My parents packed their bags and came to visit me in Ireland on what they termed their “once-in-a-lifetime” trip. Being farmers, their opportunity to travel locally was limited, let alone to Europe. When I asked them what they wanted to see, they simply replied that it didn’t matter – it was up to me to decide.
“The last thing I want to see while on vacation is cows,” my father told me.
I gave my parents my room, warning them beforehand that their accommodation wasn’t going to be The Carlton. The back patio was overgrown with weeds, the fence had rotted and collapsed and the second-floor shower was leaking into the ceiling below – a typical rental house in Galway.
I tried to anticipate my father’s question of why we didn’t fix things by explaining the passive-aggressive nature of rental agencies in a landlord’s market, and how they try to frustrate tenants into doing the work for them.
“Plus,” I said, “if the house looked nice they would charge us more.”
On the way to the Cliffs of Moher, like any other tourists, we drove through the Burren. I pulled into a carpark of the Poulnabrone dolmen, next to the paddock of a few Charolais that looked over the gate and chewed lazily. The Poulnabrone dolmen is an ancient “portal tomb” used by the Neolithic elite between 4200 BC and 2900 BC. It was composed of giant slabs of rock over a 30-foot cairn and had contained the remains of 33 people.
“It’s hard to imagine going back that far in time,” I said to my parents. “It’s amazing, really.” However, when I turned around, they weren’t there.
They were standing by the fence, marvelling at the beef.
“Ryan, do you think the limestone makes the grass better here? Is that why they’re so big?”
My mother wanted to see the town where her father grew up in Kochendorf, Germany, so we flew to the continent and I took them on a four-day trek across the country
One of the first evenings we were watching Bloodline in the living room when my father snuck away quietly. A minute later we heard a scream upstairs and the sound of something crashing to the ground.
“Oh yeah, watch out for the toilet seat,” I told my mother. “It has a tendency to slip off.”
My mother wanted to see the town where her father grew up in Kochendorf, Germany, so we flew to the continent and I took them on a four-day trek across the country. On the way to Kochendorf, we stopped in Heidelberg, a charming city celebrated by Mark Twain, among others. I brought them to the Heidelberg Castle, a 12th-century landmark high upon the Königstuhl hillside overlooking the Neckar River.
Throughout history it had been the residence of counts and kings, captured and lost in various conflicts, and tied into Germany’s past in various ways. In addition to its own picturesque architecture, it offers a stunning view of the entire river valley.
“Would you look at that,” my mother remarked as we stood on the balcony.
“I know, you can see for miles,” I said.
“There are two Herefords below us,” she said. “Instead of mowing the bank of the castle, they pasture it out.”
“German efficiency,” my father said.
They probably have a toilet seat in the local hardware store. If they didn’t, hell, I could mail you one
There were tourists below us taking pictures of the castle. All of their photos will show everyone on the balcony looking out at the historic city of Heidelberg... except for the two people looking down at beef cattle.
A few days before my parents were due to leave we were again watching Bloodline, resting after a day of travel. During the middle of the episode my father leans over to me.
“They probably have a toilet seat in the local hardware store. If they didn’t, hell, I could mail you one.”
After their 10-day expedition, the folks returned to the US – still using the term “trip of a lifetime” which I took to be a good sign. It tends to make an impression on a person the first time they realise that there are other ways of doing things than what one is familiar with, from food to architecture to mannerisms.
In addition to the memories, they came away with pictures of many historical landmarks that happened to be next to the cows they were photographing.