Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Airline With Humor


Here is a budget airline with a sense of humor. Too bad they only fly within South Africa.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Pin It Now!

Cheap Flight Hunting


As my moniker suggests, I love budget options. When it comes time for find cheap airfare, I really scrape the bottom of the Internet barrel looking for the tools to aid my search. One thing that I really find is a time waster is having to go from one web site to another. Today, I came across a great site that consolidates the searches. Cheap-Flights.to makes it easy to compare fares, hotels, car rentals and package deals. 

Cheap-Flights.to uses the major consolidators: Kayak, ExpediaOrbitz, and Mobissimosearch engine individually, saving on time and potential typing errors with dates. putting links to each of them directly on your search page. There is no need to put your data into each

Just one example proves the point. I did a sample search for Budapest to Riga for October. On Kayak the cheapest flight was on Polish Lot Airlines for $285 pp, but when going to the final stages, the grand total is $569. 
Orbitz shows the flights as $116 pp, but with taxes $295 for a final total of $59158. 
Mobissimo did the worst, sending me on to Ebookers in the UK. The least expensive flight was 319 BP, which at today's exchange is $492, although there may have been more charges had I gone through with the booking process. Interestingly, they are still using the same Polish Lot flight to Warsaw as the others, but then changing to Lufthansa. 
Expedia has a total fare of $474, making it the champ for this round.

I will certainly be bookmarking Cheap-Flights.to for my future travels.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Pin It Now!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Hello, Hello? And Google Does it Again


Google announced a new service, calling for free for the US and Canada. My excitement rose, fell, and then stabilized when I remembered the last service did not work from here. They have a SMS from your Gmail account, but the service only works for the US, Israel, parts of Palestine, Ghana, and other remote unlikely locations. I had not hope of seeing this new service appear in my Gmail account. BUT it did. It took two more days for it to make an appearance in Ron's account, and it has finally arrived in my other accounts. 

Up to now, we have been devoted Jajah users. There is nothing to download or install on your computer. All you need to do is register. If the people you call are Jajah users, the call is free, up to an hour a month. If they are not users, you put money on an account. We generally put $20 on it and it lasts for 6 months or more with Ron calling family twice a month. The advantage of Jajah is that you use your regular phone, not a computer headset. You are free to roam around when you talk. One friend called me from Las Vegas as she was traveling to work. We have a Jajah button on our B and B website, so others can call us and we pay the bill. It is nominal.

Skype is what everyone is most familiar with. We had tried it in the past, but Ron could not hear his sister and had to scream for her to hear him. Even the best earphones and mic did not persuade him to continue using it. It has only been after years, a number of upgrades and everyone asking if we had a Skype account that I waved the white flag and downloaded it onto the computer creating a BudaBaB account. Unlike Jajah, things need to be downloaded onto the computer and I am stuck at the computer with a headset on to use it. 

If you have a Gmail account, open it and on the left under the chat list there is Call Phone. If you click on it, a box opens with a numeric keypad. It is set for the US already, so you only have to click on the numbers for an area code and the 7 digit phone. Ron gave it a test drive to see if it really would work from here. It did. The only thing that we had to download was a small piece of voice activation software. He spent forty minutes speaking with his sister in Colorado. I did not hear him scream at her or to her once. When he finished, he said the connection was excellent. His only complaint was being stuck in front of the computer having to wear earphones. He has a habit of wandering around when he speaks on the phone. Not possible with Gmail calling.

Calling other countries are on a small fee for service plan, similar to Jajah or Skype if the party being called is not a member of the service. Google says the US and Canada will stay free through 2010, so get your calls in.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Pin It Now!

Waking Up is Hard to Do


If you remember the song "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do" you will appreciate this rendition sung by a group of anesthesiologists who call themselves the Laryngospasms. I understand they also perform concerts, but it is not covered by U.S. health care insurance. Oh, wait a minute. Hardly anything is covered by U.S. health care insurance these days without a lawsuit.

Enjoy the music. After listening to it, I need a nap.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Pin It Now!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Ireland 2010


Click here to view these pictures larger

Pin It Now!

Friday, August 27, 2010

You Know the Vacation is Over...


You know the vacation is over as soon as you step foot in the home airport planning your transportation home again. Then you open the fridge to find it either empty or a lab for nutritional biologists.

Having having access to the Internet was more relaxing than stressful, which I had anticipated. Once home and connected, I was especially grateful for not checking e-mails while gone. There were over 500 fairly legitimate e-mails, with another few hundred in the Spam filter.

