Saturday, August 25, 2007

Ireland part 2 - Dublin to Kilkenny

After our 4 days in Dublin, B and I piled back into one of the public busses in Dublin (after having around 10 drive by that didn't go where we needed them to) and headed out to the airport to pick up our rental car, and begin the driving section of the journey.

This particular section of the holiday (the major part) was something new for me, in that we hadn't planned or booked anything, rather that we just piled into the car and drove. Luckily I had "navi" with me in my phone, so if we ever got lost, then I could just say "home, James!" and we would be saved... :)

So, as I said, we piled into the car with our luggage and headed south in the direction of Bray. As we arrived in Bray it was around lunchtime, so we decided to go looking for something to eat. Unfortunately the heavens decided to open up at this point in time too, so we took refuge in a small snack shack place on the beach and had toasted sandwiches and tea. Strange thing about these toasties, although they were sensational and reasonably priced, was that they came in and were cooked in these little plastic baggy things. Very very weird.

After the toasties, it was back into the car, and further down the coast via some back roads through Greystones, Kilcoole, Wicklow, and to Arklow before heading inland. On the way to Wicklow, I saw one of these brown tourist signs on the side of the road that had a picture of a castle with a flag on top on it. I thought "Sweet! Castle!", I chucked a u-turn and headed down this little side-road in search of my castle. After a few minutes we arrived at a funny rail-crossing right on the beach - no castle in sight. I got out of the car, crossed the tracks, and had a look along the beach for my castle - no luck. Getting back in the car, Bel and I had a discussion about the sign, and it turns out that she had seen this sign before when it was referring to a beach with sand, where kiddies can apparently build sand-castles. In a land with a lot of old castles and ruins, don't you think you would save this sign for the freakin' castles, and come up with something else for a beach, like - I dunno - WAVES?!?!?

Something else about roads in Ireland. They seem to be fairly free and easy in deciding what is a "National Road", which is second only in size to a Motorway. Some of the "National Roads" that we took on this trip were barely wide enough to squeeze two cars past each other in opposite directions, and a lot of them had basically no room for error on the side of the road before meeting a 3 foot (or more) high stone fence.

Continuing on, we decided to head inland from Arklow, to try and find a High Cross for me to have a look at. I had seen one on the map in Moone which comes from the 7th century and stands 5m high, so we headed off in that direction.
Trying to find this thing wasn't easy though, as this isn't the kind of thing that shows up in a navi system. So, we followed a few signs towards the High Cross, drove through a puddle that would have been 1 to 1.5 feet deep, and ended up confused and in the middle of nowhere, but stumbling across the ruins of an old church and graveyard (photo below). Unfortunately, after we took a few shots here, our camera decided to give up the ghost...permanently. :(
At little disheartened that we hadn't found the cross, and that the camera had died, we piled back into our little Cleo with about 1HP, and headed back towards the highway.
Just before reaching the highway, I managed to spot a brown sign pointing towards the cross, which was previously blocked by a tractor. U-turn, driving, parking in some farmer's yard, climbing through a hole in the fence, we finally came across the cross, which has been superbly captured by the crappy camera in my phone...

Back into the car, we headed off in the direction of Carlow. We thought that Carlow may be a little small in order to find somewhere to repair the camera, so we drove through there and on to Kilkenny. On the way, to avoid my head exploding with stress, we called ahead and booked a bed and breakfast in Kilkenny. Turns out that Kilkenny is even smaller than Carlow, and that basically nobody drinks Kilkenny beer here...

Next time it continues with Kilkenny to somewhere, and then to somewhere else. But for now, some pictures for those who have had the patience to read this far.

The Irish version of a beach in Bray, where it was raining and the beach was completely deserted. Notice the rocks instead of sand? Begs the question - will the Blarney Stone be a pile of sand instead?

Photo that Bel took of part of the graveyard before the camera headed in that direction.

Random photo of the landscape and some towers on one of the rare occasions that it wasn't raining.

A monument in some back-water town that I took while the navi was confused about where we were heading next.

The gates to a monestary (we think) that we randomly saw on the way. I thought they looked cool.

The monument photographed from a different angle.


Saturday, August 18, 2007

And then there was the return flight

So, the return flight wasn't much less eventful than the one to Stockholm. This time I got a guy who didn't speak any English, and was with 4 other guys who were then flying to Sao Paulo (saw it on his next boarding card). My neighbour actually turned up and boarded on time, but the 3 others must have just snuck in before the doors were closed, and with 3 or 4 pieces of hand luggage each...which they then proceeded to try and stow when there was no stow room left. Eventually the stewardess had to take some of the bags and stow them somewhere in the crew section, as it is kinda dangerous to take off with bags under your seat, under your feat, and in your lap.

