By noon, we’d gone from the metropolitan east coast of Ireland to the rural west. We stopped at Westport, for lunch at a place I imagine is your typical Irish-style diner. I ordered a chilli chicken sandwich (I was going for spice). I don’t really know why I keep doing this in Ireland when I should EMBRACE THE POTATO. Mr. T fared better with this shepherd’s pie thing.
We found a Fall Festival going in Westport.
After admiring their livestock, we moved right along to the coast. Mr. T’s (Irish) colleague strongly recommended we take the N59 from Westport to Clifden to Ballynahinch. Conveniently, this specific drive is also Rick Steves recommended so we had a handy Kindle guide to provide more context en coastal route. The whole shebang loops you through The Connemara, so you get a scenic drive past lakes and Kylemore Abbey and the bogs and a national park.
Our first stop out of town was the National Famine Memorial, situated near Croagh Patrick. This Croagh (mountain, not pictured) is the site where St. Patrick expelled those snakes which is very near where many Irish left for other lands to escape dire poverty. We took a photo break at the famine ship sculpture before continuing onto the boglands.
At Connemara National Park (pictured above), we got out for a brief hike to see what a bog is all about. It is this precious energy resource that looks like it could easily be taken for granted but is now protected from over-development.
I kept asking Mr. T, so is that bog? What about over there? What do you think?
We rolled on through the wilderness, past sheep and the coast and lakes and farmland.
Before nightfall, we arrived at our evening’s destination, Ballynahinch Castle, in time for an early meander around the grounds and dinner at a pub.
Pictures on the castle tomorrow.
I reached the point I always get to in our travels, where I paid a quality solo visit to a grocery near where we’re staying. The Fresh market I found is bigger than a EuroSpar, but smaller than your average American cousin. Inside, my favorite find today were the Haggis chips from Scotland. Options seemed global in scope, I presume for all of the transplanted tech workers living in the D4.
Tonight, we visited Dublin’s Crackbird out with an old friend — Sasha — and her partner. She’s lead me to all of my favorite Dublin restaurants. This one will be worked into my regular rotation for they specialize in my favorite addiction: fried chicken.
On this evening, they also happened (unexpectedly) to have a DJ…whose mixing made it practically impossible to carry on a dinner conversation but seemed popular with a hipster crowd. I took to calling the joint a Fried Chicken Disco.
Once we polished off our birds, we retired to a quite civilized watering hole, where our ancient ears could recover and we could catch up on life since our last dinner together.
Late this afternoon, I met up with a Seattle friend who just relocated to Dublin. We headed over to the Dublin Oktoberfest at St. George’s Dock. They channeled Munich well — the entire festival smelled like sausage and beer and sauerkraut and pretzels.
For the first time this week, the sun broke out from behind clouds as we walked home along the Liffey.
That little island in front of my favorite Dublin bridge (the Samuel Beckett) with the orange tent is an art installation for the 2011 Fringe Festival — No Man’s Land/No Man is an Island. An artist is supposedly living there during the entire Fringe Fest. Later, a cabbie told me the conspiracy was that he had a trap-door to a warm room below. Conspiracy!
When I signed up for “That About the Size of It” as part of Fringe Fest, I was expecting an entertaining but nerdy 40 minutes of science talk by Niamh Shaw. Actually, I don’t really know what I was anticipating based on this festival sheet, but what I watched was better.
Yes, she started about CERN, the search for the God Particle, atoms, neutrinos, but quickly moved into very autobiographical stories about trying to find her calling, about lives she didn’t pursue and where those paths live on now. We imagined the co-existence with her as she talked, while videos projected behind her of those possible alternate lives, running along at their present courses in a 10th dimension.
It was absorbing and gave me a whole new way of re-imagining my past and present, for the next time I go wandering down those paths of my own.
