The Killarney National Park

This was a delightful and unique day for cycling and sights! There are 3 major fresh water lakes. These are called Lochs in Irish, obviously same name as Scotland!

There are dedicated walking and cycling tracks, the park is so huge that roads ( of the motor car type) pass through it as well again rather narrow! I managed to source a rear view mirror and I am at peace with the world, not to
mention my Maker! Now I can anticipate being hit from behind.

Because the park is so big, with so many paths, tracks and roads, I decided I must do something to minimize the risk of my relentless disorientation (one can understand that lost in a National Park gives new meaning to the word “bewildered”!)

I lashed out and brought one of those ordnance survey maps that are extremely detailed, characterized by stating the scale (1:2500), contour lines, camping sites and the position of grazing sheep.

The other characteristics are that they open up to the size of your kitchen table, always opening out fully in the upside down state and inevitably the precise location of where you are at any one time or where you want to go, is invariably at a crease, fold or torn part of the map on the bottom left hand corner. This of course translates into the upper right hand corner when you have opened up the map fully. If you do this on a table, it is inevitable that you will accidentally knock your caffe latte over or worse still as you open it up in mid air you elbow a tourist at the table behind you.

The first interesting place was a medieval monastery – Muckross Abbey. The stone cloisters small in area, so stark and “cold” compared to those same structures in Spain, had a gigantic Yew tree that spread out to occupy almost the whole of the square. The abbey had an equally fascinating graveyard.

The abbey was the home to a particular order of monks called the Observational Franciscans as they demonstrated rigid observance of their monastic lifestyle. I am sure I would pass the entry exam, hands down!

I then rode along beautiful oak lined tracks to the geographical point where the 3 lakes join up – called – wait for it – The Meeting of the Waters. Another stone medieval arch bridge and weir nearby.

I then rode on a “main” road N71 up a gradual climb past several mountain lakes, treeless mountains, grazing sheep and the country green and lush. The destination was Moll’s Gap.

The ride of some 12 km to a height of about 200m had the feel of a mountain pass in Switzerland. In fact it reminded me of the climb out of Meiringen the first day when Bruce came pedalling up dripping with sweat and looking decidedly unwell on arrival. We were all seated or standing on the balcony of the chalet cafe waiting! Not realising that we were all in the cafe, he crested the mountain and was about to peddle furiously like a mad man down the steep incline after us! I had to literally scream at him to stop.

I believe that this pass (Moll’s Gap) is as 200m yet the treeless mountains, whitish stained granite rocks and lichen, all contribute to a sense that I am above the snowline in the Alps at 2000m at least!

The joy of riding back – 12 km mostly down will be shared with empathy by my cycling friends!

On the way back I passed Muckross House a mansion of 65 rooms (now that is a house in which I could easily get lost) built in the Tudor style.

Last night I had fish cakes! Beautiful! What shall I have tonight. I can’t visit Ireland and not take in Irish folk singing at a local
Pub! Bugger the start time is universally at 9.30 pm and those who know me well, know where I at that time of the day ( or night) !

20120920-182227.jpg

20120920-182253.jpg

20120920-182312.jpg

20120920-182320.jpg

Killarney

To Kilkarney

Sitting on the beach front at the village of Inch which bears a remarkable resemblance to Middleton Beach in South Australia other than one obvious difference – its overcast, in fact misty with slight rain, which being Ireland, will pass in 30 minutes or my name is not Graham Norton!

As it states in the Bible: “and so it came to pass”.

The route follows a “main road”. There are in fact not to many other options. Indeed to give the American tourists their due, “golly the roads are so narrow”! No shoulder either. I do miss a rear view mirror! The motorists are, to add to the mild anxiety, not quite so cyclist aware as the Europeans!

Now I am sitting in a rather forlorn vegetarian cafe (sort of similar to those you might find at Semaphore). Despite the fact that the owner is Georgina Campbell and the menu states “recommended by Taste of Ireland 2012”, it is definitely Indian in food and atmosphere. The young waitress explained that the CD background music was “The Best of Bollywood”. Initially given my presbyacusis, I thought she said “The Best of Belly Dancing” – a not unreasonable perception given the music!

The sky has cleared! By the way for the cyclists, Michael, the Irish tour guide who set me up on Day 1, massages baby oil on his legs, claims it adds protection against the rain. He gave me a bottle so shall experiment.

