June 2012 Archives

in outside interests |


Hot on the heels of olympics tickets are the paralympics tickets, which were delivered today. I have day passes for the olympic park and excel, for events such as wheelchair rugby, wheelchair tennis, football, fencing, basketball, volleyball and boccia. I’ve always been interested in the paralympics, and these events I am looking forward to attending.

in outside interests |


Olympics tickets are being sent to successful ticketholders. They tried delivering mine 2 weeks ago when I was in the US. I got an email about the non-delivery and went online to reschedule delivery, that’s one good thing I’ll say about locog (or rather, the royal mail). I have 8 tickets, all women’s diving: 2 each for the 3m springboard semi-final and final, and 4 for the 10m platform final. All of them very desirable events.

The Diamond Jubilee was really successful and set the scene for a great summer for the UK and London in particular. There are differences between the jubilee and olympics events though, and I’m not convinced that locog will run the olympics as well. First, there will be vastly more people in London. It’s less than a month, and I have yet to feel the excitement. The tickets come with free zone 1-9 travelcards, and that’s the first dread — the crowded and hot tube ride to Stratford. The sessions are 1-1.5hrs, and it takes me longer to get there.

Then all the rules in the spectator guide — can’t bring water, only one small soft-sided bag per person, get there 2 hours before your event is due to start, be prepared to go through security — sounds familiar? It’s like going to the airport and going through security theatre.

Don’t even get me started on the ticket sale fiasco. Anyway, I have tickets so I can’t complain. I should be grateful and treasure this olympics event. It’s going to take place in a city where I live. I’ll be able to sample the atmosphere and explore the olympics park. I have some great tickets. The best thing is, mm will be here with me. Get those union jack bunting out, dust off the union jack hat, get ready for the olympics.

in arts and media |

I saw Les Miz a couple of times in the early 1990s in London, it was a huge hit then. It is still a huge hit. Earlier in May, there was a theatre offer where tickets for London shows were offered at big discounts, RM and I managed to get mid-stalls for £40. It’s the first time I’d seen Les Miz at its new home at the Queen’s Theatre on Shaftesbury Ave, it is smaller than the Palace, but it’s still a huge hit.

The storyline, the music, and spectacle have all been well documented. I had forgotten quite a few of the songs, so I watched the 10th anniversary concert on youtube beforehand. Oh yes, I had forgotten. There were so many opportunities for solos, everyone on the stage could shine. Geronimo Raunch from Argentina was wonderful as Valjean, but it is always the Javerts that steal the show, and tonight it was Tam Mutu. Samantha Dorsey is making her professional debut as Cosette, I think she needs more experience. Craig Mather as Marius, well he did Michael Ball proud

So many favourite songs. The one that always bring misty eye is Empty Chairs Empty Tables. This video is Michael Ball and Alfie Boe singing, ignore the scenes with Nick Jonas.

in being healthy |

5.01km 35.03min 6.59min/km (11.16min/mi)

Alright, back to running. Have just under 2 weeks to get back to shape for the British 10k on 8 July and corporate challenge on 11 July. Yes, hardly any running and no races since April and 2 races in a week. Luckily they are short races.

The track is still blocked off, so it’s running around the rest of the park. Cloudy and muggy day, there were a lot of buggies and just a few dogs. The cricket pitch is fenced off, against dogs I think, a wonderful thing.

Not caring about the time, need to get stamina and energy back up to an acceptable level.

in how the day went |


The day after 2 weeks’ holiday = chores. The workers in the basement woke me up at 8am, it’s okay I have plenty to do today:

  • vacuum
  • filing
  • fruit and veg shopping — no meat yet, need to clear out freezer
  • upload kentucky pics — 338 pics here
  • check lease and get prepared
  • other general cleaning

At least no laundry yet, can wait till the end of the week. Luckily there’s time for reading and watching a bit of Wimbledon.

in going places |

I left at 5am, earlier than I needed, just in case there were delays in traffic and in returning the car. You never know. I took the tollway I-294 and it was surprisingly busy so early, lots of crazy fast cars and trucks. Returning the car was straightforward and I also managed to catch the Hertz shuttle to the terminal. My suitcase ended up at 57lbs, almost 26kg, and I had to transfer some stuff to my backpack because they only allowed 52lbs. Lucky that I have both my backpack and trolley as carryon items.

