Pretending to be on Vacation in my Kitchen

I woke up this morning with a hankering for Guinness Beef Stew. When we were in Doolin on our (forced march) tour to Galway I had a marvelous shiny brown bowl of the stuff and here in sunny California with two days off to enjoy, I couldn’t think of a better way to pretend to be on vacation for a brief moment. Even reading Ginger Rutland’s review of Michael Lewis’ Vanity Fair article “California and Bust” describing California’s civic and financial collapse couldn’t dampen my spirits. I am alive, relatively healthy, and employed with great friends and family–why be depressed about my “scary” state?
I shared the stew proposition with my sweetie and the negotiations began–which pot to use, which method, which recipe, should we also have soda bread–cripes! It became a negotiation, discussion, argument, and we became opponents.
We retreated, ate breakfast in silence and then tried again. Later after a trip to the grocery store we peacefully made guacamole and salsa–our appetizers for the stew (California may be about to “bust” but we have great food options) and he left me to make it my way.
So, I put Etta James on Pandora and with her growling in the background prepared the stew. Now I sit here waiting for it and hope it turns out (sans fresh thyme– the plant died while we were on vacation)
What Is your favorite way to pretend you are on vacation?



Day 9–When Rihanna’s concert thwarted our plans to spend two nights in Belfast and we had to readjust, there was one thing we all agreed upon that had to be at the top of the list. We had all been told to take the Black Taxi Tour. We took the two hour train ride to Belfast, disembarked, withdrew just enough Ulster pounds for a few pints, lunch and a taxi tour and headed out into the rain to book ourselves a tour. We made the requisite post-train-ride pub-pit-stop at Ronnie Drew’s where the TV screamed out the pre football game festivities and we familiarized ourselves with the size, shape and value of our new Ulster notes . Very unscientifically we attempted a currency exchange value comparison using a pint of Guinness. It went something like this– Hmmm… a pint in Dublin is around 4 euros and the pint in Belfast is 2.95 pounds and the exchange rate is 1. 4 which means–wait lemme do some math…ok never mind. We liked the smaller number in any case and after a pint maybe that is enough!

We found the Tourist Information Office where they were helpful dialing the phone on our behalf so we could book our tour and then recommending a place without screaming TVs for our pre-tour lunch. We all enjoyed the John Hewitt which had a fresh, tasty and attractively prepared take on pub grub. This was one of the best meals we had in Ireland.

Finally it was time for the tour. We were picked up by Joe who led us through the Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods including a trip to the Sinn Fein’s former headquarters which is now a book store. Joe was equipped with photographs, extensive personal experience, and umbrellas. Everywhere we went people greeted and chatted with him–except for in the Protestant neighborhood. Nevertheless, we thought he did a very balanced a tour given his personal involvement. Being in these streets and neighborhoods, traveling through the gates and standing next to the walls and murals while listening to Joe’s narrative was a history learning experience like no other. We were lucky to have Joe of Belfast Mural Tours as our guide.

Our Tour Guide Joe of Belfast Mural Tours

John Hewitt Lunch with Cider


Dublin & Howth

Day 7 & 8–After much deliberating, we decided to stay in Dublin for the the remainder of our trip and do a few day trips from there. This decision was mainly due to the fact the Rianna had invaded Belfast for her concert and we could not execute our plan of “playing it by ear” and stumbling on cheap and quaint accommodations in Belfast. Every affordable hotel was booked up and we did not want to spend 700-1,000 euros per night. So, we took a cab to haul our crap back over to Jury’s custom house for the duration of our stay. We told our cab driver we wanted to get out of Dublin for a day and were thinking about going to Kilkenny. “He said you do NOT want to go to Kilkenny. Go to Howth, this is where we go to relax.” Then he asked if we would adopt him and broke out into a very American sounding version of “Rawhide”. We were charmed but not ready to adopt him so instead we adopted his recommendation and boarded the Luas (Our cabbie called it the Daniel Day Luas) to check out Howth.

Howth was quiet and quaint and we checked out the fish markets and the 15th century ruins of St. Mary’s Abby and then enjoyed seafood chowder and beverages at Abby Tavern. We stopped by the Bloody Stream and had a drink before returning to Dublin.

50% Off. In referring to Ireland

The Irish Rail system.

Howth Cemetery overlooking the fishing port.

Dublin Prawns

The Bloody Stream

Dublin Prawns

Kilarney, Cliffs of Moher, Galway Bay.

Thatched roof in Bunratty Theme Park

Re-thatching the roof at Bunratty Castle

Day 6–Near Limerick— Up at 5:45am to get to all of our stuff together to meet one of several buses, trains, horse carts, rickshaws, bi-planes and/or any other form of transportation know to mankind to get to our next destination — Bunratty Castle. The reason for the early day is that this little tour we booked has tried to cram in every conceivable sight in one day. And, by God, they somehow manage. Still no sheep picture, though.

