Martin

Irish leftovers

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Last week’s blog post covered highlights from our Irish adventure. So what’s left?

Odds and ends.

Like the moment of gastronomic nirvana, when I stumbled on a cheesemonger peddling his wares in Kenmare.

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Time out: It’s possible that the term cheesemonger, and fishmonger and other mongers have gone the way of the Dodo bird. But this might be my only opportunity to ever use cheesemonger, so I’m running with it. Okay, time in.

Cheese is my one, true Kryptonite, my Achilles’ heel. I am powerless around cheese. If you apply the litmus test of questions that define addiction, I fit the profile.

“Do you eat cheese alone?” Sure. “Do you eat it in excess?” Absolutely. “Do you eat cheese to forget your problems?” Doesn’t everyone?

Decisions, decisions. I spent several minutes drooling over options. The cheesemonger was very kind; he offered samples to taste, even a smidge of his top-tier products. I bought several wedges and a 1/2 wheel — at a fraction of the price typically charged at home. One cheese choice was quite pungent. I stashed my stuff in the trunk, but within an hour, my haul had stunk-up the entire car.

Aside from the delectable cheese display above, I should also point out my constant travel companion: Ugly Backpack — that dingy, gray sack strapped over my shoulders. Ugly Backpack is a story in itself, and probably warrants a separate post. But suffice to say, it is proof-positive that Ralph Lauren’s Polo line includes some hideous looking merchandise. That said, Ugly Backpack is practical as hell; it has logged more airline miles than all of you readers, combined. The 4 of you.

Seriously, Ugly Backpack has visited 5 continents, and countless countries.

Here it is on a trip to Paris, 12 years ago:

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And before that, in Romania:

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Its travel log predates digital photography. (And based on these photos, that purple polar fleece is a real globe-trotter as well.)

Now I’m totally off-topic. Forget the cheese and Ugly Backpack. On to Kilkenny, which should have just been an overnight stay. But we were awarded a bonus day, thanks to Frog — shorthand for frozen fog — which hit London, and grounded hundreds of flights, including ours from Dublin. We couldn’t rebook until the next day, so we kicked around Kilkenny. And checked out Kilkenny Castle.

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We toured the place, both inside and out.

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As everywhere else, simply brimming with tourists…

Our hotel was a stone’s throw away from the castle. (Hadley, don’t touch my laptop.)

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Admittedly, our fabulous trip wasn’t all sunshine and roses.

In our travels, several items were lost, including Cayden’s retainer. We searched every pocket of every bag, and contacted the hotels where we’d stayed, to no avail. Retainer replacement adds a big line-item to our vacation budget.

The missing mouth wear was a touchy subject until Martin broke the ice on our journey home. While we gained a spare vacation day, with it, came a 5-hour layover at Heathrow. We killed time wandering the concourse, eating, shopping, eating some more, shopping some more, until finally, we slumped in a row of airport seats and gazed at the digital departure board.

The kids didn’t want to slump and sit; they wanted to explore. But Martin and I were too tired to shlep our bulging carry-on bags and plod in pursuit. So we let them go. Alone. In Heathrow. One of the busiest airports in the world.

Cayden and Brynn were first to venture out, and as they slipped among the moving mass of bodies and luggage, Martin shouted, “Hey! Don’t lose your sister like you lost your retainer!”

That was worth a laugh, even as the kids were swallowed by a stream of travelers — some striding purposely to their gates, other wandering aimlessly between stores, parents dragging resistant, wailing toddlers, and solitary souls sprinting desperately to distant gates.

I got a little anxious when boarding time approached and we were still two kids down. But they turned up. (So did the retainer, according to hotel staff, but the news came when were home… after we’d ordered a new one.)

But hey, we left the States with 3 kids and we returned with 3 kids. And a bit of laundry.

Not too bad!

The questions is: Will there be another trip next year? An Irish five-peat? Are plans in the works for Sheepfest 2018?

As President Trump has taught me, anything is possible.

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Ireland & Sheepfest 2017

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Regular readers will recall my promise for an Irish relocation should Trump win the presidency. But I swapped that pledge for a more realistic winter romp, similar to prior trips. Past accounts are documented here, here, and here.

And a reference to my early Irish adventures from the mid-90s — the era of foxhunting, frequent partying and stealing signposts with Karen (aka, Sister Sheep) is noted Here.

Back to present time. Our crew wrapped up an action-packed, 10-day jaunt a couple days ago.

It’s fitting that we leveraged a shortened school week, due to Trump’s inauguration. And this time around, Martin came as well!

This marked Brynn’s 4th consecutive, jet-setting journey to Ireland, compared to Martin’s first foray in 20 years. (Not to mention his 10-year gap in any international travel, since Italy, May 2007. Yowaz! My passport is a restless beast which requires regular, frequent outings. At least once a year.)