One of the things you should know about Dublin is that as a matter of course, it punches well above its weight class with its (frequently free) museums, special libraries, and cultural activities. We are especially lucky to be visiting during September for Dublin’s Festival Season. During our two week visit, there’s the GAA All Ireland Finals, Dublin Fringe Fest, Dublin Theatre Festival, Arthur’s Day, Culture Night 2011, Dublin Contemporary 2011, and even an Oktoberfest on the Liffey. That’s just in the city.
Today at lunch, I checked out “All Things Considered, It’s a Nice Place to Start”, a play for Dublin’s Fringe Festival. These playwrights wrote letters to 300 strangers, targeted amongst all the counties and social classes, thanking them for the good things they’d done. Then they wrote a play about the response of their attempt to combat a grim climate in a dark time, fighting cynicism with quirky Irish optimism. It was a good hour.
I also made a quick stop at the National Photographic Archive, to check out their “Irish Children through the Ages” exhibit. It’s a small space, and this year, I enjoyed the 10 minute stop more than last year.
For dinner, we discovered Dublin’s Smoked Haddock Fish and Chips, at Leo Burdock’s. We’ll be making a regular place for this in our Dublin restaurant rotation. Does anyone in Seattle make smoked haddock? They should.
We then visited The Longstone Pub, whose backroom reminded me very much of Return to Oz.
One of the city’s Fringe outdoor art installations was next door — the “I am afraid” wall.
I awoke this AM, fearful of a looming cold. My 2nd thought: find pho. Between that and Emergen-C, it is my anti-illness voodoo. The internet turned up zed Vietnamese options in the Dublin metro area, so a Chowhound post suggesting Wagamama‘s chilli chicken ramen was my best bet. I doctored it up with extra chilli. It worked well enough, for I was cured of the cloudy head and my fear.
I made a quick detour to Boots to stock up on Berocca Boost. Then, I walked all the way home to Grand Canal Quay, looking for changes of the last 18 months.
After dark, Mr. T & I walked over to South Great Georges St to hit up our favorite restaurant in Dublin: L’Gueuleton. Very French and remarkably good — we ate there twice on last year’s visit. The menu’s totally changed (I presume for Fall), but tonight, I had maybe the best french onion soup I’ve ever had.
I awoke as we descended into Ireland. My transcontinental sleep routine had been foiled by flight attendants who left the cabin lights on 2 hours longer than normal, so I wasn’t exactly bright eyed nor bushy-tailed at Customs.
We gave awake-ness a fair shot on this blustery (and very Seattle-gray day), starting off at our beloved Junior‘s for brunch, then continuing along the Liffey towards the new Dublin Wheel, near the ferries to England and Wales.
Funny story: while out walking, I spotted a Seattle friend on her Sunday run. She moved here two weeks ago, but I hadn’t yet emailed her I’d arrived. This kind of random thing happens to me, more often than you would expect. It’s a small world.
Later, after an unintentional 3-hour slumber, we checked out the new Ely at Grand Canal Quay. Skip it if you’re in the hood — it’s not worth going out of your way to visit.
We cut our dinner losses and returned to the hotel for the thrilling Season 2 Premiere of Downtown Abbey! Huzzah! I can’t remember the last time I watched something on the night of broadcast, on its originally intended channel.
I started out my day paddlesurfing in Andrews Bay on Lake Washington. I am proud to report I did not fall in the water once. A miracle! Although the water seemed so perfect, so maybe I should’ve gone for it.
After my lesson with Naomi, Mr. T & I took off for The Great White North. We arrived before the rest of the crew coming tomorrow for DimSumCouver #7.
We secured reservations in advance for L’Abbatoir. It came highly recommended by LUPEC ladies who visited in March. Now that I’ve been, I understand why — the bar is right up LUPEC’s alley.
After dinner, we walked the Night Market.
Overall, a very relaxing and quiet evening in downtown — the quietest I’ve ever seen Vancouver on a Saturday night.
We began our sightseeing today at the Strahov Monastery and Library, after a satisfying lunch at Pivovar Strahov, the onsite brewery.
From there, we walked back down into the main city through the Castle Grounds. En route we went past St. Vitus Cathedral.
