Thursday, July 25, 2013

Ireland 2013: Eating Away from Home

While Tim attended the Linaro Connect 2013 Conference in Dublin, the kids (Miriam and Brahms) and I went around the city just being tourists.  Sight-seeing, shopping, eating and just observing what people did.  Dublin is a very cosmopolitan city that thrives on tourism.  Everything significant catered to tourists.  Shops that sell t-shirts, mugs, tea towels with green-shamrock prints, mugs and sweatshirts with Guinness labels, Ireland baseball caps (as if they played baseball in Ireland), cheap jewelry pieces that bear the markings found in one of the many ruined monuments, and little tiny woolen-sheep toys are everywhere.  But I was looking for something Irish - something that the nationals like more than what tourists like.   

Without prior information, the only way to tell that a restaurant is good is the busyness of the place.  People always swarm around places that serve good food at a reasonable price. That was the basis of our choice of places to eat.  When it comes to eating it appears that my kids and I are more adventurous when their father is not with us.  Tim always stick to those that are "proven and tried" but we are more willing to discover new ones.  It is those that we try for the first time that will linger in our memories and which will always give depth to the experience of a given culture.  Last year when we went to Taipei, my kids and I found this family-run restaurant in a corner of a street.  We could not read the menu nor the people in the restaurant understood English but we ordered based on the pictures of food on the wall.  It turned out we had the best food and cultural experience there.  We will always remember how the owners of the restaurant had us sit next to the table where they were eating.  

During our time in Dublin one of the places we tried is Zaytoon, a Persian restaurant located on Parliament Street.  The food we had brought back memories of Turkey.  On another night, we had Greek food at Corfu Greek Restaurant.  This was recommended by my former hall mate, Thomae Kakouli-Duarte.  The Kleftiko - lamb that was wrapped in foil was so tender and delicious.  Brahms had Greek Burger -Bifteki, Miriam tried the Souvlaki chicken kabobs while Tim had a Mixed Grilled Platter.  It was like experiencing Greece in Ireland!

Since we stayed in a self-catering apartment we had the opportunity to try what Dublin folks eat on a regular basis.  Lewis tradition says that the grocery store tells a lot about a certain culture. I cannot name a country that we've visited where we did not go to the local grocery store.  We had a several types of the Irish sausages made of real Irish beef.  I was tempted to buy blood pudding but I resisted, maintaining the sanity of my family.  We deliberately chose those that occupied large spaces on the shelves and are not common in US grocery stores.  Between restaurant food and those we prepared, we ate a lot of lamb.  

The kids never got tired of Fish and Chips. On the tour to the Cliffs of Moher, they both had Fish and Chips (for the last time on this trip) at the Monks Seafood and Restaurant Bar.  Tim and I both had a bowl of their famous Fish Chowder with freshly baked bread.  It might sound weird to most people but I had to have some Irish oysters.  They are really good.  

Every night in Dublin, we watched Murdoch Mysteries while we ate Jaffa Cakes.  Tim and I drank more tea than coffee although every morning Tim would walk to the place called "The Art of Coffee" to buy us some latte.  My coffee experience in Ireland made me appreciate our own espresso maker at home.  During the course of the week, the kids and I, when we were feeling tired of the food we were eating, went back to something familiar to remind us of home - Burger King!  In Limerick, we tried the Irish version of McDonald's which is the Super Mac.  The significant difference is fried chicken.  Not only do they serve hamburgers made of Irish beef, they also have Irish fried chicken served with lots and lots of chips (French fries).

When it comes to sweets, there was always a new type of cookie to try.  We were even pleasantly surprised to find this British delicacy (which we love) so common in the grocery stores.  Ice cream places that are marked by a huge ice cream cone are prevalent in Ireland - it was hard to miss their existence. It was comforting to see the sign at the end of every tour we took.  There was even one at the Hill of Tara!  We also sampled Tesco's Tiramisu and Creme Brulee making some of evenings in Limerick memorable.  When we traveled to Adare, we got fancy desserts at the Adare Manor.

