Part 2: CouchSurfing Meetup

This is a continuation of a different post. Click here to read part 1

Rachel and I hung around with Kathrin after the bike tour ended and together we walked to the waterfront. I was unable to convince either of them to go swimming with me, it was windy, we would have frozen when we got out. Maybe if there was a warm car with heated seats ready to take us back to a cozy room with a fireplace. Instead, we lied on the beach and watched a couple surfers frolic around in the waves.

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Barcelona is a pretty spectacular city. I am impressed. I love being able to walk or bike anywhere, and there’s a beach and mountains close by. It reminds me a lot of Toronto, since the waterfront is to the south and everything north slowly slopes uphill; makes it easy to navigate.

Kathrin left to go to Sagrada Familia, including a tour up the towers. (I messaged her later and she said that compared to El Turo de la Rovira, the view wasn’t that good) She’s back to Germany tomorrow so we said our goodbyes and left. We went back to our place and relaxed for a bit. Siestas really are fantastic, especially when touring because you end up waking everywhere all day and night.

I managed to convince Rachel to join me for a Couchsurfing meeting / Meetup group for tapas and a language exchange. It was at Bar Txirimiri and for 5.50 euros we got a drink and five tapas. The tapas really did not look very good; they were all served on bread and it was really hard to guess what each one was. We weren’t even that hungry anyway. I’m pretty sure we just put the plate down somewhere, and maybe ate one or two of them between us. Actually, I think we ate one and then got hungry a couple hours later and just ate the bread from beneath the questionable topping. Ha, we are adventurous aren’t we. 

We walked into the back room of the bar, where the event is held, and were immediately greeted by a somewhat older Catalonian guy. He started off by saying, “oh the young people are at the back, I’m sure you want to talk with them.” It was said in a friendly manner, but I just laughed and said well what’s wrong with talking with old people? So we talked a bit before he had to leave, and introduced us to another Catalonian on his way out named Jordi.

Like a few other people there, he was attending to practice his English for work. He was saying that in terms of business hours, things in Spain are slowly starting to change. He seemed almost frustrated by the fact that businesses shut down for two hours in the day. Following the Spanish Civil War and WW2, the country was really poor and it forced many people to work two jobs. A person would finish their first job at around 2 or 3 o’clock and have lunch before heading to their second job. Hence, creating the late lunch and even later dinner that is the norm in Spain. I don’t know if this is the actual reason or not, but it’s what Jordi’s grandmother had explained to him.

When Jordi was born, his birth certificate stated Jorge, as Jordi is a Catalonian name and was banned from use at the time. Many people here are named Jordi, after Sant Jordi (Saint George), he being the one who slew the dragon with his sword. I will write out that story in a later post.

Jordi had visited Eastern Canada that year and was scrolling through photos when Rachel was approached by two men who tapped her on the shoulder and said, “English?” It was really cute, Rachel got pulled away and chatted with the two eager Italian men.

Jordi said he had to work the next day and was obviously hesitating to leave because he wanted to ask me my contact details; it was funny. The Barcelona FC were playing against Germany that night, so he stalled by remarking on the game. Apparently Messi had gotten injured a couple weeks earlier and everyone was all concerned about it. They play in 3 different leagues, and last year they won all of them. It’s always fun cheering for a winning sports team.

After Jordi left, I joined Rachel and the Italians, Emmanuel and Fabio. Fabio seemed far more comfortable speaking in English, though Emmanuel would join in every once in awhile, listening intensely the whole time.

I kept getting asked what I do for a living, to which I would reply that I was a mold maker, which produced blank stares. I thought perhaps saying that would be shorter and easier than saying I work for a company that builds animal simulators that we sell to veterinary schools all over the world. Turns out, most people who have learned English as a second language don’t learn the world mold. Sculpture they do understand, so I  described making copies of sculptures by covering them with rubber.That would then be followed by questions about the animals and the simulators and ultimately horse vaginas and other animal parts.

I was speaking with Andre, another Italian guy. He was dressed in a button up shirt that was far too form fitting for his body, and had the funkiest eyebrows, I couldn’t stop looking at them they were so distracting. Mind you, I usually notice if people have horribly bad eyebrows and am often distracted by how bad I would love to fix them. The makeup artist comes out in me on occasion. He seemed really impressed (with my occupation), and said that I had one of the most interesting jobs he had ever heard of. He himself worked in IT and could therefore work anywhere in the world, which was the same story I had heard earlier from Barbara.

She joined the discussion and the three of us were all talking about horse vaginas. A Korean girl came to join the conversation and was utterly confused by the subject matter she had walked in to. I had to repeat my work shpiel (how do you spell that? Schpiel? Spiel?) again, starting with what a mold is.

Barbara offered me some bread, as the entirety of her bag was filled with a big round loaf. She had found a vegan bakery around the corner and was all excited about it. She’s actually vegetarian but said she will eat things here and there. She said it was hard in Spain to be vegetarian, as a lot of the food and almost all of the tapas are quite meat heavy. It was no problem not eating cheese here though, as the cheese is nothing compared to other places, such as in her country, Germany.

Vegetarianism became our conversation topic and Andre was being argumentative about it, bluntly stating his opinion as fact. He eats as he knows to be the healthiest way, which is according to research, and that includes eating meat. Barbara listens to her body, and for her that meant not eating meat. I was kind of amused. Andre kept going on about it and Barbara was getting really flustered by him totally disregarding her opinion. Oh, but science proves it! Yes, except that science continuously changes its opinion as new information comes to light. Multiple times she said she wanted to punch him, which I later learned probably would have been a significant jab since she’s into muay thai and brazilian jiu jitsu. Barbara and I opted to change the subject and Andre took his fucked up eyebrows and his dinky wine glass elsewhere.

Just as an aside, I heard someone say the other day that vegans are some of the most hostile people in the world. I think I understand what causes that opinion, as I’ve been a part of or heard a number of vegan / vegetarianism conversations. I think that a lot of the reason that vegans/vegetarians are so guarded is that they constantly get harped on for something that is their own personal choice. Often, as soon as it comes up that someone is vegetarian/vegan they immediately are asked why and end up having to defend their own personal reasons.  Mind you, there are also those who preach or try to shame people into not consuming animal products, also disrespecting another’s choice. 