We entered the cathedral at the perfect time of day. For all the churches I’ve seen in Europe, this is the first time, I’ve timed it so well to see all the colors reflected.
We walked downhill into old town.
Our plans for the night included Aida at the State Opera.
Opera-watching’s hard work. We rewarded ourselves at the EuroFood in Wenceslas Square, a la Bourdain.
A business meeting on the west side of the Vltava motivated me across town on a sleepy, partly cloudy morning. After attending to that, and lunch at the Cafe Savoy, Mr. T and I wandered the Mala Strana.
We soon found the Lennon wall, a constant work in progress.
Nearby, we found another remnant of Euro youth pop culture: the love locks.
Soon, we needed to wrap our wanderings up, for the evening book launch party being held in conjunction with the opening art exhibition. We took the opposite of a shortcut to the apartment to make sure we paid homage to the local Gehry installation.
We headed back to the Castle for the evening book launch party. The book’s publication was held in conjunction with the exhibition, and tonight featured speeches by descendants of the Futurists. Family stories were shared, and many family members from around the world met each other for the first time before and after the main presentations.
When the after-party finally ended, our gang of 6 made our way to Malostranska Beseda, for another typico Czech dinner. Mr. T ordered yet another pork leg, and the beer drinkers had their toast!
While others slept, I found myself wide awake this morning at 5:30. The sun was just rising as I packed up my gear and started walking through the Old Town.
It would be hours before anyone else in our gang was awake.
But, once everyone was up, we headed across the Charles Bridge for lunch at riverside Kampa Park.
Post-Kampa, we had several social engagements for the day.
The main motivation for our Prague trip was to join our close friends for an opening art exhibition, honoring my good friend’s great-grandmother. My friend’s g-grandmother was the artist Růžena Zátková, the only Czech in the Futurist school. Ruzena was truly living in the future, and her short life was a grand adventure. She was born in Southern Bohemia, married a Russian diplomat in Italy young, lived with him at the Spanish Steps in Rome in splendor, mingled with Stravinsky and Diagheliv, ran off to Mallorca to draw and paint with a Latin American artist colony, and designed costumes for the emerging Russian Ballet. She was bold and thoroughly modern. She died too young at 38, of consumption, while convalescing in the Swiss Alps.
Recently, the president of the country learned she was the sole Czech Futurist, and as a point of national pride, they are honoring her this year with an exhibition at the Prague Castle.
Before the crowds arrived for the evening opening gala, we joined our friends on their family tour.
We spent time wandering the exhibit, absorbing it all, while M documented everything. Eventually we had to speed back to our apartment to prepare for the Gala.
The opening gala was held in the Prague Castle. Presentations were given in English and Czech, to a packed ballroom where the people-watching provided hours of entertainment. At the time, I appreciated how beautiful our ballroom was and how stately the castle, but I did not yet know that public access to the castle is only allowed one day a year. Later in the week when we learned this, I felt even more lucky and honored we’d made it there.
It’s funny where life takes you, when you make it a point time and again, to show up.
We walked leisurely home from the Castle, past St. Vitus Cathedral on the grounds, stopping at Villa Richter at St. Wenceslas Vineyard for a late dinner.
Right after noon, we arrived in Prague to meet our friends M & J near the baggage claim. We sailed through customs to meet our driver, who took us to our apartment near Male Namesti Square (apartments at U Kapra highly recommended).
After a quick unpacking session, we wandered the city to find ATMs, meet M’s parents, buy groceries, and generally acquaint ourselves with the area.
The Astronomical Clock, at the Old Town Hall is currently under repairs. I was okay with this – I find the hourly displays overrated, though they make for interesting people-watching (and photo snapping).
I realized we’d found ourselves in Prague at a great time — the start of Easter celebrations. These painted eggs were everywhere.
