Friday, August 29, 2008

Adventure #33: Germany

I couldn't leave Europe without a last-minute trip to Germany, where one of my cousins is living. Damon had to stay and work, sadly.

I stayed one night in the village of Baden-Baden, in the western foothills of the Black Forest. Baden means "bath" in German, and the village is known for its springs and bath houses. The Romans enjoyed the baths of Baden centuries ago. Baden-Baden is a very cute town with pedestrianized streets in the city centre. I had dinner in a German tavern and a communal table with some locals, and they told me that Baden-Baden is a very popular vacation destination for Germans as well. Eating traditional spatzle in Germany was quite an experience. Luckily a few people spoke English and could help me with the menu.

Friedrichsbad is the most well-known of the baths, housed in a beautiful, Romanesque building in downtown, so I spent a few hours there on Wednesday morning. This spa truly demonstrated to me how thorough and rigorous Germans are about following rules, having an organized plan. There are 17 stations in the spa, each numbered with four different languages explaining exactly what to do and how long to do it. Taking a shower was amongst the 17 steps about four times -- two minutes per shower. It was military without the enforcement. Very funny.

Around lunchtime, I took a train to Ansbach, near where Troy and his family live. The Baden-Baden train station is located in Oos, outside the village about 15-20 minutes; taxi ride ran me 15 euros. (City buses are available though, and the 205 bus route includes the airport, train station and downtown Baden-Baden. Train travel in Germany, DB Bahn, is just as comfortable and convenient as in France. As previously mentioned, Germans are very organized, so even though you don't speak the language, the train numbers, times, tracks, cars, seats are all clearly displayed and easy to navigate.

I spent two half-days and one full day in Ansbach, located in the region of Bavaria, with Troy's wife, Rachel, and their three daughters: Emmalie, Isabella and Helen. Unfortunately, Troy had to work on Thursday, so all the girls went on a road trip. We stopped first at Langenburg, where we had lunch on the terrace of a cafe (including schnitzel), then walked around the grounds of the castle, where the family of Hohenlohe-Langenburg live today.

Our afternoon was spent in the well-preserved medieval village Rothenburg.
It is a walled city; the architecture was quaint, yet stunning. We took a horse-drawn carriage ride around the cobblestone streets before walking back to the car along a path that runs around the top of the ancient wall of the city.

Before returning to the train station on Friday, I had the chance to watch Emmalie and Isabella perform with their summer theatre group. They'd been working on Greek mythology plays days before I arrived. I then tagged along to the back-to-school barbecue for a few hours, helping Troy running plates of grilled burgers and hotdogs to the buffet table. (He's a chef by trade and volunteered to do all the cooking at the picnic too. He cooked us some great meals each night too.)

The travel Gods sent a strong message on my return day to Ireland: NO MORE TRAVEL. GO HOME. During a hectic train change in Germany, I lost my iPod. My flight was delayed 45 minutes in Karlsruhe-Baden. The security team had a woman with a scale weighing every carry-on bag -- including purses and gift bags -- many people, including me, got turned back for going over the 10 kilo maximum on Ryanair for carry-on baggage. I'd always thought that only included the bag -- not my purse. I should have known the Germans would be following the rules. The flight had the most turbulance I've ever experienced. It lasted at least 45 minutes. My hands and feet were shaking. Luckily, a nice French couple from Alsace were seated next to me, and we talked (some French, some English) to take our mind off the situation. In the end, I actually made my bus -- the last one of the night -- with 10 minutes to spare, even though Ryanair forced me to check my bag (I'd bought a couple heavy gifts.)

It is definitely time to stop traveling and go back to California. :)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Amusing Things We Learned

Here's a list of amusing things we learned during our travels. All useless information to carry around in your head.

- The Mojito is the cocktail of choice in Prague, Czech Republic.

- Eva Longoria is the spokesperson for Magnum chocolates and ice cream in Europe. We saw her face on every ice cream cart we saw in at least five cities. Here's a link to some of her Europeans advertisements too.

- American celebrities lend their high-profile faces to other products where advertisements are only shown overseas, so not to effect their images in the United States. I know I saw George Clooney's face on a billboard in some city, and I was surprised. But I can't remember the product. Have his Nespresso ads aired in America?

- Swedish women (at least those in Stockholm) have great tans, even though they live in the Nordic. I cannot find any information to explain this online, but a friend told me he'd heard they have sun tanning bed-like lamps in their homes because there is so little sun in their area -- and it rains a lot in the summer.

- San Pellegrino is a village north of Bergamo and Milano. And there is actually a San Pellegrino factory there. We passed it on our way to the ski resorts.

- McDonald's in Portugal features a substantial soup menu. We noticed this in Lisbon. According to the Portuguese McDonald's web site, it looks like there might be six soups available. You have to search the tool bar because the site is in Flash.

- Kissing the Blarney Stone can be an unsanitary experience. I did it last spring, but Damon did not. He has issues with other peoples' germs. One of his co-workers recently kissed the Blarney Stone, then got cold sores on her lips the next day. Coincidence?

- There are weight scales on almost every corner in Gran Canaria. We have no idea why. We googled everywhere. Maybe they are simply a weight-conscious island?

- Some Stockholm museums have folding chairs available near the entrances. Patrons sometimes carry these chairs through the exhibits, then use them to sit down when they are tired or would like to rest while admiring a specific exhibit. We saw Swedes walking around the Royal Palace with the black chairs tucked under their arms.

- Baby strollers (or buggies as they call them here) have different covers to address weather conditions, based on the country. In Ireland, the buggies are constantly draped in plastic due to the daily rains. We call them "bubble babies." In Stockholm, we saw baby strollers with socks or sleeves made of thin wind-breaker or tent fabric, which slipped over the seat and had just a small hole for the baby to peek out of.


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Karlsruhe-Baden airport tips

I recently flew out of Karlsruhe-Baden airport for the first time and have a few tips to share.

While living in Europe for one year, I've flown Ryanair nine times. I've never experienced such strict adherence to Ryanair policies as I did in Karlsruhe-Baden, so BE CAREFUL. This was my first trip to Germany, so I learned that Germans are very organized and thorough people; I should have known they'd be following rules with great precision.