So, after take off, the guy next to me (sitting on the window - I was on the aisle, and there was nobody between us) signals to one of his mates that he should come over and sit between us. I wasn't too keen about this, so I huffed and puffed a little, and made a great show of getting up to let the guy in. My show seemed to work, as he started to enter the seat, and then decided not to, and headed back to his other seat - win for Brushy! :)

At some point towards the end of the flight, the 3 others get some form of telegram from the Stewardess. I wondered what this was about, but then didn't think anything of it for a while...

So, now we are finally approaching the landing in Frankfurt. Then, just before landing, we give full power and climb back up sharply to cruising altitude (this is the second time this has happened to me). Turns out again, like last time, that a plane has stopped on the runway, and hence we couldn't land. So, we fly a lap of Frankfurt and eventually land to the applause of some tools down the back of the plane (for the guy in Melbourne, note that they were "tools" and not "Tools").

After we disembark from the plane, we pile into the obligatory busses to head to the terminal - all of us except for 4 guys, who seem to be talking to guys wearing "Polizei" (Police) reflective vests...these just happen to be our 4 bound for Sao Paulo. Why they were talking to the cops I don't know, but I assume it had something to do with the telegram...

Anyone else getting the feeling I should stop flying?


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

My nutty neighbour

On my flight from Frankfurt to Stockholm today, I managed to find myself next to a Indian guy who proceeded to annoy the crap out of me for the whole 2hr flight.

To start with it was ok, as he was looking at his boarding card with FRA->ARN on it and stressing that he was on the wrong plane. I explained to him that ARN was the airport code for Arlanda, which is the main airport in Stockholm.
From there he proceeded to tell me that he was going to Stockholm for some water conference and some place that I really didn't care about. So, after giving him a few nice "oh really" and "that's interesting" comments, I turned back to my book...

...but he didn't get it. After a few minutes I was tapped on the arm to answer his question about how he gets the train from the Airport to Stockholm, for which he already had a pre-purchased ticket. Given that I have never taken the train from the Airport before, I tried to tell him that I didn't know, as I usually take a taxi. More questions about the train, and I said "there will be signs at the airport that will direct you to the train".
"Can you show me?"
"There will be signs"
"Would you be able to help me?" ...oh man.
"Sure" Back to my book...

...tap tap. "Water?" and points at my water bottle.
"Yeah, that is my water".
"Water?" now making drinking motions.
"Yes, that is my water".
"Can I have it?"
"Um, it is my water. They will come past soon and give you some water."
No response, so back to my book...

...tap tap. "What is the capital of Germany?"
"We fly by Berlin?"
"We fly past Berlin."
"No, that is to the West."
"How long is the flight?"
"How long does it take to get from Germany to Stockholm?"
"It depends on where you fly from - from Frankfurt it is 2hrs."
"But how long to Germany?"
I get the map out and show him finally - "Here is Berlin, Frankfurt, and Stockholm"... blah blah blah, back to my book, with noise cancelling headphones now on as well.

...tap tap. "Can you take photo of me?"

And so it went for the whole flight, until he fell asleep with about 30min to go. In Stockholm I showed him where the signs to the train were, and then got away as fast as I could...

Airline travel really is should try it some time!


Monday, August 13, 2007

Survivor - überwinde, überliste, überlebe

Tomorrow the German version of Survivor starts. Oh God help us all...


Sunday, August 12, 2007

Ireland part 1 - Baile Átha Cliath, Dubh Linn, Dublin

About 1 month ago, Bel and I got back from our 2 week tour of Ireland, including a 4 day stop over in Bath and surrounds to see the start of the Tour. So it's about time to fill you in on it, huh?

The flight over to Dublin was eventful enough, with Bel drawing a middle seat between me, and some rather large guy. As the "service" came through the cabin, this guy ordered himself a red wine, and then proceeded to knock it over, getting himself and Bel a little covered in red. Luckily it only got Bel a little on her jeans, but as he tried to clean up his splilage, he proceeded to knock the glass over twice more, and completely coat himself with red wine. Poor bastard.
In all that confusion, I ended up leaving a book on Ireland, that we had bought at the Frankfurt airport, on the plane. :(

Arriving at the airport, it was a good thing that we didn't just trust the map we had printed for getting to our hotel, but rather checked at the local tourist information desk. They proceeded to tell us that our hotel wasn't where it was shown on the map we had, but rather somewhere else, and which bus to take. So we piled into a double-decker public bus - which was chockers with ppl and luggage - and proceeded to the hotel, which was a comfortable bus trip from the airport, but also only a short bus trip from the center of Dublin.