Students are starting to think about school again, which is encouraging. There were over a dozen e-mails from various groups of my kids. My newest group do not know they are soon to be my kids. Of course there are university problems, but not student initiated. Classes that overlap each other, but are still required for all, problems with accessing the registration online, and the list goes on. Fortunately, there are some responsive people at school who have helped out with some of this. It just makes me wonder how Trinity handles their 16,000 students when registration comes around, but better yet, how did they handle it before computers?

So later today, I will meet with students who are writing their thesis this semester and I am their adviser. I will meet with a new substitute teacher who is replacing colleague on maternity leave. I will meet with some new students to give them the CDs for the upcoming classes. When I am done for the day, I will come home and look at my pictures from Ireland and try to recapture those feelings of relaxation and peace. 
Enhanced by Zemanta

Pin It Now!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010



Our shuttle, the Paddy Wagon was coming for us at 5:10 am, but we were in the lobby by 5. The guy at reception wanted us to wait upstairs, but the chairs were much more comfortable downstairs by the front door. At 5:10 on the button, the doorbell rang, the reception guy ran down to unlock the door, but it was bread delivery for the restaurant. 

By 5:20, I was getting nervous when the reception guy tells me sometimes the shuttle just does not show up. He added that they quit services over the Christmas holidays, never informing the hotel. Great! Just great! They did show and we did get to the airport on time, but they only go as far as the parking lot. You are on your own from there to walk the rest of the way.

Strangely, we did not have our passports stamped leaving Ireland, but we did going in. They did stamp us coming into Hungary. There were no munchkins returning with us. They must have found their pot of gold.

I made a good book haul with the 3 for 2 offers and special sales with some books that I had not known existed, some by authors I had never heard of before, but they sounded interesting. 

Authors I have read and enjoyed, I have added these books:
Deliver Us From Evil by David Baldacci
206 Bones by Kathy Reichs
The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
The Chosen One by Sam Bourne

New authors and titles include:
Tender Morsels: A Work of Genius by Marco Lanacan
Room by Emma Donoghue
The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas
A Gate to the Stairs by Lorrie Moore
The Secret by Rhonda Byrne
Darkhouse by Alex Barclay

This will keep me in reading material at least until the end of October.  

Enhanced by Zemanta

Pin It Now!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Mondays Are for Animals


Not all Insomnia coffee shops are created equal. Some are little cafes, while the one today is a bar in a smaller Spar store. The muffins are not very fresh either. With all of the coffee I had drunk in this country, I cannot say I had a good espresso drink yet. Some places even use the same brands they do in Budapest, but the quality of the drink is not close to being as tasty. The water perhaps? Maybe their need a better filtering system of the Liffey? It has been doing a great job for the beer though.

Decisions, Decisions…we had to decide how we were going to get to the airport tomorrow morning. Our IrishRail package included round-trip tickets on public transport, but we need to be at the airport by 6 am. The buses don’t start up early enough. With that in mind, since we could not use the first portion, we took our tickets to the bus office. Ron, who perpetually looks innocent, told the young lady we needed a refund since we could not use the tickets. Technically this was a true statement. What he did not say was that when we arrived, we tried shoving these tickets into the validator, but since it was the wrong bus and had made so many attempts the driver told us to forget it and sit down. After she went off to ask someone one who may or may not have known more than she did, she forked over a twenty Euro note.

Still back to decisions, decisions how to get to the airport. Option 1: take a taxi for twenty-five to thirty Euros. I have nothing against taxi drivers; I drove a taxi for 2 years in Jamestown, NY. BUT, I really hate shelling out money needlessly. Option 2: take the first bus for 5.50 and hope we get to the airport before the check-in closes. Too chancy! There are security and Passport Control counters to pass. Never know how long the lines will be. Option 3: take the Paddy Wagon. Yes, we decided on option 3 for 4.50 Euros each.

With that weight off of our backs, we used the Hop On – Hop Off bus for city transportation. By now, we could have given the commentary ourselves. We went all the way to the 20th stop, which was the zoo in the park. With Ron’s Silver Surfer card, we received 2 for 1 admission saving 15 Euros. Really it only saved us 12 Euros due to a senior concession. Dublin Zoo was opened in 1831, still not huge, but really a magnificent place for animals if they have to be kept in a zoo environment. There were a number of different animals one would expect, but were not here. Those they did have, they had a good number of, like four rhinos that we spotted. We spent almost the entire day watching the animals, but sometimes more fun was watching the children react to the animals.

Before the day passed us by, I wanted to check some computer stores for MS Office 2010. It would have been easier to buy it here than have someone bring it to me from the US. I had concerns that here it would be British English, but they said it was changeable. The cost, however, was exorbitant. I can get a multiple computer license in the US for about 70% of the selling price here. However, although we found a number of bookstores with offers for cheaper books, Waterstones had their usual buy 2 get 1 free offers. With some quick calculations, already knowing the prices and discounts offered elsewhere, this was a better bargain.  We came home with 9 new books, 6 of which were newly on my list as of this trip. I hope they are worth the lugging home.