Carry-on luggage:
Know your airline's policy on weight restrictions. Please note: that means NOT ONLY your carry-on bag, but also your PURSE or any GIFT BAG you try to carry on. The airport has stationed a woman with a scale at the security entrance. (You might think you're in the clear when your bags don't get weighed at the ticket counter, but they have this sneak-attack approach.) She weighs every carry-on bag TOGETHER -- including purses and gift bags -- to see if customers were going over the 10-kilo maximum on Ryanair for carry-on baggage. Many people, including me, got turned back. To make matters worse, 10 kilo is the max. Period. They won't let you pay to take the few extra kilos into the cabin. I tried to stuff my pockets, but with my purse, I was still three kilos over (due to two beer steins I bought and tried to carry on with my purse). I'd always thought the carry-on allowance included ONLY the bag -- not my purse. I've never had a Ryanair worker or security attendant in Ireland, France, Switzerland, Sweden, Spain or Czech Republic try to include my purse as part of my carry-on weight allowance.

Checked luggage:
If you think you are going to purchase gifts and be over on your allowance and you didn't pay for a checked bag, go ahead and check a bag online. Don't try to risk it at this airport. I was forced to check my carry-on bag (due to the weight of my purse and gift bag), and it cost me 20 euros -- because I didn't pay online in advance -- THAT IS DOUBLE THE PRICE FOR ONLINE!! Basically, I paid 20 euros to check a bag with six kilos of weight, when the allowance for a checked bag is 15 kilos. A waste.

Based on my experience, this isn't an airport with which budget travelers should try to bend the rules. They even charged me for accidentally booking online check-in. (In Dubin, the check-in attendant didn't even notice.)

Monday, August 25, 2008

Tips for a night on the town

If you're new to Ireland (and to Galway), here are some suggestions for a night on the town.

Traditionally, Irish women dress up when they go out; men dress more casually. It's quite common to see girls in shiny designer tops, black skirts and high heels, while the guys are wearing baggy jeans, sneakers and hoodies. It's the same for the nightclubs or the pubs, in our experience. I'm not sure why, but these guys don't need to dress to impress the way we do in many cities in America. The streets in city centre are mostly cobblestones, so it can be tricky with the heels, girls.

Pubs typically serve beer and spirits. Spirits are measured from dispensers on the walls, typically. Coke, cranberry juice or other accompaniments for a mixed drink are served in small bottles on the side. Fancy mixed drinks or drink menus are rare. We've yet to find a place that serves them. Order the Guinness or Blumer's. They're good. You can get a good margarita at Cactus Jack's but you have to eat dinner to be served a drink. (But the margarita is small and runs 8 euros.)

Nightclubs will run you 10-15 euros per person to enter. Drinks are typically 5 euros per (beer, wine). Halo is a smaller version of the types of clubs you find in Las Vegas and New York. Very hip vibe. The music was a little disappointing at Halo; it's a mix of hip-hop, eighties, pop -- and everything in between. (Once again, women dressed to the nines; men dressed like gang members.) There is a coat check at this nightclub. If you have particular music interests, it's best to ask around and find out which DJs are playing where. The DJs have different styles. DJs vary week to week at the following well-known clubs: such as Cuba and De Burgo's.

We really like the Living Room, although we had trouble getting them to serve us mixed drinks from their menu after 9 p.m. because they were "too busy" and only wanted to serve beer and wine. Hello, service? We returned a few days ago and asked to see the drink menu again. The bartender told us it had been canceled because no one ever ordered off the drink menu.

The last public buses leave Eyre Square around 11 p.m. on weekends. Taxi stands are located on Eyre Square near the Supermac's and Dunnes clothing store (and near the Hostel by Merrick Hotel), as well as at the end of Quay Street near Jury's Inn.

They say you don't need to tip at the pubs in Ireland, but that seems strange. We still leave a little bit (10-15 percent), although they don't come by and pick it up right away. I've been told it's proper to offer to buy the bartender a pint before you leave to show appreciation.

Best of Galway

As our year in Galway comes to an end, we'd like to share our own "best of" list:

Best Pubs:
Tig Cóilí is one of my favorites for socializing and listening to authentic, live music. It's across from the Kings Head in city centre. It's always packed: a good sign.

Tigh Neachtain’s (Naughtons), located across the street from the Quays, is another favorite. The blue and yellow building is easy to spot. If you like privacy, this is a fun pace to enjoy a pint. There are weathered, wooden alcoves located throughout the interior. Lots of tables for people watching outside too, but those are typically full.

Our local-local favorite -- the one that's walking distance from our apartment -- is O'Connor's of Salthill. The decor can only be described as flea market meets taxidermy store meets antique shop. It's so funky cool. The music has been more blues/rock than Irish folk when we're been there, but it's always good. We love sitting at the sewing machine and drinking a pint. The church pew seats aren't that comfortable, but they've got character. A real charming place.

Best Restaurants:

This is a tough one. We've been very disappointed with the restaurants in Galway. But we've had some great meals.

The new Asian Tea House is excellent. Great ambiance, prices and quality: a rare trifecta in Galway. Hip vibe. Take a date there to impress.

The Thai Garden near the Spanish Arch is pretty good.

For a slurge, drive 15 minutes out to Barna and visit O'Grady's on the Pier. Probably our best Irish-style meal on the West Coast, but we paid around 100 euros for two.

Best Groceries:
If you're American and looking for many of the same ingredients you enjoy back home, Tesco is the best bet, in my opinion. I boiled bouillon cubes to make chicken stock for months when I shopped at Dunnes.

The farmers' market in Galway in the city centre on Saturdays and Sundays is also nice.

Don't forget to bring your canvas bags to the store whenever you shop anywhere in Ireland.

Best Pizza:
We're going to go with Milano here. Others might argue for Da'Roberta in Salthill, but frankly, I've eaten pizza at Da'Roberta twice, and it was burned both times. Milano's crust is more thin and crispy; Da'Roberta's is thin and soft, more like a traditional pizza from southern Italy.

Best Hike:
At low tide and in good weather, it's nice to walk along the path from Blackrock (just west of the diving board in Salthill) out to a medium-sized cliff. It takes about 30-40 minutes to walk, and you need to go at low tide to get across. Lots of seashells to be found along the way.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Adventure #32: Stockholm

Our fascination with Stockholm stems from the fact that the city is comprised of 14 islands and roughly 50 bridges. There are actually 24,000 islands and inlets in the entire Stockholm archipelago, which extends from the city about 60 kilometers east. When Damon told me this last fall, we decided to book our August bank holiday getaway to Sweden.

We assumed that August would be the best time to go, considering the country's Nordic location. What we didn't know is that Stockholm receives most of its rainfall during summer.

