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First thing's first... Livejournal frustrates me, at least in regards to uploading photographs and such, and so I believe it may simply be much easier to refer you all to the albums I have put on facebook. Don't worry if you don't have an account there (you don't want to be sucked into that website), as I've posted the links to the ones that can be viewed by the public. But these photos have comments! I'll be certain to do more detailed ones for the promised cities (Killarney, Edinburgh, etc.).

Click here for Dublin.

Click here for Newgrange & Tara.

Click here for Wexford, Waterford and Cork.

More to come!

In other news, the Fort Edmonton job is awesome! I shall post at least one photograph of myself in costume at some point. I've already been photographed like two dozen times, at least, in the last two days. European and Asian tourists, especially, love photographing the native & Metis country wives.

I've already had my braids fondled ("Is this your real hair?"), been called a "squaw" (not to my face), and had an old man greet me with "How!" and a raised arm, to which I nervously laughed and offered an awkward Cree (then English) greeting. Most of them didn't mean anything by it (most of the older ones don't know any better), and the best thing to do is correct if you can, like: "'Squaw' is a corruption of an aboriginal term that originated in the American south, and was never used in this area. Even in 1846, it had pejorative undertones." Most are happy to learn the "politically correct" (or at least non-insulting) terms. Hint: when in doubt, use tribe name (Cree, Blackfoot, Stoney, etc.). 

But aside from that, things have been going great! My costume, while not a poofy dress, is very flattering and, best of all, very cool in plus 30 degree weather. I have been learning a lot about the buildings themselves, which is always usefull... You see, I know the sweeping overview of fur trade history, but I've been struggling with the "what's that object used for?" side of things. I also participated in a programme today! I lit a fire in the kitchen fireplace in the basement of Rowand's House, boiled water in a kettle for tea on that fire, made tea, and served it to the gentlemen seated upstairs. They - "Chief Factor John Rowand", his son-in-law "Mr. Harriet" and the missionary "Robert Rundle" - chatted about "current events" (of 1846) and Fort Life (debating letting men have Sunday's off for prayer, etc.). It was all in good fun. They would often make fun of "Anderson" (the Fort name of one of the other employees), and would call for "Anne-Marie" (my fort name) for more tea. It's a great chance to interpret several social classes, and as people are often intimidated by the three stern-looking men seated around the table, I, the mild-mannered looking Metis maid, was often called upon with questions. :) 

... Much more fun than sitting in the library all day! I am a social creature! Also, vain, so a job where I get to show off my knowledge to people and be photographed all day in a neat costume? I'm there! 

Be forewarned: I will soon be updating this blog with interesting fort shenanigans.

... I'm still working as a research assistant, though, so tomorrow, though my "day off" from Fort Ed, will be a work day for me. :P I'm determined to sleep in on Tuesday, though!
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(Note: this entry was written on the plane two days ago. I've arrived in Edmonton safe and sound, and I'm actually posting this while on a break at work! Sssshh...)

This message was brought to you by: a girl who gets bored on long flights.

So I'm on the plane home. Sad face. I've been making a short list, growing ever longer, of things I must do within like two days of my return. Things will be hectic. I have. To run errands like picking up bus tickets, acquiring a security check from the RCMP stating that I haven't done anything illegal (or at least that I haven't been caught) for the Fort Edmonton job, figuring out tea parties and dentists' appointments and arranging the dispersal of some presents... In fact, it's difficult just finding the ones destined for my family in my bag, which is all stuffed full and compressed. I hope that nothing is damaged in transit!

I'm not really worried about my luggage being lost. It has clearly printed luggage tags, I don't transfer anywhere (yay for direct flights!), and I arrived at the airport and checked in over two and a half hours before my fluff even boarded, let alone actually took off (we took off like forty five minutes late, completely off setting any gain weay had had due to favourablr wind currents.) Also, whenever I check my luggage in at the desk, I verbally order it to come back to me. None of my bags have yet disobeyed me.

But then again, I did depart from the notorious London Heathrow. Hmm... Maybe it's a toss-up. (Note from the future: all of my bags did arrive safely! Nothing broken or missing!)

And it just occurred to me that I mentioned Fort Edmonton up there when I was just whining about how much stuff I have to do while jetlagged. I believe explanations are in order. Well... Some of my older readers may remember me blathering on about my poor prospects for a summer job because of this trip (I think that the entries are tagged something like "anxiousness" and "joblessness.")

Well, when I checked my email in Galway, I got a message there from Kevin Spaans, the supervisor of the era supervisors at this historical park. Apparently they've been given more money to hire people! They're filling a handful of histprical interpreter positions for July and August... And I was one of the first they thought of! :) 

I think that my friend (and four year fort veteran) Adrianna put in a good word for me. Also, several of the supervisors heard tell of the paper I wrote for my native history class on Fort Edmonton, which probably explains why Mr. Spaans said I'll probably be in the fort (1846) era.

Now, this means that I'll probably be portraying Metis country wife, a costume that involves a shawl, leggings, and braided hair, but you never know! Perhaps they'll need another woman in the big house for Adrianna's day off, so I may yet get to wear a pretty dress. We'll see! In any case, that's something else I'll be posting photographs of.

Anyway, back to trip-related reminiscing. I ended up going to the Natural History museum for a few hours this morning to kill time. I decided on this particular museum because I knew were it was, and it was close to my hostel, so I wouldn't get lost or waste time trying to find it.

But man, I just watched "Young Victoria" on the plane, and now the Victoria and Albert museum is on my must-see list for my next trip. They're so cute! Also, my love for the Victorian era has been renewed.  

I'm sad to see Britain go, but glad to come back home. I do enjoy mum's pasta better than my own, staying in my own bed with a guaranteed shower, and free laundry facilities, open 24-hours a day, in my own basement!
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This is my final entry before my return to the real world! (AKA the True North Strong and Free) that by no means is the end of this travel blog, however. Once I've managed to get some sleep and finally upload the hundreds and hundreds of photos onto my beloved but neglected laptop computer, I'll be sorting through said photos so I can create blog posts on the things that words just can't describe. :)

Let me narrate to you my last few days in Britain. 

It must have been three days ago now that we visited Alnwick Castle, a must-see pilgrimmage site for any Harry Potter fan. In case you aren't in the loop (I wasn't until q week or so ago either), this castle provided many exterior shots of Hogwarts in the films. Think the first flying lesson in the Philosopher's Stone. That's Alnwick Castle.

(Oh, and continuing on the favourite theme in these islands of nothing being pronounced as spelled, "Alnwick" is spoken like "ann-ick". Of course!)

