London with Nicole

Just after college, my first trip abroad (wait, I think I also drove to a Windsor casino from Detroit one night?) was to meet my friend Liz in London. It was a fabulous trip, and there is even evidence from my website in 1999! Holy crap.

My friend Nicole was staying near London a couple weeks ago on business, and she invited me to join her for a few days in the city. It’s barely more than an hour flight from Cork to London, so off I went to stay with her in this fancy hotel/spa place. There is secretly a newer, uglier part to this facility, though, so it wasn’t exactly resort-like for us–just comfortable.

While Nicole earned a living on Thursday, I took the Tube from Heathrow and explored London a bit on my own. The London Eye didn’t exist when I was there last, so I took an expensive trip in the giant Ferris wheel over the city. I booked online ahead of time, paying extra to skip the line. As Dad says, you can’t put a price on a good time, and that includes not wasting time when there are smarter ways to travel! I probably wouldn’t go on it again, but it’s one of those tourist things you should do once. After I got home, David told me he saw a show about how it was only designed to last five years and it’s already been ten, so maybe it’s not one of those tourist things you should do after all.

I wandered the shore of the Thames near the Eye and found a neat cafeteria at Southbank Centre with a great eggplant aubergine stew for a late lunch. The weather was gorgeous and I sat out on the terrace with hundreds of others who were enjoying a drink in the sunshine.

Later, I found Waterloo train station and bought a quick ticket for Camberley since the train was about to leave, and I wasn’t quite sure it was the right stop, but I knew it would get me close. The train ride was about an hour, I think (during which I giggled at every stop since they kept announcing the end of the line very clearly as Cockfosters, even funnier with the accent), and I found a taxi to get me to the hotel, beating Nicole there by about a half hour. We wandered into town for a tapas dinner and then a drink at a karaoke bar. The English singers weren’t very impressive; drunkenness is pretty universal.

We stumbled home and slept in without an alarm. The plan for this trip was to head into London and figure it out as we went! We armed ourselves with toasted cheese sandwiches for the train ride, picked up some maps, and went to the British Museum. I hadn’t been there before and wished we had more time. I didn’t even know the Rosetta Stone was there and missed it! The collection was pretty amazing, but I kept wondering about all the colonialism and plundering that probably gathered half of it.

I had gathered info on vegetarian restaurants from, which was not only a tasty move, but gave us places to find and therefore took us down streets that we wouldn’t have otherwise traveled. First up was an all-veg Thai/Chinese buffet with many choices, both hot and cold, fake meats and already-meatless dishes. I get overwhelmed when I can choose anything on the menu; it’s rare to have more than a pasta choice wherever I go. The excitement was doubled since Nicole was just as excited about the food choice as I was.

We wandered through daffodil-filled Green Park and had gelato across the street from Buckingham Palace. I was impressed by the number of transport cyclists in the park (and the number of clueless pedestrians who wandered right into the cycling paths). We remarked on how many people wore red shoes. I also lost and found my glasses, and then we happened upon the changing of the guard at the palace, which made us laugh because they were very serious about whatever was on that clipboard. We made up voiceovers to illustrate what was happening, but I’m afraid I don’t recall the soap opera now.

We wandered some more and planned a tour for later, but killed time first near Westminster Abbey. Most sightseeing places were closed by now.

After a pay-to-pee stop where I also picked up minty plastic chewable toothbrushes from a gumball machine in the loo, Nicole suggested stocking up for our multi-hour night bus tour of the city, which meant booze and snacks (the little bottle of Jack isn’t even in the picture!).

There were only two other passengers, who had taken the two front seats of the top of the double decker bus, but we took other seats up top and listened to the rather biased commentary as we rode around the city. It was nice to get a sense of what all was there (since we hadn’t visited in years) and it helped us find things the next day, too. The tour was a good lazy choice at a time when there wasn’t much else to do but eat or go to a show.

Time for another veg restaurant, this time in Soho! The street was hopping with bar and show-goers. We had fabulous food at Zilli Green, just in time for a guilt trip about my use of ice cubes before they closed.

