Monday, August 14, 2017

All the Beds are Dressed

All the beds are dressed!

20 years and going strong!  20 years since Princess Di died.  20 years since Maura and Tim met in March.  20 years since I knew my parents were separated.  And now, I am here again with some of my most favorite people in the world.  In Narragansett, Rhode Island.  My happy place.

My Mom and Aunt Kitty started renting this house from a family friend.  It is a typical New England home.  It’s beautiful and cozy.  It’s a place where we eat, drink, laugh and play games.  It’s a place where we go to the beach and interact as a family.  It’s a place where generations can have fun and laugh no matter what the age.

Today I drove down with my mother, the AP and my cousin, Triona Manchester, England via Galway.  It was only one hour and twenty minutes.  To go the Cape on a Saturday in the summer would have taken at least two and a half hours.

When we arrived, we didn’t have a key.  My sister, Maura, my one and only sibling, was picking up the groceries at 2:00 at Stop and Shop with her sons, Ryan (13) and Dylan (9), the nicest boys ever.  They asked ask me, “why do you say that?’  I just tell them, “Because you are.”  As we waited for the cleaner to arrive, my mom, the AP, Triona, Niamh, and Mo hung out in the backyard.   Mo and Niamh quickly felt the urge to go to the packy (liquor store for those of you living outside of Massachusetts.)  Mo was ready for a legit beach vacation.  Sun, sand, BBQs and alcohol!

They returned with a large bottle of Tanqueray (gin), beer and red wine!!!! Mo made me the strongest gin and tonic because I was the first to say I wanted one.  It was strong.  I needed it.  My shoulders and neck were in pain all day.  All it took was a strong G&T, a painful massage by Triona and some essential oils from the house cleaner.  The pain Triona caused me caused me to moan like a bear.  A small crazy wounded bear.  The essential oils released it all without a sign.  The house cleaner went around to all of us.  Me, Maura, Triona, Niamh, Mom and Mo.  Is it a hot feeling or cool? That was the debatable question.  Who is right?  Mom and Niamh, the coldies, or Maura, Triona and I the hotties.  Mo thinks it depended upon the breeze blowing on you! What do you think?   

Since I was feeling relaxed and a bit buzzed, I was inspired to empty out the cars.  My mother told me to sit down and let the others help.  I carried sooOOOOOO many bags to the front porch.  Once they all saw the GIRL with MS working her butt off they got off their lazy bums.  They were like a machine then.  A machine!!!!!  I emptied the AP’s important things, her blankie, pillow and two.  Two?  What?  The AP has a sock monkey; it’s been with her since birth.  It’s irreplaceable.  We tried; so I ordered TWO.  I ordered two twin sock monkey in case Monkey ever go lost.  The AP named them TWO.  How clever is that! 

We all continued to unpack the kitchen and the bedding necessities like a fine-oiled machine.  When we all met up in the kitchen, Triona said, “ All the beds are dressed.”  That was it.  We all settled in and people started cooking.  The five foreigners and four American born, there were more Americans but some were foreign born.  Guests from Boston, Cork, Galway, Manchester, and Lebanon.  It didn’t matter; all the beds were dressed. 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

So much to do, so little time!

Having a baby means an even earlier bedtime than my previous 9 PM.  The AP likes to go to sleep before 7 so we need to squeeze in as much as possible before that.  It's easy since she usually wakes up before 6:30.

We started the day off with a quick breakfast at the Best Western restaurant, Bistro Le 330.  The waiters there are so friendly and really helpful with a baby.  The breakfast buffet is $15.00 and includes various eggs, home fries, sausages, french toast (of course!), fruit, etc...  Since I am still trying to lose the baby weight and then some, I chose to have cottage cheese and a fresh fruit plate.  It was only $4 for the fruit and it was real fruit, not that junk they give you in many places that comes from a jar.