It also had an absolutely gorgeous library, and I sincerely regretted not being allowed to take photos there. I would also have loved to have visited this place as a young child; they have a "knight's quest" obstacle course that kids dress up for. Adorable and fun-looking!

Also, speaking of Harry Potter and such... When we arrived in London, it was at King's Cross, so of COURSE we needed to take photos at platform 9 3/4. :) They have half of a luggage trolly going "through" the barrier there for you to pose with. We did a "running smack dab into the solid wall and breaking our noses" photo as well. ;)

We spent a full day in York, running around trying to see everything. The Treasurer's House is a good example of how bad antiquarians could get. You see, Frank Grant, a ridiculously rich man with a passion for old furniture, bought up this beautifully preserved house, then renovated the crap out of it to fit with his "vision" of what a seveteenrh century house would look like. This included deliberately banging up the centuries-old oak floorbords so that they would look right.

On the plus side, I saw a portrait of Charles I in there (the one with the horse and jaunty pose I spoke about in a previous post way back).

We also went on a short ghost walk (can't get enough of those ghosties and ghoulies!). Our guide was very witty and a very gifted storyteller, among other things. His "spooky" name for the tour was "Poltergeist Peter", or "Petergeist." Again, I'm irrationally amused by puns. :)

Yesterday, we took the train from York to London King's Cross. I chose to book my flight home a a reasonable hour (3:00 or so in the afternoon), but the others, who booked separately, believed that a flight that leaves at 7am was doable. Um, they spent the night sleeping in the airport. I stayed in a nice hostel near Hyde Park and a bunch of museums. Granted, I didn't sleep well because I'd lost my earplugs and was in a twelve-person dorm with a couple of snorers, but it's the principle of the thing, right?

Anyway, with little else to do to kill time... We for went to go see Wicked, the musical. (They'd already seen it when they were in London the first time nearly two months ago.)

It was awesome. Inspiring music, wonderful sets and costumes, snappy dialogue... I need the soundtrack post-haste.

It was a wonderful final day in the UK. Now, to kill a few hours before I leave for the airport, I'm heading over to a history of medicine exhibit just around the corner at the Natural History Museum. Or maybe the Victoria and Albert museum. One of the two. :)

See you soon, everyone! 
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Let me tell you two stories I heard in Edinburgh. One begins happily and ends horrifically, the other is a bit more of a pick me up so you finish reading this blog feeling good today.

Erin tells me I should narrate the story of Half-Hanged Maggie, but I'll save that for another time. Her nickname should give away part of the story, though. ;)

Instead, I'll tell you about chimney sweeps. What image pops into your head? Grubby children of what, ten, twelve years of age, cheerful or maybe glum, skillfully scampering up and down chimneys with their brooms in Victorian Britain. That's the image I had.

In Edinburgh, and probably elsewhere, the reality was much different. Instead of a ten year old, picture a three or four year old. They probably don't want to go up. It's dark, dirty and treacherous up there, but your siblings all did it, and if your mum is a widow, or your father a crippled soldier or even just an unskilled labourer, you need to work or you and your family will starve. Only children of a certain size will fit up the chimneys of the rich, you see.

Now, in Edinburgh, as in much of England, it rains a lot. So to stop the rain from continually putting out the flames in the fireplace, the chimneys aren't straight: they look kind of like a staircase, zigzagging upwards in distances of like ten feet.

We were told that when the city began knocking out walls in overcrowded tenements to create bigger apartments in the late 19th century, they got rid of many unneeded chimneys too. 

When they did so, they found many bodies: young children with their legs or necks broken. If you lost your footing or handhold, few were able to get you out.

This was my expression:  D:  (that's horrified amazement)

We were then invited to look up a typical chimney of the era. It was dark, cramped, dirty, and frankly scary-looking. I would never fit up there, and the very thought of forcing a young child, especially a sibling or a theorhetical son or something, especially against their will, to an uncertain fate... Poverty is cruel.

Now after that grisly tale (told on the history tour, no less, not the ghost tour! Edinburgh's history is very dark), I'll tell you a more cheerful, "did you know that?" fact that few people know, even natives of the city.

Now, the large train station, Edinburgh Waverly, has a large five star hotel built next to it, built in the 1800s in a grand stately style. It even has a clocktower! 

But don't set your watch to it. Even today, as per tradition, the time it shows is three minutes fast. Why? To ensure that guests always caught their trains: they would always show up three minutes early. 
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Huzzah! So our hostel here in Berwick-Upon-Tweed (possibly one of the cutest names for a town I've run across so far) has a laptop with internet access for free use for the hostel guests... which means I have an actual keyboard (and not just my little iPod touch screen, with its small "keys", which, combined with my large-ish fingers, means that I am prone to typos), and so I can therefore type at about three or four times the speed! And there is much rejoicing!

So I've entered England. Well, very northern North England, but England nonetheless! Now, I'll tell you about our experience in Edinburgh.

I really, really like Edinburgh. We stayed in the Old Town, as opposed to the New Town, which was built in the mid-1700s... although ironically, the Old Town is mostly comprised of buildings that are newer than those in the New Town, as the slums were cleared during the Victorian era, and the run-town tenements renovated, demolished and/or rebuilt. More on that later.

There are very few buildings that were built after the Industrial Revolution in the area where we visited, so it gave the city an older feel. One of the few buildings that are modern mostrocities is actually the Scottish Parliament building. It's very, uh... interesting? The outside is covered in these weird black shapes which kind of look like handguns or hairdryers, but are actually meant to represent curtains being drawn aside - like, the government offices are transparent so anybody can see in, so no secrets? Um, yeah. Most people think that it looks silly.

We went on several tours with the Mercot Tours company. The first one we did was the Ghosts and Ghouls Tour, which began at 8:00 or so in the evening. Our cloaked guide, Liz, was a brilliant orator, and really good at creating atmosphere in subtle ways. I noticed that she would angle her face so she would be staring out at you through one eye, which made her look a bit off, and she would speak softly at times, so you would lean in (of course, just in time for her to let out an aweful shriek as someone in her story discovered that yes, ghosts DO exist, etc.).

The great thing about Edinburgh is that there are a LOT of ghost stories to work with. I would seriously reccommend you all look up the story Mary King's Close and the plague victims, um, shut up in there... and the ghostly activity found there afterwards.

One of the things that I really loved about Edinburgh were the "closes": essentially, small tunnels, too narrow to be really called streets, that go between houses. I'll post pictures of them when I get back. They're nice now, of course, but back in the 18th and 19th centuries, especially, these steep little paths would be running with what the locals would call "nastiness" - night soil, the contents of chamber pots, logs and lemonade, whatever you want to call it. Apparently, under the "Nastiness Act", one could no longer pitch the contents of ones' buckets out of the window during the day, and when one did do so at night, one had to shout a warning in French. I think it was something like "Gardez l'eau" - "careful of the water!" - which got shortened to the Edinburgh slang "Gardy-loo!"

