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This is a video from an incredible day on the Skellig Islands two weeks ago. These rock stacks off the coast of Kerry are home to huge numbers of sea birds including gannets, puffins and razorbills. Skellig Michael hosts a small monastery built in the 700’s, while Little Skellig is the world’s second largest colony of Northern Gannets. Both islands are astounding in their beauty.

If you are ever in that part of the country I would urge you to check it out. Trips are arranged over the phone by contacting the operators in advance. The boat trips are weather dependent.

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Over the weekend, I went on a trip to the Aran Islands off the coast of Co. Clare. The trip back was quite an experience.. As the video below shows, the ocean was a tad rough and the boat trip turned into a festival of international vomiting. All continents were represented, I am sure.

For those of a sensitive disposition, there is NO vomiting in the attached video, just enormous waves crashing off very high cliffs. Pretty darn impressive, if I say so myself..

I’m just back from a trip to Germany. I started in Munich, proceeded to Stuttgart and ended up in Wiesbaden.

A couple of random things from my trip:

Munich Airport

In all the flights I have made – and I have flown hundreds of times – I have never seen anybody freak out when the plane is taking off and landing. This unblemished run ended last Saturday, when the woman seated in front of me had a full-blown panic attack. As the plane took off, the poor woman started to hyperventilate, emitting regular eeping noises as we hit any bumps or turbulence. She let out a full blown scream at one stage when the plane encountered an air-pocket in the cloud layer. She relaxed completely once we reached cruising height, but as the plane began it’s final approach, all around her were treated to a repeat performance. It must be terrible for her, as such an atavistic fear is not easily remedied.  

Vineyards on the Wuttemberg (Stuttgart)

The German train system is pretty unforgiving if you make the mistake of leaving a suitcase on board. I had only stepped out of the train at Munchen – Pasing, when it dawned on me that something was wrong. Too late. Doors had closed and my suitcase was happily on it’s way to the small village of Geltendorf, about 20 km away. Suffice it to say that my suitcase and I were eventually reunited and that I spent the rest of the day making up for that brief moment of forgetfulness.

Looking for fossils in Holzmaden

I can add fossil hunting to my list of achievements. One of the high-points of the weekend was a trip to Holzmaden, where some fantastic Jurassic Period fossils have been discovered over the last century. There is an open quarry there and members of the public can extract their very own fossils from the bedrock. We collected a nice set of ammonites and belemnites, although how they are going to get from Germany to Ireland is anyone’s guess. 

Fountain in Wiesbaden

Other highlights were a trip down the Rhine and a relaxing day in the beautiful city of Wiesbaden. The public park next to the casino in Wiesbaden is particularly attractive. I was also struck by the friendliness and helpfulness of all the people I encountered during my trip. It’s definitely worth a visit.

Marktkirche in Wiesbaden

On Sunday I participated in an annual charity walk from Ballycotton to Ballinrostig in Co. Cork. It’s a pretty special occasion because it is the only time in the year that walkers are permitted by the local land-owners to hike the route. As the video below will testify, the scenery is quite stunning. It’s not the easiest of walks – you have to negotiate quite a few barbed-wire fences – but the end is definitely worth the effort. The weather on Sunday was unseasonably good, which helped greatly. 

So here is the video. Enjoy!

An eye on the Commons

I brought my daughter to London on Saturday. It was her first time on an aircraft and she had never been in the UK before either. My intent was to cram as many new experiences as possible into her growing brain over the few short hours we would be together in this endlessly fascinating city.

We saw Buckingham Palace, St James’ Park, 10 Downing St, the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Bridge and we asscended the London Eye. After that we visited Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square and Covent Garden. We then visited Hamleys in Regent St and finally we took a Tube to Hammersmith where we saw “Sponge Bob Squarepants the Musical”.

Impressions from a 6 year old:

She was disappointed that the Queen didn’t live in a castle. To her, Buckingham Palace looked like a hotel.

After visting the Palace she wanted to know what language people spoke in London. All around her were people speaking in Japanese, Italian, French and a myriad of other languages.

Her favourite moment ever was watching the street entertainers beside the London Eye. Her even more favourite moment of all time was travelling in a double decker bus. Her favouristest moment ever in the whole world was the Musical. Not to mention getting a pink toy poodle from her dad, having an ice cream for lunch, looking at how tiny the people were from the London Eye, and traveling in a big green plane above the clouds. 

And my favourite moment? Being able to pamper my delightful little daughter all day..

 

Pescadero, California

I spent most of the day yesterday in transit between Cork and San Francisco. It was a relatively uneventful flight: reading about the Afghan quagmire in Newsweek, watching a pretty good Leo de Caprio movie (Body of Lies), getting some sleep, listening to a pre-recorded Skeptic’s Guide podcast, reading my book on the Permo-Triassic extinction event, and then listening to some Mozart on my iPod. The jouney was comfortable and although I had a small twinge in my back after the jouney, I didn’t feel the 10 hours pass by.

