A Tramp’s Abroad: Exhausted with a week to go



 “I think, that if I touched the earth,
It would crumble;
It is so sad and beautiful,
So tremulously like a dream.”

– Dylan Thomas


















I’m black and blue all over from collisions with walls, doors, fences but most of all my luggage. Not one known for my grace, it’s not too surprising I’m dotted with vicious black bruises from top to bottom. And I’m being literal when I say bottom. I misjudged the distance between my posterior and some castle steps today. And I didn’t take it well at all. The place is probably still ringing with my shriek of pain.

I am a danger to myself. Probably a good thing I may be experiencing my last trip abroad. May be? Probably am.

In better news we made it across the Irish Sea yesterday. I’m so glad I’ll go back across before I fly home. Two more days will I spend wandering Dublin all by myself and there’s so much left on my to see list. I hardly saw any literary sites and only one bookshop, where I purchased a general book about Irish writers and another by Hugo Hamilton. He spoke at the writers festival and I was intrigued. So now I’m set to check out his work. I’m anxious to see places related to Joyce and Wilde and Beckett and all the others who’ve called Dublin home.

I’ll be staying right on the Liffey these last days. Hope I can manage to find my way and without too much pain. This journey leaves me so exhausted I can’t even tell you. I’ll see what I’m able, then spend the rest of the hours in quiet contemplation of the whole trip. I’ve been too tired to keep up my journal so I’ll do that as well. I’ll probably blog a bit, to justify the back-breaking decision to bring my laptop, too.

i’ll keep things as casual as possible and do what I can. Meantime, Wales is lovely and I’m enjoying it immensely. Bruises and all. Here are a couple photos, to end with. Whoops, sorry. Seems I can’t control photos  on my phone.

Enjoy anyway.




A Tramp’s Abroad: What books to bring? The Literature of Ireland and Wales



“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

– Mark Twain




I’m not bringing my Kindle to Ireland/Wales. Instead, I have the convenient Kindle app on my iPhone. Not that I don’t love paper books – please – but there’s nothing more comforting than knowing I’ll never be without reading material. As long as my battery lasts, that is. There’s your indisputable reason for the codex, aside from the aesthetic pleasure found in the feel of paper, the sound of pages turning. Nothing can replicate that.

I associate the sound of pages turning with restfulness. When I hear it I feel as close to a hint of joy as ever I do. If I could buy a sound machine with the setting “pages turning” I would. Instant relaxation, plus a stimulation of pleasure receptors in my brain. Not sexual but lulling. Is it from childhood, being read to? Partially but also the hours and hours I’ve spent reading real books. Generations forward who don’t know this have my pity. Will they feel the same for keys clacking?

The idea breaks my heart.

What actual paper books should I bring? God, I could go crazy but I know I must not or I’ll end up either tossing them out or, more likely, pitching worn clothing to lighten the load. Would be a shame to run out of clothes and no, I’m not being sarcastic meaning I want to buy replacements abroad. A hand-knitted woolen sweater, yes. Jeans and everyday shirts? Not so much. Waste of time I could spend hunting out pubs or taking candid photos of Celtic crosses and brightly-colored buildings. Everyday clothing is boring boring boring but a necessity. Books are essential but I don’t mind hunting out bookshops to build inventory. A key difference.

I have a book of Irish short stories I bought at Half Price Books, for the sole purpose of reading either before I leave or while traveling. I may bring it and – cover your eyes – rip out stories as I finish to lighten the load, making room for souvenirs and/or mementos I happen upon. May even remove the hard cover before I go; every little bit helps. Sorry if it horrifies you but this is a cheaply published book and it’s the content that matters over the book itself. Unless it’s an exceptional book, mind. Wouldn’t catch me ripping pages out of the Gutenberg Bible, say, or halving the Declaration of Independence so it folds better (not a book, of course, yadda yadda).

For novels, I have Roddy Doyle’s A Star Called Henry. Haven’t read any of his and he of course won the Booker for Paddy Clark Ha Ha Ha. Then there’s Nuala O’Faolain‘s Are You Somebody? , an autobiography of growing up in Dublin. Christ, I didn’t realize she’d died. I was just thinking, what if I pulled strings and contacted her, then saw on Wikipedia she died in 2008. She was a journalist, an autobiographer, a novelist… And she died at 68 of cancer. Far too young.


