I am finally finished with this project. It seriously has been haunting me for two years now. A lodge brother of mine had a beautiful chess set given to him, but the case was absolute garbage. The original case was some undeterminable, yet distinctly cheap lumber that was warped and lined with styrofoam. I used a bunch of reclaimed lumber, mostly some red oak stair treads that will get a new life along with new brass fasteners and felt lining. The pieces were too attractive not to have some form of display when not in use. I am set to give it back to him on Tuesday, he should be pleasantly surprised.
This week's project is a storage box for a Masonic wax seal Jen got me for Christmas one year. The warmer was a separate piece, and I wanted a simple box to store it all in. The material is mixed Aspen and mahogany. The past master emblem was done on my CNC router, fittings are brass, and finished with three coats of semi-gloss polyurethane.
Not too bad for a first run at the HamClock amateur radio project. I have some finishing work I need to fix on the frame, and a 90 degree OTG USB cable would work better, but, the Pi Zero seems to handle the display just fine. I definitely need to get in and fix the display resolution on the X windows side, it's just a little shy on the vertical pixels.
Tonight's adventure in home electronics: replacing a rotary antenna input selector on an MFJ versa tuner II. The factory soldering is so ugly, it looks like I did it. On the plus side, the finished repair looks like factory condition
We woke up in Galway on Thanksgiving day and had a wonderfully decadent Irish breakfast at the Marriott Hotel. Today's excursion was a driving loop around the Connemara region (County Galway and County Mayo). Connemara is the name given to the western portion of County Galway, which lies between Lough Corrib and the Atlantic, highlighting the rugged beauty of The West of Ireland. We picked up the R336 outside of Galway and had a scenic drive along Galway bay with beautiful views of the Aran Islands. The weather was a mixed bag, with a little sun and a little rain, sometimes at once. Before 11:30 AM we were treated to no less than seven intense rainbows along our drive. We stuck to the coastal route, switching to the R340 and R341 before eventually reaching Clifden. Right in town, you will see roadsigns for "Sky Road", a short driving loop that climbs high along the rocky terrain, offering stunning views of the Atlantic and surrounding land. There is a great car park near the highest point, and is definitely worth the short detour. We rounded the lower road and headed back to Clifden for a quick lunch before moving on.
Leaving Clifden, we headed north up the N59 towards Leenane. The road, like most in Ireland, wound through the rugged landscape before rounding a bend just north of Clifden, revealing the Twelve Bens mountain range which makes up part of the Connemara National Park. We briefly stopped at a pull-off in the road to appreciate the view. While we have many pictures, it simply does not translate to film and this part of Ireland was one I will have in my memories for a long time. Along the way to Leenane, we stopped at Kylemore Abbey (a very well photographed monastery which is now an exclusive girl's boarding school). While tours are offered, we opted to just take some pictures before moving on. Through mountain passes dotted with lakes and grazing fields, we hit our next waypoint of Leenane and Killary harbor, Irelands only Fjord. We had a short stop to stretch our legs before diverting off of the N59 to R335 towards Lousburgh. We refueled there before hooking east towards Westport, passing by Croagh Patrick, were legend states St. Patrick drove the "snakes" from Ireland. The main visitor center was closed for the season, and low clouds obscured the summit from view, but it was still a very pretty area. Perhaps one day we will take a day from Westport and actually climb the summit (about a three hour moderate hike).
We passed through Westport before picking up the R330 to the N84 and ultimately back to Galway. This section of the drive is a little less scenic, which works out well since it was already starting to get dark at that time. We found our way back to the hotel, had a nice Thanksgiving dinner of a Irish version of Lasagna before crashing for the night. Coming Up: The drive back to Dublin with a stop in Trim and the Hill of Tara.
