Monday, June 27, 2005

Europe 2005 - Exploring Southern France

It was a nice break to get out of Toulouse once we had L.'s backpack. Now the first thing that is studied in any art history class are the cave paintings from Lascaux cave. So the first thing we did was go to see the Lascaux caves. So many people visited the caves that they were getting damaged do they built exact replicas. I was not sure what the expect but I could not tell the difference and did not feel ripped off. the tour was in English and the guide pointed out a lot of interesting things about the tools that they used to paint them 17000 years ago and that it took 5 years just to paint the replica cave since the painter used the same materials.
One of the things that we saw one one of the Europe shows was they went kayaking down a river to see all the villas in France. It looked fun but I never thought we would get around to doing it. However one of the things I found while trapped in the toulouse airport was a brochure for kayaking in different parts of france. It was the most bizarre thing to be floating down the river and just float by these medieval houses and towns. I had asked the guy that we rented the kayaks from if it was OK to get out of the kayaks while going down the river and his reply was "sure you are in the wilderness". His definition and mine of what wilderness are are a little different. We floated past roads, corn fields, and heard the church bells chime through the trees. It was really peaceful and we were the only ones on the river until we reached the city at the end. We floated with the current most of the time and since the other group canceled that was supposed to go that day we did not have to wait for the van to take us back to our car.

Roman Aqueduct- We just had to stop in Nimes and see the roman aqueduct.( most famous from a Volkswagen commercial.) It was really funny to see something that took 500 romans to build just so the people in the city could flush the toilets.

Shopping- the grocery stores are in malls here. They consist of your ordinary mall stores on one side with the grocery store running lengthwise down the other side. The malls are about the same size as the ones in the USA making these grocery stores huge. They sell everything, food, clothes, furniture, swimming pools. They are bigger then "super" K-mart, Target, or any Walmart I have seen. The workers wear rollerblades to get around the stores.
When buying fruit and vegetables there is a central weigh station that weighs and tags your fruit since the 30 to 40 cashiers lining down the side do not have scales. It was funny to see 2 complete grocery isles lined on both sides with yogurt of every type. Cheese had another 2 isles for soft, hard, and a separate area for fresh. So i am guessing that is how they get their milk products because the only actual milk being sold was on the end cap of one isle and looked like it was mainly for coffee. By the way the yogurt and cheese blow anything away we have tried before and we are making it a point to have some of each each day.

Language barrier- for all the people that have said that the French hate anyone speaking English. (we heard it from a British guy on the bus to Toulousé too) we have not seen any of that. A lot of people know English as long as you ask first and there has been someone else in the crowd that came forward a couple of times to help. We did have fun watching Batman begins in French. It was a visual enough movie that I think we got the main gist of it.

Driving- it took me a while to get used to driving on the right side again. I have gone back to getting my right and left confused and that didn't happen in Britain or Ireland so maybe all left handed people should move there. The freeways in France are bigger, wider and the speed limit is 130 km/hr (80mph). The down side is they are all toll roads. We average about 20 euro a day in tolls.

Hotels- they are cheaper here. We can get a hotel room here for what we were spending on hostels in england.

Music- I was not expecting to hear anything with English in in the music. as it worked out there was about 30% of the music was English.

Allergies- completely gone. I have no idea how I have any English blood in me with how allergic I was there. I also guess that the plants here are almost identical to those in California.

Europe 2005 - A Car Duty Free

So one of the choices we made was to drive a car around Europe. Since we are 2 people it is a little cheaper the the train pass but the main reason is since we are going during the Summer we need some way to escape the busy tourist areas to make it easier to find a hotel. So it is actually cheaper to buy a car here then it is to rent it. The way it works is you lease the car directly from the car maker. (In our case Peugeot but Renault does it too, but since they are both French car companies it is much cheaper to pick up and drop off somewhere in France. This is the main reason why our trip pattern of a circle starts and ends in France.) The way the savings work is that since you have to buy the car as someone outside the European Union you pay no tax on it. When you are done with it, they buy the car back again with no tax and turn around and sell it as a used car which apparently has a much lower tax. So whoever buys it basically gets a new car with a couple hundred miles but only pays used car taxes on it. So everyone is happy except the high tax hungry France. (Which should make all you France haters out there happy- you know who you are.) It works out to be about half of renting a car. ($1800 including full insurance instead of $4000 with deductible in our case) and the car is brand new (2 kilometers when we got it.) and is guaranteed to be the type of car you ordered. The down side (As we found out) is that they can't switch airports since it is registered in your name.
So L. and I both wanted to get a lockable trunk for our bags. It just so happens that the cheapest one was a convertible. So purely in the “interest of peace of mind” we decided to spend the extra $500 and go tooling around through Europe for a couple of months. The funny thing is that the engine size and dimensions are almost identical to my Honda del Sol. (actually I found a del sol in a parking lot so by parked next to it, the Peugeot 206cc is a little taller.) it is supposedly a 4 seater but those back seats are for insurance reasons only.
L. says it is the easiest manual transmission she ever drove, and I really like the way the convertible hard top works. If they sold Peugeot in the USA still I think I would get this car. (since I like small cars anyway.) oh well I guess we will have to just enjoy it while we are here. When I was younger I always thought I would have to rent a german car like a Porsche or BMW for the autobahn but flying along at 200 kilometers with the top down sounds fun too. I guess we will have to see.

