Ireland Part 2

Sep 04, 2011

Finally, I’m getting around to posting part 2 of our Ireland trip. There’s still so much of our trip left, but I’ll try not to ramble too much.

I left us in Claregalway so I’ll pick up there.

Claregalway is a very small town so we didn’t spend any time there aside from staying in the hotel. After getting a good night’s rest we decided to make our first day in the area an adventure out to the Aran Islands. I had been there once before but  wanted to go again and it was one of the places K really wanted to see.

We had to drive about an hour to get to the ferry. K was nervous again to get back behind the wheel, but substantially less than the day before. Once we were out for a little bit he was fine. We had our first real experience with how much the locals like to speed. We actually got honked at while someone was passing us because we were going the speed limit. That was a first for both of us.

The drive was really pretty and took as along the outskirts of Galway (woo for yet more Irish construction) and then along parts of Galway Bay. It’s not quite as green on the west coast of Ireland, more rugged and beautiful in a different way.

The ferry ride was pretty uneventful. There seemed to be a class of teenagers or something headed out that day so it was pretty crowded. We got a window seat though, so that was nice.

Once on the island (Inis Mor, the biggest of the three islands) we debated over whether to take a guided tour in a van, or rent bikes. We decided that we would be good and rent the bikes. It gave us plenty of time to take in the scenery and let us go where we wanted when we wanted. It had been quite some time since either of us had been on a bike though, and the island has it’s fair share of steep hills. Fun for going down, not so much for going up. Armed with a map showing the major sites we took off from the main town and spent the next few hours exploring.

Our first stop was to see the only seal colony on the island, and rest, and admire the view over flowering fields and rock walls and blue water. Almost the entire island is covered in rock walled fields, it’s really amazing and very pretty. It must have taken years of work, but what else can you do considering how rocky the island is.

Our ultimate goal was Dún Aonghasa, a prehistoric stone fort sitting right on the edge of a cliff. It was really impressive. The view from the cliffs was amazing, and a little scary. It’s quite a straight drop into deep water beating against sheer cliffs.

After that it was back to the bikes and a ride up a large hill, by which I mean some riding and some walking and pushing the bikes. Way to make me feel out of shape. Before we started the big climb we stopped at the beach and had a snack, but we couldn’t put off the hill forever. I did get to see a baby horse, he was super cute, so that was nice.

Since our options for getting back to the mainland were to either leave after two hours or stay for six, we decided two hours wasn’t enough. That meant we could take our time. We had a good time riding down the giant hill back into town and then decided that we should ride out to the other side of the island and see if we could find what they say is the smallest church in the world.

This part of our ride was a bit stressful. We must have picked the exact time that a car ferry landed or something because we met a huge string of cars on a very narrow road. There was a steep little hill and we just had to hope that no one was going to come down and not see us. This part of the ride wasn’t that great in the end. We think we found the church but it was up on a hill with no discernible way to get to it. We took a picture and went back to town.

Once in town we turned the bikes in and decided to eat in one of the restaurants in town while we waited for the ferry. The meal was pretty good and it was nice to not be sitting on a hard bike seat. I was already sore and it was only going to be worse the next day.

After a long day of riding through rain and sun and up and down hills we were ready to be done for the day. We napped on the ferry ride back, so I assume nothing cool happened.

The next day we decided that instead of going in to Galway and spending the day in the city we would drive around the country side and see some of the sites. This included the Cliffs of Moher (or the Cliffs of Insanity as K liked to call them) and the Burren.

The Cliffs of Moher I had been to, but they are one of the things you should see if you visit Ireland (and especially if you are a Princess Bride fan). The best part was the cow grazing at the top of the cliffs (the cow of insanity as K named it).

We decided to drive around the Burren after. It is a very different landscape than one normally thinks of in Ireland. Lots of gray rock, but very beautiful. We decided to stop at Ailwee Cave and take a tour. Inside they have discovered the skeleton of an ancient cave bear, which is pretty cool. Along with the Cave there was also a Birds of Prey aviary. So we decided why not.

