Monday, May 30, 2011



Gluecksbringer means lucky charm! I finally got these overcute sandals at Kaufhof after visiting them a few times just to have a look. You might also be able to get them or something like them at the online Adelheidladen. I started seeing this brand around shops about two years ago and they are a great source for gift ideas if you want to get someone something cute and German, but not a cuckoo clock or stein. In Heidelberg I've seen Adelheid stuff at both Kaufhofs, Bolero, Bofinger, and Subway.

I think it's worth pointing out (to those who don't speak German) that Glueck is not only the German word for luck, but also the word for happiness. I think they might be on to something there. It's not just the idea that being lucky could bring you happiness, but the idea that whether or not you are happy in life is mostly determined by luck. I think the role of luck is downplayed in the US, where we try to believe that things we can determine on our own get us where we are and that we therefore all have infinite possibilities in life....and those who don't must have done something wrong to get them there. Thoughts?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Another Rainbow Entry!

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Because rainbows still get me excited. This was about 5 minutes ago. The second rainbow (see a patch of it, upper right) sort of faded in and out. The main rainbow had 2-3 levels of BIV fading in and out too!...but unfortunately not in this picture. I didn't think the rainbow would last and went back inside, but from my terrace I could still see about half of it and it just lingered for ages, getting brighter and dimmer. Here's an image taken from my terrace with the contrast jacked up so it's easier to see the echoing BIV section!


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Ireland!!: Eurovision in Dublin!

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Saturday - the last full day of our trip. Sigh. After yet another fabulous B&B breakfast, we did a little online research on routes to Dublin and buses between the Dublin airport and city center, then headed out.

The weather was - finally, after days of wondering if it was about to turn on us - completely horrible. We drove a scenic route between Laghy & Pettigoe recommended by the B&B owners, but couldn't see a thing through all the rain. It just poured. We were so glad it was happening now instead of one of the previous days!

We'd read a bit about Enniskillen and thought it sounded interesting, so we decided to make our lunch stop there. We forgot one thing that's easy to forget when you're on vacation - what day of the week it was. It was Saturday, and Enniskillen was swamped with traffic around lunchtime, maybe shoppers from all around as it's a pretty big town. It took forever to get in and out of town and we made several wrong turns just desperately trying to get out of the mess. Plus the rain. Bah. However, the place we stopped, Snackz, was great. It was too early for lunch so we all just got a snack and tea, then ordered sandwiches to go. They had a huge variety of cakes and sandwich fillings. It continued to pour and we didn't see anything of Enniskillen other than the traffic and Snackz! Maybe another day.

We had written a note to maybe visit Tara if we had time on the way back to Dublin. We didn't really know anything about it except that it's known as the former seat of the Irish high kings. I also heard there was a tree there that people tied ribbons to, which sounded cool. It turned out there was plenty of time since Tara is pretty much right on the motorway. There seemed to be a little break in the rain so we stopped.

I guess since we didn't expect to have time for Tara, we were totally unprepared. I had packed up my boots and was wearing cheap sneakers. Damon had on the jacket he wore to the wedding. Everything was grass, wet, wet grass. It was windy and about to rain again. We went directly onto the hill, but there weren't explanations for anything out there, just lots of different-shaped mounds and little signs saying things like "Royal Enclosure" that didn't mean anything without some background, which we didn't really have. What part of all this was real, and what was mythical, what was not that old, and what was stone age stuff imagined to be something else by later people? None of that was clear and it was starting to rain and my socks were soaked through and you couldn't keep an umbrella open out there. Eff Tara! Forget that ribbon tree too. I saw it on the edge of the grass, but couldn't be bothered at that point. We had our lunch in the car, went through a massive to-do to get out of the lawless "parking lot" (we were blocked in), put in enough gas to get to Dublin since the car was at the point of freaking out about being low, and headed back toward Dublin.

Enniskillen, Tara, & Dublin Mai 11

We checked in at our airport hotel, returned the rental car, got confused by the bus options into Dublin, and the finally got on one and got to center, where J checked in at a hotel near Temple Bar. She was planning to look around Dublin a bit in the morning before getting her flight out. Our flight was at 7am so no such option for us! We grabbed some Indian food nearby, then set out to find a bar to watch Eurovision. I just cannot miss the opportunity to laugh at the bizarre costumes and cheesy English live.

After all the Jedward hype on the radio, and considering how easy it had been to find Eurovision in a bar in Scotland, we didn't anticipate the difficulty we had finding a place to watch Eurovision! Granted, being a tourist area serving up live folk music every night of the week, Temple Bar might not have been the best place to be looking, but it was convenient to the bus stop back to the airport and to J's hotel, and we were getting too low on time to try to find another neighborhood. We'd already asked the front desk at J's hotel and just got a derisive sneer. At the first place we asked, the bartender got snippy with us for watching that rubbish and told us they take their music (a fiddler and tin whistle player were already set up in front) seriously there. (What a contrast to the lady in Letterkenny telling us the music was only for tourists. Oh, never mind, it's super-serious stuff. I guess people feel torn about this?) The next couple of places just laughed. The next said they would show it, but without sound. Finally we stopped at a hotel concierge who suggested we try a place way down at the other end called FitzSimon's because they had a lot of rooms/TVs. We weaved through massive crowds all the way there, only to have the bartender giggle a bit and say she was pretty sure they wouldn't show it, but that she would ask the manager. It was getting to be time for the show and we were about to resort to watching it in J's hotel room. After a couple of minutes the bartender came back and told us they were showing it in a tiny side room! Yay!! There was one other couple in there when we arrived, and soon thereafter a crowd of Germans and Austrians also came in for the show. In this setting, Eurovision was actually a pretty good segue back into our German lives. By the end of the show, they were showing it on all the TVs in the bar, and there was even a guy with a Jedhead on walking around. (A cardboard hat with Jedward hair on it.) So, big thanks to FitzSimon's for actually showing Eurovision, although it didn't seem like the kind of place where I'd normally want to hang out. By the time we left it was full of jocks, girls wearing very little, and pervs who tried to grope me in the stairwell. Maybe that's just the story of Temple Bar in general.

After Eurovision, we dropped off J at her hotel and rode back to the airport, then on to our hotel. For some reason we ended up with the handicapped room at the hotel although we didn't need it. It was extremely spacious, although the bathroom was lacking countertops. We repacked everything for airplane travel - liquids in the checked bag, nothing over a certain weight, and so on. It was at this point that we realized the bag with my tweed purse and scraps had been left at the B&B. If only we'd left it in the car in the first place! As of now, it's on its way to me in the mail, and I'm minus even more money in postage. I'm just glad we didn't leave it somewhere where we couldn't recover it!

The following morning we got up at 5 and just did the minimum possible maintenance before heading to the airport. It was packed - and how come all those other people looked so awake and presentable!? And also, why were they checking everyone's umbrella at security? Is there some kind of umbrella terror threat now - anyone know? That one was new to me. The flight was completely uneventful - and it was back to our German lives.

Beware Spanish cukes!