Europe 2005 - A 3-Hour Tour

The flight from London to Toulouse, France was supposed to last 3 hours. As it turns out the firemen decided to strike. Without having fire coverage the plane could not land. We circled for about 1/2 hour the pilot keeping us abreast of the situation the whole time. We then diverted to Montpellier with them guaranteeing a bus ride being set up by the time we landed. The problem was that we landed during siesta time so it took about an hour after we landed for the bus company to respond to trying to line up a bus and driver. This gave us enough time to round up our luggage. Well my luggage was fine but L.'s was no where to be found. Literally, since the airline company did not normally fly into this airport their tracking number could not be looked up until we got to Toulouse. So we looked into renting a car but with the minimum days and one way costs it would be around $200 for a 2 hour drive. The cell phone was not working (for what I found out later was lack of money on the card but the French network was not letting it connect to display that message since it did not have enough money on the card-a catch 22) I bought a phone card to call the company we had leased a car from. (see next post- buying a car duty free) but since it was 3 in the morning there and I used up the whole calling card waiting on hold for them to put me through to someone to see if we could switch the car location.
After waiting 5 hours at the airport they had a bus there for us to take us for a 3 hour ride to get to Toulouse. The car leasing place was open and I had been able to get them to have someone stay at the office to get us our car so we could only get on the bus and watch the country side go by. (between Montpellier and Toulouse it looks identical to wine country in central California.)
We got there at 7pm (total flight time-10 hours.) and got the car.(problem 1 down) we found the info desk and got a hotel booked. (problem 2 down) but with no flights in the people there had no idea where L.'s bag was. With nothing else to do there I finally was able to just look around and I saw a bunch of people that looked even more forlorn then we did. They were stuck in an airport with no idea of what was going to happen. The parents had the same no hope look of disaster victims while the kids played havoc in the halls.
Over the next 24 hours we found out that somehow L.'s luggage ended up in Bordeaux, was transferred to Paris, and was snuck onto an Air France plane to get to Toulouse. (much to the anger of the Air France baggage handler.) L. got her bag and we headed off for more fun. (luckily this is our last flight until we leave, and I am predicting with our luck that our luggage will get "delayed" once more.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Europe 2005 - Living in Britain

TV- we did watch some TV in England and there is a choice of 4 channels. BBC 1 through 4. There seem to be 3 types of programs, PBS type shows complete with the dry British narration, sports (tennis right now) and American shows or British versions of them. While getting my haircut the barber told me the most popular programs right now are Desperate Housewives and the British version of Big Brother.

Newspapers- while waiting I picked up a newspaper and was quite surprised to see a topless woman on page 2. All the newspapers are more in tabloid form and content it seems.

Radio- In Britain its mainly BBC radio so the same types as TV. They do not have people calling in though. To give your opinion or win a prize you "text in from you mobile". Both of our cars in Ireland and Britain had radios that said what the name of the station was when you turned to it. It has been very helpful and I think that it is one of the reasons satellite radio is taking over in the USA. BBC classical is the only station that we could get even in the remotest areas and I think that since it is government funded that they are trying to force culture. The music the radio plays is exactly the same as the USA with the exception of having most radio stations play a wider time range of music (50's to present).

Money-It is very strange for me to have the banks print their own money. depending on what ATM we pull our money out of determines what is printed on the bill. This also means its hard to use money from a different region for north Ireland to Scotland to England. The coins everywhere are the same though, all with a picture of the queen. It is funny since at least one of the coins has to get redesigned every year it seems. In my pocket at any one time I can tell how the queen has aged over the last 20 years.

Internet- I was originally thinking that there would be oodles of unprotected wireless signals that I could make post from like in the USA. And there are but they mainly come up while we are driving when we can’t use them. It has gotten annoying when we leave it on and it covers the GPS screen with asking if we want to connect to a network. I have a feeling that since most of the old buildings we stay in are stone it makes it hard for the signal to travel far. The original plan for this web site was for 2 reasons. To back up my pictures from the camera and my personal journal posts from this phone.

Budget- we budgeted $100 a day knowing that we would go over in Ireland and Britain as they are islands and more expensive. The exchange rate is killing us here in with the pound being twice as much as the dollar. We have tried to make up for it as much as possible by eating food from grocery stores which means lots of strawberries as it turns out they are still in season here.

