Venus & Ulysses 2004

Journal Home

June 2004
Tuesday, June 29th

Art Brut

OK, Art Brut is just "outsider art" in French. "Outsider art" refers to people with no formal art training, and often people who are mentally ill, who just happen to create absolutely amazing works of art. Some of it looks like what second-graders bring home to put up on the fridge, but some of it looks like Picasso or Miro or other supposed "insiders", and most of what was at Lausanne's Collection of Art Brut was awesome. There were four floors of it too, painting and sculptures. The current featured exhibitions were "art brut for kids", a collection of art brut portraits hung lower than usual, and "writing in delirium", which was an interesting counterpoint to the printing museum we saw in Lyon. The printing museum prided itself on beauty, perfection, readability, and consistency, while the writing of the crazy people often required magnifying glasses to read (how do they write that small?) and varied in other ways. It was all in French so we couldn't really tell how crazy the content was, but the form was pretty varied and odd.

Then we went to Lausanne's photography museum, which was entirely devoted to Rene Burri, an independent news photographer for the last 50 years or so. Instead of working for anyone, he goes around the world taking pictures of what he wants and he's good enough that lots of publications buy them. Some of his most famous work was photos of Che Guevara, but it was interesting to see photos he took of many events over the last several decades from all over, especially Germany and the Middle East. It reminded me slightly of our first day on this trip in London, when we ran into the World Press Expo and saw this year's photojournalism winners.

Lausanne has a very beautiful setting on Lake Geneva with huge Alps rising up behind it. Tomorrow we'll presumably drive through some other Alps on the way up to Bern and Strasbourg.

It seems hard to believe we'll be back home on Sunday...

Dave on 06.29.04 @ 12:00 PM PDT [link]

Monday, June 28th

Sometimes You Find What You're Looking For

(and sometimes you don't -- we're in an Internet Cafe in Lausanne, the Y and Z are switched -- it's a QWERTZ keyboard -- and many other keys are in the wrong place. "at" isn't above 2, it's to the right -- I have to ask what shift keys I need to use to type it)

Anyway, the two excellent dinners were world-class French food. What they weren't was Lyonnais. Today we had lunch at a "bouchon" which serves Lyonnais food which turns out mostly to be various parts of cows covered by mustard -- stomach, intestine, brains, whatever. In the "salad" consisting of some of these, the meats were textural, and only the mustard had flavor. In the "sausage" version, there were some organs which had some actual flavor, but I finished it anyway. Much nicer was the pike "quenelle", kind of like a fish souffle.

We watched a bunch of kids skateboarding near a huge statue wearing roller skates, and then returned to our car parked on the "Boheme - Boris" floor of the Opera parking garage.

Now we're in Lausanne, Switzerland, after paying 30 euro for the privilege of letting Hertz' car drive on Switzerland's highways for the rest of the year. We went to the tourist information downtown, got a map, and decided to wander around looking for two things -- the FSOJ we hadn't gotten this morning, and the Internet so we can hook up with a friend for dinner tomorrow. We must have walked for an hour, watching stores close, even watching two places with FSOJ close, when, up an empty street, I saw a sign "Cyber Cafe & Juice Bar". Yay!

Tomorrow we'll check out some of Lausanne's billions of museums, including the Art Brut museum. Then I'll find out what Art Brut is...

the art brut museum is having an exposition of writings by crazy people, maybe we can enter --ray

Dave on 06.28.04 @ 10:17 AM PDT [link]

Sunday, June 27th

Two More Excellent Dinners

The last two nights we've had wonderful dinners in Lyon.

Last night we ate at Nicolas LeBec, and each had one of their two different six-course menus, each of which had two starters (tomato soup with mustard ice cream, grilled foie gras and roasted rhubarb, langoustine), a fish course, a meat course (lamb with zucchini, a perfect beef filet with mushrooms), cheese (we each picked five), and dessert. And chocolates. We'd scoped out two half-bottles of wine that were likely to be good, the sommelier without knowing that picked out the same two, so we had them. Both were perfect with the meal. The cheese guy arranged the cheeses on the plate in a logical order to eat them. We were absolutely stuffed at the end.

It was an excellent dinner but not a perfect one -- one of the langoustines was just a little ammonia-y, and I was annoyed that the chef disputed my contention that it wasn't fresh. But otherwise it was a very nice place, with very creative menus and attractive presentations.

