Ireland is as green as the post cards or pictures you may have seen of it. The country side is beautiful and the people are warm and friendly. We visited Cork – which is in the southeast part of the Irish Island. We visited this area in April. The weather in Cork? Well, the forecast said rain just about the whole time we were to be there, but must say we saw a lot of sun. From glorious sun, to rapid cloud cover with quick sprinkles, an occasional downpour that lasted 5 to 10 minutes and two brief hail storms told us quite clearly that you better be prepared for anything no matter what the forecast said.
Here are some snapshots from the few places we went during our visit. This visit was sandwiched between a business trip so we really did not go many places, but the time off we had; we used it as wisely as we could.
As with any other tourist town there are certain attraction you must see in Cork. The most famous one seems to be the Blarney Castle. You may have heard about the famous Blarney stone located at the top of the main tower in the castle. People line up to kiss it while upside down…why you might ask? First of all, the word Blarney has come to mean “clever”, “flattering” or “coaxing talk”. So the legend goes that those that kiss the stone in a very specific manner/position will be endowed with the gift of great eloquence or skill at flattery. Well, we decided to skip it. I could definitely use those skills, but the stone looked real dirty and you must hang practically upside down while holding on two iron rods while kissing it. Looked real dirty to me.
Blarney Castle is quite a nice place to visit. The original castle made out of wood dated back to 1220 A.D. It was destroyed and replaced with the stone version in 1210. It was destroyed again in 1440, but rebuilt again by Cormac Laidir MacCarthyere, Lord of Muscry.
While the castle is in ruins, you can still go inside and climb to the top using a very narrow stone staircase. My wife looking down on me while I take my time looking around one of the main halls. These places were dark and dingy. Winters must have been real tough or we are just simply spoiled with conveniences all around us.
The castle grounds are really beautiful; if you visit you must make time to walk around it. You can spend more time touring the extensive grounds than you will the castle itself. This is the Blarney Home; in the early 1700’s the castle was bought by Sir James St. John Jefferyes, then Governor of Cork City. Members of the Jefferyes’ family built a home near the castle. It burned down in 1874 and replaced with this baronial mansion. Decedents still occupy the mansion today.
After Blarney we decided to go to dinner at one of the most picturesque towns in Cork; Kinsale. It is quite the art and gourmet town; full of colorful businesses and great restaurants.
My wife was starving…nothing new there…she had a great pork loin dinner with all the usual trimmings – it was delicious.
We went to Killarney for a couple of days. Killarney is about 1.5 hour drive west of Cork. A new day, a new mansion – The Bantry House. History dating back the 17th century it continues to have amazing grounds. It is a tourist attraction and it is also a working hotel. View as you drive up to the main entrance.
Looks like in a few weeks the flowers will be out. While it was very nice as it was, we could imagine how much nicer it will be once the flowers are in full bloom. This is a very relaxing spot overlooking the bay.
These four pictures were part of the self-led tour. Do not think it is used by the hotel guests, but maybe it is. The inside is quite nice as you can see.
Looking around the grounds for picture opportunities caught my wife in very nice light – hold it honey! Click-done. Like it very much.
What a place, 11,000 acres of green lush with creeks and one of the biggest lakes in Ireland as a backdrop and you have Muckroos house. We took a horse and carriage from the parking lot to the house (about a 20 minute ride). The scenery was very beautiful even though for a little while the air was very crisp.
The house originally built by Henry Arthur Herbert in 1843, with 65 rooms it was one of the largest estates around at the time. In 1850, Queen Victoria announced that she would be visiting Ireland and the Muckross house was to be one of her stops. This prompted renovations that eventually bankrupt the owner (all for a 2 day visit).
In 1899, the house and land was bought by Sir Arthur Guinness. A couple of decades later (not sure of exact date) the house and land was bought by a wealthy Californian named Williams Bowers Bourne who gave it to his daughter as a wedding present…yeah daddy! That has to be one of the most expensive wedding gifts I have ever heard of. We toured the inside of this beautiful home, but unfortunately pictures were not allowed.
