Thursday, July 31, 2014

Cliffs of Moher

So, I'm hanging out in Ennis, Ireland, the first city on our tour.  (The hotel has Wi-Fi, but said Wi-Fi is temperamental.  I managed to get the post up last night, but tonight, I have to try one with photos.)

I regret (well, not really regret -- "regret" doesn't quite capture it; it's more of "this happened, oh well") that I can't really explain anything that I saw today.  Our tour guide (Lauren) is quite nice, but she has a habit of burying the lead.  Which is to say, she starts off talking about something that seems totally uninteresting, so I kind of tune her out -- then, the next thing I know, it ends up at something relevant, and I sort of wish I'd been paying attention.  So, I mean, a random discussion of Irish geology (seriously, geology) ended with, "So that explains the cool thing you're about to see," and then I thought, "yeah, probably should have listened to that one."  

(I admit, also, that Lauren is at her most amusing when she just totally misspeaks.  Within the first five minutes, she said something about how we're listening "tentatively," which cracked me the hell up.)

So, to the photos.  We got out to the Cliffs of Moher (that's the Cliffs of Insanity to you).  I was pretty excited about seeing said cliffs as, on my previous trip to Ireland, it was raining cats, dogs and amphibians the day we went to the Cliffs of Moher.  I didn't get any pictures because my non-waterproof camera couldn't have handled the downpour, and remained safely in my pocket for the duration.  This time, I am pleased to report I actually got out there when it was not raining!  (Actually, it then started raining, but I had already taken the pictures.)

(Poorly.  The Wi-Fi is going really poorly.  Six attempts at adding photos later, and -- although the Wi-Fi signal claims to be strong -- Blogger is having a hell of a time saving the post and connecting to Picasa.)

Screw it.  I've got to get to sleep because it's an early morning tomorrow.  At some point, there will be one nice photo of the Cliffs of Moher, a random pic of O'Brien's Tower at said cliffs (which, itself, isn't particularly exciting, but it's nice for scale), and a picture of a stone tomb at the Burren, about which I've got precious little, as that's where I sorta zoned out on Lauren.  But it's neat -- the land around it is all broken stone, which has been eroded away from underneath.  (Or some such other geologically interesting thing.)  Honestly, I realize I am amazingly lucky to be here and that I should be taking it all in, but I do get a bit sleepy on bus tours and tend to skip the science lessons.

The bus ride did get rather more interesting upon impact.  It was around the time Lauren was tempting fate talking about what an awesome driver our driver is (which he is), and some tourist in a rental car (who is not as awesome as our driver) misjudged the clearance and clipped the tour bus.  (Much waiting around followed, as relevant information was exchanged.)

We ultimately got back to the hotel about an hour before dinner -- and about a half hour before the shops closed.  This was kind of important, as Lauren suggested this was our last stop in a real town for about a week, so if we needed any supplies, we should get them tonight.  I went out on a mission for anti-blister-stuff for me and a some nuts for my mom to snack on.

The anti-blister-stuff was easy because, in about 3 blocks of street, there were about 5 pharmacies.  The nuts were a problem.  I thought I'd go into the place labelled "[Somebody] Family Grocer."  Surprise!  It's a pub.  Then I figured I'd try the place labelled "Market."  Surprise!  It's a restaurant.  I was pretty sure I understood English, but the signs in this town were taking me down and I only had about 15 minutes left.  I tried a "Euro Store" (the equivalent of a "Dollar Store") and it had lots of candy, but no nuts.  I was pretty much about to give up when I happened upon a convenience store (two doors down from the pharmacy I'd been in at the start of this journey) -- success!

Back to the hotel for our Welcome Dinner (nummy), with some Irish folk music performed live to entertain us.  (An accordian, a banjo, a flute, two harps, a singer and a step-dancer.)  They were quite good, and played lots of reels, which made me a happy camper.  (Also some slip-jigs -- I'm not entirely sure what they are, and, were the internet working, I'd look that up -- but they were cool, too.)  I can't quite put my finger on what a reel is, either, but I know one when I hear it, because you can hear the music roll (and not the way a polka rolls; reels unwind more), and I quite enjoy them.

Er, screw it.  I'm rambling disjointedly as I'm tired and I'm peeved at my inability to post what I'd wanted.  I'm just going to try to post this, finish up my packing, and catch some z's.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Ireland (and an answer)

So, today I said my farewells to the little flat I like to stay at in London.  Sniffle.  

But, on the serious plus side, I'm now in Ireland!  County Clare to be precise.  Although the flight itself was an hour, when you add in all the transit time, and the waiting around time (and the watching people at Heathrow paw through my parents' carry-ons time), we pretty much checked in the hotel, had dinner, and retired to our rooms for getting ready for the tour.  It starts tomorrow at 1:00, which is nice, but the next day, we have to be all packed with our bags ready to go at 7:00 a.m., so I'm planning to get up somewhat early tomorrow just to start getting used to it.  It's vacation and all, but the hours are a bit ... well, it isn't exactly leisurely.

