Dave Goes Irish Part 2: Glendalough and Wicklow Mountains

Wicklow County Ireland Map

Ah, the Emerald Isle of rolling hills, bucolic villages and ancient ruins.  Away from the bustle of Dublin City, this is the Ireland most know and dream of visiting.

While visiting Dublin I took a day tour on a bus out to County Wicklow on a beautiful clear-skied sunny day (the only sunny day during my stay in Ireland) – the timing and weather was perfect.  Over the years I’ve become a mountains and lakes kind of guy…with upstate New York and western North Carolina being my favorite stateside haunts.  Ireland’s County Wicklow is like some fever-dream version of those verdant visions…the shapes more dramatic, the sheep fluffier, the lakes darker, the tall tales spun there taller, the ghosts older…full of something more ancient and fecund…and land so inspiring I couldn’t help but be touched as a wicked little short story (perhaps even a novella?) was born in my mind as I strolled the trails of Glendalough (which ooze a peacefulness coupled with that eerie sense of “other” hidden in the woods and the hills) and heard a stray sheep bleating unseen lost in some bush.  The monastic ruins in Glendalough (dating back over a thousand years) were like nothing I’ve ever seen in person and spoke of a thousand ghosts and stories.  It’s not surprising that County Wicklow has become a popular filming location with TV shows like BBC’s classic Ballykissangel and The History Channel’s The Vikings and films like The Quiet Man, Ryan’s Daughter, Saving Private Ryan, Michael Collins, Excalibur, Braveheart, and P.S. I Love You (whether actually taking place in Ireland or not) having made appropriate use of the photogenic environs.  Marvel at the mountains and lakes, the turf cutting through peat bogs and the trickling source of the River Liffey, and dream of all the stories told and untold that haunt the space. Continue reading

Dave Goes Irish Part 1: Dublin City

Dublin Map

“I wanted real adventures to happen to myself. But real adventures, I reflected, do not happen to people who remain at home: they must be sought abroad.”   – James Joyce, Dubliners

Dear Dublin,

You’re my kind of town and you’re full of contradictions.  You’re immensely walkable and compact yet your streets make no sense (at least to Americans bred on city grids) as they meander like tangled spider webs from the city center, and you’re lucky if you find any signage on the building edifices at round corners.  Thank god for the River Liffey, dividing the North and South sides and giving pilgrims their bearings for centuries.  You have no skyscrapers, the outline of your cityscape stooping to great visitors while spiked spires of churches and monuments point to the heavens.  You’re grimy and gritty and often overcast, yet when the sun makes an appearance it casts a lovely sheen on your hidden beauty.  Overall I wouldn’t cast you as a beautiful city (you wouldn’t want to be called that either), yet there are breathtaking medieval churches around every corner (topped in population only by your orgy of pubs) and heading out towards the suburbs and heather-strewn mountains of Wicklow you boast Georgian-era streets whose artfulness put Philadelphia’s Society Hill to shame.  You seem to want to jam in as many shops, pubs and whatnots into as tightly packed tenement-style spaces as possible (with only Jervis and Grafton Street shopping districts gentrified with wide boulevards), yet you luxuriate in the tranquility of St. Stephen’s Green.  Never have I seen more buses (both touring and commuter), your car traffic is thick and wicked (rivaling the “get the f*** out of my way” rudeness of NYC and where bikers dart to a fro at their own risk unlike in Amsterdam where bike lanes are the norm), and your pedestrian throngs would indicate a city three times your size, yet you claim to be a small city with a laid-back, friendly vibe (which is also true).  You have monuments and markers for everything and everyone of note spanning your over thousand-year history…for saints and writers, patriots and politicians, Vikings and Celts and Brits, beheadings and crownings, history and myth.   You love your bloody history as much as you love your sweet elixirs of whiskey and beer brewed in waters from that “black pool” from which the Vikings gave you your name.

Dublin…you’re a city so bursting with inspiration and things to do, one could never do you justice in just one trip.  I was with you long enough just to get to know you a bit, to see the hints of your charms amongst the slivers of your faults, and I saw enough to know that one day I would want to see more, more that I could never fully have because you belong to everyone and no one, to Joyce alone and to all the world.  Is it any wonder that James Joyce said, “When I die Dublin will be written in my heart”?  For was it not you that made him immortal?  Once touched by you, we all become Dubliners.  I’ll be back, my dear.  I consider myself warned.

Sincerely, Dave. Continue reading

Dave’s Excellent Eurotrip 2013 Part 2: Bruges

Bruges Map

Well, what is there to say about Bruges, Belgium (Brugge) that hasn’t already been said in one of my favorite films in recent memory, In Bruges?

While visiting a friend and vacationing in Amsterdam, the siren songs of Bruges were impossible to resist.  Depending on how many transfers you have, Bruges is just a three to four hour train ride from Amsterdam, and what better way to see more of Northern Europe than by train?  It was interesting to see the flat farmlands of The Netherlands, reclaimed from the water through their ingenious designs of dikes, dams and canals.  Off in the distance windmills both ancient and modern could be seen and quaint small towns were passed by until we reached Belgium.  On the way back to Amsterdam we even got to see a little bit of Antwerp during an hour layover at possibly the world’s most beautiful train station.  Who knew, however, that Belgium is apparently considered the armpit of Northern Europe, as my friend (who has lived in both Belgium and New Jersey – another famous armpit we share in heritage) confirmed the theory I was developing while the train rattled through more small towns and rundown graffiti-strewn cities.  But…who cares when Belgium is also home to the world’s best waffles, chocolate and beer?  And…well…Bruges.

Martin McDonagh’s endearing black comedy captured Bruges perfectly.  When Ken (Brendan Gleeson) fumbles over the phone with Harry (Ralph Fiennes) when trying to describe how Ray (Colin Farrell) felt about Bruges…he was spot on.  Getting off at the train station, your first thought might be what the hell…maybe Bruges is a shit hole?  But as soon as your feet hit those cobblestone streets and your eyes take in all the architecture, churches and canals, Belgium’s best preserved medieval city really is like a fuckin’ fairytale, innit?  I mean, honest to god, Bruges is probably the most unabashedly beautiful city I have ever seen.  Bruges knows exactly what it is, why people come, and it luxuriates you in its very essence. Continue reading

Dave’s Excellent Eurotrip 2013 Part 1: Amsterdam

Amsterdam Map

Ah, Amsterdam – a city of infinite inspiration.  A city of romantic canals and crepuscular red-lit streets, of curious contradictions, of people confident and tolerant and fit, of old and new.  I mean where else in the world could you see within a matter of minutes from each other the original building that housed the Dutch West India Company (yes, that Dutch West India Company, you know, that explored and exploited much of the New World and founded New Amsterdam which became New York City) and the current world headquarters of Booking.com?

Amsterdam – a multi-cultural liberal stronghold atop ground that had it been left to its own devices would’ve been swallowed up by the sea.  Kindergartens and churches sit comfortably adjacent to the Red Light District, and there is a vibe of very little worry or concern about it.  It’s a city where if you are looking for something, you will find it.  But there doesn’t seem to be any cultural neurosis or obsessing over it.  People just are.  They hustle and bustle, but in a laid-back manner.  The inhabitants seem to share in a sense of solving problems in practical, efficient, scalable ways – whether it’s reclaiming land for growth and controlling the tides, creating bicycle paths to corral the traffic, or dealing with the darker sides of human nature.  And while all of that is there if you look for it, it’s also a city of incomparable history, architecture, art and beauty.

It’s a city I envision myself returning to again and again as no single trip could ever do it justice. Continue reading