It’s beginning to look a lot like …

Winter!  I awoke the other morning, threw open the curtains and there was snow on the ground.  Actual snow!  A few moments later it began to hail and I wondered if it actually was snow, but Claude assured me later that it really was.

The weather has taken a decidedly wintry turn since then, with howling winds and lashing rains, along with some flooding along the coastal areas.  On our weekly trek into the city to the farmer’s market we saw seaweed strewn across the road.  Quite astonishing.

With Christmas day now nearly upon us – finally, it’s almost over – it’s been interesting to find how many people we have established relationships with over the past two years.  Ron at the fruit & veg stand who always knocks a euro or two off the total because we shop there every week; Layla at the bread stand who we’ve come to know fairly well, who married the baker Jonah last year, and is a pretty, vital young woman who always has a smile on her face; Hugo and Stefania at the cheesemongers stand who always have an interesting new cheese for us to try (Chocolate cheese? You bet I’ll try it!); Vinny & Ally at the Candyland shop, purveyors of American goods – mostly sugary – whose kindness in saving aside our favorite things has lent a little touch of the familiar to our lives.  My new friend Delia whose apartment has the most wondrous view of the bay and the diving board, and whose need for someone with technical savvy gives me the opportunity to visit with her and take in that view, and to enjoy her tea, cakes and biscuits, and hear her amazing stories of a long life well lived.  All my lovely cohorts in the MS exercise class who were slow to accept me but finally treat me as one of their own.  All the wonderful people I work with at my two volunteer jobs, and the friendships I’ve been lucky to forge with a special few.  And the people who have come and gone during our time in Galway who are not forgotten and with whom we connect when they come back to the City of the Tribes.

Just this minute the sun has broken through the clouds and shines brightly, however briefly, on the water of the bay, this morning dull and gray, now a shining bright silver.  The beginning of the lengthening of the days brings hope and happiness to our little corner of Ireland.

Happy holidays to you and yours and a prosperous and healthy 2014 to you!

— Cindy

Winter in the garden

Winter in the garden

Brrr!

Brrr!

Dublin in March

Earlier this week we found ourselves with the opportunity to spend a bit of an extended weekend in Dublin.  On Thursday we hopped the express bus for the city with smiles on our faces and arrived to a storm of freezing temps, blasting rain and whipping wind!  The hotel I had booked is behind the O2 stadium but the bus dropped us at least 4 blocks too far west, so there we were stuck walking through the storm to the hotel.  The wind took Claude’s hat and plopped it right into the middle of the street so we had to wait for traffic to clear in order for him to bolt out into the road and recover it.  By that time it was soaking wet – good thing I had an extra stocking cap on hand!  From there the weekend could only get better.

For this stay I chose the Gibson Hotel, themed after the guitar.  It’s ultra-modern with all the amenities I wanted including being situated at the terminus of the Luas tram line for ease of travel into the city.  While I’m not very impressed with their bar and food service – I had to deliberately make my presence known each time I went in – I did get a delicious and reasonably priced cosmo.  Otherwise it was a comfortable and fairly clean place with very helpful staff.

Friday’s weather was not much better, as a matter of fact it was colder than the evening before and still raining profusely.  I tried to purchase a Luas ticket from the machine at the stop but it broke in the middle of the process and gave my money back.  At that moment the rain got much harder and began to become hail.  I thought something I can’t repeat here and walked right over to the taxi waiting outside the hotel, jumped in and asked the driver to take me to the National Museum of Ireland: Decorative Arts and History.  He didn’t know which museum I was referring to so I had to use the typical Irish method of road direction and tell him what it was near.  As we drove we had conversation about the job situation in Ireland and I found out that he had a master’s degree in public administration from a university in Poland but driving cabs in Ireland was a better paying job!  He got me as close as he could to the front of the museum and apologized for me having to walk through the rain, but I told him it was no big deal because, “I’m from Galway!”

The museum is housed in an old army barracks and is built in the shape of a large rectangle with a big courtyard in the middle.  The public part of the museum is housed on 4 floors with many different galleries holding all types of items; the exhibitions include Irish silver, coins, curator’s choice, fashion, furniture, soldiers, jewelry.  The variety of items and rooms is quite fascinating!  I took a ton of pictures and ran the camera battery down.  I put them all together in a Flickr set for your perusal.

