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.

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.

Hostel Deco – Krakow

Hostel Deco – Krakow

The Hostel Deco is about a 15 minute walk from the city center. The decor in this hostel is quite interesting as each room has its own unique, special art deco theme and the walls in the hotel are very interesting.There is no elevator in this hostel and it does require a 10 zelote deposit on towels but WiFi is free and the reception area is open 24/7. A nice garden area provides a quiet spot for reflection or meeting with other travelers when the weather cooperates.

In the basement, there is a nice small bar which doubles as the breakfast room. Breakfast is served until 11AM or even noon (I think) if pre-arranged, so that would be a nice feature if you are not inclined to be up really early. We are in tour mode, so had breakfast and were out touring again long before noon.

Since this hostel was a two night location on this tour, we were able to get 24 hr laundry service. Great to get some clean clothes although some noted that clothes were still a bit damp, not overly so, but not immediate pick-up and wear.

I’m beginning to think that all beds in our accommodation use the same wooden base but ultra comfy mattress and pillows.

(Graeme on tour in Europe – photos to be added when good internet time available – not much time between touring and sleeping :-))

Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

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We arrived on Hilton Head Island after a short drive from Savannah, Georgia. Looking forward to a couple of days of blue skies and warm weather, a bit of golf, a bit of cycling, and perhaps a bit of sand between the toes. Of course, my camera will accompany me most of the time. Photos and more stories to follow (eventually)

Punta Cana, Dominican Republic – February 2013

Graeme and I holidayed in Punta Cana in December 2009 (2009 Dominican Republic blog entries)

This time around, it was my wife and I who were hoping to enjoy a bit of warmth and sunshine away from Ottawa’s snow-covered landscape. To travel south from Ottawa, we need to find a tour departing directly from Ottawa or else, as an alternative we drive to Montreal or Toronto to get alight from either of those two travel hubs. On this occasion, we found a Sunwing tour departing from Montreal that fit our schedule. Our flight was scheduled to leave from P. E. Trudeau airport at 9AM so, once we factored in the required three hours for check-in and the 2.5hr drive from home to airport, we decided to drive down to Montreal the day before our flight departure date and stayed at the Holiday Inn Express where for a relatively small extra fee we could park our car until our return from Punta Cana.

The drive from Ottawa to Montreal would normally be uneventful. Not this time, though. High winds and falling/drifting snow reduced visibility in some places to close to zero and added a bit of extra excitement of our trip.

Wellsboro PA to Little Pine State Park

Wellsboro PA to Little Pine State Park


May 4, 2012 – After spending part of the morning walking the streets of Wellsboro PA with my camera, we headed out Route 660 to take a look at some of the areas along that route again and then headed back into town before heading south on Hwy 287. Our plan was to travel along stretches of the Pine Creek and camp overnight at Little Pine State Park. The weather was really cooperating and lush green leaves of the Mayflower plant dotted the margins of the forest and roadside openings.(Route)
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Cuban Taxis – A step back in time

Cuban Taxis – A step back in time ( Varadero sampling)

There are plenty of interesting reasons to visit Cuba especially when there is snow on the ground in Canada and Cuban weather is +25C or better. Continue reading

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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