The Quiet Park

Spring has really been taking its own sweet time in getting here this year, which is a pity, because if there’s one thing the east coast does better than Idaho, it’s being green.

In northern Idaho, you get exactly one month of green. The minute May hits, the hills are as lush and verdant as Ireland, and you wonder why in the world anyone would choose to live anywhere else.

And then June happens, and the moisture is sucked out of all vegetation, the undergrowth becomes particularly prickly, and the only thing that stays green are the pines with the tell-tale name.

So I was thrilled when I moved to the east coast and discovered that everything stays green until it goes golden. The trade-in, of course, is the feeling that you are living in an armpit.

All this aside, today was a lovely misty day that really highlighted the incoming greenery, so I hauled myself and my umbrella outside to see the colors.

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The nice thing about a park in the rain, on a weekday, at one in the afternoon, is that you truly have the place to yourself.

And there were indeed signs of spring, despite the slow-going. Perhaps wary of another sudden frost, the leaves were advancing at a snail’s pace, but they were there.

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One started to get the feeling that the leaves were only showing themselves grudgingly.

I didn’t expect to see any animals besides the usual assortment of birds and squirrels, seeing as my closest park is hardly larger than your average Wal-Mart, but I actually ran into a herd of deer that seemed disturbed at my passing.

I felt bad about it, really, because there wasn’t really anywhere for them to go. The park has a lake on one side and suburbs on the rest.

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The straggler who would have been picked off if I were a wolf.

It was very wet out, but I enjoy overcast days. They typically mean I only burn a little.

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I spent a little while trying to figure out how this tree had managed to split and fall so artfully.

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Fungi!

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And speaking of fungus, I don’t know what this stuff is but a poor baby pine was coated in the stuff. I’m always grateful humans can’t grow mushrooms on themselves.

There’s a part of the park with an odd low wall that extends into the lake; something to do with keeping the little bay of water from being disturbed, no doubt. People are always out on the wall; teenagers going to drink or smoke, children trying to look cool to their friends, fishermen who like a little risk. But thanks to the rain, it was empty.

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I didn’t go all the way out because I wasn’t willing to risk falling in to drink or smoke in a cool place.

Back in the park, one of the flowering trees was heavy with large pink blossoms. I figured by the time the leaves on other trees came in, most of the blossoms would be gone.

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There was absolutely no way to get a picture of this tree without also picking up the trashcan on the right. It couldn’t be done. Also, I was too lazy to crop it.

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Very pink. A well-established whatever-it-is.

While I was in the park I went looking for the fairy house I had built some time back, just to see if any part of it was still there, but there was no sign of it. I have no idea if some little girl found the tea set and kept it, or whether they were unceremoniously trashed some time later.

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But I did find some periwinkle in the vicinity. I always wanted to be a periwinkle fairy.

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It was nice to get out. In a month or so it will be unbearably sunny and humid and I won’t want to do anything but stay in my air-conditioned room and long for colder climates, but for now it’s pleasant.

And then, when it’s too hot and humid to function, my employers will take me and the three to six boys to Disney World again because “It’s the cheapest time of the year to go!”

The 2018 Reading Challenge

This really isn’t a book blog, because there are many book blogs out there run by people who a) are better writers than I am, and b) read more books in general. But I do like books, all kinds (except for you tragic grimdark novels, buzz off), and so I do like doing an occasional “52 Book Challenge.”

A 52 book challenge is an informal agreement to read 52 books in a year, or around one a week. Sometimes it’s a free-for-all, but my utter horror at making my own decisions prompts me to find guidelines for the challenge, such as this:

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The above was the challenge I attempted to do with my sister and my good friend Wendy, several years ago. Spoiler, we failed, but we attempted. Attempting was done.

The last time I did this challenge, I discovered some interesting new books- like Abhorsen– and some frankly terrible books, like Frankenstein.

Don’t try to tell me Frankenstein is good. It’s a million pages of story so dry you could sand a bench with it.

The point being, the challenge coaxes you into broadening your horizon, which is why I’m going to try again for 2018, with the list provided here. Will I give up? Oh, most definitely, probably around book 15. But it’s nice to feel like you’re trying something.

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Part of one of my bookshelves. Perhaps a fifth of these books are unread or only partially read because I collect books faster than I can motivate myself to go through them.

