Sunday 11 September 2016

Dublin - Food, Wine and Friends

20th August

My trip started badly, first I got to the railway station and saw my train was cancelled, the next one was an hour later. luckily I always leave loads of time when travelling so I was still ok timewise for my flight. Met up with Debbi at the airport good to see her again, but our plane was an hour late in taking off so more waiting, patience is a virtue.

St Patrick's Cathedral from our living
room window
We landed in Dublin and as usual immediately felt at home, it's the first time we've been there in the summer for a while. We got a taxi to our accommodation, an apartment right opposite St Patrick's Cathedral, lovely to look out at. It was a lovely place, very clean and in a super location. We got our food and drink supplies in and then ordered a Chinese to be delivered. It was delicious, sweet and sour chicken and duck in plum sauce, we decided every first night in a place we will be doing this in the future.We stayed up late chatting, lots of catching up to do, it felt wonderful to be back again.

21st August

We had a lie in and then walked to Sophie's, a rooftop restaurant in the Dean Hotel for brunch. The restaurant has windows all around three sides which give you views over the city. I had eggs benedict which was good, but a bit rich for me early in the day. On the way out we just had to have a go on some swings that were hung opposite the lifts. A bit weird but it was fun reverting to our childhood for a while.

Our Tagines at Dada's
Afterwards we set off on a mission, I had forgotten my ipad lead and Deb her plug, with four devices between us we needed these things.  We trudged across to St Stephen's Green, then down Grafton Street, onto College Green, Dame Street popping in and out of phone shops along the way, the prices were high and we weren't willing to pay them. We headed towards our apartment via Aungier Street and found a little shop off the beaten track that had what we wanted at a good price, mission completed. That day we walked around five miles, and the irony was, that once home, I found my ipad lead and a second plug in an inside pocket of my handbag! Ahh well the walk was good for us.

That evening we went to Dada Restaurant. We'd been there a few years ago and loved it so decided to go back as we had loved it so much. We were not disappointed, I had the most delicious lamb tagine with apricots, nuts and cinnamon amongst other spices. I will write a full restaurant review about Dada's in a separate post at a later date.

August 22nd
After breakfast we headed out towards the Powercourt Theatre to see the play Buridan's Ass. This production is part of the famous Bewley's Cafe Theatre but as Bewley's is being renovated at the moment they are using the nearby Powerscourt theatre. We had the soup and soda bread as usual and sat at one of the small wooden tables right a front so had a brilliant view. I thoroughly enjoyed the play, which is a dark comedy set in a struggling taxidermy business with the boss, Mahone, last in line of the family ("a genetic cul-de-sac" and his keen apprentice, Ernest. Mahone pondering on his life and future and it had a good twist at the end. So even though headless dachshunds came into it (don't ask, as I wrote it is a dark comedy!) I thoroughly enjoyed it.

So today was our lazy day, we have one of these where we just drift from place to place having a drink so our first port of call after the theatre was Cafe en Seine the fabulous place celebrating Belle Epoque where I had one of their gorgeous Singapore Slings.

The Bar at Kehoe's
We then wandered round to South Anne Street to try out Kehoe's pub and I loved it! We went into the bar and I asked if they had any prosecco, the barman said "I don't know, I don't work here" Apparently he was just filling in for a couple of hours, he had a look and found little bottles of prosecco and seemed surprised at how much it was and that we'd pay that much for the drink! There was an amazing old-style till at the bar. We sat in the snug (an original one, this pub dates from 1803) and it was lovely. There was a lot of Irish banter between the bar staff and the place just felt comfortable place, a world away from bustling Grafton Street close by.  It reminded me a lot of Dockers pub which was a favourite  haunt of ours for years until it closed. Now all that's left is the frontage on the quayside, all the atmosphere and history swept away.
O'Neills Chips, the Best in Dublin

Next stop was O'Neills in Suffolk Street. This is a large pub with lots of nooks and crannies and a pleasant and friendly atmosphere. Debbi was happy to go there because it had her favourite beer which isn't available in many places. By then we were getting hungry so we ordered two portions of chips and they were the best chips I've had for years and years, real chips!

We ended our lazy day pub crawl there as we had to be home as our friend Declan was coming round. Lovely to see him again, he only had a knee operation a week previously, so it was so good we managed to meet up.