The Robert Koch Institut (German CDC) found the E. coli that's been causing hundreds of illnesses in Germany on cucumbers from Spain - so if you have any, you should probably toss them.

They haven't ruled out other additional sources.

If you ate some cukes recently and are having GI trouble, don't hesitate to get thee to a doctor!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Ireland!!: Glencolmcille, Slieve League, & That General Area

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Killybegs is a fishing town in the southwest section of County Donegal. There wasn't anything special in that particular town that made us decide to book there - it was mostly because of its location convenient to both Ardara and Slieve League/Glencolmcille (all places we knew we wanted to go) and because the B&B we found there came very highly reviewed on TripAdvisor and was the right price.

We checked in at Drumbeagh House, and although J had reserved a standard single, since we were the only ones there both nights, they upgraded her to an ensuite triple! We had tea and snacks when we arrived, and one of the owners, Tom, came by to chat us up. After discussing the Irish economy for a while (cheery topic...) and stuff about the area, he offered to give us a ride into town to the restaurant he had recommended. It's only a five minute walk or so, but we accepted anyway. He really talked up the restaurant, 22 Main Street, but when we saw the menu it turned out to be a bit more than we wanted to spend. We were reaching the end of the vacation and starting to hit the end of our we went to a chipper down the street called Melly's. We still wanted to be able to say we went to 22 because we knew they were going to ask about it, though, so we ended up getting dessert there, as they looked pretty interesting and were not bad at 5 EUR each. Man, were they ever surprised when we walked in and said we only wanted dessert - seafood is their thing, and it makes sense in a fishing port. In retrospect, maybe we should have just had dinner there, but the cost of eating out in Ireland was starting to get on our nerves at that point. It's too bad Killybegs didn't have something that was more of a no-nonsense good fish restaurant, a la No Name in Boston. Anyway, dessert was really fun - for a couple of us. I had fondue for one, which came with strawberries, toasted marshmallows, and a shot of champagne, and was good. My husband had something totally fascinating - it was listed on the menu as "Bailey's Carrageen Moss" which was a complete mystery to us. The waitress explained that carrageen moss is a type of seaweed and the dessert was kind of like creme brulee Irish-ized. She said in the past people soaked the seaweed in milk or something and ate it like that. He decided to order it. There were actually bits of seaweed in it that were kind of weird, but overall it was totally edible, although he wouldn't order it again next time. J was the one who didn't luck out - her baked alaska was very pretty and delicious-looking, but she thought the fruit inside tasted canned, and there was a torn piece of paper or cardboard or something in it. The waitress and the owner?/chef? who came by to talk to us were so nice that she couldn't bring herself to complain about the paper , and I probably wouldn't have been able either. (Yet here I am talking about it on the internet where anyone can see...) But, 22 gets great reviews online and from other people at the B&B so I guess maybe we shouldn't get too carried away with an opinion based on the baked alaska.

Guess I went on about that long enough. After dinner, instead of blowing more cash in a pub - we didn't see any that appeared to have music - we came back to the sitting room of the B&B, which was all ours, and drank some of our whiskey. They also have a computer with internet access in the sitting room which is handy, but after I checked my email I was sorry I had. Nothing really bad in particular was in there - just reminders of some of the draggy bits of daily life that I didn't really need on vacation. Don't do it.

The next morning Tom did ask us how we liked 22 and we just said yes with no details! Breakfast was your choice of the usual Irish cooked breakfast or local smoked salmon, both of which were the best we had anywhere (and since they were pretty much all good - it was really good).

Then we were off! We drove north from Killybegs and then turned westward to approach the shore via the Glengesh Pass, a beautiful green valley with kind of concave hills. It was also marked as Gaeltacht. It seemed every time we saw a Gaeltacht sign we drove into a big empty area. Once you get over the top of the pass, you can see all the way to the ocean.

Glencolmcille sounded interesting for having some ancient ruins that were later Christianized by carving crosses and things on them, plus some later ruins associated with St. Colmcille. The town and the ruins are a little spread out, though, and we felt a little bit lost when we arrived. We came upon a couple of carved rocks and a church first, then after driving further down a road that was getting smaller and scarier all the time, we ended in a farmyard and saw a sign for a well. We got out and went off that way through a pasture full of sheep in search of the well, but the sign was a little vague. We thought we found it when we found a little rock with some water at the base, but that turned out to be a feature called "Colmcille's Chair". We knew the real well immediately when we found it - check out the pictures!!

Glencolmcille, Slieve League, Kilcar, & Killybegs Mai 11

On top of the small hill just behind the well, there's a beautiful outlook over the shore and Glencolmcille. We stood there being amazed for a while, then headed to some ruins we'd spotted from above on the other side of the farmyard. Most of these sites were marked with signs indicating that they are part of a turas, or pilgrimage. The sites are very far apart and later the lady at the post office told us that people used to do it barefoot (but not anymore - all I could think of was all that sheep doo we passed through on the way to the well!). We found what seemed to be more of a town center than anything we'd been through yet and the tourist info office turned out to also be a general store. I think Glencolmcille had about 5 general stores. It was an interesting shop, selling things like locally-knit baby clothes in addition to the usual postcards and picture frames. We even found a package of carrageen moss, harvested by nearby Kilcar! It had a recipe on the back for mousse made with the seaweed, but it's strained out, not left in, so we got it and are going to try it. We also checked out a local Irish-language center which has a really great shop. I found some Christmas cards I really liked with a Celtic knot border that looked like pretzels, so it would have been all Irish and German-like at the same time, but that tweed purse was still in the back of my mind so I talked myself out of it.

We had sandwiches from the grocery store deli for lunch while sitting at a lookout point over the ocean, then checked out a few more dolmens south of Glencolmcille. A couple were in a field full of sheep that wouldn't stop creepily staring at us. Another seemed to have been incorporated into the landscaping of someone's house, and the third wasn't accessible, although it looked like it had been at one point.

We drove to Slieve League and parked at the lower parking lot so we could walk up the rest of the way. We thought it was going to be just up the hill so we didn't bring much with us, but it was a lot farther than we thought! So if you park in the lower lot - it's right before a gate - take your rain gear & stuff with you! On the way you pass an old tower built back in the days of Napoleon to watch out in case he tried to invade, and there's a short path out to it. At the end you get to a parking lot and a view of the highest accessible sea cliffs in Europe. If you have more time you can walk up to the top of the highest one on a trail called the Pilgrim's Path - but the path along the clifftops is currently closed. There was a coffee and donut truck in the parking lot and we couldn't resist the donut smell and the friendly guy working there. I think the mini-donuts from the truck were one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten.

