Memories of Ireland, England, and Spain

The following is a cleaned up travel journal entry from 2019. Right after my wife finished residency and we were both finally moved into our home in Portland, we took a celebratory trip.

I came across this entry again recently, 4 years after it had been written. It feels like an optimistic time-capsule from before COVID times.

We’ve been traveling for almost three weeks now.

We began by flying from Portland to Frankfurt. At the time we booked flights, there were no connecting flights in NYC or NJ. Only Portland to Frankfurt. So we slept over the country and the ocean and landed in Frankfurt for a 7 hour layover.

It was a slow process to get out of the plane and through passport control and our 7 hour layover shrank to 5 ½ hours. We walked around the airport, we found lunch, we drank a giant liter of lager. We got on the plane.

Two large German beers

Two large airport beers.

We sat.

The air conditioning was malfunctioning, going in and out. They tried to taxi the plane around the airport in hopes that the moving air would cool off a sensor so we could fly. It didn’t work. Around 11pm they cancelled the flight, taxied us off to some strange business hotel, then collected us all in the morning. We piled back on the same, now repaired, plane and flew to Dublin.

We rented an apartment from AirBnB in Dublin - about 3 blocks from the thick of Temple Bar. For a couple of days we basically just did Dublin things. Saw the Book of Kells again. (Insanely crowded). We toured the Teeling whisky distillery (interesting and fun) and went out for music and beers in Temple Bar.

Interior of an old pub in Dublin at midday.

A tiny pub around the corner from our AirBnB. Good Sunday dinner.

We met up with some of my wife’s extended family and had a really nice dinner.  Felt like having dinner with good friends.

We went to visit my wife’s uncle (her father’s brother) in the nursing home. He has dementia and can’t maintain a conversation for more than 30 minutes. He is well taken care of, but he’s bored and lonely. He wishes his brother would visit him but that probably won’t happen.

The Giant’s Causeway

We took a taxi to the airport and collected a rental car. A small Seat Mii - looked almost like a London Black cab . We drove south to Wexford to see the insane Irish family, more aunts and uncles. This uncle hadn’t been in touch with the family for decades. His wife died (which no one knew about) and he moved back to Ireland suddenly. He found a house in the village in Kilmuckridge and lives on his own. He’s an odd duck. I think he has secrets.

Our tiny, rented Seat. Pronounced “Say-Aht”

After Wexford we drove west to Crossmolina to see my wife’s half brother and his family for a couple of days. We tramped around looking at ruined abbeys and drank in the local pub. We ate delicious home-cooked food and the kids squirmed all over us.

We drove back to the airport to return our car and fly to London. We stayed with my wife’s crazy Kiwi college friend and met some of her crazy friends. We found her home - a beat-down old flat in the middle of a posh neighborhood - and met her roommate. The roommate runs an exclusive match-making service and owns property in Finland. She’s single and probably in her late 30s or early 40s. She’s very attractive.

The roommate gave us a restaurant recommendation and we stumbled off to find it. We had a good meal and some wine and found our way back to the flat where we ran into the roommate a second time as we were off to meet the Kiwi’s birthday party crew at some pub. We all piled in an Uber together.

At the pub, the Kiwi. got into an argument with some doofus about politics. I learned that my wife’s college friend is very well informed and savage. She tore this poor fool a new asshole. He was too dumb to realize it though until he discovered everyone was laughing at him. He crawled into his beer to hide.

We wound our way through twisty streets and to a hotel bar called the Mirror Room - which was, in fact, full of mirrors. We had outrageously expensive cocktails.

A fancy museum in London

The next day the Kiwi showed us around London. Later we climbed on a train to go out to the suburbs to visit a cousin and see her happy, fat babies.

The son became attached to me and demanded my attention for the full evening. Eventually the husband returned home and we finished dinner, said our goodbyes and got a train back to London.

We made it back to the Kiwi’s flat and we finished the day sampling an array of Gins and Tonics.

The following morning we piled our stuff in a cab to Victoria station and caught a train down to Brighton to see the other Irish half brother and his wife.

