Off topic


I recently had the opportunity to go to Ireland.  Readers of this blog may recall I went about 3-4 years ago and made a post about it.  It was mostly about Dublin and a short drive to the nearby countryside.

Fast forward to 2015 ; I needed to return for some work.  This time Julie came along and we made a vacation out of it.  The plan was to do a loop of Ireland (and Northern Ireland – which is part of the UK) starting in Dublin and roughly following the coast in a counter clockwise direction.  It required a good deal of planning, but I think the result was an awesome road trip.  This post is quite “picture heavy”; we had a great time and I hope to give you an overall idea of the things we saw and did.

First things first, the car. Its a Skoda Octovia diesel.  Since Skoka belongs to Volkswagen, this is essentially a VW Jetta.  I am used to driving a car with the wheel on the right, but since it was a manual transmission, the stick (gears) are changed with the left hand, which is a bit different, but was a lot of fun of course.

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Ok and we are off! We immediately headed north to Northern Ireland to the city of Belfast. Did you know that the Titanic was built in Belfast from 1909 to 1912?  Here is the Titanic museum and visitor center. Quite a spectacular sight which is clearly built to resemble the ships bow.  At the exact spot where I am standing to take the picture is where the ship was built, as in the second (historical of course) picture below.

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Even if you are not a huge fan of all things Titanic, I highly recommend a stop at this museum.  A vast amount of information is presented, from the construction to the sinking, beyond and everything in between.

Next stop was at the “Dark Hedges”.  If you are a fan of the TV show “Game of Thrones” you may recognize this place. Its a simple country road with these spooky trees.  The picture does not do it justice ; it was very spectacular.  Julie and I probably spent an hour walking the entire length and taking many pictures.  It is one of the most photographed locations in Northern Ireland.  We got there fairly early in the morning so there were few people.

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Next we are now completely on the northern edge of the island.  The coast is beautiful.  Lovely beaches and cliffs.  No swimming here though … water looked really cold.

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Along the way there were also many nice castles to see … too many to visit them all.  Some of them we just stopped for a few moments to take a look.  This one is a lovely sample of an ocean side castle. Dunluce Castle.

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This next stop was the most anticipated one of the whole trip.  It is called the “Giants Causeway”. Although these stones look man made, they are a some sort of volcanic phenomenon.  Its absolutely spectacular.  All of the stones are essentially basalt columns.  There are an estimated 40,000 of them and they are all interlocking.  I have to admit, walking around on them had something magical.  I compared it to the magic of Stingray City in Cayman while I was there.

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Here are Julie and I taking a break at one of the highest points at the Giants Causeway.

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One of the next highly anticipated sites was “Cliffs of Moher” which is along the western coast.  These cliffs are +-400ft high over the Atlantic and were an amazing sight of natural beauty.  There are 1000’s of birds flying around which nest along the cliffs.  It was also a great view down to the ocean.

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In Limerick, we visited King John’s Castle.  The entire visitor center was recently renovated and the displays were very interesting.  We really liked this visit.  The Castle is right in the middle of town and is quite sprawling, so getting it in one picture was not possible. We found Limerick to be a lovely city even though we were only there in passing.

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Along the south west coast, we ventured out onto the “Biera Peninsula”. It was a few hours drive and the last 1/3 of the peninsula was gorgeous but barren landscape ; rugged shoreline, rough ocean and small vegetation.  Great place to take pictures.   Very narrow roads though which made for some interesting driving.  (see comment about the car near the end …)

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In Waterford, we stopped by to do a factory tour at Waterford Crystals.  We were glad we did.  The tour, which lasted +-45 minutes, was fascinating. We essentially saw the entire process from blowing the glass, cutting, quality control, the engraving, etc.  I now understand why their products are so expensive. Each piece is done by hand and a lot of time is spent making sure they are perfect.  Below we have a “Master Blower” creating a vase of some sort. If you like factory tours, make sure this place is on your list of things to see in the southern part of Ireland.

