Coasterville Commentary

Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States

Friday, April 24, 2009

TR: Kings Island - 4/18/09

Trip Report: Kings Island
Mason, OH
April 18, 2009

"A 7:45 arrival ought to do it"

It's time to begin another coaster season, and this year my home park Kings Island, unveiled a brand new rollercoaster. It was with great excitement that I went to the park with Paul Miller. To give you an idea of how impressive the new coaster, Diamondback, is well Paul drove 14 hours each way from Minneapolis just to ride it.

The park was expecting a crowd for the new coaster's opening day, and they took the unprecedented step of starting opening procedures with the parking lot at 6am and the park gates at 8am. The rides were to still open at 10AM unless you had a gold or platinum pass, in which case Diamondback would open at 9AM. We planned on getting the park early, and wound up waking up ahead of schedule, getting to breakfast ahead of schedule, and arriving at the park at 7:45. We ought to be here early enough.

We pulled into the parking lot using my gold pass to dodge the $10 parking fee and filed into the rapidly filling gold pass lot. I was getting out of the car when April and Pete pulled up in the next parking space, we could not have timed that better had we tried. We all walked up to the entry plaza and we encountered lines for every security lane stretching all the way back to the main flagpole and growing fast.

As the park advertised at 8AM the security checkpoints opened and by 8:10 we were entering the park. We made the mistake of stopping off at the restrooms, but at least we got to see the really cool new hand dryers, a model where you stick your hands into the machine and it dries your hands with air coming from all over. It's fast and cool, but I doubt they have enough of them.

We continued our mission to ride Diamondback and found that only the Larosa's side of International Street was open, and the plan was if you had a gold pass you made the turn towards Scooby Doo, and if you didn't have a gold pass you waited up by Sttarbucks. By the time we joined the line, it was stretched back from the entrance of Scooby Doo back to the intersection on International Street. The park had some guys walking back the line trying to tell us something but their megaphones weren't nearly loud enough, particularly when they had to compete with the music over the house sound system. I also suspect the may have had the media taking pictures of the loud crowd assembled.

Shortly after 9AM, they opened the next checkpoint, we stayed towards the middle of the crowd which was a good idea. It seems that when you got near Scooby Doo they had portable fencing setup that gradually narrowed down to force a single file line, shortly before that they had security holding back the crowd letting about 50-100 people through every few minutes. With all this, it took us till about 9:15 to clear this checkpoint,

We followed the crowd between the cones and walked through Nick Universe. I was disheartened when the Diaomondback line was stretched across the blue ice cream stand and heading towards tower. I could not believe it when we proceeded to walk back along the line and by the time we got to the end of it we had walked past Chik-Fill-A, past the International Showplace, wrapped around to the back of tower and halfway down the hill towards the floral clock. Yet for all that the line from that point was about a 1 hour and 45 minute walk. I say walk as due to the high capacity of Diamondback you never seem to stop moving. You might pause every once in a while for about 20 seconds, but generally you keep moving the whole time. Some solace could be had when we made the turn by Starbucks and could see the looks on the non passholders faces when the line continued to grow and grow,

So we took out walk around International Showplace, past Chick-Fill-A, past the blue ice cream stand,past the Central Grill, and then made the turn to Rivertown. When we entered Rivertown I was impressed with the new brick walkways around Diamondback and at first though that perhaps they had taken out the Rivertown blacktop but it seems only the areas they had to redo got the bricks. Lookiing into Rivetown the store that was an abandoned gift shop the last 5 seasons has reopened as the DB Trading Post with Diamondback goodies and the photo booth. The little food stand is still there, renamed the Snake Pit. The Backporch Stage and the old mining company have been torn down and replaced by the queue maze for Diamondback. The entrance will eventually be where the Back Porch Stage used to be but for now additional temporary line has been setup so the entance is right next to Rivertown Junction (what used to be Wings Diner, sporting a new blah tan paint scheme)

We entered the temporary line area passing the first test seat, the temporary area is just one Z shaped waiting area that leads to the real entrance. At the real entranceyou have access to the main line or the single rider line. It was at this point I was encouraged to try the test seat. Diamondback has an electronic test seat with a real working lapbar. You pull the bar closed, it locks, but you still aren't good, you have to be able to pull the bar down until the green light mounted in front of you lights up. I passed this test so I was admitted to the main waiting area.

First you go where mining company used to be, in this space you have a shaded queue area with several switchbacks and mist fans. It was at this point that we noted Rideman had arrived and was overseeing the proceedings getting video footage of the grand opening rather than riding. When you get to the part of the queue that walks alongside the restaurant you pass the soft drink and candy vending machines, you then go alongside the queue maze almost passing right by the ride entrance then you go around the corner to a second queue area that runs behind the Rivertown Junction building, effectively removing the picnic area that used to be there. This area has two long switchbacks and is unshaded. It does have misting fans, and you get to watch the splashdown effect. We also noted the line was now firlmy wrapped around back past Rivertown Pizza. Later reports would tell me it stretched back to at least Beast and maybe even Crypt.

After the second queue maze you turn right, go down a few stairs, walk underneath the track, then turn left and up a long flight of stairs. At the top of the stairs a seat assigner will diret you to your seats. Now I see why the line is constant motion, as no sooner could the seat assigner fill all 16 rows, the next train has arrived, accepted the new riders, and then the seat assigner could admit the nxt 32 people.

Diamondback is a B&M Hypercoaster, a typs of coaster that is at least 200' tall and featured no inversion elements, instead they feature high speed, and tall hills. Diamondback has the newest train style which has the staggered seating. The way it works is the odd numbered rows have 2 seats mounted in the center of the car, the back row of each car, or the even numbered rows have 2 single seats, one on each far end of the train, so when all is said and done the train is 4 seats wide, but the staggered arangement is meant to improve the view for those in the middle, as well as promoting the wide open feeling. Another reallly nice touch is that the trains are mainly red and orange, but each train is trimmed out in a different color: green, red, or orange. The track is gold and maroon for the lift hill and first drop, but turns to red and cream for the rest of the ride.

For our first ride we were lucky enough to be sent to the back row of the train. We took our seats in our seperate single seats. There is a safety railing in the back of the car between the two seats and also in front of you to make sure you don't fall down between the cars. I hopped up into my seat, which is set high enough that my feet can't touch the floor of the car while seated, its not as extreme as say an Intamin inverted coaster where you practically need to pole vault into your seat.

Now the big test, I pull bck on the safety bar. On the test seat I noted it took three clicks to get the green light to come on, but here on the train I could only get one noticeable click but the bar rested about where the bar on the test seat did. Luckily for me, this was deemed acceptable and we were soon on our way.

