Sunday, 25 November 2007

Dublin - A Room With A View and Beautiful Days

Wednesday 14th November 2007

It’s been nearly twenty years since I first visited Dublin, and I immediately felt at home there, I have some Irish ancestry maybe that's why. Or maybe it's a case of "It’s not where you’re born, it’s where you belong” lyrics written by Bono which ring true to me. Since that first trip I’ve visited Dublin at least once a year – I’m lucky, living in the UK makes it very easy to pop across to Ireland even for just a day. I still feel as at home as ever there and never tire of visiting, and, as I sat on the Newcastle to Dublin flight as it was descending into the city, I felt that familiar anticipation. This was to be a short visit, just three nights with my friend Debbi, but we were going to make the most of every minute.

Debbi and I met up at Dublin airport, it was great to see each other again and as usual we just picked up from where we left off the last time we met up. We went to pick up the hire car, a sign in the office window of the car hire firm caught our attention “Please leave rubbish in the car, thank you”!!!

We drove into the city and first went into Jury’s Custom House for brunch and had delicious fish and chips. Then we headed to Bewley’s Hotel in Ballsbridge to check in. We dropped our cases in room 211 and then headed straight back into town and Hanover Quay. By now the weather was miserable, raining and cool. There was nowhere to park along the street, so we parked in the nearby new Grand Canal Quay car park and walked the short distance to the studio.

We soon realised that the band were probably recording there as Adam’s car went in the garage and we saw Sam and Dallas. We waited a short while and then decided we would go, it was very wet and cold, enough is enough, the warmth and comfort called out to us! We decided we would come back and try our luck again on Friday.

We left the city behind and drove to Tesco’s to get our supplies for the next few days. Most importantly, we found some Moet champagne on offer so we got that for our night at the Clarence!

We went back to Bewley’s and settled for the night. We just took it easy, ate our snacks, watched TV, drank wine and chatted for hours before settling down for the night.

Thursday 15th November 2007

We got up at 9am and had breakfast then started getting ready for going to our next hotel The Clarence. We left the room at Bewleys at 12 noon, sat for a while in lounge, booked the restaurant for tomorrow night and then left. We’d decided to leave our car where we had left it last time we went to the Clarence, Lea Road, beside the apartment we stayed at last May, to save paying a fortune on car parking fees at Bewley’s Hotel. Once there, we rang for a taxi and it was there in ten minutes. The driver was a bit bemused when we piled out of the car with our luggage,

“What’s it like living in a car?” he joked.

It didn’t take long to get to the Clarence, the staff were very pleasant, our suite just needed checked to see if it was all ready so we were offered complimentary tea or coffee while we waited in the Study. Before the drinks arrived the suite was ready so we were taken up to the 5th floor and shown around the suite – our drinks were delivered to the room.

The Garden Terrace Suite was open plan with twin beds, and a raised area where there was a leather armchair and chaise lounge and table. There was a TV, and another leather armchair, plus a desk and chair. The bathroom was very nice but small, the furnishings were all of excellent quality. And the best part of the suite of course was the large terrace which had great views of Dublin in almost all directions. It is familiar to all U2 fans as being where they filmed the rooftop video for "Beautiful Day", it looked smaller in real life than on the video. There was a large wooden table, chairs and steamers there and along each side of the terrace were shrubs in large pots.

It was a world away from the penthouse, but still a lovely suite and we were detrmined to enjoy every minute . We settled in and enjoyed our complimentary cocktails as we tucked into delicious sandwiches that we had ordered from room service.

We started getting ready to go down for our meal in The Tea Room, and I must say we scrubbed up pretty well! When we arrived we were the first in, but later a few more people arrived to eat, though the restaurant was far from full by time we left. That’s a shame because the food is excellent and if you choose the Market Menu at 39 Euros, it is very good value. I had pumpkin and hazelnut risotto with a truffle froth to start. For the main course the beef which was absolutely delicious and very tender. For dessert I had the combination of 4 of the restaurants desserts which were all wonderful. We washed it all down with a very light South African Steenburg Merlot. Debbi enjoyed her meal as much as I did, and all through the service was first class.

We took the remains of the wine through to The Study and enjoyed a relaxing time in there with Andy Williams crooning in the background. We amused ourselves by watching one of the staff replacing the night lights by bringing them one by one on a tray.

Around 10pm we went back up to our suite and opened our bottle of Moet champagne, which was wonderful, we’re really getting a taste for it! We watched DVDs and chatted, and often went out onto the terrace to look out over the lights of the city, it was lovely sitting out there far above the hustle and bustle of the city. After the champagne was finished Debbi started on the wine, I decided to keep off it as because of my delicate stomach- I didn’t want to mix it with the cocktail and champagne. Before we knew it the time was 4am so we thought we'd better go to bed!

Friday 16th November 2007

Debbi did not feel too good this morning, she left her breakfast which is almost unheard of! I enjoyed my breakfast which we had in our room. As we were going back to Bewley's today, we decided that we would leave our cases at the Clarence and then get a taxi down to near Hanover Quay and later return to the Clarence for the cases and get a taxi to Bewley's. But the best laid plans are often thwarted, and so was ours - by efficiency. When our taxi arrived at the Clarence the staff came into the Study to tell us and off we went. When we got to our drop off point the driver popped the boot and there were our cases! After Debbi and I stared at them in disbelief for a few seconds we realised that the Clarence staff had been really efficient, they'd put our cases in the boot before telling us our taxi was there! I realised we'd have to change our plans quickly, thinking on my feet, I asked the driver if he could take us on to Sandymount, all we could do now was pick up our car and check in at Bewley's - either that or trundle down to HQ with our cases! The latter was obviously a no-go, so off we headed to Sandymount, loaded our cases into our car, and drove the short distance back to Bewley's. Luckily we were able to check in early so we dumped our bags in our room (212 opposite the room we had the previous day) and headed back into the city and HQ.

