Hello, fellow travelers.
We rolled into Cork around sundown on Friday. This is a big, busy harbor town built into the side of a hill/mountain. The downtown is bisected by the River Lee, spanned by several, one-way bridges with no visible street signs (of course).
We didn’t know where we were going to spend the night, so Lib referred to our guidebooks. She called a recommended B&B, only to be told the place was no longer open for business. And so began a series of futile phone calls – getting referrals and finding out the next place was closed for the season, closed forever or full-up. Lib dialed and chatted while I drove around, finally finding a street wide enough to park on.
Right now we were really glad we had done our cell phone homework. U.S. cells don’t work in Ireland. (I guess that “can you hear me now?” guy and his minions don’t like to fly.) You need some sort of special chip to use their networks. We checked online and got all sorts of complicated suggestions like buying a cell phone in the Dublin airport, or buying a chip and having your phone reconfigured when you get to Ireland, then buying minutes. Lib graciously offered to research this vital topic and her cell carrier gave her a special loaner phone that still used her phone number. It cost a whopping $1 per minute, but made us feel safe.
Lib finally found a B&B that was willing to put us up. She was on the phone with this elderly lady for a good 10 minutes, taking notes on directions, interspersed with requests for clarification. I knew we were in trouble.
If driving in Dublin was the 3rd circle of hell, driving in Cork was skinny-dipping in the River Styx. Remember all the bad stuff about Dublin driving? Cork has all that, plus really steep, incredibly narrow roads. Several times I started down a street, only to stop short because there was a car coming towards me and there was only room for one of us. It’s playing chicken, masquerading as transportation! I couldn’t tell if I was on a one-way street, or if one of us had to figure out how to get out of the way. They mark one-way’s by painting “Do Not Enter” on the pavement, facing the direction of the driver who shouldn’t enter. Try noticing a faded sign under the wheels of another car, in the dark, while moving. The appearance of an impatient driver on my tail was my clue that at least it was not a one way street.
Our Cork map only showed the city center, but even if we had a better map, the absence of street signs makes it all moot. We drove around for what seemed like hours, unable to find even one of the landmarks/signposts our would-be hostess had described. By now it was full dark. We somehow found ourselves back in the city centre, on the riverfront and near a big, Holiday Inn-ish hotel we had passed before. I headed for the Jurys Inn like a dying man in the desert spying an oasis.
I parked on a dark side street behind the big hotel, and wasn’t budging until we knew where we were going. I was all for the Jurys, figuring we didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of finding that B&B. Besides, it probably had a communal bathroom, damp sheets and smelled like cat pee.
Lib usually seems very pleasant and compliant, but don’t let that fool you. She can be as stubborn as a mule (refer to Lib’s Facebook page for a picture of her discussing tactics with one of her long-eared brethren) when she feels strongly about something. She chose this moment to make a stand.
“We are NOT staying at a big hotel again. It’s bad enough we’re staying at one in Dublin. We need to experience the ambiance of the B&Bs and mingle with the Irish people. See how they live, eat the big, Irish breakfast, get their views on things.”
Lib sprang into action. She jumped out of the car and approached some guy walking down the other side of the dimly-lit street to ask HIS recommendation for a place to stay. Why didn’t I think of that? Who needs guidebooks, or Internet opinions when you can get valuable advice from the first homeless person/rapist you see wandering down the street? I nervously kept her in the rear view mirror while she chatted with Jack the O’Ripper, wondering where I would get help in this deserted neighborhood if the guy decided to stuff her in his trunk.
She came back flushed with success and made another call. This time the sprightly innkeeper at the Avondale B&B was able to give us coherent directions and we made it there in just a few moments.
The Avondale was a little gem! It was a totally renovated row house on the river that had been open for just a month. The high ceilinged hallway was painted lemon yellow with white, cove mouldings. The carpet was red with gold fleur de lis. Up a cute, split staircase was our room, with new carpet and beds and our own, all new bathroom. Our hostess was a little lady in her 50s. Corkians have a reputation of being very talkative and funny, and she fit the stereotype. She gave several suggestions for places to eat (and drink!) as it was now almost 8pm, and directions on how to walk to the city centre. After freshening up, we started out.
