w r i n k l e d
ADVENTURES IN TRAVEL, WRITING AND AGING GRACEFULLY
I thought for sure I would be the first to break, but on the evening of Oona’s birthday, after breakfast in bed, banners, balloons, cards from friends, a small mountains of gifts, a dream come true excursion to throw pottery on a wheel, she announced matter-of-factly, “When it’s time to blow out my candles, I’m only going to make one wish: To go home.”
After that she cried for about an hour. I tried to explain how there would be many, many birthdays, but likely only one in Ireland, surrounded by mooing cows and horses and gorgeous nature. But you try talking perspective to an 8 year-old homesick for her friends, play dates and a good old-fashioned birthday party.
Chris finally coaxed her downstairs with promises of lemonade and birthday desserts. Within minutes she was her happy, easy-going self again, but lying in bed that night, I found myself bracing for what would come ahead: Halloween without the Monroe St. gang, a Thanksgiving Day chicken, a quiet Christmas without the chaos of cousins, dogs, visiting uncles and aunts and enough presents to fit under a dozen trees.
The countryside makes her loneliness even more pronounced. Chris and Isoo don’t understand; they are self-contained creatures. I am, too, except, well, its just so very quiet here. When we planned this trip, we did so with the intent of exploring our horizons - opting for a mix of rural, village, medium and large cities to see what feels right for our family. But it’s become evident that while there’s plenty enough to do, I’m not cut out for country living. I miss TV, cafes, restaurants and noise. Bars, traffic lights and bookstores. I miss having neighbors and seeing kids on a playground and waiving to fellow runners. Options, small talk, public utilities. While our life back home often felt over scheduled and frenetic, it throws in sharp contrast our current solitary existence. Neither feels right. OK, so now I know.
I'm consumed by that familiar sense of restlessness, of moving on, of traveling faster and seeing more. Chris woke up the other day sighing, “I thought we were in Paris.” We’ll have to see if it was a premonition or just a dream. We have 9 days remaining here and intend to make the most of them. We have plans to work on a farm, hike the Beara Way, take a ferry to ride bikes on a tiny island. Yes, I know I should appreciate it while I can, but you try talking perspective to a middle-aged woman who feels that the whole world is out there just waiting for her to explore.
The truth is, we are doing great. Better than expected really. Oona is growing like a weed and becoming more coordinated, athletic and funny each day. Isoo is totally in his element. We wake up to find “out birding,” scrawled on a piece of toilet paper. He is doing what he loves best, gorging himself on birding, greedily devouring bird watching sites, blogging, taking pictures. I’m envious of his discipline and passion, especially since my own interests in writing, running, reading, etc. seems to have given way to quiet daydreaming. But I guess that too, is not such a bad thing.
So OK, we’ve slowed down, but we’ve not been idle. Here is a round-up of the last few days:
WHAT WE DID:
1. West Cork Food Festival
West Cork is made up of a series of very small towns. By this I mean every 30km or so of farmland is broken by a main street consisting of a couple of pubs, a post office and gas station. If you hit the jackpot, you also get a bank, a school, supermarket, weekend farmer’s market and enough shops to fill a couple of blocks (Skibbereen, Clonakilty, Bantry). The nearest town, the very laid-back, Ballydehob, was once a former hippie commune with a thriving music scene. Now it's home to a health food store, gas station, two seldom open pubs and a post office where you can pick up your mail. Yawn.
So the West Cork Food Fest is a pretty big deal. It seemed everyone in Ireland (which incidentally is the size of Indiana) descended on this little corner to partake in farm-raised beef, organic produce and fresh caught fish. Normally this is the kind of crowded, noisy event we avoid like the plague, but all things considered, it was terrific to see the streets buzzing and we had a great time listening to music and moving from stand to stand sampling the goods.
Potato chip heaven. Dug from his garden, peeled and then right out of the fryer. Rivaled only by fresh made, piping hot Dinky Donuts. When he saw I'd taken a pic, he shouted, "Please put me on Facebook!"