Of course, a side effect of this law was that the poor people of the city, especially the literally poor, had chamber pots festering with their "nastiness" all day, which can't have been hygenic. :P

We went down into the "vaults" in our tour. Now, the vaults were created in the 18th century when a series of massive bridges were built that spanned one of the valleys of the city. They each had nineteen massive arches. One of the most prestigeous areas of the city to live in were right on top of the bridges... so, by extension of that idea, living right NEXT to the bridges would also be prestigious... and, essentially, the arches were walled up by buildings. You can only tell from a few select places that there's a bridge there at all, now, because it doesn't look like a valley anymore, but a flat city. But the spaces underneathe the arches still existed, and, the city being pressed for spaces... they were subdivided into little places that the owners of the land (the buildings above) could rent... little dark caves. Anyway, I'll post a picture of the postcard I bought, showing the cross-section of the vaults so that that explanation I just wrote makes sense.

Anyway, it's said (by the BBC no less!) to be on of the most haunted and terrifying places in Britain. I didn't feel anything while down there (except a bit chilled), but then again, I may have been protected by my three talismans: I was wearing my favourite scarf, which has a lot of good emotions attached to it, I had the earrings my good friend Yan gave me in my ears (also positive feelings), and I had a little flashlight on a caribiner clicked onto one of my beltloops.

Erin, who is sensitive to such things, says that she saw the Watcher, one of the ghosts, a big, burly, territorial man, was standing behind me for a bit, arms crossed and glaring. I'm glad that she didn't tell me until afterwards! D:

Also, we had complimentary drinks afterwards, up top in the little tavern they have. I had the lager.

In any case, although I personally didn't see or feel anything supernatural, I was still impressed with our tour guide, who was very good at spinning ghost tales. I nearly cried just thinking about the plaghe victims of Mary King's Close.

Today, after Sara had departed to visit her family in Newcastle, Erin, Kelsey and I went on two more, history-centric, Mercat tours: Secrets of the Royal Mile and another one whose name escapes me that took us down into the vaults (which are way less scary during the day, when more electric lights are lit, and there are fewer candles providing sole lighting). There were very few repeated stories, actually. During the two day tours today we learned a lot more about the social history of things, symbolism in the archetecture, etc. Very cool.

We also got to go into the Law Courts (to see the 16th century building beneath the 19th century facade). It's a working building, and we could see the lawyers at work. Where we were, they were wearing their black robes... and wigs! (I didn't know that they still did that.) They were "promenading", apparently a Scottish-only law practice. Apparently when lawyers wish to discuss a case, they don't sit in one place to talk about it: they walk, back and forth, along the hallway. That way, no-one can overhear their whole aconversation, just bits and pieces, if that. Clever!

Anyway, that's enough for now... I'm certain I'll have a lot more to say about Edinburgh in my picture posts! :) Tata for now!
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Well, now, I know that at the end of my last post I had a very intriguing bit of foreshadowing: I said I was in Inverness, which meant that I'd be soon visiting Loch Ness, with all the exciting implications of monster hunting and cryptozoology inherent therein.

Well, we DID visit Loch Ness. No Nessie, though, unless you count it's depictions upon hundreds of cheap tourist souvenirs.

(My personal favourites were the little four piece statues, comprised of two loops of the body, a tail and a head that you line up in a row to depict Nessie in the water on your desk, and the "Sexy-Ness" and "Drunken-Ness" t-shirts with dressed up Nessies. I didn't buy any of them, but I giggled a bit.)

I quite liked the small bit of Inverness that we saw. Our hostel was conveniently located one block over from the bus station, and two blocks down from the trains. We used the bus station quite a bit. Also, I loved the atmosphere in the Victorian Market. I shall post photos demonstrating why next week.

We visited Loch Ness not for the monster exhibition but for the ruins of Urquhart castle... Because we poor North Americans have a wonderful fascination with such things, having as we do a terrible paucity of picturesque crumbling ruins in the New World. We seem to trip over them everywhere here, but that hasn't dimmed my enthusiasm for them - or for photographing them.

We visited the castle on the shores of the famous loch in the afternoon. That morning, though we visited a completely different sort of structure: Fort George. It's an extremely well preserved military fort from the 18th century. It's so well preserved, in fact, that in addition to being a museum (I'm told they also have costumed historical interpreters in July and August!) it's also a functioning, modern military fort. We saw some pretty fine examples of modern-day members of the Scottish Highlander regiment stationed there. :) They also had a very neat regimental museum, full of artefacts. Highlights include silver-plated sheep skulls decorated with regimental symbols, a mechanical arm used by one of the soldiers ofthe regiment after he lost a limb in the First World War (fully articulated elbow, hooked ring and pinkie fingers for holding things, and moveable first two fingers), and, of course, a small metal cigarette case with a large dent and a bullet beside it. You know the story: the soldier has the case in his breast pocket, and his life is saved when the bullet that would have otherwise killed him ends up hitting the case of cigarettes instead of his heart. The accompanying label said that the man died in a completely different battle soon after, though. Ah, well. 

The day after we visited Fort George and Loch Ness, we took the bus to Culloden Moor, a really well-designed museum dedicated to the battle that took place there in 1745 (the past battle to take place on British soil). I love soundscaprs, you see, and they got on my good side immediately by having a man in 18th century military costume greet us at the door by tipping his hat to us and allowing us womenfolk to hold his rifle (not innuendo, guys, I mean his reproduction bayonet). I love historical interpreters! :) 

There was also a little four-walled room that played a video on all four walls, which was a short reenactment of the battle. It makes you feal a hint of the confusion and terror of it.

Afterwards, we wandered about the fields were the battle was actually fought. They have flags put out showing the approximate locations of the Jacobite (AKA the supporters of Bonnie Prince Charlie) and government troops. There are also cairns and gravemarkers that point out the locations were each clan's men were burried if they didn't survive the battle. I had a shivery moment when it struck me that the entire field was really one mass grave. 

(But really, aren't huge swathes of Europe?)

Anyway, speaking of death and such, the next post will detail  our experiences in Edinburgh, which include ghost tours, exploring underground vaults, amd hearing about Mary King's Close and other nastiness.