I did pay an extra £36 for an exit row seat. While it bristles that airlines are nickel and diming us, and making extra money off us, I can’t help feeling that the £36 was money well spent. I had something like double the legroom of an ordinary economy class seat and didn’t disturb my neighbour when I went in and out of my seat.

Food was okay, nothing special. The first meal we had, breakfast, came with a packet of snacks (biscuits, dried fruit) in a narrow cardboard container that fit perfectly in the seat pocket, wonder if it’s on purpose. One thing about American, they give you the whole can of diet coke instead of a tiny amount over ice in a glass.

We were only 5-ish minutes late arriving, even though it was pretty late, almost 11pm. Long, long walk to immigration and a short wait at the baggage carousel. The duty free shop had closed by the time I exited. I had already booked a minicab, and I spotted the card with my name quickly. At this late hour the drive home was quick. £30 plus parking is pretty good for the minicab.

Showered and unpacked. Could have waited till tomorrow to unpack but I usually can’t wait. Bedtime.

in random words |


And the sunday before I go home was spent reading Taken by Surprise by Kenna White, who I sat with for a couple of lunches at GCLS. I wish I had more opportunity to get to know her better. This book won the lambda literary awards this year, it was a lovely romance. Just enough angst and again, a great supporting cast. The setting was Aspen, and who wouldn’t want to be in a romance set against the mountains of Aspen? Sigh.

in random words |


I spent the saturday before I go home reading Rhapsody by KG MacGregor, here’s an excerpt. To think that just a week ago I had the honour of singing karaoke with KG at the GCLS conference, as part of her “Greasers” 50s group. These writers are so accessible.

It was not a question, I had to finish the book in one day because I wouldn’t have been able to sleep if I hadn’t. It is truly excellent work, deep and subtle, with realistic, believable characters that we want to get to know better. Love the ensemble nature of the characters too, and also the PG rating. I couldn’t help but think about the characters’ future and I see a lot of love and happiness. I think eventually, one of them will say “it’s time,” and it will be time.

in eating and drinking |


Started the day at 8am for the drive back to Chicago. An uneventful drive until I got to the I-80 and all the traffic and aggressive trucks. There’s something about Chicago that brings out the crazy in drivers. Gained back an hour to unload and see if my purchases fit into the suitcase. Then drove downtown, again having to negotiate crazy drivers on the Ryan and the huge traffic ham on the Kennedy. All so that I can go back to my old haunts to meet up with ex-colleagues. The office was pretty empty, people keep leaving. I got to see the people I wanted to though.

My two ex-colleague friends, L and E, took me to Maude’s liquor bar at Randulph and Halsted, where all the trendy places are located. A small plates type of French restaurant, we shared a chopped salmon carpaccio starter and at L’s recommendation I had the foie gras pâté with sour cherry jam and sourdough toast. Very, very rich. A small portion, but I was stuffed very quickly and couldn’t finish all the bread. We shared a bottle of white wine and caught up with gossip.

Not wanting the evening to end, we headed over to Isabella’s, a favourite of ours for a cosmopolitan. Then it was time to head back. It was nice to see them again. It’s sad, I’m not sure when if I’ll get a chance to return to Chicago in the next few years. Sigh.

in going places |

makers mark bridge booker noe at jim beam

Woke up at 6am, had breakfast (plain waffle today), checked out and was on the road before 7.30am. I’d planned the day last night with military precision, and I needed the early start. The destination was Barton distillery at Bardstown, an hour away. I hadn’t heard of them at all, and they’re not on the official trail, but I saw a leaflet and I was able to work them into the day.

Barton is actually owned by Buffalo Trace and has a huge, huge, huge site. BT bought it not for the distillery but for the warehouses (a new one will cost $2m to build) and the bottling plant. They were bottling tequila and other stuff today, it was a big operation. The bourbon wasn’t bad either. Oh, backup, they had the only 9am tour and there were only 2 of us on that tour — a girl from London who is living in New York and is taking a 3 week drive across the country to Alberqueque for a wedding. Imagine meeting another Londoner all the way in the deep south, heh. In a typically British way we chatted very amicably but did not exchange personal details, nor did we “promise” to keep in touch. It’s just not done.

