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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.....