Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Then they got back, and Miriam began to send me photographs. It was all, 'Here's me in my thistle hat!' and 'Here's us at Arthur's Seat!' and then...'Check out this doggie in the window!'
Innnnteresting. That would be the exact doggie whom we petted while Fru and Natalia chose various unique and antique whiskies for personal bottling. That would be the House Dog of the whisky bottling shop Cadenhead's (see below). We've met that dog. Her name is Maggie. She tried to eat Charles' shoelaces. She's... filthy. No, really, really filthy. But nice enough.
Some coincidence, no?
Sunday, August 26, 2007
Thursday, August 23, 2007
But after a summer in England, where we couldn't find an apple to our taste, it's profoundly pleasurable to eat a cold, crisp, sweet apple.
The English have apples, of course. But they don't seem that into the apple phenomenon, except in pie. And since they're allergic to cinnamon and sugar (or something, I dunno), apple pie in Britain is a tart, vegetable treat rather than the sugary, spicy, buttery dessert it can be here.
As for fresh apples, well...it wasn't the right season. Maybe that's why they seemed sort of sad. It could also be latitude. The apples in Maine weren't great, either.
We returned to the land of importation and immediately purchased a nice, plastic bag full of large Fujis. They're pure white inside, dripping with juice, and sweet as can be. Delish. Even the dogs love them, waiting (and in Boris's case, drooling) for me to finish so they can chomp on the cores.
So: point one for Kentucky. Apples.
Monday, August 13, 2007
1. At the airport, one has to get on a shuttle bus which goes to the Central Bus Terminal in Cork. I knew to buy a period return ticket (period return allows you to come back anytime within a month), because it would be cheaper. I knew to buy my ticket to Killarney period return because that would be cheaper, too. The tour people said to buy the Killarney ticket on the bus. So after I got the return shuttle tickets, I asked "Can I buy two return tickets to Killarney?"
Whoops! The bus driver exploded. He started yelling "It's too late now! You should have said! I already printed the ticket! It's too late now! You might have saved 6 euros, but not now! Just go sit down!!" etc. Full bus, screaming bus driver, totally embarassed tourist. And a charming welcome. A hundred thousand welcomes, indeed.
2. At the CBT, I got in line to buy our Killarney tickets. A girl came up and said that her bus was about to leave and she had the wrong ticket. She wanted to jump the queue. We all said fine, so she went up to the bulletproof window (in the bus station!! Bulletproof!).
She opened her mouth, but before she could speak, the girl behind the glass snarled "You asked for a ticket to X." "But I need to get to Y." "But you asked for a ticket to X!" back and forth this went for three iterations.
It was completely obvious - totally, utterly obvious, that the ticket girl knew when she sold the original ticket it was wrong. She did it anyway, and was now rubbing in the customer's ignorance on purpose.
Finally, the customer-girl said, "Can you do anything to help me?" and the ticket-girl said, "Yes, for 60p." So for 60 cents, she handed the customer the correct ticket and that woman ran off to try to chase down her departing bus. A thousand welcomes.
3. The same girl sold me two tickets to Killarney. I turned away, consulted the electronic board, and realized that there was no bus to Killarney. Also, the departure time showed four different buses. Who knows where they all went? So I went back to the window.
Miss Charming cocked her hip, turned her eyes disdainfully toward me and sneered. "What?" I asked which bus was the one to Killarney. "Tralee." Because that was obvious. It wasn't on the ticket. It wasn't on the schedule. Oh, wait - there were no schedules in the little display case. It was empty.
Then I paid 20p to use the filthy bathroom and we got on the bus.
See how things didn't exactly get off to a thrilling start?
I don't think we really started to warm up to Ireland until we checked into the Malton, a truly beautiful hotel in Killarney where the staff (that's right - Eastern Europeans to the last one. I had to spell my name. My Irish name. But hey - they were nice!) made us welcome. Finally.
A building site, where they are constructing an enormous block of apartments. They're clearly intended to be young, hip loft-y type dwellings, and to appeal to the young, hip Irish Tiger folks. So the wall that surrounds the site displays eight-foot-high photos with silly slogans, intended to convey the ultra-hipness of it all.
"Had She Discovered Ireland's Greatest Secret?" asks one with a pretty girl.
[Because a building larger than any other in town, with huge advertising posters on the outer wall, is a 'secret']
But here's what caught my eye. Someone spray painted under the girl's face: "Skyscrapers are gay."
Nice. Real nice.
