Saturday, October 31, 2009

Road Trip continues

On Monday, September 14 Bill and I were in County Donegal with my Aunt Gay and Uncle Larry. After breakfast at our hotel, Coxtown Manor, we wandered through some shops in Donegal Town.

We then drove along the N56 and then the R263, stopping at this lovely spot near Kilcar before making our way to Slieve League on the West coast.

Slieve League are Ireland's second-highest sea cliffs. At 601 meters they are almost three times as high as the Cliffs of Moher. Our host at Frewin House had expressed a little consternation that Moher gets so much more attention. I did enjoy Slieve League, but they don't eclipse Moher's sheer outcroppings for grandeur. Ah well, surely we have room on our island and in our hearts for all the wonderful cliffs.

After the cliffs we had a bite of lunch and started our journey back to Dublin.

Two botanical sights worth mentioning: I'd never seen fuchsia grow so large; it formed 10 foot hedges along the roads. And the hydrangeas reach dark hues of maroon and burgundy. I didn't get a great photo, but this shot shows a bit of the darker colors.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Road Trip

Bill and I took a Monday off while Aunt Gay and Uncle Larry were here in mid-September for a 3-day road trip. We were able to hit two places on their list: Newgrange and Donegal.

We set out at an impressive 9:20 on Saturday morning, arriving at Newgrange an hour later. On our third visit we still find this neolithic structure impressive. After a bit in the cafeteria (not part of the original Newgrange site) we set out for Donegal. We were welcomed back to the Frewin House in Ramelton and found everything as delightful as our first visit, plus an amazing mushroom.

Gay and Larry had been enticed by pics from our previous trip to Donegal, so on Sunday we retraced our steps to Fanad Head--officially one of my favorite places on earth.

As we continued West we encountered more stunning views.

Much of County Donegal is Gaeltacht, an Irish-speaking region, complete with Irish road signs.

We stayed near Donegal Town on Sunday night and had dinner at The Olde Castle Bar--some of the best pub grub ever! I'm still thinking about the fish pie, and the Guinness brown bread ice cream was pretty tasty as well.

Monday we would head farther West.

Rainbows Have Nothing to Hide

A recent tweet response to our 116 things from a British friend: "Quite a few resonated with me. #74 stood out. I say that a lot. Different to England despite being next door." #74 is Rainbows! To that point, some rainbows.

Taken from the car driving up the M1 in June.

We frequently see rainbows toward the East behind our apartment. This one was on July 17.

And this double rainbow from August 23.

Waiting for the bus on September 1.

Waiting for the bus last week.

We were greeted by this one last Saturday in Freshford, Country Kilkenny.

And I spotted this excellent example recently on Twitter (click for the full pic):

