Slow Week and the Worst Train Trip in History (or at least this week)

Well…as they say…there was good news and there was bad news this week.

Good news first (since it was first chronologically anyway).

On our arrival here in Barnesville we pulled into the Wagner Creek Campground and figured that we would have our complete choice of it’s 28 spots…after all there didn’t really seem to be all that much around here and we were arriving on a Tuesday. Imagine our surprise when we got here and…at least based on appearances…the campground was almost full. We parked the rig near the entrance and drove around finding a total of 3 spots to choose from including site 3W that we ended up in. We quickly decided that this was the best site of the 3 available…and that we would have likely picked it anyway…although to tell you the truth 3E would have been a little bit better as our door faces south which means that the awning provides no afternoon shade to sit under although it does shade the side of the house and helps keep it cool inside. Fortunately we have a nice tree a little forward of the door so we just pull the recliners over there and voilà…shade.

Our second surprise was that…despite the number of RVs here…the park is actually pretty deserted. Our guess was that most of the rigs here get parked all summer since it only costs $500 a month to stay and just get used intermittently…our original suspicion was that it would fill up with people on Friday afternoon and empty out Sunday afternoon and while there were more people here over the weekend it was still pretty deserted and quiet. We did have a couple of neighbors right next to us in a smaller travel trailer…but other than them we haven’t really seen more than 3 or 4 actual occupied rigs since we’ve been here. Nice…

On checking we paid our $252 (18 bucks a day) for 2 weeks and Connie noted that our 2 weeks of parking cost less than one night on her upcoming trip to Chicago for the ASCLS Annual Meeting where she does professional stuff…mostly continuing education so that she can keep up her California Medical Technologist license…after all the studying and exam taking back in the 80’s that it took to get that license she long ago decided to just keep it current just in case. California is one of the few states that require a license for an MT…and having it gives you a little more impressive résumé even if you aren’t applying for a job in the state.

For the rest of the week…we pretty much did nothing. The highlight of most of the days was moving the chairs around under the tree as the sun (and hence the shady spot) moved about during the afternoon. Given the number of skeeters we have been seeing in the upper midwest since our arrival from Kansas…we decided to skip hiking for a few weeks in hopes that they would die off…and concentrated on other forms of Fun Stuff© instead. We did have an abortive trip up to a National Wildlife Refuge and a nature Conservancy site up east of Fargo…but the bugs we encountered were a big factor in the no hikes decision. Our one real trip away from the park was out to Fort Abercrombie over on the ND side of the Red River about 20 miles from here…we combined that with a trip down to Wahpeton so she could get her nails done. There were a few bugs around down there but mostly they weren’t biting bugs…but they were annoying enough that we were glad we weren’t hiking and stepped pretty lively while on the walking tour at the fort.

Fort Abercrombie was established in 1857 and named after Lieutenant Colonel John J. Abercrombie who selected the site and built the fort. The fort was built on the western shore of the Red River separating Minnesota from the Dakota Territories and was originally built right on the edge of the river for protection from attack by the Indians. Here’s a photo of the river looking northeast taken from the center of the second fort…the original site is just visible to the far right of this shot, it was built in the curve of the river you can see there. Unfortunately…the Red River floods almost every year and the original fort was quickly underwater…earlier this year the water was up to the top of the rocks you can see on the riverbank at the right side and this was not considered a flood year at all. Usually most of that area is a couple feet underwater…the top o the rocky area is about 12 or 15 feet above the current water level which is just within the banks across the stream. The second shot was taken from the original fort site looking to the left (downriver) out of this frame; the fields across the other side were 5-6 feet flooded earlier in the year.

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The fort was rebuilt in it’s current location a few hundred yards away in 1860 and was manned by civilian volunteers starting in 1861 as the regular army was sent elsewhere during the Civil War. The fort was the subject of a 6 week siege by the Dakota Sioux during the Dakota Wars of 1862 and was eventually abandoned in 1877 after the area was pacified. The original fort buildings were sold off at auction and the current buildings rebuilt using old photographs by the WPA in 1939-1940 during the Great Depression. The blockhouse is an original building that was moved to a nearby farm after the original auction…it was donated back by the descendants of the farm owners when the State Historical Park was established in 1940. Most of the remaining building sites are marked but mostly the site was left as it was post auction.