The aviary had a bunch of really neat birds. Owls and condors and eagles. There was a very playful raven who was quite fun to watch. I’ve never seen a bird roll over on its back before. We happened to be there for the last flying of the day as well which was really neat.

First they brought out hawks and showed us how they maneuver and how intelligent they are. Next was a Peregrine Falcon. The speed they can get when they dive is insane. Finally they brought out the buzzards.

They aren’t the most graceful birds in the world. One had a little crash on his way into the arena. At the end the guy led one of them through the bleachers so people could see it up close. He set a piece of meat down next to me which promptly got me whacked me in the head with a wing, so that was different.

We left that afternoon pleasantly surprised, and headed back to Claregalway for the night.

The next day was our first anniversary. We checked out and headed south. It was a pretty drive, and we got some adventure trying to figure out how to avoid toll roads around Limerick. This of course meant we ended up being slightly lost driving through the city instead of taking the much easier and more expensive route around.

Our final destination that day was Ballyseede Castle Hotel. This was our gift to ourselves for our anniversary night. We splurged a little but it was a really nice night. Our room was huge and the bed was huge. We ate dinner in their bar – they had multi-course meals that they served but we decided that we didn’t need to splurge that much. The “bar” food we ate was pretty impressive though. I had giant mushrooms stuffed with yummy cheese. We only stayed one night here, it was a bit fancier in some ways than we were used to but it was a pretty awesome way to spend our anniversary.

The grounds around the castle were really beautiful. The driveway was big and long and overhung by huge green trees. You couldn’t actually see the building when you turned it. There were little statues around. It was a pretty awesome entrance. We went for a walk down it that evening and it was so peaceful and at the end we got rained on so that was pretty typical.

The next day we headed into Killarney, our last stop before it was back to Dublin and home. On the way we drove down around the Dingle Peninsula. I think if K had had any idea what the road was going to be like part way through, we may not have done it. But luckily he had no idea and it turned into a pretty awesome time. The Dingle Peninsula is really gorgeous.  Coming from the north we had to cross Connors Pass. It was a tiny one lane road over the top of a mountain (albeit a small mountain by our standards). If a car happened to be coming the opposite direction than one of you would have to move as far over as possible to the rock wall (literally a rock cliff wall on one side and a man made rock wall on the other) and wait for the other person to inch past. It was hilarious.

We got to the top and stopped at the pull out so we could look at the views. It was so incredibly windy up there. You had to shout to be heard and lean into the wind just to move. I was slightly terrified to get back into the car as I had visions of losing fingers to the car door.

After, we drove down into Dingle (the town) and then drove the loop at the end of the peninsula. The west coast of Ireland is really spectacular. On the way back through Dingle we drove down a little street and I saw the ice cream shop that I had stopped in years earlier while there with friends. It had the most delicious Bailey’s Irish Ice Cream. We didn’t stop though and I was a little sad.

We made it to Killarney and like the hero I am, we didn’t have any directions to the hotel. We drove around a while hoping to get lucky, and then pulled over and Kevin saved the day by realizing the road the we were looking for and one of the roads we had passed were actually the same thing with two different names. Thanks Ireland!

Our hotel was pretty nice, a little fancy for our tastes but hey we got a good deal on it. Want to guess the best surprise Killarney had waiting for me? The little ice cream shop from Dingle had expanded and had a shop in Killarney now! We had to eat there twice while we were in town, and even K had to admit it was delicious.

We spent most of the next day in Killarney National Park. There was rain, and not rain, and once or twice even some sun. But then more rain. Keep in mind the rain would only last about as long as it took me to open my umbrella. We walked out to Ross Castle, but we didn’t go in. The walk itself was nice enough. We got to see a crazy lady having conversations with the ducks around the castle, so that was fun in an awkward way. We tried to keep going but the park is kind of confusing and the paths don’t connect the whole thing. We ended up walking down a long road out of the park trying to see if we could find a way to another section but eventually gave up and went back and walked back to town. On returning to the hotel we promptly found out that the road we were on actually led almost straight to our hotel so we were probably almost back by the time we turned around.

