Sandwiched by two four-day holiday excursions to beautiful locales, my family and I had a relatively quiet month. My in-laws became our only repeat visitors and managed a few new experiences they missed a year prior. I brought an American friend to what amounted to a feeding frenzy for buzzed, amateur comedians. Let me get to a point now.
A Grecian sunset (plus more bizarre new memories…)
Most people today only know Greece for one reason: worldwide economic instability. Yeah, well, I have no interest in that rat hole today. Having never been to the country before, I was excited for three child-free nights to attend a wedding between a Greco-American friend of my wife and her new, Greek husband. Our trip may have been too short to visit any of the beautiful islands, but this just elevated our determination to see Athens [where the cicadas in the trees are almost deafening], visit a real beach, and soak in everything possible before our daughters reached a boiling point without their parents in Belfast for the longest ever period of time. I don't write about wedding ceremonies because I couldn't properly do them justice, so hopefully the sunset from the ceremony's church atop one of the higher points in Greece says everything necessary about it. If you don't know about the celebrations of this culture but the speech took place at the receptions mid-way point around 1:30AM and the DJ was on the clock until five.
I heard easily a dozen languages among the diverse tourists of Athens, but none grabbed more of my attention than a couple at lunch speaking English as the best way to communicate with what sounded like Italian and French accents. If you've read my previous blogs, you are surely on the edge of your seat awaiting three reviews: the beer, the coffee, and the bacon. Sorry for making you read through so much gibberish. The beer available in shops and the majority of restaurants is absolutely nothing to write about, but I did manage to try one delicious local craft beer from Septem Microbrewery [so there's hope...]. The bacon is a little less raw than in the Netherlands, but otherwise, a very meaty version of German bacon, so I devoured it each morning with a small wish I knew a legit butcher back in the States so I can start a weekly rotation of bacons of the world. The coffee is quite good; you can get a decent cappuccino almost anywhere, and the “greek coffee” was appropriately described by a coworker as “sludge”. The flavor is great, but you do not want to finish it.
On our way to a magnificent beach, we befriended our taxi driver and I learned even more of the availability cascade's effect on worldwide perspectives of the US. Just after passing a pickup truck without no mirrors housing an entire “Roma” [as I'm told they are called] family nestled into a wooden stage suspended just feet above the legitimate truck bed, we mentioned how rarely we relax on the beach and he asked if it was because of the abundance of sharks. Ugh. I would love to have heard the response from Barry Glassner. I don't know if it has anything to do with the economy, but at least it was nice to finally visit a busy beach where one can acquire 0,75L of bottled water for a mere €0,50.
An Irish sunset (and a lot of old memories…)
Before I was a world traveller, taking day trips to Germany for work meetings and bored enough on transatlantic flights to write a monthly blog, I was just another American idiot looking to move down my dream list of countries to visit. As is probably cliché in the US, my first “must-visit” country was the closest a mutt like I has to an origin: [The Republic of] Ireland. We have been back to the Republic on a few separate occasions during our expatriation, but I had not been to Dublin since 2003. Coincidentally, I was in the city three times this month: work brought me back there for a meeting the day before flying to Greece, I took a train down to speak at SOURCE Dublin on the Trinity College campus just three weeks later, and we made a day-trip to explore it while staying with American friends in a renovated, remote farmhouse in County Kildare which would serve as the perfect setting for a movie about two families of four getting murdered. Happily, the only screams were those typical of children sprinting around an enormous house wedged between the reigning gold (Straffan) and bronze (Maynooth) medal winners of the surely non-political Tidy Towns battle of the Republic of Ireland. Straffan seems to have a distinct advantage in staying clean because it is so small it has:
- A solitary inn with a bar and lounge, but no restaurant.
- A petrol station which sells wine but not beer. In Ireland.
We took our lives in our hands driving from Tidy Towns through the Wicklow Mountains, up and down paved roads no wider than my Mercedes jeep. It is a rare feeling to not know whether you should drive fifty kilometres per hour to get to a main road faster or creep along in case someone is approaching in the opposite direction. The views and experiences through the Sally Gap and gardens of Powerscourt are all worth the adventure, but it has to be concluded with a visit to the [admittedly touristy] highest pub in Ireland, Johnnie Fox's.
We chose a Sunday to visit Dublin and, while it was a bit drizzly, it was great to again explore the Trinity College campus without having to rush to a conference or train. From this starting point, we moved on to the Guinness Storehouse, which has changed dramatically in the past twelve years. I recognized nothing more than the gates and the rooftop Gravity Bar from which you can see the entire city. It now more closely resembles a shopping mall than a brewery and, according to unnamed sources at the brewery, it is now Europe's number one tourist attraction of 2015. Apparently, these decisions are made before the year ends. Even after hitting all of the floors and riding around a good portion of the city along the river, we narrowly managed to catch our return train in time to see the sunset from our lovely horror movie rental farmhouse.
The majority of days but minority of noteworthy events
I will try to put my readers out of their misery by covering the rest of the events on the month rather quickly. While returning from Greece on SAS [Star Alliance!], I fixated on my boarding pass which covered both of my flights with a single bar code, unlike any other airline I've flown to date. I love technology. We didn't get to experience Copenhagen, but we did walk through its airport's hundreds of shops before customs and broad expanses after.
Back in Belfast, I received my first European vishing [voice phishing] attempt when a woman with an English accent called me to inform me that I am eligible for a discount on my (unnamed) life insurance policy. It must have meant I'm finally a local. That explains why it took me twenty fewer minutes to pick up my last package at the Royal Mail service point. The now enormous Rapid7 Belfast office had our summer party of paintball and we sadly said goodbye to Ken, the Irishman who moved earlier than I and is now returning to his home in Massachusetts. At least the party included its share of jokes about my US visitor getting called everything from “Zack Morris” to “son of the Mentalist” because of his flowing curly locks. The Northern Irish are never happier than when jointly picking on someone. A stranger at Brew Bot [where I must bring all visitors now!] asked what would possess Americans to visit Belfast for an entire week, very much in the vein of my previous blog.
The city's buses have recently received new life from scrolling signs and automated announcements for bus stops. Our family explored another park, Minnowburn, which offers a beautiful view of the Malone House and Shaw's Bridge. And, as always, I managed to spot some more Buckfast in the wild!