Later, we’d learn about these Easter switches, called Pomlázka. They’re made of pussywillow branches, tied with ribbons, to use on women. Not kidding! According to Czech tradition, boys use these to “gently swat” girls on Easter Monday. Supposed to guarantee beauty and health for the upcoming year. Girls reward the boys for this “treat” by giving back brightly colored painted eggs.
When our first day errands were done, M, J, Mr. T, and I settled into our first pub dinner at U Provaznice, aka The Rope Maker’s Wife.
We thought other illustrations inside the menu were remarkably Angelina Jolie-like. There’s also a legend the place is haunted.
And interesting menu options:
Despite our curiosity about the Smelly Fingers of Ugly Joe, we did not order them. We did notice in the French menu that the name was a French tongue-twister, with no mention of a Joe.
Despite all the highlights of the long weekend, I was grateful to wake up in a familiar place at Maya & Janet’s home. I had a slow morning before we ventured out into the big bad world. Appropriately readied to face the Geneva metro area, Maya and I drove into town. We parked at the UN, then went to the waterfront to take in the Cool Globes exhibit, designed to raise awareness of solutions to climate change. It was scheduled to end in August, but for lucky me, it was still in town.
For lunch, we found Pakistani doner kebab in the Paquis (Les Pâquis), not far from the waterfront. After, we walked towards Gare Cornavin together, with plans to part so Maya could head to French class and so I could tram it solo to Carouge, a village adjacent to Geneva. Not two minutes after saying good-bye to Maya, I ran into another expat friend of a friend I’d met Friday. Small world! I was feeling very much at home in Geneva after this.
Okay, onto Carouge. This Summer another friend (N.) moved to the Geneva area, settling in Carouge. We saw each other often in Seattle until she was relocated by her company to Cincinnati around 5 years ago. Once again this Summer, she relocated — but this time to Switzerland. Rough. I hope she gets hazard pay.
I’d left Gare Cornavin with enough time should there be any mishaps en route my 30 minute tram ride. But who was I kidding? This is Switzerland. They pretty much invented timeliness. So when I arrived far earlier than expected, I took the hour to photograph. Turns out, I picked the perfect location to spend my time — Carouge is tres photogenic and one of the most charming and arty districts in the Geneva metro area. It was built hundreds of years ago by Sardinians looking to escape harsh big city life. I found it as delightful as Bern and plan to revisit. Should I ever need to rent my own apartment in Geneva, Carouge would be right up there with Ferney-Voltaire.
N & I spent a couple of hours catching up before heading to our evenings. But once again, I miscalculated time & found myself with a little extra. Instead of hopping on the first tram outta Carouge, I started walking. Pretty soon, I’d walked over halfway back to Vielle Ville, making my tram plan mostly irrelevant. I refused to accept the idea I might get lost and pushed on with the faith that Geneva was as small & cozy as it had been feeling all day — past Plainpalais, past men playing giant chess, up the hill into the center, and arriving with seconds to spare.
As the sun set, we rendez-voused in Place du Bourg-de-Four, where Maya & I hung out last week in the Vielle Ville. We chose Soupçon, not least of all because Janet told me over the weekend that it served the best steak she’d had in Switzerland yet. ‘Twas a lovely final dinner, with a stracciatella nightcap at the nearby gelateria. We took a final stroll through Geneva to the waterfront, under the harvest full moon.
Then, it was time to go home.
More Carouge and Geneva photos in two sets below:
After breakfast at the Hotel Oberland dining room, we started packing up to hit the road. I was nearly ready when Maya ran past my room relaying, “Alpages! They’re coming down the mountain!” Alpages (as they’re called in French, also known as Alpaufzug in Austria & Almabtrieb in Switzerland) are an annual Fall event, where herders bring cows down from higher elevations. In small villages, these are completely impromptu affairs. Now, I’d tried to set my visit to coincide with a famous Fall Alpages in Annecy near Geneva, but all Summer those Frenchies were not giving up the dates for their official weekend. I’d let go of the idea, booked cheaper flight dates, and by chance, one landed on our doorstep. Lucky! You sure can bank on the Swiss to bring good times, eh?
