Yup – that tyre’s flat

tyre

Were the Raisinets yummy?

Time to get back to it…AGMA’s back from Ireland!

And I don’t know how to thank everybody enough for sending those good thoughts our way!

M did not trip once nor did she fall ill for days with some strange virus.  And she was slurping water like a camel to stay plenty hydrated so no fainting.

But AGMA did not dare celebrate until we stepped foot in the good ole’ USA.  One can never be too careful…

We both caught colds but that seemed pretty minor compared to the litany of evils that could have beset us. 

The big excitement of the trip came on Day #1.

After landing in Dublin, we picked up our chariot for the next 8 days – a 2017 Ford Focus with the steering wheel on the wrong side.

Five years ago, AGMA also drove around Ireland with another friend.  The first few days were on good roads (decode: wide enough for two cars to fit comfortably), so I got the “driving on the left” thing down pretty well before we got to more “cosy” roads (decode: 1 1/2 cars wide and curvy, with rock walls on both sides of the road and a speed limit of 80km)

This trip was a bit different.  

Our destination for our first night was the lovely town of Kilkenny.  And as many travelers to Ireland do, we went via the beautiful Wicklow Mountains for a side trip to visit the ancient monastic settlement of Glendalough.

glen

Founded by St. Kevin in the 6th century, Glendalough is incredibly beautiful – especially in the sunshine!

glen2

The Wicklow Mountains are gorgeous!

If you’ve never driven on the left before, there is a natural tendency for us “right side of the roaders” to drive a bit too far to the left.  Some, more than a bit too far to the left.  Until the driver gets a sense of where the middle of the road is and how the car should be centered, they are doomed to hang left for a spell.

On wider roads, this is not a big problem. 

On cosy roads, this can result in, among other things, tree branches slapping the passengers windshield causing the passenger to lean to the right in a vain attempt to magically move the car over.  Seriously.  I’ve been in that passenger seat before and done the leaning.  

It doesn’t work.

One of the other things that can happen is that the driver, in an attempt not to graze an oncoming car, moves over to the left too far and goes off the road.  

Sometimes they get lucky.  Sometimes there isn’t a rock wall.  Or trees.  Or thick hedgerow.  Or sharp, pointy rocks to the immediate left.

AGMA was not lucky that day in the Wicklow Mountains.  

Coming down from Wicklow Pass on the way to Kilkenny, I moved over too far to the left to avoid hitting an oncoming car (that in reality was about 2 football fields away…)   

BUMP. BUMP. BUMP.

I looked at M.  She looked at me and said, “That was jarring.” 

“We need to stop when we can pull over and see if the tire’s okay.” I replied.

Round ‘bout that time, some light came on my dash warning me about something gone amiss with a “tyre”.  And then the low tire (tyre) pressure light came on.

Uh oh…

We made it a few kilometers to Hollywood.  Hollywood, Ireland that is.  And pulled into a Emo Service Station.  

The left front tyre (tire) was indeed well on its way to lifeless flatness.

But a YUGE shout out of thanks to the people of Hollywood who were incredibly friendly and helpful to AGMA and M!

To make a long story short, we got the spare put on, and got a new tyre (tire) the next morning in Kilkenny.

As AGMA advised in my post of March 16…ALWAYS GET THE CDW CAR INSURANCE IN IRELAND!!  A-L-W-A-Y-S!!

Did I say that too loud?

The first few days were full of cosy roads, made even more cosy by having to drive directly into the afternoon sun.  Normally, NOBODY complains about sunshine in Ireland…

…other than a nervous American driver on cosy roads.

Happily there were no more incidents.  Other than backing into a low stone wall which did no damage to the Focus or the wall.  The wall has probably been there for 300 years so no surprise it was okay.

We survived.  The good people of Ireland survived.

Win-win!

Other than the tyre that sacrificed itself for a greater purpose.

AGMA promises I will finish the final AGMA’s “Easy peasy, stress free travel planning” next week.  Until then, enjoy some weird, lovely pictures from my trip.

Sláinte!

babylamb

On the Dingle Peninsula.  It was lambing seasons so there were little lambs everywhere!

bus

On a cosy two way road on a tour bus on the Dingle Peninsula.  Yikes!

cliffs

At the Cliffs of Moher.  We saw a few potential Darwin Awards winners.

fcuk

I beg your pardon…

horses

New friends on the Connemara Peninsula.  They don’t get flat tires!

Cork

The awesome city of Cork!

Kinsale

I like Kinsale’s style!

