Sunday, November 6, 2011

Moving on...(or back in time) to Galway

So now that we've established that life doesn't always turn out the way we planned, I'm more than ready to move on. Back in October, I spent five wonderful days in Ireland, and I really want to continue writing about my journeys there. In my last post on my trip, I wrote about Galway, the city about 2.5 hours west from Dublin that looks out onto the Atlantic ocean.

As opposed to my time in Dublin, which was wild and raucous and yes, a little touristy (I toured the Jameson Distillery, after all!), my three days in Galway were quieter...a little wistful and contemplative and cosy, spent in the company of Iain's delightful, welcoming family. I was promised by a fellow traveler that I would love Galway, and indeed, I was captivated by its charms. I don't want to say that Dublin is not "authentic" Ireland, but it is a capital city and I do subscribe to the theory that if the capital is all you see of a new place, you haven't really gotten a taste of genuine life in that country. Galway was much more laidback and not as touristy (although there are tourists everywhere, and they usually tend to be Americans, as evidenced by one couple walking down Shop Street decked out in brand-new woolly Aran sweaters, Guinness toques, and the Stars and Stripes proudly emblazoned on their backpacks, whilst queuing outside the new Tommy Hilfiger!).

Back in his hometown after 14 months:
Iain on Shop Street,
going for the "wistful and weary returning Prodigal Son" look.

In front of the Spanish Arch, built in 1584.
As a port city, Galway did a lot of shipping business with the Spaniards.

"The tea doesn't care who may drink it":
Inside Galway's 2010 Best Cafe for a delicious lunch

Lynch's Castle - where legend has it that
a father hung (or lynched) his son!

Yes, the sun does come out in Ireland, and the effect
is beautiful.

We picked up some gingerbread from a little
bakery and ate it while sitting down on the harbour quay looking
out at this rainbow-coloured collection of houses.

County Clare in the background

The art of the perfect pour: waiting for our
Guinness at Sean O'Neachtain's pub

If you're interested in polls (I, personally, lost a lot of faith in polls when I read one that ranked Canada as the fourth uncoollest country in the world - I'm sorry, Iraq beat us in the cool factor?!?), then Galway was ranked one of the eight sexiest cities in the world in 2007, and in 2008 was the 42nd best tourist destination in the world. I can't vouch for these claims, but I can urge every visitor to Ireland to discover Galway for yourself. And enjoy a pint or two of Guinness while you're at it!

Friday, November 4, 2011

When life gives you lemons, make sangria

Update from the Andalucia region in Southern Spain:

First of all, Spain is INCREDIBLE. Beautiful weather, mouthwatering tapas, the best mojitos and sangria I have ever tasted (especially the local Seville version of sangria, tinto de verrano), stunning Moorish architecture, and scenery that literally just makes your jaw drop.

So, my whole "pack up and explore Spain with two random guys" thing has actually turned out brilliantly.

But, other things going on right now in my life haven't been that great. Basically, I was told the night before I flew to Spain that my job as an au-pair was, essentially, over and that they didn't want me any longer. Part of me really, really wants to defend myself right now, because I feel like anyone reading this would be like, "well, what was WRONG with you? You must have done something awful." To be honest, I'm not sure what it was I did or failed to do, but I won't get into details here because I certainly don't want to be a mud-slinger and I'm trying to approach the whole situation with grace and dignity. There's no point in being passive-aggressive or accusatory, nor do I really want to victimize myself or villainize the family I was working for. So all I'll say for now is that it obviously is throwing quite the wrench into my plans not only for the next year, but even just for the next week. I have nowhere to go and I have to survive for a week before my flight back to Canada.

Right now I'm looking into hostels and couch-surfing, and trying really hard not to panic. On top of the immediate need to resolve where I'm going to be sleeping for the next week, there's the emotions of "I feel like a failure" that I'm trying to deal with. But I need to look at this next little while like another opportunity to seize and to grow from. Spending this past week in Spain has helped my attitude immeasurably - maybe its something of this Spanish "joie de vivre" and laidback approach! Or it could be the weather - how can one stay depressed when you're surrounded by palm trees? Or it could be the glasses of tinto de verrano I've been downing in Marbella, Seville, Cadiz, Granada... :)

Either way, I just wanted to take this time right now to say that yep, I'm alive, I'm healthy, I've got a place to call home and return to, and wonderful family and friends who have supported me throughout this ordeal wholeheartedly. I flash back to my first night in Russia (one of the scariest nights of my life!) and I think, "Ok, if I survived that, and I survived three weeks of no heat or hot water in my flight in December," I can survive this. Its not ideal, its not what I planned or dreamed about in my preparations for England, but its okay.

