Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Dublin Town

We had thought we would do a weekend in Dublin but by the time August rolled around it was clear that our weekends were full of other priorities and chances were that we wouldn't make it there as a family.

Maybe that is why planning Dublin was so difficult for me.

We left it kinda late in our trip to plan this one. I still had a wee list on my phone of things that I had wanted to do way back in April when we thought we would be in Dublin for the summer. I looked into hotels without much luck and ended up booking a day fare by rail for the four of us.

When we arrived in Dublin we set out on foot to Trinity College to visit the Old Library. Another featured spot in our 500 Places book, we when to see the Book of Kells. The Exhibition was a beautifully laid out account of the history and craftsmanship of the 1000 year old book. No matter what your religious affiliations, you have to appreciate the amount of work and the dedication it took to not only write out the four gospels but also to decorate them as intricately as they are. There were three other manuscripts on display, also beautifully decorated. The idea that each stunningly colourful letter was unique to any other embellished letter in the entire book spoke of how creative and proud the monks were that worked so tirelessly on this collective work. Beyond that art, the craftsmanship involved in making the vellum from stretched calves skin and binding the pages together makes you look at the new fangled books we have just a little bit differently.

Upstairs from the exhibit was the old library. I think this was the highlight for all of us. We climbed up the stairs to 'that old book smell' and were in awe as we turned into the landing that led to the Long Room built in 1712. Pictures cannot be taken inside and you can only walk the centre aisle but the contents of the walls command their appreciation. Over 200000 of the Colleges oldest books filling shelves that stretch up through two stories. Each shelf end is accented with a marble bust like that of Dublin's own Jonathan Swift and ladders on rails are modestly tucked into each corner. It wouldn't be far off to say that you feel just a little smarter taking in the atmosphere, but a small part of me would love to climb that iron spiral staircase, thumb through the old pages and swing on a ladder like Belle in Beauty and the Beast. Some other interesting pieces on display are the skeleton of a 7' tall man and the oldest harp to survive from Ireland.

From here, we got on a hop on hop off bus for a quick tour of the city. It was here that it sunk in just how much I really would have liked to have spent more time. I would have loved to have wandered around the Temple Bar, taken a closer look around the stunning Christ Church Cathedral and the Kilmainham Gaol (the largest unoccupied jail from the late 1700s), but we just did not have the time. We stopped at the Guinness Storehouse- no fun when you are single parenting for the day and would like to try your hand at the perfect pour and ended our tour at one of the National Museums where Kyra really enjoyed the collection of Irish silverware.

We returned to Hillsborough shortly after 9 p.m. tired and slightly disappointed that the taste we took of Dublin was little more than a tease for what the lively city has to offer.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Hurling in Newry

I had an opportunity to take in a Gaelic football and hurling game before the family came and had been talking about it since we arrived.  We tried unsuccessfully to watch an Antrim GAA Football match earlier in July but weren't able to get in and ended up watching it on T.V.

Saturday, after visiting Hillsborough Castle, Elliot, Gavin and I headed out to Newry to watch the GAA All Ireland under 21 Hurling Semifinal between Dublin and Antrim.  Unfortunately both Kyra and Jenn were feeling under the weather and didn't join us.  After nearly firing my replacement navigator for the half hour fifty five minute trip, we finally arrived at Páirc Esler just before halftime.

We were able to get fantastic seats about five rows up from the field near centre and were in awe at the speed and bravery of the players.  They were slashing and swinging their hurling sticks wildly, with deliberate "incidental"contact without the benefit of any padding.  I think our foreigner status was quickly revealed as we cringed and gasped as the players clashed for position of the ball with hands, feet and sticks. 

Antim held the score close but in the end Dublin's power was too much and won the game 3-23 to 0-06 (32-6).  I was impressed that Gavin was able to follow the game and enjoyed watching the players hit the ball.