Well, Martin quickly caught up; we immersed him in Irish life, starting with Sheepfest at Kilcolgan Castle. This has become an annual tradition, a celebration of silly nicknames and juvenile behavior from the good-old days.

This year’s sweet sheep treats. And yes, the cake toppers are wasted:

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Here’s Tara, a more responsible “sheep in training,” and a descendant from the original herd (Mary’s daughter). Tara’s a talented musician and dancer.

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Ireland is virtually devoid of tourists in January. For good reason: It’s chilly and sunlight is in short supply. But it guarantees crowd-free excursions, last-minute bookings, and exclusive tours of castles and museums (provided they’re open).

St. Multose Church in Kinsale clings to 800 years of history. The graveyard is the burial site for victims of the Lusitania’s fateful voyage in 1915.

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Politics might’ve prompted this trip, but we dodged the presidential hype on TV and radio… until the big day. Friday, Jan 20th found us wrapping our stay in Kinsale. And we grabbed lunch at a pub recommended by Potomac Huntsman, Brian Kiely, who texted a plea for Cadbury chocolate. (Hey Brian, I got the goods.)

The well-timed name of the restaurant was purely coincidental — totally unplanned.

But technically, the kids can say that they dined at The White House on Inauguration Day.

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By the time Trump raised one hand and set the other atop a bible to take the oath, we’d migrated to Inchydoney.

We tuned in for the remaining inauguration coverage while the sun offered a tempting distraction:

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The next morning, we reverted to a news-free existence and focused on the beach, pubs, live music and other fun.

A morning stroll at low tide with ‘Zilla:  

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Since so many destinations were deserted and crowd-free, Martin and I let the kids roam unfettered.

That’s how we lost them, or if you prefer, how we “misplaced them.” Most notably, at the quirky Glengarriff attraction: Bamboo Park.

We asked for trouble since the property consists of a labyrinth of trails hidden by bushy forest vegetation: dense bamboo and sprawling clusters of ferns and palm trees.

Here’s Martin, issuing a mild protest, when asked to pose by a sample palm tree: 

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Shortly before our vacation began, the kids stumbled on a TV showing of the 1973 movie,”Papillon,” starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman as prisoners, who attempt a harrowing escape from French Guiana’s rigid penal system.

Bamboo Park was similar to the tropical rainforest depicted in the flick —  perfect to test the game version of Papillon. A kid and a parent would act as prisoners, given 60 seconds to flee and disappear in the maze of unmarked, tropical trails. Then, the remaining family members would serve as guards, and hunt down the escapees.

And upon locating them, beat them senseless.

Kidding, of course.

It took just two rounds for even the most vocal youngster to grasp the benefit of a hushed voice. And the importance of shedding bright-colored jackets. We ran down the paths and reduced communication to hand gestures.

In a later round Cayden, Brynn and I worked as guards, but failed to find the criminals. Eventually, we split up to scour more ground. Over time, we spied one another less frequently, until we were lost — swallowed by the foliage.

We never found our escapees. The round only ended when Hadley voluntarily surrendered. “We’re standing here!” she shouted from the distant greens. “You better show up in 2 minutes to we’re taking off again!”

Game over.

Considering all the photos of beaches, palm trees and tropical trappings, this trip resembles Florida, don’t you think?

Seriously, Ireland is virtually interchangeable with the Panhandle State. Actually, Google says that Oklahoma is the Panhandle state. Whatever.

It’s Florida, the EU version… if you set aside the frigid temperatures and ski jackets.

And the stone walls, and ruins and castles.

And the hilly terrain.

And the sheep.

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And the Irish people, of course. Their accents, culinary distinctions, and the whole driving-on-the-left-thing. And history and cultural differences.

Shed all that stuff and Ireland is the spitting image of Florida! Or French Guiana.

To be continued…

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The Melon Report

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It’s 8 am Saturday morning (hour 3 of Xtreme Hike) and I’m slogging up a muddy trail, in sodden socks…with 15 pounds of fruit on my back.

This year’s 27+ mile hike involved a watermelon. I toted it for 7.2 miles. Me & the melon shared Moonstomper trail and Homestead together. We stood atop the rocks at Bear Cliff Overlook — where there was nothing to overlook. Just fog.

But I wasn’t tramping alone with grocery store produce. I partnered with Craig, one of our hikers, and of course, Maisie the Wonder Dog. Martin and 38 other Xtreme participants were scattered along the trails as well.

To back up, my Xtreme Hike 2016 book report begins on Friday morning, with our 4 1/2 hour road trip to the mountains near Blacksburg, Virginia. Along the way, we stopped to grab energy bars and drinks.

And browse the clothing racks.

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Mike Johnson snagged some reading material.