It was a really nice day, and we spent the evening wandering around town and went back to the hotel bar for dinner as usual. Bar food in Ireland is pretty awesome, just saying.

The next day we packed up to head back to Dublin. We had one important stop on the way – Blarney Castle. You can’t go to Ireland without visiting it. This was my third time, but of course this time I had K who would not let me get away without kissing the stupid stone for the first time. You have to climb all the way to the top of the castle, stand in a long line, lay down and lean backwards over a giant drop straight to the ground with an old guy holding on to you and kiss a rock thousands of other people have kissed. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.  Oh but did I mention that by this point I was sick – yeah, great.

After kissing the stone we wandered around the grounds which are actually really nice. We got to see the poison garden where they have a ton of poisonous plants. We walked through the fairy glen and saw the druids circle and sacrificial stone and the witch’s kitchen. K even walked up and down the witch’s steps and made a wish (with his eyes closed and going backwards on the way back up). It was awesome.

From there it was on to Dublin. Once again we had an adventure skipping toll roads and we had to keep stopping at gas stations because we couldn’t estimate how much gas we needed to get to Dublin and we were supposed to return the car empty. Once to Dublin we got fantastically lost. The directions I did look up completely failed us and Dublin really likes to not mark all the streets at intersections. I’m not at all sure how but ended up across the river at the Guinness Brewery which is practically the opposite side of the town from the car rental place. On the bright side, by this point I was actually able to figure out where the heck we were on the map and we eventually made it back to drop the car off, even if we were like half an hour late.

After that we had to walk our bags back across the city to find our hotel for the night. A less than fun endeavor when you’re sick and tired and stressed from Dublin traffic (which wasn’t any nicer than they day we left). We finally found our hotel right in the middle of Temple Bar. As you can probably guess, we ate in the hotel bar that night. It was good and even better was the fact that K got his Guinness for free because the hotel gave us vouchers for two free drinks if we went before a certain time.

We had to be at the airport early the next morning, so we decided to spring for a cab just for peace of mind instead of trying to figure out the buses at 4 in the morning. Our trip was finally over and it was a bit sad, but we had some good things to come home too, so it wasn’t all bad. The part where I had to fly sick though…that was kinda bad.

Also, as an end note, I would like to mention that almost every bathtub in Ireland tried to kill me, or at least maim me. They are really tall for some reason which meant I came home with bruises all over my knees. At least one tried to kill me by making me slide and almost fall over the incredibly tall side.

Ireland 2011 – Part 1

Jun 26, 2011

My laptop is finally connected to the internet! This means I can sit on the couch and be lazy while still posting blogs. Yay!

I promised a post about our trip, so here we go. We spent ten days in Ireland for our first anniversary/late honeymoon, because we’re awesome, and as such we needed to have an awesome first anniversary.

Our first stop was actually Connecticut to see some friends for a couple days. We didn’t get to spend as much time there as I wanted because I was trying to minimize the time I took off from my new job, but it was still awesome. And it was only fitting since they surprised us and were actually able to make it out for our wedding last year, which was amazing. We’ve never been to Connecticut before so it was a new experience, and I realized just how lucky we are to have such wonderful friends.

We were incredibly spoiled in Connecticut, with homemade food, good restaurants, fantastic ice cream, farm fresh cider, and a trip to the aquarium to see adorable animals. My one real regret is that I was so tired the first night that I couldn’t eat much of the delicious ribs that were made for us, and I have been wanting them ever since. Maybe next time we see them I can convince her to make them again.

The one thing we left with was the plan to come back for a real trip sometime in the future and get to spend some real time with them and see the east coast.