We made our way back to Killybegs via a route that sort of followed the coast. We stopped in Kilcar, another tweedy place, in hopes of finding that purse - AND FOUND IT at Studio Donegal, another, larger place where they handweave tweed. It wasn't the purse I'd dream up if I had to design it myself, but it was probably as close as we were going to get and as my husband was sick of hearing about "the tweed purse" I was going to get one day, he insisted that I get it. I also had seen a patchwork tweed scarf somewhere that I really liked, but that I thought I could make on my own if I could get some scraps, so we asked if they sold scraps. They do, for 10 EUR per kilo, and they let me go upstairs to where they do all the work to look through a big box of scraps and pick some out and weigh it on the scale in their office. I got a kilo of scraps and took it to the counter. The checkout guy was nice and I was getting used to everyone being chatty so I played that game and brought up the gorse fires for some reason. Wow, I found the right topic. I think he talked for like ten minutes without even taking a breath about the gorse fires and how bad they were and how they were started on purpose and how they had destroyed a lot of trees at Bonny Glen that had been ready to harvest for lumber, then he moved on to peat (he called it turf) bogs and the different types of them and how you have to be careful walking around in a peat bog because there can be deep holes full of water and you can get killed in them. Wow. So, we learned something in addition to getting some tweed. Kilcar is awesome. It also had a Mary shrine and a disproportionate number of pubs with unpronounceable names (still in Gaeltacht). We also saw a St. Kieran/Ciaran shrine and well on our way back to Killybegs! Shrines are really thick there!

We stopped at the B&B to drop everything off before heading out again for dinner and drinks, and to find that folk music that had been eluding us. Tom caught us and we asked if he knew of any place in town that would have music, and he couldn't think of any, so we asked about Ardara and he thought they would. Off to Ardara - where we found ourselves back at Nancy's again for dinner! That's the no-nonsense seafood place I was thinking of! The menu is small, but the most expensive thing on it is the same price as the cheapest thing at 22 Main Street. That's what Killybegs needs. It wasn't too busy there and we had a spot where we could overhear the discussion at the bar, which appeared to actually be all locals, surprising for a place that could have been guidebooked to death. They talked about the queen's impending visit ("WHOSE queen!?" asked one) and one of them, about playing music later at The Corner House down the street! We went there after dinner, and sure enough, she was there 45 minutes later to play the whistle. They had a fiddler, the girl on whistle, and later an accordion guy. Fiddler wanted to play lots of slow sad things and some modern folk tunes, while accordion guy wanted to play some more upbeat instrumental things, so they ended up switching off. I was hoping for more of the latter with some party atmosphere but it was still a nice evening. The road back to Killybegs was blissfully empty. When we got back to the B&B my husband noticed I'd still left my bag o' tweed in the car and was insistent that I should bring it in (he likes to use his new stuff right away, while I like to admire it in its pre-trashed state for a couple of days first) so he went back down to get it and brought it in. Later this turned into a problem...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Is that....oh dear, I think it is.

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We interrupt the Ireland blathering to panic about the big gray ball I just discovered about 2 meters from our terrace door...

I'm pretty sure this is a wasp nest and I saw a wasp hanging around by it. Wow, what nice work they do...but I don't want wasps in my apartment and I don't want to get stung on the terrace. Crap.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Ireland!!: Ardara & Dawros Head

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During our last trip to Ireland, I'd seen a tweed purse somewhere that I really liked, but it was just after having bought myself a sweater, so my souvenir budget was done. Since then I kept thinking about getting a tweed purse someday. This trip seemed like the perfect opportunity, especially since my current purse is starting to fall apart. Ardara is supposed to be one of Donegal's centers of tweed making and selling, so it seemed like a good place to stop in search of the purse.

We parked on the road in to town, with our first order of business to find lunch. There was a little cafe in the same building as the tourist information office, and we decided to check out the menu there, but before that we ducked into the info office to see if there was anything interesting. There was - the lady working there! She started talking when we walked in and didn't stop, about things including the festival we'd missed the previous weekend and what she did yesterday and the recent gorse fires in the area and how farmers had to help put them out - but she also recommended a place to get lunch (Nancy's) and a few places to look for tweed.

We stopped first at Nancy's, only a couple of doors down from the tourist office. The woman had recommended their seafood chowder, so we all had it along with some brown bread and tea, and it was great. Nancy's was like a maze of several little rooms. In one tiny room I saw a guy reading the paper and watching TV as if it were his own living room. The two largest rooms both have bars and one also has a fire. It wasn't busy at all when we were there, but we later found out that it's a guidebook favorite, so it may be more crowded at other times of the year.

After lunch we went up the street to Eddie Doherty's tweed shop, the first place she told us to look for tweed. In a big two-room shop were a guy hanging out in a tweed vest, piles of tweed hats, scarves, and blankets, and rails of tweed jackets, vests, and capes. After we'd looked around a few minutes and he encouraged us to try stuff on, he offered to show us how he makes the tweed on a big loom that takes up half the back room. It was very cool. He also said he has another loom in the back of his son's pub two doors down so he can make tweed while hanging out there. A local seamstress takes his tweed and makes all the stuff in the shop. J got a hat for her sister and my husband got a vest - he wanted a jacket, but it was way out of our price range. Alas, there weren't any tweed purses there, so we moved up the road to a couple of other shops the lady had mentioned, neither of which were as personalized. We saw a tweed purse at one that was very cute, but it was made with fake leather and didn't look like it would hold up that well, so I decided to see if I could find anything better. I am really hard on purses - they don't just sit in the passenger seat of the car, they go with me walking everywhere and carry a lot of stuff. No luck with the purse in Ardara, although I did get some soft-serve ice cream from a very friendly lady at a tiny grocery shop, which I'd been craving since we got to Donegal - it seemed every little cafe and variety store had a big fiberglass ice cream cone outside its door.

After Ardara, we visited a couple of dolmens just south of Kilclooney. Lonely Planet had mentioned something about a place near there that would have info on walks in the area, but when we showed up they said the guy who knows everything was away, and they didn't have anything useful in the way of maps or brochures. They did tell us how to get to the dolmens. On our way there, we ran into a little old lady coming from the church who was talking to herself. We thought she said something to us, so we asked her and she told us she was just praying. Then she asked us if we had ever been to Kennytown - I couldn't find anything on this so I think she actually must have said Kerrytown. We said no and she told us we should go and she knew a guy who got healed there and that that's where she was going, pointing off down the road. Then she started talking to someone else and we continued to the dolmen.

Ardara & Dawros Head Area Mai 11

To get there, we walked through a lot of burned areas and it still smelled burned - there had been a huge bunch of gorse fires there a week before. Apparently gorse burns really well. The ground was very wet and mucky, and we kept thinking about the tourist info lady in Ardara who told us that farmers helped put out the fire by putting water into the trucks they normally haul manure with and dumping the water on everything. Mmmmm. The dolmens were cool and we heard a cuckoo bird too!

After that we had no plans, so we went down the road the lady had been pointing down, thinking maybe we'd find this Kerrytown, which we now know wasn't anywhere near where we were. Anyway, we ended up at a forest sweetly named Bonny Glen - they say the land of Bonny Glen was traded by seven families to a man who gave them tickets to America - and took a little walk there before driving around the Dawros peninsula a bit looking for anything of interest. There were some incredible sea views and we got our car herded by some sheepdogs, which was fun.

Next, we checked in at our B&B in Killybegs and our adventures in the very southwest of County Donegal began...

