holidays

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Today, I received a package I had been eagerly awaiting. It came from County Clare, Ireland, and was decorated with stamps and stickers. The lady, name of Anne, who had sent me my order from Luka Bloom, had drawn little musical notes next to my name, which she had written in cursive that looked a lot like my own… especially after I’ve had a couple of beers.

The mailman asked me in German if we didn’t have a post office box. He was a young lad and I hadn’t seen him before. He’d also caught me off guard when he spoke German to me and I was standing there in a nightie with no bra on. I responded in English and he understood, just at about the time that I mentally translated what he’d said. No matter, since I wouldn’t have been able to speak German back to him. Isn’t it cool that my Irish music got to me on St. Patrick’s Day? Especially since I wrote to Anne to ask her to send it to Germany, even though I have a U.S. billing address and there was no way to add a different delivery address in their order form. It was no problem to make the change– and if I hadn’t, God only knows when the APO would have sent it to me.

So who is Luka Bloom (born Kevin Barry Moore)? He’s a fantastic indie folk musician and the brother of Christy Moore, another great indie folk musician. I was introduced to Christy Moore by an honest to God Irishman with whom I used to work at a Presbyterian church camp in Virginia. Funny thing is, my Irish friend, who lived near Belfast and most definitely not a Brit, was a Catholic. He ended up marrying one of the other counselors, a lovely Black woman from Stafford, Virginia. They have been together now for over twenty-five years and have six or seven children… I’ve lost count!

My Irish friend sent me a mix tape when I lived in Armenia and it had some of Christy Moore’s music on it. I liked it so much that when I got back to the States, I sought it out and stocked up my music collection.

Anyway, Christy Moore recently plugged his brother’s latest album, Out of the Blue. I am more familiar with Christy Moore’s music, so I decided to pre-order the new album, as well as a couple of others that looked interesting. As I’ve gotten older, I often find myself drunken downloading music or buying CDs from street musicians others I don’t know well. I’m very seldom disappointed in the results, but then I have very eclectic musical tastes. Luka Bloom’s new album, by the way, can be downloaded. I decided to get a CD because he was signing them. I also bought a CD that I couldn’t download, and another came with a download I got from the site.

Other than listening to my new CDs, I have no other special plans for today. I might not even have any whiskey or beer, because I’ve kind of been enjoying letting my body go booze free. I’m hoping Bill will be home sometime between tomorrow night and Friday night. After that, I suspect my teetotaling will conclude. I haven’t been totally faithful to the wagon during this latest marathon TDY, but I have found that I’ve not really wanted to drink alcohol so much… which is a relief, given my colorful family history.

I’ve found that I like Luka Bloom as much as I do his brother. Right now, I’m typing this and listening to one of the albums I bought, remembering when Bill and I took our cruise from Scotland to Northern Ireland with a stop in Carlingford, which is in the Republic of Ireland.

Our guide was a local guy named Dermott who bore a passing resemblance to Joel Osteen and had a charming Irish lilt. He told us about how Carlingford has an annual Leprechaun hunt (April 17th) to raise money for the town. Then, he started talking about Northern Ireland vs. the Republic of Ireland.

It turned out Dermott was Irish, but was born and raised in Newry, on the northern side of the border. He spoke of how in the 80s, the border checks were brutal. Guards would literally take cars apart, looking for bombs and contraband. Then he said he hoped one day Ireland would be reunited– it became clear that Dermott had Nationalist leanings. That got a rather disgruntled reaction from the elderly Brits who were on the cruise. Bill and I had no real skin in the game, except for our own Irish heritage. Turns out that other than the Irish surname I got from Bill when we married, I am actually more Irish than he is.

Then, Bill proceeded to annoy the Brits, who just wanted to get away from Dermott (I got the sense they thought he was an ingrate). Dermott was talking about Irish folk tales. Bill happens to love Irish literature and actually studied it in college. And then it seemed that he knew more about it than the guide did… The guide had heard the stories from his father, while Bill had studied it at American University and written papers on it… I got the sense that the other cruisers were irritated with both of them by the time that excursion. Luckily, there was a lot of booze on the boat.

Bill and I have been to Ireland a couple of other times. We went in 2016 for our 14th anniversary. One of my funniest memories from that trip was running into a bunch of 12 year old boys on a crowded train to Kilkenny, where we were going to tour the Smithwick’s Brewery. The kids were hilariously witty. When they found out Bill had been to Iraq and we were from America, they asked all kids of cheeky questions. The poor beleaguered “den mom” who was with them kept giving the look. But I swear, we about died laughing when one of the kids said, “Nobody vacations in Ireland! It’s AWFUL!” Then, a few minutes later, he asked us if we considered Canada our “goody two shoes neighbor to the north.”

The third time we went was to Dublin, to attend a marathon concert featuring Paul Simon, James Taylor, and Bonnie Raitt. The six hour concert, in and of itself, was reason enough to love our visit. But we also stayed in a fabulous hotel– the Merrion– and we had high tea. It was a marvelous time. I really miss travel… especially carefree travel. Here’s hoping that COVID-19 will be arrested soon, so we can go back to Ireland and raise a pint with those lads who were on the way to Kilkenny, who are now closer to 18. Seems like whenever we go to Ireland, we make at least one new friend and many new wonderful memories. At the very least, I come home with new stories… perhaps more than I do in some of the other places we’ve been.

From Luka Bloom’s latest album, Out of the Blue. I’m listening to this as I type this.
And one by Luka Bloom’s brother, Christy Moore. Believe it or not, this was the first version of “Fairytale of New York” I ever heard. It’s a cover… but it’s a damn fine cover!

Well, that about does it for this wistful post. I sure am ready to fast forward to our next trip. But barring that, I’d just like to fast forward to seeing Bill again. I have really missed him.