I’ll wrap up this day with a poster I liked in the Subway:

As usual, more pics at Flickr

Ross Castle and more Kerry

Many hotels include breakfast here whether you want it or not; the quoted price is just what it is. Of course when you pay the bill, you see it line-itemed for €20. VAT is line-itemed too, but at least you don’t get hefty surprise taxes like when you get a room in the States. The continental breakfast selection is ok if you like cereal, soda bread, jam, and cheese, and you can order hot foods as well, but the cost is the same either way on the checkout bill. They always offer a full Irish breakfast, which has a lot of nasty things like black and white pudding along with multiple boiled-looking meats. Anyway, I tried for scrambled eggs at a couple hotels. Both places made them all mushy and perched on a piece of bread, I think to soak up the sogginess. Not recommended. Also the pepper here sucks.

After my hearty breakfast at the Killarney Royal (a nice enough place but the free WiFi was slow as shit when you could even get connected, and only one channel worked on the TV, which I think was why they left a putter and golf ball in the room and even a phone next to the toilet for something to do while you waited), I wandered Killarney a bit and dropped off my bag at my car, where I got lucky with free parking since it was a Sunday (that would be April 4–I’m behind on reports).

“Yes we can” in Gaelic

I found an outlet mall, which was great for a couple items I’ve had a hard time finding. I should mention that lots of people walk in the road, often wearing hi-vis vests and jackets because there aren’t any sidewalks in the country and you may as well try to stand a chance against cars. I even picked up a vest at the co-op near my house because I can see how it might help when walking the dogs or biking to work. Anyway, this army-navy store had quite the selection, and I found it funny that someone bothered to make a hi-vis polo shirt. Does the collar make it classier?

Since I had walked so many miles the night before at the Gap of Dunloe, I opted for a carriage ride into Killarney National Park to see Ross Castle. Lots of horses and drivers are waiting to take passengers, and I hoped Paddy the horse wouldn’t mind me since I was only one person. I told the driver to be nice to him…

The driver kept telling me to pose for pictures.

Ross Castle. I wandered the grounds, but I didn’t pay to go in because this area is a likely re-visit with family later.

I grabbed some lunch when I got back into the town center, and then drove to another part of the national park.

Muckross Estate reminds me of Biltmore, though again I didn’t pay to go in. It was a little early for the extensive gardens to be blooming, and the cold wind and drizzle weren’t pleasant but by now I had a bucket-style rain hat that improved my Irish travels. I walked to Torc waterfall next. The park is large and a bike would be a great way to get around; there are many for rent hire, and I think horse carts jaunting cars are popular too on warmer days.

Ladies View in the mist. I think this is the other end of the Gap of Dunloe area from the day before

I headed for the Ring of Kerry, intending to drive only part of it based on the late time of day, weather, and the fact that I was traveling it kind of backwards. The Ring is a driving route along the southwest coast of Ireland with scenic views over the ocean and mountains. The narrow road dictates that buses may only travel counterclockwise anticlockwise. I started the other way and went through the funny-named town of Sneem, going as far as Caherdaniel. By then it was pouring rain, my main camera’s battery died, and I was too tired to navigate the twisty road anymore. I headed home knowing that we’ll likely be back, and I can see taking a tour bus where I could relax, get out for pictures at the best spots, and Mom could have a bathroom on board being a good plan.

I’ve pointed out this funny angry-car sign before, and it appears someone else finds it funny enough to remove a letter! The roads along the Ring of Kerry can get very twisty and difficult to drive, but the speed limit signs in general give the limit for that type of road in the best conditions, not necessarily what the limit should be in that particular location. I saw a 100 km/h sign in the worst part that someone had painted over to read 10 km/h, which was about right.

Teaser shot along the Ring of Kerry

Next: London pictures, plus I’m leaving the country again this weekend!

Gap of Dunloe

It’s still me. I’m just fiddling around with some new themes now that my tech support-server guy also happens to be my stranded houseguest. There will probably be some broken former links externally now that comments and such have a slightly different path, but going forward all will work, AND you can just type in without that /blog stuff and get right to the blogging part. You can even do it the old way and it will redirect. Let me know if anything is screwed up (and no, I didn’t check it on Internet Explorer).

Easter weekend was a ‘bank holiday’ weekend, where everyone has Monday (Dyngus Day at home) off and many people had Good Friday off as well. I typed Killarney in my GPS on Saturday and left County Cork for the first time, traveling west to County Kerry.

First stop: Gap of Dunloe, a road that passes between the mountains. It’s a popular tourist draw so they close the road to cars in the summer and instead you hire a guy to drive you in a horse cart through the area. It was open when I was there but the signs encourage that cars are to be limited, so I decided on a walk.