As with the other homes and castles we visited, the Muckross home had outstanding grounds. This tree was amazing, and my wife made it look even better.
Another must see place we were told was the New Milton Jameson distillery. About 20 minutes from downtown Cork, this distillery originally housed the Old Milton Distillery company established in the 1700’s. In 1966 it passed hands to the Jameson company, in 1975 production was changed to a newer facility on the grounds and the old distillery was turned into a museum. Good move since they attract a very large number of visitors per year. The place is immaculate and worth the visit.
While no longer in service, this mill was the main one used to crush the grain used in the mash. The new distillery can produce 19 million litters of whiskey per year; the largest in Ireland.
This building was used to store the thousands of casks of whiskey. Since they are a very volatile mixture the building was reinforced to withstand explosions (note the round dark circles on the facade. They hold in place iron rods that run the width of the building, thus ensuring minimal damage to the structure in case of an explosion – so they said.
This is a view of how the whiskey looks during various times while in the oak caskets. From left to right – new whiskey, 2 years, 5 years, 12 years and 18 years. As you can see, the whiskey gets a darker color the longer it is kept in the casket. Additionally, as expected the “Angels share” (evaporation) increases as time goes by.
South of Cork you find Cobh, a seaport town most famous for being the last stop for the Titanic before sailing across the Atlantic. In the background you see Saint Colman Cathedral, a beautiful building inside and outside.
It so happens that the town was having a huge 100 year anniversary Titanic celebration of its maiden voyage. There were many exhibits, but the lines for the one inside the still standing White Star Liner building (the company that owned the RMS Titanic) were way too long and moved way too slow. We looked around several smaller venues and as you can see, the movie has taken over reality in many cases.
Not the best picture, but here is the White Star Liner building. To the left you still see a wooden dock used to transport Titanic passengers to the ship. Unlike the movie, the passengers boarded a smaller craft (tender) from this dock to the Titanic which was anchored near the mouth of Cobh harbour.
Going South West
On our full last day we decided to tour one of the rings on the south-west part of the island. We started very early and when we came across this little town – Dunmanway. It looked like a movie set; absolutely no people around.
Completely understand the need for cost-effective energy. We saw a large number of windmills using the ever-present island breezes to create electricity. I can imagine many will object to them, but in today’s economy who can blame those responsible.
The day was a fantastic sunny one, blue skies and puffy white clouds…nothing like what we see in Suzhou. So we enjoyed every minute we had there. The views as we toured around the ring of Beara were amazing.
My wife wanted to take a picture of every single sheep we saw. Way too many sheep every where. So we compromised, here is me wife with a mom and offspring sheep-let.
We wanted to visit the cliffs of Moher, but they were too far. This was the best we could do at this time. Still pretty impressive. I was really intrigued with the rock formations around this area. You could see how the earth crust juts contracted and formed mountains a long, long time ago.
My wife in what we were told was to southern most part of Ireland. The wind was wicked strong. We had to hold to the railing to make sure you were not tossed around.
Back in Cork. This is one of the very busy streets in Cork. Many restaurants, locals and tourist seem to coexist quite nicely here.
On our last day we had lunch with our good friends Liam and Florence, and their two children – Paige and Dane. Thanks so much for your great hospitality!!!
Having family you have not seen for a long time is always a treat for us. Having my cousin and his wife come from Peru, my sister from Germany and our two daughters from the US at the same time was just fantastic. When we were all together we just hung around Suzhou and did day trips around and visited the top tourist attractions. One of the best parts for me was having my sister (Anita) and my cousin’s wife (Natalia) cook some peruvian dishes I have not had for a long time…yum. The whole experience starts with the aromas that bring you back to your early days. Food just like mama used to cook for us. We were lucky to have good weather for most of the week. After my sister, cousin and his wife left, we took the girls to Beijing; we already posted that one (link).