For the first time this trip, we went back to the hotel for a rest, but that only lasted less than an hour. We went out for dinner, but for a change we went to an all-you-can-eat Chinese restaurant, but getting there at 8 pm when they close at ten was not the best move. There was an apparent slowness in refilling the trays that were empty, but eventually they did.

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at a lovely old-fashioned looking pub with a young staff. We were 2 of the 4 people in the place and that continued until we left an hour later. I hope it survives the downturn.

It sounds kind of pathetic, but on the way back to the hotel, we bought Cheddar cheese, a rare or expensive commodity in Hungary. At either the Tesco or the specialty cheese shops, it will run about $10 a ½ pound.  We had it for snacks a couple of days, since we miss it so much. 

This was the end of our mini-vacation.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Pin It Now!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

No Hopping for These Guys


What to do on a rainy Sunday in Dublin… Our package deal with IrishRail included two-day tickets for the green as opposed to the red Hop-On, Hop-Off bus tours. I often wonder if the name of those tour buses is discriminatory for those who are physically challenged. However, I have yet to see anyone taking the name to heart. I have never seen anyone actually try to hop entering or exiting the vehicle. Either way, we sat up top in the open air letting the mist and raindrop flutter through our hair as we traveled the speed of a crippled dog.

We did the entire loop of twenty-three points of interest in 1 ½ hours, but still did not do any hopping yet. What I find interesting, yet disappointing are the Sunday hours of museums. Is it because this is a Catholic country that museums do not open until 1 or 2 pm on Sunday? Do the attendants need that time for church, get home have that full Irish breakfast, change, and then get to work? Even I know Saturday night masses can count for the points a Catholic needs to tally up for a Sunday obligation. They are going to be closed all day on Monday like most museums worldwide. It would make more sense to open early, close early.

Continuing on the bus, we did get off, sorry, no hopping was involved, but we were close to the National Gallery of Ireland on Merrion Square West. This art museum houses over 7,000 pieces. I cannot say it was in deference to our time constraints, but over one floor was closed off for renovations. Admission is free and we were short on time, so it worked in our favor. We were able to see the highlights of what interested us.

In the interest of time, we were able to walk to the Irish National Museum of Antiquities. We had been here on our last trip, but it seemed the same issue as this time. Museums are open 2-5 pm on Sundays, causing a mad dash as Monday is a no-go. I don’t get enough time in this museum, but it is actually four museums at four different locations. I really need a day for each. Look, look, look, digest the visual overload, look, look, look, leave to nap and return again. Admission is free.

There was still time to fit in one more museum, a unique one; unique due to the subject and because they are open until 6 pm. The National Leprechaun Museum was on my watch list. Okay, I admit I have a carry-over from childhood when the marketing to youth included “Be the first on your block to…”  I am certain we are the first and probably only ever on our block to visit this museum. It was not focused toward children as much as one would expect, though they do have a charming end to the guided and self-guided tours. It is obvious they put a great deal of thought, energy, research, and workmanship into making this as enchanting as it is. Never did catch that evasive leprechaun though.
Dinner was in the Temple Bar area. We learned on our tour that Temple was a provost at Trinity. He and his family lived in this district. bar in Irish means ‘close to the river’ (Barra an Teampaill). There are no associations with bar and pub, though there are plenty of pubs in the Temple Bar area, but there are also shops, restaurants, and residences. Using Ron’s Silver Surfer card, we went to the Turk’s Head for another 2 for 1 dinner. A lively pub atmosphere when we arrived at about 7 pm turned into a ghost place by 8:30 pm. Maybe we missed the second shift.

To work off dinner, we did a bit of shopping, not much mind you. We only have carry-on luggage and a backpack that can carry another forty pounds, but that is reserved for books. I found a funny sweatshirt that made me guffaw out loud, something rare these days. It has “I swear to drunk, I am not God.” Had to buy it. Off by tram to Ryan’s Pub, the only place we have found that had Galway Hooker on tap or at all actually. One of the genealogy research places shows that my original family name hailed from a tribe in Galway. I must have needed to get to my roots. If you go to the Galway Hooker website, read the first page carefully. It is funny, not really adult rated.

If WiFi access were not 6.95 Euros an hour, I would have thought to check their website for other places that sold it. Darn!
Enhanced by Zemanta

Pin It Now!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

1-2-3 = Trinity


Our day seemed to be truncated today. We had gone to Trinity University in the past, but wanted to do the full tour this time. As the young man hawking the tour proclaims, entrance fees for the Long Room and the Book of Kells will cost you 9 Euros, but for 10 Euros, you can get a university tour as well. Our tour guide was Steven, a handsome blond lad with thick curly blond hair and a graduate of the university. As he admits, post-graduation, he spent a year in Paris burning through his funds, and is now trying to recoup them by this seemingly no degree required position.