The fort headquarters building site…the building in the background is the visitor center and the palisade fence is similar to what was eventually constructed around the fort…although not until after the Dakota Wars siege…there was no barrier to entry during that period other than a rough pile of cordwood (firewood) that was piled up around the blockhouse and central areas of the fort during the siege at that time. Good thing the defenders had 3 cannon and that the Sioux had only a few guns and nobody that knew how to aim very well or the fort would have been massacred. The garrison of about 100 or so defended themselves and another 50-75 women and children against up to 600 Indians during the siege with a total of 4 killed and a dozen or so injured…there was no indication of Indian casualties on any of the signs but they must have been more than that or else they wouldn’t have given up and left I guess.

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The original blockhouse/guardhouse that was moved back to the site; the on duty guard section as well as the soldiers in jail (mostly for drunk and disorderly charges) stayed. After that is the interior jail section of the building and the punishment horse that was used to discipline soldiers…mostly it was intended to embarrass them so that they would not repeat offend…no indication as to whether this was successful or not.

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We had a nice hour or so walking tour around the fort area…and it was free since we passed up on the museum in the visitor center and the guided tour. Afterwards we headed over to Wahpeton where Connie got her nails and toes done then headed back home.

We had one night out (Tuesday after we arrived) at the Mainline Bar and Grill located 8 miles or so from here; it’s built in the old railway depot building and has pretty good food (and nice cold beer as well). The rest of the time we grilled out and otherwise did pretty much nothing through Sunday.

Ok, on to the bad news I talked about earlier…Connie’s trip from hell on the Amtrak Empire Builder heading eastwards to Chicago for her meeting.

We picked the Fargo area to stay in for 2 weeks specifically so she could catch the Amtrak instead of flying over to Chicago…the train ticket was 220 round trip and the air fare when she checked 3 or 4 weeks before was almost 700. She knew that there were likely to be some delays in the train’s arrival in Chicago as there is track maintenance but from looking at the performance figured it would just be 3 or 4 hours total. Her scheduled train departure time was 0130 Monday morning so we figured that she would get some sleep on the train overnight with scheduled arrival in Chicago around 1400. Once we arrived here she checked the overnight delays a couple of days and it looked like about a 3-4 hour delay in leaving. With that in mind we checked the schedule Sunday evening and up until 2300 it was showing a departure from Fargo (23 miles from here) at about 0500…so we decided to just sleep until 0330 or so before heading off to the station. Right as we lay down in our recliners she checked again…and now the schedule showed an almost on time departure at 0144…so we cancelled our plans to sleep (even though we didn’t know how it could go from 3 1/2 hours late to on time) and headed off. Lo and behold…about halfway there the schedule changed back to an 0500 departure. We talked about whether to turn around or not and eventually decided that we wouldn’t get much sleep anyway so we stopped at McDonalds for a couple cups of coffee and got to the station about 0300. From there the posted time got later and later and later…with the train eventually arriving at 0640. She got on the train and Neil headed home. He got an email when he arrived home that they had left the station, went about 20 miles and pulled off onto a siding behind a freight train. They followed this freight most of the morning with a couple of 90 minute stops as westbound freight and passenger trains passed. She got no sleep of course…and the cafe car was closed so there wasn’t even anything to eat. Around 1800 the conductor announced that everybody onboard would be getting a free Beef Stew meal since they were so late…naturally the sleeper cars (higher fares) were served first and then the riffraff cars from front to rear (guess where she was sitting). Then they ran out of food and finally about 9PM she got dinner…a sandwich from Subway…woohoo. Neil commiserated with her frequently during the evening via twitter but finally went to bed around 2230 and the train was still in Wisconsin. She finally got to the station and caught a cab to the hotel where she checked in. She let Neil know that she had arrived via a phone call at 0146 this morning then went to bed. She slept until about 1015 this morning…Neil talked to her and she’s a lot better than she was the last time they talked about 2200 when she was really tired, almost back to normal this morning. She’s got a couple meetings at 1800 and 1900 this evening before the meeting kicks off in earnest tomorrow.

Neil has a couple of errands to run this week as well as a visit up to the Fargo Aviation Museum planned…but other than that will not be doing much at all.

Two funnies for ya today…a quote I saw on the Internet and a picture for our upcoming grand baby and Jen.

