Episode 13 - ...and Another from The Boys, and Departure

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May 30, 2006

Well… Ireland is now but a vaporous memory, as the Bobs and I have begun our eastward journey across the European continent. Leaving Bantry was, like most endings, bittersweet. Having spent three months in a complete state of lethargy, we found ourselves heading rather quickly toward the brink of mild insanity; what had once felt relaxing was beginning to feel a bit depressing, and we were restless. We had planned our departure to coincide with the arrival of my dad, his two brothers, his third cousin once removed, and an old family friend; that is, they would arrive and together we would all head over to England. The guys were coming over to do a pub tour, an event they only partake in once every ten years, and thus one in which they feel compelled—no, obligated—to drink a pint immediately following their morning coffee. So for two days we lived it up with Dad, Dave, John, Doug and Mike, drinking more beer than even we, accomplished veterans of Irish pubs though we had become, were accustomed to. [And here I thought we were just trying to keep up with them!—Dave]

As it turned out, England was not in the cards for the pub crawling crew, and so we went our separate ways. Bobs and I closed up the house, sold our Ford to the (seriously) crazy English dude up the road, said a tearful goodbye to our neighbors, and set off in the pouring rain for Dublin, where we spent the night back at grungy Isaac’s Hostel before hopping on a high-speed ferry to Holyhead, Wales. Feeling the inescapable pull and curiosity of most Beatles fans, we then ended up in Liverpool. There we befriended a US Navy vet / Phish phan from Southern California who showed us to the Cavern Club, a dingy little place where the Beatles used to play and where the walls are now plastered in the obligatory paraphernalia. The band playing there that night was an eclectic but intensely talented cover band—their repertoire included Skynard, Pink Floyd, the Beastie Boys, Greenday… not the Beatles, exactly, but they were good. And loud.

Our plan from there was to make our way up to Ramsbottom, a wee village north of Manchester where my dad’s friend Hervey runs a pub/restaurant called The Fisherman’s Retreat. We had never met Hervey; in fact, my dad and step-mom only met him this past January while they were vacationing in St. Lucia, and then only for a couple days. But evidently they really hit it off, because when we showed up at the Fisherman’s Retreat we were welcomed as if it were the long-anticipated arrival of long-lost family. Hervey immediately pulled three delicious pints (ah, to drink ale again!) and we sat down to a friendly discussion of farming, family and politics (naturally! It’s so easy to discuss politics with people who think that our government’s corrupt). Several pints later we were treated to the best steak dinners we have ever eaten; Hervey raises his own beef, pork, fish and venison, and it’s all processed on site at the restaurant. Later that night, stomachs full of beer and beef, we retired to our very own trailer

From Ramsbottom, we headed down to London, the largest and most expensive city in Europe. After dishing out 50 pounds ($100!) for a room in a hostel, we decided to fast for the rest of the day and took to wandering the streets. We did hit up the Tate, but aside from that we simply walked…and walked. There was so much to see (the Parliament, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey…) that we didn’t realize how far we had gone until it was time to turn back. I think we walked about 10 miles that day. (Myself in flip-flops, having run into a strangely sawed-off street sign in Manchester and broken my sandals).

The next morning, we took a train to Dover and got on a ferry bound for Calais, France. If you have ever crossed the English Channel on a boat, you know that it is a horrible experience. The ship was full of queasy-looking lads and lassies trying their best to hold down that morning’s biscuits. When finally we docked in Calais, already two hours behind schedule as a result of the rough seas, we were made to stay onboard for nearly an hour while… well, I actually have no idea why, but when we got off the ship we realized that we had just barely—by five minutes—missed the hourly bus that takes ferry passengers to the train station. So we called a taxi, and shared it with four other stranded travelers who were trying to make trains that evening. Upon our arrival at the train station, we learned that, naturally, the transportation crew was on strike. Quelle Surprise! Strikes are as much a part of French culture as good wine and stinky cheese. We made the most of it, and spent the night in Calais with two American girls who are also spending the summer backpacking Europe. Things didn’t start to turn sour until the next morning, when it was revealed that these two seemingly liberal and intelligent women were, in fact, God-fearing Christians who found homosexuality and alcoholism an appropriate comparison. We tried our best to convince them otherwise, but eventually gave up and changed the subject. It just wasn’t the same after that.

So we finally made it to Paris that afternoon and met up with my friend Lyndsay. Lyndsay and I met in 1994, when we both came to France to spend the year abroad. She is from Vermont originally, but moved to Paris in disgust after the presidential elections of 2000. She met and fell in love with Xavier, and they now live happily in a cozy little apartment in the 15th, and it was there that Bobby and I spent our first two nights in Paris, drinking good wine and enjoying good company. From there we headed over to the apartment of my French siblings, Bertrand and Violaine, for more good wine and conversation (these being staples of the French diet).

And now we are in Bourges with my French parents, relaxing and eating rather incessantly. When I was here twelve years ago, we lived way out in the country, but Andrée and John-Pierre have just moved into town, so Bobby and I have the freedom to come and go as we please. Bobby, remarkably, seems to understand French, and so is not completely left out of dinner table discussions, which usually last from eight o’clock till bedtime. We are enjoying these last days of laziness before heading off on our grand tour of Europe, which begins this Thursday on a night train bound for Barcelona.