Friday, May 31, 2013

Belfast, Nazis, and Tiny Felons

One in three citizens of Belfast are middle-aged white men with bald heads. Not like George Costanza bald. No. Mr. Clean bald. Voluntarily bald. Like Michael Chiiklis. Bruce Willis now. Sinead O'Connor then.
Actually O'Connor is from Ireland, so maybe we came blame them for her career as well.
From Dublin I had boarded an early morning train rolling toward Belfast and what turned out to be a plethora of walking cue balls. I was able to board by simply walking through the terminal and sitting on the train. There were no gates in my way, no conductors checking tickets, nothing. I sat down and waited assuming someone would come down the aisles to check tickets and no one ever did. I suddenly regretted the $40 I had plopped down on the stub.
This would never happen in America. I was once reprimanded at a baseball game for sitting in the wrong seats. The thing is my misreading of the ticket actually caused me and a friend from school to sit in seats much worse than the ones I had rightfully purchased. 
"I'll need to see your ticket for these seats, sir," the attendant had said to me at the time while flicking her fingers at me like you would if you were trying to discard a booger.
"Uh, sure not a problem. We bought these online," I had said.
The couple behind her whose seats we were apparently warming took turns poking their heads out from behind the attendant's bony elbows to shoot darting looks at me. I would have expected the same look if they had caught me flinging dog poop at an elderly relative of theirs.
The whole ordeal ended in my favor with the better seats, but it goes to show the difference in culture. 
As I bounced along the Irish countryside, I realized how nice it was to ride the rails again. I took a train to Chicago in middle school and remembered being enthralled by the experience, but I had forgotten why exactly.
There is a freedom to rail travel. Because you are not bisecting roads and dealing with other motorists, oftentimes you are alone in the landscape. A single moving organism in a grand field ripping through stone tunnels and swooshing past wild gardens and old farms at speeds that would get you arrested in an automobile. And it is so smooth. When you lean your seat back, the rhythym and hum lull you to drift almost as if you are in the dentist's chair hopped up on gas and novocaine, but before the good doctor starts whaling away on your molars.

The scene from my window on the train between Dublin and Belfast.

The relaxing jaunt took just over two hours and had me in Belfast a little after breakfast. 
As I floated out of the train station rejuvenated by the experience and thinking of all the other train rides I would be taking in the coming weeks I began to walk in what I believed to be the direction of my hostel. With no wifi at the station I had been unable to map the trek before departing.
What on my map looked to be a couple of blocks between where I thought I was and where I thought I should be going, turned out to be about three miles. It is very easy in America, a land of segways, golf carts, and elevators to the second floor, for a person to forget just what a distance three miles can be. Add to that foreign surroundings, drivers who are looking to take out your knees if you get too arrogant in your ability to cross the street, and the 35-pound pack strapped to my back like a dead tuna and three miles becomes an odyssey.
After realizing how far I would, in fact, have to venture, I did what any tough-minded world traveller would do - I took a break.
Actually I decided the Belfast market I was passing by was far too interesting to go by uninspected and it looked like they had benches for collecting your thoughts or contemplating a taxi.
The market was split into two sections - food and everything else. On the everything else side I perused several flea market style set ups offering rings and knives and other trinkets. One stand was actually selling American coins. Not old  American coins, just the regular old pennies, nickels, and quarters we all have stuffed safely in our loveseats.
This was an odd thing to see. It was something I had never really thought about. Of course there would be interest in American currency, the same way every young child is captivated by foreign money and assumes it is worth gold bullion in some far off land. 

American money for sale 

What's more is that it was selling for 20 pence each. I pulled out my phone and called up a currency conversion app I had downloaded with ideas of buying the cigar box full of quarters and turning a profit at the currency exhange store. I was disapponted to discover that 20 pence equals roughly 30 cents in American currency. Alas, I would not be getting rich by ripping off flea market vendors in Northern Ireland.
Just as I was leaving I walked by a stand selling old war memorbilia. I have always been a sort of history junkie and was anxious to inspect the collection of knives, buckles, pens, and badges on display. It was not until I leaned over the case and rubbed my nose on the glass that I realized this was a very different type of collection than the ones I had seen in flea markets back home. Every item in the case from the tie clips to the daggars had emblazoned on them a swastika. 

