Old Churches

Today, I booked a ride with Kilkenny Taxi to take me out into the wilds of Co. Kilkenny to see some interesting ruins. I had wanted to see Jerpoint Abbey and Kells Priory, and Paul, the driver, suggested I add Kilree as well, as it was right in the area and pretty cool.

So, he picked me up around 11:30, and off we went. The day was generally overcast and not terribly warm, but though it looked to be threatening rain, that never materialized.

Jerpoint Abbey was built in the 12th century, with some expansion and decoration up to the 16th century. There was some restoration started in the 1950s, and it’s ongoing today.

The towers out front are in pretty good repair, for being 800 years old, though a lot of the restoration work is replacing the mortar.
These buildings were for the monks. The lay brothers would have had separate buildings that don’t exist any more. And the whole thing would have been enclosed in two sets of walls.Those walls also don’t exist any longer, but the abbey complex has it’s own walls, binding the buildings together.
They’ve restored part of the cloister arcade, starting in the 1950s. The pillars were apparently all carved at one time, with images of saints, churchmen, and mythical creatures, and many were painted. They’ve only got two sides done, right now.
There’s a lot of carving all around the place, much of it preserved from it’s original dates rather than restored, like the cloister pillars. Here’s a very lovely St. Christopher.
Here are a couple of carved tombs still in the church area.
Another carved tomb, this one with several of the apostles.
This carved tomb marker has two soldiers on it, and is referred to as The Brethren. Apparently the tomb had been in the floor, and a lot of that is being dug up as part of the restoration efforts.
This was an interesting thing in one of the small display rooms in the abbey. It’s an ogham stone. Ogham inscriptions are generally pre-Christian, so I assume this one was found on the abbey lands, rather than something the religious community here would have made.

We left Jerpoint Abbey after the tour, and made our way over the Kilree. On the way, Paul took us through the Mount Juliet estate, showing off the lovely golf course, gardens, and houses.

Kilree is a little site, with a small cemetary, a ruined church, a round tower, and a high cross.

The little cemetary is shrouded in heavy trees. It’s a very picturesque place.
The church at Kilree no longer has a roof, but there are still some tended graves inside it.
This is the round tower at Kilree. It rises up out of a little grove of trees, and you can see it quite a ways off.
There’s a high cross out in the field. It’s not that tall – maybe six feet – but still pretty cool. There’s also a sign saying that there’s a bull loose in the field. We didn’t see it, but the ground around the rails surrounding the cross was all churned up in a very cattle-like way.

Then, it was on to Kells Priory, a 12th century site. This one hasn’t been as maintained or restored as Jerpoint Abbey, and is an open site – no visitor centre or admission or tours. But it looks like they’ve recently1 started doing some restoration work.

The priory is down a pretty significant hill. You have to walk through a sheep pasture to get to the outer wall. The sheep were kind of grumpy, bleating loudly as we walked through.
Down the hill, and through the gate, into the outer ward of the priory.
The buildings of the priory aren’t anywhere near as preserved as at Jerpoint, but are nicely picturesque.
Here’s a shot of the cloister and the inner wall. You can faintly see the white-shrouded tower in the background – that one is currently undergoing restoration

The walk up the hill was significantly more punishing than the walk down it. By the time we made it back to Kilkenny2, I was pretty wiped out. I started working on this post, but was going to fall asleep if I stayed in the hotel room, so I walked down to a nearby theatre and went to a movie. After that, I grabbed some dinner, and came to finish up the blog.

Tomorrow, I’m taking a day trip by train to Waterford and going on a walking tour there. Should be a fun day.

  1. Like, in the last five years or so. []
  2. After a quick detour to drive around Kieran’s College, which is a cool looking school. []

Kilkenny Revisited

Okay. So, Kilkenny was run by ten merchant families. Of those, there were three who were pretty much at the top, and each had a private chapel off the main area of St. Mary’s. This was the private chapel of the Rothe family. Interestingly, instead of religious iconography, this memorial was decorated with all the coats of arms for the Rothes. The only concession to less worldly ideas is a tiny memento mori skeleton right up at the very top.

Last night, after publishing the last blog post, I went out and got some dinner. I walked down the street, back towards the train station, to Matt the Millers1, which I had seen on my walk to the hotel. I had heard they had good food, and there was traditional Irish music that night.

The pub is sort of scattered around several floors of the building, with lots of open ceilings. I wound up in the Loft bar, overlooking the stage where Wallop the Cat were going to be performing.

This is the view from my seat at the rail of the Loft bar. The Tobacco Shop is not a tobacco shop, but a room for private parties. It’s been decorated in old tobacco ads and memorabilia. The folks you can see downstairs are in the Stage bar, sitting behind the performers’ area. The performers face out into the main bar, half a floor down.

There was some sort of important football2 game going on this evening, so the music started a little late so folks could watch the end of the game.  I used the time to eat some very nice stew and drink some cider.

This is Wallop the Cat. Mainly, they sang and played guitar and mandolin, but I was keeping my eye on the concertina sitting on the shelf behind the guitar player.
In fact, I was watching that concertina so hard, I didn’t notice that the mandolin player had picked up a low whistle until he started playing it.

It was a good set. They were on until 9:00, but I only lasted until around 8:00, being dead tired. I did find this video of them also performing at Matt the Millers back in 2012, so you can get a taste of what I got last night.

And then I went back to the hotel and went to bed.

Walking back across the bridge, I took a quick picture of Kilkenny Castle. It looked pretty good in the bright sunset.