I should also mention that it was in Inverness that Sara and I finally met up with two wayward members of our group: Erin and Kelsey! They'd seen Chad off onto a bus to Cork, where he flew home direct to Edmonton last week. We for had a happy reunion. :) 
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Huzzah for wifi! I would also like to thank Mr. Ian Fellows for - along with numerous other things that I shall soon get to - graciously allowing me to use the internet connection at his house yesterday evening. Blame him for the sudden deluge of posts in your inboxes, not me! ;)

Although I'm aware that Mr. Ian Fellows is now reading this blog (welcome!), I'm actually not modifying my words on yesterday's tour as a result. There isn't much of anything I have to gloss over, or lie about, or whatever.  He is an all-around awesome guy, and runs an awesome tour on top of that. :) I'm recommending to all of you readers right now: if you have any intention of ever visiting anywhere near the Isle of Skye, seriously make the effort and go make a daytrip or something up there. Mr. Fellows (and the scenery) are completely and totally worth the trip up there. :)

Now, Erin had been the one who was in contact with him, not Sara and I. We were actually a little nervous about the prospect of this private tour as we didn't quite know what to expect. There we were, waiting to get in a car with a strange man in a country that was foreign to us... He was exactly the sort of person my mother had warned me against as a child! If he offered us candy to entice us in, we were out of there. ;)

Well, in the end he didn't offer us candy, but he did give us a spray to keep off the midges, which had been annoying us to death as we waited. (They were following us in little buzzing clouds, no matter where we stood, and a not inconsiderable amount seemed determined to commit suicide by flying into my mouth, nose and ears.)

 As soon as he spotted us on the side of the road by our hostel (we'd come down to meet him instead of having him drive up steep gravel driveways) and stepped out to meet us, any worry we had slipped away. (Sara seconds this motion.)

 His friendly expression and even just body language put us at ease. :) He is the sort of fellow that is clearly passionate - and knowledgeable - about what he speaks about, which is always a plus in a tour guide, and as a person.

He managed to convince us NOT to be taken to the standard tourist trap areas (apparently the famous castle to the north-west of the island is undergoing renovations, so we'd just be getting pictures of scaffolding and white sheets), and instead we went off the beaten track. It was an excellent choice. 

We were taken to lovely views of wide open spaces, framed by mountainous islands and craggy peaks and valleys. Well, when they weren't hidden by misty clouds, that is. Sometimes the clouds added to the mystique of the image of the mountains; sometimes they just hid them altogether. 

He could have been telling us blasphemous lies the whole way, but he kept getting proven correct.

For instance, he would tell us that normally there'd be twenty-odd seals or more hanging about in the area, and it was weird that there weren't any there now... And during the subsequent short ferry ride, we spotted at least half a dozen in the water. He would tell us a story about goats that had gone feral thirty or so years ago, and turning the very next corner (no exaggeration) we spotted a herd of very evil-looking goats wandering across the road. It was epic.

I mentioned a ferry, and I want to speak briefly about it because I've never seen anything quite like it. It crosses at a place just around the corner from the bridge to the mainland, at the narrowest place between the Isle of Skye and mainland Scotland. It almost looks like a river from shore to my untrained eye, even moreso when the tides are coming in and out, what with the strong current. I've heard that kayakers like to surf it.

Remind me to repeat the bridge toll story later (this update is already proving long).

Anyway, there is a very small ferry that services this bit. The ship has a capacity for four cars (plus one of the two of the skipper's dogs which likes to make the crossing).  It takes five minutes to cross, and, of course, we arrived just as the men were going on their state-mandated thirty minute lunchbreak. We didn't mind so much, as one of them came up and actually began telling us old Scottish folktales about warriors, the theft of fire, seeing stones, etc. It was wicked. He even allowed us to look through the small seeing stone around his neck; if you look through the hole in the middle, it's said that you may see the future (I said I saw us on the opposite shore ;) ).

I need to post the photo I took of the ferry so you can get a visual of what I'm about to describe, but the top deck of the ferry actually rotates separately from the main hull to more easily disgorge the vehicles that ride it. Two of the crew move it by hand. Hardcore.

I should also say that we were told that the ship had just gone to the Isle of Harris for refitting, and had to make the perilous ocean crossing with only the aid of a map and a compass. No joke. This is the same route that the gigantic ferry we took from Tarbert to Uig did: three hours on open sea with largeish waves. The sailors really do know their craft well. No GPS needed.

The day didn't end when the tour did. Mr. Ian Fellows offered to take us out for tea or a pint in Plockton, I think, mostly to warm up as it was still drizzling. BUT everything was closing just as we arrived, because it was five o'clock on a Sunday on Skye. Instead, he offered to give us a drink at his house (also, Internet access), and we gladly accepted! (Beyond the possibility of a walk by the seashore, which we'd already walked half a dozen times or more, we had nothing else we could have done anyway.) Besides, both Sara and I love good conversations and conversationalists. :) Also, he'd piqued our interests in his house after bringing it up a few times over the course of the day.

It's a renovated building from the early nineteenth century, I believe, built the same time as the Clan Donnel castle up the way. In fact, it used to belong to the man who would meet the ships on behalf of the master of the clan, and it's right on a bay by a pier. It's very interesting in shape: octagonal. Picture Hagrid's hut, but whitewashed with an extension added onto one side and larger windows. There is lots of natural light, modern furniture, and even a matching octagonal fireplace or stove! Sara and I could not get over how awesome this house was. 

So we went over and had tea, continuing our delightful conversation with Mr. Ian Fellows. It eventually drifted to the topic of local brews, and, our glasses being empty, he generously offered to have us try some true Scottish whisky, incidentally also explaining things like what "single malt" means. One shot of whisky became three, interdispersed with a Hebridean beer or two, or wine, and a delicious mix of sparkling water and the juice from hand picked elderberries. Um, all three of us got kind of tipsy. Mr. Fellows also made us fish and chips to go with all of this! Once again, we two perpetually poor starving students thank you very much for your generosity and hospitality! 

I'm definitely going to have to post that photo I took of all three of us, smiling, red in the face and surrounded by empty drinks. 

And don't worry, we managed to get back to the hostel safely, without disturbing anyone. It was a lovely day all around, and an excellent send-off from Skye.

Coming up next: being in Inverness means going to Loch Ness!    
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Originally written June 11th

Planning your journey to a foreign country almost exclusively through the Internet is always a little bit hit and miss. Now, I wasn't present for the planning of this leg of the trip (and due to time delay due to lack of teh internets, by "this leg" I mean the Isle of Skye), the Internet didn't quite indicate distances well.

Skye is gorgeous, and there IS a lot to see. I'm not contesting that fact. It's just really hard to get around without a vehicle of one's own.

Our hostel here in Armadale, where I'm writing this, is nice enough. The only problem is that it's not really IN Armadale.

It's a forty minute walk.