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Germany, live music, staying home

My own little Gitarzan…

Yesterday, the weather was kind of iffy, as it has been today. In retrospect, maybe it would have been a good idea to go out yesterday. Maybe there would be fewer people out and about, and we could pump some euros into the local economy. But we decided to stay in, and I spent a rather angsty day reading more and more about the state of U.S. politics and the stupid face mask controversy. I got into a couple of pointless arguments, too.

I also played guitar. I brought my new blue one downstairs and turned on some music. Before I knew it, I had picked it up and was strumming along to Tom Petty’s live version of “I Won’t Back Down”. It has a pretty easy chord progression– E-D-G, E-D-C… easy enough for a rank beginner to follow along with somewhat, although I’m still too slow at changing chords. It was kind of fun trying to figure out the songs I can sort of play, although I still have a long way to go. I even tried “Every Breath You Take” by The Police and was almost successful at it.

Bill picked up his guitar too, although he’s only been playing for a week. Maybe there will come a day when we can jam together.

The title of today’s post comes from a song by Ray Stevens. I have always thought Ray Stevens’ talent was a bit underrated. He’s a wonderful singer and pianist, but he’s best known for singing comedic novelty songs, with the exception of his 1970 hit, “Everything is Beautiful”. Even though some people might think of it as a “schmaltzy” song, I’ve always thought of “Everything is Beautiful” as an anthem of tolerance and kindness. I find it oddly comforting to listen to it today.

A silly song… but I relate. I doubt my guitar playing will make me a celebrity, though.
This song always makes me smile, even though it’s kind of corny.

Since we aren’t traveling or exploring as much this year, music has become a lot more important to me. I’ve been making more videos, all of which include photos or videos from our travels. In a way, it’s made me miss traveling more, although making music brings me joy. I don’t have a lot of people listening, but it’s still a pleasure to make it and explore new and creative ways to express myself. Making music is mostly uncontroversial, and it doesn’t beg philosophical discussions or arguments. I’ve about had my fill of those lately, too.

I doubt we’ll go out today… the sky is full of rain clouds and the wind is up. I welcome the rain, since our rain barrel in the backyard is pretty parched and has dried out so much at the top that it’s warped a bit. Maybe with more rain, the wood will swell and seal up the cracks in the wood. The garden is liking the rain, too. Our cucumbers have blossoms, which I know means that the fruits will be on the vine soon. I’m starting to sound like a Handmaid… and with the constant hammering about face masks, maybe I’ll soon look like one.

Anyway… this weekend has so far not been as exciting or fun as last weekend was. We really enjoyed ourselves, but we also recognize that it’s best not to jump back into the way we were in previous years. Not until the coronavirus scourge has been vanquished a bit more. Hopefully, that won’t take the rest of my life.

Here’s a video I made this week. I shared it on my original blog, but since this post is about music, I’ll share here, too. I’m much better at singing than playing guitar. But with time, practice, and luck, maybe I can even things up a bit.

And just to keep things topical, this video includes footage from our visit to Ireland in 2016. Boy, do I wish we could be there now…
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Ireland

Paul Simon or bust… Our Dublin getaway! Part eight

Easy like Sunday morning…  we slept until about 8:00am, which is almost unheard of these days, even on the weekends.  Sunday morning was our last breakfast at the Merrion Hotel, although as it turned out, we totally could have had breakfast on Monday if we’d wanted to.  In fact, I wish we had done that, since the all purpose lounge at the Dublin airport kind of sucks.  For some reason, the breakfast menu on Sunday was abbreviated.  Maybe it was because we came down a little later.  Maybe it’s because it was Sunday.  I don’t know.

It rained on Sunday morning, which was significant because Ireland had gone 40 days without any significant rain.  The drought has scorched the grass pretty badly and, in fact, it was bad enough that a major archaeological find was discovered about thirty miles north of Dublin.

Bill had pancakes with blueberry compote and I had scrambled eggs with smoked salmon.

Oops… I guess I didn’t pay close enough attention to Bill’s face when I took this…  

The eggs were very good.

 

We had big plans for the afternoon.  I booked afternoon “art tea” for us at the Merrion Hotel.  It was easy to make the booking through Open Table.  Since it wasn’t due to start until 1:30pm, we needed to find something to do in the morning.  I proposed a visit to the Jameson Distillery Tour on Bow Street in Dublin.  We had yet another entertaining cab driver and we were his last fare of the day, so he was quite animated as we discussed topics ranging from Scientology to Donald Trump.  Then he let us off in front of a very high speed looking hostel, where he got out himself because he needed to pee.

We had to do a little searching to find the visitor’s center for Jameson’s, which now only serves as a visitor’s center and not a distillery.  Until 1970, this was where Jameson’s Whiskey was made.  It is now made in County Cork in southern Ireland.  However, although the facility was renovated in 2017, some original features from the original structure built in 1780 remain.  And instead of making whiskey, the place serves as a big commercial for Jameson’s Irish Whiskey, which I will admit is quite nice.

The entrance.

Below are some photos from our tour.  Although we usually go for the more involved experiences, we didn’t have time for anything beyond the basic guided tour, which ran for about about 40 minutes. Also, we had forgotten that on Sundays, one cannot purchase alcohol before 12:30pm.  We were at the distillery in time for the 10:45 tour and were allowed to taste whiskey, but not buy any.  It made perfect sense why the more detailed tours were offered after 1:00pm.  They probably figure that after learning how to make cocktails or blending whiskey, people will be more inclined to buy whiskey in their shop.  We wanted to buy whiskey, but didn’t want to wait until 12:30 pm.

Nice bar area, complete with chandeliers made with Jameson’s bottles.

Sine Metu– without fear.

And the variety of tours one can take.  We did the Bow St. Experience, led by a winsome lad named Adam.