Flying to Stockholm direct from Dublin on Ryanair (arrival at Skavsta airport, about 100 km from Stockholm) actually took longer than we expected (about 2 hours, 45 minutes). Most flights to anywhere in we've been in Europe are around 2 hours. Sweden is really far north. :)

The bus service from Skavsta to the main train/bus station in downtown Stockholm is very convenient, like most buses that operate their schedules in conjunction with Ryanair schedules. We got a great deal through (third night free) at the Mornington Hotel, located in the Ostermalm district. This hotel was about a 25-minute walk from the main bus terminal and only 10 minutes walk down to the water. We were very pleased with the location, service and complimentary breakfast.

Stockholm is an easy city to navigate. We walked everywhere. One piece of advice on transportation in Stockholm: taxis are VERY expensive. During a very rainy Saturday, we decided to take a taxi 3 km (about 5 minutes) -- it cost us about $30. So, walk or bus or metro are highly recommended. Although it did rain during our trip some days, it was quite warm in early August. We wore shorts our first day and were very comfortable (and thrilled considering the Irish weather). There were lots of tourists in town due to EuroPride 2008 -- what fun to explore the city during Europe's biggest gay festival. Lots of great people-watching.

Some of the highlights of our trip included:

Day 1:
- Walking down to Skeppsholmen island and Gamla Stan island (the Old Town district)
- Having drinks at an outdoor cafe near Berzelii Park

Day 2:
- Touring the Vasa Museum to see the 64-gun warship Vasa that sank on her maiden voyage in 1628

- Walking around the island of Djurgarden

- Taking the Hop-On Hop-Off ferry through the city

- Touring the National Museum, which had a very cool clock exhibit and houses Sweden's largest art collection, including some great French Impressionist pieces

- Visiting the Noble Museum in Gamla Stan, then enjoying a great Italian lunch al fresco on the Stortorget square

- Strolling along the Strandvagen boardwalk and buying Swedish lakrits from street vendors (the word translates as "liquorice," but it is sugary-sweet, stringy and tastes -- and looks -- like gummy worms)

- Playing games and watching a Swedish band perform at Grona Lund amusement park

- Having drinks at the Radisson hotel lounge (sadly the Sky Lounge at the Radisson Viking was closed when we went -- but it's highly recommended for the views)

Day 3:
- Walking about 50 minutes outside the city to the Kaknas Tower to see the views (not recommended -- the views at the top are obstructed by fence wire and views inside the cafe just below the top are obstructed by a wooden railing that surrounds the 360-degree windowed room)

- Walking through Kungstradgarden, Gamla Stan again (we loved the Old Town)

- Touring the Stockholm Palace, neighboring church and watching the changing of the guard

- Climbing to the top of the Stockholm City Hall tower, where we enjoyed great, unobstructed views and even caught a rainbow on film (lines are long for the tower because they limit the number of people; be prepared but the views are great)

- Dining at Marten Trotzigs restaurant next to the famously skinny Marten Trotzigs street where we ate some local cuisine (such as lingonberries, reindeer and Swedish elk meatballs)

It was a very relaxing vacation. Stockholm isn't great for budget travelers -- it's an extremely expensive city, on par with cities we visited in Switzerland. We knew that going in. Swedish women fit the stereotype: almost all women we passed on the street were tall, blonde, thin and chesty. Lots of model types! They were also extremely tan, which we found bizarre. Overall, it was another enlightening destination. We probably wouldn't come back, but we're glad we can say we've seen Stockholm.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

New Bus Station in Galway

Earlier this month, a new bus station opened in Galway. It's sleek and modern; we were very impressed when NestorLink called the night before our flight to Stockholm to let us know that our bus from Galway to Dublin had changed locations.

I'm seeing lots of bulletin board posts online with confusion about the new location. I can't believe I google and can't find a story with pictures and directions to this bus station.

Anyway, it's very to easy to find. It's one block northeast of Eyre Square on the corner of Forster Street and Frenchville Lane/Fairgreen Road. (I've seen maps with this road listed under both names. Scary, but typical.) It sits behind the Radisson Hotel, across the road from the main tourism office in Galway, which has also been expanded and redesigned. The old coach station is directly across from the Radisson; you can see the new bus station from the old one. It's a large, shiny, tinted-glass-windowed building. It was designed my McNamara Construction. Their web site describes the mixed-use building. The picture below taken from the McNamara web site is an accurate depiction of the building. There is seating inside the station, and all of the buses are parked in a covered garage -- much nicer than the old parking lot set-up, where travelers had to stand in the rain waiting for their buses.

One stickling point for us: The new coach station requires you to pay to use the toilet. I think that is total crap (pardon the pun). It's like paying to use the toilet at a freaking airport. I can't believe they got so cheap to try to pay for this beautiful, new building.

View Larger Map

The Name Game

Twice this week, we've stumbled across news stories where either the media or community leaders in Ireland and the United Kingdom have confused a city or country somewhere in the world with a city and state of the same name in America.

As Americans living in Europe, this really drives home the reality of how "top of mind" the United States is worldwide -- we even get publicity by error. A double shot of media coverage this week in Europe for the state of Alabama: Roll Tide!!!

Birmingham, England, vs. Birmingham, Alabama story: click here.

The screw up by RTE of Ireland where they posted a Georgia, Ala., picture to accompany a story about the war in Georgia, the country, is included below.

Calling it quits?

I received a nice comment today from someone in Detroit who's been enjoying my blog during our year abroad. Ironically, I've been thinking about whether I should continue blogging when we return to the States in three weeks. Part of me wants to keep sharing our new experiences as ex-pats readjusting back to life in America from the standpoint of someone who's been living in a small country overseas for 12 months. Part of me wonders if anyone out there gives a shit and reads this. :)

But my friend from Detroit encouraged me to press on with our posts when we return.

I'd like to hear from others out there reading this blog. Would you like to see it grow, spread its wings and glide into another chapter of our traveling lives? Or should we call it quits?

More adventures are coming

Sorry we haven't posted any new adventures in a while. I'm busy working on completing the final chapters of my first book entitled "Boyfriends in Stereo." We're also trying to pack: We only have three weeks left in Ireland!

Over the last month, we did go to the Aran Islands again, and took our first trips to both Northern Ireland and Sweden.

Before we return home, I will make some time to post the highlights.

Expedia has jumped the shark

I got an e-mail blast today from Expedia with the following subject line:
Fares to Kansas City have dropped. Book today!

(I have MCI airport on my watch list for deals on trips to fly home and see my family.)

