Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Ireland Day 5

After our night on the Dingle peninsula, we were off to catch a ferry (great advice that our hostess gave us so that we could cut about 1.5 hours of driving from the trip. On the way to the ferry, we stopped in Tralee for the requisite coffees and some breakfast - we happened across Aine's Cafe on the Square. You can see my bagel with bacon and eggs below. It was perfectly decent, though the tortilla chip garnish was a bit strange.

We pulled up to the Tarbert - Killimer ferry with five minutes to spare, lucky us. It only took about 20 minutes to cross, and then we headed to Kilkee for our first cliff walk. From Kilkee, you can park at the westernmost bit of the road that runs along the seafront and then go for a stunning walk - it's pretty steep at points but worth it for the views you get from the top.

We were all feeling refreshed from the brisk sea air and sunshine and piled back into the car to head to Lahinch beach. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of Ireland's beaches - they were much better than any beaches I've been to in the UK and seemed to have beautiful sandy and clean expanses.

But the real centerpiece of the day was the Cliffs of Moher. P's friend gave us a tip to go past the visitor's center - about 800m away there's a little place to pull over and park, and then you can follow the footpath to get a much better view of the cliffs, without all the busloads of tourists. Again, the hike is a steep one - some parts of it seem close to vertical - but there are some rough steps carved in to help and once you get to the top you won't mind the hard work getting there.

We eventually pulled ourselves away from the view and headed back down as we knew we still had a way to go to get to our resting place for the evening. The drive around Black Head and the Burren showed us some of the most unusual scenery of the trip (sadly I was driving so I don't have any pictures, but imaging a rocky landscape that looks like it would fit right in on another planet). As we passed through Ballyvaughn, there was a lovely harbor and a pretty little pub nearby, so we stopped for a pint. After arranging our arrival time with our last host, we got to our Airbnb in Kinvara, which was undoubtedly the best accommodation of the whole trip. Since the house was right in the middle of town, we scrapped our original plans to drive to Galway for the evening and decided to have dinner in Kinvara and find some live music afterwards. This turned out to be an excellent choice.

Our Airbnb host recommended the Pier Head for dinner. It is situated on the water, with gorgeous views and a warm atmosphere inside. The waiter sold me on the fresh Irish lobster that had been caught that morning, while A and P opted for steaks, and C had some enormous prawns. We washed it all down with a couple of bottles of Y series Yalumba wine (letting P pick Australian wine was a good idea).

Full and happy, we walked about 50 meters to Connolly's for more Irish trad music. This night, there was a fiddler, accordionist and lute player - a guitarist also showed up later to join in. 

We had heard that Kinvara pubs would all be full of live music, so left briefly to see if there was anything else we wanted to catch, but quickly realized that Connolly's was the only game in town. But it was enough for us to have an excellent last evening in Ireland.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Ireland Day 4

The whole day was reserved for the Ring of Kerry, one of the most scenic parts of the whole trip. First stop of the day was Killarney, which seemed like a very touristy town. Great if you like shopping, but we weren't so interested so we didn't spend much time there. Off to Muckross House, where you can start a lovely two mile walk to Torc waterfall, which we did. There are also horse and carriage rides if you don't want to walk.

Next stop was Ladies View, an incredible vista across a valley. Supposedly Queen Victoria's ladies-in-waiting stopped here to gasp at the view which is how it got its name.

By this time we were hungry for lunch so stopped in Kenmare (renowned for seafood). A asked the owner of a candy store for a recommendation and she directed us to Davitt's where we had some goat's cheese and nachos for starters, and then a seafood platter to finish us off.

As we drove along, admiring the views out of both sides of the car, we spotted O'Carrolls Cove due to the stunning beach and incredibly blue waters. No way to pass this up - we went for a little wade and enjoyed the sand beneath our toes.

More views.

