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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Deep in the undergrowth and back to comfort

Thursday brought hangovers to the young visitors in the Cain cottage. I awoke to hear someone quite ill in the bathroom next door and I tried to turn over and go back to sleep. After dozing for awhile Gareth and I realized the whole house was awake around us and we had better rouse ourselves for the walk we had planned with the family. Gareth's parents take long hikes almost every day, usually about 9 -10km, rounding up with a hearty pub lunch. The lunch part I completely got, but the school of thought I come from normally involves a bit of a walk to see a nice view or to get somewhere, not to take a detour of a few kilometers. Still when in Wales....

Gareth's Dad was really gracious about the fact that we had all rolled in drunk, slept too late and delayed their plans and we took off through the fields and down through a forest. It was really very pretty and I always appreciate greenery now since I live in the desert. Jenny was stung by some nettles right through her jeans but she recovered pretty quickly. Gareth climbed to the top of an old ruin - I thought he might try and jump off - he just has a boundless sense of adventure and a lack of fear but thankfully his Mum's cries made him come down, through a dark tunnel infested with god knows what! We then made our way down to the beach and it was absolutely breath-taking. I love the sea anywhere, but it was so unspoiled, nature as intended with views of the Welsh and British coastline speckled in places with sunlight and clouds in other areas. I got a bit excited when I thought I could see Ireland - but not from where we were unfortunately. We played on the beach with the doggy and looked in the rock pools for baby crabs. Then we climbed up again to the forest and found a rough path along the coast. The sky threatened rain but I could still hear the buzz of bees on the hedges. There were a few close calls with buzzing in my hair - which induces a worse panic when I'm hungover - and I think Gareth was tiring of my silly phobia. He was also hungover and  I think most of our patience was stretched a little thin!

We came to a beautiful lighthouse where I thought we might have a short break for tea but apparently we weren't half way there yet! We managed to convince Pete that we needed some water but I think he thought we were just lightweights (being completely right!). I was relieved to see a proper path leading back up towards various villages but Coral and Pete thought the low road through another forest might have been more interesting. There were many nettles to manouevre and little streams to jump across which normally I'd find quite fun, but I was feeling a little weary and longed for the normal path. Jenny, Owen and myself were obviously feeling the same as we all hung back, plodding slowly uphill through the forest, we could hear Pete up ahead and it's shameful that people twice our age were not even fazed by the physical activity whilst we tired so easily. Gareth came back a few times for me, particularly after I got nettle stings (managing to get some thorns up my coat sleeves!) and eventually it seemed we were on a road, looking at some lovely cottages and country homes. Finally we were at the pub, but we had missed lunch! The chef was nice enough to provide us some plates of chips and we made do with crisps and chocolate. I still couldn't face an alcoholic beverage and was quite surprised that Gareth could, but he never ceases to surprise me. Pete was jovial and asking me if I'd enjoyed the walk; the truth was that I really enjoyed the first few km, it was my own fault I was hungover and just wanted to sit for the last km or 2. After a few beverages Pete and Jenny decided they would walk home with the dog. The rest of us thought the rain was finally going to come down so we would take a bus back to St. Donat's. The bus-driver was ever so sweet and didn't charge us even though we had about 3 stops; Take note Bus Eireann!

We arrived back to the house as the heavens opened; only for us to realize that we had no keys. Jenny and Pete weren't home so Gareth decided he would climb through our bedroom window to get in. How I wish I had it on camera! So we happily came in out of the rain whilst poor Pete and Jenny got caught in it. For food, a Smorgasbord was decided on - this family could not have been more after my own heart - there was Le Rustique, rocket salad, beetroot, corn beef pie and lots of fresh bread amongst many other tasty delights. My favorite food is tapas, mainly because I find it hard to choose so little bits of many good foods - in any culture absolutely delight me. We all curled up to watch "The Shawshank Redemption" as I had never seen it. The rain battered the windows and the wind howled down the country lanes as we snuggled, drank wine and watched a great film in lovely company. We all retired to bed early and another part of our journey had been completed - leaving me with a feeling of perfect contentment. Saying goodbye to Coral and Pete I felt there was no question I would be back in this wonderful hearth of happiness without any realisement of how wrong I could be.
Hold onto perfect moments and savour them for a few more seconds....

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A warm welcome to Wales.

I entered the Cain household in Wales on a gorgeous Tuesday evening and was greeted warmly by Gareth's Mum Coral, sister Jenny and her fiancé Owen. Gareth and his Dad were outside chatting about the TransAm. I was promptly handed a glass of wine (obviously Gareth had told them something about me!) and barely had time to get my bearings before we were all sat down for dinner. When I settled the first thing I noticed was how much warmth was in the room. The house was absolutely immersed in love. I haven't noticed that about many households but as the family bantered and questioned me I couldn't help but settle and be myself; the wine probably helped. After dinner we moved to the sitting-room where Pete waxed lyrical about books and film - I hadn't expected him to be so chatty and welcoming. My preconception of military men was altered considerably! Later, Coral took out some old family photographs and I got a potted history of how their lives had been, and saw how like Gareth's grandmother he was. I think he was embarrassed by all the photo's and stories but he took it in good nature, very typical of him. I left Gareth up chatting to his mum as I cosied up in bed, but he crept in to whisper that she thought I was lovely, which helped me into a comfortable sleep.

Next morning Gareth had to get up to move the TransAm to the local garage. Since it was still dark and stormy outside I was a bit bewildered by him climbing out of bed and groggily said "It's the middle of the night!". I didn't live that comment down for my few days in St. Donat's. I rose much later, a little embarrassed I had slept so late. It was bacon and eggs all round and we took a trip to the local college, a United World College, steeped in history. I have my own history with UWC as I was accepted back in 2008 to a UWC in the U.S and did a UWC short course in Lithuania that year but I didn't pursue the college place. Nevertheless it was interesting been shown around the beautiful castle grounds and gardens, overlooking the sea.
Afterwards it was time for the pub for one or two, and more quizzing me on behalf of Gareth's gran who apparently was very inquisitive about me, or maybe just in general! I offered a background check and my significant digits (waist, bra-size etc) but they said she probably already had those! Back at the house Jenny whipped up a lovely carbonara for us and we got ready to go and meet friends of mine who just lived up the road in Llanwit Major. We had an entertaining cab ride to the Old Swan Inn where we met Sharon and Matt who I hadn't seen in about 3 years. There was a little of the evening sunshine left but soon we went inside to play pool, the jukebox and have some comedy gold from Sharon. The girl should be on stage! The vodkas were flying in, there were specials on Jager and soon Cain family dancing ensued. Interesting to note that Jenny and Gareth dance remarkably similarly, although I'm sure she'll still strenuously deny this! We seemed to have lost Owen for a bit but we found him outside pondering the stars. We certainly weren't ready for the night to be over so we took a walk to Matt and Sharon's place where the Reverend Boult was babysitting their kids. It was a loooooong walk as I remember and considering it was alcohol fueled it must have been quite a distance - Sharon will maintain "It's just around the corner," but at least she regaled us with funny tales of an Irish girl in a Welsh village throughout. The air had gotten to us by the time we reached theirs as none of us could finish the drinks they'd given us; I did however get to see her two beautiful boys, Evan and Sean, tucked up in bed. They looked so peaceful; I'm not sure it's always that way!!! We struggled to get a taxi and at one point Jenny and I thought we'd just sleep on the couch but eventually Sharon's persistence paid off and we got back to St. Donat's. We tried to be quiet but I'm pretty sure we woke Coral and Pete up! Noisy drunken teenagers....oh wait, we're not teenagers anymore! So, a late end to a fun night out - it just shows it's the company and not the place.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Wasps and Worcester

We took full advantage of the Cockliffe House breakfast on Tuesday morning before our road trip to Wales. There was a fire-engine outside but the fire officers assured us it was just a regular fire drill.
I got into the TransAm doing last minute checks of my handbag for the usual keys, phone etc. It was then I noticed a wasp on my lap. Gareth was just getting into the car when I let a blood-curdling scream out of me. He nearly leapt out of the car in alarm but I was straight out of the passenger seat, hysterical in the carpark. This garnered a few suspicious looks from the firemen mostly directed at Gareth, wondering what he had done to induce such a reaction! He coaxed me back into the car after awhile, I peered around anxious that another member of the wasp family would be back to greet me but I settled in. Gareth was a little in shock, given the fact I'd gotten used to the bushes beside the hotel populated with bees and we'd left the windows open on the two balmy nights we'd spent there which had encouraged a few long-legged spider friends to lurk around our room. Whilst he was settling me I saw a look of alarm pass over his features - I was about to berate him for winding me up, that this wasn't the place when he said ever so calmly "Get out, get out of the car,". Once again I leapt out shrieking, this time in tears. The wasp had been hiding in the T-bar of the car, awaiting my return!! Gareth managed to get the wasp out and stamp on him to death on the ground. It took a little longer to stem my emotions but eventually we took off on our journey. I was still shaking and hunched over; I have a full-blown phobia of wasps. He did his best to reassure me and after a bit even managed to have a little laugh about it with him telling me in loved me in spite of my crazy phobia.

