Getting Our Wheels
If there is one thing in the world that makes us shout-at-the-sky-while-shaking-clenched-fists-upset, it’s being ripped off. No, I didn’t have my cell phone stolen again and no one hacked our credit cards. Well, Wells Fargo did shut us down until we could “come into a branch office” due to suspicious activity on our account, but that’s another story. And, Wells Fargo is the bane of Pat’s existence, so I try to not mention them often. No, none of that, but we rented the “Irish Porsche” from the colluding racketeers at one of the car rental agencies at the Dublin airport.
As usual, I booked the reservation for the car online and found the most economical option possible. It turned out to be a compact 4-door, standard transmission with no a/c of unknown pedigree for about $US14/day. Pretty good deal. We arrived at the rental agency desk in the airport and happily noticed that there was no queue. We walked up to the counter and were greeted immediately. Great! We’ll be out of here and on the road in no time. Pat and the woman at the counter started going over the contract as I looked around. Hmmm, why are there a lot of people on their phones and not so many at the rental agency counters?
Or… Maybe Not
Pat and the woman were to the part in the contract where they ask if you would like to take their insurance or decline it. Pat declined as usual since our credit card has rental car insurance. That’s when things went off the rails. “You can’t decline unless you pay a special processing fee and we put a $5,000 hold on your credit card,” she said in a very rehearsed manner. “What?” asked Pat in a slightly agitated voice. “My credit card covers rental car insurance,” he said. She went on to explain that practically no credit cards cover rental car insurance in Ireland. Apparently, tourists wreck a lot of cars on the Emerald Isle. Our options were to a.) buy their insurance at $45/day (ha!) b.) pay the decline fee ($35) and have a $5,000 hold on the credit card or c.) get on the phone and confirm that our credit card does, in fact, cover insurance in Ireland. Well, at least all of the people standing around talking on their cell phones made sense now.
We moved away from the counter to join the cluster of people on their phones, some with blank expressions seemingly on perpetual hold and others apparently not getting the news they wanted to hear. What a racket. The rental car companies advertise super-low rates but fail to mention the nearly mandatory, over-priced insurance. We at least had the option of putting the hold on the credit card, but what about people who didn’t? Your $14/day car all of the sudden goes to almost $60/day?! Ah, good news. After about 15min of navigating the credit card company’s options menu, holding and finally speaking with a representative, our credit card did, in fact, cover Ireland. We relayed the news to the woman handling our contract. She said she still had to charge us the “processing fee” to decline the insurance. Dirty bat rastards.
Finally, we were on the road in the bare bones Nissan that would be hauling our butts around for the next few weeks. Pat was still livid. The Google Bitch was in one of her moods and I just wanted to get to Armagh where we planned to pop into a pub for a pint.
Armagh? Why Armagh? As it turns out, a few months back, my high school English teacher, Frank McCamley, entered the world of Facebook and “friended” us. He started following our blog religiously and became our virtual travel pal. He grew up in Ireland so we messaged back and forth about places to visit and some of his memories. Armagh was his hometown, and it was on our way to the north coast. We said we’d stop, so he recommended Red Neds pub for “the rinsing of the mouth” as he put it. His mom was good friends with the woman who owned it, both are since deceased, but the son took over the business and might recall him.
Red Neds was large but only three people sat at the bar. We were a little bit early for a mid-day pint and quite late for a breakfast beer. We parked our tukases on the stools, greeted the barflies and barmaid and ordered a couple pints of Guinness, “tall, dark and have some”, in Frank-parlance.
With our pints in hand, I asked the mildly inebriated congregation, “Does anyone recall a Frank McCamley? His mom was friends with the woman who used to own this pub.” Initially, no one registered the name. It was a long time ago that Frank had left Ireland and some of the patrons had been there since the opening bell. Then, one of the guys said “Ah, yes! I know his brother, the priest.” Then the barmaid said the woman who previously owned the bar was her husband’s mother. With those connections in place, their memories started working and we began hearing stories about the family. I loved the descriptions of Frank’s mom and the outings she and the other pub-owning “girls” would take, each with a flask of something special. They all agreed his mom was “great craic” which seems to me to be one of the highest compliments the Irish hand out.
By the way, they throw around the term “f#*king” a lot in conversation in Ireland. Definitely not as derogatory as it is used in the States. It’s used more like “really,” just your everyday adverb. Like, “I can’t believe that really happened,” or “I’m really thirsty.” Sometimes it’s used more like an adjective where Newspeak might use “double-plus-un-good”. Like, “Get your double-plus-un-good feet off my coffee table.” Not a positive thing to say, but not as malicious as when people in the States use it. (See, Frank, you are a good teacher, just please forgive the hit and miss punctuation… and sentence structure… dangling participles… the mash-up of tenses… and… constant use of ellipses… I’d say it is for artistic purposes, but it f#*king isn’t.)