With our tummies stuffed, we headed off to Montmorency Falls; it was about a 10 minute drive.  The AP fell asleep on the way so we sat in the parking lot for a bit; but it was still better to get there nice and early.  When we rode the cable car up, there was only one other family on the car; when we came down, the had to have been at least 100 visitors in line.  It cost $40.00 for 2 adults to park and ride up the cable car to the top of the falls.  At first I thought that was a bit pricey, but I was WRONG!  The ride up in the cable car was worth the money.  What an amazing view it gives!  The cable car operator informed us that 300 cubic meters of water was falling PER SECOND due to the rain yesterday.  It was so powerful.  Once at the top, we crossed over the falls on the suspension bridge where we were sprayed from the forceful falls.  Although this waterfall is not nearly as wide as Niagara Falls, it is approximately 90 feet taller.

From there we drove into Old Quebec to explore for the remainder of the day.  There is plenty of parking in this area.  It cost us $22 for the day, but we didn't mind paying as we didn't have to pay for parking at the hotel last night (The meters stop at 9 PM and begin again at 9 AM.  At the hotel, you can use the meter for up to 5 hours.)  Everyone and every write-up says Old Quebec is very European.  They are certainly correct.  It did not disappoint.  The buildings are charming and colorful, there are cafes and cathedrals everywhere, and the streets have just the right amount of cobblestone.  Highlights - Notre Dame Cathedral which was rebuilt at least 2 times due to fires.  It was also allowed to be built originally by the English after they basically stole Quebec from the French.  Apparently, they had been eyeing it for over a hundred years when James Wolfe led the charge and the French gave in.  They signed the Treaty of Paris and that is how Canada still has a French stronghold in the middle of it.  Man those British were greedy little ________ back in the day!  We tried to have a drink in the world famous Chateau Frontenac (yes, it is the most photographed hotel in the world) while the AP was sleeping in her carriage but were nicely informed that children under 18 are not allowed in bars.  I was bummed because we were going to sit in crazy fur covered seats that had horns but alas, the law is the law.  We weren't hungry enough to venture into the restaurant where the AP was acceptable so we may try it another day.  After strolling the streets and passing the Citadel (insurmountable with a buggy) and Parliament, we were finally hungry enough and tried out 1640 Restaurant right on the square.  If you go there, sit outside.  There was so much to see.  There were Tibetan monks getting their caricatures drawn (truth).  They also had cell phones and tablets.  Hmm... maybe they don't take a vow of poverty either.  These waiters were absolutely amazing.  We had everything we wanted, and they loved the AP.  The poor men spent so much time picking up her toys that she threw and reciprocating her smiles.  One even stood with his tray beneath her hand so that when she let go of the keys, he could catch them.  The beef bourguignon was really as good as claimed to be.  It was so tender you didn't even need a knife to cut it.  It was also reasonably priced.

As the rest of the world started their night, we quietly hopped in the car and headed back to the hotel to end ours.  6:30 PM comes pretty quickly and the AP goes from friendly, happy baby to tired, sad one in 60 seconds.  Even with this, Padraig and I agree she is the most amazing baby ever so that's why we need to do so much in so little time!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

So, you'd think someone with that gives herself the name TravelKat would actually travel a lot; it's been a long time since I have written a blog.  Well, I have traveled a ton since the last blog.  Wow!  Looking back, it's been a really long time since I have written and I have been to a lot of places.  I'll try to remember as many as I can before I get into where I am now.

After Austin, I went to Ireland in July 2012.  That October I traveled to Washington, D.C. to run the Marine Corp Marathon.  There was a hurricane on the horizon, and we weren't certain the marathon would be squeezed in, but hooray, it was.  My cousin, Kathleen (cousin-in-law), and I finished it before the so-called hurricane blew in.  I don't mean to minimalize it, but in D.C. it was really nothing.  As my nephew, Ryan, who was living in Ireland at the time said, "sure, it's like that here everyday."  Some of my supporters were the last plain to leave D.C. that day; however, my mom and I were stuck.  EVERYTHING was closed.  Trains.  Museums.  Drugstores.  What are a girl and her mom to do? Make friends and drink wine in the hotel bar.

