Monday, June 30, 2014

Rip-Offs in Prague

Of all the great things Prague has to see and do, it isn't without its share of inconveniences. The most annoying of these for western visitors like us is the rampant-but-accepted petty theft by unscrupulous shopkeepers, bartenders, and cons of all colors.

With an attempt to remain somewhat culturally sensitive, it seems that countries with growing economies and long traditions of harmless traveling pickpockets seem to accept these tourist scammers. And what would be their incentive to stop these crooks? The scammers are careful to target mostly foreign tourists, and the extra money they filch will almost certainly be spent in the home country, feeding the economy. Turning a blind eye to this kind of petty crime is just a hidden way to soak a little bit more out of tourists before they return to their own more wealthy countries.

We were lucky not to have had any run-ins with serious con artists on the street (or did we?), but we dealt with our share of casual incorrect change ripoffs from vendors. In order to enjoy some of the scrumptious street sausages (and in every other cash transaction), we had to be very careful about these seemingly innocent change shorts.

Cory puts ketchup on a sausage in Prague
Count Your Change!

These change miscounts are the easiest way for dishonest vendors to pocket a little extra from visitors. It is also next to impossible to actually prove and prosecute. If they get caught, it's just an honest mistake that they quickly correct. If not, they keep the difference.

The Czech Republic, despite having been an official Euro-currency country for more than a decade, still uses their old currency, the Czech Koruna (Crown). This inflated currency uses unfamiliar paper notes and strangely-shaped and colored coins which can be counted at sight by Czechs (just like your own currency, wherever you are) but tourist have to examine and count each coin individually.

Crooks looking to pocket something extra will take a paper note from a tourist and confidently drop a little stack of foreign coins into the mark's waiting hand- short some small but not insignificant amount. Most people probably thank them, dump the coins in a pocket, and leave.

When the vendor tried this with me at the above pictured sausage stand, I stepped back from the window and began to count the coins in my hand carefully. When she saw me counting, she opened the register (her pocket) and had the correct difference ready and waiting when I stepped back up to the counter to politely inform her of her miscounting of my change.

At a sit-down restaurant one night, we received our check in the usual black leather binding. We put in a 1000 Crown (not all that much) note and sent it for our change. The binding came back with some change... but no receipt. Again, most tourists would take the strange mix of paper notes and coins without thinking, but we had made a careful note of how much our bill was and what the correct change should be. Because he sent it back without the receipt showing the actual amount and change, we might not have been able to remember the correct amounts had we not done so before paying.

When I approached the counter, I was hoping he didn't try to argue the point with me. After all, maybe he gave me the correct change before I pocketed some and tried to scam him. See how airtight these schemes are? Luckily, he didn't argue, but retrieved my receipt- crumpled up in the trash bin- and gave me the correct difference.

When traveling anywhere, take precautions for people like this. I'm sure this isn't just a Prague (or even an Eastern European) issue. A number of sources recommend never handing a credit card over to a vendor or waiter- but to make all payments in cash with an understanding of the proper amounts and change beforehand. We even made mental estimates of what our final checks should be at restaurants based on the menu prices in case the waiter overcharged for our meals.

One last admission, we did get hit twice with additional charges for bread at restaurants. We learned that the basket of bread plopped down on the table doesn't come free with the meal. To avoid this charge, maybe tourists have to decline bread directly... or just not be tourists. Know what I mean?

Travel, get out there, but please do so safely and carefully.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Retro Saturday: Final Fantasy 5 Four Job Fiesta Highlights

Well, since last week, I finished my first of hopefully several Final Fantasy 5 Four Job Fiesta runs. I could have beaten the game much more quickly, but I decided to do some unnecessary optional quests and take on two optional superbosses in the last dungeon.

The first was Omega, who required a very careful strategy with the party I had, and let's not forget the two hours I spent practicing before going live on stream for this half-hour grind-it-out fight.

Battle with Omega. Skip to the end... 

Neither Omega nor Shinryu, the legendary dragon are required to beat the game (or finish the Fiesta), but the few brave souls who take down these two monsters get a heart (Shinryu) and a circle (Omega) next to their name on their Four Job Fiesta player profile. Worth it, right?

Shinryu is much easier with the party I have than was Omega. It is not immune to berserk and darkness statuses, so this simple combo made my team nearly unhittable. Goodbye Shinryu.

Shinryu Battle

In the same play session, I took out the final boss of the game, Exdeath and Neo Exdeath. The first embedded video is a highlight/blooper of the final killshot on the boss, as my stream video froze. The audio continues as I beg for my stream to catch up so the final boss fadeaway could be recorded. 