Only 5 miles and 10 mins away is Heaven Hill. Unfortunately their tour was due to start at 11.10am, 10 mins later than the advertised time and I was under time pressure. This was the one distillery were I wasn’t sure if I could stay, and it turned out that I only had the chance to browse around the shop and get my passport stamped. Ah well.

Another 45 mins drive and I was at Makers Mark. A very slick operation indeed. Not in production, and a tour group that numbered at least 30 people. Tasted 4 varieties: their new make spirit, aka white dog; normal Makers Mark; an over-matured expression to show how it didn’t work; and Makers 46, which I bought a couple of years ago at ORD when it first came out. Very smooth, very nice. Bought a souvenir glass with their signature wax detail.

There was time for lunch. Everything is in the middle of nowhere, and it was perfect timing and location to lunch at the café at Makers. Pulled pork sandwich was pretty standard, nothing special but it filled me up. Interestingly in the café were a bunch of Japanese people having a casual meeting with obviously people from the distillery. The Japanese contingent presented them with a bottle of Hibiki. Not sure if the bourbon people quite understand that this is one of the best single malts in the world, they did seem a bit unsure. I think they were talking about business partnerships, I wish I could eavesdrop more, but it was time to go.

Doubled back to Bardstown and further to Jim Beam. They don’t have a production tour, just a demostration model of the stills and tuns. Did go into the warehouse though. Got to try their double aged black label and one of their small batch labels, Bakers. Wow, their small batch labels are absolutely fantastic. I’ve already tried Bookers, Basil Hayden’s and Knob Creek. Bakers complete the series and I can say I totally love all of them.

The only large bottle I bought on this trip was the bourbon cream at Buffalo Trace. I have a few miniatures, it’s the only way I can fit everything in my suitcase. Sigh. I have a glass from each of the distilleries, and I’m very pleased with my souvenirs.

Tonight I’m at Clarksville IN, just north of Louisville. I looked at hotels last night, and I guess I could have reserved one even further north along the I-65. As it was, there was a big delay on the highway because of a couple of accidents and broken down vehicles, so I’m glad I didn’t have far to drive. Another Best Western. Had a sizzling steak and a margarita at the Mexican restaurant opposite the hotel and I’m back in my room watching food network, reading and messaging mm. Back to Chicago tomorrow.

in going places |

woodford reserve

The hotel has breakfast included, I made blueberry waffle and tea from their hot water. Set off on the longest day of the year to my first stop, Woodford Reserve. About 15 mins away, and I was parked and in their visitor’s center in no time. Beautiful grounds. They charge $7 for the tour, the only one that charges on the bourbon trail. For this we got an hour long, detailed tour. And technology, we had these spiffy earphones and the guide had a mike, so no problem hearing him even in the noisy distillery. They only make one product, and we got a nice shot glass to take away with us too. Since I’m driving, I only had a tiny sip and then took the rest with me to the car.

The second stop, about 25 mins away, Wild Turkey. Hahaha, the same people are on the tour!! The distillery is huge, and I got to taste 4 different spirits: wild turkey 101, kentucky spirit, russell reserve 10 year and this fabulous liqueur called American honey. The car is filling up with samples in shot glasses for enjoyment later, can’t wait.

Wild Turkey gave us directions to a nearby bakery for lunch, I had a reuben sandwich. Nice. Then onto the final distillery for today, Four Roses. I’d never heard of this brand before, apparently it’s the best selling bourbon in Japan and there are 2 Japan export only expressions. Interesting, I must look out for it when I’m next in Japan. The distillery wasn’t in production so we just briefly toured the premises. There were 3 tastings: standard yellow label, small batch and single barrel. I got a miniature bottle of single barrel for souvenir.

Dinner was at the Cattleman steakhouse near the hotel. Now I know why Americans are so wedded to their cars. It’s a 5-10 min walk from the hotel to the restaurant, which in any other part of the world I’d happily walk. The problem is that here, there is no pavement and I would have had to cross a busy 8 lane highway that makes no allowance for pedestrians. Argh. I couldn’t finish the steak, only 11oz. Either it’s the heat or the salad bar I had as starter I don’t know. I did take it away and finished it at the hotel later while I sipped the rest of the whiskey samples I’d saved earlier.

