Archive for April 2009

Exhausted in Dublin

April 30, 2009 - 11:10 pm No Comments

The fluffy, gray clouds began to disperse, revealing the rough, green coastline near Dublin. As the plane touched down, Stef vibrated with excitement. Nice to be here.

We made our way to get our bags and then to the main terminal to find our bus to our B&B. Dublin Airport’s a bit smaller than I expected, but it looks like they’re building a huge expansion on it.

Our double-decker bus, #41, took us right to our B&B on Upper Drumcondra Rd. in about 20 minutes. We were greeted at the door by Joseph, a guy with a think Romanian accent and the proprietor of the house. He sat us down in the living room, asked us about our plans in Dublin, brought us some tea, and did everything he could to make us feel at home.

It was chilly and drizzling outside, and we were pretty tired, but we knew that we had to make the most of our first day and see as much of Dublin as we could if we were to stick to our schedule. We reviewed our plan with Joseph, he recommended some buses to take, and we headed into the city center.

We could already tell that the Irish were friendly and outgoing, but in an uncommon display of Irish rudeness, the bus driver would routinely slam the door shut after an arbitrary number of people got on and then take off when people were about to step on. What’s with that?

We got off the bus at Trinity College, finding that it was a good spot to hit all of the things on our list.

Pomodoro Sculpture

Homeless Guy

After a stroll through Trinity, we made quick stops at Dublin Castle and Christ Church Cathedral. We got a bit turned around but eventually found our way to the Guinness Storehouse.

Bedford Tower at Dublin Castle

Christ Church Cathedral

Christ Church Cathedral

The Storehouse is pretty much a museum for Guinness beer. A single path leads you through the whole exhibit so you don’t miss anything, which is great for a self-guided tour. The first few floors are a veritable beer museum, describing in detail the brewing process, where the ingredients come from, and how the company was started. As you work your way upward, the focus shifts to advertising and marketing. When you finally get to the Gravity Bar on the top floor, you redeem your ticket stub for a pint of Guinness. Everyone says that this particular pint is the best Guinness you’ll ever have. I must admit that I’m not a beer person, so it was really nothing special to me. But when it’s poured into a shiny Guinness pint glass, the tiny bubbles cascading around and slowly forming that creamy head is a beautiful thing.

This Way to the Guinness Storehouse

Guinness: Water

Two Pints of Guinness

St. James Gate Brewery

As we walked around, we would stop at various Internet cafes to snack and research our travel plans for the next few days. Still waffling back and forth between taking a train or bus around Ireland, we checked the Budget web site and found a ridiculously low fare: €58 (US$79) for five days. I couldn’t believe it. I scanned the web page to make sure that this was the total rate and not the daily rate. We could get a car for quite a bit less than the trains or buses, and a car would give us the flexibility we really needed. So we booked it. I just hope they don’t screw me over with fees and insurance costs when we go in to pick it up.

Our last stop was to meet up with a guy named Dave. I’m a big U2 fan, and we found that this guy offered U2 tour around Dublin, showing people where they grew up, where they played their first gigs, where they recorded their early albums, and where they currently hang out. At the scheduled time, we went to our meeting place but couldn’t find him. After 30 minutes, we gave up and headed over to the trendy Temple Bar area to grab some dinner. Stef was fed up with all the walking, and I was literally falling asleep at the table. It was a full day, and we were done.

The Temple Bar

We popped into a pub in Temple Bar for some live music and a quick drink before heading back to the B&B. On the bus, a group of kids got on drinking from open beer cans. How cool.

We’re pretty happy with what we got done today. Tomorrow, we finish Dublin and maybe hit some of those U2 spots before picking up our car and hitting the road.

And We’re Off!

April 30, 2009 - 3:08 am 2 Comments

So here I am, finally on my way to Ireland with Stef…

The taxi ride on the way to the airport was a bit of an adventure. Our driver enjoyed the brake pedal but did not enjoy main roads, using every conceivable back road to get us to the airport. And we were in a bit of a rush, since Continental Airlines had called us earlier to tell us that our flight was canceled and that we had been put on an earlier one. In the end, our new flight was delayed so that it was leaving at about the same time that our old flight was scheduled to leave, so it all worked out. We caught our connecting flight, and we are finally on our way, over the Atlantic at the moment and on our way to Dublin at this very moment.