Luck smiled on us for the second time and we managed to get a parking spot on the roadside of Hanover Quay which saved us hefty car park fees as well as being handy. There were another couple of girls and two young men waiting at the studio.

Shortly after we got there Adam arrived and stopped to talk, both Debbi and I got good photos taken with him and were able to have a little chat. Debbi told him she wasn't too well and he asked why and she said about overdoing it the previous night, he asked where she'd been and she replied the Clarence. I then asked how the recording of the album was going, and after a short pause he said, with a hint of frustration, "Well, we haven't really started on it yet!" Not what we were wanting to hear. Debbi said she wasn't feeling too good, Adam asked why and where we'd been and smiled when Debbi told him. At this point a young man came and asked for an autograph and shortly afterwards Adam went into the studio.

Edge and Larry arrived shortly afterwards but didn't stop for us, three down one to go, Bono. It was dry and not cold so it wasn't unpleasant waiting and there is always something to watch at HQ. The area has changed beyond recognition, each time we come there are new blocks of offices or apartments, shops and restaurants. Misery Hill, Kilsaran Concrete, the garage with the German Shepherd guard dog all gone. And soon HQ will be gone too and it will be the end of an era for us, I feel a little sad about that.

A courier van drew up outside the studio and the driver asked us what we were waiting for and Debbi said "a bus", he laughed and said that this was a very "odd street". Around this time the two girls left, so now it was just Debbi and I left waiting.

I had my usually very reliable "feeling" that we'd meet Bono but time was passing and there was no sign of him. Then luck smiled on us for the third time - at about 3.30pm Bono arrived in a taxi, he waved to us as it pulled up outside the studio. He got out and after saying goodbye to someone who was in the taxi with him he came across to us. At this point I got that familiar, surreal feeling, as I watched him walking towards us. Unusually he wasn't wearing his glasses which was nice, he stopped in front of us and greeted us in his usual way,

"Hi how are you?"

We said we were ok and Debbi said,

"Fancy meeting you here",

Bono smiled and then he leaned forward and kissed Debbi and said he liked her hair (she's had part of it dyed dark pink), then he leaned over to me and kissed me. We both noticed he had no aftershave on. Before he had the chance to say anything Debbi spoke,

"Can we just say something to you," immediately she had his attention, he looked at her intently, waiting for what was coming next. She continued to thank him for what he did for us when we were in the penthouse in May. I added that it made our stay there just perfect.

"Did you stay up really late?" he asked.

"We stayed up all night!" I replied, Bono was very impressed with that and with a gesture said,

"YES, great stuff!"

He obviously approved! Debbi continued saying that we'd really enjoyed every minute there, going in the hot tub, drinking champagne..... Bono smiled as he listened. Then she said,

"Actually we were at the Clarence last night, but not in the penthouse".

"I should think not," he said emphatically, "what do you think you are, bleedin' rock stars?!"

We all laughed, he is so funny. Then Bono said he would have to go as he was an hour late, so we said our goodbyes and then he disappeared into the studio. It had been a very short but sweet meeting. We had so wanted to be able to thank him personally on behalf of ourselves and our friends Dianne and Julie, for his kindness in May, Debbi and I had agreed that if we met him that was our priority. So we were satisfied that we had been able to do that. It was great to have a kiss from him too! I'd like to say he looked well but he looked very tired and drawn. Later we found out that he had already been to a meeting of Irish Hunger Taskforce in Cork earlier that day. He really needs to slow down a bit.

We went to our car and were sitting getting ourselves sorted when four young and very beautiful Italian girls appeared from nowhere and came over to us. They asked if Bono was in the studio we told them he was and that he had arrived just a few minutes earlier. The girls were ecstatic, apparently Bono had told them yesterday that he would see them for autographs and photos at 6pm today. The girls were so excited shouting repeated thanks yous and blowing kisses to us over and over as they walked away. I'd have loved to have been there when they met Bono!

We drove back to Bewley's and relaxed for a while before getting ready for our meal in O'Connells restaurant in the hotel. The restaurant was very busy. Unfortunately Debbi had to send back her lamb shank because it was burnt! She quickly got another one which was ok. But the meal wasn't as good as in the past, the gravy was watery, the carrot and parsnip mash was sloppy, we were a little disappointed in it. This is the second time the meal has not been up to standard there, such a shame as for years we've eaten wonderful meals there.

After the meal we walked across the road and to the Four Seasons Hotel and went into their wonderful Ice Bar. It's an amazing place, done out to look like ice, white and cream, with atmospheric lighting. There was a lovely sculpture of a dancer hanging from a single cord in front of a mirror close to us, it was beautiful. The bar wasn't too busy and we were able to get a seat. I ordered a champagne cocktail called a tearjerker and Debbi ordered a non-alcoholic cocktail - which definitely is a first! She felt better now but didn't want to tempt fate. We enjoyed our drinks while we people watched before going back to Bewleys and our room.

Unfortunately I paid for the tearjerker that night as it gave me te rrible heartburn. It occurred to me that this was my fourth different bed in as many nights- home, Bewley's, the Clarence, Bewleys. We'd never been able to unpack properly due to moving from hotel to hotel so we lived out of our suitcases. The result was that we kept losing things which was very frustrating! One of our favourite phrases this trip was, "Where's my ......." followed by frantic searching in our suitcases.

Saturday 17th November 2007

We checked out of Bewley's at noon and drove through to Dalkey, we parked in the Church of the Assumption car park and went across the road to The Queens for brunch. The Queens has been re-decorated again, in a more traditional style, it's much better than the modern look it had, more in keeping with its age. They had coal fires burning and it was very snug and cosy in there. The food we had was delicious too and very reasonable and served quickly.