We were speeding down the motorway, Gareth showing off about how the speedometer was off the mark in the TransAm and I drifted off to sleep for a bit in the heat of the summer sun (I wasn't allowing the windows open very much in case any other unwelcome visitors decided to appear). I woke up to a small explosion and the windscreen being completed flooded with an unrecognizable liquid....We quickly pulled in roadside and investigated. I, of course called Mum & Dad (although how they were likely to help, being in Ireland, I've no idea!) who said to call the AA, something Gareth was already doing. We had some fun with me steering the TransAm whilst he pushed (Fun for both given it's a HUGE old car) and sat on the side of the Motorway waiting for assistance. We were blessed with a beautiful day so I just people watched on the M5 in the hour and twenty minutes it took for the guys to arrive. I even had a read of Cosmo! There had been a mix-up with the AA, so the roadside assistance literally just towed us to the next exit, 1 mile away. After more communications with the AA we took a seat in the Three Pears Beefeater and decided no time like the present for a lunch break whilst they attempted to fix the ripped pipe (hence the over-heating and explosion). Unfortunately it couldn't be fixed, given that TransAm parts aren't exactly in the average AA truck these days but it meant Gareth could have a pint to ease the stress (and a vino for me!) and we climbed aboard the tow truck for the next leg of the journey.

After another little snooze we were informed that the driver could only take us over the border into Wales where we would make a change to another tow truck. I hadn't been told about the crossing of the Severn and it's beauty took me by surprise. On a gorgeous summer's day like we were experiencing I was surprised I didn't spot any wake-boarders! The stop was lucky in away as I got to freshen up a little before the final leg of the journey - it was over 8 hours since we'd left the hotel and I had a little bit to go before my first meeting with Gareth's family. I didn't want to arrive a stinky mess!! The last tow truck driver was a friendly man, full of chat about Wales and pointing out the sights. There were some tricky roads to manoeuvre coming to St Donat's but we passed through some quaint little towns and I could see the sea glittering in the distance. We eventually pulled up to St Donat's about 6.45pm, a little frazzled and at least 4 hours after expected and Gareth's Dad waved from outside the cottage as we disembarked, ready to meet the Cain family.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Blidworth and babies.

On Sunday afternoon we headed out to Nicole's baby shower, ever so slightly worse for wear - which we were getting used to on this holiday. Of course we were late so we ended up sat centre of the garden in the midst of all the mum's and babies. I felt like a museum object, to be sized up and discussed, and I knew Gareth didn't want to leave me as he was clutching onto my hand. I knew I'd be fine though - a few of the girls, in particular Caroline, were really making an effort to be friendly and I think another few were just hungover and didn't care who I was! I got into the spirit playing with the babies and the games Katie had arranged for the shower. There was yummy food laid out too so I perched by the table and assuaged my hangover with some pork pies and chocolate lollipops :) I did manage to be the biggest baby there though when I ran around the garden wildly after spotting  a queen bee!
After the boys arrived back from the pub Gareth and I left to check into a nearby hotel, Cockliffe House. This time it was a proper boutique hotel, set out in the countryside with each room uniquely decorated. We had a quick nap and showers before David picked us up to go back to theirs for dinner. It was BBQ night back at David and Nicole's with Tony, Caroline and Bella who were staying. Charlie got his pressie from Gareth and we were all entertained by the flashing lights and siren sounds of the fire engine. Gareth had told me about food at this house and they didn't disappoint, even with bbq I had a few helpings! Caroline and I had a few glasses of wine and good chats, getting to know each other a little better whilst I played silly games with baby Bella on my knee. It was such a homely atmosphere and a lovely change after the pub crawl the night before. Gareth took Charlie up for a bed time story and the rest of us settled in to watch The Olympic's Closing Ceremony.  We all got in the spirit, critiquing the acts and secretly loving the Spice Girls reunion. It was an awesome show. Soon it got late and Gareth and I decided to head back to the hotel with plans to meet with the girls, Tony and the children next day (poor David had work). He was quiet but I knew that me being in that house with all his old friends would have brought back memories and maybe been a little awkward for him.
Breakfast was a quiet fare, unusually for us, although the food was delicious and it was a beautiful summer's morning, the bees populating the lavender bushes outside. I was glad to hear we had a few hours before meeting up with the others as I needed a post-brekkie snooze!
Mid-morning we headed for Southwell, another town in Nottingham. It was about time Gareth and I had injected more culture into our trip so he took me to Southwell Minister, a cathedral church and the site of Christian worship for over 1000 years. Neither of us are big church people but it was still interesting to wander around and seep in the history. Nearby we found the others in the playground; although Caroline seemed to enjoy the kiddie rides as much as the other children.
We tried to get into a few places Nicole recommended for lunch but it was a busy day so we ended up at the Saracen's Head, which suited us all fine. I took Charlie out to watch the traffic - he was fascinated by the buses, and we got a few waves from bus drivers, delighting Charlie. We then had to say goodbye to Caroline, Tony and Bella as they had a long drive ahead to get back to Spilsby. Gareth and I strolled around Southwell a little more and when the rain, which had long threatened, came down we went back to Cockliffe House.
It was back to Nicole and David's for dinner that night and Gareth seemed much more relaxed. We'd had a chat and I knew it was weird for him to have me around when Beki had been there for so long. I was happy that it wasn't treated like the elephant in the room and everyone was open enough to talk about her and wonderful memories. It seemed we'd worn our visitors out so Gareth and I once again retired back to Cockliffe for a shared bottle of wine and a bath -  a wonderful way to end a lovely few days in Nottingham.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Nocturnal Nottingham

Gareth spent most of his adult life in Nottingham - uni, work and married life, so we planned a night out to catch up with his mates there. Newly engaged Tanya and Jonny were nice enough to give us a bed for the night so we arrived there late in the afternoon (MUCH later than planned!) after a Toy's R Us visit and a new pair of jeans for me (as a slight aside - I'm sure most women will get this - nice new jeans are so hard to find!!). I'd met Jonny a few days previous over lunch in Manchester so had hasty introductions to Tanya and their cute little one, Jess and we bundled straight into Jonny's car to go off to the pub.

At the pub we met Nicole, David, Katie and Charlie in the lovely beer garden. Nicole and David are also very old friends with Gareth - they worked alongside him and Beki for years, and Gareth is godfather to their son Charlie. Charlie and Jess were absolutely adorable with each other, two gorgeous little blondes - like an Anne Geddes photo!

