Archive for the ‘Ramblings’ Category

Art In Florence

Tuesday, September 6th, 2016

I’ve spent two days in Florence now (from the Latin name Florentia, as opposed to the local name Firenze). It’s a gorgeous place. I’ve been reading about the Medicis, the dynasty who really put Florence on the map, and this was a great city with a cathedral and magnificent city hall before they even got going in the 16th century. I feel like a right bogtrotter…

I’m not any great connoisseur of art, so I am never sure what I’ll make of art galleries. But I think I agree with the pope in the classic Monty Python Sketch – some art just has something in it that provokes a reaction. 

Today I say works by all 4 of the Teenage Mutant Ninja/Hero Turtles (though I didn’t tell the tour guide I had been thinking about it in case I got thrown out). I also saw one piece of modern art I thought was brilliant, which was a surprise. 

I was going to post some pics, but that is failing. Oh well, after I get home. 

I also climbed about a million steps to the top of the cathedral, so I retreated to the hotel to have a wee sit down before dinner. 

The last day

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

Today was my last day in Tokyo πŸ™
But it was awesome! Got my case packed (at least 3 times. I think everything is accounted for now), and bought a few last things in my favourite shops.
Then I went off to LinuxCon Tokyo, and heard Linus Torvalds speak. If you don’t know, he’s a geek rock star, who has changed the face of computing thanks to his work. I was impressed!
Then had really delicious eel for tea in a traditional restaurant which has a Michelin star. And then finished the day with Karaoke, where I sing until I could sing no more. Well, sung until I couldn’t sing well anymore. Curse those high notes!


Monday, May 19th, 2014

Yesterday, we drove up into the mountains. This was our destination, and it was really beautiful:

But was is not immediately obvious in that picture are the monkeys!
The monkeys live in the mountains, but used to come down to bathe in the hot springs in the winter. This was a problem for the people using the hot springs, so they built a bath for the monkeys to use themselves.
So unlike a zoo, these are wild monkeys who choose to be here, and there are no bars or fences.
They are Snow Monkeys, or Japanese Macaques and they look gorgeously soft and fleecy!

And there lots of mothers with little young monkeys!

Needless to say we spent ages going “Awww” and took hundreds of pictures.
A great day out!!

Tokyo Day One

Thursday, May 8th, 2014

After my adventures in Tokyo last time, some people are surprised that I wanted to come back again. But I always planned to come back – it’s still a cool place, and I still have friends here.
The biggest problem with Japan remains the fact that it’s an awfully long way away. My nose has been playing up a bit at home, but 12 hours on a Virgin Atlantic plane gave it a complete meltdown. Worse still is the cultural sensitivity about blowing one’s nose in Japan, which made me even more paranoid about having to wipe it every 30 seconds. So once I arrived at my friend’s house, I did the appropriately Japanese thing and got myself a face mask. That way I keep my big red hooter to myself, and drips are contained. Sorry that’s so disgusting, but that’s how it works!


I also realised yesterday that I have been doing pretty well at going to the cinema, as I had seen most of the big movies available on the plane. All the ones that interested me anyway. So I watched some TV instead.
They only had one episode of Miranda, but it was hilarious. As always when I watch it, I think it’s brilliant, and reckon I should watch more of it. It’s very silly πŸ™‚
Watched the pilot episode of True Detective, which people in work have been raving about, and I can see it has the potential to be interesting.
But most of all I enjoyed 20 Feet From Stardom, a documentary about backing singers, the unsung heroes of the music industry, who contribute so much but remain virtually unrecognised. It was very interesting, and quite thought-provoking as they struggle with the choices of being very successful in the background, or aiming for the limelight and failing.
Oh yes, I watched Frozen too. That’s a very odd movie! But I fell asleep and missed the end of it.

Welcome to Norwin!

Friday, September 27th, 2013

My holiday blogging fell apart a bit, so I’m just going to post some highlights, probably out of order. The craziest part of my holiday was when I hired a car,and drove 200 miles West (and a bit North) from Washington DC, to the place they call Norwin!

Norwin Hills

I found out about Norwin from google I suppose, when vanity googling used to return things about Norwin High School, so I have been aware of it as a place for some time. But when I decided to visit New York and Washington, it was just close enough to go and see it for myself.

And I am pleased to say that I was impressed!

