For some reason, I was expecting Bangkok to be as noisy, polluted and chaotic as Mumbai, Kathmandu or Hanoi. Instead it seemed surprisingly modern, orderly, quiet and clean - at least compared to nearly all the large cities we had seen in the past months.
We stayed in the Sukhumvit District in a smaller and very comfortable boutique hotel. We made it to some large shopping centres and nightlife areas. But we had very little time to spare overall and after the girls finished their shopping on the 2nd day, in preparation for going to Europe, we realised we were too late to see some of the main tourist sights. We set off anyway by taxi to at least get an outside look at the Grand Palace, floating market and temples - but we ran into a bad traffic jam when a thunderstorm zapped the traffic light system. After sitting in the jam near the Grand Palace for about 45 minutes we left the taxi in torrential rain and managed to find our way back to the hotel to prepare for our red-eye flight to London. The storm seemed to be the cause of the gridlock as at other times we found that the toll highways, metro and sky train were efficient and seemed to make a big difference to getting around Bangkok.
It was a very brief visit to Bangkok and we would have liked a bit more time to explore - but after 80+ days in Asia we were also looking forward to a change and getting to Europe. At least, Sue and I were - as we were finally beginning to feel that we had done and seen enough.The girls were (and are) still full of energy though and both Jessica and Krista were now beginning to seriously plan for their next 3 months in Europe.
After a long 12 hour flight to London we arrived in Heathrow, made our way to Gatwick and then flew to Cork. We flew with Ryanair to Ireland and the basic flight tickets were amazingly inexpensive. However, we did have to be very creative with distribution of luggage weight among checked and carry-on to avoid the penalties, which would have been far more expensive than the flight tickets themselves.
Suddenly finding ourselves in Cork after so long in Asia really was hard to comprehend at times. We had arrived just in time for St Patrick's Day, so we got up early, not quite sure what to expect, and wandered down to the town center. Things were pretty quiet in the morning - the streets barricaded in preparation for the big parade. We had heard that St Patrick's Day in Cork is "more Irish" than in Dublin - though there still seemed to be mainly young French and German visitors on the streets as we walked around.
By 1:00pm the streets were packed with both visitors and locals - many wearing plenty of St Patrick's Day and Irish paraphernalia. Much of it seemed to appear from just one shop that sold nothing but St Patrick's day things and was doing roaring business. Our investment at the shop was modest and our outfits very subdued, unlike two young women we came across (who ironically turned out to be from B.C.) and who sported just about every conceivable piece of Irish garments and accessories.
We, wisely as it turned out, decided that parades were not really our thing - so around lunchtime found a nice pub from which we could keep a partial eye on what was going on outside. We imagined the parade would be something along the lines of St Patrick's Day parades in New York or Chicago - full of elaborate floats, marching bands and weird costumes. Instead, the parade seemed to consist of nothing but people walking, some with banners representing their particular group or association. We were happily ensconced at our table with our beers when the parade was finally over and the large crowds descended on the pubs - ours included.
Having started our celebrations early in the day, Sue and I found ourselves fading while the night was still quite young - particularly as all of the pubs were packed and so noisy that we could not communicate among ourselves or with any of the locals. We found one slightly quieter bar, but the locals who came to talk to us were so completely drunk and incoherent that we decided to call it a night. Jessi and Kris fared better however and apparently had a very lively time, judging from their beer-soaked clothes, when they made it back a few hours later.
The following day we drove to Dublin - prepared for another big Irish celebration night - partly as a carry-on of St Patrick's day and partly as there was a big England-Ireland rugby match taking place in Dublin on the 19th. To our surprise, all 4 of us decided that we had had enough and stayed in our comfy hotel rooms. St Patrick's Day in Cork and the long flight from Bangkok had caught up with us. The early night worked for us though and we spent a very enjoyable few hours the next day wandering around central Dublin in the sunshine, absorbing Dublin's architecture and atmosphere, while watching the rugby fans warm up for the evening game by downing copious quantities of Guinness.
Speaking of which - I had wandered by the Guinness brewery on a previous visit to Dublin, but had not appreciated its size. We drove by another side of the property this time and I was amazed to see the massive volume of enormous brewing tanks and storage towers. As for the Guinness beer itself - it certainly tasted very good to me - particularly after the various Asian beers we had been sampling for the past few months.
Our last 2 nights in Ireland were spent on the Dingle peninsula in SW Ireland. It was a pleasure to drive there from Dublin on the fast and very well maintained Irish motorway system - and strange to find that we had crossed an entire country in not much more time than it had sometimes taken us in India to cross a city. The place we stayed in near CastleGregory overlooked a beautiful long beach at Brandon Bay. We drove over a very narrow and spectacular mountain pass to Dingle and then drove around the Slea Head route. We were lucky that the morning mist and clouds parted for a few hours so that we could see the stunningly beautiful scenery under crystal blue sunny skies.
The previous night, when driving back from a restaurant in CastleGregory under the moonlight, I noticed what I initially thought looked like a piece of a rainbow in the sky. I dismissed the idea, thinking that it must be an unusual cloud formation - or that maybe I was hallucinating as an after-effect of just eating one of the most enormous servings of fish and chips known to man. Then the girls all noticed the same thing. There was a complete, feint but full colour, rainbow spanning the gap between two hills. Never having heard of a moon rainbow before, we thought that it may the handiwork of a leprechaun messing with the heads of 4 naïve Canadians. However, after checking with Wikipedia, it seems that it is a rare but well documented occurrence.
We all really enjoyed our brief visit to Ireland.For me it was good to see Dublin again - and I had always wanted to visit the SW corner in particular - so I was glad that Sue had arranged for us to stay for a couple of nights. We were lucky with the weather on the Dingle Peninsula - the combination of sun, clouds and misty rain making the scenery of mountains, beaches, cliffs, islands, fields, villages and ocean easily among the most beautiful I have ever seen.
So on to England, family and the final leg - for Sue and I at least - of our trip ……………