A Travellerspoint blog

Friday, 10 September 2010

Out With a Bang!

rain 20 °C

Friday, 10 September 2010
Dublin, Ireland
8:30 pm

Today was our last full day in Ireland, and that always makes me a little sad. I love going new places, but I hate leaving them because I know my list of new places I want to see is so long that it will be a long time before I can repeat any place. However, today’s excursions really helped chase away the end-of-trip funk! We definitely went out with a bang!

Today’s big highlights were our Dublin Fabulous Food Walking Tour and an excursion to Howth (rhymes with both), a little town just up the coast on the Irish Sea. The Food Tour started at 10:00 am at the Manor House, which is the residence of the Lord Mayor of Dublin. No particular reason to start there, except it’s downtown and convenient to the food destinations we would be visiting, and it’s easy to find. We met up with Pamela, our guide, and the rest of the group shortly before 10:00. There were only eight in the group, the two of us and six members of one family from Dublin (mostly!). There was a brother (who emigrated to New York City in 1989), his English wife, and his four Irish sisters. They were all very friendly, and some of the places we visited were just as new to them as they were to us!

Pamela issued us each a bottle of water, gave us a little of the background on the political and culinary history of Dublin, and then we set off for our first stop: Sheridan’s Cheesemongers on South Anne Street. We crowded into the tiny, aromatic (that’s code for stinky), climate-controlled (that’s code for blue-butt cold) shop for a tasting of two cheeses. John, the cheese monger, explained that we were tasting two different but uniquely Irish cheeses: Glebe Brethan, an unpasteurized artisan cow’s milk cheese similar to Gruyere or Comte; and Milleens, a pasteurized cow’s milk cheese that is semi soft, sort of like Brie. I did not care for the Glebe Brethan AT ALL--to me, it was waxy and bitter. I took one bite and slipped the rest of my portion to Jo Ellen, who enjoyed it. The Milleens, however, was very good, and I would eat that again, not even being a cheese person.

From Sheridan’s we headed to Liston’s Deli, which is a combination deli/cheese monger/specialty food store. The owner (whose name I cannot remember) had traveled all over the world and started the store as a way to make sure she had access to the foods she had enjoyed while traveling. (Maybe I could do that! Do you think Parkersburg is ready for a gourmet market? <snark>;) There we tasted a very nice goat cheese and spinach tart. Goat cheese is always something I am hesitant about, but I always end up liking it in food. It is creamy and very mild. I also got some flapjack, which is an Irish bar cookie made of oats, honey, and some other ingredients. It is not unlike a granola bar, and I’ve actually made it before. This is to be a comparison sample!

It started to rain as we were walking to Liston’s, and it certainly hadn’t stopped by the time we set out for our next destination, The Cake Café. Definitely my kind of place! It is located on Camden Street (well, Pleasants Lane, actually), but it is accessed THROUGH the Daintree Paper Company. And here’s the kicker: Jo Ellen and I had wanted to go to Daintree yesterday, but weren’t certain how to find it! We mentioned this to Pamela, and she gave the entire group time to shop in the store, which is full of absolutely gorgeous handmade papers, wedding albums, cards, and ribbon! I told Pamela that taking the two of us to that store is like taking an alcoholic to the liquor store--if I get started, I won’t stop! I got a couple little things, and Jo Ellen got a set of lovely handmade cards, all of which we asked the clerk to wrap in plastic in deference to the rain. (Handmade paper and Irish weather are not a good combination!) After the brief shopping pit stop, it was back to the Cake Café to taste lemon slice and brownies made by Sebastien, the baker at the café. Both were excellent! The lemon slice is basically an Irish version of the American classic lemon bar, with a slightly firmer filling. And Sebastien’s brownies were nothing to sneeze at, either: chewy, full of mixed nuts, with a dollop of soft chocolate ganache on top. I was vastly disappointed with Australian brownies (too dry), but these certainly meet my high standards for brownie goodness. Fortunately Jo Ellen didn’t want one, so I cadged her sample in addition to mine!

Our next stop on the tour was the Swan Bar on Aungier Street. It is run by a very attractive and charming man named Ronan Lynch, and he is the third generation of his family to run the pub. There we were tasting either Guinness, or Powers 12 year old whiskey. Since I’d sampled the Guinness on Sunday, I decided to try the whiskey. Ronan pronounced it very smooth, but my God how can you tell? If that’s what whiskey tastes like, I completely do NOT understand how people can become alcoholics. I took two teeny tiny sips and left the rest. I have too much respect for my tonsils, trachea, and liver to finish it! And if it gets better with age, what must the young stuff taste like? I think I’ll just stick to drinking the lab alcohol, thank you! The bar itself is really cool--it’s been in its location for a long time, and in fact was damaged in the Easter Rising of 1916. You can still see the bullet holes! Definitely a place where Irish people go to drink, and some of them were already there doing it before noon!

