Christmas itself was so relaxing. After a slow morning, Jo, her boyfriend and her aunt came around, and we exchanged gifts. My gifts were well-received (Hooray! I was shitting myself, especially as I hadn't seen Jo's brother since he was about twelve, so had no idea what kind of teenager he'd grown into. To those who know him, you'll be glad to know he's just lovely. And the height of a small office block.) and I received some lovely ones in return: an Irish lambswool scarf, a pair of Guinness cufflinks, and my mother posted over a package that arrived on Christmas Eve. Aww. I ate and drank so much: cosmopolitans, Irish and Scotch whiskey, turkey and stuffing, carrot and parsnip mash (a new favourite), Christmas pudding, mince pies, brandy custard, oh yeah. It was a far cry from the Christmas gatherings I'm used to: forty-odd (and odd) people gathering in the summer heat. Instead, I had a picture book Christmas: tea and boardgames by the fire, dozing off on the couch. Boxing Day (called St Stephen's Day in Ireland) passed in a similar fashion, although we decided to head down to the pub in the late evening. It's true what my father says: Guinness does taste better in Ireland.
The next day, Jo and I drove up to the seaside town of Carlingford. I can barely describe how beautiful it was. Desolate and gorgeous at the same time. We climbed the ruins of King John's Castle (so-called because the eponymous king slept there for a totaly of three nights) and ate in a cafe opposite an abandoned medieval coin mint. Although I learned that there's a reason for Irish jokes. The road signs were either ludicrously inaccurate or totally non-existent, and everybody on the road drives like they're having their first driving lesson.
The next day, I finally made it into Dublin! It was a flying visit, as we had a late start because Jo was feeling rather unwell. We visited the Gresham Hotel, where my grandfather lived for a while in the 1980s while he was constructing a factory in Dublin, and Trinity College, and Dublin's many beautiful churches, before reaching the Guinness Storehouse. Hell yeah. Learning about beer is still learning! The tour ends in a bar looking out all around Dublin. It's a pretty grey city.
We went from there to meet Jo's delightful Australian boyfriend for dinner before heading to the theatre. The play, The Seafarer, was excellent. Very bleak and very funny, about a man playing cards with the devil for his soul on Christmas Eve. (The devil was, of course, played by an Englishman.) We retired to Jo's boyfriend's place, and I got up early the next morning to catch a taxi to the ferry station. The ferry trip over the Irish Sea was quite fun. There was a cinema (with two screens!) on board, so I went to see Up. Such a cute movie, and it made me cry! Now, excepting a few months when I was twenty in which I spiralled in and out of depression, I haven't cried since my grandfather died when I was eighteen. So I was either very tired or I am getting old and tragic. I ventured out on deck a couple of times. Holy shit, I have never experienced wind so strong. It very nearly threw me into the railing and over the edge.
From the ferry station at Holyhead, I caught a train through Wales. What a fucking beautiful part of the world. I need to go back soon and explore it. Castles everywhere, mountains and oceans, and their delightful vowel-avoiding language.
So the trip was ace. Really relaxing (although I did contract conjunctivitis - gross), and most excellent to catch up with Jo. She and I are planning a road trip through Ireland around April or May.