The weather was awful, wet and windy, we didn't really want to leave the warmth of the pub. Usually we would potter round the shops in Dalkey but due to the weather we didn't wander round the shops as we would normally do. We headed to the airport and dropped off our hire car, making sure we left our car parking tickets in the car - well the sign did say to leave rubbish in the car!

We had to wait a while before we could check in and I felt so tired as we sat, I think all the excitement, moving about and late nights were at last catching up with me! Eventually we both got checked in and went through security and found the Anna Livia Executive Lounge which we had booked into as a treat. It was small, but really nice, with lots of snacks and drinks to choose from, very peaceful and relaxing, I think we'll definitely book it again.

Eventually Debbi and I said our goodbyes and went our separate ways, hopefully it won't be too long before we meet up again, and I hope too that it won't be long before I visit my second home once more.

The Ukraine Part 2 - Churches, Castles and Goodbye

21 October 2007

Sunday, and we were going to our first Orthodox mass. I'm quite a spiritual person, but am not religious, But I still wanted to go and experience what this kind of service was like. So, we wrapped up well and went to Oksana's local renovated traditional Ukrainian wooden church. It was very small and perched on top of a hill the overlooked the scene of the Battle of Zboriv. It was icy cold on the hill as the wind whipped across the fields and whistled around the church, luckily Oksana had told us the previous day to wrap up well.

The church was tiny and completely lined with pine inside. It was decorated with brightly coloured paintings and banners and had a large chandelier of opaque glass. The congregation stood, the only seats were single rows of benches down each side which sometimes the older people sat down on. The service lasted an hour and most of it was sung, it sounded quite lovely, melodic and Eastern. I couldn't see much of what was going on at the front due to my lack of height.

We went home and Jaroslaw decided to take us to see a genuinely old traditional wooden church. So we bumped along the pot-holed roads to Virliv (phonetic spelling) just outside Zboriv. After a few wrong turns we found the church, again perched on a small hill. There was a service going on so Christine and Jaroslaw went in, for Oksana and me one mass a day is enough so we waited out of the cold in the car and talked. Oksana was a lovely girl, always chatting and asking questions, soaking up information like a sponge. I hope all her dreams come true and she manages to make a good life for herself. I think it was quite exciting for her to meet us.

Eventually Jaroslaw called us to the church and we met the priest Paolo. The locals once more stared at these two foreigners from England in their midst, wondering what on earth we were doing at their little church. The priest posed for photos inside and outside, he was obviously very proud of his beautiful church. He said that we were free to look around the church and take photos and then left us in the care of an elderly caretaker.

The church was built in 1821 in the traditional Ukrainian style and it was a shimmering world of colour inside. On a day like this, with grey skies, rain and icy howling wind, it was like stepping into another world. I suppose that is how it is supposed to be, another more heavenly world away from the harsh reality of day to day life in the Ukraine. A place to forget about your problems for a while and gain strength from your faith.

The artwork was fantastic, the vibrant colours and gold were like new, it was much grander than the church we visited earlier in the day. Beautiful three-tier golden chandeliers lit the inside and its light glinted off the gold. There was a balcony area that you could go up to by a steep ladder, I went up and admired the glory of this little jewel in the Ukrainian countryside from above.

Our last full day, we'd had the churches and now it was time to see a Ukrainian castle. We drove to Zolochiv, the castle was set high on a hill, surrounded by walls which you entered through an inconspicuous door, crossed some lovely gardens and then over an empty moat, through another door into the castle itself. The castle has had a chequered past, being a prison at one time with a history of torture and murder. Now it is being renovated as a tourist attraction.

The castle had high vaulted ceilings and massively thick walls. There was a collection of Oriental antiquities in a few rooms, some very beautiful items. There was a nice little chapel and a room with a another collection, this time models of wooden churches. Once the whole place is renovated it will be wonderful to visit.

Outside Oksana showed us the wishing stone, a large stone with carvings on and a hole in the middle. You had to put a finger in the hole and as you turned your finger around in the hole, make a wish, we all took our turn and made a wish. Zolochiv Castle was an interesting place to visit and once fully renovated will be stunning, even on this grey, dismal day it was worth seeing.
October 24th - time to head home. Olga's brother Gregor, who lives in Lvov, had come through to Zboriv to take us to the airport - no one wanted to risk Ivan's car after our Adventure Day. We left at 9am and quickly realised that Gregor drove like a 60 year old boy racer! As a result we got to Lvov in record time. We stopped off a Gregor's home where his wife welcomed us like long lost family and had prepared a huge lunch for us, there's no chance of starving in the Ukraine!
We got to the airport and had a little time to spare and waited in the marble columned hall, so unlike an airport, it was more like a grand house. It was hard to say goodbye to Oksana, Jaroslaw and Gregor, they were such genuine, kind people and had done all they could to make our stay special. A few tears were shed as we waved goodbye before going to the check in.
Nothing was like a "normal" airport, check in consisted of a girl behind a counter who wrote out boarding cards, then your case was put on a huge old-fashioned scale with a dial, then a man put on a tag. Then we were ushered through another door to passport control which was quick and painless, much better than our entry into the country. The cases went through a small xray machine and then were left in a corner once more, we left them there hoping that we would be reunited with them in Manchester.
We had about three quarters of an hour wait before boarding. We waited in a small room that only had chairs and toilets, no other facilities, good job we didn't have a long wait! I was relieved to see that our plane was slightly larger than the one we arrived in and didn't have propellers! We boarded on time and took off into the clouds and left the Ukraine behind.