I was going to go visit the Leprechaun Museum too but I had walked all over the first museum and the weather was so miserable that I really didn’t feel like slogging through it to stand around for much longer.  Finally managed to purchase a Luas ticket from the machine and went back to the hotel where I ordered a sandwich and a soda in the bar and finished the book I was reading (The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry), then looked up restaurants for the evening meal, went up to our room, relaxed in front of the tube and had a small nap.

Being in the capital I decided that we had to take advantage of the variety of restaurants.  Since Claude rarely gets vegetarian choices beyond the standard veggie burger, curry or pasta dish, I chose to look up the vegetarian restaurants in the city center and found three – Cornucopia, Govinda’s and Delhi O’Deli.  I just thought the name was so clever that I chose Delhi O’Deli.  We took the tram into the heart of the city and wandered around until we found the restaurant.  It’s a little hole-in-the-wall diner with a very friendly owner and absolutely delicious Indian food.  Claude’s keen eye had spotted a Parisian bakery as we passed by on the way to the restaurant so we doubled back after the meal and stopped by for a lovely dessert.  We are definitely going to visit both places again.

On Saturday Claude asked me what I wanted to do so I said I wanted to see the Old Library at Trinity College.  We managed to purchase all day tickets for the tram from those infernal machines and headed over to the college.  We walked around Parliament Square for a bit, took a few pictures.  There’s a cool spinning sculpture outside the Berkeley Library, a large golden ball with cutouts (I got a couple pictures of it) that I tried to catch on video but my camera battery gave up the ghost.  We went inside the old library building, then realized that in order to see the library itself we would have to pay the admission price of €9 each because the Book of Kells is housed in this building.   Between the place being jammed with tourists and discussion of the fact that we will be visiting the building with Claude’s parents later this year, we decided to save the money and go somewhere else.  But not before buying a cool book on forgotten Irish words.

And since we were in the area, I chose to take Claude to Cornucopia for lunch.  The food was beautiful and so delicious.  They have a fantastic selection of dishes and a queue practically out the door at lunchtime.  This place will also be on our re-visit list.

In order to explore the city further we got on the red tram line and just rode it to the end.  Dublin takes up a lot of space and the little suburbs vary widely, some scruffy looking, overrun with graffiti, some pristine and beautiful.  Along the way we noticed a young man and his friend walking along a path — I saw a boy wearing a down vest with no sleeves and naked arms; Claude saw that the young man was walking a goat!  Later on, after the tram had stopped at the terminus and the driver came out to switch to the other end of the train, he asked us, “Did ye see the lad walking the goat?”  I laughed so hard.  The menfolk saw the strange creature, the mother in me saw the boy risking exposure illness!

When we got back to the city we hopped on the other tram, the green line, and rode it out to the terminus and back.  Again we saw a wide variety of suburbs.  At one point a woman got on the tram with a baby in a gigantic pram and a little one of about 2 dragging his tiny bicycle.  The kid kept making adorable observations all the way in to the city.

By the time we finished with all our walking and riding we were pretty much set to head home.  We went back to the hotel and retrieved our bag, I grabbed a snack and a cosmo at the bar, and we managed to catch our bus home.  During the ride we swore we smelled the skunky odor of some fine weed but couldn’t figure out how someone was managing to get high on the bus without the smoke or getting busted by the driver.  It was wild.  Got home and stopped at a bar we had not yet visited which was located right by our bus stop, had some yummy burgers and watched a little rugby – Leinster beat Glasgow! – and caught the bus home.  After freezing our butts off in Dublin for 2 days Galway was practically balmy.  A nice walk by the sea before getting home was simply lovely.

Dublin is a great place to visit, for sure, but Galway is most definitely home.

