Sendero Group Travel Blog

Follow Sendero travelers on their adventures using accessible GPS.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

 

Glasgow or Bust, by Dave Jones

Saturday morning came too quickly. I woke this morning with that sad thought. Betsy and I were unusually quiet as we packed for the last time. I was up earlier than Bets so I dressed and went downstairs to settle the bill before the desk got too busy.
I bumped into Rich I., and learned that we had another meeting planned for 9AM (in the hotel lounge). We finished packing and headed for the hotel restaurant for breakfast. Several from the group were already seated. As we grabbed a table Mike came by to tell us he had an appointment at 8:30A.M. with the documentary film crew. He advised that he wouldn’t be able to travel to Glasgow with us (that morning).
We said our goodbyes, the first of many that day! By 8:50 most of group had gathered in the restaurant, so we held our meeting there. Sheila reminded everyone to be sure to send any radios back with someone who was returning to Kircaldy. Then we figured out who was going with us on the train to Glasgow. It turned out that a majority of the group planned to go. Some of us would stay in Glasgow that night while others would return to Kircaldy for their last night.
We hugged and said goodbye to Chuck and Theresa as they would not be joining us in Glasgow. Our train was scheduled to arrive at 9:50 and we all decided to head for the station about 9:30 so we would have enough time for the walk. Bets and I went back to our room, retrieved our luggage and made our way down to the lobby to wait for the others. I was ready to go and moved outside in front of the hotel. As I pushed through the door I heard the loud cries of a seagull. I looked up and spotted him sitting on the hotel roof. He called out again and I imagined that he was also saying a goodbye.
Soon everyone had filtered out of the hotel and we were ready to go. We had decided to take a shortcut to the station that morning. I was in the lead so I headed around the side of the building towards the back. As I cleared the rear of the hotel I noticed an old graveyard just across the street. I had to fight the impulse to drop the bags and go explore the eerie markers that were placed there over the many years. Our time was short so instead I headed for the shortcut…The Secret Stairs! The Secret Stairs was the name Betsy invented for the path that led from the back of the hotel down to the street that ran behind the hotel. This name was quickly adopted by the group, since the path passed through some heavy brush and a green garden setting. It was not easily seen until you stumbled upon it. As we waited on the platform for our train we learned that Richard R. had “caused” a car wreck just moments earlier. Apparently he had been preparing to leave the curb & cross the street and a car had stopped to let him cross. The car behind failed to notice and bumped into the first car. Reportedly no one was injured and we all got a laugh at Richard’s expense!
The train was on time and we all rushed to get aboard within the allotted 45 seconds the train stopped in Kircaldy. As usual the luggage was the biggest hurdle, but we finally managed to get it all loaded. I was last to board the train, and as I stepped in I noticed the conductor watching (from down the line). He had held the train to make sure we had all made it safely. I smiled and gave him the thumbs up signal. At this point there were about 10 of us and we all grabbed a seat for the 30 minute journey to Edinburgh. Rich and Jason sat across a table from a fellow who noticed Jason’s computer and instantly began asking questions. He said he was employed in the IT profession and wanted to know all about the BrailleNote. Between the two of them they answered all but the most technical questions. He was on a six month paid holiday and was spending the time traveling about Europe. Naturally he was most impressed with the group and how independent they all were. The train was full of people that Saturday morning, but we arrived at the Haymarket Street Station without incident. We again rushed to unload the bags within the allotted time. The route took us to Glasgow through Edinburgh where we had to switch trains.
Unfortunately we had to get from platform #4 over to #1. The station had a raised pedestrian crossway to each platform and there were too many stairs involved! We were forced to pull the luggage up those stairs and then down the other side. This process was a challenge, to say the least. We were pooped by the time we landed on the #1 platform. The good news was that there was a train to Glasgow scheduled every 10 or 15 minutes, so the wait was not long. About that time I heard my name called from across the platform. I turned to see four more of our group just coming down the stairs. They had been separated from us in Kircaldy and we had not noticed! It was like a happy reunion as they joined us. Now we had 14 in our party.
The Glasgow train arrived and was even fuller than the previous one. But the ride would only take 45 minutes. As we arrived at the Queens Street Station I noticed water trickling down the hill next to the tracks. I wonder if our good luck with the weather had finally run out?! This was the end of the line for the train and we all unloaded a little more leisurely. We had planned to locate a paid locker room for our luggage. This would make our sight seeing and shopping much easier to manage. Instead, we were very fortunate to be assisted by some very friendly station attendants. They offered to store our bags in the locked manager’s office until we came back for them later. This was an offer that went way beyond the norm and we were pleased to accept. As we all moved through the ticket gates and into the main lobby of the station I had my first look around. This was a huge building and it was filled with people either just arriving or lining up to board for a different destination. Initially our group was a bit overwhelmed and we huddled together to figure out what to do next. I decided that we needed to locate Jason’s friend Monty, whom we planned to meet at this station. I grabbed Jason and we two headed for the Dundas Street exit. Betsy and Val also broke from the group and headed to the tourist board where they hoped to obtain sightseeing info for Glasgow. Jason and I walked out the exit and into the open air. It was still crowded with people. But I quickly spotted a tall, dark headed young man moving towards the entrance to the station. I instinctively called out to him and he stopped to look towards my unfamiliar voice. Jason and Monty were quickly talking, as old friends do when they had not seen each other in a long time. I left those two and went back inside to retrieve the rest of the group. However, we were forced to