you raise me up

mm keeps sending me videos with a religious theme, I don’t click on all of them. This one I did. I googled it too, the song You Raise Me Up even though it sounds like a traditional Irish folk song was actually from 2002. The street performer was Martin Hurkens, who won Holland Got Talent in 2010.

hurkens

When I am down and, oh my soul, so weary
When troubles come and my heart burdened be
Then I am still and wait here in the silence
Until you come and sit awhile with me

You raise me up so I can stand on mountains
You raise me up to walk on stormy seas
I am strong when I am on your shoulders
You raise me up to more than I can be

It’s like Katherine Jenkins busking on the tube, even though it looks to be an official music video rather than something spontaneous.

cooking for the masses

The retirement home where mm volunteers is apparently looking for a cook. I’m guessing volunteer also. The requirements are cleanliness, know how to cook for 20+ people and other usual criteria. Of course mm wants me to start volunteering so she perhaps jokingly suggested that we should apply and show off our cooking skills.

I’m skeptical. I doubt the retired fathers and nuns there are used to my style of cooking. And I doubt there are suitable equipment; an oven is out of the question.

I got to thinking though, what if I am asked to cook for 20 elderly people. What will I cook? I’m sure there is a budget so only simple ingredients.

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My first instinct is chicken. A simple chicken cacciatore with pasta or healthy, no oil poached chicken with rice and vegetables. Both recipes use chicken breast, which is more expensive but easier to digest. Easy to adapt to boneless chicken thigh or drumstick.

sisuk107indian green curry vegetable

With many mouths to feed, a one-pot meal makes sense. May be curry, which can be made with chicken or vegetables. Or portugese chicken, which is chicken curry without the spiciness.

risottomushroom happynoodles01

For a more carb-heavy meal I could make risotto (aracini with leftovers) or that simple dish from the now defunct happy noodles: pork chop, sausages, fried egg with fried noodles. I don’t know if any of these recipes are scalable, I hope so.

frugal, cheap, careful

ikeaknife365

It started, innocuously enough, with an ikea knife. My everyday utility knife broke, after more than 10 years’ usage. It was just a simple serrated knife I got at a supermarket, nothing fancy, the initial intention was a disposable knife. I have other knives, including a fairly decent set. I was still on the lookout for a replacement, because this utility knife is the one I abuse and not worry about it breaking. We were strolling at Ikea and I saw their 365+ knife, a small paring knife sized which could work. It was priced at local $100, around US$13. May be it’s because I got used to smaller numbers in europe but the number 100 (actually I think it was 99) seemed large.

It’s a good price for an everyday knife, but for some reason I was baulking at the price. Then mm suggested that she’s noticed this in me for a while, that I’m looking more at prices and opting out of buying whereas before I wouldn’t even have thought about the price.

She has a hidden agenda, which isn’t really too hidden because she’s flat out told it to me more than once. She thinks I should go back to work and earn some money.

I have enough to live on. I think even enough to retire and live on income generated by my portfolio. I don’t want to go back to the stressful work environment. But have I become too careful with money? She says that she has noticed this trend lately that’s why she doesn’t suggest that we go out as often. May be. If asked, I generally say I prefer to stay in and cook rather than eat out. Is that because I don’t want to spend the money or is it because I don’t think restaurants serve good food? Debatable.

I don’t really understand her accusation (okay, may be too strong a word but I felt it wasn’t said in a positive way). We just travelled around Europe for a month. After I recorded everything, we spent around US$160 per person per day, excluding personal spending and gifts. Including all flights, trains, car rental, hotels, food and sights. That’s pretty good, and I don’t think it’s cheap at all.

I didn’t buy the knife. May be I will, after I compare prices and quality at other shops. I don’t think it means I’m changed because I have no income. I just want an everyday knife I can use for the next 10 years. Sometimes I get allocated emotions and actions by other people (mostly mm) when the actual emotion / action is so much simpler. Sigh.

vlm 2015 #handinhand #thankspaula

London Marathon on Sunday. 35th anniversary of the first one, how time flies. And I remember the two winners at the end crossing the finishing line together holding hands, even though I can’t remember their names. I’m annoyed that it, like most major races, has been hijacked by charities. I recognise the need for charitable giving but forcing people to cough up or raise thousands of pounds as a condition of entry is ridiculous.

I didn’t watch the livestream, so I’m browsing around people’s home videos and interviews. The biggest moments for me are those of Paula Radcliffe. Starting with club runners, the first female club finisher at 2:36:55. No one cared that much about her time. The story of how a running store ran out of women’s running shoes after her world record in 2003 is one example of how she inspired so many to run.

I hope against hope that marathons don’t become over-commercialised and too focused on charities. The argument is I could race in lower profile races. That’s true. I do still want to experience the crowd and buzz of London one day.

todo

todo

Two blocks of things to do. Trip-related stuff like data entry to the spreadsheet, sorting out pics, uploading pics, copying the posts over to the travel section. Then there are gcls-related tasks, not all of them need to be done right now of course.

Other todo items:

  • check cx miles expiry
  • UK tax return — why do I have to fill in a 2014/15 return?
  • get baking soda and vinegar to clear drain
  • get washing powder
  • get new ipad cover
  • check if m&s here has writers tears

Huh, should have gotten a bigger sheet of notepaper.

zero coke

teacokewater

A lot of people when they take part in monthly challenges or personal bucket lists include tasks like giving up smoking or giving up soft drinks. I didn’t, and I don’t do the lent giving up thing either.

I used to drink 2 cans of coke (diet or zero) a day, then I cut back to one. I fooled myself that because it’s zero calories, it’s better than regular coke. At the back of my mind, I know that diet drinks aren’t that much better than non-diet drinks, there’s a correlation between diet soda and belly fat, and soft drinks in general lead to increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and osteoporosis.

Time to give up.

We were in Italy 2 weeks, during which I had may be 3 coke zeroes total, because a) it was more expensive than wine so I got wine instead; b) served in small portions (200ml isn’t unusual) and c) mm was nagging at me. Now that I’m home, I’m back to my old bad habit of one a day. That said, I skipped it yesterday.

