Monday, August 18, 2008

We return to heat and sunshine

We're back and we're tired.
Clare was an angel on the two plane rides and we actually got in 1/2 hour early.
The patron saint of air plane seats granted us an open space between us to spread out.
And for now, sleep.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Day 20

Clare turns four today. We woke her early to get out of the farmhouse with enough time to get to the Bunratty Castle and enjoy the folkpark. I made Clare her favorite peanut butter and jelly toast and put four candles in the corners, as is tradition in our house. She was nearly too tired to blow them out, but she made her wish and did her duty!

The drive North up to the Shannon area was rainy, but uneventful. We watched the hills roll by and the rain swish down. Along the way Tom saw about four properties he wanted, and we dreamed about Irish real estate the whole way through.

Clare was convinced that if she sang a little song that the sun would come out in time for us to enjoy the Bunratty Folkpark, so she began a little ditty. Sure enough, when we rolled into the parking lot, the clouds lifted and the sun shone. She sure was proud of herself.

Bunratty is a restored castle and grounds, and they have many thatched cottages that include period furnishing and interiors. We wandered the castle and park grounds, pet a donkey and a horse, fed some scraggly Irish wolfhounds, watched two plump and beautiful Irish women peel apples for pies, and ducked our heads into a few re-created Irish cottages.

After a beer or two at the original Durty Nellie’s pub just outside the grounds, we headed to the Bunratty Lodge to unload for the last time and rest a bit before dinner. Mary, the proprietor suggested a restaurant called The Red Door, and it sure didn’t disappoint. It was perhaps the most expensive meal we had had, but it surely was the best. After and appetizers of mussels, the stuffed chicken breast with hazelnuts and cheese, duck confit, fresh halibut, stuffed ham, and pasta for the tot were wonderful entrees. They brought out ice cream (with Jello underneath: a kid’s dream) with a candle, and Clare and Colin got to wish on their respective birthdays again.

Day 19

Day19: This was our last day in the cottage but we thought we’d try to go pony trekking if the weather held. We woke a bit early, drove over to a sign pointing uphill that said Dunbeacon Equestrian Center, and took the small road back into the valley forever. It was beautiful, but we were disappointed to not find anything.

We headed into Bantry with a flyer that promised pony trekking that I had picked up in town a few days back. We drove past the street we were looking for and looped back. Once on the right road we hit roadwork and a dead end. We looped all the way around the valley, crossed a lovely little lake, [Lough Bonine”] and wound up through the thickets onto tinier and tinier roads. Finally we came across a man with very few teeth leading two mountain goats directly towards us. Turns out he’s the proprietor of the trekking and small animal “farm” and he was disappointed we didn’t have reservations.

We were disappointed, too, when we pulled up the road to the “farm”. The horses looked miserable in small, dirty concrete stables, and the assorted other animals in their pens looked miserable, too. The Irish wolfhound laying in the driveway had a scruffy, matted coat and barely lifted his head when we arrived. A small beagle sat forlornly in the window of the glass house bench and stared unblinkingly at the ground. Six or seven other large dogs were barking from their pen behind stall # 7. Two goats peered around the corner of stall #1 and bleated. I just wanted to get the hell out of there, and made it clear that we would not be TOO put out if they couldn’t work us in.

Saved by a car pulling up that held people with reservations, we bowed out and scooted back down the hill. What a bitter disappointment to go driving all over hell and back and then not go trekking, but what an even more deplorable situation for those animals! I felt depressed just being there.

We drove back into Bantry and decided to get out and explore the boot sale in progress. Fridays are evidently market days in most towns, and a boot sale is exactly like our garage sales, except those selling items stuff everything into their car’s “boot” (that’s what they call the trunk) and bring it to the town square to hawk. They can be quite the treasure hunts, and there are also stands where local artisans sell woodworking, glass, jewelry, plants, herbs, cheeses, honey, cured meats, and the like. What fun. Clare picked up some frosted glass pebbles, and Colin picked up some books and a clock shaped like a life preserver that says “Welcome Aboard”. Tom raided the funny Frenchman’s stall for marinated artichoke hearts and vegetarian dolmades.

We lunched at the Atlanta Café again (this time it was French onion soup and sandwiches) and wandered back to our car. We tried to find the local strand near our cottage one more time, but gave up on a rickety road that led to nowhere. It seems to be a running theme this trip.

Time to pack up, eat meatball sandwiches, and try to finish all the food in the fridge before we have to head out tomorrow morning.

téigh in éag (means: to end!)