Train platform at Victoria Station in London

Train platform at Victoria Station in London

This next brother met us at the train station. We scrambled down to their place with our luggage, got cleaned up and went for lunch on the beach.

Brighton beach

The beach at Brighton

Brighton has a very rocky beach (the English sea is not kind) but it’s very pretty. We strolled around seeing the sights and went out to dinner later that night.

Brighton holds it’s pride festival in early August - so in the morning we drank far too many mimosas. They have a funny name for mimosas which now I can’t remember. We watched the Pride parade for a while and then went to their local pub - literally diagonally situated from their front door. Dangerously close.

The pub is tiny, Hollywood movie themed and run by a charming old gay man who lives upstairs. We drank beers and then retired to naps.

After our naps we braved the crowds to go the pride street festival. It was a throbbing carpet of humans. All getting drunker, all trying to dance. It was overwhelming. We found a spot to land and got beers and attempted to dance. I mostly watched the crowds goggle-eyed. Among the bears and the twinks there were lots of young women dressed scandalously. There were plenty of straight men along for the ride who managed to put on a clean t-shirt.

Brighton Pride

As the night wore on, the crowd got drunker and more belligerent. More and more garbage piled up beneath our feet. So much that it was hard to walk. We found our way to a chipper (fish and chips), got food, and sat on the beach to eat. Fortified, we made our way home and slept like rocks.

The next day we had Sunday dinner at a very English pub called the Walrus. They do a Sunday roast in various shapes and sizes. We overate and then got back on the train to London.

That night was our anniversary. We stayed in a tiny studio apartment. A loft. I hate lofts. I’d rather have a futon than a loft.

We were staying in a very posh little neighborhood - and found our way to a good sushi restaurant. We ordered a bottle of Veuve Clicquot to celebrate.

A bottle of Veuve Clicquot on ice

The good stuff.

We read that there was a potential strike planned at Heathrow airport. Airport employees were threatening to strike over pay. We tried to get some information from someone at British Air but got run-around by their customer service representative.

Pro tip: If you buy your tickets through Expedia, airlines will take your money but will hate you.

We got up early, choosing optimism over cancelling our flight and got lucky. The strike was cancelled and our flight was on time. It turned out that we were taking an “inaugural” flight of some Airbus or another from London to Madrid. There was cake, a certificate, and British Air representatives trying desperately to get us to participate in an Instagram photo opportunity. We declined both the photo-op and the cake.

The flight to Madrid was painless. We caught a cab at the airport. The driver was friendly and played tour guide as he wound his way into the old Madrid.

We stayed in an AirBnB in the heart of old Madrid run by a charming older woman. The first floor floors of the building were for renters like us, the top floors housed actual residents. There are two entrances so we didn’t bother the locals.

On our first jet lagged and tired day we ventured out of the apartment and found a drink and a snack right around the corner. It was late afternoon and all kitchens are closed. The bar had tapas, so we got sangria and a snack. We discovered that local drinks (local wine, beer, sangria) are very affordable. €2.50 for a nice glass of wine. We decided at this time to return to Spain and perhaps to retire there.

We walked around a bit and found ourselves in Plaza Mayor around dinner time. We had a bottle of wine and a tremendous pile of Jarmon Iberico and manchego cheese for dinner.

Dinner in an outdoor café

Dinner in the plaza

The big plan for Spain was wine and art. The next day we made our way to the Prado on foot. We lucked into an exhibit of Valezquez, Vermeer, and Rembrandt (among others). We bought tickets in advance and skipped the line. The exhibition was a comparison of Dutch painting to Spanish painting. We saw two excellent Vermeer, several Valezquez, and a few Rembrandt paintings. We also saw a few El Greco and learned of a Spanish painter Juan Ribera. Ribera painted older people with detail, care, and sensitivity. You can almost feel the sagging wrinkled skin.

After the Prado we walked around the nearby Royal Botanical Gardens and found a greenhouse full of exotic things and a small cafe.

Photo of the author, really leaning into his travel look.

Photo of the author, really leaning into his travel look.