Beginning as a college, it was created in 1592 by Elizabeth I solely so that her subjects did not have to go to Italy, France or Spain to study while becoming infected with critical thinking that may have turned them again jolly ole England. Currently, it has 16,000 students with 90,700 alumni. Can you imagine the alumni reunion? If you are wondering about the name, it goes by a couple: Trinity College Dublin and the University of Dublin. Three faculties include Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences; Engineering, Mathematics and Science; and Health Sciences. Within the city center the campus consumes fifty-one acres, but take heart they have five other campuses. Their property is in excess of 220,000 m2 of buildings, including the beautiful historic architecture alongside some state-of-the-art modern facilities. Their social programs span 90 college societies as well as 50 active sports clubs. That is one hell of a lot of Cricket. Steven was charming, intelligent, and had great wit.

The library has about 4.5 million printed volumes, significant holdings of maps and printed music with an extensive collection of literary and historical manuscripts including the most famous The Book of Kells. These collections have been started and augmented from the end of the sixteenth century. In 1801 the college received the privilege of receiving all Irish and UK copyright material. Currently over 100,000 new items are added each year causing them to build ½ mile of bookcases to accommodate them each year). As well as printed material, the library has considerable breadth of electronic resources and presently provides access to 30,000 electronic journals and nearly 300,000 online books.

This library does not include the Long Room, where 200,000 manuscripts are stored in this fabulous barrel ceilinged room with bookshelves reaching into the clouds. My first instinct it to set up a cot and move in, but no better luck this time than last.

By 2 pm, we had to be at the Abbey Theater for the play The Plough and the Stars, an Irish classic by Sean O’Casey. I had reservations about the play, worried that the Irish accent would be difficult at times. The story revolves around lower class Irish in 1916, so the brogue could have been tenuous. There were times when it was touch and go where we wished there were super titles, but it was magnificent. We did not get out until after 5 pm, so there went that day.

With the museums closed, we did walk and walk and walk visiting Christ Church Cathedral from the outside. It was closed by the time we arrived, but they charge hefty entry fees to tour it and more to peek in the other buildings. By chance discovery we came across the end of the day activity of the Viking festival. We used to go to the Renaissance Fairs in California; here they recognize their Viking invades of eras past. They were showing the film The Vikings with Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis. Our Hungarian connection number 1.We always have some Hungarian connection experience when we travel.

Using Ron’s Silver Surfer card, dinner was a 2 for 1 at The Clarence Hotel, which is owned by Bono & The Edge of Irish rock group U2 (from their website). Posh, but casual, elegant, but relaxed, even with a 2 for 1, it was expensive. The hotel's advertising campaign can be U2 can stay with us. No charge for the idea, but a free night the next time we are in town will not be refused. :  ) Our waiter turned out to be Hungarian and had lived in Ireland for the last 3 years. Connection number 2.

To continue to support the pubs economy, we ventured back to our hotel pub for drinks. I forgot to mention that our hotel, the North Star was clean, but not thrilling. Our room was so close to the DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit) station that when we put our hand out the single window in our room, we could clean the train as it passed. The bathroom floor was sloped downward and to the side. When I first went in, I did not notice it with the white tiles, so I went lunging forward and to the left at the same time, plowing into the toilet at the not so far end of the room. It is NOT owned by U2.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Pin It Now!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Kinsale by the Sea


Allowing ourselves to sleep in until 8:30 was a rare treat. Breakfast was included in this hotel stay; we could fortify our bodies for an endurance test in shopping with some sightseeing added in. In addition to a standard buffet including choices of cereals, pastries, and juices, another option was for a full ‘traditional’ Irish breakfast.

It is a wonder the Irish don’t have a short life expectancy. The full deal is an egg, bacon, and a slice of ham, sausage links, black and white pudding, sautéed mushrooms, and a half a fried tomato. Sounded good to me for a once a vacation meal, but I could not do it every day. Before accepting the black and white pudding, being of a suspicious nature, I questioned the ingredients. From the waitresses description it sounded like they used the results of a pig’s D & C (Dilation and Curettage) for the main ingredients. I love the cryptic names these types of foods are labeled with: black and white pudding, head cheese, chitterlings, Rocky Mountain oysters, haggis, scrapple (Bet this one really makes board game companies angry).