That December was the last one that I spent Christmas in Ireland.  I had been going there for Christmas since 2001.  It was wonderful.  If you ever have the opportunity to spend Christmas in Ireland, take it.  People actually celebrate it.  The country celebrates it.  Businesses close.  People have vacation.  They don't have to work Christmas Eve or the day after Christmas.  That's actually a bigger holiday.  In the South or "down the country" as my husband's family calls it, it is called St. Stephen's Day.  Further north, it is Boxing Day.  I haven't spent a Christmas up further than Galway so I don't know much about that.  However, I feel like I can speak freely about a Christmas in Cork City.  Go out to dinner on Christmas Eve.  Hop on the bus and go for Mexican, Thai, or Chinese.  This last one, we went for Chinese.  We means my mom, my sister, Maura, her husband, Tim, the boys, Ryan and Dylan, my great- aunt Kay who journeyed over from New Hampshire that year, and my grandmother's cousin, Anne.  She lives in Cork City and is a reputable business owner.  What a delicious and lovely dinner we had.  Stop into a pub after before you need to catch your bus home so you don't miss Santa.  Spend Christmas Day sitting around in the sitting room after you open your gifts.  Eat lots oc chocolate, drink plenty of wine, and stuff yourself on a delicious turkey dinner after pulling at your Christmas cracker.  Continue the party the next day at someone else's house.  This is the day where you celebrate with more than your immediate family.  I'll stop on that for now.  Check back in December for Christmas in Donegal, Ireland.

A couple of months later I headed to Puerto Vallerta, Mexico with the kids (Buntha and Christine).  Someone so nicely gave them that endearing name because the frequently hang out with me and my husband, Padraig.  We stayed at a beautiful all-inclusive with lots of activities right on the beach.  Let me know if you want more information because I would highly recommend the hotel but don't remember it off the top of my head.

Two months later, my generous friend, Kara, invited us all to her parents vacation house in Punta Gordo, Florida.  So... the kids and I flew on down to spend the week with Kara, her partner, Tommy, and their joyful little girl.  Basically, we rolled out of bed every morning into the pool.  We did venture out to Siesta Key which is one of the most gorgeous beached I have ever been on.  It is just like a beach in the Caribbean.  The sand is white, the water is clear, and it is not crowded.  We enjoyed a yummy lunch at Daquiri Deck along with some tasty frozen cocktails.

Moving on...  that summer, the kids and I went on the road trip of a lifetime.  My wedding was coming up in December, and we decided we needed one last hurrah.  So, we headed north in Christine's Honda CRV.  We nicknamed it WOWOW (Work-out-world-on-wheels)!  We brought some hand weights and weight balls so we wouldn't gain a million pounds on the road.  Well, that didn't actually work because after all of our stops, we could have used some liposuction.  First stop was Niagara Falls, followed by Toronto, Chicago, Nashville, Memphis, New Orleans, and Charleston.  It really was an unforgettable experience.  We even got to stay in a Four Seasons in New Orleans after many Best Westerns.  Our original intention of one nice meal in every city didn't work either and I would STRONGLY recommend never going to Jerry Lee Lewis' restaurant in Memphis unless you want to be attacked by mosquitoes, INSIDE, get denied lemons by the bartender, and have to watch some atrocious dancing.

Along came December after time in Rhode Island over the summer and Newport in November.  Padraig and I headed to St. Pete's Beach, Florida with approximately 90 family and friends to celebrate our wedding.  I would recommend it to anyone for a vacation or a wedding.  We stayed the the Bay Palms Resort.  It looks a little sketchy from the main street but is actually AMAZING.  The rooms had kitchens and living rooms.  There was huge deck where we could all hang out to barbecue, play games, fish, etc.  There is also a little pool that was perfect for the kids. They have a larger pool across the street at another part of the hotel that is right on the beach.  Where we stayed was on the water too.  They also have a cheesy, yet fun, happy hour every day.  The wedding was at the Grand Plaza Hotel which was amazing.  However, I would suggest staying at the Bay Palms because you have so much more room and such easy access to the outside.

Padraig and I honeymooned in Los Angeles and San Diego in February.  Go to Loteria on Hollywood Boulevard for really good margaritas and guacamole.  It really was so good.  The Roosevelt Hotel has tiny rooms but a really popular pool area and bar.  It's worth going for an afternoon if you don't stay there.

