Sunday, September 18, 2011

Signs and Roads

I love names and signs in the Caribbean.

There is a different attitude down there, the "Island" view of life.

There is an official sailing chart of the island of Grand Bahama, which shows a reef off the coast. If you are sailing in that area, the chart will show you that a reef is marked by a buoy which was placed there to warn sailors. The chart helpfully notes that "The buoy was sunk in a storm in 1999." I was impressed that, rather than fix the problem, they took the time to note the fact in a permanent map that the warning buoy was no longer there.

Ireland, presumably because it is an island nation, has a similar approach to signage. We were barreling down the country roads, with trucks and tour buses bearing down on you, and the livestock in the fields protected by rock walls. We came around a corner and the little white line which normally runs down the middle of the road showing whose side is whose was no longer there, in its place was a helpful sign which said "No Road Markings".

Couldn't they have taken the time to do the road markings rather than leaving the roads unmarked and going to the effort to warn us about it?

I don't know if this happens to other people who grow up driving on the right side and find themselves driving on the left side on purpose. As I have told people in England and Ireland, "There is a right way to do things and a wrong way. We drive on the right side, which side do you drive on?"

The problem is perspective. When I drive on the right side, I think I know exactly where my right front bumper is. I believe that I could ease it up to softly touch something without harming it. When I drive on the left side and am sitting on the right side of the car the left front bumper is somewhere "out over there". The best guide is to line up your right bumper with the white line in the middle and hope that the roads are generally "big enough" to cover the left side of the car. Of course, this doesn't work when you are in villages and towns where people park cars by stopping forward movement and getting out. There, you just go around the cars and hope you don't meet up with another car, truck or bus coming the other way.

So, with no road markings, you have no guide as to where you need to be. The basic rule is to judge the size of oncoming vehicles, the bigger the vehicle, the more room you give them. If you are bigger, then you can hope that the oncoming driver has the same view as to the rule "size matters".

We have rented larger cars the last few times we've driven on the left side. My view is that the best defense is a good offense. My early ventures had compacts, we've graduated to four doors and I'm looking at SUVs and Hummers.

Friday, September 9, 2011

I love the Theater... Shows we saw on this trip...

In New York - On Broadway...

In London - at the West End...

In Ireland - Dublin...

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Lake Corrib Cruise - In a September Gale...

5 short clips from our Corrib Cruise this morning. It was mostly windy and rainy with just hints of sunshine. At one point a swell soaked everyone in the bow, including Gary who was above taking the video! (That's on clip #3) All in all it was great fun!

Sorry for all the wind noise in the clips. I didn't realize my iphone would pick that up.

Ashford Castle

Our home for two days...

Driving Through the Irish Countryside

We are having a total blast in Ireland!!!

The people are friendly, the food and drink have been stellar and the scenery has been gorgeous.

Of course, it has been a bit on the wet side. We saw a quote the other day which seemed to apply to our experience: "The weather has been pretty good the past week, it has only rained twice. The first time for three days and the second time for four days." That, and "Moisture is why Ireland is so green. We have sixty different shades of green and thirty of those are different types of mold."

Many of the Irish roads seem better than what we saw in some areas of Wales and Scotland. There are a number of motorways (divided freeways) and some of their highways actually have shoulders. However, there are also a large number of roads which are true country roads, wide enough for two cars if everyone holds their breath when they pass each other. The interest is heightened by the fact that on one side you have huge tour buses or trucks barreling towards you and on the other side is a rock wall which has been there for four hundred years and will be there long after you run into it. An amusing alternative to the rock wall sometimes appears in the form of a cliff, which falls either into water or rocks, depending upon the location.

Karen, on the passenger side (which is the rock wall or cliff side), has developed a distinct list towards me away from the window. People behind us probably assume she is either a cripple or hoplessly devoted to me. I'm voting for the latter.

One problem with the Irish country roads is that the speed signs are all the same. It doesn't matter if the road is too narrow for more than one car, has rock walls or trees inches from the roadside, twists and turns over a mountain pass or hugs the cliff with a four hundred foot drop to the sea, it is all posted 100 kilometers an hour. There are a lot of areas where, if you actually went the posted speed limit, you would undoubtedly go careening off the road. It only changes if you are inside the center of a town or village or going by the occasional hospital or school (you don't have to slow down for churches or pubs) where they have a few signs suggesting 60 or 50 kilometers and hour. Even there, once you exit the town center, it's back up to 100 per. I have this theory that the Irish got a great bargain on 100 kilometer signs and just posted them everywhere.

Add to these country roads a collection of slow moving farm equipment, the occasional four-footed farm animal, hikers with backpacks and bicylists and you basically have a real life version of "Death Race 2000," complete with targets.

The problem with being an American is that speed limit signs are basically a dare. You know that is the speed that people go who have pocket protectors and sweater vests and drive Volvos because they are the safest car in crash tests. Real American drivers always view speed limits as the low threshold of speed, only marginally acceptable in traffic. This poses quite a conundrum when faced with an Irish country road.