Of course, being with Mr. Map (A.K.A. If I don’t have a map in my hand, I am not a happy camper), a stop at the tourism office is a mandate. At the hotel we picked up a copy of “What to do in Kinsale”. Second on the list of our things to do right after book shopping were the ferret races that is espoused in the booklet. It has been a full lifetime since I have been to a ferret race, so this was a ‘must see’. Wouldn’t you know it? “They discontinued them a year ago and never updated the booklet. They said something about having problems finding suitable jockeys.

I had forgotten how much fun it was to browse whole bookstores where ninety-nine percent of the books were in English and new at the same time. There are no used bookstores in this little town. I had also forgotten how expensive new books were. My trick was to write down the name and author of all books that looked interesting, which were not on any list I previously created. When we return to Dublin, I can check the other bookstores for second hand copies or sales.

At one point along a road through a residential section, Ron wanted to climb a lengthy flight of stairs between two homes, leading to an upper road. He took the high road and l took the low road, but hey, that is Scottish, not Irish. Anyway, the homes I passed has some themes like the Mermaids Haven and the Red Apple Place. Imagine the way the exterior was decorated based on their names and then imagine being their neighbors.
Eventually, Mr. Map and I found each other and went to an exhibition of craftspeople from around the county. Porcelain, glass, fiber, wood, crafts of all materials were used to create glamorous and stunning pieces of art: both functional and non-functional. Across the street, we visited an old church and graveyard dating back to the 14th century. I should look so good.

Two coffee stops were needed to warm up from the damp cold air from the sea when the sunshine was not doing its best at warming, but also for a save the back rest. Lunch was at Cucina (motto “Eat, Drink and Sleepover”), a delicious lunch at bargain prices, highly recommended for the next time you are in Kinsale. Our IrishRail person picked us up at 5 pm to drive us the fifty minutes to Cork to catch the 6:55 pm train back to Dublin.

Ryan’s pub shouted out our names when we returned; it is so very close to the train station, but the ride was close to 3 hours and we were encumbered with carry-on suitcases. Another time Ryan, I will remember your name. Did I happen to mention that President Clinton made a stop here? He drank, but never swallowed.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Pin It Now!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Onward to the Watery Ways


Cóbh (Irish for Cove) is the last port of call that the R.M.S. Titanic made before it met its fate. With this bit of history attached to the town, our tour included admission to the ‘Queenstown Story’ in the Cóbh Cultural Center which was once the White Star Line Victorian railway/transatlantic terminal. 
Three million Irish emigrated through Cóbh including Annie Moore and her two brothers. If your memory is not jiggled by reading her name, no worries, she was the very first person to be processed into the US via Ellis Island. Just 14-years old and traveling with her two younger brothers, Anthony (11) and Phillip (7), Annie departed from Queenstown (County Cork, Ireland) on December 20, 1891 aboard the S.S. Nevada, one of 148 steerage passengers. The trio would spend 12 days at sea (including Christmas Day), arriving in New York on Thursday evening, December 31. They were processed through Ellis Island the following morning, New Year's Day and also Annie's 15th birthday. All three children were soon reunited with their parents who were already living in New York.

Cóbh is a delightful little town on the waterfront. But with only 2 hours to explore the museum and the town, we only received a glimpse. I would have liked to have had more time there. Back on the bus, we stopped at St. Colman’s Cathedral. The best part was getting out of the rain while the guide spoke. This is not the same Colman as the famous mustard, but probably the mustard is better known worldwide than the saint.

We were the only ones of the group continuing on to Kinsale. Most of the group was returning to Dublin, while 4 others were going to a different city. Rather than hire a car to transport us for the hour’s ride, we had the entire bus to ourselves.

IrishRail booked us into Trident Hotel in Kinsale. As we drove past the adorable downtown area, it seemed like the bus was never going to reach our hotel. I calculated the cost of taxis getting back to the shopping area. Our room had glass walls on two sides overlooking the sea on one side and the port on the other. Fantastic choice of hotels! Here the rack rate on the door was 350 Euros a night, but included in our package deal.

When we were ready for dinner, I asked a rather robust woman at the reception how far it was to walk to the heart of the town. She said 5-10 minutes at which I had to ask “by speed walking?”. She smiled, laughed and said “Look at this body. Does it look like I speed walk anywhere?” She was right. It took us ten minutes; an amazingly short amount of time when you consider we had to crawl there. Neither of us had full use of our legs having left the Blarney torture chamber and the mile high stone only hours earlier. We found this wonderful restaurant amongst many choices called The Shack. I had a fantastic rib eye steak dinner for the cost of a middling lunch in Dublin. Funny how a delicious satisfying meal can heal the weary muscles. Add to that a slew of little intriguing shops that are just begging for a visit tomorrow when they are open again. Don't worry little shops, I will not ignore your need for attention.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Pin It Now!

Pucker Up!


