Beer, Craic, Whiskey and music

Ah, Dublin.

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Discovered in a design shop. Herge’ would be so proud.

Being a fan of Irish pubs, I considered a visit to Dublin as mandatory on this trip. Almost like a pilgrimage to the promised land of stout beer and jigging music.

Dublin did not disappoint. As with all fabulous European cities, cool buildings abound.

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I’m almost numb to historic architecture now
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Well, okay, not actually numb yet. Beautiful.
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Impressive entry way

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There is a large and very busy shopping thoroughfare, with a surprisingly modern tram system.

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Fancier than most

And, for some reason, the world’s largest needle.

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Skydivers beware

Legend has it that the IRA blew up the monument that used to be there, and the town held a contest for what to replace it with. I suppose something that is all smooth, polished steel makes it harder to attach something like a bomb to.

Further walking around can reveal some interesting eccentricities. Like this display set up on the man taxi thoroughfare.

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The Taxi driver’s savior

So after a day of wandering, I wanted to check out local culture. By this I mean beer. What better way to do this than by visiting the source? Right: to the Guinness Storehouse it is!

The area leading up to this is very clearly blue-collar, working class neighborhoods. It’s all brick: the cobblestone streets, the buildings, walkways, probably even the plumbing, furniture, and children: all brick. When you actually amble up to the Storehouse, it can be a bit imposing.

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The Gates of Guinness. Not as imposing as the Gates of Mordor.
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A bridge to Guinness.

Taking the tour was in heavy contrast with the working class surroundings. Everything is modern, polished, glass and steel, and strangely formal. They take themselves very seriously here. You go through the process they use to make Guinness and the videos that play along with the plaques describing what you are seeing remind you over and over again how seriously each ingredient is treated (special strain of barley! Special blend of yeast! Water from the Wicklow mountains that the founder was willing to lay down his life to maintain access to!). There are video walls with characters in period clothing telling stories of the founder and what a great and phenomenal man he was, and his wife and kids as well.

It could have used a drop of humor. Or modesty.

Still, you can tell they put a lot of time and money into making this a premium experience. For example, at one point where the tour is talking about the water they use, you walk under a waterfall that flows over a glass roof. A cool moment set to feel like you are in a dark cave. My camera’s low-light performance leaves a little to be desired here.

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Curse my camera’s lack of flash!

You do get to learn some cool stuff, like how they started making stout in the first place, and how the famous foreign stout came to be (added triple hops since they are a natural preservative and the stout needed to endure three weeks or more at sea). Eventually you reach the seventh floor, and the whole culmination of the journey: a pint fresh from the source.

So the coolest part of the tour is absolutely the Gravity Bar: a room at the top made of glass with a 360 degree view of Dublin. You get to enjoy your pint of fresh, creamy, dark goodness while taking in Dublin from a great vantage point.

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Dublin as seen from Guinness

And from here, you get a reminder again just how huge the Guinness Storehouse is.

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Foreground: still all Guinness Storehouse.

Still, my favorite picture from the tour was this one seen upon leaving for the day.

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Stop pouring Guinness on the servers! They obviously don’t like it.

The following day, in addition to my ambulations around town, I decided that since I’d seen the source of the most famous Irish beer, I should (in all fairness) experience the source of the most famous whiskey. I wouldn’t want to be unfair. It’s for science’s sake, really. So, off to Jameson’s Distillery.

Turns out, they moved the actual distillery. But touring the old distillery was cool.

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Aptly named “old” distillery: not made here anymore.
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Chimney of the Gods

This tour is in direct contrast to most things about the Guinness tour. It’s a guided tour, so there’s more of a human element to it, and a few more instances of self-deprecating Irish humor sprinkled throughout. The building itself is well preserved but obviously ancient construction.

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Less polished, more “real”. Very cool.

During the tour you’ll learn everything you need to about whiskey, and see all the old equipment they used to make the stuff for hundreds of years.

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Little known fact; Jameson comes from small spaceships

They will ask for volunteers in the group, and if you are fast you can be chosen as one of the eight from the group to be official taste testers. I am very fast. If your are chosen, then at the end of the tour in addition to the free glass of Jameson everyone gets, they have you sample American (represented by ol’ J.D.), Scottish (Johnny Walker Black) and Jameson.

All but one of our group selected Jameson as the bestest. I was not that lone and misguided dissenter.

Having cleared out the two most famous Irish drinking exports, more ambling around town was required. This was also a good way to work through four shots of whiskey. Standing on the street corner I was concerned that the mixing of whiskeys was messing with my vision as I beheld a giant yellow monstrosity filled with people in Viking helmets. In Seattle we have these amphibious tours running as we wall them the Seattle Ducks. Here they theme it around Vikings. ‘Cause when in Ireland, I always think “Viking”, right? No? Yeah, I don’t know why then.

