For Whom The Bell Tolls
Day: 138 & 139
Cities / Towns Visited: 72
Countries Visited: 20
Steps Taken Today: 27,249
Steps Taken Around the World: 2,408,612
Our 138th day was to be one of the longest and most tiresome. We had to rise just as the sun was, readying ourselves in a sleepy fog and scurrying off to meet out train. There was no margin of error to miss it or all of our plans would fall apart. Boarding, we settled in for the long haul. The next eight or so hours were spent trying to catch a few winks of sleep, blog writing, and general attempts to stave off boredom and cabin fever. Eventually we made it back to Bucharest. With a little time to spare before we had to make our way to the airport, we stopped in at the same restaurant we had eaten in on our first visit, mainly because it was close and we knew the food was decent, which was all we really wanted at this point.
The time came and went, and we hopped onto the bus and made our way out to the airport. All went smoothly and we were taxiing onto the runway on time. A few hours in the air and we arrived unscathed but exhausted in Dublin. At this point it was nearing midnight, we had been travelling for 18 hours, and we just wanted to get to our Airbnb. We were concerned as we hadn’t been able to contact our host, so we gave him a call as we waited for the luggage. The last thing we wanted to do was to try and find accommodation at this time of day. Luckily he picked up, and loudly exclaimed we were fine to come round, and thus we hailed a taxi to deliver us the short distance.
We arrived, and after knocking a few times he opened the door, the most dishevelled, and slightly drunk, jolly fat Irishman you’ve ever seen, and ushered us in. We soon found out that he hadn’t replied via the app, as someone had apparently put up a fake ad for his place and was swindling people out of money so Airbnb have temporarily closed his account until its sorted, but prior bookings were all still in place, he just had no way of getting their information. Clearly a major flaw in Airbnb’s problem solving endeavours, but anyway. He loudly explained that he was currently having problems with his hearing, hence the loudness, and took some time to give us a map and spent 15 minutes circling seemingly every good pub he could think of, which, although amusing, was not quite what we needed at that point. Regardless we smiled politely and thanked him before finally retiring to sleep.
As I lay down I laughed to myself about a comment I had made when we stepped out of the airport into the cool night air. Upon seeing quite a number of Irish people coming and going I couldn’t help but turn to my partner and say ‘Finally, I am amongst my people’. I know it sounds bizarre, but having just spent a few months in the heat, amongst the wonderful people of Eastern Europe, it was strangely nice to see people that looked like me; all pale skin and blue eyes, with a fair few red heads mixed in. People like me, who burn at the mere thought of the sun. Now don’t get me wrong, I love people of all cultures and races, it’s what makes my multicultural home city of Melbourne my favourite place to live. However, I had found myself sticking out like a bit of a sore thumb all slathered in sunscreen and donning shirt and a broad brimmed hat to attempt to defend myself against the searing rays of the midsummer sun; especially amongst the beautiful tanned brunettes with their deep brown eyes on the other side of the continent. It’s not that I dislike my appearance, and I know there are probably people who would love to have my fair skin, but when you are being stared at because you look out of place, it makes it hard to remember how fortunate you are to have what you have. I think at that point I finally understood properly why there are people pushing for children’s dolls to be more representative of all colours, appearances, and abilities. The world doesn’t just need Aryan dolls, it needs strong independent black dolls, it needs hijab wearing dolls, it needs female scientist and engineer dolls, it needs dolls in wheelchairs, it needs dolls that represent all of us. I understand that being white gives me a big advantage (and that being a woman takes some of that away), but my individual appearance is actually one of the rarest combinations in existence; red tinged hair, blue eyes, and pasty white freckled skin. There is something soothing about knowing you’re not alone, about seeing people who look like you, or act like you, or speak like you, or think like you; and I found a small measure of soothing in that brief moment.
A long alarmless sleep saw us not stirring until mid morning, but there was to be no lazy day of rest. Besides, we had a whole new city to start exploring. So, with that, we rose and readied ourselves for the day before heading into town.
Wandering into this historic old city, and remarking to one another how ever so Melbourne-esque is feels, it seemed only natural that we should start our exploration with a little delve into the history surrounding this small corner of the world, and with that we found ourselves at the National Archaeological Museum of Ireland. Although not huge, the museum does hold a fair amount of fascinating artifacts, especially from the Celtic ancestors who resided here in the bronze age. From ancient pottery and weapons, to a huge log boat, and a goodly amount of golden objects. Many of them are so well preserved simply because they were either hidden or lost in the bogs which dot this country’s landscape. Some believed to have been put there as part of religious sacrifices or offerings to pagan gods, others perhaps hidden for safe keeping, but never recovered.
One of the side rooms holds a rather tragic and sad exhibition on those slaves who were mistreated and killed in the atrocities of the rubber trade of Africa and South America. A truly confronting but touching education about yet another of the foul displays of cruelty in white history. In another room there is, much like most history museums in Europe, a collection of Egyptian mummies and artifacts, but you all already know my thoughts on that.