Top: Local cheese. These hens lay multi-colored eggs.
Middle: Monkfish from the Baltimore harbor. My teeth ache just looking at the candy!
On our way to the car, we decided to pop into Jeff’s Oak Fire Pizzeria for a make your own pizza session. Even though we'd neglected to register, Jeff made an exception and on our way out, Oona was stopped by a photographer from the Irish Examiner. As luck would have it, her picture was featured in the online paper.
WHAT WE ATE:
Too much to mention without embarrassing myself.
2. Clonakilty for Oona's Birthday
We knew the birthday was going to be a tough one because like most kids, Oona had been actively planning her party for the last 364 days. We did our best to make it memorable, driving 45 minutes to Clonakilty for a private pottery session. What I didn’t realize was that the “pottery school” was run out of woman’s garage, in the middle of nowhere, and that she had had a power outage. Fortunately, Rita, had a kick wheel so we did it up old-school. Rita was fantastic – interesting, talented and a great teacher. Most of all, she was incredibly patient with Oona, letting her stay far longer than reasonable (if you have ever worked on a kick wheel, you’ll know what I mean).
And as if the surprise birthday party they had thrown her before our departure wasn’t enough, the highlight of Oona’s day was opening the handmade birthday cards the Monroe St. gang had snuck into our luggage. Not only were we touched, but also a little bit homesick.
WHAT WE ATE:
For the birthday lunch we had delicious steak sandwiches at the very charming Scannells, made more so by the adorable and friendly owner. They also have a huge garden that hosts local bands in the evening.
3. People in Ireland are crazy
This is the only explanation why Barley Cove, a pristine beach 45 minute drive (everything is a 45 minutes drive) away was deserted the day we visited. Emerald water, secret coves and shallow lagoons. We packed a picnic lunch and wound our way past wild horses and cows, and along a floating pontoon walkway to the wide stretch of sand. The water was cold, but that didn't stop Chris and the kids. Oona, the beach girl, proclaimed it her favorite day thus far.
4. Mizen Head
Yeah, so we went to Mizen Head, a signal station on Ireland's most southernly tip. I was desperate for my weekly one hour of kid-free time and really wanted the kids to go to Drama Class, but Chris and the kids trumped me. So yes, I had a crappy attitude toward Mizen Head and was sort of vindicated when it turned out to be kind of boring. The Irish love to recreate historical scenes using life-size dioramas. They are totally spooky and super cheesy. If you don’t believe me, see for yourself.
Please pass the butter.
While I don't recommend paying the 18Euro to visit the station, the view from the bridge was sort of cool (but don't tell Chris and the kids I said that). Just pretend you bought a ticket, cross the bridge and turn back before you get to the "museum". A shout out to my book club peeps: While I still stand my ground that The Light Between the Oceans, was a horrible book, I have to admit it did greatly inform my understanding and appreciation for lighthouse keepers.
"Seriously, stop being grumpy. I am standing at the southern most tip of Ireland, which for some inexplicable reason it is very important to me, and you are spoiling it."
5. Drombeg Stone Circle
We drove 45 minutes (surprise!) to see a bunch of rocks in a circle? Yes, and now I’m going to give you a lesson on ancient burial rituals and how the Celts boiled water by adding hot stones to the trough. Wait, why am I the only one who finds this fascinating?
17 stones make up the recumbent stone circle. The largest stones (on the left) mark the doorway, the smallest, (right) the altar. Believed to be created 1100-800BC to mark the burial plot of an adolescent youth.
Steps from the stone circle is an ancient dwelling. Adjacent to the living hut is a "kitchen" equipped with a well that flows into a trough. Stones are heated in a fire and then put into the trough to heat water for boiling meat, dying cloth and bathing.
"Quick, let's run away before she tries to teach us more stuff!"
"No seriously, how much more of this do we need to listen to?"