I encourage everyone to go out and try a challenge like this for a little while. Even if it’s twelve books a year. Or six. Or a half of a short story you’ve had on your shelf for the past eight years. Just give it a go.

Now I’ll reward myself by playing eight hours of Overwatch and thinking about what a bookworm I am.

Something Blue

About a month ago I decided to get a new car.

“New” here meaning “newer than my old car, but still not actually new”.

The reason for this was because my old car, dubbed La Petite Rouge because it was petite and rouge, started indicating that it needed a coolant change.

Well, in fact, it had needed one for many months, but I had ignored it, because I didn’t want to spend even more money on a little red bucket of compressed rust literally held together with duct tape.

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Literally.

So as much as I loved it, when I had finally scraped together enough money for a new car, I dumped the old one like a box of warning lights and uncomfortable seating.

I feel like my employers were grateful for its absence, because it really was the neighborhood eyesore. In a suburb where the smallest house is five bedrooms and only one pool, everyone gets uncomfortable when the help’s car is so prominently poor.

So with so very in-depth research consisting of Googling several times, I decided that my next car would be a Kia Optima. And I decided to get it from a rental car place.

Months ago, I watched an interview with actor Jack McBrayer on Conan, in which he explained that he got his car from Enterprise because they don’t haggle and he doesn’t like haggling.

I didn’t much like the idea of haggling either, and so I located a promising-looking car on the Hertz car sales website and scooted over to buy it, money in hand.

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And it was beautiful.

A Kia Optima 2016, with features like a heater that works immediately, windows that reliably roll all the way down, and no flashing engine lights upon entry. And it was blue.

Despite Hertz’s assurances that the car was flawless, I took it to a mechanic anyway. The mechanic also proclaimed it to be flawless.

I bought it.

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I dubbed it Yonder, as in “Into The Wild Blue-“, though it’s only a working title in case I come up with something better. And, when I had Yonder, it was time to say goodbye to La Petite Rouge.

I donated the old car to a charity, mostly out of the selfish reasoning that I didn’t want the hassle of trying to sell a dumpster on wheels. They came to pick it up late at night, and I watched my first ever car get towed away under the streetlights.

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And while I was a little bit sad, it wasn’t enough to out-weigh the joyful knowledge that I probably won’t have to spend $300 on my new car every time I bring it in for an oil change.

Live-in nannying’s not a bad gig, all things considered.

The Ireland Trip: Killarney

Our second city in the week was Killarney, and, being a professional Ireland traveler with four whole Irish cities under my belt, I can honestly say that Killarney is probably the best of the lot.

Mind you, to get there we had to drive an additional few hours from the Cliffs of Moher, and it was a great hardship because we had to keep passing beautiful ruins and be reminded that we didn’t have anything of the sort in America.

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In the space of two hours, you’d see upwards of five stone ruins, and that’s just if you kept to the “main” roads without ever following the tempting motorway exit signs that promised an abundance of castles.

Killarney won me over immediately because the hotel had an electric kettle for tea, something which the Galway hotel did not have. As it turns out, the Galway hotel was a bit of an anomaly, because all the rest of the hotels had one as well.

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With little cookies and everything. As it should be.

James and I were walking around the town as late as eight or nine at night, and marveling about it. We really didn’t imagine that Ireland would be that much farther north than where we had come from, but it didn’t begin to get dark until around ten and started to get light again around four.

This would have been unbearable for me if it had ever been sunny. Fortunately, the clouds hid me in darkness.

When we were wondering towards the hotel for the night, we noticed that there was a massive church spire of some kind rising over the back of it. It was very eye-catching, because there really isn’t much in Ireland that’s tall in any sense of the word.

So, without any phone usage, we just went looking for the structure.

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The back streets of Killarney were cute. And this is about 9:30 at night.

The spire, we discovered, belonged to St. Mary’s Cathedral, which was probably my favorite cathedral in Ireland simply because of the spontaneous late-night adventure we went on to find it, chasing the sight of the steeple over the rooftops.

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In fact, the spire was too tall for my phone too capture without cutting out some part of it, be it length or width-wise. Beautiful thing, though.

