Thursday, June 21, 2018

the final chapter...

Our last day in Ireland, Tuesday, June 19. 
Found in the DART station at Bray, some wonderful mosaic murals depicting the last 100 years and this one in particular, showing 1916 which, here in Ireland, you’ll hear over and over again - a very important year, the Easter rebellion against British rule.
We took the tram to Greystones and walked back to Bray - Janet, retracing her steps! It did seem easier going back the other way, we both agreed the hard part was all the uphill from the Bray side, easier by far on the downward! The weather cooperated and we had a beautiful final hike!
I haven’t mentioned this before, but there is a serious issue here, the lack of public restrooms. Now, they don’t call them that. If you ask for the way to the washroom, the local will look rather puzzled then usually in an loud voice, they say, ‘oh you mean you need to go to toilet!’ While you are dying inside, trying to be discreet about it, you find out they are not readily available. Even in restaurants, there will be a prominent sign stating ‘toilets are only for use of paying customers!’ And then, it involves going down the stairs, along this corridor, around the corner, maybe up a bit and when you are totally lost and not sure you’ll ever get back to your table...stop laughing, it’s not really that funny! Don’t expect to find them at the tram station either, for some reason, they are not obliged to provide services and if there is one, it’s usually inside, after you’ve paid the fare. Also, do be prepared to have some coins ready in case there is a fee to get in. In Greystones, after walking about 2 km, following the signposts for ‘public toilets’, we finally located one near the beach, at the back of the car park. It required 50 cents in coin for 20 minutes. We speculated on what would happen if you used up more than 20 minutes...
Janet’s choice for dinner was Oceans, a pub/restaurant at the north end of the beach. I chose the classic, fish and chips, with the obligatory mushy peas (a British tradition that tastes like canned peas mushed up in a used ashtray, yuch! - I did try them several times so you can't say I didn't give them a real shot!) and a pint of the local brew, and the  crumble, in honour of Ron - I do wish he was here to eat this (the crumble, that is) because I don’t really like it either...
Early next morning, bus to the airport, find the VAT refund place - after going through security, on the way to the boarding gate - the refund will be processed and applied to your credit card in about 4 weeks if all is correct - check your statement.  We still haven’t had to show our passports until the final checkpoint just on the way to board the plane!

The flight home, a mere seven hours is a piece of cake, no issues! Back to Canada, home at last! The sisterhood of the travelling hiking boots closes another chapter! Thanks sister!

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

the one that almost didn't...

happen! Last Thursday, with the CHH gang, we had to go to plan B when it got extremely windy and we didn’t get to do the sea cliff hike at Howth. The fair weather gods are still with us and after googling several sites and rereading the CHH description of their prescribed hike, we felt confident we would be able to complete plan A. If there are any CHHers reading this, we were thinking of you! Took the DART to Howth, about an hour and a half from Bray, but most of the scenery from the train window is quite lovely with lots of Irish Sea to look at. We get to Howth around 11am and begin our hike, Janet in lead and I’m the sweep! I want to do the complete loop following the purple arrows but there are shorter options, red, green and yellow that all veer north at the same point just shy of the lighthouse.
When we reached that point, Janet began to waffle and say that she was happy to follow one of those. Was it divine intervention that made me insist that I wanted to see what was around that corner or was it Ron’s voice in my head? I know he’s still with us in spirit! It was also downhill at that point and I was betting Janet would not want to retrace her steps uphill!
It worked and we continued on, following the very well marked trail of purple arrows - there were lots more ups and downs! Pretty tired on completion ( my pedometer app showed 16km), which we did in about 3 hours, I was quite
happy to say their ‘moderate’ rating on that trail could have been bumped up a notch and I was equally glad we had not attempted it in the wind as there were many places where it was quite close and ‘edgy’ if you know what I mean!