Most people are addicted to coke because of the caffeine hit and the fizz, and I don’t think I’m any different. I’m going to tackle it by getting my caffeine from tea and fizz from sparkling water. Or plain water. Not going to cut the coke entirely, will do it slowly. Every other day, then twice a week and so forth. Let’s see how it goes.

#45 kickboxing class

boxinggloves boxingring

Task #45 of 101.1001 is to take a tai chi, yoga or martial arts class. This is one of the ones carried over from the 2007 challenge. This time I was determined to sign up and attend at least one class. The opportunity came when Sis said to come with her to kickboxing class. That counts as a martial arts, right?

The gym looked pretty serious, with separate men’s and women’s sections separated by the reception area. There is a small changing room with showers. Sis had spare gloves for me but I had to get wrapping bandages for my hands and ankle protectors. The class was definitely a beginners’ class and it was more like using kickboxing moves in a cardio routine. Punching with or without gloves, kicking in the air or against the punchbag, squats, pushups, and combinations. The first part of the class was easy enough, and then the instructor started giving us more complex routines. Burpees combined with punching and kicking; crouching (as if to avoid an opponent) and crunches.

All in all, an intense workout. I got tired towards the end. Not sure if I’ll go again, perhaps. Some people like class exercises, I don’t. I prefer running and doing weights at home so I don’t need to be in the company of other people. Plus, I don’t see the point of paying so much for gym or kickboxing studio membership and class fees.

restart running

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5.0km 41.02min 8.12min/km

Went over to Sis’ to use the treadmill. Back to square one in terms of speed. Sigh. Looking back through my notes, the last run was on 16 March and I did 5k in 33.30min (6.41min/km). Argh.

Even though the second half of March was all walking, there was a lot of it and I ran a lot the first half. I managed to clock 95 miles for March. April, yuck. So dismal. I’ll be lucky to hit 40. Not a lot of time left, proper training starts in June and I have to get back in form during May.

#97 use more herbs & spices

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Task #97 of 101.1001 is to stop using as much salt and substitute with herbs &amp spices.

One of the biggest advantages of staying at an airbnb is home comforts like a kitchen. The flat we stayed in London had a nice kitchen with proper hob, oven and utensils. The downside is that you’re limited to what is already present, unless you buy or bring your own flavourings. I was making roast lamb shoulder. There were olive oil, salt and pepper. Although half a drawer was full of herbs & spices it was chilli, curry powder, star anise and the like. I could use them, of course, but what I really wanted was rosemary, which wasn’t available. I didn’t get any fresh sprigs when I bought the lamb, so I improvised with other dried and fresh ingredients.

I used some italian seasoning, s&p. The side dishes with the lamb were roasted fennel and asparagus. I finely chopped bits of fennel and asparagus offcuts, and used those as the fresh herbs.

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It’s definitely the quality of lamb, but I’m hoping the improvised seasoning helped too. The lamb was roasted to perfection and the side vegetables were really good.

#73 new restaurant london: dishoom

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Tasks #69-73 of 101.1001 are to try 5 new restaurants in 5 different cities. This is #5 of 5.

Our friend invited us to dishoom behind king’s cross for lunch. Our first impression was how the area had completely changed. Where it used to be dangerous and derelict, it’s now modern and stylish full of office buildings and fancy restaurants.

Dishoom’s theme is Indian street food. The restaurant’s decoration is a mix of old school colonial train station, gentrified godown and steampunk. Great atmosphere. There were a large number of small plates to share. We ordered chilli cheese toast, okra fries, calamari, lamb boti kabab, greens with a fabulous chilli & lime dressing, daal, naan and roti. Everything was delicious, we ordered extra lamb. For drinks I had a bhang lassi, which had mint, ginger, candied fennel and coconut milk.

The small plates were less than £6, the lamb less than £10 so pretty good for London prices. Lots of flavour, and different flavours too, to the usual curries and biryanis. Indian food has been described as Britain’s national dish, and if all Indian food were like Dishoom’s, then it’s not a surprise. Definitely worth returning. Repeatedly.

#72 new restaurant dublin: bear

eutrip059bearsteak

Tasks #69-73 of 101.1001 are to try 5 new restaurants in 5 different cities. This is #4 of 5.

We were in Dublin for my birthday and based on previous experience, I picked butcher grill in ranelagh and made a reservation a few weeks in advance. Don’t get me wrong, we enjoyed the oysters and côte de boeuf, even though the service was quite arms-length. We didn’t have a lot of time in Dublin and when I read about a new-ish restaurant specialising in less popular cuts of meat, I was afraid we wouldn’t have time to try it out.

As it happened, we made time to go to bear in south william street just west of grafton street. Having read that they didn’t take reservations for two, we went early and got a nice windowside table. There was a bar parallel to the front of the restaurant with the rest of the tables on a mezzanine behind. The wait staff, who were the poster boys & girls of hipserhood, were a little distracted preparing for guests but we’d just come from Italy so were in slow food mode.

Aside from the usual ribeye, sirloin, chicken and ribs they also had, as expected, some unusual steak like rosary cut, feather, bavette, flank and onglet. Well, actually I thought bavette and flank are the same, obviously not. I’ve cooked bavette before and liked the flavour. It was what the waiter suggested so we ordered that, to share. For sides we had cauliflower cheese and crispy kale.

Yes, the bavette was tougher than sirloin. I’d say it was even tougher than rump. It was quite lean and the grain more pronounced than on other steaks. With lesser chefs and lesser quality meat, it’d be more a stir-frying or stewing beef. For us, it was perfect. Bags of flavour and didn’t need any sauce. Slightly underseasoned, solved by a little s&p.

I was very good (or mm was an effective controller), didn’t have any wine or beer. That said, we’d been at tullamore dew earlier so I’d had a couple of whiskies already.

The steak was €40, with sides the bill came to €50, good value for steak dinner in a city centre. We’ve been talking about it since, and will be one of the first places to stop if we visit Dublin again.