Ireland!!: Central County Donegal

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Saint Colmcille's birthplace was our first stop out of Letterkenny on our second full day in County Donegal. We'd read that there was some kind of interesting geology in the supposed spot where he was born that led people to say his mother's bleeding during his birth turned the dirt white.

The supposed birthplace was marked with a memorial erected by someone who was trying to get into heaven, and a big exposed prehistoric tomb. It did have some white lichens on it, but we didn't notice any white dirt. I think we might have misunderstood something we read. The tomb stone, however, supposedly cures homesickness if you sleep on it. I'm looking for a stone that cures Fernweh.

St. Colmcille's abbey is right down the road from the birthplace, so we stopped there next. There's a graveyard, a well, the stone floor and walls of a church, and a couple of former high crosses that are all eroded and misshapen now. The well wasn't a particularly interesting one. The best surprise was that inside the church was a shrine where people had left all kinds of rosaries, coins, figurines, and other stuff! There are also pretty views of a lake from the site.

Central County Donegal Mai 11

We continued from there westward past Glenveagh National Park. There was nothing but enormous empty hills with little streams here and there - there weren't even sheep at some points. Occasionally we saw a ruined house here and there. Apparently the park is especially empty because a landowner in the 1800s evicted all the tenants so he could have his dream of a valley full of deer and rhododendrons. We didn't see any deer or rhododendrons, so I'm not sure if the ruined houses we saw were part of that story. At the end of the park we went through a little Gaeltacht town where none of the signs were in English, then headed toward Ardara.

Ireland!!: Inishowen & Letterkenny

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Crappy weather hovered over us as we left Derry and headed northwest toward Inishowen, an area in County Donegal bordered by the sea and two giant lakes, Lough Foyle and Lough Swilly. We stopped in Moville to look around for some tourist information, but didn't find it, and the cold wet weather drove us into a little shop for some coffee.

After warming up, we visited a graveyard outside Moville featuring a high cross and a skull house. The graveyard was being used to feed sheep, with buckets of something they like sitting almost right inside the gates. It was pretty amusing to watch them scatter when we came in, then watch the bolder ones return to the buckets first (same ones every time). We then spent at least an hour looking around for the Bocan Stone Circle. The circle is visible from the road near the tiny town of Bocan, but we managed to not spot it at first and ran around all over trying to find it according to some crappy directions from Lonely Planet. Finally on a last, desperate pass, we spotted it from the road and found a roundabout path to get out to it through a pasture. Most of the circle is loose rocks on the ground, but there are a few standing stones left.

These two minor things took up the whole morning so we stopped for lunch at Donagh Cafe in Carndonagh, which had the standard pick-your-filling toasted sandwiches (chicken, cheese, and pineapple for me!) that we love so much. Before finding the cafe we wandered into a pub looking for food. They didn't have any, but at noon there were three pretty old guys sitting around drinking in there, and the booths were upholstered with this amazing fabric with Latin words all over it! Wish we had been there in the evening so we could have a drink there!

After lunch we checked out some old carved crosses and pillars near the church in Carndonagh, then backtracked a little bit to the Clonca church and cross, which were also in a field but much easier to find than the stone circle had been. It's behind someone's house and there's a sidewalk going out to it from the highway. Maybe it was the break in the rain we had while we were out there, but I thought the church was a highlight of the day at Inishowen. See the photos!

Inishowen & Letterkenny Mai 11

We continued on to Fahan, south of Buncrana, to see St. Mura's cross, an old carved slab in a graveyard in Fahan. It was supposed to have some Greek carvings on it, but I think only a mega old-rock-expert could find them. We definitely couldn't! The graveyard was still cool, though. After that we drove up to the Grianán of Aileach, and old fort on the south end of Inishowen which has been restored - possibly inaccurately, but it's pretty fun to visit nonetheless. Inside the walls you can climb up stairs to the top for incredible views of the surrounding area. It poured while we were up there, of course, but afterward we finally saw our first rainbow of the trip! However, there is something else up at this fort. While we were there we saw at least 3 cars come up to the parking lot and never come to the fort. We didn't witness any of them leaving their cars either, although they might have briefly. Mostly we just saw them sitting in their cars. WTH!? There isn't anything else up there and you can't get a great view from sitting in your car.

After the fort, we checked in at our B&B, Rinneen Country Home just north of Letterkenny - partly chosen because Letterkenny is just so fun to say. I had booked this one because I misunderstood that it had a bathtub, but it didn't. Blast! However, it was still very nice, with tea and snacks on arrival, although we couldn't get the breakfast time we wanted because it had already been claimed by some longer-term guests (who were very nice English people!).

J, a big fan of Flogging Molly and the Dropkick Murphys, was hoping to catch some original folk music while in Ireland, so we asked where we could find some, along with a fire to warm up by. The hostess seemed a little put-off by the question and explained that Letterkenny doesn't have anything like that even though that's what everyone's stereotype of Ireland is, and that you can usually only find things like that during tourist season, which hadn't arrived yet. So, it's just for tourists and we should get with the real Irish program, I guess she was sort of trying to say. She didn't know of any place with a fire either. So, we wandered into Letterkenny and ate at the Indian restaurant she had recommended, which was unfortunately expensive but really good. And the bathroom had real hand towels so I was sold. Then we resorted to Lonely Planet to see if we could find a bar with a fire, and there it was, right in the book, the Cottage Bar. There was almost no one there so we got a seat right next to the fire and burned off the cold wet day. They were even playing a great radio show with things that I would actually listen to - Local Natives came on, for example. But, we did see what she was talking about with Letterkenny "not being like that" - it was clearly a town which prides itself on being more updated and city-like and cultural. I didn't care too much about seeing any live music - Local Natives on the radio is a highlight enough for me - but we definitely still wanted to find it for J, but it would have to wait another night!

Breakfast the next morning was lovely. My husband discovered mini-Weetabix with raisins and loved them. Our hostess gave us a helpful info sheet for the area we were headed that day - coming next: southwestern County Donegal!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Ireland!!: Derry

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Friend T had to be dropped off at a bus station in Derry by 6pm, and we didn't want to have any chance of missing it, so we headed Derry-ward after our late lunch. T could only join us for the UK portions of the trip because she has no visa for EU travel, and after Derry we planned to cross back into the republic. Once in Derry, we were feeling a bit lost on the roads in the city center and ditched the car at the nearest parking lot before walking to the bus station, which was in a really depressed-looking mall called Quayside. (Put your personal pronunciations of this word in the comments!) She headed out on the Airporter bus back to Belfast, where she had a flight out very early the next morning. While we were all waiting for it, we ran into a girl who'd been on our Falls Road tour in Belfast!

After T left, we checked in at an apartment on Beechwood Avenue, west of downtown. We were a little early but someone was there to meet us before running out to bring in a whole bunch of provisions for breakfast, even though the place was self-catering and we didn't expect to have anything provided! She brought a loaf of bread, carton of milk, carton of orange juice, butter, margarine, marmelade, and Weetabix, in addition to the usual tea and coffee and fixings! The apartment holds three people (one double and one single room) and we got it for 55 pounds, which was the best deal of any place we stayed. I really can't say enough good things about it. It even had a bathtub.