6. Cobh and Cork
We decided, for everyone’s sanity, to make the long drive to the big cities of Cobh and Cork. First stop: The Heritage Centre, where we had hoped the kids would learn about and embrace their Irish lineage. Again, I could have stayed all day reading every one of the placards, but Chris, spoiled by the vastness of Belfast’s Titanic Museum, was not impressed. The kids were completely spooked by the loud music, creepy dioramas and tragic story. Our visit was short, but we did get some fun photos of the picturesque homes lolling on the pitched hills.
See, I was not kidding about the dioramas.
Lest I lose my audience completely, I surprised the kids by taking them to Kartmania, located in an out of the way business park in Cork. We got outfitted in driving gear and then raced gas pedal go-karts around a huge track. It was expensive, stupid and without any educational value. We all loved it. Isoo declared it “the most fun I have ever had in my entire life!” And if go-karting is any indication, I should prepare myself now for many speeding tickets and dinged headlights from my future 16 year-old son.
To ensure that we do something of some cultural value, we also climbed to the top of St. Ann's and rang the bells of Shandon. Culture-lite.
Playing Fere Jacques
Our last stop before dinner was Douglas Community Park, a large walled park in the middle of a posh Cork suburb. We were all thrilled to see real live kids on a playground! For Oona, the best part of the day was playing soccer in the park with a couple of new friends. Not the same as kicking the ball with her best bud, Mia, but it will have to do for the next few months.
WHERE WE ATE:
Don't be tricked by the views of Cobh harbor and the convenient location next to the Heritage Museum. Or the good trip advisor reviews. The dreaded Irish sweet chili sauce on EVERYTHING.
We'd read such great reviews about this Indian restaurant we decided to it was worth the long drive out to the 'burbs of Cork City. The food was pretty good, but the service was insanely slow, so much so that we didn't have time for much else to do in Cork. Live and learn.
7. Isoo went birding for real!
Chris and I know nothing about birds, much less the birds of Ireland so we hired a guide, Dan "Feathers" Ballard, to meet the boys for a day of spotting. It rained like mad, but Isoo still managed to find a couple dozen life birds trampling through farms, gardens and other private property in pursuit of the elusive pheasant. They never found one, but the day was deemed a success! The best 48 hours of his life! Read the details for yourself here: http://www.traveltobird.com
I think Dan had as much fun birding with Isoo, as Isoo did with Dan. By the end of the afternoon, Dan had invited Isoo to bird with him again, free of charge.
8. Put me in coach!
The kids need friends and cardio so we bought them some shin guards and socks, showed up at the soccer pitch on Saturday morning and crashed the Skibbereen Club practice. After sizing up the kids, we approached coaches with a smile and they happily welcomed Isoo and Oona. Again, the Irish couldn't be nicer. Oona was the only girl on the field and had to play in her Chucks, but by the end of the practice, coach Jeff (coincidentally of Jeff's Oak Fire Pizzeria!) was citing her as an example. Isoo won the drill, had some great assists and scored a goal, gaining the approval of the more serious, older players. Much needed social and physical interaction and a nice ego boost to boot.
WHERE ELSE DID WE EAT?
The Fish Kitchen
Wait, you mean there's ONLY fish on the menu? The restaurant name and it's location above a fish shop in the harbor town of Bantry should have been tip-offs, but nonetheless, I was disappointed. I like fish as much as the next person, er, well maybe I don't. Proof that you can take the girl out of the Midwest, but not the Midwest out of the girl. Chris on the other hand, loved it.
An Chistin Beag
This little restaurant got the best reviews in Skibbereen. But why? It's nothing more than a little diner serving cod sandwiches and chicken wings smothered in bottled BBQ sauce. I actually got up in the middle of my dinner and went outside to look at the signage just to make sure I was in the right place. Our meal was fine, but certainly not worth the hype.
After a 10-year break from the kitchen, Chris is back cooking and we're all thankful for his return. He lights a fire, googles conversions from degrees F to C, settles us at the best table in the house, pours me a glass of wine and then sets off to crank out our favorite meals. Why eat out?