Barbara and I chatted about drinking and about how it seems like the whole world has a bit of a drinking problem (functioning alcoholism). It seems to be prevalent in almost every place that I have visited in the world. She is from Munich, the home of Oktoberfest, which begins in September and ends the first week of October. There are tons of people, loser drunk, walking around everywhere. If someone passes out, the police come and cover them with a blanket to ensure they stay warm throughout the night. I was like, what!? They just leave them?! There are so many people littering the streets that it wouldn’t be feasible to transport or house them all for the night. EMS are on the streets looking after people if they are seriously in trouble and/or to make sure people are ok. That seems absurd to me. Oktoberfest brings in about 6 million people every year. Whooooa, that’s a lot of drunks and a lot of booze.

I overheard Rachel talking about moose, trying to explain how big they are to some disbelievers. They are between 1.4 and 2.1m (or 4.6 to 6.9ft) tall at the shoulders, and are apparently also found in Scandinavia, Latvia, Estonia and Russia. The British call them elk, which is rather confusing because to North Americans, elk are a completely different animal. Rachel was saying that her listeners did not know much about wildlife, big game in particular. She recounted her story of being chased by a moose on her bicycle out in the woods one day. They also went over bear safety and basic wildlife knowledge. Cougars are scary!

 

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Part 1 – Bike Tour

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Edu was the name of our guide for our Steel Donkeys bike tour, he was born and raised in Barcelona. He was fantastic. Kathrin, the German girl from the photography tour joined us as well, along with a Russian couple.

Our first stop was in the Gothic Quarters. We had already walked the area extensively, but it was very interesting having a little bit more background knowledge from a local, things you wouldn’t catch or realize the significance of otherwise. Edu pointed out a stone head of a woman attached to the corner of one of the buildings.

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Those heads used to indicate that the building was a brothel. Being a port town, many sailors would come into town seeking out heads such as these. Some of the female heads had snakes for hair like Medusa, or if it were a man’s head, he would have a goatee and devil horns. The buildings themselves were also often painted red, so they were quite recognizable. The businesses were run by the government and the church.

Very few of the heads remain. As the buildings changed ownership, the new owners were quick to remove the sculptures, not wanting their building to be mistaken for a brothel. The one pictured was saved from such fate as a piece of history, a reminder of the past.

As I’ve mentioned, the streets in that neighbourhood are tiny, windy, and hard to navigate (even with a map). Of course, when they were built, the main mode of transportation was by horse drawn carriage. Driving a car down those streets and running into another car would result in a frustrating game of reversing, imagine trying to maneuver horses and a carriage backwards. To prevent this, the streets were made into one ways. There were entrada (enter) signs with a depiction of a horse and carriage indicating which way the street ran, and a salida or exit sign at the end.

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Due to the streets being so narrow, many of the carriages would crash into the the sides of buildings as they turned, damaging the corner of the edifice. If you pay attention, there are many corners where the damage is visible, most extensively lower down where the large wheels would make bike04contact. People were unhappy with their homes getting damaged, so they placed large stones at the bases of the street corners so the carriages would hit them instead of their house.

While we were there, we saw some men who were carrying around orange compressed gas cylinders, clanging them as they walked and shouting out into the street. Edu explained that as the buildings are so old, many of them are not connected to any gas lines, so people use propane. The men clang the tanks so that people know they are there and can call down, ordering for one or two to be brought up. It seemed like a sociable, friendly transaction. It reminded me of when we had a milkman when I was a kid, he would take us for rides around the block in his truck.

 

Next stop was a nut shop that still roasts all of their goods with a wood fired oven. It was called Gispert and had opened in 1851. In front of the shop, embedded into the sidewalk was a plaque presented to the shop by the city. It featured a gold plate with the name of the store, the date it had opened and the date the plaque was awarded. They are to commemorate businesses that have continued to be successful throughout the years and through many generations, as they are often family affairs that are passed down. Surrounding the gold plaque were symbols representing many different trades, such as the lock maker, cobbler and fisherman.

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Carrer de la Seca means street of the mint, so naturally this is where an old mint still sits. The windows were barred and there was a large brick bike07chimney lifting up into the sky. Peseta means little piece in Catalan, and was the unit of currency in Catalonia until 1850. In 1868 the name peseta was used in the new Spanish currency.

We continued on into the neighbourhood of El Born. The word born refers to jousting, as one of the main streets in the neighbourhood is where jousting competitions took place. There is a large building that was the local food market from 1876 to 1971. It is unique in its construction as it is mostly made of iron. Many years after the market closed, there was a large debate as to what the building should become. Eventually it was deemed to be a public library. In 2002, shortly after construction commenced, ruins were discovered underneath the original market floor. The library was abandoned and archaeologists set to work preserving the great discovery, believed to have originally been built in the 1700s. What they found was extensive, with many underground tunnels beneath the surrounding city streets.

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The market officially opened to the public on September 11, 2013. This was 299 years after Barcelona was overcome in a siege, marking the end of Catalonia as an independent state. The building is now known as the El Born Cultural Center where one can get a glimpse of what Barcelona used to look like. The exhibition is one of the few free attractions in the city.

The 1888 World Fair was held in Barcelona; the large arch on Paseo Lluis Companys was used as the main entrance for the exhibit. It was for this event and at this location that Eiffel proposed building his famous structure, but he was turned down and the archway was built instead. Eiffel of course, brought his plans to Paris.

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Graffiti is actually illegal within the city, despite it being visible on nearly every street. A person would not go to jail for being caught, they would only receive a fine. It seen on almost every shop door shutters, that are often visible as stores like to close mid day and all day on Sunday. There is one neighbourhood where there was an agreement made with the artists allowing them to tag the shutters. This gave the artists considerably more time to work on their pieces without fear of getting caught.

After watching a city worker remove some graffiti, Edu asked him why he did not remove another piece right beside it. The worker explained that he liked that piece and wanted to leave it.