I was a little on edge, so keen to make a good impression, but I tried to relax over a few glasses of wine. Gareth and I also shared an amazing platter - funny how I always remember the food - there were skewers and a baked camembert, so bad for me yet too good to resist! Besides, I was on holiday!
Back at the house we got ready quickly (into my new jeans!) and headed into town. First stop looked like a real old man's pub, it was called The Golden Fleece; it was actually quite funky! It had a lovely roof terrace (which was too cold to sit out on for us Dubaians) and we met up with Tara and Matt. Gareth was keen to show me as much of Nottingham nightlife as possible so we also took in the Dragon, Saltwater and the Malt Cross. We didn't even get to half the places we'd planned but the drinks and conversation were flowing and various friends were popping by along the way so everyone was in high spirits. We tried and were refused shots in the Malt Cross - a travesty! Tara and I noticed the boys seemed a lot drunker than us but they seemed like they were having so much fun so we decided we'd better play catch-up. We headed up the road to The Cookie Club, where Gareth, feeling generous, paid for everyone to get in! Then it was time for vodka, red-bull and lollipops. I loved the Cookie Club, 3 floors of indie, chart and cheesy music. I make no apologies for enjoying a bit of cheese on a night out! Tara and I hit the dance floor and Gareth and I were even dancing out on the roof terrace - oh to be young and in love. Everyone was so friendly to me; I wondered what I had been apprehensive about. Having said that, it's a difficult situation - Gareth and Beki were together for over 10 years and I didn't want anyone to think that I was trying to replace her and don't have the utmost respect for her memory. I think everyone could see that we made each other happy; and I guess after Gareth having such a loss it was great to see him in such high spirits. As ever on a night out, he was friendly to one and all, striking up a conversation with some guys who had arrived in wearing suits. I noticed that they didn't seem that friendly when he lay down in front of them, messing around and I was a little alarmed so Tara stepped in to calm the situation. Gareth had been bottled in Nottingham last year and I think I felt a little nervous about Nottingham - although the same could happen in any city unfortunately. They really didn't seem like nice types; maybe too much beer that night so we gathered everyone up and headed for kebabs.

There were more high-jinks at the kebab shop. Matt and Gareth were play-acting a bit and Matt told Gareth to punch him in the head. Why? No idea - it seemed like good fun at the time! Matt kept insisting so eventually Gareth gave in - he's very easily persuaded after a few drinks. I'm not sure everyone in the kebab shop took it in the same spirit so we quickly got out of there and into a taxi. I was seriously flagging at this point - sometimes I just want to get home, so I devoured my kebab and was straight up the stairs into bed back at Jonny and Tanya's. Gareth, being the lovely boyfriend, was up to bed very shortly afterwards and we passed out into dreamless sleep after the mad night in Nottingham. Next morning Matt had a lovely purple egg-shaped shiner on his forehead, but was a total gentleman about it. Gareth felt awful about it but we all knew it was just a funny reminder of a good night out! I'm sure it's healed by now; what a good sport.

So it was onwards to the country-side for us, and a baby shower to attend.

Monday, October 22, 2012

No worries in the North....


We chugged into Knaresborough train station over a viaduct and I was immediately taken with this picturesque town. Gareth's college buddy and best man, Kit came along to pick us up and we met Alison back at their gorgeous cottage out in Ferrensby. We relaxed over a drink in the garden, catching up on their lives - me just breathing it in and trying to avoid the bees in the blooming colourful orchard. The air was so fresh, dusk just settling in and I felt perfectly at peace. These were more new people for me - both had been at Gareth's wedding in Canada and very good friends with Beki; yet they couldn't have been more welcoming to me.
 Alison seemed quite at ease rustling up dinner for us - but I bet most people's kitchens don't boast aromas like these. The food was delightful, the company so warm and conversation just flowed. They were so open and it was great to feel like I wasn't outsider; I felt completely accepted and at home after only a couple of hours. We headed to bed early as they had work the next day and Gareth and I were still a little worn out from the night in Manchester. I loved the exposed wooden beams in our room, looking out over the garden - it was the perfect recipe to drift off to a blissful night's sleep.

 Next day we had a lazy morning and we got to take the TransAm out for the first time in our trip. Kit had kindly taken care of it (and it needs ALOT of care) and had it almost shiny and new for our road-trip (It is over 30 years old after all). As we drove through the town, we got lots of admiring glances and shout-outs but the best was whilst stopped at the traffic lights. A boy of about 3 and his gran were walking by and he just halted in his tracks and took in every inch of the car "WOWWWWW," He exclaimed and immediately launched into a story about his Dad's BMW and how it was so cool but NOT as good as the TransAm. Gareth engaged in banter with the little fella asking him if this was the car he'd get when he grew up (bad influence!) and when the Gran suggested that they move on the boy was adamant "No. I want to see it go!"....I was rather relieved we were in a line of traffic as I know if we hadn't Gareth would have torn off at speed to impress the little lad. Adorable though.
 We took a walk down by the riverside where Kit used to work as a student, hiring out punting boats. He still claims it was the best job he ever had.
Gareth then took me across to Old Mother Shipton's Cave - England's oldest tourist attraction. The park also has a petrifying well, where many items are hung and turn to stone - this can be explained by science, but is pretty cool for little ones. Mother Shipton's prophesies are famous - she predicted the Spanish Armada and even air travel - which would have been unheard in the 1500's. We also visited the wishing well - but I can't tell you what I wished for, as then it won't come true. It was a bit of fun - but a lovely way to spend an afternoon. Afterwards we visited the castle looking down on the town, did some gift-shopping, and had a proper pork pie (award-winning apparently) to ease the hunger pangs - we didn't want to spoil whatever Alison was cooking up for us that evening!
Back at the house both Alison and Kit were later than expected home, after a long week, and were both exhausted so Gareth and I coaxed them into eating out rather than slaving over a hot stove at home. Luckily just around the corner is The General Tartleton, a foodie's lucky find! I decided on "A Taste of Duck" with different duck dishes presented together in one dish - it was absolutely delectable. Paired off with some lovely wine and of course the great company once again we had a superb meal, a couple of aperitifs and headed home to sample some of Alison's home-made alcoholic specialities - She's quite the authority on mixing strange cocktails too! I declined to partake in the final one - I vaguely remember we christened a funny name - Answers on a postcard please! We debated about music tastes and covered all subjects and eventually called an end to a fun and fulfilling night. Next morning, a little light-headed we had to say goodbye to Kit, Alison and wonderful North Yorkshire; fantastic memories I'll savour as much as that first dinner in their kitchen.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Mancunian Exploits


On a scorching hot day in August we landed in Manchester; the start of our UK adventure. After some initial confusion we found Wayne and I think his first impression of me was that the suitcase was bigger than me! Slightly embarrassing - but girls need STUFF for a month away! We sorted ourselves out with booze at the local Tesco and headed back to meet Lindsey. Although I'd met one of Gareth's friends in Dubai, Andy, this was the first set of UK friends I was meeting and I have to say I was a little nervous! I needn't have been; they were so down to earth and welcoming and completely set me at ease (Might also have been the white wine in my hand!). After a few quiet drinks in the house and Gareth regaling them with tales from Dubai and Ireland we decided to head to Canal Street. I was very excited about going out in Manchester; I have great friends from there and had heard great things!! It was a lovely summer's evening so we had a few vodkas by the canal, watching all sorts of unusual people who would never been seen in Dubai. More than once I stood at the bar beside 6 foot women with deeper voices than Barry White. Wayne tried to offend me, which I just found entertaining and I think I received one of the best insults ever when he called me "A tranny from Middle Earth,". I had to high-five him for the thought behind that but unfortunately missed, which we thought side-achingly funny at the time. A few more cheap double vodkas and I was ready to show the camp crowd my singing chops. I'm not sure I was camp enough! A beautiful blonde in staggering stiletto's handed me the mic to do my rendition of "Valerie"; very hazy memories but I did have some lovely (gay) boys following me around for a bit afterward so perhaps I did ok. We wandered through a few different bars, were point blank refused for G.A.Y despite Gareth and Wayne's ardent displays of affection towards each other, so we took a long, long walk to The Venue. I had lovely chats with Lindsey along the way, whilst the boys hi-jinxed along the streets of Manchester. The Venue was brilliant - what I remember of it - indie tunes, double vodkas for a pound, much chaotic dancing. Obviously The Venue thought so too as they published this, unknown to us, on their Facebook page!!
Definitely my kind of place! We had more long walks around Manchester to find a McDonalds, but Wayne insisted on carrying our bags and coats - I had to grab mine back when my Dubai-acclimatised skin started to chill. We ate some disgustingly cardboard food (good to know some things never change anywhere in the world) and finally fell into a taxi around half past.....Half past what I don't know! It was a wonderful welcome to the UK for me, and I definitely have to have another night in Manchester when I get the chance! We gratefully fell onto the blow-up bed and passed out only to be woken by the smell of bacon sarnies. We wanted to move these two to Dubai - never mind have them just visit! Wayne even dropped us into town to have lunch with some of Gareth's former work colleagues. I was really hungover and definitely couldn't face a lunchtime drink before we caught the train through the Pennines to North Yorkshire. Big thanks to Wayne and Lindsey for such an epic night!!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Drop into Dublin....