It had been a holiday with a difference, I wasn't sure what to expect before I went, and though it was not a luxury trip, I ended up feeling enriched by the experience. I felt privileged to meet such wonderful people and share their lives for a week and learn about their country. Their resilience, generosity and spirit I will never forget.

The Ukraine Part 1 - Potholes, Adventures and History

Early in 2007 my friend Christine asked me if I’d accompany her on a trip to the Ukraine, her father was born there and she wanted to visit his birthplace and meet the cousin she had never met. I said yes, and though I knew it wouldn't be a holiday in the usual sense of the word, I looked on it as a kind of adventure and looked forward to it.

Tuesday 16th October

Before we knew it October was here and we were in Manchester airport looking for the correct place to pick up our flight tickets. We asked many people but didn’t get very far. We came across an extremely rude and unprofessional man at the Swissport desk who was very unhelpful! We were rescued by a very pleasant and helpful young lady from Servis Air who made phone call and told us we could just check in with our email confirmation.

We went off then and to the nearby Bewley’s Hotel for a meal. It was delicious and we took our time, relaxed and chilled out. I was quite excited at the thought of going to a place where I didn't know what to expect, it felt like a step into the unknown.

After an early night we were up at 3am and by 4am were in the shuttle on our way to the airport. At check-in we were told that we needed more than our email confirmation, we had to go to the Lufthansa desk to pick up our tickets. We did this and at long last our elusive tickets were in our hands! We checked in and went through security. Because of the ticket business we had very little time to look around the duty frees and before we knew it we were boarding the Polish LOT airlines flight to Warsaw. We ended up sitting on the tarmac for about an hour due to “adverse weather conditions” which was really tedious. Once we were in the air the journey was very smooth and wasn't as long as I expected – two and a half hours later we were descending into Warsaw.

Because of the delay we were convinced we had missed our flight to Lvov, we only had just over an hour change over time. We were a bit confused about the time too, was Warsaw one or two hours ahead of UK time? We were directed to the appropriate gate and although it was now past take off time for the plane to Lvov people were still waiting at the gate. It seems that flight was delayed too luckily – because there is only one flight a day from Warsaw to Lvov so we would have been stranded had we missed this flight. Within half an hour we boarding the tiny airplane with propellers and set off on another leg of our journey the 50 minute flight to Lvov in the Ukraine.

Lvov is a large city, but the airport was tiny and looked like a grand house from the outside. We went into a seated area where people were queuing to get through passport control. We sat down to fill in our entry forms – easier said than done as we had to write Justyna’s cousin’s name and address in Ukrainian, a language with a Cyrillic alphabet! We did our best.

The officials were very aloof, and unsmiling in their military-like uniforms. A serious young man, who looked like he should still be at school and wearing a large Russian-type hat that seemed too big for him, was keeping an eye on the people in the arrivals area. It took ages for the people ahead of us to get through passport control, and when it was our turn it was no quicker. The unsmiling woman who I saw pulled a face when she looked at my entry form – my Ukrainian writing can’t have been too good! She asked a couple of questions in English, still frowning, and after lots of shuffling of papers and stamping of documents I was through with Christine following a couple of minutes later.

We moved on to another small room with a xray machine in it, I was wondering where we would pick up our bags – then Christine pointed to them just left in a corner of the room! We picked them up and followed the people towards another door, a girl stopped us and asked in English if we had insurance, we said we had then walked on and through the swing doors and there we were in the arrivals hall!
I recognised Christine’s cousin, Jaroslaw, right away from photos I’d seen, he rushed forward calling her name and gave her a big hug. The shook hands with me calling me Susanna which I’ve always liked more than Susan, and Susanna was to be my name for the time I was in the Ukraine. We were introduced to Ivan, Jaroslaw’s wife’s cousin and our driver, and Oksana a beautiful 17 year old schoolgirl who was to be our translator for the trip as no one but her was fluent in English!

Ivan’s Lada was parked just outside the airport and we all piled in and begun our journey to Zboriv, 100 kilometres to the east of Lvov. Once in the car I asked Oksana what the time was as we were in a kind of twilight world, not sure what time zone we were in! The city looked rundown, dusty and busy; soon we were on the main road towards our destination. The road was poor with lots of potholes and many broken down cars and trucks along the way; Ivan was a “lively” driver to say the least! The country side was unremarkable, mainly vast plains and fields. We passed little houses with wells outside, colourfully painted bus stops, wooden carts drawn by horses; people leading their precious cows along by the road, it was fascinating, a different world to where we came from.

It took two hours to get to Zboriv which is a small town in the Ternopil region. We turned into what translated as May Street and drove a short way to Jaroslaw’s house. It was a nice house, quite big by Ukrainian standards with a garden at the front and a large kitchen garden in the back. There was also a very fierce guard dog which, thank heavens, was on a long chain! We were greeted by Olga, Jaroslaw’s wife. She was a very quiet and calm woman, the opposite of her lively and excitable husband, they balanced each other out nicely. They both shared the qualities of warmth and kindness.

Our translator Oksana was a delightful girl, very chatty, obviously relishing the chance to use her language skills. She was very curious and over our week in the Ukraine asked us all kinds of questions about our lives, where we lived, our interests; she soaked everything up like a sponge.
Olga then prepared a meal of chicken, mashed potatoes with a mushrooms sauce, cold meats, cheese, a coleslaw without mayo and a delicious consommé-like soup with vermicelli. For afters there was a huge bowl full of various chocolate bars and sweets, most of which were delicious. Over the next week Olga would be making meals for us approximately every three hours, there was no chance of us ever being hungry, in fact by day seven I thought I was going to explode I'd eaten so much!