Heavens, 5 bikies have just stumped in. Not sure how Georgina copes with all that leather in her vegetarian restaurant? Still a dollar is a dollar!

I passed through the Village of Boolteens where a footpath shop sign boasted “computer PC and lawn mower repairs”. I was sorely tempted to pull over and investigate if only to look in the front window!

The Homes along my route today suggest this is a well to do region – beautiful, new looking with lots of greystone and slate roofs. All surrounded by the greenest of green lawns.

The cycle route is not too strenuous compared to the Camino. Undulating roads, the weather crisp and as they say in Queensland: “sunny one minute, overcast the next”. Ideal bike weather I work up a sweat but the wind rapidly evaporates it and supplies a chill factor.

Tomorrow a day at leisure in Killarney.

20120920-085334.jpg

20120920-085343.jpg

20120920-085351.jpg

20120920-085408.jpg

20120920-085415.jpg

Dingle

The Slea Head Loop – Dingle

I am lodged at the PAX guest house on a hill overlooking Dingle. It is definitely 5 star! Dr Kiley standard. I have a distinct feeling that this Irish cycle tour will be as chalk and cheese compared to the Camino, but I am so glad I have undertaken both. The owner is John O’Farrell – a perfect host. There is a dog “Rio” – friendly and demanding that you play ball with her. Also meandering free range chickens, the eggs of which, collected in the morning, were used to create a awesome cheese omelette for my breakfast.

Today I cycled the Slea Head Loop – which it rapidly became obvious, is a fairly famous and therefore busy route – a few cycles but mainly cars and the inevitable huge tourist buses. The road was sealed, but relatively narrow so I did at times feel moderately uncomfortable. When I arrived back at Dingle I immediately cycled to Paddy’s bike shop ( I kid you not) and asked for a rear view mirror. Paddy’s response ” we don’t stock them, the locals tend not to use them”! Well that argument is unanswerable!

The movie Ryan’s Daughter was filmed around Dingle! Now you know!

The Spanish Armada ran aground at a beach on the Dingle Peninsula! That was before they filmed Ryan’s Daughter.

At the end of the day I cycled up Conor Pass quite an effort! The pass is “the highest mountain pass in Ireland” at 410m – I could not believe this. It’s a relentless climb over about 7 km and at an average incline of about 4.5% . Sounds easy but it was an effort on the hybrid.

The tour company I chose is based in the USA do that the route notes are in miles. Similarly the cycle computer is set to miles. Consequently it seemed that the whole day went more slowly! I even seemed to get lost more slowly!

The predominate nationality of the tourists is definitely American.

20120918-215426.jpg

20120918-215438.jpg

20120918-215449.jpg

20120918-215501.jpg

20120918-215527.jpg

Dublin

The train to Stockholm airport (electric) is travelling at 210 Km/hr! Free WI – lots of Mac book Air around me!

I am constantly fascinated by airports and central train stations. It’s a complex reaction – the size, the human factor, the technology of flight and at train stations a sense also of modern technology but an awareness of the magic of the old steam locomotives. Alain de Botten discussed this more eloquently than I and I empathize with him. Mind you I could not visit or work in them every day!

The SAS pilot said Dublin weather was overcast without “precipitation” – must be pilot speak for “no rain”! Well I am no pilot but when we landed it looked like rain to me! 30 minutes later a brief glimpse of sun. I am pleased its inclement weather today and even tomorrow as I train to Tralee tomorrow as well. More chance of better weather later?

The customs man took my passport read my name and smirked! This I suspect will be the FIRST of a constant similar reaction. … I was correct. The man at the bed and breakfast introduced me to his assembled staff with a fanfare, a sweep of the arms, saying ” and this is…. Graham Norton”!

I have NEVER watched this man’s show apparently he is Irish, a comic – there is a third aspect but I am blowed if I can remember. Anyway I doubt it’s relevant I am not directly Irish, possibly at times mildly funny and there surely the similarity ends?

Train to Tralee then drive to Dingle – great name for a town!

I went and had a pub meal and there was a game on the big screens that looked for all the world like an AFL football match except that the ball was spherical and they used some sort of wooden paddle to belt this ball from one end of the pitch to the other! It looked extremely combative and dangerous. But bugger me if I did not realize after about 20 minutes that they were not males with pony tails, but women!