say another goodbye. Carl & Elaine, Mark, and Ilona had decided to break away. I was surprised by my own brief emotion as I hugged Elaine. I realized that I had formed a bond with all of these people and didn’t want them to leave. As we made our way out of the station I was pleased to note that the rain had stopped and the sun was trying to pop out from behind the clouds. After a few moments of discussion we decided to follow Monty to the local shopping district. It was only a few blocks over. As we rounded the corner and stepped onto Buchanan street I was again amazed at the number of people moving along on the street. I realized that this was a different world than the malls I was used to back home. This street was lined on both sides with individual shops of all kinds. Almost immediately the girls stopped at Thorton’s, which is a chocolate shop. During our travels this became a favorite stop whenever we were out shopping. And their candies were all very delightful. We made another purchase to make sure we had plenty for our girls back home in KC. Just next door was a Tea and Coffee shop. This too proved to be very popular, and almost everyone from the group bought something here. As we moved along the street we heard a street musician playing a song with his pan flute. We stopped for a moment to enjoy the sounds. Only a few steps further along was a man with an acoustic guitar. More shops and more purchases. Then we noticed a crowd gathering just ahead. As we moved closer we heard a street band and the booming sound of drums. I had Rich in tow and moved us into the crowd so we could see what was going on. To my surprise I found a group of five men playing traditional Scottish music. There was a large open area in the street and these guys were playing music and running around and having way too much fun. Each was dressed in a kilt and other traditional garb. The scene was very exciting and we stayed for a while just to soak up the atmosphere. My stomach was growling and I noticed it was after one o’clock. The group decided that we should try to find a place to stop and eat lunch. Monty said he knew of a good place for our large group, only a short walk away. He led us to the Crystal Palace, a well known spot in Glasgow. We were led upstairs to a second floor dinning room. The room was very large and we easily found a couple tables. The menu had a good variety and Betsy and I soon settled on fish and chips. Our table had a unique number stamped into the surface, and I was directed to place our order at the bar across the room. This bar ran the length of one side of the room, and I noticed an excellent variety of beers on tap. I placed my order and carried a couple of pints back to the table. The food arrived quickly and I enjoyed the meal, which included green peas. I learned that this is a very common side dish when serving fish and chips. I also noticed an odd condiment available at the table called “brown sauce”. My curiosity got the better of me and I just had to try it. It turned out to taste a lot like the Heinz 57 sauce we use on steak back home. Valerie ordered a chocolate fudge cake with vanilla ice cream for dessert. She shared a taste with us and it was wonderful! It was tempting to stay here and drink another pint. But, the group grew restless and wanted to move on. On the way out I discovered a small, old fashion style lift (elevator). This one even had the double set of black iron gates we have seen in the movies. Several of us had to try it since it was still working. We stopped just outside the restaurant and I took a picture of the group. Next stop…Woolworth’s. Inside we all recalled these stores from childhood many years ago, before they went out of business in the states. Many were dime stores, ours were known as T,G & Y. It was fun to look around see the deals available. Soon the group was off again. We headed back up the street in the general direction of the station. But, we soon discovered that we had left Richard R. back at the store. Luckily we had a working radio and were able to contact him. I ran back to help him rejoin the group. We walked and shopped some more. It wasn’t long before we all needed a break and Monty knew of a pub that didn’t allow smoking. We soon arrived at the Phoenix Tavern, and again found some inviting chairs in the upstairs section. Betsy and I sat with Richard and Janet. They told us about the plans for their daughter’s wedding next spring. Paul and Kat and Rich I. ordered some Scottish whiskey to sample. Then Richard B.’s cell phone rang and it was Mike calling. He had just finished up with his film crew and was not going to come over to Glasgow (as originally planned). As Richard held up the phone we all yelled “goodbye, and thanks” in unison. Then we raised our glasses to toast to his friendship and leadership. The time had slipped away. We had all planned to have dinner at a local Indian food restaurant. But Richard R. decided that he was ready to head back to Kircaldy. And we all had had enough, so we returned to the station to retrieve our bags. This was the hardest parting for me. As we took turns hugging and shaking hands I felt another wave of emotion sweep through me. This was not like me and I knew I was leaving something special. I was especially sad to part with Richard B. We had shared some great times together and hoisted a few Guinness pints (more commonly known as “black gold”). Jason and Lalena were staying with Monty overnight before taking a train to London. Richard and Janet were headed back home to Edinburgh (pronounced: edin burra). As they all walked away I hoped that we might meet again. The rest of us were taking a Sunday morning flight and had a room reserved near the airport, so we found the exit and headed over to the bus stop. After waiting for twenty minutes we all decided to take a taxi instead. A few minutes later we were headed out in the right direction. Valerie rode with Betsy and I, and our driver was friendly. As we crossed the Clyde River he proudly told us that both the Queen Elizabeth and the QE2 (world famous ocean liners) were built right down there on the docks. We all arrived at the hotel to find a very busy front desk. Turns out we were fortunate to have made a reservation in advance because the hotel was sold out! To make things simple we decided to eat in (at the hotel restaurant) instead of trying to get back out. Now there were only six of us left. We sat around the round table and reminisced. Rich I. wanted each of us to pick a favorite place. We shared this last meal and then turned in for the night. We planned to meet again to catch the 8:30 shuttle over to airport. Turns out that Valerie, Paul, Kathy, and Betsy and I all caught the same flight from Glasgow to Chicago. We arranged to switch seats and were able to sit together as we headed for home. group in Glasgo