“I don’t want more time. As soon as I heard I was going to die, the goodness went from life”.

– Nuala O’Faolain


I’m interested in de Valera but don’t want to buy anything new here, I have so much. I have a bio of Michael Collins (my brother’s name, by the way, though he’s more likely named for the astronaut) but it’s huge and heavy. I’ve heard there are bookshops in Ireland, though. What a shame it would be to have to resort to buying a book there. A last resort, naturally. Because it would be so painful and all. And I’ve gone to the trouble to map out the bookshops. Shockingly unlike me.

I’ll write a lot, of course, and that passes time as well as reading. Embarrassingly for my daughter, I like taking notes during tours. When I hear about or see something I’d like to research further there is no way I’ll trust to remembering it. A Moleskine’s my favorite notebook, a nice sharp point pen – scratch! scratch! – my favorite writing implement. I’ve always had a thing for those disposable fountain pens (purple, in honor of Virginia Woolf) but have had unfortunate incidents in which they’ve exploded all over me, or in my purse. Or on my fingers. Air travel, with its variances in air pressure, may not be the best environment for them. Fine-tipped pens it is.

Do I want to bring something by Joyce, though, considering? Maybe Dubliners, the short story collection. Not Ulysses, good god, though if I find a beautiful copy of that or any Joyce while in Ireland I may have to pounce. I have at least two different editions of Ulysses but it’s Ireland, for god’s sake. Maybe I’ll download one to my Kindle? If it will fit.


“One by one they were all becoming shades. Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age.”

–  James Joyce,Dubliners


Perhaps a new Irish writer will catch my eye, a shiny new book in a bookstore window. Or an incredibly old, yellowed volume in a used bookshop. We hear about only a small percentage of world authors here in the States, only the big names make it over. I sometimes stumble upon authors serendipitously, writers I feel should be better known. I love introducing them here in the Colonies, reviewing them here, on Goodreads and Amazon can be powerful word of mouth advertising in the bibliosphere. Readers are forever on the hunt for novelty. Pun not intended.


“She even learnt the language of a strange country which Senior Cosetti had been told some people believed still existed, although no-one in the world could say where it was. The name of this country was Wales.” 

-Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell


There’s no lack of Irish writing, a blessing and a curse for a reader. Books about Ireland, the same. Nonfiction about Irish immigration to America would be great, since that’s part of my own ancestry. I own some of that, as well, but it could be dry reading, unless I pick a good one. Though not about immigration, How the Irish Saved Civilization is one I’ve meant to get to for ages. It may get me a free drink in a pub, too, with that laudatory title. And I know it to be true – the saving, not the free drinks.

I feel as if I’m giving Wales short shrift. Hard not to in comparison to towering literary Ireland. There’s Dylan Thomas, Roald Dahl, Richard Llewellyn (I’ve read How Green Was My Valley at least twice and loved it – if you haven’t read it, it’s set amongst poverty-stricken Welsh coal miners and is a brilliant portrait) and it’s here I start running out of gas and have to consult a source besides my own brain:

Rhys Davies (Heard of him, vaguely.)

Jack Jones

Gwyn Thomas

Idris Davies (Of working class origin, he wrote in Welsh.)

Geraint Goodwin

R.S. Thomas

Emyr Humphreys

Raymond Williams

Bernice Rubens (Aha! I’ve heard of her! And thought she was Canadian…)

Ruth Bidgood

Gillian Clarke

Several more poets but I’m not heavily into poetry.

But what of current Welsh writers, from Bernice Rubens on? As with most of the names above, I know none of these writers:

Niall Griffiths

Malcolm Pryce

Both of these were born in England, with Welsh roots.

Nikita Lalwani (From India, raised in Wales.)

Trezza Azzopardi (Thought she was Italian?)

Jan Morris

Ack, frustrating. Was it the poverty of the Welsh, the day to day necessity of survival that has kept them from producing writers or are they so obscure even Wikipedia isn’t picking them up? I can’t believe there aren’t more Welsh writers. Something’s amiss.

Ah, here we go: the Wales Book of the Year award.

They’re alive and breathing, just not well promoted. Or, drowned out by their neighbors to the East and West, two literary powerhouses. This gives me something to work with, perhaps I’m only a Kindle download away from great Welsh writing.



