Monthly Archives: March 2012

The Honeymoon’s Over! (No way)

In Ireland, those who live in Dublin claim their fair city as the quintessential Irish town.  No place is more Irish than Dublin.  The entire rest of the country has united to disagree.  As I have stated before, Dublin is the Manhattan of Ireland.  Only they get it.

Our honeymoon trip was drawing to an end, with only ONE more day in Dublin city.  I personally like Dublin, but it is a city.  So if you’re used to quaint Irish towns that would make gorgeous postcards, Dublin is going to be a huge letdown.

Dublin is actually going to be an even bigger letdown when you have a 2 hour ride that turns into a 4 hour ride.  So as we left Cashel, we drove into the interior, where all the treacherousness was, to find out, it was indeed there.  Even on the bigger carriageways, there was ice all over the place, and to me, Dublin seemed like a wonderful place to ditch the blasted car and walk or take cabs.

Dublin has a lot of history, clearly, and a lot of interesting sights to see, if you decide not to take a long nap when you get there, which is what we did.  So of course, we ended up in the pub, getting a terrible bite to eat while we planned our night.  We had two choices: go see the book of Kells at Trinity College, or go the Guinness Brewery.  We slept through everything else.  Well, what would you do?

The Guinness Brewery is actually fascinating.  There are five floors of Guinness making history and information.  We gave a cursory glance to the screens, oohed over the water displays, and made our way to the tasting area for a quick shot of beer, where we joined all of the college kids who paid the entry fee to sit in the tasting area and drink all of the samples.  How lucky are they?  I went to school in the capital of beer (Milwaukee) and our brewery that turned a blind eye to this was Pabst.  Pabst.  (Until Lakefront Brewery came along – but I digress).

We made it through the rest of the floors, until the top, which can be one of the more spectacular sights – the Gravity Bar!

I have been there at all hours of the day – and the best time to go is at dusk.  We were there at night, so we couldn’t really see the 360 view that the entirely glass-walled bar provides high above Dublin.  Tom sort of got the idea, but by this time, it was just a crowded bar.  We decided to hit the gift shop and continue our night in an area unknown to me, but recommended by our cab driver.  I didn’t think Tom was a Temple Bar kind of guy, so we took his recommendation.

I will admit that I am kind of a finicky eater, so I take time choosing a restaurant. I don’t know why.  In the 5+ years that Tom and I have been dating, he almost always wins the better plate award.  I have expressed this to others, and they have observed this bizarre, and slightly unfair phenomenon.  So, it doesn’t really matter, because no matter where we go, he will have a good plate, and I probably will not.

Being the good sport he is, we walked around for a long time, because we don’t have reservations on a Dublin Saturday night, stopped at the ATM, where Tom found another reason to hate Dublin: the gypsies and panhandlers beg literally from under the ATM.  They sit right under the ATM, and no one chases them away.  So in order to get money, Tom had to use the ATM with a gypsy right at his feet.  (I like to think I would have given him a little kick.)  And then I picked the ANTI-Tom restaurant.

It’s over a year, but I believe it was tapas.  And since I lived in Spain, I love all things Espanol.  I was Espanol before Madonna went through that phase.  Tom likes tapas, but we don’t like the same ones.  It didn’t matter, this place was trendy and bad and crowded and not the type of place we like at all.  Especially the bi*ch who, when Tom adjusted his chair after using the restroom told him to watch it and gave him the ugliest look I have ever seen on anyone in my life, truly ever.  I almost got up and socked her in the eye.  It was a super-crowded restaurant, and Tom did apologize, profusely.  And she was just plain rude.  In the words of one of the greats, Hannibal Lecter, “Rudeness is unspeakably ugly to me.”

We ditched that place with a quickness – bad food and bad people and made our way, to, you guess it!  The Pub.  Once again, we took a stroll before we decided on a place, and it ended up being ok.  Except it looked like a crime scene – which it wasn’t – it just had yellow construction tape all over the place, even in the men’s room.  Only us.

We spent the night with a very few leisurely pints observing and commenting on the regulars, spending our last night like weary Dubliners.

Later on, Tom told me he wasn’t a fan.  I told him we were tired, and we really didn’t see or do anything except watch the inside of our eyelids, and the bottom of our glasses.  I will try and convince him next time!  Or the next day when we had a 6 hour delay at the airport!

Cold, Hard, Cash(el)

Although we considered staying an extra night in Dingle, because it’s AWESOME, the voice of reason, Tom reminded me that these long drives don’t agree with me, and it would be best to get on the road and find our next stop.