There weren’t a lot of restaurants downtown, more shops than anything and most were closed. We couldn’t find the recommended places. Lib talked me into a Chinese restaurant over one of the shops. After about 200 steps, we collapsed at a corner table with a lovely view of the night-lit street below.
The food was good, not great. The best thing about the Tung Sing Chinese Restaurant was our waitress, Mona. She was an energetic, 60-something lady with very dark brown hair, courtesy of Clairol. She bustled about, stealing a candle for us from a neighboring table and getting very involved in our choice of sauces. When we asked for suggestions for the night’s pub, she pulled up a chair and got to business.
Mona had lived all over the world, including several cities in the U.S. She was a native of Cork. Lib and I exchanged a look; the chatty Corkian stereotype had held true for 2 out of 2 of the people we’d met.
She told us a story of an American gentleman who had dined in her restaurant some time back. He was in his 70s and said his parents had come from a small town nearby. They had emigrated to America when newlyweds and he was on his way to discover his roots. Mona recommended he check with the Catholic church, the Protestant church and the police station in the town. The police may tell you something you don’t want to hear (that your relative was the town drunk, for example) but they would have records. She had a lovely chat (big surprise) with the tourist and wished him Godspeed on his quest.
Several days later, on her day off, the manager called to ask her to come into the restaurant. There was a man there who was very upset and wanted to speak with her. She was a bit nervous, but came in to find her American customer, back from his journey.
The gentleman took Monica’s advice and checked in with the local police station. They did recognize his family name. Not only that, they recognized him. They sat him down to break the news – he had an older brother still living in the town. The American was the spitting image of him.
It seems his parents had anticipated their wedding vows and had a child out of wedlock. That was a grave sin and, apparently, they gave the child to someone else to raise. When they later married and left for America, their son stayed with his new family. Neither boy knew of the existence of the other. The American was very shook up – upset with his parents, but glad to find this new brother. He wanted to thank Mona for her part in this monumental discovery.
After bidding Mona a cheery farewell, we tried to find the pubs she recommended. But the streets around the city centre were dark, narrow and full of pubs. I didn’t have a good feeling about this place. For you Harry Potter devotees, the area reminded me of Diagon Alley. We wandered around, with Lib proposing and me discarding pub after pub. Finally we just walked into one that seemed to have a mix of ages.
Mistake. After we found a stool at the bar and ordered a drink, we noticed just about everyone in the place was in their 20s. There was a group of young men nearby who had had a few pints and were singing along to all the pop hits. Friendly Libby started chatting with one of the guys while I was in the bathroom and I returned to find him with his arm around her shoulders. I don’t think there was any lechery involved (no offense, Lib), it was more like an anchor to keep him upright. Lib’s new BFF’s balance was impaired by a few too many pints of Murphys.
I should interject here that Lib, seasoned veteran that she was, knew to order Murphys and not Guinness, while in Cork. Murphy’s is the local brew. To order Guinness might risk an international diplomatic incident.
The guys were all Scottish. They were in town for a weekend-long bachelor party. I guess that is a popular trend – groups coming to Ireland from neighboring countries for bachelor/bachelorette party weekends. I never did figure out which one was getting married. Lib took some pictures and it was all good craic, but not for us. The mating rituals of drunken 20-somethings is only interesting if you’re one of them.
We asked the bartender if there were anywhere nearby that served a clientele closer to our ages and she suggested the place across the street. After getting past the bouncers without having to show ID (amazing), we walked into a pulsing wall of mosh-pit type music from the live band. We were flattered that the bartender had thought we would have something in common with this older crowd, maybe LATE 20s, but it wasn’t our scene. A quick use of the facilities and we were back out on the street.
We wandered aimlessly some more, in the general direction of our B&B. Nothing struck our fancy. By now it was almost midnight and I convinced a skeptical Lib that perhaps we had had enough for one night. We had a busy day tomorrow and a good nights sleep would be great. She agreed, looking longingly at each pub we passed. And so to bed.
Have a great day-