The road was paved and there were a few cars coming through, but several other people were walking as well. This area was as stunning as Ballycotton cliffs, though without the ocean. I guess you can take a boat through some of the lakes, though.

Gray skies were mostly dry at first, and then it poured rain as I passed the sheep on the hillsides and a couple of horses. I stayed dry on top thanks to the waterproof red coat you will be noticing as a theme in my travels, but eventually my jeans were pretty wet. A lot of people wear rain pants around here and I can see why! It rained every day for three weeks but it has been sunny lately. Even rainy days have sunny parts and I don’t mind it, but I do like to plan (and now own rain pants too). Anyway, the stiff cold wind through the higher parts of the pass dried my pants quickly.

I saw newborn lambs, still with umbilical cords dangling. One was hopping around near mama who was grazing, but the other lamb was off to the side, crying out repeatedly. Since he was standing and making a lot of noise I hoped he’d find her and be ok. Except on my way back an hour later, he was lying still in the grass, far from his mama. 🙁

By the time I got back to my car I was numb and it was dark, so I was glad to get to my hotel and take a shower and grab some dinner. The town was hopping, largely with young people (I guess I no longer count myself in that group!). It was cold but the girls wore no coats and may as well have not been wearing skirts, they were so short. I tried to get cash from an ATM but the kids were piled up twenty deep to do the same, so I came back the next day and the ATM was out of money!

Up next: day 2 in Killarney.

Stupid volcanic ash cloud

If it weren’t for the novelty of it, and a great name like “the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland,” it might be kind of neat to be covered in an ash cloud. Other than a hazy distant horizon in the evening (when I’m not in the hilly area where I live and therefore don’t really see much distant horizon), I can’t tell there’s a giant blanket of abrasive particulates up there.

But: my dogs can’t fly! We’re expecting they’ll be delayed a week at this point. They were supposed to go tomorrow to Frankfurt and then Dublin, but now they’re grounded. I should just be glad they didn’t get to Frankfurt and then get stuck!

Meanwhile, my friend’s husband was in Ireland last week for his brother’s wedding. And now he’s stuck. Poor guy is stranded at my house, sharing my lousy laptop and putting up with my cooking. On the plus side he’s not living in the Shannon airport, and I’m getting tech things fixed around the house plus we’ve had a little tour of local pubs and beer in the meantime. We also went to Rock of Cashel and Cahir Castle on Saturday, and pictures will follow (when I get a chance on the laptop!).

hm… yummy…

A few pictures from around the Kinsale area last week

I don’t know what a twister cake is but the thoughtful comment at the end made me laugh. Is that like MMM yummy, or do you have to consider the snack before knowing if it’s yummy?

Streets of Kinsale. I’m glad I don’t live on those steps.

WTH is Morticia the weather lady wearing? Sleeveless patent leather and a dead thing stole?

Ballycotton cliff walk

After Cobh, my GPS took me down some backwater road, but fortunately I didn’t meet anyone coming the other way—not enough room to pass in many spots. When I end up on these roads, they are often formerly-paved, full of holes, and running through farmland where the farmers are in the road in their Wellington boots. I figure when they see my Dublin plate they think I’m a lost rental car driver, which is near the truth.

I did make it to the intended Ballycotton, which has a pub and a pier and ocean rescue facilities along with their lighthouse, but that’s about it besides some homes. My main guidebook is pretty comprehensive but doesn’t mention this place, yet I kept seeing it come up in local brochures for stuff to do. I figured ‘cliff walk’ sounded interesting and I wanted to hike, plus it’s free entertainment not bound by hours of operation, but I really didn’t know anything else about it and just trusted that my GPS would find the town and that I’d find the path once there. I’ve been doing that a lot and mostly get where I’m going. I’ll glance at the map before I go to confirm the direction at least makes sense, but then it’s just my British guide lady telling me where to turn (or turn around, since I don’t always understand which road she wants me to follow).

The path was mostly level and the rain that had drowned me in Cobh had passed and left a few puddles. There are a couple places where there are steps or stones down to the ocean where you can stand among the jutting rocks at the surf and guess where the tide is going to go later. It was an amazingly beautiful place and the only sound was of rolling waves. (It’s still odd to me not to hear city traffic in general, even at my house in Kinsale, but at least I have neighbors. Places like Ballycotton are basically silent of people. This time of year is still pretty quiet of tourists, too.)

I didn’t know until I came back at dark after a couple of hours that the walk is about five miles long and I should have been looking for dolphins! I think I walked most of it and it’s worth a return with visiting family.