My lovely wife solved that particular conundrum for me. "Slow down, Gary, if you want to share a room tonight."

As a result, we have been delightfully meandering through the Irish countryside at a safe Volvo-speed, being passed by the very occasional lone male driver and everyone else well behind us.

Monday, September 5, 2011

"I swear Officer... I only had one bowl of porridge..."

Drambuie Porridge at the Heaton's Guest House in Dinge!

(Karen had the most excellent vanilla waffles.)

Saturday, September 3, 2011

England Swings Like a Pendulum Do

There is something about that song that sticks in your head and refuses to leave while in London. I found myself humming away like Roger Miller while walking around the sights. Of course, it did succeed in getting "New York, New York, a heck of a town!" out of my head.

On my first trip to London, in the early 70's, I arrived quite sick from India with long hair, a beard and a backpack. It was cold and rainy and I was dressed for 100+ degree weather, having just been in New Delhi, with a stop in Saudi Arabia on the way to England. I hated London.

Since that trip, I've had a number of pleasant trips to London. On our most recent arrival, Karen and I were sitting in first class, looking out over a clear sky at night, with Big Ben and the tower bridge in view, we felt like Wendy Darling and Peter Pan, flying over London. Between my first and the last trip, I recommend the last.

We were met at the airport by our car, with a driver holding up a poster, "Gary Barnum". We couldn't actually see him right away and I had to call the car company to get his location. I think he saw our luggage.

Karen and I are a "portable" couple in the classic Victorian sense. With one, possibly two, porters, we can pretty well navigate our way anywhere on the globe. At hotels, once we are close to being packed, I call down to the front desk and indicate "we need help with our luggage." I usually follow that with, "he should bring a cart . . . a large one . . . possibly some friends." In fairness, if they survive, I am a good tipper.

Well, our driver came out of hiding after his bosses tracked him down and he helped us portage our luggage to his car.

Shortly after that, we arrived at the Doubletree Hilton at West End. This is not to be confused with the Hilton we later stayed at in Dublin, this was a Hilton in training. Paris Hilton would not stay here, she wouldn't even allow it to carry her name. I assume this is why it was referred to as the Hilton at West End and not the Paris Hilton.

We arrived at the desk and were greeted by a confused but friendly man who apparently was recently from New Delhi or near there, given his accent. He looked vaguely familiar and I could recall giving a bunch of rupees to a seven-year old in New Delhi from my death bed so he could go buy my some Scotch (he picked me up a bottle of Black & White, I suppose that is why I am still fond of Yorkies). I know, who gives a seven-year old a bunch of rupees to buy Scotch? But he was good for it, and I am a good tipper.

Well, it seemed that, at the Hilton, notwithstanding our reservation and that we had prepaid it some time before, they were very crowded and only had a downstairs room that wasn't quite up to prime. We assured him that would not be acceptable and asked him what else he could do? He went to the backroom for a bit and came out all bright-eyed, assuring us that we could stay in a "Von room apardment, velly velly nice." We asked if that was better than the downstairs room. His eyes got even bigger, as he said incredulously, "Dees ees a von room apardment, velly big, velly nice!!!" I think the concept of having more than one room was too much for him to fathom. We went up to the room, named the "E.M. Forster Room", though I seriously doubt that he stayed there, or would approve. The room was tired, in a way that English hotels sometimes excel at, and the air conditioning had given up its job and went on holiday some time ago.

We declined this room and moved to the first level room, which was better, but not by much.

We were reserved for the "Executive King Room" and, if our bed was a king bed, it was for one of the more diminutive kings. From an executive perspective this was, at best, an assistant vice president, perhaps only an assistant treasurer. We did have the advantage of a long flight and an abundance of vodka, so sleep was achieved, though not what you would term a long or comfortable one. The next day, while we were gone, they did relocate us to a better room, with a bed made for a somewhat larger king, and working air conditioning. Still . . . .

The lobby was the nicest part of the Double Tree West End.

On our first full day in London, we were met by Michael Churchill, who was to be our personal guide for the day. We came across him on Trip Advisor. He gave us a 4+ hour tour of London and it was outstanding! All sorts of fun facts and places which we either had or would have walked by without ever knowing about. At the end of the tour, he dropped us off at the Old Vic Theater, where we had tickets to see Richard III, with Kevin Spacey in the title role.

Michael Churchill of Black Taxi Tours.

The play was wonderful, our only problem was lack of food and drink between riding about all afternoon and rushing straight into the theater. We managed to survive that trial and worked our way to the OXO Restaurant for Cuban night (yes, we were confused, too). The food and drink were plentiful, so all was well.

The view from OXO Brasserie.

The next day, we slept in, which is not so amazing as "we awoke" - a daily miracle. We had tickets to see Buckingham Palace, which is not normally open to the public. We had booked the "full meal deal" with all of the trimmings. The first thing to see was the Queen's Gallery, which is apparently a bunch of paintings that Bess has collected over the years. If you have the chance to see it, I'd give it a pass. She has made a good go of it, but there is a lot better stuff elsewhere.