And I admit, it is along a beautifully scenic view of the harbour... But this journey translates to a two minute car ride. :P

The buses mostly run in association with the ferries, which mean that they run through town four times a day, and not at all on Sundays. We would actually be much better off staying in Broadford, which has more than the three giftshops, one petrol station, and two art galleries in Armadale. Broadford is about twenty minutes by bus away, but almost totally inaccessible to us as pedestrians. Even the local supermarket was one town over, luckily within walking distance, or we would have had to live off of nuts and granola bars until the bus came the next morning at 9am or so. (Breakfast isn't included at this hostel, p.s.).

Still, there's a respectable castle with 20,000 acres of scenic grounds and walking trails (lol, I almost wrote "trials"... but isn't that what they are?), which we shall check out tomorrow. That is, if we feel like walking even more than the one and a half long round trip it takes to walk there.

And on Sunday, we'll get our DRIVING tour of Skye. :) 

That will be great, because Sara and I have pretty much lost our tolerance for hills and walking. My legs will be totally spectacular by the end of this trip - all toned and muscular. 

I can also now personally appreciate our ancestors' habit of living close to home (living their whole lives within, say, a twenty mile radius of their home village): with only your feet as transport, I don't think that I'd get too far either!
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Originally written June 11th

Planning your journey to a foreign country almost exclusively through the Internet is always a little bit hit and miss. Now, I wasn't present for the planning of this leg of the trip (and due to time delay due to lack of teh internets, by "this leg" I mean the Isle of Skye), the Internet didn't quite indicate distances well.

Skye is gorgeous, and there IS a lot to see. I'm not contesting that fact. It's just really hard to get around without a vehicle of one's own.

Our hostel here in Armadale, where I'm writing this, is nice enough. The only problem is that it's not really IN Armadale.

It's a forty minute walk.

And I admit, it is along a beautifully scenic view of the harbour... But this journey translates to a two minute car ride. :P

The buses mostly run in association with the ferries, which mean that they run through town four times a day, and not at all on Sundays. We would actually be much better off staying in Broadford, which has more than the three giftshops, one petrol station, and two art galleries in Armadale. Broadford is about twenty minutes by bus away, but almost totally inaccessible to us as pedestrians. Even the local supermarket was one town over, luckily within walking distance, or we would have had to live off of nuts and granola bars until the bus came the next morning at 9am or so. (Breakfast isn't included at this hostel, p.s.).

Still, there's a respectable castle with 20,000 acres of scenic grounds and walking trails (lol, I almost wrote "trials"... but isn't that what they are?), which we shall check out tomorrow. That is, if we feel like walking even more than the one and a half long round trip it takes to walk there.

And on Sunday, we'll get our DRIVING tour of Skye. :) 

That will be great, because Sara and I have pretty much lost our tolerance for hills and walking. My legs will be totally spectacular by the end of this trip - all toned and muscular. 

I can also now personally appreciate our ancestors' habit of living close to home (living their whole lives within, say, a twenty mile radius of their home village): with only your feet as transport, I don't think that I'd get too far either!
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Originally written June 10th 

The Isle of Skye's landscape is very distinctively Scottish, or at least very much "not Irish", at least according to my not-so-expert opinion. It's less green, more rocky, but still breathtaking in it's own way. 

Today, we rented bicycles in Portree, trusting that the idyllic Northern Scottish countryside would roll beneath our wheels with the speed of an old VHS on fast-forward, but with less skipping and snow.

These are not the rolling hills of Killarney national park, with tea shops hidden in cottages and men in horses and buggies around every corner. These are rugged, manly, northern, and above all SCOTTISH hills. We two, despite being from the True North Strong and Free, were unprepared for such steep and merciless crags, which would dishearten any out of shape or impatient person.

The cycle rental man recommended us visit a beach down by Braese (sp? Pronounced "Breeze", though the journey was anything but), and he expected that we could get there and back, with plenty of time to relax at the other end, in the half day/five hours we'd paid for our bike rentals. "Great!" said and thought we. 

However... We were defeated by the steep hills. But even we of relatively feeble bodies may have been able to put up with such trials for the reward of beautiful panoramic views of Scottish lochs, mountains and countryside (peppered once more with the ever-present frollicking lambs), if not for one more added element of risk:

Cars.

This was supposed to be a quiet road. This means that a vehicle comes along, on average, about once every one to four minutes. Not so bad, you think, right? Here are some more things to take into consideration.

The road is a narrow, one lane, barely paved path. It serves two directions of traffic. There are actual signed "passing places" where cars coming from opposite directions have the space, and thus ability, to pass each other safely. (I took photographs of the signs in case someone doesn't believe my words and needs pictoral proof). All other streches of the road are alarmingly narrow.

This is where we biked for the vast majority of the time. Furthermore, a statistically significant proportion of cars seemed to like to cross paths in our general vecinity, leaving road space at an even higher premium.

 I should also mention that there are many blind corners, and while we may be able to hear the cars coming, they cannot see us, and if they're coming at us at, say, 60 km/h, there's little we can do to get out of their way... Except jerk to the side, into the ditch, to avoid being splattered. Sheep and lambs, observing from behind fences calmly chewing their cud and staring, "baaa-ed" their laughter at us on several occasions.

Also, the hills are steep both ways, which means that we alternated between an achingly-slow snail's pace and dangerously attempting to break the sound barrier, if it weren't for the judicial application of brakes.... But we tried to use sparingly for fear of wearing them out and having them fail us at the most inopportune time possible.

So Sara and I, being safety-inclined wusses, pulled over to the side of the road after an hour or so of hair-raising biking, at the first scenic point we could find after making the decision to stop. We laid down our windbreakers as impromptu blankets, took out our lunches (consisting of bottled water, juice, apples, granola bars, and Oreo cookies) and had a lovely picnic, basking in the sunshine and staring out at the countryside (and the sheep).

And you know what? It was still a great day. We even managed to forget for nearly a whole hour that we had to bike BACK, too.
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Originally written June 10th 

It turns out that my previous negative attitude towards the Isles of Lewis and Harris was totally unjustified. For all the hassle it took getting up there in the first place, it was actually nearly worth it!

... I may actually go back at some future date.

First of all, the scenery is gorgeous. There is also a set of massive standing stones, older and better preserved than Stonehenge that I totally missed because we had no access to vehicles beyond buses on set routes and expensive taxis. It's called Callanish, and until the mid-1800s, it was mostly burried in a five-foot layer of peat, preserving, well, the bottom five feet of the stones as well as the burial chamber, for thousands of years... At least until 19th century antiquarians and amateur "archaeologists" got their hands on it. ;P

The hostel we stayed at, the Am Botham Bunkhouse, was located in an idyllic little bowl-shaped valley on the seashore, with a little lake in the middle and lots of little fluffy lambs frollicking in the surrounding hills.  

