Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Dublin Part Three - More Food - A Green Hen and a Town

10th October

Deb and I nearly getting blown off the penthouse balcony!
We got up at about 9am and pottered about until our breakfast arrived in the room and was laid out for us in the dining room.  It was lovely, and though morning are the times I don't usually have much of an appetite I wolfed it all down! It was sad to pack up our things to leave the penthouse, I doubt we'll ever be back. I went upstairs for one last look, and onto the balcony for a windy photo with Deb, the unseasonally mild weather had definitely given way to a more autumnal chill.. It also meant the end of my birthday celebrations, what a fab time I have had over these last few weeks, I wish I turned 60 every year.

We caught a taxi back to our apartment at Smithfield. Marian was out exploring, she was soon back, it's amazing how many things she managed to see in such a short time, she definitely made the most of her short time in Dublin! Unfortunately she had to return home and we saw her off to the airport later in the afternoon. Afterwards we all went to bed to try and get some sleep as the late night was catching up with us!  I rested, but could not sleep though I really wanted to.

Dianne in The Green Hen
That evening it was our girls night out, and Deb and Dianne were treating me as a last birthday gift, so kind of them as they had already been so generous to me bless them! For our Dublin trip we all chose a new restaurant to go to, tonight was my choice, The Green Hen in Exchequer Street, a French restaurant, can't go wrong with French food with me!  We got a taxi and almost immediately were stuck in a horrendous traffic jam.  The driver told us there was some big event happening in the city that night. We ended up being 20 minutes late for our table though the staff were completely unconcerned at that, I love that Irish laissez faire!

The restaurant was full, posters from old French films on the walls, the atmosphere lively but not too much so that you can't hear each other talk.  I had goats cheese salad with beetroot, walnuts and figs to start and it was scrumptious. Then duck confit with fondant potato, cherries and baby vegetables was equally fabulous it was the most succulent duck I've had! Portions were generous and none of us was able to find room for a dessert, we just had a cappuccino. Also, amazingly we had no wine at all! We all felt it was a very good idea to detox that night lol!
The Duck Confit Main

We had the Early Bird menu which was 19.50 Euros for two courses or 22 Euro for three, excellent value. Service was friendly and attentive, I felt sorry for the servers as they had to run down stairs to bring the food and also up another flight to tables upstairs, they must be fit!

We caught a taxi back to the apartment (no traffic jam this time). Dan had  had a pizza from the restaurant beneath the apartment block which he said was very good, he was pleased to hear we had enjoyed our meal so much. We didn't stay up very late, we desperately needed to catch up on our sleep!

October 11th

A sign in the Docklands
Too soon it was our last full day in Dublin we had vague plans but nothing definite. While in the city it had not escaped our attention that Bono was in town! A mutual love of U2 brought us all together over 20 years ago and because we get along as people and not just as fans, real friendships were borne form this. We did not expect the band to be in Dublin, as far as we knew they were in New York, but no, they were home. So we decided to go to the Docklands and check out their studio there, though we were aware that it looked like they had a new studio in County Wicklow, but we had to check :). We caught the Luas to Mayor's Square in the north Docklands, I can't believe how that area has changed, gone are the derelict buildings and now it's full of apartments and shops and cafes.

We walked over the graceful new Samuel Beckett Bridge and into the South Docklands and into the familiar territory of Hanover Quay. As we expected it was all quiet at the studio, though there was some pretty amazing non-U2 graffiti on the surrounding walls.

We had a leisurely lunch at the nearby Spar and enjoyed what was now a lovely sunny day.  After years of constant change during the age of the Celtic Tiger things were now static, there had been no changes since we had last been there in May 2012. The southern end of the quay still had areas untouched by the bulldozer, and the old, natural stone buildings still looked out over Grand Canal Dock as they have done for many, many decades. Where the concrete works used to be opposite the studio was now just a vacant lot within it's walls. Kind of nice that the concrete, steel and glass structure haven't taken over all of the Docklands.
The Beautiful Samuel Beckett Bridge
and where the big concrete works had been now was just a vacant plot.