#98: visit one of 101 wishlist travel places

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Task #98 of 101.1001 is to visit one of the 101 wishlist travel places defined in task #27. I managed to check off two from that list: assisi and tuscany on our europe trip.

Not going to repeat the travel reports, linking:
florence: day 06 | day 07 | day 09 | day 10 | day 11
siena: day 08
assisi: day 12 | day 13 | day 14 | day 15

There’s a reason why these places are on so many bucket lists. We spent almost a week in florence and 4 days in assisi and barely scratched the surface of what there was to see and experience. We also were very blessed with the people we met, and got to take part in palm sunday in assisi. We agreed that we could have stayed much, much longer. Weeks, months. Tuscany has everything: beautiful scenery, culture, food, a magical vibe. Assisi has the spirituality, and beautiful scenery too.

europe day 33: 285km 456,000 steps total

Technically today is still a travelling day so I’m calling it europe day 33. Fight was about 20mins early but the gain was completely wiped out by the slow-moving taxi queue. I had a lot with me—big suitcase, check-in backpack, hand luggage backpack, small bag with chocolates, duty free purchases. My major purchases were chocolate & snacks mostly for mum, tons of fridge magnets and 5 bottles of whisky. The heaviest were the whiskies at 6kg, I think I’ve done well to keep the weight manageable. I’m glad of mm’s silver status that gave us an extra 10kg.

Unpacked very slowly, then showered and did laundry. Another reason for airbnb: we did most of our laundry in London so our suitcases were mostly filled with clean clothes and I really only had 3/4 of a full load when I got home.

eutrip082pics

I’ll be jetlagged for a week or two while I work on post-trip stuff. Immediate concerns are to pay utilities and credit card bills. Trip spreadsheet is a matter of data entry and checking FX charged by credit cards. There are 3,267 images to sort and upload so this will take a while. I’m estimating around 1,500 when I’m done. At least we’ve had wifi throughout the trip so I’ve been able to post reports daily.

eutrip081mifit

The day before we set off, mm’s brother got us a simple fitness band and we have been tracking our steps and sleep all trip. We have to sync it to the mifit app, as there is no display on the tracker itself. According to mifit, I walked 285km at an average of 8.93km for 32 days; 456,276 steps average 14,259 per day. I read that the band may be 25% off, which may account for why mine would show 10,000+ steps while mm’s show 3,000. An average of 6.5km and 10,700 steps average per day seems more reasonable. There were days especially in Netherlands and Italy that we walked a lot; once we got to Ireland we had the car and in London we stayed in quite a lot.

europe day 32: fly home

taliskerdarkstorm

I’m never this inefficient with packing or getting going. We spent the morning lounging around and lunch eating the last of our foods—lamb shoulder, fennel, bagel, rocket, pepper, yogurt. We simply didn’t want the trip to end, and were reluctant to get going, sigh.

But all good trips come to an end. Minicab and train to heathrow, speedy check-in and we had loads of time to browse around the duty-free. Bought a Talisker Dark Storm, which we had the opportunity to try. £42.99 for 1l is good value. I had in mind getting the Balvenie triple cask 16 at the airport, but was more drawn towards the Talisker. It’s also a lot cheaper.

The plane wasn’t full but there was someone sitting in our row which was a bummer. Dinner was chicken with rice (average) and breakfast sausage and eggs (fraction better than chicken). Watched Hobbit 5 armies and Hunger Games Mockingjay part 1. Slept for about 2-3hrs, a little uncomfortably.

europe day 31: london last full day

eutrip075lamb eutrip076lamb

Today is the last full day of our trip. Sad, sad, sad. In a way we are both happy to be going home; but we also don’t want the trip to end.

The plan today was to have not a lot of plan. For lunch I made the lamb shoulder we were going to cook yesterday but were too full. Plus roasted fennel and asparagus. There were salt, pepper and italian seasoning at the flat but the garlic on the shelf was too dry. I used bits of fennel and asparagus to add flavour to the lamb. It worked out very very good, may be needed 2 more minutes of cooking, but we like rare to medium rare. Served on this long wooden board, just like Jamie.

No plans, except to walk around. Walked down Kilburn High Road through Paddington Rec to Little Venice. My home grounds. I can’t help it, I gravitate towards Maida Vale whenever I can. It’s in my bones.

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We skipped the cafés at Warwick Avenue and the canal boat waterside café. It started to drizzle and get cold so we stopped at an aussie café along the canal for tea and cake. Afterwards we headed towards m&s—ended up buying a whole lot of stuff. Bus back towards Kilburn, bought more stuff for dinner and to bring back. We don’t have a huge baggage allowance and we’d been careful about what we packed and bought. There’s still space for important stuff like whisky, cereal, tea bags and even a couple of bags of kale.

europe day 30: london

After dropping off the rental car we ended up sitting at a pub drinking tea and coffee for 2 hours. Mostly I listened while mm talked. We compared our favourite highlights of the trip—I gave short descriptions and she mostly stuck with long speeches.

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Lunch was at comptoir libanais at St Christopher’s Place. A semi-chain (like Leon and Carlucci’s I suppose) of casual Lebanese food in a colourful and cheerful restaurant. We had grilled halloumi and hummous to start, followed by a lamb tagine and lamb fattet. Originally I wanted to go to (pun intended) Orignal Tagines behind Edgware Road but I found out that it’s closed. We liked this new discovery, yes the tagine wasn’t as original or flavoursome—the lamb was cooked separately then spooned onto couscous—the couscous was still good. It was the first time we tried fattet—a layered dish with minced lamb, pita bread, pomegranate seeds and tahini yogurt. Quite filling.

Walked around Oxford Street a little, mainly at John Lewis. Admired the new routemasters that had a door at the back. When there is a conductor they remained open like the old style, but with only the driver the doors closed like a regular bus.