From there we flew to Ireland. We flew out of La Guardia, which was an interesting experience. I saw the skyline of NYC for the first time ever, which was pretty cool. Someday I would like to actually visit the city too.

Our trip from New York to Dublin took us to Philadelphia and Brussels too. We were less than impressed with the Brussels airport. In what was to become a very annoying theme, we had to get off our plane walk all the way around and come back to the other gates through more security, which meant any drinks we might have bought at the last airport were confiscated. Super annoying. We learned not to buy more than we could drink in a sitting. The worst part was that the security lady had to have known she was dealing with people coming straight from another plane, but she still treated me like I was trying to sneak my bottle of water through.

Oh and can I just say, I got patted down twice. Yes, twice. I hate being touched by strangers, Kevin was the one with the hat and the laptop and all the extra stuff and I’m the one who got pulled aside, once in Brussels and once in Dublin on our way back. Blech.

In Dublin we managed, after some trial and error, to get some money out of an ATM and find a bus into the city that would take us reasonably close to our hotel. And by reasonably close I mean we still had to haul our bags across multiple city blocks, and being the genius I am, I forgot to look up directions, so we also got lost. So multiple city blocks turned into some more city blocks, and we were tired and our bags were heavy.

Once we finally found it, our first hotel was decent. It was clean, it had a restaurant, it wasn’t a bad location. It was a little farther out from a lot of the tourist places like Trinity, but not horribly so and we could still walk everywhere, which was good since we didn’t get the rental car until the day we left Dublin.

After taking a little nap that lasted longer than intended, and showering we were finally ready to venture out into the city just in time for dinner. We walked almost to O’Connell street, which is a main strip in Dublin, and found a pub to have our first Irish meal at. K had his first Guinness ever and surprise surprise, actually really liked it. This from a man who had yet to find a beer he liked.  We were a bit confused by the service, a problem that would plague us the entire trip. It seems the in order to actually get a table, order and especially pay the bill you have to be somewhat aggressive, which we are most definitely not. We managed in the end, after spending much more time in the pub than we would have originally. Quite pleased with ourselves for our first adventure we went back to the hotel for the night.

The next day we spent exploring Dublin. That is, once I managed to get Kevin out of bed, we spent the afternoon exploring Dublin. This included Trinity College and the Book of Kells. It really is quite impressive to see, and even though I’ve been there twice before I enjoyed it. The amount of work and attention to detail is insane. They had some history of medicine display set up through the library which included the skeleton of a very large man, and lots of notes and devices from medicine a couple hundred years ago. It was interesting but also a bit creepy.

After that we wandered through the visitor center and St. Stephens Green, a large park in the middle of the city. It’s quite pretty with wide walkways, lots of trees, fountains and statues, and a pond. After that we walked through the Temple Bar area on our way back to the hotel.

The next day was the beginning of our big adventure out of the city. We walked across town to pick up the rental car, which I can honestly say was the biggest stress-er for both of us. K, because he had to drive in a foreign country on the other side of the road on the other side of the car, and me because I’ve never rented a car before and honestly had no idea how it worked. We got the car just fine though, so I was good. Then came the big moment of getting back to the hotel for our bags and leaving town.

I think K may have wanted to kill me at some point during that day for making him drive. Getting through Dublin was super stressful in part because it was the first time behind the wheel of a foreign car and in part because drivers in Dublin are not very nice and the roads are kind of confusing. We got honked at a couple times, and I stared down a very angry guy who was flipping us off (luckily K didn’t see him, or find out about him until a couple days later). Looking back on it, it’s hilarious but at the time it was tense. We made it to the hotel though and after a bit of getting lost even managed to make it out of Dublin.

Our first stop of the day was Newgrange, which is a portal tomb that dates back 5300 years. I had never been there before and K really wanted to see it (in his words “I like old things”). After some intense driving on the tiny roads of Ireland which involved some close calls with the edge of the road and tree branches, we made it out there. K was not too happy and it was good to get out of the car.