As I lay in bed in the morning I was aware of how quiet it was here, all I could hear was dogs barking and the occasional cockerel in the distance. I looked out of the window and could see a young German Shepherd playfully chasing a chicken on the street, it certainly was a different world to where I came from!

Today we explored Zboriv, which is a fairly small town that has seen better days. There were a lot of buildings in bad repair or half finished. We went into a church that was being renovated. There was just one man doing all the work and what he had done so far was beautiful, in the Byzantine style. It will take him years to finish it all, but it was clearly a labour of love of which he was very proud.

Everywhere we went we were openly stared at with suspicion, you'd think we had horns! There were also few smiles anywhere, once you get to know Ukrainians they are lovely but they appear to have an innate suspicion of strangers. Maybe that is due to their troubled history of being invaded and ruled by other countries right up to fifteen years ago when the last invaders, the Russians, left. Also, Zboriv is a small, provincial town and strangers from abroad rarely visit so I think we were quite a talking point!

We visited the Zboriv Museum which was in am old house off the main street. It was icy cold inside, like stepping into a freezer. An elderly man with the most gold teeth I have ever seen (gold teeth seem very popular in the Ukraine) showed us around. He was enthusiastic about the museum and talked ten to the dozen, poor Oksana struggled to keep up with the translation!

The museum was an eclectic mix of old original items and new copies covered in dust. It mainly celebrated the Battle of Zboriv of 1649 when the Ukrainians were victorious over the Polish Army. As we left we were asked to sign the visitors book and the guide kindly gave Christine and I a book each about Zboriv and refused any payment.

We walked a little further down the road, Oksana pointed out a cinema that was now where the young people went to dance. There wasn't much for young people in the town and it's easy to see why they leave. Oksana planned to go to university in Ternopil next year and eventually move abroad, this is what many young Ukrainian people do, much like it was in Ireland in the not too distant past.

We came across a cemetery on a hill, all overgrown with grass and weeds. Iasked to go to look round it, Oksana thought I was mad I think,

"But Susan, it is dead people!" she exclaimed.

Most of the gravestones were large, many at extreme angles or toppled over. A lot of the stones had pictures of the deceased on them, faces from the past, which made it more meaningful to me, it was an atmospheric place and very peaceful.

Another day - and we called this our Adventure Day, read on to find out why! We left quite early in Ivan's car again to go to the village where Christine's father came from which was approximately 150 kilometres south of Zboriv. We rattled along on the potholey roads which got worse and worse as we left the main roads and ended on village tracks. The villages looked like they had not changed for generations. They had their wells covered by little wooden roofs in front of the homes. The mostly wooden houses were built close to the roads with brightly coloured fences, mostly in sky blue. Ducks, geese, hens, cows, dogs wandered the roads, old women in black with the colourful Ukrainian scarves over their heads chatted. It looked picturesque, but in reality it was a difficult life, people worked hard but often didn't get anywhere in life.

We got to Korolivka (which Oksana told us meant kingdom) where Jaroslaw's and Christine's fathers came from. The school they attended was still there and the building that had been a library. The actual house they lived in was gone and a new one built on the ground. The owner let us come in and look around the garden which was relatively unchanged. He asked us to all come back for a coffee after we had looked at the church opposite.

We crossed the road to the church and went into the graveyard to look at family graves, I knew this was important to Christine. We fought through the tangle of vegetation to the graves and Oksana, Ivan and I stood back as Christine and Jaroslaw lit candles. At this point it started raining hard and a cold wind blew up, Ivan slipped away and came back with our umbrellas from the car, bless him!

We returned to the man who had invited us for coffee, after washing our hands in icy water from the well outside the house (it's a Ukrainian tradition to wash your hands before eating and drinking) we went inside and the warmth was wonderful and I was able to thaw out a little. We had coffee and the chocolate biscuits that seem so popular. The man's wife stayed in the background in the kitchen and his two little girls played quietly in the bedroom. After half an hour, after using the outdoor privy (!) we said our goodbyes and headed off on the bumpy roads once more.

We headed for famous caves at Kravetche (phonetic spelling) - the roads got so bad we were crawling along and then we had to stop because there was a pile of stones in the middle of the road! It was one kilometre to the caves so we headed off on foot. It was pouring with rain and icy cold as we trudged along. After a while we had to go up a steep hill, I was struggling, but eventually got there. As there were people already inside the caves we had to wait for about ten minutes. It was clearly a beautiful area and in better weather would have been stunning, we were in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains after all! Eventually the people came out of the caves and said that the lights had gone off in the caves - so no caves for us! We set off downhill, it was slippery due to the wet autumn leaves and I had shoes on that didn't have a good grip! Bless young Oksana, she linked my arm and steadied me so I managed to get down without any mishaps.

We were glad to see the car and we piled in and started our journey back home. We stopped at a roadside cafe a meal of borscht and the Ukrainian form of ravioli stuffed with potato and dipped in something that tasted like something inbetween cream and mayo. All very nice, though just as we were served the main course the lights went out! It was still just light enough to eat by so we could finish our meals! The few other customers in the cafe kept staring over at us and when we left they were all peering out of the window at us! It gave us a small taste of what it must be like to be famous and have everyone staring at you.

At Ozeriania (phonetic spelling) the lights of the car dimmed to a glimmer! Ivan pulled over near a garage and he and Jaroslaw started tinkering about under the car's bonnet. We three sat in the back and after about 15 minutes decided to go into a nearby motel to use the toilet and have a drink. It was actually really nice, and has the best toilet I'd seen in the Ukraine!! We sat in the little cafe and had soft drinks and chocolate as we waited. After around half an hour Jaroslaw came in and said the car was sorted and we could go. In we got, Ivan turned the ignition and the lights were non-existent now. To our horror Ivan started driving the car onto the road and for five very scary minutes we drove on a busy, pot-holed road in the dark without lights! I'm not easily scared, but this scared me, Christine was mumbling "I know my dad came from the Ukraine but I don't want to die here!"

