A Whole Lot of Blarney ... (Canadians Driving in Ireland - Part II)

For those of you who have followed our June adventure through Southern England, Wales and Ireland, this is the greatest bit of the tale.  This is the leg of the trip where we met Deirdre from Cork, the Irish character who absolutely made our week.  And to any Irish folk out there reading this, please excuse my poor attempt at Irish phonetics.  I've done my best to recreate bits of conversation as we heard them; I'm sure I'm way off.  

We made sure to take extra long showers (hot water was the one thing we weren't paying extra for at the Westin) on the morning we set off from Dublin to discover Dingle - Smilin' Vic's ancestral ''sleepy fishing village'' and the main objective of this trip.  After a great night's sleep and the one breakfast of the trip I swear I cannot remember, we packed our duffel bags into the trunk (boot, if you're in that part of the world) and headed off on our tour of the Emerald Isle.

 On our way from Dublin to Cork ...

On our way from Dublin to Cork ...

While we had initially intended to take the quicker route due East to the Ring of Kerry via Limerick, a friend's friend from Doha had mentioned in passing that she was from Cork, home of the Blarney Stone.  So it was that we decided to go that roundabout way and discover a bit more of the country in the process.

 Snoozing in the sunshine after lunch ...

Snoozing in the sunshine after lunch ...

 While Smilin' Vic snoozes, Kiddo zip-lines and expends as much energy as possible before heading out for the final leg of the car ride to Cork.

While Smilin' Vic snoozes, Kiddo zip-lines and expends as much energy as possible before heading out for the final leg of the car ride to Cork.

Once again, a pit stop in a little village along the way to stop for lunch and do some Google searching revealed that most hotels and inns at our destination were booked for the night.  But the Imperial Hotel, centrally located in Cork and with good reviews, had a family room left for the night.  We booked the room, and mercifully arrived and checked in without a hitch around 6:00 p.m. 

We sorted out some clothes that needed laundering and decided to have a quick bite to eat at the hotel's sidewalk bistro before heading out to discover Cork in the evening.  Smilin' Vic ordered drinks for us all, and went back in to grab a few brochures and some menus.  Kiddo entertained herself by drawing on a small hotel notepad, and I scanned the day's pictures on my i-Pad.

It was while we were both sitting there, heads down and engrossed in our respective thoughts, that I saw a hand reach up quick as lightning and snatch Smilin' Vic's beer glass.

Thoughts racing through my head as they do in moments of complete surprise, I just managed to utter ''What the ...'' as I raised my eyes.  

The ''hell'' stayed stuck on my lips, partly because I was so stunned, partly because I didn't have time to say anything more before my gaze came to rest at the top of the would-be perpetrator's head, standing just barely high enough for her blue eyes to peer over the edge of the table.

''Uhmmmmm, NO!'' is what I eventually managed to sputter.

''Wal, if ya don want people takin' it, ya should na be leavin' it standin' dare all on its own wid no one ta mind it den, should ya?'' 

All Kiddo and I could do was stare ... both of us sitting slack-jawed and dumb in front of this strange 4 ft. 10 in. figure with white hair, a curved back, a glint in her eye, a walker, and the sharpest tongue this side of a pitchfork.  Words. failed. me.

As I struggled to untwist my knotted tongue, she smiled.  ''Na, I'm jus playin' wid ya dearie.  Hav'na touched da stuff since I was forty-odd and still had a shape on me.''

''Sorry, who are you?'' I finally sputtered.  

''I'm Deirdre, dearie.  I'm just out for a bid a craic, havin' me evenin' walk an' all.  I'll leave ya to it.  But mind dat glass when I go, yeah?  Dey'll snatch it right away, some will.''

All of a sudden, it clicked:  the gangsta who had tried to snatch Smilin' Vic's beer was just a harmless, lonely, quirky old lady with the 'gift of gab'.  We were, after all, in Cork, home of the Blarney Stone.  

For a minute I wondered if she was homeless, but her pressed flowered dress, manicured nails, jewellery and neatly styled hair said differently.