Killshot Freezes the Stream

If you care to watch the full battle with both forms of Exdeath, see below.

Full Final Battle

After taking screenshots of Omega, Shinryu, and Exdeath fading away, I tweeted my results (and photos) to the bot handling the Fiesta...

Well, nothing to do now but register for another run!

This time, I'll be doing a regular random run. This is a slight variation on the regular run in which all currently available jobs can be assigned as each crystal is earned, not just the new jobs from the newly-earned crystal. It's complicated, but you can check out the full variation set over at the Four Job Fiesta Website.

In the meantime, you can follow my progress in the following ways...

...And of course check this blog for weekly updates and highlights. Happy Fiesta!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Dublin Hurling in the Leinster Final! (What?)

After a year in Ireland, we've decided that hurling is our preferred Gaelic sport. This ancient game is like field hockey, but the ball is shot through the air rather than on the ground. It also has the Gaelic game advantage of multiple ways to score. Unlike soccer with one very difficult and well-guarded goal, Gaelic sport players (hurlers, Gaelic footballers, and women's hurling camogie-ers?) can score in a soccer-like goal or by putting the ball through American football-like goalposts high in the air.

The balls in the lower goal are called, unsurprisingly, goals, the balls shot between the uprights are called points. Goals are worth three points, points are worth one point. Got all that? No? Here's a primer.

The game has a number of interesting traditions and special rules, but we have a good handle on the structure and function of the game itself. What we are still grappling with is the structure of the All-Ireland league and who is playing what and when and where and at what time?

The GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) handles not just the top-tier All-Ireland leagues, but several tiers of junior leagues, all of which get coverage and promotion from the same body. This is great for these other leagues, and seasoned GAA fans know immediately the abbreviations and terms like AI, U-21, Allianz League, Interprovincial Championship, and Shinty/Hurling International Senior. We are not so skilled in deciphering the complex nomenclature of all these leagues yet.

Imagine if the NFL integrated schedules and coverage of high school and college football under the same umbrella. How difficult would it be for a foreigner to find the time and place of the NFC Chicago/Green Bay game when there might be six other Chicago/Green Bay football games scheduled on the same weekend?

...Back to hurling, after a long early season of club play (?) and intracounty play (?) we have entered the All-Ireland stage, where we can finally see simple matchups like Co. Wexford and Co. Dublin in the top-tier playoffs. And Wexford/Dublin was exactly the match we were looking to see on a recent weekend.

These two were playing in the Leinster semi final to qualify for the Leinster final. Leinster (LINN-ster) is one of the four ancient provinces of Ireland. The GAA uses these handy geographic regions to separate sub-leagues, like the AFC West or NL East. Winner of Wexford/Dublin would face the winner of Galway/Kilkenny for the Leinster title.

We popped over to a Donnybrook pub to catch the action, with cool hand-knit scarves in Dublin colors courtesy of Sara.

Smithwicks and Dublin scarves for Hurling
Beers and Scarves

Dublin beat Wexford handily 0-22 to 1-14. What? Right, they list scores not in total score, but in [number of goals]-[number of points]. Just like American football lists scores [number of touchdowns]-[number of extra points]-[number of two-point conversions]-[number of field goals]-[number of safeties], right? Fans like us are left to do the math. Dublin's zero goals and 22 points beats Wexford's 1 goal (worth 3) and 14 points.

...Ok, the score was 22-17 Dublin.

So who would Dublin play in the Leinster final? The Galway/Kilkenny deciding game was the next weekend, and what a game it was! Galway/Kilkenny played to a draw- listed like this: Galway 5-16, 3-22 Kilkenny. Do the math and we get to a 31-31 tie.

The GAA seems to embrace ties like the rest of the non-American sports world, and lets the draw stand! Except, this is a qualifying match, we need a winner. Maybe the GAA likes money more than ties, so they go to a rematch, with another stadium to sell out!

This year, we weren't surprised. After all, the All-Ireland hurling final went to a rematch last year, much to our shock as we watched the pub empty at the final whistle. Overtime is bad business. Maybe the NFL will take a page from the GAA. Tie in the Super Bowl? No problem, play it again a few weeks later! Sell more commercial time and more $500+ tickets!

Snark aside, the replay of the Galway/Kilkenny match will be June 28 at 7:00 p.m. Ireland time (EDT +5 hours), and we'll be following to see who Dublin will take on in the Leinster final in July!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Enjoying the Late Night Sun

The Summer Solstice, the exact midpoint of the solar year, took place in Dublin on June 21st at 11:51 a.m. This is of course the longest day of the year for all those northern-hemisphere-dwellers like us. At high latitudes (like those of Ireland) these long summer days are exaggerated to almost laughable lengths. Of course, this also makes our winter days that much shorter, but for now, let's hear it for the sun!

