Ring of Kerry

Ring of Kerry
Between Killarney and Kenmare

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Life is but a series of distractions

“If you snort nuts, do you still get the nutrients from it?”
This is the kind of distraction I am now faced with while trying to write to you dear reader.
I’m sure you have noticed and are most aggrieved by my absence of late. This is because I have had an avalanche of visitors bringing change and new biorhythms to my solitude.
Here’s another quip just heard (in squeaky patronising voice): “My name’s Sue. I like writing.”
“Porridge and yoghurt isn’t as good as oats and yoghurt... it’s just kind of warm and gooey.”
A little over a week ago, my daughter arrived (18). The next day, my mum and my big sister...and two days later, one of my oldest (and very dear) friends – the friendship is old, we are not – and her husband also stopped by.
Wow, some change. It was great. Party time!!! Touring time!! Road trip!! Laughing fits!! High-5s (do people still do that or am I extraordinarily daggy?)
Twas a whirlwind of social engagements. Where’s the paparazzi?
But short-lived. All but one has left (can you guess which remains?)
Only a week left of my big sojourn. However, I have merely scratched the surface with this blog and do intend to keep blogging to fill in the gaps. I am inconsistent with this...but will prevail.

On the road again

Ireland is a compact country. If you google (the term now replacing ‘look up’) distances in Ireland from place to place, you will see that it’s not very far to go from, say Galway to Dublin: 200 kilometres – and that’s almost the full width of the country.
But Irish Roads, like many of other aspects of this country, are not quite what they seem.
Roads outside of motorways are all single-lane two-way with no overtaking lanes (that’s N roads and R roads). They are also often very narrow.
The Irish, I have deduced, are very sensitive about “their land” (for good reason). They like to mark out boundaries very clearly and as my daughter observed yesterday, “There are more walls in Ireland than sheep.”
The consequence of all this clarity is that on most of the roads, there is no verge – no spare space to pull over – not a scrap of it. In fact, there will usually be a wall or a high hedge or some trees along both sides of the road – so not only can you not pull over, but often you can’t see very far ahead. The result? Many blind corners.
So, when it says on the map that it’s just 40 kilometres to the next castle, that’s not the Australian version of driving.
You would be very lucky to sit on 70 for most of the trip. Oh, and did I mention that no towns are bypassed. Speed limit in towns? 50ks.
Speed limit outside of towns – mostly 100ks! This can be translated in two ways (Apply Irish accent):
“Go on – we dare you!” or “Well, if you really must go 100, then alright then, we’ll let you. But we’d like to see how you get along with that. It’s madness altogether.”
PS: Incidentally, they still sell that product “I can’t believe it’s not butter” here. Can you believe that?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

More on Edinburgh...but I'm actually in Galway now.

What was I thinking, trying to combine holiday with a discipline like writing! It's so easy to spend the time just wandering around and breathing it all in.
On my first full day in Edinburgh - I did some writing in the morning then went to the Scotland National Gallery - this was a treat - saw some wonderful Gaugins that I had never seen before - some Bernini sculptures (in miniature) that I had seen the full version of at the Galeria Borghese in Rome! Also, an extraordinarily beautiful set of four embroidered panels done by a female Scottish artist - they were so amazing I must had stood there for 10 minutes.

I went to the shop afterwards to get the postcards but the one that I liked the best they hadn't reproduced as a postcard and also they lost something in reproduction and just weren't as stunning. Because all the texture was lost in the photographic image.

I saw a poor young boy, probably about my son's age, sitting in the rain begging. It nearly broke my heart. I felt like saying to him - get out of the rain you silly bugger. But I'm sure that was part of the plan.

I thought, if he's still there when I come back out of the gallery I'll give him some money...but he was gone - so I guess he got some donations and hiked it to a warm place. Makes you wonder.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The good word

I saw a man reading a bible in the airport departure lounge and I wondered...was that his bible or had he a filched a Gideon’s from his hotel room? He didn’t look particularly religious – meaning he wasn’t wearing a dog collar or anything (what’s with that anyway?). But it certainly stood out for me.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Please pay attention as we demonstrate the safety features of this aircraft

Does anyone NOT know how to fasten your seatbelt? The airlines think so. However, those in that minority group would certainly be travelling with someone who DOES know how to fasten a seatbelt and will make sure that theirs is fastened. Possible worst case scenarios: A kidnapper flying with his kidnapee – a child – does not care enough about his victim to fasten said seatbelt. Would a hostess or steward see that the child is in imminent danger and a) fasten the seatbelt themselves or b) instruct kidnapper to fasten seatbelt? I think so. Scenario 2: Recently rescued man raised by wolves is being flown to large metropolis for a) corporate exploitation b) reprogramming c) a hot bath. Said man does not know how to fasten a seatbelt. Would the vigilant steward or stewardess whose job it is to walk the aisles prior to takeoff and landing, making sure that EVERY seatbelt is fastened miss this anomaly? Perhaps if a) the wolfman/boy is super hairy b)aggressive or c) has a jacket on his lap.

