This week was a perfect example of why we moved to Europe.
A few days ago, Cherie’s sister, Kasi, let it be known that she and her family would be travelling to Cork, Ireland and “would we like to visit with her there?” Kasi, her husband Wayne and their daughter live in South Africa so it’s a rare opportunity when we get to see them. Of course we said yes. Plus, it was Ireland. So how could we say no?
Now that we live in France, it’s so much easier to drop everything and heave off to somewhere else amazing in Europe. Being retired doesn’t hurt either. So when we got the call, we were able to book a flight and a hotel. Our generous neighbors in Malestroit agreed to watch Saxon (thank you Jean and Adrian!). Simple. We could never have done this from Seattle.
The only stressful thing was flying. Cherie is terrified of flying. But despite her fear, she never hesitates to go. I think it’s very brave of her. I’m not convinced I would be so willing to face my fear if I was faced with the same situation. Take-off’s and landings are always the worst for her. She clamps on to my hand with an iron grip until we’re either safely in the air or on the ground. For my part, I just count myself lucky that I’m the one whose hand she chooses to crush.
We landed in Cork on a drizzly day but we received a warm and sunny welcome from Kasi, her husband Wayne, and their daughter Finn. After settling in at the Metropole Hotel downtown, we took an afternoon walkabout. Cork is a lovely city, centered on an island created by two channels of the river Lee and crawling up the slopes of the river valley to either side. The original name for Cork was corcaigh, a derivation of the gaelic word for a marsh. Quite an old city, it began as the site of a monastery in the 6th century. This academic aspect of Cork has run throughout its history and today it’s the home of several universities, colleges and technical schools. Students are everywhere and make for a vibrant atmosphere. Definitely our kind of town.
Along with the many public houses, cafes and restaurants, the shopping is great too. We were on the hunt for a present for Finn and found just the thing: a princess dress with unicorns and matching tights. Finn is in a princess phase right now so this was a perfect gift for Her Highness.
The English Market (an irony which is definitely not lost on Corkonians, given their long and turbulent history with England) is a fabulous covered market hall. There we found a great variety of goods for sale, from fish, to poultry, spices, cheeses, produce and so much more. It is brilliant. I have to say, here, that I found it to be a better market overall than our beloved Pike Place market in Seattle. Sorry, Pike Place, but this place has a little bit of an edge, despite the lack of fish-tossing. But, who knows? The English Market had at least a one hundred year head-start. Give Pike Place another century and see how they compare then. Just like Seattle’s, this market is well-loved by locals; it was buzzing on a Tuesday afternoon and we had a great time exploring its warrens.
Did you know that Beamish beer was first brewed in Cork in the latter 18th century? You’re a well-educated beer lover, so of course you did. I happen to love Irish beers. Always have. So it was with relish that I finally had the opportunity to quaff a couple (okay, several) pints of their brewing genius. First off was a lovely pull of Beamish at the Roundy, a lovely little pub housed in, well, a round-fronted building. The Irish certainly have a gift for descriptive prose. It was bliss and I enjoyed every last drop. Later, at our hotel, Wayne treated me to some beautiful Guinness. As far as I was concerned, my trip was complete!
A brisk walk up the valley side to the north took us to the Cork City Gaol, now an interesting museum documenting the history of this institution. It was built in the early 19th century and ceased operation as a jail in 1923. For a long time it housed both men and women. It was not until 1878 when it became the exclusive domain of female offenders. When it was built, the Gaol was considered to be a much more humane environment, offering better sanitation, light, and comfort. This new design emphasized correction and reform, the intent to reintroduce the inmates into society as improved characters. In the 19th century view, this was accomplished by whipping, isolation, hours of forced exercise, work and religious instruction. You will not be surprised to learn that many of their guests were repeat customers. We all found it to be a really well-done museum, although their choice of a mannequin representing a 10-year old girl inhabiting a cell proved to be pretty creepy; her haunting eyes staring out from behind the bars completely freaked out Cherie and Kasi. Hilarious.