A few days before the solstice, we went out on the town to celebrate our new extended daylight. We began in Temple Bar (the artsy part, not the tourist part) to enjoy our favorite Dublin pizza from Skinflint.

Chorizo with Pink Peppercorn and Serrano Ham and Leek Pizzas from Skinflint Dublin, Ireland
Chorizo with Pink Peppercorn and Serrano Ham and Leek Pizzas

After Skinflint, we wanted to have a pint of cask ale at The Porterhouse nearby, but the place was jam-packed with after-workers. We had never been to Porterhouse in the evening, especially on a beautiful summer night like this. We needed a backup plan.

...and that was when we remembered Mulligan's pub on Poolbeg Street. We had this pub recommended to us, but we had only popped our heads in the last time we were in this neighborhood. Having the time now, we made our way over for a quick drink.

O'Hara's Pale Ale and McGargle's Ale (Guinness Glass)
O'Hara's Pale Ale and McGargle's Ale (Guinness Glass)

Mulligan's Exterior Poolbeg Street Dublin, Ireland
Mulligan's Exterior

The World Cup England/Uruguay match was on every television, and the pub crowd was really into it. We couldn't tell if most of them were actively hoping for England (the 700 year oppressors... but also Ireland's closest cultural connection to the World Cup) to win or lose. I'll leave the speculation on that one alone...

After Mulligan's we thought we would try Porterhouse again now that the dinner crowd was gone. It wasn't, and live music had started, so it was really jammed.

We still wanted another pint, and Sara remembered that we weren't far from Beerhouse, the trendy craft beer bar with good beers at good prices on tap- including our local favorite Five Lamps! I got the Five Lamps Porter and Sara tried a new Irish craft IPA from Carrig Brewing in Leitrim, in Ireland's northwest.

Carrig IPA and Five Lamps Porter at Beerhouse Dublin
Carrig IPA and Five Lamps Porter

With the sun still streaming in through the windows, we almost had another pint before looking at the clock. It was after ten, and we still had a four mile walk home! On the way, we took some photos of the slowly darkening sky. 

As you scroll through, keep in mind that the earliest of these photos from Grattan Bridge were taken after 10:15 p.m., and they only get later. The sky was still not quite reaching full dark at 11 p.m.

Grattan Bridge View- West
Grattan Bridge View- West

Grattan Bridge View- East
Grattan Bridge View- East

Suffolk Street TI
Suffolk Street Tourist Info Centre

Grafton Street
Grafton Street

We made it home with the sky just beginning to look like full nighttime. With the passing of the solstice, the days can only get shorter from here. It was sure nice while it lasted. Keep reading in December for another whiny post about how dark it is way up here.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Herbert Park

Between the two glitzy south Dublin suburbs Donnybrook and Ballsbridge sits sprawling, flat, green Herbert Park. It is so named for the rich landowner who donated the land to Dublin City to host a 1907 World-Fair-Like-Thing called the Irish International Exhibition.

Like many big-budget yet temporary events (ahem, World Cup?) the city bore the huge burden of constructing a miniature Disneyland that would be used for a few months before being dismantled.

It was apparently quite a show in its time. Like other World Fairs, they displayed the most innovative of scientific and industrial developments like the new electric light and internal combustion engine motorcars. Bram Stoker, author of Dracula attended the fair and wrote an essay for the Fair's promotional pamphlet. 

From his The Great White Fair
"...the visitor approaching or within the grounds sees the great range of snowy domes and pinnacles standing out start against the rising hills and towering into a sky of Irish blue – a blue which an American enthusiast poetically compared with ‘a colleen’s eyes’"
The centerpiece of the Fair was the four-winged International Hall. Each wing represented a different continent and featured artwork and cultural items representing each, probably in a very racist and patronizing way. I particularly wonder about the cultural sensitivity of the Somali Village, a recreation of life in British Somaliland.

There was also a concert hall, art gallery, a bandstand, and a large waterslide with a long splashdown pool. Apparently turn of the century kids got on rafts to go down the slide and skim across the long landing pool, much like modern slides. I imagine the bathing suits were much more modest in 1907...


Yes, the glory of 1907 has passed, but in a rare moment of foresight, the Earl of Pembroke, donor of the land, demanded that the land be used for the exhibition and then was to be used for a public park. As he said...
"At the close of the exhibition, the grounds [are] to be opened to the public as a park and recreation ground forever."

The buildings were disassembled and carted away to open up this large park. Public amenities like tennis courts, boules, bowling, and bocce courts can all be used... for a fee.

