This has been a brief period of travel hell.
From Bolzano we were off to Dublin. To get there, we had to take a train to Milan and overnight there, before flying the next day to Dublin. Somehow, though, the train wasn’t as straightforward as it should have been. We got to the train station and saw that our train would be leaving on time from Track 3. So we went to Track 3 and boarded the train when it came in maybe three or four minutes late. Now, as we experienced in Venice, Italian trains don’t provide nearly as much information at the tracks as you get anywhere else in Europe – there’s no monitor telling you the next train is going to these cities – but it seemed straightforward. What could go wrong? As I dozed off in the comfort of European rail travel Mark happened to notice that we were going north, as in up towards Austria and Germany. That’s the wrong direction. Not at all sure how it happened, but these savvy, experienced travelers got on the wrong train.We got off at the next stop and had to buy new tickets, but eventually got into Milan a couple hours late. Our original plan was that we were going to hang around northern Italy for a bit after the bike ride, but then we got an email from an old friend saying that he was spending his 50th birthday in Dublin and would love for us to join him. So we rearranged things a bit and instead scheduled the one night in Milan to catch a morning flight.
In the best Italian tradition, the airport getting out of Milan was pure hell. To call it a “line” for checking in would be a generous overstatement. There was sort of a general sense of “some people are already in front of us,” but nothing that resembles a 21st century airport line; barely better than a mob. And as things progressed it nearly became a mob. People would come up and see there was no real line so just get in wherever they could. It was like something from a Third World country 25 years ago. Crazy. It took us almost an hour while people were shoving their way forward to the one woman – one woman! – who was checking in the entire flight. Crazy experience.
And while I’m on the subject of stupid airport design, four days later when we flew out of Dublin there were precisely 36 seats in a big waiting area to board a plane that held probably 160 people or so. Insane. When you know people have to get to the airport plenty early to deal with security and all that, why on earth would you have a small fraction of the number of necessary seats? Who knows what they were thinking.
OK, at any rate, eventually we got to Dublin for four nights. Ajay was a classmate of ours in graduate school, so we’ve been friends for nearly 30 years now. So when his wife Ann suggested we join them in Dublin for his birthday, we jumped at the chance. Oddly, as close as it is to the east coast, I’d never been to Ireland. And even more oddly, we’re going back for a couple of weeks there in August, so just dropping in to Dublin and then flying out isn’t as crazy as it seems.Impressions of Dublin. Rainy – consistent with our experience in Europe so far this year, it rained at least part of every day we were there. And they drink a lot in Dublin, though that probably shouldn’t come as a big surprise. There are a lot of pubs in Dublin and people drink a lot of beer in those pubs. Overall we found the food to be pretty marginal; I’m guessing that’s now what people are really going into the pubs for.
We were staying right next to Trinity College, Ireland’s oldest and most prestigious university. It was founded in 1592 – 44 years before Harvard, the oldest university in the U.S. – as part of the Tudor monarchy’s Protestant agenda, and as recently as 1970 the Catholic Church of Ireland forbade its members to attend without permission of their archbishop; famous alumni include Oscar Wilde and Bram Stoker. The tour itself was somewhat anticlimactic; the tour guide was a lot more interested in himself than he was in us. Along with the tour we got to see the Book of Kells, an illustrated Bible consisting of the four gospels produced about the year 800. Considered Ireland’s finest national treasure, ultimately it was, well, an old book.
And then we toured a jail, too (or, as it’s known here, a “gaol”). Kilmainham Jail was a great opportunity to learn a little bit about Irish history. It’s easy for me to remember that as recently as 100 years ago, Ireland was still under the control of the British. One of the key moments in the movement to independence was the Easter Rising, as it’s known, of April 1916. Basically, a group of patriots decided to use Britain’s engagement in the Great War to proclaim an Irish Republic. It didn’t work, and most of the ringleaders were imprisoned in Kilmainham Jail until they were executed in May and June of 1916. And while the “rising” was a failure at the time, it became part of the Irish identity as they ultimately fought successfully for independence. This year, 100 years after the Rising, you see all sorts of commemoration of the event.
From here we’re off to Copenhagen for a few days before going back to resume our summer in northern Italy. Maybe some day we’ll get out the rain that seems to blanket Europe this spring.