The Screwdriver Diaries: European Edition, Part One
There is a lot of pressure to have fun on vacation. Most of the working class gets a limited amount of R&R time, and to waste it in any way is an almost unpardonable sin. To me, waste is the most relaxing thing one can do – waste a day reading, waste it sitting and thinking and talking and writing and drinking wine in a foreign country. You won’t regret it.
I know there will be people that find my stories of leisure and relaxation from Italy and Ireland to be boring. I know that because I read travel guides and websites and got recommendations, solicited and unsolicited, from many people before we left and I gotta be honest, I ignored a lot of you. It’s not because I don’t appreciate your ideas – I may not but that’s not the point. I wanted to do things that sounded fun to me.
The following recollections are not suggestions of what you should or should not do if you decide to journey across the Atlantic. If you’d like to follow the path we laid down, know that you’re following the path of a Catholic math nerd and a head-in-the-clouds Protestant vagabond who got endless enjoyment from walking to the nearest pub or wine bar in between seeing buildings that were hundreds or thousands of years old. We did not exactly trod the same ground as the people who did the day-long biking tours.
We had a wonderful time. Mrs. Me loved Italy, I loved Ireland and we both enjoyed Vatican City tremendously. But there were many little moments that made this the ultimate ‘baby moon’ (apparently that’s the name of the last big trip before you have a kid) and I tried to make notes of what I wanted to say about each of them.
Mrs. Me and I are pretty non-confrontational when it comes to each other. We both go with the flow. And while that’s a helpful state for a marriage most of the time, standing on a corner in a foreign country while having the same ‘What-do-you-want-to-do-I-don’t-care-what-do-you-want-to-do?’ conversation five times a day will only leave both of you frustrated. Somebody has to take control a little bit.
I’m not Catholic. I won’t ever be Catholic; you guys have a lot of rules, and I am not much for following rules. But even a Protestant can be moved by the sights and sounds around Vatican City. It’s been the cornerstone of the Christian World for a millennia. That’s a good run.
Instead of trying to clumsily use words to describe what I saw and how I saw it, here’s some photos.
On our final night in Dublin, we were sitting in a pub – stunner, right? Anyway, this old fella got a beer from the bar and sat a table near us when nature called. He sauntered up to us and asked, in a very polite growl, if I could tell him which way the Jackson room was.
I was not prepared for this question.
I was prepared for some language barriers in Italy, in that the extent of my Italian is hello, good-bye, thank you, you’re welcome and swear words. Buongiorno dannazione was not a sentence I expected to say and I was proven correct.
But Ireland is an English-speaking nation, and I had a tough time keeping up with them. Accents – so many accents, so strong that even the non-Gaelic’s occasionally sounded Gaelic. Anyway, turns out ‘Jackson Room’ is a slang term for bathroom.
I wouldn’t suggest this to anyone who didn’t appreciate the novelty of the event, but somehow we stumbled onto the Irish professional baseball league and went out to watch a game. Skill-wise, it was equal to a low-level high school JV game. The youngest player looked to be 16, and the oldest was probably in his 50s.
I’ve been watching baseball since I was a fetus, and I saw things that Sunday afternoon I have never seen before. Like a dropped pop-up that somehow turned into a double play. Like a rundown that ended after three throws when the baserunner stopped because he didn’t know what he was supposed to do anymore. Like players smoking cigarettes and wandering off to piss in the woods between innings. I heart you so much, Irish baseball.
I was excited to fly on what had generously been dubbed the ‘Southwest Airlines of Western Europe’ from Rome to Dublin, but what I didn’t know was that if your bag weighed more than 15 kilograms (about 33 pounds), they would slap you with fines and yell at you in Italian. Fly Aer Lingus; it sounds cooler anyway.
I discovered cab drivers in Ireland are an occasionally devious bunch. Drop you off one place when you wanted to be somewhere else. Drive you around because you don’t necessarily know where you’re going. One tip I picked up was to never grab a cab that’s parked out in front of the hotel: that’s a dead giveaway that you’re a tourist and don’t know where you are.
Conversely, the Italian cabbies, in addition to being insane drivers, were never exactly fussed about getting you to your destination. More than once we were dropped near where we were trying to go, and then given vague half-English, half-Italian instructions on how to get to the end of our journey.
Continuing our travel theme, I’ve been on a train maybe four times in my life. I’ve never lived anywhere that it was more convenient to travel by train than car or plane. And after visiting Europe, I kind of wish I did because what a luxurious way to travel.
I’m not talking about a subway system here. I’m talking commuter train with seatbacks and tray tables that you could put your whole weight on and take a nap (did that) and no luggage restriction at all and no turbulence or chance somebody is going to rear-end you because they’re texting. If you get the chance, I highly recommend it. We’ve already decided that’s how we’ll travel next time we head across the pond.
As Mrs. Me pointed out, it sure is weird to be taking selfies in a place where thousands of people fought to the death over the course of a few hundred years. Still… between the Colosseum and the Forum, there was a very Gladiator feel to the place.
As pubs are to Ireland, small gelato shops were to Rome. Every few feet you could be sure to find another small gelato shop, and it would be delicious every time. I lost count of how many times I had gelato in Italy. In related news, I’m significantly fatter now than I was when we left.
Fish and chips. Bangers and Mash. ‘Blank and blank’ anything was a good combo in Ireland.
Now, the full Irish breakfast – that would catch up to you if you had it too often. Irish bacon (rashers), sausage, mushrooms, potatoes and pudding is all delicious but have a couple of helpings of that and then walk around all morning, toss down some early-afternoon dark beer and flee to the bathroom.
Driving in Rome seems to be a complicated dance. Traffic rules are nothing more than helpful suggestions. Drivers just weave into traffic, and create a space wherever they want to. And despite all this haphazard nonsense, not once did I see two Italian guys standing outside their cars screaming at one another in Italian. I was there six days and not once did I see a wreck. They know what they’re doing.
In Italy, one spends a lot of time staring at the ceiling. Even the most out-of-the-way cathedral is likely to be adorned with an epic scene splayed across its ceiling and of course the Sistine Chapel is the piece de resistance of such things.
Not naked people wandering the streets (that I saw anyway). But if I’m understanding what I saw correctly, the way to have a masterpiece of art was to make sure it prominently featured some naked folks. There were whole rooms devoted to people who were missing clothes.
Part Two…sometime. Maybe tomorrow.