Monday, February 03, 2020

Super Bowl 54: My Favorite Ads

After a couple of belated ads hit USA Today's Ad Meter, I ended up watching - and rating - 62 commercials prepared and paid for and televised during the 2020 Super Bowl.  This is the sixth straight year I've been a member of this consumer rating panel and this year we agreed on about 70% of the Top Ten commercials. 

Of the 62, I felt about 13 (21%) were able to be rated "good" or higher, and that's a step up from previous years, so thank you, Madison Avenue or whomever produces these spots now. 

I did notice a definite uptick in the number of celebrity endorsements this year. Seems like every product was able to find some Hollywood star, from M.C. Hammer to Rainn Wilson to Chris Evans and Sylvester Stallone and Sam Elliott to Bill Murray and Jason Momoa to shill for one product or another.

Some commercials were just baffling to me. The Planters "Baby Nut" commercial, for one. I had no clue what was going on. I found out later that Planters Nuts had apparently "killed off" it's monocle-wearing cane-toting Mr. Nut character as an homage to Iron Man's death in the last Avenger's movie. They stopped the campaign momentarily after Kobe Bryant's death, but re-started it for the Super Bowl, intending to bring the Mr. Nut character back in his entirety in the fullness of time. But the commercial itself was utter nonsense.

Another that baffled me was Audi's "Let It Go" with Maisie Williams. What an electric car has to do with a heatwave and a traffic jam is beyond me, aside from her getting to sing "the cold never bothered me, anyway" as a trade-off on her Game of Thrones WinterFell character. Surely I must have missed something.

I could go on ... Pringles, TurboTax, Heinz, Sabra's infamous hummus ad, Winona Ryder for Squarespace, Pop-Tarts ... please just make them stop. You have to wade through a lot of, well, god-awful tripe to find the occasional 30 to 60 seconds of creativity, wit, imagination, and a dash of heart.

Normally, I only give you my Top Five picks, because well, that's all I can find worrthy of presenting. But this year I'll run down my Top Ten because yes, there were that many that I thought were worth sharing. I should also mention that this year my wife watched every commercial with me and we voted together, averaging our vote when we disagreed.

#10 ... Walmart: Famous Visitors
 
This is one that might have been rated higher if I were voting by myself, being the huge Sci-Fi nerd that I am. But my wife's vote brought it down some, as she didn't geek out nearly as much. Still, she recognized most of the characters and thought the ending was cute.


#9 ... The NFL: Next 100
The National Football League celebrated their 100th year in business this year and they showed off with this nearly 3-minute commercial that ended with the cast delivering the game ball - live - to the stadium in Miami. The commercial featured current and past legends of the game. It may have even topped the show stopper the league put together last year. The rest of the professional sports world should go to school on how this sport markets itself.

#8 ... Doritos: Cool Ranch
There is so much to like about this commercial.  Let's start with just the very idea of Sam Elliott dancing to "Old Town Road." I have already begun training my mustache.

#7 ... Verizon: Amazing Things 5G Won't Do
It's a good reminder that technology doesn't do everything for us. That it needs people to drive it and be willing to be the heart behind it. Yeah, I'm a sucker for this kind of thing. I admit it.

#6 ... Rocket Mortgage: Comfortable
Now, some people were creeped out by this commercial. We loved it. Honestly, we're not big fans of Rocket Mortgage, but that Jason Momoa was willing to poke HUGE fun of his tough guy image ... well, that we were over the moon about.

#5 ... Hyundai: Smaht Pahk
We loved this commercial. Excuse me, commehshahl. The celebrities were clearly having fun, the repartee was charged, flowing, and hilarious.  And we still sometimes do our best wicked awful Boston dialect. The behind the scenes video, however, said they wrote 340 scripts before they went with this one. With over 100 million viewers for the Super Bowl, I guess they felt they had to get it just right.

#4 ... Reese's: Take 5 Rock
So how many idioms can you fit into 30 seconds? Reese's takes a crack at finding out. Every single one made us laugh. The split second reactions come so fast and are so spot on you will need to watch it again just to catch them all. Beautifully done and the reason it cracked our Top Five. 


#3 ... Jeep: Groundhog Day
I'll tell you right now this was voted the #1 commercial of the Super Bowl nationwide by Ad Meter panelists. And it came close for us. It was almost like a little movie sequel but this time the Groundhog was a complicit character.

#2 ... Amazon: Before Alexa
It says much that Amazon has enough money to pay for a 90-second Super Bowl spot instead of the standard 30- or 60-second commercial, but you get more story and, well, yucks for your bucks by doing so. And I loved the little twist at the end with Ellen's favorite song.

#1 ... Google: Loretta

Yes, I'm a sentimental softie and an old fool and undoubtedly still grieving the death of my father these three years past.  But this commercial, that sound track, those images, that narration, Lord, have mercy.  If nothing else, this commercial has sparked an interest in learning new ways to use my Google Home Assistant.

