Google+ The Norris Files: September 2009

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Dust Storm

Brissie wast hit with a duststorm today that made its way up from Sydney overnight and during the this morning. Sydney airport was closed this morning and international flights re-routed to Brisbane. About 11:00am the light started to change and become an eerie orange glow and the dust was visible rolling in from the southwest. The air tastes like dust and at times its hard to breathe.



Honeymoon Snaps

Nick emailed me some of his honeymoon snaps today from his time around Lake Louise and Lake Emerald. They look very cool.




Sick!!

I set a record for me this morning after waking up from 13.5hs of straight sleep. I went to bed at 01:00 and woke up the next afternoon at 14:30. I had no idea of the time when I woke up, I thought it was about 08:00 in the morning.

On the downside I am getting sick! I feel rotten so I will go to the doctors today to get some antibiotics. I'm disappointed that I didn't get through this trip without getting sick, but there were so many sick people on the plane it was probably unavoidable. I dont start work for three days but the way I feel I may have to have an extra day or two off sick before I start back at work

Heading Home

I only got four hours sleep last night as I had to be up at 04:30 to get to Dublin airport to catch the 06:40 flight to Heathrow. The plane was held on the tarmac for awhile as there was landing hold ups in Heathrow. Finally we got underway and landed in Heathrow just over an hour later. It was then only a couple of hours wait bedfore I boarded the junmbo and twelve and a half hours later I landed in Kuala Lumpur. From there a quick transfer onto a 777-200 for the flight to Sydney and then Brisbane

The plane had to circle Sydney for an hour due to air traffic congestion and after landing we had to disemaek from the plane and reboard 1.5hrs later for the flight to Brisbane. Because of the delay in the air they must of decided to cut short the 1.5hr stopover as we got back on the plane in what seemed like under an hour. Then it was an hour and five minute flight up to Brisbane for a rough landing at exactly 22:00. After going through customs and the sniffer dogs I caught a taxi home and walked in the door around 23:15.

All up the flights wern't that bad, it was just a very long time to be flying. What made it worse was the stopover in Sydney which brought the trip to a total of 4 landings and takeoffs. Turbulence was not that bad on the flights, a bit bumpy coming down the coast of Malaysia to land in Kuala Lumpr and a bit rough coming into Sydney because of high winds. Other than that I'm very glad to be home and sleeping in my own bed. I ended up crashing at around 01:00.

Dublin and the Giant Stuff Up

Well what a day! It started of all right with a leisurely drive back to Dublin from Gort. Arrived in Dublin around 14:00, returned the rental car, caught the shuttle bus to the airport and then to the airport hotel. First stuff up, my reservation at the hotel was for yesterday. No big deal, just pay for another booki g a d get a refund from the travel agent after giving him a serve for mixing up my reservation.

Then I get to my room and think Hmmm, maybe I had better check my airline tickets are for the correct day! Turns out at that particulary moment I should of been four hours into a flight from London to Kuala Lumpur, not sitting in a hotel in Dublin, Ireland!!!!

Well it turned out it was my fault. I don't know why, I think probably tiredness, plus the fact I hadn't checked my itineary since Nicks wedding and I had the original departure date in my head but this had been changed before I left Australia. Probably the other reason was that I just lost track of days, so even though I saw on paper that I was leaving for London and home today, it just never registered in my brain. Idiot!!!

So it turned out after frantically trying to find a contact number for Malaysian Airlines that whilst they initially said they could only get me back home in ten days time!!!!they put me on a flight the next day. At this stage I believe the new flight from Heathrow to Kuala Lumpar connects with my original flight from Kuala Lumpur to Brisbane, getting me home at the same time as the original ticket but without the overnight stopover in Kuala Lumpur. This I will have to confirm once I get to Heathrow.

Fortunately Malaysian Airlines got me on these flight for only an extra couple of hundred Australian dollars. The British Midlines flight from Dublin to Heathrow was not refundable so I had to buy a new ticket and upgrade to business class as that was all they had available. So all up it is going to cost me a nights accomodation in Dublin, the cost of the flight from Dublin to Heathrow and a few hundred dollars for the new international flights. I guess it will also cost me an extra days car hire as well. I don't understand why the car rental company didn't mention to me when I returned the car that I was a day late in it.