After getting some great info from her on how to get around and places to eat (there's a 30% off dinner trend going around Derry at the moment - good to know!), we walked up to the walls of Derry via Free Derry Corner, which we had no idea was going to be so close to our apartment. We couldn't have avoided it if we tried. We saw a few murals, then climbed up a giant lawn to the city walls and walked halfway round the center on top of the wall. There was a great view of the neighborhoods west of center and some pretty buildings inside the wall too. We hadn't had high expectations at all for Derry, which was why we were only spending an evening there, but that might have been a mistake. It was really beautiful and everyone we encountered there was remarkably nice, especially for a city. (City people tend to not be so fond of tourists relative to more rural places.) It was probably one of the biggest and best surprises of the trip. It's not without its potential problems of course - on the radio as we pulled into the city they were talking about a grenade being thrown at a police officer the previous day.

Derry Mai 11

We had dinner at Fitzroy's, one of the places which was offering 30% off meals. It was here that we figured out what tobacco onions and Bombay potatoes are! The first are crispy fried onions, and the second are potatoes with a sort of creamy curry sauce on them. After dinner we wandered around looking for a place to have a drink. On the way we ran into a couple of guys testing a film they were making for some festival with a projector and one of the city walls. We saw a bunch of ladies in high heels and short tight dresses wandering into the bar we thought we'd go to and since we weren't looking to pick anyone up on a Tuesday night, changed our minds for something a bit more relaxed and divey, which we found at River Inn. Afterward we went to the bar to ask for the number of a cab service, and a guy sitting at the bar gave us the card for the one he drives for. Alas, the number didn't work for us and we ended up going to the diamond (local equivalent of the Marktplatz or town square) and hailing one. It was only 3 pounds back to the apartment! Take that, overpriced Heidelberg cabs! (I don't think you even can stand near a Heidelberg cab for the equivalent of 3 pounds...)

By the way, the Weetabix was actually pretty good! Next stop - county Donegal!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Ireland!!: The Giant's Causeway

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North of Bushmills, we checked in at Carnside Guest House, a pretty huge B&B that I thought would be busy, only to discover we were the only guests for the night! I was pretty excited about having the run of the place - I guess this is kind of a childhood fantasy where you get the WHOLE HOTEL just for you - but first, dinner! Our hostess recommended some restaurant in Bushmills with a fancy name and we knew we didn't want to spend a fortune. We went into town anyway to have a look at the menu, but we never found the restaurant. Instead we stopped at a grocery store to get some whiskey for later (Bushmills of course) and since we spent more than 20 pounds, they threw in two liter bottles of Coke and a 6-pack of snack-size bags of Tayto Cheese & Onion chips. I never heard of Tayto until we saw some billboards on the motorway in Ireland. These chips were STRONG and no one wanted to be in the car when someone else was eating them. (They were good!) We ended up never touching the Coke and leaving it at a place we stayed later.

We ended up having dinner at a pub right at Giant's Causeway called The Nook. It was almost empty, and there was a fire going which felt awesome after being out in the drippy weather. The service was a little iffy - he didn't seem to like his touristy job that much, but was ok - but the food was really very good and not TOO exorbitantly priced. It's probably insanely crowded in high season but I'd definitely recommend it on an off-day.

It was threatening rain after dinner but we decided to walk down to the Causeway anyway to have a look, since it's open all hours and there's no admission fee. It's about a kilometer from the parking lot and once we got there, it was just us and a big group of young Eastern Europeans (definitely a Slavic language but we didn't know which one) - and then it started pouring rain and blowing like crazy, and since we'd just wandered down there after dinner without any preparation, we were pretty soaked. Of course once we were back at the B&B, it stopped. We all changed clothes then gathered in one of the toasty common rooms, which was full of books and games, and drank whiskey and thumbed through some of the old books. A pretty good night, if you ask me!

The B&B offered a buffet breakfast with just cold food for no extra cost, or an Irish breakfast for an extra 5 pounds. The buffet alone was great for me, although Damon has sausages whenever he can get them. The bread and cheese in particular were great, and the hostess was happy to come out and tell us how to make the bread.

After breakfast we headed out for a proper visit to the Giant's Causeway, including paying 6 pounds to park. Due to construction of a new visitor's center, part of the path on the clifftops is closed, but you can still get to it by going around the construction site on the road. The clifftop path is great because it's much less busy than the lower path and you can see the Causeway from above, which is pretty cool. (See photos!) We walked eastward until the Shepherd's Stairs and took the lower path from there, but it's closed off a bit beyond that and apparently has been since 1994! So, we headed with the crowd back along the lower path to the main feature, a big section of hexagonal rock columns that resembles a tile path heading down into the ocean. I've been itching to go to the Giant's Causeway since seeing a photo of it online somewhere right after we moved to Germany, and it is indeed pretty cool, but I have to admit it was a lot smaller than it had been in my imagination. Also, I worry about preservation as everyone can climb all over it (and we all did, so I shouldn't complain too loudly). It reminds me of Bryce Canyon in the US, where they ended up closing some hiking paths because all the features people go there to see were getting eroded. (It seems the more delicate something is, the more people want to go look at it and possibly damage it - Bryce was definitely the most crowded park we visited in Utah.) Also, because it's a kilometer from the parking lot to this feature, they've put in a road down to it where a bus goes back and forth. This is nice for those who can't make the walk, but the bus turnaround is built practically on top of the Causeway. Still, it was definitely worth going and I think we all enjoyed it.

Giant's Causeway/Causeway Coast Mai 11

Afterward, we headed a bit down the road eastward to the famous rope bridge that goes to Carrick-a-rede island, a tiny island with a former fishing post on it. Again, allot a bit of time for this because it's about a 1 kilometer walk from the car park to the bridge. There is no charge to walk out to the bridge, but it costs 5.60 pounds to cross it!! You have to pay at the car park, so you must decide before you actually get to see the bridge, and I was nervous that I might bail at the last second. With that and the price of the ticket, I passed and Damon went while I watched from a nearby cliff. J also crossed, but T didn't. The bridge feels scary (according to their reports) because it sways, but it actually looks like you couldn't fall off it unless you really tried. Under the planks on the bottom is plenty of netting to make sure you don't even lose a shoe off the bridge. Only 8 people can be on the bridge at a time and the lines weren't bad at all when we were there, but I've seen photos from the high season and it looks like it can get pretty busy. The area is really beautiful and if you have time it's worth the walk out to the bridge even if you don't plan to cross - the color of the water in particular was beautiful. We lucked out with the weather, although more rain was forecast. The weather report on the radio actually said the weather was going "back to normal" instead of saying rain was coming.

Afterward we had lunch somewhere in nearby Ballintoy and then headed Derry-ward!