After Ballycotton, I headed to Youghal (pronounced Yawl, y’all) to catch Crazy Horse, which was only playing in off-peak theaters. Well, I was the only one in the 48-seat room in a musty cinema built in the 1930s. I was at least hoping for some ornamentation from the era but it was just kind of smelly and ugly. Still, I liked the movie, and the little old man running the projector probably watched movies there when he was a kid. I thought at €8 it would be a nicer place but it was at least nice to do something different.

Now you’re caught up on two weekends ago! Next: Killarney and London

Rainy Cobh

These flowers have been blooming outside my door for weeks. I thought they were roses until I made a closer inspection: no thorns. It’s funny how these seem ‘mature’ while most trees still have no leaves.

I’m good about getting pics to my computer but not always the blog uploading and narrative bit. I played tourist the last two weekends here and I’m leaving for London tomorrow. Time to catch up, but in the meantime I’m trying to put more pictures at my Flickr photostream. See it there, folks, before you see it here! I’ll put the Flickr link on the sidebar, too.

Two Saturdays ago: I set my GPS for Cobh with a general idea that I’d poke around there, find some scenic hiking, and catch a movie. First I slept in, still one of my favorite things to do! I’m getting older, I guess, because I can no longer sleep more than about eight hours (and that’s pushing it) or my back hurts, plus last night I needed antacid for the first time. I kind of like my gray hair that turned up a few months ago, though. It’s shiny.

After making my way through places named Belgooly, Ballyfeard, Ballynoe, Carrigaline, and missing Shanbally and Ringaskiddy but seeing Ballyfouloo and Bunkila (don’t tell Arliss), I ended up in Monkstown. Then my GPS told me to turn right and board the ferry! I wasn’t expecting that, but one car was waiting and it was clearly marked where to be when this ferry to somewhere arrived. I got out to read the sign (for tips like price and how many hours I’d have to wait!) and determined it was just a river crossing and I think the ferry just goes back and forth all day. Maybe three minutes later I was following the cars onto the ferry and the guy took my €7 for a return trip (which I bought since I was going to a place that had Island in the name, but it turns out I took a road off of it and could’ve gotten a one-way for €5).

I liked how my GPS showed me in the middle of the river with a boat indicator (instead of a turn or roundabout) and told me to “leave ferry and turn right.”

Cobh (pronounced Cove) was the point of departure for many an Irish immigrant to North America, not to mention some prisoners to Australia and the poor Titanic. There was a huge Polish vessel docked near the immigration museum, complete with guys up in the crows’ nests.

I don’t know why there’s a Kilroy guy on this building on the left

You might notice the huge cathedral, St. Colman’s, on the hill above town.

I walked up there and went inside. It was as beautiful as the cathedrals we visited in Rome a couple years ago. I waited for the rain under the front arches for awhile and then just got soaked.

I looked in a couple shops, but they were touristy. Supposedly this is a reasonably sized city, but it seemed very tiny town down by the water. I grabbed some late lunch and headed for my next spot, which will be a new post since this is getting long!

I feel like Arliss today

I almost made it a month.

I have been the friendly newcomer (as much as is possible for me) since March 5 when I got on the first of three planes to take me to live in a place I’d never visited. And now, on April 1: I’m grumpy. I woke up that way and I’m not fighting it today. Please review the best introvert article ever as detailed here. My energy has been sapped from dealing with people (none of whom are in any way close to me) and I’ve pet all of two dogs for less than twenty minutes in this whole time. I only saw a sad rabbit through a pet store window.

I’m not complaining (beyond that which comes with grumpiness) and I don’t want to leave. I just want to be grumpy and not return calls, schedule meetings, establish accounts, ask twenty times what Irish Boomhauer just said, figure out what I can eat at a corporate meeting at a fish-only restaurant, explain why my credit card doesn’t work like everyone else’s, or fill out any more forms. I’m tired of telling people where I live and what I think of town and defending why I don’t go out to pubs on my own to get to know even more strangers I don’t have the energy to know. I also don’t really want to read any more procedures with 12 attachments but actually that kind of work is much better than other things I could be doing at my job today, so I’ll read.

I didn’t want to go to tea either, but I did and just listened. I can’t do a total alienation today but I shall invoke the code of almost-silence until I feel better or find a fuzzy animal to cuddle. It’s a reasonable coping mechanism.