Tonight we ate at Paul Bocuse, which has a rare three Michelin stars. We had a five-course menu, with a starter (grilled foie gras with passion fruit, lobster salad), a fish course, a meat course (veal sweetbreads with morels, pigeon with more morels and chanterelles also), cheese (we each picked four) and dessert. And petit-fours and chocolates. The sommelier recommended some Rhone-area wine; the white was OK but the red, a Cotes-Roti, was really good. We were absolutely stuffed at the end.

Everything about the meal was perfect. Paul Bocuse came around and said hi to all the diners, and pretty much insisted on having his picture taken with each diner who had a camera. We wore our Irish-thrift-store jackets and ties, but they let some French people in with nice short-sleeved shirts, so we probably needn't have bothered. Especially because it's been about 80 degrees in Lyon, now at midnight it's probably 70.

Lyon has many buildings with absolutely featureless walls which are painted with elaborate trompe-l'oeil murals, making them look like they have lots of windows and lots of stuff happening. We've been walking and driving around looking for them -- they're pretty easy to find because there are postcards of them and the addresses are on the back. We went to a couple museums today, the History of Printing museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art. All the information in the printing museum was in French, so I didn't get as much out of it as I would have liked. The contemporary art museum consisted entirely of an exhibition of Chinese art, mostly installations; several video installations and large sculptures taking an entire room. The top floor was all memorabilia from a 2002 event retracing the route of the Long March, spreading art all along the path -- it reminded me of Burning Man in some ways.

France is definitely closed on Sundays -- we had to walk blocks to find a place to buy some bottles of cold water. Even some of the parking meters are civilized -- during the week they don't charge during the two hours for lunch between 12 and 2. The big parking garage near the art museum was completely full because there was an enormous cinema right next to it and an enormous city park on a hot Sunday, and it took awhile to find another place to park.

Tomorrow we'll probably check out one or two more things in Lyon, and then head for the nearby Swiss city of Lausanne.

Dave on 06.27.04 @ 03:31 PM PDT [link]

Saturday, June 26th

Formule 1

In Orleans and Lyon, we're staying in the Formule 1 chain of hotels. It's super-cheap and super-clean and rather odd. Each one is completely identical.

You check in using a kiosk just outside the door -- you get a six-digit code which gives you access to the front door and your room -- there are no keys. The bathrooms and showers are down the hall -- they flush or clean themselves when you unlock the door to leave. You have to push the shower button every 20 seconds to keep the water going. Each room has a sink, a TV, a double bed and a single bunk above it. The double bed has a single pillow that goes the whole way across. The towels are small -- just big enough to take a shower.

This chain of hotels is owned by Accor, who also owns the five-star Novotel hotel we stayed in in Sharm al Shaikh. All of their hotels in France, including this super-cheap one, have wireless Internet (it costs 5 euro for an hour of use within a 24-hour period, which is the same price but more convenient than Internet cafes).

It reminds me of what I've heard of the Japanese cubicle hotels. If I ever make it to Japan, I'll probably discover that they are much more weird than these.

Tomorrow we're eating in the super-expensive three-star restaurant Paul Bocuse. They asked that I reconfirm my reservation a week in advance with our mobile number or the name of our hotel. I was too embarrassed to say we were staying at Formule 1.

It's almost two PM. We've had our breakfast and done our laundry. It's time to go explore Lyon.

Dave on 06.26.04 @ 04:44 AM PDT [link]

Thursday, June 24th

Vive la France!!!

We're in Orleans now. I'm so happy to be in France -- it's just so civilized. We've been having meals which are much cheaper than Ireland and England and much better. We bought cheese and cherries at a farmer's market. The only lame thing about it is that they charge to use the toilets at Mont St. Michel.

Anyway, when I last posted, we'd just arrived in southern England, and had missed being at Stonehenge on the solstice. Specifically, we'd missed being at the gigantic free-for-all all-night rave with probably way too many people and way too loud music and general crowdedness. Theoretically it would have been nice to watch the sun rise over the heel stone between the middle arch, but I don't know how a few thousand people would have all been able to do that at the same time. It would have been one of the only times to get inside the stone circle, but there would have been so many other people there that photos would have been worthless anyway.

We went there the next afternoon, just after work crews finished cleaning up the mess made the night before, hauling away various fences and barricades and portapotties. We watched at least six vans full of policemen leave. We saw it as normal tourists do, getting about 20 feet away from the outside of the circle. It's actually quite tiny, especially compared to the massive Pyramids -- the scene in Spinal Tap wasn't that much of an exaggeration.

