Sunday, January 08, 2006

Dublin 2006

"So you've come all the way to Ireland for Funderland?" asked the taxi driver when I answered the obligatory "are you here for work or pleasure" question and whilst it wasn't the only reason for flying over to another country, it was the main one. I was also taking the opportunity to catch up with friends in the off-season and take in a little go-karting on the way.

Somehow the pilot managed to cut a corner and touch down 15 minutes ahead of schedule, quite impressive for a 50 minute flight. I had been making my way slowly through a puzzle book and was still on the same puzzle as he started his descent. I don't know if that says more about the flying or my lack of skill at these particular puzzles. Anyway, by the time I had made it to the hotel it was 22.30 and with the majority of the group having met earlier and not wanting to gatecrash their meal I decided to take in a little sight-seeing before going to bed.

The main river that runs through Dublin is the Liffey, a 125km waterway that runs through the centre of Dublin, in much the same way the Thames bisects London. I figured I'd walk up to that then follow it to O'Connell and Grafton; the main streets of the capital.

I had visited the city a few years ago for a friend's 30th but it had been interesting to see how much the city had changed. Quite a lot of development had taken place north of the river, including this modern sea-fairing vessel I spotted from one of the many bridges that crosses the river, and figured I'd take a picture close up.

Just ahead of that was an even older Longship that was docked, I can only assume the Viking crew had gone off to the Temple Bar area for some alcohol and world famous Irish hospitality. Look, I know the picture is dark but it is a longship, honest. Don't believe me? OK I guess I'll have to come back when the sun is up!

One of the more modern bridges spanning the river, which looks like the Millennium Bridge in London. I don't know if this one had a history of wobbling like that one though. Even me walking across it failed to make it move.

This piece of art further along the river is called "Famine", and I think it used to be in the main city park but it's now here. It commemorates the Irish famine that hit the country between 1846-1850.

This is the Ulster Bank Building, rising over the city like the Tyrell Corporation Pyramid in Blade Runner.

This is the main Government Building in the city, completed in 1922 and situated on the Northern Bank of the Liffey. It now houses the Department of the Taoiseach, the Department of Finance and the Office of the Attorney General. The thin vertical strip of light just behind, was something I hadn't seen before and being the curious beast I am I decided to head off that way to see what it was.

[amendment] This is not the main Government building at all, it's apparently on the other side of the river. Ah well something to look for next time. This is actually the Department of the Environment.

The main street North of the river is O'Connell street, one of the widest streets in Europe and named after Daniel O'Connell, a Nationalist leader of the early 19th Century. Not to be confused with Daniel O'Donnell, the Irish crooner admired by grannies all over Ireland ("Oh, he's a lovely man!!")

The source of the light turned out to be a huge metallic spire erected in the centre of the street for reasons that people I'd asked couldn't explain. Some thought it was to do with the Millennium celebrations, others thought it was just part of a modernisation of the entire street (and there was a lot of construction going on along it's length). Apparently it's the tallest sculpture in the world and as such is a real bitch to photograph, even more so at night. It looked like I'd be coming back here for daytime pictures another time.

Earl street runs off O'Connell and this has a really nice statue of classic author James Joyce (1882 - 1941), looking like a cross between Quentin Crisp and Charlie Chaplin. The Irish are really proud of their history, and have statues dotted all over the capital. None of them feature people on horseback as they were all blown up by the IRA a few decades ago.

No idea who this guy is, but he must have done something pretty important to have had such a smug looking statue made of him.

South of the River is Grafton Street, famous for it's shops. At the river end of it is the Bank of Ireland. Nicely lit up throughout the night for all to see.

The same can not be said of Trinity College across the street. I guess unlike the city bankers, the energy efficient graduates turn the lights out when they leave!

In Dublin's fair city
Where girls are so pretty (and I'm not going to disagree with that).
I first set my eyes on (this statue of) Sweet Molly Malone.
As she pushed her wheelbarrow (well she couldn't, it was welded to the base)
Through streets broad and narrow
Singing "cockles and mussels, alive alive oh"

Now, not one for being a pedant but live shellfish aren't good for you, and she sounds more Cockney than Irish. Why did she become the most famous pop act in the city. Lyrics like that wouldn't even get her through the X-Factor Qualifiers.

