Thursday, December 17, 2009

cheesed off

There is more to Irish cheeses than cheddar (and technically speaking cheddar is not even that Irish...). While you might not find them in your average supermarket, if you head to any farmers market around the country you'll be surprised by the variety of great cheeses made in Ireland by small producers with tasty recipes - and usually at much better value than those cheeses you will find in the supermarket.

Here are my favourites - that I buy at the Gorey's farmers market on Saturdays:

-Clonmore

is a very tasty hard(ish) goats cheese made in county Cork.

-Gubbeen, made in West Cork

is a cow's milk cheese, creamy and great to eat with chutneys. There is also a smoked version.

-Mature sheep cheese (such as Cratloe Hills)
if you like manchego, you'll love this.

-Carlow cheese
based in Fenagh, they make cheddar-type cheeses with unusual flavours, such as nettle and sundried tomatoes, chilli, etc...

-if you are into blue cheese (not my case): then try Wicklow Blue or Cashel Blue.

Wicklow has a whole range of its own cheeses. Wicklow Baun is a brie-type cheese and Old MacDonnells farm in the Glen of the Downs makes not only probiotic yogurt but also soft spreadable sheep cheese.

If you want to investigate for yourself, this is a very useful site, if you are interested in learning a bit more about great cheeses made in Ireland: http://www.irishcheese.ie/

Nollaig Shona!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

before, during and after - Mauerfall Berlin

I'm totally in with Berlin's mayor when he says the city 'might be poor but it's sexy'. Capital of cool, Berlin's unemployment is surprisingly out of line in a country like Germany but then that might be explained by the high number of students, artists, musicians, etc... counted among Berlin's residents...



while this might not reflect particularly well on the financial sheets of the State, it is what gives the city its welcoming character. The city, that just celebrated the 20th anniversary of fall of the wall (mauerfall), has been the 'muse' of three great movies - reflecting live in the city (or cities!) before, during and after the Mauerfall.



-The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) - Before



Released in 2006, this masterpiece focuses on the invisible relationship of a Stasi agent and a couple of intellectuals he is 'surveying' in the East Berlin of the 1980s. Rightly so, it won an Oscar for Best foreign language film. One of the best movies in a long time.



-Good Bye Lenin (2003) - During

This hilarious drama/comedy follows Alex's troubles. His mum has been in a coma for a few months, missing one of the most important episodes in the history of the country: the fall of teh wall. As he tries to keep his mum from finding out the Berlin wall has fallen, in order to save her fragile health, Alex keeps their flat in East Berlin as West-free as possible, with very funny consequences.



-Run Lola Run (Lola rennt - 1998) - After

This popular thriller sees Lola literally running across different parts of post-wall Berlin trying to find 100,000 marks in cash to save her boyfriend Manni. Three options on three different ways Lola could have solve this problem unfold... offering some Berlin sightseeing along the way.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Cork among top 10 cities to visit in 2010

Lonely Planet has just discovered what we had known for a while: Cork is fab. Cork city has made it to the Top 10 cities to visit in 2010 by Lonely Planet's 'Best in Travel 2010'. The guide - that was just launched this week - praises Cork for being 'sophisticated, vibrant and diverse', while still relaxed and charming. Beat that!

The other cities in the Lonely Planet Top 10 are: Cuenca, Ecuador; Sarajevo, Bosnia & Hercegovina; Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates; Kyoto, Japan; Lecce, Italy; Singapore; Vancouver, Canada; Istanbul, Turkey; and Charleston, USA.

Get your checklist started and get down to Cork, quick! The Film Festival is on this month so you can still get ahead of the crowd.

Arriving late for Berlin Wall Fall 20th anniversary celebrations

I'm gutted I didn't check my facts before booking my flights to visit my brother in Berlin. It turns out, we will be arriving 5 days after the big 20th anniversary celebration of the fall of the infamous Berlin Wall. dammit.

Anyway, I'm getting into the Berlin Wall Fall celebrations mood by watching George Lee's 4-part series Beyond the Berlin Wall that started last night on RTE (you can catch it on RTE Player at www.rte.ie) even if I'll be arriving when all the party is finished!

So we might be too late for the Wall celebrations and too early for the Christmas markets... now that's what I call good planning. I hope my brother is around at least ;-)

Monday, November 2, 2009

Cork nostalgia + veggie spots for hungry meat-eaters


Agnieszka has been telling me off for not updating the hungry rambler a bit more often so I promise, mala, I'll be good in the run up to Xmas. The truth is that I've been quite busy: I was in Cork for a few days around the October Bank Holiday for a friend's wedding and took the chance to go and check on some other friends we hadn't seen for a while.

The thing about Cork is that I never want to go back home after being there. I always have a wannaliveincork type of crisis that lasts for a good few days. I'm only recovering now!

Anyway. It was the chance to finally go for a meal at the reknowned Cafe Paradiso, meant to be the best veggie resto in the country. IT was a bit pricey but boy was it good... (I only write 'boy' because I'm just back from Cork you see... they say boy all the time down there... I kind of like it - it makes sentences sound much stronger...)- to sound like a real Corkegian you need to add that to emphasise your opinions, as well as adding 'like' at the end of each phrase (if you want to emphasise it or not). Try it at home. IT's safe ;-) and great fun. I like 'like' myself quite a lot. It probably drives most people scatty but once you start, there is no stopping.

I was too stuffed to go for a dessert and that's saying something: vegetarian doesn't mean you have to go hungry. I really think meat-eaters should try a good veggie cafe or restaurant every now and then. They'll be pleasantly surprised.

As for myself, I couldn't really become a full-time vegetarian, for two reasons: meat lasagna and chorizo sausage. And seafood, of course.

