Pints of Guinness make you stronger

August 6, 2005

I made sort of a travelogue for my last trip to Ireland so I wouldn’t forget what happened a couple years down the road. My memory has a habit of fading. Here is only some of my rambling. And I do ramble. It’s very long.

A few months before going on the trip, I booked the cheapest ticket I could find, which was with Virgin Air out of Orlando. When you order a non-refundable ticket through Priceline, your trip is pretty much solidified – you are going, unless you want to bend over and take one from the entire staff because your ticket is non-changeable and non-refundable and non-swappable. Ted, my traveling buddy on this adventure, told me the lowest fares would probably be found going into London first, so I went with that. He was a lying bastard in retrospect and I let him know that many times on the trip, especially when I wanted him to buy me a pint. In the end, I connected flights 3 times and I think tickets must have cost about $800 or more, which is more than it is to fly directly into Shannon or Dublin. So, that was a bad start.

I was more nervous in Pensacola, my starting point, than I was while waiting in the other airports or while flying. There’s all of that built up anxiety, not to mention airports aren’t my favorite places. I just wanted to get it all over with. There’s too much going on in airports at any given time – people running here and there, flights to catch, overall stress. The day of departure, I sat with my parents in the lounge of the Pensacola Regional Airport and had a beer with my father. I don’t think it was even 12pm at that point, but we said what the hell. Something has to kill those butterflies fluttering about in your stomach and it might as well be beer.

Before D-Day I had e-mailed Ted to get everything straightened out – things like where were we going to meet, what the back up plan was if one of us wasn’t there, whatever. That frayed my nerves a little, because a lot of things depended on other things. That’s not the way I operate. I want to know where I’m going along with what time I will be leaving when it comes to transportation. Yet, despite all of my preparation, there were flights that were going to be missed, tickets that were going to be wasted, and Ted would fly in from Italy a day before me by accident, meaning I had to meet him in Ireland instead of at an airport in England.

My wait in Pensacola was pretty short, along with the flight; one hour or so on a mini-jet. In Orlando I did have to wait. I sat around sweating for a while, then decided to take two aspirin so I wouldn’t succumb to the dreaded Deep Vein Thrombosis (otherwise known as Economy Class Syndrome). I would be damned if I was going to fly half way around the world, stand up once we landed, and die immediately from a clog in one of my vessels. DVT is most commonly reported to happen to men and women over 40, but I’m unlucky and if anyone under 40 is going to die from something so unusual, it would be me. An annoucement finally said the plane was ready for boarding and people began collecting their things. The plane had been late, which wasn’t good for me, because I had a connecting flight to catch later on. After chatting with the man at the desk, I knew I was screwed. I asked if I could get a seat near the exit so that I wouldn’t be stuck in line once we landed, but he said it wasn’t up to him. He also said I probably wouldn’t make my flight. Thanks for that encouragement! I abandoned all hope, preparing myself for flying 8 hours across the Atlantic only to sit in an airport for another 8 hours once landed.

I eyed my fellow passengers waiting in line with me. Please, lord, don’t let me be seated next to those beautiful girls in front of me. All I need is to sit next to two attractive European females while reeking of sweat to kill my soul and confidence forever. Don’t do it, god damn it! My wish was granted and I ended up being seated next to an elderly British couple, who were probably no more impressed than the females would have been. But being old means you get the shaft, so that was that. I kept my arms down, jacket on, and tried to stay awake as the stewardesses mulled over safety instructions. I focused on the TV in my seatback. This is already better than US Air, I told myself. We had no fancy gadgets there, just pain and boredom and darkness! This screen showed real time stats, along with where we were in the world with a little airplane icon. Neato.

I awoke at some point with a grunt of astonishment and despair, startling the old woman next to me. My TV was off, so I instinctively started groping for the remote. I did my best to avoid brushing arms with the woman, as one should never touch the person next to them on a flight, for it is bad airplane etiquette. Keep your oils and limbs to yourself. I glared at the gay flight attendant with too much cologne on and Rod Stewart-hair. How dare he turn off my seatback TV? It was my only comfort, the cruel bastard. I checked to see our position on the GPS and discovered we were in the middle of the ocean with a few hours left to go. I flipped back to Ray so I would have something to watch while stewing in my own body odor. The smell of airplane food drifted through the cabin and I wondered if I had been passed over while sleeping. My stomach was empty and with a five hundred and fifty dollar plane ticket I was damn well going to get something. I thought about what I would do should I not receive the mediocre in-flight meal. Something drastic, I told myself. A stewardess, perhaps sensing the volatility of the situation, approached and asked gently which I would rather have: the vegetarian lasagna or the beef something or other. Beef what, I wondered? I couldn’t hear the rest of what she said, but also knew well that beef was superior to all other forms of food. A pound of raw beef is a suitable meal for the prince of any foreign land! “Beef,” I told her, knowingly. I was handed a platter covered in aluminum foil.