23rd August
Next day we got the DART train to Sandycove and Glasthule to see our friends Ken and Elizabeth who had invited us for an Irish brunch. As usual Elizabeth was very generous with the food and it was delicious, glad it included white pudding which I love! We had a good chat and caught up on each others news.

Debbi and Me at the Trocadero

That evening we went to the Trocadero, a large restaurant that has pictures of famous people on the walls, lots of mirrors and very comfortable seats. I had pate to start and chicken in tarragon sauce with pesto and chorizo. It was good, but , for me, not exceptional.

Next day it was home, it had been a short but wonderful holiday. It's always like coming home when I visit Dublin. We did all the touristy things decades ago and now we just enjoy the Dublin for itself, good food, drink, theatre and friends, the best things in life!

Wednesday 17 August 2016

Memories and the Bard in Stratford upon Avon

My first visit to Stratford upon Avon was on a school trip. It was the first break my friends and I had been on without parents and also our first time seeing live theatre. We had an amazing time, lots of sightseeing, messing about on the River Avon, soaking in the history of the area and lots of youthful
Me Messing About on the River Avon in the 1970's
fun. Shakespeare came alive on stage and I was captivated, and so started a lifetime of being a fan of The Bard. Not long after that trip I went back twice, and then never went back. I don't know whether it is getting older but recently I started wanting to go back and so my friend Marian (who was with me on the school trip) and I recently spent a few days there.

My journey took four and a half hours but it all went smoothly. Marian and I met up at the railway station and walked the short distance to our accommodation, a two-bedroom house in Guild Street. We had a cuppa and then went out to explore. It was another short walk to the centre of Stratford and it really hadn't changed much at all, so good to see.  We got a little shopping in and then went to look for a restaurant to at at. We found a place called Mida and had a lovely meal there, I had pizza that was delicious followed by an equally delicious tiramisu. The owner was a little eccentric but very friendly.

The Auditorium

 After that we headed for the theatre, home of the Royal Shakespeare Company. It was a little different, there now was a tower to its right, and a change to the roof another floor I think, but otherwise pretty much as I remembered it. People sat on seats amongst the flower beds in the large open area in front of the theatre just as years ago, though there was now also a beautiful swan fountain.

We had tickets for A Midsummer Night's Dream, one of my favourite plays and it was good to see it at midsummer too! Once inside I realised how much the theatre has changed, it was now in the style of the original Globe Theatre in London. The stage jutted out into the auditorium was surrounded on three sides by galleries of seats, that were decorated in a actors also came on and off the stage via walkways between the stalls seats. It made for a very personal experience and you felt almost part of the play. I loved this production, the humans were dressed fifties-style and fairies in black and scarlet with Oberon in a striking white suit. Local school children were also amongst the fairy cast. Puck (played by a woman, Lucy Ellinson) was a feisty, mischievous and energetic character. All the humour, magic and brilliance of this play shone like a beacon. It may have been written almost 400 years ago but so much is still relevant today. And I've taken up one of the lines as my motto, "Though she be but little she is fierce."

Me Outside the Royal Shakespeare Theatre
We came out into a warm and relaxed evening with people milling around, I remembered well how it had been such a revelation to see Shakespeare live for the first time, I was blown away, and now here I was, many, many years later still being captivated by the Bard.

We strolled back to our house and had some prosecco before retiring to bed.

21st June
Marian was up early and went exploring, I met her at the theatre and we walked up to the Dirty Duck pub, which had been a popular haunt for us in the 70's even though we were under 18. In this day of constant change and age it is wonderful to be able to say the Dirty Duck was hardly any different. Two sets of steps up, seats and tables outside and a friendly atmosphere. I had a delicious brunch of ham, egg and chips.

We walked up to Holy Trinity Church and wandered around it, I couldn't remember much about it from that first visit to be honest.

Shakespeare's Classroom
After this we went to Shakespeare's School Room and the Guild Hall which have recently been renovated. The Guild Hall is downstairs and was built between 1416 and 1420 with a school, chapel and almshouses added over the next hundred or so years. The schoolroom is upstairs, and is a large room with huge oak beams, desks, chairs and a raised platform at the front on which stood a well used leather bound chair for the master. You could dress up and play the master which I couldn't resist doing! Boys here were schooled from the age of seven to fourteen and had long days, 6am to 11am and then 1pm to 6pm. Shakespeare attended this school in the 1670's. I couldn't help but look around and think that a young Shakespeare would have seen the same things, the room was so atmospheric, so much has been learnt there.