The bandstand and long pond used for the waterslide splash zone are still standing in the southeast corner of today's park. The water is now shallow and sludgy, covered with the feathers of the innumerable ducks, swans, seagulls, and pigeons begging to be fed by lunchtime parkgoers.

Waterslide Splash Zone Today Herbert Park Dublin
Waterslide Splash Zone Today
Most of the park is just... greenspace. Paved paths weave through the grass and flowers, and Herbert Park Road cuts the park into northwest/southeast halves. The paid courts are all on the northwest side, and I usually never get past the pond when I visit. Looking at the map above and seeing how close it is to the River Dodder, it should come as no surprise that I won't go very far from the water.

Apparently, the pond in the park used to be home to a population of naturally-spawning common carp. The park's Wikipedia entry describes some two-foot monsters living in the two-foot water as late as 2009. Today, I have scoured every inch of that stagnant pool and have seen nothing. I wonder what happened to them?

Herbert Park Gardens Dublin
Herbert Park Gardens

For More

If you are interested in learning more about the Irish International Exhibition here in Herbert Park, check this pdf document, written by the Ballsbridge, Donnybrook, and Sandymount Historical Society and the Royal Dublin Society for the 2007 centennial celebration. Very little on the exhibition on its own Wikipedia page.

If you're in south Dublin, read up on the exhibition and take a fresh look at the park through 1907 eyes. The above linked document has maps and photos of all of the buildings, so you can find out what was built on your current favorite park spot. I was already drawn to the park's pond before I learned that it was originally built as a waterslide splashdown zone. Amazing the things one learns!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Expat FAQ Page

In case you missed it, I wrote and published a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page in the upper tab list of the blog. See it there? Between About and Contact? We get questions (and love them!) from potential expats and tourists through our contact form, and this FAQ addresses some of the questions we hear regularly.

If you care to, pop up to the Expat FAQ tab above and skim through it.

Don't let the FAQ stop you from dropping us a line in the Contact page with questions, comments, and feedback. We'd love to hear from you.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Prague Walking Tour

Our first morning in Prague was a rainy one, but it seemed to fit the sometimes dreary feeling one can get when touring monuments and historic sites, many of which have dark and bloody histories. Prague has of course seen her share of triumphs and tragedies, and we had a Rick Steves audio tour to show us the way.

But first, let's see where Michael Hutchence walked for the music video of the INXS classic Never Tear Us Apart...

Yep, filmed exclusively in Prague. Wish we had seen that before we went, we could have done a recreation.

The first stop is the monument to the Czech hero, St. Wenceslas of Good King Wenceslas fame. We had been by this statue on our first wild scramble to our hostel, but now we were able to appreciate the square at our own pace.

St. Wenceslas Statue Prague
St. Wenceslas Statue Prague

Wenceslas organized, Christianized, and cultured the early Bohemian kingdom in the tenth century. After he was killed, he was made a saint by the Catholic church. Since then, he has become not just a political and religious hero to the Czechs, but their national mascot and identity. His monument looks proudly down the hill over most of the city today.

Prague has a variety of art and architecture styles in its many neighborhoods. The Communist Soviets built many of those functional but terribly ugly gray concrete slabs as they tried to develop Prague as a western stronghold. Other decidedly non-communist buildings like the Art Nouveau Grand Hotel Europa seem to glow among the concrete and steel.

Grand Hotel Europa Prague
Grand Hotel Europa

In the square, a number of small monuments and memorials are dedicated to the mostly peaceful Czech independence movement. Nonviolent students gathered here to demand, and ultimately receive, freedom from the Soviets in the late twentieth century. When the communists left, the Czech nation was free to grow and prosper with a more western economy. Interestingly, the communists left behind them a fantastic public transport system of buses, trams, and subways- something a small city like Prague could never afford to build with its own resources.

Dublin in its best financial times couldn't even get a sensible public transport system working, decided instead to build The Spire of Dublin.

"A [country] with money is like a mule with a spinning wheel, no one knows how he got it, and danged if he knows how to use it!" -Lyle Lanley, The Simpsons
Also on the tour is this great modern sculpture of King Wenceslas riding and upside down horse handing in a shopping center.

Wenceslas Riding an Upside Down Horse Prauge
Wenceslas Riding an Upside Down Horse

Farther along, we visited one of the old gates from Prague's old security wall. This is the Powder Tower, build to store the city's supply of gunpowder in the fifteenth century. Today it is nothing more than possibly the most beautiful traffic bottleneck in the world.