The thing you do at such places is take photos of tourists listening to the commentary on their rented audio tour devices. The expressions are similar to television watching.

Then we checked out the Salisbury cathedral. The best part about English cathedrals is that they always have soldiers buried there whose activities in various far flung parts of the empire are delicately alluded to; and this grounds you in a real sense of why those expensive and artistic cathedrals are there, rather than the labor having been uselessly expended on a livable lifestyle for the various conquered inferior peoples.

The next day we saw the Cerne Abbas giant, a large drawing of a naked figure carved into a chalk hillside in Dorset. It's early neo-paganism, the thing probably isn't more than a few hundred years old but it attempts a neolithic style. You can google its image I expect or wait till we get back and show you the tea towel we bought. All tea towels should feature 50 meter naked men with clubs. Then we went for a walk along the Dorset coast -- we saw some fossils in the cliffside, and then we got totally soaked as the drizzle turned into an actual rain.

The rain continued.

The following morning we arrived at the ferry terminal ready for our 7:30 hydrofoil which crosses the English Channel in 2.5 hours. It had been cancelled because of 40 mph winds (force 8 winds in the English system) so we had to take the 12:30 conventional ferry instead (which crosses in 4 hours). Except that instead of arriving at 5:45 local time, it arrived at 7:15, 15 minutes after it was possible to pick up our rental car. We had to cancel our reservation in St. Malo, and find a hotel in Cherbourg -- the first twelve I called were completely full but the 13th actually still had two rooms available. I guess 13 was the lucky number.

Today we drove to Mont St. Michel. Somebody who does real estate needs to stage that place, put in a couple of sofas and some family pictures and of course a TV cabinet with one of those cardboard TVs because the place is completely empty, and it's not even in ruins! Ruination is like furniture, it's something to look at, this place looks like the Benedictines just got evicted and rented a $19.95 a day truck and left. (Note to future tourists: When you pass the post office, go up the unmarked stairs to your right, you will avoid the tourist junk gauntlet. I mean it's a gauntlet according to the guidebooks, it certainly doesn't seem like a gauntlet to somebody who's been touring in the middle east lately, or Mexico, or Broadway in SF even.)

Then we drove to Orleans, where we ate in a 1-Michelin-star restaurant having its 43 euro prix fixe menu which included half a bottle (each) of wine. A pretty stellar meal for 91 euro total. (There's a French law that all hotel and restaurant prices have to include service, so you don't have to tip.) Raspberries four ways for dessert. Lamb so tender you could sip it through a straw, I'm not even kidding, they brought a steak knife with it but what for ??? Dr. Atkins would appreciate the sandwich shaped items which were marinated celeriac between slabs of duck liver. Who needs bread? except the bread here is worth the trip.

You're probably all upset about your gas prices in excess of $2 per gallon. The prices in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East were pretty similar. In Ireland and France, they're just under $5, and in England, they were well over $6, so don't complain.

Tomorrow we drive on to Lyon, the cuisine capital of France, the cuisine capital of the world. Now we'll go look for our Formule 1, the budget hotel chain of France, and see if it's better than Motel 6. Maybe it will have in room powdered wine or something.

Ray and
Dave on 06.24.04 @ 03:00 PM PDT [link]

Monday, June 21st


We left Dublin and drove across the border into Northern Ireland which was marked only by the presence of a couple places to change money -- there were hardly even signs, let alone anything resembling a border crossing. The Antrim coast from Belfast north is exceptionally beautiful -- the road runs right along the sea, with green hills rising quickly upwards.

The next morning, we went on an eight-mile walk to the Giant's Causeway, and along the coast east of it. That stretch of coast has hexagonal basalt columns like Devil's Postpile National Monument all along it. The causeway is where the columns were cut off at the beach and you can walk out a hundred yards or so out onto the tops of them -- it's fascinating and beautiful. There are various legends involving Irish giants and Scottish giants, a complete causeway between Ireland and Scotland, which was torn up by one of them for one reason or another.

That evening we caught the ferry to the Isle of Man, a little island between Ireland and England. The people there struck us as somewhat inbred, but it's a pretty island otherwise, the usual farms and sheep and lighthouses and ancient stone crosses. It's where Manx cats are from, and we actually saw one at a garden we walked around. The flag is really cool -- it's a "trikon", three legs at 120-degree angles -- we got t-shirts featuring it. But the number one attraction of the Isle of Man is motorcyle racing -- the annual TT race had happened the week before we were there.

