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Belfast, Edinburgh, York

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Belfast

Belfast is a really fascinating city and i wish i had more time to spend there, but i did get to wander a bit and this is what i saw. Belfast is a shipping city that didn't not gain city status from the Queen until 1889, so it is relatively new and this can be seen in the mostly well planned street design (in blocks like most american cities) and the architecture which tends to be more in the georgian style in the old parts of town (think large marble and granite buildings, not unlike TCNJ but with more copper roofs and statues). There is also a large redevelopment plan by the river that has created residential buildings, malls and offices that are in the same style as the NJPAC, with large walls of glass, shining copper and brick. Very nice.

I did not see too many signs of the sectarianism that has divided the city for so many years, but there was an Orangemen Rally (Protestant Royalists) the day i left to drum up support for the 7-year vote in which the citizens of northern ireland decide whether or not they want to remain part of the UK.

I had fish and chips for the first time in Belfast. they were really good and really filling. I am trying to justify the amoun of fried greasy food i am eating in two ways 1.) i am walking a ton every day 2.) frying food must be a national pasttime over here.

Leaving Belfast

I woke up at 6 am so that i could shower and then walk all the way across town (about 5km) to get to the Stena Line Fast Ferry (7:35). When i left my hostel i really didn't know how far away it was because on my map it ended before the harbor and just had an arrow pointing north. well of course it was much further than i thought it would be and my watch read 7:25 when i turned a corner and saw stena line office about 300 yards away. i broke into a sprint, got into the office at 7:27 and was told i needed to be there at 7 to buy a ticket and board. needless to say i was a little dissapointed. The next ferry was at 12:20 so i spent a few hours wandering, got some breakfast at subway, joined what i thought was a tour but turned out to be British version of antique road show, and finally got on the ferry.

Stena Line Ferries

Europeans really know how to travel in style. i was expecting a small cafe and prob a bar. what i got was a HUGE sports bar, burger king, 2 star restaurant, movie theatre (watched herbie: fully loaded), slot machines, etc. AND it was one of the smoothest rides ever on a boat.

Edinburgh

was fantastic. prob my favorite city so far. The heart of the city is the Royal Mile, a street that connects The Royal Residence with Edinburgh Castle, a mediveal fort that has been expanded over time. Along the mile are tons of little shops and museums where you can learn about closes (the small alleyways that developed off of the royal mile as the city expanded (vertically for the most part) The most famous close, which you can visit, is the Real Mary Kings Close, an alley where most of the houses have literally been built over and now provide the foundation for the city municipal builing. The rooms are still intact however, and you can see traces of wall-painting decorations on plaster that was made from horse hair and human ash (which was abundant during the plague years) It is supposed to be haunted but i saw little evidence of that. speaking of plague victims, most were buried in pits that have now become the Meadows, large playing fields near the many universities. in the winter a man goes around and pushes down the bones that are forced to the surface by the frost. i tossed a frisbee on top of said bones. :-)

I also got a chnace to go hiking in Andrews park, an area that was formed mostly by volcanic vents which left outcroppings of basalt which would become the basis for defensive fortifications. I scaled the 220 meter "peak" of andrews seat and got some great views of the city and sea.

oh and i stayed with luke and his wife, Haley for 3 days and we had a blast. home cooked meals, real shower, real towel, and real ats to play with = welcome respite from hostels. oh and me and luke played worms 3d on playstation. great game. i am eternall grateful to them for taking me in.

York

My favorite city so far to just walk around, literally. They city walls, which were built on top of norman earthworks, which were in tun bult on Roman walls, still surround the city and you can walk on them. really neat. Seeing evidence of Roman habitation almost 200 years ago really shows how phenomenal their engineering skills were.

I met up with a coupletexan girls and a guy from RI, and a guy from brazil. we went out to pubs and i got to try new beers.

Carling = light beer with a hoppy kick. good and cheap
Kronengburg = real good lager
John Smith = cheap excuse for guinness

Really cool museums/attractions in York. Jorvic, or the viking museum, is kinda disneyfied but does a great job of telling the story of nordic occupation of York. The DIG, an archelogical exhibit designed to get kids interested in archeology. really fantastic. it was also there that i got to touch the largest specimen of viking poop in the world. needless to say after that i left for london. and that is where i am now.