Yes, I was freaked out to see my name everywhere. I particularly liked this sign at the doctors:

"Stamping out disease and pestilence in Norwin for 30 years"

Given that I am 40 now, I guess I was just lucky for the first 10 years.

And I was kind of dumbstruck to see the selection of Norwin items in the local sports shop (I bought 2 t-shirts and a pair of socks) as well:

House of Norwin

I have to admit that I did spend quite some time taking in the sight of my name in so many places. Though in the end I was more freaked out by the lady in the library who answered the phone saying “Norwin Library – how can I help you?”, as I of course immediately turned round to see why she was talking about me.

Unfortunately the Norwin Knights weren’t playing while I was there, but I did see their stadium:

Norwin Knights Stadium

And the Norwin Marching Band were out practising, which was kind of cool to see. They weren’t in their uniforms as you can see, but I do like their silly hats:

Norwin Marching BandI was especially pleased to manage to take photographs around a school without getting arrested for being suspicious!

I wasn’t able to get a copy of the Norwin Star, as it is only published weekly, and doesn’t hang around for long on the shelves. But it looks like this (fortunately the library had a copy):


But here’s the real surprise about Norwin Pennsylvania – it’s a beautiful area! Pennsylvania is just full of trees – there are places along the road where you reach the top of a hill and just see forest as far as the eye can see in every direction. It’s quite breathtaking. I even saw deer out the window of my hotel at dusk, grazing on the grass. Β It turns out that Norwin is just at the edge of the Laurel Highlands, an area of outstanding scenic beauty. This is the view of Norwin from the back of Walmart:


Okay, Applebees isn’t so picturesque, but the background is beautiful.

So in summary, I really enjoyed my trip to Norwin. It’s fair to say that the good people of Norwin were not overwhelmed by my presence, but that’s okay – not many people are! A few of them were impressed by the distance I had come to visit their town, but on the other hand the receptionist in the hotel didn’t comment at all when I checked in.

But I don’t care – I am so glad I went there – I was genuinely impressed by it, and I might just go back some time.

Birthday Holiday – a few more days

Friday, September 13th, 2013

I’ve now moved on from New York to Washington, where my hotel wants 13 dollars for WiFi, which I’m not paying, so there’s a bit less internet in my life.
So, on my last day in New York, I got on the Metro and went all the way to the to of Manhattan, since I’d been to the bottom earlier. I then walked across the Broadway Bridge, and into the Marble Hill district of the Bronx. It’s quite different to the one in Donegal, not unsurprisingly.
Then on to FAO Schwarz, New York’s legendary toy shop. I have to admit, it was excellent, and I did spend quite some time there.
But to be honest, the highlight of my last day in New York was seeing Matilda. Seeing a Broadway show isn’t cheap, but it was completely worth it – it is a marvellous show, which has all the charm of the book and the film, with splendid new songs from Tim Minchin. I can’t recommend it highly enough!
Then back to my hotel for the last time, the packing of the case, and early on Wednesday I got the train to Washington DC. The train was very civilised – I got a seat facing the right way, and there was free WiFi all the way, so I was able to track our progress by Google maps. We seemed to pass through a lot of states – New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and finally into DC.
Spent a very hot afternoon exploring the basics of Washington – the White House, the Lincoln Memorial, and a bit of the National Mall. Nice Japanese for tea.
Today, I went to the Capitol, then to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. What an astonishing place it is! When you walk in through the door and see so many historic planes and space ships sitting and hanging in one place, it’s a little jaw-dropping. I spent quite some time there too! And then we had heavy rain for a while.
I’m very impressed with the Capital Bike Share scheme, which I’ve been making use of. Cycling looks to be pretty safe, and for a 10 dollar membership for 3 days, I’ve already used 4 or 5 bikes.
Hopefully will find somewhere to upload this tomorrow. In the meantime, goodnight internet!

