29 May 2014

Fish and Chips

Last night, I had fish and chips for the first time. I am amazed at how much fish I eat now--LOL. Both of us have been craving chips (fries) and we decided to go pick up something for supper. We could have gone in one direction and gotten to Kebab King. Not sure whether that is some kind of chain or not. In the other direction, there was Supermacs, which is a chain--they are all over the place--or we could go just a few steps further across the street and go to Rosie's Takeaway, which I think isn't a chain. We opted for the latter. The first day we were in town I told Bill we should go there sometime and try the fish and chips (there's a big banner on the wall outside announcing the availability of traditional fish and chips).

We went in and both of decided that we would get that. It's a small little place with a few tables for eating in, but we chose takeaway. They have burgers, various sorts of fried chicken--like tenders and sandwiches and wraps made out of them. They also have what are called “chicken burgers.” If I had not already spent some time investigating what is on offer at the local grocery stores, I might have thought that this was a burger made with ground chicken. I knew, though, that a chicken burger is what I call a chicken patty. It’s a fried, breaded chicken patty on a bun. Interestingly, the chips (fries) here seem to commonly be available with various kinds of sauces or toppings. You can get different flavors on the side--the flavors seem to be the same everywhere--taco, garlic, curry, among others. We didn’t get any sauces. We both briefly pondered onion rings as well and thought they sounded good, but figured that since we are not used to eating fried food, we might want to skip them this time. That was wise, because we each got a box that contained a lot of food.

I was surprised at how big the piece of fish was and there was an ample portion of chips to go with it! Bill got his sprinkled with salt and vinegar. There were packets of ketchup, malt vinegar, and tartar sauce available as well. I wouldn’t want to eat this way all the time, but I was hungry and it was really good!  Both of us agreed that we would go back there again. The food was tasty, reasonably priced (it was 6.20 euro for each meal), and still very hot when we got home. It fed a craving. The place is conveniently located. I told Bill that maybe next time we could split an order of fish and chips and then have room for some onion rings, too. Next time will not be for a while, I am sure! This is the second time we have been out to eat since we arrived 8 weeks ago and the first time was the day we arrived. Still, it’s nice to know that the place is there for when the craving for chips comes back!!  I learned after supper that it was National Fish and Chips Day--who knew?

Today we went to Tesco and I bought the only slow cooker I have seen here. It's 3 litres, so it's small. I hesitated for weeks before buying it because I felt a larger one might be better. I had a 4-quart and a 7-quart in Maine and I used the larger one the most. These are simply not popular here, though, and I did not have anything else to choose!  I could have my pick of deep fat fryers--they are everywhere. I do not think I have ever seen as wide a selection of fryers anywhere, but not so for slow cookers. I finally decided that I should just get it. It's small, but I was cooking for 3 adults in Maine and I planned leftovers. There are two of us now, so this one will be fine for chicken, dried beans, and stuff like that. It will also be easier to pack up and take with us. Besides, my oven is crap and I needed some other way to cook bone-in chicken pieces and whole chickens!! The owner's manual for the oven suggests cooking chicken thighs for 2 hours and salmon for half an hour!!! I don't think so. Now I can just cook stuff in the slow cooker overnight, during off-peak electricity hours. The oven will be fine for the occasional frozen pizza and not much else. Won't have to worry about cleaning it!

28 May 2014

Going Where the Road Leads

The other day, we headed out to see if we could find the ruins of Cranmore House. It took us all of about three minutes to do it. They are right down the street from us, but behind iron gates and set back a bit, so although we’d walked past them many times, we’d never noticed.  That was quicker than expected, and since we were heading in that direction anyway, we kept going to Bower’s Lane and onto Bower’s Walk again. We walked to the end, coming across another Celtic snail hanging out on a stone wall along the way, and I decided to try and figure out where I was, so I went up the stairs, opened the gate and was on the narrow road. I looked to my right and told Bill that we were a few yards from where we’d been last week, when we took a road until the sidewalk ended. Had we gone a little further on that day, we would have discovered the gate and been able to walk home via the path by the river instead of turning around and going back the way we’d come!




Since the sidewalk was not that far away, and traffic did not seem heavy just then, we planned to walk back that way. Just before we got back to the town limits, though, I decided to head off in another direction. I took a fork in the road and started down it to see how far it would go. Turned out that the sidewalk ended fairly quickly, but the road had a decent grassy shoulder and it looked like there wouldn’t be much traffic, so we kept going.


We came to this section of road and it looked so fairy tale-like with the bend in the road and the tall trees on either side, flanking the dark, unknown walkway beneath. It was sunny and warm, but when we got inside the “tunnel” it was cool and smelled of pine.



We came out the other side and plodded along until we came to some farmland, houses, and the ever-present fields enclosed by stone walls. We passed a field with a horse and baby--and little horse seemed quite spooked by the weird people walking past. We passed a field with a bunch of small cows, who started mooing to announce our arrival. This got the dogs barking in the yard a bit down the road. The sheep didn’t much care.

We walked along and had no idea where we were or in which direction we were heading, and we finally started to wish we’d brought our water bottles. When we left, we had planned on a simple walk in town. We decided that we’d turn back and explore further another day. We came across this gate, which we discovered leads down to a branch of the river. There's no path or walkway or anything, but there's space to walk around or sit--there was a guy fishing there.





On our way back down the road, a dog rushed out of a yard to greet us, and the dog’s person greeted us by asking if we were on holiday. I told him we’d moved to town last month and we were walking down the road to see where it led. He asked if we’d gone all the way to the end and we said we hadn’t. Then he said the words I was hoping to hear, “It’ll lead all the way to the lake, if you keep going. Go to the end, go through the gates, take the path through the forest, and you’ll be at the lake.” I’d had no luck at all searching online for a way to walk to the lake, but there’s a big map down the street from our apartment that indicates that there should be a way along a county road--it shows a walker icon and then further down a hiker icon. “This may be that,” I thought. Bill asked how far it was and the guy said about 2 miles. Who knows whether that’s right--I still can’t find any information on this route anywhere. But one day soon, we will fill our water bottles and pack up our backpacks with those, some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, fruit and whatever else we might want and head in the direction of the lake. We can go through downtown or we can walk along the river to get to the fork in the road. Then we’ll head back down the road and keep going this time, so see if we can find that lake!

