Manx for the Memories

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March 22nd 2015
Published: March 22nd 2015
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If I had it to do over again, I’d probably book a hotel room in either Castletown or Peel, which is where I spent a good bit of the past 2 days. Castletown has the tall castle, and Peel has the spread-out one. Castle Rushen in Castletown was open yesterday; Peel Castle opens after Easter. Both of these towns have a charm; some might call it character. Both are immediately endearing. They have much more scenic views, in my opinion, than Douglas. Douglas, though, has more to do than either of these towns, which is why it’s where most people stay, and indeed why the capital is here. But you can get complacent in Douglas. In Castletown and Peel, you can visit for a day, and then there’s nothing else to do but admire the scenery. That gives you a reason to go exploring, if you’re like me; otherwise, if you’re content to just while away the time, then these towns are for you. In Douglas, there’s enough here to do for a few days, so you don’t have as much temptation to get out and see things, unless there’s something that you already want to see before you get to the island.

I’ve become more familiar with the bus system as time has gone by, and I’m pretty proficient now in getting from Douglas to somewhere, or making sure I can get back to Douglas from wherever I go. The bus driver yesterday morning gave me a nice new map, and those who know me know that I REALLY dig maps. My first stop was Ballasalla, where Rushen Abbey is/was. It was a cute little town, and the Abbey was awesome. You have to cross a ford to get there – really, your vehicle must cut through about a foot of river water that is flowing perpendicular to your vehicle. Luckily, there’s also a foot bridge. I paid 2 pounds 50 to get in – the museum was adequate, though I could tell it was geared more towards children with some of the interactive parts. I did learn how to make gold foil on medieval manuscripts, though. The ruins of the Abbey were just that – ruins. There’s not much left, but they’ve done a good job of clearing things out and giving you a sense of where things were. The weather was perfect, so I sat and had my lunch in the Abbey gardens. No other visitors. Just me for an hour or so. Totally worth seeing - even if you have to go out of your way.

When I asked the lady at the desk how long it took to get to Castle Rushen, she asked whether I was walking. She said that would be 45 minutes, as opposed to 8 or 9 on the bus. So I started walking to the bus stop. And when I got there, I kept walking. It was my best decision of the day. I walked past the airport 20 minutes later, and just past that was a double museum of military and then Manx Regiment history. So I stopped by. They had so much stuff there! I really wish I had more expertise in the nuts and bolts of war, but it was still fascinating. The old gent who met me at the entrance – it was free, too – told me that they were also preparing a World War 1 exhibit, and that it would rival the one at the Manx Museum in Douglas. If so, it’ll give me a reason to come back.

Once I got to Castletown, I had a more difficult time finding the castle than you might think. It’s not very obvious when you come into town; once you round the corner, though, it’s hard to miss. I spent 90 minutes there, going into every room, reading most of the displays, going to the top of a few towers, and even walking around the entire outer wall (as much as they would let you). They had this series of displays called “History in Heels” about women’s history on the island. Apparently, the castle served as a prison during much of the 19th and early 20th centuries, and many a woman was kept there. I got to see a good number of their (mostly painful) stories. In the end, it wasn’t all that impressive to me, despite being billed as one of the most complete castles in all of Britain. It was certainly a maze, but I felt like some of the displays were geared primarily towards children (like the Abbey). Maybe they cater to tourist families more than anything else. Maybe I’ve just seen too many castles.

My Saturday ended with a viewing of “West Side Story” at the Gaiety Theatre. It was much more intimate than I had been led to believe from the seating chart, where I had selected my tickets a month ago. The music was adequate, though there were some times when the two stars didn’t quite get the high notes (or sustain them once they hit them). It was really funny listening to them try to affect American/New York accents – most failed pretty badly, and some, I don’t know if they were even trying. Tony did the best, I must say. And those who were doing the Puerto Rican accents had an easier job, I think. I had a good time. It was no “Billy Elliot,” but then I wasn't expecting that. I got to hear some good renditions of familiar songs in a classy venue, so I was happy with my time and money well spent.

Today, I hoped to sleep in later than I had in previous days – no particular time to be anywhere, since the castle I wanted to see doesn’t open until Easter. Alas, the sun and thin curtains conspired against me. If anything, that has made me more tired than I should be on vacation. Nevertheless, I ventured out on the bus again – my same driver as yesterday morning, and he remembered me! I went first to St. John’s, which is where Tynwald Day meets – July 5th, the parliament meets out in the open and announces all the laws enacted over the past year and takes petitions from anyone who is a citizen there. Sometimes the Queen even shows up. That was well done – and it was right next to the bus stop, so no exploration needed. There were several kids with their adults there, and most of them hopping up and down the hill itself, so that was annoying for photography’s sake. St. John's is a quaint little town, with obviously the Tynwald Hill and Day in July as its primary source of income. It's worth a stop, if you get a chance.

Next up was Peel – the site of the closed castle. The bus stopped at the harbor, and again, no exploration needed. The castle was right there. I wish I could’ve gone in, so I could compare it to Castle Rushen. But from the outside, it looked less intact than the other one, though this one was much more spread out. It was on the top of a hill overlooking and separate from the city. It was pretty cool, even for being closed. There was a path all the way around the base of the outer wall, so I did that. Some really good views of the Irish Sea. Then I walked around town. It's got the best beaches of any of the towns I've visited here. There was (I think) the original Davison’s ice cream shop, where I got a double orange-chocolate cone. It was phenomenal. They make it from their own farms, so it’s quite fresh. I ran into a lot of grimy streets here, so I wanted to leave quite quickly. Unfortunately, the bus didn’t come back for another hour, so I walked around some more. I did manage to watch some ravens fight some seagulls for the airspace over a cathedral.

I took the bus back to Douglas, but I fell asleep several times on the way – it’s less than 30 minutes, folks. That’s from one side of the island to the other. But when we got to the bus station, I didn’t go back to my room for a nap, which is where I thought I would go. There was another bus waiting behind the one I got off of, so I hopped on that one. It took me to Port Erin, where there was even less to do than in Peel. That’s at the very south of the island, and that took about 40 minutes to get to. Another 40 minutes back, and I decided that I should probably get back to the room, pack, and write postcards.

As I sit here in my hotel room on my final night on the Isle of Man, I feel very reflective. I’ve been in Europe now for almost 10 days. My body has adjusted to the time change, although the lack of blackout curtains in this hotel room means that I’m awake no later than 7AM every day, despite my being on vacation. That would seriously be my biggest recommendation to this hotel.

I can say that my time here on the island has not gone as perfectly as I had hoped. Does any vacation really ever stack up to the fantasy, though? Perhaps I should have done more research before I scheduled this portion of the trip – it’s been great not being surrounded by tourists, but half of the tourist attractions are either not open for another 2 weeks, or they’re only open limited hours on the weekends. That did make my planning relatively easier once I got here and found that out. But if I had it to do over again, I’d probably schedule this for some time just after the start of the tourist season.

I’ve seen a good bit of the “unpolished” island, and that’s great in small doses, I guess. It’s fun to catch those “slice of life” glimpses, to remind you that these people have real lives apart from your vacation or tourist site. Unfortunately, I feel like I’ve been inundated with that for the past 4 days. It’s kind of a downer, to be perfectly honest. The people here are fantastic, don’t get me wrong. They are affable and down to earth. This is the kind of place that reminds you of what it’s like to live, as opposed to escaping from life. I can recommend some things to do here, but I don't know if I would recommend 5 days in the off season. I hope that gives me reason to come back.

I'm leaving for Spain in the morning, and I'll be there for a week, looking around wherever I can. Hasta luego!

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