To our relief we pulled over at another garage/motel. Jaroslaw and Ivan tinkered with the car again but got nowhere. We all went into the motel Jaroslaw asked about accommodation but there was none. He was given the address of an mechanic so once more we all got in the car and drove a short distance up the road without lights, stopped at the mechanics house, he couldn't help. So we went up a very dark, bumpy lane to another mechanics house. While Jaroslaw and Ivan went to see if the mechanic was there Christine and I agreed we would not allow ourselves to be driven without lights any further and that we would take Oksana with us. Oksana however was blissfully laid back about it all, saying, "don't be sad, it will be ok" with a smile.

Jaroslaw must have been thinking too, he came back to tell us that the mechanic was out and that Ivan would wait with the car while Jaroslaw and the women would go back to the garage/motel and get a taxi all the way back to Zboriv! At that point a car came along Jaroslaw flagged it down, in it were two Russians, after payment they agreed to take us to the garage. Jaroslaw, Christine and I sat in the back with Oksana lying across us! At the garage the man on duty rang a taxi for us and, as it was bitterly cold, let us sit in his snug little room until it came, I could have kissed him!

The taxi didn't take long and soon we were on the road towards Zboriv once more. It was a relief to be heading back, the night was awful, wind and rain and I thought of poor Ivan waiting alone in the car. We got home at midnight, much to the relief of Olga. Jaroslaw put on a jumper, changed his shoes and set off back to Ozeriania and Ivan in the taxi. We had barely sat down when - yes, the lights went out!!!

Next day we heard that the mechanic eventually came home and sorted the car but that it broke down with the same problem in Ternopil! Jaroslaw got home at 4am. What a day, we certainly saw another side of the Ukraine during our Adventure Day

Dublin - Champagne and the Penthouse

All our trips to Dublin are special, but this week long 2007 trip was more special than usual, we were staying in a rented apartment – but for one night we were going to stay in the Penthouse at the Clarence Hotel – we’d saved for two and a half years for it! Debbi, Dianne, Julie and I were at last back in Dublin for this holiday of a lifetime. It was good to meet up with my friends again; we always just seem to pick up from where we left off when we get back together.

On Tuesday lunchtime we went down to U2’s studio in the docklands. How it is changing there, the gritty griminess and character being replaced by large, anonymous glass and steel buildings. Even the Kilsaran concrete yard was now closed and the famous bench gone. I’m not sure about all the changes in Dublin, so many wonderful old buildings have gone, I feel they should have done more renovation and so kept some of the city’s unique character.

We had no idea whether U2 were at the studio, but not long after we got there Adam arrived. We had a short chat and took photos; as usual he was a real gentleman. About an hour later Bono arrived and not long after parking his car in the garage appeared at the studio door. He made no attempt to come across the road and was clearly waiting for us to come to him so we did. He looked really well and suits the short hair; also its more natural colour is much better for his pale Irish complexion.

He was chatty and asked us various questions including what we had been doing so far on our holiday, we told him about our trip to Brittas Bay the previous day and he said he loved it there. We all got autographs and photos taken with him. We told him about our planned penthouse stay and he asked what we were celebrating and we told him it was a special birthday for Dianne. He was too much of a gentleman to ask how old she would be, I jokingly told him she was 30! He said we'd love it in the penthouse, and after wishing Dianne a happy birthday and saying goodbye he went back into the studio. It’s always so good to meet Bono, he has the ability to make everyone around him feel special and important and we were certainly full of smiles as we left Hanover Quay that day!

A couple of days later and it was our big day at penthouse at the Clarence Hotel; I was wide at 6.30am, very unusual for me! We spent the morning getting ready, we looked like different people in our lovely clothes, we felt like different people too!

The limo was a bit late, the chauffeur couldn’t find us! After I gave directions he was soon there. It was a white stretch limo, black leather seats, plastic glasses for the “champagne” which tasted more like Cava to me. It was all rather over the top for my liking, but still, it was special and that was what this day was all about. We sat inside watching a U2 DVD and drinking champagne as the driver took us on a tour of the city. I really just wanted to get to the Clarence!

When we did get to the hotel we were treated like royalty and shown road the ground floor before getting into the lift up to the penthouse. We were so excited it was hard to remain calm! The staff member showed us around the two floors of the duplex penthouse before leaving us on our own. It was then we could let go and just explore. The penthouse was much bigger than it appears on photos and everything was of the highest quality.

Our complimentary welcome Cosmopolitan cocktails were delivered and we sat down for the first time to drink them. We noticed a bottle of champagne on ice in a very expensive looking Alessi cooler. We didn’t want to open it just in case we had to pay for it so we rang reception and they told us it was complimentary – so we opened it

The penthouse was fantastic, much bigger than it looks on photos and everything of the highest quality. We had welcome cocktails waiting for us as arranged, but there was also a bottle of champagne on ice with 4 glasses which wasn't part of the deal. We checked with reception and were told it was complimentary, so we popped the cork, the champagne was wonderful!

We spent the after just enjoying the penthouse. On the lower level was a sitting room, dining room, two bathrooms, a kitchen and two bedrooms. Along the entire front of this was a balcony overlooking the River Liffey and Dublin. The upper level was reached by a stylish oak and stainless steel spiral staircase. This level was open plan at one end a seated area the other end had a baby grand piano and a very well stocked bar. There was a balcony at the back where the hot tub was. There was also a small balcony at the other end of the loft that gave you a lovely view onto the city.

