(Written Tuesday October 5th)
Posted in a Starbucks in Belfast.
I initially thought that I'd be blogging more often about our UK/European adventure. I was wrong. Some times the internet is hard to come by. Some times there isn't time to sit down with the computer and write something. Some times I'm just too flippin' tired to think about writing about what's going on physically and in my head. Some times I'm just overwhelmed with how many pictures I've been taking and the sheer amount of time/work necessary to get them online. Whether it's on Flickr or Facebook, it's a lot of time and effort, and we've just been busy touring around.
Okay, so when last I blogged, our heroes Dave (that's me!) and Jodi (not me) had gone to the Oyster Festival in Galway, in the west of Ireland. After that, we took a bus trip to the Cliffs of Moher. They're pretty cool, in that they're a big freakin' load of cliffs on the southwest coast of Ireland. I was told that the Aran Islands and Dingle are two must-sees, but hey....no time. Plus, Jodi's been there, and as Jodi says, “It leaves something to come back for.”
That Jodi's a smrt one sometimes. Well, usually. In fact, most of the time. Almost always. But I catch her sometimes. Not very often mind you. Okay, back to our heroes. The bus trip was lengthy but worth it. Our bus driver, Eamon (or Eamonn, since we never saw his name) was GREAT! We saw a ton of cool stuff, heard a bunch about Ireland and fairies (like I don't know a few fairies!) and took a crapload of pictures. APPARENTLY “crapload” isn't a word. How about crap-load? Hyphens always make the red squigglies go away! Oh. APPARENTLY “squigglies” isn't a word either. AH....
We also wandered a bit along the Burren while on the bus tour. In case you were wondering.
Good fun regardless.
Then Jodi got sick. We think that I got a bug of some form and went through me the way that most things go through me. In one end, out the other. In one ear, out the other. If you know me, you know this is the case. It was quick and that was that. Well, not so quick 'n easy for Jodi. Her being "under the weather", meant that our bus trip from Galway to Tubbercurry was on hold for a day. Not having our cell working meant that I Skyped Farmer Brian to let him know we weren't going to be there on Monday.
This meant that I spent the day editing/culling pictures and uploading five photo albums to Facebook, but because I wasn't finished until 1:00 AM, didn't comment on them. Maybe at some point I'll get around to commenting on the first two days of our travels. Considering we're two weeks in already! Oh well.
We met some great people in the hostel in Galway. From New Zealand, Germany and this country called Canada. Maybe you've heard of it? Oh ya, and a lovely young lady from the U.S. It's always nice to meet good folks from the States, so as to not end up saying bad things about Americans. Too many people already do that and I don't want to add on to the s**t heap if I can help it.
We took the early bus to Tubbercurry the next day, and were met by Elona, Brian's wife. She's German and Brian is English. APPARENTLY the Irish don't take WWOOFers (World Wide Opportunities in Organic Farming) unless they're single/widowed women or not Irish. Interesting. The farm isn't too far from Tubbercurry and for whatever reason, it didn't look the way I thought it would. That said, I didn't know what I expected it to look like. Go figure, but it's me, so go with it. One thing that stuck out in my head was something that was said in "The Blue Collar Comedy Tour" about car parts and tires on the lawn, and there was an old VW van that was in the back with oodles and zoodles of old assorted electrical items that literally filled it up. FILLED IT UP!!!
We had tea, chatted for a bit and then went outside to throw wood that Brian was cutting up on a circular saw, that he had reclaimed from an old church roof somewhere near there. The wood had paint on it, but they didn't seem to care that this would be used for firewood. Elona made a good point when she said that it would be burned one way or the other, either by them or by whomever took it away as trash. Sad, but probably true. Regardless, I wouldn't want to burn painted wood inside my home, and have my children/family breathing it in.
Another reality that threw me for a loop was the caravan. It was a trailer/camper out of the 60s that wasn't in the greatest shape, but it was where we slept for four nights. It was cold and "rustic". Remember that this trip was the first time I slept in a hostel (no big issues thus far) and was used to motels and hotels, or our tent. The caravan wasn't quite what I expected, but I sucked it up and dealt with it.