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I want to give the creative people from Tide's advertising agency a shout out. They spent their money well. All throughout the game poor Charlie was trying to get a stain out of his shirt and he kept popping up in other ads - for Bud Light/Knight, The Masked Singer, Wonder Woman '84, - and when he finally did get the stain out, well ... 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0RVUcdyEq9k

I should also mention you can see all the ratings from all around the country for **all** the ads over at Ad Meter.

Until next year ....

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Mark's Musings is published on an occasional basis but that may change without notice. This blog is considered to be a digital periodical publication and is filed as such with the U.S. Library of Congress; ISSN 2154-9761. I also enjoyed Anthony Anderson and T-Mobile's "Mama" commercial.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

But Wait! There's Moher!

The Cliffs, upon our arrival
Originally meant to be posted Wednesday, May 24.2017

Wednesday morning we set out on our last great Ireland adventure - the Cliffs of Moher. The last time I was here was with my father in April of 2014. That day it was cold, blustery, and wet, which I was led to believe is the natural state of the Cliffs of Moher, being on the very edge of the Atlantic Ocean. So Bonnie and I dressed appropriately: In layers, with knit toques (warm winter caps).

When we arrived, around 10:30am, that was pretty much the state of the weather, except it was quite a bit warmer. So the caps stayed in our backpack. As you can see in the picture at the top, the mists and fog were still lying pretty heavy, obscuring some of the view's grandeur. But as the day began to warm up more, they dissipated pretty quickly.


The Cliffs are inspiring.
The Cliffs are in a wee bit of a horseshoe shape, with the Visitor Center at the bottom of the U and just a short leg to the right, with a long leg (pictured above) to the left. At one point, Bonnie moved to take a picture of the left side, but behind another person. When I motioned her over to get an unobstructed view, she whispered, "that's not what I'm shooting." (See photo to right.) Yes, the beauty of the Cliffs of Moher are certainly inspiring. They are spectacular and once you've seen them in person, you never forget them.


O'Brien's Tower
Off to the right of the Visitor Center is a series of broad stone steps that take you up to O'Brien's Tower, built by Cornelius O'Brien in the 1800s, simply to afford visitors a better view of the gorgeous Cliffs of Moher. Even then he had an idea that tourism to this spot would be huge. See photo to the left.

When I was here with my father, the terrain going out the far left side of the Cliffs would not allow a wheelchair, really, and my father was not in any shape to walk. So aside from admiring the view of that side of the Cliffs from near the Visitor Center, we never approached. This time, I was determined to not just walk on that side of the Cliffs, but to walk all the way to the end and see the watch towers up close.

Now, one warning if you're contemplating this feat: you need to give yourself 4-6 hours to get there and back. The Cliffs all together are just about five miles of shoreline. At least four of that is on the left hand side. It's a deceptively long walk. Imagine a string lying on a table. Now take each end of that string and push the ends toward one another. That loopy, wrinkled effect in between one end and the other is the part you're walking.
O'Brien's Tower from the other side.

 So it was a long, beautiful walk, and the day grew warmer and warmer ... and then the sun came out while we were not yet halfway to the end of the Cliffs.

We were entirely unprepared for that.

The sunburn, at the end of the day, was remarkable. I resembled a lobster that had been boiled ... twice. But I'm getting ahead of myself. The walk, before it became a chore just to put one foot in front of the other, was simply gorgeous. You could see the fabulous Irish countryside for miles and miles. Down onto the Atlantic Ocean and its wild blues and greens. Gulls and terns swooping and diving and calling to one another.  At one turn we came across a spot where other visitors had stacked hundreds upon hundreds of small rocks upon each other into dozens and dozens of small cairns to mark the memory. We were careful not to disturb any of them.
Other visitors mark the memory with cairns.


We continued on our way. At one point we reached a sign that said we were leaving the park grounds and were now completely on our own. Any risks we took or harm that befell us would now be completely on us. 

And, as you can see, you could get into plenty of risk if you want it. 
Bonnie as close to the edge as I'd ever want to see her.



All of this and we're still only about halfway to the watchtowers at the end of the left side of the Cliffs.
Still trudging on.



But, as you can see the Towers in the distance, our goal was at long last in sight and we took hope and kept the pace brisk. Though it looks like a fairly straight line walk, the trail would wind and wend and dip and curve and angle in both width and height. It was not something easily walked. But yes, we made it!
Here we stopped for a snack and a blood sugar check.
At some point, I finally realized that my skin was feeling a bit tight and perhaps it might be a bit of a good precaution if I tried to offer my pale complexion some measure of protection.
Alas, too little, too late!


But the hoodie not only added drag to the backpack, it added a layer of heat to what was already becoming a stiflingly warm day. So it wound up being off more than it was on throughout the 4-5 hour ordeal.

And, as you can see in the photo below and to the right, that was a mistake.