Powder Tower Prague
Powder Tower

We arrived later at the Old Town Square, home of many of Prague's famous buildings and monuments. This includes a dedication to Jan Hus (Yahn Hoose), a Czech religious reformer who questioned the Catholic church and was killed for his trouble a century before Martin Luther.

Jan Hus Memorial Prague
Jan Hus Memorial Prague

Behind the memorial is the old center of Hus' teachings, the Tyn Church. It was the center of the Hussite church until the German Catholics conquered Prague in the seventeenth century and made the church Catholic.

...Much like the Anglicans seizing St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin, making it a Protestant Cathedral named after Ireland's most Catholic of Catholic heroes. Huh. The Prague/Dublin similarities continue...

Tyn Church Prague
Tyn Church Prague

At the end of the tour, we ended up back at the Charles Bridge, center of our Prague operations.

Prague's Charles Bridge
Prague's Charles Bridge

After the walk, it was time for lunch and more Eastern European adventures!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Retro Saturday: Final Fantasy 5 Four Job Fiesta

Happy Retro Saturday! We finished The Blue Marlin just in time, as it happens. This week I joined for the first time the famous Final Fantasy 5 Four Job Fiesta 2014 (#FF5FJF2014). The FF5FJF is a yearly internet charity event in which thousands of retro game fans from all over the world play through the classic game Final Fantasy 5 with some randomly-generated limits and challenges.

Players sign up and receive updates through a Twitter bot that handles all the registrations and assigns the jobs a Fiesta participant can use. There are a number of different categories from which to choose, but since this was my first attempt, I took the easiest Regular run (#reg).

In this run, I was assigned thief for my first job. I had to play with four thieves until I unlocked the next set of jobs. When I did, I rolled time mage. I now had to have at least one thief and one time mage at all times. I played through until I unlocked the geomancer and chemist jobs. Now I have to have at least one of all four of those jobs in my party at all times, which makes for some interesting situations.

This yearly event supports the fun charity Child's Play, whose goal is to improve the quality of life for sick children by supplying children's hospitals with board games, toys, and of course, video games. Many players pledge donation amount based upon how successful (or unsuccessful) they can be during the Fiesta. Keep in mind that while players and followers are encouraged to pledge and donate, signing up for and participating in the Fiesta is totally free.

Players are encouraged to log their progress with the Fiesta on Twitter. Screenshots and videos can be tweeted to the bot to be displayed on each player's Fiesta profile.

If you care to, you can follow me on Twitter to see my updates or check my FJF profile page.

This event runs until September 1st, and I am challenging myself to see how many times I can play through the game between now and then- and how many different Fiesta categories I can complete. I have also decided to live stream as much of the gameplay as I can. I set up a streaming account on (link to my channel) and have been recording my progress and highlights on my YouTube channel. You can follow me on either or both of those platforms to watch me play live or catch the recorded highlights of each stream.

This weekly Retro Saturday blog post will be dedicated to updating my weekly FJF progress with embedded video highlights from each week's streams. This week, highlights from my first week of my regular run.

Fighting an early boss, Galura, with only weak thieves.

Another tough early boss for thieves. Lots of potions and slow grinding

Sandworm, a tricky battle with a tough boss, almost wiped us out

ArchaeAvis, the last boss of World 1

Friday, June 20, 2014

Bottling Holy Water! and Apple/Prune Wine

After almost a month in the vodka bottle fermenter, my Holy Water! thing was finished fermenting. It fermented from a gravity of 1.048 to 0.990, estimated alcohol by volume of 7.5%.

Taste? Well, not so good on its own, but it wasn't made as a stand-alone drink. Not something to have by the glass, but something to add flavor and a small amount of alcohol to cordials and other beverages.

Finished Holy Water!
Finished Holy Water!

...Like tea. We tried a new brand and blend of black tea that we really liked, and I wanted to try this with it. Sounds crazy, I know, but it tasted pretty good when mixed half-and-half with cold Bewley's Gold Blend tea. The Holy Water! has a good splash of lemon juice and despite having fermented down so far is still a bit sweet. The sweet citrus kick and a slight alcohol sharpness go well with the tea.

I bottled some of it by itself for future mixing with other drinks and some of it mixed half-and-half with tea. I will let it sit in the bottle for a week or so before trying the finished drink. I hope the tea doesn't lose too much of its freshness in the bottles.

Bottled Holy Water! and Tea
Bottled Holy Water! and Tea

...And while I had my sanitizer mixed up, I decided to check the status of my apple juice/prune juice mix. By the numbers, it had fermented out to an acceptable level, but it was still quite cloudy. I was feeling some bottling momentum and decided to move it into bottles to clear and rest.