 

How I lived with an Irish family for a week and they survived – Part 2

irish+dancing+peep+parade

Continued from Part 1…  (duh)

6.  If Soibhán and her family ever came to visit, I could never, ever feed them enough food.  I know this for a fact.  Every meal I had at her house was enormous.  Seriously humongous.  She fixed a plate for me one evening that would have fed both my husband and myself with leftovers.  Piles of roast beef, mashed potatoes, home fries, parsnips, mashed carrots and cauliflower & cheese.  All covered in gravy.  Plus dessert. I have never seen people eat so much food on a regular basis.  Ever.   And they’re not fat at all.  At all.  I want to know how that works…

7.  Unlike the Vikings and the English, Peeps have yet to invade Ireland.  I brought three packages of Easter Peeps with me in the new flavors – sour watermelon, birthday cake and blue raspberry.  Yuck.  But her three kids devoured them.  Naturally.   Mr. Soibhán loved the Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs…  I guess he doesn’t object to peanut butter and chocolate.  Just jam.

8.  People who live in Ireland can fly to the U.S. way cheaper that I can fly to Ireland.  We checked out the Aer Lingus’ website at Soibhán’s house.  The round trip airfare is 40% less to book in Ireland than I can book from the US.  Whaaaat?  Isn’t that illegal or something?  Isn’t there some sort of international airfare equity law?  But it’s probably a good thing.  I’d be eating Soibhán’s ginormous meals more often.

9.  Soibhán’s lives near a Gaeltacht area of Ireland.  That is, the primary language of the area is Irish.  And don’t call it Gaelic.  Gaelic is what they speak in Scotland.  But sometimes Irish is called Irish Gaelic.  Confused?  I still am… Anyway, her three younger kids go to Gaeltacht schools.  These schools are dedicated to keeping the Irish culture and language alive, and the teachers and students speaking Irish exclusively.  Soibhán’s Irish isn’t too good since she didn’t attend a Gaeltacht school. Her kids are starting to talk Irish in front of her.  Gotta love those kids.  Her eight year old daughter sang Uptown Funk to me in Irish.  It was cool.

10. Sadly U.S. reality TV knows no boarders.  Unfortunately.  We spent two hours one evening watching “Say Yes to the Dress”.  Doesn’t really put the best face on U.S. matrimonial rituals does it?  But like a car wreck, we couldn’t not watch.  Or stop watching.  At least she hasn’t seen “Bridezillas”.  Yet.

So yeah – there were some differences – mostly involving the roll of jelly/jam in the Irish diet vs. the American diet.   But I also found out that we had much, much more in common.   And that’s the gift you receive from travel if you “live like the locals” as my hero Rick Steve’s says.

You see with eyes wide open.

So today I went shopping and got the ingredients for a “thank you” goodie box…  A jar of peanut butter and grape jelly swirled, a can of Disney Princess chicken noodle soup, a box of Lucky Charms (her six year old loves them – go figure…), Neosporin spray (can’t get it in Irleand), Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs and a pack of Peeps.

They’re going to love it!  But possibly hate the peanut butter and jelly.  I’m willing to take the risk.

The Irish have two categories of people who come to their country.  You are either a tourist or a visitor.

The tourist comes to see the sights, snap pictures, listen to some traditional music and drink Guinness.  They complain about the weather and how long it takes to drive from place to place and about how you can’t get a short answer when you ask a question. Short of St. Patrick and the Great Famine, they really don’t know much about Irish history.  And they’re really not interested in learning that much more.

The visitor comes to see the sights, snap pictures, listen to some traditional music and drink Guinness. They also don’t care if it’s cold and/or raining (not much at least…)  And they love the long drives and exploring small villages and getting stopped by sheep in the road.  Multiple times.  Visitors think the twenty minutes of craic that they exchange on a street corner with the person they stopped to ask directions from is a highlight of their day.  They know something about the incredible history of both ancient and modern Ireland.  A visitor admires the irrepressible Irish spirit that would not be conquered by the Vikings, the Normans, the Scots or the English despite hundreds and hundreds of years of occupation.

And they like nothing better than to spend an evening by a coal and peat fire with new friends laughing about putting jam on toast.

Éirinn go Brách!

How I lived with an Irish family for a week and they survived – Part 1

no-peanut-butter-sandwich

I met my friend Soibhán in Dublin nearly two years ago.  We were both in the audience at the filming of an Irish RTE TV music special.  You wouldn’t even believe the story of how I ended up there.  It’s crazy even for AGMA.  Let’s just say I was with my then 79-year-old going on teeny bopper MIL who had stars in her eyes.  ‘Nuff said…

Soibhán isn’t her real name.  I’m protecting the innocent.  And I love the name Soibhán. It doesn’t sound anything like it looks in “Ahmurican speak” and it has one of those charming fada marks in it.  I love those.