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In the mid 19th to 20th century, the city set to work building neighbourhoods in an octagonal grid pattern called Eixample. Ildefons Cerdá designed the streets without corners to allow for better visibility when approaching an intersection, and also to allow air to flow more freely through the city. As a pedestrian, it was kind of annoying walking through the streets. Your journey is extended because you have to constantly zig zag to cross the street.

bike16The only street signs they had were small, hard to read plaques that were on the horizontal and/or vertical faces of the buildings. Standing on one of the cut off corners, it was hard to figure out what streets you were on because you’d be searching for these tiny little signs and you’d have to walk around the corner of the building to read it. It seemed like it would be horribly annoying as a driver that is new to the city. It was hard to tell what street was approaching, and you wouldn’t know what street it was unless you turned onto it and were able to spot it while driving. It was odd. I’m glad we didn’t rent a car. Oh, you also would have to watch out for any stupid tourists that would walk out in front of you. Yield to those wielding suitcases. 

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I asked Carlota (our Barcelonian friend) about navigating in the city, and she basically said you just have to learn all the streets and know where you are at all times. Seems odd in a city overrun with tourists. There were some signs that indicated the direction to a larger landmark, like the Plaça Catalunya or Arc de Triomf, but even those did not indicate exactly which street you needed to take, just an arrow blindly leading you a direction.

I love that everyone jay walks here. It’s awesome. You can tell the locals from the tourists by who waits for the light to turn green and who confidently crosses the street when there are no cars coming.

Going back to the octagonal blocks, within them are large parks or green spaces that were designed for people to enjoy. The problem was that it was the homeowners who needed to work together to decide what was to become of the green space and schedule maintenance and other upkeep. Many of the parks became privately accessible through people’s homes, while few remain open to the public with tunnel like streets leading to them. Many of the spaces sit unused. There are currently 8 public parks with plans to open 3 more in the future.

We visited one that had a courtyard with trees interspersed throughout the square. Against the far wall stood an old water tower flanked by two shallow, blue tiled pools. The water tower was in use until the 80’s, and the square is often filled with children running about.

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It is legal to ride your bicycle on the sidewalk and there are many bike lanes throughout the city, both separated and sharing the road with vehicles. The bikers seem to coexist quite peacefully with the many pedestrians. Very, very few people wear helmets. The one helmeted rider I can recall right now was on a road bike and looked like he could have been a courier. We were not given helmets on our tour, something I can’t see happening back home.

We stopped at a local market for lunch, I can’t remember the name of it, only that it wasn’t La Baqueria. That market has apparently been taken over by tourists. There were Spanish hams for sale, pigs that had only been fed acorns their whole lives. They go for 3 or 400 euros. This market was the only place we ever had to pay for the toilet, 50 cents. The Russians stocked up on cured meats, they were explaining that you can’t buy them back home anymore.

The Olímpic neighbourhood over near Port Olímpic used to be an industrial area, contaminating the city’s waterfront. A lot of upheaval came with the 1992 Olympic Games, and many of the factories were moved elsewhere in the city and there was a revitalization of the waterfront, creating the vibrant beach life seen today. The water is clear and filled with surfers and other water revelers; there is even a machine that combs the water to keep it clean.

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Barceloneta is the adjacent neighbourhood to the west, further down the shore. It is a fisherman’s neighbourhood and is famous for its good food. There is an old cable car built for the 1929 World Fair that still takes tourists up to Montjuïc.

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Our last stop was the post office, near to the bike shop. Like many other things here, it is beautiful inside and out. Definitely worth wandering in to send off your postcards.

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Parked outside of the post office was a truck branded with Bimbo, a brand of bread. I laughed, nothing like toasted bimbos for breakfast! Bimbo is the word I would use to describe a dumb blonde. Wikipedia says “it is a derogatory slang term for an attractive but unintelligent female.” Kathrin told me that in German, it is a racial slur for black people, referring to them as simple minded. I wonder if the two definitions are related.

I’m breaking this post into two parts, as there is much to write of the rest of the day. So, to be continued…

Sagrada Familia

I booked us both massages this morning at Kirosaje, somewhere in the alleyways of the Gothic Quarter. Ian, a Scottish guy in a bright green shirt greeted us and unlocked a small wooden door into the studio, which was the source of the tranquil music we could hear. Marina, an early 30’s-ish native Spanish speaker greeted us with hugs and kisses on the cheek and invited us to sit and choose a massage oil. The place felt like a well loved cave, somewhere close to the heart of a mountain, the heart being what was keeping us warm. The walls were old, white washed and of solid stone, there were no windows. It was a cozy little hole, one that a charming, hospitable creature might call home. The space was safely lit with Christmas lights.

I’ve come to realize that for a massage to be relaxing for me, someone must be forcibly pressing through layers of muscle, no need for any polite skin rubbing. Next time, I know to ask for deep tissue. Rachel had Marina (who is Argentinean) and said it was the best massage that she has ever had, which made me really happy. She gave them a 50 euro tip, so 25 euros each. For a 38 euro massage, I thought it was a bit outrageous (the Scottish guy even said that it was very generous) especially considering I was not all too impressed with mine. I almost wished Rachel had given it all to Marina in private. But ah well, it was a good day for the two of them.

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At 2:30 we booked a time to go check out Gaudí’s famous church, the Sagrada Familia. Construction began in 1882 and they’re still at it. It is a very unique looking building, nothing like any other cathedral or church I have ever seen. The facades are entrenched in such rich artistry.

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It’s all very busy, there are so many details and things to look at that it is easy to for the eyes to get lost. Being someone with nearly no religious background, I was not overly interested in what a lot of the sculptures actually represent, and more looking at the sculptures themselves.

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During the Spanish Civil War in 1936-1939 the church was raided and many parts of it were destroyed, including Antoni Gaudí’s workshop. You can easily see from the exterior which parts are new and rebuilt. In the basement of the building they had many of Gaudí’s original maquettes and drawings on display. Many of the maquettes had been smashed with only remnants of the originals remaining, artists had pieced them together to create a replica.

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Once inside, a notable feature are the huge tree-like columns that stretch towards the ceiling before branching out. There were even hollows representing knots where a bird might build its nest.

