Leap day

The Irish tradition goes that Saint Bridget struck a deal with Saint Patrick to allow women to propose marriage to men in the leap year in order to balance the responsibilities of men and women, much like the leap day balances the calendar.  In some places Leap Day is also known as Bachelor’s Day.  In many European countries, especially in the upper classes of society, tradition dictates that any man who refuses a woman’s proposal on February 29 has to buy her 12 pairs of gloves. The intention is that the woman can wear the gloves to hide the embarrassment of not having an engagement ring.

— Cindy


Bicycle Adventure #4

OK, so on the way home from work yesterday, over near the small crane, I got a flat tyre (I love that spelling).  Now I know that one should never ride farther without a patch kit and pump than you are willing to walk, and repairing the rear tyre is a bear on the city bike.  After pushing the bike 3.5 kilometers home, I decided to wait until the morning to fix it.

Come the morning, I put the bike on the stand, took the rear wheel off and patched the tube.  While putting the wheel back on I discovered that the hub had a problem.  This bike has an 8-speed internal hub (like the old 3-speed) and the cable attachment was coming off.  After fiddling around it with it for a while I managed to get it back together and working.

I put the tools away and started on my way to work. 1.7K later all the gearing went away and I was left with nothing but 1st gear.  For the next 4K I moved only slightly faster than the Irish walk — they do walk fast.  One does feel rather silly pedalling like mad and moving at a good walking pace.  I made it to work.

That evening, figuring that if I couldn’t get out of first gear I might as well take the short route home, I took the one that goes up over the hill rather than around it.  Once again I pedalled like mad and moved at a good walking clip.  It turns out that a city bus in evening traffic travels slightly slower than the Irish walk, that is slower than I do in first gear.  I managed to pass and stay in front of it all the way up the hill.  The down hill section was rather nice.

Over the weekend I took the hub apart and reassembled it.  Now it works smoothly and I can once again make it to work at a reasonable pace.

— Claude

Limerick in photos

Russell's Fountain


Mr. Crow and the Fountain


This was just one field of daffodils seen in the park and all over the city


The stone is shaped like a heart


A church owned building in the midst of the city center - lovely Georgian architecture


The view of King John's Castle and Thomond Bridge crossing the Shannon River from Arthur's Quay Park


Side entrance to St. Mary's Cathedral


A perspective of crosses in the church cemetery at St. Mary's


Front entrance to St. Mary's Cathedral


A view across the Shannon from the daffodil's point of view


Beautiful daffodils on the river walk


Perspectives in the history of towers - Dominican church tower c. 1600s, Tait's Clock c. 1800s, microwave tower c. 1990s


Bronze figure on exterior of Limerick City Art Gallery


Bronze figure on exterior of Limerick City Art Gallery


Bronze figure on exterior of Limerick City Art Gallery

In Limerick

On the recommendation of an acquaintance or two, I decided to join Living Social, an online business that contracts with different merchants and service providers to offer deals on various activities and services.  We have taken advantage of a few health-related services but when the offer for an overnight stay in a hotel room, a 2-course meal (with bottle of wine) and breakfast in Limerick for €69 came along, I decided to take advantage.  I researched the hotel on Trip Advisor and figured the positives outweighed the negatives, so I booked it.  Allow me to digress a moment here by saying that Trip Advisor has been a trusted resource for me for about 6 years now.  I can usually trust the overall score of the hotel – in this case, Patrick Punch’s Hotel – by the average score as related to the number of reviews; I tend to read through the most recent reviews to determine how up-to-date they are and how enthusiastic the reviewers are, whether it’s good or bad.  I have found them to be pretty accurate.  Trip Advisor also provides ideas of activities and places to go while in the city to which you are traveling, so I usually read over the first 20 – 50 entries in that category as well.

Limerick is the third largest city in Ireland whose history goes back to its beginning as a Viking settlement around 812 CE.  I was simply gobsmacked by the fact that we were experiencing a place that had been there for over a thousand years.  It blows my mind every time.  The cab driver who took us into town on Sunday, when asked what he would take his friends to do while visiting in Limerick, said there isn’t anything to do!  In a city that has existed for 1200 years?!  Gee whiz, talk about your lack of civic pride!