This morning, after a nice breakfast, I went for a little walk before my walking tour. It was a good reminder that Kilkenny has something that we don’t in Winnipeg – hills3. But I found a pharmacy that was open, and got the things I wanted to get – deodorant, toothpaste, and razors, all stuff I don’t want the hassle of carrying in my carry-on luggage.

Now, I’ve been on this tour before, so there wasn’t much new. If you’re curious about Kilkenny, check out my post from last time. A couple of things had changed – notably, I didn’t see the big head of St. Canice in High Street, and there were some changes to St. Mary’s church and the Butter Slip.

The Butter Slip is a little, steep lane connecting High Street and Kieran’s Street. It used to run all the way down to the river, where bargemen would haul up the butter, milk, and cheese for market, and sell it out of the slip, sheltered from the sun. The restaurant on the right is new, and it’s called Petronella, which is the name of the maidservant of Alice Kyteler, the famous witch of Kilkenny. Petronella didn’t escape, like Alice, and wasn’t rich enough to buy her way to freedom, like Alice’s son, so she was burned alive in the High Street for witchcraft.
This is St. Mary’s Church. Last time I was in Kilkenny, it was abandoned and run down and overgrown. The guide on that tour mourned the fact that it was such a historically important building, but the city didn’t have the funds or the will to do anything to preserve it. Today, I saw that it has been greatly restored and turned into the Medieval Mile Museum.

You can see the numbers marked on the stones making up the gatepost, showing how they’ve been reassembled. I was tremendously happy to see the new museum4, and went back after the walking tour to have a look.

This is the inside of the Medieval Mile Museum.

I took the guided tour, which took about an hour. I was surprised at that length of time, because it’s not a huge place, but Pat, the guide, was amazing. He provided a real in-depth history of the city, and how it was different from pretty much any other Irish city, and why that was important, and how that gave context to all the stuff he was showing off.

Okay. So, Kilkenny was run by ten merchant families. Of those, there were three who were pretty much at the top, and each had a private chapel off the main area of St. Mary’s. This was the private chapel of the Rothe family. Interestingly, instead of religious iconography, this memorial was decorated with all the coats of arms for the Rothes. The only concession to less worldly ideas is a tiny memento mori skeleton right up at the very top.

Notice the two floor levels. Due to… uh, religious differences between the Catholic merchant families of Kilkenny and the Protestant king5, when the king took notice of the clandestine Catholicism, he sent a man to straighten things out. This man, among other things, took all the Catholic markers and plaques in the church, put them on the floor, buried them, and put a new floor over top. It’s only in the last couple of years, when the archaeologists got set loose in the church, that all these markers and tombs were found.

Obviously, the story of the hidden tombs was not completely lost. During the archaeological processing of the site, they found in one of the Rothe tombs some guns that had been hidden there circa the 1916 uprising.
These are resin and plaster replicas of high crosses made my an Italian artist for the National Museum in Dublin. He made 12, and 10 are in storage at the National Museum. These two used to mark the border between the kingdom of Munster and the kingdom of Ossory, of which Kilkenny was the capital. They were imposing and ostentatious shows of wealth for the time, and say a lot about the nature of Kilkenny’s merchant families.
The graveyard is being restored, as well. It’s still somewhat overgrown, but now it’s artistically disheveled, instead of just neglected.

After the Medieval Mile Museum, I went to see Rothe House, a 16th and 17th century townhouse6 that has been restored by the local archaeology society.

Here in the reception room of Rothe House is the skull of a giant Irish deer. These went extinct about 10,000 years ago, and this skull was found in a bog. The antler spread is about seven feet.
Quern stones gathered up by the Rothes, because rich person archaeology.
This is a cist grave from County Carlow. It’s in the courtyard of Rothe House because they dug it up, disposed of the cremated remains in it, and moved it here. Because, again, rich person archaeology.
One more piece of weirdness from Rothe House. These are pieces from a flying machine. Long story short, rich dude in the 1850s built an aerial chariot in his dining room. It looked kind of like a Da Vinci drawing. He had to expand the dining room door to get it out, took it to a high place, and made a not-rich guy try to fly it.
It didn’t work, and not-rich guy broke his leg.
This did not stop the rich guy from patenting the aerial chariot.

This evening, I went on the Kilkenny Ghost Tour, which was a lot of fun. It lost a little something because it wasn’t dark, yet, but we did get to wear black polyester capes. Nothing really new to take pictures of, though.

But it was nice to go walking past all the pubs and hear so much traditional Irish music spilling out the doors.

And then I came back to the hotel to do this post.

Tomorrow, I’m off to Jerpoint Abbey and Kells Priory. It’ll be a taxi tour that takes up about half the day. Should be fun.

  1. For all the writers reading this: that’s the way they spell it. Don’t come at me about apostrophes. []
  2. Maybe it was rugby. []
  3. To anyone in Winnipeg who wants to argue that point, just don’t. If you’re arguing with me about this, you haven’t faced Kilkenny’s hills. Stop embarrassing yourself. []
  4. I also tweeted about it, but made a typo, so I called it the Medieval Mike Museum. A friend asked if that was related to Magic Mike, and I said that was what you called Magic Mike when he reached his Middle Ages. I’m a funny guy. []
  5. And Oliver Cromwell. []
  6. Two centuries, because it’s really a series of three townhouses built back from the street. First one was built in 1594 and the third in 1610. []

Made It!

All packed and ready to go.