From booze to coffee! Our next stop was literally right across the street at a coffee bar called the Bald Barista. The Bald Barista is the eponymous business started by Buzz Fendall, a New Zealander who decided that he loved two things: drinking espresso and talking to people. So he started the coffee shop as a way to combine the two! He taught us a lot about making espresso and coffee in general. Did you know, for example, that coffee can start to lose some of its flavor as soon as four minutes after it is ground? He also demonstrated the proper technique for pulling an espresso on his mac-daddy espresso maker, which costs almost $13,000 (that’s US dollars!!)! I can get a serviceable car for that amount of money! And he said he goes through one about every three years, even though he does all the routine PM on it. Touchy little sucker. Everybody but me ordered either espresso or lattes, so I got to watch Buzz demonstrate all the cool designs he could make in the crema, just like on the barista championships on TV. I, not being a coffee drinker, had hot chocolate. Even though he started with a powdered mix, it was still DELISH because of the steamed milk. I gotta get me a milk steamer--it really does seem to be the key to excellent hot chocolate! Buzz made a very pretty floral pattern on my drink by drizzling chocolate sauce on the top of the milk foam--it was almost too pretty to drink, but I persevered.

The next stop on our tour was in the Great Georges Street Arcade, at a little shop we saw but bypassed yesterday called Cooks and Lolly. There we tasted an apparently popular Dublin foodstuff called a sausage roll. Think Irish pig in a blanket. Personally, I would have preferred tasted the adorable minicupcakes on display, but I didn’t get to choose. The sausage roll was good, but I don’t think I’d want a whole one ever, let alone on a routine basis. The Irish guy on the tour bought a couple for later, however, so they must be a taste of home for him!

We hit the Cocoa Atelier, a fairly new (within the last two months) chocolate shop on Drury Street next. There we sampled a marzipan/Gran Marnier truffle. It was a really good truffle, but really boozy. Someone had a heavy hand with the Gran Marnier. The shop also sells artisan single-origin bars, a variety of chocolate truffles, and an exquisite selection of French macaroons (the ones made with almond paste, not those nasty coconut things you people associate with macaroons. Those are not macaroons, people. Those are crap.). By this point, the tour was running a little behind schedule, and Pamela was pretty much force-marching us from shop to shop (probably all that time in the paper shop), so we didn’t have time to buy anything. After the tour was over, Jo Ellen and I walked back there after the tour to pick up some chocolates and I got a chocolate macaroon and a chocolate hazelnut macaroon. A little drier than a Pierre Herme macaroon, but not having ready access to French macaroons, I ate them with gusto!

The last stop on the tour was Fallon and Byrne, a gourmet food hall that is, ironically another one of the shops on our “must-see” list that we simply hadn’t gotten a chance to get to. There we were sampling smoked Irish salmon on brown bread. You had your choice of condiments: dill mayo, chopped onion, chopped egg, chopped gherkins, or something called (I think) Miss Mary Sauce, which was like a cocktail sauce/mayo mix. Whatever it was, it was good! Pamela left us after the smoked salmon, and after polishing off some rather tasty fish, we headed upstairs to cruise the aisles. It was hysterical: next to chocolate chips by Michel Cluziel were Reese’s Peanut Butter Morsels. And they had Betty Crocker chocolate chip cookie mix for 4.95 euros a bag, which works out to over $7.00 for what you and I pay about a buck fifty for at Stuff-Mart! And there were Fruit Loops sharing shelf space with gourmet muesli. The dichotomy tickled me to no end!

As I said, after Fallon and Byrne, we popped back to the chocolate shop, then headed toward the Tara Station to catch the DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit) light rail train to Howth, our final adventure of the trip. We did pass several street artists on Grafton Street en route, including one man who was doing sand sculptures with sand that he’d brought along! (That’s dedication!) Anyway, we caught the train with no trouble (I told you, I like trains. I understand trains. I do trains. Buses are of Satan and should be avoided!) and made it to Howth in about a half hour. Howth is a little seaside town with nothing hugely specific to recommend it, except that it is picturesque as hell! We spent two or three hours walking along the East and West Piers, watching the seagulls and sailboats. We also got to see some seals that live in the harbor. The seals have a seriously sweet deal: one of the little seafood shops on the pier sells seal food (mackerel, I guess) for 2 euros a bucket, and lots of us tourist types were feeding four or five seals by the bucket. The seals just have to swim around and look cute to get the equivalent of seal cookies, provided they can snatch it away from some seriously aggressive seagulls! It was like “The Birds!”

We decided to have dinner in Howth before heading back to Dublin, and we had a delicious meal at a restaurant called (funnily enough) the Findlater. Shrimp and mussels in a curry broth with glass noodles. (It sounded so good we both ordered it, and I gave the errant bivalves to Jo Ellen, who happily ate them. I think one of the key requirements in a good traveling companion is whether or not they’ll eat the stuff you won’t, sort of like how David always eats the tomatoes out of my salad in restaurants. Complimentary food aversions can be helpful, like when I got Jo Ellen’s brownie today!)

We only had to wait five minutes or so to catch the DART train back to Dublin, and it was a very pleasant trip. The trip from the O’Connelly Station to the apartment, however, was significantly less pleasant, for it had started to rain. Strike that. It had started to pour as soon as we got on the train, and it continued until we got into the apartment. It was a walk of several blocks, and we were once again sporting the drowned spaniel look when we got home.

We did manage to get everything packed into our suitcases plus the duffel, but I still fear my suitcase may be on the edge of overweight…perhaps its BMI is 25 or 26. Depending on the backpack stuffage, some books may come out to alleviate weight. We’re planning on leaving for the airport about 7:00 am for our 11:00 am flight (flights require Burch family standard early plus!), and we’ll get to Pittsburgh (hopefully) about 4:45 pm.

It’s been a wonderful week in Dublin, weather not withstanding. The people here are so nice and friendly, and the city is so atmospheric and historic. I had a great time, and will miss it. However, it will soon be on to the next great destination (and the next blog)!


