Friday, February 26, 2016

Ireland, Day 8: Ennis

Our last full day in Ireland, it finally rained. We'd brought rain jackets and an umbrella under the impression that it rained all the time there. Apparently not. At least, we certainly lucked out with beautiful weather on the other seven days. But on this rainy day we headed to Ennis, a medieval town, to walk around.
We walked around the winding streets for a while. This little cricket player stood inexplicably amongst the pails for sale outside a hardware store.
We went into a few stores, but mostly found places to duck into so we could sit where it was dry. First up was hot tea and scones at the Souper Café.
I liked this pile of enormous carrots and parsnips. As near as we could tell, the Irish don't eat a lot of vegetables. However, most dishes we ordered had simple leafy green salads. Still, the main focus did seem to be mammalian.
Next place we went into was B. Kelly's. Honestly we stopped here for sentimental reasons, in honor of my paternal grandfather's name. Inside we discovered both a bar and an off-track betting station.
We had a couple of 12 year Red Breast whiskeys and watched folks betting on the races. We met a local man who chatted with us for a bit. We asked him if he spoke Irish and he said he didn't but told us if someone said, "Conas atá tú" ("How are you"), we should answer, "Táim go maith." I said, "Yes, you could say "Táim go maith," or you could say, "Ana mhaith, go raibh maith agat. Agus tusa?" He was mightily impressed.
Outside the bar were kegs, probably of the ubiquitous Guinness.
The center square included this market scene sculpture.
Had I known that "winkles and dillisk" were periwinkles and sea grass, I'd have bought some to try. As a kid, I learned to dig periwinkles out of the sand in the receding tide and my own kids and I made a batch into soup one summer.
There were tempting cheeses for sale as well, but we would be flying home the next day and so passed them by. We did, however, scout around in thrift stores, and my fiancé bought the suit he would wear as the Prince of Dimness in my family's murder mystery party at Thanksgiving.
We picked up a chocolate pastry at O'Connor's bakery to bring back with us and also bought some tea and treats to bring home for our children.
The ruins of the old Ennis Friary on Abbey Street, a Franciscan church from the thirteenth century, could only be viewed from behind the gates.
Next to it was the newer church and we were able to go inside. I'm always struck by the odd juxtaposition of tourists in a church alongside local people praying. It reminds me of my grandfather's funeral when he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery - us in mourning at the graveside while his coffin-covered casket was pulled in by a riderless horse, while tourists in colorful Hawaiian-print shirts watched from a distance.
One of the statues, of St. Francis, was in an alcove but covered by heavy wire netting.  He looked like he was imprisoned.
By one of the church doors there was an enormous sculpture of cupped hands. Maybe receiveing communion?
Around the corner and down the street from the friary was a convent that now houses nine nuns.
The covered alleys provided a little shelter from the rain. In this one, you can apparently get a little surgery done? Or maybe that's a generic sign for a physician's office.
I had to look this up when I got home. This guy was orphaned and raised by an uncle in Ennis. He joined the Army at 14 and then bought his way out by signing on with the circus. He left for the States after he married, became wealthy, and returned to Ireland at the age of 45. However, he angered people by singing about Catholics and Protestants co-existing peacefully and died from injuries sustained in a brawl at 49. There you have it, your Irish Clown history lesson for the day.
The last thing we did in Ennis was stop at Brogan's for a very late afternoon meal.
We had one last fish and chips dinner and also trout stuffed with smoked salmon, on asparagus and mashed potatoes and little roasted new potatoes and also a plate of fish and chips (they sure do love their potatoes here). Half a pint of Guinness for me, a pint for my fiancé.
We headed back through the rain-soaked streets to return to Ballyvaughn. After doing
a little preliminary packing, we walked into the village for a whiskey at the Hyland Burren Hotel for a whiskey - the first regular Jamison whiskey we had while there.  And then walked over to Greene's Pub when it opened for more whiskeys. We decided to try the Connemara peated single malt whiskey. Bad decision. It smelled like a turf fire and left an very peaty aftertaste. We decided to split a Yellow Spot just to wash that taste away. Then walked home in a very light rain. We saw an animal amble by behind a fence and disappear into the brush. Cat-sized but fatter, with a very fluffy tail that reached about halfway to the ground. Maybe tannish or gray, hard to tell in the dusk. When I looked it up later, I realized we'd seen a badger. We had some wine and cookies and wrapped up our last night in Ireland.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Ireland, Day 7: Aran Islands