Went to Borough Market for a stroll to discover the layout had changed. Seemed larger with more corridor and walking space. The real destination was whisky exchange to buy that bottle of Ardbeg Supernova I saw the other day. Apparently it’s a committee release which supposedly made it even more special. We also discovered that a bottle of Mortlach 16, which I bought for £45 in Edinburgh 3 years ago, is now retailing for £95. And I was thinking of opening my bottle. I’m now going to put in safely back on the shelves.

europe day 29: cotswolds, bicester

eutrip071bibury

Destination today was Bibury in the Cotswolds. We drove out to Cheltenham and Gloucester occasionally when we were living in London, and mm saw some pictures on fb about a village near Cheltenham called Bibury. Looked very idyllic and beautiful. Rented a car today from a slow and inefficient Hertz office and drove out on the A40 and M40—home turf.

Bibury was further than I thought, and it’s 8 miles off the A40 when I thought from google maps that it’s right on top. We parked at a quiet street and walked around the church and green. Had a picnic lunch of drumsticks, hard-boiled eggs and red peppers. Walked further to the picturesque part of the village. No wonder the Cotswolds attracts so many visitors. Definitely befitting the area being designated an area of outstanding beauty.

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There was a small river full of trout and ducks. A few bridges. And rows of houses made with Cotswold stone. We walked as far as the Swan Hotel, crossed the bridge and had a tea/coffee at the trout farm.

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The other side of the village, where the church is, is quieter. The church was pretty, with old tombstones in its graveyard. The village was extremely beautiful, yet it felt cold and the locals weren’t very friendly. Even for a weekday, there were quite a few tourists, including a couple of coachloads. Can imagine how busy and crowded it can get during weekends. There were quite a few houses for sale, but we weren’t tempted. Location is a bit in the middle of nowhere, there are virtually no shops and the place is crawling with tourists. Imagine dozens of people taking selfies in front of your garden or even at your windows. Sigh.

From Bibury it was a quick drive to Bicester Village. My sole purpose there was as a sidekick who nodded and helped pick out colours as mm did shopping. She bought a bag, a pair of shoes and a whole bag full of L’Occitane stuff. After the outlet village naturally we went to the Tesco next door. Bought veg, soup, crisps and a half shoulder of lamb for tomorrow—the plan is to return the car, walk around leisurely then come back to make dinner.

europe day 28: london meeting friends

eutrip069dishoom

A day of meeting friends in London. Lunch with our friend CC at dishoom behind King’s Cross. The area had definitely gone through a lot of changes, now full of trendy restaurants and shops. Dishoom is an Indian small street food place that is pretty authentic. A mix of modern and Indian railway/godown type decorations. We had a few shared small plates—lamb kebab, fried okra, calamari, daal, naan, roti and the like.

I left mm with our friend and went off to meet my own friends. Met my ex-intern SM at Waterloo and did a tour of the pubs around the Old Vic. He is still working at my ex-ex-ex company and also had some good news to share with me on the family and house front and we had a fantastic chat. It was as if time hadn’t passed.

Dinner was with my friends JE and TH, more great conversation. We shared a 1.1kg prime rib plus sides at Hawksmoor. It was absolutely lovely to see friends, share recent news, and talk about future plans. Hopefully I’ll get to see them in the near future.

europe day 27: london camden, whisky exchange

Today is the second sunday of easter, or the sunday of divine mercy and mm wanted to go to this church in Camden town. It’s a nice small parish church where most of the attendees seemed to know each other. Good mass.

Lunch was my pick and I opted for…Nando’s. Hmmm. Remember when mum and I went to Vancouver and we had Nando’s, it’s the same situation. We had a sharing platter with 4 pieces of chicken and 4 sides. Unlimited soft drinks so I broke my coke zero semi-fast and had many, many glasses.

Camden on a Sunday was crowded. We walked through a part of the market then headed towards the tube station, our destination was London Bridge for The Whisky Exchange. We got there after 3pm so Borough Market itself was closed.

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The nice people at TWE gave us samples from their bottle-your-own casks—craggenmore, ledaig, arras. Got talking to Duncan Ross, one of the assistant managers there and a fountain of knowledge. He gave us a small sampling of Karuizawa 30yr sherry cask. Wow, wow, wow!! I saw a bottle of Ardbeg Supernova on the shelf and was this close to snapping it up, without concern to how much my suitcase will weigh. Logic prevailed, we’ll see about our total weight first.

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Dinner back at the flat: tomato basil soup with added kale, fresh toscana bread from whole foods, proscuitto from Rome. Laundry and relaxation.

europe day 26: london

A day of errands. The most important task today, and one of the most important of the entire trip, was to renew our passports. Annoyingly, the process of passport renewals got moved back to the UK, so those of us who live overseas have to send our old passports through the mail and wait 6 weeks—some people report the wait is more like 10-12 weeks. Personally I simply don’t have a 12 week window this year that I won’t need my passport, so we take the opportunity of us being in the UK to go for the one day service. I hate, hate, hate having to pay 75% extra over the already extortionate passport fee. Don’t have much of a choice really.

There was also a palava about the passport photo. Again another price gouging exercise. Anyway, we got our application in the morning and our passports were ready for collection in the afternoon. One thing off our minds.

By lunchtime we were hungry. Had rough plans to go to tkts at Leicester Square to check out musicals, so lunch in the West End made sense. We debated between pub food, roast duck noodles or dim sum. When we got off the bus, my feet automatically made their way to Air Street where a dark wooden door had a simple sign above: Hawksmoor. Hahaha, our excuse was we couldn’t figure out where to eat in Central London so we had to find somewhere, anywhere.

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The Air Street branch opened after I left so this was my first time. Liking the first floor location, sunlight helps. The place is also bigger and the tables not so squeezed together. We both opted for the express menu. £24 for 2 courses. To start, potted beef with yorkshires and onion jam. Unusual combination, the potted beef was scrumptious and the yorkies puffed and huge. For mains we had rump steak with baked sweet potato and buttered greens. The steak was a little overcooked so wasn’t perfect. I looked at the wine list, cocktail list and decided on a Rittenhouse Rye. The first time I tried this was at Seven Dials and the bartender there recommended it to me.