This is Grafton street. The biggest change in Dublin since I was last there was the introduction of a smoking ban in pubs and bars. This meant that there were crowds of people out in the cold smoking their cigarettes dotted all along this street. If this pic is a little blurry it's because it's almost midnight, freezing cold and I'm still sight-seeing! Nice to see Christmas lights still up, but weren't the 12 days now up?

The main park is St. George's Park, situated at the Southern end of Grafton street. It has a number of statues in and around it including this one called the Wolfe Tone memorial, which is the only one with the wooden backdrop and twin spotlights. Theobald Wolfe Tone (1763 - 1798) fought for a free Ireland where there were no class and religious divides. Eventually sentenced to death in France he chose to take his own life by cutting his throat with a penknife. They never taught you how to do that in "Art Attack".

Deciding it was now getting quite late and I'd already covered a few miles I decided to head back to the hotel. Fortunately the body compass was still working and I knew where I was going even though I had never walked these streets before. Just head East to the canal then follow it North back to the hotel. Along the way was perhaps the best name for a chain of kebab shops I've ever come across. According to the Profanisaurus Rex, Abrakebabra is the word you shout when you make your kebab magically reappear whilst being driven home in the taxi. Do the owners of this chain, know that?

More festive lighting highlighted Baggot Road, another street of shops and restaurants, which I knew was just south of the hotel. This pub on the canal basically showed me the way home, just turn left here and follow the road beside the canal back to the hotel.

Woohoo! I made it back and it's half approaching 1 a.m. Time to get some sleep. The next day is going to be a tiring one!

Next day and I was up a little early so I went for a much shorter walk after the complimentary breakfast. With it being completely unlit I wonder if anyone has ever fallen into it whilst walking home. It was quite early and it was odd that the girl in reception was the same that saw me in when I first arrived. She did seem quite happy to work a ridiculous amount of hours.

Soon after we were off to the Go-Karting, buried away in the middle of some industrial estate South of Dublin. Yep, when we got there, the place wasn't open and it was a case of waiting around for the owners to arrive.

It was a nice 2 level racetrack and we had plenty of races. 4 qualifying races of about 4 laps each, with the highest scoring racers moving onto quarter finals, semi-finals and then a final. With 18 of us taking part there was plenty of competition, except from James Salter who preferred to drive around at a sedate pace, perhaps to take in the few sights that the course offered. James, you need to play more video games, and stop driving like you're off to church!

From the get-go, 2 people were doing much better than the others and dominating the leaderboard; Richard, who had home-advantage and had probably been racing at this venue for the last few weeks in secret training for the day, and little Luke Horn who being so light, and too young to drive properly, was able to throw his cart around the circuit with wild abandonment. Us heavier members would have no choice but to sit and watch as he'd fly past us on the start. Both these guys had perfect records going into the final and were favourites to win.

However it was John, who took the lead with Richard in second. I had done well enough to start in third, but with Luke and his sister both leaving me behind on the start I had some work to do. I had managed to get back up to third but no matter how hard I tried I couldn't get past Richard; even ramming failed to work. I can only assume that Luke found the pace of the final race too much; at 15 laps he started to fall behind and it was whilst the three of us were trying to lap him that John and Richard collided whilst going wide around Luke and I was able to dive through the inside. I couldn't believe it. I was in front and all I had to do was hold John and Richard off. John spun out later on and being able to hold Richard off I took the chequered flag and got the fastest lap time to boot.

For someone that whose previous claim to sporting fame was coming third in long jump competition at school (yes, there were only participants) I was quite chuffed to have won. Next year I will go back and defend my championship. If anyone wants to try to win it from me, come along.

With the karting over it was time for a quick stop to shower. Michael Schumacher must stink after a grand prix. Now I know why they spray champagne over each other, it's to hide the odour of the race. We were then off to Funderland for the main reason of the trip, to ride a collection of travelling fairground attractions that comes to a large hall in Dublin every January.

Approaching the park it was obvious that not everything was going to fit indoors with a log flume, a wheel, one of the coasters and a Star Flyer erected outside the venue and dominating the skyline. On a cold day like this you'd question the log flume being there at all but apparently it was the most popular attraction of last year's fair; Like Hydro at Oakwood in South Wales, there's a twisted logic to running wet rides (make that very wet rides in Hydro's case) in cold locations. I look forward to seeing what water ride they put in Six Flags Alaska when that opens (that was a joke, there is no plans for such a park).

