X-men First Class

After taking a few days off from the Ireland blogging, I took the time to get caught up with a few things here – as well as getting caught up on the summer super hero blockbusters by seeing X-men First Class. I was a little nervous about sitting in a dark theater while recovering from a 7-hour jet lag, but I chanced it and was successful.

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In case you didn’t know: I’m a comic geek, and the X-men – my first love – extends to our cat named Logan. Unfortunately the last chapter of the X-men movie really ruined that franchise, to the point to where they couldn’t make any more sequels.  I’m not quite sure how X-men First Class fits into all of this. Is it a prequel, or is it a franchise reboot. Nonetheless it rectifies the monstrosity that was X-men 3 and brings this franchise somewhat back.

[Warning: Possible Spoilers Ahead]

Of all of the comic movies,X-men has the ability to venture into some political and philosophical discussion – how do people deal with persecution and prejudice. The battle between the ideals of Xavier and Magneto have always been intriguing, and I love how this movie explored their friendship, their commonalities, and how their falling out occurred. I love that the movie used the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis as the foundation of this movie.  The Missile Crisis is one of the few times in our history when we humanity (from a US point-of-view) was genuinely threatened, and it gave the X-men a plausible way to save the world. I love how the US and Soviets – enemies that only minutes ago tried to destroy each other – agreed that mutants were so threatening that they had to band together to take the mutants out.

Other things I loved about First Class:

  • One of the best training montages in a super hero movie.  One could make an argument for Batman Begins, but I love how Xavier helped each one of the students develop their powers and learn how to grow their abilities.
  • The performances by James McAvoy as Professor X and Michael Fassbender as Magneto. These guys did a wonderful job playing young versions of these characters without trying to look like caricatures of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan.
  • Young Nazi-killer Magneto was badass
  • During the movie, my wife Bethany pointed out that Michael Fassbender looked like a younger Jon Hamm.
  • I loved the imagery that was used with the “Magneto” helmet.  It of course had the very practical use of blocking telepathy, but I loved how it served as the mantle of the leader of the mutant superiority movement. That moment with Magneto put on the helmet had a Darth Vader-like approach of embracing the villainy
  • I really liked Kevin Bacon’s acting in this movie, he made a pretty good villain
  • That cameo with Wolverine was fantastic

Things That Bothered Me About First Class:

  • I didn’t like how Mystique turned out at the end. The dots that brought her to Magneto’s side didn’t connect, and especially the timing of her turning was bizarre. Somehow we were expected to believe that she would walk over the crippled body of (essentially) her brother over to the guy who caused the incident. I don’t know if the writers felt compelled to have her switch sides by the end of the movie, but I felt like people would have accepted a switch in the sequel or even off-screen.
  • The Hellfire Club was a little misused and came across a little one-dimensional. In the comics they were originally this secret society, but the movie portrayed them as this hodge-podge group of super villains.
  • Some of the choices they made for characters were a little strange. There are definitely better mutants out there that could have been used rather than Angel and Darwin (who ultimately were really one-dimensional).  This comes down to whether this was a prequel or a reboot. I wish it would have been a reboot, because then you could have gotten away with using some characters that were used in other movies.

It’ll be interesting to see where the X-men franchise goes from here. Part of me wishes they didn’t pack so much into this movie and reserved it for a sequel. My guess is that this movie has been acclaimed enough and has made enough money to continue down this story, so now the question is “Where do they go here from now?”. Do they introduce new characters, and do they introduce the ones we know?  How does this tie into the previous movie canon and the Wolverine movie?  I would love them to take the “Reboot” route that was done with Star Trek, then they could introduce some of the stronger characters that we grew to love in previous movies.

What do you think of this movie?  Where do you think it compares with the other movies? Not counting the Wolverine movie, I would say that this movie probably is second to X2, beating out the first first movie (all of which are miles above X3).

6 Things I’ll Miss Most About Ireland

11 full days of exploring the Irish countryside are in the books, and while we’re flying home I wanted to reflect on our fun times here and offer my list of the six things that I’ll miss most about this amazing country.