It was after the game that made the trip truly worthwhile.  The fans are allowed to walk on the field with the players.  It was apparent that every child and teen watching the game had also brought hurling sticks and balls with them to the park and impromptu games of pass and shots at goal broke out all over the field.  With a little coaxing shoving Elliot was encouraged to talk to a few teens and try his hand at actually picking up a stick and seeing how far (once he finally made contact) he could hit the ball.  His seventeen year old confidence took a hit as, like every sport, it is actually harder than it looks.  He got the hand of it and had a few good hits.  Gavin seemed to enjoy walking on the field but I didn't actively look for a stick for him thinking he was happy just to watch.  As we were leaving the field big crocodile tears appeared in Gavin's eyes as he really wanted to try too.

*Fast forward a week and after numerous conversations about going to watch hurling and Daddy not letting him play and after declaring that what he REALLY wanted for his birthday next month was a hurling stick, the little guy got his wish.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Boulder Thing To Do- By Elliot

Today I went to Castlewellan to go bouldering near Bloody Bridge in Newcastle. Waking up at 6:00 in the morning, I took several bus connections to get south for our 9:00 session. When I got to the forest park where the company that I was bouldering with was located I found a beautiful lake and castle, and checked in to get ready for the adventure.
After putting on a spiffy yet literally breathtaking wetsuit, extremely tight at the neck, I put on a buoyancy aid and helmet and waited for everyone else to get ready while contemplating how much fun the adventure was going to be.  Ready to go, all 12 of us piled into the van and we headed off to bloody bridge, a 15 minute drive away while feeling extremely cramped with a wetsuit, life jacket, and helmet equipped. We went down the trail to the bloody bridge and climbed down the rocks. Our guide proceeded to splash water on the rocks so we could slide down into the water. After I slid into the water with my hands forward to stop myself from hitting the rocks, I swam across the pool of water to where one boulder sat in the middle of the pool while shivering in the icy cold water. After we were all in the water or on various rocks, the instructor stood on the same boulder I was standing on and asked me to move other to the edge of the rock so everyone could see and hear him. As I moved over, he shoved me into the water and said that you needed to be careful when you walk on rocks as they can be slippery.
We began our climb up stream and inland by clambering over boulders and through the water. I always stayed near the front of the group and whenever the water was deep enough I laid in the water, letting the buoyancy aid keep me afloat while I waited for the others in the group to catch up. After climbing several waterfalls and helping others reach the top by offering a helping hand, I felt as if I could climb any obstacle that might block my path upstream. We continued climbing to where we could jump in from 15 or 20 feet above the water and then climbed an extremely steep waterfall or, if we wanted, could just swim around freely. After doing this several times, we all climbed back down the mountain by taking the mountain trail.
When we got back to the centre, we all had showers, which was extremely refreshing in contrast to the freezing water, and changed back into our normal clothing and had lunch together and I was lucky enough to get a lift back home.

Monday, August 15, 2011

One Giant Step

We left the B&B this morning and headed straight to the Giant’s Causeway. Roughly 40,000 hexagonal basalt columns were formed  by volcanic eruptions nearly  60 million years ago and now they creates tightly packed honeycomb stepping stones that stretch from the sea right up into the mountains. Scientific explanation aside, ancient people believed the formations to be the work of Giants. Another romantic legend tells the tale of Finn McCool, who built it as a land over the sea to bring his great love over the sea from the Isle of Hebrides that has similar rock formations.  
Arriving bright and early and before all the tour groups allowed us to get some great pictures:

Gavin pointing out the rainbow he has spotted.