Restaurants-you have to order water as still water here, which gets you mineral water(which as far as I can tell tastes exactly the same as the bottles of water I’m used to. The only difference is they add calcium). There is no water for free and ordering water will get you sparkling water which is seltzer water. I did not realize how much tipping is ingrained in my brain. Here food is eat in and take away. If you eat there pubs will tack on 15% to the bill automatically. The traditional English breakfast varies by region but they all call it that on the menu. It consists of sausage (large and with the consistency of pate) bacon (English bacon is more like ham) an egg, fried tomato, and baked beans (which seem to taste pretty good and has the right flavor for breakfast) It is pretty greasy as is most of the British food we have had but it will give you enough energy for the day. A lot of people said that English food is disgusting but I make it a habit to try everything new possible and I have not found anything that was bad. (and I even tried the black pudding)

The facilities- the water pressure here is low (old pipes) so there are still toilets with the pull chain. Showers have tankless water heaters too (it is really weird having electricity in the shower with you. ( a small box heats the water right before the shower head.)

Hostels- Neither L. nor I had ever stayed in a hostel before this trip. I do see a few people in the halls that are older then us but everyone that has stayed in our room has been our age or a few years younger. There has only been 1 other group from the USA with most of the rest from different parts of Europe. We go to bed sooner then most since they go out clubbing but we get up while they are still asleep so it all works out in the noise department. I am a very light sleeper and I was not sure how it would work out but either I’m tired from all the walking or something but L. is the only one I have heard snoring.(and her hearing me so I don't try to sound high and mighty.) most remind me of dorm rooms is attitude but they have all been in cool old buildings so far. We booked hostels in Ireland and Britain because they charge hotels by the person. When we get to the rest of Europe it should be cheaper just to get hotels. Even at the hostels it has been sometimes only a few dollars more to get a private room so that is what we did about half the time.

Summer Solstice- especially in Scotland we are high enough that the sun comes up at around 4AM and sunset is at 10:30. Being a light sleeper used to getting up with the sun I have had to train myself to go back to bed. I am so glad by the sounds of the radio that we were not at Stonehenge for summer solstice. They built what stonehenge was supposed to look like new out of Styrofoam but it was gone by the time we got there.

Culture- there was a store in London called real California that sold fruit smoothies and wheat grass drinks. (yes we got one since we were both craving fruit.) it is funny what culture slides out of the USA. Like I have said before I have not seen any non-US movies here. Upon finding out I was from California the barber wanted to know if Orange county was really like "the O.C." (I had to tell him that I had never watched the show.) The comedy show we went to, upon finding out there were Americans in the crowd starting cracking Simpson jokes.
Their culture-growing up in the USA means you are indoctrinated with the idea that you can do anything if you work hard enough. While visiting all the the royal places I really got the message the royals are different, there is no chance you can be that, and they really are different classes of people depending to how close you are to the queen. (we also visited governors mansions that got the job through nepotism.) At the comedy show the comedian's joke fell flat because there were enough Americans in the audience that did not understand the class system. (he could not believe that it was only about how much money you have.) In Ireland there were 2 little girls that asked us if their Irish accents sounded too common. They could not believe that we could not tell a difference. (I guess the closest thing to this would be being thought of as dumber for having a Southern accent.

Allergies- So far I have only known that I was allergic to cats. I have gotten hit hard by something here. Hard enough that I am up here in the room typing this while Leslie is downstairs washing clothes. The allergy medicine here is stronger but it reduced my immune system so now I caught something else. I was less allergic to Ireland so I figure that I have to have some Irish blood in me. Leslie thinks that it is the trees with the spiky little balls.

Security-There are cameras everywhere. I thought they were just in London but they are in every city, watching everything. All the private security cameras are hooked into the system too. It started as a way to catch who was responsible for IRA bombing but they put in so many cameras that now instead of toll roads they have toll areas of the city. I’m just afraid that the USA is headed in this direction in the name of "security". I guess the thing that I am scared of is that all the cameras are run by computer, and I know all to well how many mistakes computers can make. While driving there were plenty of times that my driving favored smoother driving over driving laws. (next time you are driving try driving strictly by the rules and you will get in an accident.) so now any human cop would not think anything of it but now will I get a bunch of tickets charged to my credit card by the rental company? I guess I'll find out.

Tourism-It is really amusing watching the tour groups being led about by someone waving a flag or umbrella. It looks like a giant sized moth to flame or lemming run or something. We are both so glad as of yet to not be on a tour group. Luckily we have not hit any huge groups or crowded tourist areas yet.

Politics- I know that Britain is one of the more conservative countries in Europe but even they have commercials about the environment (about noticeable changes in the climate and to do your part.)

Royals- While here the queen released her annual budget. Apparently it cost every British person 62 pence to have the royal family. Most people on the radio seemed to see it as a necessary evil or that they were paying that much for a year of entertainment. What I don't get is that only one of them has a job- the queen. No wonder they get into trouble so much- to many idle hands or something. I know that the is the indoctrination speaking but it seems like no one liked footing the bill and everyone agreed it was an antiquated system. I do think it would be interesting if we had the same split in duties in the USA. In Britain the Prime Minister takes care of political business and the queen takes care of parties and visiting dignitaries. Now no matter your political leanings just imagine Cheaney having to be the life of the party and leaving Bush with all the political decisions. I think politics would change if part of the platform was how good a party coordinator the VP was.