When life gives us lemons, use them to make some really nice sangria (or, if you're in Seville, you can be all cultured and call it the local version, the aforementioned tinto de verrano that is so, so bueno)!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Galway: an introduction sponsored by McDonalds

This post is brought to you courtesy of free internet at a McDonalds somewhere in the Rhondda Valley in southeast Wales. Never thought I'd see the day where I'm thankful to ol' Ronald, but when he's throwing in some complimentary wi-fi alongside a much-needed boost of caffeine, I can forgive his creepy clownishness. Anyways, I've got plenty to write about Wales, but that's another Celtic nation for another day. Let's hop over the Irish Sea and travel west two and a half hours from Dublin to Galway...

Iain is from Galway, a medieval port-city on the Atlantic that looks directly across the ocean to my own home and native land, Canada. We took the bus from Dublin on Monday evening - a single trip ticket cost 10 euros each, and I also purchased a ticket back from Galway to Dublin Airport for 15 euros, a nice saving of 1 euro (yes, I'm cheap) considering that the airport shuttle that runs from Dublin costs 6 euros. The bus ride was uneventful save for an unfortunate experience with two extremely rude French-Canadian girls that just reconfirmed my already low opinion of les Quebecoises. Whatever. Who won the Battle of the Plains of Abraham again? Yeah, that's what I thought.

Anyways, Iain's mother Caroline picked us up at the bus station and brought us back to her place where we caught up with her and three of Iain's siblings. Around ten p.m., she dropped us off at his grandmother's house where we were staying and we watched the Irish news for a bit before going to bed. Then off to bed... in what was probably the coldest house I have ever tried to sleep in.
Thats the thing about Irish houses. They are freezing. I thought Iain was just exaggerating when we were back in Niamh's house, as he wrapped his coat around him and complained about the chill. At various times in my travels, I have made the mistake of assuming that because I'm Canadian, I am tough and hardy and can withstand extremely cold temperatures. However, the truth is that I am probably as much of a baby as Justin Bieber (and we all know that's saying a LOT!) I slept in four layers of clothing that night, and the next day went out to Penney's to buy a couple 5 euro long-sleeve shirts for extra layering. Brrrrrr!
I can't complain, though, because I did get to sleep in for the first time in a while. Au pairing is an interesting job to do, and the position brings with it numerous perks and benefits (such as the fact that I'm currently holidaying in Wales right now!) But one thing that you definitely have to accept as an au pair (or, you know, as a parent) is that your days of sleeping in are behind you. Why, oh why, can't we bank hours spent napping in our lazy "life is so tough" student days, to be used up later on, when babies are screaming in impotent rage throughout the night???

So after a delicious sleep-in, Iain and I headed off to the city centre, located around Shop Street, the main artery in the heart of Galway. One thing I've noticed about England is that every town has a "High Street", the main shopping street where you are guaranteed to find a cluster of familiar brand-name labels: Top Shop, Next, LK Bennett, Boots Pharmacy, House of Fraser, Monsoon, etc. (Kate Middleton is a huge fan of High Street style, and has often been said to personify "High Street Chic", although this isn't always a compliment coming from some fashion critics!) Iain disparagingly snorted when I made the connection between High Streets in England and Shop Street in Galway. "High Street sounds so British!" he said. "Its bad enough that we just got a Tommy Hilfiger here! Why do we have to be so obsessed with being like other countries?" The name "Tommy Hilfiger" was said with withering disdain and I burst out laughing as we walked past the store, which was indeed packed with customers.

I have some great photos that I want to post but as I don't have them on my computer yet I'll have to wait until I get back to England. We went to "Food for Thought", a charming little restaurant that won Galways's Best Cafe in 2010. The veggie quiche I ordered was delicious, with a flaky, golden crust. We ate our meals and poured over a trashy British tabloid magazine together (can someone please explain to me who Cheryl Cole is and why everyone over here seems to be obsessed?!) before gathering our umbrellas and moving on through the mizzle.

