty different. You can't go into the passages at Knowth, but you can walk all around the outside and go just inside the mound to look at one of the passages and view a display about the layers the mound is made of. (Not sure why they built that IN the mound, not very preservation-like is it?) There are over a hundred rocks ringing the mound (now protected from the elements by a little eave over them) with carvings of spirals, circles, squiggles, and triangles on them. At Newgrange, you can go into the passage and chamber inside. The chamber has a cone-shaped roof and some carvings on the ceilings, and while inside they do a simulation of the sun coming in at the winter soltice. This is not for the claustrophobic!! Most of the rocks around Newgrange aren't carved, although some are. They've also reconstructed a wall on the entrance side, but of course no one knows if there really was a wall, or if all the rocks they found sitting around it were originally just...sitting around it. Impressively, the rocks come from as far away as County Wicklow, which must have been a somewhat bigger deal in the stone age than it is now. They had good taste, bringing up nice sparkly quartz and smooth round granite rocks from the seaside. Check out the photos!

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