Ireland!!: The Glens of Antrim

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We didn't really have a plan for the Glens of Antrim - we were just going to wander out there to see what we would find. We followed the map to a little town called Cushendall, where we saw a sign for a church ruin, Layde Church, and checked that out. Well, we checked it out after we finally found it - we drove pretty far beyond it first and then turned around. The ruin wasn't super-spectacular, but from the surrounding graveyard there was a nice view of the ocean, and following the path past the church further, there was an even better view. After looking around there for a bit, we got some lunch in Cushendall at a place called Arthur's, where we discovered that even if you don't get your cheese-containing sandwich toasted, it comes with grated cheese inside, which is kind of strange in a non-toasted sandwich. So get it toasted if you're having cheese! (I had chicken and cranberry, which is delicious no matter how you eat it.)

We planned to stop at the tourist office and see if they had any tips for the area, but they closed for the day at 1pm and we were too late, so we got out the map and looked for landmarks nearby. Something called Ossian's grave was marked and we totally got lost looking for it. We never found it, but had a really lonely, beautiful drive through the country, where the only other person we saw was a naked guy in a car. For real.

After the drive we pulled out a guidebook (ye olde Lonely Planet, which is good for outdoor things) which said you can find sea caves in Cushendun. That sounded pretty awesome so we went there. Cushendun is tiny and there seem to be more holiday apartments there than anything else. We did like the caves, though. They were small but pretty with lots of neat plants growing out of rocks and stuff. We came up to them along the shore, but when the tide is higher you might have to take a path that goes behind all the holiday apartments to get to them. On the way back through town we saw some swans nesting in the river Dun (Cushendun means "mouth of the river Dun"). The male was picking plants off the river bottom and depositing them behind himself, but he was moving in circles so it was completely futile. Still, we couldn't stop watching.

Glens of Antrim Mai 11

We stopped to pick up some caffeine at Therese's Tea Room and made our way back to the car, followed by this cute little dog who really wanted to be friends. Sadly we couldn't take him with us. We went onward toward Ballycastle, looking for a trail out to Fair Head, which is supposed to have nice views all the way to Scotland. Again we got a little lost (not sure what the problem was that day, but we definitely got lost a lot...) but finally found it through the pouring rain. The rain let up just long enough for us to hike from a tiny cluster of houses/ruined houses/farm buildings through some fields and moorland, past a lake with an old fortified island in it, up to the top of a cliff overlooking the ocean. It was awesome (see photos!). We couldn't see Scotland because of the weather, but there is a view of Rathlin Island from there. When we got back to the car, it started pouring again.

Next: The Giant's Causeway!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Ireland!!: Belfast

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Belfast is a very quick drive from Armagh, and the center is very easy to access from the motorway. We left the car in a parking garage and met up with our friend T, who had arrived the previous day from Britain. She had already done a hop-on-hop-off tour, which was helpful because she has an amazing memory and could tell us what all kinds of things were. Belfast's hop-on-hop-off tour tickets are good for three days, which sounds pretty good to me, although bus tours usually aren't our thing.

We looked around a bit - saw City Hall and the big cathedral, and stopped at an outdoor store (looks like a UK chain) to get some boot laces, since I discovered I'd left one of mine at home. We grabbed lunch at a Caffe Nero, and then met up with a Coiste tour guide near Divis Tower for a Falls Road tour. For eight pounds, we got a four-hour tour of the neighborhood with a republican activist who refused to acknowledge the existence of anything called "Northern Ireland". At the end of the tour, you get a complimentary half-pint of Guinness at Felons Club, a republican bar decorated with things like a backlit stained-glass decoration depicting the republican hunger strikers who died in the 80s.

The tour was fascinating, and covered all the significant murals and buildings along Falls Road and the stories behind them, then a walk through the Milltown Cemetery to see the graves and memorials to all the people he told us about, some of whom were his friends. I think four hours was a bit long - at the end I was starting to zone out a little from information overload - however it's definitely worth the price. It was interesting to hear him portray the republican side of things as more of a bunch of intellectuals separate from questions of religion and separate from the people who did bombings. Outside of Ireland the Troubles are usually portrayed as a Catholic vs. Protestant war, but he pretty much never mentioned religion except in a negative fashion (and said he was an atheist). I would have really liked to have a similar tour on the loyalist side, but I could only find info on places that do them for large groups, which we were not. Check out the photos - I included all the murals for those interested.

Belfast Mai 11

After the tour we took a black cab back to the city center. These cabs are 1.80 pounds per person and hold 5-6 people, functioning kind of like a tiny bus you can flag down anywhere. My seat didn't have a working seat belt, which was a bit unnerving, but you can't beat the price and it was really fast since everyone else in the car was also going to the center.

Back in the middle of town, we met up with another friend, J, who was visiting Europe from the US for work and had some free time to join up with us for part of our trip. We checked in at Belfast City Apartment, which is in a great location just south of the center. There are two bedrooms, one with a double bed and one with two single beds, plus a kitchen with laundry facilities and a computer with internet access. The guy who showed us around had a couple of pub recommendations, so we went off to one of them that sounded really interesting, The Crown Bar. There was an employee standing outside and we asked him if they were serving food. Apparently he had already answered that question many times that day, and no, they don't serve food on Sundays. Instead of just saying that he had kind of a conniption fit about it until I finally snapped back at him and we went on our way. We didn't end up going back for a drink later, although that had been the original plan if they weren't serving food! We ended up eating at some fish and chip shop called Bishop's, which was kind of terrible, but good enough for the price. Then we went to the other pub the guy at the apartment recommended, called Lavery's. It was a standard city bar - nothing particularly friendly or interesting about it. We all had a pint and turned in for the night, since we had to get an early start the next morning (and with four people to one shower!).

We didn't have much time the following morning, but I still wanted to get a taste of the loyalist side of things, so we took a drive down Shankill Road and stopped on the loyalist side of the peace wall (a tall wall set up where the loyalist and republican neighborhoods meet - you can find them in other places too). From the republican side we hadn't seen any graffiti on it, but on the loyalist side it's completely covered in mosaics, sculptures, and graffiti of all kinds.

After a false start heading out of Belfast in the wrong direction, we got on the road toward the Glens of Antrim. I wish we'd had more time for Belfast. I had a really good feeling about it before we went there, but I found that the city didn't seem to be as progressive as I imagined it. To be fair, I'd been thinking about something along the lines of Berlin, but Belfast hasn't gotten there yet. I hope to go back someday and get a better feel for it - and who knows how things will be by then? I hope it remains safe and we see an end to the groups of angry young men who just want an excuse to blow shit up. There is still violence - just weeks before we visited a police officer was killed in Omagh. But as someone pointed out, even with all the violence that occurred in Northern Ireland over the years, it was still safer than New York City.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Ireland!!: Armagh

After finishing our tours, we drove our friend back to Dublin Airport, where he would be staying and catching an early flight home the next morning. Then we backtracked north to our next destination: Armagh!

County Armagh is actually inside Northern Ireland, part of the UK. I watched the map and got my camera out as we neared the border, hoping to catch a sign at the border - but there wasn't one! There was a sign for a money-changer off an exit (Republic uses Euro, North uses pounds) and a sign noting that all speed limit signs would now be posted in miles instead of kilometers. I guess it makes sense, but that didn't really occur to me at the time.