From the Ring of Kerry we had a crazy drive down a narrow mountain path to Dingle - the fog was so thick we could barely see a thing, and every once in a while sheep would loom out of the haze (some with fluorescent pink paint on them). But we reached our Airbnb place in Camp safely, and then headed out to Dingle town for some dinner and Irish trad music. We started at The Dingle Pub since A really wanted Irish stew. I went with the beef and Guinness pie, which was as filling as it looks. There was a singer/guitarist there but it wasn't quite the style of music we were seeking, so we headed on to the next place.

An Droichead Beag was lively, with a fiddle and guitar combo that were incredibly talented. Probably my favorite act of the night. We also went to O'Sullivans, where an accordion player and a singer/guitarist were entertaining a large crowd that included quite a few rowdy Americans. If we had been staying overnight in Dingle town, we probably would have tried some more places more music, but we had to drive back to Camp - next time I'd make sure to get accommodation in Dingle to fully enjoy their live music scene.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Ireland Day 3

We knew we were heading to the Rock of Cashel first, but really needed to find some breakfast (and especially coffee for A, C and P). We happened across Fethard, which is a beautiful place with a well preserved medieval wall and church. A sign for a delicatessen led us to Emily's, where I had a great bagel with cream cheese and bacon (I have never seen this combo before but it appeared several times in Ireland).

Onwards to the Rock of Cashel, which is indeed impressive, though there is a lot of renovation work going on so parts were closed off to the public.

And then another castle that tourists just can't miss - Blarney Castle. We all kissed the Blarney stone (narrowly beating a giant tour group) and then had a relaxing wander around the grounds, which are well worth spending some time in. I could've easily walked around for another hour, but the whisky-lovers in the group were raring to get to Midleton so we had to get in the car again.

To be fair, we had no idea that the Midleton distillery offered pretty much exactly the same range as the Jameson distillery in Dublin. So if you go, pick one to do - I wouldn't do both. 

But one benefit is that it made a stop in Cobh possible on the way into Cork.  We knew very little about the place except that it had great harbor views, so when we saw Cobh cathedral we were all a bit stunned.

After a drink on a pier to enjoy the late afternoon, we headed into Cork for dinner. A friendly couple that we asked for directions gave us a recommendation for dinner - the Cornstore. A, P and I all had duck for dinner, which we really enjoyed - the yogurt sauce on top was lovely.

Afterwards we headed to a couple of pubs that were recommended by our waitress - Bierhaus and The Franciscan Well. A got chatting to the bartenders about homebrew and it inspired him to try it out. And finally, we were off to Kinsale for our third Airbnb accommodation - this was another really great place but it was again a bit remote and difficult to find in the dark. It was sad we didn't arrive earlier, actually, as the views from the house were absolutely stunning the next morning.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Ireland Day 2

We started our Sunday by finishing the Dublin hop-on hop-off bus tour that we abandoned the day before - thankfully the tour guides were all much easier to understand and we had an informative trip (if a bit chilly and blowy) before leaving the city.

Next up, the Wicklow mountains. We decided to drive through them on our way to Kilkenny since our travel guide said they were worth a visit, and they were - some of the scenic landscapes were unusual and stunning. We got a little hungry at one point and stopped by a stream for a lunch picnic - only to realize after a little while that there was a plaque on the bridge to commemorate someone who died in an accident there.

We arrived in Kilkenny and went to the castle first - due to a stroke of luck entry was free so we toured the rooms inside and learned a bit about how much went into renovating and preserving it. A quick stop at the Kilkenny Design Centre afterwards mostly served to show us all that we weren't particularly interested in Irish crafts... but enthusiasm was soon regained when we headed to Kyteler's Inn, one of the oldest pubs in Ireland, for a pint of Kilkenny ale.

After Kilkenny we headed to Thomastown to see Kilfane Glen and Waterfall. While it was quite pretty, it wasn't exactly a huge waterfall - I wouldn't go out of the way to see it but if you're in the area, it's nice. Also, most of the year it isn't open to the public so definitely check before you go, and also make sure you go before 5pm!

The next stop was Inistioge, where we thought we'd be able to have dinner at Footlights, only to find that it closed a few years ago. So we went for a wander through one of the most picturesque villages of the trip - it's where Circle of Friends was shot and for good reason. 

