ralphmelton: (apple)
This day was one of the days we were really looking forward to on this trip; this day we were to tour New York City with Bill (bullyboy on Roadfood) and Dayna. I had read Bill’s reports of leading visitors through the foods of New York with interest and desire, and I had become particularly eager after we met Bill and Dayna at Chris and Amy’s wedding. We had visited New York City only once, several years ago, and we had had a lot of difficulty knowing how to get around. So we were delighted at the prospect of seeing Bill and Dayna again and getting the benefit of their local expertise.

(Because Bill is much more prompt about writing reports than I am, he posted a report at http://www.roadfood.com/Forums/This-is-New-York-with-Ralph-amp-Lori-m811559.aspx . This will be our take.)

We almost left the bed and breakfast without meeting the proprietor, but she returned home as we were finishing up a light breakfast. Her guidance for how to take the train to NYC was useful, but I think that if we were left to figure it out on our own, we might have been able to make an earlier train. It all worked out, though, because Bill was just as delayed as we were.

We realized on the train that this was this was the date of New York’s Pride March. Grand Central Terminal was thronged with every sort of rainbow outfit imaginable. We would have loved to see more of the Pride festivities, but we weren’t eager enough to try to change Bill’s thoughtfully-planned itinerary. And it may well be a blessing that we avoided those crowds. I certainly suspect that Pride made it even more of a good idea to leave our car in New Rochelle.

Bill made the suggestion that we meet at the clock at the center of Grand Central Terminal.

Lori was fascinated by the astrological mural on the ceiling of Grand Central Terminal. Unfortunately, I was not able to get a very good picture.

Our first food stop was Ess-a-Bagel. I was particularly keen to try a New York bagel, because Bill had once told me a mouth-watering story of coming home from a graveyard shift on a cold night and getting a hot bagel fresh from the oven. I wanted to experience what he had described so splendidly, and see how it compared to the expatriate bagels I’ve had in Pittsburgh.

The bagel suit certainly seems like a sign of a commitment to bageldom.

It was too crowded for comfort, but Bill spotted that there was a shorter line in the back available if you were only getting bagels to go.

We got a bagel each and went around the block to a tiny wet park named Greenacre Park.

My biggest surprise about these bagels was their size. They were hefty, doughy things larger than my fist, much larger than the bagels I’m used to. Had I known beforehand, I might have planned to eat half a bagel to pace myself for the day ahead - but with the warm crisp bagel in my hand, I ate the whole thing.

Dayna joined us as we headed towards Brooklyn.

A random picture of a rainy, foggy day.

Bill suggested that we walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. It was a good choice, because it’s a tourist thing that locals actually do. It was a longer walk than we were expecting, though, and Lori’s bum knee ended up hurting just about the time that it would be as long a walk to turn back as to continue on.

The Brooklyn Bridge was festooned with locks attached by couples in love, and we talked about the tradition of such locks at Paris’s Pont des Arts and how the locks needed to be removed from time to time (see, for example, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/02/world/europe/paris-bridges-locks-of-love-taken-down.html?_r=0 ). Now, I’m not exactly a cynic, but I do find it very easy to spot cynical interpretations. So when I see a lock on a bridge, I read it thus: “This lock adds strain to the constructs of civil society and will one day need to be destroyed for the sake of civil society – just like our love!” I understand that that is not exactly the stated intent of the people who attach the locks.

Our next stop was one that I had specifically requested: Grimaldi’s pizza. I had an impression of Grimaldi’s as a paragon of New York-style pizza, but I can no longer recall where I heard it praised so highly. I had assumed I had read it from Roadfood, but it is not currently Roadfood-listed. This may be because it had a change of ownership; Bill explained to us that Grimaldi’s had been purchased by new owners and moved down the street to a new location, but the previous owner had then bought the old location and opened it as a new pizzeria.

The four of us shared a small Margarita pizza with peppers on half. It was a good example of its type, with a crisp crust that was thin enough to be translucent in places. Bill’s recommendation of the roasted red peppers was excellent; they were particularly succulent and flavorful. The greatest novelty, though, was the cheese. This pizza was topped with discs of fresh mozzarella before baking, and I can’t recall the last time I had baked fresh mozzarella. It had a chewy texture that I don’t find with low-moisture mozzarella.

We walked a few blocks to a recommendation of Bill’s: Jacques Torres Chocolate, an artisan chocolatier.

Bill particularly praised their handmade ice cream sandwiches. My memory is fuzzy, but I believe that although they normally offer made-to-order ice cream sandwiches, they were not offering them at the moment. So we had a premade sandwich with strawberry ice cream between chocolate chip cookies. It was delicious, with a very bright, clear strawberry note.

Lori remembers ogling many of the chocolate delights in the shop, but feeling that buying them wouldn’t fit well into our big eating day.

Bill led us back towards the foot of the bridge to Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory.

The line was trailing out the door, but the view from the line was magnificent.

Lori got a simple dish of a very nice vanilla. (I had only a spoon or two of hers in order to save appetite for other restaurants.)

As Bill guided us to the Lower East Side, we passed another place not on our planned itinerary that was renowned to me: Russ and Daughters. Again, I assumed that I knew this from old Roadfood books, but I can’t easily confirm this. I might have read about it from Calvin Trillin’s books. I certainly was familiar with it before we watched the documentary The Sturgeon Queens about Russ and Daughters. (Spoiler: they are still in business after 100 years. It’s not the sort of movie for which spoilers are a big issue.)

Unfortunately, we didn’t get anything to eat there. There were multiple reasons: it was crowded enough that it was hard to talk with the workers about what might be good; none of us had much appetite; none of us were great fans of fish; and they didn’t seem to have much that was ready to eat. Lori bought some chocolate covered apricots, but I don’t think that gives us the real experience of appetizing.

Our destination in the Lower East Side was Katz’s Delicatessen. Katz’s had been one of the original stimuli for our going to New York. I had posted a picture of one of my attempts at smoking pastrami in my smoker, and Chris Ayers had made a comment about Katz’s, and that triggered conversations that led to “Let’s go to New York and eat around with Bill and Dayna”. (I am glossing over some of the intermediate steps.)

We didn’t seek this out, it just happened: when we were looking for a table after ordering, the only table available was marked with a sign as the table where Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan sat in the famous scene in When Harry Met Sally... But you can’t pass up such a gift-wrapped opportunity like that, so Lori did do her own (much less conspicuous) tribute to Meg Ryan’s performance.

Katz’s was one of the places where we really appreciated Bill’s guidance. He explained the ticket system that governs Katz's. You get a ticket on entering, and present that ticket when ordering at any station, and present that ticket to pay upon leaving.

He also gave us very good recommendations of what to order. We were fairly full and three sandwiches was too much for us to eat, but everything was well worth trying.

The corned beef sandwich is not quite as oversized as some we’ve had (such as the Carnegie Deli), but that’s probably a virtue. It was flavorful, but not quite as bold as I seek in my corned beef.

The pastrami soft and rich and succulent. Comparing it to my pastrami was an illuminating study in how far a recipe reconstruction can be from the original, because although the recipe I use says “Close to Katz’s”, what I’ve ended up with is fairly far from what we ate there.
Katz’s pastrami is very juicy, and it is tender, even soft; mine is firm and likely to crumble when sliced. I presume that the difference is that Katz’s steams their pastrami thoroughly before serving; I’m not well set up to steam a hunk of meat, so I do that step poorly or skip it entirely.
Katz’s pastrami has a gentler flavor than mine; my pastrami is fairly brash and bold in flavor.
My secret truth: although I’m extremely glad to have sampled Katz’s pastrami, and I’m certain that theirs is more authentic – I actually prefer my own.

Bill’s particular recommendation was the brisket on the club roll, which he described as an oft-overlooked Katz’s treat. This was a great recommendation, very tender and savory and meaty.

Bill also suggested a plate of half-sour pickles and pickled tomatoes, which I really enjoyed.

Everything we had at Katz’s was very good, but we left a lot on our table because we were too full.

As we were walking back from Katz’s, Bill spotted another shop of renown, Yonah Shimmel’s Knish Bakery. He suggested that we stop in and have an egg cream, because we had been talking about egg creams earlier in the day.

I would have liked to have a knish, because I’ve enjoyed them in the past and it’s become difficult to find a knish in Pittsburgh. But I was much too full to seriously consider ordering one now.

I was really only familiar with egg creams from Harriet the Spy. For those as unfamiliar as I was, an egg cream is made from milk, soda water, and chocolate syrup – but not egg. I am admittedly one of those literally-minded people who is excessively bothered by the fact that an egg cream has no egg.
This particular egg cream did little to convince me that this is a wonderful beverage, but I’m sure that this wasn’t the best way to judge either egg creams or Yonah Shimmel.

Our last stop was one that we had read about from Bill’s reports of other excursions though New York: Rice to Riches, which focuses almost entirely on rice pudding.

I wanted to read all of the signs and sample all the puddings. Fortunately, they seem not to be serious about the extra charge for indecision.

Lori and I got the “Category 5” Caramel topped with sour cherries. This was an incredible, luscious flavor bomb, simply out of this world. I think this was the single best thing we ate all day.

Bill and Dayna got two flavors: the key lime and the mango-tangerine. They were both quite good, nearly as tasty as ours, but much less photogenic.

We are tremendously grateful to Bill and Dayna for leading us around New York City. Without their help, we would have had much more trouble choosing a convenient set of restaurants, and we would have had far more trouble navigating the subways to get around. (This is borne out by experience; we visited NYC previously in 2007 and had a lot of trouble figuring out how best to get around.) We hope to return the favor in Pittsburgh at some point.
ralphmelton: (apple)
We got off late on Friday, with intentions to get to Philadelphia and explore a bit there before eating dinner with friends. But I took it into my head that we should try to have brunch in Delaware.

The Delaware diversion was a purely collector’s impulse. At one time, I dreamed of visiting all the restaurants listed in Roadfood, but after several years of fairly diligent Roadfooding, I’ve hit only a few hundred of those restaurants; I don’t think that goal is viable. But I still have a ‘collect them all’ mentality. So I’ve reduced my goals to smaller collections; I’m still trying to eat at all of the Roadfood honor roll (37/100), and I’m trying to eat Roadfood in every state (40/50).
But we hadn’t previously eaten in Delaware, and from Pittsburgh, Delaware is not really en route to anything but Delaware. So I was tempted into the detour because we were already so close.

We chose Dutch Country Cafe as our destination because the Roadfood review mentioned breakfast food and we thought we could get there in time for brunch. But the drive was slow, albeit pleasant, and they were no longer serving breakfast by the time we arrived.

The Dutch Country Cafe is in the Dutch Market, which appears to be a former big box store in a strip mall that’s been divided up into a bunch of small Amish stalls. The effect is very utilitarian and severe.

We sat at the counter, and this may have been a mistake. The service was extremely lackluster; we had to wait a long time to receive drinks, a long time to get our order taken, a very long time to receive our food, and a very long time to receive our bill. I never did receive the soup that I ordered. When I asked for the bill, I said in my best chilly tone, “please take the soup off the bill”. The waitress said, “Oh, did you still want that?”
We saw later that there was booth seating on the other side of the kitchen. Perhaps if we had chosen seats there, we would not have felt forgotten and forlorn.

The lunch menu did not seem to have much Pennsylvania Dutch character. The only thing that seemed out of the ordinary was the chicken and corn soup. Had I received the soup, I might have an opinion about that.

I got an American sub, with salami, white cheddar cheese, fresh juicy tomato, and pickled peppers, piled high enough on a sub roll that was necessary to eat it open-faced because the sandwich could not be closed. It was actually a very good sandwich, particularly because of the tomatoes.

Lori’s beef and bacon melt was much less nice. It tasted much more of grill and grease than beef or bacon.

Afterward, I got a very nice soft pretzel at the pretzel stand across the aisle.

With our late arrival, the excruciating slowness of the service, and traffic delays around Wilmington, we had no time to enjoy Philadelphia at all this day. It would be an error to judge the whole state by this bad experience, but nevertheless I was muttering “stupid Delaware” for most of the trip.

We had dinner with our friends Seth and Karen in Cherry Hill. Karen had prepared a beautiful feast, including four different types of quiches, a very fancy vegetable tart with cucumber and carrot rosettes, and a beautiful caramel apple tart. We were very impressed that she could do so much, particularly with four young children.
ralphmelton: (apple)
So, we started our trip in Baltimore because the touring company of Pippin was there. There’s a bit of a story here. In December 2014, Ralph offered to take me to New York City to see the Broadway revival of Pippin, which I desperately wanted to see. I was most interested because they’d done a reimagined staging of the show that kept elements from the original Broadway production that have been watered down over the years and more importantly, it was done in cooperation with a circus troupe called Les 7 Doigts de la Main. So, it would be Pippin, a show I’ve always kind of loved, with Cirque du Soleil style acrobatics and stunts. I was so excited that we would go to NYC to see this show and have a lovely Christmas weekend with a slight tinge of “we’re doing this because January 2015 is unlikely to be much fun.” Our plane tickets were bought, we had a line on good seats for the show, and...I got diagnosed with a bad case of the flu on Christmas Eve. It stunk. We had to cancel Christmas Day dinner at our home, I missed my niece and nephew’s first Christmas, and we had to cancel our trip. So, this was finally my chance to see this show, and it did not disappoint! But, that was the end of the day...we did some other things too.

We started our day at The Breakfast Shoppe, a cute little place in a strip mall. Despite the inauspicious location, the “BS” had a cozy atmosphere, great food, and an impressive collection of chicken and rooster knickknacks.
IMG_0120 IMG_0121


Their food was great! Ralph had the Knapsacker, a hearty scramble of eggs, cheese, potatoes, mushrooms, and ham. I had a bite or two, and it was delicious, and certainly a breakfast that would keep you going for hours. (Ralph: the Knapsacker is the smaller version of the Backpacker, which would be enough of a meal to keep one going all day.)

I had their Cinnamon Roll Pancakes with a side order of excellent bacon. The Cinnamon Roll Pancakes were a decadent breakfast treat glistening with butter, cinnamon and sugar and I really enjoyed them. Ralph’s breakfast may have had more of the staying power of protein, but mine provided a sugar high to rival any illegal substance out there.

From there we did some shopping for supplies we either forgot or were low on when we packed. We’d planned to have a light lunch at G & M Restaurant, but there were two problems with that idea. One, we were still full from breakfast, and felt we would be for hours. Two, upon perusing their menu, we weren’t sure you could really have a light lunch there. I’d been wanting to eat dinner at a fancier place because we were going to the theater, but we decided that G & M was actually plenty fancy for dinner, and decided to return there later.

