Saturday, September 27, 2014

British Isles trip, part 29: Best photos

I wanted to put into one place all of my favorite photos from the trip. I was going to put them in this post, but then decided that it would be better to put them into a slideshow on Google+. The link below will take you right to it. Then you can flip through them at your own pace.

I hope you have enjoyed my British Isles photos a fraction as much as I have enjoyed going through them and reliving some wonderful memories from the best vacation I've ever taken.

Best photos slideshow.

Friday, September 26, 2014

British Isles trip, part 28: Odds and ends 4

Bear with me--we're almost done.

Here's our whole tour group. Can you find me? Or Waldo?

(I'm not sure who to credit for that photo. Some passerby volunteered to take it so we could all be in the picture, then one of the tour leaders emailed it around.)

Slow down in the roundabouts. After all, whit's yer hurry? (Burgh of Girvan, on the western coast of Scotland, near where we took the ferry to Belfast.)

Scotland would very much like you to return for another visit:

Apparently, boys will be boys, in Scotland just as in the United States. I noticed this in a restroom:

My brother is the one who discovered this important archaeological find, on the beach in a little Scottish town where we stopped for lunch. It's obviously the original scale model the Druids used in planning Stonehenge.

Of course we alerted the proper antiquities authorities, and expect fame, glory, and riches to be coming our way soon.

Speaking of my brother, I love this picture that my sister-in-law Cyndie took of me and him in York:

Here's another thing I noticed only because of watching years of "Top Gear": the dreaded caravaners!

On the show, caravans and the people who tow them are a source of endless contempt because of how they clog up the roads on weekends and holidays.

Finally, here's a little video clip of a pair of fetching young women performing flute and harp at Loch Lomond. Their music is, well, not ready for prime time. But when playing the video to see if it was worth posting, I noticed a strange and interesting visual effect that I had accidentally captured. Apparently the frame rate on my camera is very close to some multiple or fraction of the vibration rate of some of the harp strings, so it looks like they're moving in slow motion. You can actually see standing waves on the strings after she plucks them. It looks like they're just completely slack, but of course if they were that loose, they couldn't vibrate.

Cool, eh?

All right, folks, that's the end of my trip pictures. Of course I have a bunch of my family, but I'm not going to post those here. If you really want to see them, they're in an album on the same site with the other "photo dump" links I've posted.

Tomorrow I will do one final post, consisting of what I think are my very best images from the whole trip, collected in one place.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

British Isles trip, part 27: Odds and ends 3

More unthemed, one-off photos.

This is Martyrs' Monument in St. Andrew, Scotland, just outside the famous golf course. It honors four Protestants who were burned at the stake in the 16th century by officials of the Catholic church for ghastly crimes such as owning a copy of the New Testament in English. But torturing and executing fellow Christians who have slightly different doctrinal beliefs is what Jesus commanded his followers to do, so we can't judge the Catholics too harshly. What? Jesus didn't teach that? Oh, I'm afraid I've been misinformed. Sorry about that.

But never fear. The Protestants eventually won. When they did, they desecrated the Catholic cathedral, also following the precepts of Jesus. Wait--what? Jesus didn't teach that, either? Man, I have got to brush up on this whole Christianity thing a little more. Anyway, here's what's left of the cathedral in St. Andrews:

While most of the rest of our tour group was off exploring St. Andrews, my father and I sat on a park bench, enjoying the beautiful weather and a local orchestra in the bandstand. Just for kicks, I decided to try the panorama feature on my camera. This was the result:

You can see how it distorts things, because that sidewalk is actually completely straight. For geographic orientation, the Martyrs' monument is just out of frame on the far right. (In fact, I took the picture of it from the same spot as I took this panorama.) If you open the photo in a new tab to get its maximum size, then look toward the left end of the panorama, you can see a six-legged dog on a leash. This is a rare breed, seen only in Scotland, the Highlands Hexapedal Terrier.

Sometimes a sign says everything that needs to be said. This one was in a little town called Bushmills, near Giants Causeway in Northern Ireland.

We had time to kill in Bushmills because the other coach had broken down, so we had to wait while the coach company sent a replacement out. The most famous thing in the town is its distillery, the oldest licensed distillery in the world, having been granted a license by King James (yes, he of the King James Bible) in 1608. I was excessively amused by the fact that an etching of the distillery's main building is featured on the Irish version of the five-pound note, and I that I could therefore stand there and look at the very building while simultaneously looking at the note:

Sadly, I couldn't figure out how to get to the same vantage point as the artist used. Oh well. I had considerable difficulty taking that picture, first because I had to fiddle with the camera to get an f-stop that would allow both the note and the writing on the building to be in clear enough focus to read them, and, second, because it was extremely windy, and the paper money kept flapping in the breeze. (I have a large number of version of this picture with the bill folded up, moving, or out of focus.)

I shot this picture from the window of our coach on the way to Glendalough. It appears that there is a disturbing amount of clear-cutting of forest happening on that hill. It's an ugly spot in an otherwise gorgeous stretch of countryside.

For you fans of Game of Thrones, here's Titanic Studios in Belfast, where they film many of the scenes:

This is one of the two massive cranes built by Harland and Wolff to make possible the construction of the Titanic and its sister ships (Belfast):

Our tour guide pointed out sights in Belfast that strongly suggest that "the troubles," far from being resolved by the 1998 peace accord, are actually roiling just under the surface. Here's an example:

I saw this article on Reason magazine's web site last week, which says the same thing, in more detail, if you're interested.