The ferry left the Isle of Man at 10:30 pm and arrived in Liverpool at 1 am. Yesterday we drove from there down to the south coast of England. We'd hoped to visit Stonehenge last night at the solstice, the only time it's opened to the public directly, but there was no one at our B&B and we had to find another place to stay. Today or tomorrow we'll go back there and observe it from a distance, and visit other sites in the area.

Dave on 06.21.04 @ 03:18 AM PDT [link]

Wednesday, June 16th

A Day in Dublin

This morning we got up around 7:30. I took a shower, but as usual neither one of us shaved. It was quite sunny, like all mornings in Ireland thus far except one, but it could rain at any time, so we packed the rain gear as well as some long-sleeved shirts in case it was cold. We walked to the hotel which runs the apartment we're staying in to see if a parking space had become available -- it hadn't yet but they said it would in an hour or so as soon as someone checked out. We walked up Harcourt Street a ways until we caught up with a Dublin Bus going our direction -- the driver said it wasn't the one we wanted but he told us which one that would be and how much it would cost. A minute later the right one arrived and we took it to the end of O'Connell Street, the widest street in Dublin, north of the Liffey. We walked a block to North Great George Street, where the James Joyce Center is located. The entire street was blocked off for the Bloomsday Breakfast, a massive party attended by a couple thousand people, many dressed up in Edwardian outfits, and many more spectators such as ourselves. It reminded us of going to Castro Halloween parties not wearing a costume, ie as straight people.

The breakfast itself, which required a ticket we bought the day before for 12 euro apiece, constisted of: a roll containing two pieces of sausage, two slices of bacon, a potato patty and two other sausage/grain patties, one of which is called "black and white pudding"; a cup of coffee (for me) or tea (for Ray); and a pint of Guinness served in a commemorative glass. After we finished the Guinness, we washed out the glasses with some water we had, and carefully packed them in our raincoats and put them in the pack.

There were performers reading passages from Ulysses from the top of a bus and various other platforms. Ray spent awhile talking to an acting student who had been hired to crawl into a box painted as a Ulysses book. There was a string quartet playing music mentioned in the book, and there were lots of interesting people in the crowd, most of whom had presumably read the book. I haven't, but I have learned a lot about it in the past weeks and especially hours, and if I think I'm up to it someday perhaps I will. I could read it anytime because it's on Ray's computer as a HTML file.

After the breakfast we wandered back down O'Connell street, pausing at several places shown on a little map we bought to read quotations from various Joyce books which refer to those places. We crossed the Liffey, stopped in the Bank of Ireland to see a Monopoly board redecorated with the street names of 1904 Dublin, and then proceeded to Davy Burns pub just off Grafton street, which was, like the breakfast, chocked completely full of Ulysses fans. This pub is also mentioned in Ulysses -- it's where Leonard Bloom had a gorgonzola sandwich and a glass of burgundy (which many people paid a good 9 euro to have themselves). The whole scene reminded Ray of a Star Trek convention.

Then we walked the few blocks from the parking garage we'd left the car the previous morning, paid 39.50 euro for the 28 hours it had been in there, hopped in it and drove it down to the hotel, got the parking permit and the key, and drove to the apartment basement and parked it in the assigned spot, not to move until tomorrow. We went in to the apartment, where Ray was down to 16 remaining pictures on his camera, and copied the pictures in his camera onto the computer so we could free up room in the camera for more. We took the Guinness glasses out of the pack as well as the rain coats because it definitely didn't seem like it would rain.

Then we headed back outside and stood on Harrington Street outside the apartment waiting for a #19 bus, which inexplicably had a completely different fare, 1.25 instead of 85 cents. We took it towards the Kilmainham Hospital, home of the Irish Museum of Modern Art. We walked from the bus stop to the museum on a tiny little street that I became doubtful would go through to the museum, but amazingly it did and we didn't end up having to backtrack as I feared. The museum had a small gallery of artists inspired by Joyce, and a few other galleries with some nice pieces. It seemed pretty small -- several of the wings were closed or had installations in progress. One of the best pieces was called "Property", and consisted of all the photos of properties advertised in the Irish Times pasted onto cardboard and assembled into a little 3-d city on the floor, maybe 12 feet across. We left to the north, caught another bus which we took along the river to O'Connell street.