Nazi war memorabilia 

"No pictures unless you are buying!" boomed a voice from across the case.

"I'm sorry I wasn't..."

"No pictures!"

I guess at this point I should have apologized and moved on to my hostel, but the mix of trying to profit off Nazi war artifacts mixed with the abrupt "No pictures!" policy, got to me more than I realized.

"Why not? Why can't I take a picture?"

"Not unless you are buying!"

"Are you also selling bullets that have been pulled out of the peace wall?"

I was referring to a long-running game of sectarian violence in Belfast between the Republicans, members of which would like to assimilate with Ireland and unite the island in one nation, and the Loyalists, who are loyal to the United Kingdom and wish to remain under the rule of the crown.

In the 70s and 80s this spilled into the streets in the form of car bombs, shootouts, and Molotov Cocktalis. 

The city was literally divided in two with the building of a "peace wall" to seperate the two sides.

Peace wall in Belfast

Tensions still run high between the groups and especially between splinter groups within the larger parties, but the violence is more of a memory at this point. If you are industrious and ask around it's not a large task to find bullet holes along the wall.

"No bullets. I don't have nothing from the wall," the vendor replied, no longer shouting.

"Why not? Aren't they around?"

"Have you got no sense? Huh? No one wants to see that stuff for sale here, that's not what we're all about anymore."

"And you see no hypocrisy in saying that when you try to profit from Nazi paraphernalia?" I said. 

I felt perhaps a bit too proud of myself as I left and tried to remember I am a visitor in another country and right or not, I should not single myself out on such a sensitive issue.

On the other hand, I do not like being shouted at. 

My dramatic confrontation with a flea market salesman aside, Belfast was an pleasant city if slightly unattractive city. The memorials on both sides of town made sure the chaotic past which continues to define this area is not far from memory, but modern day Belfast seems much like any other city.

After a hike to drop of my pack at the hostel I marched to Donegall Square to inspect City Hall.

The building offers three free tours a day and upon arrival I was just in time for the 11am.

It is an imposing structure. Built in 1906, the building features stunning marble and stone throughout as well as a dominating copper dome.

 Belfast City Hall

Several statues surround the building, including one of Queen Victoria, and there is also a large Titanic memorial on the west side lawn.

Belfast was, mind you, the lanching point of the infamously ill-fated vessel.

Part of the tour even includes a side table meant to be aboard the ship and thus at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, but the carpenters were three days late completed the piece. Upon returning to Belfast from New York the table was to be installed. Now it sits in a side room in city hall and holds an appraised value, given its' unique history, of $152,000. It was priced a few years ago, before the centennial of the sinking and its' value has likely risen considerably.

Under the dome at Belfast City Hall

During the tour the guide retold the story of the Red Hand of Ulster symbol seen often around the city. According to legend the roots go back to pagan times and a dispute between two potentional kings over whom had the right to rule Ulster, now modern day Northern Ireland. 
The two men agreed to a boat race to settle the dispute proclaiming that, "Whoever's hand is the first to touch the shore of Ireland, so shall he be made the king."
The legend continues that one man, who found himself losing the race, so desired the kingdom that he cut off his hand and threw it ahead to the shore, earning a kingdom and creating a story that has terrified young Northern Ireland children for centuries.

The Red Hand of Ulster symbol, seen in one of the stained glass windows of Belfast's City Hall.

I had already booked a plane from Belfast to Scotland for the next morning for the equivalent of $35 and knew I would only have this one day in Belfast. With just enough daylight after roaming around the Donegall and Victoria Square areas, I made a quick jog to the west side where the peace wall seperated the Shankhill area (protestants) from the Falls Road area (Catholics).