My internet time has just about expired (damn you, McDonalds and your 2 hour limit! I knew there had to be a catch somewhere) so I'll wrap this up now and continue later. I'm in Wales until Sunday and then I am carpe diem-ing and flying off to the Costa del Sol (Coast of the Sun...what a stark difference from wet n' wild Wales, huh?) for a week. Yep, Miss Spontaneous herself (if you actually know me, you probably either just choked on your morning cup of coffee or sarcastically raised an eyebrow because I am truthfully usually one of those boring, predictable creatures of habit) is going to Malaga, Spain with American Backpacker Dan (remember him? From Dublin) and his friends. Its a spur-of-the-moment trip, justified by extremely cheap flights courtesy of Ryanair, and yes, it could be dangerous as I don't really know any of the people I'm going to be backpacking with, but its all part of my travel philosophy - be open to new things, new people, new cities, and new experiences!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Trinity College: Books, Bollywood, and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon

While some of us (cough, me) went to Playboy's Number Four Party School in North America, others went to slightly more prestigious universities with more of a focus on, crazy as it sounds, academics (disclosure: my alma mater is actually an amazing school with a strong history of excellence in both academics AND partying - we Mustangs work hard and play hard).

My friend Iain attended Trinity College in Dublin, founded in 1592 by letters patent from Queen Elizabeth I. It was modeled after Oxford and Cambridge, and was exclusively for Protestants - an attempt on the part of the Virgin Queen to solidify Protestant Tudor rule in Ireland. In fact, even though Trinity opened its doors to Catholics in 1793, it wasn't really until the 1970s that Catholics began studying there.

Iain and I met up with two of his friends, Sinead and Patrick, at The Buttery, one of the student cafes. We talked for a bit and then I left the three to finish catching up while I took a tour of the college. A ten euro ticket included a 30-minute guided walk around the campus by a fourth year history student AND entrance into the Book of Kells exhibit, which normally costs 9 euros. A great deal!

The campus was more packed than usual on this particular Monday morning, thanks to a Bollywood movie that was being filmed on location. As per usual in Bollywood films, plot plausibility lost out to spontaneous musical dancing numbers, complete with rugby players:

Here's a brief outline of the film according to my tour guide, titled Ek Tha Tiger, and you can decide whether or not you will be heading to the theatre in June 2012 when it hits cinemas. A professor at Trinity has been selling secrets from his Indian government to the Pakistanis, so what does Indian Secret Service do? Send in their finest, naturally. And their finest agent is also their sexiest one, played by the woman who is undoubtedly one of the most famous Bollywood actresses, Katrina Kaif, who just so happens to fall in love with the professor whilst on a mission to kill him. Musical dance-offs involving rugby players ensue. I cannot WAIT to watch this cinematic masterpiece!

Russ, my tour guide, was a genial, knowledgeable guy who made several self-deprecating jokes at Ireland's expense. Actually, I noticed this trend of making wry, bitter comments about the state of the Irish economy and the government amongst all the young Irish people I met my age. Everyone seemed so jaded and cynical, which is perhaps inevitable considering the recent bail-out...but I don't know...there seemed to be a lot of hopelessness, too.

Standing on the quad opposite the chapel, Russ explained that every Trinity grad is entitled to get married in the chapel - the only place of worship in Ireland that is for both Catholics and Protestants alike - in the five years following graduation.

"So I have about six years to find a nice girl and get married," he said. To which I quipped, "I'm available!" (hey, he was good-looking and obviously an intelligent guy, and a wedding at can see I've raised my standards slightly from "wears shorts and is not a drug addict", clearly. Don't ask.)

Unfortunately, I've come to the conclusion that living in rainy climes is not so conducive to my general scheme of attracting members of the opposite sex. Let's just say the rain does absolutely nothing for my hair, which during this tour I had shoved up underneath a cloche hat in an attempt to hide the frizz.

Russ did not exactly seem swept off his feet by the drowned-rat look I was rocking, so I slunk off to the back of the crowd and contented myself with listening to the rest of his tour. I learned some interesting things, like how this building is supposed to resemble the hanging gardens of Babylon:

As Russ said in his lilting Irish accent, "It's a loose interpretation." As I said in my boring old Canadian accent, "Did the architects graduate from the School of Soviet Design?"