We went home for a while before heading up the the Fairy Portal Camp in Avonbank Gardens inbetween the theatres and Holy Trinity church. The camp was set up by Slung Low Theatre Company who do similar events all over the country. This particular production was based around A Midsummer Night's Dream and the belief humans can open a portal to the world of the fairies at midsummer. They provided free meals, classes and entertainment, all very interactive with people who drop in. We decided we'd go for the evening meal but when we got there it was curry, which I can't eat, so we decided to go to somewhere else and come back for the entertainment later.

Pimms at the Dirty Duck
We ended up back at the Dirty Duck and had a great meal, I chose chicken supreme which was delicious and very reasonably priced. We washed our meal down with an equally delicious Pimms, the perfect summertime drink.

Afterwards we walked back up to the Fairy Portal Camp which was in full flow. We were warmly greeted and given headphones for the silent performances and disco. There was a small bonfire surrounded by tree trunks on which people sat. There were also tables and benches and about eight teepees. We were given labels on which to write an "incantation" which would be used in the final big celebration the following Saturday, then we went to a small tree and tied the labels onto it. The performances were really good, I especially loved on by a young woman which was haunting, very "sean nos" in style. Then it was time for us, and we danced away to Whigfield's "Saturday Night" of all things! Finally it became a mad group dance, everyone joined in and it was great fun. All in all it was a lovely way to spend our time and it cost us nothing.

On our way back we passed a fabulous, huge oak tree which must have been around in Shakespeare's day. Still buoyed up by our hippy abandon at the camp we had a tree hugging session lol. We walked along the riverside path and it was a beautiful evening, there was a stillness about it I remembered from that schooldays visit. We passed the theatre and on back to our accommodation.

June 22nd
We first visited a nearby Costa for the WiFi (the only downside of the house we rented was that there was no WiFi.) Then went to the canal basin and went on a barge trip along the river on the Jennifer May. It was very relaxing, and went as far as the church and then back on itself. Some of the famous Stratford swans followed us for a while hoping for some treats I think.

We had a browse in the theatre shop which was quite expensive but interesting to look around. Although we'd been to Shakespeare's birthplace on our first trip we fancied going again and so headed there. However, on seeing the entry price of £17.50, we decided to give it a miss!

That evening we went to the Edward Moon Restaurant on the High Street for the pre-theatre menu. It was very reasonable and the food excellent, I had chicken again, in a white sauce with butter beans which I love.

Afterwards we strolled to The Swan Theatre, which is housed in a Victorian Gothic-style building that is the only remaining part of the original theatre that burned down in 1926. There was a very grand staircase that took us from the foyer to the first floor. We went into the auditorium and found our seats. This theatre was just like the main theatre but on a smaller scale.

We were there to see Dr Faustus by Christopher Marlowe. I found this production very stark and dark, I have seen this play before and enjoyed that version more.  Both Marian and I commented that the two plays (though of course very different in content) really showed how special Shakespeare's work is, he speaks for very type of person in his plays and people can relate to that.

And that was it, my return to Stratford Upon Avon. They say you shouldn't go back to places that hold special memories years later as you remember them differently and places change so much over the decades and you are left disappointed. But I can say that Stratford hasn't changed much, Shakespeare still captivates and is somehow more special seen in his home town. The town itself also still feels very much the same for me as it did to the young girl all those years ago, and it was lovely to share it all with Marian who was with me on that first visit too, more good memories to add to those of the past.

Sunday 5 June 2016

Lake District Wildlife Park Keeper Experience

The other week my cousin Janet and I visited the Lake District Wildlife Park for their Keeper Experience. The drive was lovely, the Lake District looked so beautiful in the morning light of the sunny spring day with it's lush green foliage and spring flowers adding to the stunning landscape.

Zeke chilling
 We were greeted at reception by our keeper (I've forgotten her name but she was really lovely) and she told us a bit about the Park and how it plays an important part in animal conservation and works in conjunction with other zoos lending animals for breeding.

