I have been neglecting to keep up this blog for a while now. With my days left in Europe numbering somewhere closer to the number of members of Five for Fighting than the Jackson Five, it seems that I should provide some updates.
I am currently in Algeciras, Spain. Morocco is the next destination and so my African adventure will begin with a few weeks in the land of Atlas Mountains, Berbers, the oldest American diplomatic property in the world, and the hash that contributed to Burroughs' state of mind as he wrote Naked Lunch.
In the last month I’ve seen the ancestral homeland of the Nussbaumers in Switzerland, looped around the coast of Ireland, and cast my eyes upon the continent of Africa from the southern extremities of Europe. In each of these places I’ve had unique experiences that join the long list of highlights of a journey that I can fortunately say has been consistently pleasant, stimulating, and varied.
In my last post I left off with my wild adventures at the unmissable Räbechilbi Richterswil. I have not attended any turnip festivals since then. That is probably for the best, as any other would likely pale in comparison. To recover from the excitement of turnips I headed to tranquil Zug. Zug is a welcoming place to people of all walks of life, particularly those that have luck to be corporations. (Need I remind you that corporations are people too?) As a particularly low tax locale, Zug is home to more corporations than humans.
My main draw to Zug, other than exploring if it was possible to start living as a corporation and save on my tax bill, was to see the land that my great-great-grandparents abandoned for America. Oberägeri on tranquil Lake Ägeri has grown in the 125 years since Benedict and Adelheid packed up and left. Yet, with a population of around 6000, it still feels sleepy and insulated from the outside.
One of the excitements of being in Oberägeri is the chance to see the Nussbaumer name plastered on more buildings, buses, and (in a morbid turn) gravestones than I have encountered in all my life. It’s enough to see why the orange haired wizard of Chapter 11 likes to put his name on the classiest steaks, board games, and bottled water ever seen in his commercial crusade to Make America Great Again.
Oberägeri and Zug, being surrounded by hills and situated at the lakeside, benefit from surpluses of verdant natural beauty simply unmatched by most of the earth. It could lead one to question why anyone would choose to leave. Then again, 19th century Switzerland was not the land of bankers and corporate mailboxes that it is now. I won’t complain, for as Lee Greenwood sang in that sweetly jingoistic jingle, I’m proud to be an American.
From Zug I made a brief stopover in Basel. At this point my rail pass had only a single day left on it. Determined to make the most of this, in an act of exuberance I made the decision to make the 45 minute trip to Freiburg, Germany, where I could enjoy one last German kebab and more than one German beers for a price that would not treat my wallet to a bit of monetary liposuction. Sure, Switzerland is gorgeous, but at least Germany feels affordable.
The next day I took my first flight of this trip since landing in Istanbul more than four months earlier, this time to Dublin. Considering that Ireland’s climate is fairly similar to that of Oregon, but a tad wetter, commonsense would dictate that November is not the ideal time to visit. However, considering that I was in Europe and that flights to and from the island cost less than a used textbook, commonsense went out that window and I have no regrets. In my two weeks on the Emerald Isle I managed to make a tour around the island, absorb the beauty of the land, and enjoy the local tipples
In Dublin I visited two local ethanol producers for tours and product familiarization. The first, a quaint operation known as the Arthur Guinness Brewing Company, is one of the icons of Ireland. Few things are more associated with this country than the dark stuff coming from the St. James’s Gate Brewery. Having checked out my share of breweries, this one is definitely the largest brewery I have toured. Much of the tour is the same as any other brewery, though it caters to a broader audience than the craft brewery tours I'm used to. You can’t expect much variation when a product only has four ingredients. However, being a large operation the Guinness Experience also covers the unique aspects of the company’s history, including their distinctive marketing efforts. The tour culminates with the opportunity to learn how to properly pour a pint. They insist it takes 119.5 seconds to do right. While pouring Guinness might be more involving than pouring standard swill like PBR, moving a handle and holding a glass at an angle is not rocket appliances. Whatever the marketing may be, the product is good and brand’s longevity is understandable.
The other producer of sweet liquid intoxicants I visited was the Teeling Whiskey Distillery, a relatively young enterprise and the only active distillery in the city of Dublin. Personally, I prefer beer to whiskey, but I appreciate a bit of diversity in my drinking portfolio and you won’t find me complaining if I have a well made Old Fashioned in my hand. Teeling was my first experience seeing the inner workings of a whiskey distillery and I did learn more about the process than I knew before. Like any proper tour, this one ended with the chance to try the product. I’m no expert, but, in short, I approve of Teeling Whiskey.
In the time I wasn’t learning about the transformation of sugar into sweet, sweet ethanol, I also sought out some of the city’s other attractions.
The National Museum of Ireland's Decorative Arts and History branch had an exhibit on the Irish at war. This focused both on the military activities of Irish in Ireland as well as abroad over the last 500 years. Considering the turbulent times on the island and the size of the Irish diaspora, a significant amount of information is covered. The role of the Irish in America’s military is devoted a fair amount of space. The museum building is also of interest because it was originally a military barracks and functioned in this capacity for over three hundred years before museum conversion in the 1990s.
Dublin is fairly unique in having two cathedrals, St. Patrick’s and Christ Church, in the city located within blocks of one another. I walked around the exteriors of both, but only took the time to see the interior of Christ Church. I think I can be forgiven for my impiety considering that both churches charge an entrance fee. The interior of Christ Church is not outstanding, though still interesting, in light of the countless churches I’ve seen in the past months. Fans of The Tudors may recognize it, as it has been used as a filming location in that series. Fans of Joyce may recall that in Finnegans Wake a reference is made to the cat and rat that were trapped in the cathedral’s organ and mummified. Admittedly, I’m a fan of neither, but signs on displays provided these interesting bits.
Trinity College Dublin has an impressive library which is most famously home to the Book of Kells. This intricately crafted manuscript containing the Gospels is impressive with its beautiful calligraphy, colorful decorations, and Celtic styling. Also impressive is the library’s Long Room. Long, as implied by the name, and narrow, it is lined with the busts of philosophers and writers through the ages. On display are an original copy of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic from the 1916 Easter Rising and the oldest harp in Ireland. The olfactory senses are treated to the rich scents of mahogany and leather bound books. Were it to be bottled, I might just start wearing cologne to increase my aura of sophistication.
Following Dublin made the journey to Cork, the third largest city on the island, with a night’s layover in Waterford. The University College Cork campus is one of the main sights in the city and beautifully kept. The city also has two quality brewpubs, Franciscan Well and Rising Sons, as well as the significantly larger scale Murphy’s Brewery. I enjoyed beers from all three. My motivation for visiting Cork extended beyond academia and fermentation and onto live music. Titus Andronicus, one of favorite bands, was on tour and in town. Considering that their album The Monitor was essentially the soundtrack to seven of the most frustrating, but character shaping, months of my life, I could not pass up this opportunity. The concert was in an intimate venue with a small crowd. Their sound lends itself well to a live environment where the richness of the music can assault the eardrums with full intensity. Of all the ways I could be reminded of my tinnitus, this is one of the most preferable.
Galway was the next stop after Cork. It was here that I got perhaps the best day of weather in my two weeks, though it was sandwiched between days of the typical wet and cold. I took advantage of the situation to go for a walk along Galway Bay. The sunny, windy, and brisk conditions call to mind more comparisons to Oregon while remaining distinct. I found myself refreshed in walking around town in the sun and appreciating the island’s beauty even more.
I will continue my final update from Europe in another post to follow shortly after this one. I still have my time in Northern Ireland and here in Spain to recount.