 Beautiful Deirdre, aka the ''Potential Pilsner Perpetrator'', aka ''Would-be Beer Thief''.  Her only crime:  stealing our hearts.  Though gifted with gab, she swore up and down she'd never kissed the Blarney Stone.

Beautiful Deirdre, aka the ''Potential Pilsner Perpetrator'', aka ''Would-be Beer Thief''.  Her only crime:  stealing our hearts.  Though gifted with gab, she swore up and down she'd never kissed the Blarney Stone.

''Would you like a beer?'' I asked.

''I wouldna, I havna touched a drop in years I tole ya just now.  Were ya listnin' ta anyting I said just now dearie?''

''Oh, ok.  Would you like something else to drink or to eat then?  Are you hungry?''  Something, I don't know what, was willing me to keep Deirdre here, close to us.  

I wanted to bond.  It was like she had been sent especially to us for some reason; this curious old lady who'd appeared out of nowhere and settled on such a strange way to start up a conversation with absolute strangers.  It was about as un-Doha as you could imagine.  Like Alice down the rabbit hole, all I could think was ''curiouser and curiouser''.

She didn't want anything, and Smilin' Vic came out about this time, a little confused to see this Yoda-sized character standing and gabbing at our table.  I introduced her to him as the lady who tried to steal his beer.  He liked her immediately, and went right back inside to get her a chair, since getting her onto a bistro stool taller than she was would obviously bring with it some challenges.

And so it was that Deirdre came to spend the next 4 hours with us.  The 79-year-old entertained us to no end, regaling us with stories of her youth and her two close calls with marriage.  She told us about working in her father's auto-repair shop, and later in a confectionary and canning factory.  She hinted that her mom might have been a little ''off''.  She marvelled at our i-Pad, and the beautiful pictures it took.  She told Kiddo over and over what a beautiful girl she was, and me what a kind woman I was.  

She chastised me on the one occasion I referred to Smilin' Vic as 'him'.  ''You'll na be geddin' any loov dat way Dearie; dan't call 'im by 'is given name neider,  yel be given 'im a pet name if ya wan 'is heart.'' 

When Smilin' Vic's eyes settled on a group of very attractive and giggling women heading down the street Deirdre slapped him on the arm and scolded him sharply.  ''Young 'Smilin Vic', don ya be lookin' down da street at dat when you've a perfectly fine lass sittin' right in front o' ya.  I'll be after shown' ya a real tump if ya dan't set your eyes straight.''

Then she looked at me and said ''See wad I tol' ya?  Sweet words from ya is wa dis man needs.''

 Smilin' Vic and Kiddo walking Deirdre to the waiting cab at the end of a great night in Cork.

Smilin' Vic and Kiddo walking Deirdre to the waiting cab at the end of a great night in Cork.

Eventually she had to go.  It was nearing 11 p.m., she was growing tired, and she'd long since missed her bus, but Smilin' Vic had assured her we'd get her home safe in a cab.  So engaging was she that Smilin' Vic made a lunch date with her for the next day.  Our stay in Cork would be extended by a day to allow us the chance to spend a little more time with Deirdre.  We got her address and phone number, and promised to pass by at noon the next day to collect her.  Kiddo and Smilin' Vic got her into the cab, and we all waved goodbye as she drove off into the night.

It was the last time we would see Deirdre.  

 Some Irish folk intent on helping us find sweet Deirdre with the white hair ...

Some Irish folk intent on helping us find sweet Deirdre with the white hair ...

The next morning we had breakfast, walked around Cork a bit, and then headed off to our lunch date.  We dialled the number she'd given us, but it wouldn't connect.  Undeterred, we set the GPS to her address, and arrived at a row of flats near Albert Quay.  We knocked, but no answer was forthcoming.

 

We stopped at a nearby petrol station, and Smilin' Vic showed the attendant the address.  He told us we needed to head out to old BlackRock Road, but he didn't recognise the exact street address.  We drove a ways, and stopped several times to ask directions.