Over the last week, I got all my errands run and all my packing done. My luggage choice this trip is the Hero’s Journey from Tom Bihn. It’s a backpack with a detachable shoulder bag – the main backpack is about the size of my beloved Aeronaut, but is designed kind of from the other direction, as a backpack that can be converted to a shoulder bag or duffel, rather than a duffel that can be used as a backpack. The backpack is about the maximum size allowed by most airlines for carry-on, and the detached shoulder bag is about the perfect size for your personal item. Once off the plane, I was able to zip the two together, and wear it as a large backpack.

So, I managed to get everything for three weeks packed, and still was able to lift it. And wear it that way for an extended time1.

And then, yesterday morning, I got into the taxi to the airport, and the adventure began!

Of course, the flight to Toronto was delayed, but only by about 20 minutes. Headwinds, apparently. I believe that, because even though we left 20 minutes late, we were only 4 minutes late getting into Toronto.

And that’s when I realized how spoiled I’ve become with online check-in for flights. Instead of just heading right for security, I got to try and find the Aer Lingus counter, and then wait for two hours before the counter opened. And there were maybe five whole chairs in the entire check-in area. The hate for the backpack weight started then.

But, I made it through that, made it through security, and made it to the lounge, where I planned to wait for the flight to Dublin.

Unfortunately, there were several people in the lounge who seemed to be competing in the Loud Important Business Person of the Year Award, in about three different, braggadocio-laden conversations. After about an hour and a half, I decided to go down to the gate to get away from it, and found that the flight had been delayed by an hour.

Sitting down there, surrounded by other loud people, including what seemed to be a class tour of very excited teenagers. And I still preferred the noise they made.

Reflective Rick in business class.

But we got on the plane at last, and off we went. And I had a nice dinner, and got about three hours of sleep2. For those of you trying to do the math at home, we landed at what for me was around 1:30 am.

And then we sat on the tarmac for 90 minutes, because we were late leaving Toronto. I didn’t mind it all that much, but I had a comfy business-class seat and no connecting flight to catch. Other passengers3 were not as sanguine about it all.

Of course, we made it in to the airport, and I took advantage of the Revival Lounge to have a shower and some orange juice.

A little perk of flying business class. I like business class.

Then I caught the Airlink bus into central Dublin. I wanted to get some stuff at the Lush store there, and get a local sim card for my phone. The helpful fellow who sold me my ticket told me that the bus would drop me off on College Green, just around the corner from Grafton Street, where Lush and the phone shop I wanted were.

He was right, but my memory of Dublin is not what I thought it was. While Grafton Street was literally right around the corner, I turned the wrong corner getting off the bus. And spent over an hour wandering around, failing to find any of the landmarks I remembered. When I found that I had inadvertently circled right back to where I started, I realized that I needed help, so I went in to the tourist office there and asked for directions.

And they told me that Grafton Street was literally right around the corner. The moral of this story is that I shouldn’t trust my brain.

So, I got the stuff I wanted, and took a cab to Heuston Station to catch the train to Kilkenny. By the time I got on the train, I was starting to fade. I spent the train ride nodding off, trying not to sleep through my stop.

Being so sleepy, when I say we were going through Athy, I got the song Lanigan’s Ball stuck in my head. Right up until we went through Carlow, and I got Follow Me Up To Carlow stuck in my head. But all I could think about when we got to Kilkenny was the Cats of Kilkenny rhyme.

I planned to take a cab to the hotel, but there wasn’t a cab at the train station, so I walked. Every step of the way, I kept telling myself that this was how I got lost in Dublin. And I told myself that right up to the moment I got to the hotel

The moral of this story is that I should trust my brain.

Checked in, and got to my room, and there was no electricity. Tried all the outlets and all the switches, then went down to the desk to tell them. And learned about this:

This is what the concierge called the electricity box. You need to put your key card in it for the room to have power. And leave the card there. “It’s pretty much a European thing,” said this nice lady so that I didn’t feel like too much of an idiot.

And now I’ve done up this little blog post, and haven’t fallen asleep, so I win. I don’t want to go to sleep too early, because I need to get on the local schedule, so I’m going out to a pub tonight for some dinner and music. Matt the Millers is nearby, and apparently has live traditional music starting in about half an hour.

I made it to Ireland!

  1. Though, even with the planning and testing, I knew that I’d be hating the weight of the thing by the end of the first day. Spoiler: I was right! []
  2. Flight was about six and a half hours, and take-off and dinner service took about two hours, then they woke us up about an hour before landing for breakfast. []
  3. And, indeed, the flight crew, who were understandably ready for their day to be over. []

Locked Down

The planning board is complete.

Okay. Locked down is kind of an overstatement. I’m still waiting to hear back on a couple of things, and there’s at least one tour I’d like to get on that I can’t book yet. But still. Things are about as close to being locked down as they can be.

So, the picture is my planning board. I put one of these together for every big trip. A card for each day, colour-coded to indicate what city I am based in that day. It’s a good way to visualize the entire span of time, and it helps me get to grips with where I’ll be when.

I also use the itinerary page I build on this blog1, but that helps me keep track of details and links. The board helps me visualize and structure the trip, and the itinerary helps me organize the information about all the activities. Using the two tools in concert helps me make sure I haven’t missed anything2.


I’ve fleshed out the stuff I want to be doing during my stay in Dublin. Some of it3 are revisiting things I’ve seen before, but usually with a different tour. Some of it has changed – for example, it looks like the hop-on-hop-off bus tour that I love so much in Dublin has added another route that takes in more of the northern part of the city. And the Newgrange, Monasterboice, and Hill of Tara tour I’ve got booked was canceled on my last trip.

