Archive for June, 2011

June 23, 2011

Scotland Edinburgh, Scotland is great city of medium size population (450,000) with a rich culture of intellectual enlightenment. This city has just enough kink in it to be lovable. The Edinburgh castle is a must see and is perched on a rocky mount overlooking the city. It has been a fortress of some kind since 900 B.C.E. All roads leading up to the castle are lined with trinket shops. There are some nice wool jackets and clothes, but most of the stuff is just …stuff and so expensive. I’d move to Edinburgh tomorrow if it just wasn’t so damn cold and rainy most of the year and if I could afford it. In the winter the sun sets by 4:00 p.m but now it is light until almost 11:00. While we were there we had supper with some friends of Anita’s sister and ate at a private whiskey society (OK, it cost $100 to become a member) that serves single malt Scotch whiskey. They wanted me try a glass of Scotch and I wasn’t too keen on the idea. I don’t drink Scotch and have not cultivated the taste for the stuff. Well, after tasting single malt Scotch, not blended, I was stunned by the rich and enjoyable taste of this Scotch whiskey. Wow. The drink was complex, and delicious. The bad news is a bottle of the “good stuff” cost $60 to $120 a bottle. I was tempted.   From Edinburgh we headed to Stirlingto visit the castle before heading up to Glencoe and into the highlands and the raw beauty of rock, sky, lochs and loughs.  Almost all ofScotland is small villages or small cities with a lot of area in-between. Sparsely populated it would take some creative effort to entertain yourself unless you are really into Highland games. Cultural events outside of Edinburgh and Glasgow are, like the country, far and few between. If scenery of loughs, lochs and rocks and natural beauty is your Zen and Muse then this is the place to come. Bring a heavy rain jacket. On this trip most of the majestic beauty was seen from inside a warm dry car. I just can’t imagine how kilts got to be so popular among the guys. Damn, those pleated…uh, pants, sure let up a lot of cold air. And I don’t think the guys wore wool underpants. If they did, what a man! There are many GREAT pictures Anita took of Scotland, We both marveled at the beauty of this land, Descriptions are meaningless, go see the pictures.

 

Inverness, the capitol of the Highlands is located in the north of Scotland. This is a bustling small place with enough car traffic to call it a city. A big river runs through the town and Inverness has a certain vitality to it.  One night we went out to a pub and returned to our B&B around11:00 p.m. and it was still light out. For you Canadians it is at about the same latitude as the Northwest Territories. It was a little hard trying to go to sleep when the room was still light, even with the shades drawn. And then it is light again at 4 am.

 

Portree and the Isle of Skye, Portree is a very quaint village with a small harbor. This is a tourist town and on a warm day could be a pleasant place and great to walk around. Unfortunately we saw a lot of rain. Time has stalled in Portree and Skye, it feels like a step back to an earlier century. Portree is the capital of the absolutely beautiful Isle of Skye. Skye is accessed by a bridge from the mainland and the location for the ferries to the outer islands. It is a geological microcosm of the mainland with varying terrain of lowlands and mountains. If you want to see all the beauty of Scotland in one place, this is it.

 

Edinburgh part II, This is a great city. Driving around (@$10 a gallon gas) the city is laid out in an easy way so you won’t get lost. OK, we got lost twice (Anita, “more than twice”). The street names change about every other block. My fault, I’m a male who won’t ask directions. I should have known better. My wife is right as are all women—men won’t ask direction.  The first rule of all lost women is: Slow down. It doesn’t matter where you are, just slow down. Their logic: the faster you go the more lost you get. There are very few female explorers in history. Name two? No, the Native American Indian with Louis and Clark doesn’t count nor the Aztec chic with Cortez.   Admit it women, there were no famous female explorers, None. Don’t bother looking one up, you won‘t find a she. Understand ladies. You have to be profoundly lost to explore. Exploring means lost. Women explorers kept stopping every few minutes to ask directions and never got to “explore” very far. Don’t get me wrong, my wife can read a map. I call her “map woman.” (Don’t tell her I said so) but women don’t understand that: Men don’t get lost, they just haven’t found where they’re going yet.

