Monthly Archives: April 2019

Getting the picture with my Nikon

 

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All of the photos in this post were taken with my Nikon D60, a camera I’ve had for about twelve years and have taken to at least a dozen different countries. From the very first time I held it in my hands, I’ve loved it. My camera has performed like a champ, as reliable as rain Tulip Fest weekend and ridiculously overpriced brunch on Mother’s Day, while capturing images that provided tangible evidence of life lived.

My very last day in Ireland something happened to my trusty travel chronicler. I had taken a couple of pictures without issue, but when I next tried to capture something that caught my eye, instead of hearing the click of the shutter, I instead received an error message. Hmmm.

I tried all my tricks – removing the battery, pushing a bunch of buttons, googling possible solutions…all to no avail. At my earliest opportunity, I called Cameraworks, a great camera repair shop that I had brought the Nikon to last year for some maintenance, and set up a time to bring it in for a diagnosis. But, then I started thinking, maybe it was time for a new camera body.

As I began considering the advantages of a new Nikon, I felt a combination of excitement and mild sadness. My D60 served me so well, but I know a new camera will offer all sorts of features I’ve never had before. I reached out to a professional photographer friend and he told me that my camera owes me nothing after a dozen years of dependability. He also said he’d personally be concerned that, even if the camera was repaired, something else might malfunction at any time. What if the error had occurred on my first day in Ireland rather than my last?

I guess it’s time to start camera shopping. I wouldn’t want to miss a single sunset in Greece.

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When foreign is familiar

I travel as much as I can. It’s more important to me than  new furniture, a 2000 square foot house, a fancy car or piece of jewelry. It’s what I need to do on many levels and I’ve arranged my financial life so I can get on a plane or train, or even a bus, numerous times a year to see something new or visit a place I’ve only read about in books. It is the biggest priority for me beyond my children and the career that make it all possible. It helps me breathe.

It’s a funny thing when you’re born to people who have a combined total of nearly 30 siblings. Yes, thirty. My mom is one of 15 and my father one of 14, which means I have a lot of family. Since neither of my parents were born in America, their our families are all essentially still in Europe. As a child, that was isolating but, as an adult, it has provided me with some wonderful places to see while getting to know my aunts, uncles and cousins of various degrees of separation. It also gives me a sense of home as clearly being in more than one place.

During my most recent time in Ireland, I’ve rounded countless corners only to realize that I know exactly where I am. I’ve been here before. This place is familiar to me in a way that makes my heart full. The neighborhood where I’ve spent the last four nights is a bit beyond where I’ve stayed my previous two visits, but on my first morning I searched out a grocery store to pick up a few items for my lovely Airbnb. Google maps directed me to a nearby market in close walking distance and as soon as the store was in view, I immediately recognized it as being the same store I went to in 2013. I knew it.

When I’m in Ireland, I hear my vocabulary shift to a different gear. I use words like “delighted” and phrases such as “thanks a million” and “that’s grand.” The vernacular finds its way to my lips and I feel myself softening into a different version of myself. Granted, I’m on holiday,* and don’t bear any responsibilities here for children or work or household tasks, but it’s beyond that, I think. It’s a sense of belonging to a family, to a culture and to a place that, while it may not be my place of birth, feels like home.

I haven’t yet left for the airport for my return to the States and I already miss Ireland and everything it means to me. Until next time. xo

 

*holiday rather than “vacation” is how we say it in Ireland.

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Best bites – Ireland, 2019

People say all kinds of negative things about Irish food – it’s bland or all fried or what in God’s name is black pudding?, but I’m here to tell you there is some excellent food to be had on the Emerald Isle. While my first day of eating was a disaster with two subpar meals, it’s all been good since then. Here’s a round up of my favorite places to get a good quality meal.

Dublin proper

Vintage Kitchen. Apologies in advance for not having photos of my fantastic dinner, but it’s hard to snap pics when your hands are full of wine glasses! This established and highly regarded spot, near Tara Station, is a tough table to get and had been booked a full 6 months prior to our Saturday night reservation. My lamb shank was divine, but following the starter course of a potato gratin with crab (served in an adorable mini copper skillet), I was hopeless to finish it. This place rocks.