Brian (in London)

ps. miss you guys, but if i don't see some more comments i'm not coming home...just putting it out there

Posted by Brainford 04:22 Archived in England Tagged backpacking Comments (6)

Culture Night in Dublin and Mr. DeGroat's Wild Ride

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I left Galway Fri morning after an eventful night of music (which i recorded) beer (which i drank) and Supermacs (at which i ate the irish version of a big mac, the Mightymac). I returned to Dublin in time for Culture Night, a city wide festival involving almost every cultural venu in the city. Streets were packed with people and street musicians. I went to a acting workshop which was a little trite but fun and i met two girls (Kiva and andrea) there who said they might see me at a concert that i was planning on attending later. This was cool because up to this point i had been spending most of my time with internationals and these girls were from galway and dublin. Next i went to the archeology museum which had been closed due to royalty on tues, and i got to see a great exhibit on the bog people, ritual sacrifices during the bronze age that have been eerily preserved by the bogs. Next stop: live music, and as i was ordering a guiness, kiva and andrea poked me on the shoulder. we watched a good rock band play, up and coming, poor lyrics but awesome sound. Then we went to a real hip club that tended to play songs that were remizes of lou reed and deadly straits. I told kiva that i was going to belfast the next day and she said that since she was driving north she would offer me a ride part of the way...

Ben, if you are reading this remember the last time that i took driving directions from female actresses? that night got me lost in middletown NY and eventually parked in a snow bank. i should have learned my lesson then.

so she picks me up at my hostel at 10 and we depart for Cavan, at which she assures me, there will be a train to belfast. we hit a detour and she gets lost, so i'm getting a little concerned. next she offers to drop me off in navan so i can take the train from there. unfortunatly, Navan doesn't even have a train station. She is beginning to feel bad at this point and so we drive to the closest town w/a station. Thankfully there was a 2pm train to belfast. Moral of this story: while i learned a lot about driving in ireland (ex, although you shift with your left hand, the clutch is still pressed with your left foot) i ended up losing a full day of sightseeing in belfast. It was an adventure and thats what i am here for so i'm not too upset.

good note: of the $1200 i spent on rail passes, northern ireland is not covered, but the ticket checker in belfast took pity on me and let me go for free after the trip. i love irish people.

Posted by Brainford 09:33 Archived in Northern Ireland Tagged automotive Comments (1)

Random story about why Ireland is awesome

Kev, try not to be too jealous

rain

So i went in search of dinner on my own last night and while i was scouting places out, I found a pub called paddy's that served irish breakfast all day. now i had seen signs for irish breakfast before but always imagined they were just big honkin meals, like the irish version of the grand-slam at dennys. This meal went beyond my hopes and dreams: two fried eggs, 2 pieces of canadian bacon (but they don't call it canadian), 2 heavily spiced sausage patties, baked beans, sauteed mushrooms, soda bread, tea (if you wanted it, i had Guiness instead) and thick cut round chips (fries). Pleased as i was, the actually was NOT the reason why Ireland is awesome. You see after i chatted with the bartended about the relative merits of guinness and bulmers and inquired as to why an irish bar would serve bud and coors light, another 60something gentleman (i use the term loosely) sai hi and we struck up a conversation, of which i understood about every other word b/c of his thick accent and occassional use of gaelic. After i gleaned a few nuggets of wisdom from his rambling story (incl. "dont complain, EXplain" and "throw the cat in with the pidgeons") i finished my massive meal and was about to pay when he pulled out the 11 euro and paid my tab. i tried to tell him to stop, but he said "are ya gonna make me??" to which i declined, shook his hand (left "b/c its closer to the heart" says he) and exited with a smile on my face that i just could not wipe away.

And that is why Ireland is awesome.

Thanks to this good fortune, i did not feel too guilty about paying for 2 pints of guinness at the Spanish Arch :-)

Posted by Brainford 12:18 Archived in Ireland Tagged backpacking Comments (2)

Of museums, Minnessotans and pubs...

rain

I've been in Ireland for 3 days now and i FINALLY get to write in my travelblog. I'm going to try to address topics here rather than go in chronological order, so if the 'museums' topics bores you, just skip to the 'pub' section.

MUSEUMS

Being a history nerd, i had to check as many museums as possible (esp b/c they are usually FREE) and one thing that I have noticed is that while Dublin Museums are smaller than most in NYC and DC, they more than make up for lack of grandeur with a fusion of content and style. The State of Ireland and the EU sponsor the National Museum of Ireland, which is actually 4 seperate buildings spread throughout the city, all within in wlaking distance of my hostel. I got a chance to visit the Museum of Natural History which had a great if somewhat morbid display of Irish wildlife throughout history. Many of the animals had been stuffed in the 19th century and are still on display. Did you know that Ireland has seals? i didn't but now i know. Then i explored the upper three floors which showed animals from across the globe (although North America had some short comings like no white-tailed deer, we'll have to send them the next one that my family hits)

Next was the Museum of Archeology which i was really exited to see! but it was closed because of some reception party for the royal family of Norway or something...