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We were not able to enter the towers, as they need to be booked in advance. I would definitely recommend going inside the church to anyone who visits Barcelona, I enjoyed it much more than the exterior. Make sure to book in advance, as it is always very busy.

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Earlier on the trip, when we were in a different church (where I kissed her! I try to make a point to kiss Rachel in churches), I remember talking to Rachel about my indifference to stained glass windows. They’re often of creepy looking religious figures making awkward faces, or flowers or something of the like. Sagrada Familia gave me a new appreciation for stained glass. Light, its presence and absence.

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Gaudí was quoted saying something along the lines of “with not enough light, you are blind, yet the same is true if there shall be too much.” The windows were designed to use the sun’s rays to light the entire church naturally.

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The east facing walls had an array of green and blue hued panes in a mosaic like pattern. The opposite wall featured reds and yellows. Lucky for us, it was a sunny day, the sun flooded the floor with the warm hues of a sunset. It is a striking contrast to the dimly lit, cold walls of any other cathedral or church I have entered. It created a very warm atmosphere, one of hope and celebration. The high ceilings were decorated with intricate shapes, and did not feature looming arches seen elsewhere.

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It was easy to see why so many people have such appreciation for Gaudí and his works throughout the city. Any locals that I have heard speak of him do so with such admiration and pride. After having been suppressed for so many years, the Catalan people seem happy to share with the world the marvels that they have created. I’m really curious to see if they do become their own nation. After having been here, it seems entirely possible.

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I’d love to come back in 20 years and see how much more they have completed. We could hear saws going off occasionally on the upper floors and see men at work walking around. 

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More giant bubbles in the street!church13

I was exhausted after we saw Sagrada Familia. We stopped at the now open comic book shop on the way home. It was a large, beautiful store, Norma Comics. Most books were in Spanish, but it was still fun to wander around and look at the artwork.

Some random building.

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I passed out around 6 or so and Rachel went out and got some more graffiti shots.

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Photography Tour

Rachel felt way better today, hooray!

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We got up and went out for breakfast again. There doesn’t seem to be much variance between the cafes and restaurants here. Most of them tour07seem to offer the same pastries and bocadillas (submarine sandwiches) and a lot of them literally have the same menus; paella, pasta, pizza and breakfast.

We tried to hit up the comic book shop, but almost everything is closed on Sundays. There was no indication of that on the door, it said they open at 10:30.

Rachel had a nap so I went out for a run and it was awesome! I love exercise! In New Zealand, when I arrived at a new town, I’d often go for a run through all the streets and make a mental map of places to walk by later and actually check out.

 

tour25I ran over to the building that looks like a giant torpedo. Apparently, it even lights up the evening. I stopped at a music centre on the way that had interactive booths set up outside about the sounds of the mediterranean. There was one screen that showed a video of someone’s vocal chords moving as they sang. It looked like a creature from Alien, just waiting for something gross to crawl out of the opening. 

Many of the parks here have public ping pong tables!

 

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I woke Rachel and we wandered over to the Primavera Hostel for a Couchsurfing meetup. It was a photography tour hosted by Michel, a local Barcelonian. There was a good mix of people, folks from Iran, Sri Lanka, Serbia, the US, England, Germany, Japan, Austria, Mexico, and two other locals. It was so fun! I just brought my GoPro to take pictures with in the blind, since I didn’t have it connected to my phone.

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I really enjoyed chatting with Carlota, who is from Barcelona. She said it was interesting seeing her city through the eyes of a tourist. She was curious to know Michel’s secret spots in the city worth visiting. She spoke very good English, and of course is fluent in Catalan and Spanish, with some French and is learning German. She’s going to school for aeronautical engineering and business administration. She seemed well educated and was very attentive and genuinely interested when we chatted.

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She gave me some background information about the political vote that was occurring that day. It had to do with two political parties that were uniting to move forward in their goal of independencia, or independence from Spain. A take on the Cuban flag, there many independencia flags around the city, from local shops to hanging from apartment windows and balconies, or even on T-shirts. It has the four red stripes on the yellow background, which is Catalonia’s flag, with a blue triangle and white star.

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Carlota had voted for yes, not necessarily because she wants Catalonia to separate from Spain, but more as political leverage to force the Spanish government to negotiate. Catalonia is currently the economic engine in Spain and a lot of the money they bring in is sent to Madrid with not much in return (we looked online when we got home and “junt pel si,” meaning together for yes, did get voted in). I found it interesting as it is similar to Quebec wanting to separate from Canada, which I hope never happens.

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Cynthia, who was the short feisty Mexican woman, is here on an internship.   She was telling Rachel that they do not hire foreign workers, so it was extremely unlikely that her internship would lead her to a job in Barcelona. She did not realize before she came that Catalan was the primary language here and had a hard time when she first arrived.

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I had never heard of Catalan until I got a book out of the library on Spain in preparation for this trip. Knowing a miniscule amount of Spanish hasn’t helped very much in being here, I can’t tell the difference between Catalan and Spanish. On the Aerobus, a recorded woman welcomes you first in Catalan, then in Spanish, and finally in English. Many things at tourist spots have those three translations. Someone was telling me that grammatically, Catalans is quite different from Spanish.

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I chatted with Kathrin from Germany quite a bit. I tried to pronounce her name with the German accent but I failed miserably. It just sounded like I had a hairball in my throat, ha! She had lived in New Zealand for 6 months, so I was very happy to chat with her about that.

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I told the Austrian that I knew next to nothing about her country, except that that’s where Vienna is. I usually feel like quite an ignorant person when I go traveling and talk to people from all over the world. I don’t know where a lot of countries even are on the map, let alone anything about their culture or way of life. It doesn’t seem warranted for them to be offended, but that’s sometimes the response I interpret. I need history lessons! Then again, I don’t even remember much of Canada’s story, I learned that shit in grade 5. I should probably start with that.

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Anyhow, the photography tour was great. We finished on the top of a hill that overlooks the city, in a park called El Turó de la Rovira. It is more of a local hang out than a tourist destination.

