Saturday, December 19, 2015

I know, it's almost Christmas.

But I am continuing to stay too busy to post regularly and I flew right by our Thanksgiving visit with my family. My younger son was visiting his brother and the girls were at their mother's house this year. My fiancé and I drove down to Georgia so he could meet some of my family, including my mother. We had the traditional Thanksgiving dinner Thursday and then a crab boil on Friday.
My sister and brother-in-law brought a few dozen fresh blue crabs from Savannah to make one of my favorite meals. I personally packed away five of these babies.
After dinner, we started decorating for "An Affair to Dismember," a murder mystery party set in a Transylvanian castle. My youngest brother took a moment to canoodle with his new girlfriend. I'm not sure where he dug her up.
We try to stay in theme for the party drinks, so I redecorated a bottle of 19 Crimes in honor of my fiancé's character.
I've found my match in willingness to go all out for a costume. He even grew out his beard and tolerated Santa jokes from co-workers just to be able to dye and sculpt it into suitably sleazy facial hair for his character, Asthmadeus, the Prince of Dimness (the asthmatic, not-very-smart younger brother of the Prince of Darkness).
I played Aretha Garlique, the flamboyant clairvoyant who is feared by the undead. I had fun putting my costume together and even found a great corset-style bustier. And see the prince's jacket? That was an Ireland thrift shop find - it's a suit jacket turned inside out to show its red satin lining. I sewed matching red satin stripes down the sides of the suit's pant legs. We always decorate for the parties so my mother's window-lined living room was covered in castle stone-decorated paper.
We also had Balihi, the show-tune loving Rogersandhammerstein monster, Dr Angela Deth played by a stand-in for the family friend who bailed at the last minute, the murder victim's fiancée Lizzie Bordeaux, the Mummy of King Aldrinktotat, the kosher cannibal Hannibel Shecter, and Glumda the Wicked Witch of DePressed. Like all these murder mysteries, the plot gets more twisted as you go. It turned out that I had traded bodies with the presumed murder victim and it was actually Aretha who'd been killed.
On Saturday, we'd decided to drive to Hilton Head. I told my mother we were going to the beach and she told me to send a picture of me in a bathing suit to prove it. The water was too chilly to swim in, but it was a gorgeous, warm day. In fact, it didn't seem right to be in swimsuits at the end of November.
Not that we were complaining. Any sunny day at the beach is fine by me!
We went back down to the beach Sunday morning after breakfast to get one last walk by the ocean in before we left.
And then couldn't bring ourselves to leave. On our way off the island, we stopped at a bar for a couple of pints on the deck by the water. I think I'm storing up the sunshine to get me through the winter.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Ireland, Day 6: Galway for the birthday boy.

