Monday, April 20, 2015

Trip for Trash #3: Ireland--Driving the Ring of Kerry

I get easily and desperately carsick. So, as long as health and decency allows, I'm the Designated Driver.

Driving around Ireland's famed Ring of Kerry, I was challenged to put to use all of my past driving experiences...

from praying my way along snaky Highway 1 on a teenage solo venture to Stinson Beach...
Thanks for the pic, Cindy Adkins
... to yelping and cursing my way across hedgerow-bound Cornwall last summer.

Toyota vs. Hoveround: There can be only 1 Master of the Hedgerow
(spoiler--it was the old guy)
The value of all past driving challenges became clear the moment I turned on to the N70 at Tralee. Hedgerows, cliffs, one-lane "highways," blind curves and intersections...The Ring has it all.

On the other hand, every agony of the road was rewarded with an image (and now a memory) like no other.

One lane highway dead-ends at this ruined keep at the tip of a finger of rock.

"I am the LORD of all I see! Oh, uh, well, you should see it on a sunny day."

The protocol when the car comes at you from the other direction?
Back up until you can get out of the other's way. (I panicked and made the Irishman back up instead)

Neolithic stone structure, just to the left of the endless lane above, and therefore worth exiting the highway.
A grass-and-shrub covered hedgerow ten inches to the left of the passenger's side + a sheer cliff on the driver's side = time for a photo break!

A good way to release tension while driving the N70?
Pull over and yell "BAAAA!" at the tiny dots of sheep in the distance until you relax.

I cannot emphasize enough how glad I was to drive the Ring of Kerry during Low Tourist Season.
We had this beach all to ourselves.

The most honest road signs in the world can be found on the Ring of Kerry

But just look where the road took us: The Cliffs of Kerry.

Another view of the Cliffs of Kerry
This is totally reasonable advice
 Every time I stopped the car to catch my breath, I was both relieved and delighted.

This stone structure is just hanging out at the side of a parking lot.
We were hours late going anywhere because we did the right thing and followed every interesting road sign that took us off the beaten path.

Staigue Ring Fort, in Sneem (bless you!)

Inside Staigue Fort: staircases in the walls...leading to what?
 Driver's fatigue be damned, we stopped again and again, discovering the tucked away and highly defensible Neolithic past of the Emerald Isle.

I have no idea what the name of this park is, but it's feckin brilliant!
Pictured here, a model of an ancient Crannog, or artificial island home. Looks like it's elevating, right?

Same brilliant park...the sign says what it does; does what it says

The Ring of Kerry wiped me out, but the drive was absolutely worthwhile. And in the end, I got used to the steps of driving on the wrong side of the road (on the wrong side of the car, with a stick shift in the wrong hand), just like Ginger Rogers got used to doing the same steps as Fred Astaire--only backward and in heels.
Sure, she's smiling here, but imagine the rehearsals.

Copyright 2015, Tanya Monier

Monday, April 6, 2015

Trip-For-Trash #3: Ireland, pt.1 Newgrange

I've been fretting that I couldn't get my funds together for Trip-For-Trash #3: Ireland. Well, it's all done now--surprised? I am. I'd like to think that I at least created a 2-for-1 (or 4-for-2?) travel opportunity for our family.

And what a trip it was. Before we left, I was worried about so many things:  Would the magic of the place and people--which I feel saved my life two times--disappear if I shared it with my family? Would my family love Ireland and the Irish people as much as I did? And why couldn't I manage to hustle up the full cost of transportation and hotels (about $4,500), instead of a meager $2,550?

I know I'm hard on myself. The Arctic Winter we had in New York shut down most craigslist sales, plus I only had 7 months to gather funds rather than my usual 11 or 12. Even so, I was glum as we left for the airport, humming, "What have I, what have I, what have I done to deserve this?
Even my short new haircut was a little too 80s Neil Tennant for my comfort. 
My worries pretty much evaporated by 10am the next day, however, since we were behind the wheel of our rental car, a brand new Renault Fluence...
You, too, can rent a Fluence...a fluence...affluence?
The Gertrude Stein marketing division at Renault should be very proud of itself
...and heading north from Dublin Airport to a site in County Meath I've been longing to see:

Brú na Bóinne, aka Newgrange.

Just the sight of green grass made the plane ride and drive worthwhile for the Badgerettes--it's been that kind of winter in New York.

The gorgeous visitor's center (and superb cafe), sets visitors up for a decent walk along the shores of the Boyne River, which Neolithic folks fished in using woven mats as nets.

Years ago, I saw drawings of these (reconstructed) ancient tools in the
National Museum of Ireland in Dublin, along with memory-haunting mummified Bog Men.
It's a beautiful land, even though we were there before the trees leafed out.

 At the end of the path, pick up a tidy little tour bus that delivers visitors to the main event.

Like a herd of jet-lagged sheep, our group follows our tour guide to the entrance.
Older than the Pyramids of Egypt, the Newgrange mound features a narrow, curving stone passageway that channels Winter Solstice sunrise into a sword of light that just touches the far wall of the chamber.

Our guide was careful to point out that the dark stones lining the entrance are not original,
and those wooden staircases are of newer construction, too.
New Agey types travel the world to witness the ancient mystery and take in the magic of the view.

On the other hand, these Irish schoolgirls on a fieldtrip could not care less.
These massive carved kerbstones, which ring the site, were covered by dirt, grass, and shrubs for many centuries. When Renaissance-era quarrymen dug in, they probably soiled their britches to discover the swirling patterns that proved the place to be manmade and therefore part of a decidedly un-Christian land and time.
Fear of the unknown kept tourists away for many years; but when they came, they brought their penknives to graffiti the place every which way.
Graffiti: the Selfie of the 19th century.
See those short poles? Our guide said that they mark an area containing pig and dog bones from feasts gone by.
And adorable Irish sheep? Just look that way.

Oh dear, does this path get narrow as you reach the inner chamber.
Photography is not allowed inside, and keep your penknives to yourselves, please. So, I've snagged these images from various tourist sites and cheaters' blogs.

Our guide pointed out that no one really knows the purpose of this chamber. Some human bones were found inside, but it is not merely a passage tomb. The corbelled roof and the t-shaped interior chamber, one side containing a large stone bowl, add to the confusion: is it human nature to make sacred buildings this way, like (but not) a Neolithic Cathedral?

Which fluids were sacred enough for this massive stone bowl?

Crave the rarest Newgrange experience of all? Winter Solstice, when a point of sunlight touches the lower center of the far wall, is the busiest day of the year, but don't fret. The guide turns off the regular lights, lets the group take in the chamber's natural shadowy depths for a moment, then flips on a secret floodlight. This way, every visitor gets a synthetic Solstice experience.

We carefully sidled our way back into the light of day, brains teeming with questions about ancient engineering and why humans give their own creations mystical value.

Right then, we were confronted with a modern miracle: a remote-controlled lawn mower trimming the 5,000 year old mound's grassy top.

Jet-lagged and disoriented, I gawped like I'd stumbled across a beta run of NASA's newest Mars Rover.

Wonders never cease.

Copyright 2015, Tanya Monier