Blarney Castle, Republic of Ireland

Blarney Castle sits north of Cork in the southern part of Ireland, its most famous for the Blarney stone which if kissed give you the gift of the gab! The castle is situated on an impressive estate where the entrance fee was part of our tour costs with Busabout / Shamrocker Adventures and we arrived early in order to beat the crowds (mainly tours with older clientele).

Blarney Castle, the Jewel of Southern Ireland Castles

There is a queue to enter the castle and kiss the blarney stone, to give an idea when we arrived it took 35 minutes for us to make our way (causally) through the castle up to the stone. However once we left I noted the line to kiss the stone extended well past a 2 hour mark, so early is essential to avoid a morning in queue and there is plenty of other things to see.

The main attraction… no not the sign!

The castle itself is quite a fascinating structure, while the walk up is enjoyable (yes lots of stairs and tight spaces) they have off shoots into the various rooms used by staff when it was a functional castle. Its a good idea if you can spare a few minutes to check out a few nooks and crannies as they are unique but also give you a bit of breathing room from the line of eager rock smootchers.

The Famous Blarney Stone – and protective rails and attendant.

Now if you don’t want to actually kiss the rock (I for instance did not) its still worth the climb for the amazing views of the grounds.

The poison gardens on the grounds is worth a wander around, if you are into botany or want to notch up your survivalist belt on which plants not to eat this is the place to do it.

A had a good giggle over how some of the plants were in tiny protected. Mandrake, Wolsbane, Nightshade… all deadly and in little cages; however, Cannabis (Marijuana) is kept in a playground sized bubble! Priorities…

Those yellow flowers looked so tasty!

On last glance back at the castle… through a rock… oh Ireland is the Emerald Island, but also the land of unique rocks.

Everyone has to get this photo… including me.

Dingle Peninsula, Republic of Ireland

Nearing the end of the All Ireland Rocker trip with Busabout / Shamrocker Adventures. Today we explore the Dingle Peninsula, a stretch of land jutting out to the sea that like most of Ireland is breath taking and green. It should be noted that the ring road around the peninsula while 2-way is generally taken only in one direction by the locals and tourists in the know, that is because for most of the journey its a cliff-side road without a lot of room for modern traffic to allow for casual passing.

First stop on the ring road was a farmer’s estate where for a few euros you can pay to explore the Beehive huts (Clochán), the old farmhouse and pet baby sheep. Expecting a bit of a tourist trap I was pleasantly surprised that it was actually pretty straight forward process. Pay to enter and explore at one’s leisure. The baby sheep where in one section and as long as you were gentle you could pick up one for a photo.

They don’t mince words… exactly as advertised… also historic Beehive Huts

But for a bit of culture I did manage to drag myself away from the cute baby sheep and check out the Beehive Huts that are another staple of the area history.

Next stop on the Dingle Peninsula is Coumeenoole Beach, first we stopped for another photo opportunity then headed down to the beach itself.

Overlooking Coumeenoole Beach

Its quite a trek down to the beach from the parking lot, I opted to grab some more photos and a awesome time-lapse using my iPhone and the DJI Osmo Mobile 3 which makes up my micro travel kit for photographers.

Next we headed out to the point of the peninsula, it got very craggy out there and the wind did start to pick up but was not unmanageable, again weather seemed to be on our side (fun note, the north side of the island was getting pelted by heavy rain so weather is highly variable on the emerald isle – I just got really lucky and I’m sure that luck with eventually run out… cough spoiler cough cough). The Devils Horn as the region is known is quite something, and looking out to the ocean you can see some islands which were used in a recent Star Wars movie.

At the start and subsequent end of our trip around Dingle is the small town of Dingle. Known for its dolphin Fungie that lives out in the bay I had to take a look and see if I could spot the elusive critter.

They even have a statue by the marina honoring their unexpected town mascot
Dingle Harbour / Marina
FOUND HIM!
(J/K – Photoshop is my friend – But I fooled a bunch of people on the bus!)

We did stop for lunch in town, so several of us found a nice place called John Benny’s Pub to have some lunch at the recommendation of our tour guide Gemma. I had the fish of the day and chips, which came with peas as the veggies.

And that was it for the Dingle Penisula, a great day exploring a unique region of Ireland. Along the way we did drive by the famous “Rose Hotel” and stop in town for a rest break. I managed to find a rose bush and an old car to take pictures of… but otherwise short break.