Dublin on Twitpic

Saturday, October 10, 2009

116 Things We Know Now

In commemoration of our 2nd anniversary in Ireland, here are 116 Things We Know Now That We Didn't Know Two Years Ago:
  1. The smell of a turf fire.
  2. How to ask for the check in Spanish, French and Italian. And also in Ireland, where it is always "the bill."
  3. The bus lines that serve Adelaide road, where Sharon's office is.
  4. Where the cheapest .5 liter of diet coke is to be found (Tesco).
  5. What a potato farl is.
  6. We don't like Tayto.
  7. What the Lisbon Treaty is; no, wait, still don't know.
  8. The difference between a glass and a pint.
  9. The best substitute for American bacon is smoked pancetta.
  10. Irish people think Hershey's chocolate tastes like vomit.
  11. Bar Poë in Granada serves amazing tapas and tintos.
  12. Vin Santo with Cantuccini is the perfect dessert in Italy.
  13. Croissants in France really are worth the trip.
  14. Fanad Head is a gorgeous spot.
  15. The smell of orange blossoms blooming in Spain.
  16. That the spots painted on sheep have something to do with breeding. And who owns the sheep.
  17. What Fuchsia looks like, and that it can grow into 10-foot hedges.
  18. What a fancy shmancy dinner in Paris is like.
  19. The predominance of the comedy quiz show.
  20. Bill can drive on the left as well as the right.
  21. How to hunt for white truffles in Tuscany.
  22. How to get to Slovenia.
  23. There's no left turn on red in Ireland.
  24. How to order fish and chips: I'll have a one-and-one, please.
  25. Kinsale was full of Spaniards in 1601.
  26. That "your man" means "what's his name" or "that guy."
  27. Who "Good King Wenceslas" was: the patron Saint of Prague.
  28. Fireworks are very popular at Halloween in Ireland.
  29. Rich Hall still has a career.
  30. People in Ireland assume Thanksgiving is a bigger holiday than Christmas in the US.
  31. That cheap airline seats are worth only so much annoyance.
  32. That you can visit Newgrange three times and it is still very cool.
  33. That eating grilled squid in Barcelona will change your life.
  34. Don't tread too near seagull chicks.
  35. One should do a bit of planning before hopping over to London for the weekend.
  36. The view from Arthur's seat is worth the climb.
  37. The Campanile of Pisa, known for its listing, is quite beautiful.
  38. The Irish like to protest.
  39. Gaudi was an insane genius.
  40. Grits are a perfect accompaniment to a Full Irish breakfast.
  41. How hard it is to give an Irish bank your money, or pay your car tax to the gov'ment.
  42. You can't get f**king giardia in Raheny, according to Bill's doctor.
  43. Bulmers goes great with everything.
  44. Espresso is better in Italy.
  45. The smell of gorse blooming, smells like Victory, I mean, coconut.
  46. Everyone in the world knows the song Sweet Home Alabama. Turn it up!
  47. Taxis are impossible to find in Brussels.
  48. A vestibule is used to divest--take off your armor.
  49. Everyone in Ireland thinks gyros (doner kebab) are drunk food.
  50. That the aroma of roasting barley can fill the air for blocks (see #102)
  51. Bread is as popular as potatoes in Ireland.
  52. Leonardo De Vinci is buried in France.
  53. Michelangelo's David is truly magnificent.
  54. UK/Ireland, Continental Europe and the US each have a different formulation of Diet Coke.
  55. Guinness is better in Ireland.
  56. Sticky toffee pudding is made with dates.
  57. The Bakers' Guild had nice digs in 17th century Brussels.
  58. The Christmas Card was invented in London, primarily for business contacts.
  59. Oliver Cromwell was a jackass.
  60. Lardo is delicious.
  61. The high towers at monastical sites were in fact probably not used as hideouts during attack; the doors are 15 or so feet of the ground for structural reasons.
  62. The Irish don't understand the extent, or reasons, that Ireland is so popular in the States.
  63. The Irish closely follow US politics, especially the presidential primaries and elections.
  64. Still don't know how to properly order a sandwich. Thank goodness for Subway, but even then they don't know how to "run it through the garden."
  65. Cinnamon is not a popular spice in Ireland.
  66. The Irish love porridge.
  67. How quickly one becomes accustomed to four weeks of annual leave.
  68. The Irish pronounce courgette, mange-tout, and aubergine with French pronunciation, but say fil-let for fillet.
  69. The perfection of Heinz beans on toast.
  70. A clerk or hostess will ask "Are you okay?" meaning "Can I help you?"
  71. A common currency is very handy for travel.
  72. Living in Dublin makes every other place feel like a bargain.
  73. Wedding celebrations last for several days in Ireland.
  74. Rainbows really are everywhere in Ireland.
  75. We'll never complain about gas prices in the US again.
  76. Just when you think a road can't get any more narrow, it does.
  77. You can drive three minutes into the Wicklow mountains and feel like the only people on earth.
  78. The Irish love The Simpsons.
  79. You can buy graham crackers in Dublin for €8.00.
  80. The Hampton Inn has no idea what a Continental Breakfast is.
  81. Fresh figs are amazing plucked straight from the tree.
  82. It is possible to accidentally order ice cream in Brussels.
  83. It is possible to accidentally order sweetbreads in Italy.
  84. It is possible to accidentally order a skin-on, un-battered, deep-fried chicken breast in Ireland.
  85. It is possible to order a cheese called the devil's suppository in France, on purpose.
  86. We love food markets wherever we go.
  87. Ireland is not really a food culture, bless its heart!
  88. The Spanish know how to eat.
  89. Garlic in mushy peas is "just not done!"
  90. St. Stephen's Green in Dublin is one of our favorite places on earth.
  91. Marks and Spencer has a terrific food hall. Harrod's has a splendiferous food hall.
  92. Traveling with friends and family is great!
  93. The Irish drink oceans of tea.
  94. "Fresh" is a meteorological term. And fog can freeze.
  95. It is possible to go "out past the sheep."
  96. The Irish can't conceptualize a Southern Biscuit.
  97. The adventures of Craggy Island.
  98. Some of the basic defenses of a fortified dwelling: murder hole (hot sand works great!), rough and tumble stairs (stairs of varying widths and heights that ascend circling clockwise giving the descending swordsman the right had advantage), archers.
  99. "Keep it under your hat" comes from the archer habit of keeping an extra bow string under his hat.
  100. How to pronounce names like Niamh, Roisin, Diarmaid, Padraig, Cathal, Aoife, Orlaith, Caoimhe and Siobhan.
  101. Cornettos are loads better than Drumsticks.
  102. These words are not commonly used in Ireland: downtown, block (as in city block), store, backyard, movie, queso.
  103. Food is gorgeous, and an attractive woman is massive.
  104. On Thursdays, shops stay open late. Until 8:00.
  105. France's tradition of the cheese cart should be implemented in all cultures. I want a cheese cart in our house.
  106. Sharon likes beef tongue.
  107. The etiquette of ordering rounds on a night out with workmates; no, wait, we still don't know that.
  108. We like mushy peas.
  109. Most soups in Ireland are blended. If not, someone might complain that there's eating and drinking in the soup.
  110. It's unfortunate when things are banjaxed, pear-shaped, or just manky.
  111. Cathedrals are pretty.
  112. Public transportation in Paris, Barcelona, Prague, London and Brussels is pretty great. Not as great in Dublin, but still better than anywhere we've lived in the US.
  113. We love Basset's All Sorts, Bourbon Cremes, Jaffa Cakes and Double Deckers.
  114. The Czech word for September means "when the sun shines but is not hot."
  115. Pick pockets in Barcelona are quite bold.
  116. St. Anne's Park has many moods.
Updated Oct 19: #16