God give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the strength to change the things I can, and the wisdom to hide the bodies of the people killed because they bugged the crap out of me.

 

12 hours of labor

Cyas.

 

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Travel to Barnesville MN

Just a quick post after our travel day, about 250 miles and we are in site 3W at Wagner Park Campground in Barnesville MN right outside of Fargo ND. We have no wifi internet here so only have our Millenicom air card for connectivity. So I will have to run over to the library if we have any photo intensive posts. The park is quiet and has pretty large grass sites with full hookups. Neil has to order some Amazon stuff and we will get delivered via General Delivery at the post office in town. Hope that works all right. Here’s a shot of our site setup.

Cyas.

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Two Hike Day…Including the Mosquito Death March Hike

Well…at least one of our hikes was really nice yesterday.

After breakfast we packed up ourselves a picnic lunch and headed out about 15 miles from here to our first hike at the Homesteader Nature Trail in Brandon. This turned out to be a pretty decent hike…we had the park almost all to ourselves the whole time. On arrival we saw a fellow getting out of his car with his dog and heading off on the loop trail. We didn’t see where he went so wandered around a bit before finally finding the trail start…although we ended up taking a different path through the series of loops forming the trail than he did. We ran into him again about 3/4 of the way through heading the other way but he was gone by the time we got back to the parking area. We were alone through our lunch break sitting on the picnic table and another fellow and his dogs showed up right as we were leaving.

The land for this park was donated by the descendants of John Samuelson who originally homesteaded with his wife Anna in 1869 after they emigrated from Sweden. He built this cabin and it was used by his family and the 160 acres farmed by his descendants until 1967 when it was bought by the country and turned into the current park.

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Heading out on the hike we missed the sign for the entrance into the trail and sort of took the back way in.

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After crossing the creek through the property we got a couple of nice shots of the oxbow bends…the creek probably curved 2 or 3 miles in all as it passed through the 160 acre site (about a quarter of a square mile)…it was quite twisty and we crossed over it several times as we traversed the loop. The trail wasn’t marked and had numerous intersections with other trails…all of which appeared to be maintained so we generally kept our selves in a loop and used our the GPS on our iPhones to figure out which way to turn at each junction. Connie found the trail on her All Trails app…but there was no information at all in either the app or on a sign at the park so we were sort of on our own.

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This was a pretty nice little hike about 1.7 miles in total. We had put on bug spray but the critters weren’t actually bad at all and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Didn’t see any wildlife but it was still a nice walk through the woods.

After lunch we headed off to our second hike at the Valley of the Giants Nature Trail…no idea why it is called this as again neither All Trails or the trail signage said anything. This was supposedly a 1.2 mile loop hike out around a bend of the Big Sioux River…which eventually flows through Sioux Falls about 7 or 8 miles to the southwest of the hike location and over the falls there. We paid our 6 buck per vehicle entry fee and got parked…everything seemed normal and we headed out on the hike…everything seemed normal for a couple of hundred yards then we got into the mosquito zone. I tell ya…there wuz thousands of them and it seemed that the bug spray (even though we liberally applied some more) just attracted the little buggers. We pressed on hoping that it was just a localized thing…we’ve found on a lot of hikes that you’ll run into a patch of mosquitos either at a particular elevation or close to a small body of water and that climbing or descending just a few feet as you hike makes them disappear. No such luck on that one today though…we did have a few spots where we had less of them around but by and large it was continuous. We thought this was surprising as it wasn’t really a swampy hike with lots of standing water for them to breed in…the only real water was the Big Sioux River but it was flowing steadily so would not really serve as a breeding ground for them. So we ended up hiking pretty quickly and only stopped for a few photos…what with them buzzing around the camera and your head it made for a pretty lousy walk. Still good exercise but that’s about all you could say for it.

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We came home and had burgers and leftover couscous for dinner…then Neil went out and got another shot of a nice sunset over the freeway before calling it a day.

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Today we’re headed up to the Jazzfest in Sioux Falls…there are a couple of zydeco and New Orleans style bands playing…and we’ll have some barbecue or a hotdog or whatever while we’re there probably…I’m thinking they’ll likely have beer as well. Tomorrow we’re off to a local winery where they have music and sangria…can’t complain about that either.

Cyas.

