A Quiet Day

Day 5 / Saturday, 15 September 2012

Well, we didn’t stay up until 6:30 in the morning, as Tracy and Eoin and ten of their closest friends had done. Although I was, in fact, up at that hour, standing on the roof, taking photos at sunrise …

Portmarnock Golf Links. Those are the Wicklow Mountains in the distance. Specifically that is the Great Sugar Loaf peak you see dead center.

The sun’s just coming up and the beach is at low tide.

…and again a little later.

Ireland’s Eye in the early morning.

Then Gerry noticed Jill and Alli out for their morning walk.

It’s wonderful what a long lens can do these days.

Standing in the chilly morning air got us moving, and we realized we were hungry.

I knew they’d have been up late—nonetheless, I was astonished to see the bridal couple up and as ambulatory as we were at 10:00 am. Troupers!

The dining room was filled with golfers, many of them American. (Ye shall know them by their clothing …) So if you’re a golfer, put Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links on your list: the course is beautiful, the rooms are nice, and they serve good grub too. 🙂

Gerry had “things to do around the house”—that is, watch a couple football matches (soccer, to us Yanks), so he cabbed into Dublin and Margaret and I drove back to Laytown.

I was completely done in. Sure, the day before had been a long one, but not that long. What was wrong with me? Gerry put it down to jet lag, but in retrospect, I believe this was the first sign I was getting sick (more about which later). And Margaret was already sick: she’d picked up a cold on the airplane and had been coughing and sneezing and blowing. So a quiet day was called for. I took a nap (and those of you who know me well know I never nap—another sign) for a couple hours while Margaret read. (Neil and Maureen were still in Dublin.)

But then we needed supper. For a Saturday, Laytown was pretty buttoned up at five in the afternoon. We sought pub grub and were told we’d have to go to Bettystown (a mile or so north) to find anything.

Neil and Maureen were shocked when I told this story later (there’s at least one pub and one restaurant, they said), but I swear it’s true: no cooked food in Laytown, we were told by this publican. A couple weeks later my sister would be told by the owner of a tiny grocery that his was the only one in Lahinch—“You’ll have to go to Ennistymon,” he said—when in fact there was a much larger grocery store just around the corner. (I knew about it because we’d shopped there when Gerry and I spent a week in Lahinch in 2006.) So what’s up with that? We Yanks are told whoppers in two tiny towns. I can’t believe that in either case the truth was unknown to the teller; both Laytown and Lahinch are too small. Were they just having a bit of sport with us? With each other? It’s a mystery.

Regardless, we’d have to go somewhere else.

And we did. And it was good.

On the way into Laytown we’d noted a sign advertising the Sunflower Café, which was inside a place called Sonairte. We had no idea what Sonairte was—the place was housed in what seemed like an old country home or maybe a manufacturing plant of some sort. Old.

What do you think? Aside from the dead plastic reindeer on the lawn, that is. It’s pretty old: from the eighteenth century, as it turns out.

It seemed deserted, but we kept wandering further in …

Looking back the way we’d come. Pretty.

…until we came upon two cooks, women, sitting at a picnic table. “Is the café still open?” we asked. Of course it was. It was cheery inside.

The flowers were grown on site. The cooks had been sitting outside at this picnic table. (Margaret took this photo.)

Just one serving of soup left, but there was quiche, green salad with delicious roasted beets, and plenty of handmade desserts. Almost all of the food we ate had been grown using organic methods right there on the premises. For dessert we had a homemade apple tart with cream and nice hot tea. It was heaven.

Could you resist this? Neither could I. (Margaret took this photo too.)

And even though they were clearly closing, they didn’t rush us out. That was really nice. In fact, both women chatted amiably with us.

It turns out that Sonairte is a national organic garden. (This is what the brochure said; the website tells a little more: it’s an interactive visitor center promoting ecological awareness and sustainable living. Be sure to read about the history. I wish we’d had more time to spend here; there are things I would’ve liked to’ve seen. But it was nearly closing time and we had other things planned for subsequent days.)

When we were done we wandered around, but everything was closed. In fact, we were locked in and had to be let out through an employee entrance.

Afterward we drove into Bettystown in search of a chemist’s (that is, a pharmacy) to buy Kleenex for Margaret. I picked up an Irish version of Airborne. We stood there and chatted with the store clerks for awhile, then went back to Laytown for an early night—although at eight o’clock it was still quite light.

