Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The updating continues...

Ok, so I left off with me heading to Tralee last Saturday. I got in there in the evening, and learned from people staying at my hostel that there was a festival of Irish dancing called Shindig on for the weekend. A bunch of Irish people told me where a ceilidh was going on that night and I headed there with some German and French folks. There was a live band and some stepdancers at first, and then it moved into a hotel ballroom and people were doing set dancing, which is the same premise as square dancing and probably where American square dancing originated from. It was pretty cool to watch a whole room full of people tapping and swirling around in sync, and I got pulled through a few sets with the help of an Irish fellow from my hostel and managed to stay on my feet.

On Sunday I decided to go to one of the stepdancing workshops that was being offered with two of the people I had met the evening before, Caroline and Michael, who are German students working as teaching assistants in county Clare. Since I had missed the first day's workshop I had to do some catching up and so was a bit behind the other people in the class but I did achieve some competent-enough steps.

Caroline and Michael were then heading back up to Clare (Tralee is in Kerry county, by the way) and since the weather wasn't too good for going out to see the Dingle peninsula (rainy and windy) I decided to accept their invitation of a drive north and a free night or two of accomodation. We took a coastal route for the scenery and then a ferry from Tarbert to Killrush, and there went to Ennis, the largest town in Clare, where Caroline lives. I spent Sunday night at her place and the next day we poked around Ennis togther. I liked Ennis for what I saw of it - it's nothing special in terms of sightseeing towns, but it's a good size and was pleasant looking and full of friendly, helpful people.

Monday afternoon I took the bus westward and Michael, who lives in Lisdoonvarna, picked me up and we drove out to the Cliffs of Moher. We went to the spot that locals tend to go to, as opposed to the viewing point designated for tourists, and so our trip out to view the cliffs involved scaling several fences labelling with signs telling us not to trespass. It was a really good day to view the cliffs (pictures of everything will follow when I get back to Scotland) as it was sunny, however it was quite cold due to the wind at the shore, but you can't go to the shore and not expect wind.

The cliffs themselves...

It's still really me that's posting. Here's a "vanity" photo to show it, and that I'm very cold.

An old tower that was at the clifftop - this is an example of the towers that I mentioned that are everywhere in Ireland - in towns, in fields, and on the coast.
Monday evening I spent at Michael's place, having supper, using the internet (that was my last post) and having a great discussion about the English and German language. I had a great time hanging out with Michael and Caroline and I'm glad I met them and hope to run into them again in the future.

From Lisdoonvarna I took the bus northward toward Ballyvaughan which is smack-dab in the middle of the Burren, a rocky limestone area. The bus took the coast road which meant another good drive full of views (as have all my bus rides over here been). It was also on another narrow, winding road, on which drivers really seem to depend on their brakes more than I would if I were driving. I don't know if it's just Ireland or if it's my age or something but I find I start to feel slightly ill if I do not look out the window at where the bus is travelling when it's driving over winding roads like that. I used to be able to read in cars but can't do that anymore.

I got into Ballyvaughan around 10ish, and walked south of town a few kilometres to take in the scenery and get to Aillwee Cave, a limestone cave open for touring. And so I finally saw in person the subjects of my grade 6 science project - limestone stalactites and stalagmites and their ilk.

The Burren means something like "rocky land", so aptly named it is:

I had to catch the bus to Galway at 2:25pm (buses are infrequent around here and depend on what day of the week it is as well) so it was back to town after a bit and off to Galway, where I am now. I just spent the evening chilling out watching some TV (I don't get that too often given where I work), getting acquainted with a soap/comedy from Manchester called Shameless. I've spent this morning checking out the town and will get back to that shortly.

I'm doing this photo large just so you can see the details better - this is a typical roadside hedge. Check out all those plants - every one of them has some sort of thorn on it!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Loads to tell

Well, well, what have I been up to? I shall give the whirlwind version up to a point and I will update again with pictures when I get them off my camera - I will probably go back over old posts and add them in.

I spent 3 nights in Dublin. Last Tuesday I went to see the Book of Kells as I mentioned and then I went to the Guiness Storehouse and learned about the making of the beer and its history. There were many interesting things in the exhibit, in particular I found tasting roasted barley on its own neat as you see taste how it influenced the beer. I also enjoyed an exhibit on cask making - coopers were impressive tradesmen. There was also an exhibit on old Guiness advertising with videos of TV ads through the years, many of which I found quite funny. The ads from the 1950's were the best - back when the motto was "Guiness is good for you" because doctors at the time were actually prescribing it to people. One ad consisted of two cartoon ostriches tangoing to a tune that had a repetition of that motto, and then some man came in at the to dance with the female ostrich while the male ostrich swiped his Guiness I believe.

Wednesday I walked around the city and then met up with Kelly, a girl I met in Edinburgh who is from Nova Scotia but living in Dublin. We had lunch in the Temple Bar area and walked around the shops. Later in the afternoon I did some more exploring of my own, checking out the architecture in some interesting areas - a lot of it is Georgian, which is the straight rectangular style I mentioned in my post about Trinity College. The buildings in Dublin I would describe as discontinuous - there is no one consistent style along most streets and it can actually vary from one part of a building to another. Many cities will have a certain "look" to them, but Dublin doesn't have one, other than not having one.

