Friday, 31 July 2009

Red Cow Roundabout – No Cows, No Roundabout

My hotel claims that it is ideally suited for a break in Dublin as it’s “Conveniently located for the tram” without being in the city centre (i.e. it’s cheap).

And to be fair to them, it is relatively conveniently located for the tram, with the stop being less than five minutes walk away, at the quaintly sounding Red Cow Roundabout.

It’s only having arrived at the tram stop that I realised that the name is wrong on at least two counts.

There are no cows, it is on the red tram line, it’s not a roundabout.

It’s a massive motorway interchange at junction 1 of the M50 with multiple lanes of motorway, slip road, access ramps, park and ride schemes and the tram depot, a quaint country roundabout it isn’t!

Provide the service and people will use it

When I was travelling around Ireland in 2004 I didn’t really make much use of the trains.

I had looked at getting the train from Cork to Dublin (and after the six hours it took me because of traffic on the outskirts of the Capital I wished I had), but the train back then were infrequent, elderly and sparsely used. They were also achingly slow as the whole network was in a state of semi-dereliction.

What a difference five years (and many many many billions of Euros) makes.

Today Cork station is bright and light, the grime having been cleaned away. The service to Dublin now runs every hour, and it was busy.

Yesterday, when I was going to pick up my ticket there were queues of people waiting to catch the first trains in over 40 years to Middleton, with lots of people mentioning how it was going to make getting in and out of Cork so much easier than the bus.

Proof, I think, if proof were needed, that if you make the service accessible, useable and modern (the nice shiney new trains do help), then people will use them.

Even if you were driving, it would still be over four hours to get to Dublin by car, the bus closer to five. The train now takes less than three, and I managed to get a ticket for €10 just two weeks before travelling. The £10 tickets from London to Birmingham or Bristol (comparable distances) are sold out more than a month in advance.

The only issue now is, it’s still so difficult to get anywhere else by rail in Ireland, unless you want to go via Dublin!

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Evidence of the endangered Celtic Tiger

Ireland has been one of the worst affected nations by the economic downturn. It was one of the success stories of the EU, an economy that, in not much over 20 years, went from one of the poorest nations in Western Europe to Dublin becoming the most expensive city for accommodation in the whole of the EU.

But its economy is shrinking fast and the jobs are disappearing quickly.

However, there is still evidence of the money, and credit, which poured into the economy.

I had a 30 minute wait for the bus from Cashel back to Cork, and as there was nothing else to do I kept looking at all the cars going past.

In Ireland all the number plates show not only the county but also the year of registration. In all that time, excluding trucks, the oldest date that went past was 94.

There was an older car, but that had British plates.

Given how many old bangers there are running around where I live, I was quite amazed that there were none in Cashel, and it made me realise that I don’t think I’ve seen any old cars since I left Derry.

It could just be that Ireland has a very successful old car scrapage scheme.

It could be that I’ve just missed them all.

Limerick – Shopping for the brave, or hairy

On the way to the bus station I walked up the street from the hotel and was amazed by the sheer number of hairdressers that there were, it appeared that every other shop was offering hair styling, I counted at least five and there were probably a few I had ignored before realising there were so many of them.

Given that the city and region only has a population of around 80,000 I have to wonder how they all stay in business,

Then I noticed the local pharmacy. In it’s display in the window was a display of all the usual things you would expect, cough medicine, indigestion relief pills, antiseptic cream, cow worming tablets

Yes, I did a double take as well, but there stacked along side the “human” medicine was a wide variety of potions (and lotions, you really don’t want to know) for our four footed friends.

Perhaps there is a link between the cow worming pills and the hairdressers?

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

A face only a mother could love

I admit I have been spoilt over the last few days. Derry has its city walls, compact heart and hills. Galway has its medieval city centre and its stunning setting on Galway bay.

So it was always going to be hard for Limerick to compete.

I tried to come with an open mind, but from the first site as you arrive in from the direction of Galway (which is also the direction from the airport); you are greeted with a couple of mini sky-scrapers, some drab 1960s office blocks and a city made up almost exclusively of shopping centres.

It’s like holidaying in Croydon.

Maybe that’s a little harsh; it does have its pluses, the castle, and the riverside location
But the river is very fast flowing and too far away from the sea to be attractive, and to get to the castle you have a choice of routes either via drab office blocks or a housing estate.

