BRAD     |     EMILLIE

Monday, May 30, 2011

Just don't ask me about the weather

In my last blog I failed to mention what spurned this insane double-dip holiday idea. Well... our friend Dylan (also from our Undergraduate days... alas, another bleedin' Engineer) arrived the day after our return from Budapest, bike in tow.
So you may be wondering... how was the cycle tour? And our general response would be ...good...
Perhaps it is best summarized by a detail itinerary?

Day 1: We trained to Cork, then cycled out to Blarney right away. Blarney was nice, but ultimately overrated. You pay €10 to climb a really dangerous looking staircase (yes, I wimped out) to kiss a stone at the top of the castle. You do not get a tour, or any historical information about the castle. Though I admit, that perhaps I would have felt more positive about Blarney if it hadn't been pouring rain. At least Leinster won the Heiniken Cup! Up Leinster!
Day 2: We cycled to a small town in the middle of nowhere. Nikolai was unimpressed with the lack of playground. We were unimpressed with the lack of vegetarian food (only 1 pub in town!)
Day 3: I nearly died. Figuratively. Literally, we took a sheep trail over a few mountain ranges with a "gale-force" headwind the whole way. It took us 5 hours to go 30km. We were cycling 10 km/hr down hill!! It was about lunch time when I decided that we would have to cancel the trip because I was not going to be able to make it all the way. Dylan and Brad (please note, they both are on more speed-worthy bikes, so it's not just my lack of fitness) set out on a campaign to convince me that all was not lost. But it wasn't their newly found skills of elocution (from that rather unsanitary Blarney kiss) that convinced me; it was when we joined onto the paved National Route that I once again found the courage to continue. (Smooth road, lower gradients, and signs of civilization).
Day 4: We made our way down the Beara peninsula to a beautiful seaside town of Allihies. The sun shone, the sand was soft, and while the only pub in town did not cater to Veggies, at least the grocery store was open. (Although I admit the can of hummus purchased there was probably the worst Mediterranean food experience of my life, but at least I could eat it!)
Day 5: After 2 days of gale force head winds, we were finally going back up the peninsula! In my whole cycling career I have never honestly been pushed up hill by the wind before. I've had speedy tail-winds, but this was a full force pedal-less push. The other excitement came when we encountered the An Post Rás (Ireland's most important cycle race). We kept expecting it... and seeing all the support vehicles, etc. I think we pulled over at least 10 times before the race finally caught up to us. (Mental note: the Gardi/police clear the road for a race, not just energy drink trucks) After hours of anticipation the riders raced past us and were gone in less than 3 minutes.
Day 6 to Day 8: We cycled around the Ring of Kerry. Lots of lovely views, lots of beautiful beaches, and a period of reverting back to a more primeval self. Again, don't ask about the weather. My days were spent with burning muscles (lord knows why my triceps were screaming), scavenging for food, ensuring that my offspring was happy and desperately trying to stay warm. Perhaps that sounds a bit dramatic, but it was more like a trade off between burning muscles (going up hill) and frozen extremities (cycling down hill).
Perhaps I could boil the trip down to some good and bad aspects:

Good: Nikolai was a perfect cycling companion. He didn't complain once about getting on to the bike. He slept well through the night. He charmed everyone he met with his politeness. Phew.
Bad: "unseasonably bad weather"
Good: There was very little traffic on the major roads around both peninsulas. Perhaps in the main tourist season this would be busier? But after our dirt road experience we stuck to the main routes and encountered very few cars.
Bad: "unusually windy conditions"
Good: Both peninsula's were beautiful. The both had lovely white sand beaches. I would highly recommend the trip to anyone!
In the end, the best part of the whole trip was the chance to "get away from it all" and "recenter" ourselves. There is something magical in the silence of exertion and the disconnection from society and ultimately ourselves. It is a chance for introspection, something we so dramatically need in today's society of constant media saturation.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

News in brief

We got back from Budapest late last night, and our next guest arrives tonight... (yes, a pile of chores is burgeoning)... and we're leaving for a cycle trip on Saturday (yes, even more chores). So this summary of Budapest will be brief in nature. But as this is officially our 3rd trip to Budapest, we took it at a pretty relaxed pace (blog 2004, blog 2006).