However, if out and about looking for some good food, try a veggie restaurant/cafe if possible: they rarely dissapoint. You will find they are in general more creative with their menus than conventional cafes.

If you rather test it at home first: Cafe Paradiso has a cookbook out (this is high end cooking mind you), if you'd like something more 'doable' at home go for the Cornucopia one.

Cornucopia is another great veggie spot, this time in Dublin, where the amazing smells of the place and just looking at the desserts are enough to kill your hunger. This is definitely another recommended spot for meat-eaters in search of their inner veggie-self.

But back to Cork: The Quay co-op is another veggie cafe (more suitable for recessionary budgets) that is well worth a visit (I have never been to Cork without eating at least one at The Quay).

If you are still not convinced that going veggie (even part-time) will be good for you and for the planet, then don't miss the Farmgate restaurant at the English Market: they have amazing desserts and definitely the best flan (creme caramel) I have tried since I visited Cuba.

And by the way, the jazz festival was on: in between treats we went to see Imelda May at the Savoy. She was such good fun - almost as good as the flan!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

brides trash the dress for Sightsavers - in Wexford

Since tomorrow is World Sight Day, I've decided to post this video I just finished editing at work.

It was a gorgeous bright day and had a great timing doing the filming. The photo session was in aid of Sightsavers and shows how lovely Wexford can be with a bit of sunshine!!



spot Mark's mini!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

orange and nothing but the orange - going organic


Recent research by a well known UK university shows organic food doesn't have more nutritional value than average produce. This study caused quite a stir back a few weeks ago, shocking many - which surprises me, in fairness, since an carrot still remains an carrot - be it organic or not.


The issue is not what organic food HAS but what it DOESN'T have: pesticides, hormones and a whole selection of unsavoury chemicals no regular producer would dare adding to their produce labels...


It is not about getting more vitamin C for your orange, it's about getting orange and nothing but the orange. At least, that's the way I see it. Stripping not only veg but also meat and poultry of any additional extras that aren't really needed and might be harmful to your health - and usually not very eco-friendly, as far as production goes...


The myth: organic is more expensive. The truth: sometimes.


Anyway, if you are still on the pro-organic side, try The Farm, an organic restaurant in Dublin 2. The bright and luminous decor might make it look like a trendy cocktail bar but don't judge it by its cover, the food is brilliant and the huge menu will please all, from vegans to omnivores alike.

The puds are brilliant - and with an early bird of under €20 you can't go wrong really.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Kisses - for the most amazing views of Dublin City

Kylie and Dylan are 'after running away'.
To some it might feel like another nitty gritty Irish movie focusing on disfunctional families, rough around the edges suburbs and pained childhoods. But I just love Lance Daly's Kisses.

Set in contemporary Dublin, this Ken Loachesque take on Irish society (back in vogue since the economy has gone dire straits) is a 5-star movie and it has some of the most amazing footage I have ever seen of Dublin city: when Kylie and Dylan hitch a lift from the dredger guy.

Have a look at the trailer on http://www.kisses.ie/

A birthday, a wedding and a lobster


So it has been a busy weekend, the last one. First of all I turned 30 on Friday... which is scary enough but as someone said you'll get used to it (but by that time you'll probably be nearly 40...) that sounds about right...

Then, we were also travelling to Herefordshire, in England, for our friends Kate and Tom's wedding- which was amazing... and I really mean it. After crossing in my list weddings in Ireland, Spain, Slovakia, Poland, the UK and the US I have to admit I'm always impressed with the simplicity, practicality, elegance and excellent food I've enjoyed at English weddings.

On Thursday night (before getting the ferry from Rosslare to Pembroke on Friday morning) I finally got to have dinner at this famous seafood restaurant in Co. Wexford, The Lobster Pot.

Since 30 is quite a birthday I decided I'd go for the lobster, of course ;-) - after all, I was driving so didn't spend much on the wine/booze department...

The staff were super friendly and the place has a lot of character, looking more like a gastro pub than a fancy resto. However, I'd say the average age of the clientele was waaaay passed my big Three O, and it might as well - it made me feel young again!

Not that I'm ageist but in these sort of places you usually find ladies like the ones sitting next to us on the waiting table. The waiter is politely asking how the meal was and she points out the potatoes were 'awful' - they had eyes on them... Mark actually thought she meant there was ice in the spuds, which made it even funnier...

anyway, the grumpy old bat got a free pudding... so maybe that's the only reason people complain at restaurants... specially about potatoes having eyes or ice or whatever it was she felt it was wrong with her spuds.

Our food was lovely. However, I'm slightly disappointed with the range of the menu- I sort of expected a wild selection of creatures available (I'm from Galicia after all!) that simply wasn't there. The puddings were nice but a touch overpriced and not really matching the quality of the main course. It was definitely worth the drive though, and that lobster was really tasty...

On Friday morning we took the 9 ferry to Pembroke, which in theory only takes 3 hours and 45 min but, in my experience, it always ends up taking at least 4 hours - and it feels quite long...

This seems to be another hot spot for OAPs, I've noticed... and I wonder if they get a special pass or if they are just scared of flying... any ideas???

Tom and Kate's wedding was in this lovely manor house called Whitney Court, in Whitney on Wye, just by the Welsh border (very near Brecon). It has the most stunning views of the countryside -helped by a weekend weather of remarkable sunshine and summer temperatures!

What I loved about Tom and Kate's wedding was:

A/the fact that there was no religion involved (Churches have hijacked weddings for way too long people!) and

B/ it just fitted their personalities so well. It was warm, welcoming and featured all local produce - including booze.

Then there was dancing and drinking and more dancing and drinking ... and then Cornish pasties at midnight. Who said the Brits can't pull a gastro fest? well, if someone can that has to be Tom and Kate, which I hope are having a brilliant time in Croatia.

