Sunday, October 29, 2006

Life is Hard

Warning: This is not a travel update just me making some observations about life in Ireland.

Upon finding out that we are living in Ireland for a year from the US, the most consistent question we are asked is "Is it much different here?" This question is being asked in a way that I sense they are hoping (or maybe not) that it isn't all that different from America. Which seems to contradict the "that's too American" theme they have adopted to try to avoid to becoming too much like us.
At first, I answered that it wasn't much different at all. The language is the same (that is not exactly true) and basically we are the same in that we go to work, school, have families, passionate about football (albeit two totally different sports), etc... you know the day to day living. Well that is still true, but the difference I have found, is somehow that day to day living seems a wee bit harder.
Let's start with one of my least favorite things to do in the States that has become absolute agony here in Ireland: grocery shopping. There are only two grocery stores that I can even consider going to. Now it doesn't even bother me that since they charge for bags that I have to remember to take my own. I actually like that idea and even more than that I love (except when I don't have any money with me except a credit card I am cursing the whole set up) is that you have to put a 1eruo coin in the trolley (grocery cart) to get it out and when you return it and attach the chain you get your money back. Which alleviates one of my pet peeves, lazy people who leave grocery carts haphazardly in the parking lots.
But neither of these things actually has to do with choosing the items. A simple recipe of chocolate chip cookies somehow becomes frustrating when I can only find chocolate chips in a bag the size of M&M's for about $5. And how about some warm cornbread on cool autumn night-no not if it calls for creamed corn. And some pretzel sticks for some spooky tarantula cookies. No. And when I do finally find a familiar item I have been looking for it is in a spot I would have never looked in a serving the size of Gerber baby food. Example: cottage cheese. And then of course, let's not forget it won't even taste the same. Based on many of the sizes of things they are still of the mind set to go to the grocery store every day.
I expected that there wouldn't be 5 different brands of the same item, I just didn't expect that there wouldn't be very many items. So I find myself purchasing the same things over and over, week after week. (Cilantro, forget it) Oh and ice cream? It isn't even totally frozen that by the time you reach the check out it is already melting out of the side. A simple plain potato chip? A treasure hunt through all the onion, vinegar and cheddar chips. Not easy. I can't even begin to tell you how expensive it is. And grapes: a luxury. I think we might splurge and have some with Christmas dinner. The advantage of being here is you can choose from all the breads (but only buy what you can eat in about three days as it molds quickly), cheeses and liquor you can imagine. And pushing a grocery cart through the mall and across the street to the library car park where they have trolley returns is an interesting experience.
Next, trying to find materials for the kids school projects. Painful. Finding a Thomas Hardy classic for bookclub? After a week of looking at the library and the only two small bookstores in the area, it must have been fate that Borders opened on Saturday offering the book for a mere 3euro. (Nevermind that I found out today we will be in Spain for the bookclub meeting)
I think that most of this discontent has to do with the awful road planning and traffic that we encounter to almost everywhere, but alas that is another blog.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Hadrians Wall/English Lakes

I hope you all did your homework on the Roman ruins. We visited the Wall starting at Steel Rigg and were going to walk the 2.5 miles along it to Housestead's but the weather was not cooperating. We headed to Vindolanda which was a Roman settlement and I thought the most interesting place of the day. It has many artifacts of daily life that have been uncovered since the Romans lived there in and around 100AD . We ended at Corbridge which was a Roman fort. But by the time we got there the kids had seen enough stacked stone and were paying more attention to the sheep.
We then headed towards Grasmere, England where we are staying at the Best Western Red Lion Inn. It is a very small village of less than a thousand people. It is quiet, relaxing and serene. This is also where William Woodsworth lived and wrote most of his poetry. It is also the home of Beatrix Potter from the Peter Rabbit tales. The drive into this Lakes region was breathtaking with the green rolling hills divided by short stone walls and the mountains in the background. We had spent all day in the car so it was nice to be here in this quaint village and walk along the narrow streets, go to the park and relax. This area is very busy in the summer and very quiet right now. The hills and mountains cater to walkers/hikers and climbers of all abilites. We spent this morning at the park and the shops. We are headed out to one of the easier hikes this afternoon. Tomorrow we are going to stop in a slightly larger town of Windermere, take in some shopping and head down to Liverpool.
One of the highlights of our trip is there: Costco. 4 of us are flying home while Jay and two kids will take the ferry back with the van full of things we just can't get in Ireland.
As always the trip was great but we are ready to get back home and start planning the next. The countryside here and in Scotland were beautiful and I can't wait to get home and post some photos.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Haste ye back!