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Irish Viking Ducks

There are many places around town that I found street art had been used to good effect, which made me happy.

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Good street art makes most things better.
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Just ’cause your place is closed, doesn’t mean it can’t be awesome.

And back near the heavily tourist part of town (Temple Bar area), street art of a different sort. I watched this guy meticulously paint tiny details into a corner of his picture and wondered briefly what he does when it starts raining.

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Street art, except literal.

Also, ran into a sculpture that made me pretty happy. Didn’t find out what the significance of this running horse was, sadly.

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Coolest horse sculpture ever? Yep.

Also, there’s sections of Dublin that have clearly gone through a bit of an upgrade. Not sure if it’s well received or not due to the number of bodies present (or lack thereof).

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New town. Seems a bit… deserted.

In any case, when it doubt, strolling around Dublin, hanging out by the river is sure to get you some lovely views.

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The river Liffey.

There are many cool little shops to visit as well where you can buy anything from local made foods, local crafts, to blatantly touristy things. My favorite shop by far was the one where I found the Tin Tin design at the start of this post:

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Source of awesome stuff

It’s a tiny shop, but found within is layer upon layer of awesome. Just a few samples:

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I probably need this sign in several forms. T-shirt, poster, bumper sticker…
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It’s good to have a dividing line to group things by.

But eventually night will fall and you will require proper sustenance. Which means it’s time to really check out the proper Irish pub.

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Early evening, when things are still going your way.

Since I’m rather unfamiliar with Irish food (other than Shepard’s Pie), I just ordered things at random. Full Irish Breakfast at 9pm? Sure, why not? The waitress laughed at me, but I like to think she admired my pioneering spirit. Other dishes just sounded intriguing, like “Coddle”:

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Coddle, in Ireland, means a potatoe-y soup with sausages in it.

And it seems a pint of Guinness is mandatory with every meal. Or a half-pint if you are a wee girl-man (or, in fact, a girly-girl)

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A wee baby draught for ya laddie!

Along with your meal, you will invariably have live music playing. And after the meal. And well into the early hours of the morning. Music is pretty much omnipresent here, and as I would come to learn it’s just a strong part of Irish culture. If you are in a tourist part, this will take the form of a cover band, and they come in all shapes and sizes: from a lone dude with a banjo, to four guys crowded on a stage, and everything in between.

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Guitarist with a headbanger backup.

However, if you are in a touristy place with cover bands, you will come to hear several things repeatedly:

  • Wagonwheel
  • Black Velvet Band
  • John Denver (who knew he was big in Ireland?): Jet Plane, Country Roads, Country Boy
  • Johnny Cash: Folsom Prison Blues
  • Fields of Athenry
  • Whiskey in the Jar
  • Seven Drunken Nights

Strangely, even after multiple hearings per night, I’m not sick of any of these. Would still happily plop myself down in a good pub and yell myself hoarse singing along. Good times.

However, don’t limit yourself to one pub! Go wandering a try a few. You may run into all manner of folk out drinking. Young and old, man and woman, local and foreigner, they are all out doing the same thing in Dublin.

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Touristy district is touristy

You may even run into more “colorful” folks.

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I think she was explaining how embarrassed they were to find they each wore the same thing to the party.

A note of caution here.  Drinking is kind of a national sport.  Some people are good at it.  Some are maybe still practicing.  Some probably just shouldn’t play.  Example: at about nine thirty one night I watched a man in his late 40’s stumble to the bar, acquire a whiskey, drink said whiskey, then discretely and calmly lean over, arm still on the bar for support and proceed to vomit on his shoes.  For a good thirty seconds or so.  His pal eventually came to collect him an lead him away from the bar.

In happier news, music is pretty much everywhere here, and street corners are fairly bursting with buskers (which would be a grand name for a band, by the way).

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Buskers: younger every year. This band looked to be about twelve.

However, if you come to Dublin, you owe it to yourself to experience the more traditional side: traditional Irish songs, and Irish dancing. One good way to start this is to take part in a “traditional Irish Music Pub Crawl”. This takes you around to three different quiet pubs, led by two local musicians who will take time to explain the history of songs, instruments, language, dance, and more. I highly recommend you start with this instead of doing it late in your visit like I did. From this one experience, the musicians will give you a far better appreciation for the different styles and will point you to local pubs that host traditional music and dancing so you can continue to go enjoy this stuff.

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Traditional.