We became fast friends through Facebook.  Okay – so I guess FB is good for something other than expressing idiotic, ill-informed political opinions that nobody give’s a rat’s ass about.  Oh – did I say that out loud?

Soibhán & I got together again when I was in Ireland last October and shared a couple of pints of Guinness one evening in Killarney.  Well, I drank the Guinness, she drank tea.

Yes…I managed to make friends with one of the 29 people in Ireland who don’t drink alcohol.  I had no idea there were so many.

So one thing lead to another and I found myself headed to County Waterford a little over two weeks ago to stay with her and her family for six days.

A couple of days into the visit, Soibhán asked me if I or my husband had any misgivings about me staying with them since they were basically strangers.  I laughed.  The real question should have been if she had any misgivings letting AGMA staying with her. She should have…

After reading my blog, wouldn’t you?

I learned a lot about the Irish way of life and some of the funny differences between us. Like they are just plain weird about some stuff…  And I’m perfectly normal.  Right.

So in no particular order (although the first five do seem to have jelly/jam theme happening…)

  1. If you’re having eggs and toast for breakfast, you can put butter on your toast. And orange marmalade.  But not jelly.  But call it jam because jelly = Jello in Ireland.  They think you’re crazy if you put jam on your toast.  They get funny looks on their faces if you take a bite of egg and then a bite of your jammy toast. Like they’re going to get sick
  2. It’s okay to have jam on a scone you’re eating in parallel with your eggs.  But they’ll also expect you to eat toast with butter with your eggs.  Scones evidently aren’t counted as a carb.  And a jammy scone must not be eaten with eggs.  It’s as if they believe that jam and eggs are a volatile combination in the gut that could possibly trigger a chain of dire events in your body leading to an early death or worse.  Like eating to much pork and beans.
  3. Soibhán’s six-year-old son asked for jelly and ice cream.  I thought that was a very odd combination until she explained to me that they refer to Jello as jelly. Ummm…  Jello and ice cream.  That sounds much better.  Not.
  4. I got the “I think I’m going to get sick” look again when I explained that a staple of almost every American child’s diet was the classic peanut butter and jelly (NOT Jello) sandwich.  What??  My jaw dropped in disbelief trying to comprehend a childhood without PBJ’s.  Clearly there are very, very strict rules about the use of jam in Ireland.
  5. They don’t eat chicken noodle soup.  Or chicken & rice soup.  Oh the humanity!  I was going to mention a that a PBJ and a bowl of chicken noodle soup is one of the ultimate comfort meals in the US, but I honestly wasn’t sure I’d be welcome in their home any longer if I did.  That might have put them over the edge.

To be continued…

All hail High King AGMA

kings-head-afc-web

Hot diggty dog… I’m home!

It was wonderful trip to Ireland.  But then again, I think you’d have to really try hard not to have a wonderful trip to Ireland.  Just sayin’…

And miracle of miracles, the weather the last six days of my stay was spectacularicious! Blue skies, sunshine, mild temps… The kind of weather that you always dream about when visiting Ireland but know you’ll never, ever get.  Ever.

Pinch me.

The kind of weather that sends the “Visit Ireland” photographers frantically running around the country as fast as they can go to take breathtaking photos of a stunning land of azure skies, white sheep in emerald green pastures, dramatic ocean cliffs, ancient ruins and bright sunshine before the normal weather returns.  And it always does return.

Rain, mist, wind, coolish temps.  That’s the norm.  But in my seven trips to Ireland, I’ve learned the weather is just secondary to the “Irish experience”.  Yes – I said seven trips.

Don’t judge me.

On this trip, I stayed with a lovely Irish family in County Waterford for nearly a week.   I mean, after that many visits, AGMA’s managed to make a friend or two.  Clearly their character judgement is suspect…

This was an eye-opening experience.  Just like you never know a friend until you travel with them (trust me, I have personal experience with this… ), you never really know a country until you’ve lived in a home with a family for a week.

I’m very jealous of my Irish friends.  Because they’re Irish.

There are 4.6 million people living in Ireland.  And there are over 35 million people around the world who can claim Irish heritage.  Despite their prolific reproductive abilities, I am not one of them.

I hate that.

Thanks (or no thanks) to my husband who’s into genealogy research, I was in my 40’s when I found out that my Irish great great grandfather was actually German.  Crap.  It was a sad day when I had to put away my “Kiss Me I’m Irish Button”.  I blame my husband every St. Patrick’s day when I feel like a sham and a wannabe wearing my green “Guinness Is Good For You” shirt.