22 May 2014

This, That, and the Other Thing

I haven’t paid much attention to the price of gas in a long time. I stopped driving and started walking a decade ago and while we kept our trusty old truck during that time, when prices were at their highest 6 or 7 years ago, we had it parked and off the road. We deliberately took it off the road for a couple of years and started walking everywhere. At that time, we’d walk to the grocery store which also sold gas, and be glad that we weren’t driving. Since then, I simply haven’t noticed.

Yesterday we were walking around and passed the gas station at the edge of town. For some reason, I noticed the sign that announced the price of gas at 1.57.9 euro per litre. I did a rough calculation in my head of 4ish litres to a gallon, so around 6ish euro per gallon. It was only later that it dawned on me that, when converted to US dollars, the price worked out to slightly less than $9 per gallon.



I did laundry this morning and hung it outside on the line. The wind is whistling and the skies are darkening--I am watching for raindrops so I can run out and grab it if I have to. I can let it finish drying on the rack indoors, but at least it got outside for a while anyway--I love the smell of the fresh air in the clean clothes!



There are fields enclosed by stone walls and containing grazing sheep all over the place around here. What is not found all over the place here is yarn made from the wool of those sheep. And I have found that yarn is called “wool” here, no matter the fibre content. This is an unimportant factoid, but it irks me just the same!

The funny thing is that I never think of sheep as a potential food source, which is, I suppose, what these sheep are. I seem to remember that my mother used to make lamb burgers when I was a kid, but as I recall, they came in a package already formed into patties and had chopped parsley sprinkled on top. She may have made leg of lamb or lamb roasts once in a while, but I simply don’t remember. Bill hates lamb and the smell of lamb, so it was never anything that I bought or prepared until we agreed to try some ground lamb from the farm where we were part of the CSA in Maine. I am sure I cooked it badly, but neither of us cared for it, so we agreed not to get it again. Lamb’s a big thing here and there are even packaged lamb-based meals to buy in the grocery stores.

The sprinkles started, so I rushed out and brought in the laundry. Now it’s getting brighter. Sigh. I have to learn how to read the sky so I know when there will be sprinkles and when there will be a downpour. Oh well, it’s still my kind of day--windy, grey, and pretty chilly for the end of May!

We have been in Ireland for 7 weeks today and in our apartment for 6. 

Getting darker again--the greens and other colors outside are so vivid!

Have a great weekend!

21 May 2014

Eircom

Just about four weeks ago, Bill called Eircom and started the process of getting home internet access. At that time, he was told it would take 5-10 working days. After taking into consideration the weekends and bank holidays, we are now on working day 18 with no modem. Bill is getting as tired as I am of going to the library for internet, so yesterday while we were there, he went to the Eircom website and began a live chat with Anthony. He explained to Anthony that he had not yet received a modem or any other communication beyond the letter we got a couple of weeks ago telling us how “delighted” Eircom was to welcome us. Anthony felt the best thing to do would be to transfer their little chat session to a different department, but alas, everyone there must’ve been at lunch, because there was no one to chat with. Anthony did give Bill a phone number to call later.

Later on, Bill took the phone and went into the bedroom--probably so he would not have to look at me while he conversed with the Eircom person. I have expressed my thoughts quite clearly on this whole situation and if it was up to me, Eircom would not be a part of our lives at all. The only reason I have not simply gone out and bought some kind of pay-as-you-go device is because I figured as soon as I did that, the modem would arrive and we’d have wasted a bunch of money. I needn’t have worried. As I sat here in the living room and heard Bill finally connect with a live person and explain the situation, I listened to him say, “You mean no one has worked on it since?” Pause. “How come?” he asked, “Do you know?” According to Bill, the reply was, “No, I don’t. I’m sorry.” I am unsure why Bill did not cancel the work order at this point, but he opted not to do so.  I am told we should have the modem in a couple of days. I do not know whether this is “working days” and now we can also wonder what exactly constitutes a “working day” at Eircom. Considering that it has now been 27 days since the original contact was made, and the work order was never submitted to the proper people, perhaps “working days” do not occur all that frequently. In any case, this fellow told Bill that “by this time next week, you’ll have internet.” Personally, I will believe this when I experience it. Who knows what festive things will be set in motion if the modem ever arrives. Does the phone line even work? No need to worry about that now, though. I will take one hassle at a time, thanks very much!

This reminds me of one of my Eskimo friends in an Alaskan village. I was staying with the family and he was working as a casual laborer for the Native corporation. He was in his mid 60s then. He would leave for work at 8, be home at 10 for a cup of tea and a lie down on the couch, back to work at 10:30 or 11, home at noon for lunch, back to work at 1ish, home at 2ish for a repeat of the morning tea break, back to work at 2:30 or 3, and then home by 4:30. He told me that since he was a casual laborer, he was being casual.

The other day when we took a long walk by the river, we ended up seeing this little Eircom building at the end of our walk. It’s the engineering office, or something. It was empty. Non-working day or just a lunch break? Who knows?


On a happier note, we stopped in at An Post (the post office) yesterday morning to pick up a package. The slip had been left in our box the day before. It was a book that Bill was thrilled to have once again. When we were making decisions about what to bring with us, struggling with weight limits, and being constrained by the size of a couple of our suitcases, he reluctantly made the decision to put a book that he really loved on the donation pile. It’s a book of Frank Hurley’s photos taken on one of the Shackleton expeditions to Antarctica. It’s a beautiful book, but one that is large and heavy--it weighs 6 pounds. He decided to donate that one so he’d have room for several others. He found a copy on ebay last week. It was priced low and shipping wasn’t much, either. It was coming from the UK. So he bought it and it came yesterday. It was fun watching him with it--he was so happy to have the book back. It was one of those situations that turned out perfectly all around. The wonderful library in Brunswick will either add his old book to their collection or sell it at the upcoming annual book sale (which should have quite a lot of former Burke books!). Bill has his book back and did not have to haul it around with him--that dash through Heathrow would have been that much more difficult had he been carrying this large and heavy book. He was technically over the weight limit for his carry-ons anyway (I probably was, too) and he was lugging a large backpack and a Chico bag with stuff in it--including another big photography book. This one is even more cumbersome than the one he carried, so it was much easier to pick it up at the post office, put it in his smaller backpack, and leisurely walk home with it :-)







20 May 2014

Riverwalk

It was bright and sunny when we got up Friday morning, and since we had nothing in particular we had to do that day, we had breakfast, filled the Klean Kanteens, packed the backpacks with our water, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and fruit and headed out to the river.