I wonder if they eat Cornish pasties in Croatia...

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Galician Pipers at Viveiro's mighty party: Naseiro

video

Here's a little clip of some Galician pipers (gaiteiros) doing the 'vermut' rounds at Viveiro's mighty summer party: Naseiro.

As a teenager, growing up in Viveiro means suffering a pretty bleak winter but a prospect of a damn good party-fuelled summer AND counting down the days for Naseiro.

Old and young build the shacks where they'll spend the five best days of the summer: day and night. Basically, Naseiro is like a massive picnic gone out of hand. Whereas my grandmother's generation used to go down to their nicely set up temporary tables to have a few dances and enjoy a few drinks and food with friends, the whole thing has now evolved into a shanty-townesque mad structure spreading along the river. Imagine cramping a whole town into a few acres of land. The whole town moves temporarily for five days. That's Naseiro. And Viveiro people love it.

All the excesses are allowed: too much food, too much drink, cross dressing, maybe a few unplanned pregnancies as well... Since Naseiro means the end of the summer holidays for some, the energy that goes into the whole affair is phenomenal - had it been organised in early June, the myth of Naseiro, the mighty party of Viveiro, might not be quite as huge.

Each of the five days is dedicated to a traditional Galician dish but the most popular one is Octopus Friday, cooked 'a feira' style (fair/market style - what the non-Galicians call Galician Style).

I've loved it since being a child, I worshipped it as a teenager and now, living abroad, I don't get to go to Naseiro too often. In fact, until this year, I hadn't been for a good few years. Having enjoyed the sesion vermut (the midday dance and drinks session), some tasty pulpo and a couple of dancing nights, I'm back to work feeling homesick - and counting the days for next year's.

If there is one thing that a true Viveiro person doesn't want to miss, that is Naseiro- without a doubt.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Yoga retreat in Thailand


My friend Gina will be resident yoga teacher at this amazing looking place in Thailand called Koh Ra Ecolodge.

If you are planning your next holiday have a look at the website.

The ecolodge is a sustainable resort located on a remote island with very little development (so far!).

You will be helping to save the rainforest if you book the yoga retreat through Gina's website, as part of the procceds will be donated to the World Land Trust

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Hook Lighthouse in Co. Wexford

















Chilling in Mullaghmore... literally


There is a sign at Mullaghmore beach in Co. Sligo warning beach goers, swimmers, etc... this year there will be no life guards, since a herd of cows has taken ownership of the strand...


Surreal as it may sound, there is no wonder only the cows venture around the shores of Mullaghmore these days, since we've had yet another miserable wet, wet summer. Fair play to them. No forecast is going to spoil their fun...

Despite the rain, Mullaghmore Point is a brilliant spot for a relaxing weekend. Beware though: as soon as a ray of sunshine comes through the murky skies, a batallion of canooeists, sailing beginners, walkers and, yes, cars... will pop up instantly, only to disappear again as the torrential rain comes back. So no wonder the cows reclaim their space, at least while they can or the rainy season lasts...

Thanks to the cheap and cheerful SuperValu Hotel breaks, it is actually possible to stay at one of the hotels bang on the harbour without breaking the piggy bank. The hotel has amazing views over the bay but shocking dinner options ... Beef, salmon or chicken as main course option for a resto by the harbour is just not on! Ah well, it was just too good to be true.
Beautiful Sligo.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Climbing Croagh Patrick


Mayo Mountain Rescue Team has advised for the first time that pilgrims climbing Croagh Patrick this weekend (Reek Sunday is this Sunday) should wear some shoes heading up the holy mountain, which is, by the way, quite a tough climb.


The first time I tried climbing it (just for fun, not for religious reasons) was two years ago and didn't even make it half way up. The mist started coming down, which combined with the crowds, the rocky path and the lack of decent walking shoes made the experience a bit of a nightmare. By the time we got to the B&B we were all soaking wet and miserably disappointed. Failed attempt.

Last year was a different story. Two factors helped the successful mission: it was an unusually glorious June bank holiday weekend and we took the road less travelled to finally reach the top (it had to be done at any cost!).

A great starting point is Westport Camping, where we were staying by chance. Just outside of Murrisk, this is a brilliant spot located at the foot of Croagh Patrick further, south from the official and crowded starting point. The camping place is cheap, friendly and just 5-10 min walk to the beach, which is definitely a bonus. Climbing from that side of the mountain was the best thing we could have ever done: no crowds, no painfully rocky paths (actually, no paths whatsoever!), no race to the top... it was just perfect, while still tiring. We had to dodge some bullocks on the way out from the camping area but sure, that just added to the wild off-piste feeling of the whole experience.

Reaching the top was a relief and a privilege, since they don't get may sunny and warm days like that in County Mayo - and the views of Clew Bay and its little islands on a clear day are just amazing - and totally worth the climb.

Heading back down the usual crowded path felt like a triumph, having at last climbed the holy mountain of Ireland - and having managed to avoid the crowds.

Still, a speedy barefoot woman in her 70s overtaking me on the way down left me thinking for a few days ... I really hope she is wearing some shoes this year.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Saturday mornings at the Gorey Farmers Market


Humans are creatures of habits. We find great comfort in some of our little routines. I love Gorey on sunny Saturday mornings. The buzz of the main street and all the people going about their business, shopping, chatting, walking their kids- in the summer, Gorey's Saturday mornings are particularly upbeat.



Part of the appeal of those Saturday mornings is the farmers market down in Esmonde Street. It is one of the comforting routines I have acquired. A very tasty habit.



First there is Martin and his fish van. He is the most cheerful man, always a big smile on. It is the best fish you can get in the area, by far. Variety depends on: a- how early you arrive, b- the time of the year and the weather. There is always the usual favourites (and maybe not very eco friendly) cod, haddock, hake and salmon, but sole, mussels, prawns, sea bass and monkfish are often regulars too.