So i went nextdoor to the National Library where i saw a tour of an exhibition on W.B. Yeats and despite the fact that i barely knew any of his poetry, the exhibition was facinating! It incorporated artifacts such as his journal writings (which were illegible) with touchscreen technology that allowed you to read scanned documents, use a virtual magnifying glass and pull up a transcription of the text so normal people could read it. They also used small video rooms that were decorated to display a particular theme of his life, such as the subject of his creation of the Abbey Theatre which you could view from a 'backstage' location. Yeats was extremely influential in the Irish independence movement, was heavily involved with the occult, and towards the end of his life exlpored eugenics. Fascinating.

Earlier in the day I visited Trinity College. Instead of paying for a 10 euro tour plus admission to the book of kells, i hopped on the back of an exsisting tour and then paid 7 to view the book of kells. for those of you that don't know, the book of kells is one of the most famous illuminated manuscripts, written in c.805 and contains the four gospels of christ. I thought it would be tough to justify 7 euro just to see it, but fortunatly the college created an amazing display that took you through the creation of the manuscript, the monks daily lives, the materials that were used (ex. lapis lazuli from afghanistan, red dye from pregnant african beetles, and all the other normal crayola colors) and then showed the histor of the book itself. Written by scripes (who really needed spellcheck) illustrated by 3-4 artists, never completed, moved to aviod viking pillaging and finally given to the Protestant Trinity College where it would be protected during the Cromwellian Wars. Again, the way in which this exhibit was displayed made great use of limited space by using large curved wall screens to display text and enlargements of the illustrations. In doing so a space was created that was never crowded and allowed you to feel a personal connection to the artifacts on display. I must have spent an hour in there, reading all the details and finally viewing the Book of Kells and the Book of Armaugh. Good thing i am traveling alone otherwise my companions would get annoyed...

Another excellent tour was of the Kilmainham Gaol (Jail). This was a great artifact because you found yourself physically immersed in this limestone building of despair and disease. The tour also showed the historical relevance of the prison by discussing the role it played in the War for Independence. Since this war occured in 1916, there is still a very strong awareness of these events, and still some ill-feelings from a few of the brits that were on the tour with me.

Also went to the Collins Barracks (National Museum of Decrotaive art and history) but only because i missed the first train from dublin to galway. glad i went for an hour, but also lacking american artifacts...hmmm

Overall, the museums were great, i love learning for the sake of learning, it reminded me of when i was a kid going with dad to see the museum of natural history in NYC. Maybe i'll be a curator when i grow up???

MINNESOTANS (sp?)

When i sat down to write my first email, there were two girls sitting next to me discussing whether or not they should go to galway. having second knowledge via Kevin Baily, i told them they should def go. They enjoyed the suggestions and we parted ways. later on i was moving into my bunk aka putting my bag in the under bed storage, when i noticed that some girl had completely taken over the unit. slightly peeved i just adjusted her stuff and was about to lock it with my lock and leave a note for her, when she and her friend came back in the room. and wouldn't ya know it, it was the same two girls as before! So we chatted for a bit and i learned that they were both from Minnesota, just graduated from Denver U, and had no glue what they wanted to do. I took a nap and quickyl forgot their names but i managed to pull through and relearn them (lindsay and Greta) and then we all went to dinner at the Brazenhead pub (more to follow) and the next day they accompanied me to see the book of kells (i think they were a lil annoyed with how long i was in there :-) We parted ways, they to the Guinness brewery (which i had attended the day before) and me to my museums. We met back at the 4 courts hostel and met another girl (Robin) who amazingly enough was also from Minnesota. We went in search of dinner and came upon Farrington's. We parted ways again on Wed morning, but we are supposed to meet up again in Galway sometime today.

The hostel was great for meeting people, some of which that didn't come from Minnesota. Carlos is from Spain, trying to improve his English (which is way better than my french) so he can be an engineer, Kim is from Belgium studying Germanic Languages at Trinity (we watched lost togther, less commercial time, or just less breaks but longer) in Europe), and i met a guy from sweden but can't pronounce his name.

PUBS

Guinness could really be marketed as a meal replacement diet drink. Since i am trying to save money, but also sample representative cuisine, this was my lunch for two days. My first pint of true guinness (the stuff we drink in NJ, not brewed in Ireland) came after a 7 story tour of the storehouse, a period in which i slept 2 hours in 36 hours, and miles and miles of walking (some of which because i was lost in dublin where the streets might as well have no names) needless to say this was probably the most rewarding beer i have ever had. The Yeungling brewery came close, but i was far more in need of sustenance at this point.