There are a few different ways we can get there, but on this day we walked down the sidewalk alongside the road on which we rode into town. There’s a big map there that I never paid much attention to before, but I stopped to look this time. I was hoping that if we took the river path we might get all the way to Lough Mask, which doesn’t look like it’s that far away. This map showed various recreational activities available in the area with a big “you are here” by the dot representing Ballinrobe and there was the river with a little walker icon right near the Ballinrobe dot and then another one near the lake. I was hopeful as we continued on our way.

We got to the walkway we’d found before, went down to the path and went left. Before long we came to a spot where the water was falling over some rocks--such a great sound! Then we came to some ruins, which seem like they are never very far away here. I examined the bridge above and the surrounding area and thought we could probably walk over the bridge and be right there, and made a note to do that sometime.


We walked on and passed many other walkers, some with their dogs. There are several benches and even a bench or two with tables along the path. We crossed a bridge and came to a spot where the water had been used to power a mill. We saw sheep and horses in fields on the other side of the river and lots of cows hanging out near the fences along the path. After about an hour of walking, we came to a set of steps, at the top of which was a gate leading out to the very narrow road. It was the end of the line. I wanted to see if the path picked up somewhere on the other side of the road, so I waited until I could not see or hear any cars coming. The road is a typical rural Irish road--narrow, curving, without any shoulder, and with cars zooming around like they’re training for NASCAR or something. Crazy.


When I spotted an opening, I dashed across the road to the other side of the bridge and looked in vain for a pathway beside the river. I was a little bit bummed. There seemed to be nothing else to do but turn around. I might have started walking down the road to see what I could see, but I didn’t see any sidewalks and Bill was urging me to come back, saying it sounded like there was a car coming.

We started back the way we’d come and shortly encountered an older guy walking with a younger one. I asked the guy if the path continued on anywhere past the road and he told me it didn’t but that if I kept going and went over a bridge and under a couple of others, I would find myself right back in town! He was very helpful, as almost everyone is--they assume we’re tourists. In a way, we are!

I was disappointed that we didn’t get to the lake, but really happy that we’d found the walkway, which, I learned later after consulting our new book Ballinrobe: Aspects of a Visual History, is called Bower’s Walk. I can see myself packing the backpack with lunch, water, a book, a crochet project and paper and pen and spending hours by the river walking for a bit and then finding a bench on which to settle back and hang out.

On our walk to the end, we’d noticed some gates and pathways in a few places along the way. On the way back, I decided to see where they led. The first path brought us to a residential area. There were houses along the road that were occupied, but right in the middle of this area, in what was probably a field a decade ago, was a cluster of new homes--all of them looked empty. We walked further toward the main road and then saw the abbey ruins in the background, so we knew where we were and we turned back toward the river.


When we got back to the cavalry barracks ruins, we walked under the bridge and found the steps built into the rock wall. We went up those and up the path, where we came to the town green--there’s a playground for the kids, a sports field, a clubhouse, and a walking/jogging path around the field. I turned left and headed for the bridge to the ruins. There was a gate that kept us out of the fields surrounding the ruins, but we could stand there on the bridge and look at everything--the ruins, the stone walls, the sheep, and the river below. The wind was blowing, the sheep were bleating, and the birds were talking. I felt so peaceful standing there. We stayed there for quite a while, just taking it all in and eating our lunches.



On the way home, we stopped to look at the map again. As we were looking, this guy came up, asked if we were tourists, and then suggested we drive down to Cong and walk the loop there. It’s a new trail, he said, built as part of a government scheme (I always find this terrible amusing--there are no government “programs” here, rather there are “schemes.” After all I have read about the way things operate here, the word “scheme” with its connotations of something slightly underhanded and manipulative, seems entirely appropriate!!). We smiled and thanked him. I decided to make a list of things I wanted to look up the following day at the library.

I looked for information on walking trails in or near Ballinrobe and found that there is one in Neale that would be possible--we could walk to Neale in an hour, do the walk, and come home. But that would require us to try and walk along one of those narrow curving roads--not only without shoulders, but sometimes with a stone wall right up against the road. Probably not a smart thing to do. I looked up Ballinrobe to Lough Mask and the directions have someone driving up the road and around the lake to the other side! I tried “walking trail from Ballinrobe to Lough Mask” but all that came up was the Bower’s Walk. I gave up on that and tried to find a book about walking trails in Ireland, but met with failure again. By then my computer battery was almost dead, so I gave up. I decided that the map in town showed the little walker icon twice--once near town and once near the spot where the river meets the lake--because there’s a path in town and possibly a path closer to the lake, but nothing in between. Oh well. I will enjoy what I’ve got!

We got home from the library on Saturday just before the rain started. It was a lovely, rainy, blustery day on Sunday, too--another great day of hanging out spending hours with the newspaper and reading a novel. On Sunday night I listened to a documentary that consisted of elders talking about their childhoods and then a history show. Yesterday was another quiet day spent with a book and later, my thread and crochet hook while I listened to the radio again. This morning I woke up to Bill saying that we had no electricity. We wondered how long that situation was going to last, but we soon saw three yellow ESB (Electricity Supply Board) vans heading down the road. About an hour later, I heard a click and went to look at the water heater timer--sure enough, the “off peak” light was on. The power was back. I went straight for the coffeemaker.

15 May 2014

I Heard it on the Radio


Story 1:
The new water charges are all over the news. People blockaded to stop water meters from being installed in various parts of the country. Politicians have been negotiating to come up with final numbers about what the charge will be and what exemptions will be available. People are angry all over the country about this, but some people are more angry than others because they have boil notices and apparently have for a while. It’s an ongoing situation. In Europe. In 2014. Amazing. The water charge issue was being discussed on the radio while Bill and I were waiting in the doctor’s office so he could have his blood test. The conversation went something like this:
Host 1: “What if people can’t pay?”
Host 2: “Water is a fundamental human right, so it has to be provided, but they will lower the water pressure. People would turn on the tap and just get a trickle. Maybe they would get so annoyed that they’d pay the bill.”