In the evening we all gathered for dinner at Blackrock Castle, a 16th century fort built to protect the harbor and port from pirates. As you can see, it’s beautiful. We had a lovely dinner and chatted away for hours. Wayne’s mother, Noreen, proved to be a bad influence on me as she kept filling my glass with the bottles of Malbec which Kasi had chosen for us. A gorgeous vintage. Noreen and I certainly drank our share before the evening came to a close and we took our separate taxis home.
The next day we were joined by Kasi and Finn as we took the hop-on/hop-off bus around the town. Cherie and I are not generally ones for tours, but this time it turned out to be a good way for the four of us to cover a lot of ground without exhausting ourselves. One highlight was the Shandon Bells. In the Shandon neighborhood of Cork is the Church of St. Anne which has a lovely bell tower topped by an enormous weather vane in the shape of a salmon. It also contains a huge clock mechanism which, apparently, was the largest in Europe until the construction of Big Ben in London. Locals call it the Four-Faced Liar because each of the clock faces display a slightly different time because of the wind which affects the movement of the hands.
All of us – even Finn – climbed up the very steep and difficult stairway to the parapet above the clock. At various points we had to climb, bend, twist and contort our way through in order to reach the top. The view from the parapet was fantastic, I’m told. I, having a formidable fear of heights, kept well back from the parapet wall. How I managed to take this photograph I’ll never know. Another unique aspect about visiting the tower is that they allow you to ring the bells at any time of the day. There are several numbered pull cords, their numbers corresponding to a songbook nearby so one can play a variety of different tunes. Or try to. It’s not easy, but plenty of fun to try. Somehow I doubt that the church’s neighbors maintain such a sense of amusement about it.
One of the few things we are missing in France is a proper afternoon tea. So we jumped at the opportunity to have tea at our hotel after the bus tour. Chicken curry, cucumber and smoked salmon sandwiches, scones with strawberry jam and cream, little chocolate and strawberry cream cakes with macarons; it was brilliant. Throw in several cups of tea and we were very happy indeed. Aaaaahhhh!
Finn is approaching her sixth birthday. For all of her patience throughout the day, she was in need of some fun on her own terms. The solution? Chuckie’s of course. A huge warehouse-sized kids play place, this children’s nirvana was the perfect consolation for a young girl who had been stuck with three adults all day.
On our last evening in Cork we congregated at Noreen’s house in Bishopstown for dinner. With provisions we purchased at the English Market, Kasi masterminded an excellent supper of steamed sea bass, mushroom risotto, and salad with spinach, arugula (rocket), pepitas and fresh lemon juice dressing. Lubricated with generous measures of Guinness and wine, we were a happy household of diners. Many thanks to Noreen for so warmly inviting us into her lovely home and to Kasi and Wayne for treating us to a really nice meal.
Sadly, we had to leave Cork the morning of the next day. But before we did, we indulged in yet another pleasure which I, in particular, have missed since moving to France: breakfast. Yes, the French have a morning meal. But it tends to be quite small and sparse. Just some bread, butter and a cup of coffee, s’il vous plaît. If one is feeling extravagant, perhaps the addition of some fruit or a pain au chocolat. Which is all well and good. But I love a good breakfast. And one of my favorites is a full English or, in this case, Irish breakfast. Eggs, mushrooms, a rasher of bacon, sausage, tomato, baked beens, hash brown potatoes, and black and white puddings. So good! It was the most food I’ve eaten in one sitting in quite some time. By the way, Cherie couldn’t care less about breakfast so she didn’t share the same rapture about the opportunity. She had the eggs florentine.
Our trip to Cork was wonderful. We were so glad to be able to spend quality time with Kasi and her family. As expected, the people of Cork were welcoming, friendly and energetic, and filled with good humor. The weather was a bit drippy and gloomy. But, so what? We’re used to that and it doesn’t bother us a bit. It was only three short days. If given half a chance, we would jump at the opportunity to go again. We’re ready to return. Anytime!