We relaxed in the hot tub with our champagne, we chatted as we watched DVDs on the huge TV. We could hardly believe that after over two and a half years of saving we were finally in the penthouse.

In the early evening we started getting ready to go down to the Tea Room for our meal. We had bought special outfits and I must say we looked so glamourous – we barely recognised each other!

At 8pm we went down for dinner, we were greeted by a lady who said, “You are looking very beautiful tonight ladies” and we were shown to our table. There was an envelope on the table that the waiter handed to Debbi. She opened it and for a few seconds just stared at it. We all guessed what it was even before she read it out and then passed it round it said "Happy Birthday, love Bono”. Before we had a chance to say anything the wine waiter was there pouring champagne. Debbi asked if it was from Bono and we were told yes. We were so surprised and touched that he'd done
this we were nearly crying! For a while we were speechless and it was a while before we got ourselves together and were able to look at the menu and order.

The meal was wonderful, excellent quality and service. We'd planned to have a very special expensive bottle of wine with our meal so we still had that too. It turned out that we didn't have to pay for that either, all our drinks that night were on Bono. Even now I can hardly believe he did this for us, going to the penthouse was exciting enough, but for Bono to do this made it perfect. We were treated like royalty all night which was rather nice!

After finishing the wine in the Study we went back up to the penthouse. We stayed up all night chatting, drinking wine, having a laugh, making a video and watching DVDs. Sometimes we went out onto one of the balconies to look at the lovely view of the lights of Dublin at night. It felt like we were in another world high above those lights and, really, we were.

We watched dawn break over the city from the balcony and it signalled that our stay in the penthouse was nearly over. I felt sad that it was coming to an end, yet I also felt lucky. Lucky that I could afford to do something like this - even if it meant a lots of saving. Lucky to have three special friends in Debbi, Dianne and Julie to share this with. And lucky to be a fan of Bono, whose thoughtful kindness made our stay at the penthouse at the Clarence Hotel perfect.

Dublin Kilmainham Gaol May 2006

I first heard of Kilmainham Gaol through U2's video for "A Celebration" which was filmed there, beyond that, I didn't really know much about the place. Though I have been visiting Dublin for over 17 years I'd never visited Kilmainham, nor had Debbi or Dianne so we thought that it was about time we went there!We got the very smart and high-tech Luas (tram) from Connolly Station to Heuston Station and then walked the rest of the way. It was the only warm and sunny afternoon of our visit so the walk, although long, was pleasant. We got lost enroute and some workmen directed us - on our way back we discovered a much quicker way through Kilmainham Hospital which now houses the Museum of Modern Art, pity the workmen didn't know of that shortcut as when they directed us we were right outside the Museum!

Kilmainham Goal was an imposing building from the outside, solid, impenetrable walls made out of the distinctive, grey Dublin stone that is all over the city. Originally built in 1796 with various additons over the years and it has a fortess look about it.The entrance has a sculpture of a rather scary dragon-like creature above it, and above that are railings of a balcony that our guide later told us were used to hang people from in the days when public hangings were the norm.

The only way to look around Kilmainham is by going on the official guided tour so in the meantime we waited in an area that had an exhibition about the prison. As I looked around it something that stuck in my mind was a register that listed the crimes and sentences, there were so many chiildren there, ending up in Kilmainham for "stealing four loaves of bread". I also noticed on various graphs in the exhibition that there appeared to be a surge in crime in 1850. Later our guide, Connor, said that in order to survive many people resorted to crime during the Famine years to get into the prison where they would at least get some food. During 1850 the prison population (normally 700) swelled to 9000, out of these only 9 died that year. It's really sad that people had to resort to such desperate measures to survive, it gave me an insight into how terrible that time must have been in Ireland.

The first place we visited on the tour was the chapel which was surprisingly a rather nice little place. Our guide told us that one of the Easter Rising leaders, Joseph Plunkett married Grace Gifford here just before his execution later the same day in 1916. She never re-married. She herself was incarcerated in the prison a few years later and painted a quite naive, but touching, painting of the Madonna and Child on the wall of her cell.

We then moved onto the oldest part of the prison that housed long, dank corridors with what appeared to be metal cell doors that had gone rusty and created a kind of strange, mottled effect. The paint was flaking off the walls. Even with the sparse electric lighting in there it was dark and murky, and the misery of the place was almost palpable. I hung back from the tour a little in order to get photos of the corridors and as the people moved on and the voices started to disappear in the distance, the oppressive atmosphere became stronger, I was glad to move on and catch up with the group. I think it still must house spme of the ghosts of the countless souls that have perished within its walls.

We moved on into the newer part of the prison which was built in Victorian times. It was very different to the older area, brighter and not as enclosed, nor as oppressive. We were told many films had scenes shot here such as, "In the Name of the Father" and "The Italian Job". Also, of course, U2 filmed their video for "A Celebration" here many, many years ago now.

Finally we walked outside to the Stonebreaking Yard. This was where the leaders of the Easter Rising, Pearse, Connolly, Plunkett, just to name a some of them, were executed in May 1916. It was just past the 90th anniversary when we were there. The yard was empty except for 2 small crosses at either end near the doors where the men had come in to be executed. One entrance was especially for James Connolly who had been seriously wounded in the Easter Rising fighting and could not walk in by himself. He had been kept alive in hospital and taken there to be killed by the firing squad as he sat in a chair.In the middle of the yard there was an Irish flag and a wall plaque in front of which was a wreath. I looked up, and the sky was a beautiful blue, in stark contrast to the massive, grey, walls around me. It was a sombre moment, and everyone in the tour spoke in hushed tones whilst in the yard.

Afterwards the tour we stepped out into the sunshine and it was almost a relief to be back into our day to day world. Visiting Kilmainham was a moving experience, I learned a lot about it's history and the history of Ireland, and the difficulties the country has been through. I also now fully understand the significance of this building has for the Irish people.