Thursday morning I took the bus to Kilkenny, the capital town of county Kilkenny. I checked out the town which still has a lot of its medieval layout as it was spared by Cromwell's army due to some switching of allegiances of the local Duke of Ormond, the Butler family whose castle is located in the town above the river Nore. I got a good crash course in Irish history by taking the castle tour as the Duke was a pretty important guy in Anglo-Irish history as they like to call it here.

Two castle pictures

View from down the river, where you can see the vantage point the castle had...

The sign on the lawn, which is a normal European thing. I can never understand having grass you can't sit or walk on, especially in a park.
That evening I went out to a local pub with some people from my hostel to hear some traditional Irish music from a local band who were quite energetic. That evening also resulted in me having to fish my passport out of a toilet (fortunately recently cleaned as I could see the cleaner in the water) and I may leave the story at just that for the moment to keep you wondering. I will say that I fished it out quick enough that only the corners really managed to get wet so it is alright.

So then where am I? Friday. I did some laundry (exciting! Clean clothes) and then took a bus back to Dublin so that I could go to a birthday party at Kelly's. The bus ride ended up being very long because of traffic backed up all along the highway. When I got to Dublin I checked my e-mail to learn that the party had been cancelled, and so I did a quick check of bus times and saw that I could catch a bus to Cashel at 6pm. I saw this at 5:40pm. So I ran from Parnell Street to the Busaras (Main Bus Station) and got there in time for 6pm to find that the bus was late anyway. Losing faith in Bus Eireann, I took the bus which also was slowed some due to traffic - roadwork being done at night, apparently. I got into Cashel (in county Tipperary, by the way) at 9:30pm, not having booked a room at all and counting on the hostel there still being open and having vacancies. Both were the case, although the woman seemed a bit put off at my arrival at first but then seemed to warm to me. She did have a lot of instructions about my room, and kept emphasizing to me that it was ensuite (i.e. has its own bathroom) as if that was a really big deal. A lot of hostels are ensuite now so I wasn't too impressed, especially when I found out that the ensuite shower did not have hot water. I got a really good night's sleep, which I neede after all my bus travelling, so I was content when I woke up in the morning anyway.

In the morning I headed up the hill to the Rock of Cashel - a one-time Norman fortress given over to the church in the 1100's. When I first saw pictures of the fortress (also known as St. Patrtick's Fortress) there was something that really drew me to it and I was keen to see it. I wasn't disappointed, even though the cathedral and the chapel there are in ruins. Somehow the fact that it was ruins made me enjoy it more - the cathedral is mostly just missing it's roof, but that meant that it was open to the sky and the sunlight poured in, highlighting the architectural features like the arched ceiling. There also wasn't the usual assortment of interior decorations to distract from the building's shape itself. When I was first in the ruins it was quite sunny - cool, but clear - but then a storm blew up quickly and there was a really fierce wind and rain and perhaps hail - I had to run inside. But all-in-all I really enjoyed my visit to the fortress, and then it was added to by a short walk down the hill out of town to vist the ruins of an old monastery - the Hore Monastery, in much worse shape (and a favourite drinking spot for local teens judging by the empties there).

Like a rock...

"Inside" the cathedral - call these my artful photos it you'll be so generous.

Surprisingly (to me) there was a cemetery at the top of the Rock around the cathedral, and people are still being buried there. One rough ol' walk for the family members who were leaving flowers on the graves.

Just a photo of the path I walked on to get to the ruined abbey (in the middle in the distance)

That ended my stay in Cashel, and I got on a Bus Eireann bus (that came late once again) that took me to Cahir, where I could connect to Limerick, where I could then connect to Tralee (in county Kerry) where I wanted to stay the night in order to get down to the Dingle peninsula. On my stopover in Cahir waiting for the bus I dashed up to the castle there and spent the forty minutes learning more about Irish history (I'm filling in the blanks) and checking out the castle. It was really cool because it's still in very good shape. I could climb up the narrow stairs in the towers and look out over the walls where the soldiers would have once kept guard. It would be a great castle to take a kid to.
This is Cahir's main street as viewed from the castle - I include it just because it's a very typical looking small town in Ireland.
The gate at the castle, and I think that's a drop of water on my lens. No, two. Well, it had just started pouring and I had to catch a bus.

I left the castle just in time to see my bus for Limerick pulling up early, of all things! My faith in Bus Eireann was restored as I took it to Limerick and then caught another on-time bus to Tralee. These two trips were not over highways but over narrow, winding roads through the country-side. So bumpy that I couldn't write, but great scenery anyway. Rolling hills, not many trees but some thickly wrapped in vines. Thick, low hedgerows and stone fences. Old ruined towers sticking up in the middle of fields. All the grass is still green. The trees have no leaves, but the vines on them do.

"Furry" trees as I call them...
Try climbing over that sucker without a scratch - all the plants wound in Ireland...