We headed back to the Luas stop and then all did our own thing for a while, Deb went back to the apartment, Dianne and Dan went to The Writer's Museum and I went shopping. Later we all met up again at the apartment.

That night it was Dianne's choice of restaurant. It was not actually new to us, but had changed hands and was now called The Town rather than the Town Bar and Restaurant. Inside it had changed very little, it was a bit brighter, but still had the same relaxing ambiance. To start I had warm beetroot and goats cheese salad (for a change!) followed by a very tender beef fillet, cep puree, roasted onion, madeira sauce and colcannon. Again I couldn't manage a dessert, but Debbi and Dan managed to find some room, Deb finds it hard to resist creme brulee! Everyone enjoyed everything they had and though it is quite an expensive restaurant it is top quality. It was so nice to spend the last evening enjoying good food and wine with great friends, some of the best things in life.

We caught a taxi home and Dan got chatting to the driver who was from Nigeria. He said it was hard to learn to find his way round the city because: 1. the names of the street change - you can go down a straight road and at some point it will start to be called something else. I'd never really thought about that before, the same is true in the UK. 2. People often don't know the name of a road that a certain pub or restaurant is on, so he had to learn where all these places were. He also told us that there were 1,200 restaurants in Dublin, so it's some feat to learn where they all are.  Also, it means that there are plenty more new ones for us to try in the future!

October 12th

Dianne and Dan left at 9.30 on their way back to Canada via Heathrow, sad to see them go, but I knew that I would be seeing them again in December, so the parting wasn't as hard as it might have been. Not long afterwards Deb and I vacated the apartment and left our bags with the concierge before heading to The Clarence Hotel for a last drink.  Then it was the usual taxi to the airport, have a meal, mooch round the shops before flying - in a tiny Aer Arann propeller plane - back to Manchester. Sad goodbyes to Debbi, unfortunately she is not coming on the holiday at New Year, so it could be a while before we meet up again, but we still keep in touch a lot online.

So that was it, a fabulous week in Dublin. I want to say thanks to my all my wonderful friends for coming (and a special thanks to Deb for her organising!) it was special to share my official 60th with you all. Can I be 60 again next year??

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Dublin Part Two - More Theatre and My Offical Birthday

October 8th

Had a much needed lie-in after our lazy (boozy) day. But when I got up I felt surprisingly ok, still got some stamina it seems lol! We stayed in as my friend Marian  from the UK was joining us for a couple of days and was arriving around 2pm.  It was good to see her again, we have known each other since we became friends at school when we were 12, and though we live at opposite ends of the country now always have stayed in touch.

At 4pm we headed to the nearby Third Space cafe for our tea. I had quiche lorraine and salad and soda bread which was lovely. We then got the Luas to Abbey Street and went into The Peacock Theatre where we were going to see Maeve's House. It was a 75 minute long one-man play both written and performed by Eamon Morrissey based on the life and writings of the Irish writer based in New York, Maeve Brennan. Apparently Morrisey's family lived in the the same house in Cherryfield Avenue, Ranelagh, Dublin as Brennan's had 20 years earlier before that family moved to New York.

I must admit that I had never heard of Maeve Brennan before, but that was not so surprising as she was a staff writer under the pseudonym of The Long Winded Lady  for The New Yorker magazine for much of her life and two anthologies of some of her work were not published either in the UK or Ireland.

The play revolves around the house which coincidentally was home to both of them and the setting for many of Brennan's stories. This play features extracts from Maeve Brennan’s writing and presents a moving portrait of two people in conversation across generations. Morrissey talks of some of the common links the house has, such as the creaking banister, and it must have been strange for Morrissey to read of such a familiar place in Brennan's writing. But what struck me most was Brennan's stories of the dark side of the human condition, loneliness within a marriage where love had long disappeared, people trapped, lives wasted, dreams long evaporated. Though Brennan was thousands of miles from Dublin it seems her past still had a strong hold on her, it is hard to escape one's early influences. And some of her writings seemed to echo her own tragic life story.

The set was simple, there was a background of a skyscraper skyline that seems to have been made up of golden words that glinted in the lights, sound effects were subtle but effective, contrasting the bustle of Manhattan with the secretive quietness of suburban Dublin..