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Afterwards, we had planned to go see a flamenco show, but the photography tour went a bit later than expected, and we were starving. So we went for paella at the same pasta place we’d been to yesterday. Sergio, our waiter, was happy to see us again. He didn’t speak much English, but asked me if I was writing about him in my book. We were the last table and he was packing up around us, saying “tranquilo, tranquilo,” and bringing his arms down as if to slow us. We ended up slamming the last of our sangria and heading to Plaça Espanya.

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Font Màgica de Montjuïc, or the magic fountains of Montjuic, play music as the fountains spur into life, lit up with many different colours. It was designed in 1929 for the International Exhibition. It is situated in front of the National Art Museum of Catalonia.

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Our plan beyond this was to go back and nap for a bit before heading out to the full moon party and lunar eclipse. Rachel’s stomach was in a horrible knot, and then she started retching. It was awful. Finally feeling better from being sick all week, only to get food poisoning. We didn’t eat paella again.

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Wandering in BCN

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Rachel loves that everyone walks their dogs off leash here. We even saw a weiner dog and a chihuahua walking together, the two prominent breeds in our lives. Oh, and we did see an Irish Wolfhound in Ireland.

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We wandered into the Gothic Quarters this morning, in awe of absolutely everything. Canada (or maybe just Western Canada in particular) seems very dull. It’s like a bowl of spaghetti with spiceless, bland tomato sauce served without salt, while Barcelona is a fiesta on your plate! That is a weird comparison. We were struggling to think of anything better than that. Calgary is just so plain. All the new buildings are glass panels from top to bottom, and there’s not much to distinguish this condo from that one. I think my favourite building in Calgary is the black U of C one downtown that is covered in scales.

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Everything here is magnificent! Almost all of the walkways are beautifully tiled and the stone buildings have an abundance of sculptures and carvings and columns.

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After cruising the alley like streets of the Gothic Quarters we wandered over to the water front. There were the usual tourist vendors set up, hawking the same shit as everywhere else; fake sunglasses, Nike’s, Michael Kors bags, hippie bags and jewellry. We were going to rent some SeaDoos but they were 100 euros for 30 minutes. Whoooa, maybe not. Muscle beach was pretty awesome. A bunch of dudes trying to outdo each other with pull ups. There were big cement seats set up that directly faced the adult playground, so you could get your tan on while watching the monkeys.

Back towards our place we entered the park that is just north of the zoo, Parc de la Ciutadella. We were greeted by live music in front of a monument that had dragon like fountains spraying into the eery green water. Further back was another little pond where you can rent row boats. We sat and watched the hippies play on their slacklines and juggle their crystal balls like Jareth from the Labyrinth.

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From there we returned to Rita’s for a recharge. Siestas are a brilliant idea.

In the evening we went west of the Gothic Quarters onto Las Ramblas. It was busy. Rachel was feeling sick so we didn’t stay long. Before going back to Rita’s we were looking for some food, it was 2 am or so and there didn’t seem to be much. We followed the sound of music down the street and came upon a stage that was set up in the middle of the road. It wasn’t a big party or anything, it almost looked like a private function. It seemed quite loud considering there were apartment buildings in every direction.

The food truck caught our attention. It was a little deflating realizing that the only items they offered were fries, a larger order of fries, or churros con chocolate. Fancy food trucks are all the rage back home right now, I was hoping for better food than that. Oh well.

The fluorescent lights that arced over us were so bright that it was hard to even see the man behind the counter. I ordered salchipapas grande, as that was what was written on the sign. The man had no idea what I was saying and looked really annoyed. I just pointed to the photo on the sign. The bucket of fries came with some sweet ketchup and a deep fried hot dog on a stick. There was mayo in the photograph but we weren’t served any.

So we sat and ate our fries and hot dog while we watched people dance in the street.

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Margaret had Rachel’s porridge all ready for her when we got up. Plain porridge is quite bland, so she gave Rachel some maple syrup to put in it. We had a couple from Montreal sit next to us; they had arrived late last night and wanted to talk about Ireland’s roads. It was his first time driving on the left and only once had he gone onto the wrong side. I don’t find it a very hard thing to do. I drove on the left side a fair bit in New Zealand before this too. My brain seems to just know, it takes a bit for it to get a handle of what’s happening, but it’s not hard so long as you already know how to drive.

I got the car drop off time and our departure time mixed up, so we ended up at the Dublin airport hours early. We got lunch at Alcock and Brown; they offered a sandwich bar as well as precooked food that a chef serves you. Rachel got the bacon loin with mashed potatoes and gravy and I got Malaysian curry with chicken on rice. It was delicious! People must be severely disappointed when they eat at the Calgary airport. All that we offer are the usual crap fast food places (A&W, Sbarro, subway, some healthier looking joint, Sbux, Tim’s) and a sit down Chili’s restaurant. I haven’t had Chili’s in a long time, but I can’t see it being as good as what we had, they tasted like proper meals.
Airport stress, aaaaaaah! I was far more stressed out about getting on this flight than on our flight to Dublin that we almost missed.

Vueling (the V is pronounced with a B sound) is a ticketless airline, flying standby did not even require us to check-in in advance. We waited for the counter to open and approached the customer service agent, who shooed us away, saying to return when it was an hour before the flight left. When we came back, we were directed to wait until everyone (or nearly everyone) on the flight was issued a ticket, then we would be granted boarding passes should there be empty seats. There was no way for us to access the flight info to check how many seats had been sold.

Well, knowing from Rachel’s experience working at the airport, many  people show up late to check in, sometimes not having enough time to make it all the way through security to board in time. I felt like we’d be screwed if we had to wait! So we stood to the side of the counter and waited. Some douche bag was also standby, and came up behind us in the queue. When the agent waved at us, he jumped ahead and we were stuck waiting for longer. I was pissed. The plane was supposed to board in 5 minutes by the time we were talking to the agent ourselves.

She started by asking if we had paid for our checked bags, which we replied no, as we were not even able to check in, let alone check a bag. She leaned over and looked at our bags, and said, “well go check your bag at the Swissport counter.” For fucks sake! We could have done that within the 2.5 hours that we’ve been waiting here!