Unretouched.
I have to tell you, it took me three weeks to recover from that sunburn. And when I went to a dermatologist for some suspicious spots on my head later that summer, he removed **eight** skin cancer growths. 

I have continued to see him every six months since, and each time he has found additional spots on my head and ears. It's as if that trip to the Cliffs has set off a chain reaction that now has lead to any slight exposure to the sun bringing skin cancer cells to the surface. I find it remarkable what an effect this final day trip in Ireland has had upon my life. Perhaps that's why its taken me almost two years to finish writing about it. 

Nevertheless, on the whole, it was a glorious trip and Ireland remains a dream destination. I still tell people that if I go back for a third time, I won't come home again. 

More importantly, it fulfilled one of my father's dying wishes. He was always sad that Bonnie couldn't travel with us due to her work schedule. So I made sure we went to Ireland together and did it right. I have no regrets.

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Mark's Musings is published on an occasional basis but that may change without notice. This blog is considered to be a digital periodical publication and is filed as such with the U.S. Library of Congress; ISSN 2154-9761. Click the photos. They'll get bigger. Trust me.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Tuesday Feels Like TV: Castle, Friends

Myself and William, our cabbie/guide
On the advice of William - that's him there, on the right, having a chat up with me at one of our stops yesterday - we decided to take in Ross Castle, less than five minutes from our hotel. Glad we did, it was interesting and we learned a bit more about castles and castle life.

Ross Castle was built in the 1400s for the O'Donoghue Chieftans, who were able to defend it successfully against all enemies, until the British attacked from the lake side of the castle, which no one had ever tried before. It was poorly defended on that side and most of the able-bodied men were away helping other clans fight the British so most of the men who were left at Ross Castle were wounded, weak, or old. It wasn't much of a battle. 
Ross Castle Exterior

This was about the mid-1600s and the Queen put the Browne family in charge of the castle and its estates. About 25 years later the Brownes built a house on the estate and turned the castle into military barracks.

Castles aren't really meant to be lived in, we were told. They were for defense against attackers, and as storage for food, cattle, and other necessaries to get the people through the winter and lean times.

In the 1800s England levied a roof tax on any building one owned with a roof. So the Browne family simply moved the military to another location and pulled the roof down on the castle. It lay in ruins for approximately 150 years until a vigorous restoration project began. Interestingly, every stonemason, woodworker, and craftsman who worked on the restoration had to be trained in medieval architecture and design and the castle was restored to a brand new condition (practically) using only the techniques that would have been used in the 1400s!

Thus the stones we stood on while visiting the top floor were the actual stones used in the original construction of the castle! That was pretty awesome. When they took the roof off, they just rigged up a way to pull the support beams down and it crashed in, then as time went on, each successive floor caved in on top of itself. The wood rotted away but the stones from the top floor simply fell to the bottom of the castle and were re-used when it was restored.

The bottom floor was a stone floor, but every floor up until the last had a wood floor so as not to put too much weight upon the castle walls. The final floor was also a stone floor, however, as protection against fire, should enemies get in and try to burn the place up. One more thing we learned today.

We also learned that castles were built with spiral staircases that all ran clockwise. This was because most swordsmen were right-handed, and as they battled their way upward, their sword arm would be impeded by the central core of the staircase, whereas defenders had their right arm free to swing at the enemy below. Also, the stairs were intentionally built of different heights - called "stumble steps" - to disorient and distract an enemy attacker. I noticed this the first time I climbed the staircase at Blarney Castle in 2014 but attributed it to just weathering and poor workmanship ... now I know it was an intentional defensive design. Eye opening!

The toilet (the Irish don't call them bathrooms or restrooms or washrooms) - was called a garderobe - and it was just a small open air slit in a room at the back of the castle that opened directly onto the courtyard. If you had to sit and it was windy (which Ireland often is), it would blow right back up your bum so you were quick about your business. It was called a garderobe (French for "guard clothing") because you would hang your cloak and other clothes *over* the toilet and wind would blow the smells of the toilet (including ammonia in the urine) back onto your clothes. The ammonia would kill the fleas, ticks, and other little insects that would make homes in your clothes. The smell? You didn't care about how you smelled back then. Everyone smelled the same!

We didn't get many pictures today, but what we did are here and over at my personal page on Facebook.

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Karen Dutil & daughter Amy

Then we drove from Killarney up the coast to Liscannor, near the Cliffs of Moher, which we intend to visit tomorrow. Tonight was reserved for dinner with friends.

Karen Dutil is the wife of one of my best friends in life, Tim. Their daughter Amy (one of four beautiful children they have) married an Irishman and moved to a small town nearby. I'm not going to go into any details because I won't trade her tragedy for entertainment value, but let me just say that Amy endured something that no mother should ever have to, and Karen was in Ireland to help see her daughter through it. They were gracious and graceful to spend a couple hours with us over dinner and we thoroughly enjoyed our visit together. 
Bonnie with Baby Mannix

In fact, Bonnie got to hold Amy's barely five-month old baby, which  you can see she just loved! It was a great time and we are definitely thankful we got the opportunity.