The tour concluded at the entrance to the Book of Kells exhibit (entitled "Turning Darkness into Light"), which is one of the top tourist attractions in Dublin and considered to be one of Ireland's national treasures. The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript from 800 A.D., a masterpiece of calligraphy and absolutely breathtaking to behold in its intricacy and lovingly rendered details. It is not one of those objets d'art that you build up in your mind, and then when you see it, you're like, "wait, that's it?" The Book of Kells is just as impressive and awe-inspiring as I imagined, and the entire exhibit is beautiful, thoughtful, and informative.

The Book itself is a collection of the Four Gospels in the New Testament, but because it is slowly falling apart, only two pages are opened to the public for a period of a few months before it changes. When I was there, John 6:28-43 was displayed, as well as Luke 4:1, the temptation of Christ.

At the end of the exhibit, you're funneled out into the Long Room of the Old Library, which is the penultimate bibliophile's dream:

I always thought that the library the Beast gives Belle in Beauty and the Beast was my fantasy, but its been supplanted by this one. If you're willing to sign your life away, and you happen to be a masters or PhD student at Trinity, you can read one of these 200,000 books (organized by SIZE, not by author or Dewey Decimal code!) under the watchful gaze of the librarian!

The libraries at Trinity are the only ones in Ireland that have Legal Deposit Library status, which means that they are entitled to a copy of every single book that is published in the UK. So far there are 4 million books in circulation...when you think about it, that's a LOT of crappy chick lit that's getting sent there...

Trinity College was beautiful, and as it is so conveniently located close to St. Stephen's Green and the trendy Temple Bar district, its the perfect stop on a trip to Dublin. Even if there are no Bollywood movies being filmed when you go, I can guarantee that there will be no lack of bustle and excitement on the campus!

Just remember to bring a hat to hide the frizz.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Craic and another Canadian Thanksgiving abroad

If you're going to know one Irish word to impress people on St. Patrick's Day (beyond the standard "Erin go bragh", Ireland forever), make it craic.

Pronounced "crack", it is one simple, neat word that sums up a whole idea - that lively, spontaneous conviviality of good conversation and good company. Its what makes life worth living, those times spent with friends and family, maybe over a roaring fire and an open bottle of wine. Laughter, stories, music, love. It rests on the art of conversation and the importance of atmosphere, and is a vital part of Irish culture.

I learned this word on my first day in Dublin, where I met up with my dear friend Iain and his friends Niamh and Ronan. After I mentioned that that weekend was Canadian Thanksgiving, Niamh suggested a celebration. She quizzed me on the typical Canadian Thanksgiving menu, and then dispatched us to Tesco's with a shopping list.

This time (unlike in Russia last year when we had a similar Canadian Thanksgiving feast/excuse to drink with twenty-five people in a tiny flat), we were able to find sweet potatoes. We also forewent Mrs. Beeton's recipe for stuffing (it had been somewhat and controversially unpopular last year) and stuck to a storebought brand. We were a bit cheap with our "mozzarella":

We thought it should say "Not Italian but still GRAND!"...

And our wine (yes, that is wine in a box, which we carried not-so- proudly down Grafton Street, but quantity over quality was our main objective):

We made a quick detour to one of the many Polish shops (apparently there are a lot of Polish immigrants in Ireland, which I didn't know) where I could finally fulfill my tvorog craving (an incredibly delicious Russian cheese that I became obsessed with last year) that I've been battling since crossing the other side of the Iron Curtain in July. It was just as tasty as I remembered!

We made it back to Niamh and Ronan's, where Ronan and Iain were out on the Parboiling Committee and got to work on the potatoes while Niamh took care of the chicken (alas, no turkey!) and I peeled veggies. And then the feasting began!

There were nine of us: myself, Iain, Niamh, Ronan, their two roommates Hugh and Griffen, (both country boys who had moved to Dublin to go to Trinity College), Bernard (a hardcore Labour Party member who had eagerly followed Canada's NDP party's historic win last May, and then Jack Layton's tragic death, and couldn't wait to talk to a Canadian about these developments...too bad for him that I'm not exactly on his side of the political spectrum, but we had a great chat!), Ruth (an ESL teacher in China), and Dan (an American backpacker from Philly who was "couch-surfing" at Niamh and Ronan's that night). It was an eclectic crew, but oh, what an interesting one! Everyone had done so much traveling and living abroad, and we all had such varied interests and passions that it was one of those nights that just flew by in a blur of outrageous stories, laughter, wine, and...yes, even holy water. That came out when talk turned (albeit tongue-in-cheek!!) to the 'black bastards", AKA the Protestants.