We then crossed the river in search of pub food for that Irish Food experience. Another pub had pointed out two pubs with food but without televisions showing the Euro 2004 soccer tournament games, and one of them had a Traditional Irish Restaurant. Presumably the Irish don't eat there -- it was occupied entirely by Americans, and staffed entirely by immigrants (Thai, Indian, Arab). We had an expensive but actually quite good Traditional Irish meal: I had a coddle of sausage, ham, and potatoes followed by a roast duckling (recipe from 1852), and Ray had a Kilkenny ale and a chowder followed by a beef stew (recipe from 1850). We realized our mission had drifted when the restaurant didn't offer as much beer selection as its pub downstairs, but by then it was too late -- perhaps we'll still have pub food at some point this trip. We were a little annoyed at having the credit card run through in dollars (which I think results in a higher exchange rate) and being overcharged for the ale, so we left a mediocre tip.

As we left the restaurant we saw two guys who were taking a picture of something, and we stopped to see what it was. One of the losers in Ireland's European elections of last week had a poster in a parking garage directly under a "No Entry" sign, and they thought that his picture under that sign was an amusing statement of his failure to get elected. We speculated that since election posters say absolutely nothing about what a candidate's position is that many elections are beauty contests; we also talked generally about politics in Ireland and the US, what constitutes a "good-looking" person, and from there onto how people make sure movies don't offend anyone.

Then we walked back across the river to the Spire of Dublin, also called the Millennium spire. I don't know if it was put up for Dublin's millennium in 1998, or our calendar's one in 2000, but I do know it's really really really tall. I don't know how they could have put it up -- no crane is that tall; it must have been some kind of Iwo Jima move. O'Connell Street was entirely blocked off from cars, and there was a big performance, a kind of talent show really, celebrating Bloomsday with dancers from many Dublin groups (including a Chinese group with a dragon). A replica of the column which the Spire replaced materialized via a scissor-lift, and a crane lifted an actor high into the air, perhaps symbolizing Joyce as an angel or something.

After the show we started walking back to the hotel, and came upon, of all things, an Italian wine bar, so we stopped and had two glasses of wine recommended by the waitress, some fruity red wine and a fairly dry Moscato. They were the most dessert-y she could come up with, but they were very nice.

Then we walked across the Millennium bridge, and back towards the hotel. The internet cafe I've been using had just closed, so we kept going until we reached "Does Not Compute" where I am now posting this note. Ray went back to the apartment to write postcards or go to sleep or to get ready for another day of hunting ancestors.

All in all, was it a fun day? Yes, absolutely, yes, it was.

Dave on 06.16.04 @ 03:29 PM PDT [link]

Monday, June 14th

Before the Pyramids

We're back in Dublin after a three-day survey of southern Ireland. Saturday we drove to Killarney, which I suppose you could call Kerry headquarters -- it's the largest city in County Kerry. We got there via the Beara Peninsula which is quite different from the rolling hills farmland we'd seen in most of the rest of Ireland -- it's rocky and tundra-like. The whole area with its coastal scenery and mountain lakes is spectacularly beautiful. At the suggestion of a guy in a local nursery, we checked out the Derreen Gardens which have a collection of the same tree ferns we saw in Tasmania last year.

We were lucky to get out of Killarney when we did -- a huge crowd was coming in to watch the Cork-Kerry soccer game. We drove to Cahir to see its castle ruins, and to the Rock of Cashel to see its church ruins. We'd had an expensive lunch in a castle hotel in Mallow (where a helicopter took off from its vast front lawn while we waited for our food) and later had an expensive dinner in a castle hotel in Kittinny, where we spent the night -- getting there involved going through another town whose soccer game had just ended and had a huge traffic jam.

Today we went to Bend of the Boyne, a site featuring three large "passage tombs" from the Neolithic era, built about 500 years before the Pyramids in 3000 BC or so. Each one was a large mound under which archaeologists discovered a passage from the outside to an internal chamber containing human remains, much like the Pyramids. Unlike the Pyramids, the remains had been cremated instead of mummified. There was artwork on the stones inside and surrounding the mounds. The mounds had an amazing roof structure which has held up for 5000 years without any reconstruction -- the chambers are perhaps 20 feet high on the inside. One of the mounds is aligned with the sunrise on the winter solstice -- its chamber gets sun 5 days a year. They have a lottery for people to sign up to try to get to go see the sun when it enters the chamber each year. Between the Pyramids, this site, and Stonehenge, this is quite the Neolithic Tour.