Italian food in Ireland can be dodgy, but Ciao Bella Roma, excruciatingly slow service aside, does a good job with a fairly broad menu. Our table of five enjoyed an array of items including pizza, a calzone, three pasta variations and a couple of salads and everything was surprisingly tasty. Was my cacio e pepe as memorable as what I had in Rome? No, but it was really good and the portion was tremendous. Desserts and a cappuccino rounded out the meal and all were thoroughly enjoyed.

Searsons Pub – This large, popular pub serves a terrific pint as well as a full menu of delights. I had the seafood chowder and found it excellent, chocked with fresh fish and a touch of cream. Very nice and social spot.

Outside of Dublin

Tranquil Tearooms in Deansgrange Cemetery. After a drenching walk trying to locate my father’s resting spot, this cafe was like a welcome mirage promising warmth and coziness. I had no expectation for the high quality of the offerings and I only wish I could have justified ordering a slice of any of the cakes on display, following my sweet potato soup with a slice of brown bread. Wholesome, fresh and precisely what my chilled self needed prior to making my way back outside again on a damp day.

Octopussy’s in Howth. Get on the Dart to Howth and make your way to this small tapas place. If you’re lucky, they’ll find a table to tuck you into, but if you need to wait for availability (reservations not taken), settle in. It’s worth waiting for oysters like the 1/2 dozen I enjoyed. Rounds things out with another plate or two – I went with the scallops and patatas brava. Solid selections. Bonus – great music and very capable service.

Galway

Quay Street Kitchen on the lower part of Quay Street, is a wonderful spot to enjoy a meal while watching the crowds make their way up and down the busy pedestrian street. This was probably my favorite chowder of the trip and it’ll be hard for anyone to exceed the quality and freshness of the ingredients prepared with a respectful and light hand. Absolutely delicious and served with warmth and hospitality.

Oslo Bar  in Salthill, luckily for me just a few minutes walk from my Airbnb, is a place that takes it beers quite seriously. Fortunately, their menu rises to the occasion and I thoroughly enjoyed lunch of broccoli salad with a side of the best polenta fries I’ve ever had. The service was a bit distant, but the food hit the mark.

Cava Bodega, a wine bar and tapas spot, made my last evening in Galway a sensory delight. After a bit of negotiating between sitting indoors and out, my server found me a lovely high top table and I settled myself indoors with a view of the street and dining room. My glass of cava came from a fresh bottle and the anchovies with peppers paired beautifully with the dry bubbles. I enjoyed the evening’s special preparation of local mussels in white wine and garlic and despite the loudness of the nearby Americans, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in this well lit and cozy nook slightly off Quay Street. Find it.

Maybe you have some recommendations to add to my certainly incomplete list?

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Filed under Dinner, drinking, Eating, Europe, favorites, Food, ideas, Ireland, Recommendations, Restaurants, soup, Spring, travel, vacation, Wine

Baking with Kate – an Airbnb experience

Airbnb has been my got-to for accommodations abroad for the last 4 or 5 years, I’d say. Basically, if I’m going to spend more than two nights somewhere, I want to have the amenities that make a stay feel more like a home – kitchen facilities, perhaps or lounging space when I’m traveling with friends or family. I don’t recall ever having a bad experience with my bookings and really enjoy having a sense of being part of a community rather than a mere tourist. It’s worked so far in Paris, Normandy, Barcelona, Lisbon, Berlin, Vienna, Salzburg, Prague, Galway and Dublin, which is a pretty good run.

In addition to places to stay, Airbnb offers what it calls “Experiences,” and yesterday I took advantage of my first – a baking class outside of central Galway. The class was taught by Kate, an experienced baker and restaurateur, with a focus on brown bread (my favorite) and scones. As I was the only student for the morning, and reliant upon public transport, Kate suggested I come directly to the small, cozy cafe that she owns in a shopping center, rather than her home, only 20 minutes by bus from Galway’s Eyre Square.

I arrived and easily located her cafe upstairs. Within minutes, I had an apron on and was reading through the recipes which she handily provided. We elected to make half batches of the recipes since I would be taking the goods with me and certainly couldn’t eat more than 6 scones and a loaf of bread over the next few days by myself. We began with the scones, weighing the flour rather than measuring by volume. Side note: I think I need a kitchen scale. After using my hands to gently mix the dry ingredients, Kate asked my preference for cranberries or raisins (the former was my pick) and tossed in a casual handful of full, frozen cranberries. Next in was a combination of cream and beaten egg, lightly mixed in with a wooden spoon. The dough was slightly wet, but when turned out onto a floured surface, it firmed up nicely. I formed a 2” or so thick rectangle of the dough and used a glass to cut my circles, which went onto a baking sheet after a quick brush with the remaining milk/egg mixture. They came out gorgeous and fabulously light. Delicious.