She then took us to meet the tapirs for their morning grooming session. We went in with Muffin and her son Zeke, they were very friendly and keen to be groomed. Both quickly went into raptures during grooming, first closing their eyes and then lying down, totally relaxed. Apparently tapirs are related to horses and hippos, I thought thy might be related to elephants because of their long, flexible nose. It was special to be able to be so close to an animal like this, they are so wonderful.

After grooming the tapirs we went to a hut to prepare fruit and vegetables for the meerkats and ring-tailed lemurs. It was a combination of bananas, sweet potato, apples among other things.

We had to get into the meerkat enclosure quickly as they get very excited at feeding time. There were fourteen animals, but only thirteen were out and about, apparently one female was due to have babies, the keeper said she was probably in her burrow having given birth. The meerkats were smaller than I thought they would be and quite flighty. After a while they plucked up the courage and jumped onto our knees and for the food, all the time chattering away.

We then went on to our final group of animals, the endangered ring-tailed lemurs. They were beautiful, with thick black and white fur and rings of it on their long tails, their faces reminded me a bit of a raccoon. They were a lot more confident than the meerkats and quickly jumped on our shoulders and arms. There were a couple of mums with their babies clinging to their backs, one with twins had one clinging underneath too. They especially liked the banana and would sift through the food you had looking for it.

And so that was the end of our Keeper Experience, and we both thoroughly enjoyed it. We then looked a round the rest of the park and watched a bird of prey demonstration in which an eagle called Uni decided that she'd had enough and flew off to a tree for a while! Interestingly, during the demonstration a wild peregrine falcon flew over head being chased by two crows who must have been protecting their nest.

All in all it was a good day, the Animal Park is small and the animals look healthy and happy and well cared for and of course the conservation aspect of the park is vital nowadays. I would really recommend this Keeper Experience, it costs £35.00 and that includes the normal admission fee of £8.95. There are other animal experiences that you can do as well, all the same price.

Address:  Lake District Wildlife Park
                Bassenthwaite Lake
                Cumbria  CA12 4RD

Tel:          01768 776239

Thursday 31 March 2016

Restaurant Review - No. 34, Carlisle

Three friends and I recently decided to try the mid-week wine tasting menu at No. 34 restaurant, it was a bit different, I don't know of any other restaurant in Carlisle that does a wine tasting menu.

My goat's cheese starter
 The restaurant has a relaxed ambiance, the chairs were comfortable and the tables spaced enough to give some privacy. For my starter I had slow cooked balsamic onion and goat’s cheese tart with a crispy vegetable salad and they gave me Sauvignon Blanc, Panul, Lontue Valley Chile to go with it. I was surprised that the amount of wine (which is complimentary) was more than I expected. I love goat's cheese and loved my starter was delicious, as was the wine.

I chose grilled sea bass, roasted fennel, pomme cocottes, roasted cherry tomatoes, olive tapenade, samphire and a lemon and white wine foam for my main course and this was accompanied by a Pinot Noir, Reserva Vina Mar Argentina. Again the food was delicious, the generous portion of sea bass melted in the mouth. I scraped the olive tapenade off the fish before eating it though, I hate olives in any form. My friends all had pan fried corn fed chicken, rosti potato, pancetta savoy cabbage, celeriac puree,  baby onion and chicken cream sauce with La Brouette Rosé, Vin de Pays du Comte Tolosan wine, they too loved their meals.
Chocolate dessert heaven!

We decided to go the whole hog and have dessert too and mine was chocolate delice with chocolate soil, cinder toffee, orange jelly, orange crisps and mascarpone along with Corney and Barrow Tawny Port. For a chocoholic like m this dessert was wonderful, the delice especially was heavenly! I'm partial to port occasionally, and this one went really well with the dessert.

My friends Kath, Margo and me, photo taken
by Tania

The service was very good, friendly and professional. The cost was reasonable for such excellent food - their wine tasting mid-week special Tuesday to Thursday is two courses for £18.95 and three courses £23.95,

Address:  34 Fisher Street


Monday 14 March 2016

U2 ieTour Dublin 2 - The Finale

First of all sorry for the delay in finishing my blog about my experiences on the U2 ie tour, life got in the way of my writing for a few weeks. But now things have calmed down and I'll try to remember the last couple days of our time in Dublin!

