Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Hi Ho, Hi Ho, it's back to work we go.

Well summer is officially over and it's time to get back to the classroom. Mind you, I rather like my job and enjoy doing it, so it isn't too painful. We also have a new beloved leader who seems to be very dynamic and on top of things. Last year's model was, unfortunately for us, less than optimal, which made my job a lot harder to do, nuff said.

So what did I do after the trip to Ireland? I could say that I travelled to the far reaches of the North American continent but that would be a slight exaggeration, all I did was go stay at Mrs. BB's place in Gatineau. Now for those of you from foreign climes, a small geography lesson. Our nation's capital is Ottawa which sits on the Ottawa river, across said river, is the city of Gatineau which is on the Rivière des Outaouais which is the name the francophones call it. So not only do they have two names for the same river but the two cities, which are for all intents and purposes just one metropolitan region, reside in two different provinces. This has all kinds of interesting consequences, for example, let's say Johnny Canuck works for the feds in the ministry of doodads in Ottawa and his department is moved to their new building in Gatineau. He has moved one kilometre from where he was but he now works in a different province, which means the payroll deductions for income taxes, social security, Medicare are different from his province of residence, which makes filing his income tax return an even bigger hassle. Only in Canada.

What did I do in the month of August besides trying to figure out the name of the river, well I pedalled all around Gatineau. For a rather small city, Gatineau has world class bike trails. The city has hundreds of kilometres of trails. Not bike trails like here in Montreal where you have to share the road with cars. No, real two way paved bikeways that are more than 80% through forest, meadows and wetlands. On the island of Montreal, all the land along the river was sold off to developers long ago. In Gatineau/Ottawa all the land along the Ottawa/Outaouais river and the Gatineau River was made into a park and the bikeway follows the parks. On the island of Montreal, the municipalities can't even get their acts together and hook up all the different bike paths. In Ottawa/Gatineau all the bike paths are one network and it is easy to get to where you want to be. Here in Montreal, if we want to cross the St. Lawrence river by bike, you have to ride all the way to the "Estacade" (a small bridge/pillared structure used to break up the ice) to be able to cross safely, There are three bridges and one tunnel and none of them are bike friendly. In Ottawa/Gatineau all the bridges have dedicated bike paths, not sharing the road with the cars, not riding on the pedestrian sidewalk, but reserved lanes for bikes and to top it off they connect the Gatineau bikeways with the Ottawa bikeways... fantastic. Finally to put the cherry on the sundae, on Sunday mornings all the roads in the Parc de la Gatineau and the Ottawa River Parkway are open only to bikes... The mayor of Montreal is always going on about how green we are, and how we need to get rid of cars in town. He should go see in Gatineau how it should be done, people regularly go to work by bike, there are always plenty of bike racks to park your bike and they are often under CCT surveillance, and more importantly you can get from A to B without getting killed.

So what did I do there... you guessed it, I explored all those marvellous bikeways. I ended up doing 50 km a day and in the three weeks I was there. I did about 600 km in all, I was in bike heaven. So here are some photos that illustrate what the paths look like.

As you can see there is plenty of wild life, in fact the last day (when I left my camera at home) I saw a deer in a clearing. We watched each other for at least five minutes before I kept on riding.

Fallen tree on the Gatineau River

Monday, August 18, 2008

Ireland the finale.

Being the lazy person that I am, I haven't yet put up the last pictures from Ireland. In the last part of the trip we visited pretty much the south east part of the island. The last time we were in Ireland we had passed through Waterford but never really stopped, but this time Mrs. BB wanted to visit the famous Waterford Crystal works. What they can do with glass is unbelievable but also very expensive. The price is a reflection of the workmanship that goes into each piece. As an example, we wanted to bring back four wine glasses, one for each of the children and a pair for Mrs. BB and I. When we saw that each was worth minimum 55 euros (80$ US) we kind of decided that something smaller would be nice. The craftsmanship is worth the price but in this case it was outside the budget.

Here the craftsmen are putting a handle on a jug. The glass has already been cut so they wouldn't want to ruin it.

This is a master cutter cutting a pattern into the crystal vase. Each piece is molded by hand and cut by hand. To become a cutter the person is apprenticed for 10 years and to become a master cutter the person must have a university degree in Fine Arts. There are over one hundred and ten different patterns and the cutter must memorize each one.

These are examples of the designs made by the master craftsmen. These are the artists that design the special commisions such as the trophy above. When they are not working on a commision they are allowed to work on personal projects of their own. This is a project inspired by 9/11 and the heroes that risked their lives to save the survivors.

Of course we had to have a Guinness and supper at the pub. This one of the oldest in Waterford as you can see by the front window.

Our B&B at Rosslare a the south east tip of Ireland

An Irish cottage not far from the B&B

Jerpoint Abbey contains among the best preserved medieval sculptures in Ireland.

The cloisters. Each of the columns has a figure carved into it. The first one was the first abbot and the second one was a knight that was the benefactor of the abbey. He is in full chain mail and his crest is still visible on his shield. His wife is on the obverse of the column.

The sculptures also gave lessons to the monks as they strolled around the cloister, this is one giving the dangers of gluttony. A Pepto-Bismol moment?

An example of the sculptures on one of the tombs. Dates from the medieval period. The on in the centre is the Archangel Michel, the one on the left is Ste- Catherine and her wheel and the other I'm not sure about.