I am unsure how you would lower the water pressure any more and still have flowing water. It’s pretty bad already. And it does boggle the mind--the idea that water is a fundamental human right, so we’ll give it to you regardless of ability to pay, even if you have to collect it drop by drop.



Story 2:
There was a school in Kilkenny that was completed in 2007. It was state-of-the-art at that time with smart classrooms, including white boards connected to the Internet, laptops, and other fabulous electronics. Teachers were expected to use various online materials in the classroom. The problem? The Internet connection was slower than what you would get in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Videos would start, buffer for up to half an hour, and then start again. One kid could be online at a time, if they were lucky. In Europe. In 2014. Teachers and students alike were frustrated. Teachers were concerned that their kids would be behind when they moved up to higher levels and were sharing classrooms with kids from other areas that had access to these resources.  A company went in over the Easter holiday break and fixed things up for them, so now everything works at what seems like lightning speed. The teachers are happy. The kids are happy.

Story 3:
  There’s a town called Arklow, south of Dublin on the east coast of the country that has been waiting for their water treatment plant for 15 years. That means that all during the Celtic Tiger years, this was a planned project and it never got done. From what I have read, not much of anything got done during those years, except the enrichment of a few individuals. For the very first time in the country’s history, they were not poor and could have used their wealth for the betterment of everyone by updating aging infrastructure and building things that would have been a benefit to the community. Instead, greedy people took as much as they could while government and banking officials drove the country off a cliff. Meanwhile, near Arklow, raw sewage is still being dumped into the river. In Europe. In 2014.

Story 4:
Eurovision is apparently a big thing in these parts and has been around for decades. I had heard of Eurovision in passing--probably from the BBC or something. I was vaguely aware that it was a song contest. Last week I learned that it has been around since the 1950s and it’s a big deal (though I get the impression that it’s not as big as it once was). I turned on the radio one night last week and I was a few minutes early for the program that I planned to listen to. I heard a lot of drum rolling and breathless commentary from the show just ending.
Announcer 1: “C’mon Ireland!”
Announcer 2: “Only 5 slots left!”
Announcer 1: “There’s still a good chance for Ireland! C’mon Ireland!”

It took me a minute to understand that I was listening to some segment of the Eurovision contest. None of the remaining five slots went to Ireland. This, the audience was told, was a “huge blow.” The finals were a couple of days later. The person who won (an Austrian) was described by someone on the radio as “Jesus Christ in a skirt.”

The day after the finals, I tuned in to the Documentary on 1 on RTE Radio 1 and learned about the accusation made years ago by a now-deceased Spaniard that General Franco had rigged the 1968 Eurovision contest by buying votes so that Spain would win. It seems that these days there’s a panel of judges and they count for half and the audience can vote, too and that counts for half. Back in ‘68, though, there were not as many countries competing and it was the TV stations in those countries that voted, not the general TV audience. So, according to the accuser, Franco sent people around Europe and made offers to buy their TV and radio shows in exchange for their votes for Spain’s song. The song was called “La La La.” The song for the UK that year was “Congratulations” sung by Cliff Richard and written by this guy from Northern Ireland (Phil Coulter--hope that’s spelled right) and his writing partner. Their song had won the previous year and they were eager to make Eurovision history by being the first back-to-back winners. Near the end of voting, the UK was ahead with just Yugoslavia left to call in and vote. The show was being broadcast by the BBC, I think, and some official came and told Coulter and his partner that they should leave their seats and come backstage so they’d be ready to come out and accept the award when they won. The partner didn’t want to leave his seat lest he jinx the proceedings. They had a bit of time to coax him backstage, because there was a problem with Yugoslavia’s vote--they awarded 11 points instead of their allotted 10. The writers were just about backstage when the judges worked out the Yugoslavian wrinkles and they heard that with those last points, Spain had edged them out by one point. Coulter was incredulous and has always felt that he got ripped off. “La La La” was not, in his opinion, a good song. He thought the lyrics were dumb and the tune a rip-off of a Beatles song. He was interviewed extensively on this documentary and he said that he wasn’t saying that General Franco did buy Spain’s victory, but “it could have happened.” They did devote about 30 seconds near the end of the show to the fact that there are holes in the story--such as the fact that the accuser said that Czechoslovakia and Hungary sold their votes to Franco, but Czechoslovakia was never in the Eurovision Song Contest and Hungary did not get involved until the 1970s. Who knew?

Have a great weekend!

13 May 2014

A Bag of Roosters

Monday, May 12, 2014
I find that I am starting to really look forward to and enjoy Sundays. It is nice to get up knowing that there’s nowhere in particular we have to go or anything in particular that we have to do.  For the past couple of Sundays, we’ve spent hours reading the paper and then books, drinking coffee, and in the evening, listening to the radio (me) or watching a DVD (Bill). This Sunday, we also spent a few minutes looking at the view from the sitting room window.


This morning we walked over to the Country Market on Main St to get a 10 kg bag of red potatoes, which are called “rooster potatoes” here. We were the only customers in the place and the guy greeted us with a “Hello! Nice soft day today, isn’t it?” I have no idea what a soft day is, but I nodded and agreed with him. I made a comment about there being something for everyone--rain one minute and sunshine the next. He declared that everyone had had enough rain by now. He was wrong, but I didn’t contradict him. I quite enjoy the fact that there’s a bit of grey sky and at least some sprinkles most days.


Rather than carry the bag of potatoes to the counter to pay, I said, “I’ll take a bag of these.” He replied, “OK, a bag of roosters, then.”  Of course the image that sprang into my head was of someone trying to stuff a bunch of roosters into a bag. I paid him without laughing at that image, got the potatoes into my big backpack and off we went.

I’ve mentioned that on weather reports they often predict “fresh” winds. Apparently, in addition to the possibility of winds being fresh and days being soft, days can also be fresh. We met our neighbor across the deck coming up the stairs last week and when we got to the top of the stairs she said, “Lovely, fresh day, isn’t it?” Yup. She also told Bill and me at separate times to be sure to go and hang out on the deck on fine days. I am quite enjoying learning the ways the same language is used differently :-)

We took a nice long walk today after coming home, dropping off the potatoes, and having some lunch. We started to head toward the road we came into town on when I had to stop and recover from my distress at seeing the unfortunate abundance of apostrophes on the sign for the restaurant--LOL.