Day 18

Day 18: You wouldn’t believe the racket cows make. The herd that is stationed in the field next to us have decided to trade gentle lowing for gut-vibrating honks, snorts, and near-donkey-like braying. One would wonder if they aren’t particularly pissed off about something.

They certainly weren’t happy with us last night (early this morning, really) as, in a slightly intoxicated state, Colin, Kari, Tom and I went outside at 1:30 a.m. to finally see the stars. Millions and millions of stars. There was actually enough starlight to photograph. Well, our quiet conversation unnerved Bessie and her friends, and they started yelling at us from over the hill. It rather sounded like they were saying “H---eeeyyy! HH---EEEYYY! Shut up over there!” That didn’t help our giggling and soon there was a ruckus of cows and people, them mooing ferociously and us dissolving into helpless inebriated laughter.

The weather blessed us with beauty this morning, and huge billowing clouds around the edges of the landscape look as though they don’t hold much rain. My stomach hates me from too much alcohol last night, so I stayed at the cottage and sent the whole gang to Barley Cove beach. I’m sad to not be there, but I’m sitting here staring out huge windows that overlook the Dunmanus Bay. A chilly but refreshing breeze is lifting off the water and the birds are falling over themselves to be the loudest singer. The cows are actually lowing, not bellowing like usual, and the collective hum of the bees in the fuchsia hedges in nearly a full-time drone. I hung laundry on the line and it looks like a bunch of blue and black sails are trying to cross the grassy courtyard. I’m watching the clouds pass over the distant hill, dragging shadows across its green and rocky landscape.

It’s nice to be alone. There’s such a difference between solitude and loneliness. I’ve been with people 24/7 for nearly two and a half weeks now, and I was ready to hear my own head humming for a while.

Tom’s trip to Barley Cove with the rest of the tribe proved to be filled with beauty and laughter. Clare and Tom introduced Kari and Colin to the wonder of the beach there. We brought our lunch so there was no reason to leave. We napped in the sand dunes and splashed in the tidal pools. Colin made Clare into a sand mermaid and we watched as the tide came in so rapidly that our little island soon disappeared beneath the water. The beach is a football field deep and very shallow. It makes for great frolicking for a soon-to-be 4 year old, not to mention the old fart she’s with!

Upon leaving Barley Cove we drove on further towards Mizen Head to the village of Crookhaven. The road follows the coast and winds its way past small bays and eventually to the village. The water is incredibly clear and an azure blue you wouldn’t believe is possible in Ireland. It looks more like the Caribbean than the north Atlantic. Crookhaven is the place to go for watersports in the area. There is sailing and windsurfing and jetskis and plenty of beaches for swimming and snorkeling. After coming home we all took naps then watched the Olympics in between Clare’s movies. We brought a few of Clare’s favorites, they have come in very handy when you need her to slow down and chill.
Lisa and Kari made a wonderful dinner of roasted chickenm glazed carrot, rosemary potatoes with a side of vegetarian pizza. We all got to bed fairly early.

téigh in éag (means: to end!)

Day 17

Day 17: After the lashing storm of last night, we didn’t hold out much hope for the weather today, and indeed it was still blowing gales well into the morning. But by noon it looked as though it might brighten up and we made plans, hell or high windstorm, to head north into Glengarriff to have lunch.

The Park Bistro is connected to the Glengarriff Lodge and Spa, and since we ate there with Bill and Cindy and Laura, we knew the food was excellent, and they had Wifi we could tap into. It did not disappoint. Clare ate a chicken-sundried tomatoes-broccoli plate of pasta with that was bigger than her head (thereby breaking the first rule of life). Tom and Lisa split the roast beef and burger (yum, and yum) and Colin and Kari each got a fine tuna sandwich.

After uploading more blog entries and chasing down our waitress for the check (why do they always go MIA right after they serve the food?) we noticed that the weather was clearing and settling a bit. So we hopped into the car and headed out the Beara peninsula to see what we could see. We had designs to go all the way to Castletownebere but just outside Glengarriff we pulled into a scenic stop and met Kevin, who owns a lovely little red and blue boat named Miss Ellen. He offered to take us on a half-hour loop around Garnish Island and past the seals on Seal Rock for “a tenner a head”. Now, everything around here costs a tenner a head to get in (it’s about $17) so we thought, why not!

We all piled into the little painted boat, and I took a death grip on Clare, as she was so excited her little butt couldn’t sit still. Kevin was a sweet man, and he navigated the boat gently around Glengarriff Harbor, and past the promised Seal Rocks (there was a one-month old baby seal sunning itself next to its mother). A number of sleek, dark, curious heads kept popping up out of the water to monitor our progress. The seals looked very fat on the bay’s abundant mackerel, and their plump bodies appeared taut with health.