Suffice to say that we booked our tickets on the bus and made it to Limerick by 10:45 am Saturday.  The bus dropped us off at the People’s Park in the city, the regular stop.  This is a gorgeous park very near the railway and bus stations with walking paths, a huge playground just for little ones, lots of pigeons and crows, and vast fields of daffodils.  (I’m a big fan of the daffys so the abundance of them all over Limerick made me very happy!)  We walked through the park and came out the back side, a poor choice as we ended up in an area that would have put the word “seedy” to shame.  My initial observation of Limerick was that it’s kind of a dirty city, not well cared for by the residents, and not particularly loved by them either.  Claude had heard that it was the knifing capital of Ireland (at least a couple of years ago) but we managed to walk unmolested to the hotel, and the desk clerk was kind enough to get us checked in even though we were so early.  After resting up for a few minutes we struck out into the city on our adventure through Limerick.

The hotel is situated on the main drag, O’Connell Avenue, a common main street name in Ireland apparently.  It was lined with wonderful Georgian and older but modernized homes featuring little gardens out front that included a patch of grass and flower beds.  We saw some ornate fences and railings featured on the homes, most of which also featured brightly painted front doors that added a lot of character to the home.  We came upon a pub and realized that we were fairly peckish after traveling.  By the way, the difference between a pub and a bar in Ireland is that the pub offers food, spirits and possibly sports while the bar offers only liquid refreshment of the alcoholic variety and plenty of sports.  This pub turned out to be very friendly – especially to Munster Rugby fans!  It was at that time that we realized we had ventured into Munster country (our team being Connaght Rugby, a rival team).  We had a delightful breakfast and discovered through conversation with the barmaids that the closer we got to the city center, the more shopping we could find.  So we settled up and headed into the city.

Claude had blown a hole in his old walking shoes so we decided that we might as well shop for some new ones.  We took in all the wonderful Georgian architecture of the city center, amazed and amused by the variety of businesses and goods one could find in these lovely old ornate structures.  Once we got to the heart of the shopping it took us probably an hour or so to find a decent pair of shoes for him.  Once that chore was accomplished, we made our way farther along to Arthur’s Quay Park.  I had read horrendous reviews of this place on Trip Advisor and so was prepared to forgo it entirely, but Claude being the goofball that he is insisted that we might as well look at what was so tragic about it.  And it turned out it wasn’t tragic at all!!  It was a cute little park featuring tons of daffodils and a small amphitheater structure that they apparently use as an ice-skating rink in the dead of winter.  The tourist office is located there.  The sun was shining, people were strolling and enjoying a chat in the sun, and the view of the Shannon and King John’s castle and the homes all along the riverbank was spectacular.  I’m so glad I married the goofiest adventurer on the planet or I never would have seen this little gem of a place.

We continued on our way toward three of the top rated attractions in Limerick: St. Mary’s Cathedral, Hunt Museum and King John’s Castle.  We came upon the Hunt Museum first, which features art and antiquities.  I noticed a sign saying admission is free on Sundays so we chose to save a few euros, pass it by and return the next day.  We decided then to walk over to the castle and visit the cathedral on the way back.  Our visit to the castle was so fascinating and the history is so extensive that I’ve decided to give it it’s own blog post in order to properly convey all the history contained inside this building.  It was pretty darn amazing though.

We headed back toward St. Mary’s Cathedral in order to check it out but couldn’t get in.  We ran into a man who had also wanted to see inside, had come to the building on several separate occasions over the weekend and had no luck getting in.  Instead we walked around outside, checking out the mausoleums and graves and marveling at standing near a building that had been there since the early 1100’s.  We wandered across the bridge over the Shannon River, which was flowing fast and roiling strongly.  As we meandered back into the heart of the city I began to burn out so we caught a city bus back to our hotel to rest up before the evening meal.

That night we had what turned out to be an acceptable meal and I polished off half the free bottle of wine.  We retired to our room and hit the sack after some television.

Sunday morning found us relaxed and moving at a leisurely pace.  We had a decent breakfast over which we decided to try the Hunt Museum and see if we could get into the cathedral one more time.  We also decided to see if we could split town early because Claude had to come home to repair his bike before the ride to work Monday morning.  So instead of waiting for a bus or burning out on walking too early, we hailed a cab and had that sad encounter with the driver.  I still can’t get over why on earth you would tell visitors to your city how unappealing it is to you as a resident!