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When the 5 of us (me, Martin, Annie, Mike and Maisie) finally ascended the mountain road to our destination, “Mountain Lake Lodge,” we could barely see the resort through the fog. (Or “clouds,” as Martin kept saying.)

Fog, clouds, whatever. The hotel and its cottages were blotted out by hazy white. But we had the details: Mountain Lake Lodge is an old resort, dating back to the mid-1800s. And it is best known as the filming site for the 1987 movie, Dirty Dancing.

Hence, the watermelon. Movie fanatics should be familiar with the scene: Jennifer Grey (“Baby”) and Patrick Swayze (“Johnny”) meet, and Grey awkwardly explains her presence in the staff quarters by saying, “I carried a watermelon.”

This spurred Dave Lemen, Xtreme Hike participant and committee member, to create a secret fundraising challenge, which he revealed Friday night: an extra $1,000 donation to the team willing to tote a 15-pound watermelon from start to finish.

Folks weren’t exactly clamoring for the honor. Everyone just glanced around the room. I caught the gleam in Mike Johnson’s eyes and we volunteered “Team Brynn” to ferry the fruit… to the relief of others (and the dazed astonishment of those at our table.)

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Fortunately, I was reminded that Craig Connolly was part of our crew. Not only is Craig a veteran of this event, but he’s speedy. Xtreme Hike isn’t a race, but he has finished in front the last three years. (Staff from the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation chart each participant’s time through the hike, to keep track and account for everyone involved.)

After dinner on Friday, we readied our packs. And Saturday morning came way too soon. We convened at 4:30 am.

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All of us at oh-dark-thirty

Craig volunteered for Leg 1 of melon transport. And as it happened, Maisie and I kept pace with him for those first 7 1/2 miles. Our headlamps bobbed in the dark and we paused periodically, to snap the light sticks hung the previous day, to guide the way.

In the early morning light, we reached the rest station first. And after a quick snack, we transferred the watermelon into my backpack.

During the first leg, I’d asked Craig about the added weight. He claimed, “It isn’t that bad.” He even said, “Sometimes, I forget it’s there.”

Well, when it was my turn, I did not forget it was there — a solid, 15-pound orb riding my spine. We departed at 7:35 am, and I felt every bulky minute and every weighted incline, until 10:30 am, when we completed the 7.2 miles of Leg 2.

Two sections down, two to go.

I was downright giddy, freeing that fruit from my pack, and I happily left it for the next volunteer (or victim) from our team.

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Ready for the handoff

Melon-free, I was energetic and recharged. Maisie, Craig and I blazed through Leg 3. We didn’t discuss the fact that we were leading. Because Xtreme Hike is not a race. The goal is to finish, not to win. But silently, we were thinking: we’re in the lead.

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The old golf course; a respite from the mountain trails.

We took a longer break before the last section, propping up our feet. I fed Maisie beef jerky. Then we began the most difficult portion, with the steepest, lengthiest climbs. As the front runners, we had cracked the light sticks in the dark, and adjusted ambiguous signs for those in our wake, but on Leg 4, we suffered a setback:

We were sent out in the wrong direction.

The rest stop staff and volunteers realized the error when the next set of hikers arrived, and questioned the route. They were sent the correct way, while we were radioed to turn around and start over. Stunned, Craig and I retraced our steps as quickly as possible.

Ultimately, our detour tacked on 2.5 additional miles and wasted time. At the rest stop — our start-over-again point, we learned that the two hikers who had trailed right behind us all day, had a 30-minute lead.

We had 6.5 miles to make up the difference.

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And that’s when we abandoned our fake, blase attitude about when and how we finished. Though exhausted and sore, we speed-walked at a ludicrous pace, half jogging/half stumbling when we hit rocks and roots. We barely talked — we were too winded — and around each turn we peered ahead for the leaders. When we didn’t see them, we wondered how long we’d sustain our crazy pace.

The hikers ahead of us — nice people, who’d maintained a consistent pace all day — would’ve finished first, had they not been pursued by demented, excessively-competitive maniacs.

At some point along the mountain trail, we caught up with them. They kindly yielded to us on the narrow path… though they had little choice with Maisie trotting behind them, panting heavily and practically nipping their heels.

So, extra miles aside, Maisie, Craig and I were first to hear the cow bell and whooping and clapping at the finish line. That was at 4:23 pm. Afterwards, we shed our socks and shoes, sat down, and cheered the other hikers as they celebrated their final steps. Included, were our teammates who’d heaved the watermelon over those grueling miles to the bitter end.

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Our melon carrying crew

My thanks to every hiker who hoofed so many miles this past weekend, despite aches, pains and blisters; and also thanks to the volunteers who kept everyone fed, hydrated and motivated.

Finally, my deepest gratitude to the supporters who contributed to Xtreme Hike and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. You’ve taken a step, as did we, in helping Brynn and others with CF.

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