Archive for June, 2012

We were awoken at about 6:30am by the noise of the air-con unit on the roof (not something I recall having a problem with when I’d stayed before; maybe it had been replaced, or needed to be) and someone banging a door. Half an hour later, Mark was on the phone to Ariel House to see if – by some miracle – our favourite room was available. Well, they could do some juggling and it would be ours! Yes! I had a nice long soak in the huge bath. On our way out to Bewley’s for breakfast, we told Victor what had happened. He did his best to persuade us to stay, and said he’d talk to the management. But we really didn’t want to change our plans again; we were looking forward to being back in Ariel House. Bewley’s was busy, but we managed to get a booth at the back. Mark went for the full Irish. I wanted pancakes with bacon, poached eggs and maple syrup but that wasn’t on the menu. They had bagels with bacon and poached eggs, and they had pancakes with maple syrup. I asked if I could simply swap the bagels for pancakes. No problem! But then they overcharged by adding the bacon and eggs as extras to the pancake price; they put it right, though.

After we’d put our stuff in the car, we went to reception to let them know we’d be checking out. Maria, one of the managers, called us to one side to hear more about what had happened. She was very apologetic. She offered us dinner on the house; we accepted. She also said she’d recalculate our bill.

We’d planned to get up to Ariel House fairly early, but the receptionist mentioned that the Gay Pride march was on that day so roads would probably be impassable until mid-afternoon. The march was due to start at 12.30pm at the Garden of Remembrance. No rush now, so we stopped in the bar for a drink (on the house). I had an excellent Margarita. Magda made it just how I like it: very sharp! It was just after noon when we decided to spend some time in Stephen’s Green. Borrowed a hotel umbrella from Victor…just in case. Plenty of photo opportunities there: so many birds, and kids chasing pigeons (pity it wasn’t the other way round). Stopped off at the Dawson Lounge for a couple of Jamesons. This is reputed to be the smallest pub in Dublin, and I’m sure they’re right. The ceiling over the loo is so low that it’s been padded! How very considerate. We strolled up to Nassau Street to catch the march. About half of it had already passed when we got there but we still got some great shots. Mark got chatting to one of the motorcycle gardaí and told him about my dad. On the way back to the Fitz, we went to O’Carrolls in the Stephen’s Green shopping centre to buy some pressies for T and D. Also bought mugs, a bottle-opener keyring and a 3’ x 5’ Irish flag for ourselves! Once all that was safely in the car, we went back to reception to settle the bill and sort out the parking ticket. Maria had reduced our bill to 100 euros, and covered the parking charges. Given the upheaval, we felt a full refund would have been more in order. Follow the example of the Premier Inn chain: a good night’s sleep guaranteed or your money back!

We were so tired now from lack of sleep and really looking forward to a long siesta in that big bed in Ariel House. As we walked up the steps, we felt like we were coming home, and got such a warm welcome. Straight to bed. Straight to sleep.

Dinner at the Fitz

Our table had been booked for 8pm and Mark arranged a taxi for 7:45pm. I thought he took a rather long way round, but wasn’t confident enough to challenge him; maybe the one-way system meant that really was the only way to go. I might continue to doubt that! Patrick, the concierge, welcomed us, took us up to the Citron restaurant, and introduced us to the manager (whose name I don’t recall). He showed us to one of those sought-after tables by the balcony that overlooks reception, and brought the menus and wine list. Shortly after ordering, we were served a delightful amuse gueule:

The rest of the food was superb and exquisitely presented, and the wine and Guinness excellent. The service was attentive without being intrusive. We were also entertained by watching the goings-on in reception: a rather loud American practising his golf-swing! We left a big tip and went down to the bar for cocktails and some good Irish coffee, all enhanced by the banter with the bar staff. Bob was at reception when we were leaving. “Off to bed?” he asked. We didn’t have the heart to tell him were staying somewhere else. The taxi back took half the time and cost half the price. Perhaps the one-way system was in our favour this time. Oh it was so good to be back in room 255. So peaceful, even with the window open.

