Monday, June 30, 2008

30th June – Well settled in to Villa Sigean

First two days are over and time to relax. We have settled in well and so far no complaints with the villa. We had thought there would be beach towels available and that there would be Internet access (the web site said there was). Neither is available. So we will buy some towels today in a Super U and I have to go to the local pub where they have free WiFi to upload these posts to my Blog. The things I have to do in this Information Age!

I always when I am holiday finally feel that I am only on holiday when I can have a beer during the day. Roma and I strolled down to the town centre where we sat outside with a Pelforth beer. At last – now I can fully relax. Having a beer in the middle of the day is something I almost never do, so it is a real holiday treat for me.

We also went down to see Port-la-Nouvelle (we have already christened this “Newport”). Super U was closed, but we had a good look around – nice holiday type town. We bought some bread (French of course) for lunch. Lazy afternoon by the pool – it is very hot, about 32 C. Kate and I played boules and table tennis, and I also played piggy-in-the-middle in the pool with Vicki and Emma. Some cooler weather is coming according to Le Monde – as I write this it is Monday morning and cloudy.

Last evening we went back down to Newport for dinner – I had a Dorado-like fish which was nice. All during dinner I was thinking of the Euro 2008 final between Germany and Spain – I got to see most of the second half, and some bits as we passed bars and restaurants. It looked a bit boring, so maybe I didn’t miss much. My bet on Germany is lost, but I got good value for my €10 – all the way to the final.

I tried the bike this morning and it started first time! I took it for a spin to Newport as I'm certain that I ran down the battery yesterday trying to start it. Good to be on the Harley in sandals, shorts, and t-shirt - this feels good. I called HOG Assistance to find the location of the nearest Harley dealer (Beziers) - but they are closed on Mondays. I'll contact them tomorrow to arrange a fix for my starter motor.

I'm now sitting at a small table on the main street of Sigean with a beer and a wireless connection in Bar la Rotonde. Roma and the girls are off to the Super U in Newport. Lots of the local young lads are riding by on their very noisy scooters and bikes (two-stroke engines) - at least I am not the only person with a loud motorbike around here.

28th June - Destination Sigean

This morning I awoke to the sound of lots of swallows getting ready at dawn for the day’s insect catching action. I had slept with the windows open (Chalet Fleuri is a two-star hotel, no air conditioning) – so all the birds were up early and I decided to join them. Dawn in Chauvigny is beautiful – the sun rises over the medieval part of the town and I was treated to a wonderful silhouette. It was very peaceful and I sat and enjoyed the sun rise. It was 5.30 am and after dawn I decided to go back to bed for a couple of hours – no use trying to check out at that time, or starting a noisy Harley to wake everybody else who did not hear the swallows.

The picture below shows the centre of Chauvigny with the bridge over the river Viennes, note Claire driving past in her silver Citroen C3!

After leaving the hotel, I went down to the town square hoping for a coffee. No Starbucks here, but the place I stopped at only served pizza – I decided to move on. The bike took ages to start (much to the amusement of the watching locals), and this worried me a bit. I stopped off at the Gendarmerie at the edge of town to report my missing passport. The Gendarme did not speak English and I was very proud of myself that I could converse with him in French. I got a report of the missing passport which I need to get out of the country and for getting a new one. The bike started first time after this and I decided to move on.

I had a breakfast of delicious black coffee and two croissants at a roadside café. Exactly as you would get in Ireland, but it tasted so much nicer in France. Once again the bike started OK so I continued my journey in more confidence. The first part was through smaller roads from Chauvigny to Limoges. Lovely countryside with the smell of freshly mown hay everywhere. Weather was excellent – no more rain, I had blue skies for the rest of the day.

Due to starter problems and time in the Gendarmerie I was a bit behind schedule – I had planned to meet Roma and the girls at Carcassonne airport at 3.10pm so once I hit the autoroute I moved at a much faster pace (80mph/130kph). There are a lot of cars on the road, so much so that it seems as if every French person has 4 or 5 cars. There are Citroens, Peugeots, and Renaults everywhere – very patriotic of the French to buy their own cars. I kept seeing Claire’s silver Citroen C3 everywhere – I even waved to her a few times, but she never waved back! At a services station after getting petrol I had problems starting again – really bad this time, but eventually the bike started. I decided not to go for something to eat, but to keep going.

