WHERE'S CHUCK NOW?

Chuck Herman, former Blackbeard's and Cat Ppalou captain, and rubber boat captain in the Grand Canyon, continues his adventures across Europe in 2012.

January 29 - Sunday

And I am off again. This time I am off to Ireland to visit with one of the friends that I met up with in New Zealand, Helen Mooney. We'll miss you Cory.

I am sitting in the Philadelphia airport after a nice discussion with a Boston University Professor on how students are graded and how they, the teachers, can make it better... I hope she never reads this; one class she teaches is English writing. Oh, boy! She was at a conference in DC with a bunch of other professors and just had to get out after two days. She wished me the 'Luck of the Irish' and a fun time in Ireland while she went off to cold Boston.

Funny thing, while landing here the captain made the final approach call to buckle up and fold seat back and all that stuff, the lights came up while the flight attendants collected the cups and papers and the windows got a reflective view of the inside of the plane without blocking the outside totally. While I looked at the stranger in the window - Oh, that's me! - the lights of Philly went by below and I was surprises to see the ground landing lights flashing out there in two rows of red. Now the funny thing is they stayed with us while the ground below flew by. What the h...? I pressed my face to the window and barked a laugh that startled the women two seat away. Those red lights were the airplane's wing tips and I felt good that they were staying right with us.

We landed nicely and with a gentle thud rather than the Bahamas Air style which is normally a screeching, rattling, shaking, plane coming apart crash. A controlled crash is the aeronautical term, I think.

So they are calling the first boarding group, first class... Hey! I could have been part of them for six hundred more bucks on a seven hundred dollar ticket! Good thing I'm a little guy... we'll see how I fare.

So I'm here in Philly, we are boarding for the Ireland leg, and a note to all. Like the cross country bike ride, if you don't want this tell me, or just nuke it when it comes. For those of you that asked for it... Wow! Why? Is it really all that good? I hope it meets whatever the reason you have. I will try to take time to read through it and make the spelling changes so the teachers will not be able to use it for a lessons on how not to write!

Thanks for reading and writing.
            -     Where's Chuck again.


January 30 - Monday

Well, I spent the night in a seat that would not recline at all, so I am very stiff, but I did spend a lot of time standing and walking around. USAir could take customer service lessons from New Zealand Air. They also need to fix the seat I was in 'cause I had to beat the light off!

Anyhow, looking out the window of the plane as we landed in Dublin I could have thought we were in Buffalo, it was so cloudy. But as soon as I spoke to someone I new I was not in Buffalo. Customs was a breeze and I headed for the door with my bag over my shoulder. My great friend Helen met me at the doors of the airport, and what a surprise, her mom came with her.

The ride to Kilkenney was accompanied by an explanation of the new roads and the difference between a round-about and the larger highway exchange we were on now. They don't use a cloverleaf here, they use a cross over system.

The Mooney house is an incredibly warm and welcoming place, starting with Oz, who is having trouble not jumping on folks. But he is a welcoming fellow. Inside the house is full of great stories, loads of laughs and great food. The laughing I was able to join in right off, the food I dug right into, the stories had to be repeated a time or two. That in itself was a few of the laughs!

After a short nap, we ate again, then off to the 'pitch' in the pissing rain for a hurling match. Now, me not being from here, Helen's mom decked me out in the warm wear and for Harry, her husband, she did nothing.

An explanation might be in order. A "pitch" is a field the game of hurling is played on, and 'pissing rain' well you can figure that out. It was cold and mom had me in a pair of old boots and a jacket that was a few sizes to big, but in the end was very warm. Harry went off with street shoes and after the hour match in the rain was very cold to say the least. May I explain hurling?

Hurling in a game played on a pitch, a field larger than a football field kind of like a soccer field and each player has a hurl, a flat stick that's about 3 1/2 feet long, sorry metric... Ah, 1 meter long, ending with a flat round paddle. The ball, about the size of a baseball, is made of cork with a leather wrap and its seam is razed in almost a ridge around the ball. They are made large enough that if hits a player in the eye it hits the socket not the eye itself, although all players wear a hockey helmet now.

I think there are fifteen players on a side, running around hitting, catching, tossing, throwing, kicking... just about anything goes in this game, even running with the ball on the hurl with its flat paddle end. To score get the ball to the other end of the pitch and hit it either through the goal post or into the goal. Picture hockey on a grass field. The match I saw was played by a bunch of local guys that have other jobs and lives.