We made it in time to get a tour of both Newgrange, the famous one, and Knowth, slightly less famous but perhaps more impressive. There is a third one, Dowth, but it’s still being excavated. The funniest part was that we were the youngest people on the tour of Knowth by at least ten years, and that’s only because there was a couple there in their thirties, otherwise we would have been the youngest by probably closer to 30 years. We do old people things on vacation apparently, nerds that we are.

Knowth has the largest collection of rock art from that time period than anywhere else in Europe, so that was pretty cool to see. Both tombs have passages that lead in to central chambers were it is believed they did rituals. The really cool thing is that both are set up so that at certain times of the year, Soltices and Equinoxes, the sun shines straight down the passages into the central chambers for a few minutes for only a few days. Otherwise it is completely pitch black in there. It’s really amazing. At Newgrange we actually got to go into the central chamber and see a demonstration of what it would be like. Apparently you can get into a lottery to be chosen to join a small group of people who can be there for the real thing and you just have to cross your fingers that the weather is nice.

After Newgrange we got back in the car for the drive across the country to the Galway area and our hotel. K was not too pleased to be back in the drivers seat but he did it like a hero anyway. This drive was actually a blessing in disguise though. We got super lost because we ran into construction in two places that routed us onto different roads than we had planned. I had the foresight to actually look up the route we needed to take and then the Irish road construction was like “I don’t think so” and we ended up in the middle of ….somewhere I’m sure. We had a map that the rental place had given us, but we ended up in a blank spot on the map. Not even kidding. We were passing towns that weren’t listed on the map, and driving roads that weren’t shown. It was a true adventure and managed to get K more comfortable with the driving since were on tiny rural Irish roads and there weren’t a lot of other cars around. We actually had a pretty awesome time being completely lost.

Eventually we found our way out to meet up with our intended route and the rest of the drive was pretty uneventful. We did manage to pass our hotel in a small town called Claregalway, and have to turn around but it was worth it. We both liked this hotel the best of all them on the trip and they had a fantastic pub downstairs with delicious food. We were there for three nights, using it as our base for our adventures in the area and our trip really started to be fun.

Well I’m going to stop there for now, since this post is actually turning into a small book and I’m only half way through the trip. When I have some time, I will write up part two and let you know how the rest of the trip was.

Here are some photos from our trip to give you a sneak peak at what’s coming.

DublinKnowthNewgrangeAran IslandsAran IslandsCliffs of Moher
Cliffs of MoherBallyseedeBallyseede DrivewayConnors PassDingle PeninsulaKillarney National Park
Blarney CastleBlarney CastleBlarney StoneBlarney CastleBlarney Castle GroundsBlarney Castle


Life or Something Like It

Jun 17, 2011

I wrote up a nice blog post a couple weeks ago, but of course I did it on the one computer in my house that can’t connect to the internet. Since I’m too lazy to hunt down a flash drive, and my husband is too lazy to make our router work it is languishing on that laptop and not being posted.

I’m currently in the car on my way to a family reunion for my husband, so I thought I might as well rewrite some of it and finally get a blog posted.

A lot has happened since I last posted. I’ve thought about posting a lot but somehow I just never do. I guess I’ll start with our trip.

We finally took our honeymoon trip to Ireland. It’s only been a year in the works. It was an awesome trip and we were lucky enough to spend a couple days at the beginning with friends in Connecticut. I think to do the trip justice it really needs its own post with pictures, so I’ll leave it at that for now.

Another major change was that we moved two weeks after we got back from the trip. We finally said goodbye to the roommate after two years and got our own place again. It’s pretty wonderful. Our apartment is much nicer.

The weirdest part for me is that for the first time in the last 8 years of living in Utah my address is no longer salt lake city. I feel a bit like a hypocrite since I swore I would never live anywhere but salt lake while I was still in Utah. However, I’m not ashamed to say that I’m actually liking this suburban living much more than I thought I would.  I’m much happier with this living arrangement than I have been in years.