The Bow Street Experience basically consists of hearing about the history of the Jameson brand in one room, then moving to another room, where the process is described.  Actually, having been to way too many scotch whisky distilleries and, by now, knowing the whisky/whiskey making process by heart, I must commend Jameson for their presentation.  It’s interactive and Adam was a good speaker– funny and entertaining.

You can actually see and smell for yourself as the tour guide uses a very nice backlit display to explain the process of making whiskey.

I was imagining Adam would make a good teacher.  His presentation skills and wit were impeccable.

We were given a sample of Scotland’s leading blended whisky, Johnnie Walker Black, a sample of Jameson’s Whiskey, and a sample of Jack Daniels Black Label, which I hadn’t had since my college days.  It was interesting to taste the differences.

Ahh… we get to taste it!

I like how they help out with the logistics of bringing the booze back in luggage…

At the end of the tour, you get your choice of whiskey neat, on the rocks, or in a cocktail with lime juice and ginger ale.  I had the cocktail, which was nice.  Bill drank his neat.

The “Daily Grog”, which employees were given at the start and end of every shift.  Now they only give it at the end of the day.

A glimpse of the aging room below the main level.

The area around the distillery is pretty nice.  There are restaurants, places to shop, and on the day of our visit, it looked like they were setting up for a concert, complete with food trucks.

Bill used a handy app to summon a taxi.  It was remarkably effective and we could even watch the taxi’s progress as it made its way to us.  It took just three minutes.  The taxi driver got us back to the hotel at about 12:30 pm and we got dressed up for our afternoon “art tea”, scheduled for 1:30pm.  More on that in the next post.

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Paul Simon or bust… Our Dublin getaway! Part seven

This place looked like it had potential…

 

Saturday afternoon, I was thinking I really wanted to find a nice Irish pub to hang out in.  I hoped for a place with good music.  Too many bars were playing shitty dance music.  I know the Irish have good taste in tunes and I was hoping to find a place where I could Shazam a lot and find new stuff to listen to at home.  Taking heed of my advice to look down alleys and alcoves, I spotted McGrattans Bar, which looked like it had promise.  We approached the door and I stood there for a second, listening for shitty dance music.  I didn’t hear any, so we ventured in…

Unfortunately, what they were playing was almost as bad as dance music.  The TVs were all tuned to football.  I know a lot of people love to watch sports.  I find it pretty boring.  I’d rather watch football/soccer than golf, though.  Watching golf, especially on TV, is kind of like watching flies fuck.  Still, it wasn’t so bad that we couldn’t have a couple of rounds.  We tried a couple of Irish lagers and enjoyed the deadpan bartender.  McGrattans appears to be a somewhat popular place.  It even has pool tables.  Maybe Bill and I should have tried our hand at billiards, but neither of us really plays pool.

Bill enjoys beer…

The inside was pretty quaint.  It was missing music, though.

I remember liking this beer pretty well.

 

After a couple of rounds, we moved on.  The area around Merrion Row has a lot of pubs to choose from, most of which featured football and crowds of young men eagerly staring at the TV screens.  We passed one bar that appeared to have a lively outdoor area, but it was super crowded.  So we went back to Chambers Pub and Cocktail Bar, where our red haired bearded friend was back on duty.  We had a couple of whiskeys, since they didn’t have any draft beers we hadn’t already tried.  I did switch back to beer when we decided to have dinner.

Chambers was playing sports on their TVs, but they were also playing some great old 70s and 80s music, which satisfied my needs quite nicely.  I was also enjoying people watching.  I thought we might make it until 9:15pm, when the music was supposed to start, but we were too tired… beer drinking will do that to you.  I think we left about an hour before the band was supposed to show up.

We went round the corner from the bar for some grub.

Bill had a burger and fries.

 

I had an open faced steak sandwich with bearnaise sauce.  It was just the right size and the fries were delicious.

 

Total bill for our evening at Chambers was about 69 euros, which was less than I was expecting.  Next time we’re in Dublin, we’ll definitely visit Chambers again.  I think it was my favorite of the pubs we visited.  After we ate, we stopped by the Spar to pick up some water and a bottle of wine in case we wanted to stay in Sunday night.

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concerts, Ireland

Paul Simon or bust… Our Dublin getaway! Part five

After lunch at Chambers, we went back to the hotel for a rest.  Our room came with a daily paper, so Bill took the opportunity to read up about what was expected at our concert.  The same information was also available online, but it was a nice touch to have the information on an actual piece of paper.  The next day, the show (just Paul Simon’s part) was given a glowing review.  I saved the paper, although I didn’t entirely agree with the reviewer’s comments.

Paul Simon on stage with his excellent band!

Anyway, the show was at RDS (Royal Dublin Society) Arena, which I understand is typically used for equine and other sporting events.  We were instructed to use the “red route” as opposed to the “yellow route” to enter the arena, even though we actually sat on the yellow route side.  They were enforcing this rule, too, which was a bit of a pain, since the cab dropped us off on the yellow route.  I chose to leave my big purse at the hotel, which was a good idea.  I did bring a sweater, though, which was also a good idea.  It got surprisingly chilly Friday night, after the sun went down.

We booked pitch seating, which isn’t necessarily the best idea for Bill and me, since we’re both kind of short.  We were in row UU in seats 93 and 94– not super close, like we were at the Stones’ concert, but pretty close.  We were able to see the stage fairly well, especially with the use of the monitors, which weren’t as big as the ones at the Stones’ concert.  Many people who were standing in the back complained about the view.  I will admit, it was probably pretty hard for them to see much of anything from where they were.  The stands on either side of the arena appeared to offer a good vantage point.  In retrospect, I might have preferred sitting there.  Pitch seating felt a lot like riding in the middle seat in coach on an airplane.