Booked tomorrow night’s hotel, planned tomorrow’s schedule and did laundry. I discovered another distillery, Barton that isn’t on the trail but also worth visiting so I have to plan the day almost to the minute. Let’s see how it goes.

in going places |

buffalotrace00casks buffalotrace00warehouse

I have a extra week in the US after the con, and I decided that I really needed to do something so as not to waste the airfare. So I did research and internet booking yesterday. This morning I picked up the rental car at 8am and started the drive to Kentucky. Yep, going on the bourbon trail.

Google maps said 6 hours to the hotel at Frankfort, and it was pretty correct. I stopped at a McDonalds outside Louisville for a quick lunch. By the time I approached Frankfort it was around 2pm, which turned into 3pm because of the time change. 10 miles before the supposed exit for the hotel there was a sign for Buffalo Trace distillery so I followed it — it was in the plan to go to Buffalo Trace today so I just reversed the schedule. Correct decision given that I hadn’t realised I lost an hour.

I’d missed the beginning of the tour, but managed to join when the group visited the warehouse and the bottling plant. My first impression of the distillery is how huge it is! The warehouse alone is 9 storeys high, and where a barrel is housed will make the bourbon. Those higher up will mature quicker in the hot Kentucky weather; those in the lower floors are the premium bourbon. Then we were at the bottling plant, where a small group of workers were hand bottling Blanton’s. Even the wax and stickers were done manually. We got a small taste, a choice between Eagle Rare and Buffalo Trace. I picked the Eagle Rare but only had a tiny sip. The second glass was bourbon cream, the bourbon version of Bailey’s. Our guide taught us how to enjoy it with root beer and bourbon chocolate. Yummy!

Checked into the Best Western Park Inn at Frankfort, a nice clean standard room. It was only 5.30pm so I drove to downtown Frankfort. Most shops were closed, with the exception of a bookstore, a café, a craft shop and a few bars. I had pizza from home so I just went to CVS to buy iced tea and a beer. Also bought a few bottles of miniatures for souvenir. Time to watch tv and plan tomorrow’s visits.

in going places |

Plotting and planning 2 trips at the same time. Bourbon trail for the next 4 days — rental car, hotel, route planning and map printing, trying to get the best deal at short notice. Then finalising the Provence hotel with mm. An exhausting day that I spent sitting in the same chair for hours.

in going places |

The last day of the con consists of saying good-byes and having brunch. It’s been a good event, well organised and smooth. Everyone is looking forward to the next one. All of a sudden though, I just wanted to go home. Home as in where my stuff is. I’d had enough socialising for this week, this month. I worked myself up to a weird state of mind, and was quiet all the way back on the drive to Chicago. I have to figure out what to do for the next week.

in going places , random words |

Keynote speaker this year was Jewelle Gomez and I really have to put my hand up to admit to absolutely having no idea who she is. Her speech was great though, and there was a lot of history and thanks we owe her for paving the way. The membership meeting followed and this year it wasn’t as contentious, the board did a great job for this con and after a few years together things have settled down. Finances look to be in good shape too, to everyone’s relief.

After lunch I went to part 1 of a talk on writing mysteries. Main lession learned, every suspicious character must have a secret. And the difference between a mystery and a thriller: in a mystery the crime has already taken place and it’s the detective’s job to solve it; a thriller is more often than not a race against time to stop the crime. The final session was a well attended one on romances. A and I were doing laundry so we were in and out. The silent auction also finished and I got outbid on Lee’s leather jacket, I don’t have room in my suitcase anyway.

Big break in between. Rested. Went to the bar. Went to DQ for dinner and then got dressed for the awards. I had a union jack tie, sneakers and big floppy hat, it seemed to have been a hit. The awards were fantastic and I couldn’t clap enough for the winners. The dance followed, and this is the part of the con I usually enjoy least. I had a beer, congratulated the winners, had a few pics taken and disappeared up to the room while everyone was still dancing.

in going places , random words |


The day started with a tribute to Barbara Grier, truly a pioneer. I must admit that I didn’t know a lot about her until she passed away, and how everyone who met her had something wonderful to say, how she made a giant impact and would forever be remembered.