It was too late to go in, but the gates were all open so we circled the thing anyway, because if Ireland really wanted to keep nosy Americans out they’d lock up better.

Killarney was also the first place I tried black pudding, something I’d never wanted to do because, frankly, it sounded gross.

It was gross, but that’s because it tasted like meatloaf, and I hate meatloaf. Yes, even your mom’s meatloaf. All meatloaf, stop asking.

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James loved the “full Irish breakfast” option, because it was consistently the most artery-clogging dish to be found.

Killarney had an adorable and very touristy main street from which James and I purchased a great deal of Bailey’s ice cream, which is possibly the highlight of my ice cream experience in life thus far.

But the greatest part of Killarney, according to me, Killarney expert, is the Killarney National Park. At least, I think that’s it’s name.

From the hotel, we could walk around two miles to get to Ross Castle, through beautiful fields and the first real amount of trees I had seen in one place. And there were mountains in the background! Mountains, Gandalf!

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Sure, you had to frequently move off the road to make way for one of the horse and buggy tours, but that was nicely reminiscent of Lancaster PA. 

On the way to Ross Castle, for no reason that I can think, I started laying a penny out on the forest path every fifteen feet or so, creating a neat little trail of shining copper. Then I moved to nickles, then dimes, then a solitary quarter. I don’t know why, I think I was bored. Regardless, I know I would have been thrilled to find a trail of Euro coins in the woods in America.

Ross Castle, meanwhile, met my low castle standards.

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There’s really no telling what it used to look like, because the tour we took of it covered the fact that until recently no one cared what happened to a castle that their family happened to own, and they tore bits down or put new bits up, but the restoration they had done to it in recent years was very good. I couldn’t tell where the old parts stopped and the new parts began.

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Along with the tour, you were allowed to climb over almost every inch of the place. No guards or cameras or even ropes to keep us off parts, on the assumption that we’d be respectful and think carefully about our actions.

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Nah.

No pictures were allowed on the tour, which was very informative and surprisingly fun. Our tour guide was very excited that I had a question about the place- namely, which part of the roof had been torn off to avoid paying taxes on the place.

It was the top part.

People will do anything to avoid paying taxes.

I don’t think he ever got many questions on his tours, he seemed notably more energetic after that.

Nice fellow.

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I took a quick picture out of the top window of the castle anyway, for rebellion’s sake.

When we walked back to the hotel, all the coins I had put down were gone.

The next part of our Killarney experience was going to see the Torc Waterfall. We piled into the tiny car and made our way through tiny streets and down tiny winding roads through the very large forest, following our unreliable GPS for Torc Waterfall. At one point, we came across a fork in the road, where the GPS told us to go to the left and all the official signs told us to go right, so we went right and discovered that the parking space for the waterfall was filled to the brim with tour buses.

So, turning around, we went back down the other fork. We drove, and drove, and drove. It was very narrow, and there was nowhere to park along the way and no signs, so when we began to approach the point on the GPS we parked the car on the first tiny flat space we found alongside the road and walked from there.

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This was the first place we’d been that was really devoid of people.

It was a bit of a walk, but fortunately, we had brought our newly-acquired Irish whistles with us, to the despair of the local wildlife.

But we passed the point on the GPS with no sign of the waterfall, and at this point we had climbed quite high, so we figured we must be above it. We kept walking for a bit, but the road went on through the trees, so instead we decided to climb down through the woods, something many enterprising people had already done, judging by the widened deer trails.

So, as many stupid young people do before they are lost forever and eaten by wildlife enraged by the sound of poorly played Irish whistles, we decided to cut down through the woods to the other road, and walk to the waterfall through there.

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Actually, it was quite nice.

About halfway through we realized it would be Hellish to climb back up, but we figured there was no use in stopping just then, so we kept going. And, miraculously, we came right out into the full parking lot- now obviously mostly empty- and the official path straight to the waterfall.

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6/10 as far as waterfalls go, 8/10 because it’s in Ireland.

We were hanging about near the waterfall, dreading the steep hike back up through the woods, when we realized the paved path from the parking lot to the waterfall didn’t end there- concrete steps on the hillside disappeared up into the forest. Figuring we could follow it as far as possible, we started to climb.