Nothing interesting or discounted at tkts so we trekked back to Victoria to get our passports. Back to our airbnb home. It was like going home, in a way. I used to do a lot of grocery shopping at Kilburn High Road too. We hit the shops we needed to get everything we wanted: poundland, superdrug, sainsbury’s, m&s.

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Bought biscuits, chocolate, crisps, popcorn, cereal, yogurt, fruit, juice, tea bags, veg, chicken drumsticks, mini scotch eggs, soup, eggs and a bottle of wine. We went a little crazy, we’re only in London a week, wonder if we can finish everything. Dinner was tomato and bean soup with added kale plus a bagel. Great to have a kitchen. We’ve been trying to keep to this one meal out and one meal at our retreat house / hotel / airbnb throughout the trip. It was also very important that the flat had a washing machine as we were both in dire need to do laundry. We did some handwashing in Assisi and Rome but anything larger than a t-shirt hadn’t been washed since Florence. Did one load, will probably need 2 more loads before we leave.

europe day 25: dublin to london

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We had half a day in Dublin, so we took a stroll north of the Liffey, crossing the Ha’penny Bridge to the O’Connell and Henry Streets area. Another pedestrianised area with familiar shops. Bought a few more last minute souvenirs. Lunch at Brick Alley café at Temple Bar, back to the €8.95 special—shepherd’s pie, lentil soup and ice cream. Good value, homemade and tasty. This is the other good thing about Ireland—familiar shops, familiar foods, cheaper prices.

Returning the rental car was weird. The person took our keys, checked the car, mileage and fuel. Normally at this point, they’d use a handheld machine to print my receipt, but here at Dublin airport it involved going into the office. Long queue. I never had to queue to return a car. Not very efficient.

Queues at check-in and security too, but we allowed plenty of time. We definitely needed the cushion in order to browse the irish whiskey selection at the airport. Initially my plan was to get the Tullamore DEW 10 year that we tried yesterday. We ended up getting this one, and in talking to the informative guy there, also bought the Tullamore DEW Phoenix special release as well as a Bushmills 16. We have to figure out how to pack all these bottles on the way home.

Early dinner at the airport, shared a beef and guinness pie. I couldn’t resist, I had to get a pint of guinness. It simply won’t do, to spend 4 days in Ireland without tasting a drop of the good stuff. The pie was decent for airport food.

Our flight was about 30mins late coming into heathrow, quite a significant delay considering flight time was just over 1 hour. It was the third time this trip that we landed at heathrow and today we finally made it out of the terminals. From Paddington we took a taxi to the airbnb flat we rented in Kilburn. The host’s cleaning lady was still there, so we had to sit around while she finished.

The flat is a one-bedroom that looks like it’s someone’s home instead of those professional rentals that have infiltrated airbnb. Homely furniture and charmingly decorated. Funny thing is, many things don’t work properly, just like in someone’s home. One of the blinds in the living room fell down, the dishwasher is broken, some of the storage doors don’t close properly, the shower handle comes out when touched. We weren’t looking for anything slick, so this homely place works for us. During this trip we stayed at different types of accommodation, from retreat houses to hotels to airbnb to staying at friends’ home. I think at the end of this trip I can write articles on different types of travel accommodation and how to manage 1 month’s travel on 20kg luggage.

europe day 24: cork to tullamore to dublin

eutrip057tullamore

Checked out of hotel and were on our way at 10.30am. The destination was Tullamore D.E.W. distillery visitor centre. When we were at heathrow, we met a lady at the whisky tasting counter who had lots of whisky stories and suggested that we visited the visitor centre. She also gave us a note to give to their brand ambassador. Tullamore is 1hr west of Dublin and was a detour from our planned route, so we had high expectations.

eutrip058tullamore

We know better now to skip the tour, especially since it was an exhibition rather than actual working distillery. Enquired about the expressions that would be part of the tasting afterwards, and as usual were not impressed by the selection. The very nice lady at the cash desk gave us 3 even better expressions to sample, free of charge. Generous tasting portions too—12 yr sherry cask, 10 yr four casks, special reserve. First time we tried this whiskey. We were most taken with the 10 year single malt that had been matured in 4 different casks: bourbon, oloroso sherry, port and madeira.

Had lunch at the restaurant, just sandwiches and shared a rhubarb crumble. Sandwiches were good, the crumble was more like crumble pie. Finished with more whiskey tastings—bonded warehouse (available at the visitor centre only) and Phoenix (retail bottles sold out). Still liking the 10yr four casks.

Even though we didn’t take the tour, we enjoyed our visit to the visitor centre. The shop had cool stuff, the tasting samples were generous and the food was fine. Great location next to a canal, so peaceful on a sunny day. I’d recommend this to anyone visiting Dublin, it’s only about 1hr’s drive.

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When we got back to Dublin we hit a bit of rush hour traffic. Luckily we were booked in the same hotel as before so we knew the way. Checked in and were back out quickly. Strolled to Trinity College for pictures, then made our way to an early dinner at Bear. I’d read that this restaurant offered less popular cuts of steak like onglet, bavette and flank so we were keen to try it out. We were not disappointed. A huge (900g-1kg) bavette, chargrilled rare, arrived at our table together with the 2 sides we ordered—crispy kale and cauliflower cheese. Delicious and definitely different from the usual sirloin and rib-eye. We would definitely come again.

Still enough time before sunset to walk to St Patrick’s and Christchurch cathedrals then to Tesco before returning to our room.

europe day 23: ring of kerry

Breakfast at hotel—full irish breakfast (like full english with black & white puddings). Left later than expected at 10.20am. Delay on N22 with a 15-20min wait for convoy construction meant we reached Killarney after 12pm. Stopped at tourist information to get maps and wasted further time at the outlet shopping centre. Thankfully there were only a few shops there.

Set off on the Ring of Kerry route at 1pm. The scenic route is a 179km (111 miles) loop through the rugged coastline of the Iveragh peninsula. It’s one of Ireland’s most popular destination and can be done clockwise or anti-clockwise. Guidebooks say buses go anti-clockwise so drivers may want to go the other way but we ended up anti-clockwise anyway. Still early in the season and didn’t see many coaches. I drove quite aggressively through the initial parts of the ring to try to gain some time. First stop was at Caherciveen, a quaint little town which we thought was on the coast but was actually inland. Nixed the idea of lunching at a seafood restaurant; went to a local café instead and had homemade soup with brown bread and apple strudel.