Unlike at the Stones’ concert, we sat near friendly people.  Two Irish ladies sat next to Bill and they were very chatty.  The people on my side were not chatty, but they were very friendly.  The crowd mostly consisted of older people… people even older than Bill and I are.  We saw older folks at the Stones’ concert, too, though most of them seemed a bit more ambulatory than some of the people at Paul Simon’s show.

Bonnie Raitt took the stage at a little after 5:00pm.  I’d read that she recently had surgery.  She did look a little tired, but she and her band sounded great and played a lot of their best known hits like “Angel From Montgomery” and “No Business”.  She even brought guest player Paul Brady on stage; he co-wrote “Not the Only One” with Bonnie for her 1991 album, Luck of the Draw, and played “Something to Talk About” for a guy in the audience who was celebrating his 70th birthday.  She mentioned that it wouldn’t be long before she herself celebrates 70 years on the planet.  I kind of expected political commentary from Bonnie Raitt, and she did quip that she was happy to be on the other side of the pond.  Everyone cheered.  The ladies who were sitting with us had a whole lot to say about Donald Trump.  We agreed with their negative impressions of him and assured them that we didn’t vote for Trump.

Bonnie played for about an hour, said goodbye, and then we had about a half an hour before James Taylor took the stage.  That’s when a lot more people showed up.  I was surprised that Bonnie didn’t get more of a turnout; but then, Friday was a workday and the show started at around five o’clock.  It could be that a lot of people couldn’t get off work.  I enjoyed her part of the show and was kind of surprised to see her opening for anyone.  In my book, she’s a legendary performer herself.

The place filled up in time for James Taylor’s entrance.  I’ve been to two other concerts featuring JT– once in 1990 and once in 2003.  I’m always struck by how much he enjoys playing music.  Once again, he was sounding great and injected some humor into his set.  At one point, he was talking about how much he was enjoying his tour as he casually flipped over his guitar.  There, he’d put the words “Help me.”, which got a big laugh from the crowd.

James had his long time backup singers Andrea Zonn, Kate Markowitz, and Arnold McCuller with him.  I didn’t see David Lasley, who has always been with him in other shows I’ve attended.  Hope he’s doing alright, although Lasley is 70 now.  Maybe he’s retiring, too.  Michael Landau, who’s been playing with James since at least the early 90s, was also playing in Dublin.  I got a kick out of watching drummer Steve Gadd, who was really into the music.  He looked like he was about to take a dump on stage a couple of times, but it all sounded (and smelled) great.

I’ve been a James Taylor fan for many years and feel like I know him, although we’ve never met.  I did attend his brother Livingston’s concert at the Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia.  Livingston once sent me guitar strings when I was trying to learn to play (on a really crappy used Armenian guitar I bought at the vernissage).  I loved Liv’s show.  He was very accessible and the venue was intimate.  Unfortunately, he mostly plays in the United States, so I’ll have a wait before I can see him again.  Anyway, the Taylor clan is immensely talented and very near and dear to my heart.  Though they’re from Boston originally, they all grew up near Chapel Hill, North Carolina, which is where my sister lives and not far from where Bill and I lived for a time.  I grew up in southern Virginia, which isn’t all that far, either.  Their music takes me home.

Finally, after Taylor’s ninety minute show and a short break for the roadies to set the stage, Paul Simon came out.  This was my first time seeing Mr. Simon in concert.  It’ll probably be the only time I’ll see him, since he says he won’t be touring anymore.  Let me just say that I’m delighted that I pulled the trigger on this concert.  It was absolutely awesome.  Simon was backed by a marvelous group called yMusic.  They played Simon’s best known solo hits and most his older Simon & Garfunkel hits expertly.  The crowd was enchanted by them.  I was equally enchanted… at least until I got a charley horse and had to walk around a bit.

The crowd mostly stayed seated for Simon’s show, although a few people couldn’t help dancing.  Toward the end of the concert, people got to their feet and Simon plowed through twenty-six songs.  He looked pretty tired by the end, but was such a gracious and humble performer.  It was a real treat to see and hear him play.  At the end of the show, he even left us with hope.  Just before he played
“American Tune”, he said “Strange times we live in, huh?  Don’t give up.”  The crowd roared.  Ireland clearly loves him, too.  Here’s a link to the review that was in the Irish Times on Saturday.

At the end of the night, we headed out of the arena and some American guy was complaining about not having a ticket stub.  Apparently, he printed his tickets or something.  They were being very strict about showing your tickets when you went for food or to the restroom, so he must have had something proving he was there.  Anyway, he asked the crowd if anyone wanted to donate their ticket stub to him.  Some guy obliged and the American guy started cracking jokes.  He said, “Hey, this says Bruno Mars on it!” (Bruno Mars had also played recently in Dublin)  Then he said, “Does anyone want this guy’s credit card number?”

The mood coming out of the arena was jubilant.  People really had a good time!  Bill and I were amazed that we spent six hours listening to three legends play.  We were exhausted at the end of it, but so glad we made the trip.  Ireland was a great place to see Paul Simon perform his last tour.  Better yet, no one smoked cigarettes next to me all night while wearing a tank top!

This is a picture of the hideous American Embassy in Dublin.  

I was impressed by all of the choices of things to eat.  At the Stones concert, you could eat wurst and drink beer.  Paul Simon’s show had a bunch of food trucks.  Bill and I stuck to beer, mainly because we didn’t want to wait in line.

Lots of people hung out on the green before the show started.

My view before the crowds arrived.

Bonnie Raitt on stage.  She was the only performer to get a formal announcement.

Thank God for zooming.

James Taylor sneaked on stage with no introduction!  

Andrea Zonn plays fiddle… she is a contemporary of Alison Krauss’s and also sings beautifully.  Check her out.

Paul Simon is only 5’3″ (still taller than me), so it helped that he was on the monitor.

This is the view off screen, although I zoomed for this shot.

Unzoomed!