We landed in London several hours later. Gatwick Airport wasn’t as horrible as I expected it to be. I had to go through immigration, where I was given strange looks because the agents wanted to know where I was going and if I knew where I was going to stay, and I didn’t. I had told them “around Ireland,” and that I “didn’t know.” They don’t like that. They generally want to know what you’ll be doing and that you’ll be out of their country in 3 months so they don’t have to track you down and shoot you with a dart gun. At the very least, you should know what you’ll be doing. The woman looked me up and down, stamped my passport, and then I scampered off.

I struggled with a payphone once into the airport and called the Italian phone number I had written down in a book. My contact would be waiting. I am Bond. Don’t get excited — my contact was just Ted, and he is not a super secret agent or Pussy Galore. I told him that I had missed my flight and he didn’t seem very concerned at all, and this made me hate his Korean guts. Then the line cut off. I called him again, got two words in, and it died again. I gave up. I joined the never ending crowd of people racing past with luggage in toe.

Time actually went by quickly, for the most part. I journeyed upstairs into the lounge area to buy a couple of bottles of water to get re-hydrated, which cost approximately MY SOUL. The exchange rate over there is not good, at all. I regretted even buying the water when I needed money later, but what can a man do? I think I ended up going through 3 huge bottles, which brings me to the airport bathrooms. I tried to find the least visited one, which to me, seemed to be the one tucked behind the arcade. The average sane person, I had thought, would see the “restrooms” sign pointing towards the arcade, give Virtual Cop 2 a glance, and then just decide to play that instead. No go. Apparently, other people have a greater attention span than I do. Privacy would not be mine, but to be honest, it was an international airport and I’m not sure I really expected any.

Now, if you’ve had to look after your own luggage in an airport and have had to use the bathroom, you know that it is a pain in the god damn ass. I had to partake of one of the stalls and my backpack was too heavy to hang from the door, so I slung my jacket up there and then looked at the ground for a safe place to put the backpack. There wasn’t one and the floor was damp with god knows what. I took a bunch of toilet paper, strategically placed it on the floor, and then put my backpack on that. In the end, none of that helped. My backpack still slightly reeked of other men’s piss. To reassure myself, I concluded that a “hardened traveler” has to smell a little bit like piss, because piss is unavoidable in this world and if you’re going to travel the world, you ought to smell like urine. It seemed like a reasonable thing to think after a day without sleep, anyway.

I’m against shitting, by anyone, in public places because I feel that they are not places one should take a shit. There are several reasons for this, but I shouldn’t have to elaborate. I just think one should shit in their own home, in privacy. I would think most people could handle waiting for home, unless they’re some sort of sick serial shitter and have to shit anywhere and everywhere and are comfortable with doing that. I am not, but alas, my home was 4,000 miles away, so I was forced to do the age old “toilet paper delicately placed on toilet seat” routine. I decided squatting was a dangerous maneuver and now was not the time or place to utilize it, so the toilet paper was my only choice. I wondered if the other guys around me were struggling with the same circumstances or if they were veteran airport shitters and had it all down and covered.

While in the stall, I noticed that the Gatwick Airport was the most overstaffed airport in the world. This is because a cleaning crew composed of Nigerians attack the bathrooms every 30 seconds. The guys don’t fucking stop. There seems to be an entire team of them that assault the bathrooms in unison with various mops and spray bottles. When I finished up, one of the cleaners bolted into my stall like his mission in life was to clean up whatever I had left behind on my toilet paper tangent. He was blitzkrieging the bunker that was my filth.