I’ve scheduled myself less completely than I have on previous trips. I have more confidence on this, my third Irish adventure, in my ability to find interesting things to do. And I feel less pressure to see everything. And I’ve found that just bumming around Ireland with no pressing plans for a day is kind of awesome.

Also, I’m getting old4, and maybe the lighter schedule will be easier on me.

Less than two months. Can hardly wait.

  1. Which is also as complete as it’s probably gonna get. []
  2. Not foolproof. For the UK trip, I somehow managed to miss booking a hotel the first night in London and the last night in Edinburgh. Nothing is foolproof. But you can believe I’ve been double-checking dates for accommodations this trip. []
  3. As with several things in other cities. []
  4. Okay, I’m already old. I’m getting older. I’ll be turning 50 on this trip. []

A Horrifying Weekend in Portland

This post is late.

Like, really, really late1.

Back in October, I went to Portland, Oregon, to attend the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival. It’s run by a couple of friends of mine, Gwen and Brian Callahan, and they’ve invited me a few times over the years, so I figured it was about time for me to visit. I booked a long weekend off work, flying out on Thursday, and spent Friday taking a look around Portland before the opening of the festival at 7:00. I had sussed out the light rail system on Thursday getting from the airport to my hotel, so it was pretty simple to catch a train downtown to get on a guided tour of the city.

I passed this sculpture on the way from the train stop to Pioneer Square, where I was catching the tour bus. I thought they were cool, but you may notice that the eyes look a little weird.
The weird thing about the eyes is that some dedicated person put googly eyes in them.
All the seal sculptures had googly eyes.
Also, the beaver sculptures.

That whole bit just amused me far more than it reasonably should have. Plus, the sculptures were pretty cool in and of themselves.

Anyway, I made it to Pioneer Courthouse Square in time to grab a quick bite of breakfast and get on the tour bus. Actually, it was a pink trolley2 from this tour company.

I’ll be honest. As a Canadian – from Winnipeg, no less – I’m a little reluctant to admit this, but the open trolley tour in the morning was uncomfortably cold. I really was surprised at that. Obviously, it’s a question of humidity rather than actual temperature, but that damp breeze was unpleasant. I mean, that temperature in Winnipeg is a pleasant late-summer day. But I was kind of chilled when I decided to get off the trolley.

The tour itself was pretty good. The history suffered a bit in comparison to the tours I’ve taken in Ireland and the UK, but it was about as deep as you’d get in Winnipeg – going back maybe two-and-a-half centuries, and focusing on the exploration and settlement by Europeans. Also, a lot of discussion of house prices in the various neighbourhoods, which didn’t interest me at all.

There was some significant construction going on along a couple of the main routes for the tour, which resulted in some spontaneous detours and a little more meandering than I think the guide liked. But, what can you do.

Anyway, I got a bit of interesting history about the city, and got to see a lot of temperate rain forest. And then we reached a stop I was interested in seeing.

Part of the reason I got off the trolley was the aforementioned chilliness. But I also find that I quite enjoy zoos.

Now, on the tour, there had been a lot of talk about the elephants of the Oregon Zoo. There’s a whole history of acquiring elephants from circuses and breeding them3, and building a new, very elaborate habitat for them. The habitat was big enough that I wandered around it a fair bit without really seeing any elephants. My timing was off – it was feeding time, or nap time, or wander away from all the screaming little people time. Fair enough.

I did see some cool things, though.

This black bear might as well have posed for me.
A neat sculpture of fish leaping up a waterfall. I love the way the sculpture is incorporated into the natural feature of the rock wall. No googly eyes, though.
A condor. These things are HUGE. That log it’s on is about the thickness of my lower leg. And man, do they look EVIL.
It’s not a good picture of them, but these ducks have weird, painted-looking faces. It made them look like the henchmen of some waterfowl-focused supervillain.

I didn’t take a picture of the sign telling me what these ducks are, and a half-hour searching online hasn’t shown me a picture that looks very much like them. So, the identity of the criminal ducks remains a mystery.

This is a mandrill. As he sat crouched there on his rock, he was about three feet tall. So, he is much bigger than I had thought mandrills and baboons were. And he was quite good at ignoring all of us gawkers with a quiet dignity.

After the zoo, I got back on the trolley, waiting for the stop at Powell’s Books. And I got off there, of course4.

The less said about my time in Powell’s, the better. I overspent, and still lamented that I didn’t get enough. What a place.

I caught the last trolley back to the beginning of the tour, grabbed a sandwich, and hopped on the train back to the hotel, and the opening of the festival.

This is the Hollywood Theatre, where the festival was held. If it looks familiar, you may have seen it on an episode of The Librarians this season, where it stands in for a theatre in Hollywood.
It looks even cooler at night.

Pretty much the rest of the weekend was spent watching Lovecraft-inspired films. Some highlights:

  • Book Return – A fun and silly little short about the problems of overdue books.
  • Home Education – Weird and creepy and recommended.
  • Caecilia – A short retelling of a Japanese ghost story in a medieval European setting.
  • The Black Gloves – A feature film that is apparently a prequel to a film I haven’t seen. Nice gothic vibe.
  • God’s Cellar – A short about a man with God’s cellar in his backyard, and the filmmakers who come to interview him.
  • There is No Door – Another short, maybe my favourite of the short films. A young girl growing up with a strange and surreal family curse.
  • Itch – A short about an adventurer trying to uncover the secrets of a strange object she’s found and brought home.
  • The Thing on the Doorstep – not a film, but a live radio play presented by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society.
  • They Remain – A feature-length film based on Laird Barron’s short story “-30-” Two people5 in an isolated remote site examining strange animal behaviour at the site of cult murders.
  • The Dreamlands, HPL’s Inspiration – Again, not a film, but a panel featuring Heather Hudson, Scott Glancy, Ken Hite, and Nathan Carson, as they discuss the Dreamlands in H.P. Lovecraft’s work.
  • Mary & Marsha in the Manor of Madness – An absolutely charming and delightful animated short about Mary helping her girlfriend Marsha escape her parents’ Gothic mansion.
  • Gut Punch – My god, this short is so stupid and silly, and I loved it. A quote from the schedule’s description: “It’s The Hangover meets Rosemary’s Baby with a splash of Evil Dead all wrapped up in a HP Lovecraftian Cthulhu themed party-glass!”
  • Ray Bradbury’s The Homecoming – Animated short based on the Ray Bradbury story. Horrific and heartwarming at the same time.
  • The Ningyo (ep. 1) – I don’t know the whole history of this film, but it looks like the pilot to a weird science/horror series about a scientist in the early 1900s  hunting a mythical Japanese creature.
  • Howard Lovecraft & the Undersea Kingdom – I had no real plan to see this. It’s an animated feature aimed at kids, turning the Cthulhu mythos into child-friendly adventure. But Gwen told me I should see it, so I did, and it was awesome. It was so good I ordered the DVD when I got home, plus the DVD of the first one in the series.

I didn’t get to see everything I wanted to. There were two blocks of short films that I just couldn’t fit into the schedule. And I decided not to go see The Keep, which is an awful movie, but then heard that F. Paul Wilson, the author of the novel and guest of honour at the festival, gave a running commentary on the film, RiffTrax-style, and he hates the film more than anyone in the world, so I’m sorry I missed that.

And then, Monday morning, I got up and took the train back to the airport and flew home.

It was a good weekend. I got to see some friends I normally only see at GenCon, and got to watch a bunch of interesting films. Watching a bunch of genre movies in a compressed time-frame really does interesting things in educating you about the cinematic tropes and language of the genre as you spot similar shots and compositions and begin to see how they work.

With the Ireland trip this year, I don’t think I’m going to get back again until 2019 at the earliest. But I am pretty sure I’m going to go back.

It was fun.

  1. There’s a story here, that you may or may not be interested in, so I’m putting it down in the footnotes. Last year, my plans to go to Ireland fell through, but I still wanted a bit of a trip, so I decided to visit the HP Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland, Oregon. Then, middle of September, my father died. With the festival falling on the first Thanksgiving following his death, I was torn about going or not. But I had already paid for the plane tickets and the hotel and the festival pass and everything, and Mom told me I should go, because wasting money is one of the cardinal sins in her book. So, I went, but I really wasn’t much in the mood to write about it, because Dad was always a fan of this blog. I kept putting it off, and now I’m finally writing it. []
  2. Not really a trolley. []
  3. In fact, in 1962, Packy was the first Asian elephant born in the Western hemisphere since 1918. He died in February of 2017. []
  4. Pretty much the first questions I got from Scott Glancy and Ken Hite when I saw them at the festival was, “Have you been to Powell’s yet?” It’s like they know me. []
  5. One also plays Chidi on The Good Place. []

A Few Days in the Twin Cities

In what is becoming an annual tradition1, I took a few days at the beginning of June2 to head down to Minneapolis and St. Paul. It’s about an eight-hour drive, nice and easy, and there are some great game stores and bookshops. Also, I have some friends there that I get to have dinner with, so that’s always nice.

Unlike last year, this year had great weather. That meant that, in addition to the shopping and movies, I did some more touristy things, as well. I drove down on Thursday, getting into the city in the late afternoon after a leisurely trip. The ease of the trip all stopped pretty much the second I left the highway into Minneapolis; the downtown area – right around my hotel – was under heavy construction, and traffic was pretty awful. Still, I got in to my hotel eventually, and it was pretty cool.

I didn’t really get a good look at the hotel facade until I was coming back from a walk that evening. The art is not quite Glorious Soviet level, but still pretty good.

My walk that evening showed me that the little I knew about the area – this was on the Nicollet Mall – was going to do me absolutely zero good. The whole area was torn up and under heavy construction. A lot of the sights and shops were either pretty much inaccesssible, and the nice evening strolls I had been looking forward to were pretty much off the table.

But that’s okay. I had dinner at Hell’s Kitchen, where I had a really tasty ham and pear crisp sandwich3 and also bought a whole bunch of their great peanut butter for people back home who had requested it.

Next day, I got up and went to the Minnesota Zoo. I’d planned to come here last year, but it rained every day, so I didn’t. This year, it was bright and hot and looked like a good day for the trip.

Well, it kinda was. It was hot – like, really hot – and because it was a Friday at the start of June, it looked like every school in the state decided that this would be a good day for a zoo field trip. So, it was very crowded, very loud, and the animals were all pretty lethargic in the heat.

But it’s a really nice zoo. I liked it. Here are a few pictures that actually turned out:

Snow monkeys, gazing up at the hordes of people surrounding them.
A couple more snow monkeys, up atop the hill in the enclosure.
Just past the snow monkeys, which are pretty much right at the entrance, is this great splash pad play area. It really looks like that metal cougar is gonna be eating soon, though.

I got some pictures of the brown bears, but they were all just slumped in the shade, looking like piles of rugs, so I haven’t bothered posting any. I imagine they would have been pretty impressive on the move.

These are takin. Takin it easy in the shade, am I right? …I’ll see myself out.
There was a pretty sizable field of prairie dogs, looking for snacks, I think.
This prairie dog is getting ready for the gravedigger scene in Hamlet. I hear he’s pretty good.