Kevin chattered on amiably about the harbor, the golf courses, the birds, mussel farming, the water, California, and he pointed out the house of the actress Maureen O’Hara on the curve of the bay. As we rounded Garnish Island we could see the edges of the Italian garden and its structures. A Martello tower sat prominently in the middle of the lushly forested Island.

The bay was calm and the wind blew lightly, but we all could see a huge rain cloud scudding quickly towards us. Just as we finished our tour and were puttering back to the dock, it began to spit. By the time we were headed up the ramp and towards our car, the cloud let go. It was almost as though it were perfectly timed: “okay, let’s clear up for 45 minutes so they can relax and bask in the beauty of the bay, and then just as they finish, let’s get back to business”. We all commented on what a perfect little trip that turned out to be.

We clicked ourselves back into the car and headed down the peninsula towards Castletownebere and wound our way through little hamlets such as Hungry Hill and Curryglass and Adrigole. As we approached Castletownebere, traffic slowed and Gardai (police) redirected the flow around the city center. We didn’t remember our conversation the day before about Colin Farrell doing a movie in the city center, and it was too crazy with movie people and gawkers to stop and properly enjoy the town. So, we turned around and headed back! It was a lovely, scenic drive, and after stopping in Bantry for a few provisions, we decided we hadn’t seen much of Durrus’ seven shops, so we stopped first at The Sheep’s Head pub to check out the scene. It was respectable enough, with what looked like good food coming out of the kitchen. After we tested the Murphy’s beer to make sure it was up to snuff, we strolled over to Ross Pub.

I took a photo of Tom and Clare outside the pub for our friend, Richard Ross. Contrasted with The Sheep’s Head pub, Ross was totally old school. It was a 15-foot by 15-foot square room with ripped naughahyde low stools, three low tables, and about 8 seats at the bar. Every conceivable space was covered in posters and flyers, some many years old, some offering help building or mending fences (what a metaphor), and some for upcoming events. A dirty sweatshirt was crumpled in the corner and decades of eau-de-cigarette-smoke permeated the depths of the fabric-covered bench seats. There were many kids in the bar as well. This was obviously the “local’s” pub. We loved it. We tested their Murphy’s and Jameson to make sure it wasn’t poisoned or anything, and then headed off to the cottage for our evening repast.

Kari and I cooked up a nice meal of mushroom toast appetizers, roasted cherry tomato and basil penne, and a crispy salad. Whiskey, wine, beer, and Bailey’s flowed, and before we knew it we were outside at 1:30am giggling and looking at the great swath of stars arcing overhead. See the next blog entry for more on that, because technically, it was the next day.:)

téigh in éag (means: to end!)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Day 16

Day 16: A lazy morning evolved into a lazy ham and eggs lunch cooked here, and then a plan was hatched to tour Skibbereen, Ballydehob, Baltimore and Schull. Since the day was partially sunny and the rain was only coming intermittently down every hour or so, we made the pretty drive through the first two cities, decided there wasn’t much to stop for, and made our way to Baltimore.

Clare was having a bit if an aneurysm from being cooped up by the bad weather and long car trips, so we found a playground for her to climb and run and let out some of that pent up energy. Colin and Kari climbed the main street into town and sat at an outdoor pub overlooking the wind-whipped bay.

After Clare got her fill of swings and things we made our way up to join them and to people watch the afternoon away. There was a large St. Bernard named Cooper wandering the streets and he got a scratch from everybody as he wandered by. We found it amusing that the kids were calling out “Look, mommy, a Saint Burr-nerd.” I guess you say potato, I say pah-tah-to, and these kids saw a Burr-nerd where we would have seen a Ber-nard. Also amusing is that fact that they say tah-mah-to and yet also say potato normally. Aren’t they supposed to match pronunciations?

The wind was really whipping the bay, but that didn’t stop a large group of young teenagers from jumping into their respective “lasers” and heading out into the brownish churning whitecaps. Tiny sailboats were darting about the bay, and the seabirds where wheeling to stay up in the wind shears. After deciding we’d eat “dinch” or “linner” in Schull, we made the rest of the drive over to this little town.

We had a nice meal at the Bunratty Bar at the top of the street in Schull, with Kari putting away an impressive amount of a crab salad, Lisa polishing off a shrimp sandwich and chowder, Clare finishing her fish fingers, Colin devouring a double burger, and Tom plowing through a steak and onion sandwich.