The neighborhoods were covered in murals proclaiming innocence and unfair political practices from myriad different incidents over the years. Every square inch of the peace wall had been utilized to express one opinion or another through paint. If you could somehow look past the hate and tension that's behind these messages, it is quite a beautiful artifact.

The twin spires of St. Peter's Cathedral soared dramatically over the rooftops of stores and houses along Divis Street and drew me in for a closer examination.

St. Peter's Cathedral,Belfast

The Gothic Revival cathedral was completed in 1866 and reaches 180 feet into the sky.

I wandered to the front gates where I was met by a young boy of about 14 wearing plain clothes. At first I thought he was just a neighborhood kid.

"Where are ya frum?" he asked walking to meet me at the gate.

I looked around briefly to make sure he was speaking to me as we'd had no previous eye contact or head nod to suggest conversation would be happening now.

"I'm from the U.S." I said. "America."

"Where in America?"


"Oh, is it pretty thar? I think eh tis. Have ya bean to Boston? That's whur I would lack to go visit soomday."

"Yeah. I used to live in Boston actually."

"Whur are ya friends gooin?" he asked looking over my right shoulder and pointing at a group of three people who appeared to be tourists as well that I had not noticed before.

"Oh, I don't know them. I don't know who they are."

"Call them over here. See if they want to go inside, too."

I looked behind him to the cathedral doors and I could see one of them was open and inside stood a man of average size who appeared to be observing the goings on between the boy and I.

"I don't think I was going to go in," I said, alarm bells and instincts telling me the situation was a bit off. "I was just gonna have a look from the outside."

"No you haff tah see frum the inside. Cam on," he said grabbing up my hand.

"No, that's alright. I'll just take a lap around and get some pictures first then we'll see."

This explanation seemed to suit the prepubscent potential hustler and newly freed I looped around the back of the block and beat a path back to the non-war-torn side of the city.

It could have been a proud neighborhood kid wanting to show off the most beautiful part of his town to a foreigner.

There could have been some Lord of the Flies style robbery and assault waiting for me on the other side of those doors provided courtesy of the local middle school or some of their fathers.

I did not wait long enough to find out. As I made my way back to the hostel, this little scrape helped put into context a feeling I had carried with me since I left the train station - everyone was a bit on edge. The vibe throughout the city was one of caution. In a town splattered with memorials to brothers and daughters lost as victims of car bombings, a town where a large majority of the adolescent and teenage males wear military haircuts, caution is not a bad trait to feature while you experience Belfast.

My expectations were high for Scotland and with my flight leaving in a few hours I turned back toward my hostel. For its' wide range of experiences I decided I could not have picked a better city to spend only one day and absolutely no more in than Belfast. 

I am not saying I will never return, but barring some sort of storm that causes my plane to make an emergency landing at some far flung date in my future, I do not suspect you will find me in Northern Ireland again. 

I bequeth it to the throngs of middle-aged bald men who joyfully call it home.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