After dropping our bags off in Cupertino, I and some work colleagues decided to drive down the coast road (Highway 1) between Pescadero and Santa Cruz. The weather was foul: cold and rainy, so we confined ourselves to the car apart from one foray down to a beach near Pescadero.

The coast here is very different to home. Gone is the intimacy of the rocky Irish coastline. There is a great sense of scale: the cliffs and beaches stretch into the far distance, conveying the impression that it’s like this all the way down to Patagonia.. The cliffs are soft and chalky, and there is active erosion here. Not great places to be in a large earthquake, I’ll bet.

Total darkness had set in by the time we reached Santa Cruz. The journey back to the hotel was difficult for me with heavy rain, twisty roads, oncoming night-time traffic and the looming burden of sleep deprivation all taking their toll.

A quick bite to eat and I was in bed by 8.30, utterly, utterly exhausted.

On the day after Christmas Day, I climbed Carrauntoohil, the highest mountain in Ireland.

Carrauntoohill

Carrauntoohil is located in Co. Kerry, not so far from the towns of Killarney and Killorglin. It is part of the Magilicuddy Reeks, the loftiest of the mountain ranges in Southwest Ireland.

To reach Carrauntoohil, you must first negotiate your way through the Hag’s Glen, a massive U-shaped valley strewn with ancient moraine. The most usual route to the top is via the Devil’s Ladder, a steep and now quite dangerous route.

Hag's Glen

We didn’t go that way. Instead we ascended via the far more impressive Shay’s Gully route. On the way up, you can see ahead of you the clear remnant of an ancient glacier now long disappeared.

Ascending Shay's Gully

It was a long slog, but we reached the mountain peak in good time. It was like a train station at the top! St. Stephen’s Day – what we in Ireland call the day after Christmas Day – is an incredibly popular day for mountain climbing. Literally hundreds of people take the journey, and there have been more than one casualty on this day, on this mountain, in the past.

At the top

It was absolutely freezing at the top, so we didn’t stay for too long. We descended via Heaven’s Gate: a steep yet manageable and highly picturesque natural stairway to the bottom of the valley.

Descending via Heaven's Gate

I took this picture of a sheep on the way down. And you think you’ve got troubles..

Sheep on cliff

A big thanks to Barry who lead us up and back down again. He was a great help to us particularly where we needed to negotiate steep rock walls on our way down.

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I spent yesterday out of the office, exploring one of the most beautiful and delightful cities on the planet. San Francisco is twinned with Cork, and there are some similarities: the proximity to the ocean, the steep hills, the relaxed lifestyle and ambience. Both are cities for living in as opposed to just working in. Of course, San Francisco is so much more: the weather is superb, the complexity, size and diversity of the place is orders of magnitude greater and then in the distance is this enormous feat of engineering- the Golden Gate Bridge. (Actually there are other suspension bridges linking San Fran to the other side of the Bay, but they don’t get a look in). 

Just click on any of these photos for a bigger picture.

San Francisco morning

First on our itinerary was Chinatown. As you walk down through this sizeable district, you quickly begin to forget that you are in the same country as strip malls and banal chain restaurants. It’s a whole world in miniature.  

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Then on to Broadway, the Italian district and in the distance the Transamerica Pyramid. We visited a museum of the Beatnik culture, where I picked up “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac.  

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From here we headed up past the twists of Lambert St and looked out east over the city. The Coit tower is one of San Fran’s famous landmarks. 

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Then on down to Fisherman’s Wharf to look at the Golden Gate for the first time. There’s Alcatraz in the distance. 

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After a nice relaxing meal we visited Pier 39 to do some sea lion watching and to make a visit to Rodney Lough’s photo gallery. After seeing some of the photos I am seriously considering hanging up my camera in shame. This guy is good.

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Then out bicycle trip to the Golden Gate. Cripes. Where do you begin? So many photo opportunities, so little time! If you ever get a chance to visit San Fran, take a bike ride to the Bridge. You won’t regret it and it’s really good value for money.

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Another photo..

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And just one more, taken as the mist was invading the Bay from the Pacific Ocean.

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I have the happy fortune to be in California at the moment to witness a piece of history. The excitement all day was palpable. I was consulting my iPhone all evening as the results started to flow through. Then, sooner than expected, it was all over. Obama had crossed the line of 270 electoral votes and quickly had over 300 votes in the bag. All over bar the shouting, as they say in Ireland.

This is a terrific day for so many Americans. I was in a bar at the time and the whole place went silent when Obama stood up to deliver his victory speech. There were tears in peoples’ eyes. The king is dead*, long live the king.

* Well, metaphorically, and even then not until January… All the fun has been taken out of the modern day political leadership changes, don’t you think? No tumbrils, guillotines, or even chopping blocks these days. Such utter killjoys..

The last ones, I promise. I’m sending them up because I had a camera at just the right time when I was passing by Lime Street Station yesterday evening.

That’s St. Georges Hall in the foreground, and if you look carefully, you will see a second arc just above the main rainbow. 

Cool, huh?

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