Monday, September 27, 2010

maybe we've attended too many weddings

the "buda" part of budapest is hilly and mainly limestone. since limestone is so porous and they have so many natural springs they have a lot of caves, tunnels, etc.

underneath the castle district they have a labyrinth of sorts which you can enter from 3 different entrances that offer different experiences. our tour guide recommended one that had a wine fountain where you could bring any empty bottle and literally fill it up as many times as you wanted.

wife- "so, is it like a chocolate fountain, but with wine??"

me- "uh, i guess i'd say it was more like a water fountain, but with wine. i love you so much."

Buda + Pest

Thanks to the French air traffic controllers’ strike (really, working until 62 is not that horrible guys, get over it) our already late flight was made even later. So late, in fact, that when we finally arrived at our hotel in Budapest all restaurants were closed and dinner outside of room service was not an option. Really, we looked all over.

So after we split the $25 USD hamburger (are you kidding me, Budapest Hilton?!?) we went straight to bed. I had finally decided to contract the Wife’s nasty little cold and needed all the rest I could get.

Saturday we took a walking tour of the unified cities. I can’t recommend Free Budapest Walking Tours enough, and yes it was technically free since they rely solely on tips to avoid the outrageous 48% income tax in Hungary. I found them on Trip Advisor and there’s a reason they are the #1 recommended thing to do in the city.

As a city, I’d say it is one of the prettiest we’ve seen in Europe, although this isn’t too evident from our photos. Since I was so sick I didn’t have it in me to really capture it properly and since I’m a bit of a control freak about the camera I wouldn’t really let Jules capture it either. See, I can admit my shortcomings.

Our guide was really great and along with showing us some of the highlights of the city…

she also gave us a really personal look into her hometown and lots of great tips about avoiding tourist trappings, which Budapest seems to be full, everything is so expensive. I really wanted to take the afternoon Communist tour with them, but… A. I promised no more depressing tours and B. I was totally wiped out from the walk from Pest up to Buda.

After the tour we wandered around the Castle District since it was where our tour ended and also happened to be where our hotel was located…

I finally had to give in to the weariness and take a good long nap. Thankfully, this allowed me enough energy to enjoy a really nice meal with the Wife at a neighboring Hungarian restaurant that night.

Sunday we awoke to rain and cold and well, my cold so we stayed indoors and read most of the morning, went out for some lunch and then began the long trek back to Dublin.

With me feeling so bad last week we had debated canceling the trip altogether, but I’m glad we didn’t. This was the second time we had made plans to get to Budapest and although I didn’t feel great, our one day out and about really was worth it.

This weekend we’re headed to Scotland. Edinburgh has been at the top of my must-see list so I can’t wait!!

I’m determined to get better this week, especially since it is calling for cold and rainy weather there all weekend. At least I’ll finally get some wear out of my new Wellies. I can’t believe how sunny it is in Ireland. I beginning to think the Irish export this rainy/dreary weather rumor just to keep everyone from moving here.

Friday, September 24, 2010

flashback friday

from our trip with pablo to hong kong last year. the much touted skyline laser light show...

no, this isn't just a boring part of it, it was all this boring. but, you can't go to hong kong and not see it. not to mention the skyline is just beautiful to gaze at anyway.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Happy Arthur's Day!!

A total marketing scheme, but one that I like...

Today is Arthur's Day and at 5:59pm everyone around the world should be raising a pint of the black stuff in honor of Arthur Guinness, the founding father of the best beer in the world and 21 children, yeah 21 children.

Sadly, I'm sick and won't be having a Guinness today, although I'm sure if I asked an Irishman they'd recommend me having one as Guinness is kind of a cure-all around these parts.

He really was an amazing man, not just for his beer, but for the services he provided to his employees and the jobs he provided in Ireland. Guinness was once the largest employer in the country with over 5,000 employees.

They say to work for Guinness is a job "from womb to tomb" because of the care given to you and your family. Still to this day retirees can come to the factory's canteen once a day for a hot meal and a pint.

So raise a pint to Arthur today!

Nice job, Florida!

An appeals court in Florida has struck down their horrific ban on gay adoption. I certainly hope this dissuades Georgia's Republican nominee for Governor from making this one of the hot button issues for this election.