Today’s Image

Everywhere we go, it seems, people note our accents and engage us in conversation. “Where are you from?” they ask. “Oh, Nashville.” I quickly got my twenty-second speech memorized. 🙂

Just Another Day in Paradise … Er, an Airport

Day 3 / Thursday, 13 September 2012

Today my sis, Jill, and her daughter, Alli, were arriving—Jill from the family home in California and Alli from London. I’m so proud of my sweet niece: she’d just spent the last six weeks traveling in England, Scotland, and Wales … all by herself (mostly). With a tiny little suitcase. (Those of you who know what a clotheshound she is might be surprised. I’m just impressed.)

Alli’s an experienced singer/songwriter and also is a member of her community choir (Monterey Peninsula Choral Society). MPCS was one of just six choirs in the world invited to perform at the 2012 Olympics in London; they pieced together a little tour that included three dates in Paris (here’s a video of one song; Alli’s the female soloist in the foreground just right of center) and a few more in London, including one at the Olympic Park. After that, the choir went home—and Alli stayed, knowing she’d be coming to Ireland for a wedding soon.

Yes, Gerry has been a part of my family for a long time, too, and his nieces stayed with my California family a few years ago; later that year Alli flew to Dublin, where she became close with Eoin and Tracy, the couple whose marriage we’re all here to celebrate.

Margaret, Gerry, and I drove in from Laytown. Jill was already on the ground, and from her we learned Alli’d missed her early morning flight, so we had a forty-five minute wait. (The airport had several shops, so I bought postcards and stamps while we waited.) Although we’d thought we might go into Dublin, we were all still very, very tired, so we scrapped those plans. Gerry cabbed it home and we gals drove out to Portmarnock village, where the wedding reception would be held (at the Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links). We’d all stay there Friday night; Jill and Alli were checking in today.

It’s a beautiful hotel. (Be sure to check that link. Wow.)

This is the lobby of the Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links. Gorgeous day!

More of the hotel lobby.

Looking out those windows toward the back, with the sun streaming in. I really liked this room.

And it has a beautiful view. I’d seen Ireland’s Eye (a small island in the Irish sea, just north of Howth) from Howth (pronounce this with a long O, like hoe-th), but never from this angle.

Ireland’s Eye from the Portmarnock Hotel.

That’s Howth Head in the distance.

I would definitely stay there again.

It was quiet in the midafternoon. All the golfers were out on the links. So when we simultaneously realized we were hungry, we had the dining room almost to ourselves.

Alli and Jill in the dining room at the Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links. So tired! So happy to be here!

Tea, please! And then: May we see a menu? I had the most wonderful vegetable soup I think I’ve ever had; it was pureed.

After lunch, Jill and Alli checked in to rest, and Margaret and I drove back to Laytown via the Coast Road, which took us through Malahide village. We stopped here, took some photos and bought some Kleenex, as Margaret had unfortunately come down with a ferocious cold.

Margaret was charmed by the beautiful windowsill flower baskets in Malahide. She took this photo.

We were back in Laytown in time for the races. And Neil and Maureen’s subdivision is right across the R150 from the strand where the ponies run.

Walking up the street into Neil and Maureen’s subdivision.

The Laytown Races are unique in all of Europe: it’s the only horse racing event run on a beach under the Turf Club’s Rules of Racing, which it has been doing since 1868. It’s a huge event in tiny Laytown village, with as many as ten thousand people showing up to eat, drink, place bets, and watch magnificent Irish thoroughbreds run on the beach at low tide in the late afternoon.

Margaret was exhausted from travel and being sick, so I walked down to the races by myself. There are bleachers, but many people just stand along the edge of the beach to watch. This is where I found myself, since I didn’t really know where to go; I asked a gentleman standing near me, and he gave me the down-low.

Laytown Races 2012. The only sanctioned beach races in Europe (and possibly in the Northern Hemisphere).

Walking the horses down to the starting gate.

Here they come! Laytown Races 2012.

Turns out he’d come all the way from England for race day. We had a lovely chat. When he heard I was from Nashville (and this is my standard response when asked where I’m from; everybody has heard of Nashville) he waxed poetic about Duane Eddy (he’s a fan). Then he mentioned the flood we had in 2010, which surprised me, since it barely got any coverage in the national news.

