By John Hubbuch
It seems like every age cohort has its own special preferences. Young adults in their 20s prefer Twitter and Facebook and pursue the latest smartphone. Old people like me go to Europe.
People with a little disposable income in their 60s all seem to get the idea to tour historic Irish and Italian landmarks at about the same time. Ten years ago, I had never heard of Rick Steves. Now he is our travel god. I'm guessing the catalyst for this travel mania is the emerging concern that soon enough we won't be able to get out of bed, much less go to London.
So Marsha and I, along with two other Oak Park couples, headed out to Ireland on Oct. 8 for a 10-night visit. We got off to a bad start when our American Airlines flight left three hours late. Being resourceful, our little band headed to the bar. Fortified by the sweet nepenthe of liquor, we somehow survived 7 hours of being placed in stress positions banned by the Geneva Convention. At least we weren't waterboarded.
We rented a big van at the Dublin airport and headed cross-country to Galway. Thankfully, I avoided having to pilot our mini-bus because I never learned to drive a stick shift. Everyone agreed picking up that skill while driving donkey paths on the left side was not the optimal learning laboratory. Thank God.
I loved Ireland. Every little town had an old abbey, church or castle that was at least 500 years old. We somehow found the poet Yeats' summer cottage and spent an hour traipsing the adjacent woods. We saw a pre-historic fort built hard against a 500-foot sheer wall abutting the Atlantic. It was older than the pyramids. I've never seen so many different shades of green. The gurgling of the streams was even sweeter than those of my sound machine. The food was decent (the very high bar of Oak Park and Chicago restaurants is hard to top).
I grew to appreciate the struggle of a people to throw off the chains of English absentee landlordship. It was a struggle that lasted 500 years. Much of Ireland is littered with graves and monuments that recall this dark past. I began to like the Downton Abbey aristocrats a little less. We visited the remains of a shack, better suited for animals, which housed a family during the Great Famine that dramatically depopulated Ireland in the 1850s.
Yet despite this dark history, the people were as friendly, lively and engaged as any you might ever meet. 50 million Americans can trace their ancestors to Ireland, so there is a strong connection between the two countries. I much enjoyed the "craic" — the lively pub banter. The country has lots of sarcastic smart-asses and wise-guys — two groups of people with whom I feel great fellowship. These folks could not figure out our politics, and I told them I couldn't either. Far better to order another Guinness and listen to some more trad music.
It was a great trip, but after about eight nights I was ready to come home. I began to miss the comfort and certainty of my daily routines. I really missed my family and Lily and Ava. But soon enough I suspect we'll think about the next trip.
I'm sure Rick Steves has a book on France. Bonjour. Je voudrais un glasse du vin.