There was an intimacy about the play that drew me in, and I was full of admiration for Eamon Morrissey who performed for a full 75 minutes, no mean feat for a 70 year old!

After the play there was a discussion about Maeve and the play with Eamon and Amanda Bourke (who wrote a biography called Maeve Brennan: Homesick at The New Yorker) which was very interesting and enlightening. There were a couple of people in the audience who also lived in Cherryfield Avenue, Dublin is such a small town city! And it seems that Eamon's mother was called Maeve and the present owner of the house is also a Maeve, seems the name is synonymous with that house.

Us Girls in the Cobblestone!
Afterwards we caught the Luas back to Smithfield and went to the Cobblestone Pub at the north end of the square, in a terrace of old buildings still standing, such is the mix of architecture at Smithfield, old and new side by side.

This was a real Dublin pub. Basic, friendly and with good Guinness! It reminded me of good old Dockers, the pub we visited regularly years ago in the Docklands where we had such wonderful times.  It was a mixture of tourists and locals but not pretending to be anything more than what it was, in other words it wasn't at all toursity.  Some guys were playing traditional music at the front of the bar but there were no seats there so we went to the back and found somewhere to sit. We spent about an hour there enjoying the drink and chat and atmosphere before taking the two minute walk back to our apartment.

October 9th
Afternoon Tea at the Clarence Hotel

The Big Day, my Official 60th Birthday! We got a taxi to The Clarence Hotel at midday and met up with our friends Ken and Elizabeth from Dun Laoghaire in The Study.  We were going to have afternoon tea there. It struck me as rather strange that such an English institution is alive and well in Ireland! But then it is a wonderful thing that I am not really surprised the Irish enjoy it too!

Ken and Elizabeth had brought me a present, a gorgeous Kilkenny marble clock, and also something for everyone else, they are such kind people! We had a delicious tea of sandwiches, cream scones, cake and tea, all very scrumptious!

At 2pm we were able to go up to the penthouse suite and though Ken and Elizabeth and Marian were not actually staying there they were keen to see it! It was much as it had been last time we stayed there in 2008, except for a new suite in the sitting room and some new carpeting. There were two bottles of Prosecco and some chocolates waiting for me there which was a lovely surprise!  For some reason there was also two small bottles of milk beside the Prosecco, why, we never figured out.

The Gallery
We showed our guests around and they marvelled at the two levels of the suite and the fantastic view over the city and Liffey from the balcony. After a while Ken and Elizabeth left, but we'll see them again soon when we return to Dublin at New Year. Marian also left at this time, it was her first visit to the city and she wanted to do some exploring before coming back later for our meal at Cleaver East.

Debbi, Dianne, Dan and I settled down in the upstairs gallery and drank the Prosecco which was a very good vintage indeed.  We relaxed and chatted, played music and chilled. We'd waited a long time for this and were going to enjoy every minute!

The View From the Balcony
At 7pm we started getting ready for our evening meal, Marian had returned and we all went down to the new restaurant in the hotel called Cleaver East, which had now replaced our much loved Tea Room. I must admit I was a bit dubious about this restaurant as it served "tasting plates" and I wasn't sure whether it would be for me. I needn't have worried, the food was wonderful. The restaurant had rows of cleavers hanging at the windows, distressed wood on some of the walls and equally distressed mirrors on the ceiling. The servers were friendly and helpful, food portions generous and delicious and the price reasonable. My friends gave me their birthday presents which were all wonderful, I am blessed to have such fab friends!

As we were finishing the meal our friend Declan texted, he was arriving at the hotel. Debbi and I went outside to meet him. It was good to see him again. After finishing up the meal we all went back up to the penthouse, Declan was well impressed with it lol!  We had a good chat, there was lots to catch up on, including the latest U2 gossip.  At one point I was fascinated to hear Declan (an Irishman) explain what cricket is all about to Dan (an American), most English people have no idea what it is about but here's an Irishman well up on it! Apparently that's because Declan's son is an avid cricket player :)

Declan left at 1am and gave Marian a lift back to the apartment at Smithfield. The rest of us chilled in the penthouse enjoying every minute of it. I stayed up until 4am when tiredness caught up with me. I hate to miss any time when I am there but I had to give in and get some sleep.

