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July 29, 2008

In Blarney, Kinsale, and Cobh

view from Charles Fort

Our next stop after Cherbourg was scheduled to be Plymouth, on the southwest coast of England. Mother nature did not find this an appealing plan, however, and gale-force winds prevented our ship from laying at anchor, particularly since we would have been forced to use small tender boats to take passengers ashore. Instead, we spent that day at sea, with many of us trying to convince ourselves that the moderate-to-heavy rocking movement was all in our heads.

The next day, the weather had cleared and we docked at Cobh, Ireland (map). Based on recommendations from previous cruisers in the area, we had signed up to take a third-party tour of Cobh, Blarney, and Kinsale. We met up with our bus and headed off to Blarney Village. Thankfully, we beat all of the Royal Caribbean buses to Blarney, and so avoided a long line at Blarney Castle (there are two tourist attractions in Blarney Village: Blarney Castle and the Blarney woollen mills--guess which one everybody flocks to first). We strolled through the lush grounds, and entered the castle for the winding walk to the top of the tower housing the Blarney Stone. Along the way there are various bedrooms, kitchens, and other quarters to be seen, though to be honest if you've seen one unfurnished stone room, you've seen them all.

At the top of the tower, we were greeted by magnificent views of the surrounding countryside, as well as an extremely well-rehearsed operation to allow the hordes of tourists their chance to kiss the Blarney Stone, thereby acquiring the gift of eloquent speech. For those of you keeping score at home: Lynn, Marc, Louise, and I all kissed the stone; Ferne and Dave skipped it. We lingered at the top before heading back down, where our egos were warmed by the sight of the crowds gathering to form a longer and longer line to the top--a line that we had avoided altogether.

From Blarney, we drove south and stopped at Charles Fort, just outside the city of Kinsale. This was a British fort built during the reign of Charles II and used until the British left southern Ireland in the early 20th century. While we had no time to explore the fort properly, we were able to enjoy the picturesque views across the harbour to Kinsale and the surrounding countryside.

Cobh Cathedral

Onwards to Kinsale, the culinary capital of Ireland. Kinsale is a brightly colored, bustling harbour-side city, filled with narrow streets, gourmet restaurants, and plenty of traditional Irish pubs that appear more than happy to cater to traditional tourists. We ducked into a pub and scored a table on their back patio for lunch. A sandwich (not Irish) and ale (Irish) for lunch, a short stroll through some Kinsale streets (featuring some entertainingly named establishments), and it was back to the bus.

We wrapped up the day with a drive through Cobh up to the magnificently situated Cobh Cathedral. The cathedral is looms dramatically over Cork Harbour, and offers sweeping views of the harbour and surrounding developments. We walked inside the cathedral, took some photos in and around the church, and returned to the bus and then to the ship.

All in all, a broad but not particularly deep of several Irish highlights. I didn't feel that I learned a tremendous amount about any of these spots, but I did take some pretty pictures. Please enjoy them.

July 24, 2008

In Cherbourg


(Last time, we were in London.)

We were supposed to spend our first full day on the cruise docking at Le Havre, in France. From there, Lynn and I were going to hop on a bus down to Paris and spend the day in the City of Lights with our good friend, Jonah. Unfortunately, French workers--as they are wont to do--were on strike at Le Havre's port, and so we were diverted to Cherbourg for the day. Oops, there goes our day in Paris. (See map.)

So we made the most of it in Cherbourg. My in-laws set out to the Musée de Normandie (Normany Museum) in Caen. Meanwhile, Marc, Louise, Lynn, and I failed to find three scooters to rent, and so we settled for four bicycles and set off along the coast. We biked for several hours, stopping frequently to take photos, eat, and enjoy the scenery. Gotta love the French seaside-shack lunch of a baguette with shaved steak, melted cheese, and the most fried french fries I've ever come across.

We headed back into town where Lynn and I dropped off our bicycles and then walked back to the ship. The rest of the day was rather uneventful; oh, except for the part where Marc and Louise got engaged. Yeah, that was pretty cool.

Please enjoy a few pictures from our day in Cherbourg.

July 12, 2008

Fantastic idea, ridiculous quotation

"Can’t Find a Parking Spot? Check Smartphone" tells about a trial in San Francisco that will use sensors to alert drivers to what parking spaces are currently not in use. The article makes mention of Boris Albinder, a teenager who was murdered in SF over a parking spot a few years ago. And then they include this choice quotation from a UCLA urban planning professor:

If the San Francisco experiment works, no one will have to murder anyone over a parking space.

So, um, without this technology people need to murder each other over parking spaces?

July 10, 2008

In London


Lynn and I recently returned from our 11-night cruise to England, France, Ireland, Scotland, and Norway. But before we even embarked the ship, we spent just about 24 hours in London. From what we've been told, we experienced typical London weather--roughly 74 degrees (Fahrenheit) and barely a cloud in the sky. No wonder those Londoners never complain about their climate!

After depositing our luggage (which consisted only of two backpacks and two carry-on suitcases) at our hotel (£29 for one night), we took the tube to Westminster for the highly-recommended Westminster & the West End London Walk. The tour guide was excellent, the weather perfect, and the sights classic.

Left the tour a bit early to meet up with Ilona, Lynn's college roommate who lives in London. We crossed the Thames and walked along the south bank of the river. We caught lunch along the way (nothing special), passed by the London Eye, and took a brief gander at the Tate Modern and the reconstruction of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. We crossed the Millennium Bridge (ugly as sin!) and wandered up to St. Paul's Cathedral. There, I formally introduced London to Lee Feigenbaum by taking a nap on the steps of the cathedral.

The rest of the day saw us tour the closing markets on Brick Lane, enjoy an excellent Indian-food dinner, and got assaulted by a very-confused or very-drunk pedestrian while walking along Liverpool St.

We loved our glimpse of London: it feels very modern yet with a weight and classiness that only comes with the passing of many centuries. I'm sure we'll go back. Please enjoy a small selection of pictures from our one day in London.

July 6, 2008

Tux - In Memory

Our upstairs neighbor's cat, Tux (a.k.a Mr. Tux) was killed this weekend in a tragic accident. I've never had a pet in my life, and I've never really found any cats that I was particularly fond of. But Tux was different. We liked to say that Tux was a cat that thought he was a dog; he was always full of mischievous playfulness and cuddly friendliness. He was equally happy chasing a piece of string or a set of keys as he was nuzzling against my fingers or curling up in a lap. He loved to stretch out on the grass outside and show off by rolling over when he'd catch one of us looking at him. We'd find him napping in our planters or on our porch chairs, and if we ever left our front door open even a bit, we'd find Tux merrily trotting back to our third bedroom, or rolling over on our kitchen floor, or trying in vain to get up on our dining room chairs. Tux was fun and friendly, and never failed to bring a smile to my face. I loved him like my own pet, and I'll miss him tremendously.


Tux    Tux

Edited to add: Lynn was talking to Angelo Jr. upstairs, who observed, "We could all learn to be a little bit more like Tuxie." I couldn't agree more.