Thursday, May 27, 2010

Ireland, Part 2: Kilkenny

Continued from Ireland, Part 1: Dublin.

So, we took off for Kilkenny from Dublin in the morning. This decision more or less established our itinerary, as we'd be taking a clockwise path circling the South and West of Ireland. The drive to Kilkenny was a short one, perhaps an hour and a half or so. One thing to mention about the roads/highways in Ireland is that they are in amazingly good shape. And, based on some of the warning signs, it seems that their drivers must be accustomed to their pristine condition. There would be signs that would inform you of hidden dips that were forthcoming. Moments later you would basically pass over the slightest unevenness in the pavement... and, that's the dip. Crazy.

Well, we get to Kilkenny, and we find parking in a lot somewhere along the River Nore. Oops, I mean, we found parking in a car park, which is the term used in a number of countries including Ireland. We walk along the river a bit and notice that there are signs warning you that stealing a lifesaver is tantamount to stealing a life. Maybe drowning is a common problem there, I don't know.

River Nore

Eventually, we make it into the heart of town, and we find their tourist office to get some help booking a hotel in Cork City for the night, as we were only planning to stick around Kilkenny for the day. We took care of everything, and we learned that due to the May Day bank holiday, the main tourist attractions had limited hours, but they didn't prevent us from being able to check them out.

We walk around the city to pass the time, and we notice that Ireland sure has a lot of bookmakers. I think we saw several in Kilkenny, and we saw a crapton of them in Dublin. It's just not something I'm used to, but from conversations with locals during my trip, I hear they love to bet on sports. At some point, we end up at ... to have a drink as we wait for our first tourist spot, the Kilkenny Castle, to open its doors.

Ladbrokes Bookmaker

So, we get there and sure enough, it's a castle. That's a relief, I was thinking it was going to be another pseudo-castle experience. I thought the castle was pretty cool and worth checking out. Unfortunately, they did not allow any photography, and my recollection sucks. I do remember there was a giant room full of portraits, and if I recall, you could also observe an art restoration person at work in the back of the room. Of the many rooms, some of them had their own unique style, such as the Chinese Bedroom and the Blue Bedroom.

Kilkenny Castle

Kilkenny Castle Close-up

Afterward, we went off to grab some grub at Langton's, which was a restaurant within a pub. That's what it felt like anyway. I was not all that impressed. My food wasn't bad, but it was not anything remarkable. JC, however, really enjoyed her panini. Overall, the price wasn't too bad, so value-wise it was acceptable. To drink, we had some beer and also Bulmer's Irish Cider (exactly the same as Magner's, but branded under a different name in Ireland).

Here are a few pictures of food at Langton's.

Langton's - Crab Stuffed Mushrooms

Langton's - Panini

Langton's - Lamb and Cabbage

After the meal, we walked around some more, and we saw a restaurant called Paris, Texas. Maybe it's not that funny, but I thought it was worth taking a picture.

Paris, Texas

Okay, after we walked past Texas, we headed over to the Rothe House and Garden. This was another important tourist attraction in the city. It was a house and garden owned by the very wealthy Rothe family back in the 1600's. Inside the home were an assortment of artifacts that were unearthed on the property as well as old pieces of the original structure.

Portrait of a Rothe House Resident
(I Can't Recall His Name)

It was interesting to see everything... they even had some old newspaper clippings from way back (17th or 18th century). Here's one picture I took of commodities news.

Commodities News from Long Ago

The garden was accessible from a different part of the property, so you actually had to walk for a little bit to get to it. The weather kind of sucked, so pictures were not so nice. But, on the way to the garden, we did manage to see some Irish graffiti.

Rothe House Garden on an Ugly Day

Some Grafitti in Kilkenny

Once we were done poking around the garden, we walked around the city some more, and then we left for Cork, the second largest city in Ireland.

Some Street in Kilkenny

Stay tuned for the next installment.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Quick Update

Added shares of Cisco Systems (CSCO) at just under $23 today. Will likely hold on to the shares for some time.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Ireland, Part 1: Dublin

So, here's the first installment of my Ireland trip report. Hopefully, I can avoid being lazy often enough to finish this report. I guess we'll see. Here we go...

It took a long time to get from San Francisco to Dublin. The flight to Philadelphia wasn't too bad, and the layover was more or less fine. The longer leg of the trip from Philly to Dublin was a whole different story. In any case, we made it without incident.

