12 August 2008

From Dublin to Birmingham

I didn't take a lot of pictures before, in and after Dublin. During my whole visit it was pouring as if someone had pulled the plug from a heavenly bathtub hovering over eastern Ireland. Not very pleasant. The east coast of Ireland isn't very enjoyable for long distance cycling. There aren't any cyclepaths and the roads as well as the views are rather boring. Trying to cycle into the center of Dublin is a joke. There are simply no roads for cyclists. It is motorways all over the place, each bearing a massive blue sign displaying that neither animals nor cyclists are allowed to enter. I finally have to cycle all the way to the international airport to find a bloody road that takes me into the center.
The nice thing about Dublin is my visit of Simon, an old friend of mine. Our mothers were friends in highschool and so we had spent a lot of time with each other while we were growing up - typically during Christmas and Easter holidays.
I hadn't met Simon for several years and now he's a grown up working in the software industry in Dublin. We have a ball in the pubs of Dublin until closing time. Actually without meeting any Irish... all the customers are tourists and the staff in the pubs normally come from Eastern Europe, Spain and South America.

I also meet with Emma, my colleage from Medecins sans Frontieres who now lives in Zambia. By total coincidence she has an interview in Dublin just that exact day and so we spend the afternoon. Pam (her friend from Belfast, were I had previously stayed) comes down to Dublin for a coffee and some shopping. It is quite the usual procedure: they shop, I gaze. I need nothing. Somewhere I find this announcement (picture below) for a lottery: 3 trips to Hollywood! Every week. "Hell! I won't even need that... I am already on a trip to Hollywood!"

After three days in Dublin I continue my trip down south. The idea is to cycle all the way to the city of Cork in the south west and take a ferry to Wales. When I leave Dublin I encounter the same problem as on my way in: there is no easy way out. It is again motorways all over the place. No animals and no cyclists. Annoyed I stop and wonder how to get out of this mess. Suddenly it starts pouring down like buckets are being empties right above me. I think about putting on my rainwear but it is already too late. Within less than 30 seconds I am drenched.
Now even more annoyed i think: "Screw Cork! And the whole east coast of Ireland with it!" I know there are ferries to Wales from the harbour in the center of Dublin. I am determined to take the next ferry out of there, no matter if the waiting will take a day or a full week. I turn around 180 degrees and make my way into the center.
The harbour is just as big a mess as the Irish roads. I play hide and seek with the ferry terminal but finally arrive at Irish Ferries. The next ship leaves in an hour! But they are already fully booked. My only option is to travel "Club Class", double as expensive but with a designated seat (plus snacks and coffee as much as I desire). I couldn't bother about those extras. I am done with Ireland - so give me Club Class or a Royal Suite, put me in the liferaft or strap me to the mast... just get me aboard that ferry!

On arrival in Wales my mood has lightened. I find a marked cycling track and cycle towards Birmingham. When I try to purchase some supplies in a village shop somewhere in the middle of the Welsh nowhere I face unexpected problems. The girl behind the counter looks bewildered at my money and says: "This is not our money! I won't accept this." I ask her what is wrong. I had withdrawn those bills from an ATM in Northern Ireland. She scrutinizes the bill once again and says: "Your money is Pound Sterling, but here in Wales we use British Pounds!" I laugh and tell her that maybe because of some local patriotism they print different bills in Scotland and Northern Ireland but that in fact the money used all over the United Kingdom is POUND STERLING! And what I just gave her IS a Northern Irish POUND STERLING. Now please let me pay for my milk and bananas.
She remains unimpressed. Different money in other parts of the great empire? No way. She has to call her boss. He doesn't answer the phone and I don't get my milk and bananas until Paul arrives, an older guy who had worked in a different village store all his life. He looks at the bill and says that it should in theory be fine. But the girl doesn't want to believe him unless he takes responsibility to refund her if I paid in counterfeit. He refuses and her trust in his long years of village shop experience go down the drain... She again tries to call her boss. I am about to leave. (Drink your fucking milk yourself. After all it is skimmed milk because you don't even have wholemilk in your darned shop!) Then suddenly she decides to trust Paul and cashes my ten pound note.
As I leave the shop I wonder if there isn't another ferry somewhere close that could relieve me of the whole of Britain.
Then I see a roadsign that announces: "Gyrrwch yn ddiogel." I think to myself: "Alright, if that means "Drive safely" in Welsh, no wonder there are hick-ups with the Northern Irish currency. In fact I wouldn't be surprised if they had problems with their own currency!"
I smile and head deeper into Wales.

I enter the national park of Snowdonia. It is truly beautiful here. A calm road takes me uphill and through a lush valley to the Welsh/English border. One more night until Birmingham where I visit friends that I know from my studies in China. I move my bike over an electric fence and sleep on an empty green.
Well, it is empty until at 6 in the morning I hear a slurping sound and something touches the outside of my tent. I am suddenly very awake and slowly open the zipper of my tent. There stand at least 20 cows. All young bulls. They gaze at me with increased interest and continue to lick my bicycle and tent. Very cute. But then again I wonder where they draw the line between their territory and my territory. I get out of the tent but they remain pretty unimpressed. Afraid that my stuff ends up digested seven times I take action by banging my cooking pots and running after them. It helps.

I start boiling water for my morning coffee and wonder how I will possibly survive a horde of cheetas in Central Africa when I already start sweating over a couple of peaceful grass eaters...

Cao Yang (right), Luo Yi (middle) moved to England six years ago and now have two children Yi Yang (left) and Yang Yi (temporarily with his grand parents in China).
We all know from our time in Wuxi. Luo Yi studied Interior Design and Cao Yang Graphics Design. We spent a lot of time with each other in China. We travelled to Nanjing (an ancient capital of China) and Chengdu and to a very mountain range called "The four girls" close to the Tibetan border. We went out or stayed in and cooked dinner and shared everything. Most of all a good time. (The only thing we didn't share were 30 rabbit heads which were marinated in a spicy sauce. I had previously tried everything. But I couldn't get those down. So Cao Yang and Luo Yi munched away on them during our 40 hour train journey from Chengu back to Wuxi.)
They both worked extremely hard to make a living in Europe. Most of their friends who stayed in China now have fancy careers and nice appartments. But Cao Yang and Luo Yi value the experience of living abroad and seeing things from a different angle. After all, they can always go back to China.

We stroll in the park, do a Chinese BBQ in the garden, repair Yi Yangs bicycle, visit the center of Birmingham and go see a movie with Yi Yang. In the evenings Cao Yang cooks the most fantastic Chinese dishes and we hang out and talk about the past, the present and the future. They (we) all miss China. But there are also lots of positive things about living in England. Yi Yangs bi-lingual education or the fact that you can just go to a park or museum free of charge.

I take the time to look after my bicycle, give it a thorrough check. In a store in the center of Birmingham I finally get some adhesive foil and start to create little flags for all the countries I visited since the beginning of this trip around the planet. Now, everytime I cross a border I add a new flag until hopefully my blue frame will disappear under a colourful international adhesive carpet...

1 comment:

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