— Cindy

Another Galway spring

Over the last few months we have been adjusting to a new schedule, what with Claude starting his new job – and now spring is revealing itself in all its cold, sunny glory.  The birds are singing regularly now.  One day as we were walking home from our Saturday marketing we noticed a large lump of dirt at the side of the path we take to get to and from the main road.  It looked like it was something that had been dumped from a pot.  It sat there for several weeks.  One day Claude noticed it was sprouting something, so he brought it home and plopped it down in the garden.  And now, lo and behold, it has produced some lovely blooms and promises to produce even more over the next few weeks!

I am still volunteering with Age Action but that’s simply not enough to do.  A friend asked me if I was certain that my visa means I cannot work at all, so I went down to the Citizen’s Information office to ask.  I was put on the phone with a woman at the Integration Office who told me in no uncertain terms that I am not allowed to work for money at all, period.  So I’ve applied to volunteer at several different jobs including as an English language conversational tutor; that one has me excited to meet some interesting people.

The sun has been shining more than it has been raining so people are pretty happy.  There are a lot of them out and about on the Prom every day.  I have fresh daffodils on the mantelpiece all the time now, and today I purchased a little pot of shamrocks.  The spring veggies are abundant at the market.  We have been able to purchase bread again at our favorite stand; the baker had been out of commission with carpal tunnel for a while and his brother had taken over but the bread just wasn’t quite the same.  I’ve been baking a lot of treats, partly in lieu of turning on the heat and partly to have something nice for dessert in the evenings.  Today we bought Claude some new shoes because he essentially broke his last pair.  Getting him to shop is always a struggle but when he’s in need it’s a lot easier.

Somehow we managed to get three 3-day weekends in a row this month.  I love having more time with Claude!  The end of the month holds a number of fun things in store, such as the Galway Food Festival, the Woodquay Market (live animals!) and an evening out to see comedian Reginald D. Hunter.

Happy Spring everyone!

— Cindy

Chives and Shamrock

Chives and Shamrock

Flowerpot blooms

Flowerpot blooms

Peanut butter cookies

Peanut butter cookies

Robin in the garden

Robin in the garden

A fall market day

Another beautiful sunny autumn day in Galway.  We picked up fresh bread, the week’s fruit & veg, and hit the pharmacy and the grocery store – boy, was our shopping trolley full!  Enough of the vendors know us now that we get great bargains on their goods.  Ah, the joys of living in a small town with big city aspirations.

There’s a man who rides the Salthill bus on a regular basis who is confined to a wheelchair.  He usually travels with his wife.  Occasionally our paths cross.  Today Claude & I were sitting down taking a small break before heading to the bus stop to catch our ride home and this man wheeled up to us.  Claude, being the friendly fellow that he is, greeted the man.  He began speaking to us very quietly and slowly, it was difficult to understand him.  As I leaned in I realized he was telling us he has motor neuron disease and asked if we knew what that was.  I told him I have MS and so do understand neurological disease and he nodded knowingly.  Then he sold us a raffle ticket to support the MNDA of Ireland.  Well, I sure wasn’t going to say no, the man’s practically a neighbor.

We came out of the shopping center about 15 minutes early for our bus so I decided to take another wobbly video, this time of Eyre Square, the park in the middle of Galway City.  It’s a very interesting place, a gathering point for all kinds of people, and the place where they put the Christmas Market at the end of the year.

I may just make my wobbly videos a hallmark of our travels from now on.  Be warned.

— Cindy

 

Super Noodles

Not so super.  They turn out grotesquely mushy if you cook them to the package directions.  And they’re terribly in need of salt.  Plus, contrary to the website’s purported selection, my local grocer gives me a choice of Chicken, Barbecue Beef and Mild Curry.  (“Mild” makes me chuckle.  Poor delicate British & Irish palates.  However, between the imported-from-SE Asia noodles and these, I can’t find a spice combination that suits my palate.)  I’ve figured out the combination of cooking & spicing to make them edible – but that just makes me miss Ramen Noodles even more.  How gastronomically disgusting is that?

While I’m on the subject, Irish peanut butter is pretty dry.  And the containers they package it in are just so ridiculously shaped that it is literally impossible to remove every scrap of peanut butter from the jar!  Thank goodness for the Candyland store and their selection of American peanut butters.