We climbed for a long time, and started to veer very off course, which made us nervous. At last, though, the path reached flat ground, and split off in different directions. We took the one that brought us in the general direction of the road with our car.

It deposited us into a parking lot above the waterfall.

The place where we had given up and crashed through the forest instead was hardly two hundred yards down the road, around a bend.

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Ireland looks a lot like the Pacific North-West sometimes. Okay, only in Killarney.

To celebrate our stupidity, we went to “Ireland’s only Lord of the Rings themed pub” for dinner.

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The fake grass really makes it.

We had read a poor Google review about the place before going, claiming that it was only “vaguely” Lord of the Rings themed, and barely had anything to do with the series at all, but as James later remarked, it turns out they were just mad that the place didn’t directly transport them to Middle-Earth. In reality, it was about as LOTR-themed as a place could get while still being a regular pub.

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It was very green, though, and hard to photograph. If you squint, you can see the Elvish inscription on the ceiling.

We spent our last night in Killarney drinking “Hobbit Juice” and “Frodo’s Lager.” John tried a shot called a “Nazgul,” which was appropriately menacing. The live music started around 9:00, and when it was all said and done we walked back to the hotel when it was still light out.

Too much daylight around there, if you ask me.

The Ireland Trip: The Cliffs of Moher

After Galway we drove around Galway Bay in the general direction of the Cliffs of Moher. Honestly, I’m not quite sure what we drove through. I know we hit at least three counties that day- Galway, Clare, and Kerry- but beyond that I can’t honestly say which towns we drove through, or where “The Burren” begins and ends.

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All I know is that most towns had something three times as old as America in it, like this random castle we drove by.

Nearly every town we passed was beautiful and picturesque beyond belief. It got to the point where I started to resent American towns. “Why can’t we have cute little hedge rows and stone fences everywhere?” I complained to John, multiple times an hour. “Why can’t we at least make an effort to build our McDonald’s in an old world style?”

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Well now I just don’t want to worship in my ’70s Lutheran church with the weird windows and the shag carpeting.

As we circled the bay we started to approach the hilly area we had seen from the other side. After a whole three minutes of Googling, I’m still not quite sure what they’re called. All I can tell is that they’re probably part of “The Burren,” though I’m not even sure Irish people know where the Burren begins and ends. It’s just an area full of rocky cliffs, rocky hills, and rocky farmhouses.

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Beautiful though.

I’m not sure whether what we had to climb over to get to the Cliffs of Moher is defined as a “mountain.” Briefly looking up “Irish mountains” on Google Maps shows no mountains in that area. I suppose they’re just very large, rocky hills.

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They weren’t very big, but after a few days in Ireland, you start to get used to everything being flat.

The road up was steep, winding, narrow, and naturally filled to the brim with large, bulky tour buses. At one point, when swerving outrageously up the hills with a tour bus on our tail, the car stalled and started to roll backwards for one terrifying moment. Once again, the Irish people and tourists were remarkably understanding and no one honked at us.

Then we got to the top, got stuck behind a slow-moving, frequently-stalling tourist in another rental car, and complained about him for half an hour like the true Americans we are.

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You can tell where all the stone for the walls comes from.

And then we got to the Cliffs of Moher. I booked entry tickets in advance, which was a good thing because the park fills up rapidly in the summer when it’s not raining, even in the early morning on a weekday.

In order to preserve the natural beauty of the landscape, the park had hidden their bathrooms, gift shops, and food courts underground, built into the side of the hill like a commercialized Hobbiton. I stopped briefly into the gift shop to see what kind of Authentic Irish goods I could find, but after seeing the same gifts I saw in eight separate shops in Galway, I began to suspect that there was only one producer of Authentic Irish goods in Ireland.

And then we climbed the hill to the Cliffs, and despite the eight hundred other tourists we had to fight through, it was worth it. Easy to see why there were eight hundred other tourists in the first place.

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The little tower on the mildly less picturesque side of the Cliffs was a modern creation, though clearly meant to blend in. For a few Euro you could climb to the top, in order to better see over the heads of the tourists.

IMG_20170628_121558673_HDRI just brought a 6’2″ guy with me. Easier than paying 2.

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This was the view with your back to the Cliffs. Still beautiful. I bet the cows were happy.

And then, as the midday tourist vans started to roll in, we hopped back into our car and drove towards Killarney.