Read about the victory in Florida here.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

ooh la la

as a throwback to france's days of yore when they sold wine out of casks some stores are again featuring wine sold by the liter...

it's green, it's cool and according to dr. vino it may be hitting u.s. shores in a year!

of course, i'd want french wine prices. for what you'd pay for a bottle of boone's farm in ellijay you can get a fan-freaking-tastic bottle of bordeaux in well, bordeaux.

Très unfair.

Monday, September 20, 2010

do they have crackberry rehab?

the other night the wife came peeking around the corner with a cheshire grin...

"you know you won't have your blackberry in japan?"

although this pleases her to no end, i'm dreading being without my crackberry. for 6 or 7 years i've had constant accessibility to emails/internet. save the two weeks i left it behind on my honeymoon and the 2 weeks it took me to get a new one when mine was stolen in south africa- we've never really been apart.

2 whole months without it. this is going to be beyond tough.


So this is an entry I’m not too thrilled to be writing and one I’m sure no one will be too thrilled reading.

2 days later and I just want to put it behind me and forget everything we saw. I want so much to just forget. I never want to remember it again, I want to think of anything else…and because of these feelings I’m actually glad I pushed for our trip to Poland to tour Auschwitz/Birkenau.

I think it’s so easy for us as humans to want to forget the bad times, to push them aside in our minds and look to happier thoughts. It’s our coping mechanism that kicks in.

Of course, those of us that forget history are damned to repeat it and for that reason I’m glad Auschwitz is there to remind us. I’m glad it still stands. I’m glad it was so crowded with hundreds of other visitors. I’m glad we were all there and I’m glad that we will never forget. No matter how much sadness it brings to me, it is nothing in comparison to the pain, torture and fear that was felt by the millions of people that suffered and died there. Nothing.

It was an extremely emotional and taxing day. As much as I thought I would be able to share my thoughts on the day, because I had so many…I find today that I am unable. I’m seriously crying just thinking of it and you probably don’t check in on Mondays to have your moods lowered.

If you want to look at the photos please know that we didn’t take photos of the more personal items or any of the gruesome things we saw. Most photos are from the exterior of both Auschwitz and Birkenau. It was actually a beautiful day and I couldn’t stop thinking how the sweet smell of the grass and the sunshine betrayed the true horror of the place.

Although Krakow seemed like a nice enough city, I admit that our hearts were far too heavy and our minds too clouded to really enjoy it.

This weekend we are finally getting to Budapest and I promise we’ll avoid any depressing tours.

Friday, September 17, 2010

change o' plans

the only certainty in our nomadic life is that there is no certainty.

the schedule for round 6 has changed and we are headed to japan.

right now we're torn between excitement for the opportunity and a little sadness that it'll be that much longer until we're home with everyone.

just know that we love you all and miss you like crazy all the time. in a perfect world we could all be on this adventure together. just not in the same hotel room ;)

flashback friday

i believe this guy was from our first safari in pilanesburg. be sure to turn up the volume to hear our guide talking about him. i forgot how much i love south african accents.

the lookout...

monkeys with a job make me less nervous.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

well said

from Alissa Torres whose husband was killed on 9/11...

"What did I think about the decision to construct a “mosque” this close to ground zero? I thought it was a no-brainer. Of course it should be built there. I sometimes wonder if those people fighting so passionately against Park51 can fathom the diversity of those who died at ground zero. Do we think no Muslims died in the towers? My husband, Eddie Torres, killed on his second day of work at Cantor Fitzgerald while I was pregnant with our first child, was a dark-skinned Latino, often mistaken for Pakistani, who came here illegally from Colombia. How did “9/11 victim” become sloppy shorthand for “white Christian”? I wish someone would put out a list of all the ethnicities and religions and countries and economic levels of the victims. For all the talk of “remembering 9/11,” I wonder if we’ve missed the patriotic message entirely."

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

for those who don't know david brent...

funny on television- not so much as a tour guide.

Day Trip (aka Day spent with David Brent or Total Bird Insanity)

J and I took a little trip last week before he left to Malahide to check out a castle and along the way we stopped in the fishing village of Howth to feed some seals. Random, I know.

