Photo by Jason DeVarennes

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Happy Birthday Dave

This trip to Ireland began in mid September 2017 - I'm slowly getting around to posting 

Monday arrived and we found ourselves all alone.  On Sunday, Daphne and Kevin left for Portugal. Dave had an assignment in Macroom for a week. So Siobhan and Sam went out to stay with Grandma in Belmullet. John and I still hadn't decided quite what to do. My initial thoughts had been to get the train up to Sligo and tour around Donegal, but the weather wasn't looking particularly favorable up that way. Then I got a notification that it was Dave's birthday. How had we let that slip?

We came up with a plan to head in the direction of Macroom, take Dave out for his birthday and then take in the southwest peninsulas. We'd skipped these popular tourist destinations last summer, figuring traffic would be unpleasant, but decided since it was now off-season, we might find quieter roads. But first it was off to Macroom. We decided to get the train out to Mallow and then ride from there to Macroom. So we loaded the bikes up and cycled into Carlow to catch the train.

We had a combination of 3 trains to get to Mallow: Carlow to Kildaire, change to Portlaoise, then change to Mallow. At least we didn't have to travel all the way back into Dublin, and the connection times were short.

When booking our train tickets, I also booked the bikes. As we discovered a few years ago, even when paying for a bike ticket, this doesn't guarantee an appropriate spot on the train.  Now one no longer has to pay additional for bikes, but they do mark bike on the ticket, which we have discovered still means nothing.

Accommodation varies from train to train. Some trains have baggage cars. Some have a bike rack, with just one rack per train that takes a total of two bikes. On a previous tour, after paying 10 euro for the bikes, we found ourselves on a train with 4 bikes and a single rack for two. We also had a cranky conductor, who yelled at us, when we parked the bikes in a wide open handicap area, after finding the rack full. What, exactly, had we paid for?

When we arrived on the platform in Carlow, the attendant there told us to go to the car with the bike symbol on it. Of course, no one knew until the train arrived - where in the train this car would be so we had to scramble to get to the far of the train. When we did arrive, we found the bike rack full of luggage - not bikes, but a bunch of suitcases!  The trains here have plenty of overhead space for standard luggage, but just this one little spot for bikes. So I was pretty disgusted to find the area full of suitcases. Fortunately the conductor said to just park our bikes in the space between the engine and first car. It was a short journey and they would be fine there.

Similar to Amtrak, the bike racks are pretty poorly designed, especially with regards to fenders. Here on the Emerald Isle, where fenders are almost essential, one might think they would be more aware. But no. The area is shorter than the length of a bike, meaning the bike has to go in at an angle. With fenders, you need to angle the bike nose down, and if the rear fender is in anyway long, even that might not work without mauling the fender. And as you can see a handlebar bag further complicates things.

We got my bike in, and then put John's in an a different angle, and took seats directly across.

Imagine my shock when a passenger got on and tried to plop a suitcase down between our bikes, as if we had taken his special suitcase storage area!

The final leg had a baggage car, which made things much easier. But we also had assigned seats, which ended up being in the car at the other end of the train! At least this segment was long enough that we didn't spend the whole journey walking back and forth!

When we hopped off in Mallow, the friendly platform conductor tried to herd us onto the train to Tralee... because who would cycle from Mallow. Of course we were going to Tralee! We successfully navigated our way out of the train station and the town and began our tour.

Naturally, we headed up to a wind farm. This became a recurring theme for me last year. Inevitably, I would start climbing, and see the wind farm and eventually find myself riding right through it. Ireland is a windy place, and folks have decided it really is a good idea to harness that. This means there are wind farms on tops of hills everywhere.

Not a sign to towns, but to each turbine!

Conditions on top were a bit foggy, and the road deteriorated to the point I feared might not go through. Fortunately, it eventually did and then we found ourselves being blown downhill into Macroom.

So... Dave is an archaeologist. In Ireland whenever there is new construction, whether is a big office building, manufacturing plant or highway, it has to be surveyed by archaeologists, since there is so much history buried everywhere. Dave's had a few long term assignments, and when he was single, it wasn't a big deal to find himself traveling around the country - usually with his bike in tow, and able to explore new areas. Married now, with a young son, it is less appealing, and a bit more hassle. The Macroom assignment was short enough and did include housing. We'd just planned to stay in a B&B in town, but Dave said he had plenty of room. He did mention at the last minute, it was up a big hill.

He wasn't kidding. I joked that I was willing to pay a lot of money for a hotel in town that didn't involve this climb!

Luckily we used his car to go back into town for the birthday dinner. Sadly I got a bad piece of fish and spent the night dealing with food poisoning. We stayed in Macroom and took it easy the next day, which happened to coincide with seriously heavy rain. If I had to get sick, at least it was on a day I was happy to not ride.

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