Monday, October 5, 2009

Guest Blogger: Aunt Gay

We were thrilled to have Aunt Gay and Uncle Larry visit in September. Here's a note from Aunt Gay:

Our ten days in Ireland were, without a doubt, one of the loveliest trips we have ever taken. The weather cooperated with us. We never saw a drop of rain! It was all wonderful, but surely the highlight was the three day road trip Bill and Sharon took us on to County Donegal.

We had a wonderful stay at Frewin, a charming B&B in Ramelton. Our hostess, Regina, was delightful . The scenery was breathtaking. The lighthouse at Fanad Head was a favorite for Larry, lighthouse devotee that he is, and the dramatic coastal scenery was indescribable.

Then on to Sleive League through gorgeous mountain passes. These gigantic sea cliffs surely make one feel small!

Those are only a few of the highlights of our trip with Bill and Sharon. Give Bill a map and he will drive down the wrong side of the road to anywhere! We went WAY "beyond the sheep"!! The rest of our visit was also wonderful, as we took several fun day trips and also got to spend the evenings with the Gunters. Thanks, guys, we had a great time!!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Tales of Slovenia continued

On Friday after breakfast at Skerlj we chatted with a couple from Wales. Like many visitors to Slovenia, they were heading to the Alps for some hiking and camping. We talked about various places to visit in the area, one of which was nearby caves. Bill and I decided that a cave visit would be our activity for the day, so after a snack of leftover pizza we hit the road for Divača. Unlike Idrija, Divača really was only 30 minutes away. We stopped for lunch at Gostilna Malovec. Bill had some gnocchi and a salad, I had some spinach pastry, and for dessert we had a regional specialty--pastry layered with nuts and cottage cheese called gibanica. Wonderful.

We arrived at Škocjanske jame, the Škocjan caves, in time for the 3:00 tour. Even though the Škocjanske jame tour takes about an hour, we saw only a few of the cave's chambers. The size of the cave system, its excellent examples of karst topography resulting from dissolved limestone, and the cave's beauty have earned Škocjanske jame distinction as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We enjoyed our visit underground in the cool, moist, otherworldly surroundings (where no pictures were allowed). We descended a couple hundred meters and then had to climb our way back up many steps. The tour ends at the opening of the cave where the Reka-Velka river begins its underground path. The river valley and surrounding mountains are breathtaking.

Friday night as we went to dinner, the courtyard was full of people, and a brass band was unpacking its instruments. We learned that Skerlj was hosting a 70th birthday. The party was taking place inside, but as we dined in the courtyard we were able to enjoy the festive music.

Unfortunately I fell ill during the night, and spent all of Saturday in our room. Bill made a few forays out--to bring me chamomile tea and bread, to drive to the next town to find some lunch and buy me bananas, to walk through the village, and to eat another amazing dinner at Skerlj.

By Sunday I was thankfully upright again, and we left mid-morning for our drive to Marco Polo airport outside Venice. We stopped to visit Štanjel, a walled village perched on the side of a mountain that we had sped past during our driving fest the day before. We sat in the garden by the Villa Ferrari and gazed out at the spectacular scenery. We watched a hawk gliding on the air currents. For minutes at a time he appeared motionless before suddenly diving straight down into the valley. After lunch we continued our drive back into Italy.

Our flight wasn't until 9PM, so we still had several hours to fill. After crossing into Italy we picked a random exit and drove into the walled town of Palmanova. 16th century Palmanova was an innovative fortress town, built in the shape of a nine-pointed star. We wandered around the square for a while, stopped into an "internet cafe"--actually a restaurant with a computer in the corner (which the hostess had to convince some kids to relinquish)--and enjoyed some kind of alcoholic lemon ice.

Then it was back on the road to Marco Polo. Hopefully the airport is not as close to Venice as we'll ever get.