Our next stop was Charm City Cakes, which I really wanted to see because I was a fan of the Food Network show “Ace of Cakes,” and I think they do great work. Charm City Cakes is open to the public for certain hours each day and they have a small display area of their masterpiece cakes. They had cupcakes for sale and a variety of licensed gear (big surprise). Unfortunately, no one was visible who was working other than the cashier/receptionist in the front. We did buy a cupcake, and it was good, but I think their main appeal is the stunning design work they do. The cake we tasted was as good as any other high-end bakery we’ve tried, but not especially memorable. On the other hand, their giant “Virginia is for Lovers” rainbow-themed cake was a real show stopper! I’m glad we stopped by, it wasn’t as much fun as seeing Duff Goldman, the owner/chief cake artist do a demo here in Pittsburgh a couple years ago. He was just as funny in person as he was on the show!
(Ralph: The cupcake definitely made me feel that Charm City Cakes cared more about the appearance than about the taste. On the other hand, I did get an answer to my question of “how do you cut such an ornate cake?”: a buyer receives a diagram of where the supporting structures are with cutting guidelines.)
IMG_0127 IMG_0128

Next we went to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor with a plan of walking around and picking something to do. We first stopped at a Tourist Information spot and were overwhelmed with attractive options for spending a few hours before dinner and the show. We settled on a boat tour of the Inner Harbor. This turned out to be a lovely activity for the afternoon. It was slightly overcast but still pleasant outside, and we enjoyed cruising the harbor and seeing the sights. The narration on the boat was a bit hard to hear, but it was interesting. We heard about Baltimore’s history and current status. We also were made aware that like Pittsburgh, a lot of industry is being replaced by condos and shopping centers. We got some good pictures, too.

Then it was time for dinner at G & M. Ralph started with a cup of Maryland Crab Soup, which he said was fine but not particularly special.

I had a fairly ordinary house salad. Then the real stars of the meal arrived: my giant crab cake and Ralph’s amazing “stuffed shrimp,” which was shrimp piled high with crabmeat. Both our entrees were buttery and delicious, and full of the fresh flavors you really only get when you’re by the sea. We really enjoyed our meal there.
(Ralph: I should not have been so surprised by the stuffed shrimp. Michael Hoffman had told me that the shrimp was piled high with crab. I guess that despite the forewarning, I still thought that “stuffed” would imply that there would be crab on the inside and shrimp on the outside.)

We skipped dessert at G & M to try an Italian pastry shop, Vaccaro’s, recommended by our friend Alex Yeager as the finest in Little Italy. I don’t remember much about the creamy, lemony pastry because it turned into one of those things where we got stuck in traffic going to the pastry shop and then to the theater, and service in the pastry shop was disinterested and slow. The pastry was wolfed down in the theater parking lot, and while fine, was nothing special. I believe we didn’t experience this pastry shop at its’ finest, and would give it another chance some other time.

Despite the pastry shop snafu, we made it to our seats with 5 minutes to spare. First of all, we splurged on this and had amazing seats in the balcony that sat over the orchestra seats. We were close enough to see the actors’ facial expressions and high enough up to get the “full picture” of the dance and acrobatic numbers. I was a little nervous -- I’d waited so very long to see this show. I was hoping it was everything I’d dreamed it would be. I wasn’t disappointed!

The show began with no overture, just the strains of instruments tuning up and then the dreamy first chords of the opening number. The curtain looked like an circus tent in sepia tones, and as the chords began, a larger than life silhouette of the Leading Player appeared and gradually shrank down to the actresses’ shadow as she parted the curtain and began singing the opening number, “Magic to Do.” Perfect way to begin, as the Leading Player drives the whole show, much like the circus ringmaster she is dressed as in this version. I was optimistic -- the silhouette/shadow effect gave me a few chills, it was that perfect. Then the sepia curtain came up to reveal the rest of the cast singing and engaging in various circus performances. Oh, it was amazing! My one complaint was that there was so much going on that you couldn’t see it all. I’ll attach a video at the end to show so much I just can’t put into words.

The rest of the show unfolded in a similar vein. Under a dreamy, star-spangled big top tent, the “Life and Times of Prince Pippin” played out. Using the circus theme gave the company the right mix of alluring and subtly menacing, because this production brings out the underlying darkness of this musical that’s so often lost in revival productions of it. The show’s “theater company” makes a business of luring in impressionable young men and convincing them to do a circus trick that ends in their deaths. Despite the fun, seventies’-style score, there’s an element of darkness to the show, and this production had just the right touch of it. It also got the beautiful lesson of love that is the heart of the show just right. There was a genuine sweetness to the second act that I really enjoyed.

I can’t finish talking about Pippin without mentioning Adrienne Barbeau, who has the featured role of Berthe, Pippin’s grandmother. Folks, Ms. Barbeau is seventy years old now and absolutely fabulous. She can still carry off a corset way better than I could at 45, and she did a trapeze routine! It was one thing to see the young chorus/circus performers on the trapeze, and they were amazing. It was even more impressive to see her go up there with her two young men and perform. The whole cast was awesome, but she really owned every moment she was onstage in her brief role.

The other thing that I have to talk about with Pippin is just how sexy it was. This is a bit tricky for me. Sexy stuff often slips into being sordid and tawdry or into being coy and euphemistic; Pippin mostly did neither, and I want to do neither in my description.
It certainly touched the sordid in the scene where Pippin seeks fulfillment through casual sexual revelry. And it touched the euphemistic in the acrobatic pantomime that accompanied Pippin’s first night with Catherine.
But mostly it was just pure dazzling eyeballs-dry-out sexiness, with lots of lithe acrobats in fantastic performances.
I can name several super-sexy scenes from the show:
The first appearance of the Lead Player;
The pinup-flavored quick-change act of Fastrada;
But it’s possible that the big winner was Adrienne Barbeau’s fabulous trapeze routine as Berthe. She was super sexy - not just sexy for a septuagenarian, but sexy in a way that would draw stares at any age.
ralphmelton: (apple)
After visiting the British Isles in 2013 and 2014, we wanted to stay within road-trip distance of home this year. In June and July of 2015, we took a long road trip through Baltimore, New York, New England, New Brunswick, and Quebec.

We set out for Baltimore on the evening of Wednesday, June 24. Now, the direct route from Pittsburgh to Baltimore goes straight down the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and the Turnpike makes it much more convenient to eat at its service plazas than to get off the road. But I have my own superstitions, and one of my superstitions is that it’s important to start an eating vacation with an interesting meal – and the service plazas hardly count as interesting. So we got off the turnpike to eat at Out of the Fire, a place we’ve enjoyed before just minutes from the Donegal exit.

We were able to sit on the deck with a lovely sunset view of the Laurel Highlands. (This turned out to be a great vacation for eating outdoors; we ended up with fourteen outdoor dinners.)

For an appetizer, we ordered the house-made fresh mozzarella with bruschetta.

Our first impression of it was that it was very tricky to eat neatly. It fiercely resisted forking out a bite-sized portion:

But once we overcame that, the mozzarella was very tasty, with a mild salty flavor and a very nice texture.

Lori had the smoked chicken breast and enjoyed it very much. I thought I tasted a touch of ash behind the smoke, but she did not.

Instead of a full entree, I chose two appetizers.
The first was an extraordinary grilled watermelon salad with cherries and blue cheese. The grilling made the watermelon super-sweet, but the sweetness was balanced very nicely by the funky tang of the blue cheese.

I had my doubts about ordering lobster mac and cheese so far from the water, but I ended up being glad. The lobster was very tender and flavorful, and it complemented the smoky gouda of the cheese sauce very nicely.

For dessert, Lori enticed me into the blackberry-cognac sorbet, which was a smooth, intense delight.

We had entirely succeeded at starting our trip off on the right culinary foot. Our dinner had taken long enough that we saw a beautiful sunset in the rearview mirror as we set off again. We made it to our hotel in Baltimore near midnight.
ralphmelton: (apple)
We ate breakfast at Dromoland before leaving. I took a picture of the dining room that I had not been willing to take the previous evening.
Dromoland Castle dining room

I saw a grilled kipper on the breakfast menu. I am usually only neutral on seafood, but this was something I'd heard of as a British breakfast dish and not yet tried. And I thought that I could be certain that it was prepared here as well as it might be anywhere, so I could be confident that I was judging it at its best. Well, now I've had a grilled kipper under good conditions, and I can feel confident when I choose something else in the future. It was intensely fishy, and the taste lingered for so long that I could still taste kipper when we landed in the US.
Grilled kipper

Where I tried for bold experimentation in my breakfast choice, Lori chose something she was confident she would like: lemon ricotta pancakes with raspberry coulis. They were delightful.

From that splendid finale at Dromoland, we plunged directly into mundanity.
Go to the airport. (Just a few miles away from Dromoland.)
Return the rental car and accept the charge for the broken side mirror.
Fly to Heathrow.
Fly to Washington, DC, arriving at midnight body time.
Wait in a series of very long lines for Customs. (They confiscated the Gubbeen salami that we had bought as a souvenir for Lori's father.)
Fly to Pittsburgh, arriving at 5am body time. (I am so glad that Paul was able to pick us up; I was definitely out of it after the long day of travel.)
ralphmelton: (apple)
Lori’s pancakes at Marless House.
Pancakes and bacon, Malvess House

On Friday, we were growing aware that our time in Ireland was ending soon.
We found a post office and mailed home all the books we’d bought, so that we could fit everything into our bags. We then parked near the Latin Quarter (in a parking garage with such small parking spaces that parking was a nerve-wracking process) to finish up our shopping.

We stumbled on a group of preteens doing a balloon release. Lori learned that this was honoring a classmate who had died.

We ate our last lunch at Griffin’s Bakery and Coffee Shop, because it had caught Lori’s fancy the previous day.
Griffin's Bakery
Griffin's Bakery

Unfortunately, it was not very satisfying; we were squeezed uncomfortably into a tight corner, and service was very slow.

My bacon and brie sandwich convinced me of two things: 1) brie is not the best cheese to accompany Irish bacon, and 2) if you’re going to cook the bacon and toast the bread, I think you really ought to melt the cheese as well.
Bacon and Brie sandwich

Lori’s burger was so overcooked it was hard, and though it was not a very large burger, it was so tall that it was hard to eat. A friend of ours has a similar story of a burger in Ireland with a hard, round patty; he’s been told by his Irish coworkers that a burger in Ireland is typically eaten with a knife and fork. I am of course biased by my upbringing, but I prefer American burger style.

Lori had chosen the bakery more because of its promise of dessert, and after much deliberation over all the possibilities, she settled on an eclair.

It took us a while to finish our shopping, and then we hit a traffic jam leaving Galway. So it was late afternoon before we arrived at our final hotel. Had we known what we were getting, we would have struggled to have more time there.

I have mentioned before that the travel agent who had recommended Ballyseede Castle to us had been very cost-focused. But my belief is that if I’m going to splurge (and any castle stay is at least a bit of a splurge), I should splurge big enough that the sense of luxury overwhelms my penny-pinching, cost-compromising ways. I feel more splurged with an utter splurge rarely than with a partial splurge more frequently. So after we gave up on that travel agent, we asked a consultant at Rick Steves about options for a wondrous castle splurge. He too was very cost-conscious at first, but he realized what we wanted and adjusted, and his recommendation was Dromoland Castle.
Dromoland Castle

Dromoland was another opportunity to briefly experience another culture - in this case, the culture of the landed gentry. And they did a marvelous job of making that culture accessible by gently managing the experience. I will explain with three stories:
- A porter brought our bags to our room for us. (We appreciated this; there were several sets of stairs.) As we started to consider a tip, he vanished, making it quite clear that no tip was expected.
- I realized that I had left my phone in the car. So I walked to the front desk to ask where the cars were parked, because valet parking had whisked them away. The desk clerk suggested, “why don’t you let the porter get it for you?” I returned to our room, and a few minutes later, the porter knocked, handed me my phone, and vanished again.
- At dinner, they changed the table settings with every course. This eliminated any anxiety over what fork to use - there was only one set of utensils available at any time.

Our room at Dromoland was actually not as eccentrically wonderful as our room at Lawcus Farm. But the view from our window was splendid.
View from our window at Dromoland Castle

We had a bit of time to tour the grounds.
Dromoland Castle
Dromoland Castle Dromoland Castle
Dromoland Castle
Dromoland Castle

They had their own folly, a petite Greek temple.
Dromoland Castle

The Hermit’s Cottage was built about a century ago and has probably never sheltered an actual hermit.
Hermit's Cottage

The lily pond next to it achieves greater authenticity by hosting actual lilies.
Lily Pond, Dromoland Castle

We spent the last twilight in the Walled Garden.
Walled Garden, Dromoland Castle
Walled Garden, Dromoland Castle
Walled Garden, Dromoland Castle Arbor, Dromoland Castle
Walled Garden, Dromoland Castle

I was impressed with what good roses they had in October.
Rose, Dromoland Castle Rose, Dromoland Castle
Rose, Dromoland Castle Rose, Dromoland Castle

We dressed as smartly as we could for dinner at the Earl of Thomond. I wished I had brought a tie; I still felt underdressed. But no one made us feel unwelcome. Dinner was superb, and again they made the luxury very accessible, with very helpful explanations for all of our questions and good suggestions of food and wine. (The wine list was the size of a telephone book. Part of that turned out to be because the pages were very thick, but even so there were many pages.)

I began with a wild mushroom and chorizo risotto. It was amazing, with sumptuous flavor and rich texture.
Wild mushroom and chorizo risotto

The spoon provided for the risotto was very shallow, with an asymmetric shape that I didn’t recognize. I posted a quip about it on Facebook, and my sister asked for a picture, which I had not taken. So at breakfast the next day, I asked them to bring out such a spoon for me to photograph.
Risotto tasting spoon

Lori had a beautiful goat cheese appetizer.

A lovely champagne sorbet cleansed her palate before the entrees.
Champagne Sorbet

I had the fennel and star anise soup. It was much more delicious than it was photogenic.
Fennel and anise soup

Silver domes covered our entrees, and the staff would assemble around each table and lift all domes at the same time while exclaiming “voila!” This definitely gave a special feel to the experience, with the only fly in the ointment being the goon taking the picture.
Silver domes

Lori’s entree was roast chicken with etuvee of cabbage, mashed potatoes with scallions. This may not sound terribly exciting, but there’s something wonderful about fresh ingredients prepared well. Lori’s dinner was delicious, and the new potatoes with butter were especially good.
Chicken over Colcannon

I chose the entree of Irish beef sirloin with shallot sauce. It was wonderful, sumptuous beef.

My dessert was caramel parfait, berry coulis, and house made ice cream. It might just be a matter of my own tastes, but I’d call it “quite good” instead of the “astounding” level of the previous dishes. But this may be like singling out the slowest runner at the Olympics.
Caramel cake, berry coulis, housemade ice cream

Lori: pink meringue trio with mango sauce Lori was delighted by her sweet, pink dessert.
Pink meringue

Because we were splurging, I asked the sommelier to recommend a nice port to finish the meal. He said he had an excellent 1988 port that he had just decanted, which he was offering at a special price. We had a moment of confusion when I thought the price he was quoting was for a whole bottle, not just a single glass. It was very good, but I think it was wasted on me; I think it would have been hard for me to distinguish it from a much cheaper port. Lori: Port and truffles were all incredibly lovely, and a rich finish to a sumptuous meal.

When staying at a nice hotel, nothing will take me out of that feeling of luxury more than nickel-and-diming with little charges. A minibar in the room will make me grumble, and paying for WiFi will make me sulk and snarl. Dromoland didn’t nickel-and-dime in that way, but did charge extra for some amenities - but when I discovered that falconry was available for an additional fee, my only reaction was regret that we had arrived too late for me to enjoy it.