The trip up the lift hill is quick and is steep enough that you won't be enjoying the view of Rivertown on the way up. At the top we take the steep 74 degree drop that zooms down and runs between Crypt and Potato Works. I note generous airtime on the first drop, which is a good sign. The ride continues and the things I noted the most were how quiet the ride is, how smooth the ride is, but most iportantly the strong airtime on every single drop, even the drops coming off the mid course brake run, and the drop that feels like it has trims on it. The turnaround back behind Crypt is interesting to say the least, but the signature moments are at the end of the ride, starting with a helix that spins you around right above the walkway back by Beast, when you come out of this helix, you head down into the much smaller swan lake for the big splashdown. Of course the splashdown is created by fins on the train which cause the splash, while the trains tays dry. IF you stick your hands out to the sides while in the back seat you may get a splash here. You then go up one more hill and into the final brakes a quick turnaround back into the station, Folks, we have a winner here, best ride the park has opened in years. We quickly exit the ride and head to the DB Trading Post where we collected our free Diamondback t-shirts for being amongst the first 10,000 riders. Wile we were in the DB Trading Post we also looked at and decided to buy the 2 photos and 2 keychains package of our on ride photo for $20. The line to pick up your photos was stretched outside the building and wrapped around the corner. We asked if we could bring out claim ticket back when the stand was less crowded and were told we could.

On our way back into the station, we noted April and Pete heading down the exit ramp, wait they were supposed to be BEHIND us. Something is wrong here, and when we got to the wlakway we learned that even though the test seat cleared them to ride, they were rejected by the ride itself. Bummer. They retried the test seats and of course the test seats said they were fine. They got a manager involved who wanted to see what the deal was, well its official the real train seats are less accomodating than the test seats. April could ride, but needs a friend to push down hard on the lapbar for her.

With that all sorted out, I emark on a mission to show Paul the park as this was his first trip to Kings Island. We started by running jackets and t-shirts out to the car. I see they got rid of the magic light handstamps again, and went to blue handstamps where they apply entirely too much ink, I saw more than a few guests with blue ink smeared on other parts of their body and on their white shirts. Beverage service wristbands were also purchased at this time ($10 for all the fountain soda you can drink, not bad when one drink is $3.59 now) the park advertises these wristbands as little as possible, and I note they don't seem to get that much utilization. I know they started as an extension of the free beverage service for group outings, but if they are going to be sold to season passholders, or even the public at large, they should do a better job promoting them.

We head to action Zone after scoring two rounds of drinks. We start to head to Invertigo but the line was just way too long for a mere boomerang even if it is an inverted boomerang. Owing to Paul's height (almost 7') we skipped Drop Tower and Delirium and headed to Son of Beast.

Son of Beast had abot a 45 minute wait and we decided to not wait through the extra front seat queue. Son of Beast starts off good, but I knew when the train started shuffling in the lift approach, that even though the first drop is incredible the Rose Bowl helix would be miserable, which it was, then the mid course brakes and the former loop drop were pleasant, then the second helix was rough and shaky again. In other words it hasn't gotten any better, Paul absolutely hated the ride. To be fair, it was one of those rides he went on to see if it really is as bad as its reputation suggests.

We next headed to Flight Deck and the line was back to where the giant billboard used to be, which is a sign that the park truly is busy. About 20 or so munutes later we climb into seat 2 of Flight Deck and instantly realize that was a big mistake for somebody of Paul's size. Paul did find Flight Deck to be a enjoyable, made even more enjoyable as the girl sitting in the first row was taking her first ever ride on it and wa sgenuinely scared. We do agree that the ride is so short they should send you around twice.

We next headed to Adventure Express, while noting Delirum had about an hour wait. We got to Adventure Express and the queue area maybe a quater full which means only about 10 minutes What was more disheartening was the family ahead of us. All five bought Dippin Dots, separate cups for each one of course, for $5 each at the stand across from the ride entrance, then walked slowly though the queue in front of us eating it, then when they realized the line was so short they pitched unfinished, as in at least half full cups of Dippin Dots. Yikes, but hey its not my money. Adventure Expresses theming is falling apart yet again, which means its good that the ride experience itself is pretty solid for a mine ride. While waiting to ride Cameron texted us to say its now 1:30 and hea had made it on all of two rides, we weren't doing much better, as we were just about to board our fourth. I noted Advneture Express was only running two of its three trains

We exited the ride and I note the Cyber Sez reality game is finally gone, but its replacement isn't much better - a portable Jacob's Ladder game setup right in front of a much bigger permanent Jacob's Ladder game. I also noted that depsite claims to the contrary at SOAR that Outer Hanks was reverting back to being Bubba Gumps, that it is still Outer Hanks.

We head into Coney Mall and we find Racer with a two train wait on each side. After waiting in lines, this is more like it. We took a ride on each side so Paul could get both experiences. The red side is significantly better running, bu the blue side seems to go faster. I also learned that the difference between snug fit and downright uncomfortable fit comes down to which pocket my wallet is in

After Racer we backtracked to Festhaus for lunch. When we entered the Festhaus we caught the tail end of the county and western music show. Paul thought it was awful but I didn't think it was that bad. We headed into the food lines, and I have a distinct distate for using video panels as menu boards. Makes it way to easy to change prices. I get to the service counter and my eyes light up and I think I hit the jackpot as they had bowls of watermelon available. I grabbed a bowl without even asking how much it would be. We stepped down to the hot food counter where we each got two gigantic slabs of peperoni pizza. The sign of quality is when the pizza goes from pizza oven to your lunch tray in under 45 seconds.

We grabbed drinks, and headed to a table. The first thing we noticed is the air conditioner didn't seem to be on today, the other thing is that if Paul thought the C&W show was bad, we soon were dismayed to learn that Mr. Cowpie took the stage to do some kid oriented show centered around really really awful jokes and humor. We grabbed another round of drinks and then headed out on the ride circuit.

We wanted to pick up right where we left off, so we headed right to X-Base. Both Firehawk and Flight of Fear had lines stretching out onto the midway with all visible switchbacks full Recent intellignece gained by cell phone told us Firehawk was running 2 hours. We deicded to try to get in as many other rides as possible then bite the bullet here.

We headed to Vortex, the line totally filled the permanemt queue area, but with three trains, it moves people really fast. A hint is if both rear switchbacks are full go towards the front as it only has one switchback due to the front seat line. Vortex recieved a new paint job and looks really nice, the ride runs about as it always does, another solid performer.

Our next stop was Backlot Stunt Coaster, formerly Italian Job, It half of one switchback full, an owing to having a grouper and three trains running the line moved pretty fast. We noted the splashdown pool was bone dry and wondered how long it would be until Diamondback's pool will also be dry. We got into the train and noted that the on board sound still doesn't work, nor does the stairway drop effect. But the trains are getting worse, the instrument panels and front license tags are gone, and of course the headlights are out. Luckily the ride itself is a solid performer, the police cars still work with lights and sirens, and the show scene mostly works except for the helicopter not rising and falling. I did not one incident in line where a family of five was clearly togehter as a group - 4 children of varying ages and one adult. Whent he grouper was trying to find a single rider, the adult of the group volunteered. The grouper tried to say "Are you sure?" "You won't be able to ride with your family?" etc. She insisted and was sent to the empty seat. She even acted like she was goin to take the seat but backed out at the last second. By this time not only were the other 4 members of her party seated but so were 8 other riders. In other words she managed to totally fill the ride crews gear box up with sand.