It was a pretty short tour, but it felt like a lifetime thanks to our ridiculous tour guide. Until this trip I had been extremely impressed with every guide I’d had in Ireland. Considering that the Wife and I stayed for a weekend, I toured around by myself and then J and I spent 4 days roaming around Dublin- I had met more than a few. Wow, but this guy…he was…well, if you have ever seen the BBC original “The Office”- he was David Brent.

Should have been a good time, right? Well, I quickly realized that it isn’t too funny to actually be in David Brent’s world- only to observe it. On television. For 30 minutes. I’m serious when I say he was David Brent. I swear I’m going to email Ricky Gervais to see if this guy was his inspiration. Exact same mannerisms. Exact.

For the first hour or so I couldn’t quite place why he was so familiar, but when we were in the castle it hit me like a ton of bricks. Inside one of the rooms was a very small collection of miniature furniture models used by carpenters in the 19th century. All of them, save one, were little chest of drawers and wardrobes. The other one was apparently for holding maps because David Brent went into this story, complete with different voices:

Imagine I’m a carpenter in 1894 and I receive a letter from a well-to do-lady. Me goes to see this lady, perhaps at a home as elegant as this and that fine lady says to me “Oh sir, can you please help me! Me husband is an old sea dog and has maps all over the house! Is there anything you can do to help me get me husband’s maps under control”

Can I help her? I tell her to hold on one minute and then I pulls out of me little bag this wee model. The fine lady exclaims “Oh, me thinks this is just the thing!” So the lady signs papers for me to begin the work. I work hard and in about 3 weeks time I complete the map drawer and have it delivered to the lady. You can imagine she would be very happy with my work and I’d hope her husband would be just as pleased!

what? the? hell?

Yeah. And in true David Brent form, on the way back to Dublin he proceed to tell us that he was recently at a pub and was the last one standing AND that he is a member of a singing group. But, oh no…don’t ask him to sing. He needs a few pints first. I have zero doubt that he would have started belting out Molly Malone had anyone on the bus had actually protested and asked him to sing.

Aside from our preposterous guide, it was a nice little trip out of the city. The castle was nicely preserved…

Howth was a cute little fishing village and seals were very sweet looking…

However, there were tons of birds swooping and squawking trying to take the fish before the seals could get them. As you can see, I was a bit freaked by all these birds. Birds, much like monkeys, make me nervous…

So I throw it…

Aw, he’s going to get it…

Total bird insanity…

Monday, September 13, 2010

up north

The "road" part of our road trip to Northern Ireland was much easier than our excursion to the West. We left Friday evening and after a couple of hours on a “dual carriageway” we were there. Well, we did get a little lost finding the hotel, but considering we had no gps and Northern Ireland loves their roundabouts even more than their southern counterpart I think we did a fine, fine job. The Wife really is the master of left-sided driving now.

Saturday we took the coastal highway north to see the Giant’s Causeway. On the way we happened upon a castle at Carrickfergus (which was where Andrew Jackson was born... the town, not the castle)…

We also stopped at the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge and even though my anxiety was through the roof I actually crossed the dang thing…

do you see that bridge??

It rained most of the time we were on the little island and I refused to cross back until the wind/rain let up. Precarious rope bridge + jagged rocks far below + wind = I don't think so.

Just a few miles (ooh, yes we were back to miles- thank you, Northern Ireland!) down the road was the Giant’s Causeway. Over 40,000 geometrical basalt formations interlock to make up the causeway and it’s easy to see why the ancients believed it was man-made or at least giant-made…

The legend has it that the giant warrior, Finn McCool, built the causeway to be able to walk across the channel to challenge his Scottish foe. Seems like a reasonable explanation to me…

The place was really unbelievable and we took about 1 zillion photos, so be warned.

It started raining (sideways as it's apt to do in Ireland) while we were waiting on the bus to take us back up from the Causeway. It rained and rained and got pretty cold, which was awesome for the poor Wife’s cold.

We had a very early night that night and Sunday took the quintessential black taxi tour of West Belfast…

It was a very sobering tour. It was saddening to learn that although the IRA and UVF are no longer bombing each other over Irish independence/religious persecution, they seem to have each fractured into mafia type groups where drug selling shootings are now the cause of violence.

You’d never know it from touring the area in the daylight. Both the Catholic and Protestant areas seem like tidy little neighborhoods with families milling about, little shops and pubs. Well, tidy little neighborhoods with a giant wall separating them, memorial gardens for the thousands that have died and highly political murals everywhere you turn.