40000 of these all squished together to make a remakrable landscape

Tried to capture the dissappearing rainbow to their right

What used to be a working bridge that allowed salmon fisherman access to the 30 m high rock formation on the other side, Carrick-a-Rede is now a tourist attraction. And after not being able to cross the Capillano suspension bridge in Vancouver five years ago, I wasn’t sure I would be able to cross.  The pictures make the 20m bridge look longer that it does up close- more of a beginner bridge compared to Capillano but that’s not to say that the guy jumping across before us on the way back made it any less stressful. Because of the rain the whole area was quite slippery and I must admit that I found the really steep stairs down to the bridge slightly more nerve racking. Kyra got a certificate for crossing the bridge and I got a fist bump for facing a fear.
There was one place I had seen pictures of several places but looking into it before we left for the weekend had me frustrated beyond. Looking at a map and various postcards and tourist pamphlets, I had three different coordinates within a ten mile radius of each other. The tourist center at the causeway had given us clear directions and we were on our way.  Gavin fell asleep on the way there but as we turned the corner to see our destination a quiet, excited little boy’s voice called out “Tree Tunnel!”from the back. Three hundred year old beech trees arch over the road making the Dark Hedges truely magical.
We headed back through Bushmills to on our way to Dunluce Castle and happened to pass near the Bushmills Distillery. Hungry for lunch we stopped into see what they offered. Once again, Kids aren’t allowed on certain parts of the tour but we did manage to stop by the gift shop and picked up a bottle of the Distillery Reserve only available at the Distillery itself. A request has been made for some homemade butterscotch pudding so we all should be able to have a taste form Ireland’s oldest whiskey distillery.
Dunluce Castle was a frustrating to get to. A U shaped road led up from the main coastal route and we were trapped by cars parked on either side (one trying to leave and tour buses before and after us. As we understood there was no coach bus parking and we had no idea how long the tours would stay.  We were stuck for a few minutes but all in all those tourists could not have been given more than ten minutes to look around the beautiful grounds and that was a shame for them. Naturally, the stones that made up the castle would have been sourced close by. It was nice to see the hexagonal shapes of the stones in the walls that would have come from the Causeway. What set this castle audio tour apart from others we have done was the little screen in the audio guide. After talking about each section we were given a visual of what the rooms would have looked like. This castle is set right on the edge of a cliff and we were able to explore right down to the bottom of the cliff where Elliot went underneath the castle to a cave that looked straight through to the sea on the other side.
On our drive back home we were lucky to stumble on a dairy farm that had ice cream for sale. With our cones in hand we watched the cows being milked by a robotic milker. It is an interesting contrast to how dairy farms work back home.  Rather than having the rows of cows indoors in their own stall and all milked at the same time three times a day, the cows here graze outdoors and come into the barn as they like to be milked by this one single robot. We were told that the do enjoy the feed that they get at the robot and cows will often try to be milked up to eight times in the day but the robot will only milk them three times. 
A scenic detour we took had steep ascents and descents high above the coast. Having crossed the rope bridge did not help my nerves on these narrow roads to Torr Head. The times I did open my eyes, the views across to Rathlin Island and across to Scotland were gorgeous. It rained fairly steadily on our way home but, just as we had been treated to in the morning; we spent most of the drive chasing vibrant rainbows.

Butterscotch Pudding
  • 4Tbsp Butter
  • 1 cup Brown Sugar
  • 1/4 tsp Salt
  • 4 T Cornstarch
  • 2 1/2 Milk
  • 3 Eggs
  • 2 tsp Whiskey
  • 1 tsp Vanilla
Melt butter and brown sugar together in a sauce pan and remove from heat. Add sea salt. Combine cornstarch with about 1/4 cup of milk and whisk in eggs. Pour in remaining milk into sugar mixture and whisk in cornstarch mixture. Whisk continuously until bubbling and strain through a sieve for best texture. Add whiskey and vanilla, whisk together and place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pudding to prevent a skin. Cool in fridge. Best served with fresh unsweetened whipped cream. Makes enough for six servings, some of the time.

A note for actual scotch drinkers: I usually like to use Dalwhinnie Single Malt Scotch. It's light to medium body, smooth tasteand  hints of vanilla and honey lend nicely to the flavour of the custard. For non-scotch drinkers, it was a nice choice because it doesn't taste like someone mowed the lawn, smoked a cigarette, rolled around in the dirt and then sweat in your dessert.
Adapted from David Lebovitz's recipe.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Sand on my Feet