By far, however, the biggest and most exciting change has been my new job. That’s right, I am now an official professional web developer. After all the classes and hard work I feel like I’ve actually accomplished something. I’m no longer an office assistant/ receptionist or whatever else doing things I hate. I love what I do, and surprisingly I love where I do it. This is the best work environment I’ve been in, though I suppose that’s all biased by the fact that I’m doing what I love.

I started in April, and already I have learned so much. The best feeling is when I’m trying to figure something out and suddenly it just clicks and works. I’m loving finally having a real job that allows me those opportunities.

So those are the highlights of my life over the past couple months. Life is looking up right now and it’s a good feeling. I’m lucky to have the people and opportunities in my life that I do.

On a final note, I’m considering changing the focus of this site to something more personal as opposed to professional as I’ve found a job I love and don’t plan on leaving any time soon. So with that in mind I feel like I can expand the blog content a bit and hopefully I can convince myself to post more often.

PAX Prime!

Sep 10, 2010

I spent last weekend in Seattle geeking out at PAX. I may not be the most hardcore gamer around, but it was a great weekend just letting myself enjoy everything that was offered. It is almost therapeutic letting yourself get swept up in the excitement of this subculture and escaping from the real world for a few days. Not to mention the awesome swag you come away with. This year I didn’t get as much as I did last year, but I did finally manage to snag a trial code for Aion, which I’ve been dying to mess around on for a year (not that I can afford another MMO either time or money wise right now).

This is my second PAX, I attended last year as well with my then fiance (now husband). In case you don’t know what PAX is, it’s a gaming convention (tabletop, video and computer) that was started by the two guys who create Penny Arcade the web comic. Every year it has grown bigger, and it really is an amazing event. I’ll be the first to admit that conventions are not my thing. I have never been to another, but from what I hear the community feel at PAX is pretty unique. Now my husband and I are pretty quiet people, but all it takes is asking a person one question and you can while away the time you spend in line having a pretty interesting conversation with a complete stranger.

I think one of the most impressive parts of the PAX community is the dedication to just being a group of pretty awesome people. The PA folks have created a charity called Child’s Play that donates games and toys to children who are in hospitals. There is a group of people who wander around the convention called the Cookie Brigade, that sells homemade cookies and gives all the profits to Child’s Play. The last I heard they had raised around $6000 this year. They aren’t even organized by the convention, these are just awesome people who donate their time and efforts over the weekend. It makes me proud to be part of a culture like that.

This year, unlike last regrettably, we attended the keynote. The person chosen this year was Warren Spector. While I didn’t know who he was going in, I definitely know him now. He’s a pretty impressive guy. He started in the gaming industry in the ’80s when it was just beginning. He’s now working on Epic Mickey, the new Mickey Mouse video game (which looks pretty awesome by the way). He brought up some interesting points about gaming and gaming culture. He talked about how as a subculture we tend to be pretty defensive and adopt an “us vs them” mentality. He made an interesting and pretty awesome point, however, that any “outsider” activity will either enter the main stream or die out. And gaming is definitely entering the main stream. This requires us as a culture to start being more accepting of pop culture and designing games for the masses. I agree with him. We are on that brink right now, and we have to be accepting of it. However, I think that these people I spent the weekend with are still a unique and amazing group regardless of how popular their chosen past time becomes. It’s like movies, almost everyone enjoys them, but only a few are really movie buffs. Merging with the mainstream does not have to equal a loss of the gamer identity.

Overall, it was a pretty great weekend. And did I mention it was in Seattle? Which made it all the better. I absolutely love Seattle, and the Pacific Northwest kinda feels like home to me even though I’ve spent most of my life in the deserts of the southwest.

On a final note – coffee shops in Seattle. They are everywhere. What is up with that? How do they manage to keep so many in business? It’s one of life’s mysteries…