Dublin Musical Pub Crawl May 2006

My friend Debbi had recommended the Musical Pub Crawl highly so on the Thursday evening of our holiday we decided to go and sample it for ourselves. We walked to the Oliver St John Gogarty pub in Fleet Street which is the meeting place for the Pub Crawl. We went to an upstairs bar paid our money and waited for the event to start. Most of the other people going on the tour seemed to be Americans. After another rather wet day the rain had stopped and the sun had come out, as it had done on every evening of our holiday.
There were 2 musicians, Andy (who hada bit of a youthful Edge look about him) who played the fiddle and Mark who sang and played the guitar and bodhran and who did most of the talking. The first session was quite short and, as the pub had people in it who were not on the tour, it was quite noisy and it was hard to hear what was said, and even the music at times.

We then left and headed the short distance to the Ha-Penny Bridge Inn, which as the name suggests is right beside that elegant bridge over the River Liffey. Indeed you could look out of the upstairs window down onto the bridge and Dublin life streaming across it. This time we were in a room just for the session and we got a really good seat at the front.

Mark told us a little about the Inn, how it is one of only two in the city centre that hasn't had the heart ripped out of it in the name of modernisation. The only other original pub in the neighbourhood is The Palace which is also sometimes visited on this Tour. He told us about the instruments used in Irish music - the fiddle, bodhran, pipes and the new interloper, the guitar - which is frowned upon by some traditional musicians. They played a mixture of songs and instrumentals, during the latter Andy showed his amazing talent playing the fiddle. Mark got the auidience to join in with the chorus of some songs and it was great fun.

After about 50 minutes it was time to move on to the next
pub - the Exchequer Bar in Exchequer Street near Grafton Street. Again there was a room upstairs specially set aside for the Tour and again we got really good seats at the front. Mark told us about the different styles of Irish music/singing, jigs, reels, and sean nos, meaning old style, singing which is a very paticular style using the unaccompanied voice. He then sang 2 songs, one in Irish and one in English, I thought they were very beautiful and moving.

Finally near the end of the session there was the "Noble Call" for anyone from the audience to sing or play a song. An elderly American lady volunteered and sang a odd little ditty called "Detour" which everyone joined in on the catchy chorus. Then a girl (who apparently was a musician and going to a festival in Ennis the following weekend) played something on the guitar with Andy accompanying her on the fiddle.

And that was it, the end of a great night, I'd had fun and learned a lot about traditional Irish music, which I've always loved. The Musical Pub Crawl is two and a half hours long and costs 12 Euros, and is well worth the money, try it when you are next in Dublin.

Peter and the Wolf Exhibition Dublin 1 October 2003

My friends Chris and Andy were in Dublin on their honeymoon and they asked me if I’d like to meet up with them there for a couple of days. On the 1st October the Peter and the Wolf exhibition was opening, this being the first stage of a mini-tour for the paintings, so of course we were keen to go to see them.

We walked down Dame Street to the City Hall where the exhibition was being held. It was really interesting to see Bono's pictures - which were huge in some cases, large in all cases. Some were more like practice sketches, but others were very good and interesting, the longer I looked at them the more I saw. Bono’s father featured a lot, in one picture he's very stern and there's a tiny Bono below looking up at him. There was a menace and darkness about the pictures in general and the wolf tends to look a bit stoned in my opinion!!! Bono’s daughters' additions of the flowers are the gentlest, softest aspect to the pictures, which I felt offsets the general harshness that came across in the artwork.

The CD of Peter and the Wolf was playing in the background and there was also a short film running about the making of the CD and paintings. All were being sold to support a very worthwhile cause - The Irish Hospice Foundation.

The City Hall itself, built in 1779, is a wonderful building. The exhibition was held on the first floor which was reached via a sweeping staircase. In the centre of the large room there was a circle of pillars with classical figures on pedestals inbetween them and high above a beautiful done in the centre. The large Georgian windows ensured the room was well lit.

We were almost first in, there weren’t many other people there. Gavin Friday and Maurice Seezer arrived not long after we did and they did a photoshoot. There was also a man videoing the proceedings, and at one point I noticed him videoing us as we looked at the paintings, I tried to keep my back to him once I'd noticed! Later he approached us to say that they hoped to make a documentary about the making of Peter and the Wolf and the exhibition and as we were in some of his film and he'd like our permission to use our images. He didn't have his usual forms to sign so he asked us to say our names and give permission as he filmed us. I don’t know if the documentary ever came about.

Chris asked one of the women there if she thought Gavin would sign autographs and she said he probably would once he'd finished with the shoot, so we waited. Chris went to him first and he was really nice to her, she told him that she and Andy had just got married and he congratulated them, asked where they came from. He is so like Bono it's uncanny. His voice, his mannerisms, his humour, his clothes are all very similar. Then I went up to him giving him the auction brochure to sign. He said, "Aren't you buying the CD?" I told him I'd ordered it online, he asked which website and I said the Irish Hospice one, he seemed pleased at that. Then with a grin (like Bono’s!) added, "But you should go to the official website, that's much better!" I told him I do go there too and he seemed chuffed about that. He asked my name (and how I spelled it – how many ways can you spell Sue?!) as he signed my brochure and looked right at me smiling as I thanked him afterwards. Like Bono he's a charmer!

It was really good to see the paintings in real life – there is something special about seeing brushstrokes etc that makes pictures really come alive, I could easily visualise Bono working on them. Bono came to the exhibition in person later that day I believe but we were long gone by then. It was really good to meet Gavin, I can certainly see why he and Bono are friends, they are like two peas in a pod as they say.