Monday, April 18, 2011

My Cinematic Alphabet

Last month, one of my favorite movie blogs, "Rupert Pupkin Speaks", created his list of the best movies A-Z. I thought this sounded like a lot of fun and a challenge, but I had no idea how difficult it would be. How do I choose just one movie per letter? I can barely come up with a response to the question, "What's your favorite movie?" (I used to say "Paper Moon" just to be a bit of s snob, but truth be told it's probably "Vivre sa Vie" or "Heavy". See! I can't even pick one in my own blog and I still sound like a snob!). To make it easier, I picked the first movie that came to mind or grabbed my attention. It's interesting how many of them are somewhat personal to me; either in content or by association with a particular memory or person.

So, here goes:

A- All That Jazz

B- Bell, Book, and Candle

C- Cafe au Lait

D- Dr Zhivago

E- Edward Scissorhands

F- Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!

G- Ginger Snaps

H- Heavy

I- Immortal Beloved

J- Jason and the Argonauts

K- Killer Klowns from Outer Space

L- Last Days of Disco

M- Mallrats

N- Night Watch

O- Orlando

P- Pulp Fiction

Q- Quartermass and the Pit

R- The Red Violin

S- The Salton Sea

T- Tank Girl

U- Uncertainty

V- Vivre sa Vie

W- What About Bob?

X- X: The Unheard Music

Y- Yojimbo

Z- Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Red Light A-Go-Go

Day 7- Amsterdam

My confusion over when our flight was leaving results in our dropping the car off at 9 AM for what I thought was an 11:45 flight. It's 1:45- oops! We can't check in until 10:45 so we wait and wait. Positive note: I get a bit of knitting done. Finally, Duty Free awaits! I can buy liquor but not cigarettes when travelling between EU countries. Cigarettes are around 9 euro or about $13 a pack. Not sure exactly what I was thinking bringing only a half pack with me. Actually, I know exactly what I was thinking- "Hey! I have to order my smokes duty free since they don't sell them in the US anymore, so why not just buy some there?" Stupid. Thankfully, not smoking in the car or room has really curbed my habit! I smoked less than 2 packs during that week. Success!

My Sister's Travel Tip: When checking bags, only check to your next destination if you have an extended layover. This saves your bag from getting ahead of you and being detained in your final city. There would be nothing worse than finding out your bag has been unclaimed and sent back to the country of origin. Talk about a bummer.

It's a hop, skip, and a jump from Dublin to Amsterdam. Aer Lingus does not offer complementary beverages which was disappointing. What's a flight without my traditional ginger ale? I also don't need a customs voucher, thank you EU, but it makes me nervous.

I'm totally unprepared for Amsterdam. It's as if I forgot we were coming here. I didn't look up any maps, restaurants, things to see, or think of accommodation. Thankfully my sister did and booked us into a Christian hostel in the middle of the red light district. Ironic, no? I like the idea of a religious hostel. One assumes the people there will not sell you into torture porn or steal your toothbrush. Also, with an early 10 AM flight, I'm not interested in listening to people go at it like bunnies or stumble around after a visit to the "coffee" shops.

Our credit cards don't work at the kiosks for the train to Centraal Station. You need some kind of computer chip that our cards didn't have- more cash out of pocket.

Travel Tip #4: Take plenty of cash

Streets in Amsterdam are a welcome sight- street signs! The "idiot posts" as I've always called them, in the red light district all have "XXX" stamped on them. We learn later that the street our hostel is on is a good place to pick up trannies. Wonder what the Christian hostel thinks about that. Our room is nice and overlooks the courtyard. We have one roommate that we'll meet at the end of the night. She's from Canada and is leaving at a similar time as us the next day. She agrees to help us get to the airport on time since she brought an alarm clock. Travel Tip #5: Don't forget an alarm clock.

We head to Dam Square which houses the Royal Palace. Unfortunately, it's facade is under renovation. Before we lose the light completely we are able to take a few pictures of the monument there. It's amazing how many people are out and about on a Sunday and how many places are still open. We grab some french fries with roumalade sauce (tasted more like tartar sauce, but still good) and a falafel from a guy who looked like Liev Schrieber. So far, everything is cheaper in Holland than it was in Ireland.