Apple/Prune Cider
Apple/Prune Cider

I tried a sample of the still-cloudy mix. It has some interesting fruity flavors, not all of them amazing. I hope it will improve with some time to clear out the solids.

Bottled Apple/Prune Cider
Bottled Apple/Prune Cider

I will be checking the bottles for any residual fermentation. I didn't add any priming sugar for carbonation, but if fermentation keeps going, these bottles could get a bit pressurized. Because I use plastic bottles, a simple daily squeeze will tell me if I bottled them too soon for safety.

Full report on these finished drinks to come!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

New Print Article Published

I am always happy when I can write and publish something to promote community service or community interest events. My last three newspaper articles published in Southside People have been coverage of volunteer litter removal gatherings and a series of free concerts to support young musicians. As a volunteer writer, I think it's important to give these events the press they so deserve but can't afford to buy.

I have a new article in the June/July 2014 issue of another free community newspaper NewsFour. For the article, I went to a historical lecture by local Donnybrook historian and author Dr. Bernice M. Doran. The lecture was sponsored by the Ballsbridge, Donnybrook, and Sandymount Historical Society. I had already attended several lectures sponsored by this enthusiastic group. Before the lecture, I sat down with Dr. Doran and asked some questions about her recently published book, Donnybrook: A History. She shared with me some of her research methods, interesting finds, and talked about her next book, Donnybrook: Then and Now.

In the article, I also shared two of my favorite Donnybrook stories from the book and the lecture. I won't spoil too much here, but one story involves a boxing match, a bus station, and a riot.

I added a link to a [scanned PDF] of the article on the In Print tab above. If an online edition of the article is published, I will update this post and the tab.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Fishing in the Fog

Dublin has been enjoying a stretch of wonderful weather this week. I took advantage of favorable high tide times (I have finally learned to check!) and the beautiful weather to try my luck near Poolbeg Lighthouse at the junction of the River Liffey and Dublin Bay.

At our apartment in south Dublin, the skies were blue and the sun was shining. Less than a mile away at Sandymount Strand, the midday sun was no match for the thick fog rolling in from the bay.

Fog on Sandymount Strand Dublin, Ireland
Fog on Sandymount

The fog was so thick at ground level, it looked like an overcast sky, but only right on the coastline. Not being from a coastal city, I was unfamiliar with this phenomenon. The local residents seemed to be taking it in stride, however, because the beaches were busy.

When I got to the base of the Poolbeg Lighthouse pier, the fog was off and on. Sometimes the wind would blow thick billows over me and limit my vision to a few feet, and other times the mist seemed only to be thick out in the bay.

For safety, all the ships coming and going in Dublin harbor were blowing foghorns, which I don't believe I've ever actually heard before.

Fishing Spot at Poolbeg Lighthouse Dublin, Ireland
Fishing Spot

The camera didn't always capture the fog like the naked eye, but look at the following photos for an idea. In these photos, the twin smokestacks are seen clearly in one photo and totally obscured in the next.

Smokestacks of Poolbeg Power station Dublin. Ireland
Smokestacks Seen

Smokestacks Unseen Poolbeg Power Station Dublin, Ireland
Smokestacks Unseen

In this photo, the ferry is visible, but the bright red Poolbeg Lighthouse should be near the center of the frame. It was only a few hundred yards away from me as I took this photo.

Poolbeg Lighthouse is obscured by fog in Dublin, Ireland
No Lighthouse

The pier, just like the beaches, got busier and busier as the afternoon wore on and the tide rose to its crest. Sunbathers, teens sneaking out to drink, fishers, walkers, brave cyclists, and families were all out in force on the pier.

If you haven't already guessed by the lack of fish photos, I was skunked here. One friendly stranger let me know that they were catching mackerel all the way out at the lighthouse, but I don't have the tackle to deal with the excessive distances and depths needed to fish that far out.

Another kindly fisher gave me some general tips for fishing this stretch of water. I'll be back again another day, armed and ready.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

First Crack at Fish and Chips

We had some frozen cod fillets in the freezer after a coupon-inspired frozen food grab. Hopefully they weren't actual cod fillets, as cod are in serious trouble due to overfishing. I hope assume that these were other white-fleshed groundfish like haddock or hake, which are much like cod but are less threatened.

Anyway, we wanted to try making that English classic fish and chips with these fish. We enjoy a good plate of F&C here any day, but the chips are certainly not like American French fries. Here they enjoy thick-cut chips, fried once until hot- not until crisp. I picked up some practice recently cutting fries thin and double frying them for that perfect crisp crunch. I was ready.