Sunday, August 12, 2007
Our last few weeks were so action packed, however, that there were few detailed updates and fewer pictures. We may or may not remedy that over the next few weeks - you just can never tell what time will permit.
So, a brief summary of the last few weeks of our trip will have to suffice.
The Three Peak Challenge:
We successfully summited the highest peaks of Scotland, England and Wales within 24 hours. Ben Nevis was a great walk and we made great time on the mountain despite the 30 foot visibility, 65 mph winds, and driving rain on the upper third of the mountain. Scafell Pike was the biggest challenge in some ways because the pre-dawn darkness in which we started complicated navigation and because two of us had significant knee and/or ankle pain on the way down. In my case, the knee pain was exacerbated by the 6 hour cramped van ride between Ben Nevis and Scafell. My limping descent set us back a bit on time, but we did so well on Ben Nevis we were still in the hunt for making our time. Our driver did a great job getting us to Snowdon quickly. As the weather was excellent (a first on the journey, BTW), we all agreed we should all attempt the peak despite my rather dodgy knees. We started the short trail up and had a great time of it until the last mile or two of it which went straight up. I'm talking as steep as a spiral staircase up a medieval castle tower, sans spiral. I slowed down to a virtual crawl while the rest of the crew sped to the top. When I finally reached the peak my friends were there to greet me. We had all just made the time for three peaks within 24 hours. The walk down was beautiful and alternated between and easy stroll and a painfully long walk in my perception of it. After a drive to Liverpool and quick showers at the hotel we feasted at an American-style restaurant on chicken wings, fried onions, steaks and barbecue ribs. We topped it off with some Ben Nevis whisky for a night cap. Good times.
By the time Fiona and I reunited, checked out of the apartment, rode to Heathrow and flew to Ireland we were ready for a relaxing week. Things started well at the the Cork Airport which was friendly, small and easy to navigate. We then had a dodgy 24 hours between a very low-rent bus station and bus trip, an unexpected lack of service and failure to deliver from our walking tour company, and a less than expected B&B experience. However, with the help of my good friend in Seattle via e-mail and good teamwork between F and me, we booked new accommodations and re-planned our entire stay in Killarney. We then enjoyed a relaxing time of walking to local attractions, searching for good pub food (in vain, sadly), and drinking our fill of Guinness, which is still the best beer in the world. While our Ireland trip was not what we planned or expected, we are happy to have made the most of it.
Return travel to the states was a sort of slow motion affair. Buses, cars, trains, and airplanes all factored into the travel. The bright spots were another night in Milton Keynes with Bart and Tony, a chance to meet the Tony's delightful mom, sister, niece and nephew (and say hello to his brother Mick one last time), and a night with Miriam and Will in Will's beautiful DC digs.
My Dad met us at the airport in Louisville to take us home. We returned to a well-ordered house, a newly landscaped lawn, various home improvements (new light switches, shelves installed, etc.), and two happy, happy dogs. I couldn't have asked for a better caretaker for our dogs and our home and must say that Dad did a great job for us.
Friday, August 10, 2007
However, there has been a change.
It is officially a million zillion degrees. Washington appears to shimmer, when it's not just dripping.
Miriam and Will kindly installed a wall-unit A/C in the guest room, which brings the temperature down to bearable.
We will, therefore, be living in this room until October. Thank you for your understanding.
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
Stage 1: bus from Killarney to Cork, night at a hotel at the Cork airport. In case anyone is ever in Cork (why? Dunno, but it might happen), the Cork International airport hotel is tres hip. It's an old hotel re-done as a boutique, and it offers you many things you will not find elsewhere (air conditioning, for example). They have their own bakery, where they were cooking gougettes while we walked by. Nothing like delicious cheesy puffs to make you like a place.
Stage 2: Up in the morning, over to the aiport for breakfast and then to the aeroplane. Once in England, we made our way through Heathrow to the Central Bus Station where we purchased bus tickets to Milton Keynes ('No! We don't take no Euros. We don't like them Euros!' in case you wondered, that was the answer at the bus station information desk). An hour and ten minutes on the bus, then a short ride to Shenley Church End with Bart and Tony.
Stage 3: Tomorrow, we head up to Heathrow again, jump on another plane, and fly over to Dulles. Miss Miriam Hauss awaits, breathless with anticipation. In fact, everything in her life has become flat and colorless as she anticipates our arrival. It's true.