TOMORROW: The Cliffs of Moher, perhaps Ireland's most iconic natural treasure.


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Mark's Musings is published on an occasional basis but that may change without notice. This blog is considered to be a digital periodical publication and is filed as such with the U.S. Library of Congress; ISSN 2154-9761. Click the photos. You'll be glad you did.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Of the Ring We Sing

The southwest corner of the Republic of Ireland is one place that Dad and I never went to when we were here in 2014, so it was with keen interest that Bonnie and I wanted to see it. It is made up of five "finger" peninsulas, the largest of which is Iveragh, at the top of which sits the city of Killarney (yes, that one, Bing Crosby Christmas music fans). It is also home to something known as "The Ring of Kerry," Kerry being the county in which this is all situated.
The Cliffs of Kerry. Spectacular!

The Ring of Kerry is a 100-mile circle of roads and towns and sights that are breathtaking in their wild beauty, nearness to the Atlantic Ocean, small town hospitality, and unspoiled splendor. Fearing we would miss some of the best bits, we booked a private tour with a guide to drive us around The Ring, point out the spots we'd be certain to miss, and regale us with information and tales of the places and people. William, our guide and cabbie, didn't disappoint.

We started off with a stop at St. Mary's. There are two St. Mary's in Killarney. One is Church of England, one is Catholic. We stopped at the Catholic version. The church was built in the mid-1800s and both a road and a river were diverted to create space for the structure. The Earl of Kenmare was the patron for doing this and their family has continued to be buried inside the church ever since. Right up until the very last relation to the Earl, Beatrice Grosvenor, passed away in 1985. There is a tree that was planted shortly after the church was finished, right outside the entrance, as a memorial to all the victims of the Irish Potato Famine.

We then drove through the town of Killorglin where they have a pretty famous Irish festival every August, "Puck Fair." It is said to be the oldest festival in Ireland. Legend says that when Oliver Cromwell's forces were moving across Ireland, quashing rebellion, a lone goat was separated from the herd and showed up in the village, exhausted. This served as a warning for the people of Killorglin that something was amiss and they fled, thereby surviving en masse the coming British. To celebrate, they lifted that goat onto a platform and crowned it King for three days. A tradition that continues to this day, though the festival is now a family friendly one.
Bonnie with peat bog brick

Then it was on to Glenbeigh where we toured an authentic re-creation of a peat bog farm. Peat bog is mostly water, soil, and decaying vegetable material. People burn it as fuel and it gives off a very unique aroma, but not a bad one. It's like a cross between tobacco and incense. 

Then it was on to the Cahergall (pronounced Car-gahl) Ring Fort, or Stone Fort. It's a circular structure built way back when - around 800-900 AD - and still standing strong. It was the first of our long walks that day. Mostly uphill. Both ways. (Just kidding, only felt that way.) As always, there are many more pictures on my personal Facebook page in my "Ireland 2017" album.

Then we drove back through Cahersiveen (pronounced Car-sa-veen), by the only old Garda Station modeled after military barracks the British built in India, and past the only Catholic church named after an Irish politician and activist (Daniel O'Connell) and on to the ferry where we left the Ring of Kerry and drove over to Valentia Island. It was one of the perks of hiring William, our driver and guide, that he threw in as a bonus for us. We bought the Ring of Kerry and got the "Ring of Skellig," as well.

We came ashore in Knightstown. Valentia Island was once a critical communications center for Ireland and the whole of the UK, as it was the place where they dropped and laid the first transatlantic cable for communication between the continents. It still serves as the communications hub for air and sea rescue operations along the whole of the western coast of Ireland.
The view onto Dingle Bay from Valentia.
We drove up to the top of the island, to a slate mine. Valentia slate was once a booming business, employing up to 500 people at higher-than-average rates of pay and the superb quality of the slate found it being used in the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, and the Paris Opera House. It was an active business from 1816 through 1911, when cheaper Welsh slate drove the company out of business. It reopened in 1999 but now only employs half a dozen people. Check them out here.

Then it was on to the Bridge Bar in Portmagee for lunch and some tales. Portmagee was a town named after Theobald Magee, a quite famous and successful smuggler in the early 1700s, doing trade with both France and Portugal. He married Bridget Morgell, the widow of a rich Dingle merchant ... and she was also the daughter of Thomas Crosby of Ardvert, who was a member of Parliament. This did not sit well with Mr. Crosby, who quietly forced Magee into a Portugese monastery where he died "under mysterious circumstances." 

