Sunday, November 30, 2008

An Irish Thanksgiving

My Thanksgiving, in pictures:
I began the day by walking about an hour to go pick up a package from the An Post (Irish post office) sorting facility. Apparently, the post office will attempt to deliver a package once, and then it is sent away to a far away warehouse, and then sent back. I actually had a nice walk to the outskirts of town, passing the Lough along the way. Lough is the word for lake, and is pronounced like "lock." There was an unbelievable amount of birds hanging out at the lake. If we had been unable to get a turkey, we surely could have captured a couple of good ducks, swans and some geese for Thanksgiving dinner.

A group of us Americans decided to have a real Thanksgiving feast. The effort was spearheaded by Matt and Dan. Here, they are inspecting the turkey as it has just come out of the oven . This was the first time anyone present had cooked a turkey. Matt and Dan poked at the turkey, wondering where all the stuffing went.

Upon further inspection, they find the stuffing way up in there...or in other words, they find the junk in the trunk. Gross.

Dan had the honors of carving the turkey.

Here, Dan becomes drunk with power and the excitement of carving his own turkey.

The feast, complete with turkey and all the important side dishes. It was actually very good. I had been skeptical earlier in the day, telling people back at home that I had low expectations. But I was wrong to doubt them, as it turned out delicious.

Here, we devour the feast in a matter of mere minutes. I very graciously brought the dinner rolls and 3 bottles of soda. By all accounts, the rolls and soda were universally loved by everyone.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Boat cafe

Here is a video clip down by the riverside in Istanbul. The thing with the yellow awning is some sort of fish restaurant, and I think the boat rocking back and forth next to it is it's least there was a great big grill on it where there were cooking stuff. I don't know how the cooks didn't fall into the fire. You can briefly catch a glimpse of the touristy restaurants under the bridge where I would later have "The World's Greatest Meal".

Friday, November 28, 2008

F the system

I snapped this picture in the Cork Circuit Court building. The message was scratched in the back of a bench in the seating area of the main courtroom....probably by someone waiting for their criminal case to be heard. I guess this person doesn't have a whole lot of respect for the criminal justice system...

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

For obvious reasons, Thanksgiving is not celebrated in Ireland (although yesterday was a local, unofficial drinking holiday among the college crowd called "Christmas"....go figure...), but the American students here are doing their best to give thanks. I am about to go to someone's apartment where a traditional Thanksgiving feast will be enjoyed by 12 of us Yanks. I need to go buy some bread and dinner rolls, so I'll leave you with this picture of St. Finn Barre's Cathedral I snapped on my walk home today. Happy Thanksgiving!
Ps. I guess it would impolite if I didn't give thanks for something. It really has been a great year for me, so a special "thanks" to everyone who's been a part of it so far...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Alvin and the chipmunks

A bit off topic...when I went out to LA this summer for work, my friend Thomas graciously accompanied me for the 3 day drive and a few side trips. One of the coolest parts of the drive was going from Denver to just outside of Las Vegas. The drive is mostly through the desert and mountainy-rocks of western Colorado, Utah, Arizona and Nevada. I was really impressed by the scenery in Utah. This surprised me, as I am not a very naturey person. Here are a few pictures I snapped not long after the day's journey began.

We made a roadside stop.

And discovered that we were not alone.

I'm not sure if this guy is a chipmunk, prarie dog, or something else.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Winter Solstice-Druid's Altar-misty line-spirit/ghost finger

Yesterday's post laid the ground work about The Druid's Altar. Now let me tell the story...

My friend and former co-worker Rhoda was kind enough to come visit Cork during her recent tour of Ireland. We rented a car and drove around West Cork, which covers the southwest corner of Ireland. One of the coolest things we saw was the Drombeg Stone Circle. The stones are placed so that on the Winter Solstice (December 21st, shortest day of the year), the sun sets on a line directly between the two tallest stones, falling over the shortest one, before setting behind a notch in the distant hills.

After walking around the circle and other near-by ruins I snapped one last picture. The picture's line of view looks between the two tallest stones, tracing the path the sun travels on the Winter Solstice. I'll call this the "Solstice" picture. We walked back to the car and went on to the next site. Later, at lunch, I was looking through the pictures I had taken on my camera when I noticed something funny on the Solstice picture. Here is the original photo...see if you notice it:
I said to Rhoda. "Do you remember there being any strings or wires holding up the stones?" She said no. Hmmm. I looked and the pictures I snapped right before and after the Solstice lines. I looked at the camera lens. No lines, strings or smudges. So I came to the only obvious conclusion: I had captured a picture of a ghost!