I didn't go to the interactive Beatles experience while we were in Liverpool because it cost too much and we didn't really have enough time to enjoy it properly. But I saw this nice display at the natural history museum in Dublin, which was almost as good.

Monuments like this one in Loch Lomond were all over the place, honoring the dead from World War I, World War II, or both.

It's nice to remember those who died in our wars, but it would sure be a hell of a lot nicer to just stop killing each other.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

British Isles trip, part 26: Dublin

Link to photo dump.

Dublin was the last city on our tour. It was from there that we flew back home.

We had been at Glendalough in the morning. In the early afternoon we went to the Trinity College library in Dublin to see the Book of Kells, which many consider to be Ireland's greatest treasure. No photos are allowed in that area, but we exited through the library's beautiful central room, where I stopped to take a few pictures:

Just outside the library, I noticed the dedication on this bench as we walked by:

I don't know who those people were, but I thought it was an admirable dedication. I hope that perhaps some people will think that true of me after I'm gone.

We had the rest of the afternoon free. Dad and I went to the National Museum of Ireland--Archaeology, then the National Museum of Ireland--Natural History. They were both interesting enough, though not exactly loaded with Kodak moments. However, I did feel compelled to document this pair of astonishing beasts:

Those are examples of Giant Irish Deer, also known as Irish Elk, Megaloceros giganteus. Those particular specimens were donated by the 4th Marquis of Bath in the late 19th century. These deer allegedly went extinct more than 7000 years ago, but I'm still a little frightened, because ya never know. Lots more pairs of these antlers are mounted near the ceiling all over this museum. Ireland must have been lousy with 'em.

The last picture I took with my new camera on this trip was this unremarkable shot of the bike-share bicycles in Dublin, and I only took it because I'm a fan of both bicycles and Coke Zero, which obviously sponsors the program:

I do have two more posts of odds and ends. Then I'll do one last post of what I think are the "best of the best" photographs I took.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

PokerNews article #32

This is an introduction to the nuts and bolts of poker tournaments in casinos:

British Isles trip, part 25: Glendalaugh

Link to photo dump.

Glendalaugh is the site of the ruins of a monastery/town founded in the 6th century, and mostly destroyed by the English army in 1398.

If you really want to see what's there, you'll have to use that Wikipedia link above, or Google it. We had less than an hour to explore, and I got so captivated by the cemetery that I saw almost nothing else. The cemetery is not nearly as old as the rest of the ruins. In fact, it's still in use for new burials. The oldest headstones I saw were from the 1700s. But something about the light and textures and shapes in the graveyard fascinated me, so I spent nearly all my time taking pictures of grave markers.

I just have to say: I love that last image. It was OK in color, but as soon as I pushed the "saturation" slider all the way to zero, the whole picture just jumped off the screen at me. I love the proliferation of shapes and angles and textures. I love how sharp the foreground is, with just enough blurring of the background to be realistic, but not so much that it's entirely lost. I love how discoloration pours down the face of the second stone. I love the haunting inscription, "Here Lieth the Body...." It's entirely possible that the picture's beauty is only in the eye of this particular beholder, but I don't care. It's one of my favorites from the whole trip.

Monday, September 22, 2014

British Isles trip, part 24: Dunluce Castle

Link to photo dump.

We had left Giants Causeway just minutes before, and I think most of us on the coach, looking at the schedule of what was next, saw "Dunluce Castle," and thought, with some degree of weariness and sarcasm,"Yippee, another castle."

And then we rounded a corner in the road and saw this:

Dunluce Castle.jpg
"Dunluce Castle" by Kenneth Allen - From Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

No fooling, we let out a spontaneous, coordinated, "Wow!"

This castle rises from the sheer cliff faces even more dramatically than Edinburgh Castle, Conwy Castle, or Stirling Castle--which is really saying something. My mind reels trying to picture the task of setting the foundation, using 13th-century technology. How the *&%^#$ did they do that?

I wish I had had time to walk far enough back up the road to get my own picture of that view, but I didn't.

I did, however, get a few decent shots while wandering around inside the ruins.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

British Isles trip, part 23: Giants Causeway

Link to photo dump.

A couple of years ago, I saw a photograph of Giants Causeway in a National Geographic magazine, and I stared and stared at it. I just couldn't believe that what I was seeing was a natural phenomenon. It looked so obviously carved by humans. I thought, "That's a place I need to see some day."

When my dad picked this particular tour, I didn't realize that Giants Causeway was on the itinerary. In fact, I didn't realize it until a few days before we left. So basically by pure coincidence, I got two items crossed off of my bucket list this trip (Stonehenge being the more obvious one).

That last image is a digital panorama I stitched together on my computer, rather than in the camera. I didn't do a great job of giving the software well-matched images to work with. But it's good enough for you to see that the formations of hexagonal basalt columns extends well beyond the highest concentration, which is in the couple of acres that we were exploring. You can see one large cluster in the middle of the cliff face. And one of the most picturesque clusters--much too far away for us to get to in the limited time that we had--can be seen protruding up from the left edge of the cliffs, about 2/3 of the way from the water to the top, though you may need to open the full size of the photo to see it. It's called the Chimney Stacks, and it's like a small version of Devil's Tower in Wyoming. (Devil's Tower, by the way, is the same type of geological formation: hexagonal basalt columns. See the close-up photo in the Wikipedia entry here).

If you hadn't had enough yet, look at some of the lovely photos of the area that National Geographic readers have submitted, here.