Holidays with Hindrances 2: Killarney, the Gap of Dunloe

The county Killarney, the town of the same name and its national park are probably one of the most prototypically Irish places. You got it all: The soft green hills, the mountains, the old abbeys, castles and churches, the lakes. It’s beautiful. It’s also one of the oldest tourist attractions in Ireland, going all back to Queen Victoria and the invention of “trips” as such. One thing to do is to explore the “Gap of Dunloe”, a pass between the Purple Mountain and the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks. There’s different options on how to do that, nd I#ll list them worst to best.

Worst: By car. The road is narrow, there’s tons of other people on it, it’s 15 km, so the whole thing will be over in 30 minutes max and most of what you saw is people being angry with you.

Second worst: By jaunting car. Yes, this is probably very traditional and tons of local folks earn their money that way, but having horses run on asphalt all day is just cruelty to animals. You can actually see a dent in the middle of the road, worn down by horseshoes and you can imagine what this will do to the poor animals’ feet. It’s probably amazing for the people in the car and I think few people know enough about horses to understand why it#s not ok.

Bad: motorcycle. Horses, pedestrians, sheep, narrow roads, curves where you don’t see shit. Do I have to elaborate?

Good: bike. Now, I wouldn’t recommend going by regular bike if you are not very fit and good at biking, though there was one guy who passed us uphill and still had the breath to wish us a good day. But nowadays you can rent ebikes everywhere and there were lots of groups with little physical fitness who managed. I’d say that if you don’t have a lot of stamina, that’s probably the best option.

Equally good: on foot. That’s what we did. I’ll admit that we didn’t walk the whole Gap. As you can see below, the traditional hike starts at Kate Kearney’s Cottage, leads through the Gap, down to Lord Brandon’s Cottage. You can book a boat back to Killarney from there, but that’s little use if your car is back at Kate Kearney’s Cottage. We made it to the top of the Gap and then some hundred metres downhill for a nice view before we returned. Now, Wikipedia claims that this walk was just 6km and can be done in about an hour, but the author is lying. We’re neither athletes nor comatose sloths and sure, we did take breaks, but getting up to the Gap is quite some hillclimbing. The way down to Lord Brandon’s cottage is shorter, but we decided that going down there meant having to go up again, so we turned back and enjoyed the walk instead of being completely done. The whole trip was 17 km and took a bit more than 4 hours, with the way back being much easier as it was mostly downhill.   So, enjoy the views!

Map of the national park and hiking trails

©Giliell, all rights reserved: You start at the red square, walk the white road down. We turned around shortly after the orange dot

More pics below the fold

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Holidays with Hindrances 1 : Let’s get started in the Normandy

Well, now that I complained about the car troubles, let’s focus on the good parts, because it was an amazing holiday and I would hate to only remember the things that didn’t work.

There’s a couple of ways on how to get to Ireland, but for us the most practical one is to drive to Cherbourg in France and take the direct ferry to Ireland. You can sleep on the ship and arrive moderately rested to start your holiday. We needed to be at the ferry terminal around midday, so we started early the day before, planning to go as far as we wanted with enough time to spare for the next day. Now, whoever coined the saying that “all roads lead to Rome” has obviously never been to France. Driving through northern France either means to take a dip south and go to Paris, or take national roads which occasionally lead through small villages. We took the last option because really, I don’t want to go to Paris by car. We made good way and basically arrived in the target area late in the afternoon.

While the campsite was actually booked out, they did have a couple of places “dans la prairie”, basically a rain soaked meadow where we could spend the night. No problem here and they had mussels night, which is the best thing ever if you like mussels. They will just refill your bowl until you cannot possibly eat another mussel and then you’ll have some more.

A plate with mussels

©Giliell, all rights reserved

There’s probably few places that will constantly make you uncomfortable as a German as the Normandy*, because the history of D-Day is so present. Our campsite was directly located at “utah beach and we took a stroll down the foggy road.