And then I got to Kangaroo Corner. This is an area where there are a number of kangaroos and wallabies, along with some other Australian animals, basically running loose, and visitors get to follow a path through their habitat without anything more than a rope strung between posts separating you from the animals.

I was somewhat disheartened by the fact that there is a big sign at the entrance with rules. Some of the rules were reasonable – don’t feed the animals, don’t chase the animals, stuff like that. But I don’t think I’d like to meet the people who made it necessary to post a rule not to put kangaroos into your backback. When I asked one of the keepers if that was really necessary to post, she looked kind of pained, rolled her eyes, and said, “We don’t take chances any more.” And that made me sad.

This picture of kangaroos lounging in the shade looked a lot like a pride of lions lounging on the Serengeti, and that image stuck in my head and amused me far more than it should have. It still does.
This is about the level of activity I saw in most of the animals. Their chests were moving, so you knew they were alive, but that’s about it.
This is a dhole, a wild dog from Asia, sort of midway between a wolf and a coyote.

And then it was into the tropical house. It was actually a little cooler in there, though that could have been the higher humidity.

The tortoises were positively frolicsome, in that you could actually see them move.
Tapirs do taper, after all.
This is a white-cheeked gibbon. It was gazing longingly off into the distance. All it needed was a breeze to tousle its hair, and it could have been the hero of a Gothic primate novel.
It’s a Best Flamingo contest, judged by the ducks. I assume.
Unlike so many of the animals, this red panda looks like he’s just enjoying being draped on a stick like a limp rag.
This did not make it easier to find my way out of the tropical house.

Along the Minnesota Trail, the only really good picture I got was this guy.

He was kind of grumpy, as one might expect of a porcupine.

And that was my day at the zoo. I went after this to drink a great deal of water and shower the sticky, smelly sweat off my body.

Over the next couple of days, I visited a substantial number of game stores and book stores4. I also went and saw Wonder Woman5, Alien: Covenant6, and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales7.

On Sunday afternoon, I got touristy again, and headed out to Historic Fort Snelling8. This turned out to be a really good decision on my part.

Fort Snelling was originally Fort Saint Anthony, built after the War of 1812, ostensibly to help protect the Minnesota territory from the British and Canadians, though the main focus of the fort seemed to be to prevent European settlement of the area until the local tribes had been properly pacified. That said, a contingent of Selkirk Settlers, fleeing the troubled Red River Colony up here around Winnipeg9, so maybe they had a reason to fear us.

At Fort Snelling, they have a number of living history reenactors, doing demonstrations and answering questions. It’s not a large place, and there’s not a large number of reenactors, but everyone I talked to there were really on the ball and good at what they do. Fantastic fun.

This is the parade ground of the fort. The row down the left were primarily quarters for the enlisted men, and on the right were quarters and offices for the officers. The big house at the end was for the fort commander, of course.
I had to hurry from the entry centre along about a quarter mile of pathway to get to the fort. I arrived just in time for the Artillery Drill demonstration. That cannon is LOUD.
A recreation of the married quarters for enlisted men. Two families would live in this little room.
So, I’m heading through the main house to the back stairs down to the kitchen and the Hearth Cooking demo that’s about to start. But there’s this guy with a banjo made from a calabash gourd sitting here, and I had to stop and get him to talk to me about it and play me a tune. I missed the cooking demo.
I missed the cooking demo, but I got a neat picture of the larder. Nothing really interesting; I just liked the effect of light and shadow in the picture.
So, the Indian Agent for the area wasn’t in the fort back in the day, but because of Fort Snelling’s role in the Dakota War of 1862, they’ve got a recreation here, along with a lady who talked about the treatment of the local Dakota tribes by the US government. It’s not a pretty story.

The main fighting of the Dakota War of 1862 took place at some distance from Fort Snelling, but this was the site of the interment camp for the surviving Dakotas.

This dude was so great. He was acting as the doctor, and had all the little instruments and furniture. Plus, he seemed to know a fair bit about period medicine, and would gleefully tell all the kids about the horrific kinds of treatments administered. And the kids, of course, loved it.
Another very cool guy. He was the regimental drummer, and had a lot to say about the command structure and the officers in the fort.
Here he is drumming the troops to order for the Infantry Drill. I was far away from him, and the air was full of dandelion fluff. Hence the little floaty specks.
Here’s the Infantry Drill demo. They marched about a bit in formation, which would have been impressive if there were more than three of them. But still cool. And they fired the muskets several times, though there were a few misfires, as is to be expected with period firearms.
Last stop of my tour was up the round tower, which is (if I recall correctly) the only original part of the fortifications still standing. It was certainly round, and towered well enough for given values of towering.
Here’s a shot of the fort from the top of the round tower. The activity down on the parade ground is a game of rounders, a period game similar to baseball.

That evening was my dinner with my friends, Cam, Jessica, and their sons. We went to a lovely storefront middle-eastern restaurant called Zait & Za’atar for some great shwarma. This visit is always the highlight of my trip – good food, fun company, conversation filled with strangeness.

Next morning, it was back in the car and back to Winnipeg. My little vacation done for another year.