Posted by hidburch 13:46 Archived in Ireland Comments (1)

Thursday, 9 September 2010 The Sequel

We are party people!

rain 15 °C

Thursday, 9 September 2010--The Sequel!
Dublin, Ireland
11:00 pm

We just got back from the Irish step dancing show, and I wanted to tell you all about it. It was at a hotel on Bachelor Quay called the Arlington, and it was completely FREE! Not even a cover charge. Now, if you wanted, you could get the dinner package (29.99 euro for three courses, along with premium seating), but if you just walked in off the street (which we did) you could still see the show. Per Kevin the bus driver’s instructions, we got there plenty early (even early by Burch family standard early): 8:00 pm for the show that started at 9:00. We managed to snag two seats at the bar, and were lucky to get them, even that early! Not wanting to simply take up space, and being such big drinkers, I ordered a bottle of water and Jo Ellen had a Guinness. As the evening progressed, I had another bottle of water, then I busted loose and had a Coke. Wild’n’crazy Jo Ellen chased her Guinness with a rum and Coke (fortunately, I didn’t have to roll her home!) We also split a snack-sized can of salt and vinegar Pringles. Say what you want about us, but we are party people.

As I said, the show actually started at 9:00 with an Irish band called The Voyagers playing Irish tunes and songs (tunes have no words, remember?). There were four of them, and they were very good: a bass guitarist/electric mandolin player, a girl fiddler, a bodrhum drummer, and a lead guitarist. They played a range of stuff, but did “Molly Malone”, “Whisky in the Jar”, and a lovely instrumental version of “Danny Boy”. The drummer was quite attractive, and Jo Ellen and I discussed the relative merits of “cougaring” him. (We really need to develop a verb for that.) It was amazingly crowded in there, and some of those people were pretty drunk. We watched the girls sitting beside us get hit on three different times by two different drunks. I felt bad for them, but at the same time, I always wonder why this never happens to me. I think I emit a frequency that drives these schmoes away, sort of like that thing you bury in your yard to keep the moles out of your garden. It’s a theory, anyway.

At 10:00, the band took a break and the dancers came on. There were five of them, two men and three women. Oh my goodness could their feet move! I did not realize it, but there appear to be two distinct types of dancing, one in which the girls wear the soft shoes and their feet are very quite. The music is almost lyrical for those dances. In the other one, they wear shoes with hard heels to create a very percussive effect. What amazed me was how quickly they’d go back and forth, sometimes within the same tune! I can’t even change flip-flops that fast! One of the guys really cracked Jo Ellen and me up: he was a superb dancer, but a little chubby. Neither one of us can figure out what could keep him a little fluffy as fast as he was moving! The five of them danced for half an hour, even bringing members of the audience on stage to dance with them. I don’t fault them for not dancing longer, since I couldn’t have kept up that pace for five minutes!

We left at the conclusion of the dancing, even though the band was coming back on stage to play another set. We both decided we’d had enough of the bar scene, and I’d had enough rejection by drunk men I didn’t even know, so we moseyed on up the street through the rain into the night…

Posted by hidburch 15:12 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Ladies of Leisure!

sunny 22 °C

Thursday, 9 September 2010
Dublin, Ireland

Per the schedule, which I am sure you all have thoroughly committed to memory by now, today was to be a day of art and shopping, which it absolutely was. We got a late start this morning, heading out about 8:45. The Dublin City Museum the Hugh Lane (hereafter abbreviated HL for brevity) was due to open at 10:00, so we thought we’d visit some of the sights around the O’Connell Street area before heading up there. We quickly dispensed with the General Post Office, site of the 1916 Easter Rising. It really is a working Post Office with window clerks and everything. They do have a small museum, but we figured it wasn’t worth the 6.00 euro admission fee, nor the time. Then we headed down Henry Street, past Arnott’s Department Store, to the Jervis Street Shopping Center and, more importantly, the National Leprechaun Museum! Yes, there is a Leprechaun Museum. And they must be pretty proud of it, with an admission of 10 euros. Aside from snapping a few pictures, we gave did a quick cost/value assessment and determined it was not worth the cash. We did detour through the Jervis Street Shopping Center, which was quite nice. We spent a good bit of time in the Waterstone’s Bookstore there. Waterstone’s is a chain you sometimes see in the U.S., but it is not very common and I can’t figure out why--they are just lovely! I got a few paperbacked baking books published by the Australian Women’s Weekly. Oddly enough, I never saw them when I was in Australia, but I had to come to Ireland to get them. Ironic, don’t you think?

Then plan had been to head toward the HL for the 10:00 am opening, but in the spirit of vacation flexibility (because Lord knows I am plan-inflexible the entire rest of the year), we decided to head off toward our other shopping destinations and catch the HL in the afternoon. So we set out across the River Liffey toward Dawson Street, which is not unlike Newberry Street in Boston. Our goal: Murder Ink, a specialty mystery bookstore, in case you are not in full possession of all your wits and are incapable of guessing the content from the name. (In which case we have to have a discussion about you possibly being unfriended.) Anyway, we never did find the bookstore, despite scouring the entire length of Dawson Street. We did, however, visit the ever-so-lovely House of Ireland, purveyors of all things Irish, including crystal, porcelain, lace, linen, woolens, and silver. Jo Ellen got a very attractive black wool coat for herself (which we have already shrunk down to the size of a dish towel with a Container Store-sourced compression bag--if you don’t have some of these bad boys, you need to run, not walk, to your nearest Happiest Place on Earth and get yourself a set.) and I found several very cute items that we will discuss at a later date.