Getting the skinning on economic downturns and the barrage of signs offering office, apartments, and full buildings for rent, sale, or barter with the bank did not make it all too appealing as a place to stop, but it was not a scheduled event anyway. We were off to see the famous Blarney Castle and the infamous Blarney Stone.

Our guide explained we had 3 hours at the Blarney Castle, quite generous. His suggestion was to see the castle, kiss the Blarney Stone, go to lunch, and then go shopping in that order. We were somewhat obedient.

Ron really wanted to kiss the BS (funny how Blarney Stone shares the same abbreviation as…). I really wanted Ron to kiss the BS for an adjustment to his lack of verbalizing. Off we ventured to the castle in ruins. Over the little foot bridge there was a line of people, so I got in it. Wrong thing to do! It was raining and chilly, my only recourse for stupidity.

As the line moved along, we entered a cave. Hollywood could not have done a better job than nature did. Dark with spiny walls it had such a low ceiling I had to crouch to get into it. Now picture this. I am 6’1”, but strapped to my back I had my backpack with my netbook computer, my wallet and the extra lens for my camera snuggled inside. After 5 feet of crouch walking making me 4’5” tall, we were faced with a cave hole that looked like an inverted spiked dog collar. We needed to pass through it. There was no duck walking any longer, the next option was a crawl.

With the backpack on, I could not crawl well. Being too high, it was scraping along the top of the hole and the tunnel that followed. There was not enough room to maneuver to get it off of my back, but at the same time the floor was moist. I had fears of my lens or computer getting wet. The backpack is very waterproof. I was close to being on my stomach in my new winter raincoat trying to transition into the next chamber. Good heavens, the next chamber was more claustrophobic than the hole and tunnel. My severe claustrophobia spurred me to move faster to the next section. The damn thing was elevated and narrow. This forced more crawling, but having to crawl as well as climb. This is the exact reason I never joined any of the Armed Forces, just too much physical activity. I don't even like pub crawls. They just sound too energetic. Chamber after chamber, I went. Was Ron following me? I did not have enough room to turn my head to find out. Four chambers and enough tunnels to connect NYC with NJ, finally I found two young men standing in an area where an average man could stand upright. In my ecstatic state, I am blindly looking around for the rest of the line to kiss the blessed stone while praying there is a back entrance to this thing.

Not only was there no back entrance, but this was not the way to the Blarney Stone. This was the way to an old torture chamber of the castle and the two oversized leprechauns at the end surely didn't offer any magical solutions. They did say "Ready to party?". Had there not been a whole swarm following me into this geographic closet... The only exit was the reverse of the way in. I surveyed the crowd to see if anyone was willing to kill me then and there, but no takers. Back out I went. These tunnels were not made for two lane passageways.
By the time I reached the rain soaked air again, what used to be my legs were just flesh colored gluttonous masses. A good dose of Geritol would hardly have given me the strength not to have to crab walk to a bench to catch my breath. Come to think of it a little Geritol concession stand right there by the castle would not be a bad idea. Had this been a year ago, after seating myself on a bench, I would have lit a cigarette. Now, I just gasped for air like a fish out of water without any props to cover my mouth. After we were able to remove the oxygen masks, Ron asked me what possessed me to venture in there to begin with. Not reading the signs is what possessed me.

Around the side was the entrance to the Blarney Stone. I made sure of it this time. One hundred steps up to get to the BS. Not just any steps, these steps are an adventure a stunt person would enjoy. The staircase is circular and narrow. This means that each step is about ½ the depth of one of my feet is long and that is at the deepest part of the step. With every step you have to concentrate to make sure you really have a foothold on it before lifting your body weight upward. Along the right side is a rope acting as a moveable bannister. The sensation is similar to indoor mountain climbing, I would guess. Never did it for real. Too much exertion involved.

We reached the top. On the left of the stone is a photographer who snaps two pictures of you in unattractive moments that you really will never want to share with anyone, whether you want him to or not. On the right side of the stone is the guy who helps you position yourself for this kiss of a lifetime. First you have to get on your back on this rubber mat. Holding two metal rails on either side, you bend your head backward in unnatural positions hanging into the opening between the castle and the stone. If you lose your grip, the guy could possibly grab your toes if you are lucky. I chose not to kiss the stone for two reasons. 1.) I have too many problems with my back as it is. Why risk these contortions? 2.) I took a good look at the people in line ahead of me. I watched what was passing their lips in line and could imagine where their lips may have been. Did I really want to kiss a rock that they had just kissed? I don’t think so.

On the castle grounds, one day a week they have a farmer’s market. This was the day. One offering was a waffle with ham, broccoli bits, and onions, which we tried and it was delicious.