We had some inteligence that the Beast line was 1 hour, but since thats a park showpiece, we grab a round of drinks and head to Beast. The first thing that I noted was that the vacation timeshare scam booth is gone! Thanks goodness, I thought that was very tacky, it is much better served as a Diamondback gift stand. We rounded the corner to Beast, and besides Diamondbacks helix over the area, the whole Beast Plaza looks different It also got the brick paver walkways, but now all access is through what used to be the exit by the games area. Luckily the exeptionally steep hill has been replaced by a longer but much more gradual ramp that runs diagonally through the area The fence is also been moved in closer totally blocking off the former Beast concession stand. The rest of the Beast line remains the same excpet the line starts where the greeter station is.

The line was spilled out onto the midway by about a dozen people. We join the line and note the lower queue house was shut off, but the middle and upper queue houses were in full use. As advertised about an hour later we were riding Beast. Beast got a lot of new wood yet again, and the helix is a lot better than it has been in years. Paul indicated that if this is much improved he would hve hated to have seen it before, He isn't a fan of Beast either. To quote a college sports fan "Over-Rated!"

We get a text message that the Diamondback line is now under an hour. We dash through Rivertown. I could not tell if crypt was open or not, the Crypt equipment room was making noise, but I couldn't see much activity around the ride. The other big change is Wings (the old Columbia Palace) is now Rivertown Junction, with much the same buffet setup as Wings. And with it, another trace of Paramount theming is gone.

We get to Diamondback and now the line is back to Central Grill in Nick which meant it was just about an hour. We learn that April, Pete, and Dave are within 20 minutes of us in line. We all get our rides, with us being sent to row 12. (Back row of 6th car of 8) I wasn't too excited about this seat assignment, until I took the ride and learned that Row 12 also has nice airtime on very drop. That is the sign on a great ride.

After the ride we head to the photo booth, which now has no line. I present my claim check from earlier but alas they can't find the pictures. After stringing us for 15 minutes while the manager and 3 other associates are holed up in the office figuring ou what to do, they even do satisfy the situation in a very complimentary manner. I still don't understand how they were able to reprint the big photos but not the keychains. But then they gave me something with my pictures that will make me easily forgive them for not having keychains.

We then proceeded to engage in Strange Coasternut Behavior, in its classic form this involved a bunch of coaster crazies standing in the middle of the walkway, in the hotest park of the park, with no shade, within steps of operating roller coasters instead of riding the coasters. We at least found a nice table in a shaded area of the park, and within easy access to the Snake Pit which facilitates enjoying several free drinks.

Eventually we realize we have to finish Paul's tour of the park, so Rob and Dave join Paul and I for a walk through Nick where we find out Paul is too tall for Reptar so we head on to Avatar. he line for Avatar was just at the bottom of the ramp, and whats more they don't have enough seats for us when we get to the front of the line. We eagerly let two riders pass us so we can get seats in Row 1 instead of Row 4. Let me tell you the end rows make a HUGE difference on this ride. It's still not half the ride it was when they first installed it, but its not bad either.

We then go for a quick spin on Fairly Odd Coaster, the line being about halfway over the stile over the track. We take rides to verify this ride is still running well, and at the end of it we meet up with Don.

We note the line for Scooby Doo is posted as only 15 minutes, but by this time its 8:45 and we wanted to try to get Paul on both Firehawk and Flight of Fear. We race to Flight of Fear, enter the and find a full hangar, we quickly retreat. We head for Firehawk. The queue maze is just one half of switchback from being full, but its posted as only 45 minutes. It actually took about an hour, and Rideman and Rob decided to ride Diamondback instead. Don stayed with us and we soon had a back row ride on Firehawk. How nice it was that instead of the operator needing to shove further on my bar, they lowered it and then asked me if I wanted it tighter. Firehawk is now my second favorite coaster in the park behind Diamondback. Too bad the capacity on it is bad, and its making an awful squeal entering the station. Paul really loved this ride.

It was about 9:45 on a 10:00 close, so we dashed to Flight of Fear and found the line to be all the way within the UFO. It still took about 20 minutes which mean we heard the fireworks go off while standing in the station. Flight of Fear was a tight fit as always, but I was able to ride, man this ride always reminds me how I am losing my flexibility, The ride itself was great exept the brake is still hitting hard.

After Flight of Fear we headed to the front gate, but one last coment about Coney Mall. The panhanding in the park has got to stop, we were approached at least three times by panhandlers, and they each wanted at least a buck. We headed to the front gate, met up with the rest of the group, and then headd to IHOP for a group dinner.

What a fine way to start the season!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Emerald Shores of Ireland - Part 23

The Emerald Shores of Ireland
A trip journal by David Bowers
9/2/08 - 9/11/08
Part 23

After John's briefing, we had some small talk with Jerry who mentioned that during the tourist season he might get a day off every now and then, but generally he only has hours between ending one tour and beginning the next. In fact, sometimes when the flight out is late, or the flight in is early he literally walks from the departures area to the arrivals area all ready to start again. In addition, we may think that John and Jerry are a team, but in fact they just met a couple hours before we met them. So we learned a little but about tours from the tour leaders perspective, and that he leads in order to meet people and show off his country.

Ireland - Dublin

We then arrived at the airport which is under a major expansion project. Unlike most airpots where tour busses can pull right up to the terminal, here we parked out on the other side of the parking garage. Luggage was unloaded, and claimed. Jerry then led us to the terminal, taking us through a walkway that goes through the center of the parking garage, sure we had to cross a lot of streets but traffic was very light. We did not take advantage of the conveyor belt ramp, instead we walked into the arrivals floor of the airport where we were offered the choice of escalators (called travelators in Ireland) or elevators up to the departures level. When the elevator reached the departures floor we got out of the elevator and pretty much fell right into the check in line located right next to the elevators.

Ireland - Dublin

We could see numerous check in desks open, but at the first bend in the queue area were two security people. Jerry stood alongside the line right before the security people in case anybody needed help, or so we could each thank him as we passed by. When we got to the security person, they scanned your passport and then started asking a bunch of questions, asking how long you were in Ireland, what your ending destination is, questions about who packed your bags, have they been in your control, and I was thinking "Didn't we get rid of those questions?" They then ask you about any electronics you have with you, if you own them, and if you had them repaired while you were in Ireland, they advise you about the liquids policy, and are you in compliance, and lastly if you have any weapons or anything that could be used as a weapon. If they like all your answers you they put a dated and initialed sticker on your passport and you can proceed to check in.

At the check in desk they scanned our passports again, and issued boarding passes, they did not need to see our e-tickets. She explained to us that we would need to claim our luggage in Newark and then recheck it, she then took our checked luggage for us. Before we could get our boarding passes we had to sign the front of them. Lastly we had to read a notice stating that our flight is participating in the United States Border pre clearance program, so we would need to report to the United States border checkpoint located in the Dublin airport no later than 7:30, failure to show up on time could cause us to not clear the checkpoint in time and cause us to miss our flight. So we have now checked in for the flight and checked our luggage, it is time to walk back through the main aisle of the airport actually having to cut through the line of people still waiting the check in,. We then headed to the security checkpoint,

In this case the queue area for the security checkpoint is located in the main check in area, and you don't go through the doorway into the next room until right before it is your turn. I read all the usual instructions and warnings. When we approached the metal detectors, I followed the lead of those in front of me, which included not removing your shoes. It would appear Ireland does not participate in that silliness but they make up for it by having you remove your belt. Other than that it pretty much the usual procedure: boarding pass and passport is checked, you put all your stuff on the belt as usual. In fact this was the easiest time I would have with airport security for quite awhile. One really neat thing they do is in regards to the gray tubs they give you for your loose articles. When you approach the security lane you take a gray tub off a rack located in front of the belt, and then when you are done, you sit the tub on its side in that same rack and give it a shove back, where the tubs recycle back to the people approaching the checkpoint.