As interesting as all of these objects were, it was not what drew us to this place, instead it was something else they discovered buried in the marshy bogs of this ancient land; bodies. These iron age cadavers, which have been naturally mummified in the ideal conditions of a bog burial, although gruesome, share some important and insightful hints about the lives and beliefs of our ancestors in this part of the world. Modern forensics has been able to comfortably assume that from the way they were buried and the wounds visible, they were murdered. Now whether this was in the name of human sacrifice or not is debatable, but would seem likely, given the fact that many were buried with other offering items like weapons. They were also almost all buried on land borders between different clan areas, making it seem as though their sacrifice was in order to provide some kind of mystical protection against raids from neighbouring villages. Other finds along these lines include weapons, money, and funnily enough, wooden mugs or containers filled with butter, which has also been preserved by the damp but oxygen free environment within the peat. This not only shows more evidence for spiritual offerings, but also that the villages were doing quite well, given that they had an important commodity like butter to spare. The more you learn about the bodies, the more interesting they become. For example one of them has his nipples sliced, and back then sucking the nipples of a king was a form of submission; therefore in severing his they have made him incapable of kingship, in life or in the afterlife. This begs many questions about who he was, and whether he was, in fact, a candidate for the throne.
With our minds full of history, we wandered out and off to one of the pubs our host has suggested, for lunch. Over a massive bowl of Irish stew, a steak and Guinness pie, and a couple of pints of cider we whiled away a goodly amount of time discussing all we had seen.
By now it was time to try and fit in our other sight for the day, and a building which pierces the skyline of the city; Christ Church Cathedral. We bought our tickets and hooked into the next tour of this stunning old church. Our cheerful, and rather witty, guide, who’s pun game was on point, led the way. He shared a wealth of knowledge about this building, including the tomb of Strongbow, the 2nd Earl of Pembroke from the 1100’s, who helped the Anglo-Saxons invade Ireland, then married an Irish Princess. He was also one of the people to help rebuild this church in stone to replace the former wooden structure. His original tomb was destroyed in the 1500’s when the south wall of the church collapsed; the current tomb is a replacement and is actually the former tomb of a different knight, hence the coat of arms is not that of the Earl. From the 16th to 18th centuries though, this was the place where prominent businessmen of Dublin would come and sign deeds and deals; literally over his grave. Given the history of shady business deals in the world, it seems apt to do so over a false tomb I guess.
After he showed us around the rest of the church interior, from the stunning stained glass windows, to the decorated floor tiles which stretch back to the 12th century, we made our way over to ascend the tower. The standard strenuous traversing of impossibly narrow spiral staircases and low doorways saw us pass a rather good view over the city, until finally we reached the bell tower, and stopped in the room hanging with ropes. This rather cluttered room is from where the bells can be manually rung, although for the most part they are rung mechanically. It was at this point that our guide smiled and explained that there is, for some unknown reason, absolutely no law in Ireland that says that you can’t ring the bells at any time for no reason. And with that, he directed us over to a few ropes hanging in the corner and let us have at it, and channel our inner Quasimodo. We were willingly allowed to play three bells completely out of time or rhythm and annoy a whole city with it just because, and if that’s not the most Irish thing you’ve ever heard, I don’t know what is. Now I never had ‘ring a church bell’ on my bucket list, but I will say it was an awesome one to tick off.
Elated, we made our way back down to ground level, and followed our guide to the last part of the tour, the crypt (which technically constitutes the oldest building in the entire city). This cool dark space isn’t so much filled with old graves as it is an interesting selection of objects, from stone statues of a few past kings; to one of the only remaining copies of the Magna Carta; and from some of the costumes used in the filming of the show ‘Tudors’; to a mummified cat and mouse which had been found inside the organ when it was being pulled apart in the 1850’s to see why it wasn’t working properly. The church as a whole is truly a fascinating visit, even if God isn’t on your list of things you believe in; it has bucket loads of history to make up for that fact.
With our sightseeing at an end, and our bodies still recovering from yesterday’s lengthy travel day and two hour time change, we headed home, via the supermarket, and spent a quiet night in with a home cooked meal. As I nestled into the blankets and began to doze off, my mind was drawn back to those bodies, so we’ll preserves by the bog. It is so hard to fathom human sacrifice in this day and age, and yet it was common practise in many cultures throughout the millennia. I suppose now we sacrifice people in different ways, we still send them off to war to risk their lives for other peoples gain, or scapegoat minorities and hang them out to dry publicly as a cruel and inhumane example to others; and there are still plenty of people who will sacrifice their own lives in the name of their God. It seems almost foreign to see ritualistic killings, and people killed in torturous ways, when we have basically perfected the finer points of a painless death through firearms and drugs. Disembowling, decapitation, inflicting specific non-lethal injuries due to ill-founded beliefs; it all seems almost heathen, but to these people in this time it was justified, it was symbolic, and in their minds it offered them protection. These people died horrific deaths that would have been forgotten in the passage of time, if it hadn’t been for the environment of their burial. Nature preserved their story; and maybe it would have been better forgotten, but then we must be faced with our past as a race in order to see similarities to it now, and use this knowledge to grow as a species and become more enlightened. May these poor souls rest in peace, and may we always remember what their murderers would have rather us have left buried.