The shopping is good in Galway

Today we ventured down the cow path and into town.  As we started to exit the hobbit hole, we paused as two very large black cows stormed down the “road” with their humans herding them into the adjacent field.  So, exactly what do we do if we encounter this type of situation again but we are driving?  Scream and brace for impact probably.  Luckily, we swerved around any oncoming traffic and made it safely into the town of Galway, very photogenic and historic. 

After maneuvering into the always tiny parking spaces in the garage (our Audi is larger than most cars here), we wandered the streets where pubs and shops welcomed us.   First stop was for an Americano as there is only a hot water pot for tea in our cottage and no coffee except instant Nescafe available.  Caffeine headache averted, we found the shops to be charming and loaded with nice things for presents to others and ourselves. 

The best by far was the “My Shop…granny likes it” (www.myshopgranny.com) that had a curated assortment of all things Irish and cool, not touristy crap.  I immediately was drawn to an amazing chunky necklace made with blue and yellow stones.  Had. To. Have. It.  After chatting with the shop owner and her adorable schnauzer, Purdy, the shop dog, we also got a great pillow cover, which I collect from our travels and tea towels featuring an abstract print of the charming Galway row houses and another boldly proclaims an old Irish saying,  “FECK IT…sure IT’S GRAND”   Okay. 

Always ask the locals where they eat to get the best places.  Rona O’Reilly recommended a funky place just down the lane called Bite Club which had free WiFi, played disco tunes and had great food.  Ryan and Paddy took care of us and we chatted.  Ryan was mad at Paddy because he had saved his money and was off to America to visit any and all relatives he could find from coast to coast.  Paddy mixed me up a mean craft cocktail, Elderberry Bourbon Fizz, served in a crystal punch cup.  Delightful!  After singing along with Donna Summers and posting some blogs on the internet (the hobbit hole is without tv/internet), we were off for more browsing and shopping before braving the drive home via cow path.  If the driving over here wasn’t so nuts, we’d be back at the Bite Club in the evening when it turns into a 1980’s discotheque.  Groovy.

Random Irish Observations

On our vacation from Dublin to Galway, there were daily observations made by Thom and I on the uniqueness of Irish culture that I thought I would share:

AS SEEN DRIVING

Barak Obama car plaza near Tipperary, between Dublin and Limerick on motorway.  I guess he has relatives here and has been honored with a gas station named after him.  I am sure he is thrilled to celebrate his Irish heritage with this useful store vs. a museum or other nonsense.

Seen as we entered the motorway on big reader board:  “Project Edward Day” sign, which is acronym that means European Day Without A Road Death, with current tally at “0”, which will hopefully stay that way with us driving on the wrong side of the road, I mean:  Left, left, left.

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No fancy cars, no trucks, no SUV’s or mini vans.  Just standard manual transportation to get you where you need to be.  Lots of dents and scrapes on cars and no wonder because everywhere but the motorway, the roads are just too damn narrow.

SOS boxes on the side of the road.  What?  Not everybody has global cell coverage??

AS SEEN SHOPPING

Shoe repair/locksmiths everywhere as well as tailors, signaling a culture that repairs vs. disposes of their wardrobe.

Bookstores-small independents-also on every street but not big chains and mostly featuring Irish authors vs. worldwide blockbusters.day-1

Newspapers, they are still relevant here with multiple different papers offered in all the grocery and book stores for your reading enjoyment.  Love it as we still enjoy a daily newspaper delivered to our door in the States but we are the only ones in our building to do so probably because we are also the oldest residents as well.  Blah.

 

Resale/consignment/vintage stores are plentiful.  Thrifty and trendy at the same time.  We stopped by the Salvation Army one and browsed the wide selection of clothes, housewares and some vinyl.  One small gallery of shops had not only a great vinyl shop but a vintage clothing store and a variety of stalls selling everything from nuts to posters.  Love places like this!

Gyms are few and far between with the main sport being lifting a pint.  Irish excel at that sport.  True-I’ve been to many a pub on this trip and witnessed this sport first hand.