Never, ever, in a million years could I have imagined strangers so friendly as in Ireland.  People who saw us, standing by the side of the road with the map laid out on the car's hood (bonnet, if you're from these parts), stopped without fail to ask if we needed help.  Two old ladies called some friends to see if they knew anyone named Deirdre in town.  A young man on crutches stopped to dial Deirdre's number on his mobile, and though it rang and rang, she never answered.

And so it was that we headed back to Cork, and on to Blarney Castle for the afternoon, all three of us with the image of a little old lady looking sadly out her living room window, wondering why we never came as promised.  Smilin' Vic was the first to put it into words, but after almost two hours searching, we knew the time had come to carry on.

 Our first view of Blarney Castle.

Our first view of Blarney Castle.

We did make it to Blarney Castle though, and Kiddo and I took advantage of some shade to sleep off a bit of the previous night's revelry with Deirdre and Dirty Pete (this is another story altogether; of a potty-mouthed yet oddly charming Irish clothing salesman in town for the night who took over Deirdre's seat once she'd left).

 Entry to the Dungeon ....

Entry to the Dungeon ....

 I'm imagining the sentries of yore would have been startled by today's twist on perimeter control ...

I'm imagining the sentries of yore would have been startled by today's twist on perimeter control ...

 Kiddo braved the slippery wet stone and ventured deep into the dungeon passageways ...

Kiddo braved the slippery wet stone and ventured deep into the dungeon passageways ...

I hadn't realised that the Blarney Stone actually sits at the top of Blarney Castle, and that to kiss it and be instantaneously gifted with a silver tongue you actually have to lie on your back over the parapet, only two steel rods separating your head from the ground 40 feet (137 steps) below.  Undeterred by my acrophobia, I set out to lay my irrational fear of heights to rest for good.  I was going to climb those steps and kiss the Blarney Stone!

 View of the parapet from below ...

View of the parapet from below ...

Unfortunately, my will did not carry me as far as my intentions.  I made it up the spiral stone staircase to the first landing.  We stepped into a room and marvelled at a whole lot of stone ... Kiddo and Smilin' Vic proceeded back to the spiral staircase and up to the parapet.  And as I headed for the staircase I ...

Froze.

 Winding stone staircase leading up to the top of Blarney Castle ... signs everywhere to proceed at your peril ... fun times ...

Winding stone staircase leading up to the top of Blarney Castle ... signs everywhere to proceed at your peril ... fun times ...

As Smilin' Vic and Kiddo called down to me, I struggled to find my voice.  ''Are you ok, Maman?'' came Kiddo's sweet voice from the top of the tower.  And I couldn't answer.  I stood at the entrance to the staircase literally weak in the knees, trembling and terrified that opening my mouth would surely cause enough vibration in the air to send me tumbling down that stone-encased coffin.  ''Do you want me to come back down and get you, Maman?''

It's not logic or courage that willed me back into the stairwell and up to the parapet.  It was the ten American tourists laughing openly at my obvious terror that set motion to my wobbly legs.  I crawled up the remaining stairs, my legs practically liquefying as Smilin' Vic called down, ''When you get up here, look to your left.  Whatever you do, don't look to your right.''

 So when Smilin' Vic says ''Don't look to your right'', what do you imagine I do next?

So when Smilin' Vic says ''Don't look to your right'', what do you imagine I do next?

It goes fuzzy about this time, but I do recall getting up there, lulled somewhat trancelike up the stairs by a droning voice repeating ''Lie back, grab hold of the bar, both of 'em, kiss the stone, get up.  Lie back, grab hold of the bar, both of 'em, kiss the stone, get up. Lie back, grab hold .......''  

I looked up to see Smilin' Vic laughing and snapping pictures of my abject terror as I made my way onto the top landing on hands and knees, and glanced ahead to see a zombie-like old man staring off into the distance, chanting his instructions mindlessly as people lay down on the parapet to partake in the ritual.  Another guy stood by taking pictures of these fools who chose to dangle perilously on this ledge all for the sake of a bucket list item.

 Me, emerging at the top of the stairwell.

Me, emerging at the top of the stairwell.