There has to be something to do on a Sunday night, and we find it shortly after finishing our dinner- The Museum of Sex. For only 4 euro it's also the cheapest thing we've done all vacation! I have to tell you, I was skeptical of going. Not because I'm a prude, but because I didn't know what to expect. Was it serious? A joke? Turns out it's a bit of both. It was a lot of fun and we took some hilarious pictures.

It's still too early to turn in for the night so we hit up Cafe Cuba down the street from our hostel. It's dark and wooden and has an almost 50s underbelly vibe to it. Our bartender is adorable and we all take turns picking songs from the juke box. Oh, this juke box was amazing! Kind of like iTunes, you type in the song you want and create play lists. They had everything and we blast some Ludacris for our new friends. No sooner did I step out to the bathroom than my sister worked her magic and charmed some locals. We were instant friends, buy beers and playing stupid bar games. My sister is not a big drinker; in fact, this is the most she's drunk in her entire life combined (and we're talking a total of 9 drinks all week). I turn her on to Grolsch and before I know it she's downgraded from a pint to a half pint to a whisper (really cute 1/4 pint, more like a flight). She is boggled! [side note: my sister a bit schwasted is very amusing.] I kept saying, "You don't have to drink it. They're buying your more because you keep finishing it!"

By the time we get back to our room, it is stifling. The radiator will not turn off. We crack a window but it doesn't really help, even with the 30 degree air streaming in. We gain a 4th roommate who demands the window be shut. Ironically, this is the best my sister sleeps all trip.

Travel Tip #6: Ask about extra fees. Our hostel charged a 10 euro key deposit that would be returned on check out. Thank god I had a bit of cash. Also, bring your own lock and avoid having to buy one, even though they are relatively inexpensive.

I really want to come back here when I have more time. There's a bus tour that takes you out to the tulip farms, and windmills, and wooden shoe factories. There's a cheese maker as well! A gondala tour of the canals would be fun as well. Best bet is to rent a bike and ride until you can't ride anymore. Drinking is cheaper here as well by almost half. Our whole tab for about 4 beers was 11 euro, our dinner was 8.

Next: Home

Adieu to Ireland

The long delayed conclusion to my Ireland vacation:

Day 6- Cork

So far, Cork is unimpressive. It's a very industrial city and lacking the "brightness" of Galway. We try to visit the Butter Museum but it doesn't open until 10 AM. Hmmm... Wait around half an hour or get a move on to Dublin? 

Our B&B suggested we stop at the Rock of Cashel- an ancient castle and cathedral ruin. Once it was the seat of the ancient kings of Ireland. Now, this surprisingly well preserved ruin hosts tours most of the year. It's amazing to see. Cashel is a gem in the center of the country. We had a lovely lunch at Ladyswell along the main road and within walking distance of the ruin. I had the most delicious Mediterranean panini (with cole slaw of course) and my sister had the seafood chowder. I'm not sure how "chowdery" it was, but she said it was delicious.  

The rest of the trip North was uneventful. One thing that struck me odd was the radio. Irish radio is horrid. I will never complain about the lack of selection here for as long as I live. We literally heard the same 6 songs all week long. A sampling of the songs sponsoring our vacation:

- Enrique Iglesias "Tonight (I'm Loving You)- Of course, we sang the CD version "Tonight (I'm Fucking You) and this song has haunted me ever since we returned. I can't turn around without hearing it and when I do I must sing along. I even sang it for Suicide Karaoke. God, I love that song. Oh Enrique, when'd you get so dirty? It's even spawned a new verb "to iglesias", meaning to have sex. As in: You are totally getting iglesiased tonight.

- Jessie J "Money"- She hasn't really broken in the states yet, but I think her album is only just coming out. She was just in the last issue of Entertainment Weekly or Vogue or something and I saw her on Graham Norton not too long ago. I wasn't impressed, but now I feel I must inflict this song on everyone.

- Some techno/dance song that wanted to "take us higher off the ground". No idea.

- Bruno Marz "Grenade"- Sounds like the guy needs to get some self esteem.

- Adele "Rolling in the Deep"/"Someone Like You"- I fully admit to buying this album the other day. I can't escape it. She sounds amazing and I find her hilarious. Did you see her on "Chelsea Lately"? I tried to link to it, but my computer's acting up. Youtube it- trust me.

