Archive for September, 2010


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Dear Reader,

Random ramblings about our 9-day trip to Ireland…

The trip got to an extremely unillustrious start when I had to drive the manual transmission rental car off the lot. I drove a manual only once before and it ended with flames coming out of my nostrils; but since I rented the car under my name, I had to be the one to drive it away. If I were on TV, it would have been something like this: Interesting. Oh, OK. I get it. Hmm. Oooops. NOW, I get it. Beep. Beep. Beeeep. Beeeeep. Beeeeeep. Beeeeep. BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP. By the time I killed the car for the eighth time without having moved out of the parking spot, I moved onto Czech… which signals the beginning of an Armageddon. What can I say? It wasn’t pretty.

Over the course of our trip, I am proud to say that I became, according to David, a shifting ninja :) . However, getting the car moving from first gear without inflicting deadly hiccup seizures on it remained a challenge. Thus, anyone who had the audacity of making me come to a stop was doomed by my evil twin to a future of boils, cavities, and some serious diarrhea.

Say what you want about Marge, Marge was an automatic.


Due to the Catholic v. Protestant conflict, Belfast is divided up by about two dozen forty-five-foot tall walls that separate the two groups. Some of the walls have gates to allow flow of traffic during the day but they all get closed at night. Residential areas are strictly religiously segregated and most of them are controlled by paramilitary groups.


There are Catholic doctors, Catholic car dealers, Catholic pet shops, Catholic barbers, etc. and similar shops for Protestants. While the unrest began because the Protestants wanted Northern Ireland to remain part of the UK and the Catholics wanted to join the Republic of Ireland, now the conflict now is simply religious. The irony is that apparently hardly anyone actively attends church. You are simply born Protestant or Catholic and you spend the rest of your life hating the other. The two groups don’t interact unless completely necessary and most go through life without ever having spoken to a member of the other group. It is absolutely insane.

That aside, we also toured the dock where Titanic was built and that was amazing.

Giant’s Causeway

Giant’s Causeway is a natural wonder of thousands of interlocking hexagonal basalt columns and the birthplace of David’s mom’s grandmother’s grandmother’s grandmother. It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. The grass is so green it is blinding. The combination of the black basalt, green grass, blue ocean, and white clouds makes you feel like walked into a postcard.

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Carrick-a-rede Bridge

This rope bridge connects the Ireland mainland with a small island offshore that happens to be smack in the way of migrating salmon. So, every year local fisherman put it up to get to this magical bounty and stupid tourists pay 4 euro to pee their pants crossing it. I am starting to seriously doubt my intellect because I keep on spending a lot of money to climb an obscene number of stairs and stand at unpleasant heights. I must admit that David had to come back for me and help me cross. The swaying was … not good. At least, I did not require a boat to come get me because I was unable to cross back–as apparently many do.

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Bru Na Boinne

Bru Na Boinne is a Neolithic site of passage tomb monuments that was built over 5,000 years ago–several hundred years even before the famous pyramids at Giza. The passage is very small compared with the size of the monument but it engineering is awe-inspiring. The roof of the tomb chamber is a dome and at the winter solstice the sun enters it for only a moment to bring promise of life and bounty for the next year.



Dublin was a little disappointing because its main attraction–pubs on every corner–we simply could not appreciate. Sections of the riverfront are charming though. Anyway, we both agreed that we prefer Cork.



Glendalough is a national park about 20 miles south of Dublin. The name means a valley with 2 lakes. We went on a three-hour hike that took us around the larger of the lakes along the very ridge of the surrounding hills. It was stunningly rugged and breathtakingly beautiful. We walked around hundreds of sheep and wild goats and even came across several herds of deer. Since some of the deer were male deer with serious antlers, we armed ourselves–I carried two big rocks and David had his camera tripod. We were laughing at ourselves the whole way. We had a grand time.

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The famous Waterford crystal is made in SE Ireland. Neither of us had particular interest in touring the factory. However, we did peek inside the store that was filled with enormous chandeliers and exquisite glasses that I cant imagine anyone drinking out of.


Rock of Cashel

The Rock looks like a dark castle but it actually is a medieval abbey. It is a natural fortress, a limestone outcrop that stands above the surrounding countryside and gives clear views for miles around.


Legend has it that once upon a time St. Patrick was preaching to a sinful crowd and in his preaching vigor, he slammed his pole into the ground. Sadly, before getting to the ground, the pole went through the foot of a local king who stood next to St. Patrick. The king, thinking he was being cleansed by St. Patrick, did not even make a sound—not even a beep.

Blarney Stone

We kissed the fabled saliva-drenched rock that is perched on the top of a tower reached by a hundred life-unfriendly winding stairs. To kiss the stone, you lie down, bend completely backwards at 90 feet above ground, show everyone your underwear, and holding onto a safety grill you make out with thousands of strangers at once.This less than graceful act supposedly gives you the gift of gab–not to mention some juicy bacteria.

The Blarney Castle is located on extensive and gorgeous grounds which, among other things, feature a “poison garden”. This garden is designed to educate about poisons in traditional and some nontraditional garden plants. It was absolutely fascinating. I could have spent hours there but David did not think it wise. :) BTW, did you know that rhubarb leaves are poisonous?