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We’d intended to be packed up and away by 10am, and I texted Mary to let her know. It soon became apparent that wasn’t going to happen! Another text. No problem for her; she lives nearby and could pop round anytime. Mark is a whizz at packing cars, so I left him to that while I cleaned. The hoover was next to useless but the sweeping brush worked fine on the laminate flooring. We hadn’t made that much of a mess! I bunged the towels in the washing machine, and left the bedding in the bath. Mary came round about 10:30 and we chatted for a while. She said to just leave the key on the table when we left. She turned up just as I was about to call her when we were ready to leave. She told us some stories about how people have treated the cottage – taking the coffee table down to the beach, for example! Those things had led to the owners compiling that list of rules! We confided that we’d had some difficulty dragging the sofa over the dunes but hoped we’d managed to get all the sand out of it. It was nearly noon when we finally drove away, so that fitted well with needing to go to the Tavern.

We decided to have lunch at the Tavern. My crispy chicken turned out to be deep-fried battered chicken. Not really what I had in mind, but it was still good. Mark had black pudding with goat’s cheese in toasted ciabatta. He enjoyed that! As we stopped to say goodbye, Mark noticed that the manager was eating the black pudding too, having been inspired by his choice. One of the barmen recommended The Chop House in Ballsbridge.

We’d planned to return to Dublin via Galway, but that would’ve meant retracing our steps, so we decided to go back the way we’d come.

The Fitzwilliam

The SatNav did her job of getting us to the Fitzwilliam car park without any difficulty. As we walked towards the lift, I was delighted to spot Victor coming out of one of the conference rooms; I’d assumed he’d left. We chatted for a few minutes. Check-in was efficient and we were handed the key to room 301. I was very glad to be back. When we got out of the lift, I was surprised to see that our room was to the right, when the garden-view rooms are to the left. A mix-up with the booking? I’d stayed at the Fitz several times, and was familiar with the different room types. Because of that, I’d been very clear about which room I wanted when I booked (by phone): a queen bed (not a zip-link) in an executive room overlooking the inner courtyard, and not on the smoking floor. I mentioned that I’d been offered upgrades in the past but had always turned them down. It was all confirmed in writing. Although rooms at the front are generally bigger and overlook Stephen’s Green, those overlooking the courtyard are better designed and quieter. They have a wall of wardrobes and cupboards that act as a divider between the bedroom and a small hallway. Suitcases, shoes and coats can be left in the hallway, leaving the bedroom uncluttered. Room 301 was of a similar design but it overlooked the Green. I know from past experience – and numerous reviews in TripAdvisor – that rooms at the front suffer from street noise, as there are several nightclubs and restaurants along that stretch of Stephen’s Green. Hmm, maybe it’ll be OK if we keep the window shut, we thought. It was not to be, but more about that later. First we needed to eat, but didn’t fancy eating out. Dunnes to the rescue once again: there’s a supermarket in George’s Street, less than 10 minutes away. Managed to fit pasta salad, sushi, Onken yoghurt with honey, and the essential beer and wine into my bag and some of those little vegetable bags, not wanting to pay for yet another plastic carrier (yes, we had some but they were in the car). Back to our room. Our eyes had been bigger than our stomachs, though, and some of the sushi ended up in the bin.