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Next stop in New Ross was a visit I was not sure about. It was the “Famine ship” experience.  The ship below, the Dunbrody (this is a replica of the original), which was built in Quebec City, was used to bring Irish people to North America during the potato famine.  We all know that the Irish have a huge diaspora around the world.  Well, that is mainly because of the potato blight starting in 1845 where a large percentage of the population was dying of hunger due to much of the potato harvest going bad.  Many Irish left the country in search of a better life (and food).  A very informative visit.  I was glad we stopped here.

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Julie particularly liked our visit to “Powercourt Gardens” due to the gardens.  It was a lovely stroll along various paths and with a fabulous rose garden.

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Our final visit prior to leaving Ireland was to Malahide Castle and Gardens which is just outside of Dublin.   This was another really nice visit ; the Castle has both a very “old” history dating back to 1185 and then to 2009 where it had been with the “Talbot” family for over 791 years with exception to a few years where the family has been kicked out … Anyway, really nice visit and great for history buffs.

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So here is the approximate map of our trip.  Starting and ending in Dublin and going first North and then along the coast all the way back to Dublin.  We did +-2000km in 10 days.  Lots of driving around, but we love road trips.

If you like Castles, history, rugged coastlines, lovely countryside, Ireland is a great place to go.

Just one recommendation for anyone who wants to do a similar trip: Rent a small car.  Our Skoda pictures above is the biggest I could recommend.  In many places, the roads are extremely narrow, so anything bigger will not be any fun.

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Stay tuned for a Cayman post soon … just did some really nice snorkeling at a new spot.

As I have often done in the past, I had to go to Tortola in the British Virgin Islands for a few days.  This time I stayed an extra day and went sailing with some friends.  What a great day it was.   The itinerary was to head out towards another of the BVI’s ; Jost Van Dyke.

Here is our Catamaran for the day ; the view is while I was snorkeling in the clear waters off Jost Van Dyke.

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Awesome waters colors, just like in Cayman

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This is where we did the snorkeling.  Nice & calm spot.

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Next we made our way to “Sandy Pit” which for me was the highlight of the whole day.  Sandy pit is a tiny deserted island a few hundred yards off Jost Van Dyke.  As you will see it is absolutely picture perfect.

Here is is from the boat; quite a popular place as you can see.  What you see in the picture below is essentially 90% of the island ; the picture cuts off a small part on the right.

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On the island … WOW!

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So that was my sailing day in the BVI.  The other really neat thing about my trip was the flight to/from San Juan. Since American Airlines stopped service to many of the small islands from San Juan, I took a flight on “Cape Air”.

Cape Air provides air service to Tortola via San Juan on 10-seater Cessna’s.  A friend of mine had told me about a particularity of this air service and I made sure to use that information for my benefit : There is only one pilot, so if you ask and are quick enough, you can sit in front with the pilot, in the co-pilot seat 🙂

Here I am in the co-pilot seat just before takeoff.

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Enjoying the view from the front seat

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Sitting right next to the most important man on the plane … if anything happens to him, I have to fly.  Probably not a good idea!

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Finally, here is a short video of takeoff from San Juan. Its such a different view from what i am used to sitting in a “normal” plane looking out the side and often over a wing.

As my longtime readers will know, January is time for my annual visit to Los Angeles.

This year the list of things done is quite exceptional, so here we go.

First: A hockey game.  But not any game.  There was an outdoor game at Dodger stadium, part of the NHL’s “Stadium series games”.  It was nice and warn in LA, so was not sure how they would pull it off ; but they did.

Here is the ice rink in the middle of Dodger Stadium.

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A better perspective with the upper deck seats.

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Of course this being LA, saw some celebs.  Here is the creepy guy from “Desperate Housewives”

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Wayne Gretzky & wife Janet.