This is the weekend we have all been waiting for. This is the one choice destination that has been front of everyone’s mind since we started looking into the area- The Giant’s Causeway. Along the north coast, the Giant’s Causeway is a UNESCO World Heritage Site made up of hexagonal shaped columns that form the stepping stones on the shoreline tourist attraction. The kids all absolutely loved Peggy’s Cove on our trip to Halifax last year and this would be the ultimate in what they call “rock climbing”, hopping from rock to rock to rock, preferably with a body of water close by. We had looked into the area and knew there was way more that we wanted to cover than would be possible in a day trip. Our original thought was to go the first weekend in August, however, rooms seemed hard to find so when we found a B&B that had a family room to sleep five that had availability this weekend we were more than happy to change the dates we had in mind (besides, this was the weekend we had penciled in a trip to London should a good deal come up on a flight- can’t say I disappointed that one never came to be).
We got on the road early, and partially because of the weather forecast, we decided to do the loop in the opposite direction that most traffic would flow. We drove first to Limavady. I was drawn to the town by mention of the Limavady Workhouse on a tourism website. It is described as one of the best preserved buildings of its type in Ireland. The blind fiddler, Jimmy McCurry, who wrote the melody for Danny Boy is said to have died. It all sounds very interesting to me, and aside from a small 19th Century section at the Ulster Museum the day before, we hadn’t really heard that much about life around the time of the Famine that claimed a million lives and influenced the emigration of about the same number.  We drove up to the site and it was not exactly as we were expecting. The Workhouse had been converted into a hospital in the mid 1930’s and has since become and outpatient clinic. Closed on the weekends, the property was being used today for a family fun fair. The lawns that had once separated young inmate boys from girls were today spotted with bouncy castles and other amusing games.  We took a quick peek inside and what is now a cafeteria had art work and words painted on the walls that reflected what went on within the original building. We were asked to leave, because the group had really only rented the lawns for public use. There is so much to be learned from the property. While not a happy history, so many have ancestors that may have lived in these workhouses before the emigrated to North America. It would have been nice to have had a tour and heard more about this part of Ireland’s history.
Now joining up with the scenic Causeway Coastal route, we stopped at Downhill Demesne. The views approaching the property are spectacular. We came around the bend and while Chris said “Oh, look at that” I agreed to the waterfall on our right while he meant the temple perched at the edge of the cliff, high and straight ahead. With the white sand beach below us and to the left, we were surrounded by postcard images.
We borrowed a tracker pack for Kyra and Gavin to share. The backpack included binoculars, compass, maps, bug identification cards and bug jars. Most items were used (and some fought over). The grounds include the Demesne (fancy word for estate), Mussenden Temple (cliff-top library), and Mausoleum, Dovecot (a stone dove condo that housed one hundred pairs or birds) gardens and Belvedere (fancy word for any architecture that incorporates the view, not the eighties sitcom).
We wandered around the grounds enjoying the view from every point of the cliff. We filled up the bug jar to take a closer look at a red a black butterfly and used the compass to confirm that the windows in the temple looked directly north east and west. Our imaginations helped us explore the 18th century manor that now lies in ruins. I was impressed that the older two kids are now able to notice where fireplaces and stables would have been as well as clues to a staircase that would have led to another level above us.
After having looked down from the temple at the beaches below we decided to stop down by the water. We drove down and parked directly on the sand only 30 or so meters from the water. We looked for seashells and dipped our toes in the water. The kids found that if you stood still on the wet sand you would slowly sink down into it. Kyra was not patient enough and wiggled her toes too much to sink neither Gavin and Elliot had a problem sinking in ankle deep.
As we were driving down the road, we spotted Hezlett House.  Built in 1691, the house is one of the oldest thatched cottages left standing in Northern Ireland.  The building was not as large or overtly stunning as some of the castles and breathtaking views that we’d seen earlier in the day but the National Trust property was very well laid out.  The house was furnished as it would have appeared in the early 1800s.  The property had red ribbons tied around tools and other items and they encouraged the children to lift touch and guess what they were used for.  Gavin seemed to enjoy turning the tables on Chris by asking him to identify objects and heaped praise as he correctly identified a saddle, bed and was proud when he stumbled on the water bottle and encouraged him to ask the guide.
Not so much feeling like we really needed to go to another beach today but interested to see what a beach protected under the National Trust had to offer, we drove down onto Portstewart Strand. OMG. I can’t even begin to tell how stunning this stretch of sand dunes are. We ventured away from the water following the sand covered pathways between tall lush grasses. The golf course we passed on the way to the shoreline was something that would make those without any interest in the game want to take the walk. The path that we took brought us into a clearing, still heavy with tall grasses, but there was one steep, sand covered incline that a grown man, obviously in training, would sprint up the incline to a marked point partly up the hill, run back down and rest, before sprinting up once again. It was a great spot to burn off some energy and while the Chris, Elliot and Kyra tried to conquer that incline, I headed up to the top of the hill opposite to try and capture the fun they were having in a picture. When I got to the top, I knew they would be just as excited as I was to se that the next clearing had not one but three of these steep inclines. Shoes removed we all enjoyed the sand in our toes. Gavin took a few tumbles (the first one startled him but I am convinced he thouroughly enjoyed each tumble after that) and Kyra and Elliot raced each other to the top and then back to the bottom again. This was certainly an unexpected highlight of our day. Gavin even had sand in his belly button by the time we left.
Kids are happily sleeping now. Our family room here at the B&B has bunk beds. One of the twin beds will go unused tonight since Kyra and Gavin have decided they will share the juvenile thrill of sleeping on the top bunk.  Only a few minutes from the Causeway itself, I can’t think of a better way to start our day. If only I could get up the nerve to cross that suspension bridge tomorrow. We’ll cross that bridge... well maybe not.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Welcome to the Jungle