Mum had expressly warned me not to get back to the house in Dublin before them; she is committed to having a spic and span house when anyone comes to visit and Gareth was no exception! So, as we drove into Dublin we decided to see if we could fit in a showing of "Ted" to our packed schedule. It was on our list as films shown in the U.A.E get shredded by the censors so we really wanted to catch it on our "tour". We weren't disappointed! I'm sure I don't have to tell many people that it was the film of the summer. Back to the McBride Madhouse of Merriment and Gareth met my lovely little sister Nickki and her boyfriend, Dave. We all sat down to dinner (Gareth couldn't get over the fact that we serve more than one sort of potato - well it is Ireland!) and a few vinos. Both my parents are pretty good in the kitchen; something I have yet to inherit but am hopeful comes with age. So the food was great, the conversation lively but around eleven I started to flag - maybe it was the 5 hour drive, the constant drinking, the over-exertion in general but everything shut down for me at midnight and I had to go to bed, leaving Gareth in the capable hands of my parents to feed him Spanish liquors and whatever else was going in our little kitchen of wonders. On Tuesday I wanted to show Gareth our Dirty Ol' town of Dublin but he was loathe to get out of bed; he had indulged til the early hours with Mum and Dad and I was pleased he had made such an effort with them so I let him sleep a little longer. We headed into "town" as we call Dublin City in the late afternoon and decided to take in a little culture by way of St. Patrick's Cathedral. It is 800 years old, a stunning example of a period architecture and also houses burial chambers for many marked figures of our history. It was home to Jonathan Swift, author of "Gulliver's Travels" as he was Dean of the Cathedral in the 1700's and it also held the first ever performance of Handel's "Messiah" in 1742. I'm not sure how interesting Gareth found it, although he seemed engrossed at the time, but I really enjoyed it - I love a bit of history now and again. At this point I was getting hungry - and I can be quite a nightmare when I'm not fed. We stumbled across "Corfu" on Parliament Street and definitely thought some tzatiki would go down well. Thankfully restaurants in Dublin seem to have adopted recession-buster menu's so we ordered a 2 course earlybird with a glass of wine for 10euro each - not bad! Corfu was a real find, the feta cheese parcels melted in our mouth, the meatballs were really tasty - all in all just a really lovely meal at a great price. We then moved down to O'Donoghue's on Suffolk Street for a catch up with some of my friends. Cilla, a friend from college, arrived in first, as usual regaling us with tales from school and home. Shortly afterwards Kerry arrived in with a little shriek of delight when she saw me. We ended up with my cousin Al, my sister Nickki, Dougie, Cathal (Kerry's husband) and a few pints whilst the Olympic boxing took place on the tv. After a few hours we decided to find somewhere with music and show Gareth some other great bars in Dublin. On this we failed...miserably. We took him upto the Dakota on South William Street, which used to be one of the hippest places in Dublin but was like walking into an empty cavern that night! By this point I was hungry again so Gareth tried to bribe the barmen by any means possible to rustle up some food (the bar food had finished about 2 hours previous). The best they could come up with was a pear. Gareth proffered said pear to me, I took a bite out of it and threw it back (playfully!) - the bar staff were not amused! Apparently it could have been used for cocktails; I'm pretty sure they weren't going to get asked for any more cocktails that night - we were the only table occupied in the bar. My wonderful boyfriend was fretting about me wanting "chips" so he took to the unknown streets of Dublin to find some for me. Unfortunately he returned empty-handed so at that point we headed to Bob's diner for some garlic cheese fries - lucky him getting to sleep with me that night! It was lovely to see everyone but disappointing we didn't get to see a quality band, usually found all over Dublin on any night of the week. That was the end of our Irish trip - it had been alcohol-fuelled and full of new experiences; I was so glad to have shown Gareth a few new things for his list, and how well he'd been received. I think the general consensus was that Irish women quite like a man with a beard and Gareth's great around parents!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The end of a legendary weekend....


The phrase "sleeping in a hostel" is an oxymoron - you can "stay" in a hostel but you won't get much sleep. Our room mates came in at various hours, some shouting and carousing; others creeping in but inadvertently crashing into someone else or something and creating an almighty racket! Gareth came in quietly and kissed me good night before getting up to his bunk - he'd drank the bar out of Jager; I was so proud of him (for the jager not the quiet). Just as I was dropping off to sleep there was some shuffling and some of the girls came in, giggling, rooting in their bags and then heading out again, trying to be quiet in that drunken way that actually makes you noisy like a rustling plastic bag in a cinema. So, not entirely sated with sleep I got out of bed on the Sunday to see grey skies and drizzle; no Slievemore today then. We were too late for breakfast in the allotted time and we decided that we would follow the Atlantic Drive that day for something to do. Unfortunately we were in a clothing bind; Gareth had literally run out of clean clothes, so we had a stop off in the campsite at Keel to put on a wash, try and find somewhere to serve us a late breakfast. We drove all the way over to Gielty's past Dooagh but we had literally just missed breakfast. Soup and sambo's it was then and we headed back to put the clothes in the dryer and get our walk on Atlantic Drive. We had another stop in Achill sound to pick up some booze for the evening and finally we were on our way.

We stopped at Kildavnet Castle, a legendary look-out for the pirate queen, Granuaile. The weather was clearing so we drove round Darby's point with a superb view of Achill Beg and Clare Island. We stopped twice and walked down towards the cliffs - I know Gareth thought I'd be afraid but I felt much more comfortable here - if the sheep were happy then so was I!
We looked at the stunning rock formations, and how calm the sea was and generally just marveled over the beauty of the island. We could see over the Minaun cliffs how the rain was over on that side of the island and we just enjoyed walking around, looking for crabs and sea-urchins in some of the rock-pools. A handful of cars past in the hour or so we spent there and I just loved being out in the wide-open space with the man I loved so much. We headed back to the Valley for a little rest before driving out to April's family cottage. They have a wonderful piece of land, beside the sea, opposite Inishbiggle island. We had the company of Jody and Patrick, who were working in the Valley for the summer, and they just adored the place. April presented us a lovely fresh beetroot and feta salad along with her tasty spag bol and we got down to the business of drinking and chatting. It was a great evening, new-found friends and laughter and we decided on a nightcap at the Valley around midnight. The bar was packed, we ordered in some shots and started the party but once again I had to shy away (at 3am to be fair) as I'd a long drive ahead on the Monday. Packing and leaving Achill next day was a speedy affair, Jody and Patrick wanted to go to Castlebar so we'd offered them a lift. We barely thought twice about leaving the island, we'd had a great weekend and I firmly thought we'd be visiting again in the future. At least I know I'll always have it to go back to.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Slievemore - or not?


Day 2 in Achill and I was relieved that I hadn't to drive anywhere far. I'd woken up sometime in the middle of the night realizing that two people in a top bunk probably wasn't ideal and managed to clamber out without waking Gareth - this is quite the feat since I usually inadvertently wake him by unusual means such as hitting him in the face or groin or stomach. I honestly don't mean it - I think it's some kind of physiological disorder (although I do laugh hysterically when it happens; maybe I'm just a bad person). Our aim was to climb Slievemore that day and the weather seemed on our side - it was glorious. I said I'd go up the easy side (the other way is much rockier and overhangs the sea!) so we drove to the base part. I noticed a threatening cloud coming down; the mist had already started rolling down the mountain. It can be perilous up on that mountain in the mist, as one wrong step and you're in trouble. We decided to walk across the hills towards Dooagh instead. We had a look at the ruins in the Deserted Village and enjoyed the sun on our backs as we strolled across the hills. Of course, halfway through we looked back to see the mist had cleared but we were two hours into the walk by then so I wasn't eager to turn back. When we got to Dooagh we decided to continue up the narrow road across the cliffs to Keem Bay but exhaustion started to overcome me so I called April to see if she would pick us up. Gareth kept walking, keen to see Lough Acorrymore. I sat watching small boats out on the ocean and gazing across to Clare Island. When April arrived and Gareth returned we drove over to Keem Bay - an absolutely breathtaking inlet on Achill. Gareth even braved the icy seawater! We had a slightly dissatisfying lunch in the Beehive so visited the Cottage for more food.