I watched a few of the races (I didn’t buy a program, so I can’t tell you which horses I saw, really), and then I walked around a bit. There were all sorts of folks there, from the very well-heeled horse people—who were dressed up in suits and dresses and, yes, elaborate chapeaux—to folks like me in casual clothing. I bought an ice cream cone and ate it on my way back to the house.

A day at the races.

Some folks watch the race on the big screen. And then they watch the replay. And the replay of the replay.

Margaret and I made simple sandwiches for dinner—to tired to go out—and I discovered Maureen’s stash of chocolate in the fridge. Dessert!

There was trouble with the wifi here—Neil had been bickering with his service provider for days prior to our arrival, but the fix never did come—so I caught up on my notes, did a little work on the manuscript I’d brought with me, and then we called it a night. Tomorrow (Friday) was the wedding, and it would be a long day.

Today’s Observation

No matter where you are in the world, an airport is a great place for people-watching. 🙂

If It’s Wednesday, This Must Be Dublin

Day 2 / Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Air travel is … well, not fun. Prices are fairly reasonable but now most airlines make us pay to check even one bag and bringing a second* runs anywhere from sixty to a hundred dollars more. This forces us to carry things we’d rather not (I actually packed my Canon EOS—something I would never normally do—because it’s pretty heavy and I couldn’t bear the thought of carrying it). Which is why the airport looks like a refugee camp, and the overhead luggage racks are scenes of intense territorial warfare. From the full body scans to the shrinking leg room and the recycled but unfiltered air that simply assures every germ on the plane is shared with every person on the plane, it’s no wonder we’re all cranky about flying.

So I’d like to propose a few rules of conduct:

1. Be polite, for heaven’s sake. Be friendly. Make eye contact. Smile. We’re all in this miserable experience together.

2. Don’t be so stinkin’ demanding. This means you, middle-aged Irish lady, moving back into the plane against outbound traffic trying to retrieve a carryon stowed a dozen rows behind your seat, loudly demanding we move out of your way. Just wait until the aisle has cleared; it’s the polite thing to do.

3. Be kind. We’d all like to get where we’re going, so don’t think your rush is more important than my rush.

4. Be humble. You may be a Master of the Universe in your Wall Street world but to me you just look like an arrogant jerk in a suit if you’re not polite, kind, and humble. And would you mind obeying the rules about the amount of carryon? You’re not that special.

5. Must you recline your seat during “dinner”? You are tempting me to spill mayonnaise on the top of your head.

6. Be considerate. No matter how slim you are, if you’re in the window seat, you’re going to make two people get up and stand in the aisle when you decide to go to the loo. We will do this more cheerfully if you’ve been nice to us (as opposed to grumpy and resentful) and if you do it, say, right after dinner and before they’ve turned the lights out. You know you’re going to have to go, right? Don’t wait until we’ve finally managed to doze off a couple hours after lights out; that only makes us despise you. I, for one, will not be held accountable for the look on my face.

Thanks for letting me get that off my chest. 🙂

And yes* I brought a second bag, because I now travel with a CPAP machine, which is both bulky and heavy. Additionally, I would be attending a wedding, so I had to bring clothing and shoes I’d only wear once. Not to mention the things I’d be bringing for my Irish family. (I’m not legally a member of the fam yet—that’s a US Immigration issue—but Gerry and I have been together for more than ten years, and as far as I’m concerned, these delightful people are all my in-laws. What a happy, happy day it was that brought me to them!)

We landed at 9:40am. Ireland at last! We got our passports stamped, walked unimpeded through customs (on my previous two visits, that station was actually manned, but it wasn’t this time—although I’m told we were, in fact, being watched), and found Gerry waiting for us.

Caught a shuttle to the rental car location, where we learned our car wasn’t ready for us yet. (“You said it would be noon when you picked it up.” What? You had my flight number and arrival time. You’re located at the airport. What business are you in again?) We were dealing with a woman who was probably from somewhere in Eastern Europe but who’d been living in Ireland for some years—strangest accent ever, with a nasal voice like Fran Drescher. I kept saying, “I’m sorry—what?” and eventually she was a little put out with me. She offered me a different car (a Volkswagen Passat station wagon) than we’d ordered (a Ford Mondeo) but when we got in it and I started driving, it was so uncomfortable that I simply drove it around the block and returned it.

