10: THE NETHERLANDS
11: BACK TO GERMANY
18: CYPRUS WIND DOWN
22: MEXICO Y ESPANA
In her latter years my mother told me that my great grandfather was an Orangeman and his wife was a Catholic. This was something quite alien to the Ottawa valley and Hawkesbury Ontario in the late 1800’s. And to make matters more complex, he converted to Catholicism on his death bed. Apparently his funeral was the first time Orangemen in this small town had ever attended a catholic service. Combined with my French Canadian background on my father’s side and a “ we are not sure “ back ground on my maternal grandfather’s side , I am one crazy mixed up kid J
I knew of the Irish connection but not the complexities. Regardless , I felt a kinship when I stepped ashore in Ireland . If nothing else for the friendliness that persisted from the time I arrived in London. We landed in Cork with slight hangovers, which we of course attributed to sea sickness J We passed through customs with no major problems. For the first and only time in my life we had to walk across some cushions which apparently were filled with a powder for foot and mouth disease, or at least that was what we were told.
In a short while we were on the road. We decided to head to Blarney Castle and kiss the legendary Blarney Stone. Unbeknownst to me, later that summer my brother would go there as well. So all males in my immediate family have kissed the Stone. My father paid homage during World War two when he was posted in England. Which purportedly lead to ah...gift of the gab for we three . A legend that may in fact be oh so true in our case J .
The castle dates from the early 1200’s. From, Wikipedia : It went through several battles which resulted in destruction and rebuilding over the centuries. The castle is now a partial ruin with some accessible rooms and battlements. At the top of the castle lies the Stone of Eloquence, better known as the Blarney Stone. Tourists visiting Blarney Castle may hang upside-down over a sheer drop to kiss the stone, which is said to give the gift of eloquence. There are many legends as to the origin of the stone, but some say that it was the Lia Fáil—a magical stone upon which Irish kings were crowned. There was something mystical about kissing the Blarney Stone. Perhaps it was just the act of participation, rather than just looking at a site of interest ,is what made it so. But for any visitor to Ireland it is a rite of passage and adds to the ambiance of this land.
We hit the road the next day to Killarney, where we were to stay at a hostel for a few days. It was Sunday and at the time apparently it was the kiss of death to hitch on a Sunday. Being good Catholics the Irish tended to have many children, resulting in few free seat spots for hitchers. One ride was interesting, the fellow had a 45 RPM record player on his dash. I had heard of these but this was the only one I had ever seen. Early high tech.
Along the road we encountered what is called “Irish Road Bowling”. It is a country game which is centered in country .Cork. From Wikipedia:
The basic premise is similar to golf. Participants, usually single opponents, throw a 800 gram (28 ounce) bowl or "bullet" along a country road course, up to 4 km long, and the fewest throws to traverse the distance wins the contest.
The ball is iron and steel about the size of a tennis ball. In the match we saw,there were two teams of four who took alternate turns. A good bowler can curve the ball , or cannon as they call it. So when a turn in the road is reached the bowler can hurl the cannon in such a way that it negotiates the curve. Almost like curling. The players let us have a try. It looked like a nice pastime.
After we left the players, we got an inserting ride with an English couple whose son Rodney, was driving. It was a large car and the family were very “English”. I say this , not in a negative way; but, as an observation. They had what would pass for an “Upper class accent”, and they kept referring to the Irish as ‘locals” . This wasn’t done in a disparaging way, but more as a matter of fact commentary. To my foreign ears it was an interesting ride. Again this first trip overseas was a daily fest of new items. and this interlude was an interesting part of it.
We arrived at the hostel in Killarney, it was a nice hospitable place with a screened in porch and pleasant grounds. As I recall it was more like a beckoning country cottage. Our Dutch friend Jim was already there and he greeted us on our arrival with a joke about us getting lost. Jim told us he had a good sense of direction. Interestingly I developed this as well as my travels increased. We also met a nice American couple. Both had been in Viet Nam and this trip was a way for them to decompress. He was a medical doctor and she was a nurse. They were both quiet people and I could not help but empathize with them as I am sure they saw a lot which they would prefer to set aside.
We, of course, hit a local pub. Over a meal and a few cool ones we decided to rent a car and “do the ring of Kerry” the following day. All was indeed well with the world. Rick, who is our resident mountain man suggested we climb Mount Carrantuohill. We asked around and were told it is a little over 1000 meters above sea level and is easy to climb, as it is more a walk along trails rather than rock climbing. We were eager to have a go.