But what Crosby did not expect was that his daughter Bridget would step into the power void created by Magee's death and carry on the family smuggling business in quite spectacular fashion!
Beehive huts w/Bonnie for scale

After fortifying ourselves with lunch, we traveled on to the Cliffs of Kerry. There we walked up an almost 45-degree slope to get to the view, which was phenomenal (see photo at the top of this page, and remember, you can click or tap any photo for a larger view). It was difficult to see with the mists rolling in, but from there you can spot a spit of rock called "Skellig Michael," or Skellig Rock. At one time monks built a monastery on that little island and lived in beehive huts within. That little island also is featured prominently at the end (and I assume will also be in the beginning) of Star Wars Episodes VII and VIII. (The Force Awakens and the not-yet-released The Last Jedi)

While still on the Skellig Ring, we stopped at a local chocolate shop.  Butler's is the popular brand of chocolate in Ireland and you can find them in most every shop and petrol station, but Skellig chocolate is delicious, and creamy, and smooth, and keeps the small business industry alive. We bought enough to keep my diabetic sugar crashes at bay for months!
At the "Ladies View" lookout

Finally, it was back to the Ring of Kerry for a stop in the sleepy little town of Sneem (which is an actual place and not something out of Dr. Seuss). Then on to another gorgeous panoramic vista called "Ladies View," named after the spot where Queen Victoria's ladies-in-waiting were brought to enjoy and appreciate the Irish countryside.

From there, you can look down into the "Black Valley," as it is called. It is remote and steep and it is jokingly referred to as "Black" because it was the very last place in Ireland to receive electricity and telephone lines (not until 1976!). The name probably originates from how dark it gets due to the hills rising on every side.

From there it was a long drive back through the Killarney National Park to our hotel, with one last stop at the Torc Waterfall, a lovely little fall that becomes a bit of a babbling brook in short order. 

When we met William in the lobby at 9:30 this morning, he said we'd be back about 4:30. But William never rushed us, stopped often, and we had just a lovely time conversing with him throughout the day. We finally pulled back into our hotel at 7:00pm!!

Man, were we bushed. So bushed, as a matter of fact, that I only just now finished this blog entry -- a week later!
Obligatory selfie

I leave you with this one last selfie of us at the Cliffs of Kerry.

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Mark's Musings is published on an occasional basis but that may change without notice. This blog is considered to be a digital periodical publication and is filed as such with the U.S. Library of Congress; ISSN 2154-9761. Click the photos. You'll be glad you did.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Sunday Blarney Sunday

Blarney Castle
Blarney Castle - one of Ireland's top three iconic tourist stops - was on today's agenda and it didn't disappoint. You should allow a minimum of four hours for this destination because it's not just the castle on these grounds. There are nature trails (some of which will take the better part of an hour to hike), the Rock Close (a druid stone garden), the Stable Yard, the family mansion, a cave or two, and the Poison Garden.

Cormac McCarthy built this place on the bones of a wooden hunting lodge. McCarthy's work was done in 1446, predating Columbus sailing to America by almost half a century. So yeah, it's old and a miracle of engineering that it remains standing today, some 570+ years later.

Legend - according to Blarney Castle officials - says that the stone was once called "Jacob's Pillow" and was brought to Ireland by the prophet Jeremiah in his travels. After it was used as a pillow on the deathbed of St. Columba, it was moved to Scotland where it was used as the "Stone of Destiny" and in some manner selected the succession of kings and leaders there. When McCarthy sent 5,000 men to Scotland in the aid of Robert the Bruce in his fight against the English, a portion of the stone was struck off and given to McCarthy in appreciation. But there are also several other origin stories.

It was a witch, the legend goes, who revealed to McCarthy the secrets of "The Stone of Eloquence" after he had saved her from drowning. There are several other legends involving the witch in The Rock Close nearby.

The word "blarney" was actually attributed to Queen Elizabeth (the First) who had sent officials to Munster (the Irish province on which the castle sits) in order to negotiate ceding the property to England. McCarthy Mor (a son and heir) refused but did so in such flowery praise of Her Majesty that her agent was sent back to England feeling he'd accomplished something but, in fact, hadn't. When the Queen heard the report from her negotiator, she reportedly burst out in anger, "this is all blarney!"

I loved one explanation I heard about the difference between blarney and baloney. Baloney is telling a woman she looks lovely for her age. Blarney is asking a woman how old she is, because "I'd like to know the age at which a woman looks her finest." It is, as I've read, the "varnished truth."

I kissed the Blarney Stone when I was here with my father in April of 2014. Today my wife had the honor. (See the photo.) You lay on your back and lean way out over the edge at the top of the castle parapets (about four stories high) and bend down backward for your lips to reach the stone. Imagine what it must have been like in the days before those handrails were installed!

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There are plenty of other pictures available for all to see at my Facebook personal page, including this beauty from The Rock Close (photo should be at left). Well, okay, *not* this particular one, but plenty more like it and others.



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PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR GPS
So, yeah, we thought we were following our GPS instructions closely but missed a turn. Rather than turn around and go back and pick it up, we just kept going and waited for it to recalculate a new route. If this happens to you, let me just say emphatically right now, this is a mistake.