The interminably slow travelogue continues:
My fiancé had decided he wanted to spend his birthday in Galway, so that morning we made the 45 minute drive around Galway Bay and into the city.
We walked into the bustling pedestrian area, and I was immediately struck by the AIB bank in a fortified medieval building called Lynch's Castle. I think this is a gargoyle, but it looks like a creature eating one of its own young.
Our first order of business was finding our wedding rings, something my fiancé specifically wanted to do on his birthday. We browsed at several shops in the jewelry district, but had done research online prior to our trip and had decided that Foxford Jewellry was where we wanted to go. It had unique designs, a good reputation and reasonable prices. But we could NOT find it, even though we walked up and down Williamsgate Street. Finally we stopped at Logue's shoe store and found out it was in Corbet Court, a little indoor shopping area a few doors down.
It was a tiny shop but we went on in and were greeted by Ann, a friendly soft-spoken woman. After describing what we were looking for, she started bringing out rings and then asked the young jeweler, Lorcan, to show us some newer ring designs he was working on. He told us he would make us whatever we'd like, scaling mine down to fit the narrow band size I wanted. We settled on a Celtic pattern we both liked, one that looks like flattened knotted hearts to me, in 14K white gold. The recessed area was a little whiter. Lorcan does the design and the initial work on it and his father does the finishing work using traditional tools. It turns out that we would save more money on tax by ordering online so Lorcan created the item listings for us and ordered them through the website, but he also gave them to us at the lower in-shop price. We chatted with Ann while we waited and when my fiancé (who shares a first name with her husband) mentioned that it was his birthday, she gave him a sterling silver pin with an Irish pike on it. She also offered to polish my diamond ring for me, and it was almost absurdly sparkly. She gave me a polishing pen to take with me and told us the wedding bands would be shipped to us when they were ready. It was just a lovely experience all the way around.
We had lunch afterwards at McDonough's on Quay street, which Ann said is famous for its fish and chips. They don't sell beer but told us we could bring over pints from the pub next door.
Along with the fish and chips and the requisite pints of Guinness, we got half a dozen oysters. My fiancé has never had them and had agreed to try. Just the one, because he didn't like them. Good thing I do!
A couple with a tour group shared our table. Originally the woman asked if the other seats were taken and when she sat down I asked where she was from. She told me Newfoundland originally, but they live now in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. I told her we were from Tennessee and she said, "Oh, I took you for Irish!"
Then back to shopping. The city is a little bit of a maze and we kept re-tracing our steps. Musicians were out in full force, including this gypsy group. Not all the musicians were as good - one was simply a guy beating on plastic mayonnaise tubs with drumsticks.
We really didn't venture out beyond the pedestrian area, but managed to fill the whole day.
We shopped for gifts to bring back to the kids, to go with the stuffed lamb for the younger daughter and the necklaces for the girls we'd bought in Dingle. We bought an Aran island wool cap for my older son's girlfriend, a recorder for the younger daughter, tin whistles for the older son and daughter, a Guinness shirt and pint glass for my younger son, and leather bracelets with Celtic charms for all of them (and me). I also bought a long cream colored Aran island sweater that fastens with a toggle at the top and some really pretty Celtic knot earrings we found at a thrift store, made by a woman in Anascaul. My fiancé managed to find two nice sports jackets in thrift stores.
One shopping break involved stopping for a chocolate bomb and hot tea at Elle's cafe. Delicious.
In another store, I was looking at t-shirts with Irish sayings on them and read them aloud to my fiancé:  "Tá mé" and "Is maith liom." A woman who was shopping asked me if I could translate them for her. When I told her they just said "I am" and "I like" she decided not to buy them. Good decision. I believe I was "mistaken for Irish" yet again.
Another break, this one for a distiller's whiskey flight at Garavan's, a pub that has been in business in a 16th century building since the 1930's. I no longer have the tasting notes, but our favorite was the Green Spot whiskey. Our least favorite had rum notes.
After all the shopping was done, it was time for dinner. My fiancé chose the King's Head, located in a medieval building on High Street, in the Latin Quarter.
We started with the Redbreast 12 year old single pot whiskey. They had three unnamed kinds of red wine on the menu, but an extensive and descriptive whiskey list.
My fiancé ordered the Irish stew and I had really good crab claws in garlic butter, salad and a bread to dip in the sauce. Both with a glass of malbec.
video
We had decided we'd better get back to Ballyvaughn before dark, but live music coming from inside the Tigh Coili Pub on Mainguard Street stopped us in our tracks. We decided to pop in for a whiskey. When a corner seat opened up, we started for it and then saw that an older Irish couple had the same idea. We told them to take it and they suggested we join them. They told us they were from central Ireland and had come down to Galway just for the day. We sat right next to the musicians. The unspoken communication between musicians who work together fascinates me. The mandolin guy would play a little bit while the guy with the accordion watched.  Then he'd start tapping out the tune while the mandolin player would listen to him to make sure it was what he wanted, then they'd both play, along with a guy with a bodhrán. The crowd enjoying the music was irrelevant - they were clearly playing for the love of the music itself.
We drove back along the bay and saw a fox lope across the road and into the brush. When we got to our cottage, we dropped our bags off and headed right back out into Ballyvaughn. It was dark now and chilly, so I got a chance to wear my new wool sweater.
We had a couple of whiskeys each - a Paddys (not very good) and a Jameson's black barrel (much better) at Clanahan's, a crowded pub.  There were mostly North American and German tourists here, so we headed over to Greene's, a pub with a smaller local crowd, for a couple of Green Spot whiskeys. I was accused of being "a little loopy" by then, but that's the beauty of having a cottage within walking distance, isn't it? All in all, I think we agreed that it was a pretty sweet way to spend a 49th birthday.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Ireland, Day 5b: "Feet they hardly touch the ground, walking on the moon."

