w r i n k l e d
ADVENTURES IN TRAVEL, WRITING AND AGING GRACEFULLY
Well, our seemingly marathon visit to Ireland has come to a close. I know one day, when life is feeling hectic again, I'll long for this place. Not just the nature and the solitude, but the pace. How every morning Chris brings me a coffee, and then Oona climbs into bed demanding kisses and cuddles. I will be grateful we didn't need to rush off to get to school or work, that she hadn't outgrown the morning hugs. I will miss her strong legs wrapped around me, that constant chatter, the messy bed head. I'll miss the morning fire. I'll miss calling Isoo in for breakfast, the bottoms of his pajamas pants wet from dew, his binocs slung around his neck, excited to tell me about what he's seen. Soon he'll be old enough to explore the world on his own, and I will miss this; the feeling that he's returned to us from a place both vast and yet safe. I'll miss breakfast and second breakfast and lunch, the long lazy morning mixed with endless cups of coffee and workbooks and the computer open to research the day's activities. I'll miss having Chris around - not just as a tag teammate, but a true partner, sharing in everything at my side.
We never did make it to Sherkin Island to ride bikes or to kayak with seals. We didn't make the 4 hour road trip O'Brien's Tower or the Cliffs of Mohr. We skipped the Galway Oyster Festival and the Blarney Stone. We didn't take the sailing class or the cooking course. I'm sure you're thinking "What kind of lame travel blog is this?" But September began the quiet season and most tourism outfitters had already closed up shop. So we lived quietly as the locals do, forgoing long drives for the small pleasures of sticking close (or within a 45 minute radius) to home.
Despite the omissions, Ireland was pretty much what I expected. There was hiking, scenery, music, incredibly generous and kind people. And yet, we did learn a few things:
I really, really hate driving. Minimum of two hours commuting everywhere, everyday is a drag. The only thing worse than driving every day is not being able to drive at all and being completely reliant on Chris to cart us around. The loss of independence and alone time was a tough one for me.
The house, while still wonderful, has many, many maintenance issues. The sub floor in the kitchen started to give, loosening the tiles and cracking the grout. For the last two weeks there's been a large, empty box sitting in the middle of the kitchen to prevent the kids from walking on and breaking the tiles. If you know me at all, you are familiar with my rampant dislike of clutter so to have a giant box sit obtrusively in the middle of our most used room has been mental torture. Also, the toilet is still leaking. And the exterior paint is peeling in surfboard size slabs. I don't for a second miss homeownership. I also realize that I can tolerate most housing situations for a couple of weeks before I start to grumble.
Speaking of two weeks, I think that might be the magic number. The month long, slow travel thing is great - it's cheaper, more thoughtful and allows for a deeper understanding and relationship building with the people and place you're visiting. However, after two weeks the novelty of a new place also starts to fade. The major sights have been visited. Routine starts to creep in. Sheets need to be changed. Bathrooms scrubbed. Unless you're staying in a hotel, there is no escaping the tedium of housework. In light of this we tried to trim our visit to Spain from 4 to 2 weeks so we could add Paris and Croatia. Unfortunately, the landlord of our Spain house wouldn't let us out of our contract. Which leads me to...
Don't plan so far ahead. Having so rigidly planned the first 5 months is making it difficult to incorporate the knowledge I've gained while traveling. I hope the last half of the trip will be more spontaneous and informed by our experiences.
Finally, I realize that while I don't need a lot, I can never have enough t-shirts.
Here's a wrap-up of the last few days.
WHAT WE DID:
1. Clonakilty International Guitar Festival
If Chris and I drove into Clon 20 years ago, we would have been suckered into staying. The little town is brimming with cool pubs, each one featuring a long roster of bands. So it's only appropriate that it would host the 4-day music fest (which incidentally, features much more than guitars). It's basically young people hopping from one pub to the next listening to everything from Trad (traditional Irish), American pop, folk, alt-rock, etc. There's a 7€/person cover, but no one was collecting. Chris and I wanted to stay all night, but the kids, unaccustomed to the cozy venues, were overwhelmed by the strong smell of 20-something body odor mixed with beer.
