Sunday, September 23, 2007

Slowing down is good for the wallet... err.. soul.

Up to now, the longest I had stayed in any one location was in Bath, for 4 nights, which I was regretting because, really, unless you are a member of Jane Austen Addicts Anonymous (JAAA), there isn't much to do there. I took a day trip from there to the Cheddar caves & gorge, which was great, just because Bath was getting boring :p Anyway, the point of the diatribe thus far is that I eventually realized that the 1-2 night stays in places were getting ridiculous. The pace is unsustainable for a couple reasons:
  • Buying a bus or train ticket every 2 days hurts the wallet
  • I'm not traveling to stress out about where I'm going to be sleeping every night
  • likewise, unpacking and repacking a backpack every day sucks

So, on that note, I looked at a map and said "hey, there's some little tiny islands off the coast of Ireland, and there's a hostel there!" (turns out there is a couple). So I took a bus to Galway (I had been in Athlone at the time, at another really-overpriced hotel), then booked 6 nights at Mainistr House hostel here on Inishmor, hopped on a ferry and got here just after dark. Figured I could read a book after spending a day or two seeing everything there is to see.

Almost everything here is made out of stone. At first this seems to be a neat gimmick, but then you quickly realize that it is out of necessity. I think there are two (maybe three) trees on the island, one is on the eastern side and is worshiped as some sort of strange deity, the one on the west side was burned at the stake (stone stake) as a heretical non-rock, and rumour has it that he may have had a brother who is still in hiding. Unconfirmed.

There are miles and miles of stone fences. No mortar or anything, just rocks piled into lines of stone, 1 to 4 feet high. Everywhere. Stone forts made in the same way, although their walls are more like 5-15 feet high and 10 feet thick. The cliffs along the coastline are amazing. Also, it is hilarious to watch some tourists peek over the edge -- they will get down on their stomachs and inch their way up. Almost silly.. I mean, really, the ground right by the edge is just as solid as the ground 10 feet back, why be scared? .. oh right, the wind shifts every 3 seconds :p still, I did walk right up to the edge and look over. 87 meters down to the ocean. Made the stomach spin a bit, so it was well worth it :)

The second day here (yesterday), I walked out to Dun Duchathair, another cliff-top fort. This one differed from Dun Aonghasa in a few respects: No admission fee, no trail to follow, and no other tourists. Seriously, for the last mile or so up to this thing I was just roaming free form around the landscape, then down the coast. There was a small plaque on one end of it denoting it as a national monument, and otherwise not a soul for 2 miles in any direction. Lovely! I sat and read my book for a couple hours, had a nap, got an even worse sunburn on my face than the day before [egads, time to start wearing a hat.. or at least lose the sunglasses, the raccoon burn is getting serious]. During the time I was there maybe three or four other people wandered through. After my nap it started to get crowded (there was another person there plus two more on the horizon incoming) so I wandered away to find a quieter place to read. Ended up taking a much rougher route over many of the ineffable stone fences and learned an important lesson: Never assume at what height the solid ground begins under the foilage. Ever.

And that is all there was to see. Actually, if it stops raining tomorrow, I will go to see this thing called the "serpent's hole", otherwise I am just gonna sit and read all day :p This novel is a thousand pages long and requires some peace and quiet :)

My current travel plans after leaving here is to spend a week or two going down the western then across the southern coasts of Ireland, then take a ferry from Rosslare harbour to France in early October. Not sure how long I will stay in France, as that will be a balancing act between various factors:
  • how expensive it is to stay there
  • how much I really want to brush up on my French
  • how friendly the people are
  • what there is to see

At the moment it seems likely that I will spend a couple nights in Paris, and then head for the Mediterranean coast for two or three weeks, then on to Italy.

I mention the above so that those of you (*cough*Talena*cough*) who insist on recommending people to see (not that I have seen any of them yet) can do so before I get to a place rather than after I have left. Of course, all plans are subject to change.