We eventually stopped gawking at cows & packed up to drove to Interlaken. En route, I read a guidebook listing of an El Azteca in Interlaken. I figured at worst, inauthentic Mexican would make the next meal of potatoes and exceptional cheese seem all the better. With hopeful hearts, our trio of Mexican food-lovers hit the Jungfraustrasse. I enjoyed my mole’s heat, though Janet & Maya tell me Basel still has the best Mexican food in all the (Swiss) land. I left happy. We walked through a street market, running into a surprise performance by a Swiss Army orchestra on our way to the paraglide landing field.
Our next stop was Bern, the capitol of Switzerland. We were ambivalent about visiting, but I thought I should check out the town where Mr. T’s grandmother’s family originated.
Bern turned out to be my favorite Swiss city–so charming, full of cute underground shops with entrances through cellar doors and old buildings and smartly dressed residents. We spent the rest of our day there, with dinner at Cafe Falken before driving home to Geneva. Full set of images, here:
After packing, Diana, Janet, and I went to Hieber just across the border in Germany. Janet prefers to buy all of her meat at Hieber when she’s visiting Basel, as it’s far superior to what she can get near Geneva. I love any excuse to check out a foreign grocery store — especially the “Euro Supermarket of the Year 2009.”
More pictures of our morning in the Basler area:
We dropped Diana off at work, picked up Maya, and drove on, to Canton Berner to stay in the Jungfrau-Aletsch mountains. Janet’s colleague suggested Isenfluh, but the two options there were booked up by 2 PM. We continued to Lauterbrunnen, where we found rooms at the charming Chalet Oberland, across the lane from the larger Hotel Oberland. Our chalet rooms had quiet balconies, with views of the JungFrau!
Time & weather seemed perfect to try our luck at taking the Telecabine up to Shilthorn/Piz Gloria. We caught a late-afternoon ride up to the top, transferring gondolas multiple times. It’s a pricey ride, but worth it — cheaper the later in the day that you go. We goofed off a bit in the viewing deck (sadly, our Bond-style photos were no bueno). We wrote postcards in the lounge and had an afternoon drink.
On our way down, we stopped in charming Mürren for dinner. Before reserving anything more substantial, we took in the sunset and a snack from the best cafe deck in town at the Hotel Edelweiss.
We were brutally rebuffed at our Mürren dinner choice due to an influx of patrons, so continued to Lauterbrunnen for dinner.
We made it to Hotel Oberland’s restaurant, across the lane from our Chalet. Dinner turned into a highlight, with the best schnitzel Janet’s had since moving to Switzerland. My pork wrapped in bacon on rösti wasn’t shabby either.
Images from the Jungfrau-Aletsch, here:
Today, Diana took us to The Alsace. The day was so beautiful, I was ready to pack it all up and move to Central Europe, in order to be closer to this region for all my Sundays.
We hit the highway early, headed for Niedermorschwihr. This little-known town is the home of Christine Ferber, who we took to calling The Jam Fairy. Ferber’s shop, Au Relais Des Trois Epis, is 13 km west of Colmar. Inside, I stocked up on jams, other preserved fruits and one chocolate macaron for the road.
Next on our itinerary was Bergheim. Our mission in Bergheim was two-fold: a) visit the Jam Witch and b) lunch at Wistub du Sommelier for the best foie gras EVER (trademark: J) and a delicious duck with choucroute. Bergheim’s Jam Witch (L’Eglantine de Bergheim) was well worth the stop and added a touch of positive drama to our morning — after each jam request, she would disappear, then re-emerge through the shop curtains with fresh supplies. Her Gewürztraminer product is To Die For. After visiting her, we scurried back a few streets to Wistub du Sommelier for our luxurious Alsatian lunch. We didn’t leave WdS without extra foie for M&J to take back to Ferney.
After lunch, we drove through Alsatian vineyards to see Ribeauvillé and Riquewihr, two picturesque towns in the region. As the story was told to me — when artists for Disney’s Beauty and the Beast began their work, they visited Ribeauvillé and Riquewihr to sketch and to be inspired. I could see this everywhere I turned. I also learned here that the stork is the spirit animal of the region.
