Galway rambling

It’s been kind of a slow couple of weeks, what with everything closed for the holidays, but I have truly enjoyed having my darling hubby underfoot and all to myself.  In the States people mostly only get Christmas Day (plus the nearest weekday to it) and New Year’s Day (plus the nearest weekday) off work.  And then, even on the holidays themselves, you can find something open, whether it’s just the local 7-11 or Wal-Mart.  In Ireland pretty much everyone gets the last two weeks of the year off.  It’s very civilized but also terribly inconvenient.  However, we have survived.

We attended a nice little Christmas gathering of Claude’s co-workers on Christmas Day, sharing food and laughter and music.  There was a guitar there and Claude even played for everyone!  It did my heart good to hear him play for others again as it has been so long since he has played in public, and our hostess was delighted to hear him play one of her favorite songs.  I met some really nice, interesting people, in particular one couple from San Francisco with whom I share a lot in common.  Oh, it was so good to cook for a crowd again.  Found an absolutely lovely simple chocolate cookie recipe that went over like gangbusters!  (It’s true, people can tell when you cook with love.)

I wanted to prepare a delicious penne & cauliflower casserole dish by “Molto Mario” Batali that I found, believe it or not, in a Reader’s Digest magazine once-upon-a-time; I love this dish, it’s very hearty, vegetarian and makes a ton of food.  The farmer’s market in St. Nicholas Street is open on Saturdays, so that being the day before Christmas I decided that we would go there and I would pick up a nice head of fresh cauliflower.  We didn’t manage to get down there until about 12 noon – only to discover that apparently cauliflower is quite popular among the Irish as a stuffing ingredient and they were all gone!  Not one head to be found in the entire market!  I kind of panicked a little, trying desperately to determine the best veggie to substitute for cauliflower.  It’s a fairly unique veg in that it holds up perfectly in the cooking process of this particular dish.  After freaking out for a few minutes I calmed down and decided that it would have to be broccoli and carrots instead.  Not the best solution in my mind – but still made for a tasty dish.

One side effect of the holiday closings is that the public and university libraries are closed, leaving us high and dry for evening reading.  We disposed of a good number of our books before moving, therefore we only kept the most cherished ones, which of course tend to be the ones one has read innumerable times.  I complained of this to the couple I met at the party and she kindly offered to share a few of her books with me while waiting for the holidays to pass.  So we exchanged numbers, and I went down to the city center yesterday to her home to take her up on her generous offer.  She and her husband live in a cute little apartment complex – you know, I’m not entirely sure what the Irish call a dwelling like that; it’s a small gathering of attached flats – in a three-story walk-up with a lot of old building charm.  One of the things we determined we had in common was our homesickness for American foods.  You can’t really get a decent Mexican meal in Galway, which was something I considered before we moved here but never really appreciated fully until I came to the stark realization that I am not going to get one or even be able to prepare one until I return home.  (I mean, really, in Denver & Greeley you can’t spit without hitting a Mexican restaurant!  I’m going to have to stock up on ingredients when I am home next.)  I had also complained that I couldn’t find Crisco, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, but she informed me that she had seen it at a place called Candyland.  I knew of the place, had passed it on several occasions, and decided to visit it to see what other American food items they carried.  Anyway, we had a nice chat and she lent me some books and then I was on my way, back out into the rain.

I wanted to have some lunch but couldn’t decide where.  I’d rather not eat at the same place twice when in the city center because there are so many different places to choose from.  There was an interesting looking French bistro right there but I determined that I wanted to eat there with Claude instead of alone, so I set out back across the canal over to the Spanish Arch.  Here I had an encounter that sort of helped crystallize for me why people of other nations are prejudiced against Americans: There were 4 people (Americans) standing at an intersection of four different streets trying to get their bearings.  They asked me which street was Lower Dominick Street as they were looking for a specific restaurant.  I pointed them to the street I had just come from with the caveat that I did not know the exact restaurant they were looking for.  They thanked me – and then headed in precisely the opposite direction!  What the eff, people?!