This is the sign you encounter as you leave the small towns along the coast of Scotland. We will definitey be back. We just got a small glimpse of this country. This morning at about 10:30 we walked to the Edinburgh castle. It took about 2o minutes and the weather today was great. We saw the sun. It was mostly sunny and just a wee bit chilly. The castle is enormous and the highlights for us were the Crown jewels (instead of explaining I will just add links if you are curious-
The One o'clock gun which fires everyday at suprisingly one o'clock. The origin of this tradition lies in the days when sailing ships in the Firth of Forth were able to check and reset their chronometers in the days before accurate timepieces were available. Now it is just a way for tourist to set their watches. And finally the Prisoner of War cells and memorabilia. We ate lunch and the kids went to a couple of children activities so we were there for about 3 hours.
We left and walked along the Royal Mile which is full of shops. Along the Royal Mile is a fun and free Museum of Childhood just full of old toys from different eras. We then walked back to the apartment and the boys went to the cinema to see Barnyard. So we were able to see most of what I had planned but we will hasten back and see much more of the country.
Tomorrow we leave early and head to Northern England with a stop at the border to see Hadrian's wall. Refresh your memory so you know what we are talking about :)

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

First Day in Edinburgh

We woke up this morning with a view of the river and Edinburgh castle. It is cloudy and will stay overcast the entire day. No sun to be seen. Infact, I have noticed we all are getting a bit pale with the lack of sunlight. We may have to find the tanning beds:) and take a Vitamin D supplement. But even with the haziness, the buildings are so interesting to look at with the mixture of old and new architecture. We slept in and at 11:00am were on our way to a science museum called Dynamic Earth. This was a fast moving, very interesting museum for adults as well as kids. We also ate lunch in the cafe there which I had read got pretty good reviews. It was good with a wide selection for a museum cafe.
I had planned to take the kids to a puppet show but I didn't know if we would make it in time. It was in the same direction of the Flight museum so we headed towards the Brunton theater in East Lothian. We arrived about 10 minutes late and all decide to go in except for Jay and Cameron who pick us up an hour later. The puppet show was called " The Man Who Planted Trees" from Jean Giono's tale about a French shepherd who transforms a desolate region by planting hundreds of thousands of trees. It was probably too much dialogue for the kids but enough humor and fun from the talking dog that kept them awake, except for Breanna. I liked it and the story of how the tale came about is interesting
We then headed for our final adventure of the day the National Museum of Flight also in East Lothian. Here the main attraction is Scotland's Concorde supersonic jet. It has a very thorough tour of the jet along with a short movie. It also includes a couple of hangars with civil and military aircraft. It was a nice museum in the middle of farmland. We headed back to the apartment and will spend the rest of the evening relaxing. Tomorrow's itinerary includes the Edinburgh castle, the Royal Mile, shopping, possibly the Holyrood Palace and Butterfly world. Goodnight

Hello, from Scotland

We left Ireland on Sunday and headed up to a church in Dundalk (about an hour away) where Jay was looking forward to meeting some members from his mission. We drove to the address we had which was a home in a small subdivision but there clearly was no meeting being held there. So after asking a couple of people we realized we were not going to be able to find it on this trip. We had lunch and headed towards Belfast, another hour north. There is no border crossing between the Republic and Northern Ireland. However the scenery does change with a more mountainous feel (well large rolling hills) and seemed much prettier compared to the areas around Dublin. We spent the night at the Hilton in Fitzpatrick and awoke the next morning to take the car ferry to Scotland. We left Larne, N.I. and an hour and a half later arrived in Carinrayn, Scotland. The ferry ride was smooth and not crowded. As soon as we started driving I could tell this was a special place. I don't know if it is all my genealogy research making the names of places familiar to me or the beauty of the country. From the moment you leave the port, on the right side of the car are lush green hills and valleys with white, wooly sheep dotting the country side that seem to go on forever. Turning to look out the left side of the car is the calming waters of the Irish Sea. We follow this route all the way to Ayr which is where we decide to stop for lunch. We are all very hungry and decide to eat wherever we can find a parking space. We find a space next to Carlton's Cafe near a new public park. It doesn't look like much and inside is a quiet, unassuming older gentleman taking our orders. We had a couple of baguettes, pizza, fries, and ice cream which were pretty good. We would have taken the kids over to the park but it is FREEZING and we need to get going to make it to the Stirling Castle. We are already a little behind schedule. So while the driving distances aren't that far you just can't drive very fast.
We arrive to Stirling at about 4 pm giving us a couple of hours to tour the Castle. While it isn't the best castle that I have visited the grounds that surround it and the views are magical. I will put the pictures under the map section. These grounds are where the famous battles of William Wallce and Robert the Bruce took place. We leave Stirling for Edinburgh which took a little, well a lot longer to get to our apartment because I didn't have the address. We arrive at 9:30 and Jay, Grant and I leave to go get a few groceries. We are so starved for good shopping we couldn't wait to get here and find the ASDA superstore. This is Walmart in the UK. It was nice to have selections and it is a wee less expensive. So after getting home at about 11 pm we very tired and look forward to sleeping in.