As breakfast wasn't in our room rate, we headed into Dublin the next morning for breakfast in the Temple Bar area - an area along the river with a lot of pubs and restaurants. We ended up at the Bad Ass Cafe / Pizza Restaurant. Here I scoffed down the Big Ass Breakfast, which Bel managed the vegetarian version. The walls of this restaurant have the repeating theme of the donkey in various "Bad Ass" situations (dressed as Mafiosa etc...) which I found quite funny. Coffee was shit though.

After breakfast we did the obligatory Hop-on-Hop-off bus tour of Dublin to orient ourselves, which would have been a lot nicer if it didn't rain on and off during the day - something that we would have to get used to over the next weeks. (Everyone keeps telling me that it was my own fault for going to Ireland...ever).

Our one disembarkment from the bus was to have a look at the Kilmainham Gaol. I would have taken a bunch of photos here, but eventhough I had the camera there, I neglected to put the battery back in after charging it... :(
Anyway, this Gaol is famous for many reasons, including being the place of the imprisonment and execution of the leaders of the Easter Rising, and also being used for many films including "In the name of the father", "Michael Collins", and "The Italian Job". This was also where we learned that the Irish Flag was based on the French national flag, with the Green representing the historical Gaelic Culture or Catholics, the Orange for supporters of William the Orange or Protestants, and the white symbolising pease between the two cultures.
Another interesting part of the history here is, that during the famine years, people were actually committing crimes deliberatley in order to get in here, because they at least were guaranteed to get fed. There were complaints that the people in the gaol were getting too well fed, so the warden went on to reduce their rations, also in an attempt to stop people committing crimes in an attempt to get in. This gaol was also where a number of people were held before being sent to Australia. :)

Over the next few days we spent time looking around Dublin - including eating breakfast at a good bagel shop in Temple Bar twice, having Mongolian BBQ, doing some shopping, seeing Shrek the Third, and getting absolutely soaked to the bone one day when the normal rain turned into a torrential downpour.

Anyway, here are some pics of Dublin (which is named after a black pool where two rivers met - black pool being Dubh Linn in Old Norse):

The location of the Dubh Linn, which no longer exists after one of the rivers being diverted long ago

The House of Lords, which has been unchanged for 200 years since the parlament voted itself out of existence

Dublin Castle and one of the 2 remaining corner towers

Some dashing young fellow outside the Guinness Store House in Dublin

The throne in Dublin Castle. Some Cannucks thought it would be cool to get a pic siting on it, although it is clearly not allowed (am I becoming German??)

Bel and a pile of barrels in the Guinness Store House. I like that it says Butt...

St Patricks Cathederal - nuff said.

After that it headed south to see more of Ireland...


Thursday, August 09, 2007

German words of the week

So, thought that I would throw a quick little list of words together, that have been important to know this week:
  1. der Regen - the rain
  2. das Wochenende - the weekend
  3. das Wetter - the weather
  4. Scheiße - shit
  5. der Stau - traffic jam
  6. der Unfall - the accident
  7. der Idiot - the idiot
  8. fahren - to drive

Now, boys and girls, let's use these words in a sentence or two:
Am Wochenende war das Wetter wunderbar, aber jetzt ist es echt scheiße geworden. Es regnet ohne Ende, und es scheint als ob die Deutschen vergessen, dass man im Regen vorsichtig fahren sollte. Sie fahren wie voll Idioten, und jetzt gibt's Staus überall, wegen Unfälle u.s.w.
And translated:
The weather was wonderful on the weekend, but now it has become really shit. It hasn't stopped raining, and it appears as though the Germans forget that you should drive carefully in the rain. They drive like complete idiots, and now there are traffic jams due to accidents etc. all over the place.
Of course I don't mean it as harsh as it sounds, but one gets a little edgy after sitting in traffic jams and listening to a 3 minute long traffic report alerting you to all the upcoming jams due to accidents in the rain.