A road marker telling you that this is Curry Road, named after private Curry who gor killed during the landing

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Our holiday started during that wet spell in August, so it looked more like autumn than summer, but it was beautiful, and #1 completely freaked out because the landscape looked like the house in the marshes from her favourite movie ever, When Marnie was There, by Studio Ghibli.

View over foggy masrshes, mostly water with tufts of grass

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Foggy marshes, mostly green land with the sea in the background

©Giliell, all rights reserved

A small house with blue shutters at the side of the sea

©Giliell, all rights reserved

An old small rowing boat, half rotten, in the high grass

©Giliell, all rights reserved


*Disclaimer: This is probably false. I guess that those people who really should feel uncomfortable don’t feel bad at all, while I, descendant of the survivors of Nazi terrorism for whom D-Day was as much a day of liberation as it was for the people of France, feel uncomfortable and carry the weight of history.


There and almost not back again: Holidays with Hindrances

Ahhh, a holiday trip. The thing you’re looking forward to all year. And this year it was extra special, because we went to Ireland. And Ireland is amazing. And Ireland was amazing, but, well, let#s get started at the beginning of a road trip where you’d have dismissed the movie plot as not realistic.

The first day of travel went ahead really well. We made it up almost to Cherbourg and decided to go looking for a campsite. We found one at “Utah Beach” and arrived just right for their weekly mussels night at the restaurant. The next day we set out for the ferry and of course we arrived with hours to spare. This was when our first car troubles started, which were a blessing in disguise. See, when people start getting serious with each other, there’s certain things they can combine, like some insurances and stuff. Back in the day, I asked Mr if he had a membership to some road assistance or if I should get one, now that my parents could no longer claim me on theirs. He assured me that this was taken care of by the car company. Now when it was time to start the car again, our battery died and my husband found out that his car company road assistance had run out when the car turned 10 or so. After the nice people from the port helped us out, I told him that I was now getting some damn road assistance and signed up on the spot.

Well, in Rosslare we got off the ferry and set out for Kilarney the engine went into safety mode. We drove to the next garage who told us “no way, I got time in 3 weeks, try the next town”. By some luck, whatever had annoyed the engine had stopped and we could go to Kilarney. next day we went to a Peugeot garage, the guy there read out the engine data and assured us that apart from an issue with the secondary fan which needed fixing at home, the car was good to go. We had a wonderful time in Kilarney and were looking forward to the rest of the holiday.

Next stop was Connemara, which is in the far west and very thinly populated. On our way there the car gave a warning sign about the particle filter which said “check manual”, the manual said “have it fixed at a Peugeot garage”. Sounded not urgent and the car drove with no issues. Connemara was amazing, despite the storm.

Off we went to Dublin, only that we never arrived as planned.

Black Peugeot on a towing car

©Giliell, all rights reserved

About 50 km before Dublin the car went into safety mode again. We made it to a service station and had it towed. Now, people in Ireland are extremely helpful, so the road assistance guy hitched our caravan and drove it to the campsite with Mr. and 1 kid, while the other one and I followed by taxi (some issues there, none too big). The next days were mostly spent by figuring out where to take the car and what was wrong with it. The engine data said that the injectors for cylinders 2 and 3 were broken. We decided to have it fixed for a hell lot of money, so we could go home with our stuff and enjoyed the remaining few days.

On the day of departure we wanted to leave early so there was enough time for mishaps and traffic jams. That’s when we realised that the caravan had a flat tire. There was a screw in it. Thankfully there was a really nice guy at the campsite who helped us out getting the tire fixed. No problem, we still had time.

screw in a tire

©Giliell, all rights reserved

It’s about 160 km from Dublin to the ferry port. After 80 of them, the car went back into safety mode. We wanted to cry, we wanted to yell, but in the end we decided to push through and make it to that damn ferry, because everything was bound to be easier once we were back on the continent. We made it there, we called road assistance, we spent an unexpected two days in Cherbourg and got told that it was injector 2 again. We told them that we’d just had it fixed, could it be anything else? Nope, probably a faulty piece. We resigned to pay for repairs and try to get back some money from Ireland afterwards. At this point we just wanted to get home. The clean undies were all gone.