Close to Carcassonne a Ryanair jet flew over the autoroute – it was about 3.00pm, right on time. I got to the arrivals hall literally two minutes ahead of Roma and the girls – excellent time-keeping by my part, I get this from my Dad. Carcassonne is a really small airport so in no time at all the bags were picked up. We were getting a rented car from Hertz – but so was everybody else on the plane. The queue was long and the wait even longer. It was an hour after landing that we finally got the car, 45 minutes of this was at the Hertz office – they were painfully slow. How they could not be more efficient I do not know, surely it is possible to have some preparation done ahead as they only have a few flights a day at the airport – I will use this as an example in my next Business Systems Analysis class. Anyway – great to see Roma and the girls after two day’s away.

We set off for Sigean about 80km away – me leading the way on the bike (started again OK) and Roma following in our Opel Zafira rental. The villa is lovely and we met the owner who showed us around. Finally, we got into the pool and felt that we had arrived and were on holiday at last. I was pleased that my trip on the bike had gone according to plan. However, later when I wanted to move the bike from the front to the back of the villa it would not start at all – I feel certain that the starter motor has had it (this is the third time since I bought the bike). I now have no choice but to call HOG Assistance – but since it is now Saturday evening I will wait until Tuesday before doing anything further (most Harley shops close on Mondays). At least I got here!

We had pizza for dinner in a pizzeria – €60 for delicious pizza and drinks for five. Good value. All to bed exhausted after all the travel.

27th June - je suis en France, mais sans Passport

Arrived in France this morning after an early start in Portsmouth – 0700 ferry departure. No problems at the beginning – I was disappointed not to have seen HMS Victory as I had planned, but I did catch a glimpse as we passed by the Historic Docks from the ferry. Saw lots more modern British warships, including the Ark Royal.

I tried to sleep on the ferry, but no luck – too many noisy children. I did not sleep much last night – I must have woken up 10 times before 0500. Funny how your body wakes you up when you know you have an urgent early start.

I couldn’t help thinking about the Normandy invasion in 1944 as the ferry approached the port of Ouistreham. You could see the beaches from a long way out – what must it have looked like for the Allied men landing in 1944? A day at the beach? Or unknown horror?

After leaving the boat I decided to take it easy for the first few miles (sorry – kilometres, now that I am in France I must speak “metric”). I enjoyed the countryside and soon came across the first of the signs for Second World War cemeteries. I decided to take a short detour to see the Canadian War Cemetery at Cintheaux. – I had never seen one before and recall that on my last trip on the bike through Normandy that I was so late for the ferry that I couldn’t stop. A war cemetery with so many headstones speaks so much for peace and against war. This was a small immaculately maintained cemetery, but there were over 1,000 headstones there – mostly for men killed after the invasion. The ages were mostly in the 20’s with lots of Irish names like O’Neill, O’Reilly, and McCormack. I took some photos, but did feel a bit invasive of the tranquillity of the cemetery (I was the only person there). I signed the Visitor’s Book but was not sure what to say in the comments section. Most other people simply said “Thanks”, “Merci” or “With Gratitude” – one entry curiously said “Well done lads”, I simply wrote “Rest in peace”.

The photo here is of my bike and a giant Canadian Maple Leaf just outside the cemetery.

No rain today, though it was very cloudy in Normandy. There were a few drops to remind me about yesterday in case I had forgotten already about the wind and rain in Wales and England. The further South I headed – the warmer it got. I stopped at an Autoroute Services station for lunch and at last enjoyed some heat for the first time in two years. This stop was spoiled a bit by a particularly noisy 1-year old at the next table who wouldn’t stop screaming her head off despite her mother’s useless efforts (am I becoming intolerant of noisy kids after three of my own?).

The Autoroute was great and easy to ride. For a brief period before I turned off at Chatellerault I was joined on the road by about 20 other Harley-Davidson riders. So for a short time I rode with a biker gang who called themselves “Tintin’s Club”! My destination today was Chauvigny – a medieval city. However, on my arrival as I was checking all my gear I couldn’t find my passport – despite searching everything I soon realised that I had lost it. I’m guessing it fell out of my pocket when I was paying tolls which I had to do twice. Stupid! I have to go to the Gendarmes tomorrow.

Chauvigny is a beautiful town on the river Vienne. I explored the 11th-13th Century buildings at the top of the town and had a nice pint (half litre) of Heineken. I ate duck and noodles in a Vietnamese restaurant before strolling back to my hotel, Chalet Fleuri, which is on the edge of the river.