 Back at the Valley I had a little snooze whilst a session played in the Courtyard and a few refreshing pints were consumed. When I awoke I realized that I had been seriously sunburned on our walk, I had splotches of red in various places and my nose was like a beacon!! It was down to the bar for another session by the fireplace and good fun with my Dad. At one point he leaned over to me and said "Do you know what I hate about Gareth?" Stunned, I looked at him and waited for him to go on - "Everyone loves him!" He said and winked at me. A boyfriend of mine had finally won Dad's approval! After a few creamy pints of Guinness I had to head off to bed at 12.30am. This was met with shock and dismay to a few people - I'm usually one of the last standing. I think the walk and the sun had just taken it's toll. The jager bottle had been opened and the shots were going down as I crept up the stairs to Room 6.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A-chilling


Ohhhh, Achill island. I physically pine for the place when I've been away too long. There's a weird disparity about the places I yearn for - the place I live (Dubai) and my favorite place (Achill). Dubai is the desert, where life is fast, transient and sometimes very shallow. Achill is remote, green, good for the soul and full of wandering artists. It's a tonic for me, and re-fuels me to go back to real life when I've left. Gareth was waiting with bated breath to get to Achill; I've spoken so much about it in our short time together and I think he was eager to walk some hills. After a stroll around Galway city and bemoaning the fact we couldn't stay there longer, we hit a rainy, windy road to Castlebar. There we stopped to stock up on groceries and the last leg of the road to Achill. As I drove the last 30km or so, I already felt the air seeping into my bones and the excitement building. We rocked up to the Valley House - http://www.valley-house.com/ A historic building with a bar and hostel that I've been visiting and staying in for years. When I was young, it was Roger that ran the place and could always be found manning the bar; now it's his son Pat, and it's well renowned to be one of the best places to drink Guinness in Ireland, if not the world. It's always the first thing I do - order a pint of their finest and savour each creamy drop. Gareth claims he doesn't like Guinness and he didn't deign to try it that Friday evening. After unloading our considerable amounts of luggage, I took a drive across to Keel, via Dugort. Slievemore was crowned with a cloud; a usual sight as we drove past the strand. Over in Keel, Gareth and I took a little walk along the beach towards the cliff. About half-way in the drizzle started so we headed back towards Keel to meet my parents.
We had arranged to meet Mum and Dad at the Bayside Bistro in Keel for dinner. Their specials looked absolutely delectable so we ordered a nice bottle of Sancerre and waited for the parents to arrive. Gareth had yet to meet Dad so I was a little apprehensive but not hugely; Mum was a fan so I'm sure she'd have laid the groundwork for me! They arrived, a little tired from their journey and ready to be fed. The restaurant did not disappoint. The scallops went down a treat, as did the sea bass. Everyone seemed to be getting along fine! After the meal we headed back to the Valley to catch up with some old friends and have a right old session. The Valley is well known for nights full of music, anyone with a guitar, whistle or banjo pitches up by the fireplace and usually magic is created. Some friends and old bandmates of my Dad were there so the tunes started and the Guinness was flowing. I got into the spirit and did a few numbers myself, even singing lyrics off my Mum's iPad when people had requests! My oldest friend, April was down for the weekend too so I was up for a good chinwag. I introduced Gareth to April and bold as brass she said to him "You're a ride". I don't know what it is about him but the Irish girls seem to love him ;) It was a great night, hazy in the memory but full of melody and smiles....A-chilling again.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Cliffs of Moher, Drive-by Burren and a rainy night in Galway.


Another morning, another struggle to leave whatever accommodation we were in and bleary-eyed move on to our next destination. Travelling is fun, but the hangovers aren't! However, in Ireland people honestly look at you as if you have four heads if you decline a drink - you're either pregnant or have liver failure. For breakfast, we decided to have the good old petrol station experience - this is something I really miss in Dubai - in Ireland, (and probably the UK) every petrol station has a deli of some sort with hot food and sandwiches. They will even make you up a sandwich with what you would like in it. So far, so good. Most importantly - it all looks desirable, and they all have PORK! Only other Middle Eastern expats understand how important pork is and why we consume massive quantities of it when visiting home, or anywhere for that matter. So, ham rolls scoffed, we set out the west road towards the Cliffs of Moher.

The Cliffs of Moher apparently auditioned for a place in the seven wonders of the world, but unfortunately didn't succeed. They are the highest sea-cliffs in Europe but aesthetically they really are something to behold that I can't describe. The water smashing off the rocks so far below can't even be heard from the heights of the cliffs, and the sheer power of nature is absolutely overwhelming as you look out at the Atlantic Ocean.
The sky was threatening when we arrived, but we, along with a few other busloads of tourists, decided to take our chances with a walk along the precipitous path. There are signs everywhere exclaiming "EXTREME DANGER" and others advertising The Samaritans (it doesn't bear thinking about) but I decided to ignore my fears and tackle these crags. The pathway is about two people wide at some points, and it's not smooth, and it looks like it falls away in parts. Gareth was gamboling along, frightening the bejesus out of me, until a French family pleaded with him to be careful. Gareth assured me that he's an accomplished rock climber but I tried to reason that he usually climbs UP rocks and that if he went off these, there'd be scant chance of getting a hold on anything before crashing into the rocks below. I think he saw the sheer terror on my face cos he slowed down after that and I made my way gingerly along. At times I got more adventurous and strode on, but after rounding 3 headlands I suddenly had enough. I simply felt like I couldn't go on, and I knelt down and almost wept in fear. I have a serious fear of heights that I really try to control but this was just too much. Gareth was brilliant and suggested we climb over the stone slabs into the neighboring field and make our way back as far as we could that way. The fields were full of cows, but I have no fear of cows so that seemed like a good plan. I encouraged him to go on and I would go back on my own but he was so sweet and insisted he'd come back with me. Once in the field, treading through cow-pat he began telling me stories of walkers being trampled by cows in the UK last year. Super. One life-threatening situation to another. At this point the cows were beginning to notice us; probably hearing Gareth speaking ill of them. One decided to come and investigate. He came right up behind us, and the people walking along the cliffs began taking photos. The cow was suddenly struck dumb - he looked after us, and back at the people - I could hear the thoughts forming "To go on? Or have my 15 minutes of fame?". He stuck with the camera, silly cow! We clambered over some stone walls into more cow pat and eventually made our way back, with only a couple of returns to the cliffs' edge. I'm glad I did it; I would thoroughly recommend it; even if you are a scaredy cat like me.

Back in the car we headed slightly north towards Galway. I didn't realize what a spectacular drive it would be. The Burren is noted as one of the largest karst landscapes in Europe. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Burren
What that means to you and me is some unique flora and fauna, and spectacular limestone hills. Gareth slept through most of it but I actually stopped the car a few times to breathe in the beauty of the area.

Onwards to Galway and we eventually found our "boutique hotel" surreptitiously hidden under another hotel name? The room was adequate with a lovely big, soft bed - but boutique hotel it was not. We, or rather I, had made a mistake booking ANYwhere in Galway during Race Week; we paid a hefty premium for a guesthouse - that didn't serve breakfast! We decided not to venture into Galway city in the midst of the madness, and had a lovely meal at Da Roberto's Pizzeria nearby. Once again we seemed to strike gold as it had won a couple of Bridgestone Awards and we had a nice bottle of wine with our meal. Gareth was feeling a little poorly though so we retired to bed early after a drink in Oslo's. We needed a little rest ahead of the weekend to come!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Old friends in Ennis


When we woke up on Wednesday morning, Gareth was curled around me and I breathed a sigh of relief. I immediately remembered the silly argument but hoped he had forgotten it. No sooner had this passed through my head when he mumbled "You shouted at me last night,"....I felt like I'd been punched in the stomach! He had remembered!! Instead of saying "Sorry," like I meant, I actually said "You were being an idiot,". Wow, sometimes I confound myself.

Anyway, we were both in a forgiving mood so it blew over. I attempted another full Irish breakfast; they were definitely begin to show on the hips by now, and we got ourselves organized for the next leg of the journey. On the Limerick road, we got a glimpse of some sun through the clouds and by the time we reached Ennis it was positively beaming - this definitely cheered the spirits although we didn't think we'd have energy enough to do the Ailwee caves or the cliffs of Moher that day.
We checked into our hostel - http://www.rowantreehostel.ie/ and we were really pleasantly surprised. The room was spacious, ensuite and as we'd requested, a private double room. The hostel was large and modern, situated right in the centre of Ennis alongside the river, with great facilities and staff. We went out to meet some friends, Mal & Tony, who used to live in Dubai but now reside in Maidstone. They have a fabulous set of children - Maddie, Rylee and Cayden. Unfortunately Cayden was at home with his granny, but we had some fun with the girls for an hour and a bite to eat. Gareth seemed to be suffering so we thought we'd have a little snooze and a walk around before meeting up with Mal and Tony later for a night out.

