Monday, October 19, 2009

Berlin Zoo & Aquarium

Zoo Berlin is the oldest zoo in Germany and houses the largest number of zoo specimens in the world. The aquarium has more species than any other aquarium in the world. While we were in Berlin, Chris and I blogged about our visits to the zoo & aquarium. Below are links to our previous blogs- they have more information on our trip overall and what we did with the rest of our days (after the zoo & aquarium). There are also different pictures, so take a gander!

Previous Aquarium Blog (including info about Bendlerblock, the Sony Center, and the Reichstag)
Previous Zoo Blogs (including info about the
Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche, Europa Center, and the Fernsehturm)

We went to the aquarium first (May 19). We bought tickets for only the aquarium because we were worried that we wouldn’t have time to appreciate both the zoo and the aquarium on the same day. It was definitely the right decision. There was so much to see in the aquarium and because of its maze-like design, it was sometimes difficult deciding where to go next and where you’ve already been. I guess you just have to go there to know what I’m talking about. One important thing to note: The insects and herps (reptiles & amphibians) are housed in the aquarium, NOT the zoo. I say this because when we went to the zoo the next day, we ran into some other Americans who were looking for the reptiles. I told them that they were in the aquarium. They were disappointed and hadn’t planned on purchasing tickets for the aquarium. Oops. One thing I will say about the herp collection is that for me, personally, it was disappointing. There wasn’t a single herp there that I hadn’t already seen in a billion other zoos or out in the wild. It was sort of cool, though, to see A. contortrix and C. atrox on display in Berlin. I wonder why those species and not some of the more notorious snakes from the United States. ???

We went to the zoo the next day (May 20). It is HUGE. It has TONS of animals, including many that we had never seen before (panda, bonobos, etc). The enclosures are surprisingly open and *almost* accessible. In a few places, you only had to barely reach out to touch the animals. (The enclosures pose more of a threat to the animals from the public.) We got really, really close to a camel and probably could have gotten really, really close to a lot of other things. There was never a moment when I thought that an animal didn’t have enough space and this was a welcomed relief. The enclosures are incredibly well-designed so that even though they’re huge, patrons are still able to get a good view of the animals no matter where they are in their space. We spent six hours walking around the zoo but it was a beautiful day and time flew by. We were barely able to see all of the animals before it was time to leave.

Something that was interesting (but terribly inconvenient) was that there was no print zoo map to pick up anywhere. At all. We didn't even see one to buy. And no one was carrying them around. A map in one of the largest zoos in the world would have been nice.

Something else that both Chris and I have noticed is that people here seem to be much more conscious of what is acceptable and mature behavior. For example, every time I visit a zoo in the states, there's an issue with people banging on the glass and throwing food and other items at the animals. In six hours at the zoo and all day at the aquarium, I didn't witness that once.

Speaking of proper zoo behavior, up above is a picture of the polar bear enclosure that the crazy woman jumped into back in April. Yeah, we were there in May. And there was a very new-looking lifesaver device hanging on one side of the enclosure - which could NOT have been easy to get into. This woman HAD to be on a mission!

Anyway, if you love visiting zoos and/or aquariums, I recommend that you plan on seeing these at some point. I would go again in a heartbeat.

Zoo Berlin

Aquarium Berlin

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Ring of Kerry - March 2009

I’m going to say something really stupid: The Ring of Kerry is highly overrated. Ouch! I know! I already regret saying it. After all, I didn’t even see everything on it. I say it’s overrated because many people when given the choice between exploring the Dingle Peninsula or the Ring of Kerry will choose the Ring of Kerry. Why? Because more people have heard of it and there are WAY more bus tours for it. Well you know what? Screw the bus tours. Tiffany and I did the Ring of Kerry on our own in a rental car. And we started at the “end” of the prescribed route to avoid large masses of people. And it worked. (I strongly recommend doing it this way.) So why am I blogging about it? Well, I had the good fortune to see both the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula. And I am blogging about Dingle later. The mistake that we made was seeing the Dingle before we saw the Ring of Kerry. And the Dingle is spectacularly beautiful all around. The Ring of Kerry not so much. I mean, there are many great things to see, but we probably would have appreciated the Ring of Kerry more had we seen it before the Dingle Peninsula. The Ring of Kerry more than pales in comparison as far as overall scenic awesomeness. Therefore, I am going to blog about the Ring of Kerry first so as not to make the same mistake twice (so to speak).

We started for the Iveragh Peninsula from our B&B in Tralee. We stayed with a lovely woman named Eileen Hooker at the Sheridan Lounge. If you’re ever in or around Tralee, you will be missing out if you do not pay a visit to her. (And you’d better do it soon because she’s selling the property!!!)

We made our first stop at Cahergall Stone Fort. We were a bit apprehensive at first because it was a bit off the beaten path but we finally made it up the dirt path to the fort. We were not disappointed!

We were able to appreciate Ballycarbery castle from a distance but we didn’t attempt to walk the path to Leacanabuaile Ringfort. From the looks of it we would have had to walk through a pasture full of cows and onto private property. We chickened out. Next time, though, I’m going!

