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.

Escaping the Ottawa winter of 2014

Escaping the Ottawa winter of 2014 With cries of “ENOUGH ALREADY”, I found myself finishing off the month of March with a snow shovel in my hand, once again valiantly heaving shovelful after shovelful of that darned white stuff (SNOW!!!) of to the side of the driveway. image Only days earlier, another blast of winter had deposited a fresh white coating a few inches thick over our front yard and everything else. Looked really pretty, but meant more shovelling and I was getting tired of winter clothing and shovelling. Now, it was finally time to head off on that winter vacation to Florida that had been postponed many times for various reasons.

Our plan was simple, drive south on the 416 to Ogdensburg, cross the border at that point, slant over to Interstate 81 and then head south on I-81 as far as it would take us. Plan worked great. By the time that we crossed the St. Lawrence River, the amount of snow beside the highway had diminished and we knew instinctively that it wouldn’t be too long before snow would be just a memory. Every winter, Canadians head south for relaxation and to get a bit of winter warmth. Collectively, they are known as “snowbirds” but, since we were driving, not flying, “snowbirds” wasn’t a perfect fit but, this trip, we had no objections to that concept.

The last time that I crossed the Canada/US border was in February when I was hauling three kayaks back to Vancouver from the Grand Canyon. Usually, I don’t get slowed down at the border. A few questions get asked, I provide simple answers and off I go. The February crossing was a bit more dramatic as the border agents decided that they would like to pull me aside to “inspect” what I was carrying in the truck. This time around, we were driving our Volvo C70 convertible with its limited trunk space completely filled with luggage, two golf bags, my camera equipment and, as an added feature, my Martin Backpacker guitar. My wife was driving when we reached the border so she got to answer the questions. “Where are you from?”, “Where are you going?”, “How long?”, etc. Then there was that moment of silence before “Pop the trunk”. After the February truck search incident, that delayed that trip by an hour, all I could envision was the task ahead of taking everything out of that tightly packed Volvo trunk space so that the Customs agent could check to see that nothing untoward was packed in the golf bags squeezed tightly into the furthermost depth of that trunk. The trunk was opened, the agent took a quick look and closed the trunk. A sigh of relief from my side of the car. Then, the agent asked my wife to open the trunk again. “Oh no, what now?”, I thought. Just wanted to check that it had closed properly the first time! That was a relief. No long process of unpacking and repacking would be needed. A few minutes more and we were on our way again.

Temperature about 0C (+32F).

As we drove along, we could see many birch trees bent over from the experience of being heavily laden with ice from a freezing rain storm that had passed through the area only days earlier. Many trees had the far worse fate of breaking rather than bending and broken tree branches littered the ditches in some locations. The roads were clear though as we drove to our first night’s destination and indulged in some MacDonald’s fries. Not a gourmet meal LOL) but the two large fries for $3.33 special was the perfect treat, especially since it was the only eating establishment in easy walking distance from our hotel.

The next morning, we crossed over into Pennsylvania with me doing the driving. At almost precisely 9:30AM, we switched drivers just as it began to rain. When driving in winter months and early Spring, rain is always better than snow or freezing rain so we weren’t complaining.
image As the day progressed, the temperature slowly rose. By the time that we stopped for a break we were enjoying more pleasant +50F temperatures and wife enjoyed her pot of tea. (Bigelow’s spiced orange tea in Carlisle, Pennsylvania at Kimberley’s cafe – a nice place to stop for a quick bite to eat)
image
Our destination for the day’s travels was Charlotte, North Carolina so once we had stopped for our lunch break in Carlisle, PA, we were on our way again. Our travels would take us briefly into Maryland and West Virginia, though Virginia and then into North Carolina. Our trip options for this leg of the trip were I-81 or I-95 and we chose to follow I-81 to avoid the heavy traffic loads of the Washington area. As we travelled south along I-81, the temperatures continued to rise, the grass continued to get greener and by the time that we got into the valleys of Virginia and West Virginia, Spring flowers were beginning to appear and flowering fruit trees dotted the landscape and the edges of the roadway forests. Temperatures were in the low 80’s by the time that we turned south onto I-77. image image image image We left the I-81 near and headed south along the I-77. This section of the road took us to higher elevations and as we climbed the temperature dropped into the low 70’s. Definitely not unpleasant, but Spring was not as far advanced in these areas and the trees hadn’t begun to flower yet. We reached our destination of Charlotte, NC that evening and we were able to walk outside in high 70’s temperatures surrounded by green grass and flowering fruit trees. Definitely different than the snow-covered lawns we had left behind only a day and a half ago. image