Beyond my bathroom expeditions, most of my time was spent sitting around and wishing I could take a shower, or wandering around clueless. I eventually set up post on some couches in one of the hallways where no one else was sitting. Two Canadian girls – I could tell because of the huge flags stitched into their backpacks – came around and sat down across from me at some point, giving me something to look at. When you’re not spreading your seed to supple Canadian females, you ought to be thinking about it, so this is what I did for several hours. I defiled you, whores, know that! There was maple syrup involved and your screams of joy will echo in my head for all eternity! And I didn’t even speak to you. Ah, the power of the mind. Why didn’t I approach them? Because there was nothing to talk about and also because I wasn’t sure that they would agree with me on the whole “smelling like piss is good” thing. Plus you just don’t approach random people in an airport on little to no sleep. They don’t want to be bothered and neither do you. One of the girls brought out an inflatable neck pillow, put it on, pulled her hoodie over her head and fell asleep. She obviously knew what she was doing. I did not, so I just kind of sat around and listened to my mp3 player until a couple of hours before my flight was to take off.

I had been worrying a lot about something simple – if my backpack would fit in the overhead bin on a Ryan Air flight. I asked the ticket man if it would have to be checked and he sort of looked at it.
“Do you want it to be checked?”
“No, but isn’t it too big?”
“Eh…” he said, waving me on. It was obviously a lot bigger than the baggage-bin-tester, but if the man was ok with it then I was. After passing through security, I saw the rest of Gatwick, which was huge. Food shops and duty free shops were everywhere. I was antsy and tired of sitting, so I wandered around staring at 2 for 1 Beef Eater and Johnny Walker Red. Some man from the store approached me at some point, asking where I was headed to. I told him I was going to Ireland and he said I couldn’t buy anything from duty free. “OK, I won’t” I said. “Just looking…that’s all.” He sort of lingered in the area and stared me down for a few minutes rather blatantly as I continued looking around. I can’t stand starers. I wanted to grab a bottle and break it over his head, then stab him with the remaining shards of glass, but I did not. I did not.

You are not given a gate to wait at in Gatwick. You sit and wait around for your flight information to show up on one of the mounted television sets in the shopping area. It sits at something akin to “Shannon, Ireland…Please wait” for an hour as you stare at it in desperation and then eventually, it switches to “Boarding at Gate 34,” so you gather your stuff and run through one of the many doors in the area with a sign next to it that says “Gates 1 to 1,000,000” and head down a long and winding ramp towards where your gate is supposedly at. A herd of other travelers briskly walk along side you, hoping to get a good seat, or a place in line, or perhaps just a thigh bone to chew on. We’d been waiting for 8 hours and we had smelled meat. Now it was OUR turn. I made it down to a lounge area and saw that it was drizzling outside. A cold wind was blowing in through an open door behind the ticket counter. I took a seat near it so I could hop up quickly when the woman wanted to see our tickets, but alas it did not work and I was entered into the side of the line instead of in the actual thing. I think I was forced to cut in front of someone, and I’m almost sure an Irish woman nearby verbally expressed her disappointment about this, but I didn’t care. I was not being stuck in some shitty seat next to some 400 pound fatty, if there were any present other than myself. My American instinct had kicked in, something you don’t really need much over in Europe, because people don’t commonly eat McDonalds for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Either way I made it onto the airplane, securing a row of my own. I thought I was lucky, but I would later regret my choice in seating when the incredibly annoying Irish child behind me began knocking the back of my seat and going into various bratty hysterics. I thought about buying a small bottle of liquor, breaking it over the child’s head, and stabbing it with the remaining shards of glass, but I did not. I did not.

Ryan Air is Ireland’s cheap, dirt bag airline and they know this. They have no shame. Here is a snippet from BBC News:

“The objective is to get rid of hold baggage altogether,” said Mr O’Leary, with passengers restricted to carry-on baggage only. This could cut its airport costs by a third within two to three years, it said.
“If you want to carry more, then fly with more expensive airlines,” he said.

“But you can save so much with Ryanair you can buy your hair dryer when you arrive.”

The flight attendants wear horrible outfits retrieved from the set of some 80’s show which must have been about parking attendants or bellboys, because they are all dressed like they are waiting to park your car somewhere. They wear grim faces like they know that one day, this tin-with-wings airplane they are inside of will crash and they will die in their horrible outfits, without ever having parked or retrieved anyone’s car. They appear to be very bitter about the whole thing. The in-plane music which you are treated to is, from what I can tell, Nintendo music. It is literally a bunch of beeps and boops from some game I apparently haven’t played. I sat waiting for the Cabal or Mario Brothers soundtrack to kick in, but I was not so lucky on this flight.