My eyes widened when I saw this headline in my inbox. Dropping fares. Christmas is coming; I haven't been home in one year. I took the bait, of course. Click.

You can imagine my dismay when the nicely designed e-flyer pops up on my screen and I see this headline: Hurry! Go to Kansas City for this new, low price of $559.

You've got to be kidding me. The price of $559 is now considered low? I'm flying to Germany next Tuesday from Dublin for €90 round-trip; that flight is only slightly shorter than San Francisco to Kansas City.

Wait, it gets better. Half-way down the screen there's a "personalized" letter to me with recent fare analysis and savings:

Your old price $590
Your new price $559
Your savings $31

My savings is circled with artwork resembling a blue crayon. Gee, thanks Expedia. A whopping $31? That won't even cover the tank of gas it will take me to get to -- and from -- the airport.

Yes, I realize the airline industry is suffering in the United States. Less people are traveling with the state of the economy. With gas prices soaring, the fares had to jump some time too. But Expedia shouldn't resort to bottom feeding in its marketing campaigns. Thirty bucks isn't enough of a chunk out of 500 bucks for me -- or anyone else -- to bite. (At least I don't think so.)

Even though Expedia is not a television program, I'd like to bestow it an honor created by one of my favorite web sites:

Expedia has officially Jumped the Shark.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Adventure #31: Northern Ireland

We'd been postponing our first trip to Northern Ireland all year long, waiting for nice weather. We found a short break in the clouds that coincided with a free weekend in late July and headed north.

Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, a separate country from the Republic of Ireland. The currency is the pound, like England, another reason we kept postponing the trip, hoping that maybe the dollar would get stronger. If you'd like to read up on the history of how and why Northern Ireland is separate from the Republic, this Wikipedia overview on what is referred to historically as "The Troubles" is a good place to start.

The drive from Galway to County Antrim is about 5
We stayed two nights at a charming B&B out in the country about 45 minutes south of the coast called Drumenagh Brae. The owners, a young couple, built their dream house and made it a B&B. It's a working farm too. Very quaint, quiet but with contemporary rooms -- modern and as nice as high-end boutique hotel chains. Their hospitality was fabulous too; the best we've experienced in Europe.

We spent our first day driving along the Antrim Coast Highway, touring all the top sights:

- Dunluce Castle
- Bushmills village and Old Bushmills Distillery
- Giant's Causeway, an UNESCO Heritage Site -- probably the most incredible geological formation we've ever seen in our lives
- Ballintoy village
- Kinbane Castle ruins
- Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge (we both crossed -- not nearly as scary as the rope bridge we crossed in the Swiss Alps)

Coast Road Trip Photos:

We spent our second day in Belfast; the city experienced much conflict and destruction during The Troubles. Rebuilding is still in full force: cranes dot the Belfast skyline. It's quite a sleepy city on Sundays (pretty much nothing was open), but we still tried to see the sights:

- A walk along the Belfast Lough
- Albert Memorial Clock and Queen's Square
- A walk through The Entries (tiny alleyways of businesses)
- Parliament Building
- A ride on the Belfast Wheel
- Crown Liquor Saloon
- St. Anne's Cathedral
- A walk down the famous Shankill Road to see all the painted murals by Ulster loyalists -- seeing all this paintings depicting bloody political/religious conflicts that occurred not many years ago was fascinating

It was really fascinating to see how different this separate country can be, even though it's connected to Ireland and was once part of Ireland. The Northern Irish really make a point of it to show their loyalty to the Queen and the United Kingdom. Monuments to Queen Victoria were everywhere in Belfast. Flags fly on homes, lightposts and street intersections.

Belfast City Photos:

Ice Cream Dreams

Here's a random thought of the day:

I would hate to be an ice cream man in Ireland. Somewhere in this country, there is boy with a dream: Someday, he wants to drive a colorful truck with a camper chock-full of treats, as whimsical music trails from speakers next to his windows and children scurry behind him. He wants to watch vanilla ooze run down the fingers of smiling kids while they lick a fast-melting mound of milk and sugar on the top of a crispy cone.

But this poor boy is born on an island nation along the west coast, where the weather rarely gets above 60 degrees in the summer -- and it rains most days. Let's face it, folks: this isn't ice cream-eatin' weather. If he follows his dream, he'll never make any money. He'll be happy, but he'll be poor.

Ireland is a really shit place to live if you want to be the ice cream man.

These thoughts cross my mind every time I see Mr. Whippy's truck parked on the bayfront Promenade in Salthill. We live on the Prom; I've only seen his brightly painted blue truck two or three times this year. Those were the token sunny days we've had. Is Mr. Whippy a happy man? Did he follow his dream? Does he wish he lived in Spain?

Someday, I'd love to meet him and ask him these questions. But it's always raining, so the ice cream man is rarely outside my apartment, doing what he does best.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

I have baggage, and it's in my carry-on

Every time I fly, I'm worried about my carry-on baggage -- specifically, what's inside it. All these over-the-top precautions on what can -- and can't be -- taken on the plane have gotten to me, especially because we fly Ryanair, and if you check a bag, you pay €10 to check it (limit of 15kg). We almost always fly with carry-ons only.

This year, we've had several close calls with security. Damon packed a Swiss Army Knife gift in his carry-on -- in his carry-on!!! -- on our way back from Switzerland. This wasn't too long after he'd packed my gigantic bottles of hairspray and mousse in Greece in ... his carry-on. The rule is no knives and no toiletries over 100ml -- stick with me here, honey! After much maneuvering and playing dumb, we actually got through security both times without coughing up our goods. (I keep on forgetting to remind him about the restrictions when we're standing in line at check-in.) I did, however, have to give up 150ml-tube of hair gel, which was only half-full, in Italy. Security didn't care if I was carrying only 75ml of gel; the container was 150ml in size. Whatever.

Disposable razors are my latest obsession. Ryanair's web site says that "...disposable razors with blades enclosed in cartridge..." are allowed. But is my cartridge too small or too big, just like my hair gel tube? I keep hiding the razor behind metal objects, such as my hairbrush, before I pass through security. The last thing I want is to lose my Personal Touch razor at the Dublin airport and spend an entire vacation with hairy legs. (Buying a new razor would be out of the question -- don't even let me get started on the price of razors in Ireland. Just look at my post on buying contact lenses solution.)

If my razor gets confiscated, I might go off the deep end. The only two women in the world who could high jack an airplane with a Personal Touch clutched in hand would be Lara Croft Tomb Raider and maybe Trinity from "The Matrix."