The town, or in this case the county, is behind these guy 110%. How there are not more broken fingers is beyond me. One player will jump to catch the ball while someone else is swinging the hurl to hit it away. Everyone falls to the ground and the ball will rolls out and off they go hitting, kicking, passing, swing and trying to pitch the ball up till someone hits it through the uprights. Ah! One point! Three points if it goes in the goal.

It all looked very unorganized and with no rules, but there are rules and it is very organized.

Then of course the fans get together and talk about the game afterword and have a 'Pint', or two, or three. You get the idea. This was my first taste of Guinness... Ahee! We created a monster, have ya.

Tomorrow night local music.


January 31 - Tuesday

A day in the town of Kilkeney.

Helen showed me around the castle that the town is named after. It went through a few battles in its time, but like all the history over here, time has turned out to be its toughest battle. As it stands today, missing the north wall after a fire and war. It is being returned to its former glory that they are basing on bits of hand painted wall paper found behind a piece of door molding and rebuilding a library from a black and white picture. There are still pictures hanging that have hung on the same wall for 100 years.


Kilkenney Castle

Kilkenney Castle


It has been owned by one family for most of time it has stood. A few years ago it was sold to the Irish government. They made changes and use some of it for offices, but some of it, like the photo gallery, are open to the public.

The town itself is as old as the castle; it has narrow streets and of course small cars. Small cars are all over Ireland. The buildings are narrow and there are small alleys that lead up through some of the buildings under archways. The ladies would say cute little shops, and as the guys would smile, lots of bars... pubs.

I was told to have a Guinness here, for it will taste much better than what I could get in the Bahamas or the states. Bill did not lie. Now I will have to have one back home; well I will have a few more here to be sure I have the flavor instilled.... or maybe distilled in my brain.

Yesterday in one pub for a pint, yep - Guinness, I was invited to whistle. Just pick up a tune and whistle, 'cause I said I couldn't sing. As most of you know me as a whistler, you would find it funny that I was not able to bring up a tune to whistle. But we were entertained by the patron with a few songs of Ireland old, and some that he has written himself, all for the price of a pint!

I finally found myself whisting a tune later in the night!


February 1 - Wednesday

The day started late, but that was okay. Helen, my incredible and lovely guide to the old land, drove us to an old abbey, Jerpoint Abbey. As you can see in the photo, you have to use your imagination to fill in the open spaces... like the roof.

Helen should have smacked me with one comment of mine, "This place would be really cold".


Jerpoint Abbey

Jerpoint Abbey


Looking around, my imagination had not filled in the space. "This would have had a roof and these would have glass in the windows". Oh, right! They did have glass and now I see there would have been a wall all the way... You get the picture.

We got lucky in respects this day. It was the first Wednesday of the month and admission was free! Then we made it to the next place just before they closed, and hey it's Wednesday!

Rock of Cashel is a castle turned abbey which, if I remember right, is how a lot of them work. Or maybe the other way around. They are doing some big fixing-up on this one. These places are huge and to think they went up by men pulling on ropes, and scaffolding that was tied together!


Rock of Cashel

Rock of Cashel


Hammer and chisel were the tools of the day after the stone was brought in from some other place far away. Some of these places were built by 'dry fitting' the stones. That meant a perfect fit. And it was done at the bottom of the wall so an attacking army couldn't remove the mortar and make the wall fall. They just don't make them like they used to!

Looking at one part of a smaller building, I saw these steps going up the gable on the same plane as the roof. It turns out there is a walkway on the other side of the roof you could see from where we were. The 'steps' are exactly that, steps to cross to the walkway where the building can be defended. It would have been quite easy to defend, also. The building was built right at the edge of a drop off, so there was no climbing up that wall!

Then back to the Mooney house for an incredible meal. Helen's Mom could be a chef on the Aqua Cat any time. I have not lost any weight being here.


February 3 - Friday

This day started a bit slow. Helen, myself and her dad - great guy, just don't try drinking at his speed - met up with a friend of hers at a bar in Kilkenney last night to see some local boys in their band. Great stuff.

Na Fianna is the name of their group and they do traditional Irish music with a modern day play to it. They won a local music gig, got some play time, and came to the US for a few months. They were real good and I do remember most of the show. Remember me saying that I would have a pint or two more of Guinness? Well, I had a few more, then a few more, till...

