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Sunday, August 30, 2009




Saturday was a wonderful day for boys and girls.  Mike made money at the races and I had my knitting admired by many.


One of the perks of staying at a B&B is the breakfast.  You can take a shower, get dressed and then simply walk across the hall to the dining room.  You sit down with wet hair and your breakfast magically appears.  The Periwinkle is located within walking distance of the city center, so following breakfast we packed our rain gear and my knitting and set out for town. We walked a block toward the sea and then followed the promenade along the strand.  OK.  In case you don’t speak Irish, that means we followed the sidewalk along the break wall that runs alongside the shore of Galway Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.  It’s a lovely walk.  What?  Camels?  Four camels lying down in the grass grazing?  Seems the circus is in town and the camel owner had staked out a little pen, using a wee single strand of electric tape to allow his camels to have a bite of grass.  Two humps, if you please.


We continued toward town center, walking through the Claddagh (yes, that Claddagh with the rings).  You cross a beautiful bridge and you have arrived in the city center of Galway.  In my bag of knitting I had packed a few unwound skeins of Koigu yarn and a hand knit sock to share with Ann O’Maille, whom I had met the day before.  She was with customers when we arrived in her shop and I waited, wondering what she would think of the hand painted Canadian yarn and my work.  Glory, Glory.  She was awed by the colors and fineness of the yarn and said my work was extraordinary.  To any non-knitter reading this, let me just tell you that this is akin to Julia Childs asking for your receipe for coq-au-vin.  Of course, Needless to say, I am now very conceited.


And now to the main event for Mike.  The Galway Races.  Racing was to begin at 5:00.  The racecourse is about a fifteen-minute bus ride from Eyre Square in downtown Galway.  By 2:30 we were seated on a wall in the Square watching the busses.  Mike was a bit excited and didn’t want to take a chance on being late to the races.    Yawn.  We sat.  We watched babies in strollers.  Yawn.  We chatted with a young woman who was waiting for her husband to arrive, along with the other 1000 motorcyclists who were on the cross Ireland ride.  Yawn.  We sat.  We remained seated until a girl from Indiana walked right up to us, sat down and said “HI.  How are you guys?”  Well, the American accent and the friendly way made me think we must know her.  She and I chatted for a few minutes about the weather and the lovely day.  Finally I said, “Excuse me.  Do I know you?”   Nope.  She said she was traveling through Europe for eleven months, camping with a group of other Christians who were going to pray for peace everywhere they visited.  We smiled, wished her luck and left the wall before she could ask us for money or worse, to pray with her. 


The bus dropped us off a block from the racecourse and we were only an hour early for the first race.  The bookies weren’t even set up yet.  I staked out a lovely spot inside the grandstand area where I could knit away and Mike wouldn’t have to worry about me.  He was free to handicap the races, watch the horses being led to the track and do the mental exercise of shopping the bookies. 


The real fancy Galway races are held in July, for one week, and they are attended by upwards of 40,000 race fans.  The August races are just four days and might attract only 8,000-10,000 fans.  But, what a sight.  The stands look out over the ruins of a castle tower in the infield and all the way out to the Aran Islands, sitting in Galway Bay.  The track itself is a turf course with several configurations to suit different flat distances as well as steeplechase and hurdle racing over jumps.  The races are run clockwise and the course undulates.  As the field heads for the second turn, the track dips.  The last turn, just before the stretch runs uphill and one lap is roughly a mile and a half with the race distance being 2.5 to 2.75 miles.  The fans are quite well dressed and really know their horses.  I watched boys of around seven years old standing with their dads.  As the horses came up the hill for the final turn, these boys were jumping around, waving their fists, calling their horse’s names and willing them to finish well.  It was lovely to hear the announcer calling out the winner of the race, followed by the horses in second, turd, fort and fit place. Racing is Irish.


Mike was Euros ahead for the day so we took a taxi back to town and celebrated a great day with a wonderful dinner and wine.


