Sister Cities

According to Wikipedia, Galway has 11 sister cities; I have been to 2 1/2 (St. Louis, Seattle and the Chicago airport).

City Geographical location Nation Since
Aalborg North Jutland  Denmark 1997
Bradford West Yorkshire, England  United Kingdom 1986
Cambridge[47] Massachusetts  United States of America 1997
Chicago Illinois  United States of America 1986
Lorient Brittany  France 1978
Milwaukee Wisconsin  United States of America 2001
Moncton New Brunswick  Canada 2002
Qingdao Shandong  China 1999
St. Louis Missouri  United States of America 1977
Seattle Washington  United States of America 1986
Waitakere City Auckland Region  New Zealand 2002

While waiting down near the Spanish Arch for Cindy to meet me for dinner, I found the Seattle sister city monument.  It is a stone with a couple of brass disks on it indicating how far and in which direction you would have to travel to reach Seattle. How far is a bit of a misnomer as it is directly through the earth. So now I know that I am not the only one that links the Galway environment with Seattle. Someone told me that Seattle was one of the few areas that gets more rain than Galway. But a quick sum of the averages from weather.com shows Galway with an annual average of 45 inches and Seattle with an average of 36.27 inches. Sorry Seattle, but it is those “dry” months of July and August that lose the crown for you.Seattle sister city stone in Galway
But here I am talking about weather again so it must be time to stop.

— Claude

(Ed. note: I think Claude is just becoming more acclimated to being among the Irish, as it is a sort of ritual to speak often of the weather, good or bad.  The woman who served us our dinner last night complained that it had been raining like this all year long.  I watched the weather through the window all day and bundled up in layers thinking it looked pretty darn cold out there, only to actually get outside and realize almost immediately that I had overdressed.  Yes, it was rainy, but it also wasn’t very cold.

Oh, and I have also been to 2 1/2 sister cities: Chicago, Seattle, and the St. Louis airport.  — Cindy)

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Organic indeed

It was a very windy day today, pretty much precluding any walking, much less a trip to the grocery which has been necessitated by the fact that I forgot to purchase important ingredients for the meal I had (loosely) planned to prepare today.  I sure hope it’s nicer tomorrow…

But I did manage to get to the Supervalu for the first time yesterday.  I’ve shopped at Dunnes – so-so fresh food selection and perpetually crammed to the rafters with shoppers – and I’ve shopped at Joyce’s – good selection of fresh foods and ultimately my choice of favored grocery.  I hadn’t yet tried Supervalu but had ridden by it a number of times on the bus.  It turns out I started at the wrong end of the store because my basket was really full by the time I got to the produce section and I was thinking I’d never be able to lug it all home. (In case you’re curious, I have nixed Supervalu due to the small selection of products and the incredibly surly and rude attitude of the checker.)

Especially when you consider the sizes of some of the locally grown produce.  Check out the carrot!  The dinner fork is there for size comparison.  Look at that monster, it’s like a giant’s thumb!

As part of Claude’s lunches he has been taking fresh leafy greens so I went looking for something in the prepared salad greens section.  I found a bag of “organic field greens” that were priced well and looked tasty.  I brought them home and tucked them into the mini-fridge.

Fast forward to this evening when I’m scrapping for something to feed us for dinner and there is that bag of beautiful field greens.  Look at them, aren’t they yummy looking?  I had just finished rinsing them out and was waiting for the bulk of the water to drain, while cutting some cheese and a part of the monster carrot to top our dinner salad. 

I caught a small movement from the corner of my eye… What’s that?  Must be water running off the greens… AUGH!

Claude said I made a noise he had never heard before.  I recall just reacting with a kind of loud “whoa!”  Whatever I said, it stemmed entirely from my complete surprise in discovering that the movement in my salad was a worm!  I immediately began laughing as I scooted to the living room to fetch Claude, who of course made the requisite cracks about extra protein in the salad, etc.  He rescued the little fellah and sent him to the garden, then the teasing began.  When my brain calmed I thought about how cold that little guy must have been – plucked from the field and bagged, refrigerated in the store, refrigerated in my house, then washed a few times in cold water and finally banished to the November garden.