Saturday, September 25, 2004

 

Way Fun, Ireland/Scotland, last Day

Last Way Fun day, Scotland

“Don’t be daft” says the football announcer as he argues the Celtic game with a fan. I wasn’t unfortunately at this game in Glasgow but am listening on the radio instead here in my hotel room as I make preparations for our departure back home tomorrow.

Most of our group was in fact in Glasgow today. Another batch went into Edinburgh.

I spent most of the day with a film crew in Weymss who are doing a story about Richard Moore, a man blinded at age 10 by a stray bullet in Belfast. Richard is thinking about having an operation to restore his site as I did. We were comparing notes about the issues he might face. Like me, Richard agreed that it was the journey that interested him, not that he needed to have vision in order to be a complete person. I am speaking about the journey to explore the meaning of blindness, low vision and full vision.

Richard just flew in from Malawi where he was visiting one of the divisions of his foundation, Children In Crossfire. He still lives in Darry Northern Ireland and he travels the world from Africa to South America on behalf of his foundation.

We both expressed gratefulness for the lives we have been fortunate to lead in spite of the accidents that blinded us. How many people in the world have a good job, family and opportunity to travel like we do? Blind, that is “mice nuts” compared with the plight of children in developing countries facing daily violence, or even people who struggle with alcoholism or are homeless. We wondered what the big deal was about blindness in the face of so many other plights.