We got to the museum to find that we had neglected to note the opening time: 1400 hours – 2:00 pm!  It wasn’t even 10 am!  We are pretty good at changing directions on the fly, so we wandered over the bridge to view the Anti-War Memorial (strange and interesting) and then decided to see if we could get into the cathedral.  No luck.  So much for the number one attraction in town.  There’s a trail right next to the river so we walked up toward the castle from there, watching the river and pondering the little intricacies of life, such as: Do swans fly?  (The answer is yes, yes they do.)  We walked around the castle and across the Thomond bridge, reading the historical signs along the way.  We saw the Treaty Stone at the river walk on the other side – more about that in the castle post.  We took the river trail all the way back toward the city center, greeting passers-by, looking for and identifying Curragower Falls – which isn’t a falls at all but more like a really rapid part of the river – and stopping once at a gathering of Garda officers.  Turns out they were the water rescue team and someone was missing.  I sure hope they found that person safe and sound, but it wasn’t looking good.

We crossed the Shannon Bridge back into the city and meandered up the street toward the Tait Clock, named after Sir Peter Tait, a past mayor of Limerick and quite an interesting man (information culled from my 30 second Googling of his name).  We were very close to the People’s Park again, the origination of our adventure in Limerick and the last stop before catching the bus.  However I had my timing & schedule kind of jumbled up in my head and thought we had several hours to wait before our bus home arrived, but we could have left a lot sooner.  Oh well, it gave us a chance to see the Limerick City Gallery of Art, a library and art gallery founded by Andrew Carnegie.  They have a nice cafe that looks out into the park so we stopped for snacks and coffee.  We conversed with a man who had spent a little time in Denver years before and had nice memories of the city and of the skiing.

The gallery itself is an interesting space, very open but unfortunately without anywhere for the public to sit while visiting the galleries.  However we enjoyed walking through the entire gallery observing the exhibition which had something to do with local people’s choices of items from the permanent collection that spoke to them as individuals.  It was suitably eclectic.  I particularly enjoyed the sculpture of the Tree of Life, and a couple of the female portraits.  On the exterior of the building an artist had installed a number of his bronze pieces, little figures doing various activities that he had affixed to the facade.  That was a really whimsical and fun way to display his art!

We walked the park again and by now it was starting to mist and the both of us were suffering from wobbliness (me) and pained feet (him).  We found another nice pub across from the railway station and found a comfy place to sit and watch sports.  The France – Scotland 6 Nations rugby match came on while we were waiting so we at least got to watch something interesting while waiting!  Finally caught the bus and headed on back home where Claude effected a successful repair to the bike and the Indian food delivery man actually found our house without needing directions.

Another weekend of adventurous day-tripping survived and numerous memories to accompany it!

— Cindy

A Couple of Observations.

In the last few days I have noticed a few things that I thought I would share.

  1. It is really windy if you are riding your bicycle in top gear, pedaling as fast as you can and you can still feel the wind at your back.
  2. Raucous sea birds and raucous children sound the same.  In fact the sound of children can fade into the sound of sea birds and make you wonder if there were children to start with.
  3. Ireland has some very good coffee.  While it is has a traditionally tea drinking culture, there are enough coffee drinkers that you can get a good cuppa in almost any food establishment.  And the imported Italian espresso grinds are not that expensive.


— Claude

Another usual unusual day

Today I had my new mattress delivered.  I am SO looking forward to sleeping in comfort tonight.  But first the leprechauns had to have at me for a bit.

We live in an estate (neighborhood) that contains single-family homes, townhouses, and apartments.  We live in what I would consider to be a townhouse – bottom floor of a two-story building, 6 units per floor, certainly containing more square footage than an apartment.  Our little townhouse sits at the far end of the building from the main road into the estate.  However, there is a road that winds past the “manor house” that sits in the middle of the estate which, if one drives it, will get one much closer to our home.  Therefore, whenever we have something delivered or call a cab, we have to be very specific about how to get to the place.  But giving directions to an Irishman is – at least 75% of the time – fruitless.  The locals pride themselves on knowing their city.  But the fact of the matter is, they do not. Invariably we get a call on the mobile phone from the person trying to find us who has not followed our explicit directions, thereby obligating us to give them out again.