To quickly summarize my city observations, we did notice that Budapest is gentrifying... the Szechenyi spa had completely renovated their indoor facilities and now they have over 10 indoor pools to explore, and the streets are being spruced up with complete renovations. We also noticed that there are a LOT of playgrounds (wouldn't have paid any attention to that before now).

The kids seemed to be more rough and tumble. As a result they were much thinner (doe-like), and more banged up than Irish or Canadian children (perhaps more reminiscent of my childhood?). They also were a lot quieter. Less crying, shouting, singing, etc. not just at the hospital, but at the playgrounds as well.

As mentioned previously, after our hospital visit, we went on a cruise up the Danube! A great way to get a feel of the city. We probably could have learned more history... but it was hard to understand the guided tour (thick accent coupled with wind).

For Nikolai's benefit we tried ALL of the local transport options (Funicular, Tram, Metro).

Naturally, we checked out the famous coffee houses.

More photos may follow after we get copies of those taken by Claire and Jessica.

As for the queen's visit... while it's been quite difficult for the locals, as they completely closed down all areas that she's going to (or driving through). This morning, Brad's co-workers couldn't get into work because of road closures in Kildare, since she went to the Irish National Stud in Kildare. It is clear that her visit is not really geared towards fixing past regrets with Ireland, as failed to sip at the pint of Guinness poured for her at the Brewery. Instead she and the Duke of Edinburgh just blandly smiled at it and walked away. Perhaps this article speculating that the trip is more about gaining American approval isn't that far off?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Queen has arrived

We're having a fab time in Budapest... but I felt the need to post an article about a bomb found in Maynooth. According to the gossip, it was found on a 67a bus (yes Claire and my parents have all ridden on that bus), at the bus loop by the playground in Maynooth. Thankfully, the Gardai safely detonated the device... but I could do without such incidences.

While the Queen is not coming to Maynooth, she will be heading to some sites in Kildare. However, I imagine the bomb was Dublin bound (as it was a Dublin bound bus), so I'm certain that we'll be safe in Maynooth. With all this stress and negative press... oh why did the Queen bother to come to Ireland?

But she has arrived, and the show must go on. I don't think that simply showing up wearing an emerald green outfit will win over the hearts of the Irish population. I hope that she has an awfully good speech writer, because the Irish are famous for their expertise with rhetoric.

The photos are of Nikolai and I in the Labyrinth beneath Budapest's old town, and a family photo in front of the Fisherman's Bastion.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Misadventures in Budapest

How many times does one toddler need to wee (pee) during a 2 hour flight? I guess the answer depends on whether the toddler in question is A) really bored; B) served an adult-sized beverage. If the answers to the above questions are both yes, then you will be taking that toddler to the tiny airplane toilet at least 4 times during the flight.

But to be fair, this particular blog is about what happened upon check-in to to our rental apartment. It fills me with such guilt of my own horrible distraction, rushing, but most certain responsibility for what occurred after we stepped out of the airport taxi that I felt the need to start with a light story just to clear the air for my confession. Of course, I could just have avoided the issue altogether... and not provided my shameful confession, but someone might have wondered why we didn't post any pictures of Nikolai while in Budapest.

So on this faithful day, during nap... Brad's at a conference, Claire and Jessica (my sister and her friend are joining us on this trip... hence the apartment rental. However, the apartment has worked out so well, that I'm thinking of traveling apartment-style more frequently... but again I procrastinate from the task at hand); Claire and Jessica are at the famous Budapest baths, and I am blogging.

Upon arrival to our apartment building, we carried our luggage into the building and to the elevator. Now, Nikolai is terribly afraid of elevators, and probably hasn't stepped foot in one in nearly 2 years. A funny peccadillo; however, he will ride in an elevator if he is carried, or riding in his buggy (stroller). So as we stood getting ready to go into the elevator, I unfolded the buggy so that Nikolai could ride up. And he jumped into the buggy just as I was locking it open. And (here comes the awful part) his finger got caught between the bar and the plastic latch. As you can imagine, awful howling ensued. But what you might not imagine is that getting the buggy to unlock and collapse (so as to free his finger) was very difficult, likely because of the tension his finger was creating. And while it took us only probably a few seconds to finally force the buggy to collapse, it felt like forever.