We’ve arrived at Bunratty Castle on the outskirts of Kilarney after a short drive down the street in Limerick where they filmed Angela’s Ashes, a movie based on the book by Frank McCourt. We pass Shannon Int’l Airport, apparently the first international Irish airport. During an international flight from New York in the early days, passengers arrived in Shannon so cold and frozen from their flight that the local bartender mixed up a combination of hot coffee and whiskey to help warm them up. And this is how the Irish Coffee was born. For 8-9 Euros one can be tried. My advice; wait till you get home and make your own for a buck and half. It’s coffee and whiskey and a dollop of whipped cream. Tastes good, but no big whoop.

Bunratty Castle reminded me of one of those Medieval or Renaissance Faire dinner shows they offer in Vegas. Turkey legs, mock battles, etc. It’s a quaint replica village surrounding the castle that is nice to walk around in. There is a wicked pony, pictured below, that tries to nibble your fingers off.

Upon leaving the castle the non-stop talking tour guide of 72, who claims never to have had a drop of alcohol in his life, had the bus driver stop briefly in front of a bush on the highway. This, he said, was a fairy tree. It’s an unremarkable looking bush but the story is the key.

On to the Cliffs of Moher, pronounced like more. This is an amazing sight. The tallest sheer cliffs in Europe with beautiful sights in every direction. There are several signs near the edges warning tourists not to get to close for danger of being windswept into the sea. It’s happened. I crossed the lines anyway to get a good picture. Not letting The Man tell me what to do.

Then on to Galway Bay, where we saw many Famine houses and the great limestone fields and quarries. The driver said that this particular area of Ireland was hit specially hard during the potato famine as the soil was not good for growing anything besides potatoes. Being literally 100 feet from the ocean, I wondered why the hungry folk didn’t just fish for supper — salmon abound in the area. The driver said they didn’t want to learn. So, rather than learn to fish they starved or emigrated to America. Strange.

Ferry Tours the Cliffs of Moher

Another train ride. Another hauling of luggage. Another hurry up and wait in queues (lines). Back in Dublin at the Ashling Hotel.

Irish Flute Player

More Cliffs of Moher

Theme Park or Renaissance Faire? You decide.


Ring of Kerry, Kilarney

Day 5–According to our various guidebooks there are several ways to see the Ring of Kerry and according to our Irish sources, not seeing it is NOT an option. So since we did not want to rent a car and do it Rick S’s way, we booked a bus tour. We knew we would sacrifice our freedom to a large degree but it seemed a small price to pay for not having to drive. In hindsight, having a car would have provided ample opportunities for the photographers among us to have satisfaction.
Unfortunately we couldn’t get no satisfaction this time around the Ring.
There’s a saying here on the island; “If you don’t see the mountains, it’s raining. And, if you can see the mountains, it’s going to rain.” How true this was during our Ring of Kerry hurried bus tour.
Photos were pretty much out of the question as the mist and fog shrouded any scenes worth capturing digitally.
Now for the bus tour itself. Imagine combining an Alaskan Cruise with a visit to Dolly World. Kitsch, 8€ Irish Coffees, souvenir shops abound, dioramas that made me think I could have gotten the same experience on Wikipedia, a forced pub grub lunch that we had to choke down in minutes so as to avoid missing the next departure. Strict schedules with road weary Americans not used to being herded like sheep. One lady even yelled from the back of the bus, “I just want to stop and take one sheep picture.” Oh, we saw the multi-dyed sheep that everyone knows from countless television travel shows. But, we couldn’t stop for a second to get a picture.
My only advice for the ring of Kerry, which is quite beautiful, is to take your own rented car and go the opposite way of all the tour buses. driving may give you high blood pressure, but at least you’ll get your damn sheep picture.

Sheep's wool is dyed so that farmer's can identify them easier. Similar to branding cattle.



Famine House


Stream at Sneem



Blarney, Cobh (Cove)

Day 4–Is Blarney just Blarney? No. Or, maybe yes. Perhaps because we didn’t kiss the stone we cannot wax eloquent. For those of who grew up with Disney castles the Blarney Castle feels authentic. The caves, dungeon area and poison garden were the best part of the visit there.
We opted not to kiss the stone to spare ourselves some contagion, but we did enjoy the gardens. No harm, no foul.
Visited St. Coleman’s Cathedral and then the Queenstown Museum in Cobh where 3 million Irish emigrated to various countries during the great famine in the mid 1800’s. Also, this was the last port of call for the Titanic before going down. Also the Lusitania departed from here before being sunk by the Huns.