So, in summary, Dublin is a blast.  Things to love about Dublin:

  • Music is everywhere
  • Cool, beautiful, historic town
  • Good food
  • Friendly people
  • People love a good night out (some maybe a bit too much…)

Things to not like about Dublin

  • Weather.

Seriously: want to look like a tourist? Put on shorts in the middle of August and walk around. You will be the only one. I went into two stores to confirm that they don’t even sell the bloody things here.

Still, with the amount of fun you will have in Dublin, the weather isn’t even a thing. Enjoy.

Get a job, hippy.

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When I started this trip, I earmarked October as a potential end.  Back to being gainfully employed.  A grown up, once again.  Figuring that it will take a couple months or more, the time is now ripe to be looking for what is next.

And the strange thing is, I’m not panicked by this thought.  Nope, turns out I’m excited to get back to work.  If time off recharges your batteries, mine are pretty much at max capacity.

So the question is: what’s next?

My fantasy at the start of all this was that I would discover a whole new career to follow.  I gave myself every opportunity for this: travel to foreign lands.  Free time to discover new things.  Freedom from any expectations.

So while I’ve traveled I’ve talked to a lot of people and imagined myself in many different roles.

Teach English in Spain?  Well, that would be pretty cool.  And I could practice my fledgling Spanish.  But the pay is pretty poor, and English is a weird language.  Spending my day trying to explain why prepositions change in seemingly arbitrary ways sounds a bit sketchy.

Write on a beach in Mexico?  Well I do love writing.  Love it.  One this trip I have finished a novel and started a second one (as well as kept up this blog thingy).  I will keep writing regardless of what job I take.  But I remember when I was in Mexico, I didn’t make any progress on my novel at all.  I think I would too easily fall into the relaxing lull of Mexico and just end up drinking beer and feeling my toes in the sand.  Not that there’s much wrong with that.

Sling beer in Dublin?  Well, I did see this posted at one of the local pubs:

A career in beer?
A career in beer?

But I have a total of zero years experience.  Plus that sounds like a recipe for a really unhealthy lifestyle overall.  Other options: a taxi driver in London.  Or a dive instructor in Mexico.  Or a haggis maker in Edinburgh.

All excellent options.  Well, maybe not the haggis one.  Regardless, while looking at all these options, I also discovered that there are things that I absolutely love about the work I left.  I love working with a team of people creating something.  A healthy, motivated team pushing towards a common and challenging goal is pretty much unbeatable as far as work goes.  And to get paid along the way?  Bonus!

To put it another way: when I was working on Forza, there were massive challenges to simultaneously  build a world-class game while changing all the production methods for the studio.  I got to work with some of the finest people in the business solving these problems, and the end result was fantastic.  It was exhausting and amazing and rewarding.

When I was working on Project Spark, again we had crazy challenges: build a game where an average person with no training can create anything they want: games, movies, playgrounds.  In addition we had to build a team from scratch.  Kind of like building a house and foundation at the same time.  It was scary, hard, and exhilarating.  Arguments and debates were frequent, the direction changed almost daily as we tried to find the “right” thing.  Failure loomed around the corner every day.  Here again I got to work with some of the finest humans I’ve had the pleasure to interact with, and that experience is irreplaceable.

Now as I consider what is next, I would love to have more of what I enjoyed in past work experiences, and less of the (for lack of a better word) bullshit.  Corporate layers of bureaucracy.  Inefficient and inflexible structures.  Power struggles.

So what does that look like?  Well, I’m going to take some time to investigate.  Culture matters in a huge way for me now.  A good team in a fun environment working on something that will make people and the world better is the ideal.

I began my investigations about two weeks ago.  Just sent out a few tentative feelers to see what might be out there through people I know.  I didn’t feel ready to really start the job search in earnest, still being in the throes of traveling, but I could see October peeking at me on the horizon, and know that these things take time.

I was also rather hesitant how I might be received in the hiring world now.  A middle-aged dude who just dropped everything to go  traveling for months on end?  Really?  You wanna hire this guy?

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The reception was far warmer than I could have possibly expected.  My last boss at Amazon contacted me immediately.  A friend at Nike pulled me in for a quick chat about a potential awesome position there while I was in Portland for the wedding.  A company in Cambridge wants to fly me out for interviews.  And it continues.

It’s all rather sudden.  And exciting.

I realize now I’m in the perfect position for job hunting.  I can take a job anywhere in the world, so my hiring pool is vastly expanded.  I am not in dire straights financially so I can take my time to find something that excites me.  I can even take a temporary gig if I want, as I have no fear of unemployment now.

Bring it on, world.  Let’s see what’s out there.

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Inspiration to do amazing things with your life

In looking for inspiration about what I can and should do with my life, the “Remarkable Misfit’s Manifesto” is ridiculously inspiring.  While I don’t feel the urge to follow him and set up a company in Africa, everything he writes shakes up my view of what I’m doing with my life.