24th November 2015

So-so Bono Photo
In the afternoon Debbi and I got the Luas to the 3Arena, we had decided to go for the meet and greet and joined the people waiting. It was still cold but not as bad as the day before. We hadn't been there long when a middle-aged American woman came along and asked if Bono had arrived yet. She then proceeded to say that Bono had a bionic arm after his bike accident a year previously (he had needed extensive surgery which included various rods to hold his bones together.) She said she had a bionic hip and then got out a photo of her hip xray which she said she was going to show Bono. Mmmm, we distanced ourselves from her as much as we could!

Bono eventually arrived and first went to the people on the other side from where we were. He took quite a while there with the result that he had less time for our side. As he got near us I heard his security man Brian say to him that they had to go. And Bono passed by us quickly, somehow Debbi
managed to get her copy of our book autographed by him (weirdly this gradually disappeared over time!!) It was all a whirl to me but I did get a so-so photo out of it.

Debbi and Me, Best Pals!
We needed food and warmth so headed to the Gibson Hotel and went into the Coda Restaurant for a meal. I had baked cod with mash and vegetables with bacon, it was absolutely delicious and just what we needed.

Later we met up with Paddy and picked up our tickets. As the previous night there was security, but not as much as I had expected seeing the terrible recent Paris terrorists attacks. Our seats were great, it is such a small arena all seats a close, so much better than the previous night. I could see the floor was very, very crowded, much more so than in London or Glasgow, I was glad I was in a seat. The end of the video screen was almost touching the balcony, they only just got it in. It was a wonderful show and it was good to be able to see it all.  During Beautiful Day Bono spoke to Dallas before going into Bad, later I heard that the setlist had I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For as the final song, so it seems Bono changed the ending and it was the right decision, Bad  performed in Dublin is electrifying, and yes, I cried again! This version wasn't as long as the Glasgow one, it also segued into 40 as in Glasgow and it too was shorter. Because of that, for me, it didn't equal the Glasgow version which was perfection. But it was still a good way to end our U2ie Tour.

We met up with Declan and Paddy, Declan had his son Owen with him, I'd last seen him as a toddler and here he was, a teenager, how time flies by. Paddy came back to our apartment for a few drinks and chat, it's always good to unwind with friends after a U2 show.

25th November 2015

Fire Restaurant
Debbi and I had a very lazy day, we needed to recover, nowadays we can't just bounce back when we are on tour! That evening we were booked into Fire Restaurant, somewhere we had talked about visiting for a long time. We met up with our friend from New York, Michelle, and first went into Cafe en Seine which is opposite Fire for a drink. Cafe en Seine is an amazing place which has a very interesting history, it also makes the best Singapore Slings ever!

After our drinks we went across to Fire and were shown to our table in the large, lofty Restaurant. The restaurant is part of the Mansion House which has been the official home of the Lord Mayor of Dublin since 1715.

Debbi and Paddy
Paddy joined us there and we had a wonderful meal, everything was perfect and it had a lovely atmosphere, none of us were disappointed in it.Unfortunately because of the passage of time I can't remember exactly what I had.

All in all it was a great way to end our stay in Dublin, good food and wine with good friends!

Michelle and Me

Friday 1 January 2016

U2ie Tour, Dublin 1 - Catching Up with Friends and Another Show

November 21st

When we stepped out of Dublin airport into the breezy, cold late afternoon, it felt great to be back. It had been almost two years since I was last in this, my favourite, city and I had missed th place. W took a taxi to Smithfield and our lovely apartment. We had a quick turnaround after our arrival as we were both going out to different places. I decided to nip to the local shop for bread and butter so we could have breakfast next day. Well that was my intention. I ended up getting totally lost in the rabbit warren of corridors and the lift kept taking me to a dead end. After ten minutes I went back to the apartment, Debbi said that I'd been quick and I told her I hadn't even left the building! We both went to search for the way out, after another ten minutes we found a different lift and that took us to reception, finally sussed it. However, it was now too late to go to the shop, so we just got our coats on and went out. Debbi was meeting up with some friends and going to a Rush tribute band gig. I didn't really fancy that, it's not my kind of thing,  so I had made arrangements to visit Ken and Elizabeth, friends in Dun Laoghaire.