Birthday Holiday day six

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

Four days of walking around New York has left me with pretty sore feet. No blisters, just soreness. So today I did the sensible thing and had a lie in, giving my feet a bit of extra rest. That meant I missed the breakfast in the hotel, and had brunch up the street instead, only some of which I spilled down my shirt. Then got the subway uptown, walked across Central Park, and went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. As is so often the case, I went in fairly confident that I’m not into art, so it wouldn’t take too long. But the first section was Egyptian, and they had artefacts from places I had visited, so it was very compelling. They even have a complete temple, moved from Egypt and rebuilt in a beautiful large room. And that was just the start – from there it went on to Greek and Roman sculpture, paintings, armour worn by Henry the 8th. Every section had something interesting to see. Especially the roof garden, where the view was splendid.
But not as splendid as from the top of Rockefeller Tower – it not only has spectacular views of the city, but also has a few seats so you can relax and enjoy them a little more, which was very nice. Dinner was very nice tonight too, at the Olive Garden. Plus I successfully managed to use the bus to go back downtown!

Birthday Holiday day five

Monday, September 9th, 2013

It’s Sunday, so I had to get up a little earlier in order to make it out to church. There are lots of churches in New York, but I decided to go to Redeemer Presbyterian on West 83rd Street. It was a nice service – no robes or choir and quite informal, but a bit more liturgical than I am used to. The sermon was on wisdom from the start of the book of Proverbs, and was very good. I came back to my hotel, since I had to pass by anyway, and grabbed the belt I had forgotten to put on earlier. A burrito for lunch, and then on to USS Intrepid, an old aircraft carrier that houses New York’s aerospace museum. The ship is pretty impressive itself, but it’s interesting that it houses two examples of obsolete technology that haven’t been replaced with something better. The have the Space Shuttle Enterprise, the prototype that didn’t go into space but proved many of the technologies, and they also have a Concord. Both technical triumphs of their time, and both now retired without really being properly replaced.
Feet really sore after yet more waking around, so gave them a bit of a rest back at the hotel before a very delicious dinner at the Red Lobster.

Birthday Holiday day four

Sunday, September 8th, 2013

Today, I took a more traditionally touristy path, and did some of the iconic new York landmarks.
Rather than starting the day with a long walk, I got the subway downtown (as they say round here), to the bottom of Manhattan.
I had planned to start with the World Trade Centre memorial, but as soon as I came up from the subway, I found myself beside a lovely old church, and had to go in for a nosy. I was stunned to find that this 18th century church had been just opposite the Twin Towers, and not only survived but became a relief centre for the rescue workers. They provided beds, podiatry, counselling, and just about anything else they could – it was so moving to combine such a beautiful and peaceful little churchyard with that tragic story, and to make something positive from it.

I then got the ferry over to Liberty Island to see the Statue of Liberty. It really is a beautiful piece of work – I love the deliberate contrast with the ancient Colossus or Rhodes, as the statue is not a symbol of strength and power, but rather a symbol of hope and freedom. It’s genuinely moving to hear the “bring me your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free” on the audio guide as you look up at her. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to go inside, as there were no tickets available. The other thing that struck me is how far it is from Manhattan – she does not loom over the city skyline at all – you can only just see her in the distance, which surprised me given her size.

And then as dusk was approaching, I went up the Empire State Building, another symbol of New York. It is a lovely building, and the views from the top are fantastic. They are also pretty much unphotographable with my cheap camera, which doesn’t handle low light very well. Oh well. At least I got to see them.

No, actually I seem to have a fairly good picture of the Chrysler building, which I think is probably the nicest building in New York – it is striking from below as well as above, during the day and at night – I took lots of pictures of it yesterday too.

Birthday Holiday day three

Saturday, September 7th, 2013

Today I headed out along 40th street to see what I would find there. I was delighted to come upon the New York Public Library – a cathedral to the written word if ever there was one. A beautiful building, but a working one, with lots of people reading away in its lovely surroundings.

And yes, it still looks like it did in Ghostbusters all those years ago. Then more books, when I found Barnes and Noble on 5th Avenue. St. Patrick’s cathedral was a disappointment, as they have the builders in. The Lego shop in Rockefeller Plaza was not. And nor was Grand Central Station, which is a magnificent building, where I stopped to have lunch.

The biggest surprise about the UN Building was that there were only 3 lone protesters outside – I had expected to see lots of people there showing there concern about Syria, but there were none. I looked upon the Guggenheim Museum, but decided that while I might like the building, I didn’t want to look at the modern art, so I gave that a miss. Likewise, I walked past the Metropolitan Museum, but for the opposite reason – I will go back there when my feet are up to it!
Will add some photos to this when I get a chance – actual camera to android tablet can be tricky you know!
(Photos now added thanks to my Transformer tablet, with its very handy SD card slot in the keyboard).