Its a bit of a pain really because tbe rest of the holiday went to plan almost perfectly. Oh well, day done, crisis over, Phew!!!

West Coast of Ireland Part 3

I woke up to a really nice day with hardly a cloud in the sky. I followed a circuit route today leaving from Gort and heading south to Ennis before turning towards the North Atlantic Ocean and the small seaside village of Milltown Malbay.

From there I followed the coastline towards the Cliffs of Moher which rise in a sheer face up to 600 feet above the Atlantic and stretch for five miles along the coast. The main viewing area for the cliffs has raised platforms and walkways which allows for a better viewpoint. When the sunlight catches the cliffs they are quite dramatic as they are contrasted against the blue-green of the Atlantic.

Continuing on I followed the Burren Way over vast exposed limestone plateaus and hillsides that give the appearance of a lunar landscape, quite different to any other Irish landscape. This area is dotted with stone forts and ancient monastic settlements. The route continues on narrow country lands bordered by stone hedges and passes through Doolin and the Caher Valley all the while overlooking Galway Bay. I completed the circuit back to Gort via Kinvara on narrow windy rural lanes.

Like most of what I have seen of Ireland this area is not really ideal for sight-seeking. The roads are incredibly narrow (I have scratched the side of the rental car so bad as you have to pull right into the bushes when you meet a car coming the other way. Hope the rental people don't notice!) and you can't pullover to see the view or take photos hence, minimal Ireland photos.

Well, that's about it for this trip, Tomorrow I travel across to Dublin, return the car and get ready to fly out of Dublin back to Brisbane by way of Heathrow, Kuala Lumpur and Sydney.

West Coast Ireland of Part 2

I left Westport this morning and continued down the west coast via Clifden and Galway before turning slightly inland and ending up at a town called Gort. The coastline so far has been windswept and wild but is actually more populated than I thought it would be. It has stopped raining today and is quite warm with only a few clouds in the sky. From what the locals tell me this is the best weather they have had for sometime. Continuing south I was unexpectedly confronted by the site of Kylemore Abbey as I rounded a corner. It is situated in quite a remote but beautiful spot.

Dairy farming seems quite common in this area and extends right up to the Atlantic Ocean foreshore in some places. Amusingly in one place I had to follow a herd of cows along a narrow road bordered by mountains one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other. They were being herded by some old Irish guys on decrepit push bikes. The cows and calves trotted along quite happily but the old bull of the herd took his time, ambling along at his own pace about 200 metres behind his cows. It was a least a kilometre before I could get passed them.

I reached Gort around 2:00pm and booked into a big hotel, The Lady Gregory. While having lunch in the main street of Gort a police car closely followed by an army green landcruiser, an armoured van and then another army green landcruiser, roared up the road and stopped a few doors up. Out from the landcruisers jumped about six military guys in full battle attire including machine guns. They then proceeded to guard the transfer of money between the bank they had stopped outside of and the armoured van. The waiter of the cafe I was at told me that this is how it is done in Britian, France and other parts of Europe. I can't say I noticed it whilst in Europe but it was quite impressive. A bit different to back home in Aus.

The hotel room is huge but I must say the water quality is a bit sus. I'm not sure if you can tell in the picture but the water is a very light urine colour! Nice! I haven't been game to drink it yet! I had dinner in the Irish pub connected to the hotel. I just can't get used to the huge size of the Irish portions or the heaviness of the food, so I settled for the soup!

West Coast of Ireland Part 1

After saying my goodbyes to Nick this morning I started heading north towards the Giants Causeway Coastline of Northern Ireland. The weather seemed to be getting worse the further north I headed so not feeling like driving in the rain I decided to turn around and head south-west and see as much of the West Coast of Ireland as I could before I left for home.

I ended up in Westport on the west coast after travelling through Omagh, Enniskillen, Sligo and Castlebar. The weather improved somewhat as I travelled south-west but it still rained for most of the day. I booked into a the Atlantic Coast Hotel just outside the town centre on Westport Quay. It overlooked Clew Bay with Croagh Patrick Mountain providing a strking backdrop. If you look closely at the picture to the right you will see a little white dot on top of the mountain which is actually a chapel. Apparentely this site is the most important Catholic pilgrimage destination in Ireland with up to one million doing the pligrimage to the summit each year. I wasn't in the mood for a barefoot pilgrimage up a 640mn high mountain to pay penance, but given more time I would have liked to walked to the summit for the views.