We woke up in Killarney on day four, packed our gear, had breakfast, and hit the road for another scenic drive. This days destination was ultimately Galway, with a quick diversion to the Dingle Peninsula. In many ways, this is probably one of my favorite spots in Ireland. The terrain combines sandy beaches and rocky coastlines with amazing mountains and lush green fields. There are loads of ruins to explore and quaint towns to visit. It's very manageable in a half-day visit, but on a future visit, I think I would prefer to spend a day or two there. Leaving Killarney, we picked up the R561 to the Dingle Peninsula. Along the way, we stopped at Inch Beach (probably not proper any longer since Ireland is on the metric system). It was a bit blustery, but it was a nice stop to stretch our legs and stare out at the Atlantic for a bit. We continued on towards Dingle Town (not sure if they call it that, but it seems to have a nice ring to it) where we picked up the Slea Head driving loop (the R569). The Slea Head loop hugs the southwest coastline with fantastic views of the Great Blasket Island and the Atlantic. We took advantage of a break in the rain and enjoyed the view before moving on to the ruins of Kilmalkedar Church. The last time we saw the ruins, it was pretty well covered in scaffolding for renovation. All of that had been removed, and a nice sunny afternoon allowed us to get some great pictures. We touched our thumbs in the ogham stone (thus renewing our marriage vows) and looped back to Dingle Town for some lunch and light shopping. Leaving Dingle, we headed north up Spa Road to Connor Pass. The pass goes just east of Mt. Brandon, and has spectacular views looking north and south. We did not get a chance to drive this route the last time we visited, but I am glad we did this time.
The next stop was the town of Tarbert where we would catch a ferry across the Shannon river. The alternative is to drive all the way to Limerick, the location of the first bridge. This cuts down the travel time by 45 minutes, and allowed me to relax from driving for a short period of time. We picked up the N67 and headed north. I was originally going to drive through Ennis, but the torrential rains western Ireland was experiencing had closed the road from Ennis to Galway with heavy flooding. The only suitable route was N67 through the Burren. The downside is that this is a very narrow and twisting road, and with standing water in many areas, it added about an hour and a half on to our travel time. By the time we got to Ballyvaughan, it was already dark and we were starting to see spotty flooding in some areas. We encountered a few areas of the road which were flooded over (standing water only, no movement), one of which caused me to stop in my tracks when I could not see the centerline. We waited a few moments considering our options (the nearest detour was at least 20-30 miles) when a small van came in the other direction and made it through without issue. We drove our SUV through with fingers crossed and made it to the other side of the flooded roadway without incident. Shortly after, we found ourselves in Galway in heavy traffic. Even with the GPS, it was pretty much luck and Jens sharp eyes that landed us by our hotel. After checking in, we had a nice dinner at the hotel restaurant before unwinding for the evening. Finally being in Galway, I did have an opportunity to break out my Yaesu VX-7R handheld transceiver and keyed up a local repeater with IRLP connectivity. I dialed up the Fulton County repeater (K8LI) and spoke with a few of the guys over the radio (great geeky radio fun). One of the guys gave us an update on the sewer line replacement progress at our house, and as promised, I sent them all custom QSL cards with my temporary call sign EI/KD8KBU. Coming Up: Thanksgiving in Ireland and a drive through Connemara.
The heavy rains from the low pressure system over Ireland were with us once again on Tuesday. We awoke to overcast skies and blustery winds with the occasional rain pelting the window. Not the greatest day for a drive, but still better then a day in the office. We had breakfast at our new hotel (they had a wonderful selection of Irish cheese as well) before packing up the vehicle and hitting the road. For the benefit of those who have not had the thrill of driving the N71 between Killarney and Kenmare, try to avoid it in the rain. The road is narrow and winding, with a ridiculously fast speed limit which the Irish are sometimes intent on achieving. All that aside, the views are spectacular near Lady's View and Moll's Gap before crossing over on the downward drive to Kenmare. I've often wondered on how tour buses can manage to navigate the curves in the road on this stretch, I had a difficult enough time with our little Kia Sportage. We arrived in Kenmare and continued on to Glengariff at the southeast end of the Beara Peninsula. We did not have the time to explore the Beara the last time we were in Ireland, and I only wish the weather would have been more cooperative this time around. There are many quaint villages on the drive around the rocky coastline, and it can easily be done in a few hours. We eventually looped back to Kenmare and stopped for a very tasty lunch at a local B&B/restaurant.