In San Diego we didn't stay at any special hotel, but took a unique beer and wine tour.  It's the La Jolla Beer and Wine tour and includes the train tickets as well as tastings in various towns and a lunch in Carlsbad, I believe.  It ended in Old Town where we again ate amazing Mexican food.

After so much Mexican, I had to go to the actual country again for the 4th time so the kids and I headed to Cozumel for a week in April.  It was a little different for me that year as I was 3 months pregnant.  I had lots of virgin Mojtos on the beach.  At this all-inclusive we found the beach to be our number one choice over the pool.  They had small sailboats we could take out and snorkeling tours.  The snorkeling was so enjoyable as Cozumel is in the Caribbean.  You can see the bottom of the ocean.  We saw barracudas, sea turtles, and loads of other fish.  I'd love to go back.

I went back to Cape Cod, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island Last summer.

The amazing peanut, my baby, was born in November 2014, and we took our first family trip in March 2015 to Ireland to visit the in-laws.  I didn't know them that well and didn't know Donegal at all, but after this one visit, I felt at home.  Hopefully, I will explain more at another time.

NOW... FINALLY... we are in Quebec City.  At this very moment.  Padraig and I bravely popped the amazing peanut (AP) in the car and headed out of the city as soon as I started summer vacation.  It was supposed to be a 6.5 hour commute but took 7.  The WORST PART was driving through Boston; it took over an hour to get from one side to the other.  Once through, it was easy breezy (mostly).  There were a couple of delays in Southern New Hampshire and the AP got sick just before the boarder crossing in Vermont.  Unfortunately, the weather was terrible today.  We decided to use the rainy day to take AP to her first aquarium.  The aquarium is very small.  AP, a 7-month old, enjoyed it.  It's good for very small children and outside actually has fun walruses and POLAR BEARS.  It was too rainy for us to spend more than a couple of minutes outside.  It was also expensive for what it was.  Avoid it unless it is the only option you have on a bad weather day.

We are staying at the Best Western in the City-Center.  It is a 20 minute walk to the Old Town.  The hotel is worth it though with kids.  The room is really like the size of two rooms.  It has a decent size pool with comfy couches.  The AP went into a pool for the first time today with Padraig and loved splashing around.  It has a good restaurant where we had breakfast and dinner today.  It is much easier to eat here in the bad weather than to venture out.  So far everyone has been so friendly toward the baby.  Quebec seems to have the best high chairs everywhere.  Way better than Boston.  Although I approve of the hotel, I would try to find a hotel with suites the next time we go away.  I am writing so much right now because the baby is sleeping.  Sorry if I've bored you to death!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Like a Duck to Water

Saturday morning in Galway started off with an early morning 12 mile run.  I am training for a marathon in October and trying to stay on schedule even with all this traveling.  The Galway Kellys live in a pretty rural area, and the evening before they showed me how to get to Salthill so I could run along Galway Bay.  As I have mentioned before, I am not very good with directions.  As soon as I turned out of the driveway, I was going in the wrong direction.  This led me to be on country roads for 12 miles.  I am not used to driving on country roads never mind running on them.  After the first 2 miles I had to have a talk with myself.  See, I wasn't enjoying the run at all, and my heart was beating a million miles a minute.  I was really nervous running on these roads.  So, I said to myself, "relax and calm down or just turn back now because it won't be worth it."  Being a big girl, I continued on and calmed myself down.  Then, it became a thoroughly enjoyable experience.  I passed 3 cyclists on the road and 1 walker.  That was it for 12 miles.  Along the way,  I stopped to take in the view and admire the beautiful animals I saw along the way: cows, horses, donkeys, and even a little bunny.  Many people can attest to the fact that I really am not a pet person, and in fact have admitted to my 3rd grade students in the past that I hate cats, but I really love animals that don't reside in your home.  Cows and elephants are my favorites.  I did see a dead cat this evening just lying on the sidewalk and felt a little sorry for it.  See, I am not heartless.   If you get the opportunity to run on country roads in Ireland, take it.  I would go earlier in the day around 8 or 9 on a weekend to avoid more traffic.  All in all, I felt like I really accomplished something when I returned back to the Kelly's, and the rest of them were chowing down on a traditional Irish fry (fried eggs, sausage, black pudding, rashers, beans, homefries).

