Monday, March 29, 2010

Shades of Grey: The Road to High Saffron (Shades of Grey, #1) Shades of Grey: The Road to High Saffron by Jasper Fforde

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Jasper Fforde has done it again! He has created a totally new series that is startling in its strangeness and while it is lacking in the hilarity of his previous works, it is compelling and thoughtful.

Eddie Russett lives in a world far in the future where lives are defined by the color you see or don't see. There is a power struggle going on, a cruel struggle of those who see color against those who don't see any. It is a world of social order where rules are followed without being questioned and technology is abandoned by order of the government.

But Eddie is a questioner. And there the trouble begins.

This book is quite a departure for Fforde as it is much darker than his other works, but it is an excellent read.

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Driving Tips and Suggestions for Visiting Ireland

Here are some tips and suggestions for having a pleasurable experience while driving in Ireland:

  1. It takes two. One person to drive, one to navigate (unless you do the smart thing and get GPS). Why? See Item 2.

  2. Signs. Ireland is a country of confusing signs, no signs, or signs with so much text that you think James Joyce wrote them. You can't drive and read the signs at the same time essentially. Learn to speed read. Plus the signs are both in Irish and in English. Signs might be on the left-hand side of the road or as in the case of the photo below, on the right-hand side. We were looking for the N20 and N21. That sign was on the opposite side of the street.

Green signs indicate motorways. These photos of signs show what you see approaching a roundabout. A huge sign with lots of city names in two languages and lots of arrows. You know you need to figure something out because there is a major roundabout coming up. So you start leaning forward and trying to pick out your town, your next highway number!

Here is a view of a sign with several city names close up.

Irish signs have lots of information. Learn how to speed read and look ahead.

Most often, what will happen is this: you will be driving and all of sudden you will approach a roundabout and you will have about 3 seconds to read the sign and decide which exit to take. You can always stay on the roundabout and go around again! Or, your navigator can keep their eyes peeled for signs which usually only appear AT THE ROUNDABOUT (which in my opinion is too late!) and must try to discern your next city from as far away as their syesight will allow.

3. Color of signs: Brown indicates an item of interest like a castle, abbey, etc. They will also have a little graphic to tell you what the item is (castle = castle, etc.). Advice: There is a sign that shows a crown with a bicycle. We never did figure that one out. Fred thought it meant "You're effed." I think it means bike trail to the castle. But, don't use the car to follow it!

Another piece of advice: Avoid all signs to visit famous wells. What is a well? It is a hole in the ground with water in it. A castle or an abbey is easy to find if you get lost. They stick up out of the ground and are easily sighted. A well. Nope. As Fred says, "You're effed." Trust us. We tried to find St. Brendan's Well and it did not end well, so to speak. Avoid all wells.

4. Driving the ring of Kerry: Do it in a counterclock wise direction. You will be following the motorcoaches, but trust me, you want to do that. It is much better to be behind a bus than in oncoming traffic forced to back up on a narrow lane with your lane being the on that is on the cliff side having to reverse to let the big ass bus by! See yesterday's post for a video on what to expect driving the ring of Kerry. Here's the video again of what to expect when you drive the ring of Kerry.

5. Be prepared for anything: Livestock on the road, children on the road, being behind a truck that is carrying a huge load of hay. Ireland is a big country, but it's highway system feels like country roads, small town.

Insert photo of hay truck

6. Back up: Be willing to back up. You are going to miss your turn, take the wrong exit, overshoot or mess it up. But you are in beautiful Ireland. Shrug it off. Find a turnaround and reverse it.

7. If you see a castle sign, follow it: You never know what you will find! More on castles in a later post!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Driving in Ireland

Driving in Ireland takes nerves of steel, which I don't have. Fortunately, my husband does. So, he drove all 750 miles from Dublin to Shannon, around the ring of Kerry and to the many small castles that we decided we needed to see.

Here is a short video of the very tight roads that he had to navigate on the ring of Kerry.

Another thing that you have to be prepared for in Ireland is that at any moment livestock might wander out on the road. So BE PREPARED!

All in all, we had a lovely time driving around. It was only stressful half the time: when we got to a roundabout and had to decide which way to turn! But, I'll tell you more about that in my post on Irish signage. The main thing to remember is it really does take two to drive in Ireland, although with GPS, this may be going away. The second thing to remember is if you make a wrong turn, you are on vacation, so don't worry, just turn around at the next corner and try again.