It is a multi-step process, good thing I have time to do things like this now. First, I cut the potatoes into quarter-inch fries. A long soak in cold water helps remove some of the surface starch.

Later, with about an hour to dinnertime, I heated up some oil to 325 degrees F. Before the fries went in, I removed them from the water and dried the surface as thoroughly as I could for faster cooking. Water is a huge heat sink, bringing down the temperature of the less-dense oil quickly.

The first potato fry takes some time, especially when using a small saucepan and frying enough fries for two servings in one batch. A commercial fryer would handle four or five potatoes easily, but not so the saucepan.

While the fries were cooking, I cut the fish fillets into the shape they call goujons here, we would call them strips in America. I prepared the batter of flour, salt, baking powder, and ice water. Cold batter sticks to the fish and crisps up more easily than warm batter.

When the fries had finished their first fry at 325 F, I took them out of the oil and put them on a wire rack in a warm oven. The oil went back up to 350, and we were ready for fish. Each strip got a dip in the batter and then straight into the oil. I did the fish in two batches of three strips each.

The fish came out crispy and flaky. A bit overdone in the narrow part of the fillets, not sure how I'll handle that next time, but that will be for next time.

Finished Fish and Chips
Finished Fish

When the fish were done, I had only to give the fries one more quick blast in very hot (375 F) oil to crisp them up. The same oil went back on the heat for the final cooking. The second round of cooking the fries doesn't take nearly as long as the first, as the potatoes are already warm and much of that heat-sucking water has already been cooked out. When the fries were golden brown and crispy, I pulled them out and put them back on the wire rack with the fish to drain.

On the side, I heated up some frozen peas with butter and mashed them with a fork. They weren't quite as smooth as the canned mushy peas so often served at sit-down chippers, but certainly passable. I made a fish dipping sauce with mayonnaise and lemon juice. Normally I would add sliced dill pickles to it and call it tartar sauce, but cheap dill pickles are no longer a staple in our refrigerator... sad.

Fish and Chips and Mushy Peas
Fish and Chips and Mushy Peas

Was it a bit decadent? Yes. Will I make it again? Yes. The fish and the fries were excellent, if greasy and unhealthy. I can now see how the Brits got along for so long eating only food like this. It is certainly more to my taste than anything over here with the word pudding.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Prague's Charles Bridge

To start off our first full day in Prague, we had to have breakfast. Sara had a delightful little hot sandwich with a nice, frothy coffee at a cafe. I had... a garlic-flavored sausage with sauerkraut and cheap instant coffee in a paper cup. You decide who got the better of it.

Cory's Breakfast
Sara's Breakfast

Sadly, it was raining, and would be raining for the rest of the day. We didn't mind too much because...
  1. We were in Prague, one of the most beautiful cities on Earth
  2. We got to take postcard pictures people with umbrellas in the rain.

Charles Bridge in the Rain in Prague
On Lots of Postcards

Our hostel was right at the base of the Charles Bridge, one of the distinguishing features of Prague. It has stood here on the Vltava River since the fourteenth century. Today, it is a murderer's row of statues depicting Czech religious and political heroes. Below are some highlights...

Charles Bridge Figures Prague
Charles Bridge Figures

Whoa Charles Bridge, Prague

Gray Skies on Charles Bridge Prague
Gray Skies

One of Prague's religious heroes is St. John of Nepomuk. During his fourteenth-century lifetime, he was the priest to whom the Queen confessed her weekly sins. The King wanted him to share the inside scoop of his wife's misdeeds, but he refused. As Kings tend to do, he ordered a political hit on the priest, and he was thrown off this bridge into the river below. It is said that when he hit the water, five stars appeared on the surface.

Today, he is shows with a ring of five stars around his head. At the base of his statue and in another spot on the bridge where the throw actually occurred are little bronze depictions of the scene. People line up to make wishes as touch the Saint. Notice how the bronze is rubbed clean and shiny by the repeated touching.

St. John of Nepomuk statue on Charles Bridge Prague
St. John of Nepomuk

St. John of Nepomuk carving rubbed clean from touching
Rubbed Clean

Emily Making a Wish on St. John of Nepomuk Charles Bridge Prague
Emily Making a Wish

The bridge is particularly beautiful at night, when carefully-placed lights illuminate the statues and structures and the crowds have cleared out.

Bridge Gate of Charles Bridge Prague
Bridge Gate

We would cross this bridge many times during our stay in Prague. It was our shortest route to the Old Town just across the river, so we were back and forth on the bridge several times each day. No complaints here!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Retro Saturday: The Blue Marlin Day 4- Hawaii 3

This week, we finish the last tournament day of The Blue Marlin. We travel to the island of Kauai, the island of Hawaii best known for wild, natural adventures.