The wind was whipping up and I wasn’t sure where to go, so I decided on a whim to check out the city museum cafe.  The museum itself was closed, naturally, but the cafe was open for business, and warm and quiet to boot.  I had a delicious lunch with a nice pot of hot tea for under €10.  And since I needed a few other things and what with already being right there in the city center where every shop you need is readily available within steps, I figured I would brave the weather and get my errands run.  With Claude’s guidance via phone, I found that Candyland store.

After spending some time looking over the candy selections in Irish stores, I have figured out that I have no clue whatsoever what candies contain what without purchasing them first and sampling them.  Frankly, I have found very few that I particularly like.  So walking into this place was like a small trip back home.  I actually knew what the candies were!  They mostly have old-timey candies that are currently on the rise in popularity in the States, but also standard favorites like gummy bears and Reese’s PB Cups and Jelly Bellies.  I browsed at the back of the store where they have typically American items like Jif peanut butter and Marshmallow Fluff and American cereals (but only the really really sweet ones).  I found my Crisco and was well satisfied.  Took some Reese’s and gummies home for good measure.

Then I wandered over and bought my bus pass for the month of January.  The bus system in Galway does not inspire confidence in many of the people I speak to, both natives and immigrants, and for good reason.  It is notoriously unreliable and only covers a portion of the city itself.  In Denver you can get from the farthest end of the city to the other on public transportation – it may take you several hours & buses & trains, but it can be done, and you can get back home that way too.  I have participated in the Galway Transport Forum by offering my answers to their survey and my observations to their opinion polls.  The buses are clean, the drivers are for the most part friendly.  I can get where I need to go most of the time.  I’ve learned that, much like my ‘car book’, I need to carry a ‘waiting at the bus stop’ book, which serves the added purpose of being my ‘something to do when eating lunch alone’ book as well.  I am hoping that by expressing interest in improving public transportation and garnering the opinion of the public, the city of Galway will actually implement changes and make those improvements; I believe my use of the system will help facilitate that.  Now if only they would incorporate the two separate bus systems (City Direct & Bus Eirann) into one…

At some point soon we have to replenish our supply of chutneys; I am finding that my lunch sandwiches just aren’t the same without them!  Claude wants me to get on my bike and ride with him but I’m just so inexplicably frightened of riding in the bad weather.  Maybe in a month or so when it stops being quite so windy & rainy…  Perhaps that should be my New Year’s resolution along with getting a volunteer job and figuring out the health care system.  I still have so much to learn… so, if you don’t mind,  I’ll just keep on sharing my Galway ramblings.

— Cindy

Feed the world…

I’m at the Joyce’s grocery store yesterday and all of a sudden I realize that “Do They Know It’s Christmas” is playing on the Muzak machine – and everyone, I mean absolutely *everyone* in the store is singing along. I laughed (not out loud) when it dawned on me!

Happy Christmas!  (giggle)

— Cindy

Beautiful Evening

On the Winter Solstice, as I rode home from work, I rode down the Prom in Salthill as I am wont to do. and what to my wondering eyes should appear but the most lovely dusk sky.  It ran through all the shades of purple from that pale purple tinged white associated with elderly grandmothers to the darkest violet.  Above the sea were billowy purple tinted gray clouds.  The land across the bay, possibly the cliffs in county Clare, were of a dark maroon. The scene made me wish for my camera but by the time I arrived at home the sky had gone dark.

The stillness of the wind, the warmth of the air, the lack of rain and the beautiful sunset made for a most enjoyable ride and the perfect ending for the day and for Autumn.

— Claude

Beautiful blooming Ireland

Having spent the majority of my life in the arid climate of the American West, I am not used to the perpetual greenness of Ireland.  I’m still gobsmacked every time I see a blossoming flower and all the green grass, and realize it’s wintertime.  There are new shoots sticking up out of the ground here!  It’s December!

Simply amazing.

— Cindy

A stroll on the Prom

It’s a lovely crisp day in Galway, sun shining and hardly any breeze, 6 degrees C (that’s 43 for you Fahrenheit people) – perfect for a stroll.  I had to take advantage and stretch my poor aching hip and get the big guy out of the house so he doesn’t go stir crazy.  We took the path that heads east of the diving board because we had not been there before.  Besides the occasional slick patch of frosty sidewalk it was really quite nice.