Dromoland was certainly a mighty splurge, but we felt that we did get the splendidly luxurious experience that we had paid for. There were places like Lawcus Farm where we got much more value than what we paid for, but Dromoland was at least as good as its price. Lori repeatedly said that she didn’t want to leave, because pretending to be a princess was enchanting!
ralphmelton: (apple)
Breakfast at in the fine dining room at Ballyseede was very nice; I had eggs Benedict, and Lori had an omelet.
Eggs Benedict Omelet
Ballyseede Castle

This is the other dog of Ballyseede, a gentle Irish wolfhound (shown with a small child for scale). He (the dog, not the child) is named Mr. Kenny, after Enda Kenny, the current Taoiseach (prime minister of Ireland).
Mr. Wiffle

Some more pictures of Ballyseede and its gardens under less gloomy skies:
Ballyseede Castle Gardens at Ballyseede Castle

Our path this day took us northward along the coast to Galway. We took the car ferry across the Shannon river. The passenger door was obstructed enough that Lori had to sit inside for the whole ride, but I was able to get out and feel the wind and take in the scenery. It turns out that Lori didn’t miss that much in scenery:
River Shannon Ferry

I did get a chance to see the nearby Guinness plant:
Guinness plant, River Shannon Ferry

Towns were few and far between on the coast of County Clare when we started thinking about lunch. I tried to use my Roadfood instincts, but we chose the Quilty Tavern more for location than from an instinct for quality.
Quilty Tavern

It was one of our worst meals in Ireland. I ordered the seafood chowder because we were on the coast, and it was unpleasant, with a flavor that was strongly fishy and almost rancid. My ham and cheese sandwich was also a perfunctory assembly of cheap ingredients. Lori ordered the Quilty Club on the theory that the name of the town meant they took a particular pride in the sandwich - but although her sandwich was better than my food, this was not a sandwich that merited any pride. And the service that we received was so neglectful that it would have needed to improve a few notches to qualify as negligent. I was very glad that I had enough small currency to cover the bill I calculated and leave, because waiting for a bill and credit card processing might have taken another eon.
But note that Lori’s sandwich was served on fine china, and my tureen of soup came on a doily-lined plate. And the pub was a Victorian beauty with lots of polished old wood. Once again the beauty of the pub seems to have no connection to the quality of the food and service.
Seafood Chowder Ham and Cheese Sandwich
Quilty Club

Quilty does not have the cliffs that mark the coast to the north and south.
Shore at Quilty

We had other cliffs in plan, though - our scenic destination of the day was the Cliffs of Moher. They are one of the famous sights of Ireland, but also famous in the movies for roles like the Cliffs of Insanity in The Princess Bride.
Unfortunately, we arrived in late afternoon and the western sun made it hard to take good pictures - but we try not to be the type of tourists who insist that geography be rearranged to suit our schedule; it is both rude and ineffective.
Cliffs of Moher

Lori had visited the cliffs on a previous trip in 2001, but since her trip they have built a visitor’s centre. It’s quite a nice visitor’s center, actually, with some good exhibits on the history and geology and a dizzying movie from the perspective of a bird in flight - but the cliffs are far more of a stirring sight.

I was surprised to learn that O’Brien Tower was built as recently as 1805.
Cliffs of Moher

I don’t actually have something to say about each of these pictures. You can interpret a lack of text as “yet another picture of the cliffs."
Cliffs of Moher

I saw a coin-operated telescope that still had some time on it (actually, I didn’t realize that it was coin-operated until it shut off), and I decided to experiment with taking a picture through the telescope with my iPhone. I think the results are more “interesting” than “awesome”, but it’s kind of nifty.
Cliffs of Moher through telescope
Cliffs of Moher through telescope

This warning sign makes me laugh. I would have bought a t-shirt featuring this graphic if they had had it in my size. (The other sign we saw: every few yards we saw signs for suicide hotlines. We were told later that Ireland is having a big problem with suicide, so much so that 15% of deaths of young people are due to suicide.)
Cliffs of Moher warning sign

I walked a bit south of the visitor’s centre, and tried to get a picture that captured the scale of the cliffs. This is my best attempt. That’s O’Brien Tower again, and it is a modest tower but still probably three stories high or so. And this is not a perspective trick; the tower is on the cliffs it appears to be on. The cliffs are really much higher than the tower.
Cliffs of Moher

So I’ve shown all these pictures from the top of the cliffs, and they are imitations of the photos of the Cliffs that you see in guidebooks and and websites. But what do you see if you look east from the cliffs, towards the land? You see a stone fence and cows, just a dozen yards from the cliffs’ edge.
Cows at Cliffs of Moher

We drove through the very small town of Doolin because Lori had stayed there years before, but did little more than take pictures of the ocean under cloudy skies.
Doolin Beach

We got to Marless House, our B&B near Galway, a bit after dark after some navigation difficulty; the streets were complicated enough that I was able to pay attention to either the roads or the GPS, but not easily both.

For dinner, we went to Lohan’s in downtown Salthill at the recommendation of Mary, the innkeeper.
Doolin Beach

I ordered a Galway Hooker and it was a very nice beer. Lori won the alcoholic beverages of the evening, though, with a Kopparberg Fruit Cider.
Galway Hooker, Kopparberg Mixed Fruit

The crab and salmon cakes were quite nice, with a very crisp exterior.
Salmon and Crab Cake

Lori had the chicken rolled with bacon and stuffing, possibly a little complicated but very savory and tasty.
Chicken rolled with Bacon and stuffing

My bacon and cabbage came with a light mustard sauce that made it much lighter than I expected.
Bacon and Cabbage

The only thing I didn’t enjoy so much was our apple tart. It was very beautiful, but it had the cakelike crust that we’d encountered with most pies and tarts in the British Isles.
Apple Tart
ralphmelton: (apple)
This was Rockcrest House, our B&B in Kenmare.
Rockcrest House

After leaving the B&B, we stopped in Kenmare for a bit of shopping and a visit to the KenmareLace and Design Centre, upstairs from the little town museum. Kenmare had been a great center for lacemaking, because in the 19th century Poor Clare nuns taught poor local girls to make lace as a way of making a little money. They had some fabulously intricate pieces on display, and a docent on hand who told us about the women who made them. We bought a marvelous delicate lace brooch for my mother, because she has tatted lace herself, and another for Lori just because it was beautiful. In a fit of optimism, Lori bought a kit that will enable her to make a small piece of the same lace. So far, she hasn’t started.

They didn’t allow pictures, but I recommend going to http://www.kenmarelace.ie and gawking at the pictures there.

I was finished before Lori was, so I took a few pictures of Kenmare.

This small round bridge is called Cromwell Bridge. The obvious conclusion is that it’s named for Oliver Cromwell, who brutally rampaged across Ireland during his time as Lord Protector of England. But the name was in used for a hundred years before he came along.
Cromwell Bridge

We drove off towards Killarney National Park, along the inland edge of the Ring of Kerry scenic route. Once again the roads were narrow and twisty, with steep drop-offs and no shoulders. Once or twice we went through a short tunnel that was barely wider than the car.
Ring of Kerry Ring of Kerry
Ring of Kerry
Ring of Kerry

Another panorama from the Ring of Kerry:

One of the most famous sights in Killarney National Park is called Ladies’ View, so named because Queen Victoria’s handmaidens were delighted by the view on a visit here. Lori was pretty delighted with it too.
Killarney National Park
Ladies View

A panorama from Ladies’ View.
Ladies View Panorama

Ladies View

Just down the hill from Ladies’ View was this medieval ruin:
Castle Near Ladies View

Killarney National Park
Killarney National Park
Killarney National Park
Killarney National Park Killarney National Park

Our planned stop in Killarney National Park was Muckross House, for another tour of a fine estate. But first, we ate lunch at the Garden Restaurant at Muckross. This is not any sort of obscure local eatery; this is clearly impersonal food for tourists. But it was very tasty. Lori had the chicken and vegetables, I had the shepherd’s pie, and we shared a dessert of plum sponge.
Chicken and vegetables, Muckross House Cafe Shepherd's Pie, Muckross House Cafe
Muckross House Cafe

Muckross House

Muckross House Muckross House

Lori was keen on taking a jaunting car ride ever since we had read about it in tour books. (Tourist level: so very touristy.) Finding a jaunting car ride was easy; the process appears to be to stand near Muckross House and not aggressively reject the possibility of a ride. Using this process, we ended up on a ride to Torc Falls drawn by an old codger with a habit of repeating everything twice. “Three hundred sixty-five windows in the house,” he’d say. “Three hundred sixty-five windows.” But he carries some history of his own there - he’s been driving a jaunting car for decades, and his son is now driving a jaunting car of his own.
Muckross House
Lough Leane, Killarney National Park
Stream near Torc Falls Stream near Torc Falls
Near Torc Falls
Jaunting Car Driver

Muckross House was a grand house. Multiple gorgeous rooms were decorated in a variety of period styles. I think some furnishings we saw dated back to the 17th century, but I am not sure of this. The detail I remember most is that the family had hardly any social contact with the (non-noble) locals; their only social life came when they visited England or someone from England visited them. It seems a dismal lonely lifestyle - especially for the children. This was a theme we heard repeated in every grand house or castle we toured.

No pictures because they didn’t allow pictures, but we have some lovely pictures of the gardens.
Muckross House Gardens Muckross House Gardens

On the other side of the parking lot from Muckross House is Muckross Traditional Farms, a collection of farms still being run as they were in 1930 or so, when horses provided most of the power and carrying water was a major part of daily life. I was particularly eager to tour these farms because I had read they are staffed by old farmers who can talk about the way things were back then. Unfortunately, we learned when we got there that during October, they are only open on weekends.

We stopped by Ross Castle on our way out of Killarney National Park, but the last tour was over.
Ross Castle
Ducks near Ross Castle
Ross Castle

We have a great many pictures of Ross Castle and Lough Leane under gloomy grey skies. These are some of our favorites:
Lough Leane Lough Leane
Lough Leane Lough Leane

Our destination that night was Ballyseede Castle. There’s a story in how we found Ballyseede. We were both eager to spend the night in a castle in our Ireland stay, and we mentioned that to a travel agent we were trying to work with. She immediately recommended Ballyseede, because it was so affordable. Now, I tend to be very thrifty or even stingy. But my castle stays are rare enough that I don’t want to choose a castle just because it’s cheap. But we could not persuade this travel agent that we had other priorities in our castle selection. That and chronic non-responsiveness led us to abandon that travel agent and arrange our trip entirely on our own. But we had her recommendation and other recommendations that Ballyseede was a good value in a castle stay, so we decided to spend one night there.
Ballyseede Castle Hotel

Our room was pretty, but bland compared the enthusiastic luxury of Lawcus Farm.
Ballyseede Castle Hotel

We ate in Ballyseede’s pub instead of the restaurant because I was having an attack of thrift. The woodwork in the pub was beautiful.

My steak and Guinness pie was excellent, with a very crisp puff pastry crust.
Steak and Guinness Pie

Lori had a nice but not particularly Irish pasta with tomato and spinach sauce and a very rich Bailey’s coffee.
Pasta with Tomato and spinach sauce
Bailey's Coffee

One of the special features of the pub is the dog Einstein, who spends much of his time there. Einstein has a special trick: he has several stones that he considers his. He will carry them in his mouth, drop them at your feet, and implore you to toss them for him to fetch.

As we were finishing our meal, we overheard the manager offering a tour of the castle to another couple, and we inserted ourselves into the tour. He told some ghost stories, for which Lori will give a more sympathetic retelling than I. My clearest memory is that of Hilda, the last family resident of the Castle; as with the residents of Muckross House, she did not socialize with the locals, so the highlight of her day was when the postman arrived. The story is that she’s sometimes seen in her window, waiting for the postman to arrive.

Lori: The tour of Ballyseede gave information on the history of the castle, its present uses, and the ghost stories surrounding it. My memories have dimmed, but I’ll do my best.

The castle’s date of origin is uncertain. The history we heard dates back to 1584, when the land was granted to Robert Blennerhassett, after the defeat of the previous owners, the Fitzgeralds, the Earls of Desmond. The rent for the castle was to be a single red rose from the garden, to be presented on Midsummer’s Day each year. The descendants of Robert Blennerhassett occupied the castle until 1966. Hilda was the last of the family to live there, and it’s said her spirit makes itself known on March 24 each year, which was her birthday. It is also said, as Ralph commented above, that her spirit can be seen in the window of her bedroom, looking for the mailman or visitors who rarely came. There are some watermarks under said window that are said to spell out “R I P.” It may be a bit of wishful thinking to say that - we could see where they get the idea, but the letters (such as they are) are far from sharp and clear.

There is also a romantic tale that a woman in white roams the halls at night, carrying the single red rose used to pay rent. We didn’t see her, but she makes a great story.

The castle now does weddings in a banquet hall in the oldest part of the castle, and it is in this room the ghost stories were told. A woman on Trip Advisor claimed she could’t sleep because the stories were so scary. The stories were pretty tame…I’d hate to think of what happened to her after she saw “The Sixth Sense,” a ghost movie that had me looking over my shoulder for at least three weeks.

The guide did have some ghost photos. They aren’t available online, so you’ll have to take my word for it - they were creepy. One was a photo of several Irish ladies at a wedding a few years ago. They’d posed on the staircase with their arms around each other. What was creepy was that a skeletal hand showed up draped on one lady on the end’s shoulder…looks like the ghost wanted to join in the fun. The other was of the pet cemetery (yes, they have one for the castle dogs and horses). There was a ghostly image of a dog’s face in spectral blue that was certainly creepy. I have no idea how likely or unlikely it is that these were photoshopped.

I can say that I do believe in ghosts, I do think something’s probably there, and that we had no encounters of our own that night. We did enjoy Ballyseede, and would recommend it to anyone visiting Ireland who would like the castle experience for a modest price. The decor was lovely, and I enjoyed wandering around taking it all in.

For more information, here’s the castle website. http://ballyseedecastle.com/history.php

Ballyseede Castle
Wedding Cake nook, Ballyseede CastleHotel
Ballyseede Castle
ralphmelton: (apple)
Our plan for Monday had been to drive the Ring of Kerry, whose scenic beauty makes it famous and very popular with tourists. But in two different events, our host at the B&B and another diner at the Lime Tree recommended we drive the Ring of Beara (around the Beara peninsula) instead; “It’s less touristy.” And my own superstitious quirks are such that I would not ignore such a double recommendation. So we drove the Ring of Beara.

It was a pretty drive under louring grey skies. But here’s the thing: “It’s less touristy” is apparently code for “the roads are so narrow and twisty that a tour bus would end up looking at its own license plate.” There were many beautiful scenes that we couldn’t photograph, because we’d have had had to park in the middle of the road and worry about blind curves.