The main roads in Ireland are a thing of beauty. Decently wide, and smooth as silk. But once you get off the main roads (the Motorway and National roads), all bets are off. They become winding, twisty, narrow (to the point of breath-holding fear as you pass cars going the other direction), and pretty much the opposite of smooth. Let's just say that today we took so many back roads to get us back on the correct path that my spleen received an excellent massage. And at one point, we were so lost that the arrival time on our GPS changed to: ???

The ironic thing as you wind and twist your way through hairpin turns is that the speed limit often increases and the drivers behind you have not much patience for hapless Americans just trying to survive until they reach their destination.

If you're an American driving in Ireland, your GPS becomes one of your most valuable assets. Treat it like gold.

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Mark's Musings is published on an occasional basis but that may change without notice. This blog is considered to be a digital periodical publication and is filed as such with the U.S. Library of Congress; ISSN 2154-9761. Click the photos. You'll be glad you did.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Of Crystal and Cobh

Today's first stop.
Bonnie and I set out today fully rested and ready for a pair of stops sure to be interesting. First up was the House of Waterford Crystal, a location that my Pop and I had visited in 2014 but it's another iconic stop if you come to Ireland so I wanted Bonnie to see it. We once again took a good number of photos which can be seen on my Facebook page here, but you may need to "friend" me in order to access the photo album.

Crystal is made from combining lead, ash, and sand at very high temperatures. As in, only the Sun gets hotter. The lead content in the glass has to be at least 25% to be called crystal, and Waterford Crystal is a remarkable 33% lead, which not only gives the crystal its clarity, but makes it hard enough to withstand the complex and rigorous cuts, grooves, acid washing, and etching. There is a more detailed explanation of the process on my Facebook page, in the "Ireland 2017" photo album, though you may need to "friend" me in order to see it. If you don't know me, send a Private Message as well so I'll know to accept the request.
Lismore Castle, the design of which is the
inspiration for their best-selling pattern.

Waterford has 178 employees and I believe most of the work they do here in Ireland is specialized orders on contract. The bulk of the mainline crystal work (from online orders and catalog sales) is done at their factory in Slovenia.

Remember you can click any photo and see a larger version of it.

After touring the crystal factory and buying a couple gifts and souvenirs, we made our way down to the harbor area by the River Suir and toured Reginald's Castle.
This is supposedly the oldest standing building in Ireland. We were told today that, in fact, only London and Paris are older than the city of Waterford.

The tower started out as a two-story structure and defensible fort for the Viking establishment. Eventually it came under siege and was always the last bastion of defenders ... though not always successfully so. As rule of this location changed hands, different kings would add on to the structure until now it is four stories tall. After being a fort and stronghold, it was eventually turned into a jail. From there it became a mint, where currency and valuable goods were stored. Then it was a jail again, and back to a mint, and eventually a museum.

Right across the street, along the river bank, is a special spot. My father and I had spent a night in Waterford when we came  here back in 2014. There is a bench by the river that is labeled the "Seat of Wisdom" and I snapped a photo of Dad sitting there. It became one of my favorite shots of him. So today I was able to pay homage to the man, and it was a special moment for me. Thanks to my lovely wife, Bonnie, for playing photographer.
2017 on the left, 2014 on the right.
Then it was off to Cobh (pronounced Khob, with a long "o" sound). Cobh was the final stop for the RMS Titanic before leaving on its fateful journey to New York. Besides being a lovely old city, it houses "The Titanic Experience," a museum and audio-visual tour that focuses on the 123 individuals who boarded there at Cobh. But first, a word about some of the eight people who got *off* the Titanic,  having traveled from Southampton in England to Cobh.

One of them, a Mr. E. Nichols, we were told traveled first class and disembarked ... and was never heard of again. Lost to history. Just disappeared. Another passenger was the Reverend Brown. The Bishop in Cobh had paid for his first class ticket from England to Ireland. An American couple on the boat offered to pay the rest of his passage to America. When the Reverend wired his Bishop in Cobh, asking for permission to go, the Bishop wired back: "Get off the boat." And so Reverend Brown's life was saved. And, as a bonus, the 79 photos he had taken on board are some of the documentation we now have of what the Titanic was actually like.

The harbor in Cobh was deep enough to have anchored the ship, but because Captain Smith wanted to set a record in the crossing to America, he anchored out in the channel so it would only take an hour and a half to transfer passengers, luggage, and mail instead of four to five hours to come in and jockey around the harbor. I don't know about you, but this gives me some insight into why Smith refused to stop or slow down despite many messages from other ships about icebergs impeding their progress on that fateful night of April 14.

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It rained twice today, but both times we were under cover. Once while we ate lunch after the Crystal Factory tour, and again while we drove to Cobh. But after that the sun came out and while it was cool (high in the upper 40s Fahrenheit) and windy, it was still a lovely Irish day. 