Rental Car - A Serious POS
(this photo doesn't come close to telling the whole story)

Upon arriving, we picked up our rental car, which turned out to be a complete piece of shit (during our trip it started making some horrible engine noises, and I do believe that there was a real chance that it would just stop functioning). After some settling in time of getting used to driving on the wrong side of the road and not knowing the road rules fully (for example, there is no left turn on red), we managed to make it to our first destination, Cassidys Hotel.

It was too early to check in, but we dropped off our bags and obtained a city map. We walked around a bit soaking in our new surroundings despite us both being exhuasted from the trip over. First thing to note, there are quite a few Asians in Dublin. They were definitely the predominant immigrant group around. Second thing to note, the weather sucked... it was gray, cold, and raining. Not that that was going to stop us from exploring a bit.

Allow me to interject briefly here and say that one really strange things about Ireland is that the people are obsessed with ice cream. They absolutely love ice cream. It will be cold and rainy, and you'll see quite a few people toughing it out eating their favorite flavor. And, another thing... the women there seem to have a penchant for miniskirts too. It was not uncommon to see the trifecta -- lady in a miniskirt standing in the rain eating ice cream... seriously!

Okay, where were we... oh ya, so we walked down O'Connell (a main street cutting through Dublin), and I went into a bank to change some money only to find out that there's been a recent counterfeit bill problem and so they refused to change my $100 bills. Bummer. At least they pointed me to some travel exchange place further down the street that would take them.

O'Connell Street Post-Rainfall

With money in hand, we figured it was time to grab a bite to eat. Having no clue about anything and not being in the mood to seek out specific recommendations from our tour book, we wandered into a pub called the Bachelor Inn. I had some Guinness Stew, which I thought tasted pretty good, but I'm no expert. I also had my first Irish Guinness here, and I have to agree that Guinness does taste different over in Ireland. Hard to explain, but it tastes more concentrated... a more enhanced dark flavor.

Bachelor Inn - Guinness Stew

Anyway, after the meal we talked for a little bit with the bartender. He was really helpful about giving us directions to my company's Dublin office, the run down on basic driving rules, and also recommended that we go check out KilKenny (when introducing the city, he asked if we were familiar with South Park -- Kill Kenny, ha ha).

Afterward, we headed out to my company's Dublin office (outside the city center in a rather nice business park area), met with a contact there, and hung out for a little bit. I was a bit envious of the Dublin office since it was just so much nicer than the one I work in. But, enough on that.

By the time we made it back to the hotel, it was time to check in. The hotel room was nice enough. Nothing to write home about, but I didn't expect anything more. It was a very reasonably priced 3-star hotel situated conveniently near the Dublin Spire (Monument of Light), the world's tallest sculpture, in the City Center.

O'Connell Street and the Dublin Spire

Here's a picture of a Full Irish Breakfast over at Kingfisher's, a restaurant very close to where we stayed.

Kingfisher's - Full Irish Breakfast

While in Dublin, we put in some tourist hours checking out the Dublin Castle and the Christ Church Cathedral. The cathedral was the more interesting building in my opinion. We walked around on a self-guided tour and got to examine various artifacts while admiring the old Gothic architecture. One strange thing that we saw was a mummified cat and rat that got stuck in an organ a long time ago. Apparently, the mummified animals were referenced in Joyce's Finnegans Wake.

Christ Church Cathedral

Stained Glass of St. Patrick
in Christ Church Cathedral

The Dublin Castle was not a castle at all. They were explaining that it used to be a castle back in the day, but then it burned down. However, when it was rebuilt, it no longer took on a castle form. I think there was still a standing tower, but other than that it was fairly modern. The 'castle' is now an important Irish government building. Can't say I was really impressed by the tour, but I guess we did see the underwater river that is only exposed on the castle grounds.

Dublin Castle - Damsel Room

We never did make it out to St. Patrick's Cathedral, but I did manage to get a picture of it when we walked past it.

St. Patrick's Cathedral

One of the nights, we went out to the Temple Bar area and we ate at some place called the Quays Restaurant. I liked my bangers and mash quite a bit, and I think JC was pleased with her cottage pie. It was a fairly touristy place, but I thought it was a good experience overall.

Quays Restaurant - Bangers and Mash

Quays Restaurant - Cottage Pie

On another night, we ate at a Nepalese restaurant called Montys of Kathmandu. The food was mostly good there, but quite expensive. The appetizer sampler we got was decent, but far from amazing. The main courses were very good in my opinion, and I really enjoyed their award-winning monkfish dish. I have never had Nepalese before, so it's hard to make any direct comparisons. But, I would say that while the food is indeed similar to Indian food, I felt that the flavors were different enough to make a distinction.