I really regretted the theft of Lori’s phone this day. I use one of our phones as a GPS; I would have used another phone to take time-lapse videos, as I did in the Midwest in 2012.
Beara Peninsula Beara Peninsula
Beara Peninsula Beara Peninsula

This is not the best rainbow we saw in Ireland, but it was one of the few we were able to photograph.
Rainbow, Beara Peninsula

We stopped at Derreen Gardens, an old estate planted into a luxurious subtropical rainforest garden with many exotic plants in the late 1800s. We paid our 7€ at the honor box, and ended up regretting it. The paths were wild and wandering, and there was no portable map and few signs. So we did not feel we could walk a loop and reliably get back to our car. We encountered no other people except the sounds of a flute from the manor house, so it was a strange lonely place.
Derreen Gardens Derreen Gardens
Derreen Gardens Untitled
Derreen Gardens
Derreen Gardens
Derreen Gardens Derreen Gardens
Derreen Gardens Derreen Gardens

The name “King’s Oozy” sounds like something the king should see a doctor about.
Derreen Gardens

More pictures from our circuit of Beara.
Beara Peninsula
Beara Peninsula Beara Peninsula

We had plans to visit a cheesemaker in Eyeries. We found the tiny town of Eyeries, but didn’t find the cheesemaker. The brightly painted houses of Eyeries were very typical of Irish small towns.

This tree of roadsigns in Castletownbere was also very typical.
Road sign, Castletown

We ate a bland lunch at Murphy’s Restaurant: stuffed ham and turkey roast for Ralph and ham, cheese, and tomato toastie for Lori.
Murphy's Restaurant
Turkey Roast Ham, Cheese, and Tomato Toastie

A Beara landscape from our stop at Molly Gaffigan’s gift shop:
Beara Peninsula

Our last stop on our circuit was at Bonane Heritage Park. I was interested in stopping, because the park had a prehistoric stone circle and we had not managed to visit Stonehenge. Lori was not so interested, because the scowling clouds that had been with us all day had now gathered into a dripping rain. If we had had two cell phones (and effective cell service), she might have stayed in the car, but since we did not, she wanted to stay together. It’s good that we did stay together; we spent much longer at the park than I had predicted, and she would have been very nervous if she had been alone.
The honor box asked for 4€, but we had spent all of our small cash for the honor box at Derreen Gardens. I regret this, because we enjoyed Bonane much more - particularly because Bonane had good signs and clear routes.

Near the parking lot was a reconstructed crannog. I had never heard of a crannog before; a crannog is a dwelling on an artificial island in a lake, with a path of stepping stones under the water providing access for people who knew the secret.
Crannog, Bonane Heritage Park
Crannog Sign
(full size)

At the top of the hill was a ring fort. In the famine times, it had been used to try to grow potatoes, despite deep superstition prohibiting farming such sites. That gave me a new appreciation for the depths of the Famine, because this was such a high remote site that cultivating it would be a big challenge.
Ring Fort, Bonane Heritage Park
Ring Fort, Bonane Heritage Park
(full size)

A panorama from the center of the ring fort:
Ring Fort, Bonane Heritage Park

The Dromagorteen stone circle at Bonane is much less impressive than Stonehenge, but but it still requires a monumental amount of labor to lug dishwasher-sized rocks to the top of this hill. And the astronomical calculations and delicate adjustments must have required both labor and care.
Stone Circle, Bonane Heritage Park
Stone Circle, Bonane Heritage Park
(full size)
Stone Circle, Bonane Heritage Park
(full size)

Near the stone circle was a fulachta fiadh, a pre-pottery cooking pit in which hot stones were dropped into a pool to heat water. My impression is that the actual cooking pit was much smaller, but the raised ring comes from the piles of used cooking stones.
Fulacht Fiadh
(full size)

Lori suggested a selfie to confirm that we were viewing archaeological sights in the steady rain. Here we are, soggy and bedraggled but having a good time.
Us at Bonane

I quite enjoyed Bonane Heritage Park; I wish we had had more time to spend there.

That evening, we went to Foley’s, the other pub in Kenmare, to seek dinner and Irish music.

The brown bread was as good as ever.
Bread, Foley's

We shared the crab and salmon cakes for an appetizer; they were tasty, but very homogenous; the opposite of the big lumps of crab found in some Baltimore crab cakes.
Fish Cakes, Foley's

I had the stuffed pork chop, which was nicely prepared.
Pork steaks, Foley's

Lori’s steak and Guinness pie was quite tasty, but the presentation of serving it on top of the mound of colcannon was a little odd.
Beef and Guinness Pie, Foley's

Our dessert was a sticky toffee pudding that was only okay.
Sticky toffee pudding, Foley's

The music in the back bar that night was Dan O’Sullivan playing rousing Irish-music-for-tourists. We had a great time listening to him. We bought one of his CDs, and we stayed listening until the bar closed. But all the listeners were tourists, and the songs were tourist songs; it was like a performance at an Irish bar in the US transplanted to Ireland.
ralphmelton: (apple)
Sunday’s view from our bedroom window was much greyer than Saturday’s.
View from Milestone B&B

Even with the soggy day, Lori was very keen to take a boat tour out into Dingle Bay.

There was time before the boat ride for another trip to Murphy’s Ice Cream. We’ve forgotten the flavors, but it was excellent ice cream, worth eating two days in a row. (Side note: the Murphy’s website made me laugh with this bit: "WORST FLAVOUR WE EVER MADE: Smoked Salmon Ice Cream (horrible)”)
Murphy's Ice Cream Murphy's Ice Cream

This T-shirt says “Póg mo Cone”, which is much funnier if you’re familiar with the Irish phrase “póg mo thóin”. Of course, the western part of the peninsula (including Dingle) is a Gaeltacht, where Irish is still spoken predominantly, so this joke would be well understood locally.
Murphy's Ice Cream

Our boat for the tour of the bay.
Dingle Boat Cruise

The biggest reason for a boat tour in Dingle is Fungie the dolphin. Fungie is a very unusual dolphin: he lives in Dingle Bay year-round, where most bottlenosed dolphins migratory. He seems to be solitary, where most bottlenosed dolphins stay in groups. And he’s made Dingle Bay his home since 1984, although the typical lifespan for his species is 20-25 years. Fungie is also distinctive because he is very friendly with boats; the local boat tours offer that if you don’t see Fungie, you don’t pay for the tour.
We ended up seeing Fungie quite a bit, especially after the captain encouraged the five-year-old passenger to call “Fungie! Fungie!” repeatedly.
Fungie the Dolphin

As we were out on the boat, the soft grey mist turned to wind and rain. Lori insisted we take a selfie to show the conditions we were in, though it’s nigh-impossible to look good under such conditions.
Dingle Boat Cruise

The mist was beautiful, but it’s hard to take really splendid photos of the mist - particularly on a boat rocking with the waves.
Dingle Bay Dingle Bay
Dingle Bay Dingle Bay
Dingle Bay Dingle Bay

I’m fond of this picture - the lonely crenellated tower looks like something from a somber fairyland. I tried several times to get a closer picture, but none came out as good.

Lori was feeling very cold and wet when we returned to land, and rushed into a pub as soon as possible. She got little sympathy from the barmaid, but she did get an Irish coffee.

We returned to the Food Festival for a bit. We started with a little knot of outdoor food vendors - not clearly part of the Taste Trail, but still part of the festival.

Curry from Green Saffron - this was particularly nice because it was warm and we were chilled from the rain.
Dingle Food Festival Curry from Dingle Food Festival

The lentil shortbread was not actually that good.
Lentil Shortbread, Dingle Food Festival

Reel Dingle Fish was back on the Taste Trail. The smoked haddock was really nice.
Reel Dingle Fish Reel Dingle Fish

The Chart House is one of the nicer restaurants in Dingle. The goat cheese tartlet was probably the best, but the black pudding and apple chutney turnover was surprisingly good (according to the member of our duo who will sample black pudding).
The Chart House The Chart House The Chart House, Dingle Food Festival
Ice Cream from the Chart House

Lori was very keen on the cheesecake sundae from the Little Cheese Shop.
The Little Cheese Shop The Little Cheese Shop

Fenton’s was very proud of their mini burger, and the proprietor told us repeatedly how good it was as he was preparing it. Our verdict: not so much.
Mini Burger, Fenton's Restaurant

This red-headed busker won Lori’s heart (and tips) because he looked only eight years old.
Busker, Dingle Food Festival

Enjoy another scenery picture. This looks very Ireland to me.
Dingle Peninsula

We backtracked a bit to drive to Kenmare, another small Kerry town at the tip of the Kerry Bay between the Iveragh Peninsula (the peninsula with the tourist-popular Ring of Kerry) and the Beara Peninsula. This was the view from the window of our B&B in Kenmare.
View from Rock Crest House

At the recommendation of our host, we went to The Lime Tree, an upscale (and dimly lit) restaurant in a building that dates back to 1832.
We started with an appetizer of oak smoked salmon.
Smoked Salmon, Lime Tree

I ordered the Lamb Two Ways, with a mini shepherd’s pie and a small rack of locally sourced lamb. This was outstanding, probably the best lamb I’ve ever had.
Lamb Two Ways, Lime Tree

Lori got the chicken with boxty. It was very tasty but apparently not photogenic.
Chicken, Lime Tree

For dessert, we shared a lovely bread and butter pudding.
Bread and Butter Pudding, Lime Tree

The story of the building:
Lime Tree History

As we walked back to the B&B, we saw a sign on the door of a pub that said “Irish Music and Dance Tonight”. I’m quite certain of this, because I double-checked the sign later. So we figured this might be our chance to get a nice local pub session. We went in and found the bar area deserted. We asked a bartender about the dancing, and were told that it was in the back room.

So we went to the back room. There was indeed live music and dancing… but the instruments were an electronic keyboard and an electric guitar. And the choice of music didn’t fit our expectations of Irish music; the second song we heard was John Denver’s “Country Roads”. But there were people dancing; they were dancing two-steps and country western waltzes instead of jigs and reels.
On the one hand, this was definitely a local, non-tourist experience; the room was filled with locals, mostly elderly with a few younger folks. On the other hand, we found it hard to find a seat and even harder to find a conversation. We left after half an hour with only a pause to double-check that the sign did indeed say “Irish".
ralphmelton: (apple)
This was the view from our bedroom window on Saturday morning. (I have commented that there is hardly any better symbol of indefatigable optimism than an Irish clothesline.)
View from Milestone B&B

The teapot at breakfast came swaddled in this cute tea sweater.
Tea sweater

Lori had the scrambled eggs with salmon.
Salmon and scrambled eggs

I had the Irish fry; this was one of the better fries of the trip.
Irish breakfast

And then down to Dingle for the Dingle Food Festival.

I don’t remember the explanation of why there was a gypsy parade at the food festival.
Parade at Dingle Food Festival

The festival was one of the best food festivals we’ve encountered, because it had the Taste Trail. Seventy-five restaurants, shops, and food stalls were all selling small tastes of their various specialties for 2€ apiece. This meant that we were able to try a whole lot of places without becoming too horribly gorged. Even so, we did not managed to sample everything; we managed fourteen places on Saturday and about the same on Sunday. (There were also cooking demonstrations, workshops, music, and more, but the Taste Trail was the main thing for us.) It was touristy, certainly, but it felt to us as if it was catering to Irish tourists instead of international tourists. (Someone told us that this festival was a chance for the locals to relax a bit after the tourist season abated for the year.)

Crab Roll from Dingle Bay Hotel.
Crab Roll

Mini burger and whiskey custard from Murphy’s Pub.

I’ve lost track of who supplied this cupcake for Lori:

Liam O’Neill Gallery offered “Traditional Dingle Mutton Pies with Derry Clarke from L’ecrivian restaurant, Dublin”. This might have been my first chance to dine on food prepared by a Michelin-star chef, but I didn’t like the mutton pie much.
Mutton Pie

Biscuit Cake from the Strand House
Biscuit Cake

Murphy’s Ice Cream offered a lot of specialty flavors. All of them were good, but I remember particularly liking the Oats and the Cheddar Cheese flavors. Murphy’s was one of our favorite stops on the Taste Trail.
Murphy's Ice Cream tasting flavors

I’ve lost track of which flavors these were. My guesses (clockwise from top): butterscotch, oats, and Irish marmalade.
Murphy's Ice Cream

Tempted Strawberry Cider served in a frame shop. This didn’t live up to my mental image of strawberry cider, unfortunately.
Tempted Strawberry Cider

Pizza from The Diner reflected an imperfect understanding of 50s diner culture.
Pizza from The Diner

I had never had periwinkles before. (Periwinkles are edible sea snails; these pictured are from Hannie’s.) Eating periwinkles involves probing the snail with a toothpick like a game of Operation in order to retrieve a crumb of meat the size and texture of a small pencil eraser. They weren’t horrible, but I discarded them as not worth the effort after less than half the serving.

The bacon and cabbage from MacCarty’s was outstanding. Far better than I expected from a rather ordinary bar.
Bacon and Cabbage

Dick Mack’s is a haberdashery and bar. This combination might improve the process of shopping for men’s clothing. (They weren’t actually on the Taste Trail, I think.)
Dick Mack's

We took a break from the Taste Trail to see the beautiful Harry Clarke stained glass center at the Diseart Centre, a former convent. They didn’t allow pictures, of the windows; some pictures are available online at http://www.diseart.ie/visitor/harry3.html.

Foxy John’s (a hardware store plus bar; this sort of conversion is apparently a thing in Dingle) had samples of Annascaul Black Pudding, an award-winning artisan black pudding (and other breakfast meats). This was definitely qualitatively better than many of the other black puddings I had in Ireland, but it didn’t make me a black pudding lover.
Annascaul breakfast produce
Foxy John's

Pumpkin soup from An Gallerai Beag.
Pumpkin Soup

Cones of chocolates from It Must Be Food.

I think this cupcake came from Deirdre’s Delights.

We hit Kennedy’s Butchers just as they (and the other shops on the Taste trail) were closing up for the day. The three sausages were excellent.
Kennedy's Butchers
Kennedy's Butchers
Kennedy's Butchers

This meringue tea cake might have come from the Tree House Cafe. I’m not quite certain, though. I took notes of our destinations in one of the guides to the festival, and I’ve mislaid that guide. The guide is available online, but without our notes. I’ve managed to reconstruct most of our travels from a vague memory of our route, and the guide’s list of the foods served at each stop. The Tree House Cafe is next to Kennedy’s Butchers, which matches my remembered route - but the guide said that Tree House Cafe was serving something else, and I don’t see this meringue listed anywhere on the list. (Note from Lori: I bought that from the counter. It wasn’t a food festival thing, it was just a tea cake…and a LOT bigger than I thought it would be!)

After such a day of the Taste Trail, it was a bit tricky to figure out supper. We wanted something a bit more substantial; Lori in particular hadn’t eaten nearly as many tastes as I had. But we didn’t want much, and we felt that that a nice restaurant would be wasted on us. So we ended up returning to the Diner for garlic bread and pizza. This pizza was adequate, but I don’t think it would measure up in New York or New Haven.
Garlic Bread at the Diner Pizza at the Diner

We attended evening Mass at St. Mary’s. The service used a mixture of English and Gaelic, which made it very hard for me to follow.