Here we were, two blind men, meeting on the shores of Scotland, one flying in from California and the other from Northern Ireland arriving from Africa just in time for this meeting.

I am sure all of the travelers in our group, blind and sighted, are incredibly grateful for the fact that we have the tools, techniques and where-with-all to be able to vacation in Dublin, Cork and Fife. In the modern vernacular, “how cool is that?” You have to draw out the word “that” for the proper sound of this expression.

Margaret and Armand reported another successful day on their own, locating Tate’s jewelry Store on their own, a place where losing pounds isn’t hard to do. Margaret was justifiably proud that she and Armand found Rose street and the jewelry store on their own with the help of the GPS.

I am feeling a tinge of sadness as this trip draws to a close and we didn’t have yet one more opportunity to toast as a group and to say goodbye. We have created unforgettable experiences and made new friends in our mere 10 days of traveling. Instead of saying goodbye, we said, “where are we going next.”

Once I get home and have a chance to get caught up, we will post more pictures from this trip.

Friday, September 24, 2004

 

Friday, Fife

Friday, Scotland


On another beautiful day in Kirkcaldy, we set out in several different directions. One group went to the seaside, another to Saint Andrews to see the famous golf courses, others stayed in town and some of us returned to Edinburgh, where Jason was the subject of articles by the Scotsman and the Edinburgh Evening News.

Six of us took the Majestic City bus tour to get an overview of Edinburgh. It is a fairly cosmopolitan city as compared with Glasgow. One person termed Edinburgh a large town.

We all gathered again in the evening to have dinner in the nearby village of Fruechie. It was really our last night with the entire group since some folks are flying out of Glasgow and staying their tomorrow night. We took over the restaurant hotel and had traditional Scottish food. Some even had the famous Haggis, Neeps and Tatties. If you don’t think about what Haggis is, it isn’t so bad. Several folks were game.

My favorite accomplishment over dinner was that of Margaret Bakalian. She is a very new GPS user. Margaret stayed in Kirkcaldy today and mapped out a route to the local travel agency. She said she plugged in the address and asked for a pedestrian route. There were 15 points in the route. Half way through the route her husband, said, “I don’t think this is the right way.” They persisted with the route since there wasn’t much of a choice otherwise. Sure enough, Margaret directed them to the Travel Agency, her first completely solo route. Cheers to Margaret and to the Fife Society for the Blind for turning us on to a wonderful slice of Scottish culture.

The picture is of the entire group in front of the Parkway hotel heading off to dinner in Fruechie.
The group in front of the Parkway Hotel

Thursday, September 23, 2004

 

Edinburgh, Thursday

Again, we lucked out with the weather, up to 60 degrees and sunny except for one 30-minute period of rain.

We took the express train from Kirkcaldy to the Waverley district of Edinburgh, about 20 minutes. We split up and shopped in the area.

I was with Ilona and Rich Irwin when a woman came out of a store and said, “didn’t I hear about you this morning on the radio? Aren’t you Americans testing a satellite system.” I said we were plus one Dutch person. Her name was Julie, and we fell into conversation as we walked along the streets. She told us about the best places to shop and we told her the names of the streets we were crossing.

Julie left us in an indoor mall and a nice sales person escorted us around various shops, not just her own, looking for some gift items. It was great meeting and visiting with a couple Scottish locals.

From there, Rich and I managed to get lost for a while in a parking garage before we made our way to our group appointment at the new Parliament building.

A Member of Scottish Parliament, Kate MacLean, hosted us. We got a brief tour and had some discussions about issues for blind people in the UK. The picture in front of Parliament is of me, Armand, Margaret and Alan Davis of Pulse Data Europe.
visiting the Parliament

From Parliament, we strolled along the Royal Mile toward the Edinburgh castle. I did several media interviews in person and on the phone along with a stop for lunch.