Now in Dublin, we're hunting for our next B&B which is located on Dublin Bay. It's a bit far out of the city but my main concern was getting to the car rental and airport on time. Regardless, there's a bus stop right across the street so we can leave the car it took me FOREVER to parallel park on the busy road. Our original B&B had plumbing issues that were as yet unresolved, but he booked us into another one a few doors down. The Sea Breeze is run by the tiniest old lady I've ever seen. How does she get up the stairs? Who changes the linen? These are questions probably best not to ask. Our room did have an excellent view of the bay but the room itself may have been the worst so far. Not bad, so much as old and out dated in more of a Salvation Army sense than an antique one.

After the required nap, we take the bus (1.80 euro) to the city center, or close enough really. All I want at this point is Indian food. I've been craving it something fierce all week. Problem is, we left all maps etc. in the room. I also still cannot find my camera charger. What the heck fire happened to it?! Wandering the streets of Temple Bar, in the rain, there is a beacon ahead in the form of a human directional. He is pointing to Shan Indian restaurant. God bless you sir. Now, get me a samosa! It's after 8 PM but there is only a large party in the dining room. I get a bit nervous but soon others arrive. I guess this is the place to go late.

It takes a while to get our food considering no one else is in the restaurant, but once it comes I don't really care. The samosa is flavorful and just a bit spicy. I have to Aloo Mutter (potatoes and peas) and my sister has the Saag Paneer (homemade cheese in spinach). I asked for mine spicy but that's not how it comes. Oh well... The assortment of chutney's is also very different from what I'm used to- slightly sweet lemon preserve, pickled onions, and something containing tamarind. Still, it was pretty good and just over 10 euros each.

We try for a pint at The Quay since we liked the one in Galway so much, but it is well over the legal limit of patrons. My stupid umbrella gets caught in several peoples jackets. It was also very expensive. We skedaddled back across the river to find someplace more cozy and closer to where we needed to pick up the bus home. Thankfully, the drizzle has finally let up. I can't remember the name of the bar we ended up at! It was fun with two levels. We almost went into this place next door called... Poets Corner? Poet Laureate? Something about literature. Before we know it though, it's time to catch the bus back before it stops running and start packing for Amsterdam. We're planning to leave our large bags at the airport, so stuffing all essentials into our carry on's is a chore. I'm starting to run low on funds.

I've eaten cole slaw at almost every meal in Ireland. People seem obsessed with it. Is this a new transport from abroad? I was even asked if I already knew I liked it before they would serve it to me. So cute. "Honey, I'm from Texas. We eat this by the bucket full!" For the most part, cole slaw here has a lot of mayonnaise. It was nice at first, I'm not used to real mayo, but eventually I just wanted to drain out much of it. A soft hand in cole slaw is often best I think. I've also lost count on the number of eggs I've eaten. Every breakfast and then on accident other times (stupid yummy quiche). If I never see another egg....

Next: This is the end or Hello Amsterdam!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Kiss it! Kiss it!

Day Five- Blarney and Cork

**Another car game- There are no signs in Ireland. I guess people just know where to go. When you do see a sign, yell, "Reassuring sign!" and point out the window.**

It's an early day and we're off toward Cork, or final city. County Clare has the best roads in all of Ireland. They are more frequently marked, paved, and have lines painted on them. Praise be Clare! On our way to Blarney Castle, we pass this bit of ruin on the side of the road. No sign, no anything until you park. It was beautiful.

We finally stopped to eat in a small town called Buttevant (tee hee) at Lyla's Kitchen on the main road. Good, full Irish vegetarian breakfast. I think I'm going to turn into an egg after all the ones I've eaten. Every morning, it's what's for breakfast. I never want to see another delicious egg for months! The bathroom is a venerable outhouse. You have to wind your way outside, it's kind of cool.

The sun comes back out (we really lucked out for weather) when we reach Blarney. I don't think I knew what to expect, but I was surprised at how vast the grounds were. We have the most fun climbing all through the castle, up to the top to kiss the stone. I had been warned by multiple people not to actually kiss it, but I don't think I would have needed to be told. I just have to close my eyes and think of the tens of thousands of people that come through there, not to mention local trouble makers, to never want to physically touch the stone. It's amazing how far back you have to lean. Were it not for the guy holding on to me, I think hundreds would fall to their death annually. It was actually a bit scary!