The author auction followed, and raised $3,400+. Lunch was sandwiches again. After lunch a few of us went to the Mall of America, target was Best Buy. We split up and I went over to look at the kindle fire stuff, ending up buying a case and protective screen. Back to the con and I then attended a session on series and sequels, a panel that included 3 authors with ongoing series as well as an editor. Lots of pertinent information and great discussion. The final session I attended was on soldiers and spies, I wasn’t there for the full session, wanting to rest a little. I didn’t have anything for the authors to sign at the author autograph session (ebooks now) but I still went to enjoy the atmosphere.

Dinner was at TGI Friday’s. I have to say how much I love the location of this year’s con. The hotel rooms and the conference rooms are in the same tower, making hopping back to the room a mere lift ride away. Within walking distance of the hotel there are: subway, burger king, DQ and Friday’s. No more having to go to Disney to have expensive food. I had a steak with 2 vegetable sides, then a bourbon shake which I could only partially finish.

Back to the hotel room to change for the karaoke. Someone had suggested 50s night as a theme, so I brought a black shirt, the leather jacket and converse hi tops. Pol did a wonderful job with my hair and with my sunglasses on it was a tai chi moment. Our group gained the nickname of the greasers, under the leadership of head greaser KG. Sang a few group songs, including “I feel pretty” in tribute to one of our members who passed away a couple of years ago. Didn’t stay till the end, left at around 11.30pm.

in going places , random words |

bid start teddy bear picnic

Up at 7.30am, made proper tea (both A and I brought our own tea bags, knowing the state of the tea in the US) then down to the coffee shop to get a croissant to prepare for the first session. The President of the GCLS said a few words, then turned it over to 3 illustrious local members for tips on where to go in the Twin Cities.

I went back up to the room to skype mm about Provence hotels so missed the start of the first breakout session. I didn’t want to interrupt ongoing sessions, the one that didn’t seem like I’d disrupt was the one with newbies, aka the con virgins. Didn’t participate, as it’s already my 4th year. There are something like 24, 25 newbies this year, wow. After the break I went to a session about keeping the audiences at the edge of their seats. I learned that the tricks included: go quick, go slow, build fear and never kill the main character!

By then the silent auction had officially begun, the items were nicely laid out. Aside from the chocolate shoe and whiskey, I had a bunch of stuff from the UK that I grouped into a teddy bear picnic: a teddy bear, Jamie’s newest cookbook, cadbury’s chocolate, hobnobs, PG tips, a brolly, a picnic mat and a couple of bottles of Magners (and glasses). I hope the bidding goes high.

Lunch was sandwiches provided by the con, this is a new perk and is really appreciated. Roast beef sandwich, chips, cookie, yogurt and an apple. After lunch I went to a session on writing dialogue. Started with a writing blast where in 10 mins us the students wrote about our experiences during momentous events like JFK assassination and 9/11. Some people read theirs out loud, they were all great and very personal. The speaker was great and informative and I learned a lot. I didn’t go to the second half, opting for one of the sessions I was looking forward to, of first time published writers talking about their book(s) and how they came to being published. I must say, inspirational stuff.

4.30pm now. We did laundry and I continued research on Provence hotel. We have 6 responses and I was able to eliminate 4 because of price, location or reviews that aren’t as good. 6pm I went down to the bar to meet up with friends. Had a blue moon and 2 new bourbons: Basil Hayden and Booker’s. RM wanted me to try and get Booker’s for him but I did not like it. No nose until I added water when it opened up a little. Far too spicy and difficult to drink I couldn’t even finish it, ugh. Had a grilled vegetables flatbread pizza too that was quite good.