I never understand why no one proofreads such things before they give the final approval for the sign to be printed. Happily for them, the large sign they have attached to the wall of the building and which says exactly the same thing, does not contain such mistakes. After that unhappy interlude, we walked on until the sidewalk ran out and then we took a right because there was still sidewalk on that road--at least for a while. It was amazing how quiet things seemed just a kilometre from the town center. We walked a little bit further once the sidewalk ended, but the road was curved and there was no shoulder, so no safe place to walk with the cars zooming around like they do. Almost everyday brings another report on the radio about someone who has died in a traffic accident of some sort--often people run right into walls. Sometimes it’s pedestrians or bicyclists getting hit. A couple of weeks ago a small child was killed near his home in a hit and run. This weekend there were 3 deaths reported.

We turned around and went back the way we came, ending up on Main St again. As we were walking, Bill pointed across the street at the little stone building that now houses a shoe store and asked, “What’s back there?” I assumed it was a car park, but it also looked like there was a walkway, so he decided to take a look. It is a walkway and it leads down to the river and the walking path and little park area that is alongside. We got to the end of the walkway and turned right--on one side was the river and on the other was a fenced in field with sheep. There were a few tables with wrought iron legs and wooden tops and one accompanying bench at each table facing the river. Now we know where we can go to eat our lunch on fine, fresh, or soft days!

We walked until we ran out of path. It was lovely to find this place--so quiet and green with stone walls and plants and flowers growing out of the walls sideways and the river flowing along. You would never know that the center of town was just up the hill. At the end of the path we took the bridge over the river and found our way back to the road. Tomorrow we can bring our lunch to eat by the river and then take off in the opposite direction to see what we will see! I have a feeling we will spend a fair bit of time hanging out there, now that we know it exists!




It seems we have a 4th address! We got mail last week and again today with an extra line on the address that we hadn’t seen before. So we are up to 4 possible variations now that we know can be used--one street or another or various combinations.

No sign of any Internet connection here and we move into working day 12 of our 5-10 working day wait. I suggested to Bill that we tell Eircom to forget it and go look into pay-as-you-go smartphones that will allow us to do basic web stuff. We can go to the library for other things. We have had enough anecdotal evidence to tell us that we can assume that even if service is ever available at home, it will be unreliable. The idea of paying for it and essentially rewarding the company for crappy service bugs me a lot.

I just finished a book in which the author mentioned an ad run by the Fine Gael party during the elections in (I think) 2002. In the ad they said the Celtic Tiger should more appropriately be named the Celtic Snail. I can attest to the fact that the Celtic Snail is alive and well!!

08 May 2014

Yay!

It’s a little scary--we actually got stuff done yesterday. Not started, not “we’ve done what we can do and now we wait,” but actually finished! Yay!

After calling the doctor’s office several times and getting a busy signal or no answer, Bill tried again this morning. This time there was a live person on the other end who gave him an appointment for noonish today. It was like, “Wait. Wait. Wait. NOW!” So off to the office we went. We sat in the waiting room until it was Bill’s turn and he went into the surgery (examination room) while I went to wait outside. It was getting stuffy in there and there was some crappy music blaring from the radio. I leaned against the stone wall, took the book out of my backpack and read in the fresh air. Bill was only in there for about 10 minutes, but in that time, the sky went from grey, to bright, to black. It was nice and breezy and it misted for a few minutes.

The INR test is done using a machine right in the doctor’s office with the results available immediately. In Maine, he went to the lab at the hospital and the results were sent to the nurse in the doctor’s office, who called him with the results. There are other differences here--Bill got a booklet to keep track of his readings and dosage. He’d been keeping his own in a document on his computer anyway, but this makes it easier to bring in when going for a test, I guess. The doctor also said that the medication is called by different names here and the available dosages are different. This is not something we have to worry about now, since he got all his refills before he left, so has a supply for now.  He was in range, so all was well and now we have some time before the next test is supposed to happen. Glad this one’s done! Yay!

We received the paperwork regarding Bill’s social security info update from the embassy day before yesterday. The guy had filled out practically everything and all Bill had to to was add a few numbers, sign and date. We mailed that back today. Another task completed! Yay!

We stopped at the library and Bill brought his computer along just to see if he could actually use it there --and he could! Yay!

We were stopped on the sidewalk on the way to the post office by a guy we’ve seen around before. He always greets us with a hearty, “How ye?” and I surprised myself by answering “How ye?” back--LOL. He said he’s seen us around and asked where we’re from. He told Bill to keep his hat on because the rain would be coming back any minute. He showed me the shopping bag his sister sent him from America, which had some artwork on it. I said, “Oh Norman Rockwell, is it?” and laughed at myself--many people around here end sentences with, “is it?” like we’d say, “you know?” I think this differs regionally, but around here, it’s “is it?" He was surprised that I knew who the artist was.


It’s election season and large posters with the smiling faces of politicians keep springing up on lamp posts all over the place. At least those with a party affiliation have large photographic posters. The independent guy just has a small poster with text. This time apparently there will be voting for county councils and the European Parliament.


Over the weekend, I listened to stuff on RTE Radio 1 and a few of the shows were funded with the TV license fee. It seems amusing that the TV fee goes to fund radio shows, but it’s OK with me! From what I can tell, they’ve been cracking down on people who do not pay their TV license fee, which can be done at the post office. They even send inspectors around to check on homes where people have not paid the fee to see whether there’s a TV. The previous tenant left his letter behind. The TV inspector is welcome here anytime for a cup of tea and a look around--LOL. I have turned the TV stand that was here sideways and am using it as an end table (or side table as they call it here) next to the couch. It’s covered with doilies.


I haven’t listened to as much radio this week as I have been because some stuff isn’t on and I am not interested in the book they’re doing this week. I did listen to the arts show on Monday night. They were talking about a biennial exhibit in Limerick and it was mentioned a few times that it’s good that it’s in Limerick and not Dublin. I had to laugh--it’s just like the kind of thing we’d hear about Anchorage when we lived in Fairbanks and Portland when we lived in Klamath Falls. Those big cities get everything--LOL

Have a great weekend!