Stage 4: Up on Friday morning, we board yet another plane at BWI to fly to Louisville, where John Halloran will pick us up and we will all drive back to Lexington. Cue dogs.
I'm tired already. Aren't you?
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
But before we departed, we decided to walk the 1km out to Ross Castle. It's a 15th century castle restored in the 20th century, and looked dark and spooky, as castles ought to look.
As we found with Muckross House (5k according to people and signs in town, then you walk 4k and get to a sign that says 4.5 k to Killarney, 1.4k to Muckross House. Uh...ok), the distance wasn't what you'd call...precise.
Instead, we walked for about an hour and finally arrived at the Castle. It was lovely, and we took photos that we'll post when we return to our computers. A stiff breeze over the lake only made it more atmospheric, and we enjoyed it thoroughly.
The castle represents much about the history of the area, since it originally belonged to a local family (Irish and Catholic) but changed hands during the 16th century. From that point on, the house and land shuttled between the Irish Catholic family and an English family (sometimes Protestant, then Catholic). They all intermarried, inter-mortgaged, and fought each other through the generations.
You can take boats to Inisfallen island (site of a 6th century Christian monastery) or back to Killarney on the lake. Or you can hike around, since the castle is in the Killarney national forest. You can even take a 'jaunting cart' (a horse-drawn buggy) to or from town. In all, it's a really nice outing and a very well-done spot to visit.
To reinforce our amusement over distances, though, were two signs. The first pointed toward town and read 3k to Killarney. The second, about 40 feet away, pointed in the same direction and said 2.6k to Killarney.
Our advice on Ireland? Good socks, good boots, and a nice bottle of water. The walk will be nice, but you really can't be sure when you'll get there.
Monday, August 06, 2007
On the other hand, every restaurant here seems to bring a pitcher of iced water to the table when you order a glass of water. Me likey.
I guess it's a trade-off. And hey - I like Cheddar.
In other news, we took a coach tour of the Ring of Kerry today. Photos in a few days, as we are not exactly teched-up right now. It was very scenic, and we can confirm that tourist-based businesses are cheesy in every country. The landscape looks a lot like the Bay of Islands in New Zealand, or the coast of California near Monterey.
Company counts, too. A group consisting of two or three elderly women and three barely-out-of-their-teens girls shared our part of the coach. The ladies were aunts, the girls nieces. They were charming, especially when the girls started shooting pictures of the cars that risked instant death by passing our coach on the road (going in the other direction - the road was narrow, our coach wide). The aunts would gasp and say, 'here comes another one!' and the girls would lean into the aisle and snap a picture. Pass it around. Ooh and Aah. Repeat.
Too cute, they were.
Sunday, August 05, 2007
Saturday, August 04, 2007
We reached Killarney.
We spent the night.
We ate breakfast.
We are going to stay in Killarney for the weekend.
We have reservations at a lovely hotel starting tomorrow.
The weather forecast called for rain, but it's ok so far.
The hills are pretty.
Perhaps we're too tired at this stage for yet another country and all the little challenges it presents. The new arrangements, though, will make it possible for us to do the things we imagined doing (Irish music in a pub, for example) and we are hoping that our perspective improves once we're a little more happily situated.
We did enjoy a nice dinner last night. The restaurant managed to mix pretty details with a pleasant informality, so I didn't feel funny in my jeans. We ate a hilarious mix of cuisines: egg rolls and buffalo chicken wings to start, then lasagna and roast turkey and ham with french fries, then apple sponge (like if apple pie bottom had cake on top) and bavarian chocolate cake. So, to recap, that's China, the US, Italy, France, and Germany.
Details jumped off the plate as rather odd, too. For example, my vegetarian egg rolls appeared to be filled with linguine. No lie. But they tasted great, and they were hot out of the fryer so they steamed enticingly. Likewise, Charles' wings were delicious. The chocolate cake. Yum.
And all this on an early-bird menu (we're not ashamed to eat with the old folks) for 20€!
So today we'll go see if we can find Mongolian bratwurst or Banana pate or some other bizarre combo. Because it'll probably taste really good. With that, and a Guinness for the man, all will be well.
Friday, August 03, 2007
That's the news from here.
Suck it whigs.
Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile
That's the news from here.
Suck it whigs.
Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile
Thursday, August 02, 2007
1. Eat French food as much as possible.
2. Eat lunch out and dinner in the apartment.
We executed both plans to perfection, eating only two dinners out (the first night and the one night we just couldn't deal with shopping because all the shops were closed - Sunday).
