The steering wheel on the car’s right, the car on the road’s left. One’s perspective on life and travel changes with small things like these.
During his kilometers behind the wheel of the rental BMW, Husband listed to the left, grazing the shoulder of the road a few times.
He sucked air through his teeth. “Oops.”
Dwight shrugged. “No big deal. The guy in front of you has been riding the curb for about a quarter mile.”
We stopped in Bunratty to visit Durty Nelly’s and in Limerick to tromp around King John’s Castle. When we reached the harbor city of Galway, Murphy—somewhat improved from her bronchitis but in no way recovered from her cheese obsession—found the shop of her dreams: Sheridan’s Cheesemongers. But it was closed. Even so, Galway, with portions of medieval city walls along the meandering streets, sang to us, reminding us of the ancients and their seafaring days long before the shops and cafés we strolled by now.
Back in the car, we reached our destination: Athlone. Our hotel was beautiful, the layout confusing. All the guests’ rooms were numbered in the 400s, regardless of floor. My fellow travelers soon navigated the labyrinth with savvy, but the next morning, in hopes of running off my second (or third?) meal of fish and chips of the trip, I bumbled, alone, through the hotel until I located the workout room.
Thirty minutes on the treadmill done, I tugged on the exit’s glass door. Locked. Just outside the workout room, an employee manned the desk, dispensing towels to gym-goers. He eyed me through the glass. I tried another door several feet away. Locked. He furrowed his brow, watching me go back and forth between doors, rattling them. Finally, I shrugged at him, my palms upturned and my face heating.
He sauntered over and opened the door. “To exit next time, you need the lady code.”
The lady code? I made a note of it—if there was a next time. Relieved to be free, I scurried out, passing back through the labyrinth into our new day.
We toured Kilbeggan Distillery, a fully operational whiskey distillery with a mash tun and fermentation vats, nestled on the River Brosna beyond Athlone. For a section of the tour, our guide instructed us to don safety gear and forbade us from taking photos “in case of explosion.” She offered us “a trickle of poitín” first, so we could taste Irish moonshine on its way to a better life. Or maybe it was to steel our nerves before we entered the danger zone.
Another forty-one kilometers down the road sat Clonmacnoise, a monastic site on the banks of the Shannon River. Sixth century remains speckled the acreage, soon throwing late afternoon’s long shadows around us. A holy hush softened the air. Padding through the grasses surrounding antiquity, I snapped pictures I’ll keep for the rest of my life. The afternoon sun weakened toward dusk, and the stones breathed words to me as I passed: life is a mist that soon vanishes. The time is now.
Our neighbor characterized one of her days in Dublin as covering the three Gs: God (Catholic mass), Guinness (the brewery tour), and the gaol (a former prison, now museum.) “You start off with God, have a beer, then end up in jail,” she said with a laugh. Similar to her time in the capital city, our second day in Athlone covered the three Ds (although not in this order): the Divine (Clonmacnoise), a distillery tour (Kilbeggan), and a detention center (if getting stuck in a workout room at a hotel could be called that.)
That evening, we trekked through the streets of Athlone to Sean’s Bar, which dates back to 900 AD. Not every pub in Ireland can say it’s the oldest in the country or can boast making the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest pub in Europe, but Sean’s proudly touts these facts.
The low-ceilinged watering hole has “a snug,” (a cubby or hidden space) where women in days past were tucked away to drink, so they wouldn't be seen. We asked strangers to take our picture. They fumbled with our cell phones, capturing shots of us on our adventure at the oldest pub in the land.
I’ll cherish the blurry photos forever.
*Tune in next week for the third and final installment of the story and for dining and entertainment recommendations in Ireland.
*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date
*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.