Saturday, June 12, 2010

leaving Ireland

Up early. It takes a long time to go through photos, compose an Ocean text. On days like this – when time is so precious, I want to fly through it and of course, those are the times when the mind freezes and words go nowhere.

But by 10, we are showered and packed and putting away the last of the great Cairbre House breakfasts.


And by 11, we’re on the road. We haven’t much time – maybe an hour of Ireland gazing. After that – well, there’s the long drive back to Dublin.

I suggest we visit Lismore. I've been curious about this village (some two dozen kilometers inland) and not, as Ed claims, because I read that it holds the honor of being Ireland’s “tidiest.” It seems, at least on paper, that it has a bit of everything: it's older, atmospheric, many a famous person has passed through it -- possibly because it has a magnificent castle and gardens, against the backdrop of dramatic hills.

And as we drive up, I have to acknowledge, the castle is pretty enough – the home of Dukes and Duchesses, it itself is not open to visitors, but the gardens are. The entrance fee is substantial. The family must be trying to raise money to support the place. (Let me suggest downsizing.)


Okay, the gardens are more than just pretty. The English perennial borders that I first saw some thirty years back, had inspired me to get started on my own perennial gardening. Lismore Castle now is the Irish home of the Duke of Devonshire and his family. The gardens certainly give you the impression that you’ve crossed the Irish sea and stepped onto English soil.



The family also has lovely orchards and vegetable plots – heavy on the potatoes. We speak to the person who was working in the garden. Ed asks if the grounds keepers live inside the castle – given the vastness of the place, or outside of it; he is shocked to learn that they live in other housing. The man does not understand the ways of nobility.



We stroll and admire, even as it all seems slightly preposterous. All those potatoes, for example. Maybe they sell them at a farmers market – I suggest. After all, English nobility is hugely into organics. It wouldn't bring much, Ed comments. Maybe they experiment with special varieties, with high yield and disease resistance, for instance. (We are always taking note of Ireland's potato blight of the 1840s; there's much to remind you of it – for example, one hike we could have taken is called the Famine Walk: it ends at the mass grave of the many who died then.)


On balance, you have to feel grateful that the property is being tended by someone. Abundance of potatoes and extra rooms notwithstanding.

Two rooms of the castle are open to an art exhibition. One room has a video running. Incomprehensible actually. A stream of words and some items – with no explanation. (Our fault – we could have inquired before entering.) We move on.

The other room has a display of photos. Nothing extraordinary. You almost wonder if the artist turned to black and white prints so as to make the photos look more interesting than they really are (and you have to remember that I am typically quite impressed by photographic exhibitions).

We leave the castle grounds. And I feel content. Surely this was a good way to end our Ireland visit.


We stop at The Rustic Café, where I order a cappuccino and rhubarb cake. Ed offers to pay. He reaches for the wallet and takes out instead the set of old keys to our room at the b&b.



And now I panic. What if they only have one extra set? Their four rooms were all taken last night, what if they need this for their guests? But driving back puts some risk into our plan of a timely arrival at the Dublin airport.

These days, if you don’t carry a cell phone, you have a tough time calling anyone. We do have a phone packed somewhere in the gallows of Ed’s pack, but we don’t bother buying cards on trips when we are fully connected every day through email and Skype.

We’re lucky. At the post office, we locate the address of the b&b, stick the keys inside an envelope and mail it off. Ed borrows a phone of a helpful sort and calls the owner with appropriate apologies.

We’re off.

The loveliest part of the day is perhaps this part – the drive through the hills north of Lismore.

It’s an empty mountain road and I am not surprised to come across this scene:


...and this:


But what did surprise me were the fields of wild oleander. Up high on the mountain pass, on the slopes of the otherwise barren hills, working their way into forests, lining the roads.




I pause so often to admire this mass of purple flowers that Ed suggested we may miss our flight. I’m okay with that, but you pay the rebooking fees.

I hurried then, even as it becomes exceptionally difficult to find the superhighway that cuts across Ireland and permits us to drive at 120 kilometers per hour to Dublin.

We arrive in plenty of time, boarding our evening flight on Aer Lingus (a price and service competitor to Ryanair), away from Ireland...


...and onto Barcelona. We’ll spend the night at a hotel near the airport and drive north tomorrow.


Barcelona: what can you say about a place that runs on its own speed and time?

Dinner at midnight? In some remote area just a step beyond the airport? Barcelona. The hair is ten shades darker, the conversation somewhat louder.


Hey, excuse me? (this to the table of ten young adults next to us at the pizzeria), could you remind me – what’s the tipping policy in Spain?
Tipping. Extra money.
Service charge: is it included? I just cannot remember. Service charge?
Service charge?
Ed chimes in, using better Spanish: do we leave a little extra after the meal?
Oh! Only if you want to. Only if you want to...

Propina, Ed tells me later. The word is propina.