“I think, that if I touched the earth,
It would crumble;
It is so sad and beautiful,
So tremulously like a dream.” 

– Dylan Thomas


I can see now my backpack will be bulging. I’ll be stumbling over it in the cramped coach section. My poor seat mate! The airline should warn people, maybe with color-coded name tags: “Caution: READER!” Now seating THE READERS, stand clear.

Magazines… Literary journals… I have those cluttering up the place. I could bring a few, finish and hand them off. It would feel good getting through a dozen or so.

Now look what I’ve done, creating an impossible list of reads for what’s to be a very visual travel experience. I won’t be reading on buses and trains! I’ll have my nose pressed to the glass, camera ready. Still, I feel I need to familiarize myself with the culture and of course the writing is my go to favorite. I love museums and am wild for archaeology in the wide open but I need to know the literature to know the people. To understand their soul.

Perhaps I’ll bring Roddy Doyle and the short stories to represent Ireland and whatever I can lay hands on from modern Welsh literary fiction or non. Plus the Kindle, natch. And along the way, who knows? I’m sure something will pop up. Books, literary journals, newspapers… I should be okay.

Recommendations? Shoot.







A Tramp’s Abroad: In the planning home stretch [updated]


Christ, would someone help me? Anyone? It’s the last weekend before I leave for Ireland and I’m feeling so overwhelmed. I took a guidebook for Ireland into the bath with me and realized by this point I’d have already read and printed out reams upon reams of information about culture, history, literature, etc., of every stop we’re planning to make for a regular family vacation but for this trip to Ireland and the UK, of all places, with just myself and my daughter, I’ve done almost nothing. Not for lack of wanting, mind, but general ennui.

Why the unhappy? All the reasons. Just all the reasons. The crunch of time, the busy-ness of work and the graduation party taking up so much time. The all of it. I’ve plucked my head nearly bald from the stress. (Not really. I spend far too much time and money “enhancing” its natural luster to dare do that. Still, if not for that I would. Well, no. Probably still not.)




 General Ennui


Have I started packing? Of course not. Have I even made a list? NO. I am paralyzed with indecision. It is well and truly awful. What I have done is spend hours and hours and hours and hours weighing hotel options, booking here and cancelling there, etc. There was a reasonably-priced hotel in the area of Temple Bar in Dublin, and I had it booked for a while, but realized I felt far too worried about its possibly dangerous reputation to justify saving a few dollars. It’s just not worth it. If you don’t know Temple Bar, it’s billed as the Bohemian section of Dublin. It’s where young people, mostly, go to get drunk. Live in Chicago? It’s Rush St. with an Irish accent. Is it dangerous? I just don’t know. Maybe. Depends which website you believe or whose advice you take.

[Update: Have since heard from a reliable source Temple Bar’s not so terrible. May re-think options.]

[Update to the Update: The hotel just off Central Dublin’s still cheaper.]

So, I bounced from hotel to hotel to hotel (how did we book trips before the internet?), booking several rooms I knew I could cancel for free, until finally I settled on the best place for the best price. It’s a bit out of Central Dublin but not much. Plus, the Hop On/Hop Off Dublin bus stops right around the corner, near a restaurant that looks absolutely lovely. We’ll have to try it, along with the sweet little coffee shop nearby.






Another thing I love? Google maps street view. It’s addictive clicking that wee man, sending him running up and down all the streets. I like placing him in harm’s way, in the centers of streets, in danger to life and limb. Why? Ease of entertainment. But it is, truly, great for checking out neighborhoods, finding restaurants and shops and things in easy reach of other things. It’s not perfect. It wouldn’t, for instance, take me for a stroll in Phoenix Park, Dublin. Still miffed about that. Haven’t tried the Dublin Zoo, though. Yet.

We have two-day passes for the Hop on/Hop off bus mentioned earlier, which will take us past all the major sites. I’m of a mind to sit through the entire tour, to get my bearings, then start the hopping. From each stop we can wander wherever the mood strikes us. It may be The Lazy Woman’s Guide to Dublin but it’s easiest. For a first trip there it should work quite well. Next time I’ll have seen what everyone sees on a first visit and can stroll like a native, sucking on a pipe, wearing a trench coat, looking worldly wise.