The next day we had tickets booked for the Reine Sofia museum (Queen Sofia) which is much smaller than the Prado but has more contemporary art. The Reine Sofia hosts Picasso’s Guernica. It’s a beautiful and moving painting. Very large, all shades of mournful grey. We stomped around the rest of the museum and enjoyed their collection.

We found our way back to our temporary neighborhood, found a drink and a snack, then learned of some street festivals going on. We rested a while in the apartment then went out looking for the street festival. It was big and crowded and there are apparently no laws about open containers in Spain. The music wasn’t for us, so we left and found something to eat and went to bed.

wrought iron and glass building in a park

The Crystal Palace

The next morning we walked through the large park in the center of Madrid, watched boats on the artificial lake and checked out huge Victorian glass building called the “Crystal Palace”. The palace held some modern figurative sculpture - maybe plaster? We had tickets to the Thyssen museum - which had an exhibit of Balenziaga fashion paired with art which (may have) inspired it. The rest of the museum had a great selection of impressionist and modernist art. We saw two Van Gogh and many mid century painters. I saw two large Richard Estes paintings which I’d only seen in books. That was a nice surprise.

After the museum we came back to the park and found a cafe by the artificial lake. We had sangrias and food and chatted while watching the birds and the boats. A loud, bumbling American family bumbled in and the cafe lost its charm.

We made our way to the bus station in the morning by cab and caught a bus to Bilbao. Bus stations and train stations in Spain all have surprisingly good food. We made a judgement error and bought lousy sandwiches to take with us. The bus stopped in a small town and had delicious looking baguettes with jamon. They even sold beer.

Our cab driver in Bilbao was rude and the city struck us as very industrial at first. My wife was disappointed. But once we settled in and walked around, we stumbled into the old town and found that Bilbao is actually very charming. It was a very industrial city years ago, but the arrival of the ridiculous Guggenheim museum changed all of that. The city was revitalized and became a de facto capital of Basque Country. There is lots of food and lovely cafes and shopping in Bilbao. It’s hard to understand the Spanish spoken here, as it’s all flavored with the Basque language. Signs are often Spanish and Basque.

View of the Guggenheim, Bilbao

The Guggenheim is a spectacular sculpture that you can walk through. It’s a pretty lousy building though. The largest exhibition space is the size of an airplane hanger. It hosts several giant Richard Serra sculptures. We walked around them and we got to feel first-hand the claustrophobic fear that they engender. They’re great works. Upstairs was a small exhibit of Gerhardt Richter seascape paintings. Large and grey. They are based on photographs. My pet theory is that they are paintings of photographs of the sea, and not paintings of the sea. The paintings “feel” a bit like large works by Rothko  with their unyielding horizon line and similar colors.

There was also a lousy exhibit of boring-ass Jenny Holzer work. Every artist who became famous in the 80s should just stay home and count their money. I’ve had enough boring, tedious, art-school, museum-only art.

We had lunch at the Guggenheim cafe - which had surprisingly good pinxtos.

The next day we took a tour of Rioja to visit two wineries. We found the tour online and thought it was a little expensive. It turned out to be a private tour with a driver. Our driver picked us up from our AirBnB and took us down to Rioja. We toured two wineries and learned all about how wine is made and regulated in Rioja, down to the color coded stamps which must appear on each bottle.

Rioja valley

The wine we tried was delicious. We bought two bottles to drink on the rest of our trip. After visiting the wineries we stopped in the medieval village of LaGuardia for lunch. We had wine and more pinxtos. Then Rubin drove us back to our AirBnB. We were quite tired after our trip, so we ventured out to find sandwiches at a local bakery, then drank some of our wine and went to bed early.

It turned out that we were less than a kilometer from the train station, so we just hauled our bags over the river and through the roundabout to catch our train in the morning. We discovered, again, that train stations in Spain have pretty decent food. We had coffees and croissants and split a tortilla with bacon.

Train station in Madrid

Train station in Madrid

In order to get from Bilbao to Seville we must first take a train back to Madrid, then another train to Seville.

View from our room in Seville

View from our room in Seville

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