Then, we move on to O'Neills quality meats, where we alternate between the organic or free range chicken and some lamb and organic mince beef. The chickens go quickly, so the earlier the better.



The falafel stall is next and this is UNMISABLE. They are the best falafel wraps I have ever tried and has become my staple Saturday brunch. Unfortunately, the Lebanese family that runs the stall is on holidays in Lebanon for three weeks now... and I am missing my fix of chickpea delight...



The next stall is the vegetables one, run by a Ferns family. They have great local produce at very good prices. They also sell plants in the spring for your own garden: courgettes, toms, peppers, lettuce... their own vegetables and their local apples (once they are out) are the best.



The cheese stall has a good selection of Irish cheeses and some other European favourites (such as Manchego...). The market also has a couple of stalls for free range eggs, breads (the olive and oregano one is amazing), crafts, chutneys and, in the summer, French crepes and a burgers. The local Greens Berry farm tends to have a stall once the famous Wexford strawberries are out.



The Organic Farm, from Co Wicklow, also has a pretty big stall, where you can stock on tasty fruit (in the past couple of weeks, cherries have been a big sensation), ususally imported but organic. Avocados, grapefruit, oranges, apricots, plums, fair trade bananas...



just the thought of it, it's making me hungry...



During the boom years, people seemed to find farmers markets across the country a bit over-priced and overly trendy. But I don't think this is the case, at least in the Gorey one. Good quality food has to sell at a price that shows exactly that: the quality you are buying... You can try and compare but you'll find that you'll probably pay the same or more in the supermarket for similar produce.



The Gorey farmers market is on from 9 until 2pm every Saturday. But you might find other similar near you (I doubt they have the same falafels though!):









Tuesday, June 16, 2009

3 facts about Muscatine


Muscatine might be an unusual stop, definitely off the beaten touristy track and not on many guidebooks; but if you are on the way from Chicago to somewhere in (southish) Iowa, is a great place to stop over for the night and have a taste of the real small town America (as described by Bill Bryson in his childhood memories). You probably haven't heard of it before (neither had I until it was chosen as a Motel night destination) but there are some interesting facts that might make you remember Muscatine:


-Its name is unique, as it isn't used anywhere else in the US (and that's unusual, apparently!) and it is supposed to come from the name of a Native American tribe who lived locally.


-Mark Twain once said the best sunsets in the world were here (by the mighty Mississippi River)


-It was once the Pearl Button Capital of the World (no less!), as clams were harvested in the Mississippi to manufacture clam shell buttons. (Nowadays there is a museum in town and a hundred things with the name 'button' in it but not many signs of real clam shell buttons anymore).


And don't be fooled, behind the huge The Button Factory name hides a cafe/restaurant.

Full of Beans...

This wacky sculpture in Chicago's Millennium Park might be called Cloud Gate but it has been nicknamed as The Bean, which I reckon is more catchy and vox-populi friendly... I just loved it. A million pictures later and you still want to take another shot of The Bean... it's like a magnet (literally, there is always a crowd around the sculpture).

Monday, June 8, 2009

New York's grub spots

Tried and tested:

-Carmine's Italian Seafood restaurant
in the Seaport area, near Brooklyn Bridge, this spot was a real discovery. Great food at great prices. A huge main of fried calamari for just over a tenner really makes your day (a pasta and tomato side and a salad are included in the price). Established in 1903, there is a good reason why this place is still up and running in 2009. It is cosy, it has an authentic Italian feeling about it, it has great food, in a great location, at unbeatable prices AND the best baked cheesecake ever... If you are around the area, definitely give it a try.

-Dojo Restaurant
This low key, Japanese style restaurant in the University area, is cheap and cheerful. The noodles with stir fried vegetables and prawns are super tasty. Specials for $9.

-Wholefoods Market - Union Square
The idea is nice and simple: you shop downstairs and go and sit down to eat it upstairs. Despite being totally crammed (and it is only Wednesday morning!), it is totally worth it, for the sushi, amazing selection of salads (and this is very elaborate salads, not just a few leaves of lettuce!) and other Indian and international delicacies, are some of the best we've tried. If you are in a rush, this is the best grub to go.

Brooklyn bridge on a rainy summer afternoon




Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Invisibles - a great exhibition about Barcelona's hidden side

My friend and great photojournalist Esther Taboada has opened her exhibition 'Invisibles' in Barcelona (Galeria Sargadelos is the venue). If you happen to visit Barcelona before 30th May, you should definitely go and check it out.

Esther's blog http://elparamonaranja.blogspot.com/ has a video on the exhibition to give you an idea of just how good a photographer she is ;-)

Monday, May 11, 2009

Only 6 days and off to the US

In the past years, I haven't chosen my holiday destinations, they have chosen me. Or more like it: friends' weddings have done it.

My holiday destinations as a wedding guest have included Bratislava, Strzegom (in Poland) and the UK. This year the wedding guest travel plan is: the US in May, Galicia in August, UK in September and Cork in October.

I must admit the US wasn't top of my to-visit list but I have warmed up to the idea, specially since it is getting closer (only 6 days left!).

Here's a snapshot of my pre-trip impressions.

Reads:

The itinerary is Chicago - Iowa - New York. So Des Moines born Bill Bryson is a great read to get into the Iowa mood. His childhood memories growing up in Des Moines, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, have got me quite excited about checking out small town America. Although, I am probably in for some disappointment if I'm expecting the 50's bright life of Bryson's tender years.

I watched Colm Toibin's interview with Pat Kenny (unusual for me) in the Late Show last Friday so his new book Brooklyn in my list now.