07 May 2014

Why Ballinrobe?

Before we started selling some stuff, giving away a bunch more, and packing up the little bit that was left, we started looking on Daft.ie for possible places to rent in Ireland. For no particular reason, except that it felt right, I knew that I wanted to stay in the west of Ireland, and Bill’s grandparents were from there, we narrowed things down to Galway and environs. Bill started looking at listings on Christmas Day. I was trying to not think about what was coming--I generally like being in a new place, but not the prep work required to get there. We had just found out a few days earlier that the company Bill was working for would probably be sold and at that point, we had no idea what our timetable would be beyond the last day of work for the old company, which would be February 11. I wanted to forget the uncertainty until after the holidays, but as always, Bill was eager to do something to get the process rolling, so Daft.ie it was. He looked at a bunch of listings and we had no clue where they were, so there was googling and looking at the map we had on the wall in the bedroom trying to get some sense of things--especially whether a place was on a bus route!  Thus began his regular visits to the site and he started his “saved listings” list, which changed as some listings were not renewed, a few were rented, we removed some and added others. Sometime in February or March, he added County Mayo to the search and discovered that there were nicer places available for less money there. Since it didn’t matter to us, we kept Counties Mayo and Galway in the search and places from each in the saved listings.

When we got to within a week of our departure, we contacted a couple of people about their listings. These were individuals and not letting agents. We thought we might be able to set up appointments to look at the places they had available (and had had available for some time, because the site tells you how long a place has been listed and what the price history is) and plan our days accordingly. No one replied.

We left there and arrived here with no specific plans, except to try to rent a place within a week and to go to the local Tesco to buy a pay-as-you-go phone the day after our arrival, which we did with no problems at all. The lovely woman behind the customer service desk even set it all up for us! We had decided that it would be much easier to contact people if we had a phone number to give them. We then proceeded to spend most of Saturday organizing and planning so we would be ready for Monday. Bill had his computer on and I had mine on. He went through the listings he had saved and looked at new ones. I googled town information, maps, bus routes, etc.


At the end of the day, we discovered that we had several listings in Ballinrobe and a couple of nearby towns and all of them were listed by the same agent. We looked into Ballinrobe. At this point, our requirements were few--decent grocery store, bus service, and small apartment/house/whatever. Ballinrobe had those things, so we decided that the best thing would be to call the letting agent on Monday morning and go from there. We would try to make an appointment to meet with her and look at places. Because we were not fussy, we figured one of them would be adequate. The point was to find a place where we could unpack the suitcases, have an address, get stuff done, like bank account, social security change of address, and all that kind of stuff, and then start hopping on a bus to various places so we could see what other places are like. At first we wanted to rush out and adopt 4-legged-furry people from the nearest shelter, so we were looking at places where they were allowed, but Bill said maybe we should wait until we were more settled and I agreed. That turned out to be the right call. Anyway, the agent called us back on the Monday and we spent the day playing phone tag, but at the end of the day, we had an appointment for the following afternoon. We had little time because we had to catch the bus back to Galway, but we looked at a couple of places, chose this one, filled out the application, gave her a deposit, and left. It all took about half an hour. Had she not called us back, we had other agents with multiple listings to call in other towns. The point was that our week in the BnB was up that Thursday and while I loved the place, was quite comfortable there, and would’ve gladly paid up for another week, I knew that from a cost-effectiveness standpoint, rent would be better. Plus we could get going on all of those practical life details if we had an address. When I called the agent and left her a message, I came right out and said that we wanted to rent something quickly and we were quite sure that one of her listings would be satisfactory--I wanted her to know that if she called and met with us, she would be rewarded in the end--LOL. And as we were leaving and I thanked her, she commented, “Not a bother. That’s one job done.” If she’d not called for whatever reason, we would have simply called the next agent with a few listings and we would be in some other town now!

As it’s turned out, this is a good place for us to be at the moment. It is compact and everything we need is right here within easy walking distance. If we want to go further, we can either take Bus Eireann (north or south) or the aptly named Burke’s Bus which goes into Galway 6 mornings a week and returns 6 evenings a week. It’s right on Eyre Square, across from the Galway bus station, so we could easily catch a bus into the city and from there go farther afield. We plan to start doing that once the pesky details of things are worked out.



We know that we will probably not stay here longer than a year. The lease is up in about 11 months and I expect we will be moving on at that time. There is the pet issue, for one thing. We could find a place here where we could have pets, no doubt. We might even be able to ask the landlord to allow it. But once we got here and had a chance to breathe, we started talking about what we wanted. This is perfect for now--it’s a great spot for us to get acclimated to the way things are done here. I love the flat--it was great to get a place within a week of arriving in the country. Now we have some time to really think about what we want longer term and to look for it.


We both agree that we would prefer to be in a more rural area. We want to be able to hike with our future dogs. This is always my issue--I like the services available in larger places (like good libraries) but I don’t care much for living in urban areas--I tend to get a mild agitation even in smaller urban spaces. I would hate to live in Galway City, and that’s not even a big city. Everything I have read about Dublin makes it sound rather hellish to me, but I suppose I will find myself there at some point as a tourist for a day, although I would never seek to live anywhere near there. It’s just not my thing. When we lived in Fairbanks we lived on 3 acres in the woods, just north of town, and I liked that. Harder to do that kind of thing without a vehicle, though, and of course, one would have to go into such a situation with no expectation of good services and stuff like that. I am getting acclimated to the latter issue here and as for the transportation, we are thinking about looking into getting bikes to solve that problem. Obviously a bike wouldn’t allow us to live in the middle of nowhere, but it would give us more flexibility and we could live further outside of town if we had bikes. So we will look into getting bikes and taking bike maintenance and repair classes. That is another thing we can do here. The timing is great, too. We’re getting the details worked out and will have the summer to explore.