The castle was very interesting with excellent audio and live guides. My favorite factoid was the biggest cannon shot a 350-pound boulder up to one and a half miles. We saw royal jewels, swords and mostly enjoyed the history and ambiance of the castle. There is a picture of a guide speaking to three quarters of our group in the central courtyard. As usual, we ended the evening with a fantastic meal and a quest for bed after a very full day.

the group at the Castle

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

 

Wednesday, Cork to Kirkcaldy

We managed to make the transition from the killarney` Guest House in Cork to the Corkaigh Airport without losing any people or bags. Check in was a breeze as was security. The fun came when we lined up to board the Air Erin flight to Edinburgh.

All of a sudden the gate agents were asking who was blind, how many of us were totally blind, visually impaired and fully sighted. Jason said that the other low-cost airline, Ryan Air, expressly has a limit of two disabled people per flight. Air Erin said they didn’t have such a limit. I guess they need the business.

However, they decided that their policy manual did not allow two blind people to sit together. I tried to convince them that the blind people would lead the way out of the airplane if the cabin was smoky but they didn’t buy this argument.

So, they delayed the departure as they reassigned us seats. Many of us were inclined to make a stink but we also wanted to get to Edinburgh. It wasn’t as though we would be flying this airline regularly.

Paul and Cathy Shelton, both blind, did some quick thinking. Cathy gave her cane to Theresa, who is sightede, in order that Cathy could sit with her husband. This gives me some satisfaction that Air Erin didn’t have the last word on this absurd policy.

After landing in Edinburgh, we take a train to Kirkcaldy, about a 45 minute trip. We will hook up with the fife Association of the Blind there in the afternoon and check out our new home-base for the next 4 nights.

The logistics of 3 taxis, one airplane and one train with all our luggage was taxing on those who had a lot of luggage and those helping out. There isn’t a lot of time when a train pulls in or drops off for one to grab bags and get situated. This is made even trickier when it is crowded and you have several blind people trailing. Most of Wednesday was spent traveling and when people arrived in Kirkcaldy, they were more than ready for a break and some food.

A couple of us just made the early train in order to meet with the Fife Society for the Blind at their base in Kirkcaldy. It was interesting to learn about their services in the region and especially to get restaurant and entertainment tips from locals.
Having been on transport all day, we set a pedestrian route and walked the 1.2 miles from the hotel to FSB. We negotiated two roundabouts and at least 10 turns out of 14 waypoints. This was through mostly residential areas. We did have a sighted person with us thankfully for the roundabout crossing; however, it was strictly up to the GPS and those operating it to direct us to the address on Wilson Avenue. We were pretty pleased to make it.

Cork airport

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

 

Cork, Raising the Bar

Low expectations have such a debilitating effect on the development of independence and aptitude on all people. With no mal intent, much of the public and even some professionals in the blindness field maintain these low expectations. It is so beneficial and yet so difficult to raise expectations of blind individuals even though the result can be so life enriching.

I was thinking about this at 11 PM last evening as I strolled from the cyber café back to our hotel. Here I was in Cork Ireland, a place I have never been before today, and within 10 hours, was feeling quite at home and very oriented. I passed some other members of our group along the way, coming back from a restaurant. Still others were out listening to some live Irish music. And yet, we are not all “super blinks”, we have a wide variety of personalities, travel techniques, skills and attitudes. I wondered what the common component was that placed us in the this part of the world, all enjoying ourselves and choosing the people we wanted to hang out with and the activities we wanted to do.

We arrived in Cork on the train from Dublin around 2 PM and took taxis to the Killarney Guest House on Western road. I had the taxi driver drive through town and describe the layout and interesting places to visit. By 3 PM, we all met in the house’s common room and decided to head for town, nothing specific in mind and no particular time to reconnect. We would divide and conquer. People clustered into groups of their choosing and started walking toward town. Everyone had their BrailleNote GPS and most groups had a person with a two-way radio.

Periodically, the radio would squawk as we checked in with each other with tips about places we had discovered. Some stopped to eat while others continued to wander. Eventually, we were at two different pubs and then all at one pub talking about where to have dinner. It is not easy figuring out how and where 20 independent people want to go to dinner.

