Monday 31 January 2011

Amazon Germany Lists New U2 Album

Got a flutter of excitement when I read the above headline!  It fits in nicely with the rumours and start of the next North American 360 Tour.  More on @U2 here

Saturday 29 January 2011

A Day Out in Another World

I met up with my friend Alison today.  We live about 60 miles away from each other and try to meet up once a month either nearer where she lives or nearer to me.  This time it was near to me and we met up in Langholm, a small town in the Scottish Borders.  Langholm is situated on the River Esk and surrounded by hills, the highest, Whita, has an impressive obelisk dedicated to Sir John Malcolm the soldier and politician, at its peak.  On a clear day the obelisk can just be seen from Carlisle 20 miles away.

Alison and I had a lovely, and very cheap, lunch in the Crown Hotel on the town's main street.  We then set off for Eskdalemuir and the Kagyu Samye Ling Tibetan Centre 13 miles away.  It was one of those beautiful, crisp winter days with blue skies, sunshine and frost that didn't melt.  We travelled on a road through beautiful countryside of rolling mountains, pine and deciduous forest, a landscape that was mainly uninhabited except for occasional farms and the tiny hamlets of the odd-named Bentpath and Eskdalemuir.  We passed only a handful of other cars on the road.   At one point we noticed people in the fields on a grouse shoot, it was weird to see men walking along with rifles.

Just beyond Eskdalemuir we came to Kagyu Samye Ling Tibetan Centre.  This was set up by Tibetans in 1967 and is now a thriving community complete with temple.  Many, many years ago this was where I saw the Dalai Lama when he visited the centre.  I stood amongst the crowd and listened to him speak.  I have aways been a bit of closet Buddhist and was entranced by the Dalai Lama.  He was so wise and charismatic, yet he also was very human and had a wonderful sense of humour and an infectious laugh that made you smile too.  I feel lucky to have seen him in person.

You can wander around the complex freely.  We passed by an avenue of multi-coloured prayer flags flapping in the wind that led to a huge white stupa shining brightly in the winter sunshine.  A short distance from this was a huge golden gateway covered in brightly coloured paintings of gods.  We passed through the gateway and saw a beautiful golden Buddha in an area that seemed to be being developed into a garden area.  The statue it was so serene and the gold shimmered brightly in the sunlight. It had a plaque on it saying 0700 hrs 7.7.2007, obviously an auspicious date.

We walked on into the complex where we first headed for the temple.  We could hear that a ceremony was going on as we took our shoes off outside.  We stepped inside and  into another world.  It was an intricate kaleidoscope of colours and gold featuring gods, golden Buddhas and animals on the walls and ceiling, monks were chanting accompanied by the clash of cymbals and huge, loud drums.  The steady beat of the drums and cymbals was almost hypnotic and it was also quite relaxing, it was really like moving into another world. 

We left the temple and put our shoes back on and went to the shop.  There was building work going on and we had to walk round the building twice to find the entrance!  There also is a lovely little cafe on the site that has homemade vegetarian food, but as we'd had such a good lunch we didn't go in there this time.  After that we headed off back to Langholm, sufficently chilled out by our little steps into Scotland's Tibetan world.

Friday 28 January 2011

- 4lbs

I've been battling with my weight pretty much all my adult life, but once I reached middle age the pounds really piled on.  I've started numerous diets etc, sometimes did ok, but then put the weight I'd lost back on over the next few months.  Then, just before Christmas, I found out I had slightly raised Cholesterol and blood pressure.  My GP said she could put me on medication to reduce the blood pressure but that it probably would come down anyway if I lost some weight.  So I agreed with her rather than go onto medication I would try to lose a significant amount of weight over the next four months and see if that helps reduce my blood pressure.  I've never had such a good reason to lose weight before and am determined to do it.  I thought I would be open and  post my losses on my blog, so this is my first post - 4lbs and counting!

Saturday 22 January 2011

January :(

I haven't been very inspired to write my blog recently, don't really know why.  Maybe it's something to do with the January doldrums.  There's been the social whirl of Christmas, the hopefulness of the New Year and then there's January.....  The most dismal day of the year is said to be January 17th, when real life hits people again and the bills roll in - and the weather is crap and I'm one of those people that is affected by the weather.  Yeah, I can actually see why I'm not that inspired at the moment lol!