We'll spend the next few days in Dublin, celebrating James Joyce, touring just generally, and figuring out what to do with the car whose parking space is no longer available.

Dave on 06.14.04 @ 01:50 PM PDT [link]

Saturday, June 12th

Two Excellent Dinners

Like I said in my last post, our first dinner in Ireland was nothing special, but it was certainly expensive. The last two dinners were also expensive, but they were much, much better.

Patrick Guilbaud is a French restaurant in Dublin. Basically, it's a little piece of France inside Dublin -- I don't know if you can count it as a restaurant in Ireland. Like restaurants in Guadeloupe, which use French chefs with local ingredients to make lobster in vanilla sauce, Patrick Guilbaud's French chefs make meals inspired by Irish traditional dishes. We had the "Sea and Land Menu", a nine-course succession of exquisite little tastes leaving us full but not uncomfortably so. All were impeccably executed, though some were in our view a little oddly conceived.

The first course was "oyster in stout jelly". An oyster was in a little glass filled with jelly made with and tasting strongly like Guinness, with oyster foam on top. Bitter is not really the best flavor to go with oysters, but the maitre d' assured us that oysters are very popular with Guinness in Ireland. It was followed by cockles and mussels (fortunately not alive, alive-o) in a nice cream sauce, and then by "bacon and egg", a little patty of cabbage-and bacon salad topped by slices of a terrine with crubbeen (braised pigs' feet, bacon, and smoked pork), with a quail egg on top.

The main courses were rabbit with mushrooms; fish and chips (which seemed a little saltier than they needed to be); and some perfectly cooked little pieces of lamb served with Irish "colcannon", mashed potatoes with parsley.

Dessert included a tray of candies; another little glass referring back to the oyster that was a white chocolate foam on top of a coffee/whiskey jelly; a little patty of lime mousse surrounded by strawberry slices topped with whipped cream; and five little pieces of chocolate.

We had four different glasses of wine which were excellently chosen by the sommelier.

It was definitely one of the best dinners we've ever had, and by far the most expensive -- $460 for the two of us including tax and tip. We'll see if the food we have in France proper can come close.

Last night we went to the Ballymaloe House, near the ocean outside of Cork. It's a respectable estate and golf course, and it's a cooking school, lodge, and restaurant. It had a prix fixe menu which was about half the price of the night before but which encouraged us to eat more than we actually could.

The opener wasn't on the menu -- a buffet of hors d'oeuvres which, as it turned out, on Fridays includes a bunch of local seafood brought in, including two kinds of mussels, oysters, smoked fish, smoked eel, smoked salmon, crab mayonnaise, lobster vol-au-vent, deviled eggs, and some salads.

The menu included a soup course, a main dish course (we had venison and cod) served with the new potatoes we'd seen advertised on roadside stands all the way there, a cheese course, and a dessert course. By the time we were finished we could hardly move. Perhaps the two half-bottles of wine didn't help.

The food preparation wasn't stellar like the previous night, but the restaurant did serve as an excellent showcase for the local seafood, vegetables, and cheese.

Anyway, enough about food. Yesterday we walked around the Powerscourt Gardens south of Dublin, 46 acres of formal garden that looked and smelled beautiful. It was your basic raincoat-and-sunglasses kind of day, with constant changes in temperature and precipitation as little rainclouds drifted in front of the sun.

Last night we stayed at the Sunville B&B, a house in a completely idyllic setting with rolling green hills in every direction, cows and chickens, and flowers and trees everywhere. If you're ever near Cork, go stay there -- the owners are very nice and the breakfast is great [oops...]

Today we head to Killarney and expect to see more idyllicly beatiful Irish countryside at every turn.

Dave on 06.12.04 @ 03:46 AM PDT [link]

Thursday, June 10th

The Most Expensive Country

The newspaper here in Dublin today had a front-page article mentioning that Ireland is the most expensive country in Europe when it comes to food prices. That certainly corresponded with our restaurant experience last night at La Stampa, which "Top 10 Dublin" rated as the #3 restaurant in the city. The bill was 145 euros, or about $170, including two appetizers, two entrees, two glasses of wine, one dessert, tax, and tip. The room was pretty dramatic, and one of the appetizers was really good, but nothing else was particularly spectacular; Ray said "a random night at Bistro Elan [in Palo Alto] is better than any restaurant in this country" and it would cost way less too. Oh well -- we have reservations at the #1 rated in the city tonight, and the #1 in the country tomorrow night -- hopefully we'll have sufficient funds to continue the trip after that. Also, it'll be pub food or something from then on, at least until we get to France...