Confession time: I’m the most disorganized person on the planet, EXCEPT when it comes to vacation.  I’m like the Clark W. Griswold of Ireland.  My time there is limited, and I must maximize my opportunity and take advantage of ALL there is to see and do and drink and eat and talk.  I spend months researching the B&Bs, I use Google Maps to plan the route, I cross reference the B&Bs on an excel spreadsheet and I chart possible restaurants, detours, places of interest, and in this case, potential stops for our “Fly by the seat of our pants night.”

Tom and I have been planning a trip to Ireland for years, and way long ago, he asked, “Why can’t we just get in the car and drive, do we really need an itinerary?”  I probably rolled my eyes and definitely scared the shit out of his with my resounding “YES!”  You need one, because Ireland kicks so much ass, that you would stay in the first place you stopped for the time, and end your trip only having been in one place.  You need an itinerary to keep you moving, because Ireland is like drinking at Finley’s during the day when there’s a game: You start early, intending to leave early, you maybe think you might go to dinner or meet some friends that live in the city at another bar, but when it all comes down to it, you’re there at closing time with Kevin and Laura and maybe Julie, with just the one bar to show for your visit to the city.  The entire nation of Ireland is like this.

So we approach the car (I’m eying it balefully because I hate the bastard), “with no direction known” and exit Dingle for our treacherous ride over the mountains, and listen to the jerk on the radio telling us NOT to drive in the interior of the country, it’s far too dangerous.  We have to go to the interior, because we have to get to Dublin to catch our flight in two days, and the only way to Dublin is through the interior.  So we drive in the general direction of Dublin.  Tom mentions Cashel, but I would like to get to Tullamore, where the roads are extremely treacherous.  This drive would not be exhausting, but irritating, as it is windy and rainy but people are scared of snow, so no one on the road travels over 20km/hr.  The two hour trip to Cashel takes about 4 to 5.

As we get closer, Tom thumbs through the guide book for ideas.  He mentions an estate in Ireland.  We have no map of this part, so we follow the signs for Cashel, hoping to run into signs for the town where the estate is located.  We do find signs, and find ourselves on the worst nightmare an American tourist in Ireland could imagine: the one lane country road.

Here’s another little helpful tidbit about driving in Ireland: the don’t just post the main arteries – if there’s a way to take a one lane road, two hairpin turns, and a footbridge to a locale, they will post signs stating that this is the direction, if it will, eventually, get you there.  This was one of those times.  After meandering the snow and ice covered one way path, a few run-ins with a milk truck, and some serious stress level in the car, we ditched the estate idea, and decided just find a home for the night and some pints.

I dropped Tom off at the local tourism office and circled the perimeter of the downtown area, located right blocks away from the main attraction – The Rock of Cashel, which is not really a rock, but a former castle and monastery, among other things.  I could bore you with historic details about St. Patrick banishing the devil from a cave and the rock landing in Cashel, but let’s just say it’s really cool old broken stuff with amazing views in the middle of town.

The Cashel Tourism Office was Closed!

I collect Tom from the tourism office, where he had no luck, and we decide to go door-to-door, slightly less like Jesus and Mary, in search of a bed for the night.  All around the rock are tons of signs for B&Bs.  The first one is full, the second one is closed for the season, and finally, I take him to a third where we get a room.  We grab our stuff, head upstairs, relax, take naps, hit the potty, etc and make our way out to hit the town.  Before we leave, Tom looks in the nightstand (Why? I don’t know)  and locates the Book of Mormon.  Even if you’re not Irish, you probably know that most of the country is Roman Catholic -divorce was legalized in 1995 and you can forget about abortion.  Leave it to us to stumble upon the only Mormons.

Once again, we wind up at a large dinner we didn’t need but was extremely delicious (we might be the only people to have gained weight in Ireland), and hit the pubs.  We walk around a bit, a little leery, because most of them don’t have windows and we don’t know what we’re getting into because we can’t look in.  This is common in Ireland, but we just haven’t become accustomed to it.  We end up at the end of the main street, have one beer and leave.  It was like the Bennigan’s of Cashel.  We don’t like them here, so why bother?  We then select a gamble, meaning we can’t see inside, but it looks ok, and if it’s not we can always gamble on another pub.

The town itself is an interesting mix of ruin and commerce.  One of our favorite sights was an cool, old, broken, building with an Indian restaurant jutting out of the side of it.  They can’t tear it down, because it’s historic and protected, so just add on the Indian restaurant.  So just imagine a quaint, picturesque town with charming storefronts and lovely ruins, with a grocery store in the bottom.  It’s pretty hilarious.