Jim from Holland was experienced in “driving on the " wrong side of the road”. So he did the honours. The first town we came across was Killorgin. It was a nice small town and of course to my mind was a “Typical” Irish town. The main square seemed to have a disproportionate number of pubs for the size of the town; but, as we walked about we found they all had a nice , almost family run, atmosphere. We stopped in a souvenir shop. The owner was the anti-thesis of the sales pitches we could expect in some tourism areas. He actually talked us out of buying an Irish knot sweater, as he felt it might be too costly for our student budgets. But, he did go to great lengths to explain that a genuine Irish or Aran knit sweater was not bleached so that the natural oils from the wool would be preserved.
From Wikipedia :Originally the jumpers were knitted using unscoured wool that retained its natural oils (lanolin) which made the garments water-resistant and meant they remained wearable even when wet. It was primarily the wives of island fishermen who knitted the jumpers. Some stitch patterns have a traditional interpretation, often of religious significance. The honeycomb is a symbol of the hard-working bee. The cable, an integral part of the fisherman's daily life, is said to be a wish for safety and good luck when fishing. The diamond is a wish of success, wealth and treasure. The basket stitch represents the fisherman's basket, a hope for a plentiful catch
I still regret not buying one at the time but a few years later in Cyprus an English friend brought me one from the UK. I wore it for years till it virtually disintegrated, well made and well worn I should add J
Next was Mount CARAUNTOHIL, We parked the car in a convenient location near the base of the trail and set out on a warm late morning. It was more a hill climb than an arduous climb. Which seemed to suit us all well. There were a few small streams running down the slopes at various locations and we took advantage of this to enjoy a few handfuls of water. We were not really equipped for such a task and we had no equipment so we scooped up the water with closed hands. I still remember that it was a clear and sweet tasting drink. I think the fact that the water seemed to stream through a lot of grass and plants gave it a memorable refreshing taste. Rick started to feel hunger pangs and as the walk progressed he and I started to talk about a good meal. The nurse got a kick out of us, and in particular Rick’s monologue about being hungry J
Jim did something curious, he set off ahead of us and kept a 100 meter distance between us. I think he felt that we North Americans were not too fit and he wasn’t going to be kept back by us. This is a perception I came across a few times in this trip and in later travels. As we approached the top Jim began to tire and we caught up with him. We made a point of letting the nurse reach the top first. Now it may be my imagination but I could sense a different feeling towards us , from Jim. But, I do like the fact that we had to prove ourselves, even in this small way. It established a nice perception that played out later when we met with Jim in Holland.
The climb was exhilarating and this was the second “peak “ Rick had climbed in the British isles. He would later take on one in England and Wales. He had climbed the highest in Scotland a few years previous. Rick has a things for Mountains and in his 60th year he climbed Kilimanjaro and made it to the base camp of Everest with his then 15 year old daughter.
We set out for a the town of Cahersiveen where we had had a nice meal at one of the local pubs, Jim was very enthused about Guinness, but it is an acquired taste and I had not quite acquired it yet..But I still recall the fish and chips lunch. I always have enjoyed “eating local” as it were, and this meal still remains one I recall with some pleasure. We completed the Ring of Kerry and returned to the hostel with some pleasant memories and we entered an evening of great discussion. We didn’t go into the Vietnam War out of respect for our American companions , although he did say he had a lot of things to work over in his head.
The next morning we bid our American friends farewell. Jim set out for Dublin and we exchanged addresses and arranged to possibly meet later in the summer. Rick and I decided to head to Kilkenny and we set off. We got a great ride with an Irish Catholic priest who was on holidays from a Parish in Sydney Australia. He said he liked his work at the Australian parish and he looked on Australia as a promised land for many reasons. But, he said that every trip home was like charging his batteries. He spoke of the challenges of his parish , which was in a rougher area where there were drug problems among the young people. He seemed a man of compassion and his warmth must have been an asset in his parish challenges.
We ran into Jim who had decided to stay in Kilkenny for a few days. He had met a couple of Irish girls who said we could stay at their apartment, or flat as they call it. It was all above board, darn it, but we found it fun to meet these pleasant people. We slept on the floor in our sleeping bags, but youth gives one the flexibility to sleep anywhere J We went to a pub and treated the girls. Moira, Myra and Mona were their names, I know it sounds like a fictional tale and not an imaginative one at that; but, that was their names.