We took the DART back into Dublin town, Janet found the perfect pair of earrings at Stonechat Jewellers in the Westbury Mall and we had dinner at ‘Etto’, another place that was in the ‘top 100 places to eat in ireland’. From the 3 course menu, we both chose ‘green asparagus, manchego, hazelnut and lovage’ for starter -
I was so tired (it seemed like we walked another 5km in circles finding these places!) I forgot to photo the starter before starting! For the main, we both (again! - the other options were a little out there - my theory is if there are more than two ingredients that I don’t know, I should go with something else!) picked ‘braised lamb shoulder, aubergine, grelot onion and chick peas’.
They were not over-feeding us with large portions. Thankfully, I also ordered a side of ‘kohlrabi, rocket and caper salad’ (ha, I did know all three and it was really good!). Janet finished off with ‘lemon posset, lime granita and gin’ - I did get a couple of tastes in there too! That all came to €67 ($100CAD) and I was still hungry but the other dessert was ‘red wine prunes and vanilla mascarpone’ and I knew I could live without that. Janet was happy and that’s the main thing! All in all, a great day, only one more to home.

BTW, a 75ml tube of toothpaste is not enough for two people for three weeks...just saying...

hiking and beyond...

Saturday, June 16. We are in Bray, a village southeast of Dublin, for the duration of our stay and this morning we are doing the ‘Bray to Greystones cliff walk’. Our streak of winning weather is continuing, and the cool breeze is lovely. This hike is gorgeous! The path is dirt with small pebbles, nice to walk on and the slope is very gentle as it winds around the cliffs and hillside. The path was built back in the 1840s when they were building the rail line - it’s part of the DART system. Very safe, with rock retaining walls  on the sea side and another one slightly above to prevent downslides, I think.
It was very pleasant, with Janet in the lead position and MAO as the sweep, and we completed the eight kilometres in well under two hours. We walked Greystones village to find the DART station to return to Bray. We could have retraced our steps but Janet has this thing about going where she’s already been and is eager to find new trails! Tromped around Bray for the rest of the afternoon and racked up a total of 14 km.
We have dinner reservations at the Italian place, Ragazzi, for 7 pm tonight. 
Carpaccio da braesola for starters - wasn’t what I thought, but good. Lasagna, shucks when am I ever gonna learn? It’s never as good as I expect. Janet had the mussels, clams, etc and she liked it - too much fussing in public for me! and we shared a salted caramel roulade, enough to satisfy the sweetest tooth!
Sunday was reserved for going to the Riverdance performance at 5 pm.
We took the tram/DART back to Malahide to return to the Old Street Restaurant - it was the Michelin 3 star place that we stumbled upon for lunch on our first Saturday here - we had wanted to try dinner there but they were booked up or not open for our remaining days so we settled for another lunch. It was Father’s Day and quite a bit busier than our previous visit and the menu didn’t seem quite as appealing as the first time round, but we still enjoyed it. There was no sticky toffee pudding so I settled for the lemon tart and Janet had the chocolate roll. 

Riverdance (once we found the Gaiety Theatre) was awesome! The music, singing and dancing was a perfect complement to round out our Ireland tour! I particularly liked the Irish bagpipes! Haunting and poignant!
It was fun to experience the crowd at an event like this. People were dressed in anything and everything, from hiking gear to semi-formal wear. The tickets (€61 each) were almost $300 CAD by the time you add in exchange and ticketmaster fees but it was well worth it

Sunday, June 17, 2018

room without a view...