Instead on Tuesday, we left Cherbourg on Thursday and made it a full 100km to Caen before the car started to act up again and we gave up. We explained to the road assistance that we would not try to have it fixed at some garage in France again. We waited all Thursday if they could get us a rental, any rental, honest, we don’t even need to return it in Germany, in France next to the border is fine, but none was to have. After a night in a hotel I booked train tickets and we went home. And now I need to recover from my holiday.

Car and caravan will be brought home, we’ll take it to our usual garage then to see what their opinion is. Maybe we’ll be able to get some of the money back. We’ll at least get the train and hotel costs back from the road assistance and don’t have to worry about getting our vehicles back, so that was the best 72 bucks membership fee I ever spent.


Why is Google Promoting Scams?

These last few days Google served me several identical ads on a fake investment scheme (on YouTube). The sites these ads point to mimic the looks of a prominent Czech news service and they are written in the form of a news article about an alleged law that our president Petr Pavel signed (the fake article contains even his picture). And the investment scheme is about investing in a prominent Czech company, in which the state owns the majority of shares. Very good job, with very few grammatical errors. The site does not pass even a very cursory check – all links point to the “registration” site for the fake investment, even links that on a normal news website should lead to other articles, comments, etc. Also, a short Google search shows that the company whose name is used for this fake investment scheme filed a lawsuit over a year ago.

Police are investigating the matter, but so far they could not find who profits from these ads – several people fell for them so there is an ongoing investigation for fraud in addition to impersonating a company and abusing their logo. So far they were not able to establish who is behind the scam and stop it.

And I have to ask – how come? How can it happen, that Google continues to show people ads for illegal activity for over a year by now? And how is it possible that they cannot be traced? One would expect that when someone wants to buy an ad from Google they would have to prove that they are a legitimate company/person with a legitimate need. And that said ad would be vetted before publishing. But apparently, it is possible to buy ad space from Google without any verifications and checks and without any human being involved at any point. I do wonder how the payments are done, since in the EU anonymous bank accounts are illegal. This scammer must operate within the EU because the ad is targeted at a Czech-speaking audience only.

We are not talking about a random person using a free service to publish shit on some social networks, I do understand that those cannot be all vetted prior to publishing. Here we are talking about someone purchasing an illegal service from Google and Google subsequently providing said illegal service unless and until somebody goes through the trouble to report it.

Which I did, btw. Three times over three days. All three times I got confirmation that the ad will be taken down. On the fourth day, I got an ad for a different fraudulent scheme and I reported that too. It too was taken down.

But this is evidently a broken system since people get defrauded and the perpetrators were not caught (yet).


Ehm, Akshually Hrdlička…

The WaPo pieces mentioned by PZ about Aleš Hrdlička are damning. I cannot comment on their veracity since I do not have access to the evidence those articles are based on, however, there is no reason to doubt them, not really. His appalling ghoulish behavior is consistent with the time in which he lived, unfortunately. He was representing the rule, not the exception. What I find curious is that with all the illicitly amassed evidence, he almost, but not entirely arrived at the correct conclusion (emphasis mine):

“In 1898, Hrdlicka published a study of 908 White children and 192 Black children at the New York Juvenile Asylum and the Colored Orphan Asylum in New York. He measured and compared their body parts, including genitals. He wrote that “inferiorities” in the children were probably the result of neglect or malnutrition, not hereditary. But he noted “remarkable” physical differences based on race.”


So he did not find any inherent differences between the races that were more than superficial physical characteristics, like skin color, hair texture, etc. Yet he still persisted in holding racist views, which makes him a bad scientist – even if one were to wave away the immoral way in which he gathered data by stealing human remains (which I am not inclined to do so, although it appears to be standard for anthropologists of the time) he still has done shit science with it.

When I read PZ’s first article, I immediately looked up Hrdlička. I do not remember ever learning about him at the university, I studied biology, chemistry, arts, and psychology, not anthropology. He might have been mentioned at some point in biology, but the name definitively did not ring any bells.

And when I looked him up, all Czech sources that I could find online in the little time I was willing to give venerated him as a staunch anti-racist, in direct contradiction to the articles in Washington Post. I think this is for several reasons.