David Does Dublin

"David go that way! Go that way, David! Go. That. Way. Are you listening to  me? David?" demanded a spherically-shaped woman in a teal dress whom I assumed was the mother of this David character. 
David had apparently grown tired of pulling his pants down and exposing himself to a considerable number of bewildered passengers waiting to board their flights and decided to move on to wedging himself quite skilfully between the back of a row of chairs bolted to the floor and the wall of our terminal. This had at least temporarily halted his exhibitionism.
It was not quite baby-in-a-well serious, but it seeemed slightly dire and the volume, pitch, and unique shrill of the mother's voice made the whole matter a bit more pressing for me and the other gathered onlookers.
The joys of modern airline travel. 
After screaming at David, who looked to be a couple years shy of crossing the street by himself to, "Go that way!" for the better part of 20 minutes I decided to lift the child from behind the row of chairs myself. This idea had likely occured to every other passenger in the terminal almost immediately upon seeing the melodrama unfold, but had yet to register as a viable solution to the mother.
With David free to return to his mild acts of sexual assault unabated by parental intervention, I returned to my travel guide and prayed they would  not be making the same connection as I would be in Chicago. 
David, despite his European-like comfort with sexual openess, did not seem like the world travelling type of fellow.
My instincts in these matters are only slightly better than a blind guess and in Chicago I would find out I had underestimated David's worldliness and not only would I get the pleasure of his company in the terminal of my connecting flight, but also have the opportunity to enjoy his progressive family's unique communication skills on the seven-hour flight to Dublin. 
One interesting observation I made while traveling from Chicago to Ireland in the summer was that the sun never set. It just hung there.
It's a rather remarkable thing to see the sun's rays dance on the horizon apparently moments from fading completely away and never quite get there.
From the north side of the plane there were faint sun rays on the horizon for the duration of the flight. For this to happen, you must be very close to the Artic Circle and the North Pole where, in the summer, the sun never sets. Or, more correctly, the remains of the day are always visible.
Perhaps because of this or possibly due to David's extremely vocal disatisfaction with the length of this flight and the occasional turbulence he was submitted to, I did not get a wink of sleep myself.
When I landed in Dublin my watch said 8am, but my body said 2am.
I made it through customs without much delay, promptly exchanged my dollars for Euros, a deal in which I am fairly certain I was cheated, and then hopped a shuttle to the city center.
The hostel I had booked, The Times Hostel, had great reviews and was near Trinity College and St. Stephen's Green, and offered free breakfast. The only negative I soon found out was that I was not allowed to check in until 2pm. A quick rechecking of my watch confirmed what I had feared - I  had five hours before my head would meet a pillow. The vibrant young clerk at the desk agreed to hold my bag for me until check-in so that I could explore the city unencumbered. 
With zombie-like swiftness and cunning I left the bright doorstep of the hostel and headed out.
I began wandering toward a large gray spire I could see rising above the shops and restaurants across the street. It looked to be a few blocks away and so I began my trek. What I came upon was Ireland's largest cathedral - St. Patrick's.

St. Patrick's Cathedral

The spectacular stone structure was commissioned in 1191 and is really quite stunning. What's even more peculiar though is despite it's over 800-year history the building is best known for the quite mundane distinction of being the final resting place of Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver's Travels.
 I roamed around the church for a while and took in the numerous memorials for deceased parishioners and other notable citezens before I eventually spilled onto the gated green lawn and fountain on the north side of the grounds.
As thrilled as I was to begin my journey and as impressed as I was by St. Patrick's, I still couldn't overcome my sleep deprivation. 
I began walking back to the hostel hoping to convince them of letting me lie down on the kitchen counter or a sturdy ironing board before my legs gave out. It was while I was rehearsing this speech aloud to the frequent interest of passers-by that I stumbled into St. Stephen' Green. 
The 350-year old city park was lush and bathed in sunlight and I knew from my research it was a common picnic destination. The grass was well-kept and better still people were laying around. Some were eating lunch, some were just chatting with friends, but others were legitimately having a rest. I had never slept in a public park before. I can no longer say that honestly.
It was with virtually no thought or second-guessing that I switched directions, plopped myself down on a hill and promptly passed out. Three hours later, I would wake up somewhat more refreshed and completely alone. It seems there is a daily ebb and flow of visitors to the park with lunch time being a peak hour to visit and 3pm being a lonely time to wake up.

St. Stephen's Green, the first place I ever slept in Europe. This is the actual view from when I woke up.

What's more is that I woke myself up snoring. I do not usually snore, at least not loud enough to wake myself up, but I had this time and it startled me to a jump. As I walked back to the hostel, I began to wonder if maybe this was why everyone had left. 
After my Irish siesta, I decided to visit the Book of Kells at Trinity College. 