The brown bread was a similar process. Again, hands were used to combine the dry ingredients with a spoon only being used for the final stirs. It’s a quick bread, so it feels more like a batter than a dough, and I correctly gauged that it was a bit too loose. Kate rectified that with an addition of oats and the batter ultimately had the consistency of porridge, or oatmeal as we might say at home. I poured it into a loaf pan and it was given a final kiss of oats on the top prior to going in the oven. The result was fantastic.

After about ninety pleasant minutes of baking, chatting and sipping a coffee, I gathered up my baked goods, now placed in handy sacks, and went on my way back to Dublin. On the bus ride east, I inhaled that bag of treats more than once and was powerless to resist eating another half scone. It was a great first “Experience” and I’ll be enjoying my handiwork for breakfast for the remainder of my time in Ireland.

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The thrill of espadrilles

While I wouldn’t describe myself as incredibly traditional, there are some classic wardrobe pieces for which I have a genuine fondness. My Frye Campus boots or the gold charm bracelet I’ve been adding to for decades, for instance. I love the fact that neither will ever go out of fashion and that adding either to an outfit lends an immediate sense of style. In recent years, I’ve been searching for the ultimate pair of espadrilles for summer which is not an easy task, to be honest, when you’re particular about the color, style and fit.

As is often the case, I stumbled upon the perfect pair on a day when I wasn’t really seeking anything. I had just run the Sleepy Hollow Half and my friend and I were driving north in the most leisurely of manners, when we decided to stop in at TJ Maxx for a browse. Now, I haven’t really been shopping since my Unlimited Rent the Runway subscription has kept my wardrobe fresh and well stocked, but I’m always game to browse the shoe department and that’s where I found them – a pair of denim blue wedge espadrilles.

I went back and forth a bit on the size with one pair a tad small and the other a bit large. I selected the larger of the two and happily went on my way, $40 lighter and excited for a new pair of shoes which I hoped would become the ideal pair for my scheduled 2019 travels. Prior to my trip I wore them for a day and discovered that the size wasn’t quite right. My heel kept slipping out and I was forced to move slower than my usual speed, obviously unacceptable. Thank goodness for Amazon Prime and their incredible array of shoe insert things. Two days later, I was all set with great fitting and stylish shoes for the new season.

These shoes are super comfortable, versatile and surprisingly, fairly practical. Yesterday when I was tramping through the woods and trails near Galway’s coast, my feet remained dry in a way I never would have imagined. I am just thrilled with my espadrilles. Are there classic articles of attire about which you feel strongly – positive or negative? Maybe a recent favorite shoe purchase you’d like to share?

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Vacation thoughts

74941E52-7459-4928-8B41-D5EF49C731A3.jpegHow can I be late
If there’s nowhere I need to be?

How can I be lost
If I don’t know where I’m going?

How can I have an appetite for tomorrow
When I’m full from just today?

How can I be anything other than delighted
To be exactly where I am?

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First impressions – Galway town

I’ve only visited Galway once before and it was very brief, maybe an afternoon at best. For all intents and purposes, this is my first time here and everything is new. Except, of course, for the friends who are also here on holiday from Albany, that I got share a meal with last night. Small world in the best of ways.

The city feels cozily small.

Fish chowder, brown bread, salad & cider

Food here is excellent – I had a great lunch and delicious light dinner so far and both were superior to the meals I had on my first day in Dublin.

Staying in a traditional B&B is ideal for a two-night visit.

It seems like there are lots of European tourists here. Walking around I heard a lot of Italian and Spanish being spoken.

Despite all the tourists, it does have a college town vibe with lots of students lazing about while the sun was shining.

The Guinness is excellent.

Dublin’s street musicians are superior to the ones I’ve heard here, so far.

The smell of the sea is only a deep breath away.

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Filed under beauty, drinking, Eating, Europe, Food, friends, Ireland, Irish, Observations, Spring, travel, vacation