I thought my evening was over until I encountered one of the locals who was walking his dog. I’d guess he was in his sixties and he muttered (he had no teeth) something to me in French but I could not understand. He kept this up and despite not understanding a word that he spoke he made it clear that he was offering me sex by pointing to my Men’s Dept! I don’t know if he was the local pimp, or if he fancied me himself – but I’m glad to report that I did not take him up on his offer. I’m 48 years old and this is the first time a man has offered me sex, and it happened in Chauvigny. The only word I understood in the end was “Domage” – beware of toothless dog-walking Frenchmen I say!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Rain, rain, and more rain!

Today was about rain. It started with thunder and lightening in Dún Laoighaire Harbour about 10 minutes before boarding the HSS. I was chatting to other bikers when the heavens opened. The ferry crossing was fine, but it was lashing rain when I disembarked.

I'm sure that North Wales and especially the Snowdonia region are beautiful, but it was almost impossible to see through the driving rain. I was reduced to 20 and 30 mph on several occasions on some twisty roads that I did not expect - I was on the A5. The rain eased off by the time I got to Shrewsbury, I had a few more showers during the rest of the trip, but the rain never stopped altogether. A thoroughly miserable trip through Wales.

I had some light relief along the way. At a Stop-and-Go roadworks in Wales I stopped beside a field with a small herd of buffalo - how I wished I was on the dry prairies in the American mid-west at that moment. In Wales they have wonderful unpronouncable names: Betws-y-coed (Betty goes to a coed school?), Cerrigydrudion, Ty Nant, - I also saw a statue to Owain Glyndwr (a Welsh hero).

In England I had some fun looking at number plates - some interesting three letter combinations ONE, NOT, UHT, - I also saw PNE (Preston North End) and even EOL (your's truly!). I made good progress as I passed through the M54, M6, M5, M4, M3, and M27. I arrived in Portsmouth about 7 hours and 300 miles after leaving Holyhead - below is a Google Maps record of my route:

The Ibis hotel that I am staying at is OK - it was easy to find and is close to the docks for my early departure tomorrow morning. However, the heater in my room is not working - so I can't dry out my gear. Both my boots are wet (mental note - buy new boots), which won't be a problem if it is dry tomorrow in France. My jacket is a bit damp, but should be OK. Nothing is cheap here - I have had a fish and chips dinner and a couple of nice pints of Worthington's Free Flow (£20). Even this Internet connection is £7 for two hours.

I watched the end of Spain vs Russia (3-0) in the European Championship - looked a bit one-sided. Everybody will be up for Spain in the final against Germany - but I will be supporting the Germans as I have €10 on them to win at 6/1! Deutschland Uber Alles!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Ready to go!

It's Wednesday 25th June - the day before I head of to France and I think everything is ready to go. I took the Harley out for a spin this morning down to Rathnew - I have a new seat with a backrest and I am still trying to get used to it. It seems a little bit higher than the old one and is definitely closer to the handlebars. This is making me sit up a bit straighter which of course is good - the backrest is also great. I'm facing 1,000 miles on the road over the next three days, so I want to be as comfortable as possible.

I filled up the petrol tank to the brim at Texaco in Newtownpark Avenue - this should get me about 175 miles in Wales and England tomorrow. As petrol is a lot more expensive in England I hope to only have to fill up once. The mileage counter is at 24,642 miles - I expect it to be close to 27,000 miles on my return.

I'm taking the HSS from Dún Laoghaire to Holyhead in Wales at 11.10 in the morning - a nice civilized hour to start off. I have all my bags packed. The Harley has two saddle bags - one will be for "bike stuff", the other will hold non-clothes items such as shoes, chargers, cables, camera, and books. I'm taking my clothes in a carry bag and straping this to my rear seat.

I'm really looking forward to this journey - the first stage (Holyhead to Portsmouth) will be about 300 miles and should take about 5-6 hours. I'm taking my computer with me so that I can hopefully blog my trip and holiday. Watch this space!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Séamus (Shay) Byrne - 1947-2008

My Mum's first cousin Shay Byrne died on May 14th last after a long struggle with Multiple Sclerosis. I attended his funeral at Mt Jerome Cemetary and as usual met a lot of family I hadn't seen in years. While it was a sad occasion, there was a sense of release for Shay - he was diagnosed with MS in 1992.