Hopefully it can do the same for you.

The misfit: http://aj-leon.com/pursuitofeverything/the-life-and-times-of-a-remarkable-misfits/

Imposter

A friend is doing a talk about “Imposter Syndrome“, which is a fancy term for the feeling that you are totally out of your league in your job, making stuff up and it’s only a matter of time before some official person discovers you and says “Hey, who let you in here?” at which point you will sheepishly apologize and leave before they throw you out.

So she asked a lot of people for their experiences with this, and it reminded me I’ve had this feeling often throughout my career.  I meant to write a short note about this, but I seem to have a problem with brevity.  Since I wrote it up, figured I might as well put it here as well.

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My first experience with “imposter syndrome” was when I was hired at my first real job, which was cleaning a meat room, washing blood off the walls, wiping bone dust off the saws, etc.  I was fifteen and at the time I couldn’t figure out why they would trust a kid to this kind of responsibility.  Surely this place needed to be professionally cleaned.  After all, this was people’s food we were dealing with.  I could barely pick up my clothes and comics at home, I couldn’t possibly be trusted to clean and disinfect all the equipment and surfaces properly, enough for this business to keep running.

Each new job after that I experience some of the same feeling, but gradually in lesser amounts.  After all, I was now an experienced employee; I knew what made a good worker.  Be on time.  Work diligently and thoroughly.  Do what your boss tells you.  Punch in, punch out.

Then I landed my first job in computers.  In this case, it was totally true: I was absolutely an imposter.

See, I went to college to study art, hoping to be an illustrator.  When I decided I didn’t like the term “starving artist” (I took issue with the first word), I tried a number of different things: biology, criminology, psychology, pretty much anything with an -ology to it.  I then dropped out of college when I realized I didn’t know what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

Eventually I found myself in Everett, Washington, renting an apartment that offered free cable to its residents.  I picked up a cable guide at the local cable company, and saw they were hiring for a “computer operator”.  I figured it would be better than the current job I had, which was flipping burgers.

I had briefly lived with my computer programmer friend, and during that time had learned a few things.  Like the difference between a hard drive and a floppy drive (oh early 90’s, your 3.5 floppies bring such nostalgia).  Also, I learned what a “wildcard” was in DOS terms.

As fate would have it, these are the exact two things they asked me in the interview before concluding I must therefore know enough about computer hardware and operating systems to be entrusted with the position.  And just like that, I was responsible for taking care of the Tandem mainframe system that ran the cable systems for millions of customers.

So, yeah.  The Imposter Monster loomed up and scared the hell out of me.  This time it was so strong it forced me into action.  I was definitely unqualified to do this work in any capacity, but I really liked the job and so I wanted to not just keep it, but be great at it.  I studied nights and weekends.  I read obscure manuals about the TACL command language for running jobs on the mainframe systems.  This was pre-internet, so mostly it was borrowing manuals and trying to glean information from strange and esoteric technical jargon.

Over time I got better, then eventually even comfortable with the position.  At about that time, the company decided to set up a new-fangled Local Area Network, and as such was hiring for a LAN Administrator.  I applied and got the position, again as an imposter.  I had read a manual for a Token Ring Adapter the night before and was able to regurgitate the buzz words “Token Ring”, “Ethernet”, and “Packet” during the interview.  It probably helped that the guy doing the hiring was the finance administrator and hadn’t read the Token Ring Adapter manual.

Again my knowledge that I was an imposter was strong enough to force me into action.  I enrolled in classes at a local community college, eventually earning a certificate in Unix Administration and C programming.  On the job I learned everything about Ethernet protocol, Novell Netware, and PCs.  I also learned TCP/IP as we made the switch to this new-fangled Internet thingy that might be big someday.

As soon as I had a pretty good handle on all that, a headhunter called me out of the blue and I found myself working at AT&T Wireless, working on their routers and taking care of a country-wide array of devices.  Again, I was not in any way qualified, and the feeling that someone would discover my deficiencies at any minute returned in a big way.  Now, however, I had the benefit of the Internet to help me learn everything I needed before they found me out.

Next would come Microsoft, and an interview process so grueling that it exposed every weakness I had.  After the hour and a half phone screen which ended in “you need to work more on your hardware knowledge”, then seven hours of in-person grilling by about ten people, I felt laid open, exposed for the fraud that I was.

But they hired me anyway.

And this was the first time I didn’t feel like an imposter, because they obviously knew what they were getting.  I asked my boss point-blank: “you knew I didn’t know any of this stuff, why did you hire me?”.  His response: he needed to know the limits of my knowledge to know what he needed to teach me.  Fair enough.  I stayed and learned.