Friday, June 15. We got our badges, said goodbyes and thank yous to everyone last night. Most of the people on the tour are returning home today. Checking out of the Mespil Hotel, we have to move to Bray. Our new lodging for the remaining  five days is the Royal Hotel in Bray. We have to check out of here by 11am and we can’t get into our next place until after 3 pm so we leave our luggage at the Mespil and take a bus back to St Stephen’s Green area of downtown Dublin to do a little shopping - Janet is looking for some silver earrings and I’m always on the lookout for a cool pair of shoes or boots so it’s easy to kill some time. We’ve checked out the best bus route to our new digs, retrieve our bags and head to the bus stop, a couple of blocks away. The bus ride is about 45 minutes with no changes. Our booking from hotelsdotcom shows a new-looking, modern hotel and I’m not sure where they pulled
the photos from but it isn’t here. This is vintage, old-school, for sure but I feel like we won the lotto! We have a huge room, twin beds with room to dance and a huge loo with a bathtub! An arm chair for each, a desk and a small round table, plenty of drawers and a wardrobe! Who cares if the window looks out onto a fire escape? I’m going out for bath salts or whatever it is you put in the tub for a soaky bath!
Other weird things about Ireland - first of all, we say ‘eye-er-land’. They say ‘R-lund’. Street names are not posted on signs at the intersection like in North America. They are  on the buildings, like Europe and can be difficult to see or find or read. Many in Dublin need to be replace and please use a larger font!
Street buskers are all over in Dublin, a guy singing, playing a guitar or concertina, is one thing, but the trouble this guy went to, to haul his piano out!

The menus in the restaurants have this longest list of allergens I’ve ever seen - there is an index at the bottom, 1 to 14 and each menu item that has any of the offending ingredients has the coordinating numbers after it. I never knew celery could be so deadly!
They make the beds with a flat bottom sheet and a duvet only, no top sheet. I find that way too hot so in the last place, I removed the duvet from the cover and just used the cover and stored the duvet in the top of the closet. On the second day, the maid made up the bed that way and left me a flat top sheet folded up on top of the bed which I thought was quite nice. The third night, she put a wool blanket into the duvet cover...I just rolled it up and used the sheet. So, here, same thing, duvet, no top sheet.
While on the bus ride here, Janet, using her Blackberry, manages to score us tickets to see ‘Riverdance’ in Dublin at the Gaiety Theatre on Sunday! We are trying to fit all things into the next five days!
It’s turned out to be a lovely day and we head down to the seaside - this is a beach town - for a quick scope of the area and find some good possibilities for a hike for tomorrow. Being Friday night, we’re not sure of the dinner options. Had found an Italian restaurant listing as good but by the time we got there, although the place was virtually empty at 6 pm, they said they were booked fully and could we come back for maybe 8:30? We just went back to the hotel and ate in their dining room - nothing to write home about... but we had about 11 km  total for the day. Happy!

Saturday, June 16, 2018

last minute change...

Last day,  number 10, Thursday, June 14. Supposed to take the tram to Howth for an oceanside hill climb. Cancelled due to high winds. Our alternative was to take the tram/DART to Clontarf and go on a substitute route, an unproved hike, which Robert devised last minute, to a UNESCO biosphere reserve that took us to North Bull Island and then to St Anne’s Park with it’s physic/herbal garden at Clontarf. Although the winds were very high, 50 to 70 kph, and we were being buffeted around even on our flat course, the day turned out well. It was sunny and warmed up and we clocked 15km. Everyone agreed it was a good substitute for the original plan as we still got to see and feel the Irish Sea. As we were passing through St Anne’s, I chatted with a dog owner and she asked where we were from and what we were doing. I told her we had hiked at Glendalough, pronouncing it as it looks and she jumped in and corrected me, ‘Glenda-LOCKH’! I knew that because Janet had said it that way and I should have known better.
We ended the hike at a pub near the DART station to take us back in to Dublin.
Dinner was at bloom brasserie, around the corner from our hotel. I had ‘Salad of Fivemiletown Irish Goats’ Cheese, Marinated Peaches, Pecans, Wild Berry Coulis as the starter, Striploin of Irish Hereford Beef served Medium Rare, Home Cut Fries, Pink Pepper and Chive Butter, Jus, for the main,  and ended with Walnut and Caramel Tart, House Baileys Ice Cream...pretty good but my beef was not medium rare, more like medium to well and they must have run out of the Baileys for the ice cream and figured no one would notice...they used up all the capitals for their menu and had none left for their name!
At the bottom of the menu, it states ‘all beef, lamb and poultry on our menu is 100% Irish - no mention what they are fed. Sorry Derek. I did google ‘Irish beef’ and it said they were fed a ‘grass-based diet’ and for Irish butter, it says ‘mostly grass-fed’...we do have a Saskatchewan farmer named Ron on the hiking trip and I saw him try to feed a handful of grass to a cow but I think maybe the cow knew he wasn’t Irish. The cow totally ignored him. It was probably his Canadian accent as he said ‘coboss, coboss’! (Supposed to be universal cow lingo!)

half day off...