He was a huge Beatles fan and some of their music was played at the funeral mass. The LP "Revolver" was brought up as an Offertory gift - cool! We all left the church to the sound of "Here Comes the Sun".

I have only a few memories of Shay - the last time I saw him was in 1998 when I brought my Canadian uncle Brendan Byrne out to see him at home in Ballyboden. Despite our best efforts, he was unable to join us for a pint down the local. Previous to this I met him and Brendan (again) in Bruxelles in Dublin for a pint in the afternoon - Shay was on strike from work, hence his freedom for an afternoon pint. I'm sure this was in 1981 as Roma and I went to a party in the Byrne house in Rathfarnham that evening on one of our first dates. I fondly remember Shay and all the Byrnes singing every Beatles song they knew!

I also remember Shay from the early 1970s. There was an occasion when all the Byrne family came down to Ballingate and camped in Mum and Dad's front garden. I recall hair was very long and I thought Shay and his brothers were the coolest people on the planet. He would only have been in his early 20s at that stage and he happily chatted with us youngsters.

At his funeral, there was much mention of a book of Shay's thoughts and memories being published. Shay was a regular in Smyth's of Haddington Road as is former Senator Maurice Manning who championed Shay's book. I got it in the post this morning from Shay's brother Brendan and read it in one go almost immediately. It is very funny and contains random thoughts and memories. I especially liked "Tarzan's Three Challenges" and "Cleaning Up Misery Hill". He loved Dublin, but also managed to travel a bit - his memories of hitch-hiking in America are a great read.

At the end of his life, Shay was confined to a wheelchair being paralysed from the neck down - it was indeed a great achievement to be able to write a book. What a pity he did not live to see it in print - no doubt he would have enjoyed a pint or three in celebration!

Roma is Killiney Lion's Club President for 2008/2009

Last night in McCormack's Pub in Mounttown Road the Killiney Lions Club held their Annual Hand-over Meeting where the out-going President presents the new President with the Chain of Office. Roma is President for the next year - here she is wearing her new chain. Her name will be engraved on it in due course. Roma made a short speech to thank the out-going President (Dan) for his efforts - the thrust of her speech was that everybody in the Lions Club "wants the same thing", to help the needy.

Viva el Presidente (the new one)!

We had a pleasant evening and I enjoyed my salad washed down with a few glasses of wine. I was asked when I was going to join the Lions Club - I replied "It's not for me".

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Crabs on Roney Beach

In 2005 I wrote a scientific paper about the spider crab Maja squinado for the Irish Naturalist's Journal - my first journal paper in 18 years. The INJ don't publish abstracts or full papers on-line, but the title and volume details are listed in the Archive section of their website.

The scientific citation for the paper is as follows:

O'Loughlin, E.F.M. (2005).
A note on aggregation behaviour and mass mortality of the spider crab Maja squinado (Herbst) (Decapoda, Majidae) in shallow water on the north Co Wexford coast.
Irish Naturalist’s Journal, Issue 28 (2)

The paper is about an unusual event on Roney Beach which I discovered. Selected extracts from the paper:

On 1 August 2004, a large aggregation of thousands of spider crabs was observed on the north Wexford coast in Roney Bay (T212505) near Cahore Point.
Observations were made in very shallow water (1.5 m to 4 m depth) by the author while snorkelling between 2 m and 40 m distance from the shore. Sea conditions were very calm in this locality on 1 August 2004.
On 2 August 2004, sea conditions were rougher as the wind picked up and wave activity increased. This resulted in huge numbers of spider crabs’ carcasses being washed ashore.

I had taken some photographs and included these in the paper submission. However, the Editor declined to publish the photo (it would have cost a lot) and the Editor also felt that the text description was adequate. I include a scaled down version here in this post - click the picture to see a larger version.

It was a fantastic sight that I have not seen in the following years. Apparently it is very unusual, but does happen. In a report in the London Times dated 13th August 1997, an estimated mound of over 50,000 spider crabs, ten animals deep and weighing 10 tonnes, was discovered on the Dorset coast of England at a depth of 4 metres. From the article:

Although there is documentation that spiny crabs come together in this way periodically, no one yet fully knows why or can predict where and when these mass meetings take place." Dr Collins, of the university's Department of Oceanology, estimates that he saw 50,000 crabs, weighing about 10 tonnes. Some scientists believe the mass meetings bring males and females together for mating. But Dr Collins said: "Let's face it, you do not need to get together with thousands of others to mate."


