Friday, April 20, 2012

Family Times, Part One: The Land of Leprechauns and Lots of Tea

Irish Cows

We last saw our intrepid travellers weary from running and cheering and the end of the Connemara Marathon. (For those of you out there who care for numbers, Claire did the marathon in 4hours21minutes59seconds.)

The day after the big run we went for a little hobble in Clifden. Claire’s legs were doing fine, we even climbed up a hill to have a 360 degree view from the top. Back in the centre we went to the post office to send some things to Oz and Holland. (Taco still owes Claire 82 cents for that.) We picked up the bags from the B&B, quickly used the WIFI to book a hostel for the night and walked to the bus that took us to Dublin. Claire went to the back row and had a little snooze while Taco read the Irish post with the marathon results in it.

In Dublin we went to the hostel where we booked into a dorm. We decided after we dropped our stuff that it was a good idea to switch to a private room the next day.  If you are not in the backpacking travel mode, a dorm is maybe not the most comfortable or relaxed room to be in. We had dinner at a restaurant that Colleen recommended to us, Neon. It was Asian street cuisine- really nice food that we enjoyed while playing a game of Yahtzee.

After a night where Taco was woken up by some roommates who left not very quietly in the middle of the night to catch their flight, we checked out and decided to look for another place during the day. We had a long day in front of us. First spot we wanted to go to was Phoenix Park, and it took us a good hour to walk there- our ears froze off our heads because of the cutting wind. The park was nice but even nicer was the walk away from it (this sounds a bit negative but I don’t mean it) knowing the next stop was going to be the Guinness factory! There was a really good setup, you could walk through the factory and be your own guide. We spent a good chunk of time in here. The pub after the visit was cosy and good to give the legs a bit of rest. In the tourist office we used the internet to look for another hostel, but ran out of time as the office was closing and we hadn’t found a hostel yet. On the streets we walked into a few hostels but the prices were pretty high and we decided it was maybe a better idea to stay at the same place: we would survive another night in a dorm. As a result we checked in again and ended up in an empty 4 bed dorm. One of the beds was a (semi) double bed so that was cosy. During our walk earlier in the day we saw some posters advertising a play, Alice in Funderland,  that was going on in the Abbey Theatre, not far from our hostel. We bought tickets online and had to go straight there to be in time for the start of it. It was a funny play but not all of it was understandable for Taco as some of the actors talked and sang with a really strong Irish accent.

The next morning we went for another little explore before we took the bus. Our impression of Dublin was that it was a lovely city, and someday we would like to come back. Then it was off the the north- McEvoy country. The last time Claire was here was 8 years ago, as just a wee bairn of 17. In Castlewellan, Oliver was waiting for us at the bus station. He is the husband of Ann who is the daughter of Hugh, who is the brother of Claire's grandfather. Capiche? They made us feel at home straight away. Dinner was ready and after that we had a cup of tea before they took us for a stroll on the promenade in Newcastle. Once back we talked the night away with the football on television on the background.

The area around here is as you would think when you think about Ireland.  Hills (with snow on top), beautiful lakes, castles, and massive open areas of grass complete with the sheep and their lambs. We enjoyed the sunny day outside and the highlight of the first full day was the visit to Hugh, the brother of Claire's grandpa. The 97 year young man was full of stories that he told us in his kitchen.

We spent some more cosy times at Oliver and Ann’s, drinking cup of tea upon cup of tea, walking for miles, and having a bake-off in the kitchen- in his retirement, Oliver has turned his previous joiner hands to baking, with great success! The smell of apple and rhubarb pies wafted through the little kitchen, and greedy taste testers concluded that the man’s pastry was spot on! It might have been due to the inclusion of freshly laid eggs, provided by Oliver’s harem of hens, who live a pretty sweet life, and in return give excellent eggage. In return we whipped up a carrot cake, which also went down pretty well.

The next day we moved camp, to Dominic and Kathleen’s (more second cousins). Their cosy home was to be ours for the next few nights, in the truest sense of the word. We were swept into the house and into the heart of the family, enjoying Easter with lovely Dominic and Kathleen, as well as Andrew, their son, back for the holidays from his job in England (so he would be Claire’s second cousin… once removed? Or is it cousin once removed to the power of 3 multiplied by…. GAH!). Big family feasts, “chilling out” on the couch (which Kathleen instructed us to do several times an hour), visits by other family members, including Maureen and Therese, learning the rules of Gaelic football- these were all some highlights. Another was the walk we did with Dominic up the Slieve Donard (sounds a bit rude, really, doesn’t it?!), which is the biggest mountain in the area. The walk itself isn’t too long, but my-oh-my it does get high. Steep, I mean. Claire Quick-Steps hurried along behind the long-limbed lads Dominic and Taco for a good chunk of the way, trying desperately to keep up. As the wind picked up and the temperature dropped, we reached The Saddle, and Dominic was off and away, the two of us left sweating, yet freezing, muttering a little “f#$@ me this is tricky” every few metres, until we reached the summit, enrobed in cloud with not a sight to be seen- this was insignificant, however: we had got to the bloody top! Yee-ha! Crazy people from the region run up and down this hill once a year in a race. Dominic informed us the current record was something in the vicinity of 55 minutes to the top, 17 minutes for the way down. I think our stats were only slightly off this.

It was with heavy hearts (and tummies, thanks to all the feasting) that on Easter Monday we drove to Belfast with Kathleen, Dominic and Andrew, saying goodbye first to Andrew at the airport, then to the lovely D & K, but not before a posh drink at the poshy posh posh Merchant Hotel in town. The following day, we explored Belfast as much as the rain would allow us, escaping anything to do with the Titanic if we could help it, which is the focus of everything and everyone in this 100th year anniversary. We tested some cosy pubs, checked out some churches, and towards the end of the day, threw our backpacks on once again and headed for the airport, ready for some Dutch gezelligheid.

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