Afterward we walked to Gwen’s handmade chocolate shop and bought a few pieces of decadence for dessert. Tom and Clare had ice cream cones, and as we walked down the street to meet up with Colin and Kari, I looked up to see a huge double rainbow bending over the tops of the buildings. Of course, catching a rainbow on film (or chip as it may be) isn’t easy, but after a few attempts, it was captured, and Laura would be very proud of the results, though sad she missed it.

We had parked our car near the playground in Schull, so Clare got a second round of running about while Colin watched the boats in the harbor, Kari and Lisa threw a stick for a patient and extremely attentive Border Collie, and Tom supervised Clare’s forays into the jungle gym.

We returned to the cottage and rested a while, enjoying the dappled early evening sunshine, but shivering at the cold coming in on the persistent wind. While Clare watched her Animal Rescue DVD and Milo and Otis movie, Colin and Kari and Tom and I sat around the kitchen table and talked over a smorgasbord of cheese and crackers, sour apples and chocolate, red wine and whiskey, and the obligatory baguette with pounds of butter.

That night a raging storm moved in, with rain falling horizontally due to the gale force winds smashing against the house. It felt like we were on a boat due to our bedroom’s position at the end of the L of the house, and the winds crashed against the plate glass windows at the foot of our bed throughout the entire night. We figured it would pass over, but still it raged on, louder and louder throughout the early hours of the morning. It sounded as though the roof might come off, and the fierce rattling was getting even fiercer. Somewhere around 3 am, as we were still awake from the racket, Tom said “I don’t think I could live in this weather”. Poor dear.

téigh in éag (means: to end!)

Day 15

Day 15: Rain, spitting, mist, clearing, wind. Repeat. This has been the recipe for weather this summer in Ireland. Everyone is talking about how it’s the dreariest summer in ages, and how the weather has been declining into instability over the past few years. On the news this morning they said that they used to count on six weeks of beautiful weather in the summer, but no more.

Colin and Kari slept nearly until noon to replenish their bodies some much-needed rest. When they rose we decided to go into Glengarrif to have a little lookaround and get out of the house. After stopping at the recycling center and making a great racket crashing the bottles and cans into the recycling domes, we drove in the lashing rain to Glengarrif.

A stop in Quills netted Colin a linen tablecloth and napkins, and a stop at the Cottage Inn netted a zero in terms of lunch quality. On account of the rain we gave up the sightseeing and headed into Bantry to the Supervalue greocery. We should have a credit card there, we drop so much cash. The rain was simply gunning down when we left and continued to lash when we arrived home.

Clare had, as is usual, fallen asleep just 5 minutes from the cottage, and I sent everybody inside while I sat with her in the car. Usually she’ll sleep 20 minutes and roust about, ready to go, but after an hour, she was still zonked. I was quite enjoying myself, thinking and resting in the car, protected from the Irish rain, while holding her head and hand. When the hour was up I went inside and put her in my bed, where she slept for another hour. At seven pm we finally woke her. I think, like Colin and Kari, she needed to catch up on sleep.

As evening neared Colin sat in the front window which overlooks Dunmanus Bay and worked his watercolors. Kari sat peaceably beside him, knitting the beginnings of a rose colored scarf. Clare whipped up a few beautiful abstracts in vivid brushstrokes with her own paint set. Tom rested while watching the Olympics swimming excitement, and Lisa typed away, trying both to catch all the little quiet details that make a vacation an experience, and also in attempt to flesh out a few exercises for both her English classes this fall.

After a tickle fight between Colin and Clare, we had a lovely dinner of rose-colored trout, barely steamed broccoli, and basmati rice with a lovely little Semillion-Sauvingon Blanc for dinner. Lisa picked up a nice little pear and custard tart earlier at the supermarket and that finished off a nice meal.

More rain is forecasted for tomorrow, and people are being advised to stay off the roads, so we don’t know quite what to plan. Probably it will be a trip to Mizen Head to see the cliffs. The weather here is almost as fun as it is in Italy. Whereas the Italian version of delivering the weather is to shrug, point, wave about the hands while pointing at numerous unintelligible symbols on the greenscreen while speaking for many many minutes on end, Irish weather is a sheepish young newscaster huddled at the edge of a large green island covered in black cloud symbols, most with sun peeking out. He or she will say: Showers today, heavy at times, with spells of sunshine. Heavy downpours and periods of sunny clearing will continue into the evening. For tomorrow: more of the same. Tom and I look at each other and giggle every time.

téigh in éag (means: to end!)