Not a good night’s sleep…

We got to bed about half-eleven. The room was stuffy, so we opened the window a little. The street noise and the booming sounds coming from the nightclub made it impossible to sleep. Mark went down to reception, taking the confirmation email with him, to enquire about a room change. We were offered a room on the fifth floor – the smoking floor! Strike one! Next came a room on the sixth floor. The lift doesn’t go this far, so we had to walk up a flight of stairs. The room was smaller than anything else I’d seen in this place; there was less cupboard space and the ceiling sloped. It felt crowded with furniture, and claustrophobic. To make matters worse, we noticed a ‘Happy 18th Birthday’ banner on the room next door, and there was an adjoining door! Bound to be noisy when the revellers returned. Strike 2! Bob (the concierge), who was helping us carry stuff from room to room, was keen to put things right, and went off to see what could be done next. He called shortly after to say there was a room on the second floor. Off we trotted. Perfect! Just what I’d asked for. But hang on…what’s that? A zip-link bed! Strike 3! I suggested they swap the beds, something they’d done in the past when they messed up a room booking. Bob was happy to arrange that if we didn’t mind staying up a little longer. What’s another half-hour when it’s already 1:30am! But then Gerry, the duty manager, got involved, telling us it wasn’t possible as there were no spare mattresses. We suggested they swap the bed in 301 (a perfectly acceptable queen) with the one on the second floor, as the rooms were the same size. But, no, it still wasn’t possible. He finally offered us 350 – a larger room with a queen bed and a balcony overlooking the courtyard. Ah, but there was a catch. That room had been promised to someone else, and we’d have to move the next morning. And what about the room we’d been promised? I said if we had to move again, we’d be moving hotels. We eventually got to sleep about 2:30am – exhausted and stressed.

Weather-permitting, we’d have a picnic today, so I made a pasta and tuna salad, and Mark made a big flask of tea. Amazingly, I’d remembered to freeze the ice-packs for the cool-bag. Everything in the car, and we were off. As we approached Doo Lough, we realised we didn’t have the map! Must be in the cottage. Too far to go back, so we decided to just let the road take us where it wanted to, and we’d follow the odd sign to make sure we were going in roughly the right direction.

At Leenane we turned towards Clifden this time. We spotted a sign for the Connemara Loop, but missed the turn. A few hundred yards farther was a modern church where we could turn around. On the wall was a huge banner: STOP AND PRAY! Er, no thanks. I’d said it’d be good to see Connemara in the rain, and I got my wish. The mountains were shrouded in mist; so atmospheric. By now I was in need of the loo, but there wasn’t a pub or hotel in sight. I’m not up to crouching in the long grass these days! A bit farther on, we saw a sign for a sailing centre. That’ll have a loo! But the centre was nowhere to be found. OK, I can wait a bit longer. A minute later, the Connemara Loop sign pointed sharply left. This seemed to be taking us back where we’d come from, but we followed it anyway. Our instincts were correct. We emerged on the road we’d left 10 minutes before. Had some joker turned the sign? Now I really needed that loo! Just ahead was a house with a long drive, and someone working in the adjoining field. Time to stop being shy and just ask. “Can I use your toilet?” I shouted. “Ring the bell, but I don’t know if anyone’s in!” he shouted back. I bloody well hoped so, having walked up that drive. One ring. No answer. Two rings. The door opened. I could have hugged that woman as she welcomed me in. Ah, the relief. We decided not to stop in Clifden as I saw a sign for Roundstone – another place I’d good memories of – about 20km away. On the road out of Clifden, I saw a sign for a salmon smokery, and was reminded of something amusing that had happened a few years previously. We were travelling around Clare and Galway with friends from France, and stopped there. We asked the staff to explain the process to them. It turned out every member of staff was French, so our friends had to translate for us!

We followed the coast road (R341). We were getting hungry but finding it difficult to find a place to stop. As we became more desperate, we asked our friendly parking goddess for help. Just around the bend was a sizable lay-by. Not a great view, but it’d do. If only we’d waited a little longer! Half a mile up the road was a lovely beach; it would’ve been perfect. We might even have gotten to use our picnic rug. We stopped anyway for a stroll. The sand here is very strange, made up of tiny odd-shaped pebbles. Not something I’d seen (or noticed) before.

Bunowen Bay

Not having the map, we just followed our nose for a while, and found ourselves driving across Connemara Golf Club at Bunowen. We were careful to avoid the well-tended greens. We parked and walked down onto the beach at Bunowen Bay. Stunning! And we had it all to ourselves. The sound of the surf and the wind blowing in off the sea was exhilarating. This is what I’d been looking forward to.