Europe 2005 - Finishing up in Britain

Stonehenge was a lot cooler then I thought it would be. You can see it as you are driving by on the highway, but it was like my mind would not except it that it really was Stonehenge. When I was little and really into dragons and knights and stuff, Stonehenge was a seemed like a remnant of that time, the half fake, half real stuff. So I decided then that I wanted to see it. So 20 years later I made good on that idea and it really still felt like it carried some of the unknown for me (maybe 20 years of anticipation.) For Summer Solstice we heard that there was a big party and they had built a replica of stonehenge made from Styrofoam of when it was new. We looked but was already gone but we decided to get up before sunrise and watch the sun rise in line with all the main stones.(what's 5 days off for the alignment.) the problem was that there were to many clouds so there was no sun until that evening. The up side is that we got to see some of the local druids do they're sunrise ceremony.(walking in a circle, banging a drum.)
While wandering around the local town looking for dinner we came across the local celebration (the waiter told us it was their carnival.) It consisted of a parade with all the floats being semi trucks. Each one decorated as how carnival is celebrated in different parts of the world. (example- Mardi Gras was a bunch of kids wearing beads.) the part that I thought was a good idea was that each float had a whatever group it was with buckets (be it girl scouts, lions club or fire fighters) with buckets. As they walked by people would put money in them. So it was a big fundraiser for all the groups. All the little kids got the biggest kick out of having a stack of 2 pence and making the adults bend over so they could put it in their buckets.

Brighton-We needed a place close to the airport to sleep so we decided to stay in England's resort town. It has a beach but it is all pebbles and no sand. The pier reminded me exactly of Santa Monica with the roller coasters and atmosphere.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Europe 2005 - Turn Off the Main Road

Well today was one of those days that just make for telling travel stories about. It was pouring today and of course the "car park" that can be used overnight was about a half mile from the hostel. We were drenched by the time that we got to the car. I am still sick with whatever have so I was weezing the whole way with asthma that I have never had before. Once at the car one of the tires are flat. The tire was low when we got the car and we had filled it up the night before so there was a slow leak but there is no way that they would believe it was not our fault since we have already put on about 500 miles. We get thr tire re-inflated at the gas station and go to a tire place to get it patched. Aparently who ever had the car before us drove on the flat for a while so the inside is shot so we have buy a new tire instead.(I got the highest insurance but there is still a 75 pound deductabe so we would have to pay anyway.
the first destination was one of the castles that claim to be king arthurs castle. Instead of making a whole vacation out of visiting castles that claim to be king arthurs we chose one that had different achitecture from other castles we are seeing- this one was made of stacked slate. (there have been castles about every 20 miles on the road here, we chould have spent our entire time just with that.) This castle was quite a walk down some cliffs then up some more and when we got there we realized we didn’t pull out any money for the dayand did not have enough to get in.(luckily they took credit cards-can't have bad luck all day.) We then headed to our hostel but I entered st. Ive instead of st. Ives and so started the wild goose chase. The GPS kept telling us to turn onto smaller and smaller roads until it finally said turn off the main road to the right. It was a dirt road that was so narrow that the mirrors on both sides were wacking leaves. the brush on both sides of the road was so overgrown that it looked like a solid plants with the road cut through the center, but it still showed up as a normal road for the GPS. We also had the fun of driving on an "open range" road right through the center of a sheep field. When we did finally get to the destination it was st. Ive st. out in the middle of nowhere.
As luck would have it we were not to far from the city and only had to drive another 60 miles. The rain from the morning had flooded the city next to us and had knocked out power and phones but not where we were staying. So we checked into the hostel after driving around and seeing it by accident. (like a lot of other places it does not have an address as a lot of the roads do not have names, and trying to give directions is near impossible. It was simply listed as city centere.)
After all that it was nice to take a walk along the beach (atlantic ocean, other side.) and relax for a while. Which is good that we were relaxed since it was really terrible to find out that the thing that we dove down there to see was closed the next day.(We arrived Friday night and I did a bad job sceduling since St. Michaels mount is closed on Saturdays). I guess today is for chalking up to one more story to tell.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Europe 2005 - Driving South Through England