Soon I moved positions from Tech Support to Testing, and was then promoted to Test Lead.  Along with my promotion I was also visited with a surprise return of my old friend mister Imposter Monster.  Now I was managing other people.  Surely they would see I was not qualified to direct or review them?

Over time I became a Test Manager, responsible for directing other Test Leads and their teams.  I regularly sat in my office and wondered when the men would arrive, give me a baffled and slightly annoyed look and ask “what do you think you are doing?  That desk is for a grown up”, and they would then forcibly eject me out the window.

I took a job as a Program Manager, which was a big relief for my Imposter Monster: no longer did I have the lives and careers of others hanging on my unqualified shoulders.  However, I soon realized that I was responsible for the software the team was building.  I was writing the specs that developers and designers then implemented.  Why were they doing that?  Didn’t they think I has some sort of expert?  Clearly I wasn’t.

Soon I took a job of producer in a game group.  I was responsible for creating process solutions that would make the team more efficient, predictable and trackable.  I eventually was appointed “Executive Producer”, and given the responsibility of a hugely important game and a team of fifty and growing.  My Imposter Monster loomed over me every day, whispering failure at me.  I continued on, learning best practices from every post-mortem I could find and pouring through software development theories in Agile, Waterfall, and everything in-between.

It was at this point that I really started mentoring other people.  A funny thing happens when you try to teach somebody something: you end up learning a lot yourself.  Trying to mentor others made me reflect back on all these challenges, all these times when I felt like I was doing a job I was not ready for, and realize this was a good thing.  I eventually succeeded at each challenge I took on, and learned far more along the way that I bargained for.

Now I think of the Imposter Monster as a reminder that I’m pushing myself.  It tells me that I’m out of my comfort zone, doing something that grows me and challenges me.  If I’m not feeling fear that someone will question why I’m the right person for the job, then I’m playing it too safe, I’m only doing the expected.

sully

My monster is now my friend.  I like to think of him like a big, blue, cuddly guy who might snap at any minute and tear your leg off for no reason.  Keeps you on your toes.

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Yeah, so Sully as played by Jack Nicholson. That’s about right.

West Coast = Best Coast

Travel is awesome.

Travel is wearying.

It’s not that it is tiring.  If you are tired, you just take a rest and then you wake up refreshed.  Or have a giant sugar-bomb ice-cream caramel-drenched tub of sugary evil and tear around like a speed-addled mongoose.

Wearying is more of a sense of some unidentified source of drag.  Friction.  Weight that slows you down mentally or emotionally.  Sometimes physically.

So it was that, as I galloped around all the awesome places (Arctic!  London!  Amsterdam!  Edinburgh!) this vague sense grew.  I looked at my backpack of the same two pairs of jeans, seven t-shirts, and assorted socks with a little less excitement each day.

At the same time, the inevitable happened: I missed my roots. I missed my people.  I missed my city.  I missed being in a place where I know all the rules, where everything just comes naturally.  So the timing of a wedding back home came as a great excuse to head back and breathe for a moment before resuming my travels.

Now, most people think “Seattle” and picture something like this: seattle-rain

However, Seattle in summer is often the Best Place in the World.

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picture courtesy http://www.journeysinlightphotoblog.net

For example, I cruised wherever I needed to get to on my bike, often riding along the river path between Seattle and the Eastside which reminded me that biking here is fantastic when the weather is right.

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Amsterwhatnow?

And hanging out at the Elder Wanker’s house in Sammamish has wildlife viewing just by hanging out on the deck (guest appearance by Nephew “Mr. T”).

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Hey humans, this isn’t Ted Nugent’s house is it? Great, we’ll just hang out and munch on grass for 1/2 hour then.

In addition, there were many places to reconnect with friends and imbibe in a few choice favorites.

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My drink of choice in the bar I learned to love it. Roots, baby.

There were, however, a few times that I was reminded about the less-than-attractive aspects of the area.

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Traffic. Rain. Right, I remember these things.

However, I had a bachelor party and a wedding to attend, both of which were in Portland.

First: the bachelor party.  Now, the groom is notorious for massive parties.  He once hosted a party in his back yard with Storm Large and her band, along with fire dancers and dominatrices who went around whipping guests.  This man is whom Vegas was made for.

So for his bachelor party, you can be assured it would likely be a re-enactment of The Hangover, and we would inevitably have to deal with embarrassing and potentially illegal issues throughout.

Imagine the collective shock when he announced his party would be… camping.

Yep, just a bunch of guys out camping in Oregon. Chalk this up to us all maturing.  We are in our 40’s after all.  Turns out it was awesome.