Knobs and Knockers was one of the best titled stores, selling, you guessed it, just door knockers and door knobs.  The doors of Ireland are beautiful and a subject of many photographs.  Thom told me a red door means the house is paid off.  Now when I see a red door, I’m thinking to myself, “well done” to the occupants and enjoy no more mortgage payments.

Travel agencies are still around and, based on the number of them, I would say fairly popular.  Thinking the “seasoned” generation is not tech savvy and needs assistance scoring a ticket or reservation.

Grocery shopping with the locals is always a great way to understand a culture.  At Aldi’s, there were literally bulk stacks of meringue circles.  In the bread aisle, always a huge focus here where carbs rule, there were packages of pancakes and waffles in with all the other items we would normally see.  The cakes/buns/jelly roll selection was wide and varied.  Tea time!  Beside a stack of goose fat jars, you could also find baked beans in ready-to-go single service packs.  Yum.  Irish yogurt is tasty and comes in tiny glass jars.  Cute.

In many groceries, there are loaves of bread, scones, etc. heaped in open air baskets.  Kind of yucky to us uptight Americans who are used to everything being covered up or behind the counter vs. everyone can touch and feel and explore the pastries with their grubby, germ-infested hands.  No thank you.

MISC. STUFF

Smoking restrictions inside pubs are more of a “guideline” with many drinkers huddled outside around barrels and on adjacent outdoor patios enjoying a pint and a puff.  No restrictions here about staying 25 feet away from the building to inhale carcinogens.  That would be very inconvenient for the pub staff to service the refills.

300,000 people attending the Ploughman Competition outside Dublin where they do farm games.  Headlines daily in the newspapers-big deal here.

Sheep are sometimes spray painted blue or green or yellow.  What.  The.  Hell.

Hen Parties for bridal parties and Stag Parties for the guys are HUGE in Galway.

bus

There is a two day bus/rail strike planned for Thursday/Friday.  Thank goodness we have a car and aren’t reliant on public transportation as we usually are when we travel.  Then on Saturday there is a huge “Repeal” protest in Dublin to protest the strict abortion laws.  Thom usually attracts protests so surprised we won’t be there for it.  In this very Catholic country, they are fighting with the church which never goes well.

Walking the history of Dublin

Our first day in Dublin, we had decided to take a historical walking tour with a highly recommended company, www.historicaltours.ieThey do two tours daily at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. for 13 euros per person.  You can pay online which they prefer or just show up and pay the guide.  We also tipped her as she did such a good job.  Really a bargain given that Grace, our tour guide, has a PhD in history from Trinity College and knew her stuff. 

We had to brave the “Freshers” (incoming freshman college students) in the main square of Trinity College to meet up with our tour group.  All very Hogwarts feeling with the medieval buildings and packed with students talking to the various club members in tents attracting rowers, rugby players, magicians, political, etc.  Our tour group ranged in age but mostly couples and a nice size of 12 people so we could all huddle around Grace to hear the tales of the religious wars and many invasions that Ireland has experiences throughout the ages.  Damn, they’ve seen a lot of turmoil on this small island.

Heads up, cobblestone streets are repaired to stay with Dublin’s historical look but are hell to walk on even with sensible Uggs.  I can’t even imagine navigating in a heel.  Be warned and dress appropriately including a rain jacket. 

Group introduced, off we went throughout Trinity College, Temple Bar, and the Viking neighborhood where ruins were plowed over to make way for a new government building.  The Irish seem good about preserving many buildings but since the Vikings were marauders and invaded them, they weren’t so particular about preserving their ruins.  Shame.

Temple Bar, the lively bar area, used to be under water and it still runs under the streets.  Close to the river, it is now the hub of pubs and shopping.  Grace pointed out many historical sites here and then off we went to Christ Church and Dublin Castle.

After the two hour tour, we were famished and just happened upon a place I had read about as having the best fish and chips in Ireland, Leo Burdock’s.  The counter guy greeted us and when Thom asked how he was doing, he replied, “Living the dream.  I work here” and gestured to the humble abode where they dished out the best slab of fish and hearty chips I have ever eaten.  Funny.  Sharing the 10 euro special while sitting on a park bench at Christ Church, we chowed down, gaining our energy back before we meandered home through Temple Bar and back to the hotel.  I was beat and jet lagged!  With the awesome Westin bed to tuck into, it was an early evening and 12 hours of sleep for me after our first day in Dublin.