Photos of Scotland:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150208128686516.312476.667416515&l=cdb5ae7cf5
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Travels in Ireland 2011

June 21, 2011

Dublin is a clean, flat and handsome city. They have a new light rail system and car traffic is moderate in the downtown. It is a young city, the average age of people is under 40 years and it reminds me a lot of Seattle—weather is cloudy, gray and it rains most of the time AND the denizens of both cities drink a brown liquid every day—coffee in Seattle and Guinness beer in Dublin…. The alternate hair color preference (from a bottle) for young women is, yea, you guessed it, red…. Because Ireland has a temperate climate and not very sunny many young women have sprayed-on tans. Apparently it’s a fashion trend. Like most Europeans the young people in Ireland still smoke in large numbers and have not yet escaped the nasty habit…. There is suppose to be an austerity program in Ireland but there is very little evidence. No beggars in the streets, no shabby housing, little crime and we never saw a protest march like you see in Greece. There were a few empty stores “to let.” but all seems that the Irish are (blissfully) living under the rainbow of prosperity. The very bad news for us “poor Irish-American cousins” is everything is expensive, no make that VERY EXPENSIVE. The US to Euro rate of exchange is a crusher; for every American dollar we could buy only 60 cents worth of goods and services. Gas cost about $8.75 a gallon. Even though we drove an efficient small car I wept when I pulled into a gas station to fill it up. (Isn’t it an American birth right to have cheap gas prices?) The biggest challenge is learning (steep learning curve required or death follows) to drive (driving wheel on the right too) on the left side of the road. If you were dyslectic it would be impossible task for an American driver. Some American tourists rent cars and then place a large  red decal L (for learner) in their rear car window so other drivers will give them a wide birth and forgiving attitude when they $%#@ up.

Photos ofDublin:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150206183511516.311784.667416515&l=8521189da5

Kilkenny is a smallish village with some nice country about and a couple of castle and Abbey ruins.  There are no grand museums or things to do. You would have to love “trekking” around the countryside to enjoy a longer stay. There is nothing wrong with the town but it seemed a little sleepy. Maybe that is good.

Photos of Kilkenny:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150206203656516.311795.667416515&l=18065928e6

Kinsale is the quintessence of a quaint Irish village located on the south east coast ofIreland. It almost looks designed by Disney with its colorful and cute buildings. This is a bustling little village (population 1500 full time) and you could spend about three days looking into every small shop, gazing out at the blue ocean and visiting every pub before going stir crazy.

Photos of Kinsale:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150206213011516.311798.667416515&l=6e3773a5e0

Kenmare’s main street also looks like a movie set with colorful pubs, shops and businesses. I don’t know how many pubs they have in town but it is about one too many.

Photos of Kenmare:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150206226736516.311807.667416515&l=4db606d995

Killarney is a medium large city (for Ireland) and quite livable. It is large enough to have all the vestiges of modern life and small enough to have a cozy feel to it. The city is located next to a large lake and national park. If you ever wanted to live in Ireland for an extended time this would be a good bet.

Photos of Killarney:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150206233331516.311814.667416515&l=93c3a06f7f

Dingle is the major port city on the (what else) Dingle peninsula. It has a semi tame semi famous dolphin named Fungie who swims in the bay and is a major celebrity in Ireland. We passed on the Fungie show. The landscape surrounding the city is of gentle rolling mountains, gouged out by the last Ice age that slouches down to the sea. But this spit of land jets out into the Atlantic and the weather here is cold, rainy and damp most of the year.. Nothing like waking up in the morning and starting your day seeing rain come down horizontally and wind shaking, rattling and rolling every blade of grass. The town did have a reasonable (relatively) Indian restaurant. The Dingle peninsula is the best example of what went wrong in Ireland and the housing debacle. The Irish government encouraged people through cheap and easy loans to build a second holiday house and many did. Now they can’t pay the mortgage on these houses. It is reported that 80% of the holiday houses in Dingle are vacant. And I might add these are not small houses on small lots. These are by and large 3000 sq, ft houses on large lots. None have gone to seed. All the houses are in fresh paint and the Irish must paint their houses once a year.

Photos of Dingle:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150206243866516.311820.667416515&l=a64fce6cc8

Doolin. This Irish village on the west coast of Ireland and is micro small with maybe 20 buildings on two, what the natives call “upper and lower  main street.” But this wee village has a world famous musical heritage.  By all the pictures in the pubs—for a village of maybe 500 people they have four pubs—every folk and Irish musician must have played here as have many American musicians (Jackson Brown to name one) over the years. The village is near the Cliff or Mohr, another top Ireland tourist destination.