Inis Mor, Aran Islands, Republic of Ireland

Today we leave Galway to check out Inis Mor, the largest of the Aran Islands just off the coast. We had to walk 1.5 blocks from the hostel to catch the charter bus, everyone from Shamrocker Adventures and some other tour groups boarded the Aran Island buses. After a short trip along the coast we reached a marina where large sea ferries waited to take everyone over to the islands.

There are four different ways to explore the island, walking, cycling, horse drawn cart, micro bus. I choose a bicycle option for 10£ although there are now options for electrical bikes for a bit more. Out of the group about 80% took the bicycle option, and the remaining 20% when with the pony trap option.

The map we were given to navigate the island and estimated cycle times

I decided to check out Dun Aonghasa and the Seven Chruches, along the way there were a few other notable historic sites along the way but mainly it optimized views and I took the costal route to avoid to many hills (I have been sitting on a bus for the last 4 days).

First Stop at the Seal Colony – No Seals at the moment.
The beach on the island at the narrow point about 1/2 across the island. It is also the main split in the coastal road to the various sites found on the map.

Dun Aonghasa is my first stop, there is an additional fee to enter the site and its quite a hike up a hill. A fort on the highest point on the island, half of it fell into the ocean below when the cliff eroded.

Dun Aonghasa in half its glory!

Inside the fort was pretty barren, it is basically a large stone (semi) circle of stones that act as wall from the outside. There are a few holes in the walls to act as windows and a doorway.

The views from the fort are breath taking!

The View from the Fort back to the far side of the Island where the ferry dropped us off!
Fences? We don’t need no stinking fences..

Yes you can look over the edge, if you want too! The remnants of the fort can clearly be seen below in the ocean. Its quite a unique experience and hope everyone acts responsible so to allow people the opportunity to gaze over the edge!

Well.. gulp!

After having lunch and enjoying the views such a vantage point allowed it was time to head back down the hill and jump on the bike once more, my second location awaits for no one and the time on the island was running thin to fit it in!

View as I trek back down the hillside to the parking lot where my bike awaits!

Down the hill and past the beach again, this time turning left I cycled along some shallow rolling hills and farms, at least it will be downhill on the way back to the beach!

Now All I have to do bike 2/3 of the length of the island before the Ferry leaves… totally doable… erk!

Low Tide, guess the Ferry is stuck here (Just Kidding, its behind the derelict ship)

Kinlay Hostel and Galway, Republic of Ireland

Finally after a long day of travel from Londonderry we arrive in Galway and get dropped off at our Hostel for the evening… a perfect fit for a day of almost zero exertions… you like stairs right? The reward was one of the nicer hostels on this trip, and as we were staying two nights a chance to do laundry!

Welcome to Hostel Living… sometimes it not pretty…

So after we got our luggage up to our rooms some of us took to the town to look for food and take in the sunset golden hour.

Spanish Arc

Shamrocker Adventures (and Busabout) offer several tours in Ireland, and there is a combination that is very specifically setup so that the main four Rocker tours (North, South, Western, and All Irish) all meet up in Galway and here we join into one large group for Galway and the Aran Isles portion of the trip. Now while the logistics of this feat is notable, it is also why all the tours have funky travel days. So if you were ever wondering why 7/3/3/3 day trips were offered, its because of that 10 day rotation (with downtime for staff before the next rotation).

One of the bars we visited during the night

However, and I hate to be critical of what was already quite an enjoyable trip, but the “ice breaker” event that Shamrocker has set-up for everyone is an optional pub crawl through Galway with a contest to steal potatoes from eachother… what sounded like a fun game quickly got ugly competitive as soon as alcohol was thrown into the mix, with each bus group vying to win it for their “team”. After having my potatoe stolen, and stealing back another and a pinpong ball (?) the thrid bar we went to had a band playing in the other section and I left the pub crawl and enjoyed the rest of my evening…

Local Irish Band Playing at the Third Bar
I found out there was more than three flavors of the Cider I liked back in Ballitoy

Connemara Countryside – Republic of Ireland

The quintessential Irish landscape, endless rolling hills of green. It feels like we drove through the region for hours but with every new bend in the road was another breathtaking view. In a way it was good I was on a bus I didn’t control or I would of stopped over a dozen times in the first hour alone. But words can’t describe how beautiful this area in western Ireland is… and the photos barely do it service as well!

