Sunday, April 29, 2007

A quick update for the week...

Irish Pub of the Week #4 - Pebble Beach, Clontarf, Dublin 3

Glass half full, Pebble Beach
(please click on either of these photos for a larger version)

Hi all. Another week (and weekend) has gone by. Clare was in Brussels for the European Seafood Exposition until Thursday - had a great time and saw lots of her old Aussie seafood clients and met people from the Irish seafood industry. Brussels got to 31c, with humidity just like Brisbane, but Ireland didn't rise above the teens as usual. Joe did his daily commute to DHL at Swords, close to Dublin Airport, not so exciting. We had a new front window installed at our apartment, which stayed clean for 1 day but is now covered in salt spray as the coastal breezes really whipped up this weekend. People were flying kites and I even saw a brave sailboarder screaming across Dundalk Bay. We went for a walk with the Hashers on Sunday - at Clontarf, on the northside of Dublin. Quite leisurely, and ended up at the pub as usual. Next weekend we're off to Galway and the West of Ireland as we have our May Bank Holiday (Labour Day). Bye all.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Accidental Tourists

Of all the Newcastle's in the world... this is one of them!

Irish Pub of the Week #3 - The Sail Inn, Clogherhead, County Louth

Silent Valley is an appropriate name. You can almost hear the silence.
(please click on any of these photos for a larger version)

It's really great to go to places within an hour of home (in Ireland), that are so bloody brilliant, so diverse. It's weird enough that we can actually see the Mourne Mountains (on a good day), from the main window of our apartment, and had never been there. The Mourne Mountains, and the little town of Newcastle where the mountains meet the sea. Newcastle, with it's Victorian Terrace seafront, amusement arcades and good cafes couldn't be any more different than Annagassan. They even use a different currency... But it's only an hour away. I guess we used to explore our "backyard" in Brisbane too, but when you live somewhere, you think you know your own region so you spend your weekends at home, or doing something else. So Ireland is just made for exploring. Every day I can drive down a new country lane I've never been on before, or see a different Norman ruin or ancient church. Last week, I discovered 2 country pubs less than 10 minutes from Annagassan. This week, vast fields of yellow flowers emerged in the Spring temperatures. So this weekend, we found new sights and tastes in a region just north of where we live - the Mourne Mountains. The weather can vary of course. It was quite warm today. The clouds rolled in over the hills and rain threatened, but never really happened. We went for a 3km walk at the Tollymore Forest Park (far too easy, we should have done longer). We had a great lunch at the Seasalt Cafe in Newcastle (notes from Lonely Planet Ireland). We took a loop walk around the Silent Valley Reservoir. Silent it was too, apart from the distant bleating of sheep in lush fields. Thankfully, the reservoirs here look a lot healthier than poor old Wivenhoe. So we drove home to Annagassan, sat down in our loungeroom, and gazed at the Mourne Mountains again!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Real Madrid