Next up in the day came a trip to Connemara.  See Tim's uncle and aunt live out there, and Maura and Tim happened to bump into his aunt on Friday night at the grocery store an hour away from their house in Ros Muc, Connemara (you'll find the more you travel, the more you realize how small the world is).  Driving out there, I couldn't get over how out in the middle of nowhere we were and how different the landscape was.  Apparently, feel free to correct me if I am wrong, when Oliver Cromwell invaded Ireland in 1649, he pushed many Irish out to Connemara where the land was nowhere near as fertile which made it difficult for them to survive.  I was thinking exactly the same thing as we continued further into Connemara.  I asked no one in particular, "how do people live out here?" Tim answered, "oh, Kate, I think you'd love it out here.  You'd be like a duck to water!"  We all know how far from the truth that is.  Despite the barren landscape, the people were absolutely lovely.  Tim's aunt had a varied spread set out for us for lunch and served Maura and me Dunkin' Donuts coffee.  Ah, a taste of home.  Their 2 daughters were just as gracious as their parents, and their youngest took Maura, Ryan, Dylan, and I for a leisurely stroll around the neighborhood.  Two things that stuck out were the Twelve Pins Mountains and one of the 2 shops/bars in the town where parts of the film "The Guard" were filmed.  Great movie if you get a chance to watch it; I highly recommend it.  After a few hours of chatting, eating, and drinking coffee, we hit the road back to the Kelly's for an evening of much of the same.

Maura, Tim, and our cousin, Deidre put together a fantastic meal from Jamie Oliver's 30 Minute Meals cookbook.  It was green curry and an amazing coleslaw.  I am not a fan of the stuff usually, but this was made without mayonnaise and was the favorite dish by far.  We all sat around the table talking and laughing and drinking red wine.  If you are ever at their house, I am sure Eileen will make you an Irish coffee, and you should not refuse.  For those of you who have never had an Irish coffee, it is made up of coffee (duh!), Irish whiskey, and whipping cream.  So yummy!  You should really try to limit yourself to one.  We all retired to the sitting room (living room) where we caught some of the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics.  I am really rooting for the Saudi women; it is the first time they have been allowed to participate in the Olympics.  I have to say, I really appreciate the Kellys and spending time in their home.  They are all so welcoming and make us feel right at home.

As you can see, I didn't do much sightseeing while in Galway.  I will give you some recommendations from previous visits.  1.  Salthill - it's a terrific place to walk, run, people watch, or take in a beautiful view.  There is a fun fair there for kids and a leisureworld with a pool for rainy days.  2.  The Aran Islands - risky boat ride, not for the faint of stomach.  I was there 14 years ago and was amazed by their way of life.  You can do a day trip there to get a feel for it.  3.  The Cliffs of Moher - these are actually in Clare, but it is only about an hour drive and well worth the trip.  These cliffs are breathtaking.  4.  The Galway Races - these take place the last week of July/ first week of August.  Great fun and people watching.  The atmosphere is spectacular, and if you get some good tips, you can win a few bucks (euros).  5.  Cactus Jack's Restaurant is a good spot for Mexican.  I have been there a few times and have never been disappointed.  6. Galway City Centre - small, walkable area that is very pedestrian friendly and has many shops, restaurants, and pubs.  The King's Head is a favorite of mine.

Hope you take some of my suggestions for a visit to Galway.  It is truly one of my favorite cities to visit.

It's Not a Start until the Stops are Done

On Friday, we headed to Galway City to visit the Galway Kellys (including my buddy Triona).  The previous evening we, Maura, Tim, and I, decided we would leave as soon as possible in the morning because it looked like it was going to be a sunny day.  If you are in Ireland at the moment, you know that this is not something you take for granted.  I am not one of those consummate complainers about the weather in Ireland.  The weather has been pretty cooperative with me through the years, but this is not one of those times.  Let's just say I would like Tim to start a fire in the evening, and he has denied me my right to warmth because it is summer.  Summer, really?  I don't recall wearing a fleece in the summer in Boston, but back to Galway. 