We went to a pub and treated the girls to a small meal then we set out for an evening on the town , as it were. Rick and I had heard some Irish music back in Canada and we asked if there were any places where we could hear this authentic sound. He told me that he got the name of one place; but, it he had been told that it was a dive. We again learned a bit about the language. In the British Isles a dive is a basement not a shady place. The “Dive” turned out to be a downstairs club in the basement of a building. And the music was great, One fellow was playing the Boran drum in a skilled way, a local fellow told me this music locally was quite unusual. Of course the fiddles, guitars and dancing set the tone for a great time. We then proceeded to what the girls told us was a more “trendy” place. The music was recorded and what one would call “pop” music. Beatles etc. By now I was of course sailing along at a comfortable altitude and was in a merry mood. Now I am not a scrapper, nor do I “Cut another fellow’s grass” so when a stunning “Irish” lass came in I had not intention of doing what followed.
I went up to her, and very suavely ( My description) told her. “Back in Canada in the cold arctic nights we dream of lovley Colleens such as you”. I really did think she had come in alone, and hey who knows etc; but, as I was speaking to her, her boyfriend suddenly popped up. I don’t recall the exact words but I do recall something about “Are you looking for trouble” etc. Now I know, the fighting Irish, is a thing one often hears and no doubt I would be outnumbered. So Mr. B.S. ( your man here) quickly said “Oh no offence intended I spotted you both walk in together and I was just paying a compliment to Ireland” But now I was in full bore mode and pulled out all the stops, “Oh can I get you both something to smooth over any misunderstanding”. Again a common characteristic one hears is the drinking Irish; but, the ploy worked and my new best friends and I had a pleasant conversation. I must say that in all my travels I never sensed I was in danger. Some of that is perhaps a naiveté; but, I usually avoided politics, religion and chatting up women in bars J The evening ended with a pleasant sleep on the kitchen floor of our hosts.
The next morning, a bit tired from an allergy to ice cubes no doubt, ;) we set off for Dublin. Again rides came quickly and easily. As we approached Dublin two things struck me, it was not a very large city but in my mind it somehow had earned an important world place due to the number of Irish who emigrated for various reasons. My own ancestry includes both Orange and Green in the Irish context. This thought made me reflect quickly on how diaphanous most conflicts are.
Our stay in Dublin was a major event. I can’t recall the exact days which we did various thing so I will recount them as a series of enlightening happenings rather than dwell on time frames. One day we left the hostel and were walking to the downtown area. Richard wanted to pick up some toothpaste so we entered a “chemist” which is what they call a pharmacy. The owner was a friendly fellow and we had a nice chat. He reached under the counter and brought out some old photos which he said he seldom shows. It was shots of the Easter Rebellion. From Wikipedia, “
The Easter Rising (Irish: Éirí Amach na Cásca), was an insurrection staged in Ireland during Easter Week, 1916. The Rising was mounted by Irish republicans with the aims of ending British rule in Ireland and establishing the Irish Republic. It was the most significant uprising in Ireland since the rebellion of 1798” The rebellion lasted only seven days and the leaders were court-martialled and executed. But their uprising fermented the seeds . The War for independence began and a series of conflicts, fire-fights and various battles ensued. It is not my purpose to go into all details. In fact some still contest many of the details. But in 1923 after a declaration of independence, Dec 6 1922, then a civil war between Republican factions, the Independent Irish republic was established. As is well known the North remained a part of Great Britain with ensuing conflicts, some of which extend to this day.
A lesson I learned in my travels is never offer opinions on politics ; but, if an inhabitant of a country wants to explain details and offer opinions, I look upon this as a learning experience.. One day Rick and I decided that we had a certain “air about us” , so we went to a Laundromat to do laundry. While the gear was getting a good going over we adjourned to a pub. We started talking to two men who seemed interested in where we were from. They went into a bit of history after which I asked a stupid question, which I mercifully forget. I learned another travel lesson..the gentleman told us that if we travel we should learn about where we are going. This advice has served me well ever since. And of course today the internet can provide quick and meaningful information about anywhere. I did ask about the 1966 blowing up of Nelson’s Pillar in the center of O’Connell Street, in Dublin. He was not in town when this occurred but it was at 2 AM so he did not witness it directly . IRA members felt the Statue was a colonial insult. The gentleman told us that pieces flew through the windows and roof of his establishment. He was the owner of a clothing manufacturer “Galligan’s of Henry Street. He invited us to his establishment. It was a large commercial venture which was “Outfitters to particular men”. We got a tour of his business then sat in his office and discussed politics. He had a secretary drop by with a box. In the box was a piece of Nelson’s Pillar with a post card attesting to this. Much like the piece of Roman pottery we were shown in the North Cornwall pub this was an historic experience. I still have this piece of stone. Again an unexpected; but, memorable moment that money could never buy.