Its just so majestic, the landscape… not me 😛

Mid-way through our travels in Connemara we came across a small village nestled beside a shallow wide river. Here was our afternoon stop where we could try Irish Coffee or Hot Chocolate (both being mixed with Irish cream). I went with the coco and it was amazing.

Gaynor’s is our afternoon stop for a hot beverage!

The Gaynor’s field bar itself was pleasant nook which had a faint smell of smoke from the fire place and was full of locals in addition to the odd tourist that had stopped like us to grab a nip and use the facilities.

A final group image as we leave the Connemara Countryside, definitely making the “return” list.

Travel Planning – At it Again

So for the last few years adventuring around the world has been on hold as I became a graduate student at University of Toronto in Mechanical Engineering. However with that wrapping up and the prospect of re-entering the workforce its time I sneak in a “small” vacation before life gets busy once again. Which comes to the topic of travel planning, as I’m a bit out of the game and the board has changed quite a bit since my last great adventure involving an airplane.

A bit to small for my current journey but none the less effective

For one, I used to use a travel agent, Megan Weir, at Ottawa Adventure Travel before they got bought out by Merit ( https://merittravel.com/expert-profile/megan-weir/ ) and she was able to help me plan trips as she understood the market offerings and my highly spontaneous travel hijinks. Conversations like “I know it’s Thursday but find me a trip to the tropics leaving tomorrow afternoon/evening” and tight budgets… $1000-1500 / week + flights top (with the exception of the Africa Trip which was closer to $2500/week). And being last minute there were always deals and not being too picky we would navigate the current offerings and land at a suitable action/culture/relaxation balanced adventure.

The London Eye

This time I’m alone in the planning department and mainly using the internet (vs. all those brochures which I got constantly piling up on my kitchen table when I was always travelling). A few things are different, first I don’t have the same access to travel agent’s resources, and I’m hopefully flying using points (that I have amassed over the last decade or so… being last minute traveller I’ve never actually managed to use them before).

Now if the London Eye photo don’t give it away, my destination is again the United Kingdom, an odd choice given they are currently embroiled in Brexit, but my brother is currently working over there and I want to go visit. Also on the potential docket (because I’ve been to London twice now) is popping in an Ireland Island or Scotland trip (or both!) depending on how flights work out and tour dates.

Back when I travelled with Contiki across all of Central Europe, however being +35 now they are off the list of potential tour operators.

Why Tours you ask? Well I’m again travelling solo on this trip, and I’ve found when doing so its best to travel via tour. The main advantage is you can enjoy the trip and let someone else deal with all the logistics. There is also the safety aspect, on a tour you are travelling with others and if you go missing someone will notice (I use the analogy of walking in the woods and breaking your leg… although now I just point to the movie 127 hours as a reason not to “go it alone” in unfamiliar locations). vs. travelling alone where no one really knows what you are up to on your adventures. So I’m leaning strongly in that direction for part of the trip.

Fun side note: I get lost a lot, because I tend to walk/hike/bike around locations and “tourist” maps are not particularly accurate… although for this trip my brother is going to set me up with a UK Phone plan for the time I’m there so I’ll have GPS and with luck enough data to send a play by play over instagram/twitter @EmberSkyMedia

Copenhagen Mermaid
Copenhagen Mermaid

When travelling with others we tend to free-style trips where we decide in the moment where we want to go and what do we want to see. This method requires a bit more work (split between 2 or more people) but allows for changes in the plan to adjust on the fly which comes in handy when weather and outdoor activities are involved. My most outrageous free-style trip was with my younger brother and I traveled 2 weeks in Europe with little more than 3 flights booked and accommodation on the first and last day of the trip. We ended up backpacking / hostel across three countries. You can relive our adventure starting here. We will be freestyling the Southern England portion of the trip and the current plan is to See London/Brighton/Salibury and maybe squeeze in Bath.

Tower Bridge in London

But back to this current planning… Ireland/Scotland. Well to put it mildly I am currently the only family member who hasn’t traveled to Ireland at some point and time. Similar to my Master Degree with me being the last one in the family to get an advance degree I though the symbolism would be fitting. Also the fact that I’ll likely not be travelling to this part of the world in the near future with sights on Thailand / Indonesia once I have some funds saved up from working at whatever new job I find… yes planning for the future.