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Doesn’t do it justice, but from a moving car with a phone, it’s the best I got.

I took no other pictures of the bachelor party, but suffice to say that apologies were needed for the families camping near us, and the campground hosts had to come by twice to get the fourteen guys bellowing around one camp fire at night to just go to sleep.  All-in-all, a fine time.

Now for the wedding, being held just south of Portland in wine country, we had some time before the big day to wander around Portland. I’ve written before about the getting around Portland, but if you really want to get a sense of the unending stream of non-conventional fabulousness that is Portland, hit up http://audreality.wordpress.com.  For example:

Beer Mile

Naked Bike Ride

I didn’t have time for the kind of hijinks expressed in that blog, so I’ll just provide a few more notes to give you a more of sense of what this place is like. First off: weather is similar to Seattle (though Elder Wanker, AKA “Weapon of Mass Consumption” AKA “Disaster”) would argue that it is just like Seattle except better. Five degrees warmer on summer days, better storm systems, etc.

Whatever. Portland Travel Bureau imbedded a chip in the back of his head that forces him to find all ways that Portland can be seen as superior, so his opinion can’t be trusted. Photo evidence of footwear chosen by Fruit Cup, EW and myself is documented proof that the weather in Portland can’t be trusted:

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It’s Portland, place your bet for footwear. You will be right for at least 20 minutes of the day.

However, the show Portlandia is, in fact, a documentary. The strange things that go on in the show are pretty much what happens here. Some examples while walking around the neighborhood:

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A lending library. One of many on random street corners. Because Portland.
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Lending library? Pshaw! We are collecting and lending creativity.
And we’ve crocheted a cozy for our post.
BECAUSE PORTLAND.

For the trip down to the wedding, we were able to fit the entire Wanker clan into the van, and given the traffic-laden aspect of the freeway, the nephews (Mr. T and Auzzie) busied themselves with digital entertainment of which they are usually strictly rationed. It was interesting to discover that they have a shared pose when enjoying such things:

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Da boys. Watching movies on separate but equal Surfaces is best enjoyed with arms akimbo.

The wedding was held south of Portland in the beautiful wine country. Weather was perfect (as August in the Pacific North West is known for). The groom organized everything himself, yet when it was time for him to organize himself (eg: get dressed) he was missing some things. Like a hair dryer. Being a resourceful chap, he was not one to let that stand in his way even though he was needed downstairs in minutes. The dehumidifier would have to do.

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The dude abides, but the groom improvises.
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Oh, you’re gonna take my picture? Well, two can play that game.

The whole affair went off perfectly and in picture-postcard fashion.

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Oregon wine country. In August. Be jealous.

Reception and after-party went into the night, with one of the last standing being the groom’s son. Once let loose on the turntables, he experimented and created some new custom mixes that I think we’ll have to describe as nu-electro-house-hop.

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The future of music is happening right here.

All in all an excellent trip. I got to visit with friends. Also, resolve any lingering issues with bills, my ATM woes, and mail that had been collecting for six months.  Now I feel connected again and ready for my next destinations.

Dublin.

Croatia.

Prague.

Like I said: travel is awesome.  More from Europe soon.

Land of Haggis

A few more days in Edinburgh, a few more experiences.

I continued to walk about six miles a day, so my blister didn’t really heal until I was laid up in bed (more on that in a minute). Now, a wise(r) man might have availed himself of the public bus system, but each day as I set out, the massive blood blister SEEMED like it was all good, and the weather was just lovely, and I really need to get some strength back in my leg / foot after being out of action for so long…

Yeah, after the first mile the blister would quietly inform me: “‘sup?”

At which point it was only one more mile before I got to town proper. Maybe if I walk a little bit differently I can keep the blister from reforming. I’ll just put extra weight on my heel…

By end of day, with a full-on blister from wandering the streets in a strange hop-limp, I would admit defeat and just trudge home, reasoning that strengthening my leg / foot was what I needed to do to get my gait back to normal and this remove this whole massive blister / limp thing going on.

As a result of this I never made it up the Scott Memorial, as advised by YamAdventures Inc. Next time…

However, I did learn a lot about local food supply. For instance, you may run into many dishes that offer “neeps and tatties”. My initial reaction, that this was some veiled and lurid offer better reserved in a den of ill repute, was easily corrected by my de-facto tour guide, the most excellent host: Industrial.

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Learn the lingo, people.

Turns out this is mashed turnips and potatoes. Seems innocuous enough.

But come on Edinburgh: what’s with all the haggis? Haven’t you gotten the message that this is a “joke” food for the rest of the world? Like Lutefisk or limburger cheese? Why are you putting it on everything?