Photos of Doolin:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150206250971516.311827.667416515&l=4d5eb3c6f3

Photos of the Cliffs of Mohr:

Clifden is another quaint city on the West of Ireland coast and like every Irish city has a plethora of pubs. By the way, “pub grub” or food at pubs has come up a couple of notches if you haven’t visited Ireland in awhile. We had some fair to good meals.

Photos of Clifden:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150206252431516.311829.667416515&l=2918bc8931

Sligo is too large to be a village and too small to be a city, a bustling place with a raging river that runs right through town. We only dashed through and walked around but it deserved another longer stay. It is located in the wild country of Ireland’s North West. Anita bought an orange rain coat and didn’t realize soon the coat was going to be also a political and cultural statement. SeeNorthern Ireland below.

Photos of Sligo:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150206256576516.311835.667416515&l=275bf0b047

Donegal is a medium size city and we only stayed 1 day, but it is worth more time to explore. LikeSligo it is located in a part ofIreland not well visited by tourists. If you have visitedNorthern California or the coast ofOregon you will feel right at home.

(Unfortunately, it was raining the whole time we were there so no photos of Donegal)

The city of Derry if you are a catholic, and Londonderry if you are a protestant, is second largest city inNorthern Ireland.  Anita, a Jew, walked around all day in a bright orange rain jacket and didn’t know she was taking sides wearing the color. I took out a large insurance policy on her right before we walked through the Catholic section of town.

Even though Bloody Sunday and the Troubles are a thing of the past we saw more police in flack jackets and armored police cars than all the other Irish Republic cities combined.Derryis a working person’s city and has a certain grit to it. The vast majority of jobs are in the service sector. When the rest of Ireland was a Celtic Tiger this city was still poor and struggling.

Photos of Derry:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150206257656516.311836.667416515&l=dbd98e244e

Photos of the Giants Causeway:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150206276961516.311846.667416515&l=ef1a4b452c

Carlingford is located on the western shores of the island not too far north of Dublin. This is another little touristy village and, as they say, cute as a button. It seems King John romped there in the 12th Century and the place is on the tourist route. There were several housing developments that were stopped before final construction and stand empty. The streets are narrow and on weekends the place is taken over by day trippers fromDublin. One claim to fame is in the mountains around Carlingford is where many of the leprechauns legends were started.

Photos of Carlingford:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150206290491516.311848.667416515&l=c40017efc9

Miscellaneous observations:Ireland is most certainly green and cold and rainy… The country is as clean of rubbish and trash on the side of the road and in city streets, maybe even more so, believe it or not, thanCanada… InIreland they put a charge of 20 cents on plastic bags in businesses and, hocus pocus, you do not see plastic bags flying around anywhere in theRepublic ofIreland. Great idea. Not so inNorthern Ireland that still gives away bags, Businesses inIreland (except pubs, of course) close around5:30 to 6:00 p.m. and all day on Sunday. This is not a country like the USA open 7 days a week from7 a.m. to 11 p.m….As mentioned before there is a recession going on in Ireland and looking around, my response is—-what recession? I believe the Irish are still partying like it is 1999 and they are Celtic Tigers once again. I predict you will be able to buy a house real cheap inIreland in about two years….  The narrow country roads have a speed limit of100 Kilometers per hour; way too fast…There are no large box stores in any of the cities inIreland and very few Starbucks or other American fast food franchises. We saw more Subways than any other franchise…Guinness beer taste better here than in theUS. Apparently Guinness beer does not travel well…. Trivia note: Mrs. Guinness had 21 children… To be critical of my own ethnicity, I’m sure I’ll hear about this, the women ofIreland are…well…only average (at best) in looks. The Irish men? I’m not one to answer that. We visited several museums at the same time as Irish school kids on field trips and the kids seemed to be well mannered and not out of control like most American kids…The Irish do have a natural sense of humor and wit and use it in every conversation. I guess that is where I get my sense of humor from. It is in my DNA.

Ireland is the landof B&Bs. In every city, large or small, every wide spot, every bend in the road there was a B&B. Every house we stayed in was clean and the hosts gracious. At every B&B you are served the proverbial IRISH BREAKFAST—-egg, 2 sausages, two slices of bacon and a fried red tomato, sometimes they served “black or white pudding” which is not sweet dessert pudding. It is an acquired taste. Don’t ask what’s in it. We both agreed after three weeks every morning of Irish (and Scottish) full breakfasts, if we never see an egg or a sausage again it won’t be any too soon. There also seems to be as many ruins of castles and abbey’s around the country as there are B&Bs…. The highest recorded temperature ever in Ireland was 91 degrees F.