Our B&B in Cork City is located outside the downtown area, which is an island. Kent House turned out to be one of our larger rooms, but the view was of the train station. Who cares really? I'm not here to sit in my room. If it's clean, I'm happy. We take another nap, a reoccurring theme, then are off in search of dinner. Cork is largely industrial, though there is a college there and some nice shopping. The downtown area reminded us of the Santa Monica Promenade- mostly fashion chains and some fast food. No bars. Are we still in Ireland?! Once again we get lost trying to find our restaurant but thankfully it is still open when we get there.

The Quay Co-op was the other vegetarian restaurant on my list of musts. It was recommended by several people as well. Again, we are served a heaping plate of food and no way to take it back with us. Such a bummer. I had a spinach and cottage cheese quiche, coleslaw, and green salad. I tried this Elderflower soda and it was amazing! Slightly sweet with only a hint of the floral taste you might expect. I wish we sold it here in the states! Everything was super yummy.

We walked about a bit and tried to remember where we were told a couple bars were at. In keeping with our themes, we left our pocket map at the B&B. Giving up, we head back towards sleep and stop in at a pub along the way. It must be 8-2 male. Of course, all the big rugby matches are going on the same week we're there as well as horse racing, so the sports bars have been packed. We met a fiance at his bachelor party dressed as a leprechaun, poor thing.

All in all, Galway has been the best city so far. It's location is perfect to explore the whole west coast of Ireland and the night life can't be beat.

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Day Four- Cliffs of Moher and Every Body's Irish

**This is Bunratty Castle, but you can't throw a rock without hitting a bit of castle or a bit of ruin. Another car game: Yelling out "Bit of castle!" or "Bit of ruin!" We also saw a bit of Castle with row houses built off of it. Must be easy giving directions: Just go to the bit of castle and count down 4 doors.**
The sun is shining when we leave and we're hoping for another slightly warm day as we head south to the Cliffs of Moher. The roads from Galway through The Burren are tough to say the least. Most are barely wider than one American lane and the speed limits 100 km (about 70 mph). What drunkard came up with that? There is a lot of deep inhales and held breath as we pass cars barreling towards us. The drive is beautiful though. Even the seriously dangerous curves are no match for how we're feeling. At least most of these roads are paved, right?

It's overcast once we get up the cliffs (214m or about 702 ft) and the wind is trying to push us off the edge. Still, it is a beautiful sight. You can see the passage of time in the striations of the cliff face. There is a bit of a museum attached, mostly talking about climate change and wildlife but it's interesting. The visitors center boasts it's Green initiatives which I full support. Our geek-dom highlight at the end is the ridge where parts of "The Princess Bride" were films. As you wish!!!

We get more interesting directions to the famous Dolman further into The Burren. Here, an estimated 300 bodies (all ash- the Celts cremated) were found buried in the tomb. Now, it just hangs out and we took a lot of pictures. Heading back down the cliffs, the sun comes back out and it warms up a bit. We stop in Ballyvaughan at The Soda Parlor for lunch. Really yummy crepes and milkshakes. After a quick nap at home, we're off to celebrate the most famous Englishman in Ireland.

There are people everywhere. If you live in a major city, it looks the same. College kids stumbling down the street, spilling beer on themselves and others. People taking their glass outside and dropping it, even though every bar offers plastic cups. It's loud and cold and fun. Our first stop was The King's Head. On any other night I think it could have been a nice place to hang out, but tonight it was full of college kids and we're just a bit too old for that. We grab a slice of amazing pizza then head to The Front Door (also in the guidebook, FYI). Here was more our crowd. It was packed to the gills, but after grabbing a Smithwicks for me and a Bulmers for my sister, we found a smoking patio on the 2nd floor. New Yorkers will recognize this patio as nothing more than a pass through to another building, but it has been re-appropriated for use with the bar.

Lesson I already knew but learned again from a drunk Irish girl: Guys are full of shite and lie.

For some reason, many people we've met along the way so far have thought we were Australian. They also commend us on waiting to visit until after Obama was elected, as our reception would not have been so nice. You're welcome America.