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How about: NO.
  • Also seen:
    Haggis offered at every late-night shop, along with Kebab, hamburger, and pizza. Your 3am dining options are numerous in Scotland.
  • Haggis sandwich. ’cause everything is better between two slices of bread?
  • Haggis pizza. Not making this up, people.

However, if you are to stomach down some haggis, you might need to have a bit of liquid courage to help you face that pile of assorted Sheep parts. Luckily, Scotland’s got you well covered here.

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Cocktails by the pitcher. Seems like a fine idea.

What you see in the above picture is a Dark and Stormy. A *pitcher* of dark and stormy. I felt a little like Merry (or was it Pippin).

Also, grocery stores there sell pancakes.  Wrapped up in little packages.  Yep, just a little ol’ stack of pancakes.  Looked a bit lonely without a side cup of maple syrup.  But hey: for 24 hour access to pancakes, I’m not sure anyone is complaining.

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24 hour access to pancakes. No cooking or cleanup required.

Saw a few more shows in the Fringe Festival. Some not worth mentioning, a couple that are.

The Horne Section ended up being a fantastic free-style mash of music and comedy. Super entertaining and unpredictable. Fantastic to see musicians free-associate along with a comedian who just made stuff up on the spot and do it so well. Highly recommended, and it looks like they tour all over the place.

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Unexpected collision of music and humor

There was also a fantastic Cirque-show with some impressive shows of strength and contortion. Can’t find a link to them though and don’t know if they tour, so that’s not too helpful.

Lastly, walking around at 2am in Edinburgh is blissfully peaceful. Even with a massive blister:

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Castle at night.

Subnote: One of Industrial’s friends cooked dinner one night. Steak and veggies , everything was arranged just so on the plate, by hand.

Dug in, super tasty.

The friend then mentioned in passing about some potential infection, a “tickle” in the back of the throat.

I stare in horror at the bare hands that have been so artfully arranging the food, and despair. The following morning I wake up with a “tickle” at the back of my throat.

Down for at least a day. But my blister healed.

Edinburgh on the fringes

Edinburgh.

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Castle Fabulous. Visible from everywhere.

Land of haggis, castles, and awesome accents. It’s a great town on its own, and when you add their annual Fringe Festival to it, you have a recipe for awesomeness.

Back in Seattle, when I was still planning this trip, I talked to friend and co-worker of mine (let’s call him Makerbot), and when I mentioned that I wanted to spend some time in Edinburgh, he graciously offered that he and his girlfriend (Let’s call her Industrial) owned a house there, and I’d be welcome to crash when I was in town.  Fantastic.

Fast forward nine months, get through Spanish lessons in Mexico, a broken foot in Spain, abusing the hospitality of friends in London, a trip to the arctic, and I actually made it to Edinburgh to take him up on his offer.

A couple call outs here:

  • Nicest room I’ve stayed in since leaving my apartment.  Actually, probably nicer than my apartment.
  • Not only did Industrial agree to put me up (even though she hadn’t met me), but when she found out about my card-woes, she gave me cash to ensure I could have a good time at the festival.
  • Industrial stayed out drinking at Festival with me, her sister and their friend until far too late/early.
  • Also, the front door key is absolutely the coolest key you’ve ever seen.  Ever.

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  • Hard to make duplicates, I imagine.

So, add all this to the list of kindnesses I’ve experienced on this trip and can probably never repay, but just be thankful for.

Now, Edinburgh is worth visiting on it’s own. It’s a beautiful town, and large enough to have lots of interesting history, places to see and things to do, but small enough to be at times quaint, approachable, and super friendly. It’s got all the things that seem pretty much required of a European city. Like castles.

backside
Castle Fabulous, backside
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And fantastic buildings, streets, and alleyways.
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Beautiful park + gothic architecture = fabulous

And other impressive structures.

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Cathedrals? Yeah, we got those too.
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Canals? In Edinburgh? Ehhhhh, sure, why not.

However, it’s not ALL sixteenth-century stone and plaster awesomeness, there’s a fair amount of new construction going on as well.

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Not so castle-like.

All in all, a great town, and I’m not even taking into account the highlands. Then when you add in the Fringe Festival, well that takes things to eleven.

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Peeps everywhere.

The Fringe goes basically all of August, and there are a MASSIVE number of shows, far too many to make sense of. Also, most of these shows will be things you have never heard of. So how do you go about choosing some shows to go to?

Well, in my case, like I’ve managed everything else so far: arrive, walk around, and make it up as you go along.  As it turns out, this has some distinct advantages.  First off, there are so many shows that it’s understood extra has to be done to get your attention.  So promoters, artists, and volunteers are circulating the crowds, actively pushing information in your face about the shows you simply NEED to see.  One day of walking around the festival netted me a few brochures and such:

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A single day’s loot.