We travelled into Belfast today to see a stage production of The Jungle Book. Kyra had been looking forward to checking this one off the list. The Lyric Theatre is a smallish theatre that is beautifully designed. The theatre was only about a third full (Tuesday matinee). I had purchased the ticket and liked the Row C option that was given to me. I was happy to be nice and close (although any seats in the theatre likely would have been great) but not right in front in case something might startle Gavin or should he even fall asleep. I had no idea that rows A and B would be taken out for the stage so we ended up being front row, stage right. I was felt a little uneasy for the same reasons I had liked the idea of the third row but was pleasantly surprised that Gavin was focused the entire time.
All of us really enjoyed the show. The Man that played Mowgli was very acrobatic and the small cast of six not only plays all the parts in the musical but also plays all the instruments. The show was closer to the original Rudyard Kipling story rather than the Disney-fied version and with original songs and music it was a real treat. Kyra really enjoyed the portrayal of Bagheera the panther and Elliot liked that Baloo the Bear was played by an actor who looked remarkably like Zach Galifiankis of ‘Hangover’ fame.
Having waited in line during intermission to get their faces painted and running out of time, Kyra and Gavin were thrilled that the face painter was still there after the show. They waited in the short line again and were lucky to see and talk to the actors that played Mowgli and Baloo out of character. When asked if he liked the show, Gavin told “Baloo” he saw jungle book two times! All flattered that we must have really liked it, I clarified that Gavin enjoyed both Act 1 and Act 2.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Lough, Stock and Teardrops

Friday we celebrated Jenn's birthday. We picked up a lovely lemon coconut cake that was absolutely delicious! I even brought home a BMW (from Avis) for her birthday. It was nice to drive for the weekend but was a little smaller than the Peugeot we had been renting and Elliot seemed to feel the squeeze in the back seat.
After another Avoca breakfast and Market trip, we dropping our goodies at home and headed back to the city for the Belfast Taste & Music Fest in the Botanic Gardens. It is an event where some of Northern Ireland's best chefs were cooking up a storm. The festival had children's activities in the afternoon. Kyra and Gavin tried their hands at Sports Stacking. The rain started so we pulled up a table and chairs under some trees and enjoyed some delicious nibbles while listening to live music. Some of the selections we enjoyed were: Strangford Prawn Fish Cakes, Local Lamb, Pepper berry Marinated Kangaroo and Crispy Short Ribs of Beef. Surprisingly, we found a tiger in Northern Ireland that loved to eat ice cream and to roaaarrrr.

Sunday morning we headed up the Ards peninsula to Mount Stewart. The grounds are popular with both tourists and locals, many brought picnics to enjoy on the lawns. They had activities that day for the kids. An Alice in Wonderland Tea Party was being held in the house and as well as crafts and a scavenger hunt throughout the grounds. Local kids had dressed in costume: a paper mache tea pot, brothers dressed as Tweedle Dee and Dum, a well executed white rabbit were some of the favourite among the many Alices. 