Useful Sites:

www.visitnewyork.ie is an Irish site with all-things NY. IT has a great online tool to create your personalised to-do list, depending on interests (the attractions one is quite helpful).

I'm also trying to use the travel plan application in LinkedIn but haven't given it much time yet.

www.aerlingus.com to check the requirements to enter the US (clear)

The worst thing, so far:

Scare mongering: about two things mainly: swine flue and entry requirements. I was born on Sept 11th,will they hold it against me???

Hotel prices (pretty high, even for budget hotels)

Friday, May 8, 2009

IT Girls in PCLive! magazine

Ok, it is not really anything to do with food or/and travel but I really like this article I have written for this month's PCLive! magazine. The girls had all a lot to say and they made a great feature. Let's consider it a late International Women's Day celebration! ;-)





Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Aerlingus Gets Lost in Translation

I like traveling with Aerlingus and I find them very reliable as well as friendly. But some things can’t just be let go…

Aerlingus’s customer service department must have forgotten that golden rule of communication which says the whole purpose of communicating is to get some feedback from those you are trying to communicate with… That is: if you try to communicate with other people in a way they will not be able to understand you, the whole effort is just useless.

A couple of weeks ago, my parents bought flight tickets to come and visit. The route: Santiago de Compostela – Dublin. The process was initially simple, as the Aerlingus website allows users in different countries to book flights in different languages.

But yesterday, my mum texts me URGING me to check an email she has just forwarded to me from Aerlingus. It is a simple Travel Advisory note from Aerlingus, trying to flog car rentals and other products – just in English!. Of course the note might as well have been written in Chinese for neither my mum nor my dad speak English. And I think: this is just wrong.

If you sell tickets to people in different countries, at least make the effort to use that same language you used to sell your tickets for any communication with your customers afterwards… pure manners really (not just customer service best practice).

So my mum is freaking out but I tell her everything is ok and nobody is to kick her out of that plain coming to Ireland on Saturday. She is such a pain sometimes but I must admit she is 100% right on this one.

I remember the last time they came she was totally annoyed because nobody on the plane back to Santiago (and that is not one single crew member) spoke even Spanish. And I say EVEN, because for most Galicians (including me), Spanish is their second language, not even their mother tongue.

Can you imagine getting on a plane from Dublin to … let’s say Moscow just for the craic… and discover all the crew members spoke just Russian? The world would be up in arms.

It just reminds me of a friend’s neighbour who went on holidays to rural Andalucía. When she came back she explained she had a ‘lovely’ time but was a bit upset as the locals ‘didn’t have any English’. As she put it: “they didn’t make any effort with the language”. Now, if she couldn’t be bothered, why should the locals?

Maybe it is an understandable attitude coming from an old lady, but surely Aerlingus should know better…

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Is Maith Liom Dun na Gall


A visit to Donegal had been in my to-do list for quite a while (something like 6 years!) and finally got ticked this Easter weekend.


The first mission was finding a proper house for the long weekend for four people. Trying to book a holiday home online can be quite a challenge, due to the vast amount of websites and properties on offer, quite often not very informative! Discover Ireland is usually quite a good guide but there are so many pages of them it is difficult to short-list.


I ended up finding a couple of options: a website called http://www.homesofdonegal.com/ and a listing for a lovely looking thatched cottage called Curragh Mor, all roughly located in the same area (around heritage town Ardara).


Curragh Mor was just perfect: a two bedroomed thatched cottage with all the facilities and a bunch of sheep running out the back ... brilliant. The most relaxing of landscapes in the middle of the boggy mountains.


DAY 1- Gorey to Donegal


After a miserable rainy and cold Thursday, Good Friday looks surprisingly enough how it should: Good.


We leave Gorey at 10 am on the dot (that was the deal) to make sure we cover the roughly 370 km that separate us from the other corner of the country by 6pm.


We stop just outside Navan for a wee - at a petrol station with shockingly filthy loos. Next stop is Cavan town: while it looked eerily quite as we entered the town from the N3, the main street area was actually quite lively and we even managed to get a bite (despite the whole Good Friday All-pubs Closed mess) in a pleasant cafe called Chapter One with very friendly staff.


We keep going. While we managed to escape the rain all the way up, it finally catches up as we are getting to Boa Island (just outside Enniskillen) to visit the Janus Stone, refreshingly pagan but now stuck in the middle of a cemetery.


Donegal is just around the corner now and we make it to the Curragh Mor cottage just before 6pm to find an even better place than I expected from the pictures sent by the landlady, a trusting Donegal woman called Ann. This is the life.


DAY 2- Inishowen peninsula


I don't like getting up too early when I'm on holiday, naturally enough, even if there is sightseeing involved. Leaving around 10,30 / 11 is plenty of time, after a relaxed breakfast. Heading all the way to the top of the Inishowen Peninsula maybe we miscalculated the time, as the drive back from Malin Head took forever.


The day started with lots of energy though and we headed happily towards Inishowen via Glenties and Letterkenny. Fist stop is the fort on top of Grianan Hill, near Burt. A very impressive fort on top of the hill with great views of both the Loughs Swilly and Foyle, as well as Inch island and Derry city. And just in time for one of the best defined rainbows I have ever seen (check out the picture!).


Signposting within Inishowen drives me insane. After eating some hearty pub food at Tir Na Ri pub in Carndonagh, it took us almost an hour and half to find our way to Malin Head (which is supposed to be only 15 kms!) but we finally reached the most northernly point of the country. The worst thing: the drive back to Ardara seemed endless.


DAY 3- South West Donegal


Second day: glorious weather in the West. Plans of visiting Tory Island out the window. Too much driving the first day has left the crew a bit tired of sitting in the car. Instead we head through the impressive Glen Gesh Pass towards pretty Glencolumbcille. The weather is perfect and we do the 2 hours 'blue' walk trail around the village and up the mountain where we enjoy amazing views of the sea and the local beaches.