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The Ring of Kerry led to the Skellig Ring, another loop through the deep coastal part of the peninsula. The car ferry that led to Valentia island was closed so we drove on and crossed via a bridge. Climbed up a very steep gravel road to Shepherd’s View viewpoint on Geokaun Mountain which offered a 360º view of the island and the ocean. Very spectacular. Very windy.

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The bridge crossed back to the mainland at Portmagee, another quaint little coastal village. Wished we had more time to explore, but it was past 4pm and time to push on to finish the Skellig Ring and rejoin the Ring of Kerry.

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The route between Waterville and Catherdaniel was all rugged, dramatic coastline and secluded beaches. There were a few viewpoints and we stopped at a few. Again, feeling rushed so couldn’t stop for as often or as long as we liked. The sun was out, the sky and sea were blue and it was very windy. By then mm had taken over the driving and progress was slower. Headed back to Cork, reached hotel past 8pm, later than we wanted.

Not a lot of choices for dinner, so we opted for the hotel restaurant. The hotel was obviously recently renovated (some rooms on our corridor were still being stripped and we could see/hear contractors drilling and the like). The staff in the restaurant at both breakfast and dinner could do with more training—they were all very keen but service was not as efficient as an established restaurant crew. We had soup and mussels to start and lamb shank (mm) and pan-fried hake (me) as mains. Got a Bushmills 10 from the bar to take back to our room.

A full day at the Ring of Kerry. Felt rushed, even though what we saw was extremely beautiful. Definitely need a return trip.

europe day 22: dublin to midleton to cork

Didn’t sleep well (too warm, curtains didn’t close properly and pigeons cooing outside), woke up to lots of happy birthday greetings from family and friends. Trying not to get too unhappy about getting older.

Checked out, got car, loaded our luggage and were on our way at 10am. A short detour took us off course but we found the motorway to Cork eventually. The signposts were informative, it was a glorious sunny day, perfect for driving. Part of the motorway had tolls, in general the quality of the road was excellent and not too many cars and lorries.

First stop was for a loo break, then around 12.30pm we reached Cashel. Took pictures of the rock (a lot like rocca maggiore in Assisi), didn’t go inside the castle. Weren’t hungry so we pushed on. The destination was Midleton to the Jameson distillery experience.

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We weren’t interested in the tour, just browsed around the shop. Had a great lunch at the restaurant—lamb shank for me, irish stew for mm. Tasted a dram of green spot irish whiskey at the bar.

Drove the short distance to Cork, found parking and headed towards the English Market to catch them before they close. It’s a small indoor market with stalls selling fruit & veg, meat, fish and dried goods. Some of the stalls were closed and others were closing, we bought oysters from a fish stall. One of the fishmongers came to take a picture with me.

Visited a souvenir shop, then to M&S for dinner. Yep, for my birthday dinner I opted to get M&S chicken drumstick, noodle salad and rocket to have at our hotel. It was a good choice, we had some troubles finding the hotel and needed the directions of a friendly Korean chef at a pizzeria. The hotel, when we reached it, was a sight for sore eyes. Free parking, huge luxurious room, walk-in shower, air-conditioning and curtains that close. Had a drink (redbreast 15) at the bar brought to our room to have with our dinner.

europe day 21: dublin

I’m quite proud that we booked the yotel at T4, because it was so convenient to take the free train to T2 to catch our flight to Dublin. Only 1hr and then we got the car rental shuttle. Quite a lengthy process to get our rental car, a toyota corolla. Somehow we got off the motorway and ended up in the north suburbs. I’ve only been to Dublin once, 3 years ago, and didn’t have a car then so it was a while before I got my bearings. Plus the combination of one-way systems and bank holiday traffic, it took us many wrong turns to find our hotel. Not helped by its obscure location at the top of Temple Bar, with the entrance next to Tesco..

Once we parked, unloaded and checked in, we went in search of food. Found a nice little casual café (the sort with shared wooden tables and artwork on exposed walls) that was still serving lunch. Had the special of shepherd’s pie, salad and ice cream. I had a local cider too.

eutrip050whiskeyshop

Had some time for a little shopping. Traditional sweet shop (the sort that should be called a shoppe) and Tesco. Walked down Grafton Street, aiming at the Celtic Whiskey shop. Ahhhh. So many Irish whiskeys, so little time.

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Dinner was a special date, to celebrate both our birthdays. I booked Butcher Grill at Ranelagh. Last time in Dublin with RM, we made the trip especially to Ranelagh for this, and it was no different this time. Easy enough to get the tram from St Stephen’s Green. We started with half a dozen sweet Irish rock oysters (the sort with only needed a few drops of lemon juice). Then for mains we had their côte de boeuf for two, on Mondays and Tuesdays this is reduced to €45. Came with beans and onion rings which we substituted for fries. A delicious cut of steak: tender and succulent on the bone. Different from Hawksmoor steak, less intense, sweeter.

Tram then walk back to our hotel. Final celebration was birthday cake in the form of one-bite miniature red velvet cupcakes. Perfect.

europe day 20: rome, vatican, heathrow

Early start, left retreat house at 8.30am. It’d been raining and thundery all night, and it was still raining quite heavily when we left. Nearer the Vatican, the crowds suddenly got very thick. There were plenty of bottlenecks and no one knew where to go. Whilst the other Italians were complaining at the volunteers, we struck up a short chat with a Canadian volunteer. He was there to open and close one gate. It was pandemonium, our new friend said that they were expecting 100,000 people in St Peter’s Square for Easter mass.

We had tickets but couldn’t find our way to the proper ticketed area. It was pouring, everyone was wet, anxious and cranky. We found a spot near the front of one of the non-ticketed sections and decided to stay put.