I want to go, I just don’t want to do any actual work to get there. I want to know facts about all the places we visit but it’s too much work getting all that together. I don’t know anyone willing or able to recommend, or caution against, anything in Dublin. I’m researching minimally the “old fashioned” way, via guidebooks and online recommendations. The Guinness Storehouse is on every list but it sounds far too commercial, despite the promised panoramic view of the city from the top of the building. I’m sure it’s a fascinating lesson in the art of brewing beer but I can’t get past the rather obvious retail element. Not that I’m opposed to Guinness (or retail, for that matter). Oh no! But I’ll have mine in a pub, thanks, where the atmosphere’s more Irish than a mish-mash of nationalities. If I wanted the melting pot I’d stay home.

There’s Christ Church Cathedral, a must visit. It’s the oldest building in Dublin, plus has both a creepy crypt (which can be rented out for social functions, kid you not) and bell tower.





Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, crypt


Trinity College Dublin holds the Book of Kells, a medieval illuminated manuscript. You can see digital reproductions of every, single page at the college’s website (which kept getting hung up for me).





Stunning but strange, at the same time.



Kilmainham Gaol is just that, an 18th century jail. Supposed to be worth the visit. Éamon de Valera, Irish patriot, spent time there.

St. Michan’s Church (1095) holds a crypt filled with mummies.

You can’t visit the other churches in Dublin without including St. Patrick’s, last resting place of Jonathan Swift, et. al.

Perhaps it’s Parnell Square Irish Writers’ Museum I look forward to most, though it will bore the living hell out of my daughter.  Maybe I’ll send her shopping, instead.

So much more: the footsteps of James Joyce, the Famine Memorial, Joyce statue, used book shops and roaming the lovely parks. I should be able to get a grip on two days’ worth of Dublin easily enough, with the help of the Hop On, Hop Off. Plus, I’ll loop back around to Dublin before I fly home, spending two last nights in a hotel right on the Liffey. A bit of ‘me’ time for quiet contemplation, roaming bookshops, absorbing Dublin life and culture as it goes past. Maybe I’ll visit the zoo, take a few hundred photos of wildlife and its visitors. Or have another look at the Book of Kells. Doesn’t much matter what I do so long as I’m there.

First questions: what to bring and how much, which books to carry along, how much information about Dublin sights to read beforehand and bring with me.

I have our hotel. I have our bus pass. I have two one-day tours booked. I have a lovely map of Dublin, plus a smart phone and the inherent ability to ask Dublin natives for help.

Over the first hurdle I must jump. If I start packing, then hopefully things should begin to fall into place. A bit of enthusiasm would be nice, as well. Where did it all go?

[Update: Have started packing!]

Right, then.








My god I hate planning trips




I cannot tell you how many hours I have spent planning my upcoming trip to Ireland and Wales, certainly more than I’ll spend in the air – both going to and coming back from Dublin.

The Euro and British Pound both crush the dollar; hotels are ungodly expensive. I don’t even want to know what food will cost. Adding up our hotel and bus tour totals I had the passing thought maybe it would be safe to sleep on park benches. Dublin’s a nice city. It has loads and loads of parks. We could switch every night, maybe even take turns sitting up watching our luggage. I’d feel a lot better about eating and drinking if that load were off my back. Another alternative would be fighting the pigeons for bread, perhaps camouflaging ourselves somehow so we look like overgrown birds. Dodos, maybe.

Are you sure no one out there lives in Dublin and has a floor to spare?


I shaved a day off Dublin to save a few Euros or Pounds or however you convert hotel money spent in Wales instead of Ireland’s capital city. Still far from cheap, even in relatively far-flung Welsh towns. I chose Bangor, partly because it’s pretty and partly because it’s a nice, leisurely trip over the sea then by train. It’s sort of ocean-front, though not really since we’re staying inland, somewhere I can’t believe actually is considered Bangor but then again Wales is a tiny country. What we will have are glorious mountain views. I suppose I’m okay with that, since we’ll see loads of the sea when we get back around to Swansea. We’ll have the all-around package before it’s said and done. Much money will be spent but many things will be seen.

It’s only a one-time thing, right?