Newark to Dublin

This flight was off to an ominous start. First, there’s a reason they board the planes from the back to the front. Why don’t people realize this? Especially the ones who just have to sit in 16C when they are boarding rows 30-40? Do they just HAVE to get on board first? Is it SO important for them to warm up their seat before takeoff that they need to delay the hundreds of passengers behind them for a few moments? It is in these cases that I like to use math to quantify selfishness. Ten seconds times 200 passengers inconvenienced equals 2000 Selfish Points (SP).

Even before getting to our seats, we could tell that the air conditioning didn’t work. The cabin was disgusting. And the video system didn’t work. Rebooting it 48 times didn’t seem to help, so they just turned the units off. No maps or movies or games for us. After pulling back from the gate, the air conditioning nozzles started blowing cool air. I could feel swine flu landing all over my face.

Just before take-off, one of the flight attendants (the woman with long blond hair and a little monkey face) stormed down the aisle yelling “Turn that computer off!” and “Hey, bring that seat up!” Seriously?

Stef and I were not sitting together on the full flight, but just after takeoff, I asked two of the crewmembers who were having some sort of conversation if I could change seats with another passenger so that I could get two seats together. They looked at me as if to say “You think I give a shit?” In the end, I managed to charm a gnarly toothed but very friendly Irish gentleman sitting in the last row to get two seats together. So that’s where we are now. Stef had some ear issues and was squirming around in her seat when we took off, but she seems to be relaxing at the moment.

There are downsides to these seats. I am arm’s reach from a toilet emanating so much cleanser stench that I’d rather it was just filled with shit. And I get knocked silly any time one of the loud, pushy, and borderline rude crew members turns from the service area and walks by. One of these women has thighs like Serena Williams and the forward momentum of a schoolbus filled with overweight children. There is no stopping her.

Shortly after takeoff, dinner was served. Can someone explain to me how airport security, when they are doing their job, will strip you of any metal, plastic, wooden, cardboard, or cloth item which may be used as a weapon on board, but dinner is served with a shiny metal steak knife? My dinner of chicken and rice was decent.

Continental Airlines Roll

After the meal, Stef collected all of our garbage on one tray to make their job easier. “You’re not doing us any favors by stacking the trays,” the guy sneered as he fumbled to get our tray into the slot on his little cart.

He came back a few minutes later for tea and coffee, asking the German guy who had the window seat what he wanted.

“Coffee.”

“I don’t know what that means. Do you want it black or with milk or cream?”

Seriously? The German guy seemed to take it in stride, but I was borderline offended with the guy’s rudeness. Afterwards, with the lights dimmed, the crew happily clattered coffeepots, slapped trays around, and spoke in their OUTSIDE voices in the service area behind us when it was obvious that most of the people on the plane were trying to get some sleep.

What is with this crew? Did Continental Airlines recently slash their pay? Overall, this rude, conspiring crew is the worst I’ve ever had on an international flight. Perhaps this is why the tickets were only $400?

And I’m convinced that it’s impossible for even a normal-sized person to find a comfortable sleeping position in a middle or aisle coach seat. You’re too upright in your chair, so your head teeters around a bit while you are on the brink of consciousness before decisively falling in one direction and jarring you back into the reality that you are sitting in an uncomfortable coach seat. (And I have tried those little U-shaped flight pillows. Don’t work.) You can’t fold your arms and lean forward because the woman in front of you will inevitably plop down in her chair like a 600 lb. gorilla, kicking her seat back and turning you into a C2 quadriplegic (just learned THAT lesson a few minutes ago). And you can’t lean one INCH into the aisle because the crew will come through like a herd of elephants and take off whatever bit of shoulder you leave exposed. In the six hour duration of this flight, I’ve gotten about fifteen minutes of solid sleep. Stef has her head down next to me, but I think she’s faking it.