I couldn’t believe they still have to close the gates each evening, but I suppose the wounds are still pretty fresh for both sides. The air hangs a little heavier in West Belfast, but there is also a palpable sense of hope. Us at after signing the peace wall...

We asked our cabbie to take us down to the Titanic dry dock after the tour and we got to see the giant hole that used to hold the massive and doomed ship…

Our driver said that the “Irish built it and the English sank it”.

We were headed back to Dublin fairly early so we stopped off at Brù-na-Bòinne to see the Neolithic necropolis at Newgrange. It is about 500 years older than Stonehenge…

We got to go in the burial mound and although I’ve never had an issue with closed-in spaces my heart was racing and I felt like I had one of the 5 ton curbstones on my chest. I was one of the first ones out and was tempted to push the two old ladies in front of me out of my way. It was really weird how sick I felt. Maybe the souls of the ancients were happy about us tromping inside their resting place.

It was a nice weekend and I'm really glad we made the trip up to Northern Ireland. Everyone was still just as nice, although I had a much more difficult time understanding them. Wow, their accent is tough.

In what I hope to be the last depressing tour of the round, this weekend we’re going to Poland to visit the concentration camp at Auschwitz. whomp, whomp

too much guinness? is there any such thing??

apparently so...

aw, we spotted this poor soul getting off the elevator one night. he was out cold.

although i feel a little guilty for taking photos of him (actually the wife took the pics) and even a little more guilty for posting them on the web, i think there's a lesson here for everyone...

IF you're going to drink so much that you can't make it back to your room- DON'T remove your wallet from your pants and hold it out for anyone to grab...

btw- we did call down and ask someone to help him.

Friday, September 10, 2010

flashback friday!

a little clip from our sahara tour in tunisia. we were on the edge of the sahara so you can see some of the salt lake and just the vastness of it all. you can also see the ridiculous hill we were about to go down in what the wife refers to as the "party wagon". because of the wind you can't hear it, but our guide had the music blasting through our entire trip.

miss you already!

we love to have friends come to visit and are always sad to see them go. we had a great weekend together and i loved having someone to explore dublin with...

we're looking into the adoption proceedings right now! miss you!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

into the west

We were lucky enough to have our own Irish tour guide this past weekend for our trip to the west of Ireland. Along with our Betty’s Town girl we also had our dear Venezuelan friend come in from Atlanta for 6 days. The entire team piled up in the two cars Friday and we made our way to Westport.

It was a bit of drive, but we got there in time to pop into Matt Malloy’s. This is apparently the most famous pub in Westport and from the size of the crowd packed inside I imagine the entire village was present.

Aside from the beautiful pints, the highlight of this place is the live music. They had a guy in the very back room playing pub tunes and top 40, but in what probably used to be the original back room there were about 6 or 7 people sitting around a circular booth playing traditional Irish folk music. It was deliciously intimate and purely Irish. I think it was even more special for me and the Wife being from the South since this music is at the very root of bluegrass and country.

Actually, Ireland feels like going home to me in so many ways. Aside from actual genetic connections to this country (most of us have them, I know I do on my maternal side) I really think any true Southerner would have to be blind not to see how much this culture shaped our own. The food, the music, the hospitality, the storytelling…it’s like visiting a distant relative. You don’t really know each other, but you can’t deny the connection or familiarity.

Saturday we made our way through the tiny winding roads to Galway. As with any good road trip, it was more about the journey than the destination. We stopped off at beaches, bogs, rolling green hills, waterfalls, lochs, tower houses, an abbey, a Celtic graveyard, had lunch at the foot of Crough Patrick and dinner in a little village by the ocean…

Sunday was all about getting to the Cliffs of Moher. The weather had pretty much held out for us all weekend, until of course we got to the cliffs. It was rainy and windy, but it would take more than that to dull the beauty of these dramatic cliffs…

Our last stop was a tomb dating back 5800 years which was much smaller than the photo makes it looks. It was a miracle we even found it out in the middle of nowhere…

All in all it was a lovely weekend spent with lovely people and surrounded by the all the loveliness of Ireland. Thanks so much, Razel for showing us your country!! We all fell in love!

This weekend we’re headed to Northern Ireland to take a tour of Belfast and see the Giant's Causeway.