The weather was still fairly awful and I half heartedly attempted a walk along the quay but gave up after after nearly being blown of my feet. In this type of weather the area looked pretty bleak but as you can see from these pictures taken the next morning when it was fine, it is quite a pretty spot with views to the ocean,the mountains and green fields with a small lake just opposite the hotel. Westport Quay reminded me of Brisbane with many of the quay side warehouses now renovated into either hotels, restaraunts or pubs.

Wedding Day

When I woke up early this morning and poked my head outside the window I saw that Nick and Rachael were going to have a reasonably fine day for there wedding. The ceremony was at Fintona Gospel Hall so I had to scoot down there for the midday start. It was a little starnge being at a relatives wedding and only knowing a handful of faces. I said hello to Alan and Shonagh Davidson and sat beside Anne Smith and her husband who I had never met but had heard alot about from Dad.

The ceromony went of perfectly, Nick vows were slightly drowned out by Jake deciding that it was an appropriate time to chuck a wobbly. LOL. Afterwards there was plenty of photo opportunities outside the hall followed up by the bride and groom hopping onto an open horse carriage complete with top-hatted driver. Appareantely as they were driven through the village of Fintona back to Rachaels parents house the towns people came out and clapped or cheered. I missed that bit as everyone apart from those in the wedding party stayed at the hall however, it would of been worth watching to see Nicks reaction. LOL

A great spread of food was provided at the hall, but after a cup of coffee and not knowing anyone there I decided to head back to the hotel as that was where the reception was being held in a few hours time. Guest started arriving around 15:00 and after a few hours of photos in the grounds of the hotel everyone went into the reception area which was above the hotel restaraunt. After a few speeches a four course meal waas served over about 4 hours. I sat at a table mostly made up of young people that knew Racheal and had met Nick on his previous trips. After a few more speeches the evening was over at about 21:30 or close to 22:00

Outside it was pouring with rain and Cheryl and Chris had to make the journey back to Dublin that night to catch a 07:00 plane the next morning to Paris. After using my room to change into more comfortable clothes and getting there boarding passes for tomorrows flight printed out at the hotels reception desk, it was getting close to midnight before they headed off

Nick and Racheal stayed in the bridal suite of the hotel in a seperate wing of the hotel. Tommorrow they will leave fairly early to get to Belfast for there flight that leaves just after lunch for Vancouver. All up a great day that went without a hitch. I think they picked a perfect place for the reception and the ceremony at the hall was well organised with alot of work going into the event

Unfortunately I don't have one photo of the event as my camera battery was flat and at that stage I didn't have a UK adapter. Hopefully I can get some photos from Cheryl or Nick in the future to post here.

Dublin to Northern Ireland

After a long walk from the hotel to the car rental place and some time spent twiddling my thumbs as they sorting out my car, I eventually headed in the direction of Northern Ireland. Dublin was hosting a Hurling grand final so it took me more than an hour to get out of the city. Then after numerous u-turns I eventually found a signed highway that confirmed I was going in the correct direction.

I decided to call Nick when I got to Enniskillen and from there I arranged to meet him in Fintona. In Fintona I checked out his new BMW, Nice!!, then got direction to the wedding reception just outside of Cooktown where I was staying for two nights.

I eventually found Tullygdagen Country House after getting lost many times on narrow unsigned rural roads. The place consists of a hotel which is the country house plus a building that houses a restaraunt and the reception area. The grounds are really beautiful, and my room is typical of old country houses with my bathroom nearly as big as some of the hotel rooms I have stayed in recently. I had dinner in the restraunt and ordered the duck. As far as I can remember thats the first time I have had duck and I was a bit unimpressed, quite stringy and dry.

I caught up with Nick later that night when he came back to the reception area to drop off name cards. I then followed him back to Pomoroy (where they where all staying in a cottage), at around midnight on dark, windy wet country roads to pick up my suit for the wedding. Coming back on my own I somehow managed to find my way without drama to Cooktown but got a little lost in the town. A service station attendant set me in the right direction and I got to bed around 01:00.