It has been nice if not a little expensive as compared to gas in the USA. We have only seen 1 billboard (McDonalds painted the side of a truck. However for 2 people it was about half as expensive as getting the train tickets. We stopped in York for the night and I swear that town is a postcard. It comes complete with ye old city wall that you can walk around and city streets too narrow for cars that are paved with cobblestone. It was fantasyland at Disneyland. (I realize that we will see many more cities like this.) I found it amusing that the city of York is just north of the city of jersey just like New York and New Jersey. There are many other cities that we recognize the names of for some reason or other. Some middle school history lesson long since relegated to the subconscious, other towns like Portishead help explain band names.
The Cotswolds is a central area of England that supposedly was to poor to modernize so it left it as a sleepy little sheep town. We have seen more sheep everywhere here so I am guessing the bottom fell out of the market for wool a couple hundred years ago for them. (actually there are so many sheep here, 10 to 1 for cows, we have no idea where the wool goes.) We stayed in the city of stow-in-the-wold since my allergies were to bad to continue ( in hind sight it was most likely something in the Cotswolds that I was allergic to.) I could tell that there was the people that had lived there for generations but there was just to many golf courses, Mercedes, and mansions trying to look like the old stone houses of the rich people that moved there to get away from it all. I felt it was more over rated compared to the guidebook, and is the only place where I have encountered rude drivers that would not slow down on the narrow roads.
We are in the city of Bath. Yes, as in Roman baths, and birthplace of the name “bath”. That is the main attraction here. There are hot springs that empty into lead lined pools that are still water proof 1900 years later complete with lead piping to feed the Jacuzzi tub. Yes, I am serious.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Europe 2005 - Loch ness

We had booked 2 days in Edinburgh but it only took 1 day to see everything. Since it was now Monday and we would have had to pay the equivalent of $50 to park our car for the day we decided to drive up to Loch Ness instead. Both of us were expecting a cheesy over done tourist trap. Instead while there it felt more like a lake side vacation community. There was a castle there that we toured that has some amazing views of the lake. Since it was L. and my anniversary (7 years) we just took it slow wondering around. While there were tourists it was no where near as hectic as Edinburgh (which I think L. will never have good memories of.) We did decide to do what we thought would be cheesy Loch Ness 2000 monster tour where it would be- believe, believe, believe. As it turned out they showed all the major sightings and showed how they were faked or what people really saw. (in case you are wondering reindeer can swim and giant sturgeon get confused and swim upstream sometimes.) while looking at the lake we saw the curling boat wakes that do look like a black snake but no Nessie.
While driving home we had to get gas. I don't want to hear any complaining, as we paid the equivalent of $6 a gallon. I knew that gas was most expensive here as with everything else but I have never owned an 8 cylinder engine car and paying $60 to fill the tank of a car the size of a geo metro still caught me off guard.

Europe 2005 - Driving

Roads are much narrower for all the different types of roads here except the freeway compared to anything in the USA. This makes for much more communal driving is the best way of putting it. On ramps are much shorter so traffic in the slow lane (far left) moves out of the way. (I got honked at the first time by the merging car since I am used to California territorial type driving. People in the right faster lanes are really going faster and get back over once they have passed. I have only seen one instance of a car passing another car on its left and I’ve been watching since at this point I’m thinking it is law. When I used my turn signal to get into the passing lane the car slowed down instead of speeding up. On the smaller highways trucks use the turnouts provided to let cars pass (there are usually no shoulders on the road.) cars get to the left part of the lane to allow other cars to pass easier and with me not knowing where I am going cars have always let me in to the turn lane and vice versa. For the number one thing that bugs me I have yet to see anyone zoom up in a lane that was ending the try to nudge over into the line of traffic. This has been for both Ireland and Britain. I have heard horror stories about France and Italy so I am not expecting it to continue.
All the road signs are pretty discernible although there is a general lack of speed limit signs. With an over abundance of signs every where showing that they are using camera to enforce the speed limit. I just wish that for every sign warning that you could get a ticket that they would also tell you how fast you should be going. The reason that I am having the trouble is that a road can go from 3 lanes with a shoulder and center divider (equivalent of freeways) then suddenly there is a circle with stop lights. And for the next mile the road switches over to a two lane highway where you have to go into the oncoming traffic lane to pass and returning to freeway conditions in a mile all the while keeping the same road name. Our GPS shows up going off the road a lot in the new freeway areas showing that the map has not been updated since they replaced a piece of road with freeway. So I guess they are just relaying the roads a chunk at a time.
I have gotten used to driving on the left (it took about a 2 and a half days to not have to think about it when making a right hand turn) I am now worried that when we go to France that I will try to go left around the circles.
There are almost no SUV's. In Britain there were a few Range Rovers as could be expected since it is a british company, but I saw more Range Rovers in California then I do here. Most of the delivery trucks are vans that look similar to an Astro van or they are escort vans. (think front end is an escort and the back end looks like a refrigerator sized box.) It is amusing to see regular 4 cylinder cars pulling horse carriers and campers.
Since there are no emergency lanes they have pull off areas about every mile or so called lay-bys. I guess you hope you will make it if your car does break down. what has sprung up is that little snack shacks have sprung up at the lay-bys, I guess the only thing that I could compare them to are the roach-coaches that are at any construction site. They also have things similar to the toll roads on the east coast. They are called a "welcome break". There is a gas station, restaurant, and small market. When you are done you have to get back on the freeway since they have no roads.
I was curious to find out if shifting with my left-hand would be easier, since I am left-handed. It doesn't feel any easier, but I adapted to it quickly. I guess that is still a question for the ages.
As for city driving the yellow light flashes before it gives a green, it seems like it encourages racing but I have yet to see anyone try to drag to the next light. As far as people being so polite on the freeways make no mistake that politness does not extend to pedestrians. When walking you have no right of way.
As a side note I always thought that driving on the right led to people passing each other on the right, like for stairs and in hallways. However driving on the left here has not made people pass each other to the left. At first I just thought this was in London where there are so many people foreign born but except where the subway put the escalator on the left most of the time even here people pass on the right.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Europe 2005 - Edinburgh