We went to the Dining Room restaurant in Market Place, and again got a great early bird deal - this seems to be the norm as a recession-buster in Ireland. I don't normally order chicken as a main course when out dining but the Grilled Supreme of Chicken with potato & zucchini Rosti, wild Mushrooms & pancetta was a delight to the palette after some lovely Doolin crab cakes all washed down with a Pinot Grigio Mal and I shared. I love a good catch-up with old friends and Gareth was subjected to quite a few stories from the days before Mal's brood arrived. Many ladies nights' on the tramp's trail in Dubai (stories for another time!) and even on night's in Mal and I could get upto mischief. We left the Dining Room to find some live music and headed to Dan O'Connell's. Honestly I can't remember much of the music but there was a nice man behind the bar who charged my phone for me! We then headed to Knox's; an old haunt and Mal's former workplace. Of course it was Jager-bomb time, and we had some fun lining up the shots and knocking them into the glasses - without any incidents!
Well, no incidents until Gareth stole one of Mal's jagers! He was so shocked by her expression; it was brilliant. I did tell him not to. However my own behavior wasn't exemplary - I managed to fall asleep in the toilet. This isn't like me, but to be fair - I had done a lot of driving and drinking over the previous days. Not drink-driving - but none the less. So I fell asleep in the bathroom, when I woke up I was in the dark. Initially I thought I was just sleeping weirdly, until I moved and the light came on. Then I realized I was sat upright in a toilet; something wrong with the picture. I'm surprised I didn't get more abuse for this but the jager-thief was still getting grief. They were nice enough to give us an extra drink, rather than kicking us out at closing but I knew that we had to get on the road early again next day so rather than accept Mal & Tony's invite to come back for more drinks (they had a child-free night) I did almost have to drag Gareth home though. Once again it was a slightly hungover awakening, and back on the road.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Tralee - A Fighting Town


I spent almost 7 years living in Tralee, between going to college there and working there afterward. I absolutely loved it. I had always felt that my heart was in Tralee, even as a child and wished that I'd grown up there. I felt so lucky that a third level course that I really wanted to do ( Folk Theatre Studies with Siamsa Tire, the National Folk Theatre of Ireland) was available in Tralee. I was heading back there after three and a half years and it was pissing down rain. Apt really - it must be one of the rainiest towns in Ireland. After a washed out drive around Slea Head, albeit still a very pretty route, First stop in Tralee was checking in at Manor West Hotel; Terence, one of my best friends, had reserved a room for us, which was extraordinarily nice of him! Then we went downtown to meet my aunt Mary briefly and see how she was recovering after the wedding (Aeda is her youngest daughter). We popped into Paddy Mac's for a late lunch - the food was still as lovely as I remembered it. Then Gareth went for a lie-down while I had a little catch-up with Terence. Around 6pm we decided it was beer o clock and pitched ourselves up at the Bistro Bar in the hotel for an aperitif before we headed down the town. A friend I knew from Dublin, Aidan, text to say he would join us for one or two so we headed down to the Blasket, a popular spot in the town. It was empty, but then it was a Tuesday night.
After Aidan joined us and enlightened us with some risqué tales (that man's mouth needs to be washed out!) we decided we should probably get some ballast in to prepare us for the rest of the night's drinking. On Terence's recommendation we headed around to Willie Darcy's Restaurant. When I lived in Tralee, Willie Darcy's was a pub on the corner of the square but Willie obviously has other talents! http://www.tripadvisor.ie/Restaurant_Review-g186613-d2344143-Reviews-Darcy_s_Restaurant-Tralee_County_Kerry.html They had a great deal on - 3 courses for 20euro and we decided to splash out and order some Prosecco too. The waiter had a bit of craic with us when opening the bottle, saying it lent "an air of affluence," to our table. I'm not sure about that - we looked like a motley crew! The food was really good, we were fighting over the brie, and Aidan even complimented the vegetarian offering. They even went so far as to change Screaming Dion off the stereo and replace it with Bob Dylan. It would be a really nice place for a romantic meal too; I liked the decor and setting. I know we were probably a little raucous towards the end, but we were the last there, so at least we didn't disturb anyone else. We pottered across the square to Sean Og's, an old favorite of mine, always good for a few tunes. As usual, it was packed - as on any night of the week. The boys decided it was time for shots; jagers of course, but a few other hideous concoctions landed in front of me which I absolutely refused (tequila TOPPEd with sambuca?). Ran into a few other old friends and decided a trip to Late Bar, The Abbey was in order. Another old haunt; I used to spend every Thursday night dancing til 2 or 3 in there. It's undergone a refurbishment since I was a regular, and the crowd seems to be a lot younger (but then we were once too!) but we had a dance nonetheless. There was a lot of drink flying around and as sometimes does; some disagreements started. Aidan and myself decided we should probably finish off the night on a high but it was a struggle getting Gareth out of the bar, apparently not enough Jagers had been consumed! He seemed happy enough in the taxi a few minutes later, head out the window like a labrador lapping in the Tralee air. I'm not sure what happened when we got into the hotel room; I remember him falling over the bed, and acting like a drunken idiot (although given I was drunk myself I probably wasn't the best judge of this). There was a silly argument, and a bathroom door slammed (him, not me!) and I curled up in bed thinking that this was really typical of Tralee; There always seems to be a fight to be had in Tralee. No matter how much I love it, no matter how many good memories I have, it's a fighting town.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Mellow days and music...


Ireland is known for the three-day wedding. Maybe it's our love for each other, the drink, the craic - or a little of all three, and the fact that Irish weddings tend to be large, but we have to make that big day out into a sort of festival. Nowadays the bride and groom acknowledge this and actually benefit from it, because the day after the formal "do" they can let their hair down and relax. I believe these normal rules did not apply to my cousin Aeda, rumour has it she was up til 4.30am the night before her wedding. Well, we didn't call her "All-night Aeda" on the hen for nothing.... The day after The Baker nuptials we headed to Glounthaune for a bit of a session. Of course the Quinn's (my Mum's family) were first to arrive en-masse but soon we had a 40/50 strong crowd, some a little more worse for wear than others. The day after is also a great excuse to catch up on the gossip from the night before, no one can get away with sheepishly creeping out of hotels and holiday homes - they have to face the music later on the Sunday. This wedding had plenty of stories of people creeping past other's in residents bars, letting themselves into other people's rooms on the QT etc.... Music was provided by Cillian, Aeda's brother in law, Aoife (who played and sang in the church) and Neilus, making a guest appearance. Various people gave us a tune - a highlight being Aeda's Dad, Denis, doing some Johnny Cash numbers. Some of my earliest memories are of Johnny Cash being played in their house. Scott did a great rendition of "500 miles," in true Scottish fashion and Tony sang and played "Lazing on a sunny afternoon,". I even did a number or two! It was another late night, a party back in the Paddocks and a great way to round off a fantastic wedding weekend. After breakfast being cooked for us (Full Irish no.3 of the holiday!) Gareth and I hit the road for the second leg of our journey to Dingle in Co.Kerry. The clouds threatened rain but we weren't worried, just excited for a quiet night and a bit of music. There were a few hairy moments on the Ring of Kerry - driving around cliffs in the rain with low visibility and the fear after 3 days drinking is not my strong point. When we met a bus coming the opposite way I nearly had to stop to collect myself - the only thing that drove me forward was the prospect of getting off the cliffs. It is a spectacular place with stunning views - I wished it had been a little clearer for Gareth to really see it. We checked into the Quayside B&B in Dingle just after 3. The hosts - Muris and Therese were so friendly and welcoming from the off with loads of suggestions for places to eat and drink and things to do in the town. We headed out for a late lunch - Gareth had his first Irish stew and we had a little walk around the town. Later in the evening we were lucky enough to be two of a hundred people who got in to the folk concert in St. John's Church. It was absolutely magical. Eoin Duignan, the uileann piper, was the host and played some wonderful tunes at times accompanied by the guitarist, John Brown, who entertained us with some chat between tunes. We also got to hear a new instrument - the hang drum, only created in 1998. After a short interval we were treated to the melodious voice of Pauline Scanlon, accompanied by Donagh Hennessy on guitar. It was so good, we didn't want to go to any bars so we could keep the tunes lingering in our ears. We had a fish and chips on the quayside and took a little walk, relieved to have an alcohol free night. Against our usual grain we were tucked up in bed by 11, with the rain pattering against the window.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