Below are some snap shots of the great time we had together.
Hot and humid night. Took a walk along Jin Ji Hu lake boulevard. The family with my sister behind me and my cousin’s wife Natalie behind our daughter Jocelyn.
On Sunday we decided to go to Zapata’s for the B.B.Q. buffet. Real good stuff, as close to the US as you can get around here. After the feast we took a walk around the lake. In the background you see the Trouser building. It is getting up there, looks like it needs about 10 or so floors to be finished. It will be the tallest in Suzhou, but not for long…see next picture.
The artistic rendition of what the complex around the Trouser building will look like when finished. Insane if you ask me. The two building that will flank the Trouser building are going to be super tall if this poster is to scale. They have already started with the foundations.
One Saturday we went to the annual International Festival to benefit one of the international schools in Suzhou. Here is Lalo and Natalia (Natty) having some tasty food from some of the countries represented.
My daughter Sarah loves food. She really enjoys tasting different foods and is not afraid of experimenting. She stopped at the Indian booth and got some really good spicy dish. Yum.
My cousin Eduardo (a.k.a. Lalo). I thought I took pictures; he beat me tenfold. I do admire his technique to get the right pictures, this is his most preferred position when taking pictures.
Could not resist taking this one; such a pretty spot in one of the best gardens we have visited so far – Lingering Garden in Suzhou.
This lady was playing a chinese table top harp. She sounded great and found her very traditionally beautiful.
Also in the Lingering Garden, they have a show showing the traditional Kunku opera. Colorful and very unique.
We also took them to Pinjiang Lu traditional water town. A beautiful spot we take most of our guests since it is very close and it has one of the best preserved old water towns in Suzhou. Saw these two ladies just hanging and watching the tourists go by. Wonder what they think about all the strange people invading their once peaceful area.
Natty saw this little boy and could not resist asking the mother if she could hold him for a bit. His family took many pictures of it and they seemed happy to do it. Not sure if the little boy is enjoying it though.
As we are walking along Pingjiang Lu I saw this guy dart by. I took his picture, but it was so fast it so a bit blurry. Like it anyways.
Sarah and Jocelyn being goofy. Love them both.
Very close to our apartment they have opened a two-story art exhibition hall. They have a lot of very large modern and surrealist art hanging around the massive hallways. Must return and spend more time here.
Food surrounded us every day. We love to eat and make a big deal out of it.
Our two daughters once again. Yes, we are proud of them.
Apple line up. Come to think about it, there were a total of 6 Apple products in the house when we were together. Mr. Jobs; well done.
On the left you have Aji de Gallina (Spicy Chicken)…this is a Peruvian dish that is just awesome. My wife loves it and my sister makes it sooooo good. Thanks Anita. A refreshing garden salad with my wife’s dressing (the best!) and on the right you have my famous lentils…yes, I said famous…to me at least. I could eat them every day. Of course the ever-present rice is almost not visible on the right.
Causa is the name of this Peruvian dish. It is so good. If you like the recipe click HERE. It is really good.
My wife discovered an Indian dessert called Banoffi pie. Wow. Nastaran and Jocelyn would like one more piece.
Cannot come to Suzhou and not go to the pearl market. The variety and prices are ridiculous (huge and low respectively). How many more do you gals really need?
My sister making me one of my favorite dishes; Locro de zapallo. A dish with squash, potatoes, and cubed fresh cheese as main ingredients. Trust me, really good.
Arroz con Pollo (chicken and rice). Thank you Anita for making all of this great dishes that take me back home to wonderful memories of my childhood.
Anita teaching Jocelyn how to make pie crust from scratch and finishing it with a home-made blackberry filling. Jocelyn did not take any chances; she took careful notes.
Nastaran joined us again; sorry Ali, wish you could have been with us. You see the Locro de Zapallo and the Arroz con Pollo all done.
Body language seems to indicate this person is full. Nah, it only took one little try and the slice soon disappeared.
