Ah, crunchy leaves…

Some may recall my plaintive cry back in November of last year, the one in which I declared all the things I missed about home.  Where I come from the crunchy leaves come in September and October.  I have now discovered that, here in Galway, they arrive in August.

I still miss my children (every single day), my family and my friends.  I still wish I had a reasonably sized refrigerator – I think Coleman makes coolers that are larger than my fridge.  My mobility is up due to the fact that I have to walk everywhere.  The buses are now on a reasonably regular schedule, with the occasional glitch.  And I’m getting used to which stores sell what product(s) I need.  The Saturday market is definitely an added bonus.

It’s amazing what difference a year makes.  And now I’m going into town to my volunteer job – no pay but at least I’m not sitting home bored out of my mind and I get to meet new and interesting people – and on the way I might just find some crunchy leaves.

— Cindy

Day trip to Dublin

Well, we’ve been trying to find a massage therapist in Galway who owns a table that has the face cradle in it and having no luck at all.  You wouldn’t think it would be all that hard to find, but alas…  You can bet your bottom dollar that I’m not going to pay €55 and up for a massage during which I have to keep my head cocked to one side, essentially ruining any benefits a neck or shoulder massaging would provide.  So in pursuit of a desperately needed massage for both of us after our long holiday, I went ahead and found a therapist in Dublin who met all my requirements.  And since we were going to have to pay for bus tickets to get there, I decided we would make an entire day of it.  The bus ride isn’t all that bad, just 2.5 hours, but it can get a little tiresome once you’ve done it a few times.  However, the excitement of being back in the “big city” is quite palpable.

(Keep in mind that we lived in Denver, Colorado before we moved to Ireland – a city with a metropolitan population of over 2.5 million people and an area of over 150 square miles.  So to call Dublin, with an area of 44 square miles and a metropolitan population of 1.8 million people, the “big city” is just small-town Galway conceit talking.)

We made our way over toward the massage therapist’s office, stopping along the way to grab a quick lunch.  The city was hopping, lots of tourists – we heard a lot of Spanish being spoken – and the weather was perfect, sunny and about 21 C (70 F).  We found the building with the clinic and were treated to a lovely set of stairs up to the 2nd floor.  Whoever decided that putting therapy clinics on 2nd and 3rd floors of buildings was a good idea should be slapped.  I realize that in limited space cities like Dublin they have little choice, but it’s tough for people like me who have a hard time with stairs to climb that many to get to the therapist.  Anyway, it was a nice place, the therapist was very sweet and understanding, I got an incredible deep tissue massage that still hurts-so-good today.  Claude enjoyed his massage as well.  Plus we got a discount through their monthly special.

Once we were finished with the massages, it was time for a small snack and a visit to a museum.  In walking over toward the museum we found ourselves at Merrion Square, the park in which there are tributes to Oscar Wilde and Bernardo O’Higgins.  After resting a while in the shade, we grabbed a quick bite at a pub and headed to the National Museum of Ireland Museum of Natural History.  The national museums in Ireland are free to the public – how civilized is that? – and this one is affectionately known as the “dead zoo.”  The building itself is well over 100 years old so the display space and cases are the same age.  It makes for a unique and very interesting experience.  The most intriguing part of the museum is the 2nd floor (up the stairs again, ugh), where the animals are mostly encased in large glass cases, or the larger ones are just out there in the open air for display.  There are several more floors with exhibits on display but due to the age of the building and the lack of emergency exits on those floors, visitors are no longer allowed to see them.  What a shame, as I’m sure there are some amazing displays there!  The docent working the floor directed me over to a cute little display of a hedgehog whose taxidermist decided to give him a smile.  It was a cool place to see.

The museum closed at 5 but our dinner reservation wasn’t until 6, so we wandered off toward St. Stephen’s Green to enjoy yet another of Dublin’s beautiful mid-city parks.  On this day the artists were out in force and displaying their wares along the park fence.  We strolled the length of the fence enjoying the various canvases and discussing what we did and did not like.  Then we strolled through the crowds on the shopping mall and made our way slowly to the restaurant.