I woke to the sound of rally cars on Saturday morning, the day of the wedding. All the participants were staying in our hotel. I opened the curtains and once again the sun streamed in. I turned to Gareth and said "It's a beautiful day for Aeda's wedding," to which I received the mumbled reply "The Child of Prague must have worked,". Unbelievable. Less than 24 hours in the country and he already had the superstitions. Another successful integration! This is how the Irish take over the world; with our sayings, beliefs, music and drink! For those of you who aren't familiar with the Child of Prague, it's a strong tradition in Ireland that this little statue, if left out in the garden the night before, will bring good weather for the wedding day. My aunt Mary, Aeda's mum, had actually called my Mum on the way to Cork to check if we'd put it out. It's another theory that it won't bring you luck until the head is off it, and ours is decapitated (by accident I might add). I took off into Midleton to get my hair done at Oxygen Hair Design. A lovely girl called Louise gave me a blow-dry. Louise was very friendly but I'm not sure she knew where Dubai is; she certainly wasn't interested in visiting there once I told her it was in the desert. I can see how living in a town like Midleton would seem preferable to dwelling in the sandpit and I envy people who are completely happy with their lot, unlike us - constantly chasing the dream. Back at the hotel, Gareth eventually got out of bed and we prepared ourselves for the day ahead. The bus was late, and there were a few rain showers but as we climbed the steps in the grounds of U.C.C, the sun was splitting the stones again. The bridesmaid were resplendent in fuchsia and I felt a little tingle of excitement. I actually realized that Aeda was getting married! It had felt pretty surreal until now. Most of the reason for this is because there's 13 days between us and I still think we're 16! Lawrence looked dapper in his wedding suit and not in the least nervous, and much as it sounds like a cliche there were a few gasps as Aeda entered the church. She's a gorgeous girl anyway but as is only right, she was absolutely breath-taking and grinning like a cheshire cat as she walked up the aisle. Fr Michael Enright, Aeda's Dad's cousin, was the priest for the wedding. In his opening he said "In the word's of Henry 8th to his wives' - I won't keep you long,". That pretty much set the precedent for the ceremony. He sped through all the prayers and kept us entertained at all other times. Aoife Collins provided some beautiful musical accompaniment with her singing and on the flute. Then it was a mad dash in torrential rain to the bus to take us to Castlemartyr resort where the reception was being held. There was a champagne and canapé reception in the drawing room whilst the photo's took place and I got a chance to speak to some Tralee people I hadn't seen in a few years. I lived in Tralee for 7 years prior to moving to Dubai and I absolutely loved it; it used to be one of my favorite places and I'm still very fond of a lot of people there. Castlemartyr - as an aside, is gorgeous. I wished I had time to walk through the grounds, I believe Gareth took a bit of a jaunt around later that night! The room where we had dinner was flooded with natural light, with floor to ceiling windows. For a change at a family wedding - I wasn't sat with family. I love my mum's family dearly - but it was a welcome change! We were on a really fun table - a combination of Aeda and Law's friends in Oman, and my cousin Alex. We even had a child of prague at our table - rumors that it was been plyed with jager later are unconfirmed. I wish I'd recorded the speeches! Denis hit all the right notes of humor and poignancy after giving away his youngest daughter. Then came Lawrence, and I've literally never heard a groom's speech like it. He should have his own show! We almost felt sorry for Dangerous Dave, the best man, to have to follow him! He did himself proud though. Usually at Irish weddings we play games betting on the length of the speeches or how many times people say thank you but we were mesmerized throughout. I welled up a few times but managed to keep most of my eye make-up intact! After a sumptuous feast for dinner (honestly we couldn't get through all of it, but it was fab) and a few more drinks - including Gareth getting on the jager-bombs, it was time for dancing. Gareth eagerly took part in the "Siege of Ennis" (This is a lively Irish ceili dance, often performed at weddings) despite having no idea how to do it. Anything that involves thrashing his legs and arms about at high speed is always appealing to Gareth when he's had a few. The band had all of us on our feet for most of the night and even convinced us to get quite mushy and romantic during the slow-sets. After the band it was trusty DJ Manus to bring us through to the early hours. Manus has DJ'd at many of our friends and family weddings and the obligatory Riverdance was performed a short while later. This is not Riverdance as most of you know it - but a much more raucous version where the guys basically try to jump as high as they can and take each other out. It is hilarious both to watch and take part in but not for the faint hearted! At some point in the merriment Mum suggested we should take a taxi home, this is an absolute first - normally I'm putting Mum in a taxi but I knew Gareth must me lying on the ground somewhere talking to trees or traffic if she was bringing it up! So, we left a great wedding...I heard tales of people bribing residents bar staff, flings in the holiday Village and singing til the small hours....I'm impressed Gareth stayed as long as he did! It was a fantastic day, and I'm sure Aeda and Lawrence are delighted with how it turned out.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Destination: The Peoples Republic of Cork


Friday dawned another glorious day in Ireland, we kept our fingers crossed it would hold for Aeda's wedding the next day. After the usual chaotic flurry before leaving the McBride household Mum and I got out the door only seven minutes behind schedule. I had butterflies on the way to the airport to pick up Gareth, honestly wondering whether unleashing my entire extended family on him was a good idea but it was too late to turn back now! When we saw each other at Dublin airport I was subdued, what to say now he had finally arrived. Mum and himself immediately bonded over a good laugh at me, when I realised I hadn't validated the parking ticket. Great, guys.... So we were finally on the road. I was distracted by their conversation, trying to monitor what was coming out of Mum's mouth and whether she could get me into trouble. This led to my driving being rather erratic and then I got nervous. It wasn't a great start. Thankfully Mum took over the wheel and we made it to Cork with no major incidents. After meeting Jen and Liam ( not her husband as she vehemently pointed out to Gareth!) we headed off from the Paddocks and checked into the Midleton Park hotel, we had time for a quick nap and shower and then it was time to meet the family in the bar. Everyone was in good form, the wine was flowing and all of a sudden I start getting pulled aside by various aunts "He's a fine man," , "Good catch there!", " Where did you find that hunk?" were some of the gentler comments I got in the early part of the night. I had visions of Gareth being like a summer Santa and having to give turns on his knee by the end of the night, thankfully there were no such scenes. It was brilliant catching up with everyone and of course I loved the attention Gareth was getting, it definitely brought back memories of Aeda bringing Lawrence home in 2009; it seems our family love a good Englishman! We dragged a few to residents bar and unsuccessfully tried to ply Lawrence with some shots under the watchful eye of Scott and Dangerous Davenport, the best man. They were on patrol but Lawrence needed no watching, he was eager to get to bed and wake up on his wedding day. The last things he said before heading off were "I'm so excited I get to marry Aeda tomorrow,".....all together now awwwwww. We got to bed about 230am, reasonable enough I thought, for Gareths first night in Ireland. What would the wedding day bring?

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Mums Day Out

Back in April my mum celebrated her 60th birthday, whilst I managed to get home for the party; there wasn't enough time to do what my sister, Nickki and I had planned for her present.

So, Thursday 26th July was the arranged date for a day out together to spend some quality time - isn't that what most people need more of? We had a leisurely start time of 1130 and we headed to The Lovely Food Company in Terenure for brunch. It really didn't disappoint. The staff were absolutely lovely, my poached eggs and bacon on artisan bread with a tomato relish were a delight and the conversation flowed, we were all in a great mood. That continued as we made our way to Aspen where we had booked in for facials and a massage for Mum. It's a quirky little salon but they succeeded in relaxing all three of us and we had lovely shiny faces after 90 minutes. I made a slight error in judgement in asking them to do my spray tan though. The machine didn't seem to work very well - there was more tan on the floor than on me; I had to assist the girl in doing my own tan and she really didnt have a clue how deep the colour should be! Unfortunately I did end up a bit stripy! Anyhow, we moved on for a spot of afternoon tea in the Cake Place off Pleasant st. What a find! The lemon polenta cake was so light and tasty - I'm still salivating 5 days later! The chocolate brownie was also delectable, so rich. More girly chat and feeling refreshed we even managed to fit in donating 3 full black bags of mum's barely worn clothes to Enable Ireland. Trust mum to fit in something off her to-do list on a girls day out. It made her happy though so that's what counts.