Going back to yesterday's post, someone (hi!) inquired if I thought Martin Freeman actually could have pulled off Richard III in the hands of a better director.  I do.  Let me go find my critic hat for a minute...

OK, here's the thing.  It would all go to shit if he just didn't have a facility with Shakespeare or a clean delivery.  Not a problem here.  He understands the text and puts it over.  Which means it's all just down to characterization.

Now, I've probably seen more versions of Richard III than any other Shakespeare play.  I have seen quite a few Richards and I know there are plenty of ways to approach the role, all of which can be made to work.  I've seen Richards who are elegantly evil, sort of your classic British villain, who has an intellectual superiority to everyone around him, and even if he's slitting your throat, he somehow would manage to not actually dirty himself with a speck of blood.  (I think that's your "go to" Richard -- it's what people generally think of when they imagine the character.  It's sort of where you expect Cumberbatch will go with it -- because that's so easy for him to do.)  But that's not, by far, the only way you can do a successful Richard.

I've seen a reptillian Richard, who so oozed across the stage, I was actually surprised that I didn't see a trail of slime behind him.  I've seen a spider-like Richard, cold and calculating in the center of his web, and occasionally bursting forth with a frightening attack of speed and power.  I've seen Richard as a playful scamp -- a man, slight of frame, who rather effectively manipulated people because they thought so little of him, they didn't see it coming.  I've seen Richards with an insatiable taste for power and Richards who schemed for the crown because they were bored and didn't have anything better to do.  And all of them, all of them, worked.  (Thank you, Mr. Shakespeare.)  They all brought the text to life with a complete characterization that dominated the theatre (even if the character didn't have a dominating presence).  Power can come in many different forms, and even an utter wimp who makes people do his will out of misplaced pity can be a magnetic Richard.  It is, without putting too fine a point on it, kind of hard to fuck up.

The director of the instant production took a tack which, upon reflection, I'm not entirely certain could ever work.  What he went with was a setting in which everyone was corrupt, everyone was selfish, everyone was evil, and Richard was just a teensy bit better at it than everyone else.  This wasn't a Richard III in which Richard was a bastard playing all the innocents around him (and Margaret was the only one who saw it); it was a Richard III in which you didn't actually feel bad for any of Richard's victims, because they all sort of deserved it (either by their own corruption or terminal stupidity).  I don't think any actor could have made this work.  There was nothing inherently wrong with Freeman's performance.  His Richard was smug, manipulative, capable of vicious violence, utterly bereft of humanity (and, ultimately, losing his grip on sanity).  That's a perfectly workable approach to the character -- it just died because he was surrounded by a lot of other people who were similarly scummy.  There was no contrast, nothing to make him stand out.  He seemed to actually have the audience on his side, because we didn't see anything redeeming in anyone, and he was at least playful about it.  But that, when you get right down to it, makes for a really disappointing Richard III.  

Tuesday, July 29, 2014


Not much to report today.  The original plan was to do touristy stuff with my folks, but the plan was modified somewhat to food and shopping.

We did, however, design our own Magnum ice cream bars, at a temporary shop inside Selfridge's, which, as far as we're considered, ought to exist permanently.  Everywhere.

Also saw Martin Freeman in a production of Richard III.  I tried really really hard to take my critic hat off for this one and just enjoy it, but the director took an approach which just, er, um, was interesting, but ultimately unsuccessful.  I think the play and the actor both deserved better.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Falcons! Yay!

I did it!

That, right there, is me looking eye to eye with a lovely little female bald eagle.  (She's young -- her head hasn't turned white yet.)  Very exciting.

So, back to the start, which was a train trip (followed by a taxi) out to the Birds of Prey Centre (which had been so very helpful with all those scheduling emails).  I got there about a half hour early (my timing getting anywhere abroad is not an exact science, and I wanted to make sure I got there on time).  This was cool; they told me to just roam around the aviaries while I was waiting.

So many owls!  (And a mature bald eagle.)  Falcons, too, naturally (but I didn't get a good pic of them).

At 12:30, I returned to the office as directed, and met up with Jamie, who was my guide for the day.  And, as it turned out, he was my very own private guide for the first hour and a half, which was all kinds of awesome.  We walked back to the aviaries and I got to meet some of the birds.  Jamie slipped a worn leather glove on my hand (I noticed a tear in it, and tried not to concern myself with whether that had been caused by a claw or talons) and then plopped a little owl on it.  We then worked our way up through successively larger birds.  (Around the second one, I asked Jamie to take pictures.)

The birds are really amazing.  They're quite beautiful up close, and the feathers look oh so soft.  (Because I am not a complete idiot, I asked if I could stroke them -- I could not.)  But when they're on your wrist, you could get really crazy close.  Do not get into a staring contest with an owl.
This guy (named Levi) was the most docile bird in the place.  I was told I could touch his feet.  They look like they'd be rubbery -- like he's wearing little yellow rubber shoes.  But my first thought about the feel of them is that they were, well, alive.  I mean the surface of them -- it's a skin of some sort, and it reacts.  Nifty.
And there's the bad eagle again.  She's about 10 pounds of bird, so she started to weigh down my arm.  (And, yes, I'm talking baby talk to the bald eagle.  "Are you the symbol of my country?  Yes, you are.  You ARE the symbol of my country.")