 I stayed stuck here for a bit, trying to clear my mind and allowing myself to breathe for the first time in 24 minutes.

I stayed stuck here for a bit, trying to clear my mind and allowing myself to breathe for the first time in 24 minutes.

 Finally making it to my feet as I stand on wobbly knees atop the castle roof.

Finally making it to my feet as I stand on wobbly knees atop the castle roof.

 View from the rooftop ...

View from the rooftop ...

 This is the last thing you see as you lean back to lay your lips where so many have slobbered before ...

This is the last thing you see as you lean back to lay your lips where so many have slobbered before ...

Kiddo was determined to do it, and I was determined to encourage her and not let my insanity quash her enthusiasm.  But it's logic that stopped her from doing it in the end, not fear.  Even at her tender young age, she realised that the old fart sitting at the top of the parapet wasn't going to be any help should she by any chance start to slip down through those bars.  So she sat out the opportunity, but Smilin' Vic couldn't resist.  He leaned back and smacked his lips right onto that spittle-covered stone, not stopping long enough to think of the slobbering tourist mouths that had passed over this stone before his.  Had he done so, it would have surely stopped him in his tracks.

Bucket list item accomplished, we proceeded back down the spiral staircase, with me still trembling in fear but hopeful that I would soon again be setting foot on terra firma.

We took advantage of the beautiful day to stroll the gardens and enjoy the warm sunshine and fresh air.  Only Smilin' Vic's newfound silver-tongue occasionally broke the silence, waxing lyrical as we all drank in the beauty and serenity of our surroundings.

Eventually even Smilin' Vic's celebrated eloquence was quieted by the wonder of the day and the nature around us, and we walked along in silence, drinking in as much green and oxygen as we could in the hopes that we could commit it to memory long enough to carry us through to our imminent return to the desert.  

 Curious friend we met along the way ...

Curious friend we met along the way ...

 And a buddy ...

And a buddy ...

 Peaceful days ...

Peaceful days ...

 THIS ....

THIS ....


With the Wind Always at Our Backs ... (Canadians Driving in Ireland, Part I)

This is the last leg of a series of posts taking you on a June 2014 tour of Southwest England, Wales and Ireland.  If you've enjoyed the ride so far, tagging along in the backseat for a small summer vacation with this Canadian expat family from Doha, you should know that the best of the trip is all right here in the next few posts ...

  May the road rise to meet you. May the wind always be at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face. May the rains fall soft upon your fields. And until we meet again may the Lord hold you in the palm of His hand.   - Irish Blessing

May the road rise to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face.
May the rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again may the Lord hold you in the palm of His hand.

- Irish Blessing

First of all, to everyone and their brother who told us to dress in layers because of the unpredictable weather in the UK and Ireland, let it be known that not once did we get rained on while on our magical tour.  Not once.  Not one single time.  Not even on the ferry ride over from Holy Head to Dublin.  Sunny skies and +/- 20C the whole trip.  So PFFFFFFTTTTTTTTH! to the meteorological Bah Humbugs!

 Early glimpses of the Emerald Isle from the ferry ...

Early glimpses of the Emerald Isle from the ferry ...

Moving right along from traveller smugness now ...

Since Smilin' Vic had so royally missed the opportunity to secure 'fit-for-human' accommodation in Wales the previous night, I feverishly Googled the 'best places to stay in Dublin' and set to work finding us the quaint little inn experience we'd been craving.  

Unfortunately everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, was booked.  I tried desperately to find something, anything, that was

  • quaint,
  • half decent,
  • clean, and
  • within walking distance of Temple Bar Square.

Nothing.

Though there is an actual Four Seasons (as opposed to THIS) in Dublin, we really didn't feel like spending such an exorbitant amount of money on a posh hotel room with a bed that begs you to languish in its feathered fluffiness all day.  

Those are the rooms you book on a weekend oasis escape in Doha when you've had just about enough of the sand.  We, on the other hand, were looking for a true taste of Ireland.  

Desperate, I entered the dates one last time and ...

SUCCESS!  