Logistically, some blind folks might naturally connect with a sighted person in the group in order to find and get to a restaurant in a brand new city. There are 5 fully sighted people out of our group of 20. I think I shocked the agent at the train station when he asked me if we had any sighted guides for our group and I said we kept them out of sight until we needed to drive somewhere. I am not sure if he realized I was kidding or not.

From the pub, we broke up into dinner groups as the hungriest people said, “I am out the door, who is coming with me?” Off we went again to separate parts of town based upon who we wanted to visit with that evening and what we wanted to eat.

Some of the blind and sighted people in our group, don’t walk all that fast and some get easily turned around. These are not all travelers from the O&M Olympics and yet people were heading out the door of that Washington Street Pub when and where they wanted. In fact, when we were in Dublin and did walk to a restaurant as a group, we arrived there minus 2 people. I was worried but they were industrious and eventually found us.

After dinner, people again broke up into sub groups or couples, some headed back to the hotel, some went in search of music and I headed for the Cyber Café to post the Blog for the day. This involved finding Sheila with the camera at another restaurant, getting the text from Ilona, going to the Guest House, getting my laptop and back again into town to find the Cyber Café which I had never been to before. The radios and GPS definitely helped coordinate all this. Ilona handed me a compact flash card with the Blog text on it when we passed each other on an island in an intersection.

I really felt a glow as I walked along the busy Western Road toward the guest house, late at night, not from too much Guinness but from the realization that all these folks with different skills and personalities shared the expectation that they could do what they wanted with whom they wanted, some more slowly than others, some getting lost, many getting frustrated, but everyone thirsty to explore and experience the culture and the city. We were all inspired by each other. The fact that the O&M bar is set high by the group has challenged all of us to exceed our personal bests.

On Tuesday, some folks went to kiss the Blarney Stone, some took a bus to a seaside village of Kinsale and I headed for the Cork City Gaol with Valorie with another group following. We wanted to find it ourselves based on very vague directions from a passing tourist. She told us it was up very steep hills, implying we might not be able to make it.

Our guesses of when to cross streets and when to turn ended up being right on. The GPS was running but we didn’t have an address or point of interest to shoot for so we stopped the few people we met along the way and kept getting confirmation we were headed in the correct direction. It was in a very residential area so there weren’t many people to ask. We did find it, long before the group with the sighted folks in it but we aren’t boasting just pleased that we got there in one piece and without spending the whole day looking for it.

It is spelled Gaol but it is really a jail or prison opened in 1824 and closed in 1923. The tour was 95% accessible. We were given a recorder and headphones. The tape was not only informative about the exhibits but it gave precise directions where to go and where to turn. It was amazing for two blind people to be able to take a 90-minute tour without a word from a sighted person and we didn’t miss a thing. We were able to touch the models of the prisoners in the cells and a number of other tactile objects. It is worth the trip to Cork just for such an exceptional historical experience.
Richard Bartholomew, Betsy Jones, Ilona Wellman, and Richard Irwin enjoying the tour at the Gaol

After five miles of walking, a meager attempt at shopping, stopping for lunch and exploring some less accessible tourist sites, we are back at our guest house in preparation for our meeting with Irish Guide Dogs this evening where we will have a chance to show off the GPS technology to locals and to learn from them. We hope that the high bar we have set for ourselves will also inspire blind people of this area to challenge themselves to see just what is possible. Sure could have used one of those sighted people with the shopping. The GPS can help get us to the store but it doesn’t tell us anything about the items inside. We need technology to help with identifying people and goods in a shop. Now that we can independently get where we want to go, we are greedy for even more location information. I am sure our Irish compatriots would agree. We’ll find out tonight over a pint.


meeting at Irish Guide Dogs

Monday, September 20, 2004

 

Monday in Cork

The taxi ride From the hotel to the Dublin Heuston station went almost smoothly.

I was in a taxi with Rich and Valorie and we had some fun talking about guide dog names and the interesting responses they may trigger. Rich had GPS running and checked with the driver how accurate its information was. The driver was impressed and wished he had it in the car.

We all got on the train all right although our respectable fellow groupies who got the luggage on the train (like our strong man Dave!) managed to jump on just in time.