Lori: I am a card-carrying Catholic. One of the beautiful things about Catholicism is the universality of the Mass. However, the occasional Gaelic mixed in with the English, and the thick accents of the Priest and congregation meant that I was often lost too, despite the fact that the responses are the same no matter where you go. We think some of it was simply that the accent gave everything a slightly different cadence and/or rhythm than what I’m accustomed to. Still, it was a beautiful little church made of stone, warm-toned wood, and stained glass, I enjoyed hearing parts of the Mass spoken and sung in Gaelic, and I was happy we went there for Mass.

After the Mass, we went seeking Irish music. Dingle is a famous town for Irish music, and we wanted to make the most of our opportunities while we were there. We never found Irish music that night, but we got one of the best stories of our trip. This photo may be as close to Irish music as we came that night - but the key to understanding this picture is to know that I do not play guitar.
Bennett's Hotel

What happened was this: as we were passing Bennett’s Hotel, Lori wanted to take a peek inside, because it was a venerable old establishment with a sumptuous entryway. When we poked our heads in, a guy at the bar enthusiastically beckoned us inside.
(I’ll call him Paddy, because he gave that as his name at least once.) It turned out that he and his (mostly silent) friend Jim had come from about thirty miles away looking for a session, and he had seen me and assumed from my appearance that I was a bluegrass player. Unfortunately, the closest I come to being a bluegrass musician is that my sister-in-law is an amateur fiddler. Paddy was not convinced despite our protestations, and it was at his insistence that we posed with his guitar.

We talked with Paddy and Jim briefly; I recall that Jim was a police officer, but I don’t recall any background about Paddy. They had no idea that the Dingle Food Festival was in town; they had just come to find a session the way they do once a month or so.

But Paddy’s attention soon drifted away from us to land upon Molly (definitely not her real name). Paddy started chatting with her with casual interest, but his conversation flourished wildly. Within ten minutes, he was introducing her to us as his girlfriend; within another ten minutes, he was asking to borrow Lori’s engagement ring so that he could propose to her. Molly did not seem to wholly reciprocate his infatuation; her responses were along the lines of “That’s not my real name; I’m not telling you my real name. I’m not going to marry you. I’m not even going to go to a different bar with you.” But Paddy was utterly undaunted and continued pouring out his adulations to his lady love. (This might have been creepy if she wasn’t enjoying it, but she was clearly having a fine time. After Paddy and Jim left, she told us her real name (which I’ve now forgotten) and told us that her cheeks were sore from laughing so hard.)
This is the picture Paddy insisted we take of the two lovebirds. It is one of our most memory-laden photos of the trip.
Paddy and Molly

Paddy and Jim eventually unslung their guitars and started to start a session of their own, and were firmly told “no music here” by the bartender. They wandered off while we stayed to chat with Molly and her friend.

We walked a bit more looking for a pub with music, but the ones we found were full to bursting. We stood outside one pub listening to the music for a while, but it had been a day of a lot of standing and walking, and we went back to the B&B around ten.
ralphmelton: (apple)
This was one of the most picture-heavy days of our trip.

Friday morning, I had the bagel with bacon and egg because it had looked so good when Lori got it by accident, and Lori got the porridge on the first try.
Bagel with Bacon and Eggs Porridge

We did our best to hustle to Dingle, a town of about 2000 people on a peninsula on the west coast of Ireland. We were carefully planning to be in Dingle for the weekend of the Dingle Food Festival, but I wanted to see the sights of the Dingle peninsula on Friday to leave us plenty of time for the festival on the weekend.

It rained in the morning but cleared up as we drove. We saw three rainbows on our route - but none with an opportunity to stop for a picture.

We noticed that the town of Castlemaine has a plaque proclaiming itself the origin of the Wild Colonial Boy (as commemorated in the song of that name).

The Dingle peninsula looks very much like my stereotype of Irish scenery. Some miscellaneous pictures from the eastern part of the Dingle peninsula, near Inch and Anascaul:
Dingle Peninsula Dingle Peninsula
Dingle Peninsula

Dingle Peninsula
Dingle Peninsula

Dingle Peninsula
Dingle Peninsula

A panoramic view of green hills and hedgerows:
Dingle Peninsula Panorama

We got into Dingle about 1, and stopped for lunch at the first spot we saw, a family restaurant named Harrison’s. It was adequate but not delightful; Lori’s plaice and chips was a bit greasy, though my smoked haddock and chips had a nice smoke flavor.
Fish and Chips at Harrington's Smoked haddock and chips

We checked in at the Milestone Bed and Breakfast just east of town. (A pleasant place, but one of the tiniest bathrooms we’ve encountered. I had to turn sideways to get past the sink to the shower.) The Milestone B&B is so named because of the standing stone in the front yard, dating back to 2000-1400 BC.
Milestone at Milestone Inn

Barbara, the innkeeper, gave us a photocopied hand-drawn map of the Slea Head Loop to guide our drive and an oral commentary on the various sights. It was helpful advice; for example, we passed by beehive huts from the 8th century, because Barbara said there was no explanation, just a chance to pay a few Euros to an old woman to see the ancient huts in her garden. (Again, it’s wacky to me that such old structures are just lying around.)

I did want to stop at Dunbeg Fort, because of its longer heritage. It’s a cliff fort (or something; archaeology has apparently not been clear about its purpose) that might date back as far as the fifth century BC. It too is very low-key; the “visitor’s centre” is the pub across the road. We didn’t see any signs or explanations, so we are left guessing with everyone else about the purpose of these ditches and walls.
Dunguaire Fort Dunbeg Fort
Dunguaire Fort

More scenery pictures from near Dunbeg Fort:
Slea Head Loop Dunguaire Fort
From Dunguaire Fort

In my collection of pictures, I find an occasion for another rant about the narrow Irish roads. I did not feel that this was wide enough for our car and the dog-walker, much less an oncoming car.
Dog Walker on Slea Head Loop

We stopped at a turnout at the western end of the peninsula to see the Blasket Islands. There was a piper playing there at the turnout at the far western edge of Ireland. We bought one of his CDs.
Blasket Islands

More views of the hillsides of the Dingle peninsula.
Slea Head Loop Slea Head Loop
Slea Head Loop

This island of the Blaskets is nicknamed the Sleeping Giant because of its silhouette.
The Sleeping Giant

The Blasket Islands are a group of three medium-small islands off the coast of the Dingle peninsula. A small community of subsistence farmers eked out a living there until the last few residents were moved off the island in the 1950s. We didn’t visit the Blaskets, but we did visit the Blasket Islands Centre on the mainland. It was a good museum of the people of the Blaskets, and it inspired us to buy two books of stories of the residents in the early nineteenth century. Things I particularly recall from the museum:
- There were no harbors on the islands, so the boats that were used were curraghts, large canvas-covered canoes. This made it a big challenge to get a cow to the mainland to be inseminated; there were pictures of the cow in the curraght upside down with all four legs tied together.
- What happened to the Blasket Islands community was an influx of money. Typically the eldest daughter of a family would go to Dingle and work as a domestic servant until she had put together a little money, and then go off to America. Then she would send money back to help another member of the family make the passage, and so forth until all the young people were gone. This evaporation of young people to better opportunities eventually made the community unsustainable, so there were only a handful of old folks when the government finally moved everyone to the mainland.
Blasket Islands Centre

We would have had better light for photography earlier in the day. But the down side of being on the west coast on a fine sunny day is that the sun was very bright on the water.
The Sleeping Giant

Slea Head Loop Slea Head Loop
Gallarus Oratory Untitled

We had time for one last stop before heading back to Dingle, so stopped at Gallarus Oratory. This is a small building built of carefully fitted stone without any mortar. It’s presumed that this was a Christian church from about the 8th century, but there’s no clear evidence.
Gallarus Oratory

Gallarus Oratory

Wikipedia claims that there’s a local legend that if you exit the oratory by climbing out of the window, your soul will be cleansed. But I fear that if I tried, the effect would be more like that of Winnie the Pooh climbing out of Rabbit’s burrow.
Gallarus Oratory

We got back to Dingle to attend a concert at St. James’ Church. We were again seeking music that met our stereotype of Irish music, and again we didn’t quite get that. It would be presumptuous for me to claim that this was not Irish music - it was performed by Irish performers and the words were in Gaelic. But the sound of the performers was more like what I would call “singer-songwriter” than “Irish”. And the pews we were sitting at were hard and uncomfortable, and we hadn’t eaten dinner. We decided not to return after intermission in order to get dinner before restaurants closed.

We had a nice meal at the Old Smokehouse. We started with crab au gratin:
Crab au Gratin at the Old Smokehouse

I had the salmon en croute (made with local salmon). It was tasty and well prepared, but again I was growing tired of seafood.
Salmon en croute at the Old Smokehouse

Lori won dinner with her chicken with ham, ricotta, and apricot. Very tasty.
Chicken with ham, ricotta, and apricot at the Old Smokehouse

For dinner, we shared a very nice peach and strawberry crumble, accompanied by a pitcher of custard.
Peach and Strawberry Crumble with custard

Dingle has a reputation as a great music town, so we went out to seek Irish music once more. At the Mighty Session bar, we found a duo playing with accordion and flute, and had a good time listening to them for an hour or so.
ralphmelton: (apple)
Is this not the prettiest porridge breakfast one could wish for? This was actually a second attempt; Lori had ordered the porridge, but received a bagel with bacon and egg instead.
Breakfast Porridge at Old Presbytery

We took a walking tour of Kinsale in the morning, even though it was a wet, grey day. Barry the tour guide had large umbrellas available for the use of the tourists, which was a remarkable courtesy. Barry was a good tour guide and did a good job of explaining Kinsale’s history. Much of the wall that enclosed Kinsale in medieval times is still present, and the five historic gates still constrain traffic.
Kinsale Harbor Kinsale Harbor
Untitled Kinsale Kinsale

The medieval tax schedule is still posted in the old town hall (now a tiny but interesting museum).
Kinsale tax schedule

We ate lunch at the Lemon Leaf Cafe, a bright little cafe tucked into the back of a gift shop. Lori got a lovely cup of tomato soup (just the thing for a rainy day) and a very nice ham and chesse sandwich with apple and raisin chutney. Again, in the US such a sandwich would probably be toasted in a way that melted the cheese, but here it was just served on toast.
Ham and Cheese Sandwich at Lemon Leaf Cafe

I got my share of melted cheese, though, with a bacon and cheese rarebit that was simply fabulous. With great smoky bacon and sharp cheese, this was a meal worth a long journey for.
Bacon Rarebit at Lemon Leaf Cafe

More harbor pictures:
Kinsale Harbor
Kinsale Harbor

We spent the afternoon with a bit more sightseeing and a bit of shopping. We bought cut crystal glassware at Kinsale Crystal. Cut crystal in Ireland has changed over the last few years. Waterford Crystal was the most famous Irish crystal company. But in 2009, Waterford went bankrupt and closed the factory in Waterford, and most of the production has since been moved to Eastern Europe. But a group of former employees now makes crystal under the name Sons of Waterford, and sends the blanks to small local shops like Kinsale Crystal to be cut and sold to tourists. (And these shops are very accommodating for tourists; they offered to ship our purchases directly to our home so that we didn’t have to worry about packing glass in our luggage.)

Lori spotted a beautiful rainbow shawl in Kilmaran Woolens, and I bought it for her as a Christmas present with the thinnest possible pretense that she did not know what I had purchased.

Because Kinsale is known as a town for gourmet dining, we looked for another gourmet restaurant for dinner, and ended up at Finn’s Table. This was an exceptional dinner, one of the best of our trip.

We ordered half a bottle of wine in the happy knowledge that we wouldn’t be driving anywhere. Julie Finn, one of the proprietors, cheerfully offered to decant it for us, even though it was only half a bottle.
Finn's Table

I liked brown bread everywhere we went in Ireland, but I especially liked it here. The white herb roll was also excellent.
Finn's Table

Lori began her meal with the tomato, ginger, and rosemary soup. Lori generally avoids spicy food, but the ginger and rosemary seasoned this very nicely.
Tomato, Ginger, Rosemary Soup at Finn's Table

Kinsale is a port town, so local fare means seafood. So for my appetizer, I ordered the grilled oysters with vodka, lime, cilantro sauce. These were really outstanding; the seawater taste of the oysters came through clearly, but the sauce transformed it and made it radiant. (When I praised the oysters to the proprietor, she tried to introduce me to the oysterman who had gathered them, but he had just left the restaurant.)
Grilled oysters with vodka, lime, cilantro sauce, Finn's Table

Lori had beautiful fragrant lamb chops.
Rack of Lamb, Finn's Table

My entree was the surf and turf with fondant potatoes. (The lobster came from local waters, and my beef and Lori’s lamb were raised by Julie’s husband’s parents.)
Surf and Turf and fondant potatoes

Lori’s dessert was a selection of caramel tart, house made ice cream, and chocolate mousse.
Caramel tart, Ice Cream, Chocolate Mousse

However, I won the better dessert with mine: lemon posset with blackberry sorbet and housemade shortbread. (A posset is a chilled milk dessert, similar to what I call “pudding” in my American dialect.) The flavors were radiant and sumptuous, and it was a splendid finale to the meal.
Lemon posset with blackberry sorbet and housemade shortbread, Finn's Table

We had some chances to talk with Julie Finn at some length because we praised the food so highly. She said that she and her husband have only been in business in Kinsale for a year or two. We certainly think they’re off to a terrific start, and we wish them every success.

We wound up the night at Dalton’s Bar looking again for craic. The two women customers left shortly after we arrived, but we had some pleasant chitchat with the bartender.
Dalton's Bar Untitled
ralphmelton: (apple)
Let me share some more pictures of Lawcus Farm, because we loved it so much:
View from Lawcus Farm
Lawcus Farm

Another panorama; again you can click on this for a much larger image.
Lawcus Farm Panorama

The base of this table was made from the stump of a five-century-old oak on the property. Mark spoke more than once about how he wanted the Oak to be part of the Lawcus Farm story.
Lawcus Farm Tree of Life Table

Ralph and Mark in the entrance to our room:

And the two of us with Ann Marie.

When we said our goodbyes to Mark, he gathered us into his arms, bowed his head, and prayed over us that Lawcus Farm might confer some of its magic upon us and bless us in the rest of our travels and our return to the United States. I get misty-eyed every time I remember this. This is definitely a service that we have not received in any hotel.

For our first trip stop after Lawcus Farm, we went to Kells Priory. Once again, I am struck by how casual the treatments of monuments can be. Kells Priory dates back to 1193, but this historic ruin is left open to the public with no more guard than a revolving door to keep the sheep from straying out into the road. Well, and a large quantity of sheep droppings, which did diminish Lori’s enthusiasm.
Kells Priory
Kells Priory
Kells Priory

As we were driving around, from time to time we would see a wordless sign with an icon of a camera. Image from Wikipedia:

We thought this meant a scenic view, though we were baffled by the fact that often there was no place near to park and enjoy the view. This picture was taken at one of those signs where we could find a convenient place to stop. It was only after we returned to the United States that we learned that this sign means “speed limit enforced by cameras”. So this is an Irish landscape that is not claimed by road signs to be particularly scenic - but it shows what it was like to drive through central Ireland.