Dublin Castle
Oscar Wilde
Temple Bar area
Day 9 of our Comfortable Hiking Holiday. We have a guided walk of Dublin with Fiona, a native Irish lady. It was a fine, sunny day and we hit the high spots of Dublin with history and literary references (I loved the statue of Oscar Wilde) thrown in as well as information about some of the neighbourhoods we passed through and spots we should return to for more, Dublin Castle, maybe. It lasted about 3hours and then we were on our own for the rest of the day. We were joined by Frances, a lady from the group who wasn’t interested in touring the jail or Guinness or the book of Kells which most of the other single ladies were doing. We had lunch and then took the Luas (light rail system, Luas is Irish for speed) out to Phoenix Park which we had seen from the ‘hop on/off’ bus tour from our earlier trip to Dublin. We walked around and just enjoyed the scenery and fresh air. Somehow my iPod ran out of juice so I didn’t get any photos of Phoenix Park.

Dinner on our own at Searsons of Baggot Street, back near our hotel, with rain threatening. Had a burger, not the greatest choice but oh well, that left room for dessert! Janet and I shared an upside down cheesecake thing, big on presentation, not so much on the taste. Actually, Irish cheesecake is more like a pudding thing, unbaked, not really what you expect of cheesecake - live and learn! 
All told we racked up about 15km, not bad for a day off hiking.

Friday, June 15, 2018

what was I thinking...

Tuesday, June 12! Breakfast in the new hotel - it’s another fairly big buffet, plenty of cold options from muesli, granola, other cereals, some fresh fruits and some canned, lots of bread options and then the hot line - eggs, fried and scrambled, sausages including black and white pudding varieties, bacon (which is like Canadian back bacon but sliced thicker) slightly cooked tomato halves and here we have fried potatoes (deep fried, that is, of course) and the guy in front of me was helping himself to a spoonful of nice looking, tomato-y sauce so I thought I’d try it - turns out it was beans but all the beans were gone - I loved it! Also, bonus, we get to make our own toast. Janet very nicely popped an extra slice of the Irish soda bread in for me, thanks, sister!

The itinerary says, ‘today’s hike will lead us through some of the most spectacular scenery in Co. Wicklow. Beginning at the Glendalough (“Glen-of-Two-Lakes”) Visitor Centre, our first stop will be one of Ireland’s premier monastic sites, established by St. Kevin in the 6th century. Afterwards, we shall hike the Spinc Loop around the Upper Lake. The trail climbs past Poulanass Waterfall before joining a boardwalk, which will lead us to a spectacular viewpoint above the Lake. The boardwalk skirts the top of the cliffs before descending through bog and heath into the Glenealo Valley and back to the Visitor Centre. (Moderate-challenging, 12 km, 1250 ft elevation gain).’ What really happened - we climbed and climbed and climbed...OMG! Whoever thought of this? Why am I doing it? Where did I go wrong in life? Jaysus Murphy and his mother! We finally get to the top - I can’t look because I am afraid of heights! Then as if that wasn’t bad enough, we start to descend! Still walking on planks covered in heavy staples to add some traction, we go down and down. At least I am no longer huffing and puffing. Thankfully the weather is considerably cooler and overcast  and there is a bit of wind. We are out in the open with no trees to break it and I have to put my wind jacket on for the first time in the whole trip! Doesn’t last long though. The downward trail becomes boulders, rocks and stones, the trail is zigzagging back and forth and it requires full concentration to watch your footing and keep your balance. It was definitely the most challenging hike of the trip, about 4 hours worth with a couple of breaks along the way, and it feels good to finish up, a nice sense of achievement!
Dinner tonight is at our home hotel. Potato leek soup, breast of chicken with bread stuffing, a few veggies and chocolate brownie for dessert.