After a quick visit to Malinbeg looking for somewhere to eat, we head to Carrick for fish and chips, before driving down towards Teelin and the Slieve League cliffs, meant to be one of the highest in Europe.


Back in Ardara we get some shopping for a quick exhausted BBQ before going to a deserved bed after a long sunny and active day!!!


DAY 4- Back home via Sligo


Miserable day and I don't think anybody wants to go. We decide to stop in Sligo before crossing the Midlands and drive back to Co. Wexford. Creevykeel court tomb, one of the best examples of its kind in Ireland, is first stop and the rain is actually not too bad. Pictoresque Mullaghmore harbour is the next: a swim for the lads (mad!) and a hot cuppa for the girls.


The Midlands are next (someone should really put something interesting in the middle of the country - let's say between Longford and Mullingar- to attract hungry tourists coming back from the West- they would really make a killing...), the traffic jams, the M50 and finally Gorey. And it hasn't stopped raining yet...


In short:


I really loved Donegal. I just wish next time we can go for at least a whole week (at the very least) ...


Still in the to-do list:


A visit to Tory Island


A walk in the Glenveagh National Park


Finding a seafood restaurant

Monday, April 6, 2009

Howth is Magic - really


There aren’t many places in the East Coast of Ireland where you can find the variety of fish and seafood you will find in the fish shops of Howth’s Pier.

Just 30 min by train (you can check times at http://www.irishrail.ie/) from Dublin City, it is a popular day-trip for Dubliners and tourists alike. Going up on the Dart on a Sunday afternoon feels like being on a train of fleeing evacuees from some sort of conflict zone: crowded- very crowded. It almost makes you wonder if you are really in the right train and not on the way to Croke Park for a big GAA final.

It might be overly populated on a Spring Sunday afternoon but Howth is worth all the hassle. Of course, its Farmer’s Market is part of the attraction on Sundays, and the fact that all the fish shops along the Pier are open to the public. Sunday is a big market day in Howth: cakes, fish and chips, falafels, fruit and veg, curry sauces, fried calamari and all sorts of delicacies are on offer.

There are plenty of bars and restaurants along the Pier and the seafront (all of them cashing in with the fishy menu) but my favourite is The Oar House (http://www.oarhouse.ie/ ) not only for its wide variety of fish and seafood on offer at a fairly good price but also for its low key marine décor. While Aqua (at the end of the Pier) does have an amazing 360-degrees seaview, the menu is not quite as impressive as in The Oar House.

The initial mission that took us to Howth in the first place (a couple of months ago) was trying to get hold of an octopus we could cook Galician style. Third time around the mission has been accomplished and the octopus is now happily living in the freezer waiting for its time to come.

‘Howth is magic’ seems to be the tourist board’s motto for this peninsula so close and yet so far of Dublin city. And it really is…

The cliff walk (specially the long route, that will take you around 4 hours) is a refreshingly quiet affair (compared with the market flocks) and will give you some of the best views of Dublin Bay. Feeding the seals (quite obviously very well looked after by the tourists, judging by their size!) is another popular attraction for those strolling along the harbour.

The Best Of Howth:
The seafood

The Worst Of Howth:
The crowds

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Brighton Side of Life


On a sunny Spring Friday afternoon, Brighton seemed welcoming, bright and cheerful. A short train journey from London-Gatwick Airport (45min approx), no wonder Londoners and tourists alike invade Brighton in the long summer days to enjoy a bit of sunshine by the sea front.

Unlike other seaside resorts (and I’m not going to name any…), Brighton has survived its Victorian heyday gracefully, reinventing itself into a trendy, gay-friendly, University town hot spot. Locals are probably exhausted by the amount of hen parties and day trippers they get every weekend but surely that gives the place its upbeat look of constant-holidaying atmosphere.

However, under this shiny layer of busy cafes, shops and yoga centres, you can still sense the 1930s Brighton described by Graham Greene in its murder novel Brighton Rock. Maybe because its mighty pier seems so timeless. Maybe because (besides a few out of place apartment blocks from the 60s) Brighton’s skyline is quite untouched and preserved for a city of almost half a million people. I suppose there is always a slight dark feel to seaside resorts they can never quite shake off... or maybe I’m just taking too seriously that idea of an underworld of local mafia so well described by Greene.

Anyway, for the most amazing breakfasts, lunches (the best haloumi cheese salad ever) smoothies and cakes, go to Bill’s (http://www.billsproducestore.co.uk/ ). Good weather and good food can definitely made a holiday! For some traditional Brighton lazy afternoon fun, head to The Pier for amusements and some easy-going gambling, waffles, crepes, fish and chips and other old-style delights.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Dublin's Paddy's Day for your mobile

http://www.siliconrepublic.com/news/article/12469/comms/paddys-day-goes-mobile
This is a handy story from Silicon Republic for those spending St. Patrick's Day in Dublin and interested in what's happening between 12th and 17th March for the capital's St. Patrick's Day Festival.

Fishy dinner at Richard Corrigan's Bentleys


If there is something I like that has to be seafood. When I got invited to a friend’s ‘fancy’ birthday dinner, I was delighted while a little bit daunted by the idea of going to a posh restaurant. The destination was unknown to me until I was literally in Dublin for the feast (up from my culchie life in Co. Wexford) and I must say I was pleasantly surprised by the grand yet unpretentious ambiance of Bentleys, Richard Corrigan’s restaurant in St. Stephen’s Green (Dublin).

Maybe I was a bit star-struck too, since it is the first time I go to a restaurant where the chef is almost more known for his newspaper columns, cookbooks and TV appearances than for his culinary delights.