We left the motorway at Newry and saw our first sign that we were in Northern Ireland - a painted portrait of the queen on a lamppost, amidst tons of UK flags and ads for loyalist political parties. (Sometimes also called unionist, which sounds odd to me. When I think of "union" I think more along how Germany reunited, and I think of Ireland uniting into a single country- not part of it staying in the UK - but they are thinking union as in union with the UK.) When we got to Armagh, the loyalist stuff was mixed in with republican flags (the flag of Ireland), ads for Sinn Féin candidates, and even a couple of IRA signs.

We checked in at the very lovely Fairylands B&B - we couldn't resist the name - where perhaps the friendliest woman in the world ever recommended a few options around town for dinner. We picked the easiest one to find - the bar at Armagh City Hotel! They have a fancier restaurant menu and a bar menu, which we ordered from.

After much confusion with the waitress, who we thought had a hearing problem and who certainly thought we had a speaking problem, we ordered. Okay, I ordered something called Chicken Maryland - have you ever heard of this? I didn't really read the menu that closely. I just saw chicken, pineapple, and banana and thought those all sounded like awesome things, so I got it with champ (mashed potatoes with scallions) on the side instead of chips. It turns out Chicken Maryland is a chicken breast which has been breaded and fried, accompanied by a quarter of a banana which has also been breaded and fried, and a pineapple ring which has also been breaded and fried, and a piece of bacon (not the streaky kind) which has mercifully NOT been breaded and fried. What. On. Earth. After a few jokes about what Maryland would think of this insanity, I discovered that it actually is associated with Maryland, but just not in this exact form. By the way, it was pretty delicious, but I woke up the next morning feeling like hell. Which was again cured by Irish breakfast. This may be a cure for just about anything.

After an excellent breakfast and a little chat with the proprietress, we checked out and wandered into the center of Armagh to have a look around before heading out. Since it was Sunday morning, everything was pretty dead, but we had a nice walk up and down the hill to St. Patrick's Cathedral (there are two cathedrals named after him - the Anglican one is on a hill in the center). I hadn't really been expecting a lot out of Armagh town but found it very pretty and I'm glad we stayed there and had a chance to look around. We then headed north to Loughgall. When I was booking the trip, I read that the Loughgall area is full of apple orchards and they bloom in early May, making for some nice scenery. Indeed, the local apple blossom festival had just been held the previous day. However, Ireland has had some weird weather this year - it was sunny and rainless for weeks before we arrived, and the apple trees were three weeks ahead of schedule! So they had already lost most of their blossoms.

Armagh Mai 11

Despite the lack of flowers we were still impressed by all the neat rows of trees in the orchards, so we pulled over into a lane somewhere east of Loughgall for a closer look. As I was taking a picture of the nearest tree (see the photos!), the owner and his daughter happened to be walking by along the highway and they stopped to talk to us! He told us all about how the strange weather had sped up the trees, showed us the very beginnings of the apples forming on the branches (nothing but a little swelling under where the flowers had been), that his son is looking into getting into the American market with their apple products, etc. Then he told us we could drive up right into another of his orchards across the road onto the hill where we would have a great view of the area, and then how to get to the nearby Castleraw ruin from there. Then he shook our hands and went on his way. Armagh may be the friendliest place on earth.

We did drive up into the orchard. We couldn't really see the mountains because although the day was clear for Ireland, it wasn't clear enough. Then we found the castle ruin. There wasn't anything special about the ruin itself, but the experience was still special because we wouldn't have known it was there but for running into that guy, and it was completely quiet and isolated at the time. And muddy. Very, very muddy. The weather had changed to rainy overnight.

After Castleraw, we figured we'd best get moving to Belfast, where we had a friend to meet and an appointment to make!

Ireland!!: Newgrange and some other stuff

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It's never taken us more than an hour to pack." Famous last words by my husband. We put it off until the day of our flight, since we didn't fly out until the evening. He was right that we're normally pretty quick and efficient packers - but normally we aren't packing for going to a wedding, visiting cities, and possible hiking in a very rainy country. The day included running out looking for a cheapie super-simple garment bag somewhere in the center of Heidelberg - and having no luck. Only nice ones for 40 EUR or more were available. Dear Germans, not everything has to be high quality.

When we finally boarded the train to the airport - GIANT suitcase and two backpacks in tow (to keep the suitcase under Aer Lingus's weight limit) - the lady standing next to us had exactly the garment bag we'd been looking for. So they do have them somewhere.

We arrived at the Aer Lingus counter in what we thought was plenty of time, but were chided for being late. Apparently boarding time for our flight was 50 minutes before takeoff instead of the usual 30! We had no problem getting to the gate in time, thankfully, and they ended up not boarding until 30 minutes to takeoff anyway. Argh. Aer Lingus has gone the way of US airlines by eliminating all free snacks and beverages and charging to check luggage. I missed my lovely Lufthansa, but at least the flight was only 2 hours.

We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express at Dublin Airport. Surprise, it's not really at the airport! There is a free shuttle, but the hotel feels pretty isolated. It's attached to a Crowne Plaza which was hosting a wedding reception that night. Completely trashed people in fancy clothes were spilling out all over when we wandered over to get a bite to eat at the hotel restaurant. (Which was kind of expensive - 27 EUR for a Guinness, a glass of wine, a small soup, fries, and a slice of cake. We missed German restaurant prices throughout the trip.) Our room was really nice, though - better than expected for the price - and even though I paid the no-breakfast-included rate, they gave us breakfast anyway.

The next morning we got all dressed up for the wedding, met a friend who would be hanging out the next couple of days with us, and picked up our rental car. The wedding, in a tiny town called Kilcloon that most Dubliners haven't even heard of, wasn't until 2:30, but we weren't sure how long it would take to get there or how traffic would be, so we set out for it around noon. We followed the directions to the church to a T and found it - WAY early. There were 2 guys doing maintenance in the graveyard, so we went to ask them if there was a pub nearby, since we hadn't seen anything. We mentioned that we were going to be going to a wedding there later that day, and they hilariously insisted - multiple times - that there was no way there was going to be a wedding at that church later. I'm sure they were taking the piss but it was a riot and we all got to leave the conversation happy. And, they did tell us about a great pub in a nearby town, Caffrey's, where we had a great lunch. Well, actually, I found a twitching spider in my salad, which was a little unnerving, but everything was delicious. (I didn't try the spider.) We ran into some other wedding guests there, too, which was fun.

Then the wedding! It WAS at the church we found, by the way. Everything was lovely and the Irish even do that fascinator-wearing thing. After the ceremony, we checked in at Hazelwood B&B - the cheapest option available in the area around the Village at Lyons, where the reception was held. (Still more expensive than any other place we stayed the entire vacation - I guess the north end of Co. Kildare is just fancy.) It was a little on the cluttered side, but super-friendly and the rooms were appropriately clean, so we can't complain. The proprietor - who looked JUST like a Kennedy in an old picture of himself sitting near the entrance - even gave us a ride to the reception so we would only have to take a cab one way. (Forget the car - no one who could drive a stick was willing to leave sober.) The reception was fantastic, and only the second time I've been to one that had a band rather than a DJ. We arrived back at the B&B around 3am.