Today was to be much of the same.  When we crossed the hall for breakfast, the two smaller tables were already seating other guests.  Two men preparing for a day trip to the Aran Islands were at one table.  A mother and father with two sullen early teen daughters were at a table for four.  This left a table of six for Mike and me.  We sat at one end and had just started sipping our coffee when four men arrived to claim the other four seats.  They were in town for the races.  We enjoyed a very lively breakfast with them.  Of course the talk was mostly about racing but we did spend a bit of time getting to know a little about each other’s lives.  The four men are from the midlands of England and travel to race meets quite regularly.  We all shared little stories of our lives.  I told them about seeing the camels the day before.  This naturally turned to subject to circuses, in general.  The short man at the end of the table then began to tell us about some of the adventures his son had had while he traveled the country as A Human Cannonball.  He had to quit the life though because he became so accomplished that he was in great danger of overshooting the net.  The other three men backed up this story and all said how talented this young man had been as a cannonball.  But, they assured me that the actual shooting was all done with springs and the explosive charge is not real dynamite.  That’s just for show.  I swear I am not making this up.


Mike had another great day of betting and we were forced to find another wonderful restaurant and drink another lovely bottle of wine.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


Friday started with another fine breakfast at the Brook’s Hotel.  Again, our dapper gentleman, Conner, dressed in his full morning suit, stopped by our table to discuss that fine Teddy Kennedy and the funeral arrangements.  He reminded us that the Irish ‘luv’ the Kennedys and consider the family a wild bunch of local lads. 


Conner arranged a taxi for our ride to the train station.  Why can’t the US have proper train service?  It is such a handy way to get from point A to point B.  Mike and I had envisioned a lovely, scenic trip across Ireland from Dublin on the east coast to Galway on the west coast.  We boarded the train with about forty-five minutes before departure.  The cars were fairly empty at this point, and we figured that our trip would be quite relaxing.  The seats are configured in groups of four, two facing front and two facing back and a table between.  The cars are nearly new and very clean.  Soon an older gentleman sat across the aisle from us.  He was then chosen as a seatmate by a young man who was traveling alone.  We had nothing to do but eavesdrop on their conversation.  The older man asked the younger how old he was and was he traveling alone.  Yes, he was alone and he was seventeen.  Next he asked if the teen was traveling across Ireland to visit family.  Well, not exactly.  The story, and I am not making this up, is that the youngster claims he just got out of jail.  He had been arrested for public drunkenness and sent to the prison in Dublin.  His time was up and he was given a ticket back to Galway where he had no idea where his family was.  This unlikely pair sat together for about half the journey.  The last we saw of the boy was when he bummed a cigarette from another passenger and headed to some other car to smoke.  I’m not sure if there is an actual smoking car or if he was hanging out between two cars, blowing smoke across the midlands.


Now, you probably think that was the height of any train adventure.  Not so, In the Dublin station about twenty retired ladies on a holiday chose our car to travel in.  My grandmother would have called them cackling hens and that is exactly what our car sounded like.  These women were jumping from seat to seat, hugging, laughing and shouting to friends in the far end of the coach.  I have been to rock concerts where the decibel level was lower than that rail car.  The best news is that they all got off the train in Athloan, about half way to Galway.


Was that all the excitement on our car?  Why, no it wasn’t.  Mike and I had taken a pair of seats, side by side, facing the front of the train.  We had two vacant seats across from us.  A father and son, also on their way to Galway, claimed these seats.  I guess the son was about seventeen, just like the convict lad across the aisle.  This boy wasn’t a convict though.  He was Down syndrome.  Where is Sarah Palin when you need her?  The boy had his DVD player and spent the entire journey watching Mama Mia.  If I hear Dancing Queen again, I promise I shall jump from a moving train.  He knew many of the dance moves and would punctuate the music with the arm waving and wild abandon that make the movie so fun.  And about every five minutes he would kiss his dad gently on the cheek and then pat him on the belly.  The dad got up from his seat at one point to find the bathroom, leaving the boy with us.  The boy gently rearranged his DVD player, used a tissue to wipe to his 7-Up bottle off and lift and replace the foil wrapped sandwiches the dad had brought on board.  The pack of sandwiches was good size and Mike said, “ooh, heavy”.  The boy nodded his head and pointed to the square, foil wrapped package and said “Guinness”.  I am not making this up.  I must say that the father and son were special men and it was a joy to see how much they loved each other.