They have a lot of animals, and they all seemed to smell. In their own way. The pigs smelled like pigs. I wasn't prepared for how bad the pig barn smelled. The dogs (one Border Collie (Liz) and two English Bulldogs (Bonnie and Edward) smelled like smelly dogs. The ducks, geese and chickens didn't smell, but the roosters seemed to crow all day and the geese were INSANELY territorial. Did I mention how territorial the geese were?!?! The turkey and peacock were also not smelly, and not overly “fresh” and healthy looking. The pony and cows were mostly kept off the property. They found a badger in a trap and put it into a big ole cage and fed it cat and/or dog food. They had two guinea pigs that were kept outside, and several cats/kittens that they breed/sell. Oh ya, I'm allergic to cats, but it wasn't awful, which was nice.
Brian and Elona are chain-smokers, which made for memories of my grandparents' place, as everything was coated with tar/nicotine/tobacco/whatever cigarette smokers coat their inside stuff with. Frankly, they're really good people. They take in complete strangers through WWOOF and that was super for us. They also have two children. Sophia is 12 and Jonny is 7. Jonny loves to take things apart, build things and wonder about lights and electricity. For Christmas, he wants a 12 V car battery. Sophia is a 12 year old girl. Enough said there. She's a good girl, but I suppose it can be a bit much with going through life as a 12 year old girl and having strangers coming into your house.
There wasn't much to do at night, so we would watch TV in the farmhouse. The bulldogs would come and hang out with us, the cats/kittens would come into the TV room, or want to go outside (which involved getting up and opening/closing the squeaky (and tough to open) sliding door for them – and open again when they came back.
Brian and Elona were very open with us, and I truly believe we learned a lot from there.
Our work wasn't easy. Moving the cut wood, mucking/cleaning out a pig stall, emptying a large compost heap, chasing after cows on a bicycle (more on that in a bit!), moving gravel from beside the house, picked/pulled grapes for wine, pulled an electric fence (NOT on!) and made dinner for them. Dinner was the easiest, FER SHURE!!!
The most memorable part of the farm was my cow herding. Brian had brought two cows from the field down the road on to the farm in order to have them tested for TB, as is mandated by the Irish government. He called to me, and asked me to block off the farm driveway, in order to corral them into the barn. We had mucked out the stall in order to have them go there. Well, apparently the cows didn't get the memo on this and they were having no part of it. Remember, I'm 5'11” and about 220 pounds. I'm not Slim Jim or Skinny Minnie. I'm also not a 600-800 pound cow. I'm not overly confident around large animals. This makes sense.
Brian told me to get a stick, which I did. He told me to give them a whack in order to let them know they shouldn't get going the way that they were.
I replied, "I don't think I can do that."
So, this meant the cows didn't want to go in the barn, and Brian and I wanted them to go in the barn. They decided they'd go down the driveway toward the road. Brian ran after them, and I ran after Brian. He told me to get the bike. Sophia's metallic purple bike, that's the right size for a 12 year old girl. With a seat that's not quite tight and no brakes.
I've ridden a bicycle to Montreal from Toronto five times. No biggie. Right? But wait, I was wearing wellies (rain boots) too! Jodi will attest that this was quite a sight. Me, riding off after Brian and the cows, on a bicycle that was too small for me, in wellies.
When I got to the road, I went left. This too made sense, since the cows went left down the road. The driver of the oncoming car found this amusing too. I didn't much care about her, since I didn't want to get knocked off the bike by one of the cows. I decided that it was in my best interests to wait for them to end up on the right side of the road, and I'd "sneak" by on the left.
But I had to stop now. No brakes. I pulled a Fred Flinstone, and used my feet and turned the bicycle sideways, saying firmly but nicely, "NO! STOP!".
I don't speak Cow, and they don't speak English. So I pointed in the direction of the farm. This too worked. Brian steered them back on to the farm, and had me close the gate. No more cow herding on the road. After getting them to the barn again, they again turned around and got back to the gate. This was getting more and more annoying, but once Jodi and Brian figured out how to block their escapes in every direction, they finally got themselves into the barn.
After this, we drove down to a neighbouring field and got another three cows into a pen on that land. WAY EASIER!
As a kindergarten teacher I referred to myself as a cat herder. Now I'm a real cow herder. On a girls' bicycle no less.
We left the farm on Saturday, as they didn't have work for us and we were looking to head off to travel anyway. A drive in to Tubbercurry – and I left my stainless steel water bottle on the farm or in the car (oh well.) and then the bus to Bundoran and I was going to surf.