Needless to say, we were at the Budget Car office a lot longer than we wanted. This ended up being the Trip of the Ever-Changing Itinerary, and this day was only the beginning. Traditionally we drive back to Gerry’s for a fry-up (part of the Big Irish Breakfast), but that became brunch instead. Don’t know what a Big Irish Breakfast is? Oh, let me explain. 🙂

There’s a thriving B&B industry in Ireland, and it’s lifted the humble breakfast to state of the art. I know a lot of folks who don’t eat much (or any) breakfast, but that’s a mistake, in my opinion. How could you resist, anyway, when you wander in to a cheerful dining room whose central table is groaning with … two or three fruit juices and milk in pitchers, fresh fruit, canned fruit in bowls, a variety of yogurts, at least three cereals, often freshly baked scones, Irish brown bread … and are greeted with, “Tea or coffee?” You stroll over and spoon some muesli into a bowl, pour yogurt over it, and call it good. Pears are in season, so you pick one up for dessert. Tea arrives. And then your hostess asks, “Would you like a fry up?”

There’s more?

Oh yes. An Irish fry up typically has two rashers (very lean bacon; more like a slice of ham than what we Americans call bacon), two sausage links (also leaner), two eggs, a grilled tomato half, and a piece each of black and white pudding. Don’t be misled by that pudding—these are pieces of sausage whose secret ingredient is oatmeal. And don’t turn your nose up at black pudding, either; it’s delicious. As in the States, there are various mass-made brands of sausages and puddings (I particularly enjoy the Clonakilty brand), but most butchers make their own blends. And I’ll just say Gerry’s butcher is skilled in this capacity.

Now that we’d eaten and relaxed and gifts had been presented and the luggage divested of things I was asked to bring from the States (just call me www-dot-Jamie-dot-com), we were ready to see where we’d be staying for the next few days. One of Gerry’s nephews, Neil, and his fiancée, Maureen, had generously offered to let Margaret and I stay at their home in Laytown, in County Meath (pronounce this MEED). I’d met Neil on previous trips, and spoken to him on Skype in between. I know him to be smart and funny. I’d been Facebook friends with Maureen, but hadn’t met her yet. Margaret and I were extremely grateful for this kindness.

About twenty-six miles north of Dublin, the village of Laytown sits right on a beautiful beach; Neil and Maureen live in a lovely subdivision called Inse Bay. And we only drove around lost a little bit. 🙂 After we were settled in the guest rooms and had the instructions on how to turn on the hot water and the radiator, we all went out to dinner in Drogheda (pronounce this DRAH-hedda), a good-sized town just ten minutes north of Laytown.

Neil recommended the Black Bull Inn, and we were in time for the early bird special (we would find this all over Ireland): a special price for two or three courses, usually for diners arriving between 5 and 7pm.

The Black Bull Inn: no shirt no shoes no service. (Margaret took this photo.)

The place was cozy—and busy. And the food was wonderful. (This was no surprise to me; I’ve had wonderful meals in Ireland. If you enjoy good food, you can find it here.) I had a steak. And apple tart (that is, pie) for dessert.

Back in Laytown we lingered, talking with Neil and Maureen, until late (for two gals who’d been up for thirty-six hours). Once Gerry and I got upstairs, though, another disaster: I got out my adapter and we realized it was the one we keep at home in Tennessee for Gerry’s Irish things; the adapter I’ve used in Ireland in the past now lives at Gerry’s house so he can plug in electronics purchased in the States. Like his iPad. Ha. So … the CPAP machine was looking like a dim hope and I was close to tears, because I love that thing (I should say: I love the quality of the sleep I get with it). But while my mind was mush at this point, Gerry remembered he’d brought Neil a Kindle from the US. They were still up, thank goodness, and the adapter was procured posthaste. By then it was 11pm and I was completely worn out. Tomorrow, though, would be a better day.

Today’s Image

While we were waiting for our car at Budget, we watched people arriving to pick up their rentals. This was one: a woman, bleached blonde hair down to her rear end, dressed in a schoolgirl getup. No joke. It was all whites: a white/black plaid pleated skirt  that barely covered her important bits, a long-sleeved blouse and little shortie vest. Plus thigh-high boots with sky-high heels and white stockings. Heavily made up. I would say she was forty-two to forty-five, but trying to look ten years younger. It was … an eyeful.