After I'd held a bunch of birds, we went out to the ring, and Jamie flew a couple of the birds to me.  He set them out on a perch, had me stand a distance away holding out my arm (like a branch) and (with a certain incentive of food), the birds flew right over.  One, a very well-trained owl, flew over knowing that, once she landed, she'd get food.  The other, a rather more independent-minded red-tailed... (I'm gonna say hawk?) didn't want to come until he actually saw the food.  Jamie ended up draping several small pieces of chicken on my glove, before Sniper decided the deal was worth it.

The last half hour of falconry was watching the falconry show.  (Indeed, people had been gathering for the show when Sniper was flying to me, so I had an audience.)  The professionals flew a bunch of the birds -- some of them right over the audience, which was pretty cool.

I had signed up for a package including some outdoor sports as well as falconry.  (It was called "Raptor and Reload.")  Now, they'd offered for me to do the package from 2:00 - 5:00, but that time didn't work for me, so they let me do it from 12:30 - 3:30.  What was really cool about this is that I was the only one doing it from 12:30.  Once we finished with the birds at 2:00, Jamie and I were joined by the other 10 or so people doing "Raptor and Reload" -- I did the shooting with them, and then, once we were done with that, I left and Jamie took all of them to do the falconry as a group.  I gotta say, it was totally wonderful to have a private introduction to the birds -- Jamie answered all my questions, I learned a ton (in truth, owls are not all that smart), and I got to hold all of the birds I wanted!

The Reload part was some target shooting with break barrel air rifles and pistols, followed by some archery with traditional bow and crossbow.  I'll spare you the details, but I am a particularly crappy shot with bow and arrow, and fairly acceptable with the air rifle, air pistol, and crossbow.  (What's surprising about it, really, is that I have a small (but, really, any is surprising) amount of intuition when it comes to aiming.  I only got to fire off two crossbow bolts.  The first shot, I instinctively wanted to aim higher than the sight was telling me, but I went with the sight and missed low.  Second shot, I aimed where I wanted to, and hit the red ring on the target.)

Came back to London in time to meet my parents -- who had been off at Highclere Castle (getting their Downton Abbey on) -- for dinner.

ANYWAY, thank you Jamie, for being such a great tour guide and introducing me to all of the wonderful birds.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

That's it. I'm taking the stairs at work.

I'm in London again!  Yay!  

And less than half a day later, I'm wearing a massive knee support.  As per standard procedure, I'm not letting it interfere with my enjoyment of my vacation, but I am annoyed that my recent attempts at regular exercise did not put me in any better shape to handle the usual complement of stairs that face one wandering London on foot.

I am kind of, y'know, wiped out.  I've been more or less awake (there was a lot of time spent "not really sleeping" on the plane) since ... well, shit, I'm too tired to do math, which should be a clue right there.  Uh, about 30 hours.

Nothing incredibly exciting to report.  I ran a lot of errands.  It went something like this:  Enter country; take train to London; take taxi to flat; check in flat; do a teensy bit of unpacking; take shower so as to feel human again; take underground to discount ticket booth; wait for slowest moving line in the history of customer service as, apparently, plenty of customers go up to the ticket booth window with questions about what to see, having failed to see the list of about six shows that they were selling; take underground to the nearest branch of my own bank (which has a fairly small London presence) so I don't get screwed on fees; stop at shop to pick up knee support and other things I've inevitably forgotton to pack); get hair blow-dried to feel even more human; realized I haven't consumed protein in at least 6 hours and decide to do something about it; take underground to dim sum place; stop at nearby store to buy the next DVD I want to watch while using the elliptical at home (lot of good it did me); consume dim sum; feel my "second wind" coming on; aim back to the flat (underground again); stop at shop to buy some food for the fridge; back to the flat to mess with knee supports; back on the underground to the hotel where my parents are staying to leave an envelope for them at the desk with stuff they'll need for tomorrow; underground for the SIXTH (and penultimate) time to see the show I'd waited in the damn line for a cheap ticket to see; and (finally) come the hell back.

I like seeing loud musicals on my first night in, so that they'll force me to stay awake.  This trip's entry in that competition is "Let it Be," which is basically a Beatles tribute band with the occasional costume change.  They were pretty good, and it served its purpose of helping keep me awake to a reasonable bedtime.

(The biggest laugh, though, was when the dudes came out in Sgt. Pepper costumes, with, like, a cardboard cutout of the album cover background behind him, and the girl behind me thought it was "Yellow Submarine."  Really.)

I have something really fun scheduled for tomorrow, but it's set to rain, so it might get cancelled.  Which would be a bit sucky, as I'm in London with my parents for basically two days, and we are each going out of the city tomorrow on our own things, but then we'll spend Tuesday together.  So if I have to reschedule my out-of-city thing 'cause of rain (while my parents are sticking with theirs), we won't be able to spend that one day together.  So, we'll have to see what the sky is up to.

Time for bed, now.