As I said, we were going to leave at the crack of dawn of Friday to enjoy the glorious sunshine as much as possible.  If you knew Maura and Tim at all or me for a matter of fact, leaving early means two totally different things to them and me.  To me, it means waking at 5 and hitting the road by 6.  To them, it means whenever we get up and get everything together, and I mean EVERYTHING.  We were going to Galway for 3 days, but it looked like we were moving to Galway.  You should have seen the amount of food we had in the car!  Now, in fairness, we decided we would stop for a picnic on the way up to Galway (again to soak up the sun), so we did have sandwiches, fruit, and drinks for lunch.  However, there was a cooler bag on the floor in the back seat, a bag full of various provisions on the floor of the front, and food in the boot(trunk).  Thanksgiving dinner could have been provided from our car for the Pilgrims and Indians.  Finally, after we had enough food to last us in case we got caught in the midst of a blizzard, we all climbed into the car and buckled up.  First stop, Ballincollig to return DVDs and go to the bank to exchange U.S. dollars that Grandpa (or Dad as I like to call him) so nicely sent over for all of us to enjoy.  Great!  We are on the road; well not really as I soon found out.  Maura suggested we all get out of the car to stretch our legs instead of having 2 adults do the errands.  Okay, everybody out.  Climb back in the car and get a phone call from the video store that one of the DVD cases was empty.  Great.  Back to the house, collect the DVD, and back to town to return it.  Is this a start now?  I thought so.  Tim drove for about 10 minutes, and we landed in Blarney where we had our picnic, went for a walk, and raised our faces to the sun.  Sorry, I forgot to mention that it was about 1:00 by this time.  See the difference in thinking?  Me: 6:00 AM, them: 1:00PM, all of us thinking an early start.  I have to give myself a pat on the back because I have come to accept this difference over the years, and to be fair, they have 2 children and I just have myself.  In the end, we hit the road at 1:30 PM.

After that the ride was pretty uneventful.  Dylan, Maura, and I all took naps for a good bit of the 3 1/2 hour journey.  When we stopped just outside of Galway City, we all woke up, used the toilets (yuck, yuck yuck by the way!  Why do people write stupid things on bathroom walls with phone numbers there?  Quality people you will find in this manner, I am sure.), and of course, got a snack. 

About a half hour later, the wary travelers, us, arrived in Barna which is about 10 minutes from the city centre.  Dave had the barbeque going, yes the sun was still out, and Eileen asked us what time we started our journey.  I replied, "12:30." M|eanwhile, Maura and Tim said, "1:30."  I was slightly confused as we had left the house at 12:30.  Eileen said, "oh, it's not a start until the stops are done."

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Little Bit of Cork

Don't worry, I haven't stopped traveling yet this summer.  For the past 10 days I have been in Ireland.  Some of you may ask why, oh why, Travelkat, have you not been blogging about your experiences in the Emerald Isle?  But, alas, I have been here so many times that I don't do much traveling within the country anymore.  I come to visit my amazing sister, Maura, her wonderful husband, Tim, and my two incredible nephews, Ryan (8) and Dylan (4).  They live in a town called Ballincollig, which is really a suburb of Cork City.  It is about 7 miles from the city centre; don't expect me to tell you what side of the city as I am absolutely horrible with directions.  Cory is a lovely city with a rich history and many tourist attractions.  I haven't been to any of them really in a few years, but I will mention a few that stick out in my mind from previous visits.  To get a fantastic view of the city, stop by the Church of St. Anne - Shandon Bells and climb the tower.  You can actually play a tune on the bells in the tower for all the city to enjoy.  Another one of the memorable places I ventured to is the Old City Gaol.  They give you a headset that provides a history of the jail and some of its guests, and there is one frightening bit if you are a nervous Nelly like me!  Walking around the city centre you will find buskers and artists as well as lots of great shops and restaurants.