So we rush over to the Swissport counter, and the two women there were casually chatting, lost in their conversation. One woman did glance at us, so she knew we were there. I was giving her a “come on lady! We’re at the bloody airport and in a rush, which means that we’re probably trying to get on a plane that is going to fly away very soon!” type of look. That was when our Vueling agent came over and asked me to put my bag into the carry-on size checker thing.

The suitcases we have are identical, they meet the largest possible dimensions allowed for a carry-on. They were big. Stuffed full of too much crap, as you do when you’re traveling. The size checker thing was a perforated metal bin, which warped considerably as I forced my bag into it. She encouraged me to stuff it down further, as I’d stopped because it didn’t look at all like it would be acceptable. It went a bit further down, proving that it could fit so long as anything adjacent to my bag could reform itself around mine. She looked at the other agent and stated, “those will be fine, just sit on your bag so it flattens out more.” So I pulled it out and tried to squish it down. She told me more than once to sit on it. We had our boarding passes and were off to the races!

Dublin’s security was well managed, lots of lines open and it was constantly moving. It made it hard for us to pull whatever we could out of our suitcases and jam it into our backpacks. We lost our sunscreen and Rachel’s fancy hairspray.

We ran through duty free, to gate 302 (I lost a shoe from my unzipped backpack, which Rachel recovered for me) and were ecstatic to see an enormous line. We made it! Hooray!!! When we got there she said that the other shoe wasn’t in my backpack, I was like well yeah, the other one’s in my suitcase. Ha! I guess shoes don’t travel alone very often. 

Rachel kind of looked like a medical patient on the run the whole time; it was as if she had some terrible disease and was attempting to feign health so they would allow her to board. Haha, maybe not that bad, but she didn’t look well. She told me in an apologetic tone after take off that she probably wouldn’t be going out tonight.

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I’d never heard of Vueling before we booked our flights; ours was the only flight on the board from Dublin. They are a Spanish airline. Our flight attendants certainly looked Spanish. The two girls serving us both had their hair slicked back into long, flat ironed pony tails dangling down their backs. I wouldn’t be surprised to find their hair all over the plane! 

bcn05The one girl I can only describe as a vixen, she exudes confidence. She was literally peering out at the rows of passengers with squinty, sharp eyes, accentuated by her make-up. Certainly seemed like someone not to fuck with. Fierce.  I think maybe she’s just blind and refuses to wear glasses.

Bahaha. I couldn’t help but think it was somewhat sexual the way she demonstrated putting on the life vest. She held it in front of her face for a few moments before thrusting her head through the opening, all straight faced and no nonsense. I missed it, but Rachel told me later that after putting it on, she jerked her head to her right and gave a cool puff of air in the direction of the red tube. The whole thing was too funny. I was bored so I tried to draw a picture.

She was lovely when we ordered two noodle cups from her for 7.20 euros. What a good mark up that is. Maybe that’s something WestJet should add to their buy on board menu, we were certainly happy to eat them, and it was more satisfying than some of the other crap food you can buy on planes.

Oh, and we did give the guy who budged us the evil eye (and by we, I mean I did).

Note to self. Always send more postcards, mail is fun!

bcn06I thought that the bathroom signs on the plane looked a bit peculiar. Where the man’s legs start is right where the woman’s skirt ended, making it look like she was lifting her skirt up!

We arrived and took the Aerobus to Plaça Catalunya and walked over to Paseo Lluyis Companys (that’s the street name). We were looking for n2, but it didn’t seem to exist. The street ended with a big, ominous looking cement building that had no lights on. I would have pegged it as an abandoned jail house. We had no phone, no internet, and no way of messaging this lady (we found a place with Air BnB). We were also about 2 hours later than we thought we’d be. Finally, Rachel realized that we were on the wrong side of the street, as all the numbers were odd. Ha!

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The Cliffs and Galway

We said our goodbyes this morning and waited for the farmer to move his holsteins into the yard before setting off. We went north to Lahinch, where we took a walk on the promenade and watched the wannabe surfers take to the waves. It was a freezing cold, cloudy day. The surf was filled with different surf schools; it didn’t seem like anyone actually knew what they were doing.

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The Cliffs of Moher were magnificent! We parked a little ways away and walked along part of the Burren Way, a trail that runs along the cliffs. At the highest point, they are 700ft from the water.

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The clouds kept threatening to dump on us. We watched a big, dark rain cloud move in ahead of us, but it kept getting pushed further north, so we didn’t get wet at all. It was incredibly windy at the ledge, as we were leaving we saw a couple GoPro equipped bikers start along the path.

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Some cow love

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Galway was the only place we ever ran into any traffic. It really wasn’t that bad. We drove around until we found a BnB just off the water to stay at. We rang the doorbell, and a small, older woman answered it. We enquired about a room and she said, “well I’ll show you what I’ve got.” She turned around and walked 4 feet to the left and opened the door to a small room with a double bed and an en suite with a sloped ceiling. She said the price was good at only 60 euro a night. We gladly took it! Her name was Margaret and she’d be serving us breakfast in the morning between 8 and 930.

Margaret asked where we had come from, to which we answered Labasheeda. “Ooh that sounds exotic!” she exclaimed. “You must be saying it with an accent, I’ve never heard of there.”

She set us up with an extra towel, and offered Rachel some porridge for breakfast since she’s not an egg eater.

We mosied into town and found Shop Street. Starving, we tried to get food at the Front Door, but after sitting at the only available table for a good while, I approached the bartender and he said they can’t serve food down there. Well, great buddy, thanks. It was a beautiful pub though. We walked around and checked out the upstairs.

We ended up down the street at The Skeff. I got a delicious steak sandwich and Rachel ordered the daily special, beef ribs with mashed potatoes and gravy. Drool. It was delicious.

I was messaging Janette again, and she told us that servers make about 9 euro an hour. After looking at prices though, that doesnt’ seem like that much. If you are making 9 euro an hour and the price of a steak sandwich with fries at the pub costs you 14 euros, that’s about the same ratio between income and cost of a meal as in Canada. The difference is that in Canada they get $9 an hour as the server minimum wage, plus tips. I don’t get it. I would never serve anywhere outside of North America, it doesn’t seem worth it. Mind you, service ends up being a bit different when the servers are not quite as invested in providing good service. 