The favorite of the bands we saw was Fir Beag at Shanley's
"Seriously Dad, it's like breathing into a hot, sweaty sweatshirt and I can't see anything except a sea of butts. Can we please go now?"
2. Drove the Beara Way
We'd originally planned to drive the Ring of Kerry (Chris and I had already done the Dingle Peninsula on our previous trip), but after being spoilt by the more wild and remote Northwest coast, we opted to skip the crush of tour buses for the lesser known, and equally beautiful, Beara Way. We stopped at the small, ruined Dunboy Castle in Castletownbere before heading to Dursey to ride the very rusty, suspect cable car across the sound. Then there was more driving (sigh) up the western coast before stopping at Tuosist for Teddy O'Sullivan's famous mussels.
Horse spotting in Beara
Photobombing the picnic lunch at Dursey Peninsula.
The choppy sound is treacherous for boaters (as evidenced by the sailboat that needed rescue that afternoon). The cable car is the only bridge that connects Dursey Island to the mainland and only recently stopped transporting sheep and cattle. Rustoleum anyone?
Inside the 6 person cable car is a small prayer card, Psalm 91 (a prayer for protection) and a bottle of holy water. Oh, those Irish and their jokes!
The very quiet town of Tuosist is famous for Derreen Gardens, a 400 acre subtropical fern garden, and Teddy O'Sullivan's mussels. The restaurant/B&B is now run by his niece. The day we rolled in was so quiet, a photographer, sent from an American travel magazine to shoot the restaurant, had to rustle up a few local fisherman and ply them with pints just to get some bodies in the picture. As for the mussels, they are prepared simply. No beer, wine, parsley, shallots or chorizo. Just mussels in a broth that tastes like the sea. Fantastic.
3. Horseback riding in Schull
We've ridden Western saddle here and there, but never English and never through the countryside past cows and rocky coves. Listening to Isoo giggle uncontrollably during the trot will endure as one of my favorite memories.
4. Ran up Sparrograda
I have been dying for a good run to work off some of the million calories I've ingested this month. Unfortunately, there's not a lot of sidewalk happening in this neck of the woods. In fact, there's not much road either - the lanes are so narrow and the Irish drive at such a break neck pace, I don't dare try to share the street with them. I had heard early on that the road just "next" to ours offered great views, but we only finally drove it the other day. They were right, and blessedly the lane was actually paved (instead of the usual broken rocks) and mostly cow-paddy free. We dropped off the kids, threw on our sneaks and turned right back around for a run. You know you're dealing with seriously steep hills when it takes you 31 minutes to make your way to the top, and only 6 minutes to run back down. And lest you worry that we left the kids alone, we could actually see the house from our run and, if you shouted loud enough, hear them across the valley.
The view of our house and barn from Sparrograda. A few people have asked how close we are to our neighbors. This photo should give you a sense.
5. Finally! Trad Music!
It's starting to get hard to find traditional Irish music in Ireland these days because so many of the young people prefer American Rock. But when we heard of this place in Clon, we decided to keep the kids up late, wind through a dark alley and pile into the cozy An Teach Beag. Every Saturday at 9:30pm, a bunch of 65 year-old couples gather to jam on weird looking instruments, drink Murphy's and sing their hearts out. Talk about local color. And they're all pretty good. The venue is located on the property of the family run O'Donovan Hotel. It's said that the grandfather of the current proprietor fathered 18 kids and lost his leg in an accident. His peg leg and the spare are displayed in the hotel.