We meet some native Dublinites out showing their Canadian friend around and have some savage craic (sounds like crack- i.e. a really good time and good conversation). I totally want to bring this word back to the states. I love it!

Sadly, we are back at the B&B and getting ready for bed at 11:45. This has already been a lot of driving, and we're back at it again tomorrow. I really loved Galway and would come back for a few more days again. We never got out to the Aran Islands, and there is some beautiful country side and attractions North of the city. I'll keep my fingers crossed I have the opportunity again.

Next: Good Roads and Kissing the Stone


Day Three- Newgrange

**Everywhere we turn, there are sheep. It's become a game. We randomly yell out "Sheep!" or "Cow!" or "Baby Sheep!", as if we've never seen these animals before in our life. It's ridiculous and so much fun. **

Just North of Dublin is one of the oldest ancient relics still standing. Older than Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids. The tombs at Newgrange, Knowth, and Dowth are something everyone should see before they die. Just the thought that Stone Age man made these amazing and precise astrological artifacts is mind blowing. Even more, the landscape is breathtaking. It should go without saying that we get lost. Let me back up a bit for a second.

There is a saying amongst my circle of friends as well as my family, "Never doubt me". I always speak the truth and only speak what I know to be the truth. Am I sometimes wrong? Sure, who isn't. But, 9 times out of 10 I'm right. So, even though the street we're on hasn't listed a sign in miles I am still right in thinking we're going the right way. Getting places is interesting with two opposing personalities, lets just leave it at that.

When we finally make it to Brú na Bóinne (the visitors center). Our tour guide is amazing. He has a very dry humor we found delightful. You climb 2m up into the tomb and he places us around like human tetris in the chamber. Once arranged, he tells us how during the Winter Solstice, at dawn; the sun hits the entrance to the tomb and illuminates the interior like fire. There is a demonstration, hence our tetris organizing, played out with a light bulb. I actually get goosebumps. I love this place. Have you ever just felt connected to something? Sometimes its something you never thought you would connect with. Maybe it's a piece of your heritage. Whatever it is, I hope it happens for each of you at least once. I didn't want to leave. My sister asked if she could lie down in the tomb to see out the keystone set above the door. If we weren't afraid to get dirty (not us!), sure. YEA!!! I believed him when he said our feet were now at level with our head outside, but when you lay down and see little heads bobbing past, through a corridor that your brain tells you you should not be able to see out of, it's amazing. I only wish we could have taken pictures.

Ireland is not known for its motorways. There are a few, mostly from Dublin to Belfast, Dublin to Cork, and Dublin to nowhere. It's the last one we're on while trying to get to Galway. Unfortunately, it's partially closed and we get lost in Athelone. To make matters worse, we're hungry. Thanks to the fine folks at Leahy's Grocery in Navan we find our way around the construction. Truly lovely people, who invited us into their office to print and draw out better maps for us. Damn GPS! We are on the highlighted route! We come to find later, that Athelone is the apparent joke of the country- all those who live in the interior are "un-sound". this becomes a theme for the trip.

Finally get to Galway. We're staying in Salthill just outside the city center and near the water. The Ard Mhuire B&B is to be our home base for two days and the room and proprietor are both lovely. Had it been warmer, we could have walked to the Bay. We head into "downtown" Salthill for dinner at The Oslo, a nice micro-brewery and restaurant along the Bay. I had the lentil burger with fries and their house ale- yummy! Afterward, we head into Galway to the bar district and stop at The Quays which I found out later is a bit famous and in all the guidebooks. You wouldn't know it going in though which was nice. What I mean to say is, it was busy but proportionately more local than tourist. We met some nice gentlemen from Sligo who told us all about the "un-sound" people of the interior and to avoid Limerick, aka Stab City. Coming from Murderville myself, I wasn't worried; but better safe than sorry. Once the live music started (7 nights a week), the place got really packed and we left to crash back at the B&B.

Tomorrow: Princess Bride and St. Pat's

Viva Dublin

Day Two- Dublin

Always take a Xanax on the plane if one is offered to you. Even if you think to yourself, "I'm really tired. Sleeping will be no problem!" You are wrong. So, we arrive in Dublin tired and hungry. The customs line moves quickly and I refrain from writing my nationality as "white" like a friend of mine did on about as little sleep. Instead, just thinking about it sends me into giggles.