We toured the neoclassical house which was home to many political and society figures. It was a well done tour. Kyra's favourite item in the house was a crystal chandelier that hung in the high near a bay window. Shaped like a ship and designed by Cunard ship building company, is said to be hung at the precise height, before the trees grew between the house and the water, to look as if it was floating on the lough. Equally interesting is a piece of art that hung in the grand staircase. Painted (mostly) by George Stubbs, Humbletonian was initial painted as the horse running, beautifully showing off the muscles in action. The background and person in the picture were added later by a different artist when the owner was not happy with what he had had commissioned.  I have never seen a tour guide look so deflated when someone commented to him as they were heading up the stairs, that the horse could not have physically stood that way, both right legs off the ground. Clearly this was a moment the guide looked forward in the tour, when he would mention it, and watch a crowd of people tilt their heads and say a collections of "oh yeah"s. During the house tour we even saw Lady Rose, the resident of the house. It must be difficult to get accustomed to having groups of 20 tourist walking through your home each half hour every afternoon from March to October. 
Mount Stewart has absolutely gorgeous gardens that Gavin and Kyra enjoyed being able to explore. The mild climate around Strangford Lough makes it possible for a spectacular array of plants to be grown here. The the bark eucalyptus and myrtle trees made parts of the gardens seem like they were our of watercolour paintings. 

After a quick snack we headed up the hill toward The Temple of the Winds which promised magnificent views of Stranford Lough. Not everyone appreciated the views- regularly scheduled programing was interrupted by a preschoolers temper tantrum over a piece of garbage he was not quite ready to part with.

Castle Espie was our next stop located on the opposite side of the lough. A wetland reserve named for a castle that no longer exists, it has the largest collection of ducks, geese and swans in Ireland. The grounds have a an interesting past. Before becoming the lush wetland, the grounds were rich in limestone buried under clay, both used widely for building up the area. We joined a tour conducted o
n medieval living that was very well done and brought us out to tour The Crannog to share how people would have lived 5000 years ago. Our guide made a lot of the tools himself as they would have been made in the stone age and was obviously proud to share his research and efforts with the group. Elliot noticed the atlatl right away and remembered throwing one in Whitehorse with Michael Pealow and Atlatl Mike.  

With bags of bird feed in hand we headed out to feed the birds that anticipated why we were there. Gavin, who earlier this year freaked out about a bunny looking at him seems to have mellowed a little and was happy to feed the ducks, albeit not by hand. Kyra and Elliot seemed to enjoy feeding them as well. We visited the hatchery and saw the ducklings and goslings and then got dirty in the woodland play area.

We got back into the car just before it poured again and headed home for a wonderful dinner of fresh local Hake.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

HeeeeRE Fishy Fishy - guest post by Elliot

Today I travelled from Hillsborough to Bangor, excited for my deep sea fishing trip on the Bangor Boat with Brian yesterday. Managing to once again catch the 7:40 train to Bangor and losing track of time by diving into my book, I had sooner realized that the train had come to its final stop at the Bangor railway station. Although spirits depressed in the realization that I had missed a fantastic day yesterday with beautifully clear skies, it looked as if the weather might remain dry with only some grey clouds blotched across the sky.

Upon arriving at Eisenhower Pier, I observed the motions of the waves back and forth while waiting for my guide to take me out to the fishy world, noticing the apparent dullness of a seagull’s mind as it failed to notice a bright red frog lying motionless upon an algae covered rock. On the dot at 9:15 as stated the previous day, Brian arrived and invited me to join him on his ship, the ‘’Blue Aquarius.’’ As we crossed to the other side of the marina to pick up passengers who would also be joining us, I strolled to the stern of the boat to select my weapon of choice against the fish of the sea.  Upon greeting the other passengers when they boarded the boat, we started off into the open water.