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Here is a funny one with Cuba Gooding Jr. The girl is a friend of my buddy who I went to the game with. I essentially “Crashed” her once in a lifetime picture with her favorite actor.  haha

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So that is it for the hockey game!  It was a lot of fun.  Of course very different from any hockey game I had ever seen before. Total attendance was over 55,000 people. It was a sold out event.

That made the Los Angeles Lakes basketball game not as amazing.  It was certainly fun and entertaining, but not as awesome as an outdoor hockey game.

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Next up … I had to go see Endeavor! The space shuttle was moved here in 2012.  What was amazing is how big it is. I did not realize how huge the shuttles are. Since I see a lot of planes with my travel, I estimate that the fuselage size is similar to a Boeing 747 in width & height. (shorter though)  I any case, I was awe struck by its size.  Very impressive and worth the visit. Endeavor is located at the “California Science Center” that is close to downtown Los Angeles. What was amazing is that entry is free!  In fact it is donation based, so a few dollars is more accurate.  🙂

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Here is the actual “transfer” document.  Note the estimated price tag ; almost 2-Billion dollars.

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So those were some of my evenings in LA.  Lots to do as you can see.

On my one full day off I did a road trip.   Nothing super spectacular, just a long and nice drive. Starting and finishing in Los Angeles, I headed out early Sunday AM,  north towards Bakersfield. Then across all the way to Barstow and then back to LA.  Just under 400 miles of lovely roads and some cool stops along the way, like a visit of the Borax mine in Boron and some other sites.  For US travel geeks, note the deviation between Barstow & Victorville on the right hand side of the map.   I took a secondary road for this part.  That secondary road is part of the old “Route 66”.  Route 66 is one of the original US highways and linked Chicago to Los Angeles.  Route 66 no longer exists (at least not formally)

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Of course, having this brand new rental (a 2014 BMW 335) helped a bit with the driving enjoyment 🙂

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That’s it!  Now I realize why I was tired when I left Los Angeles.  It’s certainly not my favorite place, but it certainly is a place where there are plenty of things to see and do.

 

On my numerous travels, I recently had the opportunity to go back to a pretty cool place.  A place I have dubbed “Donkey Island”.  The real name of the place is Grand Turk, in the Turks and Caicos Islands. In fact, Grand Turk is the capital of Turks & Caicos even though it only has about 3,000 inhabitants and is only 18 sq.km (7 sq. miles) in size.  Some historians believe that Christopher Columbus’ first set foot on Grand Turk rather than one of the Bahama islands due to historical documents where he describes the island.

The reason I call it Donkey island is that there are many donkeys (and other livestock) that roam freely on the island. I have to say, its quite amusing.  🙂

So how does one get to Grand Turk?  Well, first you have to fly to the main tourist island (there is a Club Med, etc) of Providenciales.  From there, you take Air Turks & Caicos to Grand Turk.  On this flight I was “almost” the pilot.  The plane has no separation between passengers and the pilots.  Of course I chose to sit all the way in front, right behind the copilot.  As you can see in the picture, we are coming in for landing (note the runway just right of the center part of the windshield.  Neat flight experience.

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Another cool historical fact about Grand Turk. John Glenn and the Mercury 7 spaceship landed in water just off Grand Turk in 1962.  Here is the road (which leads to the airport) bearing his name as well as a replica of the spaceship.

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Now for the animals.  🙂  Most of the pictures were taken either on one of my morning jogs, outside my clients offices or at the airport.

This little guy was quite cute. Unfortunately, since they belong to no one, they are not socialized and will not let you get closer than 10-15ft.  I tried a few times with no luck. The donkeys, from my understanding, are here due to the former salt operations on the island.  There are many abandoned salt ponds on the island.  Until the early 60’s,  salt was a huge business here.  That fell a apart but the donkeys remained.  Today they are more of a tourist attraction that anything else.  I have to admit its like going back in time when I go to Grand Turk; it just makes me smile to see animals like that roaming around.  Quite charming actually!

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I got the closest to this fellow.  He was very calm and almost trusting, but this is the closest I got.

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Some horses.  Not as many as donkeys but quite a few nevertheless.