With the rain not relenting, we decided that a quick loop around the Ring of Kerry would be in order to pass the remainder of the day. We stopped along the way at Staigue Fort, a late iron age stone ring fort estimated around 300-400 C.E. It's in great condition and worth the stop, although the drive up is a bit narrow and not too suitable for tour buses. We played in the rain for a bit before heading back to the car and continuing on our way. We stopped along the coast and took some pictures the best we could given the weather conditions before packing it up and trucking back to the hotel. We had dinner at a trendy little Italian place in Killarney, followed by more live music and snake bites at the Pub near our hotel. Coming up, Day Four: Dingle Peninsula, the Burren, and the journey to Galway.
After a night of much-needed sleep, we had a wonderful Irish breakfast at the hotel before getting a cab to the rental car depot. The car rental was a bit too far of a walk, and it was not even an option since it was raining that morning. The cab driver was a pleasant enough person who seemed to enjoy talking about current events in Ireland. Specifically, he (and the rest of the country) were up in arms over a recent soccer match between Ireland and France, which had a bad call causing Ireland to lose. He stated that they had done everything short of declaring war on France. My comment to him was "they (France) probably would have surrendered if you did that". That made him laugh for quite a bit, so points for making an Irish caby laugh. We were also updated on the recent flooding issues in areas we were intending on visiting. As I understand it, the floods in the Shannon river valley, Galway, and Cork had never happened before in recorded history. There was an option on our route for a trip to the Blarney Castle in County Cork, but being unsure of the road conditions, I opted to stick to Cashel and Killarney. After getting the rental, I found it actually quite easy to slip back in the mode of driving on the left side of the road, it was not nearly as bad as our first time Ireland.
We arrived in Cashel after a couple of hours and spent a good portion of the afternoon wandering around St. Patrick's Rock of Cashel and the actual town of Cashel as well. The Rock had a lot more scaffolding up than the last time we visited (efforts to preserve the site), and several major features were unfortunately closed off for the season while they renovated. Since we had seen the site before, it was not a great loss. We took some photos and walked down to the town to find some lunch. There is another great ruin site as well right in town, something we did not get a chance to see last time, the St. Dominic's Friary (see photo album). In addition to that, there are several other historic sites right in town, which we may not have had an opportunity to see with a tour bus group. We had lunch at a local pub and stopped at a local grocery store for misc items before heading out to Killarney. The remainder of the drive was an uneventful couple of hours. The afternoon's excitement came when we went to check into our hotel in Killarney. We were booked by our tour company at the Killarney Towers hotel and leisure center, but when we came to the main door, it stated "Closed for Season". We were both somewhat surprised by this new development, and decided to go around to the leisure center door which was open. A desk clerk there did confirm the hotel was closed for the winter season, but was kind enough to call their sister hotel, the Plaza which was less then a block away, who confirmed our reservation had been switched to there. Not a big deal, I would have slept in the car if I couldn't have found a hotel room. The Plaza was also a very nice hotel, and very conveniently located on the main strip in Killarney. We walked around for a few hours after checking in, made a few purchases from the Aran Sweater Market (should be here any day now) and had dinner at a nice little Pub. While out walking, we noticed a Pub less then a stone throw from our hotel had a couple hours of live traditional music lined up for that night (come to find out, it's almost every night they have live traditional music, but it's all good). We both had a few pints before crashing for the night. Coming up, Day Three: The Beara Penninsula, The Ring of Kerry, and heavy, heavy rains
We are back from a week in Ireland and Amsterdam. The trip was fantastic, with lots of new experiences and sights. As a recap, I wanted to do something adventurous and exciting for my 40th birthday this year, so some kind of road trip seemed like a good idea. I worked with my travel agent on some various ideas after being pretty dead set on a drive up the Pacific Coast highway. He made some initial estimates for time and costs and presented me with some various options. After reviewing those, he also gave me an option for a self-guided driving tour of Ireland which came in considerably less than the Pacific coast idea. Knowing Ireland is a hot button for me, my dead set intentions quickly crumbled and I started to get excited about Ireland instead. We had visited Ireland a couple of years ago, but there was still more of the country I wanted to see. Combined with an extra day in Amsterdam on the way home, that pretty much sealed the deal. The tour package we used was the Independent Irish Spirit package courtesy of C.I.E. Tours, a pretty big travel agency in Ireland for guided tours. The reason it was such a good deal was because November is largely considered very off-season for tourism in Ireland. This means many major sites have limited hours (if any at all), colder weather, and around 8-9 hours of daylight available for driving. So I planned as best possible with these caveats in mind, and took advantage of the three major cities we would be staying in Dublin, Killarney, and Galway.