Croydon doesn’t have a castle (though the local council would probably like to live in one, with barrels of boiling oil to pour over the locals), it isn’t situated by a large river (except when there is a massive downpour and the centre floods), and it isn’t a city (though again the council is trying on that one, at the same time as trying to become the "New Barcelona" – don’t ask!)

But, with the office blocks, the rapidly increasing glass sky scrapers and the abundance of shopping centres, Limerick does leave itself open to a painful label – The Croydon of Ireland.

Perhaps I’m wrong. I’ve only been in the city for 24 hours, and I’m leaving tomorrow morning. Maybe I haven’t given it enough time to grow on me, but I’ve been living near Croydon all my life and the best I can achieve is apathy.

Sorry Limerick, You just can’t compete with Galway

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

The Irish Moral Compass

I wanted to share this with you, without passing any judgment, comment or personal opinion, I will leave you to make your own comments (which you are more than welcome to share below using the comments option)

Bus Eireann have a policy (I assume) that on all their vehicles the radio should be on in the background. On every bus I’ve ever been on in Ireland the radio has been on usually either a general pop station or a radio phone in.

This morning, on the bus into town from the B&B it was a radio phone in.

The discussion was about dealing with teenagers and some of the more difficult "discussions" that need to be had between a parent and a child. At the end of the conversation the bus, which had fallen deathly quiet listening to this, was left open mouthed, yet amused.

Mother – I’m having an issue with my youngest son regarding sex
DJ – Go on
Mother – Well, you see, he is having sex with his girlfriend in his bedroom
DJ – Right, and how old is your son
Mother – 18
DJ – Right, and how old is his girlfriend
Mother – Oh she’s 18 as well
DJ – So technically they are both over the age of consent, what exactly do you see as the problem
Mother – Well they are not married, and I don’t think it’s morally right of them
DJ – Have you spoken to your son about this?
Mother – Yes, but he says it’s going to continue
DJ – If you really object morally, have you considered asking him to move out?
Mother – I have, but there is a problem with that
DJ – Go on
Mother – It’s his house and I’m staying with him whilst my place is repaired from a flood.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Advanced Meteorology

Not much to blog today, I’m trying to dry myself out after another day of getting soaked.

Some important facts learnt today:
  • The top deck of an open top bus does not provide much protection when the heavens open, and in the time it takes to run from the back of the bus to the stairs and down them you can still get soaked.
  • The sun deck of a river cruise boat does not provide much protection when the heavens open...

You get the drift.

On the plus side though, I have started to be come very good at spotting when a shower is brewing up, looking at the clouds to see how they are forming and, more importantly, seeing when the local start diving for shop doorways and other cover.

You can tell the tourists who have only just arrived, they are the ones in the shorts and t-shirts who look at you strangely as everyone dives for shelter moments before a cloudburst.

You become an expert by day two.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Meteorology for beginners

Water evaporating from the sea rises into the atmosphere and condenses back into clouds. As these clouds move from being over a cool ocean to warm land the cloud becomes unstable and releases its water content in the form of either Rain, Hail or Snow.

When you have a large body of water (picking something entirely at random, lets say the Atlantic), and it hasn’t met any land for a long time it’s likely to have built up into quite large clouds.

So with this knowledge, why did I come to Galway, about the most westerly city in Europe (ignoring Iceland as its so much closer to North America there isn’t nearly as much ocean) without either a rain coat or an umbrella.

In the space of 5 minutes it went from clear blue sky to torrential downpour (the only saving grace being the conveniently positioned bus shelter and the sense as I walked past it to look up and think, this probably isn’t just a few spots).

And it keeps happening. In the less than five hours I’ve been in Galway I’ve had to dive for cover from half a dozen hefty showers, and delayed leaving the hotel because it was coming down so heavily that I could barely see the other side of the car park.

Still it is my own fault; I did know it would probably be a little damp...

Saturday, 25 July 2009

I was a bit wrong about the tourists

Back in November I posted about my visit to the Giants Causeway and how nice it was that it wasn’t spoilt by lots of tourists and tourist gimmicks.

Having now been through the place to change busses whilst going along the coast road in the height of summer I would like to withdraw those comments.

The place was absolutely heaving with tourists, coaches everywhere, car parks overflowing and screaming kids everywhere (lets fact it a geological marvel isn’t the world’s greatest family attraction!)

To be fair there still isn’t any Disynification or Visitors experience, but that may have more to do with the space constraints of getting people through (the gift shop).

Still, it’s left me with a valuable piece of advice.

If you want to see the Giants Causeway, go off season.