Our popular daughters being asked to pose with this group.
Last one. Had to end with my three ladies.
Suzhou is known for the many water towns and gardens . Many say that once you see one water town you have seen them all. While it is true that they all share basic architectural layout, shopping and overall feel; each one has a unique feature that sets them apart from all others. Qiandeng Ancient town (its history dating back 2,500 years) has a square pagoda (all others I have seen are circular or hexagonal). It also had a beautiful private garden that used to be the residence of Gu Yanwu – (July 15, 1613– February 15, 1682), a.k.a as Gu Tinglin, was a Chinese philologist and geographer. This home was one of the most beautiful and well-preserved we have seen in China. Since you had to pay to get in it was also great to be able to tour it with very few people around.
If you visit Suzhou this water town is highly recommended. It is one of the smallest water towns we have visited, but well worth it. Plan on returning one evening to take some pictures at dusk; the feel must be fantastic.
Entrance to Qiandeng.
View from the bridge looking left. Not sure how old these buildings are. The history of this town goes back 2,500 years, I am sure these buildings date a couple of hundred years or so.
Closer look from the other side of the bridge. Look at the tea kettle on the right hand side. Not sure if it is made out of wood or concrete; nice regardless.
The Wuo Konghou, a horizontal or flat instrument, since it was set flat in front of the performer. Traditionally the strings were made of silk tied to the surface of the soundboard, and each string rested on multiple frets; not sure if these strings are silk. The strings were plucked with a wooden pick in one hand and pressed with the other. It was created in China around 600 BC.
I believe this compound is called “The Extending Happiness Temple”. As mentioned before, the square pagoda seems quite unique. Inside there are several buildings with small temples and monk dwellings.
No matter how old a place may be or how primitive it may appear; satellite disks are everywhere. In this case, safety looks compromised. The whole assembly seems to be resting on a small rock sitting precariously close to disaster – pedestrians walk by just below it.
A very common sight in China. Card playing is a very popular activity every day of the week. Passing by this house I saw this group of players; they were happy to have their picture taken.
Getting ready for the daily walk around the town. These wonderful couple seem to have lived here their whole life in this town. Judging by the body language and the tone the lady was using she seemed to be encouraging him to come out and walk with her. I can only imaging the changes they have seen over the last 50 years.
Another common sight in China. Brides having their pictures in water towns and parks is the thing to do. Of course I cannot resist to at least take one; I have quite a library of these for later use.
Ok, who is next!
Thankfully I was not in need of a hair cut. This chair has definitely seen many customers over the years.
Hygiene not to western standards, but seems to work for the locals. Brushes, hair tonic, styling gels…and the ever-present electrical extension strip must make the whole experience one to remember.
Just a peaceful quiet ride on the main canal.
as we go by a narrow street I notice this lady looking at the tourists go by. The door seems overkill since crime in China seems to be extremely low. The household seems to know something we do not. She did not seem happy behind the jail like door.
Ah! Lunch time.
We have seen many different types of doors in China. The one on the left is very common; the one on the right – first time we saw this design. We thought is was creative and beautiful.
View from inside Gu Yanwu residence. The most peaceful feeling around the beautifully maintained grounds of all gardens we have seen so far.
The garden has many small bridges and walks made with small stones with a variety of designs. These walkways seem like a lot of work to create, but the results are so nice. We are thinking that will be a project for us when we go back to our home (TBD).
Some areas are left untouched; I am sure the spider responsible for this elaborate cobweb is happy about that.
A reclining buddha inside one of the building within the Extending Happiness Temple (may have the name wrong). First reclining buddha we have seen in China; we saw many in Thailand.
As we were leaving this wonderful water town this lady wearing bright orange caught my eye. Love her face as it is my idea of what chinese rural people look like. The orange top are worn by street cleaners; it must have been break time for her. Really like this one.
Have a great week!