Along the way, we passed through a hideous little town, reminiscent of those upper-middle-class suburbs that spring up in newly rich communities in America. All the houses were modern and had made very little effort to match the landscape, and there was a massive golf course as though Ireland itself weren’t already, essentially, one very large golf course.

I really can’t complain, since the town has nothing to do with me, but it was awful and ugly and reminded me too much of America, which is typically awful and ugly. I would bet a small amount of real money that it was mostly filled with vacation homes for American people.

Why can’t Ireland cater to my every whim and standard, that’s what I want to know.

The Ireland Trip: Galway

The truly wonderful thing about using a travel agent and being a tourist in Ireland is that you can just sit back and enjoy the ride. Particularly if the ride is your boyfriend attempting to drive a manual across an entire country.

Especially if you’re too young to legally do any of the driving in the rental car.

Dublin to Galway was a bit nerve-wracking, mostly for James, but I had a splendid time sight-seeing and nagging him to stay on the left side of the road. I didn’t take any pictures of this time because my phone was completely dead. We were entirely at the mercy of our GPS.

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The hotel was beautiful, though.

We made it in the early afternoon, but it was always a little difficult to tell time in Ireland because it was always cloudy. This probably comes as a surprise to no one, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, because I didn’t get a sunburn the entire time I was there. In fact, since I never applied sunscreen, I got the barest hint of a tan, turning me from a pasty #FFFFFF to a pasty #FFFBF5.

Our hotel was right across the road from Galway Bay, which didn’t smell overly salty and reminded me of the massive Lake Coeur d’Alene I used to live near. Our hotel was also right next to the world’s saddest boardwalk amusement park.

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Frequently seen here: Underpaid Irish teenagers huddling under dead machinery to keep out of the constant rain.

The bay, though gray, was beautiful.

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If you look in the corner of the picture above, you’ll see a little hut on top of a pier. There was one of these every half mile or so, and I’m not sure what exactly they were for, but they looked quite cozy inside.

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Primarily because each of them came with their own tea kettle.

There were plenty of Galway residents out and about, jogging and biking and generally being more athletic than Americans, despite the constant drizzly weather. One thing I found interesting was that they typically didn’t leash their dogs; the happy canines would bound ahead to sniff at rocks and trees and other dogs, and then turn and patiently wait for their owners to catch up.

I’m certain there are well-trained dogs in America, but I guess it must be law in most places to keep them leashed. Something I never really thought about, because our dogs were never ever well-trained and letting them run free was never an option.

After recovering from the trip, James and I set out towards the center of Galway in search of expensive tourist widgets to bring back to our families. I had done a haphazard searching on my phone for a Irish gift shop, only a mile or so from where we were staying, so we set off on foot to go look for a small tourist shop.

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Instead, we found forty of them in one go.

Completely by accident, after diverting a little from our pre-Googled path, we stumbled across the Latin Quarter, an absolutely beautiful set of alleys and streets completely packed with every gift shop imaginable. Claddagh rings rained from the sky for only 40-70 a piece.

At one point we rounded a corner and came across St. Nicholas’ Collegiate Church, opened in 1320, which to us Americans was unfathomably old. It was hard to photograph from the outside, mostly because of the beggar lady we were avoiding.

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The inside was also hard to photograph, because when there’s so much magnificent architecture happening at once, your poor phone can’t take it all in. This was a recurring theme in Ireland.

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St. Nicholas’ also had a door that was exactly my size. I was very, very excited about it.

It was our first real taste of ‘everything here is older than America’. I never really got over it while I was there, and James delighted in taking pictures of McDonald’s housed in stonework from the 14th century.

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The cathedrals always had gorgeous graveyards to boot.

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Also, this strange little judgement station in the back. Get your judgement here!

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Ah yes, The Cathedral of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven and St Nicholas. Or Galway Cathedral, if you’re being practical.

We also went to Galway’s best known Cathedral- the building across the river with the dome- but it was so big up close that none of my pictures looked right. I found it interesting that every big church we saw in Ireland was always wide open for visitors, no matter the day. I suppose that’s how they make their money, by tourists offering donations. Whatever works, right?

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So instead of the cathedral, have a picture of two guys fishing in the river outside of the cathedral.