Monday, June 02, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Roma and I went to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull last Friday evening. I'm a big fan in the Indiana Jones movies, so I was very much looking forward to this.

You know what you are going to get with this type of action movie - ACTION, and lots of it!

This is a really enjoyable movie and age hasn't slowed down Indy at all. There are a lot of things happening - a criticism might be that there is too much happening. The story is a bit complicated to follow (not like the previous Indiana Jones movies).

I still rate The Last Crusade as my favourite Indiana Jones movie, followed by Raiders of the Lost Ark. Crystal Skull is not as good as these, but is better that The Temple of Doom.

Visit to Ottawa, Canada, in May 1998

I once had a Home Page at Ireland On-line (, IOL were my first ISP. Curiously, the page still exists, though I no longer maintain it. On it I had "travel" section where I wrote about some of my travels - this was a period when I traveled quite a lot with work.

On one occasion I was sent to Ottawa in Canada on business. Luckily, I was able to combine the trip with some family contact - I had three cousins, Janet , Barbara, and Lauralea, living in Ottawa at that time. I was looking up my old IOL home page recently and enjoyed reading my old report on this visit.

Here it is again:

Canada - Ottawa, May 1998

I had the pleasure of preparing Ottawa for Kathleen's visit this summer with a two day business/pleasure trip. CBT Systems sent me over to check out the Development Center of a company that we are buying out called ForeFront.

I arrived in Ottawa on Monday 18th May. It was so good to see a friendly face at the airport - Lauralea was there to meet me. This is the first time that I have been met by somebody I know on any of my business trips. Lauralea took me to her house and introduced me to everybody who lives in Pocono. First time I met Serge, Kate and Natalie - Erin and I are old buddies from her visit to Ireland last year.

After checking into my hotel with a great view out towards Gatineau I went to Janet's apartment where I was treated to a song from the wonderful Barbara accompanied by the equally wonderful Janet on piano. Barbara's Italian is really good and she does Sarah Brightman better than Sarah Brightman herself. Barbara and Janet are both too young to remember Sarah singing "I lost my heart to a Starship Trooper" back in the 70s. We all had dinner in the Laurier Hotel - we almost had the entire restaurant ourselves. We got through all the family gossip (hey - no secrets were revealed!), Picasso (sorry I didn't get to see this Barbara), and Janet, Barbara and Lauralea days growing up. A most enjoyable evening that I will remember for a long time. I forgot to show you my photos of the O'Loughlin girls - I only brought a few hundred and it's a pity we didn't get through them. Janet sent me some photos - here's a sample of lucky me with my three cousins on the stairs in the Laurier Hotel lobby: All next day was spent in ForeFront - a fairly productive visit. Don't know if I'll ever be back.

Tuesday evening, Lauralea and I went out to the Markets area of Downtown Ottawa (looks to me like everything in Ottawa is Downtown!). Three of us had dinner in a restaurant whose name I do not remember. Lauralea had pizza, I had burger and fries, and our mosquito has a piece of my legs. I've already warned Kathleen about Ottawa's insect population whose grapevine is already spreading the news that Irish legs taste best. Our insect repellent factories are already working nights to supply Kathleen with enough repellent for her two week stay!

Lauralea and I went to the Heart and Crown where we had two pints of Guinness. Lauralea - I don't care what you say, Guinness does not travel well and tastes best in Dublin. I should stick to my principles and drink only local beer wherever I go. Lauralea also added to her beer mat collection - she still has one's that I wrote on in 1983!

Wednesday I visited the Royal Canadian Mint where I was keen to add to my coin collection. I think that they are going to melt down all the money I spent and keep Canada's pockets rattling with coins for the next year. Barbara, I passed by the Picasso exhibition - nice building!

I had lunch with Janet in the Cafe across from the Parliament building. Janet, please pass on my regards to Beth. Sorry our time was so short, but it was great to see you again.

Lauralea picked me up from my hotel and brought me to the airport via her house and a large shopping center where she obviously gets commission on everything that her "guests" spend. I picked up a particularly nice soap stone plaque to go with a similar one I purchased in Toronto last year.

Alas, time to go home and Lauralea brought me to the airport to make sure that I got on the plane. Last year I got the trip to Toronto right out of the blue, same this year with Ottawa. Who knows, maybe I'll get to Canada soon again and see all my other cousins and relatives.