Dublin Westin Delights

After a very long flight, really only 6 hours from NYC but felt like more, we landed, grabbed the bags and off we went on the one of many double-decker buses to the city of Dublin.  AirCoach double-decker bus is only 6 euros one way to get to downtown and from my perch in the upper front seat, it was thrilling/frightening to see just how close the driver could get to the car/bus in front of him (I’m guessing less than an inch) and how he could maneuver the big rig through Dublin’s curvy tiny streets.  With the entire downtown all torn up and under construction for streetcars being built, it was traffic cones galore for the bus to avoid.  WTF-who tears up the Entire Fauking City??  Hint-do it block by block Dublin urban planners.  Pedestrians beware-those buses go fast and do not stop—look left for oncoming traffic and cross with the lights in a group-safety in numbers!day-1-5

After sweating and silently screaming just a little bit, we were dropped off a block from the hotel and in the midst of Freshers Week at Trinity College near our hotel, The Westin.  Freshers are the college freshman who were packing the streets to get enrolled and meet/greet with upper classmen.  We learned to avoid this block as we walked Dublin.  Red heads are everywhere.  The ginger runs strong in Ireland. 

After the long flight, we decided to check in and take a quick nap before heading out for our first adventure.  The wake-up call was quite interesting—a loud banging on our door and the guest clerk subsequently opening up the door just a little bit to ensure we were indeed awake.  This was certainly personal service.  As we were dead to the world with jet lag, we appreciated their dedication to making sure we got our asses out of bed to see the city.

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Exiting the hotel after nap time, we asked the doorman to verify that where we were going was on the next block.  Instead of just pointing as most would do, he proceeded to walk us to the corner, talking and assisting the whole way.  Now, here’s a guy who has been trained in world class customer service.  Never point when you can show.  I appreciated his efforts.

BTW, we got breakfast buffet included in the Westin package and the next day after a 12 hour catch-up sleep, it was delicious.  Lots of pastries, Irish soda bread to toast, Irish cheeses and Irish yogurt.  Yes, there was fruit but it just didn’t call to me like the carb and dairy offerings. 

All in all, the Dublin Westin delighted this weary jet-lagged traveler.

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Classic Cocktails-The Sidecar goes down smooth!

Cocktail research continues!  Next up-The Sidecar.  A classic cocktail that my mom fondly remembers from her wild days out on the town in Indy with my dad.  At Café Navarre in South Bend, Indiana, Michael shook me up a sidecar and shared his secrets to a fine drink indeed.  BTW, no, I don’t travel around the world just to drink cocktails but as I’m writing this I’m thinking that would be a cool idea.  Hmmm…..how can I make that happen?   A few weeks ago I was testing out appletinis in Vancouver on a vacation weekend but now I’m in South Bend to see mom and also to attend the ND/USC football game with my sis who somehow was able to score us tickets to this “game of the century”.  Well done, Beck.  With Coach Steve S. fired last week, I’m hoping the Irish roll.  But enough about football and now back to the REALLY important stuff… cocktails.

Cheers!
Cheers!

My handy dandy cocktail book tells me that the sidecar originated in Paris at Harry’s Bar and was invented as an elegant cocktail for American expats living there.  After Prohibition ended, there were cocktail drinkers who declared it almost made the long, dry years worth the wait.  Harry’s Bar has dubbed itself “the oldest cocktail bar in Europe” so I MUST add that to the travel list for next year.  Would I travel to Paris just to enjoy a classic sidecar at the bar that birthed it-oui!

Michael at Café Navarro makes a mean sidecar!
Michael at Café Navarro makes a mean sidecar!

My cocktail book back home lists the ingredients for a sidecar as:  brandy, orange liqueur and lemon juice.  Michael had, of course, another plan as I’m finding out that no cocktail is ever made the same.  He shook up 2 ounces of Hennessey cognac (fancy!), 3/4 ounce each of freshly squeezed (of course!) lime juice and Cointreau liqueur and poured into my sugar-rimmed martini glass.  Smooth and slightly sweet, it was the perfect balance of liquor to warm me up on a cold pre-game evening.  DAMN that was good!  Is it proper bar etiquette to lick the glass clean?