The Irish Mail

This morning I toook a short tube ride to Euston station to catch the 08:50 125mph Virgin train to Holyhead. Although Virgin have chosen not to name their train this is the famous Irish mail and follows the route (although in reverse for my trip) of many generations of Irish immigrants. I didn't realise that the train operated two classes so I had only booked into coach class. Bad idea! I was mixed in with screaming, crying kids so I probably didn't enjoy this train trip as much as I might have

After leaving Euston station the train sweeps through the Buckinghamshire and Northhamptonshire countryside with frequent glimpses of canal boats on the Grand Union Canal alongside the railway. Some hours later the train left the town of Chester and passed the towns historic city walls. The train then started to follow the north Wales coastline, often just a short stones throw to the ocean. At one point we passeed the an old ferry moored seemingly in the middle of nowhere. It was the ferry 'Duke of Lancaster" brought here as a floating nightclub but now just rusting away. I found this stretch of coastline quite desolate and depressing, not at all hepled by the numerous gauwdy and cheap carnivals dotted alomg the coast complete with merry-go-rounds and ferris wheels.

As the train entered the pretty town of Conwy we passed directly under the walls of Conwys impressive castle. Finally, before arriving in the port of Holyhead the mountains of Snowdonia are visible in the distance. Arriving at Holyhead we were transferd by shuttlebus onto the 50,000 ton Irish Ferry 'Ulysses' for the approx 3.5hr trip across the Irish sea to Dublin.

The conditions were posted as rough to moderate seas but apart from a bit of swell leaving Holyhead it was calm sailing. The ferry was huge with numerous restraunts, pubs, shops and places to gamble. Not really my scene, plus as your in the middle of the Irish Sea there is very little to see so I jsut stretched out and dozed.

A few hours later the ferry entered the wide Bay of Dublin with Dun Laoghaire harbour to my left and the the dark purple Wicklow Hills in the distance behind it, and the town of Howth to my right. After disembarking I caught a bus to Dublin centre and then a taxi to my hotel located in the Temple Bar area.

The hotel was a bit difficult to find as the Temple Bar area of Dublin has preserved its medievil street patterns with narrow cobbled streets that are easy to get lost in. Eventually I found the hotel, had dinner, tried to contact Nick unsuccessfully then went to bed. Well, I went to bed but couldn't sleep as the Temple Bar area is known for its nightlife and there was an Irish Pub underneath my window in the alley below complete with Irish music at full volume. Around 02:00 I took a sleeping tablet and that was the last thing I remember.

South of France to London

A travel day today. After catching the 07:04 regional train from Isle sur la Sorgue to Avignon Centreville, it was a short shuttle bus ride to the Avignon TGV station and a blast through the french countryside arriving at Paris Lyon station just after midday. A metro ride deposited me at Gare du Nord to catch the Eurostar to London St Pancras arriving around 15:30. Earlier I had done this journey during the night and in reverse, and it came as a suprise how little time the train spends transiting the chunnel.

A tube ride to Bayswater station (which of course was not without its complications; namely terminating before the station I wanted to go to) and a short walk brought me to my hotel a stones throw from Hyde Park. The hotel looked out onto a square that was tree lined and covered in lush green grass. My hotel room was right at footpath level which proved quite interesting as the late night revellers walked past, but eventually I dropped of to sleep.

South of France Part 4

After breakfast in the hotel courtyard it was time to head back to Isle sur la Sorgue via a different route from yesterday. After a frustrating 10km detour until I found the correct route it was a fairly pleasant ride back to the hotel, about 56kms in total.

Just outside the old village of Eygaliers I stopped to photograph Chapelle St Sixte. This is a 12th century chapel said to be the most photographed chapel in Provence. Most of the landscape in this area of southern France is a rocky and dry with relief provided by the greenery of the vines, orchards and olive trees but very little in the way of grass. The fields and orchards tend to be on the overgrown side and the old houses in poor repair. All my riding in the south of France has been done in a valley that lies between the mountain ranges of the Luberon and while there is plenty of flatland it is the hilltop villages with there ancient towns that provide real interest and picturesque settings. At one point through the heat haze I spooted a large mountain in the distance with some type of observertory at its summit that I had not noticed on my previous rides. It was only later I reliased that it was Mt Ventoux, where the pnenultimate stage of this years Tour de France had only recently been completed.

