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Friday, March 31, 2006

London, part 3

Big Ben
The clock tower at the Houses of Parliament - referred to as "Big Ben" from this point on, even though that's technically the name of the bell, not the tower - is an incredibly impressive site. The stonework, the vertical lines, even the honey-brown color all combine to give a sense of overwhelming magnificence as it towers over you.

Imposing
It is hard not to look up whenever you are in the neighborhood. It dominates everything around it, beneath it, below it - yet it is only a part of an even more magnificent structure: the Houses of Parliament.

Big Ben through the trees
Majestic and imposing as it is, at the same time it is approachable, viewable, a part of its neighborhood. Unlike the skyscrapers of New York City, Big Ben presents itself to be viewed. Look up from near the bottom of the Empire State Building and you will see nothing but the face of an enormous building. Look up at Big Ben and you'll know what time it is.

Parliament
But don't spend all of your time looking up. Big Ben is just one part of the Houses of Parliament, which are truly incredible - these pictures do not do the building justice. Up close it does not feel like a building but more like a stratified geological formation, with great stalactites reaching up into the sky and the weight of ages presenting itself to the passersby. And at he same time it also feels like some massive organic entity, some alien creature that has beached itself in London, its bones jutting out of its rocky skin as it hovers between life and death.

Parliament across the Thames
It's a building I've seen a thousand times in pictures. I grew up watching British programs on TV - Doctor Who, Monty Python's Flying Circus, The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, and dozens of BBC documentaries. A photo of Parliament across the Thames was the logo of Thames Productions and it appeared at the end of their programs. Yet none of that prepared me for the feeling of awe I felt when I was near the building itself.

Parliament and Westminster Bridge
Hell, I've been to New York City a bunch of times, and Philadelphia a few, and Los Angeles once, and Washington D.C. more time than I can recall. I'm not one to be overly impressed with mammoth architecture. But something about the Houses of Parliament struck a nerve. I was impressed.

Postcard shot
Of course, Big Ben and Parliament are not the only sights to see in London. I managed to get a few shots that didn't focus primarily on them. But those will have to wait until my next installment!

Trafalgar Square statue: Alison Lapper Pregnant

I've been able to identify the "very strange-looking statue" in the fourth picture in my previous entry, thanks to the Wikipedia entry on Trafalgar Square (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trafalgar_Square). It is called Alison Lapper Pregnant. You can read more on this statue in the Wikipedia entry on Alison Lapper, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alison_Lapper.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

London, part 2

The Marble Arch
If you want to see a lot of London in a hurry and are not familiar with the city, tour busses are definitely the way to go. We took "The Original Tour" bus line - the Red Route, "The City Sightseeing Tour". There are other bus lines available which may or may not offer better value. We got on the tour at the Marble Arch, just outside of Hyde Park.

Haymarket, looking past Nelson's Column to Parliament
The open-top busses offer a great vantage point from which to take pictures. But we didn't count on how cold it would be in London in the second week of March, nor did we consider the effect of wind chill from riding in an open-top bus. Damn, it was cold. It actually snowed at one point.

Piccadilly Circus and the statue of Eros
We took the tour on Saturday, which helped us formulate a battle plan for Sunday and for our Saturday evening in the West End. Piccadilly Circus became our main point of contact with the big red double-decker busses that would get us back to our hotel.

St. Martin-In-The-Fields and a very strange-looking statue
The busses moved fast, a lot faster than I had expected. I believe this is in part due to recent traffic regulations that have cut down on the number of private cars in London and have opened up "BUS ONLY" lanes throughout the busiest parts of the city. As a consequence I was hard-pressed to get unblurred pictures as we zipped along, and I wasn't always able to leave the audio memos on my camera that I had counted on to make sense of my photos. Fortunately I have the DK Eyewitness Guide to London and my tour bus map to help me determine the identities of the things in my pictures.

Nelson's Column
I first heard of Nelson's Column in the book version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. When Arthur Dent was trying to come to grips with the reality of Earth having been demolished by focusing on the loss of slightly smaller but significant things, Nelson's Column was one of the things on his list. I assumed at the time that it was a newspaper column.

Look, kids! Big Ben!
(The red double-decker bus in the foreground is advertising the movie "V For Vendetta", in which Parliament and Big Ben are blown to bits. The movie didn't open until a week after we were there, so we saw Big Ben just in time!)

We were very excited when we caught our first glimpse of the Parliament clock tower commonly known as Big Ben. For tourists, Big Ben more than anything else represents London; you haven't seen London until you've seen Big Ben. This was our first glimpse, but definitely not our last. But those photos will have to wait for the next installment!

London, part 1

Ireland is nice. Slow-paced, quaint, bucolic. Very pleasant. Very...quaint. Relentlessly quaint. After a while it gets to you.

On the second weekend of my visit to Ireland my friends and I took a quick trip to London. London is anything but quaint.
We stayed in one of the greenest and prettiest parts of London, just outside of Kensington Gardens. Because of our tight schedule we didn't get to explore the gardens, or neighboring Hyde Park, or any of the nearby museums. Still, we dipped into Kensington Gardens briefly to get some pictures.
Swans. Not geese, not ducks. Swans.
Rainbow in a fountain
Pigeons. Yes, we have pigeons at home, but these are London pigeons!
Kensington Gardens is beautiful. If you can spend some time there during your visit to London, I cannot recommend it strongly enough.