Another beautiful shot of Galway Bay

Knocknacarra neighborhood

It looks like nature is taking this house back

Pretty plants

— Cindy

Day trippin’

Claude is a member of the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP) and as such, is entitled to attend meetings and seminars given on computer privacy issues.  He had the opportunity to attend a meeting in Dublin whose subject had a correlation to his work at DERI, so we took advantage and scheduled a little day trip to the big city.  There’s something otherworldly about being able to hop a bus and end up in Dublin.

We took the City Link bus to the city centre, which meant stopping at every small stop along the way.  The trip took about 5 hours.  Here’s a tip: If the opportunity to take a rest room break arises before you have to ride for 5+ hours, TAKE IT.  What was it Jack Nicholson’s character said in The Bucket List?  Never pass up the chance to use the bathroom.  (I’m paraphrasing, but that’s the gist of it.)  However, it was nice to see all these small towns along the way and look at the Christmas light displays people have put up.  There was only one place that really could have qualified for overkill; not a bad ratio considering how many more we would have seen if we’d been in America.  There was evidence of it having snowed at some point before we passed through.  But Dublin wasn’t really all that cold.

Arriving even as late as we did, the streets of Dublin were filled with people of all sorts.  I had forgotten about the ladies who sit and beg for money on the quays; I wish I had a coin for every one of them.  We walked across the bridge and headed in the direction I thought was toward our hotel.  Thank goodness Claude has a more finely honed sense of direction than I do because I would have gotten us lost.  I am definitely a landmark person.  We asked directions and got our bearings, then ended up on Grafton Street.  It was all lit up for Christmas and I kept bugging Claude to take a picture, which he finally, reluctantly, agreed to do.  (He also discovered that the battery in the camera was almost dead, so no more pics for the rest of the trip.)  Sadly, the picture doesn’t really do it justice – the twinkling lights were quite beautiful.

We made our way to the hotel I had booked with the invaluable assistance of Trip Advisor.  We had a couple of choices in the area closest to Claude’s meeting in the reasonably priced range.  (There were others in the luxury price range that did not even merit consideration.)  One hotel got such consistently horrible reviews that it made the other sound like heaven, particularly considering the reviews it got.  We booked into the Harrington Hall Hotel on Harcourt Street, just down the block from St. Stephen’s Green – the location is excellent as far as touring the city and getting in some serious shopping.  This is a lovely little Georgian hotel with beautiful appointments and very friendly service.  Our room was quaint, with a sitting area and a large wardrobe in the bedroom.  We got the heat cranked up and it was very cosy.  I did have a complaint with the hardness of the beds and pillows, but Claude slept like a baby.  The breakfast they offered was certainly better than some I have had and overall the price was just right.

We had a very late dinner at a nice little Indian restaurant just down the street where the room was quiet, the service was excellent, and the manager was very friendly.  By the end of the meal he had invited us to his sister’s wedding in India!  We had eaten everything and were completely full but he offered us something at the end, free of charge, in such a manner that it put us both in mind of Mr. Creosote and his “wafer-thin mint.”  We couldn’t refuse.  I thought it was a dessert of some kind until he brought us two small glasses of some kind of flaming liqueur with coffee beans floating in it.  We didn’t want to be rude and not drink it, however Claude doesn’t imbibe, and I was not very fond of the flavor, which was licorice.  I sipped as much as I could and then tipped the rest into my water glass.  I was mortified when it turned the water a murky yellowish color!  We got the heck out of there shortly thereafter!  It sure was an adventure though.

Claude went to his IAPP meeting at a big-time law firm the next morning and got to meet some pretty impressive people, including the Data Protection Commissioner for the State of Ireland.  He got in some good networking.  While he did that I had breakfast and then wandered over to a calendar store on Grafton Street to pick up my desk calendar for 2012.  Not much to select from that fell within my realm of taste – mostly calendars of celebrity-types, comedic subjects I didn’t find amusing, froo-froo stuff like Hello Kitty and animals and cookery, or athletes.  I finally settled on a calendar of art by Jack Vettriano.  By the way, what we call desk calendars in the States are called diaries in Ireland.  I thought about doing some more window shopping but the stores just didn’t really sell anything I was interested in looking at by myself, so I moseyed back to the hotel to wait for Claude.