This morning I was to catch a ride with Helen's sister back into Kilkenney to look around some more and just couldn't do it. So I spent the day listening to Helen's two nieces run around. It might have been better to go to town.

I did check out the old church in her front yard though. Some of her dad's ancestors are in the graveyard there. The place has no roof and part of a wall is missing. Helen says that a guy named Cromwell, just one of the many raiders of this land, bombed the place many, many years ago. So they are trying to fix it up to keep there history alive.

It sounds like there are as many churches and castles gone as there are still standing. Some of the ones standing are just standing. But it was fun to see what was still there and to think of what it must have been like so many years ago.

Tomorrow it is off to Dublin for the night and on to Amsterdam to visit, Helen... the other Helen.

I can't say 'thank you' enough to the Mooney folks for all the warmth they have given. Helen please tell your folks again. And to Helen herself, for driving me around and taking me on hikes and telling me about the things I was seeing for I would not have come here to this historic country if she had not so openly welcomed me. I hope I haven't worn her out. I hope I can show her and her family around my neck of the woods some day.

Thank you again and again. It will be great to see you again on the boats.


February 4 - Saturday

I haven't been on a U.S. Greyhound Bus in a few years, but the bus I rode today would shame the ones that I remember. It was much more comfy than any airline seat I've been in over the last few years. So you might have guessed I rode the bus from Durrow to Dublin this morning - after thanking the Mooney family for there great hospitality and saying, "See you later!" rather than "Good By". Great people!

The bus made its way uneventfully, stopping at a few other towns along the way. Not much to see through the foggy windows while it rained outside, good day to travel. The bus rolled me right into Dublin's' City Center. Once here in Dublin I started with a visit to a tourist trap and found it most helpful. I was given a map and was not expected to buy anything! "We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto."

They have these tour busses that run around the city; 'Hop-on Hop-off' they call this one. They stop at 21 of the big tourist attractions: the National Museum, the Wax Museum, the hot spot, St. James Gate - better known as The Guinness Storehouse. You know that beer I keep hurting myself with? Then, if that is not enough, get on the bus and two stops later get off and stop by for the Old Jameson Distillery; that's whiskey folks. Then stop by the Kilmainham Gaol. Ah, that's a prison with a history of the Irish Independence struggle. I want to do this one. You can even visit their city hall, and if you have the kids that day, stop by the Dublin Zoo. Guess I will pass on that one, got no kids.

So, in a preamble to seeing all this, I rode around on the top deck of the bus even though it had rained. I later wished I had moved down inside when there was a long stretch of open road. Nose running, ears numb, eyes watering; it reminded me of toboggan run at... What's that place? Ah! Chestnut Ridge!

The driver of the bus was a hoot; having fun with some guys from England 'cause there is a big rugby tournament going on this week. Six Nations, I think it is called. It's all European teems and it is now down to the last six. It hurts just watching these guys. Ireland has a very good chance to do in England so there was a good bashing on the English guys who fought back, although I don't think the driver down below could hear them. We on the top had a good laugh though.

Then in my usual fashion, I went looking for my hotel. Only now I found that there are very few street signs, and of coarse the ones I found seemed to be pointed in the wrong direction. You need to get on the street before you can see what street you're on. You might find them on the wall of someone's yard or they might be on the wall of the building that is on that corner.

Funny thing, I've heard this before about traveling! Pull out a map and you will get all kinds of advice. So I was laughed at, laughed with, sent back and forth, over one block down two, left at the bus stop and so on. Some gave me directions as they walked away - facing away - and all I got out of it was, "tu... rlit..." and a wave kind of point. Okay!

Then of course there is the Irish accent. One woman knew her way around and gave great direction, I guess, but I had to have them translated by someone else 'cause, well, maybe the translator had the right directions. Silly American, can't you hear English!

And so ended my day. Dinner and a pint! Yep, the Guinness is just as good as it was two nights ago.

Off to Amsterdam in the morning!

Thank you again, Helen of Ireland and your family.

Hello, Helen of Amsterdam!


February 5 Sunday

AmsterDAM it's cold!

This town has all kinds of canals; they are frozen over and people are skating on them.


Amsterdam Canal

Amsterdam Canal


I flew in on Sunday leaving behind the other Helen and her family of great people. It was cool there compared to what I flew into. I had said something earlier about Ireland being like Buffalo... well Amsterdam is much more like Buffalo.