Puerta de Europa, Madrid

MADRID... (There are lots of photo links in this story)
flickr photo link: <Madrid, Apr 07>
flickr photo link: <Madrid Bullfights, Apr 07>
05 Apr 07 IB3183 DUB/MAD 1835/2200
09 Apr 07 IB3186 MAD/DUB 1615/1740
Continuing our tradition of quick European Vacations from Ireland, we ate and drank our way through Madrid over the Easter weekend. We loved the parade of strange religious costumes through the streets & alleys on Good Friday. We raved about the grilled prawns in the tapas bars. The art and architecture are not to be missed, but plan your time carefully. And the bullfights, which are something you only have to see once, but are part of the history and culture of this great city.
We flew from Dublin to Madrid with Iberia. Dublin Airport was far calmer than expected and we got to our gate in no time at all. Nice airline, smooth flight. The new Madrid Barajas Terminal 4 is huge and sweeping in scale, more in kind with Kuala Lumpur or Hong Kong Airports than any other European Airport. Took a cab to the hotel. The freeways into Madrid are quick & seamless, giving you a distinct impression of being very new (and so much better than Ireland!) Our home for 4 nights was the 2 star Hostal Persal (€99/nt), in the absolute heart of the historic quarter of Madrid (100 yards from the Puerta del Sol, and very near the Plaza Mayor and the Prado, Thyssen & Reina Sofia Museums). The continental breakfast ran till 11am, which was great for us!
Joe... I slept in big time on Good Friday. Didn't get outside the hotel until early afternoon, and found some lunch at a place with a person inside an inflatable chicken suit. Not bad. Clare then spied a little Tapas Bar that soon became our favourite in the area (La Zapateria/The Shoemaker) which had grilled prawns in sea salt (absolutely lipsmacking), octopus, meat kebabs & paella. And of course bottles of the local red (very drinkable), and glasses of Cerveza (beer). Our average bill there was about €35 for 2, including drinks. We then retreated back to our hotel room and did the very Spanish siesta thing.
Clare... I decided that as it was Good Friday, I really should go to Mass. I'd checked with the hotel reception and identified the 2 main "must do" mass churches in downtown Madrid - Basilica of Crist de Medinacell and Church of San Pedro el Viejo Nuncio. I chose the Church of San Pedro (built in 1202 on top of the mosque that was here in the Muslim district in the middle ages), as it was the smaller and much older church of the two. At Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church, in downtown Kenmore, Brisbane, the two biggest and well attended masses of the year are Good Friday 3pm mass and Midnight mass on Christmas Eve. With this in mind I actually dressed decently and wandered off through the back lanes of old Madrid (Real or Royal Madrid). On my way down I noticed large numbers of people of all ages heading off in the opposite direction, very well dressed including full length fur coats, yes real animal fur, this is Spain, the land of the bullfights!
I eventually found the Church of San Pedro and sat down for mass which was sparsely attended, to my surprise. With no priest in sight the Stations of the Cross started, led by a lay attendant. So 20 minutes later it was all over. Apparently Saturday is the big day for Easter mass here. There was a small stall with religious items for sale. I bought a magnet of a saint and 2 post cards of the Mary and Jesus statues/icons ? from San Pedro. The Mary and Jesus "statues" were made of wood - quite realistic - standing on a "bed" of silver or gold that has been built to be carried around. After the mass that wasn't, I wandered off and just started popping into churches I found - loads of them. All were different, very different styles of architecture and interiors. Every one had different "statues", particularly of Mary, standing on silver or gold "beds". After the third one I was wandering through the back lanes and stumbled upon a procession of people (men, women & children) dressed liked black Ku Klux Clan people. I thought THIS IS MADRID, and just started following the procession through the laneways. I found the procession around 7.45pm. Later I found out it had started at 7pm and didn't end until 11pm. It didn't travel too far at all, but took a very slow route via small laneways dating back to the 1200's. This is what the ladies in fur coats were doing, following the procession. The people dressed like the black Ku Klux Clan were carrying large candles, others were very, very well dressed women in black "widow" clothes from head to toe, and others were carrying the Mary Statue on a silver bed. Yes, solid silver. It took around 12 men and women to carry it with many rest stops along the way. It was a cold night with frequent showers (the weather in Ireland was actually much better). Even the small children in the procession made it all the way to the church of Inglesia la Santa Cruz. At this point the police escort closed ranks and no one other than the parade people could get into the church. I think the procession of Saint Dolores started in 1592. Pity I can't read the Spanish brochure that the kids were selling. Half way through I went back and got Joe from the hotel and we got some great pics.
The next day (Saturday) we made a concerted effort to be tourists and did the Madrid VISION open top bus tour, then did lunch at the Palace of Jamon (Ham Palace). Don't even start me on Spanish hams from pigs wandering free in the oak forests in the hills. Simply wonderful. Then off to do art: a portrait show at Fundacion Caja Madrid which included Andy Warhol, Picasso & Dali, then Escher's "The Art of the Impossible" near Puerta de Europa (the 2 leaning skyscrapers - really amazing). Then dinner back at La Zapateria followed by a long stroll around the old town. We ended our night at the famous Chocolatería San Ginés. Love chocolate, then this is definitely the place for you - a favourite haunt of many Madrileños, this place serves thick cups of chocolate with churros (long sticks of fried dough) in a white-marbled bar. It's been around for well over a hundred years. All diets on hold tonight.
On Sunday we started with a stroll through the huge El Rastro flea market. Then we started on the art again (it's SO easy to get around on the Madrid Subway system). We saw photos of Madrid from the 1950's to the present, then the large Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, the best collection of European art this side of the Hermitage which holds Catherine the Greats collection. Gave the Prado and Reina Sofia a miss due to very, very long queues. (Joe says - the security guards in the museums here all carry guns - these guys are serious about keeping a hold of their art!) Then the bullfights. We had to see at least one bullfight for real. We saw 3 fights at Las Ventas and it's rather cruel. We cheered when one bull tore down the wooden stand in front of the matador, much to the consternation of the Spanish people sitting next to us. The real eye opener was the treatment of the final matador who must have been the best of the day and was carried out of stadium by a frenzied crowd of people and driven away with a police escort. Lots of excitement there!
Back to the city centre and a late night drinks and jazz session at the Central Cafe 2 doors from our hotel (stumbling distance). We had tapas and some serious drinks & cocktails whilst listening to the Lluis Coloma Trio, who were great. This was my type of bar, with a rum menu, which type of Havana Gold exactly did I want? And perfect daiquiris (lucky it was our last night).
The next day we headed back to Madrid Barajas after lunch only to discover our flight was overbooked and we had somehow been placed on standby. Clare produced her Gold Qantas Frequent Flyer Card, and we were immediately upgraded to business class for our flight back to Dublin. So we got on the plane and turned left (as they say). Now this is the life! Madrid was everything that Paris never was. The food, shopping and art are more easily found and enjoyed. Can't wait for Barcelona.
flickr photo link: <Madrid, Apr 07>
flickr photo link: <Madrid Bullfights, Apr 07>