No thanks, no kiss for me today


Poison Garden at Blarney Castle


St. Coleman's Cathedral, Cobh


Rock Close at Blarney Castle

Dublin, Kilmainham Gaol & Gravity Bar

Day 3–We were supposed to go to Kilkenny but misread the Sunday train schedule and decided to stay in Dub one more day. Besides, we had a lot more to see. Our first stop was the Kilmainham Gaol which is probably one of the most infamous prisons on the island. Most, if not all, of the Easter Uprising main players spent time here or were executed here. This includes Michael Collins (Liam Neesam played him in the movie of the same title). This was a very interesting tour.
The next stop was the Guinness Storehouse tour. This is interesting only for the 360 degree view at the top of the Gravity Bar where they pour you a pint of Guinness with your entrance fee voucher. If you’ve ever toured a brewery, this is basically the same drill, zip through the info and get to the free tasting room.
It being Sunday most of the town lay in slumber till past noon. Only the stoutest (pun intended) old-timers were in the pubs having a pint. We know this because we were some of this old timers. We visited The Brazen Head Pub, est 1198, and had a pint with some pub grub. Live Irish music, a labyrinth of rooms and stairs and a great setting for getting a Guinness in you.
From there we visited O’Shea’s Pub across the street. This was actually a little more fun because the bar tender was very friendly. He let us go behind the bar and take pictures, talked our ears off about where to visit in Ireland.
This brings me to a point about friendliness in Ireland. Having traveled all over the world I cannot recall a friendlier town or people. It’s as if they all go through some sort of customer service training in school. They are happy to give you directions (in minutes not distance), happy to give you advice, happy to let drop a few Irish tales and fables 24/7. Being the personal space-bubble conscience-minded Americans this can be somewhat disconcerting at first. You think they are just buttering you up to rip you off or steering you into a back alley to mug you. Not the case at all. I fact, every cab driver rounded down the fare and said tipping was not necessary.     Hey New York, come on over and learn something.
So at this point we’ve knocked back several pints and are feeling a little happy. Jet lag is still getting the better of us so we all decide to call it an early night since we are starting this three-day tour of the western part of the Island at 6:40am. But, that damn Oktoberfest is so close to the hotel we are drawn to it like a fruit fly to wine. We give it a try for a few minutes and a foot-long bratwurst.
Wouldn’t you know it that as soon as we get a beer, wurst and schnapps the “oompa” band starts a rollicking rendition of Sweet Home Alabama. I’ve never been to Alabama but who can’t start feeling nostalgic at those first few bars of that song?
We sardine ourselves into a few spaces on a bench full of drunken festers and realized we were sitting next to a group of deaf girls. During one song everyone seemed to know the words except us, Letty asked the girls what song this was. This was quite comical since they shrugged and mouthed the words, “Hey, we’re deaf. We don’t know what a song even sounds like.” I think that’s what they mouthed. I couldn’t hear them.




Full Irish Breakfast

Day Two begins with a full Irish Breakfast. To most Americans this might sound like a must have after a night of Dublin pub crawling. However, pre-fried sunny-side up eggs, Heinz Baked Beans, brown pudding, white pudding, soggy Canadian bacon, pre-toasted white bread, stewed tomatoes, and under-cooked bangers is enough to make the stoutest of stomachs convulse into a near volcanic eruption.
Lunch was much better; smoked salmon on whole grain bread with onions. Dinner takes the cake, so to speak, as we dined Italian. A thin pizza topped with marinara sauce, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, ham, and eggs! Really delisioso. Also, we share pasta taggliani with a mushroom and butter sauce. The Salad was nice too; greens, sun-dries tomatoes, capers, olives, balsamic vinegar and olive oil.
Other highlights of the day included a forced march to Grafton Street. This is the Rodeo Drive of Dublin. we visited the National Museum and saw a lot of really old stuff. I learned that Ireland stayed neutral in WWII. Smart folks.

Nothing Says Ireland Like…Octoberfest

Seriously. Our first night here and what did we find right next to our hotel? Yes, right. See title of post. Long story short- made friends with the schnapps pourers and this morning had our regrets.




Fridge Purge, Does Cheese Freeze? Do we have the Right Gadgets?

Well, a few more days to go. But more importantly, it is the last day of garbage pickup before we leave. Important decisions have to be made: Do we throw away the perfectly fine vegetables that won’t make it past Sunday? Do we dump the last of the BBQ’ed chicken? What will we eat tomorrow if all this food is trashed? Is the food better off rotten in the fridge or in the garbage can hosting flies? These are most un-vacation-like thoughts. They also signal that perhaps we have put a little too much thought into this trip. We have had weekly Skype meetings with our travel companions complete with homework assignments and the requisite shame for not having completed them (being ashamed on Skype is doubly embarrassing!) We have bought gadgets for our gadgets and researched how better to use them. We have agonized over who is more credible about Ireland, that Steve guy or those Lonely folks. Finally, we have taken on a blog project to keep us busy on our vacation. Perhaps this is not the way to go. We shall see if we are up to the task. And you shall too.