Our return trip was yet again through Cork, but via a different route, still not charming, but still raining buckets. This could have caused what looked dreary to look dreariest. Onward IrishRail adventurers, our next stop is Cóbh (pronounced Cove).
Enhanced by Zemanta

Pin It Now!

Traein Turas - Train Ride in Irish


By 6:30 am, we were at the Hueston train station opened in 1844 headquartering the Great Southern & Western Railway. Checking in for our IrishRail tour Ron received a senior discount of 30%, so he had to go to a special window to get his ticket. Mine was included in our packet.  We had fifteen minutes to get coffee before boarding, but once we had it in our hand, the rep from the tour office came running over to say we needed to board immediately.

The trains are modern and well appointed. Most seating is a four seat plan with two-two facing seats and a table in between. IrishRail had the entire last two cars reserved for them, so it was open seating. Two cars was overkill; the entire group could barely fill one coach, yet different tours were all traveling together, but getting off at different points. Our destination, Cork was a 2 hour fifty minute ride, the end of the line for this train.

Travel sights include grass green pastures, forest green trees, lime green flowers, emeraldIreland. Bordering the town on the right are the Slieve Bloom Mountains. Other towns we zipped through were Templemore and past Loughmoe Castle last occupied in 1760. Thurles is the next stop followed by Limerick Junction, but the latter is only five lines long and good for a laugh since it is close to Tipperary and not to Limerick.
green sheep. What? That’s not right, but anyway, what you will see is every shade of green you can think of.  We passed through Monasterevan where the claim to fame is a convergence. This is where the Barrow River, the Grand Canal, the main road to the south, and the railway all come together. Portlaoise, the first stop, is the home to the only maximum security prison in

As we approached Cork, we followed the Martin River with the foothills of the Boggeragh Mountains finally going through Ireland’s longest railway tunnel, a short 1.2 km long. In Cork we were hurriedly boarded onto a bus; this was a blessing, because the rain was torrential. As the Irish like to say, all of this rain is what makes the country green, but my response was if I watered my plants this much all I would get is root rot. We kind of blazed through Cork in one direction and returned via a different one. What the guide shared was rather depressing. The entire country has been victimized by gang wars when gangs never existed before, crime has sky-rocketed, and businesses are having to pay protection money. Again, he reiterated that Ireland went from one of the richest countries in Europe to one of the poorest.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Pin It Now!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Green, Green, Everywhere Green


Rain, sun, sprinkles of rain, sun, rain rain, sun, all in the first hour of our morning, but it continued like this all day.My umbrella was up and down, up and down. It was like an old man who had used an out-of-date dose of Viagra.

Our hotel was booked by Rail Ireland as part of the rail tour we will be taking with them tomorrow, but this gave us two nights in Dublin to settle in before getting up at 7 am to catch the train. The train station is two blocks away, a hop, skip, and a jump even with suitcases. We only travel with a carry-on bag each and I have my computer backpack for my 2 pound netbook and another 2 pounds of camera and equipment.

Breakfast at the hotel was going for 15 Euros additional, making it an easy choice to look elsewhere for our caffeine fix. We found a coffee place in the Spar stores called Insomnia. Their special was a choice of any coffee or tea drink along with any muffin, scone, log roll, or other sweet for 3.50 Euros. Having spent two summer vacations in Edinburgh, I catch myself thinking in British Pounds not Euros, sending chills up my spine when I see the cost of things. Then I realize, it is Euros, which is not as bad. Still, the cost of things here are expensive enough in Euros, let alone BP. For all of the economic depression Charlie and the hotel staff have mentioned, it has not hit the restaurant industry for sure. Looking at menus along the way, food is still expensive.

We were here in October/November 2001 when Ireland, but Dublin in particular was one of the richest countries and cities in Europe. Much of their money was made in computers. Apple, Microsoft, Dell, and others have European headquarters here. Prosperity was green for sure, but came in the many colors of the Euro bills also. Since then, multiple of ten times
thousands have lost their jobs, not only in the computer industry, but others as well. Personal or professional space in Dublin was difficult to find and if you could was on par or greater than NYC for rents. In spite of the cost of everything, the city was alive. Restaurants, pubs, and stores were overflowing with tourists, even in the autumn months.

The changes in the economy are tangible. There is a feeling in the air, like a 21st century potato famine. It is difficult to miss visually as well with “For sale” and “For rent” signs everywhere. Office buildings are vacant. Rents are being offered for 15 Euro a square meter. People are being paid to stand on pedestrian streets holding advertising signs for services of businesses down side streets, which may otherwise be overlooked. Our hotel advertises their 'Rack' rate on the door as 175 Euros per person a night. Through IrishRail Tours we are paying 99 Euros a night for both of us. Certainly, even without IrishRail, bargains are to be had everywhere just to fill rooms. The rate signs were holdovers from better days.