After this brief interlude in the largest patch of anything approaching nature in London, we were off to find an open-topped tour bus for a day of sightseeing and tourism. But that is a story for another entry.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Cork

Entering Cork over the River Lee
I don't love Cork as much as I do most other places in Ireland. There's something about it that rubs me the wrong way - maybe it's the traffic, the crowding, the architecture. I'm not sure. I certainly haven't seen as much of it as I have the other places that I've visited in Ireland, so maybe I just haven't warmed up to it yet.
More than anything else, Cork is a city of people. University students and shoppers bustle through the downtown at midday; cars choke the streets in gridlock; stores form a solid mass in the shopping district, while houses crowd the surrounding hillsides.
Cork alleyway
Shopping in downtown Cork
Church
Something about the architecture of Cork feels ashen - as though the entire city has been lightly dusted with ashes. Maybe that's a cumulative effect of the flatter landscape, fewer trees, and greater crowding. Maybe it's just my imagination.
This is not to say that Cork is not beautiful, or is not worth visiting. Once upon a time its streets were canals - it's a city with a lot of history. It has several cathedrals and beautiful churches, including St. Ann's Shandon (above, right of center, hiding behind a crane.) It has some of the best shopping in Ireland outside of Dublin. If you're thinking of visiting, read up on the city first and plan your visit to focus on the things that interest you.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Important news for fans of Chef

I will resume my reports on my trip to Ireland shortly. But here's a piece of news that simply cannot wait.

If you, like me, felt that the premiere episode of South Park's 10th season,"The Return of Chef", was a little (well, a lot) hard on Chef and, by extension, Isaac Hayes, you may take heart in this article from Roger Friedman at FOX News* (found by way of this Wikipedia article):

Isaac Hayes Is No Quitter

I guess people missed this on Monday, so I will again state Isaac Hayes’ case. He had a minor stroke in January and is now at home for rehab and recuperation.

As close friends told me over the weekend, he did not resign from "South Park" or issue any kind of press release to that effect. Although headlines like "Hayes Gives the Shaft to 'South Park'" are funny, they are inaccurate.

Here’s the problem: Hayes is no longer managed by Bruce Garfield at Avenue Management. All of the communication from him comes through a woman named Christina "Kumi" Kimball, a fashion executive for designer Craig Taylor, another Scientologist.

Kimball herself is a devoted member of the Church of Scientology. She even maintains a Web site extolling its virtues. If any announcement was made about Hayes and "South Park," it came from her.

As I wrote on Monday: Hayes loves "South Park" and needs it for income. He has a new wife and a baby on the way.

Before the public and the media buy this whole brouhaha, I beseech everyone to take a step back and see what actually went on here. Many times, things are not as they seem. And that is definitely the case with this story.

The only good news in this story is that Isaac, according to friends, is doing very well. He’s attending to business and getting back on his feet. Hopefully, he’ll be dishing up Chef like a gourmet again in no time.

So, will Darth Chef break free of his mental bondage, use his lightsaber-spatula to destroy the evil forces of the Super Adventure Club, and return to South Park? Only time will tell.

*Normally I wouldn't trust anything from FOX "News", but in this case this is something I want to believe. And if that's good enough for our Maximum President, it's good enough for me.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

1989

Some of the photos from the recently-discovered photo album:
Who is that charming and handsome long-haired guy in the tux? Damn, I would do me. This was in May 1989, right before our Senior Formal. I kept the hair until 1998.
My friend Alex and I adopt two different approaches to avoiding sunstroke at our commencement. He went on to get a Ph.D. and pursue a successful carreer as a college professor. I...did not.
Me with my mom. I think I was posing for a photo from someone else's camera. Take a look at those teeth - no expensive orthodontics in these genes, baby. Something you ladies should consider...

Interlude

Just a quick break from the slideshow of my vacation photos. I still have quite a few left to show.

As I mentioned last Monday, our washing machine broke just before I got home. The washer is from 1999, and by today's standards we've gotten our money's worth out of it. We're getting a new one tomorrow, and to make delivery and installation possible I've had to move a tremendous amount of stuff around. During the course of this great shuffle I came across an old photo album that covers the years 1989 - 1990.

These were fairly eventful years: my senior year of college, a visit from Rindi, my one-and-only semester in grad school, my exile in Delaware, a visit back to Scranton, my friends' engagement party, a visit from a now long-lost friend... I am relentlessly reminded that the people in these photos were just kids, ranging from 17 to 22. We were all so young back then.

I think I'm going to have fun with these photos. Some of them - photos of me - I will publish here. Others I may travel around with for a bit of reminiscing - and more than a little blackmail!