Now,  I can't tell you the number of times I have heard people say, "the food is terrible in Ireland."  This is a complete fallacy.  Maybe 30 years ago the restaurant selection and quality was not the same as it was in the states (I can't really speak from experience as the 1st time I visited I was 8 and didn't return until I was 21), but the times have changed.  If you hear this from someone, challenge them on it.  A terrific family restaurant with delicious food and a welcoming staff that we visit frequently is Scoozi.  The spicy wings are a favorite of all of us and my two favorite main dishes are the warm spicy salad and the chicken pesto sandwich.  Everyone I have ever dined with here has enjoyed it.  Not too far from Scoozi is the Imperial Hotel.  I only had the opportunity to dine there once and all I remember is that the warm bread pudding is out of this world.  The memory of it has stuck with me for at least 4 years so it must be good.  Cafe Mexican is another terrific spot.  It is tiny so beware if you have children and strollers, but they never made us feel unwelcome with both.  This is the one place in the city where I have found margaritas and as you all know, I love me a margarita!  The best place, in my mind, for coffee is Nosh and Coffee.  They have everything you could want from sandwiches to crepes to hot chocolate.  It's an ideal spot to stop and relax after shopping or touring.  Of course there are loads of pubs to rest in, but I have to plug Counihan's.  Downstairs is a traditional Irish pub and upstairs is a modern pub; the best of both worlds.  It has been a Cork institution for over 200 years.  It is located across from the General Post Office on Pembroke St.

Outside of the city centre, the biggest tourist attraction has to be Blarney Castle.  This is where you can kiss the Blarney Stone and receive the gift of gab.  Now, I have visited Blarney Castle approximately 10 times and have never kissed the stone for 2 reasons.  1.  You have to lay on your back and stick your head off a very high side of the castle.  I don't like heights and am not willing to risk my life just so I can talk more.  I will stick with the writing thank you very much.  2.  There is an urban legend that the locals pee on the stone.  So, if you are not afraid of heights, this idea might stop you from puckering up.  The castle is fun to visit, the stairs are a bit treacherous, and the grounds are beautiful.  Of course, Blarney Woolen Mills is a must stop shopping experience for any tourist looking to buy Irish gifts and souvenirs.  Ryan and I popped in to get 2 gifts for 2 new babies in our families (a Munster jersey and an Ireland Rugby jersey).  As we were waiting to pay, Ryan observed, "there are a lot of Americans in here" and there were.  I pointed out that he too was an American, but he identifies as Irish and he is.  Born and raised here.  Blarney Woolen Mills has everything from the usual Guinness paraphernalia to Aran knit sweaters, to gorgeous sweaters and dresses.  They also have a bar and restaurant there where you find locals and tourist alike.  There also tend to be a lot of older gentlemen patiently waiting for their better halves to finish shopping. 

Speaking of shopping, if you come at this time of the year or after Christmas, the sales are excellent!  I bought 2 gorgeous dresses from Carraig Donn for £65.  They were made in Paris even, ooh-la-la!

I will update again later today or tomorrow with information about our trip to Galway and Bunratty Castle over the weekend.  Irish hospitality is a real and living thing.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Alamo, anyone?

Waking up after a whiskey filled night with only 5 hours of sleep should have been torture but happily it wasn't!  Clearly, we did not start our day off with a run and reminisced about the previous night's escapades instead.  With the shennanigans behind us, we climbed in the green monster truck and hit the road for San Antonio.  Next stop, the Alamo!

On the drive down I observed that the landscape buffering the highways in Texas is very different than that in Massachusetts.  There are lots of fast food places and strip malls that line the roads.  Just an observation.  We also noticed that there are different medical clinics for various things everywhere.  Eyes, ears, feet, ankles, carpel tunnel, etc. . .  There were also some really massive churches; I mean massive.  One looked as big as a shopping mall and had an extensive parking lot.  So different.

Then we came upon San Antonio.  It's a pretty small city center, but I loved it.  There were plenty of parking lots charging $10, but we did find parking on the street.  There were lots of meters if you headed one block outside of the city center.  There is a main street with the Alamo, Ripley's Believe It or Not, and a wax museum.  It looks like it would be a great place for families to visit.  The girls and I decided to save the Alamo and eat first.  We were ravenous so we headed to the Riverwalk.  This is a really cool spot along the river with restaurants and shops lining it.  Of course, there were plenty of Mexican restaurants and we ate at one.  You would have thought we had never eaten before.  I got guacamole in my nose and Niamh had some food particles under one of her eyes.  A bunch of animals if you ask me!  Triona and I had classic margaritas, of course.  It was a fabulous spot to sit and eat and take in the scenery.  There was a constant flow of water taxis, police boats, and tour boats to entertain us.  I also got to see a few good cowboys in full cowboy attire.