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Day Trip to Sioux Falls to See…Sioux Falls

Well, today’s Fun stuff© was a quick trip to the city of Sioux Falls to see the namesake Sioux Falls on the Big Sioux River as it passes through town. Connie spent pretty much all day yesterday working and catching up…Neil went on a bike ride…then they had some pork stir fry for dinner last night.

Today it was soft boiled eggs for breakfast then we goofed off until lunch. After a ham and cheese sammy we headed off for our walkabout at Falls Park (Sioux is about 20 miles north of us), scouted out the location for this weekend’s Jazzfest that we’re going to on Saturday, stopped by the LBS (local bike shop) for some new inner tubes for Neil as he used his last spare, and stopped by the Hi-Vee for a few groceries that we needed. While there we also picked up some lamb chops to grill one night and some fresh fish (tilapia from Equador) for dinner tonight.

First up though…a couple of sunset shots from last night…hard to believe these were taken over the freeway isn’t it?

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Ok…Sioux Falls. Way back 80 million years ago the area around here was (heck, it still is) pretty much a plain and what we call the Big Sioux River flowed south past the site of present day Sioux Falls, SD. During the last Ice Age in North America about 15,000 years ago the course of the river was blocked by the western arm of a glacier…the glacier split around a high plateau north of here. The glacier blocked the river…which naturally found another way and created another channel…which it then eroded down to the bedrock here which is quartzite rock…this is harder than granite and almost as hard as diamond…so it didn’t erode and the result was the present day falls.

The falls has 3 drops totaling about 80 feet or so…the upper and lower falls are pretty small about about 10 feet each but the middle one drops a nice and impressive 40 feet or so. The water is pretty brown right now…lots of silt in it from the spring runoff after the winter snow melted. The city was established in the late 1870s…after the Civil War amazingly enough (we thought it was at least settled before that but we wuz incorrect) and grew up around first a flour mill and then a power plant that used the power of the falls to drive them. The flour plant was abandoned in the late 1890s and used for a variety of purposes until it burned in the 1930s the first floor walls were maintained as a historic attraction and there’s a picture of them below. The power plant was phased out in the 1950s sometime and turned eventually into a cafe/restaurant in the current city park that contains the falls and the remains of several water power related businesses.

The lower falls in the foreground and the middle on at rear…the upper falls are out of sight in this shot.

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The former power house turned into a cafe/restaurant.

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Lower and middle falls from the bridge across the river here.

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Closeup of the middle falls…a wide angle shot from about 30 feet away right at the edge of the river.

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An HDR version of the shot above…this is much more what it looked like to the eye.

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The middle falls from the left hand side…Neil was standing on the green spot you can see in the upper left of the above shot for this one.

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The abandoned flour mill, it’s associated turbine building is visible in a later shot.

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First wildlife sighting of the day…wonder if he’s radioactive like the bunnies out in Idaho at the Nuclear Prototype Training Site were.

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Female Blue Winged Teals.

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F-16…this guy and 3 of his buddies took off from the airport north of the falls area and screamed over us about 600 miles an hour…wonder where they were going in such a hurry. It was an hour or two after the initial reports on the news of the airliner being shot down over eastern Ukraine…so it was likely an increase in the air defense readiness for US forces ordered by the Strategic Air Command…which would have gotten a few fighters airborne. Nothing that can sustained easily over the long term but when readiness goes up the alert aircraft typically take off in case they are needed, the readiness increase comes out pretty quickly and with not too many details about what or why.

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Japanese beetle.

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The middle falls from the right side of the river…you can see the flour mill turbine house at the left. The close up shot was taken from the rocks below the turbine house and the shot from the other side of the river taken from the grassy area to the right of the turbine house.

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And finally a shot of all of the falls taken from the observation tower at the park. The lower falls is just visible (well, the top of them anyway) at the far left and you can see the upper falls in the background at right just below the railroad bridge. Most of the actual river flow doesn’t actually come over the upper falls but rather through a set of rapids underneath the left hand half of the railroad bridge then dumps into the main channel just above the middle falls. You can really see the silt in the flow from this viewpoint.

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With that our day was done. After a quick stop at the LBS for tubes and the grocery store for some needed supplies we headed home and will rest, dinner, and TV until bedtime.

Cyas.