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Cows! For some reason they seem to hang mostly in the area of the airport (white building in the background)

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Two cows butting heads!

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… and of course dogs.  At the hotel I stayed at there are 5-6 resident dogs who hang around and get petted by most of the guests. They seem to have a pretty good life.  Food, shelter, love from 100’s of people each year and living on the beach.  This is Savage. I go out of my way to see him each time I come to Grand Turk.  This is one of the most gentle dogs I have ever met.  I like to think he remembers me when i see him each year ; he does wag his tail.  Anyway, I remember him.

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One of the abandoned salt ponds I saw on take off.

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So there you have it : Grand Turk, aka Donkey Island.  I don’t know about you, but those donkeys sure are cute.  🙂 Unfortunately I did not have any time to go for a dive.  Apparently diving there is excellent.

Note: I also made a post yesterday.  See below “Back to Spotts beach”.

Recently Julie & I  had the privilege of spending some time in France.  I had a business meeting so we decided to make a vacation of it. In fact, we got there a few days early and visited Paris.  After my business stuff, we then went for a road trip to the Atlantic coast. The main stops being near La Rochelle and then in Normandy.

Paris was fun, but for us not the best part. Of course we saw most of the “standard” tourist things in Paris and like millions before us had our picture taken in front of the Eiffel tower at the Trocadero.

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After leaving Paris, we had a few things on the agenda.  Notably, visit some Chateau, visit some family and also see the D-day locations in Normandy.  Considering my family’s involvement and how they were impacted in WWII, it was very important for me to see the Normandy beaches.

First off, my odd ball stop of the trip.   A German Uboat pen in St-Nazaire.  This massive structure is 300 meters long by 130 wide.  The roof (which you can see on the below picture) is 30ft thick concrete to resist any bombs the allies to throw at it.   This thing is so big that apparently the city of St-Nazaire is just leaving it these since the cost of destroying it would be prohibitive. Anyone can just go in and walk around. Its a very austere and grim place, but fascinating nevertheless.

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Another neat stop was the Mont St-Michel. After the visit of the island where the Monastery is located, I opted to go for a guided walk on the sands at low tide. Where I am standing in the picture, there would normally be +-3 meters (10ft) of water at high tide.   The tide is so fast, that you can see its progression with the naked eye, hence why you go for a guided tour and not on your own.  The Mont St-Michel has the highest tides in Europe.   (The highest in the world are at the Bay of Fundy in Canada – shame on me, I have never visited)

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This is Juno beach, the beach where the brave Canadian troops landed in “Courseulles-sur-Mer” on that fateful day 69 years ago.   The Canadian visitor center is located just a few hundred feet away.  Julie & I really enjoyed the center. Once could easily spend a whole day ; there is so much to see.  The US visitor center at Omaha beach (+-30 minutes away) was also very nice.

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Here is the USA cemetery.  Very serene and beautifully done.  The grass is perfect and not a long strand of grass to be see around the individual crosses ; our guess is that they are done by hand so to not damage them.

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Here is John Steele!  He is the US paratrooper that landed (and got stuck) on top of the Church at Sainte-Mere-Eglise on D-day.  If you have see the movie “The longest day”, there is scene where they show how this happened.

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Next, we went to see some really awesome Chateau in the Loire valley.  Here is Chateau Chenonceau, one of the most spectacular, considering its spans over a river.

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Finally, here is the entire trip.  Starting in Paris, then down to the coast near La Rochelle.  Then up the coast all the way to Normandy.  After Normandy, back down to the “Vallée de la Loire” for some awesome Chateau and then back to Paris.  Total +-2,400km (+-1,500 miles).  Awesome trip 🙂

 

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For the car guys who will likely ask if I don’t post a pic, here was the rental car.  Its a 2013 Peugeot 508.   It was a manual transmission (fun!) and for all the KM we did, cost under 200 euro (<260$) due to it being a diesel engine.  Brilliant.

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