As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Ireland - More Random Thoughts

Finishing up at an Internet cafe in lovely Galway before heading out through the Midlands to spend the night at 13th-century Barberstown Castle. Not a bad way to end the trip. More random thoughts as I nibble on some brown soda bread:

-The Irish version of 7-11 is Spar. The Irish version of Johnnie Rocket's is Eddie Rocket's. The Irish version of Blockbuster is Chartbuster. The Irish version of "Dancing With the Stars" is "Jigs and Reels With Celebrities."

-Ireland is pretty darn expensive, especially given the Euro's dominance over the dollar. Renting a new movie at the aforementioned Chartbuster will set you back £4.75, about $6.50. You can't find coffee for under £2. Extra tartar sauce or even ketchup will cost you at a lot of places.

-Here in Galway you can see the new multiculturalism sweeping Ireland. We had dinner last night at a French restaurant, and the large table across from us had about four different languages going. There's also an Afro-Caribbean-Chinese market called "Ivory Market," whose main stock in trade appeared to be hair extensions.

-Irish radio is interesting (we heard a lot of it on our drive out through the West). They love to hear themselves talk so much that even the music stations have about 30 minutes of chatting between songs. The music features a few contemporary hits, but mainly is stuck about 20-40 years in the past. Every teenager in the pub knows the words to "Take Me Home Country Road" by John Denver, anything by Johnny Cash, and a bunch of 80s hits (including "Video Killed the Radio Star" by the Buggles). We heard a song by Long John Baldry called "Mexico" that I'll be downloading the moment I get home.

-The Cliffs of Moher, huge cliffs that look out onto the Atlantic, was well worth a visit. They're building a new visitor centre that will be completely set into the landscape, so it will be even better. Now there's construction all over, but it didn't affect the views too much. The Burren, an expanse of rocky limestone that stretches for miles through back roads, was also quite cool.

-We stopped in an off-track betting parlor, which are ubiquitous here. There was steeplechase, greyhound racing and thoroughbred racing within the space of five minutes. After the end of a thoroughbred race in which the leader bore out and tired badly to lose, the Irish track announcer quipped, "the horse was walking around like a drunkard coming out of a pub."

-Friday was Daffodil Day, a holiday sponsored by the Irish Cancer Society where everyone buys daffodils off the street for £3 to benefit cancer research. We have nothing like that in the States, a holiday designed to raise money for charity. Unfortunately, Friday was very rainy, leading to headlines in the news of "Daffodil Day Disaster!" as the Irish Cancer Society expected to come up short in their expected fundraising by £500,000 because many people stayed indoors.

-The top stories on the Galway news for Friday: 7 townhouses to be razed, local Galway food to be promoted in advertisements, and a woman from the Connemara turns 101. I love local news.

-But the best news story, heard in Dublin, in the front section: students protest for lower taxes on condoms. Now there's an issue EVERYBODY can get behind.

I'll be back with the rest of the world's news on Monday.


Thursday, March 23, 2006

Ireland Take 2 - random thoughts

I'm in Galway now, in the west of the country. Just drove 3 hours from Dublin on the wrong side of the road. Fortunately everyone else was doing the same thing. Galway's an impressive city, laid out much like it was in medieval times. We visited a church where Christopher Columbus reportedly prayed before setting off for the New World. We don't have that kind of history in Los Angeles. In LA, history is "You see that parking garage? Mickey Rourke had sex in it one time!"

Here are some random thoughts:

-Aer Lingus was a disappointment as an airline. I felt transported into the early 80s, with tiny seats, the same basic chicken dishes for food, and old British programs from that time on a completely washed-out little screen. You had to pay for the Irish Independent. The country is awesome, but not represented well by the airline. I hear Ryanair (which often has flights to cities in Europe for $1) is much better.
-Ireland just won the "Triple Crown" in rugby, beating England, Scotland and Wales, and the series was on everybody's lips.
-The Spire of Dublin, a tall metallic piece of metal that shoots up out of the landscape like a Brancusi sculpture, looks like an institution, but it's only 3 years old.
-In fact, everything is changing in Dublin. I heard a report on the news that they expect the economy to grow by 15% by 2020, with an additional population of 1 million (20% more than now), 1 in 5 foreign-born. This puts Ireland in contrast with almost the entire rest of Europe, which is losing population. I was talking to an advertising exec in a pub called Mulligan's, and he warned against the sunny outlook, however. "It's the same old thing. The economy is blazing by accident. When it falls, it will be catastrophic."
-He described the same kind of housing bubble we have in the US: home prices doubling in 10 years, people taking out 100% mortgages, etc. We've sure exported the American value of living outside your means!
-They just installed a light rail system that services Dublin called the LUAS and it was great. You buy tickets on the honor system. There was an amusing discussion amongst a few schoolchildren who clearly did not have the money. One wanted to risk it, and the other two warned against it. A neat little morality play. The cheat would've been caught; there was a conductor checking tickets.
-What you see on the news in Europe is SO different. In addition to the Irish channels, TV carries the British news services. Their coverage is in depth and unsparing. Of particular note was a story on the bombing and shooting by US forces in Haditha last November. I don't remember ever seeing blood and guts on video from the war zone in Iraq on US television. Later there was a story of a Kurdish man and his struggle for survival. Maybe it's that Europe has experienced war on their own soil in their more recent past (though it's been 60 years); they don't feel the need to sugarcoat it or hide it in any way.
-The other big story was Tony Blair's Labour Party, and the "loans for peerages" scandal, which as near as I can tell concerns the party securing loans from wealthy contributors, possibly for government posts, possibly because the contributors wanted to see Labour win. Seemed like a bit of naivete; you mean there's big money in politics? Shocking! (One funny thing was this broll shot during the story of the cameraman running around the House of Lords like he was drunk).
-There was an ad for Miller Genuine Draft in front of our hotel that said "One Life, One Beer." I think the "one" refers to how many bottles of MGD they've sold in Dublin this year. Please, it's a Guinness town (by the way the Guinness Brewery tour was excellent).
-I was surprised by the frequency of Gaelic. It's as official a language as English, and while I haven't seen too many people speaking it, it's on every road sign, most business signs... and there's even a Gaelic radio station we listened to for about a half-hour in the car. Thankfully we had iTrip and moved on. Seeing Gaelic makes me feel like less of a wuss for traveling to an English-speaking nation.
-The roadways are in really good condition. In particular the N4 west out of Dublin looked like it had been paved moments before we reached it.

That's all for now. I'll try to check in again before coming home.


Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Ireland Take 1

Greetings from old-new Dublin! Old in its history, new in the youth and vibrancy of its people. It's been a pretty amazing couple of days.

Thanks to the "Celtic Tiger" economy, Dublin (literally Dubh Linn, meaning Black Pool) is a high-tech town. I passed about 7 Internet cafes within a couple blocks on the way to this one, situated near my hotel and the light-rail system. Yesterday we got into town around 1:00pm and checked into our hotel. I had initially intended to travel solo, but my friend Jerry decided to come along at the last minute, so the two of us are in my pre-booked single room, which in Europe is even smaller than you'd expect. Fortunately we haven't spent much time in the hotel.

Day one was generally a walking tour of the City Center. Trinity College, establihed sometime in the 16th century, is an excellent looking university, with a fine courtyard and old stone buildings. The Old Library houses about 300,000 books, in a room the size of a football field with high vaulted ceilings. Also in this building is the Book of Kells, a 9th-century illuminated manuscript featuring the Four Gospels. The intricate characters and illustrations looked like they were made with colored pencils about a week ago.

From there we walked through St. Stephen's Green (the Dublin Central Park) and the Georgian section. This bore resemblance to the Olde City area of my hometown Philadelphia, with its red-brick townhomes and brightly-colored doors in the style of Oxford. Both areas date from the 18th century, so maybe it's not surprising.

The front page of the paper on Monday was about the Belarus elections, which has all the makings of another revolution in a former Soviet state. Lukashenko has a greater stranglehold on the government than his counterparts in Georgia and Ukraine, however, so I'm not optimistic. There was also a large article in Tuesday's paper about the power of Irish political blogging and its potential effect on the next election (the story is behind a firewall and requires a membership fee). At the Taioseach's (Prime Minister's) office there was a sign basically saying "There will be no tours today because we're busy," so I don't see a lot of transparency here. Of course, the Irish do have one up on us politically; the last two heads of state have been women, leading one of them (Mary Robinson, not the current one) to suggest that "Parents all over the country are telling their boys, maybe if you work hard enough, even YOU can become President!"

Last night we had dinner in a traditional Irish pub called Madigan's, where we enjoyed the craic (conversation) with a man who told us all about his trip to Las Vegas and his win on the Internet poker machine. Then we popped over to the Temple Bar, not one bar but a section of town with dozens of pubs and clubs. We noticed a proliferation of groups of young men and women, wearing matching polo shirts emblazoned with their favorite soccer or rugby team, jeans for the boys, skirts for the girls. There were the usual singalongs and general nuttiness. Great fun.

That's all for now. I brought the cords to upload some photos, but I have to figure out if the plugs are right. Hopefully I'll have pics up tomorrow.



Sunday, March 19, 2006

3 years later

We met no objectives, increased broader tensions in the region, added another hotbed of terrorism, started a civil war, and didn't increase but decreased the flow of oil.


Glad I'm bugging out of here so I don't have to think about this for a week.

Enjoy the travelblogging.