6. The Hospitality

When we were on our Music Pub Crawl, the host joked that “Irish people aren’t friendly, they’re nosy.”, saying that they reason they make conversation is to figure out where you came from and when you’re going to leave – but the people here couldn’t be more hospitable. In a region with countries that are notorious for not taking kindly to Americans, there was never a moment where we didn’t feel welcome.  I had even had perfect strangers saying hello to me in the bathroom.  People were always happy to answer our questions and make conversation with us. The Irish have definitely earned their reputation for friendliness and warmth.

5. The Accents

Irish accents have to be one of the coolest accents around.  They are always so soothing and rhythmic. I could go on listening to people with that accent for hours. Even them reading the daily lunch specials sounded like a beautiful poem. I’m going to miss the joy in just hearing the way the Irish talk.

4. The Heritage

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As a student of history, when we go to the East Coast, I marvel at the heritage that exists in some of our 300 year old buildings, but there’s something to be said to be inside structures that are nearly 1,000 years old.  There’s something to be said with the way Europe is able to preserve their history. I think unfortunately, much of the pre-US history has been lost by our sins against the Native Americans, as well as our culture propensity to tear down and rebuild aged structures. One of the things I enjoyed was standing in these old places and putting myself in the thoughts of the people who built it and who used these structures each day. 

3. The Green

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The weather in Ireland would equate best to Seattle. It rains pretty much every day and with it everything is green and lively. There is vegetation growing all over the place, covering buildings, creating tunnels around roads and creating a beautiful pallet of color for the country.

2. Teach Ai Bhrian

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As you typically do on vacation, we ate dinner at restaurants pretty much each night, and instead of taking opportunities to try new places, we chose to come back to this place two more times – the food was just that amazing. We stumbled on this place accidentally, as we wanted to try the pub in the closest town to us. When we walked into that place it turned out they didn’t serve food, but recommended this place 5 minutes down the road. We had no idea what to expect walking in, but were blown away. Each time we went back and tried something differently and it was better than the last. If we ever make it back to Ireland, we’re definitely going to mix in some meals back at this place.

1. Guinness.

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Anyone who has had Guinness in Ireland will tell you that it’s just not the same in the States. Before I came here, I was not a big Guinness drinker, but something about drinking this beer in Ireland – whether it’s the scenery, the freshness, the fact that you’re on vacation – it’s just different here.  Guinness in Ireland tastes great, but it’s even better when you’re drinking it in Dublin, and especially from that fresh tap at the Brewery.  In terms of national brand and a love affair with a drink, we have nothing like that in the States. People don’t have the large-scale affinity for Budweiser the same way they do Guinness.  For the record I did try a few other beers while out here, but I kept going back to Guinness. I know it’s funny to put a beer at the top of my list, but I think that experience around enjoying a good beer – being with friends, not having anything to worry about – is what really makes the experience.

Day 11 – Last Day & Bunratty

Tuesday was essentially our last day in Ireland, as our flight was early Wednesday morning – but the last day of travel is always an interesting one.  My family can probably relate when we’ve gone on those Vegas trips and booked a late-day flight thinking “This will be great! We’ll give our selves some extra time to enjoy Vegas!” Then that last day rolls around and you find yourself wasting that day with anticipation, boredom and just eager about traveling home.   This last day in Ireland felt very much like that. It’s funny how not having a home-base anymore really changes your mindset about your travels.  Still, it was a fun day and I think we did make the most of it.

Given that the four of us had our four large suitcases (plus all the tech crap I take on trips that inflates my backpack), we didn’t want to drive far, so we stayed in County Clare and by Shannon (our airport city).  We started our day in Limerick, in hopes that we could do some shopping. While LImerick is really pretty, the streets we walked consisted mainly of shops that would be found back at home, offering us little that was unique.  After about an hour in Limerick we headed over to Bunratty Castle for the afternoon.

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Located about 10 minutes from Limerick, Bunratty Castle was originally built in the 12th century and rebuilt in the 15th century in it’s restored form.  It ended up getting restored into a museum/exhibit of sorts. There’s the castle itself, but there is also a surrounding mock village, that has been restored to show what the village would be like. I think the best comparison in the US would be a renaissance festival with no people or merchants – more authentic. There were many groups of kids that were on field trips, as well as tourists all over the place.

The castle itself was neat. It was like the Blarney Castle, but with more restoration (and thus seemed more modern), but wasn’t as modern as the Kilkenny Castle (which if you remember disappointed us for this reason).  They allowed photography in the castle, but you were not permitted to use a flash, which is why some of these pictures are dark.