Firstly, we Czechs do suffer from a “small nation inferiority syndrome”. We feel so insignificant and ignored on the world stage that we latch onto any success achieved by any of our compatriots abroad and we are unwilling to let go. I think that it will take years, if not decades, for the true ghoulish nature of his research and his racist views to find their way into Czech media, and there will be a lot of resistance.

Secondly, I doubt that any Czech sources have had ready access to the same evidence that WaPo was using. There are inevitable limits to what can be learned about any Czech individual who lived most of their life outside of Bohemia, even if one were not inclined to ignore unfavorable evidence and overstate anything positive due to the first point.

And thirdly, it seems he was kinda anti-racist, just in a wrong, racist anti-racist way. From what I was able to find he did fight against anti-slavic racism. This is real racism and it still exists today – its latest consequential demonstration was Brexit, which was in part motivated by racism against Polish and Czech immigrants. The sentiment nowadays is not as prevalent and strong as it used to be, but there were times when the Slavs (and the Irish and probably some other nationalities) were not considered “white” in the same way as Anglo-Saxons and/or Aryans and were seen to be inferior. Apparently, Hrdlička was arguing – correctly – that all European people have common origins and he argued that they belong to the same racial group. The anti-racism bit was thus arguing against the discrimination of Slavs, and the racist bit was that he did not argue that all people are equal but that Slavs in fact are part of the “superior” race. This kind of reasoning makes his legacy even more susceptible to being spun positively if one has the bias mentioned in the first point, not to mention that there still is a lot of Czechs who argue the same.

However, I also peeked at the discussion under the WaPo article and I noticed in there one “anti-Hrdlička” argument that I strongly disagree with. Apparently, he was one of the proponents of the theory that humans arrived in the Americas via the Bering Strait Land Bridge and this theory was called “racist” and “bogus” by one of the commenters. That, to my mind, is nonsense.

Even if Hrdlička was proposing the theory for some racist reasons, that does not make the theory automatically wrong. And to my knowledge (which I admit is not completely up-to-date with modern science) there is a lot of evidence that at least some of the ancestors of North American Indians really did cross Beringia into the Americas. This includes studies of genetic markers of extant populations.

It is absolutely indisputable that Homo sapiens originated in Africa and spread from there to all the other continents in multiple migration waves. It might be that there was more than one migration wave to the Americas and it might be that some of those migration waves did not come over Beringia but sailed from Polynesia. It also might be true that humans arrived in the Americas much sooner than previously thought. But some very probably did arrive through Beringia no matter what other migration routes might have been taken. And as much as I think that Native American cultures, languages, and creation myths are just as worthy of preserving and studying as any others, they do not constitute hard evidence for how humans got to the Americas, because humans are just too good at making shit up and then believing it – even today people make nonsense theories whole cloth and believe them despite the evidence contrary, after all.

And there is simply too much other evidence that multiple migrations through Beringia happened, for both animals and plants. Just a few examples:

Bison and Wisents are so closely related that they still interbreed and produce fertile offspring despite being different species. The bovids, incidentally, originated in Africa too. American Grizzly is still the same species as the European Brown Bear. North American and Eurasian willows create a near continuum of hybridizing taxa that are a nightmare mess to untangle. Junipers on both continents are very similar to each other in appearance. And Juniperus communis is actually a circumpolar species. And a personal anecdote to underline the point – the flora of North America and Eurasia are so closely related and eerily reminiscent of each other that when I was in the USA, I confused native Heracleum maximum for invasive Heracleum mantegazzianum they are so similar. (edit – corrected accidentally swapped species)

This similarity between the ecosystems of North America and Eurasia, which is not present between any other two continents, is the biggest proof that there were easy-ish ways to migrate between the two in the not-so-distant (geologically and evolutionary-speaking) past. Saying that the theory that people migrated to North America this way is racist and somehow disproven because of it thus seems foolish to me.

It might not be complete, but no theory truly is, science is about refining our knowledge by finding things, not about having complete and inconvertible “truths” by fiat.