His finger came out very flat, but without any external bleeding (I guess he inherits my extra thick skin). Now Nikolai is particularly non-dramatic about injuries, but he was howling like a banshee. He howled as the hostess fetched ice, called 112 to find out what to do (FYI 112 is a Europe-wide 999, or 911, so if you're Irish, I recommend switching alliances), called us a cab. And he screamed the whole way to the hospital, he started to calm down in the waiting room, but that was likely due to exhaustion since he still was moaning painfully. He really didn't want to see the doctor, and he wouldn't spread his fingers out for the x-ray (forcing us to go back for seconds), but he did seem to calm down about 30 minutes after the accident occurred.

As some of you may know, I used to work at BC Children's hospital, so I have a pretty good idea of how things worked at THAT hospital. This hospital was definitely less polished then that, and was potentially built during the soviet era (it was that sort of institutional-functional style building). But the staff were amazing. We paid in cash for everything, and I would have to say it was a lot cheaper than if we'd had this accident in Ireland! (Perhaps we were sent to a low cost hospital, since our hostess was very concerned when we told her that we didn't have insurance?) Anyways, it was €30 for the consultation, and €30 for the x-rays!

We were triaged quickly (probably because of the minimal amount of waiting space and Nikolai's wailing -- I noticed that NONE of the Hungarian children were crying in the waiting room, despite obvious injuries) and sent to wait in what must have been the "broken bone clinic". The waiting space comprised a random assortment of benches and chairs. Despite being a children's hospital, there was no colour, and no distractions (TV, magazines, toys, anything). All the other children were there with a crew of siblings, and most of those kids were quiet and patient.

It was a very quiet waiting area... except for Nikolai of course.

Anyways, there was only one consult room with a team of 4 - 6 in it (one doctor thankfully spoke English), and they were treating about 2 patients at a time in the room (my RPG background in hospital design was reeling at the thought! Canadian doctors protest if they have to share offices, or dictation cubicles!). There were no bathrooms in the building (on future flights, I don't think we'll let Nikolai drink a whole airline beverage by himself!) and the x-ray room was just down the hall.

The most interesting thing was that we were required to take our x-rays (yes, actual, physical x-rays photographs) from the technician back to the doctor. Which means you have all the patients and their parents in the waiting room holding the x-ray photos up to the light, trying to guess if there's a fracture or not. When we returned to the doctor with our x-ray, he was about to invite us back into the room, when he changed his mind... basically because there was some kid who was in pretty bad shape on the table. We think he was in a dirt bike accident because he was covered in bandages.

We would have been in and out of the hospital in just over an hour, if it weren't for the need to get a second set of x-rays. In the end Nikolai was very lucky, and did not have a fracture. But given that he did have quite a bit of bruising, and a very unhappy nail, he has been wrapped up in a rather beefy bandage.

Anyways, on the whole, given my expertise as a healthcare planner, I would rate our hospital experience very highly. Sure, it was a no-frills kind of place. But it was affordable, fast, efficient, and I felt that we received a high quality of health care. Sometimes it feels as though doctors are more interested in maintaining their personal status as an expert than providing quality healthcare.

In discussing the detriments of the Canadian Healthcare system, I think everyone needs to re-evaluate what it is that we need from our healthcare system. All we need is for healthcare to be timely, and effective. Healthcare doesn't need to be:
- bogged down with bureaucracy
- at the cutting edge of technology (though I'm sure that there are many corporations that would disagree)
- provided by healthcare practitioners that care more about their own status and wealth than their patients well being.

Above is with Claire and Jessica on the Chain Bridge, and below is a close up of Nikolai's bandage (a few hours after it was done... getting a bit dirtier now. We're on a cruise up the Danube).

Friday, May 13, 2011


We're about to embark on a series of holidays, so it may be a while till I get the time to properly blog. Until then I'd like to touch on two cultural phenomenon that are ramping up to a head (and express some annoyance at the Blogger issues this week).

The Queen's visit to Ireland

The first royal visit to the island since 1911... coming on the anniversary of the Dublin and Monahan bombings... will be paying a visit to Croke Park (of the Bloody Sunday)... And even though I am at heart a Monarchist (like all good Canadians), I am rather disenchanted by the Queen's visit.