In fact, sheep seemed to outnumber human beings, which is rather peaceful after days in a big city like Belfast. You were right, guys.

On our only night there, we ate at a seafood restaurant down the way on the docks called "Anchorage". It looked kind of sketchy on the outside, but the inside was all recently renovated, tasteful hardwood and absolutely delicious, but cheap, fresh seafood dishes. I had a marinated Italian seafood salad, containing fesh fish, scallops, mussels, and tiny little (adorable) purple octopi. It was AMAZING. :)

The bunkhouse itself was great. I need to post photos of the eccentric decor. The front lawn had the spine of a large whale on it (by which I mean a row of old grey whalebones),and there was a rowboat hanging from the ceiling inside. The windows on the inner doors were portholes from sunken ships (specifically named, along with the fates of their crewmen - how many survived, drowned, or missing, on accompanying plaques. ) Our room suggested the interior of a steamship, from the shape of our bunkbeds to the door, which was opened by turning a little wheel. You'll need to see the photos. :)

We were the only people in our room, which was nice and peaceful. :) We chatted with a few of the other guests over breakfast in an equally uniquely decorated kitchen and dining room, including a retired Scottish couple and an Irish artist in her mid-forties, the latter of which was on her way to an even MORE islolated island.

Yeah, it turns out that there ARE more islolated British islands than Harris, despite the impression I gave in my past post. ;) For instance, I could have visited the ruins of the abandoned village on St.Kilda, once famously the most isolated inhabitted island in the British isles. Tourists visited it in the 19th century for bragging rights, just so they could say that they'd been to such a place. It was evacuated in the late 1920s after the market had declined so much that the islanders faced starvation.

By contrast, I like fresh seafood served on China plates next to a functioning ferry and bus terminal. Therefore, the Isle of Harris has a lot of things going for it. :)
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Originally written June 9th

Initial impressions of the Isle of Harris? Quite positive, actually, once we got here! I felt distressed earlier because I left my favourite sweater in the Belfast city airport lounge, only realizing too late that I'd left it behind. :( This is right when I need it, too! I'm determined to buy a souvenir sweater (preferably wool, but not too bulky), mostly out of necessity. I still feel like an idiot, though. That thing was comfortable, folded up well, was warm for it's thickness, and was very slimming on me. You don't get those things often in a sweater. RIP. :(

BUT the Isle itself is pretty cool! We flew into Stornoway in the North, on the Isle of Lewis (attached to Harris). Stornoway, besides having a really neat-sounding name, is the only real city on the island. (AKA it has things like tourist info centres and Chinese restaurants)

We took the bus down to Leverburgh, about twenty minutes past Tarbert, where we'll catch the ferry to Skye tomorrow.

I'll say this now: the scenery makes all of the hassle almost worth it. The village sits in a sort of bowl-shaped valley with a small lake at it's centre, and t faces the Atlantic. The sun is setting over the harbour outside my window as I type this, guys! :)

Furthermore, the Am Botham Bunkhouse has a sweet setup, and not just in location. There is a giant whale's spine decorating the front yard, a rowboat hanging from the ceiling inside, various fishing/hunting paraphernalia decorating the walls inside... And our attic loft room is designed to suggest the interior of a steamboat, from the shape of the bunkbeds to the door (a porthole type thing, which has a wheel you needto turn to get in). SO cool! :) I love it!

We ate supper down the road at a gorgeous little seafood restaurant which is far more fancy on the inside than the ouside suggests. I had one of the specials, a seafood salad with Italian sauce. It had delicious fish, mussels, and tiny little octopi. :) OMNOMNOM. :D
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I have a bare 5 minutes left of paid internet time at a tourist info place in Portree, on the Isle of Skye, so I'll just post this to let everyone know that our tiny little plane didn't crash into the sea or anything!

In fact, Sara and I have been very much enjoying ourselves in the islands! :D I have about three or four posts written up on my iPod detailling our adventures (surprisingly few misadventures involved, I rescind any negative ideas I held about the islands before today), and I'll be spamming all of your inboxes with them as soon as I have access to free wifi. That could be tomorrow when we move to Armadale, or in three days when we get to Inverness. We'll see!

We're having an adventure. The sun is shining, the birds are singing (literally), and I love being served toasties with brie and cranberries. :)
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Ack, I'm upset - this notepad option totally just ate my post. I'll retype that bit about William if Orange, the park, and his horse later. Wait, that's like the whole story; there's a small triangle of grass (each side is like seven metres long) about a block away from my hostel in Belfas that has been preserved because apparently the Protestant William of Orange grazed his horse there on the way south, where he went on to defeat the catholic King James II atthe Battle of the Boyne, still remembered either with fondness or with loathing, depending on who you are.

I'm uncertain of my Internet access for the next few days, so I thought I'd explain my itinerary here. I should have helped Erin plan a bit more, I think, because honestly I'm not that fussed about the schedule for the next five days, with a few exceptions. I'd rathe spend a few extra days in Belfast or Inverness or something, but with hostels so busy, and bookigs being what they are, we're kind of locked in.

Tomorrow, we're flying to Stornoway in the Isle of Harris. We cancelled our tour of the countryside because it was so expensive, so it's essentially a long stopover so we can get up at six am the next day to catch a ferry from the tiny town of Tarbert to get to the Isle of Skye.

I'm actually looking forward to Skye. We'll be having a really long personal day tour with Ian Fellows, who has been of a huge help to Erin in planning things... Plus, there's biking and maybe even kayaking to be had.

I just don't want to spend FOUR days there. Two, maybe. But with the stopover in stornoway it becomes five... Which is a long time. It's a lot of hassle to get there, and... yeah. I suspect that the schedule is like that because of ferry/bus schedules? 

I guess it'll be a few days of zen relaxation in the countryside before the final stretch, composed of all big cities? :P 

We're not meeting up with Kelsey and Erin until Inverness, after we leave Skye.

Blah, at least I like nature. And I'm sure I'll have fun, but I just can't help but feel that while "wasting" time going someplace I never would have considered going to on my own that I'm missing out on something else somewhere else.
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In Belfast: no riots yet. The city has really cleaned up recently (helped along by the really tall "Peace Wall" and the armored police cars), so according to my guidebook, it's no longer one of the four "B"s for tourists to avoid: Beruit, Bosnia, Bagdad... And Belfast. ;)

Today was a history day for us in Belfast. For all that this city has really only been around for a couple centuries, there has been a lot going on... And lots of tours covering it.