Somehow I managed to book us a night at the Ariel House, aka the best kept secret in Dublin.  We were IN!

So it was that after a 2-hour car ride followed by a 2-hour ferry ride, relying on an amazing GPS that brought us exactly where we were meant to be, and all my fears of driving on the wrong side of the road abated by the free wine provided on the ferry's Club Class, we arrived at our Victorian home for the night, filled with excitement at our brief sojourn in Dublin.

Unfortunately our night at Ariel House was not to be.  This was obvious as we walked up smiling to the Reception and provided our name and booking number.  While one eye was already devouring the snacks and tea laid out in the parlour room to my left, the other one was taking in the look of confusion and eventually dismay on the receptionist's face.  

''I'm so sorry'', he said.  ''It appears you've booked for NEXT Thursday; what a dreadful mistake.''

I could have cried.

Smilin' Vic, though disappointed, was obviously struggling not to be smug about the fact that he was now not the only one who'd screwed up accommodation on this trip.

Apparently every single inn and hotel in Dublin was booked for an International Flower Show.  Who knew florists jet-set across the world to look at buds?  Anyhow, our 'un'-host was on the phone in a flash, desperate to find us somewhere in the city to stay for the night.  What a star he was.  And that was to be but our first taste of what truly sets this Emerald Isle apart:  easily the friendliest and most helpful people on Earth.

 Apparently flower shows attract a pretty significant crowd ...

Apparently flower shows attract a pretty significant crowd ...

He provided us with our only option:  The Westin.  Bye bye hopes of the Irish Experience, hello reality of paying for just about everything including the elevator ride up to your room.  Ah, well, at least there would be a fancy rain showerhead and King-sized bed.

We made our way there, checked in, and quickly dropped off our battered duffle bags, narrowly escaping the allure of the 2-foot deep down feather comforter and 22 pillows tempting us into their embrace, and headed out to discover Dublin with what little daylight was left.

By the time we got around to Temple Bar Square, many places had stopped serving meals for the day, but we got lucky and found a little spot seated outdoors on the corner just opposite the Temple Bar.  And that is where we sat and enjoyed THE. BEST. MUSSELS.  I'VE.  EVER. HAD!

We guzzled down sipped a bottle or two glass of wine with our meal, and just sat there for quite a while watching revellers go by. These consisted mostly of Americans and Spaniards, with surprisingly few Irish accents. But the air of festivity was catching, the night was warm and clear, the taste of scrumptious profiteroles lingered on our palates, and we had a humungous, comfy, sleep-inducing bed to crawl into once it was all over.

Bellies full, night upon us, we finally made our way slowly down the bustling streets.  Buskers and musicians entertained at every corner, and we joined in the crowds to cheer them on.  Kiddo got an eyeful of bare bellies and short shorts, an uncommon site in the Middle East, and was obviously overwhelmed by the site of young girls teetering down the street in stilettos and barely-there mini-skirts (common dress for Qatar, but always under cover of an abaya).  We let her revel in the sights and sounds so foreign to her as an expat child in the Middle East.

As we stopped at the last corner to listen and sing along with the happy crowd to a particularly engaging rendition of Whiskey In the Jar, a lone rake-thin forty-ish woman whose jeans had fallen just below her g-string to just above her knees began jumping up and down enthusiastically in front of our songster.  

Sigh.  Based on the bulging of Kiddo's eyes at the sad sight of 'just a dozen too many' we knew we'd spend the next four days trying unsuccessfully to explain the sight of skinny, saggy butt cheeks, and decided since it was closing in on 11 p.m. it was time for bed anyhow.  We decided to call it a night. 

Our short time in Dublin had come to an end, but we had miles of green left to visit.  As our heads hit the 300 Euro a night plush pillows, Irish hospitality still warming our hearts, good wine and grub filling our tummies and Irish tunes still playing on the reel in our heads, we couldn't have been happier!

(To be continued ...)

The Real Salem’s Lot … (Canadians Driving in Wales, Part II)

Again, this post has nothing more to do with Doha than a recounting of silly tales by Doha expats off on a short summer driving adventure.  