Flipping through my journal, I must post this Random Moment of Hilarity:

2009.09.14 - entry made at Bath, England after returning from the Cheddar caves & gorge

...then at the end of Cox's [cave] is the "Crystal Quest Cavern" or some such. Mostly they just had a lot of fake goblins, wizards, etc (life size) and of course the dragon at the end. However, as I was in the third-to-last room taking pictures, I kept hearing people screaming in the room ahead of me. When I went through, it was nothing special - a fake castle wall with a [recorded] voice and some soldiers [statues], then at the end, an employee dressed as a wizard or something who pulled back the curtain into the final room. However, later (atop Jacob's Ladder), I met some of the screamers and inquired whether my theory was correct regarding the cause of the fright. Indeed it was, and this couple had played right into it:

The wizard-employee would stay very still as they entered the castle room, and the husband re-assured his wife that it was just another statue. She got right up close to examine it when he turned and opened the curtain for them. Based on how many women (and pansy-men!) I heard scream, I must assume that the wizard-employee has taken the raw materials of the dim lighting, dull clothing, rather thankless job and the customer expectation of "just another statue," and he has crafted something unique: hilarity in a cave.

More fun journal fragments (since at the moment I have some extended internet time, I figure it is a good time to post backlogs of stuff!).

2007.09.14 - Bath, England, just before bed.
"Bizarre Bath" [an evening street theater thing] was good. Probably more worth the admission than the "Bourne Ultimatum." Where else do you get to see a grown man wrap a stuffed rabbit in chains, padlocks and a postal mail bag, and throw it in the Avon (river)? Then bring it back all dry, later, after it has been dried by his assistant. Using a hare-dryer.

On the note of Bath, upon arrival I found it very unsettling. It did not seem to fit in with the rest of England. Soon I realized what was giving this impression: The trim on all of their architecture is Roman, from the stone columns, to the triangular stone decorative bits above all the doors and windows. This, juxtaposed over the typical English "smash all the buildings together without spaces because our real estate is limited" style gives an odd impression.

On the note of other places I've been: I really cannot recommend a single thing about Holyhead, and Chester is just barely better :p Athlone was neat but the accommodation scene is abysmal (hi, $189 hotel room. you are the last hotel I ever want to stay in!).

2007.09.16 - Holyhead, Wales
...met a couple stereotypical Irish guys around 1015. They were quite friendly, but totally drunk and getting drunker fast (Their wine bottle did run empty though). While it was hard to understand them at first, they [...]

... first, of course, they needed more liquor. I told them I don't drink [much] but they wanted to seek out a pub anyway. Of course, it was 1030 on a Sunday morning, nothing was open....

...In a moment of what was, for me, pure hilarity, one of them was asking a Welsh train police officer where a pub was, and mocking the replies. "Ya ask these English anything, and its just one quick bzbzbzbzbzz. Ya canna unnerstan a thin they say!" At least, I think that's what he said, since I could say the same thing about the drunk Irish.

As an addendum, I should say that most of the Irish people I have met here in Ireland are perfectly easy to understand, and rarely drunk :p just figures that the first ones I encountered were inebriated and incomprehensible, heh.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A thousand words.

Wasn't fast enough to capture it with my camera so I will just describe [and hopefully manage to get a picture later], but a few hours after arriving here yesterday, I saw a tanker truck (we're talking tractor trailer here, not just a 1-ton or something) of the sort that back home would be carrying propane, gasoline, or perhaps milk. This one was carrying Guiness. Guess where I am!

On a side note, the ferry ride was great fun. The captain kept apologizing for the awful weather, but I rather enjoyed the pitching and rolling. First time at sea, but not the last!