Vancouver, B.C. to Snoqualmie, Washington

The day started off fine. The kayaks had been loaded the night before so my plan was to leave reasonably early from my brother’s place in Burnaby, B.C. Was cool enough overnight to deposit a light film of frost on the windows but that was easy to remove.

DSC_7456-Vancouver-fog DSC_7458-Vancouver-fog

Hadn’t counted on the fog,though, so had a bit of difficulty getting onto #1 and getting off onto #15. Once I got that bit of directional difficulty sorted out, it was a straightforward trip to the US border at Blaine, Washington.

I was a bit concerned that I might encounter some difficulty at the border. After all, here I was, driving a truck that I didn’t own, transporting three kayaks that weren’t mine, and carrying a large bag of camping gear. The border agent asked numerous questions but in the end was just as interested in asking about the adverse weather conditions in Eastern North America (ice storm and -25C temperatures) as he was in slowing down my travel. We both agreed that -25C was colder than he wanted to experience and, with that decided, he sent me on my way.

The last time that I drove in the Seattle area, I was driving a Miata. This time, I was higher up in the cab of a Ford 350. The traffic certainly easier to deal with when you can see over top of most of the vehicles in front of you. Didn’t help me much though when I was supposed to make a highway change. Found myself in the wrong lane at the time and the better manoeuvrability of the Miata might have come in handy. Eventually got lined up to head east and started to climb into the mountains. My next challenge would be to get through Snoqualmie Pass. I was ahead of schedule and the weather forecast was fine so when I reached the area of Snoqualmie,I decided to play tourist and go to visit Snoqualmie Falls before heading through the pass.(More Snoqualmie Falls images)

DSC_7461-Falls

Heading Home From Stowe, Vermont

Service had been great and, happily, the weather, for the most part, had cooperated, so we were able to get outside in the fresh mountain air and enjoy using the well groomed trails of the Trapp Family Lodge. Now our vacation was over and others were arriving at the Lodge to take our place.
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Tennessee Aquarium, Chattanooga, Tennessee (Part III)

In the River Journey building, you start your tour in the lower levels where there is a wonderful display of seahorses but first I had to get past the Horseshoe Crab (Limulus polyphemus) which, I guess, was the display creature of the day. For those who need to know such things, the horseshoe crab is ‘bled’ to obtain Limulus amebocyte lysate (LAL) which is an aqueous extract of amoebocytes. LAL reacts with bacterial endotoxin or lipopolysaccharide and it is this reaction which is the basis of a test called the LAL test. The LAL test is used in the pharmaceutical industry to detect the presence of, or quantity of, gram negative bacteria endotoxins. Prior to acceptance of this test, a rabbit test was used for this quality testing purpose. When I was an inspector of parenteral drug manufacturing sites back in the ’70s, this LAL test was still considered a new test method and was still undergoing validation procedures in parallel to testing in rabbits. I think that the ladies showing me their horseshoe crab were a bit surprised that I knew this much about their horseshoe crab:-). I was surprised at how little I had forgotten in 30 years! LOL


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Tennessee Aquarium, Chattanooga, Tennessee (Part II)

Penguin swimming

The first part of this multi-part posting of my visit to the Tennessee Aquarium focused on the orchids and butterflies exhibits and a few of stingrays on exhibit. This Part II highlights the reefs and the jelly fish displays. The jelly fish are a bit tough to photograph because they are in constant motion but I was surprised by the number of different varieties that the Tennessee Aquarium had on display and the amount of aquarium space that they had allocated to displaying these interesting creatures. Part III covers the “River Journey” building.

Coral Reef - Tennessee Aquarium
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