When they say you will wind up in the duty free mall, it means you walk into an area that looks just like a big shopping mall, except all the stores don't charge the VAT. We looked on our boarding passes and learned we would be leaving out of pier B, and a check of the signage indicates the tax refund office was between B and C. We walked down the busy mal until we noticed signs directing people back the way we came for the tax refund office. The tax refund office is cleverly hidden in plain sight. There is in fact an overhead sign above the main walkway that clearly says "VAT REFUND" but it doesn't have an arrow pointing it out. Even if you did look towards the tax refund office you would not see it because you would see the foreign exchange desk instead. The tax refund offices, remember you could have up to four stops, one for each of the three tax refund agents, and one to stamp the forms you drop off for storeowners who are doing their own refunds, are located behind the foreign exchange office. Not only that, but it looks like on off limits service hallway, our own refunds were with an agency that had self service kiosks in the airport, which were lining the hallway back to the agents offices. You have to provide a lot of information like address, nationality, and passport number, travel dates, and credit card information so they can process the refund. We noted the kiosks also blend in well with the ATM's in the area. We left the are having filed our refunds and were happy we did not have to get in that long currency exchange line. We had both managed to spend enough money that we did not have enough left to bother with the exchange office.

We regrouped in the mall and checked our watches, 7:15 and we needed to be at US immigration by 7:30. We took off on a dash through the duty free mall, thinking that we had not really wasted any time. We took the clearly marked turn to Pier B, and noted that Ireland believes in exit through retail, as they have one duty free store you literally have to walk through to get to the gates. We followed the walkway to our gate and found out our gate was downstairs, but the stairs to the gate was blocked by a security checkpoint. The checkpoint was marked as being the United States Immigration office, but it was also marked as not opening until 8:00. Now wait, how can we report to the office by 7:30 if the stairs don't open until 8:00. We were able to spend some of the time in a room labeled as the "Form Filling Area". As US citizens we only had to fill out the blue and white customs declaration form Non citizens would have to complete either the white or green immigration form. The blue form asks a lot of the same questions as the Irish arrival card did: name, address, travel dates, what flight you are returning on, nationality, passport number etc. It then asks you a bunch of yes/no questions about what you are brining back to the country. At the bottom it asks you to estimate the value of items purchased abroad that you are importing. We completed our forms, and then got in line for the checkpoint at the top of the stairs. By the time the checkpoint opened some time later, the line was wrapped clear back to the duty free mall.

The checkpoint at the top of the stairs was pretty simple, they scan your passport and allow you to go down the stairs. Father mentioned he thinks this is the Irish passport control, we then go down the stairs to the just opened US Immigration office. Above the inspectors passport control desks they had both United States and Irish flags hanging, each sporting gold fringe. Since the office had just opened we walked through a large empty queue area right up to an inspector. Since we are US citizens, he merely had to scan and stamp our passports and then he stamped the blue/white customs card and told us to keep it with our passport.

ireland - my passport stamps

We then entered a gate lounge area and were happy we had some time to make a rest stop before getting on the plane. We did stop at a snack bar, but their bottled drinks were warm, so we took our chance on the vending machines where we obtained cold drinks for €1.80 each, our last purchase in Euros. We returned to our gate area, at this time we discovered they forgot to secure the gate area before we arrived, so they secured the gate area with us in the gate area, then they came around and checked everybody's passport for a sticker, checked us in, and asked if we have anything with us we didn't have when we passed through security. We indicated our soft drinks, but there were not a problem.

At boarding time, our boarding passes were torn and we were admitted through the gate, where we went back up a flight of stairs, it seems that these gates share jet bridges with the gates on the floor above. We boarded the plane and took our seats. I was instantly delighted to find out this plane has the personal seat back entertainment system. We picked up packs with pillows, blankets and headsets. After our late departure from Newark, we were glad we left Dublin on schedule. Once up in the air I watched the new Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull on the personal entertainment system. After the movie it was about time for dinner, which wound up being a choice of a beef or chicken dish, we chose the chicken, which wound up being a ceasar salad, chicken parmesan, garlic roll, and a desert cookie. I purchased a Heineken to enjoy with dinner, and Bob had wine.

After dinner I looked around the music and games but didn't find much of interest, or the games were frustrating with the touch screen interface. I finally settled in watching Forrest Gump. Sure, it had Chinese subtitles which could be easily ignored, and since I had not seen the movie in about 15 years, I found it to be very entertaining, and it brought back some memories. During that movie the flight attendants were pushing the duty free cart, and after the movie they served box lunches with a turkey sandwich, chips, and a candy bar. After the second meal, I put the flight status updates on the in flight entertainment system. Before too long, we were landing in Newark, New Jersey, United States of America. The first step at getting home, is being back in your country.

We entered Newark airport in the very back of terminal C, and when we got off the plane we were directed to an escalator or elevator that took us up to a glass enclosed catwalk that allowed us to walk above the main concourse while ensuring the only place we could go was the US Customs office. They did, at least, provide a series of moving sidewalks for the very long walk. When we reached the end of the catwalk, we were directed to escalators that took us back down a floor to the Immigration office. You may recall we went through US passport control in Ireland, so when we entered the Customs area we were ushered down a bypass lane that allowed us to walk right past the inspectors booth without stopping. Once we got to the other side of the booths, we followed the hallway to another escalator down to the baggage claim area. I quickly glanced at the carousels and found the one we needed on one end of the room. We walked around the outside of the room and found a near deserted area on the carousel we needed. I was dismayed to learn my glasses somehow broke on the flight, but that's not a big concern as I can see well enough without them. I was delighted to learn that our bags came out towards the front of the group. We claimed our bags off the carousel and then got in the line to go through customs. The actual customs procedure was pretty simple, we stood in line, and at the head of the line an agent collected up our blue and white forms, glanced at them and waved us on. I was just as happy to be waved past the secondary inspection area, we rounded the next corner and two lanes formed, one for those whose destination was Newark, and then a lane for those changing planes like us. We followed the transfer line which went to another queue area. When we got to the front of this line we were directed to a baggage check person, who checked our baggage tags, the bags and our boarding passes. He took our bags and they disappeared into the baggage scanner.

The exit lane to the baggage recheck area directs you right to the escalator back up to the departures level. We went upstairs and noted we were in terminal C and our flight takes off out of terminal A. We were directed to the Sky Train, which provides transportation around the airport as well a connection to the mass transit system. We approached the Sky Train station, and the escalator up to the platform was broken and blocked off, and the stairs looked evil. So, we formed a line to be taken up one load at a time in the one elevator they had. Up on the platform I misread the sign and instead of getting on the train to the other terminals, we get on the train going towards the mass transit station. We probably should have taken the next stop and changed trains, but instead decided to just ride the circuit around. We did not realize the ride out to the mass transit station and back was about 10 minutes out of our way. Luckily it was only around 12:30 and our next flight was 3:30, and we were happy to be on the late flight, instead of the one leaving at 1:30 like the other half of the group.