We stopped for late afternoon “tea” (er, Cremant) & a snack in Riquewihr, before heading back to Basel.
Between villages, J&I found a vineyard before twilight. I am so sold on the Alsace — it is a must visit en France.
All pictures from the set, here:
We hit the road early afternoon to head to Basel to visit other friends of M&J. En route, we made a quick stop at Avenches, formerly known to the Romans as Aventicum.
Not much farther down the road, just past the Röstigraben (aka the Rösti line or literally, the Rösti trench), we came upon Aarberg in Canton Bern, another darling town with its own Gesundheitcenter. I still giggle when I see this. Imagine what goes on inside a Gesundheit-center.
We arrived in Basel for dinnertime, whereupon D&S guided us to the Restaurant Steinbock for: Rösti!
I would also like to point out another site from our day, under Basel — the bike parking:
The whole set from our Swiss Saturday, here:
Where do I begin? Today was packed so well it seemed like I got two days out of one. I’m going to break today into two entries.
We began the morning at the weekly Saturday morning market in Ferney-Voltaire. Every week, M&J pick up their goods for the coming week and meet with fellow expats at the Cafe Voltaire. Today, I made the shopping rounds with J — first stop, Bernard (pictured above) at the fruit and veggie stand. Next, we visited the bread guy and the coffee lady and the cheese dude. And there was a spice & tea booth! It rivals any other casual food or farmer’s market I’ve ever seen.
It happened to also be Le Marché des Potiers — the annual pottery market festival for Ferney. While M&J bought housewares, I admired the trinkets, did some people watching, and brought home a photo-holder.
Then, we hit the Swiss highway for a road trip to Basel via Avenches. Entry coming up next!
For more pictures of the market day, here’s a set:
M & I drove out to Ventoux on the eastern shore of Lake Geneva (Lac Leman) to visit Chateau de Chillon. Upon our approach, I didn’t expect to spend several hours there, but it was deceptively large inside. It was my first overcast morning in Switzerland, but the gloominess set the right tone to explore this castle. (Yes, my mission on this trip was to use my American positivity to turn any weather frowns upside-down. I’ll be honest with you. I think it ensured sunshine except for this one morning. Because gloominess is far more perfect for 800 year old castles.)
We’d worked up an appetite, so I consulted M’s Swiss guidebook which led us to Le Palais Oriental, a Persian restaurant on the shore in Montreux, westward on the supposed Swiss Riviera. M & I shared the “assortiments de mezzes libanais et iranais” or, in American: Lebanese/Iranian small plates. Eight delicious dishes. Paired with Sinalco. (Lawzy, can’t believe I’m using that overused verb pair whenst associating beverages or matching dishes.) I spotted Sinalco Orange all over Switzerland — an orange sherbet-flavored Euro soft drink without alcohol. Sin alco. Get it?
We lunched fairly late by Swiss standards, but there was a steady influx of Middle Easterners throughout our meal. It felt like a positive confirmation on the authenticity of our meal. Maybe they were just homesick; I know I’ve accepted inferior jambalaya at times for this reason alone. Our “terrace” seating made for good people-watching — one woman arrived after instructing her driver to take the pedestrian-only walkway to deliver her
inches centimeters before the entry gate. I guess some people are allowed to do that for authentic tabbouleh emergencies. Heaven forbid a 30 yard 20 meter walk from the nearest street.
After walking along the Montreux waterfront, M drove us back past the vineyards of Lavaux and past Lausanne along the lake, for dinner with J & other delightful expat friends at Cafe du Soleil. There, I learned the rule for ordering fondue for a crowd: order 1 less than the number of people. Prevents lactose overdose! Um, sort of. ‘Cause next, we enjoyed meringue et sa double crème de Gruyère (Gruyere Meringue with double cream) for dessert.
More pictures of the day here:
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