From Dawson Street, we revisited the St. Stephen’s Green Shopping Center (you will recall from Monday’s episode that this is where we found T.K. Maxx and the much-needed rain chapeaus). This time, we actually took our time to stroll through the three-story mall, and found several very cute little shops. We didn’t really buy much, but we did stop at La Croissanterie for lunch. It’s a chain, as near as I can tell, sort of like Au Bon Pain. I had a “chicken mayo” (chicken salad) sandwich and salt and vinegar chips. I tried the chips only because there were no plain ones available, only salt and vinegar and cheese and onion, and am happy to report that, while I won’t be forsaking my Lays any time soon, they were at least palatable. We did take the time to use the restroom, which I am reporting only because it cost us 0.20 euro to do so! That’s right, we had to pay to pee! I am morally opposed to that concept, but at least there were Dyson Air Blade hand dryers like at the Bridge Climb in Sydney. At the time I believed, and still continue to, that this is the only type of air hand dryer that should be legally allowed in the world, because it is the only one that truly gets your hands dry. At least my 0.20 euro is being used for the betterment of dry hands.

Our next destination was a kitchen store called Stock that we’d read about. We found it quite easily and spent quite a bit of time perusing the merchandise. I saw several neat little gadgets (uni-taskers as Alton Brown calls them) that, though I admired them, I was able to leave behind. I did, however, find a super nifty cake server that I couldn’t pass up--it has a built-in slice pusher so you don’t actually have to touch the piece of cake to put it on the plate! How cool is that???

From Stock, we headed (with the assistance of a passing young man with a very good sense of direction) to the Georges Street Arcade. Now, per not one but MULTIPLE of our guidebooks, this was supposed to be a very nice shopping location. However, unless we missed a huge portion of the Arcade (which I don’t think we did because we are a) very thorough and b) know how to shop), it was a FLEA MARKET full of crap. If you come to Dublin, don’t waste your time. (Although, I must confess that I found a very brooding, atmospheric black and white photo of Dublin in one of the shops on the way out that is now safely stowed in the bottom of my suitcase.) Ditto, really, for the Powerscourt Townhouse, which is a shopping mall in a converted home that used to belong to Lord Powerscourt (hence the name). There were some cute enough shops, but our bags were getting heavy and it was time to head for the barn. (Massive baghand had set in by that point.)

We stopped by the apartment to deposit our loot, tinkle (we’re cheap--we only pay once!), and get a drink (doesn’t one beget the other?) before heading to the HL gallery, which is only a couple of blocks up O’Connell Street. It’s the modern art museum here in Dublin. We got to see one room of gorgeous Impressionist paintings (call me unimaginative, but I truly do love Monet!) before discovering that the rest of the Impressionist collection rooms were closed due to a staffing shortage. No soup for us, just like in Paris when we went to the Picasso Museum, only to find the entire permanent collection IN STORAGE for a temporary exhibition. Instead, we toured a special exhibition of the portraits of Sir John Lavery, who painted many important figures in the fight for Irish independence. That exhibit was quite good, and I learned a lot. (And yes, we visited the gift shop on our way out!)

I wish I could say I was as impressed with the Dublin Writers’ Museum as I was with the HL, but I can’t. Since it is literally right next door to the HL and we had some time on account of the closure of half the freakin’ museum, we decided to go. It was like a child prodigy that peaked in kindergarten, or in this case, the entrance! There was an audio tour guide, which I generally enjoy, but this one just droned on and on and on. The exhibits consisted of glass cases with manuscripts, books, or letters in them, and white foam-core signage talking about the various Irish authors. Sadly, the verbiage on the signs was not significantly less than, or significantly different from, that on the audio guide. Heidi and Jo Ellen give it two thumbs down. Ignore your guidebooks, and trust us.

By this time, the dinner hour was fast approaching, and we hatched what turned out to be a helluva plan to pick up takeout fish and chips from the shop at the end of our street. We swung by Dunnes and picked up malt vinegar for Jo Ellen and good ol’ Heinz ketchup for moi (I will not be a victim of the ketchup Nazis once again!), then we visited a little bakery for something sweet for dessert. I got a little chocolate covered tart filled with marshmallow, and Jo Ellen got an éclair with strawberry drizzle, then we went to the chipper. Oh my goodness!!! Not only were the portions HUGE, but they were absolutely delicious!!! Even better than Leo Burdock’s on Saturday (my judgment could possibly be influenced by the ready availability of the ketchup, but I don’t think so). I could only eat about half of mine (well, I suppose I could have eaten it all had I wanted to make an unfortunate foray into bulimia), but then it was time for dessert. I am sad to report that the alleged marshmallow tart did not live up to the rest of the meal: there was STRAWBERRY JAM in the bottom of that tart!!! However, after surgical dissection of the tart to remove the offending berry, the top half of the tart was very good.

We’re still working a little on getting packed to go home. We have had to deploy the pack able duffel bag I brought along for just such situations, but happily we only need the one for both of us. (Paris was a two-bagger!) My suitcase is pretty heavy, but I can still lift it so I don’t think it’s overweight. Now we’re just killing a little time reading (Jo Ellen) and writing (me) before we go to the Irish dancing show at the Arlington Hotel--we’re both excited for that!