We also discovered another restaurant (aptly called Circle of Friends) where we decided to have dinner instead, and I'm really glad we did as we had some of the best chips I've ever eaten! The menu outside seemed really basic but just inside the door was a list of specials which were much more appetizing. I had a wonderful whole grilled trout (so did C).

A's mussels were superb. And P loved his pizza (even though I didn't take a picture).

And then we headed off to find our next Airbnb night in Owning, which was a beautiful and spacious house but a little bit in the middle of nowhere. If you don't mind staying somewhere without nightlife, go for it.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Ireland Day 1

Sorry for the long delays in posting. I went on a few too many holidays and am now terribly behind, but it just means I have a lot of writing to do - let's hope my memory keeps up. In August I went to Ireland with A, C and P - the four of us drove around to a lot of beautiful spots in six days. It definitely takes a lot longer to get around than you might expect though - the best places are not always on major roads, and plus you want to leave enough time to stop in scenic bits - so if I could do it again I'd probably extend the trip by a day or two. But let's see what we managed to do!

We flew into Dublin (I would highly recommend the Air France flight from London City Airport to Dublin, as it is SO MUCH EASIER to fly from LCA - you only have to be there 30 minutes before your flight!) After picking up our rental car, we went straight to our first Airbnb apartment to drop off our bags, before heading next door to the Guinness factory. It's very cleverly designed - many floors of Guinness history for you to progress to before you get to the very top for your free pint, by which point it tastes like one of the best things ever. A quick and simple lunch of potato, bacon and lovage soup with brown bread fueled us right up for the rest of the afternoon.

Afterwards we got onto the hop-on, hop-off sightseeing tour of Dublin to make the most of our day there. But unfortunately the first bus driver we had was impossible to understand due to one of the thickest Irish accents I have ever heard. We hopped off. And guess what, we were in front of the Jameson distillery! So we popped in for some Jameson cocktails (do not get the hot chocolate cocktail, but the Irish coffees were good).

After a drink at a great pub (Porterhouse Central) we had one of the best dinners of the entire trip at The Pig's Ear (4 Nassau Street, Dublin). A's dish of pork belly is beautiful, isn't it?

And mine was cod, with boneless chicken wings, cauliflower, micro potatoes and golden raisins. Absolutely astonishingly good, especially the boneless wings.

Our only quibble was that the pea and bacon salad had almost no discernible bacon in it, and the duck fat potatoes side dish was tasty but not as crispy as I would have liked. C's salmon and P's short rib were raved about, so overall I would definitely recommend it.

After dinner, we went to KC Peaches (28-29 Nassau Street, Dublin) as there was a live jazz band playing that night. A bottle of Rioja went extremely well with the cheese plate, which was more like a work of art as you can see.

And to finish off the night, we ended up in Temple Bar to find some Irish trad music. Unfortunately it was Saturday and we are all too old to put up with the crowds and noise - we tried a couple of places but it quickly became obvious we all wanted to get back to the peace and quiet of our accommodation, so we called it a night.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Moist Apple Loaf Cake

Our neighbors have a massive apple tree that always has a few branches drooping into our yard. I grabbed two apples today and wanted to make something not-too-sweet-just-sweet-enough, that was more apples than not. Also, I'm always on the lookout for one bowl recipes. This fit the bill perfectly, and was exactly what I wanted, especially after a few tweaks. I added a bit of cornmeal for texture in the loaf, and subbed golden caster sugar for the mix of brown and white that the original recipe called for. And voila, a moist full-of-apple loaf that is also a cake.

Moist Apple Loaf Cake
Adapted from Bestrecipes

1½ cups self-raising flour
1 level teaspoon cinnamon
1 level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
3/4 cup golden caster sugar
2 large or 3 medium apples, diced (I left the peel on)
½ cup vegetable oil
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1. Sift flour, bicarbonate of soda and spice together and stir through sugar. Make a well in centre, add all other ingredients and mix thoroughly.

2. Pour into a greased round cake tin.

3. Cook at 180°C for 40 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out clean.