Rachel seems to have finally caught the flu that I had when we left Toronto, and I’m finally feeling better! On our walk back home we ran into a great trio that was busking on the street. There was a violinist, accordian and a percussionist who was sitting on this drum box thing.

We’ve noted that we haven’t seen any openly gay people walking about in Ireland. We’re the only ones! We get lots of looks when we’re walking down the street, it’s funny.

Labasheeda

Breakfast in Dingle  was scrumptious. Rachel had a grilled ham and cheese and I had potato waffles with fried eggs and beans. It came with floppy, oddly coloured bacon too. It was gross. I was reminded that I prefer streaky bacon any day.

We drove through Connor’s Pass on the way off of the Peninsula, but it was so foggy that we could only really make out the silhouette of the mountains, if that. We stopped along the beach and Rachel picked up a bunch of seashells. I could have left her there for an hour and she wpould have been happy 🙂

Ballybunion had the remnants of a stone building that was being eaten away same way the wind and the sea was eroding the shoreline on the peninsula.

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We were to meet my  Irish cousin Michael at the West County Inn. I failed to see the sign, but Rachel spotted it. “Say I do at Treacy’s West County Inn,” with a picture of a woman and two wedding rings. Not really what I was expecting. It looked like a cheesy hotel that would be on the outskirts of Vegas. We hung out in the lobby and I was saying to Rachel that I was trying to remember what Michael looked like. I remember him staying at mom’s house when I was around 10, he must have been in his mid twenties. I mainly recall him being drunk a lot of the time and that he puked in the basement on our pull out couch. So he must be in his late thirties or so now.

In walked an older man about my height; we both looked at each other and knew. Ha! There must be another Michael MacNamara that I’m related to. I have to find out from mom. I obviously don’t know my family tree very well, there’s too much happening on my mom’s side. I did remember Michael, he and Teresa were at Mary’s wedding only a couple years earlier. I asked my mom, and I think the person I was thinking of was Colin, who’s somebody’s son. I dunno.

So there was Michael, my aunt Karen, her daughter Naomi, Lisa (who is great uncle Jack’s daughter) and Diane (who was married to Lisa’s brother who passed away recently) and her son Michael. I don’t believe I have ever met Diane and Michael before, or if I have I certainly do not remember, not that my memory is any good. That’s why I write all this crap down so I have something to remember for later.

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We all drove to Labasheeda (minus Karen and Naomi who had to do laundry). It’s a tiny little farming town 30-40 minutes south of Ennis, where Michael grew up, just down the street from the O’neill house. My great grandpa, Jack O’neill, left for Canada in 1912. If I remember correctly, Jack’s sister Margaret married a MacNamara and she would be Michael’s mom.

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Michael took us out to Kilkerrin Point, a spot on the Shannon river where in 1812 the British built a battlement to safeguard the river. The main building used to have two cannons positioned on top, with a small little moat around it. In the area in front of it there were partially underground storehouses.

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None of us had a flashlight and we didn’t bother to bring our phones, so Rachel kept taking pictures with her flash, allowing us to see. Would have been a great spot to dress up as ghouls and scare unsuspecting people. But there was no one around. Labasheeda is certainly not a tourist spot, just some single lane Irish country roads leading to people’s land.

We went to see the site where the old O’neill house used to sit, along with the local cemetery. The closest relative would be Margaret MacNamara, who was my great Grandpa Jack’s older sister.

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I spoke with my Grandma and she said that he had been quite athletic back in Ireland before he came to Canada. He studied to become a pharmacist, though he studied under a doctor andknew quite a bit more than the average pharmacist. He originally went to Whitehorse, where he signed up to fight in the First World War, and came back due to getting some shrapnel in his knee. He then moved to Kimberley where he became a druggist and opened his shop. He had a pharmacy in the Platzl, where the Back Door used to sit. Originally, it was where the Black Bear video store was. Well, actually, it was down below; above was where the Daily Bulletin used to be printed. In the early 1940’s he bought his own building and moved the drug store there.

My mom was able to tell me a couple things about him, even though he died long before she was born. He was a man who never stopped smoking, he would light his next cigarette off of his old one. He did eventually get lung cancer. He was stubborn and thought things should be done the way they ought to be. He worked a lot. He would get home late from work, say around 11, so that would be when he’d get his kids in the car and take them out for a drive. If he sent you to the store to buy something and you came back to offer him the change, he’d say keep it. But, if you didn’t offer the change back, he’d come take it from you.

The farm house we stayed in was built in the 1970’s, and no one has lived there full time since Michael’s parents died. It has five bedrooms and a wee tiny kitchen. They rent out the land to a local farmer. I got to see holsteins in person! Ooooh, they look exactly the same as the ones we make at work!

We went over to Casey’s, the local pub, for a Guinness and watched some of the Rugby World Cup. Apparently I go traveling every four years. The bartender said she could recall Michael’s young, red headed cousin, Mary. That would be my aunt, the one I’m named after! She lived in Ireland in 1998; we got to let her know that Mary is happily married with two little ones!

The night ended with a game of 10,000 with Naomi.

Dingle Peninsula

We went down for breakfast in the morning and I ordered a traditional Irish breakfast and Rachel got the vegetarian breakfast with bacon. The waitress informed us that that was not an unusual order. I tried the blood pudding, this before I was told what it was, and I wasn’t a big fan. It wasn’t disgusting, but not something I wanted to eat more of.

It was sunny and beautiful until we stepped outside, at which it promptly started raining. We wandered to a shop and bought a large, green plaid umbrella. Onward!

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This was the one and only time we opened this umbrella. We ended up leaving it hanging off of a garbage can at the airport since it was too big to put in our suitcases.

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We drove from Kenmare through Killarney National Park. The clouds parted and we were able to view Lady’s View (pictured above) as we came down the hill side. We stopped and went on a 45 minute hike to the Torc waterfall. The ground and trees were covered in moss, and there were ferns everywhere. It reminded me a lot of New Zealand’s South Island.

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I got a horrible stomach ache in Killarney. It got so bad that I had to pull over in some little town after we’d left the city. Perhaps the uterus gods are angry at me for making so many rubber ones.