Here are some more shots of the Winter Solstice-Druid's Altar-misty line-spirit/ghost.
So, I've tried very hard to think of what caused this Druid-line-ghost-finger to show up on my picture, and I haven't a clue. If anyone has an idea, please let me know. All I can think of is that perhaps the ghost-line is pointing me from the top of the highest stone to a spot in the grass where something is buried underneath, and that I should go back and dig it up. In 1958, they found the remains of a prehistoric adolescent in a jar at the center of the circle. Maybe this ghoulish finger is now pointing me to the teen's killer. Or perhaps it's a leprechaun's trick to get me arrested for violating the Ireland Stone Circle Protection Act of 1973.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Druid's Altar aka the Drombeg Stone Circle

The Drombeg Stone Circle is one of Ireland's most famous stone circles. It is located in County Cork on Ireland's southern coast near Skibbereen. It consists of 13 remaining pillar stones arranged so that the sun sets directly between the two main stones on the winter solstice. The sight is estimated to have been active around 900 BC. In 1958, a pot containing the remains of a young adolescent was excavated from the center of the circle. In 2008, I captured a picture of a ghost at the stone circle. That picture will come are two without the ghost.

Blue Mosque loudspeaker

As I mentioned earlier, we first heard the loud calling from the mosque at 5:45am on our first morning in Istanbul. Here's a video of the afternoon call to prayer.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


In Istanbul, we stayed in an "old town" area (I can't remember if is was called Old Town, or something else) near two of Istanbul's most prized landmarks: The Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia.
The Sultan Ahmed Mosque ("Blue" Mosque) is the national mosque of Turkey as still operates as a mosque today. On our first morning in Istanbul, we were woken up at 5:45am by the booming call to prayer coming from the loudspeakers. The loud singing echoed throughout the streets.

Directly across from the Blue Mosque is the Hagia Sophia. It was originally a Christian church, then became a mosque, and was turned into a museum by Atatürk. The park between the two buildings is the Sultanahmed Square (I think...I'm not real solid on these historical details. I am loosely relying on Wikipedia and my memory). This is also the site of a Roman Hippodrome.

The surrounding square/neighborhood has a handful of ruins and relics from past civilizations that occupied the area. This one had Greek or Roman writing on it.

This was the nearest big street by our place. It had many shops, street vendors and restaurants. Many of the restaurants in Turkey had very aggressive "promoters" out on the sidewalk who tried to get you into their place. We only got pulled into one place, only after they promised us free beer and coffee. Alas, it was the Turks who got the last laugh. That story will come later...

The rooftop of our hostel had a great terrace with a bar and cafe. It also had a great view, overlooking either the Bhosphorus River or Marmara Sea.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Turkish shave

One of the coolest things we did in Istanbul was get a Turkish shave. We were walking down a back alley passing a barbershop, when a barber cutting a man's hair waived us in. After thinking about it for a while, Andrew and I decided to go in and get shaves. (Note: Tom had already gotten a shave separately at another shop, so he just sat and watched. It was funny... a few weeks before the trip to Turkey, Tom decided to not shave, so he'd have alot of beard growth for the Turkish barber to shave off. Unfortunately for him, 3 weeks of not shaving produced less facial hair than most 10 year old boys in Istanbul were sporting.)

The owner of the shop spoke broken English...everyone else was speaking only Turkish. I pointed at my beard and made a "scissor" motion with my fingers to try and indicate I wanted a shave. The assistant barber quickly went to work and shaved my face with a straight razor. But that was just the beginning.

After the shave (and brining me a free cup of Turkish coffee) my barber put some sort of mud mask on my face. My "scissor" motion must have indicated that I wanted a haircut too. While the mud mask was drying, the barber went to work on my hair. He called over the shop owner, as well as another man in the shop, and they loudly discussed my sideburns and something about the back of my head (in Turkish). I realized that this was the most attention anyone had ever paid to my sideburns. Then he went to work cutting, trimming, shaving, etc., seemingly going hair by hair. After the shave, mud mask and haircut, the barber kept me in the chair for another 1.5 hours. He waxed my nose pores, trimmed my nose hair, tidied up my eyebrows, burned off my ear hair with a lighter, put on a Spice Girls CD (the only music in English they had), had the barbershop helper kid run a massager on my arms and legs, put on aftershave, blow dried my hair, put gel in it, reinforced my hairdo with hairspray and doused me with body spray. Oh, and I got another cup of coffee and a cup of tea.