In Shannon, Ireland, I was accosted by the immigration people again. I told them I was headed to meet a friend in Ennis.
“You’re staying in Ennis?” they asked.
“No, I’m just meeting him there. We’re doing the backpacker thing.”
I turned sideways so the agent could see my backpack and I gave a half smile. He looked at me and then stamped. This went better than my last trip to Ireland, where I was alone…
“You’re going where?” the man asked.
“With who?”
“Just me.”
“You’re going to Doolin alone?”
“Yeah… is that bad?”
“No.” He paused for moment. “Good effort.”
I looked at him and tried to read his face to see what kind of shit I was getting myself into, but I found nothing and went on my way, determined to continue my exodus into the promised land of jolly old drunkards and beautiful red-haired Irish maidens. Good effort, indeed, you poor, poor fool.

Surprisingly enough, everything was in the same place and I remembered the lay out of Shannon Airport. I felt good, prepared. I was back. “I know how to do all of this,” I told myself. “Easy going.” I needed cash desperately, so I headed over to the ATM to retrieve some Euros. I tried to get a low denomination, but it was apparently out of anything under 50E. I had a mild panic attack. Visions of holding up the bus line and an old Irish coach driver scolding me for ruining his schedule swirled in my head. He would kick me off of the bus to leave me in Shannon for the night only after calling me a “stupid American pig.” I could see it clear as day. “Did you think I would have change for a 100 euro bill? Jeezus!” he would bellow, speeding off at 100KPH.

The bank in the airport was unattended, so I headed to the tourist shop and asked them if I could exchange some of my monopoly money for more monopoly money in lesser denominations. The woman put up a fight and was obviously not impressed with me or the ATM machine. “Normally, we would have you buy something,” she said. I made a face and looked around at their products. She continued lamenting on how there were 50 Euro bills everywhere, but 20s were scarce because of all the travelers like myself. Then she told me she would give me change. My mention of needing it for the bus must have forced her to pity me. Praise the lord, for today will not be my undoing by the Bus Eireann man. I had to wonder exactly how scarce the lower-denominations really were. Were people rationing them? Was there some sort of mix up at the printing press in Dublin? Was the cashier hoping to raid the register later, exchange her own cash, and head home proudly to show her family the bounty of low-denomination bills? Whatever. I had my money.

The bus ride to Ennis reminded me of my last trip. I started out in the same place and then went on to the same town — Doolin. My Bus Eireann coach driver was like every other one I had ridden with. . . he hauled ass down the road like an insane man let loose from an asylum who just so happened to find an empty bus on the side of the road. These men are Ireland’s Indie 500; their feats impress me every time I join them for a nauseous, blurry trip around the Irish countryside.

Believe it or not, Ted was actually waiting for me at the bus stop. He came through. I was positive that he was not going to be there, that for some reason he was going to be held up – trampled by a horse, drunk in an alley, glory holing in a public bathroom somewhere – but he was at the bus stop waiting for me. I gave a smile and hugged him as the bus stop people looked on with those looks of bus stop dread. It was chilly out, we were in Ireland, and we hadn’t seen each other in a year or so. What a hell of a place to meet.

From Ennis, the plan was to head on to Doolin, since I was somewhat familiar with it and because it’s a nice base of operations for the Cliffs of Moher. Ted demanded to see the cliffs, but I had already been. “You don’t go to Paris and not see the Eiffel Tower,” he told me in an e-mail. Later in the trip a savvy Irishman at a bed and breakfast stated that he “wouldn’t piss off of the Cliffs of Moher.” Word – although they’re awesome, that’s not what Ireland is about to me. You don’t go out of your way to gawk at one thing when the entire country is beautiful and there are so many other things to do. Still, I didn’t mind the idea of seeing Co. Clare again. You might as well see the Cliffs if the option is available.

Admittedly, I was a bitchass punk that first day. I was totally exhausted. I was hungry, cold, tired, and sort of depressed to be in a foreign country while feeling all of those things. When you feel that shitty, you want to be at home in your bed, not trying to find a bed half way around the world. We walked off the bus and stood around on the side of the road like lost children. It took me a few minutes to get my bearings. Doolin is literally a town of two streets and a harbor; it is not big by any means. The bus trundled off down the road behind us. I wondered what we looked like standing on the side of the road with our backpacks and raincoats on, confusion on our faces and guidebooks in our hands. Ted read off a list of places to stay. I had remembered from the first time I was in Doolin that the Aillie River Hostel had gotten some praise, but I really did not want to stay in a hostel for my first night in Ireland. I felt bad. I wanted to take a hot shower in privacy, leave my stuff without worrying about it, get drunk and then go to bed. Ted agreed but suggested we go check out the hostel anyway, so we went over and looked around. Some Swiss-German or other form of hot Eurogirl greeted us inside with a huge grin. Had I been alone, I would have mistaken her friendly smile for something more and then stayed there in one of the cramped rooms hoping to hit it off. I wasn’t alone, though, and the place didn’t look like anything special, so we continued to shop around. Hostelling could come later when we were low on cash. I worked my ass off for months to get to Ireland, so I figured I might as well enjoy it. It’s a vacation, not boot camp, I told myself.