Duly impressed by my selection of lodging in Cardiff, Smilin’ Vic decided to wow us by booking a posh room for the next leg of our trip in a lovely seaside university town on the Western Coast of Wales.  It was to be our last night in Wales before moving on to Ireland, and he hoped to make it a memorable one.

It was to be memorable, for sure, … but perhaps not in the ways he’d hoped.

Our destination was Aberystwyth, and we took our leisurely time getting there, stopping in a quaint little village called LLandarrog, at a lovely pub with a thatched roof and the most impressive interior I’ve yet to see.  Unfortunately, for reasons we can’t quite explain, we left without taking a single picture of the interior of the White Hart Thatched Inn and Restaurant.

 The White Hart Thatched Inn & Restaurant.  Lovely food.  Lovely cider.  Lovely hosts.  Just lovely.

The White Hart Thatched Inn & Restaurant.  Lovely food.  Lovely cider.  Lovely hosts.  Just lovely.

 Added bonus, the Inn was also a brewery, so we got to sample the cider (me) and the ale (Smilin' Vic)

Added bonus, the Inn was also a brewery, so we got to sample the cider (me) and the ale (Smilin' Vic)

We did enjoy a little afternoon stroll down a country lane however, and some lovely cider and lunch before continuing on our way to Aberystwyth.  We arrived in the town around 7:30 p.m., having stopped in a few more small picturesque fishing villages along the way, and allowed our GPS to guide us toward our much-anticipated seaside destination.

 Afternoon stroll down a country lane ... little things you don't get to do when you live in the ME ... (you can't believe how meaningful walking on a dirt road surrounded by green and grass becomes when it's just NOT a possibility).

Afternoon stroll down a country lane ... little things you don't get to do when you live in the ME ... (you can't believe how meaningful walking on a dirt road surrounded by green and grass becomes when it's just NOT a possibility).

 On the way to Aberystwyth ... The roads don't get any wider, we're on the wrong side, and it's a steep drop on MY side!

On the way to Aberystwyth ... The roads don't get any wider, we're on the wrong side, and it's a steep drop on MY side!

 Fishguard.... low tide.

Fishguard.... low tide.

Kiddo and I really had no idea where we were headed, as Smilin’ Vic wasn’t spilling all the beans, but we later came to learn that he actually believed there was a proper Four Seasons Hotel in this town.  He was partly right; there WAS a Four Seasons.  Just not the legitimately branded sort.  What more would you expect for 90 £ per night one street back from the waterfront?

IMG_9172.JPG

I had an inkling all was not as it should be when I spotted THIS directly across the street from our lodging for the night.  (Stephen King fans ... I think this is where it all began ....)

IMG_9174.JPG

A subsequent Google search showed that, had we done our homework, we would have been forewarned of the hotel’s (town's) dubious ratings and questionable accommodation.

Smilin’ Vic headed in to the hotel to check in, leaving us parked on the eerily empty street to wait.  He proceeded to smack his head HARD on THIS …  

  Another sign?

Another sign?

He got back into the car, bruised and battered, and drove us (bleeding cranial wound and all) ‘round to the back, where we parked our car for ‘free for the night’ into a local car park.  We would only be charged if we left the car there past 8:00 a.m. apparently.  Possibly another indication as to the state of our setting.  As we manoeuvred our way up to the first floor and through FOUR sets of fire doors, visions of the room awaiting us played havoc in my head.  When we finally arrived at our room, I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was clean, even though the luggage carrier immediately collapsed under the weight of our smallest duffel bag.

 Note collapsed luggage carrier folded uselessly behind pleather upholstered chair...

Note collapsed luggage carrier folded uselessly behind pleather upholstered chair...