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Slight Change of Plans

Well, we left St. Joseph this morning for our 220 mile trip north to South Sioux City, NE…our destination was the Scenic Park RV Campground run by the city and sitting right on the Missouri River. On the way up the park called and told Neil they would save us a water/electric site so we figgered we wuz home free.

On our arrival…the first sign of trouble was the crummy look of the city itself followed by the fact that the park is in sort of a bad neighborhood. The second sign of trouble was when we got to the park and they said they never talked to Neil today and had no spaces. Neil went in and talked to them and they admitted talking to us but still had no spaces.. So…we regrouped and talked about it a bit, checked on openings at our choice B…Ponka State Park in Nebraska nearby but they only had no hookup sites available.

So we picked another park up towards Sioux Falls SD and headed in that direction. About halfway up we stopped in a rest stop and checked out the campgrounds in Sioux Falls. There were several to choose from but all of them (at least the ones with full hookups) were right next to the freeway. Given that we decided that if we were going to be parked next to the freeway anyway we would stick with our original choice of Countryside RV Park about 18 miles south of the city. It was only 125 a week instead of 35 a night and a parking lot alongside the highway is pretty much the same no matter where you are.

So…we got to the park and got settled into site 23…an outstanding site for 125 bucks a week. There’s a little freeway noise but with so little traffic that will die off by about 2200 or so. We’ve got a nice view from reasonably spaced sites over a cornfield. Not as nice a view as Mount Ranier or the woods…but much better than looking over the highway.

We ended up 2 states (NE and SD) farther than we planned but I’m sure that Sioux Falls has interesting stuff to do just like Sioux City would have…and as a bonus we only have about 270 miles to go next week to Fargo rather than the 340 we originally were going to have.

We got setup and then ran into the closest town of Worthing and had dinner at Otis’s Bar and Grill…fried beef short ribs, some tater wedges, and a couple of draft Fat Tire Ales each and all was good. After that we came home and will rest in the recliner until bedtime.

Here’s a shot of our setup…I’ll try to get Neil to take one of our cornfield view tomorrow for ya.

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Not much else to report for today. Tomorrow Connie has some work to do…she had a conference call with her boss yesterday and has more work to do now. Thursday and Friday we’ll plan on some Fun Stuff© 

Cyas.

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Escape From Camp Horizons

Well…come Thursday morning we looked about and all the stuff that was gonna get done on the rig was done so we quickly packed up, paid our bill…which was much smaller than it would have been if we had gotten everything done…and hit the road. We’re sort of irritated that the two upgrades we wanted the most didn’t happen…but the service department just really didn’t seem much interested in trying to figure out how to get them. I’m guessing that New Horizons management has put their emphasis on production of new units for sale rather than trying to provide great after the sale service to current owners…more money in the former I ‘spose. Seems a bit penny wise/pound foolish to me as with no sales rooms and little to no advertising the company primarily relies on word of mouth from current owners to get new customers. That being the case…tales of great after the sale support and willingness to figure out how to meet requests would go a long way…but mebbe that’s jus me.

Anyhoo…we got on the road about 0900 for the 171 mile trip to St. Joseph MO where we pulled into the Beacon RV Park about 1330. On our approach from the highway we were going through sort of an automobile row part of town, ya know the one where there’s dealer after dealer in a row…and wondered whether this would be a nice place or not. The front office area didn’t look too great either but by the time we got pulled into site 14 we had changed our thinking. Once you’re inside the park it’s a pretty nice place with grass and trees around and it turned out to be pretty quiet…we’re downhill a bit from the main road so most of the traffic noise goes over us. The folks that run it are friendly…so we’re calling it a keeper.

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We lazed about the rest of Thursday afternoon out under the tree in the Zero Gravity Recliners…then had to close up the house and turn on the A/C by evening time as it didn’t ever really cool down inside…and the A/C has been on ever since as it’s been in the upper 90s all weekend.

Friday Connie worked awhile then we goofed off again…between the 3 week vacation and chasing repairs/upgrades all week in Junction City we were pretty beat down.