Skip to this morning when I get the call from the mattress delivery man telling me they’ll be here around 11.  ‘Excellent!  Let me give you directions…’  ‘Oh no, we don’t need ’em, we know where we’re goin’!’  I said, just let me give you a tip then… and gave him the simple-yet-somehow-so-difficult-to-follow shortcut to our house.  Several hours later I get a call on the mobile asking me if we’re in the “apartments” … and now I’m faced with the quandary of figuring out this man’s concept of an apartment.  Some people think we live in an apartment.  I like to think of it as a townhouse but that’s my perception.  So I run to the window, spot the truck down at the end of the road (holy crap, they actually followed my directions!!) and tell the man YES. Then I watch the truck proceed to back down the road away from the correct destination!  Oh mercy, I chuckled inside my head.  I called the man back, told him he had been in the right place, what was he doing?  He told me he had one number missing from the address and was headed over to the apartment complex!  I got them back on the right track and, voila!  My new bed is delivered unto me.

The enjoyment of this usual-unusual day has continued on to my lunch, which consists of the weirdest sandwich I have ever prepared: multi-grain bread, sliced turkey, mayo, caramelized onion chutney, pickled red cabbage and frisee (well, that’s what I call it, technically it’s escarole endive).  The beautiful part is that it’s really quite tasty!  Add a few crisps and a small handful of chocolate covered raisins and it’s simply delicious.

The wind has been blowing strongly for several days now due to some gale-force weather pattern coming up from the southwest of the island.  It has rained on and off (mostly on) all week as well.  That hasn’t really deterred the heartiest of Prom walkers, even if the wind at the coast is twice as bad as the wind in the city centre.  Poor Claude, it’s been a tough week for riding, but he’s a trooper.

This weekend we are taking a small excursion to Limerick via bus.  I’m hoping the weather down there is a bit more forgiving than Galway’s.  Living in this land of the unusual guarantees that at least it will be an adventure.

— Cindy

Becoming Irish

I am very excited about my new volunteer job with Age Action Ireland, an organization that promotes positive ageing and services for seniors.  The woman who ‘hired’ me, Niamh (pronounced Neev), is a lovely young woman who apparently trusts that I can be a helpful presence because she wanted me to start right away even without references and the Garda vetting (background check).  That vetting form was hard to fill out seeing as they wanted me to list every address I have ever lived at throughout my entire life!  I did pretty well back to about 1978 but then it got a little fuzzy and I may have left one or two addresses out.  Oh well.

So I am an official volunteer now, tutoring seniors in computer skills.  I had my first student yesterday, a lovely woman not much more than 10 or 15 years older than me.  She had never ever been on a computer in her life so we started with the very basics of starting it up, keyboarding and mousing.  I don’t believe I have ever known anyone who didn’t have basic mouse skills so it was an adventure for both of us!  I look forward to watching her learn this new skill, of unlocking the secrets of the machine with her.

Before I left to catch the bus to AAI, I instant messaged Claude to say that it was a beautiful day, no rain and hardly any wind.  He teased me about becoming more Irish.  Then when I ran into the groundskeeper, a very nice man who I like very much, I told him I thought it was a gorgeous day.  He just looked at me as if I were a nutcase and shook his head.

Coming home on the bus that afternoon there was a couple there who seemed a bit confused by the bus schedule.  Let me tell you, that is not all that hard to do.  The schedules posted at the stops tell you what time the bus comes from the city centre, not what time it will be at that particular stop.  I see a great many people read the damn things and become quite confused.  So all you can really do is learn the comings and goings of the bus through repetitive use and determine the schedule at your particular stop from there.  While the bus is usually on time from the beginning point in the city centre, the arrival at your stop is dictated by traffic, how many stops it has to make, how many people want to engage the driver in conversation or ask for directions, etc.  It turns out this couple were headed to the Prom and were curious about the stop time at my bus stop, so I was able to give them an overall view of the approximate schedule according to my observations.  The woman told me, “You should be a tour guide!”  What a compliment!

We have observed on more than one occasion that we do seem to know much more about this town than a lot of people who live here.  I was having lunch at Java’s, one of my new favorite places to eat, when I overheard two women talking about a bar the name of which one woman could not quite recall.  I knew precisely which one they were talking about and wanted to contribute to the conversation but just sat quietly as they sussed it out themselves.  I did, however, allow myself a moment of smug superiority.

We haven’t blended entirely yet.  People still ask us how long we are here visiting.  It’s just a lot more satisfying telling them we’ve been here for 4 months now and are loving every minute of it.

— Cindy