We rode the Skytrain through all three terminals and a couple parking garages. Eventually we arrived at the concourse for Terminal A. We got off the train, and rode down the escalator to the concourse area, and were happy to find out we were right by the security checkpoint for our gate area. We entered the line for security, and you have got to be kidding me, only one lane open. We waited through a long line for security, and we had our passports and boarding passes checked, put our shoes, and coats and liquids, and umbrellas in plastic tubs, and set our carry on bags on the conveyor. We proceeded forward and they were putting everybody through the explosives "puffer" detector. We then passed through the metal detector and with no alarm, I though I was clear. The guard spotted a stray wire coming out of my pocket, the courtesy headset the airline had just given me for my last flight. I tell you that guard went ballistic over a cheap airline headset, as in almost brought the checkpoint to a stop. He had me totally empty out my pockets, go back and get rescreened which was fine as I had past all their machines anyway. It was more amusing to me seeing the guard go totally ballistic over a little headset.

Having finally cleared the checkpoint so we found some seats, took a rest break, and then sourced some food. We decided on some Uno's deep dish pizza, and if the security checkpoint wasn't enough of a harsh reminder that we were back in the non customer friendly USA, the fast food booth confirmed it. They didn't offer us any napkins or plastic forks for the pizza, and acted like we were a bother. Not to worry, we finished our pizza and then sat back waiting for our flight. We got lucky with this departure from Newark as we were loaded and left Newark right on time. It was an uneventful flight back and I had another Heineken on the flight from Newark to Cincinnati, and we already had our money out before the flight attendant came to us so he said "What can I get you gentlemen from the bar?" I did like his unique ring that has a can opener right on it.

We soon landed in Cincinnati, and after a quick rest stop we made our way back through Concourse A to the center of the airport with the help of the moving sidewalks then down the escalator to the train. This time I made sure we got on the correct train. It was a short ride to Concourse 3, then through the exit from the secure area and up the escalator to the arrivals area. By the time we got to the baggage carousel our bags were there ready for us. We then met up with y mom and uncle. After all the welcome homes, we headed to the parking garage, loaded up the car, and then headed home. We first dropped Bob off at his house, then we went for dinner at Gold Star Chili in accordance with the Cincinnati by laws that state you must have chili upon your return to the city from any extended length trip.

While sitting in Gold Star, my sleepiness caught up to me, we had a nice conversation with dinner, then headed home where I showed off the souvenirs. I then headed to bed to get rested up. And so ends my trip to the Emerald Isle, thanks for reading.

Bonus photos: The Irsh flag I bought proudly flying in front of my house on St. Patricks Day

Irish flag from Ireland

The Connemara marble and Waterford crystal crosses:

Irish Souveniers - Waterford crystal cross and Connemara Marble cross

Now an all American St. Patricks Day tradition: The drinking of the green beer:

Green Beer - it must be St. Patrick's Day in America

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the series

Check out my photo album at:

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Emerald Shores of Ireland - Part 22

The Emerald Shores of Ireland
A trip journal by David Bowers
Part 22

We then boarded the bus and resumed our trip to Dublin. It was still raining pretty hard so there wasn't much to see. During the drive Jerry told us the story of another important person in Irish history, Charles Parnell. As Jerry put it, Parnell was very active in politics, even though at the time Ireland's role in parliament was ceremonial at best. It was in that political atmosphere that the popular school of thought was why bother attending the parliament meetings if you don't really have any impact. Parnell thought otherwise, he convinced his fellow Irish members in parliament to actively attend every meeting, not only that, but to become very active in the debates. It almost sounds like our filibuster, as they would target topics that in reality had little to no impact on Ireland, but were very important to England. They eventually got England to allow Ireland to have its own parliament, in order to get rid of them. Parnell's victory was short lived with him on a personal level as he was soon exposed in the midst of a scandal. We chatted briefly about elections and Jerry reiterated that they are pretty amused watching our election. Jerry also tried to take credit for "Vote Early, Vote Often!" as an Irish custom. It seems they sent out election tickets some two months before the election, and go the roles are often out of date so people have been known to use tickets for people who had died or had moved away.

Ireland - Dublin -

Ireland - Dublin

As we approached Dublin, Jerry had an interesting proposal. You see, his instructions were merely to take us from Glendalogh to our hotel, which was in Dublin. Jerry and John were talking, and they said they felt kind of bad about sending us away without at least a cursory driving tour of Dublin. So they offered to give us a short driving tour of Dublin, indicating we would still arrive at our hotel in time for dinner. We, of course, accepted the extra touring opportunity.

Ireland - Dublin

Ireland - Dublin -

As we approached Dublin, we began to see the transportation method of choice in Dublin, the doubledecker bus. There seemed to be an endless fleet of these busses taking people in, out and around Dublin. Jerry also pointed out the yellow zones around major intersections, the rule being you aren't supposed to drive into the yellow zone unless you have enough room to drive out of the yellow zone. I think I have seen similar tactics used back home as well, not that I have seen any of them work well.

Ireland - Dublin

Ireland - Dublin -

As we entered Dublin we passed a lot of houses that had two flagpoles out front, and Jerry explained we were going through an area that houses a lot of the embassies in Dublin. You won't confuse the United States embassy, however, in its round and modern looking building. We drove past the United States embassy making it our first embassy that I have seen. We then drove through the town and saw the iconic long rows of townhouses. As has been pictured, often times the only thing that differentiates one townhouse from another in a long row is the color of the front door. It is believed that this is a visual aid to help people locate their house after a long night at the pubs. We then winded through Dublin seeing a complex known simply as the "Government Buildings" along with the Leinster House, which combines houses the Irish Parliament and other key government functions. The main government building having a façade very similar to our main congressional building. We also passed by the Mercy International Centre where the Sisters of Mercy were founded. We then passed by one of the big city parks in Dublin, St. Stephen's Green. From there we passed by the Mansion house, the home of the Lord Mayor of Dublin. If I get some of these buildings out of order, that comes from taking a fast pace city tour. Continuing our Irish government tour, we went past Marrion Square and could see the City Council building at a distance. We then passed by the Shelbourne Hotel, which is a fairly famous hotel in Dublin, and then Grafton Street which is a trendy night spot that is pedestrian only at night, which runs from St. Stephen's Green down to Holy Trinity college where one could see the Book of Kells.

Ireland - Dublin -  USA Embassy

Ireland Dublin

After passing Holy Trinity College we passed the Olympia Theatre, which is a Victorian era music hall before heading to Christ Church. The unique thing about Christ Church is that the church is on both sides of a major road connected by a bridge. We also passed through the financial heart of the country seeing the Bank of Ireland as well as another major Irish bank. We then headed to another hot nightspot in Dublin, the Temple Bar area which is also where the River Liffee passes through the city. Amongst the sights to be seen in the river area is a famous pedestrian bridge known as the Ha'Penny bridge, a Victorian style bridge that originally cost a half penny. We then turned down O'Connell street to see the famous statue of O'Connell as well as the new Spire of Dublin. Another key monument to Irish history can also be seen here in the form of the General Post Office often believed to be the starting point of their revolution, At this point we turned onto Parnell Street and headed to our hotel for the night, another Jury's Inn. I must say I was most impressed with this unexpected extra city tour of Dublin.