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Ring of Kerry

Ring of Kerry is a scenic drive around the Iveragh peninsula and a must for every tourist. The drive is about 200 miles long and takes you through picturesque towns like Kenmore along the rugged cliffs of western Ireland.

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As a surprise for David, I booked us a room in the Lake Hotel with a view overlooking an old castle ruin on shores of the lake. In the morning, we got up to admire the mist sprawling across the lake with the mountains towering in the back, the ruin sitting so peacefully on the shore…when suddenly a herd of deer came to drink from the lake. I will never forget that sight. I had to pinch myself to make sure I was not on a page of some fairy tale book.



After breakfast, we took a carriage ride through Killarney National Park.


Dingle Peninsula

Dingle Peninsula cannot be described in words. All, I can say is that I want to move there, become a sheep farmer and live a utter life of happiness.

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Limerick is a large modern city with a medieval Castle. Good for shopping but not touristing really.

Cliffs of Moher and Galway

Cliffs of Moher are truly stunning but tourism has turned them into a circus with a parking lot that charges 6 Euro per person and shops that are after the rest of your money. So, we decided to trespass and admire the view from the neighboring fields along with some very confused cows.


It turns out that Cliffs of Moher are also a prime surfing location—there were about 20 surfers having the time of their life when we were there.


As always, love you all.

Sandy (author)

David (photographer)

Chinese-Polish Cuisine – a winning combination!

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Jam, Club, and Mushrooms.

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Dear Reader
Random observations from our life…
1.  Jam
Since “people here don’t make homemade jam”, I had pectin imported from the US.
We purchased enough strawberries to get David through the winter (and a normal person through 4 years) and after only a few hours of cleaning and chopping strawberries, we were finally ready. Before ripping the pectin box open, David stroke it one last time while creepily whispering “My Precious!”  like  Gollum. We successfully overcame the absence of corn syrup on this heathen island by using the mysterious Golden Syrup and ended up with a nice supply of this heavenly substance.  I am happy to report David’s life is worth living again.
2. BYU
David downloaded BYU’s first football game vs. University of Washington. Watching BYU football is one of our bonding moments. And I must say I really felt homesick.
3. Club
Last Monday I was invited to the Cranleigh Country Club. Cranleigh is a larger village about 3 miles away from our house and is home to Ringo Starr and Eric Clapton. I am happy to say that the idea of the rich and famous had no effect on me. I simply  envisioned Eric Clapton falling madly in love with me and dedicating a hit ballad to me and me doing an interview with Sean Connery about how I broke Eric’s heart.
I opted for swimming as I have never held a golf club. The trouble is that without my glasses I cannot see anything except for moving human blobs and some walls. So, it is possible that there was Ringo or Eric in a speedo doing laps or sitting in the jacuzzi eyeing me but I would not know.
Worst of all, the rich and famous apparently bring their own towels because the club provided none. This posed a serious problem to me who came unprepared. So, I proceeded to dry myself of my tights– an article of clothing I could easily spare. However tights shockingly don’t have any drying ability. So, I at least wrapped them around my head to stop my hair from dripping everywhere. My next idea was to use the hair dryer to dry myself off. So, there I was in all my glory with tights on my head and in the middle of drying of my left calf  with the hairdryer when a  club member waltzed into the changing room. She gasped for breath and then mumbled, “I think I will play tennis today,” and zipped off. I also gasped for breath, got dressed in 2 seconds, and dripping wet ran to my car.
Not one of my most glamorous moments. :(
4.Mushroom hunting
The most amazing thing about being in the UK is that I was for the first time ever able to just hop on a plane and go home for the weekend. But not just any weekend–a mushroom hunting weekend.
Mushroom hunting is the Czech national sport–even beer drinking and hockey come as far distant second and third. Three out of four Czechs go mushroom hunting at least once a year. The fact is that good mushroom spots are the most valued family heirloom. :) Life revolves around mushrooms in late summer and early fall. There are daily harvest updates on prime time news and of course interviews with premier hunters posting with their biggest or rarest pieces. Early morning buses for the woods are packed because, heaven forbid, you should start hunting after 7–everything will be picked by then.
Some sacred rules of the ancient art of mushroom hunting:
1. Know your mushrooms. Some are eatable and delicious, some are eatable but not good, some will make you sick, some will make you high, and some will kill you.
Disclaimer: I have been trained from a young age, so I know what I am doing. Also, I happen not to eat mushrooms much to my father’s joy who is happy to eat my portion.
2. Never kick a mushroom.
3. Be early. Competition is fierce.
4. Be quiet. There are spies everywhere.
5. Make everyone jealous. Put your best pieces on top. If your hunt was not successful, put socks/shirt on bottom to mislead and frustrate competition.
6. There is no such thing as having too many mushrooms.
7. Bring a big lunch.
8. Guard good mushroom recipes with your life.
9. Mushrooms can be dried, picked, fried, breaded, made into goulashes and soups. Humankind can survive anything solely with mushrooms and duct tape.
10. If hunting in groups, spread out into a row covering as much area as possible. Agree on a secret whistle to keep track of one another.
11. The most senior hunter carries basket and knife and decides which forest to enter and when to leave.
12. If you run into another hunting expedition, try to make it look like there are more of you by calling out random names. If they persist to pouch in your area, pick their weakest member and you try to kill him with your look at all costs.
As always, love you all.