Star Flyer is a great concept. Take the chair swing ride and fit it to a tower attraction that lifts the seats high up into the air. I had ridden one last year in Prater, Vienna which was amazing and I was expecting a similar experience here. However it wasn't to be. In the weeks leading up to this there had been a breakdown on this ride due to the wind which meant the program was subsequently cut short and so you were barely up to the top when you were coming back down.

Also the seats had more restraints including electronic locks on the buckle and a second lap strap, which made the ride more safe but in I preferred the added scare factor that the one in Prater offered. Finally this one featured twin seats, modelled nicely by Luke and Tom here. Prater's were single seating so you were on your own which again boosted the scare factor a little.

It's worth highlighting the grip that Tom has on the chains, he did not let go until his feet were touching the floor again. I rode with vertigo sufferer James, who coped very well with the ride, even letting go at one point, that's point as in "point one of a second".

As the ride picks up speed you do find yourself looking down thinking "if I'm going to fall out, I want it to be here" and picking the best spot. At Prater I had chosen a trampoline enclosure thinking that would break my fall (I hadn't thought about where I'd go when I bounced out). Again I picked a trampoline that I spotted in someone's background even though it was a good 60 metres from the ride. It would have to have been a major failure to hit that!

The Wild Mouse was the standard fairground mouse ride with a couple of spin points on the ride. I went on with Andrew Bannister and we did get an average spin on it. It's worth mentioning at this point that the organisers had arranged for us to have some complimentary tickets, which was very nice of them. The Irish hospitality was here in abundance.

The kid on the end wasn't part of our group and didn't want his picture taken. Perhaps he was on the run or something. Clare had obviously done the required amount of research in how cold it was going to be, and had taken suitable action to ensure she didn't freeze to death.

James on the other hand (pun not intended) wasn't bothered by the cold. "Look, no gloves" he exclaimed!

With night starting to fall it was time to make our way indoors. I could tell though that the Starflyer was going to look quite nice lit up. It was definitely more colourful than Prater's.

Now imagine you and your family are all having a get-together and are sitting around a table. Like Christmas day in fact (well not in our house, we chose to use our laps!). Now imagine a hurricane rips through your house, picks you up and spins you around like you've never been spun around before. Well this is how a "Take Off" feels and this was the ride that welcomed us to the main part of Funderland.

Richard disappeared to speak to the marketing people and whilst waiting we were watching this and couldn't wait to ride it. When Richard returned he had been given even more complimentary tickets, in fact make that a ridiculous amount of complimentary tickets. They had in fact paid for the entire event for us. I had failed to mention that we were didn't pay entrance fee either. Nice one marketing people! The attraction was worthwhile and I would have been happy to pay, but gestures like this just put the proverbial "icing on the cake", and make a good event a great event, and a reason to revisit.

It certainly looks impressive and was spotless although I couldn't figure out why they'd put Bruce Willis's head on what is quite clearly the Arnie on the bike in Terminator 2. You could tell that the ride owners really cared for their rides they all looked immaculate. It was also instantly obvious that these things weren't being run on UK programs. They were being cranked up to German Fair levels. YES!!!!

We decided to come back to this one. I for one was quite happy with that, as I'd prefer to start on the ones I was familiar with. It was a very popular ride though and even though some of the screams were genuine everyone was coming off smiling.

It was Tom who made the first decision, and given his love of booster rides it was a safe bet that we'd be on that first. I've been on this attraction twice before; once at a fair in Hamburg in Germany and the other at Linnanmaki in Finland. Now if I was married to my shoulders, putting them through this ride would give them grounds to file for divorce. The one in Linnanmaki left me with bruises the next day, the one in Hamburg the same night. I wasn't holding out much hope of a bruise free trip this time.

For those that don't know how it works, the car rotates on an axis whilst spinning in a much larger circle. That alone is quite common and most parks have rides that do that. Where this differs is that the seats can rock sideways and at points will rock all the way over. So it's possible to be spinning and rotating whilst upside down.

This ride was started out fine but you know when the ride-op shouts "do you want to go faster?" that it's going to get more intense. Surprisingly the ride, although extremely disorientating was a lot of fun, although Andrew was feeling a little ill afterwards; a few more rides on this and he'll soon be fine. It's the unusual motion that makes you sick. My camera, which was in my jacket pocket, was bouncing about something crazy but fortunately survived this ride. I would have to be more careful next time!