So we flew from Belfast to Glasgow and decided to drive right into Edinburgh. Right now there is lots of construction gong on in the city like I guess any big city. Up until now using the GPS has been a life saver. There is absolutely no way we could find our way around with even the most detailed maps. We found this out the hard way as the map for Edinburgh that the GPS had in it must have been old because it kept trying to get us to drive on bus only streets, turns where no turns were allowed, and down the wrong way of one way streets. I would dive past that area hoping that the GPS would just re-calculate our trip. As it turned out we just kept driving in larger and larger concentric circles. Realizing this was not getting us anywhere we turned off the GPS and made the bad mistake of trying to navigate off the tourist map brochure we had. This succeeded in making us think south was north and we were half way out of town before we realized anything. I pulled over and L. gave up at this point. As a last ditch effort I memorized the roads I needed to take and just drove it. I still missed the right road in one of the round-abouts and after about a mile of trying to find a place to turn around by shear luck we realized we were on the road we were trying to get to. total driving time- 2 hours. We found parking and walked up the hill to the castle. From on top of this high hill we could see downtown and realized it would have been about a 20 minute walk from our hostel. Argh. The good side is that all the sites we wanted to see were really close together since they did not mess with cars 1000 years ago.

Edinburgh castle- it was really weird that they actually had the keys to the kingdom on display and all the royalty they had been presented to. The Scottish guides seemed really proud that none of the English kings could conquer Scotland but the Scottish king got the English throne when Queen Elizabeth did not have any kids.

Mary Kings close- so they had one main road in the old city going down the hill (That was the that was really hard to find.) all the narrow side streets (as in touching buildings on both buildings on each side of the street ran down perpendicular from there. So when its all on a steep hill and you need flat space you cut off the tops of buildings and build on top of them. They offer tours of the 1600 century buildings that are now the foundations. L. and I both decided that we like underground tours when we went to Seattle so we could not pass it up. It was really weird to be in what looks like a normal medieval street and to look up 3 stories to see the floor boards of another building.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Europe 2005 - Living in Ireland

Shopping-Ireland is fanatical about recycling. There is a 15 cent recycling charge on plastic bags and we could not find paper napkins or plates until we reached Dublin and they were only in the party section.

Radio- coming from Los Angeles most of the morning radio shows are inane crap about which celebrity slept with who. In Ireland the radio morning shows were about getting good child care with both parents working and should over weight people be shamed like chain smokers.

Internet- The original plan for this web site was for 2 reasons. To back up my pictures from the camera and my personal journal posts from this phone. So many people asked to stay in touch that I decided to take the journal into a blog since I am to lazy to write people. Just as a warning though since it is my journal there will be biased political opinions, you can disagree, that’s fine, I encourage it but that is your opinion. (I edited a lot out of the Belfast comment and it just took to long. So far the posting part has worked OK as I just type up the posts on my phone save them to a memory chip and upload from an internet cafĂ©. The problem as everyone knows is the pictures.

Phone-we bought a sim card for 10 Euros that came with 7 Euros of free time. There is no where that I can think of in the USA that it costs $3-4 to sign up for a phone provider, plus all incoming calls are free so no worrying about making sure somebody is on the same network.

The facilities- I don't know if its just caused by driving on the left side of the road but the hot and cold water are switched too, and the light switch is switched down to turn on.

Hostels- When we booked the hostels we tried to get ones with a free breakfast to save money. Little did we know that at most of them the breakfast consisted of toast and tea, so I have been eating a lot of toast while here.

Europe 2005 - "What If" Thoughts

Part of the reason that I was so interested in touring Ireland was to see kind of the what if the civil war was successful. Would the US and the south be having the same problems that Ireland and England are having? It was really weird touring Dublin and seeing the history still there since they only became a separate country in the 1920's. (the bullet holes in the granite pillars are still there at the post office where it all started.) Their version of the Declaration of Independence was typed and printed and posted all over town. All the people who signed it got executed as traitors.