The day was spent just walking exploring the different areas. Since we have been here before so it was a 'get our bearings' journey. The city is no stranger to us, but there are parts we had not had proper introductions to yet. One such place was St. Stephen’s Green, which was new for us, but we only walked the inside periphery. The expanse of the park is twenty-two acres. One of the tourism people gave us the names of three used book stores. This made up our next three stops. Not buying a thing, I did make notes of titles that jumped out at me. So many did so, I felt like a victim of a lynching. We have 48 hour Hop On-Hop Off bus ticket, but it is 2 consecutive days. Leaving for our tour tomorrow, it is prudent to wait until we return to use it to the max.

The pub that Charlie recommended we all attend last night is called Ryan’s and it is just a ½ block from our hotel. We went there for a pint where I discovered Galway Hooker beer. This is my new favorite beer. Ron ate at the pub, but not being hungry yet, I skipped it. We walked to the train station, a few blocks from our hotel to get a visual for tomorrow’s excursion. The fast food place appealed, so I settled for a portion of curry fries for my dinner, but we had to return  to Ryan’s for a nightcap of that great beer. When we return from our tour, we will be on the other side of the city, making this less convenient to get to.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Pin It Now!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Going for the Green


Thinking ahead, there have never been any redeeming factors for having a Malev’s frequent flier program membership. In the past, they always seemed to either lose my points or mysteriously disappear after three months without warning or explanation; however, Ron's remained intact most of the time. To question them, I always had to visit their office to adjust it in person. Too much hassle. One quick Google search showed Malev as now being a member of the One World Alliance. Opps! We don’t have any memberships with any of those airlines. Best options were American or British Airlines. American seemed the most logical, but we have not flown either for over fifteen years. With a couple of keystrokes, we each were instantly American Airlines members with virtual cards. A quick screenshot of them pasting them into a document, I had them printed out for an airport presentation. This flight is 3 hours, over 1,ooo miles, a trip too good to miss out on miles.

There was not a single empty seat on the plane, meaning Ron and I had to sit in different aisles. Initially, we were two rows apart. I would have shared my row with two youngsters until they mother asked me to change seats. That put me one row ahead of Ron, a wee bit closer, not ht that we had any conversation stored for the flight. Good thing too. There were over twenty unaccompanied children or twenty-some little people on their way to an International Little People convention, we were never quite sure of their category. Regardless of their status, the little munchkins were on their way to the Emerald Isle. Even at baggage claim in Dublin there was no supervising adult hovering over these children with worried looks. There was no news of any orphanages in Hungary reporting a great escape. I wanted to give them my number in case they did find Oz. I would pay for their map and directions.
I guess we should have hopped on their shuttle marked Yellow Brick Road Express, but we were too busy looking for our provided ride by Irish Rail.

Our escort was supposed to be wearing a bright yellow jacket. As we left Passport Control and then Customs, there was a small mob of anxious people waiting for loved ones or those they were commissioned to temporarily love and transport for a short time. Those looking for strangers had signs announcing who they were there to retrieve. No one had our names. There was a grandpa looking man with a yellow rain jacket, but he was busy speaking to a young woman, who we presumed was his arriving daughter. His hands were to his sides, one with a briefcase. 

Calling IrishRail was useless. They close at 5:00 pm. We walked back and forth and forth and back, but no one bore our name on any sign or signal to alert our attention. Elder man never left, though his young female companion had dismissed him minutes earlier. We finally approached him asking if he were from IrishRail. At this he turned around and showed us the logo on the back of his jacket; like this was intuitive for us to check him out front and back. There was no indication on the front of the jacket. Later when he gave us our documents, I noticed a sign with our names on it that never made it out of his briefcase. He claimed he thought the jacket would be enough. Hey Charlie! News flash…it does not work.

Charlie is how we referred to him; we never did catch his name, but he could not remember ours either. He was to transport us to our hotel. Transport was public bus with tickets provided by IrishRail, but due to our late arrival, the bus we needed had its last run for the night. An alternate bus did not accept our tickets,  only took us part of the way, but then we had to take a tram the rest of the ride, purchasing our own tram tickets. We did not arrive at the hotel until close to 11:00 pm. Charlie kind of hinted we should join him at the pub near the hotel when I had asked about pubs being open. That was hours earlier it seemed and my interest had waned significantly. 

IrishRail booked us into the Ashling Hotel for two nights. As it turned out it was a Best Western, better than any I have remembered in the past and the service was exceptional. To celebrate Ireland, we had a pint in the lounge, deciding for forfeit dinner. Malev only provided a sandwich as a meal, but we were too tired by this point to hunt out places. Pubs would be closing soon, making pub food scarce. 

Enhanced by Zemanta

Pin It Now!