Settled in, we decided to make our way down to dinner.  Though still bright as daylight outside, it was closing in on 8:00 p.m.  Our hostess informed us that the hotel restaurant was closed, but that we could find a kebab shop or Chinese takeaway open down by the pier.  I remained hopeful that we’d find a quaint seaside oyster shack …

We walked the block to the pier, winding our way for about 5 minutes through what can only be described as the walking dead.  Sad, twisted, angry faces, shouting out ‘f you’ and ‘burn in hell’ to stalkers visible to none but them.  Drunken bodies lying twisted and seemingly lifeless on benches and boardwalk, beggars staggering about bumming cigarettes, and middle aged couples such as ourselves weaving raggedly down the boardwalk in a drunken stupor.  Smilin’ Vic tried desperately to tuck away the Canon EOS camera that so blatantly marked him as a tourist as we retraced our steps as quickly as possible, ignoring the dishevelled youth who ran drunkenly after us shouting ‘wait for meeeee’.  

We tried unsuccessfully to find anything other than a filthy KFC (occupied by a sole patron sitting amidst chicken skin and paper packaging strewn across the floor) that might provide some sustenance, eventually settling on crusty rolls, ham and tomatoes from a local grocery store.  

Armed with our grocery spoils, we headed back to the relative retreat that could barely be referred to as a courtyard at the back of our hotel.  There we sat on the patio backing onto a rather suspicious alleyway, enjoying our picnic as best we could while a flock of hungry seagulls, the vultures of the sea, hovered anxiously overhead.

 Only one lone gull standing guard over the 'courtyard' ... but the poo on the roof gives credence to the fact that the flock was not far behind ....

Only one lone gull standing guard over the 'courtyard' ... but the poo on the roof gives credence to the fact that the flock was not far behind ....

To their credit, the hotel owners really did try to make our stay as pleasant as possible, but everything about our experience in this town would have fit perfectly into a Stephen King novel.  Zombies on the boardwalk, boarded up shop fronts, circling seagulls, 3 gaunt AA members who emerged from the church basement just before sunset, gum-chewing boxers at the local grocery shop with butterfly ears, death-pale vacant-eyed 16-year-old goth chick with the pasty belly walking down the street in ripped fishnet stalkings and a crop top.

We hunkered down for the night in our room in what we’d come to refer to as ‘Fort’ Seasons, anxious for morning to come to get as much distance between us and this haunted town as possible.  Sunrise couldn’t come soon enough.  

 June 19 in Aberystwyth ... with the looming summer solstice, light still shines lights the room at 9:30 p.m.

June 19 in Aberystwyth ... with the looming summer solstice, light still shines lights the room at 9:30 p.m.

The one good thing that has come from our stay in Aberystwyth is that we’ve narrowed down Kiddo’s university choices by one.  She will NOT be going to Aberystwyth U!

P.S.  My views on the town of Aberystwyth are mine (and my little family's) alone; feel free to visit and make your mind up for yourself.  On the upside, the subsequent ride to Holy Head was glorious.  The countryside in Wales is truly something to behold.

 ¨Pitstop ... Kiddo on her way up the hill to mingle with the sheep...

¨Pitstop ... Kiddo on her way up the hill to mingle with the sheep...

 Narrow roads in Wales ...

Narrow roads in Wales ...

 You can't see me, but I'm reaching for the flask of wine I've hidden in my bag ... Close encounters of the Welsh kind ...

You can't see me, but I'm reaching for the flask of wine I've hidden in my bag ... Close encounters of the Welsh kind ...

 Thanking the gods for no oncoming traffic ...

Thanking the gods for no oncoming traffic ...

 There is a line down the middle - deceitful - because there is in fact no room for two cars. ...

There is a line down the middle - deceitful - because there is in fact no room for two cars. ...

 I'm two fists into the bottle by now ....  enjoying the glorious scenery ....

I'm two fists into the bottle by now ....  enjoying the glorious scenery ....

 So how we gonna get by this dude Smilin' Vic?  I don't really care.  I'm three sheets to the wind!  Yeeeeeehaaaaaa!  Gooooo Wales and teeny tiny roads!

So how we gonna get by this dude Smilin' Vic?  I don't really care.  I'm three sheets to the wind!  Yeeeeeehaaaaaa!  Gooooo Wales and teeny tiny roads!