It was very cold and wet. We got to our spot at 9.30am, the mass started at 10.15am. The rain got heavier, we were trying to follow the readings and gospel and our mass booklet got so wet and ruined. Luckily around the Communion stage the skies cleared up enough for most umbrellas to be put away.

After mass ended, there was a sense of anticipation as everybody pushed forward towards the corridors. Pope Francis came by in his Popemobile, we saw him twice. Our spot was just behind a couple of shorter people so we had a great view of him coming by.

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The Pope returned to his apartment and came out to the balcony to give us the urbi et orbi blessing. It was definitely a blessing to be there in person for the day.

It started to rain again, and at 12.30pm we’d been standing outside for 3 hours. We were SHIVERING. Our hands and feet were numb and even with an umbrella and waterproof coats we were completely soaked. We were grateful that our retreat house was so near, we still struggled to walk back to the café opposite. Tea, hot chocolate and a hot meal of pizza and gnocchi.

Back across the road to collect ouf luggage and say goodbye to the sisters. Sister Donatella gave us each a book about the convent, so touched. The taxi came at 2pm and took us to the airport direct—would have cost around the same to get a taxi to the train station and a train. Check in was straightforward, boarding was efficient and the flight to LHR was 2.5hrs. We got our bags and went to M&S to get juice. Free bus to T4 and we were in our cabin at the yotel and settled.

europe day 19: rome

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Our last full day in Italy, and the weather turned from blue skies to cloudy and rainy. Took the subway to the Coliseum and ran into a wall of people. Walked around the southern end and around Palatine Hill.

Happily came across a local market. Fruit & veg, cheese, meat, flowers, snacks. We bought breadsticks and biscuits from a very nice man. Had early lunch at the market too—sausages with greens and lasagna. Simple, homemade.

Walked through the city, heading towards Campo di Fiore market. Stopped for gelato and coffee. The market is supposed to be a big food market but we were disappointed. Yes it was big, with fruit & veg, pasta, cheese, sweets, oil, vinegar, clothing and bags. The disappointing part was that it catered purely for tourists, unlike the other market that was almost all locals.

It had started to rain, we headed to Piazza Navona, Santa Maria Maddalena church and the Pantheon. Found a small trattoria in a side street and had early dinner of stuffed courgette flowers, spaghetti cacio e pepe and fettucine funghi porcini. We were so early that the kitchen had barely opened, the cooks and waiters were watching football on tv.

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The route back to our retreat house took us across the river and a classic view of Ponte St Angelo with St Peter’s Basilica in the background in the evening sun. There was a commotion at St Peter’s, as the people who were attending tonight’s vigil mass almost stampeded inside the security area.

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Shopping at the supermarket then back to our room to shower and re-pack. Here’s a random pic in Rome, of a line of smartcars parked at the side of the street.

europe day 18: rome sick | 3030: 10photos

Started the day feeling dizzy with a heavy-head headache. Managed to walk a couple of blocks to a nearby bar café for some vegetables before needing to head back to our room. [TMI]Promptly threw up the food.[/TMI]. Slept for a few hours until around 3pm. Did about 12mins of mindfulness meditation, ate some pasta, drank lots and lots and lots of water and juice. Feeling a more human but still slightly dizzy. No idea why I suddenly got sick, and we decided it wasn’t worth speculating. The important thing is to quickly get better. I feel bad about wasting a day but mm, bless her, doesn’t see it that way. I leaned on her all the way walking this morning, and she ran up and down to the vending machine and across the road to the supermarket to get stuff. In a way, today Good Friday was as good a day to get some rest. We’re at halfway through our trip and aside from 2 masses (the next one is Easter Sunday mass) and the Sistine Chapel (which we covered yesterday), we don’t have anywhere pressing to go. If I continue to feel under the weather, I’ll try to hold on until London so I can go see my GP.

I did manage to upload the photos that were tasks #21-30 of 30.30: take 10 photos over 10 days. I set these tasks deliberately knowing that I would be travelling the second half of march and figured it would be easier. One would have thought that there were plenty of opportunities in Amsterdam, Antwerp, Belgium, Florence, Siena and Assisi to take 10 simple photos. I don’t know if it’s the subjects I picked but it wasn’t as straightforward, may be it’s because I kept forgetting. Managed to get 10 photos in the end. Posting thumbnails, click for full size.

21colour 22shape 23direction 24loud 25morning
26nexttome 27numbers 28old 29people 30water

  1. a colour
  2. a shape
  3. direction
  4. loud
  5. morning
  6. next to me
  7. numbers
  8. old
  9. people
  10. old

Challenge is done. I’ll post the final update.

30in30 challenge — march 2015 final

3030-20150301

Kept forgetting some of the days during travelling, somehow got it done.

    health

  1. run/walk/bike 60mins // done
  2. run/walk/bike 90mins // done
  3. take the stairs // done
  4. weights/trx/resistance band // done
  5. do more than one type of exercise // done
  6. do something relaxing // done
  7. sleep early // done
  8.  
    food & drink

  9. 3 different vegetables in a day // done
  10. 3 different fruits in a day // done
  11. no red meat day // done
  12. no alcohol day // done
  13. no snack day // done
  14. new food // done
  15. new drink // done
  16. new recipe // done
  17.  
    looking inward

  18. gratitude for the day // done
  19. keep calm and… // done
  20. participate in prayer or service // done
  21. say a prayer for family // done
  22. silent retreat // done
  23.  
    photography

  24. 10 photos: a colour // done
  25. 10 photos: a shape // done
  26. 10 photos: directions // done
  27. 10 photos: loud // done
  28. 10 photos: morning // done
  29. 10 photos: next to me // done
  30. 10 photos: numbers // done
  31. 10 photos: old // done
  32. 10 photos: people // done
  33. 10 photos: water // done
  34.  
    bonus

  35. rest day — no challenges today // rest day not needed

 

europe day 17: vatican

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9.30am mass at the Vatican meant leaving our retreat house at 8.15am, even though we were only 10mins’ walk away. Had to find the right queue, go through security and find seats. We sat around the middle of the basilica, together with many many faithful with tickets. Note to self: next time, apply for more tickets than needed because there were many fathers and sisters from all over the world without tickets. Hopefully they were able to watch the mass from outside in St Peter’s Square.