Besides our cheapest flight being out of Ireland I wanted to come to Belfast to see both sides of the whole terrorism thing. I was curious on how to put everything into a culture I could better understand (Catholics and Protestants), and all the tour books swore that it was safe to come here. Touring the "troubled" area even with the cease fire in effect was still quite shocking. While in Dublin taking the tour of the jail the guide gave the impression that England had swindled Ireland in the treaty and the current fighting was the natural progression of things working themselves out. Here in Belfast we ended up taking the tour bus twice through the divided area because of where our hostel was located. the first tour guide I get the impression was Protestant and the second catholic just by the areas they knew more about. Both were more then willing to refer to both sides as terrorists that were fighting a gang warfare type battle for their own power and nothing political or religious. Belfast is just at that point where the peace has lasted long enough that the rebuilding has started-literally. In the time between our 2 tours they had ripped out about a 10 foot section of wall to make way for a new museum. There are still plenty of bombed out buildings with plants growing up through them though that were part of the tour we went on. The army barracks are slated to be demolished in 3 months, and most of the sites on the tour were introduced as "this building was torn down a month ago and in a couple of years this pile of rubble is slated to be a shopping mall, apartments, or museum". The tour guides were proud of the fact that all the police cars were painted white just 2 weeks ago instead of military gray (calling them ice cream trucks). The problem is that all of them are still armor plated with machine gun mounts. The area being patrolled is full of fresh murals of telling of all the bad things the other side did or recruiting new people so there is still a lot that needs to be worked out.
It felt very weird taking a tour bus through these areas. Kids were playing on pallets that were planned to be burned in a celebration/demonstration. When we drove by they stopped and stared as people took pictures of them. I hate tour busses but this is not a place I would have wanted to drive through so I did not pull out my camera around them in hopes that I was doing my part so they would not think they were the ones on display. I guess my take on this is that if this is what is possible 20 years after the treaty and 10 years after the last bombing over property disputes that only go back 200 years and everyone being optimistic then I'm not even going to try predicting anything for what is going on with the rest of the world.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Europe 2005 - Not All Suger-plums and Fairies

So if anyone was reading this and was getting all mad since our trip has just been swimmingly then this is for you. I don't want to sugar coat the problems we have run into. This way you can hate us for complaining about piddley little things.
Allergies: They have been worse for me now than I can ever remember. When the pharmacist says wow when you walk in because my eyes were so red I know there is a problem (especially when they normally say "lovely" to everything.)
day time hours: sunset is at 10:30 and twilight till 11. Jet lag is bad but with it staying light so long it really just made it last longer.

Walking: L. has bad feet and I have a bad back, the mind is willing but the body wants to sit down.

Spelling: as you can see my spelling is not my strong point. There is no spell check with the Internet cafes and Im on vacation so please take that into consideration when tripping over these posts.

Shopping: Apparently they do not believe in paper napkins or plastic spoons and knives. Living out of the grocery store is harder without these so it makes following our budget harder.

Hostels: Week 1 is over and its time for laundry. Trying to wash laundry in the sink does not work here in Ireland (everything is green for reason- nothing dries.)
breakfast included at the hostels means toast and jam. (free butter)

I know, all small things, and nothing really that can't be fixed. but at least all those out there in Internet land will get a good laugh. The only major problem that we cant seem to surmount is uploading pictures. Which is the main reason why this website exists ( to back up pictures to) so I am looking for a faster connection that can handle me uploading a couple of gigs of pictures (250 pictures in one week) maybe midnight at an internet cafe so that it is not so full. Until then all I can do is posts.
As they say here - cheers

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Europe 2005 - Kissed the Blarney Stone I Guess It's Time For a Post

Kissed the Blarney, Stone I guess its time for a post!
We are now in Ireland. We are planning for a drive up through Ireland ending in Belfast before flying to Scotland.
Blarney castle was cool. I felt like a little kid exploring the dungeons and caves beneath the castle. It was a good thing that L. and I had lights because it got dark fast down there. But the real reason anyone goes of course to kiss the same rock as everyone else. We heard one person exclaim that it tastes like chicken.
Since we are now in Ireland that means driving, and that means driving on the left side of the road. I didn't have trouble driving on the left since I'm used to one way roads. I had been paying attention to the road signs for our 4 days of walking in London so deciphering European signs was not bad. It took me about 4 hours or so to get used to the driver being on the right side of the car (it messes with your ability to keep the car in the center of the lane. I used a tip I read to line up the road with a sticker on the windshield and keep it there.) the hardest part is the narrowness of the lanes. There were some times that I had one tire on the center line and one tire on the edge of the road line and this was in our big mid-size car: a ford focus. The speed limit is 100 KPH (about 63 mph) but I was driving around 70 and pulling over when I could to let the locals pass. These roads would be considered mountain passes or the turning and driveways for the width. By the end of the day I got to enjoying them but I fully understand why european cars have tighter suspension.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Europe 2005 - Religious Experience