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There were the circular stone stairways, like Blarney Castle, but Bunratty had put in some better railing.

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You could climb the stairs to the various rooms around the castle, or go to the top, which I think was about 6 stories tall.

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I was just amazed at the vast size of the place. When you first went in, you climbed what seemed like 2 stories, only to walk into this vast room that sat inside the castle. Look at this room below and then imagine this sitting on top of another room that was equally big (I took this picture from a little window in one of the surrounding rooms in the castle).

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In the surrounding “village” there were various replica homes of people who lived in that time. They had a home for farmers, fishermen, and land-less servants.  In one home, I loved how they still had little lofts, making the best use of their small space.

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I also love this early version of the hide-a-bed. It makes you wonder if they were ever comfortable to sleep in.

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Bunratty also had this little recreation of the village as well, showing off some of the stores that may have existed in that era. We of course checked out the bar, as well as the schoolhouse.

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Bunratty also had some of the various animals as well. Our favorite ones were the little miniature pony. I found a baby miniature pony, which was really cute.

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One of our favorite spots was by the old Mill House, which had a nice miniature waterfall right next to it. We found an opportunity for another nice picture moment, squeezed in between the times when kids were playing next to it.

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Overall Bunratty was a great final day activity. It definitely was not my favorite castle on the trip, but after seeing fantastic ruins like Blarney and The Rock of Cashel, this was a really nice middle-of-the-road attraction.  In the end we spent nearly four hours at Bunratty.

We ended up checking into our hotel and then having our last meal in Ireland at a place called Gallagher’s. The food was fantastic, as I took my last opportunity to enjoy fresh fish and fresh Guinness. Our hotel in Shannon was really nice, although the anticipation of the plane trip home made it difficult to sleep.    We got to our flight back to New York with no problems, as I am actually writing this blog post on the plane.

Ireland Day 10 – Ring of Kerry (Sorta)

Today we fell into the Ring of Kerry, which is basically a tourist driving trail along County Kerry, which is in the southwest part of Ireland. We actually didn’t drive the entire Ring, as to do so would have taken upwards of 5-6 hours. However, we started on the ring, which took us through Killarney National Park.

Our day started by driving through Adare, which was a pretty sleepy little town on our way to the Ring. We walked around and explored the town, and stumbled on The Old Creamery Company building, which has been turned into a store which is like weird love-child of Fort Collins’ Perennial Gardner with a random toystore and a Christmas store.  It made for some interesting pictures, and we walked away with a box of fudge.

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Bethany modeling a hat in the Creamery Company

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This store had everything, including some evil-looking nome dolls

In the middle of Adare was a really pretty Town Park, which had some lovely views of greenery, including a nice arch that made for some great pictures.

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After Adare we headed up into the Ring, heading into Killarney National Park. To be honest, if you live in Colorado, this isn’t anything you haven’t seen before.  The sights, while pretty, did seem pretty similar to other mountain and valley ranges that you’ve seen. Nonetheless, the pictures were nice.

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We stopped and ate lunch at a viewing point called Ladies View.

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We went onto the first stop in the Ring, a town called Kenmare. Again, it is a smaller typical Irish town, but did make for some nice shopping and sightseeing.  At that point we had learned that the next stretch of the Ring, while only 15 kilometers long, would take about 90 minutes to drive. We figured that would be a nice opportunity to turn around and see the Torc Waterfall.

Arriving at the falls, we really thought that we had been had by our Colorado expectations, seeing a small dropping in the creek that appeared to be the falls.

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However, we walked a little further up and saw the real falls, which made the short diversion worth it.

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After a day full of driving we made a guilty pleasure and stopped at what’s become our favorite restaurant: Teach Ai Bhrain, which we were told translated is “House of O’Brian”. We stopped there for the first time a few nights ago, and the food was so amazing that we’ve looked for any excuse to go back. The food was fantastic, but eating out for dinner every night is taking its toll, I’m ready for the gym when we head back.

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Tonight is our last night at the East Clare Golf Village. We will be staying at a hotel closer to the airport in Shannon tomorrow night, as we leave on Wednesday morning.  Right now the plan for Tuesday is to explore Limerick a little more and perhaps some of the surrounding area, but mainly to prepare for the trip home.  I’ll try to make a post tomorrow night if time allows, but it may be short.