The mass was in Latin, with some Italian. We could follow as the mass booklet had English translation. This was the Chrism mass, or blessings of the oils—the oils that would be used for baptism, the sick and others throughout the year. They were containers as large as whisky barrels—must use up a lot of oil at the Vatican a year. Pope Francis delivered the homily in Italian, and it was quite lengthy, we wished we could understand it. It was still a blessed experience. Communion was very efficient, with many many fathers stationed at strategic points that meant we only had a few steps to move from our seats. Lots of people taking pictures, and we were a bit too far to take clear ones of the Pope. The mass was very long, finishing around 12pm. We didn’t mind, mm was a lot happier than me about it, obviously.

Quick lunch at a shady spot at the square next to the Vatican. Shared the St Francis bread we bought at Assisi. We probably looked like poor students, sitting forlornly there sharing one piece of bread, one of the the street vendors that were selling souvenirs, selfie sticks or fake handbags approached us, took one look at us, and walked away. Hahaha!

We’d pre-booked tickets for the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel for an extra €4. Totally well worth the additional cost, the queue for tickets looked like it was an hour long. We breezed through, got our entrance tickets, audioguide and went the the bathroom. Then we joined the masses. Oh boy, it was crowded. Lots of slow moving tour groups as well as hundreds of thousands of visitors.

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The whole place was a one-way system through the Vatican museum, full of ancient artefacts, sculptures as well as Renaissance paintings and frescos. The audioguide was helpful in explaining the history and story behind many of the exhibits. One of my favourite rooms was the Galleria delle Carte Geographie, with both sides filled with ancient and modern (for the period) maps of the world and Italy. The roof was more intricate frescos. I left the bottom of the pic intact, to show the sheer crush of the crowd. We were quite tired halfway through the museum, so we stopped for coffee, tea and a slice of cake at a strategically placed coffee shop.

The main attraction of the visit was the Sistine Chapel. For all the times I’d visited Rome and the Vatican, this was my first time there. There were signs before we reached the Sistine Chapel that it was a sacred place so everybody should be silent and no photography was allowed. The chapel was absolutely stunning. It was also as crowded as the Tube at 5.30pm. Difficult to find room even to stand. Every 5 minutes or so the staff had to announce to the crowds to observe the silence and no photography rules. The experience could have been ruined by the crowds, but it wasn’t, because of the unbelieveable brilliance of Michaelangelo’s work. The audioguide talked us through each aspect of the frescos, from the depiction of God’s creation of Man, Man’s temptation and the Original Sin on the ceiling; to the 12 frescos on the side telling various Biblical stories (Moses parting the Red Sea, Jesus handing the keys to St Peter); to the entire wall at the entrance dedicated to the Last Judgement. We learned a lot, and didn’t want to leave.

Strolled through the rest of the museum, mainly consisting of gift shops and more exhibits. Since we’d only eaten half a St Francis bread the whole day we were famished. Went to the supermarket and bought a feast: lamb cutlets, rocket (on sale at 99c, we bought 2 boxes), tomatoes, burrata. Enough time to do some handwashing too. So happy to be back in our room before 7pm.

europe day 16: assisi to rome

Last morning in the retreat house in Assisi. Had breakfast, final packing then checked out. There was a 9am mass in the chapel, which mm attended while I used the internet in the sitting room. Our train was at 11.26am, so we left with plenty of time to catch the bus to the station. We’d scoped out the route to the bus stop yesterday—it was mostly pavement, about 12 steps up then 2 lifts through a car park so we figured we could manage.

The train was quite full, and the teenagers sitting next to us were quite noisy. The train stopped at one of the outer platforms at Rome Termini so it was quite a trek to the taxi stand. The taxi driver was helpful and friendly, we got to the retreat house without any drama. This retreat house is within walking distance to the Vatican, around the corner from the small market my parents and I visited twice during our two stops at Rome in the past 2 years. Yep, this is my third visit to Rome in as many years, and the area is becoming slightly familiar.

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Anyway, the retreat house is at the corner of a busy side street, with 5 storeys. Luckily there is a lift. The Sisters were so warm and nice, there was even a helper lady who translated for us. Sister Donatella spoke a little English, and we communicated with the other Sisters with lots of grazie and si. Our room is a very large twin with lots of room to walk around and a private bathroom. A very old 14” tv which we unplugged because we needed the plug for our charging station (I set up an extension cord so we can charge 2 iphones, 1 ipad, 2 cameras, 2 fitness trackers and occasionally 1 external battery). No internet in the room, we knew that when we booked. We asked the Sisters and heard the good news that there is internet in the common room. We don’t mind coming down here to use wifi every night, that’s what we did at Assisi.

Had a late lunch at the café bar opposite. Spaghetti alle vongole and a side of grilled vegetables. Glass of house red for me. The spaghetti was nice but ultra salty. It was past 4pm so it was probably early dinner / high tea.

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Next stop was the Vatican. We knew we had tickets for the mass on Easter Sunday in my name, but the confirmation letter for mm’s application never arrived, so we thought we’d check with the office to see if she got lucky with her application too. There was the perpetual long queue for security, and we figured it wasn’t the right place. Asked the Swiss Guards and were directed to the side entrance to pick up tickets. No problem for the ones in my name, I had the letter and reference number. When mm explained that she was travelling and missed the confirmation letter, the nice guy checked her name and yay! we have tickets for mass tomorrow with Papa Francesco.

Strolled around for a bit. Had a gelato, bought some magnets, headed to the bridges and the river. So different from Florence and Assisi. Florence, though touristy, is still a small town. Assisi, again touristy, is an even smaller town and felt more intimate and peaceful. Rome, well, it’s Rome. It’s noisy, busy, full of beggars and people selling selfie sticks. You fight with cars and buses and a million other tourists when you cross the road. There is a special smell and atmosphere. It’s Rome.