Ted dispatched of my worries about having to stay in run down hostels for two straight weeks by offering to pay for nicer rooms with a credit card if I ran out of money. He said I could just pay him back later, which made me feel better. Always nice to travel with someone who has good credit. B&B’s sounded too high priced for our blood, like something newlyweds do, but we gave it a shot and we lucked out. We managed to find a house where a woman was offering 25 Euro per night, per person, including breakfast. Factoring in that Irish breakfasts are huge, you have your own shower, and you get a place to safely store your stuff, we decided it was a great deal – better than we found anywhere else in Ireland.

We went out for Guinness at McGann’s, a pub down the road, where some musicians were preparing to play. I’ve read that the further away you get from Dublin, the worse the Guinness tastes. I think I believe it…it’s phenomenal stuff, something to travel back for. Along with the music at the pub, we also got a singing rendition from some random pudgy American girl from Wisconsin, which made me feel sort of uncomfortable. This isn’t American God Damn Idol. There was an elderly Irish man sporting a fluffy white beard sitting at our table, and he turned to look at me as the girl sang. I raised my eyebrows in a form of apology. Sorry, we’re Americans, this is what we do. I didn’t want to make fun of the girl, after all, she had the guts to sing into a microphone in front of a bunch of drunkards, but her singing was bad and it was butchering the mood. The mood I speak of was a good one before the Wisconsin girl came into the scene, because a local had been putting on a show for everyone with her acoustic guitar. She had a great voice and ended up playing quite a few songs. I don’t think she was even being paid, unlike the two guys who gave up their seat for her. She finished up and then sat down at our table next to her dad, mentioning something about playing Beatles songs all night and being tired of performing. Ted then asked “Do you enjoy the Beatles?” to which she responded “Yes, I do.” I cringed and tried to think of something else to say. Ah, awkward talk. Never fails to move me. I didn’t really bother trying to communicate, because nobody would understand me anyway. I’m not one to raise my voice and pubs are not known to be quiet. In fact, I had a misunderstanding with the bargirl when trying to order food, so I came back empty handed. Ted, who had only eaten the scraps off of some soccer hooligan’s plate earlier in the day, was apparently ravenous, so he went up there himself and managed to get an order of toasteds for us, AKA grilled cheese sandwiches. We ate those, drank a lot of beer, got drunk rather easily, and then headed outside.

We decided it would be a great idea to walk (in pitch black) down to the light house that appeared to be miles from our location. We were about half of a mile out when I told Ted that I thought we might be run over by a car and that I thought the lighthouse was on one of the Aran Islands across the ocean anyway. If I remember, his sloppy response was that he wanted to “keep going,” because he wanted to “make a campfire on the beach.” I was against this because from what I knew, there was no beach and setting a fire on this beach, wherever it might be, didn’t seem like a good thing to do at this hour. Besides, as I quizzed him drunkenly, “Where would we get firewood?” Where, indeed. We made it back to town, only to see a car go speeding off down the direction we came from. What fun that would have been, fibulas and spleen all over the place. I’d had enough bad experiences with cars, thorns, explosive diarrhea and small country roads in Doolin, so I wasn’t interested in wandering around out in the dark.

That’s all I wrote. The rest of this will be continued on later when I’m motivated, which is probably going to be never. It also depends on if anyone actually bothered to read this entire thing.


3 Responses to “Pints of Guinness make you stronger”

  1. DBW Says:

    Ok, Im taking as many notes as I can about my trip to Italy, and apparently what I have to do once my traveling starts is write about my bathroom habits. You sir, need help.
    The rest of your tale was a good one though, mostly cuz I was trying to imagine myself doing pretty much the exact same type of stuff next year and Im not looking forward to the airports, bus riding, and dealing with people thing. At least you went to a country where they spoke the same language. Even if it was slurred.
    So hurry up and write part two. And three. And however many other parts you need to finish the story. Im bored and need to be amused.

  2. Ted Says:

    Lying bastard? I’ll kill you. You still owe me $50.

  3. Mark Says:

    I’m catching up, finally. That was fucking great man. DO MORE!

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