Ireland - Dublin

Ireland Dublin

It was time for our final schedule briefing, and it started as it did normally with dinner scheduled for 7pm, but then the bad news came. It's not anything we didn't already figure out, because our flight back home leaves at 9AM tomorrow morning. Jerry informed us that regulations state we report to the airport by 6AM, and so he wants to have us on the road by 5:30AM. In order to accommodate us, he has arranged for the hotel to serve us a special express breakfast at 5AM. I leaned over and joked that it would be a bagel and coffee, and then realizing we hadn't seen a bagel all week, the person responded "That would be great". Next topic of discussion involves our luggage, the hotel will take our bags to our room for us, and if you don't mind having your luggage out by 4:45, the will take them back down for us as well. However, John will be arriving at 4:55 and wants to start loading the bus at 5:00, so it would greatly help if as many people as possible volunteer to take their own luggage down to the hotel lobby by 5:00. Jerry also cautioned us that since we have been spending the week in rural Ireland, that we are in Ireland's biggest city with over 40% of the population, and we should be mindful of all the things that come with big city life. Due to that the hotel has a security system, and the elevators will not operate until we insert our room keys, and the porters will not take our bags out to the street, we will have to claim them in the lobby, so either way you are taking your bags to the bus yourself. Then, one last time we headed into the lobby and picked up our keys.

Ireland Dublin

Ireland Dublin - parliament

We headed to the elevators and I notice d they have the card readers mounted by the outside call buttons, whereas I am used to seeing the card reader inside the elevator. We wait out turn for an elevator and then ride up to the fourth floor. When we get out of the elevator we note not only vending machines but an ice machine as well. Looking at the room locator sign, we get the dreaded news that our room is as far from the elevator as possible. We walk halfway around the fourth floor to an interior room that has a wonderful view of an uninteresting hotel courtyard. The room, no surprise, looks just like the rooms at the other Jerry's Inn's we have stayed in So after getting settled in and freshened up I started looking towards getting ready to leave. It's not mean but when the end of a trip is near, no matter how nice the trip, you start getting a little homesick. I also knew that dinner was likely to run long being the last night and all, and I knew we would be getting up at 4AM, so the more I can do now before dinner the better.

Ireland Dublin

Ireland - Dublin

When you order a United States passport they send you a very scary brochure titled "Know Before You Go" that attempts to put the fear of Customs into you. In particular they talk about keeping all you receipts for souvenirs and having the items and an itemized list of the items ready to present to customs. So, I sat at the desk in our room in Dublin and took the back of piece of notepaper and itemized out all of my souvenirs. As I was doing this I also had all my souvenirs out on the desk so I could look at them all in terms of figuring out how to pack everything the best way. By the time I finished this chore, our big luggage came. I started to move my liquids into a clear airport security bag, and then packed away everything except for the clothes I would need the next day, the camera charger and my overnight kit. As it happened by the time I had everything packed up, it was about time for dinner. We left our room, and walking around the other way verified we are about halfway around.

Ireland Dublin - mayors house

Ireland Dublin

We rode the elevator down to the restaurant level and headed to our tables in the middle of the dining room. I could tell this would be better than the last Jury's Inn when a barman came over and took drink orders right away. You can be assured I did order my last Guinness of the trip. It was then time to look at the menu. When the waiter came around I ordered a field green salad, Beef and Guinness stew (so yes, I had my Guinness and ate it too), and finished up by ordering Bailey's Cheesecake. The appetizer came, and from what I heard from those that ordered the soup, it was Jury's Inn soup. Lifeless soup that tastes the same no matter what the flavor it is advertised as. Tonight's soup was billed as broccoli and cauliflower, and those who had it noted they could taste neither broccoli or cauliflower. I'm happy I went with the traditional salad option. I also enjoyed my beef stew with a Guinness based gravy, served with plenty of potatoes and vegetables of course. We had a laugh when we had run out of dinner rolls, and somebody at our table asked for more by saying "Could we have some more bread?", well they brought out a loaf of sliced bread. You have to be careful what you ask for. Speaking of things you ask for, another person asked for some coffee and was informed it was not time for coffee yet. I don't think she took to kindly to that. But with the coffee comes that wonderful treat known as Bailey's Irish Cream Cheese Cake. Wonderful, they could have served us that more often.

Ireland - Dublin

Ireland Dublin

The desert course started with the announcement of a birthday in the group, and the customary singing of happy birthday. There were then a few brief goodbye speeches, and some singing and general partying. After dinner, we made the walk back to our room, and upon returning to our room looked around for the ice bucket. No ice bucket to be found, but the plastic carafe from the coffee maker will work just fine. One last Jury's Inn shower, and the camera was charged, so I packed everything away except tomorrow's clothes and my travel wallet. All I need to do tomorrow morning is toss my night robe into the suitcase and my overnight kit. I tired to use the automatic system to set our 4AM wake up time, but Jerry had already had the desk set it for 4:15, so the automatic system would not let me override it, but a quick call to the front desk and it was changed. We then tried to get to bed but between the coffee and the music from dinner rolling around in our heads it was about another hour before we got a quick four hour nap before starting the final day of the trip.

Day 10 - Thursday, September 11, 2008

So we woke up at what my friends would call an uncivilized time in the morning, got ready, and then checked and double checked that everything was packed, and we had everything we would need on the way home in easy reach. We knew the morning would be rushed so we took all of our luggage and coats out of our room, and headed down to the lobby. When we got to the lobby shortly before 5, the bus had arrived and there was already a nice size pile of bags waiting. We added our luggage to the pile and headed to breakfast. The express breakfast was a continental breakfast with breads, toast, fruit and cereal, along with juices and coffee. They had the same fancy coffee maker as the Jury's Inn in Cork, so had some cereal and café mocha, which I followed up with a nice plate of melon with some toast. At around 5:20 we headed back down to the lobby. At this point we were asked to claim our bags and take them out to the bus. John was busy loading bags and we waited outside the bus until we saw our bags get loaded as we were told they would not have time to double check the load.

Ireland Dublin

Ireland Dublin - Olympia Theatre

We boarded the bus and it was another "Sit wherever you like day" on the bus, so we all quickly grabbed seats and headed out. On the way to the airport, Jerry asked our opinions about the hotels and the various attractions so he could file his report back to the tour agency with our opinions. There were some more thank you speeches on the way to the airport and Jerry mentioned again how lucky we were with the weather, and then noted that you can have perfect weather, a punctual group, and have everything work out exactly to plan, but if you have a cold tour group, it can still be a bad trip, but he mentioned that we were definitely not a bad tour group and that we were a wonderful tour to end his season with. The prime touring season is over, sure Jerry will do weekend or day tours, but for the most part he is off for the winter to be with his family.