Roundstone

The Michael Killeen Park (on the site of a Franciscan monastery that was established in 1835 and demolished in 1980) is home to a craft centre. The main building houses a bodhrán-maker and a shop selling lovely hand-knitted jumpers alongside the usual tourist tat. There was also a coffee shop. Mark at last saw a chance to try out his Irish: “Gabh mo leithscéal. Dhá cupán caife, le do thoil.” Word perfect. He was met with a blank look. The woman serving was Russian; her colleague was Nigerian. We had some coffee (and cake) anyway. Next door was a pottery. In we went. Lovely handmade pots of all shapes and sizes. We choose two pint-sized mugs. Each one unique. We noticed that the Irish language station was on the radio. Another opportunity! Mark took the mugs to the counter. “Cé mhéad?” And so we spent a very pleasant hour chatting to the potter, in a mixture of English and Irish.

It was about 6pm as we headed north again, this time taking the road through the Twelve Bens (or Twelve Pins) Mountains. This will remain the most memorable part of the trip, I’m sure. The views are stunning, and unspoilt be electricity pylons. As we drove up the side of Lough Inagh, we spotted a small hotel. A moment or so later, we decided to turn around to check it out (and use the loo). What a haven of tranquillity. We explored a little, checking out the cosy bar, the restaurant with views over the lake, and the lounge with its open fire. Nowhere was the sense of peace spoiled by music. We would love to come back here. We’d missed Kylemore Abbey on the way down, so followed signs for that. Not surprisingly, it was closed, but the drive around there was a delight, and worth the short detour.

No sign of the map back at the cottage. The only other possibility was that we’d left it at The Tavern yesterday. A quick phone call confirmed that. They said they’d be open at 12:30 the next day. We’d wanted to be well on the road by then, but decided we could explore some more while waiting for them to open.

We’d hoped to get to Matt Molloy’s pub in Westport this evening, but we’d spent so much time stopping to take photos on the way back that it was now too late (and we were too tired anyway).

Day 9 – Wednesday – Mayo

Posted: 27/06/2012 in Holiday

I drove (yes, you read that right: I drove) over to Westport to have a look around the Quay. We’d read good reports about the seafood chowder in one of the restaurants there, but I shied away for fear of having a bad reaction to the mussels. The Harbour Outlet shop will full of expensive items, like Alessi – that well-known Irish brand! – and framed quotes from Father Ted. I do wish that shops in such prime locations would stick to selling Irish-made goods rather than over-priced designer stuff that we can find in most department stores. The Harbour Mill apartments looked appealing, but I changed my mind after reading reviews on TripAdvisor. Interestingly, the management responded only to the good reviews.

Several people had enthused about The Tavern in Murrisk (between Lousiburgh and Westport) so we went there for an early dinner (having missed lunch). We were not disappointed with the beef and Guinness casserole, or the Guinness itself. The only downside was the music: O…asis. O…shut up.

Stopped off at Durkans in Louisburgh for some loo rolls and eggs for breakfast (the eggs, not the loo rolls). We were getting a little weary of the bad weather, and considered heading back to Dublin a day early. I called the Fitz to see if we could add a night (at the same rate). We could, so we did. It’d be nice to have a full weekend in the heart of the city. It’s a joy to walk down Grafton Street before the crowds arrive, and to watch the flower sellers setting up their stalls.

We’d looked at the beach at Killadoon from that big picture window for days, but still hadn’t been down there. Today would be no different because we missed the turn. By now, Mark was feeling a little unwell so we decided to head back to the cottage. Maybe tomorrow.