Michael was kind enough to share his vast knowledge with us on other cocktails as well.  His fav on the cocktail menu at Café Navarre is “Final Word” featuring a complex list of ingredients:  Rye whiskey, lemon juice, Luxardo maraschino liqueur, green Chartreaus, spanked mint and lavender bitters.  “Spanked” mint?  How do you spank a mint you might ask???  Well, Michael gave us a quick spanking demo–lighter than a muddling, just place the fresh mint in your palm and gently bruise it.  Gotcha-can’t wait to spank some mint myself.

Handcrafted cocktails at Café Navarro feature a complex array of ingredients
Handcrafted cocktails at Café Navarro feature a complex array of ingredients
Lavender bitters--who knew?
Lavender bitters–who knew?

Michael also introduced us to the complex world of bitters.  His bar houses a wide array of medicinal looking  bottles that add another layer of complexity to cocktails and are a staple ingredient for the handcrafted cocktails featured on his menu-orange bitters, lavender bitters, #2 bitters, etc.  Michael even suggested that you can add a dash of bitters mid-drinking a cocktail to create a whole different experience within just one glass.  A whole “bitter” world to explore in future blog posts-the research MUST continue!

Now, I’m off to throw on multiple layers to keep warm at a chilly 30ish degree evening ND game tonight-GO IRISH!

Fun Times at the Irish Ball in Shanghai

Men in kilts, women dancing with blow up dolls, unlimited Bailey’s and Guinness=IRISH BALL!  Irish Ball 4Or, as I call it, prom for grown ups who like to drink ALOT.  Thom and I attended the Shanghai Irish Ball at the Shangri La Hotel last night with our buddies from Trivia Night.  A table of mainly Brits enjoyed a fun-filled evening with entertainment galore, silent auctions/raffles and great food.  Oh, and unlimited booze which many took full advantage of until 4 a.m.  When we left after midnight, they were starting the second dinner service and the dancing/drinking was going strong.

Kilts galore, of course!
Kilts galore, of course!

I haven’t worn a long gown for many years but loved being able to dress up fancy and step out with Thom, who never did get around to getting a tux made but looked handsome in his bow tie and black suit.  Next year he wants to wear a kilt.  For the ladies, it’s all about the pictures and everyone was taking photos on the balcony overlooking the Bund.  I narrowly avoided catastrophe when I just missed tripping on a spotlight illuminating the huge shamrock.  Visions of broken bones and teeth still haunt me as I realize the close call I had as I fumbled over it in high heels.  But, God was watching over me and we proceeded to take photos for another couple in exchange for them capturing our moment as well. Everyone thought our Windows Nokia Lumia Phones took better pictures than their iPhones-of course!

The food was very good if you consider trying to serve about a thousand people simultaneously.  Shrimp/tuna to start followed by pastry encased mystery soup (they said it was French Onion but no way did it taste like that) and then on to filet mignon and a delightful chocolate mousse to end.  And, of course, wine/champagne/Bailey’s/whiskey–which our table of Brits took full advantage of all night.

All Dolled Up!
All Dolled Up!

After dinner, we kept checking out silent auction items to ensure we were final bidders.  Thom was unable to secure the gorgeous handmade console table he wanted, though I don’t know how we would have gotten it home.  We did get a lovely rice basket and a painting that many thought was ugly but we loved.  Our taste is definitely off center when it comes to art.  Having bought last minute raffle tickets, we were surprised to win the 2nd prize of a spa/hotel/food/pearl package that included randomly a set of Irish socks as well.  NICE!  Of course, someone had stolen the pearls out of the bag so they have to go buy some for us.  Not holding my breath on that one but the rest of the stuff is very nice.  First prize would have been more awesome as it was a trip to Ireland.  Next year!

All in all, a really fun evening out in Shanghai with some new friends.  Life is short so you have to seize the moment and dance like there is no tomorrow.  Glad I didn’t drink like there is no tomorrow though because Hannah woke us up early this morning after only a few hours of sleep to celebrate her birthday.  HAPPY BIRTHDAY BABY GIRL!