Tomorrow is our last day in Dublin, and we’re going out with a bang: we have our foodie walking tour in the morning, then we’re taking the DART light rail train to Howth Head and walk along the shore of the Irish Sea and poke around the little town!


Posted by hidburch 10:47 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Sometimes a girl's gotta roll with the punches!

sunny 15 °C

Wednesday, 8 September 2010
Dublin, Ireland
10:30 pm

Greetings and felicitations one and all! It is still officially Wednesday here in Dublin’s fair city and I am able to regale you with the tale of our day in a more timely fashion than previously expected. You see, we were supposed to be spending the evening at the Irish House Party, an evening event consisting of Irish food, Irish music, and Irish dancing. However, since I am writing this to you, you can obviously surmise that we are not actually at the House Party, and that is through no fault of our own. We went on our bus trip (more on that in a bit), and when we returned we had the bus driver (in a truly amazing bit of research and planning on my part) drop us literally down the block from the Landsdowne Hotel, the site of the House Party. Through events entirely out of my control, we were wicked early for the House Party. (That is to say, we were even earlier than standard Burch family early, which dictates at least one half hour before the event doors open!) So we decided to stroll around the area for a little while to kill time. Found several cute shops, but nothing to consume that much time, so we hoofed it to the hotel, figuring to have a drink and sit down for a spell. That’s when the disaster struck.

We were explaining to the desk clerk that we were there for the House Party and could we have a cup of tea while we waited when she started hemming and hawing and looking uncomfortable. It turns out the House Party was cancelled and there were two groups they hadn’t been able to contact, us being one of them. (Can I just say “D’uh!”? We were out sightseeing all day, not at home waiting with baited breath for them to email us!) We could reschedule or get a refund, but we would have to work that out with someone in charge of the House Party, which this clerk was not. (She was so apologetic that she must think Americans pack heat even in foreign countries!) We explained that it was not likely we could reschedule, given that we are going home Saturday and have other plans for the next couple of days, so she gave us a couple of souvenir Cds of the House Party music, and told us that there is lovely Irish dancing at the Armstrong Hotel. This jives with what our bus driver told us today, so I emailed the House Party chicky and told her we wanted a refund, and tomorrow evening we’re going to see step dancing at the Armstrong Hotel, which is right down the street from the hotel and ever so much more convenient. And best of all, it’s FREE. As Dan says, cheap’s good but free’s better!

Now, on to the bus trip. We took a bus tour called “Wild Wicklow and Glendalough” from a company called Aran Tours, and it was fabulous! If you come to Ireland, I recommend them. The bus picked us up at the Gresham Hotel, right around the corner. Pickup was supposed to be at 9:20, but they were about 15 minutes early. Given the Burch family standard early, we were there waiting on them, but you KNOW the earliness predisposed me to like them! We were not the first pickup of the day, but we were still able to get seats very near the front of the bus. (This came in handy when employing my QANTAS stealth fast-entry skills. The stealth skills don’t work if you are trapped on the bus behind slow old people!) After a couple of more stops to board passengers, we were off!

Our first stop of the day was by the Irish Sea at a place not far from Dublin called Dun Laoghaire (“Done Leery”). We got to hop off the bus and get some snaps of the Irish Sea and cute little seaside town, then it was back on the bus to drive through the little towns of Dalkey, Killiney, and Loughlinstown. We stopped for a potty and coffee break at a wonderful place called Avoca Village. Avoca is a company that manufactures handwoven items like blankets, scarfs, sweaters, socks, and the like. At this shop (total tourist trap, but I don’t even care!), they had all those things for sale, as well as a lovely bakery and café. There were cookbooks and kitchen supplies and equipment for sale, too! Thanks to the QANTAS stealth-streak, I was the first one off the bus, then the first one into the loo, and therefore had lots of time to shop! I got an absolutely GORGEOUS cream-colored mohair and wool throw…just can’t decide if it’s going on my couch or my bed! I also got their “Tea” book, which has recipes for scones and the like, and a very cool book about “slices”, which appears to be British-speak for bar cookies. Definitely going to have to try those out! It was after 11:30, and Bucky was hungry, so I also got a DIVINE plain scone sprinkled with sugar. It was huge and completely destroyed my appetite for lunch.

We drove on, passing by Lough Brie (“Lock Bree”). The road was exceptionally narrow and curvy and reminded me VERY much of our drive up and down Mount Haleakala in Hawaii, especially when we’d have to pull to the side to let an oncoming vehicle go past. The going was particularly slow in that big tour bus, and at one point the driver slowed up and let a car behind him pass us. The driver/guide, Kevin Murray (fine Irish name, that!) had a marvelous expression for tailgating: “Well, are ya gonna pass me or not? You’ve been on me rear like a frig magnet!” I LOVE that! We also passed Lough Tay (“Lock Tay”), a lake on the Guinness estate. Many movies have been filmed in this particular part of Wicklow, including “Braveheart”, “P.S. I Love You”, “Leap Year”, “Excalibur”, “Black Beauty”, and even “Lassie!” The scenery IS movie-worthy, and apparently film productions can operate tax-free!