“I can see Clare now that the rain has gone”

A domestic sort of day. Found a ring-binder in the kitchen. It contained instructions for the telly and the dishwasher, etc. And a list of rules: don’t take furniture out of the cottage, don’t use the hoover to clean up sand, set the fire towards the back of the grate to prevent smoke coming into the room (so that’s why), don’t hang wet clothes on the radiators because it causes them to rust. We did laundry. I’ve always hung small stuff on radiators to dry and never had a problem with rust. Maybe she meant dripping wet after a walk in the rain. Anyway, there was no tumble dryer, and nothing would have dried if we’d hung them on the rotary clothesline. So on the radiator they went. No rust. There was also a note about supplying your own laundry powder, washing-up liquid and dishwasher tablets! Remember me saying I’d asked if I needed to bring anything? That wouldn’t have been much of a problem for us. Easy enough to chuck a few dishwasher tablets in the boot. But what about guests flying in from the US? Are they expected to buy a month’s supply of all these things, then leave them behind or pay excess baggage charges? The cost to the owners of providing enough to run the dishwasher a few times, or do a couple of loads of laundry would be minimal. Incidentally, I’d texted Mary when I couldn’t find any dishwasher tablets the other day, and she’d dropped a box round.

I did a decent amount of online research on my family tree, inspired by that visit to the Records Office last week. I quickly realised I should have searched for my grandfather’s birth certificate too, as I can’t get any further without that. Perhaps I’ll get in touch with Eileen, that very helpful woman I met that day. She gave me her card. She’s American, married to an Irishman, and living in Dublin.

Supervalu’s 7-euro dinner turned out better than we’d anticipated.

Fry-up consumed, we set off to explore the local area. A long narrow rough track led down to the beach at Killadoon. We spotted a van parked at the end of the road but he left as soon as we arrived. A big mound of huge pebbles made access to the water’s edge impossible for me, but I scrambled to the top to have a look; and needed help getting back down! We picked up a few nice pebbles as souvenirs.

Dipping into the past

Is it wise to return to a place that really impressed you as a child? When it came to Silver Strand, I was prepared to take that chance. (I’d been there with my parents when I was about 12. We were camping near Louisburgh and drove down to Silver Strand late one night. I remember the whiteness of the sand in the moonlight, and the eeriness.) We set off in search of this magical place. On the way, I saw a sign for White Strand. Had I been mistaken? White? Not Silver? We drove down the narrow track to the car park. It was deserted. The beach itself was a little farther on, but access was blocked by a wide water channel. Only the sheep could reach it. Anyway, this wasn’t the place. We drove on, and soon found a sign for Silver Strand. A few cars in the car park this time. A van parked in the far corner was emitting loud music from the radio. I wanted to tell him to turn it off; he was ruining the ambiance. Just beyond the car park, a tiny bridge crossed the water channel, taking us onto the beach. Yes, that beach! Fine white sand. We walked across the dunes and down to the water’s edge. A couple walking a dog headed back up the beach as we headed down, so we had the whole stretch to ourselves. Wonderful! We took photos, and left footprints.

As we drove back towards the main road, I noticed a ruined cottage on the right. The big stone porch gave it an air of grandeur it wouldn’t otherwise have had. Only the sheep were residing there now. Sad. Westport

Time to have a proper look around Westport. Found a parking spot just down from the main square. Decent craft shop with good-quality hand-knits and heavy cotton granddad shirts alongside the usual tourist tat. Finally found some lovely rings, but they didn’t have both sizes in stock (we wanted matching ones).

We were running short of food supplies so dropped in at the Supervalu. It had a 7-euro meal deal on; we chose the steak diane, potato gratin and apple crumble (with custard). We both fancied a curry for tonight, so bought a jar of Thai green curry sauce and some chicken breasts. That sauce may have been tasty but it nearly blew our heads off! Fortunately, we’d bought a big tub of Onken plain yoghurt and used most of it to cool it to a bearable level.

We caught some of a hurling match between Corcaigh (Cork) and Tiobraid Árann (Tipperary) on TG4 (the Irish language station) this evening. It’s fast-paced and terrifying to watch. The slioter (ball) is like a rock, and the cumán (stick) is often swung at head height!