I posted this picture on Facebook with the quip “This time, it wasn’t me.”  Between us, Bill and I had four beers, only two of which were in bottles.  The two guys in front of us drank at least fourteen ciders between them.  Drinking is not a joke in Ireland!

This guy on keyboards was insanely good.  He played a genius solo toward the end of the concert.  I was very impressed by all of the musicians who played with Paul Simon.  They were all very talented players.

Final bows.  I loved the guy in the red shirt playing lead guitar.  He had a lot of charisma and was as much fun to watch as he was to listen to.

Many folks were headed here after the show was finished.  Not Bill and I… we needed rest.

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Ireland

Paul Simon or bust… Our Dublin getaway! Part one

Going back to Ireland for a stop on our year of concerts…

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how Bill and I have dubbed 2018 as our year of concerts.  Bill and I aren’t usually concertgoers, but we’ll definitely drop some cash on tickets for certain shows.  On June 30th, we both saw The Rolling Stones for the first time and were absolutely blown away by the experience, obnoxious as it was.  Although the Stones was the first show we’ve seen so far, it was not the first concert I bought tickets to.  I think that honor probably belongs to Elton John, who announced his farewell tour.  Bill and I haven’t seen him either, but he’s coming to Stuttgart next year.  I bought tickets to his show, then got on a roll buying other tickets.

And then James Taylor announced on Facebook that he and Bonnie Raitt would be joining Paul Simon for a few dates on his Homeward Bound tour.  Now… as a child of the 70s and 80s, of course I like Paul Simon’s music.  I couldn’t get through my childhood without hearing his greatest hits with former musical partner Art Garfunkel.  My dad was a big fan of theirs.  I have always liked Paul Simon, although at least prior to Friday night’s show in Dublin, not quite as much as I did James Taylor and Bonnie Raitt.  Of the three on the bill, I was the most excited about seeing James play again.  This was my third time seeing him play live.

The idea of seeing James, Bonnie, and Paul appealed, as did going to Dublin in the summer.  Last time we were there was my first time– back in November 2016.  The weather wasn’t exactly stellar.  We spent three nights there before we moved on to the west coast of Ireland.  The hotel I chose that first time was nice, but not in the part of the city most conducive to seeing Dublin.  Plus, our time there was eaten by trips to Kilkenny to see the Smithwick’s Visitor’s Center and doing the Guinness tour.  Bill had also never been to Dublin during the summer, although he has been to Ireland once more than I have.  With his blessing, I ordered us tickets in February… and promptly lost them by June.

We don’t usually lose things at our house because Bill and I are both hoarders.  But we’re also getting old and forgetful.  Somehow, the tickets to the show I was most looking forward to got misplaced.  I had to call Ticketmaster Ireland to get new ones issued.  Fortunately, that wasn’t as onerous a task as online reviewers had led me to believe.  We just called them on a Saturday morning and a young woman with a charming Irish lilt verified my payment details and sent duplicates.  I’m so glad we went to the trouble.  The show was absolutely incredible– as good or probably even better than the Stones’ show was.  It’s too bad Paul Simon says he won’t be doing any more big tours.

I decided I wanted this particular trip to be as comfortable as possible.  I used Expedia to book us a room at Dublin’s Merrion Hotel, which is reputed to be the best in the city.  I also got us business class tickets on Lufthansa with flights laying over in Frankfurt on the way to Dublin and Munich on the way back.  We booked the dogs for four nights with Uncle Max and Bill arranged for the time off, so we could leave last Thursday morning and come back today.  Four nights made for a nice break, and gave us the chance to see a few places we missed the first time we visited Dublin.

As usual, this will be a series.  That means there will be several posts, along with lots of pictures.  I hope those who read this first post will follow along as I write up the whole weekend, although I know not everyone will be interested.  My travel tends to be very adult oriented and full of stories about people we meet and things we see, rather than stuff we do.  However, if you’re interested in reading about the hotel, restaurants we tried, and our activities, I highly recommend staying the course.

This is a concert I will never… ever… forget.  It was just awesome.  As amazed as I was by The Rolling Stones, I was even more blown away by this show, for which tickets cost me significantly less money.

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Guinness cake and Celtic tunes…

I had some tentative plans to do something today, but the weather was absolutely shitty.  It’s been dark and cloudy all day and the fine folks at Weather.com were calling for snow.  At the very least, we were assured of cold, damp, misty weather.  So, although we certainly could have ventured out to a restaurant, my husband Bill and I decided to stay in, listen to Celtic music, drink beer, and bake.

I didn’t get Bill to put on his new County Donegal kilt… but I did get a photo of our family crests…  or mine, anyway.

I am a fan of the Dublin Airport.  I’ll be back in July.

Okay… so in fairness, Bill did the baking.  But he made a cake that I made first and, I must say, he did a good job of it.  We haven’t cut into it yet, but we’ve had enough of the crumbs to know it won’t disappoint after tonight’s dinner of lobster tails and champagne.  Yes, my husband knows how to take care of his lady… or as Lyle Lovett would put it, “She’s no lady, she’s my wife…”

I really wanted to play this at my wedding.  Maybe if we make it to twenty years?

Those of you who are curious about the recipe for Guinness cake can find the recipe linked to the New York Times’ Web site.  For everyone else, here are a few pictures.

Bill readies the supplies…

For the cake and for me…

Bill models the German apron I got him for Christmas.

If our kitchen weren’t so pathetically tiny, I’d think we were on a cooking show.

Sugar… two cups worth… and other necessities for the cake.

Next, Bill heats up a cup of Guinness.

 

And blends the sugar…

Adds the cocoa powder we purchased at a chocolatier in Ribeauville, France.

The batter is about ready to blend with the chocolate and beer.

All set…

The chocolate batter is ready for the oven, where it will bake for about 45 minutes…

The finished cake, ready for cooling.  It’s rich, chocolatey, and smells heavenly.