Can I ask – do we even need to wear seatbelts on flights? The only theory I would venture as to why this is so necessary is in case the plane hits an air pocket and drops suddenly. Would your seatbelt protect you from lifting up off your seat six inches (in my case) and banging your head on the stuff up there (the roof)? Tell me dear reader.

Because, in the case of car seatbelts, they are purposeful in holding you in place in the event of a collision with something where the force pushes you forwards or sideways. But, that’s not really the situation in the air is it? Although an aircraft could crash into another vehicle whilst on the ground. Help me out here....is this it? Or, is it just something that was thought necessary at the beginning of the flight era and has never really been thought through again since?

By the way...I have tried to fix things so you can comment now if you like. Give it a try. :)

Monday, June 7, 2010

Arrivaderci Roma!

Wow, that went fast! A week in Rome is like a blink – and I guess that’s a truism in more ways than one – considering the history of this place.
Walking is definitely par for the course. There are many options for getting around, but in this city, everywhere you look, every small corner of earth is covered by a monument, a great dome, an extraordinary church, an obelisk. It is, to pull out an old cliché (tautology I know), a feast for the senses. Better not to miss anything by being behind a wheel.
Of course, after all that walking you have sore feet, a tired back and are a little grimy and jostled – and that’s when you take your refuge in the enormous number of good trattoria. Take a glass of red wine (euro 2-3), a pasta, a delicious pizza or something more complex. Follow it with panna cotta or crème caramel or fresh strawberries with gelato and a nice short espresso. Pow. You’re ready to go again.
Walk for another half hour and stop for a gelato – limone e cioccolato (got that?) – my favourites.
In the morning it’s more coffee and a brioche – a pastry – donut, chocolate or jam croissant perhaps? Or a shortbread biscuit – the choices are all sweet and delicious. Setting you up for another day of walking – thank goodness – otherwise the pounds would be piling on.
Arrivaderci Roma – I had two coffees at the airport this morning as I’m off to Edinburgh and I don’t like my chances!!

Non Parla Italiano

I feel crap. I want to know more Italian but it’s such a quick trip, and I did it on the spur of the moment, so I don’t have a phrasebook and I’m blundering my way through the Italian language – pillaging and borrowing – and every time I try to think of the word, either a French or German one pops in to my head instead. Grrr. Yesterday, I dropped into a charming-looking cafe in the Villa Borghese – which is a giant park at the top of Roma – near where I’m staying. I’ve been warned off walking through that park at night by my concierge, so I wanted to ask if this place did dinner. I thought if I ate there, there would be other patrons around and safer to walk back to the hotel. Bongiourno! I declare to the barista. Parla Inglese? (Do you speak English?). No. Oh. He says: Parla Italiano? No. An impasse. I smile but that doesn't work. Then he has a little spurt to me about why should I speak English, you don’t speak Italian! Anyway, I push on, asking if they open for dinner...and one of the other guys helps out and says no only lunch. So, I leave. However, I feel like shit because I really wish I did speak better Italian. However, this guy is in the service industry in the tourist trade. Rome has millions of tourists. This is a very popular place for tourists. I am here for 6 days. If I were here for longer, I would deffo learn the language – it’s a nice rhythmic one. I shed a little tear of “poor me”. Then get over myself! Maybe he was just having a bad day.

Telstra called. They want to let you know they still think you’re just a number.

In the middle of the night, the mobile rang. It was Telstra. In fact, it was quite extraordinary. A female robot from Telstra – she sounded so real. They had me fooled for a while there. But it was soon apparent because the robot it faulty – they’ve forgotten to include an all-important human trait – empathy. Here’s how our conversation went:
4am Irish Time
Ring, ring
Me: (sleepy voice) Hello?
Robot: Hello, it’s xxxx xxxxxx from Telstra, I’m calling about your bill. It’s overdue.
Me: I’m overseas, at the moment. It’s the middle of the night.
Robot: It’s in the amount of $130.
Me: Is that for the phone?
Robot: It’s for the phone and the internet recently connected. How would you like to pay for this. Can you give me your credit card details.
Me: No. I’m am not giving you my credit card details. It’s the middle of the night. I am in Ireland. You woke me.
Robot: Do you want an extension?
Me: It can’t be that overdue, I paid bills before I left in early May.
Robot: I can give you a 24-hour extension to pay.
Me: I will get my husband to pay the bill. Can you give me a bit longer?
Robot: 48 hours?
Me: Can you give me till the end of the week? I AM OVERSEAS.
Robot: OK, then.
Me: Goodbye.
Did anyone hear any empathy in there? I swear that is the conversation. Not once did she apologise for waking me up. I was so angry after that I couldn’t get back to sleep. Thanks Telstra – I will be disconnecting when I get home – no extensions.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Rome. Wonderful one day, rubbish the next.