Extreme was another ride that I hadn't done before and was also one that a lot of people didn't want to do this time either. In the end it was just myself and Carl Dickson that rode it. The first thing about this ride is that its a real bitch to get into; you have to jump up into the seat, over a moulding in the seat that is only there to crush your jewels, and you have to do this without hitting your head on the open harness above. I did see a couple of people nearly break their necks doing this wrongly!

The ride has spinning arms that hyper-extend outwards moving the G-Forces from those that initially push you into the gonad crusher (nice, not!) but move to press you back into the seat for some monsters face pressing G-Forces. As the ride came to its end I had pins and needles in both feet, I can only assume from a lack of blood. It was then apparent that I had to jump out of the seat to get off and land on feet with no circulation. Somehow I managed to land without collapsing in a heap. Carl, although having a problem getting in and out of the seat seemed to be showing little effect of the ride, git!

A very nice flying carpet ride. This ride had quite a number of lights on it, in fact all the rides did. I had brought my palookavision glasses along to see how they worked and they did a bit. Very trippy indeed! The award for best light show should go to the Polyp which looked very impressive even without the glasses turning the lights into smiley faces!

The other coaster at the event was Speed Loop, I guess it got it's name because it travels at speed and goes through a loop. Why the Booster and Extreme rides aren't called "spin you in all directions til your internal organs are rearranged" I don't know!

Fitting the ride into the venue must have been a squeeze, there wasn't much room between the top of the ride and the roof of the building. I tried stretching, and must have been a couple of inches away from touching it.

This ride was actually pretty decent with the smooth loop being the best bit. How did I take this photo? By reaching around the back of a popcorn booth, that's how!

Even so it looked really cool in the centre of the building. Whilst I was taking this picture, James was photographing the pool of vomit that someone had kindly left on the floor close to the ride we were going to do next.

Most parks have a ride like this where you rotate with a simple wave motion and the cars swing out. This place had it running properly and it was a blur looking in watching it run. It was a bigger blur looking out from the ride.

So with our time almost at an end (but not our voucher supply) it was time to head back to ride the Take Off ride. At this point I asked Andrew to look after my camera not wanting a repeat of the booster where it got bounced about. This turned out to be a mistake as he took some pics with it.

Here is Andrew's brother Richard who organised the event. Even though he had been feeling unwell over the weekend Andrew must have found the camera mode that removes any trace of personality from the subject. Sorry Richard, but it was your brother what did it!

Here's the culprit putting on a "it wasn't me who did it, I was here sucking my finger the whole time" pose.

I have no idea who this is but I guess he's on his way out of the venue.

I ask Andrew to take some footage and I get this (thanks to David Ellis for this bad pun. Still funny 2 years on!)

He can't even take pictures of ladies properly

Maybe he can!

Preparing to take off! I'm not sure why Carl is holding on, he's a pro at these things. James on the other hand I can fully understand, you wimp!

Starting to pick up some speed now, and we haven't even lifted up yet.

This is starting to get silly now. Remember the scene in The Simpsons where Homer is doing the centrifuge testing and turns into Popeye. That's how I felt on this!

This ride was just insane, the G-Forces were very intense especially when it was running on the faster program towards the end. The Gs were making me burp (not throw up, just burp) but I couldn't get it up and it was just lying in my throat. My stomach was also feeling the Gs, a definite intestine shuffler if ever I rode one. This was my favourite ride of the day if only because the forces were the most intense of al the rides in the venue.

I think these guys liked the event too. Thanks to the marketing peeps and to Richard for putting it together.

I knew the Star Flyer would look good lit up!

After the venue it was off to a Japanese restaurant for dinner. This place had come highly recommended so we were expecting good things. It was one of those places where the chef cooks on a hotplate in front of you.

Here, after juggling bowls of rice, he asked Louise to catch it. She failed but he was still able to recover it without it spilling. The silk aprons were to protect us from teriyaki sauce spillage and flying bowls of rice.

Chris and Clare look on as the chef over does it with the flame tricks!

I'm a firestarter, twisted Oriental firestarter. A great chef though who cooked us some superb food. Following this we had a small soiree at Richard's flat across the road from the hotel and then it was off to bed.

The next morning was spent doing some more sightseeing and reseeing the places that didn't photograph well in the dark. This Daliesque clock is on the way from the hotel to Grafton Street. I'm meeeeeelllllllllting!

Grafton Street by day. It's quite because the shops don't open til midday on a Sunday. The McDonalds however do their thing and are open first thing, should you be craving a hash brown fried in fat. I wasn't so went nowhere near it.