Mush Room Seas ‘n

After an abnormally hot and dry June came an abnormally wet and cold end of July and the beginning of August. The weather was more akin to an average October around here than to the middle of summer. At least one good thing came out of it – the mushrooms are growing. A lot. I went on a hunt today and I picked about 8 kg of mushrooms. If you happen to live in west Bohemia or northern Bavaria, now is the time to go out mushroom hunting.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

I found some ceps, pretty big ones. And although they look battered, they were actually pretty healthy, with very little maggot damage.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

The main bulk were bay boletes. Those were not as healthy and we ended up throwing almost half of them away. Still we filled the whole food dehydrator and some.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

There were also some larch boletes. No maggots in those, but they were watery like sponges. There was more than we could immediately eat so we do try to dry them in the oven.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

And there were also enough blushers for a tasty lunch for me.

I have made over 13.000 steps today, many of those accompanied by squats. Then it took about six hours to clean and cut it all (my mom helped with that, otherwise I would still be at it). It was quite a workout. I am glad to note that I was not as tired as from a similar mushroom hunt two years ago. It appears that I was at that time suffering from the long-term effects of the flu I had at the beginning of 2020. This year I am finally feeling again fit-ish, I do appear to be able to work harder and longer than I was the previous two years.

I do plan to go to the forest again in a few days, there should be again enough boletes to fill some jars. I would like to fill the pantry with dried mushrooms as much as I can since they do not grow every year.

If the weather gets warm and some insects start buzzing around, I will try to take my camera with me and make some pretty pictures. I haven’t done that for a loooong time.

The Ever Growing Absurdity of UK Knife Laws

Today I stumbled upon these two videos during my breakfast and I listened to them at 1,5 speed. At least this story has a good-ish end:

As an outsider, I have always considered UK laws about knives absurd. The same goes for similar daft laws that are active worldwide (like for example in the USA, Canada, Germany, Japan, and more). If laws were made based on evidence and logic, these would be significantly revised and reduced long ago because they are doing diddly squat to reduce actual crime. Instead, it seems that the UK is going in the opposite direction – more and more vague restrictions that do nothing to solve the problems, but make it easier for the police to harass innocent people.

Vague laws that are difficult to not break and/or that can be interpreted in a dozen of ways some of which can criminalize ordinary people on a whim are a staple of authoritarian regimes. What baffles me is that when it comes to knives, they appear to be a staple of even democratic-ish regimes. I completely do not understand it. And in the UK, allegedly, both of the ruling parties in their ludicrous non-representative voting system agree on this one thing and both parties propose these nonsensical laws when they are in power.

I am not in opposition to regulating carrying certain types of knives in certain situations or areas, although they are not necessary in my opinion. There is no causal link between the crime rate and the availability of any type of knife whatsoever. If there were, the Czech Republic would be absolutely riddled with knife crime. It is not. I was capable of only finding approximate statistics of stabbing deaths and CZ is not an outlier within the EU, there are countries with knife restrictions that are both above and below. I would argue that there is even no correlation between how restrictive knife laws are and how high is the knife-related crime rate, although both of these factors are difficult to quantify with any degree of accuracy.

Inventing ever more ridiculous knife laws as a response to rising crime in some areas (allegedly in the case of the UK to rising knife crime in gang fights in London) is pure “performative governing”, i.e. one that pretends to do something to address a problem without actually doing something that actually would effectively address the said problem.

There Should be Dryads Here

It is raining for over a week so I went to the forest last week to check whether the mushroom season has started. It has not, but it keeps raining still so I will check once a week from now on, and I hope I will manage to get some boletes at some point. We ate already all that I picked a few years ago so we need to re-fill the pantry.

I did not take the camera with me, and I did not encounter many things worth taking pictures of anyway. But I did take a picture of my favorite beech tree with my phone.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

It is not particularly huge, but it is not small either. It managed to keep the ground around itself clear of undergrowth for decades and I always stop by when going to that part of the forest. It has beautiful roots and all in all, is full of character. One can imagine this to be one of those trees that dryads inhabit and protect.