Had another pint at dinner at the Brazenhead pub (est.1198) along with traditional irish lamb stew. so good. Had another pint when the family of siblings next to us started chatting with us and bought us more beer so we wouldn't leave. they could affor it believe me, Paul owned an ad agency that worls with coors and nike, rob sold a chemical compound to nutrogena for 65 mil, and the sisters "married well." We had a great time even before the traditional irish folk band started playing, and things really got awesome. This pub was a real winner. i could have left dublin happy after that day.

Luckily i still had another day, and another day means another pub. This time i went to O'Donaghue's at about 1pm. I didn't plan on stopping but Tim Dunnigan had suggested I go so I really had no choice. Had a pint and a great conversation with a 50-something carpenter who also loved to travel. I asked him why all the signs and closed captioning on the news was in gaelic and he told me that gaelic is mainly spoken in the west and south west of the country, but that since the late 19th cent and more so today, there has been a vocal minority that has pushed for more language visibility as a matter of national irish pride. He didn't seem to care so much as long as everyone spoke english too.

That night me and the girls found farringtons, a more modern bar in the temple bar district. it served a greater variety of food (i had beef lasagna and soda bread which is nothing like what dad makes) and the live music was a guy with an electric guitar. also, despite the fact that it was fairly large, no waiters meant that you had to order at the bar. Not as cool as Brazenhead.

More to come later, fortunatly my current hostel has FREE net access, as opposed to the 2 euro per hour at the other place.

Hope you all are doing well and that no one has driven my car yet (mom and dad this means you)

-Brian (in Galway)

ps. photos to follow

Posted by Brainford 06:48 Archived in Ireland Tagged backpacking Comments (2)

The Tribulations of Prepping

and also How to Contact Brian: a tutorial

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As much as i would have liked to totally wing this trip and go where the wild winds blow, my own anal retentiveness has somewhat curtailed this plan or lack thereof. This attention to detail has created a few problems in the prep period...

1.) It takes me a long time to plan. ex. Luke and I got together the other night to plan the 9 days we will be spending together in London at the tail end of my trip. I arrived at about 8 following a last meal at Ruts Hut, then we proceeded to figure out where we would meet and where we would stay and if we would possibly take a trip to another city. Well 3 hours later, after numerous discussions with luke's well travelled roommate, a phone call to honor about the attractions of Spain, 2 beers, and countless visits to orbitz, google and hostel.com, we managed to switch meeting spots (only once) and decide on a place to stay for three out of the 8 nights.

While this took a long time, we were still able to marvel at how this would not have even been possible before the internet age. We found and booked a place to stay that we were fairly confident in its reputation in a city which we have never been to and know very little about, except from what we gleaned from the oracle known as google.com. It really makes you wonder what did backpackers and travelers do before all this? I would follow this thread further but have other problems to deal with...

2.) Like how my mobile global phone (ordered on Monday) was shipped (3Day) not to West end drive, Stillwater, NJ, but rather found its way to Westwood Drive, Stillwater, Oklahoma. Thats not even the same timezone people! Well after a lovely conversation with Keith at UPS Olahoma, we decided the fault lay with the mobile company, ekit mobile, so a call to them was in order. once i finally got to speak to a manager, i was assured the phone would be shipped to me on friday so that i could have it by the time i left on sunday. Happy ending, the phone just arrived a few minutes ago and is charging on my wall. Which leads me to some important information

CONTACTING BRIAN

Obviously messages on this blog will be good, but for detailed responses (when i can find some time) email me @ mrdegroat@yahoo.com.

CALLING ME

you can call me for FREE*

  • well free for me, international calling rates apply to you :-)

1.) Dial 1-866-305-6462 (as long as you are in the US)
0808-234-7418 for the UK

2.) dial my number: 44 762 4133 716

3.) Feel free to leave voicemails, i can retrieve them for free too

Keep in touch!
-Brian

Posted by Brainford 07:04 Archived in USA Tagged preparation Comments (0)

Setting up my travel blog

Welcome to the Blog. Prepare to be assimilated...

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Setting up a blog is kind of a new thing for me. I usually like to update people in person, and besides i never thought my life would be that interesting that anyone would devote time to reading about it.

That being said, i hope i can entertain all of you that choose to check in on me from time to time, and know that i'll miss y'all (even though i'll be in some awesome places and meeting new people all over europe and drinking beer in some all new locations) and i'll be sure to get some pics up of all the places i'll be traveling to.

-brian

  • scary aspect of this travel bog, it allows you to categorize your entries in terms of temperature and the drop-down menu goes up to 130 degree F. You better believe that if it was that hot out, the LAST thing on my to do list would be to write an entry about it because number ONE on my to do list: not move...at all.

Posted by Brainford 18:43 Archived in USA Tagged preparation Comments (0)

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