I am determined to finish this travelogue, so that I can have it for my own records. So bear with me, I'm heading back to September for the next two or three posts.
The morning after our day in Galway, my fiancé walked down to the market to bring back scones, blueberries and coffee for breakfast. We decided at the last minute to visit the Aran islands, which are Burren outcrops, but when we called, we found we'd already missed the earlier ferries to Inis Meain and the more touristy Inis Mor. We made the drive to Doolin along a pretty scary narrow back road in time to catch the ferry out to Inis Oirr (Inisheer), the first and smallest of the Aran Islands. We sat on one of the outside benches on the Jack B. The water in Galway Bay was choppy, but still no rain. We saw a pair of dolphins in the waves alongside us, on the starboard side.
We hiked up a steep road to Cnoc Raithnighe, a site which confirms occupation of Inis Oirr during the Bronze Age, around 1500 BC. An archaeological dig uncovered a cremation site with decorated pottery fragments containing burned human bones.
Most others from the ferry took horse-drawn tours, but we decided to walk. First, though, we stopped at the Seaweed Cafe for lunch.
We ordered a pot of hot tea and split a bagel with cream cheese and local smoked salmon and a chicken and cheese panini.  The mugs wore little ceramic sweaters in honor of the local industry. The traditional hand-loomed jumper made from undyed cream-coloured wool that I'd bought the day before, in fact, was made in the knitting mills on these islands.
We sat for a while, just enjoying the breezy but still sunny day. When we got up to walk again, everyone else had scattered and we were blissfully away from other tourists for the rest of the day.
Inis Oirr means Eastern Island, and is geographically the smallest of the Aran Islands. It is about 1400 acres and has a population of less than 300 people. It is part of the Gaeltecht so we said "Dia duit" to every local we encountered and we were tickled to get smiles, nods, and a friendly "Dia is Muire guit" in return each time.
Our walk took us through the countryside, down past a tiny airstrip and to the rocky shore. We had a view of the mainland and cliffs of Moher.
We were headed for the Plassey shipwreck site. The brochure for the ferry said it was part of the television "Fr. Ted" series but we had no idea what that meant until we returned home and looked it up.
The iron ship's hull was broken and the back half canted to one side. Although it appeared to have been rusting there forever, we later found out that the shipwreck occurred in 1960. With a cargo of whiskey, stained glass and yarn, it was caught in a storm that March and ran aground on Finnis Rock, offshore.
The island residents tied a rope line to each of the three rocket flares they had and shot them toward the ship. The final one hit the mast and they were able to rescue the whole crew, one man at a time, using that safety line to bring them to shore.
With limited time, we skipped the lighthouse and went instead to O'Briens castle, a three-story stone fort from the 14th century. It was built on a Iron Age site, Dun Formna, which was the home of the island's chieftan in 400 BC.
The land was divided into small pens, many empty. In the early days, the folks who lived here layered sand and seaweed over the rock to make fertile soil for near-subsistence agriculture.
There were horses in some of the pens, often peeking over the fence, and a few cows and sheep.  One horse approached to be petted and then followed us around the corner for more attention.
Our next stop was Cill Gobnait, a very small 11th century church.
Prior to the Catholic church's ascendancy in Ireland, the Iron Age island residents would have been Celtic pagans, with multiple gods and goddesses. The spirit of those older fertility-based deities at the altar was too strong to resist.
We had about two hours left and walked back along the endless stone wall-lined road.
We went down to an area of the shore where seals are sometimes seen.
Finally, we saw a couple of them bobbing in the water. We sat for a while on the rocks watching the closer one before it was time to head back.
We had time to spare before our ferry left, so we sat outside at Padraig O'Conshaile's pub, the only one on the island. My fiancé had a pint of Bullmer's cider, which I didn't like at all. It tasted like sweet, fruity beer to me. I opted for a half pint of Bogman's pale ale. It was a little funny to see how many people were ordering Coronas and Buds.
The ferry ride back was on rougher waters and the waves washed up over the deck. We got a little sea spray in our faces but the folks on the left side got drenched. All but three German women moved away to a drier spot. They were obviously made of sterner stuff than we. Since we weren't taken with Ballyvaughn's restuarant options, we decided to drive down to Lahinch to find a place to eat. When we asked about good seafood restaurants, a young women at the grocery store suggested the Captain's Table. However, when we saw the logo "for salty sea dogs" we decided to pass and went to the Cornerstone pub. It was a good choice it turned out, and we had wine, crab and salmon potato patties on greens and spinach and ricotta tortellini. And then back to our cottage at last.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Life continues to intervene.