The challenge in this level is not in finding billfish, but in finding large billfish. Some of the biggest fish in the game can be caught on this last day, but also a frustrating number of small marlin and tuna will take your bait as you troll for the big ones.

As per the last few videos, the game has been sped up during trolling sequences and all music has been added in post, removing all annoying sound effects from the game.

Check out the video on my YouTube channel for clickable highlights, and check back next week for a new game.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Deer Park

It's great to get out of the traffic and bustle of our busy neighborhood in Dublin. Going to a park in City Centre can be relaxing, but their prime location makes them busy and sometimes noisy. This noise is usually that of traffic and passing tourists, but sometimes that of street drunks screaming obscenities at each other. The Gardai (Irish police officers) usually can't be bothered with screaming drunks in the park, often preferring to keep walking the beat and enjoying the sunshine with the rest of the tourists.

Away from City Centre, south of our neighborhood and up the steep hill of Mount Merrion is Deer Park. The park is a nice suburban oasis in a quiet and affluent neighborhood, the perfect getaway from the noise of the city.

The park is divided into two halves and crisscrossed with walking paths. The east half is a traditional city park with a playground, greenspace, and a very dense mini forest in which to really feel out of the city. The western half of the park is playing fields for organized sports like tennis, soccer, Gaelic Football, Hurling, and rugby. 

Park Map of Deer Park Dublin, Ireland
Park Map

Green Space Deer Park, Dublin Ireland
Green Space

Walking Path Deer Park Dublin, Ireland
Walking Path

As mentioned earlier, the park is at the top of a steep hill on the south side of Dublin. This elevation affords a great view of Dublin city in a few little windows between buildings. Dublin sadly has very few prominent skyline features, but I enjoy a bird's-eye view of any city. In the photo below, look carefully in the center of the frame for the white obelisk Wellington Monument in Phoenix Park, several miles away.

View of Western Dublin and Phoenix Park

Rock Art in Deer Park Dublin, Ireland
Rock Art

In the middle of the mini forest, it is easy to believe you've been transported to a temperate rainforest in the summertime. Every tree is covered with creeping ivy and vines, giving the illusion that the forest is much more dense than it really is. Seeing this brought me back to camping in the Redwoods of California last summer.

Deer Park trees Dublin, Ireland
It's a Jungle Out There

If You Go

To be very honest, Deer Park shouldn't really be part of the tourist agenda. It is several miles from City Centre in a residential neighborhood. The local southside residents should definitely get out and enjoy this great resource. It is smaller and less busy than Donnybrook's Herbert Park.

Wherever you are, get out and enjoy a public park this summer.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Anniversary Picnic

We here at Narc Ex HQ had a wedding anniversary this week, our first living abroad. We were faced with the same gift-giving challenge we tackled earlier this Spring during our birthday season. We don't have the space for large gifts, and even small gifts given out here will have to be dragged back across the Atlantic when we move again in a few years. 

We went again to our go-to space saving gift to each other- food. This time, we were going to have a cheap but delicious picnic dinner, if the weather cooperated with us.

Sara and I wanted a very American dessert, tastier and more portable than any cake: brownies. These dense, chewy, chocolatey treats would be the first we've had since moving to Dublin. No, there aren't instant brownie mixes available at the supermarket here, but we had the flour, sugar, and cocoa to make it happen.

Brownie Ingredients
Brownie Ingredients

Add the Dry to the Wet, Right? Making brownies
Add the Dry to the Wet, Right?
Cooling Brownie-Cake on a wire rack
Cooling Brownie-Cake

Mixing Frosting for brownies
Mixing Frosting

Don't Call it a Chocolate Cake, it's a large, round, frosted brownie
Don't Call it a Chocolate Cake

We didn't have a square pan, so I used our round cake pan, but these were definitely brownies- much too dense and chewy for a cake. Brownies are traditionally frosted in the (square) pan, but I had extra frosting and wanted these guys to be portable, so I frosted it like a cake for cutting and transport.

And transport we did. We went to a nice park on the River Dodder to enjoy our dinner. We had a salad, some cheese, a selection of cured meats (very continental), brownies, and of course a bottle of homemade apple cider.

The rain stayed away from our picnic, even if unleashed dogs did not. It was hard to believe the temperature was so cool in June. The last few anniversaries in Iowa had been spent in blazing sunshine and early summer humidity. After a great picnic, we enjoyed a pleasant walk home in the late night high latitude sunshine.

The best part? We made it through the anniversary without spending much money and without some lame gift made of copper and/or wool, the traditional gifts of this anniversary. I'll chalk that up as a victory!