August Weather: Big Bucks, No Whammies

Weather was a big gamble in the grand scheme of things when we decided to move here for one year. We both love sunshine. California is the place for us. We enjoy running in December on our lunch breaks without wearing a stocking cap, gloves and winter jacket. We both grew up in the Midwest; we escaped the world of long winters years ago. Ireland's reputation as a very rainy (hence beautifully green) country is known worldwide.

During our research last summer, however, lots of web sites and colleagues living in Ireland said that June, July, August and September were the best months for weather. Best in our world is 90 degrees and sunny: all day long. Sure, we knew we wouldn't get weather like that, but we at least thought summer in Ireland could be similiar to a California spring: cold mornings and evenings; warm afternoons; sunny most days; rainy days here and there. This country had a really rainy summer in 2007; when deciding to move here, this seemed promising to us. "Maybe a rainy summer last year means they'll have a mild summer in 2008 while we're living there!" I'd declared to Damon.

So, we rolled the dice. We knew we could make it through a rainy winter and spring because we always had summer to look forward to.

All summer, we've been acting like contestants on that old game show "Press Your Luck." We wanted "Big Bucks." Great weather. "No Whammies." No rain. Hell, we'd be happy with less rain and a sunny day once or twice a week.

When it rained most days in June, we told ourselves this: July will be better. Then a crappy July came and went; we said: it least we have August. Whammy, Whammy, Whammy. I swear that pint-sized red villain with the cape and big grin has body-snatched Mother Nature just to screw with our vitamin D- and vitamin K-deprived minds!

Now it's mid-August, and we spent all weekend surfing the Internet and packing for our return because there were gale-force winds and sheets of rain falling. No more Whammies, please. We can't take anymore rain. We have only three weeks before we go home. "Come on, Big Bucks!"

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Getting personal: content of my blog, my motivations

I received an interesting blog comment today from someone who works in Communications, offering a bit of advice on my content, specifically grammatical and spelling errors. The comment was both embarrassing as well as enlightening, because it underscored the fact that even though I created this blog to share our experience with family and friends, other people in the world are reading it -- and expecting it -- to carry quality consistent with professional journalism.

The blog has actually been an escape from work for me, and I often flew through my posts quickly without regard for quality -- which is totally unlike me, especially at work. I really didn't care if there were any typos or not because...THIS IS MY PERSONAL BLOG. Even the style of writing isn't on par with what my job demands. I have simply been capturing thoughts (almost verbatim) and experiences without thinking about sentence structure or word choice. That type of energy is best left dedicated to the book I've been writing and the few work projects I've tackled while living abroad.

At work, accuracy is my paramount concern. I detest mistakes. Now I wonder why my detail-oriented beast didn't rear its head whenever I worked on a personal blog post? I guess I figured my family and friends wouldn't care about the typos, nor would they judge the quality of my PROFESSIONAL work based on them.

Now I can't help but wonder what kind of person, a complete stranger, would take the time to collect 14 different typos in various posts in my blog, copy and paste them into one comment, and send me an anonymous post? Doesn't that seem like a whole lot of effort? I guess it's thoughtful, but who has got that kind of time on their hands or motivation?

Depleting and purging after living abroad

The movers will be arriving at our apartment in three weeks. The container size allowance we were given has the same dimensions as the one which carried all our stuff over to Ireland 11 months ago. But over the course of a year, we've bought a ton of gifts, travel guides and even some furniture. We don't have room to ship this stuff back to the States, nor do we want to.

If you find yourself in the same situation, I've found that the Ireland Boards web site is pretty good for selling off stuff. There is no fee to post an ad. I posted an ad for two computer desks and had two offers within a week (including pictures is recommended). is partnered with Ireland Adverts; figuring out how to post a free ad wasn't that easy, but once I realized that my free Boards subscription included Adverts, and I needed to go to the Adverts link inside the Boards web site to post an ad, it all worked out.

Charlie Byrne's Bookshop in Galway city centre also purchases used books. I'm going to be taking several of my once-used travel guides there before we leave.

Another great way to shed yourself of books -- in the spiriting of sharing and giving -- is Book Crossing. I have received books from other Book Crossing members in Europe, and I've also sent books to Americans who requested them. Members can even leave books in cafes, airports, bus stations, etc. (called a "Wild Release"), to see what stranger picks up your book, logs onto the web site and records the book's current location. (Members number every book with a BCID code inside.) I've released four books into the "wild" in Dublin, but haven't received any notifications that they have been "caught" yet.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Going to the Races

The hottest ticket in town come August is the Galway Races. This year's horse racing event is held July 28-August 3. Because we're going to Stockholm this weekend, we decided to go the races on a rainy Tuesday evening. We will miss all the special themed nights -- Ladies Day (Best Dressed) and Mad Hatters Day, for example -- but that's okay. The rain didn't keep the Galway ladies from stepping out in high fashion last night either. I can't imagine running around a race track in the pouring race in a cocktail dress and three-inch heels, but Galway women love an excuse to dress up.

The Irish love to bet too. I've never mentioned that we have betting companies with stores at several locations around town (including two Salthill alone). Ladbrokes is one of the big companies and had its own VIP tent yesterday. After about 30 minutes, we figured out the system for getting race cards and betting. We put 50€ on Mountain Snow to win; out of more than 20 horses, Mountain Snow finished...2nd!!!! And by only a few feet. We would have won 25€ if we'd bet on him to place. It was pretty exciting for my first horse race. Then we went home to get out of the rain.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Galway Arts Festival

Every July in Galway, a big event comes to town. Over its 30 year history, the Galway Arts Festival has become a "showcase for Irish arts and international arts and is now firmly established as Ireland’s leading arts festival." About 100,000 people attend each year. While we couldn't attend every event, we picked a few of the highlights.

Lisa watched the Rebels street performers down in city center one afternoon. Here's a video of the Rebels someone posted on YouTube:

We attended the Circa, the opening show at the "big top" blue tent placed on a sprawling lawn next to the cathedral here in Galway. Circa was four Australian gymnasts/acrobats/tumblers. They contorted their bodies, did lots of flips and even brought out one trapeze and one suspended rope. It was a little slow for us, but I think we are jaded by Cirque du Soleil.

We also stayed up late and went to city center on a Sunday to watch Apocolopolis, the Street Parade. I also forgot to take my camera to this event, but found a video on YouTube:

Hair stylist recommendation

If you're looking for a great hair stylist in Galway, I recommend the following:

Barry - haircut
Tamicka - color/tinting

They both work at Momento; I was really impressed with their services, definitely on par with what I've received in San Francisco's Bay Area.