I have complained before about the disturbing lack of anything even remotely resembling Mexican food in Galway and figured it extended to the entirety of Ireland, so when my friend from Massachusetts said she knew of a good restaurant in Dublin (Acapulco), I thought we would take a shot and see if she was right.  Wellllll…  It was just okay.  First of all, there is no such thing as a decent flour tortilla in all of the country.  They’re “wraps,” skinny little pseudo-flour tortillas that pass for the real thing.  I ordered the supreme nachos for a starter.  Jalapenos were promised on the menu, but nary a chile was to be found.  The pico de gallo had a bit of a kick and there was guacamole, albeit very weak.  I ordered a margarita reluctantly but they didn’t have any other cocktails or wine by the glass.  I say reluctantly because tequila and I have never been good friends…however I was hoping this time would be different.  It wasn’t.  I don’t blame the barman, I just really don’t like margs.  Claude ordered veggie enchiladas, which were served smothered in a nice green sauce and accompanied by a lovely corn salsa.  I ordered a beef chimichanga which had a nice flavor and was accompanied by dry yet edible Spanish rice and the same corn salsa.  But those damnable wraps!  And they were incredibly sparing with the sour cream.  As part of the 3-course meal (priced at a very reasonable €20!) dessert was included, so of course I ordered the deep fried ice cream.  Blech!  It was pretty nasty.  The lesson here is: 1) never take Mexican meal advice from a north-easterner Yankee :); and 2) don’t expect real Mexican food in Ireland, period.  I must add, however, that the restaurant is beautifully decorated with the traditional bright colors and tiles, and the wait staff is very friendly and welcoming.  If you don’t know any better it seems authentic.  And while they didn’t play traditional Mexican music, at least it’s not that techno-pop crap that plays everywhere else.  I think we even heard Al Green!

After the meal we meandered some more, this time toward Temple Bar, which was in the general direction of our bus stop.  This being a Saturday night the place was jam-packed, especially with hen parties.  There are few things more amusing than a gaggle of drunk chicks celebrating like sailors just before a wedding!  We people-watched for a while, wobbling girls in sky-high heels, strangely dressed hippies, tourists trying to take it all in.  Fun!  We found an open candy shop that was piping kiddie music and stepped inside just in time for the full rendition of It’s a Small World.  GAWD!  We snagged a couple of giant Tootsie Rolls and got out of there.  Claude steered us down a small street that led back to the quays where we could catch our bus home.

We suddenly found ourselves in an intriguing environment – the walls were adorned with large-scale portraits of Irish authors, playwrights and poets, displayed along with names of their most famous works and quotes.  There were various other pieces of art, all of them focusing on people who most would consider icons in the disciplines in which they perform.  (Unfortunately I was so gobsmacked that I neglected to get more than one picture!)  At the end of this street was a place called The Icon Factory, an artists cooperative displaying the artwork found on the walls lining the street and offering same for sale.  The woman who was working there was extremely friendly, welcomed us into the space and began regaling us with the philosophy behind the project.  She was a fascinating woman!  We spent about a half an hour chatting with her about the project, art, and life in Ireland.  She invited us to a showing of her art at a gallery in Dublin but we had to reluctantly decline.  I’m going to try to keep an eye on this project and see if it pans out.  Of course, we invited her to Galway to see for herself what a culturally vibrant city it is, so maybe we will see her again…

I had misremembered the time of departure for the bus we had booked and so we had to take the one that was an hour later.  That’s always a gamble because the bus driver has the discretion to not let you on…but we got lucky and got seats anyway.  We got to see an absolutely gorgeous sunset from the bus on the way out of the city.  Another 2.5 hours home, a quick cab ride, and we were back in our little apartment.  And another exciting Irish adventure behind us!

— Cindy

On Service Wait Staff and Culture

In our travels about the continent, here in Ireland and across the States, we have eaten a great number of meals in true restaurants.  Here I distinguish a true restaurant from a false one by the presence of wait staff.  That is, McDonalds, SuperMacs, and White Castle (where Harold and Kumar went), are not true restaurants while Denny’s, Buffalo Grill, and your local favorite  table service  restaurant are.  Now that we have that sorted I can proceed….

There is a vast difference in the types — I hesitate to say levels — of service that one receives in different countries.  I put this down to differences in culture.  In the States one’s server tends to hurry over, introduce themselves with something like “Hi! I’m James, I’ll be your waiter.” (To which I always want to respond “Hi, I’m Claude, I’ll be your customer.”)  The server then makes sure you have a menu, gets the drink order, makes a little chit-chat and generally executes an excellent artificial schmoozing.  The server becomes an adjunct to one’s meal party.  During the course of the meal the server will continue to return to one’s table asking if the food is OK (generally right after one has taken a bite of food so can’t speak), will return constantly to ask about the meal and any desires and are even known to interrupt conversation.  While traveling in Europe I have noticed that the server will come by, ensure one has a menu, get drink orders and then retire from the scene until all members of the meal party have closed their menus — thus signalling they are ready to order.  The server takes the orders, brings the food, clears the plates after,  might ask if the party would like dessert, and then retreats into the background again.  They do not try to join one’s party, they don’t hover like an eavesdropper, and they don’t try to usher the party out by bringing the bill.  It has been a long time since I was traveling in Australia and I don’t recall the actions of the wait staff there.