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More Galway Bay.

James and I had two days in Galway, and we wrapped it up by buying some thick Irish sweaters- so people could instantly tell we were anything but Irish- and going wading in the bay. We had just seen some people in wetsuits doing some kind of swim match in it, so we figured it couldn’t be that bad.

It was pretty bad. But not the coldest water I’ve ever felt. Everything’s a little chilly there.

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An unflattering picture of James putting on his socks again.

Truth be told, I think it was a toss-up between Galway and Killarney for my favorite places in Ireland. Galway, the little we saw of it, was delightful, and I discovered mushy peas there, which will always have a special place in my heart.

An Irish Vacation

When it comes to vacations as a nanny, you are entirely at the mercy of your employer’s work schedule. You can’t very well say “I’m going to head out for a week next month” if you don’t know that they can get that week off, because if they can’t and you go anyway the children will be left to their own devices and will start a cruel and warlike society in your absence.

Instead, I typically take my vacations wherever I can get them, and they’re frequently a surprise. When Mrs. Parent caught hold of me one day and announced that there was a week at the end of June I could take, it sent me into a panicked frenzy because I only had a month and a half to book plane tickets to somewhere, and plane tickets cost lots of money when you order them a year in advance. Ordering them a month in advance means they cost several lots of money.

I was going to fly back to Idaho to see my family, the way I did last year, but it suddenly dawned on me as I was browsing plane tickets that I could go anywhere. Just… anywhere.

So I booked tickets to Ireland.

I’ve always wanted to go, you see. I can’t claim to have more than a drop of Irish blood in me, but I’ve always devoured any scrap of Celtic mythology, history, or culture I could get my hands on. Even those stupid touristy things. I will buy literally anything with some Celtic knotwork on it; if you engrave it on a toilet I’ll take five.

I was going to go on my own, but my boyfriend James has a lovely job that’s highly flexible and pays well, which is what you get when you’re very intelligent and go to college instead of nanny school, so he was able to come along.

I stressed for a good three weeks about all the interesting places I wanted to see, before I realized there was no way to plan it all and I had better just do all the neat tourist destinations my first time around, on the basis that they’re popular for a reason. In the end, I contacted an Irish travel agent, Maria, who set me up with a rental car, maps and guides, and hotel reservations in four different Irish cities.

I highly recommend a travel agent if you’re completely clueless. They’re used to it.

Our plan via the travel agent was to arrive in Dublin on Monday morning, and to go from there to Galway, and from Galway to Kilkenny, and from Kilkenny to Killarney, and then back to Dublin again, for a total of seven days. We would do this all via rental car, which James had to drive because I’m not the minimum age of twenty-four.

James puts up with a lot.

We took an overnight flight out on a Sunday, because my employers had me working that weekend. We flew with Aer Lingus, and while I dislike receiving countless unrelated emails from them, I have to admit that they’re one of the better airlines I’ve flown on.

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For instance, we got a real meal while we were on that flight, completely for free, in addition to their later free snack and tea service. This little meal included a roll, a cauliflower salad, a great pasta meal, and a little strawberry cream desert. Having only ever flown on the most terrible airlines, this was incredible to me.

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Each of the seats also had a built in TV screen, featuring free movies and games, with an attached remote/controller, and free earbuds. James and I were stunned. We kept expecting a paywall to come up when we selected a movie, but no. Free.

I specifically booked a window seat as we flew in, and it was worth it for the views of Ireland in the morning light. Funnily enough, I don’t think I ever registered just how populated the island is. When I used to speak about living there, my dad said “I think you’ll find that it’s smaller than you realize,” and he was right. You really take the vast distances between things in the U.S. for granted.

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All of it’s like this, at least in the middle-south. I don’t think we ever drove through a part that didn’t have at least one house visible somewhere int he distance. It’s fields and fields and fields.

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Not that it’s not beautiful. Like the Shire all over. That’s a golf course, but even when it’s not a golf course, Ireland’s a golf course.

I’ll cover each of the cities whenever I can force myself to get around to it; I took a lot of pictures and most of them were terrible, so it requires some sorting. Just know that I highly recommend Ireland, but I also recommend going for longer and speaking to more people and learning more than we did. We’ll do that the second time around.