When buying a package vacation deal, it's important to read the fine print and ask questions. Picking up our rental car was an experience. I expected to pay a bit more- I knew there was a local tax that was not included in the deal- but I had no idea how much more. As foreign drivers we had to buy supplemental insurance, of which there are two choices: You can purchase the accident insurance which is 1600 euro UP FRONT, refundable to you later; or you can pay 15 euro a day for full coverage against pretty much anything. I almost started crying. She gives us the daily rate at 12 euro and we have to take it. Grrr... We also decide to get the GPS since our maps are crap (more on that later as well) and the rental agent takes pity on us again and gives it to me for 4 euro instead of 10 a day. Double Grrr. Even better, it won't stay on it's mount so my sister has to hold it the whole time. Not helpful.

Driving on the left isn't so bad except it ended up taking me two days to get comfortable with my mirrors. I keep turning on the windshield whippers instead of my turn signal. Dublin roads weren't the worst we drove but they were far from the best. Street signs, if you're lucky enough to even have them, are located on the sides of buildings. Problem is, they were probably put up in the 20s and haven't been changed since. Most are impossible to read and the English names seem much smaller than the Irish. How do you find anything when the houses don't list numbers? Thank god for GPS and our B&B booklet giving us coordinates for each!
We are WAY too early to check into our B&B so we head into the city. My sister wants to visit a couple museums and I'm all about the Guinness. More complications- parking. There are a bunch of car parks, but the prices vary so significantly its hard to know when you're getting a good deal or when you're being gouged. Frustrated and about to stab the GPS, I just pull into the next car park we find. I've already backed out of two of them and one was on a "street" so narrow, the guy loading beer into his bar started laughing at us. When we leave, the 6-hour fare was about 22 euro- GASP!

Dublin is a maze unto itself. There doesn't appear to be any logical grid system or any system in place. Streets change name while still posting the original name. You can't do that! We get lost, a lot. Finally make it to Trinity College. Other than Guinness, all I wanted to do in Dublin was see the Book of Kells. The college is gorgeous and the book very interesting. It's amazing how detailed and old it is. Such beautiful artwork. Afterward, we head by Dublin Castle to the Chester Beatty Library. It houses some of the oldest books and art, and has been named one of Europe's Best Museums. Even better, it's free! The main exhibit was of the Shahnama, a 60,000 verse epic poem over 1000 years old! The art work is amazing and many of the stories can be traced forward to our own mythology and fairy tales. One in particular is just like Rapunzel. The Library also houses ancient religious works from around the world. Very interesting.

Checking our map (thanks Tourism Centre!), we decide to walk to the Guinness Storehouse. In true Dublin fashion, most of the signs have been blown or knocked off course so you're never quite sure you're going the right direction. We finally find it and have an amazing time. It is evident why it is the #1 tourist destination in Dublin. The Storehouse takes you on a 7 floor journey through the making and history of Guinness, ending in a free pint in the Gravity Bar with 360 degree views of Dublin. Amazing. The pint leaves me energized and ready to head for lunch!

Our must stop lunch location is Cornucopia, a vegetarian restaurant in the heart of the city. The prices freaked me out a bit (everything looks normal until you factor in the exchange rate), but there was enough food for two meals- score! I had the grilled leek and polenta cake with garlic new potato salad (with hazelnuts! Genius!) and coleslaw. Of the many coleslaws I ate, I think this was my favorite. It might also be that it was my first and they are heavy on the mayo in Ireland. After a few days, all you want to see is some dry cabbage.

Finally, it's time to check into our B&B.  Muckross House in Drumcondra is convenient to the city center and the airport. Our host was lovely and suggested some pubs around the corner for later. We passed out for a few hours, ate left overs, then headed in the direction of beer. Travel Tip #2: Do not tip waitstaff. They make a decent wage and it confuses them. Plus, then you're out of a few euro you could have used to buy another half pint. It's super cold at night here too. About 30 F in the day but the wind picks up at night. I'm thankful I packed both a long and short winter coat. We head back to the B&B and pass out again. Tomorrow is a long day of driving.

Next: Newgrange and Galway