From there, we went to the Buckingham Palace Staterooms. Now, this was worth the price of admission. It's a very nice, well-kept palace, not like some of the ratty or tarty ones we have seen on the Continent. This was the kind of place you could sit back with a brandy in one hand and a cigar in the other and go, "Good show, Chuck! This will possibly be Willies' some day?"

The big thing at Buckingham was the recent wedding of William and Kate and it was abundantly clear that they were cashing in on it. There were all sorts of memorabilia and an abundance of photos of the occassion. They even had the wedding dress on display, though it had a creepy Addams family feel to it.

Gary asked "Where's her head??"

We came out of the Buckingham State Rooms, had some coffee, scones and clotted cream and then decided to wander down towards the "Royal Mews", the next item on our agenda. Unfortunately, no one had told us that the exit from the Buckingham State Rooms and the entrance to the Royal Mews are at opposite extremes of London and a healthy walk is involved to get from one to the other. On top of that, our tickets indicated that the "Royal Mews" closed at 4:15. As the gate keeper helpfully informed us at the Buckingham State Roooms, "Oh dear, you'll never make it in time." We had a hurried extended march around a number of street corners, each one displaying no entrance to the Mews, until we finally came to the doors, promptly at 4:17. Apparently, being union, they had closed the doors. We went to the gift shop, which was open and plead our case. I can't tell you exactly what we said, though it involved travel from a distant land, leaving the country the next day and possibly a fatal disease, but we managed to work our way into the Mews "after hours". It was well worth it. We had a wonderful time and it was a highlight of our experience.

The next day, we were off to Ireland!!!!

Rock of Cashel (St. Patrick's Rock)- South Tipperary Ireland

Built in the 12th Century...

It's huge, it's complex, it's iconic, there is nothing like it anywhere else in the world and it's in Cashel at the heart of Tipperary. The Rock of Cashel, more formally St. Patrick's Rock, is also known as Cashel of the Kings. Reputedly the site of the conversion of Aenghus the King of Munster by St. Patrick in the 5th century AD. Long before the Norman invasion The Rock of Cashel was the seat of the High Kings of Munster, although there is little structural evidence of their time here. Most of the buildings on the current site date from the 12th and 13th centuries when the rock was gifted to the Church. The buildings represent both Hiberno-Romanseque and Germanic influences in their architecture.

To quote from the WIKI entry "The complex has a character of its own, unique and native, and is one of the most remarkable collections of Celtic art and medieval architecture to be found anywhere in Europe." The Rock is the setting of the fictional "Sister Fidelma Mysteries" mediaeval whodunits from Peter Tremayne.

Here's a good video from the Cashel Tourist Bureau that tells a lot about Cashel and the Rock:

On the Road Again!

With tickets in hand to New York, it seemed only natural that the news announcement shortly before our arrival was "Earthquake Rocks New Jersey and New York".

Karen and I have grown to expect this kind of welcome in our travels.

Of course, it was a little disturbing that, while we were in New York, the headlines were "Hurricane Irene Leaves Flooding and Destruction it its Wake as 11 Die and Millions Without Power While Storm Churns Up East Coast".

In between these two "natural" disasters (in the sense of "naturally, that would happen with the Barnums") we caught a couple of shows and had some nice meals. I think we might have been like General Gordon at Khartoum, "Seems like a nice morning for a pot of tea, might warm up in the afternoon."

We stayed at the Newark Airport Marriott Hotel. This may seem like an odd choice, but on actual days of travel, it is incredibly convenient to the airport (I suppose that comes with the name). On days when you're not traveling, admittedly, it is a bit odd, but inertia is a powerful thing when you have luggage ("an object at rest will tend to stay at rest" applies particularly well to me). As our bellhop told us, "It's the only hotel inside an airport in the United States." He was wrong, of course, but I let him live with the hope.

For our journeys to the City, we had Jose, our driver, to ferry us back and forth from New Jersey in a Black Escalade. It felt like the Sopranos, without cigars.

About eight years ago, Karen flew in to New York to meet me in early December. I was there for a conference, or work, or possibly just lost, I can't recall specifically. Because of the blizzard that was occurring, Karen's plane was the last flight in or out of New York City for the next three days. It was a freakishly early snowstorm which NOAA now just puts down as a "Barnum Visitation". While Karen was flying through the storm assuming the plane was not going to make it, the woman next to her recommended "Carmine's Restaurant" as a place to eat near Broadway. Karen took the fact that the airplane landed safely as a sign and we have been regularly dining at Carmine's ever since (with Karen gradually relaxing her hold on the table in case of air pockets). On our most recent trip, all of our evening meals were at Carmines.

New York was, as ever, a lovely place to visit. We were the last plane to fly out of Newark for the next several days. I think the Port Authority made a special effort to get us out of the area.