Still looking for lard without meat products.  Amazon UK has a German product but it looks more like a stick of butter, and no reviews or detailed info on specifics.  The online Mexican shop in Dublin doesn’t even have it.  They have 5″ flour tortillas but for 12 @ €5 + shipping I think it would better to just make my own.

Could use a decent selection of sponges here too, but my sister kindly sent me some a few months ago and I’m making them last as looooong as possible.

— Cindy

Home again

It is oh so good to be back in Galway again!  Our jaunt around the continent was a trip of a lifetime, indeed!  But to be home in my comfy chair is also very rewarding.

We did our regular Saturday marketing today and noticed some new shops and a new theater have opened in our absence.  The Prom is packed with people enjoying the beautiful sunny Galway day and the brisk, cool breeze along with their water play.  The fridge is now full again and the Olympic cycling is on.  How lovely to simply sit back and enjoy relaxing in our little apartment.

Rather than writing about our European adventures here, we are going to create a blog to chronicle our adventure.  Will post the URL as soon as it’s available.  Stay tuned…

— Cindy

Assimilatin’

Today is Wednesday so it’s my volunteer day with Age Action.  I have two wonderful learners this time around, two gents whose company make the time just fly by.  I taught one of them how to consolidate his photos and delete the ones he didn’t want, while the other spent the whole time teaching himself how to write a letter with the word processor.  The budding typist gets on the bus at Salthill so today we spent the ride chatting.  I seem to find myself telling anyone and everyone about the imminent visit of our daughters.  (I’m kind of excited about it!)

It’s another gorgeous Galway day, not too hot, just enough sun to stay warm, a light breeze to stay refreshed.  After class I wanted to return a library book and hit the used bookstore to swap some used books for something to read while traveling.  I found just what I wanted.  By then I was starving so I made my way over to a restaurant I like that serves a delicious Irish lamb stew and has tables outside but is off the overly-trodden path.  Ordered my food, found a table out front nestled in the corner and settled in with my book.  Toward the end of the meal a man came and apologetically asked if he could sit at the table next to me.  Hey, no problem, I’m getting used to this close quarters kind of Euro lifestyle…  Then he began chatting me up.  I could have been stand-offish at that point but I’ve decided to stop being so American and start opening up to new people – so I put aside my book and we began chatting.  He had this lovely British accent that reminded of the accent of the character of Del in Wayne’s World 2.  He told me how he likes to interrupt people who are reading and engage them in conversation because you can read any time but you don’t always get the chance to talk to a new person, how he thinks that everyone the world over should start the day with a big hug, he asked where I am from, talked about how he went to North Carolina when he was young to study but life beckoned him and he followed, about the time he lived in Paris in one room and how the landlady would bring him croissant and hot chocolate every single morning.  I told him about our daughters coming to visit and that we were taking them to Paris and he recommended that we just “bounce around” and try not to plan too much.  Then it was time for me to walk off my lunch – but I was very glad I took the time to speak with him.

I got the rest of my shopping done – thank goodness for the new shopping trolley!  I might look like an old lady but that thing has already proven to be well worth the purchase price.  I got to the bus stop and there was a tremendous group of young German kids, none over 21, who were waiting for the same bus I take, of course.  I’ve been too judgmental when it comes to the groups of youths wandering around Galway so I decided I was just going to relax and go with the flow.  I even saved them the hassle of catching the wrong bus by letting them know which one to look for.  At that point an elderly woman came up and asked me if she was in the right place for the Salthill bus… and we got to chatting.  We managed to get decent seats – surprise! – and the kids were quite well-behaved.  She was on her way out to the ocean because it was such a lovely day, the sun was out and it was simply too nice to go home just yet.  She and I chatted all the way out to where she got off at the Prom.  I, of course, told her about being American, Claude’s job at the university, the girls coming to visit.  She told me she had friends coming from Florida next week, about the cake she was baking for them, about her volunteer work.  

I find myself thinking about the end of Claude’s contract, even though it is still months away, and hoping against hope that it gets renewed.  After all, I think we’re just starting to really get the hang of being Irish!  T’would be a shame to let all that learnin’ go to waste, now.

— Cindy