Anyway, bits of U2 news.  Rumours abound that Adam, at long last, is a dad.  It's said he has a son who is already about a year old, how was that kept quiet for so long?!   If it's true, (it hasn't been officialy denied or confirmed) I'm really pleased fo Adam, he seems to be happy and settled in his life now.  Read the article that first broke the news here

Bono's been back home in Ireland again and was eating out at a posh restaurant with Ngozo Okonjo-Iweala, Managing Director of The World Bank.  Read more here along wth a few photos - looks like it was a windy night!

And that's about it.  Well, except for the Spiderman Saga which I'm not really that interested in, it just goes on and on. The opening night has been put back yet another month.  Yawn.

So, off I go back into dismal January, but the good news is that days are getting longer!

Monday 10 January 2011

Ultima Thule

Yesterday I went to an exhibition of photographs of Iceland called Ultima Thule by Stephen Vaughan.  Ultima Thule is Latin for "farthest north" which to the ancients were far northern lands on the edge of then known civilisation.  The Greek explorer Pytheas made a true voyage of discovery 2300 years ago when he travelled around the British Isles (it is thought he may have been the first person to use the name Britannia) and on to Iceland.  The photographer says this work was inspired by this voyage.  

Of his photos Vaughan say.  "My photographs depict some of the rawest and youngest surfaces on Earth, allowing the viewer to imagine the prehistoric beginnings of the landscape, void of any presence or history."

The photographs are in colour and black and white and vary in size from small to very large indeed.  They depict Iceland's stunning primeval, volcanic landscapes and glaciers with no hint of human habitation.  The sheer wildness of Iceland and that it is a land that is literally being born under my feet was what caught my imagination when I was there.  And these aspects of the country are caught perfectly in the photographs.  The rugged, fractured landscape where the land is being torn apart by tectonic plates.  The steaming earth and sulphurous pools that give some clue to what is happening below the earth's surface.  Glaciers streaked with blue and debris - sometimes a rock precariously straddling a crevasse.  An iceberg stranded on a beach like an sparkling blue white sentinel, are amongst the the photos in the exhibition.   Nature is in still in charge in Iceland and it is rather nice to know that.

The startling lunar-like beauty of Iceland is caught well in these photos and it made me want to go back so much!  Since my visit last year that amazing country has held me under it's spell and, one day, I will go back.

The exhibition in Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery, Carlisle runs until February 6th.  It is an Impressions Gallery Touring Exhibition so it might come to a place near you.  I would recommend a visit if it does.

Saturday 8 January 2011

Restaurant Review - The Tea Room, Dublin

In the Clarence Hotel, Wellington Quay, Dublin.


The restaurant is situated in what was the ballroom in this hotel (where they maybe used to hold tea dances?)  It is a spacious room with high ceilings and large windows, and has a raised seating area at one end.  The tables are spread well apart so you have lots of privacy and due to the size room too much noise when it is isn't an issue here.  The decor is modern with muted colours.  It has a very relaxed atmosphere.

We always buy from the Market Menu which doesn't have a huge choice (which of course is usual with set menus), but what there is on it is excellent.  I had salmon fishcake with a wonderful mayo dressing.  The fishcake was large, moist and just melted in your mouth.  For my main course I had ribeye steak with horseradish sauce and chunky chips.  The steak was very tender and had some kind of marinade on it that was very tasty.  The chunky chips were light and slightly crispy, just as they should be.  My friend and I shared a portion of creamed spinach which was delicious.  For dessert I had chocolate fondant with banana ice cream with toffee sauce, very rich and very gorgeous!

The staff are very friendly and attentive.  We have been regulars in The Tea Room and The Clarence Hotel for many years and when we had this meal we were given a complimentary bottle of wine in recognition of our patronage.  We were both surprised and delighted, that's what I call good customer service!

A la carte is moderately expensive.  The Market Menu is 20 Euro for two courses, 25 for three, excellent value for this standard of food.  They also do reasonably priced lunches and brunches.

Northern Star Rating   *****

(Photo from Clarence Hotel website)

Restaurant Review - The Town Bar and Grill, Dublin

Central location in Kildare Street, Dublin, Ireland.


The restaurant is a converted wine cellar and is long and narrow with low ceilings.  The decor is modern with muted colours, low lighting.  Some of the original brick wine cellar walls have been left bare which give it atmosphere. 

Large parties are put in the back section of the restaurant, due to the low ceilings this means it can be noisy there if such parties are present, we usually ask for a table at the front where it tends to be quieter.  Some evenings there is a piano player providing background music.