Backpacker Dan (who all the Irish mistakenly thought was named Den for most of the night, thanks to the accent issue!) not believing his eyes that this was actual holy water

I was operating in a haze of sleep deprivation and wine-induced blurriness at this point, so I had to do a second take. Holy water?!?! Well, I guess this IS Ireland, the country where I was just one of many, many red-haired Catholic Katies!

I remember vague snippets of the craic we had that night (craic is always used with the definite article "the", by the way), but the overwhelming memory is just one of thankfulness. Before we tucked in to our feast, I was slightly obnoxious and made everyone go around saying something they were thankful for. Some were funny, others were poignant, all were heartfelt.

And as I looked around the circle of new friends, people I had met only hours before, I just felt so grateful for everything travel has thrown my way. Sure, gazing in wonder at sights like the Kremlin and Wells Cathedral is AMAZING...but its the moments I have spent in company like this, just enjoying the craic, that I will always treasure. Who knows if I'll ever meet these people again? But for one night, we celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving Irish-style, and it was unforgettable.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Open House Dublin

Have you ever walked past a building in your city that you maybe walk past every day, or a few times a week, without ever giving it a thought, and suddenly you seem to notice it for the first time? You wonder what actually goes on in there, what that building's story is.

About a week before I moved to the UK, my hometown in Canada was having an "Open House" where old buildings that are normally closed to the public were open and being run by volunteers who were, essentially, telling the stories of these structures that we walk past every day without ever really thinking about. My mum, my best friend Heather, and I walked down the hill to the city centre and toured a few different buildings - the Central Presbyterian Church, a Scottish cottage, and the Armoury. We learned some fascinating history, got to sample bannock and scones, and even got a bird's eye view of the city from a bell tower! The event seemed to be very popular and I thought it was a really great way to learn more about our own past as a city.

Last weekend, it just so fortuitously worked out that I would be in town for "Open House Dublin," the same event that I had attended back in Canada, only in a WAY cooler city this time! (Cambridge, I love you, but you are not exactly in the same league as the city that is named for the "black pool" - Dubh Linn - of the original settlement. After all, you're just named after another city in an Empire far, far away).

We had ambitious plans to check out several of the buildings open to the public, but the incredible popularity of the event and the long queues snaking up and down streets meant that we had to content ourselves with less. We started off with a tour of Liberty Hall for an unmatchable view of the city and the River Liffey that slices the city in two:

As you can see, it was very windy!

In a bit of a sad ending to this building, Liberty Hall is due to be torn down soon and rebuilt. The architect who designed the building said, "I don't care what you do with it as long as its after I die", and he passed away a few months ago.

After coming down from the top, we had worked up an appetite so we stopped at a little shop that specializes in the full Irish Breakfast, a formidable meal that is almost impossible to conquer. I'm not entirely sure what (if any) difference exists between an Irish Breakfast and an English one - English Ian maintains that it is the exact same (but originated in England) and Irish Iain contests both claims. All I know is, its not exactly vegetarian friendly!

Let me see if I've got this right: eggs, sausages, bacon (back or "Canadian"), black pudding (blood sausage), baked beans, tomatoes (gotta have some form of vitamin C to balance out all that protein!), and toast. Whew! But, as they say, breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

I skipped out of the meat options but still left feeling more than pleasantly full - and all for 3 euros! We meandered/waddled down O'Connell Street, the wide, elegant main street in Dublin that is named after Daniel O'Connell, a nationalist leader from the nineteenth century. The street is dominated by the grand (in the imposing sense of the word, not the Irish one!) 1818 General Post Office building, and the 120 metre Spire, a rolled steel sculpture that is colloquially referred to by "Dubs" as the "Stiletto in the Ghetto" or the "Biggest Needle in the North" (the part of the city north of the Liffey is the, uh, less "stylish" and safe district, to put it diplomatically).