And… the finished product.  Some people like to add a little Bailey’s to the frosting.  I did when I made it, but Bill elected not to.  I once brought this cake to a picnic and a lot of people didn’t want their kids to eat it because it had beer in it.  But it’s one cup of rather weak beer…  It’s not going to get you or your kids drunk, I promise.  On the other hand, if you don’t want to eat it, that’s okay.  More for me!

 

This is a pretty easy recipe and it can be fun to bake it, especially since it only calls for about half a beer.  The rest is for you!  I am not posting the recipe here because I don’t want any goons to come after me for copyright infringement.  But if you want the recipe and don’t want to visit the New York Times Web site, just let me know.

No one will listen to this, but since I’ve been drinking…

 

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, y’all!

 

 

  

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Scotland, shopping

Every girl’s crazy ’bout a kilted man…

Three months ago, Bill and I were in Glasgow, Scotland, about to embark on our fourth cruise on Hebridean Princess.  While we were in Glasgow, we stopped into a kiltmaker’s shop and got Bill fitted for a kilt of his very own.  We decided to do it because we both love visiting Scotland, especially on Hebridean Princess.  Kilts are very welcome on that ship.  On all of our previous cruises on Hebridean Princess, Bill wore his dress blues on the formal nights.  The uniform, like kilts and tuxedos, has always been well-received on the ship.

Bill retired from the Army in 2014 and there comes a point at which it gets harder to do justice to the Army dress uniform.  I also learned that it might not even be appropriate for a retiree to wear the uniform on a cruise, though I doubt anyone would “bust” Bill on such a British cruise.  On each of our voyages, we have been among a very small number of Americans, none of whom have been affiliated with the military.  In fact, we have found that the Army uniform is quite a conversation starter, especially among the Brits who have also served in the military.  However, I was dying to see Bill in a kilt and kept pestering him to get one.  He finally gave in and indulged me.

While we were in Berlin, the finished kilt arrived.  Our very kind neighbor accepted our box for us while we were out of town.  Bill got the whole package, which included everything except a shirt and a belt and buckle.  Last night, he tried on his new Scottish duds.

Bill decided not to put on the Ghillie brogues (shoes), although they were included.  Below is a video I made of the kiltmaker showing us how the shoes should be tied.  He also didn’t put on the kilt pin, which was included.

 

The tartan used is County Donegal, since our last name is Irish.  Bill’s surname originated in Donegal.  The jackets are made in Donegal.

 

It took just under three months for the kilt to be made.  I think it’s because the tartan we used had to be ordered.  Otherwise, we probably would have had the kilt in late October or early November.  The kiltmaker made the kilt by hand and the quality is excellent.  It set Bill back about 900 GBP (approximately $1300).  But again, everything except the shirt was included in that price, even socks.   And Scots are not supposed to wear underwear under the kilt.  On the other hand, Bill is Irish.  😉

Anyway, for those who are wondering who made this marvelous outfit, here’s the link to the man responsible.  We are very pleased with the finished product, even though we probably could have had it made faster and cheaper at one of the other, larger kiltmakers.  I would highly recommend James Robertson Kiltmaker if you’re ever in Glasgow and looking to be kilted.

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Northern Ireland, Scotland

Ten things I learned on our trip to Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Ireland…

From Mount Stewart House’s beautiful gardens…

It’s that time again.  When Bill and I take trips, I like to sum them up with a “ten things I learned” post.  Although we’ve been to Scotland three times and we visited Ireland last fall, this cruise on Hebridean Princess took us to Northern Ireland for the very first time.  You wouldn’t think there would be that much of a difference between Ireland and Northern Ireland… and, I guess, there isn’t that much in terms of how it looks and how warm the people are.  But we learned that there’s still some tension over the fact that Ireland and Northern Ireland are divided.  I will get more into that with this list.  For now, here’s the countdown in no particular order.

10.  There are a whole lot of Presbyterians in Northern Ireland!

I was born and raised Presbyterian, although I am not really a churchgoer these days.  To be honest, when I did used to go to church, I didn’t know that much about it.  I simply went because my parents made me.  It wasn’t until I was in college and worked as the cook at a Presbyterian church camp that I learned about what I was supposed to believe and realized that it’s a very Scottish religion.  Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised to see so many Presbyterian churches in Northern Ireland, but when we visited Derry, our tour guide told us the story of Presbyterians in that large city.  We visited the First Derry Presbyterian Church and The Blue Coat School Visitor Centre and I came to realize just how prevalent the faith is there.

9.  There’s still a lot of tension between British people and Irish people over Northern Ireland’s inclusion in the United Kingdom.

I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised that many Irish people would like to see their island nation reunited the way Germany has reclaimed its east.  As we listened to our Irish tour guide in Carlingford talk about growing up in Northern Ireland and visiting the Republic, I got a firsthand account of a man’s experience having to pass through checkpoints during a very volatile period in Irish history.  I had sympathy for our Irish guide’s viewpoints, although I admittedly don’t know as much about the subject as I should.

8.  Bill knows a lot about Irish folklore.

My husband seemed to impress a number of other passengers about how much he knows about Irish folklore.  It’s a special interest of his, since he has a lot of Irish ancestry.  He took a course at American University when he was a college student and learned a lot of the old stories.  It came in handy during our tour of Carlingford.

7.  The city of Derry has a connection to Harvey’s Bristol Cream, a favorite sherry of ours.

Although I’d be hard pressed to accurately retell the story as our tour guide told it, I was very surprised to find out how Bishop Harvey in Derry had a connection to Harvey’s Bristol Cream.