I have been looking at the map of Ireland we have on our fridge and I am getting really intrigued by the idea of Donegal. I want to go there and feel the vibe, and I will have the time to go on various vibe-feeling jaunts around the country. We’re still in transition, I guess, but being here allows us the time to consider and explore before making a decision. The fact that this place is furnished helps a lot. When it’s time to move on, we can pack up our 4 suitcases once again and head up or down the road. We will not buy more stuff here, except for books from charity shops, which can be read and re-donated and probably a slow cooker. I have only found one and it’s a small 3-litre one. I’d prefer a larger one, but will probably go ahead and get that one if another one doesn’t fall into my path. We have room in our biggest suitcase for that, though :-)



06 May 2014

Life in a Small Town

Monday, May 5, 2014
It’s quite windy this bank holiday! We are still trying to translate some of what we hear on the radio and in the weather forecasts. So this morning, the forecast was for wind which would start out “moderate to fresh” and then ramp up to “strong and gusty.” It has done exactly that, but we are still trying to figure out exactly what a fresh wind is--given the way it’s been used in the past, I thought it was the same as strong. Must be between moderate and strong, though. We have also had “persistent rain,” which has now become “showery rain,” although no sign here of the “thundery rain” so far. There are many kinds of rain.


It’s been a lovely weekend in many ways. After a few days of warm and sunny weather last week, the skies turned grey and it got cooler. It has rained off and on for the past three days. It’s been exactly my kind of weather! Friday was grey with no rain and we went out walking. We were coming home from our errands when instead of turning right onto the street that would take us home, I said, “I wonder where this road leads,” and we went straight to find out. We didn’t go all the way down the road, but cut down a side street, thus discovering a new way to get to Tesco, finding a hardware store, and discovering the bike shop. We are considering getting bikes, but I’ve said that if we do that I want to take a class in bike maintenance and repair. Now we know where the shop is, we can go there and see if they have such classes.

We went into Tesco on a hunt for Altoids--Bill is just about down to his last tin and he likes to have them in his backpack when walking. There are apparently no Altoids to be found in this area, but we found a reasonable facsimile in Tesco extra strong mints. They come in rolls and not tins and they are larger, but they will work! On the way out, a lady with a netbook asked if we’d do a short survey about Tesco, so we did. At the end, she asked if we lived in Ballinrobe (which is pronounced with the emphasis on the “robe" part--as in BallinRObe) and where we’re from. We told her. She assumed we had relations here and we told her we didn’t. She assumed we’d been here before and we told her we hadn’t. She seemed surprised and then said, “Well, everyone’s leaving and going to America. It’s nice to see people coming the other way for a change!”

We were just about at the corner where we live when a guy walking in the opposite direction lifted his had in greeting. I expected a “Hello” or a “How ye?” Instead, the guy stopped, greeted us, introduced himself as David, and started talking to us about how we ended up in Ballinrobe! He knew exactly where we live and was asking us where we came from and what brought us here and stuff. He was very friendly. He said, “Welcome to Ballinrobe! I hope you’ll be very happy here for the time that you’re here and I hope that’ll be 20 years or more!” Unlikely that it will be 20 years--LOL. I have never lived in one place for more than 8 or 10, and a few less than that, but I never say never! Finally, he turned to go on his way, calling out “God bless ye!” as he walked away. Bill asked me who that was. I told him I had no idea. We had not seen him before, nor have we seen him since. Guess he’s seen us, though--life in a small town!!


On Saturday we went out in a misty rain to get the Weekend Irish Times and pick up a few sale items at Super Valu. Other than that, we’ve stayed at home. I read all my library books, ending with the nice, big, mindless novel I grabbed last week. It was a bit over 600 pages, so was long enough to keep me entertained for a few hours. I saved it for last, thinking it would be just the thing with which to spend some time on a quiet weekend--and it was! I read the first 2/3 of it yesterday between lunch and supper and finished it off this morning between breakfast and lunch. Bill finished up his own big novel, which he purchased a couple of weeks ago at the charity shop. We will either donate it back there or to the library.  He’s now reading another book he found in the charity shop about Nelson Mandela. I am not sure yet what will be next up for me. We’ve drunk tea, read, listened to the radio, and I have crocheted and listened to podcasts. I am feeling quite good and very relaxed. Bill isn’t as stressed as he was last week. He still wants his internet connection, but we did get something in the mail which indicates that we are in the system, so perhaps someday things will work out!


He also made fast progress with regard to the info update he needed to do with the people from Social Security. He had to do that through the embassy in Dublin, so Thursday when we were at the library, after we had to keep reconnecting (computer restarts and troubleshooting gave us a few minutes at a time), he was able to copy and paste a letter into an email and send it. He had provided his email address, phone number and one of the mailing addresses, hoping that someone would contact him using one of those methods. The guy called within the hour and papers are supposedly on their way. It was good to end the week and begin the weekend--feeling like some progress had been made!

It seems that, just like Memorial Day weekend in the US, this May bank holiday weekend is the unofficial start of summer here. It’s staying light a bit later every day--it was 9:45 last night and even with the clouds, it wasn’t completely dark. It’s not as extreme as Fairbanks was, but it does remind us of how far north we are, even if the weather is moderated by the Atlantic Ocean. It’s raining again. That’s what I call a GREAT start to summer!!!



01 May 2014

Odds and Ends

Wednesday, April 30. 2014
I have learned that Monday is another bank holiday here. I am not sure whether this means that the library will be closed on Saturday as they were last bank holiday weekend or whether that was specific to the Easter bank holiday. In any case, here are some odds and ends to end the week.

It is a good thing that Bill and I have been losing it in tag team style. When we first arrived and started having all of these hassles, I was the one who was miserable and angry. I’d had enough of the process and just wanted to start living my boring, quiet life again. I was tired of scheduling my days around the opening hours of the library. I was tired of the need to go there, come home and charge the battery, and go back so Bill could work on stuff. I was tired of everything taking so much longer than it needed to take because we do not have internet access--everything is more complicated. I was sick of the whole thing. Then I read about stuff and learned about the nonsensical things that have happened in the past and it all started to make sense. Even the weird questions we got at the bank become understandable when you learn--as Bill did in a book he was reading about scandals in Ireland--that once upon a time, some guy in the government made it so that if people “invested” enough money, they could have an Irish passport. Many of the people who did so were from the Middle East. Now the questions the woman at the bank had to answer about whether we were from a risky country or even a high risk country and whether she was doing this as a face-to-face encounter make perfect sense.