We drove on up to Cork and tomorrow: Blarney Castle!

Finally, I leave you with this one last whimsical image: 

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Mark's Musings is published on an occasional basis but that may change without notice. This blog is considered to be a digital periodical publication and is filed as such with the U.S. Library of Congress; ISSN 2154-9761. Click the photos. You'll be glad you did.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Friday, Thy Name is Frustration

I once heard a comedian do a riff on snooze alarms. "We hate waking up in the morning ... now, thanks to snooze alarms, we're waking up three times every day!" Today made me feel that way. I had already suffered through driving in Dublin to get to our hotel. Today, the plan was to make our way south to Wexford, taking in a castle or abbey or two along the way. Bonnie hadn't yet seen a castle, and she felt that a trip to Ireland would not be complete without that.

But our trusty steed threw a shoe. The Ford Focus we had rented had, somewhere along the line, blown out the fuse to its power sockets, leaving our GPS running on battery and this morning, within two minutes of leaving the hotel, it went completely dead, leaving us driving blind in Dublin with NO IDEA of how to get back to the airport. While I was fighting Dublin traffic - and have I mentioned that there seems to be construction going on with detours (the Irish call them derivations) on nearly every street - we were trying everything but mouth-to-mouth to get the GPS unit back up and running.

Finally, in desperation, I turned on my phone. We had international calling and data installed on our plan before we left the States. Only you know what? AT&T couldn't find a signal. The phone was offline completely. I might as well have left it in Airplane Mode for all the good it did us.

So I was driving in one of the worst cities of the world to drive in - for the second time - and I was navigating literally by the seat of my pants. And that can't possibly be a good thing because my pants couldn't even see over the steering wheel. 

Pretty, and pretty useless.
So, once we hit the waterfront (or nearly there) we turned north. I knew the airport was north of Dublin so we started heading that way and before long, we were out of Dublin. It turned into a quite nice drive, mostly along the coast, but we still had no clue where we were or where to go. The map provided by the rental car agency (see photo) was, umm, really no help.

But before long we saw an airplane icon on the road signs, so we rejoiced and began following them ... only to have them lead us right back into Dublin!!! For the third time, just like a snooze alarm! By this time I could have chewed through nails and my blood pressure was approaching Dow Jones territory.

Lo and behold, what to our wandering eyes should appear, but another airplane icon! So we began following that and when we hit the M1, we knew we were finally on the right path. Having successfully and at long last reached the rental car agency - albeit three hours after we had started out this morning - we swapped out one trusty steed for an identical vehicle, making ABSOLUTELY SURE there was not going to be a further issue with the GPS. We were issued refunds, made promises, and once again we set out for Wexford ... but our day of sightseeing was shot.  It was after 2:00pm by the time we got to the hotel and I instantly crashed for a good long nap, having been up late the night before and a complete bundle of nerves by this time.

So today turned into a "rest" day, where we just stayed at our hotel and enjoyed the view from our hotel room (see photo). To be honest, with the change in time - Ireland is five hours ahead of the States and the travel over takes about 16 hours with very little sleep - we really kind of needed a slow day.

By the way, you can click any photo on my blog and see it in a bigger version, much easier to make out details and such.

Tomorrow is a big day as we head west to spend an hour or two in Waterford, then on to Cobh (pronounced Koahb) and finally to our next hotel in Cork.

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Mark's Musings is published on an occasional basis but that may change without notice. This blog is considered to be a digital periodical publication and is filed as such with the U.S. Library of Congress; ISSN 2154-9761. Click the photos. You'll be glad you did.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Day in Dublin

Dublin, Ireland, is quite cosmopolitan. At breakfast this morning, we heard French, German, and what we think was Italian, with a mix of strong Slavic English, as well. If you think America is a "melting pot" of diversity, you haven't been to Dublin. It's Ireland's capitol city and has more ways to get around than you can shake the proverbial stick at. You can't throw a rock in this town without hitting a public transit bus.

Our ride the last couple of days.
Yesterday afternoon, after taking a short respite from that long travel day, we took a bus tour of Dublin, courtesy of one of the "Hop-On, Hop-Off" tour buses. Saw more than two dozen attractions in the city, and learned a tremendous amount of history and trivia and bus driver personal opinions of other drivers.

You could easily come to Ireland and spend your entire visit here in Dublin, and still probably not see it all. From Phoenix Park in the northwest (you can fit two of New York's Central Parks into here) to the Guiness Storehouse (see below) to St. Stephen's Green in the southeast to the Kilmainham Gaol in the west, there is just so much to feast your eyes and ears upon, well, our two brief days cannot begin to do it justice.
Couple o'cool cats on top of a double decker bus.

But having been all around the tour bus perimeter of the city, we fixed our eyes upon three locations to visit today: The Book of Kells at Trinity College, the Guinness Storehouse (can't go to Dublin without that on your itinerary) and the Kilmainham Gaol (pronounced Kill-main-em Jail), where we had read you can get a nice history of Dublin through the eyes of the people held prisoner there (many of them political arrests in the Irish fight for independence). 