So in we go to our second pub, and it’s fairly similar to Sean Thornton’s stop at his first pub in Ireland, in that he ordered a beer, and tried to make polite conversation and at first, no one responded.  Tom and I scored a table by the fire (big bonus – it was cold that day and these people are not crazy about heat) and the TV so that we could watch the local rugby game.  Just wait it out- they’ll talk to us – we learned that at Dick Mack’s.  At some points, I tried to discuss rugby with the guys at the next table and was met with extremely curt answers.  Ooookay.  So then I go outside for the bathroom and a smoke.  In places where bars are old, bathrooms were considered a luxury, so most of them are add-ons or in other buildings not connected.  The smoking area is under a heat lamp between the two buildings.  As I exit, I note that the gentlemen from the next table are out there and I decide to join them.

Having visited Ireland right after their smoking ban was effected, and dealing with it in Chicago, one thing non-smokers might not know is that they are social havens.  People banned outside to smoke join together, sometimes even longer than they intended.  Apparently these guys didn’t get the memo.  I got a lighter, and a curt nod.  That’s it.

I walk into Tom and said, “We need to break them.  We have to wait it out.”  And we both get that tired look on our faces.  He says he thinks it’s going to be an early night, and I agree.  We’d had a late night last night with Sean and Fiona and all of their shenanigans.  Which means the curse was broken.  As soon as you claim that it’s not going to be an early night, out comes the whiskey and the singing, and that’s exactly what happened.  Our taciturn neighbor, as it turns out, was not named Curt, but Jerry, and I convinced Tom that we didn’t have a far walk and he should enjoy his favorite vice, some good Irish whiskey.  Jerry and I eventually became friends, and we closed the bar, as per usual.  Not wanting to break tradition, we went to Abrakebabra for some late night food we didn’t need.  After a mild issue with a drunken teenager (way worse than us), we stumbled into the night and onward to our confirmedly weird hosts.  When we mentioned their name earlier in conversation with our new friends, they said the family that runs our B&B was strange.  In Irish terms, that could mean they are serial killers.

We wake up late, after setting the alarm, and head down for our Mormon breakfast in an interestingly decorated room.  We linger a bit over coffee and oatmeal, eggs and yogurt, and decide to pack up the car, and make our way to the Rock.  As it is literally just down the block, we will walk.

CLOSED DUE TO WEATHER.

And when we got back to our car, we had a parking ticket.  But that didn’t stop us from taking some pics and having a good time.  Now it has become a goal – one day we will make it there – and we will get inside!

Finding A Way

In some recent debates with my 15-year-old son, I have found myself quoting, of all people, Jeff Goldblum.  Well, I guess not him directly, but the character he played in Jurassic Park, Dr. Ian Malcolm.  In the movie, when it is discovered that the all male dinosaurs have somehow managed to lay eggs and reproduce, Goldblum’s character speaks the line, “Life finds a way.”

I spoke the line myself in a conversation that seemed to stun my son.  I am a bit of a realist, and I am not one to believe in wild theories or conspiracies.  I don’t think the CIA assassinated JFK, or that September 11th was an inside job.  I am not heavily religious, but I am also not an atheist.  I mostly believe in the things I can see and touch.  So with all this in mind, I told my son I believed there was life other than ours, somewhere out in space.  Now, I also backed that up with the statement that I did not believe that space aliens had visited earth to kidnap people or build the pyramids.

My son, somewhat of a realist himself, but young and more open to persuasion by anyone other than his father, told me that the odds of there being life on another planet was one in a million.  I agreed, but then pointed out that here we were.  And I agreed it was a one in a million chance that everything pulled together in just the right way to produce our planet, but with billions and billions of stars, and an unknown amount of planets orbiting some of those stars, the chances are good that somewhere out there, life must have found a way.

Before this past winter started, I did not clear off the deck as I usually do.  Nice weather and a busy schedule, and I will admit a little bit of lazy, resulted in me keeping our plant boxes right were they sat all summer, propped up on the rail of our back deck.  The worst winter in decades that the weather people had promised back in September never came to be, and now here in the middle of March we are having summer-like weather.  This past Thursday night, I pulled the chairs out of the garage, and Maureen and I officially opened up Deck Season with a couple of beverages outside under the stars.  Our next door neighbor even joined us for a couple, and we could hear other people outside somewhere talking in the warm night.

It wasn’t until this morning that I finally stepped back out onto the deck in daylight with the intention of yanking all of the dead plants out of those boxes that I got a good look at what was happening.  Although all of the flowers in the boxes were listed as annuals, somehow in the mild winter and early spring, life has once again found a way.  Under the dead growth, green leaves and even some fresh buds had started to grow.  So I changed my plans and did what I could to clear out as much of the dried brown stuff that I could.  It wasn’t easy to pull just the old stuff without disturbing the new, as much of the new green was intertwined with the dead growth.  But I am anxious to see what becomes of the new plants that made it through the winter.