All in all it was an amazing 60th birthday, great company, good food and drink in luxury in my favourite city, I couldn't have asked for a better day!

All of us in Cleaver East

Monday, 21 October 2013

Dublin Part One - Coming Home, Friends, Irish Theatre and Lazy Day

It's taken me a while to start my holiday blog, life has been difficult recently, and for a while I could not put fingers to laptop. But now it feels best to keep occupied and remember the fabulous time I had in Dublin, and in time these great memories will over-shadow the sadness of recent days.

October 5th

Like the Queen, this year I had two 60th birthdays, a real one and an official one.  My real one had come and gone and the official one was set for October 9th, to be celebrated in style in the penthouse suite at the Clarence Hotel in Dublin. This fell in the middle of a week's holiday with friends in the city. Besides a brief weekend visit in June this year, we hadn't been to Dublin since May 2012 and were ready to spend some proper time there.

I met up with my friend  Debbi at Manchester Airport and we had delicious lunch in the Grain Loft there. It's always good to get together, we just pick up where we left off in that easy way close friends can.

The flight was smooth I was sandwiched between Debbi and a rather large man.  I noticed as we were getting up that he had a tee-shirt on that had U2 on it so I asked if he was a fan. He said that his name was Bobby and that he worked for Jay Z who was performing in Dublin on Sunday, on checking the Net it seems he is the Tour Manager. We said we were U2 fans and he said he'd met them a few times and that they were really nice guys, which of course we knew. Then as an after-thought he asked if we'd like tickets to see Jay Z, we said yes (anything for nothing!) and he gave us his email and said for us to contact him.  We did send an email, but we didn't hear anything back, which, to be honest, was almost a relief, as neither of us can stand Jay Z's music!

We got a taxi into the city, complete with very entertaining driver in the way only Irish drivers can be, warm, friendly and chatty. He was an educated man, trained teacher (no jobs for teachers), had taken courses in writing and written a screenplay, plus he was a natural comedian.  Wasted as a taxi driver, but he said he enjoyed meeting people from all over the world in his job. As I listened to the driver's lilting Irish accent and watched the familiar landmarks pass by it felt so good to be back in a place that feels like my second home.

Smithfield Tower, our home for the week
We were dropped off at Smithfield and met up with Pat, the owner of the duplex apartment at Smithfield Tower which we were renting for the week. He's another natural comedian, and if there was a human form of a leprechaun, it was Pat. Small, rotund, grey hair, rosy cheeks with a mischievous air about him. The apartment was wonderful, directly opposite the old Jameson Whiskey Distillery chimney, modern and spacious with everything we needed..

We'd barely made our cup of tea (well, we are English and you've got to have a cuppa when arriving at your destination!) when Dianne and Dan arrived. They had come over to Ireland from Canada a week earlier and had been touring the North and got the train from Belfast to Dublin.

We had a relaxing evening catching up, eating pizza and drinking wine. We ended up playing a game where we picked music we like that may not be so obvious and Deb would play it on her iPod for us all to hear. It gave an insight into the very diverse musical tastes we had - some of my choices were, The Slave's Chorus from Verdi's Nabucco, Hallelujah by Jeff Buckley and Good Vibrations by The Beach Boys.

I always love the first evening of a holiday, being with friends again and a whole week or two stretching out ahead full of good times, nothing beats it!

October 6th

A mean and moody Killiney Beach
We caught the Luas to Connolly Station and got the DART heading south to Killiney.  It was initially cloudy but as the day passed the sun came out and it was lovely. I love Killiney beach, which is a couple of minutes from the DART stop. Whatever the weather it is beautiful with the graceful sweep of a horseshoe bay with Dalkey Island to the north end and Bray Head to the south. We wandered along beach-combing, relaxing, enjoying the fresh sea air, sometimes the simple things in life are the most enjoyable.

After Killiney, we travelled one stop on the DART to Dalkey where we went to bustling Finnegan's Pub for a late lunch. I had the cottage pie and it was scrumptious!

