Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Ireland 2010 - Day 2

I woke up the second day really sore but excited to head out again on the trail.  The first item of business was to catch our horses who had wandered all the way up the hill over night.  It was quite a hike up there but the view was amazing.

We spent the morning riding over the ridge.  At the top, we could see the entire lake and valley we'd traversed the previous day.  It looked like such an impossibly long way to travel without a car.  I imagined I was a traveler in a past age on my trusty steed trekking across the country -- that is until I had to move aside for a car to drive past.

We spent most of the day in the forest.  I got a chance to step into it and enjoy its green moss and tranquil sounds during lunch.

The rest of the day was simply making distance in the forest which seems boring in concept until one realizes that making distances means going FAST and I love going FAST.  We rearranged our horses with the fastest in front and Kiki our guide made sure we couldn't keep up.  It was exhilarating tearing through the winding forest trails whizzing by trees, scattering rocks, and splashing through puddles at almost a full gallop.  The wind howled in my ears and the clapping of Cuchulain's hooves reverberated among the trees.

After we reached our destination we let the horses out onto the field...

and then we gawked as something completely nuts happened.  A large lorrie pulled up and our hosts led the horses into the back one by one and packed them in like Tetris pieces.  We didn't know you could do that with horses -- it's enough trouble getting them into large and empty trailer all by themselves.

We arrived at our bed and breakfast, took showers and were greeted with some rain, horses, and a famous Irish rainbow.

Dinner was both delicious and absolutely hilarious.  The young French girl performed card tricks for us.  Later, Mandy told some jokes and got us all singing songs from all our different countries at the dinner table.  Andrea, one of the Germans, realized that she knew almost as many French songs as the French and Belgians at the table!

And of course, after dinner there was the requisite pub + Guinness + traditional Irish music.  Ahh what a satisfying end to a satisfying day.

Here's a video I put together of my second day.

(link at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XbTCyrwpglg)

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Nissan Cube - Unexpectedly AWESOME

I took my car in to get serviced today and they gave me a loaner.  I was delighted when the Hertz guy turned from the pickup truck I usually get and opened the door of a Nissan Cube: http://www.nissanusa.com/cube/.  I've always loved the funky exterior styling but was skeptical otherwise figuring it was probably a simple econobox.  Boy what a surprise!  It's feels super roomy inside with its high roof, enough trunk space with a large swing-door hatch in the back so you can load all manner of odd-sized objects.  The interior is young-looking but still classy and the materials are quality (for this price range).  All the controls have a nice solid but soft click to them.  And it's jam packed with features: traction control, speed-sensitive stereo volume, adjustable steering wheel, steering wheel controls, song names on the radio, etc.

Most importantly, it's actually fun to drive!  It won't win any drag races, but it's impressively zippy in the low range and can scoot through the turns solidly.  I'm digging its focus and simplicity -- it accomplishes its mission of being young, fresh, and practical, yet stays safely away from any over-the-top 12-year-old-boy styling and is actually quite civilized.  Two thumbs up!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Ireland 2010 - Day 1

What do you do when you find out that you have a week off in between jobs?  Obviously, you book a trip to Ireland and clearly, you go there and ride horses.

It's probably one of the most spontaneous things I've done considering I booked everything just two weeks in advance.

On Monday night, I took a red-eye over to Ireland from New York and discovered Aer Lingus does not understand that you're supposed to sleep on a red-eye.  I guess it's their only flight so they spent all of it with the lights on selling me duty-free items and stuffing me silly with food -- which was nice, but really some sleep would've been nice too.

I landed at 6am in Ireland and hit the ground running (or cantering as it were).  The tour recommended I sit Tuesday out but the itinerary looked too good to pass up so I signed myself up.  They looked at me like I was crazy when I arrived, got dressed, and asked, "Hi!  I'm Albert.  Where's my horse?"

They handed me Cuchulain, an Irish draft/hunter/Connemara mix named after a legendary Irish hero.

In the morning we rode on some roads and trails through the country side where every inch was covered with luscious and irresistible green.

After several hours of riding, we stopped for lunch.

The horsies had their lunch too.

We grabbed ourselves some dessert from the local berry bushes (which grew everywhere like weeds!).

The afternoon was where the ride went completely off the hook (and why I pulled an all-nighter to ride this day).  We rode from the hill down into the valley and when the forest opened up, we found ourselves at a beautiful placid lake, Lough Graney.  We wound our horses around the shore until our guide Kiki pointed her horse straight into the lake and we all walked into the knee-deep water.  After a bit, we trotted, bounding up and down in gentle arcs as the horses changed their movement to get through the water.  Then Kiki asked, "Are we ready for a canter?"  "YES!!!"  And off we went cantering through the lake.  I have never experienced anything quite so exhilarating in my life.  We were flying through the lake with nothing but an expansive mirrored surface before us, wind blowing in our faces, and the splashing of hooves slicing a trail through the water behind us.  It was incredible.

After we were through, we looked back at the lake with amazement grinning from ear to ear and giggling nonsensically.  Such joy!

Then we wound our way through a forest, up a hill, and parked the horses in a pasture for the night.

We stayed at "the farm" (the An Sibin Riding Centre, their home base) that night and rested our tired bums (six hours of riding!!!).  I found out I was among a distinguished crowd: a British priest who said things that made even me blush, a well-off Scott who hated dirt and germs but rode horses and had a child, and a middle-aged Texan woman who'd watched Battlestar Galactica and said, "frack."  You can imagine just how entertaining the dinner-time conversation that night was!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Happy 1st Birthday Duncan!

Today is Duncan's first birthday!  Well, official birthday anyway.  He was probably born sometime between the 26th and the 28th, but the breeder didn't know (tell me about it), so I put 31st on his papers just to be safe.

I wanted to make it special for him so we went on three long walks instead of 1 short one and we even got to play in my friend's back yard for a while!  Then I went to Petsmart and came home with a truly irresistable treat.  He LOVES bully sticks and my friends and I HATE them because they really stink.  But today is Duncan's special day, not mine, so I got him the biggest bully stick I could find.

The second he saw that he went absolutely NUTS.  He finally managed to regain enough self-control to sit down, though he was shaking like crazy.

Finally, the handoff.  Happy Birthday Duncan!!!


Duncan liked it so much that when I told him to go to bed, he specifically ran back to grab it and take it to bed with him.  I've never seen him take anything to bed with him before.

I'm glad I could make my little boy so happy.  Tomorrow I scheduled a special play date with his favorite friend, Bear because playing with Bear is his favorite thing to do.  He's going to love it!