26 June 2008

Ireland's Greatest Hits

--gorgeous green mountains and rolling hills everywhere
--astonishingly blue water and perfect coastlines
--great exercise on many walks/hikes with amazing views on all sides
--delicious food at every turn, including a lot of Asian-inspired cuisine and many vegetarian choices
--cool wildlife: sheep, cows, puffins, seals, etc.
--driving on the left side of the road keeps you on your toes
--cool, wet weather that makes you so pleasantly surprised every time the sun comes out, which it did quite often for us, at all the right moments
--being in a country where people value the environment and bike to work, recycle, etc.
--best of all: amazing, enduring friends who make everything so much more fun! I love you guys!

This was our route throughout the Irish visit. We started in Dublin, drove west to Clifden through Galway, then south to the Cliffs of Moher, then south again to Ballinskelligs, then through Killarney and Limerick on our way back to Dublin.

June 13: We Depart

On Friday, June 13 we left for Ireland. We were supposed to fly Aer Lingus direct to Dublin, but our plane never came to DC. So, they put us on a British Airways flight, which turned out to be quite lovely. Great entertainment system, delicious food, and great overnight care. But, our trip turned out to be much longer than expected because we connected through London Heathrow to finally get on an Aer Lingus flight.

June 14: Welcome to Ireland

Well, after some travel difficulty we arrived safely in Dublin, several hours later than planned. Paul met us at the airport, and we had to unfortunately miss the Phillip Gourevitch lecture because of our later flight. But we went to a delicious place called Gruel for supper where Alita and I split a pea and lemon ricotta risotto and a strawberry salad. Delicious! We then went to the Dublin Symphony Orchestra concert that Alita was performing in.
She says that they aren’t as prestigious as the name implies, but they really sounded great! Jason and I had a hard time staying awake though, since our jet lag was kicking in pretty severely.

Paul and Alita live in a lovely, cozy home with a beautiful back yard/garden area. We are very comfortable here, especially since they have a kitty (Phoebe) who looks like a mix between Sophie and Baby Girl. She is small and cute and very friendly. We have already spent a lot of time together.

Dublin is a fascinating city. Alita calls it gritty, and that's a fair description. It is full of hard-working people who like to have fun. In the last several years the city has seen an influx of immigrants and there is a more cosmopolitan or international feel to it than there was in the past. The food is delicious, everywhere. We had so many different kinds of food, but I was always thrilled with the amount of creative vegetarian options. If you're interested in seeing a great perspective of life in Dublin, watch the movie Once and you should definitely listen to its soundtrack, featuring an Irish singer-songwriter named Glen Hansard with a great ear for beautiful harmonies. I'm so glad that we'll have the opportunity to keep going back to this super-cool city for future visits with Paul and Alita.

June 15: Powerscourt

Powerscourt is a beautiful manor house on the south side of Dublin. We walked through their gardens and admired their forward thinking for their time. They seemed to be interested in travel, supported by the fact that they had a Japanese garden created on their grounds at the turn of the century.

Okay, so everybody who knows anything about me knows that I love animals. I love it when animals talk in commercials or movies (even though I don’t usually ACTUALLY watch those movies, because the movies themselves are dumb . . .). I love my cat, and I love other people’s animals. I totally understand when it feels like your animal is a member of your family. But, even I was a little amazed at the pet cemetery that we visited today at Powerscourt Gardens. These very wealthy people owned this estate on the southern outskirts of Dublin and included a cemetery for their pets, mostly dogs. However, there were also some horses and ponies buried there, and the most hilarious: cows. Here are two gravestones that I thought were especially funny. Make sure you read the text.

After visiting the house we went to my favorite place to eat: Avoca cafe for a delicious tea/dinner and then drove home.