6.  If you visit an Irish restaurant in the Republic, you’re liable to hear old fashioned country music.  

Yes, I know country music comes from Scotland, Ireland, and the other isles up there, but I sure wasn’t expecting to hear “The Ballad of Jed Clampitt” in an Irish restaurant as we were discussing Irish folklore.  The music moved on nicely to “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” by Tammy Wynette and a number of other feel good classics from when I was a wee lass in the 70s.

5.  I learned more about the plight of Catholics in Northern Ireland.

Although I had heard a little about Catholic oppression by the British when we were in Ireland last November, I learned a bit more about religious persecution on this trip.  For example, when we visited Derry, our guide explained that the Catholics were mostly very poor and were forced to settle in a marshy area of the city.  Because they were so poor and many people often lived in one home, they were underrepresented in elections.  For years, only one person in a Catholic household was allowed to vote and they really suffered because of that rule, which only changed in the late 1960s.

4.  Every year in Carlingford, people are allowed to hunt Leprechauns for one day.

Our tour guide in Carlingford, a man named Dermott, explained that the town of Carlingford has a fund raiser that allows people to go up in the hills and “hunt” for Leprechauns.  It is technically illegal to hunt for them on any other day of the year.

3.  Crossing the border into Ireland from Northern Ireland is a non-event… for now.

Dermott, our guide in Carlingford, told us that as a young man, he had to submit to extreme vehicle searches whenever he wanted to visit Ireland.  Although he was born and raised in Northern Ireland, Dermott considers himself Irish and wants to see the island united as one country unto itself.  He told us of having the wheels and seats taken out of his car when he was a young man as border patrols looked for bombs or other weapons.  Today, one can cross into Ireland and not even notice.  But if Brexit comes to pass, that may change.

2.  Mount Stewart is a beautiful place!

Bill and I had the pleasure of visiting Scotland’s amazing Mount Stuart House in Bute, Scotland, on our first Hebridean cruise.  As the crow flies, Northern Ireland’s Mount Stewart isn’t that far away.  It’s also a very impressive place.  I really enjoyed the gardens at Mount Stewart, although I think I like Mount Stuart’s house a little more.

1.  The Titanic Experience in Belfast is amazing… and amazingly crowded!

I really didn’t know much about the Titanic, the ill fated cruise ship, before we visited Belfast last week.  I still don’t know that much about it because the Titanic Experience, while very comprehensive and impressive, is positively loaded with people.  I overheard some passengers on our cruise saying that France’s exhibit in Cherbourg is better.  Perhaps we will visit there and see for ourselves.

We really enjoyed ourselves in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Ireland.  I hope someday we will get to return.  At the very least, I need to sit down and watch the movie, Titanic.  I can’t believe I still haven’t seen it in the 20 years it’s been out.  Maybe this weekend…

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Hebridean Island Cruises, Northern Ireland, Scotland

Scotland and Northern Ireland 2017, Part twelve…

After our beer break, we got dressed up for dinner.  I put on an old black dress and wore a pretty red wool shawl.  I kind of regret wearing the shawl, because as we were enjoying champagne, somehow I had a brainfart and accidentally spilled some on my shawl.  Now I have a small stain that also got on Bill’s jacket.  Nevertheless, we had a nice dinner.

A visible sunset as we left Belfast.

A self-portrait… searching for evidence of liver failure in my eyes.

This picture was taken right after the pilot disembarked the Hebridean Princess.  These guys are amazing.  They just walk off the ship as it’s moving and jump onto their little vessels.  I wish I had gotten it on film because it was really gutsy.  I wondered if any of those guys ever missed and ended up in the water.

More fish for me…

And more meat for Bill.

I enjoy cheesecake.

Bill enjoys a cheese course.

Incidentally, if you ever want tea in your room, Hebridean has you covered.

 

After dinner, we went to bed early.  Or, at least I think that’s what we did…  After you’ve been on the ship for awhile, the days start to run together.  I mostly hang out by myself with my dogs, so all the company was a little overwhelming.  But the nice thing about this trip was that most everyone was pleasant enough.  There weren’t any obviously obnoxious people onboard.  On our previous cruise, we weren’t so lucky and there was a woman onboard who demanded to be the center of attention the whole time.  I know I have my own obnoxious moments, but this lady had me beat by a mile.  What made it worse was that she was an American and seemed to resent that there were other Americans on the ship.  Anyway… we had a rather low key crowd this time and most people got along, at least on the surface.  That was a real blessing.

In the morning, I decided to have oatmeal with a wee dram of whisky.  If you have never tried this and you like scotch, this is a nice twist.

Bill had poached eggs with back bacon.  The chef also threw in some “streaky bacon”, which I helped Bill eat.  

Saturday morning, we spent cruising southward to Carlingford, which is a border town in the Republic of Ireland.  To be honest, I’m not really sure why we went to this town.  It was probably the least popular of the stops.  I actually enjoyed our visit well enough for several reasons, but I heard more than a few people complaining about it.  I’ll get to why in a minute.  I took the opportunity to blog that morning while other people read books or sat around and enjoyed the scenery… or maybe had a gin & tonic.

It was time for lunch and Bill had a cauliflower soup that came with cheese toast.  He said it was really comforting.  I don’t like cauliflower much, so I skipped it.

I had duck confit for lunch, which came with a Thai salad with peanut dressing.  I probably would have liked the salad, except it was full of mushrooms.  Our waiter forgot my speech about how much I hate fungus.  Oh well.  I gave it to Bill, who enjoyed it.

Bill had a sandwich.  Love how they serve their sandwiches with no crusts.  It was like being back in kindergarten.

For dessert, I had Eton Mess.  I think on past cruises, it was made with raspberries, but this time it was made with strawberries, meringues, and berries.  It was very yummy!

Bill had bread pudding with chocolate ice cream, also very good and comforting as the weather turned wet.