Before and after pictures showing the effects of my shave. Notice the Woodrow Wilson hairstyle the barber gave me.

While this was going on, the other barber was doing pretty much the same thing to Andrew in the other chair. The one exception is that they "threaded" his eyebrows and other hair on his face. It looked funny, seemed to cause him alot of pain, and therefore was really hillarious.
Tom and I discovered (and you can see) that Andrew's face is actually 5 shades whiter without his permanent 5 o'clock shadow.

The whole experience took about 2 hours and cost us about $35 was well worth it. The guys in the barbershop were great. They were friendly, funny and seemed to like having us there. I know this is probably related to the fact that we were "high paying customers," but their hospitality was probably the best part of the trip.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


Seems quite realistic...
"Pearls Before Swine" Thursday, November 20, 2008

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Beggar

I'm feeling under the weather today, so I'll just "throw up" a few pictures for you...
There are alot of stray cats and dogs in Istanbul. Most of them actually appeared fairly well-groomed and well-fed. Here, a cat approaches our table at an outdoor cafe as we are having lunch.

He zeroed in on a lady at the table next to us. Andrew likes to pet mangy stray cats.

He moved into striking distance before being shooed away by the lady.

Then, the cat and I made eye contact, and he darted over to our table.

However, he soon discovered that I was finished and had no food, so he laid down for a cat nap.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

2 bottles for 4 euros

I snapped this picture while we were high above Europe, getting close to Istanbul. The 4.5 hour flight from Dublin was uneventful. However, we were forced to sit on the tarmac before take-off for about an hour while the pilot worked out a "technical problem." The "problem" developed just after we were pushed back from the gate.

As you can see, I was sitting right behind where the wing meets the main part of the plane. As we sat on the tarmac, I looked out the window and could see that something was going on with the wing flaps. Then, we heard a loud, metal-on-metal banging noise coming from right below me. It sounded like someone was trying to hammer a dent out of an old Buick. This continued for about 2o minutes. During this time, the guys in the row behind me started speculating that the wing flaps weren't working. The pilot came on the intercom and explained something for a few minutes in Turkish. He translated his message as, " We working problem. Thirty minute." More banging ensued.

Luckily, the Dublin duty-free shop had a of wine were 2 for 4 euros. Even more luckily, I had decided to take advantage of the sale. So by the time we were ready to take-off I was no longer concerned about the dodgy wing-flaps and more concerned with when the beverage cart was going to come by. As the plane took off, the Irish guys behind me kept a running commentary about the status of the wing flaps and whether they appeared to be working properly. I watched with a calm, detached curiosity wondering whether they would indeed work, steadily finishing my 2nd sangria as we shot into the air.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Doner Kebab

Our trip to Istanbul, Turkey was amazing. I didn't really know what to expect on the trip...and the weekend far surpassed any of my expectations. The city was full of historical sites and bustling with people. The weather was nice, mostly sunny and not cold. The exchange rate was favorable and there were many exotic goods for sale. Our hostel was cool and had a rooftop terrace bar which served cheap beer and had free breakfast each morning. What more could you want?! But the best thing about the trip was the people. Almost everyone we came across was nice, funny, and very cool.
The shot 11/17/2008:
Here is a doner stand near Taksim Square, a very cool pedestrian area in Istanbul. Doner kebab is a popular Turkish fast-food that I've found all across Europe. Basically, meat is shaved off of that meat cylander and put in a pita or tortilla with lettuce, tomato, etc. and sauce. I was first introduced to doners in Berlin last summer at the legendary Chausse Grill. In each city the receipe varies a little bit (ie: in some places french fries are included in the doner). I think my best doner one I got in Barcelona, Spain (followed closely by Berlin, and then Turkey)...the worst was in Galway, Ireland. Yuck.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Andrew's Istanbul

Photo courtesy of Andrew Smith

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Friday, November 14, 2008