I took the Luas (tram) to Busaras and walked the short distance to Connolly Station to catch the Dart suburban train. I had a struggle getting tickets out of the machine so asked for help and found the most wonderful railway employee, very helpful and also very funny who went way beyond what he needed to to help me. When I got to the  platform and noticed the next train going my way wasn't due for 30 minutes! The platform was very open and a strong, freezing wind was blowing, I had to pace about to keep warm. When the Dart  came it was toasty warm and I gradually defrosted on the trip south to Sandycove station in Dun Laoghaire. Then I had a short walk to my friends' house.

As usual the welcome was warm. Elizabeth had prepared a lovely meal and we caught up on each others news as we ate and drank wine. Ken and Elizabeth are such genuine people and I've known them for 25 years now, how time flies by! I left just after 10pm and was back in our apartment by 11pm. Debbi was still out, I stayed up a while and then turned in. It felt wonderful to be back.

November 22nd

We had a lie in and caught up about each other's night, then got the shopping in. We had a leisurely afternoon, we have seen all the sights in Dublin over the many, many years we had been visiting, so nowadays we feel no need to do the "tourist" thing.  Later we got a taxi to The Green Hen Restaurant, a wonderful French restaurant we had discovered a couple of years ago. They have a very reasonable Early Eater menu that we took advantage of. We both had Goat's Cheese and Beetroot salad to start followed by Confit Duck, both delicious. I love this restaurant, it's lively without being too loud, great service and reasonable prices.

Afterwards we went home and had some wine and looked forward to the two U2 shows we had coming up.

November 23rd

Gig day! It was cold and windy when we got off the Luas behind the 3Arena. The area is known as The Point Village now and is mainly new (or as in the case of 3Arena a renovated old building) but nearby there are still some old buildings left from the days when this area was part of very busy docklands. We went into the new Gibson Hotel close by, I wanted to see the Bono and Edge painting in there by the Irish artist Fin Dac. We took escalators up to the hotel, the painting is on the first floor it is hug and very impressive, full of movement and energy.

The Fin Dac Mural in the Gibson Hotel
We met our friend Paddy in the hotel, he's originally from Dublin but has lived in the US for many years and had come over for the shows. However, he did not have any tickets! He said if we could get him tickets he would pay for ours for the second night (we already had the first.) I was bowled over, it was a very kind thing to do and he did not know me that well.  Debbi managed to score the tickets so w were now going to two concerts in Dublin.

We went into the Hemi Bar which served Asian food, Debbi and I shared a platter which was ok, but the sauce over the ribs was far too spicy for me. Also, the service wasn't the best, we sat for ages before being served, then there was a long wait for the food. However the place was lovely, it had a central outside courtyard that looked beautiful with all the Christmas lights, though the rain and wind whipping around it made it best just to look at that day! There was also a long outside balcony area that looked out over the arena. Again on a nice day it would be nice to sip a drink out there, but definitely not on a night like this!

We left the hotel and braved the weather as we had to go to the box office to pick up our tickets. For this gig we had Music Generation Zone tickets, it was all a bit chaotic and it took us a while to find the right queue for the box office. Eventually we got inside and it was lovely to be warm and out of that howling wind. We got our tickets and waited a while to get into the arena. When we got in were stunned at how small it was, it's unbelievable that a city like Dublin does not have a bigger arena than this. The place quickly filled up and as the Zone was not higher than the floor I soon realised that I would not be able to see much. And that turned out to be true, so I went to the other end of the area where I could see a bit of the e-stage and video screen. I enjoyed the show but must admit it turned out to be my least favourite and I think my feelings were coloured by my difficulty in getting to see anything, sometimes I wish I was six feet tall! I realised for sure that night that what people had said about the best place to be in these concerts is in a seat was true. It was rather disappointing as when we had these tickets last tour they gave us a great view.

Me, Declan and Debbi
After the show Debbi and I left and met up with our friend Declan and his wife Mary and had a catch up with them, we hadn't seen Mary for a long time. We waited for Paddy to come along and join us but after a while we left as it was freezing cold and that wind was still whipping in off the Irish Sea numbing us to the bone. Later he caught up with us and came to our apartment and we stayed up having a lovely night chatting, eating and drinking as we usually do post gig. I love the touring life!