We did not have the London library on our list of things to see but after reading about it in the guide book we knew that we had to go. There are original scores there from Handel, Beethoven, and Mozart. Seeing all the scribbled out notes was nice to see that even the masters had to try a few times to get t right. The only handwriting that we could read out of the authors was for “Alice in Wonderland”. Now this trip also had parts that I just had to deal with, the 1st print of Shakespeare and the only copy of Beowulf reminded how much trouble I had with those in high school- just kidding.
I would have to say that one of the things that was looking forward to the most was going to the National Art Museum in London. There are more pictures there that L. and I studied in our art history classes then anywhere else. It was close to an religious experience getting to see them in person. There is just to many paintings there and we were just to tired to get around to them all so L and I made a list of the ones important to us and played a big game of hide and seek with the paintings. Since no pictures are allowed we bought post cards of them.
After all the running around we headed over to Piccadilly circus for some dinner and instead ran into opening night for “Batman Begins”. Complete with red carpet, movie stars and the Batmobile there is no way for us to escape Hollywood; Ahhhhhh. While here leslie and I have not seen any advertising for movies that were not American, with what appears to be about a couple of month delay. But for all the US influence I actually find it funny how much I like listening to the radio here. There is more rotation between music now and the older stuff as opposed to radio in the US where it seems they are pushing the same 10 songs every half hour.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Europe 2005 - Its a Small World After All

L. was really surprised when someone came up to us at the British museum and said "Hey" and my reply was "Wow, didn’t expect to see you here"? During graduation one of the guys that I had a class with figured out that he would be in London the same time we were for a work assignment. We pretty much left it at that not thinking it worth the trouble to try to meet up in such a large city with unknown schedules. We ended up spending the rest of the day together looking through the British museum (Rosetta stone, lots of mummies) and the Tower bridge.
Actually seeing the Rosetta stone was beyond words for me. Just knowing that before they found that there was no way to read hieroglyphs. This was also the first time of seeing things that I had learned about in my art classes with the Assyrian and Egyptian art.

Europe 2005 - We made it

Well we are here. After a little problem of lost luggage (that delayed us in the airport for 5 hours) we are now walking the streets of london (after spending 20 hours in airports and planes). I don't think that L. or I have ben hit with the fact that we are on vacation yet and can just relax. After school and getting ready for this trip for so long when we finally got out of the airport we realized that we had planned everything up to this point and had not decided any type of order for what to see first. With the lingering jet lag and not wanting to be cooped up we just decided to see what we could see walking around. Using the "tube" is so easy to get around, in the first day we walked the Millennium bridge, Tate Modern museum, the London eye, and a Dali museum. When we walked under one of the bridges along the Thames river it hit me that we were in London when we saw "Big Ben" and the house of Parliament.
London is a lot more familiar then I thought it would be. Yes cars on the wrong side of the road catches me off guard but they paint on the road for all the intersections to "look right" or “look left” to help you. In all reality it didn't take that long to get used to it since I am used to walking in Los Angeles or Pasadena with the one way roads where you have to look the other way. We have experienced the language barrier a little early. While buying our lunch I was told that it cost twunteen an' pound. thinking it was just the accent I asked him to repeat it and he said the same thing. I gave him 10 pounds and he asked for 2 more. So if anyone out there knows why twunteen means 12 then let me know. Something that is funny is the the only thing that is in the US that is universally metric - 2 liters of soda- is still sold in 2 liters here but a still a different shaped bottle (tall and skinny for the smaller 'fride I guess) I just thought it funny that the only thing that has the possibility of saving money on international packaging for coke or pepsi and it is still different. Well we have another day of walking ahead of us so thanks for looking at this post.
Sorry I can't upload any pictures, they have wireless here at the hostel that we are staying at but for some reason my phone cant connect to it correctly, and the computer that I am using does not have any USB.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Europe 2005 - Jet Lag Experiment

Well it is June 8, 2005 at 2:00 AM PDS (Pacific Daylight Savings Time) and 10:00AM BST (British Summer Time)
Our first stop is London, England which is -8 hours difference from California. We decided that we would attempt to decrease the effects of Jet Lag by going to bed on June 7, 2005 at 9:00PM and sleeping for 3 hours so we would wake up at 8:00AM London Time. So we have been awake now for two hours so far. We will then try and sleep some more during the day on June 8, 2005 and then stay up during the night, so we will sleep on our flight and arrive fairly alert in London on Friday June 10, 2005 at 6:00AM BST and be ready to see the sights!

We will update you and let you know if our experiment helped at all! We really hope so.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Europe 2005 - Our Lucky Day

Yesterday we continued our graduation celebration by going to the company Picnic at Six Flags Magic Mountain. The tickets were only $8 so we gathered together a group of 9 family members to go with us. We all had a great day and are now very exhausted! This was my mom's first time to ride on any kind of fast, looping roller coasters. She went on Batman and on Viper! We have a great picture of her smiling in terror on Viper!
Every year the company has an employee raffle and the prizes are usually pretty good! Well, we won this year and the prize couldn't have been more perfect for us! It is a $1,000 World Travel Gift Certificate! Can you believe how lucky that is. Now maybe we can stay in a hotel or two instead of staying in group hostels and camping every night!
We are in the final stages of preparations for the trip, only 4 days until we leave! I am so excited and still in disbelief that we are actually doing this!