There is a woman who lives around here--down the street from us somewhere--who wears the coolest headscarf. I love it! The first time we saw her, we were looking out the sitting room window and saw her walking down the street pushing a stroller. She was in the shade and then she walked into the sunshine and all the little spangly things hanging from the black fabric burst into rainbows from her head. We saw her again yesterday when we were out and about.

Anyway, I have settled into a mindset of “it is what it is and I can’t change it.” I have accepted things and it doesn’t really matter that I don’t like it. I don’t like a lot of things and who cares? So I go through my days and enjoy the moments when I am at home and not dealing with foolishness. I also try to remember that we have done pretty well with the things we can control. We tried contacting people about places to rent before we left Maine and got no replies. When we got here, we regrouped and figured out a way to get a nice place by the time our BnB week was done. We do what we can and I try to let go of the things that are out of my control. But Bill is getting a bit more pissed off every day. He is really starting to get stressed over things not happening. So when I was losing it and not functioning well, he was there to encourage and move us along. Now that he’s not doing so well, it’s my turn to point out the bright side!

I woke up this morning and went into the extra room to get the dry laundry put away and open the window. It was brisk! Yay! I was thrilled about the grey skies and brisk breeze, but I shut the window because I figured Bill would be cold. I did open the kitchen window for a few minutes, though, to let some fresh air in. It’s been sunny and in the mid 60s for the past couple of days--too warm and stuffy for me!

We are having duvet issues! Duvets are the thing here. When we looked at and bought sheet sets, they came with the fitted sheet complete with bottom ruffle, 2 pillowcases, and a duvet cover. This makes perfect sense and I like the duvet concept. You have the middle quilted part and then the big cover and you stuff the quilted part in the cover like a pillow in a pillowcase. The cover snaps closed at the bottom. You can take the cover off and change it and you can get flannel sheets/covers. It’s a great idea and necessary, too--no way I’d ever be able to fit any kind of blanket or quilt in my washing machine and laundromats are few and far between. Anyway, because Bill is always cold, one duvet for the bed was not enough for him (mind you, with all the layers, it’s like having two sheets and a quilt). We had to get the duvet from the spare room and put that on the bed, too. Sigh. There have been many days in the three weeks we’ve lived here where it’s been chilly in the apartment and I have appreciated the duvets on the bed when I first climb under them. I even love the weight of them--I hate it in summer when I’d have just a sheet--not enough weight for me to sleep well! But I wake up roasting every morning. If I flip one or both of the duvets off of me to get some air, Bill says it’s too much on him. I have no idea what we will do to solve our duvet dilemma. It’s getting warmer now, so I am hopeful that one duvet and maybe an empty cover would be enough for him. He gets cold easily since he started taking the coumadin. I do think we may have to get a king size duvet/cover for winter because the full size ones are not wide enough. We had a good system in Maine--we each had our own pile of blankets and could add or subtract as necessary. We will need to think creatively and see what we can come up with!

After an annoying time at the library this afternoon, during which the internet connection was dropped, we started to make our way home. We were going to stop at Super Valu, which is on the way, for some bread, but we both felt like a walk would be nice, so we went to Tesco instead. We found a large bag of French roast coffee that is double the size of the bags we’d found before. We bought a bag to add to the stash. We bought the last two bags they had at Super Valu last week and they have not yet gotten any more in--one must be prepared. Then we took a look at the biscuits (cookies). We ended up buying some repeats--Jacob’s lemon and Cadbury Rich Tea Biscuits with Chocolate (these have been my favorite so far, but the lemon is really good, too!). We also got a new-to-us kind--chocolate. I think some coffee and biscuits are in order for tonight. We’re enjoying the biscuit buffet as we try various kinds and make note of our favorites. By the time we got home, it was misting a little. We punched in the code to open the front door downstairs, went into the stairwell and walked upstairs to the back. By the time we opened the door at the top of the stairwell, it had started to rain harder. We got inside just before it really rained. Bill hates the rain, so I thought this was an example of the bright side :-)

The post office in Brunswick forwarded our mail. Before we left, we had them hold it and we sent the change of address form back to them a couple of weeks ago. We were unsure which address to use, as we seem to have 3 that will work. We decided to use the same one that was on a letter left by the previous tenant. It was from the TV license people telling him that there was evidence of a TV in the home, but he’d not gotten his license (it costs 160 euro a year unless you’re an elder, in which case you get it free--yet another reason to be glad we’re not TV people). There is a different address used by the all-important electric company, which is the one the bank has. So we got mail from the bank and from the USPS in our box at the same time and there were different addresses used by each institution--LOL. We could also apparently use a combination of the two, which is how the address appears on the lease. Guess we can choose one or another depending on mood.

The RTE Radio 1 Book on 1 this week is The Land of Decoration by Grace McLean (MacLean?). I am enjoying it--such a nice bright spot in my day! Tonight Miscellany is on before the book--I caught the last 15 minutes last week and wished I’d heard the whole show--it seems to be writing specifically for radio and there are several pieces in the hour. I’ll be tuning in at 10 tonight with my crocheting!

Last night I finished a book called Coming Home. Bill had found it at the library and read it first. It was a collection of life stories of people who had left Ireland when they were younger and came back to live as elders. There’s a program--or at least there was--that assists them. It was quite helpful for us to read about their experiences--having lived elsewhere, they seemed to have many of the same frustrations as we do upon their return. Several of them knew someone who’d come back and then left again because they couldn’t stand it. They mostly came back during the Celtic Tiger years. I wonder what they thought when all of that collapsed. They’d grown up in and left a poor country, came back during a boom, and then there was a bust again. I have some novels to choose from for my weekend reading. On Saturday we will pick up the Weekend Irish Times and save it for Sunday. It has been years since we spent hours reading a Sunday paper, but we find that there is a lot of stuff to read in the Times.

Bill emailed the woman from the stroke support group and she called him within a few hours. She told him what steps he would have to take. He has a list of doctors now so can start making phone calls. That was the one thing this week where some incremental progress was made. It’s a step in the right direction, anyway.

Everything else remains as it was, except that I feel better and Bill feels worse. I am settling in and he is starting to resist. It might not be the right time to remind him that attachment to a particular outcome leads to suffering, so I’ll just keep reminding myself!

Have a great weekend!