Speaking of the scenery, pictures don’t really do it justice. This country is truly very, very green, with windswept moors covered in heather. (Wouldn’t it be atmospheric if it were in bloom? Alas, heather-blooming season has passed!) Not many large trees in some areas, so parts look very barren. In other places, though, there are magnificent pine forests. Ireland aggressively manages their forests, planting and harvesting every 35 years. Kevin also told us that the government planted an oak tree in honor of every Irish citizen to mark the millenium! Along the way, we got to see the areas where people used to cut turf to burn for heat. Turf is apparently the precursor to coal, and people would go to areas where it is near the surface and cut out large bricks of it. Turf has a very high moisture content, so it was left to dry, sometimes for up to 6 months, before it was burned for heat. Estimates are that it would take 10 tonnes of turf to meet one household’s heating and cooking needs for the winter.

One really funny thing happened as we were getting back on the bus after snapping pictures of Lough Tay. Kevin started handing out samples of Jameson’s Whisky! (Is it whisky or whiskey? I know there’s a rule, but I can’t remember what it is!) He was using those little plastic cups like you find at Communion, but when you’re filling them with whisky, that’s still quite a lot! Given my complete distaste for the demon rum, I gave it a pass, but Jo Ellen tried it!!! She said that it is definitely to be sipped, preferably diluted with Coke! Without, it took her breath away. (Who knew librarians were so wild?!)

Turns out the scone-induced appetite destruction wasn’t such a bad thing, because we stopped for lunch about 12:45 at a place called Lynhams of Laragh (“Lynhams of Laura”). They had a so-called carvery, which was pretty much a hot-lunch cafeteria line serving turkey, ham, soups, cottage pies, etc. Because of the scone, I didn’t want anything that heavy, so I ordered the so-called egg mayo. I thought (and confirmed with Jo Ellen) that this means egg salad, so I thought I’d be getting an egg salad sandwich. I WANTED an egg salad sandwich. Alas, ‘twas not to be! What I got was a salad of lettuce, tomato, and onions with a little scoop of (surprisingly good) potato salad, a little scoop of a coleslaw that consisted primarily of shredded carrots and was not all bad, and what I thought were two deviled eggs. Not so much. They were the eponymous egg mayo: a boiled egg sliced in half and squirted with mayonnaise. Now that’s just wrong! I scraped off the mayo, flipped out the yolks, and ate the whites with the potato salad and Jo Ellen’s roll. Like I said, it was fortunate I’d had my scone! (Aren’t baked goods always the answer, whatever the question?)

From lunch, we headed to Glendalough (“Glenda-low”) National Park. Glendalough means “valley of two lakes”, and the lakes are simply called the Lower Lake and the Upper Lake. It is famous for being the site of St. Kevin’s monastery. Apparently St. Kevin was quite the pious whackjob ascetic (look it up) who spent the last twenty years of his life living in solitude in a cave. When we got to the dropoff point behind the Glendalough Hotel, we actually had two hours to explore on our own. Jo Ellen and I took off down the idyllic nature trail (look it up) and managed to visit both the Lower and the Upper Lakes. We also saw a caher, or the ruins of a stone enclosure, a round tower, and St. Kevin’s Church and St. Kevin’s Cross. Beside the church was a graveyard that was an interesting juxtaposition of the old and the new. We saw graves dating to the early 1800s, as well as newer ones, including one dated 2006. The grave monuments are truly spectacular, and as near as we could tell, multiple members of the same family are stacked one on top of each other in the grave and marked with a common stone.

From there it was back to Dublin and the misbegotten House Party misadventure. After our discovery that the party was cancelled, we opted to go back to our apartment and make dinner, but this required that we actually get back to our apartment. The House Party was quite a schlep from the apartment, hence my delight in the scheduling that ended up with the bus driver dropping us right near the House Party. We had several options: walk the aforementioned long haul, take a taxi (our original plan for getting home, but that would have been employed at 10:30 or so), or (I shudder to even type it!) take the bus. Now those of you who know me very well know I have (perhaps) an irrational fear of and hatred toward buses ever since I was accosted by a little old lady the first time I ever took the Mass Ave bus in Cambridge; consequently, I never took the bus again. I am fine with subways. Subways make sense. There are specified stops that the train always stops at, and the platform dictates that you are going to get on going in the correct direction. None of these things occurs with the dreaded bus. However, the desk clerk at the Landsdowne had told us to go up the street and catch the Number 10. For 1.15 euros, the bus would drop up right on O’Connell Street near the apartment. With Jo Ellen campaigning heavily for the bus, I grudgingly acceded to her wishes. I did warn her, however, that if anything went wrong with the bus plan, it was on her head.

The first problem became which side of the street on which to board the bus. (See? The bus is TRICKY!) Originally we were on the wrong side of the street, but we crossed over and were studying the map, me muttering dire imprecations under my breath for us due to this embracing of this no-good means of public transit, when two very nice, well-dressed Irish men inquired where we were going. We told them, and they confirmed we were now on the correct side of the street. (Interestingly enough, one of them would have been the perfect age for me, and one for Jo Ellen, should she be so inclined! And mine was CUTE! He had gorgeous hair.) Blessedly enough, only the bus we needed stopped at that particular stop, so that removed another potential source of confusion. When the bus came, we hopped on, deposited our fares, and moved to the back. I spent the whole time chatting with the two men, telling them about the things we’d seen. They recommended we see “The Plough and Stars” at the Abbey, and were delighted when I told them we already had, and that we loved it!