(As a sidenote the McDs at Gatwick had signs up saying the recent fuel depot explosion at Hemel had impacted their stock and they were unable to supply the usual range of food - do they cook with it, or is it an ingredient?)

A side alley, still with it lights on. I wonder if this was one of the narrow streets Molly Malone took her seafood to?

Harry Street, which runs off Grafton, has a statue of Phil Lynott, lead singer of 70s rock outfit Thin Lizzy. He died in 1986. The statue was paid for with funds raised from a memorial gig. It's really cool that he got a statue; I can't think of any rock star who has had this honour bestowed upon him.

This is the entrance to the main park in Dublin, St. Stephen's. Parks are usually the relaxing haven within an otherwise busy city. But Dublin is so relaxed anyway that it doesn't really need the park for that purpose.

Another rock statue, but this bearded chap isn't as cool as Lynott.

In a raised section of the park is another statue in honour of James Joyce, this one is a little more surreal though, looking like a Henry Moore work. The one of O'Connel was much better though.

Maybe the city is too busy for ducks though, as they were here in abundance. Alternatively it could be the never end supply of bread being brought here by locals. (James, I got ducks on my trip report, did you? :P )

This is a statue of famous poet Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) noted for his wit and open.........oh, where the hell has it gone. It was here last time I visited, right by the entrance to the park. Crap!

(It's been moved to behind the government building, but I didn't know this)

Early in the morning and Molly hasn't moved. I knew her cart was welded down. There was a queue of people waiting to have their picture taken with this statue. I had to jump in and take my pic quick.

Trinity College by day. The only people walking around here at this time in the morning are tourists, like me!

This is Henry Grattan outside the Bank of Ireland building. He was a leading politician of the 1780s who went on to launch a home catalogue business.

Here's the O'Connell spire and now you get an ideal of it's scale. Definitely more impressive during daylight hours.

They must like this O'Connell chap as not only does he have his own record breaking spire and road, he also has this bridge...

...and statue, which has probably featured in videos by U2, The Corrs and Sinead O'Connor.

"Bus impaled on record breaking sculpture sensation"

Jim Larkin was a famous trade union leader born in Liverpool to Irish parents. He became popular for getting people to strike and keeping the public on his side in doing so. Bob Crowe could have learned a thing or two from this chap. This pose signifies the day he levitated an impaled bus off a metal spire.

A wander off the main streets brought up this little church with the strangest extension I've ever seen. It's a glass cylinder containing a gold cylinder and I have no idea what it's purpose is except to look strange and attract dumb tourists to take pictures of it.

Quite a nice shot of the spire, well it would have been had it not been obstructed by the crane. Don't these workers have any appreciation for us tourists? Actually, it's probably why they did it.

On the North Bank of the Liffey is this shop that specialises in trips to Croatia. Because when you're visiting Dublin, it's always a nice idea to take that side trip to Zagreb whilst you're there.

The Tyrell Pyramid by day. Still quite imposing.

The famine statue people are still looking very frail. Someone give these statues some food. I knew it was dark last time I saw these but I completely overlooked the dog.

This is the new Docklands development that wasn't there the last time I visited. I have no idea what the thing in the front is for but I think I've captured a nice juxtaposition between the old whatever-it-is and the modern corporation behind it. On next week's South Bank Show we'll be talking to renowned zzzzzz.

It's that old boat again, but you've already seen that!

You've not seen this before though. Told you there was a Viking Longship!!

Behind the Government building is this eternal flame in a chain ball thing, built to celebrate Universal Links to Human Rights. I thought a celebration of the hit by Jerry Lee Lewis, "Great Balls of Fire" would have been better myself. Drunk people often push bins over on their ways home. I wonder if this has ever been pushed off it's pedestal?

A nice higher shot of the Government building. To take this shot did I
a) scale a lampost?
b) take it from the top deck of a bus?
If you chose a) you're nuts and need help.
If you chose b) why spend too much time doing stupid quizzes and would probably like daytime TV.

The same building, taken from another lamp post.

This monk chap is waving goodbye as I make my way out of Dublin back to the airport.
Bye Bye monk chap. I'm definitely NOT coming back here...

... and pigs might fly! I will definitely be coming back as I had a great weekend even though I didn't go into any bars, which is what you'd normally do when you go to the birthplace of Guiness. I can see this becoming a regular calendar event for me and not just because I have a go-karting championship to defend.
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