Ireland Day 9 – Rock of Cashel

I know what you’re thinking when I said we were going to the Rock of Cashel, why would we drive 90 minutes to go see a huge rock? The name is deceiving, as the “Rock” is actually the name of the grounds that these castle/cathedral/fort was built upon.  The views were magnificent, and the pictures I got hardly do it any justice..

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Driving into the Cashel, you can see the fixtures on the Rock towering over the town. It became apparent why they chose this site all those centuries ago.

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At the Rock you had the opportunity to walk around as you wished, but there were also some guided tours available.  We managed to jump into one that just started, and it turned out to be the most rewarding experience.  Had we not done the tour, I think that we would have taken pictures for 15 minutes and left, but with the context that the tour guides provided, it made everything so fascinating.

First off, the structure that’s there today is actually not the original structure.  Originally there were castles there that were constructed out of wood and occupied by kings of Munster.  Later on to improve their standing with the Church, the Rock was given to the Archbishop which then built a Cathedral on the grounds – in the 12th & 13th centuries! I thought it was funny because the satirical cynical side of me would say, “I guess these 900 year old structures will have to do.

One of the names for the Rock of Cashel is “St. Patrick’s Rock”. It gained this name by being the site that St. Patrick journeyed to baptize King Munster.  We were told by the guide that during his baptism St. Patrick accidentally drove his staff through the bottom of King Munster’s foot, but Munster thought it was simply part of the baptism and kept his composure.

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This is a replica of St. Patrick’s Rock that sits at the original site. The actual St. Patrick’s rock was moved in doors for preservation, as it was constructed by sandstone.

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One of the fascinating stories of the Rock was told in the Hall of Vicars, where laymen where appointed by the Archbishop to direct the chants at the Cathedral.  They also were provided housing and the Archbishop took care of their living expenses.  The picture below is the Seal of the Vicars, which was given to each one of the member.  The Vicars could use their seal to place on the bottom of receipts when they bought things from town, then at the end of the year a bill was sent to the Archbishop – basically a 15th century corporate credit card!  Apparently the Vicars started to create seals for their family members who then racked up the bill, which brought this perk to an end.  As a church choir member, I could appreciate the church putting up living quarters and paying for expenses of their musicians. Too bad the Vicars ruined it for the rest of us.

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The interior of the Cathedral, while in ruin, remained impressive. It was amazing to see just how how big it was back then, and all the assorted rooms and corners that were part of the Cathedral. Inside the Cathedral was a series of tunnels that allowed the clergy to move about the upper part of the Cathedral.

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The Cathedral was decadent with various carvings that have held up quite well over the centuries.

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One of my favorite parts was the Cormac’s Chapel, which second to the tower, is the oldest structure on the Rock. Inside you would see that the ceilings and walls were once painted with murals, which were later covered up by plaster when the Protestants took over the Rock in the later centuries. However you can see the plaster now pulling back and revealing parts of the murals. The chapel itself is currently surrounded by scaffolding, which is being used to preserve the chapel.  The chapel was made of sandstone, and apparently the years of the elements have damaged the structure. In order to preserve it, the scaffolding is being used to support a structure that is helping dry out the chapel for the next three years, at which point they will put on a protective exterior shell to prevent the chapel from being further damaged by rain.

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Outside of the Cathedral the views were as breathtaking as they were indoors. You could see why the Rock was constructed where it was, as it gave the dwellers an arching view over the lands. We were told by the guide that you can see five counties from the Rock.

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One of my favorite pictures was of the Scully Cross, which is actually now that spire in the background of this picture. It used to be a giant famous cross, but during a storm in 1976 it was struck by lightning and the top part of the cross was destroyed.

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In the end the Rock was definitely worth the drive up, and is probably on my Mt. Rushmore of favorite sights we’ve seen in Ireland.

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We made the walk back down into Cashel and had some lunch at a nearby pub. The town of Cashel itself is pretty similar to the other towns that we’ve seen in Ireland.  Because it was Sunday, many of the shops were closed, so we didn’t get the chance to explore the town as much as we would have liked.

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We then drove home and relaxed a bit before heading out to Peppers, a pub in Feakle (and yes, we’ve been making bad pun jokes all along), for dinner.  There was music playing there, which made it an enjoyable backdrop to eat some fish and drink some Guinness.