Saturday we headed off to the Pony Express Museum here in St. Joseph…which was the eastern terminus of the horse mail relay back in 1860-61. It was started by  William H. Russell, Alexander Majors, and William B. Waddell who were already partners in a freight business to the west at the time. The service (officially it was not the Pony Express but rather the Central Overland California and Pikes Peak Express Company) guaranteed 10 day service (15 days in winter) for mail from St. Joseph to Sacramento CA through the central route over the Rockies…through present day Nebraska and then via Fort Bridger WY and Salt Lake City UT to Sacramento…cutting north of most of the Rockies through South Pass and then over the Sierra Nevada near Lake Tahoe. Cost was $5 per half ounce which was later reduced to $1 per ounce…the system operated for about 18 months from April 3, 1860 through October of 1861…when the cross country telegraph was completed in late 1861 it spelled the death knell of the service…which we found a bit strange because while you can do a lot by telegram there were still some things for which an actual paper document needed to be sent. While it was in operation it was far faster for getting mail from the east coast to California than any of the alternatives which included ship around Cape Horn in South America and a ship to Panama followed by coach to the Pacific coast of Panama followed by another ship to California. It grossed about $90,000 and cost $200,000 to operate so as a service went it was a money losing idea. We found it sort of funny that something that only existed for 18 months ended up being so famous in western lore. We didn’t take many shots in the museum…here’s one of the monument outside the restored stable.

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After our tour we headed home with stops at CVS (cheater reading glasses), Radio Shack (headphones for Connie) and the Hi-Vee grocery for some more veggies…we’re trying to eat a bit lighter with more fresh fruits and veggies so that we can lose some weight and get back to where we want to be. We headed home then back out to Mass at 1600 so we wouldn’t have to get up early today. Dinner last night was seared Ahi Tuna…pretty good piece of fish we found…and we’re having steak tonight.

It rained most of the night and morning but looks pretty nice now so mebbe Neil will go out and get a ride in before dinner. He’s working on some computer backups as well…all of their 50 GB of photos taken on vacation need to get backed up to the  external drives Neil keeps in the car and BAT.

Cyas.

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Thoughts on Ireland

Hi, Gunther here again. I’ve resumed posting now that the adults have returned from their sojourn over to the Emerald Isle.

Even though I wasn’t there…I’ve discussed the pros and cons of going to Ireland extensively with Neil and Connie this week and thought that it might be appropriate to pass along a few observations, tips, cautions and whatevers just in case you ever think about going over there.

Ireland does a lot of things right…and while the converse of that might be that they do a lot of things wrong it’s more correct to say that they do a lot of things differently. Some small number of those might seem wrong to us but hey…it’s their country so I’m not about to tell them they’re wrong.

So…things that Ireland really gets right.

Top of the list is gas mileage in vehicles and the cost of driving. We spend a lot of time in America driving huge, gas guzzling cars for no true purpose other than we want big, fancy, and expensive. Ireland in particular…and I guess Europe in general…has actually proven that you can have cars that get good mileage and still get the job done. Most of their time was spent on the road with a 4 door VW Golf. Not a huge car but big enough and they averaged over 45 miles per gallon the whole time. A lot of this is done by tricks like using diesel engines instead of gasoline, having the car stop when you pull up to a traffic light and start again when you take your foot off the brakes to start up again, and having 7 (yep, 7) speed auto transmissions even in basic economy cars like a Golf to maximize fuel efficiency. With gas at an effective price of $7.50 a gallon for diesel (gas was 40 or 50 cents more) in the Republic’s when paying Euros and about $8.70 a gallon when paying in Pounds Sterling in Northern Ireland they have to be frugal. So…people have the size car they need and not the largest one they can afford. BTW…paying that much for fuel didn’t kill the economy over there either Of course…having smaller cars makes it easier to drive on their narrow roads…see things they do different later.

Second would be the service industry. While it’s common in America to pay waiters or bartenders a wage less than the minimum wage and force them to depend on potential tips to make a living…tipping is very rare in Ireland. The servers get a salary they can live on for doing their jobs…and strangely enough it hasn’t killed the restaurant business or bar business.

Pubs…we don’t really have anything like an Irish pub in America. We have bars and upscale restaurants but very few that have the atmosphere, great conversation, and generally nice-place-to-be attitude of an Irish pub. We ate most of our meals in pubs and usually sat at the bar (you meet a whole better class of people sitting at the bar then you do sitting by yourself with your family at a separated table.