Montys of Kathmandu - Nepalese Restaurant

Montys - Award-Winning Monkfish Tareko

Montys - Khasi Ko Chilli (Lamb)

That same night, we found ourselves at Messrs. Maguires, a three-story 'super pub' right near the O'Connell Bridge. They brew their own beer there, but I can't really recommend their own brews after having a couple of them. I much prefer Guinness or MGD for that matter. In any case, we met a couple youngsters that night (I believe the drinking age there is 18). Anyway, it was a pretty fun night hanging out with them and their group. Lots of drinking and general partying was that night's theme.

Random Shot Taken Inside Messrs. Maguire

Afterward, we met up with some guys outside and after talking to them some about where we were from and getting past their fascination with medical marijuana, we learned that they (at least some of them) were part of a semi-famous band called the Coronas. We didn't think much of them until several days later in a different town, we saw a poster of them at a Ticketmaster booth. Anyway, they told us that the best chips in town could be had at Burdocks and that we'd be doing ourselves a serious disservice if we were to leave the city without giving them a try.

Despite the rather rough night out, we found the time to grab fish and chips over at Burdocks as was recommended by both the band and our guidebook. I liked it very much. The fish is for real, skin and all. The chips were great, and the portions were huge. Some have said it used to be way better, back with the Burdocks guy was alive, but I thought what we got tasted awesome. No complaints from me.

Burdocks - Best Chips in Town

Burdocks - Cod and Chips

Now, there is some food that Ireland just plain sucks at. The one that comes to mind is Mexican food. They simply do not get it over there. It's really crazy what you see being displayed as Mexican or Tex-Mex. We figured it might be interesting (and cheap) to grab a bite at one of Ireland's fast food chains called Abrakebabra. I chose wisely and went with a lamb kabob (it was not too bad). The less wise one went with an incredibly overpriced Taco Nachos. It was about the worst tasting nachos conceivable. First of all, salsa should not be based on a marinara sauce. That's just wrong. I could go on, but I'll give them a word of advice: CostCo -- just import gallons of pre-packaged salsa and use that instead.

Abrakebabra - Taco Nachos (amazingly bad)

Before we left Dublin, we went over to the Guinness Storehouse. It's definitely worth checking out. It's a fun and informative self-guided tour, and with paid admission, you get to pour your own pint of Guinness after some instructions on how to pour the perfect pint. At the very top of the building is a bar dubbed the Gravity Bar. From there, you get a wonderful 360-degree view of Dublin.

Perfect Pint Poured By Yours Truly at the Guinness Storehouse Bar

Dublin As Seen From Guinness Storehouse Gravity Bar

Here's a short video I took of a pretty cool room that you pass through on your way out of the Guinness Storehouse.

Video: Guinness Storehouse - End of the Tour

I guess that's all I have the energy to say about the first three nights in Ireland. Next stop: Kilkenny. If you want more Dublin, don't worry as we eventually make it back for our final two nights.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Quick Update

Bought back the Wet Seal (WTSLA) shares I sold a month ago plus some (roughly same dollar size at a 13.5% discount). Order filled at 4.37.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Ireland: A Sampler

Haven't had much time to put anything up here yet, but here's a sampler. For the Facebook friends that are reading this, I did put up all the Dublin food pictures.

Here are some shots I took while on the trip.

Dublin As Seen From Guinness Storehouse Gravity Bar

Burdocks - Fish and Chips (according to many, the best chips in town)

Quays Restaurant (Temple Bar, Dublin) - Bangers and Mash

Fashion Photo Shoot at St. Stephen's Green

Cork City - Hotels Along River Lee

Blarney Castle - Don't have much to say, for I didn't kiss the stone.

Ring of Kerry Drive - Sheep Alongside Road

Cliffs of Moher

Unknown Structure Seen While Driving To Galway

g Hotel (Galway) - Matz Restaurant

The Iceland Volcano!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Home Sweet Home

After delays and missed connections, I'm back home after 24 hours. Hope to find some time soon to post up some pics and do some storytelling. Anyway, hope all has been well... time for me to crash.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Emerald Isle

Well, it's our 2nd day in Dublin. Everything's been good so far, including the food. The weather sucks, but whatever. Gonna check out the Guiness Brewery soon... check you all later.