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Boston Common

Clare in work mode at the Boston Seafood Show

Photo Link: <Boston photos>
I'm finally getting around to doing some more blog updates. Not that I'm too busy or anything, you just have to find the time to sit at the laptop and get it done. The first update is from Clare's trip to Boston in March...
Clare says... I took a work trip to Boston (for the SEAFOOD SHOW) and I saw the Pogues. Best corporate function I have been to. Yeah, and some drinking sessions with Newfies till the wee hours. God they can drink those Newfies (Newfoundlanders). I need to get ready to do it all again at Brussels (Seafood show). Flew to Boston on Virgin Atlantic. The river, sea, lakes, etc. were frozen in Boston at the start of the week but mostly thawed by the time we left. I took the pics whilst on the trolley tour on the last afternoon. Still the whole place is rather bleak as there is absolutely no green anywhere at all - all dead under the ice and snow piles. We (Peter, my boss and I) went to a drinks party (for Bantry Bay Mussels) in South Boston (Irish town) and it was like Belfast - full of IRA murals on the walls. Nothing like it in Australia.
The Pogues concert was the third in a row for Boston which was then being followed by New York for St Patricks night. We got tickets for the 10th row from the front at the Orpheum Theater a couple of hours before the start. We then popped off to the California Pizza Kitchen. For those people who went to my parties at Auchenflower in the 1990’s with the infamous pizzas - a lot of the recipes came from this establishment. The Pogues, for those that haven’t seen them, are an Irish punk band formed in London in the mid 1980’s when Ireland was a very different place from now. They play traditional Irish songs with a punk beat and sing their own songs as well. Some of their own songs are absolute classics for the Irish especially those who came of age in the 1980's and had to move overseas for jobs ie. London & New York, even when they didn’t want to leave. There is one in particular called “New York Fairy Tale’ which I'd never heard in Australia and they didn’t play in Boston, as they needed a female singer. But it's probably the only song of theirs they didn’t play, as they came back for 3 encores. The band consisted of Shane McGowan, the infamous lead singer, 1 drummer who also sang a solo, 2 guitarists, one who also sang a solo, 1 tin whistleplayer who also played a lot of other bits and pieces including a biscuit tray at the end, 1 banjo player and a sax player. They played all the songs I know from the CD "Rum, Sodomy and the Lash" with the exception of "And the band played Waltzing Matilida", wrong target audience for that one. They played "Dirty Old Town" and "Irish Rover".
And yes, for those that are familar with Shane McGowan (he played the Byron Bay Blues Fest a few years ago), he did stand up for the whole show and no, did not appear to be drunk/stoned throughout the concert. But he was drinking something that looked a lot like whiskey straight all night, but could have been ginger ale (Shane has been trying to dry out for years). But he did smoke non stop all night despite all the signs saying it was a smoke free building. By the encore Shane couldn’t walk or stand up by himself. He needed a roadie to basically walk him to the stool they had put out for him and hand him a smoke and drink. Maybe it wasn’t ginger ale after all. And they had a Mary statue up on the sound equipment. Okay they are Irish but the last song on the CD "Thirteen Thongs" by the Lonesome Cow Girls did come to mind. Those of you who went to Woodford in 2005/6 would have heard this song and know what the Mary statue probably contained.
We couldn’t get a taxi back to the hotel so walked quite a way past the still frozen Boston common and were meant to meet up with the Newfies again for another get-together but these sessions tended to finish at 4am, so I piked and went to bed. The next night we had dinner at a place called Cotton Wood - well worth it for the cocktails alone, but the steak was wonderful. Ran into some of our Irish clients there as well. Very small world. I expect to meet up with a lot more familar (Aussie) faces at the Brussels seafood show in April. (The Boston photos are linked right here).

Monday, April 02, 2007

I Can't Get No Satisfaction...

Irish Pub of the Week #2 - Cobblestone, Smithfield, Dublin 7

Hi all, just a quick weekend update. We managed to get 2 tickets for The Rolling Stones at Slane Castle in August (about 1/2 hour from Annagassan)... Should be a blast - concerts at Slane Castle are reputed as being quite special with 80,000 people in a in a natural amphitheatre beside the Boyne River, in the height of the Irish Summer (but I still had no idea Clare was a closet Rolling Stones fan). All 80,000 tickets sold out in 1 day of course!
On Sunday, we went for walk with the Dublin Hash Group (A few photos are here) - we were following impossible clues in Polish, German & French from pub to pub across Dublin. Found a great Sunday afternoon trad music session at the Cobblestone, Smithfield. Not much to look at from the outside, but that's no sign of a good Dublin Pub. There are so, so many of them to choose from...
We're off to Madrid this Thursday for 4 nights away. This was a surprise trip for Clare, but I've given the destination away now - Olé...