Waiting several minutes, while listening to the chatter of the other passengers to Brian, to catch a fish I noticed that the three passengers had obviously been on the boat before. Finally, Ben, one of the other passengers, caught a glistening mackerel and I couldn’t help but feel a tug of jealousy on my rod and jerking upwards expecting to see a fish as well, I reeled quickly to see a one, but saw that it was only the weight at the end of the string and I learned to not be so hasty. Several more minutes passed and as every other person admired their own personal catch, I wished that I would catch one soon to participate in the glory.

Soon enough as the thought crossed my mind, I felt a tug on my rod and jerked upwards and started reeling in. Expecting disappointment again, I didn’t get my hopes up, however, as I saw the lure slowly rising to meet me I saw something large and green on my hook and upon lifting it out of the water saw a mackerel, every bit as big as the first one caught. Receiving congratulations from the crew members, I felt my confidence rise and soon started catching more and more. Catching a trio of fish three times, which were split between all three of our stops, felt extremely good especially after hearing that the first person to catch a fish today, also fished 3 times a week all over Northern Ireland. 

Upon returning to the harbour, we fed the seals and Brian taught me how to fillet a fish... or at least attempted to. After finishing tying up the boat, I said my farewells to the other passengers and headed off to the train station with my bag of filleted mackerel. When I arrived in Lisburn I quickly trotted off to Marks and Spencer, with which I have fallen madly in love with, and bought several items for my mother’s  birthday. After taking the bus home and stopping on the way to get some soda bread, I got home shortly before 4:00. Later I decided to test the taste of the fish by adding some tomato chutney as well as rice with added vegetables, and I daresay it was very tasty (due to my mother's cooking).

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Gavin and Kyra, A Day of Play, Today, W5, For Fun- Why Else?

3 Feet in the air after pulling
 himself up with the help of a pulley.
The little ones and I headed into Belfast today to explore the W5. Four floors of interactive exhibits makes for a great day for the under eight set. One of the many exhibits was a carbon copy of the Kidspark area at the Ontario Science Centre, somewhere Gavin and Kyra really enjoy playing so it was a hit for them.
Kyra really has no chance in this tug of war.
 Gavin ispulling the rope from up high but Kyra
 is pulling from her waist height.
The rest of the children’s museum was just as engaging as they explored animal tracks, designed their own butterflies, used bowling balls to launch tennis balls into the air and even pull their own body 3 feet into the air using pulleys. They explored senses, sound, pressure and lift, fascinated by what they were doing but before they could learn the why in W5, their attention was quickly on to the next what.

Belfast's Big Fish
 A fun place to explore that was not particularly Irish in any way, but the little ones thoroughly enjoyed themselves and got to play the day away

Monday, August 1, 2011

All Socks in This Wardobe are Soaked

Sunday was a wet rainy day here in NI. Considering I had been told that it generally rains every day here, I think we have lucked out weather wise. The rain doesn’t usually stop us since it can either spit all day (as it did yesterday) or it can stop any minute and the sun comes out. Weather forecasts generally aren’t too helpful, especially if you are looking more than a day ahead.
We started the day off with a nice Sunday breakfast using the fresh eggs purchased at the farmers’ market.  The cleanest tasting eggs I have ever had, there was no grassy metallic aftertaste that usually make eggs taste, well, eggy.
Bellies set for a damp day of exploring we headed south east to the Mourne Mountains. We had some great views of the area when we had our extended weekend in Ireland early in our trip. The area is beautiful and said to have influenced C.S. Lewis for The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.
We stopped at a small parking lot overlooking the Irish Sea to have a quick look around. The rain had broken and while there were no signs at the parking lot, we just happened to end up at exactly one of the point we had wanted to stop. We walked along the trail towards Bloody Bridge- referring to the 17th century massacre where bodies of slain prisoners were tossed over the bridge colouring the river below.  The path was narrow and wet, high above the waves that crashed up on the shore below us. We happily explored the trail finding giant slugs, snails, unusual flowers, and even catching sight of a seal in the water.
Our drive brought us towards an old corn mill that was closed but the kids at a great time at the park. With the exception of the slide, it was almost entirely made of rope. What was daunting for Gavin was taken as a challenge and a lot of fun for Kyra.
Not much was open along the route and we were a little disappointed that the small shops in the villages we passed through were closed on Sundays. It is certainly something to consider as we plan the next few weekends.