Tuesday, May 22, 2007


The second part of our visit from Joan & Jim was a trip to Dublin. We chose to fly on RyanAir (cheap) out of Eindhoven, which is normally about 1 1/2 hours from our home. After a not-so-quick lunch in Gouda (the Dutch are not known for fast service, particularly when you are "terrassing"), we ended up in a horrible traffic jam. Turns out that Eindhoven was hosting a rally for their football team PSV, winners of the Dutch title. The result of missing our flight (barely!) was more time on the road, as our only option to get to Dublin was to fly out from Belgium.

Pictured: Obviously not Dublin ... this is a wedding at the historic stadhuis in Gouda

Leaving the Dublin airport, our cab driver was the definition of "the gift of the blarney." Our 40-minute ride was a lesson in Irish politics ... everything from the local elections to the European Union to immigration to the Spire of Dublin. It was interesting, to say the least (unlike our driver).
Luckily, Dublin is a very good city in which to drown your sorrows, or anything else for that matter. First stop was the Temple Bar pub. The Temple Bar area is the party central of Dublin -- it seems busy at all times of the day. All in all, we visited 13 pubs. You can even take one of the predefined pub crawls, like the Literary pub crawl where you visit pubs that were frequented by literary giants like Joyce, Beckett & Wilde. One of the most interesting in terms of looks was Kehoe's; many of the fixtures were old (including the urinals in the basement). One of the most interesting in terms of people was the Hairy Lemon; we had a great conversation with the bartender & they had some good tunes on the jukebox.

Pictured: Kehoe's Pub

We decided to take the open-air tour to get an overview of the sights. Dublin's city center is fairly compact and it doesn't seem as big as most other European capitals. We split the tour between two days, and it was a great way to see the sights like St. Patrick's Cathedral (pictured below).

One of the tour stops was the Guinness Storehouse (pictured below). It's a multi-level, multimedia experience that takes you through the history of Guinness and the brewing process. The tour culminates with a cold pint in the "Gravity Bar" with a great view of the city.

To give ourselves a bit of a break from the city, we took the train out to the fishing village of Howth. It definitely feels different than Dublin, with its row of fisheries, abbey ruins, and WWII. After lunch at the Abbey Pub, we trained to to visit the Malahide castle. I don't think I can adequately describe the tour of the castle. It is semi self-guided ... after a brief introduction a woman plays recordings in each room. Jim described the woman running our tour as "Aunt Clara" ... if you're familiar with (the original) Bewitched you might know what he meant. Let's just say that the timing of the tour was a little off. Then when we went outside we ran into a horde of bees ... evidently two rival nests were fighting it out, much like it might have been hundreds of years ago when the castle had to defend itself.

Pictured (click to enlarge): Howth

Pictured: Malahide castle (click to enlarge; the "spots" on the 2nd photo are bees)

Saturday morning brought an early flight ... we thought that we'd find an empty airport at 5AM. To our surprise it was completely packed ... the following Monday was a bank holiday and it seemed like everyone was getting out of town. After a stop in Leuven, Belgium, it was back home for a quiet dinner, and Sunday morning Joan & Jim were back on a plane to Chicago. We had a great time and look forward to our next visitors. Thanks again to Jim for contributing to the photos.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Queen's Day 2007

Our friends Joan & Jim flew in from Chicago for a week's holiday, starting with a few nights in Amsterdam to celebrate the Queen's Day holiday. Prior to the actual holiday, we spent a couple of days roaming the streets of Amsterdam. If you've ever been here or you know anything about the city you know that there's more than enough to keep you busy ('nuf said). The city was busy as usual, but you could call it downright tranquil compared to what was about to happen on Monday. This post contains many pics, so click on photos to enlarge -- pictured: pre-party lounging along a canal; decorated boat; lonely (but not for long) beer tap.
Between our boat tour and just walking around, we saw quite a few interesting sights. You can really see the city getting ready for the party ... balloons and decorations of all types all over the place. Some red/white/blue but mostly orange. We looked on in amazement as a group of guys were tying ribbons across the street between the pubs and stores ... in order to steady the ladder on the uneven street, they used the advanced method of cardboard beer coasters! They were very confident (or it might have been the beer that they were drinking as they performed this dangerous task).

Although we've never been, we think the closest thing in the US would be Mardi Gras. The party starts early -- when we walked out on Monday morning, the streets were already crowded and people were literally streaming in from the train station. The streets get so packed, especially near the canals and the main squares, that you can barely move.

The party really starts with the street sales. People all over the city put out their junkiest wares hoping that someone is already drunk enough to buy them (they are). Also, it's a chance for people to make money in strange ways; kids playing instruments (some better than others), pie-in-the-face, and so forth. We even saw people peddling hugs and the right to pet their dogs.

There's entertainment all around the city, but our favorite activity of the day was watching the canal boat parade. The boats quickly turned from a trickle to a steady stream. There's everything from two-person motorboats to floating "decks" of people. Each one has its own sound system -- the bigger ones actually have DJs and some had brass bands! The really good ones get the crowd going -- someone on one rocking boat threw a bottle of wine to Rochelle (it's like they knew us)! One of the boats was even broadcasting for MTV. Sometimes the crowd watching the parade was as entertaining as the boat parade itself.

Sadly, the sun and excitement (not to mention liquid refreshments) led to an early end to the day for Rich & Rochelle. Even though we got an early start I'd be embarrassed to say what time we were back in our hotel room. Joan & Jim managed to stay out quite a bit later. We're amazed at how orderly the holiday is ... despite all of the partying, it begins and ends early, and people seem relatively well-behaved. Next year, if we don't have any visitors, we'll have to see how it's done outside of Amsterdam.
We're posting more Queen's Day pics daily for about a week on our daily photo blog; check it out at www.wassenaardailyphoto.blogspot.com. And look for our next post on the 2nd half of our trip with Joan & Jim (the party continues in Dublin) in two weeks. Thanks also to Jim for contributing some great shots to the pics.