That evening Rick and I decided it would be an interesting experience to visit a pub with real “Irish” music. Back in Canada The Carleton Show Band was a popular Canadian band made up of Irish musicians who had come to Canada. So here in Dublin we set out to take in music from the source. Our experience in the “dive” in Kilkenny had wetted our appetites. Rick asked if there was a pub with good country music. We were told of one such place and after a pub supper we went over. It was a country band all right. Something like “Willy McFee and his Galway country ramblers. It was a country and western bar. So much for that, or at least, so much for some real Irish music. Staying at hostels was a great way to travel on the cheap but there is a 10 PM dead line before they lock the doors. So we trekked back to the home away from home with no Irish music to hum J
The next day we again set out on a tour by foot. We went to visit Trinity College . It was a pleasant campus with a 400 year old history. As we walked about a female student walked past us. Hey don’t get the wrong idea, I was out to widen my academic experiences but in all honesty she had the shortest and most attractive mini-skirt I saw that summer. J
Along the way we asked about hurling matches. As luck would have it there was a game on in Croke Park. I would describe hurling as soccer played with baseball bats. No insult intended; but, man the thought of one of those bats in the face was not too enticing. But, as with any sport , keen participants always make it fun to watch. The scoring is three points into a net about the size of a soccer goal, or one point over the bar between the posts, much like a field goal in North American football. We did not get a chance to see a Gaelic Football match as there were nonscheduled during our stay. Years later I took up rugby and for a couple of years I played for the Montreal Irish. They often had Gaelic football games as a demonstration sport.
We spent about three days in Dublin and we covered a lot of ground from history to sports. The Irish are a warm people and it does sadden me when I look back on the often violent history of this nation. But, I say this as an objective outsider and I cannot nor would attempt to judge events. Rick and I said our goodbyes at the Airport as I flew to London . I told him I would try to see if i could wangle another $2 RCAF flight to Germany and perhaps meet him in Amsterdam later in the summer.
I again arrived in Gatwick and of course knew the ropes on how to get to Victoria Station J I was wandering the streets and came across another back packer and I asked if there were any cheap accommodations about. He steered me to a mission in the legal area. I believe it was the Inns of the Court area. Sadly they had no free rooms or even a free bed; but, there was a mattress under a pool table. Hey warm, comfortable, I am not a 5 Star traveler. I had a great sleep then set off for Hyde Park. In London there are not a lot of signs about to guide the tourist so as I progressed along the street I would ask for directions. As I neared ,what I felt must be the area, I came across a high stone wall which was around what appeared to be a park. I could not see the “park” over the fence but I could see the tops of scattered trees. I had come to my destination, or so I presumed. I asked a pedestrian how I could “Get in there “. “Not too easily lad..that is Buckingham Palace” . We both had a chuckle and he directed me to Hyde Park. I had a pleasant afternoon wandering about taking in the speakers. In what would not be considered PC one lady was singing “Bye Bye Black Bird” near an African man who was discussing colonial politics in Africa. There were a few Africans around ; but, they were all getting a kick out of the lady. Kind of an interesting way to be. Laugh at the ridiculous. Later I came across a woman with a chalk board who was asking for words form the “audience” . She would take the letters of a word and turn it into a message from her Saviour. There was a small audience of some 20 people . Most were just there for the show rather than deep religious convictions. As the talk progressed she came to the climax and drew a circle. For some reason she singled me out to explain what it all meant....not one to be taken aback I responded “This proved the earth is flat “. I again had an audience who catered to my long legacy of being the class clown. A couple of girls came over and were Canadian, they recognized my accent. We had a few pleasant moments discussing our trips, what to see etc. An afternoon well spent.
The next day was a Saturday and I made my way to Victoria Station to retrieve my Uniform from the locker for the RCAF flight back to Canada. But as fortune would have it this was a long weekend and many people were on their way to Brighton for a few days by the sea. I was not in a financial position to pay for an Air Canada flight so a moment of panic set in. I approached a platform supervisor who was walking about. I explained my situation and he issued a ticket on the spot and included a Military discount. Once more “St Pesmo The Bewildered” had come through. I got to Gatwick and boarded the flight home with a store of memories what are still vivid. My first trip to Europe was an impetus to ensure it would definitely not be my last. People ,places, and even incidental events ..all had an impact. One that has struck out was the fact that so many people went out of their way to help or offer suggestions for things to see or experience. We call it paying forward now and I have done this ever since. I often approach people who look lost in my city and offer directions, suggestions or even just a pleasant conversation. One time in front of the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa I helped a German couple, in German. It was the only time my then 15 year old daughter was ever impressed with anything I had done . She didn’t know that I could speak German. I had taken an evening course in Dental school with a classmate. I thought it might help me get a European posting in Germany. Sadly I should have taken a course in polishing apples .