When we met up again we packed our things and checked out of the hotel.  Seeing as we were mere steps away from St. Stephen’s Green, it was only right that we take a walk through this lovely little park.  But first we walked through the Iveagh Gardens on our way there.  When we arrived at St. Stephen’s we saw the Fusilier’s Arch, the Lord Ardilaun statue, the playground, the fountain, the 3 Fates statue, and the Famine Memorial and Wolfe Tone statue.

Then off to the National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology, our ultimate destination.  Many of Ireland’s national museums are free of charge to the public.  How civilized is that?  This one had the advantage of not only being within walking distance of our hotel, but also of containing the types of artefacts and information that most interests both Claude and I.  This is a two-day museum; you need at least two days to see everything.  As you walk into the main hall you are surrounded by the Prehistoric Ireland exhibit containing a number of items found around the entire country.  In the middle of the hall is the gold exhibit, featuring jewelry dating back to 2200 BC.  (We saw an exhibit that contained ear plates from 500 BC that proved poking giant holes in your ears is way older than I thought!)  We viewed an exhibit about the excavation of the Mound of Hostages at the Hill of Tara, and an exhibition about bogs and their preservative qualities, including several bodies that had been found.  We also looked at the Vikings in Ireland exhibition, a favorite subject of mine.  There were some really exciting and special artefacts available for viewing.  We missed probably half of this museum – a great excuse to go back again!  There are also three other branches of the museum, 2 more in Dublin and one in County Mayo.  Oh, there’s no shortage of things to see in Ireland…

So there we were toward the end of the day, sated with our travels and wondering what to do next.  We had booked a return trip for 8 PM but decided to meander over to the quay where the bus was supposed to pick us up just to see what was going on over there – and lo & behold, there was a non-stop to Galway parked at the curb!  We rushed over and managed to get seats just as it was preparing to leave.  The non-stop trip has a lot less to look at through the windows, however it is only 3 hours long.  Claude grabbed a nap, I neared the end of my book, and soon enough we were back home in Galway.  We decided to grab some dinner.  I have wanted to eat at the Park House Hotel since we originally arrived back in October so Claude indulged me and we got a table.  It’s a high end restaurant but the people are very friendly and the prices are quite reasonable.  Claude ordered a fruit plate and it came with a very intriguing little fruit called physalis which looked for all the world like a tomatillo but was a smallish red berry.  So on top of everything else, we learned of a new culinary treat!  We had a nice, quiet meal with good food and good company.  (Claude makes me laugh every single day.)

A quick cab ride and we were back in our sweet little home.  What a lovely adventure – life really is good.

— Cindy

Vocabulary Conversions, or How I Learned to Relax and Love Irish Colloquialisms

We suspect this is only the beginning of our language lesson…

Cheers = Thanks or You’re welcome (also, Thanks a million, pronounced “Tanks a million”)

Eavestroughs = Gutters (along the roof line, not in the street)

Extension lead = Power strip

Icing sugar = Powdered sugar

Biscuits = Cookies

Dual carriageway = Two-lane road

Barman = Bartender

Toilet rolls = Toilet paper

Toilets = Rest rooms

Bicarbonate of soda = Baking soda

Oh bless! = Isn’t that sweet? (in the Southern US sense)

Go away = Get outta here

Knackered = Tired

Roosters = Giant red potatoes

Chips = French fries

Crisps = Potato chips

Sultana = Raisin (for those of you dying to know, Sultana is a type of grape known in the western US as Thompson Seedless)

Epilator = Woman’s shaver

Purse = Wallet

Handbag = Purse

Pelican Crossing = Cross walk with light.  (not to be confused with Panda Crossing or Zebra Crossing)

Take away = Take out (as in Chinese food)

Splash out = Splurge (on luxury purchases)

Pointsman = A Garda (cop) directing traffic

How ye keepin’? or How ye gettin’ on? = Hi, how are you?

— Cindy & Claude