Maintaining about the same level of expenditure for lodging, we've gone from the nicest hotels in Egypt to a modest little apartment in Dublin. We'll see how the B&Bs are as we drive around the country the next few days.

Right now Ray's in some Quaker library researching his ancestors, and I'm about to go exploring. I'll see if I can find a place which can fix my Opcode watch (its setting stem failed as I was changing time zones yesterday) and a thrift store where we can buy nice clothes for these nice restaurants (there's certainly no reason for us to overspend on clothes...)

Dave on 06.10.04 @ 02:49 AM PDT [link]

Tuesday, June 8th

A Successful Transit

Tonight is our last night in the Middle East, and our transit thus far has been quite successful.

Our first afternoon in Cairo was spent seeing a small part of the Egyptian Antiquities Museum, home of most of the contents of Tutankhamen's tomb (the more colorful of which many of you might have seen in 1977 on the "Treasures of Tutankhamen" US tour), and many other examples of Egyptian civilization from 3000 BC onward. One needs to spend days there to see all the rooms, let alone all the stuff in each room.

The next morning we saw the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx. You never see how close they are to hotels and houses in Giza -- Ray got a good picture of them emerging from the smog as we drove there. They're pretty timelessly amazing, though. We went inside the Great Pyramid, as many places as they'd let us. The camel ride salesmen there have adopted the tactic of asking you for your ticket as if they were official ticket checkers, helpfully explaining that that ticket entitles you to go in the neighboring tombs (which ultimately result in tips for the custodian who unlocks them and lets you in and tells you how special it is that he's letting you take pictures inside, even though it's not allowed).

And today we stayed at the hotel and watched Venus go in front of the sun. About 8:20 am, we started watching the sun in the telescope; a little bite was taken out of it until the entire planet was enclosed by sun. It went about a fourth of the way in and then went back out again -- the whole process took six hours. For about the last 45 minutes or so, we set the telescope up near the hotel restaurants -- many hotel staff and several tourists enjoyed looking at the little black hole in the sun. Be patient -- it'll happen next in the US in 2012.

Tomorrow we jump into the hyperspace of the airline system and emerge in Dublin, Ireland, hopefully accompanied by our luggage. We've gone out of our way to have Syrian food in Syria, Jordanian food in Jordan, and Egyptian food in Egypt, because those specific restaurant specialties are rare at home. Egypt especially has lots of good dishes which we'll have from time to time when we get home. But in Ireland and England, perhaps we'll have Indian or Chinese food, maybe French or Italian -- I'm not really that psyched by the concept of "Irish food" or "English food". Beer, on the other hand...

All in all, a successful transit of Venus, Egypt, and our Middle Eastern arc.

Dave on 06.08.04 @ 11:16 AM PDT [link]

Saturday, June 5th


Luxor is a small town. We're in Cairo now, so I can tell you that Luxor is a small town. It shuts down every afternoon, at least in the summertime. We totally got onto a siesta schedule, seeing stuff in the morning, sleeping in the afternoon, and seeing something else at night.

Luxor Museum is the nicest museum I've ever seen. It's small, but it sports the cartouche of an Italian architect by the door, and all the pieces in it are perfectly lit. They let you take pictures (without flash, of course). There are lots of statues from various temples and tombs, and various other collections of small objects mostly from Tutankhamen's tomb.

A short walk away is the Mummification Museum, similarly dark, with mummies of people and cats and a crocodile. Also, nice exhibits of the bottles which hold the internal organs removed before mummification, and the coffins that some mummies were stored in.

After the museums, we went to Jem's Restaurant, at the suggestion of the travel agent we booked a tour to the Theban Necropolis. It's a nice old restaurant at the other end of town. It had a reasonably standard Oriental menu [here, Middle East restaurants are called Oriental, Chinese are called Chinese]. There's an interesting somewhat obscure vegetable called molukhiyya they eat here and we asked them if they had it. They said no, but they could get it, and they'd fix us a totally Egyptian meal if we came back the next night, with okra, and Big Chicken, and Egyptian bread and Egyptian salad and Egyptian rice. We put down a deposit on the Big Chicken and agreed to come back a couple nights later.