We slept OK, so maybe we can tolerate this poly-cotton stuff for the week. With that thought in mind, we decided to postpone our trip to Galway. After breakfast, though, we thought again, and decided to get on the road. It was now about 11am. The Eyre Square Shopping Centre would be open till 7pm, though, so no great rush.

Just before the junction with the church and the graveyard, we spotted a sign to Leenane (sometimes shown as Leenaun). The road was narrow and bumpy (it was across a bog). We stopped to take pictures of the view, and of the turf stacked up to dry. “Lazy sods!” The road joins the A335 at Cregganbaun, and we headed south, between the Mweelrea Mountains and the Sheefrey Hills. Just past Glenkeen Bridge we were treated to a spectacular view: Doo Lough and the mountains beyond. We stopped to take photos. Next to where we parked was a rough-hewn cross with a commemorative plaque.

The road to Leenane takes you around what looks like a lake; it is in fact a long narrow harbour. At Leenane we took the R336 southeast through Joyces Country. At Maam Cross we picked up the N59 for Galway; nice to be on a major road again.

Mark had located a car park in Eyre Square, and the SatNav was all set to get us there. We were beaten by the one-way system, though. Still, managed to find another nearby. Three things on our agenda for today: Claddagh rings, booze and bedding. Spotted a Dunnes Stores off-licence across from Eyre Square. After checking what time it shut (6pm), we headed off in search of rings. Although we both like the design of the Claddagh ring, it’s not a practical thing to wear because the crown can get caught on stuff (like gloves). I had one years ago but gave up wearing it. What we wanted was the Claddagh design incorporated into a flat band. I remembered that one of the original makers was still in business but I’d forgotten to make a note of the name or the address. My memory is so crap these days; I really must start making lists. There are quite a few jewellers dotted around the city, so we ventured into a couple of them. Opposite one was a café, so we decided to take a break. They didn’t take cards. We liked the place, though, so returned after tracking down an ATM. Nice cakes. Wandering somewhat aimlessly after that, I spotted the shop I’d been looking for: Thomas Dillon on Quay Street. Tiny place; been around for over 250 years. But it had nothing that really appealed. What they did have was in almost every other ring shop in Galway. The quality varied; many just looked cheap and mass produced (which they undoubtedly are).

Time to find bedding now. I spotted a Debenhams just off Eyre Square. They had a sale on; I’d found some gorgeous designer bedding (high-count Egyptian cotton) in their sale in Nottingham last year, and hoped to find the same here. But the sets in this sale were gaudy. We didn’t leave empty-handed, though, having spotted some red leather tablemats and coasters with 30% off. When it comes to bedding, you can always rely on good old Dunnes Stores and we soon had something more luxurious to sleep under tonight.

Next stop, Dunnes again. We wanted to get some decent beer and wine, as the Supervalu supermarket in Westport didn’t have a great selection. I found one of my favourite reds, Casillero del Diablo Merlot, for 8 euros, and Mark stocked up on Hobgoblin, Fullers London Pride and Crabbie’s.

I’d spent childhood holidays in Salthill, just outside Galway city. We drove through there and on to Barna, 6km away. I always loved the beach here, and it was just how I remembered it. Even the changing area – with its long slatted benches under a concrete canopy – was still there. Curious cows in the field behind trotted over. We went down the steps onto the beach and spent a short while there, taking photos. Lovely.

I’d wanted to stop at Spiddle, a rockier beach 10km farther on, but it was getting late and we decided to push on.

Back at the cottage, we were keen to get the new bedding on, but the label advised washing it first to get rid of that factory finish. OK, we’d have to put up with poly-cotton for another night. So glad I’d brought some Ecover liquid and conditioner, as nothing had been supplied. I’d emailed the owners to ask if I needed to bring any cleaning stuff but had been assured everything was there. Laundry done, it was time for bed.