We got a round table by the window, which was great - beautiful and a bit more private-, but I was secretly waiting for the moment we sit down and open a menu featuring a list of anaemic sounding dishes garnished with overweight prices. But it never happened. The menu was written in plain English and fairly priced, with main courses starting at just over €18 if I remember well (the puds were a bit on the pricey side but they were worth it).

The artichoke and smoked salmon soup was delicious and unusual (for me), and so was the lemon tart with raspberry sorbet. Traditional fish and chips sounded like a good idea and it was tasty but, in retrospect, I should have gone for something more adventurous, specially after seeing the pictures of the fish pie dishes in his book (the day after!).

After dinner, we headed upstairs to The Aviator’s Lounge for some drinks. It was relaxed and quaint but the average age was quite a bit older than our party. Overall, it was a highly enjoyable experience, recession-proof and highly recommended (And I think the birthday boy also had a good time, which was the point of the whole shebang).

If you want to check it out, Richard Corrigan’s cookbook is called: The clatter of forks and spoons. Also, in last Sunday’s The Sunday Business Post Agenda magazine you can find his recipe for fish soup http://www.sbpost.ie/post/pages/p/story.aspx-qqqt=FOOD+AND+DRINK-qqqm=nav-qqqid=40008-qqqx=1.asp


And if you want to book and try it for yourself, you can do it online at http://www.brownesdublin.com/. I’m told by the party organiser you must book well in advance to secure a table.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Sunday walking in the Wicklow Mountains - The Spinc trail



For its easy access, well marked path, beauty and being just the right length, The Spinc and Glenealo Valley trail in Glendalough, County Wicklow, has to be one of my favourite ‘Sunday Walks’ and probably one of the best walks in Leinster.


Pros, hikers and other extreme walking creatures will tell you there are plenty of routes and beauty spots to be discovered in the Wicklow Mountains without the crowds of popular Glendalough, but beware: maps of the routes and other useful (and essential) details on the terrain for us amateurs is scarce. Google searching for maps is enough to put you off walking altogether if you are having a good day, enough to drive you insane if you are having a bad one.
Glendalough’s trails, on the other hand, are almost ‘idiot-proof’, easily explained and classified according to levels and manageable for walkers of all types.


There are three trails involving the ‘Spinc’ - all circuit walks:


-Red trail:
Heading up the Spinc and then linking up with the famous Wicklow Way (there is a dedicated website www.Wicklow way.com)but lacks the detail of the trails at Glenda Lough, if you are not a ‘hardcore walker’ you will not find much useful information for you, which is a shame). 11km (4 hours approx.)


-White trail:
Spinc and Glenealo Valley. 9 km (3 hours and a half walk approx.)


-Blue trail:
Shorter version cutting through the forest. 5 km (2 hours approx.)


The White Trail takes you up to the Spinc (or ‘pointed hill’) overlooking the Upper Lake of Glendalough, around the boggy Glenealy Valley and down back to the car park along the Miners’ Trail. Starting the walk from the left hand side of the lake will allow you to get the sharpest climb of the walk out of the way at the beginning, which tends to be an easier approach. After conquering the 600+ steps that take you to the top of the Spinc, the route becomes much easier.
A boardwalk takes you along the ridge (with some photo spots on the way) and down to the valley, where the path eventually becomes a rough stoney track (but who cares? we are going downhill now…). Overall, it is a very enjoyable circuit with amazing views of the valley of Glendalough, perfect for a Sunday outing and long enough to get you some fresh air and renewed energy to start the week...


IN SHORT:


-The Best of Walking in Glendalough:
Very well marked paths and trails, explaining difficulty and type of terrain.


-The Worst of Walking in Glendalough:
It is ALWAYS crowded. The best time to go is probably January, when some hotels are closed. The higher level of the walk, the smaller amount of people you will encounter though. Definitely avoid Bank Holiday weekends.


You can find a listing of all trails at:
http://www.wicklownationalpark.ie/pages/walkingtrails.php
How to get there- if you don‘t have a car:
http://www.glendaloughbus.com/ (from Dublin city and Bray)

Monday, February 16, 2009

3 scams you should know about before travelling to La Habana


Travelling in Cuba is safe, it is not a myth. However, travelers need to be aware of one of the things more likely to put them off ever going back there again: hustlers.

Having said that, the ‘hustling phenomenon’ seems to be almost exclusive to Habana (and Varadero). In places like Matanzas and Pinar del Rio, hustlers just seem to be non-existent, and friends travelling further afield to the East of the country seem to confirm similar experiences.

A fact that is helping the ‘hustlers’ business’ is general ignorance about the double currency system in place in the country. Most tourists in package holidays seem to be unaware of the fact that there are two currencies in Cuba: Peso Convertible and Peso (also called Moneda Nacional or MN). Ditch the Lonely Planet, no guide can keep up with the changes happening in Cuba, specially in relation to currency matters, the importance (or lack of it) of the US dollar, the status of the euro, etc… Take Euros with you and get them changed ONLY in official places (at the time of travelling, I had made the mistake of changing Euros for US dollars only to find that the change to Pesos Convertibles from dollars was penalised by 10%, as well as having a terrible exchange rate).

Basically one Peso Convertible is almost the same value as one Euro and will buy you approximately 27 Pesos (MN). While you will pay (over pay) in ‘Convertibles’ in cafes, shops and access to attractions (such as the Museo de La Revolución); you can use ‘Pesos’ (MN) in street food stalls (pizzas and cakes in people’s ground floor), fruit markets and some cafes aimed at Cubans (very few, though). Be alert and watch your money.