  1. Though, if I do go next year, the dates will be off, because I plan to be in Ireland at the beginning of June. []
  2. And I didn’t bring the cable I needed to connect my camera to my computer, so I couldn’t write this post in a timely manner. And then, of course, I got home and kept putting it off. But now I’m getting into full planning for next spring’s Ireland trip, so I wanted to get this posted before going too far down that road. []
  3. This was my first dinner at Hell’s Kitchen. Previously, I’d been there for breakfast a couple of times, which was phenomenal. []
  4. I can hear my friends gasping in amazement. []
  5. Great movie! []
  6. Bad movie! []
  7. Bland and forgettable movie, with a title that is way too long. []
  8. After a detour caused by me trusting an outdated GPS map over the freeway signage. At least I got to see an airport parking lot, so bonus! []
  9. The history of the settlement of Manitoba and it’s inclusion in the new nation of Canada is not necessarily a happy one. Commercial colonialism at its purest, really. []

No More Delay!

So, I pulled the trigger today and bought my tickets for my Ireland trip next year. Also booked some places to stay, because I was on a roll booking stuff.

Thus far, I’ve booked a week in Dublin and a week in Galway, with one week still up in the air. I want to take things a little easier, this trip, with more opportunity to soak up the feel of the places I visit, and wander a bit more away from tours and such. I’m still planning on doing some day tours and stuff, but my experience from my last Ireland trip1 has given me more confidence in finding my way around on my own, and in finding things to do without such a structured schedule.

So, yeah, a week hanging around Dublin2, same thing in Galway. The last week3, I’m trying to decide if I want to pick one more city, or if I want to split it between two. Maybe back to Belfast, or Kilkenny, or Cork, or Killarney, or Doolin, or maybe somewhere new like Waterford or Limerick, or even Clare Island or Inismór.

Still, I’ve got a little time to sort that out: my trip’s not until next May.

If you’re interested, you can see my very preliminary itinerary here. It’ll grow and become much more precise as the year goes by.

  1. And my UK trip, as well. []
  2. With maybe a day trip here and there. []
  3. Actually the first week in the schedule. []


Well, I’m not going to Ireland this year.

I ran into some health problems this past summer. I’ve been trying to get them under control, but it’s been a bit of a long process. Things are starting to fall into place, now, but it’s already March.

See, I didn’t want to be off in Ireland and have to go to the hospital. Not that I mistrust Irish medicine or anything like that – it’s just not what I want to be doing on my vacation. So, I was waiting until I had everything under control before booking flights and accommodation and stuff. And now, with things still in flux, a lot of the places I planned to stay are booked for the period I wanted to be there.

Better, I figure, to wait for 2018, and do it right.

But this year, I am planning to finally go out to Portland, Oregon, and check out the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival in October. It’s run by a couple of friends of mine that I see every year at GenCon, and they always tell me I should attend. And this year, I will.

It’s only three days, but it should still be a fun trip.

Early Days

I’m going back to Ireland next year.

That’s about all the decision I’ve made so far. I was torn between another trip to the UK and going back to Ireland, but news that Aer Lingus was going to start using the same reward miles company as British Air1 means that I should be able to get a cheap(er) flight to Dublin than I had feared. But the new system won’t be in place until summer, so I can’t book my ticket until then, and so I don’t know the dates, and so on.

Doesn’t stop me from reading travel sites and books, though. And so I’ve made a new itinerary page, though all it has on it right now is some links I don’t want to forget. I mean, I know I’m going to want several days in Dublin, and a few days in Waterford2, and a few days in Donegal3, and maybe back in Doolin for a bit, and maybe go kiss the Blarney Stone again4, but I don’t have anything definite sorted yet.

So, like the title says, it’s early days. But it’s starting.

  1. Where I have a lot of stranded reward miles after converting some from my credit card to theirs when planning the UK trip. []
  2. I haven’t seen that much of the south east. []
  3. I haven’t seen that much of the north west. []
  4. Kissing it’s good for seven years. I need to recharge my gift of gab. []

The Strip and the Show

Despite a pretty terrible sleep last night, we were up and at breakfast by 9:00 am. We ate at Hash House A-Go-Go, here in the Rio hotel, and the food was great. The portions, however, were ridiculously huge.

I ordered oatmeal. It said it came with fruit – I figured some apples and raisins. This had a HUGE bowl of oatmeal, bananas, apples, blueberries, cantaloupe, orange, and mango, along with brown sugar and cream.

So, yeah, that was a big breakfast.

After we ate, we caught the free shuttle from the Rio to Harrah’s1, and decided to walk down the Strip to see the sights.

The Strip is that stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard where all the famous big hotels and casinos you’ve heard of are in Las Vegas: Harrah’s, The Bilagio, Caesar’s Palace, the Mirage, etc. It’s a long stretch of street, and the buildings are HUGE, like very fancy shopping malls stretching off the street. From TV, I know that it shows up to best effect at night, when the lights are going, but there were still some impressive things to see during the day.

These waterfalls, entirely artificial, of course, are tucked in a twist of path in front of the Wynn casino, which is the copper building you can see in the background.
These waterfalls, entirely artificial, of course, are tucked in a twist of path in front of the Wynn casino, which is the copper building you can see in the background.

We made it down to Circus Circus from Harrah’s, and decided to stop there for a drink, a rest, and a show. They have free circus acts every half-hour, and we got to see a Cuban foot-juggler2 named Osmani Perez, who was pretty amazing. Then we turned back, and walked down the other side of the street back towards Harrah’s.

In the lagoon at Treasure Island, just in front of the Senor Frog restaurant, there was a pirate ship that I thought was pretty cool.
In the lagoon at Treasure Island, just in front of the Senor Frog restaurant, there was a pirate ship that I thought was pretty cool.
In front of the Mirage, there are bronze heads of Siegfried and Roy, along with one of their tigers. The heads are easily as tall as me.
In front of the Mirage, there are bronze heads of Siegfried and Roy, along with one of their tigers. The heads are easily as tall as me.