So as an American traveling in Europe, remember that you and your party can expect to have quiet, intimate conversation without interruption, but you will have to be proactive to bring your meal to an end.  You have to get the attention of the server and ask for the bill — or perhaps dessert first.  Thus if you are on a tight schedule you might want to tell the server before you start so he or she can be more “attentive” (as they say in America).  It is not bad service when the server does not bring the bill after taking away the plates, in fact they are waiting for you to tell them you are done with your meal.  Perhaps you want some coffee/tea and a nice dessert while you and your companions talk on through the night.  Perhaps you want to head out and explore the city.  In either case the server will cater to your needs; you just have to let him/her know.

mmmmm food

For the European traveling in the States remember that the server is trying to make a social connection with you.  The server in the States probably makes less than minimum wage and is trying to make the social connection in order that you will feel more obliged to tip heartily.  They are not trying to hurry you along, just trying to be helpful.  When the bill arrives at the end, they are not trying to hurry you out — or perhaps they are.  I always think that US restaurants miss out on many dessert and after dinner sales because the bill is already there and asking to reopen the bill is just too much.

But wherever you are: enjoy your meal.

— Claude

More road trippin’…

Pastry Tour 2012

Got started early and drove north from Galway through Spiddal and Barna toward Connemara.  On the way we stopped at Recess for some snacks, to shop for souvenirs, and to see the Connemara Giant.  He’s pretty cool.  Joyce’s Craft Shop commissioned him “for no apparent reason.”  You can “friend” him on Facebook if you so choose.  We were headed up to Ballyconneely to drop Skyler off for a 2-hour horseback ride on the beach.  It took us quite a while to get there, spent most of the time almost convinced we were lost until we saw another sign leading us to the pony center…and so it went until we actually found it.  (I’m told the ride was a rousing success and that she enjoyed it very much.)  The rest of us went over to Kylemore Abbey to see the castle and enjoy the view.

As we had to have the…

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Road trip to the Burren…

Pastry Tour 2012

The girls flew into Dublin on July 6 and we met them at the airport.  From there we hopped the express bus to Galway, arrived home and gave them a chance to snooze and get acclimated.  That evening we went to see some groups participate in a haka competition in Woodquay.  As someone in the crowd said, “There’s nothing quite like a bunch of pasty white Irish guys doing the haka.”  It was pretty pitiful.  We gave up and went to dinner – the meal was much better than the entertainment.

The next day we dragged them along to do our Saturday marketing and show them a bit of the city center.  Erin wanted fish & chips so we stopped off at McDonough’s – frankly, I’ve had better.  Checked out Byrne’s book store and the Galway City Museum before heading back home to rest up some more and enjoy a…

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In which your hosts obtain a reprieve

As Claude said, he has been offered and accepted another position at DERI.  It offers the opportunity to work in a different area of research, however due to the pay structure at the university, he is already at the top of the scale and cannot anticipate or expect a raise in salary, ever.  A gentleman I was working with while I was volunteering at the Computer & Communications Museum said something to me that has really stuck with me (and always will).  He said, “Galway is where careers go to die.”  When I questioned him, he explained that he has known a number of people who, through promotional channels or by way of working ‘up the ladder’ at their respective occupations, have come to Galway to work… and never left.  They stop climbing the ladder, refuse subsequent promotions, etc., in order to stay right here in Galway.

I never imagined I would see the theory in action so soon after having been introduced to it.  But he’s right.

Thanks for being so welcoming Galway.  We’re here to stay for at least another year – and we couldn’t be happier.

— Cindy

Newly Minted Galwegian?

It’s been a while since I wrote anything here – and in that time our daughters have come to visit, we have toured the continent seeking out the best pastry and we have returned, I have been told that there is no more funding for my position after Oct 31, I have panicked, and I have been offered another position at DERI.

Restored building and unrestored foundations

Restored building and unrestored foundations at Carnuntum in Austria

The smart ones sitting in the shade at Carnuntum in Austria

The most striking thing about all of that is the moment in Austria when I realized that I was missing Galway.  We were wandering around in Carnuntum and it was hotter than blue blazes — OK not that hot but at least in the mid 30’s C (mid 90’s F).  We had ridden out on the train and discovered that we had to do a fair amount of walking to get to the ruins.  We got to the museum, enjoyed the cool interior and then moved out into the blazing sun to see the ruins and reconstructed building.  After which the smart ones rested in the shade.

While the heat was not as bad as Las Vegas — OK perhaps it was — I was reminded that while living there I began to feel like a vampire (and not the sparkly kind) in that the summer sun always felt like it was burning my skin.

Having been rejuvenated, or at least recharged, by the shade we walked back to the train station.  All the way I kept thinking that it was too hot and I longed for the coolness of Galway and the Salthill seaside.

I guess I am becoming Irish or at least a Galwegian.

— Claude