1. To start off with, I have yet to hear ANYONE express a positive sentiment about the royal family. Even the wedding was greeted by a rather blasé attitude.
2. Ireland is already in trouble for calling the Queen "Your Royal Highness" in radio adverts. Apparently the Queen is only refereed to as "Your Majesty", "Your Royal Highness" is only used in reference to the rest of the family.
3. Last years bomb scares were practically non-existent. This year has seen the number steadily rise, including quite a few in Dublin this week (1, 2, 3, 4).

Clearly, most people don't really care if the Queen comes (Obama is an entirely different story), and some people REALLY don't want the Queen to come. So why does she have to come? She's here for 3 days, and will be on a "Royal tour" and will be seeing a crazy amount of sites in Ireland. The place is going to be a zoo of security and potential terrorism threats. Quelle drag.

How to explain Eurovision to an outsider... like you, last year I would have been chagrined by the over-the-top gaudiness to the whole thing. I would have made fun of the incredibly lame "pop-trash" songs and the cheesy comments from the presenters. I was a definite dis-believer in the cultural phenomenon. This year, due to peer pressure at Brad's office (yes, even the mathematicians seem to follow it) we have tuned in. And boy do I LOVE IT. Give me more cheesy Euro-flash with spangles and text-type voting because it is not just entertainment, it is the popcorn and beer too!!

I'm sure you can watch all of this Euro-loviness on Youtube. The finals are on Saturday, and we have only watched one set of the semi-finals so far. But I liked Denmark, and Ukraine (not for the Music but the art). Brad liked Moldova and Estonia. And I'll include Russia for the relations... and Belarus for the controversy (seriously, who would vote for a song called I love Belarus... from the only dictatorship left in Europe). Note: I am not willing to discuss Jedward... other than to say, they seem to be quite popular in Ireland... a fact that probably officially means that I am no longer "cool".

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Allée Allée Allée

And while our spring has been packed with visitors and visiting, we have been equally avid in our cycling training. Every free weekend day results in a trip to somewhere... I've been cycling in the evenings with my pair of A(i)s(h)lings... and Brad's been out training for the Wicklow 2(1)00 with his friends. On this weekend of anticipation (as we will be away traveling for the next three weekends --I am anticipating my "ode to a toddler who will not sleep in a hotel" blog) I have three tails of cycling:

Arthur Guinness's Grave
While we've done a number of interesting local treks (Naas's Grand Canal, the Wonderful Barn, Captains' Hill) perhaps the most notable destination -from a touristic point of view was Arthur Guinness' Grave. It is perhaps most notable for it's lack of notoriety. Located up Lyons Hill, in an abandoned church yard, in the middle of a sheep field. The Grave itself is found within the walls of the "church" on the right hand side of what was once probably the nave of a rather small church. It is generally unremarkable... other than the occasional bottle of Guinness left at it's side. A beautiful view, rolling hills, friendly neighbouring horses and hand piled stone walls make this trek worth trekking. Of note, you can climb the tower in the church... but Nikolai and I were both to sensible for that!

Feminists Ride Bikes
The Maynooth Cycling Campaign, of which Brad is a de-facto member due to proximity with the main organizer, basically is focused on trying to get more people cycling. They have a particularly difficult time getting women to cycle, and have asked me to come out and "represent" on the teen rides. So perhaps I'm a de-facto member too?

Anyways, most of the Lycra clad butts cycling around Kildare on the weekend are males. But I think I've figured out one of the reasons why groups of women aren't signing up for cycling... Last week, when Aisling, Ashling and I were on our evening ride, a car load of young men pulled up and called out to us. Being rather deaf... I'm not sure what was said... but from my friends embarrassed faces I gather they were propositioning us.

It seems to be a very acceptable phenomenon... The bicycle incident was fairly mild compared to the harassment we received at the pub during the toddler group's "Mom's Night Out". So I've decided to cling to my feminist roots, by claiming my right to cycle (Lycra clad or otherwise).