Except for the fact that it was BLOODY windy and BLOODY cold. No surfing. Lots more pictures and lunch at the Grand Hotel. It may have nice rooms (don't know) but the food and service was far from grand, but hey...it didn't smell like a farm.
Oh ya, I wore the same clothes for four out of five days that I was on the farm. The same socks, underwear, pants and shirt. I didn't even take them off. Now that's a real farmer. Or, someone who doesn't want to get more clothes dirty and smelly.
We went to Supervalu to buy stuff for dinner and made pan-fried trout with a veggie/tomato pasta. It was lovely. Oh ya, and the white bread toast with garlic butter. Jodi was a mighty fine sous chef and people kept coming in wondering if they get some food. Oh well, all gone on the trout and we left the leftover pasta in the fridge for whomever may have wanted it.
In Bundoran we had a shared room, and the two guys we were with are living in Belfast. Bryan and Damian are both (civil?) engineers and good chaps! We went to Brennan's on the main street for a pint (two!) of Guinness. The boys said that it was a mighty fine pint of Guinness and that you weren't allowed to talk on a mobile or you'd get turfed out. There were two Mrs. Brennans there Saturday night. They're both in their 60s or 70s and I asked them the rules.
No loud talking on a mobile. No cussing. No singing.
The four of us were constantly concerned about whether or not we'd get turfed out for #2, but it worked out fine. When the boys were in there in the afternoon, they were the only patrons, but when we went in, it was quite busy. We lucked into a booth and good craic (Gaelic for chat) and by fluke ended up also chatting with Bryan's cousin and his g/f.
The boys said they'd come in about 4 AM and apologized in advance if they were noisy. Regardless, we had earplugs and they never showed up, so it was ALL GOOD!
Sunday morning (when Ireland in general seems to be quite shut!) we took a cab to Ballyshannon, the bus to Enniskillen and transferred to a bus to Belfast. Now we're in Northern Ireland.
The hostel is an HI (Hosteling International) establishment, and it was all we could find for the days that we're going to be here. For those of you that haven't done a hostel before, HI isn't the best, but it's not awful. It's not “fun” like some of the others, like the one in Dublin or Bundoran (with a rock 'n roll theme!), but it's clean and a bed. Albeit two single beds, but hey....c'est la vie. Oh, and they're not moveable. Ugh.
I talked to my parents on Skype last night and when my dad told my mom that "David" was on the phone, she replied, "DAVID KRUGER?!?!". Nice. Two weeks, and she's not sure. Mind you it could have been Mr. Erskine, or my cousin, our dentist.
We took a bus tour today to the Giant's Causeway (via the Glens of Antrim), the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge (I'm not too good with heights, and the upcoming video is telling of that!) and The Old Bushmills Distillery, where we had an ounce of 1608 and an ounce of 16 year old. Not bad at all, but we both prefer Scotch to Irish whiskey.
We're going to take a Black Cab tour of Belfast to see the murals, which give a lot of history of Belfast/Northern Ireland and The Troubles (the conflict between the Catholics and Protestants, and England and the Irish) and wander around on our own otherwise. We're trying to figure out the best way to get a ferry to Scotland on Wednesday, and then spend some time in Edinburgh, rent a car to tour up the east coast (Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire (BrewDog!!!!), Northern Highlands, Loch Ness (feh!) and back down at some point, maybe getting to the Isle of Skye) and then heading to Glasgow. HOPEFULLY, I'll find a way to see where my grandmother lived, provided I can figure out where that is/was. She lived in Shettleston, which is seemingly a suburb of Glasgow, before emigrating to Canada way back when.
We'll be hanging out with Jodi's longtime friend Zoe, and spending a weekend with her and her beau Alex in/near Ben Nevis and maybe getting ourselves to another distillery like Glenmorangie, Highland Park or The Macallan. After that, it's off/back to London (or maybe Belgium and the continent) and trying to find a farm in France to WWOOF on, and probably looking to line something up for Italy and WWOOFing as well.
I hope you're well while reading this, and feel free to comment on places that you think are visit worthy in London, Amsterdam, Belgium (Brussels/Bruges), Paris and/or France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Israel, Greece, Jordan, Egypt.