Momento Hairdressing
18 High Street, Galway

Finally: really good food in Galway

We finally found a GREAT restaurant in Galway. It opened three months ago. But before I get to that, let me tell you why I'm rejoicing.

In our opinion, Ireland has lived up to its reputation as mediocre when it comes to culinary arts, great food. Sure, they have these cows and sheep, so butter and cheeses are excellent here. And those potatoes. Produce is fresh and usually flavorful.

But dining at restaurants has always been a let down for us. To date, the best meal we had the entire year -- as far as Irish cuisine is concerned -- was at The Winding Stair in Dublin. And I've read several stories about Ireland's fine dining scene coming to life.

But we've been on a budget, so splurging at the best spots wasn't in the cards for us. Our only big splurge of the year was for Valentine's Day at O'Grady's on the Pier, located about 15 minutes from our apartment and rated the Georgina Campbell Seafood Restaurant of the Year in Ireland in 2008. The weathered wood table by the old fireplace was cozy and romantic. The food was quite good, almost as good as The Winding Stair. But we felt it lacked something -- I can't put my finger on it, maybe integration of flavors -- and for €105, we definitely recalled many better meals we've had in San Francisco and Napa Valley with a $150 tab. We also dined at Itsa4 in the Dublin suburbs for my birthday. The food and wine were great, but €18 for a hamburger?!?

After several "just okay" meals in Galway -- then the ridiculously expensive and disappointing one at the Huntsmann which cost us €48 for some fish and chips, a burger, one Coke and a glass of New Zealand Pinot Noir -- we gave up on going out to dinner here. For the first time in my life, I actually preferred the value-quality from my home cooking over well-regarded local restaurants.

Then our friends Mike and SuAnn who moved here one month before us from Minnesota for a one-year assignment with Medtronic invited us out for a farewell dinner. They return home in one week. I suggested the Thai restaurant in town, which is decent; then SuAnn called back and asked if we'd like to try a new place called the Asian Tea House on Mary Street in Galway city centre. We're always up for something new, so we said we'd "give it a go" as they say here.

This place was outstanding. The chef is Malaysian. They consider their menu a blend of Asia, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and China. SuAnn is from Malaysian, and she praised the quality and authenticity of the food. All ingredients were fresh and cooked to perfection. The ambiance is great too. The floor tiles in the restaurant came from Cambodia. Asian Tea House rivals The Slanted Door in San Francisco from a food standpoint, though it's on a much smaller scale.

We may actually have to go back there before we leave the city!

Sure, it's not Irish cuisine, but it's high-quality cooking, and this country needs high-quality cooking from many different countries to converge here for the culinary scene to continue to mature and thrive.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Adventure #30: Aran Islands encore

We couldn't leave Ireland without another trip to Inishmore, the largest of the three Aran Islands. Last fall, we didn't get to see half the island because we decided to walk versus rent bikes or take a guided tour by van. Inishmore was our first adventure last September not long after we arrived in Galway.

In July, we spent a full Saturday on the island, riding bikes to all the top sights. The sun shined down on us all day -- it was brilliant! This is such a great way to see the island; we highly recommend it. I also recommend stopping off Joe Watty's pub about 10 minutes from town to listen to local music, if the weather is good. Joe Mac's Pub next to the hostel and SuperMac's in Kilronan, right near the docks where all the ferries land, is also a great place for socializing.

You can find a list of all the top attractions here.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Adventure #29: Switzerland

Our tourism book said that pictures can’t do the surreal beauty of Switzerland’s landscape justice.

But we decided to give it our best shot (pardon the pun).

Every time we turned our heads, another gorgeous lake, mountain, valley, forest, Alpine-style building or cow appeared as if to taunt us. I’m not sure we really ever put down our cameras the entire trip…except to eat or sleep.

Photographically speaking, Damon met his match in Switzerland...or at least his camera did. In just four days, he burned through 10 MB of memory and two batteries. On our last night in the country, my memory chip declared itself full right before my last battery died.

One of the greatest parts of traveling in Switzerland is its compact size. It’s bordered by five countries: Germany, France, Italy, Austria and Liechtenstein. This makes travel (by train or car) quite easy, but it also gives Switzerland its fascinating cultural diversity. There is really no Swiss language; cultural traditions, lifestyle and language are influenced by the borders. While German is the most prevalent language, 20 percent of the population near the France border count French as their official language. Close to that many do the same on the Italian border.

One of the bummers about Switzerland is cost of living. Switzerland is very expensive for everyone – food, drink, hotel, train tickets, gondolas, you name it. The only thing we found that was not more expensive than Ireland was gasoline, surprisingly. But in all honestly, with restaurants perched on river banks and cliffs with great food and service, you can’t blame them for charging what they do. The views alone are worth the price.

We flew Ryanair from Dublin to Basel direct. It was the first time we’d ever been to an airport where the exit signs directed us to two different countries: Switzerland or France. Then we drove north to the German border, which took all of maybe 15 minutes. We walked around the town of Freiburg in the southwest corner of Germany, and visited its cathedral and ate an authentic Bratwurst before driving through the Black Forest. The winding roads and forested hills reminded us of our commute back home.

Germany Photos:

We crossed over into Switzerland and stopped at Rheinfall, the largest plain waterfalls in Europe. We ate dinner on the terrace of a riverfront restaurant in Stein am Rhein, a town famous for its Hans Christian Andersen-style architecture. The restaurant specializes in fish from the river, so we had perch and bass. We watched kids jump off the bridge into the chilly waters below while we ate. Little did we know that a Swiss game show with card players was broadcasting live from the center of Stein am Rhein. We watched the game show host parading around the streets, as residents sat at dozens of picnic tables drinking beer. As part of a competition, a young couple sawed a log. It was truly a step back in time. On the first night, we stayed at the cute Seegaertli B&B in Berlingen, a town on the shores of Untersee, part of Lake Konstanz. Our room had a balcony and views of the lake. The owners had a private beach and patio area across the road for guests to enjoy, but we didn’t have time to enjoy it.

Lake Konstanz was our first destination the next morning. The northeast border of Germany and Switzerland rests just outside the center of Konstanz, the village. We strolled through the village’s old town, saw its cathedral, then walked across the big bridge over the lake before starting our drive to Interlaken.