The Old Library at Trinity College

The  book is an illuminated manuscript of the four Gospels from the Bible written in Latin. The letters are so delicate and spectacularly calligraphed that it is much closer to art than book. It took four scribes and likely three artists to create. The book is first described in 1007 in the Annals of Ulster as, "The chief relic of the Western World," after it was stolen only to be subsequently discovered again after thieves ripped off its' gold and bejwelled cover. From this we know the book is at least 1,000 years old, but could be as many as 1,400.

The Book of Kells

There is absolutely no photography allowed of the book itself due to the very fragile vellum pages on which the book was laboriously inscribed, but the security guard was thinking about his lunch break much to deliberately and I didn't use a flash.
I might not have chanced it had he looked like the taxi drivers in Dublin. 
Every male who's over six-feet tall and 200 lbs. shaves their head bald and slaps a taxi sign on the top of their car. They go park in large groups, get out of their cars, and congregate together in menacing packs of would-be hooligans. They stare at you when you walk by as if you've just barged into their pub wearing a Manchester United jersey and just given their girlfriend a hearty slap on the rear for good measure.
I could not imagine most foreigners walking up to this hoard and asking to get in a car with one of them.
They look as though they could just as easily pound pints at the pub with you while delivering vigorous slaps on the back or butt your teeth out.
Despite their appearance, like virtually all the people I came in contact with in Dublin, they were real sweethearts. At one point while I was looking down at my map and then back up at street signs with a puzzled look (a frequent occurence for me), one of these former Irish mafia enforcers came and offered assistance.

"What are ya lookin' far?" he asked in a grizzled accent. 

"I'll be alright I think. I'm just looking for the National Gallery," I said.

"It's just pass tha coffee shup on the right at the carner up thar."

"Right then. Well, thank you I really do appreciate it."

"But, why duh ya wanna go thar? Aren't ya an American?"

"Yeah, I'm from the States."

"At's what I thought. Well then I should tell ya, the bar's er all that way," he said pointing back toward the Temple Bar district of Dublin. "And they show the NBA games."

For reasons I cannot identify it is gratifying to me that someone from another country assumes all Americans enjoy drinking and basketball. 

The Temple Bar, which sits fittingly in the Temple Bar section of Dublin.

I could not imagine a people more given to having a good time than the Irish. The bars were packed at all hours of the day, the motorists did not plunk you when you looked the wrong way coming off the curb, and the scariest lot, the taxi drivers, were gems.

In two and a half days I had seen just about everything the city could offer. Outside of finding David or his mother and flicking them in the Liffey River, I did not feel I had any loose ends to tie up. After spending a few pints too long in The Palace Pub, a great little joint that has been kicking out drunk Irishmen and frisky tourists for 190 years, I checked the train timetables and found a rail to Belfast leaving in a few hours and without my prior hesitation, hailed a taxi.

The General Post Office with a statue of Irish Trade Union leader Jim Larkin.

O'Connell Bridge with government buildings in the background.

Dublin Castle above and below

O'Neils Pub

Christ Church Cathedral

Guiness Storehouse

The Holy Grail

How I felt when I found out I couldn't check in for another five hours.

After finding St. Stephen's Green

After my first Guinesss at The Brazen Head.

The Brazen Head, est. 1198

The bar inside the Temple Bar

Monday, May 20, 2013

How do you say...?

I have no soap.

I will need soap.

During my trip I would like very much to approach people I meet for advice and directions without them spraying me with disinfectant or fleeing in the general direction of away.

This will need to be addressed.

With one week until Dublin, I suddenly began to realize how much stuff I still needed, like a travel-sized tube of toothpaste, a European electric outlet adaptor (if these things do in fact exist as would seem to suggest), a bandana (Why? Did I not say this was an adventure? I mean, I do want to be taken seriously), fingernail clippers, an American dollar (so that I can trade it for its' EU counterpart - about 32 cents), more clothes than I originally packed (because the idea of doing laundry every three days is slightly less appealing than scrubbing my toilet with a toothbrush and then returning it to the medicine cabinet for regular use), and a phrasebook (you know, in case I actually had to communicate with someone in something other than English or grunts and hand gestures).