Friday, 24 July 2009

The winners in Peace

Derry was the cradle of the 1960’s Civil Rights movement in Northern Ireland. The Battle of the Bogside and Bloody Sunday helped to bring an attention to the city for all the wrong reasons.

Derry itself fell away from the limelight in the later years of the troubles with much of the focus moving to Belfast, and the recent blip in the peace process with three murders in November and rioting in early July have focused on the Northern part of Belfast.

Meanwhile in Derry they have been quietly picking up the pieces, rebuilding the city, and community relations and dismantling some of the more obvious signs of the troubles.

Namely the massive police/army stations in the centre of the city, with their high walls, watchtowers and banks of cameras trained on the Catholic Bogside and the Loyalist Fountain areas.

And whilst this is all good, there has been one unexpected winner, because what do you do with a space that has previously housed an army barracks or a fortified police station...

...You turn them into car parks of course, to help pull in the money!

So, in peace, the real winners are the car park owners (though I don’t recall that ever being mentioned in either a great speech or a movie)

Thursday, 23 July 2009

What do you call it?

Even in posing the question there are egg shells to be walked on so I’ll offer the same question in two versions, bearing in mind that with each question it gives its own, different answer.

What do you call the second city of Northern Ireland?
What do you call the fourth largest city in Ireland?

In the first instance the likely response would be Londonderry, in the second Derry, but again it would depend on who you spoke to (though I wouldn’t suggest posing the second question in areas where there are a propensity for union flags and red, white and blue lamp posts and kerb stones).

Doire was the original name of the town, which over time was anglicised into Derry. It was only with the creation of a new city on the opposite bank of the Foyle to Doire in the early 1600’s that the name issue was created.

The city was built to be filled by "British tenants" from England and Scotland, planted in the country to try and prevent further uprisings from the native Irish against British rule (leap forward 400 years and have we really progressed that much further!)

As the building of the city was funded by the livery companies of London they wanted to put their mark on it, so they bolted their city name onto the front end of the anglicised version to create Londonderry.

Today there are a variety of options that you can choose from for the name.

There is of course the one that the Loyalist community, and the UK government, would like you to use – Londonderry.

Then there is the version that the nationalist community and, to be honest, most people outside of the British Isles would use – Derry

You could cheat, like the railway company does on some of its literature and call it L’Derry (making it sound like a French town, I think possibly a seaside resort)

Or there is the “Politically Correct” Derry/Londonderry, and the alternative it’s spawned of “Stroke City” avoiding the whole need to mention either of the words but focus on the punctuation.

However, as I queued up for my ticket this morning I was feeling lazy so I couldn’t be bothered with the extra two syllables and just asked for a single to Derry.

When I got here it looked like I chose correctly. The local authority is “City of Derry”, all the bins, bus stops and town signs say Derry and none of the tours on offer call it anything other than that.

So the question perhaps is not what should you call it, but what to the locals call it and call it that.

Though you then have to consider the make up of the city...

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

The hell that isn’t Gatwick

It’s the first week of the school holidays, the gloomy predictions that not very many people would be travelling this summer have been disproven by a combination of aggressively cheap flights and the promise of a barbecue summer, which instantly condemned it to rain for most of July (which it has proceeded to do!)

Consequently, the thought of going through Gatwick has been filling me with dread, and to begin with today I had every reason to believe my worst fears, of a heaving terminal full of stresses parents and restless children, would be fulfilled. The train was heaving, there was luggage stacked in every corner, and when I saw the queue for the lift off of the platform into the terminal building (at least 10 lift loads deep) I thought it was going to be bad.

It looked even worse when I got to the easyJet checkin area where the queue was massive, but then my preconceptions and fears were proved wrong.

Despite a queue which could have been measured in fractions of a kilometre, it moved at a speed which could have been measured in kilometres. In less than 5 minutes I was through the queue, at a desk and checked in onto my flight.

Even more to my surprise was the virtually non-existent queues for security, which was operating with a level of efficiency I would normally expect from Munich airport, not Gatwick.

So, having left myself nearly three hours to get checked in and through security I find myself in the busy, but by no means packed, departures lounge, with ages to wait for my flight to board.

Lucky I didn’t book that place in the Business lounge that I was thinking about but never got round to. I’d be plastered by the time I boarded if I had!

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Riding the bandwagons

Almost a year ago I jumped on the Web 2.0 bandwagon by starting up this blog. Now I’m going to jump on another bandwagon and I’m setting up a twitter feed on the account.

You can follow me as toms_travels or follow the feed on the website.