Dinner worked like this: we bought a few staples at the monoprix: butter, balsamic vinegar, milk, tea, coffee. Then we supplemented with delicious things bought on our ramblings. I modeled it on the dinners Charles and I ate with Brian and Dominique, except that they usually had real food (stuffed tomatoes, poached fish, noodles), whereas we did not.
So we bought raspberries and figs and cherry tomatoes and cucumbers and plums and nectarines and blood peaches, and apricots and a huge head of lettuce and a melon at Au 4 Saisons on Rue Rambuteau. And then we bought (every day) a fresh baguette.
Down the street from the bread place (because of the prejudice that one can be good at bread or good at pastry but not both, which was entirely confirmed by us), we bought tarte au citron, tarte au raspberry, eclairs, tarte au pommes (pattern?), tarte au abrigot (? apricots, anyway), tarte au chocolat...
Then we bought cheese. I picked up two cheeses at the monoprix, including a comte that Brian got me when we visited Angers. I love that comte. The other was a rebluchon. We bought supplemental cheese at a shop on Rue des Archives, mostly goat cheese in that case, a cheese from Rocamodur and a St. Marillac. Or something. It was from Dauphine, anyway.
We bought a non-pork duck pate at the grocery (thanks to Dominique for showing me how to find them and making me brazen enough to buy pate in the grocery) because there I could read the ingredients and confirm the absence of oink.
Then we bought wine at the Nicholas on Rue Rambuteau. So for dinner every night we spread out fruit, salad, wine and cheese, pate and bread. The crumbs were something to see.
[Possibly there was also dark chocolate with hazelnut filling and Italian cherries soaked in armagnac and then dipped in dark chocolate and fruit jellies with sugar coating. But I'm not saying so.]
Lunch was more formal. There were tablecloths, waiters, and cutlery, for example.
We ate twice at Le Bouldogue, a fantastic brasserie on Rue Rambuteau (our food stomping ground, obviously). Cold pea soup, grilled veal chop, cream-poached leeks, country pate (yes, you can eat pate at every meal), salmon tartare (raw salmon, my favorite!!), little demi-liters of Sancerre...it was lovely. Watching the daily parade of French bulldogs added to the pleasure, though in future I wish they'd come over for a little kiss before waddling up the cast-iron spiral staircase.
We also ate at a cafe across the street from the BHV department store, at the cafe of the National Archives (the Terrasse, only ok but very friendly and helpful) and at the cafe I've already mentioned by the Bourse.
Our lunch there beat all previous records. First, I had those broiled crawdads on artichoke hearts. Mother also had artichoke hearts, but hers came with poached eggs wrapped in smoked salmon.
For the main course, Mother tried her best to eat the goulash. It was truly amazing beef stew, with the kind of thick, smoky sauce you never quite achieve in real life. The only problem was that they brought enough for a family of four, and Mother had ordered the formule. So she had dessert coming!
My main course was spectacular. They took a square plate, heated it up to supernova, then laid super-thin slices of salmon across it. They added a pile of buttery spinach to one corner, then poured on a light, garlicky cream sauce. The salmon cooked on the plate, all flat under the sauce.
Dessert? A soup made from citrus fruits, with supremed orange and pamplemousse (grapefruit) and a scoop of lime sorbet. And for me, though we shared dessert, what the cafe called a Cafe Gourmand: an espresso, a tiny pot of dark chocolate pudding with fresh whipped cream, two tiny cakes (small as your thumb) and an almond tuile cookie.
Oh, and wine and cafe creme and people watching and bread.
Eating in Paris? You'd have to be criminally stupid to mess it up. We did have one bad lunch, near Rue Rosiers in a place recommended by Rick Steves (grrr...). But there the service was very sweet, and I should have known better when I saw the menu. There was a cheeseburger on it.
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
Cue laughter. Oh, those terrible Americans!
But we've actually seen very little of that behavior this summer. Once, we observed a very cranky man make a scene in an Indian restaurant because our table received food before his meal arrived. He was a jerk. In his defense, though, the service was haphazard and his wife was at least 6 months pregnant. Getting some food on the table mattered to him. Still, he was a jerk.
In the train station today, I overheard a petulant, unattractive teenager dressed in what appeared to be pajamas (in the Gare du Nord!!) complaining 'I'm tired and sick, get me a chair!' to her frazzled parents. She, and the parents who put up with it uncomplaining, personified the unpleasant tourist. Thank God they bought business-class tickets. I heard that with glee, since it meant that they Absolutely Would Not sit with me.