This is the first time in 15 some years that they have had snow and there was six inches of it, and I had to come now. I had started to wonder why I had brought the cold wear along. Not any more.


February 6 - Monday

First Helen - Amsterdam Helen - and I road tripped to Ghent, a little town south of Amsterdam by 3 hours. This town could have come out of the pages of a book on the middle ages. If it wasn't for the cars on the corner you might expect to see a knight on a horse come around the corner. There is a castle, I could have sworn I could hear the horses clumping through the stone entryway. Of course the glass doors that you go through to pay the entry fee was a bit out of place, but I guess it was better than having to sword fight my way in.

Back in Amsterdam awaits the Heineken experience. Spending an hour walking around the place was not only cool, but it was warm in there. They still have horses that deliver the beer around town. Each horse gets a day or two off each week and a two week vacation in a green meadow to run around and frolic. These are the same type of horse that knights used to go riding into battle with years ago. It was the only thing that could carry them and their armor.

Heineken used square bottles at one time, so folks might use them to build their house or at least maybe a wall, how about a window. You might pay a lot of money for that glass bottle window today, but at one time you just had to drink a lot of beer... and the problem?


Square Bottles

Square Bottles


Amsterdam has cheese also, and there is a cheese shop to taste a lot of it. Goat cheese with red pepper made me stand on my toes, but the one with mustard was not all that great. It tasted like... mustard. Nothing I liked enough to bring back to the Bahamas.

So just a few more days. Tomorow back to Dublin Ireland and the Guinness brewery!

Thank you Helen in Amsterdam for the warm indoors. Hope it warms up for ya.


February 7 - Tuesday

In Amsterdam, Helen put me on a train to make the plane and it all work out well. I made my plane. Thank you Helen.

After the plane I made the bus... That doesn't go as well, but it is how it worked out. The hotel I was booked at said there was a stop right at their place. There is not any more 'cause that bus is no longer in service at the airport. So I took a different bus and was dropped off a few blocks away to wander, while I wondered what street I was on, to find the hotel. Once again, some folks here don't know what the streets are called. Even a cabby - he could tell me how to get to the hotel, but he was not sure what street it was on. But it was a nice wander,


February 8 - Wednesday

The next day started with another wandering to find a tour bus stop. After that I rode the bus to a park called Merrion Square, across the street from Oscar Wilde's birth place. In the park they have a memorial for him with some of his more famous quotes. Then I walked to the Dead Zoo (Treasures of the Natural History Museum). It is one of the oldest of its kind in all of Europe. It is my first to see a rhino. They are very big!


Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde


Then it was on to the Guinness Storehouse. This place is big. It is funny that the founder was given the property for a nine hundred year lease for a few pounds. Guinness, which is the largest selling stout beer in the world, started as an ale. Only when all the local boys were having a pint of stout that had been imported from England did some local breweries start making it themselves. Guinness finally decided to make only "The Black" and has never turned back.


Guinness Storehouse

Guinness Storehouse - The 900 Year Lease


They had an old movie on how the "Cooperage" - wood kegs - were made. All the tools are still there and part of the old foundry is still there. Guinness had their own fleet of ships to get it exported, also. It is a full day wander and it can end with a Pint at the top of the whole place with a 350 degree view. No one wanted to talk about the fact that they call it a 365 degree view when you can't see through... ah forget it. I lost the argument there also.

I know I said I wanted to make it to the Kilmainham Gaol, but the Guinness place was really neat so I never made it there. Sorry, someone else will have to tell us about it. Dublin is full of places to see. Helen of Ireland was right, I should have planed more time for it. Maybe next time.


February 9 - Thursday

Last night! I walk around Temple Bar, an area of Dublin that is all bars, coffee shops and little stores, all inside four or five blocks. Up one alley there were some guys just sitting out playing tunes with a huge crowd around them. There was some kind of live band or group in most of the places. It wasn't till the last one I went into that I found you can by a half pint! Wow, have to watch for that next time.


February 10 - Friday

It is Friday night, I am back in Fort Lauderdale and it is warm here. After a long day that started at 2:00 a.m., stateside time, I am here. The morning came earlier than I wished. I found the bus to find a plane that got me here tonight. So that ends my travels for this time. Hope you all enjoy them. Now get yourselves out there and do some yourself!

Love you all.