I hear the bustle of crewmembers and smell hot garbage, so it must be time for breakfast.

Planning Ireland

April 29, 2009 - 2:55 pm No Comments

We’ve put quite a bit of planning into this trip, coming up with the most detailed, structured itinerary I’ve ever made for a vacation, mostly because it’s one of the shortest. Weird how the less time you spend somewhere, the more carefully you need to plan it. With only five days in Ireland, we really want to be efficient. There is so much to see and do, and we want to make sure we hit all of the highlights.

Our provisional itinerary is as follows:

4/29: Dublin
4/30: County Wicklow, Glendalough, Kilkenny
5/1: Kilkenny, Rock of Cashel, Blarney Castle, Cork, Killarney
5/2: Killarney, Ring of Kerry, Doolin
5/3: Aran Islands, Cliffs of Moher, Galway
5/4: Galway
5/5: Shannon

Once again, trying to use international web sites to book accommodation and transport was extremely difficult. Many of the crappy sites feature drop-downs that only go up to 2007, forms that won’t submit, pages that don’t display in certain browsers, and web page font selections from 1996. I don’t think these businesses realize how much money they are missing out on by not having good web sites. They are certainly losing out on my business.

TripAdvisor’s objective traveler reviews and rankings might be the best resource for international accommodation, and we used it to find and book our first night’s accommodation in Dublin. We are still trying to make sense of all of the train timetables and bus routes around Ireland. In the end, might have to rent a car to give us the flexibility we need. The trains just don’t run the routs we need, and the buses don’t run as frequently or as late as we need. By all accounts, driving in Ireland is an adventure, so it should be an interesting few days.

The weather forecast for the next week looks cool and rainy, which I suppose is no surprise for Ireland.

Next Stop, Ireland!

April 11, 2009 - 5:28 pm No Comments

I have booked my next adventure, a trip to Ireland with Stefanie! A while back, she said she’d have some time off from work and that she wanted to go on a trip. I was up for it. It was just a matter of picking where we wanted to go.

Ireland’s a place she’s always wanted to go, and I’ve heard some pretty good things about it. And after finding that round-trip airfare to Ireland was ridiculously cheap ($400), we jumped on the tickets. Fittingly, we bought our tickets on St. Patrick’s Day.

We’ll be there only five days, but we think we can see a decent chunk of the country in that time. Once again, finding up-to-date and reliable information about transportation and other services overseas is proving difficult, but we have successfully planned out our first couple of days. We’ll start off in Dublin and, after a couple of days soaking in the city, we’ll make our way across the Irish countryside to catch our return flight home from Shannon.

I must take a moment to share my appreciation for the company I work for. Most people know how difficult it can be to get a decent chunk of vacation time working in the US, but my company has been very flexible, allowing me to take just about any trip I like provided I wrap up any loose ends and give them enough notice. So if anyone from work happens to be reading this, a big thanks!

Catching Up…

April 11, 2009 - 5:10 pm No Comments

I’ve been home from Southeast Asia four months now, and it seems like I never went. Seems like a dream. It’s weird how travel memories are like that. When you’re back home, sitting at the same desk, sitting in front of the same computer, it all just seems so intangible. You know you went because you have the stories and the pictures, but it’s just so hard to believe that you were really there.

I remember the moments when I was away, sitting on a plan or in a taxi or on a boat, looking off into the distance and wondering what it would be like to be back at home, sitting at my desk in front of my computer. And here I am. Such a strange feeling making a connection with yourself through time like that.

I’ve spent the last couple of months living my regular life and working on my photos from the trip, a daunting task considering I took about 8,000 of them. If you take out the time I spent sleeping or sitting on a plane, that’s an average of one photo every 2-3 minutes for three weeks. Granted, taking multiple exposures for HDR exaggerates things a little bit, but still…

I’ve been posting my photos to Flickr, and I’ve begun adding them to my blog posts from the trip. If you click back a bit, you can see them. The photos really make the posts come alive, I think. But it’s all very time-consuming, and it will take another few months to get through them all.