Through a series of hand signals, we managed to get off together and at the correct stop, near the Millenium Spire (“The Stiletto in the Ghetto”!), and nothing truly awful happened. But I don’t care…I still hate the bus.

We swung by Dunnes, the supermarket, and picked up our standard traveling dinner fare, pasta and salad, which Jo Ellen graciously prepared. (She takes extreme pity on the culinarily challenged like me.) While she cooked, I began determining whether or not all my (and your) loot would fit in my suitcase. I think I can do it without having to deploy the extra duffel bag. I remain hopeful. However, tomorrow could completely torpedo that: per The Plan, it’s Shopping Day!


Posted by hidburch 14:23 Archived in Ireland Comments (3)

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Culture Vulture Day

semi-overcast 17 °C

Wednesday, 8 September 2010
Dublin, Ireland
7:00 am

Before I begin regaling you with tales of yesterday’s cultural adventures, I must begin with a confession. Forgive me Carol, for I have sinned. I have cheated on you with another knitter. Well, two actually. Or possibly one knitter and one knitting machine. I can’t really confirm that the sweater vest is hand knitted, but I know the cardigan is. If it makes it any better, the cardigan is knitted from cotton, and the vest is a cotton/linen blend, and I know you prefer not to work with those fibers.

Yes, Tuesday was sweater acquisition day. We went to two different sweater shops (sweaters are a very big souvenir item here in Ireland, given that they have an abundant supply of sheep and therefore wool), and I got a couple of very lovely sweaters. At the first store, named The Sweater Shop, obviously enough, I got a beautiful lavender linen/cotton blend sweater vest. Originally I wanted a lovely lavender linen/cotton blend cardigan sweater, but of course they only had one and it was very much not my size. I was prepared to settle for a beige cardigan that, while attractive and nice, did not take my breath away like the lavender one…sort of like a rebound relationship. However, while I was upstairs picking out postcards, the saleslady came to find me--she had a vest that matched the sweater and it WAS my size. And it was ON SALE! YAHTZEE! Of course I bought it. Then, on our way back from the lunchtime concert at the National Concert Hall, we stopped into a store that we’d read about in our guidebook. It is called Cleo, and it is famous for hand knitted sweaters. Now you would think that, since I basically have my own personal knitter on staff in the person of one Carol Baker, I would be immune to the charms of the work of other knitters. It turns out that I am fickle and can be swayed by the allure of someone new. (This must be similar to what attracts people to extramarital affairs!) Everything in that shop was GORGEOUS, but a lot of it was WOOL. Itchy wool at that, so that eliminated a significant portion of the inventory as ripe for purchase. However, they had a large collection of “natural fiber” sweaters and they were (magic words) ON SALE. And I found a different beige cardigan that is pure cotton and so soft on my skin I almost slept in it last night. (There was another sweater that was a cashmere blend that was so soft I wanted to roll around on it naked, but at 400 euro, even I couldn’t justify the cost!) Anyway, bless me Carol, for I have sinned.

Now, to the actual vacating activities of the day. As I told you in Monday’s blog post (I am already screwed up on the days, since I am writing this on Wednesday morning but it’s about Tuesday. I was simply too tired when we got back from the theater at 11:00 to write my “book”.), Tuesday was culture vulture day. To give you the overview: National Gallery, lunchtime symphony concert at the National Concert Hall, play in the evening, with a few other smaller items thrown in for color. The only thing I think we missed was the ballet!

We headed out fairly early yesterday because, according to my trip planning and recon, the National Gallery opened at 9:00 am. This turned out to be faulty intelligence: it was actually 9:30. However, the misinformation gave us plenty of time to visit St. Stephen’s Green, a park in the middle of Dublin not unlike the Boston Public Garden. Perfectly manicured grass, abundant and tasteful floral displays (I LOVE Irish gardens--they are incredibly symmetric and that appeals to my engineer-ness.). It was made into a public park by Arthur Guinness, he of the stout fame, in 1880. It is surrounded by some of (allegedly) the best architecture in Dublin. (I say allegedly because what do I know about architecture?) I do like the Georgian style--everything is very square and again, symmetric. No gingerbread or scrollwork to paint or clean!

With the extra time afforded to us by our misinformation concerning the National Gallery, we had plenty of time to visit another nearby park, Merrion Square. Merrion Square is also surrounded by Georgian buildings, and here’s a little factoid for you: the windows on the upper storeys get increasingly smaller than those below to avoid the “window tax”. Whatever the reason, they are very interesting looking. Merrion Square is most famous for the statue of writer Oscar Wilde that is contained therein. We visited the statue, and I found it to be rather amazing. Unlike most other statues, it is in color, but not from paint: the various colors are made with different types of marble!! Oscar is quite detailed, right down to the rings he is wearing on his left hand.

We left Oscar and trekked to the National Gallery. I must make another confession: after the Battan Death March of Art that Jo Ellen and I did at the Louvre, we have evolved a slightly different approach to visiting art museums. We pick out the things we are most interested in, we visit those, then we leave, with no apologies to all the still lifes of dead stuff or portraits of ugly people that we may miss. And that’s what we did here, too. We went directly to the Impressionist Room (we do love our Monets, Van Goghs, and Pisarros) and took our time there. Then we went to the Irish artists’ wing, specifically the Jack Yeats Gallery. As I told you after our visit to the National Library, William Butler Yeats brother, Jack, was one of the most renowned Irish artists of the 20th century, and I can certainly see why. His works are impressionist in style (at least to my eye), and focus on Irish life. One thing disturbed me, though: the way he rendered the faces in some of his figures made them seem quite sinister. Maybe that’s just me! Anyway, after our visit to Mr. Yeats, we said sayonara to the dead stuff and hit the museum gift shop. (I told you, we NEVER miss a museum gift shop!) It was huge and had a LOT of really cool stuff. I wanted a book about Yeats, but they were all burglar-bashing size, not something I wanted to haul home. Alas, I contented myself with a couple of smaller items before we headed out.