Our next stop on the Open House Dublin tour was the Department of Education building, built in 1740 by the Earl of Tyrone for 25,000 pounds and sold to the Department of Education a century later for a steal of a deal at 7,000 pounds. Then it was on to the birthplace of Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula and perhaps the man we can all blame for this current Twilight crap.

Bram Stoker is the great-something uncle
of Liz! (I'm holding a biography on the
original inspiration for Stoker, Vlad Dracul)

Our last stop of the day was Casino Marino, a "pleasure house" that was built by the Earl of Charlemont, a man whose unique affliction was that his health "required" him to have access to fresh air and social interaction. Um, duh. Like you're the ONLY one in the world who needs those things. Because the rest of us proletariat can just suck it up and live in dank, airless, one-room hovels by ourselves, right? It was hard to summon up any sympathy for the guy, as Iain, Niamh and I had a few laughs at his expense after hearing that! But the building itself was very interesting architecturally. From the outside, it resembled a one-room, one-storey Greek temple with its Classic construction and columns, and it reminded me of how many men at this time, including Thomas Jefferson, were inspired by their Grand Tours abroad to recreate miniature wonders of the ancient world on their own turfs.

Inside, however, Casino Marino was revealed to have three storeys and sixteen rooms! There were lots of little tricks to maintain the sense of Classical symmetry from the outside, such as these trick windows:

Only the 12 panes of glass at the bottom right hand corner are an actual window that looks outward. The rest is just to create the illusion of large, symmetrical windows from the outside of the building!

The guides at each of the places we went were all well-informed, engaging, and passionate about their subject - truly making history come alive for us participants. I felt very lucky to have an introduction to a part of Dublin's past that is "off the beaten track" of O'Connell and Grafton Streets, and to have a peek in at buildings that even Dubliners walk past every day without really knowing the stories that lie within the walls.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Ireland: so much more than just "grand"

In true backpacker style, I jumped on a plane to Dublin Sunday morning armed with nothing more than a borrowed rucksack from Liz's days at Sandhurst, the Royal Military Academy; a guidebook to Ireland; and a trench coat. And it turns out that really was all I needed. My purse-toting, check-in luggage days are over...okay, okay, for now at least. I've experienced what it is like travelling with kids in the past few weeks and I know what my future holds one day...

I don't want to throw an overwhelming and disjointed amount of information about my trip at you so I'm going to organize things into separate posts in the hope that this way, if you're really interested in, say, churches, you can read my forthcoming post about St. Nicholas' in Galway (trust me, it was WAY cooler than just an ABC - Another Bloody Church) and just skip over posts about drunken Irishmen and toting wine in a box down Grafton Street (although trust me, that's a pretty interesting story too!)

Here I just want to give my quick, overall impressions of the Emerald Isle, Aerinn, Ireland. One of the first things I noticed (I am such a language nerd) was the constant use of the word "grand". When my phone didn't work and I had to borrow a Good Samaritan's mobile, she shrugged off my apologies with a sunny "Oh, its grand." The weather and food were consistently described as "grand", and in reply to "how are you?"s, the answer was always, "I'm grand."

"What does all this 'grand' stuff mean?" I asked my friend Iain after a few hours in Dublin and about seventy "grand"s from him, his three friends we met up with, and various passersby on the streets. "Magnificent, wonderful, imposing?"

He burst out laughing. "It just means 'better than s***."

Oh. Okay. Apparently its a very typically Irish thing to say...about EVERYTHING. I myself even started saying it, when people would ask me how I was finding the "mizzle" (mist + drizzle = this delightful combination). "Oh, its grand!" At one point while Iain and I were having pints of Guinness at an outdoor pub in Galway, the weak, watery sun managed to shine through for a brief second and I was suddenly struck with a rather poetically Irish realization:

"It doesn't get much better than this, huh? A glass of Guinness, a good friend, people-watching, and some is grand!" Maybe the Irish are on to something. It doesn't take much, but its better than s*** and maybe we could all do with remembering that every now and then.

But don't think for one minute that Ireland is JUST "grand". It is so, so much more. Ireland is cloudy skies that give way to sunshine that illuminates the countryside. Its a patchwork quilt of jewel-like green squares. It is lively pubs, graceful, arching bridges spanning the Liffey, cheerful smiles, and imposing Georgian architecture. It is cold houses but warm, welcoming hearts.

Erin go bragh! Ireland Forever!