The food is excellent with decent sized portions and a good, varied choice is always on offer.  I had fxa goats cheese and beetroot starter which was delicious, the goats cheese was very light, almost like a mousse.  For my main I chose the ribeye steak which was charcoal grilled and as tender as can be.  For dessert I was torn, the tiramisu in this restaurant is the best I have ever had, gorgeous!  But they had a assiette of desserts on offer which was five tasters of all the main desserts on offer, including tiramisu, lemon rice, cheesecake, pecan pie.  Very good, and the tiramisu was the still the best!

The staff are very pleasant and attentive and will also hail you a taxi after your meal.

Expensive, but it is worth the money.  They do also have reasonable lunch and pre-theatre menus available.

Northern Star Rating  *****

Thursday 6 January 2011

Slainte Bono!


(Photographer unknown)

A Mystery Parcel

I got a parcel today, it was a huge square box and I had no idea what it was.  I opened the box, to reveal  mounds of bubble wrap around two large inner boxes.  I removed more bubble wrap from inside these two inner boxes and in one found four small boxes, in the other four items wrapped in even more bubble wrap.  I opend the boxes and wrap to find eight glass candle holders I'd recently ordered, the total cost of my order was £8.90, surely the cost of the packaging alone!  Whatever happened to saving resources?  LOL!

Tuesday 4 January 2011

New Year 2011 in Dublin

December 30th 2010

Happy New Year to you all.  I was in Dublin to see 2011 come in, no better place to be!  You can read about our short trip below.

Debbi and I met up in Manchester -  we were so lucky that the wintry weather had abated just days previously and we had no problems getting from our homes to Manchester.  Unfortunately though fog proved to be a problem, delaying the incoming flights from Dublin, including our plane.  However, we were only delayed about 40 minutes which wasn't too bad. 

We were chatting away as we were descending into Dublin when suddenly the plane made a very sudden, steep climb, I could hear the screech of the engines as they powered the sudden ascent.  Everyone went strangely quiet, knowing there was some kind of problem.  Shortly afterwards the pilot announced that the piece of machinery that aides an automatic landing in fog was not working and that's why they aborted the landing and that they had to do "a bit of work to do" on the flight deck.  The plane remained very quiet, I don't particularly like flying and this didn't help my now well controlled fear of flying!  But, 20 minutes later we landed safely - phew!

We got a bus to South Great Georges Street near Dublin Castle.  We were met there by Sean, the owner of the cottage we were renting for our few days in Dublin.  It took us ten minutes to get to the cottage off John Dillon Street in The Liberties.  The cottage was one of those small, one story homes that you see all over the city, this one was set in a small square of six cottages, with the old Dublin city wall running along one side.  Our cottage was so cute, with fabulous original window panes on the frontage.  It had a sitting room, two  bedrooms, a bathroom and kitchen - all small but well designed and it had everything we needed.  There was even a little yard with a seat at the back.  It was cosy and had a lovely feel about it, it was very homely - we loved our little cottage from the word go.

Our first job after unpacking was to go to the nearby shops for some provisions.  The area was mainly residential terrace houses set inbetween Dublin's two main cathedrals Christchurch and St Patricks. The area is known as The Liberties because being outside the city walls the areas had been self ruling to a point.

That evening we had been due to go to Dun Laoghaire for dinner with friends.  However, a family illness meant that had to be cancelled.  So, instead Debbi and I stayed in and had pizza and wine - lots of wine and talked for six hours solid!  You certainly know when you are with a good friend when you can just chill and chat like that.

31st December 2010

I had a bit of a bad head today!  LOL.  I went out for a walk around the local area to clear my head and took a few photos along the way.  This area is a stones throw from Temple Bar, yet is very quiet.  Near our square was the back entrance to a grand, derelict building called The Iveagh Market, that fronts onto nearby Francis Street.  It was built in 1902 to house market traders who previously sold their wares on the local streets.  

Also nearby was Mother Redcaps Tavern, built 1760, once one of Dublin's premier live entertainment pubs, now closed.  Both these building were earmarked for demolition to make way for apartments, offices, hotels, but since the recession has hit Ireland these buildings may actually be saved from destruction and the area will keep it's strong sense of history.  Too much of Dublin has been turned into characterless concrete, steel and glass.

Graffiti near our cottage
We took it easy that afternoon (this was to be a very taking it easy type of holiday ), then got ourselves spruced up and got a taxi to the Town Bar and Grill in Kildare Street for our evening meal. 