Then it was back to the room to change into swimming things for the hot tub party. It was just a bunch of us sitting in the jacuzzi chatting. I met some new people and new friends, it was great. Back at a decent hour and to prepare for the second day tomorrow.

p.s. chocolate shoe bid at $40.

in eating and drinking , going places |

chocshoe06 chocshoe00

When I went to Brussels with A in April and did the chip’n’choc walk, we bought a chocolate shoe from Wittamer that we thought would be perfect to donate to the silent auction at GCLS. We had in mind several attendees who are very interested in shoes and chocolate, and we hope would gamely put in generous bids.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been posting teaser images of the shoe on facebook; basically I took pics at odd angles and photoshopped them. Been extremely pleased that a fair bit of buzz has been generated. We got to the con today and finally revealed the actual item. Hopefully it wasn’t a disappointment, from the reactions it would seem that there may be a potential bidding war. All in aid of the GCLS which is always a good thing.

in going places |

image courtesy flickr user fabrice terrasson

Both mm and I have been doing research on Provence, and the conclusion is to take the train because flight schedules are not useful. The only flight to Avignon is from LCY at 4.30pm, that’s a whole day wasted. Flights to Marseille are either early in the morning (BA has one at 6.40am) or get there late afternoon; by the time we pick up the car and drive to Avignon it’s dinner time.

The train routing we are thinking of is to take the Eurostar early (but the advantage of Eurostar is check in 30mins before not 2hrs), with a change at Paris from Gare du Nord to Gare de Lyon to Avignon. Pick up a rental car and that’s it. Return to Paris, stay a couple of nights then back via Eurostar.

I sent of a bunch of hotel enquiries for the Vaucluse region and around Avignon, having decided against Avignon city centre in favour of the more rustic and charming hotels in the countryside. We’ll have a car, it’ll be even better to stay outside the city.

in techtalk |

About a month ago I saw that amazon was selling refurbished kindle fires for $139. I was slightly tempted when the fire first came out, but decided to wait for a new ipad instead. But lately I’ve been wanting to replace my very old (in tech terms) Sony ereader and was thinking of getting a kindle. The fire isn’t available in the UK, and the $139 price tag finally did me in.

Okay, okay. I just wanted another new toy.

It’s been sitting in Car’s house for a month, and I took it out to charge and play today. It’s a refurbished model, but it came in a box and everything was nicely packaged. To be honest, it felt brand new. Probably someone bought it and returned it. It was pre-registered to my account, and to all intents and purposes is new.

It’s heavier than the regular kindle and the ereader, which kind of defeats the purpose. But it doubles up as a tablet with basic apps, so it bridges the gap between the iphone and the mba, that should eventually be plugged by the ipad, may be. In the meantime I moved all my ebooks over via calibre and downloaded the music I bought on amazon. Nothing too fancy yet. Only bought one app, an office app that was reduced to 99c from $14.99 — may be a new version is coming out, but I don’t mind an older version. It would have been great to get existing iphone apps free, I really don’t want to pay for angry birds all over again.

First impression? Pretty cool. Scrolling is quite a bit slower than the iphone or ipad. A HUGE improvement in reading experience compared with the Sony — it’s not e-ink but I’m not bothered by the screen display. Initial complaints — I hate the carousel, that it saves everything I open; I’m the sort of person who doesn’t save browsing history and is very tight on controlling cookies. The second complaint is that sideloading from calibre loads into the documents folder and have to be moved to the books folder manually. There is also no ability to create sub-folders for different types of books, sorting alphabetically is not practical for a large library.

I’m pleased with it despite the initial reservations. it’ll be great for the trip.


in going places |

The flight was uneventful, watched the Iron Lady and Adele’s concert at the Royal Albert Hall. The food was okay. The guy sitting next to me spent the whole flight sleeping, so crawling out was difficult. Arrived almost half an hour early. Car picked me up from the airport and we were back at the house having pasta in no time. Yum.

Unpacked a bit, and then we went off to see Snow White and the Huntsman. Interesting film, a modern, darker, special-effects filled take on the familiar story. I was waiting for the dwarves to appear and I wasn’t disappointed.

Very hot. Over 30°CTwo days of rest then we’re off to the con. It’s good to be back in Chicago.

in going places |


I’ve been packed since Thursday, although the list was done a couple of weeks ago. Didn’t start focusing on this until I came home from Dublin. Checked in as soon as I hit the 24hr mark, cab is booked for 6.45am, everything is packed except the electronics. Travel starts tomorrow to Chicago and the annual GCLS conference.

in in the news |

It was 30°C a couple of weeks ago, I had to go out to buy a fan. And now it’s June. It should not be so cold I want to turn the heating back on. It shouldn’t be gale force winds outside.

in eating and drinking |


RM emailed me yesterday with the message that went something like, “ARGH OMG we forgot to pick up our whisky at heathrow!” What happened was that on Saturday we took advantage of the shop and pick up service, bought some whiskies from the duty free and would have picked them up when we came back to London. Whether it was because we had too many Guinness that day or it was late and we wanted to get home, neither of us remembered to pick up the shopping.