The Torrential Downpour
The highlight of our cycle training, thus far, happened on Saturday night when we got to cycle home in a torrential downpour. This is a rare enough thing in Ireland... however, we knew the rain was coming as we could see the storm sweeping in from the Wicklow mountains. Our first thought was to race home, but we soon realized that "out pacing" the rain was not going to be possible. When it was time to batten down the hatches... we relocated Nikolai to a safer (and dryer) location in the trailer and threw on our raincoats.

It was a moment of complete awe, as we watched the sheets of rain come towards us from across a farmer's fields. And then it was upon us... even though we got thoroughly soaked (as Nikolai put it, "you look like you took a bath in the rain!!") we were in utter bliss the whole way home. This was the rain of so many memories... as we both were stalwart cycle commuters. With an average of 150mm of rain a month in Vancouver's winter, cycling home in the rain was a full sized helping of nostalgia for us (clearly I'm not a copy writer for Tourism Vancouver)!

I can think of only one thing that perhaps truly defines what it means to be Canadian... something that can encompass us all... no matter our heritage, or where we live in the giant country (big enough to eat the whole continent of Europe several times over)... to be Canadian is to not be afraid of inclement weather. In fact I'd go one more than that, to be Canadian is to embrace inclement weather! Neigh on everyone of us has gone out in -20C weather... and many have pulled on our long underwear for -40C (with a Nikolai in my belly) simply to watch the sundogs or aurora borealis.

And Vancouver boasts a 4% cycle commuter rate, despite the constant assurance of rain. Brad and I own: shoe covers, wet pants, cycle coats (fully ventable and waterproof), gloves, ear covers, neck warmers and a belly warmer (me) all so that we could get our daily dose of exercise in the form of a bike. So a ten minute deluge in the beautiful rolling fields of Kildare can be nothing more then a moment of bliss. And since it's Mother's Day in Canada, I will indulge my mothering side a bit... and say "I am so glad that we could share this moment with Nikolai; because what could be more important to becoming a well rounded person than to see your parents laughing joyfully while cycling in the rain?".

Above is the piled stone fencing and rolling hills. Below is the tumbled down church and stone grave markers, and a close up of the illegible grave stone.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Ode to sunny (and windy) days

For Jeff and Lindsay's visit we tried our best to give them a wee taste of Ireland... we sent them to Dublin, Trim, Newgrange, and...

we took them to the pub for a traditional Sunday Carvery Dinner. Now this is a tradition that we've never partook in ourselves, though all of the pubs in town would offer a carvery. A carvery by definition is a plate of meat decorated with some boiled cabbage, carrots and potatoes, not very veggie. Regardless, the carvery has strong Irish roots, so we chose to take them to Brady's. Though I heard that the meat was fabulous ...they did offer a veggie soup with bread, so we survived!

We also took them (by request) on a day trip to the ocean. Since the weather was far too windy for much beach activity, we decided to visit Malahide. Malahide's most famous for it's castle, so a tour was naturally required. The castle itself was quite nice... but the site is privately run... so unlike all of the Heritage Ireland sites... the tour was in audio format only. Which means it was quite short (35 minutes) and only just glazed the surface of historical interest... focusing more on "important pieces" in the decor. I also found the cafe to be a complete drag... much more reminiscent of a tourist trap in Canada... in Ireland the tourist sites usually have fantastic cafes, worthy of a visit simply for the food. Not so true in Malahide.

The castle grounds are really lovely, with nice landscaping and a pretty terrific playground (second only to that in Lisburn). Malahide has a nice view of the Irish Sea, bobbing fishing boats, and lovely fine sand dunes. A warmer day would have made for some good sand castle building. However, it's an estuary, meaning that there is a standing wake at the mouth of the town, so swimming would definitely not be a safe enterprise.

Jeff and Lindsay are fairly avid bloggers, so you can see their opinion of Ireland on their blog! We loved having them stay. Nikolai and Zach had a mutual adoration, which made it easy for the two of them to entertain each other. Zach is already a very active (and literally bouncy) baby, so I imagine in two years time the two of them will be well entertained by tearing around the back garden after a football (soccer-style of course).

Above is Jeff, Lindsay and Zach on the train. Below is Malahide Castle (can you tell who comes from Kelowna?) and the sand dunes (we seldom get family photos).