There’s a reason why organic is more expensive, I just didn’t realize that meant random wildlife.  I think I’ll stick with the pre-washed bagged salads from now on.

— Cindy

Ridin’ da bus

Bus was 35 minutes late today.  Was literally 5 minutes from giving up and walking home.  Then I took the wrong bus back and ended up walking a bit farther than I had intended.  No big deal.  However, that put me on the bus that the school children ride.  (Catholic school, kids range from about 12 – 15.)  There was an older gentleman attempting to get off the bus at the kids’ stop.  They were jam-packed in around the door, and, for some unfathomable reason, would not part to allow the man to exit the bus.  So the driver closed the door and pulled ahead a bit. The kids crowded up around it again, so the bus driver pulled forward again.  The third time was the charm; the kids finally got the point and let the poor old man off.  Then the bus driver scolded them all and told them to “Mind yer manners!”

It was precious, and made the whole stinking mess worth the time and trouble.

— Cindy

A touch of home

All of our belongings have arrived, intact and complete, so we have begun the unenviable task of unpacking and finding places for all of the stuff with which we simply could not part.  I’m scratching my head, wondering why I brought some things, and despairing that I won’t be able to display others.

Most Irish homes have plaster walls – a practical solution to protecting against the elements.  But that also means that you can’t hang pictures or art without drilling holes in the walls, holes that are not easily repaired with a dot of spackle.  I asked the landlord about hanging our art and was told he did not want new holes in the walls… now I have to figure out a way to put stuff up without causing damage.  Claude has had a couple of ideas of how to circumvent the problem so we’re going to play with it over the weekend.

We have just recently finished reading Julia Child’s bio, “My Life in France.”  I bought the book when the movie Julie & Julia came out and had just not gotten around to reading it when the prospect of flying thousands of miles to this lovely green and wet island cropped up.  The perfect opportunity had presented itself!  Once we got here we realized that our evening routine of lying in bed watching TV had been interrupted by the fact that there is no TV in my room to watch and we are not about to be able to afford to purchase one.  However we were not inclined to give up our nightly cuddle, so I started reading to Claude from Julia’s book.  (If you ever get a chance, do pick it up; she is a compelling narrator and led a fantastically interesting life.)  One term we picked up from the book (among others) is “batterie de cuisine.”  Roughly translated that means all your kitchen gear.  Let me tell you, I was absolutely thrilled to complete the transition from the landlord’s crappy stuff to my very own batterie de cuisine!  I really enjoyed preparing a simple pasta primavera in my own pots and pans with my own knives last night.  Not your typical Thanksgiving dinner – but I was thankful!

Really enjoyed showering with my lovely bar of Dove soap and my Pantene shampoo this morning!  And drying off with a different towel!  And putting on a shirt I hadn’t worn at least once every week for the last 6 weeks!  (It’s the little things, don’t ya know.)

Almost right away Claude found our little cement coyotes and put them on the stoop for display.  They’re so adorable.  I found them at a lawn statuary outlet in Las Vegas a few years ago (Little Baja Garden & Design) and they were purchased with the approval of Miss Skyler Warren.  They are positioned so that it looks like they are singing to the moon – and just looking at them makes me smile every time.  The postal worker who came by yesterday took a double-take at them, and that made me smile.  Last night while we were relaxing in the living room I swore I saw the silhouette of a person at our glass door but by the time I got there to look he was gone.  I think he was looking at the coyotes.  Then I had a dream this morning that someone had stolen them!  Was very relieved to see that they were still singing to the moon on my stoop this morning.  Hoping to get the travelling gnome and the pink flamingos out into the garden today as well.

Of course, there are items I swear I packed that I can’t quite seem to put my hands to.  And there are some books that are in need of a shelving unit.  Which may have to wait, considering the current state of our finances.  (In other words, we’re kinda broke right now!)  Claude’s assurances that those items are here somewhere are kind but misguided.  I will not – nay, cannot – be satisfied until every box is unpacked and thoroughly gone through to be absolutely certain that it is time to pitch a fit over my losses.  Or not.  More on that later.