We arrived at the Rock of Cashel around lunchtime. Before touring the Rock, we had lunch at Granny’s Kitchen, a cheerful little cafe nearly in the shadow of the hill. Vegetable soup, a bacon and cheese toastie (much better than the previous evening’s toastie), and a ploughman’s lunch plate of bread and cheese.
Granny's Kitchen Granny's Kitchen Granny's Kitchen
Vegetable Soup Cheese and bacon toastie Ploughman's Lunch plate

The Rock of Cashel is a cathedral and its related buildings atop a hill. It’s not a particularly high hill, but it stands alone and offers a dramatic view of the surrounding countryside. It’s been used as a religious site for centuries (“Only documented to the fourth century AD”, the guide said deprecatingly), and is reputed to be where St. Patrick converted the King of Munster to Christianity.
Rock of Cashel

If we were able to arrange every detail to best suit ourselves, our visit to the Rock of Cashel would have come at a time when it was not undergoing restoration. We didn’t manage to get a good view of the whole castle.
Rock of Cashel

Rock of Cashel

We took lots of photos at the Rock of Cashel, and unfortunately most of them are not that good. The sky held a mixture of dark clouds and open patches, so every shot had to deal with both dark shadows and bright sunlight.
Rock of Cashel

The vicar’s building has been restored to the way it was around 1500. This is a large replica of a seal that was carried by the vicars as a medieval equivalent of a company credit card; they could charge purchases to the abbey’s account by showing the seal. This system was ended after twenty years or so because it was abused.
Rock of Cashel

The view of the countryside from the Rock of Cashel. At the right of this picture, there’s a chunk of tower that fell centuries ago and has not been moved.
View from Rock of Cashel

This ninth-century sarcophagus shows Viking influence, but it is lost to history who occupied it.
Sarcophagus at Rock of Cashel

Lori enjoyed imagining what it would have been like to stand in the cathedral centuries ago.
Rock of Cashel

We were told that in the 1920s, the graveyard was getting overcrowded, so they limited new burials to people who could demonstrate a family tradition of being buried there. Apparently there are still a few living people with the right to be buried there.

There are crosses on the site that are a millennium old, but this one is far more recent.
Rock of Cashel

We stopped by the Cork airport, because when we'd called Hertz about our accident on Monday, they'd asked me to bring the accident report to a Hertz location within a week. But when we got to the Hertz stop in the airport (after a great many roundabouts and a few wrong turns), the young man on duty was utterly uninterested in taking our accident kit. We grumbled at the pointless detour.

Our stop that night was in Kinsale, a small fishing and tourism town on the south coast of Ireland. Once again the medieval heritage was apparent in the attempts to park; I got so discombobulated by the narrow streets and complicated traffic that I missed the turn into the parking lot of our B&B - and it took me almost half an hour to get back, even with the GPS.

Lori was enchanted by the selection of tea treats that the B&B provided. The only one I remember by name was the white chocolate orange scones.
Tea at Old Presbytery

Kinsale claims to be the gourmet capital of Ireland, so we tried to have more upscale meals while we were there. For dinner, we ate at Jim Edwards.
Jim Edwards

I had a seafood chowder. This was my first encounter with seafood chowder in Ireland - and I didn’t like it very much. It had a very strongly fishy taste.
Seafood Chowder at Jim Edwards

Lori’s potato leek soup.

I had the hake entree, because I hadn’t heard of hake. Once again it turns out that despite my attempts to eat the local specialty even when it’s seafood, I am not that much of a seafood lover - and this had a strong fishy taste.
Hake at Jim Edwards

Lori is even less of a seafood lover than I am, but she had the baked salmon because it was a seafood town. Perhaps it’s just that we’re more familiar with salmon than hake, but we both liked hers much more than mine.

My dessert was an apple pie, and this was not a very good apple pie. Part of it, of course, was that British/Irish norms for pie are very different from American norms, so this came with a very thick crust. But even allowing for that, this was not worth finishing.
Lori liked her banoffee tart much more.
Apple pie at Jim Edwards
Banoffee Pie at Jim Edwards
ralphmelton: (apple)
Breakfast at Lawcus Farm was a three-course affair. We started out with fruit and juice (and optional granola, which we declined.)
Lawcus Farm

Next was rich, tasty porridge. Instead of sweetening it with honey, Ann Marie suggested Orchard Syrup, an Irish syrup made from boiling down apples. It was tasty enough that we brought home a bottle as a souvenir.
Porridge at Lawcus Farm
Orchard Syrup

As we were finishing our porridge, we noticed Robin the farmhand walk in with a bowl of eggs. These eggs were fried up and served to us only a few minutes after they were laid. At this point in the narration, I feel I’m supposed to rhapsodize about what a difference it makes to have such super-fresh eggs - but my palate is coarse enough that I did not notice a difference between this super-fresh egg and a nicely fried supermarket egg. Even so, it was well cooked and it tasted very nice.
We were told that the bacon might or might not have come from Lawcus Farm pigs; they serve more bacon than their own pigs provide, so they have to make up the difference with bacon from other farmers in the village. So there’s some question of whether the bacon is super-local or merely very local, but it was very tasty and savory. This was a great Irish fry.
Irish Fry at Lawcus Farm

Lori chose pancakes instead. As I look at this picture, I’m surprised to see sautéed mushrooms on the plate; I suspect Lori handed them to me.
Pancakes at Lawcus Farm

While Lori got ready, I overheard Mark giving other guests a tour of Lawcus Farm, and I tagged along.
Lawcus Farm
Lawcus Farm
Lawcus Farm

Mark said that everything in the place came from “picking” - pieces and scraps he’d picked up from other buildings. For example, the flagstones in the floor in the large dining room had come from another house, whose owner had had to take up the stones to bring the construction up to code. And the windows of our room (the upper floor on the left) had come from an old church that had been torn down.
Lawcus Farm

A panorama of Lawcus Farm:
Lawcus Farm Panorama

In the bar, Mark gave us each a shot of poitín, an Irish spirit (distilled from barley, potatoes, or whatnot) that occupies the same cultural niche and former historic illegal status as moonshine in the US.(For further reading: http://www.thejournal.ie/poitin-ireland-1175839-Nov2013/) Mark said that this was the good stuff; this is what the police would drink. I don’t remember much of the taste; it was potent and pretty smooth.

We set off to a Farm and Folk Museum that Mark had told us about in nearby Bennettsbridge. This museum is run by one man, Seamus Lawlor, in a barn or large shed behind his house.
Farm and Folk Museum

This picture of monuments outside the museum is interesting to me for two reasons. The monuments for the evictions during the Great Famine and for the invasion by Oliver Cromwell suggest to me an anger about those cruelties that persists to the present day. And the monument in the middle begins “In proud and loving memory of James Lawlor who was founder, member, and chairman of the first Irish Transport and General Workers Union branch in Co Kilkenny in 1917”, and I suspect that James Lawlor was an ancestor of Seamus Lawlor who runs the museum.
Farm and Folk Museum
Farm and Folk Museum

In retrospect, I think we may have overestimated how strongly Mark was recommending the Farm and Folk Museum. Here’s the thing: there is a fine line between “museum” and “barn full of junk”, and this place only stayed on the “museum” side of that line because of a smattering of handwritten labels. (We have visited places that were on the wrong side of that line, particularly the Tower Museum in Colorado.)
Farm and Folk Museum
Farm and Folk Museum Farm and Folk Museum
Farm and Folk Museum Farm and Folk Museum
Farm and Folk Museum Farm and Folk Museum

But as we looked around, we saw a story of affection for the life of farmers of the 19th and 20th centuries. We read some nice tales and poems of threshing day, when a community’s threshing machine would visit one farmer’s fields and there would be a party of harvesting and gathering.
Farm and Folk Museum Farm and Folk Museum

And there were clear signs that Seamus Lawlor still holds a grudge over the famine times. That was more interesting to me than the Famine itself; I know about the Famine, but I was not expecting it to be still aflame in the hearts of Irish.
Farm and Folk Museum

We got a nice view of the bridge that gave Bennettsbridge its name:

From the museum, it was just around the corner to Nicholas Mosse pottery, a ceramic factory whose work has appeared in tourist stores. We watched people work, shopped for pottery, and got a little snack: local apple juice for me, Diet Coke with a local marketing campaign for Lori.
Drinks at Mosse Pottery

The drive back to Stoneyford gave us a moment when we weren’t using my phone as a GPS, so Lori had a chance to take a few pictures of the road. I may not have yet ranted about how narrow Ireland roads are. So many of the roads are about one and a half car widths… and the speed limits are high; the speed limit on a road like this might be 80 km/h (50 mph). Look for the car visible in one of the pictures to show just how narrow these roads are - and remember that these are two-way roads.
Road to Kilkenny Road near Kilkenny
Untitled Untitled

I’m particularly fond of this picture.
Road near Kilkenny

We ate lunch at Knockdrinna Farm Shop, an award-winning cheesemaker in Stoneyford
Knockdrinna Farm Shop

We had a couple of interesting juices:
Juices at Knockdrinna

We ordered a plate of their cheeses - but unfortunately, I don’t remember them. I know that there were two cow’s milk cheeses, two goat’s milk cheeses, and one sheep’s milk cheese.
Knockdrinna Cheese sampler

For an entree, we shared a chicken and ham pie. It was tasty, but it had barely any ham.
Chicken and Leek Pie at Knockdrinna

From there we drove into Kilkenny to see the sights. We parked downtown and walked several blocks through soft rain to Kilkenny Castle.

Butter Slip is a narrow covered alley that got its name because that was where butter was sold in medieval times.
Buttter Slip, Kilkenny

Kilkenny Castle was our first encounter with a Downton Abbey-like estate, with doughty walls and beautiful gardens. It was occupied until 1935, but then everything in the castle was auctioned off and it was left vacant. It was sold to the city in 1957 for 50 pounds.
Kilkenny Castle Kilkenny Castle Gardens Kilkenny Castle Gardens
Kilkenny Castle Gardens

There was work being done on the crest at the main entrance, which yielded an entertaining juxtaposition of old and new.
Kilkenny Castle

The east wall that would have been the original entrance when the castle was built in 1195 has been torn down centuries ago.
Kilkenny Castle

One little curiosity of the restored castle: they had a gizmo for enclosing your wet umbrella in a plastic bag for the protection of the antiquities.

Kilkenny Castle didn’t allow pictures of the interior. It was pretty (mostly in a turn-of-the-century style matching the last inhabitants) and fancy enough that we bought a book on the castle to get some pictures.

The River Nore as viewed from the castle.
From Kilkenny Castle

A pub sign worth commemorating from our walk back into Kilkenny:

A few miscellaneous photos of Kilkenny city streets:
Kilkenny Kilkenny Kilkenny

Lori’s aunt Helen had particularly recommended that we visit the Black Abbey in Kilkenny. We climbed up to the top of the hill, only to discover that the building we were heading to was not actually the Black Abbey - it was St. Canice Cathedral of the Church of Ireland. The round tower is one of the two round towers in Ireland that tourists are allowed to climb. I climbed up the stairs, but the door inside was closed.
St. Canice Cathedral

We found the Black Abbey on our second try. I expected it to be more black. It turns out that it’s called the Black Abbey because it’s a Dominican abbey, and black is the traditional color of the Dominicans.
Black Abbey

Another picture from our walk downhill. This was just a canal running through the town, but I think this is one of the prettiest pictures I got.
St. Mary's Cathedral

The Black Abbey was open to tourists, so were able to go in. The stained glass was particularly beautiful. As we were looking at the windows, a group of monks came in for evening vespers. We worried that we were intruding on their prayers and tried to leave quietly. As we left, one elderly monk caught our eye and gave us a blessing with a gesture and a smile. He did this with no break in the prayers he was singing. Lori said he just had this aura of kindness.
Black Abbey Black Abbey

Another picture about the sometimes-difficult interactions between traditional medieval streets and modern cars. This particular street was one-way, at least - but cars of many different colors had left paint on the edges of this arch.
Narrow Arch on a Street

We ate dinner at a pub called Kyteler’s Inn, founded in 1324. Alice Kyteler, the mistress of the tavern, apparently outlived four husbands, but she was convicted for witchcraft (Kyteler’s material claims she was framed) and had to flee to England.
Kyteler's Inn Kyteler's Inn

Dinner was pretty touristy and disappointing. I had a fairly sad ham toastie, Lori had some chewy Irish stew.
Sad Ham Toastie Chewy Lamb Stew

The reason that we came to Kyteler’s: Mark at Lawcus Farm had suggested it as a place for Irish music. It turned out that they did not actually have music on Tuesday nights; instead they had bodhran sessions. It was extremely touristy, but I gladly took the chance to try to learn a little bodhran. It may be fairly said that I was not any good at playing the bodhran; I was slower to pick up the techniques than most, and I felt I was continually trying to catch up. But I think that I was a very good sport about it, even when the leader was razzing me about my difficulties.
ralphmelton: (apple)
On Monday, we got up and had one more Irish fry.

As I was heading upstairs, someone accosted me in the stairway. In a French accent, he insisted upon telling me that my snoring was keeping him awake - but the word “snore” wasn’t handy for him, so he had to substitute honking onomatopoeia. I was totally taken aback, and had no idea how to respond. When I told Lori about it later, she said that someone had been pounding on the door in the middle of the night; she’d put it down to ghosts, but apparently it was a pushy Frenchman.

We got the rental car with very little incident. Hertz upgraded us to a larger car, a Volkswagen Golf. The travel guides we’d read had recommended getting the smallest rental car one could, so I asked for a smaller one. As usual with me and rental agencies, it took me a while to figure out that “We’ve upgraded you” is code for “we don’t have any cars of the size you wanted.” Once that was established, I stopped fussing and we went off in the Golf.

Driving on the left side of the road required all my attention.

Our first destination in the car was Brú na Bóinne, the site of a great many prehistoric sites.

We started with lunch in the cafe in the visitor’s center: a chicken, leek, and mushroom pie with rhubarb pie for me, and a ham and cheese quiche and a caramel shortbread for Lori. Both of these were very tasty. The cafe is certainly not the reason to visit Brú na Bóinne, but our meal was very good.
Lunch at Bru na Boinne
Quiche in Profile Caramel Bar at Bru na Boinne

We only had time to visit one of the many sites at Brú na Bóinne, so we chose Newgrange. (The other two major sites are Howth and Dowth.) Our admission to Newgrange included a bus ride to the site. These pictures show the sort of weather and scenery we saw that day; cloudy and damp without actually raining much. But they also do show the verdant beauty for which Ireland is renowned.

Newgrange is a passage tomb built on a hill. It was originally built around 3200-3100 BC, about five hundred years before the construction of the Pyramids. It was covered by a hill for centuries, and then rediscovered in 1699. (The front wall of quartz is a reconstruction, though apparently an accurate one.)