Walked along the coast – the Irish Sea. To date I have swum in the Mediterranean, paddled in the Baltic and if I get really physical and sweaty on this ride I may well swim in the Irish Sea too!

20120917-060232.jpg

Uppsala

Pedantic animal that I am, I should correct my description of the soprano in the role of Rosina in my last blog. I wrote:

“The singing and action is up there too! A wonderful lyric tenor and a bel canto soprano, belting it out!”

The correct singing style was “coloratura” not bel canto! Indeed both tenor and soprano demonstrated remarkable coloratura singing!

Yet again apologies as the picture yesterday was on its side! They are ALL of perfect orientation on the iPhone 4S! Would an iPhone 5 be the answer?

Anyway…..to my day in Uppsala

Sweden or at least Stockholm does not go in for bilingual signage – why should they, you may well ask? Well it is not easy for foreigners when the Swedish language is made up of words that have a minimum of 23 letters with jaw breaking, tongue twisting runs of vowels and consonants!

Most Swedes seem to speak excellent English, thankfully.

Yesterday was the first day in six weeks of atrocious winter weather so I wandered aimlessly through the equivalent of a Westfield shopping complex sitting on top of a train station. If I can get lost on a bike….

Who needs to venture into a natural wilderness when one can enter the retail equivalent via a cavernous street entrance with McDonalds on one corner and The Body Shop on the opposite and some hours later try to leave via a train platform that indicates the next express to Copenhagen departs in 23 minutes.

This intercity train to Uppsala is, as with all the trains travelled so far, moving at an extraordinary speed! Passing a train of equal speed in the opposite direction is scary!

Whereas the Spanish countryside was a blend of yellow/brown harvested cereal crops, green vineyards and olives trees, in Finland there are fields of harvested wheat, the vineyards and olive trees replaced by pine forests.

Uppsala is a delightful university town 80 km to the north of Stockholm. The oldest part, that on which the university is laid out, is a quiet, leafy cobblestoned village with a river meandering through the centre, extensive pedestrian thoroughfares lined with giant oaks all showing a tinge of autumnal colour. Millions of bikes! Lots of cafes, bookstores and in the very centre the oldest and one of tihe largest cathedrals in Sweden.

Being Saturday the village streets along the river and square were lined by a typical street market and fair with flower, craft and food stalls.

It seems to me, as a general rule, in Sweden, all ancient buildings, follow the same historical time line. Finished sometime during the 15th century each and everyone was subjected to destruction by the invading hordes of King Haaselblad the Photogenic.

They are rebuilt, then destroyed by the great fire of 1756 or thereabouts. The great grandson of King Haaselblad, Prince Ethelred the Unready, is crowned King and raises taxes to not only reconstruct the old castle but adds a cathedral and it is completed in 1861, give or take a few years.

Sadly King Ethelred is poisoned in the very year before completion, so his son, Crown Prince Eric, orders a mausoleum built in the gardens to bury his father. The new young King Eric, marries the Sultana of Arabia and fathers 38 children. He becomes known as Eric the Erect, an indication of the awe and respect of his loyal subjects due in no large part to the prodigious building program of castles, cathedrals and palaces. Indeed during his long reign he had built countless edifices which sadly were also subsequently plundered and destroyed then ravaged by fire in succession over the next few centuries.

King Eric the Erect, with his 38 offspring, not surprisingly set up the first child minding facilities to keep the children safe and well guarded – in Swedish “Kunder-garten” – hence the modern English term Kindergarten.

Returned back to Stockholm around 3pm to witness the Sweden half marathon starting with more than 20000 entrants!

For the last two evenings I have utilized the Sheraton gym and worked out for an hour on one of those computer exercise bikes. I set it up for an hour of “Aerobic” exercise . Fascinating and I may well consider investing in such a contraption upon my return to Adelaide, the more so as even after an hour of riding I did not get lost once!

Sunday I fly to Dublin and prepare for my County Cork Cycle adventure. I am looking forward to it the more so as after about 5 days in one spot especially a big city, I need to move on!

20120915-203419.jpg

20120915-203430.jpg

20120915-203444.jpg

20120915-203459.jpg

A night at the Opera

The Barber of Seville – Rossini
Royal Swedish Opera

One of the most memorable nights at the Opera I have had! A grand performing space and a brilliant production.