So we made it an outing today. I got a zipcar and we went to Chutney Mary’s for dinner, drove out to Heathrow and then I drove him home. It was very important that we retrieved our shopping. That bottle of Bunnahabhain 25yr is easily the most special bottle of whisky I own thus far. There’s also a bottle of Glengoyle Burntfoot in there too.

in eating and drinking |


This relatively new product scored 93 points in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible so I was curious to find Writers Tears when in Dublin. It’s a pot still blend that markets itself as a salute to the great Irish writers who drew inspiration from the water of life. People like James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw etc. The label has some words to the effect of

I traded my tomorrows to remain in yesterday
Whiskey tears are fallin’ here and each one cries her name

Now any fool would have thought that this was a poem from one of those esteemed Irish writers. But googling showed that it’s from a song by an American country singer I’ve never heard of. Again, just to show, marketing. That said, pretty nice whiskey, on the sweet side, mild/

in arts and media , in the news |

I’ve been catching up on the jubilee festivities. The pageant on Saturday was a bit boring to watch on iPlayer, but I watched the jubilee concert on Sunday in its entirety. Super production, very moving, all the performers, comedians and 600 support staff. Shows the world how it’s done, and I think I’m like a lot of people trying to avoid saying something like “Gary Barlow did a good job, take that!”

This is Sing, written by Barlow and Andrew Lloyd Weber and performed by the Commonwealth band/choir and the Military Wives. All (?definitely most) of the performers are not professionals, but their voices are simply magical. Beautiful song, beautiful performance.

in going places |


This morning was supposed to be a church going morning, but it wasn’t to be, to my disappointment. We walked to St Patrick’s Cathedral on a glorious sunny day, and I was looking forward to visiting it. Then we discovered that they charge €5.50 to go in. Yes, I understand the need to upkeep the place, but there’s something very jarring about having to pay to go into a church. I didn’t want to visit the crypt or exhibits or whatever they have there, I was looking forward to lighting a candle and saying a prayer inside. We didn’t go in, as a matter of principle. Same story at Christ church, they charged €6. Sigh. To add insult to injury, at Christ church there was a craft fair which was advertised as free entry. I mean, it’s about 8-10 stalls selling sweets, hot dogs and trinkets, it should be free to go into church grounds. Argh.


Our day drastically shortened, we headed to Temple Bar to soothe our sorrows, like generations before us. It’s interesting and confusing for first timers, Temple Bar is both a district and the name of a bar. It’s a large bar (600 capacity) and one of the most touristy on the strip. We sat at the bar and had a Smithwick’s. RM wanted Irish coffee but after watching the bartender make it with instant coffee, he decided against it.

We went to Grafton street again, the whole area on a bank holiday monday was full of people, and also runners taking part in the Women’s mini marathon 10k. Now it pains me a great deal to write marathon and 10k in one sentence, because a 10k is not a marathon. I hate how organisers include the word marathon in any old race. This wasn’t even a race from the looks of it, about 90% of people were in charity t-shirts and less than 10% look like they are runners. A fun walk, more like. Anyway, we got to Butler’s and got hot chocolate, that was very nice.

Whiskey shopping and back to the hotel to repack. Got the coach back to the airport, which was almost completely devoid of people. Uneventful flight back. The bus stop outside Paddington was closed because of roadworks so I had to walk all the way almost to Waitrose, it was late before I got home.

in going places |

dub123jjbar dub121jjbar

A quick visit to Trinity College and the Book of Kells in the morning. Informative and impressive story of how the 9th century manuscript was produced. Such care and dedication to a manual process in those days. No photography allowed, which is the only downside to the visit.