Some reasons I haven't blogged lately are trivial. Like this guy, who thinks a laptop means just that. Hodr believes a computer keyboard is a perfectly fine place to settle in.
And an old lamp post in the back yard falling onto, and snapping, one of the electric wires.  Leaving us without power for a bit. On Christmas Eve. Fortunately, it was restored in time for celebrating the holiday.
And Christmas itself, with his daughters, my sons, and the older son's girlfriend. And the youngest daughter's tearful realization that Santa Claus is a big hoax.
And New Year's Eve, when we had the night to ourselves and went out on the town in the early evening to avoid the drunks on the road. We opted for appetizers - fried feta with honey and baguette and fried green tomatoes - and flights of bourbon. My younger son and his girlfriend rolled in well after midnight and we were fortunately out of the shower and safely back in bed just before the door opened.
And coming home from work to find this going on in the back yard. Sewer work in this old neighborhood, it turns out, involved the fence being removed, a backhoe brought in, and an enormous hole in the yard. They said they thought they'd told me about it. Nope.
And a one year celebratory re-creation of our first date, including brunch on the square and hot chocolate and truffles afterwards.
All leading up to the biggest interruption. My fiancé arrived home from work, kids in tow, with an odd look on his face. I asked if something was wrong. There was, he told me, numbness on one side. I popped an aspirin into his mouth, thinking heart attack, and then asked if it was his left arm. No, left foot - it had been feeling for the last couple of hours as if it was sleep and his gait was off because he didn't have full control of his leg. Well. I know stroke symptoms when I hear them and also knew one of his brothers had a stroke about the same age. We told the older daughter to keep an eye on the younger and to call her mother to come get them. Because we were headed straight to the ER and I knew we'd be gone a long while. The triage nurse knew stroke symptoms when she heard them, too, because we were hustled right back and surrounded by 7 or 8 medical professionals immediately. And that's where I cooled my heels as he was attached to IVs and whisked off on a gurney to get a CT scan. More symptoms had become apparent, including marked weakness on the left and wicked nystagmus both vertically and horizontally. With the time window for administering a clot-busting drug closing, we made the very easy decision to move forward without the benefit of an MRI.
With the tPA (Tissue Plasminogen Activator - I learned a few things) administered, he had to stay in the Neuro Critical Care unit for at least 24 hours. A bed didn't become available until almost 3 am, after the fifteen minute checks had stopped. They continued to come in every half hour until morning, though. I was briefed in the family waiting room about the rules: 1) I could visit as much as I wanted but NOT sleep in the room, 2) no cameras were to be used, and 3) I could not bring in outside food. But our understanding nurse brought me a pillow and blanket and I slept upright in the chair beside his bed both nights. Rule 1 broken.
My fiancé and I are well-matched for our tendency to find humor in nearly anything. Hence this selfie in the middle of the echocardiogram. Rule 2 broken. The saline in one IV was shaken for a bubble study to make sure there were no problems with the valves in his heart. Honestly, it was fascinating to watch the valves open and close with each pulse. All clear and 24 hours after the tPA he was sent for an MRI and another CT. I had run over to a friend's house, to grab dinner. It was a Vietnamese Tet celebration and I was sent back with a tray of food for the one absent guest. We got the laughing go-ahead from our nurse and he ate every last bit of it. Rule 3 broken.
He was finally discharged Sunday afternoon and that night I am not sure I've ever been happier for us to be back in our bed.  We came home determined to change our ways and follow a stroke prevention diet. But not to do it in a way that would feel like deprivation. So for instance, one night this week I made sea scallops with hearts of palm, tomatoes, kalamata olives, sweet onion, and baby kale cooked in white wine and garlic in parchment paper. With a warm side salad of cumin and coriander-roasted carrots, tangelos, spinach, avocado, fresh basil and almonds. Oh, and a glass of 1000 Stories bourbon barrel-aged Zinfandel. And we are making a commitment to exercise more regularly. And to follow-up with the hematologist to rule out the possibility of an inherited hypercoagulability disorder that may have caused the clot in the first place.

And you know, as surprised (and frightened) as we were that my fiancé had a stroke at 49, it brought home once again for me that we are lucky.  He got excellent care, the nurses were all friendly and accommodating for both of us, and it was mild enough and caught early enough that he is rapidly returning to normal. We're considering it a wake-up call and a powerful reminder to live NOW.

I still plan to finally finish blogging that Ireland trip, but right now my fiancé is in the kitchen making a pot of cioppino and I have a loaf of whole wheat bread in the oven. He returns full-time to work tomorrow and we have a Valentine's celebration ahead of us. So, if you'll excuse me, I believe there is also a bottle of champagne chilling in the fridge.