I began to realize the potential importance of the final item just this weekend as I listened to my girlfriend, who is a native Spanish speaker, talk to her mother. They spoke with an eloquence and softness that had a beautiful, almost musical quality to it. The way they rolled their r’s and annunciated every vowel with accents in all the right places was spellbinding.

It was truly something special to watch and at once I was overcome by the realization that I did not understand one damn thing they were saying.

In my mind they were bantering about philosophy and astronomy and great novels, but really they could have been talking about the dingleberries accumulating on the dog’s backside, or how creepy I looked just now staring at them.

At times I attempt to speak Spanish with them. If you were to review my college transcript, you would be right to assume this well within my abilities given that I took three years worth of holas, casas, and te quieros in college, but you'd be mistaken.

I can barely order from Taco Bell successfully. I am really quite awful. Bad enough that when I tried to tell her family early in our relationship that my fluency with the language was embarrassing I said, "Estoy embarazada."

Turns out the word for embarrassed is avergonzado or something equally impossible to remember.

Instead of explaining that my grasp of the Spanish language was something of an embarrassment for me given the extensive time and tuition I had spent in college toward that pursuit, I had actually informed her family that, "I am pregnant."

This is still something her father has not fully accepted.

I listened to them speak a language that I have extensive experience with and still found myself as lost as Sarah Palin in a library. I began to wonder how I would possibly hope to communicate in German or Italian or French or whatever language they spoke in the Czech Republic.

(Note to self: find out what language they speak in the Czech Republic)

In an attempt to rectify this potential catastrophe I popped into the bookstore a couple miles from my home and began patrolling the travel section for something that might benefit my language deficiency.

There were shelves upon shelves of books devoted to helping you find your way around Ireland and Switzerland and so on. Because I am easily sidetracked, I began thumbing through them. There was so much more to know about these countries than the guidebook I had purchased a month ago led me to believe. The one I had bought was a review of the whole continent with small chapters on individual countries. These were so much more in-depth and, by God, there were pictures!

Surely I would need these. I snatched up one after another for every country I thought I might wander into at some point in my journey. I began piling them up on one shoulder with the precision of someone playing Jenga during an earthquake. Every book I saw was packed full of delightfully comprehensive information about the places I would be visiting.

And then somewhere around Slovenia it hit me. Well, to be more accurate it hit the floor.

The sheer weight of these books was immense and my left arm being of finite strength, I could no longer support the load. My pack at home already weighed 33 pounds and with the added weight of these new books I was fairly certain the scale would need to have an exponents feature for a precise gauge of its’ weight should I add these guides.

And the cost! At $17 to $26 apiece I had spiked almost $300 in books on the floor. This wasn't a winning investment I decided and carefully placed the books back on the shelves making sure to stock the ones whose corners had been damaged by the fall in the back.

I gave a quick glance around to see if anyone had noticed my act of vandalism and, convinced I had evaded detection, swiftly exited the bookstore.

It wasn't until I got halfway home that I realized I had neglected to purchase or even look for a phrasebook. If it had not been for rush hour traffic perhaps I would have turned round, but I was able to convince myself I had gone too far.

Maybe I will return to the bookstore this week before I leave. Perhaps I will wing it alone in a country where I don't speak the language and cannot ask where the nearest toilet is in case of emergency.

Was that not part of the excitement of being in a new place - the thrill of the unknown?

Perhaps foolishly I persuaded myself that I was resourceful enough to survive without being able to communicate or read the arrivals and departures board at a train station.

After all, it might make for a better story to tell.

And if things really got out of hand, I did have the bandana.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Rejects Museum (14 days until departure)

The next logical step was to begin informing others of my scheme to skip town and head across the pond for a spell. For their part, my friends and family were supportive if not somewhat confused about the motivations.