The Dark Hedges (ooooo… spooky!) near Monea Castle in Northern Ireland

Scotland on the other hand is where my family originated before emigrating to Canada (Donaldson / Hay / Raw Clans) with the rest being from Ireland – Trust me, we have quite a “family tree” archival scroll stashed away. While I have been to Scotland before with the family, that was almost 20 years ago, and I was not of legal drinking age despite everyone insistence that I could actually order a drink (my parents LOVED that…). So going as an adult will be I feel a different experience, not that I plan to drink myself under any tables… but I’d like to taste some Scotch Whiskey in actual Scotland.

Dunstaffnage Castle near Oban, Scotland from my Father’s Walk of Offa’s Dyke

Besides those two destinations there is England, or London/Southern England to be perise. For that portion I’ll be visit my younger brother and bouncing back and forth to various day trip destinations that he is recommending to me; he lives there so I’m relying on his advice as he and his fiancee have been doing various weekend getaways. So locations like Brighton, Stonehenge, and some stuff in London are on the list to be negotiated in the coming weeks via Whatsapp.

There is a reason I’m the Photographer and not the Model… LOL

So for travel planning my starting steps is to check out websites, now I have travelled with a few companies before;
– Contiki but they have a 35 year old cap, and I’ve unfortunately crossed that threshold.
– GAdventures (back when they were called Gap Adventures) but they don’t really have the tours I’m looking for and seem to be a bit more pricey then I last remember.
– Busabout has a few plans, looks like they may be cooperating with Haggis and Shamrocker depending on the country. Its not quite like their Hop-On Hop-Off tours but there is some promise.

I’m sure there are other companies as I broaden my initial search, with luck I’ll find something that is enjoyable and a bit active without requiring a marathon-esque training program beforehand. Of course it doesn’t matter what company I pick I’ll likely end up with my usual hijinks of taking the road less traveled and try to experience the “true” essence of a location; local foods, and not just what they sell to the tourists.

I’ve also need to contact the flight point people and determine the ideal arrangement of flights. Fortunately I have some flexibility in that as I can stay with my brother for free in south London (or south London?… not entirely sure on where his new place will be). But I do need to make some choices “now-ish” as a few things are dependent on when I leave and return; but the plan is to be back home in Canada before any potential Brexit occurs… just in case.

Copenhagen, Denmark

Copenhagen, Denmark

August 31, 2012 – Copenhagen is the first stop on our three country tour. The Copenhagen airport (Location) is very nice with real wooden floors and Danish furniture everywhere (not surprising but nice). To get here, we drove from Ottawa to P.E. Trudeau Airport in Montreal, flew from Montreal to Heathrow Airport in London and then flew from Heathrow to Copenhagen. Transfer times were a bit tight due to an hour delay leaving Montreal. Signs in the airport were in English and Danish so no need for the Berlitz European Phrase Book yet :-). Continue reading

Commerce and trade with Cuba – my observations on the future of this island nation.

Commerce and trade with Cuba – my observations on the future of this island nation.

Educationally, I hold an MBA degree in Finance and Marketing. I’m retired from the normal working world. Now, I carry a camera around with me and use it to record what I see. As I do so, my educational background has an impact on how I spend some of my vacation time and also, from time to time, influences where I point my camera.

What impact did my educational background have on my vacation activities during my recent visit to Cuba? Continue reading

Canadian Tulip Festival starts May 6th, 2011

There are about 2 million publicly planted tulips in Ottawa just waiting to entertain residents and tourists alike when they burst into bloom. This year’s tulip festival takes place in Ottawa from May 6-23, 2011. My blog entries from Day 1, Day 2.

Unlike some other years, this year’s festival should see the tulips blooming closer to the end of the festival compared to some other years when hot, dry weather has shortened their blooming period. Our cool damp Spring, this year, should really help to keep them plump and in bloom over a longer period of time.


Continue reading

Elgin Street Infrared Walk-Around

Elgin Street Infrared Walk-Around

So, I was a few minutes early to a friend’s birthday party on Elgin; I had a camera in my bag. What happened next was extremely predictable… Continue reading