These are petty moments, though. They don't rise to the stereotype in the movie, and they don't suggest any real conflict between Europeans and Americans. In both cases, it's just bad behavior.
But in Paris, during our lovely lunch by the Bourse, Mother and I watched the stereotype unfold before us.
A couple walked into the place, and Mother said, 'you figure they're American?' Maybe. They were both large, and the man wore shorts with a dressy short-sleeved shirt of the type you see a lot in Miami. He had on docksiders, too, which to me is a very American shoe. She wore a tropical printed shirt and had very long fake nails. Hmmm....Texas? Alabama? (surely not Alabama. Lawrence Culver expelled all the tacky people, didn't he?)
They walked back and forth between the two cafes on the corner, and we watched them from behind our wine. They made icky-faces at the menus, apparently not keen to eat salmon or steak or chicken or salad or...or...or... Finally, they settled on our cafe, and sat down. Right away, it was obvious they would not be happy.
No 'Bonjour!' for the waiter, no drink order. Then the English menus appeared, emblazoned with British flags. Uh oh. They sat for almost 20 minutes, trying to decide what to order, no drinks, no attention from the staff. Mother dubbed them Ed and Lurline, and we waited to see what would happen.
I should say, at this point, that the cafe was packed. Of all the tables, only 4 held people clearly not French. There was the table with 2 Italians and one French woman, the table of 3 lovely Italian or Spanish girls who spoke French, and us. We spoke French whenever possible and ordered in French and ate three courses and ordered wine. We were 'good foreigners.'
All those tables, ours in particular (probably because of how much we ordered), received impeccable service. Service with a smile, service attentive to the need for a new fork, more bread, whatever we needed.
But not Ed and Lurline. They sat, and sat. Finally, they gave up. We watched them leave in total disbelief.
For one thing, it's not clear to me what their real sin was. They looked kind of touristy, and they got English menus. But they didn't scream or complain or otherwise make a scene.
On the other hand, they never waved for a waiter or spoke to the staff, even though this cafe had 20 tables crammed into a space the size of my thumbnail. They sat there like planked fish.
It was bizarre. Both of us felt sorry for them. They seemed completely lost. What were they doing in Paris? Why wouldn't they even raise a hand on their own behalf?
Given Charles' ecstatic reaction to Scotland (now including Glasgow, which he loved), maybe some people are simply suited for some places. For Mother and me, Paris was perfect. For others, not so much.
In contrast, this beautiful church, attached to a gorgeous little park where old men play boules and lovers check each other's tonsils for polyps, offers the experience one is supposed to find in a cathedral setting:
Looking up brings stained glass and paintings, altar-pieces and statues. With no one in the way, you can wander along the chapels in the walls, reading the plaques to see who dedicated them, who is buried there, and other interesting little facts.
The view above isn't always about art. In other cases, it's about architecture. The fact that this building could be created by people who didn't know about germs is such an interesting comment on the way that knowledge moves forward and the things that drive innovation. You can see immediately that builders reached for ever-more inspiring spaces, in order to glorify the religious faith the building served.
Mother loved it, and so did I. When we entered, an organ concert was in full swing. Several hundred people sat quietly, listening to the magnificent organ playing an incredibly spooky piece of music. The audience listened so intently that I hesitated to take photographs for fear that the sound of the lens clicking would disturb someone.
If you find yourself in Paris, don't worry about Notre Dame. Instead, head on up to Les Halles. It used to be the "Belly of Paris," and now it's a mall. Have a tasty lunch at one of the gazillions of restaurants around there, then walk fifty feet toward the big stone building. If it looks like the one above, you didn't hear it from me.
On our second visit, Mother was especially keen to see Napoleon's apartments. We misunderstood, assuming that they would be the apartments of the Napoleon. Not so. They actually housed not the Emperor who embraced the ancient world and its aesthetic values, but the Emperor who embraced ladies who amplified the size of their rear ends.
We walked through one room after another, marveling at how much gilt, carving, and ornamentation one family could cram into a single set of rooms. Finally, in the grand salon, a room where entire factories of red velvet came to die alongside potted palms and gilded chairs, I turned to Mother.
I opened my mouth (cue slow motion) and she said, 'it's the proverbial French whorehouse.' No need for me to speak, obviously.
So let's revise history a bit. Napoleon III lost his crown and his country not because he met defeat at the hands of the Germans. No, the French kicked him out for one reason and one reason only. He was tacky.