Friendly people…we really found everybody in Ireland to be extremely polite, helpful and genuinely glad to meet us and either explain some intricacy of soccer (since the World Cup was going on while we were there), or correct a misinterpretation of something Irish (there were several of those along the way).

Courteous and civil drivers who didn’t try to run you off the road. Frequently on their roads (did I mention they were narrow with no shoulders, twisty, hilly, generally hard to see more  than 50 yards ahead and usually had speed limits of 50-60 miles an hour) you would meet up with another car. While most roads allowed enough room to pass (as long as it wasn’t a large truck) if you got way over and slowed down…there were many that made that impossible and the only solution was that somebody had to back up. This was almost always the guy that had the easier way to back up to a slightly wider spot…or if they saw you coming and had a wide spot right there they would pull over and wait; then give you a friendly wave when you passed. We did the same for others when we had the easier time of it and there was none of the “I drive a Beamer, get out of my way” attitude that a lot of drivers in America.

Nobody drives the speed limit…except on those aforementioned really narrow roads that Neil slowed down on. On roads that more closely resembled what we would see in America driving slower than the limit was normal.

There were a lot (and I do mean a lot) of tractors pulling loads of hay or tanks of whatever driving down the roads. Ireland seemed to be mostly rural in nature so this was completely normal…as was the fact that they would pull over onto the shoulder if there was one or wave you by if you were having trouble seeing around them.

No passing lines on the road are just a suggestion.

Road rage…non existent as far as we could see.

Parking…well, let’s just say that it’s an art form over here. As long as there is no double yellow line indicating no parking then almost anything is considered fair game…cars parked facing both ways on both sides of the road and frequently had one set of wheels up on the sidewalk.

Traffic enforcement appeared to be mostly non existent as well…we saw a total of 2 Guard cars on the road and one speeding camera van parked…along with a couple dozen signs warning you of speed cameras. In spite of this…nobody was speeding, nobody parked illegally (well, not blatantly anyway).

Food was actually pretty decent. We ended up eating big breakfasts most days so had a late lunch that was more substantial then we were used to…which meant that usually dinner was a shared appetizer and a couple of beers. Bacon…on the other hand…was an adventure as was the sausage and the black or white pudding.

The beer was excellent…although always served at a warmer temperature than one would find back home. Stouts and porters in particular taste better at 55 degrees or so but even the ales, IPAs and Ciders were served at that temp. We had plenty of Guinness of course…but also a whole bunch of others that are rarer in the states like Beamish and Murphys…but then we had Franciscan Well Stout and Kilkenny Cream Ale (this has a head and texture like a stout but is a red ale like Smithwicks or Yuengling would be) that we thought were the best beers we had in the country. We also sampled O’Hara Stout and Irish Red, Bulmers Cider and another dozen or so beyond that…although our go to beers were Guinness and Smithwicks unless there was something local more interesting on tap. We saw a lot of craft beers but they were all in bottles so we didn’t try any of those.

The Irish whiskey was also excellent…and we had a distinct impression disproved. We pretty much thought that Irish was all smooth as opposed to Scotch which was usually peaty or smoky tasting. Turns out that there are many Irish whiskeys…particularly those made in the north and eastern parts of the country…that reminded us much more of Scotch than of Irish. We didn’t sample them all of course…but did have a dozen or so. Of those…Greenore, Yellow Spot, and Tyrconnell were the best as we decided that the smooth ones were much more to our liking than the peaty ones. Bushmills and Connemara were good but not our favorites. We got a recommendation from one of our pub men that we should try McKinnon’s Dark Spiced Rum as it was the original spiced rum but haven’t found any yet to actually try. 

Pancakes…these were excellent; the best Neil has ever had. Rather than the fluffy cake like texture we’re used to these were made of some combination of corn and wheat flour and had a very nice texture, chew and flavor to them. They’re pretty thin but very tasty indeed.

Chip and Pin credit cards. These are genius and much better than the swipe cards that we more typically see. The latter have essentially no security at all while the former have all the financial info on the chip and can’t be read unless one puts in the PIN number. The server or pub man always brings the card machine to you so your card never leaves your sight as it almost always does back home. We can’t wait for this to be universal in the US as it’s a no-brainer as far as maintaining security of your financial information.