From the entrance, a narrow hallway slopes upward to three little rooms at the end. At dawn of the winter solstice, the sun shines through the opening above the doorway and penetrates up to the inner chamber. Electric lights have been installed to show visitors what that dawn is like, or there’s a lottery to be among the lucky few who get to be inside the chamber that day. (I had inferred that it was only on a single day that the light penetrated. It’s actually about six days centered on the solstice. It’s still an impressive feat of astronomical calibration.)

The thing that really impresses me about Newgrange is just how much planning and coordination it required. It’s not just the labor required to move the stones in place (Wikipedia says the entrance stone weighs about 5 tons, and it came from a river valley tens of miles away to the top of this hill); it’s also the scope of the plan. I made rough calculations about how long it would take to build Newgrange from what the tour guide about the population of the British Isles at the time and typical lifespans of the time. I forget the number I came up with, but it was multiple generations, long enough that the builders who started the project could not possibly see its end. (Wikipedia cites estimates of five years or thirty years, both of which are much shorter than my rough estimate.)
I build software for a living. For my team, our product of six years ago is so old that we don’t try to support it. Ten or fifteen years ago is a significantly different era of computing; twenty years ago is so old that I can’t read any of my floppy discs from that time. Even at the level of coordination of our federal government (which coordinates far more people than lived in the British Isles at that time), I can’t think of projects that take more than a few years without immediate benefit.
I can imagine how you would figure out how to align the passage to catch the rays of dawn on the solstice, but carrying out that plan over generations seems well-nigh unfathomable to me. I do know of other multi-generational projects, such as medieval cathedrals, but this takes on an extra level of bogglement because of the lack of written language. I can only dimly imagine generations of scholars memorizing and reciting the lore of just where the stones should go to carry out this process, and it staggers me.
Newgrange Newgrange

How long would it take to carve these stones when your only tools are rocks and antlers?
Rock Art at Newgrange Rock art at Newgrange

The site was reused centuries later for other structures whose meaning is equally uncertain to us.
Passage tomb near Newgrange

A panorama of Newgrange (you can click through for a larger version):
Newgrange Panorama

Us at Newgrange

As we drove away from Brú na Bóinne towards Kilkenny, the roads were very narrow. And though I was doing okay with remembering to drive on the left, I didn’t yet have an accurate sense of how the car was arranged around me. The point of this ominous foreshadowing: before I had driven a full hour in Ireland, I swerved to avoid an oncoming car and sideswiped a parked van. We parked and got out to assess the damage. We found the owner of the van, a guy working on a house nearby. We could not have asked for nicer treatment; he looked at the long mark on the van and said, “looks like you’ve improved it.” (The van was mud-splattered and worn, but although I might agree that we didn’t do any significant harm, I could not claim to have improved it with a straight face.) He assured us that he wouldn’t contact Hertz about the accident, and he advised us to get a replacement for the cracked side mirror, install it ourselves, and say nothing to Hertz. (We didn’t follow his advice; we used the accident-recording kit in the glove compartment.)
This shook my driving confidence for the rest of the trip.

Our destination that night was Lawcus Farm Guesthouse in Stoneyford, a small town of about five hundred people near Kilkenny. I had asked Lori to arrange a stay at a Farm B&B, and we had an impression of a place where we would hear chickens and be invited to help feed the pigs. Lawcus Farm was not at all what we had expected, and it was utterly splendid.

We knocked on the door near sunset, and Ann Marie welcomed us inside. She told us that she’d upgraded us to a deluxe room. This time we understood the code and didn’t argue with the upgrade. And what an amazing room it was! It was huge, spacious, and gorgeous.
Our room at Lawcus Farm
Our Room at Lawcus Farm

Ann Marie’s husband Mark gave us a photocopy of a hand-drawn map of local sites. He gave us a recommendation for dinner: he said that Stoney Kebabish does good food, but they have no dining space. So the thing to do according to Mark is to order food there and have them deliver it to Malvard’s pub down the street. We followed Mark’s guidance and discovered that we were not the only Lawcus Farm guests to do so that night.
Stoney Kebabish

We spent the whole evening in conversation at Malvard’s. This was close to the craic we were seeking for our Ireland trip. (Craic is an Irish word for convivial conversation and banter - but see the Wikipedia article for discussion of whether it’s a real word.) But: our conversation was with the bartender and the other guests of Lawcus. There were no locals in the bar at first, and when locals did come in, their conversations didn’t merge with ours.

We definitely over-ordered at Stoney Kebabish, and got far more food than we could eat. I ordered the chicken goujon kebab, because I’d seen “goujon” on menus everywhere. The dictionary definition of goujon is a type of catfish, but based on this sandwich, I think that chicken goujons are more or less the same as chicken fingers. This was a tasty wrap in a soft bread, sized about the size of my forearm.
Chicken Goujon Kebab

We had seen curry chips on a travel documentary, so I was eager to try them the first time I saw them on a menu. These are potato chips topped with curry sauce.
Curry Chips

Lori chose the fish and chips, and both the fish and the chips were better than other examples we’d had on this trip.
Fish and Chips

For dessert we had a sweet naan with a creamy filling. I took no photo and I’ve forgotten the details, but it was our first encounter with a sweet naan.
ralphmelton: (apple)
Lori very kindly wrote up this day. What follows is from her except for the occasional comment from me.

We woke to another beautiful day. We were spoiled by all the great weather we had on this trip. It was generally sunny and mild, and it didn’t rain nearly as much as we’d expected.

We got up and dressed pretty quickly, as the first stop of the day would be to attend Mass. We ended up ordering the same two-course breakfast: porridge with honey (and cinnamon) followed by smoked salmon and scrambled eggs. Kilronan House’s breakfast food was fine each morning, but it wasn’t especially memorable. I remember more that the dining area was always a bit crowded, and service wasn’t bad, but it was a bit indifferent.

We went to St. Andrew’s for Mass. I blush to admit we chose it mostly because it wasn’t far from us and had a convenient Mass time for us. We really were fortunate, though. St. Andrew’s was a beautiful church built in 1834. There were many gorgeous statues and the whole church was simply lovely.
St. Andrew's Church St. Andrew's Church
St. Andrew's Church

After Mass, there was some fellowship time over coffee, tea and scones. We enjoyed this, too and were glad to talk with the priest about some tourist details afterward.
St. Andrew's Church

He explained that the rings at the edge of each pew were for holding banners and pointed out the umbrella stands in each pew.
Umbrella stands and banner rings, St. Andrew's Church

“Those were all hand-carved from Irish oak;” he said, “they’re 160 years old and don’t have a single creak among them.”
Hand-carved pew

We also noticed a separate chapel to the right side of the church. This was a wedding chapel - there was a time when weddings were quiet affairs conducted in this lovely, small chapel. He also told us the last time they had such fine weather in Dublin in late September was in 1979 when Pope John Paul the 23rd visited! We really enjoyed our chat with him. I wish I could remember his name.
Wedding Chapel, St. Andrew's Church

Next, we walked further toward Trinity College to see the College and most importantly the Long Room and the Book of Kells. We visited O’Brien’s, a chain deli/sub shop for lunch. Ralph had a chicken tikka sandwich that he found fairly bland. [Ralph: I think “Tikka” has more or less the same role in British and Irish cuisine that “Cajun” has in the US. Getting Cajun turkey breast in a sandwich shop does not imply any connection at all to the Louisiana bayou, and tikka chicken may have only the flimsiest connection to India.]
Chicken Tikka Masala sandwich

My club sandwich was pretty good, but not anything special.
Club Sandwich

[Ralph: we had no idea about the political situation in Ireland, but it was clear that there was vigorous political debate going on. We learned that there was an upcoming referendum on abolishing the Seanad, one of the two houses of the Irish parliament. This debate was particularly evident in the signs on light poles.
Political Campaigning

I have no informed opinion about whether the Seanad should have been abolished or not; all I really know is that there is no more effective way to get a Dublin cabbie to use the word “gobshites” than to mention the Seanad. But despite the anti-Seanad sentiment among the cabbies, the referendum did not actually pass.

Another sign of political passion: protest marches in the streets.
Political Parade

Trinity College Trinity College

Our tour of Trinity was really entertaining. An engaging almost-graduated student began the tour with an impish grin. He told us his nametag said “Niall,” but his real name was Michael. In a shocking turn of events, Michael was out drinking the night before and had gotten up a bit late and forgot his academic robe and badge. He did say that if we didn’t enjoy ourselves, “Niall” was the name to be reported for being a bum guide. There was no need of this, though - Michael was funny and knowledgeable. [Ralph: it was interesting in itself that the tour guides wear academic gowns as part of their daily wear. (All students had to wear academic gowns until the 1970s or so.) I’ve only seen academic gowns worn for special occasions, so I had never seen an academic gown as worn and faded as Michael’s.]

He did a good job of giving the historical information, peppered with remarks on the various dorms. According to Michael, the Rubrics are disfavored residences; you have to go outside to get to the shower. He pointed out that from his own residence, he could enjoy a cup of tea in the morning while admiring the view of shivering underclassmen in line outside for the showers. We enjoyed his tour, and contributed to his next night of revelry as a thank you.
Old Undesirable Residences

[Ralph: I forget the name of this building, but I remember Michael talking about the Italian architecture. He was quite apologetic about the fact that it was forbidden to visitors, and went into careful precise detail about which entrances it was forbidden to enter without probable detection.
Trinity College

Video of a fascinating “Sphere within Sphere” sculpture on the Trinity Campus: https://flic.kr/p/hWXwUg]

After the tour, we went on to the Book of Kells exhibit and the college’s original library, called the Long Room. The exhibit is wonderful, and includes many wall-sized pages from the book as it tells the story of the Book of Kells. You then go into a special viewing room and view two pages (in a glass case, of course) from the Book of Kells and two from another book of the same period. [Ralph: No pictures allowed, unfortunately.]

We then entered the breathtaking Long Room. It is simply one long, high-ceilinged room with balcony upon balcony of bookshelves and an amazing collection of books. Our guide for this room explained that the books are arranged by size, and a librarian finds and fetches any book you want to peruse.
Long Room

In the center of the room, they have a great exhibit on the art and science of book preservation.
11th Century book being preserved

You also see the Harp of Brian Boru in a glass case in the middle of the library. Trinity College, The Book of Kells, and The Long Room really are worth seeing if you’re in Dublin.
Untitled Brian Boru Harp

We still had some time, so we made our way to National Museum of Ireland: Archaeology.
National Museum, Dublin

This museum has great exhibits of archeological finds in Ireland over the years. Two bog bodies are on display: Oldcroghan Man and Clonycavan Man. Both have well-detailed exhibits that help you to understand what you’re seeing and the time period the body was from. Fascinating, though the tiniest bit creepy. We also visited the stunning Hall of Treasures, where we saw famous pieces like the Tara Broach and the Chalice of Armagh, and many other dazzling examples of Celtic craftsmanship and art. [Ralph: I expected the Tara Broach to be beautiful, but I was surprised by how big and deadly it is. It would be totally reasonable to prohibit bringing this on a plane.]
Cross, National Museum
Tara Broach, National Museum

Prehistoric gold pieces, National Museum

The tiny, intricate panels of knotwork on the Chalice of Armagh really fascinated me. I just marveled imagining the work and art it took to create them.
Ardagh Chalice, National Museum

We wished we had more time for this and other museums, but our time in Dublin was short (maybe too short), and we arrived about 45 minutes before their closing time.

We had some time on our hands between the museum’s closing and our evening event, so we went shopping in the Kilkenny shop. The Kilkenny shops pride themselves on offering high-end Irish crafts and artwork, along with some higher-end tourist merchandise. As we were looking around, we suddenly heard a woman screaming “you’re hurting me!” She was being subdued by security. She had been stealing things, and when confronted by security she pulled a pair of scissors out of her bag and got violent. Store security and the Garda (police) handled it, and no people were hurt, though she did smash some china and/or glassware. It was an unsettling experience for shoppers and staff alike. We did buy some crystal there, and enjoyed looking at the many beautiful things they sold.

For the evening’s entertainment, we went to Food, Folk, and Fairies at the Brazen Head, which is one of the oldest pubs in Ireland, dating back to the Middle Ages. We had high hopes for this event, which would feature a storyteller, live music, and dinner. [Ralph: I really wanted to experience some Irish storytelling on this trip, but the only storytelling we found was this very tourist-oriented one.]
The Brazen Head

Our storyteller was wonderful. In the “first act,” she talked about the food history of Ireland, mostly about the potato. [Ralph: I particularly remember the detail that farmers would leave one thumbnail very long for peeling potatoes.] The “second act” featured fairy lore and a few stories of the fair folk. She was engaging, warm and humorous, and she had a lovely soprano singing voice. All in all, she was excellent, and our only complaint about her is we wanted to hear more!

[Ralph: a snippet of video from her storytelling: https://flic.kr/p/hWXaW5]

Unfortunately, the food was not that great. It definitely had the feel of food prepared en masse for a banquet. Also, it is a large event (there were at least two tour busses helping to fill the sixty-some chairs in the room), and service was a bit quick and indifferent. I had fish cakes for an appetizer, bacon and cabbage for a main dish, and apple pie for dessert. Ralph had the same appetizer and dessert, but tried the beef and Guinness for his main dish. None of our food was bad, it just wasn’t very good, and it felt a little mass-produced.
Fish Cakes Irish Stew
Bacon and Cabbage Apple tart

There was a pair of musicians to play during our dinner. They did an assortment of pub standards that are Irish, but probably have more of a life with American tourists these days. They were fine, but we got the impression they were a bit bored with this gig (understandable) and not giving it their all. In fact, we were pretty sure one of them was singing “blah, blah, blah” instead of the lyrics on “I’ll Tell My Ma.” Honestly, since the storytelling is pretty authentic, I think they should have traditional Irish music instead of the ballads. But, that’s just my opinion. The ballads are probably what a lot of their audience wants to hear.

After the event was done, we were wiped out. We hailed a cab and went back to our hotel. Another couple was chatting with the concierge and he was about to make them some Irish coffee, so he offered us some too. This probably killed two birds with one stone for him - he suggested we go into the sitting room, appeared shortly after with a tray of drinks for us, and then went back to his post at the desk. So, he made us happy with boozy coffees, and he handed the chatty couple off to us. We enjoyed talking with them while we sipped our coffees, then went up to bed.
ralphmelton: (apple)
Saturday began with our first encounter with the full Irish breakfast. Clockwise from the top, there’s fried eggs, the British Isles sausage called ‘bangers’, sautéed mushrooms, Irish bacon, and white and black pudding, with tomato slices in the center. I wasn’t totally charmed by the Irish fry; the fried eggs were over-fried for my taste. The black pudding tasted very strongly of blood to me - in fact, it tasted more strongly of blood than a bleeding lip does. But the Irish bacon was very good - everywhere we went in Ireland, we had good bacon and good bread.
Irish breakfast, Kilronan House

We were delayed getting off because of a work issue that came up. I had planned our trip to be just after a big crunch at work, but the work schedule slipped a bit so that the big crunch happened while we were gone. My coworkers did a laudable job of shielding me from having to think about work while I was on vacation, but on this day an issue came up that really required my attention. I was able to do most of what I needed to do with a a work laptop that I had brought. I would have liked to do more, but the hotel’s WiFi kept dropping out in a way that prevented me from downloading what I needed. (Barely functional WiFi was the rule in our travels. Every hotel and B&B had WiFi, but it was rarely any good.) But I was able to send my co-workers enough information to guide them on the right path.