We continued down the road and debated heading to Valentia Island but decided against it; the Skelligs Experience (as far as we knew) was still closed for the season and the puffins had not yet arrived. I’ve decided that the next time I go to Ireland, I WILL SEE PUFFINS! Finally, we made it to Waterville and took a little shopping break. I bought a nifty little Ring of Kerry map and checked out the monument to Charlie Chaplin.

On the way from Waterville we stumbled upon a parking area overlooking the water that had a curious statue with a Greek inscription.

Not far from Waterville we came across the Ogham Stone outside of Caherdaniel. We drove all the way to Derrydane House knowing full-well that it was closed but we thought we’d check out the outside. (We couldn’t see much – the place is covered in plant growth!)

We continued along the ring to Staigue Ringfort. Which had a TINY entrance. Tiny enough so that not very many people can get in. You basically have to be petite. But it was awesome otherwise.

Staigue Ringfort:

From the Staigue Ringfort we made our way along the coast to the picturesque town of Sneem. There we shopped and paused for tea. Walking across the bridge in town was a delight and exploring the town was a nice way to start winding down for the day.

Sneem Church:

View from bridge in Sneem:

We spent the night at Kenmare at the Druid Cottage. We had a pleasant stay and an excellent dinner from the Chinese restaurant down the road. (Great waiter!)

In the morning we visited the Kenmare Stone Circle before heading on up to Killarney National Park. There we saw Torc Waterfall (a must see), basked a little on the shores of Middle Lake (not yet infected with zebra mussels apparently), and took a tour of Muckross House. Muckross was amazing and the gardens were even more so. After Muckross, we headed to Ross Castle where we took an excellent tour of the beautifully-restored interior.

Kenmare Stone Circle:

Killarney National Park:

Torc Waterfall:

Middle Lake:

Muckross House & Gardens:

Ross Castle:

After Ross Castle, we started the drive back to Cork so that we could catch our flight back to reality in the morning. L You know, now that I’ve revisited all of this, the Ring of Kerry ain’t so bad after all. It’s pretty incredible, actually, and I would recommend the tour to anyone. Don’t try to do it all in a day, though, because that’s crazy. We gave ourselves a day and a half and we still missed a ton of stuff. And of course, do it before you see Dingle. ;)

View on the way to Sneem

Monday, October 5, 2009

Biwmares, Wales - June 2004

In 2004, I took my first trip overseas to participate in a study abroad course on Tolkein. Pretty wicked, right? I blogged about the trip that summer but I was still using a film camera and was unable to use any of the pictures in the blog. (I didn't develop any of the film until I got back into the US.) Anyway, we took a number of weekend excursions to various sites near Bangor (our home base). On 11 June, we visited Biwmares, Caernarfon, and Llanfair P.G.

Biwmares Castle was the first "old-school" castle I had ever visited and it had a moat. A friggin' moat. Awesome. The entire group was so stoked about the moat. Stoked, I tell you. Moat, moat, moat. We took our first group picture outside of the castle.

We crossed the moat (eeeee!!!) and went inside the castle to explore. I don't know what it is about ruins involving plant life growing in stone but I really like the way they look. I took tons of pictures of just brick. Here is one of the better ones.

The inside of the castle was really fun to walk through. We spent quite a bit of time getting lost and confused in various passageways. At some point I stumbled across a neat little chapel. There was a pathway on the top of the outside wall but there was a sign and chain barring the stairs leading up to the path. The sign said "Do Not Cross." Psssht. This was my first castle experience. I climbed over the sign to get to the stairs and up to the top of the castle wall. Several members of our group followed suit and none of us even got in trouble. The view from the top of the wall was excellent - I wish I had a better picture to show you. I was probably crouched. Standing upright would have made my trespassing more noticeable to those below.

Those are mountains in the background. The castle sits along the Menai Strait. (That's the body of water at the foot of the mountains there.) I think I may have to go back some day just to get a better photo. ;) A digital one, maybe.

We got to walk around a bit after finishing up at the castle. I wandered out onto the beach to feel the sand on my feet and watch seabirds plummet into the water for fish. It made me a little homesick for about 5 seconds. I still miss the beach at home.

The English spelling for Biwmares is "Beaumaris." It's really a beautiful little city with clean streets and picturesque Georgian buildings. It is the chief port on the island of Anglesey and really is a place I'd like to visit again. Some day...

More info on Castell Biwmares

Sunday, October 4, 2009


Click on a link below:

Basilique du Sacré-Cœur - Paris (Summer 2009)
Eiffel Tower - Paris (Summer 2009)
Les Catacombes - Paris (Summer 2009)

Berlin Zoo & Aquarium - Berlin

Aillwee Cave (March 2009)
Ring of Kerry (March 2009)
Powerscourt Gardens (March 2009)
St. Patrick's Day Parade 2009 - Dublin (March 2009)

San Diego - June 2010
Balboa Park
Harbor Boat Tour
Seaport Village
Trolley Tour (Hotel del Coronado, Casa de Estudillo, some Balboa Park)

Pedernales Falls - Blanco County

Biwmares Castle - Beaumaris