We arrived in Galway in a torrential rain that lasted all of ten minutes.  Then, the sun came out.  We rolled our luggage into a nearby hotel lobby and enjoyed a late lunch before finding a taxi to take us to our B&B.  After checking in, we took a walk into Galway and I remembered how much I love this city.  We happened into a small shop named O’Maille.  This is the home of the real Aran knit sweater.  I struck up a long conversation with the owner.  She employs two hundred knitters, all in Ireland, who hand knit Aran sweaters for sale in this shop.  About ten years ago the owner was involved in a project called Woman’s Hands for Oprah Winfry.  And this shop provided all of John Wayne’s tweed jackets.  The owner and her daughter have a knitting school.  If you’re interested, the site is  I am returning to the shop later today to share some of my Canadian yarn with her.


We finished our first day in Galway with a wonderful dinner and a walk back along the sea to our B&B.  Saturday will find us at the races.  Horse racing and knitting.  You have to love Galway.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


Oh, Ireland!  You bring me to my knees.  You cause my breath to catch in my throat.  You are haunting, but always laughing.  Today was glorious. County Wicklow was misty and the winds were stiff.  It was the perfect day.


Breakfast was typically Irish.  Some beautiful, thick slices of ham, an assortment of soft Irish cheeses and sinful pots of berries and cream.  We sliced off generous servings of dark soda bread and fluffy potato bread.  Of course there were scones. 


Mike had done his homework the night before and had booked a bus tour of County Wicklow, the garden spot of Ireland.  We walked to The Shelbourne Hotel to meet our bus.  The Shelbourne is a beautiful Grande Dame in the Victorian style, facing St. Stephen’s Green.  Our driver, Damian, gave us the full benefit of his knowledge and pride in his city as he called out the points of interest on our way out  of Dublin. He filled us with local facts and trivia.  Dublin is a city of 1.4 million but is larger than Manhattan.  Sixty-two percent of the population of Dublin is under thirty years of age. 


Our route was to take us to Glendelough (pronounced lock).  It translates as Glen for Valley, de meaning two and lough for lakes.  Valley of two lakes.  And, not just any lakes.  They are glacial lakes and they are the site of an ancient monastery.  The Glendelough National Park is over seven hundred square miles in size and is the second most visited site in all of Ireland.  What is the first, you might ask?  Why, the Guinness Brewery, of course  (did I mention that Arthur Guinness had twenty-one children?).  The ancient ruins at Glendelough date back to the eleventh century.  The monastery was burned by the Vikings and rebuilt many times over the course of history.  It consists of the ruins of seven churches and the second tallest Irish Round Tower in Ireland as well as a very large cemetery.  We hiked from the site of the monastery to the point between the two glacial lakes, where we again met our bus.  All this time, the wind was blowing, the rain was a light mist and the light was such that you knew that you would bump into a ghost at any turn.  Damian reported that had the weather been lovely, the site would have been teeming with tourists and our time at Glendelough would have been much less enjoyable and spiritual.


Just a short ride from Glendelough found us at a local pub for lunch.  What is it about Irish potatoes?  They are superior to any potatoes found anywhere else in the world.  Mike and I both had a huge bowl of stew (secret ingredient being Guinness) served over a half dozen small roasted potatoes.  We washed it down with a pint of Carlsberg.  We were warned that drinking too much beer would not make for a pleasant afternoon bus trip as we were about to enter a toiletless/treeless section of County Wicklow.  In fact, you cannot even step off of the paved thread of a road because you would sink and never be found again.  As you climb up into the pass, the ground becomes a solid marsh as far as the eye can see.  We climbed into the mist as the trees disappeared and there was nothing but gorse, heather and sheep in all directions.  The sheep are everywhere.  In fact, the sheep are in the road.  And, the road is a challenge all it’s own.  The Tour de France was held on this road a few years back.  The road is not wide enough for two vehicles to pass each other.  One vehicle must always yield to the side.  This is not an easy feat when there is no shoulder of any sort.  Remember, if you step off the pavement, you will sink.  I found it best to simply look away and trust Damian.  Again, the misty rain simply added to the glory of being in Ireland.  The rain hung over the peaks and slide into the valleys.  When we stopped to take photos of a waterfall, the wind was sharp enough to make you catch your breath.