You know who I envy right now? Travel journalists. I want to knock their heads together, I’m so jealous. Perhaps if I’d studied journalism in college, even had a clue what was out there for journalists, I may have worked my way up to travel writing. As it is, I think this is it. Oh, maybe I’ll write a novel, some stories, a stray article and certainly many more book reviews but I feel sick to my stomach when I consider what instruction in writing may have done for me. Honestly, I had no idea what the world held. I grew up in a cornfield, in Central Illinois. Not too horribly far from where David Foster Wallace lived but let’s not think about that.

Please, let’s not think about that.

I didn’t know about MFAs. It didn’t cross my mind to go to a real college with journalism majors. Hard to imagine anyone less informed than I. Yes, I read an awful lot and wrote stupid bits and pieces but now here I am and I can’t see how I’d possibly progress much from here. As far as travel writing, what a joke! My best risk-taking days are behind me, at least my first flush of youth. In my favor, I have stopped giving much of a damn about appearing stupid or childish in public. My kids can confirm that. But with my knees, obstinate refusal to “rough it” and great dislike of crowded places I’m not the best candidate to complete with Paul Theroux. He can rest easily on that account.

Still, surely there’s something I can do, without breaking the bank?

Och, why did I waste my youth! I’m of course the only person to have this regret, the only person to suffer so. And while I’m getting what may be this last chance to travel, with three kids I certainly can’t make a habit of it. Would anyone be interested in travel writing about what’s a day’s trip from where I live?

Hell, no!

Stuck I am, planning one last itinerary, spending an indecent amount of money, doomed to suburbia for the rest of my years. My pathetic years…

Well, that was cathartic. Maybe drowning in the Liffey would be an impressive way to go out, eh? At least I’d make a headline that way.






My grand adventure. Steel yourselves, Ireland and Wales.


My tickets to Ireland are bought, passport applied for, at least half my hotels reserved, itinerary filled with wonderful things.

Twelve days in Ireland and Wales. Thought I was done with foreign travel, what with my advanced age (I know: shut up) and having all three children lined up like jets waiting to hit the runway, in or soon entering college. How will we afford it? You get used to that paralyzing fear, I suppose, realizing you’d best take what you can while you can, because who knows when the chance will come again, if ever.

Turns out there is a fringe benefit to sending my oldest to study in Wales for a semester: Mum gets to go visit! And it’s a happy thing. So happy I’m hesitant to trust it, lest it be pulled out from under my feet. Even this curmudgeon believes that won’t happen, considering it’s come together so quickly. Thank you, MasterCard! And thank you, internet, TripAdvisor and Booking.com. Long may you wave.

Next begins the hardcore research phase, the learning of historical and literary significance of places we’ll visit, which takes the longest of all the steps on my list. Longer even than contemplating how the piles of clothing I’ve assembled will fit into the carry on, which is all I’m bringing with me since I don’t want to deal with luggage claim or dragging a boulder on wheels wherever I go. Cruising past lines of people dolefully resigned to half an hour’s wait at the luggage belt will put a smile on my face. Realizing how little I actually have with me won’t.

I can blame my husband for setting the precedent, becoming the standard by which the rest of us will measure all future packing. He took our middle child to Italy last year, to meet the extended family on his father’s side. The two of them subsisted solely on the contents of a carry on bag each. Of course, they’re men. Men don’t need as many accoutrements. My blow dryer, curling iron, make up and hair products will take up half the damned thing. I’ll be left with a one foot by one foot space in which to fit twelve outfits, because who wants to do laundry on vacation?

Even with futuristic “Space Bags’ I don’t know how I’ll manage that. It is remarkable how much you can fit into a plastic bag that’s had all the air sucked out but still. Packing dresses will help, since they take up so much less space than a standard jeans and top outfit. But I don’t want to wear dresses for twelve days. Molting worn, dirty clothing,  buying cheap replacements as I go along is an alternative. But then, what a waste of precious travel time.



First worries, first. Finish bookings, flesh out itinerary, research the hell out of everything.

Plane tickets bought: CHECK!

Passport application sent: CHECK!

Travel guides bought: CHECK!

Hotel booked for arrival and time in Dublin: CHECK!

Bus tour of sites we could never get to by ourselves in the space of one day: CHECK!

Contact established with Dublin Literary Fest management made: CHECK!

Reading up on history: IN PROGRESS.

Still plenty of time to stew on the difficulties, as I don’t leave until May 22. Right on track. Besides that, first I have Colm Toibin’s talk to look forward to and my interview with him in the queue.

Busy as a bee.

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