With a gulp or two of “tall, dark and have some” left in our glasses, the pub owner, Malachy, arrived. He was thrilled to meet us when he heard we knew someone from his childhood. He showed us around the pub and had us pose for pictures behind the bar with him and his wife. Flyers and business cards were given as souvenirs and Malachy refused to let us pay for our pints. We never did get any dirt on my English teacher, just lots of glowing reviews of him and his family. It was all great craic!
Where There’s a Cause There’s a Way
The next day we drove out to the Giant’s Causeway on the north coast of Northern Ireland. The weather was perfect! We arrived early and were one of the first few cars to park at the train station parking lot near the entrance to the park. The scene was quite different the closer we got to the park. There were cars everywhere, scores of buses dropping off scores of people and too many, too large, tour groups blocking the trail. When we finally got within viewing distance, the unique hexagonal volcanic formations were buried under a blanket of tourists. We persevered and walked the length of the park and back, but my patience was wearing thin and there was a distillery nearby so we didn’t linger.
Bushmills was calling our name and after a short drive from the Giant’s Massive Collection of Tourists, we arrived at the revered distillery. “Is one of you driving?” asked the man at the counter. “Yes,” we sheepishly replied. “In that case, I’d recommend you split one tasting. Would you like to try three or seven whiskeys?” Cool. It sounded like they had more reasonable drinking and driving laws, unlike the zero-tolerance Scottish laws. We purchased a tasting ticket for three samples, poked around the displays and read the posters on our way to the tasting room.
We bellied up to the bar and got the rundown of the whiskeys on offer. After hearing the descriptions, we selected three that sounded appealing and the bartender poured the samples. Wow! They are not stingy at Bushmills! It was a good thing we didn’t order seven.
We picked up our tray of samples and sat down to give them a whirl. Bushmills is making some excellent whiskey. I never cared for it much and always liked Jameson better, but the whiskeys we tasted that day were outstanding. All three were only available at the distillery and quite unlike what we get in the States. We compared and contrasted the three until only fumes remained in the glasses… and the edge had come off from our nerve-wracking visit to the Giant’s Causeway.
Has Anyone Seen the Pod?
With a new outlook on the day, we set a course for our shelter for the next three nights; a pod in Muff. A what? Well, they have these things called “pods” in Ireland that look a bit like a teeny cabin or a very large outhouse. They are tiny, tiny homes. It came up at a reasonable rate in an interesting location on Airbnb, so I booked it. I explained it to Pat thinking he’d be excited, but I got that “now what have you gotten us into” look. “It’ll be cool,” I told him.
The address we were given was a latitude and longitude. The G-Bitch took us to the coordinates, but we didn’t see a pod. The property was a bit run down and a dog in the yard looked at us menacingly. Pat suggested that I get out to see if anyone was in the house. See how he is? Just because I booked the Airbnb meant he could throw me to the hounds.
I got out of the Irish Porsche, which was honestly much nicer than any of the vehicles in the driveway, and was barked at a few times before the old dog lost interest. By the time I got to the door, a man had come outside. I asked about the pod, mentioned Airbnb, and got the dreaded “I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about” look and a thick, indecipherable response saying as much. Great. Muff isn’t technically in Northern Ireland, but thankfully the cell service still worked. I called the number given on Airbnb for the listing. Voicemail. I left a message.
Like Two Peas in a Pod
“Now what?” asked Pat. “I guess we wait for a call,” I said. While we were waiting, I clicked on the lat/long again in the Airbnb listing (what did we do before smartphones?) and now we weren’t where we were supposed to be. Excellent! We were at the neighbor’s and very close to where we should be. Arriving at the proper coordinates, we discovered that the property was beautiful — right on the river — and the pod was adorable.
Three very relaxing days were spent at the pod. Pat had time to take photographs. We caught up on a bit of blog writing, watched the few boats go up and down the river, and observed the oyster farmers doing whatever oyster farmers do. We took a drive out to Malin Head, the northern-most point in Ireland, for a little VinoHike, but mostly we relaxed. After being on the go constantly for the past month, we needed to recharge before we set off on the Wild Atlantic Way.
Northern Ireland was great craic. But, as is so often the case, we find the most interesting part of travel the times when we make connections with people. Most itineraries will include the Giant’s Causeway and probably Bushmills too, but the highlight for me was the stop in Armagh and being able to vicariously connect my high school English teacher to his hometown.
Hike Drink Live Laugh
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