The Browns Hill Dolmen. The cap stone weighs over 100 tons. It is in the middle of a farmer's wheat field. On the main road nearby are a whole bunch of car dealers. I can just see one of them buying the land and having the dolmen in the middle of his car lot. Good thing that it is protected by the Irish Government.

Dunmore Cave is one of the largest caves in Ireland. Legend has it that the Vikings massacred 1000 people in the cave. Although this seems implausible, when the cave was finally explored by archaeologists, human remains were found in the great chamber and later on a Viking treasure was found by a guide as he was checking the cave before closing for the night. The second picture is of our guide playing an Irish lament on a penny whistle in the darkness of the Great Chamber, the echoing sound was eerie.

We finally finished up our trip in Dublin. Dublin is a beautiful city that is known for its Georgian doors. These doors all follow the same design as you can see by the picture.

Phoenix Park is the Europe's largest city park. It is 2.5 times larger than New York's Central Park. One thing that I found fascinating is that the lights are all gas lights like they had in the 19th century. I have read that the original street gas lamps were used until the 60's and 70's, then they put in electricity. They have since gone back to the original gas light except today they are automatic and don't need a lamplighter.

The park is also the home of Ireland's president. The house is known as Áras an Uachtaráin. Kind of looks like the White House doesn't it?

The river Liffey

One of the numerous bridges.

The Ha'penny bridge, so called because it cost half a penny to cross.

A statue of Molly Malone, about whom a famous song is sung.

In Dublin's fair city,
where the girls are so pretty,
I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone,
As she wheeled her wheel-barrow,
Through streets broad and narrow,
Crying, "Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh!"

Since legend has it that she was also a prostitute by night and the statue's assets are there for all to see, the Dubliners have dubbed the statue "The tart with the cart" ;o)

Grafton Street, the main shopping street of Dublin

Indoor market near the Temple Bar.

A street of the Temple Bar. This section of the city has kept its medieval street layout and is the bohemian heart of Dublin. Fishamble Street in Temple Bar was the location of the first performance of Handel's Messiah in 1742

One of the pubs.

Another one

The Old Post Office where the Irish Republic was born in 1916. There are still bullet holes from when the rebellion was put down by the British Army. The leaders of the 1916 Rebellion
were taken to Kilmainham Goal where they were executed by the British.

Kilmainham Gaol

So that concludes our trip to Ireland. I hope that it might have given you a taste for Ireland and that you'll have the chance to visit this wonderful land someday.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Do you like swedish?

Came across this blog for any of you DIY'ers (do it yourself, that's what they call it in England). If you like Ikea hex keys and like modifying things to suit your needs, the Ikea Hacker blog is just the thing for you. It is probably put up by Ikea, but it is fun to see what people are able to do with a bit of ingenuity.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Ireland part 4

Well I guess it's time to put up another part of the the Irish trip... The last week I've been here in Gatineau and have been mostly riding my bike. The Ottawa/Gatineau region is marvelous for that. There are bike paths all over the Capital Region. I can leave from the apartment near the Parc de la Gatineau and ride all the way to Ottawa, cross the Ottawa river (all the bridges across the Ottawa river have dedicated bike paths...are you listening Montreal?) and never have to get off the bike paths. they are not on the roads with the car traffic, but through parks, forest and river side. I've done 50 km a day for the last week, great...but today it is raining and since it tends to be somewhat hilly at times, and wet wheels to not make for great brakes, I'll take a break today. ;o)

So here are some pictures from the trip thse pictures are from the Burrens. This region of Ireland has the same kind of terrain as the Aran Islands. The bedrock is limestone and the arable earth has been stripped off by the glaciers which has lead to weird weathering and what they call pavement that are seperated by grikes and clints. It is hard to describe and even harder to walk in since you always have to look at where you place your feet.

Going around Black Point was rather interesting because of the road but also because of the obstacles. ;o)
The region also contains some really awesome cliffs. The Cliffs of Moher are spectacular and you can walk along the path on the cliff edge for kilometers, which I did of course. The path is at your own risk and some parts of it are within a foot or two of the edge which drops down 200 meters to the sea below. (I checked the height in Wikipedia because it seemed way higher.) I loved the walk and the feeling of being so close a great void. I love high places where I can see forever... especialy if my toes are dangling over the edge. Mrs. BB, having vertigo, does not find my love of high empty places funny at all. ;o) The last picture gives you an idea of scale...The Burrens is also one of the places where we can find the most prehistoric sites, from ring forts to burial sites, they spot the landscape. One of the most famous is the Poulnabrone portal tomb a burial site from the neolithic.

Since the Burrens are limestone there were bound to be caves. This is one of the largest caves in Ireland Ailwee Caves. They also have a sanctuary for birds of prey where they give a home to birds of prey that are injured before releasing them back into nature.

And where would we be in Ireland if we didn't find a high cross. The high cross of Dysart O'Dey is on of the best preserved in Ireland. It was once part of an abbey, but is now sitting in the middle of a cow pasture. The ruins are still used for burials, as are most ruins of churches and monasteries. The reason we were given is that when Henry VIII founded the church of England the population, which largely stayed catholic, were no longer allowed to bury their dead in the protestant churchyards. Since the ruins were still consecrated ground, they continued to bury their dead in the ruins.