We always enjoy our meals there and this night was no exception.  We both chose the same courses.  Goats cheese and beetroot starter, ribeye steak main, and an assiette of desserts (small portions of all the desserts on offer) all of which were delicious.  We washed it down with a delicious Valpolicella, c'est la vie!  The serving staff pour your wine for you, but I wanted Deb to have more than me as, due to my hiatus hernia, I have to be careful about how much I drink (and I can only drink good red wine lol). So I tried to sneak more wine into her glass only to get caught by our waiter who said to Deb.  "I wish I had a friend who poured wine like that!"

We got a taxi home but, as is often the case in Dublin, the driver had no idea where our cottage was, or even the quite big street that the square led off from, and not being very familiar with that area we couldn't direct him.  "I'm not trying to cheat you" he kept saying, he seemed genuine and had no sat nav, so we asked him to drop us at Jury's Hotel at Christchurch as we could easily walk from there, otherwise we could have been going round The Liberties getting nowhere forever!  He took five Euro off the meter price too which was very fair.  Those Dublin taxi drivers should have to pass The Knowledge like London cabbies do!

We relaxed in our cosy cottage for a while before leaving at 11.40pm for the short walk to Christchurch Cathedral, the traditional place for Dubliners to gather to see in the New Year.  The cathedral looked beautiful all lit up in the night, the bells were ringing out as if calling the people and I was very aware of being part of something that had probably gone on for hundreds of years.  The bells stopped at around ten to twelve, by now there were hundreds of people there and the gardai had closed the road.  Then at twelve the bells chimed in 2011 and people cheered, hugged, drank champagne, set off sparklers and sky lanterns started appearing in the sky, it was a lovely atmosphere, happy and very good humoured.  

Soon the people started dispersing and we headed home. St Patricks, Dublin's other major cathedral, further down Nicholas Street also looked beautiful, its floodlit spire all lit up, it's bells ringing out too.  In five minutes we were home and we opened a bottle of Prosecco, we couldn't find a bottle of our usual celebration tipple, Veuve Clicquot, in the local shops so this was our second choice, and it was lovely.
We had kept our Christmas presents to open, strangely we bought each other similar presents!  We stayed up until 3am enjoying our Prosecco and chatting.

Christchurch Cathedral when the people were just starting to gather for the New Year bells

January 1st 2011

We had a very lazy morning, in fact we never saw the morning lol!  We find as we get older we can't just bounce back from late nights drinking a pleasant wine - we need time to recover.  Once up, dressed and awake I had another walk around the local area and bought a few things at the shop.

We had intended to walk to Grafton Street to see the lovely chandelier shaped Christmas lights we'd glimpsed from the taxi on the way to the Town Bar and Grill and to look at Brown Thomas's famous Christmas windows.  But it started raining really hard, and our little cottage was so snug and warm that we didn't need a lot of persuasion to stay in.  We have visited Dublin many, many times and seen all the sights so don't feel that we have missed out if we do this.

At 8pm we walked to The Tea Room Restaurant at The Clarence Hotel, just a ten minute stroll from our cottage, the rain had eased off by now.  We were given our usual table in the corner and ordered from the Market Menu which at E25 for three courses is very reasonable.  The waiter came to take our order then he said that a bottle of wine with our meal would be complimentary.  We thought we had heard wrong, but he repeated the same thing and asked if we had chosen a wine, we had and, still mystified, ordered a bottle of Chianti.

I had the salmon fishcake with a lovely mayo dressing for starters, then ribeye steak again for the main.  It was just as good as the one at the Town Bar and Grill, but different, as it had a delicous marinade on it.  It came with the most fabulous, crispy chunky chips.  For dessert I had chocolate fondant, with banana ice cream and toffee sauce.  Oddly, before we'd left our cottage I'd said I fancied fishcake for starters and chocolate fondant for dessert, how lucky was I?  The free wine was lovely, and we still don't know why we got it.  All I can think of is because we have stayed at the Clarence Hotel, including the penthouse, a few times and are regulars at The Tea Room.  It was a very nice gesture from the hotel and much appreciated.

After the meal we went through to The Study for cocktails and sat there for a while.  There was a pretty Christmas tree in the corner and it was very pleasant and relaxing in there.

We left the hotel at midnight and were soon home.  We didn't stay up too long as we had to be up early the next day as our short trip to Dublin was now over - though we did consider squatting in our little cottage as we loved it so much and didn't want to leave it!