As we began our descent, Damian flavored the tour with selections of music to suit the vistas.  We enjoyed the overtures to several movie sagas – Christopher Columbus and Braveheart among them.  The music punctuated the drama that spread before us.  As we returned to the roads that would take us back to Dublin, the music changed to the Clancy Brothers and other Irish musicians.  Smokey Robinson too?  Yes, Damian’s taste is rather eclectic.


Back to our hotel for a quick cat-nap and then to a lovely Italian restaurant for pasta and a bottle of wine.  Early to bed and tomorrow we head to the west.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


I am happy to report that Ireland is as magical as I remember.  The Guinness is as good, the people are as warm and the weather is still questionable.


We left Toronto on Monday evening and had a rather bumpy flight.  I am convinced that we flew over Bill.  However, while I reclined in my comfy business class seat, covered with a quilt, satisfied by a lovely dinner and a nice wine, the bumps didn’t seem to be too bad.  That was the good news.  Unfortunately, I will never be satisfied with a transatlantic seat in steerage again.  Thank you, Mike Horgan.


We cleared customs with no snags, boarded a bus for the city center and hoofed it a few blocks to the Brooks Hotel.  What a gem.  The Brooks is tucked into a side street and is rather unpretentious looking.  As Mike registered, Connor O’Connell greeted me.  He is the most gracious gentleman one can ever hope to meet.  Tall, dressed in a full morning suit, drop dead handsome, he starts right out by putting you and he on a first name basis.  He invited me to sit with him while Mike finished registering.  He then proceeded to unfold a city map and make all the proper notes for the ‘don’t miss’ stops.  Every time we go through the lobby now he calls out to us “Mike!  Jody!  Did you find your way to the Fish and Chips place we talked about?  How was Riverdance last night?  Brilliant!”  This morning, as we were enjoying our breakfast, Conner rushed over to our table to express his condolences over our loss of Ted Kennedy.  What?  Yes, that’s how we get our news here in Dublin.  It’s hand delivered by our butler.


Following a nap to try to reset our internal clocks, we set out to wander around a bit.  Great luck.  We found a pub!  The Hairy Lemon, My first order of business was to have a pint of Smithwick’s for my nephew, Jared.  Slante, Jared.  We each enjoyed a steaming bowl of seafood chowder and some lovely soda bread.  Just what the doctor ordered.


Mike had purchased tickets for one of the final performances of Riverdance.  It is closing August 29th so what trip to Dublin would be complete without seeing it.   The Gaiety Theater is intimate and it was SRO.  Our seats were perfect, first row in the balcony.  After the performance, we had a late sandwich back at our hotel.


Wednesday has been a day to explore the city.  Yes, you realy can walk to just about everything that might be on your list.  We found the Guinness Brewery and took the tour.  It is wonderful.  We both learned a lot about the process of beer making.  However, the highlight is definitely the final stop on the tour.  You find yourself on the seventh floor in the Gravity Lounge where you are treated to a complimentary pint of Guinness and a 360-degree view of Dublin.  As we sipped our pint, we sat by a window and gazed out to the Dublin Mountains and watched showers roll across the city.


By this time we were ready to use the services of the Hop On-Hop Off bus to see the remaining sights.  As is always the way, when I find myself on the top of an open-air bus, it rained.  But, no bother, it was a soft misty rain and didn’t drive us off the bus till we got to Trinity College.  It was a bit too late in the day to see the Book of Kells, so that will have to wait for another day.


That concludes today’s report.  We are going to walk about a bit more in search of a quiet dinner.