And from there I got into Tralee on Saturday night, with the intention of going to Dingle. None of that happened, but I'm having a good time and will fill in the rest later.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

In Dublin - Trinity College and Book of Kells

I arrived in Dublin last night on my first Ryanair flight ever, on which the overhead announcement boldly proclaimed (with a trumpet sound) was another of it's on-time flights. I paid £22 return for my flight so I was just happy to get here. The sign as we were boarding the plane read: "Ryanair - the low fares irline". So low fares they haven't even bothered to replace the "a".

I spent yesterday poking around Dunoon before getting on the ferry to Gourock and then the train to Paisley. I got off there and strolled around some to kill some time, as I had left the Coylet pretty early in the day due to the fact that it was cold since all the heating had been turned off and I was also just keen to get going. Paisley looks like a lot of the other towns along the Clyde, just bigger. I have some pictures I'll download when I get the chance.

Then I spent many boring hours at Preswick airport which didn't even have a TV to watch.

Anyway, this morning I went over to Trinity College. The college made largely of grey stone buildings that seem very straight and rectangular, like a lot of other buildings in this part of Dublin. It's also behind a huge wall like many other things in Dublin. Once again as when I strolled through the University of Glasgow, I could tell when I was drawing near to the university simply by the clothing and bags on the numerous young people, and by the occassional professor who sticks out from the crowd with his odd manner of dress and greying hair, often wearing a bicycle helmet and trouser clips and carrying a briefcase of course.

The Book of Kells exhibit was very interesting - a history of the Irish Church, the making of the book and other similar manuscripts, and information on how books were made at the time (very tedious) and the symbology used. The detail in the images is so great that I have trouble making it all out so I can't imagine trying to draw or write that small and so regular.

The library following the Book of Kells exhibit was also amazing to me and surprising since I didn't really know it was part of it. It looks just like every old library you see in pictures or in movies but never actually get to see in person (until now). Ladders that slide along the shelves, all old hand-bound books, two levels, statues of old guys. I was impressed.

Monday, January 08, 2007

The stormy Hogmanay

A belated happy New Year to everyone. I haven't gotten to post lately largely because I've been working extra hours over the holidays. From Boxing Day up until January 3, which I had off, I worked every day, and then I'm working today and tomorrow to take care of some stalkers that are booked in (we're otherwise closed) and then I will have Wednesday and Thursday off. The hotel's then closing for two weeks starting January 15 and that day I will be flying to Dublin to tour around Ireland for a couple of weeks.

Things are slowing down at the hotel again but it was quite busy over the holidays. Hogmanay (New Year's Eve) we were full for meals and had other people in the bar. There were winds of around 80mph and rain that night, which caused the parties in Edinburgh and Glasgow to be cancelled as well as other parts of the UK as well.

The weather did not foil Hogmanay at the Coylet though. Just as we started serving food to our first diners the power went off at about 8pm, which meant that many things would not function of course. All the food is cooked on gas appliances so that was alright, but we had to rig up some lights in the kitchen so that the staff could see. Victor cooked with a headband flashlight for a while until some people with camper vans ran an extension cord from their camper into the kitchen and hooked up some trouble lights to it. All the tables in the dining room have candles on them at all times anyway so they were alright, and we had placed candles throughout the rest of the building as well in anticipation of the power cut since our lights had been flickering earlier in the day. Poor Fraser had to wash all dishes by hand and we had to keep track of all the food orders and bills by hand, but everything went right ahead with just some minor delays. All the food was cooked to the usual standard and people were quite happy and enjoying themselves. We had planned a games theme for the evening with table-top games on the restaurant tables and that worked well with the lights being off as people had something to entertain themselves with. The electricity came back on just before the last table got their food, at about 10pm. Some people actually requested that we turn the lights back off as they prefered the atmosphere in the dark.

Also on Hogmanay the wind blew off the chimney pot and cowl for the bar fireplace. The cowal is a piece of shaped metal that had been installed recently to prevent the wind from blowing the smoke back down, but it unfortunately acted as a sail in the high winds. Oddly enough, now that the chimney has no chimney pot it hasn't been blowing back too often at all on really windy days.

We had a stretch of a few really rainy, stormy days after New Year and now it's back to the occassional really rainy day and other days of just some rain and some clear periods. I was out for a walk last Wednesday through the forest and saw quite a few trees down, many of them being quite healthy trees and not the usual old ones that come down in the wind. Power crews were out cutting down trees near the lines, and at the time our lights were still flickering.

As I mentioned I'm flying to Dublin next Monday. I'm going on Ryanair on a flight that cost £0.01 each way before you add on airport fees and the fee I opted to pay to check a bag (£7.00) since the carry-on bag size is quite small. So my return flight from Preswick airport to Dublin is $50 which ain't too shabby, and then I just have to pay a few pounds to get to Paisley to take the train directly to the airport. I just learned today that if you show the ticket agents in Paisely your flight confirmation that your train ride from there to the airport is free, so that's pretty sweet. Haven't decided exactly where I'm going to go in Ireland but I've been getting suggestions from people and I'll just take it as it goes.