June 16: Bloomsday Fun

James Joyce is famous for his use of the stream-of-consciousness writing technique, and he used it in many of his books and short stories. Perhaps his most famous novel is a very famous, very long, very impossible to read book entitled Ulysses, which, among other things, is about a man named Leopold Bloom and what happens during one day as he walks about Dublin. The google version of this book is over 1200 pages I believe. Anyway, the day on which the book is set is June 16, 1904, and every June 16 is a celebrated semi-holiday in Dublin called Bloomsday. So, dedicated literary sorts walk around the city and stop at all the places where Leopold stopped in the book; many of them still exist, while others have plaques on their fronts commemorating the book. Alita, Nina, Jason, and I did one of these literary walks. We also attended a reading of portions of Ulysses (in several different languages including French, Spanish, Finnish, and the Ambassador from Lesotho read in Sesotho) at which several different readers made the joke that they needed the book to be translated into English–haha, very funny you cornballs, but oh so true. Throughout the day we kept running into funnily dressed people who were also celebrating this Joycean holiday, wearing turn-of-the-century clothing. It was especially amusing to see these folks talking on their cell phones while in costume.

Alita, Jason, and Jen listen to the readings.

This woman was our tour guide for the literary walking tour.

Statue of James Joyce, apparently pondering life.
A serious Joycean wacko.

After a delicious supper at Wagamama (Thai-inspired food) we attended a 90-minute monologue play from the character of Molly Bloom, Leopold’s wife. She was dressed in pajamas because the scene takes place at night while she is trying to fall asleep and she is thinking/talking to herself. It was a very interesting monologue, but, as you can imagine, 90 minutes is a bit long to listen to one person talk without stopping, even when her breast does come out of her pajamas for a brief, accidental moment (whoa!). The actress was simply amazing, but even so, Jason and Nina both had a hard time staying awake.

Bloomsday ended with us meeting Paul and an old friend of Paul and Alita’s at a local pub to hear some traditional Irish music: there were cool-looking flute thingies and loads of guitars. The singers had very husky, original Irish voices, and they sang many songs that Paul has grown up hearing. What came as a surprise was when they broke into “Country roads, take me home, to the place I belong . . . West Virginia, mountain mama . . .” To sum up the whole day: weird, but cool.

June 17: Jen and Nina's Cliff Walk

On Tuesday, Alita had to work and Jason wasn’t feeling great, so Nina and I headed off on our own to the small town of Bray on the coast, just south of Dublin. Starting at the southern tip of Bray there is a fabulous cliff walk along the coast down to the next town, Greystones. We had a lovely time. The weather was perfect for our little adventure. When we arrived in Greystones we found a great little cafe, highly recommended by Alita, and had some dessert and coffee and a smoothie before we took the train back to Dublin. It was a gorgeous walk!
The charming coastal town of Bray.

When we arrived back in Dublin we all met Paul and Moira for a delicious supper at a gorgeous restaurant. Then, back to the house for more Flight of the Conchords!

June 18: Sunset on Sky Road

On Wednesday Alita took us to Avis car rental before she left for work and Jason and I took off on our own for the west. Although the trip began in heavy rain and thick clouds, as the day continued, the rain stopped and the sun began to peek through. When we arrived in Galway it was starting to be a great day. We walked through the streets of Galway for a bit and stopped in a cafe for tea and scones. Then we continued driving west to Clifden where we found our lovely bed and breakfast called Mallmore House.
Driving to Clifden.
Mallmore House.
The view from our room.
Hallway at Mallmore House.
Drawing room at Mallmore House.

After our arrival in Clifden on Wednesday night and a delicious Thai supper in a local restaurant, we took the advice of our kind hostess and drove up the Sky Road to see the sunset. It was amazing!

June 19: Climbing Diamond Hill

We drove through some beautiful countryside today. We stopped at the Kylemore Abbey for some pictures, and saw some beautiful mountains (called “Bens” as in Benbrack instead of Mt. Brack, etc.). In Connemara National Park there are many of these bare, high mountains. So, we climbed one. It was amazing. Jason’s watch altimeter was working hard. Apparently the “hill” is 445 meters. As we were climbing, we could see people up at the ridge and summit, and we thought: “Wow! we’re going there!” It was so cool. A great hike, great exercise, amazing weather, and a yummy soup, sandwich, scone, tea at the bottom when we finished. Perfect day.Driving through Connemara National Park.

Kylemore Abbey (the Photoshopped picture. haha)

Starting the climb up Diamond Hill.