It’s just all so humiliating…

However I feel strongly that I may have been Celtic Irish chieftain in a past life. Possibly a High King.  I’ve absolutely nothing to base that on other than I feel I have to come up with some explanation as to why I keep going back to Ireland.  The “I love to drink fresh Guinness” excuse is getting pretty thin.  Being Túathal Máelgarb in a former life just makes so much more sense.

So stay tuned for AGMA’s Irish travel blog post, “How I lived with an Irish family for a week and they survived” in a few days.

‘Cause it ain’t easy having a crazy AGMA living with you.

So happy to be back on WordPress!

The miracle of Rick Steves

luggage

“I don’t understand how you can possibly take just a carry-on sized bag for two weeks in Europe.” my sister said to me on Monday.  “I just need too much stuff!”

“Too much stuff” is an understatement.  I’ve seen the luggage they use. The entire von Trapp family could have escaped Austria in it.  No mountain climbing; just smooth, 4-wheel, 360 degree swivel action all the way to Italy.

I told her to pack less clothes.  Wash things out in the sink.  Or the bidet.  She said she packs very few clothes.  But she admits her husband needs a new outfit every day along with matching shoes.  Seriously?

I’m a minimalist traveler and my packing hero is Rick Steves. My younger son told me never to trust anybody with two first names…

For those who don’t know, Rick Steves is a US travel guru/television host who has specialized in European travel for the past 35 years.  He has hundreds of guidebooks/DVD’s not only about individual European countries but many specific European cities.  Lots of American Baby Boomers are fans of Rick.

Or is it Steve?

But the true miracle that elevates him to near-travel god-like status is that he can go to Europe for an entire summer with only a back pack and a carry-on.  Let that sink in.  One back pack.  One tiny, fits-in-the-overhead-bin carry-on.  Mind blowing.

It’s like Jesus feeding the 5000 with one loaf of bread and one fish.  Rick/Steve miraculously just keeps on pulling out clothes for a whole summer from that little carry-on!

I’m a Rick Steves packing disciple.  I try to emulate him.  And I’m getting pretty darned good at it.

So for those of you who travel who might want to get on the bandwagon (NOT my sister) here are AGMA’s top 10 reasons for minimalist packing for an overseas trip:

10.  Speed.  You can get though customs faster because you don’t have to wait for your bags.  Okay, maybe only 5 minutes faster.  But it feels like a win.

9.  No worries about lost luggage.  When your carry-on is in the bin above your head, you know you’ll be able to change your nasty, been-wearing-them-for 36-hours-straight travel clothes that have almost welded themselves to your body as soon as you get to your hotel room.

8.  Accessibility.  When your carry-on is in the bin above your head, you know you’ll be able to change your nasty, been-wearing-them-for 36-hours-straight travel clothes that have almost welded themselves to your body in the airport bathroom as soon as you get off the plane.  Or in the airplane restroom.  Or at your seat.

7.  Saves money.  Totally limits souvenir buying!  There’s no room for that bulky Aran sweater or the three Belgian lace tablecloths or that impressive Australian didgeridoo. And buying another suitcase on your trip is cheating…  Although my MIL did that once. No surprise there.

6.  Simplifies wardrobe choices.  People honestly don’t care if you wear the same outfit in Paris that you wore in Rome that you wore in London. Or if you wear the same outfit twice in the same city.  Think about it.  Nobody.  Cares.

5.  Mingle with the locals.  Most cities and towns in the industrialized world have stores with the same stuff that you can buy at home.  You don’t have to pack for Armageddon. It’s fun to meet new people while you shop for your Imodium or Pepto-Bismol!

4.  Nimbleness.  It’s much easier and quicker to get on and off trains, busses, ferries, etc. Or to carry your bag up to your 4th floor hotel room because the 3 ft X 3 ft lift is broken.  It’s sad to see people struggling trying to get their three 70 pound bags up the steps onto a train or into their hotel.  And kind of funny in a twisted way.

3.  Avoid personal injury. See #4.

2.  Avoid pity/ridicule.  Especially the withering, smug, superior glances of AGMA and husband as they deftly and every so delicately whisk their light carry-ons onto the train or up the hotel stairs while you struggle with the von Trapp family luggage. See #4. Yeah – everybody is looking at you.  And feeling sorry for you.  Or snickering.

And the #1 reason for minimalist packing…

1.  It’s cool. You’re friends will be awed and amazed that you only took a carry-on and a backpack for two weeks in Croatia. They now think that YOU are the packing travel god.  Don’t tell them about Rick/Steve.