To start off, we had a very late flight out of Detroit Metro (around 9:45 pm). We got to the airport a bit earlier than necessary, and passed the time playing Gin and reading. The flight out from Detroit to Amsterdam was pretty uneventful. KLM's Airbus 330's have in-seat entertainments with movies, music, and games to help pass the time on an eight hour flight. The fact that it was at night also helps if you can actually manage to sleep in Economy class. We landed in Amsterdam on time and had only a brief layover for our flight to Dublin. That flight was definitely more "exciting". Dublin airport was experiencing gale winds and rain due to a heavy low-pressure system battering them and the U.K. for the past few days. The heavy turbulence started a few minutes before landing, which really made it feel like more of a roller coaster ride. Perhaps it was just lack of sleep, but Jen and I both had an inappropriate chuckle when the stewardess reminded us (shortly before landing) to "double-check for the nearest emergency exit to your seats"...the landing was a bit of a roller coaster ride as it felt like the plane came in pretty hot, but we came to a safe stop and had a great view of a rainbow forming. over the airport (Ireland welcomed us back).
The rest of the day was pretty uneventful. We spent about an hour and a half in the passport control line since they appeared to be a little understaffed. This killed my idea of doing a Guinness brewery tour, but it was probably for the better since we were both pretty exhausted. The bus ride out to our hotel in Ballsbridge was slightly humorous as well. One of the main routes through Dublin (O'Connell Street) was closed for Christmas decoration lighting, and this seemed to irritate the bus driver beyond description as he tried to maneuver a very large vehicle through winding Dublin streets already clogged with overflow traffic. As a brief aside, the Dublin area has a population of around 1.6 million with a density of around 11,000/sq mile within the city. There also does not seem to be a very clear layout for the city. This, coupled with the staggering lack of road signs in Ireland in general, had us very much lost while traveling on the bus and very much unsure when our stop would be. The bus driver assured me (in a slightly cantankerous manor) that he would call the stops out when we got to them. After a stream of obscenities from his direction (mostly related to traffic), we arrived at our hotel for the evening. The rest of the night was spent at the hotel pub with dinner and a Guinness for my birthday treat. I will say this for Bewley's hotel though, besides a great breakfast and free WiFi, that is one of the most comfortable beds I have ever slept in. I would have tried to smuggle that home if I had bigger luggage. Coming up, Day Two and the journey to Killarney.
I ventured out to the Fulton County Amateur Radio Club monthly meeting on Monday. It's a nice group of guys all excited to help and answer questions for the new HAM radio operator. I was waffling on which radio to purchase: a hand-held style (HT) putting out around 5 watts, or a mobile unit putting out around 50 watts (but with far less features). I really just want to be able to hit some of the local repeaters in the northwest Ohio area, some of which are on I.R.L.P. and EchoLink. The Wauseon repeater is around 7 miles from my location, and I want to be able to at least hit that one with a clean signal. The guys at the club assured me a 5 watt hand-held (with a good antenna) will be more than adequate to connect over that distance. So I finally ordered my radio this week, going with the Yaesu/Vertex VX-7RB. It's a quad-band (6m/2m/1.25m/.70m) HT with enough bells and whistles to keep my occupied and out of trouble for a while. At least until I get my General Class License and start getting into HF. I did have my first EchoLink contact last Sunday. While playing around with the software settings, I had a drop in QSO with a nice guy in Australia. We chatted for about half an hour which was surprisingly fun. The new HT arrives on Wednesday, so I'm looking forward to that!