Rheinfall, Steim am Rhein, Berlingen and Konstanz Photos:

We drove through Zurich, Switzerland's largest city, and the beautiful regions south of Zurich with many lakes (Lucerne, Zugger, Alpnacher, Sarner, Lungerer).

Interlaken is an alpine village near the center of the country, within the region known as Bernese Oberland. Interlaken is flanked by two lakes, and is a great base for the best peaks in the Swiss Alps. Damon had been talking about taking the Jungfraujoch train to the highest train station in Europe to see Jungfrau since last fall. He wanted to photograph the Alps from over 11,000 feet. We arrived into town mid-afternoon under blue skies. It was too late to go to Jungfrau, so the owner of Rugenpark B&B where we stayed recommended Schilthorn. He said the views of all the highest peaks (Jungfrau, Mönch, Eiger) were actually better from Schilthorn. We could even see Thun and Lake Thun.

We rode three separate gondolas to reach Schilthorn. All I can say is, “Holy Schilt.” Schilthorn is a mountain located at about 10,000 feet. The views were breathtaking. We hiked out to a ridge and took some funny photos with a caution sign featuring a high-heeled shoe (???). On the way down from Schilthorn, we got off the gondola at Murren, a pedestrian-only traffic city (supposedly, but we found a couple transport vehicles). Murren was really charming. The mountain views were gorgeous, the architecture cute. We ate fondue and Swiss beer outside on the terrace of a restaurant overlooking a steep valley.

The weather didn’t cooperate the next day. This happens in Switzerland, we’re told. We couldn’t go to Jungfrau--who would want to pay $200 per person to take a train up the mountain to only see a wall of fog--so we ventured out into the rain to go see Trummelbach Falls. This amazing waterfall is a series of 10 glacier-fed waterfalls flowing through one cave, the only one of its kind in Europe open to the public, we were told. The snow-pack run-off from Eiger, Monk and Jungfrau shoots down through this cave. Watching the insane water pressure was quite an experience.(Trummelbach is a UNESCO Heritage Site.)

Next we drove to Grindelwald village and did some shopping in the rain, then ate sandwiches in the park. Once it stopped raining, we took a bus to the stop just below Upper Glacier. (Our bus drive said “hello” in German, “thank you” in French and “good bye” in Italian. If that doesn’t sum up Switzerland’s diversity, I don’t know what does.)

We hiked into the entrance of Upper Glacier, then climbed up all 887 log steps (Damon counted) to the rocky, flat tops of the cliff to see the glacier. The glacier wasn’t really visible (it’s been receeding for a few decades, sadly), but the climb up and the walk across the suspended bridge made the trip worthwhile. I snapped a photo of the traditional Swiss drummers (gigantic cowbells for drums!) in the town of Lauterbrunnen. We celebrated (or negated) our climb with a banana split at the restaurant located near the base of the mountain. That evening, we took a walking tour of Interlaken (in the rain), bought some Swiss chocolates from the famous Schuh shop and restaurant, then grabbed a casual dinner at Brasserie 17 in the bar-cum-restaurant-cum hostel.

Time to move along. We packed up our things the next morning and drove to Thun, a town on the Thunersee (Lake Thun) west of Interlaken. We toured Thun castle, then walked through town and over its bridges before continuing on through the Berne canton, the more scenic drive to Lake Geneva. We stumbled upon a beautiful waterfall along the way, which flows into the Jaunbach stream, and stopped at Jaun to photograph it. We also took pictures of the cows and the gigantic bells around their necks. (Chiming cow bells were within ear shot at two out of three places we stayed.) Check out this video we filmed with my cell phone:

Interlaken, Thun (Bernese Oberland) Photos:

The road signs soon changed from German to French. We stopped in the town of Gruyeres in the Fribourg canton, famous for its cheese, and visited the cheese center (more of a tourist trap than anything). But the cheese aging room was cool to look at, and we were able to say we tasted Gruyeres in Gruyer...what more could you ask for?

We arrived in Corseaux, one of the many villages on the border of Lake Geneva, in the late afternoon. (Lake Geneva is shared with France, where it's known as Lake Leman.) Our B&B (and its pool) overlooked the lake and mountains. We toured Chateau de Chillon just outside of Montreux, then walked along the Montreux boardwalk and ate a nice Italian dinner at Restaurant au Parc. The next morning, we took a train up to Les Pleiades, an area in the mountains overlooking Lake Geneva, but it was too rainy and foggy to see anything. We then drove through the Lavaux wine region and photographed its stony terraces, built by monks 800 years ago. These vineyards and their terraces are a UNESCO Heritage Site. The views of the steep vineyards, lake and mountains were absolutely stunning. If I hadn’t fallen in love with Switzerland yet, I did right then. We stopped at a few wine villages before driving over to Lausanne, located across the lake from France's Evian (yes, that Evian). Lausanne’s cathedral sits at the top of a hill. We climbed to the top, toured the church, then climbed up into its tower. The tower bells rang while we were still at the top…very cool. We decided to buy some wine and local products (ham, cheeses, nuts, chocolates) and return to Lavaux for a picnic. The sun finally broke from the clouds while we ate at a arbor-covered picnic area next to the vineyards. That night we listened to jazz at the world-famous Montreux Jazz Festival, held there since 1967, and took another stroll down the Montreux promenade. We witnessed the most gorgeous sunset, but we’d both already ran out of memory on our cameras.

Montreux, Lavaux and Lausanne Photos:

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Top 10 Things We Will Miss

We've been talking about all the things we'll miss when we return back to the States. Here's a short list of our Top 10:

10. Tesco Buffala Mozzarella di Campania for €2.76 per ball.

9. Diplo wall heaters

8. Bus stop steps from our door for public transportation

7. Gym with a sauna (!!!) only a 5-minute walk from the apartment

6. All the lakes and islands of Ireland

5. Castle ruins everywhere

4. Evening walks on the Prom (weather permitting)

3. Sea views from our living room windows

2. Galway's energy and entertainment scene (the hussle and bustle of a college town with tons of pubs, cafes and live music)

1. Visiting any country in Europe in about two hours or less on a plane

Top 15 Things We Will NOT Miss

Here's the list of things we won't be missing when we leave Galway in September:

15. Dog poop everywhere on the sidewalks

14. Lack of organization and forward planning

13. No electricial outlets in bathrooms

12. Double beds (and two twins pushed together qualifying as a double)

11. Electric showers (and showers with only half a door)

10. Bathroom faucets with separate hot and cold taps (how fun it's been to fill the sink with hot and cold water every night in order to wash my face in warm water)

9. Clothes dryers without ventilation (no more emptying the bladder of my dryer every four loads)

8. Cost of living, in general (bottles of contact solutions costing 16€, drinks for 6€ a pop)

7. Mediocre food at a pub/restaurants

6. Lack of garbage disposals

5. Separating food trash from paper trash (because we have no garbage disposal)

4. Radiator heating

3. Paying our bills at the the Post Office

2. Timid Irish drivers (causing unneccessary traffic)

1. The weather (rainy, cool days all year long)

Dodgy Construction: The Ride of Your Life

Last fall, we were intrigued by a rollercoaster located next to our local gym called The Wild Mouse. The name cracked us up, as did the fact that a gymnasium here also offered water slides, miniature golf, and amusement park games and rides.