The next day we toured the two temples on the east side of the Nile. The east side symbolizes life, so temples and palaces are located there. (The west side symbolizes death, and tombs are located there, including the Pyramids of Giza. If they were on the east side, they'd be the Pyramids of Cairo.) In the morning we walked around the massive Karnak Temple, a temple of the god Amun, his wife Mut, and their son Khonso. After we walked in, a guide offered to take us around. It seemed a little weird that he was only taking us to obscure places not in the guidebook, and was impatient with Ray taking pictures. Finally we paid him to go away. He did explain a few things, particularly the frequent image of Amun-Min, a god with one arm, one leg, and a respectable erect penis, not John Holmes really but calling him "min" was kind of a slam. The Egyptians were not into exaggerated bodies like the Y2K GI Joe Hulk. The Pharoahs, none of them had washboard abs, they all had kind of soft bodies by modern biochemical standards.

Anyway, there was some battle that all the men except one went off to, that man impregnated all the women in the village, the men came back and cut off his arm and leg. The gods explained to the men that this man had ensured another generation for this village, and made him a god. The temple has rooms with huge columns, two obelisks, a large pool, many statues, and carvings on every wall, the better ones bas-reliefs (with the images coming out of the wall), the "cheaper" later ones carved into the wall. We could have found several more guides and probably gotten several different interpretations of what each image meant.

Also all the pillars are penises, all the pillars in Egypt. They guidebooks go on about bundles of papyrus reeds but they are being coy.

That evening we went to Luxor Temple, the small temple in the center of town where Amun went from Karnak to visit Mut every year, resulting in a fertility festival for the whole town. It had one obelisk -- it used to have two but one was "given" to the French and stands in the Place de la Concorde in Paris. Many nice statues and wall illustrations, in nice sunset light. After dinner we got some pictures of the moon rising over it.

The next day we got up at 5:30 to go on a package tour of the west side, the Theban Necropolis. We saw the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens and Queen Hatsheput's temple. Much of the time was spent herding the crowd, and the guide was pretty simplistic, but it was interesting to go down into the tombs and see the style of decorations on the wall and the sarcophagi. We were talked out of seeing Tut's tomb, since all the stuff that was in it is in the Egyptian Museum here in Cairo anyway, which we'll go see tomorrow. Of course, the tour featured an annoying stop at an alabaster factory selling cheap schlock. The factory workers sang The Macarena in the impassioned style you see in movies where a drunk cowboy tells somebody to "dance". If the movie is made in a revolutionary country, the sons of the factory workers join some organization that teaches them how to assassinate tourists.

We returned to Jem's as arranged, where we were served an enormous dinner. Big Chicken is approximated by a duck but without fat and much more intense a flavor than Foster Farms duck. We managed to finish the duck, two bowls of molukhiyya, and most of the okra and other vegetables, but we were way too stuffed for dessert.

After a ten-hour train ride up the Nile Valley, which is nice and green unlike the Sahara (Arabic for desert) which surrounds it, we arrived in Cairo, where we'll see the museum, the Pyramids, and the Transit of Venus. More on all of that when it happens, shallah.

with editing by Ray...
Dave on 06.05.04 @ 11:45 AM PDT [link]

Wednesday, June 2nd

Back to Work

Well, the vacation in Sharm el-Sheikh is over, and we're back to the hard work of checking out ruins and museums and stuff in Luxor. Yesterday we were hotel-less for awhile -- we checked out in the morning, went on an "all-day" snorkelling trip to Ras Mohammed National Park, which had actual goldfish in their native environment, an eel, a dolphin swimming with many of the guests ("he has quite a willie"), and lots and lots of beautiful tropical fish swimming around a dying coral reef ("the reefs were much nicer in Eilat [Israel]" "When was that?" "Five years ago"). Then we had dinner, picked up our luggage, and went to the airport for the trip on EgyptAir on a plane marked Air Cairo which seemed to be new enough that we weren't too scared to get on it.

We're at the Hilton in Luxor, an aging out-of-the-way hotel which nonetheless is very nice. (Orbitz! $40! Yay!) Re FSOJ Tourism, the Hotel Breakfast Serves FSOJ! Even with a refill! We've got our pretty tickets for Saturday's train to Cairo, so now we can just trade off seeing ruins and staying out of the 100-degree heat. After this brief Internet Cafe session, we'll check out the hopefully air-conditioned Luxor Museum.

Luxor has so many things to see -- the Luxor Temple, the Karnak Temple, the Valley of the Kings, the Theban antiquities -- it'll be hard to figure out what to do in only three days. I'm sure we'll manage somehow.

Dave on 06.02.04 @ 02:04 AM PDT [link]