Onto Bluebell, an unlikely location for the "Flavours of Italy" Italian cookery school, where Giuseppe awaited to impart his wisdom on preparing a 3 course Italian dinner. He explained the idea of bruschetta (which really should be pronounced "bruscetta") and offered some ideas for accompaniments - gorgonzola, fresh olive pasta, olive oil with lemon and chilli - our palettes were tantalised but we had some hard work to do first. Downstairs to the kitchen, we had to form teams of five. Unfortunately we were short some people so Mum, Nickki and I formed a team. I thought this was a great idea as other people wouldn't get a look in with us in the kitchen but it put us under pressure later on. First up was the starter - pizza or latticed bread. We loaded up on fresh mozzarella, pancetta and mushrooms and tossed our dough to our hearts content,  Giuseppe's tips as he moved around the kitchen were sometimes welcomed but at other times we wanted to dump some flour over his head. 3 women in the kitchen - possibly a recipe for disaster? We moved on to prepare the dessert - a very typical Italian tiramisiu, here we also had challenges, mum tired of beating the egg whites, Nickki of the yolks and mascarpone, I prepared the biscuits, dipping in orange juice and limoncello and cutting fresh strawberries for a summery interpretation of the sweet. The heat was on at this stage and tempers were fraying at the table, mum tried to escape for a cigarette and all sharp objects had to be removed from my sisters reach. For the main course we tried making our own tagliatelle from dough and preparing a pesto sauce. This was great and team harmony reigned once more. We were ready for the starters when they arrived out of the oven, with a lovely Pinot grigio to wash it down. The latticed bread was a success, the other team complimented us on it too. Overall a great evening out, even with our less than aesthetically pleasing tiramisiu cups. 

Sated from a successful day I fell into bed after the few vinos dreaming of the weekend to come in Cork.....

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Travel:Prep and Execution...Goodnight Abu Dhabi....

Yesterday I woke up too early, too hungover and too hot. Not the ideal conditions with which to greet my last day in Dubai before the epic hols but I tried to be positive - since I was up early I might grab a quick nap later and not be shattered whilst waiting for my 2.20am next morning. I always take night flights as I feel I get to start my holiday earlier, and it's a system that works for me, but those couple of hours prior to the flight are always a battle of wills to stay awake, even in the most uncomfortable of airports.
Despite my tiredness in the morning I was super productive, working at twice my usual speed and for once getting positive results from various U.A.E sources that are usually baffling and have downright bad customer service. One of these is National Bank of Abu Dhabi - I *think* they have finally sorted my online banking, after a few quiet words with the branch manager in Dubai Mall. Those of you who know me would probably be surprised to hear that they were quiet words - but it is Ramadan and to be honest I was so worn out from the banking system in the U.A.E that it was more an exasperated plea than anything else. I also managed to procure my E-gate card. This should have been done years ago. Your e-gate card allows you to skip queues to passport control in and out of the U.A.E at the various airports and also ensures your passport isn't stamped again - for many Dubaian's it's an absolute must, and I'm glad to report that it must be the easiest card to get in the U.A.E. Dnata Holiday Centre on Sheik Zayed Road had me in and out in less than ten minutes, bad photo included.
The day passed in a blur, soon I had everything fully packed, didn't need to sit on the suitcase to close it - although Gareth is probably still shaking his head at the size of my case - if I bent over I could fit into it no problem at all - with a bit of breathing room. He plans to take a rucksack. A small one. I loved when he exclaimed "The problem is fitting all my shoes,". Women the world over are nodding in understanding. He doesn't even know how many pairs of shoes I have packed! I did mention that since we're not sharing any baggage and he doesn't have to carry any of it as we're not traveling together that he simply doesn't get a say, but I think he was just trying to be helpful.
The Etihad experience last night was superb to say the least. The minute I was out of a taxi on SZR a porter came to help with my bags, I was checked in at Chelsea Tower (22.9kgs thank you very much - expert packer??) and settled down on the coach to Abu Dhabi airport. I got there at 1am for my 2.20am flight, had a bit of a fiddly moment using the e-gate card for the first time (There's an order to things which I still haven't figured out and the dopey fug of tiredness didn't help) and made it to my gate with no issues. I even helped a few people on the way and had some friendly banter (Flight to Ireland? Terminal 3 - you can follow me if you like,). It was a busy flight but I had secured 41G, an aisle seat with two seats free beside it and just one lady to the far side of that. The only 4 seats in the middle that had two free! Success! Also with the layout of the plane, there were only three seats behind me I could recline in piece without someone banging on the entertainment system at the back of my head. The lovely lady in my row and myself alternated between using the extra two seats for our leisure - perfect. The service was actually excellent too, although the lights were dimmed and I slept through first service, I woke up to my table open with a little snack in a bag in front of me - a nice touch I thought. They also circulated throughout the cabin with water all night and really seemed rather helpful and friendly. I watched "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" a british ensemble piece with Bill Nighy, Judy Dench and Maggie Smith. Lovely charming fodder for my tired mind. Another plus for Etihad - they always seem to land early. Once again we touched Irish soil about 40 mins earlier than planned. Their sky mapping gurus must just have it all figured out.
The relief. It wasn't until that moment of touchdown that the holiday really began for me, I actually felt a little emotional! This isn't common for me, unless I'm coming home for a sad event but this was unapologetic "Green, green grass of home," sentimality.
So, I'm home. I'll leave it there for today - it's all ahead of me.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Plans afoot...

Earlier this year the subject of a road trip came up when talking about Gareth's TransAm and it just became recurrent in our conversations. Originally he suggested driving the car from Harrogate in Yorkshire to Dubai. The idea took hold of me in earnest only to be thwarted by dangerous conditions in Syria, roadblocks in Iraq and point blank border closures with Saudi Arabia (bar the fact that I absolutely would not be allowed in with Gareth as we are not blood related or married). Still, something  about being on the road stayed with me, we could do it in Europe perhaps - I have a wedding at the end of July - where better to start than an Irish wedding? I love exploring and really enjoy seeing places I love through someone else's eyes; their reactions, their surprise and wonder, their smiles at something that may have become commonplace for me. It makes it all new, like looking through a child's eyes.

Slowly we started planning our summer trip - I'm not even sure when the details began to fall into place - perhaps late May or early June. Now, it's almost upon us and I absolutely can't wait. I have maps printed, road directions, bookings etc. I think it's a good thing I'm a planner - Gareth would probably disagree. He likes to throw things into the mix - like last night he mentioned that he wanted to get a tattoo whilst in Cork. I'm not even sure where you would get a tattoo in Midleton, Cork but sure, I'll do my best to make it happen.

So a road-trip it is, I start with a few days in Dublin but once I pick Gareth up on Friday morning we're headed for Cork - First stop  - My cousin Aeda's wedding - a wild weekend (no doubt) where Gareth gets plunged into the centre of my mother's family and fed to the wolves. I'm sure it won't be that bad - but I love rising him about it. From there we travel to Kerry - Dingle and Tralee, to visit my old haunts and friends. We leave Kerry for Ennis on August 1st. Galway next (during race week) and then onto my favorite place in the world - Achill Island, after Achill there's a possible detour to Donegal and onto Dublin to finish up the Irish part of the tour. Roadtrip UK starts on August 8th - landing in Manchester.

I leave Tuesday night  - Exit my Sheik Zayed Road abode around 10.30pm and board the Etihad bus from Chelsea Tower  bound for Abu Dhabi Airport. I can't even explain the relief of leaving the dustbowl at this time of year. Car Thermostat's recorded 61Celsius yesterday  - I didn't even think that possible. I'm currently trying to be grateful for the heat and humidity - knowing that we are thrusting ourselves into the unpredictability of Northwest European weather for the next month - and wondering whether to pack my ski-jacket!

So for the next few days I'll continue to plan, fret and prep for the trip to come....hopefully I'll have interesting stories from the road as we go.....