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Fermoy and the Blackwater

Fermoy is a small town north of Cork situated on the Blackwater river. I've been there every time I've visited Ireland.
The bridge in the distance is the major bottleneck between Cork and Dublin - until the Fermoy Bypass is completed, all traffic between Cork and Dublin must pass over this bridge. (The bypass is currently several months ahead of schedule, so it may be completed sometime this year.) Backups can stretch for miles in the afternoon. On the other side of the bridge on the right-hand side is the main business district for Fermoy, including a bookstore that doesn't seem to have any books and a chipper (fast-food place) called The Humble Spud that sells good and huge fried fish.
The north shore of the Blackwater.Ducks!
More ducks in the Blackwater, looking West.
A horse grazing on the opposite shore.
Trees with spooky-looking roots.

Mountains in Ireland

The first weekend that I was in Ireland we traveled out to Tralee and Ardfert for a day. There was still much snow in the mountains, and on the way back the setting sun created a magnificent play of colors with the mountains, landscape, and sky.
Unfortunately I'm not exactly sure which mountains these are. Ireland is generally described as a plateau ringed by mountains, although a map of the mountain ranges of Ireland shows that there are a few mountain ranges that extend into the southern interior.(Detail from the previous photo.)

Based on where we were and where we were heading, these mountains could belong to several ranges, including Macgillycuddy's Reeks, Derrynasaggart, and Boggeragh.
Whatever mountains they were, they have a savage beauty that is not present in the rolling, softened folds of the Valley-and-Ridge Appalachian mountains that border and guide my daily commute. I was glad I got to see them when I did.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Beer

Kegs of Guinness.

Beer signs, and one for Coca-Cola that lists "Havana, Cuba."
How old is this sign?

An almost-full pint of Guinness at Kate Brown's pub in Ardfert. (I took a drink before I thought to pull out my camera!) Pints in Ireland are bigger than pints in the U.S. - 16 ounces vs. 12 ounces.

That same glass a minute later.

Blog updates

While I was in Ireland I was only able to get online for a few minutes at a time, and was only able to do this four or five times. So I wasn't able to keep up with everybody's blogs and I've been trying to play catch-up since I came back.

Camilla has a sexy new design and a new webcam server that isn't updating any of the cam image sites that she's listed under. So now I can only see one image of Camilla at a time, and if I miss one, it's gone forever. Which I suppose is a good incentive to visit regularly.

Sammie's sdfsdf.wox.org is offline and has been since at least the 15th, which was the last time I got to check while I was in Ireland. I actually had someone come to my site yesterday using the search phrase "what happened to sammie's site from australia?" I was able to get in touch with her yesterday by e-mail and she's still around, but her site is experiencing a technical glitch which is keeping it from appearing online. She's working with several parties to get this resolved, but it sounds like they're all pointing their fingers at each other. I hope this gets resolved soon - I'm having Sammie withdrawal!

Related Posts:
Update, 5/4/2006: Sammie's new site is coming soon!
Sammie's deviantART site (April 30, 2006 - a link to an update by Sammie herself!)
The Blogger Buddy System (April 14, 2006)

Interlude 2: Three weeks without Sammie's sdfsdf.wox.org (April 5, 2006)

I've tried to catch up with Adam Felber's Fanatical Apathy, but as always there are about a gazillion comments that I need to read, too. I have said in the past that Adam's site can be looked at as a sort of "group blog", where he seeds the discussions and his readers take the ball and run with it.

SuperG's My Distractions In This Modern Age has been most helpful in keeping me updated on political developments while I was away. In Ireland the RTE news was primarily about local and national Irish events with a little international stuff thrown in, mostly about Iran. Almost nothing on Iraq, very little about the U.S. It's good to be able to catch up. SuperG has shut down The Hurricane's Eye, his non-political non-controversial blog.

Chloe's Watermelon Punch hasn't been updated in months, and she still gets two to three times as many visitors as I do each day. There ain't no justice.

Lauren over at Please Make Rice, I Love You has gone through some changes in the last few weeks. She is still having the problem with the hives, but it sounds like she's finally seeing some doctors who are trying to treat her.

Gort's Gort42 has been very helpful in keeping me up with local political developments. This was one of the few sites I was able to check regularly while I was in Ireland.

And if it weren't for Mr. H.K.'s "and I quote blog", I wouldn't have known that Jack Wild (Jimmy from H.R. Pufnstuff) died.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The two most surprising things about Ireland

Two things have always surprised me about Ireland since the first time I visited: the brightly painted buildings, and the palm trees.
Maybe these are both features of the southern areas that I have visited, in and around County Cork. The colors and the trees combine to give the illusion of being somewhere along the shores of the Mediterranean - although the cold and the rain tend to dispel this illusion.
Someone who goes to Ireland expecting rustic thatched-roof cottages will be in for a shock. There are many earth tones in the building finishes, but there are also plenty of bright, saturated colors.
The palm trees are a little more disconcerting. No one I spoke to was able to identify them. They never appeared to be naturally-occurring, but always seemed to be planted landscape specimens. Still, healthy and long-lived landscape specimens.
(These are the same trees as in the previous picture, seen from a different angle. I think.)
So, if you should find yourself in Ireland - or even find yourself watching a movie or TV show about Ireland - keep an eye out for the palm trees!