Saturday morning came allllll too soon. I don't know about the other two, but I had a wicked hangover. I just threw on whatever, packed up really uncarefully, and went to breakfast. Irish breakfast isn't bad for a hangover, really. Our fellow guests had been to another wedding nearby - I got the idea this place did a brisk business with all the reception venues in the area. After breakfast, we picked up my husband's old boss and his wife to give them a ride into Dublin. They'd gotten out to the wedding by cab!! It was a tight squeeze with all the luggage in the hatchback - why do they make cars that seat 5 but only hold 3 suitcases? - but we wanted to help them out. We got great instructions for a place to drop them off from the Village at Lyons reception, then got them into Dublin.

The three of us continued on north of Dublin to the Boyne Valley, the site of several huge prehistoric sites including Newgrange, Knowth, and Dowth. These three are giant mounds with passages inside leading to chambers with tombs. The passages of all of them line up with the sun at either sunrise or sunset on either the equinox or solstice (depending on the passage). The passage at Newgrange, the most famous of the mounds which has been reconstructed, lines up with the sunrise at the winter solstice. The chamber inside is completely black inside all year except at this point (and maybe a little light on the days before and after at sunrise). Tens of thousands of people enter a lottery every year to be present in the chamber on that date to witness it. If you don't mind a fake-up, though, you can take a tour of Newgrange any time and be there for a recreation of the sun coming into the passage. We decided to tour both Newgrange and Knowth - Dowth tours aren't available - which came to 11 EUR per person. These mound tours are only available by bus from near the visitor's center, and TONS of time is eaten up waiting for and riding on the buses - so you have to budget a lot of time to visit them. It's a little annoying but it's in a beautiful area and the staff are all really friendly, so that made it seem not so bad.

Newgrange, Knowth, and More Mai 2011

The two tours are pretty different. You can't go into the passages at Knowth, but you can walk all around the outside and go just inside the mound to look at one of the passages and view a display about the layers the mound is made of. (Not sure why they built that IN the mound, not very preservation-like is it?) There are over a hundred rocks ringing the mound (now protected from the elements by a little eave over them) with carvings of spirals, circles, squiggles, and triangles on them. At Newgrange, you can go into the passage and chamber inside. The chamber has a cone-shaped roof and some carvings on the ceilings, and while inside they do a simulation of the sun coming in at the winter soltice. This is not for the claustrophobic!! Most of the rocks around Newgrange aren't carved, although some are. They've also reconstructed a wall on the entrance side, but of course no one knows if there really was a wall, or if all the rocks they found sitting around it were originally just...sitting around it. Impressively, the rocks come from as far away as County Wicklow, which must have been a somewhat bigger deal in the stone age than it is now. They had good taste, bringing up nice sparkly quartz and smooth round granite rocks from the seaside. Check out the photos!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Eurovision 2011: Jedward were robbed!

Okay, maybe not really... but having spent the week leading up to Eurovision in Ireland, and watching the contest in a bar on our last night there, it was easy to feel that way! Starting on Wednesday or so, Irish radio was really hyping Jedward and played their song often - it's definitely Song of the Trip. Everyone was excited about the possibility of winning and having some good news in Ireland for a change (the recession is especially awful there), petty though it might be - although there was some talk of all the money bookmakers would lose if Jedward won, as their earlier odds to win were very low. I guess the bookies came out okay since Jedward didn't win.

In bold are my live impressions from the show, written last night at the bar and unedited. In parentheses are my post-contest thoughts!

1. Finland. Really? (This song just wasn't very Eurovision-y. I'm surprised it made the final.)
2. Bosnia & Herzegovina. Classic Eurovision. (A bit folksy and poppy at the same time. I kind of liked this one.)
3. Denmark. New Kids on the Block Christmas album. (It did well, too. WTF.)
4. Lithuania. Disney soundtrack. (Can't remember a thing about it now, other than the soaring Disney feel-good thing.)
5. Hungary. This is a good dance tu....WHAT IS ON HER HAND. (Didn't do well at all, sadly. People were in a syrupy mood this year I guess.)

6. Ireland. I have no words. (It was impressive to see their goofy stage show after hearing the song all week. They did seem a little nervous. The group of continentals sitting next to us in the bar did a massive sing-along - this song was everywhere in the runup to the show.)

7. Sweden. The requisite Eurovision box prop - trope inverted! (Well, sort of. They upped the "I'm in a box" trope by having it shatter mid-song. This did really well despite horrid, horrid lyrics about how he wants her and he's going to get popular so he can get her. WHAT SWEDEN. You all have amazing English so you must realize how awful these lyrics are. Really, really awful.)

8. Estonia. This girl is reaching Rachel Berry levels on the Ham-o-meter. (I thought the song was cute enough, though. The hamminess was detracting from it, though.)
9. Greece. Chamber rap?
10. Russia. This year's smarm-bringer. (We were cracking up. Blech.)
11. France. Backdrop looks like those horrible cheap three-ring binders with bad computer-generated art on them. (Irish papers said this was the heavily favored entry. I guess that shows how well you can predict Eurovision.)
12. Italy. Also taking the class route. (Way to keep it classy, Italy...but I don't watch for the class!)
13. Switzerland. Awwww. Gets the 5-year-old vote. (I think they cane in last.)
14. United Kingdom. Getting out the narcissist vote? Always embarrassing themselves. (Really, I've never seen a tolerable UK entry. And these guys had giant photos of themselves in the background. Sad.)
15. Moldova. Wow. (Yup.)

16. Germany. Silver Sprockets. (This is too sophisticated for Eurovision.)

17. Romania. I think this is the third-song with a sappy world-change message. (Gag.)
18. Austria. Yawn.
19. Azerbaijan. Two boring ones in a row. :(
(And then this WON!? I cannot get into the head of Eurovision voters. This is supposed to be fun. I can't remember a thing about it.)

20. Slovenia. How did all the boring ones end up together?
21. Iceland. Boring but in a pleasant way.
(I actually liked this one somewhat, but it's not good Eurovision material.)
22. Spain. More NKOTB moves. I'm getting burned out. (I think they should cut the final down to 20.)
23. Ukraine. What music? The drawing is fascinating. Winner? (No, they came in fourth. Still, this makes me wonder about the boundaries of what you can do on stage because I thought the music was definitely secondary to the artist, whose performance was neither song nor dance.)

24. Serbia. Visually cute, but song not interesting.
25. Georgia. Woooo almost vote time....
(I was definitely burned out by this point.)

Azerbaijan's win is kind of exciting since they will host next year and that should be pretty interesting...but I wish they'd won with a more interesting song. The last thing Eurovision needs is more uninspired ballads. I want goofy shit!!

Bis Eurovision 2012!

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Student missing - last seen in Heidelberg


I don't know this guy, but feel compelled to share the link just in case.