Feeling a bit unimpressed with Rome today. It's now the end of my fourth full day. The language barrier is a problem. There are not many English speakers here - apart from around the very over-populated tourist parts. But, as soon as you get away from those, it's arrivaderci bilingual-ness, hello 'non-parla Inglese'. I shouldn't complain...after all I can't speak Italian, why should I expect them too. But, could ya just try...a little? There are a lot of tourists here in Rome - the eternal city, the cradle of civilisation.
Here's some fun I had yesterday.
Found a magnificent paticceria, couldn't wait to patronise it but soon found it had a near unworkable system for ordering, paying etc etc, if you can't speak Italian. Because, a girl wearing some sort of rustic scarf has to serve you the cakes or biscuits (a pointing arrangement if you don't know what they are called)...and there are a range of charges depending on whether you help your self, you stand to eat, you eat outside or you sit and get waited on. I'm not sure what the range of charges is...cause it was all sort of, explained to me by the one person who had a little grasp on English - in a very big shop with a very large staff. In the end, I ordered a smoothy from the counter (for which I was charged 8 euro!) and then ordered coffee etc from the table and paid extra because I couldn't be bothered trying to work the system.
However I went back for breakfast the next day. Now it was super busy..and of course no discernable queueing system. Everyone just trying to jump in there and get served.
So, I get a guy to give me a pastry on a plate. Yay, now I just need to order coffee. There are maybe 12 people waiting for coffees in a narrow little corridor with a thousand others trying to get past. Complete chaos.
OK...I'll go out and sit down and order my coffee from the waiter. Problem solved. No...for some reason - today - or is it that it's breakfast time? - there's no table service. Right.
I eat my pastry. I sit. I contemplate.
I go back inside and now I get another pastry and, this time, I am given a docket by the girl. Then I order coffee from the 2nd person and pay for the whole lot - except I didn't pay for that first pastry. But, it's so crazy that they wouldn't know their asses from their t**s. So, now we're even.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Welcome to Rome

Well, have really stocked up on great coffee now – haven’t slept for days. Welcome to Rome.
Actually, here’s how I arrived. After my very comfortable Aer Lingus flight from Cork (including some all-important inflight shopping and Pringles*), we land at Rome Da Vinci airport and are met by immediate chaos. It seems Sunday nights are busy nights for arrivals here? Or is it just me?
I feel that I have some reasonable experience as a traveller but never have I witnessed the complete shit-fight (excuse the French) to get through immigration.
There was literally a mob of people – I would venture easily a thousand – waiting to go through immigration. There’s the EU and the non-EU (that’s us) – and no-queueing system – so just this massive great lump of people not really moving. Why? Because, half of the positions are closed. Hmmm.
So, we get into our respective blobs and, about five minutes later, while we’re corralled there clearly not moving, about another 200 people arrive.

Their blob tries to merge into our blob and the Italian tempers start to fray. Yelling ensues and much gesturing ensues...to no avail, of course. The merge is inevitable. Like water seeping into rock.

Us non-EU types are looking pretty tame, and we’re moving even slower than them because, I assume, we get asked questions at the end, such as “How long are you staying in Rome?”. “What is the purpose of your visit?” Yada yada yada.

Even so, I'm a little concerned - there are so many of us.

So, there’s a youngish, tallish, Italian-ish looking guy in front of me. I look at him closely – jeans, t-shirt , backpack, sneakers, calm...and flight centre documents. “You an Aussie?”
He turns and grins, “How’d you tell?”
Great – I’ve got my “protector”.
He doesn’t know it, but I’m sticking to him like glue till we get through this mess. He’s come from Ireland too, where he was visiting friends and now to Italy to visit family. Again – great.
Like a human slipstream I stay behind him, not too close, but just close enough to feel a bit more certain in the mass of human sprawl.
When I finally squeeze through and make it to the counter 45 minutes later, the glamorous Roman just stamps my passport and smiles. Welcome to Rome.

*I only eat Pringles on airplanes.