Then a bit of a trek to the Old Jameson distillery. We didn’t go on the tour, having seen more than enough of whisky distillery processes, this one with animation and silent equipment just won’t hack it. We had lunch there, a quick one of smoked salmon sandwich and buffalo wings. Explored the shop and made our way to the ground floor bar. They have a tasting tray €22 for 4 expressions, but we were only interested in one. Instead, we did our own tasting tray of: Green Spot, Crested Ten, Jameson Limited Reserve 18yr and Redbreast cask strength. Yes, it came to more than the standard tray but we’d never tried any of these whiskies before.

dub287butchersteak dub292butchercheesecake

We were at Jameson longer than we thought, and walking back to the city centre it was time to go to dinner. I’d researched steakhouses beforehand and we made a reservation at the butcher grill at Ranelagh, 4 stops on the tram line. We had the 12oz 60-day dry aged sirloin that came with sides (greens and cauliflower were our choices). A fabulous house wine and very nice cheesecake later, we were extremely satisfied. It’s not exactly in the city centre but a few stops on the tram it’s completely worth it. Highly recommended.

It was still early when we got back to the hotel, so we went to the Palace Bar over at Temple Bar. Had something other than Guinness deliberately: half of Murphy’s and a bottle of O’Hara’s ale. Made friends with other patrons in the noisy bar and asked the bartender for whiskey recommendations. Got to try their own bottling, which we promptly purchased 2 bottles. When we got back to the hotel, we had additionally acquired a bottle of redbreast 12yr, there was about 3-4 drams left. We also had a small tasting from some of the miniatures we bought. There’s a lot of Irish whiskey I’d never heard of before, it’s a good learning experience.

in going places |


Went to Dublin over the jubilee weekend with RM. Flight was at noon, so no need to get up early, although I did miss the #36 bus and had to get another one, meaning I got the later Heathrow express. First time on Aer Lingus, and it was okay, short 1 hour flight only. Bus transfer to trinity capital hotel, which is located just around the corner from Trinity College, very convenient. It’s converted from a part of a fire station (the station is still operational next door) with quirky, Alice-in-Wonderland colour scheme decoration. Fun.

Got our directions to the tram stop and took the tram to the guinness storehouse, one of the primary aims of this trip. This publie part of the distillery has no working equipment, just a series of exhibits about how guinness is made. A lot of reading of posted words. Included in our ticket is a pint of guinness at the gravity, but the other option of using the voucher is way more fun. About 5-10mins of queuing only, and we were inducted into the guinness academy, where we learned how to properly pull a pint. A bit gimmicky, but still fun. When we did go to the gravity bar, we were so glad we did the pint pulling — the bar was just like any other noisy and crowded bar.


Weather was crap, we took the bus back to city centre and explored a little. Walked down the main shopping street Grafton Street to our dinner destination Thorntons, one of the few Michelin starred places in Dublin. We had the “surprise” tasting menu, 8 courses:

  • scallop with foam — quite nicely done
  • salmon three way — carpaccio, tartar, confit in broth — again quite nicely done although no surprise
  • foie gras in black truffle with white truffle powder — all about the decadence here, the white truffle powder was very strong
  • lobster claw and king prawn — very fresh
  • fillet of atlantic turbot with white asparagus — the best dish of the night, the turbot was perfectly cooked, fresh so fresh
  • loin of lamb — the main course was okay, the lamb pretty tasty
  • cashel blue cheese plate — from Tipperary where the chef hails from
  • strawberry parfait with strawberry and lemon verbena salad — good, cleansing dessert

With a bottle of gewurtz and a glass of red the meal came to over €300. The meal was marred by the attentive but rather snotty service, may be that’s because we didn’t dress up. And also for the first time in my life, I sent wine back. I was offered a glass of syrah that tasted so off, and as a substitute I opted for a chianti. The food was good and well prepared. Would we recommend it? Probably not.

When we got back to the hotel, we opened a bottle of the foreign extra guinness we bought at the storehouse, thinking it will be a nice drink to sip while watching tv. So wrong! It was so utterly strong and bitter that it took real effort to drink and finsh. Hahaha!

in in the news |

I wasn’t technically born British (slight complication with it being a British territory and not part of the UK proper) and didn’t acquire full citizenship till I was in my teens, but I’ve only known one Queen and she is celebrating her diamond jubilee. Setting aside the union jack plates, buntings and fairy liquids for sale, there is a real sense of pride and patriotism for someone who was never born to rule, but has done so with such dignity and poise for 60 years. God Save the Queen!


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