“Ordinary riches can be stolen; real riches cannot. In your soul are infinitely precious things that cannot be taken from you.” — Oscar Wilde

— Cindy

Bicycle Adventure #3 – or – Weather Comment #10K

Ok, so we know the ride to work is 5K by the shortest, hilliest, congestedest, constructioniest route there is.  So obviously I don’t travel that route often.  I usually ride down the Prom, up the Salthill roads, up the canal roads and cut across the paths on campus.  Probably 7K or so.  Nice ride on a clear day — if there were such a thing.

I have managed to get far enough into shape — and away from that round shape — that I can make the ride at a good clip and, except for traffic, without stopping.  Now comes the weather.

Last night as I left work I put on my rain pants.  These are plastic-like pants that cover your normal pants so that you don’t become soaked under most conditions — or unless it is Irish raining.  It was US raining (Irish soft evening) and dark when I left the office.  The wind was blowing furiously but the trees and buildings blocked most of it.  When I got down to the Prom the wind was coming off the bay and blowing strongly, whipping the bay into a foamy churning mass of grey and causing the breakers to spray up across the sidewalk on the Prom, drenching the area in salt water and seaweed.  I could tell that the water blown into my face was from the sea, not the sky, by the stinging salt.

This morning I look out and the sky is clear as the sun is just rising.   But when I start out the door I realize that it seems to be a soft morning.  So on go the rain pants and off I head for work; this time with the wind at my back.

I don’t know if squall is a sea term only but I am hereby adapting it to cycling in Galway.  I hit a squall.  It Irish rained.  Wind whipped around the buildings and blew the rain sideways.  In the matter of a few short blocks I was drenched to the skin.  As quickly as it started, it stopped.

When I got to campus the wind picked up again, this time blowing down the canal – so directly in my face.  It was about 9C (48F) — a cold morning in Ireland — and the wind was blowing hard enough that my hands froze.  I had to stop in the shelter of a building and rub them to get the feeling back before continuing on my way.

Lessons learned:

  1. Always wear rain pants if you are riding; if nothing else they will keep your pants clean from road grit and chain tattoos.
  2. The wind is always against you.  Actually this is just something I dredged up from earlier lessons.  I remember singing Bob Seeger’s “Against the Wind” for miles while riding down…….
  3. Riding next to the sea in a wind storm can be a pain in the eyes.  I suppose that makes windy sea side riding a site for sore eyes.
  4. Ireland has water.  A lot of water.  It falls from the sky.  They have so much they don’t charge you for taking it out of the tap.
  5. Cycling, even in a windy Irish rain storm, is enjoyable.  If nothing else there are plenty of stories to tell.

Questions discovered:

  1. Do those cycling booties (shoe covers) that the pros wear keep the water out?

— Claude

Random observations

How is it that I hardly eat anything all day and walk every-frickin’-where I go and I still haven’t lost weight?  The gods are having at me.

Irish children are what our new friend Alice calls “natural.”  That means they get to run wild, lip off, and basically test their parents’ nerves every chance they get.  The teens are especially obnoxious in public – however, this fact is really no different from any other part of the world.

The annual Christmas Marketplace is under construction in Eyre Square, which means the Occupy kids have been displaced.  I think they’ve moved to the east side of the park, over by the bus stops.  They seem pretty relaxed about the whole thing.

I have to face it: Coke is king.  To my knowledge there are no restaurants that have Pepsi in the fountain.  Some of the Chinese and Indian places have it in a can.  But no ice.

No ice!  WTF, Ireland?  Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean I don’t want a cold soda or drink of water.  Gee whiz.

The sun shining off Galway Bay at high tide is something spectacular to see; it’s no wonder everyone comes to the Prom to walk along the shoreline.  When it’s clear you can see all the way to County Clare and the Burren.