After stuffing ourselves like pigs, we headed to the Alamo.  If you have read my previous blogs, you might have read that sometimes I get really full.  Well, this was one of those times.  It felt like I had a brick sitting in my stomach.  This is terribly awful feeling in the sun and heat of San Antonio.  I tried not to complain, "uh, I am so full," too much, but when the girls started there was no stopping me.

Great thing about the Alamo, it's free!!!  Every tourist attraction I have been to here has been free.  Fantastic.  They have a great set-up to teach people about the history of the Alamo and the history of Texas.  It is so fascinating to me how different states in The United States of America have such different histories.  A tour guide gave a speech about the history of the Alamo, but we think he must have been on the bacholrette party the night before with us.  He kept having long pauses and was soaked with sweat.  Triona was the lucky one when a rather large woman decided to stand right in front of her to take a photograph.  Interesting experience for her to have a stranger's crotch right in her face.  We were dying.  I couldn't pick up my head for laughing so hard.

We were able to pull ourselves together enough to get up from our spot and go to the tourist information center.  I found it to be an excellent source of souveniers at good prices.  We tried to find a drink in San Antonio, and that proved harder than we thought!  They only had water at the tourist center, and in the end we went to the little concession stand at the WAX museum.  I was delighted to get a fountain Fanta orange as it is a rarity to find that in Boston.  As we were sitting at the counter sipping our sodas, Triona remarked, "that man over there must be so tired.  He has been posing like that all day. " "I know," I said, "it must be exhausting."  "Yea, he must be really sore at the end of the day," Triona commented.  "Triona, are you serious?  Are you really serious?" "Yea, Katie, he must be really tired,  Jeany mac."  "Triona, look at the sign outside that tells us where we are."  "Oh, he is wax."  She is not really dumb.  The girl is going to be a vet.  Let's just hope she doesn't try to operate on any wax pets.

We didn't keep it together for long though.  As soon as we got out of the main area, we all lost it with fits of laughter.  I was the one that started it off and could not get a hold of myself.  I am sure we looked and sounded really obnoxious to those unfortunate enough to pass us by, but I have not laughed like that it ages.  Trying to calm myself down, I would take deep breaths and then lose it all over again when Triona asked, "what are you doing?"  At one point Niamh thought she might pee her pants.  Honestly, it was ridiculous and my back was absolutely killing me from bending over and laughing, but it made me forget about my full belly for a bit.

Once in the car and back on the highway, I couldn't get my mind off how full I was.  Seriously, like 4 hours later I was still dying.  I felt like my stomach had doubled in size.  Every enormous billboard adverstising food, like Wataburger and Chick-fil-a, actually made me want to vomit.  I couldn't even look at them and vowed I wouldn't eat for the rest of the day.  Niamh promised she would remind me of this vow later on.  We stopped for gas, and I decided to use the restroom.  It was a good size station and had a large store with it so I wasn't really hesitant at all to use it.  That changed when I walked in the door and noticed a man at the hot dog stand staring at me.  In reality, he probably glanced my way for a second, but seeing as I am a paranoid scaredy Kat, I assumed he was going to follow me into the bathroom and kill me.  Then I figured, Niamh and Triona would probably notice I was taking a really long time and come to check on me.  As you now know, he didn't kill me.  But I mentioned it to the girls, and Triona said that as I annoucned I was going to the toilet, she thought, "well, I wouldn't really go to the toilet here because it is kind of deserted," but she didn'tsay it becuse she didn't want to freak me out.

Continuing on our journey, we stopped at the San Marcos shopping outlets.  We only went into the Nike outlet where I bought a pair of running shorts that I love!  It wasn't really a bargain though, $33.00 at an outlet on sale.  However, these are the best shorts ever.  I told the girls when we got home that if I could, I literally would marry the shorts, they are that comfortable.  Niamh suggested that it might be easier to do that in California than Texas.