Taking this into account, these are 3 of the most popular scams you are likely to encounter in La Habana:

-The Coin with Che
We all want to go to Cuba to see the ‘real Cuba’, and get back home with great souvenirs. Not just the same old funny-looking ashtray made of coconut shell or the voluptuous mulata-incense-holder, we want ‘the real Cuban souvenir’. So for those not aware of the double currency issue, a coin with the face of Che is a great opportunity to show off in front of friends and family back at home. This guy is so great he will not make any money from it, you see? It says 3 pesos on the coin and that is exactly what he will do: he will swap with you his Che 3 pesos coin for YOUR 3 pesos coin (Convertibles though!!!). You might come home as happy as Larry but you could have got nine of those for one euro if you had gone to the bank. AREAS of ACTION: seen often outside Capitolio.

-The Milk Scam
She has a hungry baby or so you are told. You might be a bit wary but she assures you she doesn’t want any money, powder milk (a luxury for Cubans) is all she is after. So you go and buy her some powder milk for her hungry baby in the nearest shop, and you go back to your hotel or ‘casa particular’ feeling great about yourself, after all you are not just giving money to beggars, you are doing something Good, with capital G. Anybody would fall for that, right? I wouldn’t want to hurt your feelings but what this woman will do next is go back to the shop and get ‘your’ Convertible money back (or at least a fraction of it). And the child isn’t even hers. AREAS of ACTION: usually hanging around the park across the road from Hotel Inglaterra and the Galician Centre.

-The hungry kid
As Cuban friend Mirta said to me once: no one dies of hunger in Cuba. She might be disappointed on Fidel but let’s call a spade a spade. Hungry kids in La Habana don’t ask you for a bite of your ‘pan con lechon’ or a sip of your ‘jugo de guayaba’, they will ask you for ‘a dollar, sir’ or ‘a dollar, lady’. What they are going to do with the dollar, I don’t know, but it will definitely take away their hunger. AREAS of ACTION: As the number of naïve tourists increases, kids seem to go ‘hungrier’ around Habana Vieja, but you may find them in other parts of the city.

Useful Tips to enjoy Cuba:

-Don’t listen to stories, whatever you are told NEVER change money on the street (on top of getting a raw deal, you could actually get jailed for it).

-Always check your change and ask for a receipt to check if you are being overcharged (if they don’t want to give you one, chances are you probably ARE being ripped off).

-Enjoy the street food and fruit markets – mainly located in Centro Habana and Vedado - like Cubans do (here you should only pay in Moneda Nacional).

-Less is More: as far as hustlers go, language barriers are almost a blessing and will help you resist their incredible pester-power. Not understanding could save you from being dragged into more complex and convincing scams Spanish-speakers usually fall for.

-Using taxis could actually save you money. Walking through some areas of the city at night-time (such as Centro Habana) is not recommended. While it isn’t particularly dangerous, you do run the risk of getting your bag taken or suffering other minor petty crime incident. If a Cuban says an area is a ‘no-go’ at night time, believe it. Only one thing: make sure you get a fair deal for your taxi ride home.

-If you want to find paradise, avoid popular Varadero and go for any of the other many ‘Cayos’ in the island. Cayo Levisa, off the coast of Pinar del Rio, has all the peace and quite you miss in Habana - but bring along plenty of mosquito repellant.

In short:

After living two months in La Habana, I felt a mixture of sadness and joy when leaving: sadness leaving some great people behind but happiness at the prospect of being able to sit to read a book in a park without someone coming to piss me off (excuse the language) for one reason or the other. By the end of it I was sick of: hustlers, park attendants, museum guards, kids in general, police, taxi drivers and poorly looking dogs (if you are an animal-lover you will not like Habana).

-Worst of travelling to La Habana: the constant fight with hustlers and other chancers.
-Best of travelling to La Habana: If you are lucky enough to have friends in Cuba (or friends of friends), meeting them and seeing first-hand the genuine Cuban hospitality will save your image of the country.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

5 Restaurants worth a visit in Ireland

Tried and tested.
In no particular order:

-Sha Roe Bistro (Clonegal, Co. Wexford/Carlow border)
-The Wicklow Heather (Laragh, Co. Wicklow)
-The Oar House (Howth, Co. Dublin)
-Co-op cafe (Cork city)
-The Tavern pub and restaurant (Murrisk, Co. Mayo)

Valentine's Day is overrated …


Valentine’s Day is overrated but it is definitely a good excuse to get out and do something with your weekend. These are some options worth considering:

1-No man is an island.

Remote and beautiful are the best way to describe places such as Inishbofin and the Aran Islands. http://www.irelandsislands.com/ lists all the islands off the coast of Ireland, making ‘choosing’ your island extremely easy. It has an interactive map with a comprehensive list of resources, allowing you to search for accommodation and services, check sailing times and activities available in each of the islands.

2-City lights- Dublin and Cork.

Dublin and Cork offer a great range of activities all year round from theatre to concerts, great cosy cafes and excellent restaurants. Those things us townies miss from our daily mucky lives. For cinema lovers: Dublin hosts the Jameson International Film Festival from the 12th until the 22nd of February. Cork doesn’t even need an excuse. Give me Cork any time. The Kino cinema has art house movies as good as those in any film festival, without the queues for the tickets and the ‘book well in advance’ warning.

3-Walking.

The weather this year might not be ideal to go exploring places like Carraontouil or The Spink but walking is A/ good for you and B/ it will open your apetite for dinner time.

http://www.walkireland.ie/ has a search engine with a range of walking trails in Ireland for walkers of all levels. For a more relaxed outdoor Valentine, Altamont Gardens, just outside Tullow, in County Carlow, celebrate their Snowdrop Week from 9th February until 15th February.

IN SHORT
-Best of Valentine’s Day: Eating out.

-Worst of Valentine’s Day: Cheesy cards with stale declarations of love such as ‘The key to my heart’ and ‘You are the one I love’.

Snowing in Gorey - Co. Wexford

video