Michael and Sandy had read that there was a dolphin habitat in the Mirage, so we went looking for it. Of course, we had to make our way through the casino, and past the restaurants and spas and bars, and out the other side, past the pool. But there we found Siegfried and Roy’s Secret Garden3 and Dolphin Habitat.

We didn’t hesitate to slap our money down and head inside. Through pure luck, we managed to arrive with just enough time to head down into the underwater viewing area and get some pictures before the feeding started.

Here are a bunch of pictures of dolphins, now. Because dolphins are cool.

Dolphins 1

Dolphins 2

Dolphins 3

Dolphins 4

Here are the trainers, feeding the dolphins.
Here are the trainers, feeding the dolphins.
I was fascinated to watch the trainers interact with the dolphins. There was real, two-way communication between trainer and dolphin, and a lot of play and teasing. The dolphins did some tricks, but according to the trainers, it's the dolphins who pick what tricks they do. And that's really cool.
I was fascinated to watch the trainers interact with the dolphins. There was real, two-way communication between trainer and dolphin, and a lot of play and teasing. The dolphins did some tricks, but according to the trainers, it’s the dolphins who pick what tricks they do. And that’s really cool.

Past the dolphins was a small… zoo, I guess. It’s where the retired animals from the Siegfried and Roy show, plus some others they’ve saved from bad situations, live.

Near the entry is a very cool panther made of moss. Well, moss on a frame or sculpture of some sort, There was also a black panther, but I couldn't get a good picture of it.
Near the entry is a very cool panther made of moss. Well, moss on a frame or sculpture of some sort, There was also a black panther, but I couldn’t get a good picture of it.
These are Pride and Quest, two white lions that used to work onstage with Siegfried and Roy. They are old - I'm not sure how old, but their plaques list them as senior citizens.
These are Pride and Quest, two white lions that used to work onstage with Siegfried and Roy. They are old – I’m not sure how old, but their plaques list them as senior citizens. And so they are napping.
Snow White is a tiger that was doing the whole jungle-cat-pacing thing. He very nicely did a perfect turn, just like a runway model, so I got this great picture of him.
Snow White is a tiger that was doing the whole jungle-cat-pacing thing. He very nicely did a perfect turn, just like a runway model, so I got this great picture of him.
A leopard sleeping in a tree.
A leopard sleeping in a tree.
Another sleeping leopard. The one not-sleeping leopard didn't stand still long enough for me to get a decent picture.
Another sleeping leopard. The one not-sleeping leopard didn’t stand still long enough for me to get a decent picture.
Here's a six-month old tiger cub. It's actually two cubs - the white bits are a different cub. Right now, they're sleeping on a branch, piled together. They got up and played with the fellow in the cage babysitting them for a bit, but that drew such a huge crowd that I didn't get a good shot.
Here’s a six-month old tiger cub. It’s actually two cubs – the white bits are a different cub. Right now, they’re sleeping on a branch, piled together. They got up and played with the fellow in the cage babysitting them for a bit, but that drew such a huge crowd that I didn’t get a good shot.

Interesting thing about the tiger cubs: they are littermates, one orange-striped and one white. It’s a recessive gene that causes the loss of darker pigment, and the condition is not albinism, but leucism. It means that, like in this case, you can have siblings, some with normal pigmentation and some with leucism.

Siegfried and Roy are here depicted loading their animals into an ark. I thought it was a bit pretentious, but then found it was a gift from an abbey in Eastern Europe that they had helped out a great deal. And that made me feel like a judgmental twit. It's a gorgeous mosaic.
Siegfried and Roy are here depicted loading their animals into an ark. I thought it was a bit pretentious, but then found it was a gift from an abbey in Eastern Europe that they had helped out a great deal. And that made me feel like a judgmental twit.
It’s a gorgeous mosaic.

After this, we walked back to Margaritaville, and I had a really nice fish sandwich there. We were starting to feel tired by that time – we’d been on the Strip for almost six hours, walking back and forth and sightseeing – so we made our way to Bally’s and caught the shuttle back to the Rio4, and I came up to my room to chill for a bit before the main feature tonight: the Penn & Teller show.

So, I wrote the previous stuff before the Penn & Teller show. Now, it’s after the show, and I’m getting ready for bed.

The show was spectacular. It was everything I could have hoped. I was in one of the best seats, Sandy got to go on stage for a pull-the-rabbit-out-of-the-hat trick, and Michael and I were part of the human chain when they vanished the elephant. Absolutely great stuff.

After the show, Penn & Teller very graciously hung around signing stuff and having their picture taken.

Here's Penn looming over me.
Here’s Penn looming over me.
Teller doesn't exactly loom, but still has a few inches on me.
Teller doesn’t exactly loom, but still has a few inches on me.
When Teller saw what card I was asking him to sign, he chuckled and added, "Is this your card?" It made me very happy.
When Teller saw what card I was asking him to sign, he chuckled and added, “Is this your card?” It made me very happy.

Both Penn & Teller were so very friendly, even with huge crowds of folks looking for a moment with them. It’s so nice to see how graciously they treat all their fans, even the one guy who tried to bait Penn into a political argument. True gentlemen.

And that’s above and beyond the fantastic magic.

Now, to bed. Tomorrow night, we fly home.

  1. Trying not to think about how we weren’t going to get to see Mac King there this afternoon. []
  2. Yes. He juggled Cuban feet. []
  3. The name only made me a little nervous. []
  4. Eventually. The first shuttle that came by filled up too fast, and we had to wait 30 minutes for the next. Not a real hardship. []