 

After lunch, we all got on the bus and went to Carlingford.  It was raining and dreary, though a few local guides were hired to show us around the town.  The guide who spoke to us on the bus was an Irish guy named Dermott.  I noticed he spoke with a lot of “uhs and ums”, which I found rather distracting.  However, despite all the “uhs and ums”, what Dermott was telling us was interesting.  He told us he was born in Newry, Northern Ireland and grew up there, although he considered himself Irish.  This is an important revelation, given what happened next.

The bus let us off at the edge of town and we split into three groups.  Dermott was to take the people who didn’t want to see as much.  Because I really needed to pee and didn’t want to walk around in the wet weather, I chose his group, although Bill was wanting a longer walk.  I told Bill he could join another group, but he likes to stick with me.  So we followed Dermott around and he very excitedly told us about Carlingford.

 

Dermott started with this arch… and I was very glad I had an umbrella and Dermott explained the jail was in the arch and that people were routinely hanged there back in the day…

The entrance to the “jail”.  I didn’t venture inside because I had a feeling it has been used for something other than jailing people.  There was also a lot of trash in the cell.

More views of the town.  It was at this point that Dermott told us about the annual Leprechaun hunt that happens in Carlingford.  It is technically illegal to hunt Leprechauns in Ireland, except on one special day per year.  Have a look.  

The above three photos are of a house that belonged to a wealthy merchant.  Dermott explained that whoever owned the house, referred to as the “mint” in Carlingford, although no money was ever made there, was very rich.  

I think I was more interested in the pubs…

At this point, things started taking a bit of a turn.  Dermott was telling us Thomas D’Arcy McGee, a Catholic Irishman who had vowed that if he ever betrayed his country, he should “die like a dog”.  He hated British rule, so he worked to overthrow the British rule so that Ireland could be independent.  McGee later went to the United States and Canada and became wealthy.  Later, he was assassinated. 

 

To be honest, I wasn’t paying very close attention to Dermott, because the weather had gotten worse.  However, some of the elderly Brits in the group were listening and apparently getting a bit agitated.  Dermott made it clear that he had Nationalist leanings.

We walked around some more and checked out this old castle ruin…

Then we went into a small museum that was recently opened.  While we were in the museum, one of the other passengers took Dermott to task because he said he wanted to see Ireland reunited.

I stared at this exhibit as the atmosphere got a little bit more heated.  Dermott was unfortunately bull baited into a political confrontation.

 

For Bill and me, it was an interesting spectacle, not unlike some of the controversy surrounding the North and the South in the United States.  But, as we had no dog in the fight, we were free to simply observe without getting upset.  We could tell some of the Britons were offended by Dermott’s comments about how he wanted to see Ireland reunited.  I was interested in what he was saying, since he grew up when there was an actual physical barrier between Northern Ireland and the Republic.  Dermott’s ten year old son, who happened to be getting fish and chips while we were on our tour, waved to us.  Dermott explained how he had to describe to his boy how, when he was a young man, he had to go through police checkpoints to get to Ireland from his home in the north.  He said guards actually took the wheels off his car and took out seats to check for bombs and the like.

To be honest, I totally understood Dermott’s viewpoints.  If I were Irish, I would probably feel much the same way he does.  However, it was kind of clear that some of the British folks in our group were getting irritated by his comments and wanted to be rid of him.

As we were leaving the museum, one passenger said to me that she had felt like walking out.  As someone who isn’t British, I didn’t have the same feelings.  But I could see that quite a few people were upset.

Next it was time for coffee and cake.  We went into another tea room, where they were playing country music from the 60s and 70s.  I had to laugh when I heard the “Ballad of Jed Clampitt”.  I posted about it on Facebook because it cracked me up.  I had to laugh even harder when a Facebook friend, who doesn’t know me offline, tried to explain to me where country music comes from.  He doesn’t know I am myself a musician and a fan of a broad array of musical styles.  But thanks anyway, dude.  The above lemon cake was delicious, but we were a bit rushed in eating it (actually, lemon was just one of several choices, but it was a good one.)

 

Then Bill probably annoyed people because Dermott, who was still talking as we were waiting for cake and tea, had started talking about Irish folk tales he’d heard from his father.  Bill, who is a fan of Irish literature and studied it in college, piped up with more information which turned out to be superior to what the guide was telling us.  I have a feeling people would have been more willing to listen to Dermott had he not offended them, though Bill was enjoying talking to him about Irish folklore.  Later, a couple of passengers congratulated Bill on his knowledge.  I think they were being sincere, although it was probably because Dermott had annoyed a lot of them.

Then Dermott said he didn’t like huge cruise ships and he thought perhaps the really big ones pump oxygen into the casinos to keep people awake and gambling.  Apparently, this is a practice in Las Vegas, although I have never been to Vegas and probably wouldn’t gamble if I did go there.  I have only been on one large cruise ship and it was my observation that the place was full of cigarette smoke, not oxygen.  He did say he’d live on Hebridean Princess.  I can’t say I blame him.  Aside from being a tour guide, Dermott is also a sound engineer.  Incidentally, Snopes says the oxygen pumping claim is false.

This was where we had tea, cake, and fractious discussion… while music from the 60s and 70s played.  It’s probably a nice place to spend an evening.

We got back on the boat, greeted by David and lots of little shooters of rum punch.  It was just enough time to get cleaned up and ready for dinner.  Damn, I ate a lot on this cruise…

I actually really enjoyed this starter, which was a breaded, deep fried, poached egg with asparagus and Hollandaise sauce and some kind of jelly I can’t identify at the moment.

Bill had a tart made of smoked trout, I think…

This was supposed to be lobster bisque and it was good, though it was missing cream.  

I had Dover sole with cream sauce and vegetables.

Bill had chicken with mushroom sauce.

Then a slice of pie for Bill…

And a delicious lemon pudding with an almond cookie for me.  They used another word other than pudding, but it escapes me at the moment.  It was kind of like mousse, only not as light.

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