Before there was Beijing (Bei = North, Jing = Capital), the city was known as Peking, before then…way too long a history for this post. For example, earliest human remains date back to 250,000 years ago. The first walled city in Beijing was Ji, the capital of the State of Ji from the 11th to 7th century BC.
This was our first visit to Beijing and timed to assure our daughters had a chance to see it since this could be the last time they are in China, at least while we are on assignment. We decided to take the high speed train instead of traveling by air since, the overall travel time is just about the same. The ride from North Suzhou station to Beijing’s South Station took the advertised 5 hours. While the train ride is comfortable, we had a couple of experiences that made it a bit challenging. First, while the car we had was very clean and nice some of the odors and sounds we experienced were beyond unpleasant. Second, I expected to see more of rural China, but after an hour or so the topography and the scenery is basically identical. May reconcider the train if my wife and I decide to come back; could have just been our luck that day.
All in all, I liked Beijing very much. A very large city (population of around 20 million) only second to Shanghai in population,with beautiful national treasures and a slightly slower pace than Shanghai (some will not agree). We only had 2 1/2 days in Beijing and many have told us that you need to come a few times in order to really appreciate it. Not sure if we will return since we have so many other areas in China we plan on visiting and time is running out fast for us.
Tiananmen square (Gate of Heavenly Peace) - a large square in the center of Beijing. Originally designed and built in 1651, it has seen several expansions; the last being when Mao Zedong took down the China Gate and enlarged the square to its current size. It is designed to hold 500 thousand people and is the setting for the Red Army parades and other significant government and civic activities.
One of the many monuments around Tiananmen square designed to illustrate the new philosophy under chairman's Mao rule.
The Hall of Supreme Harmony It is the ceremonial center of imperial power, and the largest surviving wooden structure in China. The Forbidden City size is quite overwhelming. There were 9,999 rooms in the Forbidden City sometimes it was counted as 9999.5 rooms but the half room only has a staircase in it. The Palace in heaven had 10,000 rooms so the Emperor who made it wanted to have that many rooms to symbolise that they were near to that. Also, the number 9 was considered a lucky number to the Chinese.
As expected you see tourists everywhere. I can imagine the number of pictures taken in this tour alone each day must be in the hundred of thousands. We see here a group of young Chinese taking pictures of a larger group they were with. Notice the number of cameras hanging on their arms and hands (9). They took pictures with each of them for the owners on the other end of the lens. This sight was repeated just about everywhere we went.
The royal throne in the Hall of Supreme Harmony. The Last Emperor movie was shot in these grounds. The Chinese government only allowed it after the company filming the movie committed money to restore a large area of the Forbidden City. This is the spot where the actor portraying the 4 year last emperor was officially given the title. This is one of the richest buildings in China. Large amount of gold can be seen in the columns and the throne area. Unfortunately, the public cannot get closer than several meters from the entrance.
Those large bronze basins held water in case of a fire. There are over 400 of them around the compound. I can't imagine they would be too efficient if one of these huge wooden structures caught fire, but better than nothing I suppose.
My three lovely ladies with the Forbidden city in the background. It took us a good 90 minutes to go through the selected path within the Forbidden City compound. We only saw a small fraction, but truly an impressive place that gave me a sense of the large amount of resources the royals took away from the people. Such opulence to satisfye such few people, no wonder there was a revolution.
The Great Wall. About an hour drive from the hotel we came across our first Great Wall stop. As impressive as advertised. Building started around 7th century B.C., not as a huge project that would meet it's present length, but more of individual walls protecting certain territories across the northern part of China. These were later joined together and made much stronger and collectively it is now referred as The Great Wall. Little of the original wall remains, what we see today was reconstructed during the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644). This picture is a view of a very popular angle. I was not feeling well enough to climb to the top. The guide was not happy telling me that Chairman Mao had said if a man does not climb this wall, then he is not a man. Having come out of the hospital a few days back, I had no problem being told I was a wimp for not climbing it.