So in addition to there being many MANY shows, there are many MANY people milling about. This means it is quite difficult for anyone to really stand out or get noticed. You’ve got to resort to extreme measures. For example, as a man, you could dress like a giant princess, then break down in the middle of the street, sobbing about your broken wand, like this chap:

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OMG! My wand is all brokeded.

Note: he wasn’t promoting a show that I could see. No fliers to hand out, didn’t talk with anyone who gathered around, just sobbed about his wand, then got up, walked a while more, then repeated. Not sure what that was about.

Or, you could just spin some wool, which one would think is a perfectly normal thing to do. But usually not in the middle of the street. Got to be one of the more unusual street performances I’ve run across.

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Spinning wool. On the street. Like ya do.

Or hey, you could be a busker! Oh, but there are many, many a busker on the streets. What’s your angle? How about bringing Scottish music with a more modern style by adding a drumset and electric guitar? Done.

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Bagpipe rock

So, I walked around, got a forty-two pound festival guide, picked up many flyers and promotions, and talked to many people promoting their shows. Turns out that taking the time to talk to these folks about why you should see the show can be quite beneficial: oftentimes you can get free tickets out of them (have seen three shows for free so far).  Note – this might only work at the beginning of Festival, where they are all desperately trying to make a splash.

However getting the tickets and finding the show are two very different things. The guide attempts to give you a map with all the locations numbered (there are 300 of them).  The map is full of numbers, that correspond to a list of names on another page. The numbering on the map looks like it was assigned by meticulously writing numbers 1-300 on small pieces of paper, stuffing them in piñata, then shooting the piñata with a howitzer. The list of names should hopefully be in alphabetical order to help you find your place. Turns out no. How about grouped by map location? Nope. Hmm, maybe by promotional group? Wrong again.

There is no order to this. Maybe it was chronological?

So, looking at my ticket, I’ve got a venue name like “Venue 40, Udderbelly Grassmarket”. This is not a street address exactly, and if you are a visitor, the terms “grassmarket” or “udderbelly” might seem less than descriptive. After some asking around, you will eventually establish some landmarks. For example, udderbelly is basically a giant inflatable purple cow.

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Meet me udder the cow (see what I did there?)

Then, once you are actually AT the venue, these shows are so small that many of them are tucked away in dank-smelling caverns, unused for anything until this special moment of the year rolls around where twenty folding chairs are set up in front of a make-shift stage. This leads to some rather unfortunate signs that equate the show with activities of a less-than-special nature:

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Unfortunate grouping.

Regardless, having taken in a number of shows so far, I feel there are two in particular I should mention are worth seeing. In case you want to hop a flight and get over here. Or if you run across either of these blokes in the future, as I think is likely since they are pretty fantastic:

Jon Bennet: My dad’s deaths. This is a guy who attained some small level of Internet fame by traveling the world and taking pictures of things, pretending these objects were anatomically attached to his nether regions. He even got a book out of it. His stage show is stories about his dad and is funny, tragic, heartfelt, amusing, surprising, hilarious, touching, and worth every minute.

Howard Read: Hide and Speak – This guy puts on a show using 2-d animations projected on a screen that he controls with a microphone, game controller and foot pedals. It’s frantic, ridiculous, inventive, and hilarious. Also worth checking out, especially when he gets into heckling with the audience. Good stuff.

So that’s my first few days of Edinburgh and Fringe.  I’ve still got a number of days left, so I’ll probably have at least one more thing to say about it.

 

Updates on various issues:

  • My bank rushed a card to me which arrived Friday.  The PIN code, which must be sent separately, was sent to my brother (seemed easy: he could email it to me once he got it).  First Tech is in Seattle.  Elder Wanker is in Sammamish.  I got my card in Edinburgh before they could get a PIN code across the pond to the eastside.  Kinda odd.
  • My foot is nearly fully healed.  I hope to begin running again in about three weeks.  However, either due to a different gait or some other factor, I’ve developed a huge blood blister that I keep re-creating by walking around for 4-8 hours a day.  Today is day five of dealing with this.  I may have to just amputate, the foot is far too much trouble.
  • For those reading along on the YA novel I’ve been working on, I failed to post any chapters whilst cruising around the arctic.  I apologize, and think this is proof that breaking my foot was the best thing that could have happened for my writing.  I’m back to my regularly scheduled posting schedule now.  New chapter today, more new every Sunday, Tuesday and Friday.  Should be complete in one week.  Thank you SO much for following along, having early criticism and feedback is invaluable.