The friendly Lisdoonvarna tourist office person who had urged us to eat outside because the nice weather was "not going to last" also suggested we take the longer drive along the coast to get to Ballyvaughn.
Along the way, the landscape changed and became increasingly rocky.
I'd thought the Burren would be like the Cliffs of Moher - an isolated place with an admission fee. In fact, we'd seen bus tours for the Burren. Somehow I missed that it was an entire landscape, covering about 250 square kilometers (155 square miles).
At some point, we pulled over and got out to walk around. It was described as lunar in appearance and that's certainly what it called to mind. Desolate and a little unsettling.
Burren is from "boeireann," which just means "great rock." The glaciers during the last Ice Age left this vast karst topography.
Dissolution of some of the soluble limestone left huge slabs of rock separated by deep fissures.
Across from the road from where we were walking, we saw some folks climbing the face of a small cliff.
Small patches of scrubby grass and various flowers grow in the cracks. This is a bloody cranesbill, which strikes me as an unflattering name for the pretty pink geranium.
The barrenness was a stark contrast to the lushness we've seen everywhere else we'd been so far. But it was warm and sunny out, and we spent a good while exploring.
"Giant steps are what you take, walking on the moon.
I hope my legs don't break, walking on the moon.
We could walk forever, walking on the moon.
We could be together, walking on, walking on the moon." (The Police)
It was actually hard to make ourselves get back in the car, but we wanted to get to where we'd spend our last four nights.
Our Clare-style Caher cottage in the village of Ballyvaughn.
Again, for a surprisingly low cost, we found ourselves in a spacious house. Two stories, four bedrooms, five (!) bathrooms.
We only needed the one bedroom, of course. We chose this cozy and light-filled room.
We didn't actually do much in the way of cooking, except for breakfasts. The washer came in handy, though.
After we'd unpacked, we walked into town to look around.
The town itself was small, but very walker-friendly. I had to test out this public water faucet. It worked.
On the way to the waterfront, we passed a field of speckled cows. A little change of pace from all the sheep.
We decided on Monk's Seafood Restaurant for dinner and had smoked salmon with salad, and more fish and chips. And Guinness. Because, you know - Guinness. In Ireland.
The view from our backdoor - green lawns and the rolling hills of the Burren rising above it. It was a full day and I think it took me all of three seconds to fall asleep that night.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Ireland, Day 5a: Leaving County Kerry.

Back to the painfully slow and delayed travelogue:
Our last morning in County Kerry started with watching from our living room the sunrise over the Maharee Islands in Brandon Bay.
We'd made blackberry jam from the blackberries we'd picked on our walk the day before and had it on some of the bread we'd bought at the little village market, along with cheesy eggs and coffee. Americans that we are, we still had coffee every morning.
We drove down to An Clochán to the cottage of Maura, our landlord. When we mentioned the lovely weather, she urged us not to get "too good an impression" of Ireland! We talked about the rest of our trip and she tried to talk us out of going to the Cliffs of Moher, insisting that they were too touristy and not really any better than the cliffs along the coast of the Dingle Peninsula.
Before leaving An Clochán, we drove up the tiny road past the church to see the old church ruins and the graveyard.
And then it was back in the car to drive along coast to Trá Lí, then through County Kerry farmland along the Stack Mountains to Tarbert.
We got to Tarbert just in time to drive on to the 11:30 ferry across the Shannon Estuary over to County Clare.
It was a twenty minute trip, which gave us time to make fun of the guy with a selfie stick taking endless photos of himself. We'd planned to go straight to our next cottage in Ballyvaughan, but since we had a little time, we drove up along the coastal road.
We stopped at the Cliffs of Moher, which Maura had advised against. It was indeed touristy and we were reluctant to shell out the 12 euros to enter. Particularly when we saw the fake castle, O'Brien's Tower, built in 1835 as a tourist attraction. There were hundreds (thousands?) of people spilling out of tourist buses and milling around and taking photos of themselves at the tower.
But we'd already paid, so we veered away from the crowd and walked along the cliff-edge path that lead away from most of the other visitors. It took us onto land owned by a farmer, with sheep fields on the other side of the fence.
It was very windy along the cliffs. I'll tell you up front that I'm a little skittish with height and I did NOT like the wind. I was certain a gust of wind would carry me right over the edge to the abyss below.
But oh my God, it was beautiful. The cliffs stretch for 8 kilometers and reach a height of 720 feet, and soon we left the fake castle and crowds behind.
Some 30,000 birds from over 20 different species make their homes there and we watched them flying in and out of nesting sites in the cliff walls.
Did I mention that it was windy and we were close to the edge?
We sat down and inched our way to the very edge, to dangle our feet above the ocean for a bit before walking back along the pathway to our car.
From there to Lisdoonvarna, home of the matchmaking festival.
That apparently is a real thing, which started when area farmers would bring their daughters to town for dances and help from the local matchmaker. A matchmaker still works there and the festival attracts thousands of singles. For the last three years there is even a matchmaking event for the LGBT community.
We had lunch - a gooey brie, pesto, sundried tomato and roasted onion panini and a couple of pints of 9 White Deer beer - Stag Bán for me, Stag Rúa for him.
As we headed out of town to continue our journey we watched an older couple waltzing in front of the Ritz hotel. I think that will be us some day.