Originally, on the itinerary we were supposed to do the Giant's causeway tour (supposedly very spectacular and highly recommended), but it's a full day thing, so we scratched that plan. There are also things like black cab tours that cover both the Catholic and Protestant quarters of the city, detailing The Troubles (AKA the riots) in a fairly unbiased way... There are even walking tours with former UVF members (jailed for terrorist activities) to be had.

In the end, it was a price thing: our hostel roommates were leaving, but their hop on, hop off tour bus tickets were still good for another day, so they generously gave us their tickets. The open-top bus tour gave us a good assessment of the city, giving us a view of the murals, churches, etc. We learned the mythic origins of the bleeding severed hand on the Ulster coat of arms, too! The tour was great, and it was free (for us), so, bonus!

In the afternoon, we went for a paid tour - a Titanic boat tour! The Titanic and her sister ships, the Olympic and the Gigantic (renamed the Brittanic after the Titanic sank) were all built in the Belfast shipyards. The Belfast(-ers? -ians? -ites? What do you call someone from Belfast?) are very defensve about it; "She was fine when she left here" and "it was an Englishman who sank her" are the most common remarks.  

But yeah, I learned a lot and want to do a more detailed history post on it when I get back and have a keyboard. Maybe this, too, will be a picture post! :)

We went for a third tour in the afternoon - free guided tour of City Hall. The reason it's free is because it cost a ridiculous amount of money to build in the first place, and the councillors decided it wasn't really politik to have Belfastians pay to look around a building that THEY, the taxpayer, paid for. And now it's not just free for Belfastites, but for us foreigners, too. 

It's a beautiful, symbolism-steeped building that deserves a picture post of it's own. :) I am also totally stealing this one quote from our tourguide the next time I find myself giving a tour to a big group of people: "I am a frail and delicate little flower and don't want to strain my voice, so you'll have to follow closely." It may not have the same effect coming out of my mouth, though. He was a fifty-year old, burly man who had a tendency to speak like Eyeore when sarcastic. It was great.
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An ode to mum

Sara and I dedicate this post to our mothers. We want to thank you for all your help, advice, and supplies... Because, as has been frequently proven true on this trip, mothers know best.

Don't worry, this isn't a passive-agressive way to ask for more travel money. Honest. I'm fine, mum. :)

Both Sara and I want to let you know that we ARE using the supplies you gave us, or forced us to take, or even covertly placed in our bags without are knowledge - I'm looking at you, Mrs. Sara's Mom!

Sara tells me that she did use that dollar store backpack you put in her bag, in the end (I saw her - it was while we were biking around Killarney). She also says that yeah, it's later, and she's thanking you now for buying her a proper raincoat (it rains in the British Isles, who knew?) On the opposite end of the weather scale, she equally thanks you for the sunscreen. :) The sun is searing when it actually peeks through the clouds.

Mum, as for you... I have been using that little shopping back that folds into a strawberry, those sturdy red shoes, those toothpick/dental floss things, as well as those other hygiene products (you know the ones). I haven't yet needed that emergency travel credit card yet, but it's a big comfort just having it in my purse, just in case, especially with the uncertainty of the past few days.

But seriously, mum, I haven't yet used that showercap. I told you so. ;) But now that I've said that, it'll probably be on my head within two days. :)

To quickly conclude... I love you mum! (Sara seconds this motion.) 
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Things are slowly getting organized again after that big, uh, upset a few days ago. Sara and I are in Galway, leaving tomorrow for Belfast (For which Sara is excited, but for my part I'm trying to put some of those last few lectures on modern Irish history about sectarian riots from my mind.) 

The last I heard, Chad was supposed to be released from hospital today or tomorrow, so things may be looking up! After a brief scare when we were told by the doctors that he'd be well enough to accompany us, Erin and Kelsey convinced him to go home. If this sounds harsh, well, he needs to give up the rest of his trip and go home and rest, not run all over Britain. If anything else goes wrong, like an infection or a re-broken bone, he shouldn't be in the Isle of Lewis, hours and hours away by bus, ferry or plane away from medical help. Also, selfishly... He can't move his arms. This means that us girls would be obligated to carry his bag on top of our own, give him his meds, feed him (literally spoonfeeding!), and, uh, other things one needs one's hands to do involving personal hygiene.

Um... No. That's not a vacation for the rest of us. Erin concinced him to go home, for his health and dignity, plus our sanity. 

Anyway... Sara and I have been making calls and firing off emails for two days. Most of Chad's hostels and tour bookings have been cancelled, Erin's and Kelsey's postponed or cancelled. 

A few of our tours were cancelled too. For instance, one that was to show us around the Ilse of Lewis proved too expensive (reasonable to split amongst a group of five, but not between only two). At least Inverness onwards on thr itinerary should remain almost unchanged (I look forward to reuniting with our wayward Kelsey and errant Erin!).

Also, note to self: never try to figure out ferry schedules alone. In a fit of hubris, I believed that we could skip flying to Stornoway (where we have almost nothing to do without that cancelled tour) and book a ferry to the Isle of Skye directly from Belfast... Yeah, no. You can't get to Skye from like any large major port city. Who knew? :P 

Anyway... Things are almost sorted. Today Sara and I took a tour bus to the gorgeous Cliffs of Moher (yet another photo post to make!) plus some sites in between: fairy tree rings, crumbling abbeys, famine walls...

Oh, and if you don't know, famine walls are an interesting remnant of the history of Ireland. 1845 through 1849 + potato blight = starving Irish, especially in the West, with it's rocky ground unsuitable for all but potato crops... Which failed again and again. Add to the equation: LOTS of starving Irish + antiquated strict British poor laws = a lot of people who need to work (and work hard) for poor relief. The administrators ran out of things for these skeletal workers to do to earn their soup and bread, so they were made to build roads and walls that literally went nowhere. They're kind of creepy, but also make a sad and plaintive image, winding their way through the rocky countryside of Western Ireland.

On a different note... (AKA "and now for something completely different!"): 

I totally broke down and bought a book at the gift shop today (at the "Gifts of Moher", haha!). Up 'til now I had been resisting the temptation to buy books everywhere, as is my usual code of conduct. I didn't want to carry them on my back in my giant turtleshell backpack, you see. Books are heavy, so I've been making do with small trinkets and things that fold or squish. 

But today, I found a book that my inner history dork couldn't resist. It's called "The Feckin' book of Irish History for anyone who hasn't been paying attention for the last 30,000 years." I hesitated, but when I saw that they had a lovely photo of a memorial to Countess Markievicz, I was sold. 