And now a quote for you, and for one of you in particular (you know who you are):
wie ein Netz wirft sich der Regen über das ganze Land
klopft an unser Fenster und erinnert uns daran
dass es kein Leben ohne Schmerz gibt, ohne Suche nach dem Sinn
keine Chance etwas aufzuhalten, keine Chance etwas zurückzudrehen
and translated:
like a net the rain throws itself over the whole land
knock on our window and reminds us
that there is no life without pain, without the seach for meaning
no chance to stop something, no chance to turn something back.
That's more a word for word translation, but I think you will get the general gist of the meaning...


Thursday, August 02, 2007

Do Pilots and Aussie Expats in Germany wear brown undies?

I think it's a fair question, don't you? But here's the explaination / motivation behind my question.

Firstly, yesterday was a BAD work day for me. I had to get up and fly to Vienna for a day long evaluation / demonstration at a Customer site. I had to be there at 10, so this meant getting up around 5 to get to the airport for a 7am flight to Vienna with Adria Airways (Slovenian national carrier).

So, as you would expect, these guys don't fly big planes (Canadair Regional Jet 200LR on this leg - that's him to the left). This was a 10 or 11 row plane, with 4 seats to a row - 2 on either side of the aisle. It is nearly impossible to stand up straight in the plane, even when walking down the aisle.

Right, so plane takes off, and I fall asleep, as I am becoming prone to doing. (I am getting this whole Belinda's Pop thing going on, where I can fall asleep at will in almost any location. Zzzzzzzz...beh! Wa? I was just blinking...)

Again I missed the lecker lecker Käsebrot that is on offer on the flight, but I managed to wake up for the beverage service - chosing the normal water and apple juice option - and then starting to read my book (The Neverending Story in German...and it feels like it too...).

Skip now to about 10min before the landing (90min flight). Suddenly, for no apparent reason, the plane tips to the left (looking out the left window, all you see is ground...out the right window roughly meant that you were looking at the Hubble space telescope) and the plane dropped. Then it lurched back the other way, so that the right window was pointing to hell, and the left to heaven, and dropped even more. Ladies screaming, hearts racing, calls of "Oh My God!", and then the plane was back level again. This all happened in the space of about 2-3 seconds. No explaination from the cockpit, nothing from the hosts / hostesses (who also looked kinda worried), and we eventually land.
So, back to the original question - do pilots wear brown undies? I sure hope so, because I can guarantee that 100% of the cabin shat itself, the hosts and hostesses shat themselves, and I am pretty sure that the pilot probably left some pebbles in his jocks too.

Sidebar: What is the Oxford English past tense for "to shit"? I used "shat" above, and in a conversation with a German the other day, only to have them say "shit is the past tense of to shit".

After that, I turned up at the Customer to find that the required hardware hadn't arrived yet. So we start the discussion without the hardware, only to very quickly discover that what they need to test cannot be done with this particular product. Within 1 hour the meeting was over, and I was going back to the airport at 11am for a flight at 8pm. Luckily I was able to switch onto an earlier flight and get out at 16:25.

While at the airport I did have my first experience of two of the following German / Austrian specialties:
  1. Pretzels or bread that is delivered with your meal, but if you eat it, then you get charged for it. Hang on - this was not the first experience. The first one was in Munich for our first Xmas, but at least it said on the menu that it cost extra if you ate the bread.
  2. Sitting at a table for 4 all by myself, I actually had two Austrians (yes, you can tell because of their accent when the speak German) come up and ask if the other seats were free, and then proceed to share the table with me.

Finally fly home again with Adria, hating the turbulance that we hit on the way up to crusing altitude. Never been a scared flyer before, but the morning's events were still with me a little.
Get back to Frankfurt, get in the car, bang along the freeway, and right into a traffic jam just before my exit. After sitting there for about 20min without going anywhere, watching the police, ambulance, and fire engines squeeze through the jam, we were finally able to move again. Turns out there was an accident just before the exit between a car and a motorbike, and the road had been blocked so that the helicopter ambulance could land.
I actually recognised the bike as I drove past. This same guy came up quite fast behind me on the A5, and I got out of his way. The people in front of me didn't, so he tried to pass them on the inside. The car infront of them decided to get out of the fast lane, and tried to come back into the lane where he was illegally overtaking on the inside. Luckily all parties hit the brakes, and there was no this point on the road.

Right, so that takes care of the first part of the question, and my bad day yesterday. So what about the second part of the question? The answer is "I would if I had any". I just completed, and have to submit tomorrow, our second income tax return in Germany. An accounting company did it for us last year (paid for by my company) but they wanted €2000 to do it this year from us privately. So I got hold of some software, and I did it myself. If you ever think the Aussie system is hard, try the German one...and then try doing it in German, instead of English. :)