Customs and immigration on leaving Ireland…although this may be more due to a US government request. We actually completely cleared US Customs and Immigration before we even got to our departure gate. On leaving we headed through the Irish equivalent of the TSA then over to the departure terminal. Once there we went through US TSA, Immigration, and Customs checkpoints and had all that jazz done before getting into the departure areas with all of the other international destination travelers. It was in an international cleared terminal area but was not separated by country.

Things they do differently.

Roads I already talked about…but didn’t mention that many of them (including the 60 miles and hour limit ones) might have livestock (mostly sheep) wandering freely across the road.

Driving on the other side of the road was disconcerting the first day or so but one pretty quickly gets used to that. Driving on the other side of the car (the right front seat) was a much more interesting idea. Neil actually found that much harder to do than driving on the left side of the road as one’s perspective changes and it makes it really really hard to stay in your lane and not either end up across the centerline or with the wheels on the shoulder (which might or might not be there).

Bacon…well, Irish bacon isn’t. It’s pork belly all right but it’s much more like a salt cured ham than what we would call bacon. Tasted pretty good…like ham…but it just wasn’t bacon.

White (or black) pudding. The closest I can come to describing this is a meatloaf like consistency with very finely ground pork mixed with some sort of grain that Neil could not identify. It tasted OK but he only had a couple of samples before giving it up as not something he wanted to eat every day. Black pudding is the same but has blood added so it’s the color of a blood sausage…tasted really livery.

Sausage…Irish sausage only comes in links (no patties) and is much more finely ground pork than American sausage is. The flavor was close to what we have back home but had a unique something in the spice mix so it tasted just a bit off. No texture at all. We decided that Irish people must not like texture in their food as a whole lot of it is pureed…potatoes, parsnip, carrots…as well as the soups. With the exception of vegetable soup it’s all processed through an immersion blender (what Emeril would call a boat motor) before being served.

Eggs. I think the concept of a liquid yolk must be illegal or something.

Weather…Irish weather has the reputation of being lousy but either the reputation is wrong or we were extraordinarily lucky. It never got hot or cold…we had to wear a fleece or rugby shirt in the early morning or late evenings but it was comfortable the rest of the time with high temps in the 70s. We had 2 days that were really rainy, 3 that were beautiful all day and the remainder of them were partly cloudy to partly sunny depending on time of day. All in all we thought we had great weather outside the 2 rainy days.

Ice…again, ice must be illegal or something. Most places had none and those that did you would get maybe 2 cubes in your glass of soda (not that we drank any soda of course…it was more expensive than beer). The whiskey we drank neat with just a few drops of water added to help the flavor bloom.

The Republic of Ireland was nicer than Northern Ireland which is still part of the UK and the people were a bit nicer in the Republic as well…not to say that their northern brethren weren’t nice but they just lost a bit in comparison. The north was more industrialized and the cities and towns looked a lot more like US inner cities do rather than the quaint and charming little towns you saw in the Republic. Even the bigger cities in the Republic like Dublin, Sligo and Killarney were nicer looking than their northern counterparts. This doesn’t mean I’m suggesting not going to the north…they have some sights like the Giant’s Causeway and the Glens of Antrim that definitely make the trip worthwhile…just plan on spending most of your time in the Republic. Three and a half weeks overall is just about the right amount of time…you can’t see everything but you can see a lot and you can proceed at a pace that keeps you from getting run down…we enjoyed not having to be in “vacation mode” as that’s much more tiring once you go over about a week or so.

OK, let me toss in a few photos you haven’t seen yet…no blog post is complete without some pictures.

The library at Trinity College Dublin.

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Wicklow Mountains National Park.

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A charming 250 year old country cottage…with a satellite dish on the rear that you can’t see.

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The Rock of Cashel.

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One of the few castles we saw with a moat.

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Grey Heron…very similar to the Great Blue we have back home.

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Fourteen Arch Bridge in some small town we passed through…we actually stopped to find a rest stop and spotted this.

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Cliffs along the Dingle Coast.

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Puffins at Skellig Michael.

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The monastery on top of Skellig Michael with Little Skellig in the background.

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Leaving Skellig Michael…the monastery is right above the large section of green to the left of the peak.

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Cliffs of Moher.

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Fourth and a Foot Mary.

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Giant’s Causeway.

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All in all…a really great vacation. But we’re happy to be back home and ready to head off from Camp Horizons tomorrow.

Cyas.

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