Three years ago Dad and I drove around Dublin. We drove through Dublin. We pulled our hair out and nearly threw out the GPS in Dublin ... but the only stop we managed to make was the Guinness Storehouse and then we didn't see much due to restricted wheelchair access at some points, and Dad's fatigue level. And we never spent the night here. So almost all of this was new to both Bonnie and myself and, in so many respects, absolutely delightful. More on that in a moment.
"The Long Room" at Trinity College.
In 1801, "The Copyright Act" designated Trinity College as the legal deposit library and a copy of every book published in England and Ireland and Scotland was to be kept on file here. The storage problem this caused, coupled with a collapsing roof, caused this room to be built, finally completed in 1861. It is over 200 feet long and houses more than 200,000 books. Each alcove has books filed not by title, or author, or subject, but by size. But each alcove and each shelf is designated with a letter of the alphabet, A-to-Z. A huge reference is located at one end that will, much like a map, tell you the letter coordinate to find the title you want. They can get it down to which shelf it's on, anyway. 

When you first walk in, you are overwhelmed by the smell of old books. I loved it! There are also - lining both sides of the room - 38 plaster busts of teachers, philosophers, scientists, and local influential persons who have had some great impact upon education or Irish society. I suppose they serve as role models for the students. Trinity College - also called the University of Dublin - is still very much a working academic institution. 

But the main event here is the Book of Kells. It is an illustrated manuscript, produced with colored ink on goatskin pages by Irish monks in the late 700s and early 800s. When Vikings began to conquer much of Ireland, the book was sent to a monastery in Dublin for safekeeping. It is an unrivaled exhibition of calligraphy and sacred drawings. In the early 1950s, the Library separated the four gospels into individual books, and two of them are always on display. We saw the books of John and Luke. They are kept in climate controlled displays and you can look, but never touch. A digital copy of the complete work of the Book of Kells - considered Ireland's most precious national treasure - can be found on the library's website here.

Selfie's a little blurry, but we're happy.
From here it was over to Arthur Guinness' Storehouse. He made ale early in his career, but after tasting a dark porter in England, decided to brew his own here in Ireland. His first version was called a "porter stout" and eventually he dropped the word "porter." At the height of its production, Guinness employed 5,000 people here in Dublin. (Now, mostly due to automation, they are down to about 800.)

One mind-blowing fact: Guiness - for 300 pounds and 45 pounds annually (remember, this was before the euro) - leased 64 acres from the city of Dublin for ... are you sitting down? 9,000 years! The company built housing for its employees that had the city's first running water in the bathrooms, and also included healthcare and a creche (preschool and nursery) for the workers' children.

This storehouse was started in 1902, finished in 1904, and the first fermented stout was produced in 1906. Guinness quickly outgrew this place and it sat idle for many years before being turned into a tourist attraction. From here, they built Storehouse #2. They are now on Storehouse #4, with Guinness being sold in more than 150 countries.

Woulda, shoulda, coulda.
Bonnie and I saw things that my Dad and I had missed, and we also found a little out-of-the way place called the Guinness Archives. It was so far off the tour route we were the only ones there. And, of course, we also visited the Gravity Bar on the top floor and took in a gorgeous 360 degree view of Dublin.

From there it was back on the bus and over to the Kilmainham Gaol. Only to discover that all the tours for the remainder of the day were sold out. Should have believed the comments on Trip Advisor, I guess. The photo to the right shows one of the last tour groups kicking off at the entrance to the Gaol (note the serpent logo above the door), and you'll also note that we are not in that group. It was a major bummer. But we toured the attached courthouse and the museum and you can see lots more photos of our day at my Facebook page. Look for the photo album "Ireland 2017."
Note the windows get smaller as they go up.
Couple more notes about the city of Dublin. In the 17 and 1800s, England passed something commonly called a "Glass Tax," that assessed homeowners fees based on the number of windows and how much glass they had. You could often tell how well off a family was by how much glass was in their windows. What many architects took to doing was to make the windows smaller and smaller on each floor. See the photo above.
This move ultimately backfired.
When the Bank of Ireland bought the old Parliament building in Dublin, they got around the Glass Tax niftily - see the photo above - by simply bricking up all of the windows! This move ultimately backfired, however, as it became a popular saying among the people of Dublin, "If you put your money in the Bank of Ireland, it'll never see the light of day again!"

Finally, as Americans visiting, my wife and I would like to officially thank whomever thought up this idea (see photo at right). It's a reminder at every intersection (the Irish call them junctions) that traffic moves differently here. 

More tomorrow.

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Mark's Musings is published on an occasional basis but that may change without notice. This blog is considered to be a digital periodical publication and is filed as such with the U.S. Library of Congress; ISSN 2154-9761. And the road goes ever on.