Love Padlocks - Looks sweet to some, but they are starting to be a problem in several European landmarks since their is concern that the number of them damage the view and also present a threat to some of the delicate monuments. I will not be surprised if they are banned soon. As you can see, they have them in the Great Wall also.
This view gives you some idea as to how the Great Wall seems to go on and on. From Wikipedia.... "The Great Wall stretches from Shanhaiguan in the east, to Lop Lake in the west, along an arc that roughly delineates the southern edge of Inner Mongolia. A comprehensive archaeological survey, using advanced technologies, has concluded that the Ming walls measure 8,850 km (5,500 mi).
Our two daughters were repeatedly asked by local youth to take pictures with them. At times it got a bit crazy, my oldest having to say several times, "Ok now, this is the LAST one." Only to see their Facebook post after their return to the US..."nobody here asks us to take pictures with them, fame is so fleeting".
In most of all of the famous world landmarks we have been to, the number of tourists can be overwhelming. I wish I could just have a day with nobody around, yeah right. This is the best I could do to capture a picture where it looks like there is nobody around. It is just an illusion however.
Saw several young ladies wearing this type of hat. Have no clue what they are/represent, but they are certainly colorful.
The most intriguing sign I saw in Beijing.
The Temple of Heaven - another huge complex used by the emperor and his family to worship their deities. This is the main temple in the complex, the emperor would come here once a year to pray for a good harvest. Constructed in 1406 to 1420 by the same architect that completed the Forbidden City; the building is completely wooden, with no nails. The original building was burned down by a fire caused by lightning in 1889. The current building was re-built several years after the incident.
Photo taken by Maros Mraz - Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License
The Summer Palace
One of the nicest outdoor places we have seen in China. The Summer Palace was the place the emperor used during the summer months. Not too far away from Beijing city. UNESCO included this site on its World heritage list as a masterpiece of Chinese landscape and garden design. The palace has many pavilions and bridges. While it is one of the main tourist attractions in Beijing, the locals use it as a recreation place to relax, dance, play music and exercise.
A few views from the Summer Palace compound. The ironic thing is that the money used to restore this palace was originally earmarked to build a new imperial navy. Unfortunately, empress Dowager (The Dragon Lady) had other ideas and took the money to restore the palace. This seriously weakened China's defensive weapons against the Japanese war in the 1930's.
This outdoor corridor is 500 meters long. Told it is the world longest outdoor corridor with painting depicting historical events in the world. It must have also been a place to cool off during hot humid times. We could feel a nice breeze coming from the adjacent lake.
I was told that this gentleman is a well know actor/entertainer in China. He was taking pictures with a lot foreigners and locals. When he saw Jocelyn he asked her to pose with him. Jocelyn said "ah...Ok I guess." a bit shy, but she pulled a great smile.
After the Summer Palace we stopped at a Chinese tea store where they showed us the history of tea in China and the traditional tea ceremony. We tasted several flavors, all quite good. Be ready for some heavy pressure to buy often over priced tea. However, we did enjoy the this time and recommend it to others.
Stopped at a pearl market; another tourist stop designed to sell you beautiful pearls, but once again, often pricier than other places you can go. In this picture you see an oyster the attendant opened in front of us so we could see how the pearls are harvested. You can see quite a few in this one, but were told that you could even get double this amount in some oysters. From each oyster usually you only get a few that are worthy of becoming part of a jewelry piece. The rest are ground for cosmetics and other uses.
Around Beijing there are many areas called Hutongs. Hutongs are narrow streets or alleys built around the city of Beijing in the old days. Many of them were destroyed to make way for the new buildings. However, some have been renovated and, as in most other tourist spots, turned into tourist attractions, which means that while there are still some homes left the majority are stores selling you trinkets. Here is my youngest daughter looking for some bargains...good luck.
I am sure there is plenty of old Beijing still around, but did not have much time to explore it. We did go through what looked to be a older part of Beijing. In fact, this lady was cleaning a baby/toddler carriage for two that looks like it has been around for a while.