6. And a whole mess of other stuff
The kids went to drama again (loved it), swimming at the Baltimore Leisure Centre (It's a pretty crummy pool. Don't forget to bring your own towel and swim cap), went hear Madeline play violin at the farmer's market, and played some more soccer. Isoo played with a new group and the coach, to ensure he wasn't the last one picked, assigned Isoo as a team captain. When Isoo loped off the field he said several of the boys told him, "you play class.'" Chris explained it was slang for "play well". I asked Isoo how he'd responded. "I said 'thanks.' I figured if it was a compliment it was the right thing to say. If it was an insult, they would think I'm being appropriately sarcastic."
The last few days it was Chris' turn to scream at all of us so we sent him to Schull for a pint, Skibb to blow off some steam at the men's soccer match, and then to church so he could pray for strength not to kill us. We're still alive.
And a small thing I want to remember: While running errands in neighboring Schull (Chris' fav town), Isoo got a chance to spin a roulette wheel and won a 20€ gift certificate to the local supermarket. He could have blown the whole thing on car magazines and energy bars, but instead, he asked if he could buy us dinner. While we have everything we need, the kids are very conscious of our budget. They are familiar with the daily allowance and often ask how much is remaining. I was so proud of Isoo and really wanted to let him contribute, but we were set with dinner. After wandering around the store for a half hour, he settled on a box of chocolates for his sis, a single bottle of beer for Chris, a bottle of San Pellegrino for me, strawberries and bagels for breakfast and yes, a couple of energy bars for himself.
WHERE WE ATE:
Apple Betty's Cafe - Skibbereen
Cute, unassuming cafe. Great coffee. No sweet chili sauce. Yay!
Sea Palace Chinese Restaurant - Clonakilty
Ever since Pine Yard burned down, I've been suffering from Chinese food withdrawal. I had a feeling this was going to be a clunker. I was right. Chris' review? "I would rather eat my own poo."
Riverside Cafe and Restaurant - Skibbereen
Just down the street from drama class, this is where Chris and I go for our weekly hot date. A glass of wine, view of the river and a whole hour of uninterrupted conversation.
Teddy O'Sullivan's - Tuosist
Located in Helen's Bar, Bed & Breakfast, overlooking the water as you enter town. You will never, ever go here because it feels like you're at the ends of the earth, but you should. Delicious, fresh seafood pulled right out of the sea.
La Concha Seafood Restaurant - Skibbereen
Hey! The seafood here is pretty good! And loved the chicken curry. The staff is great - friendly accommodating.
Paradise Crepe - Schull
When Lilliane closed up shop for the season, we had to drive to Schull for the kids' crepe fix. Not nearly as good as Lilliane's, but the patio is cute and the staff is friendly (if not a little spacey).
Casey's Bar & Restaurant - Clonakilty
Chris and Isoo loved it. They had the awesome salmon special and watched the Tottenham vs. Arsenal soccer game. I almost went deaf when Tottenham scored. Isoo claimed he heard the "F word" 3xs every 50 seconds. Oona and I huddled in a corner and played cards. All in all, it was very educational. For the record, the staff is excellent.
Total old man bar, and not in the ironic, hipster way. We played Spot It and made so much noise and laughed so hard that Oona almost peed her pants. None of this means anything to you, but it means something to me. Plus, I think the kids were a little drunk from all the rum in the chocolate cake.
WHERE WE STAYED:
Carlton Dublin Airport Hotel
We stayed here our last night in Ireland in order to make it to the airport for our early morning flight to Lisbon. It was pretty nice and very modern for a European airport hotel (i.e., good room size and none of the horrible polyester bed spreads, dated wallpaper or salmon colored carpeting). I will say, however, that the restaurant managed to staff the laziest woman in the world (a.k.a. our server). She spent most of the evening lounging at the bar. To get her attention, I had to stand up and frantically wave my arms around like I was shipwrecked and needed rescue. On her way back from bussing our table, she dropped a spoon and instead of bending over to pick it up, I watched her kick it all the way back into the kitchen. Classic!