It has been the ultimate in ensemble work although the one aspect that has shone for me has been the orchestra. I at times, will close my eyes at the theatre ( no you bastards it is not because it’s past my bedtime) and allow the music to engulf me without the action on stage intruding. I don’t want to use the word “distraction” because that is not the concept that I wish to convey.

Tonight I have had the sublime pleasure of hearing notes and instruments of which I have not been aware, at other performances – live or recordings! I wonder how much of this memorable night was the consequence of the acoustics of the Royal Opera House constructed on 1898!

The tempo seems “right”, each section of the orchestra in perfect unison and none overpowering the other. I say all of this without an iota of musical training, but after many years I can pick up a bum note!

The singing and action is up there too! A wonderful lyric tenor and a bel canto soprano, belting it out!

Silly me, I of course did not consider that the surtitles would be in a foreign language – Swedish!

It is one of the best operas as an introduction to the art. The cost of my ticket was no more expensive than a night at the opera in Australia.

20120914-225430.jpg

20120914-225442.jpg

20120914-225546.jpg

20120914-225607.jpg

Stockholm archipelago

I am at the docks waiting to embark upon the Cinderalla II – I could not have asked for a better day. The sky is cloudless, slight chill to the breeze, bright sun. It would not be Sweden if there was not a underlying chill factor?

I am heading for the island of Sandhamn. You will have to Google map it! In fact suggest “Stockholm Archipelago” that should demonstrate the geography!

Several huge ocean going liners docked yesterday disgorging thousands. They have gone this morning!

This modern diesel powered boat has an innovative design – the pointy end elevates like a drawbridge. The boat docks front on , the bow raises and people quickly jump off and on and within minutes the boat reverses out and is on its way!

Europeans are much more pet friendly when it comes to travel. Happy Labrador pup waited at the bow excited and jumped off immediately boat touched the wharf bounding around tail wagging waiting for master (or mistress). I think it belonged to the Master of the ship.

There is a film crew on the island shooting, I was told, a TV police drama “Murder on Sandhamn”! Reminds me of the TV crew shooting an episode of “The Big Loser” when Osley and I were on Kangaroo Island.

I am not sure how businesses can make any money with most closing for at least 4 or 5 months of the year as indeed was the case on this island today despite it being a delightfully Autumnal day. There is in an old lighthouse which offers year round boutique accommodation, “as long as ice conditions permit”!

Similarly almost all the “shacks” appeared to be locked down or even worse, uninhabited. I put a toe in the water – the Baltic Sea – and it was surprisingly bearable. The vast majority of shacks and even substantial houses are of weatherboard construction, finished in a mission brown oil paint, white trim and
Terra-cotta roof tiles. This may seem repetitive and boring, it is neither, as the colour combination blends into the natural surroundings and the attraction lies thus in the variation in design of the buildings – all the more transparent when the basic colour scheme is common to all.

The island is only a few kilometers long as it is wide so I walked the perimeter. Then had lunch – chicken pasta – at 85 Kroner – a steal really. It does one good to have a fling occasionally.

Boat home in a hazy sunny dusk, reading “David Copperfield” – wonderful prose: “…..as respectable a mystery as any pyramid in Egypt”!

A few American couples on the return, discussing the day’s outing to the various islands of the archipelago:

“Where did you go?”
“Grisham”
“what was it like?”
“do you really want to know!” – moans the husband of one couple. “dreadful” he states, giving the thumbs down sign at the same time…. “it was just a nature reserve”! ….

I was stunned. There is not one brochure that does not clearly state that the islands of the Stockholm archipelago are “pristine natural wonderlands with delightful forests, beaches and quaint fishing villages”!

For goodness sake were they expecting a Macy’s or a Sear’s Robuck?

Tomorrow is forecast to be rain,windy and cold so I shall make it a museum day AND I have discovered that the Stockholm Opera season is in full swing and have booked a ticket to “The Barber of Seville” tomorrow’

Saturday I will train to the old University city of Uppsala.

Sunday I fly to Dublin to start the cycle holiday! I plan to admit to the locals that I am catholic one day and Protestant the next – that should be safe? Proving that at least as far as religion goes, I swing both ways!

20120914-070613.jpg

20120914-070620.jpg

20120914-070633.jpg

20120914-070652.jpg