So that was all to say it’s time for this AGMA travel goddess to pack her minimalist bag and hit the road again.  Back to the land of Guinness and Leprechauns.  I’ve never actually seen a Leprechaun. Maybe I’ve never had enough Guinness…

I’ll really miss AGMA and writing and my WordPress family.  But I’ll be sure to lift up a pint in your honor!  Be back in mid-April.

Slainte!

They’re Always After Me Lucky Charms…

craictheone

Top o the marnin’ to ya!  Or afternoon.  Or whenever your reading this.

So I just got back from Ireland last week and still have the residual mist of the Emerald Isle charm hanging onto me.  I also have the extra pounds from scones, butter and beer hanging onto me as well. The mist will have long dissipated before the pounds will.  It was worth it.

Did I mention I love to travel?

This was my sixth trip to Ireland since my first in 2006 so I guess I officially qualify as a Hiberniophile.  I keep trying to convince the Tourism Ireland folks that I should be one of their US reps, but so far, no go.  I’m thinking of starting a Twitter campaign.

I’m pretty sure that one of the reasons I keep going back is the phenominal pub culture.  Great craic in Irish pubs.  According to Wikipedia, craic “is a term for news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation, particularly prominent in Ireland.”  I’ve had some of the funniest, most interesting conversations of my life in Irish pubs.   Yes – I’m a craic addict.

Plus, I love Irish beer.  L-O-V-E.  Especially the stouts.  Particularly Guinness.  And I don’t care what anybody tells you, it does taste better in Ireland.  I can barely choke one down here in the US, but I hear angels sing at that first sip of my first Guinness on that first pub I visit after I land in Dublin.  Yeah – that’s right – angels.  Or maybe it’s my tinnitus acting up after that long flight.

Fun, disturbing Irish beer facts….  On my first trip in 2006, I discovered that the best selling beer in Ireland is Budweiser.  Huh?Then, when visiting the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin in 2009, I found out that the country that drinks the most Guinness is Nigeria. That one left me speechless.

I’ve also learned that the amount of Guinness, Murphy’s, O’Hara’s, Smithwick’s, Kilkenny, etc. I drink on a trip to Ireland is directly proportional to the amount of “crazy” displayed by my traveling companion.  Minimal crazy, minimal daily beer consumption.  Of course there is ALWAYS consumption because the beer is just so damn good.  Angels sing remember?  It just tends to be lower because I’m drinking it for the great taste and not to help me stay sane.

The more the traveling companion crazy meter ramps up, the more desperate I become for a pint of the liquid prozac to calm my frazzled spirit.  On this trip, there were a number of three pint nights.

I respect a persons right to drink or not drink.  Most of the time, I chose to not drink for a variety of reasons.  Except when I travel. Especially when I’m in a pub in Ireland. And my traveling companion is an 8 out of 10 on the cray cray scale.

It’s for this reason I give the following advice…

AGMA Rule #1 for Ireland travel: Never, ever, under any circumstances, take a trip to Ireland with somebody who doesn’t drink if you do and/or isn’t able to engage with people in conversation if you are.  You will have to work way too hard at not being miserable.  Way.  Too.  Hard.

They will try to fool you.  A socially awkward nondrinker will be more than understanding and even jovial during your first pint. To them, it’s an academic exercise to experience the Irish pub culture firsthand.  But when you order that second pint (after having first asked “permission”, I might add), the fidgeting, sighing and eye rolling starts.  And it continues all they way through that second pint.  It has the potential to turn into open warfare if there is even a hint of a third.  So the cruel irony is that the more talkative and mellow you get with each pint, the more hostile, sullen and passive aggressive your companion becomes.

What’s up with that?

Toward the end of the trip, I wised up.  I started depositing my traveling companion in our hotel room prior to the “cross over” to hostile, sullen and passive aggressive.  She had a wonderful time watching TV, keeping track of the weather at home and playing with her smart phone.  You know, all those things you come to Ireland to experience…

I had a wonderful time having that third pint, being part of great craic at a nearby pub and not having to endure the “eye roll”.

Win-win.

When we came home last week, we were definitely ready to put a little space between us.  Maybe a lot of space.  By mutual consent, it’ll probably be a long time before we travel together again.  If ever. But, miracle of miracles, we remain good friends.  Best of all, we have the memories of a shared adventure to a beautiful, magical country rich in history, myth, wonderful food, great beer, welcoming people and stunning scenery.

Every time I leave, I can’t wait to come back.

Slainte!