Oh, in addition to being fast enough with the camera, it would also help if any of these stupid net cafe computers actually recognized a USB port from a hole in the wall. Alas. Just in case anyone was wondering why I haven't actually posted any pictures: yes, I've been taking them. I call it 'raising my tourist flag'. Managed to fill up about 1.5gb of memory card thus far, and basically it will be cheaper to just keep buying memory cards than to pay for internet time to upload all the pictures, but hopefully at least a few will find their way here soon. Most will have to wait until I either find unlimited free internet access, or arrive at home sometime next year.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Got pens? I need to write something.

him: hey there
me: what's up?
him: [stares off into distance]
me: [waits a while, waves, starts to walk away]
him: I hate to ask.
me: [waits]
him: I hate to ask.
me: ask what?
him: I hate to ask... me bein' on the street and all.
me: ask *what*? [thinking: clearly going to ask for money]
him: 'could I get a couple pens?
me: pens?! [pens? wtf? he needs to write a letter maybe?]
him: yah, pehns.
me: oh, pounds? [I had left all my change in my room, and wasn't about to give him a £20 note]. No, I don't have any change on me.
him: just a couple pens.
me: [bright idea!] well, here, I've got this €5 bill :p
him: wot?
me: 5 euros. it's worth about three and a half pounds.
him: no, I see the 5 printed in the corner, but what is it?
[he has *no* clue what this thing is...]
me: I spent one in London and the guy treated it as £3.55, you can have that if you want [also, the guy in London almost didn't take it. Apparently Euros are not well liked in England].
him: eh. [holds out his hand, vertically.
me: [shakes his hand]
him and me: [repeats the last conversation trying to decide what a 5 euro bill is. I offer to take it back if he doesn't want it, and now and then he holds out his hand again so I shake it again. I don't think this is what he was after :p]

him: do you smoke?
me: no
him: do you drink?
me: no
him: [walks away with €5 bill].

Friday, September 7, 2007

Culture shock + sticker shock = ??

hey, just a quick update since they charge like $8/hour for net time :p
got to london on tuesday morning, walked around a *lot*, saw a play (Avenue Q, which was awesome. if you ever saw that wow video with the song "the internet is for porn", it is from this musical originally), saw a couple movies (dear god, they charged £12.50 to see one at this theater on liecester square... admittedly it was a really swanky theater, but jeezus, thats like $25), and this morning i headed for salisbury. sadly the hostel is full tonight :( so i may have to drop £90 on a hotel room. egads! england is expensive! also, their keyboards are *weird*!! all the punctuation marks are in different places, so are the shift keys, which is why i am generally not capitalizing :p no time to figure them out. or i am just lazy. or something. at least colon and period are in the right place, and parenthesis, or smileys would be impossible. anyway, gonna stay here a few days, see stonehenge and whatever else is worth seeing, then move on, probably north to either scotland or ireland.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Attention Thieves: I am not worth robbing.

How far can one get around the world with 4 pairs of socks and a toothbrush? We shall find out! I managed to trim down my bag so that there is less weight to carry ;)

Here's the final moment at home with Dad... just to have something to compare to next year :P

And now, off to the airport. Will check back from London when I can :)

Saturday, September 1, 2007

I'm leavin' on a jet plane...

...don't know when I'll be back again... . Now just imagine that song running through your head for 3 days. Arg!!

Anyhoo... 48 hours from now I will be arriving at the Calgary airport to leave the country. It has almost (but not quite) gotten through my thick skull that yes, I will actually be leaving the continent for the first time ever, for much more than the usual week or two vacation. Most likely the full impact of this will make itself clear to me in about.. oh.. 2 months.

Today is a good day I think, for.... packing! Last week I test-packed everything into the backpack, and it came out to 22 lbs. Since then I've picked up a bunch of items that were on my list (journal, sports towel, a shirt, random stuff, mp3 player... ok, yes, I caved on that one! sue me) so I'm curious to see what it weighs now, and more importantly, if there is still extra room to pick up the occasional souvenir or store some food/water as I go.

Also, as noted above, I capitulated to the desire to listen to music at some point during the next year, and picked up a Sansa e280 8gb mp3 player. Then there was an unenviable task: Given a 22gb music library, all of "stuff I like to listen to", pick only 7.7gb to have the option of listening to during the next year! Arg. Arg arg arg. That was really hard. Pray that you never need to do it!

There may be one more post before departure, but if not then let us hereby consign this post to the annals of history as "last post made in Canada in 2007 by a 27 year old in a parking lot of a hotel, on a laptop with 69% battery capacity remaining" ... think you can get in the Guinness book for that?