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We continued onto the Dingle Peninsula, following the Wild Atlantic Way, a world famous drive. I kept think wild atlantic salmon the whole time. We stopped in Dingle Town and wandered around. We bought a sliotar at a sports store, the name of the ball they use in Hurling, an Irish sport. The town was very quaint, it had a number of brightly coloured store fronts near the harbour. They even have their own local dolphin named Fungie. Kind of an odd name, sounds more like a botanist’s pet mushroom.

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dingle07Further down the peninsula we stopped to look at some stone beehive huts. Entrance was 2 euros, Rachel walked right by the little shack where a man was hidden away, waiting to collect his money. It’s set up so that it seems free until you’ve walked too far to turn back without seeming cheap. They were cool though! They were homes that were stones stacked in a circular pattern. There is aplenty of stone in Ireland, no wonder all of their fences are made of it. In Canada there are a lot of trees.

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Rachel was blown away by the sea, I had to scurry after her. She was easy to spot in her bright teal coat, a symbol of WestJet floating away into the Atlantic. Soon WestJet will release its cruise line. It was only a a publicity stunt. Miraculously, she was able to dry off in time for us to take photos.

Rachel was blown away by the sea (not literally). There was a small road turn out that we took near the tip of the peninsula that led down to a small inlet. The road became very steep continued down to the beach. The tide was out and there was water trickling from the partly grass covered cliffs over the sand and to the sea. The ocean is to the right, and along the coast we got our first glimpse of the onyx black rock formations that are so often pictured on Dingle postcards. Rachel was ecstatic and didn’t want to leave. Maybe we’ll live on a beach one day. The sun was going down though and we had to get going.dingle11

At the tip of the peninsula (I think it was called Slea Head?) we stopped and walked out to the edge. It looked like the land was slowly getting eaten away by the wind and the sea. Inland it was quite flat, and then would rise out to meet the sea, forming steep cliffs.

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The road looped back around and we returned to Dingle for the night. We got room 12 at Murphy’s bar BnB, 70 euros for the night. I had some delicious fish and chips for dinner and Rachel got a slightly overdone steak at a mom and pop shop around the corner. She said it was still really good.

Rachel reminds me of her dad in this picture 🙂

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Blarney & Healy’s Pass

In the morning we checked out and then drove across the river again and parked to take another look at Cork in the daylight. After we decided to go find the Blarney Stone!
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Blarney is actually the town that Janette is from, and is home to the famous Blarney Castle. The grounds were beautiful, so green and lush . A far cry from frosty Calgary that we’d left days before. How cool are castles! Rachel and I came to the conclusion that we should start a paintball
company and wage epic battles. You could have snipers set up at the top pegging people as they approached.  It would be grand.

 

There were tourists galore. It started to rain so we got in line to head up the castle and kiss the stone. There were Americans behind us on our way up the tiny spiral staircase. They were talking about the rats in their houuuse. The old man who had the pleasure of helping people kiss the stone looked like he was having a jolly time.

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They get you to lie down on your back over a gaping hole in the edge of the walkway that has bars for you to grab on the wall. The old guy helps to suspend you in the air while you lean back and kiss the wall upside down. I was freaked out. I’m totally a chicken shit. I don’t know how I ever did a bungy jump because I almost didn’t even kiss the stone. But I did. Rachel did like a champ. I wonder if I got any of the tourists sick.

There were some caves below the castle you could enter. blarney01.jpg

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From Blarney we drove to Adrigole and then turned right after the bridge onto Healy’s Pass. It’s a 16km drive along the Caha mountain range and over the Cork / Kerry border. The road narrows to literally one lane going uphill, swinging hard left and right like a go kart track. It was fantastic going up because I could see that the road was clear and could fly along it. Next time I visit Ireland I’d love to get a car with a little more zip.

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We got out at a little stone bridge to take pictures. The doors either fly out of  your hand or slam back into you, it was quite blustery. We actually had the car rental guy warn us about the wind at the Cliffs of Moher. So many cars come back with marks on their side panels from people opening their doors in the wind and smashing the car next to them.

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There was a wild looking man who was threatening to be blown away who approached the car as we were about to leave. There was nothing around for a considerable ways, he must have been walking for awhile. I was wiping the rain off of my glasses when he knocked. I peeled down the window a bit less than half way and was greeted by a three toothed Irishman with long, wispy winged nose hairs and a curious smile. I couldn’t stop looking at his nose hairs, I wish I’d thought to take his photo, but it got a little weird at the end.

He seemed innocent enough. He asked Rachel and I if we liked Ireland or not and if it was our first visit. Would we live here? It wouldn’t be too boring for ya? Do you have any siblings? How many? Where in the order are you? Are your parents still together? Have they remarried? Do you have boyfriends back home? Ha! We opted not to go into the fact that we were together. Have you any nieces or nephews? Oh that’s grand, how old is your sister? Oh 30, how old are you? 25, that’s not too young to have kids. How old was your mom when she had kids? All these family questions, you get the gist. He did start to repeat some questions near the end which was odd.

This whole time the storm is continuing on, fighting its way through my cracked window and soaking me, the man couldn’t have been more wet than he already was. Apparently the death toll was high in the construction of the road. He asked us our names and told us he was John. He had no kids and never found a wife but if he could go back he would have kids for sure. I almost regretted asking him the questions, you could sense the sorrow of what had not come to pass pressing on him.

Finally he kissed our hands through the less than half cracked window and bid us farewell. It was only after we started driving away that Rachel let me know that every time I had looked at her in the conversation, he had hastily peeked around me to see what was in the back of the car. I was like, “why didn’t you say something!” She responded that she put her seatbelt on as a way of saying, okaaay let’s go. Next time use your words more directly, my god!

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At the summit of the pass we ventured out of the car into the rainy wind to clamber the rocky landscape and take pictures. The deceiving spongy ground led to some puddle filled shoes and Rachel’s graceful ass slide in the mud.

We continued down into Kenmare where we stayed for the night. 80 euros at Foley’s BnB, room 12. The shower sold us, it actually got warm.

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Here’s a good shot of a two lane road in Irelandblarney10