Seems Claude & I now know more about some parts of this city than the natives, especially the people who drive around it all day for a living.  I’ve asked the bus driver to stop at places that I know he sees every single day, multiple times a day, and gotten blank stares.  And when I don’t have a landmark to give him, it’s basically up to me to pay attention and figure out the closest stop.

People are still playing golf in late November.  Generally speaking, the weather is lovely, even when it rains softly but especially when the sun shines, as long as the wind isn’t blowing.  It’s 50 degrees F here most days.

Gourmet Tart Co. is the place to go for your baked goods in Salthill.  O’Connor’s Bakery may be a mom-&-pop shop, but the woman behind the counter is surly and their selection is weak.  The girls at Gourmet Tart are helpful and polite and the food is much tastier.

Speaking of surly, what’s up with crabby librarians?  How can you be a librarian and be cranky?  That’s just wrong.  Those people need a few sensitivity training sessions or a week hauling garbage or wiping snotty noses at a day care center to get the full appreciation of the nature of their jobs.

Some people’s accents are just so heavy that you have to watch their mouths to understand what they’re saying.  Pretending to be hard of hearing works wonders for people’s enunciation.

When an Irishman says it’s only five minutes’ walk, be prepared to go at least a mile.  15 minutes is practically across town.

— Cindy

The perils of bathing

We’ve mentioned the funky showers before in this blog, and yet I feel they merit more exploration due to our continuing exploits with the showers in Ireland in general.

The shower in the ensuite bath in the large bedroom of our lovely townhome is approximately the size of a phone booth.  Maybe.  The water is controlled by an electric shower machine, which makes a noise somewhat akin to an airplane engine warming up for takeoff.  You spin a dial to start the water flowing, then spin another dial to adjust the temperature.  This is always a crap shoot, as the machine basically decides what temp the water is going to be depending on … well, I don’t know.  The mood?  Outside temps?  Phase of the moon?  And of course there’s the nozzle spraying everywhere, the sliding glass door that doesn’t quite open all the way, and the fact that it’s impossible to reach down to wash feet.

However, the shower in the main bath is even more of an adventure.  While the tub has a lot more room, it is only protected by a half-door that swings outward in order to allow access, which only really serves to splash more water over more of the bath surfaces if you ask me.  The tub is incredibly deep and presents quite the challenge to short-legged people.  Heaven help the person who doesn’t have a bath mat on the floor, because you are going down, buddy.  This electric machine is a lot more fickle than the one in the phone booth.  Temperature regulation is virtually impossible, unless you like your showers scalding hot.  The shower head sprays everywhere, as usual, but you can’t point this one down toward the floor of the tub (like the phone booth one) because it slips out of the holder, hits the tub floor and then sprays literally every surface within a 5 foot radius.  However the big advantage to this shower is that there is room to leap out of the spray should the machine decide to regulate the temperature randomly.

Seeing as Claude rides his bike to work every day, he has to shower when he gets there.  The building has small (and I mean small) shower rooms in which to clean up.  There is no bench to sit on, no hooks to hang your clothes or towel upon, nothing but a stark little changing space and the shower stall.  It has an electric shower machine that is built in behind the wall and the temp offerings are cold and colder.  Sometimes he gets lucky and it becomes lukewarm, “but not often.”  He has figured out how to hang his bag & pants on the square-shaped light fixture inside the shower stall.  I frankly don’t know how he does it; I barely have the ability to tolerate the phone booth shower.

I understand that the Irish people have a hardiness to them, honed from years of living in harsh conditions and surviving famine and invasion and rule by empire.  But we’re talking modern age here, folks.  A building built in 2008 could conceivably have been built with a few more inches of shower space.  Electric shower machines could be built with more reliability of temperature regulation.  Benches could be installed in shower spaces for just that tiniest little touch of creature comfort.  ‘Path of least resistance’ need not be a lifestyle – but for the Irish it’s an attitude.

However, I am not complaining.  Based on the quality of homes I looked at while hunting for this place, I’m living at the Ritz!  Well, at least the water gets hot.

— Cindy