Monday, June 20, 2011

The First of Many Goodbye's

Leaving Athlone was really sad. Considering it was only our first stop, I'm sensing it's a sign of things to come. On our final day we started slow, and didn't leave the house until late morning. We went to Suede Bar for a very Irish carvery lunch with Joanie, wandered down the The Strand along the river just long enough to settle our food and then started all over again, going into the Olive Grove for mid afternoon desserts and coffee overlooking the water. We went home only briefly before taking in a final pint at Seans Bar with Joanie and Bennie.

True to form, Courts was still drinking 15 minutes before a taxi was due at home to take us to the bus stop. Despite suggesting that I go home to pack and he would catch up (not a chance - I packed most of our stuff that morning but damned if I was finishing up while he was having fun) he drank it down and we were ready just in time for the taxi.

We were only in Athlone a week but I felt homesick for it the second we left. It's a long time since we've seen Jonaie and it will be a long time before we do again. Bennie and herself showed us so much kind Irish hospitality that we couldn't have possibly felt more welcome. Joanie had worried we would be bored watching DVDs and TV at night but truthfully we loved it. For myself, at home if DVDs or TV are on, I'm simultaneously blogging or doing nails or planning our trip or cooking dinner. It's a rare occasion that I watch the telly without a single other thing on my mind. Aside from that, after a long day exploring, a quiet opportunity to relax and snuggle into a blanket was very welcome. 

We were so successfully made to feel welcome that after we arrived in Dublin, set our things down at the hostel and found Eddie Rockets for the first of several awesome meals there, I was homesick for Athlone. The sweet smell that greeted us whenever we entered the house, the big black nose of Jimmy the dog peering over the staircase, leaving our backpack in our room and taking our blanket to the lounge, making a hot chocolate and settling on the couch for the night. Small actions that combined to make a routine, which in turn made Athlone home. 

Sitting in Eddie Rockets at 10pm eating garlic fries and burgers, our adventures of the day would have been made all the better if we could have returned home to Joanie and Bennie's house afterwards. Instead, we retreated to our single bed (we have bunks but chose to squish onto one) in a 16-bed hostel room. No pets or friends in sight. Ping pong balls fly past your head when you settle in to watch TV. 

So did Athlone meet our expectations? See what we thought we'd find here. It definitely is bigger than I first thought, but Old Athlone, where we were staying, still retains it's small-town charm. People at home complain of the recession - we honestly don't know how lucky we are. What I definitely didn't expect was to have the effects of the recession smack me in the face everywhere I turned - abandoned half-built houses, shops closed so quickly the chalk-written specials still decorate the wall, pubs closed so proudly they display 'Closed for Renovations' signs with no intentions of reopening. Locals in the street discuss their unemployment like it's the weather. Speaking of which, Athlone is cold. I knew their Summer wasn't as hot as ours, but I didn't realise it was genuinely cold there by our standards. The wind or at least a breeze blows constantly so warmth from the sun is filtered out. I feel the cold particularly easily, but still. 

I had it pretty right when I said it would be 'accommodating, polite, friendly, a little bit old fashioned, not shiny and new, more homely and comfortable' although I never anticipated just how old everything is. Courts said it better when he said he thought it would be 'really friendly, very green but with grey skies. Not terribly warm but filled with friendly beer drinking people'. That about hits it on the head.

Penelope_nz's Athlone photoset Penelope_nz's Athlone photoset