P.S., for those not in the know: the good Countess is a national Irish hero of the 1916 Easter Uprising. I think I wrote a post on her in November (probably tagged "histories" and "oh those crazy irish") My last name is Markewicz, which is a version of the same name that was simply anglisized differently. I don't THINK that I'm a relation... But I don't advertise that fact when I'm fishing for discounts or goodwill. And besides: "I know very little of my great-grandparents and their Polish relatives" isn't a lie. :3 
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(First, a welcome to my new readers! Sara tells me that more have come here by way of her mother. Man, now I have to make an actual EFFORT at being entertaining, and not just writing whatever, I suppose...)

I think that the unofficial motto of this trip has become "Keep calm, carry on," after the famous unprinted British propaganda poster from the Second World War. (it's actually very visually appealing, and is on the cover of my travel journal - I will try to find merchandise to bring home.) Of course, when we say it, there are a few vulgar extra words and a lot of humourous emphasis, not to mention silly facial expressions...

First, I should say that Chad seems to be doing okay. Last we heard, he was going into surgery last night, instead of this morning, so he may be coherent when we visit before lunch (bus system allowing). 

We four girls have been pulling things together. Both Sara and I have been super impressed by Kelsey and Erin, who are holding up well, considering. There were some tears and group hugs yesterday, though. Stress = bad, and this whole situation is nothing if not stressful. Sara has promised to teach me some yoga moves, which will be great for de-stressing (oh man, when I say that word aloud it sounds like "distress" :P ). 

You know, until 5:00 or so hit, yesterday was my favourite day of the trip. The birds were singing, the sun was shining, the grass was green, the mountains misty and beautiful in he background... I was shooting deer and native breeds of cattle (with my camera, not a hunting rifle: sorry, dad. ;) ). It seemed like everything was going beautifully!  

We had split up because Sara and I wanted more of an intense workout, and the others just wanted a meandering mosy about, and by splitting up, everyone would get what we wanted. We would meet for a birthday supper in Killarney itself. 

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, yesterday was Chad's birthday. Happy birthday, Chad! D:

Sara and I still owe him drinks. Because we're only acquaintances, we figured that this would be the best way to go - and besides, it's not another trinket he has to carry! We've determined that we will take him out for drinks in canada in several months' time when he is once again capable of holding beer in both hands.

That should be a joke, and sounds like a joke, but it isn't. 

I should also mention that I could have been neighbours with Chad in that hospital room. Sara as my witness: once during the day I was going down a gravel-paved hill far too fast, and, like an idiot, only braked with my front wheel. Only my experience as a cyclist and a minor miracle stopped me from experiencing the same fate - AKA flipping head over heels over the handlebars. Bikes is dangerous, guys!!!!1! (I like to think we would have signed each others' casts, though.)

Regardless, this is another location that I'd like to write a picture post about upon my return, so keep an eye out for that! I loved Killarney (this was like, the one thing that I was the sole person planning on this trip). And I'm very sad that three other group-members didn't have the same experience. Even so (crap, I need to think of something with which I can end on a positive note, uh... Oh! I've got it!), like a phoenix from the ashes, this trip will rise.

Provided, of course, that we keep calm and carry on. 

P.S.: I still know where my towel is.   
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I am going to write something now, and you may think it is a typo. I will double-check, but I assure you that it is absolutely NOT a mistake.

Today, we went for a bikeride through the national park near Killarney. Sara and I biked ahead, because we are more intense bikers, and had a lovely day exploring the park. I will write about all the details later. Chad was more unsure of a cyclist (he never learned as a child, and only leaned before the trip to go on this daytrip). I planned this activity, you see, and we didn't want to wait, but Kelsey and Erin did to keep him company, and besides, they wanted to have a more of a leisurely day. Sara and I wanted to get exercise, so we decided to meet for supper.

This isn't the unbelievable part - but this is: Chad wiped out. Went over his handlebars. 

He broke his arms. 

BOTH of them. 

He's in the hospital in Tralee, in surgery. He'll be fine, need homecare for a few months... But he has to fly home. Trip-ending accident. One of the bones was poking through his skin, I'm told.

Am I a horrible person for being grateful that I wasn't the first first-aider on the scene at that accident? I think I would have fainted. I've never dealt with anything more seriousthan a bee-sting on a child before. 

I feel horrible that I gave Erin some bandaids and gauze to carry for him, just in case, before we separated. We joked that he might have a new war wound (AKA a skinned knee or something) to show off at dinner.  

Sara an I will continue on to Galway. We have no other option. Apparently this weekend is one of the busiest weekends in Killarney - a motorcycle convention or something and something else. Long story short: there are no rooms to be had, here. 

So Sara and I will continue on our own for about a week and a half, after which Erin and Kelsey will join us in Inverness. Chadley will then be on a first-class ticket home (yay health insurance?). Erin's mum somehow found a flight direct to Edmonton from Cork, of all places, which we just left.

If you think Sara and I are callous for leaving them... Erin and Kelsey are really all Chad needs. Sara and I had met him perhaps three times before we left on this trip. Two extra people (just acquaintances, not friends, so of little comfort) are just expensive, and extra stress. 

On the plus side, as Sara said, we've hit rock bottom, and things can only go up from here. 

(This I say as I take a fortifying shot of Bailey's.) 
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One thing that I've noticed in my travels is that bathrooms are not standard. Taps (by which I mean faucets, because apparently even the names aren't standardized) seem to be different everywhere. One would think that one tap for hot, one for cold, twistto turn on, twist to turn off, would work admirably for most purposes.

I'd even accept a push-on, pull-off kind of scenario, or even one tap that one twists in different directions to get the exact degree of temperature. That may be ideal, in fact.

I'm not a fan of timed taps. The ones in the bathroom at Cork run for exactly 14 seconds, it seems, which wastes water, in my opinion, especially whe you just want to quickly rinse off your toothbrush or whatever.

It's worse in the shower. In there, there is one large mysterious button, labelled with a small red dot. You can't twist it. It can only be pushed.

I was the third in the shower yesterday, and both Erin and Kelsey professed to the coldness of the shower water (complete with theatrical shivering, which we Canadians may have mastered due to our fondness of relating superhuman survival of sub-zero temperatures with maniacal glee), so I was worried that the hostel had just run out of hot water or something. I mentally braced myself for a cold shower, after a day of drenching rain. 

It was my turn. Sure enough, the water soon turned off (just like the sink taps). Sad-face was I. I pressed he button once more, and again I had a pretty short burst of cold water.

Then, because I'm an impatient person and I like inanimate objects bending to my will, I pressed the button several times in quick succession (frustrated muttering may have been involved), and lo and behold, the water got warm.

It turns out that one must press the button several times before the water stops to get warm water. Of course! Why wasn't that apparent to me immediately at first glance? :P

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