Almost every time you say Ireland, people think of beer.  Unfortunately, we are not a beer-drinking family.  Tim, along with all the participants of the conference, even had a tour of the Guinness Storehouse where they had a dinner.  But he skipped his pint.  :)

Monday, July 15, 2013

Ireland 2013: Newgrange and Hill of Tara

This is the facade of the prehistoric monument - Newgrange.  It is believed to have been built in 3200 B.C.   According to our tour guide, the number of visitors per year is being regulated by the government and that eventually - maybe fifty years from now, the place will not be open to the public. 

The surrounding area is very beautiful and seemingly agriculturally productive with the River Boyne on one side.  

From the visitor center, we crossed a bridge that leads to the other side of the river.  From there, a bus took us right next to Newgrange.

Around the major structure are several large stones erected.  No one knows what they were for but they are interesting to some.  

An Irish countryside...



Part of the tour was a visit to the Hill of Tara.  There is practically nothing to see there except a chapel. However, we were led to the hill where we had to walk through a sheep-dung studded field to go see where a tour guide gave us the history of the place.  The only visible monument so far (pending excavation and development) is the Rock of Destiny and the Mound of Hostages (which is more like a little Newgrange). With the history that goes with this place, I believe that decades from now, the place will become a full-fledged tourist attraction.  

The graveyard next to the chapel.

And every tour must end up in a Cafe, a gift shop, or an ice cream shop.  

The third day of our trip.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Ireland 2013: My First Observations of Dublin

Saint Stephen's Green - where everyone go on a sunny day.

Bikes for rent on Earlsfort Street - Who needs a car?

On the bridge at Saint Stephen's Green where we walked almost everyday.

Sea Gulls- They kept me awake during the night.  I never knew sea gulls can be so noisy.  On the first night they sounded like screaming children.

Water Trough - Located in the busiest street of Dublin, providing water for the horses that run around the city among the tour buses, cars, bicycles, and  pedestrians.

Carriage - This is why horses are in the city.

Flowers - they are everywhere.  How I wish I could grow them like this at home.

These are some of the pictures I took on the second of our stay in Dublin.

Ireland 2013: Malahide

The Lewis Family with the exception of Shannon, who decided not to join us in favor of work, arrived in Ireland on the morning of July 5th 2013.  At that time the apartment (18 Adelaide Road, Dublin) was not ready for us.  So from the airport we took a bus that brought us to the coastal village of Malahide to kill time. On the bus we got to talk to an Irish woman who was wondering what we are going to see in Malahide.  She recommended other places for us to visit. She was nice and friend (like what they say about Irish people) but I was distracted by the view of the villages that we were passing by.

When we arrived  there we went to get some breakfast at a bagel place called itsa... It was a nice cozy place for tired travelers.

We visited the old and once-upon-a-time-grand Malahide Castle and its lush gardens.  The grounds are very well maintained and expansive.  By the time we were done with the tour of the castle and a self-guided stroll of the gardens we were truly ready to settle into our quarters.

This was the first day of our trip.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Summer Trip: Uncertain Beginning

Sometime in April we knew that Tim was scheduled to attend a conference in Ireland during the first week of July.  Since it coincided with summer break for the kids, we planned to tag-along and have a family vacation around it.  It was not till the early parts of May that I found out that my passport had two weeks before it expires.  We thought it wasn't so bad since I can always go to San Francisco and have it renewed on the same day.  So when I finally had the time to go to the Philippine Embassy, I found out that the process has changed.  All passport applications and renewals are all processed in the Philippines and that it would take eight weeks.  Now that took all my hopes away.  My passport was scheduled to arrive on the 28th of June - one week before we would have to leave for Ireland.  That would leave me no time for me to get my visa - a problem that I have to deal with being a non-US citizen.  So after filing my application I prayed that God would show me a miracle in this.  Even then I was not serious about making the plans.  Instead I kept myself busy working, keeping my garden organized (a little bit), and canning plums and grapes from our garden.  But Tim continued with the planning process, made accommodation and even airline tickets.  Then one day, I got a package in the mail!  I got my passport a week earlier than expected!  My visa application went in the mail and it was processed in two days - miraculously!