Ireland - Dublin

Ireland - Dublin

As we approached the airport, Jerry let John lead us through the procedure. We were told that when we arrived at the airport we would have to first check in for our flight, and that we would be interviewed before being allowed to check in. At this point Father interjected that this is not the time to display your Midwestern friendliness. No, this is time to use as few words as possible, preferably yes or no. Anything else you share can only be used to further question you, making the process longer for everybody. After getting checked in, we should then clear security. At this point we will be in the duty free mall, our third stop should be the tax refund office, which is in the duty free mall, then the currency exchange office. John reminded us that currency exchange offices generally don't like dealing with pocket change, so if you have coins left over, they are pretty much only souvenirs at this point, also the tax refund people may pay you in Euros so be sure to hit the tax refund office first. After that the fifth stop is the US Immigration office for preclearance, then finally the gate area, where we would need to check in again. He also stressed not to dawdle as the process could take every bit of the three hours.

Stay tuned for the exicting conclusion - only one more segment to go!

Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Emerald Shores of Ireland - Part 21

The Emerald Shores of Ireland
A trip journal by David Bowers
Part 21

We headed into the town of Avoca, well known as the area where Ballykissangel was filmed. We passed Fitzgerald's pub which is a pub used in that British television series. Just on the other side of town we reached Avoca Handweavers. We crossed a stream and turned into Avoca at first driving past the visitor's center to park in the coach parking in the rear. A representative of Avoca boarded our bus and gave us the orientation speech. It seems Avoca is Ireland's oldest surviving business, let alone oldest mill. It started as a co-op for the isolated community, turning sheep's wool into yarn and textiles and corn into bread. For a long time the clothes and blankets only came in natural white. Later on in history the fashion community took over Avoca and introduced colored dyes and their cloths became famous. After that the mill was about to close down when it was bought by a sole family again who have since turned it into a successful clothing, food and cookware store.

Ireland - AVOCA Weavers

Ireland - Killkenny to Wicklow - AVOCA Weavers

She explained that they are proud to still operate two old fashioned looms that are each over100 years old. These were, in fact, controversial when they were first installed. Before then weaving, even though assisted with a loom, was an all manual process, having to thread the shuttle through each row individually. The new looms, which still qualified as hand weaving, introduced the fly shuttle. This greatly sped up the process as the weaver could hit one control and hold open the threads to prepare for the shuttle to zip across the entire row at one time when activated by the weaver. Now instead of being a tedious all manual process, an entire row of weaving can be accomplished in a matter of seconds. The weavers of the day had a great fear that these fly shuttle looms would put them out of work, after all one of these fly shuttles could way out produce a manual loom. This led to the early vandalism and destruction of the new looms to stave off this new threat.

Ireland - Killkenny to Wicklow - AVOCA Weavers

Ireland - Killkenny to Wicklow - AVOCA Weavers

In modern times, of course, most of their work is performed by completely automatic power looms that are merely supervised by the weaver. The move to a power loom was necessitated by the sharp rise in demand for their product. Our host confided that she was glad the weavers have seemed to welcome the new power looms without the destruction caused by the predecessors a hundred years ago. She used the phrase "I'm not trying to pressure you" which usually sets off all kinds of alarm bells in my head. But she did advertise the specials available in the discount loft. We were then given about 2 hours or so to explore, and it was decided that would include our lunch stop for the day. John, our driver, mentioned that even if we weren't ready for a big lunch, that we would be remiss not to at least try a pastry or desert, as in addition to clothing, they are well known for their bakery and other food items. We got out of the bus and before taking the tour, we went into the visitor center to use the rest facilities then regrouped outside to tour the weaving shed.

Ireland - Killkenny to Wicklow - AVOCA Weavers

Ireland - Killkenny to Wicklow - AVOCA Weavers

We walked across a bridge over a rapidly moving stream as we headed to a rustic looking building titled the "Weaving Shed" The signs invited us to come on in. Our host did not come with us, instead this is a self guided tour, with the first room set up to show you the entire process. In one corner of the room the wool from the sheep is spun into yarn, any color dying is done out of sight. Along the front half of the room you see a big metal frame holding numerous rolls of thread. You then come to a big drum looking machine that is spinning fast, and you see the machine is being fed by its workers from the rolls of yarn on the big metal frame. According to the sign here, the goal is to prepare a drum with the yarn all in the right color sequence to be fed to the looms. We walked the tourist trail around that machine and came to the two original fly shuttle looms they have on public display. Here we took quite a bit of time admiring the process, I didn't quite get the idea of the fly shuttle until Father pointed out to me where to look to watch the shuttle zip back and forth. You are pretty much free in this area to walk all the way around the looms and get a real good view of the action. You then go through a doorway into the next room, here you are restricted to a small walkway along the side and you can observe a room full of power looms humming away. This isn't nearly as interesting at the older looms. You then exit out another door and walk back along the stream to the bridge back to the visitor's center.

Ireland - Killkenny to Wicklow - AVOCA Weavers

Ireland - Killkenny to Wicklow - AVOCA Weavers

Ireland - Killkenny to Wicklow - AVOCA Weavers

We next headed to their restaurant, again a cafeteria style operation, but upon getting to the front of the line none of the entrees really appealed to me. Father was in front of me in line, and he ordered a real nice looking slice of rhubarb pie. I am one of the few people that are fans of rhubarb pie, and its so rarely seen back in the States, that I saw the temptation and I went running for it. My lunch time meal was a large slice of their homemade rhubarb pie, served with a big scoop of cream, and a cup of coffee. Note that by cream, I mean whipped cream, not ice cream. When I got to the cash register I looked in my wallet and realized I had a €50 note and nothing else, but I did have a pocketful of change, even if I had been working at trying to get rid of that to. My tray totaled to just over €6, and $9 is admittedly high for a slice of pie and coffee. The cashier was not eager to break a €50 for me and asked me if I had anything smaller. I got my pile of change out of my pocket, and after we counted that up, I found out I had just enough with maybe about 25 cents or so to spare. At least that took care of the pocket change.

Ireland - Killkenny to Wicklow - AVOCA Weavers - Rhubarb Pie and Cream!

We claimed a table and I looked and there for my coffee was a small pitcher of milk and a bowl of sugar cubes. I didn't see any tongs or anything for the sugar cubes, so I admit I just plucked a couple out with my fingers and dropped them into the coffee. I then headed for the rhubarb pie and it was a huge slice with lots of filling. The filling was very tasty and the crust wasn't just a flat curst, it had crumbles on top. As I was enjoying my pie, it became the subject of curiosity of many of those waiting in line for food. Bob bought a pastry or two, but also went with a bowl of mushroom soup, and he reported he was so glad, after a week of Jury's Inn Soup, that their mushroom soup had actual mushrooms in it.