Our destination was the National Concert Hall for our 1:05 pm lunchtime concert, but our path took us through Nassau and Grafton Streets, two of the “smart” shopping areas of Dublin. This is when the first sweater infidelity occurred. However, we also stopped in Hodges and Figgis, one of the best bookstores in Dublin. (We also don’t miss bookstores, either.) I was finally able to find a book about Irish baking; granted, it is quite little (a bonus for packing!), but it has the basics in it, so there may be scones, brown bread, and boxty in your future, depending on my level of inspiration and ambition!

Hauling a stuffed shopping bag (we’ve found the best ones for use here: plastic, with a zip top to keep everything dry…and while I’m on the subject of dry, yesterday was!!! Only one brief popup shower, and that was while we were in The Sweater Shop. Otherwise dry, and we even saw the sun yesterday afternoon! Much better!), we finally made it to the National Concert Hall about 12:30. Being early was good, because for 5 euros, you could get a box lunch (really, a sandwich and tea) before the concert. So we sat down and enjoyed a chicken and stuffing sandwich…really, quite good!

The concert itself was very, very good. The program was Wagner’s “Prelude to Act 1 of Lohengrin”, Dvorak’s “The Water Goblin, Op. 107”, and Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 1” for those of you that are into that kind of thing. I thought I got us such excellent tickets--5th row! We were so close we were basically looking up the concert master’s nose! I could only see the strings section--no winds or percussion at all. I was a little disappointed by that, since I like to watch the timpanist--they are always so theatrical! The music was excellent as far as that goes (classical is not really my thing--I go, but recognizing different styles etc is just beyond me), and the concert was taped for broadcast on Irish national radio tomorrow. I did like being close to the orchestra for one reason: the group in front of us was being a little rude, and I could watch the concert master cutting her eyes at them from time to time, as if to say, “I’m watching you: straighten up!”

After the concert, we were heading to the National Museum of Archeology. It was en route there that I committed the second sweater infidelity. We spent so much time in that shop (the sales clerk was SOOOO nice and friendly and the stuff was SOOO beautiful) and our shopping bag was so full that we opted to bypass the National Gallery and head for the apartment to drop off our stuff before the play. (Never fear, though: we did go into the gift shop!!!)

We passed the National Bank of Ireland on our way back, so I popped in to see about getting my boss a proof set of coins, which he requested before I left. I’d already checked at the post office and they told me to check the National Bank. Well, the National Bank told me to check the Central Bank, which was (fortunately) right up the road. So to the Central Bank we schlepped. (I am not 100% certain, but I think this is the equivalent of the Federal Reserve Bank.) After talking to two different security guards on two different floors (ground and Level 1...here in Ireland, the first floor is actually the second floor), I was finally able to secure the 2010 Irish euro proof set. Sshhh….nobody tell Nick: I want it to be a surprise!

We dropped off our loot at home (we are doing better--after the Paris mustard misadventure, we buy only things that are light and easy to carry, we just buy a lot of those things!), then headed literally down the block to the Abbey Theater to pick up our tickets for “The Plough and Stars”. Using a tip from the Travel Channel, we asked the sales clerk in the box office to recommend a restaurant nearby for dinner. She pointed us to a bar/café called The Grand Central. I had chicken curry and Jo Ellen had kebabs with the BEST garlic potatoes either one of us had ever had (they were so good we shared!) before we headed back to the theater. With some time to kill along the way, and at the recommendation of our waitress, we stopped in the 2 Euro store. Basically, this is the Irish equivalent of the dollar store, and ya’ll, we had a blast checking it out! I have now shopped in dollar stores in the U.S., Japan (technically the 100 yen store), and Ireland (2 euro). Maybe this can be a travel goal in the future!

We made it to the theater in plenty of time, and thanks to my queuing and darting skills developed while boarding QANTAS flights in Australia (you can ask David Baker--I was ALWAYS the first one on the plane!), we were the first ones into both the preshow lecture AND the show itself. The lecture was quite good: the Abbey’s archivist talked about previous productions the Abbey had done of “The Plough and Stars”, and showed historical documentation, like prop lists, cast photos, and the like. “The Plough and Stars”, written by Sean O’Casey in 1925 about the 1916 Rising (fight for Irish independence). The show was EXCELLENT, and we could not have picked a more appropriate play to see while in Ireland! It revolves around the people that live in a Dublin tenement house as they deal with their roles in and the consequences of the Rising. I was thoroughly impressed and learned quite a bit about the Rising.

That’s about it for Tuesday. Tomorrow (well, really today as I type this), we’re heading off to Wicklow on a bus tour (yes, we’re going to be BUS PEOPLE), with a visit to Avoca Weavers (wonder what we’ll find to buy there?!). Then, in the evening, we’re going to the Irish House Party, a so-called ceili with food, music, and dancing. It will probably be another late night!


Posted by hidburch 23:58 Archived in Ireland Comments (1)

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