And finally, if you know you can't drive on the wrong side of the road and your spouse can, don't be a pill and give lots of annoying, aggravating "suggestions." I'm sure I broke that on occasion, but I tried really hard to not be a back seat driver. It's a really tough job and they don't need your help, unless of course they are on the wrong side of the road (which did happen once!) and in that case: Scream away!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Ireland: Two Days in Dublin

Day 1: Christ Church Cathedral and Dublin Castle (Chester Beatty Library)

We started our day in Dublin by checking into our B&B The Azalea Lodge,which was wonderful. Right off Bernadette told us which bus to catch to get into Dublin and we were on our way for a bit of lunch (see previous post on Avoca). The Azalea Lodge is rated #1 on Trip Advisor for B&Bs for Dublin and I can see why: it was shiny clean, the bed was uber comfortable and Bernadette was super helpful in both recommendations for dining and how to get around. We arrived at 10 am and Bernadete was waiting for us, made us a pot of coffee, had scones for us and explained how to get around and where to eat. While the B&B is outside the city center, it is a short bus ride in. We missed the first breakfast as we overslept, but our second day we were able to partake and Bernadette puts out an amazing spread. The only odd thing is that there are no face cloths, but I am going to email Bernadette about that. We weren't there long enough for it to be a problem and I wasn't sure if it was an Irish thing or not so I wanted to wait until I went to other B&Bs to see. The Azalea Lodge is a true treasure, in my opinion.

We walked to Christ Church Cathedral first. It was very beautiful. We were particularly pleased to hear the organ being played while we were walking around!

I love this photo because of the soft lighting. There is a very small Spanish style house in our neighborhood that has a ceiling like this (on a much less grand scale!). I love it!

Our next stop was Dublin Castle and the Chester Beatty Library, which was voted the best museum in Europe! My particular interest was in the illustrated manuscripts, but they also have illuminated copies of the Qur'an and Egyptian papyrus texts. Because you can't take photos inside, I just have a photo of the sign outside.

Day 2 Breakfast

We slept in and unfortunately missed Bernadette's lovely breakfast and so went to The Cheese Pantry.

I was particularly pleased with my coffee which you can see from the photo below is very strong and creamy. I think it was really a double espresso. The breakfast was just fine, but the coffee was the thing!

Overall, we were a bit disappointed in Irish salmon. The Scottish salmon is much better tasting.

The big day was here: my trip to see the Book of Kells! That was the purpose of the trip for me. Being a librarian, I have always wanted to see the Book of Kells, which is the most famous illustrated manuscript (to see some images of the pages click here).

It was an amazing library. Not only did it have an educational lead up that gave you an intricate knowledge of the book and illustrated manuscripts in general, but they had videos on how to make vellum, how to bind a book like the Book of Kells. They had a video of someone writing in that style of calligraphy with the sound up loud so that you could hear the scratching of the nib on the vellum. You had to step up to the room where the book was held. Sort of like entering a throne room. Fred said it was smaller than he expected. I just loved it. It was amazing. It wasn't as vibrant as I thought it would be, but it was exceedingly fabulous.

St. Patrick's Cathedral and Park was full of people on St. Patrick's day. It was a lovely day for the parade. The cathedral itself was lovely. I prefer Christ Church, smaller and more intimate.

Although, Jonathan Swift was the Dean of St. Pat's. That has to matter for something! Turns out he was quite a guy. He pointed out the hypocritical priests who were getting drunk and acting immorally and held them accountable. He really was a guy with a high moral standard who walked the walk.

Avoca Warning
Now, I do have to add a bit of a warning here about Avoca. It is a handweaver shop, but it seems to be quite a racket to me. When we stopped at the outlet place in Wicklow on Day three, we were quite disappointed to find just a tiny area of handweavings and most of the store taken over with bric a brac for the home. Mostly Crate and Barrel type of stuff. Frankly, I was hoping for some really lovely handwoven things. I did find a great throw and a cool book for a friend, but mainly it seemed a stop for tour buses as it was a big restaurant with a huge buffet. The main thing that irritated me was when Fred went to pay, the woman at the counter asked him if wanted the credit card charged in dollars or euros. I can't imagine what kind of surcharge Avoca is getting from all of those tourists who don't know better and say dollars! So be forewarned. If asked, say euro! Let the credit card automatically charge you the going rate of the day without a surcharge.

Plus, they didn't remove the ink tag from the throw, so I am doubly irritated with them!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Razor Clams and Ireland

Today was day one in Ireland. We flew in from Tampa after a delay in Newark. We actually had quite a full day eating at Avoca, which has surprisingly handsome waiters (ours looked like a young David Bowie. He was so handsome I was initially struck mute. Not something that has often happened to me.). But Avoca, while having a good fish pie,

ultimately failed the restaurant test as their sticky toffee pudding had secret nuts in it. By that I mean that the cook had put pecans or walnuts in the dessert and had not bothered to tell anyone. I am allergic to them. It ruined the dessert for me.

But The Winding Stair was wonderful for dinner. We had an excellent 3-course dinner that included my first experience with razor clams. The dish came with organic leaves and a pansy and some brown toast (delightful). The clams were amazing.

I had the Jacob's Ladder short ribs (melt in your mouth). Fred had the skate, which I thought was a little oily, but he liked. For dessert, I had the bread pudding with whiskey sauce and Fred had a plum and apple crumble. Most excellent.

All in all, a fine culinary day. And we visited Christ Church Cathedral and made an attempt at St. Pat's cathedral, but they were closing in 15 minutes. We also got in to see the Chester Beatty Library, which has been voted as the best museum in Europe. It was a treasure trove of papyrus, illuminated manuscripts, Qur'ans and decorative arts.

Tomorrow, the book of Kells!