Before we could take a picture, The Wild Mouse was disassembled.

The good news is that she's back. The bad news is that we got to watch The Wild Mouse -- and several other rides -- being constructed this summer, constructed on gravel slopes, sidewalks and old parking lots.

Dodgy is the word commonly used in the U.K. and Ireland to describe anything broken, unreliable, not good. If this isn't dodgy construction, I don't know what is. How could any parent be comfortable letting their children ride on a rollercoaster that's being balanced by some blocks of wood? Maybe we Americans are just too cautious about these types of things. But honestly, there's no way I could get on The Wild Mouse after walking past the visible foundation under which this ride was built.

Ride, as a word, doesn't have the same connotation over here. Ride is bad, very bad. Drunk men say it to girls they want to shag, if you catch my drift. Because I still don't know the word the Irish use for amusement park rides, I guess I'll leave that vernacular as is, and probably insult all the parents in Galway by calling a rollercoaster their children enjoy a "ride."

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Ninjaphobia: Don't Fear the Ninja

Damon learned the other day that before the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles could be launched in eight countries in Europe, the censorship board/laws made them change their name to Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles. Obviously, they found a negative connation/association with ninjas they didn't want children exposed to. According to Wikipedia, consequently, everything related to the Turtles had to be renamed before being released in these nations (comic books, video games, toys, etc.) The lyrics were also changed, such as changing "Splinter taught them to be ninja teens" to the "Splinter taught them to be fighting teens."

This continued until 2003.

This begs the question: What about the naked lady lingerie advertisements in the newspapers? Or the use of the word "fuck" on prime time TV?

I guess in this corner of the world, that's far more conservative than a cartoon turtle welding a toy knife.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Irish weather karma

As soon as I blogged about how bad the summer weather is in Western Ireland, Galway enjoyed its sunniest day this year -- a beautiful Thursday filled with sunshine, rarely a cloud in the sky, and temperatures around 18-20 degrees (about 70). My cousin and I sat outside at The Quays in Galway, drinking Guinness and basking in the sun.

Then the rain returned on Friday. And Saturday.

My Travel Map

Damon and I updated our Trip Advisor travel maps today. It's really cool to get this perspective of all the places I've visited back in the States, as well as in Europe. But when we looked at an atlas of the entire globe, it reminded us of this: We have so many more continents to visit. Hopefully in the next couple of years, we can see Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and South America.


The Final Tourist To Do List

The clock is ticking. We have less than two months left before we return to California and tons of places in Ireland still left to discover.

Here's our list of must-see places we've yet to visit (in order of priority):

1) Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland
2) Skellig Michael, County Kerry
3) Slieve League Cliffs, Carrick, County Donegal
4) Aran Islands (again -- first time wasn't enough)
5) Connemara National Park hike up one of the Twelve Bens
6) Galway Irish Crystal Heritage Centre

We've decided to scrap plans to visit Waterford, Wicklow or Wexford on the east coast. Simply not enough time left. I was hoping to watch a horse racing event in Tipperary or Galway, but Damon's not keen on it, nor does he fancy taking a cruise on the Lough Corrib. If we can squeeze in another island trip near County Galway, maybe we'll go to Inishbofin or Clare islands.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Adventure #28: Cousin Bruce visits Ireland

My cousin Bruce from Kansas visited us this past week. While Damon worked, Bruce and I spent our days touring Ireland. (Damon broke away to sightsee with us on the weekend.) Here are some of the places we visited:

Aillwee Caves
This was a new destination in The Burren I'd never visited; very cool caves, great butter-cream fudge in the farmhouse shop and amazing birds of prey exhibit. We also had lunch at a tavern near the Burren Smokehouse; instead of eating salmon, we opted for our first plate of bangers and mash.

Cliffs of Moher
We got lucky this day -- some rain but low winds -- we visited the Cliffs after our cave tour.

Ring of Kerry
Damon drove us south for our weekend getaway; we spent one night at a B&B in Kenmare, near the Ring of Kerry, hoping to catch one of the boats to Michael Skellig Island on Sunday, but no luck. The waves were too high. I was very bummed not to see the puffin birds on the island. We enjoyed some great food and Irish music at the pubs in Kenmare on Saturday night. This time, our drive through Moll's Gap afforded us sweeping views of the valley and lakes below.

Clifden, John d'Arcy Castle and Aughnanure Castle
The infamous crappy weather of Ireland hampered our journey that day. Our jeans got soggy hiking out to John d'Arcy Castle; we turned back and sipped on hot chocolate at the boathouse restaurant near the docks. We had to skip the John d'Arcy monument due to rain and low visibility. We also snapped some photos of Kylemore Abbey on the way home.

Ross Errilly Friary
Some of the coolest ruins in all of Ireland -- well-preserved and only 30 minutes from Galway.

We drank pints of Guinness at the Gravity Bar above the Guinness Storehouse, then went to the Jameson's distillery and drank whiskey at the bar -- the best place on the planet to drink Guinness and Jameson's, respectively.

Another highlight of the trip was simply hanging out in Galway. We watched musicians at Tig Coili, a famous pub here. Here's a video of musicians at Tig Coili. We also ate fish & chips at McDonagh's in Galway.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Cigarette warnings in Europe

The EU seems to have taken the shock-value approach to anti-smoking campaigns. They've made sure that each box of cigarettes is plastered with a clear message: Smoking kills. I didn't really notice how graphic their anti-smoking advertising/warning campaigns were until I saw some cartons of Kents at the Duty-Free Shop in Turkey. Is this only happening in Europe or has this more-aggressive tactic to curb smoking caught on the States too?

I hope it does...enough with sugar-coating it and saying wimpy statements along the lines of "smoking is harmful to your health."