Very late in the morning, we sallied forth and got on a hop-on-hop-off bus tour. After learning about Kilmainhaim Jail, the Jameson’s Distillery, and the the Guinness brewery, we got off near the Ha'penny Bridge for sightseeing and lunch.

We stopped for lunch at a little restaurant called Bakehouse because it looked cute. We got a really tasty meal.
The Bakehouse

I ordered the Dublin Coddle because I've enjoyed it in the US and because it had “Dublin” in the name. What I’ve had in the US has been a thick creamy stew, but this was a much thinner soup with bacon and vegetables - but it was delicious and the brown bread that accompanied it was wonderful.
Dublin Coddle

Lori got a ham and cheese sandwich, which was really good. But the star of her meal was the house made chips with cheese and onion. All the crisps we had in Ireland were extraordinarily tasty, as good as any potato chips I’ve had in the US - but we only had them a few times, so I don’t think we have a large enough sample to claim that there’s a general Irish excellence with potato crisps.
Ham and Cheese sandwich

The bakery case was full of beautiful baked goods, but the lemon muffin and Bakewell tart we chose for dessert was not nearly as special as our entrees.
Lemon muffin
Bakewell tart

Bakehouse was just a few yards from the Ha’penny Bridge.
Ha'penny Bridge

We got back on the bus tour. The Post Office is pocked with shrapnel from the fighting in 1916.
Ha'penny Bridge

The Millennium Spire is widely referred to as “The Stiffy on the Liffey”.
Millennial Spire

The bus was moving very slowly, though, because the streets were packed with hurling fans heading towards the stadium. There were apparently eighty thousand fans crowding Dublin for this hurling match. The red shirts identify these fans as supporting Cork.
Hurling Throng

I had been interested in hurling even before we came to Ireland, but we weren’t interested enough to pay hundreds of euros to attend a sport we’d never seen. I decided that the hurling experience I wanted was to watch the game at a sports bar, where the game was showing on TV and fans would tell us when to cheer. But we also had plans for a Musical Pub Crawl later, so we were looking for a place near the starting pub for that. We did not quite achieve our goals; we found a pub where the match was showing on TV, but there weren’t fans watching; the guys in front of the TV were playing poker instead of watching. Without fans in the bar to provide a team to root for, we chose to root for County Clare on the flimsy basis that we were spending more time on our trip in Clare than in Cork.
Hurling Final

Hurling is an awesome sport. My summary of the rules based on watching one game without explanation:
- Each player has a hurling stick called a hurley. If you think of a flat spoon about the size of a man’s forearm, you’ll be in the ballpark for what a hurley looks like.
- The ball is a leather-wrapped wooden ball about the size of a baseball.
- A player can take only a few steps while holding the ball; going farther than that involves bouncing it on the hurley while running full speed.
- There’s a goal at either end of the field. Getting the ball through the goal at a low enough level that the goalie could conceivably block it scores three points. Getting the ball between the uprights above the bar scores one point.
- That’s most of the rules; have at it, lads.

It was a very fast, dynamic game. The ball travels at up to 90mph, and the players were running up and down the field all the time. And it was a very exciting game - as balanced as you would expect from two teams who had tied the previous weekend. Clare took an early lead, but Cork managed to tie the game twice before Clare eked out a narrow victory at the end.

I really liked hurling, and I would watch it in the US if I had an opportunity.

We ate dinner in Gogarty’s, the pub where the pub crawl would start. Lori’s chicken and ale pie was not very good, with a very tough crust. My fish cakes were pretty good.
Chicken and leek pie Fish cakes

The Musical Pub Crawl is certainly an experience for tourists, but it tries to go a bit deeper with some explanation of what it’s like for real musicians playing in a session for themselves, instead of playing hoary standards for tourists. Plus drinking in pubs. It was that last bit that marred the experience on this night. The pubs were all full of hurling fans and unwilling to reserve a room for the Musical Pub Crawl, so the Pub Crawl visited only two pubs, and they were separated by a very long walk that made us fear that we might fall so far behind the rest of the group that we lost track of them. But we liked the explanations and examples of the music; the main thing I remember is that reels are in 4/4 time (counted as “cat-er-pill-ar, cat-er-pill-ar” for young musicians) and jigs are in 6/8 (counted as “rashers and sausages, rashers and sausages”).
Musical Pub Crawl Musical Pub Crawl

Eight seconds of video from the Musical Pub Crawl: https://flic.kr/p/hWWwxD

We got a cab ride to our hotel after the last pub on the crawl, with a cabbie who waxed profusely about the hurling match and his own experiences with hurling and boxing in his time in the army. He was the one who told us how fast the ball travels, and pointed out that all the team members were amateurs - in fact, school teachers are favored for hurling because summer vacations give them extra time to practice.
ralphmelton: (apple)
Our morning was spent in traveling to the airport and flying to Ireland. It was all uneventful, but we had to walk on and on through Heathrow.

The driver of our cab ride into Dublin was a white-haired man who was wonderfully chatty. He told us a lot about Dublin. He mentioned that we would see lots of Eastern European women holding babies and begging for money, and told us that was a scam.
He also told us about the hurling finals happening this weekend. Our plans for Dublin had not included hurling, because the finals had been scheduled for the previous weekend. But that match had ended in a tie, so they were playing it again our weekend. We resolved to try to watch the game from a pub.

We checked into our B&B in the early afternoon, and then walked towards downtown to find food and tourism.

We walked through St. Stephen’s Green, a lovely park.
St. Stephen's Green Untitled Untitled
Untitled Untitled Untitled

We ate lunch at the Bewley’s on Grafton Street. Bewley’s is a large coffee company, but the Grafton Street location has been a renowned Dublin cafe since 1927. It’s a very pretty place, with beautiful stained glass windows.

I had a roast beef sandwich, and Lori had a ham and cheese toastie. (A toastie is a sandwich served on toast - but not heated in a way that would melt the cheese within.) The sandwiches were good, but the housemade crisps were really excellent.
Roast Beef and Pickle Sandwich Ham and Cheese Toastie

Dessert was a beautiful tasty sticky toffee pudding. It was a tough choice, though, because there were lots of pretty desserts available.
Sticky Toffee Pudding Baked goods at Bewley's

We wandered around the Grafton Street area looking at the fancy shops (and buying a short-term SIM for my phone).

The buskers were worth watching. These sand sculptures were amazing.
Sand sculpture in Dublin
We also saw a curious group of living sculptures. Unfortunately, Flickr is no longer letting me embed our video of what happened when I put a Euro in their cup: https://flic.kr/p/hWWyvf

The tourist information centre was in a historic former church, so it was a very impressive tourist information centre:
Dublin Tourist Information Dublin Tourist Information

An entertaining but misleading sign:
Pub Advertising

I was interested in finding some sort of Irish dance event while we were in Ireland, and I thought that Dublin would have better chances for it than smaller towns. We found the Museum of Irish Dance, which was advertising a show called Jig the Story of Irish Dance - but the museum was closed by the time we found it, and there was no show that night. I regret missing it - it sounds like an interesting show.

But we had a flyer for a dance show at the Arlington Hotel, so we ambled over there.
Arlington Bar

The room was clearly set up as a dance-audience space, with tables raised so that every seat had a view of the stage. The decor was fairly minimal, with Celtic designs painted in fluorescent paint; we feared that it might be really cheesy tourist junk.
Arlington Hotel

It was certainly very tourist-focused, but the food and the entertainment was really excellent. This exemplifies the good side of being touristy; tourist-oriented can mean a curated experience showcasing the best of a place.

My appetizer included fresh salmon mousse rolled in smoked salmon.
Fresh and Smoked Salmon, Arlington Hotel

Lori’s potato-leek soup was very good.
Potato-leek soup

My entree was Irish stew, and it was really splendid. I have not generally cared for lamb, but the lamb in this stew had a gentle, sumptuous lamb flavor that was much better than any lamb I’ve had before.
Irish stew at Arlington Hotel

Lori ordered the beef and Guinness casserole. When we ordered, the waitress took care to explain that ‘casserole’ meant something different in Ireland than in the USA; in Ireland, a casserole was a piece of meat braised and then finished on the grill. So this was more similar to a pot roast than a hot dish - but it too was very tasty with deep mellow flavors.
Beef and Guinness Casserole

I made sure to have a Guinness, of course. I would like to say that I noticed the difference in taste between Guinness in Dublin and Guinness in the USA, but my palate is coarse and I did not identify a difference.

The desserts were tasty but not the best part of the meal.
Dessert sampler

The meal was followed by the music and dancing. The music came from a band called Púca. Lori says “they played everything that I would hope to hear at Mullaney’s [an Irish bar in Pittsburgh] on a good night. It was clearly Irish music for Americans, but they played very well and very energetically.” And the dancers were super skilled and super energetic.
I recorded snippets of video to try to capture the spirit of the music and dance, but Flickr is not cooperating with my embedding.
One of the last dances was a broom dance, which I had never heard of: https://flic.kr/p/hWXhxk
ralphmelton: (apple)
On our last full day in England, we decided to take the hop-on-hop-off bus tour that we had meant to take on the day we arrived. Perhaps we hadn’t planned well enough, but things just didn’t gel that well this day; it took us longer than we expected to get to the tour, longer than expected for the tour to begin, and longer than expected to get from place to place on the bus.

We did get off at Buckingham Palace, but there was a long line and we were running late. We did not tour the palace, but only visited the gift shop.
Buckingham Palace Gates

After that, we decided to try another attempt to find a lovely tea. Since Fortnum & Mason had been such a disappointment, for this try we went to Harrod’s.

Harrod’s actually looked really nifty inside - I wish we had had more time to spend there.
Harrod's Harrod's

A Harrod’s staff member recommended Ladurée, a French tearoom in a back corner of Harrod’s. (I do not know what the difference is between an English tearoom and a French tearoom.) It was an outstanding experience, and everything we had hoped a luxurious English tea would be.

Ladurée offered a selection of 17 different teas, which is much more variety than I am really qualified to handle. So we went with my usual fallback, which is to choose the specialty of the house: Thé Mélange Spécial Ladurée, "Delicate composition of black teas from China and Sri Lanka and rose petals, with aromas of orange, bergamot, blackcurrant, vanilla, cinnamon and caramel”.
Most of those subtleties were lost on me, but the tea was really excellent.
(We were asked not to take pictures in Ladurée, and I almost complied. But I did take surreptitious pictures of the things at our table.)
Tea at Ladurée

I didn’t take notes on what we chose for food with our tea, but I’m able to reconstruct our selection: the menu is online, and because the menu involved a choice of two items out of four in each of three categories, we ordered two teas with one of everything. From top to bottom, we had these:
Finger sandwiches: smoked salmon; ham; cheese; and vegetables. I dimly remember that one of these was especially good, but I can’t recall which.
Viennoiseries: plain croissant; chocolate pistachio croissant; chocolate croissant; and sugar brioche. These were all really light and delicate and so good.
Pastries: the pastries were so special that they deserve to be broken out into a special list:
Ispahan: I had never heard of ispahan before. The menu description is “Smooth rose flavoured macaron biscuit, rose petal cream, fresh raspberries and lychees”. It was very intensely rose flavored, and simply exquisite.
Tarte passion framboises: I don’t know French, but I could figure out what this one was. This was probably my personal favorite: the flavors were incredibly intense.
Elysées: "Success cocoa biscuit, crispy praline, thin crispy chocolate from Madagascar leaves, smooth chocolate cream, zabaglione chocolate mousse, chocolate and cocoa biscuit moistened cocoa syrup"
Plaisir sucré: "Hazelnut meringue sandwich cake with crushed Piedmont hazelnuts, crusty praline, thin milk chocolate leaves, Chantilly cream and milk chocolate filling”
There were too many flavors of macarons for us to sample them all, but they were so so good.
Tea at Ladurée

Tea at Ladurée was so wonderful that we couldn’t help but linger to enjoy everything. We then planned to take the tour bus over to Shakespeare’s Globe, but the tour bus was slow and it didn’t come very close to the Globe; we had to get out at St. Paul’s Cathedral and walk across the Thames. We ended up being too late to see the exhibition at the Globe that we had prepaid to see. (The exhibition tickets were good for a month; we gave them to the proprietor of our inn with the hope that he could find someone else who would use them.)
St. Paul's Cathedral St. Paul's Cathedral

Shakespeare’s Globe is a reconstruction of the Globe Theatre that William Shakespeare performed in for much of his career. (With accommodations: electric lights, flush toilets, modern fire safety codes. But it has the only thatched roof built in London since the Great Fire of 1666.)
Shakespeare's Globe

We chose to watch our play in the manner of Elizabethan gentry: we paid for seats instead of standing in the center with the groundlings. I even splurged to rent cushions for the benches, and I rented a blanket after realizing it was a chill evening.
Shakespeare's Globe Shakespeare's Globe
Shakespeare's Globe

We saw Macbeth. (Lori’s dream had been to attend a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, because she had played Titania in college, but the performance schedule dictated Macbeth.) It was a really excellent performance, both as a historical recreation and as a modern staging. I’ve sometimes had trouble following all the action of Macbeth as it flips from scene to scene, but this production made things very clear to me.
Historicities I did not know about: It began with the whole cast drumming together, and it ended with the whole cast joining in a final dance.

Lori says:
The three witches were especially noteworthy: they started dressed as apparent villagers, but stripped down to undergarments in their first scene, and then progressed to seem even more wild and otherworldly later in the play. I think they might have been dancers as well as actresses - they used a lot of weird postures and movements. The only “witch makeup” they used was a powdery white makeup that was applied onstage at one point.

Billy Boyd (who was in the “Lord of the Rings” movies) played Banquo, and he was excellent. It made us smile that they worked in a chance for him to sing, and he really was scary as his own ghost. Another interesting note: the only “ghost” additions to his appearance were stage blood, and maybe a paler base makeup. He provided the scary vibe with his facial expressions and movements. All of the actors and actresses were excellent, Boyd stood out to us because, well, we did recognize his name.

The stagecraft was notable in its simplicity. The stage was lit with standard electric lighting, but there were no special lighting effects. They didn’t go out between scenes, and all this helped preserve the historical feel of the play. There were some striking effects, my favorite was at the end of Act I, when Macbeth becomes king. Unseen to most of the audience, the three witches climbed posts in the theater and scattered red rose petals on the stage. They managed to be both celebratory petals for the king, but against the simple, stark white walls of the set, they also resembled drops of blood. Well played, Globe Theater, well played.

I have to say, I expected the play at the Globe to be good, but it really was a notch above most theater I’ve seen in several ways, while keeping to a simplistic aesthetic. It was everything I’d hoped it would be and more…and it is the first time I’ve truly enjoyed “Macbeth.”

We were very hungry after the show, because our tea had been our only food since breakfast. Proximity led us to eat at the Swan at the Globe. My roast pork and Lori’s roast chicken were both delicious.
Dinner at the Swan Dinner at the Swan


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