This picture on the right really cracks me up as it looks like I'm in a foul mood, but it was just a combination of the glare and the temperature being around 35 degrees that is causing me to grimace. I arrived back at Isle sur la Sorgue mid-afternoon and grabbed some luch and dinner to take back to the hotel. Went to bed reasonably early as the train leaves at 07:04 tomorrow and I will say goodbye to Europe as I head to Ireland

South of France Day 3

After breakfast the plan was to ride to St Remy de Provence and sleep the night returning the next day to the same hotel in Isle sur la Sorgue. The ride as about 46km but with detours and getting lost I ended up doing around 50km. Todays ride was easier as the weather was slightly overcast and the route did not have as much elevation gain as the previous ride.

I arrived at St Remy at about 14:00 and the place was a bit of a mad house. Market stalls had taken over what appeared to be the town centre and traffic was at a standstill on the narrow streets. I only had a very poor map of St Remy so I got completely lost and circled around and around the central part of the village without finding the hotel I had booked for the night. I asked so old dear if she knew the direction of the hotel and she yabbered away in French for ages without me comprehending was say was trying to tell me. She waved her hand vaguely in one direction so I headed of that way.

Finally, after much frustration I found the hotel. The village has a maze of narrow streets running in all diferent directions and to make matters worse waht appeared to be obviously the town centre complete with roundabout, fountain, statues and a plaza was in fact not the town centre or centreville as the area I was to stay in is known.

The female at the hotel I was staying in that night did not speak a word of English so it was an amusing time as I attempted to indicate I had a reservation, I needed to pay by credit card and I needed to lsomewhere to lock my bike up for the night. Somehow we both figured it out in the end.

The hotel was a jumble of old farm buildings together with new or renovated buildings that formed a square around acentral courtyard and terrace compelete with pool. The entrance to the hotel was guarded by huge iron gates that were framed by a stone arch and pillars either side. The hotel appeared to be made up of apartments like mine and units with private balconies. You could sit on the central terrace lined with poplars with the swimming pool to one side whilst drinks were served from the bar housed in an renovated barn behind you. The terrace was also the area where breakfast would be served in the morning.

South of France Day 2; Rest Day

The plan was for another 60km plus ride today with plenty of elevation to be gained by riding to various other hilltop villages. In the end I decided I was to worn out from yesterdays ride and elected to have a rest day.

I ended up wandering around the old part of Isle sur la Sorgue including eating lunch and dinner their. I had a coffee at Cafe de France which is in a courtyard outside the main church in the centre of the old village. The outdoor area of the cafe is shaded by a massive tree and it is a fantastic place to sit and people watch. The waiter put on an impressive show of opening and pouring screw top bottles one handed with a technique that I couldn't describe or follow. Very cool though!

South of France Day 1

There was a bit of a hold this morning as after breakfast the rental company still had not delivered the bike. Eventually it arrived and I got underway around 9:30-10:00. It was a stinking hot day with hardly a cloud in the sky. After the usual problems I always have with directions I finally found the correct road and headed off towards Petit Palais.

Basically today’s ride is a loop ride starting in Isle su la Sorgue, going to Menerbes, Bonnieux and Lacoste before returning to Isle sur la Sorgue. The ride mostly followed the Luberon bike route which is sign posted in a fashion, and takes in the best of Provences hilltop villages.

The hilltop villages of Provence that I visited today where all nestled precariously into the hillside or on top of hills. Houses had been built around a ch√Ęteau or church, and crops or vineyards planted alongside or in the surrounding plains. Shady squares, clear running fountains, windy narrow streets and the stone construction where all typical elements of each village I visited.

Some of the villages where still thriving, others less so, some even deserted as over the years the need for fortified protection has diminished and the towns people had relocated to the plains. The village of Menerbes stretched out on a spur and dating back to Roman times, was probably my favourite today. It seemed to me to be the most populated and thriving of villages I visited, and seems to be home to muscians, writers, artist and craftsmen.

All up today the ride was around 70kms’s in heat up to 38 degrees. By 14:00 I was pretty stuffed and still faced around 30km’s to get back to the hotel. To make matters worse after I had finished the final climb and descent it was around 25km’s into a blustery head wind to get home. I was very happy to see the hotel, grab some dinner in town and then crash. A very tiring day.