Margaret tried GPS on the train and it managed to track satellites so she gave us an update every once in a while - place, speed and altitude. At some point the speed was up to 88 mph.

Then there was this terrifying announcement: no toilets on this train! Interesting thought when you know you'll be on that train for over 2.5 hours! Fortunately some more linguistic group members set us straight: the message actually was "there are no trolleys on this train." Sigh of relief.

Rich got an email from the people he demoed the GPS to last Saturday in Dublin. The people wrote they were impressed with GPS.

Some of us learnt the hard way that smoking apparently is not prohibited on trains in Ireland although it is prohibited in all other public places. A few people stayed in a different car in the train but some fled back to the group before they were smoked out.

Betsy made Charles contact Mike via the radio (or so the story goes) when we stopped at a station to tell him we had all gotten off the train; where was he? I would have loved to share his reaction with you all but I didn't catch it so I guess I can't.

Once everyone dropped their things off at the guesthouse we went out to explore Cork. Some stopped at a place to have a sandwich but I was on Mike's team and he took us on an adventure walk through the city, right through industrial Cork, through the mud - everything to follow the leader, right? *smiles*

Our team ended up in this place called Raven's bar and had a drink there. Via the radio that connects our groups Charles gave another group a nice little geocache challenge (our team being the live geocache); he gave them latitude and longitude information and sure enough they found us! Well-done group! As a reward they got the opportunity to have a drink as well.

Later eleven of us had dinner and when the subject of carrying cases and straps came up Margaret confessed that she could not take both the Braillenote GPS and Her purse. Even though she and her purse are normally inseparable, the BrailleNote GPS prevailed and the purse was left at the hotel. Promise not to tell anyone, it's painful enough for the poor little purse as it is.

OK, let's have one more little story before we go to bed, (except for Mike of course). Those of you who use BrailleNote GPS know that you'd have to have the BrailleNote case open to use it (otherwise it's kind of hard to give the right commands). Very helpful people may come up to you to warn you of the fact that the case is open. One of the people in our group was stopped by a lady in the street and she told him his zipper was open. He reaches for the obvious place and she says: "no, not that one, the one on your black bag!"

Well, good night everyone and sweet dreams!

Ilona Wellman from the Netherlands.


Mike, Charles, and Mark on the train to cork


the group enjoying dinner in Cork


 

Sunday, September 19, 2004

 

Way Fun, Dublin, Saturday

By Saturday, our Way Fun group of 20 was fairly rested and ready to storm Dublin with canes and dog. Our colleague, Richard Bartholomew from Scotland being the only one among us who brought his dog guide. The laws for bringing dogs to the UK and Ireland were recently relaxed but not quite in time for the American dog users to organize bringing their dogs.

We split up into 4 groups and went off in search of trouble, Geo Cache locations and the more common sites of Dublin. Users of the BrailleNote GPS ranged from intermediate to advanced. Each group had at least one two-way radio with a range of a mile or so. I would check in with the groups on the radio or via mobile phone. The weather started out sunny for the second day in a row and spirits were definitely bright.

I went in search of Pete’s Electronic store to find some power adapters, plus I enjoyed the challenge of operating completely on my own. I asked lots of questions from passers by because I learned the vicinity of the store and a street name but not an address. One benefit of the GPS is that you can find out sooner when people give you a bum steer.

When one is in another English speaking country, many expressions are interesting. Richard B. told us for example that the older folks in Scotland use the expression “going to check messages” when we would say going to the grocery store. I wonder if a “bum steer” was originated by merchant farmers. It certainly applies to at least half of the directions one gets on the street. Maybe I don’t understand the language but it sure seems that people are even less specific here than back in the states. Any way, thank goodness for some technology.

I eventually found the store in a rather circuitous manner. The walk back to the hotel took a third the time and half the distance. I didn’t need to ask any questions since the Lynam Hotel was already in my database.

I then connected with the Kansas City group via the radio. They told me what point of interest they were near and I set that on my GPS and created a route to them. We had lunch in Temple Bar, replete with a panini and a pint.