Ireland - John the coach driver

After eating, we headed into the gift shop, including the bargain loft. Bargain being a relative term, and neither of us bought any of the woven goods. I hit the general Irish souvenir section and bought a wall calendar for my office. In the various stores there were series of posters like "Castles of Ireland", or "Doors of Ireland", or "Pub signs of Ireland" , well the calendar has a miniature version of one of these posters for each month. I also bought some music CD's of traditional Irish music. Bob bought some stuff from the cookware and general souvenir sections as well. I noted they did have their pies for sale as well as cookbooks and stuff. I was sure to also grab a brochure before we headed out to the bus. We had some time before we were to start loading, so we were able to get John to pose in front of his 59 seat super coach for some photos. As we were loading outr bus another of those bright green tour busses arrived, yes, the Paddywagon, just like we saw at Cliffs of Moher. Some more chuckling ensued as we were leaving Avoca. The turn out of Avoca onto the small thin roadway took great skill on John's part to not run off the edge of the road on the turn. We shoed him great applause as we headed back through Avoca, the town.

Ireland - Killkenny to Wicklow - AVOCA Weavers - another tour enters in the Paddywagon

On our way out of Avoca, Jerry announced that the limerick contest is now closed, and he read each of the three submissions. There was one submission about John the bus driver, another about a man from Cincinnati who went to visit Bunratty, and the third was about Fathey Barry, making fun of he fact he slept most of the tour. We voted, the winner was announced and the prize was a toy Irish tour bus that Jerry had picked up at one of the souvenir stores we stopped in.

Ireland - Killkenny to Wicklow - From Avoca to Wicklow

Ireland - Killkenny to Wicklow - From Avoca to Wicklow

We next started our drive through the Wicklow mountains but not before passing through a village where I think I see my family has a bookmaking parlor, "Terry Rogers Bookmakers", it's even spelled right. After that we went through a nicely forested area with thin tall trees. Our next destination is the day's Mass stop at St. Kevin's Church. It's true that St. Kevin is credited as being the abbot of a monastery at Glendalough, but on our way there we are stopping at the still operational St. Kevin's church located a few miles from the famous site. Jerry told us that St. Kevin was a very patient man, which is why his statue shows him with a bird resting in his hands.

Ireland - Killkenny to Wicklow - From Avoca to Wicklow - home owner goes topiary

Ireland - Killkenny to Wicklow - St Kevins

We didn't drive all the way to the church, acting on the advice of the church we parked at a community center down the road from the church. Jerry reminded us that the local custom is to walk in a single file line on the side of the road facing traffic, in other words the same thing we do, but having to remember traffic is reversed from what we are used to. We walk up the first stretch of road, which is uphill and then the road split between the school and the church. When we first entered the church gates I was a bit unsure of what looked like a series of rollers in the ground, but in reality they don't spin. Bob informed me that these do help to keep livestock from continuing up the hill.

Ireland - Killkenny to Wicklow - St Kevins

Ireland - Killkenny to Wicklow - St Kevins

At the top of the hill we come to a mid-sized stonework church in a classic design. Going inside the church is a very simple design with white walls and modern looking altar pieces. We took our seats and I noted they have the pew dedication plaques like some churches back home, except they mount there's on the top center of the pews instead of the ends. Jerry is able to find the light switch but the sacristy is locked. While Jerry goes to find the sacristan, Father finds a volunteer to lead us in a saying of the rosary while we wait. In one of those moments of great timing the sacristan arrives and gets the church and Father ready to say Mass just as the saying of the rosary ended. We proceeded to share what would wind up being our last Mass of the trip. After Mass we had some time to look around the church before heading back to the community center. On the way back downhill we noticed a strange sculpture in the church yard that we couldn't describe and there was no marker explaining it. What we did note is a marker indicating that this was a site of the 2000 Jubilee year retreat. We then walked back down a very busy street lined with cars. It appears that school has just let out so we are sharing the narrow road down to the community center with cars coming to pick up their students. We carefully made our way to the community center, and took advantage of the fact it was open and had restrooms. Not an authorized rest stop, but a rest stop none the less. The community center had the features you might expect, a gym, multi purpose room, a computer room with internet access amongst other things. Notices indicated tonights line dancing was cancelled. We next headed from the community center to the historical site of Glendalough.

Ireland - Killkenny to Wicklow - St Kevins

Ireland - Killkenny to Wicklow - St Kevins

We pulled up at the visitor's center, and after some time for the real rest break we headed inside. Glendalough uses the tactic of having each visitor wear a sticker as visible proof of payment of the entry fee. In this case the sticker was a plain green circle sticker, nothing remarkable but as we entered Jerry placed one on each of us.

Ireland - Killkenny to Wicklow - St Kevins

Ireland - Glendalough

We were then ushered into an auditorium where we were shown an orientation video about celtic crosses, dolemans and monastic historic sites, the video was just generic enough where the Office of Public Works could use the same video at several sites. After the show in the auditorium we went through a museum. The highlights of the museum were a scale model miniature of what the monastery looked like in its day, several gravemarkers, a celtic cross and other artifacts.

Ireland - Glendalough

Ireland - Glendalough

After touring the museum we waited in the visitors center for a local guide, and were then led outside to a trail to the historic site. Now it had been clear while we were at the church, and while we were experiencing the visitor center attractions, so of course that means as soon as we started up the trail to the site, the skies opened up and a strong rain came down. We made provisions for those who wanted to stay indoors to go to the pub at the local hotel, and then the rest of us continued on the tour.

Ireland - Glendalough

Ireland - Glendalough

We started in the gatehouse, where we noted the ground was very uneven, and remnants of the gate structure could still be seen, but the giant arches over the walkway remain. We were told that civil law didn't apply in a monastery, if you made it inside the gates you could hide from the law, which is what happened sometimes. We next walked towards but didn't spend to much time looking at the round tower. We were told it was use as a lookout tower but due to the weather Jerry requested our local guide make it a highlight tour. We then went into the ruins of the main church building. This church ruin is in much worse shape than the cathedral at Cashel. In this case we see the supports for arches that end at the top of the wall, the big window frames are no longer there, and the tops of the walls have started to disappear, whereas Cashel looks like somebody just ripped the roof off and took the windows out, this building is much more deteriorated. Our guide did point out the alcove where the tabernacle is believed to have been in, and the doorway which now leads to nowhere but is believed to have gone to the sacristy.

Ireland - Glendalough

Ireland - Glendalough

Ireland - Glendalough

We then continued through the park and came to a part where one had to decide if it were better to walk through the muddy grass or through a deep puddle on a washed out path. All around the site is a graveyard, which provided our next stop, a high celtic cross. Our guide explained how usually they had detailed carvings on them, but of course we noted this one was very plain. Our guide said, they believe this one was once very intricately painted instead of caved, which reminds me of how a Vatican museum guide told us that the snow white statues we are used to seeing were once believed to be painted in full color.

Ireland - Glendalough

Ireland - Glendalough

Also on the site we saw the original St. Kevin's church which had a fireplace under the steeple like chimney, which gave it it's nickname of St. Kevin's Kitchen. Lastly we looked far in the distance to where the priest's house was. After allowing us some time to walk around the park taking pictures, we headed back to the visitors center. Right outside the monastery gate I now understood the name of the carnival style food trailer, which was "St. Kevin's Kitchen" of course. Across the street was an equally temporary looking gift shop. We were able to get Jerry to pause for a few photos for the record. We then headed back to the visitor center, and collected those who waited in the pub, took another rest stop, and I ran back into the visitors center and bought a park guide.

Ireland - Jerry our guide