"Oh, really?" my mother had said to me when told what I was planning. "Isn't that something."

She was nodding her head the way you might nod to a homeless man at the gas station who takes a break from screaming at the light pole to inform you he was once the president of Tarjickistan.

"I think so," I said.

"So, what are you going for?"

"Just to travel around I guess."

"I mean, what do you want to do when you're there?"

"I just want to see things. Experience something different. Just figure it out as I go really."

"Oh, I see. Well, what do you need to figure out? What are you looking for? When was the last time you went to church?"

"No, Just figure out the details of the trip as I go is all. Not me as a person. Well, maybe to figure out something about myself as well I suppose."

"You're haven't been going to church have you?"

Each person I told's initial interest in the trip itself was nearly always bookended with another question. They wanted to know with whom I would be braving this endeavor.

When I said no one, I was met universally with the kind of look a person gives when they have farted at work, but suspect they may have shit their pants a bit.

It was difficult for them understand or possibly imagine themselves striking out in an unknown country where they could not speak the language and did not know where to get their morning coffee without someone alongside to blame the whole jumbled mess on.

I do not pass along their dismay as a point of pride in my own bravery. Quite the opposite. Instead of feeling like Bear Grylls ready to pee on my shirt and wear it as a hat should the situation arise, I began to wonder if I wasn't more like Mr. Bean foolishly floundering in the deep end of natural selection.

Was their worry for me traveling alone just a thoughtful concern or was I in for legitimate danger? I wouldn't really know until I went.

The other avenue this conversation usually traveled was that of suggestion. Everyone had some place in Europe they have planned to journey to since they saw it on the Travel Channel in college while taking a break from assembling their mail-order futon and somehow me stopping over there would help alleviate their own pang of wanderlust.

"What parts?" my friend Dave asked when he learned of my trip.

"I'm going to start in Ireland and then bounce around the U.K. a bit. After that, I'm not so sure," I said.

"But, like, where else?"

"Oh, like I said I don't know really. Paris I'd imagine. Then maybe pull out the map and see what train's headed where and what I feel like."

"Aw man, you know where you should go? Fucking Amsterdam, man. You should go to fucking Amsterdam."

"Yeah I heard the Rijksmuseum is worth the trip itself."

"What's the Rejectsmuseum?"

"The Rijksmuseum. It's the Dutch national museum. It's in Amsterdam. The Night Watch is kept there and also some paintings by Rembrandt and a couple by..."

"No, no, no. That's not why I said you should go to Amsterdam. You should..."

"Yeah Dave, I got it. I know that's not why you suggested it. Somewhere between the Grateful Dead sticker on the back of your van and your love of frisbee, I could venture the intent behind your pitch for Amsterdam was more due to it's looser legal interests."

"Oh. Uh, yeah," Dave responded, apparently studying some point beyond the wall on the far side of the room. "I think that's what I meant."

A typical "coffee shop" in Amsterdam. A place Dave might never leave
if he happened ever make it the the Netherlands.

The other thing I would have to consider would be what to bring along. My recent alarm at traveling solo caused me to consider first which weapons I thought could most easily be smuggled through airport security. After I briefly pondered the legal ramifications of mailing myself a machete to retrieve when I arrived in Ireland, I decided to take my chances unarmed.

Because I don't like lists and the people who create them to explain things, I'll be brief but paragraphic.

I settled on taking a mid-sized GoLite hiking pack that weighed just over two pounds, about three days worth of clothes (breathable hiking shirts and pants), a couple of guidebooks, a map, a nifty travel towel that could be wrung dry each day with ease or so the delightful traveler on the packaging made it appear, a camera, flip-flops, three empty composition journals, a passport, a travel wallet that can be looped through a belt and flipped inside your pants to prevent pick-pocketing (something that was apparently a more prevalent danger in Europe than quicksand was in Saturday morning cartoons), sunglasses, a rain jacket, a credit card, and assorted toiletries.

I write that to write this - there was simply no room for the machete.