I had to do double time from the restaurant to the Royal Dublin Hotel where we met up with a group of 25 to 30 Dublin locals organized by the National Council of the Blind of Ireland. I gave a presentation and then the locals paired up with GPS guides from our group and we walked the streetsnear the hotel. Other than one Trekker user, none had had experience with GPS. We did some interviews and all met back for conversation and libation. It was a wonderful interchange of culture and technology information.

We got lucky and secured a Saturday night reservation for 20 at Eliza Blue on the River Liffey, on the edge of the lively Temple Bar section of Dublin.

Sixteen of the group walked from there to the Pedestrian Gate of Dublin Castle where we met up for the 9 PM Zozimus walking tour of Dublin by night. This was a very funny and educational meandering around this historic part of Dublin. We heard about the notable prisoners in the castle and about the author of Dracula, who is from Dublin. The two actors were superb entertainers, the leader using a cane and wearing a blindfold. The Zozimus tour ended in a graveyard close to 11 PM. Some of the group headed back and some of us carried on.

We proceeded from there to O’Shea’s pub for what we thought would be Guinness and traditional Irish music. Instead, it was country music. After draining our pints there, we walked across the street to supposedly the oldest pub in Ireland, the Brazenhead where there was more country music. We headed back to the hotel keeping our ears open for Irish music along the way. We concluded Saturday, actually on Sunday, around 1 AM when Dublin was just getting going.

Richard Bartholamew demoing GPS in Dublin
Count Dracula trying to suck Sheila's blood
the group in front of the Guinness Factory
One on Zozimus' tour
the group in front of Zozimus' tour with Major Sirr
Mark Pighin caning backwards
Mike and Stuart giving a Presentation
the group on a Tour bus
Val demoing

Friday, September 17, 2004

 

First Day in Dublin

Way Fun has begun in Dublin. We all arrived from our various international cities with no delay. That is not to say my brain isn’t delayed after flying and no sleep for 2 days. We spent the day touring Dublin getting the lay of the land and of the GPS street maps and points of interest.

I found this Internet hot spot next to our hotel, the Lynam on O’Connell Street. More when I am more coherent.

In case you can join us in person, we are meeting Saturday the 18th at the Royal Dubliner Hotel at 2 PM. Next is Cork Monday through Wednesday and hosted by Irish Guide Dogs Tuesday evening. We arrive in Kirkcaldy via Edinburgh Scotland on Wednesday the 22nd, staying at the Parkway Hotel. We are there until Sunday when most of us return home. To reach Mike may, call his UK mobile number +44 7979 27 33 84


Wednesday, September 15, 2004

 

Press Release, Seeing with GPS

One year ago, your organization did a story on a blind man getting his vision back after 43 years of total blindness. Check out Mike May’s latest adventure.

On Friday, September 17, twenty blind people from the U.S., Scotland and the Netherlands land in Dublin to begin 10 days of independent exploration of Dublin, Cork, Kirkcaldy and surrounding areas. These intrepid travelers are using accessible GPS technology developed by Sendero Group running on a BrailleNote personal data assistant to find their way to museums, castles and pubs. Picture 30 blind people, white canes and dogs, striding through city streets with Braille and voice synthesizers announcing the same information sighted people take for granted on print signs. The experience will be shared with local blind people from Ireland and Scotland.

One of the inventors, himself totally blind from age 3 to 46, Mike May says, “When you can get around independently, the number one limiting aspect of blindness is minimized. That is why some blind colleagues and I developed this technology and enjoy sharing it with others. I regained low vision a few years ago after stem cell and cornea transplants. Now I can see that the signs are there but I still can’t read them. This accessible GPS technology is every bit as important with low vision as it was with no vision.”

Sendero Group is an adaptive technology company based in Northern California. Its founder Mike May has been the subject of a BBC documentary and NBC Dateline regarding his restored vision, as well as the subject of many major print, television and radio media. To see Mike and his fellow blind adventurers in action, Contact:

Mike May through Sep. 15 at 1-530-757-6800
From Sep. 17-25, +44 7979 273-384

Sendero Group LLC
http://www.senderogroup.com/
MikeMay@SenderoGroup.com

The group exploring at the first Wayfun adventure

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