After a mild winter, life has found a way back into our flower boxes.

So there we have it.  Life has once again found a way.  This time it is just to the little universe of my flower boxes, but soon it will expand to our entire yard, and then the neighborhood, and yes, maybe even the universe.

Dive Right In

From time to time, Maureen and I talk about traveling, and all the wonderful places we plan to go.  Ok, so we talk about it quite often.  We had our honeymoon trip to Ireland, and this December we are going back for my mom and dad’s 50th anniversary.  We are also trying to figure out if we can do a layover in Madrid either before or after the Emerald Isle.  We have talked about trips to France, Germany, Italy and Greece just to name a few.  But seeing as a winning lottery ticket has yet to cross our path, it may be years before we see all the places we want, so in the interim we try to find our own little adventures right here in the city of Chicago.  This past Friday night, it was The Best Dive Bars in Chicago Pub Tour put on by the good folks over at The Chicago Historical Museum.

The Chicago History Museum Best Dive Bars in Chicago Trolley Tour

It is a trolley tour that lasts about three hours, with four stops along the way.  Between stops, the guides provide information about the history of each dive, and general information about Prohibition and Chicago history in general.  Unfortunately, the half hour time allowed at each stop gives you just a taste of each bar, but I guess that was the intent of the tour to begin with.

In my opinion, the only true Dive on the tour was the very first stop, so I am going to save that one for last.  Our tour ended at an interesting but way too overcrowded place called Old Town Ale House.  It is probably a lot more of a dive on the week nights, but considering the place was packed before we arrived, the addition of our thirty drunken trolley mates added a few too many bodies to the mix inside the small space.  A long favorite of Second City alum, the colorful artwork and dark atmosphere really define the joint as a dive, but it’s popularity as a dive really precludes it from being a dive at all.

Maureen and I with our Trolley mates Mike and Jamie at the Old Town Ale House. 219 W. North Avenue, Chicago.

Richard's Bar at 491 N. Milwaukee. Bring your sunglasses if you plan to stay here.

Working backwards, our third stop of the night was a place called Richard’s Bar at 491 N. Milwaukee.  An Italian themed dive, that is brightly lit and serves 75 cent hard-boiled eggs to their late night clientele.  In complete contrast to what 1s generally considered a standard criteria for most dive bars, Richard’s lighting choice is to keep the place fully lit at all times.  As a result, Richards was also the cleanest of the dives we attended, even though the air quality inside the bar was reminiscent of days long gone by.  Without giving too much away, let’s just say there is not a crowd located outside the front door of Richard’s like there is in most other drinking establishments in the great city of Chicago.

The easiest way to describe our second stop of the night is to flash back to another Chicago classic.  Just think Bob’s Country Bunker.  You know, that place were Jake and Elwood played both types of music, Country and Western.  The largest of the dives, it was already set up for the music later that night, and the only thing missing was the chicken wire around the stage.  It was sparsely populated when we got there, with just a few colorful after work locals to add some flair, but as we departed, the later crowd was starting to arrive.  The high light of Carol’s is the steel front door.  I am not sure if it was designed to keep people out, or to keep them in.

The steel door of Carol's Pub, located at 4659 N. Clark Street.

A real find, and a real Dive. Rose's Lounge at 2656 N. Lincoln.

Saving the best for last was not on the agenda for this trolley tour, because in my opinion, the best dive bar we were shown that night was our very first stop.  Almost invisibly located at 2656 N. Lincoln Avenue is the small doorway to Rose’s Lounge.  To start, it is a Lounge.  That alone should qualify it as a dive, but even better still is that passing through the red and white door is like taking a step back in time.  The wood paneling and couches are reminiscent of your grandmother’s living room, or a basement rec room circa 1972.  Rose has decorated her establishment with almost every knick knack she has ever gotten, and when a string of Christmas lights around the bar burns out, a new strand is added without ever taking down the old.  Rose herself is slow-moving, so order two drinks at a time.  And don’t expect a large variety.  Tap beer will be Miller Lite or Old Style, both at $2 a frosty mug, but odds are if you order the Miller you are still getting the Old Style anyway.

My favorite barkeeper of the night, Rose at Rose's Lounge.

The Chicago History Museum Pub Crawls have been a popular tour since 2007, and there is a tour to meet most people’s taste.  It is a lot to cram into a three-hour tour, but much like Gilligan himself, it is something you can get lost in.  If you find a stop along the way, you can always stay, or just take notes and return later.  I had never been to any of the stops before, and I will likely not return to half of them, but the chances are pretty good I will find my way back to Rose’s Lounge again.  There was so much to see, and just not enough time.

Anyone planning a trip there, make sure to give me a call!