 Gorgeous scenery.  Learned by reading the maps that 'Lynn' actually means 'Lake'.  Very relevant in our family.

Gorgeous scenery.  Learned by reading the maps that 'Lynn' actually means 'Lake'.  Very relevant in our family.

 Serenity.  Enough to sober me up :-)

Serenity.  Enough to sober me up :-)

 These dudes are like:  'Hey Canadian Woman.  RELAX!  Enjoy the ride and just chill.  De-stress for the sake of us all ....'

These dudes are like:  'Hey Canadian Woman.  RELAX!  Enjoy the ride and just chill.  De-stress for the sake of us all ....'

Warming Up to Worms … (Canadians Driving in England, Part III)

As in the previous two posts, this is not a post about living, driving, breathing, working in Doha. It's about how Doha residents might choose to live, drive, and breathe when they leave the harsh summer desert climate for a short vacation.  

Invigorated by the day’s 5 mile hike (not km; we were in England remember) and plenty of fresh air and Vitamin D, we decided to head South West to explore England’s sandy beaches and resorts town.  Our first stop in Torquay redefined our naive take on ‘resort’.  

Expecting to arrive in a peaceful seaside village to find a B&B on the coast, waves gently lapping on the shore just beyond our doorstep, and captains’ cottages with widows’ peaks at every turn, we could only stare wide-eyed as we drove into a carny’s paradise, reminiscent of circa 1970’s Coney Island and The Warriors, only in broad daylight and with gangstas ranging in age from 16 to 84.  

Dilapidated hotel fronts, a 1980’s carnival set up next to the pier, reddened, blistered and peeling bosoms and torsos, staggering tourists, and a general air of old, funky, seaside debaucherie.  No disrespect to the town; we might have enjoyed it in our twenties, but as middle-aged parents it just wasn't our 'thang'.  

We decided to carry on further down the coast.

The next coastal town gave no hint of anything better, so we decided to make our way to Dartmouth on our quest for local charm.

Smilin’ Vic spotted a sign for the Normandy Arms along the way, smack dab in the middle of nothing, somewhere in county Devon.  We followed the markers down a maze-like bike track to the quaint village of Blackawton, awarded the cleanest village in England in 2008(?). 

 Its moments like these where I regret not carrying a bottle of wine or something stronger in my bag.

Its moments like these where I regret not carrying a bottle of wine or something stronger in my bag.

Though the Normandy Arms had no more rooms available, we continued down the village’s main thoroughfare (i.e. single lane carriageway) to a public house called The George.  

It was tiny and quirky and everything country we'd been looking for.  We decided to stay the night.

 I'm assuming this is meant for those who prefer to enjoy their tea in the privacy of the pub loo?  It goes without saying that steak and chips have no place down the toilet either ...

I'm assuming this is meant for those who prefer to enjoy their tea in the privacy of the pub loo?  It goes without saying that steak and chips have no place down the toilet either ...

While there, we discovered that the George was renown for hosting an Annual Worm Charming Contest.  

Though we initially scoffed at the concept, we googled the sport and found that it actually has a following in Canada as well, most particularly in the town of Shelburne, Ontario, where worm charmers gather from near and far to tantalise night crawlers to the earth's surface.

Though the food was somewhat akin to a kitchen experiment (Smilin’ Vic compared it to an army buddy deciding to ‘try something out’), the hospitality and the cleanliness of the very basic accommodations were worthy of mention.

We truly enjoyed our evening; had a glass of wine on the back terrace before heading up to bed, and even though Smilin’ Vic and Kiddo managed to tune in to the end of Forrest Gump, I was once again out like a light before my head even hit the pillow …

The next morning, we enjoyed the second of way too many English breakfasts, and sipped on steaming cups of coffee on the back terrace, enjoying the feel and the sound of a cool morning breeze rustling through the field behind the public house.

 Mowing the lawn the good ol' fashioned way ...

Mowing the lawn the good ol' fashioned way ...

We took a few minutes to visit the town's church grounds and cemetery, and before we knew it, it was time to pay up and continue on our journey ... (to be continued).