Dan and Debbi in Dada
That evening we went to a Moroccan restaurant we had never been to before called Dada. I was a bit cautious about it as I can't eat hot spicy food, chili and curry are lethal to me! But I was assured that not all their food was hot and spicy. The restaurant was atmospheric, darkly lit (in fact we had difficulty reading the menus lol!) Lots of lanterns that cast beautiful patterns on the walls, it was a very relaxing place.

We shared dips and bread for starters and then I chose the lamb tagine with apricots, walnuts and cinnamon. It was to die for, the lamb was so tender and succulent and the subtle flavours of the spices made for a fabulous dish. Everyone else really enjoyed their meals too. Prices were reasonable and service good, I think we will be going back to Dada on future visits to Dublin!

October 7th

Every time we are in Dublin we go to Bewley's Cafe Theatre, it is cheap, intimate and, best of all, the plays are also always good. The theatre is a small room on the second floor of Bewley's Cafe. Set with tables and chairs and a small stage set in one corner and for a small fee you can get soup and soda bread if you want.

The play we saw was Fred and Alice by the Limerick county Writer John Sheehy.  It is about two special needs people who have different obsessions, Fred's is music, Alice's is numbers. They met in the mental care institution, Alice's effervescence brings out the shy Fred, and he is the calm shelter and support when she flies off too high, obsessed by her numbers. They compliment each other. The acting was amazing, and it's such a great experience to be so near the performers as you are at the Cafe Theatre, it draws you in, you get very involved in the play. The play moves forward to the couple living in their own home and the basic difficulties of independence, you really want them to succeed and their upbeat attitude wins out, they want to succeed in the real world and they will, in their own way.

In an interview with John Sheehy I found the following paragraph enlightening, it describes the essence of the play in a way I could not.

What was it about the issue that attracted you as a playwright?

I am interested in the idea of personal identity, where it comes from and how much it is affected by society and by those closest to you. By writing about characters whose brains are wired differently than what is considered "normal" I was able to look at the effects of labelling a person as an illness rather than an individual. Fred and Alice reject all labels and find their own unique way to live their lives.

We all loved the play, it covered a subject matter rarely looked at in such a positive way. As a ex-psychiatric nurse I would love to see Sheehy write a play about people with psychotic illnesses and show that people with mental health problems are just human beings trying to make their way in a difficult and unsympathetic world.

After the play we all walked the short distance to Cafe en Seine for our lunch. This place is a fabulous over-the-top  French belle epoque-style cafe. I had smoked salmon on soda bread with chips and it was absolutely delicious and very reasonably priced too. after their lunch Dianne and Dan left and Debbi and I embarked on our "lazy day". We started this last year in Nice, when we just drifted from place to place and had a drink, no particular plan, we just went into places we liked the look of. We enjoyed it so much that we decided it would be a feature of future holidays! So, our lazy day started in Cafe en Seine with cocktails, I had a Singapore Sling which was one of the best cocktails I'd ever had, absolutely delicious!

On leaving the Cafe en Seine we walked about twenty yards and went into Samsara and had cocktails there. we went for the good old Cosmopolitans. They were very strong and I had to water mine down with some lemonade (bit of a wuss I am lol!). Debbi managed hers without any watering down.  

A mirror in the glam toilets at Cafe en Seine
Next stop was a restaurant called Pasta Fresca. We saw a sign saying "prosecco bar" there so couldn't resit that invitation. We had our prosecco with some garlic bread which went down very well indeed.  It was so mild that we sat outside and it was not cold, amazing for October in Ireland!

Our next stop was just across the road, the Clarendon Bar, an Irish bar. We ordered prosecco again, and it came in a snipe (new for me, never knew those little bottles were called that) and bucket of ice! The server was so lovely and made us feel special.

We decided it was time to finish our lazy day after this, we'd sampled French belle epoque, ultra modern, Italian and Irish bars so had done pretty well! We headed back to our apartment at Smithfield. I was even sober enough to cook the evening meal of lasagne and salad which we all enjoyed. Afterwards we relaxed with some wine and chat. A lovely end to a great lazy day.